Nissan’s little yellow taxi

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“Late last night,
I heard the screen door slam.
And a big yellow taxi
Come and took away my old man”

“Big Yellow Taxi” Joni Mitchell © Siquomb Publishing Co.


Forty years after Joni Mitchell sang about big yellow taxis their days are ending. The big Chevrolets and Fords are out of production, closing the era of the traditional big, V8-powered, rear-wheel-drive sedans with seating for six.

Cab companies are exploring new options. While there are still passenger car offerings like the Chevrolet Impala, Ford Taurus and Dodge Charger, fleet operators and independents are looking at smaller cars, hybrids and minivans, many of which can’t offer the seating and luggage capacities of the big Ford.

New York City has the nation’s largest concentration of cabs, including more than 13,000 of the familiar yellow medallion cab. Seven years ago, the NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission embarked on a project to replace the more than three dozen different vehicles approved for medallion cab use with a 10-year contract for a single vehicle.

After a competition that came down to two credible finalists, the Nissan NV200 and the Ford Transit Connect, the NV200 was selected as “New York City’s Taxi of Tomorrow.” While the program was put on hold following a court decision that NYC’s Taxi and Limousine Commission had overstepped its bounds by requiring the purchase of a specific vehicle, an appeals court overturned that decision, putting the Taxi of Tomorrow program back on track, at least for now.

After driving the NV200 commercial van at last year’s Texas Truck Rodeo and brief spin in the cab version at the Texas Auto Writers Association’s Spring Car Roundup in Fort Worth, Acarplace had the opportunity to spend some quality time with the “Taxi of Tomorrow.”

The NV200 Taxi is based on the new-to-us NV200 passenger van that was named International Van of the Year in 2010. Built on the same platform as the Nissan Versa and Cube, the NV200 is a compact, multipurpose vehicle.

Compared to the Transit Connect, the NV200 is taller and narrower, giving the driver a higher viewing position and the capability to squeeze into tight spaces, a plus in the Big Apple’s crowded traffic. Nissan-NV200Taxi-Rear-ACP
Compared to the Ford P72 Crown Victoria, which is the commercial fleet version of the big Ford, the NV200′s footprint is 27 square feet smaller. The Nissan is more than two feet shorter and ten inches narrowed than the Crown Vic. It was calculated that once the changeover to the new van was complete, five acres would have opened up on New York City’s streets.

TAXICABS BY THE NUMBERS
Specification Nissan NV200 Ford P72 Crown Victoria
Length (in.) 186.3 212.0
Width w/o mirrors (in.) 68.1 78.2
Height w/o roof lighting (in.) 73.7 58.3
Wheelbase (in.) 115.2 114.7
Turning diameter, curb-to-curb (ft) 36.7 40.3
Footprint L x W (ft2) 88 115
Curb Weight (lb) 3,258 4,144
Engine 2.0L DOHC I4 4.6L SEFI V8
Transmission CVT Auto 4-speed w/OD
Horsepower, SAE Net 131 224
Torque, SAE Net (lb-ft) 139 @ 4,800 rpm 275 @ 4,000 rpm
Acceleration 0-30 (sec.) N/A 3.16*
Acceleration 0-60 (sec.) 11.0 8.9*
EPA City (mpg) 24 16
EPA Highway (mpg) 25 24
EPA Combined (mpg) 24 19
*Michigan State Police instrumented test for Ford P70 Crown Victoria CVPI with 4.6L V8 and 3.55 rear axle ratio

Nissan-NV200Taxi-Driver-ACPThe NV200′s driver’s seat is a pretty nice place to be. The seat itself is quite comfortable for hours at a time, the steering wheel is adjustable and the controls are well laid out.

Since this is a purpose-built taxicab, there aren’t a whole lot of extras, but everything that’s needed is there, including a very legible navigation screen. In order to deal with would-be robbers, belligerent passengers and such, New York City mandated that all cabs be equipped with a flashing amber light to discretely alert police of a problem. The NV200 has the system integrated into its lighting and electronics and pressing a conveniently located switch turns on a flashing amber LED display concealed in the grille and flashes “Call 911″ signs in the rear lighting array. There aren’t any internal indications that the system has been activated so the action shouldn’t escalate a bad situation.

