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Short Takes - Little Articles When We Don't Feel Like Writing Big Articles

Contents:

2013 Honda Accord Sport

2014 Subaru Forester

2013 Hyundai Sonata

2013 Subaru Legacy 2.5I

2013 Ford Taurus SEL

2013 Mazda CX-5

2013 Ford Focus SE

2013 Dodge Dart Rallye

2013 Volkswagen Jetta TDI Sportwagon

2013 Ford CMax Hybrid

2013 Buick Verano Turbo

2013 Cadillac XTS AWD

2013 Ford Mustang GT California Special

2013 Toyota Corolla

 

2013 Honda Accord Sport

Our family have been Honda loyalists since 1979, when Dad bought his first of many Accords.  Those early Accords were revolutionary automobiles in every way - inexpensive, thrifty, well engineered, thoughtfully designed and most importantly - exceedingly fun to drive.

But lately, Honda seems to have gotten lost in the sauce with the Accord.  While Accord remained a quality, reliable, economical and value priced sedan - the fun and styling seemed to further ebb away with each iteration.  In fact, it got so bad that Ms. Gyrhead flatly refused to consider the Accord when car shopping recently.  "It looks like a Nana-Mobile" she said, and Ms. Gyrhead would NEVER be caught dead in a Nana-Mobile.

Well, something incredible has happened at Honda.  The 2013 Accord Sport.  In our opinion - it is officially and hands down the at the head of the uber competitive mid-sized family sedan class.

With a 6 speed manual and 189 HP VTEC 2.4 I4 engine, the Accord Sport is fantastic to drive - with great torque, a flawless shifter, perfect clutch takeup and a perfectly delightful ride/handling balance. The interior is cavernous and well laid out, visibility is great and drum roll please - the Sport looks absolutely great.  The body lines are tight and athletic, and the 18" alloy wheels are just gorgeous.

At a $23,800 MSRP, few cars provide the value and balanced performance of the 2013 Accord Sport. Run, don't walk to your local Honda dealer and drive one. You're welcome.

Pros:

  • Excellent I4 engine, with good torque and high end power
  • Excellent acceleration
  • Smooth six speed manual transmission with excellent clutch takeup
  • Exceptional ride and handling
  • Accurate, well weighted steering
  • Spacious interior and excellent visibility
  • Value priced
  • Standard backup camera
  • Excellent fuel economy
  • Nicely styled

Cons:

  • Limited color choices in 6 speed Sport
  • Wind noise around B-pillars
  • Passenger seat lacks power assist and height adjustment
  • Funky wide angle side mirror design
  • No split folding rear seatback
  • Seat heaters a dealer installed option
  • V6 not available with six-speed manual in the sedan
  • XM satellite radio not available in Sport

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2014 Subaru Forester

Of Subaru's utility vehicle offerings, the Gyrhead staff has always liked the Forester model.  It is a sensibly sized CUV with a very spacious and open cabin, confident handling and adequate performance in normally aspirated models. In base and premium trims, the MSRP is attractive too, though XT and XT Touring variants can easily top the $30k mark.

The 2014 Forester builds upon those traditions while adding more fuel efficiency and cleaner styling.  We really enjoyed our short time with a 2.5 Premium equipped with a six speed manual transmission.

The Forester has stable, secure and entertaining handling within normal limits.  The ride is comfortable and quiet, with an unexpected absence of road and wind noise.  Steering is precise and with excellent feedback.  Interior packaging is wonderfully efficient - with the front seat pushed all the way back, this six footer couldn't touch the pedals, and there was still six inches of rear legroom remaining!  The rear seats fold flat, and the seat backs recline, which is a thoughtful touch.  Exterior sightlines are excellent.  There's a lot of hard plastic in the Forester interior, but fit and finish is good.

Performance of the 173 HP 2.5 Boxer 4 and six speed manual is generally satisfactory.  The boxer has a gravelly and distinctive sound, which in all Subaru models we don't much care for.  The clutch is not particularly progressive and is hard to modulate smoothly.  The shifter is notchy in the lower gears, and first gear is too low for everyday street use.  As always, Subaru's AWD system is great - absolutely seamless, efficient and practical.

At $23,495, this is a lot of useful AWD vehicle for not a lot of money.  Fun to drive, practical, roomy and nicely equipped.

