2014 GMC Sierra 4WD Crew Cab SLT All-Terrain

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“In this brand new Chevy with a lift kit, would look a hell of a lot better with you up in it”.

You know you’ve made it into the big leagues (or at least pop culture) when your brand continues to make it into the lyrics of country music songs.

While my tester for this review isn’t a Chevrolet, it’s the GMC equivalent and for all intents and purposes, the same basic truck.

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The GMC Sierra has been winning accolades in the motoring press ever since its debut last year for the 2014 model year. It even won the coveted Automobile Journalists Association of Canada’s “Best New Pickup” award, no small feat as this award results from rigorous back-to-back testing and is based on a combination of objective data and evaluation by 80 journalists.

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To test out GMC’s latest definition of their “Professional Grade” mantra, I borrowed the keys to a 2014 Sierra 4×4 Crew Cab SLT fitted with the All-Terrain package.

Giddy-up!

EXTERIOR

“If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it”.

Even though General Motors says that their Sierra is the most powerful, most advanced, and most refined truck in the brand’s 111-year history, the latest iteration is an evolution rather than a revolution of its predecessor.

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Former owners will find an update of a familiar shape, but designers have added new details such as halogen projector headlamps, LED daytime running lights, and a new grill.

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My All-Terrain Edition Sierra gave up most of its chrome bits and bobs for body-colour trim pieces as part of the package. I thought that the monochromatic effect was rather sporty and less blingy. But the All-Terrain package includes much more than just a unique exterior appearance. More on that later.

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There is certainly more than enough variation in Sierra’s available trim lines to suit your penchant for chrome or whatever else you may prefer.

The new snout has been carefully engineered to improve sealing for more efficient cooling. Meanwhile, the roof and tailgate spoiler were shaped in the wind tunnel to smooth airflow over the truck for reduced drag. New inlaid doors, which fit into recesses in the bodyside, reduce wind noise for a quieter cab.

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The new cab is also stronger with two-thirds of the structure now made from high-strength steel for improved safety, ride and handling. The main frame rails and cross members have also been upgraded to the same high-strength steel and hydroformed for reduced mass and improved strength.

Crew cab customers, who now represent more than 60% of retail Sierra owners, can choose between two bed lengths: a new 6-foot, 6-inch box is available in addition to the standard 5-foot, 8-inch box. Regular cabs continue to be available with the 6-foot, 6-inch or 8-foot box lengths, while the double cab will come exclusively with a 6-foot, 6-inch box.

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Most Sierras also now feature a rear chrome bumper with standard corner steps (a la the discontinued Chevy Avalanche) that make climbing into the bed easy regardless of whether the tailgate is up or down. My All-Terrain package’s monochromatic bumper sacrifices these corner steps for the monotone paint job.

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Four movable upper tie downs in the bed are also standard and can be placed in nine different locations. These adjustable units can bear a sizable 250-pound (113 kg) load.

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I also appreciated the available LED cargo lights integrated beneath the bed rails. These hidden LEDs help to light the bed with a flick of a switch or when a tonneau cover is in place.

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Finally, borrowed from the Toyota Tundra is the addition of a no-slam tailgate. An integrated torsion bar and damper assists with lifting and lowering the tailgate. This is sure to be a feature that everyone will now expect from all future pickup trucks.

INTERIOR

Whether it has been in a Chevy, a GMC, or a Cadillac, General Motors’ latest interiors have seemed to hit it out of the park. The new Sierra’s is the rule rather than the exception.

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The inside is a really nice improvement over its predecessor and I’m happy to say that the panel gaps and hard plastics are gone. In its place we get a Denali-grade interior with new soft-touch premium materials.

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The redesigned interior was supposedly focused on maximizing usable and productive space and it tells.

Up front are comfortable leather seats – front buckets with a faux carbon fibre pattern in the case of my All-Terrain model. GM says that the Sierra’s seats use dual-density foam designed to stay comfortable over long hours. Something that I can attest to on a 2.5 hour jaunt out of town to Whistler, BC.

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The seats are also designed to continue looking great after years of use, an important factor considering the serious beating that these trucks go through as tools of the trade.

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A new upright instrument panel with a large 8” touchscreen infotainment is the one of the stars of the show. The Intellilink-connected system has a relatively intuitive layout with easy-to-read high-resolution icons that control audio, Bluetooth phone, and navigation features.

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The newly designed knobs and buttons are large and easily within reach. The rubberized coating makes it easy to grip even through gloves.

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There are no less than 5 USB ports, 4 twelve-volt outlets, and even an AC inverter that sit in front of a clever rubberized rail in the centre console. This rail is moulded to hold electronic devices steadily without them flopping or sliding while being charged. So simple but yet clever.

Along the centre stack and console are additional cupholders and compartments that are large enough for several laptop computers. A 2nd high-mounted storage box with a flat floor joins the traditional box below.

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One thing is for sure. You’ll definitely not run out of storage space in this truck!

SO HOW DOES IT DRIVE?

If you’re a previous Sierra owner, prepare to be extra impressed. Even with an empty pickup truck bed, the Sierra rides well on everyday streets.  There is a lack of axle hop and the body motions are well controlled even on poor roads. This is even more impressive given that my All-Terrain model included the Z71 off-road suspension with stiffer Rancho shocks.

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New shear-style body mounts are designed to tune out both up-and-down and side-to-side movement for a quieter, more comfortable ride. Double cab and crew cab models now also have a set of hydraulic body mounts to further isolate the cabs. The result is a solid, refined feel with no loss in traditional truck capability.

Steering feel is also surprisingly good for a full-sized truck. Well-weighted, precise, and surprisingly quick. It’s even more impressive when you discover that this is an electric unit and not a hydraulic one.

