Monthly Archives: August 2014

2014 Lexus 300 h Hybrid Sedan

Reviewed: Susan Frissell


2014 Lexus ES 300h

2014 Lexus ES 300h

An addition to the Lexus ES mid-size luxury sedan, the 300 h hybrid version is a pleasant vehicle. This first hybrid version is selling very well. Competition is a-plenty and includes such players as Ford Fusion, Ford C-Max, VW Jetta and Prius C, all in the hybrid game.

Changes for 2014 include a few things, namely new bulbs in the fog lamps (LED). On the inside, updates include heated and ventilated front seats, available with NuLuxe trim. Perforation was also added to front and rear seat inserts on NuLuxe-trimmed seats (with optional heated and ventilated front seats only). The sedan adds Siri Eyes Free Mode, as well.

Launched in August 2012 as a 2013 model, the ES carries forward as essentially the same car for 2014, with just a few minor trim and feature updates. In 2013, Lexus predicted that one out of four (25 percent) FWD ES sedans sold would be a hybrid; the prediction has proven to be accurate. Sales average over 1,200 per month and with 12,096 sold through September, it’s on track this year for close to 17,000.

To have won over Lexus customers is a coo; particularly since they traditionally were looking for an upscale Toyota and the experience of being catered to. In addition, not every automotive consumer is convinced hybrid and/or electric is the way to go. Many are still sitting on the fence, this writer included; in fact, hybrids only comprise 4 percent of U.S. sales. Thirdly, hybrids and EV vehicles are all priced considerably higher than traditional sedans/SUVs. Further ahead than many automotive manufacturers, Toyota seems to have it down when it comes to electric vehicles/hybrids.

As the leader with Prius years ago, they have developed a formula that works. Every other car in the Chicago area-or so it seems-is a Prius! Performance doesn’t seem to be a huge criteria for hybrid buyers; mileage is; helping the environment is. Based on the Toyota Avalon frame, the Lexus ES sedan gets its power from Toyota’s 2.5-liter Atkinson cycle engine, along with a permanent magnet AC synchronous motor and motor/generator. Horsepower is 156. The 108-pound, 1.6-kwh liquid-cooled battery pack is located in the trunk and volume is 12.1 cubic feet compared to 15.2 for the non-hybrid.

There are a few cues that tell the onlooker the ES 300h is a hybrid: the Hybrid badging and the power readouts on the dash. Although fairly comfortable, the ES’ seating did require for this writer, some time to get to the place where it fit properly: Too high-too low-not close enough-too close. We’ve enjoyed other manufacturer’s driver’s seats more. The extra room added by the 111.0-inch wheelbase, three people can ride comfortably in the rear seating.

Some of the standard equipment on the ES 300h includes an Analog clock (reminds us of the Infiniti), auto-dimming interior mirror, glow-in-the-dark emergency interior trunk release handle, heated external mirrors with memory, HomeLink programmable garage door opener, illuminated entry system: front and rear seating areas, engine start button, driver and front passenger foot-well areas and exterior mirror puddle lamp areas, and illuminated gas and trunk release buttons.


Lest one think there isn’t a trick to getting the most out of a hybrid arrangement, keeping the gas engine in check (read: not running all the time), the mpg can reach 39/40 mpg. Experienced hybrid owners desiring maximum return know this and drive accordingly. Driving the ES hybrid in an “ordinary” pace will produce fuel economy between 32-38 mpg. Aggressive driving will be on the lower scale and below. rated mileage is 40/39 mpg, 40 mpg combined. liter V6 ES 350 which is rated at 21 mpg city, 31 highway, 24 combined.

Braking action is more precise than for instance, the Toyota Highlander we recently tested. Jerky and unpredictable, the Highlander’s braking was nerve-wracking. The regenerative brakes help to regulate speed in the hybrid, controlling motion. As is typical for hybrids with continuously variable transmissions (CVT), the engine note does not usually correspond linearly with the car’s rate of acceleration. The ES 300h is of course, not a performance sedan; rather an all-around daily driver of a sedan; which is why it has remained so popular with consumers. The ES 300h qualifies as a SULEV (Super Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle).

Pricing for the ES 300h starts at $40,260 including $910 destination. While the ES 350 and ES 300h are very similar, the major advantage in opting for the hybrid is a combined EPA rated economy of 40 mpg, compared to 24 for the ES 350. The ES 300 Hybrid is otherwise identical to the ES 350 non-hybrid in terms of sheet metal, interior design, creature comforts and ride.

