All posts by budwells

About budwells

Born at Wray, Colo., graduate of Sterling High School, attended Northeastern Junior College, began work at Sterling Journal-Advocate in 1956, began work at The Denver Post in 1968, resides at Greeley, Colo. Bud and wife Janice are parents of three sons and two daughters.

Back then . . . MacArthur’s ’42 Packard

The 1942 Packard Clipper served Gen. Douglas MacArthur.
The 1942 Packard Clipper served Gen. Douglas MacArthur.

Following are excerpts of a column, featuring a 1942 Packard of the late Gen. Douglas MacArthur, in The Denver Post in early November 1979, 35 years ago (I was automotive editor in the Post’s business news department at the time):

What would induce a Colorado man to pay out $175,000 for a drab olive-colored 1942 Packard Clipper?

A peek into the back seat gives a clue to the value of the vehicle, which is sitting in the new facility of Class-iques Colorado Inc., in Golden. There’s an old Army helmet and a corncob pipe, left there by Gen. Douglas MacArthur.

Gen. Douglas MacArthur
Gen. Douglas MacArthur

The car was MacArthur’s from his World War II days in the Philippines in 1942 to the end of the occupation of Japan in 1948, when he gave it to a driver who had served the general. The car sat forgotten in a barn in Texas for 30 years.

(The late) Bob Esbenson, co-owner with author Clive Cussler of the new classic car garage in Golden, said the Colorado buyer wishes to remain anonymous. The auto was purchased from Tom Barrett, internationally known car collector from Scottsdale, Ariz.

The khaki car is decorated with stars, flags, military lights, adjustable louvered headlight shutters and siren. Atop the Clipper hood ornament is a cormorant. Inside is a submachine gun mounted at the dash, fire extinguisher and first-aid kit, in addition to the helmet and pipe.

The car was a gift to MacArthur from the employes of the Packard company. It followed him from Australia to the Philippines to the occupation of Japan.

The car was retired in 1948 and MacArthur presented it to his driver. The five-star general made arrangements through a Navy friend, a skipper of the aircraft carrier Princeton, for transportation of the auto to San Diego.

It was loaded onto a military flatbed truck and carried to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, where it was released to the driver. In his home city of Dallas, he made arrangements to have the military hardware removed and the body painted a bright postwar color. But the body shop was busy at the time and he agreed to bring it back in a week. That night, after parking the Packard in his small, dirt-floor garage, the driver died in his sleep. There the Clipper remained untouched year after year until Barrett recently acquired it.

How the Packard became a gift to MacArthur is an interesting tale. His check for $2,600 which accompanied the order for the auto was returned to him with a letter (dated Feb. 25, 1942, portions of which follow) from M.M.Gilman, president of the Packard Motor Car Co.:

“We are deeply honored that your interest in the Packard motor car has prompted your personal order for one for military service. A shipment of our vehicles will be leaving our plant in March for the military; these will be the last cars to leave our facilities until the end of hostilities. Included in this shipment is one Packard sedan model 2011motor number E318750D which is a gift to you from all the employees and their families of the Packard Motor Car Company. We hope this gift will express to you our heartfelt thanks, appreciation and support for your fantastic efforts on behalf of our country during this period of great peril. Your two thousand six hundred dollars is herein returned with our compliments.”

I drove the Packard and the old straight-8 engine is amazingly quiet. The starter button is beneath the accelerator pedal. The car is solid and handles fine. Driving it might not make you feel like a five-star general; it makes you feel more like a chauffeur for the general.

If the big auto doesn’t command the road, a flip of a toggle switch puts a siren at your fingertip, activated by the horn ring.

It was equipped with an air conditioner, one of the first in the auto industry, and the cooling unit was so large it had to be mounted in the trunk.

The ’42 Packard Clipper is on a wheelbase of 120 inches and weighs 3,600 pounds. It is 208.5 inches long, 76.1 inches wide and 63.5 high.

The L-head eight-cylinder engine has a 282-cubic-inch displacement and a compression ratio of 6.85 to 1.

It averaged about 13 miles per gallon and had a 17-gallon fuel tank. Tire size was 6.50×13.



’15 Toyota 4Runner retains stature


The 2015 Toyota 4Runner Trail 4X4 is at home in offroad settings. (Bud Wells photos)
The 2015 Toyota 4Runner Trail 4X4 is at home in offroad settings. (Bud Wells photos)

I recently scanned a lengthy list of refined vehicles by Toyota, let my eyes fall near to the bottom, and selected a 2015 4Runner 4X4 Trail Premium V-6, finished in barcelona red metallic paint.

The 4Runner, built on the Tacoma platform, remains one of the few body-on-frame sport utility vehicles.

Its toughness and upright stance don’t compare in sleekness and ride quality with all those crossovers which have flooded the market the past few years. Want to do some crawling about in the rough, or get outdoors in a big snowstorm, though? This one’s for you.

Its step-in height of a little over 22 inches proclaims it is structured for heavy-duty service; it boasts over 9 inches of ground clearance.

The 4.0-liter V-6 engine, mated to a 5-speed automatic transmission, puts out 270 horsepower and 278 lb.-ft. of torque. This is the same power configuration as was in the 2010 model I tested five years ago, and is somewhat dated, as most competitors have moved to 6-, 7-, 8- and 9-speed transmissions. Though not quick on low-end acceleration, the 4.0-liter has performance aplenty to move the 4,700-pounder up and down the hills.

