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It’s Time to Take Another Look at Infiniti

It’s Time to Take Another Look at Infiniti

When was the last time an Infiniti product set your pants on fire? The answer might be never. They’ve had a couple hits, but how many memorable Infiniti’s can you count? The number probably fit’s on one hand’s worth of fingers. Historically, the Infinity livery has ranged from forgettable beige boxes, to a mash-up of swoopy lines you wish you could forget. That is, until now…

The new Q series looks great. They have a nose-down aggressive posture, and angry headlights on either side of a low-mounted, tidy grille. The aesthetic looks a bit like the latest Maserati Ghibli, and that’s not a bad thing. If you’re gonna look like something, it is better to look like something exceptional.


VC-Turbo – Variable Compression Turbo

The intrigue doesn’t just run skin deep. Infiniti revealed a new engine at last year. This isn’t just a new valve timing management system (it has that too), or a hybrid setup. It’s the first really new idea to be implemented on internal combustion engines in recent memory. Infiniti touts it as “the world’s first production-ready variable compression ratio engine.”

They call it the VC-Turbo (Variable Compression Turbo). And if all goes right, it will be the world’s first variable compression ratio engine in production vehicles.  The first ones will be available in 2018 model Infinitis.

The new power-plant dynamically adjusts compression ratios by moving the rotating assembly up and down within the engine case. The design uses a lever to move the crankshaft journals, crank, pistons, and rods, higher up into the cylinders to squish the compressed gasses into a tighter space resulting in higher compression. 14:1 to be exact. Lowering the rotating assembly will lower the compression to 8:1.  Having trouble visualizing it? This video will help clarify things.

Neat, but will it work?Well, Infiniti says they’ve been working on the design for two decades, they’ve made loads of models, and they’ve driven them a couple million miles. So, it sounds pretty viable, but it’s easy to imagine the expense when something goes wrong. And it will inevitably go wrong, that’s the nature of cars. It will be exciting to see how it all shakes out in 2018.


INFINITI Prototype 9 – A Retro Prototype

Infiniti started by teasing us with images in press releases and on their Instagram feed of a mid-century Grand Prix inspired concept car to be unveiled at the 2017 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.

The classic boat tail styling looks beautiful. The brakes, visible just inside of those tall skinny tires, are made imitate the look of finned drum brakes. But they are in fact a set of non-boosted discs. The wire wheels with center knock-offs are things of beauty.

The body is made from steel and sits on a steel frame. The long hood arcs back from the top if a gorgeous deco-inspired grill, to a teeny tiny little windshield. In this case less is more.

The suspension up front is a solid axle under a transverse leaf spring. And out back there’s a DeDion set up, again with a transverse mounted leaf spring. For shock absorbers Infiniti chose to go with old-school hydraulic rotary dampers. Designers took the time to wrap the suspension parts in beautiful body work.

The steering is a manual system, which can’t help but have a direct feel. Chances are this thing rides like a covered wagon. But who cares? Just look at it.

You may be searching the images for some sweet looking exhaust pipes, but you won’t find them on this ride. Infiniti dropped a little 21st century technology in among all those vintage good looks. This thing is powered by a 148 hp electric motor that produces 236 lb-ft of torque. All that power in a vehicle that weighs just shy of a ton has got to be a blast to drive.

Infiniti claims Prototype 9 has a top speed of 105 mph, gets from a standstill to 62 mph in 5.5 seconds. The electric motor is powered by lithium Ion batteries that are said to deliver 20 minutes of heavy track use. You can take a look at the tech specs here.

It looks like Infiniti is attempting to redefine how people perceive the brand. Good looking cars with interesting engine technology combined with an apparent interest in creative projects sound like a recipe for further success. Love it? Hate it? Let me know in the comment section.

2017 Kia Sorento – A Clever, Configurable Crossover

2017 Kia Sorento – A Clever, Configurable Crossover

The Sorento is a flexible mid-sized crossover from Kia. It’s flexible in that it can be configured with a range of engines and either five or seven passenger trim levels. Depending on what a customer wants, they can choose a cloth seated, fuel saving kid hauler, or a dolled up, leather upholstered luxury SUV.

The press car’s black leather interior looks and feels like quality. The front seats are well bolstered and are both heated and cooled. An eight inch UVO touch screen in the middle of the dash relays information about the navigation and Infinity sound system. Apple Carplay and Android Auto make connecting with your phone a breeze. I especially like the surround view monitor that gives drivers a bird’s eye perspective of the car when backing up and parking.

The second row seating has room for adults and the third row has surprisingly good head and leg room. A panoramic sunroof really brightens up the interior and affords passengers a nice view of the sky above. Power ports are tucked away all over the cabin, including a 110 volt inverter. Depending on what trim package customers choose, this car can be configured for five or seven passengers. The SXL I tested had the 50/50 split rear bench.

