Category Archives: Auto Reviews

Boulder event showcases ’15 Chrysler 300

The 2015 Chrysler 300C Platinum sedan in Four Mile Canyon, west of Boulder. (Bud Wells photo)
The 2015 Chrysler 300C Platinum sedan in Four Mile Canyon, west of Boulder. (Bud Wells photo)

Chrysler showed off four models of its 300 flagship sedan at a gathering in Boulder Thursday evening.

Parked out front of the Rembrandt Yard Art Gallery & Event Center for 30 members of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Press were the 300 Limited, 300S, 300C and 300C Platinum. A larger grille dominates the front end of the new 300.

With Bob Sweeney and Donald Bain as passengers, I drove the high-end 300C Platinum edition several miles up Boulder Canyon, then several more miles up Four Mile Canyon west of Boulder.

The fully loaded Chrysler, equipped with all-wheel drive, was powered by a 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 and 8-speed automatic transmission, which is shifted with a rotary selector. To maintain more secure control in the sharp turns on the steep climb up the Four Mile roadway, I used paddle shifters for 2nd and 3rd gears. As full-sized cars go, the Chrysler is a good handler, and the V-6 power is strong.

Bain and Sweeney each took their turns in the driver’s seat on our descent into Boulder and around the University of Colorado campus before returning to the Rembrandt Yard for dinner.

The 300C Platinum tops out at $50,175. Base prices are $31,395 for the Limited, $34,895 for the sporty S, $37,895 for the C and $42,395 for the C Platinum.

Andy Love of Chrysler Brand Marketing, Detroit, listed the Toyota Avalon, Chevrolet Impala and Ford Taurus as chief competitors for the 300, though neither the Avalon or Impala offer all-wheel drive.

Thirty-two percent of Chrysler 300s sold in the 2014 model year were equipped with all-wheel drive. More than 50 percent of those sold in Colorado are AWD models. For 2015, only the V-6 models will be available with the AWD feature. The Hemi V-8, with 363 horsepower, is of rear-wheel-drive configuration.

Chrysler 300’s AWD uses an active transfer case and front-axle-disconnect system aimed at improving fuel efficiency. It transitions between rear-wheel drive and all-wheel drive with no driver intervention. When AWD is not needed, the front axle is automatically disconnected to maximize fuel economy.


Kia 1st to show ’16 model, the Sorento

The 2016 Kia Sorento is powered by small turbocharged engine. (Bud Wells photos)
The 2016 Kia Sorento is powered by small turbocharged engine. (Bud Wells photos)

By Bud Wells

Already rolling into Colorado are several 2016-model cars and trucks, still a month ahead of the 2015 Denver Auto Show.

The ’16 Kia Sorento SUV is the first I’ve driven. It’s 3 inches longer than last year’s edition and filled with refinement. So filled, in fact, the SXL all-wheel-drive Sorento carries a sticker price of $45,095. Wow.

A new, turbocharged 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder engine, tied to a 6-speed automatic transmission, impressively moved the 4,000-pound Kia sent my way. Standard is a normally aspirated 2.4-liter 4-cylinder of 185 horsepower and also optional is a 290-hp, 3.3-liter V-6. The turbo, though out-towed by the V-6, 3,500 to 5,000 pounds, seems the better choice in responsiveness and fuel mileage.

The turboed 4-cylinder, after a momentary lag, delivers torque in strong fashion in low-end and midrange acceleration. Pushing a button on the center console will alter the drive mode; before getting to the sport setting, though, it rests briefly on the eco set, and shift points between eco and sport are immediately noticeable. With most of my driving time split between normal and sport modes, the Sorento averaged 21.4 miles per gallon. Suspension is firm, with little harshness.

The third-generation Sorento features a large, upright grille, redesigned headlights and LED foglights and power-folding side mirrors. Its exterior pales in comparison to several more stylistic competitors, including the new Nissan Murano.

Kia’s new look up front for the ’16 Sorento.
Kia’s new look up front for the ’16 Sorento.

Inside, though, its upgrades are eye-catching, from its soft-touch dashboard to a 39-cubic-foot cargo area, one of the largest in its class. The cabin, a five-passenger with two rows of seats (a third row is optional), is especially roomy and premium Nappa leather seats are appealing and comfortable. The front seats are heated and ventilated and the steering wheel is warmed, too.

With the Sorento’s doors locked, walk up behind the rear liftgate with the smartkey in pocket, the taillights will flash, then momentarily the liftgate begins to open. Very handy for grocery shoppers.

A panoramic sunroof, Infinity surround-sound, navigation, Bluetooth, lane-departure warning, 19-inch wheels, rearview camera with additional surround view, electronic park brake and smart cruise control pushed the price to the $45k mark.

Kia is also making a move with its redesigned 2015 Sedona minivan, which hopes to lure a few sales away from the competition’s Big Four of Chrysler Town & Country, Dodge Grand Caravan, Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna.

I’ve driven the big Sedona, which is a bit longer in wheelbase than the Odyssey and Sienna and is only an inch shorter in overall length than the Town & Country and Grand Caravan.

It did some slipping on the icy streets of late February, though is generally an above-average handler with its front-wheel drive powertrain of 3.3-liter V-6 engine and 6-speed automatic transmission. Overall fuel-mileage average was 19.8.

The seven-passenger Sedona has three rows of seats; the middle row seats recline with footrests and slide horizontally for added cargo space.

Addition of xenon HID headlights, lane-departure and forward-collision warning systems, surround-view monitor and smart cruise control boosted sticker price to $43,295 from a base of $39,700 for the Sedona SXL.

Contact Bud Wells at [email protected].

