Category Archives: reviews

Performance bargain spotlight: Audi RS4

What do you get when you take an average AWD family sedan and inject it with 8 cylinders that scream to a glorious redline of 8250 rpm?  The answer, folks, is the Audi RS4.  Long coveted by enthusiasts looking for subtle speed, the RS4 was the fastest variant of the B7 A4 platform and is no longer available in the states.  We had the opportunity to glimpse one for sale out towards western Massachusetts, and it did not disappoint. 

With an original MSRP of over $80,000, this particular example from 2008 is finished in the ever-popular Daytona Gray with just a hair over 75k miles.  From the outset, it is clear this was a well-maintained car.  Service receipts are plentiful, and creaks and rattles are basically non-existent.  There are a few very minor blemishes on the car, but only ones you’ll spot if you’re really looking for them.  But then again, vehicles like this were never meant to be center stage at a concours d’elegance, these cars were meant to be driven. 

The interior shows some wear consistent with a nearly 10-year-old car, but there’s nothing that a little bit of TLC couldn’t fix.  The white interior sets off the gray exterior nicely and could look almost brand new with a good leather treatment.  

The car is located at Right Way Auto Sales in Southborough, MA and is listed at a very fair $29,995.  Considering the level of refinement, gobs of power, and overall desirability of the RS4, the price is quite appealing.  Here’s to hoping it finds a new home where the new owner will appreciate it for the wolf in sheep’s clothing that it is.    

The legend lives on: The 2016 Toyota Land Cruiser

The Toyota Land Cruiser name has always been synonymous with go-anywhere capability but only in the 1990’s did it begin to garner some respect as a luxury vehicle as well.  Well this trend continues with this mid-model refresh for 2016, and you’ll be hard pressed to find a more capable luxury vehicle than this uber-posh off-roader.

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For 2016, the front fascia of the Land Cruiser gets a refresh, the most prominent new feature being the quad-projector LED headlights that light up the night like the 4th of July.  The revised grill has been accused of being too Highlander-esque but there’s no mistaking this for the Toyota cross-over with much less machismo.  From the A-pillars forward, we have all new sheet metal and the taillights get a slightly refreshed look, but overall, there aren’t very many significant changes to the exterior of the Land Cruiser for 2016, unless of course you count the multiple little “Land Cruiser” embellishments on the headlights and bottom of the rear doors.

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Inside is where you’ll notice the biggest changes.  2016 brings in a new era of gadgetry with a 9” touch screen shoe-horned into the center console.  In keeping with the Land Cruiser tradition, every feature is standard equipment, meaning you get Bluetooth, navigation, heated/cooled seats, 2 rear entertainment screens and a plethora of other luxury bits to keep you and your riders happy.  Quality materials are still used everywhere, and the new steering wheel not only looks and feels great, but also heats up for those cold winter days.  Legroom and headroom are still ample in both front and rear seats, but you do feel like you are in a bit of a cockpit with this latest generation having all manner of knobs and buttons very close to the driver.  Worth noting is that any surface, button or knob that gets used frequently exudes true quality.  The aforementioned knobs feel like solid metal, the switches most commonly used are like a well-oiled bolt-action rifle, simply perfection.  Additionally, the seats are very comfortable and would serve anyone well on long family expeditions.  Overall, a very nice place to be, especially with this author’s favorite, the optional Terra (brown) leather.

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Safety is still a Toyota priority and the Land Cruiser is no exception.  As standard equipment, you’ll find blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, lane departure warnings, and radar guided cruise control that can brake the vehicle in case the driver isn’t paying attention.  Not only is this vehicle a great cross-country hauler, but these features add a new level of safety that comes standard. 

On the road, the Land Cruiser still feels as solid as ever.  Speed bumps simply flatten out in fear, potholes and road imperfections are coerced into submission, there is really no better riding full-size SUV on the planet.  Road noise is minimal with the huge amount of sound deadening used, and the only drawback to this latest Land Cruiser is the visibility.  With the newly designed hood that is about the same size as a soccer field, forward visibility is reduced a bit.  The same 5.7L V8 comes back unchanged for 2016 as it still puts out a hefty yet buttery smooth 381hp and 401 lb/ft of torque, but don’t expect this monster to win any drag races as it tips the scales at 5765 lbs, not exactly light.  The new 8 speed transmission does its best to help in these cases, but you’d be hard pressed to notice a difference from the last gearbox other than that it seems to shift a bit more frequently and perhaps it does so q bit more quickly and smoothly.  Overall it still has great manners on or off the road, but long distance drivers especially will appreciate just how stress-free piloting one of these behemoths has become.

