2018 Chrysler 300 S

Just a suspension tweak away from being sporty

The 300 S, in both RWD and AWD variants, is a popular choice at all the rental counters due to spacious interior, 300hp engine, and smooth 8-speed transmission.  This 300 S model comes in at about $38,000.  An optioned out 300 C with a 363 hp V-8 Hemi can easily eclipse a $50,000 out the door total.


The 3.6L VVT engine was ready to go especially in Sport Mode (by selecting “S” on the gear selector) making the throttle incredibly sensitive.  The same engine has been around since the 2011 model year and can be found in many of Chrysler’s lineup including the Wrangler, RAM 1500, Challenger, Charger, and Grand Cherokee.



I like the new trend of tiered glove boxes.  I’d love a separate top shelf in my TL for the frequently used gas & maintenance log I write-in every time I fuel up or get maintenance done.  But then again, maybe I just need to thin out the clutter.  It’s a fine line.


I really like the ergonomics, even though there’s so many shared parts with every other Chrysler/RAM on the market today.  I’d expect more high end trim pieces in the upper echelon “S” version.  A few carbon fiber inlay pieces would do miracles for first impressions.


When given choices of vehicles on hand, the most frequent question from renters is “which car has more trunk space”.  The default answer for this has always been the 300, beating out the Avalon, XTS, Q50 and Lacrosse or so I thought.  The 300 has shrunk from 17.2 in 2008 to 16.3 cubic feet today , the current Avalon almost 16.1, but XTS will be the new recommendation at 18 cubic feet.  The beats subwoofer in the trunk takes up noticeable space, but the output is so incredible, I think most people will over look it.


The analog clock is a classy touch, but pretty useless in anything but perfect lighting.  Useless AND pointless considering there’s a digital clock about an inch below.  Like the stellar Bang & Olufsen stereo in the Ford Edge of last week, beats logos only appear on the speakers and subwoofer.  The 11-speaker beats system didn’t have the hi-mid-low clarity of the Bang & Olufsen in the Edge, but it could pump out the bass like no rental I’ve been in to date.  The HVAC controls were instantly intuitive at a quick glance.


No shortage of comfort in the back seat, although leg room was surprisingly short for a 4200lb sedan.


With the exception of the LED taillights on all trim levels and spoilers on some, the rear end has changed very little since the reappearance of the 300 in 2005.


The front end hasn’t changed much either, but the contrasting black grille and chrome Chrysler logo looks incredible against the Granite Crystal paint.


The dashboard was well done with many options to choose from in the center LED screen.  The EPA says fuel economy is 19 city / 30 highway.  I was pretty nice to the accelerator and couldn’t get it above 24 even while cruising at a steady 65mph.  Watching the tachometer needle spike at the speed of light while in sport mode was entertaining, but I didn’t leave it on there for long.  I think the 300S is capable of burying the speedometer needle well past 140mph, but I can’t test my gut feeling firsthand anywhere around here.

Would I rent a 300 again?  Sure.

Would I be excited about it and tell the world?  Not really.  I think that may be due to a slight identity crisis.  If the suspension was a little stiffer and cornering was a little tighter, this could be called a viable sports sedan as the stunning 20″ wheels would imply.  Then again, if the suspension was a little softer, it could rival or even win out over the multi-state touring capabilities of the XTS.

I’m more curious now than ever about an upcoming Avalon comparison.

85 out of 100
75 out of 100
90 out of 100
70 out of 100
65 out of 100 – EPA figures seem very generous
90 out of 100 – comparable ride to the much more expensive XTS
65 out of 100
70 out of 100 – toss-up between a XTS and 300.
25 out of 100 – engines aren’t known for longevity and values plummet past 150K miles.

640 points




2019 Ford Edge

Is a MSRP of $40,700 living on the edge?

This was another diamond in the rough since it was nearly new with barely 290 miles on the clock.  My boss’s former favorite was a 2017 Edge, so I had reason to find out the hype for myself, especially since this is fairly loaded Titanium version.


The first thing I did was turn on the heated seat when I sat down.  Winter will just not let go in Lexington!  The controls took getting use to, but were reminiscent of the Fusion Hybrid that mom, bro, and I took to Florida this past fall.  The wireless charging pad is next to the USB ports and seems to be a new standard in all upper trimmed vehicles.  The titanium also included an incognito stellar 12-speaker Bang & Olufsen that blew me away even without SirusXM radio.  The base stereo that comes with the SE version of the Edge has the identical controls, so the buyer has to look close at the B&O logo on the door speakers to know of the incredible upgrade.


The 245hp 4-cyl turbo was adequate, but not a barn burner by any means.  At idle it was unusually loud and sounded a little tinny, not ok for a $40,000+ ride.  The 8-speed automatic was smooth, but the 23mpg on mostly highway driving I achieved was disappointing.  The EPA claims 22city / 29hwy, but both of those seem overly optimistic.  The engine bay was surprising in that it isn’t covered with countless plastic covers.  The maxed out ST trimmed version comes with a twin-turbo V-6 that bumps horsepower up to 335 with the same 8-speed automatic.