Here are the specifications for the 2016 Kia Sorento SXL AWD SUV:

  • Capacity 5-passenger crossover SUV
  • Wheelbase 109.4 inches
  • Length 187.4 inches
  • Width 74.4 inches
  • Height 66.3 inches
  • Curb Weight 4,004 pounds
  • Track 64.3 inches front, rear
  • Ground Clearance 7.3 inches
  • Turn Circle 36.4 feet
  • Drivetrain All-wheel-drive
  • Engine 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder
  • Horsepower/Torque 240/260
  • Transmission 6-speed automatic
  • Steering power speed-sensing rack-and-pinion
  • Suspension strut front, multilink rear
  • Fuel mileage estimate 19/25
  • Fuel mileage average 21.4
  • Fuel Tank 18.8 gallons, premium
  • Wheels 19-inch
  • Tires Michelin 235/55R19
  • Cargo Volume 39 cubic feet
  • Warranty 5 years/60,000 miles basic, 10/100,000 powertrain

Competitors Jeep Grand Chereokee, Nissan Murano, Nissan Pathfinder, Toyota 4Runner, Honda Pilot

Assembly Plant West Point, Ga.

Parts Content U.S./Canadian 53%, Korea 47%

Base Price of Lowest Model $24,900; Base Price of Review Model $41,700; Destination Charge $895; Sticker Price $45,095.

Supercharged, turbocharged Volvo S60

Strong 4-cylinder power has been added to the 2015.5 T6 Drive-E Volvo S60. (Bud Wells photos)
Strong 4-cylinder power has been added to the 2015.5 T6 Drive-E Volvo S60. (Bud Wells photos)

What’s preferable for power-boosting – supercharging or turbocharging? The difference, of course, in the added air-induction system into the cylinders is that a supercharger is belt-driven, a turbocharger is exhaust-driven.

As for which is the better process, Volvo says that is a moot point in its new 2015.5 S60 T6 Drive-E sedan. The Swedish auto firm has installed both supercharging and turbocharging in its 2.0-liter, direct-injection 4-cylinder engine.

Under the hood in the Volvo are both supercharging and turbocharging.
Under the hood in the Volvo are both supercharging and turbocharging.

That’s right, a 4-cylinder, though the T6 designation might lead to other assumptions.

With the dual power-boosters at hand, the small block kicks out an astounding 302 horsepower and 295 lb.-ft. of torque tied to an 8-speed automatic transmission.

The supercharger is working from the initial takeoff and is effective for low-end thrust, then goes into idle mode as the exhaust turbines force the turbocharger into action all through the higher rpm.

A benefit beyond the high-power net is that, with only 4 cylinders at work, the S60 midsize four-door rolls up fuel mileage figures into the 30s. I averaged 31.3 miles per gallon with an S60 review model, even while enjoying the super/turbo perks. The car’s EPA estimate is 24/35.

The charged-up 4-cylinder with the 8-speed transmission is available for now in the S60’s front-wheel-drive sedans; the all-wheel-drive models still rely on power from the Volvo’s 5- and 6-cylinder engines. Eventually, the 4 will be under the hood of both configurations.

The fact this model is known as T6 Drive-E is confusing; it gets its 4-cylinder power from the super/turbo chargers, while another version called the T5 Drive-E has the 4-cylinder with only turbocharging.

The performance of the duo-boosters will sell the S60, even though, occasionally in sport mode at midrange the power seems to linger and jump back and forth momentarily.

A Platinum options package added a Harmon Kardon premium audio system with excellent speakers and boosted sticker price to $47,575. The rearview camera can be switched from full view to a closeup of the right side for parking the vehicle.

For years, the S60 four-door has been a bit short on legroom, and trunk space measures only 12 cubic feet.

Here are the specifications for the 2015.5 Volvo S60 T6 Drive-E:

  • Capacity 5-passenger sedan
  • Wheelbase 109.3 inches
  • Length 182.5 inches
  • Width 73.4 inches
  • Height 58.4 inches
  • Curb Weight 3,472 pounds
  • Track 62.1 inches front, 62 rear
  • Ground Clearance 5.4 inches
  • Turn Circle 37.1 feet
  • Drivetrain Front-wheel-drive
  • Engine 2.0-liter supercharged, turbocharged 4-cylinder
  • Horsepower/Torque 302/295
  • Transmission 8-speed automatic
  • Steering electronic power rack-and-pinion
  • Suspension MacPherson strut front, multilink rear
  • Fuel mileage estimate 24/35
  • Fuel mileage average 31.3
  • Fuel Tank 17.8 gallons, premium
  • Wheels 19-inch
  • Tires Pirelli Cinturato 235/40R19
  • Cargo Volume 12 cubic feet
  • Warranty 4 years/50,000 miles basic, powertrain

Competitors Cadillac ATS, Mercedes-Benz C350 Sport, Audi A4, Lexus IS250

Assembly Plant Ghent, Belgium

Parts Content Belgium 32%, Sweden 21%, U.S./Canadian 1%

  • Base Price of Lowest Model $33,300;
  • Base Price of Review Model $39,000;
  • Destination Charge $925;
  • Sticker Price $47,575.

2015 VW Golf earns merits in motion

The 2015 Volkswagen Golf was ‘car of the year’ in Detroit. (Bud Wells photos)
The 2015 Volkswagen Golf was ‘car of the year’ in Detroit. (Bud Wells photos)

There’s not a lot of glamour associated with the 2015 Volkswagen Golf TSI SE hatchback, yet I seemed, over and over, to look for reasons to get into its driver’s seat and maneuver it all over town.

This allure might explain its surprising choice as car of the year at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit in January. The little Golf beat out a couple of hot-shot finalists – the Ford Mustang and Hyundai Genesis – for the honor.

