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2014 Nissan NV200 photos copyright Auto Trends Magazine. All rights reserved.

Midsize Maven: 2014 Hyundai Sonata Limited

The Hyundai Sonata is not the best selling vehicle in the midsize segment. That honor belongs to the Toyota Camry.

2014 Hyundai Sonata Limited

2014 Hyundai Sonata Limited

As a matter of fact, the Sonata trails the Camry, Honda Accord, Nissan Altima and the Ford Fusion. And at present, it is running neck and neck with the Chevrolet Malibu for a distant fifth place. Yet, if there is one vehicle that has redefined the D-segment (midsize models), the Sonata would be it.

Introduced in early 2010 as a 2011 model, the current Hyundai Sonata threw the style gauntlet down. That gauntlet had “no more boring vehicles” written all over it, serving notice to consumers that inspiring design was not limited to luxury models. Consumers responded in kind, snapping up Sonatas and nearly doubling model sales in just three years.

The big Sonata redo of 2010 set off a chain of new or refreshed D-segment models from competitors, forced to up the styling ante and counter Hyundai’s then 35 mpg fuel leadership. The most significant changes have come from Nissan and Ford with Hyundai’s corporate cousin getting in the act too with its dashing Kia Optima.

2014 Hyundai Sonata Limited

Although just four years have come and gone, Hyundai is already planning a new Sonata. That seventh-generation model goes on sale early this summer, a slightly larger sedan at that. However, the next-generation model was not what I received. Instead, I was handed the keys to a 2014 Hyundai Sonata Limited ($27,000) to serve as my most recent weekly driver.

Hyundai prices the 2014 Sonata from $21,450 (GLS) and positions an SE model ($24,300) smack in the middle. All GLS, SE and Limited editions are powered by a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine making 190 horsepower at 6,300 rpm and 179 pound-feet of torque at 4,250 rpm.

You can also choose a Sonata with a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine. If you do, you will be treated to 274 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 269 foot-pounds of torque at 1,750. Both engines are paired with a six-speed automatic transmission with manual shifting capabilities. Hyundai offers two turbo editions: $25,850 for the SE 2.0T and $28,550 for the Limited 2.0T. A hybrid model is also available and was previously tested by Auto Trends.

Sleek Exterior

Although the Sonata’s current design has been around for a few years, it still pushes the styling envelope for its segment.

Its bold grille is flanked by a pair of curvilinear light assemblies that includes its headlamps, LED lights and turn signal indicators. Fog lamps are standard with the Sonata Limited.

“Fluidic sculpture” is what Hyundai calls the Sonata’s design language, what delivers a sweeping motion from bumper to bumper. In between, this sedan features very pronounced character lines that run from the front fascia and across the hood and are further delineated by strong profile lines across the upper and lower door panels before disappearing near the end of the sedan. The rear deck is a bit less striking, but it still manages to provide an upscale motif.

Upscale Interior

Inside, the styling drama continues with similar arched lines running across the dashboard, along the door panels and around the cockpit.

The instrument panel is dominated by a pair of oversized analog displays accented with brightwork trim. A digital driver’s information center is between the two.

The center stack offers a full-color screen that provides access to Hyundai’s BlueLink Infotainment system with music, navigation and media functions. In my one test of the navigation feature, it quickly provided directions to my destination, delivering pleasant voice instructed turn-by-turn guidance. Knobs and switches control the audio and climate control systems beneath that. USB and auxiliary ports and a pair of 12-volt outlets are at the base of the stack along with multiple storage compartments including a deep, enclosable unit suitable for housing your smartphone or wallet.

Hyundai offers no surprises when it comes to the placement of the drive controls with secondary controls located right on the steering wheel, on the door panel or on a control stalk jutting out of the steering wheel. The power-operated driver’s seat was comfortable, offering ample leg, arm and thigh support. The same could be said for the front passenger seat although that seat does not offer a power feature. Heating and cooling front seats and heated rear seats are standard with the Hyundai Sonata Limited.

The 60-40 split rear seat is also comfortable, but take note that the receding roofline does limit your headroom. Standing at just under 6 feet tall, my head touches the ceiling when I was seated in the rear. Other analysts have noted that the Sonata’s headroom is one of the best in its class, but if someone in your family is tall or relegated to the back seat, you might want to sit back there first to see what I mean. Rear seating is otherwise excellent for two and good for three people especially if the middle rider is not an adult.

2014 Hyundai Sonata Limited

View manufacturer details and pricing

On the Road

If you are looking for robust performance with the Hyundai Sonata, the standard engine will disappoint you. Given that I did not have access to the turbo edition, those that crave more power will definitely want to consider the boosted model.

The standard Sonata features keyless entry and push-button start with the transmission stick situated between the front seats. Turn on the engine, slip the transmission into gear and you will find adequate power at the ready. You will also hear a generous amount of engine noise, raising to a whine when you push the accelerator to the floor. Not as refined sounding as other cars in this class that I have driven, but hardly worth complaining about.

Torque steer was minimal with only a slight nudge to either side when pressing the pedal to metal. Steering is good, though at times squishy — on a few occasions I found myself holding on to the wheel a bit tighter as the road rose and fell before me. Braking was also good with the attendant traction control, stability control, ABS and brake assist at work.

The ride offered no surprises which is the type of response I expected from this front-wheel-drive sedan. The Sonata has 110 inches between its front and back wheels for the longest wheelbase in its class. Its suspension is noticeably soft, likely what most buyers prefer. Choose the turbo and a sport-tuned suspension is included.

Sonata Technology Package

Opting for the Hyundai Sonata Limited and in this case, one loaded with a technology package ($3,000) pushed its final price to $31,120. That package included a panoramic sunroof with tilt and two shades, HID Xenon headlamps, LED tail lights, a navigation system, and a 400-watt Infinity audio system. Even so, I kept thinking about the slightly larger Hyundai Azera sedan that I had in March with a V-6 engine and even more amenities. At the higher end of the Sonata price spectrum, the base Azera comes into play.

