2015 Subaru WRX

Where’s the hatchback? That’s really the only question fans of the Subaru WRX will be asking. Short answer is there is no hatchback…..for now….

However, all that money that Subaru used to develop the WRX has been very well spent. Everything is better with this car, and when I say everything, I mean EVERYTHING. They’ve buttoned down pretty much all the problems I’ve ever had with the WRX. While I do wish they kept the hydraulic steering and the direct mechanically linked transmission, they have done a fantastic job with the electronically assisted steering giving it a quicker ratio than the outgoing model and the cable shifted transmission still feels pretty damn good with quick notchy and precise shifts.

Steering inputs are met with quick results, while not being overly sensitive. It goes where you want it to, and doesn’t have any real dead spots or play on center. The thick flat-bottomed steering wheel feels great in your hands, and really communicates well with the chassis. One new feature that the 2015 WRX has is something called Active Torque Vectoring. This basically will apply brake pressure under hard cornering to the inside front wheel to help the car rotate which helps keep the car feeling more neutral. This all helps give the WRX great balance and handling, keeping it very flat around corners. I wasn’t able to push it as hard as I would have liked due to the fact that this car was fitted with winter sport tires, so you could feel the limitations of the tires under hard cornering, but you could tell that the car had a lot more to show you.

With the previous generation WRX, Subaru had tamed the suspension down a little, making it a little more compliant, which sacrificed some of the handling characteristics that you expect from an AWD sports sedan. For this generation, they concentrated on making the WRX more on target with its rival, the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution. Now, don’t get me wrong, I LOVE the way the new WRX handles, but those looking for the older generation’s slightly more cushy ride will be disappointed. The ride is stiff. However, the faster you go, the more comfortable it gets. Around town, if you live in areas riddled with potholes and uneven surfaces, your back will hate you, as well as probably your passengers. If there are multiple undulations in the road, the ride does get a little bouncy, but never uncontrollable.

Now, onto the engine. An all-new 2.0l direct injected boxer four has been developed for this generation, which harkens back to Subaru’s WRC days, as well as the introduction of the WRX to the U.S. shores, but boy is it a much different engine. The new 2.0l engine doesn’t have much more horsepower than the outgoing 2.5l engine, but it gains 3 more horses putting it up to 268. Torque is also up to 258lb-ft. The direct injected engine gives much better mid-range torque giving all 258lb-ft starting at 2000RPM and continuing right up to 5200RPM, but what it gains in mid-range torque it loses up top in the upper range of the RPMs. Not many people will be racing around town higher than 5200RPMs, but it’s a noticeable drop in power once you pass that point, especially if you’re used to the extra oomph of the larger displaced 2.5l engine, but that’s nothing perhaps a little aftermarket tuning could cure. Throttle response is very good, perhaps a teensy bit touchy, but overall perfect for having some fun.

Subaru has never been known for their luxurious interiors, and the new WRX still won’t be known for that, but one thing Subaru does get right is functionality. Compared to the last generation WRX the interior is a huge step up. There are nice soft touches all around, and the plastic bits don’t feel overly cheap. The layout of all the controls are easy to use, and all within reach. The faux carbon fiber on the dash isn’t terrible, but it would have been nice if it was either real, or perhaps be given the option to have it as a brushed aluminum look as well. The seats were very comfortable, while still offering good support and side bolstering for sporty driving.

I hope you enjoy the sounds of the engine, because the stock stereo is terrible, one thing that Subaru has never really been great at. Although they do offer a Harmon Kardon option, which I would certainly recommend if you want to have a somewhat decent stereo. The only other gripes I had was the lack of some of the more convenient features like automatic door locks, as well as an auto up/down function on all the windows, and not just the driver’s. These are two things that I feel should really be standard equipment on cars in this price range.

The exterior is going to leave you loving it, or hating it. I personally think it looks great. The lines are nice, the front end looks aggressive, and while the wide-body looks subtle, it gives it a nice hulking look to it. Sure, many people will say the front looks like the current EVO, but is that a bad thing? I think the front end of the EVO looks fantastically mean, but the Subaru pulls it off a little softer, and a little more elegantly. But those stock wheels! Not sure what Subaru was thinking with that one, but it’s easily curable now that the WRX and STI share the same bolt pattern, so wheel swaps are easily doable now.

Is the new WRX the best WRX ever? The short answer is yes. The long answer, is also yes, yes it is. The new WRX picks up where the old WRX left off, and makes it nearly the perfect car for fun that money can buy, the only thing that could make it better would be to add a fifth door.

2014 Toyota Highlander

The Toyota Highlander has always been a good seller for Toyota, but it has also been a little bland. The new design of the 2014 Highlander has taken a step in the right direction to cure some of the blandness. With its new grill it looks more truck like, right in line with the current generation Tundra. While it takes a little getting used to, I eventually began to like the looks of it.

