Saturday Road Test – Toyota RAV4

6-27-13 001

2013 Toyota RAV4

First and Second Impressions

By Ron Amadon

GREAT CACAPON, WVA. – Sometimes you do get a second chance to make a first impression.

When first driving the redesigned RAV4 around town on errand running day, I found nothing really wrong with the RAV but nothing really jumped out either. A mid-pack small sport ute, I thought.

But things changed on a day long trip over interstates and favorite back roads to this unincorporated little hamlet of 386 on the banks of the river that carries its name.

Out on I-70 the standard 2.5-liter four with 176 horsepower and 172 lb-ft of torque hummed along quietly with enough grunt to pass semis on the long hills even if it sometimes took a smooth two gear downshift from the standard six-speed automatic.

Right there are two major changes for 2013. The previous model’s V6 is gone from the power lineup, and the old four speed automatic is also history. Not to mention the RAV’s more contemporary exterior style helped by relocation of the spare tire off the liftgate that is now hinged at the top instead of the side. Toyota also eliminated the very cramped third row seat.

6-27-13 002


Out on the interstate, fifth and sixth gears acted as an overdrive generating an EPA estimated 22-29 miles per gallon with our all-wheel drive Limited Edition. I checked in at 24.7 mpg.

Like many of the RAV’s competitors, acceleration is not a major factor with 0-60 runs a touch over 9 seconds. One does not buy a compact SUV to burn tires after all. Nonetheless, another ten horsepower or so would be welcome.

The independent MacPherson strut suspension in front   with a double wishbone layout to the rear and 18 inch wheels produced a ride that was stiffer than one might expect, especially in the “Sport” setting. This was particularly noticeable on rough surface concrete highways that sent vibrations back through the hood and cabin. While the ride was not stiff enough to be a deal breaker, most RAV owners will probably want to ignore the Eco and Sport setting options. The buttons are hidden low in the center stack anyway.

In West Virginia, long straight stretches of highway are as rare as a Lamborghini, so it was nice to see that the stiff suspension resulted in better than expected handling aided by the all-wheel drive and torque control.

What became clear when I stopped for refreshment at the one and only store in Great Cacapon was how comfortable the RAV was for a small ute.

The top-of-the-line Limited comes with an eight-way power adjustable driver’s seat with memory and lumbar support. The breathable “Softex” covered seats looked durable, in line with Toyota’s long standing reputation for long life.

6-27-13 005

A small and sporty leather wrapped wheel was a nice touch along with “Clear Blue” illumination of the instruments. Stitching abounded inside and all in all, the appearance was that of a more upscale vehicle.

There was ample room for two adults to the rear on 60/40 split fold seats that also reclined. The RAV’s 73.4 cubic feet of cargo space with the second row folded tops the competition and the lift over height is low.

The RAV also equated itself well during some mild off roading, something that is almost mandatory in this part of the world. The AWD drive system allows the operator to lock torque distribution in a fixed, 50/50 ratio at speeds up to about 25 mph. Ground clearance is 6.3 inches.

At the end of the day back at base camp, I came away more impressed with the updated RAV. Consumers seeking a durable well-built crossover in a wide range of prices should definitely trek to the RAV for a test drive.

From a base price of $28,410 our test vehicle sported a $1,660 audio package, $500 Blind Spot Monitor, $229 worth of roof rack crossbars and $225 for various floor mats.

With transportation, that brought the price to $31,869, and that is in line with the competition. A base model can be had for $23,300 yet if the budget allows I would recommend a step up to the Limited Edition for the long list of standard equipment that brings.












Auto News for June 28


The pickup wars between Ford and Chevy continue to heat up. Just as Chevy is getting some publicity in the car mags for its 2014 Silverado, Ford sends out a tremor. The F-150 Tremor with a twin-turbo 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 with 365 horsepower and 420 lb-ft of torque. The 2014 model will be available only in short-wheelbase configuration in two or four wheel drive. As you can see in the accompanying picture, it’s a snazzy looking truck.


GM can crow about sales of the tiny Chevy Spark. In the first year on the market, the Spark has ignited a fire – far exceeding even the maker’s estimates. Authorities say consumers are attracted to the many features on the subcompact, the $12,170 starting price and good fuel economy. Even more significant for GM, the Spark is attracting a large number of first time new car buyers.

AutoPacific has named the Cadillac SRX the top overall vehicle and Cadillac as the highest satisfaction premium brand.