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To motivate the Sierra 1500, my test vehicle was equipped with GM’s new 5.3L EcoTec3 direct-injection V8. This mill is good for 355 hp and 383 ft-lbs of torque. Not only is it pleasantly quiet but also has the ability to shut down half its cylinders to sip less fuel. In fact, GM claims that it offers the best fuel efficiency of any V8 pickup truck and even beats the fuel economy estimates of Ford’s EcoBoost V6 engine.

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While I found the V8 to be sufficiently powerful, especially considering the truck’s 5607 lb curb weight, two things bugged me. Firstly, the engine response feels lazy and the throttle response was a bit lacking when compared with the eager-to-rev i-Force V8 in the Toyota Tundra. Secondly, when the engine switches over from V8 to V4 mode, the change in engine noise was more noticeable than expected.

While there was never a lack of power on demand, there is a noticeable increase in coarseness when the engine is in 4-cylinders mode.

Several new active safety features also make their debut including Forward Collision Alert, which uses a forward-facing camera to notify the driver of an imminent collision, and Lane Departure Warning, which uses the same camera to track the truck’s position in relation to a road’s lane markers. Oddly though, the Sierra was not available with a blindspot warning system. Something that would’ve been  useful in such a long vehicle.

Paired with Forward Collision Alert and Land Departure Warning is GMC’s first-ever Driver Alert Seat, which generates vibrating pulse patterns on the left and/or right side of the lower seat cushion bolster to alert the driver of potential dangers, such as an un-signaled lane change or approaching another vehicle too quickly.

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My vehicle was also equipped with the MAX trailering package which included a handy integrated brake controller, enhanced cooling radiator, and a 3.73 tow friendly axle ratio.

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MORE ON THE ALL-TERRAIN PACKAGE

The available All-Terrain package is much more than just for appearances. To keep going even when the pavement ends, it adds the Z71 Off-Road Suspension with monotube Rancho Tenneco shocks, Hill Descent Control, a high-capacity air cleaner, underbody transfer case shield protection, an auto locking rear differential, and all-terrain tires and unique polished aluminum wheels.

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I had a chance to put the Sierra through some light off-roading when meeting a couple of friends who were camping and clay pigeon shooting up in Fury Creek, British Columbia.

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In order to access their location, I had drive up and down a few wide but moderately rocky paths. While this was certainly far from exceeding the Sierra’s capabilities, the 4WD low range mode, traction control, and Hill Descent Control all worked as advertised.

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Hill Descent Control worked particularly well in utilizing the ABS to keep the truck at a smooth and constant descent speed down the rocky paths. All I had to do was to keep both feet off the pedals and to concentrate on steering.

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WRAP-UP

GMC has been manufacturing trucks since 1902 and their experience in this category is unquestionable. With the importance of the pickup truck segment in Canada, the latest iteration of the Sierra will no doubt delight its GMC fans.

Between it and its bow-tie Chevy Silverado sibling, the Sierra strikes me as the more attractive of the two GM full-size trucks.

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As I mentioned in my review of the Toyota Tundra, pickup truck owners are one of the most loyal in the industry and will fiercely defend their choice of vehicles. The question is whether GM can win over these pundits from Ford, Dodge, and even Toyota.

If I have one other criticism of the Sierra, it is the very thing that will make it popular amongst its current customers. That it is too familiar of a shape, and perhaps a tad too evolutionary rather than revolutionary.

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With Ford’s all-aluminum 2015 F-150 about to hit the showroom floors in just a few weeks time, it will be interesting to see how the Sierra’s and Silverado’s sales numbers will be affected.

In the meantime, consider me a GMC Sierra fan and also my current top recommednation in the pickup truck category.

2014 Porsche 911 Turbo S Cabriolet: Vicious Elegance

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I may have grown up around one of the earliest 911s in existence, but the first time I got behind the wheel of a Porsche, any Porsche, was when I was 19. It was a sinister black 1985 911 Turbo that was less than a year old. This was the car that struck fear into the hearts of Buick Grand National owners. One of the first cars to touch the 4 second zero to sixty. It was black on black, with the requisite fat fenders and whale tail. Every bit as extravagant as the decade it was born into.

That black beast spent a weekend with a buddy and I, a debauched weekend filled with sex, drugs, booze and stop light battles. It was the first time that I had seen the high side of 160 MPH. A chance meeting with an equally sinister looking black Buick on an empty street in Hamilton on Sunday morning gave me the opportunity to see if Zuffenhausen’s weapon could slay the quickest America had to offer. The Porker did not let me down.

It was not until the drive home that I learned that the borrowed car was not exactly borrowed, rather it had been liberated for the weekend. I shudder to think how different my life would be if I had been pulled over at nearly triple the double nickle in the unlawfully obtained turbo. Needless to say, that machine solidified the Porsche brand’s mystique in my young brain.
[Read more...]

Review: 2014 Dodge Dart GT

2014 Dodge DartI was at the New York Auto Show when Dodge took the wraps off of its new Dart, the first car the world would see as a result of Fiat’s take over of struggling Chrysler. Dodge’s last compact, the forgettable Caliber did not impress anyone, and I think it is fair to say Dodge would like us all to forget about that car. The media swarm at the Dart’s reveal was massive. And the Dodge execs hammered the fact this car has Alfa Romeo DNA. The press swooned. Normally at a car show, a new car is revealed, everyone moves on to the next press conference. This is when I get my pictures of the car. But not the Dart. The media never left. All day long, hours after the reveal, photographers and TV crews from around the world swarmed around the new Dart.

Unfortunately, us car journalist’s views do not always coincide with the general public. Sadly, since its debut, the Dodge Dart has been a slow seller. For that, it would not be fair to blame the Dart entirely. I feel that Dodge’s indifference to compact cars over the past several years simply has most new car buyers not even consider the brand. And I think with the Dart, Dodge execs recognize that. The person who has in mind a Honda Civic or Toyota Corolla will not be swayed with the Dart. So, Dodge decided the Dart would not be a plain vanilla compact car.

