Sunday, October 26, 2014

Part one of four: Cars that are best avoided.


Cars we feel are best avoided. Part one of four.

Jeep Compass

This little Jeep was dreadful to drive. The standard 2-liter engine is sluggish with the automatic, while the 2.4 offers a bit more oomph off the line. Interior plastics were cheap feeling and the overall package the Compass offers isn’t compelling enough in our eyes. Unless you get one of these heavily discounted, you’re better off paying extra for its much better rivals. We highly suggest looking elsewhere.

Nissan Versa

Nissan prides itself in having the most inexpensive new car you can buy with the biggest rear seat in class. We do applaud Nissan for the roomy rear seat and low running costs, but those two features don’t really make up for how unappealing the styling of the Versa is. The 1.6 offers decent pace around town but you’ll struggle with it on faster paced roads. The standard trim offers an antiquated four-speed automatic and the higher trims don’t even feel worth the price tag. Paying more than $16k for is a false economy.

Smart Fortwo

The Smart Fortwo actually isn’t a bad concept. A small two-seat vehicle with dent resistant body panels for tight urban areas. We really do like that idea, but the execution of the car is appalling even for standards set by Mercedes. The gearbox is the biggest let down. Up shifts are woefully slow and jerky unless you ease your foot off the accelerator pedal between each shift. Ride comfort is firm due to the small wheelbase and yet the handling is sloppy if you push it anywhere near its limits. Running costs aren’t low either because the engine requires premium fuel. We strongly suggest waiting for the next generation Fortwo which will get a proper gearbox and hopefully a smoother ride.

BMW 320i

We have nothing against the idea of a cheap BMW. In fact we love the idea of a cheap BMW but not when it comes in the package of a 320i. It’s not the engine that we dread because it’s smooth and flexible with decent running costs. It’s the standard kit list which disappoints. Bluetooth doesn’t even come standard. You’ll have to pay extra to remove the halogen headlights and of course it doesn’t come standard with real leather. Driving this without the adaptive M suspension is disappointing too and that option isn’t cheap either. Plus you’ll want to leave the stop/start system off because there is no smooth transition when the engine reengages. Unless you have to have the BMW badge we strongly suggest looking at its indirect rivals first because you get more money for similar money and maybe even less.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Devon test drives the 3-series coupe replacement


BMW wants to separate the coupes from the sedan. Thus the 3-series coupe is no longer the 3-series coupe it’s the 4-series coupe, with a new platform to separate it from the 3-series sedan. Has BMW achieved new feat?

The 428 uses the familiar turbocharged 2-liter four-cylinder engine pumping out 240hp. Top of the range 435 trim uses a 3-liter turbocharged six-cylinder pumping out 300hp. Pick of the range is the more sensible 428 trim. You can have both trims with all-wheel-drive but we only suggest adding this option if you really need the traction or live in snowy areas where rear-wheel-drive will be cumbersome.

Our biggest gripe with BMW is the optional adaptive M suspension which is only optional and not standard. With this option the 4-series drives the way it is supposed to, we still have yet to drive a BMW without this expensive option and we’ve been put under the impression that BMW doesn’t want you to either. But at least with this option everything feels right and with the suspension set at comfort the daily commute with this car is actually quite comfortable. Slip it into sport mode on tight corners and bends you’ll be treated to an amazing experience as long as the road isn’t too lumpy and bumpy. This will bring out the firmness of the suspension which is to be expected of course.

The driver’s seat offers plenty of support and adjustments. You’ll find a seating position that best fits you to a tee. The dashboard looks like it was taken from a 3-series sedan. This is not a bad thing, however sticking a 4-series badge on this coupe we were hoping BMW would jazz up the interior more since the price tag has been jazzed up. At least there’s plenty of ample space four two in the rear seat and the boot offers decent cargo space.

All three trims are equipped pretty much the same. The only real matter of picking between all four is if you want a faster engine and do you want it with or without all-wheel-drive. We were a bit appalled that Bluetooth isn’t even standard across the range. You can buy pretty much a ton of cars not even in the same price bracket with Bluetooth standard. The standard form doesn’t even get real leather seats. But at least you get bi-xenon headlamps, rain sensing wipes and iDrive on-board computer with 6.5 inch display.

Buying a 4-series won’t be a cheap proposition because most of the options that you’ll want aren’t cheap. Plus you’ll have to pay to make the 4-series drive and handle the way it supposed to. Discounts will be hard to come by too, but resale value will be strong as will all BMW vehicles plus you won’t really have to worry about safety because BMW has that sorted well.

The 4-series maybe sleeker than the 3-series sedan but we still aren’t convinced that it’s any different from the 3-series sedan. Dynamically they feel the same and interior wise they look the same. Some may not be ready to fully accept the 3-series coupe new replacement. On paper the 4-series is a great coupe but in reality there are a few short comings we would strongly look into first before fully making up your mind.

