Jul 102017
 

My parents bought a new Buick LeSabre every ten years for three decades. Soon after that nameplate was retired in 2005, the LaCrosse was born and for 2017, the third generation has emerged. On a recent weeklong test drive of the 2017 LaCrosse Premium by Latino Traffic Report, the elegant sedan fairly floated along Austin’s highways and byways.

Earning a full-size classification from the EPA with the last generation, the newest version is even longer, lower, and wider than the previous model. That translates into a roomier interior, specifically, 42 inches of front legroom, 40 inches in the rear, and 15 cubic feet of cargo room in the trunk. The 60/40 split rear seat also folds to extend cargo space further. It also bears the new face of Buick, featuring a new design on its waterfall grille including the return of a three-color Buick tri-shield insignia, accented by wing-shaped elements.

Trim ranges include: LaCrosse, Preferred, Essence, and Premium. While the test model was front-wheel drive Premium, it can also be configured with all-wheel drive. Like any big sedan, the LaCrosse offers a smooth ride and takes it to another level on the Essence and Premium, with the available electronically controlled Continuous Damping Control active suspension with selectable Touring and Sport modes.

All LaCrosse models are powered by a new 3.6-liter V6 that produces 310 horsepower and 282 lbs.–ft. of torque. Paired to a new eight-speed automatic transmission, featuring Stop/Start and Active Fuel Management, the 2017 LaCrosse FWD has an EPA estimated fuel economy for is 21 miles per gallon (mpg) in the city and 31 mpg on the highway. I achieved an average mpg of 20.1 mpg on the test drive.

The Buick IntelliLink (left) infotainment system with a frameless eight-inch-diagonal color touchscreen featuring Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and OnStar guidance for three months, OnStar 4G LTE with Wi-Fi hotspot integration three-month data plan, and OnStar five-year basic plan with limited vehicle mobile app features, monthly diagnostics report, and dealer maintenance notification are standard on all trims,

All models also include dual-zone air conditioning,  AM/FM stereo with up to 60 preset channels and two USB ports, Bluetooth, cruise control, driver and front passenger eight-way power seat, leather-wrapped steering wheel, Rear Park Assist.

Really posh features on the Premium test model, like massage controls in the heated and cooled front seats, a heated steering wheel, and Head-Up display are standard.

Innovative safety technology from General Motors includes the Teen Driver feature allows parents to set controls, review driving habits, and encourage safe driving habits even when they are not in the vehicle is standard on all trims. Additional standard safety features include a rear vision camera.

The Premium brings safety technology like Forward Collision Alert, Head-up Display reflected onto windshield above steering wheel, Lane Keep Assist, Rear Cross-Traffic Alert, Safety Alert Seat, Side Blind Zone Alert. The test model added the Driver Confidence Package 1 with Rear-Cross Traffic and Blind Zone Alert.

The test model was also equipped with an automatic rear sunshade with the Sun and Shade package ($1,550), adaptive cruise control and Automatic Parking Assist, via the Driver Confidence Package 2 ($1,690), and navigation and a Bose stereo from the Sights and Sounds Package ($1,145).

Pricing for the 2017 Buick LaCrosse starts at $32,990. The as-tested price came to $48,395.

: Larger, more luxurious, and better looking, the all-new 2017 LaCrosse embodies the full-size sedan that Buick lovers expect.

No: Safety features like a blind spot monitor should be available on more trim levels.

May 302017
 

On college campuses across the country, May is moving month. For the parents of these college students, this is when a Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV) can earn its sticker price. While moving my niece from Bryan, TX to San Antonio to attend the University of Texas at San Antonio, I had the opportunity to test the cargo-carrying ability of the redesigned 2017 GMC Acadia AWD SLT-1 for Latino Traffic Report. We took full advantage of every cubic foot of available cargo room the SUV had to offer.

As the word implies, a redesign starts on the outside and the all-new Acadia displays a more refined look with a dimensional grille, wraparound halogen headlamps, and standard LED lighting. GM invested $167 million at the Spring Hill, Tenn. assembly plant to support production of the 2017 Acadia and additional vehicles.

While SUVs aren’t known for their fuel efficiency, the new Acadia is 700 pounds lighter, which should help stretch a gallon of gasoline a little farther.

