Tahoe refined for today


By Derek Price
Automotive Writer

Full-size SUVs may never again scale the highest peaks of popularity like they did in the 1990s, but that doesn’t mean they’re irrelevant today.
I just spent a week driving the Chevrolet Tahoe, one of the very few body-on-frame SUVs that hasn’t gone extinct, and it’s easy to see why drivers still fall in love with the capability of a truck like this — if you’re the right type of person.
If you’re just carrying kids to soccer practice, well, this kind of vehicle doesn’t make much sense. That’s why the plethora of lighter, better handling, more fuel-efficient crossover vehicles have taken over most kid-hauling roles these days.
But if you need to do more than kiddie duty, the Tahoe starts to look far more appealing.
V8 power and an 8,600-pound trailer rating mean it can do some jobs you’d normally need a big pickup for, such as pulling boats and tromping through the mud. Its available off-road suspension package and 4×4 traction help it easily reach places that would make most family crossovers squeamish.

The Chevrolet Tahoe, shown here in upscale LTZ trim, has a completely new design for 2015 that makes it more refined and fuel efficient.

The Chevrolet Tahoe, shown here in upscale LTZ trim, has a completely new design for 2015 that makes it more refined and fuel efficient.

Its tall, king-of-the-road, truck-like seating position is a plus for drivers who like that sort of thing.
That said, General Motors took a long list of steps to bring the old-school Tahoe into the new-school era, where fuel economy and car-like handling qualities matter more than ever.
The new design largely succeeds, improving the highway gas mileage by 10 percent without sacrificing capability — the whole reason people buy a Tahoe in the first place. It has a remarkably quiet, stable and sophisticated feel over the road.
In fact, the only misstep I can see that GM made on this redesign is with its cargo capacity. With a high loading floor that eats into the volume, there’s just not a whole lot of room for road-trip luggage when the back seats are in place, which makes the Suburban seem considerably more appealing to me.
Pricing starts at $47,000 for the Tahoe and $49,700 for the more cargo-friendly Suburban. You’ll pay slightly more still if you prefer the look and feel of their closely related GMC cousins, the Yukon and Yukon XL.

Power fold-flat seats are one option for making the most of the Tahoe’s available cargo space.

Power fold-flat seats are one option for making the most of the Tahoe’s available cargo space.

From a comfort and quality standpoint, the newly designed GM SUVs are all lightyears ahead of where they used to be. They’ve even got the same soft-touch materials and air-tight cabin construction that buyers have come to expect from nice cars and crossovers — something unheard of in the truck world until recently.
The tester Chevy loaned me was a nice LTZ model with two-wheel drive and a rear-seat entertainment system that rang up at $64,540. While not quite as snazzy as GMC’s incredible Denali trim, it comes close, including a magnetic suspension system that lets you adjust the ride quality and leather seats that make long stretches of highway a joy.
For people who need its abundant power and sizable footprint for towing and traveling off the pavement, the Tahoe makes a compelling case for why the full-size SUV still has a meaningful place in 2015.

At a Glance

What was tested?
2015 Chevrolet Tahoe 2WD LTZ ($61,085). Options: Sun, Entertainment, Destination package ($2,260). Price as tested (including $1,195 destination charge): $64,540
Wheelbase: 116 in.
Length: 204 in.
Width: 80.5 in.
Height: 74.4 in.
Engine: 5.3-liter EcoTec3 V8 (355 hp, 383 lbs.-ft. torque)
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Estimated Mileage: 16 city, 23 highway

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

Video Review:
2015 Chevrolet Tahoe
http://bit.ly/allnewtahoe

Why buy it?
It’s great for people who need the full capability of an SUV, including ample power for towing heavy trailers. It’s far more refined than the Tahoe used to be.

