No gimmicks on RAV4


By Derek Price
Automotive Writer

The Toyota RAV4 has never screamed for attention, which might be a big reason it’s been so successful.
In fact, after driving a 2014 RAV4 for a week, I’m struck by the fact that this crossover never makes a fuss about anything. There are no gimmicks, no weirdo styling touches, no funky features to generate headlines.
It simply does its job, which is to transport people comfortably while offering more cargo space and flexibility than you can get from a sedan.
Granted, there are plenty of crossovers that can do individual things better than the RAV4 does them. You can get a Mazda CX-5 if you want a sportier suspension and more driving engagement, for example, or you could opt for a turbocharged Volkswagen Tiguan if you want lots of power.
The RAV4, though, shines as a package and is a safe choice in this segment. It’s the comfortable pair of blue jeans you wear because they just feel right.

After a complete redesign for the 2013 model year, Toyota’s RAV4 crossover gets a new Entune digital system and a new technology package on Limited models for 2014.

After a complete redesign for the 2013 model year, Toyota’s RAV4 crossover gets a new Entune digital system and a new technology package on Limited models for 2014.

Its strongest point is spaciousness, both in terms of cargo volume and passenger seating.
Some compact crossovers tend to shrink the cargo space until it’s almost a joke, forcing you to fold the back seat down to bring home a big load of groceries. But in the RAV4, you get 38.4 cubic feet of space behind the rear seat, which makes it much more comfortable for road trips or hauling bulky items.
Its other big selling point is Toyota’s reputation. This Japanese company has spent decades building some of the most reliable cars on the road, and the RAV4 basks in the glow of Toyota’s quality halo.
After getting an all-new design for 2013 that gave it a slightly more daring look on the outside, the changes for 2014 are more minor, mainly centered around technology.
There is a new Entune Audio lineup this year, along with a new technology package on the Limited grade that offers several important safety features.

A large, flexible cargo area is the RAV4’s best feature. It feels more spacious than many of its competitors, offering SUV-like versatility in a compact package.

A large, flexible cargo area is the RAV4’s best feature. It feels more spacious than many of its competitors, offering SUV-like versatility in a compact package.

On my Limited test car, the optional $725 tech package made it feel like a pricey Volvo with advanced safety features like a blind spot monitor, rear traffic alert, lane departure alert and more. All the beeps and warnings can make it feel like you’ve got an electronic guardian angel watching your back.
If I could improve one thing on the RAV4 it would be the gas mileage. It’s not bad at 31 mpg on the highway, but it’s also not that impressive when competitors are hitting 35 mpg these days.
Pricing starts at $23,550 for the base LE model and ranges up to $28,320 for the fancier Limited trim that I tested.

At a Glance

What was tested?
2014 Toyota RAV4 Limited AWD ($29,720). Options: Premium audio ($785), technology package ($725), carpeted floor mats ($225). Price as tested (including $860 destination charge): $32,315
Wheelbase: 104.7 in.
Length: 179.9 in.
Width: 72.6 in.
Height: 65.4 in.
Engine: 2.5-liter four-cylinder (176 horsepower, 172 lbs.-ft.)
Transmission: 6-speed ECT-i automatic
Estimated Mileage: 24 city, 31 highway

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

Video Review:
2014 Toyota RAV4
http://bit.ly/2014rav4

Why buy it? 
While other crossovers might outshine it in individual areas, it’s a fantastic crossover when you look at it as a package. It’s spacious and has a smooth, comfortable ride.

Posted in Toyota

Honda gets built-in vacuum

By Derek Price
Automotive Writer

Fear not, parents of messy children. Your dream car has arrived.

With a car-like driving feel and innovative features — including a built-in vacuum cleaner on the Touring Elite model — the Honda Odyssey remains one of the best family vehicles you can buy today.

With a car-like driving feel and innovative features — including a built-in vacuum cleaner on the Touring Elite model — the Honda Odyssey remains one of the best family vehicles you can buy today.

The Honda Odyssey has long been a mobile therapy couch for moms and dads, offering enough space, cabin durability and electronic nannies like DVD players to keep parents sane on road trips.
This year, though, Honda reaches a new level of awesomeness by adding the most common-sense feature I’ve ever seen in a minivan: a built-in vacuum cleaner.

The HondaVac stores neatly in the rear sidewall when not in use. It’s a brilliant use of space, keeping both the vacuum equipment and hose out of sight while driving.

The HondaVac stores neatly in the rear sidewall when not in use. It’s a brilliant use of space, keeping both the vacuum equipment and hose out of sight while driving.

The HondaVac, as it’s called, is actually a powerful Shop Vac built into the sidewall of the rear cargo area. With a hose long enough to reach anywhere in the van and enough suction to extract dropped Cheerios from all the nooks and crannies they like to hide in, it’s the kind of feature that should have been in minivans since the 1980s.
As a father of three and the owner of an Odyssey myself, I could hear angels singing when the HondaVac was announced.
While it works beautifully, there is a downside to it. For 2014, you can only get the HondaVac if you buy the super-high-end Odyssey Touring Elite model that starts at $44,450. I’m hoping Honda makes it an option on more affordable trim levels in the future.
Other than the whiz-bang vacuum cleaner, how does the Odyssey stack up?
It remains the most car-like minivan from the driver’s seat, feeling remarkably similar to the Honda Accord sedan. It gives you a crisp, firm sense of the road, which is the biggest reason I prefer it over the softer, floppier driving Toyota Sienna and Chrysler Town & Country.
Of course, people who prefer a squishier ride would be happier in those other vans. You feel the pavement more in an Odyssey, which not everyone likes as much as I do.
I also like how the Odyssey’s cabin seems so solid and indestructible, an important consideration for those of us who are raising tornadoes as children. It feels like Honda tested the cabin by handing a kid a baseball bat, sticking them in the van and saying, “Alright, let’s see what you can break.”
Unfortunately for Honda, buying an Odyssey isn’t the no-brainer choice that it used to be. There was a time when this van was head-and-shoulders above the competition — with an unmatched reputation for reliability and refinement — but its competitors have done a great job catching up recently. Strong products from Toyota, Nissan, Chrysler and a new van coming out from Kia in 2015 make the choice a lot tougher.
Still, the Odyssey remains my favorite minivan, if just by a hair. Its communicative driving feel means you get all the benefits of a van — the logical layout, the huge cargo area and the spacious seating that lets you put a demilitarized zone around each child — without having to experience the sloppy, wobbly driving feel that these vans usually entail.

