Monthly Archives: February 2013

2013 Lexus ES350 – Saluting the Sizable Sedate Set – Review

By: George Straton

lexus2013Lexus, Toyota’s luxury division, is smart enough to leave well enough alone. Despite the recent trickle of more taught tuning from the LF-A supercar to the LS, GS and IS rear-drivers, there will be no F-sport coming to the front-drive ES full-size luxury sedan. Outselling the brand’s other sedans by a margin of 5 to 1 (RX Crossover not included), there is a recognition that some discriminating driver out there appreciates a sedate commute. Especially when they are stuck in the muck for two hours.

With no more give of the Camry platform on the stretching rack,  engineers went to work on transforming the full-sized Toyota Avalon. Which begat a re-designed 2013 Lexus ES. Compared to it’s predecessor, the new ES is has grown in virtually every measurable way: Wheelbase: 2″-inches; Height: 0.75+-inch; Cabin Volume: 5.5 cubic feet; Rear Legroom: 5.5″-inches in rear legroom to 40″; Trunk: 0.5 cu.ft. to 15.2.  Despite a staggering 908 page owner’s manual and 423 page infotainment supplement, the ES managed to shed 60-pounds in the process. Officially a full-size car, the ES is the one of a handful that will suit, if not pamper, an adult in the back-seat mid-section.

Drive…He Said” fastened the all-new-for-2013 Lexus ES350 onto the examination tarmac. Wearing its large sized duds better than ever. After more than two decades, the ES has been been imbued with immediately recognizable Lexus DNA on the outside. Beginning with a nose commenced on the last IS compact sports sedan, featuring the deep lower fascia, prominent hour-glass grille, and sharply swept-back light-assemblies. A high belt-line sits above sculpted doors and rocker-covers. The rear receives the GS’ pachinko LED tail-lights. And a sportier lower rear valance has integrated twin split chrome set exhaust pipes.

Dickens Described it Best:

Inside the 2013 ES350 refined decadence is defined by elegant shapes and textures. Materials such as semi-aniline leathers and highly polished wood veneers are the creme-de-la-creme. Dials rotate with the precision of Zurich combination tumbler. Doors close like those on Diebold bank vaults. Compartment covers are hinged with the fluidity of Vermont maple syrup. No appointment was appointed to this cabin without careful deliberation from folks with impeccable taste. The level of quietude: let’s just say, as in “A Christmas Carol” “… Twas The Night Before Christmas, when all through the house [Lexus ES350], not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.” Indeed, there is a [computer style] mouse for scrolling through menus and making selections on 7″-inch media/ infotainment screen. Suffering from a compulsion to recklessly text while driving? The ES350 displays received messages and permits a selection of scripted responses, hands-free.

Finding the Floatiness From Pop’s Mid-70’s Coupe De Ville:

With both IS and GS rear-drive models filling the sport sedan stable, the new ES takes over the demographic where the previous edition left off: a mature audience. Simply pour some root beer onto the float-defined front strut / rear strut indie-suspension. Ride compliance has reached new heights, this on 17″ wheels trapped in 215/55 series Bridgestone Turanzas. No loose eggs will crack as the ES350 glides over crater and frost-heave. Planning an excursion through a winding canyon? Keep the Dramamine at the ready. Despite a pleasing to the touch leather and wood trimmed helm, excited inputs to the turning front wheels engender a benign reaction followed by over-reaction. The level of pitch in corners betrays a nose with 61% of the weight. A  revelation were the four-wheel disc brakes clamped down with some satisfying authority.

Let Sleeping Horses Lie:

Don’t get us wrong. The Lexus ES 350 is not lacking for power. In all, 268-equines flowing through an as-refined-as-you-can-get 3.5-Liter dual overhead cam gasoline V6 engine endowed with direct injection and variable valve timing and lift. The 6-speed torque converter auto-gearbox transitions form gear-to-gear with the fluidity of molasses. It’s also molasses slow to downshift in the name of fuel economy. Tall overdrive gearing requires heavy throttle application to get  most of the 248-lb-ft of twist. A standard active Eco-mode contributed to 24 miles on each gallon of regular petrol. Want an improvement? Step over to the ES300h gas-electric hybrid aisle.

Pockets Need Not Be Very Deep:

Our 2013 Lexus ES350 came with the goods: perforated leathers, HDD navigation; Lexus Enform mobile device app software; blind-spot warning; rear monitor; rear cross-traffic alert; park assist. At a price of $43,600 it only lacked intelligent cruise control, an unnecessary Mark Levinson hi-fi and self Guided Park Assistance, whose instructions likely consumed some 100 pages of the user manuals.

