Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Test Drive: Chrysler 300 AWD

By Ben Aghajanian, UpShift Contributing Editor

The best full size, American luxury sedan on sale today.

Syracuse, NY
I recently had the opportunity to drive a new, 2013 Chrysler 300 AWD at Lowery Bros. Chrysler Jeep. This was my first time in any redesigned 300. This car represents the renaissance of Chrysler, and it shows in the details. 

This particular car was painted Diamond White, with a black on tan interior, and equipped with the 3.6L Pentastar V6, fuel injected and with variable-valve timing. The Pentastar is coupled to a brand new 8-speed automatic designed and (currently) manufactured by the German transmission specialist, ZF. It is noteworthy that this transmission is used in some of the world’s most exclusive automobiles, like the BMW 650i (which I’ve also driven, and is brilliant—link here), the Bentley Flying Spur, the Jaguar XJ, and the Rolls Royce Ghost. It is quite clear that Chrysler is sweating the details and aims to be taken seriously. I would argue that they’ve already leapfrogged Lincoln, here.

One of the first things I noticed when I sat down in the driver’s seat of the 300 was how much ROOM there was. I’m 6’3” and I had acres of space—leg room, knee room, elbow room, etc. This was in contrast to vehicles such as Ford’s Taurus, which, while somewhat roomy, has a very large center stack which intrudes on knee room. I find that most cars lack this “extra” space, and so I often gravitate toward SUVs which afford more room. Not an issue with the 300.

Secondly, the materials used in the 300’s interior are pretty good. It’s not an Audi, but it’s competitive with Infiniti, Acura, Cadillac, and perhaps BMW—though the newest interiors out of Munich are getting quite lavish. The seats are very comfortable and adjustable 8 ways, meaning that the bottom cushion actually moves independent of the back rest, allowing a much larger range of comfort and better ergonomics. Similarly, the steering wheel has a fantastic amount of adjustable telescoping range. It comes out further than in most cars, so even tall people will be able to find a comfortable driving position without reaching for the wheel. I got back into my car after the test drive, and had a “Wait, this isn’t comfortable!” moment.

On the road, the 300 handles itself rather well for a 4,000lb sedan. Traffic was heavy when I took my test drive, but the suspension soaks up bumps well without being too floaty. That being said, I’m looking forward to driving one equipped with the sport suspension and the paddle shifters—I think it could really take advantage of the 8 speed auto and the rear wheel drive architecture. One thing to note is that first gear seemed rather long. On an 8 speed, I would expect the first couple gears to be tuned toward acceleration. Nonetheless, operation was smooth, and highway passing was handled with ease, as was engine braking coming down hills.

The V6 gets the big Chrysler moving with relative ease. The exhaust note was a little raspier than I expected, but I actually welcome that in an age when most carmakers seem to tune their engines to do the best impression of an appliance. As this was a new car, I kept the RPMs under 4,000, so I cannot comment on the refinement at redline. The 8 speed auto was similarly competent. The only thing that I could not figure out was the apparent lack of a manual-shifting mode—only ‘Drive’ and ‘Low’ are options. I did some searching online, and according to, a Mopar enthusiast site, manual shifting is only currently available on the 300S trim (paddle shifters) and the V8 models (Autostick). This seems like an unusual oversight, as almost every other vehicle in its class has some type of manual mode, standard. 

When I first closed the door, the solid thunk made it feel as though I was sitting in a hermetically sealed chamber—it sounded that airtight. That first impression carries over to driving on the highway, where there is minimal wind noise, and conversations can be carried on with ease. I synced my phone with the Bluetooth via Chrysler’s uConnect multimedia system, and made a test call to someone, who could barely tell that I was in a car. The sound quality of the system is very good. While I still prefer buttons for in-car functions, uConnect seems to be one of the better touchscreen solutions. As a plus, physical volume, tuning, and climate control knobs are still present below the screen, so you get the best of both worlds.

The 300 is an impressive sedan overall. With the recent refinements, Chrysler’s LX Platform has aged well and remains very competitive. The materials, features, and driving manners are a cut above—not to mention the All-American styling that stands out from the field.
 Vehicle courtesy Lowery Bros. Chrysler Jeep, photos courtesy Chrysler Group.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

I Tried to Post an Advertisement on AutoTrader and Couldn't

Today, I tried to post an ad on AutoTrader to sell my mother's Ford Escape. This shouldn't be rocket science, right? After all, this is sort of AutoTrader's primary way of, well, making money. Think again. Here is a verbatim copy of my e-mail to AutoTrader Customer Service.


