2019 Nissan Altima

Is it just a cheap Maxima?

I wouldn’t be offended if someone called my car a cheap Maxima.  The Maxima was my favorite rental of 2018.  Undoubtedly, Nissan has taken a lot of styling cues from the Maxima and passed them along to the all-new Altima.

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This is my first rental with a flat bottomed steering wheel that seems to have a little GT-R inspiration.  Whoever inspired the design should be proud if they also inspired the steering system also.  The response was excellent at low and high speeds.  The seats were comfortable and supportive in all the right places and would great for short or long trips.  The interior switches are reminisce of the Sentra, Versa, and Rogue especially the 3 on the left of the steering wheel.  The trip reset, dash illumination, and trunk release are nearly identical across most of the Nissan lineup.

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The backseat was sparse, but comfortable and spacious as expected in a car that competes with the Camry and Accord.

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The 186hp inline 4cyl was capable, but paired with a CVT made city driving rather annoying.  I tried several different ways at take off at from a stop.  Sometimes it was a smooth & quick launch like a cheetah, and a few times it was like a morbidly obese tabby cat that was on a bender of catnip.  There wasn’t an eco/power/sport button to change the transmission settings, so that will remain a mystery.  Nissan offers a 236hp turbo engine, but that increases the base prices by a minimum of $5800.  The CVT is the only transmission available.

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This was apparently the base ‘S’ trim level even though no badges were present as with previous model year variations of the Altima.  I see some Passat styling cues also in the taillight shape.  As much as I liked the subtle spoiler, I disliked the pointless fake air vents on the lower bumper.  It appears to be vents for the undercarriage for aerodynamics(what else would they be for?), but looking closer. . .

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. . . it’s a dirt holder.  Would a plain white bumper be so bad and just put reflectors at each end?

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The trunk was very spacious at 15.4 cubic feet and bests the Camry by 0.3 cubic feet, but trails the Accord by a whopping 1.3 cubic feet.  The VW Passat has an impressive 15.9 cubic feet.

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The infotainment center that pokes through the dashboard appears that it would be adjustable, but it’s fixed and cannot be tilted or lowered at all.  The HVAC controls are crystal clear and contain no surprises, but automatic climate control isn’t standard.  The engine start/stop button location is the same as the Maxima.  The 6 speaker stereo was an pleasant surprise with clarity not found in vehicles twice the cost.

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2019 Altima above – 2018 Maxima below.

2018-Nissan-Maxima-front-angle-grille

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The dashboard was well done, although the steering wheel had too many unnecessary buttons.  In my short 24 hours with the Altima I achieved 33mpg which is inline with the EPA predictions of 29 city / 39 highway.

It’s no secret to any car novice or extreme car expert that this class has fierce competition.  The greatly improved Chevy Malibu and Kia Optima, Consumer Reports perennial favorite VW Passat, best selling Toyota Camry, my preferred Honda Accord, and the soon-to-disappear Ford Fusion.  All the carmakers are clawing for more market share so there’s deals, rebates, and favorable financing abound.

The exterior of the Altima is a smokin’ hot deal that could be mistaken for a Maxima from a distance, but the interior, engine, and transmission is definitely a lesser version of the Maxima.  If had to do a lot of highway driving, the Altima would be a good choice solely for the ride quality and capability of 640 miles on a single tank of gas.

Was it that long ago the Sentra, Altima, and Maxima looked completely different and were unmistakably unique?

SEAT COMFORT:
80 out of 100
ERGONOMICS:
80 out of 100
SOUND SYSTEM:
80 out of 100
TRUNK/STORAGE:
65 out of 100
ECONOMY:
85 out of 100 – CVT helps a lot on the highway.
HIGHWAY CRUISER:
85 out of 100 – the ride at 70mph is memorable in the best way possible.
CITY COMMUTER:
35 out of 100 – old school 6-speed manual or auto would greatly improve this number.
RECOMMEND TO RENT:
60 out of 100
RECOMMEND TO BUY:
65 out of 100
635 points

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2018 Chrysler 300 S

Just a suspension tweak away from being sporty

The 300 S, in both RWD and AWD variants, is a popular choice at all the rental counters due to spacious interior, 300hp engine, and smooth 8-speed transmission.  This 300 S model comes in at about $38,000.  An optioned out 300 C with a 363 hp V-8 Hemi can easily eclipse a $50,000 out the door total.