From the outside, it would appear that the cargo area would be tiny.  As displayed with the giant rear pillars, visibility was not great looking out the back.  I think it’s the wraparound taillights that make it look smaller.


What a relief that the cargo hold was nothing like the Buick Encore.  The Edge would be completely acceptable for a family of 5 and their bags for a week long trip.


The backseats would be ideal for 2 people, but also great for three.  The seating surfaces were of high quality and comfortable according to the passenger back there on the way to and from dinner.


The center console was of higher material than expected and the storage unit was unusually deep.


The Edge has been updated twice since it’s debut in 2007 and continues to do well for the Blue Oval folks in Michigan.  The 2nd generation debuted in 2015 and had it’s best sales year ever in 2017.


This 2WD version took the road twists and turns better than expected from a 3900 lb vehicle, but the ride was definitely more truck-like than a sedan.  Regardless, the ride was night and day better than the Grand Caravan of last week.


The 12-way power driver seat was excellent and was comfortable with minimal adjustments.  I’ll assume the previous driver was about 6 feet tall also.


The dashboard was unmistakably Ford as it is nearly identical to the Fusion Hybrid without the Eco/Hybrid displays.  The steering wheel was rather crowded with 22 different buttons, but easy to figure out.


I’m going to predict that the design of the door bottoms will lead to rust issues years down the road.  I detailed a friend’s 2014 Edge last summer and noticed that all 4 doors bend inward to a makeshift shelf for salt and road debris.  Five model years later, and the Edge still has the same shelf.  Hopefully it’s coated with some sort of anti-corrosive material at a minimum.

I don’t see a reason why I’d need to rent the Edge again.  If I had 4 audiophile type passengers, this would be ideal.  I haven’t heard a sound system this incredible since my 7-speaker Nakamichi stereo in my 1990 LS400.

80 out of 100
85 out of 100
100 out of 100 – unsure how could it improve
85 out of 100
50 out of 100
75 out of 100
50 out of 100
65 out of 100
40 out of 100 – 1st gen had numerous transmission complaints had problems
630 points






2019 Dodge Grand Caravan

Chrysler should’ve mastered this category by now?


How could I resist any vehicle with only 3 miles on the clock?  This Dodge’s life consisted of  the assembly line, a transport truck, and a half mile trip to the rental car garage.  That was the irresistible series of events leading me to pick it up for the first time ever.   The lowest mileage vehicle I’ve ever owned was 55,000 miles and it was 14 years old, so the allure was stronger than usual.


As I mentioned in the Pacifica review a few months ago, as a 16 year old, our family dove into the minivan craze in 1988 with a Plymouth Grand Voyager with a 136hp Mitsubishi sourced engine.  More than 30 years later, six tenths of a liter more in displacement more than doubles the horsepower output to 283hp.  Flooring the gas pedal delivers a surprising 0-60 time of about 7.5 seconds.  A far cry from the required 10.5 seconds in 1988 while now delivery 25% better fuel economy on the highway.   I’ve never seen one in person, but there are a handful of first-generation 5-speed manual turbos out there.


Chrysler has been neglecting the Grand Caravan (and Journey for that matter) and focused all attention on the Pacifica as the ideal family hauler.  The Grand Caravan hasn’t change much since 2011 and as a result, it flounders at the bottom of nearly all minivan comparisons.   Maybe with the next refresh fuel misers will be blessed with an 8- or 9-speed automatic.


The dual material leather and ‘suede’ seats looked pretty good and were comfortable during my drive time in the city.  Durability is of upmost importance in this segment as most vans are rarely occupied only by the driver.  The material wasn’t of top-tiered quality, but at least it felt sturdy.


When I first took a seat in the Grand Caravan, I initially liked the piano black trim pieces inside.  After closer inspection in better lighting, they were very cheap painted plastic.  The glove box on the bottom and the storage unit above were both spacious and an excellent use of interior space.  One of the biggest quirks of our 1988 version was the glovebox was underneath the front passenger seat.  Why that useless bit of odd trivia is clogging up my brain, I’ll never know.


As with the rest of the vehicle, the center stack is showing it’s age.  The HVAC controls are well laid out and easy to use, but the sound system was unnecessarily complex, primarily the Bluetooth phone connection.  It was a ridiculous mixture of incessant voice commands and button pushing just to get it paired.  The stereo quality coming from the 6-speakers was pretty good, but forgettable.  I think the problem may lay within the need for more speakers to fill the huge cabin.  On the Dodge website, it says that 1-year of SiriusXM is standard, but 30 miles into my time with the Grand Caravan, the satellite radio quit working.  That seems like a silly extra step to gain minimal extra revenue from a rental.


