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

 

2018 Chevy Equinox

14 different trim levels

Shouldn’t there be an Equinox for every taste and price point?

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Starting out at a little over $26,800 MSRP, it’s hard to ignore a comfortable 5 passenger SUV regardless of creature comforts or high tech gadgets.

We have various Equinox’s in FWD and AWD trims and this was a little above the bare $23,500 L trim.  This LT version starts at $3,300 more.  After perusing the Chevrolet website, the differences are minor with quite a big jump in cost.  I don’t think SiriusXM radio, HID headlights, deep tinted rear glass, roof mounted luggage carrier provisions(?), spare tire instead of inflating kit, and rear carpeted floormats warrant that price increase.

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Chevy did a good job of disguising near to basic LT version from the top tiered AWD Premier Diesel that stickers for over $7,000 more.  This pictured area left of the steering wheel is usually where carmakers stick optional overrides for traction control, adaptive cruise control, etc.  A refreshing change from the norm, this Equinox appears as if there’s no other trim choices available.

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The center console is very typical Chevrolet.  Electronic parking brake, small cubby for spare change, 6-speed automatic gear shifter, 2 standard sized cupholders, and a giant storage area under the center armrest that could easily swallow an iPad.  The “L” on the shifter is a little misleading.  That actually activates the sport shifter buttons on the top of the shifter, although it does default to 1st gear when at a stop.

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I think it’d be challenging for anyone but a seasoned Chevrolet salesperson to differentiate between a Cruze, Malibu, Equinox, and Impala dashboard.  I’d like to consider myself as a car fanatic, but all the Chevy dash pics I’ve taken for this blog blend together now.  Most notably, this Equinox has no redline on the RPM gauge.

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As expected, the center stack is very sparse on this base “L” version.  There’s not an automatic climate control in here, but the fit and finish are such that it seems normal.  The fan delay from cranking the heater from off to high was unusually long even after it’s completely warmed up.

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The fuel door is the GM capless filler system found in most of GM cars, trucks and SUVs current lineup.  I’m still perplexed of the what seems to be an auxiliary port to the right and hope to find out soon.

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I was pleasantly surprised by the interior comfort, ride, and performance of the Equinox.  The power drivers seat was instantly comfortable with minimal adjustments even more so than the Cadillac XTS of last week, but at this price point, the passenger seat is manual.  This would be a good choice for 5 people on a lengthy road trip or a city tour due to ease of entry and departure from the cabin plus the cavernous cargo area.  Some of the interior materials felt really cheap, but quilted seats felt and the A/C vents looked better than expected, respectively.

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The back seat was also sparse in creature comforts.  There was a power outlet and 2 A/C vents, but that was it.

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The rear cargo area is huge, but not quite big enough for a 3rd row seat.  The cargo capacity is nearly 30 cubic feet with the seats up and 63 1/2 cubic feet with the rear seats folded down.  The right side wheel well cover was very cheap plastic only comparable to an early 80’s station wagon.

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The 170hp 4-cyl turbo was no where near a rocket ship, but the 30mpg I achieved on my mixed city/highway day with the Equinox was an acceptable balance.  There’s an available 2.0 4-cyl turbo with 82 extra horsepower and a 9-speed automatic, but that comes with a minimum $3500 premium from this LT trim.

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SEAT COMFORT:
70 out of 100 –
ERGONOMICS:
75 out of 100 – basic, but well thought out and easy to quickly read.
SOUND SYSTEM:
65 out of 100
TRUNK/STORAGE:
90 out of 100
ECONOMY:
65 out of 100
HIGHWAY CRUISER:
80 out of 100
CITY COMMUTER:
65 out of 100
RECOMMEND TO RENT:
75 out of 100
RECOMMEND TO BUY:
40 out of 100 – “L” trim is a much better value, but there’s an identical black one on ebay now for $8400 off of MSRP.

625 points

2018 Cadillac XTS

What does $52,000 get you?

In a nutshell, a lot, but is it enough?

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There’s A LOT of cars out there that anyone can buy for $50 grand.  The XTS is a beauty inside and out, although I wonder if I would ever get accustomed to the spaceship headlights.  I drove this maroon jewel to Georgia for my goddaughter’s daughter’s 1st birthday party and it didn’t disappoint on the way south, but the seats gave me fatigue issues on the way back home.

