Pilot charts truck-like course

By Derek Price
Automotive Writer

When you drive a vehicle that can hold eight people, trips to the gas pump can be downright painful.
If you want to keep your pocketbook’s pain to a minimum, though, Honda retains some serious bragging rights this year. Its roomy Pilot is the most fuel-efficient eight-passenger SUV you can buy in 2014.
The Pilot carries an EPA fuel economy rating of 25 mpg on the highway and 18 in the city. That 25-mpg highway rating is especially impressive because it’s the kind of number that boring, four-door sedans struggled to hit a few short years ago.
My, how time has changed things.

The Honda Pilot has traditional SUV styling with squared-off corners and an upright stance. The look is a good match for its rugged, truck-like driving feel.

The Honda Pilot has traditional SUV styling with squared-off corners and an upright stance. The look is a good match for its rugged, truck-like driving feel.

Despite its thrifty fuel economy, the Pilot drives very much like a truck. It’s got a rugged, hefty feel from the driver’s seat that’s unusual for Honda products, which typically feel more light and nimble over the road.
The Pilot’s strongest point is its spacious, practical, family-friendly cabin. Leg space in the second- and third-row seats is sumptuous, and Honda has packed the interior full of thoughtful little spaces to store stuff.
To me, this SUV has a lot of the functionality of a minivan on the inside, but it looks much more masculine and fun-loving on the outside with its squared-off profile. Without the Honda grille, a passerby could easily mistake it for a rough-and-tumble Jeep.
Unfortunately, the quality of the Pilot’s cabin isn’t Honda’s best work. I wish it had more soft-touch materials and a better overall fit and finish, especially considering how competitive today’s crossovers and SUVs are.
Power feels adequate — not excessive — from a 3.5-liter, 250-horsepower V6 that’s paired with a five-speed automatic transmission. The engine comes with all the high-tech internals that Honda is famous for, including a range of technologies designed to reduce friction, “intelligent” valve timing and lift control, along with cylinder deactivation that lets the V6 operate in four-cylinder or three-cylinder modes when full power isn’t needed.
You can outfit the Pilot with four-wheel drive and several luxury features, including a navigation system, rear-seat DVD player and power liftgate in back.

The Pilot’s second-row seats slide and tilt to make it simple to access the back row. It offers easy access, similar to a minivan but without the sliding side doors and frumpy styling.

The Pilot’s second-row seats slide and tilt to make it simple to access the back row. It offers easy access, similar to a minivan but without the sliding side doors and frumpy styling.

Pricing for the 2014 Pilot starts at $29,670 and ranges up to $41,420 for a loaded Touring model with four-wheel drive.
And if you want a 2015 model, Honda recently announced the addition of a new Special Edition trim grade priced at $33,120. It includes a power moonroof, special wheels, satellite radio and the back-seat DVD player.
The good fuel economy comes at no extra charge.

At a Glance

What was tested?
2014 Honda Pilot 4WD Touring ($41,420). Options: None. Price as tested (including $830 destination charge): $42,250
Wheelbase: 109.2 in.
Length: 191.4 in.
Width: 78.5 in.
Height: 71.0 in.
Engine: 3.5-liter V6 (250 horsepower, 253 lbs.-ft.)
Transmission: Five-speed automatic
Estimated Mileage: 25 city, 18 highway

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

Video Review:
2014 Honda Pilot
http://bit.ly/2014pilot

Why buy it? 
It gets the best gas mileage of any eight-passenger SUV in 2014. Its roomy, thoughtful cabin is almost as practical as a minivan.

Posted in Honda

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

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