The new Golf, a five-passenger compact, sits an inch lower, is 2 inches longer and looks a bit sportier than last year’s model. It shows refinement inside and, with the small turbocharged engine, is fun to drive (except for the turbo lag on takeoff). Its sticker is just over $25,000.

Another Volkswagen I drove recently which might be an even better value is the ‘15 Jetta SE four-door.

This new VW Jetta carries sticker price of $20,810.
This new VW Jetta carries sticker price of $20,810.

It doesn’t have a backup camera and there is no navigation screen. Let me tell you what the Jetta does have – the 1.8 turbocharged engine and manual transmission producing fuel mileage into the 30s, heated front seats, SiriusXM satellite radio and Bluetooth mobile phone connectivity. That for a sticker price of $20,810.

While the Golf’s wheelbase is only an inch shorter than that of the Jetta’s, it is 16 inches shorter in overall length. At 3,023 pounds on a wheelbase of 103 inches, the Golf is a superb handler; the German engineering is appreciated.

The front-wheel-drive configuration performs well with the 1.8-liter turbo 4-cylinder developing 170 horsepower and 200 lb.-ft. of torque and tied to a 6-speed automatic transmission. It has strut front and multilink rear suspension and rides on Continental ProContact 225/45R17 tires. The Golf averaged 31.2 miles per gallon in overall driving.

The Jetta’s 1.8-liter turbocharged engine.
The Jetta’s 1.8-liter turbocharged engine.

Small, inconspicuous paddle shifters are easy to touch and use with the transmission’s manual mode. The Golf’s out-of-the-way touch-shifters contrast in appearance with the 6-inch-long magnesium paddles on the Infiniti QX70 which replaced the VW in my driveway.

Inside the VW are firm, supportive perforated leather seats (heated in front), a 5.8-inch touchscreen display with small but clear-imaged backup camera and flat-bottomed steering wheel. The rear-seating area has added legroom and headroom and the cargo space behind the rear seats has grown from less than 16 cubic feet to more than 22.

As for the Jetta, few cars in that price range will handle better than the German product (built in Mexico) from VW. Rural roads with their bends and knolls and short-stretch straightaways brought out the best in the front-wheel-drive Jetta. It exhibits precise steering. The Jetta is Volkswagen’s best-selling model, ahead of the Passat and Golf.

I reviewed the first Jetta, an ‘80 model, 35 years ago; it was 15 inches shorter than today’s sedan and weighed only 1,900 pounds.

The 2015 Jetta weighs 3,000 pounds on a wheelbase of 104.4 inches and overall length of 183.3 inches. The added size gives it a roomy interior and a nice-sized trunk of almost 16 cubic feet. The driver’s side sun visor can’t be swung completely around to the side window because of obstruction by the overhead grip handle, and is left hanging at an awkward position.

Here are the specifications for the 2015 Volkswagen Golf TSI SE:

  • Capacity 5-passenger hatchback
  • Wheelbase 103.8 inches
  • Length 167.5 inches
  • Width 70.8 inches
  • Height 57.2 inches
  • Curb Weight 3,023 pounds
  • Track 61 inches front, 59.8 rear
  • Ground Clearance 5.4 inches
  • Turn Circle 35.8 feet
  • Drivetrain Front-wheel-drive
  • Engine 1.8-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder
  • Horsepower/Torque 170/200
  • Transmission 6-speed automatic
  • Steering electromechanical power
  • Suspension Front strut, rear multilink
  • Fuel mileage estimate 25/36
  • Fuel mileage average 31.2
  • Fuel Tank 13.2 gallons, regular unleaded
  • Wheels 17-inch
  • Tires Continental 225/45R17
  • Cargo Volume 22.8 cubic feet
  • Warranty 3 years/36,000 miles basic, 5/60,000 powertrain

Competitors Ford Fiesta hatchback, Subaru Impreza Sport, Honda Fit, Mini Cooper Clubman, Fiat 500L

Assembly Plant Puebla, Mexico

Parts Content German 25%, Mexico 21%, U.S./Canadian 7%

Base Price of Lowest Model $18,815; Base Price of Review Model $24,895; Destination Charge $820; Sticker Price $25,715.

Hyundai eyes gains for 7th-gen Sonata


The 2015 Hyundai Sonata Sport sedan is slightly longer and wider than last year’s model. (Bud Wells photos)
The 2015 Hyundai Sonata Sport sedan is slightly longer and wider than last year’s model. (Bud Wells photos)

Hyundai sticks with 4-cylinder power, naturally aspirated or turbocharged, as its seventh-generation 2015 Sonata midsize sedan attempts to move up from its 10th place position in car sales in this country.

The Korean maker is betting on its smaller-block power, though most competitors offer an optional V-6 engine.

Dressed up in white pearl exterior and black leather sport seats with orange piping, the 2015 Sonata Sport four-door sent my way was equipped with a 2.0-liter, twin-scroll turbo and 6-speed automatic transmission. The ride was quieted through increased use of sound-deadening materials in the dashboard, and enhanced the finely detailed interior.

One of the most attractive colors I’ve seen in the new year, canyon copper, adorned another Hyundai driven recently, the 2015 Santa Fe Sport AWD. This color is striking enough to steal away some looks from, say, a silver-finished Toyota Highlander.

A canyon copper finish enhances the ’15 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport crossover.
A canyon copper finish enhances the ’15 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport crossover.

The Sonata sedan and Santa Fe crossover are two of Hyundai’s three most popular models. Only the Elantra compact outsells them.

The sleek style introduced by the Sonata in 2011, known as “fluidic sculpture,” has been softened somewhat in the new look for 2015. The Sport version features a low-slung exterior with sharply raked windshield and rear window.