The new ES is a tip of the hat to the sizable sedate set.If there was ever a plush pillow-top mattress that rolled on four front-driven wheels the 2013 Lexus ES is it. The optional split-spoke 17″ wheels wrapped in 215/55 all-season Bridgestone Turanzas, don’t improve the dull steering response, though on-center feel is OK. The surprise here are modest sized (11.6″ up front) brake rotors which offer respectable initial friction.


2013 Kia Sorento SX FWD

Susan Frissell

The 2013 Kia Sorento is the last of this generation, soon to give way to the restyled 2014 Sorento, introduced at the Los Angeles Auto Show this year. Although not a standout vehicle, the Kia Sorento SUV is a pleasant-enough SUV. With a quiet, comfortable ride, this is a large vehicle which we found to operate well during Chicago’s snowy days and slippery streets.

Completely redesigned in 2011, the Kia Sorento cruised into the 2012 model year, the second generation, offering a new engine with improved power and fuel economy. The 2012 Kia Sorento model also offered a new voice-activated infotainment system called UVO, based on the Microsoft Windows Embedded Automotive platform, and designed to help the driver stay connected with the digital universe without distracting from the road ahead. The available cloth upholstery was also upgraded, and weight reduced by 600 pounds.

sorentoThe 2013 Sorento comes well-equipped, and is available in some 10 variations (LX, EX, SX) and trim levels, available in both AWD and FWD. Our test vehicle, the SX version, priced upwards of $36,000 sports a 3.5-liter CVVTV V-6 engine, matched with Kia’s 6-speed automatic transmission with Sportmatic. Our SX came equipped with Premium Package 3 (First aid kit, navigation w/SIRIUS Traffic, Air-cooled driver’s seat, memory driver’s seat and mirror positions, heated steering wheel, illuminated sill trim, upgraded cloth pillar trim, auto-dimming mirror tint Homelink, Panoramic sunroof, power folding outside mirrors and rear bumper stainless trim, $3,200), Cargo net, $50 and Cargo cover, $125.

Safety features abound including dual front advanced airbags, front seat-mounted side airbags, side curtain airbags, front active headrests, anti-lock brake system, traction control system, electronic stability control, tire pressure monitoring system and downhill brake/hill start assist control.

The Sorento is a comfortable road vehicle and performs well on highway driving, particularly when in need of a boost to pass traffic. The V-6 effortlessly kicks in and takes off. We found the Sorento to have a few blindspots, though. The B Pillar is one, and the rear seats. The backup camera was often fogged up, due, no doubt to the snowy conditions. Because of this though, it wasn’t particularly helpful when navigating back- up moves.

The SX features front fog lights, front and rear stainless steel trim, heated outside mirrors with turn signal indicators and rear spoiler. Rear-seating is generous and seats three comfortably. While there is no third seat, there is a fair amount of cargo space for toting things around.

While not intended as an off-road vehicle, a four-wheel-drive Sorento with its 7.5-inch ground clearance could head out over open desert with little difficulty. Navigating hills is also easier with Kia’s hill start-assist control and downhill brake control, standard across the Sorento line.

Sorento’s grille is flanked on both sides by sly-looking upper complexes for headlights and turn signals. Lower complexes contain foglights and are finished in matte-black to match the grille mesh. A dark plastic faux skidplate wraps up from below the vehicle to about halfway up the foglight nacelles on LS and EX models.

sorentointeriorWe found the driver’s seat, with eight-way power adjustment and lumbar support, to be firm and supportive. Legroom is plentiful, making the Sorento a good choice for exceptionally tall drivers. The front passenger seat on the top models is powered, but adjusts only four ways .

The 2013 Kia Sorento is a pleasant enough SUV. This writer favors the Sportage, although Sorento has a better, softer ride.  Competition faced by the Kia Sorento includes Ford Edge, Chevrolet Equinox, Toyota Highlander, Nissan Pathfinder, Honda Pilot and GMC Acadia.




MSRP: $31,700; Total price $35,875; freight $800

Engine: 3.5-liter DOHC CVVT V6, 248 torque

Pricing: $23,150-$33,400

Transmission: 6-speed automatic transmission with Sportmatic

Height: 67.3 in.

Weight: 4,828-5,049 lbs.

Length: 183.9 in.

Wheelbase: 106.3 in.

Width: 74.2 in.

Wheels: 10-spoke mirror-finish alloy

Tires: 235/60HR 18.0 front; 235/65R 17 rear

EPA Fuel Economy: 22 mpg.

Fuel tank: 18.0 gal.