You may also want to look at the Sonata Hybrid ($26,000) a model that can be packed with many of the amenities found in the gas-only Limited and for about the same price. The hybrid is rated 36 mpg in the city and 40 mpg on the highway, offering considerably better fuel economy numbers than the standard model.

2014 Hyundai Sonata Limited

  • Sticker price from $27,000
  • Price as tested: $31,120
  • Seats 5 occupants
  • 2.4-liter 16-valve four cylinder engine
  • 190 horsepower @ 6,300 rpm
  • 179 foot-pounds of torque @ 4,250 rpm
  • 3.46 inches bore by 3.82 inches stroke
  • Engine compression ratio: 11.3-to-1
  • 6-speed automatic transmission
  • Wheelbase: 110 inches
  • Length: 189.8 inches
  • Width: 72.2 inches
  • Height: 57.9 inches
  • Passenger volume: 103.8 cubic feet
  • Storage volume: 16.4 cubic feet
  • Towing capacity: Not recommended
  • EPA: 24 mpg city, 35 mpg highway
  • Regular grade gasoline
  • Fuel tank: 18.5 gallons
  • Curb weight: From 3,245 to 3,428 pounds
  • IIHS safety rating: Good all categories except marginal in small overlap front testing
  • Safety features: Blind spot detection system
  • Limited vehicle warranty: 5 years/60,000 miles
  • Powertrain warranty: 10 years/100,000 miles
  • Corrosion warranty: 7 years/Unlimited miles
  • Vehicle assembly: Montgomery, Alabama

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2014 Hyundai Sonata Limited photos copyright Auto Trends Magazine. All rights reserved.

7 Facts About the 2015 Nissan Versa Sedan

Smallest Nissan model gets a big makeover.

The subcompact segment is where many young, first-time car buyers look when considering a new car. Pricing typically is in the $15,000-$20,000 price range although more basic models can come in quite a bit lower. In advance of the 2014 New York International Auto Show, the wraps have come off of the 2015 Nissan Versa Sedan, a front-wheel drive model that offers much room and value for its class.

2015 Nissan Versa Sedan

The following are seven important facts about the Versa Sedan.

1. Its style aligns with other Nissan models. Prior to its most recent update, the Nissan Versa Sedan has trailed its sibling models in styling, but the new model is now aligned with the compact Sentra and midsize Altima sedans. The sedan’s style still offers a clear distinction from the hatchback version — the Nissan Versa Note.

2. The base price has not changed. Try to find a new vehicle for under $15,000 and you’ll be presented with a handful of choices. Most of those choices include vehicles with limited interior room such as the Smart Fortwo or Chevrolet Spark. The 2015 Nissan Versa Sedan is priced from $11,990, exactly the same price charged last model year despite the many changes made inside and out. That means you can get a well-equipped model for about $15,000 — or less than half the price of the average new car.

2015 Nissan Versa Sedan

3. There is room for five. In a pinch you can seat five people in the Versa sedan. Unlike other models it won’t be a major endurance test for rear seating passengers as the Versa leads the segment in hip room. You’ll be more comfortable with two in the rear especially if you have children and at least one of them sits in a car seat. Check out the storage room too: with the rear seat folded down you’ll have enough room for your yard sale finds.

4. One engine, but three transmission choices. Nissan’s trusty 1.6-liter four cylinder engine returns making 109 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 107 foot-pounds of torque at 4,400 rpm. Three transmission choices are available: a standard 5-speed manual or an optional 4-speed automatic or a continuously variable transmission. Choose the CVT and you’ll get the model line’s best fuel economy at 31 mpg in the city and 40 mpg on the highway.

5. You can choose from four trim levels. Four trim levels are available with the 2015 Nissan Versa Sedan: S, S Plus ($13,990), SV ($15,530) and SL ($16,890). The base S edition comes with manually operated cloth seats, a two-speaker audio system, a passenger side vanity mirror and standard assist grips. Upper trim level models roll out the amenities and convenience features including power accessories, NissanConnect infotainment, Bluetooth connectivity, SiriusXM satellite radio, USB/iPod controls, and alloy wheels.

6. Two option packages are available. Nissan simplified its package offering by providing both alloy wheel and technology packages. The aluminum-alloy wheel package features unique V-spoke aluminum-alloy wheels. The technology package brings in Nissan Voice Recognition for audio and navigation, and a rear view monitor.

7. The Nissan Versa outsells all comers. Nissan outsells its competitors in the subcompact range including the Toyota Yaris, Honda Fit, Ford Fiesta, Chevrolet Sonic, Mazda2, Volkswagen Golf and Mitsubishi’s Mirage. The model offers an excellent entry point to the Nissan brand and is the only manufacturer offering different styles for sedan and hatchback editions.

Nissan Notes

The 2015 Nissan Versa Note comes to the market as this Japanese automaker enjoys record US sales. Nissan sales are up 11.3 percent through March 2014 although Versa sales are down by 11.9 percent year to date. The new design is expected to help boost sales for this Mexican-made product once it goes on sale later this year.

Photos courtesy of Nissan North America, Inc.

2014 Hyundai Azera: Value-Oriented Luxury

Second-generation model makes a luxury statement.

2014 Hyundai Azera

The current Azera features Hyundais fluidic sculpture design language.

Hyundai offers four medium to large sedans, more than any other brand. The Korean manufacturer has steadily expanded its product line to provide incrementally larger and more luxurious vehicles beginning with the midsize Sonata and extending to the larger Azera, the still larger Genesis, and by topping the brand off with the ultra-luxury Equus.

Introduced in 2006, the Azera operated briefly as the flagship for Hyundai before the Genesis sedan arrived in 2009 followed by the Equus in 2011. The first generation model was sold through 2011; the current generation model is now in its third year. The Azera straddles the line between midsize and large models, essentially offering a half-step between the Sonata and Genesis sedan.

2014 Hyundai Azera

The Azera has more interior room than any vehicle in its class.

2014 Hyundai Azera

With its 2012 redesign, the front-wheel-drive Hyundai Azera assumed the brand’s fluidic sculpture design language marked by a bold grille, flowing lines and form, including distinct profile characteristics. Jewel-like headlamps, front accent lights and LED tail light treatments add to this sedan’s high-end look.