If it matters, and it does to some buyers, driving the 300 h hybrid version over the years adds up to better resale value, insurance premiums, anticipated maintenance, fuel costs, what kind of price you can get from a dealer, and the value of not having to stop for gas as often, are all considerations. Along with, of course, your contribution to the environment.

Our like list includes Lexus’ seamlessly operating drivetrain; roomy backseat, NHTSA crash test results and its ease of handling.

Direct competitors from upscale rivals include the new Infiniti Q50 hybrid, beginning at around $55,000, and delivering only 29 combined mpg. Also available is the BMW ActiveHybrid 3. The new Honda Accord Hybrid at upwards of $36,000 (Touring model), and bests even the 300 h at 50/45 mpg. Other choices include Lincoln MKZ Hybrid (45 mpg.),Toyota Camry Hybrid and of course, Toyota Avalon Hybrid.


MSRP: $39,500 Engine: 2.5-liter, 4-cylinder, 156 hp,

Transmission: CVVT

Wheelbase: 111 in.

Length: 192.7 in.

Height: 57.1 in.

Width: 71.7 in.

Curb weight: 3,660 lb.s

EPA fuel economy: 49/39 mpg.

Fuel tank capacity: 17.2 gallons

Tires: 215/55VR17

Wheels: 17×7.0-in., 6-spoke alloy

Warranty: 4 yr./50,000-mile Basic; 1 yr./unlimited mileage Free maintenance; 6 yr./70,000-mile Drivetrain; 4 yr./unlimited Roadside assistance; 6 yr./unlimited Rust

2014 Mazda MX-5 Miata Grand Touring PRHT

Reviewed by Susan Frissell

2014 Mazda MX-5

2014 Mazda MX-5

One of the highlights of our summer is riding in the Mazda MX-5 Miata; a favorite vehicle for many years and one that is missed in our stable. Our Meteor Gray MX-5 Grand Touring PRHT version came equipped with a “Spicy Mocha” interior. One of the two options on our test vehicle was the suspension package ($650) including a sport-tuned suspension with Bilstein shocks and limited slip differential. This suspension system was noticeably different than the ’99 Miata this writer owned. A much more solid ride, the updated 2014 Miata is a much more sophisticated car.

Ask anyone who has ever driven or owned a Miata (now called the MX-5) and you’ll unanimously get a thumbs-up. This is one of the most agile sports cars on the market, and available at very fair pricing. The most raced nameplate worldwide, Mazda has produced more than 900,000 Miatas. It remains the “record-holding “Best-Selling Two-Seat Roadster” on the planet (Guiness Book of World Records). According to Mazda, with the MX-s’ nearly 50/50 weight ratio, it “feels as balanced as four wheels and tires can get.” With its precise and accurate read of the road, the Miata is one of biggest success stories in autoland.

Available in four versions: Club 2-door Convertible ($26,905-$25,433), Club Power Retractable Hardtop ($28,665-$27,094), Grand Touring Convertible, 2-door ($27,550-$26,041), and the Grand Touring Convertible 2-door Power Retractable Hardtop ($29,450-$27,836). A 5-speed manual transmission and 6-speed manual and automatic transmission are all available. Our top-of-the-line version listed for just over $31,000 and came equipped with just two options (suspension system, $650 and Premium Package, $1,390-anti-theft alarm, Mazda advanced keyless entry system and Bluetooth Hands-free pone system, Sirius Satellite radio, Xenon headlights.

In competition with the MX-5 are the Scion FR-S, Honda Civic and Mazda3. Similar pricing and like-handling these competitors are understudies. Yes, the MX-5 has a confining cabin, isn’t necessarily made for any driver taller than 5’8 inches, but those driving it would disagree. Dwarfed by other vehicles on the road today, the MX-5 seems very small in comparison.2014-mazda-mx-5-miata

The retractable hardtop is timed at 12 seconds, however, we had trouble getting to down the first time we wanted to go topless. Then after raising it, we couldn’t get it to open again. A problem yet still to be resolved. We suspect driver error.

With just a mild refresh for 2014, the MX-5 will celebrate its 25th anniversary next year with a newly redesigned model. MX-5 fans are looking very forward to the “new” iteration of this winner of a sports car and no doubt, Miata club members will be asked, again, to attend the big city auto shows, such as Chicago, LA and Detroit.

