Good For: Urban people mover. Minivans fulfill an urban requirement of maximizing interior space while retaining the maneuverability of a car. The Toyota Sienna LE I drove succeeds at doing this for 8 people. Getting in and out was easy due to big power sliding doors and second row seats that can slide from being folded up against the back of the front seats to all the way back against the 3rd row cushion. The big windows offered great visibility for driving around and parking downtown. This SE packaged van includes all the standard things in this price range, such as a decent Bluetooth audio system and 3-zone climate control.
Compromises: A Toyota review isn't complete without my usual complaint that you can't remotely lock the car if any door or hatch is open. At least in the minivan, you can remotely open and close the sliding doors which helps a little.
Overall reaction - None: The Sienna is so much more spacious than other minivans that it seems like it's in a class of its own. You get full-sized van-like space with car-like fuel efficiency out of the V6. If your driving is exclusively around town, it's hard to find fault in the Sienna. But if I would have to get such a big vehicle, I would get something more versatile, and not one that scrape on speed bumps.
Friday, 27th of September, 2013
Good For: Coupe real big. Park the Challenger next to any sedan you get an interesting perspective of just how big this car is. But part of it is the illusion of the body styling, complete with 20" wheels and big headlights that resemble theater can lights. In practice, it is still very easy to maneuver the Challenger around parking lots, and it has good visibility all around even though the windows look small. The extra interior space is practical. This coupe officially seats 5, one more than most coupes, and I can sit in the rear seat without modifying my normal neck position. It would probably be even better without the sunroof, which actually ate too much into the front headroom too. Don't get the sunroof if you ever want to wear a helmet.
Compromises: The e-brake is a foot pedal in the Challenger - a strange choice for a performance car. But this is just one reflection of the softer way the Challenger drives compared to the standard of RWD V8 performance sedans, the Mustang. In comparison it is noticeably slower, quieter, and rides smoother, even in Sport mode. To me, this is fairly disappointing, as the loud styling with the flat hood and trunk lid design from a different era had me expecting something a lot more raw.
Overall reaction - None: It's hard to argue against the concept of a bigger RWD V8 car priced at $30k. However, the extra room didn't really offset the watered-down driving experience. I'm sure an SRT8 has more of the raw experience I'm looking for, but at that price point there are a lot of other nice road rockets that compete better for my attention.
Thursday, 19th of September, 2013
Good For: American Mazda 6. Another person beat me to the new 2013 Fusion at the Gold Choice aisle, but there will be other opportunities to drive the new one I'm sure. I still haven't driven the 1st generation anyway until this week. The way the car drives is familiar though, much like the original Mazda 6 that it shares a platform with, which is a good thing.
Compromises: The Fusion also imitated Mazda's choice to limit manual transmission options. Even the SE trimmed Fusion I drove had no real features worth mentioning, yet you would have to go even lower to get a manual transmission. This seems to be addressed with the 2nd generation Fusion with the availability of a manual in the SE trim with the 1.6 Ecoboost engine.
Overall reaction - None: Last year's Fusion didn't really deliver anything that I haven't already seen in a Mazda. But it wasn't a bad vehicle for a drive from PHL up through New Jersey either. I got over 40 mpg on the entire stretch of I-95, which is way more than the rating. The 55 mph speed limit in Pennsylvania probably controlled the efficiency, while the scenery of the Delaware Valley kept me entertained.
Friday, 13th of September, 2013
Good for: True mobile computing - I use my iPad now for most of my computing needs, and on the occasions that I open up a laptop I find myself sometimes forgetting and trying to touch the screen. The X230 with the T suffix solves this by adding a touch screen display. The display even swivels 180 degrees so you can hold the computer and use it without having to find a surface to rest it on - very tablet-like. It even has a compartment for a stylus, which is something I've missed from the Palm OS days. I end up using it over the touch-screen keyboard, which does not split in Windows 7 like it does in iOS. The real keyboard is now backlit. Lenovo did away with the mouse buttons below the touchpad, but the touchpad itself is one big button. This design is brilliant, since it saves room, looks clean, and provides the tactile feedback of a click. I could never get used to poking the touchpad to make a click without the physical feedback.
Compromises: Tablets don't have optical drives, but if you're used to watching your DVDs in your iPad you have already learned to plan ahead. It still has the thickness, general size, and weight of a laptop. Side-by-side, it's not even that much smaller than the T410/T420 after you account for the battery sticking out of the X230.
Overall reaction: Two thumbs up: I will still prefer the iPad for many tasks, especially at home. Email and web browsing is much faster without the clunky overhead of the Windows OS. However, those are software issues. On days that I am using the X230T, I think I will not miss my tablet so much as when I was dragging the T410/T420 around. I am a fan of stand up meetings, and being able to just swivel the screen around and run to a meeting is very handy.