Monthly Archives: March 2015

AutoSmarts: Automobile Segments

As most of us know-or assume-today’s automobiles have a ‘segment’ in which they fit. For the sake of overview, we’re listing them here, with examples:

Full Size Pickups: Ford F-Series, Dodge Ram, Toyota Tundra, Nissan Titan, Chevrolet Silverado
J: Sport Ute and Crossovers
M: Minivans; multi-purpose vehicles (Mazda5, Nissan Quest, Toyota Sienna, Honda Odessey,Kia Sedona, Chrysler Town and Country)
S: Sport Coupes
F: Full-size, well-equipped. Some Rear-wheel-drive with All-wheel-drive option; some Front-wheel-drive with AWD option. (BMW 7-Series, Mercedes-Benz S-Class, Audi A8, Lexus E350-Infiniti-Acura)
E: Full-size non-luxury (Toyota Avalon, Chevy Impala, Ford Taurus Subaru Legacy, Hyundai Azera, Nissan Maxima, Chrysler 300). These vehicles no longer dominate.
D: Family car of choice. Midsize (Nissan Altima, VW Passat, Chevy Malibu, Chrysler 200, Dodge Avenger, Ford Fusion, Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, Mazda6, Mitsubishi Galant
C: Compacts (VW Jetta, GTI, Hyundai Elantra, Honda Civic, Kia Forte, Mazda3, Toyota Corolla, Nissan Sentra, Subaru Impreza)
B: Subcompacts. Super mini, city car (Honda Fit, Kia Rio, Chevy Aveo, Toyota Yaris, Chevy Sonic, Mazda2, Ford Fiesta, VW Golf, Mini Cooper, Fiat 500)
A” Mini cars, micro cars (Tata Nano, SmartForTwo). Smallest on the road; An emerging market; ‘city car.’ They seat 2-4, often 3-cycle engine.

2015 Toyota Corolla S Plus

Susan Frissell

The Toyota Corolla went through a full redesign in 2014, so not much is new for 2015. With a few restyling tweeks, the 2015 Corolla has a tad more pizzaz than in years past. Not a head-turner, the Corolla is nevertheless, the perfect car for those who want to get from A to B. And I envy those folks. Having a penchant for new cars can be a curse, especially when your pocketbook isn’t overflowing.cs3

The latest restyling includes some curves and lines that bring the little Corolla up-do-date with today’s look. A freshened-up interior will be noticeable to those not in a Corolla in a while. A few more amenities have been added; such as touchscreen and automatic climate control. A backup camera is also welcome, but no heated seats or Nav is available in the base level.
The backseat lends plenty of room to the passenger who ride in the rear. Fuel economy is what would be expected, as well (over 30 mpg. Average), thanks to the CVT (continuously variable transmission). If there is one word to describe the Corolla, it would have to be “reliability.” No other car can compete with the Corolla’s long life, dependability and reliable nature. I have a neighbor whose Corolla is over 22 years old. She maintains it well so it chugs along. Most Corolla’s on the road can boast the same, with many, many miles.

Also added for 2015 are a fold-down center armrest for all trim levels except the base L. The “Premium” trim levels receive a Driver Convenience Package as standard equipment. Models include the Corolla LE ($19,615), S Plus ($20,945) and LE Plus ($20,015).

Our choice in the Corolla has always been the S version. It’s sportier, a little bit upgraded and has a comfortable, quiet ride. The Corolla does have BlueTooth; it seats five and is roomy enough for up to not feel cramped on long rides.

Competition has increased considerably over the years, and now the likes of Hyundai (Elantra), Ford (Focus), Volkswagen (Jetta) and Mazda (Mazda 3) offer serious competitors. It is not just the Honda Civic anymore.

Sport IP

Sport IP

Probably the most ‘dull’ of all of the above, the Corolla still commands a lot of sales. By virtue of Toyota heritage, Corolla sells itself. gives the Corolla a “B” rating, and goes by its reputation. Fundamentally, a winner, this car will most likely never go out of fashion.

