31Dec/13

Best value cars of year 2013

Kiplinger’s Best in Class winners top the rankings in each of our 12 categories. The rankings are based on performance, value and safety, as well as driving impressions from our own road tests. The Best in Class winners are our top picks among models that have a track record of at least one year or redesigned vehicles with powertrains substantially the same as the previous generation.

Ford Focus

Ford Focus

All except two of our Best in Class winners also earn Top Safety Pick designations from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (no sports cars or truck-based SUVs made the IIHS Top Safety Pick cut this year).

Volkswagen’s compact sedan is firing on all four cylinders. It has generous interior room (38 inches of rear legroom) and cargo space (its 16 cubic feet rivals the space in midsize models), high resale values, and German driving dynamics. The TDI’s 2.0-liter turbocharged diesel engine gets stellar fuel economy and produces 236 pound-feet of torque to get you off the line fast.

Getting 41 miles per gallon in combined city and highway driving and priced less than $27,000, the Camry Hybrid gives other midsize cars a lesson in value. It has 200 horses under the hood, a roomy backseat that can be folded down (unlike in many hybrids), and ten airbags, including side airbags for the rear passengers and knee airbags for the driver and front passenger.

31Dec/13

Significant technology turning points that transform car travel

From music to travel to telecommunications, technology has transformed entire industries and disrupted traditional ways of doing business. Just ask record labels, travel agents and home telephone service providers. And now it’s the car’s turn.

Tech turning points

Tech turning points

Whether it was 4G connectivity and “big data” coming to vehicles or large tech companies making a stake in the connected car space and the move toward autonomous driving, 2013 saw several significant turning points that prove that technology will change driving as we know it. Here’s my take on the top five car tech trends we saw this year.

Connectivity. You can’t have a connected car without connectivity. And with the smartphone and tablet market reaching a saturation point, wireless carriers have set their sights on the car as the next mobile device — and hence a new market for data plans — as drivers increasingly want to stay connected. 2013 kicked off with GM and AT&T announcing a partnership to bring 4G connectivity to cars in 2014, and wrapped up with Audi doing the same at the Los Angeles Auto Show with an unnamed carrier partner.

Autonomous cars. While it’s been three years since Google revealed in late 2010 that it had logged almost 150,000 miles testing its original self-driving Toyota Prius, in 2013 most mainstream automakers revealed their autonomous vehicle ambitions. More than a half dozen major car companies as well as electric vehicle startup Tesla announced automated driving technology, introduced a self-driving research vehicle or both. And Nissan said it will have several self-driving vehicles on the market by 2020.
Over-the-air software updates. Because of the disparate differences in product lead times between the technology and auto industries — 12 to 18 months versus three to four years — cars are always behind the times tech-wise. While manual software updates have been used for several years with systems like Ford Sync, over-the-air updates that occur automatically make it easier for car owners and car companies to keep in-dash electronics current. An example of this is when Audi rolled out a new feature via an OTA update that allows a driver to find, reserve and even pay for a parking spot in advance. Tesla did it too when it added an update to deal with fires issues for the Model S.

31Dec/13

Nissan NV200 Have Problems With Transmission, Oil Pressure Sensors and Steering

Ford is recalling 7,153 Lincoln MKZ sedans for faulty transmission sensors that can lock the vehicle in park, according to filings with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The 2013 and 2014 MKZ Hybrid has a transmission sensor that may read the gear selection incorrectly as neutral when it is really in park and let the driver engage the drive position without stepping on the brake. However, the software will recognize the fault and shift the transmission back into park and apply the handbrake. A warning light will illuminate along with the message “Shift system fault, Service required.”

Nissan NV200

Nissan NV200

Ford said it received warranty claims and several vehicles with this condition over the past few months. The MKZ is all-new for 2013 and was initially delayed for several months after quality problems at the factory. There have been no related injuries or rollaways due to the problem, Ford said. Only Hybrid models are affected.

Owners should have already received notification to take their cars to a Lincoln dealer, which will update the transmission software.

In November, Ford recalled 139,917 Escape SUVs in the U.S. to fix engine problems that could result in fires under the hood. The automaker was also fined $17.35 million by the NHTSA in August for delaying a recall on older Escape models.

Volvo received five owner reports in the U.S. from February through November citing engine noise and little or no oil in the engine. Volvo said the oil sensors that would normally flash an alert on the instrument panel were not activated and therefore the drivers did not know their engines were low on oil. In at least two of the cases, Volvo mechanics forgot to refill the engine with oil after a service. In all cases, the engine was replaced due to excessive damage. Only 5-cylinder engines are affected, Volvo said.

31Dec/13

Gallardo Promising 610 Horsepower and a Softer Bite on Public Roads

This is the 2015 Lamborghini Huracan LP610-4, the long-awaited replacement for the Italian automaker’s best-selling 10-year-old Gallardo.