Under the hood is a 3.3-liter V-6 engine, making 295 horsepower and paired with a six-speed automatic transmission. That transmission also has manual shift control. No other engines or transmissions are offered.

Priced from $31,000, the Azera Limited retails from $34,750. As tested, the total price of our weekly driver came in at $37,905. Hyundai names the Ford Taurus, Nissan Maxima and the Buick LaCrosse as the Azera’s chief competitors. Other models to compare include the Toyota Avalon and Chevrolet’s Impala.

2014 Hyundai Azera

Optional 19-inch wheels are paired with high performance tires.

Azera Cabin Amenities

Inside, the Hyundai Azera has a look and feel that points to a more expensive model. The Azera’s cabin is roomy with excellent legroom up front and back. The Limited edition is equipped with a very comfortable 12-way power adjustable drivers seat with a driver seat cushion extension the front passenger gets an 8-way power seat. Both front seats can be heated or ventilated; the rear seat offers heating for the two outboard positions. Leather seating is standard.

The Azera Limited offers a power tilt and telescopic steering wheel column; cruise, audio and phone controls on the steering wheel; analog tachometer and odometer read outs flanking a digital color display; front map lights and three rear reading lights; four in-door beverage holders and four cup holders; metal grain and simulated leather trim; power accessories; a cooled glovebox compartment; two 12-volt outlets; and assist grips.

2014 Hyundai Azera

The Azera’s instrument panel is your command center.

The premium package ($2,150) brought in a panoramic tilt and slide sunroof, a power rear sunshade, manual rear side window sunshades, rear parking assist, and 19-inch hyper silver allows wheels. An 8-inch display screen in the center stack does double duty as a navigation system and rearview camera. The Limited edition upgrades the standard 6-speaker Mobis audio system to a 550-watt, 14-speaker Infinity system with surround sound. HD Radio is added with the limited; Blue Link telematics is standard across the model line.

Hyundai outfits the Azera with nine airbags including a driver’s knee airbag. You also get an anti-lock braking system, brake assist, electronic brake-force distribution, traction control, and rear parking assist, the latter available only with the Limited edition. The Limited also includes HID Xenon headlights, automatic headlights, daytime running lights, and LED tail lights as standard equipment.

2014 Hyundai Azera:
Full Luxury Starts Under $35,000

View manufacturer details and pricing

On the Road

The Hyundai Azera comes with keyless entry and push-button start, the latter firing up the engine and all its potential. That potential was realized on the open road when pressing the pedal to the metal, with the engine responding with rapid acceleration and the transmission shifting with ease.

The sedans largeness notwithstanding, the Azera’s suspension is tuned to deliver a comfortable ride, but not to the extent where feedback is eliminated. Torque understeer, the bane of many larger front-wheel-drive models, was happily kept to a minimum.

2014 Hyundai Azera

The Hyundai Azera offers ample trunk room too.

Steering, however, is not the Azera’s strong suit, what seemed uneven at times, requiring correction from time to time. Perhaps it was the 19-inch tires, high performance rubber at that. Some vehicles just aren’t suited for anything beyond standard radials.

The Azera’s overall ride was quite good, soft but not pillowy. The cabin was quiet at highway speeds and driver seat comfort was consistent across shorter and longer trips. More than once my family remarked that the Hyundai was comfortable, receiving props for the heated rear seats, reading lights, and the sunshades. The panoramic sunroof was admired as well especially for its center parting screens.

Strengths and Weaknesses

The 2014 Hyundai Azera delivers on all fronts and does so at a price point that comes in below its competitors. Richly appointed vehicles priced slightly below competing models has long been a Hyundai strong suit the Azera being just one example.

If there is any weakness with the Azera it would be its lack of an all-wheel-drive system, available with both the Ford Taurus and the Buick LaCrosse. In fact, the only Hyundai sedan that offers all-wheel drive is the Genesis sedan and that feature rolls out with the all-new 2015 model, arriving in showrooms later this year.

My personal inclination would be to make the half step up to the Genesis sedan to enjoy its rear-wheel-drive architecture and low starting price of $35,200. Indeed, with its own premium package included the Genesis can be had for $39,600, offering a price differential of less than $2,000 for a similarly equipped Azera.

2014 Hyundai Azera Limited

  • Sticker price from $34,750
  • Price as tested: $37,905
  • Seats 5 occupants
  • 3.3-liter 24-valve V-6 engine
  • 293 horsepower @ 6,400 rpm
  • 255 foot-pounds of torque @ 5,200 rpm
  • 92 mm bore by 83.8 mm stroke
  • Engine compression ratio: 11:5-to-1
  • 6-speed automatic transmission
  • Wheelbase: 112 inches
  • Length: 193.3 inches
  • Width: 73.2 inches
  • Height: 57.9 inches
  • Passenger volume: 107 cubic feet
  • Storage volume: 16.3 cubic feet
  • Towing capacity: N/R
  • EPA: 19 mpg city, 29 mpg highway
  • Regular grade gasoline
  • Fuel tank: 18.5 gallons
  • Curb weight: From 3,605 to 3,825 pounds
  • IIHS safety rating: Good
  • Safety features: 9 airbags, brake assist, four-wheel disc brakes
  • Limited vehicle warranty: 5 years/60,000 miles
  • Powertrain warranty: 10 years/100,000 miles
  • Corrosion warranty: 7 years/unlimited miles
  • Vehicle assembly: Asan, Korea

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2014 Hyundai Azera photos copyright Auto Trends Magazine.

2014 Ford Fusion Energi SE: Green Dreams

You can make your green dreams a reality with the Fusion Energi.

===MPG figures updated June 12, 2014 per the Ford Motor Company.===

2014 Ford Fusion Energi.
The 2014 Ford Fusion Energi is sold in two trim levels.

We’ve heard it all before: for just under $40,000 you can get behind the wheel of a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) and receive a sizable federal tax credit too. But that talk was for the Chevrolet Volt and its $7,500 tax credit.