A five-passenger compact sedan, the Corolla offers plenty of features even on the Base L trim level. Our sport-themed S test car (we had the S Plus) comes equipped with all the E’s features, in addition to unique wheel covers, a chrome grille frame, foglights, color-keyed mirrors with signal repeaters, a rear spoiler, a chrome exhaust tip, sport front seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with paddle shifters, a Sport driving mode, sport instrumentation and a trip computer. This version is our favorite.

Standard 15-inch steel wheels become 17-inch alloy when upgrading to the Plus. A firmer suspension tuning and rear disc brakes (versus the standard drums) become standard. One can opt for the sunroof and Driver Convenience package like the other Plus models. If you opt for the six-speed manual transmission (offered only on S Plus), you forego the shift paddles or Sport driving mode. However, the Driver Convenience package is standard.

If you go up one more notice to the S Premium, you get the S Plus’ equipment and those upgrades of the other Premium models, including the premium vinyl upholstery.
Standard features on the models, beginning with the Base L include LED headlights (low beams only) and running lights, powered accessories, air-conditioning, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel with auxiliary controls, a height-adjustable driver seat, a 60/40-split-folding rear seat, Bluetooth phone connectivity and a four-speaker sound system with a CD player, a USB/iPod interface and an auxiliary audio jack.

With the LE version you get 16-inch steel wheels, heated mirrors, variable intermittent wipers, keyless entry, metallic cabin accents, cruise control, automatic climate control, a rearview camera, a six-speaker sound system with a 6-inch touchscreen display, Bluetooth audio connectivity, phonebook download capability and voice controls. Select the LE Plus and you move up to 16-inch alloy wheels,foglights, black interior accents, keyless entry/ignition, roof-mounted antenna, satellite radio, HD ration, nav system and Entune App Suite. LE Premium moves into more luxury if you add some options such as power driver seat, heated front seats, premium vinyl upholstery.

The LE Eco adds efficiency-maximizing engine and transmission tuning, low-rolling-resistance tires, a rear spoiler and enhanced aerodynamics. The LE Eco Plus has a 16-inch alloy wheel, foglights, chrome window trim, an Eco driving mode and the same options as the LE Plus. The LE Eco Premium shares the LE Premium’s upgrades.

The 2015 Toyota Corolla is powered by a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine available in two different versions. Horsepower is 132, paired with 128 lb-ft. torque. The LE Eco is somewhat ore efficient, with a big more power (140 hp., and 126 lb.-ft. torque). cs

Transmission is six-speed manual, standard, and a standard four-speed automatic. Our S Plus came equipped with the automatic transmission which shifted effortlessly. The car hummed right along, with plenty of pep to move us forward. We enjoyed driving it and parking was easy. For those wanting a sportier feel, a six-speed manual transmission can be had. Fuel economy doesn’t really improve when opting for the manual tranny: 31 mpg seems to be the same for both, When equipped with the CVT, mileage may be closer to 32 mpg., and in the LE Eco, 34 mpg. combined.

Standard safety features on every 2015 Toyota Corolla include stability and traction control, antilock brakes, front side airbags, side curtain airbags, a driver knee airbag and a passenger seat cushion airbag. Rear brakes are drum, except in the S Plus and S Premium which are disc.

Inside the cabin, the Corolla feels more up-do-date. The IP is sportier, the seats fairly comfortable and a more stylish dashboard. We didn’t care much for how the audio system was positioned in a small square screen area (6.1 inch). The audio information was difficult to read and if you wanted to know who was singing, you really had to strain to see it. In fact, it took a few tries to figure out how to get the text displayed.

All controls are easy to use, within reach and Toyota’s Entune App Suite features smartphone-connected services (Bing, FB, Yelp, Pandora), and real-time traffic data, sports and stock information. For those who are higher tech than this writer, you will have no problem figuring out that you first must install an app on your phone and register for an account.