Something to keep in mind over the 4th. The National Coalition for Safer Roads said July 4th ranks as the second riskiest summer holiday when it comes to red-light running. It was topped only by the Memorial Day holiday.

Auto News for June 27


On the 10th anniversary of its initial production, Mazda has displayed the 2014 Mazda3.  It will be available with either a 2.0-liter or 2.5-liter four good for 155 horsepower and 184 horsepower respectively. The three grew 2.4 inches worth of wheelbase. Mazda played up a multitude of new interactive devices that should meet the needs of virtually everyone – such as a “Human Machine Interface” system, along with “Active Driving Display,” a new infotainment system, and not to forget safety related aps and audio related gizmos. The 2014 models will hit showrooms in early September. Hopefully dealers will show drivers how all this works.

In conjunction with the 30th anniversary of its Smyrna, Tenn. assembly plant Nissan is adding more than 900 manufacturing jobs to support future production of the Nissan Rogue. This will be the first time that model will be produced here in the states.

IKEA will add 24 electric vehicle charging stations at stores in Illinois, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Texas as well as corporate headquarters. Once the installations are complete, electric cars will be able to get the juice at 55 IKEA locations.

INRIX, a company that follows traffic data, reports that traffic congestion rose 9.2 percent nationwide last month with the biggest gain in the western states. On the plus side, the company said it might be a good sign that the economy is continuing to recover because there are more cars on the road.

Auto News for June 26

  Attention Mustang fans!!! The L-A Times said the much anticipated, redesigned 2015 Mustang may make its debut at the Detroit Auto Show in January. It is expected to finally get an independent rear suspension and, the rumor mill has it, possibly a turbo four!

 It is just a few days until we get the official facts and figures on June car sales, but if predictions from Kelley Blue Book are correct we will see a 6 percent improvement year-over-year. Senior Analyst Alec Gutierrez said “the industry continues to benefit from modest improvements in housing, unemployment and consumer confidence.” Kelley predicts a 13.4 percent gain for Ford, 1.3 percent increase at GM, and 7.7 percent at Chrysler. The biggest gain will be at Nissan at nearly 15 percent, the report said.

 Speeding is a primary culprit in a third of fatal crashes involving teen drivers, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association. In a study funded by State Farm, the group said speeding is more prevalent among teen makes, at night, and in the presence of other teen passengers. Among other recommendations, the association said it backs the installation of additional automated speed cameras. 

 Shelby America will open its new global headquarters in Las Vegas on December first. It will consolidate manufacturing and Speed Shop facilities under one roof. In case you were wondering, the company builds three continuation model Shelby Cobras, as well as versions of the Shelby GT500 and Mustang, Raptor and Focus. It would be fair to say all of them have, well, rapid acceleration.  





Auto News for June 25

Only six months of shopping days until Xmas! 🙂 says when it comes to U.S. made vehicles the Ford F-150 pickup tops its 2013 list. Cars “American-Made Index” measures domestic parts content, final vehicle assembly point and sales. It says strong sales and 75 percent domestic parts content moved the Ford pickup into the lead over the now second place Toyota Camry, last year’s winner. Yet the web site said Toyota remains the brand with the greatest number of ranked vehicles with the Sienna, Tundra, and Avalon also in the top ten.

It’s a gas, gas, gas! Navigant Research predicts there will be 34.9 million natural gas vehicles on the road worldwide by 2020. It cited a “greater openness to alternative fuel vehicles on the part of motorists and fleet operators.”

Research and Markets meanwhile feels the connected car is all set to be the “next big thing” in the auto industry. It said future systems are likely to be cloud based for content, information and services. But it said manufacturers need to standardize on common solutions to drive the market.

In line with that, ABI Research predicts that the number of automotive apps downloaded in cars will jump from around 12 million to 4.3 billion in five years. That should generate, the firm believes, $1.67 billion in revenues globally.

The 2014 Cadillac XTS will offer a twin turbo 3.6-liter V6 good for a robust 410 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque. This will be the General’s first twin turbo V6

2014 Cadillc XTS


Auto News for June 24


Audi has captured its 12th win at the Le Mans 24 hour endurance race and its fourth straight title in a competition clouded by the death of Aston Martin driver Allan Simonsen. He skidded into a barrier just ten minutes into the competition and was pronounced dead at a local hospital. After taking the checkered flag, Audi’s Tom Kristensen said, “This one is for Allan Simonsen… a fantastic driver.”

Weather conditions were difficult at the start and the finish when rain moved into Le Mans, while a cloudburst at the close made traction an iffy thing. It was the second time Audi captured the race with a hybrid race car matched with Quattro drive.