For engaging four-wheel drive, the transfer case’s mechanical lever sits on the floor just ahead of the transmission shifter. The old-fashioned lever is part of the 4Runner Trail’s rugged setup; available on the 4Runner’s SR5 and Limited versions is a dial-type electronic control for the transfer case.

The lever’s normal position is H2 for rear-wheel drive and can be shifted into H4 for four-wheel control at speeds up to 50 miles per hour. An L4 gate can be accessed for low-range gear when the going is especially troublesome.

A dial control for the accommodating terrain settings is placed, awkwardly for the driver, in the overhead console. It alters throttle, gearing and braking to better tackle conditions involving mud/sand/dirt, loose rock, mogul or solid rock. Moguls are shallow ditches, ridges and slopes. A dial placed on the center console seems much less distracting for the driver than in the overhead position.

A $1,750 option on the 4Runner review model was kinetic dynamic suspension, a hydraulic system that varies the damper rates and sway-bar firmness in offroad situations. The 4Runner rides on Bridgestone Duelers H/T P265/70R17 tires.

The suspension upgrade pushed sticker price of the Toyota to $40,890, including skid plates for its stabilizer bars, touch-screen navigation and audio, App Suite/Bluetooth/USB, side-curtain airbags, heated mirrors with turn-signal indicators, tow-hitch receiver, rearview camera and moonroof.

Adding distinction (or distraction) to the 4/Runner’s exterior finish are bulging headlights and taillights.

Lending easy access to gear or the cooler at the rear is a sliding rear cargo deck, which can support up to 440 pounds. The cargo area is a cavernous 46 cubic feet in size.

A slide-out cargo tray has been popular with the 4Runner for several years.
A slide-out cargo tray has been popular with the 4Runner for several years.

Here are the specifications for the ’15 Toyota 4Runner 4X4:

Capacity 5-passenger

  • Wheelbase 109.8 inches
  • Length 190.7 inches
  • Width 75.8 inches
  • Height 71.5 inches
  • Curb Weight 4,760 pounds
  • Track 63.2 inches front, rear
  • Ground Clearance 9.6 inches
  • Turn Circle 37.4 feet
  • Drivetrain Four-wheel-drive
  • Engine 4.0-liter V-6
  • Horsepower/Torque 270/278
  • Transmission 5-speed automatic
  • Steering rack-and-pinion
  • Fuel mileage estimate 17/21
  • Fuel mileage average 19.2
  • Fuel Tank 23 gallons, regular unleaded
  • Wheels 17-inch
  • Cargo Volume 46.3 cubic feet
  • Warranty 3 years/36,000 miles basic, 5/60,000 powertrain

Competitors Nissan Xterra, Nissan Pathfinder, Jeep Wrangler, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Ford Explorer

Assembly Plant Tahara, Aichi, Japan

Parts Content N.A.

Base Price of Lowest Model $35,270; Base Price of Review Model $38,655; Destination Charge $885; Sticker Price $40,890.


Fusion gets 1.5 turbo; ped safety explored

Ford Motor Co. is refining a pedestrian-detection safety system. (Ford)
Ford Motor Co. is refining a pedestrian-detection safety system. (Ford)

We’ve moved fully into the new model year, with 2015 cars and trucks all over the showrooms.

Yet, delivered recently to me was a 2014 Ford Fusion SE, and I was glad to get it, for two reasons:

In order to view Ford’s popular new color, the Dark Side, and to test its smaller 1.5-liter, turbocharged 4-cylinder EcoBoost engine.

The Ford Fusion is a good-handling, roomy midsize sedan. (Bud Wells photo)
The Ford Fusion is a good-handling, roomy midsize sedan. (Bud Wells photo)

At first glance, the Dark Side finish on the Fusion appeared to be black. As I walked closer, it seemed to be a dark blue, Ford says it is dark gray and several others who walked around it said they saw a dark green cast to it.

The new engine might be the bright side of the dark side, particularly if the driver keeps a foot deep into the acceleration process. The 1.5 is a little light on low-end torque, but the turbo boost overcomes much of the delay, with help of a switch on the shifter knob which engages the 6-speed automatic transmission’s manual mode for better-controlled shifts. The SE is of front-wheel-drive configuration.

Announced during the week I was driving the Fusion was an interesting safety development by Ford Motor Co. aimed at the surge in recent years of car/pedestrian accidents.

Ford, and other makers, respond to surge in car/pedestrian accidents. (Ford)
Ford, and other makers, respond to surge in car/pedestrian accidents. (Ford)

This is timely for our area. Of nearly 4,800 pedestrian fatalities in the U.S. in 2012, 76 were in Colorado, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. It seems there has been no letup in numbers of car/pedestrian collisions in Denver and Colorado since.

Available new technology from Ford – pre-collision assist with pedestrian detection – is designed to reduce the severity of, and, in some cases, even eliminate frontal collisions involving pedestrians.

Debuting on the 2015 Ford Mondeo in Europe (which is the Fusion in the U.S.), the detection system provides a collision warning to the driver and, if the driver does not respond in time, can automatically apply the vehicle brakes.

The system uses radar and camera technology to scan the roadway ahead to determine collision risk. The assist also may help drivers avoid rear-end collisions with other vehicles at all speeds.

“This technology adds to the list of driver-assist technologies Ford customers already benefit from today,” said Raj Nair, Ford group vice president, Global Product Development. He mentioned lane-keeping aid, blind-spot information with cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control and active park assist.

The new system processes information collected from a windshield-mounted camera and radar near the bumper, then checks the information against a database of pedestrian shapes to help distinguish people from typical roadside scenery and objects.

