Archive | December, 2010

Review – 2011 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid Platinum: What A Cadillac Should Be

Cadillac latest advertising campaign pegs the brand as “The New Standard of the World.” But are they really? Over the past 10 years, there is no question that they haven’t been. But do vehicles like the Cadillac Escalade Platinum stand to change that?

The Cadillac Escalade Platinum stands for all the right things at the wrong time. With 22″ wheels, three TV screens and a 6.0-Liter V8, the Escalade is what many would say is wrong with America. Wait a second, what’s this? It’s a hybrid!

GM launched its two-mode hybrid system in the Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon full size SUVs. Both of those full size SUVs share the GMT-900 platform with the Cadillac Escalade, making an Escalade hybrid model a no brainer.

The exterior of the Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid and the GMC Yukon Hybrid both feature slightly tweaked exteriors for enhanced aerodynamics. The Escalade hybrid does not feature a different front end or body work, but the Platinum edition does.

The grille is an egg crate-like design that is more in-line with the rest of the Cadillac line-up. The headlights are fully LED with a unique design exclusive to the Platinum edition. I actually like the grille design on the Platinum better than the regular Escalade.

While the headlight design is certainly unique, I’m not sure if they are better or worse. The LED headlights flood the road with natural blueish white light. This clashes with the yellow light that hits the road from the halogen fog lights. I wish Cadillac has fitted LED lights in the fog lights along with the headlights. This would give the front end a much more cohesive look at night.

The Platinum also features 22″ chrome multi-spoke wheels which put the Escalade up in the air. To help get into this land barge you have automatic step bars. They deploy as soon as any of the doors open. Around back, the Escalade Platinum features all-LED lighting.

Visually the Escalade is already an in your face, over the top vehicle. The Platinum edition takes that all one step further and in reality it looks better than the regular Escalade in many regards.

The interior takes the regular Escalade to the next level. Everything is pretty much real wood, real aluminum or one of two different kinds of real wood. The doors and top of the dash are both wrapped in leather while the center stack and anything on the dash that isn’t wood is aluminum.

The steering wheel features a nice combination of all three materials. While the Platinum features a heated steering wheel, the Hybrid Platinum does not. Cadillac decided to forgo this feature due to the energy draw. Too bad, with aluminum and wood on the steering wheel, chilly doesn’t begin to describe the feeling in your hands when it is zero degrees outside.

The fist two rows are covered in a very nice aniline leather, while the third row settles for nuance leather. In all reality, both are very nice looking and feel great. As mentioned before, the Platinum Escalade features two different types of wood inside. Both olive ash and walnut burl adorn the dash with an intricate yet tasteful break to switch from one to the other.

The gauges are white with blue needles. Chrome surrounds the gauges, which I might have thought would be distracting in sunlight, but I am happy to report it is not.

Navigation is standard, though slightly dated. The system is DVD-based which means it is not instant when changing map views and such. The navigation system does have live traffic,which is provided by XM. The main navigation screen is also home to most of the settings, the sound system and the hybrid drivetrain graphic, which shows you where the power is being routed and from what source. The sound system is Bose branded and sounds alright, but it isn’t mind blowing by any means. The Harman Kardon and Pioneer sound systems that GM has been using in other vehicles sound better.

The Escalade Hybrid Platinum features a rear seat entertainment package. This consisted of not one or two, but three screens. Why three? Because this is the Platinum. Two of those screens are seven inches in dimater and are mounted in the front two headrests. The third screen is eight inches and drops down from the top of the Escalade. There were remotes and headphones galore.

If you haven’t already decided from the pictures and all the above, the interior of the Escalade Hybrid Platinum is definitely a nice place to both be for both the driver and passengers. I would go as far as to say, the interior of the Platinum is exactly what a Cadillac should be. Granted I would give it a technology update, but that is beside the point.

The Escalade Hybrid’s powertrain is a 6.0-liter Vortec V-8 with active fuel management paired to two 60 kilowatt electric motors. The power goes through a 2-mode transmission, which is essentially a four speed. Two speeds are for city speeds, while two speeds are for highway speeds. The cutoff is at 40 miles per hour for switching from city to highway mode.

I was highly impressed with the system. It is smooth and overall very seamless. During the week I had the Escalade Hybrid it was around zero degrees the entire time. This meant that the battery pack had to work harder to hold a charge.