Toyota is not known for having cars that are really exciting to drive, and while the Highlander is no exception, it doesn’t do a bad job at keeping things interesting. The steering is still numb and there still isn’t a great connection to the car, but what it lacks in feeling it makes up in responsiveness. Surprisingly, the steering was quite responsive to inputs, and didn’t lag as much as you’d think electric powered steering would be on an SUV as big as this. No changes have been made to the engine choices from the previous generation, but the transmission has received updated programming and felt pretty smooth. This model comes with the V6 engine with 270hp and it felt quick for its size, and had no trouble passing slower moving vehicles, or merging onto highways. Taking off at full throttle from a standstill, you still get a nominal amount of torque steer, which was easily controllable. So for all you red light racers, just be conscious of that. Also, for those serious off-roaders, you can also get a locking center differential(up to 25mph), for those large parking lot curbs. Speaking of parking lots, while this Highlander is larger than the outgoing model, it feels as if it has a fairly small footprint while driving, but once in a parking lot, you can feel the size a lot more as it can be a little trickier getting in and out of some tight spaces.

If you’re looking for a nice riding and roomy family hauler and do not want a minivan, this would be a good place to start. It’s got plenty of room with seating for 8, although the third row is more suited for 3 kids, rather than adults. Interior noise was pretty quiet, even at highway speeds and the seats provided a nice comfortable ride. The only thing I noticed that worried me a little was when going over some rough roads, you could see the middle seats shaking a little violently when no one was in them.
You can see what I’m talking about here. Video is slowed down to show the amount of shaking that happens:

From the driver’s point of view, you’re given a good sense of visibility, with a nice seating position. Storage was ample with the cavernous center storage, and the dash had a neat little shelf that you could put phones, wallets, keys, or whatever your or your kids hearts desired. I’m not a very tall guy, but I felt that the center dash controls were a little out of reach for me. I often found myself having to sit forward and stretch for them in order to just change some normal use buttons. This might not be an issue for those longer armed people, but I found it annoying and distracting when trying to use the controls.

The only gripe I had was with the HUGE side view mirrors. Combine these huge mirrors with an a-pillar that already creates a blind spot, and you’re in for some surprise curb hopping fun. I noticed this blind spot more when turning left and trying to see around turns. Where you would normally look down and through to see where you’re going, all you see is a-pillar and mirror. It’s a guessing game, and you better hope there is no one standing in that area, or you could potentially come close to or hit them.

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Overall, I’d have to say I enjoyed this redesigned Highlander a lot more than I was expecting. Coming from a family man, this would suit the majority of families very well. I personally prefer something with a little more soul, but for what you’re paying, what you’re getting, and the versatility included in this package you can’t really go wrong, and for 99% of the people that will buy one, they will be more than happy with their purchase.

2014 New York Auto Show

2015 McLaren 650S
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2014 BMW M4
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2015 Dodge Challenger
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2015 Alfa Romeo 4C
04-2015-alfa-romeo-4c

2015 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 Convertible
05-2015-chevrolet-corvette-z06-convertible-2

2015 Mercedes-Benz S63 AMG
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2015 Ford Mustang GT
07-2015-ford-mustang-gt-50th

Subaru WRX STI GRC Rally Car
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2015 Subaru Outback
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2015 Acura TLX
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2015 Jeep Renegade
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2015 BMW X4
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2015 Chevrolet Trax
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2015 Dodge Charger
14-2015-dodge-charger

2015 Hyundai Sonata
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2015 Kia Sedona
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2015 Nissan Murano
17-2015-nissan-murano

2015 Toyota Camry
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Land Rover Discovery Vision Concept
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2014 Subaru Forester XT

I remember my first time being in a Subaru Forester. My cousin’s mom had bought a first generation Forester back in 1997 as a 1998 model, and it was now handed down to him to use when he first got his license, and all I could think of was it’s like a wagon, but so much cooler. It was gray with gray interior, and so much fun, even though it was only the NA version with 165hp it was still a hoot to toss it around.

While the days of the wagonesque Forester are long gone, the spirit that it had is still very present. The Forester XT lost its manual transmission back in 2008 which was a sad loss, and it also became more of an SUV instead of a wagon. To the enthusiast, this was a sad day, but to Subaru and other non-enthusiats it was the day that the Forester became a true SUV.

The 2014 Subaru Forester XT fixes pretty much everything that was wrong with the 2008-2013 model. Gone is the ancient 4-speed automatic, and instead it comes with a brand new CVT as well as a new 2.0l turbo engine. The new engine now employs direct injection and comes with 250hp and 258ft-lbs of torque, up 24hp and 22ft-lbs. Not bad for an engine with smaller displacement. Thanks to the smaller displacement as well as direct injection the new turbo engine achieves a very respectable 28mpg highway/23mpg city. I averaged about 26mpg’s with mixed city/highway driving, which was very good for an AWD SUV with this much power.

