2014 Kia Optima Hybrid


2014 Kia Optima Hybrid
$25,995 base MRSP
36/40 MPG (advertised)
TBD MPG (real-world, over a week of driving)

Overall Impressions:

Not even close. Just don’t get this car–it’s a hybrid, but has no better highway mileage than the Mazda sedans. And the hybrid experience itself is flawed (more on that later). All told, it felt like a compromise.

TMS (Tall Man’s Score): C-

Headroom: B+

A bit of a false reading, as the seatback had to be reclined to an extreme angle so that the headrest didn’t come into play.

Mirror Location: B+

Again a bit of a false reading due to the amount you have to recline the front seat.

Headrest: F

Big fail here. One of the worst active headrests out there, with no way to get comfortable (other than recline the seat).

This alone would prevent me from buying this car–it was that bad.

Legroom: A

Nice legroom. Lots of space.

Seat Comfort: B+

Cheap material, and that taints the overall impression of the seats (and the cabin as a whole).

Seats comfort was acceptable, but again you have to recline them quite a bit to avoid the headrest.

 Vehicle Review

Engine: B-

Poorly executed. The electric mode has very little power, and when accelerating there is a noticeable “lag” before the gas engine kicks in.

Once up, the gas engine moves the car fairly briskly. But that lag–it’s almost as if the car has to downshift into first gear–is not only annoying, it’s borderline unsafe.

Push button (keyless) start also was strange, as it would bring up the electric mode, but you could not be sure the car was truly ready to drive. Strange.

Transmission: C

Poor execution of the transition from hybrid mode to gas mode. Shifts were slow, and less than smooth. Manual mode was poor, with the upshifts/downshifts in the “wrong” position (pull back to downshift).

In addition there was too much computer control over manual shifts, not letting you downshift into second for example unless you were well below redline. May as well forget any “spirited” driving in this car.

Bottom line is the designers want you to stay in “D” with this one.

Interior: B-

Interior was average–but the material on the seats is so cheap feeling it detracts from the rest of the interior.

Visibility: B

Decent visibility, with windows all around.

Yet once again as with so many cars the hood slopes so much you have no idea where the front of the car is (and if you look closely at the photo you’ll see one of the previous renters scuffed up the front bumper).

May as well put up a video screen instead of a windshield.

Electronics: B+

Average electronics, although there is a backup camera (which is a plus).

Also had dual-zone climate control.

Nothing special, nothing really bad.

Utility: B

Just another sedan.

Appearance: B

See above–just another sedan.

 Miscellaneous Musings:

Kia I know everyone is trying to get into the hybrid market, but this car just feels “incomplete”. Maybe as a “first effort” it can help refine your methods and one day you’ll end up with a decent hybrid for the market.

But unfortunately that’s not this car. Not by a long shot.

2014 Toyota Camry


2014 Toyota Camry SE
$23,740 base MRSP
22/35 MPG (advertised)
24 MPG (real-world, over a week of driving)

Overall Impressions:

This is a nice car–better than expected (but not without its foibles). Still…I could live with this car on a daily basis.

Of course the Camry has received a huge face-lift for 2015 (and the front looks wonderful in comparison to this car). The question is whether that has altered any of the interior ergonomics that are so critical to the TMS.

For those that want this model–better hurry. It’s still on Toyota’s website (and likely in dealer stock) but that won’t last too much longer.

Me–I’d love to get a drive in the 2015.

TMS (Tall Man’s Score): A-

Headroom: A-

Had to put the seat all the way down (which puts your legs/knees at a funny angle, sitting almost flat on the floor).

So–a bit uncomfortable, but sufficient headroom.

Mirror Location: A-

The mirror can be swung up far enough out of the way that it is passable. Sure it could be better, but Toyota at least didn’t put the stalk in the middle of the windshield as do so many other manufacturers.

Headrest: C

The headrest spoils this car–you do have to recline the seat to be comfortable. Having said that, perhaps it’ll be improved in 2015.

Legroom: A-

Nice legroom, but they have that “hump” in the floor by the seat (but thankfully it’s not as bad as it is in other cars, like the Ford Fusion).

Seat Comfort: A-

Nice seats. Comfortable, and with nice support. Quality materials as well.

