“Java” 2014 Nissan Altima 2.5 SV FWD Sedan

SAM_0224Two years ago I wrote of Al Hirt, famed New Orleans trumpeter and bandleader, owning a bar on Bourbon Street in the 60’s, and that I was sure that I had been in it at some point while serving in the Air Force nearby.  My favorite watering hole, however, was Larry & Katz (pictured), an establishment a few blocks away from the French Quarter, where only white patrons were allowed inside.  Everyone else had to drink outside on the sidewalk in front of the bar.  That wasn’t my attraction to the place; that’s just the way it was all over Louisiana in 1967. L & K

Al Hirt closed his Bourbon Street Club in 1983 because, as he said, the area had become “too dirty and dangerous”.  His career, on the other hand, was illustrious, and included production of such hits as “Java” and the theme song to TV’s “The Green Hornet”.  Java, and its accompanying album “Honey in the Horn”, sold a million copies.

What does all this have to do with my latest test car, the 2014 Nissan Altima?  Not much, really, except that the color was called “Java”, and I had never seen that name associated with factory paint.  The car, as you can see, looked a little like black coffee and this Altima had the charcoal cloth interior.  It was the SV model, next the top of the Altima lineup.  Their SL, perched at the top, has leather seating and a Bose stereo.

Power for the front-wheel-drive Altima SV is supplied by a 2.5 liter, four cylinder engine with 182 horsepower (6,000 rpm) and 180 lb. ft. of torque (4,000 rpm).  Nissan gave in to the 4-cylinder trend with this car, and my week was pleasurable, even though two years ago I drove the V-6.  A continuously variable automatic transmission is mated to the four cylinder engine, and acceleration was acceptable.  EPA mileage figures are 27/38 mpg for city and highway (18 gallon tank), and during the week with the car, I averaged 32.4 miles per gallon.SAM_0227

SAM_0232   The Altima SV I tested had as options a convenience package ($1,350.00), carpeting floor and trunk mats ($185.00), and technology package ($1,090.00).  Total M.S.R.P., counting the $810.00 for freight, came to $27,615.00.  With rear backup camera, moon roof, navigation system, keeping this sedan under twenty-eight  grand is an accomplishment.  Of course it had key-in-your-pocket ignition, tilt/telescope, power locks and windows, cruise control, satellite radio/CD, Bluetooth, and UBS connection.  Seating was for five, and the trunk held 15.4 cubic feet of cargo.

Styling for the new Altima, introduced in July of 2012, is an improvement over prior Altimas.  It looks bigger than it actually is, which is 191.5 “ in length and 3,177 lbs. in weight.  Chrome door handles are attached to the Nissan, and dual fog lights are up front along with a bold grill.  Ride is great, and it’s quiet in the cabin (71 decibels).  Ten-spoke, 17” alloy wheels are surrounded by P215/55R17 Michelin Primacy MXV4 all season radials.

Nissan’s best seller, this Altima, should hold up well in the sales wars with Honda’s Accord and Toyota’s Camry, as it doesn’t offer a person many opportunities to complain.  I spent a long day condo-hunting in Denver with it, and the driving didn’t “Hirt” too bad because I had a “Honey” of a car to accomplish the task.

2014 Lexus IS-F RWD Sports Sedan

SAM_0185 The high performance Lexus IS-F was waiting at Sky Harbor airport (Phoenix) when Ruth and I flew in to see the penultimate Nascar race for 2014, and we immediately jumped in for our ride up to Scottsdale to our hotel.  When you fire it up with the push button starter, the big engine rumbles to life and reminds you that this is a compact car with Lexus’ biggest V-8 stuffed under the hood.  It’s a 5.0-liter, dual overhead cam, 32 valve masterpiece with 416 horsepower and 371 lb. ft. of torque.  And it’s coupled to an eight speed, sport-direct shift automatic transmission that is as smooth as silk.

When I pulled onto AZ Route 101 and stomped on the accelerator, I was somewhat startled at the sound emanating from under the hood.  This Lexus V-8 features a dual air intake system that kicks open a secondary inlet (at 3,600 rpm) to give the big engine an extra gulp of air for enhanced acceleration.  And what a sound!  Plus, the four-tip, low restriction, semi-dual exhaust system really screams, as well.  Advertised zero to 60 mph time is 4.6 seconds, and I am willing to take their word for that.  Also advertised is a top speed of 170 mph and I am willing to, well, you know….  The  speedometer reads up to 200 mph!

This particular model was “Nebula Gray Pearl” outside with a red and black leather interior.  I found myself pretty well surrounded by the front buckets (it has four in the cabin), and lots of adjustments are on hand.  “F” logos are stitched in several places on the seating, and “F” chrome emblems are on the fenders.  I think it stands for the Fuji Speedway in Japan, where extensive performance testing of the Lexus IS-F took place.  This model launched the high-performance “F” line of Lexus automobiles.SAM_0181

The ride is definitely performance related and if you want a smooth ride in this car, find a smooth road to drive it on.  Features include double-wishbone front suspension and multilink rear, and big Brembo brakes are on hand. With the suspension setup, the snappy eight-speed automatic, and the rowdy V-8, just cruising around Phoenix is a kick in the pants (that is a good thing).