Though horsepower and torque have been lessened in the Sonata’s 2.0-liter twin-scroll turbocharged engine, the sport setting in drive mode choice with paddle-shift use will increase response and tighten steering feel for a more satisfactory performance level. The drive mode’s normal set offers smoother shifts and acceleration; a mild-mannered eco mode is available for ultimate fuel mileages. The turbo’s horsepower has been reduced to 245 from last year’s 274 and the torque drops to 260 lb.-ft. from 269. The Sonata’s base engine is a 185-hp, 2.4-liter 4-cylinder.

The front-drive Sonata Sport with the turbo power carries an EPA estimate of 23/32 miles per gallon; my overall average was 24.7.

Highlighting the interior, in addition to the orange piping on the seats, is a panoramic sunroof, a high-tech center stack angled toward the driver for easier-accessed controls and a flat-bottomed sport steering wheel. The front seats are heated and ventilated and power control has been added to the passenger side; for years, Hyundai has caught grief for a low-positioned front passenger seat without height adjustment.

A full-length sunroof brightens Santa Fe Sport interior.
A full-length sunroof brightens Santa Fe Sport interior.

Good headroom and legroom add comfort to the rear-seating area, where the flat-cushioned seats are heated. Manual sunshades are part of the rear side windows.

Price of the Sonata Sport jumped from $28,575 to $34,460 with the addition of an ultimate package, including such items as the sunroof and navigation, Infinity audio speakers with subwoofer and amplifier, electronic parking brake and a safety group – smart cruise, lane-departure and forward-collision warning, blind-spot detection and rearview camera.

The 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder in the 2015 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport all-wheel drive delivers 264 horsepower; there is some lag in low-end acceleration. The 6-speed automatic transmission offered no paddles. The 3,600-pound Santa Fe averaged 23.2 miles per gallon; its EPA rating is 18/24.

A button on the steering wheel moves steering feel through normal, sport and comfort levels.

Perforated leather seats are part of a well-designed interior, contrasting light and dark finish with wood trim. A power liftgate at the rear opens up 35.4 cubic feet of cargo space; the spare tire is underneath the vehicle.

Navigation, 12-speaker Infinity audio, panoramic sunroof, heated seats and power liftgate pushed sticker price of the Santa Fe Sport to $38,350.

The Santa Fe Sport is 9 inches shorter and 300 pounds lighter than the bigger Santa Fe.

Here are the specifications for the 2015 Hyundai Sonata Sport 2.0T:

  • Capacity 5-passenger sedan
  • Wheelbase 110.4 inches
  • Length 191.1 inches
  • Width 73.4 inches
  • Height 58.1 inches
  • Curb Weight 3,575 pounds
  • Track 62.9 inches front, 63.1 rear
  • Ground Clearance 5.3 inches
  • Turn Circle 335.8 feet
  • Drivetrain Front-wheel-drive
  • Engine 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder
  • Horsepower/Torque 245/260
  • Transmission 6-speed automatic
  • Steering electric-assist rack-and-pinion
  • Suspension MacPherson strut front, multilink rear
  • Fuel mileage estimate 23/32
  • Fuel mileage average 24.7
  • Fuel Tank 18.5 gallons, regular unleaded
  • Wheels 18-inch
  • Tires Kumho Solus 235/45R18
  • Cargo Volume 16.3 cubic feet
  • Warranty 5 years/60,000 miles basic, 10/100,000 powertrain

Competitors Honda Accord, Ford Fusion, Toyota Camry, VW Passat TSI Sport, Chrysler 200, Mazda6

Assembly Plant Montgomery, Ala.

Parts Content U.S./Canadian 41%, Korea 51%

Base Price of Lowest Model $21,150; Base Price of Review Model $28,575; Destination Charge $810; Sticker Price $34,460.

Dodge offers 3 engines for ’15 Dart


The 2015 Dodge Dart GT is one of lengthier compacts. (Bud Wells photo)
The 2015 Dodge Dart GT is one of lengthier compacts. (Bud Wells photo)

I glanced briefly at the center stack, while heading downroad after dark in the 2015 Dodge Dart GT, and staring right back at me was the colorful face of the Uconnect 8.4-inch audio/navigation touchscreen display.

The large, high-resolution screen is a highlight of a very pleasant interior for the Dart. The entertainment package is tuned in with AM/FM/CD/satellite audio, VoiceCommand, Bluetooth and Garmin navigation/SiriusXM Traffic, which provides current weather, travel, fuel information, sports and movie listings.

The roomy, front-wheel-drive Dart compact (it is 3 inches longer than the Chevy Cruze or Toyota Corolla) returned to Dodge showrooms in 2013 after an absence of 37 years. Aimed at young adults, the Dart is available in five models, beginning with the SE at $16,495, the SXT, Aero, GT and Limited.

The Dart GT performed smoothly with its 2.4-liter, 184-horsepower Tigershark engine and 6-speed automatic transmission. It delivered an average of 27.4 miles per gallon in overall driving; that was close to the middle of its 22/31 EPA estimate.

Two other optional engines will go considerably higher in mpg – a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder of 160-hp and a peppy 1.4-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder. I tested the little turbo 2 ½ years ago and averaged 33.4.

The Dart GT carried a sticker price of $24,680, which included the UConnect setup, Powertech automatic transmission, remote start, 18-inch hyper black wheels and compact spare tire. Among standard items for the GT are Nappa leather seats (heated in front), backup camera, dual-zone climate control and speed control.

Lightly bolstered front seats are wide and comfortable. Anyone who has ridden with us over the years knows that Jan oversees much of the usage of HVAC in the cars and trucks. More than once during the very cold week we drove the Dart I heard grumbling from the passenger side over “slow warmup” of the heater.