If a collision seems imminent, the driver first receives an audible and visual warning. Should the driver not respond, the system improves brake responsiveness by reducing the gap between brake pads and discs. It there is still no response, the brakes are applied automatically and vehicle speed is reduced. Several other makers have similar pedestrian safety features. More information regarding the new system is available at

The Fusion is among the top-five-selling midsize sedans in the country, with the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Nissan Altima and Hyundai Sonata.

The SE model I drove, a nimble performer, is a reasonably priced four-door, with a sticker price of $28,625.

It is quiet and comfortable out on the road. Seating position is low for the front passenger, and there is no adjustment, power or manual.

The Fusion is very roomy in the rear-seating area and offers trunk space of 16 cubic feet. Ford’s rear inflatable seat belts were added as a $190 option; among standard airbags are dual front, front-side impact, driver/passenger knee and side air curtain.

Equipped with the 1.5 turbo and 6-speed automatic, the Fusion SE carries an EPA estimate of 23/36 miles per gallon; my overall average was 27.8.

Ford’s new engine is 1.5-liter, turbocharged 4-cylinder EcoBoost. (Bud Wells photo)
Ford’s new engine is 1.5-liter, turbocharged 4-cylinder EcoBoost. (Bud Wells photo)

Ford Sync technology offers hands-free access to phone, navigation and audio. Other amenities include rearview camera, dual-zone air conditioning, sport wheels, rear spoiler, intermittent wipers, rear window defroster, Sirius satellite, power locks/mirrors/windows and trip computer.

On several occasions, the engine cranked over several times before starting; a pressure adjustment to the fuel pump corrected the crank time.

For 2015, the Fusion offers, in addition to the 1.5-liter turbo, a base engine of 2.5-liter, 4-cylinder with 178 horsepower and a turboed 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder EcoBoost with 240 hp.


Here are the specifications for the ’14 Ford Fusion SE four-door:

  • Capacity 5-passenger
  • Wheelbase 112.2 inches
  • Length 191.7 inches
  • Width 72.9 inches
  • Height 58.2 inches
  • Curb Weight 3,427 pounds
  • Track 62.7 inches front, 62.4 rear
  • Ground Clearance 5.5 inches
  • Turn Circle 37.6 feet
  • Drivetrain Front-wheel-drive
  • Engine 1.5-liter EcoBoost 4-cylinder
  • Horsepower/Torque 181/185
  • Transmission 6-speed automatic
  • Steering electric power-assisted
  • Fuel mileage estimate 23/36
  • Fuel mileage average 27.8
  • Fuel Tank 16.5 gallons, regular unleaded
  • Wheels 18-inch
  • Cargo Volume 16 cubic feet
  • Warranty 3 years/36,000 miles basic, 5/60,000 powertrain

Competitors Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Chevrolet Malibu, Hyundai Sonata

Assembly Plant Hermosillo, Mexico

Parts Content N.A.

Base Price of Lowest Model $21,970; Base Price of Review Model $23,935; Destination Charge $825; Sticker Price $28,625.



’15 Mazda3 makes time for book meeting

Book committee members, from left, are Caroline Schomp, Tim Jackson, Bud Wells and Tim Coy. (Photo by Anneke vanHall, CADA)
Book committee members, from left, are Caroline Schomp, Tim Jackson, Bud Wells and Tim Coy. (Photo by Anneke vanHall, CADA)

The sharp-looking little compact, a 2015 model, got me to Denver on time early last week for a final meeting of the book committee before the volume’s delivery to the printer. The car is the Mazda3 five-door hatchback; the book is “The 100-Year Deal,” commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Colorado Automobile Dealers Association (CADA). The four-member book committee of Tim Jackson, Caroline Schomp, Tim Coy and me met at the CADA headquarters building, 290 E. Speer Blvd., for a final look at the page proofs. A last-minute alteration was squeezing into the book a photo of a couple who operate a dealership way out on the Eastern Plains, just this side of Kansas. Initial distribution of the 332-page book will be at the CADA’s annual dinner gathering in late November, then it will go on sale to the public. A large part of the publication is a reprint of The Colorado Car Book, published in 1996.

The 2015 Mazda3 hatchback at City Park, Denver. (Bud Wells photo)
The 2015 Mazda3 hatchback at City Park, Denver. (Bud Wells photo)

The Mazda3 has evolved into a highly respectable competitor for such popular models as the Ford Focus, Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Chevrolet Cruze, Volkswagen Golf and Nissan Sentra. I ought to know, for in the past four years, I’ve driven and reviewed more Mazda3s than any other model. Our recent sunny days brought out the best of shine in the 2015’s blue reflex mica exterior finish. Designers have toned down just a bit the “wide-smile” grille of the past for Mazda. Adding distinction to it sleek design is a well-sculpted rear hatch.