The engine stop-start function didn’t really kick in until the vehicle and battery were both thoroughly warmed up. So short drives did not get the full benefit of the hybrid powertrain. When I had the Tahoe Hybrid it was spring and warm. I saw an average of 19.6 mpg in mixed urban/suburban driving. With the Escalade Hybrid Platinum I saw an average of 15.3 mpg. While the weather definitely impacted my mileage, this is better than the 12 mpg I probably would have seen with the non-hybrid version.

The Escalade Hybrid Platinum I had for a week had a sticker price of $89,090. That is a lot of coin for an SUV, or any vehicle for that matter. The Hybrid Platinum is the highest trim model of Escalade that you can purchase. Is it worth nearly $90,000? Probably not. Then again I wouldn’t spend nearly $90k for a BMW X6M either, and that has 555 horsepower. The price tag seems a bit unreasonable.

With all that said, this is absolutely without a question the nicest Cadillac Escalade available, and it is a little greener to boot. There is no question that the Hybrid is more fuel efficient, especially when it is not 0 degrees outside.

I’m going to stick with my statement from earlier, defining this vehicle as what a Cadillac should be. A really nice interior filled with leather, real metal and wood, and a powerful yet somewhat green powertrain. If Cadillac can build vehicles like this and push the boundaries of technology further, they might have a chance at yet again becoming the standard of the world.

Full Disclosure- The review vehicle was provided by General Motors

Fail – Introducing The GM Escalado

Spotted by none other than the great Mark Boyadjis in Columbia Heights, MN, this mid 90’s Chevrolet Silverado has a second generation Cadillac Escalade front clip grafted onto it. Paint is for suckers. Either the front clip is still just primed and not painted, or else the front clip is black and the donor truck is white. Either way it is hideous. For the awesome blend between luxury and redneck, the GM Escalado is the only way to go.

Thanks for the tip Mark.

Fail – Mercedes Branded Dodge Dakota Cold Weather Testing

Drew over at Cheers and Gears has been talking about a rumored Mercedes branded Dodge Dakota undergoing cold weather testing near him. He was finally able to snap a pic of this huge piece of fail. I must say, it’s worse than I imagined.

[Cheers and Gears]

Review – 2011 Kia Sportage EX AWD: The CUV Sporting the Most Flair

Kia isn’t known for its style or design. Kia’s biggest claim to fame is its 10 year/100,000 mile warranty. Well, that was until recently. When Kia hired ex-Audi designer Peter Schreyer, suddenly they had style and dare I say, flair.

This new third generation Sportage is so vastly different in almost every way from its predecessors, that it’s amazing that they sport the same name.

The exterior of the new Sportage looks like it fell out of the awesome tree and hit every branch on its way down. Beginning in the front, Sportage sports Kia’s new signature grill, flanked by swept back headlights. The headlights on upper trim models (like this EX) each have a strip of LED eye liner. Chrome trim above the fog lights finishes off the front end.

The sides have sculpting near the bottom of the doors while a character line runs beneath the window sills into the rear tail lights. Door handles and window sills are trimmed in chrome and the roof rails are covered in a with a satin metal-like finish. The side mirrors also feature LED repeaters, which is a nice touch in this class.

Around back the rear is very stylized, with what can only be described as a bubble butt. The rear view almost looks like an alien scowling at you, especially at night. The rear tail lights feature LED lighting.

With the rear window being somewhat small and the large C-pillars being kind of large, it makes for limited rearward visibility. It is clear that style played a larger role than function when it came to the exterior design – the exterior is probably the best looking exterior of any compact CUV on the market currently.

The interior is also stylized, though not to the extent the exterior is. The dash features two different finishes, one smooth and one textured, both are hard and have a low sheen to them.

The center console has a upward slant to it and it rises to meet the dashboard. The climate controls have a shiny piano black finish to them, but it is not distracting. I could imagine this plastic getting scratched easily over time though.

Both front seats were all day comfortable, with terrific seat heaters. Though only the front drivers seat features a cooling function. The front passenger will have to settle for only heat.

As I mentioned on the exterior, visibility is somewhat limited by the rear design. The C-pillars are quite large and the back glass is quite small. Further enhancing the problem are the somewhat large A-pillars in the front. While not as large as some of the competition, they are still large enough to cause some visibility issues. As with the current trend, the belt line on the Sportage is high, so resting your elbow on the window sill while driving is somewhat uncomfortable. The design also cuts into rear seat headroom. Taller passengers will need to sit up front.