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The 3.6L VVT engine was ready to go especially in Sport Mode (by selecting “S” on the gear selector) making the throttle incredibly sensitive.  The same engine has been around since the 2011 model year and can be found in many of Chrysler’s lineup including the Wrangler, RAM 1500, Challenger, Charger, and Grand Cherokee.

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I like the new trend of tiered glove boxes.  I’d love a separate top shelf in my TL for the frequently used gas & maintenance log I write-in every time I fuel up or get maintenance done.  But then again, maybe I just need to thin out the clutter.  It’s a fine line.

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I really like the ergonomics, even though there’s so many shared parts with every other Chrysler/RAM on the market today.  I’d expect more high end trim pieces in the upper echelon “S” version.  A few carbon fiber inlay pieces would do miracles for first impressions.

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When given choices of vehicles on hand, the most frequent question from renters is “which car has more trunk space”.  The default answer for this has always been the 300, beating out the Avalon, XTS, Q50 and Lacrosse or so I thought.  The 300 has shrunk from 17.2 in 2008 to 16.3 cubic feet today , the current Avalon almost 16.1, but XTS will be the new recommendation at 18 cubic feet.  The beats subwoofer in the trunk takes up noticeable space, but the output is so incredible, I think most people will over look it.

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The analog clock is a classy touch, but pretty useless in anything but perfect lighting.  Useless AND pointless considering there’s a digital clock about an inch below.  Like the stellar Bang & Olufsen stereo in the Ford Edge of last week, beats logos only appear on the speakers and subwoofer.  The 11-speaker beats system didn’t have the hi-mid-low clarity of the Bang & Olufsen in the Edge, but it could pump out the bass like no rental I’ve been in to date.  The HVAC controls were instantly intuitive at a quick glance.

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No shortage of comfort in the back seat, although leg room was surprisingly short for a 4200lb sedan.

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With the exception of the LED taillights on all trim levels and spoilers on some, the rear end has changed very little since the reappearance of the 300 in 2005.

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The front end hasn’t changed much either, but the contrasting black grille and chrome Chrysler logo looks incredible against the Granite Crystal paint.

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The dashboard was well done with many options to choose from in the center LED screen.  The EPA says fuel economy is 19 city / 30 highway.  I was pretty nice to the accelerator and couldn’t get it above 24 even while cruising at a steady 65mph.  Watching the tachometer needle spike at the speed of light while in sport mode was entertaining, but I didn’t leave it on there for long.  I think the 300S is capable of burying the speedometer needle well past 140mph, but I can’t test my gut feeling firsthand anywhere around here.

Would I rent a 300 again?  Sure.

Would I be excited about it and tell the world?  Not really.  I think that may be due to a slight identity crisis.  If the suspension was a little stiffer and cornering was a little tighter, this could be called a viable sports sedan as the stunning 20″ wheels would imply.  Then again, if the suspension was a little softer, it could rival or even win out over the multi-state touring capabilities of the XTS.

I’m more curious now than ever about an upcoming Avalon comparison.

SEAT COMFORT:
85 out of 100
ERGONOMICS:
75 out of 100
SOUND SYSTEM:
90 out of 100
TRUNK/STORAGE:
70 out of 100
ECONOMY:
65 out of 100 – EPA figures seem very generous
HIGHWAY CRUISER:
90 out of 100 – comparable ride to the much more expensive XTS
CITY COMMUTER:
65 out of 100
RECOMMEND TO RENT:
70 out of 100 – toss-up between a XTS and 300.
RECOMMEND TO BUY
25 out of 100 – engines aren’t known for longevity and values plummet past 150K miles.

640 points

 

 

 

2019 Ford Edge

Is a MSRP of $40,700 living on the edge?

