2014 Chevrolet SS

Who can recall the last rear wheel drive 4 door SS that Chevrolet had? If you can, you’ll remember it to be the 1996 Chevrolet Impala SS. A barge of a car, the Impala SS was essentially a Chevrolet Caprice with the package that their police counterparts came with, along with some body colored bumpers, different wheels, oh, and an engine derived from the Corvette’s LT1. I must admit I was never a fan of the Chevy Caprice in stock form, but the ’94-96 Impala SS always caught my attention, to the point that I even looked for one for my first car.

10 years after the 1994 Impala SS came around, Chevrolet has introduced the 2014 Chevrolet SS, which is essentially a new and improved Pontiac G8 that made it to our shores from GM’s Australian division before Pontiac got the ax, and guess what? This car is good. It checks all the boxes needed if you’re a dad who wants to have a fun, sporty car with room for a car seat.

The SS is pretty much a 4 door Camaro SS. It has the same 6.2l V8 engine found in the Camaro SS(a little less HP, 415hp vs. 426) and the same 6 speed automatic transmission. Oh yeah, hope you don’t mind an automatic, as thats the only transmission available, but hey, you’ll appreciate it when you’re trying to stop little Timmy from hitting his brother. This car comes pretty much with no options available, but thats because it comes with the majority of normal optional features standard. However, you do have the option to choose whether or not you want a full size spare tire and wheel, as well as a sunroof.

For a price tag of around $46,000 you get a slew of standard features, some of which include such premium features like keyless push button start, an 8″ color touchscreen with navigation, heated and ventilated seats, heads-up display, remote start and a plethora of safety features like lane departure, blind zone alert, rear traffic alert, forward collision alert, parking assist, and a rear view camera. All-in-all a great set of features for what you’re paying.

This car was very well composed, a little stiff, but surprisingly comfortable. It is something you could live with on a day to day basis, but still tackle the corners when you’re all alone. Handling was very crisp, and provided pretty good feedback. The flat bottomed steering wheel was a very nice added touch to enhance the sportiness feel. With all the safety nannies on I was surprised at how well they were able to keep that rear end planted to the ground and keep the car composed when pushing it hard into turns. It reins you in pretty well in case you push a little too hard. There isn’t really much you can say about the 6.2L 415hp LS3 V8, it’s a big thunderous V8, which is quiet when you want it to be, but the burble lurks subtly so you know its ready to go whenever you are. As for the people behind you, they’ll be well aware of when you step on the gas, as it’s not a polite exhaust full out, but damn does it sound great.

Inside you’ll find all the comforts you need, from a decently appointed dash with some nice leather and alcantara touches, to nicely bolstered and supportive seats. The seats were a little wide for my body type, still very comfortable, but for your average American these were perfect. The only quibble I had was with the cheap chrome-looking pieces located throughout the dash and center console. To me they felt a little cheap, and were a little gaudy looking.

Overall the Chevrolet SS is a great car. It hits all the points in sportiness and comfort. If you’re looking for something fun and to tide over the 25 year old in you, all the while having a completely capable family sedan for a day to the zoo, then this is an ideal car for you.

2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA250

The entry level luxury car. Kind of an oxymoron if you ask me. I can understand how luxury car makers want to entice people to step into the world of luxury little by little if they aren’t ready to jump in with both feet. You have to start somewhere. But in the game of luxury cars, is the Mercedes-Benz CLA where you want to start?

For me, it’s an easy no. So let’s start off with the base price of the CLA250. This car starts at $29,900, which isn’t a bad price for a Mercedes. With the options on this car the price is around $36,000, which includes some niceties, but not really anything that sets it apart from your non-luxury cars.

The first thing that I wasn’t a fan of is that this Mercedes is front-wheel drive. When you think of luxury brands like Mercedes and BMW you think rear wheel drive. The majority of the cars that have been made available to us here in the states have pretty much all been rear-wheel drive, with all-wheel drive optional. This is a first for Mercedes here in the U.S. They’ve offered other front-wheel drive models overseas, but never in the U.S. A lot of people never notice, or don’t realize it, but front-wheel drive cars with decent power usually suffer from torque steer. Thinking this is a Mercedes, perhaps this particular car from a company that is known for making cushy, well riding vehicles would have tackled torque steer in the backfield. This is not the case. While the amount of torque steer isn’t unbearable, it is still noticeable, and never a welcome visitor. Keep in mind that this car also had winter tires on, so perhaps with a nice set of summer tires I could see this being less of a problem with the added stickiness. Ride was fairly good, but a little noisy. The CLA was able to absorb the bumps for the most part, but perhaps a little more on the sporty side. I didn’t mind the sportiness, but I’m sure not all owners will be tackling the corners so a little more comfort would have been nice. There was also a lack of connection with the road. Don’t get me wrong, this car handled really well when having some fun and the steering had a nice weighted feel, but it was still numb to the road. This won’t be an issue for a majority of CLA buyers though.