It took two years for Ford to respond to the Chevy Volt and the automaker now offers a pair of PHEVs in its Ford Fusion Energi (midsize sedan) and Ford C-MAX Energi (compact multi-purpose vehicle or wagon). Because the electric-only range for both vehicles is shorter than the Volt, the tax credit is lower too. Still, with that credit coming in at $4,007 for 2014, eligible buyers stand to lower their final price significantly. You won’t see your savings until after you file your federal tax return, however.

2014 Ford Fusion Energi

And pricing is an important matter when it comes to vehicle electrification, a high cost that has kept many people from seriously considering these models. A 2014 Ford Fusion Energi SE was a recent test drive, a model priced from $38,700 and retailing for $44,620, with destination charge included. Following further research I learned that Ford shaved $4,000 from the sedans price, bringing the test models price down to $40,620. After taking the tax credit, your final price would run $36,613 with taxes, tags and related expenses extra.

2014 Ford Fusion Energi
The latest Fusion is one of the largest sedans in its class.

The Energi line is composed of two vehicles, with the Energi appellation representing plug-in hybrids as opposed to traditional hybrids. Ford still sells traditional hybrid (HEV) models with the Fusion Hybrid S priced from $26,280 and the Hybrid SE coming in at $27,280. Its top-of-the-line Hybrid Titanium costs $32,600; the plug-in version of that edition retails for $36,500.

So, the spread between like HEV and PHEV models is $3,900 for the Titanium and $7,420 for the SE. Yes, there are some package differences that add to the pricing confusion. And the $4,007 federal tax credit can be taken for only the PHEVs, not the HEVs.

Second Generation Ford Fusion

The Ford Fusion, gas and hybrid models alike, is now in its second generation. The current version comes in longer than the previous generation model, adding just over five inches to the wheelbase and about two inches to its overall length. Between the wheels the Fusion is on the top end of the segment, giving rear seating passengers more legroom than most competitors. Three people can sit on the back seat comfortably.

Other significant changes for the current Fusion is new fascia with a grille reminiscent of the Aston Martin. On the Fusion Energi, that grille is flanked by projector laser-cut headlamps and LED daytime running lights. Fog lamps also mark off a sporty air intake at the base of the front fascia.

2014 Ford Fusion Energi
A tiny trunk is partially obscured by the battery pack.

The Fusion Energi features two sets of profile character lines. The first runs near the top of the doors across the door handles and the second is located just above the rocker panels and picks up again aft of the rear wheels. This model features a sweeping roof line that tapers down to the notched trunk.

Interior Equipment and Options

Inside, the Fusion Energi offers an expansive cabin with a two-tone dashboard. A leather-wrapped steering wheel tilts and telescopes, fronting a digital instrument panel. That panel features extensive EV information including EV mode, trip information, miles per gallon, and efficiency leaves, the latter to encourage economical driving. Drive more efficiently and the branch adds more leaves, drive less efficiently and you may have just one leaf to show for it. I daresay that it is the type of encouragement that works.

Following four separate electrical hook ups that provided 15 to 16 miles of electric only range, Ford says I averaged exactly 43 mpg to the gallon across 265 miles driven for the week. Not too shabby. And those connections were done at public charging stations in my area, offering free recharges by means of the LED illuminated charge port located aft of the front drivers side wheel.

The Fusion is supposed to provide 21 miles of electric-only range, but I could only get 16 miles out of a full recharge. By comparison, the Chevrolet Volt provides 38 miles of electric-only range. But there are other differences between these two vehicles: the Energi switches back and forth between electric and gas power, while the Volts electrical propulsion system is always on. That means its gas engine acts like a generator.

2014 Ford Fusion Energi
The Fusions cabin is clean, smartly laid out and quiet.

Ford generously equips the Fusion Energi with a long list of convenience features. Each model is equipped with dual zone climate control, dual illuminated visor mirrors, dome lamp and map lights, three 12-volt power points, a 110-volt outlet, power accessories, and steering wheel-mounted audio and cruise controls. You also get a leather shift knob, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, in-door storage, a front center console, a two-tier glove box, a six-speaker audio system, and SYNC with MyFordTouch infotainment.

As tested, the Ford Fusion Energi came with $5,125 worth of options. These included: active park assist, a reverse sensing system, navigation, a rear view camera, push button start, and a driver assist package with lane keep assist and a blind spot information system with cross traffic alert. Ford also outfitted this vehicle with its unique rear inflatable seat belts (see Nifty Idea: Inflatable Seat Belts!)

Extended Range with the
2014 Ford Fusion Energi

View manufacturer details and pricing

On the Road

The Ford Fusion Energi is powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that runs on the efficient Atkinson cycle as well as an electric motor. This model is paired with a continuously variable automatic transmission. The hybrid has a 7.6 kWh lithium-ion battery that recharges in seven hours with a regular home connection and is as few as 2.5 hours with a 240-volt recharge unit. The gas engine makes 141 horsepower, the electric motor produces 118 horsepower. Total system power is sustained at 188 horsepower.

Start the Fusion Energi and you’ll likely be greeted by silence especially if there is reserve electrical power from a recharge present. The sedan acts as a typical hybrid part of the time, switching from gas engine to electric motor as needed. When recharged directly from an outside source it operates in electric-only mode for up to 21 miles. That EV mode, however, is supplemented by the gas engine when optimum power is needed as I discovered during one emergency situation when I was following a truck that ran over road debris and lost at least one tire, throwing rubber and plastic everywhere. As the truck moved over to my right, another car was bearing down on me, oblivious to both my braking and maneuvering. Once past the debris scene I floored the accelerator and the maximum horses helped me move away.

2014 Ford Fusion Energi
Front and rear seating comfort is excellent in the Fusion Energi SE.

Handling for the Fusion Energi is tame or what you would expect in a front-wheel drive model. You don’t buy this kind of vehicle for its handling prowess, rather for its fuel efficiency. In one driving scenario where I took a right turn a little too ambitiously, the rear wheels gave out from underneath the vehicle before the stability control system kicked in. Torque vector control, what sends braking power to the inside wheels as needed, is present. It limits understeer, the bane of many front-wheel drive models.