In 1988, this area between the 2 front seats was nothing but floorboard.  Storage bins are plentiful and there’s no shortage of cupholders.  Have you ever wondered who started cupholders in mass produced vehicles?  Look no further than the great-great-grandfather 1st generation Caravan of the mid-1980’s.


I thought the high contrast black & white interior looked great from a distance even though the materials weren’t of the quality expected in a $31,400 vehicle.  I’ll have to assume that the profit margins of the Grand Caravan are HUGE for FCA.


The cheapness continued with the front façade and grille.  I tapped on the grille, bumper, and headlights with my fingernail and all 3 felt like a hardened plastic tarp on the verge of cracking.  That’s a little perplexing since the weight of the Grand Caravan has increased by over 800 lbs. since the first Grand Caravan in 1987.  I tried several times to activate the fog lights to no avail.  Either they didn’t work or were so dim, they didn’t make a noticeable difference while in motion.


The seating position for the driver was comfortable and outward visibility was excellent from all angles.  The catch-all tray below the power seat controls is genius.  FINALLY, an easy to clean non-carpeted place to catch French fries and coins from the drive-thru window.  The headlamp switch is a little misleading.  It’s not possible to turn off the daytime running lamps as the “O” would imply.


The optional $395 black side roof rails are ready hold the extra long-haul cargo, although I’d thoroughly read your rental contract to see if that’s even allowed.


The rear cargo area with the fold flat seats was flawlessly labeled and easy to use.  Chrysler has come a long way from having heavy bench seats that require 2 healthy people to remove.


I was scratching my head trying to figure out how a van with 3 miles could be so dirty inside.  It looked and felt like extra seat stuffing.  The middle road captains chairs were also spring loaded and easy to collapse into the floor.


I don’t think anyone can predict vehicle recalls, but I’m calling this one.  There were a lot of exposed wires in the engine bay and no underbelly air dams that are commonplace in so many vehicles nowadays.  I was surprised by the ill-fitting wheel well covers also.  There were numerous gaps throughout that hopefully were for well thought out and planned ventilation.  As with last weeks Ram Quad Cab, the battery is also surrounded by insulation.

The ride quality was not as expected in a modern-day 7-passenger minivan that weighs over 4300 pounds, but rides more like a heavy duty work truck.  Anything other than fresh blacktop was unpleasant to drive over at any speed.

No way I’d rent another Caravan.  If it leaves such a bad impression at 3 miles, I can’t imagine what it’d be like at 13,000 , 31,000, or 93,000 miles.

70 out of 100
70 out of 100 – ridiculously difficult Bluetooth pairing.
60 out of 100
100 out of 100 – couldn’t get better
45 out of 100
65 out of 100
30 out of 100
45 out of 100 – Sienna, Odyssey, and Sedona are light years better.
30 out of 100 – maybe at $10000, a 5-year old well-maintained Caravan would be a deal.
515 points


2019 Dodge Ram Quad Cab

This isn’t your grandpa’s C10


Long gone are the days of bone jarring rides, single digit fuel economy, and a complete lack of styling cues.

I have a co-worker that is currently obsessed with the Ram to the point he wants to buy one.  He’s rented one twice in recent weeks (although higher trim levels) and I had to scope it out for myself to see what the hype was about.


This “Classic” trim level was fairly basic, but more luxury was included than any standard work truck made before the turn of the century.


Obviously, this is the largest rental I’ve had to date as displayed by how far back I had to stand to take the pictures to capture it bumper to bumper.  I’m not generally a truck person, but new to me,  all 4 doors lock and unlock with the remote plus the rear tailgate locks and unlocks also.


No way I could fit the entire truck into my garage front to back and I could barely get it in on each side.


Even with the driver’s side mirror folded in, there’s barely an inch of clearance in my typical sized garage.  The sheer mass of 4-door pickup trucks makes me appreciate 10+ year old trucks that still have shiny paint.  From now on, I’ll take a double take when I see a pickup truck parked inside a garage!


I had no issue getting in and out of the Ram, but anyone under 5’6″ might have to take a running leap to have a seat.  Running boards aren’t included on the Classic trim, but are a $740 option on the Dodge website.


I was shocked to learn that this stereo was a $695 option.  I thought it was odd that a 5.0-Inch Touchscreen Display, GPS Antenna Input, Integrated Voice Command,  Bluetooth®, Media Hub (USB, Aux, Charge Port), Remote USB Port, SiriusXM®, and a temperature-compass gauge would be considered extra.  Unless you activate the SiriusXM radio, music selection would be limited to only AM/FM radio reminiscent of the stripped bare work trucks that contain only 5 presets and 2 knobs.   A single disc CD-player would be an extra $345.


The back seats are spacious even for college basketball players.  There’s plenty of legroom for all 6 passengers regardless of how far back the front seats are set.


There’s very few vehicles out there today that can seat 6 people with only 2 rows of seats.  The Highlander of 2 months ago could seat 8, but with 3 rows.  The seating space in the cabin of the Ram was unparalleled to anything I’ve driven to date and even larger than the Tahoes/Suburbans we have in our fleet.