Pros:

  • Spacious interior and excellent visibility
  • Confident AWD handling with a smooth ride
  • Quiet interior
  • Reasonable $21,995 base price for 2.5i
  • Six speed manual transmission available
  • High build quality

Cons:

  • Boxer 4 still noisy and not especially powerful
  • Shifter and clutch are not world class
  • XT turbo available only with CVT transmission
  • Can get pricey in XT turbo trim
  • Sunroof only available with 2.5i Premium and XT models with CVT

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2013 Hyundai Sonata

Hyundai's stylish Sonata remains an enigma to the Gyrhead staff.  We appreciate the suave looks- which revolutionized the traditionally boring mid-sized sedan segment - but agreed that the sexy styling was writing checks the rest of the car couldn't cash.

The 197 horsepower 2.4 litre direct injected I4 is powerful and smooth, and the 6 speed automatic transmission shifts very well indeed.  However the car overall was an enormous letdown. Specifically;

  • The steering was vague and imprecise
  • The front and rear suspensions felt like they were designed by teams that never met or spoke to one another.
  • The car had noticeable torque steer when accelerating, coasting, braking, in cross-winds and when you just looked at it wrong.  
  • The seats were flat, unsupportive and rock hard
  • The USB port failed to recognize all but Hyundai's own proprietary cable.
  • The dash was over styled and gimmicky, with about 8 different type fonts on the controls and instruments.

I put nearly 800 miles on the 2013 Sonata I just tested, and am happy to report that Hyundai has at last addressed a couple of these ills. The USB port now works with a standard Apple iPhone cable (hurray!) and the front and rear spring rates and dampers now feel like they're working in synch.

However, the seats are still awful and the steering is appallingly bad.  It feels like there is excessive bushing compliance in the front end that allows toe settings to change, making the car prone to wander at odd, seemingly random times.  Compounding matters is steering that is numb and super slow off center. When the car wanders, you dial in steering lock to compensate and inevitably over correct.  Your're constantly fighting the steering and it is absolutely exhausting.

So, we still feel little passion for the Hyundai Sonata, particularly when sister company Kia does a much better job with the Optima.

Pros:

  • Spacious interior
  • Reasonable base price
  • Powerful base engine
  • Smooth shifting transmission
  • Stylish and good looking
  • Stellar warranty
  • High build quality

Cons:

  • Dreadful steering response
  • Poor straight line stability
  • Rock hard and unsupportive front seats
  • Gimmicky and busy dash layout

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2013 Subaru Legacy

We put a bit over 2,500 miles on our 2013 Legacy 2.5i, and increasingly grew to appreciate Subaru's midsize all-wheel drive sedan.  It is a roomy, surefooted and solidly built vehicle - if a bit ungainly in the styling department.  Initially we were unimpressed with the Legacy's handling prowess, steering response and body control. Soon we came to realize that the Legacy's tall profile all-weather tires and soft shock absorbers are the primary culprits.  On rough roads and aggressive turns, the Legacy wiggles about, but once the shocks and tire sidewalls take a set, you can begin to appreciate the neutral handling and fairly accurate steering of Subaru's proven AWD chassis.  The Legacy 2.5i Sport may be the solution to these handling deficiencies, but we have not yet driven a Legacy in that trim.

Our 2.5i base Legacy came equipped with a 2.5 liter 173 HP flat-4 engine and CVT transmission - and as with the Outback, we don't care much for the noise and operating characteristics of this drivetrain. It is sluggish and noisy - and our fuel economy was not particularly noteworthy.  Like in the Outback, the Legacy's paddle shifters work very well indeed.

All the same, Legacy is a fundamentally capable car, with a very spacious cabin and ample rear seat space. At a $20,295 base price, you get a lot for your money.  Even a loaded 3.6i Limited can be had for a $28,895 MSRP - and that's not too bad.

Pros:

  • Superb AWD capability
  • Spacious interior
  • Reasonable base price
  • Well designed CVT manual shifting 
  • Available with a six-speed manual

Cons:

  • Squishy all-weather tires and soft shocks blunt the chassis reflexes
  • Noisy, sluggish 2.5i base engine
  • CVT transmission
  • Confusing bluetooth hands free system
  • Ungainly styling (in base trim levels)

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2013 Ford Taurus SEL

The stylish, space efficient 1986 Ford Taurus was the toast of the domestic industry, selling nearly 263,000 units in its first full sales year.  By 1992, a peak of 408,000 units sold. As late as 2005, Ford sold 304,000 Tauri - though increasingly its customers were fleet and rental agencies.  In 2012, Ford sold a whopping total of 74,000 Tauruses, an 81% decline from 1992 peak sales.  Some of the drop is attributable to Ford's conscious effort to reduce dependency on low margin fleet sales - but the truth is plainly evident.  America no longer loves the Taurus, despite healthy sales incentives and ongoing investments by Ford to freshen up the old girl.  