Strengths and Weaknesses

The Ford Fusion Energi is a difficult vehicle to dissect. On the one hand, it offers the same style and interior roominess found across the model line. That alone sets this vehicle apart from the pack and explains why Fusion sales are gaining.

On the other hand, investing in a plug-in hybrid means shelling out the extra cash over the standard hybrid. Its a cost that can be made up with the federal tax credit in the Titanium model, but you’re still paying about $4,000 more for the PHEV SE. Whats more, the fuel economy of both types of hybrids is nearly the same, effectively erasing the plug-in advantage.

In all, the Ford Fusion (from $21,970) offers one of the best looking models in its class. Well-equipped gas models can be had for under $30,000 delivering 34 mpg on the highway too.

2014 Ford Fusion Energi
The Fusion Energi connected to a 240-volt public charging station.

2014 Ford Fusion Energi SE

  • Sticker price from $34,700
  • Price as tested: $39,825
  • Seats 5 occupants
  • 2.0-liter 16-valve four-cylinder engine (Atkinson cycle)
  • 141 horsepower @ 6,000 rpm
  • 188 net horsepower
  • 129 foot-pounds of torque @ 4,000 rpm
  • 3.44 inches bore by 3.27 inches stroke
  • Engine compression ratio: 12:3-to-1
  • Continuously variable transmission
  • Wheelbase: 112.2 inches
  • Length: 191.8 inches
  • Width: 75.2 inches
  • Height: 58 inches
  • Passenger volume: 102.8 cubic feet
  • Storage volume: 8.2 cubic feet
  • Towing capacity: N/R
  • EPA: 38 mpg (88 mpg equivalent)
  • Regular grade gasoline
  • Fuel tank: 14 gallons
  • Curb weight: From 3,913 pounds
  • IIHS safety rating: Top Safety Pick+
  • Safety features: Adaptive cruise control, backup warning
  • Limited vehicle warranty: 3 years/36,000 miles
  • Powertrain warranty: 5 years/60,000 miles
  • Safety restraint system warranty: 5 years/60,000 miles
  • Corrosion warranty: 5 years/unlimited miles
  • HEV warranty: 8 years/100,000 miles
  • Vehicle assembly: Hermosillo, Mexico

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2014 Ford Fusion PHEV photos copyright Auto Trends Magazine. All rights reserved.

2014 Lexus ES350: Luxury for Americans

Traditional luxury get a fresh look.

2014 Lexus ES350

Three decades ago Toyota began considering how it might best serve premium customers, in a bid to go head-to-head against Lincoln and Cadillac. It was determined that a new brand was necessary, thus Lexus was born. Today, Lexus is one of the top selling luxury brands in America and perennially finishes atop most major consumer and industry rankings including Consumer Reports and J.D. Power & Associates.

Earlier Lexus models looked suspiciously like their European counterparts, especially Mercedes-Benz. Over the intervening years the brand expanded and evolved, retaining the pillowy soft rides in many of its vehicles, while bringing in an assortment of performance models to take on European rivals. The brand has also taken a third approach by delivering a line of hybrid vehicles with five such models now in the mix. All three approaches — traditional, performance, and green — collectively define what is arguably an American brand.

2014 Lexus ES350

2014 Lexus ES350

One of Lexus’ entry points is the ES350. It is a large, front-wheel drive sedan that retails from $36,470. Seating five passengers, the 2014 Lexus ES350 has value written all over it. Indeed, it is chock full of standard equipment and when various safety, luxury, navigation and convenience packages are included, its cost still comes in below $45,000. That price point matches such American models as the Buick LaCrosse and Lincoln MKS, while coming in lower than comparable models from Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz.

The Lexus ES line has been around since 1992 when the first models were called the ES300, corresponding to the 3.0-liter V-6 engine originally used. Lexus followed up with the ES330 (3.3-liter V-6) before moving to the current ES350, powered by a 268-horsepower V-6. The current model was redesigned for 2013 and now features a spindle or hourglass grille in keeping with the brand’s design language. Crisper lines, rock panel ornamentation and wrap around tail lamps with dual chrome exhausts give the latest edition a sportier look. The test model was equipped with optional 17-inch 10-spoke wheels ($110), dressed in a “liquid graphite” finish.

2014 Lexus ES350

Cabin Features and Amenities

Inside, the ES350 offers seating for five with pillow soft bucket seats up front and a very supportive bench seat in the rear. A rear window power sunshade provides privacy with optional rear side window sunshades also available. Rear seat room is very good for three passengers and excellent for two.

Up front, the ES350 features a French-stitched dashboard trimmed in leather. Leather seating, piano black trim and chrome touches add to this model’s persona. Atop the center stack is an available 8-inch color screen, part of a navigation package ($2,625) that includes voice command, a backup camera, Lexus Enform — what integrates navigation and telematics. An App Suite can be accessed, with large icons for Pandora radio, movie tickets, Yelp, and the Bing search engine, among others.

The test model came with a luxury package ($1,370), composed of heated and ventilated front seats, a power tilt and telescopic steering wheel column, power side mirrors, and bamboo trim. The bamboo trim separates the upper and lower portions of the dashboard and wraps the steering wheel. Lexus calls the wood “sustainable” a description for already felled bamboo.

2014 Lexus ES350

The Lexus ES350 comes with a long list of standard comfort features including push button start/stop, 10-way power driver and front passenger seats, heated side mirrors, a moonroof, Bluetooth connectivity, and automatic dual zone climate control. You also get automatic headlamps, integrated fog lamps, satellite radio, and power accessories.

Additional comfort and safety features added to the test model were: a power trunk, parking assist, a trunk mat and cargo net, high intensity discharge headlamps with LED daytime running lights, and blind spot monitor with rear traffic alert.


