Danny Chang's review of car designs

Monday, November 9, 2015

First Impressions: 2015 Ford Mustang GT as a family hauler

First Impressions:  2015 Ford Mustang GT as a family hauler
  • Sweet, sweet note of a good old American V8
  • Ample torque and power on tap
  • A nice advancement of the classic design
  • Driving it in the snow
  • Tight backseat space
  • Uninspired MPG

I don’t know who was more excited to get the Mustang GT to evaluate, me or my five year-old son. Ever since I mentioned that I might be getting a new 2015 Ford Mustang GT Premium Fastback to review, he began each day with the question, “is the Mustang here?” Of course, like every red-blooded guy in my generation, I’ve been reading about the new Mustang for over a year now, ever since Ford released teaser shots of the 2015 model. C’mon, this one has the 5.0 V8! Rollin’, in my five-point-o…remember Vanilla Ice? So my anticipation only intensified each time my son asked about the Mustang. And since about a bazillion reviews of the new Mustang already float around out on the web, and my son was so excited about it, I shall benchmark the 2015 Mustang GT against other family haulers. So strap in the child seat and off we go.

Driving Impressions: A+
The 5.0L V8’s 400 lb-ft. of torque and 435 horsepower definitely make for a more dynamic drive than the power plant in the average suburban kid hauling minivan, cross-over and SUV. The rumble of the big V8 is so unmistakably American and simply brings a smile to your face (and your kid’s face). The six-speed manual was a joy and shifted smoothly. In my un-instrumented testing, the Mustang GT accelerated faster than 99.9% of the minivans on the road (there was the occasional tire spin that cost the Mustang GT time). This being the first Mustang ever without a solid rear axle, the ride quality was significantly more civilized when compared to that of previous generation Mustangs. Word of caution if you live in an area that encounters snow (which is every state outside of California it seems these days), tread softly in the Mustang GT. It snowed a few inches while I drove the Mustang, and it was an exciting drive even when the snow drive mode was engaged. Conclusion: the Mustang GT simply kicks rear-ends when it comes to driving enjoyment for a family hauler.

Exterior Impressions: A
In my highly scientific assessment, the 2015 Mustang GT Premium Fastback is roughly 1,000 times more pleasing to the eye than the leading family hauling cross-overs and SUVs, foreign and domestic. The new design manages to advance the distinctive Mustang design language in a more fluidly dynamic direction, keeping the stout stance of the muscle car while modernizing the style cues. The tester came in Magnetic Metallic with 19” dark gray-painted aluminum wheels, with the spoiler removed. It says 5.0 on the side like back in the 80s. The Mustang GT looked like such a badass in the school parking lot next to the Honda Odysseys and Subaru Outbacks. My son was so proud. 

Interior Comfort and Ergonomics: C
Ergonomics for the driver are fantastic, with Recaro seats that hug the occupants like a baby. The steering wheel controls are a bit overwhelming but seem part of the course these days. The Sync with My Ford Touch interface is horrendous as usual, since it seems to have been designed for use with a mouse in mind, or a person with tiny fingers but long arms. I can’t wait for Ford to completely revamp the user interface. Interior space in general seems a bit on the small side when compared with the likes of Chevy Suburban and Toyota Sienna. This is especially evident in the back seat, where the space appears somewhat limited. Adding the child seat only made things worse. Yet despite the smaller interior space, my son seemed thoroughly thrilled to ride in the Mustang. Perhaps interior space is not a top criterion for children when it comes to family haulers. Trunk space was decent, fitting in a bag of avocados, bananas, and frozen hash browns from Trader Joe’s without serious challenges. Although I suspect trunk space might be an issue if a stroller is also present.

Conclusion: B+ as a suburban family hauler
In conclusion, while the 2015 Mustang GT Premium Fastback underperforms minivans and cross-overs on certain attributes such as interior space and storage utility, it more than makes up for those with its dynamic driving abilities, exterior and interior styling, safety features (collision warning, backup camera and sensors, adaptive cruise control are some highlights), and with the single most important attribute for a family hauler…street cred for your child. If you’re optimizing for that dimension, the 2015 Ford Mustang GT Premium Fastback is your perfect family hauler.

Originally posted on eBayMotorsBlog.com

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

First Impressions: 2015 Lincoln MKC AWD 2.3L

Sophisticated styling that sets it far apart from its twin, the Ford Escape
Full set of luxury and safety features including a premium ride
Easy to park and drive around the city
Noticeable turbo lag
Bland interior styling
Push button transmission controls

The 2015 Lincoln MKC is undeniably Lincoln’s best effort at making a premium vehicle from the Ford part bin. The MKC shares much of its innards with the Ford Escape, which is not a bad thing in itself considering the latest version of the Escape is a confident example of a compact SUV. Whereas in the past one could easily tell the Lincolns were rebadged Fords with a bigger grille, with the MKC one would have to try really hard to notice the similarities with its more pedestrian brother. And it looks better than its Ford counterpart, unlike the MKZ. The MKC’s exterior is elegant and handsome, with a hands-free rear lift gate that’s reminiscent of the Audi Q7. The abundance of nicely arranged LED lights lends it a premium feel along with the touches of chrome. It is one of the most handsome Lincolns in recent memory. But is this enough to make it a showroom success in the ultra crowded segment of compact luxury crossovers and SUVs? Lincoln certainly hopes it will actually drive foot traffic to its showrooms for a change. But with a price range that overlaps with the likes of Mercedes-Benz GLK, BMW X3 and the Audi Q5, the MKC is facing an uphill challenge.