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The thigh and glute support was just right, but the 2 separate lumbar air bladders I could never figure out the comfortable setting.  My grandmother’s last 2 cars were both Cadillac Sedan de DeVilles (1978 and 1990) so I asked mom if she thought Grandma Faye would have eventually bought one of these and she said “No way”.  At first I thought she answered to quickly, but after rethinking the seats, I think mom was right.  This is definitely not your granny’s Caddy.  The seats have changed from “8 straight hour highway cruiser” to “European spirited driving machine”.  The 7-speaker Bose sound system and flawless highway manners are definitely top tier and undoubtedly continue that long tradition of 1st choice rides for a road trip.  Under any highway or city street conditions, the suspension did a marvelous job of smoothing out imperfections, even with the large ‘sporty’ 19″ wheels. Calling it a BMW competitor is a stretch, but it’s obvious what German-made target market is in the crosshairs.  The base 530i is barely $1200 more than this XTS, but with nearly 60 less horsepower under the hood.

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The grille of the XTS resembles the rest of the Cadillac line with the unmistakable crest centered in the air intake, but the narrow chrome surround fog lights differentiate it from the ATS and CTS.

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The 304hp V6 was a good mix of fuel economy and power, but with aggressive city driving, fuel economy will barely get out of the low teens.  The 6 speed automatic was smooth in all conditions, but fuel economy would benefit greatly with at least 2 more top end gears.  Handling was better than expected in a 2 ton Caddy, but no comparison to the near 50/50 weight distribution of a 5-series BMW.  The Brembo brakes were impressive in wet and dry conditions.

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The interior wood trim was beautiful and should hold up well over time.  Within the wood trim in the doors was indirect LED lighting that looked incredible at night.  The heated seats and heated steering wheel came on automatically when conditions warranted outside.  The steering wheel felt warm to the touch in barely 20 seconds, but would stay on until I turned it off.  The heated seats gradually turned down from the max (3 lights) to the minimum (1 light), but would never turn off completely on their own.

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I inadvertently found the wireless charging compartment behind the HVAC controls.  There was no indication at all that there was a ‘secret’ charging station above the USB and power outlet above the gear shifter.  If the top of my hand hadn’t touched the chromed bottom button release, I never would have known that was there.  I expect we’ll have more than a few customers leave phones because “out of sight – out of mind”.

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In typical Cadillac fashion, the XTS trunk could swallow 18 cubic feet of suitcases and bags.

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The dashboard has been upgraded immensely since my grandmother’s 1990 de Ville, but the gauge cluster and interior button fonts haven’t changed a bit.  The steering wheel controls and menus took some getting use to and I really thought it’d be more similar to the Impala of a few weeks ago.  I think it’s a positive that Cadillac has differentiated itself from the much less expensive Impala, but it was a little surprising.

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The LED rear tail lights were unusually bright.  I only know that because when the trunk is opened remotely, they turn on automatically.  As you can see, the weather conditions were not ideal this weekend and extra lighting of any type was welcomed!

I was bewildered that all the latest safety features and tech weren’t standard issue.  Adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, and forward collision warnings are only available on the higher Premium Luxury and Platinum trim levels which add $7,000 and nearly $17,000, respectively, to the base prices.  In no way, shape, or form can Cadillac justify the Platinum trim level with an additional $20,000 to the base XTS with the same engine and transmission.

SEAT COMFORT:
65 out of 100 – should be higher for a luxury car
ERGONOMICS:
70 out of 100
SOUND SYSTEM:
90 out of 100 – Bose has another winner
TRUNK/STORAGE:
75 out of 100
ECONOMY:
65 out of 100 – 600 miles on a tank is possible
HIGHWAY CRUISER:
95 out of 100 – testament to suspension and tires that soak up nearly every road flaw.
CITY COMMUTER:
60 out of 100 – parallel parking could be challenging.
RECOMMEND TO RENT:
70 out of 100
RECOMMEND TO BUY:
20 out of 100 – MSRP is ridiculous.

610 points

 

 

2018 in Review

Proud of New Opinions

Before I started this blog, I had rented a few cars here and there and driven many other cars belonging to friends.  My first solo rental was a Mitsubishi Galant in (gulp!) 1994 with a friend in Las Vegas while we were job hunting.  My only memory was that the A/C could not keep up with the blaring July sun of the desert southwest and we were sweating at every single stop before and after we got in the car.  It didn’t take long after moving there to figure out why a vast majority of cars have tinted windows!