Posted in Chevrolet

New Miata draws on heritage


By Derek Price
Automotive Writer

When Mazda announced an all-new MX-5 Miata was coming out for 2016, it was almost like a doctor saying my baby needs to have a heart, lung and face transplant.
It’s this little roadster, after all, that made me fall in love with cars in the first place. I’ve got an emotional connection to this car that borders on insanity after owning Miatas for years and even helping to found a Miata Club in Arkansas more than a decade ago.
Saying “new Miata” to me is like saying “new Taj Mahal.” Can you really take a bulldozer to it and make it better?
At Mazda’s invitation, I went all the way to California to find out.
For starters, you’ve got to understand what makes the Miata such a special car to drive. It’s about the connection to the road, the wind in your hair, the handling that makes you feel at one with the car, and the sense of speed even when you’re driving slowly. This has been the essence of the Miata ever since it was introduced back in 1989 as a ’90 model.
It’s one of the rare cases in the car-marketing world where “it’s just like the old one” is actually a selling point.

After selling nearly 1 million copies, the Mazda Miata is getting a complete overhaul for 2016. The new car should keep enthusiasts happy by staying true to the original Miata that launched a quarter century ago.

After selling nearly 1 million copies, the Mazda Miata is getting a complete overhaul for 2016. The new car should keep enthusiasts happy by staying true to the original Miata that launched a quarter century ago.

To make that case, Mazda compares the all-new Miata to the 26-year-old version in several ways. It weighs only 182 pounds more than the original, despite getting bigger and adding today’s government-mandated safety features. Adjusting for inflation, its starting price is even lower than the original. And it was developed with the same Japanese “jinba ittai” philosophy as the original, inspired by the sense of a horse and rider working together as one body.
There are plenty of differences compared with the outgoing third-generation Miata design, though.
It gets a new engine that’s 25 percent more fuel efficient and, surprisingly for a sports car, slightly less powerful. Mazda says the horsepower was scaled back to help with its handling balance and because its lighter weight means more power is not needed. Even with the power reduction, it’s still faster than the outgoing car because it weighs so much less.
Enthusiasts will understand that; horsepower nuts might not.
The convertible top is even easier to operate now, with a spring-loaded release and only one latch to use. You can raise it with your pinkie finger (literally — I tried it.)
The glove box has been eliminated, replaced by two small storage bins behind each of the front seats. That’s Mazda’s biggest, and perhaps only, mistake on this car because it takes away one of the Miata’s very few nods to practicality.

The Miata’s cabin is roomier than ever, despite the body dimensions shrinking slightly. It eliminated its glove box, though.

The Miata’s cabin is roomier than ever, despite the body dimensions shrinking slightly. It eliminated its glove box, though.

The body is slightly smaller and dramatically prettier than the outgoing model. In person, it’s a stunning car to look at from any angle. Despite the outside dimensions shrinking, though, the inside of the car is actually roomier than ever before, helping us 2015-size people fit more comfortably.
None of that matters, though, if the Miata doesn’t deliver all the right sensations over the road. And fortunately, Mazda absolutely nailed the driving feel of this car, creating the only vehicle on the planet that legitimately tempts me to give up my beloved first-generation Miata.
Driving through the winding canyon roads of Southern California — one of the prettiest places on Earth in one of the most joy-inducing cars on Earth — I got a nice preview of what heaven might feel like if I manage to live a good life.

At a Glance
What was tested?
2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata Grand Touring ($30,065). Options: None. Price as tested (including $820 destination charge): $30,885
Wheelbase: 90.9 in.
Length: 154.1 in.
Width: 68.3 in.
Height: 48.6 in.
Engine: 2.0-liter I4 (155 hp, 148 lbs.-ft. torque)
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Estimated Mileage: 27 city, 36 highway

RATINGS
Style: 10
Performance: 10
Price: 10
Handling: 10
Ride: 7
Comfort: 7
Quality: 10
Overall: 10
Video Review:
2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata
bit.ly/16miata

Why buy it?
It maintains the spirit of the original Miata, plain and simple. It’s about the pure joy of driving and is a wonderful, gorgeous, back-to-basics improvement over the third generation of this legendary roadster.