Prominent grille on ’15 Mazda3. (Bud Wells photo)
Prominent grille on ’15 Mazda3. (Bud Wells photo)

It is the S Grand Touring version, and is loaded with amenities. A 6-speed manual transmission has been made available to the bigger 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine for ‘15, and I thoroughly tested the matchup. The bigger engine, even with the manual tranny, falls short of the very high fuel mileage produced by Mazda’s smaller 2.0-liter 4-cylinder. The ’15 Mazda3 averaged 31.3 miles per gallon in a fairly even split of city/highway driving; its EPA estimate is 26/35. Previous models I’ve driven, with the smaller 2.0-liter, averaged from 32 to 36 mpg; they were rated as high as 41for highway miles. The 2.5 setup, with 30 more horsepower than the 2.0, is noticeably quicker in acceleration, and with a sporty suspension and the 6-speed manual transmission, is a step up in level of fun-drive. The manual wasn’t available with the 2.5 in 2014. The ’15 Mazda3 rides on Dunlop Sport 215/45R18 tires. Inside, it is dressed up with perforated leather seats (heated in front) and leather-covered steering wheel, shifter knob and park brake positioned between the driver and center console. A large upright display screen sits up in the center of the dash, appearing somewhat like an add-on feature. It is visible without lowering the driver’s sightline, though making selections from dials on the center console are a bit of distraction. It offers Bose sound, Bluetooth audio and phone connectivity, navigation and Sirius. Among other items pushing the Mazda’s sticker price to $26,635 are dual-zone climate control, push-button start, rearview camera, cruise control, trip computer, paddle shifters, sunroof and rain-sensing windshield wipers. The rear seating area is somewhat tight on legroom, though headroom is plentiful. A temporary spare tire is stored beneath the floor in the cargo area. Fold the rear seat down and the cargo space expands from 20 cubic feet to a roomy 47 feet. The Mazda3 compact showed up in 2003, while still a part of Ford Motor Co. Second-generation model was introduced for the ’10 model year. Today’s third-generation, built in Japan, is wholly independent. Here are the specifications for the ’15 Mazda3 5-door Grand Touring:

  • Wheelbase 106.3 inches
  • Length 175.6 inches
  • Width 70.2 inches
  • Height 57.3 inches
  • Curb Weight 2,978 pounds
  • Track 61.2 inches front, 61.4 rear
  • Ground Clearance 6.1 inches
  • Turn Circle 34.8 feet
  • Drivetrain Front-wheel-drive
  • Engine 2.5-liter 4-cylinder
  • Horsepower/Torque 184/185
  • Transmission 6-speed manual
  • Steering electric power-assisted
  • Fuel mileage estimate 26/35
  • Fuel mileage average 31.3
  • Fuel Tank 13.2 gallons, regular unleaded
  • Wheels 18-inch
  • Cargo Volume 20.2 cubic feet
  • Warranty 3 years/36,000 miles basic, 5/60,000 powertrain

Competitors Ford Focus, Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Chevrolet Cruze, Nissan Sentra Assembly Plant Hofu, Japan Parts Content Japan 85% Base Price of Lowest Model $17,750; Base Price of Review Model $25,545; Destination Charge $795; Sticker Price $26,635.

Refined ’15 Challenger masters ‘twist’

The 2015 Dodge Challenger R/T at Missouri Lakes, near Blackhawk. (Bud Wells photos)
The 2015 Dodge Challenger R/T at Missouri Lakes, near Blackhawk. (Bud Wells photos)

Improvements in the 2015 Dodge Challenger R/T surfaced among the curves and tight twists on a stretch of Colo. 119 from Rollinsville to Blackhawk last week.

Even with all its size and heft, the rear-wheel-drive Challenger has become a very capable, sure-footed handler.

Jan and I spent three days in the mountains with the new Challenger. Its sportier suspension is slightly lower, and includes short/long-arm front with a high upper “A” arm, coil springs and stabilizer bar. Its five-link independent rear suspension works with coil springs, gas-charged monotube shocks, stabilizer bar and an isolated suspension cradle. Most body lean has been eliminated in cornering.

The refinement, featuring Bilstein high-performance shock absorbers, has created a decent balance between hard-charging grip and turn security, and a fairly pleasant ride for driver and passenger.

The R/T Plus model we drove was finished in granite crystal metallic paint with dual red R/T side stripes.

The strong 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 and smooth 8-speed automatic transmission beneath the hood are an outstanding combination. The Hemi generates 375 horsepower and torque of 410 lb.-ft.

The ultimate Challenger for ’15 is the Hellcat with an all-new supercharged 6.2-liter Hemi producing 707 horsepower, the most powerful V-8 ever for Chrysler Group. Pricing begins at around $60,000 for the Hellcat; the Challenger R/T we drove was sticker-priced at $44,255.

Other engines available in the new Challenger are a 485-hp, 6.4-liter Hemi V-8 and a 305-hp, 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6.

Steering wheel and instrument panel.
Steering wheel and instrument panel.

The original Dodge Challenger made its debut in the fall of 1969 as a ’70 model, and was built until April 1974. Almost 190,000 were sold. It shared its platform with the Plymouth Barracuda. The Challenger was offered in two-door hardtop and convertible style, and, back then like today, also boasted a wide choice of engines, including the 426-cubic-inch Hemi V-8, a 440 V-8, 383 V-8, 340 V-8, 318 V-8 and Slant-6.

Inside the ’15 Challenger, the center console is shaped some like the original, with a ridge on the far side. This year’s automatic shifter is a T-shaped handle. A large 8.4-inch touchscreen media center offers access to navigation, Uconnect and Harman/Kardon premium sound with SiriusXM satellite radio. Seats are covered in suede/nappa leather.

New shifter is T-handle.
New shifter is T-handle.

Fore of the driver are Dodge Performance Pages display, which can be used to adjust throttle, steering and transmission sensitivity, as well as activate “launch control” for the brutish engine. Individual trials and performances can be recorded in the display,

A total of 16.2 cubic feet of trunk space makes the Challenger roomiest in its class for cargo.

The Challenger R/T rides on Goodyear Eagle F1 245/45R20-inch tires; big four-piston Brembo brakes (14.2-inch rotors in front, 13.8 in the rear) lend secure stopping power.

