Nothing cute about it

By Derek Price
Automotive Writer

When you’re behind the wheel of a Ford Super Duty, you actually feel like you’re driving a truck.
That’s becoming a rare thing as today’s pickups — even their heavy-duty, tough-as-nails varieties that feel like they could tow entire planets — are experimenting with ways to soften their ride to be more car-like over the road. They drive like they stuffed their suspensions full of cotton candy and marshmallows, which helps with their comfort but also makes them seem a tad cutesy in this category known more for testosterone and sweat.
Well, there’s nothing cute about the F-250. It’s designed to do tough jobs, and it feels that way from the driver’s seat with a muscular suspension setup and lots of sensory feedback to let you know what all four wheels are doing at any given moment.
The 2015 Ford F-250 Super Duty is a heavy-duty truck designed for tough jobs. Ford says it offers best-in-class towing with a gooseneck trailer at 31,200 pounds.

The 2015 Ford F-250 Super Duty is a heavy-duty truck designed for tough jobs. Ford says it offers best-in-class towing with a gooseneck trailer at 31,200 pounds.

I spent a week driving the 2015 F-250 Super Duty with the 6.2-liter gasoline V8 engine, and I had a blast driving down country roads listening to Willie Nelson’s satellite radio channel. Even if you don’t have a planet to tow, it’s hard not to smile in an iconic American truck with old-school country music cranked up.
Of course it wins the “makes you feel like a cowboy” contest, but how does it stack up to the competition?
The biggest impression I walked away with was just how well Ford has managed to keep the Super Duty competitive as it reaches the end of its lifespan. Now that the new light-duty F-150 will be hitting the Ford showroom floors, a redesigned F-250 is widely expected to follow. And if it’s as big a leap as the F-150 seems to be, the next-generation Super Duty could be a game changer.
For now, the interior quality of Ford’s heavy-duty lineup lags behind the more recently redesigned competitors at Ram and General Motors. It doesn’t feel quite as soft, supple, and tightly assembled as they do — which, again, means it’s a truck that actually feels like one.
Ford has been bragging this year about being the only truck manufacturer to design and build its entire powertrain lineup in-house, and that makes logical sense to me. Ram and General Motors both outsource some of their engines and transmissions to other companies and, however well-respected those outside companies are, I think Ford deserves some kudos for keeping things under the same roof.
The F-250 really does drive like an integrated package. The power delivery, shift points and overall refinement under acceleration all feel fantastic.
While Ford has come out with a new 6.7-liter Power Stroke V8 turbo diesel for 2015, my F-250 tester didn’t have it. Still, the gasoline V8 is a monster engine with 385 horsepower and 405 pound-feet of torque, which is tremendous fun on highway on-ramps. The loud, deep growl makes this my favorite sounding Ford truck engine, and all that torque makes it great for people who do a lot of towing.

The Super Duty lineup gets a revised King Ranch edition, priced from $50,800, that includes new Western-themed styling and richer leather for the interior.

The Super Duty lineup gets a revised King Ranch edition, priced from $50,800, that includes new Western-themed styling and richer leather for the interior.

Speaking of which, my test truck was rated for 12,500 pounds of conventional towing. With the right equipment and a diesel engine, you can outfit a Super Duty for up to 19,000 pounds of conventional towing or 31,200 pounds with a gooseneck trailer — something Ford says is the best fifth-wheel tow rating in its class.
Pricing for the F-250 starts at $31,045 and ranges up to $54,510 for the luxurious Platinum model.

At a Glance

What was tested?
2015 Ford F-250 SRW 4X4 Crew Cab XLT ($41,695). Options: Ruby red metallic paint ($395), all-terrain tires ($125), 3.73 axle ($390), XLT Value Package ($1,345), FX4 off-road package ($295), electronic shift on the fly ($185), power sliding rear window ($405), powerscope trailer tow mirror ($165), up fitter switches ($125), rear view camera ($540), tailgate step ($375), spray-in bedliner ($475). Price as tested (including $1,195 destination charge): $48,280
Wheelbase: 156.2 in.
Length: 246.8 in.
Width: 104.9 in.
Height: 79.7 in.
Engine: 6.2-liter V8 (385 horsepower, 405 lbs.-ft.)
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Estimated Mileage: Not rated

RATINGS
Style: 7
Performance: 9
Price: 8
Handling: 3
Ride: 4
Comfort: 6
Quality: 7
Overall: 7

Video Review:
2015 Ford F-250
http://bit.ly/2015f250

Why buy it? 
It’s built for work, with a tough, heavy-duty suspension and two powerful engine choices. The new 6.7-liter diesel is a nice upgrade for 2015, and the gasoline V8 is no slouch, either.