 Vehicle Review

Engine: B+

A bit buzzy and noisy on acceleration, but really not too bad. Has sufficient pickup, and seems relatively refined when cruising.

Transmission: B+

A nice transmission, but the manual mode with the paddle shifters was a mystery. You could downshift or upshift and the dash indicator would show another gear, but the car wouldn’t shift (so in essence you needed to go by seat of the pants as the dash indicator was often wrong).

I understand why Toyota did this (don’t want you to over-rev or lug the engine) but if you’re not going to shift, then have the dashboard indicate the true gear, and not change the number just because I tapped the paddle shifter.

Traction control also a bit strange, as it turns itself on (even after it’s been manually turned off). Then again, not too many Camry owners are likely to have a lot of track days….

Interior: B+

Nice interior. While filled with plastic, it has a higher quality feel than comparable cars–with one notable exception. The plastic “brushed aluminum” trim scratches easily. The center console is trimmed with this, and it very much detracts from the appearance of the interior (especially with a few scratches as in my rental).  Hopefully Toyota will change this for 2015, as it really mars an otherwise attractive interior.

There is a rattle though from somewhere in the back (sounds like maybe the trunk release cable). Not something I’d expect from Toyota, and it mars an otherwise quality feel for this car.

Visibility: B+

Decent visibility, with windows all around.

Unfortunately you still have no idea where the nose it, given the sloping hood. Yet almost all cars now have this flaw, so can’t hold it against Toyota too much–everyone is chasing that last elusive MPG.

Electronics: B+

Nice electronics. Good blend of touch screen with some tactile buttons and dials so you don’t have to worry when wearing gloves.

Backup camera is standard, even on the lowest trim models. (Thank you Toyota–wish other manufacturers would follow suit).

Utility: B+

It’s not an SUV, but has a nice trunk. And four doors. A nice, midsize sedan.

Appearance: B-

The 2014 model looks like every other mid-size sedan. But that 2015–Toyota really restyled the nose nicely–wonderful looking car. Hope the rest of the car (and the interior) are also just as enticing.

This could be a really nice car for 2015.

 Miscellaneous Musings:

Really like the way this car presents itself and drives. Has a nice drivetrain (and if all you do is put it in “D” you won’t notice any of the quirks). Interior and seating position are nice.

Just wondering what that 2015 will be like.

Well done Toyota, well done.

2014 Nissan X-Terra


2014 Nissan X-Terra S
$25,670 base MRSP
16/22 MPG (advertised)
16.9 MPG (real-world, over a week of driving)

Overall Impressions:

A compromise. Less utility than you’d expect, rough and unrefined drivetrain and a very basic interior leaves an overall impression that this vehicle was built to a price-point.

Especially troubling as this was the “S” model with higher trim level.

There are better vehicles out there.

TMS (Tall Man’s Score): B-

Headroom: A

Headroom was reasonable–but it should be in an SUV.

Mirror Location: B+

The mirror location was acceptable but there was room to move it further out of the way. Side view mirrors could use more adjustable range.

Headrest: C-

Really intrusive. One of the worst headrests out there. Definitely need to recline the seat to make the car comfortable.

Given that other manufacturers are starting to solve this, Nissan needs to bring a better solution forward for 2015.

Legroom: A

Good legroom–and again it’s an SUV so it should be good. However, there is a bit of “sitting up” in the driving position, and legroom (if you need to stretch out) seems to be a bit awkward.

Seat Comfort: C

Don’t like these seats. Seem to have minimal support, and a very cheap feeling material (so cheap that I would worry about its longevity).

No telescoping steering wheel also cramps the seating position. (Why Nissan chose to leave feature out is beyond me–don’t all cars have this now? Surprised they didn’t have roll-up windows too).

 Vehicle Review

Engine: C

Loud and unrefined. And not enough horsepower for a vehicle this size. Did I mention loud and unrefined? (And a really lumpy idle…maybe it needed adjustment but it felt like it was always on the verge of stalling).

Transmission: C

Weird manual shifting mode (with first and second left and right and third vertical with PRN and D). Likely an offroad “feature”–and one I’m guessing no one will ever use. Also poor traction control in this drivetrain–had wheelspin on a rainy day, even with traction control on. 4WD switch is accessible from the passenger compartment.