A 2.5-liter inline four-cylinder with direct injection and variable valve timing is new for 2017. It offers an EPA-estimated 26 miles per gallon (mpg) highway for front-wheel drive models. The test model, however, came with all-wheel drive and the optional 3.6-liter V6 engine that produces 310 horses and 271 lb.–ft. of torque and has a city/highway EPA estimated fuel efficiency of 18/25 mpg. During the weeklong loan that included a 185-mile road trip, I averaged 32.4 mpg on the highway and 17.2 in the city.

The test model also included the All Terrain package with badging throughout, an advanced Active Twin Clutch AWD system, 20-inch aluminum wheels, a cargo management system, and seating for five. While the Acadia can offer seating for seven, the All Terrain package replaces the third-row of seating with covered storage bins and a cargo management system in the rear cargo floor. For this trip, we focused on storage above the floor. The second row deployed easily to expose 79 cu. ft. of cargo space. We had room for multiple boxes and bags, but most impressive, was that the Acadia also fit a twin mattress. We didn’t need to tow but if we had, the Acadia included a Trailering Package ($650) that gives it a maximum towing capability of 4,000 pounds.

All Terrain models are also distinguished with a body-color grille surround, black chrome trim and unique wheels on the outside.

The user-friendly GMC IntelliLink system has been enhanced to include phone integration technology via Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. The test model also included navigation, a 4G LTE WiFi hotspot, OnStar, and SiriusXM Satellite radio for three months, as well as a panoramic sunroof. The shade, however, snaps back with some force so little fingers may need to beware.

Other standard convenience features on the Acadia include cruise control, keyless open and start, a rear vision camera, remote keyless entry, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel.

Safety features will always matter, particularly on a family vehicle like the Acadia and GMC features two new standard technologies—a Rear Seat Reminder that alerts the driver to check the seat before locking the car and the Teen Driver system that allows parents to program the Acadia to allow certain features to encourage safer driving. It prevents certain safety systems from being turned off and even provides parents with a report on their teen’s driving habits.

More common safety technology, like a blind spot monitor and rear cross-traffic alert, are available on the SLE-2 trim and are standard on the SLT-1 trim and above. Advanced technology like forward collision alert and the safety alert seat that vibrates to warn the driver, come with the Driver Alert Package II, standard only on SLT-2 and Denali trims.

The starting price for the 2017 GMC Acadia is $29,995. The as-tested price, that included several packages, came to $47,465.

: The Acadia offers the versatility and convenience that’s expected of an SUV.

No: Safety features, like a blind spot monitor, should be available across the lineup and not just reserved for higher trim levels.

May 152017
 

Acura recently unveiled a 2018 redesign of the Acura TLX at the New York International Auto Show, but the 2017 version still has life in it and Latino Traffic Report recently took the TLX 3.5L Advance for a ride.

The five-passenger TLX offers a sports-sedan blend delivering athleticism and premium refinement. Looking better than it has for a while, its signature Jewel Eye LED headlights, standard on all models, set it apart, while offering excellent illumination. LED lighting can also be found on the taillights, above the license plate and as accents on the side mirrors.

Powered by two high-output direct-injected i-VTEC engines, the test model came with the 3.5-liter V6 with Variable Cylinder Management. It was matched to a nine-speed automatic transmission, one of two available transmissions. It was also equipped with one the latest iterations of Acura precision-handling technologies—Precision All-Wheel Steer (P-AWS)—and paddle shifters for added sportiness. A 2.4-liter four cylinder engine, an eight-speed Dual Clutch transmission, and Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive are also available.

While the four-cylinder offers the best fuel economy, the TLX with the 3.5-liter V6 with P-AWS has an EPA fuel-economy rating of 21 miles per gallon (mpg) in the city and 34 mpg on the highway. I averaged 34.2 mpg overall, but on the highway, the average mpg reached 36. Like it’s siblings,

Electronic Gear Selector

the TLX lacks a shift knob and utilizes push buttons, or an electronic gear selector, in the center console instead, which can be a little unnerving, i.e. you don’t want to push the wrong button at the wrong time. The test model also included the Integrated Dynamic System with Econ, Normal, Sport, and Sport S drive modes. The Sport S mode really revved its performance with added power and tightened handling.

