Archive for the ‘2013 Reviews’ Category


2013 Ford Flex: The Big Boys’ Toy Bus

August 4, 2012

By Roger Witherspoon

            Let’s say you need a vehicle with room for seven passengers and space for a lot of stuff – but you really don’t want to spend several years with a minivan.  In the style category, you’re comfortable with an SUV, though you really don’t want to drive what looks and feels like a small truck.

            In that case, the guys with the crayons at Ford think they have the wheels for you.  It’s called the Flex, and it’s hard to categorize.

It’s 16 feet long and just five feet, eight-inches tall with a coffin-flat roof  – giving it a longer, lower silhouette than the seven-passenger, stretch-SUVs it competes with: the Lincoln MKT, Infiniti JX or Audi Q-7.

            Nor does it look like an SUV. The guys in Ford’s design playpen never got past the wooden Tinker-toy stage and, as a result, put together a similar set of  rectangles on 20-inch wheels with the rounded front and flat sides and roof. The look is distinct and, depending on what toys you had as a kid, can either feel vaguely familiar and comfortable, or just look like a rolling box.

            Underneath that broad, flat, front hood Ford offers a choice in power plants. The standard engine and the one provided in the test car, is a 3.5-liter V-6 with twin independent, variable camshaft timing cranking out 287 horsepower and 254 pound-feet of torque. That is adequate once the Flex gets on the road. But it is sluggish and the car struggles to climb steep hills or pass another vehicle in a hurry. If you need power in a hurry, it helps to slip from automatic into manual mode and downshift for extra torque. But the car always feels underpowered, and is in trouble if the Flex is carrying a full passenger load and attempting to tow its designed limit of 4,500 pounds.

The alternative is Ford’s V-6 EcoBoost engine, which provides 365 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque – which is enough juice to allow the Flex to meet its automotive potential. The smaller engine drinks 87 octane fuel and carries an EPA rating of 17 miles per gallon in city driving and 23 miles per gallon on the highway. The EcoBoost on the other hand, will only drink the costlier premium brew.

Perhaps because of its low stance and all wheel drive, the Flex drives like a long sedan instead of a small bus. At speeds pushing triple digits – which you shouldn’t try except with a Jeep SRT8, Cadillac SRX, or Porsche Cayenne – one never feels as if you are trapped in a runaway train on really old tracks.

Riding in the flex is like traveling in a small living room, and the extended length of these stretch SUVs adds to the initial feeling of spaciousness.  For those in the first two rows, travel is a continuous comfort, with enough leg and headroom for four pro football players and a normal-sized friend. The seats are wide enough for 300 pounders and thickly padded. The front seats can also be heated and are power operated. The second row seats are not adjustable, though the backs of these seats can recline enough for a comfortable nap. To reach the rear seats requires one to manually fold the second row out of the way – and once someone is in the third row they are stuck there. The seats are comfortable, but there is little leg room and best used for kids or small adults who are not claustrophobic.

   Ford packed in more amenities than you might expect from a $41,000 SUV. On the safety side, the Flex uses side-mounted radar to alert the driver to vehicles in either blind spot by blinking a lite in the relevant side view mirror. In manual mode, the gear shift in the center console does not move. Instead, one pushes an up or down button on the side of the gear shift. It works quickly and effortlessly, though it takes some time to get used to shifting gears in that manner.

It has the SYNC voice activated central command system to run its extensive entertainment network. SYNC takes some getting used to: the commands are not necessarily intuitive and it takes time to either memorize the appropriate commands and derivations or luck into them. For those who can’t seem to work with the computerized SYNC robot, there is also an eight-inch color touch-screen and fingertip controls on the leather steering wheel which work quite nicely.

For sound, there is an in-dash CD player, as well as connections for MP3, iPods, and USB drives, and satellite radio.

The 2013 Flex will stand out from the stretch SUV pack because, well, it doesn’t look like an SUV. Whether it’s perceived as a hearse and ignored, or viewed as a neat, grown-up, toy for boys will be a matter of taste. It will, however, make its mark in the competition for seven-passenger, non-minivan vehicles.



