Monday, September 30, 2013

Cadenza -- a Whole New Kind of Kia

If you've been following Kia over the last 20 years, you remember those first cars. I tested a 1994 Sephia and it was pretty basic. It had everything you needed but absolutely nothing extra. It felt like a knock-off previous-generation Toyota Corolla. However, unlike the Hyundai Excel a decade earlier, it wasn't really bad. It was just plain.

Well, of course, we all know the story. Over the years, Kia's models not only proliferated but improved significantly with each generation. Now, it's time for Kia to introduce their "Lexus." It's called the Cadenza, and a fine flagship it is.

There's no compromise here. There is exactly one model -- Premium. It's big and it's beautiful. And, it's full of all the good stuff -- standard. You get a navigation system and a 550-watt Infinity stereo with 12 speakers, including subwoofer. You sit on leather seats and hold a beautiful leather and wood wheel, bask in full climate control, and much more.

1994 Kia Sephia
The Cadenza is motivated by a 3.3-liter V6 that puts out 293 horsepower and 255 lb.-ft. of torque under the shapely hood, all driven through a six-speed automatic with SportMatic manual paddle shifters. Yet, it drinks regular gas. The EPA gives it ratings of 19 City, 28 Highway, and 22 Combined. I averaged 19.5 mpg. The EPA Green scores are 5 for Smog and Greenhouse Gas -- midpack.

It's a great thing that Peter Schreyer, the former Audi designer, is in charge of how Kias look. When I parked my Smokey Blue Cadenza test car next to my wife's Liquid Blue Metallic Audi, you could see some similarities. The proportions are just right, neither boring nor overstyled. While the German brands today are abandoning their formerly conservative, handsome look for something more exuberant, the Cadenza wears the look of a classic BMW, Audi or Mercedes. It looks expensive.

Inside, the car lives up to its impressive body, with the right look and feel. The heated steering wheel has the top third of wood, the rest leather. It's always fun to turn a steering wheel and have a different-feeling handful. It is definitely a luxury touch. Everything is there, including an illuminated console bin, sumptuous leather seating, and the perfect blend of textures and materials.

My tester featured both of the two available option packages. In case the standard amenities aren't enough for you, order the Technology Package and get Advanced Smart Cruise Control, where you can follow the car in front at a set distance (and automatically slow down when that driver does). You also get Blind Spot Detection, a popular feature that probably prevents hundreds of accidents every day. This package includes "Hydrophobic" front door windows, which stay clear when the rain hits them. I wasn't able to test that feature, thanks to some fine late summer weather.

The Luxury Package fills in what the standard package lacks. Get a panoramic sunroof, upgraded leather trim, a ventilated driver's seat with electric seat cushion extension, and an electric rear sunshade. The Supervision meter cluster performs a little light show when you turn on the car. The number dividers for the speedometer shoot out from the center of the gauge and assemble along the ring of the meter. I never got tired of watching the show. An image of the car winks its headlamps at you, as if to say "Hi." There's a little musical tune, too.

It wouldn't be a great car if after all that equipment, it was a bore to drive. Luckily, it's not. The 3,668-pound car drives like it's lighter, yet sails happily along the freeway in cruise mode. The sport-tuned suspension, along with the 19-inch wheels and tires from the Technology Package made the car feel planted and ready for anything.

My car, as a benefit of containing these packages, had the optional white leather interior and no extra cost. You don't see those every day, and I'm sure you'd want to take care with it, but it illuminated the cabin and felt very posh.

With the packages, this car really has everything you could want. I was sure there must be some flaw, and I did find one tiny problem. I set the otherwise divine audio system to NOT change volume with road speed, but it insisted on doing it anyway, so I worked the knob a bit when commute traffic speed varied. But that's it.