The marketing debacle when the Taurus label was replaced with the "500" and then phased back in starting with with the Taurus X didn't help either, just as it didn't help Prince when he changed his name to:

The genesis of the problem is simple - Taurus just isn't a very good car anymore.  It has grown in size and weight, but for the enormous size - the interior is oddly cramped.  Clever design and space efficient packaging has given way to gimicky interior styling - dominated by an enormously wide,  tall console that swoops off the dashboard and gobbles up cubic yards of front interior space.  Interior door handles are positioned mere inches from the door hinges, allowing no mechanical advantage when closing the hefty doors.  A short greenhouse cuts interior headroom and exterior visibility.

Then, there is my nemesis - who shall be known as MyFordTouch.  He is my tormentor.  He doesn't listen.  I ask for "Bluetooth Audio" and MyFordTouch asks if I want "Swedish Radio".  I yell swear words at MyFordTouch - and would be pleased if he responded in kind, so I know that we're finally communicating.

The Taurus driving experience is fairly pleasant however - with a smooth 288 HP 3.5 litre V6 and six speed automatic transmission.  Fuel mileage is good.  Handles pretty nice too, with a quiet serene ride and decently accurate steering.  The trunk is absolutely huge - In 1957 this car would be the people smuggling champion of drive-in movies.  I do love the tail lights though - they are a convincing rendition of the 1966 Galaxie.

Ulimately the list of Taurus deficits are just too big to ignore. For the SEL's $28,900 MSRP (before rebates)  there are far better sedan choices.

Pros:

  • Fairly athletic moves for a large car
  • Smooth ride and drivetrain
  • Fairly quick
  • Decent fuel economy
  • Massive trunk
  • Big consumer incentives

Cons:

  • Terribly cramped front seating
  • Poor visibility
  • Bad secondary ergonomics
  • Gimicky, whimsical interior design trumps throughtful design and function
  • MyFordTouch system clunky and distracting
  • "Blobby" exterior styling

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2013 Mazda CX5

Fans of the rapidly disappearing manual transmission should bow towards Hiroshima Japan, because the good folks at Mazda are your true and loyal friends.  Not only do they make one of the best manuals in the world (Miata) but also make the six-speed manual available in some highly unlikely vehicles like the Mazda5 minivan and the new CX-5 CUV.  Their self-serve shifter efforts are hardly half-assed either. In both the Mazda5 and CX-5 the shifter glides through the gates with convincing ease and accuracy, and clutch takeup is neigh perfect. The CX-5 is one of the first manifestations of the new Skyactiv engineering approach designed to promote light weight, efficiency and body rigidity.  It is a darned nice little vehicle, with near-German levels of chassis dynamics and delightful human-machine interface.  Only the slightly pokey 2.0 engine spoils the party, but we understand help is on the way in 2014 in the form of a 189 HP 2.5 litre mill.  This will make the CX-5 darned near perfect.

Pros:

  • Six speed manual in a CUV.  A GOOD 6 speed manual too!
  • Outstanding chassis dynamics, with great ride, steering and brakes
  • Sensibly priced
  • Trim looks, controversial Nagare style is dead, long live Kodo design language

Cons:

  • 2.0 litre I-4 engine is a slug
  • Manual transmission only available in base FWD models

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2013 Ford Focus SE

The new Focus is proof positive of the benefits of global platforms.  Unlike past Foci that were only loosely based on the European model and substantially dumbed down, the new model finally retains intact Euro DNA.  It's a very, very good bloodline.  The 2013 Focus handles, accelerates, brakes and feels simply incredible.  It also looks (in hatchback form anyway) truly hip and cool.  Avoid the clunky, frustrating 6 speed automatic and you'll be rewarded with a practical, low budget car that can readily show its taillights to many so-called performance cars!  Well done Ford!