Warranty: 10-year/100,000-mile limited powertrain, 5-year/60,000-mile limited basic warranty, 5-year

2013 Hyundai Veloster Turbo

Susan Frissell

2013_hyundai_veloster_2dr-hatchback_base_fq_oem_11_500The Hyundai Veloster Turbo, a recent edition to the Hyundai Veloster family, is a sporty, low-to-the-ground racy looking speedster. Fun to drive, Veloster also comes with many of the amenities of more dignified sedans, such as heated seats and GPS. In fact, the GPS system in the Veloster

Named one of the ‘coolest cars under $18,000,’ Veloster is available in Base, RE: Mix and Turbo; and several iterations within those models, including RWD and AWD. Although there is little visible competition for the Veloster, it does line up with the likes of Honda Civic Si, Ford Focus ST and the Volkswagen GTI; the later, a formidable competitor.

Driving the Veloster can be somewhat of a challenge in traffic due to its hatchback shape and blindspots. The slopping backend and B pillar, it can be difficult to navigate vehicles to the right of the driver. The interior is sporty and appealing, including the seats. However, comfort isn’t necessarily a strong point. The seats although great looking, are a tad stiff and unaccommodating to the driver/passenger. There is a lumbar feature, of sorts and the seat hikes up/down. There is plenty of legroom and drivers of all sizes will fit.

The steering column moves up/down, making seating a little more comfortable for all shapes and sizes. Legroom is more than adequate in the front seats, and rear seating is remarkably generous. The rear seats lean backward allowing for more torso and leg room. Cupholders separate the rear bucket seats. The only trick is getting back there, although using the right-side rear door makes it easier.

Bluelink runs the show in the Hyundai Veloster. While the young can figure it all out in seconds, some of us took a few more minutes to determine just what is available; from sound, to navigation and routes/maps, to phone connections, Bluelink is an advanced system which operates such features as voice text messaging, location sharing, geo fence, roadside assistance

veloster-hyundai-2013-technology-turbo-5The sporty Hyundai Velostar is a hatchback with three doors.  The rear hatchback operates quickly and easily, and opens up to generous cargo space.

Although responsive, the turbo isn’t the fastest gun in the west. One can get a better idea what the Veloster turbo can do by taking it out on the open road. Hovering around 80 mph was effortless. Driving around town in the Veloster can take its toll on the kidneys, however, on the highway, Veloster is a very comfortable, smooth-riding vehicle.

The split rear window is attractive yet, makes for poor visibility; so too the B-pillar. A common problem with sporty-looking cars. Driving the Veloster provides thrills and the turning radius allows for some creative stops and starts.

Veloster’s interior is sporty, functional and all controls within easy reach of the driver. Features include the Pandora internet radio, and (above) the ability to send texts by voice commands. The Veloster is available in base and turbo versions, is front-wheel-drive and seats four.  A new model, the Veloster has yet to be rated.

Competition includes the Nissan Juke.



MSRP: $17,450-$22,950

Engine: 1.6-liter GDI DOHC, dual CVVT, 201 hp., 195 torque, twin-scroll turbo charger

Transmission: Dual-clutch automated manual six-speed

Wheelbase: 104.3 in.

Height: 55.1 in.

Length: 166 in.

Width: 70.5 in.

Curb Weight: 2,584 lbs.

Tires: P215/40R 18

Wheels: 18-inch alloy

EPA Fuel Economy: 27/37 mpg.

Fuel tank: 13.2 gal.

Warranty: 5-yr., 60,000-miles


The 105th Chicago Auto Show

2013_LandRover_RangeRover_3_side 2013_SRT-Viper_GTS_Launch-Edition_2_rear 2013Fisker@CAS_1a 2013KiaSuperman8 2014_Chevrolet_Impala_1_front 2014_Infiniti_2014 Q50_5 2014_Infiniti_2014 Q50_1 2014jeep 2014_Kia_2014 Cadenza_1 bentley 2014_Mazda_6_1_front casblueveh jag casbeetle zombie WalkingDeadHyundaiWeb1

The 105th Chicago Auto Show

What is it about cars that we love?

                “Cars are freedom. Adventure. Beauty. Romance. Power. Utility. Frivolous necessities. Sexy. What’s not to like? “

(Mary Jane Grandinetti, Chicago Tribune reporter)

February 7, 2013 Chicago. Rebirth of the Luxury market was evident today at the automotive media breakfast for the 105th Chicago Auto Show. Kicking off the day at the Midwest Automotive Media Association breakfast, President Kirk Bell started out by revealing MAMA’s Family Vehicle of the Year for 2013. Criteria included four-doors, either a new or significantly updated vehicle and costing less than $50,000. The vehicle also had to have appeared at both the MAMA rallies. Ten finalists made the list, and 70 journalists narrowed it down to the Honda Accord, Ford Fusion, Mazda CX 5; the winner: Ford Fusion. The all-new Fusion is built on Ford’s global platform.