When you step up from a Honda to an Acura, you might expect a little more bells and whistles. You can get ’em, but at a price. TLX models with the 2.4-liter engine can be upgraded to the Technology package and models with the 3.5-liter engine can add Technology or the line-topping Advance Package. Both were included on the test model. The Technology package brought essential features like blind spot information, forward collision warning, and a rear cross traffic monitor, as well as convenience features like perforated leather seating, navigation with voice recognition, the AcuraLink communication system, and Acura ELS Studio premium audio.

The Advance package added Collision Mitigation, Adaptive Cruise Control, ventilated front seats, and front and rear parking sensors, among other features.

All TLX models come equipped with Siri Eyes Free technology that allows the driver to use the features of Siri using familiar voice commands, when paired with a compatible iPhone. Other standard features include the multi-view rear camera, cruise control, Multi-information Display, USB Audio Interface with iPod Integration, Bluetooth streaming audio, keyless access, heated leatherette front seats, and a 60/40 split fold-down rear seatback. Oddly, Bluetooth Hands-Free Wireless telephone is not standard.

Pricing for the 2017 TLX starts at $32,950. The as-tested price came to $43, 540.

: The 2017 TLX Advance offered a sporty ride with a big list of features.

No: Some of the available features should be standard, e.g. blind spot monitor, Bluetooth telephone.

Apr 292017
 

Over the decades, the convertible has stood the test of time, sustained by an over-the-top fun factor. Volkswagen continues to grow its convertible offerings with more topless versions of the Beetle. Latino Traffic Report recently embarked on a windy adventure in the 2017 Beetle 1.8T Dune Convertible.

The Dune’s peppy 1.8-liter turbocharged and direct-injection four-cylinder TSI engine hails from Silao, Mexico. It produces 170 horsepower and 184 lb.–ft. of torque, and should earn an EPA estimated fuel economy rating of 24 miles per gallon (mpg) in the city and 31 mpg on the highway. I averaged 35.6 mpg on the test drive. It’s matched to a six-speed automatic transmission. Sadly, no manual transmission is available.

The test model came in the most striking of three available shades, Sandstorm Yellow, but subtle design cues also differentiate the Dune from its siblings. It has new front and rear fascias and black wheel arches, plus it rides a little higher and sits a little wider. The bumper adds s a large central air intake and on either side, two black honeycomb vents contain the foglights. It sits on 18-inch aluminum-alloy wheels and has “Dune” graphics displayed on both doors. At the back, the Dune sports a large rear spoiler, standard LED taillights, and a new bumper design. In other words, it’s a head turner.

It’s most distinctive feature, however, is the black canvas top that drops with the push of a button and while at a speed of up to 31 miles per hour. According to VW, it should take 9.5 seconds but on my count, it took seven.

Inside, the attention to detail continues with contrasting “Curry” yellow stitching on the sport seats and a leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel, unique to the Sandstorm Yellow exterior color. Additionally, the test model featured body color upper door trims and dashpads, The Pure White and Deep Black Pearl vehicles will have piano black door and dashpad trim.

Standard entertainment features include the Composition Media infotainment system with a 6.3-inch screen and a capacitive touch sensor and a proximity sensor that detects when a hand is nearby and automatically switches its display. Volkswagen Car-Net App-Connect, USB and Bluetooth connectivity for compatible devices and an AM/FM/HD radio with SiriusXM Satellite radio, and a CD player are included

Safety features take on a unique focus due to the convertible’s body style. On the Dune, its reinforced front roof crossmember, strengthened A-pillar, and the Automatic Rollover Support System should add confidence. In the event of a crash, two rollover bars, concealed behind the rear bench seat back, will deploy. Additional standard safety features on the test model included a rearview camera and the Park Distance Control (ParkPilot) system, Automatic Post-Collision Braking system, and Volkswagen’s Intelligent Crash Response System. A blind spot monitor was not available.

Pricing for the 2017 VW Dune starts at $30,215. With no added packages on the test model, the as-tested pricing matched the starting price.

Sí: The Dune stands out in a crowd and fulfills the thrills of topless driving.

No: At this price point, a blind-spot monitor or navigation should be included, much less available.