Like the exterior, I found the interior to be a huge win. Button placement was all within arms reach and everything was clearly labeled. My only major gripe would be the style over function of some of the design characteristics.

Currently the new Sportage features one engine  2.4-liter inline four-cylinder that pumps out 176 horsepower and 168 pound-feet to either the front or all four wheels. The power is routed through a six speed automatic transmission that has manual shift capabilities. The Sportage EX I was in came equipped with all-wheel drive and an electronic locking differential. The current powertrain combined with all-wheel drive is rated at 21/28 mpg, and I saw an average of 19 mpg in mixed suburban driving.

As with the new Sorento, I found the ride in the Sportage to be surprisingly stiff. While I can appreciate a stiff ride, over bumpy roads the suspension can feel jittery at times. Also, the steering is light when at parking lots speeds but firms up a little too much once underway.

While I had the Sportage, Minneapolis was whacked with the largest blizzard we have had in over ten years. I drove the Sportage out into the blizzard and must say I was highly impressed. I did not get stuck once. With over 20 inches of snow in less than 24 hours, I drove this Sportage through worse road conditions than almost any owner will ever drive through. The 18″ wheels with Hankook tires where very impressive and the stability control kept everything in line. I did lock the all-wheel drive a few times, though ground clearance did help as well. I am sure the cold and blizzard driving affected my gas mileage.

The EX AWD is currently the top trim model of the Sportage model. This Sportage featured both the Navigation/Premium Audio package as well as the Premium Package with Leather. Combined with these options and destination, the total price on this Sportage was $29,990.

The Sportage lands in a crowded market. The new Chevrolet Equinox is very competitive, and the Honda CR-V along with the Toyota RAV4 are both segment leaders. So is the new little Sportage finally ready to sell on more than price? The answer is absolutely. With more style, or flair if you will, than nearly all the competition, this Kia is ready to finally sell on design and features rather than a warranty and low price.

Full Disclosure – The review vehicle was provided by Kia

Fail – Mercedes-Benz 190E Converted Into A Crossover SUV

In Russia, we make SUV out of car! No, seriously, someone in Russia has decided to take this innocent Mercedes-Benz 190E and convert it into a SUV?

You might be saying to yourself: gee that 190E looks awfully short. Well that is because the owner chopped the rear end and then raised the ride height. That was just for starters.

One the vehicle was done being chopped and raised, fake bull bars made out of what appears to be PVC piping, were fitted around the vehicle. You know, for protection.

Once the “protection” was in place, it appears that the off-roader was painted in Rhino Liner? It is described as a “stealth paint job,” whatever that means.

Finishing off this piece of awesome is the rear mounted spare tire and headlight guards.

The vehicle is apparently dubbed the “E90.”

So you decide, is this a piece of awesome, or some horrible project gone wrong.

[Auto Motto]

Maybe Money Can Buy Happiness

You know what they say, money can’t buy happiness. Well, it seems sometimes it can come darn close. This short video shows how you can get peace and quite in your house with a simple purchase of one Cadillac Escalade. While I do not support or condone this type of gift, I can say, this is quite hilarious.

Source – YouTube

Video – Overview Of The 2011 Kia Sorento EX

While I have already posted my review, I wanted to share my quick video overview of the 2011 Kia Sorento EX.

Review – 2011 Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback ES: The Shark Of Hatchbacks

When I told my friends that I was reviewing a Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback ES, many responded with, “wait, Mitsubishi is still in business?” See that right there that is a problem. No car company wants to have that question asked by consumers.

The Lancer is Mitsubishi’s foray into the compact car segment. The question is, is it competitive or is there a reason many consumers don’t know Mitsubishi still sells cars in the United States?

The front of the Lancer Sportback ES features Mitsubishi’s current design language, which has a sharp and forward slanting grille. It looks as if the front clip is about to eat you. My girlfriend thinks it looks like a shark and I can see that resemblance. The sides have a strong crease that run from the front fenders to the rear fenders and there is some slight sculpting is down by the rocker panels. The rear has a very steep slope to the glass and this cuts into the cargo room slightly. An integrated rear spoiler extends to the rear roofline and gives the rear glass a little cover during rain and snow storms. The optional 15″ alloy wheels look decent but have large tires that fill out the wheel wheels. Side repeaters for the turn signals are a nice touch in this class. Overall, I like the exterior for its uniqueness. It doesn’t look like any other compact car on the road.