The standard 305hp V6 would be no slouch off the line, but the 5.7 liter Hemi gives an extra 90hp, but with a 3mpg penalty.  In my day with the Ram, I got 18mpg in mixed city and highway driving which was in-line with the EPA stated 15city / 22hwy.  The 8-speed automatic was the smoothest performing transmission I’ve tested so far, even the Cadillac XTS that costs $15,000 more.  Of course the fuel economy isn’t going to be great with a 5300lb truck that can tow over 5 tons, but the 8-speed automatic definitely softens the blow at the gas pump.  The insulated battery casing implies the Hemi V8 heats up the engine bay under heavy load, even with the standard electronically adjustable grille louvers.  A torque heavy diesel engine is to be released before April of this year and should make 20mpg fairly easy in the city.


How do you know you’re in a huge vehicle?  The 3 across cupholders in the fold down armrest and a center console big enough to store 3 iPads!  I love the standard issue rubber lined storage area making it incredibly easy to clean.


I haven’t seen a dashboard this simple since the minute Hyundai i10 we had in Iceland in December.  The steering wheel controls can change the center info screen, but the options are limited to trip odometers and fuel economy.

The extra two doors add $4,300 and the Hemi V-8 adds another $1,450 to the as tested $36,800 MSRP.   The least expensive single cab Ram starts at $27,300 and can be optioned out at nearly double that with the Hemi engine, Quad Cab, and every possible electronic gadget and creature comfort.  Since Dodge has forever been struggling to gain a noticeable market share against Ford and Chevy, heavy discounts are plentiful for trucks that have been sitting on the new car lots for more than a few weeks.

Until now, I never understood why I see so many huge trucks on the highway with only 2 passengers.  But after my day with the Ram, it’s easy to understand why so many owners just clean out the bed of work supplies and hit the open road for the incredible ride quality.  The XTS I drove last month is undoubtedly better on gas and ride quality, but no way it could haul a trailer or carry wood to a job site.

I’d rent a Ram again, but only if the gas costs were split 6 ways.

80 out of 100
80 out of 100 – steering wheel controls poorly marked.
65 out of 100
95 out of 100 – odd to have such a small glove box where everything else is huge.
35 out of 100
75 out of 100
50 out of 100
65 out of 100
45 out of 100 – curious how the currently flawless transmission ages.

590 points


2018 Kia Soul

Love it or hate it?

Just this week I had 2 customers over the course of 15 minutes that both reserved a midsize car in which the Soul,  Sentra, Corolla, and Elantra reside.  I gave them the options to choose from and the first said,

“Oh God, anything but a Soul.”

Only a few customers later, the selection was the same but the reply,

“Oh!  Definitely the Soul!  I had one of those a few months ago and loved it!”


I had to see for myself what brings about such strong feelings towards the Soul.  I’m sure everyone has seen the commercials by now with hamsters dancing around and driving the Soul to hip hop music.  Obviously, Kia’s target demographic isn’t AARP members.

The styling makes it distinguishable from every other ride on the road today, except maybe the now defunct Nissan Cube that vanished [thankfully] in 2014.  Both vehicles have a cult-like following, but only Kia’s marketing worked for the long-term.

Looking on Kia’s website for the 2020 model year, the front grille resembles a Range Rover with it’s much slimmer headlamps.  I doubt the Soul will ever be referred to as a budget friendly Discovery, but time will tell how else they compare.


I’m fully aware that not all rental cars age equally and this one was one of the roughest.  In the picture above, the paint has chipped off above the license plate and there’s a missing trim piece next to the right reflector.  It had been smoked in previously, but the smell was masked pretty well until it was left in direct sunlight.  The engine jerked unexplainably as if it had the gas saving AutoStop/Start, but the RPM gauge never moved at idle.


The 1.6L engine had 160hp (up from the entry level 130hp base version) and was peppy enough to propel the 2900 lb. Soul from 0-60 in the mid seven second range.  The optional 2.0L turbo engine adds 40hp and cuts the 60mph sprint by over a second.  All 3 engines achieve nearly identical fuel economy at 25 city and 30 highway, but 2.0 liter turbo has the help of a 7-speed dual clutch transmission.  In my day with the Soul, I struggled to keep the trip computer above 25mpg even on a few highway trips.  I finished the day at rather disappointing 25.5, but not surprising considering the RPM gauge was flowing freely.  The 6-speed automatic was smooth into all gears when accelerating, but it downshifted from 6th to 5th at the slightest incline.


The ‘trunk’ area is small if hauling 4 or 5 people is the duty of the day, but bigger than the Buick Encore of a few months ago.  At a base price of $20,500, the Soul seems to be a little pricey with having such a sparse cabin.  The Soul is one of very few cars on the market that is available with a 6-speed manual (starting at only $16,200) and available on the other end of the spectrum is the loaded electric version at an eye-popping $33,900.