This was another diamond in the rough since it was nearly new with barely 290 miles on the clock.  My boss’s former favorite was a 2017 Edge, so I had reason to find out the hype for myself, especially since this is fairly loaded Titanium version.

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The first thing I did was turn on the heated seat when I sat down.  Winter will just not let go in Lexington!  The controls took getting use to, but were reminiscent of the Fusion Hybrid that mom, bro, and I took to Florida this past fall.  The wireless charging pad is next to the USB ports and seems to be a new standard in all upper trimmed vehicles.  The titanium also included an incognito stellar 12-speaker Bang & Olufsen that blew me away even without SirusXM radio.  The base stereo that comes with the SE version of the Edge has the identical controls, so the buyer has to look close at the B&O logo on the door speakers to know of the incredible upgrade.

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The 245hp 4-cyl turbo was adequate, but not a barn burner by any means.  At idle it was unusually loud and sounded a little tinny, not ok for a $40,000+ ride.  The 8-speed automatic was smooth, but the 23mpg on mostly highway driving I achieved was disappointing.  The EPA claims 22city / 29hwy, but both of those seem overly optimistic.  The engine bay was surprising in that it isn’t covered with countless plastic covers.  The maxed out ST trimmed version comes with a twin-turbo V-6 that bumps horsepower up to 335 with the same 8-speed automatic.

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From the outside, it would appear that the cargo area would be tiny.  As displayed with the giant rear pillars, visibility was not great looking out the back.  I think it’s the wraparound taillights that make it look smaller.

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What a relief that the cargo hold was nothing like the Buick Encore.  The Edge would be completely acceptable for a family of 5 and their bags for a week long trip.

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The backseats would be ideal for 2 people, but also great for three.  The seating surfaces were of high quality and comfortable according to the passenger back there on the way to and from dinner.

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The center console was of higher material than expected and the storage unit was unusually deep.

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The Edge has been updated twice since it’s debut in 2007 and continues to do well for the Blue Oval folks in Michigan.  The 2nd generation debuted in 2015 and had it’s best sales year ever in 2017.

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This 2WD version took the road twists and turns better than expected from a 3900 lb vehicle, but the ride was definitely more truck-like than a sedan.  Regardless, the ride was night and day better than the Grand Caravan of last week.

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The 12-way power driver seat was excellent and was comfortable with minimal adjustments.  I’ll assume the previous driver was about 6 feet tall also.

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The dashboard was unmistakably Ford as it is nearly identical to the Fusion Hybrid without the Eco/Hybrid displays.  The steering wheel was rather crowded with 22 different buttons, but easy to figure out.

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I’m going to predict that the design of the door bottoms will lead to rust issues years down the road.  I detailed a friend’s 2014 Edge last summer and noticed that all 4 doors bend inward to a makeshift shelf for salt and road debris.  Five model years later, and the Edge still has the same shelf.  Hopefully it’s coated with some sort of anti-corrosive material at a minimum.

I don’t see a reason why I’d need to rent the Edge again.  If I had 4 audiophile type passengers, this would be ideal.  I haven’t heard a sound system this incredible since my 7-speaker Nakamichi stereo in my 1990 LS400.

SEAT COMFORT:
80 out of 100
ERGONOMICS:
85 out of 100
SOUND SYSTEM:
100 out of 100 – unsure how could it improve
TRUNK/STORAGE:
85 out of 100
ECONOMY:
50 out of 100
HIGHWAY CRUISER:
75 out of 100
CITY COMMUTER:
50 out of 100
RECOMMEND TO RENT:
65 out of 100
RECOMMEND TO BUY
40 out of 100 – 1st gen had numerous transmission complaints had problems
630 points

 

 

 

 

 

2019 Dodge Grand Caravan

Chrysler should’ve mastered this category by now?

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How could I resist any vehicle with only 3 miles on the clock?  This Dodge’s life consisted of  the assembly line, a transport truck, and a half mile trip to the rental car garage.  That was the irresistible series of events leading me to pick it up for the first time ever.   The lowest mileage vehicle I’ve ever owned was 55,000 miles and it was 14 years old, so the allure was stronger than usual.

