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 a Civic Si sedan


The Civic Si is a pocket rocket that so far has stayed true to the naturally aspirated engine opposed to the turbocharged engines of its rivals. Will the Si be able to lure those buyers away?

The 2.4-liter in-line four-cylinder produces 205hp and a modest 174lb-ft torque which is mated to a slick shifting six-speed manual gearbox. Around town the Si feels smooth and the gearbox isn’t a pain to live with. Take it on the highway and you’ll want to keep those revs high because that’s where most of the momentum happens. This is mainly due to the small amount of available torque and it is only kicks at 4,000rpm which means you’ll either keep the revs high to keep things moving quickly or you’ll run out of steam.

The Civic Si doesn’t feel as sharp to drive as the Volkswagen GTI. The chassis often feels flustered quickly if you want to drive spiritedly. The steering has decent feel and feedback but it isn’t great neither encouraging when you do want to push it through corners and bends. At least the manual gearbox shifts are crisp and smooth. Wind won’t be much of a problem but there will be some road noise from the larger alloys and depending on which tires you option for.

In the cabin you’ll be greeted by the same two dashboard design which some will love and others will loath. The futuristic design isn’t for everyone. At least the seven-inch display and touch screen infotainment system has a simplex design and is somewhat user friendly. There are controls for climate control too which aren’t fiddly to operate and clearly labeled. Front seats are comfortable and the rear seats are somewhat comfortable. There’s plenty of legroom but taller drivers may struggle to get comfortable because headroom is a bit cramped. Boot space is pretty good too but the trunk hinges eats into cargo space.

Bluetooth, rearview camera, USB audio interface and push button ignition system are all standard on the Si. There’s even a 7-inch touch screen infotainment system and Sequential Rev-limit indicator. You’ll have to pay extra for the navigation system.

The Si is overall cheaper than the GTI, but we’d pick the GTI because it’s much more fun to drive than the Si and the turbo engine gives more torque at low revs while you’ll be forced to keep the revs high in the Si. Running costs with the Si will be low and of course you can’t forget about Honda legendary reliability record which is much more appealing than Volkswagen. There plenty of safety aids to help you avoid a collision and if you do get in one Honda track record with safety is spot on good.

Overall: It’s a pocket rocket that’s cheap to buy and has low running costs. Not to mention excellent quality. If only it had more torque and better driving experience to match its keen rival the GTI.

Likes: The engine sweet spot is when the torque kicks in. Honda build quality and pocket rocket pace at an affordable price.

Dislikes: There’s virtually no torque unless you keep revs in 4,000rpm. The driving experience isn’t even close to that of a GTI and its rivals.

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.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Devon test drives a Ford Expedition EL


The large 4x4 still has appeal to drivers who want to tow a boat and/or ferry the family around. There are plenty of them to choose from, with that said the Ford Expedition EL should be on your short list when considering such massively large vehicles. Here’s why:

The sole engine choice is a 3.5-liter turbocharged six-cylinder which produces 365hp. You may think that the six-cylinder really won’t have the pep of the eight-cylinder. But you’ll be pleasantly surprised to hear that it can accelerate from zero to 60mph in under 7 seconds. Which means that this engine will give those eight-cylinder rivals a real go for their money. When you are not driving like a total lunatic this engine is smooth and responsive when needed thanks to direct fuel injection, turbo lag is pretty much nonexistent. The beefy 420lb-ft torque for a healthy 6,500lb towing rating and 9,200lbs with the optional heavy duty trailer towing package.

The Expedition EL is a pretty large and bulky vehicle. The sheer size of the vehicle means that navigating around town or in tight narrow parking spaces will be a chore. Steering can be quite heavy when getting up to speed but it does offer a decent amount of feedback. Not that you’ll be shoving this vehicle through bends and corners anyway. Wind noise won’t be much of a problem, even if the Expedition is as aerodynamic as a tower block. Road noise will be a problem with the larger alloys, especially with the 22-inch alloys.

In the cabin you won’t have any trouble seating up to eight people; although the eight people and their luggage trick may be a bit of a push even in a large vehicle such as this. You can however fold down the third row seat and double the boot space to a massive size; with the second row folded also you’ve got a cargo van. The dashboard seems pretty simple to navigate through with all the controls and dials easy to use and somewhat in reach of the driver’s hand. The sheer size of the Expedition EL means that you’ll need all the parking aids you can get. Luckily for you those parking aids are standard. You’ll only have to really pay extra for a parking assist for the front of the car for some trims. Visibility is pretty decent too but the blind spot warning system is a much needed option.

XLT trim offers reverse sensing system, 18-inch alloy wheels, power adjustable foot pedals. EL trim adds perforated leather seats, dual zone climate control, power folding third row seat and forward sensing system. King Ranch trim adds rear view camera, power lift gate, 20 inch alloy wheels while top of the range Platinum trim has all the same features as the King Ranch but instead you can option for HID headlights and a few other luxury bits. Our tester car was the Platinum trim which was pretty nicely kitted, but for our money we’d go with the Limited trim which makes the most sense financially. The price is still high but it’s not as expensive as the King Ranch and Platinum trims.