The backseat is just as sparse as last weeks Kia Niro, but with better seats.  The front seats were just right on my lower back and legs without the need for power adjustments. 20190208_140353

What the driver’s seat lacked in pizazz, it made up for in comfort.  It’s odd for me to get into a rental car and only adjust the distance from front to rear and be instantly ready to drive 500 miles.   The condition of the driver’s floormat is another example of the rough life this Soul has had in it’s 25,000 miles.


The center stack was very simple with zero extras, but every button was perfectly labeled and presented with no surprises except for the oddly marked 180w and 120w power supplies below the HVAC controls.  The stereo wasn’t great, but light years better than the Niro.  An optional Harman-Kardon 7-speaker stereo with subwoofer and external amp is available.


The ergonomics of the Soul was a favorite of any rental vehicle so far.  Everything was perfectly laid out and at night was aglow with the famous orange hue with no gaps in labeling.  It was refreshing not having any guesswork involved with changing a setting.  For some reason, I was really enthralled by the design of the outside A/C and defroster vents.  They were creative, well done, and so unique it almost appeared the car was built around them.

I don’t think I’d rent the Kia Soul again unless I could try an electric version.  The fuel economy was much lower than a similarly sized Sentra or Corolla, but the Soul has a higher SUV-like seating position.  I hope to scope out the Elantra and Corolla soon to compare and contrast.

85 out of 100
95 out of 100 – only gripe was the RPM gauge seemed squeezed.
75 out of 100
60 out of 100
55 out of 100
50 out of 100 – unforgiving ride on anything but fresh blacktop.
60 out of 100
45 out of 100
60 out of 100 – A 3 yr old used car would be hard to ignore over a much pricier Corolla.
585 points


2018 Chevy Equinox

14 different trim levels

Shouldn’t there be an Equinox for every taste and price point?


Starting out at a little over $26,800 MSRP, it’s hard to ignore a comfortable 5 passenger SUV regardless of creature comforts or high tech gadgets.

We have various Equinox’s in FWD and AWD trims and this was a little above the bare $23,500 L trim.  This LT version starts at $3,300 more.  After perusing the Chevrolet website, the differences are minor with quite a big jump in cost.  I don’t think SiriusXM radio, HID headlights, deep tinted rear glass, roof mounted luggage carrier provisions(?), spare tire instead of inflating kit, and rear carpeted floormats warrant that price increase.


Chevy did a good job of disguising near to basic LT version from the top tiered AWD Premier Diesel that stickers for over $7,000 more.  This pictured area left of the steering wheel is usually where carmakers stick optional overrides for traction control, adaptive cruise control, etc.  A refreshing change from the norm, this Equinox appears as if there’s no other trim choices available.


The center console is very typical Chevrolet.  Electronic parking brake, small cubby for spare change, 6-speed automatic gear shifter, 2 standard sized cupholders, and a giant storage area under the center armrest that could easily swallow an iPad.  The “L” on the shifter is a little misleading.  That actually activates the sport shifter buttons on the top of the shifter, although it does default to 1st gear when at a stop.


I think it’d be challenging for anyone but a seasoned Chevrolet salesperson to differentiate between a Cruze, Malibu, Equinox, and Impala dashboard.  I’d like to consider myself as a car fanatic, but all the Chevy dash pics I’ve taken for this blog blend together now.  Most notably, this Equinox has no redline on the RPM gauge.


As expected, the center stack is very sparse on this base “L” version.  There’s not an automatic climate control in here, but the fit and finish are such that it seems normal.  The fan delay from cranking the heater from off to high was unusually long even after it’s completely warmed up.


The fuel door is the GM capless filler system found in most of GM cars, trucks and SUVs current lineup.  I’m still perplexed of the what seems to be an auxiliary port to the right and hope to find out soon.


I was pleasantly surprised by the interior comfort, ride, and performance of the Equinox.  The power drivers seat was instantly comfortable with minimal adjustments even more so than the Cadillac XTS of last week, but at this price point, the passenger seat is manual.  This would be a good choice for 5 people on a lengthy road trip or a city tour due to ease of entry and departure from the cabin plus the cavernous cargo area.  Some of the interior materials felt really cheap, but quilted seats felt and the A/C vents looked better than expected, respectively.


The back seat was also sparse in creature comforts.  There was a power outlet and 2 A/C vents, but that was it.


The rear cargo area is huge, but not quite big enough for a 3rd row seat.  The cargo capacity is nearly 30 cubic feet with the seats up and 63 1/2 cubic feet with the rear seats folded down.  The right side wheel well cover was very cheap plastic only comparable to an early 80’s station wagon.


The 170hp 4-cyl turbo was no where near a rocket ship, but the 30mpg I achieved on my mixed city/highway day with the Equinox was an acceptable balance.  There’s an available 2.0 4-cyl turbo with 82 extra horsepower and a 9-speed automatic, but that comes with a minimum $3500 premium from this LT trim.


