Accel-ence

Luxury meets power in rides from Cadillac, Lexus and Acura

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Cadillac CTS

CASEY WILLIAMS  | Auto Reviewer
autocasey@aol.com

Some gearheads revel in speed and torque. Some revel in styling and design. But you don’t have to choose between power and luxury if you choose one of these amazing cars — all achievable in the mid-five-figures (though you can up the ante as your own tastes dictate.)

Cadillac CTS
Open the door and step inside. Let the wealth of leather waft up your nostrils, beckoning your bum to have a seat. You should probably press the starter button and go for a drive, too. Since you’re already there.

Screen Shot 2016-06-30 at 1.34.11 PMIf people buy Cadillacs because they like a car on the sumptuous, glitzy side, they’ll slip right into the CTS. Layers of cut-and-sew leather top the dash and doors, intoxicating occupants with their fragrance. Magnesium paddle shifters gleam as ambient light seeps from crevices at night and from the twin pane sunroof during daytime. Large expanses of carbon fiber and subtle chrome add sporting elegance.

Once inside, occupants will relax with heated/ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, heated steering wheel and tri-zone automatic climate control. A power rear sunshade and manual side shades repel bright rays. Bose audio will please discriminating ears.

So will technology that will make retired space shuttle pilots long for lost orbits. Cadillac’s CUE infotainment system is accessed via touchscreen that scrolls like an iPad, can be controlled by voice and connects with USBs and Bluetooth calling/streaming audio. It clearly does not like my obsolete iPhone, but navigation and Apple CarPlay worked flawlessly for others in my posse. Drivers get a reconfigurable instrument cluster, head-up display, rain-sensing wipers and power tilt/telescoping steering column.

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Caddy’s new sumptuous interior cradles you in comfort, but small-jet pilots will appreciate the all-wheel-drive and ample horsepower. (Photos courtesy CM)

Step outside. From the eggcrate grille flanked by projector beams and LED light blades to sharply creased bodysides, formal rear roof, and vertical taillamps, it’s clearly a Cadillac. You know the car is big when 18-in. wheels look like quarters. Designers could push it further, but the CTS displays a strong affinity for Cadillac’s heritage.

If shuttle pilots want to feel rocket thrust, they should order a CTS-V with 650 horsepower V8, but this CTS suits private jet pilots. Understand: It’s not slow with a 3.6-liter V6 that delivers 335 horsepower through an 8-speed automatic transmission. All-wheel-drive ensures it goes to good use. Step easy and leave the annoying auto stop/start tech on to see 19/28-MPG city/hwy.

Underway, the CTS’ chassis is among the best. That’s because it was developed on Germany’s famed Nurburgring, fraught with complex crests and turns, that worked over the Brembo brakes and helped tune the suspension. Magnetic Ride Control, also used on Corvette, reads the road 1,000 times per second to stiffen and loosen the shocks for a near-magical erasure of rough pavement that would unsettle otherwise amazing cars. It feels natural, in tour or sport mode, with precision that’s more Jaguar than German.

Hauling fin at any speed, it’s nice to know there’s an armada of safety gear aboard. That big Cadillac crest in the grille hides the radar unit for adaptive cruise control and forward collision alert with auto stop. Always consult the rearview camera and surround view monitor in tight quarters, but rear cross path detection could save your bumper. Blind spot warning and lane keep assist also do their part. Need help parallel or perpendicular parking? The car can find a spot and do it semi-autonomously.

Cadillac’s greatest challenge may be getting drivers to step inside showrooms. Sure, the CTS’ back seat is a little tight, the interior is loaded with glitzy gadgets, and your cool gramps will like the styling. But, I’d put it against the Mercedes E-Class, BMW 5-Series or Audi A6 any day. It’s as enjoyable to drive as it is to smell and caress, leaving you with a big leather hug.
The CTS starts at $45,560, but came to $66,425 as tested.

Lexus RX350 F Sport

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Lexus knows its audiences, and while the cars have not been the most exciting in the past, that’s about to change. And it’s getting the message out. A round of new television spots includes one targeting LGBT drivers called “Ahead of the Curve” in which a stylish male couple in a modern house have a quick embrace between morning exercise and leaving for work. The RX350’s dynamic styling and performance are highlighted. If this doesn’t sound like Lexus, you need to drive the RX350 F Sport.

Screen Shot 2016-06-30 at 1.34.25 PMGaze into the front and you’re confronted with a giant black mesh version of Lexus’ trademark spindle grille flanked by angry LED headlamps and running lights. At first, I didn’t care for the grille, but it has grown on me and looks good on everything from cars to crossovers. Move around to the side and you see a connection to the smaller NX200t crossover in its origami body creases, but they complement the steeply raked backlight, 20-in. alloys and floating rear roof design. It’s more dynamic and sportier while maintaining its connection to previous RXs.

Just the thickly-bolstered red leather seats and thick leather-wrapped steering wheel are enough reasons to go F Sport. They’re paired with a restyled interior that gets, in F Sport trim, curved striated aluminum on the console and doors — classy and modern merged. Being a Lexus, the interior is well-made with precision stitching on the dashboard, subtle use of satin silver trim and thickly-padded armrests. Rear passengers stretch their legs out. The cargo hold, with split/fold rear seats deployed, can swallow a bicycle, stroller or luggage for four.