Living Large With the 2014 Lexus ES350


View manufacturer details and pricing

Engine and Transmission

What Lexus does not offer customers is choice when it comes to the powertrain. A 3.5-liter V-6 is paired with a six-speed automatic. Moreover, front-wheel drive is it. If you want all-wheel drive or real-wheel drive for that matter, you’ll be directed to the IS250 or IS350, with the CT200h filling your hybrid needs (seeSeductive: 2014 Lexus IS350 F Sport). All three start out well below $40,000. Oh, yes, there is also the ES 300h, a hybrid version of the ES350. So, if you’re in a Lexus dealership trying to figure it all out, be prepared to review several models if you’re shopping toward the lower end of the price range.

2014 Lexus ES350

The ES350’s motor also powers the Toyota Avalon and is available in other Toyota products including the Camry and Sienna. It is responsive enough in the ES350 and without the added weight of all-wheel drive, it moves the ES350 with ease. That the sedan is a relative lightweight helps (3,597 pounds) which explains why it gets a robust 21 mpg in the city and 31 mpg on the highway running on regular grade gasoline. That’s well below the Buick LaCrosse (3,906 pounds) and the Lincoln MKS (3,829 pounds).

Step on the gas pedal and you may notice a slight amount of torque steer despite being equipped with front and rear stabilizer bars. Slight pulling to either side is evident, but likely hardly enough to scare buyers away. What the ES350 does have is four-wheel independent suspension with MacPherson struts and gas pressurized shocks all around. Four-wheel power assisted brakes are standard.

Lexus also serves up three driving modes for the sedan: Eco, Normal and Sport. Throttle response and engine power are adjusted to either deliver more or less power with a corresponding adjustment in fuel economy. Sport mode hastens the gear changes and provides more dynamic throttle mapping. I believe most owners will simply leave it in Eco mode to reap the best gas mileage.

2014 Lexus ES350

Strengths and Weaknesses

The 2014 Lexus ES350 is the sales leader among the three entry-level models and for good reason too: it meets the requirements of a significant number of premium car shoppers. And even its weaknesses can be easily overcome by considering other models within the expansive Lexus fold.

2014 Lexus ES350

  • Sticker price from $36,470
  • Price as tested: $44,202.00
  • Seats 5 occupants
  • 3.5-liter 24-valve V-6 engine
  • 268 horsepower @ 6,200 rpm
  • 248 foot-pounds of torque @ 4,700 rpm
  • 94 mm bore by 83 mm stroke
  • Engine compression ratio: 10:8-to-1
  • 6-speed automatic transmission
  • Wheelbase: 111.0 inches
  • Length: 192.7 inches
  • Width: 71.1 inches
  • Height: 57.1 inches
  • Passenger volume: 100.1 cubic feet
  • Storage volume: 15.2 cubic feet
  • Towing capacity: N/R
  • EPA: 21 mpg city, 31 mpg highway
  • Regular grade gasoline
  • Fuel tank: 17.2 gallons
  • Curb weight: From 3,549 pounds
  • Vehicle assembly: Japan (Georgetown, Ky. beginning in 2015)

See AlsoLuxury Pioneer: 2017 Lexus ES

7 Facts About the Nissan NV200 Taxi

Those big yellow Ford Crown Victoria sedans plying the streets of major cities and picking up passengers will soon become a thing of the past. For one, Ford no longer makes the Crown Victoria. For another, taxi fleets are looking for more efficient vehicles to get the job done.

Nissan Taxi

Enter the Nissan NV200 Taxi

The Nissan NV200 is one answer that taxi fleets are responding with including in New York City where its adoption will soon become widespread. The Nissan NV200 Taxi is a compact model with a big interior, able to carry passengers in comfort and hold much luggage. Here are seven facts about Nissans Taxi:

1. It has a four-cylinder engine. Most taxis are powered by gas-gulping V-8 engines. The Nissan NV200 taxi is powered by a 2.0-liter four cylinder engine. Its 16-valve engine makes 131 horsepower with an output of 139 foot-pounds of torque. It is paired with a continuously variable transmission.

Nissan NV200 Taxi

2. The taxi is front-wheel drive. Traditional vans have been rear-wheel drive, but the current crop of small- and medium-size vans are front-wheel drive. With front-wheel drive, the Nissan NV200 can provide more interior room, indeed more cabin space than the traditional rear-wheel drive taxi sedans.

3. There is room for five. Including the driver, the Nissan NV200 has room for five people. Three customers sit in the back and the fourth passenger rides up front with the driver, sitting in the passenger seat. Traditionally, most cabs have provided a separation between the driver and the passenger, but this arrangement makes it possible for larger groups of people to ride together. A rear cargo floor mat protects luggage, offering room equivalent to a sedans trunk.

Nissan NV200 Taxi

4. It gets good gas mileage. New York cabbies are lucky to get 10 mpg when driving around town. They traditionally put a whopping 70,000 miles on their vehicles each year too. And with gasoline averaging $4 per gallon in NYC, thats 7,000 gallons of fuel costing $28,000 per year. The Nissan NV200 is rated at 24 mpg in the city and 25 mpg on the highway. Even if the taxi gets just 20 mpg, that fuel cost has been halved. Saving $14,000 on fuel annually should cause a lot of people to sit up and take notice. What is also noticeable is the corresponding reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

5. Passengers can see up as well as out. Driving down the cavernous streets of Manhattan, it is easy to miss much of the activity going on around you. With its standard panoramic roof, passengers can crane their heads upward to take in the sites including row upon row of skyscrapers. And if the natural lighting is too intense, a shade can be drawn to cover it all.

6. Connecting online is possible. Bluetooth wireless is standard with the Nissan NV200 taxi. That means passengers can continue with their business as they take the long trip in from LaGuardia to midtown Manhattan. Rear USB and 12-volt charging ports ensure that your devices never lack power.

Nissan NV200 Taxi

7. Anti-microbial seats are standard. One complaint of taxi passengers has to do with cabin cleanliness. With so many people entering and leaving cabs each day, one or more is bound to make a mess. Germs are another matter altogether. Anti-microbial vinyl seating surfaces may not sound fancy, but they help do the job of ensuring that germs have no place to gather. They can easily be cleaned off too.