Much improved from years past, the 2015 Corolla’s front seats provide more comfort, particularly the S trim’s better-bolstered seats. Long trips might become tiring but then you’re not driving a luxo-boat. Legroom is somewhat improved thanks to the increase (3.9 inches) in wheelbase. Rear legroom is adequate and headroom didn’t seem compromised. Although we suspect if the optional sunroof was added, that might change. The trunk is good size (13 cubic feet) and holds quite a few packages. Without the rear center hump, passengers enjoy more legroom.

Our test Corolla S Plus came equipped with just one option: Carpet floor mats and trunk mat ($225). LED and Halogen lights with DRL’s are standard; integrated fog lights and heated power outside mirrors are also standard.

Pros include the braking, performance and roominess. One can’t beat the Corolla for its all-around, practical ride. But, don’t expect to be ‘wowed’ when driving the new Corolla. Still the same, this is a great little sedan that you can’t fault. It doesn’t try to play with the big boys. And that’s ok. It is what it is and it continues to enjoy pretty darn good success after so many years. Want a daily driver that will always deliver, Corolla is the one.

MSRP: $19,845; total vehicle price $20,895; delivery $825
Engine: 1.8-liter DOHC 16 V VVT-1, 132 hp., 128 lb.-ft. torque
Transmission: CVT, Sport Drive Mode, FWD
Wheelbase: 106.3 in.
Length: 183.1 in
Width: 69.9 in.
Height: 57.3 in.
Weight: 2,910 lbs.
Wheels: 17-inch alloy
Tires: P215/45R17
EPA Fuel Economy: 29/37 mpg., avg. 32 mpg
Warranty: 3 yrs./36,000-miles Basic

2016 Kia Sorento SXL

Susan Frissell

In November 2014, the all-new 2016 Kia Sorento CUV debuted at the Los Angeles Auto Show and available soon after to consumers. Available for sale in January, sales have already leaped upward (up 6.89 percent in February). Larger than its predecessor, the new Sorento is completely redesigned, has three rows of seating and is available in five trim levels (L, LX, EX, SX, SX Limited). Priced from $24,900-$43,100, the Sorento fits all pocketbooks and offers all-wheel-drive and a V6.sorento

For those who crave a choice of engines, buyers have their pick of three in the Sorento, including a new 2.0-liter Turbocharged, four-cylinder, a 3.3-liter V6 and an improved 2.4-liter normally aspirated inline 4. Drive is through the front wheels, with full-time all-wheel-drive (AWD) available.

Whichever engine consumers choose, it will be paired with Kia’s electronically-controlled six-speed automatic gearbox with Sportronic Shifting. Our test Sorento came equipped with the 2.0-liter Turbocharged version, offering plenty of power and ability to pull this CUV.

The Sorento can tow 5,000 lbs, which makes it a viable roadtrip car, when equipped with AWD. This writer votes for the new turbocharged 240 HP I-4 which even produces decent fuel economy. EPA test ratings are 18 city mpg and 26 highway mpg. sorento3

As with all vehicles today, the best of safety equipment is standard. Both Active and Passive, the features on all Sorentos include Electronic Stability Control, Traction Control System, Brake Assist System, Hill-start Assist Control, Electronic Brake Force Distribution and Antilock Braking System.

Other technology includes Roll over Mitigation, and Cornering Brake Control on AWD models. New available driver-aid technology, including Vehicle Stability Management, Forward Collision Warning System, Smart Cruise Control, Blind Spot Detection, Rear Cross Traffic Alert and Surround View Monitor, help make driving safer and easier all the time.
The 2016 Sorento is a very comfortable, quiet riding CUV, bigger than one would think. We were test-driving it during Chicago’s cold winter months so appreciated the extra heated steering wheel!