Interior: C

Basic interior, filled with plastic. Cheap feeling. Lots of noise and squeaks from the cargo compartment too. This example has 30,000 miles, but even so you’d expect a “tighter” car. Put on a few more miles and this one will sound like a grocery cart running over a washboard.

Visibility: B

Decent visibility, with windows all around.

A bit better than most in that there is actually a hood (so you have at least some idea of where the front of the car is).

Electronics: C

Basic electronic systems. No digital touchscreen. No backup camera. Dash if from 1990, with a bright orange scheme that is harsh.

The good news is that there are knobs that can be used without taking your eyes off the road.

Utility: C-

An SUV where the rear seats don’t fold down all the way. Really?

Appearance: B-

Don’t like it–looks too much like a toy. And has a strange “step” to the side windows that make it look a bit like a bus. And those fender flares–ugly!

 Miscellaneous Musings:

Not sure what Nissan was thinking on this one. Ugly, cheap and underpowered–especially bad considering this was the higher trim “S” model. Not sure who their target market is–maybe it’s rental car companies, because I can’t see any consumers choosing this over the other SUVs that are on the market. Even though I’m not a big fan of the Ford Edge, I’d prefer that in a heartbeat over the Nissan.

Even though this came out with a reasonable TMS, it’s not a car to buy.

2014 Chevrolet Impala – FAIL


2014 Chevrolet Impala
$27,060 base MRSP

Overall Impressions: F

This car unfortunately was an epic fail. The rear view mirror completely blocks the forward view out of the car. As bad as I’ve ever experienced.

Could not drive the car–it is unsafe.

Exchanged the car for a Nissan X-Terra (review forthcoming) which is also why there is no picture–didn’t have the car long enough to take one.

TMS (Tall Man’s Score): F

It doesn’t get worse than this–if you’re considering this car, no matter what your height, carefully assess whether the rear view mirror will work for you.

Terrible design, simple terrible.

“Government Motors” at its worst.

2014 Ford Edge


2014 Ford Edge Limited AWD
$35,100 base MRSP
18.7 MPG (real-world, over a week of driving–better than the 16.5 MPG the last time I drove one)

Overall Impressions:

This one is growing on me–I’ve reviewed the Edge before, and will update the review here.

Would I buy one? Still the answer is no–still find the seats strangely uncomfortable, and for the price and mileage I’d be better off with an F-150. But I can see why some folks like this car.

TMS (Tall Man’s Score): B+

Headroom: A

 No change in this score–decent headroom.

Mirror Location: C

As with my last review, the rear-view mirror intruded into my view, and with a car this big it just didn’t have to. Poor design choice by Ford.

And again, I appreciated the nice backup camera. Good job on that Ford.

Headrest: A

I still like this headrest. Wish the seats were better to match.

Legroom: A

Good legroom–I was comfortable.

Seat Comfort: B

I was just as annoyed with the seats as I was previously. There are multiple bumps in the backrest and seat that seem to just be annoying. Not sure why it’s designed the way it is, but I’m not a fan.

 Vehicle Review

Engine: B

Upping the score here–maybe I got a better engine this time, but I felt like there was more scoot.

Transmission: B

Seemed ok–nothing special.

Interior: B

Nice interior, but nothing special.

Visibility: C

Again too much slope in the nose–you have no idea where the front bumper of the car is. Visibility otherwise was ok.

Electronics: D-

Dislike the electronics even more this time–and I should be getting used to them by now. Ford outfitted the Edge with “touch” buttons (that do not have any tactile feel, but just “beep”) and that means you have to look down from the road to use the climate control. Again, a safety issue for me. Really dislike the electronics in this car.

And as before the side mirror adjustment knob drove me crazy. It’s extremely difficult to adjust the mirrors on the Edge.

Simply an awful design.

Utility: B

Rear seats fold down, but not completely flat. Just ok.

Appearance: B-

Bumping this up a smidge–the looks of the Edge are growing on me.

 Miscellaneous Musings:

Now I’ve had a third chance with this car–and I’m not feeling the love.

It’s a passable car. Nice to rent. I just don’t feel compelled to put my green presidents down on this one. Like so many others, it lacks inspiration. Yet with everything else being so mediocre, is the Edge the best of a bad lot?