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Lexus has amped up the excitement level with this dynamic and sporty creation, which also modernizes the interiors. (Photos courtesy Lexus)

The technology suite centers on a joystick-controlled 12.3-in. high-definition screen in the center dash. Use it to access navigation, radio, climate control and iThings connected via Bluetooth or USBs. Bring your best music because the 15-speaker Mark Levinson Premium Surround Sound system is divine. Another knob adjusts the chassis and throttle for Eco, Normal and Sport for a range of fuel economy and performance personalities.

Drivers sit behind an 8-in. LCD instrument cluster and command safety technology including radar-based adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist with steering correction, and forward collision alert with pedestrian detection and auto stop.

But it’s the going that’s fun. The RX is available as a hybrid, but we went for the 3.5-liter V6 that sends 295 horsepower and 267 lb.-ft. of torque to the all-wheel-drive system through an 8-speed paddle-shifted automatic transmission. The exhaust is tuned so you hear more engine noise as you tromp the throttle (in a Lexus!). Still, nearly 300 ponies are enough to kick the RX350 smartly down the road while returning 19/26-MPG city/hwy.

It’s not all perfection. To be truly competitive, the engine needs about another 50 horsepower. And, 26-MPG is at least 5-MPG below what should be expected in a mid-size crossover today. I happen to like the joystick infotainment control, but they’re a little distracting. Plant those big wheels over rough pavement and you’ll feel every bump — but quietly, cuz it’s still a Lexus.

In the past, it was rare for a Lexus to make me tingle. But, every Lexus I’ve driven lately has melted my resistance. Combine exciting styling and performance with Lexus’ reputation for quality and service. That’s a crossover — a crossover like the RX350 F Sport — that my husband and I could really embrace.

A base price of $41,900, and $56,935 as tested, puts the RX350 against the Audi Q5, Lincoln MKX, Mercedes-Benz GLC, Acura RDX and Infiniti QX70.

Acura RLX Sport Hybrid

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Recalling a little history, Honda’s Acura division was the first Japanese luxury automaker to roll tires upon American soil in 1986. The brand’s flagship Legend sedan enticed buyers of European and American luxury brands to embrace Honda’s renowned quality and reliability in a more posh package. After the onslaught of Lexus and Infiniti, and a switch to alphabet soup RL/RLX nomenclature, sales tumbled. Still, one drive in the Acura RLX Sport Hybrid convinces me the car has the moves to be a real contender.

Screen Shot 2016-06-30 at 1.34.35 PMIt may appear as a glorified Accord, but the RLX is much more than that. It’s larger, and significantly so, dominating driveways with a long arching body highlighted by Acura’s satin chrome grille, Jewel Eye LED headlamps, strongly-formed front fenders, and a rounded rump with LED taillamps. It plants the road with 19-in. alloys, a dominating presence wherever it rolls, but maintains a simplicity appreciated by Acura owners.

That’s also true of the comfortable interior. Five passengers stretch out in leather — heated/ ventilated upfront and heated in the rear. Drivers tap a heated steering wheel, heads-up display, electronic push-button gear selector. The Krell audio system with 14 speakers sounds good when cranked, but lacks the definition of other high-end systems at lower volumes. Rear sunshades and power sunroof filter light.

For some reason, I didn’t level expletives at the RLX’s infotainment system quite as much this time. Don’t get me wrong: I still think the two-screen arrangement is decrepit, but I’ve learned to connect smart-tech through Bluetooth/USBs, scroll through satellite radio stations as if an Intel 286 is in the dashboard, and plot navigation when it’s not updating for 10 minutes. It’s complete nonsense, but Honda’s latest systems are dramatically improved, so there’s hope.

Until then, stay safe with comprehensive safety systems like Adaptive Cruise Control, Lane Keeping Assist, Collision Mitigation Braking and blind spot detection. Around-view cameras and front seatbelt E-Pretensioners, that anticipate crashes and cinch preemptively, go further.

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Power meets fuel efficiency in the RLX hybrid, a sporty but reliably posh spin on Acura’s legendary quality. (Photos courtesy Acura)

While competitors dance it out with potent V8 engines, Acura sticks with a V6 — albeit one “supercharged” with a hybrid system. The powertrain combines a 3.5-liter direct-injected V6 with a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission and 1.3-kWh lithium-ion battery pack for 377 horsepower. The gas engine drives the front wheels while twin electric motors turn the rear. Fuel economy rates 28/32-MPG city/hwy.

Acura’s flagship sedan would benefit from a sophisticated electronic suspension like Mercedes’ air system or GM’s Magnetic Ride Control. Real time damping would transform the ride quality from thump-a-bump to hushed silk without heaving in turns. The right bones are in place, but fall shy for a true luxury flagship.

