2014 Infiniti Q60 Coupe AWD – Classy luxury with an aggressive side

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2014 Infiniti Q60 Coupe AWD – Classy luxury with an aggressive side

The Infiniti Q60 Coupe is a great-looking sports coupe with a strong personality. This is a classy luxury car that makes a statement.  It is equally at home blasting down a mountain road as it is waiting for you to finish dinner at the front of the valet area.  The Q60 is the cornerstone of Infiniti’s line, and the Q60 coupe has the performance to match its looks.

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Driven: 2015 Subaru WRX STi

So, you want a fun sports car that you can drive all year. Maybe something a little uncivilized , yet practical, without being outrageously expensive? And you want to power slide like a 4×4 pickup through a foot of snow? Not a problem. Today, you can head over  to your local Subaru dealership and purchase a 2015 WRX STi.  It’s the anytime, anywhere, any speed supercar that will put a teenage-boy smile on your face for under $36,000. Yes. Yes.  Hell, yes.

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Driven: 2013 Ford Flex SEL AWD

If you scanned Ford’s once famous – some would say infamous – Country Squire Wagon into a time machine to star in the next futuristic Jetsons-like movie, would it spit out the current edition of the Ford Flex?

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Driven: 2013 Lexus GS 350 AWD

Lets face it. Aside from the practically unobtainable LF-A, things have been pretty boring product-wise at Lexus for a few years.  Sure, there’s been plenty of new hybrids and the occasional sport utility but that’s the problem.  The brand is at a point where, frankly, it needs a little excitement. Que the 2013 GS.  Judging a book by its cover, this will do quite nicely.  We spent three days behind the wheel, so lets take a deeper look  at what the GS has to offer.

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Driven: 2012 Subaru Impreza

If there’s anything we’ve learned from driving through cold New England winters, it’s that when a big storm hits you better have the right car.  The ability to get where you need to go despite the weather has long been the mantra of the Subaru brand.  One of the Subaru’s most popular models is the Impreza.  It’s a small four door sedan or hatch that goes squarely against the Elantra, Cruze, Civic, and Corolla.  For 2012 the Impreza is all new and ready to fight with the big boys. How well has Subaru pulled this re-design off? Lets find out.

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Performance, Fuel Economy, & Handling

For 2012 Subaru has made significant changes to the drivetrain of the Impreza.  The horizontally-opposed 4-cylinder boxer engine has been downsized from 2.5L to 2.0L.  Although smaller in displacement, the new 2.0L is more efficient, powerful, and obtains 30% better fuel economy.  The new engine is also attached to a new transmission and produces 148-horsepower.  Realizing that 4-speeds isn’t going to cut it anymore, Subaru has equipped the 2012 Impreza with a new state of the art continuously-variable transmission (CVT).

The new engine/transmission pairing is extremely refined, smooth, and drivable.  This combination provides for a feeling that you’re always in the right gear. No odd downshifts and no hesitation.  A slight dip into the throttle and the Impreza steamed forward at any speed, unlike it’s predecessor which at times felt under-powered.

All-wheel-drive usually puts a huge drag on fuel economy. Not so with the new Impreza. Subaru has achieved an EPA highway estimated 36mpg rating out of the new 2.0L engine.  In the real world we didn’t quite achieve that number but we were impressed none the less. On the backwoods roads of New Hampshire we were able to average over 30mpg easily.  During our two weeks with the Subaru we had to drive more than our normal share of urban and city roads. Thus, our total average fuel economy for the week was 28.8mpg. During one highway stint we saw 35mpg, so we know the potential is there.  Over 30mpg is great for an all-wheel-drive vehicle of this size and type.

Perhaps the largest overall improvement we noticed with the new model is the strengthened chassis.  The Impreza from 2011 and earlier had a nasty habit of feeling like a tin can on wheels.  Not so in 2012. The Impreza is now on a class leading platform.  When behind the wheel it becomes obvious that this car is capable of handling much more power than what is currently available.  The stock 2012 model now carves with the confidence of the prior STi but with a smallish 148-horsepower.   The electric steering is precise and never leaves you out of sorts in a corner.  We couldn’t shake the feeling that the next generation WRX STi, based on this car, should be a killer.