Instead of a boring, appliance like device, the Dart is actually a very handsome car. Perfectly proportioned and dashing in design, the Dart is arguably one of the best looking compacts available today. There are plenty of styling cues from its big brother Charger that tie the Dart into the Dodge family, but it is not overdone. Our test car’s paint color, Header Orange, was over the top. Yes, you could literally see me coming a mile away. This is not your Grandma’s beige Corolla.

2014 Dodge Dart GTIf Dodge’s had a weak spot in the past, it was definitely in the interior. Thankfully, the Dart offers a tastefully done interior. For my family of three there was plenty of room, visibility was excellent, and the controls intuitive and easy to use. I especially liked the 8.4″ screen that controls navigation, audio, climate control and other functions. It is easily one of the best interfaces in the business. The quality of materials was above average for the price paid on the Dart. However, there is a downside. I wouldn’t call the Dart uncomfortable, but the ideal driving position seemed to elude me during my week with the car. As much fiddling I did, I nver felt like I was sitting in the car right.

As far as engines go, Dart buyers have three choices. Base Darts come with a 2.0L four rated at 160hp. The higher mileage Aero has a 1.4L turbo, also rated at 160hp. Our test car, the GT, features a 2.4L four rated at 184hp. All Darts come standard with a six-speed manual, and a six speed automatic is optional. The Aero model has a six-speed automated manual that has been criticized for slow, clunky shifts. Our Dart GT sounds aggressive at start up, and acceleration is frisky. However, EPA fuel economy ratings of 22/31 MPG City/Highway are pretty disappointing for a modern compact car. Handling and braking are excellent in our sport-tuned GT. The bottom line here is you crave great handling and an engine with attitude, and are willing to pay the price at the pump, the Dart GT may be for you.

You can get yourself into a Dart for $17,000 and change, but our test car was the GT, the sportiest iteration of the Dart. The base price on our car was $20,995USD. Standard equipment included Nappa leather seating, 8.4″ touch screen display, Bluetooth, dual zone auto climate control, heated seats, heated steering wheel, SiriusXM satellite radio, ambient LED interior lighting, power seats, fog lamps, 18″ alloys and dual exhaust tips. Our car’s options included the Technology Group (Rear park assist, blind spot and rear cross path detection, auto high beams, rain sensitive windshield wipers, ), and navigation. Including destination, our Dart GT rings in at a respectable $25,125.

2014 Dodge Dart GTIn the vast market of compact cars, the Dart is a unique option. Again, one gets the sense Dodge threw up their hands and decided no matter what they do, they will not sway any buyers of the Civic/Corolla crowd. So instead, we have a slightly edgier compact that is perfectly competent. But for the same money, you may have to give up a couple options, the VW GTI or Jetta GLI are far more satisfying rides. The Dart is a solid effort, and light years ahead of the Caliber. But with such lackluster fuel economy figures, a majoy factor in this class of car, I fear the Dart will continue to be a slow seller.

 

REVIEW: 2014 Maserati Grancabrio Sport

 

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This is the sharper, more focused version of the Grancabrio; equipped with more power, adaptive suspension, faster gear changes and added loudness.

The Sport is propelled by the same engine that resides beneath the elegantly long bonnet of the regular Grancabrio and Granturismo (the coupe) but has been tuned to serve up even more power.

The Ferrari-sourced 4.7 litre V8 transmits its 450 horses to the rear wheels through the standard car‘s ZF gearbox, which has also been ’breathed on‘ to reduce gear changes by half. All of this combines to permit a 0 to 62 time of 5.2 seconds.

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At the risk of being accused of overstatement, this car is almost improbably beautiful and simultaneously aggressive. It‘s all elegant lines and perfectly placed bulges, not to mention a pair of the nicest hips in the business sitting low on 20-inch graphite wheels. Stand back, gaze at it for a second and you‘ll realise that it‘s a striking machine from any angle.

I‘d tested the coupe version, the Granturismo Sport last year and couldn‘t get enough of it but this car had added appeal; as the name would suggest, it‘s a soft top. And it was red.

Selecting Sport mode does many things that are beyond my understanding. The entire car becomes even more taut and lively by remapping induction, ignition, damping but most importantly, it gets louder.

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Starting it from cold will give you a satisfying enough sound but as your hand inevitable strays to the Sport button, a relatively refined idle becomes a guttural growl, then a sharp bark when you dip the throttle. A cacophony of pops on the overrun will then widen your grin. All of this gets better when the Grancabrio is introduced to tarmac.

I got myself installed behind the ’wheel and into the supportive seats. The ride is refined and the cabin is surprisingly well insulated from road and wind but thankfully not the delights produced by induction and exhaust. It will cruise contentedly for as long as you want it to and you‘ll be perfectly comfortable.

However, you‘ll get the most out of this car on fast, clear A roads with the roof down. It was still a bit nippy so I had my seat heater on maximum.

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Gearing down from almost any speed will produce blinding acceleration and at the first set of good bends, you‘ll experience the tremendous grip at all four corners.

Point the car in and you‘ll be rewarded with accuracy, apply some good throttle on the exit and you‘ll feel a touch of movement from the back wheels.

An intuitive traction system ensures that even the most ignorant of drivers can convince themselves that they have talent. If there‘s even the slightest hint of body-roll, the Grancabrio Sport will not bother telling you about it.

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Run out of road and the huge discs and calipers will heave the big car down from the most impossible of speeds without any drama.

This is a superbly balanced car and Maserati has not achieved this by accident. A lot of attention has been given to things like mounting the gearbox at the rear, counter-balancing the mid-front positioned engine, lowering the suspension and stiffening the springs and dampers. All of this has been dialled into this sport-focused car but without the loss of any of its character or unquantifiable Italian flair.