The RLX is a fine luxury car that needs an identity and a little polish. Sales could only go up with LEGEND chromed across the decklid. Trash the two-screen infotainment system, add electronic chassis control, and Acura’s finest would give grief to the Hyundai Genesis, Buick LaCrosse, Lexus GS Hybrid and Cadillac XTS.

Prices start at $54,450, but came to $66,890 in loaded Sport Hybrid trim.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 1, 2016.

 

—  Dallasvoice

Defiantly Fiat

Fiat’s gas-sipping crossover proves unexpectedly exhilarating

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Fiat’s 500X is Italian-made, but blends with the playful strength of a German roadster, with a comfortable interior … all for under $25k.

CASEY WILLIAMS  | Auto Reviewer
autocasey@aol.com

One of my favorite car commercials is the recent one where a Viagra pill drops in the gas tank of a little Fiat 500, and a few moments later, it’s extended its length and girth to become the 500X four-door crossover. You can almost sense the testosterone pulsing through its buff body, ready to take four and their gear to any climax — or through any climate.

Designers at Fiat’s Centro Stile in Turin, Italy, were left with the task to reshape the iconic micro 500 into a compact crossover fit for global markets — especially crossover-crazy America. They took the 500’s hallmark double headlamps, trapezoidal nose, rounded clamshell hood and “whiskers and logo” face in a more mature direction. It’s still end-to-end Italian. Yet to serve all purses and purposes, buyers can choose between five trim levels: Pop, Easy, Lounge, Trekking and Trekking Plus. The last two trade elegant monochrome for more of an off-road look with gray plastic ground affects and 18-in. alloys.

FT016_042FHInterior styling is handsome, reaching far above the 500X’s price point. Striated aluminum look on the console and doorhandles, upper and lower gloveboxes, and painted dash panels are chic. Dashtops and doors are thoroughly padded. Some trim packages come with contrasting color leather, but Trekking editions sport black seats with canvas inserts.

Audio and navigation are managed through a simple touchscreen in the dash with proper tuning and volume knobs. Drivers enjoy straight-forward analog gauges and thick flat-bottom leather-wrapped steering wheel. Our car had a rearview camera, but went without the available active crash avoidance systems. Still, Bluetooth and USBs stood by to connect smartphones and audio players.

A little blue pill can definitely get your motor running. And, the 500X has two motors running. Base models come with a 160 horsepower 1.4-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine paired with a 6-speed manual transmission. Fine, but our Trekking edition came with the available 2.4-liter four-cylinder that delivers 180 horsepower and 175 lb.-ft. of torque – routed through a 9-speed automatic transmission. The three-mode all-wheel-drive system, adjustable for Auto, Sport, and Traction+, features a disconnecting rear axle to reduce parasitic loss when not needed. That enables fuel economy ratings of 21/30-MPG city/hwy.

Beyond the powertrain, Italian spirit comes through in the crossover’s driving character. Plant your foot and the engine scoots down the road. Steering is heavy, but expeditiously directs commands to the athletic chassis. To me, it feels almost German in its combination of playfulness and a feeling that a pizza truck wouldn’t move it off course. Even on rough pavement, the suspension soaked it up and I suspect it would make a reasonable impression of an SUV during light off-roading.

Screen shot 2016-05-12 at 2.06.40 PMI’m not sure the 500X is quite as invigorating as what happens after one takes Viagra, but the little crossover is more exhilarating than I expected. The interior is beautifully appointed, elegantly styled, and easy to use. There’s plenty of power and the chassis behaves exactly as you’d expect from an Italian crossover. Unlike the hideous 500L, the 500X has game. Take a pill, rise up and hit the road. The rest will be a wild ride.

Unlike the tiny 500 that’s built in Mexico for the U.S. market, the 500X is assembled in Melfi, Italy alongside its brother, the Jeep Renegade. A base price of $20,000, and $25,405 as tested, puts the 500X against the Honda HR-V, Chevy Trax, Mini Countryman, Hyundai Tucson and Nissan Juke.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 13, 2016.

—  Dallasvoice

My, oh, Miata

Mazda’s signature car of the ’90s is back, redesigned and better than ever

2016-MX-5-(18)

CASEY WILLIAMS  | Auto Reviewer
autocasey@aol.com

When the Mazda MX-5 Miata debuted at the 1989 Chicago Auto Show, it was a sensation. Here was a lightweight two-seat, rear-drive roadster inspired by classic British and Italian sports cars, but built to exacting Japanese standards. There was something pure and elemental about the driving experience that it became the heart and soul of Mazda.

Four generations on, the little car from Hiroshima returns to its roots while finally expressing itself.

Screen shot 2016-04-21 at 10.57.07 AMStyling advances from cute to dynamic, starting with eagle eye headlamps flowing back into flared fenders, canvas roof, and round LED taillamps. Our Club model — designed to start owners down the path of track days — adds 17-in. black BBS alloy wheels, black front air dam, ground affects and lip spoiler. An aluminum hood and trunk lid keep it light. It’s every inch a Miata, but looks a little angrier — no longer the playground pushover.