2013 Ford Flex


MSRP:                                                                        $41,280

EPA Mileage:                        17 MPG City                          23 MPG Highway

As Tested Mileage:                                                   22 MPG Mixed

Towing Capacity:                                                      4,471 Pounds


Performance / Safety:


3.5-Liter, aluminum, V-6 engine producing 287 horsepower and 254 pound-feet of torque; front wheel drive; 6-speed automatic transmission; MacPherson strut front suspension; Multilink, independent rear suspension; power rack & pinion steering;  traction and stability control; 20-inch machined aluminum wheels; adaptive cruise control; fog lights; Halogen headlamps; dual stage front airbags;  seat-mounted, side impact bags.


Interior / Comfort:


AM/FM/Sirius satellite radio; Bluetooth; SYNC voice activation system; CD player; USB, iPod, and MP3 ports; tilt and telescoping leather steering wheel with fingertip audio and cruise controls; Sony sound system with 10 speakers; leather seats; powered, heated front seats; fold flat 2nd and 3rd row seats.




The Return of the Dodge Dart

May 22, 2012

By Roger Witherspoon


It’s back.

The Dodge Dart, the popular, stylish little car that zipped along the roadways and was a favorite of millions of American motorists a generation (or two) ago, is being reintroduced  as the first American designed and made small car of the rejuvenated Fiat-Chrysler partnership. The Dart is a long awaited venture for Chrysler, which merged with Fiat during bankruptcy to combine their respective strengths: Chrysler design, and the Italian company’s experience with small cars.

But why name it Dart, after a car which was ubiquitous following its introduction in 1960 and sold to more than 3.6 million motorists before being was retired in 1976? And while there are souped-up Darts running on modern drag strips, those are old shells with modern innards.

“It was really the best name out there,” explained Ryan Nagode, the chief interior designer of the 2013 Dart. “We tried a lot of names – names we made up, names we borrowed, letter combinations, letters and numbers –you name, it we tried it. But in focus groups of all ages, the Dart was the most popular.

“For older drivers, they remember the Dart fondly from their younger days. And for the young drivers, who weren’t around back then and had no idea of the old Dart, they thought the name was cool. It implied it was slim and swift and aerodynamic and they liked it. It’s the only name that appealed to both groups – older and younger drivers. So we went with it and brought the Dart back.”

Perhaps he’s right.

“I loved my Dart!” exclaimed Marilyn Elie, a retired, Westchester County, elementary school librarian, who owned the car when she started her career some 40 years ago. I would talk to it, sing to it, and it never failed to start for me and take me everywhere.  It worked for me long past the time when everyone said it was too old and should be traded in.

“Then I went away for a while and didn’t talk to it and by the time I came back, it had quietly died. I still miss it.”

The new Dart is not simply a reprise of the original, in the way that the current Ford Mustang—with an updated engine and electronics – is stylistically reminiscent of the best of that breed from the ‘60s. It is built on the platform of the midsized Alpha Romeo, which gives it the closer wheelbase and turning radius of a compact car, while its interior space is slightly larger than that of the popular, mid-sized, Hyundai Sonata and Chevy Malibu.

Under the long, sloping hood, the Dart’s power plant comes in three, performance flavors:

  • Rallye: 2.0-liter , aluminum engine cranking out 160 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque; and Rallye, sportier 1.4-liter turbocharged engine producing 160 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque.
  • Limited: For an additional $1,300 Dart lovers can get a sportier model with a 1.4-liter, four-cylinder, turbocharged, aluminum engine producing the same 160 horsepower, but jumping the all-important torque to 184 pound-feet. There isn’t much difference in regular commuter driving. But on the open road, the turbocharger makes a mark. Driving up the steep grade of the Hudson Highlands rising just past West Point the Standard model struggled to move the speedometer into the high 80s. But the Ltd easily surged up the winding, open road.  Both cars have speedometers topping out at 120 miles per hour. On the Rallye, that’s not wasted space.
  • Sport R/T: Dart’s performance model, with 18-inch wheels instead of the 17-inch wheels on its two automotive siblings, has a 2.4-liter aluminum engine cranking out 184 horsepower and 171 pound-feet of torque.