New York City also requires a partition between the driver and passenger compartment. It’s not just a divider: there’s a space for the driver’s cab license, a screen that can be used for entertainment, or maps and a credit card reader. An intercom allows communication between driver and passenger and it works quite well. The driver’s microphone is located in the roof liner just above the visor.
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The passenger compartment is functional but comfortable with acres of legroom and the hump in the middle of the Crown Victoria’s floor is just an unpleasant memory.

While it looks fairly Spartan, the bench seat is comfortable and can accommodate three passengers.

Passengers have their own controls for heating or air-conditioning and there’s another switch in the driver’s compartment to reset the climate control to a standard setting, ready for the next passenger.

Incidentally, when it comes to air-conditioning, the NV200 is first-rate. The system had no trouble cooling the cab and passenger area quickly and keeping them comfortable, even in Houston’s summer heat.

The flooring is a heavy-duty black rubbery material, which may sound uninviting, but it allows the passenger area to be hosed out, a real plus when a passenger who is “under the weather,” shall we say, has a messy problem. It happens more often than you think.

In the same vein, the NV200 has anti-microbial seat coverings and an active carbon headliner to minimize lingering odors.

Nissan-NV200Taxi-Cargo-ACPBehind the passenger seat is a cargo space that is more than enough to handle luggage for a full load of passengers. The asymmetrical rear doors mean that, for most fares, only one door need be opened.

The NV200 is certainly competent in traffic. The 2.0-liter engine has sufficient power for a vehicle that will spend the majority of its life operating at speeds under 40 mph. The continuously variable transmission keeps engine speed down, improving fuel efficiency.

While the chart shows comparable 0-60 times, that’s not the whole story: zero-to-30 is a more critical parameter and, to be honest, the NV200 needs a bit more low-end oomph. Forget how they are supposed to drive and watch how New York City cabbies really drive: a lot of those Fords are retired police cars designed for quick acceleration that the cabbies like to be able to get to fares and dodge through traffic. My suspicion is that the culprit here is the NV200′s transmission. The Nissan CVT is swell in many ways, but rabbit starts isn’t one of them.

For cabbies outside of New York, the NV200 does quite well. It has no trouble keeping up with traffic on city streets and is even good at cruising on freeways. It’s not thrilling, but it’s not supposed to be: it’s a cab and most passengers don’t want an exciting ride.

The NV200′s front disc/rear drum brakes provided consistent stops and there was good pedal feel for modulation. Smooth stopping is a big plus when you’re hoping for a good tip.

Considering the height and width of the NV200, I thought there might be some issues with body lean but that turned out not to be the case. The Nissan handled curves and swerves just fine.

At highway speeds, there is a fair amount of wind noise and the NV200 is slightly prone to being buffeted by crosswinds and big trucks. Nothing major: my “passenger” never noticed it; but at times it took a steady hand on the wheel. In fairness, every van I have ever driven, big or small, has been the same.

The only real criticisms I had dealt with the accommodations for the driver. First was a lack of space for the driver’s stuff. The front passenger seat folds flat for use as a table, but it also needs to be available for a fourth passenger. The binnacle atop the center stack looked handy but that would be filled by a meter in real-world use, so it’s out, too. The cup-holders and the pocket in the door are handy but a driver spending eight hours a day behind the wheel might want to have a few other items.

Second, I wished for an armrest for my right arm. While I didn’t do a nine-hour stint, which is the rule in New York, I did spend several hours driving continuously and an armrest would have been nice. Unfortunately, space for an armrest has been taken by the switches for the intercom and rear-compartment A/C resets.

Overall, however, if I drove a hack for a living, the Nissan NV200 would be a pretty nice place to work. It was fun to drive around, drawing stares and questions, and it was really quite comfortable; even after four hours behind the wheel, I wasn’t creaky or tired.

Fleet owners will make their own deals, but any owner-operators looking for a good, economical workhorse should give the Nissan’s NV200 Taxi a very close look.

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2013 Nissan NV200 New York City Taxi
Base Price $29,700
Options: None $0
Destination Charge $860
Sticker Price $30,560
Assembly Plant CIVAC, Cuernavaca, Mexico
Why we’d buy it Well thought-out, comfortable, easy to drive and park
Why we wouldn’t Acceleration, armrest.