Designers conjured an interior that retains the car’s historic simplicity while adding luxuries. There’s no need for a power top — just flip the handle and throw it over your head. Light shines on a simple horizontal dash with round air vents, piano black trim and stitched lower covering. The view ahead is dominated by a leather-wrapped steering wheel and instrument cluster with large center tachometer flanked by an analog speedometer.

You’ll wish your elbows had fingers when you reach for the cupholders, but there’s a roomy cubby between the seats. And, the 9-speaker Bose audio system insures your favorite tunes shine top up or down. Infotainment, including navigation, is controlled with Mazda’s console joywheel that works in conjunction with a dash-mounted screen. Bluetooth calling and audio streaming are included — as are power windows, keyless entry and push button starting. Miata advances.

MX5Club_2016_037Striking the balance between performance and efficiency is a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine delivering 155 horsepower, 148 lb-ft. of torque, and 27/34-MPG city/hwy. It’s best revved through a snick-snick 6-speed manual transmission. If you can find a better shifter, buy it. You have to rev the engine like a turbine to get power out of it, but when you do, the car scats. A limited slip rear differential puts it to pavement evenly.

The track-leaning Club’s sport-tuned suspension, fortified with Bilstein shock absorbers, is on the stiff side for daily use. It’s not brutal, but drive the car over broken pavement and you’ll wish for a touring-tuned chassis. On Interstate pavement or an asphalt two-lane, nirvana. Under hood shock tower braces stiffen the body for performance and to reduce cowl shake. True to Miata tradition, steering is quick and light.

Over the past two and a half decades, Mazda could have corrupted the Miata in any number of ways. It didn’t. The MX-5 remains a lightweight, elegantly styled, reasonably comfortable, notoriously reliable roadster that lets drivers indulge in the passion of driving. In the ultimate student-becomes-the-master, this slayer of European convertibles hosts the new Fiat 124 roadster (built by Mazda).

A base price of $24,915 ($8k more as tested) puts it against cars as varied as the Nissan 370Z, BMW Z4, Mercedes-Benz SLC, Scion FR-S, Subaru BRZ and Smart ForTwo Cabrio.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 22, 2016.

—  Dallasvoice

Auto-indulgence

Range Rover offers unheard-of luxury, with extras that will gobsmack you

Range Rover offers unheard-of luxury, with extras that will gobsmack you

CASEY WILLIAMS  | Auto Reviewer
autocasey@aol.com

You were probably, just this morning, standing in the driveway trying to decide if you’ll buy a Bentley Continental GT or a Cadillac Escalade. I feel you. Should you get that exquisitely-crafted and satisfyingly fast coupe or the all-road, all-capable, supremely comfortable SUV? Well, I’m here to solve your dilemma. Throttle the Range Rover Sport SVR.

Screen shot 2016-03-10 at 11.51.28 AMHow Land Rover turned its image for building hard-core luxury trucks (renowned for their off-road capability and favorites of British royalty) into high-performance street cars modified by its in-house tuner is astonishing. But it works, and hail the product planners who had the vision. It turns out the 45-year-old Range Rover design looks great chopped, lowered and streamlined — especially painted Estoril Blue with blacked-out trim and 21-in. alloys. Blue Brembo brake calipers lend a certain flair. And yet you know what it is instantly.

This blend of sport, luxury and capability continues inside where our Autobiography edition welcomed four lucky passengers with individual wrap-around seats — heated/ventilated in front. As in all Range Rovers, you sit up high as if surveying your country estate — or in the SVR’s case, your weekend track club. You’ll miss nothing from your ex-Bentley when you peer at the carbon fiber veneer on the console, dash and doors. A heated steering wheel, electrically-heated windscreen, panoramic sunroof and 1700-watt Meridian audio system soothe any journey. Adaptive cruise and blind spot warnings make them safer.

At the heart of this debauched carriage is a 5.0-liter supercharged V8 that dispenses an amazing 510 horses and 461 lb.-ft. of torque through a paddle-shifted 8-speed automatic transmission. Tap into the throttle as cherubs sing and devils dance. It’s that kind of power. Nearly pointless start/stop technology pauses the engine at rest to help deliver 16/19-MPG city/hwy. Even with an aluminum chassis, doors, fenders and hood, it’s a heavy truck that gets shoved through the air with a bunch of gas. You pay for the privilege.

You may worship at the engine’s altar, but you’ll tithe for the chassis and all-wheel-drive system. The air suspension tames fast freeways and rough city pavement, but can also be height-adjusted for access, standard driving, off-road or extended height for fording the occasional stream. Of course, you might want to kick off the performance tread if that’s your endeavor — all the better for exercising the Terrain Response System that adjusts the chassis and powertrain for general, snow, mud, sand or rocks. While fiddling on the console with the suspension and terrain mods, look for the button with twin exhausts on it. Press it whenever you want a delicious dose of exhaust rumble, preferably not when leaving the ’burbs pre-dawn.

Having a vehicle that gives up little to a top-grade luxury coupe or fully-capable SUV comes with an equally impressive price tag. While you can buy a Range Rover Sport for $64,950 and an SVR for $79,995, our princely version came to $126,360 — just slightly closer in price to the Escalade than Continental. If that price leaves you unbothered, go forth and enjoy like nobody’s business.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 11, 2016.