Convenience features standard on the MX-5 include fog lights, A/C, door net pockets with bottle holders ( a handy addition since the older Miata’s have NO cupholders!), AM/FM/CD/MP3 stereo with six speakers and auxiliary input jack with available in-dash 6-disc CD changer. Standard safety equipment includes advanced dual front and side impact airbags, tire pressure monitoring system, ABS with Electronic brake distribution, dynamic stability control and side-impact door beams.

Available powertrains in the MX-5 include the 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder MZR engine, with 167 hp. On the manual version and 158 hp. On the automatic. Other available options on the lower end Miata include power automatic door locks and windows with driver side one-touch down, steering wheel-mounted audio/cruise control, Xenon High-intensity Discharge headlights, suspension package (6MT), SIRIUS XM Satellite Radio w/4-mth subscription, Bose Centerpoint 7-spkr Surround Sound System with AudioPilot, and Bluetooth-enabled hands-free phone/audio connectivity.

Handling is, of course, one of the MX-5’s strong points, as are its much praised agility. The Miata’s cabin feels a bit old, even though somewhat improved over the past few years. We’re expecting some new ideas for 2015. The seating is also improved with more cushion and comfort, and accommodating to more shapes and sizes. The MX-5’s stereo isn’t much to write home about. Also easy to operate, the sound is wanting.

With the all-new MX-5 coming soon, rumor has it that a turbocharged engine might be in the works. We know we are looking forward to it.


MSRP: $29,450; total vehicle price $32,285; pricing: $23,720-$29,450

Engine: 2.0-liter DOHC, 16-valve 14 VVT Engine, 167 hp., 140 lbs. ft. torque

Transmission: 6-speed manual, RWD

Wheelbase: 91.7 in.

Length: 157.3 in.

Width: 67.7 in.

Height: 49.4 in.

EPA fuel economy: 21/28 mpg.

Tires: 205/45R17 high performance tires

Wheels: 17-inch alloy

Gas tank capacity: 12.7 gal.

Curb weight: 2,593 (3,122)

Warranty: 36-mth/36,000-mile bumper-to-bumper; 60-mth/60,000-mile powertrain; 24 hour roadside assistance

Assembly: Hiroshima, Japan


2014 Lexus 450h SUV

Reviewed by Susan Frissell

Any excuse for a road trip. I tossed the 4 dogs into the Lexus 450h (oh, horrors!!) and headed to my brother’s home in Tulsa, OK for a quick back/forth trip to deliver some furniture. The roads were great throughout Illinois, Missouri and Oklahoma, and the weather cooperated so that the journey seemed easy.

Driving and riding in the luxo-boat Lexus 450h was a treat and with all its modern technology (read: Distance Pacing Cruise, $1,500, power moonroof, $2,070), navigating the route was too easy.

2014 Lexus RX 450h

2014 Lexus RX 450h

We did not receive a Monrony on the Lexus 450h but some homework proved worthwhile as we put the stats together. Although looks don’t change a whole lot in the Lexus family, there is no denying that this SUV, the RX 350 and its stablemate the 450h are probably one of the most popular vehicles on the road. In our area of Chicago, one spots an RX of any year every two minutes.

It is hard to match the Lexus ride, quiet and available option/standard technology. The RX 450h offers good fuel economy for a sport-ute this size and weight. In fact, the RX has the highest ratings of combined positive reviews and long-term ownership costs in its class.

With its V6 engine and electric motors, the RX 450h offers plenty of healthy power for highway driving, and of course, around town. The Hybrid motors, coupled with Lexus’ CVT standard transmission lend a gliding feel to the 450h. Starting off the line won’t win the RX any awards, but it is adequate for a vehicle that weighs over 4,500 pounds. 2014-08-01 23.10.04

The Lexus RX 450h is a big vehicle, but driving it doesn’t necessarily feel that way. All manner of drivers can operate this SUV with ease and its turning radius is more than acceptable.  Our test RX 450h came in Obsidian Black-which showed every fingerprint placed on its exterior. Standard features, as expected, as generous and include, among other things 4-wheel ABS, dual front/rear-side mounted airbags, remote anti-theft alarm system, turn signal mirrors, traction control, tire pressure monitoring, stability control, engine immobilizer, Emergency Service (SOS), Glass breakage sensor.

There aren’t many features left off the RX 450h, but that is to be expected. We especially enjoyed the Mark Levinson 12-speaker premium sound. Lexus’ navigation system is fairly intuitive and can be operated with even the lowest level of tech experience. We-by mistake-hit the Enform feature button while searching for a restaurant in Tulsa and got a live voice. Much like GM’s OnStar system, Lexus’  Enform feature worked nicely.