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Interior, Ergonomics, Fit & Finish

The outgoing Impreza had an interior that was made largely from hard, cold, and uninviting materials.  The interior in the 2012 Impreza is substantially better, showing major improvement. Soft touch plastics and varying textures add an upscale feeling to what is still ultimately an affordable car.  From the driver’s seat there’s distinct Volkswagen-like quality to things. Contrasting and complementary colors matched tastefully with simply textured surfaces are pleasing to the eye.  Subaru didn’t see the need to go crazy and futuristic, only improving on what they had been doing in years prior.

The gauge cluster features a new driver-information-center display.  Subaru has consolidated several readouts to the DIC that would normally be found with their own indicator. Gear shift position, fuel gauge, odometer, and trip odometer all find a home on the brightly lit display.  At night we wished the electronic display was inverted in color, similar to the center information readout over the headunit, as it was extremely bright at night. Only a tachometer, speedometer, and a vague instant MPG gauge have anolog readouts in the cluster.

For the most part, the new Impreza receives high marks for switch-gear placement and use. However, we found the heated seat selectors hard to use and requiring you to bend your arm and wrist in an unnatural direction. The seats are generally comfortable for a 1-2 hour time frame but started to feel stiff after that.

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Technology, Safety, & Electronics

Subaru seems to get what people expect to get, technology wise,  in a car these days. The 2012 Impreza we tested came complete with a USB port, aux input, bluetooth handsfree and audio streaming. The stereo supports iPods and iPhones but its small display made it a hassle to operate those devices through the headunit. With that said, they were easy to setup and worked. Audio quality is substantially better than in the previous generation but audiophiles will be looking for more.

Subaru includes 4-wheel antilock disk brakes and vehicle dynamics control (stability/traction) standard across the entire 2012 Impreza line.  Paired with the standard all-wheel-drive, the Impreza is an impressive winter weather machine.  Because Subaru uses a full time and proper all-wheel setup, you not only get all-weather traction but balanced performance in all conditions.  With proper snow tires, the Impreza would be virtually unstoppable in a winter storm. Unfortunately, we didn’t get a chance to try the new Impreza in the snow.  On dry pavement however,  the all-wheel-drive system keeps a composed and sporty driving dynamic.

The Impreza doesn’t skimp with it comes to airbags. A full outfit of protection surrounds the driver and passengers. Subaru’s “Advanced Airbag System” includes curtain side, front seat side-impact, driver’s knee, and rear seat headrest airbags.

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So, is the 2012 Impreza something that Chevy, Hyundai, Toyota, and Honda should be scared of? In short, yes.  Until now, the Impreza has been a much loved vehicle that a small niche of the market has coveted dearly. With a few tweaks and some much needed refinement, Subaru has set the 2012 model appeal to a substantially wider audience. Suddenly, all those folks in New England and anywhere else it snows no longer need to choose between fuel economy and all-weather ability.  The 2012 Subaru Impreza delivers both. That makes it unique, compelling, and a home run.

Conclusion

The Impreza has successfully made the leap from cult favorite to competitive mainstream model.  Subaru kept everything we loved about the outgoing generation intact while fixing everything we didn’t.

What we liked:

  • Fuel economy is impressive for a vehicle with all-wheel-drive
  • Subaru’s symmetrical all-wheel-drive never disappoints
  • Modern but not outrageous styling

What we didn’t:

  • Heated seat switches are incredibly awkward to use
  • Cabin heater quick to give “warm” air but slow to provide “hot” air on cold mornings
  • Cargo area carpet has “Velcro” like effect with dirt

Photo Gallery

Specifications as-tested

Model Year: 2012
Make: Subaru
Model: Impreza
Trim: 2.0i Premium 5-door

EPA Fuel Economy: 27-mpg city/ 36-mpg highway
Observed Fuel Economy: 28.8 mpg (mostly urban driving)

Base MSRP: $19,295
As tested MSRP: $22,045

Engine: 2.0L 4-cylinder boxer / 148 horse-power at 6,200 rpm and 145 lb.- ft. of torque at 4,200 rpm
Transmission: Continuously-Variable (CVT)
Drivetrain: all-wheel-drive (AWD)

Editor’s Note: AutoInsane.com tests and reviews vehicles provided to us directly from automobile manufacturers and distributors. No additional consideration is provided to any Manufacturer in return for access to these vehicles.

 

Subaru WRX shines with STi upgrades for 2011

A quick glance and you may not even notice that there’s something different about the WRX this year.  Take a closer look and you’ll see that the world famous all-wheel-drive sports car has been tweaked. We dive in to the 2011 model, take it for a spin, and find out what’s new.