One of the auto industry’s good guys, Hyundai’s John Krafcik, has been named Automotive Executive of the Year. As the Detroit News points out, when Krafcik joined Hyundai from Ford, its share of the U.S. market was 2.5 percent. It is now nearly 5 percent. This writer had the chance to share a long ride and go one on one with Krafcik during an event, and we were enjoying the conversation so much we got totally lost. As he was programming the navi, we somehow stumbled across the correct road and made it to the lunch stop ahead of several other drivers!

How you feel about your auto insurance company? Not so hot according to a new J.D. Power survey. It said overall customer satisfaction declined this year from an all-time high in 2012. Rising prices and policy offerings were the main reasons why. has announced collaboration with Disney for the soon-to-be-released film, “The Lone Ranger.” I see the masked man in a Jeep Wranger, silver of course. Tonto would have to drive an old International Scout.

New Yorkers purchase the highest rate of moonroofs in the country while Dallas customers go for the foot activated liftgate option, while caffeinated Seattle buyers like driver assist packages. Ford has released a customer buying trend report for its Escape and Explorer.







2014 Mazda6 Road Test

Mazda 6 001


2014 Mazda6 Grand Touring

Beach Boy’s Four Door

By Ron Amadon

DAMASCUS, MD – If you are thinking that “your fun is all through now” because you’re in the market for a four door sedan, think again.

While the old Beach Boys song referred to a taken away Thunderbird, the subject of this day’s road test is our first 2014 model, to wit the very sporty Mazda6.

Just by sitting in it, you know your fun is NOT all through now. Sharp drivers will notice that this is not your run-of-the mill four door. The seats grab your sides but are all day comfortable, the smaller than expected steering wheel feels like something out of the Miata and the electroluminescent gauges are always easy to read.

Mazda 6 005

A 6’ tall driver had more than adequate room in all directions while two adults can be comfortably seated in back. Basic audio and ventilation controls were easy to figure out, and the TomTom based navi, in a 5.8 inch touchscreen, was easy to program. As more and more studies surface of owner discontent with overly complicated screen based controls, I firmly predict this is a trend we will be seeing in the months ahead.

The test car had the one and only engine offered at the present time, a 2.5 liter four that produces 184 horsepower at 5,700 rpm and 185 lb-ft of torque at 3,250 rpm. Look for 60 miles per hour from a standing start in about 7.5 seconds. Mazda said the 2014 engine generates eight percent more horsepower and nearly 11 percent more torque than last year’s model.

Mazda 6 003

With the six speed automatic, the EPA estimates the combination is good for 26-38 mpg. In mostly country and interstate driving while exercising the fast acting paddle shifts, I came in at just a whisker over 30 mpg. A six speed manual can also be ordered in some models.

Coming our way in the second half of this year is a 2.2-liter turbo diesel while the 3.7-liter, 272 horsepower V6 is history.

Fear not car buffs, for the Mazda was lively with the four, and like the kids in Lake Woebgon, handling was above average, while feedback was better than expected. Body roll was minimal, and while the ride was a touch on the firm side my guess is that passengers won’t notice. Wind and road noise were nicely contained.

Fit and finish were good and the Bose 11 speaker sound system was nothing short of excellent.

Standard equipment included Mazda’s Smart City Brake Support system that will assist the operator in avoiding front collisions when traveling at less than 19 miles per hour. It will reduce brake pedal travel, and if need be, activate an automatic braking function.

Mazda 6 007

The top of the line Grand Touring test model carried a base MSRP of $29,495. Standard equipment included 19” wheels, moonroof, bi-xeon high-intensity headlights with auto leveling; leather trimmed and heated sport seats that were eight ways adjustable, and satellite radio, among other things.

The “Soul Red” paint was an extra $300 while the “MRCC and FOW Package” came to $900. Before you go back and check an old Latin textbook, I should explain this stands for “Mazda Radar Cruise Control and Forward Obstruction Warning” system.

With that comes I-ELOOP, and no I do not make these names up. “Intelligent Energy Loop” is a capacitor based brake energy regeneration system that provides power to all of the electrical mechanisms in the vehicle, and Mazda claims, improves fuel economy.

This brought the cost of the test car to $31,490.

All these rather strange names aside what you end up with, even with the under $21,000 base model, is a comfortable and fun to drive sedan. It is that “Zoom Zoom” factor that sets the Mazda6 apart from its rivals in the white hot sedan market.

Mazda 6 004