Pros:

  • Incredible driving experience with superb steering, chassis control and brakes
  • Lively and fuel efficient 160 HP base engine
  • Excellent 6 speed manual shifter
  • Value priced
  • Hip hatchback looks
  • Ford Synch system isn't bad
  • ST option for true performance junkies (see our initial drive report of the 2013 Focus ST )

Cons:

  • Limited rear legroom
  • 6 speed automatic is just deplorably bad (not bad when you thrash it though)
  • Busy dash design, with too many small buttons
  • Sedan styling a bit ungainly

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2013 Dodge Dart Rallye

Few new car introductions have had the hype of the reborn Dodge Dart. Chrysler's prodigious efforts reflect the monumentally high stakes involved. After the decent but unrespected Neon and the atrocious Caliber, Mopar is behind in the small-car strike count.  To ensure a favorable outcome in this strategically vital segment, Chrysler turned to parent company Fiat and secured Alfa Romeo Guiletta underpinnings for the Dart.  They loaded the Dart with features and priced it well.  Things are looking up, the Dart is a fine looking rig with solid chassis dynamics, thoughtful features and technically interesting driveline options.

Pros:

  • Stylish good looks
  • Spacious interior and trunk
  • Excellent interior electronics - some of the industry's best actually
  • Six speed transmission option
  • Available turbo power
  • Fuel efficient
  • Nimble chassis with excellent steering response and supple European ride
  • Great price and value

Cons:

  • Raspy exhaust note on 1.4 Multi-Air Turbo
  • Poor cold start drivability on 1.4 Turbo
  • Lack of low-end torque
  • Notchy shifter
  • No 340 GT or 383 Magnum GTS option..

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2013 Volkswagen Jetta TDI Sportwagon

We love wagons at Gyrhead, but most Americans don't seem to share our passion.  As a result, affordable station wagons are a dying breed in our market.  If you love wagons and the act of driving - the sleek, stylish Jetta Sportwagon is a treat.  With the uber torquey TDI engine and six-speed manual, the Jetta is quick, and freakishly frugal too. And because it's a VW, you can also enjoy a uniquely Germanic driving experience of direct, accurate steering, firm yet supple ride and very high build quality.

Pros:

  • Fuel efficient and 600+ mile fuel range
  • Momumental diesel torque with gas engine refinement - minimal clatter and no exhaust smoke
  • Six speed manual transmission option and excellent DSG automatic.
  • Excellent chassis reflexes
  • Wagon utility
  • Good looks
  • High build quality
  • Excellent interior layout and ergonomics

Cons:

  • Can get pricey in higher trim levels
  • Unlinear and squishy brake pedal in hard stops
  • Diesel fuel costly and hard to find in some areas
  • Rear seating is best for 2 passengers, 3 can grow tight on long trips

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2013 Ford CMax Hybrid

Since we first laid eyes on the CMax, we've been smitten by Ford's little people hauler.  Yes, we admit to a geeky soft spot for cleverly packaged small vehicles like the CMax and Mazda5.  There's something appealing about a frugal family mover that is fun to drive, economical and still capable of hauling a fully dressed Ford 428 CobraJet engine to the machine shop. The driving experience of the CMax is a bit otherworldly, as the regenerative braking system whirs, the gas engine starts and stops of its own volition and the dash display renders more information than a 787 Dreamliner.

Pros:

  • Tall greenhouse and massive windshield give the CMax Astrodome-like interior space and sightlines
  • Reasonable price
  • High horsepower (for a Hybrid)
  • Focus based chassis, with excellent steering, and firm yet supple ride 
  • Proven Ford Hybrid technology  

Cons:

  • Tepid acceleration and noisy under throttle
  • CVT transmission (it is better than Subaru's, but in the same way that being stabbed is preferable to being shot.)
  • Real world MPG not earth-shattering
  • MyFordTouch is slow and distracting, awkward button access
  • Busy dash design
  • Ford sales reps don't know much about the Hybrid features

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2013 Buick Verano Turbo

The Verano Turbo occupies a peculiar spot in the Buick product line. According to Buick, it is not a performance car, yet the Verano handily outguns the Turbo Regal in horsepower (250 vs. 220) and approaches the Regal GS in straight line acceleration.  Plus it's available well equipped with a six speed manual transmission for a $29,900 base price.  The Verano is Chevy Cruze based, but Buick picked a fine platform to embellish upon.  The Verano is a serene, solid machine with some of the finest front drive chassis dynamics in the GM portfolio.