The interior is a little more of a let down. A few years ago this interior would have been standard fare, but now the competition has upped its game. The plastic on the dash is all hard and somewhat cheap looking. The switches and knobs all feel fine, and the HVAC controls have a nice solid click to them on each interval. The cloth seats do feature a unique pattern, though the bottom bolsters are farther apart then I would like.

The radio display is red and inset into the dash slightly. This looks fine, but in sunlight the entire display gets washed out. The auxiliary inputs use red and white pigtails instead of the normal auxiliary input jack. That is somewhat annoying if you do not have the right cables. Once you have the correct cables it gets more confusing, you must hold the MP3/CD button on the radio for 2+ seconds to switch to the auxiliary input. I’m creative, but even I had to go to the owners manual to figure that one out.

The steering wheel has a voice command button along with hang up and answer buttons for the Bluetooth. The only issue is, this particular Sportback didn’t have Bluetooth. It seems all Sportbacks are pre-wired for Bluetooth and have the buttons. So, if you do not select the option for it, you will be stuck looking at the buttons every time you drive the car. Just a reminder that you kind of skimped on the options. Not exactly sure why they are there but hey, they are.

I wanted to comment on the seating position; it was more rally car than compact car. With an adjustment for up/down, forward/back/and a back adjustment, it was easy to find a comfortable driving position. The steering wheel did tilt but does not telescope.

The engine is a 2.0-liter MIVEC inline 4-cylinder that pumps out 148 horsepower and 145 pound feet to the front wheels. The power is put down through either a five speed manual or Sportronic CVT automatic. The Sportback I had featured the Sportronic CVT, which I will say wasn’t as bad as I initially expected it to be. Personally, I am not the biggest fan of CVTs due to their rubber band nature, but this one seemed to mimic a six-speed automatic fairly well. Only when really pushing the engine did it start to have a rubber band feel. The Sportback was actually fun to drive, when going around a corner it felt more like a rally car than a typical compact car. While the two higher trim levels are definitely sportier, this base Sportback was able to throw a smirk or two on my face.

Aside from the interior material quality and radio display, I do have one major gripe. The price of the Sportback ES seems reasonable, until you realize what you can now get for that same kind of money. Starting at $17,775 with a manual transmission and no options, this is not exactly a cheap compact car. The model I was in had the CVT and alloy wheel options bringing the total to $18,955. The EPA mileage ratings are 25/32 mpg, while I averaged 23.5 mpg in the city and 27.6 on the highway. Not exactly class leading on the gas mileage either.

So what did we end up with? A compact hatchback that has some sharp styling and sport driving characteristics. That sounds like a somewhat unique combination. With vehicles like this, it really isn’t a surprise to me that my friends didn’t know Mitsubishi was still around. This is a unique and almost niche vehicle. Your top priorities can’t be fuel economy or interior material quality. It also isn’t the best value based solely on price, especially when compared to a Mazda3, Ford Focus, Chevrolet Cruze, or a myriad of other compact car options. No, to buy this car means you want to be different and stand out from the crowd. With a fun to drive factor that is surprising and a fair bit of utility, this shark is in crowded waters but deserves a fair shake if you want to stand out from the compact car crowd.

Full Disclosure – The review vehicle was provided by Mitsubishi

Chevrolet Lumina MPV Fail

Hey remember the dustbuster vans? Whether they have aged gracefully or not is debatable, but this is one classy example in what can only be described as ‘mint condition.’ What with upgrades such as a window air conditioner for those extra hot days, and the sweet Ford Mustang wheels, this Chevrolet Lumina MPV is ready to hit the road. Oh, and when you are traveling across the U.S. with the window air conditioner blasting and feel the need to talk with the trucker ahead, the side mounted CB radio antenna will come in handy. Here’s to hoping this family has a terrific family road trip this holiday season.

Source- Twitter

Review – 2011 Kia Sorento EX: The Power To Surprise

Kia’s tagline is “The Power To Surprise,” and as of late they have truly been surprising. Revamping an entire vehicle line-upand adding new models all within a very short period of time is no small feat. First there was the new Soul followed by the new Forte, and now they have completely revamped the Sorento.