Andy Goss, President of Jaguar/Land Rover (JLR) addressed automotive journalists regarding the new and updated Jaguar and Land Rover models. Goss shared with the audience some history of TaTa Motors and how they purchased JLR 5 years ago. A company worth $100 billion worldwide, TaTa Motors has 450,000 employees; 26,000 of them in North America. They run 100 companies, in seven business sectors; multi-types of companies operating across six continents. Mr. Tata, now Chairman of the Board, made a massive investment in JLR. Introducing the new Jaguar F-Type sports car and the re-designed Land Rover, Goss reported a 30 percent increase in global sales for JLR in 2012. Operating in North America, India, China and the UK, TaTa has grown the brand, along with adding more than 8,000 new experienced workers, and in 2012, 121 new dealers were awarded JLR franchises. Now combining the Land Rover and Jaguar brands under one roof, there are currently 2, 465 dealers.

A visionary, Mr. Tata felt that Jaguar could be a much more significant presence in the luxury car segment, but it was out of synch with models offered by other manufacturers: Hence, the all-wheel-drive version now available on Jaguar sedans. Fifty-three percent of the market opt for the V6 engine, combined with AWD. New to the Jaguar lineup are the Jaguar XJ 3.0-liter, RWD/AWD, Jaguar XF 3.0-liter, RWD/AWD, and the Jaguar XF 2.0-liter RWD. The new F-type will appeal to those who remember what a Jaguar meant: a true sports car, with, noted Goss, “the best exhaust note in the business.” The real deal, the new F-type is expected to have a large impact on the Jaguar brand.

Next up, Goss introduced the redesigned Land Rover, ‘the hottest SUV brand with tremendous potential,” sharing that Land Rover posted its best January in the U.S. market with sales up 25 percent.  Aiming to be the ‘premier’ SUV, Land Rover debuting at the Los Angeles Auto Show is all-aluminum, unibody structure, 700 pounds lighter. The U.S. is the largest consumer of Land Rover products. A shiny red Evoque also on the floor; a departure from Land Rover’s of the past.

Toyota’s Bill Fay, Group VP and General Manager introduced the 2014 Toyota Tundra full-size pickup. The Chicago Auto Show has become for Toyota the show to introduce their new trucks, and this year was no exception.  Pricing not available until September, the Tundra built in North America sports a new tailgate, rugged, high-tech look, raised hood, new unique bumper, and the only available knee airbags in a pickup. The interior is all new, the center stack 2.6-inches closer to the driver. A beefed-up towing package is also new. The Tundra is available in five grades, each with a different grille, from the entry-level SR to the premium 1794 Edition, named for the ranch which sat upon the site where the plant now is in San Antonio. There are three engine options. Hit hard by the ‘09 recession, truck sales are projected to hit 2.8 million by 2015. As customers make the switch from trucks and SUVs to pickups, Toyota will be right there to grow the brand.  The Tundra competes with the Ford F-series and Dodge Ram.

Kia Motors ramped up to introduce the 2014 Optima Superman with the super hero comic book theme, drawn by artist Jim Lee. The Superman Optima rises off the ground with a single button! More to come. Launching seven new-or significantly redesigned products in the last few years, Kia has been on a tear, selling more than 500,000 units in 2012, a historic year. Kia unveiled the 2014 Sorento in L.A., along with the 2014 Forte sedan-on sale in March. The Kia Cadenza (Optima) was introduced in Detroit. Going along with their popular vehicles, Kia figured out somewhere along the way that babies, small children and animals sell; hence, the Super Bowl ad, “Must respect the tech.” The 2014 Forte Five-door, new to the lineup, offers generous passenger space, unique grille, and will be the only compact that is turbocharged. Two versions will be available, the Forte 5-dr. will offer the EX, 2.0-liter Direct-injected, 173 hp. Model with plenty of features. The SX turbo-charged trim level will have a 1.6-liter, 4-cylinder, 201 hp. Engine, coupled with Kia’s six-speed automatic or manual transmission, 18-inch wheels. On sale in fall 2013, the Forte 5-dr is yet to be priced.

On the performance side, Kia will build a GT, based on the concept. A new breed of crossover, the Cross-GT is, according to Chief Engineer Tom Kearns, a ‘sophisticated, mature vehicle with hybrid power train and vegetable-tanned upholstery. Come New York Auto Show time in April, Kia will be introducing yet another three vehicles.