—  Dallasvoice

Inside Indiana’s law from a gay couple

Jarrod and Casey

Casey Williams  |  Dallas Voice contributor

Usually I spend my weekends reviewing the next hot car, but this weekend I’ve spent much of it wavering between rage and tears. I spent many years living in Dallas, but currently reside in Indianapolis — and could never have predicted what would happen in my household as last week began. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) that passed along party lines in the Indiana legislature and was signed by Governor Pence is pitting my family against longtime friends.

But, a little history. Last year, in anticipation of Indiana’s marriage ban being lifted, the same legislature attempted to pass a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. In Indiana, such amendments must be passed in two successive legislatures, and then be approved by the voters. Last year would have been the second pass, but was derailed when the Supreme Court failed to hear Indiana’s objection to lifting the same-sex marriage ban, thus allowing same-sex couples to marry. Soon thereafter, the movement to craft RFRA began.

Make no mistake: This is a consolation prize for conservative Christians and supposedly family-focused anti-gay hate groups. They, along with Catholic nuns (seriously), stood beside Gov. Mike Pence when he signed the law in a closed-door session, while refusing to name who was present. Democrats and several Republicans proposed LGBT protections as part of the new law, calling out Republicans who claim this is simply about protecting religious freedoms and not promoting discrimination. Of course, the additions were voted down.

This is about codified bigotry. This past Sunday, ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos, Pence was asked multiple times for a direct yes or no answer about whether LGBTs can be denied service because of this law. He deflected and did not answer … because he can’t and they can. He can’t add protections for the LGBT community because he is funded by the groups that refuse to accept them.

I feel very bad for Greg Ballard, Indianapolis’ Republican mayor, who has done an outstanding job of making Indianapolis an accepting and friendly place to live. I voted for him twice and would do it again if he ran. He’s drawn big-name companies, like Angie’s List and Cummins, to the city. Taxes are low, houses are affordable and the standard of living is high. I hate that his hard work, and the city I call home, is threatened over politicians pursuing their own religious caliphate in the heartland.

But that’s not the worst of it. People are taking sides. You start to understand how the civil war started. Friends of mine who I have always felt love me unconditionally are supporting the law, based on what they hear on Fox News and conservative radio. They think, as Pence and his legislators intend, that it’s just about guaranteeing religious freedom. That’s not how it feels. And, if that were the truth, Pence would request LGBT protections and make this go away. But he can’t peeve off his conservative supporters. And won’t.

I was very clear about this on Facebook, when I posted a piece targeting friends and family, making it clear that passive acceptance will no longer be tolerated. It hurts and I cried, but those who enable this behavior by voting for these bigots or verbally and financially support this legislation as bigots-by-proxy, can’t expect my compassion. I will not have these people in my house, near my husband or our adopted daughter. You’re with me or against me; take your pick. I will not be a black man living in my own version of 1950s Alabama. It is time for this nonsense to end. I will not unhear what was said.

As I’m typing this, our birthmother, an 18-year-old angel, sent me a text apologizing for the hateful things being said on her Facebook timeline. My husband and I are big boys; we’ve lived this hate for decades. It angers us, but it’s not unexpected. Screw with the mother of my daughter, and I suddenly feel very protective. People like her do not deserve this. And, I won’t tolerate that kind of ignorance around her — not in 2015.

This law has done what I suspect it was intended to do: Divide people, amp up donations to anti-gay hate groups, and try to shove us back under a rock. This is retribution for same-sex marriages and a gift for conservative Christians. Well, we’re already married, we already adopted and we don’t need your hideous cake.

Now, off for a fun drive with my beautiful gay family!

—  admin

Dallas Voice contributor gets hitched in Indiana

CWCasey Williams, Dallas Voice’s automotive reviewer (including one of our favorite features, his witty Butch v. Femme headlamp-to-headlamp pairings) is officially married. Casey, who now lives in Indiana, took advantage of the state’s recent entrance into the marriage equality fraternity and wed his longtime partner Jarrod yesterday. (Casey is on the right.)

“[The federal judge’s ruling] will probably get [stayed], but there’s nothing they can do about our marriage … finally!” he said.

It’s been a momentous few days for Casey in other ways. He and Jarrod are back at the courthouse today to finalize the adoption of their child. Still, he insists he will not review only cars with Baby On Board window stickers.

Congrats, Casey and Jarrod!

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

AUTO: Seek and you shall find

Nissan’s modern-family-friendly Quest: Finally a minivan that’s (almost) cool

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LIVE LIKE A DUNPHEY | Driver’s seat styling doesn’t take a backseat in the Quest LE ... though the backseat, with built-in DVD player, may be too good for the kids. (Photo courtesy Nissan)

CASEY WILLIAMS  | Auto Reviewer
crwauto@aol.com

Whenever my partner and I watch Modern Family, we see too much of ourselves in Mitchell and Cam’s relationship. We debate which of us most resembles the characters — my partner would be the one to present our baby as The Lion King,  and I can completely queen out over something trivial. However, it’s another star of the show that would be welcomed by double daddies.

