Monthly Archives: January 2014

2014 Mazda3 i Grand Touring 5-door

mazda32Reviewed by Susan Frissell, editor

In its third generation, the Mazda3 four-door and five-door models have been updated for 2014. Available in six trim levels: I Sport ($18,945), I Touring ($20,095), I Grand Touring ($23,245), S Touring ($25,095) and S Grand Touring ($26,495). The 4-door models start at $16,945 MSRP, the five-door at $18,945. The 2.0-liter gasoline engine is standard, the 2.5-liter optional. The 2.0-l models can be teamed with either a SKYACTIV-MT 6-speed manual transmission, or a SKYACTIV-Drive six-speed automatic. Currently, models with the 2.5-liter engine are only available with the automatic transmission; the manual offered at a later date.

Safety equipment on this little hatchback abounds and includes hill launch assist, ABS, traction control, dynamic stability control, front, side and curtain airbags, tire pressure monitoring system and Mazda’ SKYACTIV-body ring structure.  Anti-theft engine immobilizer, blind spot monitoring, rearview camera and rear cross traffic alert were helpful and useful during Chicago’s snowy days.mazda3 frontn end

Our test model was the I Sport 5-door Grand Touring edition. With upgrades a plenty for 2014, the Mazda3 has an improved updated interior, along with a much friendlier ride. Fairly quiet, the Mazda3 5-door offers a comfortable, spirited ride. One can opt for the larger 2.5-liter engine with more horsepower, but we found the 2.0-liter more than adequate. Paired with Mazda’s 6-speed transmission, the Mazda3 i-5 is easy to drive and keeps up with the best of them.

The rear seat is roomy enough for most passengers and when collapsed, holds some, but not all your stuff. Up against the competition (VW GTI, Subaru Forester, for instance), the Mazda3 5-door probably won’t hold your pup unless she’s a Chi, and will disappoint when trying to pack in any long skis. While the Mazda3 5-door doesn’t have the most inspiring design (resembles Ford’s Focus), it’s pleasant looking, fun to drive and has best-in-class quick-to-warm up heated seats.

It took some getting used to use the ‘command’ center console controls. Similar to the Lexus controls, we found the Mazda’s somewhat annoying. After a while it made sense, but seemed a lot of work to go from XM to FM and back and from station to station. Once locating the tune button, it became tolerable. The sound provided by the Bose 9-speaker audio system is good, and the system includes Pandora, SMS text message delivery and reply, Sirius/XM satellite, nav system, AHA, Stitcher all on a 7-inch touch-screen display. We especially grooved with the picture displayed of each artist when his/her song was played. Distracting, though.


Options included cargo mat ($70), Soul Red Metallic paint ($300), rear bumper guard ($100), scuff plates/door sill trim plates ($100).

When up against the competition, say Ford Focus, you’re getting an efficient performer than doesn’t feel less than. However, our test car’s total vehicle price of close to $25,000 isn’t inexpensive. It did, however, have a lot of amenities. Would I own this vehicle? Maybe, but it wouldn’t be my only vehicle; as much as I like it.

As someone who knows their vehicles and is serious about what they drive, he/she is aware of all that a Mazda offers; namely, dependability, forward-thinking technology and economy. The 2014 Mazda3 I Sport topped the list of Best New Car Under $20,000, as well as best ‘small, all-new from the ground up’vehicle. Year after year, Mazda continues to offer sporty, fun-to-drive, reliable vehicles. It’s hard to go wrong.


MSRP: $23,245; total vehicle price $24,635; destination $795

Engine: 2.0-liter DOHC 4-cylinder,SKYACTIV-G, 155 hp., 150 lb. ft. torque

Transmission: SKYACTIV-MT 6-speed.manual

Wheelbase: 106.3 in.

Height: 57.3 in.

Weight: 2,797 lbs.

Width: 70.7 in.

Length: 175.6 in.

EPA fuel economy: 29/40 mpg.