Mar 202017
 

Riding the wave of growing sport utility vehicle (SUV) sales, the premium SUV segment reported an increase in sales year to date by five percent, according to the Wall Street Journal. The segment is not the largest, but when you drop an average of $60K on a premium SUV, be prepared for lots of bells and whistles.

Latino Traffic Report recently drove the all-new 2017 Audi Q7 for a weeklong test drive. Its premium appointments inside stood out, but not all were standard and the extras did cost a pretty penny.

What sets an Audi apart in the segment is its performance heritage. The Q7 gets its power from a 3.0-liter V6 with 333 horses and 325 lb.–ft. of torque matched to an eight-speed Tiptronic transmission—hence the paddle shifters on the steering wheel. It’s also equipped with Audi’s quattro all-wheel drive system.

The EPA expected fuel economy is 19 miles per gallon (mpg) in the city and 25 mpg on the highway. I averaged 21.1 mpg.

Like most premium SUVs, the Q7 adheres to expectations, with plush leather seating, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, tri-zone automatic climate control, and a singular infotainment system, MMI—Audi’s is less intuitive than others, but I did like that it allowed for 48 different radio presets.

The test model also included red, white, and blue, interior lighting accent strips, a panoramic sunroof, heated and cooled seats in the front, and a power liftgate. What really distinguished Audi’s interior, besides the fit and finish, were features like a pop-up display above the center stack that displays navigation maps and other functions. With seating for seven, it has a convenient button to release the third-row bench to fold flat. The second row, was not automatic and therefore, a little less easy to deploy.

Unique safety features like  Audi pre-sense basic and pre-sense plus that help detect and mitigate a potential collision, were also included.As mentioned earlier, additional creature comforts came at a price.

The Prestige Package ($9,500) added 20-inch ten spoke wheels, the Bose 3D surround sound stereo system, navigation, and a heads up display on the windshield, Audi Connect Prime and Plus, Audi Connect Care, and my favorite safety features, a blind spot monitor and rear parking sensor. For $4,000, the Q7 amped up its ride and handling with an Adaptive Chassis Package that included air suspension and four-wheel steering. The Driver Assistance Package ($2,400) added adaptive cruise control, another of my favorite features, active lane assist, and traffic sign recognition. Finally, the Cold Weather Package ($500) included a heated steering wheel and heated rear seats.

Redesigned for 2017, the second-generation Q7 has a starting price of $55,750.The as-tested price came to $72,875.

 

Sí: The Audi Q7 lives up to its premium brand with sophisticated design, inside and out.

No: Upgrades to the Q7 can add up quickly.

Jan 302017
 

As gas prices begin to creep up, consumers needn’t worry. No matter who heads the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the current administration, California, the number-one car market in the country according to the National Automobile Dealers Association, will require carmakers to reduce emissions, which means hybrids will continue to offer fuel-saving options for years to come. While they still make up just a fraction of new car sales, hybrids have grown in availability and configurations, from compacts to luxury sport utility vehicles. Latino Traffic Report will spend the next three months with one in particular, the all-new 2017 Honda Accord Hybrid Touring.

It arrived in December and on a first impression, the Accord Hybrid is a looker. Honda redesigned the Accord for 2016 and the all-new hybrid, introduced last year, shares its sheet metal, plus it also benefits from its reputation. The top-selling car for the last three years in the United States, the Accord was just named “10 Best” for the thirty-first time by Car and Driver, an unprecedented honor for any vehicle. But as the name implies, the model I’m driving is a hybrid and its fuel-saving powertrain is its centerpiece.

The Accord Hybrid’s two-motor hybrid system combined with an ultra-efficient 2.0-liter i-VTEC Atkinson Cycle engine is matched to an electric continuously variable transmission. It achieves a peak-combined output of 212 horsepower, the highest of any midsize hybrid sedan.

Like many hybrids, it performs better in city traffic than on the highway—it has an EPA fuel economy rating of 49 miles per gallon (mpg) in the city and 47 mpg on the highway. I’m averaging about 47 mpg so far—I actually gained mileage on the highway once heading north on IH35.

To maximize fuel efficiency, there’s an Econ button that can be used at all times, as well as an EV button that when engaged, operates the hybrid on electric power only for small distances. When I need more power, I push the Sport mode button to give the hybrid a noticeable amount of giddy-up.