Nissan’s product placement of the all-new Quest mini-van was uber-smart. Although driven by Claire in the show, it’s easy to imagine two dads and their adopted offspring heading off to a fabulous vacation in that sleek bus. The streamlined toaster’s distinguished wrap-around rear glass sits atop creased bodysides, 18-in. alloys and a chrome grille that could part wind for an Infiniti or two flaming queens.

As big as the Quest is — and it is huge — it comes off as a much smaller vehicle until you creep upon it.

Nobody thinks minivans are cool nowadays … not that they ever did. But the joy of owning one sneaks up on you. The Quest’s interior is absolutely dance-club spacious with seating enough for seven. If little ones are in your future, six of your nearest and dearest friends will love going anywhere with you. Point the nose in any direction and slide aboard.

Friends slip through the power sliding rear doors, open either of the dual sunroofs (rear riders get their own), and climate control their individual zones. You could throw Manny in the back and never hear his adolescent pontifications again. Front passengers have heated seats and ride in thrones that smell like cow butter and are more luxurious than those in a Gulfstream jet; rear seats fold flat to throw in bicycles, a Nelson credenza or enough regalia for a production of La Boheme.

Play a CD of the opera through the van’s 13-speaker Bose audio system, recline your seat and pretend you’re there. Or put in a DVD to see it on the roof-mounted flatscreen. In-dash navigation, rear camera, blind spot warning system, Bluetooth phone connections, USB input for MP3 players and XM Satellite Radio bring you back to the current time with a full suite of toys.

My sister, who has three kids, was impressed with the Quest. Under the rear floor is a deep well to store valuables out of sight. Wide pockets in the doors are big enough for baby gear and have places to hold water bottles. Consoles between the front and middle-row seats hold drinks, iPads or anything else a modern family carries. If you can carry it, this van will haul it.auto-02

When Claire needs to make a quick get-away from another awkward situation, they’ll throttle down on the standard 260hp 3.5-liter DOHC V6 engine, connected to the front wheels through a continuously variable transmission (CVT). Most CVTs reel up and down their gear ratios maintaining a shrill somewhere between a Weed Eater and a screaming cat. Not so the Quest’s. It’s quiet, smooth and enables excellent 19/24-MPG city/hwy. ratings — not bad for a 4,500-lb. truck.

“Quiet” describes the overall experience. Large mirrors are separated from the body to minimize wind noise as the aero body slips through air without causing a stir. The chassis absorbs bumps without drama, steering is tight and power is always at the ready. Cruising beyond 80mph was easy. I even took down a pickup truck on a hilly two-lane. Four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes, electronic brake force distribution, brake assist, and electronic stability control quiets the mind’s fears.

Like Jay and Gloria’s house on Modern Family, the overall sense of the Quest is understated quality. The seats feel and smell like they could be in a Bentley, padded materials cover even the rear doors, the leather-wrapped steering wheel feels expensive, and the woodgrain and silver finishes on the center dashboard are nicely styled. My partner and I found ourselves really enjoying a long drive, ready to head out into the vastness of America to find ourselves again, knowing full-well at any time we could stop, flip the seats, and find ourselves finding ourselves.

As everything about the Quest is tech-laden and high quality, it comes with a price tag that only a loaded modernist can afford.

Base prices start at $27,750, but our well-equipped test model came to $43,715. Still, you won’t find a luxury SUV so well equipped with half the interior space for less. Minivans aren’t cool, but the Quest is a fab choice for any alternative family.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 17, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

Regal bearing

Buick’s sassy GS is ‘Regal’ enough for speed queens, styled for a princess

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COUPE’D UP | With the continental styling of a German coupe and the muscles of a Corvette, Buick’s GS take on the Regal provides unexpected power inside an elegant framework.

CASEY WILLIAMS  | Auto Reviewer
crwauto@aol.com

Who knows what “GS” really stands for in the Buick lexicon? An educated guess would be “Grand Sport,” but I’m voting for “Goes Sonic.” Of course, it’s all relative: A turbocharged four-cylinder engine is only so sonic, but when attached to an expertly-developed European sport sedan, it invigorates the luxury-loving soul. Or something. It’s cool.

With Pontiac rising less like a phoenix and having burned down more like wood structures in a lava flow, Buick had a wider road on which to needle some adrenaline. A high-output Ecotec 2.0L turbo-four, pumping 270hp and 295 lb.-ft. of torque, stirs cravings. Choose a six-speed manual transmission (believe that!) or2012-Buick-Regal-GS-interior six-speed automatic with Driver Shift control. 0-60mph occurs in 6.7 seconds; you can run all day at speeds that will put you behind bars. Just bring a healthy debit card because the GS rates 19/27-MPG city/hwy. I averaged closer to 24-MPG — appreciably lower than some similarly-sized and comparably-powered, but less pudgy, competitors.

Put that in perspective. The oh-holy Buick Grand National’s 3.8-liter Turbo V6 delivered an “official” 245hp. Its speedier sibling, the GNX, squashed contemporary Corvettes with an underrated 276hp. The Regal GS is playing in the same league with two fewer cylinders, about half the displacement, and two additional doors for family and friends. Imagine what a V6 and AWD would do! Now, that would be Super Sonic (I’ll let Chevrolet borrow that).

