Mature Life Features

Cecil Scaglione, Editor

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Infiniti JX35 Redefines Safety and Luxury in Midsize Crossover

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InfinitiJX35The new Infiniti JX35, a midsize, seven-passenger luxury crossover, blends state-of-the-art safety with passenger-seating versatility.

 

Story and Photo

By James Gaffney

Mature Life Features

In the two seconds it took for me to take my eye off the road to make sure my grand-nephew, Tyler, asleep in the backseat was safely buckled up, I felt it. My vehicle automatically slowed to a stop.

As I quickly turned back around, I saw the reason why. The car ahead of me had suddenly stopped. Had it not been for the “intelligent brake assist” feature in the Infiniti JX35, a seven-passenger crossover and the luxury-carmaker’s newest offering, , I might have had some explaining to do to Tyler’s parents — all the more so since I’m his godfather.

Intelligent brake assist is only one of several state-of-the-art safety features packed into Infiniti’s latest effort to offer smaller alternatives to its larger crossover and SUV lineup that includes the behemoth QX56. By the time I finished driving the car for a week and testing its panoply of safety technology – backup collision intervention, front and rear parking sensors, 360-degree parking camera, adaptive cruise control, and blind-spot and lane-changing warning systems – I came away thinking this might be among the safest vehicles on the road today. As in, well, Volvo safe.

Similar to intelligent brake assist, adaptive cruise control uses front-mounted radar sensors. These enable the driver to choose from among several pre-set distances that this car from the vehicle in front. If the vehicle ahead slows, so too does the JX35 to maintain the pre-set distance. On numerous occasions and in many types of vehicles offering this feature, I have found it to be a godsend, especially in heavy traffic, in fog and in extreme weather conditions.

But the all-new JX35 can do a lot more than merely get you from here to there safely. The second- and third-row seating that makes the vehicle a true transporter, for instance, seems created not just for soccer moms and football dads, but also extended family child-raisers whose roles place them smack in the middle of a new demographic of “active grandparenting,” or, in my case, “active uncle-ing.” With its 60/40-split folding and reclining second-row seats and easy access to a 50/50 split third-row bench seat, this Infiniti seems tailor-made for hauling family young’uns and their friends to sports practice, recitals and Saturday matinees. With a spacious and well-appointed cabin, this midsize crossover holds its own legroom-wise even if some young members of the clan have reached that dreaded age of adolescence and the growth spurts that go with it. The good news is the JX35 offers plenty to help distract these teenage rebels without a pause: Bluetooth, USB connector for laptops, dual-screen rear-seat entertainment system, and 13-speaker Bose stereo system.

That said, the JX35, built on a wider and elongated Nissan Murano platform, should not be pigeonholed as safety-obsessed with little in the way of fun and luxury. For starters the heated, eight-way driver and front-passenger leather seats help make this front-wheel-drive SUV (optional all-wheel-drive is available) a pleasurable ride and road-trip contender on par with its chief rivals from Acura, Buick and Lexus. Adding tech to the trek is a power lift gate, tri-zone automatic climate control, and a seven-inch color monitor for navigation, audio and other on-board systems.

Infiniti has never slouched when it comes to cabin materials and the JX35 debutante is no exception. Quality hard plastics are found throughout the interior. Burnished alloy and faux burl-wood accents on the inside door panels, console and center stack help imbue this newcomer with just the right touch of luxury. Adding a sporty finish and finesse to the design is a curvilinear dash of soft-touch materials and a double-stitched, leather-wrapped short-shifter.

The question that remains is this: is the JX35 fun to drive? Depends. On one hand its 3.5-liter V-6 power plant, which boasts 255 horsepower and 248 pound-feet of torque, can seem zippy and the drive well-balanced thanks to its independent strut front and multi-link rear suspensions. Call me old school but I still have a problem with some of the new continuously variable transmissions like that in the JX35. In this Infiniti, the faux six-speed gearbox feels a tad too slippery for my tastes. Even when I put the car in manual-shift mode the power plant felt sluggish, especially when I pushed the revs to the redline.

The JX35’s saving grace may be that it comes with a Drive Mode Selector knob for snow, eco, sport and normal driving, depending on road conditions, performance preferences, and gas-saving goals. Sport mode, for instance, firms suspension, tightens steering, and lengthens revving ranges. Elsewhere this luxury runabout’s impressively tight turning radius makes the JX35 the wizard of ahhs in virtually any crowded parking lot. (And it should for a starting MSRP of $40,000.)

No matter how you slice it, this newbie’s EPA Estimated Fuel Economy is decidedly lackluster: 18/24 city/highway miles per gallon, respectively.