The Dart was a strong competitor for Dodge from 1960 to 1976, when it was discontinued in favor of a new model called the Aspen.

Here are the specifications for the 2015 Dodge Dart GT:

  • Capacity 5-passenger sedan
  • Wheelbase 106.4 inches
  • Length 183.9 inches
  • Width 72 inches
  • Height 57.7 inches
  • Curb Weight 3,186 pounds
  • Track 61.7 inches front, 61.6 rear
  • Ground Clearance 4.4 inches
  • Turn Circle 37.7 feet
  • Drivetrain Front-wheel-drive
  • Engine 2.4-liter 4-cylinder
  • Horsepower/Torque 184/171
  • Transmission 6-speed automatic
  • Steering rack-and-pinion
  • Suspension strut front, multilink rear
  • Fuel mileage estimate 22/31
  • Fuel mileage average 27.4
  • Fuel Tank 15.8 gallons, regular unleaded
  • Wheels 18-inch
  • Tires Goodyear Eagle 225/40R18
  • Cargo Volume 13.1 cubic feet
  • Warranty 3 years/36,000 miles basic, 5/100,000 powertrain

Competitors Honda Civic, Ford Focus, Mazda3, Toyota Corolla, Chevrolet Cruze

Assembly Plant Belvidere, Ill.

Parts Content U.S./Canadian 60%, Mexico 18%

Base Price of Lowest Model $16,495; Base Price of Review Model $21,195; Destination Charge $995; Sticker Price $24,680.

’15 Outback maintains grip in Rockies


2015 Subaru Outback 3.6R switches to CVT transmission. (Bud Wells photos)
2015 Subaru Outback 3.6R switches to CVT transmission. (Bud Wells photos)

One of the vehicles most closely associated with our state and its rugged terrain is the Subaru Outback.

The Outback wagon has been the staple of Subaru’s unqualified success in Colorado over the past 20 years.

Subaru’s outstanding symmetrical all-wheel-drive system with active torque vectoring kept me going through recent deep snow and icy surfaces with the 2015 Outback 3.6R Limited model. The Subaru’s 8.7-inch ground clearance is much appreciated.

The 3.6R’s outdated 5-speed automatic transmission of the past has been replaced by an improved continuously variable transmission to go with the wagon’s boxer 6-cylinder engine.

As for wagons, when it comes to handling, I prefer the Audi allroad; for fuel mileage, none of the other wagons can match the mpg of the Volkswagen Jetta Sportswagen TDI diesel, and, perhaps the nicest of leather and comfortable interiors is that of the Volvo V60.

Still, for all-around, everyday service, dependability and durability, the Outback can compete with any of them. It’s been a winner of long standing.

I remember the first Outback, introduced in 1995 as a variant of the Legacy wagon.

Wagons were going nowhere at that time. The Outback, though, with its boxer engines and sturdy all-wheel-drive structure and heavy side cladding, endured among a rush of SUVs and more modern crossovers, and found favor with lots of outdoors persons.

The first one I drove back in ’95, with a sticker price of $24,500, weighed 3,250 pounds on a wheelbase of 103.5 inches. Its 150-horsepower, 2.5-liter horizontally opposed 4-cylinder engine produced surprising low-end torque.

The Outback has grown in 20 years – its wheelbase by 5 inches and curb weight by 550 pounds.

The ’15 model has some exterior redesign, including a more rakish windshield in which the base has been moved forward 2 inches, and it is a bit longer, taller and wider than last year’s version. Noticeable atop the wagon is a sturdy luggage rack.

I’ve not been a fan of CVT transmissions in 3,800-pound vehicles; however, this one in the 3.6R is a much stronger higher-torque unit than those I’ve tested in the past for Subaru. Under certain acceleration levels, the driver even feels simulated “gear steps” like a conventional 6-speed automatic, and it is quickened with manual-mode and paddle-shift control switches. All this while attaining the better fuel economy of a CVT on regular-grade gasoline. The review model averaged 23.9 miles per gallon; its EPA estimate is 20/27.

The flat-6 boxer engine develops 256 horsepower and 247 lb.-ft. of torque, with adequate performance. Standard engine in the Outback wagon is a 175-hp, 2.5-liter boxer-4-cylinder with CVT, which is EPA rated at 25/33 mpg.

Acceleration is increased with the bigger 3.6R powerplant, complemented with responsive steering and the torque vectoring, which applies brake pressure to a front wheel for improved cornering ability. The Outback Limited rides on Bridgestone Dueler 225/60R18 tires.

Eighteen-inch alloy wheels on the new Outback.
Eighteen-inch alloy wheels on the new Outback.

Highlighting the interior, in addition to perforated-leather heated seats, is a 7-inch touch-screen display with voice-activated controls, navigation, harman/kardon audio system with 12 speakers, backup camera, SiriusXM, text messaging, Bluetooth and dual USB ports.

The navigation, moonroof, keyless access and push-button start pushed sticker price to $36,040.

The Outback 3.6R Limited is equipped with eight airbags, including new front seat-cushion bags to keep occupants in place during frontal collisions. Blind-spot detection, lane-change assist and rear-cross-traffic alert are other safety enhancements.

The rear seating area boasts lots of legroom and headroom, with added comfort from rear heat/air vents. Seatbacks recline for passengers in the back row. Cargo-carrying capability behind the second row of seats, 35.5 cubic feet, is a favorite feature for many buyers of the Outback.