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I was left with the feeling that this was not simply a GT convertible and not quite a supercar but a fine blend of both. The Sport is blisteringly quick, accurate and sounds fantastic if it‘s a tool for a couple of hours of fun but is also impeccably behaved and supremely comfortable on longer hauls.

This is a car that any manufacturer would be proud of but isn‘t – because they haven‘t built it. However, Maserati has and I always expected it to be this good.

REVIEW: 2014 BMW X5 xDrive50i M Sport

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They said no one would be interested. They said that SUV drivers loved the trucky ride and feel of their rough and tough vehicles. But what do they say now?

Behold, what we have here is genesis!

Over 1.3 million vehicles and two generations ago when BMW introduced the X5 in 1999, SUVs at the time were mostly based on pickup truck platforms. Built on traditional body-on-frame platforms, these vehicles were capable tow vehicles and superior off-road. However the drawbacks included rougher rides, high step-in heights, and truck-like handling.

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It isn’t often that an auto manufacturer gets to launch an entirely new vehicle segment. But with the X5, coined the world’s first Sport Activity Vehicle, BMW proved to its competitors (and customers) that there was and is indeed a market for a vehicle with all the pros of an SUV (added space, higher seating position, etc) but with the luxury, safety, security, ride and handling, and performance of their Ultimate Driving Machines.

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Fast forward to 2014 and every major auto manufacturer worth its salt has some sort of crossover vehicle in its model line-up. Even Lamborghini is working on one! As the old adage goes, if you can’t beat them, join them!

For this review, I tested the “bad boy” in the X5 line-up, the V8 powered X5 xDrive50i M Sport. Keep reading to find out why this is the closest thing you can get to a brand new X5 M…for now.

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EXTERIOR

This 3rd generation X5 still shares a lot of its design traits with its popular predecessors. BMW defines these as a long wheelbase, short front overhang, upright A-pillars, and a short distance between the front axle and the leading edge of the front door.

Look closely and you may even be able to spot the front bumper’s subtle X-shaped contour lines which are meant to identify the vehicle as a member of BMW’s X model family.

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As with every BMW, the 3D kidney grill is present, larger than ever before, and the hallmark four round headlamps have been elongated to meet the sides of said kidney grill (a la 3 and 4-series cars).

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All X5 models are equipped with standard adaptive Bi-Xenon headlights, but new to the game is the availability of BMW’s Adaptive LED headlights. In this latest iteration, the LED accent rings (aka angel eyes) have been flattened along the bottom edge and overlapped at the top.

LED front foglamps are also standard equipment on all X5 models.

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Add BMW’s optional High Beam Assistant (part of the $3,800 technology package) which automatically turns the high beams on and off, and you truly have the best lighting system money can buy on an SUV today.

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The LEDs resemble daylight more closely and cast a controlled flood of light that can even change pattern according to the speed of the vehicle and type of road it is being driven on (e.g. city or highway).

BMW’s Drag-reducing Air Curtains also make their debut on the X5. The engineers claim that these vertical apertures are designed to guide the incoming air around the wheel arches, creating a curtain of air over the wheels before making a controlled escape through the Air Breathers in the side of the front fenders.

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Out back, the X5 is mostly unchanged from its predecessor. The Range Rover-like two piece power tailgate is retained, and the thin 3D LED light strips in the classic BMW L-shaped rear lights create an even more striking night-time signature.

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My X5 xDrive50i test car was equipped with the $4,000 optional M Sport Line package, which, among other things, included a set of attractive 20” M Double-spoke alloy wheels mounted on massively wide tires (275/40 up front and 315/35 out back).

IMG_4980-2These are rear tires worthy of a Porsche 911 Turbo and they really help to accentuate the wide track and sporty stance of the X5. However aware that replacement tires will not come cheap.

IMG_4981-3The M Sport package also includes an M-aero body kit, Shadowline trim that replaces all of the chrome trim, as well as high-gloss roof rails.

If you’re looking to set your X5 apart from the more pedestrian looking ones in the mall parking lot, save your pennies and spring for this performance-orientated package full of goodies. It really helps to emphasise the “Sport” in Sport Activity Vehicle.

INTERIOR

This is where BMW has clearly invested some time and money. If you’re familiar with BMW’s latest interiors, you will feel right at home in these new digs.

IMG_5039-18A new multi-layered horizontal design has been applied to the X5’s dash and instrument panel. BMW says that the use of layered surfaces helps to reflect the spaciousness of the new cabin.

The result is a more interesting take on the usual business-like interior. The new 3D design and contrasting surfaces colours play off nicely against each other.

IMG_5063-34The configurable ambient lighting system adds a high class touch to the interior, not unlike that in a Rolls Royce (which is part of the BMW Group).

IMG_5048-24Also new to the X5 is a heads-up display system that can display your music selection, warning messages, speed, and navigation directions. It’s highly visible even in bright sunlight and highly recommended.

A central piece of this revised interior is the enlarged 10.23” freestanding iDrive screen. Controlled via the iDrive touchpad, this screen has impressive high resolution and contrast.

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Due to the upsized display, the live video feed from the 360 degree Surround View camera system is also proportional improved in clarity and usability.

As mentioned in my previous reviews, I truly believe that BMW has the best 360 camera system in the business.

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The M Sport Line package’s offerings continue inside with the addition of an anthracite headliner, an M-sport steering wheel with flappy paddles, and multi-contour sport seats.

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Speaking of the front seats, they’re nicely trimmed in BMW’s Dakota leather and are top notch – supportive, all-day comfy, and adjustable in enough ways that even the pickiest driver or passenger can find a suitable position.

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Second row passengers won’t be missing out either, particularly as my test vehicle’s Premium Package also included 4-zone climate control, heated rear seats, rear window sunshades, and a $1,950 optional rear seat entertainment system with dual 9.2” screens.