Tires: P205/60R16 all-season

Wheels: 16-inch alloy

Warranty: 3 yrs./36,000-mile bumper-to-bumper; 5 yrs./60,000-mile limited powertrain; 3 yrs./36,000-mile 24-hr. roadside assistance

Lexus IS 250 AWD Sedan

Reviewed by Susan Frissell, editor

lexis250The 2014 Lexus IS 250 is one of the most enjoyable sport sedans out there today. Granted, BMW enthusiasts will challenge me on that, but I enjoyed driving this car more than I’ve enjoyed a sedan in ages. Granted the price tag is daunting, but if it’s your only car and  you can

lexus-is-2014-comfort-dare-to-unconform-1lexus-is-2014-intro-all-newswing it, go for it.

The options on our IS 250 quicked added thousands to the MSRP of $38,000 price tag. The F Sport Package ($2,675) spiffs up the IS 250’s exterior with F Sport front bumper and spindle grille, LED headlamps-low and high beam, 18-inch F Sport split 5-spoke wheels, 225/40R18 in front and 225/35R18 in the rear. The interior is trimmed in TFT instrument cluster which very much resembles the digital gauges found in the LFA supercar: The IP in F Sport models features a Thin Film Transistor display that moves in concert with a sliding metallic-trimmed bezel and expands and retracts digital screens when information is accessed. This is cool to watch and really takes one into the high-tech world.

The Cluster IP display

The Cluster IP display

Also available in this package are heated front F Sport seats, perforated leather: steering wheel and shift knob, seating and black headliner. On the performance side, the F Sport Package adds F Sport tuned suspension. Located in the center console is the Drive Mode Select which enables drivers to choose from a more responsive mode to efficient (ECO).The other option on our test IS 250 sedan was the Navigation Package ($2,085) and includes backup camera, remote touch interface, Lexus Enform with App Suite, Destination Assist and eDestination (1-year subscription), Lexus Insider, Voice Command, and HD radio with real-time traffic and weather.

Safety equipment abounds in this high-end sport sedan and includes Safety Connect with automatic collision notication, stolen vehicle location, emergency assist button (SOS) and enhanced roadside assistance (1-year subscription). Airbags number 10 and cover driver, front passenger: knee, side, rear side and rear curtain. The driver’s seat is equipped with 10-way power, 2-way lumbar and three levels of heated seats. The rear seats fold with 60/40 split, making the IS 250 somewhat functional! Not just good looking.

More so than in any time in memory, this writer really enjoyed motoring in the 2014 IS 250. Although possessing a somewhat small interior, this sport sedan is so much fun to drive and maneuver. We can’t imagine a large, tall person being very comfortable in the very comfortable and form-fitting Reccaro-type seats.

Two models of this sport sedan are available: both Base, one with rear-wheel-drive, the other all-wheel-drive. Our test vehicle came equipped with the all-wheel-drive making it a little easier to drive in Chicago’s winter temps and icy roads.


MSRP: $38,485; total vehicle price $44,155; destination $910

Engine: 2.5-liter, V6, 24-valve DOHC Direct Injection, 204 hp., 185 lb. ft. torque

Transmission: 6-speed automatic with paddle shifters, Electronic Control with Intelligence, FT all-wheel-drive (standard RWD)

Wheelbase: 110.2 in.

Length: 183.7 in.

Height: 56.3 in.

Width: 61 in.

EPA Fuel economy: 20/27 mpg.

Fuel tank capacity: 17.4 gal.

Tires: 225/45R17

Wheels: 17-inch aluminum

Warranty:48 mths/50,000-miles Basic; 72 mths/70,000-miles powertrain; 72 mths/unltd miles perforation corrosion; 48 mths/unltd miles roadside assisstance; 12 mths/10,000-miles maintenance


Reviewed by Susan Frissell, editor


rav4Completely redesigned for 2013, the RAV4 adds minor changes for 2014. One change includes expansion of Toyota’s Entune audio system offerings, with four different versions available on the 2014 RAV4.

Setting the pace back in 1995, the RAV4 was the first of the CUV category, now with a fair amount of competition, including the likes of Hyundai Tucson, Kia Sportage, Mazda CX-5, Ford Escape, Subaru Forester, Honda CR-V and Chevrolet Equinox. Many have come and gone since the early days, losing their truck platforms and poor ride, but not really gaining much pazzazz. One can’t really go off-road with one (at least not with any satisfaction). However, they have become a huge favorite with female drivers, partly because they are high off the ground, roomy and give the impression of ‘added safety.’