The price is $35,900, including shipping, for the single model. Add in the two packages and you'll be at $41,900. That may be the only problem the Cadenza will have to solve. Are there enough buyers for a $42,000 Kia? I think if enough people actually sample the car, after their disbelief fades they may see their way to signing some papers and participating in the remarkable Kia success story.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Doors and Sardines -- Noises Off Opens in San Leandro

Noises Off, written in 1982 by English playwright Michael Frayn, is a farce. That's a good thing. But it also means that there's plenty of, well, noise, and pants falling down and axe-wielding and carefully-timed entrances and exits through the multiple doors built into the versatile set. There are many constantly relocating plates of sardines, a theme that works its way through the entire evening. There's a pretty lady in her underwear during much of the play. Someone sits on a cactus -- and you see it placed on the chair at center stage and know that a cast member is going to hurt themselves before long.

The production is a play within a play in three acts (all of them called Act 1). We get to see the first act of the production of Nothing On, performed within Noises Off, three times. The first is the dress rehearsal just hours before the first performance. Lines are missed, blocking is still awkward, and tension is high. We meet the actors and director in Noises Off and we see them as the performers in Nothing On. They step in and out of character, and prepare the audience to be ready for an evening of hilarity but one that will require us to pay attention so we can remember who's speaking when an actor opens his or her mouth.

Cute: There's a program-within-a-program for Nothing On, complete with humorous cast biographies.

The second Act One gives us a view from behind the scenes a month into the 10-week run. The staging again takes place in the country home of the Brents (who are sneaking back from out of the country, where they have gone for tax purposes). However, in the dark between scenes, the actors have literally rotated the set 180 degrees, so we now see the backside of the stage, and against it, the dark underside of life in the theater. It's who's dating whom, who's mad at whom, who's bored, who's tired, who's gossiping about whom. We learn that all of the doors open to a common space.

Meanwhile, the play, to which we've already been introduced in the first Act One, proceeds out of our sight. Listen carefully, and you'll hear the same parts, but, of course, not delivered in exactly the same way, with comic results. It's really yet another play starring the actors of Noises Off taking place behind-the-scenes of Nothing On.

The third Act One shows us the complete breakdown of the production in a performance near the end of the run. We're looking at the Brents' living room again, but it's a very weary cast, and the hilarity ensues when we see how each actor (in the inner and outer play) copes with the mess. There are some surprises worthy of Monty Python -- and Bugs Bunny. Most fascinating to me is how some Nothing On actors can improvise -- perhaps too well -- and others can't get away from playing the part exactly, even when it's ridiculously inappropriate. This got big laughs.

Director Erik Scanlon, in his Note on the inside cover of the program, compares this kind of wild farce to Looney Tunes cartoons, and it's true. The manic energy, carefully timed comings and goings, loud noises and pratfalls are here done with people, not animated characters, but it's the same feeling. Anything can happen, and probably will.

There's a third level in this play -- the actors themselves. In these conditions it may be hard to separate the real person from the two actor parts each must play on the stage. Certainly it's an energetic and likeable cast, including local veterans, mostly younger actors. From Row 4, Seat K, it was easy to hear and to understand their delivery. It must be a challenge to have to act as an actor and as an actor performing as an actor (do you follow me here?), especially when the performers in Nothing on are meant, like the Rude Mechanicals in Shakespeares's A Midsummer Night's Dream, to be hilariously incompetent. The rodeo clown must be the best rider and roper, remember.

I had a chance to speak with several cast members after the show, and they were gracious, funny, and, well, exhausted. They were also, being pros, nothing like the roles they played in either play. I may have to attend the final performance to see if they, like the cast of Nothing On, have fallen apart too (somehow I expect that they won't). 

Noises Off  is the latest production at the Curtain Call Performing Arts Theater at 999 East 14th Street in downtown San Leandro, California. CCPA's vision is to ensure that performance-based arts are accessible to everyone who desires to participate or attend performances by keeping ticket prices low and class/workshop tuition affordable.

