2016 Hyundai Santa Fe 2.0t Sport Short Take Review

The 2016 Hyundai Santa Fe 2.0t Sport highlights a growing trend with Hyundai.  Every year and model generation, the cars just get better and better.  Build quality is quite good, and materials are quite good for this segment.  Value for money, this vehicle has tons of features for the money.  Where the Hyundai seems to let me down is the Sport badge.

The Hyundai Santa Fe drives well and is well appointed, however the sport model really doesn’t feel very, well, sporty.  The suspension is a bit too stiff and somehow still doesn’t control body roll, and the steering is very vague.  The 2.0t engine is typically strong, but programming in this really makes it feel very light on low end torque, which is odd considering how peppy it is normally.  Same goes for higher RPMs, the engine just doesn’t feel like it wants to be there.  The transmission programming is adequate, and is sport mode shifts are firm and quick, and the transmission is usually in the right gear, though it sometimes hunts a bit on the highway.

The infotainment system is a little clunky and difficult to operate at times, but the bluetooth functionality works well and the stereo sounds good.  Music streaming and phone duties were handled without issue, but the touchscreen could be better utilized.  AC controls are easy to use, and the gauges are legible and easy to read.

The Santa Fe has lots of bells and whistles for around $31,000, like keyless entry and start, backup camera, leather seating for 5, a turbocharged engine, and good cargo space.  It’s a great value for those looking for features, but the sport model really doesn’t live up to it’s name.  If you’re looking for a fun, sporty SUV, this isn’t it, but if you’re looking for a well equipped and value oriented midsize SUV, the Santa Fe is a great choice.

2015 VW GTI SE with Sunroof Tornado Red 3/4 shot

2015 VW GTI SE Road Test Review

Truth be told, I’m a big hatchback fan and a big VW GTI fan, so this may be a bit biased, but I’ll try to keep it objective.  I had an 02 VW GTI 337, which was a great car and never gave me any trouble. Volkswagens have always been fun cars, from the first MK1 GTI, but many people thought the MK5 gained a bit too much weight.  This MK7 VW GTI has gone on a significant diet courtesy of VW’s new aluminum intensive MQB platform.  Is the original hot hatch still king of the hill?

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2015 Toyota Sienna SE Short Take Review

The 2015 Toyota Sienna SE is a good minivan.  I know, I know, it’s Blog of Speed, but we all need to cart around people and gear from time to time, and minivans do the trick nicely.  This particular minivan happens to be quite a good value.  At just under $40,000, this Toyota Sienna SE has everything you could want in a family hauler- leather with deviated stitching, seating for 7-8 depending on equipment, heated seats, a big infotainment system, and rear seat entertainment screens.

Relevant driving impressions- suspension is a bit soft and leans into turns, but steering feel is surprisingly decent.  It’s a bit over assisted, but road feel is good.  The Toyota Sienna has a 266 horsepower 3.5 liter V6 and is peppy and gives you what you ask for, highway passing power is more than adequate as well.  All seats are comfortable, and the fold and tumble rear seats work nicely and give a flat load floor.  The middle seats are a bit clunky to take in and out, but I doubt many people will use this as a cargo vehicle.  Other vehicles in the segment have fold and tumble second row seats, and I thought this was a curious omission on this Toyota Sienna, especially with a relatively high step-in height for the middle and rear passengers.

The infotainment system is good, with Toyota’s familiar Entune setup and a very clear and large touchscreen.  The system is a little laggy and there are prettier user interfaces out there, but the sound quality was very good and overall easy enough to use.  Bluetooth microphone quality is not great though, and I relied on my handset most of the time.

All in all, the Toyota Sienna SE is a good value and a rather good minivan.  It looks sharp in this SE trim, and handles decently (for a minivan).  I really do hope Toyota bring something special for the next generation Sienna, I just feel the minivan market is under appreciated and stagnant.  A real focus on driving dynamics could really revive the segment in my humble opinion.  If you need a minivan, it’s definitely high in the running.

2015 Dodge Charger RT front

2015 Dodge Charger RT Hemi Road Test Review

I always love a V8, so when the 2015 Dodge Charger RT Hemi Road and Track package arrived, I was quite excited.  The Charger with the 5.7 Hemi is one of the best values in cars right now.  The as-tested price is around $45,000, and for that you get a 370 horsepower 5.7 liter Hemi engine, a smooth shifting 8 speed transmission, heated and cooled suede seats, 20″ wheels, sport suspension, the list goes on.  This car a $1500 black painted roof option, so let’s just take that one out and call it $43,500.  Is it any good?

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2015 Lexus LX570 Short Take Review

The 2015 Lexus LX570 is essentially the luxury version of the venerable Toyota Land Cruiser, whose off road prowess is legendary all over the world.  Luckily the essence of the car isn’t spoiled but actually extended by the Lexus version.  The first big plus is air suspension- the addition of this adds a level of civility and comfort usually reserved for much less capable vehicles.

Locking differentials all around mean this thing still can get down and dirty if you need to, and the air suspension can lift the truck to clear all but the tallest of obstacles.  The 383 horsepower V8 never has any trouble pulling this truck along, probably due to it’s 403 pound feet of torque.  The 5.7 engine sounds great and is never too loud.  The luxury appointments are quite nice, with comfortable seating for 7, rear entertainment system, power folding rear seats, heated second row, and heated and coolest first row seats, there’s definitely luxury to go around.