Some of the optional equipment on our test vehicle included leather seating ($2,070), power moonroof, as noted above ($2,070), navigation System ($2,775), Distance Pacing Cruise ($1,500), HID headlights ($515), Reverse sensing system front/rear ($500), leather shift knob ($330), leather/wood steering wheel ($330) and heated front seats ($640). A lot of expensive extras, but all worth having.2014-08-02 19.26.55

Traveling over 700+ miles one way to Oklahoma, we had plenty of opportunity to experience the cruise control with optional distance pacing cruise. It takes some getting used to, but is wonderful technology for safe highway driving, particularly when the driver has been on the road for hours. Lexus’ Intelligent Cruise Control System uses laser/radar to maintain a preset following distance behind another vehicle, providing automatic braking or acceleration, as required. We managed to coast along at speeds of 80 mph on Oklahoma freeways, the car slowing down to 60 mph when encountering a vehicle ahead of ours.

It’s not hard to like the RX 450h’s cabin: it’s friendly, refined and well-equipped.  Seats are more than comfortable over the long haul, and the second row seating area offers plenty of legroom. Most of the trip the rear seats were down, to accommodate furniture on the way out and dogs on the way back. In fact, this writer even crawled back there herself to catch a few winks. Fuel economy averaged between 32-38 mpg, hovering just under 40 mpg.  We wondered if the extra weight compromised fuel economy by a gallon or two.2014-08-02 12.30.00

Some reviewers give the Lexus infotainment system controller bad marks. We don’t mind it and actually, find it easy to operate. One problem we encountered was getting the nav system to allow us to search certain locations in the points of interest selection. The guess was that while the vehicle is moving, it can’t be operated completely.  It is distracting, with that we agree. Standard features on the 450h include a nine-speaker stereo, Bluetooth, satellite radio, USB port, push-button start and dual-zone automatic climate control.

Other optional equipment on our 450h included rearview camera, front/rear parking sensors, HD radio and 15-speaker Mark Levinson audio system (I died and went to Heaven), pre-collision warning and pre-braking system.

The 2014 Lexus 450 Hybrid seats five and comes with front-wheel-drive, although our model came equipped with AWD. lexus450

Competition for the 450h includes the Jeep Grand Cherokee, available with a new diesel engine and the Acura MDX, while not a hybrid is in the same class. Not many changes are on the 2014 450h. Newly available though is Apple Siri Eyes Free Mode.


MSRP: $51,750; range: $46,410-$47,810; invoice $47, 686

Engine: 3.5-liter V6 hybrid, 245 hp., 234 lb.ft. torque, 2 electric motors in RWD; 3 motors in AWD,

Classification: 4-door SUV

Transmission: 2-speed CVT with OD manual, AWD

Wheelbase: 107.9 in.

Length: 187.8 in.

Width: 74.2 in.

Height: 66.7 in.

Fuel tank capacity: 17.2 gal.

Tires: 235/55VR19 ($770 option)

Wheels: 18×7.5 in. alloy

EPA fuel economy: 30-32 hwy

Warranty: 72 mths/70,000-mile powertrain; 72 mths/unlimited corrosion perforation, 48 mths/unlimited roadside assistance, 12 mths/10,000-mile maintenance.


2014 Kia Optima Hybrid EX


Reviewed by: Susan Frissell

2014 Kia Optima EX Hybrid

2014 Kia Optima EX Hybrid

This is hybrid vehicle review time for this writer and after getting out of one of the premier hybrid SUV’s this past week, we are test driving the Optima EX hybrid 4-door midsize sedan. For those who have read other Kia reviews written by Women With Wheels, it will be obvious by now, Kia is one of our favorite auto manufacturers. There isn’t a Kia we don’t favor, and the Optima is no exception. Competing with several other midsize sedans in this category, the Optima is the cousin to the Hyundai Sonata.

The 2014 Optima Hybrid is available in two trim levels: EX, LX. Our EX hybrid came well-equipped, with only a few missing features we would desire: such as, power moonroof (an extra $1,500). Pricing begins at around $25,995 and tops out (sans options) at $31,995. The 2014 Kia Optima receives a freshened look and a refinement of its gasoline/electric powertrain. It is not hard to like the Kia Optima. Our Smokey Blue EX Hybrid rode and handled beautifully; effortlessly, in fact. This car is a definite daily driver. Without much effort, you can drive all over town and not feel tired. Backing into a parallel parking space is so simple (good turning radius), a kid could do it.