Another nice touch are the folding sideview mirrors. Which, by the way, also fold inward when not in use. This was more than welcome when trying to navigate narrow city streets lined with parked cars. sorento2

The 2016 Sorento has a much-improved overall structure along with refinements to suspension and steering. The end result is more comfort, a more confident feeling behind the wheel, and an overall more refined vehicle.

One can expect a wide array of model trim levels, engines and optional equipment. We recommend visiting Kia’s site ( to build your own Sorento. In addition, go ahead and compare what the Sorento offers to the other CUV’s in this category; namely, the Hyundai Santa Fe, Ford Explorer, Toyota Highlander and Nissan Murano. Costing less and offering just as much, the new Sorento is a bargain.

As with other Kia models doing the commercial gig, the new Sorento can be seen with Pierce Brosnan and the ‘perfect getaway’ in a Kia Sorento. The TV spot aired during the Super Bowl in January.

There is little to dislike and a lot to like about the new 2016 Kia Sorento. Kia doesn’t seem to know how to make a bad vehicle. The Sorento fits a niche that is becoming more and more popular each year. And they seem to be adding what customer’s crave: A good, solid contender, at a price that is affordable.sxl


MSRP: $25,441-$41,677
Engine: 2.0-liter T, 16 valve, 240 hp., 260 lb.-ft. torque
Transmission: six-speed automatic w/OD and auto-manual
Category: Mid-size SUV
Wheelbase: 109.4 in.
Length: 187.4 in.
Width: 74.4 in.
Height: 66.3 in.
Weight: 3,704 lbs.
Trailing capacity: 1,650 lbs.
Tires: 235.60HR 18.0 front; 235/65R17.0 rear
EPA Fuel economy: 20/27 mpg.
Fuel tank capacity: 18.8 gal.
Seating: 5-7
Built in: Kia Motors Manufacturing Georgia –West Point, Georgia
Warranty: 60 mth/60,000-miles Basic; 60-mth/60,000-miles; Road Assistance; 60-mth/100,000-miles Corrosion Perforation; 120-mth/100,000-miles Powertrain

2015 Mazda MX-5 Miata Grand Touring PRHT

Susan Frissell

Journalists are beginning to review the all-new, fourth-generation 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata. Not available here in the US, test drives are being done overseas, with right-hand drive hardware. Those of us driving the 2015, third-generation MX-5 won’t be disappointed, though. The Miata MX-5 remains one of the best sports cars out there.Mazda MX-5 25th Anniversary Edition

Likes about the Miata include the agile handling, quick acceleration and slick gearbox. Yes, it is a compact cabin, but then one isn’t supposed to crab about that when this is the epitome of a ‘sports’ car. Never boring, never dull, this little pocket rocket is a favorite of this writer. The fun factor cannot be beat and you’ll still have a little money left in your pocket after purchasing the Miata MX-5.

Many Miata owners of long-standing, drive their car year-round. Despite cold temps and icy roads, the MX-5 finds its way along well-plowed streets. Our test Grand Touring PHTR version came equipped with winter tires. Made with heavier tread, these tires created a fairly easy ride, in spite of the optional sport suspension package. For 2015, Mazda offers a special 25th anniversary edition, offering a unique, celebratory appearance package. miata1

The 2015 Mazda MX-5 Miata remains much the same as last year’s model. Both hard and soft top are still available, and there are four trim levels available: Auto Club ($27,505), Manual Sport ($23,970), Convertible Retractable Hard Top Grand Touring (PRHT, $30,550), and Automatic Sport ($26,230). The one new addition MX-5 Miata 25th Anniversary Edition, which goes on pre-order sale through a special micro-site the morning of May 20, 2014 (through May 31).Mazda will m ake just 100units of the 25th Anniversary Edition, although they will take 250 registrations online.