Driving Impressions
The tester MKC is an AWD model with the optional 2.3L Ecoboost turbo inline 4 engine, rated at 285 HP and 305 lb-ft of torque at 2,750 RPM. It’s mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission with manual shifting mode. The low revving torque output is great for pick-up and go, with some noticeable turbo lag. There’s plenty of power at highway speeds for passing as well. The 6-speed shifts smoothly and I hardly touched the manual shifting mode. The MKC’s ride was silk smooth and we did not experience much body roll on the windy small roads of suburban Maryland. Steering feel was solid at both low and highway speeds and is a great improvement over Lincolns of yore. The cabin was quiet and the optional THX sound system was superb, consistent with the premium sticker price of the MKC. Safety features such as collision warning and cross traffic alert are great driver’s helpers, and one of the coolest features on the MKC is Ford’s self parallel parking that makes city parking a cinch.

Exterior Impressions
As mentioned, we are not a big fan of the Lincoln MKZ styling. While they achieved the goal of distinguishing it from its Ford Fusion twin, the design itself something to be desired. The MKC, however, is a winner. The new Lincoln signature grille with horizontal slats works well on the compact crossover, unlike the one on the old MKT. The rear end is nicely executed with a lift gate that covers the entire width much like the Audi Q7. The taillight is also tasteful and not overwhelming as on other Lincolns. We are also fans of the sharp creases in the belt line above the wheel arches. The only ask we have is for the front wheels to be pushed to the corners more for a more sporty stance. Otherwise we find the MKC exterior to be [dare we say!] more handsome than the BMW X3 and the Mercedes-Benz GLK.

Interior Comfort and Ergonomics
We wish the same could be said of the MKC’s interior. While the materials, fit and finish are a huge improvement over Lincolns a model generation ago, some areas feel overlooked when compared to the interiors of European makes. The center stack is dominated by textureless black plastic that feels cheap to the eye and to the touch, which also covers the transmission control buttons. These sit on the dashboard and is how the driver shifts gears on the MKC. You push a button to put it in reverse, another to put it in drive, and another to put it in park. Same for neutral and sport. It is strange to say the least, and takes a while to get used to. Other than freeing up space in the center console and for novelty, we are not convinced that this way of controlling gears is an improvement over the traditional shifter, mounted on the steering column or in the center console. Interesting to note, the engine start/stop button sits on the same stack, and used to be located at the bottom, near where the occupants would reach to use the touch screen. Lincoln issued a recall to relocate this button to the top of the transmission button stack because people were inadvertently turning off the car while driving because they were trying to use the touch screen. Oops.


The Lincoln MKC is a competent entry in the compact luxury crossover/SUV segment. Not only is it a breakout model in the Lincoln line-up, its stylish design and smooth driving dynamics make it a compelling model to consider among the mostly European entries in this busy segment. The MKC is about to face even more competition as the Japanese luxury makes are also entering the segment. MKC’s price point certainly is premium, but it faces strong entries from BMW, Mercedes and Audi with overlapping price ranges. If you have strong feelings about buying American, or if you want to stand out in the sea of X3s, Q5s, GLKs, and (Acura) RDXes, give the MKC a spin.

[Original review 2015. Edited version on http://www.ebay.com/motors/blog/author/dhchang/]

First Impressions: 2015 Audi A3 Sedan TDI FWD S tronic

Good torque from the fuel efficient TDI power plant
Stylish and high quality interior
Stylish exterior design
Tight rear seat leg room
Hidden windshield wipers
Price point

Learning from the last time it brought the 5-door A3 to the US, Audi is selling the sedan and the cabriolet versions of the new A3 first to American car buyers who have a strange dislike for hatchbacks and wagons. It is rumored that Audi will bring the 5-door version as a plug-in hybrid some time later in 2015. At first glance, the A3 is hard to distinguish from the now-grown up A4 and the mid-size A6. The same Audi design language applies fairly well to the compact size of this car. The A3 has its own unique LED daytime running lights that’s more aggressive and sinister looking than those on the A4 and A6, and its taillights are also sportier looking. In this age where all cars plump up with each generation, the A3 is actually similar in size to the original Audi A4 sold from 1994. We drove the new TDI version of the A3 that’s available only in FWD, an advanced clean diesel engine that’s shared with the VW Gold TDI. While we longed for the Quattro system during the snow-filled week in the Mid-Atlantic when we had the A3, the FWD tester with all season tires handled the slippery, icy, salty road just fine. The A3 is equipped with the A3 Prestige Model package, which comes with 18” 10-spoke-design wheels, all season tires, heated power front seats, power folding and heated exterior mirrors, S line exterior, MMI navigation with voice and touch controls, Bang & Olufsen sound system, among other niceties. It also had the sport package that came with sport seats in the front, Audi drive select and sport suspensions. Our favorite feature of the sport seats? Extendable driver seat cushion for those of us with longer legs and need more support behind the knees.