Despite its outstanding safety features, competitive versatility and luxury, Infiniti’s brand-new crossover by no means answers all the midsize crossover questions consumers face when shopping for a vehicle in this segment and price range. But the roll-out of the JX35 likely offers a glimpse into the future of what we can expect from the carmaker’s midsize, seven-passenger crossovers down the road.

(James Gaffney is the former automotive columnist for The Times-Picayune in New Orleans.)

 

Written by Cecil Scaglione

June 16, 2014 at 6:49 pm

Mixed bag of technology in Mazda’s all-new CX-5

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By James Gaffney

Mature Life Features

 

As a rule, I tend to like Mazdas. Over the years I’ve tested the Mazda 2, 6, CX-7, CX-9 and the MX-5 two-seater (even owned one for a spell). Most were well designed and fun to drive, whether it was a subcompact or mid-size SUV.

But the all-new Mazda CX-5, a compact crossover unveiled at the 2011 Geneva Auto Show and introduced for the 2013 model year, is a mixed bag of sorts.

The CX-5 is being celebrated as the first vehicle featuring Mazda’s full Skyactiv Technology suite, with its rigid, lightweight platform, combined with a new series of efficient engines and transmissions resulting in reduced emissions and fuel consumption. With an EPA-estimated fuel economy of 26/33 city/highway miles per gallon, respectively, the four-passenger, five-door hatchback offers a glimpse into the automaker’s gas-pump-conscious design direction. Ditto for the relatively roomy interior space with better-than-average leg room for two rear-seat passengers (a third is going to make the going cozy at best) and more than ample front-cabin headroom, all of which makes this compact SUV a surprisingly good candidate for long hauls and road trips.

Cargo space is by no means best in class but is competitive thanks to a choice of 60/40 or 40/20/40 split-folding rear seats, depending on trim level, that create enough room for toting skis for weekend trips to the mountains in winter. Another road-trip boost comes in the form of the full-size spare the CX-5 packs beneath the cargo lid in lieu of the skinny-minnies found in most small cars today.

A retractable full-size black skirt running the length of the hatchback window completely any cargo in back.

Mazda has long excelled in creating eye-pleasing cabins that combine thoughtful design with quality materials and soft-touch surfaces while resisting the temptation to incorporate cheap-looking faux alloy and polished plastic trim. Unfortunately, the CX-5’s headliner feels like egg-crate material.

Mazda’s cabin color palettes, as a rule, not only are tasteful and understated but occasionally downright elegant. My CX-5 was no exception. It scored extra points for a driver’s-side instrument cluster that utilized black gauges with white lettering to optimize contrast for better visibility, especially at night, for over-40 drivers.

Center stack and center console layouts may be user-friendly but the on-board touchscreen proved a frustrating near hair-pulling experience for my frequent traveling companion and test-car-savvy guinea pig. She spent 20 minutes to no avail attempting to hook up her iPhone’s song list to the car’s audio system.

“This is ridiculous,” she finally said in defeat.

Mazda’s designers at its North American studios in Irvine, Calif., did excel in sculpting body lines that make this bantam crossover look bigger than it actually is, thanks to a rising front-to-rear belt line, slightly protruding roof spoiler, and angular tail lights that buff out the rear end. Receding headlamps and a honeycomb grille badged with Mazda’s signature wing-like logo imbue the front fascia with an unusual level of contemporary flair for a car whose base-trim model starts at $20,695.

During around-town and highway hauls the handling is firm, responsive and reasonably agile, the steering tight, and the cabin relatively quiet, with overall road manners worthy of Mazda’s well-earned reputation for producing blacktop-worthy vehicles.

The problem is, the CX-5 just isn’t much fun to drive. If there is an inherent flaw, it’s that it comes to the table with only one available power plant — a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine that which kicks out a rather miserly 155 horsepower and 150 pound-feet of torque.

Forget about performance-oriented driving. Merely accelerating on a freeway onramp — using the manual-shift mode of the six-speed automatic tranny — left this driver wondering why Mazda would shortchange such an otherwise promising crossover. By comparison, the comparably priced 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport, a compact crossover and CX-5 rival I tested the previous week, proved a spirited drive. And, yes, this was in no small part due to the fact its 2.0-liter, four-cylinder tranny was turbocharged and blasting out 264 horses and 269 pound-feet of torque.

That said, the CX-5 comes in three trim levels: the base Sport (starting MSRP $20,695), mid-level Touring ($23,895) and top-tier Grand Touring ($27,045).