The console and dashboard feature some dark aluminized composite trim and cool, ambient lighting is on the doors; blue needles indicate goings-on over the gauges.  The car I had in my possession featured the $3,410.00 optional hard-drive-based navigation system and Mark Levinson, 14-speaker surround sound stereo system.  The navigation screen reveals a color picture of your rear view, and the steering wheel is a handsome two-toned leather (again, red and black with radio controls and transmission paddles), and the shift knob is red leather.  Counting the aforementioned stereo, navigation, and freight, the Lexus carried a sticker price of $68,170.00. This automobile is designed for four people and the trunk holds 13.3 cubic feet of luggage.  The IS-F is a genuine hot-rod for the high-end auto enthusiast, which could be me; I would certainly love to have one.

After checking in, Ruth and I headed up Indian School Road to find some lunch.  I found myself hoping for successive red lights along the way so that I could run through the gears on the Lexus.  Lots of motorists were admiring the car with it’s 19″ gray/black alloy wheels, big air vents jutting out from the fenders, and upper and lower mesh grills.  The big vents are ostensibly for the purpose of letting hot air get away from the big V-8.  On the trunk is a carbon fiber spoiler and in the charcoal paint the car is a particularly attractive mode of transportation.  At the end of the day it was a pleasure to rumble into the hotel parking lot, and I couldn’t wait to drive the Lexus to Phoenix International Raceway the next morning for the Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500.

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2014.5 Toyota Camry Hybrid SE

SAM_0026The Toyota Camry Hybrid mid-size FWD sedan was introduced in May of 2006 as a 2007 model.   The current unit is in its second generation iteration.  A 2014.5 Toyota Camry SE Hybrid was brought to me last week for testing, and it was equipped as such to arrive at an M.S.R.P. of $30,970.00.  The base price of $27,945.00 for the SE model had as additions the navigation system ($1,200.00) and power tilt/slide moon roof ($915.00).  The car came in “Barcelona Red” paint, which was fun to photograph, and the cloth seating was black.  It’s a five passenger sedan with a suitably sized rear passenger compartment and a 13.1 cubic foot trunk.  Curb weight was 3,545 lbs., wheelbase was 109.3”, and overall length came in at 189.2”.  IMG_0160

SAM_0063    I drove the Camry quite a bit this last week, both to Ft. Collins, Boulder and to Denver, and gradually grew pretty accustomed to the CVT transmission setup in the car.  CVT stands for continuously variable transmission (no shifts), and it is coupled to a gasoline 4 cylinder, 2.5 liter motor with 156 horsepower and 156 lb. ft. of torque.  Two electric motor/generators are on board to add in 141 more horsepower and 199 lb. ft. of torque.  Combined power rating is 200 horsepower, and as I mentioned, it was pretty acceptable for driving the somewhat big sedan.  The ride, handling, and guidance were all good, and the styling suits me, as well (particularly front and rear). IMG_0156

SAM_0017 Fuel economy for the hybrid has been improved for the last two years, and for the time I drove it the reading was 39.5 mpg.  EPA ratings for the car I drove were 40 mpg city and 38 mpg highway – 40 mpg combined.  The fuel tank held 17 gallons of regular gasoline.  The current mileage compilation for the car is displayed on a dial; not digitally.

I mentioned earlier the options on board with this Camry – it was equipped with a moderate amount of equipment, including an 8 speaker JBL stereo, 7″ touchscreen for navigation and backup view, SoftTex-trimmed seating, satellite radio, 17″ five-spoke alloys, Bridgestone Turanza EL400 P215/55R17 all- season radials, tilt/telescope, pushbutton starter, cruise control, keyless entry, power windows/locks/mirrors, and Bluetooth connectivity.SAM_0044

There is a reason the Camry is America’s best selling car, and I experienced it this week with the SE Hybrid. This model will hold up well in the hybrid sales parade, although with the recent gas prices dipping under $3.00 per gallon, it will be a walking parade, not a stampede.SAM_0081



2015 Lexus RX450h Hybrid Crossover

_DSC3386    Sales of Toyota hybrids surpassed 5 million last year, confirming that the brand and its luxury Lexus division lead the hybrid sector. Fuel economy isn’t the only draw; so is styling. I recently tested a moderately equipped 2015 Lexus RX450h hybrid (see spec sidebar), and this one painted Nebula Gray pearl metallic. An attractive upgrade to my driveway all week, this Lexus dressed up in big chrome strips and “hybrid” lettering. The car seemed somewhat big (large battery and advanced all-wheel drive train), but not ponderous. I averaged 28.5 mpg over a week’s time….

To read the remainder of this article at the AAA site click here.