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As I mentioned in the Pacifica review a few months ago, as a 16 year old, our family dove into the minivan craze in 1988 with a Plymouth Grand Voyager with a 136hp Mitsubishi sourced engine.  More than 30 years later, six tenths of a liter more in displacement more than doubles the horsepower output to 283hp.  Flooring the gas pedal delivers a surprising 0-60 time of about 7.5 seconds.  A far cry from the required 10.5 seconds in 1988 while now delivery 25% better fuel economy on the highway.   I’ve never seen one in person, but there are a handful of first-generation 5-speed manual turbos out there.

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Chrysler has been neglecting the Grand Caravan (and Journey for that matter) and focused all attention on the Pacifica as the ideal family hauler.  The Grand Caravan hasn’t change much since 2011 and as a result, it flounders at the bottom of nearly all minivan comparisons.   Maybe with the next refresh fuel misers will be blessed with an 8- or 9-speed automatic.

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The dual material leather and ‘suede’ seats looked pretty good and were comfortable during my drive time in the city.  Durability is of upmost importance in this segment as most vans are rarely occupied only by the driver.  The material wasn’t of top-tiered quality, but at least it felt sturdy.

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When I first took a seat in the Grand Caravan, I initially liked the piano black trim pieces inside.  After closer inspection in better lighting, they were very cheap painted plastic.  The glove box on the bottom and the storage unit above were both spacious and an excellent use of interior space.  One of the biggest quirks of our 1988 version was the glovebox was underneath the front passenger seat.  Why that useless bit of odd trivia is clogging up my brain, I’ll never know.

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As with the rest of the vehicle, the center stack is showing it’s age.  The HVAC controls are well laid out and easy to use, but the sound system was unnecessarily complex, primarily the Bluetooth phone connection.  It was a ridiculous mixture of incessant voice commands and button pushing just to get it paired.  The stereo quality coming from the 6-speakers was pretty good, but forgettable.  I think the problem may lay within the need for more speakers to fill the huge cabin.  On the Dodge website, it says that 1-year of SiriusXM is standard, but 30 miles into my time with the Grand Caravan, the satellite radio quit working.  That seems like a silly extra step to gain minimal extra revenue from a rental.

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In 1988, this area between the 2 front seats was nothing but floorboard.  Storage bins are plentiful and there’s no shortage of cupholders.  Have you ever wondered who started cupholders in mass produced vehicles?  Look no further than the great-great-grandfather 1st generation Caravan of the mid-1980’s.

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I thought the high contrast black & white interior looked great from a distance even though the materials weren’t of the quality expected in a $31,400 vehicle.  I’ll have to assume that the profit margins of the Grand Caravan are HUGE for FCA.

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The cheapness continued with the front façade and grille.  I tapped on the grille, bumper, and headlights with my fingernail and all 3 felt like a hardened plastic tarp on the verge of cracking.  That’s a little perplexing since the weight of the Grand Caravan has increased by over 800 lbs. since the first Grand Caravan in 1987.  I tried several times to activate the fog lights to no avail.  Either they didn’t work or were so dim, they didn’t make a noticeable difference while in motion.

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The seating position for the driver was comfortable and outward visibility was excellent from all angles.  The catch-all tray below the power seat controls is genius.  FINALLY, an easy to clean non-carpeted place to catch French fries and coins from the drive-thru window.  The headlamp switch is a little misleading.  It’s not possible to turn off the daytime running lamps as the “O” would imply.

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The optional $395 black side roof rails are ready hold the extra long-haul cargo, although I’d thoroughly read your rental contract to see if that’s even allowed.

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The rear cargo area with the fold flat seats was flawlessly labeled and easy to use.  Chrysler has come a long way from having heavy bench seats that require 2 healthy people to remove.

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I was scratching my head trying to figure out how a van with 3 miles could be so dirty inside.  It looked and felt like extra seat stuffing.  The middle road captains chairs were also spring loaded and easy to collapse into the floor.