Specifications as-tested

Model Year: 2011
Make: Subaru
Model: WRX Premium

Engine: 2.5L turbocharged 4-cylinder / 265 hp at 6000 rpm and 244 lb.- ft. of torque at 4000 rpm
Transmission: 5-speed manual
Drivetrain: Continuous all-wheel-drive with 50:50 distribution

EPA Fuel Economy: 19-mpg city/ 25-mpg highway
Observed Fuel Economy: 22.3mpg

Base MSRP: $25,495
As tested MSRP: $30,720

Standard Equipment: Traction & stability control,  all-wheel-drive

Equipped Options:
Satellite Radio & Navigation System [$2,000]

Required Fees:
Delivery Charge [$725]

Driven: 2011 Subaru WRX - Photo: Zane Merva/AutoInsane.com

Subtle and not-so-subtle changes

It didn’t take long for the current generation WRX to get a boost in power. First on sale in 2008, the all-weather sports machine got a 41-horsepower increase the very next year; from 224 to 265.  Now only two years later, the car has gotten another noteworthy upgrade.  This time it’s the exterior appearance, vehicle dimentions,  and suspension pieces that have been tweaked.

Typically, Subaru has differentiated the more expensive STi from the common-man WRX through the use of an STi specific body,  suspension pieces, wider rubber, and more horsepower. Not anymore. Starting this year, the WRX gets all the wide-body/suspension goodies straight from the STi. Although the STi will still have more horsepower, it will now look almost indistinguishable from the WRX in both 4-door and 5-door forms.

The combination of this year’s suspension tweaks and the horsepower upgrades from 2009 are staggering.   The WRX now carries a 2-inch wider body and suspension track.  It’s a menacing, low slung look that also helps the WRX grip. The 2011 is poised, solid, and feels like a civilized street-ready rally car.

Throw the new WRX into a sharp corner on a dirt road and you’ll find it drives like a rally car too.  Although other brands have tried to master all-wheel-drive, we always come back to Subaru as the de facto standard. No other car can match the predictability the WRX offers in the range of road conditions that it can.  In the summer, you’ve got a fast sports car that hugs corners like no-other. In the winter, you have a safe and dependable vehicle that will get you through anything.  Rain, snow, sleet, sunshine; you’re having fun and getting where you need to go.

Driven: 2011 Subaru WRX - Photo: Zane Merva/AutoInsane.com

Despite the wider body and track, weight gain has been kept to a minimum.  The 2011 model is only 34 lbs heavier than the 2010. It’s hard to spot a body panel that hasn’t been changed on the outside, but the interior remains largely unchanged from prior years.  In the cockpit, for 2011 Subaru has added bluetooth and iPod support to the base 6-speaker radio. Our optioned-up “Premium” tester was equipped with the optional Navigation System.

We liked the extremely supportive front seats in the WRX.  They gave plenty of grip around corners without being overly stiff on long drives.  For those cold mornings, the seats also offered two-levels of heat.

Driven: 2011 Subaru WRX - Photo: Zane Merva/AutoInsane.com

2011 versus 2010 – WRX Dimensions

2011 2010
Width 70.7 in. 68.5 in.
Wheelbase 103.3 in. 103.1 in.
Front track 60.2 in. 58.9 in.
Rear track 60.6 in. 59.1 in.
Wheels 17 x 8-in. 17 x 7-in.
Tires 235/45R17 225/45R17
Curb weight 4-door: 3,208 lbs
5-door: 3,208 lbs
4-door: 3,174 lbs
5-door: 3,174 lbs

Driven: 2011 Subaru WRX - Photo: Zane Merva/AutoInsane.com

Conclusion

The original all-weather sports car now looks even better with new STi bodywork.  Suspension and track changes add even better handling to an already great car. One of the few vehicles that’s just as much fun to drive in the winter as it is in the summer.

Strengths

  • Staunch turbocharged engine is smooth and powerful
  • The best all-wheel-drive system on the market, period.
  • Predictable handling, tossable, well centered

Weaknesses

  • Interior plastic trim/console is very shiny and hard feeling
  • Get the navigation system and you lose iPod compatiability
  • Can we please have a 6-speed manual?

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Driven: 2011 Subaru WRX Photo Gallery