Performances run from the Friday, September 27 show I saw through Saturday, October 26. Shows begin at 8 p.m. on  Friday and Saturday nights 2 p.m. for Sunday matinees. See for details. Tickets are $25 general admission (with assigned seating) and $22 for students and seniors. The theater is intimate, holding a maximum of 67. There's not a bad seat in the house.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Mitsubishi Outlander - Another Choice in a Crowded Marketplace

Experts predict around 16 million car sales this year. Many of those will be crossover SUVs; that category includes Mitsubishi's thoroughly redesigned Outlander.

The Outlander follows a pattern in the industry of offering a smaller "sport" model and a larger "regular" model. So the new Outlander follows the Outlander Sport into the world as a new '14 model.

It certainly looks different from the old car. New styling is softer than some of the more sharply angled designs out today. The shoulder line reminded me of older BMWs, and that may be intentional. The front eschews the gaping mouth of earlier Mitsubishi crossovers and now offers a flush non-functional "grille" at the top and a working portal for air below. The goal, besides distinguishing itself in the showroom, is to improve aerodynamics for better fuel economy. The car boasts a 7 percent improvement in its cd (coefficiency of drag) down to a remarkable .33.

The package stands well in traffic and your favorite parking place or driveway. My tester arrived in a handsome shade called Copper that glowed like the conductor metal itself. Interesting to me was the presence of the triple-diamond logo and the word "Mitsubishi" on the tidily styled rear. Is the company worried, after all these years in America, that folks won't recognize its famous logo?

It's true that Mitsubishi has had some hard times. While many savor the performance of the Lancer-based Evolution hot sedan, the latest Galant was a hard sell, and the sporty Eclipse went away. The quirky i-MiEV is not a volume seller. A tiny new Mirage is coming, which may bring some bodies into the showroom, but the real models worth considering today are the Outlander Sport and this new Outlander.

Inside, materials are hugely upgraded. The hard, flat bucket seat, nicely leather-wrapped, sits up high, so you can actually see the top of the hood. The wipers are hidden, so looking out, you see a clean line at the rear hood edge, and closer in, a straightforward black and silver instrument panel and dash that wouldn't look out of place in a Volkswagen. Piano black trim gleams while "woodgrain" upgrades the doors.

All controls are mounted high and are easily accessible. The instrument panel greets you when you push the start button, and says "See You," when you turn the car off. Friendly. I wasn't happy that the visors don't slide along the side to block sun during significant trips south in the morning and north in the late afternoon. The air conditioning is a little too energetic in its work, and the car felt cold a lot, but overall, it's a happy place to be in the driver's seat.

It's very quiet inside the car, thanks to increased insulation throughout. It's easy to enjoy the music system--in the case of my car, an optional 710-watt Rockford-Fosgate system with nine speakers, including a 10-inch subwoofer living in the rear compartment behind the third-row seat.

Speaking of those seats, they all fold flat, but the middle row took some consultation with the owner's manual to figure out how to get then to do it. The control that's visible only folds the seat partly forward and slides it to make room for third-row access. Lift the lower cushion and you'll find a button to allow the seat to fold flat.

There are two engine choices, and they're tied to model level. The base ES and mid-level SE models get a 2.4-liter inline four-cylinder that puts out 166 horsepower and 162 lb.-ft. of torque. It offers the MIVEC system (Mitsubishi Innovative Valve-timing Electric Control). That means it adjusts to run more efficiently, which is what all of these midsize crossovers are trying to do to make themselves desirable devices for increasingly green-minded families. A continuously-variable automatic transmission comes with the four-cylinder.

The Outlander GT, like my tester, employs a larger 3.0-liter V6, which ups the horsepower to 224 horsepower and 215 lb.-ft. of torque. While hardly burning rubber during acceleration, this engine has enough guts to make the Outlander fun to drive anywhere. Fuel economy numbers, officially, are 20 City, 28 Highway and 23 Combined. I averaged 18.9 mpg, and premium fuel is recommended, so this is not the car for the highly environmentally conscious.