Posted in Ford

A6 TDI offers impressive combo


By Derek Price
Automotive Writer

Cars that make 428 pound-feet of torque aren’t usually designed for good gas mileage.
Smoking the tires? Yes. Saving money at the gas pump? Not so much.
This car, though — the Audi A6 TDI — has somehow managed to produce that kind of bullet-train torque while still eking out a 38-mpg highway rating for fuel economy.
It’s not like it’s a small, lightweight, save-the-Earth kind of car, either. The A6 is every bit the spacious, solid, sumptuous car you would expect from a top German luxury brand, but it happens to get the same highway rating as a Toyota Corolla.
That’s simply amazing.
The Audi A6 TDI comes with a powerful diesel engine and is rated for 38 mpg on the highway. It’s the perfect example of how diesel technology is being matured, quieted and cleaned up for the modern age.

The Audi A6 TDI comes with a powerful diesel engine and is rated for 38 mpg on the highway. It’s the perfect example of how diesel technology is being matured, quieted and cleaned up for the modern age.

The TDI’s combination of high torque and low fuel consumption feels like voodoo but is actually the result of some clever engineering under the hood. It uses a 3.0-liter, six-cylinder diesel engine to make all that power, which is enough to launch it from 0-60 mph in 5.5 seconds.
Granted, this engine’s 240-horsepower output and 24-mpg city rating don’t make your eyes pop like the torque and highway numbers do. If you do a lot of city driving and tend to leave stoplights with a lead foot, as cars like this beg drivers to do, you won’t be making Prius drivers jealous at the gas station.
On the highway, though, this car thoroughly embarrasses hybrids. Not only does it provide extraordinary mileage and range — letting me drive from the Dallas area to Vicksburg, Mississippi and back with just one fuel stop — but also provides a level of luxury and performance that I’ve never experienced before in a car that gets 38 mpg.
When you need to pass, the A6 TDI lets you instantly dip into its deep well of torque, and its eight-speed automatic transmission shifts like a cracker, with crisp, buttery gear changes.
And it gets better.
Audi has managed to eliminate most of the diesel-ness of this engine. There’s very little clackety-clack noise under the hood like you find in diesels of the past, so it sounds mysteriously silent unless you’re stomping on the accelerator. And it’s clean at the tailpipe, without a hint of the belching smoke and nasty smells that diesels made 20 or 30 years ago.
To me, this car didn’t drive at all like a diesel. That was a pleasant surprise.

Audi’s test car came with large “TDI clean diesel” lettering on the side to show off its unusual and impressive powertrain.

Audi’s test car came with large “TDI clean diesel” lettering on the side to show off its unusual and impressive powertrain.

Inside, the cabin has a precise, high-tech feel to it, just as you would expect from a recent Audi, with a definite air of Northern European coolness. Personally, I’ve always liked Old World warmth in luxury cars like you find in so many British models, with their emphasis on dead cows for the leather and dead trees for the dash. But these Audis are so trendy and fresh inside that they make that style of luxury seem very out-of-date.
And outside, the A6 makes you look like a Master of the Universe.
Audi’s sedans have been the car industry’s hottest trendsetters in the past decade, pioneering the style that other cars will be copying down the road. I think the A6’s body is ever so slightly ahead of its time — futuristic enough to be exciting, yet not so wild as to question its sense of taste.
It’s perfectly balanced on the razor’s edge of design, exactly as a great luxury car ought to be.

At a Glance

What was tested?
2014 Audi A6 TDI quattro Tiptronic ($57,500). Options: Glacier white metallic paint ($500), driver assistance package ($2,800), A6 prestige model ($2,800), 19-inch sport package ($1,500), 20-inch wheel upgrade $800). Price as tested (including $895 destination charge): $66,795
Wheelbase: 114.7 in.
Length: 193.9 in.
Width: 82.1 in.
Height: 57.8 in.
Engine: 3.0-liter turbocharged six-cylinder diesel (240 horsepower, 428 lbs.-ft.)
Transmission: Eight-speed Tiptronic automatic
Estimated Mileage: 24 city, 38 highway

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

Video Review:
2014 Audi A6 TDI
http://bit.ly/audia6tdi

Why buy it? 
It’s a fashionable, advanced car for people who don’t want to make compromises. Its diesel engine delivers good highway economy and clean, quiet operation.