Pros:

  • Surprising acceleration (0-60 in 6.2 seconds)
  • Six speed manual a no-cost option
  • Solid, quiet ride
  • Exceptional steering, handling and ride balance
  • Attractive styling

Cons:

  • Limited rear legroom
  • Shifter not to world-class levels
  • Some chintzy interior bits
  • Large A-pillars limit visibility
  • Busy dash architecture

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2013 Cadillac XTS AWD 

After impressive experiences with the CTS-V coupe and award-winning ATS, we expected a lot from the XTS.  The new styling simply blows away the anachronistic DTS, and the interior of the XTS is superbly laid out - with excellent fit and finish.  The drive however left us underwhelmed.  On sharp bumps the XTS ride felt flinty, with more body shudder than is common today.  The direct injection 3.6 V6 (the only current XTS engine) only manages 304 horsepower, and didn't feel as smooth or refined as we expected at this price point. Caddy reps admit that the advanced technology of the XTS is intimidating to traditional Caddy DTS buyers, and that the underwhelming performance is not capturing the hearts and minds of younger drivers that are cross shopping Audi, Mercedes or Lexus.

Pros:

  • Nice exterior and interior styling
  • Outstanding interior room
  • Driver configurable, very legible dash display
  • AWD optional
  • Competitive base price

Cons:

  • Some poor chassis control over sharp bumps
  • 304 horsepower V6 not sufficient to lure conquest buyers
  • CUE system is distracting
  • Pricing soars with options

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2013 Ford Mustang GTCS 

We absolutely loved the 2013 Mustang GT.  The new 5.0 litre 420 horsepower Coyote V8 shares the 5.0 moniker, but nothing else with that torquey, lovable cast iron 302 small block lump.  It revs easily to over 7,000 RPM, sounds like heaven and pulls like an Ox on meth.  Ford also upgraded the interior - no longer is the Mustang plasticky as a Revell model factory, it's all soft touch and classy.  Aside from a little numbness in the steering, the Mustang is an absolute All-Star.  Just go drive it already!

Pros:

  • Value priced, particularly for the performance levels
  • V6 models are no penalty box - they rip too
  • Great retro styling with cool modern touches (e.g., LED tail lights)
  • 5.0 Coyote V8 is better than beer flavored ice-cream
  • Fabulous driving dynamics, particularly for live axle
  • Many hundreds of pounds lighter than Camaro and Challenger, and you can tell!
  • Interior duds are now Brooks Brothers, not Goodwill. Far brighter & more expansive inside than Camaro or Challenger
  • Massive street cred
  • 420 horsepower is the base V8 engine (!?)  Ford's V8 choices also include the 444 HP Boss 302 and 662 Horsepower Shelby GT500.  Jesus Christ.

Cons:

  • Steering feel a little numb
  • Six speed shifter a bit notchy
  • Boy racer image limits appeal to some adults
  • Torque curve is not as immediately "wallopy" and "old schooly" as the pushrod 5.0 (or 428CJ)
  • M3 owners will deride your "prehistoric Mustang", at least until you smoke them.

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2013 Toyota Corolla 

Corolla is the best selling automobile of all time.  In some ways, that makes sense.  Toyota really knows how to design and manufacture reliable, well engineered and inexpensive cars.  Henry Ford may have invented modern mass production, but Toyota perfected it - and took most of the world's auto producers to the woodshed in the process.

From its origins as a RWD sedan in 1966, through the still wildly popular 1980's AE86 models - Corolla made a mark as a well built, reliable sedan with some bonafide driving chops.

But as an automobile, on its own merits, the 2013 Corolla is a miserable little buggy.  It is a satanically reliable, offensively inoffensive boredom capsule that will put you to sleep for decades and hundreds of thousands of miles.  If that's your bag, enjoy.

For enthusiasts, the Corolla has practically nothing to recommend it, but as an everyday automotive appliance for accountants, it's fine, perfect actually.  However, where is it written that daily transportation has to be so uninspired?  Ford, VW, Dodge, Kia, Hyundai and many others prove that frugality can also be fun.

Gyrhead's solution to moving traffic violations?  Let judges sentence offenders to 6 months behind the wheel of a Corolla. Recidivism rates would plummet.

Pros:

  • Value priced
  • As reliable as a boat anchor
  • Thrifty
  • Invisible to police (and much of the X chromosome population)
  • Straightforward interior layout, with excellent fit

Cons:

  • Wooden steering and chassis responses
  • Slow and painful sounding when flogged
  • Not especially fuel efficient
  • Anonymous styling
  • Rental car mojo
  • Often found in its native habitat - the left lane at 52 MPH with the left blinker flashing

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