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This rear entertainment system includes a DVD changer and allows the rear passengers remote-control functions to the ConnectedDrive system.

TV, radio, DVD, and even navigation functions are accessible from the rear seat independent of the driver and the front iDrive display. Auxiliary connections are also available for MP3 players and game consoles.

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As nice as this system is put together, the option price is rather steep. I would personally skip it for a couple of iPad Airs instead and still come out ahead by a few hundred dollars.

If you’re an audiophile, one option that would be hard to pass up on would be the $4,900 optional Bang & Olufsen Sound System.

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Equipped with a new Dirac Dimensions signal processing system, the Bang & Olufsen High End Surround System includes 16 speakers and a whopping music output of 1,200 watts.

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The system’s party trick is an automatically extending (and lit) centre speaker on the dashboard carrier.

This speaker is a mid-range unit featuring Acoustic Lens Technology for consistent sound quality on all seats.

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You can choose between two sound settings: “Studio” for authentic sound and “Expanded” for surround sound.

The lighting scheme of individual speaker covers is also sure to illicit “oohs” and “ahhs” from your passengers.

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The X5′s versatility also gets cranked up a notch or two with the addition of a 40/20/40-split folding rear seat which allows the loading of long and slim objects like skis, but without sacrificing room for back seat occupants.

Optional third row seats are also available but judging from the available cargo area space, the seats are likely to be suitable for only small children.

So how does it drive?

The answer to the million-dollar question is a resounding “YES”.  The BMW X5 still does handle like the company’s famed sports sedans, which is the top reason to consider this crossover.

The xDrive50i’s V8 engine produces gobs of power and an angry snarl. It’s a truly intoxicating guttural noise that encourages you to rev it more. Unlike the Range Rover Supercharged I tested earlier this year, the X5′s racy V8 does entice you to push its limits. And anytime you need the muscle it’s there for the taking.

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The direct injection 4.4L TwinScroll Twin Turbo V8 engine generates 445 prancing German ponies and 479 ft-lbs of torque between 2000-4500 rpms. The relatively flat torque curve is the main reason why the grunt is there in abundance at all times.

0-100 km/hr whooshes by in a sports car like 5.1 seconds. Not bad for a vehicle tipping the scales at 5,150 lbs.

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BMW Canada rates the xDrive50i at 14.6L/100 kms in the city and 9.2L/100 kms on the highway. I managed 16.5L/100 kms in mostly city driving and admittedly with a heavier than normal right foot.

But let’s face it. Customers who opt for the high output V8 engine aren’t too worried about its fuel consumption. For those who are, the miserly xDrive35d turbo-diesel is rated at an impressive 8.7L/100 kms in the city and 6.3L/100 kms on the highway.

To help stretch out the distance in between fill-ups with the maximum 85L of fuel on board, BMW offers a few clever tech innovations. Firstly, the ECO PRO drive control mode retards downshifts and relaxes throttle response. On the highway it will even automatically shift the transmission into neutral when coasting, so as to lower the engine revs.

The system works extremely well and even reports the kilometres of range extended by using ECO PRO.

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Conversely, toggle the Dynamic Drive active chassis control’s switch over to Sport or Sport+ and the X5 livens up with noticeably sharper steering, faster and more aggressive gear changes, and a much more responsive throttle pedal.

To tie that all together is BMW’s Adaptive M Suspension, part of the M Sport Line package. Offering firmer settings and a self-leveling rear air suspension, the system is also linked to the Dynamic Drive control and helps the X5 make the claim of being the closest thing to driving a sports car one can get whilst still in an SUV (save for the Porsche Cayenne Turbo).

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On my usual test loop, the xDrive50i was seriously accomplished even when judged by car (and not just SUV) standards. The benefits of the 50/50 weight distribution are even more evident with this heavier vehicle, and the meaty tires offer huge amounts of grip especially when combined with BMW’s excellent xDrive all-wheel-drive system.

It feels surreal to be driving something with such a high up seating position but with quick and precise steering, little body roll, amazing power delivery, and an angry exhaust note to boot.

The 5,000+ curb weight does make itself apparent when “throwing” the X5 around tight off-camber ribbons of tarmac, but most drivers will never get anywhere close to its limits unless they’re doing something truly stupid.

WRAP-UP

As with all BMWs, be careful with the options sheet or the sticker price can escalate quickly. My X5 V8 tester’s price was a gulp-worthy $96,400 before taxes, freight and PDI.

This 3rd generation X5 is more of an evolution rather than a revolution. But as the saying goes, “if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it”.  And thus BMW has taken a calculated approach not to mess up a good thing.

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As its predecessors have done before, this latest X5 once again sets new standards for luxury, versatility and – because it is a BMW first and foremost – driving dynamics.

BMW has focused on the things that its customers care about the most. Improvements in quality, technology, space, driving dynamics, and the upgraded appearance of its cockpit top the list.

And as Martha Stewart says, “That’s a good thing”.

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Review: 2014 Scion xD

profileA decade ago Toyota realized they had an image problem on their hands. Despite being one of the largest car companies in the world, in contemporary North America Toyota is viewed as, well, a car for old people. I can’t disagree, as my 76 year old father in-law has owned his faithful Camry for years. Discontent with their image as a car company for older buyers, Toyota created the Scion division in an attempt to distance themselves from staid Toyota. Unlike Lexus, which Toyota sells through exclusive, high end dealers, Toyota and Scion cars sit side by side on the same dealer lot.