At a Glance

What was tested?
2014 Honda Odyssey Touring Elite ($44,450). Options: None. Price as tested (including $830 destination charge): $45,280
Wheelbase: 118.1 in.
Length: 202.9 in.
Width: 79.2 in.
Height: 68.4 in.
Engine: 3.5-liter V6 (248 horsepower, 250 lbs.-ft.)
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Estimated Mileage: 19 city, 28 highway

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

Video Review:
2014 Honda Odyssey
http://bit.ly/2014odyssey

Why buy it? 
The new HondaVac will make parents cry happy tears. It’s a smart feature in a wonderfully engineered van, and its firm driving feel is more crisp and car-like than other products.

Posted in Honda

Super Duty stronger than ever

By Derek Price
Automotive Writer

With its aluminum body and all-new platform, the 2015 Ford F-150 is widely expected to dominate the truck world’s headlines in the coming weeks.
That doesn’t mean its big brother, the built-for-work Super Duty, is being ignored by the folks at Ford.
A stronger diesel engine and revised King Ranch trim package are among the biggest changes to Ford’s heavy-duty lineup, and I got to sample them both in a brawny 2015 F-350 this week.

The Ford F-350 is available with a more powerful diesel engine and an upgraded King Ranch trim package for 2015.

The Ford F-350 is available with a more powerful diesel engine and an upgraded King Ranch trim package for 2015.

The verdict? They’re nice improvements but still leave me longing for a more refined Super Duty, something buyers should anticipate now that the new, thoroughly modern F-150 will be hitting the light-duty market.
I have zero gripes about the new 6.7-liter Power Stroke turbo diesel V8 engine, which makes more horsepower and more torque while gaining efficiency at the same time. A compacted graphite iron engine block, unusual exhaust layout and larger turbocharger combine to make it tougher than before — tough enough, in fact, to work in Ford’s bigger F-650 and F-750 commercial trucks.
It’s also an impressively quiet engine for this class. If you’re used to driving diesels that pierce your ears with their clackety-clack racket, this one is so silent — at least from inside the nicely insulated cabin — that it doesn’t sound much more harsh than a gasoline V8 does.
The new King Ranch trim package is also a sumptuous upgrade for people who like the luxurious, cowboy-themed cabin style. It has thick brown leather that would feel at home on a five-star Western resort.
Unfortunately, the spectacular King Ranch bits feel out of place in a cabin that is otherwise showing its age. Compared to the more recently redesigned heavy-duty models from Ram and General Motors, the hard plastics on the dash and overall fit and finish just don’t stand out.
Another slight drawback is the F-350’s driving feel, at least when unloaded.
When driving around town with an empty bed, the Super Duty’s suspension is rougher and noisier than the Ram and GM competitors. When pulling a trailer, though, the Ford’s suspension feels right at home and inspires confidence from the driver’s seat.

The thick, Western-style leather is the best feature in the luxurious King Ranch truck, lending a high-end feel to a thoroughly capable work vehicle.

The thick, Western-style leather is the best feature in the luxurious King Ranch truck, lending a high-end feel to a thoroughly capable work vehicle.

It’s clear that this truck is designed for work. That’s when it feels happiest.
While I haven’t driven it, Ford also made some changes to beef up its F-450 model for 2015. With commercial-grade, 19.5-inch wheels, new leaf springs, upgraded U-joints and bigger brakes, the F-450 now has a gooseneck tow rating of 31,200 pounds, which Ford says is the best in its class.
Pricing starts at $31,045 for the F-250, $31,940 for the F-350 and $51,720 for the F-450, which comes standard with the 6.7-liter diesel engine. The diesel is an $8,480 upgrade in the F-250 and F-350.

At a Glance

What was tested?
2015 Ford F-350 4X4 Crew Cab with 6.7-liter Diesel ($63,375). Options: None. Price as tested: $63,375
Wheelbase: 156.2 in.
Length: 246.8 in.
Width: 104.9 in.
Height: 80.8 in.
Engine: 6.7-liter Power Stroke V8 turbo diesel (440 horsepower, 860 lbs.-ft.)
Transmission: Heavy-duty six-speed automatic
Estimated Mileage: Not rated

RATINGS
Style: 9
Performance: 10
Price: 6
Handling: 3
Ride: 3
Comfort: 6
Quality: 6
Overall: 8

Video Review:
2015 Ford F-350
http://bit.ly/2015F350

Why buy it? 
The 6.7-liter diesel engine is one of the best on the market. With a mind-blowing 860 pound-feet of torque and 440 horsepower, it’s not only eminently capable but also surprisingly quiet.

Posted in Ford

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