Besides the people that just view all cars as something to go from point ‘a’ to point ‘b’, everyone has their automotive favorites and . . . not-so-favorites.  I consider myself an ‘import guy’ and have had many reasons to make fun of the Big Three in my lifetime, but the Ford Fusion Hybrid, Chevy Impala, and Chrysler Pacifica are making waves to change my mind.

MOST EXPENSIVE:  Volvo S90 T-5
Lincoln Continental was a close 2nd

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LEAST EXPENSIVE:  Hyundai Accent

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MOST FUEL EFFICIENT:  Ford Fusion Hybrid

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LEAST FUEL EFFICIENT:  Dodge Challenger

FASTEST: Dodge Challenger

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SLOWEST:  Hyundai i10

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BEST 5000 MILE ROAD TRIP CHOICE:  Chevy Impala
Should have been the Lincoln Continental except                                                                         for the unsettling electronic door handles.

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BEST SEATS:  Lincoln Continental

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BEST ERGONOMICS:  Mazda CX-5

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BEST LOOKING:  Volvo S90

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BEST COLOR:  Audi A4 – couldn’t get enough of that Scuba Blue
Subara Legacy – close 2nd in Twilight Blue Metallic

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BEST INTERIOR:   Chevy Impala

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MOST LIKELY TO BUY:  Nissan Maxima

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MOST COMFORTABLE:  So many choices, but the Chrysler Pacifica can make 7 comfy.

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LEAST COMFORTABLE:  Chevy Camaro – The driver’s comfort was only ok, but both                                                                                       passengers were miserable throughout

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BEST AND WORST on the  scale from 1-100:
Buy it new –  60 – (tie) Ford Fusion Hybrid and Volvo S90
I was very impressed with both, but I think the maintenance costs for the Fusion will be a lot less on the way to 200,000 miles even with an untimely hybrid battery replacement.
Buy it later at half the sticker price – 85 – (tie) Kia Optima and Nissan Maxima
The Maxima was my favorite car overall for the year, but the Optima would be an incredible value at half price.
F.E.D. (Fun, Efficiency & Desirability) – 85 (tie) Dodge Challenger and Audi A4
I’d rent either the Challenger (if no one had to get in the backseat) or the A4 again in a heartbeat, but no way I’d buy either one.  The Challenger drank gas like a semi and the A4 will undoubtedly be expensive to maintain and repair.
Oooh and ahhh factor – 75 – Volvo S90
No one can convince me this car isn’t beautiful.  It looks great from any angle and is distinguishable from the rest of the Volvo line-up (take note Acura) PLUS it has no comparable twin in the world.
Recommended – 90 – (tie) Dodge Challenger and Nissan Maxima
These were the 2 runaway winners in this category and I’d love to rent them again anytime.  The Mazda CX-5, Chrysler Pacifica, and 2018 Camry were close behind with a score of 85.  A 300hp V6 Camry XSE would have probably joined and possibly surpassed the Challenger and Maxima in the 90 club.

I’m also looking to revamp the blog for 2019.  Any ideas or suggestions are great appreciated and welcomed!  What do YOU look for in a rental car?

 

Icelandic Rides

It may as well be another planet

My first ever true international trip (besides Canada and Mexico) was to Australia in 2005.  I first noticed that Nissan Skylines were nearly as common as the Mercedes S-class stateside.  I knew that only a small part of the world automotive output was sold here and my week in Reykjavik reinforced that idea even more.

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I already did a thorough review of our tiny Hyundai i10 rental.  When purchasing an i10, the 3 main deciding factors are price, price, and price.  It’s one of the least expensive new cars sold nationwide, but will still set you back about US$19,000.  If you’re only use for a car is with minimal cargo and passengers and to go from point A to point B, it fits the bill just fine.

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Would you want this intimidating truck barreling down on you with all those lights on?  I thought it looked near apocalyptic, but it was much smaller than the typical 18-wheeler in the states.  I would have like to ask the driver/owner what the Indiana placard meant.

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Electric cars are slowing catching on in the US, but they are EVERYWHERE in Iceland.  Since gas runs about (gulp) US$6.60 per gallon and electricity is abundant and super cheap due to geothermal plants all over, it’s the perfect place for the Nissan Leaf, Chevy Volt, and this C-Class Benz just to name a few.  This exact model Benz C350e is sold here in the states, but I have yet to see one on the road.