I posted an ad on and was attempting to post a Deluxe ad on AutoTrader, but I gave up. I'd like to provide some feedback.

I started out using Google Chrome. My zipcode was incorrect and I couldn't change it. Disappointing but not a big deal. I switched to Firefox and was able to successfully input the correct zipcode.

I wrote my ad and uploaded my photos. This didn't take an inordinate amount of time, since I had already written an ad for the free post. Immediately afterward, of course, I was barraged with a number of different upgrade options. This feels an awful lot like standing at the counter of a U-Haul; it's even got the orange color all over the place. I do not mean this as a compliment.

Once I was finished there, I submitted my payment information. I filled out the small survey on the same page, when all of a sudden - “Session Expired!” - my work was gone. I had only spent 10 or 15 minutes on this, mind you.

By this point, I was quite frustrated, so I went to the “Contact Us!” page. I typed a short note. But I received an error message.

To be quite frank: Why on earth would I pay $55 to post an ad on such a buggy, frustrating website when offers a 30-day starter ad for the fabulous price of free?

Disclaimer: Sadly, I do not have a commission agreement or any advertising situation with

PS: Anyone interested in a mint condition, ex-corporate 06 Ford Escape for $8,850?

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Diesel Cruze: A Great Engine in the Wrong Car

2013 Cruze, photo Copyright General Motors
By Cliff Strong of "Cliff's Corner"

It has been several months since I felt sufficiently motivated to guest write for my favorite auto blog. Leave it to my former employer, General Motors to supply the motivation for my latest contribution. I hope you enjoy.

In case you missed it, GM is touting their new Cruze diesel which appeared at the Chicago Car Show. Seems GM missed the deadline to introduce the new Cruze diesel at the Detroit Car Show. Had GM been in charge of NASA, we still wouldn’t have made it to the Moon yet. GM has yet to find a deadline they couldn’t miss. I guess consistency CAN have a downside.

But, there it was in Chicago. And to give credit where credit is due, the GM propaganda machine was functioning on all cylinders, doing what it does better than any PR organization in the industry, if not, the planet. Proclaiming that the new Cruze diesel will be a tremendous hit and an instant competitor to the only other family of popularly priced diesel cars sold here in the US; the Volkswagen Golf, Beetle and Jetta. Talking endlessly how Diesels are more popular in Europe than gasoline engines (the Europeans call gasoline “Petrol”). However, what any good PR wouldn’t mention is the fact that Diesel is heavily subsidized in Europe and costs on average 40 cents a gallon LESS than Petrol. Unlike the States where Diesel fuel costs on average 65 cents per gallon MORE than gasoline. Maybe it was in the fine print and I missed it. I hear once you get over 50, your eyes start to go. Or so my children have told me.

However, being over 50 and a former GM’er, I couldn’t help hearing in the distance the echoes of GM’s PR machine proclaiming at the introduction of the now but all forgotten J-Cars back in the 80’s (i.e. Chevy Cavalier and Cadillac Cimarron) “would blow the Japanese back across the Pacific”. Or, so we were told. Only to be topped by the introduction of the Saturn Car Company that again, quoting the PR machine, “will have the Japanese car companies packing their bags for Japan”. 0 for 2.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Test Drive: Mazda CX-5 Touring AWD

By Ben Aghajanian, UpShift Contributing Editor

As loyal readers know, I’m not a huge fan of crossovers. However, there are exceptions to every rule. UpShift has previously tested a Volvo XC60 and a Ford Escape V6, and come away impressed in both instances. The Volvo provides moves that would not be out of place in a (big) sport sedan, and the Escape does a darn good impression of a small, body-on-frame SUV, when it comes to the solid ride, low NVH, and towing ability.

Mazda’s ads claim that the crossover is a “product of compromise” but that they “have the technology to save it.” Does the CX-5 measure up to these claims?
I drove a CX-5 Touring AWD at Bass Mazda in Sheffield Lake, Ohio, last weekend. It was not loaded (that’s the Grand Touring model), but it was well-equipped with a power driver’s seat, sunroof, a crisp in-dash LCD touch screen, 17-inch alloy wheels, and steering wheel audio controls among the amenities.

Click "read more" after the jump to continue reading.

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