Standards in the Sport include 17-inch alloy wheels, keyless entry, tilt-telescoping steering wheel, height-adjustable driver’s seat, 60/40 split-folding rear seats, four speaker sound system with CD player, and iPod/USB audio interface with audio jack. The Touring trim adds fog lamps, rear privacy glass, upgraded cloth interior, six-way power driver’s seat, leather-wrapped steering wheel, blind-spot warning, rearview camera, six-speaker sound system, and optional touchscreen navigation system. Grand Touring adds 19-inch wheels, sunroof, auto headlamps, heated mirrors, eight-way power driver’s seat, leather upholstery, heated front seats, dual-zone climate control, and premium nine-speaker Bose sound system with satellite radio.

Like many first-generation automobiles to roll off the assembly line, my top-tier CX-5 Grand Touring test car still has a few power-plant and on-board technology issues to iron out before it earns its stripes as a global competitor in the compact crossover market. Time will tell how the Japanese automaker Mazda, named for the Shinto god of wisdom, choses to tackle these matters.

(James Gaffney is automotive editor-at-large at Seven magazine and the former automotive columnist at The Times-Picayune in New Orleans.)

 

 

Written by Cecil Scaglione

May 26, 2014 at 8:47 am

Posted in Auto

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Honda Accord Coupe a Luxurious Ride

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Accord-HDR-1-crop

 

 

By James Gaffney

   Mature Life Features

 

A friend who has driven nothing but Honda Accords for the past two decades has received no small amount of ribbing for her choice of what many argue is among the most vanilla cars on the market. Reliable as all get-go, but a plain-Jane in spades. I even held a one-person “intervention,” imploring her to buy something more stylish and fun when time came to trade in her beloved sedan.

However, my thinking shifted the moment I slid behind the wheel of the redesigned Accord EX-L coupe and feasted my eyes on the revamped cabin layout. “It doesn’t even look like an Accord,” my Honda-loving friend pointed out, almost cooing. When I laid into the accelerator and felt the powerful 3.5-liter V-6 ripping into some two-lane country blacktop, I almost couldn’t believe the ear-to-ear grin I glimpsed on my face in the rearview mirror.

Could it possibly be the Honda Accord is also – and at long last — fun to drive?

All I know for certain is this: the week I spent testing the ninth-generation Honda Accord coupe that’s drawing rave reviews from consumers and the automotive press alike forced me to rescind any unflattering descriptions I had heaped upon one of the consistently top-selling cars in the United States.

The high-tech gewgaw that caught my attention was Honda’s new LaneWatch feature. Every time the driver turns on the right-turn-signal indicator, a fisheye-lens camera mounted in the passenger’s side-view mirror shows any vehicles, cyclists or pedestrians in the driver’s right-side blind spot, which can be seen on a monitor on the cabin’s center stack. Initially, I wondered if this was a solution to a problem that didn’t exist. Until the day I was making a right-hand turn in my neighborhood and might have run over or into a woman in an electric wheelchair – too low to the ground to be seen in my sideview mirror – had it not been for LaneWatch.

Now in its 38th year of production, Honda has helped set a new standard for what consumers could and should expect – no, demand – in terms of automotive reliability and gas mileage. It’s not uncommon for owners to log a minimum of 150,000 miles on a Honda Civic and Accord with only routine maintenance without a hiccup. All of which helps explain why nearly 332,000 of the vehicles were sold in the United States alone in 2012. But when it comes to dependability, Honda faces stiff competition from the Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, Toyota Camry and Nissan Altima. But if the boldly retooled 2013 Accord EX-L coupe is any indication, Honda is in it to win it.

While the new body lines are not a radical departure from previous Accords, the front fascia reveals subtle tweaks that better blend Honda’s signature honeycomb grille and sculpted hood lines while the coupe’s slightly sloping roofline profile adds a sporty appeal.

If the Accord truly has a new story to tell, it probably begins with its feisty powerplant that kicks at the stalls with 278 ponies and 252 pound-feet of torque, mated with a six-speed automatic transmission (with paddle shifters, depending on trim level), that humps down the road with unbridled gusto. When employing the paddle shifters in sport mode, where the tranny keeps the car in the lower four gears longer and locks out the sixth altogether, my Accord coupe demonstrated surprisingly quick, clean and robust accelerations.

Along with performance accolades, the new Accord really shines when it comes to comfort. Spacious leg and head room for both front and rear passengers makes the EX-L a worthy contender for best four-passenger, road-trip coupe.

Honda has learned over the years how to appeal to a broad spectrum of consumers with a phalanx of trim levels. For instance, the Accord is still available with a four-banger tranny in the entry-level LX, Sport, EX, EX-L and EX-L (with navigation) trims. Step up to the V-6 and the trim levels shrink to the EX-L, EX-L (with navigation) and Touring.