The Challenger’s 20-inch wheels.
The Challenger’s 20-inch wheels.

The 5.7 Hemi/8-speed automatic combination earned an EPA fuel-mileage estimate of 16/25 miles per gallon. My driving time resulted in an overall average of 22.6.

Among options not already mentioned, which helped push price from a base of $29,995 to $44,255, are remote start, adaptive speed control, automatic high-beam headlights, blind-spot and rear cross-path detection, heated steering wheel, paddle shifters and power sunroof.

Seat finish is suede/nappa leather.
Seat finish is suede/nappa leather.

Here are the specifications for the ’15 Dodge Challenger R/T Plus:

  • Wheelbase 116 inches
  • Length 197.7 inches
  • Width 75.7 inches
  • Height 57.1 inches
  • Curb Weight 4,082 pounds
  • Track 63 inches front, 63.1 rear
  • Ground Clearance 5 inches
  • Turn Circle 38.1 feet
  • Drivetrain Rear-wheel-drive
  • Engine 5.7 Hemi V-8
  • Horsepower/Torque 375/410
  • Transmission 8-speed automatic
  • Steering electronic power
  • Fuel mileage estimate 16/25
  • Fuel mileage average 22.6
  • Fuel Tank 18.5 gallons
  • Wheels 20-inch
  • Cargo Volume 16.2 cubic feet
  • Warranty 3 years/36,000 miles basic, 5/100,000 powertrain

Competitors Chevrolet Camaro, Ford Mustang, Nissan 370Z

Assembly Plant Brampton, Ontario, Canada

Parts Content U.S./Canadian 61%, Mexico 27%

Base Price of Lowest Model $26,995; Base Price of Review Model $29,995; Destination Charge $995; Sticker Price $44,255.



’15 Mini Cooper hardtop to add 2 doors

The 2014 Mini Cooper S hardtop on a fall afternoon. (Bud Wells photos)
The 2014 Mini Cooper S hardtop on a fall afternoon. (Bud Wells photos)

The little Mini Cooper showed a bit of growth this year, having been stretched 4 inches in overall length on an inch-longer wheelbase, and it is 1.7 inches wider.

Some performance pop, too, has been added to the 2014 Mini Cooper S hardtop – not enough to call it a Super Duper Cooper, though sufficient for a more fun drive. Under hood is a new 189-horsepower, 2.0-liter TwinPower Turbo 4-cylinder engine with a 6-speed Getrag automatic transmission.

For the coming model year the really big news, effective following the Thanksgiving/Christmas holidays, will be the arrival of the 2015 Mini Cooper Hardtop Four-Door, a hatchback that goes on sale in January.

It will be the first four-door for the Cooper hardtop. Pricing will begin just below $22,000, about $1,000 higher than the standard two-door Cooper.

The four doors will make the new Mini more accessible for four-passenger use than is the original. The wheelbase will be expanded by 2.9 inches and the overall length by 6.3 inches.

Engine choices will be a 134-hp, 1.5-liter, 3-cylinder or the 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder. Both are turbocharged. Standard transmission will be a 6-speed manual, with a 6-speed Steptronic automatic optional.

The Cooper four-door will be a competitor of the Honda Fit, Kia Rio, Ford Fiesta and Chevrolet Sonic.

A choice of three driving modes – Sport, Green and Normal – enhanced the driver control of the ’14 Cooper S hardtop I drove. Shift points were more pronounced and suspension stiffened in the Sport setting, while the eco-minded Green set tamed the performance and upped the fuel mileage. Overall fuel mileage average was 31.3 miles per gallon, right in the middle of its EPA estimate of 26/35.

Pricey options such as the sport transmission, navigation, panoramic moonroof, leather seats (heated) and harman/kardon premium sound pushed the Cooper’s price from MSRP of $23,600 to a sticker of $37,395.

The big circular informational screen offers navigation, audio selection.
The big circular informational screen offers navigation, audio selection.

Among other options were racing green metallic exterior finish, power folding mirrors, automatic climate control, 18-inch cone-spoke silver wheels, LED headlights, head-up display, satellite radio and anthracite headliner.

The Mini Cooper, built in England, was reintroduced into the U.S. in 2002 by its parent company, Germany luxury-car maker BMW, after an absence of 35 years. A convertible was soon added, and, later, two larger models, the Clubman and Countryman.

Here are the specifications for the ’14 Mini Cooper S Hardtop:

  • Wheelbase 98.2 inches
  • Length 151.9 inches
  • Width 68 inches
  • Height 55.7 inches
  • Curb Weight 2,760 pounds
  • Track 58.5 inches front, rear
  • Ground Clearance 4.9 inches
  • Turn Circle 35.4 feet
  • Drivetrain Front-wheel-drive
  • Engine 2.0-liter twinpower turbo 4-cylinder
  • Horsepower/Torque 189/207
  • Transmission 6-speed automatic
  • Steering electric power
  • Fuel mileage estimate 27/38
  • Fuel mileage average 31.6
  • Fuel Tank 11.6 gallons, premium
  • Wheels 18-inch
  • Cargo Volume 8.7 cubic feet
  • Warranty 4 years/50,000 miles basic, 4/50,000 powertrain

Competitors Ford Focus ST, Volkswagen Golf R, Kia Soul, Nissan Juke, VW Beetle, Mazda 3

Assembly Plant Oxford, England

Parts Content Germany 35%, England 25%, U.S./Canadian 5%

Base Price of Lowest Model $20,745; Base Price of Review Model $23,600; Destination Charge $795; Sticker Price $37,395.