The Scion xD is no spring chicken, as it has been sold here in the US since 2008, and 2011 when Scion opened up shop in Canada. Since its introduction in 2008, the xD has received very little attention in terms of updates from Scion. For a brand that was created to appeal to today’s youthful car buyer, the xD’s exterior styling hardly projects that attitude. Yes, the xD is tastefully styled, but in terms of being hip, the car falls flat on its face. With cars like the MINI Cooper, Fiat 500, and even the Kia Rio looking far more interesting to look at, the xD’s toaster oven appearance does it no favors to draw appeal to the savvy young buyer Scion hopes to lure.

overviewThe interior of the xD is stark, and very utilitarian. The driver is faced with a three pod instrument cluster, but only the center one contains any useful information, with a speedo and tach incorporated in one. Acres of black plastic prevail throughout the interior. For a brand created to appeal to younger buyers, the xD offers nothing in terms of style. The driving position is extremely upright, and I was disappointed the steering wheel only tilts up and down, but cannot be moved forward and back. As expected, fit and finish is excellent, and the xD provides an airy cabin with exceptional visibility. The cupholders are a joke. Not even driving the car hard I would take a corner and my water bottle was sent hurling into the passenger side footwell, so you can forget about tooling around town with a latte without it spilling out.  Trunk space is on the small side, and cannot even come close to the Honda Fit. Scion’s only nod to their target buyer is a nice sound system. But with such dark colors, bolt upright seating position and ho hum styling, the xD hardly seems appealing to the young hipsters it wants to attract.

The xD comes in one flavor only, with a 1.8L four cylinder engine rated at 128hp. Buyers have a choice of a 5-speed manual or a 4-speed automatic. Our test car had the ancient four speed automatic. Acceleration was good, with a 0-60mph time of 8.3 seconds, with a top speed of 120mph. Driving the xD was smooth, and despite the antiquated four speed slush box, was unobtrusive. The ride was comfortable overall. However, buyers in this class want and expect superb fuel economy, and here, the xD falters. With an EPA rating of 27/33 MPG city/highway, the xD is far behind its peers.

rear_3_4The Scion xD comes in one trim model only. Buyers have the option of adding their own personal touches from dealer installed options. Our automatic xD started with a base price of $16,720USD. Standard equipment included LED turn signals, rear spoiler, chrome exhaust tip, 6.1″ touch screen Pioneer with six speakers, iPod connectivity and Bluetooth. Options on our test car included a rear bumper applique, center armrest, BeSpoke premium audio, and 16″ alloy wheels. Including destination charges, our xD rings in at $19,876.

Looking at the sales numbers of the xD, the car is a dud. And living with the car for a week, I was not sad to see it go. If Toyota is so concerned about its image as an older persons brand to the extent they create a sub-brand like Scion, for Pete’s sake build a youthful car with a statement. With forgettable styling, a depressing interior and non-competitive fuel economy ratings, it’s hardly a surprise the xD is not selling. For a car company that once gave us the MR-2, Celica, and Supra, we know you can surely do better than this.

Review: BMW 435i xDrive M Sport 6 speed manual

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What is in a name? Apparently a whole lot as Audi and BMW have taught us.

When Audi launched their two door coupe based on the A4 sedan’s underpinnings, they named it the A5 and charged more money for it. Mind you the A5 did look (and still looks) stunning and was significant different enough than the A4 to warrant its price premium.

And so BMW has taken a page out of its rival’s book and re-launched its new 3-series coupe as the 4-series (internally code named the F32).

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In BMW-speak, usually the higher the model number, the higher the amount the customers are willing to pay and the greater the bragging rights. After 5 generations spanning across 38 years, the 3-series coupe is no more.

What this also does is bring the naming scheme in-line with the rest of BMW’s models. Even numbers for the coupes (2, 4, 6, 8-series), and odd numbers for the sedans (3, 5, 7-series).

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But the changes between the 3 and 4-series are more than name badge deep. Indeed they’re more than skin-deep too.

EXTERIOR

My tester was a Black Sapphire Metallic 435i xDrive coupe. In Canada, all 435s come with the M Sport Line package as standard equipment. This includes 19” M sport alloy wheels, the M Aero package with unique front and rear bumpers, high-gloss shadowline trim (replacing all the chrome with gloss black trim), and M badging on the front fenders.

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The end result is a real stunner of a car. Wanting to cast a unique shadow and differentiate the coupe from the sedan in the line-up, BMW lengthened the wheelbase, widened the hips and chopped the top to give the 4-series coupe its own sense of identity.

The 4-series not only sits lower than the 3-series sedan but is also 81mm wider. In case you’re wondering, with its stretched and lowered silhouette, yes it is visibly larger in width and wheelbase than the outgoing 3-series coupe.

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This, together with the BMW-typical short overhangs, long hood and set-back passenger compartment, gives the 4-series a good visual balance. Muscular wheel arches and the wide track give an aggressive stance, with its prominent horizontal lines accentuating the side profile of the body.

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The car’s striking front end with its characteristic BMW design features, such as the double-kidney grille, four round headlights and a large air intake in the lower front bumper, still reminds us about its family ties with the 3-series. This is certainly good company to associate with.

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My 435i tester came with BMW’s Active LED headlamps as part of the $4,900 Premium package. This is a feature that is currently unavailable on the 3-series. They worked as well as advertised although I found that the Acura RLX’s multi-projector LED headlamps casted a wider beam than BMW’s reflector-based system.

As with all new BMWs, the new fender mounted “Air Breathers” are present on the 4-series. BMW claims that they are positioned just slightly rearwards of the front wheel arches to reduce drag.

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INTERIOR

Anyone familiar with BMW’s latest 3-series will be right at home in the 4-series. Aside for the seatbelt presenters, a brilliant idea borrowed from Mercedes-Benz coupes, the 4-series’ interior is a copy and paste job from its sedan sibling.

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This means that buyers will find an interior that is well laid out and relatively logical.  It’s high quality, understated, and business-like, especially when trimmed in black plastic/leather/vinyl. It’s certainly an interior that befits the 4-series’ demeanor as a gentleman’s coupe.

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Personally, I found the black on black a tad boring and would’ve opted for the Coral Red Dakota leather instead.

