Four doors with fun


By Derek Price
Automotive Writer

Mini is walking an extremely narrow tightrope with this car, the new four-door version of its timeless Cooper.
It’s got to add enough space and practicality to make it more appealing than its two-door sibling, but it also can’t lose the Cooper’s go-kart handling and playful spirit in the process.
Fortunately for Mini lovers, this car is in the world’s most capable hands to make that happen. I doubt any company other than BMW, which runs the British Mini brand, has the engineering chops to get that balance right.
And, make no mistake, this new four-door Mini is basically a BMW wrapped up in a Union Jack flag. Its styling is quintessentially British, but its bones are very German as it rides on the same platform as the new 1-Series cars.

A freshly designed four-door version of the Mini Cooper is based on BMW’s new small-car architecture. It offers more space and practicality than the two-door Mini.

A freshly designed four-door version of the Mini Cooper is based on BMW’s new small-car architecture. It offers more space and practicality than the two-door Mini.

My test car clearly felt Bavarian from the driver’s seat, with that carved-from-stone build quality and a total lack of rattles, but it looked far quirkier than anything that usually comes from the European continent. The most obvious example: a giant, color-changing circle in the center of the dash that makes no logical sense but sure looks cool.
As for the driving feel, it’s nearly as magical as the smaller, lighter, two-door Mini, which is quite an accomplishment. It’s the kind of car that has so much traction and such flat cornering that it feels like it’s being sucked to the pavement with a giant vacuum cleaner. Short throws from the manual transmission — it would be a sin to get it with an automatic — make it easy to bond with this car on twisty roads.
Power on my test car came from a turbocharged 2.0-liter engine that makes 189 horsepower and, more impressively, 207 pound-feet of torque. That means the Cooper S 4-Door not only feels fast thanks to the aforementioned go-kart handling, but it actually is fast thanks to the ample power for such a small car.
The regular, non-S Cooper has to live with a more mundane 134 horses.
While its classic lines make it look trim and compact, the four-door version feels considerably larger than the two-door Mini on the inside. It’s about six inches longer, and it makes great use of that space with ample volume scooped out of the seat backs to make way for tall passengers in the rear.

A giant, color-changing circle dominates the dash of the new four-door Cooper. It’s fun and funky, keeping with the spirit of this car.

A giant, color-changing circle dominates the dash of the new four-door Cooper. It’s fun and funky, keeping with the spirit of this car.

Pricing is where I start to get less excited about this car. It starts at $21,700 for the Cooper and $25,100 for the more powerful Cooper S, which is fantastic for all the style and fun you get for the money. Start checking off the option boxes, though, and you could end up with a $35,000 Mini before you know it.
At its core, though, the four-door Mini is a fantastically engineered vehicle that does the near-impossible. It adds some practicality without sacrificing the spunky feel that makes a Mini a Mini.

At a Glance

What was tested?
2015 Mini Cooper S Hardtop 4-Door ($25,100). Options: Metallic paint ($500), leather seats ($1,750), cold weather package ($600), loaded package ($2,250), sport package ($1,250), rearview camera ($500), piano black interior ($200), grey color line ($100), park distance control ($500), navigation ($750). Price as tested (including $850 destination charge): $34,350
Wheelbase: 101.1 in.
Length: 158 in.
Width: 68 in.
Height: 56.1 in.
Engine: 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder (189 hp, 207 lbs.-ft. torque)
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Estimated Mileage: 26 city, 33 highway

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

Video Review:
2015 Mini Cooper S 4-Door
bit.ly/2015mini

Why buy it?
It’s a miniature BMW that looks extremely British. Not only does it have fun styling that evokes the most famous car from England, but it corners with a precision that few four-door cars can match.

Posted in BMW

Fiat expands lineup


By Derek Price
Automotive Writer

Fiat is best known in America for the tiny 500 that mixes fun handling with a heaping dose of cute Italian style.
Now its lineup keeps getting bigger. Literally.
After adding the 500L in 2013, a car that looked and felt a bit like a miniature delivery van when I drove it, they’re now adding the much better executed 500X as a 2016 model.
Based loosely on the same design as the new Jeep Renegade — although with much more adorable, less boxy body styling — the 500X is the car that Fiat needs to become a mainstream player in the U.S. market.
While it’s been a moderate success, cuteness could only take the little 500 so far. The 500X keeps the classic Italian looks but adds a lot more practicality to the mix, including having four doors and a bigger cargo area to make it a better fit for families.

The Fiat 500X adds cabin space, four-door functionality and a bigger cargo area that the original 500 lacks. It’s a more practical car but still has Fiat’s classic Italian cuteness.

The Fiat 500X adds cabin space, four-door functionality and a bigger cargo area that the original 500 lacks. It’s a more practical car but still has Fiat’s classic Italian cuteness.

While the front seats feel roomy and spacious, the back seats are a bit more cramped. You can fit two adults back there, but they may not be comfortable for super-long drives. For kids, though, it’s outstanding.
Driving it is plenty of fun, especially if you opt for the 1.4-liter engine and six-speed manual transmission. That’s my favorite pick in this car because a manual transmission would bring out its playful, fun side the most.
Most buyers will opt for the nine-speed automatic transmission and 2.4-liter engine, though. It makes 180 horsepower and, while I still think nine speeds is overkill and feels odd, this transmission does seem to get better with each car the Fiat Chrysler folks decide to put it in.

There is plenty of space in the front seats of the 500X, and even the back seats can hold a couple of full-size adults. The cabin is spunky and different, helping it stand out from several other mini-crossovers that have launched recently.