On road manners are good, a bit soft as one would expect, but surprisingly agile for such a huge vehicle.  While I didn’t have a chance to test this truck off road, I’m confident with its ground clearance and off-road features it would do very well.  It has locking differentials and adjustable suspension, as well as a live axle rear end.  Even with the more street oriented tires, I’m sure the Lexus would handle whatever nature throws at it

The price for all this?  Around $90,000.  Not bad when you think about just how capable and large the 2015 Lexus LX570 is, and the luxury doesn’t hurt either.  Make no mistake though, this is a body-on-frame truck, not a crossover meant for traversing mall parking lots and never getting dirty.  This thing can rock in the mud and still keep you in perfect comfort, and for that it definitely earns my respect.


Vehicle provided by Lexus


2015 Mercedes-Benz G63 AMG Road Test Review

To really understand how iconic the 2015 Mercedes-Benz G63 AMG is, you need to trace it to it’s roots.  In 1979, Mercedes-Benz created the Geländewagen for civilian use.  Though development started in 1972 at the suggestion of a Mercedes stockholder to create a military vehicle, the civilian version had locking differentials and a very off-road worthy frame.  And over 30 years later, all G-wagens still do.  So what’s it like driving this icon?

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2015 Volkswagen Jetta TSI Short Take Review

At just under $24,000, my 2015 Volkswagen Jetta TSI press car included most things you’d want as standard:  bluetooth connectivity, pushbutton start, a 6 speed automatic transmission, good torque, and a fun character.  There is an available 2 liter Jetta with a paltry 115hp, 4 speaker audio system, and basic features to get you by, but it’s special order and you probably won’t see it on any dealer lots, and you don’t want one.

The new 1.8 liter turbocharged direct injected engine is amazingly torquey and flexible and is just fun to drive.  It sounds good too!  The six speed automatic shifts well- it’s not a DSG box like in the GLI, but it does the job without fuss and is programmed well.  The Jetta is pretty quick, and is definitely fun to drive.  The suspension is a bit on the sporty side, but is still very comfortable over all road surfaces.  It rolls a bit in corners, but in an engaging way.

The touch screen infotainment system is extremely basic and rather low resolution, but it gets the job done without  fuss.   The stereo sounds good, and Fender premium audio is available as an upgrade should you desire even better musicality.  Materials are of good quality and feel well put together.  The VW-tex seats look great and wear like iron.  I had a similar seats in my 2001 Audi A4, and with one hundred thousand miles on them they still looked near new.  The graphic display on the instrument cluster is a bit outdated, and there’s no coolant temperature gauge which I found a bit odd.  The pushbutton start works fine, but I don’t see why it wouldn’t function to unlock the doors as well- you need to do this manually or with the buttons on the key.

Overall, the 2015 Volkswagen Jetta TSI is back to being what it always was: a fun, sporty, frugal daily driver.  The 1.8t engine is so far ahead of the old 2.5 it isn’t even comparable.  Torque is always there to pull you along, efficiency is up, and the Jetta is just plain fun.  For those who want something more sporty, there is a GLI variant available with a DSG gearbox and upgrades like the GTI.  Honestly though, this is all most people will need or want.  It’s an engaging, affordable, quality car.  Good job VW.

Vehicle provided by Volkswagen of America.


2015 Toyota 4Runner Trail Road Test Review

The 2015 Toyota 4Runner Trail is in rare company-  With FJ Cruiser production coming to an end, it’s one of the only modestly sized body-on-frame SUVs out there.  I can’t think of many other than the Jeep Wrangler.  Make no mistake- this is a truck.  With crossovers becoming so much more mainstream and capable off road trucks disappearing, how does the 4runner fare in everyday driving?  Is it still relevant?  I think so.

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2014 Toyota Avalon Hybrid Short Take Review

I’ve had a lot of Toyota hybrids over the years, and they’re quite good.  This 2014 Toyota Avalon Hybrid is no exception.  While it’s similar to it’s Lexus cousin, the Avalon is more affordable, and slightly less luxurious.  The suspension is soft and comfortable, the steering is light without too much road feel, but you’d expect that in a comfortable daily driver like the Avalon.  The Avalon has room for 5 actual adults.  Rear legroom is downright huge.  The interior is quiet and supple, it’s just a really nice car.

The hybrid drivetrain is good as usual.  I got almost 40mpg in combined city and highway, even in heavy traffic.  The Avalon has a good amount of power, however it takes a while to access it.  The CVT transmission is always smooth but can be a bit lazy.  Power delivery feels like the CVT is “spooling up” for a few seconds.  Instant response isn’t there, but when you need it the Avalon has more than enough passing power.  The standard V6 in the Avalon is more responsive, but doesn’t get as good gas mileage.  Whether or not the hybrid is worth the $2300 difference between it and it’s non hybrid sibling will depend on how much you drive.

Overall the Avalon Hybrid is a fantastic and comfortable 5 passenger sedan.  I can’t really think of anything that competes with it.  Most manufacturers are going for sport sedan attributes, and this car is geared towards comfort while getting fantastic fuel economy.  If you’re looking for a relaxed everyday car, the Avalon is a great choice.  It doesn’t really have any sporting credentials, but it doesn’t try to either, and I’m OK with that.  Great all around car.

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