Now, I’ve driven a number of cars that featured start-stop technology, some worked well and you could barely tell the car was restarting, but for some reason Mercedes seems to not have this as refined as you would expect. The first time I came to a stop light and the engine shut off, I was pleasantly surprised at how even though the engine was off, you could barely notice the difference when it was on, so kudos to Mercedes for that. However, as soon as I picked my foot up off the brake, it brought me back to my days when we had to push my roommates 1993 Ford Ranger down the street and pop the clutch to jump start it. Ok, perhaps it wasn’t as harsh as that, but instead of a nice seamless engine start, it felt like a quick clutch drop to get that engine going, something that I felt was a little unpolished for a Mercedes-Benz, even if it’s on an entry level car.

Looks-wise I find this car very appealing. It really is like a baby CLS, and shaped very similarly. The front fascia is aggressive looking, but not offensive, and the rear, while a little bulbous, still has nice swooping lines. If you are planning on buying one, I’d opt for the Sport Package, as it gives you the AMG-like aero kit as well as 18″ AMG wheels which look much better than the stock 17′s or the other optional 18′s. While the interior isn’t up to what I would expect from a Mercedes-Benz, the look and layout is very nice. Gauges are clear and easily read, and the aluminum accents compliment the black dash very nicely. As with the Mazda3, I wasn’t a fan of the slapped on infotainment unit and the controls for it were not my favorite as it would be confusing as times how to get to certain areas of the user interface, but the resolution of the screen was very nice and clear.

So I reiterate my previous assertion that I wouldn’t personally buy a CLA, just to say I drive a Mercedes, or to get started in the luxury car game. While it’s a fine car, and I’m sure owners will love it, I just feel that if you’re going to buy a Mercedes, why not save a little more money and jump into the C-class. Or if you want to spend that base price $30,000, save the $5,000-$10,000 and buy the Mazda3. Yeah, its not a Mercedes or has as much power, but the interior is just as nice and the ride is very comparable.

2014 Mazda3

While you wouldn’t call the Mazda3 as mainstream as say a Honda Civic or a Toyota Corolla, it is definitely a car that should be strongly considered when looking at the compact car segment. Why, you ask? There are plenty reasons why. The first being, its not so mainstream, every other car on the road you see isn’t going to be what you’re driving. The second is because of the interior. I recently drove the 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA250 and I’d have to say the interior of that is very comparable to the Mazda3′s interior. You could say that that’s saying a lot for the Mazda, or speaking very lowly of the Mercedes, but I assure you that it’s not an insult for either.
To say that this new Mazda3 is good would be an understatement. The Mazda3 is very good. So good in fact, that I had to try really hard to find something I didn’t like about it. Those items would be: the small tachometer, the out of place and slightly cheap feeling nav unit, and lack of power. That’s it! Thats all I was able to find I didn’t “like” about it, and that was me really being nit-picky.

So let’s tackle those issues.

1. Small tachometer
Its a compact car, so space is limited, so I can understand the need for smaller instrumentation. On the automatic version, however, the tachometer is front and center, which I think should be the other way around. If you’re driving a manual, you’ll pay more attention to your revs more than if you were driving an automatic, so naturally you don’t want to strain too much to see where you are. Given the layout for both setups are clean and look nice, this is something I think could be fixed in future releases. With that said, it’s most definitely not a deal breaker.

2. Nav/Infotainment Screen
While the quality of the screen is very nice, it feels as if it was just slapped on there. It’s almost like after they designed the dash, someone said, “Oh crap, we forgot to make space for a nav/infotainment center! Let’s just throw this screen on top of the dash.” It feels kind of sturdy up there, but I’d be scared some random dashboard cleaner at the local car wash would be overzealous with wiping the dash down and break it off. But the crispness of the screen makes you forget all about that.