The Dart, in all models, is a front-wheel drive car that comes with a choice of a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic transmission with an electronic manual mode. A manual transmission in a car used primarily for urban commuting – complete with regular traffic jams – can make the motoring experience seem as if one is going to a gym to continually exercise the right arm. And that is more punishment than motoring pleasure. The electronic manual mode is appreciated on long hills, however, as it is easy to tap into a lower gear for more power and then tap back into automatic mode. They also project an EPA mileage of 25 miles per gallon in city driving and 36 MPG on the open road using regular gas.

Inside, Chrysler gave considerable thought to the riding experience for both old and young drivers. The seats are wide, Nappa leather, padded, manually adjusted, but heated in the front. In the rear, there is more than enough leg room for passengers  in the range of ta small NBA forward standing six-foot, five-inches in his new Nikes.

For sound, the Dart has AM/FM and Sirius Satellite radio, as well as a 506-watt Alpine surround-sound system with nine speakers and a subwoofer, which is more than enough to awaken the average neighborhood. Chrysler is offering an installed, quirky, Garmin navigation system with Sirius traffic and weather guides as an option. The standard, 8.4-inch information screen – which also is used for the crystal clear backup camera – makes it easy to see the navigation or other systems.

Then, there are interesting touches.

The front passenger seat folds out to reveal a hidden compartment about three inches deep. It’s big enough to hold a iPad, though one wonders who would choose to sit on their expensive electronic tablet? 

“What’s with the marijuana compartment,” Nagode was asked at a press preview.

When he stopped laughing at what was obviously a common nickname, he said “that’s not its purpose. It’s a place to hide small items which you have to leave in the car – like a tablet – but don’t want to leave in public view where it might encourage someone to break a window and grab it.

“It’s not intended to stash drugs.”

Good intentions aside, there are slots on either side of the center console to hold cell phones, placing them about six inches from the power outlet. The glove box is about 18 inches deep, enough to easily hold an iPad.  Inside the deep storage bin under the center console arm rest are the connections for the USB, MP3, and iPod ports, as well as the CD player.  In most cars, the small holes for the auxiliary music connections are hard to find in daylight – and impossible to locate at night when one is driving. On the Dart, however, the connecting ports are backlit, providing at a glance an instant locator. There is also a soft backlight around the dash, cup holders, and door. One can also utilize the Bluetooth for both cell phone communications and to play 1,000 or so of your favorite tunes. The, phone, navigation and entertainment systems can all be voice activated and controlled.

Chrysler is taking a chance by coming out with the Dart as its first entry into the small, crowded, sharp-elbowed, fuel-efficient market with cars priced under $25,000. It’s anyone’s guess as to whether or not the sleek little Dart can slip past the established models and lodge in the front of the pack.

2013 Dodge Dart Rallye

Midsized Sedan


MSRP:                                                                        $21,475

EPA Mileage:                        25 MPG City                          36 MPG Highway

Towing Capacity:                                                      1,000 Pounds


Performance / Safety:


2.0-Liter, 4-cylinder,fuel injected, aluminum engine producing 160 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque; 6-speed automatic transmission; antilock, 4-wheel disc brakes; traction and stability control;  front wheel drive; independent MacPherson strut front suspension; multi-link independent rear suspension; 17-inch cast aluminum wheels; 10 standard airbags; Halogen projector headlamps.

Interior / Comfort:


AM/FM/Sirius Satellite Radio; 506-watt Alpine premium surround sound with 9 speakers and subwoofer; Bluetooth; CD player; MP3, iPod, and USB ports; heated front leather or cloth seats; folding rear seats; backup camera; leather, telescoping steering wheel with fingertip audio and cruise controls;

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