While the fuel economy will undoubtedly be its best feature, the Accord Hybrid also sits at the top of the Accord lineup, and the Touring trim is the top-of-the-line. As such, it comes very well-equipped, starting with Honda Sensing, a suite of safety features with advanced technology like adaptive cruise control that allows the driver to set and maintain certain a distance behind a vehicle,  forward collision warning, and lane keep assist.

Multiview back-up camera

Honda’s innovative LaneWatch camera can be engaged with the turn signal for views of the blind spot when changing lanes to the right. The picture isn’t that clear, however, and focusing can make it distracting. Though currently not available, a blind spot monitor would be preferable.

Creature comforts on this model include leather seats, with heated seats in the front and back, a touch sensitive seven-inch display screen with an additional display screen on top of that, navigation, a moonroof, and a multiview back-up camera. I’m getting used to the lack of knobs for volume control and tuning and while this model should come with SiriusXM satellite radio, it isn’t activated. It does, however, include a CD player—a happy surprise. I’ve put it and the MP3 USB port to use on road trips to San Antonio, Bryan, Houston, and Dallas.

Pricing for the Accord starts at $30,480. Pricing for the as-tested 2017 Accord Hybrid is $36,790.

Stay tuned for a final review later in the year.

Dec 312016
 

In the auto industry, some cute things do come in small packages. The MINI Cooper, in particular, has taken cuteness to the bank. Still, roominess in any vehicle is also a virtue so when MINI decided to stretch the Cooper to create the Clubman (redesigned for 2016), the extra inches improved its versatility. I recently test-drove the MINI Cooper S Clubman for Latino Traffic Report and the added room, coupled with the S model’s sportiness, were a definite plus.

For the first time, the 2016 Cooper S Clubman offers an eight-speed Steptronic sports automatic transmission with paddle shifters—it’s also the first MINI to enter the premium compact segment. All Clubman’s, however, come standard with a six-speed manual transmission, including the test model, and that immediately put a smile on my face. Matched to a 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder with 189 horses and 207 lb.­–ft. of torque, it scooted through Austin’s urban byways while achieving an average fuel economy of 29 miles per gallon (mpg)—it has a EPA estimated city/highway fuel economy of 22/32 mpg.

Sport, Mid, and Green driver select modes improved performance while adding a light show, switching modes changed the color display on the oversized circular display atop the center stack.

Inside, the test model immediately impressed me with its Burgundy leather seating, one of several new unusual tints exclusive to the Clubman. Not lacking in creature comforts, the Clubman comes with a leather wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, keyless ignition, dual zone air conditioning, and 60/40 split-folding rear seats that offer 47.9 cubic feet of storage when folded flat. The cargo area can also be accessed from behind with an optional foot-activated sensor to open the split rear tailgate hands free. The S trim level adds 17-inch forged alloy wheels, halogen fog lights, chrome-tipped dual exhaust outlets, the MINI Excitement Package with twelve-color ambient interior lighting and a projection of the MINI logo onto the ground from the exterior mirror on the driver’s side visible at night when the door is opened or closed.

While attractive, the standard MINI infotainment system with a 6.5-inch high-resolution display, was not as intuitive as it should be. So much so that I opted out of programming the presets.

All options on any MINI are available a la carte, as well as in bundled packages and the test model had several including the Premium Package ($1,800) that added the panoramic moonroof, and harman/kardon stereo system, and the Technology Package ($1,750) that added navigation, a rear view camera and a rear parking sensor. Separate options included heated front seats ($500), LED headlights ($1,000), and a one-year subscription to satellite radio ($300).

Pricing for the 2016 Clubman starts at $24,950. The as-tested pricing came to $36,600.

: Loads of fun, the MINI Clubman combines sporty performance with versatility.

No: The entertainment system was cumbersome and features like a rear view camera should be standard.

 

 

Dec 182016
 

Named for the famous racer and car builder Karl Abarth, the Fiat 500 Abarth embraces its namesake’s legacy by offering the best performance of any 500. Take the top off and it becomes the 2016 Fiat 500c Abarth Cabrio that I recently test-drove for Latino Traffic Report.