From the outside the Sorento looks good. The HID headlights sweep up and back from Kia’s corporate grill (which reminds me of beaver teeth). The arching side windows are reminiscent of the Honda CRV. And the rear liftgate has an uncluttered design. The bottom of the opening does seem a bit high off the ground. The press car was equipped with fog lights at additional cost. If I were buying a Sorento this is an option I would skip. They look like an afterthought. 19″ chrome alloy wheels fill the wheel arches admirably and lend an aesthetic of quality.

Power from the 290 horse, 3.3 liter V6 is sent to all four wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission. A locking center differential will come in handy to get out of slippery situations. Autonomous braking offers the piece of mind that the car is watching out even if the driver gets distracted. There’s also lane departure warning and smart cruise control. At night the headlights turn with the wheel. I never tired of watching the lights scan around a turn.

The steering feels artificially light and offers limited feedback, otherwise the brakes and accelerator felt fine. The ride is comfortable and quiet. Surprisingly, the AWD model is rated to tow 5,000 pounds.

Prices for the Sorento start at 25k which still gets you a handful of nice features and a fuel sipping four cylinder. The SXL model with all the bells and whistles will set you back 46k, almost twice as much.

While Kia has definitely stepped up its game, and the current Sorento offers a lot of luxury for it’s price range,I  wonder how the resale is going to be on the latest generation of classy Korean cars. The American market is used to their South Korean imports being cheap, basic, and with an outrageously good warranty. You might take less of a hit when it comes time to sell by opting for a trim level with fewer options.

2017 Kia Soul! Turbo – Kia Finally Boosts Their Box

2017 Kia Soul! Turbo – Kia Finally Boosts Their Box

Back in 2009 there was a boxing match of sorts. It seems that three manufacturers, Nissan, Kia and Scion, decided they’d see who could sell Americans on the boxiest automotive design. Consumers who wanted something a little square were spoiled for choice between the Cube, the Soul, and the Xb Who won? Well, you can’t buy a new Cube anymore, and you could say Scion got knocked out. The only contender left is the plucky Kia Soul. Eight years on and Kia has sweetened the recipe by tossing a turbo charger into the mix Of the three boxers, the Kia is definitely the most swoopy. The bodywork is a little more conservative than the kooky asymmetry of the Cube, and less boxy than the take ‘em or leave ‘em looks of first generation Xb. The Kia wears a playful expression, with headlights that sweep back onto the fenders. Front and center there’s the Kia corporate grille design that always reminds me of a teething toddler. In profile, the raked windshield lends a slightly sporty air to the box. Rather than being parallel with the window sills, the roofline appears higher in the front and tapers toward the rear. This give the impression of embellished foreshortening, and makes the car look like it’s coming at you. The 18” alloy wheels look good nestled into fender wells. Out back there is a lift gate between to large taillights mounted high on either side of the rear window. The Soul! has a red detail stripe along the lower bodywork on the grille and down the side to tip off onlookers that there’s something special under the hood. Interior space was a nice surprise. There’s plenty of space under the dash to stretch one’s legs and the headroom is excellent. The infotainment system is easy to use; I especially like the Apple CarPlay feature which allowed me to operate my iphone through the car’s 7” touchscreen without a hitch. Set in each end of the dash is a unique speaker and a/c vent design. The leading edge of the roof is scalloped and sweeps back from the center to meet the tops of the A-pillars. From the outside this looks good, but from the driver’s seat there was something about the angle of the upper corners of the windshield that felt a little unsettling at first. The turbocharged four banger in the Soul!, read Soul Exclaim, churns out 201 horsepower and almost as many pound feet of torque. This is backed up by a seven speed automatic transmission that feels like it’s constantly working to find just the right gear. No doubt it short shifts by design for efficiency’s sake, but the result is that it has to shift back down any time you accelerate. You won’t find paddle shifters, but there is a sport mode that goes a long way toward reigning in the wanton shifts. The acceleration is significantly better than the base model soul. The steering is compliant, and the Soul! feels good around town and on the highway. If you or someone you love has their heart set on a Soul, the turbo is the way to go. The added power changes the Soul’s personality in a good way. Add the 10 year 100k powertrain warranty and close to 30 mpg highway to this and I’d say the Soul! is a good value starting under 25k.
2017 Toyota 4 Runner TRD Offroad – Looks New, Feels Old

2017 Toyota 4 Runner TRD Offroad – Looks New, Feels Old

The Toyota 4Runner got a facelift in 2014 and the results look good. Unfortunately, the underpinnings are of another vintage and when compared to other trucks, they feel a little crude.

From the outside the truck is blocky and handsome. The canted projector headlights lend a determined look to the front fascia. 20″ alloy wheels wrapped in tires with plenty of sidewall fill out the huge wheel wells. The uncluttered body work and high ground clearance give the truck a utilitarian aesthetic. I especially like the hood scoop and LED taillights. It’s overtly macho and I don’t care. I like it.