There is plenty of space in the front seats of the 500X, and even the back seats can hold a couple of full-size adults. The cabin is spunky and different, helping it stand out from several other mini-crossovers that have launched recently.

Another plus is that the 500X is available with all-wheel drive. It doesn’t have the same serious off-road chops that its Jeep Renegade Trailhawk cousin can brag about, but at least it can look the part with the adventurous Trekking style package. It adds unique design touches that make it look more Americanized, like an SUV.
I like what Fiat calls the Pop, Easy and Lounge styling better. Those trim levels make the 500X look clean and urban, which seems more honest to me. This is great, fun, easy-to-maneuver car for driving around the city, not a trail-ready Jeep.
The 500X offers a long list of available safety technologies for a value-priced crossover. Forward collision warning, lane departure warning, blind-spot sensors and rear cross path detection are all available.
Pricing starts at $20,000 for the base Pop trim and rises to $28,100 for the Trekking Plus. For people who like the styling of the original 500 but need a bit more functionality, this new 500X should be a perfect fit.

At a Glance

What was tested?
2016 FIAT 500X Lounge ($24,850). Options: Lounge Collection 6 with leather bucket seats ($5,350). Price as tested (including $900 destination charge): $31,100
Wheelbase: 101.2 in.
Length: 168.2 in.
Width: 79.7 in.
Height: 63.7 in.
Engine: 2.4-liter Tigershark (180 hp, 175 lbs.-ft. torque)
Transmission: Nine-speed automatic
Estimated Mileage: 22 city, 31 highway

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

Video Review:
2016 FIAT 500X
http://bit.ly/2016500x

Why buy it?
It looks as lovable as the Fiat 500 but has a more functional cabin design. It’s fun to drive and is available with a long list of modern safety features.

Posted in Fiat 500L, Uncategorized

A peek at Volvo’s future


By Derek Price
Automotive Writer

Volvo started making some of the best engines in the world last year.
This year, they’ve finally got a vehicle to match.
The Swedish maker of super-safe cars has just released the new XC90 for 2016, and it feels like a next-generation family vehicle in many ways. This is the first in a fresh lineup of Volvos that will be hitting dealerships in the next few years, and I love the direction it portends for the brand after spending a couple of days driving it.
For one thing, the technology in the XC90 is the most delightful I’ve ever experienced in a car. A huge center display looks and operates similar to an iPad, letting you pinch, click and drag your finger across the screen with an instant response to your touch. It’s not exactly the same as Apple’s interface, but it’s close — and becomes second nature after just a few minutes of playing with it.

The all-new 2016 Volvo XC90 offers a look at where this Swedish brand is headed. It focuses on user-friendly technology wrapped in modern Scandinavian good looks.

The all-new 2016 Volvo XC90 offers a look at where this Swedish brand is headed. It focuses on user-friendly technology wrapped in modern Scandinavian good looks.

It’s a touch display done right, an all-too-rare thing in today’s world.
This new XC90 gets a lot of other things right, too, including the cabin materials and design. It has the cool, modern Scandinavian vibe that I like to see in a Volvo, with an uncluttered look that makes tasteful use of  wood, leather and genuine crystal glass on the gear lever.
And the best part? Its seats put everything else in the world to shame. Volvo spent about six years designing the XC90 and about eight years designing the seats that go in it.
This is the first application of Volvo’s new-generation seating that is not only ridiculously over-engineered for safety, including a special mounting and bracing system that can reduce spinal cord injuries in off-road accidents, but also the most comfortable seats I’ve ever sat in. It beats my previous favorite seats, the cushy recliner-like chairs in the Ford F-150 Platinum, by a slim margin.

Volvo, always known for its cutting-edge seat designs, spent around eight years planning the new generation of seats that are first appearing in the XC90 for 2016. They’re meant to eliminate spinal cord injuries and are incredibly comfortable to sit in.

Volvo, always known for its cutting-edge seat designs, spent around eight years planning the new generation of seats that are first appearing in the XC90 for 2016. They’re meant to eliminate spinal cord injuries and are incredibly comfortable to sit in.

There are two powertrains available, both of which are world-beaters.
One is the T6, which straps both a turbocharger and supercharger to a small four-cylinder engine to make 316 horsepower while getting impressive gas mileage.
The other is the T8, which makes the XC90 the world’s first plug-in hybrid vehicle with three rows of seating. It makes a sumptuous, smooth 400 horsepower from a combination of electric motors and a gasoline engine.
And, being a Volvo, it’s got enough safety features to make you feel invincible behind the wheel. It’s the first car in the world that can automatically brake at an intersection if it senses you’re dangerously pulling into oncoming traffic, for example.
Pricing starts at $48,900 for the T6 and $68,100 for the T8.

At a Glance

What was tested?
2016 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD Inscription ($48,900). Options: Inscription features ($5,600), vision package ($1,600), climate package with HUD ($1,950), convenience package ($1,800), Bowers & Wilkins premium sound ($2,500), metallic paint ($560), second-row center booster ($250), 21-inch wheels ($750), air suspension ($1,800). Price as tested (including $995 destination charge): $66,705
Wheelbase: 117.5 in.
Length: 194.8 in.
Width: 79.1 in.
Height: 69.9 in.
Engine: 2.0-liter T6 (316 hp, 295 lbs.-ft. torque)
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Estimated Mileage: 20 city, 25 highway

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

Video Review:
2016 Volvo XC90
bit.ly/2016xc90

Why buy it?
Volvo may have just created the best family car on Planet Earth. Its cabin, seating, technology and safety features are all top-notch, and the whole thing is wrapped in a layer of oh-so-cool Swedish style.

Posted in Volvo

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