Cruising in ultimate luxury


By Derek Price
Automotive Writer

What’s better than being able to drive anywhere you want, on or off the pavement?
Doing it in supreme luxury. That’s what.
The Toyota Land Cruiser is one of the few vehicles designed to fulfill both missions equally well, feeling just at home on an African safari as on a drive to the symphony. The fact that it undertakes that transition so gracefully — going from off-road beast to on-road beauty — makes it one of the wonders of the automotive world.
Of course, that mind-bending capability comes at a price. It starts slightly under $80,000, or enough to buy a house in some places. That makes it the most expensive Toyota you can buy and, incidentally, more expensive than the vast majority of Lexus’ products.

Toyota’s giant Land Cruiser SUV has legendary off-road capability to go with its smooth, sophisticated on-road refinement.

Toyota’s giant Land Cruiser SUV has legendary off-road capability to go with its smooth, sophisticated on-road refinement.

What do you get for that money? Every luxury feature you could want, along with the capability to let you enjoy it far away from civilization.
The Land Cruiser comes standard with leather seating, heated and ventilated front seats, a heated steering wheel, four-zone climate control with a whopping 28 vents, push-button start, and even a cooler box integrated into the center console. It’s an SUV that makes you feel pampered before you’ve even checked an option box.
In fact, my fully loaded test vehicle had only one option on it: carpeted floor mats for $225. Why Toyota doesn’t throw in the mats as standard equipment on an $80,000 vehicle, I’ll never understand.
Even a navigation system and rear-seat DVD player come standard from the factory.
The Land Cruiser is about more than a long list of amenities to keep you comfortable, though. It’s also about having the off-road chops to get you across a desert, should the need arise, with a 5.7-liter V8 engine and brilliantly designed suspension system.
It feels tough and truck-like with 381 horsepower and a stout frame, and it can tow up to 8,200 pounds. Instead of buying both a pickup truck and a luxury car, this one vehicle can do both jobs, which helps to rationalize the price.

With a starting price near $80,000, standard equipment on the Land Cruiser includes heated and cooled seats, a rear-seat DVD player, navigation system and a built-in cooler in the center console.

With a starting price near $80,000, standard equipment on the Land Cruiser includes heated and cooled seats, a rear-seat DVD player, navigation system and a built-in cooler in the center console.

Still, there are two things I’d like to see improved.
One, the gray plastic trim to the left and right of the center instrument panel bugged me on my test car. It looks OK but feels a tad cheap on such a high-end, premium vehicle.
Two, the styling is starting to look dated to me, almost like a 1990s SUV. I’d prefer something that looks more sleek and modern, like the Land Rover Evoque, or — in the opposite direction — a retro look like Toyota’s FJ Cruiser once employed.
Still, I suspect a lot of Land Cruiser buyers like having the subdued styling. It’s a sumptuous, expensive luxury vehicle that doesn’t draw too much attention to itself, letting you ride in extreme comfort and excess without raising too many eyebrows.

At a Glance

What was tested?
2014 Toyota Land Cruiser ($78,755). Options: Carpeted floor mats ($225). Price as tested (including $860 destination charge): $79,840
Wheelbase: 112.2 in.
Length: 194.9 in.
Width: 77.6 in.
Height: 74 in.
Engine: 5.7-liter 8-cylinder (381 horsepower, 401 lbs.-ft.)
Transmission: 6-speed ECT automatic
Estimated Mileage: 13 city, 18 highway

RATINGS
Style: 7
Performance: 10
Price: 5
Handling: 5
Ride: 10
Comfort: 10
Quality: 9
Overall: 9

Video Review:
2014 Toyota Land Cruiser
http://bit.ly/2014landcruiser

Why buy it? 
Few vehicles offer this combination of high-end luxury and amazing off-road performance. It enjoys Toyota’s reputation of lasting forever.