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I don’t think anyone can predict vehicle recalls, but I’m calling this one.  There were a lot of exposed wires in the engine bay and no underbelly air dams that are commonplace in so many vehicles nowadays.  I was surprised by the ill-fitting wheel well covers also.  There were numerous gaps throughout that hopefully were for well thought out and planned ventilation.  As with last weeks Ram Quad Cab, the battery is also surrounded by insulation.

The ride quality was not as expected in a modern-day 7-passenger minivan that weighs over 4300 pounds, but rides more like a heavy duty work truck.  Anything other than fresh blacktop was unpleasant to drive over at any speed.

No way I’d rent another Caravan.  If it leaves such a bad impression at 3 miles, I can’t imagine what it’d be like at 13,000 , 31,000, or 93,000 miles.

SEAT COMFORT:
70 out of 100
ERGONOMICS:
70 out of 100 – ridiculously difficult Bluetooth pairing.
SOUND SYSTEM:
60 out of 100
TRUNK/STORAGE:
100 out of 100 – couldn’t get better
ECONOMY:
45 out of 100
HIGHWAY CRUISER:
65 out of 100
CITY COMMUTER:
30 out of 100
RECOMMEND TO RENT:
45 out of 100 – Sienna, Odyssey, and Sedona are light years better.
RECOMMEND TO BUY
30 out of 100 – maybe at $10000, a 5-year old well-maintained Caravan would be a deal.
515 points

 

2019 Dodge Ram Quad Cab

This isn’t your grandpa’s C10

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Long gone are the days of bone jarring rides, single digit fuel economy, and a complete lack of styling cues.

I have a co-worker that is currently obsessed with the Ram to the point he wants to buy one.  He’s rented one twice in recent weeks (although higher trim levels) and I had to scope it out for myself to see what the hype was about.

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This “Classic” trim level was fairly basic, but more luxury was included than any standard work truck made before the turn of the century.

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Obviously, this is the largest rental I’ve had to date as displayed by how far back I had to stand to take the pictures to capture it bumper to bumper.  I’m not generally a truck person, but new to me,  all 4 doors lock and unlock with the remote plus the rear tailgate locks and unlocks also.

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No way I could fit the entire truck into my garage front to back and I could barely get it in on each side.

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Even with the driver’s side mirror folded in, there’s barely an inch of clearance in my typical sized garage.  The sheer mass of 4-door pickup trucks makes me appreciate 10+ year old trucks that still have shiny paint.  From now on, I’ll take a double take when I see a pickup truck parked inside a garage!

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I had no issue getting in and out of the Ram, but anyone under 5’6″ might have to take a running leap to have a seat.  Running boards aren’t included on the Classic trim, but are a $740 option on the Dodge website.

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I was shocked to learn that this stereo was a $695 option.  I thought it was odd that a 5.0-Inch Touchscreen Display, GPS Antenna Input, Integrated Voice Command,  Bluetooth®, Media Hub (USB, Aux, Charge Port), Remote USB Port, SiriusXM®, and a temperature-compass gauge would be considered extra.  Unless you activate the SiriusXM radio, music selection would be limited to only AM/FM radio reminiscent of the stripped bare work trucks that contain only 5 presets and 2 knobs.   A single disc CD-player would be an extra $345.

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The back seats are spacious even for college basketball players.  There’s plenty of legroom for all 6 passengers regardless of how far back the front seats are set.

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There’s very few vehicles out there today that can seat 6 people with only 2 rows of seats.  The Highlander of 2 months ago could seat 8, but with 3 rows.  The seating space in the cabin of the Ram was unparalleled to anything I’ve driven to date and even larger than the Tahoes/Suburbans we have in our fleet.

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The standard 305hp V6 would be no slouch off the line, but the 5.7 liter Hemi gives an extra 90hp, but with a 3mpg penalty.  In my day with the Ram, I got 18mpg in mixed city and highway driving which was in-line with the EPA stated 15city / 22hwy.  The 8-speed automatic was the smoothest performing transmission I’ve tested so far, even the Cadillac XTS that costs $15,000 more.  Of course the fuel economy isn’t going to be great with a 5300lb truck that can tow over 5 tons, but the 8-speed automatic definitely softens the blow at the gas pump.  The insulated battery casing implies the Hemi V8 heats up the engine bay under heavy load, even with the standard electronically adjustable grille louvers.  A torque heavy diesel engine is to be released before April of this year and should make 20mpg fairly easy in the city.