Our Optima EX Hybrid did not come equipped with any options so pricing was kept under the magical $35,000 mark. We would have to argue that might be too much to pay for this car, when compared with the likes of a Infiniti Q50, for instance. However, wherever the Optima fits in the order of preference, we love this car. There are so many good things about it, not least of which is just the driving experience. Ok, for purists, maybe not. But we can’t say enough good things about the Optima. If we were in the market for a hybrid, which will probably never happen, this would be the car of choice.

Standard equipment includes the usual: Dual front advanced airbags, front seat mounted airbags, full-length side curtain airbags, ABS, traction control, vehicle stability management and hill assist control. Interior features include dual-zone automatic temperature control with rear vents, power windows/doors/mirrors, power front passenger seat (AND auto window), UVO e-services with Telematics, AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio system, navigation with rear camera display, SIRIUS/XM 3-month subscription, Bluetooth, leather seating, heated leather-wrapped steering wheel, pushbutton start/stop, heated/ventilated driver’s seat. The Kia Optima offers features not found on comparable cars, for instance the Auto up/down window for the passenger,  rear camera display (which will be standard equipment on all cars by 2016), heated rear seats and power folding outside mirrors with turn-signal indicator. A signature feature of the Kia styling is its “tiger nose.” It is larger and more noticeable on the Hybrid version of the Optima. Also revised for 2013-14 are model-specific LED headlights and taillights.

One can choose between the standard 16-inch or optional 17-inch wheel. Competition for the Kia Optima includes, of course, the Hyundai Sonata, as well as the Buick LaCrosse. This is a market full of contenders, many of them good. Optima’s styling is sharp, the cabin richly appointed. It is a roomy 4-door sedan with a good-size trunk. Fuel economy and a smooth shifting automatic transmission are also pluses. When putting the pedal to the medal the Optima never feels as though it is out of power, although there is at times, that lag one feels when driving a turbo, for instance. Although not terribly pronounced, it can be felt. Pick-up is there in spades and you never feel as though you’re the last gal to the party.

The Optima hybrid delivers a respectable 38 mpg., combined (36/40 mpg.). When driving the hybrid, being able to tell when it turns off/on is virtually impossible. It is so quiet one feels almost stealth-like moving in/out of traffic. It is butter smooth. You’re wasting your time trying to listen for any perceptible noise! This baby hums along, almost floating. Man, we love this car! (Did we say that again?) Low-rolling resistance tires help the cause, as well. Of course, you can watch the EV Mode light on the dash or the hybrid graphics to keep track. Hybrids seem to have something in common when it comes to breaking. In hybrid vehicles the system captures the braking energy and stores it in the battery so the ‘feel’ is somewhat different than conventional braking. The Optima’s battery is stored in the trunk, which at 10.78 cu. ft. is good size. The Optima’s interior feels a grade above most in this class. Kia doesn’t appear to have skimped, but then when you’re paying over $30,000 one would hope to get something extra special.

Kia Optima EX Hybrid interior

Kia Optima EX Hybrid interior

Complaints: Not many: Rear seat headroom is compromised by the Optima’s design, and fuel economy hasn’t been improved for 2014. Seats could use added cushion.

SPECS MSRP: $31,995; total vehicle price $32,795; destination $800

Engine: 2.4-liter 4-cylinder Hybrid engine, 199 hp., 235 lb. ft. torque

Transmission: d6-speed Sportmatic, electric power steering

Wheelbase: 110.4 in.

Height: 57.10  in.

Length: 190.7 in.

Width: 72.05 in.

Wheels: 17-inch alloy

Tires: 205/6SVR16; 17-inch $200

EPA fuel economy: 35-36/39 mpg. Weight: 3,496 lbs.

Warranty: 60 mths/60,000-mile basic; 120 mths/100,000-mile powertrain; 60 mths/100,000-mile corrosion perforation; 60 mths/60,000-mile roadside assistance.  

10 Cars Americans Don’t Want to Buy

Believe or not, there is a list compiled for those cars consumers don’t want to buy. Compiled by TrueCar, the statistics report the average time a new car spends on a dealer’s lot after they take delivery.

10) Toyota Scion: 90.2 days

9) Dodge Avenger: 96.5 days

8) Lincoln MKS: 97.0 days

7) Chevy Tahoe: 101.5 days

6) Chrysler 200: 102.5 days

5)Jaguar XK: 102.7 days

4) GMC Yukon: 112 days

3) Cadillac Escalade: 115.5 days

2) Mitsubishi Outlander: 117.1 days

1) Volvo S60: 155.5 days