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At roughly $85k, there’s no denying that this is not an inexpensive vehicle, but when you crunch the numbers on just how long these legends last with so few repairs required, things start to add up.  If you want the ultimate vehicle in luxury, capability, and reliability, look no further than the Toyota Land Cruiser.

2015 Subaru Outback: The Jack of all Trades

When driving the newly re-designed 2015 Subaru Outback, the phrase “jack of all trades” comes to mind.  One will be hard-pressed to find a serious fault anywhere in the wagon that seems to be the unofficial vehicle of the whole of New England.  There’s good reason for this as Subaru reliability is nothing to scoff at and as a result, many citizens of these slightly more snow-prone states have chosen the Outback as the go-to, daily driver/adventure vehicle.  Admittedly, in the most basic sense it hasn’t changed drastically in recent years, but all the little improvements here and there have added up to make a big difference for 2015.

On road, the Outback is very well behaved.  Predictable pedal feel for both accelerator and brakes accompany a nice steering feel and a firm but compliant ride.  Road noise is very minimal and a conversation with those who didn’t think to call “shotgun” is definitely possible without raising your voice.  It takes a minute to get used to a CVT transmission sans the traditional shifts, but you quickly realize that the additional MPG’s are completely worth it.  New for 2015 is that the CVT is now standard on all Outbacks, with MPG ratings at 25 city and 33 highway putting this big wagon at the top of its class.  The overall experience of driving the Outback on the street is that it is what some would phrase “a very nice place to be”. 

As far as the looks go, 2015 brings us some subtle but effective changes to the Outback.  The overall shape has changed very little, but a keen eye will pick up on new tail lights, head lights, and grill among other things.  While it isn’t a complete ground-up redesign, the front and back ends look, in this author’s opinion, worlds better.  That’s not to say that the old Outback was bad looking, but rather that the new looks quite a bit sleeker and more upscale.  Additionally, nicer alloys complement the overall look of this new, trimmer wagon.  This attempted move up-market seems to carry over into the interior which has received some notable improvements as well. 

Subaru, in the past, has been known as more of a utilitarian vehicle with interiors that weren’t really anything to write home about.  However, in recent years, and in particular for 2015, things have been changing for the better and I have to say that I like the direction Subaru is headed.  Inside you will find a redesigned dash with a very responsive but cleanly designed Infotainment system. The model I tested was equipped with navigation and the maps were incredibly detailed and kept up well tracking the car through the test drive.  Additionally, the new matte finish wood accents paired up with subtle strips of a brushed aluminum looking metal are reminiscent of some higher end European interiors (hats off to you Subaru).  Of particular note is the steering wheel.  It is chunky without being too big to get a hold of, sporty looking without trying too hard to please the boy-racer crowd and extremely well laid out with intuitively placed controls for everything you need.  The rear seats have quite a bit of legroom, which is something that we 6-plus footers always look for, and the cargo area looks as spacious as ever (the power liftgate does come in handy when loading and unloading too).

While I can’t say that this particular test drive involved any serious, off-the-beaten-path exploration, I can speak to the overall ability of Subarus as a Subaru owner.  This wagon will have no problem getting you to the ski mountain, the night of a blizzard in time to make those first tracks the next morning.  Some may say that is what Subarus do best, getting you to places that other wagons wouldn’t dare, in conditions that would make your less adventurous peers stay home and sip hot cocoa. 

So if you are looking for that one vehicle that can carry everything, get you anywhere, and do so in comfort and style, then look no further than the new 2015 Outback.  A big thanks to Planet Subaru for allowing me to check out the new Outback.  Be sure to check out their inventory at www.planetsubaru.com and tell them we sent you! 

2016 Toyota Tacoma: A rugged off-roader gets a little quieter

Well the new Tacoma is here, and it comes as no surprise that its unveiling has been extremely well covered by just about every major publication and website.  As the runaway favorite among mid-size pickup shoppers, a vast improvement in ride quality is certainly something to take note of.  We took one for a spin to see if the new Taco has lived up to the hype.

The most obvious changes to the Tacoma start on the exterior.  An all new front end presents a more aggressive grill and headlight configuration, coupled to new headlights that house projector headlights.  The new grill seems to sit higher and give the vehicle a better approach angle, adding to the overall truck-ier appearance of the Taco.  Couple that with an updated rear end and some new wheel options, and the little truck that could never looked better.