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How do you know you’re in a huge vehicle?  The 3 across cupholders in the fold down armrest and a center console big enough to store 3 iPads!  I love the standard issue rubber lined storage area making it incredibly easy to clean.

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I haven’t seen a dashboard this simple since the minute Hyundai i10 we had in Iceland in December.  The steering wheel controls can change the center info screen, but the options are limited to trip odometers and fuel economy.

The extra two doors add $4,300 and the Hemi V-8 adds another $1,450 to the as tested $36,800 MSRP.   The least expensive single cab Ram starts at $27,300 and can be optioned out at nearly double that with the Hemi engine, Quad Cab, and every possible electronic gadget and creature comfort.  Since Dodge has forever been struggling to gain a noticeable market share against Ford and Chevy, heavy discounts are plentiful for trucks that have been sitting on the new car lots for more than a few weeks.

Until now, I never understood why I see so many huge trucks on the highway with only 2 passengers.  But after my day with the Ram, it’s easy to understand why so many owners just clean out the bed of work supplies and hit the open road for the incredible ride quality.  The XTS I drove last month is undoubtedly better on gas and ride quality, but no way it could haul a trailer or carry wood to a job site.

I’d rent a Ram again, but only if the gas costs were split 6 ways.

SEAT COMFORT:
80 out of 100
ERGONOMICS:
80 out of 100 – steering wheel controls poorly marked.
SOUND SYSTEM:
65 out of 100
TRUNK/STORAGE:
95 out of 100 – odd to have such a small glove box where everything else is huge.
ECONOMY:
35 out of 100
HIGHWAY CRUISER:
75 out of 100
CITY COMMUTER:
50 out of 100
RECOMMEND TO RENT:
65 out of 100
RECOMMEND TO BUY:
45 out of 100 – curious how the currently flawless transmission ages.

590 points

 

2018 Kia Soul

Love it or hate it?

Just this week I had 2 customers over the course of 15 minutes that both reserved a midsize car in which the Soul,  Sentra, Corolla, and Elantra reside.  I gave them the options to choose from and the first said,

“Oh God, anything but a Soul.”

Only a few customers later, the selection was the same but the reply,

“Oh!  Definitely the Soul!  I had one of those a few months ago and loved it!”

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I had to see for myself what brings about such strong feelings towards the Soul.  I’m sure everyone has seen the commercials by now with hamsters dancing around and driving the Soul to hip hop music.  Obviously, Kia’s target demographic isn’t AARP members.

The styling makes it distinguishable from every other ride on the road today, except maybe the now defunct Nissan Cube that vanished [thankfully] in 2014.  Both vehicles have a cult-like following, but only Kia’s marketing worked for the long-term.

Looking on Kia’s website for the 2020 model year, the front grille resembles a Range Rover with it’s much slimmer headlamps.  I doubt the Soul will ever be referred to as a budget friendly Discovery, but time will tell how else they compare.

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I’m fully aware that not all rental cars age equally and this one was one of the roughest.  In the picture above, the paint has chipped off above the license plate and there’s a missing trim piece next to the right reflector.  It had been smoked in previously, but the smell was masked pretty well until it was left in direct sunlight.  The engine jerked unexplainably as if it had the gas saving AutoStop/Start, but the RPM gauge never moved at idle.

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The 1.6L engine had 160hp (up from the entry level 130hp base version) and was peppy enough to propel the 2900 lb. Soul from 0-60 in the mid seven second range.  The optional 2.0L turbo engine adds 40hp and cuts the 60mph sprint by over a second.  All 3 engines achieve nearly identical fuel economy at 25 city and 30 highway, but 2.0 liter turbo has the help of a 7-speed dual clutch transmission.  In my day with the Soul, I struggled to keep the trip computer above 25mpg even on a few highway trips.  I finished the day at rather disappointing 25.5, but not surprising considering the RPM gauge was flowing freely.  The 6-speed automatic was smooth into all gears when accelerating, but it downshifted from 6th to 5th at the slightest incline.