Far be it from manufacturers, though, to not provide what the customer wants, and many are driving the crossover suv’s, a satisfactory combination of a sedan and large Sport-Utility vehicle. Don’t expect to be an individual when driving a CUV, or to have much real driving fun. You’re one of the crowd. With the exception of the Mazda CX-5 which with its sporty heritage, provides more kicks.

Making the best of what it has, a 2.5-liter, 4-cylinder engine with 176 horsepower, the 2014 RAV4 is not a bad crossover Ute, however not terribly inspiring. With its new looks, the RAV has been brought up-to-date (which today means looking like its competitors).ravint

The standard base LE RAV4 is equipped with a 6.1-inch touch-screen with a backup camera, Bluetooth, iPod, USB ports and six speakers. This is  standard on the XLE model, and optional on the LE and adds HD radio with iTunes tagging and traffic and weather information in major metro areas.

Our test vehicle was the Limited XLE, AWD RAV4, equipped with only one option: a premium system that includes Display Audio with navigation and the Entune App Suite. This feature is a must for all tech geeks and includes a 6.1-inch Touch-screen with camera display, AM/Fm/CD player with MP3/WMA playback capability, six-speed Sirius/XM with 90day complimentary trial, HD radio with iTunes Tagging, auxiliary with iPod connectivity and control vehicle information with customizable wetting capability, phone book, access, advanced voice recognition and music streaming technology, allows engaging several mobile apps through smartphones. This system is optional on the XLE. Exclusive to the Limited is an optional version with 11 JBL speakers and a 576-watt amplifier.

New features on the 2014 RAV4 include lane departure warning and automatic high-beam headlights, available in a group with blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert in a Technology Package available on the Limited. Why no standard heated seats on the Limited version? Puzzling.

Gone the way of other features, RAV4 loses its side-hinged tailgate which won’t sadden too many RAV4 owners. Also discontinued on the 2014 model is the exterior-mounted spare tire and the optional V-6 engine and three-row seating. The 2014 models seat five and come with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and a six-speed automatic transmission, with a choice of front-or all-wheel drive.

Safety equipment is plentiful and includes the usual stability control, traction control, Brake Force Distribution, Brake Assist, and Smart Stop Technology.

As with all CUV’s, the 2014 RAV4 comes well-equipped and includes dual-zone comfort, reclining fold-flat rear seats, illuminated entry, power mirrors/windows/doors, remote keyless entry, Eco/Sport Mode, cruise, two 12v auxiliary power outlets. The Limited trim level has a few extras including rear spoiler, power moonroof.

The redesigned rear door, opening upwards like most is much easier to operate and allows for a near flat cargo space when the second row of seats is folded down.

In its third design renovation and fourth generation, the RAV4 remains a very popular vehicle in its category. Fuel economy is also respectable at  22/29 on the all-wheel-drive version.

Our test car had a few rattles which remained identifiable throughout the week. In addition, the doors when shut sound a little tinny. In some ways, the RAV4 just doesn’t seem as solid as some of its competitors.


MSRP: $25,690; total vehicle price $27,580; destination $860

Engine: 2.5-liter DOHC 16-valve, 4-cylinder, dual VVT, 176 hp., front engine, 4-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 5-door

Transmission: 6-speed automatic with manual shifting

Wheelbase: 104.7 in.

Length: 179.9 in.

Width: 72.6 in.

Weight: 3, 573 lbs.

EPA fuel economy: 22/29 AWD; 24/31 FWD

Tires: P225/64R17

Wheels: 17-inch alloy

Height: 67.1 in.








Detroit Ramps up the 2014 Auto Show: Some Highlights

In its first days of the media preview of the 2014 North American International Auto Show, Detroit has lots to see. Taking place as always in Cobo Hall Convention Center, the Detroit Auto Show has some $200 million in displays for 2014. Over 5,000 journalists stormed the doors of the revamped Cobo, with over 700 vehicles, 50 new debuts and more than $279 million in renovations, including new conference rooms, a glass atrium and food court. The 50-some year-old convention center saw 796,000 attend the world famous North American International Auto Show in 2013. The theme of the 2014 NAIAS show is “we’re alive again. The show opens to the public January 18-26.