70 out of 100 –
75 out of 100 – basic, but well thought out and easy to quickly read.
65 out of 100
90 out of 100
65 out of 100
80 out of 100
65 out of 100
75 out of 100
40 out of 100 – “L” trim is a much better value, but there’s an identical black one on ebay now for $8400 off of MSRP.

625 points

2018 Cadillac XTS

What does $52,000 get you?

In a nutshell, a lot, but is it enough?


There’s A LOT of cars out there that anyone can buy for $50 grand.  The XTS is a beauty inside and out, although I wonder if I would ever get accustomed to the spaceship headlights.  I drove this maroon jewel to Georgia for my goddaughter’s daughter’s 1st birthday party and it didn’t disappoint on the way south, but the seats gave me fatigue issues on the way back home.


The thigh and glute support was just right, but the 2 separate lumbar air bladders I could never figure out the comfortable setting.  My grandmother’s last 2 cars were both Cadillac Sedan de DeVilles (1978 and 1990) so I asked mom if she thought Grandma Faye would have eventually bought one of these and she said “No way”.  At first I thought she answered to quickly, but after rethinking the seats, I think mom was right.  This is definitely not your granny’s Caddy.  The seats have changed from “8 straight hour highway cruiser” to “European spirited driving machine”.  The 7-speaker Bose sound system and flawless highway manners are definitely top tier and undoubtedly continue that long tradition of 1st choice rides for a road trip.  Under any highway or city street conditions, the suspension did a marvelous job of smoothing out imperfections, even with the large ‘sporty’ 19″ wheels. Calling it a BMW competitor is a stretch, but it’s obvious what German-made target market is in the crosshairs.  The base 530i is barely $1200 more than this XTS, but with nearly 60 less horsepower under the hood.


The grille of the XTS resembles the rest of the Cadillac line with the unmistakable crest centered in the air intake, but the narrow chrome surround fog lights differentiate it from the ATS and CTS.


The 304hp V6 was a good mix of fuel economy and power, but with aggressive city driving, fuel economy will barely get out of the low teens.  The 6 speed automatic was smooth in all conditions, but fuel economy would benefit greatly with at least 2 more top end gears.  Handling was better than expected in a 2 ton Caddy, but no comparison to the near 50/50 weight distribution of a 5-series BMW.  The Brembo brakes were impressive in wet and dry conditions.


The interior wood trim was beautiful and should hold up well over time.  Within the wood trim in the doors was indirect LED lighting that looked incredible at night.  The heated seats and heated steering wheel came on automatically when conditions warranted outside.  The steering wheel felt warm to the touch in barely 20 seconds, but would stay on until I turned it off.  The heated seats gradually turned down from the max (3 lights) to the minimum (1 light), but would never turn off completely on their own.


I inadvertently found the wireless charging compartment behind the HVAC controls.  There was no indication at all that there was a ‘secret’ charging station above the USB and power outlet above the gear shifter.  If the top of my hand hadn’t touched the chromed bottom button release, I never would have known that was there.  I expect we’ll have more than a few customers leave phones because “out of sight – out of mind”.


In typical Cadillac fashion, the XTS trunk could swallow 18 cubic feet of suitcases and bags.


The dashboard has been upgraded immensely since my grandmother’s 1990 de Ville, but the gauge cluster and interior button fonts haven’t changed a bit.  The steering wheel controls and menus took some getting use to and I really thought it’d be more similar to the Impala of a few weeks ago.  I think it’s a positive that Cadillac has differentiated itself from the much less expensive Impala, but it was a little surprising.


The LED rear tail lights were unusually bright.  I only know that because when the trunk is opened remotely, they turn on automatically.  As you can see, the weather conditions were not ideal this weekend and extra lighting of any type was welcomed!

I was bewildered that all the latest safety features and tech weren’t standard issue.  Adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, and forward collision warnings are only available on the higher Premium Luxury and Platinum trim levels which add $7,000 and nearly $17,000, respectively, to the base prices.  In no way, shape, or form can Cadillac justify the Platinum trim level with an additional $20,000 to the base XTS with the same engine and transmission.

65 out of 100 – should be higher for a luxury car
70 out of 100
90 out of 100 – Bose has another winner
75 out of 100
65 out of 100 – 600 miles on a tank is possible
95 out of 100 – testament to suspension and tires that soak up nearly every road flaw.
60 out of 100 – parallel parking could be challenging.
70 out of 100
20 out of 100 – MSRP is ridiculous.

610 points



2019 Chevrolet Cruze

It’s now or never to make an impression

If you’ve picked up a car magazine in the last few months, you’re probably aware that Ford is getting out of the car business in the U.S. and GM is now focusing (see what I did there?) on crossovers, trucks, and electric cars.  So you’d think that the people at Chevy’s small car division would be putting their best product forward in an attempt to change Mary Barra’s mind about killing off the Cruze.