Special features on the MX-5 Miata 25th Anniversary Edition include hand-selected pistons, connecting rods, and flywheel to yield a smoother, more free-revving engine; a standard Soul Red Metallic paint job with Brilliant Black A-pillars, windshield surround, side mirrors and PRHT; 17-inch Dark Gunmetal alloy wheels; Almond leather seats and door trim; satin chrome trim; leather-wrapped steering wheel, armrests, and shift boot; red contrast stitching throughout the interior; and aluminum alloy pedals.

Special embroidering in the leather headrests and logos in the stainless steel door sill plates will be unique to the Anniversary model. A badge on the driver’s front fender indicates the car’s 1/100 serial number.mx5whls

The standard engine on all of the MX-5 Miata models is the 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, with 167 horsepower , and paired with either the five- or six-speed manual transmission; Those models equipped with the six-speed automatic are rated at 158 horsepower; 140 lb.-ft. torque across the board.

On the base models, Mazda’s smart Z-folding soft top that forms its own tonneau when down is standard equipment. The optional PRHT folding hard top is also available. Adding an extra layer of security as well as noise isolation and comfort, the PRHT system effectively turns the MX-5 Miata into a coupe when the top is up. The PRHT does add weight (about 80 pounds).

Our test model, the top-of-the-line Grand Touring version, came equipped with two option packages (one requiring the other): Suspension Package (sport tuned suspension, Bilstein shocks, limited slip differential, $650; and the Premium package (anti-theft alarm, Mazda advanced keyless entry system, BlueTooth hands-free phone system, Xenon headlights, Sirius Satellite radio,$1,390).

We would opt to forego the Suspension package due to the stiffer ride it generates. Even with winter tires, the car felt a little slippery on wet pavement. We thought possibly letting some air out of the tires might correct that; but we never got around to trying it.mx52

Consumers don’t need to worry about Mazda skimping on any technology or expected amenities (even in this little plaything). Anti-lock braking, tire pressure monitoring system, Electronic power assisted rack and pinion steering, traction control, dynamic stability control and advanced dual front and side airbags.

One can also expect power windows, door locks and sideview mirrors, glass rear window with defogger, automatic air and foglamps, along with Halogen headlights.

There are no crash test results for the 2015 Mazda MX-5 Miata, nor have earlier versions been tested. Despite this lack of data, the car’s rigid structure, standard airbag complement, potent brakes, and nimble handling should make the most of both accident survival and accident avoidance.

MSRP: $29,450; final vehicle price $32,285; destination $795
Engine: 2.0-liter DOHC, 16-valve I-4 VVT, 167 hp., 140 lb.-ft. torque
Transmission: six-speed manual
Wheelbase: 92.7 in.
Height: 49 in.
Length: 157.3 in.
Width: 67.7 in.
Weight: 2,480 lbs.
EPA MPG: 22/28
Tires: 205/45R17 High performance
Wheels: 17-inch alloy
Category: 2-door convertible, seats 2
Warranty: 38-mth/38,000-mile bumper-to-bumper; 60 mth/60,000-mile powertrain, 24-hour Roadside Assistance.

2015 Lexus GS 350 F Sport Sedan

Susan Frissell

The 2015 Lexus GS 350 and GS 450h hybrid are a mid-size luxury sedan that to this writer, seems superfluous when placed next to its stablemates the Lexus IS and Lexus ES models. Somewhat different in looks, the GS very closely resembles the LS and ES in its new iteration; different then when I first appeared in the lineup.JusdW-Ysc-134x82

In competition with the BMW 5-Series, Mercedes-Benz E-class and Audi A6 sedans, the GS also takes on the Cadillac CTS. The 450h hybrid version goes neck to neck with the Acura RLX Sport Hybrid SH-AWD.gsint

Redesigned in 2013, the GS 350 had a little updating in 2014, and for 2015, returns with the F Sport package. In the hybrid version, a new and improved entertainment system, along with minor changes debuts for 2015. Lexus noted poor sales of the GS in 2013 and decided to make updates and a redesign then, hoping to sell more models. Unusual for Lexus-with its reputation of being super quiet-was having the engine noise filtered into the cabin. We’re not sure we like this, as the engine is somewhat loud-and not terribly impressive sounding to our ears.