Below is just a small part of what journalists are reveling in the Motor City:


A car for the 21st century, the Dune Concept: Yet, another version of the beloved Beetle, with a ski rack built into the roof and rear spoilers, based on the Beetle R-Line with an EA888 TSI engine with 210-horsepower, the Dune is wider and taller and adds two inches of ground clearance. Combined with a six-speed DSG® dual-clutch automatic transmission, the Beetle Dune has a manufacturer estimated fuel economy rating of 23 mpg in the city and 29 mpg on the highway.

beetleduneRegardless of where it shows up, the infamous VW Beetle is a hit, bringing a smile to people’s faces. With the world premiere of the Beetle Dune at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Volkswagen is giving the public the chance to see a Beetle with a cool offroad look.

The Dune concept shows the potential for a new production version of the sportiest Beetle ever. The concept is painted in “Arizona”, a yellow-orange metallic, with two-part wheelarch extensions that are offset in black. Like the Cross Golf, these extensions are rugged looking elements with a matte finish. The wheel housings widen the body by 1.1 inches per side to give a total width of 73.4 inches, an increase of 2.2 inches over a stock Beetle. The overall length has increased by 0.5 inches to 168.9 inches and the car is both 2.0 inches higher off the ground and 0.8 inches taller.

The Dune’s front and rear tracks are increased by 1.1 inches at the front and rear to 63.3 and 61.9 inches respectively. As a result of the four-square stance and its reduced wheel travel, the 19-inch wheels and 255/45 tires fill out the wheel housings.  At the center of each wheel is the VW logo embedded in a three-dimensional housing that’s painted in the car’s exterior color. The distinctive Dune logo is placed  in front of the rear fenders.

The front end sports the Beetle’s basic design and Bi-Xenon round headlights, however a new hood has been adopted, which has a raised center section with prominent air vents, which have a honeycomb appearance with a central chrome strip.

The front apron features a large central air intake. The intake widens towards its bottom edge, highlighting the front end’s sporty look: the black honeycomb screen has a chrome-plated surround that morphs into the underbody protection.

To the left and right of the central air intake and the aluminum underbody protection are the foglight housings: trapezoidal in shape, they have gloss black frames and contain LED foglights.

The skis are mounted to the outside of the trunk lid which is made possible by the swiveling of the outer parts of the rear spoiler. The skis are placed in the spoiler, then it is closed to clamp them in place. At the top, the skis slide into a receptacle in the specially developed roof spoiler, where they are secured by an 0.8-inch-wide belt.

The Dune’s interior has also been revamped: The dashpad—painted in the “Arizona” exterior color and has been replaced by another classic original Beetle feature, a grab handle that features contrasting black soft-touch material with “Arizona” and aluminum accent. In addition,  the entire infotainment system incorporates a digital interface with a high-resolution 7.7-inch touchscreen. beetleduneint

The seat design is sophisticated and sporty, and upholstered in “Titan Black” leather, while the center surfaces are made of “Ceramique” colored “Gobi” breathable sport fabric. The leather and fabric areas and the front and rear of the head restraints have decorative stitching in the “Arizona” color.

VW’s new Golf R also makes its debut at NAIAS and will offer a race-driving mode which sharpens the throttle response and shift points, while firming the shocks.

VW E-Golf is also featured at NAIAS, with its everyday versatility with zero tailpipe emissions, low ownership costs.

The Volkswagen group grows its 2013 deliveries almost five percent to over 9.7 million vehicles (up from 9.3 million in 2012)


Lexus makes three debuts at NAIAS, including on center stage, their global premier of the RC-F ‘low-slung, athletic’ coupe, with Toyota’s most powerful V8 performance car ever developed by Lexus.

Also on display are the RC 350 and LF-NX turbo concept cars, making their North American introductions, having first debuted at the Tokyo Motor Show. The RC 350 features a 3.5-liter, V6 engine teamed with an 8-speed sequential transmission, and the most aggressive styling yet of its iconic spindly grille.