 

Posted in Audi

FIAT ups the retro factor

By Derek Price
Automotive Writer

Ever since it was introduced to America in 2010, the FIAT 500 has been a throwback car designed to evoke fond memories of yesterday’s Italian coupes.
It’s easy to imagine zipping past the Colosseum on your way to a quaint cafe in Rome with opera music playing on the radio in this little car.
Well, FIAT is cranking the retro knob up to 11 this year.
There’s a new version of the 500 called the 1957 Edition, and it’s one of the most nostalgic cars for sale today, complete with two-tone pastel paint and old-school FIAT logos peppered all over it.
If you feel sentimental about classic Italian cars but don’t want to deal with the headaches they inevitably bring — something I know from experience as the owner of a lovely Alfa Romeo that ate through fuel pumps like a 12-year-old baseball team eats through a pizza buffet — then here’s your chance to own one that actually starts every morning.
This 1957 Edition FIAT is a spectacularly charming car, adding to the appeal of the fun-to-drive 500 with lots of evocative styling touches.

Two pastel paint colors — green or blue — combine beautifully with a white roof and mirror caps to give the FIAT 500 1957 Edition an old-fashioned flair that mimics its Italian ancestors.

Two pastel paint colors — green or blue — combine beautifully with a white roof and mirror caps to give the FIAT 500 1957 Edition an old-fashioned flair that mimics its Italian ancestors.

Outside, in addition to the choice of three nifty-fifties color schemes, it comes with unique wheels that look like they were pulled straight from the “I Love Lucy” set. They’re painted to match the body color and easily catch your eye with a wide chrome ring and minimalist center cap.
The retro look continues on the inside with lots of ivory colored trim and special brown leather seats, along with more of those old-fashioned FIAT badges to set the tone.
The ivory trim color is unusual in today’s cars, and I’m a big fan of it — if for no other reason than because it’s refreshingly different from the boring “black or tan” checkboxes that most car companies are offering these days on their option sheets. I wish more cars were this creative with their special editions, if not their regular editions, too.
While the last time I drove a 500 I came away with the impression that the cabin was too cheap and plasticky, I didn’t get that same feeling in this 1957 Edition.
Maybe it was the cool-looking ivory trim. Maybe it was all the contrasting stitching that luxury cars have long used to great effect. Maybe FIAT is improving their build quality this year. Whatever the cause, the interior seemed more like a custom Italian handbag than an affordable commuter car.

Ivory trim contrasts nicely with the brown leather seats and accents in the 1957 Edition FIAT 500. It’s a nice change from most of today’s cars that force you to choose between tan or black cabins.

Ivory trim contrasts nicely with the brown leather seats and accents in the 1957 Edition FIAT 500. It’s a nice change from most of today’s cars that force you to choose between tan or black cabins.

The driving feel is delightfully firm and fun, even if its 1.4-liter engine lacks the oomph of its competitors. The newest Ford Fiesta, for example, can wring 123 horsepower out of a turbocharged 1.0-liter engine, so I can’t help but wish the FIAT engine — with 40 percent more displacement — could produce more than its 101 horses.
Still, that’s not too bad for a car this small and light, and its 40-mpg highway rating keeps things frugal.
The 500 comes standard with a five-speed manual transmission. You can get it with a six-speed automatic, too, but you shouldn’t do that because putting an automatic in a little Italian car makes you a horrible human being.
Pricing for the FIAT 500 1957 Edition starts at $20,400, which is $1,900 more than the base model called the 500 Lounge.

At a Glance

What was tested?
2014 FIAT 500 1957 Edition ($20,400). Options: None. Price as tested (including $850 destination charge): $21,250
Wheelbase: 90.6 in.
Length: 139.6 in.
Width: 64.1 in.
Height: 59.8 in.
Engine: 1.4-liter SOHC I4 (101 horsepower, 98 lbs.-ft.)
Transmission: Five-speed manual
Estimated Mileage: 31 city, 40 highway

RATINGS
Style: 10
Performance: 5
Price: 7
Handling: 9
Ride: 5
Comfort: 6
Quality: 7
Overall: 8

Video Review:
2014 FIAT 500 1957 Edition
http://bit.ly/1957edition

Why buy it? 
It’s perfect for someone who likes the look of classic Italian cars but doesn’t want the headaches that come with owning an old one. The retro color schemes, wheels and badging make it a truly special edition.

Posted in Fiat 500L

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