Nissan introduced three new commercial vehicles, with extreme utility and optimal performance. Starting with no established owner base, Nissan jumped into the commercial vehicle segment and has some unique cargo vehicles. The NV200, at a reasonable $19,990 offers 24 mpg., appealing to the likes of entrepreneurs providing pet grooming services, taxi services, etc. On sale in March, the NV200 will join Nissan’s other NV van with a high roof enabling owners to stand up and perform work inside the van. Oil changes on the NV come only every 18,000 miles, too. A plus.

Nissan will build 150 units of the 2014 GTR track edition. On sale in May, the GTR was introduced right here in Chicago. The second phase of Project 370 just launched, was kicked off last year.

Nissan’s performance roots go back to 1964 and the NISMO racing vehicle. The original 350 NISMO is replaced by the second generation 370 NISMO, to go on sale in the summer of 2013. A new Juke NISMO will also join the group, with 100 revised features and 18-inch wheels. More extreme versions of Juke NISMO to come!

Volkswagen introduced a redesigned version of the 1970s Beetle in black and yellow:  The Beetle GSR. Hoping the GSR, to be introduced in the fall, will appeal to male buyers, the third-generation Beetle has already changed statistics, bringing a larger percent of male buyers to the model.  In 2012, VW sold more than 29,000 Beetles. Half the TDI and Turbo models were sold to males.  The GSR Beetle will be equipped with 19-inch wheels, R-Line exterior package, and 2.0-liter TSI engine with 210 horse.

Chief Product and Marketing Officer Tim Mahoney called 2013 a year of moderation for VW, with sales up by 7 percent. Spending much of the last year or so revitalizing the product lineup (Passat, Jetta), VW has redone the Beetle and Tiguan, and keeping enthusiasts in mind, doing more for the 2012 Golf R Line. VW’s performance story is important, noted Manhoney, particularly when it comes to the GTI, the cornerstone of performance. In 2012, VW sold 16,000 GTI’s, the U.S. market the biggest (bigger than Germany). VW will offer a Driver’s Edition GTI ($29,695), with 6-speed manual, and a Wolfsburg Edition ($20,095), with manual. More R-Line products will be available, including an R version of the Beetle Convertible and Tiguan. On sale in the fall of 2013, these R-Line products will have more aggressive styling. The Golf R will be replaced with a new version, adding other models.

Chevrolet’s marketing director for small cars Cristi Landi introduced the Cruze diesel, equipped with GM’s 2.0-liter TD engine, 140 hp., and 236-lbs-ft.of torque, and will sell for $26,325. Tapping into a segment accounting for 5 percent of the U.S. market, Cruze diesel will be the only domestic turbo-diesel passenger car to be sold in the U.S. The cleanest diesel engine to date, Cruze will deliver 42 mpg. With its turbo over boost feature. Chevrolet currently sells ½ million diesel cars around the world.

Another manufacturer on the tear, Chevrolet has introduced six new vehicles in the last year, along with reaching best-year sales of 5 million cars and trucks. The fastest growing brand, Chevy has launched more than 20 new vehicles globally; the most recent being the Impala ($27,550), to appear in late March. The summer of 2013 brings the new, redesigned Silverado pickup and the Spark EV, pure electric vehicle to be sold in California and Oregon. The big news, of course, is the 60th anniversary 2014 Corvette Stingray, introduced in Detroit in January. Chevy continues to have a big impact in the small car market, all under $20,000 and with great mpg. Nearly 60 percent of Sonic buyers traded a non-GM product, and Chevy’s Spark has made Chicago its number 2 market (L.A. being #1). It was Chevy Cruze, though that started the small car revival with 2 million sold to date.

Henrik Fisker, innovative entrepreneurial autobuilder and head of Fisker Automotive was the speaker at the Economic Club of Chicago Luncheon, sharing his rise through the automotive industry. Introducing Fisker Automotive in 2005, Fisker served as director of Ford’s Global Advanced Design Studio, president and chief executive officer of DesignworksUSA, BMW’s California-base industrial design subsidiary. Some of his notable works include the BMW Z07 concept and Z8 roadster.  How does one start a car company? Hurtles to get over: A heavily regulated industry, capital intensive, global reach, no economy of scale, building the whole infrastructure from scratch. Formidable!

As a kid, Fisker shared with the audience, he would often sit in class and draw pictures of automobiles. What vehicles made him fall in love with cars? The Datsun, Mustang and original Jaguars, he told the audience.