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This Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV is also sold in the USA, but I can’t remember ever seeing one at the dealership that’s barely 1000 feet from my house, much less one on the road.  These were by far the most common SUV in Iceland and Mitsubishi has been reporting much higher sales in all of Europe for 2018.  Stateside, the Mi-EV is more common.  Go figure.

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Wagons are nearly as popular in Iceland as SUVs are here domestically.  The only Honda branded wagon I can think of in the past 20+ years is the upscale Acura TSX wagon.  I loved this Accord wagon that slightly resembles a compressed Honda Odyssey.  Without even verifying the mileage estimates, I’m confident it is substantially higher than the CR-V and Pilot.  Stateside, we were cursed with the hideous Honda Accord CrossTour from 2010 to 2015.  Again, go figure!

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photo courtesy via bing

We were trailing a Civic Wagon for a bit, but I couldn’t get a clear picture since it was near sunset, but with this internet photo you get the idea it’s not the commonplace hatchback version sold here.   I’m curious if gas was $6+ per gallon in the USA, would people largely abandon SUVs and move back to wagons?

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Along the same lines as wagons, the Skoda Fabia is referred to as a family car.  It reminds me of a domestic Dodge Journey.

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One of my favorite rides in Iceland was the Skoda Octavia Estate.  The ‘wagon’ version of the Octavia outnumbered the sedan version an easy 10 to 1.  The Skoda hasn’t been sold in the USA since the 1950’s.  Volkswagen (Skoda’s parent company since 1991) is debating a return to domestic U.S. sales, but I’ll believe it when I see it.

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This Peugeot 207 wagon was older, but since no one has seen a new Peugeot stateside since 1991, the distinctive lion logo stands out.

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The Renault Scenic looks similar in size to our rental Hyundai, but it is actually in the same class as the BMW X2.  For this size vehicle, it has very unusual 20″ wheels optional.

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in the same size class as the Scenic, this little oddity is the Citroen C4 Cactus.  I’m not sure what the design staff was going for with the soundproof looking material on the doors, but this has got to be one of the most unmistakable rides in the world.

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This darker C4 Cactus is a little less polarizing.  Citroen hasn’t sold a new car in the USA since 1974.

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Another Citroen oddity, the C4 Picasso.  The C4 is in several varieties including the Cactus Hatch, SpaceTourer, and the 7-seat Grand SpaceTourer.

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I know I’m in the minority, but I think this Chevy Cruze wagon looks better than the Cruze hatchback sold in the U.S.  Although it does heavily resemble a Jetta.

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The Kia Cee’d appears to be a Kia Forte with extra cargo room.  The 2018 models are definitely underpowered by American standards with only 118hp, but who doesn’t love a 6-speed manual that’ll get 53mpg?

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The Toyota Hi-Lux has been in production for over 50 years, but never sold in the USA as such, but just as “Toyota Truck” until 1995 when the Tacoma name took over.  It’s a very crude workhorse type of truck with a diesel option that would have issues passing domestic safety and emission standards.  Toyota has sold 12 million worldwide since 1968 and in true Toyota fashion, they have legendary longevity.

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The Nissan X-Trail is a rebadged Rogue.  X-Trail just sounds more off-road capable, right?

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photo courtesy of autocarupdates.com

I saw a handful of these Mazda 6 wagons, but only in unfavorable light for picture taking.  The 6 wagon was last sold in the US in 2007.  Dear Mazda, please bring this beauty back!

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This older Toyota Corolla definitely didn’t win any design trophies when it was new and reminded me of an early 1980’s Mazda GLC hatchback.

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The Dacia Duster is a slightly odd, but forgettable design.  The Duster is a joint venture between Renault and their Romanian based subsidiary Dacia.  What was so striking about an otherwise unmemorable vehicle is that this was one of very few vehicles I saw the entire week with noticeable body damage.  Is there a law against driving damaged vehicles in Iceland or are they just very good drivers overall?  From our experience in Iceland, I believe it’s the latter.

Driving in Iceland was enjoyable in spite of the loud metal studded snow tires we had on our rental, but the quality of roads were a night and day improvement over a vast majority of the roads I travel daily at home.

Next week – the year in review!