Safety Habits

Nissan has also equipped the NV200 taxi with a host of safety features including air bags, antilock brakes, and warning lights. Indeed, the dual sliding doors help eliminate collisions with cyclists, motorists and pedestrians by activating a warning light to alert other drivers.

See AlsoTiny Cargo Transporter: 2016 Nissan NV200

Nissan NV200 Taxi photos courtesy of Nissan.

Green Machine: 2014 Ford Fiesta SE Hatchback

Smallest Ford is big on value and fun.

===MPG figures updated June 12, 2014 per the Ford Motor Company.===

2014 Ford Fiesta
A big, open grille provides the 2014 Ford Fiesta with a fresh face.

In 2008, before the US economy nosedived and the American car manufacturing industry nearly folded, the Ford Motor Company announced its One Ford plan. That plan offered a blueprint for sustainability that would completely shift the way that Ford conducted its business.

One Ford had several components including Ford selling most of its vehicles across more markets, including in the United States, which at that time had a paucity of fuel-efficient models to choose from. Six vehicles were promised including the Ford Fiesta, a subcompact model sold briefly stateside from 1978 to 1980, but kept out of the US market for the ensuing three decades.

Demand just wasn’t strong enough to support two small cars with the compact Ford Escort holding sway before giving way to the Focus. American drivers long preferred larger vehicles until fuel prices began to move above $2 per gallon and then stayed above $3 per gallon. Demand soon shifted to smaller cars and Fiesta production shifted to Mexico to meet US demand.

2014 Ford Fiesta
Rear seat access is tight, but manageable, especially if you are young.

2014 Ford Fiesta

The front-wheel drive Fiesta line was reintroduced for 2011 and is now in its fourth model year. It is sold in sedan (S: $14,100) and hatchback (S: $14,600) body styles; the ST hatchback ($21,400) is new for 2014. For 2014, Ford refreshed the Fiesta, giving it a new face and updating its technologies. Both the sedan and hatchback are sold in SE ($15,580, sedan; $16,080; hatchback) and Titanium ($18,300, sedan; $18,800 hatchback) trim levels.

The press fleet loaner vehicle was a 2014 Ford Fiesta SE Hatchback. It was finished in Green Envy Metallic Tricoat, a $595 overlay that was hard to miss. It evoked the expected love/hate responses as I went about my driving business with friends and strangers alike sharing their opinions.

After sharing a photo on Facebook, my California friend Pam Stuc said, I like it; its happy and vibrant!!! Makes me wanna dance! Meanwhile, one neighbor expressed her disapproval by offering up one Blech! the moment she laid eyes on it. As for me, I appreciated the safety green look that stood out on one particularly gray day. Nuff said.

2014 Ford Fiesta.
Standard rear storage space measures 14.9 cubic feet.

Competitive Subcompact Segment

The Fiesta has a lot of competition with most every manufacturer having a model in its segment. Chevrolet has the Sonic, Toyota the Yaris, Honda has its Fit, and Nissan has the Versa sedan and Versa hatchback, two very different models. The Hyundai Accent, Kia Rio, Mazda2, and Mitsubishi Mirage also compete. Each model is front-wheel drive, powered by four-cylinder engines, and EPA rated in the vicinity of 38 mpg. Pricing generally starts out at below $15,000 or less than half the cost of the average new car.

Do you want a bargain? Then look no further. Do you want comfort? You may be surprised what this segment offers.

Indeed, for those wanting to pay for it, a number of amenities not common to the subcompact class are available with the Fiesta. All models come with a basic SYNC infotainment system along with an upgraded voice command; a Bluetooth-enabled system is available. You can also opt for leather-trimmed seats, ambient lighting with seven colors, heated side mirrors, LED parking lights, and a moon roof.

2014 Ford Fiesta
The Fiestas instrument panel and center stack is uncluttered.

Comfort and Convenience

As equipped, the loaner model was priced at $20,325, including $3,480 worth of options. Besides the paint upgrade the Fiesta came with a power shift automatic transmission ($1,095), a navigation system ($795) and a $995 equipment group package that brought in beautiful 16-inch painted aluminum wheels and SYNC with MyFord Touch.

2014 Ford Fiesta
Comfortable seats make for a happy driver.
As far as cabins go, you can fit as many as five people inside, but four is the maximum for vehicle comfort. Access to the hatchbacks rear seat is tight with its sloping hood requiring passengers to shift out side ways while ducking the head. Up front, access and egress is easy, with a pair of bucket seats offering good support. Overall, the comments I received from my family is that the seats were comfortable including the rear split folding seat. Never underestimate the importance of seating comfort when shopping for a new car.

Buy a small, inexpensive car and you shouldn’t expect the trappings found in most larger vehicles. For the Ford Fiesta that thinking holds true, except when it isn’t true.

Light, Bright Interior

The instrument panel is simple with a pair of analog displays flanking a digital read out for the transmission selector and mileage. The interior is laid out with soft touch materials including plastics and bright work trim, with cloth seats standard. The Fiesta SE has secondary and cruise controls on the steering column and features a small color display on top of the dashboard above the center stack.

Ford had young buyers in mind with the Fiesta as evidenced with the blue ring surrounding the inside of the front cup holders. It serves a dual purpose: it looks cool and it makes finding your drinks in the dark much easier. You can adjust it to six other colors too, what changes the instrument panel lighting and the rear seat center lighting.

Ford Fiesta: Little Size, Big Value

View manufacturer details and pricing

On the Road

On the road, the Ford Fiesta moves with confidence. Yes, the engine is raspy, especially when it is cold, while the six-speed automatic transmission shifted smoothly with very little hesitation noted. Having driven numerous small cars particularly over the past year my expectations include that engine noise intrusion is part of the ownership experience and transmissions are hit or miss: some come equipped with wonky continuously variable transmissions, while an assortment of automatics are also offered.

Electric power steering is the name of the game today, having largely replaced hydraulic steering. The Fiestas EPS has been engineered to improve the subcompacts overall steering feel, while providing very good handling and maneuvering.

Another feature that Ford adds to the Fiesta is torque vectoring control (TVC), what minimizes understeer when cornering. TVC applies braking to the inside wheel and sends more torque to the outside wheel for improved grip. It is a feature that the average driver might not appreciate as much as the Fiesta ST lap-running owner.