The Gallardo, after more than 14,000 sold, made its last hurrah in November, but when the Huracan debuts this spring, we’ll bet the applause won’t die down until next Christmas.

The aluminum and carbon-fiber chassis looks more like a baby Aventador up front, and from the rear three-quarters, we’re getting some hints of the 1982 Jalpa. Without any badges, it’s obvious the Huracan is a Lamborghini. The outrageous cuts, lines and trapezoidal shapes are rounded off a little, just so you can tell it’s all new.

lamborginiThe 5.2-liter V10 engine has been reworked with a combination of direct and port fuel injection, similar to the technology found on Lexus vehicles, which lets it produce 40 more horsepower than the Gallardo Squadra Corse LP570-4. The result is 610 horsepower at 8250 rpm, zero to 62 mph in 3.2 seconds and a top speed of 202 mph. That matches the speed of the current LP560-4 and is two-tenths of a second quicker than the LP570-4.

The engine also features an auto start-stop system to reduce emissions (and given how loud this 10-cylinder is at startup, we’re curious how well this really works in traffic). Torque is up from the 397 lb-ft in the LP570-4 to 413 lb-ft, which peaks at the same 6500 rpm.

Despite the addition of carbon fiber, the Huracan weighs slightly more than the Gallardo LP560-4, at a dry weight of 3,135 pounds. The real weight, topped off with all fluids, will be higher.

24Dec/13

With mass car market in stress, Hyundai eyes luxury segment

The country’s second-largest carmaker, Hyundai, is studying the growing luxury car market which is today the stronghold of German trio — Audi, Mercedes-Benz and BMW. The South Korean carmaker is considering a foray into the segment with its top-of-the-range models like the Equus and Genesis sedans, and the Veloster compact sports car, for which it could set up a separate sales network.

T2014-mazda-3-wallpaper1he strategy to enter the luxury market follows Hyundai’s recent focus of building a more upmarket image for the brand and slowly moving up the chain towards premium vehicles, even as it maintains its hold on the mass market of compact cars. Recent launches in the premium space include the Elantra and Sonata sedans, while a new Santa Fe SUV is expected to follow next year.
“We are studying the luxury space right now, though there is nothing definite yet.

Apart from Equus, there are more luxury models in the Hyundai range. However, we will need a different network to sell these cars. We are gauging customer acceptance of Hyundai’s luxury car range and then we will take a decision,” a Hyundai India official told FE. However, the official did not specify a timeline for launch, or if they will be assembled at Hyundai’s plant near Chennai.

28Jan/13

Best winter deals on used SUVs

An SUV can be the perfect vehicle for traveling in challenging winter conditions. With all-wheel-drive and good tires, a modern SUV provides needed traction to negotiate slippery roads, and most have the ground clearance to traverse accumulated snow. They are also great for families or for carrying skis or other winter gear. A used SUV allows you to reap these benefits for less money than buying new. To make it easier to find what you’re looking for, we have identified some of the best used deals on small and midsized SUVs on the market.

Land Rover Range Rover Evoqueque

Land Rover Range Rover Evoque

Typically the winter months are a slow time for car buying, which is why now might be a perfect time to get a good deal on a used car. Plus, buying a used car has other benefits. Most important is that the original owner takes the initial depreciation hit; new cars lose much more value in the first and second years than those that follow. Also, most recent used SUV have the latest safety equipment (such as curtain air bags and stability control) and are still affordable.

When shopping, look for cars that scored well in Consumer Reports’ tests when new, have proven reliability, and perform well in government and insurance industry crash tests. All models listed meet these criteria. And before handing over the cash, have the vehicle inspected by a trained and trusted mechanic to make sure there are no hidden problems.

Check out our top deals for recommended used SUVs from the 2008-2010 model years. We placed the vehicles in order of the average cheapest price you might be able to get when buying from the dealer and all are under $25,000. The models listed below are between 23- and 49-percent less than the retail price when the vehicle was new. Plus, all of the models have at least average reliability according to our latest subscriber survey.

Full used car pricing information is available to Cars Best Deals Plus subscribers on the model overview pages. Consumer Reports also offers individual Used Car Price Reports on vehicles from the 2003 – 2012 model years. Pricing information can be adjusted for vehicle condition, mileage and optional equipment. For advice on buying a used car, see our guide and video.

28Jan/13

2014 Subaru Forester, all over the map: Motoramic Drives

Because of how I pay my rent, I get a lot of people asking me what kind of car they should buy. I’ve driven a lot of really nice machines, but I rarely find myself recommending a Lexus GS hybrid, or a Range Rover Sport, or a Mercedes CLS. Very few of my acquaintances can afford luxury. To those who seem concerned about gas mileage and nothing else, I usually end up saying, “Just get a Prius.” But others want to drive something more than a fuel-efficient toaster oven. Inevitably, the conversation turns to Subaru.