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Ford’s got a new Edge

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Ford just unveiled the 2015 Edge crossover that will go on sale early next year.

The new Edge is the first Ford vehicle to be equipped with one of the company’s EcoBoost engines as the standard powerplant. The base model will have the 2.0-liter EcoBoost and there will be an optional 2.7-liter EcoBoost as well as normally aspirated 3.5-liter V6

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There’s a new body structure and redesigned suspension as well as another first for Ford: adaptive steering technology.

The new Edge will built in Ford’s Oakville, Ontario plant.

Following the North American launch, the Edge will also be sold in South America, Asia Pacific and, for the first time, in Western Europe.

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Ford puts the “mini” back in minivans

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Back in 1983, Chrysler Corporation unveiled the 1984 Plymouth Voyager and the 1984 Dodge Caravan, the first American minivans. Designed as roomy family haulers and based on the K-Car platform, they took the market by storm. By the minivan’s silver anniversary in 2008, the company had sold more than 12 million copies under the Chrysler, Dodge and Plymouth brands.

But over the years, the minivan evolved from a compact vehicle, easy to drive and park, that fit in the typical garage, to something bigger. In the case of the 2014 Grand Caravan or Chrysler Town & Country, the only minivans Chrysler now offers, the length has stretched more than two feet, the wheelbase is 9.2 inches longer. It’s wider and taller. The width has translated into more passenger space but that’s mostly in front-seat shoulder and hip room: most other increases are less than an inch. There is definitely more cargo space. But the original purpose of the minivan has been lost.

Although they missed the schedule originally reported on Acarplace (“Ford to return to U.S. minivan market“), Ford has brought the minivan back to the U.S. Even though they call it the “Unminivan” or “Multi-Purpose Vehicle” (MPV), the new Transit Connect Wagon is still a minivan in the truest definition of the term.

The new Transit Connect Wagon descends from the Turkish-built Transit Connect introduced to the European market in 2002 and to the North American market in 2009, where is was named “North American Truck of the Year” for 2010.

The Transit Connect was built on the Ford Focus platform and designed to be a Light Commercial Vehicle (LCV), a commercial vehicle class that really hasn’t made a huge dent in the U.S. commercial market. A passenger variant has been offered for some time. In fact, all Transit Connect vans sent to the U.S. are passenger versions to dodge the 25% “Chicken Tax” tariff on commercial vehicles. They are converted to commercial vans after they arrive in the U.S.

Ford has switched production of the Transit Connect from Turkey to a Ford plant in Valencia, Spain.

New for 2014 is the family-oriented wagon. It’s offered in two lengths; five- or seven-passenger seating configurations; three trim levels, XL, XLT and Titanium; and there’s a choice of a 2.5-liter Duratec four or a 1.6-liter turbocharged EcoBoost four.

Examining the specs of the 2014 Transit Connect Wagon short wheelbase (SWB) and the long wheelbase (LWB) to the 1984 Dodge Caravan and the 1987 Dodge Grand Caravan shows that Ford really has turned back the clock to offer a comparably sized vehicle that offers significantly more passenger space.

Based on our experiences with the Ford EcoBoost engine, it also offers a lot more power than the old Chrysler 2.2-liter engine and should be well worth the price of the upgrade.

Ford has made every effort to distance the Transit Connect Wagon from its workaday sibling. Options like a full-glass panoramic roof, rear view camera, 6.5-inch touch-screen display with navigation and, inevitably, SYNC with MyFord Touch.

Seating options rage from heavy-duty vinyl, cloth and leather. Interior trim has been upgraded, as well. There’s still plenty of utility, though, with up to 100 cubic feet of cargo space, fold-flat seating in the rear and sliding side doors.

Ford says a properly equipped Transit Connect Wagon can tow up to 2,000 pounds.

According to the folks in Dearborn, the Transit Connect Wagon with the EcoBoost engine should be good for at least a class-leading 30 miles per gallon on the highway.

We liked the other Focus-derived MPV, the Ford C-Max we wrote about in November last year “Ford’s C-Max does small with style” and we’re looking forward to spending some time with the “Unminivan” in the hear future.