While it didn’t feel as sporty as that first generation Forester XT with a manual transmission, it was still plenty quick. Steering is controlled electronically, which usually suffers from numb feedback, but steering felt more direct and less numb than other electronic steering racks that I’ve been in. Ride comfort was pretty good for an SUV. It was pretty quiet on most roads and highways and was able to absorb thuds and thumps pretty well, while still retaining the sporty feel. Thanks to the slightly stiffer suspension available on the XT, body roll was fairly minimal, but you could still feel its height when taking turns at an increased speed. I’d say if you really wanted it to handle a little better, slap on some high performance summer tires, and you should have a little bit more control in the corners, but for the most part it’s more of a family SUV that can have a bit more fun than most SUV’s(CVT limited).

About that CVT, I’m not a fan of any CVT, but I would have to say Subaru has done a fine job of making this not feel as much of a CVT as possible. Acceleration is smooth and linear and has some “shift” points so it doesn’t seem as whiney as others, and if you put it into sport# mode and play with the paddle shifters it gives you the feel that you’re shifting an 8-speed dual-clutch. Not bad considering its still just a CVT.

Interior quality is good. I mean it’s still a Subaru, so its more functional than it is luxurious, but the materials that are used were nice to touch, aside from a few plastic pieces here and there. Seats were supportive and very comfortable, but I wish they had a little better side bolstering, as well as a little longer seat bottoms. You can tell that these seats were designed more for the American market, rather than the smaller bodied Japanese market. While this is not a huge SUV, it felt plenty big inside. All passengers had ample room, and did not feel cramped, even with the seat all the way back you could fit a rear-facing carseat. Seating position was phenomenal and gave you great views all around the car. It felt like you were in a giant greenhouse as there were minimal blind spots.

The Forester has been Motor Trends SUV of the year twice, one being the 2014 winner, and Car & Driver’s Best Small SUV winner 3 times, and it’s clear why that is. It’s a great package which can suit the many needs of someone looking to buy an SUV. It’s fun, quirky, quick and sporty if you want it to be and affordable. To add to that great list, it’s also one of the safest vehicles on the road by earning the IIHS Top Saftey Pick+ rating. So if you’re considering an SUV and don’t need a third row, I suggest starting with the Forester at the top of the list, and compare to your other options to make your decision. Mine would still land on the Forester.

2014 BMW 335i xDrive Gran Turismo

First let’s start with the price tag. This car was priced out to be $60,250. Thats a pretty penny for a 3 series. Thats getting into 5 series territory. There are two big things that this car did not have that I feel should be standard when buying a premium luxury car, especially at this price. The rear backup camera and blind spot alert systems are not found on this particular version, which I found to be very surprising, and a little insulted considering cars that cost half as much come with them. Perhaps on a regular 3 series sedan you could get away without these, but on this car and the enormous rump it has you pretty much need both of those features. Blind spots were pretty bad in this car, and trying to back out of parking spaces proved to be a challenge, especially at night. The rear visibility was nothing short of bad.

“The Ultimate Driving Machine” is a tagline that BMW has been using for over 30 years and has proven worthy of that name time and time again. While it may still be true for some of their cars, this particular model left me wondering if it fits the bill. It handled well, acceleration was good, ride comfort was nice, but I honestly didn’t feel like I was driving in an ultimate driving machine. When I hear that tagline it makes me want to drive whatever car it pertains to. It makes me think the car I’ll be driving will be giving me great feedback, not to just my senses, but to my soul. This is where this BMW falls short.

To me the steering felt particularly numb, and had some play from dead on center. Not very characteristic of an ultimate driving machine. I didn’t feel connected to the road whatsoever, or to the car really at all. It was a comfortable ride, and sure, it would handle nicely around turns, but it didn’t give me anything to be excited over. If you go by the speedometer, the acceleration was plenty fast, but measured by the good old butt dyno, and it just didn’t feel as quick as the speedo says, which was a little disappointing.

I’ll admit that it is a good car, and most people will enjoy it for whatever purpose it serves, although these GT cars have me confused as to the demographic they are targeting. Its half wagon/half hatchback, and full ugly, I personally would rather have a proper wagon to get the full use of the boot, as well as get rid of some of the hatch’s blind spots. Although, since it does have that weird hatchback style, it has a pretty cool aerodynamic wing that engages automatically above 70mph, or if you just like having it up, there’s a button for that.

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Now, it could be that the added weight to the 3 series chassis is causing all the numbness and lack of excitement, but that still doesn’t excuse it from being an Ultimate Driving Machine. It is more along the lines of an adequate driving machine. It’s got all the comforts of a BMW, but lacks the spirit and soul you expect.

P.S. Sorry for the bad photos, weather did not cooperate…..

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