Available in both Front-wheel-drive and All-wheel-drive, the GS 350 sedan is equipped with an impressive set of standard features; but then, one would expect all the best in a vehicle hovering just over the $60,000 mark. Leather, rearview backup camera, satellite radio, Bluetooth and iPod connectivity are all somewhat standard features in today’s luxury vehicles (and under), so that isn’t necessarily a surprise.

This year, Lexus adds the Enform App Suite as an upgrade, with iHeartRadio and Stacker app streaming. An improvement in infotainment was also made for models equipped with the navigation system.

Also with the Enform Remote are remote locking/unlocking, vehicle finder, ‘guest driver monitor’ and status reports. The F Sport package arrived earlier than expected and seems like an improvement, adding a little spice to an otherwise rather ‘dull’ vehicle. And although one may not think Lexus when considering performance, the F Sport package ups the ante.

Also new for 2015 is an upgraded eight-speed automatic transmission system. Lexus dropped the V-8 engine in the GS, in favor of the current 3.5-liter, V-6, Selecting one of the drive/ride modes: Sport S, Sport +, Normal and ECO allows for more spirited driving, if desired. Electric power steering and independent, multi-link suspension are standard on the 2015 GS 350 which leads to sharper steering and turning and a stiffer feel to the suspension. gs350-1

Adaptive suspension and active steering are new directions for Lexus, and when combined into the F Sport package, take the brand in a new direction.

Our test GS came equipped with the AWD system, which Lexus estimates will be opted for by 40 percent of buyers. The options on our test GS included several: Blind spot monitor w/power-folding exterior mirrors ($700), ventilated F-Sport seats, Rain-sensing wipers, heated/ventilated front seats, power rear sunshade,
19-inch split five-spoke alloy wheels w/dark Graphite finish, staggered fitment with summer tires, F Sport-tuned adaptive variable suspension, variable gear ratio steering, sport S+ drive mode, 14.0 inch two-piece front brake rotors w/four piston calipers, 18-way F Sport driver’s seat w/power slide bolsters, striated aluminum interior trim, black headliner, F Sport front bumper, upper and lower grille inserts, rear valence and rear lip spoiler ($4,640). Heads up display, w/nav package, nav option credit, 12.3 inch split screen multimedia ($900); pre-collision system (2,000); drop ship fleet, cargo net ($65), and trunk mat ($105),

We prefer the F Sport package on all the Lexus sedans; our favorite being the IS model. As with performance equipment in all vehicles, the sporty addition gets roll bars, bushings, stiff springs, adaptive shocks, variable-ratio steering, and larger front brakes. Active rear steering is available and teamed with the 19-inch wheels and tires.gs350-2

For those consumers feeling the need to help the environment, Lexus offers the 450h hybrid version in the GS. Paired with a special Atkinson-cycle version of the V-6 engine (147-kilowatt motor and 30-kilowatt nickel metal hydride battery pack), make for 338 horsepower. This writer has not yet tested the hybrid GS.

The GS comes equipped with the latest in safety equipment, including ten airbags, ABS, active head restraints, rearview camera and parking sensors. As expected in a luxury sedan, the GS model provides standard cruise braking intervention, heads-up display and night vision. The lane-departure warning system works alongside the lane keeping system. While a little annoying, this feature can be a life-saver when highway driving.


MSRP: $50,850; total vehicle price $60,185; destination $925
Engine: V-6, liter, Direct injection, 306 hp., 277 lb.ft.torque
Transmission: eight-speed sequential shift; paddle shifters, ECO, Normal, Sport S and Sport + modes, snow modes
Wheelbase: 112.2 in.
Length: 190.7 in.
Width: 62.6 in.
Height: 57.3 in.
Weight: 3,726 lbs.
Tires: 17-inch 50-series
EPA fuel economy: 19/29 mpg.