The GT offers a six-speed automatic with a new sixth gear for better fuel economy. The EPA gives numbers of 6 for both Smog and Greenhouse gas, so the Outlander is a bit better than average. 

The GT or SE comes with either two-wheel drive or Super All-Wheel Control four-wheel drive system. Mitsubishi claims (rightly, I'd think) that all their experience winning numerous titles in the World Rally Championship, including several outright wins at the Dakar rally, a legendary tough race. The S-AWC system offers four driving modes - the fuel-efficient AWC ECO, the standard NORMAL setting, enhanced tractability in slippery conditions with SNOW and the maximum traction LOCK.

My GT had the GT Touring Package, which added a lot of stuff, including a usable Navigation system with a 7-inch touch screen; a lane departure warning system that helps keep you awake, adaptive cruise control that syncs to the car in front; a power glass sunroof, leather seats, and that super sound system. As the top dog, it starts at $27,795, but ended up at $34,720. The base ES starts at $23,820, including shipping.

Mitsubishi has done their homework and come up with a nice vehicle. Combined with the Outlander Sport, it has a one-two punch. But will people look and love it in large enough quantities to make it a sales success? It's always hard to say for sure, but the two Outlanders seem to be making a good name for themselves. If only people take the time to shop around, some will go for this all-new vehicle.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Hyundai Santa Fe - New, and Now, Two

In the car business, part of what makes you successful is good product. The other part is good marketing.

In Hyundai's case, they seem to be doing well at both. The 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe is a major update of an important model--in a significant segment. But their marketing is what will help move more metal.

There are now two Santa Fe's -- the midsize crossover SUV is now called the Santa Fe Sport. It has two rows of seating and uses four-cylinder engines. The longer model with three-row seating now sold as just "Santa Fe" used to be called the Veracruz. Remember it? Didn't think so. Hyundai is leveraging brand recognition for it's more popular model, which, like the compact Tucson crossover, is named after a Southwestern city and is helping the company to sales growth year after year.

The Santa Fe is handsome, wearing the Fluidic Sculpture design that has been so successful in its sedans. It has a prominent, chrome grille up front, as today's vehicles must possess. The lines and folds along the side appeal to the eye and give the body the solid appearance of an iron bar, not an inflated balloon. The 19-inch alloy wheels added road presence.

Hyundai vehicles, when they first came to America, were obviously not on the level of Toyotas and Hondas, and were certainly not in the ballpark with European luxury vehicles. Today, many Hyundais are built in the U.S. (although this Santa Fe was imported from Korea) and have a look and feel that equals, or even surpasses, those brands. While Honda was cost-cutting a couple of years ago, Hyundai was offering nicer and nicer interiors. Now, the appealing materials, high build quality and sophisticated design are part of what you get when you slide into any Hyundai vehicle. Even the subcompact Accent is a well-turned-out car.

Like SUVS have been for decades, the Santa Fe stands tall, but it's a crossover. That means it's built on a car platform and has a long, slanting windshield, so the driving experience is more like a tall car than driving a pickup truck with room for 7, as the original Ford Explorer was, for example. This is the norm today.

My Circuit Gray tester was the upper level Limited model. The GLS is the regular grade. Many of these crossovers today are only front-wheel-drive, since so few actually go offroad. My car was one of them, although you can certainly order one with power that  flows to all four wheels if you live in areas where it would be a benefit in the wintertime. In Northern California, it's not an issue. The Hyundai all-wheel-drive system is called Active Cornering AWD, which distributes the torque through a computer program to keep you safely on the road.

Hyundais have offered lots of features for the money over the years, and features like Driver-Selectable Steering Mode give a nod to Mercedes-Benz and Land Rover. A button on the steering wheel lets you select Comfort, Normal and Sport modes. It changes your driving experience. Comfort might be handy when driving around in town or parking. Normal is fine in all cases, especially on the highway. Sport tightens up everything for more fun on country roads.