Thankfully, the biggest changes exist inside the cabin.  Toyota has been touting the additional sound deadening and new dash layout, claiming it drives more like a car than ever before.  A laminated windshield, better door seals and additional material in the headliner and floor all contribute to a quieter cab at speed according to the Japanese manufacturing giant.  First-hand experience showed us that it has indeed gotten quieter overall, and the new dash layout is very intuitive while still showcasing several new features previously unavailable.  Standard features now include Bluetooth and the Entune stereo system, signs that Toyota knows that it needs to up the interior game if it wants to stay on top of this market.

There are only a couple drawbacks, and they are mostly associated with interior dimensions.  In true Tacoma tradition, the cab is a little cramped and headroom isn’t exactly abundant if you’re over 6’ tall.  The rear seats leave a little to be desired and as with the front, the seating positions wouldn’t be ideal for longer journeys.  However, this is all coming in a package that is designed to get the job done and never let you down, so little issues such as these seem to be worth the overall reliability you get with the Toyota name.
The new Atkinson cycle 3.5L V6 is a smooth performer, if not a slightly talkative one, as there is still a little bit of noise when you put your foot down.  Torque is fairly accessible down low but the V6 doesn’t mind being revved out either.  The slick 6 speed transmission shifts well and overall the drivetrain is happy in almost any situation.  There is still a traditional manual transmission available for those with a strong left leg, but don’t expect to see many of those available at your local dealer.

This latest generation of one of the all-time favorite pickups represents a significant move by Toyota to keep increasingly picky buyers interested.  Not only would we bet money that this outlasts the competition from GMC/Chevy, but it will look good doing it!

“Never drive your heroes” they say…the e39 M5

Well folks, this is one of the big ones.  The number 5 is pretty average, nothing to write home about, a pretty boring digit on its own, but as soon as you stick an M in front of it, things change pretty quickly.  And as if that isn’t enough, add e39 to the equation, and you end up with pure magic.  To many, this is still the best driver’s sedan on the road, despite being over 13 years old.  A car that represents one of the greatest vehicles to ever leave the BMW factory, an analog example of what a super-sedan should be.  And now, probably one of the most affordable fun cars on the road, that is, if you can find one.

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Well we did.  This particular vehicle, a 2000 M5 with a hair over 100k miles is listed for sale in Weymouth, MA for the price of a new Toyota Yaris.  We couldn’t resist the urge to drive, photograph, and review this aging wolf in sheep’s clothing in an attempt to help it find the enthusiast it deserves.  The M5 represents a car that we have been longing to drive and despite the risk of it not living up to all of the hype, we decided to take the plunge anyway.

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First impressions are important.  From a distance, this car could be confused with a typical early 2000’s well-equipped 5 series.  The subtle styling, classic understated front fascia coupled with the slightly aggressive quad exhaust tips make this thing fly under the radar unless you have a keen eye for an M badge.  This particular model had upgraded headlights from the later 2001 and up M5’s, which make a world of difference in giving the front end a more modern look.  The stance, the body lines, everything is as you’ve seen in the pictures, awe-inspiring class mixed with subtle hints that say “I mean business”

The drive is hard to pin down.  On one hand, you are driving a 16 year old car that some could call outdated, but most would see as simply worn down.  On the other hand, in all the important ways it is still very much an M5 and unequivocally deserving of the name.  The interior may be a little worse for wear in some spots, but the engine is so eager to get going, and the shifts, to use a cliché, like a well-oiled bolt-action rifle, that you quickly forget that the cupholders have seen better days.  Thanks to near 400 hp, acceleration is still kick-you-in-the-pants fast, and the ride is sublime despite some additional rattles due to age.  You get a sense that this car is still holding on to the glory days, yearning for a new owner to clean it up a bit and show it a little TLC.

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We came away in awe of the tire-munching machine and how well it has aged.  After all of these years never having driven what many consider to be the auto epitome of class/badass, we can safely say it was far from a let-down.  Often the hype misleads everyone and the cars have a tough time living up to the excessive praise of reviews and publications, but this tired M5 showed so much life, one could only dream about what it was like new.  It’s safe to say that this generation of M5 has made the list of performance bargain cars considering that near-mint examples can be had for under $25k.  It is hard to find something that will excite a real driver this much and still be able to pull up to the Four Seasons and not look out of place, the M5 is still that car, and imitators are still playing catch up.

A big thanks to 777 Auto in Weymouth, MA and Svetlin for letting us test drive this car.  Their selection of fun European autos is sizeable and their pricing reasonable, definitely check them out.