Posted in Toyota

All-new Sonata takes a bow

By Derek Price
Automotive Writer

Hyundai could easily take home a trophy for “best turnaround of a car brand” over the past 10 years.
Heck, it might even be a contender for the best corporate turnaround in the history of the automobile. Other than those car companies that survived their factories being bombed to smithereens in World War II, I can’t think of a greater resurgence than Hyundai’s leap from building cheap “throwaway” economy cars to making some of the world’s best vehicles in the space of a decade.
Much of Hyundai’s improved reputation rests on the shoulders of this car, the Sonata. It’s been enhanced so much with each generation, especially the curvy sixth-generation design that bowed in 2009, that it’s quickly become the benchmark family sedan that all the American and Japanese car companies are trying to keep up with.
Well, there’s an all-new generation of the Sonata out for 2015, and I just spent a week driving it.

The new-generation Hyundai Sonata has a body that is more mature and toned down than the swoopy, dramatic looking design that was unveiled in 2009.

The new-generation Hyundai Sonata has a body that is more mature and toned down than the swoopy, dramatic looking design that was unveiled in 2009.

First, the good news.
In terms of its driving feel and cabin quality, this fresh take on the Sonata is as big a leap forward as its much-vaunted 2009 iteration. It’s so refined, so well-built and so supple feeling in every way — both driving down the road and running your hand along the soft, luxuriously smooth materials in the cabin — that it’s putting other cars on the defensive once again.
It certainly seems more expensive than its base price of roughly $21,000 would suggest. Its steering, braking and suspension sensations, along with the way its cabin and chassis seem so tightly screwed together, all leave the impression of a car that would have cost more than $35,000 a few years ago.
Power is more than adequate from the 185-horsepower, 2.4-liter base engine that was fitted in my test car. I’d normally hope for a little more power than that, but perhaps it was the nice shifts from the six-speed automatic transmission and the silky smoothness at all RPMs that made me like it so much.
The fact that Hyundai still uses a “real” automatic transmission is a huge plus. Too many of today’s sedans are switching to continuously variable transmission, or CVTs, that I detest because they sap a lot of the fun and feedback out of the driving experience. This new Sonata accelerates beautifully, though, and should be even sweeter with the optional 245-horsepower turbocharged engine.

The 2015 Sonata’s cabin remains a class leader with spacious seating and extensive use of soft-touch materials. It leaves the impression of a more expensive vehicle.

The 2015 Sonata’s cabin remains a class leader with spacious seating and extensive use of soft-touch materials. It leaves the impression of a more expensive vehicle.

The only bad news is that the body isn’t as striking as the last generation Sonata, at least to my eyes. The swoopy, curvy, dramatic body on the 2009 generation has been toned down some, giving it less standout presence on the road.
I see that as a sign that this car is maturing. The simpler but still pretty lines on the new generation make it seem like a fully grown-up car, one that draws attention more for its refinement than for its visual ostentation.
It does grab attention in one big way, though: from car companies that are trying to beat it. It remains the latest in a long string of home runs from Hyundai that are putting the world’s car executives on notice.

At a Glance

What was tested?
2015 Hyundai Sonata Limited ($26,525). Options: Tech package ($3,500), ultimate package ($1,550), carpeted floor mats ($125). Price as tested (including $810 destination charge): $32,510
Wheelbase: 110.4 in.
Length: 191.1 in.
Width: 73.4 in.
Height: 58.1 in.
Engine: 2.4-liter four cylinder (185 horsepower, 178 lbs.-ft.)
Transmission: Six-speed electronic automatic
Estimated Mileage: 25 city, 37 highway

RATINGS
Style: 6
Performance: 8
Price: 9
Handling: 7
Ride: 9
Comfort: 10
Quality: 10
Overall: 9

Video Review:
2015 Hyundai Sonata
http://bit.ly/15sonata

Why buy it? 
It builds on Hyundai’s impressive success with this all-new generation. It drives with the poise and sophistication of a more expensive vehicle.