When young, Fisker wrote to Volvo asking about being a car designer and someone at Volvo recommended a school he might attend. Fisker’s first job when he came to the U.S. in 1997 was at BMW and his first project a small electric car (1989). What you need to start a car company today, said Fisker, is $1 billion dollars! Imagine going up against the big brands? How did Fisker come up with his first model, the Karma: He looked at Chinese brands, the EV’s in the mainstream, at sustainable luxury vehicles and at the current luxury brands.

“Where is the white space,” Fisker asked himself. He took a risk and designed a different looking vehicle. It was important to Fisker to design a vehicle that would capture an emotional connection with people; one with a more sculpted look, lower to the ground and looking not like any other vehicle. Fisker wanted his vehicle to compete in a smaller market. Using the power of creativity, Fisker has the largest solar roof in the automotive industry, reclaimed wood in its interior, and Ever powertrain and 22-inch alloy wheels. Not to mention the Diamond Dust paint! One candrive the Karma without filling it up. Equipped with a very advanced battery that works as a generator, the Karma also has an electric engine. Charge or fill up. Fisker Automotive has had its ups and downs financially, raising $5 million to get started. In 2008, Fisker almost had a meltdown, but by 2009, had more money coming in. He bought a plant in Delaware and got a government-approved loan in 2010. Designing and offering a car that takes into account consumer convenience (filling station at home), and a gasoline engine as a range extender, Fisker Automotive will be introducing another model, the Atlantic, a family vehicle, to be produced in the U.S.

Fisker watches the trends-wellness resorts, people eating healthier, lifestyle changes and incorporates them into the Fisker Automotive philosophy of creating a lifestyle brand. Just this year, Fisker operates 30 dealerships in Europe, and opened a dealership in Dubai, selling Karmas in the Middle East. Before Fisker can open other dealerships, he realizes he needs another vehicle to offer. Because there are too many models for too few buyers, Fisker is careful about what he will build and offer.

Stay Tuned…..

Susan Frissell, editor,


Cutting-Edge Technology at Chicago’s Auto Show

Monica Gostkiewicz

Chicago Automobile Trade Association

CHICAGO (February 14, 2013) – Cutting-edge technology tied to safe driving is one of the chief trends showing up at the 2013 Chicago Auto Show – the nation’s largest. Manufacturers are developing new innovations that comply with road-safety regulations.

In an effort to keep Illinois roads safe, 75 municipalities throughout the state, including Chicago, have banned the use of cell phones while driving. Automakers have long been the leaders in developing hands-free interfaces allowing vehicle occupants to remain connected to their mobile device.

According to Chiago Auto Show Chairman Mike Ettleson, “Hands-free operation and smartphone interconnectivity applications are just some of the new technologies on display here at the 2013 Chicago Auto Show.”

Infotainment – described as information-based media content that includes entertainment – is on display in every exhibit and becoming mainstream in today’s cars. Specifically, center console display screens have become increasingly popular in recent years. Although initially offering only general information like outside temperature, radio station and vehicle status, screen features have now expanded to include rearview cameras and apps similar to those found on smartphones. Some manufacturers, such as General Motors, offer technology that can read a driver’s text message aloud without ever needing to reach for their phone.

David Szczepanski, lead connected customer specialist at General Motors notes,”Since 2007, a ton of smartphones have been piling into people’s pockets, so a lot of that technology and a lot of those trends we are seeing have been moving into the vehicles.” In the Chevy Spark, notes Szczepanski, the brain is really the phone. All of the data lives on your phone, the processing happens on the phone, but the screen is how you interact with it.

Szczepanski says that playing around with the new technology is a lot of fun, but that it will also help keep you safe. “If you ask [the technology] a question that it needs you to look at the phone, it will say ‘Sorry, for your safety, I can’t do that.'”

Also moving driver safety to the fore in its infotainment offereings is Kia Motors, according to Kia Motors Executive Vice President of Marketing and Communications Michael Sprague. Kia’s UVO eServices, an in-vehicle communications and infotainment system, allows drivers to keep their hands on the steering wheel and their eyes on the road, says Sprague. “But [drivers can] still access their Blackberry, iPhone, or any other PDA that they bring into the vehicle so you can phone your friends, you can listen to your music, you can schedule service if your vehicle needs it; there’s a whole slew of products that this vehicle can help you communicate with.”

Infotainment and tech amenities have even made their way into trucks – a line of vehicles historically noted for their “work horse” capability and towing and load capacities. Doug Scott, Ford’s truck group marketing manager, said the feature content in a number of Ford trucks rivals that of any vehicle on the road. However, Scott points out that Ford’s concept trucks have even more to offer.