Posted in Mazda

Power to turn heads

By Derek Price
Automotive Writer

There are plenty of ways to make cars grab your attention. Spinner wheels, lime-green paint jobs and racing stripes come to mind.
But few cars turn heads as tastefully as this one, the gorgeously styled Audi A7.
Not only is it one of the most beautiful four-door cars you can buy today — with a coupe-like roofline that tapers to a stunning, crisp edge in back — but it’s also a monument to contemporary design. It’s very fresh, very new, yet completely devoid of any “car of the future” spaceship weirdness.
Does it look futuristic? In a way, yes, because it offers a peek at the design cues other cars will be stealing in three years. Audi is the top trendsetter in the car fashion world, which means it’s also the most frequent victim of design-studio larceny.
The Audi A7 is one of the most stylish four-door cars on the road today, with a back end that looks more like a two-door coupe.

The Audi A7 is one of the most stylish four-door cars on the road today, with a back end that looks more like a two-door coupe.

Even in the uber-trendy niche of German four-door coupes, its styling seems to stay one tiny step more modern than its counterparts from Mercedes, Porsche and BMW.
To stay ahead of the curve, Audi tweaked the A7’s look in both front and back for 2016. LED headlights are now standard on all A7 models, so the front fascia and bumpers were redesigned to more tightly fit around the smaller, high-tech lamps. And on its signature back end, the A7 gets LED taillights and trapezoidal tailpipes.
Of course, to get people to spend at least $68,300 for your car — that’s the starting price — you’ve got to deliver more than pretty looks.
Audi shoves ample “wow” factor into three areas that justify that price: cabin quality, technology and muscle.
The A7 has one of the most well-built, sumptuously cool interiors on the market, almost evocative of the trendy W hotel chain. It comes across as luxurious but not stuffy, a delicate balancing act.
It packs a technological punch, too, with a features list that reads more like that of a smartphone or high-end gaming computer. Audi’s press release boasts of putting “4G LTE wireless and NVIDIA quad-core high resolution graphics technology” in the new generation of its digital interface. It responds so quickly and looks so eye-poppingly brilliant that it’s no surprise there are lots of nerdy bits doing hard work behind the dash.
And then there’s the power.

Audi’s new-generation digital interface has impressive graphics and a fast response time, no doubt helped by its hardware from computer graphics company NVIDIA.

Audi’s new-generation digital interface has impressive graphics and a fast response time, no doubt helped by its hardware from computer graphics company NVIDIA.

As if last year’s engine wasn’t strong enough, Audi squeezed another 23 horses from its 3.0-liter turbocharged powerplant to bring its output to 333 hp in 2016. It generates musclecar-like acceleration with a very un-musclecar-like smoothness as it reaches peak power at 5,300 RPM.
If you want more torque and ridiculously good gas mileage, you can opt for the TDI diesel A7 for $70,400. And if you’re a well-healed speed lover, you can get the 450-horse S7 for $82,900 or the over-the-top, 560-horsepower RS 7 for $106,500.

At a Glance
What was tested?
2016 Audi A7 3.0T quattro Tiptronic ($68,300). Options: Paint upgrade ($550), A7 Prestige model ($2,650), Black Optic package ($1,500), S line sport package ($1,000), cold weather package ($500). Price as tested (including $925 destination charge): $75,425
Wheelbase: 114.7 in.
Length: 196.2 in.
Width: 84.2 in.
Height: 55.9 in.
Engine: 3.0-liter turbo V6 (333 hp, 325 lbs.-ft. torque)
Transmission: Eight-speed Tiptronic
Estimated Mileage: 20 city, 30 highwayRATINGS
Style: 10
Performance: 9
Price: 6
Handling: 9
Ride: 9
Comfort: 9
Quality: 10
Overall: 9

Video Review:
2016 Audi A7
bit.ly/2016a7

Why buy it?
It’s a gorgeously styled luxury car that looks like a coupe but has the added practicality of four doors. It’s a premium car in every sense, from power to technology and cabin design.

Posted in Audi

Reviews