While the lighter Santa Fe Sport does just fine with a 2.4-liter or 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder engine, the Santa Fe gets a 3.3-liter V6, which puts out a generous 290 horsepower and 252 lb.-ft. of torque through a six-speed automatic. That's comparable horsepower with other midsize crossovers, which tend to offer slightly larger displacement, such as 3.5-liters. The Santa Fe is a little bit lighter than its rivals, and this helps to get it EPA ratings of 18 City, 25 Highway (21 Combined). My actual mileage was 22.7 mpg. The EPA's green scores are a 5 for Smog and Greenhouse Gas - dead center.

The two-ton Santa Fe, more than 300 pounds lighter than its Veracruz predecessor, moves with alacrity on the highway and gets around town just fine. There's a place in my neighborhood where you have to turn onto a street that immediately climbs up sharply, with a right and left turn, and the Santa Fe felt happy there, not swaying back and forth, with plenty of energy to make the climb without downshifting. Perhaps its Vehicle Stability Management helps in that feeling in control in those circumstances.

My tester sweetened the deal with the Technology Package ($2,900). That added an enormous panoramic sunroof, with glass along nearly the entire roof, with the front half sliding open. It also included a navigation system--something almost essential these days. It also provided me with an Infinity Logic 7 550-watt Surround Sound audio system that was entertaining during my commute drudgery. A heated steering wheel was there, too, but it being September at the time of my test, it went unused.

Choices are simple--GLS or Limited and front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. Or, opt for the Santa Fe Sport for lower cost and better fuel economy, if you won't need that third row seat, the extra 10 cubic feet of cargo capacity, or the Santa Fe's 5,000 pound towing ability (it's 3,500 lb. with the Sport--and both require trailer brakes).

The GLS starts at $29,455 and the Limited at $34,205 (both including shipping). My tester, with the technology package, came to $36,980. So don't think "Hyundai" and "cheap" in the same sentence any more. That's competitive pricing, but not lower than rival vehicles. Today, Hyundai competes as an equal, so you have to decide if you like the look, feel, performance, features, and, that great warranty.

See my video review here.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Acura RLX Leads the Way

The 2014 Acura RLX is Honda's premium brand's new flagship. It is the largest Acura sedan ever made, the better to compete with all those other cars hoping for your luxury car dollar. It succeeds the RL, which has sold somewhat slowly.

Does a midsize luxury sedan have to have a V8? Acura doesn't think so. This new sedan has a slightly smaller 3.5-liter V6 instead of the RL's 3.7-liter, but horsepower is up by 10 to an impressive 310. Torque bumps up by 1 to 272. And more than 90 percent of the engine's peak torque is available between 2,000 and 6,600 rpm, so there's never a slow or hesitant moment behind the wheel. A six-speed automatic is the only transmission offered.

The new car addresses concerns the RL's problem of being slightly smaller than the competition, and therefore falling off many shopping lists. A two-inch-longer wheelbase provides cavernous rear legroom, and the extra 1.7 inches of width gives those happy rear passengers a little more private space.

No one can argue that the car isn't attractive, although it is not the kind of vehicle that jumps out at you. Staying subtle, the sharp-edged beak of recent Acuras is banished. In the now more subtle and rounded nose you'll see the Jewel-Eye headlamps, which look a lot like a large anniversary band, flattened into a plane. The sparkling row of lamps illuminates the roadway with a crisp brightness. At the other end, the taillights use periphery LED illumination, which produces a much more defined light than a traditional incandescent bulb.

Inside, there's all the soft and subtle touches that promote relaxation. I noted leather on the dash, something rarely found in anything short of a Rolls. It's all sweeping and energetic, with black surfaces and brushed-look trim. The leather continues on the seats, armrests, and shift knob. On the steering wheel, the adjustments at 3 and 9 for volume and digital information are little wheels--easy to roll with your thumb to make your selection.

There's a friendly four-note tone when you start the car and then--silence. The direct-injection engine (Acura's first) sends the car along the freeway like a magic carpet. It's rated at 20 City, 31 Highway, 24 Combined by the EPA, which also bestows a 5 for Smog and a 6 for Greenhouse gas--midpack.