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The ‘trunk’ area is small if hauling 4 or 5 people is the duty of the day, but bigger than the Buick Encore of a few months ago.  At a base price of $20,500, the Soul seems to be a little pricey with having such a sparse cabin.  The Soul is one of very few cars on the market that is available with a 6-speed manual (starting at only $16,200) and available on the other end of the spectrum is the loaded electric version at an eye-popping $33,900.

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The backseat is just as sparse as last weeks Kia Niro, but with better seats.  The front seats were just right on my lower back and legs without the need for power adjustments. 20190208_140353

What the driver’s seat lacked in pizazz, it made up for in comfort.  It’s odd for me to get into a rental car and only adjust the distance from front to rear and be instantly ready to drive 500 miles.   The condition of the driver’s floormat is another example of the rough life this Soul has had in it’s 25,000 miles.

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The center stack was very simple with zero extras, but every button was perfectly labeled and presented with no surprises except for the oddly marked 180w and 120w power supplies below the HVAC controls.  The stereo wasn’t great, but light years better than the Niro.  An optional Harman-Kardon 7-speaker stereo with subwoofer and external amp is available.

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The ergonomics of the Soul was a favorite of any rental vehicle so far.  Everything was perfectly laid out and at night was aglow with the famous orange hue with no gaps in labeling.  It was refreshing not having any guesswork involved with changing a setting.  For some reason, I was really enthralled by the design of the outside A/C and defroster vents.  They were creative, well done, and so unique it almost appeared the car was built around them.

I don’t think I’d rent the Kia Soul again unless I could try an electric version.  The fuel economy was much lower than a similarly sized Sentra or Corolla, but the Soul has a higher SUV-like seating position.  I hope to scope out the Elantra and Corolla soon to compare and contrast.

SEAT COMFORT:
85 out of 100
ERGONOMICS:
95 out of 100 – only gripe was the RPM gauge seemed squeezed.
SOUND SYSTEM:
75 out of 100
TRUNK/STORAGE:
60 out of 100
ECONOMY:
55 out of 100
HIGHWAY CRUISER:
50 out of 100 – unforgiving ride on anything but fresh blacktop.
CITY COMMUTER:
60 out of 100
RECOMMEND TO RENT:
45 out of 100
RECOMMEND TO BUY:
60 out of 100 – A 3 yr old used car would be hard to ignore over a much pricier Corolla.
585 points

 

2019 Kia Niro

Is $23,490 a bad, good, or great deal?

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The ride of the day was the Kia Niro FE.  Kia is under the impression that “Iron” is a good nomenclature for the base models Niro and Optima of a few weeks ago.  The Niro presents well inside and out, but if you want fully loaded, you’ll have to shell out $9000+ to get the fully stocked Touring version.

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Creature comforts are few and far between in here, but as soon as the cabin warms up and the seat is in the best driver position, it be comes a little more tolerable that the base Niro FE doesn’t have power or heated seats.  The empty spaces in the center console and the dash prove without a doubt that this is not a high end Kia, but I’ve seen worse cabin materials in more expensive rides.

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Most notably absent is the adaptive cruise control button replaced with a battery reset button.  The Kia can automatically detect when the 12V battery is close to being fully depleted and can be disconnected internally to prevent damage.  That sounds odd to me since I’d think reset would be done automatically without human intervention when conditions become normal again.

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The driver’s seat was reasonably comfortable on my short time with the Niro, but lack of adjustment options could prove troublesome on a multi-state trip.  Every gauge and every steering wheel control were very well laid out and easy to learn with very minimal trial and error.  The gear shifter was unusually firm and strong.  I’ve gotten accustomed to a base model anything having a moneysaving, cheap, and flimsy gear shift that screams of blatant cost savings.