3. Power
The model I drove had Mazda’s 2.0L Skyactiv-G engine with 155hp, not your most powerful option. You could opt for the 184hp 2.5L engine, but then you’d be unable to row your own gears. The standard engine felt peppy, but it had nowhere near the pep that the previous engine had, which was disappointing. On the upside, it boasts a proud 40mpg on the highway, which is impressive for such a fun car. While you won’t be winning any stoplight drag races with it, the Mazda3 is a very fun car to drive quickly, so again, this is not a deal breaker.

So what does the Mazda3 do well? Pretty much everything else. The ride is firm, but comfortable, making it fun around town, and compliant on the highway. The interior is very nice as I said, with many qualities that point to a much higher class of vehicles. All soft touches are of high quality, and most plastics don’t feel cheap like some others in this segment. Seats are very supportive, and comfortable. It was very easy to find a comfortable seating position, and even though it’t in the compact class, the rear seats had a decent amount of legroom to fit a couple of adults fairly comfortably.

So, the Mazda3. A perfect choice for those who don’t want to buy an appliance. A car for someone looking for something different, fun, and honestly, a step above the other options out there. So the next time you’re out car shopping for a compact car to scoot around town, put the 2014 Mazda3 at the top of that list.

2014 Honda Accord Hybrid

So I’ve never really driven a hybrid before this car. I’ve been a passenger in one, and have never really liked the way they sounded. Unfortunately, the 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid doesn’t change that. However, I must say that they have done a very nice job with the way this car feels, drives and rides.

The interior has very nice appointments, which you would expect from Honda in this particular segment. Everything feels fairly nice. Soft touch accents all around and it is pretty much very comfortable to live with. I wasn’t really able to test the driving dynamics from a sporty standpoint given the weather was not cooperating, but from a daily driver standpoint it is certainly a good one. Around town the drivetrain is more than enough to get you from point A to point B, and surprisingly is a little peppy. While there are technically 3 different modes that the car runs in, it mainly runs in hybrid mode, however, there’s a little button that you can press that will operate it completely in electric mode, so long as you don’t push the “gas” pedal too hard. My only quibble was when the 2-cylinder engine engaged to help drive the wheels. From my standpoint, it was very noticeable, but then again, I tend to notice every little change, noise, and squeak. I specifically noticed it mainly on the highway. You’d be driving along cruising at a steady speed, and you’ll feel a slight surge forward. While not a huge surge, and surely not a big deal, but it caught me by surprise the first time I felt it. Its almost as if the car wanted to accelerate on its own, but then decided not to. A little scary at first, but if you don’t notice it, it’ll never bother you, and most likely you’ll get used to it.

Overall, the Accord Hybrid is very good. What more could you ask for. Its quiet, comfortable, sporty, has all the right features, plus it nets up to 50mpg in the city. So the next time you’re in the market for a hybrid, I highly suggest you take one out for a spin. Its far more enjoyable than the more “appliance” hybrids.

Bentley Continental GT V8

It’s not everyday you get to drive around in a Bentley. Lucky for me, I had the pleasure of taking one out for a night while in Los Angeles covering the Auto Show.
When you think of a Bentley, you kind of think of the rich celebrity type person who wants a status car, you normally don’t think of a car that’s fun to drive. Well, having this car for a night gave me a ton of fun. Obviously, everything about this car was magnificently luxurious, so I don’t feel that I have to go into too much detail about how nice it is. Instead, I’m going to strictly talk about how much fun it was to drive.
First off, I’ve driven the W12 version of this car previously, and wasn’t too impressed with the engine note. Yeah, it’t got a 12-cylinder engine, which leads you to think, “Don’t some Lamborghinis have 12 cylinders? This thing should sound awesome since it also has 12 cylinders.” To this, I have to say, the sound of the GT V8 sounded much, much better than the W12 version. It had a nice deep, throaty growl that reminded me of a more sophisticated American v8. Cruising along trying to see if anyone notices a Bentley driving around downtown L.A., and its nice and quiet, but punch that throttle and you open up a can of sweet music.
The GT V8 doesn’t feel aggressively fast, but I can assure you that this thing can, and will push you into your seat, and if you have some passengers in the car, they’ll be pleasantly surprised at how quick and luxurious this car is. I mean, for a car that starts around $175,000, you wouldn’t expect anything less.
So in conclusion of my night out with the Bentley Continental GT V8, I’d have to say I was going into it not really expecting anything. I’m not the type of guy that revels in the mass luxury of these type of vehicles. However, I was thoroughly impressed with the amount of fun I had driving this car around L.A. Merging into traffic, tackling off-ramps, driving around a covered garage listening to the burble of the V8, all this attributed to a very fun night.

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