The Expedition EL has high running costs, a higher purchase price and is a chore to drive around. If you need seven seats and want to be able to tow a large boat or trailer. The Expedition EL should be on your short list, as there are many other rivals to pick from. But none of them have the smoothest six-cylinder engine on hand, and none of them look as flashy with the 22-inch alloys. It really is a great value all round and is our pick for large 4x4s.

Likes: Turbo engine is smooth and not one ounce underpowered. Can seat up to eight people and with all seats folded you’ve got a cargo van sized boot.

Dislikes: Sheer size makes it a chore to drive. Running costs will still be through the roof. Other than the towing ratings and eight seats, it’s pretty hard to justify buying one.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Devon test drives a BMW M4 Convertible


Looking for that open air driving experience but prefer the badge to be BMW? Fret not because the M4 convertible is finally here.

BMW has ditched the screaming 4-liter eight-cylinder engine in the M3 for a 3-liter turbocharged six-cylinder which produces 425hp. Put your foot down and the M4 really does live up the M badge. It’s furiously fast yet easy to live with as a daily commuter car. The automatic transmission may have faster shift ratios but we’d still choose the manual any day.

On the road the M4 feels well composed and is eager to tackle any corner bend you toss at it. The front seats really do help keep you in place and the overall feel of the steering is pretty good, it does however lack the feedback we loved from the previous M3, but this really isn’t much of a deal breaker. Our M4 came equipped with the adaptive M suspension which is a very expensive option helps make the M4 drive the way it should but at this price point why is it optional and not standard?

The minimalistic approach to the cabin makes everything easy to navigate through without any complicated controls or dials. The iDrive interface is much easier to use. The front seats are superbly comfortable and have a neck warmer so you can drive with the top down on brisk spring and fall weather. There is plenty of room for two in the rear seat but as long as the passengers aren’t over six feet tall. The boot space shrinks with the top down and increases with the top up. This is due to the folding metal roof which does eat into precious cargo space.

Wanting to walk away with a decently kitted M4 is going to be a bit of a struggle. Even our tester car came ticked with nearly every option that was offered on its list. Pushing the price sky high, but these M vehicles aren’t just any ordinary vehicle. They are special vehicles and really do put a special kind of feeling inside when you drive them. Plus resale value will hold very well as with all BMW vehicles. The badge is what attracts people to them.

The M4 convertible is more of a cruiser type car. It’s wicked fast and can tackle corners perfectly, but you’ll have to pay for that option. Plus with the options added on this car can get crazily expensive very fast. But for those who crave the BMW badge and won’t settle for anything else this is the perfect car.

Likes: Wicked fast acceleration yet very easy to live with as a daily commuter car. Seats up to four and offers decent boot space with top up.

Dislikes: Add the options and watch the price jump sky high. We miss the hydraulic steering. Turbo six-cylinder doesn’t have the soundtrack of the previous eight-cylinder when revved hard.

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.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Devon test drives a VW CC sedan


Looking to spice up your company parking space? You have plenty of options from Audi, BMW, Mercedes and Volkswagen. Yes Volkswagen wants a piece of the upscale sedan segment with the CC, but is buying one a false economy?
There are two engines to choose from with the CC. Standard 2-liter turbocharged four-cylinder produces 200hp while the top of the range 3.6-liter six-cylinder produces 280hp. Pick of the bunch is a mere matter of taste. The standard 2-liter turbo four is our favorite. It's smooth, flexible and the more attractively priced form of the CC. The V6 is rather expensive and the performance doesn't really live up to the expectations of its more expensive rivals Audi and BMW. But you do get 4-motion all-wheel-drive standard which may appeal more to those who really need to extra traction in snow belt areas.

The CC feels right at home where most buyers will use them on the highway. The overall ride comfort is smooth and handling is safe and secure. The R-line offers the looks but falls short on the feel which matters the most. Steering feedback is a bit of a let down too. At least refinement is excellent thanks to low wind and road noise at highway speeds. Plus both engines sound smooth under heavy acceleration and relaxed speeds.

It's quite easy to get comfortable behind the wheel. The driver's seat offers plenty of adjustment and the steering also adjusts for reach and height. Most of the control layout is shared with the Passat which means it's pretty simple to navigate through. While front passengers will enjoy plenty of headroom, rear passengers may suffer a bit due to the slopping roofline. This will also take a toll on rearward visibility which is vastly reduced. But at least the boot offers decent space for a couple of golf bags.

2.0T Sport Trim offers Bi-xenon headlights, LED taillights, 17 inch alloy wheels, rearview parking camera and heated front seats standard. 2.0T Executive includes hands-free easy open trunk, 18-inch alloy wheels and full leather seating surfaces. R-line 2.0T adds 12-way adjustable front comfort seats, automatic climate control and a sports suspension. Top of the range V6 Executive 4-motion offers front and rear parking sensors, keyless start system, massage feature for driver's seat.

The CC is a great option for those who don't want to pay the premium associated with the its rivals Audi, BMW and Mercedes. It is classy in its own right and that's enough for buyers who want a nice step up from the Passat.

Likes: 2.0T engine is smooth and affordable. Standard kit is pretty decent too.

Dislikes: V6 is the only form with all-wheel-drive and its the most expensive CC of the range.