Here are the specifications for the 2015 Subaru Outback 3.6R Limited:

  • Capacity 5-passenger wagon
  • Wheelbase 108.1 inches
  • Length 189.6 inches
  • Width 72.4 inches
  • Height 66.1 inches
  • Curb Weight 3,810 pounds
  • Track 61.8 inches front, 62.2 rear
  • Ground Clearance 8.7 inches
  • Turn Circle 36.1 feet
  • Drivetrain All-wheel-drive
  • Engine 3.6-liter boxer 6-cylinder
  • Horsepower/Torque 256/247
  • Transmission Continuously variable
  • Steering electric power
  • Suspension MacPherson strut front, double-wishbone rear
  • Fuel mileage estimate 20/27
  • Fuel mileage average 23.9
  • Fuel Tank 18.5 gallons, regular unleaded
  • Wheels 18-inch
  • Tires Bridgestone Dueler 225/60R18 tires
  • Cargo Volume 35.5 cubic feet
  • Warranty 3 years/36,000 miles basic, 5/60,000 powertrain

Competitors Volvo V60, Volkswagen Sportswagen, Audi allroad, BMW 3 series

Assembly Plant Lafayette, Ind.

Parts Content U.S./Canadian 50%, Japan 40%

Base Price of Lowest Model $24,895; Base Price of Review Model $32,995; Destination Charge $850; Sticker Price $36,040.


Wrangler Rubicon sparks Jeep sales


I was crawling over a snow-covered trail in a 2015 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon Hard Rock the same day the final 2014 U.S. car/truck sales results were announced from Detroit.

Jeep showed the largest sales jump among all makes in the country – from 490,454 units the previous year to 692,348, a 41 percent increase. The Wrangler, Cherokee and Grand Cherokee accounted for almost 80 percent of the Jeep total.

Ram, Mitsubishi, Subaru and Audi followed with 28, 25, 21 and 15 percent, respectively, behind Jeep’s 41 percent gain.

The Ford F-series, with 753,851 sales, was the best-selling vehicle in the U.S. for the 32nd consecutive year and the top-selling pickup for the 43rd straight year. Other category leaders were the Toyota Camry among cars with 428,606 sales, the Honda CR-V among SUVs with 335,019 and the Chrysler Town & Country among vans with 138,040 sales.

Ford said if all the F-series trucks sold last year were parked bumper-to-bumper, they would stretch from Los Angeles to New York City, with 50 miles to spare.

The weather was ideal (for a Jeep, anyway) the week I spent with the Wrangler; below-freezing cold and lots of snow. I engaged low range to access one steep, snow-covered hill and again in the descent of that hill. The two-door Wrangler’s wheelbase (only 95.4 inches), short overhangs and tight turn radius lend opportunity to successfully tackle most any type terrain. Jeep is protective of Wrangler’s stiff frame/body and offroad ways, even as those 4wd qualities and stiff suspension are detriments to a better ride in town and on the highway.

The Rubicon is equipped with red tow hooks in front and back, as well as removable end wings on the front bumper for increased access in rugged territory and BF Goodrich Mud-Terrain LT 255/75R17 tires.

Jeep bumper shows removable end wings.
Jeep bumper shows removable end wings.

Moving the Wrangler about is a 3.6-liter V-6 engine (285 horsepower and 260 lb.-ft. of torque) with 6-speed manual transmission. It’s not overly powerful, yet easily outperforms Jeep’s former 3.8-liter V-6 in acceleration and torque. The Wrangler carries an EPA fuel mileage estimate of 17/21; I averaged 16.9 miles per gallon.

Interior highlights with the Hard Rock package are an Alpine nine-speaker audio system with all-weather subwoofer and UConnect voice command with Bluetooth, along with heated leather front seats with embroidered logos, black leather-wrapped steering wheel and quick silver HVAC accents.

I remember back in 1994 driving a new Wrangler with one of those tall manual floor shifters, priced at less than $15,000.

Sticker on the ’15 Rubicon Hard Rock edition was $39,255, including heavy-duty front and rear axles, skid plates for transfer case and fuel tank, all-weather slush mats, power windows/locks/mirrors, rear window wiper/washer/defroster.

Base price for a 2015 Wrangler 4×4 is $21,695, with a soft top.

Following are sales leaders of new cars, SUVs, trucks and vans in the U.S. in 2014:


  • Toyota Camry              428,606
  • Honda Accord             388,374
  • Toyota Corolla/Matrix   339,498
  • Nissan Altima              335,644
  • Honda Civic                325,981
  • Ford Fusion                 306,860
  • Chevrolet Cruze           273,060
  • Hyundai Elantra           222,023
  • Ford Focus                   219,634
  • Hyundai Sonata            216,936
  • Toyota Prius                208,372
  • Chevrolet Malibu         188,519
  • Nissan Sentra               183,268
  • Volkswagen Jetta         160,873
  • Kia Optima                  159,020
  • Kia Soul                       145,316
  • BMW 3/4 series           142,232
  • Chevrolet Impala         140,280
  • Nissan Versa                139,781
  • Subaru Outback          138,790
  • Chrysler 200                117,363
  • Mazda3                         104,985


  • Honda CR-V                 335,019
  • Ford Escape                  306,212
  • Toyota RAV4                267,698
  • Chevrolet Equinox       242,242
  • Ford Explorer              209,994
  • Nissan Rogue               199,199
  • Jeep Grand Cherokee  183,768
  • Jeep Cherokee             178,508
  • Jeep Wrangler              175,328
  • Subaru Forester            159,593
  • Toyota Highlander       146,127
  • Ford Edge                     108,864
  • Honda Pilot                  108,857
  • Hyundai Santa Fe        107,906
  • Lexus RX                       107,490
  • GMC Terrain                 105,016
  • Chevrolet Traverse      103,943
  • Kia Sorento                   102,520