MINIVAN VS. UNMINIVAN
Specification 1984 Dodge Caravan SWB 2014 Ford Transit Connect Wagon SWB
Base Engine size/type 2.2-liter I4 2.5-liter I4
Horsepower 101@5200 169 @ 6000
Torque 121@3600 171 @ 4500
Length: 175.9 173.9
Width (w/o mirrors): 69.6 72.5
Height: 64.2 72.6
Wheelbase: 112.0 104.8
Front track: 59.9 61.7
Rear track: 62.1 62.4
Legroom:
1st row: 38.2 40.3
2nd row: 36.1 37.6
Shoulder room:
1st row: 57.6 57.7
2nd row: 60.9 58.5
Headroom:
1st row: 38.9 46.9
2nd row: 38.5 45.1
Hiproom:
1st row: 52.9 54.6
2nd row: 63.8 58.6
EPA passenger volume: 98.5 120.6

Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro: too much fun

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Looking to spice things up, Toyota took three of its light trucks, the Tundra full-size pickup, Tacoma midsize pickup and the 4Runner mid-size SUV, and turned them over to Toyota Racing Development (TRD) to work a bit of off-road magic.

The result was the new TRD Pro series first shown at the 2014 Chicago Auto Show a few months ago.

We had the opportunity to spend a week with a 4Runner TRD Pro and it was obvious from the beginning that wizards had been at work.

The Toyota 4Runner is already a pretty decent SUV. One of the last survivors of the classic body-on-frame era, the 4Runner’s roots go back to a modified Toyota pickup in the mid-1980s. The current model is the fifth generation and has been in production since 2009 (as a 2010 model). It got a mild refresh for the 2014 model year.

The 4Runner remains one of the favorites of folks whose idea of off-road extends past a gravel driveway; it’s is happy to go where crossovers fear to tread. As a bonus, the ride is a far cry from that old Toyota 4WD pickup, which rode like it was the basketball in a hot Final Four game.

What TRD has done is to take its years of experience in off-road truck competition, which is much like rugby played with trucks, and apply it to a civilian vehicle. Where the magic comes in is keeping most of that comfortable ride and handling while meeting the needs of serious off-roading enthusiasts.

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The TRD Pro package is available only on the Trail version of the 4Runner, which is the only true four-wheel-drive model in the line. The package includes: TRD Bilstein shocks with remote reservoirs; TRD-tuned front springs; a TRD front skid plate; a special grille with “TOYOTA” badging and black wheels. Inside, there are TRD floor mats and TRD shift knobs.

You can get your 4Runner TRD Pro in any color you want as long as you want black, white or a new hue called “Inferno.” Inferno is probably the best choice: any real off-road adventures will turn black or white to an entirely new color called “dirt.” Based on our experience, Inferno doesn’t seem to show the dust as badly.

Climbing into the 4Runner puts you into a comfortable, but supportive, seat facing a well-designed instrument panel. It’s worth taking some time to learn the controls: there are a fair number of them. They continue in an overhead console housing switches for multi-terrain select, active traction control, VSC cutoff, locking rear differential and crawl control.
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When all the switches, knobs, and so forth are illuminated at night, one gets a feeling of being at the controls of a commercial airliner.

Quality materials and a high level of fit and finish make for a first-class feel; not bad for a roomy truck that starts about $33,000 for the base model.

There were a couple of comments from the better half of the team. First and foremost, she understood that a vehicle like this needsall the ground clearance it can get, but it did make getting in and out a bit tough on someone who is 5 feet, four inches tall. Second, she initially felt the seats were a bit too firm, but that opinion changed after riding for a while.

There was high praise from all concerned about the ride on city streets: the 4Runner TRD Pro is smooth and quiet compared to most off-road specialists. The 4.0-liter V6 has plenty of power and good response and, while another gear or two might be nice, timely shifts weren’t a problem.

Since our review 4Runner was a pre-production version, the folks at Toyota asked us not to get too crazy with it. We settled for our usual truck test route and a few construction and maintenance trails.