If you do not remember the last generation Sorento, no one will fault you. It was nothing special, just another body on frame SUV that got lost in the crowd selling on price, not features. Some compared its looks to the first generation Lexus RX300, which some would view as a compliment.

The front of the Sorento features Kia’s new signature grille, flanked by swept-back headlights. In some ways the headlights almost look related to the Acura TL. The honeycomb grille is matched by honeycomb surrounds for the fog lights, which which are placed in the bumper. The way light from the fog lights hits the ground makes them almost act more like driving lights then actual fog lights.

The sides of the Sorento have two sculpting points – one runs the length of the window sills until it flows into the C-pillar. The second sculpting point is low near the bottom of the doors. This brings in the sides to give the Sorento a less slab sided appearance.

The wheels on this particular Sorento were 18-inch alloys which fit nicely within the wheel wells. The side mirrors had LED repeaters while the tail lights continued with the honeycomb look from the front grille. While the front has more design character then the rear, I would say overall the exterior is a huge win.

Like the exterior, the interior is mostly a win. The new corporate steering wheel has buttons for most major functions, and they are strategically placed so your hands do not leave the wheel as often. The dashboard is made of hard plastic, but it looks decent. The interior lighting is ret and the gauges are white and red, which make them very easy on the eyes while driving at night.

The seats were all day comfortable, though the side bolsters on the front seat backs were a bit hard. The rear seat can easily accommodate three people, with a nearly a flat floor for your feet. The rear seats do fold down 60/40, but not completely flat due to the design of the rear seat bottoms.

If I had one major gripe about the interior, it would be the navigation system. The system itself works terrific and the street names are very legible with no jagged fonts. However, the system warning each and every time you turn on the car takes forever to allow you to hit accept and move past the warning screen. I am talking a ridiculously long time. There is standard iPod integration, along with Sirius satellite radio and Bluetooth.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the front seat heaters – they worked quite well, although they aren’t the fastest to heat up. Once on, they performed on par with what a Minnesotan would expect.

The only interior trim piece I could really find an issue with was the main center piece of plastic covering the front of the steering wheel. The top cut line was uneven and somewhat jagged. While disappointing, overall I was impressed with the build quality inside the cabin. While hard plastics are used in many places, all touch points such as arm rests and other areas were covered in a leatherette-like material. The interior is, without question, very class competitive.

The Sorento I was in had the base 2.4 liter four-cylinder engine putting out 175 horsepower and 169 pound feet to the front wheels. A V-6 and all-wheel drive is optional. The power is put down through a one-choice six-speed automatic with a manual shifting gate to the left. Off the line the Sorento has adequate power, but once up to speed you will need to plan your passes carefully. Highway passing is not a point and shoot decision. I also noticed that the transmission often got confused as to what it should do. When slowing to a stop from about 30 MPH the transmission would sometimes not know when to shift and suddenly make a large clunk as it shifted into a lower gear. It felt like a programming issue, though it could be an issue with this particular Sorento.

I wonder if Kia plans to put the four-cylinder from the new Optima, which puts out 200 hp and 186 lb-ft , into the Sorento as the base engine in the future. The slight bump in power would possibly help the situation with passing power on the highway. The new 2.0-liter turbo that is coming in the Optima would also be a good engine option, since it has more horsepower and torque then the optional V6.

Driving the Sorento was enjoyable for the most part. I averaged 18.8 mpg in the city and 25.2 mpg on the highway. A bit lower then the 21/29 EPA rating. The suspension is a little firm though that didn’t bother me. With that firm suspension came quite a bit of noise over rough surfaces. On the highway more road noise made its way into the cabin then expected, though it was acceptable, just not class leading.

The Sorento I was in was a EX with both the limited package and premium package 1. With a total of $3,750 in options the sticker price on this Sorento EX was $29,340 after destination. That puts it right in the heart of the CUV segment.

With competitors like the new Chevrolet Equinox, Toyota Rav4, Ford Edge and many others, the Sorento can’t be just good enough, it has to be great. There is no question that Kia has good design direction both inside and out. The four-cylinder powertrain is adequate, but I’d probably opt for the V-6. The bottom line, if you are in the market for a CUV to haul the family around, you would be making a large mistake if you didn’t have the Sorento on your list. Turns out Kia’s marketing slogan does work – with its new styling language, the new Sorento really does have the power to surprise.

Full Disclosure – The review vehicle was provided by Kia