Acura has promoted its wares as being filled with high-tech, and this remains true. On the trunk is the acronym P-AWS, which sounds like little cat feet but is actually Precision All-Wheel Steer. This system monitors and calculates the correct amount of independent rear-wheel steering (toe angle) necessary for driving conditions. So, you won't see the rear wheels move, but they do help you around corners.

Another happy acronym is the Lane Keeping Assist System (LKAS), which scans the road ahead and actively helps you stays in the middle of the lane.

An upscale and handy feature is Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC), which lets you set a desired speed and a distance interval behind the vehicle ahead. This makes it safer to use cruise control in light traffic as well as on the open highway. This system comes with a new Low-Speed Follow capability, so it still works even when traffic slows below the speed you set. It will even stop your car if the vehicle ahead is in range of the system. The next step? Self-driving cars.

There are five models--all sedans--and all made in Japan. The "base" car is loaded already, and the remaining four levels add something each time. The second level is RLX with navigation, which also gives you a seven-inch color display and AcuraLink. The latter connects your car to a world of communication and entertainment. Level three is the one I tested--RLX with Technology. My Crystal Black Pearl tester added nine items to the second level, including nicer interior leather, great-looking 19-inch alloy wheels, and nifty self-folding outside mirrors. It also gave me the accident-preventing Blind Spot Warning System.

The last two levels, RLX with Krell Audio and RLX with Advance, pour on the electronics. Krell, a big name in electronics that I've never heard of, puts 14 speakers in its namesake model along with manual and electric sunshades. The Advance, at the top, ventilates the already heated seats and gives you the Collision Mitigating Braking System (CMBS). CMBS helps prevent your hitting someone, working with Forward Collision Warning, which flashes lights if it thinks you're in danger of having an accident.

It's all very technological, but the driving experience is laid back and effortless. You do get to feel the car when you take it on curving roads, and there's some road feel mixed in. It's not like the land yachts of yore, and I'm grateful for it.

Prices start at $48,450 for the RLX and move up to $60,450 for the Advance. Add in $895 for delivery. My tester came to $55,345.

If you're a fan of Honda products and want the nicest, biggest sedan they make, you'll gladly forgo Lexus, Infiniti, and various German and American sedans for this new model. Still hewing to the balanced, restrained look of generations of Honda Accords and the original Acura Legend, it's bigger and better, and will not disappoint.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Honda Accord Coupe - The Sportier Smart Choice

The Honda Accord has grown to be one of the pillars of the midsize car market in the U.S. Selling hundreds of thousands of units every year, it serves the needs of people who want room, comfort, reliability, high quality, and anonymity. Let's face it, there are lots of them in any parking lot, in every color.

While most buyers opt for the familiar and useful four-door configuration, there are those who want a little more sporty look and feel. For them, the coupe is available again in the brand new, ninth-generation Accord.

While it looks related, the styling is distinctive, and that's the main difference. As a coupe, the car has two long doors, so when you open yours in the parking lot, be careful! The general contours of the face of the car are similar, but the coupe's grille is slimmer and doesn't contain the horizontal bars of the sedan's. The carved side proportions, BMW-like, are similar between the cars as well, but from the center pillar back, the cars share nothing except the Honda logo on the tail. More tapered, the coupe wears chunker taillamps and a bolder rear bumper.

Both sedan and coupe are slightly smaller for 2013 (a first), but the effect is mixed. The sedan, already much roomier than the coupe, loses nearly three cubic feet of passenger room. The coupe, however, gains 3.5 cubic feet. I was able to put a six-foot-tall man (my son) in the back without complaint, although entry and exit is much easier with the sedan's extra doors. 

