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August 14, 2013

2014 Buick Encore SUV Road Test Review

2014 Buick Encore Road Test Review by Bob Plunkett

2014 Buick Encore SUV Road Test Review

By Bob Plunkett

Near Milford Proving Ground, the vehicle research facility for General Motors in the suburbs of Detroit, we're scooting along Slobart Road for some driver-seat tests in the 2014 Encore, Buick's luxurious 5-passenger crossover utility vehicle for the eensy-weensy class.

Unveiled at the 2012 North American International Auto Show in Detroit and reaching Buick showrooms in 2013, the Encore has a 100.6-inch wheelbase and a 168.4-inch tip-to-tailpipe length, segmenting it to the compact class.

It pulls power from an itsy-bitsy turbocharged 4-cylinder engine with 1.4-liter displacement -- the smallest for any model in the 110-year history of Buick.

Despite the wee-scale statistics for this Baby Buick, Encore steers and handles quite nicely, exhibiting quick-response agility and the smooth and quiet ride quality of a luxury car. [Click here for full review]

2014 Acura RLX Road Test Review

2014 Acura RLX Road Test Review by Bob Plunkett

2014 Acura RLX Road Test Review

By Bob Plunkett

We log time in the plush driver's seat of a 2014 RLX -- Acura's re-imagined flagship sedan -- driving across the jagged Laguna Mountains of southern California and through low sandy deserts skirting the Salton Sea before reaching the golfing oasis of La Quinta near Palm Springs.

What this road test reveals is a large and luxurious touring sedan with a new powertrain aboard plus PAWS (precision all-wheel steer), a 4-wheel electric steering system which enables the vehicle to romp up mountain grades and dance around wiggly curves as easily as it powers down a multi-lane interstate highway like the I-8 or maneuvers deftly through traffic in an urban sprawl like Palm Springs.

The ride quality feels firm but definitely smooth, thanks to a rigid unit-body structure which supports a suspension system with independent components including a double-wishbone design in front that precisely controls wheel motion and a rear multi-link layout that settles the rear and delivers an exceptionally smooth ride. [Click here for full review]

August 13, 2013

2014 Jaguar F-Type Sport Road Test Review

2014 Jaguar F-Type Sport Road Test Review by Bob Plunkett

2014 Jaguar F-Type Sport Road Test Review

By Bob Plunkett

With 15 turns wrapping over 3.9 miles of grade-changing asphalt convolutions, the F1-class Circuito de Navarra race track in northern Spain fills the raked windshield of a sensuous 2-seat Jaguar roadster convertible as we cinch a seatbelt even tighter while awaiting a signal to unleash the boost of a twin-vortex Eaton supercharger and allow this rear-wheel-drive sportster to zip around the circuit at triple-digit speeds.

Our performance-tuned roadster on the track in Spain is the 2014 F-Type S by Jaguar of Great Britain in a new aluminum chassis iteration marking the first bona fide sports car for Jaguar in half a century following the automaker's iconic E-Type -- a.k.a. XK-E -- of 1961. [Click here for full review]

August 09, 2013

2013 Dodge Charger New Car Review

2013 Dodge Charger Super Bee Road Test by Bob Plunkett

2013 Dodge Charger New Car Review

By Bob Plunkett

On a blacktop race track at Chrysler's Michigan vehicle test facility, a juicy 2013 SRT8 Super Bee edition of Charger -- Dodge's 4-door sports sedan wearing the nameplate of a 1966 muscle car icon -- runs the straightaway at lickety-split speed in our special test drive.

This modern muscle car flashes the menacing face of a bulldog and wears shapely body bulges over the sleek profile of a coupe despite a pair of doors hanging off each side.

It also carries the formidable credentials of a street-legal racer:  A lowered chassis with taut suspension tweaked for performance, massive 20-inch alloy wheels wrapped in Goodyear Eagle RS-A performance tires, big four-piston brake calipers and a humongous 6.4-liter V8 engine that's a high-tech rendition of Chrysler's fabled HEMI plant with hemispheric combustion chambers.

The 2013 Charger SRT8 Super Bee special edition, named after Dodge Super Bee muscle cars produced from 1969 to 1971, deletes some luxury equipment and electronic gadgets from the 2013 Charger SRT8 to pare the price tag and forge a leaner muscle machine dressed in a distinctive can't-miss-me paint job.

[Full review]

August 07, 2013

2013 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible Test Drive

2013 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible Road Test Review by Bob Plunkett

2013 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible Road Test Review

By Bob Plunkett

Not a cloud clots the vivid blue sky above Florida's Gold Coast as we troll the palm-lined Las Olas Boulevard of Fort Lauderdale for a drive test in Volkswagen's 2013 Beetle Convertible, a roly-poly-cute 2+2 bug car with the electrified lid lowered and warm sunlight splashing across a curvaceous car body tinted to a vivid shade labeled Tornado Red.

The new Beetle Convertible, derived from the new third-generation Beetle hatchback, has front-wheel-drive orientation and three powertrain choices including a fired-up Turbo and high-mileage Clean Diesel.