Toyota-4Runner-TRDPro-Mud-ACPIMG_5616Leaving smooth pavement, the TRD Pro really came into its own. Confident and sure-footed, even on dirt roads topped with loose gravel, the Toyota was able to rival the best in the business and the Bilstein shocks and uprated springs kept the ride from becoming bone-jarring. Even climbing in and out of ruts left by heavy equipment was a breeze and the Nitto Terra Grabber tires never got bogged down in the not-quite-dry mud.

The one problem area was the the four-wheel-drive selector. It seemed a bit balky at times but that may be due to the fact this 4Runner TRD Pro was a pre-production vehicle. Once engaged, the 4WD system worked perfectly.

We were having so much fun with the TRD Pro that we added extra country road miles to the road test and visited an alternate mud patch.

Coming back in on the highway, the 4Runner was quite civilized and quiet enough for conversation, even at 75 miles per hour. Incidentally, Toyota recommends a maximum speed of 85 with the factory tires. That’s not unreasonable: TRD designed the modified 4Runner for the Baja, not the Brickyard.

Toyota hasn’t announced a price for the 4Runner TRD Pro, which goes into production this fall.

When it came time to turn it in, there was some real regret: roaming the unpaved countryside in the 4Runner TRD Pro really was too much fun.

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TOYOTA 4RUNNER TRD PRO
Type 5-passenger, body-on-frame sport utility vehicle
Engine 4.0-liter V6 DOHC 24-valve with dual independent variable valve timing
Horsepower (bhp) 270 @ 5,600 rpm
Torque 278 lb.-ft. @ 4,400 rpm
Transmission/Drivetrain 5-speed ECT automatic with sequential shift mode; part-time 4WD with active traction control
Plant Tahara plant, Tahara, Aichi Prefecture, Japan
Base Price N/A – Pre-production prototype
Options N/A
Destination Charges N/A
Price as tested N/A
Key standard features Sport suspension; electronic stability control; traction control; keyless entry; air-conditioning; cruise control; leather-wrapped steering wheel with tilt/telescope; 8-way power driver’s seat; power windows.
TRD Pro Upgrades
Wheels New 17-inch black TRD alloy
Tires Nitto Terra Grabber P265/70R17
Shocks TRD Bilstein High Performance w/1-inch of additional wheel travel front & rear
Springs Unique TRD-Tuned Front Springs w/1.5-inch lift for the front of the vehicle
Skid Plate 1/4-inch-thick TRD-stamped aluminum with venting for front differential
Exterior Unique “TOYOTA” front grille; black “TRD PRO” external hard badges; black front and rear lower bumper accent
Colors Black, Super White; Inferno
Interior TRD Shift Knob; TRD Floor Mats
Why we’d buy it Go-anywhere fun; comfortable; very good handling; spacious interior.
Why we wouldn’t Needs running boards or steps; balky 4WD selector

2015 Chrysler 200S: Clean sheet; fresh start

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The new Chrysler 200S is just that: new. The last vestiges of the Sebring from the DaimlerChrysler days have been exorcised and the improvements made in the 200 in the early Marchionne era have been enhanced.

Built on the same Alfa Romeo-derived platform that underpins the Dodge Dart and Jeep Cherokee, the 200S offers a comfortable family driving experience as well as handling that rewards more spirited driving. No one is going to mistake the 200 for a Viper, but it definitely ranks well above the run-of-the-mill competition when it comes to taking on the twisties.

The exterior of the new 200S is fresh and clean: long gone are the strakes that would have looked more at home on the deck of a classic Chris-Craft power boat and the stodgy lines that lived on through the Sebring/200 transformation. The latest generation of the Chrysler midsize sedan is sleeker and looks like the entire body was styled by a team that got along together.

Inside, the 200S offers a comfortable cabin with decent leg room, fore and aft. Some have commented that the seats are a bit narrow, but we didn’t find that to be the case – and we’re experts on narrow seats. The seats are firm and supportive: there was an initial comment that they might be a bit too firm but that opinion changed during the first drive.

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The instruments and controls are well-placed for easy driver operation though there were a couple of times during backing when I turned the fan control knob instead of the rotary gear selector because I wasn’t looking. That’s a bit of a conundrum because I like Chrysler’s rotary shifter: it’s easy to use and frees up a fair amount of console real estate compared to the space needed for a traditional, lever-style selector.