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The 1.6L hybrid engine won’t win any races, unless it’s against a Prius or an Insight.  The 0-60 time is an expected 8.6 seconds with the 6-speed automatic that is standard across all 5 trim levels.  The main draw to the Niro is the stellar fuel economy.  I achieved 44mpg without trying, although that’s less than the EPA stated 52 city / 49 highway.   Optional for the Niro are 18″ wheels on the Touring trims, but at a cost of a 10% reduction in fuel economy.  That’s a high price to pay for 2″ more of wheel and a testament to the fuel economy and balance of the standard issue 16″ wheels.  I floored it more than once in the Eco mode and the Sport mode.  Unlike most of the ‘sport mode’ transmission settings I’ve tried in the past, the Niro is night and day different when it comes to either setting.  When I put the gear shifter in Sport mode, it felt like the engine power was being liberated from a tree hugger.

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Trunk space was sufficient on a vehicle of this class, but as pictured above, I don’t think the materials are going to age well.  Of course rental cars aren’t pampered like a personal vehicle, but those are extreme scuffs from what is likely just luggage.  A hard rubber cargo tray can be had for $114 (specific to this FE trim level) or a thick carpeted mat for $147 both from Kia’s accessory website.  The lesser priced cargo tray seems like a no brainer.

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The front grille reminds me of a Breathe-Right Strip.  The readers that have snoring problems will see it.  This is the standard issue grille throughout the Kia lineup from Soul to Sorrento in various sizes, but basically the same shape.

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My neighbor has the nearly identical twin Hyundai Kona, although the Kona has extreme separate reverse lights and turn signals placed between the bumper and glass.

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The center stack is well done and with good sized buttons that are easy to learn with only a quick glance.  Standard issue Apple CarPlay and Android Auto will be welcomed to the advanced tech buyers and renters.  The rear defroster was extraordinarily quick at getting rid of the ice coating at 830am this morning.  The 7″ touchscreen is standard in the bottom 3 trim levels, but a larger 8″ screen is included with the top level Touring and S Touring trims.  The standard issue 6-speaker stereo was a disappointment, but an 8-speaker Harmon Kardon system is the only choice on both Touring trims.

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The backseat is very sparse in amenities.  Meaning, there’s not even A/C vents, but they are standard in the Touring versions.  The 2 cupholders in the fold down armrest are the only extras for 2 rear passengers plus one in each door.

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The front door handles illuminate when the key approaches from about 2 feet away.  That would be welcomed in poor lighting conditions outdoors or in a garage.

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The dashboard is a varying array of fuel and hybrid displays.  The distance to empty display within the off/charge/eco/power dial to the far left is always on.  Gas station haters will rejoice with the Niro’s tiny 11.9 gallon tank.  It’d be nearly impossible to get less than 400 miles per tank on the highway and 600 miles to a tank in the city isn’t impossible.  The wiper stalk is nearly identical to the Optima sedan.

I don’t think the Niro would be the car of choice for many typical 12,000 mile per year owners, but with it’s simple and durable interior (except the trunk area) this could be the ideal Uber/Lyft rideshare car.  As with any new model, I’m curious to see how well this will hold up after 5 years and/or 120,000 miles.  If the hybrid batteries hold up well, this could be the taxi of the future.

In essence, the $23,490 Kia Niro is a great deal for those who want basic roomy transportation will unparalleled fuel economy, bad deal for those who want the latest and greatest safety tech, and a good deal for those parents looking for a safe ride that won’t be prone to speeding tickets.

SEAT COMFORT:
75 out of 100 –
ERGONOMICS:
80 out of 100 – very generic, but every display was useful.
SOUND SYSTEM:
50 out of 100
TRUNK/STORAGE:
70 out of 100
ECONOMY:
99 out of 100 – save that extra point for a Leaf or a Tesla.
HIGHWAY CRUISER:
60 out of 100 – unforgiving suspension on rough roads.
CITY COMMUTER:
70 out of 100
RECOMMEND TO RENT:
65 out of 100
RECOMMEND TO BUY:
55 out of 100 – beware of possible hybrid battery issues.  Prius has a proven (exceptions are out there of course) stellar track record of 200,000 mile+ battery packs.

624 points