Well, the Cruze isn’t the worst thing on 4-wheels, but at the nearly $23,000 price point in this LT trim, it should lean more towards “WOW” than “whatever”.  The base L version has a MSRP of $19,000 minimum and can go over $30K with the 9-speed automatic diesel with a few option packages and accessories.  It’d take A LOT of miles to break even and justify the diesel’s jump in price even with 48MPG highway rating.


The base 1.4L turbo 4 had a class typical 8 second 0-60 time with a not-so-typical EPA besting 40mpg on the highway on our 225 mile day trip.  I hope the tuners will try to up the boost and make an unsuspecting sleeper pending of course if the engine block can handle it.


For 2019, the Cruze gets a mild styling refresh to differentiate itself a little more from the slightly larger Malibu, but the similarities are still there.


I thought the rear end was a little too similar to the Corolla & Sentra.  How about some narrow LED taillights to set it apart?


The trunk was surprisingly large for a midsize car and even more surprising was the spare tire that has already seen some use.   I didn’t need the trunk at all during my day with the Cruze, so I left it alone.

After I turned it back in, I wonder if a previous renter hadn’t done some damage to the car.  There was a fairly loud ‘clunk’ coming from the rear at take-off that made me suspect that it had sustained some suspension damage that wasn’t visible without being on a lift.


The dark cloth front seats were comfortable and supportive and I had zero fatigue after 90 straight minutes of driving.  The passenger seat was not power operated and could only go 4 ways manually.

The cabin was quiet even during a brief passing moment of 80mph.  Judge all you want, but I didn’t want to be in the way of a fast approaching fully loaded semi truck.

The handling was pretty good considering the tires could have been better.  They seemed noisier than they should have been on less than perfect road surfaces.  Granted, GM got a gigantic volume discount since that was the standard issue tire across the entire fleet, but I’d be curious to see the difference on a set of high quality Michelins.


The driver’s seat surround was acceptable at this price point, but the dash and door panels screamed cheap to the touch and the eye.


Since I’d already driven and scoped out a Malibu and Impala, the radio and HVAC controls needed no learning curve.  It was odd to be in a car so new that there was still a never used radio station preset.  I liked that the USB and power outlet were prominent and not in the center storage compartment.


On this particular rental I purchased the prepaid gasoline option since the tank was about 3/8 full at pickup and that was exactly the amount I planned on using for the day.  The dashboard went from “53 miles to empty” to “Fuel level low” so I don’t know exactly how close I was cutting it, but I definitely came out ahead since the prepay was 29 cents per gallon less than the pumps in town AND the needle was below obviously below “E”.  It’s a similar feeling when your GPS says “7 hours to destination”, therefore I accept the challenge to make it there in 6 1/2 hours or less.


The dashboard is an obvious sibling to the Impala and Malibu and just as easy to read at a glance.  The 160mph speedometer is just plain silly.  If this car could reach 125mph on a flat road or even downhill, I’d be very surprised.

Things of note:
Don’t procrastinate if you want one, they probably won’t be around much longer.
EPA states 28City/38Highway and I achieved shocking 40mpg in mostly highway driving.
Would people consider a Trax instead of this?
Buy it? Rent it? Avoid it?
I liked the Cruze ok, but I have a few friends that have had one and they were maintenance and repair nightmares with very few miles.  I wouldn’t bother mentioning that fact if they drove like a Nascar driver, but that’s not the case.  Replacing the radiator once before it hits 100,000 is not ok, but replacing it before 50,000 miles is completely unacceptable.  I’d like to think that was a single model year problem or a bad batch of plastic that had built-in defects.  No way I’d buy a new one, but I’m curious what condition a well-maintained version would be with 75,000+ miles.  Since it was so super efficient and comfortable for two people, I’d rent it again, but only if a similar Corolla wasn’t available to scope out for a day.
Chevy if you’re listening . . .
What will fill the affordable fuel efficiency void if the smallest thing made is a crossover or an expensive hybrid?
On a scale from 1-100: (1- never / 100- now and forever!)
Buy it now – 15
Buy it later at half the current price – 45
F.E.D. (Fun, Efficiency & Desirability) – 50 (file most of those points under ‘efficiency’)
Oooh and ahhh factor – 20
Recommended to rent – 55

RIGHT UNDER THE WIRE before midnight.

Happy New Year! ! ! !





2018 Mazda CX-5

Favorite SUV so far?

Mazda’s SkyActiv technology has been around for a while now and the mix of power and fuel economy continues satisfy a lot of buyers in a class that is largely dominated by the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V.


The 4-cylinder 176hp engine isn’t a rocket ship by any means, but 0-60 to 8.5 seconds is respectable for a SUV that’ll get 30mpg in a mix of city and highway driving.   The 6-speed automatic performed without a hitch under heavy acceleration or casual highway cruising.