Subaru Forester

Subaru Forester

A Subaru was once considered a novelty item in the industry, a vehicle with little more prestige than a jet ski, but the company has slowly and competently climbed into the top five in several major U.S. markets by making safe, unpretentious, reasonably priced cars that are relatively fuel efficient, easy to take camping, and pretty fun to drive. It seems like a logical formula, but it’s also one that’s remarkably hard to pin down.

The 2014 Subaru Forester fits the company’s profile perfectly. When the Forester debuted, it was little more than a quirky station wagon with a bulbous roof, a community-college math professor’s nerd-car, but in the last few years it’s evolved into a more standard looking compact SUV. This year’s edition has the same unfussy attitude as the 2013 model.

We drove the new Forester in southern Arizona for seven hours on a recent weekday afternoon. The people who buy the Forester are going to mostly use it to make Trader Joe’s runs, but Subaru gave us a more catholic look. First, we took a Turbo edition, jacked with speed from its 250-hp boxer four engine, and buttressed with a tight suspension. There were straight-up highway runs, windy desert side roads, and many miles of rutted dirt, which the Turbo Forester handled zippily. I’d recommend the Turbo wholeheartedly, except that it gets 20 percent worse fuel economy, and the base model runs seven grand more, than the non-Turbo edition and its 170-hp unit.

The interior was comfortable though hardly lush, the dashboard display pretty low-tech, and the steering and handling excellent. As Subaru showed us earlier, there was plenty of storage space. With the seats folded down, the Forester can handle 238 yoga mats glued together, or 241 spools of hemp twine, if you ever have use for such a thing.

28Jan/13

Driving on empty: How far your car can go with the gas light on

Whether slogging through commuter traffic or cruising on a picturesque highway, nobody enjoys stopping for gas. Hence it’s easy to play a Kramer-quality game of chicken with the gas gauge — and seeing how deep you can get the needle into the E before the car sputters out. Automakers discourage that procrastination with a low-fuel light, which warns you when there’s a few gallons left to spare; but those couple dozen extra miles aren’t lost on motorists who want to hold off for a few precious freeway exits.

Toyota Hybrid Concept

Toyota Hybrid Concept

What’s left people guessing, however, is exactly how far you can go when the gas light comes on, and since there’s no established standard for reserve fuel capacity, it varies with each automaker and model. But thanks to the website Tank on Empty, which has a searchable, user-submitted database, you can have a better idea of your on-empty range.

According to the site, there are some surprising low-fuel winners: the mammoth Ford Excursion may guzzle gas like a cargo ship, but it also boasts one of the longest ranges, averaging 85.12 miles. That beats the eco-conscious Prius, which can run for 55.12 miles, or a Porsche 911 Carrera, which could quickly leave you stranded on the shoulder with its average of 23.82 miles.

But don’t get emboldened by the data to run your car on fumes, because continuously doing so can wear out the fuel pump. Most modern vehicles use an electric fuel pump, which is inside the fuel tank and relies on the gasoline to keep it cool; hence you’ll want to keep the tank at least a quarter full to prevent premature wear.

Plus, there are some imitations to the tool. The data doesn’t distinguish between different model years, so an aging Toyota Corolla with a bad oxygen sensor could skew the results against a new one that just rolled off the dealership. And since the data points don’t reflect how much further the cars could’ve gone, they’re more an insight into driver refueling habits than a reflection of a car’s on-empty range.

Such crowdsourced data may become obsolete as manufacturers use trip computers that indicate the miles left — it’s already not only in luxury BMWs and Audis, but also in entry-level compacts like the Subaru Impreza. Whether there’s still some padding in the trip computer’s range or not, that only means drivers can push cars further into empty.

28Jan/13

Nissan GT-R vs. Mercedes C63 AMG Black Series, the $100,000 showdown: Motoramic TV

If you’ve got $100,000 to spend on a brawny four-seat performance coupe, you face an interesting (and wonderful) dilemma: Do you want the ultimate version of something relatively normal, or a normal version of something that’s pretty ultimate in the first place? Representing the two camps, we corralled a $107,600 Nissan GT-R Black Edition and a $129,725 Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG Black Series. The Nissan’s only option was a $280 set of floor mats. In the case of the Benz, Mercedes throws in the floor mats for free. Which is nice, because the rest of the options cost $65,720.