Acura TLX, with 9-speed, climbs to Vail

The 2015 Acura TLX luxury midsize sedan in Vail. (Bud Wells photos)
The 2015 Acura TLX luxury midsize sedan in Vail. (Bud Wells photos)

For 2015, an engineering feat by Acura has combined two models into one in a midsize makeover.

The result is the pleasantly styled ’15 TLX sedan, which delivered us smoothly to Vail and back.

The two 2014 models which met their maker to create the new one are the TL and its sportier stablemate, the TSX.

The new TLX is of much sleeker design than the two old bodies; it’s a bit longer than the TSX, though 3.8 inches shorter than the TL.

Fashioned so elegantly, and with a 9-speed automatic transmission, push-button shifts and all-wheel drive, the TLX made a hit with me.

A question for Acura, though, is whether one model can sell at the same pace or faster than the two models of the past. It’s the same query tossed at Sergio Marchionne, head of FiatChrysler, in his intention to do away with the Dodge Grand Caravan minivan in favor of its near-twin, Chrysler Town & Country. Will he sell as many minivans under the Chrysler nameplate as he has under combined Dodge/Chrysler names? I doubt it.

Regardless of level of future sales, the ’15 TLX luxury midsize four-door is a pleasure to drive.

A 290-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 is tied to the 9-speed automatic; it kept pace, often on the inside fast lane, with no problem on the I-70 climb up the mountains. With all the gearing available, a slight tendency at times to remain in higher gear with lessened performance, can be overcome with use of Sport mode in Acura’s Integrated Dynamics System. Using paddles at hand, shifts are quickened, throttle is more responsive and steering is stiffened. Upshifts are delayed.

There is no shifter in sight; it’s a matter of pushing buttons for P (park), D (drive) and N (neutral) and pulling a small lever for R (reverse). Push-button transmissions were popular 50 to 60 years ago, used by Chrysler, Mercury and Rambler, with some frustrating moments when a button would slip out of place. Those were mechanical; Acura’s is electronic, it won’t fail.

The TLX’s new electronic push-button shift system.
The TLX’s new electronic push-button shift system.

Only on either side of the Eisenhower Tunnel and over Vail Pass did we see any snow or feel wet roads. In more adverse conditions the Acura’s drive system, Super Handling All Wheel Drive, distributes torque between the front and rear axles, as well as between the rear wheels. Torque vectoring (distributing power to each wheel independently) has been enhanced in the new TLX.

The new Acura is a good handler, with a quiet cabin. It has a wide turn circle, almost 40 feet.

Its interior, with leather, is comfortably finished and roomy enough for five adults. Spacewise, the only lack is in headroom in the rear seating area; trunk space is 14.3 cubic feet. A deep dash juts sharply toward the front seats, putting center stack controls within easy reach of both driver and front-seat passenger, though cutting down on legroom, particularly for the passenger. The center stack features dual display screens, a lower touch-screen for audio and climate control, the upper controlled by knobs and buttons also for audio and navigation. It can lead to confusion.

Aided by the return drive from Vail, overall fuel-mileage average for the TLX was 29.4 miles per gallon; EPA estimate is 21-31.

The TLX sticker price of $45,595 was boosted by two packages:

Technical – Navigation with voice recognition and multiview rear camera, real-time traffic, ELS studio premium audio with 10 speakers, perforated leather seats, blind-spot information, forward-collision warning, lane-keeping assist, rain-sensing wipers and rear-cross traffic monitor.

Advance – Collision-mitigation braking system, adaptive cruise control, ventilated front seats, exterior puddle lamps, remote engine start, front and rear parking sensors, LED foglights and road-departure warning.

A lesser-priced version of the new TLX can be bought in the $35,000 to $38,000 range with front-wheel drive, a 206-hp, 4-cylinder engine and 8-speed automatic transmission. It is rated at 35 mpg on the highway. It is equipped with an all-wheel-steering system, not available with the V-6 engine.

Here are the specifications for the ’15 Acura TLX SH-AWD:

  • Wheelbase 109.3 inches
  • Length 190.3 inches
  • Width 73 inches
  • Height 57 inches
  • Curb Weight 3,774 pounds
  • Track 62.8 inches front, 63.1 rear
  • Ground Clearance 5.9 inches
  • Turn Circle 39.6 feet
  • Drivetrain All-wheel-drive
  • Engine 3.5-liter V-6
  • Horsepower/Torque 290/267
  • Transmission 9-speed automatic
  • Steering electronic power
  • Fuel mileage estimate 21/31
  • Fuel mileage average 29.4
  • Fuel Tank 17.2 gallons
  • Wheels 18-inch
  • Cargo Volume 14.3 cubic feet
  • Warranty 4 years/50,000 miles basic, 6/70,000 powertrain

Competitors Lincoln MKZ, Audi A4, BMW 3 series, Lexus IS

Assembly Plant Marysville, Ohio

Parts Content U.S./Canadian 65%

Base Price of Lowest Model $31,890; Base Price of Review Model $44,700; Destination Charge $895; Sticker Price $45,595.



Jag shines with 550-hp F-Type R Coupe

The 2015 Jaguar F-Type R Coupe. (Bud Wells photos)
The 2015 Jaguar F-Type R Coupe. (Bud Wells photos)

Eighteen months after the new Jag roadster stole the spotlight at the Denver Auto Show, the hardtop version, the 2015 Jaguar F-Type R Coupe, came my way.

What a tough, robust two-seater sports car it is, with a 550-horsepower, 5-liter supercharged V-8 twisting out 502 lb.-ft. of torque.