Posted in Hyundai

Kia reaches top level

By Derek Price
Automotive Writer

If ever a car was built to show off, this one — the Kia K900 — is it.
It’s not that the K900 is a flashy car as much as it is an exercise in corporate bragging rights, proving to the world that Kia can build luxury cars with the same poise and quality as the big-name brands.
I’m talking about you, BMW, Lexus and Mercedes-Benz.
Despite its humble brand name, driving the K900 for a week made me feel like royalty in the same way that a big Mercedes S-Class or Lexus LS does. The sense of total, silent isolation from the road, five-star materials in the cabin, refined V8 power and spaceship-like technology all combine to give it the air of something special.
It feels exclusive, like the kind of car that would be perfectly at home pulling up to the valet at a Ritz-Carlton.
Still, it’s a gamble for the Kia brand.
The Kia K900 is a full-size luxury car designed to compete with the biggest, brightest names of the car world, including the Mercedes-Benz S-Class and Lexus LS.

The Kia K900 is a full-size luxury car designed to compete with the biggest, brightest names of the car world, including the Mercedes-Benz S-Class and Lexus LS.

Despite the fact that it drives as nicely as a Mercedes does, in my opinion, I don’t think Kia is going to sell a huge number of these cars for a couple of reasons.
One is that the market for a $60,000 luxury Kia is microscopic. It’s a serious bargain in this class, costing tens of thousands less than some of its snooty competitors, but it’s also reaching a price point that seems astronomical to Kia’s meat-and-potatoes customers who are buying $14,000 Rios and $16,000 Fortes.
The other reason is just sad: many luxury buyers care too much about brand names to buy it.
For someone who values the substance of a car — the logical side, if you will — the K900 is a great choice. In terms of technology, power and quality, it’s one of the best full-size luxury cars on the planet right now.
The problem is that Kia’s brand doesn’t carry the same prestige, mystique or heritage that other brands have spent decades building up. Kia’s surge to prominence is too recent a phenomenon to have earned enough cachet to impress people who value that sort of thing.

While its starting price near $60,000 is unchartered territory for the Kia brand, the K900 is actually priced thousands less than its premium-brand competitors. Whether that is enough to overcome Kia’s lack of luxury heritage is the big question.

While its starting price near $60,000 is unchartered territory for the Kia brand, the K900 is actually priced thousands less than its premium-brand competitors. Whether that is enough to overcome Kia’s lack of luxury heritage is the big question.

As a halo car, though, the K900 makes perfect sense. Kia, like its Korean cousin Hyundai, has undertaken the car industry’s most impressive product improvements in the past five years, and the K900 is the ultimate example of that. Even if the K900 doesn’t sell in massive numbers, it casts a glow around the rest of the Kia lineup that results in more people buying high-end Cadenzas and Optimas.
With a restrained but captivating body, it looks as good as any Lexus. With a perfectly tuned suspension and syrupy V8 at the driver’s command, it has more lively and enjoyable rear-wheel-drive handling than a big Mercedes. And with a cabin packed with easy-to-use, sci-fi-like technologies, it pampers passengers better than a BMW.
Point proven, Kia. The K900 is up to par with the best luxury cars on Planet Earth. Keep this up for a few decades, and brand cachet won’t be a problem in the slightest.

At a Glance

What was tested?
2015 Kia K900 ($59,500). Options: VIP package ($6,000). Price as tested (including $900 destination charge): $66,400
Wheelbase: 119.9 in.
Length: 200.6 in.
Width: 74.8 in.
Height: 58.7 in.
Engine: 5.0L V8 GDI (420 horsepower, 376 lbs.-ft.)
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Estimated Mileage: 18 city, 27 highway

RATINGS
Style: 9
Performance: 9
Price: 10
Handling: 9
Ride: 10
Comfort: 10
Quality: 10
Overall: 9

Video Review:
2015 Kia K900
http://bit.ly/2015k900

Why buy it? 
It’s a serious luxury bargain. It carries the air of a full-size, exclusive luxury car but is priced thousands less than the European and Japanese competition.

Posted in Kia

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