There have been drop-top variations of Volkswagen's original Kaefer (German for Beetle) beginning with the type 15 Convertible from 1949 and extending to the New Beetle Cabriolet (2003-2006) -- all were curvy cute yet downright tepid in the power department. [Full review]

August 05, 2013

2013 Subaru Outback Road Test Review

2013 Subaru Outback CUV Road Test Review by Bob Plunkett

2013 Subaru Outback Road Test Review

By Bob Plunkett

We're buckled to the bucket of a juiced 2013 Outback 3.6R, Subaru's 5-door crossover wagon built in Indiana, with hands working a sporty steering wheel on a hair-raising drive test through the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.

The automatic transmission's manual shift mode runs through paddle shifters planted on the steering wheel, so we play the finger-flicker game to manage all of the torque from a gutsy boxer-6 engine and send it to all of the wheels through a 4-wheel-drive mechanism which operates automatically with Variable Torque Distribution (VTD).

Outback was designed to live up to its rugged name.

It has the rigid unibody structure of a car but a hiked suspension which compares in height to a sport utility vehicle. And it carries the all-wheel-drive (AWD) traction system that's always engaged. With all tires clawing for grip and the chassis elevated, an Outback can bump across a rocky field, scamper through a creek bed and zip down a rugged 2-rut trail to reach a backwoods campground. [Full review]

August 02, 2013

2013 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport Road Test Review

2013 Mitusubishi Outlander Sport Road Test Review by Bob Plunkett

2013 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport Road Test Review

By Bob Plunkett

A curvy road stretches northward through Silver Bay and Hague to Ticonderoga along the ragged western shore of Lake George, where the run-off of melting snow combines with a mist coming off the lake to create a slippery route ideally suited for testing the non-skid traction capability of Mitsubishi's 2013 Outlander Sport crossover utility vehicle.

Hunkering low against the road and hugging hard through each tight curve, our Outlander Sport carves a crisp and controlled line through each curve of the Adirondack road at a rather fast clip.

The 5-door compact-class CUV seems well armed to combat any type of weather -- even residual snow and ice -- because it offers an optional all-wheel-drive (AWD) system which distributes power selectively yet automatically to any of four wheels with grip. [Click here for full review]

August 01, 2013

2013 Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback Test Drive

2013 Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback GT Road Test Review by Bob Plunkett

2013 Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback Road Test Review

By Bob Plunkett

Twisty kinks of serpentine asphalt on route 276, the Pisgah Highway which cuts across the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, show off sporty handling traits during our drive test of the 2013 Lancer Sportback GT, a compact-class five-door sport hatchback from Japan's Mitsubishi.

Hunkering low against the road and hugging hard through each tight curve, one Sportback carves a crisp and controlled line through each curve at a rather fast clip.
 
This latest iteration of Mitsubishi's hatchback series for Lancer does not protest our aggressive treatment in the driver's seat. Actually, it seems to invite even more action, and we of course comply. [Full Review]

July 31, 2013

2013 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk Road Test

2013 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk Road Test Review by Bob Plunkett

2013 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk Road Test Review

By Bob Plunkett

Chunky granite boulders stack up as one of many stair-stepping barriers to our four-wheeling progress while on a test drive steering a 2013 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk special edition sport utility vehicle on a definitive off-road track for Jeep at Chrysler's vast vehicle test facility in Chelsea, Mich.

Confronted by the bumpy tangle of rocks, any driver might prudently assume that the best way to proceed beyond this barrier would be to find some path that skirts it, but for our experiment we must crawl over the boulders because the objective of this excursion is to test the off-road prowess of Jeep's ultimate four-wheel-drive (4WD) SUV.

Sturdy Grand Cherokee represents the original sport-utility vehicle tracing back in Jeep history to 1963 and the Wagoneer, with innovations like the Quadra-Trac automatic full-time four-wheel-drive (4WD) system and a limited slip differential, introduced in 1973, and the watershed design of 1984 for the first unibody four-door SUV. [Full Review]

July 29, 2013

2013 Hyundai Genesis Coupe New Car Review

2013 Hyundai Genesis Coupe Road Test Review by Bob Plunkett

2013 Hyundai Genesis Coupe New Car Review

By Bob Plunkett

A craving for test driving through zigzag curves brings us to the slalom esses on Valley of Fire Highway, a ribbon of blacktop snaking through scarlet sandstone canyons in the Nevada desert. So we hitch our seatbelt and get a grip on a leather-bound steering wheel of the 2013 Genesis 3.6 Track,  Hyundai's low-slung sports coupe now in its fourth year of production but wearing a fresh face and offering two juiced-up powertrains, a shift-it-yourself 6-speed manual stick or new 8-speed automatic with paddle-shift capability, and way more standard content.

Then we plant a foot on each aluminum pedal -- one on the go pad and the other on the stopper -- to set the rear pair of Potenzas to smoke-n-screech mode.

Now stomp that throttle but brace for a neck-snapping launch:  That sleek Genesis scoots down the twisty road to whip us dizzy in a serious pavement performance.

A chiseled body marks Hyundai's 2-door sports coupe for the editions of 2013, as Genesis acquires a redesigned front hood with broad-grin new fascia and grille, and revised angular projector beam halogen headlamps plus LED DRLs. [Full Review]