“Next gen LED lighting, toggle switches, a 10-inch screen in the center console…again, stretching the envelope. That’s what you try to do with a design concept is give the customer an idea of what the future might look like and really stretch your boundaries,” said Scott.

Other infotainment and technology features appearing in 2013 cars include:

  • Active and passive safety technology
  • Adaptive cruise control with brake assist
  • Smart phone app integration
  • WiFi hot spot

To request the video clips included in this release, please email Jennifer Morand at For photo and logo assets for download, please visit:


VW Enthusiasts Unite: The Magical Mystery Funfest


The Driving Range

Dani Ben-Ari

Mid America Motorworks is inviting VW enthusiasts to a Magical Mystery Funfest; the 15th annual Funfest for Air-Cooled Volkswagens. The Festival is scheduled for May 31-June 2 and will be held at Mid America Motorworks’ corporate campus in Effingham, Il.

This year’s event will feature special guest two-time Bonneville Salt Flats World Record holder, Bill Hatfield and his 1999 Mexican Beetle, known as the Salt Flats Flyer. Hatfield set and reset the 36-HP Challenge’s DSS36 (dual carbs class) record with a pass of 114.909 mph.

In addition, guests can also look forward to all new expert seminars, special displays, a scavenger hunt, swap meet, Magical Mystery road tour of specialty cars, premium Saturday night entertainment and more. “Celebrity Choice” fun judging on Friday, Saturday and Sunday recognizes the stand-out VWs from the weekend.

Winners of the 2013 Platinum Bug Award and Passing on the Passion Award will also be announced during Funfest. There is still time to submit entries for the Platinum Bug Award, recognizing an individual who has shown long-term dedication to the preservation and promotion of the classic Volkswagen hobby for future generations. Entries are also being accepted for the Passing on the Passion Award, which recognizes families that share the VW hobby from one generation to the next. Nominations for both awards can be submitted at


Self-guided tours of the MY Garage Museum and Retail Store will be available throughout the weekend. See Chief Cheerleader Mike Yager’s collection of rare and famous VWs, including original Herbie cars.

Enthusiasts can register in advance for Funfest for Air-Cooled VW 2013 at or by calling 800-500-1500. Visit the website or our Facebook page,, for up to date event information.


Two Full-Sized Americans – 2013 Ford Taurus Limited and 2013 Chrysler 300S – Review / Comparo

george George Straton (January 20, 2013)
Drive He Said…….. 
 Outside North America and certain Middle Eastern kingdoms, emirates and principalities, anything sized this large wears a luxury nameplate and works in livery service. Decades of piss poor American compact and (have mercy) sub-compact cars combined set their course. A simultaneous explosion in conspicuous tastes and waists cemented their appeal. We are speaking of the full-sized premium sedan. And boy does “Drive…He Said” have two doozies that will feed voracious American appetites.
Out of the box the 2013 Ford Taurus Limited AWD  speaks streamlined though staggering; the 2013 Chrysler 300S boxy but buxom. The 300S’  over-sized mirrored grille along with Dick Tracy huge  front fenders, rear quarters, and high belt-line should please more mature “hip hoppers.”  The optional 20″ wheels, with dark painted spokes, create a stance at least as ferocious than the 300 SRT-8. More genteel are prominent tail lamps and a gentler crease of the trunk lid. Not even the Taurus’ honeycomb 19″ wheels on 255 mm rubber can overcome its greater subtlety. That is until ‘the family” introduces the unsuspecting to an enormous 20-cubic foot trunk. Such capacity deserves to be measured in terms of number of automotive writers  that can be fit rather than golf bags. Jill Ciminillo,, our princess of trunk exploring, gets to go first.

Whether the Ford Taurus’ front wheels are pulling and pushing (front biased AWD) or the Chrysler 300S’ rear wheels are pushing both models rely on updates to DOHC V6 powertrains. Subtle differences include the Taurus’ 100-cc deficit to the  300S’ displacement of 3.6-Liters. The Ford motor is a continuation of the storied Duratec family. The Chrysler mill is from the newer Pentastar breed. Both powerplants feature dual variable valve timing. With its 100-cc advantage the 300S’s power rating is slightly higher at 300-hp to 288 for the Taurus. Ditto the torque: 263-lb-ft @ 4350 rpm in the Chrysler to 255 @ 4000 rpm in the Ford.