Whereas in the old days you’d find a solid rear axle with enough wheel hop to plop your pop, the Regal GS’s chassis is a technical wonder. GS comes standard with Interactive Drive Control, a three-mode system that changes suspension and steering settings for more aggressive driving. “Standard” maintains comfort on rough roads or open Interstates. “Sport” stiffens the suspension and steering for better control. This is my favorite mode for everyday driving and Interstate travel. GS is for enthusiasts who are presumably headed for a smooth track – visit your dentist before pressing that button. To give fair warning, the instruments change from ice blue to white when GS mode is engaged.

All of this wizardry is attached to an incredibly stiff body structure that allows the four-wheel independent suspension and Brembo disc brakes, with four-piston front calipers and high performance linings, to stop the car as if clipped by a freight train. As in other mid-size GM sedans, engineers conjured up the HiPer Strut front suspension to reduce torque steer and improve cornering grip. That’s great, because loading up the front wheels with 270hp is usually like holding the reins of a speeding stallion. Available 200-in. polished alloys with low-profile tires play horse whisperer to tame the turbo’s torque.

Personally I prefer the Regal GS’s spiced up continental style to the muscle boy Grand National’s black brick attire. The body shell is shared with the German-built Opel Insignia. Stamped from what was apparently a solid piece of very elegant Black Forest granite, the Regal’s coupelike design is quite handsome from its chrome Buick grille to large headlights with sinister-angle running lamps, C-slash body surfacing, and sculpted rear deck with spoiler. It looks expensive. Twin exhaust outlets through the bumper and snarling fangs of chrome up front tell fat daddies to back off.

A cabin fit for Fittipaldi awaits sporty gents (and gals). Interior style is very businesslike with controls intelligently placed, but surrounded by lots of high-quality black plastic. Forget woodgrain, much less real wood. Deeply-sculpted heated black leather seats blow the chill off winter while the thick flat-bottom leather-wrapped steering wheel encourages you to heat things up. Audi couldn’t do better.

Controlled through either faceplate buttons and knobs or the console joy wheel, the car’s in-dash navigation gets you anywhere. Audiophiles will exfoliate their ears with the standard 336-watt Harman/kardon 5.1 Matrix Surround Sound system with nine speakers. Go old-school with a CD, stream Pandora Internet Radio, or summon satellites with XM. Bluetooth or USB connect driver’s smart phones to the full-color 7-in. touch screen. Blind spot warnings and rear parking assist keep you from calling Flo.

A friend and I flew the “Goes Sonic” to Detroit for the North American International Auto Show. Even after many hours on the road, the seats, steering, and suspension kept us in good kit. There was always plenty of power to jet past mini-vans and pickup trucks. On the first evening, we attended the premiere of the first-ever Cadillac ATS compact sedan. After the festivities, we handed the valet our claim slip. Two Regals pulled up before ours. Even among Cadillacs, the sporty Buick cuts a swath.

If you don’t like the turbo, Regal also comes in 182hp four-cylinder and 36-MPG eAssist variants. But, that’s for babies. Go Sonic and learn why you won’t soon forget GS.

Price as tested came to $38,155.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 3, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

Butch vs. Femme

How fit does your ride need to be? We compare the elegant efficiency of the Toyota Prius V with the ballsy bravado of the Subaru Impreza

CASEY WILLIAMS  | Auto Reviewer

There are two ways to achieve fitness: Either become a gym queen and work your sweet little ass off on the stair climber, or go full nerd and starve yourself to thin. Depending on my mood, I can use a good aerobic workout and look buff for my hubby… or I just savor the grilled chicken salad (or veggie burger), kick off the sneaks with a book about a geeky car, and ponder Our Creation.

In the world of five-door compacts, the recently re-designed 2012 Subaru Impreza likes to be worked over hard while the new Prius V thinks its way to saving green.

Impreza

GYM RAT OR DIETER? | The hybrid Prius V, above, is surprisingly roomy and powerful.

Family heritage
Impreza: Generations of rally champs.
Prius: Golf cart, Previa mini-van.
Alter ego
Impreza: General Lee.
Prius: KITT.
Gay persona
Impreza: Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.
Prius: Michael Kors, Queen of Project Runway

Horsepower
Impreza: 148.
Prius: 134 (gas) + 80 (electric).

Number of driving modes
Impreza: 2 — Fast and Furious.
Prius: 4 – Standard, Eco, EV and Power.

Drag coefficient
Impreza: Sexy in satin.
Prius: 0.29, you tart.

Favorite toy
Impreza: Wiper de-icer.
Prius: Pandora radio.

Distance on electricity
Impreza: (insert favorite bodily sound)?
Prius: If we’re measuring, about a mile.

How to get dinner
Impreza: Run it down, stick it in the trunk; use Bluetooth
to call a meat processor to butcher it for ya.
Prius: Politely ask the Entune System’s OpenTable app for suggestions and NAV to plot a course.