  • Ford F-series                753,851
  • Chevrolet Silverado    529,755
  • Ram                              439,789
  • GMC Sierra                  211,833
  • Toyota Tacoma            155,041
  • Toyota Tundra             118,493
  • Nissan Frontier             74,323
  • Honda Ridgeline          13,389
  • Nissan Titan                 12,527


  • Chrysler Town & Country  138,040
  • Dodge Grand Caravan 134,152
  • Toyota Sienna             124,502
  • Honda Odyssey          122,738
  • Ford E-series                88,896
  • Chevrolet Express        79,352
  • Ford Transit Connect   43,210
  • Nissan NV                     28,275
  • GMC Savana                 26,641
  • Mercedes Sprinter        25,745
  • Ram ProMaster             18,039
  • Kia Sedona                     14,567
  • Mazda5                            11,613
  • Nissan Quest                   9,833

New RAV4 rolls down memory lane

The 2015 Toyota RAV4 Limited. (BudWells photo)
The 2015 Toyota RAV4 Limited. (BudWells photo)

Toyota provided me with a 2015 RAV4 all-wheel-drive crossover for a drive to Sterling and a final editorial meeting with J. Howard Crooks.

Well, it wasn’t actually an editorial session; it was a memorial service at Chaney-Reager Funeral Home for Crooks, a longtime Sterling newspaperman who died Dec. 28.

As I drove the RAV4 compact down I-76, I got to thinking about an editorial meeting we did put together at the Sterling Journal-Advocate 50 years ago.

The bells ringing on the Associated Press teletype machine early in the afternoon of Friday, June 4, 1965, alerted us to “something big” in the news world. Four employes of the Farmers State Bank at Big Springs, Neb., had been shot execution-style in a robbery; only one, Franklin Kjeldgaard, survived.

Bob Petteys, the Sterling paper’s publisher, was out of town. Our editorial team, consisting of Crooks, Bob Sheldon, Don Miles and me, gathered to discuss one issue – The J-A’s area of coverage extended northeast to Julesburg; could we stretch that 10 miles farther, across the state line to Big Springs. For a tragedy of this consequence, of course we could, we decided, and within 15 minutes the four of us squeezed into the company’s Mercury Comet and headed up U.S. 138.

On our arrival, and with the killer still at large, the little town was abuzz with fear and trepidation. Only FBI agents were gaining admittance to the bank; I got in, though, by virtue of my appearance. Like most of the FBI reps, I was wearing dark pants, short-sleeved buttoned-up white dress shirt and narrow black necktie (and close-cropped hair), and walked in where the investigation was ongoing. Crooks and I had bylined stories in the next day’s edition of the J-A.

By Sunday, June 6, Duane Earl Pope had been arrested and charged with the crime. He had graduated from McPherson, Kan., College, on Thursday and driven to the bank the next morning. Testimony indicated he ordered the employes to lie face down on the floor, where he shot them in the back and in the neck. He was convicted and today remains in federal prison in Lincoln.

For Crooks, Sheldon, Miles and me, it is something we have talked of when we’ve seen each other through the years.

As for the new Toyota RAV4, it was third best seller in the country among SUVs and crossovers in the past year, falling behind rivals Honda CR-V and Ford Escape.

A sharply finished exterior is attractive for the RAV4, though turns somewhat awkward-looking at the back with an extended spoiler and bumped-out ridge below. The fact its spare tire has been removed from the tailgate helps appearance and also allows use of a liftgate. The liftgate opens to a huge 38-cubic-feet cargo area and a flat load floor, very handy.

Aided by the easy-driving 200-mile round-trip to Sterling, the RAV4 averaged a commendable 26.2 miles per gallon of regular unleaded fuel.

It’s not a powerful engine, the 2.5-liter 4-cylinder with 176 horsepower and 172 lb.-ft. of torque, mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission. Push of a sport-mode button tightens steering and increases throttle response and shift points, and downshifts will “blip” the throttle for smoothness in the changes of gear.

The ride of the RAV4 Limited model, with its 18-inch wheels, turns harsh occasionally from rough roads. The RAV4’s overall length of 179.9 inches is sandwiched between the Escape’s 178.1 and CRV’s 179.4 and the longer Jeep Cherokee’s 182-inch length.

An easy-to-use Entune touch-screen audio system with navigation boosted sticker price of the RAV4 to $33,808. It included USB port with iPod connectivity, voice recognition, hands-free phone capability, music streaming via Bluetooth, HD radio and Doppler weather. Among a safety technology package are blind-spot monitor, rear cross-traffic and lane-departure alert and auto high beam. Backup camera was also a feature. Heated front seats are trimmed in leather-like softex material.

Here are the specifications for the 2015 Toyota RAV4 Limited:

  • Capacity 5-passenger compact crossover
  • Wheelbase 104.7 inches
  • Length 179.9 inches
  • Width 72.6 inches
  • Height 67.1 inches
  • Curb Weight 3,585 pounds
  • Track 61.4 front and rear
  • Ground Clearance 6.3 inches
  • Turn Circle 36.8 feet
  • Drivetrain All-wheel-drive
  • Engine2.5-liter 4-cylinder
  • Horsepower/Torque 176/172
  • Transmission 6-speed automatic
  • Steering electric power
  • Suspension front strut, double-wishbone rear
  • Fuel mileage estimate 22/29
  • Fuel mileage average 26.2
  • Fuel Tank 15.9 gallons, regular unleaded
  • Wheels 18-inch
  • Tires Toyo Open Country 235/55R18
  • Cargo Volume 38.4 cubic feet
  • Warranty 3 years/36,000 miles basic, 5/60,000 powertrain

Competitors Honda CR-V, Ford Escape, Mazda CX-5, Jeep Cherokee, GMC Terrain, Volkswagen Tiguan

Assembly Plant Tahara, Aichi, Japan

Parts Content N.A.