The fuel filler door was unusually large.  When refueling, the option is to put the cap on the what seemed to be a slightly magnetic black pad to the right or hanging it on the metal cradle on the filler door itself.  It seems like a setup for a possible alternative fuel port.  An electric outlet next to a gasoline filler door sounds like a disaster waiting to happen, but maybe it could be for hydrogen or CNG.  More than likely I’m just reading too much into it and it’s just wasted space.


The rear styling is obvious Mazda since the taillights have the same pointy cat-eye shape as the MX-5 Miata, 3, and 6 models.


The cargo area swallowed the poinsettia bush (way too big to be called a single ‘plant’) that a friend gave to me after the 4th Sunday of Advent.  Her forever curious dog was at risk of eating some of it and I didn’t know poinsettias can make dogs really sick.  There was no cargo net in sight which is common in most SUVs now, but it is sold as a $60 dealer accessory.


The front fascia, including the unmistakable grille, shares a lot of styling cues from the rest of the Mazda line.  On a positive note, how could the car overheat with a grille opening that huge?  The small headlights and the huge hood that nearly goes all the way to the fender corners really differentiates the CX-5 from everything else.


The lane departure warning and traction control buttons are surrounded by. . . 4 blank nothings.  I looked on the Mazda website to see what these blank buttons could be, but what a disappointment to learn that they are also useless blanks on the [supposed] maxed out Grand Touring.  After a little more digging on other Mazda models, the $7,000 less expensive Mazda 3 has the same exact panel.  What’s the point of that since the CX-5 and 3 are manufactured in 2 different places?   I promise I’ll try not to beat a dead horse about blank buttons next year.


The front seats were very comfortable and looked amazing.  The 2-tone leather and suede looked very expensive and if they age well years down the road, this particular feature should help immensely with future resale value.  My 2 weekend dinner buddies commented this was their favorite vehicle so far mainly attributed to seat comfort.  The rear seats were just as cozy and had the same suede inlay as the fronts.


The center console was an odd combination of buttons (first Mazda rental so far), but very easy to learn.  The NAV button is misleading as it doesn’t have standard mapped navigation, just a digital compass display.  The sport setting next to the gear shifter just means that in ‘sport mode’ that the transmission only utilizes 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th gears.  I think that’d help on a steep incline to prevent the constant downshifts, but not much use otherwise.  The gear shifter in manual mode would nearly do the same thing.  The mute button on the lower right was useful when talking in the cabin.


The climate control buttons were perfectly laid out and I wouldn’t change a thing.  Every button did exactly as expected.  The heated seats are a welcome addition to ANY car in December.  The passenger seat sensors were much less sensitive to where I could put a few bags on the seat without the need of a seatbelt to keep the warning chimes off.


The dashboard display was also excellent.  The fixed speedometer and tachometer were clear and sharp in all lighting and the changeable display on the right was also easy to see in any configuration.  The windshield wiper and headlight stalks contained no surprises either.


Is it odd to love a steering wheel design?  If so, so be it!  I loved the chrome Mazda logo and the polished aluminum inlay at the bottom.  The steering wheel thickness was confident and comfortable where ever my hands happened to land.  My employer will be relieved to know that I don’t use the horn on every rental, but a cell phone addicted guy in a Chevy Dually prompted me to honk at 55mph.  I had an Integra years ago that had rusted horns that became inoperable shortly after I bought it.  I replaced it with a 3-tone air horn that was so loud, 18-wheelers were confused at what was behind them.  The CX-5 didn’t need an air horn, but I’d prefer one with more volume.


The CX-5 was all business from the side.  There’s nothing really polarizing about the style except the unusually wide hood, which is neither good or bad nowadays, but it’s difficult to differentiate it from the less expensive CX-3 from any distance.

Things of note:
Entry MSRP is $24,100 for the base sport version, this Touring starts at $2,000 more.
Achieved an impressive 29.9 mpg thanks in part to the 6-speed auto and lighter than normal acceleration.  EPA estimates seem too conservative at  24CITY/30HWY.
A maxed out Grand Touring with every option and accessory is $36,500.
Imagine the fun with a turbo.
Buy it? Rent it? Avoid it?
I don’t have the need or desire to buy a SUV, but this is undoubtedly one of my favorites I’ve ever had the pleasure of riding in or driving – rental or otherwise.  This would be very comfortable for 4 people on a short in-town night out or a cross-country road trip. I’d be fine with being assigned a CX-5 again, although I want to try others in the class first.
Mazda if you’re listening . . .
It’s hard to mess with a good thing, especially since the RAV4 and CR-V engineers are always in the chase, but more than one powertrain should be available.
On a scale from 1-100: (1- never again / 100- every time)
Buy it now – 45
Buy it later at half the current price – 80
F.E.D. (Fun, Efficiency & Desirability) – 55
Oooh and ahhh factor – 45
Recommended to rent – 85

I’ll have one more review before the year end!  Within the next few weeks I’ll be adding “Unusual Cars of Iceland” plus my favorites from 2018.