Claims to fame
Impreza: Daddy of the wicked WRX; most fuel-efficient AWD in America.
Prius: More Prius, more petrol; most complicated small crossover ever created.

Celebrity most likely to drive car
Impreza: Crocodile Dundee.
Prius: Kardashian stepdad Bruce Jenner.

Power to the wheels
Impreza: Symmetrical AWD.
Prius: It depends on how much power needs to be transferred to the front wheels. It could come from the battery pack via an electric motor or from the gasoline engine with a continuously-variable transmission that has no set gears, but an infinite range of ratios. Hell, just forget it — bitch is complicated.

Price
Impreza: $19,000 — agile and sexy, doesn’t ask
for much.
Prius: $26,500 — a sophisticated lightweight that takes
all night to get drunk.

Prius

The Impreza has bearish sex appeal.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 13, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

Bargain beauties

In a tight economy, previously owned cars can be a godsend to your bank account. Here are great deals on late-model winners

Pontiac-Solstice-GM

APPRECIATION WITHOUT DEPRECIATION | A used Pontiac Solstice, top, is hot and affordable, while a Mitsubishi Eclipse, below — also from 2007 — is one sexy sedan.

CASEY WILLIAMS  | Auto Reviewer
crwauto@aol.com

I get it: The economy stinks. We all feel pain at the pump and wonder how we’re going to pay all of the bills. But we still need to get where we’re going.

Eclipse-MitsuMany of us may soon be shopping for a late model car that should be dependable and hold up over what will surely be a plethora of miles. What to do? Just for conversation’s sake, let’s look for cars that are less than four years old, have less than 30,000 miles, and cost under $15,000. That should put us on the right road.

A quick trip to Cars.com summons a long list of vehicles that fit the above criteria. Boring is definitely on the menu, and that’s OK. Some sporty cars pop up, too. Don’t expect to find many Toyotas and Hondas —everybody on the planet knows they hold up well over time. But there are many great cars that people may overlook.

For instance, Pontiac G6 and Saturn Aura sedans are available by the dozens with prices under $15K. A 2007 Aura with 24,000 miles was listed for $14,999; a 2008 G6 with 29,000 miles went for a flat 15 thou, while a two-year older G6 with 16,000 miles was priced at $14,999.

The G6 and Aura are essentially the same vehicle as the current Malibu, look sporty, and get decent gas mileage. If you want something larger, a Chevy Impala is not exciting, but is a well-made car with 25,000 miles and $14,995 price. It achieves around 30-MPG Hwy.

There are a couple of Corollas I could highly recommend. A 2009 Corolla S with 18,978 miles was offered for $14,995, as was a 2010 with 23,500 miles. Here’s a secret for those who really want Corolla but can’t find one: The Pontiac Vibe was essentially a clone of the Corolla-based Toyota Matrix. Being a Pontiac, people don’t always know the lineage. A 2009 Vibe listed for $15K with only 26,000 miles is a great compromise; it also gets very good mileage and has tons of interior space.

Don’t overlook Korean cars. Hyundai and Kia both offer 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranties. While not as exciting as the current Sonata, a 2007 edition with 25,000 miles was listed for $13,988. A 2009 Sonata with 23,610 miles went for $14,988, while a 2010 Hyundai Accent and Elantra were listed for $14,995 with about 25,000 miles. I’d have no hesitation buying any of these.

If a sedan is not your thing, hang tough. I found a 2007 Pontiac Solstice roadster with 17,000 miles for $14,995. A 2007 Mitsubishi Eclipse GS, with the four-cylinder engine and 22,000 miles, was listed for $13,700. A Subaru Impreza with AWD hit the page with 23,495 miles and $14,995.

If fuel cost doesn’t matter, buying an SUV or pick-up truck can be bargains. Trucks last forever, are simple to maintain and are dropping in price. Choose a V6 instead of the up-level V8 to save money and fuel; or go for a baby crossover like the Nissan Cube, Kia Soul or Scion xB to get below $15,000 with 20,000 miles. My best friend bought a pre-owned xB and loves it.

Those cars are built by world-class manufacturers, get great gas mileage, and have cavernous interiors: All prime attributes for a used car on a budget.

…………………..

SHOPPING GUIDE

Kia-SoulYour search for a good used car should start by visiting a website like Cars.com or Edmunds.com. That will give you a good idea of prices, typical mileage and available vehicles in your area. (I have issues with Consumer Reports’ testing procedures, but the publication provides another data point.) Check owner reviews on the search sites above to get real-world feedback.

Given that, keep a few guidelines in mind:

• Go for the base engine. It may not be as sexy, but will cost less up front and generally turns in better fuel economy.

• Discontinued brands like Pontiac, Saturn and Mercury offer great used cars that can be serviced indefinitely by their manufacturers.

• Hyundai and Kia offer 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranties – great peace of mind as the miles pile on.

• Boring sedans can be great used car values. So can sports cars, but they are harder to find.

• Pickups last forever and are cheap to own. Keep in mind high fuel consumption.

• The baby cubes from Scion, Nissan and Kia, pictured, offer a lot of bang for the buck.

— C.W.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 23, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas