The 2020 Chevy Traverse AWD High Country --- All you could ask for !


By Judy Gell, Automotive Journalist (3/9/20)

Chevrolet has built a winner with the 2020 Traverse AWD High Country. The list of standard equipment is so complete that the only added option on my week long test drive vehicle was the paint, called Iridescent Pearl Tricoat. It was very pretty; white with a shimmery sparkle. The rain here in East Texas this week churned our red iron soil into mud that painted the lower parts Gritty Terracotta Splash! (Since car colors have such descriptive names now!)

The Chevrolet Traverse is a large SUV with three rows of seats for up to seven adults. Everyone rides in comfort with adequate leg room even in the third row. Front row driver and passenger seats are power adjustable, heated and ventilated and have lumbar controls. The third row seat is a 60/40 split bench with power fold for multiple options in configuring the cargo area.

I was very impressed with the driving experience in the Traverse. Engaging the all-wheel-drive took a simple twist of a knob, indicated by a lit symbol on the dash. I didn't drive in heavy rain, but there had been significant rain and the roads were wet and puddled in some places. Although I sensed the need for caution, the feeling in the Traverse was of driving on a clear, dry road. It has very confident handling. It has all the expected safety features and more. My favorite was the rear-view camera with the all-around view of the area surrounding the vehicle. I could easily see if one of my dogs was being slow to move out of the way. Once on the road, I enjoyed the quiet of the cabin and the smooth ride. It truly was a pleasure to be behind the wheel of this premium feeling vehicle. If you are interested in the more "utility" aspects of the Chevrolet Traverse, the four-wheel-drive will take you safely onto rougher roads and tow whatever you need for your escape from the day-to-day life.

The price tag on this test-drive model Chevrolet Traverse was $55,390. That is a MSRP of $53,200 plus $995 for the special paint and $1,195 destination charge. The Traverse scored five stars out of five in four of six government safety ratings and four stars on the other two. Fuel economy is estimated at 20 miles per gallon for mixed city and highway driving.

The 2019 Honda Passport -- What are your travel plans?


By Judy Gell, Automotive Journalist

In a thickly forested area outside of Huntsville, Texas, a group of automotive journalists gathered to drive pickup trucks and SUVs over a challenging off-road course at General Sam's Off-road Park. The weather was great! The temperature was comfortable with some nice breezes and the rain held off until the very end of the event. Sixteen vehicles were tested, manufacturer experts were interviewed, pictures and videos were shot. Facts and opinions were discussed, votes were cast and counted, awards given. This was the first Texas Off-road Invitational presented by the Texas Motor Press Association, a group of journalists devoted to automotive testing and reviewing.

The first vehicle I drove was the Honda Passport. I had ridden as a passenger over the course, so I had a good idea of what to expect. Well laid out and constructed, there were opportunities to take easier routes or those with rougher, steeper, muddier areas. My ride-along Honda guide directed me to a more challenging route, and I was grateful for his advice as we splashed through the kind of water that the news always warns you to NOT go through, up hills so steep that you cannot see the "road" in front of you and down hills that seem certain to cause you to slide and fall. I have done this many times before; always thought I did not much want to do it; then remembered how exciting and fun it is. Same thing this time. It is such a different type of driving, and it basically goes against the rules, and one's instincts. But the Honda Passport did all that I asked of it and did it well. Although he accused me of being a "delicate driver", my Honda guide also commended me for taking the course well and emerging unscathed. Following his instructions to accelerate got me up those hills and across those slippery areas and gave me a great sense of achievement. By the time next years event rolls around I might have some nerves again, but I'll get over it and embrace my wilder side and break the rules again!

The Honda Passport is more that just a capable off-road vehicle. It is an attractive, comfortable and versatile car that is great for a family. The rear seat comfortably seats three, but also is a 40/60 split that can fold flat in any configuration. This allows for abundant cargo space, even with one or two back seat passengers. Interior features include navigation, a multi-view rear camera, mobile hotspot capability, Bluetooth HandsFreeLink, wireless phone charger, tilt and telescopic steering wheel, and much more Safety features are as expected, with seat belts, airbags, anti-lock brakes, and ACE body structure. The 'Honda Sensing' package included adaptive cruise control, collision mitigation braking system, forward collision braking, lane departure warning, lane keeping assist and road departure mitigation. These all work together to make the Passport not only protective in case of an accident, but preventive----keeping you from having an accident.

If you have a desire to take off onto rough and un-mapped roads, the Passport may be a vehicle you would like to try out. If you just want to go to work, go shopping go on vacation with your family or have a night out with friends, the Passport still might be the vehicle for you. Take a look, it can take you all sorts of amazing places.

2019 Toyota Tundra has it all


By Judy Gell, Automotive Journalist

Through the kitchen window I saw my husband drive up in a pick-up truck that I can only describe as "crayon blue", like a picture my grandson might color. When my husband came into the house I found out it is called 'VooDoo Blue'; a bright, summer sky blue that looks like a whole lot of color on a truck the size of the Tundra! But, although it was my first impression, the paint color is not what the 2019 Toyota Tundra is really about. It is a powerful, capable, and versatile vehicle with up-to-date technology and safety features.

The Tundra is a big truck. From the front, the hood and fenders make the windshield look almost disproportionately small. If it wasn't for the color, it might be intimidating, but mostly it just looks powerfully strong. And it is! Powered by a 5.7L i-force DOHC 32V engine that delivers 381 horsepower, is strong, especially towing. Our test drive model was a TRD Pro, which included special dual exhaust, 18-inch wheels, and TRD-tuned shocks. Also standard was trailer braking and trailer sway control. It was equipped with easy-to-operate four-wheel-drive, perfect for off-road situations. It gives a feeling of confidence when you know that your vehicle is up to the job at hand.

Knowing what this truck will do is only half of the picture. Climb into the driver's seat and you will appreciate the comfort and convenience of the Tundra TRD Pro. The generously sized seats fit the over-all design, and are comfortable and adjustable. The Entune premium audio system with integrated navigation and a 7-inch touch screen with back-up camera has AM/FM/CD capability plus it connects with your phone and SIRI eyes free.

Safety is important to all of us, and Toyota has built many safety features into the Tundra. In addition to 3-point seatbelts for all positions and 8 total airbags, Toyota Safety Sense includes a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, lane departure alert with sway warning system, and dynamic radar cruise control.

Toyota's motto: "Lets go places" might be carefully considered when realizing the estimated fuel efficiency of 14 miles per gallon, which earned them a score of "1" for the fuel economy and greenhouse gas rating on a scale of 1 - 10 with 10 being the best. The smog rating was much better; a score of "5".

The MSRP for the 2019 Toyota Tundra TRD Pro is $49,645.00. Our test-drive model had optional equipment including a hard tri-fold tonneau cover, a bed extender, a predator drop step for convenience in getting to the truck bed, a universal tablet holder, and more. These, including $1,395 delivery and handling, increased the price to $55,106.00.



Nissan nails it with the 2019 Armada


By Judy Gell, Automotive Journalist

The new year has arrived, and with it the new automotive offerings of cars, trucks and SUVs. Actually, the new year for automotive manufacturers began sometime in the fall of 2018. For me it felt like driving a newer than new SUV with the 2019 Nissan Armada Platinum.

The Hermosa Blue Pearl paint color on the Armada appeared black in the shade, but in the sunlight it glowed a pretty, nearly navy color. An optional Platinum Reserve package enhanced the exterior with dark chrome wheels, front grille, door handles and outside mirrors. The exterior was smooth and plain, without the exaggerated fenders tend to give some vehicles a look of power. But the sheer size of the Armada gave it a presence that attested to the potential under the hood. This is a big (categorized as standard size) SUV. On the inside there are three rows of seats. The optional Captains Chairs package revised the seating from 8 to 7 passengers and added $450 to the price. This put two captains chairs in the second row with a center console with padded armrest. The power folding 60/40 split third row seat gives seating and cargo options depending on your needs.

A 5.6-Liter Endurance V8 engine with 390 horsepower combined with a 7-speed automatic transmission drives the 2019 Armada. Add the independent double wishbone suspension and driving and riding became easy and comfortable. Nissan has really great seats, designed for comfort, but also for preventing stress and fatigue. My husband and I drove from Palestine to Houston and back and suffered less stiffness than on some other trips. As we age, we find that we have a harder time climbing in and out of our vehicles after driving for a few hours. The seats in the Armada really limited that effect, and we arrived much fresher and happier for that!

Many standard features on the Armada made driving and riding in it a good experience. Some make it safer and more convenient, others make it downright luxurious. Intelligent distance control, automatic emergency braking, intelligent forward collision warning, lane departure warning and more make for much safer travel. We were amazed by the intelligent rear view mirror with Home link universal transceiver. With a flick of the switch behind the mirror we had a rear camera view of the road behind us! It gave us a wider view, including the side lanes, and we could see more behind the cars directly to our rear. Heated steering wheel and heated and cooled front seats with lumber support were features that we maybe would not miss, but certainly enjoyed and appreciated. Rain sensing wipers are a wonderful invention and, as we had rain during our weeks test drive, much used. I am a big fan of navigation systems, and Nissan's is clear and easy to use. We knew how to get where we were going, but had the map on anyway!

My one disappointment with the 2019 Nissan Armada had nothing to do with the experience of driving it. The fuel economy and greenhouse gas, and the smog rating were very low, 2 and 3 out of 10 respectively. The Armada is estimated to get only 15 miles per gallon overall, 13 in the city and 18 on the highway. The MSRP is $62,690; my test drive with the optional packages plus destination charges of of $1395 came to $67,850.

Paint Pallette In My Driveway -- the 2019 Toyota Corolla in blue


By Judy Gell, Automotive Journalist

With our red pickup and our granddaughter's yellow sports car parked in the driveway, the little blue Toyota Corolla gave us the full compliment of primary colors all in a row! With these three colors, you can mix and blend to make any color you like. The Corolla is our test drive for the week, and it has been a pleasant experience altogether.

Not as talked about as the award-winning Camry, the Corolla is a tried and true model for Toyota. Not a premium vehicle, we still found it to be comfortable and have the amenities we most appreciate. It was powered by Toyota's popular 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine that provides 168 horsepower. There were LED headlights, an 8-inch touchscreen, tilt & telescoping steering wheel, heated sport seats, and a lot more.

The Toyota Corolla was convenient; there was room for 2 –3 adults in the back seat with lots of cargo space behind and easy access from the rear hatchback door. It even had dual chromed rear diffuser, color-keyed heated outside mirrors, and front chromed grille.

It was safe, with Toyota's acclaimed Safety Sense features for accident prevention and mitigation, protecting all passengers from injury. It included a Pre-collision safety system with pedestrian detection.

It was well-priced and economical to run. The base MSRP was $24,090. With an upgraded sound system at $1600 and delivery charges at $920, the bottom sticker price showed $26,610. The Corolla was EPA rated at 30 mpg city, 38 mpg highway, and 33 mpg overall average.

MY OPINION: The 2019 Toyota Corolla is an all-around vehicle, great for shopping, work, travel with the family, or a student in need of dependable transportation. It is comfortable, convenient, safe, well-priced, and economical.

The Mazda CX-9: What is it?


By Judy Gell, Automotive Journalist

The 2016 Mazda CX9 is categorized as a small SUV. It looks a bit like the station wagon of old, but much sleeker and modern. The interior is sedan-like in appearance and feeling, with a smooth, comfortable ride. It is all-wheel drive, adding capability to functionality and versatility. It has seating for seven, making it the ultimate family car, with generous cargo space for equipment, luggage, shopping or whatever else you might carry around with you in your car.
My test drive for the week was Soul Red Metallic, a light, bright, shiny red that appeared to have a coating of glass over it! This gave it a very sporty look; a look that was confirmed when I drove it to town to do some shopping. For me, going to town includes some dirt roads, some winding country roads, and some highway. I was on a country road when I realized that I was exceeding the speed limit without even feeling it! The ride was so smooth, the acceleration so effortless, that I nearly got myself into trouble. Fortunately I had plenty of time to slow down and use more caution before entering the highway and more frequently patrolled areas.

This all-wheel drive CX9 was powered by a 2.5 liter turbo engine that delivered 227 horsepower. Six speed sport mode automatic transmission, electric power assisted steering and independent front and rear suspension explained the luxurious-feeling handling and ride.

The long list of standard features on this car included some of my favorites. Rain sensing windshield wipers are a spoiling indulgence; not necessary, but eliminating the frustration of having to change the speed of the wipers when driving in less than a steady rain. The Mazda CX9 also had a fixed-intermittent rear wiper, a power moon-roof, adaptive front lighting system and power rear lift gate. Another favorite of mine is radar cruise control, which adjusts the speed of the vehicle, when set to cruise control, to maintain a distance from the vehicle in front of it, even if it is going slower. This is more than an indulgence, it is a safety feature; preventing rear end collisions in the case of distraction or inattention. It is also just nice to not have to make adjustments to your speed while in traffic! Tilt and telescopic steering wheel, second row window sunshades and 3-zone climate control added to the comfort and convenience.

The list goes on and on; many of the items are things I have come to expect and consider very basic. I would almost be offended if a car was delivered to me that did not have keyless entry, power adjustable seats and automatic windows. But I still really appreciate a rear view camera, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert and rear backup sensors; all great safety features. The concept of a driverless car seems less and less inconceivable!

Of course nothing is perfect ... or free. Sadly, they are not giving these vehicles away. The only extra charge for optional equipment added to the price was $300 for the upgraded paint color, bringing the total to $43,170, which includes the $900 delivery fee. The estimated fuel economy is 23 miles per gallon.

If you are considering purchasing a new car, but aren't sure exactly what it is that you want, the Mazda CX9 might be just the thing for you: a little bit sporty, a little bit practical, versatile and capable; the ultimate all-purpose car!

The 2017 Kia Sportage: still a dream car?


By Judy Gell, Automotive Journalist


Twelve years ago when my daughter had just graduated from college and been hired to teach kindergarten, she felt it was time to get a new car. She was in love with the Sportage. It was cute and had the look of a kid's drawing; a kind of cartoon car with a fun personality. She knew that Kia has a great warranty, so felt safe in purchasing from them, but had no real knowledge or interest in the mechanics. Start, stop, heat, cool, light the road ahead, play music; that was the extent of her criteria. Plus, of course, look cute while she was driving around. Well, she did not get a Sportage, but she got a cute red Kia Spectra that looked sporty and quick. She named her car Morgan. It served her exceptionally well until last year when her husband was broadsided while driving it. He was alone in the car, and there were no injuries - - except to the Spectra. It was totaled.

All that to say that Kia, as a manufacturer of what is considered a lower end, cheaper vehicle, gave my daughter over ten, nearly trouble-free, years, serving her economically and comfortably, and protected her husband in a serious accident. Sounds like a great deal to me!

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to test drive a 2017 Kia Sportage SX AWD. It is larger and much more sleek and streamlined than my daughter's dream car. She would be disappointed to see that it looks a lot like other small SUVs on the road today. It still has the great warranty and economy, plus improved comfort and safety. An even better deal!

My test drive came with absolutely no additional options or packages. And that was not disappointing at all! Besides the ability to start, stop, heat, cool, light the road ahead, play music and look cute - - well not as cute as its predecessor - - it was well equipped with technology, convenience and safety features.

This Sportage was powered by a 2.0 liter turbo gas direct injection 4-cylinder engine paired with a 6-speed automatic transmission (I can imagine my daughter yawning). It had all-wheel-drive with locking center differential, a great aid on rough roads and when off-roading. And it had drive mode select, which means you could change from basic driving to economy or sport. (She is snoring now.) The response and handling was easy and smooth; it was very nice to drive.

The exterior color of the Sportage was called Sparkling Silver. There was a panoramic sunroof, power-folding heated mirrors with LED turn signals, automatic on/off HID headlights that featured dynamic bending light (follows the curve of the road), high beam assist and a smart, hands free power lift-gate, a “what took you so long” feature that every mom can adore.

The inside of the Sportage was all black with silver accents. I found it attractive, the controls convenient, and the seats adequately comfortable. The front seats were power adjustable and both heated and ventilated (cooled). The steering wheel was also heated; not that I needed it in Texas during the month of August. Harman Kardon premium audio, UVO navigation with 8-inch screen and SIRIUS-XM satellite radio would enhance any travel experience. Additional safety enhancements included rear camera display, blind spot detection/lane change assist, lane departure warning system, rear cross traffic alert and front/rear parking assist system. Anti-lock braking system, traction c ontrol system, electronic stability control and downhill brake with hill start assist control are also standard equipment for the safety of driver and passengers in the Sportage.

Believe it or not, that is not all there is on the list of standard equipment on the 2017 Kia Sportage SX AWD. The warranty includes 10 years/100,000 miles on the power train, 5 years/60,000 miles limited basic warranty and 5 years/60,000 miles roadside assistance. The MSRP is $34,000, with an additional $895 shipping. The estimated fuel economy is 21 miles per gallon with combined city and highway driving.

I remain very impressed and confident in recommending the Kia Sportage to anyone who is interested in a capable, versatile and economical vehicle.

2016 Toyota Tacoma shows off capability at Houston Motor-cross off-road press event


By JUDY GELL, Automotive Journalist


The mid-size pickup category has been shrinking over the years, but is suddenly experiencing a revival! At an introductory press event at a motor-cross track in Houston, we drove the Tacoma up, down, around and even through slippery mud and it performed impressively. The course was challenging, with a variety of steep hills, sharp turns, and those nasty mud pits. Toyota had a line-up of all the various trim-levels and models for the attending journalists to experience. There were even highways and other on-road areas nearby.

Little did we know the punishment we would deal out to it at the Texas Truck Rodeo! Over impossibly rough, rocky roads, through the Guadalupe River and up a challenging rock climb that threatened to shake and twist the vehicle apart, the Tacoma just took it all and kept on going. Its no wonder it won! At this years' Texas Truck Rodeo there were six entries from three manufacturers in the category, and the Tacoma took the top honors, being named the 2015 Mid-size Truck of Texas.

Dependability and durability were emphasized in the introduction of the third generation all-new Tacoma. It is appealing in many other ways, and fills a niche that has been neglected, if not ignored, for years. With improved comfort, smooth ride, quiet cabin, great fuel economy and valuable technology features, the Tacoma is a practical family vehicle. The added power and capability make it attractive to the sportsman or as a work truck.

The Tacoma is powered by a 3.5-liter forced and direct injected engine. It has front disc and rear drum brakes for confident brake feel and best in class stopping. Electronic pitch and roll control aids in providing a smooth ride, but if you are going off-road you will be amazed at the crawl feature, which will take you up and over rough terrain. A first-in-class acoustic windshield reduces wind noise, so you can enjoy the amazing JBL sound system. Aerodynamic design featuring grooves around headlights, taillights and on side mirrors reduce drag and improve fuel economy as does the tri-fold tonneau cover. New to the Tacoma is cordless charging for your devices.



2015 Ford Mustang GT Coupe


By Alan Gell, Automotive Journalist


How can one not enjoy a week of driving an honest-to-goodness Pony Car? After being in love with the Mustang for almost 50 years and owning two of them from the 60's, I was excited to test-drive a new 2015 Mustang GT coupe for a week. Although the weather was blistering summer, it was definitely a 'cool' ride and attracted attention wherever I happened to be.

The sixth generation Mustang can not be easily mistaken for some other brand sports car, nor does it appear like the fifth generation model. This new edition, redesigned for the Mustang's 50th Anniversary year, has a very 'sexy' appearance. The test-drive coupe had a wonderful fastback styling, an updated and modern-looking interior. There is a very steeply raked rear window and a noticeable tapered tail. The grill is trapezoidal in style, which is obviously a throwback to those first few years in the 60's. There are other styling clues from yester-year as well. It was as much fun to drive as it was just to look at and admire.

For 2015, the Mustang engineering folks have added a more refined suspension. That was noticeable whenever I was driving a very twisted or curvy road. My test drive model sported the 5.0-liter V8 engine of the three that are available. It was matched with a six-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters, although a manual shift is available.

The exterior color of the weekly test-drive model was called Magnetic Metallic. The interior trim for the doors, dash panel, and seating was called Redline Leather Grain, which was a black trimmed in red accents and stitching. It was nice. This 2015 Mustang had all the newest and latest safety and technology items (almost) that Ford can put in a car. The base MSRP was $36,100. The add-on's were things like enhanced wheel covers, a Shaker Pro audio system, navigation, and things like that. The bottom sticker price with the options and delivery charges added came to a grand total of $43,985.

The test-drive 5.0-liter V8 is rated at 435 horsepower, which allows the driver to spin rubber from a stand-still, among many showing-off-my-car maneuvers. It easily settles into a very 'drive-able' mode on the roadway in the 60 to 75 mph range. It is EPA rated for 16 mpg city, 25 mpg highway, and only 19 mpg overall average. During the test-drive, I did not hesitate to push the pedal down quite often and still ended up with a week-long average of 23.8 mpg. I was surprised at that figure, but pleased.

The Mustang is a classic, whether old or new. It is an American icon. The more I was behind the wheel of the this wonderful 2015 coupe, the more memories flooded my mind of my own 1968 convertible and 1967 coupe. Make your own memories. Check out the new Mustang at your Ford dealership.

2015 Toyota Tacoma Double-Cab 4x4


By Alan Gell, Automotive Journalist


To most rural Southerners, including Oklahomans, Texans, and others, a pickup truck is a part of the family. It is not only used for day-to-day operations of a business, ranch, or farm, it is the 'family car'. It takes the teenage boy and his date to the prom. It carries the family to church on Sunday. It is not just something used to move large things from one location to another on weekends. That is what 'city folks' think about pickup trucks.

It was a 2015 Toyota Tacoma white double-cab that was delivered to me for a full week's test-drive. The Tacoma is usually referred to as a Compact Pickup or sometimes as a Mid-Size. Whatever it is called, it certainly is a very practical vehicle to use for everyday hauling and light towing. The Tacoma has been one of the main-stays in the small truck category for years and years. It routinely wins awards for its capability, looks, and all-around convenience.

For the 2015 model Tacoma, Toyota has dropped the 'standard' regular cab and only offers the Double-Cab with 4 doors or the Extended Cab (aka: Access Cab). My test drive model was the Double-Cab model with four-wheel-drive. Two-wheel rear-wheel-drive is available. There is a four-cylinder engine and a six-cylinder engine offered. The test-drive model had the V-6, which I prefer for hauling larger loads and towing. If driving a pickup is mostly for light usage, the four-cylinder engine is more than adequate for your needs.

The test-drive model was powered by a 4.0-liter V-6 that provides 236 horsepower. It was matched with a five speed automatic transmission. The EPA estimate for mileage was 18 mpg average with 21 mpg on the highway. The smaller engine available is a 2.7-liter four-cylinder that provides 159 horsepower. A special Tow Package is available for an extra $650 that includes a Class IV hitch, heavy duty alternator & battery, and trailer sway controller, but the test model did not have that added feature.

A new feature offered in the 2015 Tacoma trucks is the TRD Pro Series, which was part of the test model, at an additional cost of $3,860. This special off-road package offers a higher ride height and a taller center of gravity. Among the long list of items included in this package is tow hooks, variable speed wipers, tail-gate integrated backup camera, leather trim on the steering wheel & shift knob, fog lamps, and much more.

Another package available and added to the test model was the Entune Premium Audio with Navigation and App Suite. This added $2,330 to the price, but included a multimedia bundle, a 6.1-inch high resolution touch-screen & split-screen display, voice recognition capability, Sirius satellite radio, USB port, audio jack, and a lot more.

The 2015 Toyota Tacoma is versatile and highly capable. It handles well and drives well, whether on the highway or during rough off-roading. The test model had a base MSRP of just $27,785, but with the added packages and destination charges, the bottom sticker price rose to $35,508. An 'extra-value discount' dropped that to $35,073.

This new Tacoma may just be the size pickup that will meet your needs and wants. Check it out at your nearby Toyota dealership.






THE KIA SOUL -- even better in 2014


By Judy Gell, Automotive Journalist


The Kia Soul has been an enormous success. Everyone recognizes the cute car with a slightly cheeky personality and associates it with the hamsters in the commercials. There is more than a hamster under the hood of this vehicle, though, and a lot more comfort, convenience and technology than they started off with.

The paint on my test drive vehicle was Fathom Blue/Black. It gave the car a more sober look than the often-seen lime green that seems to characterize the Soul. Any changes in the exterior body are basically unnoticeable unless you have an older model next to it for comparison. It is deceptively small in appearance, but offers more generous interior room than one might expect. It is categorized as a small station wagon, and it has space for a smaller-size family plus all their sports equipment, groceries, luggage, pets or whatever else they may wish to carry.

A 2.0-liter gasoline direct-injection 4-cylinder engine powers the Soul. There was a time in the past when 4-cylinder meant sluggish and slow, but this engine produces satisfactory pep, due in part to the 6-speed automatic transmission. Electric power steering complements the package and makes handling comfortable. I found the Soul fun to drive and comfortable to ride in. It handled really well.

The standard safety features on the Soul are impressive and lend greatly to the driving experience. Traction control system, electronic stability control and vehicle stability management keep the weight in balance around curves and corners, and prevent slipping and sliding on wet surfaces. Anti-lock brakes with brake assist help bring you to a safe stop even in an emergency situation. And, of course, the Soul has dual front advanced airbags, front seat-mounted side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags.

There are more premium interior features on the Soul than might be expected on a small car perceived to be in the low-price category. Rear camera display, power driver seat, cruise control with trip computer, tilt and telescopic steering column and auto-dimming rearview mirror are some of the niceties on the Soul that aren’t always included on more basic cars. Add the auto-on/off projection headlights and the heated power-folding mirrors with turn signal indicators, and the Soul is a package that is not missing anything important. Rather, it is on the plus side of attractive amenities.

There is, of course, a price for all this. The original Kia Soul had a MSRP well below $20,000. The 2014 model is only $20,300. My test drive model had some optional additions. The Sun and Sound package, which included a panoramic sunroof with power sunscreen, navigation system with SIRIUS/XM traffic, Infinity audio system, and speaker lights were a nice addition, although at a slightly extra cost. The Whole Shebang package had HID low-beam headlights, push-button start with smart key, heated and ventilated front seats, heated steering wheel, and more!

With the added packages and destination charges added on, the bottom sticker price on the test model came to $26,195. Estimated fuel economy is 26 miles per gallon for city/highway driving. The greenhouse gas rating is 7 on a scale of 1-10 with 10 being the best.

Although you will see many Kia Souls on the roads and parking lots, it still has a novel and appealing look, as well as many attractive features that make it a great buy!


A MidSommer Drive: the 2013 Volvo S60 T5 AWD


Steep inclines, hairpin turns, dizzying drop-offs, some without guardrails, and stunning scenery. Driving the mountain roads around Park City, Utah was an amazing experience. Volvo called the media event 'A MidSommer Drive' named after the Swedish celebration.
Taking turns with my husband, I wore out my "gasp" reflex, but he became impatient with my slower, cautious pace. We had a great time! The 2013 Volvo S60 really showed itself capable in every situation.
As a passenger I enjoyed the comfort and the convenience of easy manipulation of all the technology on the new Volvo S60. From seat position to audio system, from climate control to navigation, it was intuitive and did what was asked.
The engine is a 2.5-liter, 5 cylinder turbo with 250 horsepower. With advanced stability control, torque vectoring (corner traction control), fast steering gear, and all-wheel drive with instant traction, the Volvo S60 is nimble and confident. Once you are behind the wheel, you just don't want to give it up! On a five and a half hour drive, we just had to stop a couple of times, and it was a race to see who could get back to the drivers side first!
Volvo's next generation Haldex all-wheel drive is smaller and lighter by 4.4 lbs than the previous generation. Electronically controlled, it offers instant and seamless engagement, greater traction and improved handling on all surfaces. We experienced a rainstorm on the freeway on the way back to the hotel, and the wet road presented no difficulty at all. The instant traction feature, which provides torque at all four wheels at take off, makes for quick and smooth acceleration from stand still.
Volvo's history and reputation for safety is evident with the S60. It is the only European car in the U.S. with top NHTSA ratings and a 'top safety pick' designation from the IIHS. It contains all of the recommended active safety technologies. The new 'City Safety' feature detects and warns of a pedestrian in your path.
In addition to all this, the S60 is a beautiful vehicle inside and out. And Volvo has improved fuel efficiency by about one mile per gallon, estimated at 20-mpg city, 29-mpg highway, 23-mpg combined. The base price for the 2013 Volvo S60 T5 AWD is $31,750, including the Safe and Secure warranty. Volvo's Safe and Secure means that you pay nothing to repair or maintain your vehicle for five years.
If you have been considering a luxury sedan for your next car, look at a Volvo S60. It is the perfect balance of design, innovative technology and driving dynamics.

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