The base four-cylinder LX trim comes with 16-inch wheels, dual-zone automatic climate control, full power accessories, cruise control, an eight-inch video display, Bluetooth, rearview camera, cruise control, tilt-telescoping steering wheel, height-adjustable manual driver’s seat, folding rear seat and four-speaker sound system with CD player, auxiliary jack, iPod/USB audio interface and Pandora.

Jump to the EX-L trim and you can add leather upholstery, eight-way power driver’s and four-way power passenger’s seat, 18-inch wheels, rear spoiler, heated mirrors and sunroof, forward-collision and lane-departure warning systems, leather-wrapped steering wheel, premium seven-speaker sound system with satellite radio and HondaLink’s smartphone app integration , navigation system with voice recognition, and Honda’s new LaneWatch blind-spot display. Jump to the Touring trim if you wish to add adaptive cruise control.

With a starting MSRP of $21,680 for the bare-bones 2.4-liter, manual-transmission, four-cylinder LX trim, the all-new Honda Accord is still within the price range of  most car buyers.My EX-L trim V-6 test car weighed in at a substantially higher $30,070.

(James Gaffney is the automotive editor at Seven men’s magazine and former automotive writer/photographer for The Times-Picayune in New Orleans.)

Mature Life Features, Copyright 2014

 

 

 

Written by Cecil Scaglione

April 30, 2014 at 9:10 am

Posted in Auto

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Hyundai’s Santa Fe Crossover Hauls With Verve

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4HyundaiSantaFeapr13

 

Story & Photo

By James Gaffney

Mature Life Features

From the second you hear the welcome jingle that plays when you shut the door, you feel something is different about the new Hyundai Santa Fe. Step down on the gas pedal and feel the zesty acceleration of this five-passenger, compact crossover’s new power plant: a 2.0-liter, four banger, mated to a six-speed automatic transmission, that pushes out  264 horses and 269 pound-feet of torque.
What the Korean automaker seems to understand is that driving a bantam-sized crossover designed to pull double duty as a family hauler doesn’t have to be boring.
The third-generation transporter, which began rolling off the assembly line at Hyundai’s North American factory in Alabama in 2012, is anything but boring thanks to the near-complete overhaul the car maker has given its entire fleet.
The new Santa Fe’s base model 2.0-liter, four-cylinder tranny, for example, replaces the outgoing V-6 for overall improved fuel economy (20/27 city/highway miles per gallon, respectively), while offering better acceleration thanks to a turbocharged direct-injection system.
An optional all-wheel-drive transmission makes the vehicle better equipped for handling inclement weather and occasional off-road treks (though the Santa Fe is by no means a 4×4 rock eater). On highways the AWD can be turned off to deliver maximum power to the front.
Cabin materials also received an upgrade. Quality hard plastics and soft-touch surfaces are in abundance. Premium leather upholstery is available for consumers wishing to fork out the extra cash for this upgrade. A refreshed interior offers a more eye-pleasing and user-friendly design as seen in the center console, center stack and driver’s-side instrument cluster. Well-designed nooks and cubbies offer ample storage space for smart phones, maps and notepads. A smart, duo-tone color palette is accented by faux polished-wood flourishes, all of which add a surprising touch of elegance to a car that doesn’t boast a luxury badge.
One design flaw I found in the cup holders was that they are not designed to conform or accommodate containers of varying size.
With ample leg room and headroom in front and back, the new Santa Fe seems better designed for long hauls and road trips without the driver getting an earful of complaints from cramped backseat passengers. A pull-up panel in back creates additional rear cargo storage, though segmenting this under-surface space into quadrants seems at cross-purposes with the goal of a free-flowing storage design. Coming to the rescue are 40/20/40 split-folding back seats which, when folded forward, create a cargo zone that puts the Santa Fe on par with other vehicles in its class and segment.
If the Santa Fe can finally stake a claim as a serious competitor against chief rivals that include the Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Chevy Equinox and Mazda CX-5, chalk it up in part to the long list of standards that come with the entry-level model: 17-inch wheels, front fog lamps, rear spoiler, cruise control, tilt-telescoping steering wheel, 40/20/40 split-folding rear seats, satellite radio, and Bluetooth and USB-iPod integration.
Starting MSRP for the base model is around $24,450. My top-trim 2.0T AWD test car cost $35,925. The Santa Fe Sport may not be the best of all possible worlds, but it deserves to be on the crossover test-drive checklist for car buyers looking for decent fuel economy, a spirited drive, and good cargo capacity.
(James Gaffney is automotive editor-at-large for Seven magazine and the former automotive columnist at The Times-Picayune in New Orleans.)

Mature Life Features, Copyright 2013

Written by Cecil Scaglione

July 31, 2013 at 8:44 am

Posted in Auto

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