A simple pull of a small switch beside the shifter activates dynamic drive mode for the Jag; the performance enhancement is felt about as quickly as the extreme roar is heard from the quad exhausts. The response is tremendous, with tightened steering. The coupe will do the 0-to-60 sprint in 4 seconds and boasts a top speed of 188 miles per hour.

Shifts are almost imperceptible with an 8-speed automatic transmission, though control can be quickened with use of orange paddle shifters at either side of the steering wheel.

The R-package’s retuned dampers boost the level of superb handling. The cornering grip mixes a sense of security with the fun of the drive.

Complementing the coupe’s large power capability are extra big brakes, with tremendous stopping strength. They’re 15-inch rotors in front and 14.8 at the rear. Red calipers draw attention to the sizable rotors in the 20-inch wheels. They run on Pirelli 255/35ZR20 tires.

The sleek Jaguar looked right at home outside Elway’s at Cherry Creek one noon last week when we joined Ted King for a birthday lunch for his wife, Shirley.

Shirley King tests Jag’s seating.
Shirley King tests Jag’s seating.

With its long, sloping hood and big nose out front, the low-slung F-Type exudes appeal to streetgoers throughout downtown Denver. It stands only 52 inches in height and is of medium overall length; at 176 inches it is almost half-a-foot shorter than a Mercedes-Benz SL550.

The ivory-colored interior is luxuriant and bright. Finished in premium leather, it features touchscreen navigation, Bluetooth connectivity and a 770-watt, 12-speaker Meridian sound system.

The F-Type interior.
The F-Type interior.

A small rear window and wide C pillars limit view out the rear, and, on the highway, when a rear panel lifts for downforce at higher speeds, there’s even less vision. And, up front, the sun visors are the smallest (shallowest) I remember, measuring less than 3 inches. They barely fall into the top of the windshield area.

When the Jaguar is locked, door handles retract flush into the body panel for a neat look at the side, especially for the fact the side mirrors also fold in. The handles, very plain in appearance, lend an awkward look when they’re unlocked, jutting out at an odd angle.

“Plain-jane” Jag door handle.
“Plain-jane” Jag door handle.

The R Coupe comes in at a staggering price of $102,825. A standard F-Type coupe, with power from a 3.0-liter V-6, can be bought in the $70,000 to $75,000 range.

With the F-Type earning accolades for the British-built Jaguar, the company intends to drop its XK grand touring coupe and convertible after the ’15 model run.


Here are the specifications for the ’15 Jaguar F-Type R Coupe:

  • Wheelbase 103.2 inches
  • Length 176 inches
  • Width 75.7 inches
  • Height 52 inches
  • Curb Weight 3,638 pounds
  • Track 62.4 inches front, 64.1 rear
  • Ground Clearance 4.8 inches
  • Turn Circle 35 feet
  • Drivetrain Rear-wheel-drive
  • Engine 5.0-liter supercharged V-8
  • Horsepower/Torque 550/502
  • Transmission 8-speed automatic
  • Steering rack-and-pinion
  • Fuel mileage estimate 16/23
  • Fuel mileage average 18.3
  • Fuel Tank 18.5 gallons
  • Wheels 20-inch
  • Cargo Volume 11 cubic feet
  • Warranty 4 years/50,000 miles basic, 4/50,000 powertrain


Competitors Porsche Cayman, Porsche 911, Mercedes-Benz SL550, Chevrolet Corvette, BMW M4, Dodge Viper

Assembly Plant Castle Bromwich, England

Parts Content Germany 53%, England 41%, U.S./Canadian 2%

Base Price of Lowest Model $65,925; Base Price of Review Model $99,000; Destination Charge $925; Sticker Price $102,825.


’15 Escalade pushes Cadillac past $90k

The 2015 Cadillac Escalade ESV partway up the drive to Guanella Pass. (Bud Wells photo)
The 2015 Cadillac Escalade ESV partway up the drive to Guanella Pass. (Bud Wells photo)

The climb to 11,670-foot Guanella Pass from Georgetown (elevation 8,530 feet) in little more than 10 miles was a nice drive on a warm, bright, late-September afternoon and an excellent test for the 2015 Cadillac Escalade ESV.

Performance was impressive from the Escalade’s new 420-horsepower, direct-injected 6.2-liter V-8 engine, and even atop its extended-length 130-inch wheelbase, it handled the rise and the hairpin curves with a nimbleness not normally enjoyed in that size SUV.

Plush accommodations and high-tech features pushed the Escalade’s price to $90,985, a far cry from the previously highest-priced Cadillac I’ve driven, the 2010 CTS-V sedan at $68,445 four years ago.

The high price was a first step toward more luxurious offerings from Cadillac. Company officials announced, during the time I was driving the Escalade, they would soon build a new prestige sedan with advanced technology to compete more directly with Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi.

Cadillac also announced it will in 2015 expand its Detroit-based organization to New York, creating a new global headquarters there.

The new premium sedan, though, will remain tied to Detroit. It is to be known as the CT6 and will be built in the Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plant. It will go into production in the fourth quarter of 2015 and will be a new top-of-the-line Cadillac.

Inside the Detroit-Hamtramck Cadillac assembly plant, where the new CT6 will be built. (Cadillac photo)
Inside the Detroit-Hamtramck Cadillac assembly plant, where the new CT6 will be built. (Cadillac photo)

“The objective for this upcoming model is to lift the Cadillac range by entering the elite class of top-level luxury cars,” said Cadillac President Johan de Nysschen.