Fiat accentuates the features commonly associated with performance vehicles—power, suspension, steering, and brakes—to make this Cinquecento realize what Abarth, said to describe his own lineup of racing vehicles, “small but wicked.”

Like the Fiat Abarth, the Cabrio gets its power from a 1.4-liter MultiAir turbo inline four-cylinder engine. Launched in 2012 with only a five-speed manual transmission, it now offers a six-speed automatic for an added $1,350. It should achieve 160 horsepower and up to 183 lb.–ft. of torque. Reinforced for higher torque capability, the automatic also offers a Sport mode for an even sportier performance.

Assisted by technology and design elements, like better engine respiration and body aerodynamics, helps improve performance as well as fuel economy; the Fiat Abarth Cabrio manages an impressive fuel economy of 24 miles per gallon (mpg) in the city and 32 mpg on the highway. I averaged 26.5 mpg.

The automatic cloth top retracts, a little or a lot, with the push of a button. While it can be stopped at the midway point, it tends to rattle so retracting it all the way open so that it tucks neatly behind the rear head restraints gets the best result. This can be done at a speed of up to 50 miles per hour.

Abarth models feature a unique MacPherson suspension design with stiffer front spring rates and 0.6-inch lower ride height for improved handling and minimal body roll. The Abarth-tuned electronic power steering accentuates the steering response and the high-performance brake system helps push the 500c Abarth to accommodate more aggressive driving. As expected the Abarth took to curves like a pro and while the ride is a bit bumpier, the responsive steering and braking improved driver confidence.

For 2016, the Abarth comes in four new colors. I drove the Giallo Moderna Perla that cost an extra $500. Also new for 2016 is the Uconnect 5.0 system with a five-inch touchscreen that enables hands-free calling via Bluetooth-equipped phones, as well as voice-command control of AM/FM, and optional SiriusXM Radio and navigation system. Other creature comforts included an AM/FM Alpine stereo with a CD player and auxiliary input jacks, air conditioning, a leather wrapped cluster brow with accent stitching, leather wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, cruise control, remote keyless entry, and a seven-inch thin film transistor (digital) instrument cluster.

While the test model did include a rear-parking sensor, and the driver’s side mirror was equipped with a section the provided a blind spot view, the lack of a back-up camera was noticeable.

Added features included the Beats audio package ($700), Comfort Convenience Group ($975) with heated front seats and a one-year subscription to Sirius Satellite radio, and 17-inch forged aluminum hyper black wheels ($1,400).

Pricing for the 2016 Fiat 500 Abarth starts at $23,570. The as-tested pricing came to $33,315.

 

Sí: The Abarth’s sporty attributes set it apart from its siblings and the Cabrio makes it even more fun to drive.

No: The price is hard to justify considering missing safety features like a back-up camera and blind spot monitor.

 

Dec 082016
 

What Toyota began with its first hybrid, the Prius, it has taken to a whole new level with Lexus. Considered up-level models for most segments, hybrids would seem to provide a natural incentive for luxury brands to dive into the green pool. Lexus led the way in 2005 when it introduced the RX 400h. I recently drove the 2016 ES 300h, one of a family of six Lexus hybrid models, for Latino Traffic Report. As expected, it saves gas but with added style and grace.

Refreshed for 2016, the ES 300h sports a design makeover that includes a new, bolder spindle grille, built from a one-piece version and framed by a satin chrome trim. Also fully redesigned, the front fascia puts the fog lights at the corners to accentuate the wide stance.

The signature hybrid system combines a 2.5-liter four-cylinder Atkinson cycle engine with an electric motor to generate 200 total system horsepower. It runs on an electric motor or gas engine alone, or a combination of both, depending on the driving situation. Like most hybrids, it gives the driver a real-time view of its functionality with the Hybrid System Indicator. The display can also encourage fuel-efficient driving habits.

The electronic continuously variable transmission further enhances the hybrid’s performance with a drive mode option that allows the driver to choose among four modes: Normal, Sport, Eco and EV. The hybrid does lack oomph, however, even in Sport mode.

No review of a hybrid can ignore fuel economy. The ES 300h has EPA estimated fuel economy ratings of 40 miles per gallon in the city and 39 mpg on the highway. I achieved an average fuel economy of 36.9 mpg.