The heated front seats are comfortable. Big, chunky buttons and knobs complement the squared off look of the dash. There’s a 6.1″ touch screen for controlling the nav and stereo. Nestled in the console to the right of the gear selector is the shifter for the transfer case. There’s a tactile gratification and peace of mind that comes from manually shifting into four-wheel-drive that a push-button selector will never provide.

The rear seats fold flat in three different sections to offer a space for all shapes of cargo. A power sliding rear window makes it convenient to haul those extra long items. Overall, the quality of materials used inside are good, but there are shortcuts here and there. For example, the shift boot is made out of a material that feels flimsy and I’m not sure how long wearing it will prove to be.

The current generation 4-Runner, the fifth iteration, was introduced in 2010.  While the exterior looks thoroughly contemporary, the feel behind the wheel is a little less modern. It weighs in at nearly two and a half tons and you can tell. There’s a rolly, high-riding sensation and a disconnected steering feel common to Toyota trucks. Added to this, is the 4Runner’s tendency to enter a substantial nosedive that’s noticeable even under moderate braking.

It’s all relative to what you’re used to driving though. The ride probably feels pretty refined compared to your uncle’s clapped-out ’94 Silverado, but it’s probably not too far outside the ballpark.

The press truck featured the optional Kinetic Dynamic Suspension which automatically adjusts the sway bars under the truck, tightening them to reduce roll on the pavement and loosening them so you get better wheel articulation off-road. A pretty trick piece of kit that will set you back $1,750.

Under the hood resides Toyota’s aluminum 4-liter V6. It offers 270 horse-power and about that many pound-feet of torque. Power feels adequate, but if you’re thinking it may not be enough you’re out of luck, it’s the only power option Toyota offers. The V6 is backed by a 5-speed automatic that does its job quietly and without fuss. The 4Runner, true to its roots, is not a dolled up crossover. It’s an honest body on frame construction which is why this SUV can boast a 5,000 pound tow rating.

With other manufactures refining there trucks and SUVs it begs the question how long will Toyota be able to sell a platform that feels a bit old fashion. Added to this is the so-so efficiency, expect mpg in the sub 20 region. Granted, Toyota has absurdly high resale value, so if you buy one it will always be worth something. If you’re looking to get a screaming deal on one you’re probably going to be disappointed. And if you’re used to the comfort of a crossover, you’ll be turned off by it’s unrefined manners.  However, if you need a really capable kid hauler, or you’re a diehard 4runner enthusiast (if that’s the case there’s no other option) this might be an option.


2017 Toyota Yaris iA -Basic Yes, Boring No

2017 Toyota Yaris iA -Basic Yes, Boring No

The Toyota Yaris is nestled comfortably in the subcompact class of cars. But just because this car is little doesn’t mean it’s small on charm.  Economy cars call to mind memories of stripped out rental cars with spartan interiors, uninspired exteriors, and acres of molded plastic.  

If you’re thinking that the embellished shoulders present on the quarter panels, and the convergent hard edges of the body lines are reminiscent of cars from the Mazda livery, you can pat yourself on the back. These cars are actually built in a Mazda factory in Mexico. The only Toyota influence on body design is the great big, gaping bottom-feeder grill.  16” alloy wheels come standard on this car and go a long lend a quality aesthetic that plastic wheel covers strive for but never achieve. While the car may fade into anonymity when painted in fleet white, it looks dashing in dark metallic grey.

Interior space is good, and I like the French seam that runs the width of the dashboard. The 7” touch screen is planted Mazda-style in the dash front and center within easy reach.  The system controls are located in the console. It features Bluetooth connectivity and a handful of other requisite features.  The heat and air system is manipulated with big chunky dials that give satisfying analog feedback when they’re twisted. Push button start is standard, as is cruise, power windows and locks.  The sensors peeking out above the rearview mirror send information to the Low Speed Pre-Collision system, a tasty feature for a car of in this class.

Under the hood resides a fuel sipping 1.5 liter dual-overhead-cam four banger, that’s good for 106 h-p.  The power finds its way to the ground through a smooth shifting six-speed manual gearbox. The EPA estimates drivers can expect nearly 40 miles per gallon on the highway and 30 around town.

106 doesn’t sound like a lot of horsepower (because it’s not a lot), but when it’s wrapped up in a light weight, easy shifting package, the resulting car can be a lot of fun. It’s not going to set any records for acceleration, but the car is light and feels nimble. And it’s tiny so you can park it easily anywhere. The steering feel is direct and inspires confidence. The little engine takes a happily takes a throttling and finding the limits of grip on skinny little tires is one of life’s simpler pleasures.

Economy cars, while maybe not the most comfortable choice for long hauls, inspire a sense of reverie. Maybe they remind us of our first. There’s a sense of informality. The car is not grasping to be a big car, it’s a little car without much ego. If I were in the market for a small, fuel efficient four door, the Yaris iA would be at the top of my list.