The big Cadillac Escalade ESV, which is longer by 14 inches in wheelbase and 22 inches overall than the regular Escalade, easily kept pace with other motorists in the I-70 fast lane to Georgetown. The mountain climb above Georgetown took us near Mt. Bierstadt and gave me an opportunity to use the Escalade’s manual-mode shifter. It is more awkward than most, as, rather than paddle shifters, it is engaged from a button on the column shifter. It locked into 2nd and 3rd gears with no hesitation, however. Overall fuel-mileage average was 18.2 miles per gallon.

22-inch wheels and retractable running boards are 2015 ESV highlights. (Bud Wells photo)
22-inch wheels and retractable running boards are 2015 ESV highlights. (Bud Wells photo)

Walk up to the ESV, open the driver’s door, and wide, retractable running boards (a $1,700 option) slide out into place for easy access into plush interior surroundings with kona brown perforated heated and cooled front seats. Somewhat distracting is a dashboard of many parts, which angle away in various directions.

Standard on this premium ESV is the touch-sensitive Cadillac User Experience (CUE) navigation system. Tied to a 16-speaker Bose Cabin surround-sound system are MP3, Bluetooth and SiriusXM, with Blu-Ray DVD rear-entertainment screens for second- and third-row passengers. A head-up display provides driving information out front of the driver.

The ESV offers a segment-first front-seat center airbag, not to protect a center-seat passenger, for a center console prevents use there as a seat. It is engineered, Cadillac said, to provide additional protection to drivers and front passengers in far-side impact crashes, where the affected occupant is on the opposite, non-struck side of the SUV.

The added length of the vehicle creates a large cargo area, 38.7 cubic feet, behind the third row of seats. With the power liftgate open, rear-positioned controls can be used to fold-flat and raise the third-row of seats, along with flip-folding the second-row seats to allow passengers to climb into the third-row seats. A highlight at the rear are distinctive, vertical, 3-feet-long LED taillights.

Lots of cargo space behind the third row of seats in Escalade ESV. (Bud Wells photo)
Lots of cargo space behind the third row of seats in Escalade ESV. (Bud Wells photo)

Seat vibrations to alert the driver to non-signaled lane departure are among standard technology, helping to push the ESV’s price above $90,000. Others are adaptive cruise control with excellent braking control, blind-zone and cross-traffic alerts and forward-collision alert.

Cadillac’s magnetic ride control is one of the most instantaneously reacting suspension systems. The Escalade’s 22-inch wheels are shod with Bridgestone Dueler P285/45R22 tires.

Here are the specifications for the ’15 Cadillac Escalade ESV 4WD:

  • Wheelbase 130 inches
  • Length 224.3 inches
  • Width 80.5 inches
  • Height 74 inches
  • Curb Weight 6,096 pounds
  • Track 68.7 inches front and rear
  • Ground Clearance 7.9 inches
  • Turn Circle 43 feet
  • Drivetrain Four-wheel-drive
  • Engine 6.2-liter V-8
  • Horsepower/Torque 420/460
  • Transmission 6-speed automatic
  • Steering electrically variable power-assisted
  • Fuel mileage estimate 14/20
  • Fuel mileage average 18.27
  • Fuel Tank 26 gallons
  • Wheels 22-inch
  • Cargo Volume 38.7 cubic feet
  • Warranty 4 years/50,000 miles basic, 6/70,000 powertrain

Competitors Range Rover, Lincoln Navigator, Infiniti QX80, Lexus LX470

Assembly Plant Arlington, Texas

Parts Content U.S./Canadian 60%, Mexico 28%

Base Price Lowest Model $74,295; Base Price of Review Model $85,795; Destination Charge $995; Sticker Price $90,985.


Ford, YMCA gather costumes for kids


Five Denver-area Ford stores and several YMCA locations are accepting new and gently used Halloween costumes for kids in need.

Costumes for Kids, the Halloween drive, provided more than 150 costumes in the initial launch of the program last October by the Ford stores and YMCA of Metropolitan Denver.

“It was extremely meaningful to see all of the smiling faces of the children who benefited from this program last year,” said Todd Rabourn, Denver regional manager for Ford Motor Co. “Every kid deserves to get dressed up and have fun on Halloween and Denver area Ford dealerships are excited to help make that happen.”

“We are very grateful for the partnership with Ford again on the costume drive,” said Jim Hiner, president and CEO, YMCA of Metropolitan Denver. “We look forward to the opportunity to help a number of children participate in Halloween this year with a new costume. The partnership is one more way we are able to strengthen our community.”

Halloween costumes can be dropped off through Saturday, Oct. 11, at five Ford dealerships, including

  • Freeway Ford, 4471 E. Evans Ave., Denver;
  • Groove Ford, 10039 E. Arapahoe Rd., Centennial;
  • Longmont Ford, 235 Alpine St., Longmont;
  • Medved Ford, 1404 S. Wilcox St., Castle Rock, and
  • Sill-TerHar Ford, 150 Alter St., Broomfield.

Also at

  • Patton Boggs International Law Firm, 1801 California St., Denver;
  • YMCA of Metropolitan Denver, 2526 S. Colorado Blvd., Denver;
  • Downtown YMCA, 25 E. 16th Ave., Denver;
  • Duncan Family YMCA, 6350 Eldridge St., Arvada;
  • Littleton Family YMCA, 11 W. Dry Creek Ct., Littleton;
  • Schlessman Family YMCA, 3901 Yale Ave., Denver, and
  • Southwest Family YMCA, 5181 W. Kenyon Ave., Denver.