As I have said before, I really like the way that Chrysler adds manual controls to its best-in-the-industry Uconnect system. Combined with the controls mounted on the steering wheel, it’s easy to make minor adjustments without taking your eyes off the road. When safely parked, more advanced changes, such as fine-tuning the audio, are intuitive and quick.

The automatic climate control system functioned flawlessly though it didn’t have to face the rigors of a full Houston summer. Our only complaint is that the rear-seat ducts on our review car were optional. Perhaps Chrysler Group should have its accountants sit in the back seat on a hot, humid Southern summer day in a car that doesn’t have the vents and allow them to enjoy the wait for relief to reach them from the front. Then sit in front and enjoy the blast created by trying to get cool air to the folks in the rear as quickly as possible.

The 200 was named one of Ward’s Ten Best Interiors and the accolade is well-deserved – except for one thing: getting in and out of said interior. From the front seat that’s not a problem and children and cast members of Cirque du Soliel should have little trouble with the rear. Larger adults may have to do some awkward and uncomfortable contortions due to the slope of the roof and its impact on the shape of the door opening.

Trunk space isn’t an issue. There was plenty of room for our standard family luggage load. For longer/larger loads, the rear seats do fold down. Liftover height wasn’t a problem.

The 200S was enjoyable to drive. The Pentastar engine, nine-speed transmission and upgraded suspension provided good power and exceptional handling for a car in this class. Passing at freeway speeds wasn’t a problem, even on the 75 mph section of our road test route. The sport suspension still allowed for a comfortable ride, even on back country roads. The 200 was even able to handle well on a section of our route that we normally reserve for trucks.

While our 200S was loaded with options, bringing the price up to $31,250, including destination charges, a basic, but livable 200LX with the MultiAir four stickers at $22,695, including destination charges. This is competitive with other sedans in the range.

As I went through the “build and price” process, I noticed that the base model has a fairly limited range of exterior colors. You have to upgrade to a Limited version to get a 200 in blue. Of course, the extra $1,555 does include more than an extra couple of paint colors, but it just struck me as odd.

Overall, the 200 gives Chrysler a truly nice mid-size family sedan that not only looks good but feels good and performs well. It’s not surprising that the Texas Auto Writers Association named the Chrysler 200 the “Mid-Size Car of Texas;” it really is that good.

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2015 CHRYSLER 200S
Type 4-door, 5-passenger sedan
Engine: 3.6-Liter V6 24-valve with Variable Valve Timing
Transmission/Drivetrain: 9-speed 9HP48 Automatic Transmission/Front-Wheel Drive
Horsepower: 295 hp
Torque: 262 lb-ft
Plant Sterling Heights Assembly Plant, Sterling Heights, Michigan
Base Price $24,495
Options $6,030
Destination Charges $995
Price as tested $31,520
Fuel economy: 19 mpg City; 32 mpg Highway; 23 mpg Combined
Key standard features: Sport suspension; electronic stability control; traction control; keyless entry; air-conditioning; steering wheel-mounted shift control; cruise control; leather-wrapped steering wheel with tilt/telescope; 8-way power driver’s seat; power windows.
Options: ENGINE UPGRADE ($1,950): 3.6-lliter Pentastar V6 engine w/heavy-duty disc brakes with ABS. LEATHER ($995) Leather-trimmed sport seat w/ventilated cushion; ventilated seats; 6-way power passenger seat; upgraded interior accents. COMFORT GROUP ($795): Dual-zone automatic climate control; heated front seats; heated steering wheel; rear A/C vents; humidity sensor; back-up camera; remote start. NAVIGATION & SOUND GROUP I ($1,495): HD radio; 506W amplifier; 9 speakers with subwoofer; 8.4-inch touchscreen display; Uconnect; GPS navigation; PREMIUM LIGHTING GROUP ($795): HID headlamps w/LEED daytime running lights; LED foglamps.
Why we’d buy it: Real upgrade of previous 200; comfortable family car with good power and nimble handling; quality interior materials; good fit/finish. Like the rotary gear selector.
Why we wouldn’t: Rear seat access for adults; limited colors for base trim line.