• 2015 BMW M235i
    • Image Credit: BMW

    2015 BMW M235i

    As you know, we drive lots and lots of cars and trucks, each and every day, week and month of the year. That means we have a lot to say about which ones are the best, which are the worst, and which fall comfortably in between.

    This week, we found ourselves sitting in luxurious sedans, fullsize trucks, off-road specialists and hybrid crossovers from model years 2015 and 2016.

    Without further ado, click on the image above to read more about some of the vehicles we've been driving lately.

  • 2016 Nissan GT-R Premium 45th Anniversary Gold Edition
    • Image Credit: Nissan

    2016 Nissan GT-R Premium 45th Anniversary Gold Edition – Michael Austin

    BASE PRICE: $101,770
    AS TESTED PRICE: $104,660
    FUEL ECONOMY: 16 mpg City, 22 mpg Highway
    WARRANTY: 3 Yrs / 36,000 Miles [N.B. Powertrain is 5 year / 60,000 miles]
    ENGINE: Twin-turbocharged 3.8L V6
    TRANSMISSION: 6-speed dual-clutch automatic
    PERFORMANCE: 545 hp, 463 lb-ft, 0-60 in 2.7 seconds (est)
    SEATING: 4 people
    COMPETITORS: Audi R8, Chevrolet Corvette Z06, Porsche 911 Carrera S

    • 545 horsepower, all-wheel-drive, and launch control.
    • Goes exactly where you point it. See an open corner around town and you turn without hitting the brakes.
    • It feels special. Driving the GT-R is still an experience.
    • The back seats are as useless as they look, at least for adults. One brave passenger had to remove her shoes to fit her feet under the front seat.
    • Lacks the instant power and outright performance of a Z06 and trails the Carrera in refinement.
    • $1,000 gold paint option fails to add appeal.

    CLOSING THOUGHTS: Continuous improvements to the GT-R can't hide the fact that this car is seven years old in America. The supercar world has evolved beyond Godzilla, which still clunks and whirrs with every movement. My wife asked "Why does this car sound like it's breaking all the time?" And she's right, but that's also part of the GT-R's appeal. It was built with a purpose. Sure, that purpose might be at odds with our terrible roads and reasonable expectations of refinement, but it's a purpose nonetheless. Compared to more recent sports car the GT-R gives the driver a lot of feedback. This is a flawed car, but old age turns those flaws into nostalgic charm.
  • 2015 Chevrolet SS in red
    • Image Credit: Chevrolet

    2015 Chevrolet SS – Greg Migliore

    BASE PRICE: $46,740
    AS TESTED PRICE: $47,640
    FUEL ECONOMY: 15 mpg City / 21 mpg Highway
    WARRANTY: 3 Yrs / 36,000 miles
    ENGINE: 6.2L V8
    TRANSMISSION: 6-Speed Manual
    PERFORMANCE: 415 hp, 415 lb-ft of torque; 0-60 mph in 4.7 seconds
    SEATING: 5 people
    COMPETITORS: Dodge Charger SRT8, Chrysler 300 SRT8, Hyundai Genesis R-Spec, BMW 5 Series

    • It sounds great. The exhaust gurgles and growls like a true muscle car. I shifted gears just to hear it.
    • The 6.2-liter V8 is strong. It’s quick for takeoffs from stoplights and has plenty of energy when downshifting for passing on the expressway. A Chevy sedan with V8 just feels right.
    • I like the styling. It’s simple, clean, and has curves and chrome in all the right places. It’s bit of a sleeper car, too. A quick glance told me it’s the SS, but the uninformed wouldn’t immediately discern that this is Chevy’s most powerful sedan. 
    • The interior has plenty of buttons and is well-laid out. It’s easy-to-use, and it makes sense.
    • I love the manual. The clutch action is good and had the right feel for my taste.

    • I like the exterior design, but it is a little dated. 
    • A V8 sedan with a manual? This isn’t a mainstream car. That’s not the point, but still, the SS is definitely a niche product.
    • It only gets 21 mpg (highway) and is saddled with the gas-guzzler tax, so enjoy the power. You’re paying for it.
    CLOSING THOUGHTS: I can’t remember the last time I was this psyched to drive a car. I think it’s great that in 2015 Chevy makes a rear-wheel, V8 sedan. It has attitude. It’s confident. I feel like I’m important when I listen to the engine and look out over the long hood. The taillights are snazzy. They look like the great Chevys of old. Obviously, I enjoyed my time in this car. If you’re considering purchasing one, be mindful of the tall price, high fuel costs, and poor fuel economy. Those sound like impediments, but they’re just things to be aware of going in. The tradeoff is you will have a riot driving the SS, which I think is totally worth it.

  • 2015 Jaguar Portfolio XJL AWD in blue
    • Image Credit: Jaguar

    2015 Jaguar Portfolio XJL AWD – Seyth Miersma

    BASE PRICE: $85,625
    AS TESTED PRICE: $91,495
    FUEL ECONOMY: 16 mpg City, 24 mpg Highway
    WARRANTY: 4 Yrs / 50,000 miles
    ENGINE: Supercharged 3.0-liter V6
    TRANSMISSION: 8-Speed Automatic
    PERFORMANCE: 340 hp, 332 lb-ft of torque, 0-60 mph in 6.1 seconds
    SEATING: 5 people
    COMPETITORS: Audi A8, BMW 740Li, Lexus LS460

    • The Jaguar XJ is a few years away from a brand new design, but its still the most attractive car in the fullsize luxury class. The conservative Germans have their merits, but I think the big Brit is one of the best looking sedans on the planet.
    • Aluminum construction means the XJ is a relative lightweight, and you feel that on the road. Even with this extended wheelbase model, handling is quite crisp and steering response is excellent.
    • On this Portfolio trim you don’t lack for traditional British luxury. Leather is buttery and wood is the fancy-looking real deal.