Base Price of Lowest Model $24,500; Base Price of Review Model $29,850; Destination Charge $885; Sticker Price $33,808.



AWD, 6-cyl., app lift Volvo V60

The 2015.5 Volvo V60 T6 R-Design boasts four-wheel grip. (Bud Wells photos)
The 2015.5 Volvo V60 T6 R-Design boasts four-wheel grip. (Bud Wells photos)

My son Dale and I about 9 p.m. on a recent cold night had parked and were out pushing a neighbor woman in her front-wheel-drive Hyundai from deep snow along the side of the street.

About the same time, my iPhone, left at home, was informing Jan and daughter-in-law Sandy where we were. The iPhone pinpointed on a map the address of where our car was parked, actually only half a block from home (we were driving toward home when we came across the car in distress).

The next morning, adding to the iPhone’s involvement in this automotive review, I parked the car in my driveway after a drive-through at a Starbucks, walked into our house and my phone beeped, then messaged me that “Your Volvo is unlocked.”

Not only was I able to lock and unlock the car from my phone, I could also remote-start the vehicle.

It is the 2015.5 Volvo V60 T6 R-Design Sportswagon featuring the Volvo on Call Smartphone App.

At the suggestion of Dan Lantowski, representing Volvo for Waggener Edstrom Communications, I downloaded the Volvo on Call app onto my iPhone shortly after the V60 was delivered to me. It (the app) allowed me to access a status overview of the vehicle and recent drives, determine its current position, and enjoy the aforementioned connections.

The arrival of the new V60 wagon in the past year is inspiring to the future of Volvo, which had been in somewhat of a slowdown mode since the Swedish firm was sold to China’s Zhejiang Geely four years ago.

I drove the V60’s initial offering last spring, a sleek, low-slung, front-wheel-drive T5 wagon powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder engine and 8-speed automatic transmission.

A turbocharged inline-6 powers V60 T6.
A turbocharged inline-6 powers V60 T6.

Showing up last week, though, with all-wheel drive and enhanced performance was the T6 R-Design with twin-scroll turboed inline-6-cylinder which “out-horses” the T5 by 325-hp to 240. Mated to the inline-6 is a 6-speed automatic transmission. With 354 lb.-ft. of torque, outstanding power is delivered, particularly with the steering-force level set on high and paddleshifters at hand in Sport shift mode. Handling is improved with a low-riding sport chassis, and acceleration and cornering are excellent.

All that power and yet the T6 carries a decent EPA fuel-mileage estimate of 19/28; my overall average was 22.8.

The V60 center stack is angled toward driver.
The V60 center stack is angled toward driver.

The R-Design package includes soft, stitched luxury leather seats. The center stack is angled toward the driver, controls within easy reach and storage behind and below the stack. Sensus Connect navigation/audio is highlighted with a 7-inch color monitor, with MP3, USB, Bluetooth and Sirius radio.

Luxurious leather seats are well-bolstered.
Luxurious leather seats are well-bolstered.

The rear cargo area provides 28 cubic feet of storage space. The review model had no spare tire; one is offered as an option, though it must rest in the cargo space.

Sticker price on the V60 T6 was $49,275; the lesser-equipped 4-cylinder model I drove last spring carried a price of $42,225.

Adding $1,550 to the R-Design’s price were heated front and rear seats, heated steering wheel and windshield and heated windshield-washer nozzles. Blind-spot detection, cross-traffic alert, lane-change aid and front and rear park assist were added as options, though the vehicle had no rearview camera.

Volvo’s 19-inch Ixion alloy wheel.
Volvo’s 19-inch Ixion alloy wheel.

Volvo was founded in Sweden in 1924 by Assar Gabrielsson and Gustaf Larson; their first car, the 1,944-cc Jakob, was in production three years later.

Sales in the U.S. began in 1955, when the Volvo PV444 cars arrived in Los Angeles. In 1956, Volvo sold 5,047 cars here.

In 1958, Volvo invented the three-point safety belt, considered one of the most important safety features of all time.

Some of its better-known cars, after coming to America, were the P1800 coupe of 1961 and the 240 series, beginning in 1974. Some of those 240s, now 20 to 40 years old, are still seen about the streets of Denver.

Volvo, bought by Ford Motor Co. in 1999, was re-sold to Geely in 2010.


Here are the specifications for the 2015.5 Volvo V60 T6 R-Design:


  • Capacity 5-passenger wagon
  • Wheelbase 109.3 inches
  • Length 182.5 inches
  • Width 73.4 inches
  • Height 58.4 inches
  • Curb Weight 3,790 pounds
  • Track 62.1 inches front, 62 rear
  • Ground Clearance 5.4 inches
  • Turn Circle 39 feet
  • Drivetrain All-wheel-drive
  • Engine 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-6
  • Horsepower/Torque 325/354
  • Transmission 6-speed automatic
  • Steering rack and pinion
  • Suspension McPherson strut front and multilink rear
  • Fuel mileage estimate 19/28
  • Fuel mileage average 22.8
  • Fuel Tank 17.8 gallons, regular unleaded
  • Wheels 19-inch
  • Tires Michelin 235/40R19
  • Cargo Volume 28 cubic feet
  • Warranty 4 years/50,000 miles basic, powertrain

Competitors Audi allroad, BMW 3 series, Subaru Outback 3.6R

Assembly Plant Gothenburg, Sweden

Parts Content Sweden 31%, Great Britain 18%, Japan 10%, U.S./Canadian 1%

Base Price of Lowest Model $35,300; Base Price of Review Model $45,150; Destination Charge $925; Sticker Price $49,275.