BMW fans will be extra enamored with the M sport package as it also includes a different steering wheel design (aptly named the “Heritage” wheel) which recalls the old steering wheel designs from 3-series coupes of yesteryear.

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This being my 4th BMW press car now, I found the iDrive system easy-to-use and logical once you get hang of the various icons. Fortunately, BMW includes tool tip bubbles that pop-up to remind you what the various icons represent.

My car was equipped with the optional 600 watt harmon kardon Logic 7 surround sound system; something that I’ve been longing to test with my own ears.

In short, get it if you’re an audiophile. It’s worth it. Switching between a hk-equipped vehicle versus one without is like switching between high-def TV and normal definition TV. Once you have it you won’t want to go back.

To my delight, my car also was equipped with BMW’s 6-speed manual gearbox. With its sumptuous soft top grain leather, the gearshift knob not only felt expensive but the shaft was also positioned at just the right height.

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Slip into the front seats and you’ll find that they’re 9mm lower than in the 3-series. And in fact, the 4-series gets the crown for having the lowest centre of gravity in the current BMW vehicle lineup.

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I found the 8-way adjustable sports seats with lumbar support more comfortable than the regular seats in the 320i and 328d that I had previously driven.

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The rear seats are acceptable for average-sized adults and are actually pretty decent for a coupe. A small tray in the middle of the rear seats means that rear seating is strictly for two only.

Fold down the backseats and you’ll find that the 4-series has surprisingly good cargo capacity. The opening in the bulkhead separating the cabin from the trunk is even large enough to accommodate a flatscreen TV’s box.

SO HOW DOES IT DRIVE?

I’ll be honest. If you’re looking for a BMW coupe that has the edginess of previous BMWs, you might be a bit disappointed. Look to BMW’s upcoming M4 or the M235i perhaps if you’re looking for something more raw.

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Earlier, I used the words “gentleman’s coupe” to describe the 435i and I meant that as a compliment. Despite the ultra efficient electric power steering sapping away much of the road feel, handling is precise, capable, and responsive without being jarring.

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The body is relatively flat even in hard cornering and xDrive proactively sorts out the traction at each corner to ensure that the vehicle holds to its intended line as much as possible.

Despite being on run-flat winter tires and 18” wheels, the 435i impressed me with how it gobbled up the undulating pavement on Highway 1 while still staying settled and secure.

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The 3.0L 300hp twin turbo inline-6 cylinder engine is creamy smooth regardless of what gear you’re in. Thanks to a combination of clever throttle pedal logic and engine management, there is virtually no turbo lag and every nudge of the throttle greets you with forward thrust that is sure to add a smile to your face.

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This is one coupe that you can drive from Vancouver to PEI and back without so much as breaking a sweat.

BMW Canada rates the 435i xDrive’s fuel consumption as 10.5L/100 kms in the city, and 7L/100 kms on the highway. Using a mix of EcoPro, Normal, and Sport mode and mostly city driving, I averaged 11.4L/100 kms. Much better than expected.

Despite not having the M performance exhaust, if you listen really carefully (with the windows down), you can hear the exhaust pop and crackle upon throttle lift in 1st and 2nd gear. I can only imagine how much more intoxicating the exhaust note would sound with the aforementioned dealer-installed system.

As for the 6-speed manual, it is easy to row and the gear ratios seem perfect. Throws are short and the clutch engagement point was shockingly easy to judge. I was expecting a heavy German clutch pedal but what I received was a manual transmission that was easier to get used to than that in a 2014 Toyota Corolla S!

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Thanks to the 3.0L I-6 engine’s wide torque band (300 ft-lbs from 1300-5000 rpms), the car has plenty of get up and go even if you’re in too low of a gear.

Amusingly, BMW has also found a way to transform the 4-series’ start-stop system as a driver aid. If you happen to stall the car, the start-stop system will immediately restart the engine again (provided the clutch pedal is depressed). The system works so imperceptibly that I had to purposely stall the car to confirm that it actually performed I suspected!

WRAP-UP

BMW promised something special when it came time to replace their popular 3-series coupe and they didn’t disappoint. The 435i xDrive M Sport was an exceedingly easy car for me to like.

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It looks head-turning great, has tremendous acceleration, handles well but yet is comfortable enough to drive on a day-to-day basis.

With the safety and security of BMW’s latest xDrive all-wheel-drive system and well-calibrated stability and traction control systems, gone are the days where owners had to store their BMW coupes in their garages till the groundhog said so.

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This is truly a coupe that you can drive all year round in Canada without difficulty and surely one that will appeal equally to driving enthusiasts, BMW fans, or those simply in the market for a sport luxury coupe.

Whether you choose the 6 speed manual (as tested) or the excellent 8-speed automatic gearbox, the 435i is a car that shines beyond its nomenclature and bragging rights.

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Personally, I can’t wait to see what the M4 brings to the table as it certainly has big shoes to fill. In the meantime, the 435i will do. It will do just fine!

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Review: 2014 Chevrolet Silverado

2014 Chevrolet Silverado High CountryStereotyping. It’s an ugly habit of us humans, and as much as we show disdain when we see others engaging in this behavior, we’re all guilty of the same. A couple of weeks ago my family was sitting outside a four star restaurant in Florida waiting for our table. We got up for a minute to take a selfie of the three of us, my wife’s purse and bag still on the bench we had just gotten up from. In an instant, an impeccably dressed family of four descends upon our bench, with our belongings on it. I hear them talking to each other. They were French. My reaction? I thought to myself “Typical French arrogant bastards. They think they are so much better than us.”

That was not very nice of me. I personally do not know any French people. I just buy into the stereotype. To flip that around, I often hear ‘Oh, typical American’, which usually means lazy and stupid, or a myriad of things. It’s never meant as a compliment. And if you judge Americans by what cars we buy, well, the numbers tell a story. Of the top ten best selling vehicles in America in 2013, three of them were full-size pick-up trucks. So, yes, we are as a nation, collectively in love with the pick-up truck.