    • The supercharged V6 is a capable engine; certainly competitive with sixes from Audi and BMW.  But a combined fuel economy rating of 19 miles per gallon is pretty poor, and it’s not as entertaining to listen to or lay into as the old naturally aspirated 5.0-liter V8. 
    • The XJ pricing is in line with the competition, but traditionally its residual values have been a bit shady. No big, new luxury sedan is exactly a good investment, but a Lexus will depreciate slower and lease lower in most cases.
    • The infotainment system is old, with functionality that’s behind the class and behind the times.
    CLOSING THOUGHTS: The Jaguar XJ is an excellent alternative to the segment’s de rigueur choices from BMW and Mercedes-Benz. It looks great, goes around a corner with authority, and will still impress a client or a date. But, beyond styling, it doesn’t lead the field in any class-critical category. Iconoclasts only need inquire further.
  • 2015 Ford Focus SE EcoBoost in blue
    • Image Credit: Ford

    2015 Ford Focus SE EcoBoost – Steven Ewing

    BASE PRICE: $19,225
    AS TESTED PRICE: $22,015
    FUEL ECONOMY: 30 City / 42 Highway
    WARRANTY: 3 Yrs / 36,000 miles
    ENGINE: Turbocharged 1.0L I3
    TRANSMISSION: 6-Speed Manual
    PERFORMANCE: 123 HP, 148 LB-FT
    SEATING: 5 people
    COMPETITORS: Honda Civic, Mazda3, Dodge Dart

    • The Focus SE is really nicely equipped, especially considering its low $22,015 price point. It’s got good-looking, 17-inch alloy wheels, an exterior appearance package, heated seats, a heated steering wheel, satellite radio, Bluetooth, and more. Plus, the 1.0-liter EcoBoost engine is a total honey, and it’s absolutely the powertrain I’d buy in the Focus.
    • The EcoBoost is mated to a six-speed manual transmission, which is a joy to use. The clutch is light and shift action is solid. There’s a stop/start system standard with the 1.0-liter engine, and it’s pretty pleasant – not rough like other systems. Plus, 123 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of turbocharged torque is more than enough for the little Focus. Combined with good steering a nicely tuned suspension, this is one of the better driving cars in the class.
    • Fuel economy is the big story with the 1.0-liter EcoBoost, and in the Focus sedan, it’ll achieve 42 miles per gallon on the highway. In my mix of driving, I saw numbers in the mid-30s, which isn’t bad, considering I wasn’t exactly driving with economy in mind. This car is a ton of fun while still being really efficient.

    • The 1.0-liter engine is only available on the Focus SE. So if you want more premium options, you’re out of luck. It’s also only available with the six-speed manual transmission, and while that’s fine for me, a lot of buyers might not like that they can’t get the turbocharged, efficient engine with the automatic. 
    • You also can’t get the attractive appearance package on the Focus hatchback with the EcoBoost. That’s a shame – I could see that being one really fetching compact.
    • There’s enough room for two adults up front, but rear passengers will be cramped. Kids are probably fine, but full-size adults who sat in back complained about a distinct lack of headroom and legroom.
    CLOSING THOUGHTS: Ford offers a really unique package with the Focus 1.0L, and it’s one that shouldn’t be overlooked by compact car shoppers. It’s well equipped, great to drive, and efficient. That said, with only limited availability in the Focus lineup, and only coming with a manual transmission, it won’t appeal to everyone. But for folks who buy it, they’ll be in for a solid package.
  • 2015 BMW M235i xDrive Coupe
    • Image Credit: BMW

    2015 BMW M235i xDrive Coupe – Jeremy Korzeniewski

    BASE PRICE: $44,900
    AS TESTED PRICE: $46,800
    FUEL ECONOMY: 20 City / 30 Highway
    WARRANTY: 4 Yrs / 50,000 miles
    ENGINE: Turbocharged 3.0L I6
    TRANSMISSION: 8-Speed Automatic
    PERFORMANCE:  320 HP, 330 LB-FT
    SEATING: 5 people
    COMPETITORS: Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class, Audi S3

    • This thing is quick. It's turbocharged inline-six engine can also be found in much larger cars, where it still feels powerful enough.
    • It's roomier inside that I expected. While I wouldn't want to put my friends in the back too often, it's fine when necessary.
    • The price was lower than I expected, especially considering it has all-wheel drive, and my friends commented on how cool it was, which is always nice.

    • Feels awfully de-contented for a BMW, with tons of basic black plastic inside and very few standard technology pieces. 
    • Steering, as is the case with pretty much all modern BMWs I've driven, feels lifeless and artificial.
    • Doesn't look particularly special – my friends who commented on how cool it is already knew what they were looking at.
    CLOSING THOUGHTS: After driving the M3 and M4 extensively, I can honestly say that this M235i Coupe is a pretty compelling alternative.
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