Driving Impressions
The 2.0 liter TDI turbocharged I4 engine pumps out 150 HP (@3,500 RPM) and 236 lb-ft of torque at a low 1,750 RPM, which means the A3 TDI is quick off its feet, only slightly slower to 60 MPH than the 2.0L gasoline engine variant. You can make out the distinct sounds of a diesel engine ever so slightly. The tester was never short on power, even at highway speeds when passing up other cars on the 495. Did we mention it’s also fuel efficient? The TDI is rated 31 MPG city and 43 highway for a combined 36 MPG. The ride is smooth and tight with the sport suspension, and steering feel from the electromechanical speed-sensitive power steering system was aptly heavy for a sport sedan feel.  As mentioned above, the week when we drove the A3 saw a huge snow storm in the Mid-Atlantic region, somewhat limiting our ability to push the A3 to its limit on the icy / salty / snowy roadways around the metropolitan DC area. We did observe, however, that the FWD TDI with ESC(Electronic Stability Control) on all-season tires behaved competently under these conditions and all four corners were planted firmly on the pavement with no tire slippage. Overall the A3 felt buttoned up, safe and disciplined. Very proper, like a well-behaved teenager who could do more damage if s/he wanted to.

Exterior Impressions
Audi designers are somewhat conservative, I mean, why mess with an extremely successful formula? The well-defined family design language coupled with distinctive LED running lights have served the brand well in recent years as it put sales pressure on BMW and Mercedes-Benz. Audi’s is the most conservative among the three German makers and one could argue, the most sophisticated and disciplined design language. It just appears very Germanic, buttoned down and sophisticated. Although the new A3 is definitely the sportiest of the Audi sedan line-up (more aggressive than the grown-up A4, the aging A6, and the flagship A8), it could still easily be mistaken for an A4 to the untrained eye. This is not a bad thing since you wouldn’t want to be seen as driving the “cheapo” Audi that set you back more than $40k. We don’t have major complaints about the exterior design, except that we wished the front axle-to-A pillar ratio could be even longer to give the car a better stance. VW’s new MQB platform/program (on which the A3 is based and shared with the Mk7 Golf) offered Audi the flexibility to move the front axle forward a few inches to give this FWD car better stance but we wish they could have done more. 

Interior Comfort and Ergonomics
The interior is another winner from Audi. The design language is sophisticated. We’re big fans of the screen that rises out of the dashboard and kind of floats on it like a laptop screen. You can get that in a Mazda these days, but in the Audi it just looks so futuristic. The MMI navigation system with the touch pad is a joy to use. Audi’s is one of the best ways to interact with the controls, leaving your right hand near the gear shift where it feels more natural. You can enter text by writing letters on the touch pad, which is now integrated into the control dial to free up space. Four key buttons/levers are easily navigable by feel and are intuitive for interacting with the screen after you spend a little time getting to know them better. Volume control for the sound system is also right next to the gear shift on the center console so you don’t have to fumble around on the dash where there are a million other buttons like in other cars. The materials on the dash and the doors feel expensive to the touch, and the buttons feel (and some are) machined and the feedback feels precise. The panoramic sunroof opens up the space in the cabin. With a child car seat in the back the A3 feels a bit cramped, and rear legroom leaves something to be desired in this age where we’re used to ever bigger cars. Our only major (and petty) issue with the interior is that we found it hard to find a good spot to put our iPhone 6, which is a tad too bulky for the center console storage cubby.


In this price range (a standard A3 starts at just over $30k and the tester TDI Prestige comes in at $43,295), the Audi A3 faces numerous competitors. BMW has its new 2-series (coupe only in the US), Mercedes has its new CLA-class (the oxymoronic 4-door coupe), and even more spacious competitors such as the Infiniti Q50, BMW 3-series that overlap in the same price range. The Audi is unique in offering a diesel engine and gets the best MPG out of the class, but the turbo gasoline units in the Bimmers and Mercedes also get impressive MPGs and a gallon of premium unleaded gasoline these days tends to be cheaper than diesel. But the low-end torquey goodness of the TDI is hard to beat. And we’re suckers for good ergonomics and well-designed interiors, so the Audi A3 TDI is a favorite of ours in the compact luxury sedan segment.

[Original review 2015; edited version on http://www.ebay.com/motors/blog/]

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