It’s almost strange that in the five years I have been reviewing cars for The Garage, this is only the second pick up truck I have ever had. The trunk in question is the all-new 2014 Chevy Silverado. The competition is cut-throat for full-size trucks, and with its F-150, Ford has owned the sales crown for years, with Chevy’s Silverado coming in at second place. The highlights for the new Silverado are a lighter curb weight, new base V-6 engine, and an improved interior. The aesthetics of the Silverado definitely look up to date, but this is first and foremost a vehicle designed with utility in mind.
[Read more...]

Review: 2014 Kia Cadenza

6118_1_2It’s a well known fact that Hyundai owns Kia, and most of the cars you see in one marque has a corporate cousin to match. But for those paying attention, it seems as if Hyundai has been having all the fun lately with performance cars and no-holds barred luxury cars. Like Hyundai, Kia has made massive strides in recent years. It’s no longer about a long standard equipment list, low price and long warranty. And as Hyundai has made the dive into more prestigious markets, contemporary Kia’s have evolved into their own style, one with a heavy European accent. That’s no accident, as the man who signs off on Kia designs used to head the design studio at none other than Audi. And while Hyundai’s design direction seems to favor swooping, organic shapes, Kia’s look of late is as crisp and well tailored as an Armani suit. With well priced, competitive cars, it seemed maddening that with this design philosophy the flagship Kia was the mid-size Optima.

Kia deserved better, and in 2014 it received it in the form of the new Cadenza. Based on the Hyundai Azera, the Cadenza has been on sale in South Korea a few years now, but it is new to us in the US and Canada. Kia’s last attempt at going for a larger, premium car was the ungainly Amanti, which featured a garish chromed egg-crate grill. This time around, the Cadenza features a grill shape that is becoming the familiar face of current Kia cars. It is simple, tasteful, and not over the top, but most importantly, it is giving Kia a recognizable face, something the brand has never had before. And when the chief designer’s last job was creating premium German luxury cars, it hardly comes as a shock that the Cadenza is simply dripping with class. Our test car was finished in Smoky Blue, as seen above, and shod with stunning 19″ alloys. This is a car that feels at home in the most posh of settings, and makes no excuses for itself. If you want to scoff at the Kia badge, well, that’s your problem.

6160_1_2So we’ve established that Kia is certainly capable of designing what looks like a premium car, but what about the cabin? That’s what really counts, right? Thankfully, Kia got it right. The interior is handsome, for sure, but not as memorable or distinctive as the exterior. In other words, you can squint your eyes and think you could be sitting in any premium car. The Cadenza offers an airy, roomy passenger compartment. The seats are comfortable, but the lack of any meaningful side bolsters reminds the emphasis is on luxury, not sport. Gauges are crystal clear, and I’ve always found Kia’s touch-screen infotainment center easy and intuitive. Even so, I did appreciate having actual buttons on the center stack to touch. The quality of materials seemed on par this price point, and I appreciated thoughtful details like the analog clock. Bottom line, the Cadenza’s interior is top-notch, and a place where you could easily clock a few hundred miles in a day and come out feeling fine.

Although in foreign markets buyers have a few choices when it comes to what goes under the hood, here in North America our only choice is the top spec engine. The front-wheel drive Cadenza is offered with a 3.3L direct injected V-6 rated at 293hp, and is paired to a six-speed automatic. Kia does not release performance figures, but most third party car guys are getting 0-60mph times of six and a half seconds or so. In other words, the Kia can scoot. I am told that the gearing in the Cadenza was altered slightly from the Hyundai Azera for better off the line performance . I’ve driven both cars, and I honestly can’t say I noticed a difference. The Cadenza offers a ‘just right’ amount of power to move you along with authority, and a ride tuned more to comfort than sport, but this is no floaty barge by any means. The Kia does not purport to be a sport sedan, so take taking it for what it is-a premium, front wheel drive luxury car, it certainly meets or exceeds a driver’s expectations.

True to Kia tradition, the Cadenza boasts a long list of standard features. Goodies such as dual zone auto climate control, Infinity surround sound audio, navigation, rear camera display, SiriusXM satellite radio, Bluetooth, leather seats, power heated front seats, front and rear LED lighting, and back up warning sensors are standard fare on the Cadenza, which has a base price of $35,100. Our test car added the Technology Package (Advanced Smart Cruise Control, Blind Spot Detection, Lane Departure Warning, Hydrophobic front windows and 19″ alloys), and the Luxury Package (Panoramic sunroof, HID headlights, Nappa leather, ventilated driver’s seat, heated rear seat, heated steering wheel and power rear sunshade). Or, to put it more simply, our Cadenza was loaded. One interesting nuance with our Cadenza was when you opt for both the Technology and Luxury option packages, at no extra charge you can get the ‘White Interior Package’ as seen above. What you get is white Nappa leather and a suede headliner-very nice touches, indeed, and it added a special air the Cadenza’s interior. Thankfully, I had the Cadenza when it was cold outside, so I did not have to worry my eight year old son would drag in 10 pounds of dirt, mud and sand from summer camp on the Kia’s pristine white hides. If you’re a family man, and really need an excuse to spend some time in the garage treating the white leather on a daily basis, you might want to reconsider that option. Including destination charges, our Kia Cadenza rings up at a still reasonable $41,900.

5917_1_2So, for Kia’s first effort at going upscale, the result is impressive. Granted, it helps that Hyundai already tested those waters and did just fine. The Cadenza is the fulfillment of where Kia design has been pushing towards-upscale, European influenced design. With this car, Kia now has the goods to compliment the look, and the result is genius. And Kia is not stopping there. Here at The Garage, we look forward to reviewing the larger, more powerful Kia K900. Stay tuned!