Nissan GT-R

Nissan GT-R

Yes, the C63 Black Series is the rare car that carries options worth more than the underlying vehicle itself, in this case the mighty C63 AMG coupe. With the full Black Series treatment, the Benz is a about a roll cage and gutted interior away from the starting grid at a Pirelli World Challenge race. Adjustable coil-over suspension on a street car? Yep. And a 510-hp naturally aspirated V8, flared fenders (the rear track is 3.1 inches wider than a stock C63), bigger brakes, an active differential with cooler — the Black Series equipment list is long. The result is a cost-no-object C-class, a bellowing 186-mph coupe that evokes German DTM cars.

Put it this way: very few cars can get away with an adjustable carbon fiber wing bolted to the trunk. This is one of them. Mercedes isn’t saying how many C63 Blacks they’re building, but they do say they’re all sold out. Better keep an eye on the classifieds.

The Nissan, on the other hand, was built from scratch as an all-conquering speed monster. Nissan tweaks its halo car a little bit each year, and the 2013 GT-R now sports 545 hp from its hand-built, twin-turbo V6. That power deploys through a dual clutch transmission and a torque-vectoring all-wheel-drive system that enables retina-crushing launches and physics-bending corner exits. Essentially, if there’s a piece of technology that makes a car go faster, the GT-R has it. You wouldn’t call a GT-R pretty, but it’s gorgeous in its purposefulness.

The GT-R and C63 Black approach the muscle-coupe question from completely different angles. Rear-wheel-drive versus all-wheel-drive. Automatic transmission versus dual-clutch sequential. Honkin’ huge naturally aspirated V-8 versus turbo V-6. Analog versus digital, really. The GT-R is clearly faster, but is it more fun?

Mercedes C63 AMG

Mercedes C63 AMG Black

To seek wisdom on this existential question, I recruited my friend Jason Wenig, proprietor of The Creative Workshop in Dania Beach, Fla. Wenig’s company executes high-end restorations and he regularly gets wheel time in cars that most of us have never seen in person. So I’m interested to see what he thinks of the latest, greatest $100,000 efforts from modern Mercedes-Benz and Nissan.

To ensure we have room to fully exercise this two-car herd of 1,055 horsepower, we head to an abandoned airstrip. There, we learn a few things. The GT-R, despite its all-wheel-drive, will do whatever you want it to do — tail-out, tire-smoking drifts included. At full throttle, the Benz hurls thunder while the Nissan soundtrack is all intake, a symphony of shredded atmosphere. Both these cars have brakes that dig in hard enough to rip loose pebbles from the pavement at 130 mph. Oh, and you might be aware that many Benzes won’t let you fully deactivate the stability control system. This one definitely will.

By the end of the day, we’d reached some conclusions. One of us preferred the lurid slides, high-rpm V-8 and in-your-face style of the widebody Benz. The other picked the Nissan and its all-out performance, its high-tech devotion to making its driver look good. Which would you choose? It’s a great question.

28Jan/13

Classics flooded by Sandy still waiting for salvage lot saviors

Two months ago, I wrote about the first wave of classic cars caught in superstorm Sandy’s floods totaled by insurance companies and sent to East Coast salvage yards, for those who believe there’s something worth keeping on a forty-year-old machine dunked in brackish waters. A browse through Copart’s online listing this week shows that the crowd of Sandy-damaged classics has grown to number in the hundreds, ranging from old Packards to modern Ferraris. The crusher shouldn’t be their only destination.

Classic Car

Classic Car

With more than 230,000 vehicles damaged by Sandy, the nation’s insurers have been busy for months triaging the damage; many of those vehicles will be crushed, while some will be stripped for salvageable spare parts. A single dip in salt water can provide years of damage to a modern car, sprouting rust throughout the body, mold in all fabrics and corrosion on key electronic parts.

The story’s a little different for classics. Take the ’60s-era Chevy Corvettes in the New York and New Jersey lots; one 1967 Sting Ray valued at $81,000 before the storm suffered an estimated $60,000 in damage. Even without an engine, bidding for its body has reached $23,000. The 1988 Ferrari Testarossa shown above was valued at $50,000, but rebuilding its engine and hard-to-source electronics may be beyond the willpower of even the most ardent Miami Vice fan.

Sandy’s floods didn’t discriminate, claiming MGBs and Pontiac GTOs alike. There’s enough Ford hot-rods and Chevy BelAirs in these lots to restage “American Graffiti,” and of all the cars in the database, the idea of a 1969 Jaguar XKE with little visible water damage getting chopped for parts leaves me sad enough to skim the kids’ college fund. (Salvage cars are sold as-is, and can be a hassle to drive legally even if they’re mechanically copacetic.)

The oldest car in the mix — the 1928 Packard Six coupe, complete with rusty water sloshing in one of its driving lights — might be the one I’m most certain will be saved by a caring collector. It’s simple enough to disassemble and clean; it’s engine likely didn’t suck in any water, and there’s enough Packard enthusiasts across the country to provide the know-how and spare parts to get it running again. There’s a reason some cars survive 85 years.