The LF-NX turbo concept, a premier compact crossover SUV, is bold, dynamic and innovative in its design. The Lexus exhibit also shows off the F Sport accessorized vehicle and components, including the LFA performance car.

Lexus celebrates 25 years in Detroit.


With 35,000 square feet of exhibit space, Toyota features 38 vehicles, including the 2014 editions of the new Corolla, Highlander, 4Runner and Tundra. Highlights for the media include the FCV-fuel cell-powered concept. Also on display is the unique concept Toyota FV2, future mobility car operated by the driver shifting his/her body to intuitively move the vehicle in any direction.

Toyota is also featuring its hybrid technology with all four Prius vehicles. And for NASCAR fans, Toyota offers its Racing Zone. But the big shock of the show is the FT-1 concept, a midsize sports coupe. In collaboration with BMW, the FT-1 will head Toyota in a new direction with innovative exterior design. Brings back shades of other legendary sports cars like Supra, the 2000G, Celica and MR2.


Appealing to youth-oriented markets, Scion has 10 vehicles on display, including the 2014 limited edition Monogram Series FR-S and tC models. Also focusing largely on social media elements, such as their “Master Dashboard” video wall which displays live Scion tweets, Facebook posts and Instagram images, Scion introduces the “Scion Swag Machine,” the world’s first Instagram-powered near-field communication enabled vending machine.

Also available at the Scion exhibit is the availability of “Paper Shapers” Scion cars. Created by artist Shin Tanaka, guests can assemble their own Origami style cars.


Ford introduces the 2015 F-150 with its 2.7-liter engine.

Other introductions at this year’s Detroit show include the 2014 BMW Z-Series Coupe, 2015 BMW M3, 2015 BMW M4 and the 2015 BMW Z4 Pure Fusion Design. Cadillac will show off its attractive 2015 ATS Coupe; Hyundai its Genesis sedan. Audi introduces its 2015 A8, and of course, the all-new sports car of the year, Chevrolet Corvette, introducing the Z06 this week.

Other intros include the 2015 Mercedes-Benz C-Class, 2015 MB S600 and the GLA 45 AMG, 2014 Dodge Dart SXT Blacktop, 2015 GMC Canyon, 2015 Honda Fit and the all-new Infiniti Q50 Eau Rouge concept, Mini John Cooper Works Concept, Nissan Sport sedan concept, 2014 Porsche 911 Targa, 2015 Blue Motion Concept, Volvo Concept XC Coupe and 2015 Subaru WRX STI.

Stay tuned……………………



Barra named head of GM

The Driving Range

Dani Ben-Ari

Mary Teresa Barra got an early birthday present yesterday after being crowned the “queen” of America’s auto industry, replacing Dan Akerson as chief executive officer of GM, who took early retirement to care for his wife Karen . Already recognized as the “41st most powerful woman in the world by Forbes Magazine last year, this nows makes her the first female CEO of a major global automaker.

Born December 24, 1961, Mary Teresa Makela, Barra, now a married mother of two grew up with a father who worked as a die maker at Pontiac for 39 years. She began her own career with the company at the age of 18 as a General Motors Institute (Kettering University) co-op student, graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering. She later obtained a Masters in Business Administration from the Stanford Graduate School of Business after receiving a GM fellowship in 1988. Along the way, Barra has served General Motors as a Vice President, Global Human Resources; Vice President, Global Manufacturing Engineering; Plant Manager, Detroit Hamtramck Assembly; Executive Director of Competitive Operations Engineering; as well as held several engineering and staff positions, before being named as GM’s Senior Vice President, Global Product Development February 1, 2011.

In her role as Senior VP, Global Manager, Barra was responsible for the design, engineering, program management and quality of General Motors vehicles around the world. She later assumed command for General Motor’s Global Purchasing and Supply Chain organization and was named Executive Vice President, Global Product Development & Global Purchasing and Supply Chain, and became a member of the GM Executive Operations Committee. She also serves on the Adam Opel AG Supervisory Board. According to Akerson, Mary Barra was the unanimous choice to succeed him “due to the breadth of hr experience, management record, people skills and understanding of GM’s operations.”

Note: When asked what her favorite cars are, Barra cited the Chevrolet Camaro and Firebird as her all-time favorites.