This time the 300S gets Chrysler’s new 8-speed ZF automatic gearbox, up two more cogs to the Taurus. And steering wheel mounted paddle shifters for sequential shifting. The Ford being a Ford makes do with “Thumb Shifting.” Hearkening back to the recent DHS comparo review of the 2012 Dodge Durango and Ford Explorer, the Ford Duratec motor feels lustier than the Chrysler Pentastar ( The 300S transmission is but an eager upshifter with a taller final drive. The engine never bellows mellifluous notes expected from V6’s.  The 4200 pound Taurus nails 60 mph in 7 seconds. The two-hundred pound lighter 300S does the feat a tick slower. It’s a testament to the Taurus’ all-wheel drive grip off the line. Where that eight-speed slushbox pays off is at the gasoline pumps. The 300S returned combined fuel economy of 21 mpg well up from the all-we-could-manage 18 mpg in the Taurus.

DHS_2013_full_size_sedans_03_Ford_Taurus_Chrysler_300SSteering and braking feel are another Taurus strong suit. Hydraulic steering assist is supposed to provide better feel compared to electric assist, right? Not always. Case in point: the electrified 15:1 rack ratio in the Ford is a tad quicker than the Chrysler’s hydraulic rack. And it’s better weighted to suit the slightly wider shoes: 255/45 Michelin Primacy’s on 19″ wheels versus 245/45 Firestone Firehawk GTVs on impressive 20″ alloys for the 300S. Both sedans nominally feature brake rotors greater than one-foot in radius. However, the Taurus offers a consistently firmer pedal and more initial bite. The 300S is endowed with more linear pedal response.

Then there the advantages of the 300S’ “double wishbone” front suspension, reproduced from the old Benz S-Class. The Taurus Limited’s front strut / lower A-Arm set-up makes for a tendency to plow in corners. Moderately hard braking in the Ford reveals a tendency to dive. Not so in the Chrysler 300S. Only at the limits of apex physics does the tail in the Chrysler gets squirmy embarking on slight understeer. Apply throttle and the steamroller Firestone Firehawks demonstrate real tenacity. Luckily, before the tires in the Taurus can cry “Uncle,” all-wheel drive diverts sufficient power rearward through the electronic differential. Despite the 300S’ huge rollers you’ll be hard pressed to find a road crater large enough to send anything greater than a slight quiver to the seats.

On the inside its avante garde European styling vs traditional American lines. And it’s the Italian owned brand which has the latter. If you seek Latin spicier you could try for the sister Lancia 300 on the Continent, with either of its diesel engines. Where the Chrysler is subdued, using premium enough materials, and sparingly applying simulated chrome, and faux carbon fiber appliques, the Ford has benefited from years of owning Volvo. Enter the Taurus and discover a thoroughly modern twin cowl themed cockpit. The only drawback may be a more constrictive feeling for drivers who prefer their space.

Is there a climate/ navigation /communication /entertainment function which My Ford Sync Touch cannot accomplish? Ford’s soft touch controls are good enough to merit a patent infringement demand from Apple. Even if Chrysler’s U-Connect touch screen and rotary climate dials are a helluva lot simpler to use. The Taurus’ instrument cluster lacks the vibrant ice-blue glow present in the 300S. Yet it manages to be more informative and less cluttered. The center stack flows seamlessly into the center console in a Scandinavian way. While we could become accustomed to either interior we also know which of the two we would never tire of.

Beware of as nauseum promoting of premium mobile audio systems. The 300S is inundated with visual cues broadcasting its “Beats by Dr. Dre”  system. Great for rap and atrial fibrillation. Memo to Chrysler: “You Should Have Got a Sony.” It’s vastly more musical.

The Ford’s front buckets shine in areas of support and bolstering. The Chrysler thrones, draped in sublime hides, less so, while better suited to wider frames. In tourist class the Chrysler 300 improves on Taurus’ more modest 36″-inches by a goodly 3″-inches. Sloping roofs eat into headroom. Sitting in the back of either of these full-sizers will simply never be mistaken for being in a pew at the Cathedral of Reims.

Then there is the almost eerie Chrysler 300S solitude on the road. From the umbilical-cord attachment to the former E-class come doors which close with such a satisfying thud. The Chrysler 300S is your short wheelbase limo, light years more capable than any Lincoln Town Car or Cadillac DTS ever was. But the Taurus is a man-with-machine affair, the more precocious, yet intimate of the two.

Well contented neither the all-wheel-drive 2013 Ford Taurus Limited nor the rear-drive 2013 Chrysler 300S are inexpensive. Our Taurus lacked a moonr00f, though it came through with power adjustable driver’s pedals and automatic high beams, a feature worth its weight in gold. All-wheel drive in the 300S probably would not have changed our driving impressions.  Coming an at $40,000, each of these “full-sized Americans” present their share of luxury touches not always offered in luxury imports costing $10,000 more. So, “Go ahead and Super-Size Us.”