The test model came well-equipped with safety features, but at a price. Most of the them were optional, starting with the Lexus Safety System+ Package ($1,015) that included the Pre-Collision System, Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist, Intelligent High Beam, and High-Speed Dynamic Radar Cruise Control.

The Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Cross Traffic Alert is a stand alone option and well worth the extra $500. Still, at this price point, it would be nice if more of these features were included as standard equipment. Apparently, Lexus thought so too and for 2017, the Lexus Safety System+ will be standard.

Happily Lexus Enform Safety Connect, is standard on all 2016 Lexus vehicles, with access to Lexus Enform response centers 24/7/365.

Standard creature features included a ten-way adjustable power front seat, automatic dual-zone climate control, NuLuxe perforated upholstery, a power tilt-and-slide moonroof, Smart Access door unlock with push button start, a premium audio system with a CD player, Bluetooth, and Siri Eyes-free Mode. Added options included a heated wood and leather steering wheel ($450), Intuitive Parking Assist ($500), and the nifty one touch power trunk ($400), similar to a power liftgate.

The optional navigation system ($2,650) also added an eight-inch display audio screen as well as the Lexus Enform App Suite that uses voice-enabled apps to search the Internet.

Pricing for the 2017 Lexus ES 300h starts at $42,795. The as-tested price came to 49,410.

 

Sí: The ES 300h brings Lexus premium appeal to the hybrid driving experience.

No: While offering some safety features as stand alone options makes them a little more accessible, some of them should be standard on a premium vehicle.

Nov 222016
 

img_0849

The auto industry has predicted the demise of manual transmissions for decades so when one gets delivered to Latino Traffic Report for a review, I’m thrilled. It’s even more exciting when the manual comes on a trim level that allows for more bells and whistles. That was the case with the 2016 Volkswagen Jetta GLI SEL that I drove.

Manual transmissions just make driving more fun, that’s why most sports cars still offer them. On economy cars, manual transmissions serve a different purpose. Reserved for entry-level models that can’t be upgraded and are basically sold as-is, they help lower the base price. Still, they do add oomph to little four-cylinder engines so it’s unfortunate that they really can’t compete with their siblings and are easily passed over.img_0852

Not surprisingly, the base model Jetta comes with a manual transmission, but so does the GLI SEL that sits just below the top-of-the-line Jetta hybrid. As such, it comes with advanced technology, particularly on the safety side, like a blind spot monitor, rear traffic alert, parking sensors, and a rearview camera.

Redesigned for 2015, the 2016 model adds a 1.4-liter turbocharged, direct-injection engine four-cylinder. I drove the 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder matched to a six–speed manual transmission. It had an EPA estimated fuel economy of 24 miles per gallon (mpg) in the city and 33 mpg on the highway. I averaged 24.9 mpg. A six-speed automatic is also available as well as a 1.8-liter turbo four-cylinder engine.

The GLI SEL also gets a bold new look for 2016, highlighted by an aggressive front fascia that incorporates a honeycomb grille and foglights, along with a new rear bumper design that has a diffuser and a pair of chrome-tipped exhausts, plus 18-inch Mallory design aluminum-alloy wheels.

img_0855On the inside, the GLI SEL continues to add features like dual-zone climate control, a 6.3-inch touchscreen for radio controls and navigation (it was a little clunky to operate), heated black leatherette front seats with red accent stitching, a power sunroof, a leather wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, and a Fender premium audio system developed through a collaboration between Fender and Panasonic. It includes 400 watts of power, nine speakers, a trunk-mounted subwoofer, and my favorite low-tech feature, a CD player.

Convenience features include a split rear seat with pass through to the trunk, a 60/40-split rear seatback offering 15.5 cubic feet of usable trunk space, a tilting and telescopic steering wheel, cruise control, Bluetooth, keyless access with push button start and a cooled glovebox.jetta-rear

Volkswagen’s most popular model, the Jetta has a starting price of $18,500. The as-tested price topped out at $30,100.

 

Sí: Always great to find manual transmissions on up-level trims and the Jetta GLI SEL includes nice bells and whistles.

No: The audio system was less intuitive than most, especially when programming preset stations.