Having owned my share of small cars over the past three plus decades, I can tell you that cars like the Fiesta are light years ahead of what was available even a decade ago. Notably, Ford has made big strides by making smaller vehicles that are not only desirable, but fun.

2014 Ford Fiesta
It takes some effort to make the rear seats fold down.

Storage and Final Thoughts

There is nearly 15 cubic feet of rear storage area in the hatchback, expandable to 25.4 cubic feet behind the first row seats. The second row, however, only folds down if the first row seats are moved forward. This isn’t a problem for the average driver, but if you are taller and need the legroom, moving your seat up may be one compromise that you’re just not willing to make.

No car is perfect, but the Ford Fiesta offers a welcome departure from what consumers used to settle for when shopping Ford. And with the Fiesta ST also drawing attention to the model line consumer interest also may spread to the other models.

2014 Ford Fiesta SE Hatchback

  • Sticker price from $16,050
  • Price as tested: $20,325
  • Seats 5 occupants
  • 1.6-liter 16-valve four-cylinder engine
  • 120 horsepower @ 6,350 rpm
  • 112 foot-pounds of torque @ 5,000 rpm
  • 3.10 inches bore by 3.20 inches stroke
  • Engine compression ratio: 11.0-to-1
  • 6-speed automatic transmission
  • Wheelbase: 98 inches
  • Length: 159.7 inches
  • Width: 67.8 inches
  • Height: 58.1 inches
  • Passenger volume: 85.1 cubic feet
  • Storage volume: 14.9 cubic feet
  • Towing capacity: Not recommended
  • EPA: 27 mpg city, 37 mpg highway
  • Regular grade gasoline
  • Fuel tank: 12.4 gallons
  • Curb weight: From 2,575 pounds
  • Vehicle assembly: Cuautitian Izcalli, Mexico

More Car Reviews

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Seductive: 2014 Lexus IS350 F Sport

Gone Green: 2014 Subaru XV Crosstrek Hybrid

Cadillac ELR 2+2 Luxury PHEV Coupe

2014 Ford Fiesta SE hatchback photos copyright Auto Trends Magazine. All rights reserved.

Next Generation Chrysler 200 Loses Its Sebring Sting

If you are a car manufacturer and you have a model name that is hated, how do you get rid of it? You have two choices here: cancel the model or rename it. In Chryslers case they gave the Sebring a mid cycle refresh in 2011 and renamed it the 200. Not that they had much choice: the brand had little else to offer besides the 300 sedan and its Town & Country van.

Chrysler 200.
An all-new Chrysler 200 makes its debut.

2015 Chrysler 200

Four years later Chrysler introduced the next generation 200 at the 2014 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, a midsize sedan that loses its Sebring sting. Yes, the 200 removed some of the Sebring’s drabness, but the product was virtually the same. With the new edition Chrysler gets a much more competitive sedan, equipped with a standard 2.4-liter four cylinder engine paired with the worlds first 9-speed automatic transmission. The base engine makes 184 horsepower and 173 foot-pounds of torque. An optional 3.6-liter V-6 makes 295 horsepower and 262 foot-pounds of torque. It, too, is mated to the new transmission.

The new Chrysler 200 is underpinned by the same platform that powers the smaller Dodge Dart, but its overall proportions are larger. This five-passenger front-wheel drive model will also offer optional all-wheel drive, the latter with an automatic fully disconnecting rear axle that improves fuel economy when AWD is not needed.

Price and Competition

Importantly, the new model carries a base $21,700 sticker price ($22,695 with destination), putting it near the bottom of the price spectrum for this segment. The 2015 Chrysler 200 will go up against several recently refreshed or newer models including the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Nissan Altima, Ford Fusion, Chevrolet Malibu, Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, Mazda 6, Subaru Legacy, and the Volkswagen Passat.

Chrysler describes the 200s exterior design as featuring the new “face” of the Chrysler brand. Said Al Gardner, President and CEO — Chrysler Brand, Chrysler Group LLC, The all-new 2015 Chrysler 200 will be the new benchmark for mid-size sedans with an exceptional driving experience, fuel economy of up to 35 mpg highway and exquisite craftsmanship. Gardner went on to praise the sedans functionality, new transmission, choice of engines, and new technologies.

Trim Levels and Amenities

The 2015 Chrysler 200 will be available in four trim levels: LX, Limited, S, and C. Both the S and the C can be had in either front- or all-wheel drive. The 200 LX is outfitted with 17-inch steel wheels set within all-season tires. Silver, polished, and satin silver aluminum wheels ranging in size from 17- to 19-inches are available elsewhere. Standard equipment includes air conditioning, power windows and power door locks, LED ambient lighting, a tilt and telescopic steering wheel, UConnect infotainment, power outlets, and cloth seats.

Optional equipment includes leather-trimmed front bucket seats, an 8-way power drivers seat with 4-way lumbar support, a 6-way power passenger seat, a navigation system, a premium group with zoned climate control and a 115-volt auxiliary power outlet, an upgraded audio system, and an enhanced infotainment system. The 200C editions offer a Safetytec option package that brings in adaptive cruise control, blind spot warning, rear cross path detection, forward collision alert, automatic headlamps and park assist. Various comfort and convenience packages will also be available.

Mopar Tie-In

Chrysler also plans to aggressively help owners customize their vehicles, offering a tie-in with Mopar, its authorized parts distributor. Moreover, those parts ranging from Autonet Wi-Fi to a rear backup camera/mirror and from a bicycle hitch receiver to an engine block heater for the four cylinder engine, can be installed on the factory floor, saving the customer money.

The 2015 Chrysler 200 is scheduled to arrive in Chrysler showrooms during the second quarter of 2014. As Chrysler noted in a related press release, approximately one in six vehicles sold in the United States is a midsize sedan. The new model loses its Sebring sting, but it remains to be seen if its 200 bling will attract a surge of new buyers.

See AlsoChrysler 200S: Premium, Mainstream Sedan

Photo courtesy of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.