Likes: Styling is sleeker and slightly more appealing design than the 3-serie sedan. With the right options the 4-series is a dream to drive.

Dislikes: So many options and so many of them are expensive. Bluetooth not standard is absurd. Interior doesn’t look or feel any different from 3-series sedan.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Devon test drives niche BMW


Looking for a vehicle that is truly unique without having to pick a typical coupe or sedan? The 3-series GT fits the bill perfectly. But is it worth the premium though?

The standard 2-liter turbocharged four-cylinder produces 240hp. You can step up to an optional 3-liter turbocharged six-cylinder which produces 300hp. Both engines can only be had with all-wheel-drive. Pick of the range is a mere matter of taste here. The standard engine seems like a good deal until you compare it to the 3-series touring which is more versatile for similar money. The top of the range slowly enters into 5-series territory and only really makes sense if you want a 5-series with similar engine but don’t want to cough up the money.

On the road the 3-series GT is best had with the expensive adaptive M suspension. Without it the steering is heavy and the ride and handling are utterly disappointing. The adaptive M suspension lets you adjust the ride comfort for sporty and or comfort. We’d highly suggest leaving it in comfort mode because it really does help make the 3-series GT ride like a dream. In sport mode the ride is just too firm for our tastes.

The standard engine at idle sounds like a diesel engine, there’s just way too much clatter. The biggest disappointment is the stop/start system. When the engine reengages the whole car shutters. This is disappointing because the 3-series GT isn’t a cheap proposition to begin with. At least wind and road noise are well suppressed and with the adaptive M suspension the 3-series GT is a comfortable long distance cruiser.

This is where the 3-series GT and any other BMW becomes an expensive proposition, the options list. Standard form offers rain sensing windshield wipers, power tailgate, automatic climate control and HD radio. You’ll have to step up to the top of the range to add xenon headlamps, auto-dimming exterior mirrors with power fold feature and Bluetooth hands free connectivity for your mobile phone.

Buying a 3-series GT like any other BMW isn’t going to be cheap and discounts will be hard to come by. We aren’t even sure of resale value with the 3-series GT due to the fact that it is still far too new to really say. Reliability is iffy with BMW. Most owners complain of things going array after the warranty expires and the extended warranty is pretty expensive choice too. So picking it is again a mere matter of preference if you plan on keeping your 3-series GT long after the standard warranty expires.

The 3-series GT is for those who want to be different and are willing to pay the premium to have it. All others should look at the 3-series touring.

Likes: Both turbo engines are punchy and smooth. There’s plenty of space for five and the boot is of decent size. It’s very distinct looking.

Dislikes: It’s very distinct looking. Stingy standard kit, expensive options list. Stop/start system makes the whole car shutter when engine reengages.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Devon test drives a Nissan Versa Sedan

The Nissan Versa Sedan prides itself in having the roomiest rear seat. Lowest starting price and low running costs thanks to a fuel efficient engine, but is all these things really worth bragging rights?
The sole engine offered with the Versa sedan is a 1.6-liter four-cylinder producing 109hp. City driving will be where you’ll want to spend most of your time with the Versa. It feels smooth and offers decent flexibility. Outside of the city you’ll have to really work the engine hard to get decent pace from it. Plus the CVT transmission really can make the engine drone when the revs are high.
On the road the Versa doesn’t feel composed when you feel like driving a little spiritedly. There’s way too much body roll in corners and bends, plus the front wheels feel like they are going to lose grip. Steering feedback becomes numb at highway speeds with poor directional stability. This car would be a great long distance cruiser but it’s far too unrelaxed outside of the city limits for us to recommend. However the Versa does offer the biggest backseat and boot space for a small sedan in this price category.
S trim comes with air-con, Bluetooth and optional five-speed manual gearbox or 4-speed automatic. S Plus offers cruise control, rear spoiler and CVT transmission. SV adds USB connection port, front map light with key linked illuminated entry and 60/40 split folding rear seats. Top of the range SL trim adds 16-aluminum alloy wheels, five-inch color display audio system and integrated turn signals on exterior mirrors.
The Versa Sedan has an attractive starting price and the roomiest rear seat in its class. Reliability should be good too and running costs will be low. However this car is far from great. This car feels more at home around the city. Outside of those elements the Versa sedan becomes a chore to drive and you’ll have to really rev the engine hard on faster paced roads. A big backseat shouldn’t be the only reason to persuade you into the Versa. It does offer good value but it’s just not the best.

Likes: Low running costs coupled with low starting price and the largest backseat in the segment.

Dislikes: Both automatic transmissions are dreadful. It becomes a chore to drive outside of city limits. Not sure if it provides a convincing enough case to buy one other than the low price.

Devon’s Choice: The S-Plus trim adds cruise control, rear spoiler and a smoother CVT transmission. It’s not much but its way better than the four-speed automatic in the standard S trim. For those who choose the S trim should stick with the manual gearbox which is much smoother.