Underneath these divergent styling attitudes you'll find the same two engines, a 2.4-liter inline four-cylinder and a 3.5-liter V6. As it's been for years, you get to choose between higher fuel economy and faster acceleration. With 185 horsepower, the four has eight more horses than last year's model, and is sufficient for normal driving. If you crave more excitement, opt for the V6, which delivers a heartier 278 horsepower, up 7 from last year.

Interesting--you can still order up a manual six-speed transmission in some Accord models, sedan or coupe. My test car, in Modern Steel (silver), had the V6 and the manual, and it helped to make the nearly 3,400-pound car feel more sporty than the sedan I  tested last year. Of course, sporty isn't much good in commute traffic, but the clutch isn't too heavy and the gear changes are smooth and easy. Pulling away from the freeway entrance lighting system or out in the country, the ability to shift for yourself is welcome.

The automatics vary by engine. The four gets a new continuously variable transmission (CVT), which replaces the five-speed automatic in the '12 model. This contributes to a three mpg overall fuel economy improvement. The four with automatic rates 26 City, 35 Highway, 29 Overall. The V6 uses a normal six-speed automatic, and achieves 21 City, 32 Highway, and 25 Overall. Yes, a bigger engine uses more gas--a tradeoff you will have to decide for yourself. My test car averaged 23.9 miles per gallon during the test week. The EPA gives the Accord Coupe with V6 a 6 for Smog and 5 for Greenhouse Gas.

There's an Econ button on the dash. I tried it, and it makes the car less responsive when you press the accelerator. That's less fun, but burns less fuel. As with the engine and transmission choice, you decide.

Although the new styling is a bit derivative, looking like a BMW and like the cars that also copy BMW's look, it is perhaps the most dramatic interpretation of the Accord, and there's no bad angle. I've seen the coupe in traffic and it has a nice hunkered-down appearance, and is not boring.

Inside, there's an all-new look and feel. Honda has taken a few lumps for cost-cutting over the last few years, but there is no evidence of that here. Dressed in basic black, there's plenty of silvery trim spread across the doors, dash and console. It will feel familiar to anyone used to Hondas, but seems to borrow some cues from upscale sibling Acura now, with more flow across the surfaces from one panel to the next. The silver slashes on the doors provide a rugged handle to pull the door closed and also a relief from the black plastic surfaces.

Of course, the requisite display screens are present in the console. The larger one at the top shows audio, navigation, phone, and other features as you use them. A smaller touch screen below it is a quick interface that will be familiar to smart phone users. The audio presets are there as touch spots, for example, and are easy to program with your favorites.

Honda understands that sometimes you just want a knob, so there's one for audio volume that stands out against the flat, shiny screen next to it. You can control a lot from the steering wheel, too, a common method in today's cars. Climate controls are at the bottom and are all buttons. This appears to be what people want now--at least the ones buying Hondas. There's a large round dial below the climate for accessing what's on the big screen, with Enter printed on it. Sometimes you need to answer the car's questions, including the legal advisory regarding using the navigation system while driving (basically, "keep your eyes on the road!").

My test car bristled with electronic helpers, including three that help you avoid accidents and are standard on the upper level models. The Lane Departure Warning system warns you if you appear to be changing lanes without the turn signal on. The Forward Collision Warning system flashes a red light and warning message if you appear to be closing in too quickly on the car in front. It occasionally misread the situation with parked cars on curving roads but would be a real help in stop-and-go traffic. My favorite, the Honda LaneWatch Blind Spot Display, gives you a rear view of the passenger side on the console display every time you activate your right turn signal. It's disconcerting until you figure out that it's there to help you.

My EX-L V6 with Navigation was the top coupe available. There are two four-cylinder models, LX-S and EX, but the V6 version is EX-L only (you decide on the navigation system). Prices start at $24,415 for the LX-S with manual transmission. My top-level tester runs $33,190 with either transmission.  Both prices include shipping.

The Accord Coupe is so pleasant and fault-free that it's easy to get used to its many features and cruise along happily. I did. While not a real sports car, the muscular V6, manual transmission, evocative interior and more than competent chassis give you some grins along the way.