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Friday Fleet Notes: 7.13.07

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This week the staff takes on three very different vehicles: the Honda CR-V, Infiniti M35 and BMW 650oi convertible.

2007 Honda CR-V EX

My wife was a little stunned when she got into the CR-V; she was expecting a smaller cockpit area, especially given how small the CR-V seems from the outside. “I like the look if it,” the wife said. “It’s sharper-looking than the previous one, not as boxy-looking.”

We took our boys (the daughter is out of town, visiting her cousins) to Costco and loaded up the back, where there was plenty of space. There’s a shelf to hide your cargo, although I wonder if it would fray easily over time. The boys found plenty of legroom in the backseat.

For once, picking a radio station and resetting a button for my favorite station didn’t require a PhD in engineering (hear me, BMW?). I really liked the gas mileage, outside-temp readout and other information shown between the speedometer and tachometer. It was high-tech in its look, and packed a lot of info into a small space.

The engine was OK, but wasn’t peppy. Starting from a dead stop was a leisurely task, whether or not I wanted it to be. At freeway speeds, the CR-V kept up pretty easily and passed well. Just don’t bring it to your neighborhood drag strip.

Patrick Olsen, managing editor

The new CR-V was a little hit-and-miss with me; I liked the way it drove on the freeway, where I felt confident passing and enjoyed the smooth, sure ride. It lost me a little, though, once I was in stop-and-go traffic on city streets. There, the four-cylinder engine seemed too weak for the CR-V’s rather minimal bulk; I half expected to see someone with a rope over his shoulder, staggering to get me going, when I looked out the front window. Honda would have been wise to add a V-6 when it redesigned this car for 2007.

If that doesn’t bother you, though, the CR-V does most other things right. It’s handling was surprisingly good, and the interior is up to the Honda quality we’ve come to expect. A couple other small nitpicks, though: The cupholders in the nifty fold-down center console were too far down for my liking, and the backseat folding mechanism is more complex than it ought to be. Why aren’t all of these systems of the one-handed, one-step variety already?

Beth Palmer, copy editor

Of course I get to drive the CR-V home the week we pick up our new Subaru Outback. This was one of our top three choices, and I felt guilty — like I was cheating on the Subie. Unlike my wife, Patrick and Beth, I didn’t mind the engine and thought the smooth transmission more than made up for the lack of off-the-line acceleration. Plus, on the highway it had plenty of passing power.

I was a bit disappointed in the center tray that folded down and the fact that the driver’s seat was a manual affair. My other big beef is the annoying cargo area setup, where you need to fold the seats twice then lock them in place with a strap.

David Thomas, KickingTires editor

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From an engine-performance standpoint, the M35 lacks the low-end power that comes from the M45’s 325-hp V-8. The M35’s 275-hp V-6 is no slouch, though, and the car moves swiftly when called upon. The automatic also has one of the better clutchless-manual modes on the market today; there’s little delay between a driver-initiated gear change and the resulting shift.

Some of the M35’s available technology features proved to be burdensome. The optional Intelligent Cruise Control doesn’t work especially well on busy highways, because the closest following distance it allows isn’t short enough for the realities of the interstate. Also, the dial used to enter addresses into the navigation system is maddeningly inefficient. While the optional Lane Departure Warning system was tripped up by shadows at one point during my test, it did a good job overall of identifying real lane markings.

By Mike Hanley,

I still see Infiniti trying to be the poor man’s BMW, and while the G35 is now a solid competitor to the 3 Series, I’m not so sure about the M35. The engine is a bit better than the entry 2008 528i, but the steering wasn’t as solid.

The interior was really nice, but I wasn’t nearly as comfortable in the seat as I was in the 5 Series. And don’t get me started on that center stack of controls. It was much harder than the G35’s setup, and I had a hard time figuring out the A/C buttons when I first got in.

David Thomas, KickingTires editor

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It’s not often that I test a convertible in a torrential downpour one day and under sunny skies the next, but those were the conditions during my time with BMW’s 650i ragtop, and it performed rather well in both types of weather.

The 650i’s cabin remained dry during the deluge, but I could feel the convertible’s soft-top lining touch the top of my head now and then from the heavy winds. The test car had optional heated front seats and a heated steering wheel, both of which would be nice to have if you’re intent on driving your convertible year-round and live somewhere that has cold winters.

When the clouds parted, I was able to check out the car’s top-down performance. The 650i convertible has a fully automatic soft-top that stows in a well behind the rear seats. It’s completely covered by a steel body panel when lowered, which gives the car a sleek top-down look.

Wind buffeting at 60 mph is minimal, but the real top-down treat is being able to hear more of the 4.8-liter V-8’s exhaust note — at times, it sounds just like a Chevy small-block V-8. Who would have thought?

Mike Hanley,

I came away with one thought from the 650i convertible: I’d rather have the coupe. The coupe was a surprise because I didn’t know BMW could build a muscular sports car so well. I loved driving the coupe. The convertible to me seemed like a lesser being, and I think that’s just because I’m not a convertible guy.

Top operation was easy, and I did some top-down driving, but when I want wind through my hair I prefer a roadster, not a big, bold, Bavarian bomber.

David Thomas, KickingTires editor

Photo of David Thomas
Former managing editor David Thomas has a thing for wagons and owns a 2010 Subaru Outback and a 2005 Volkswagen Passat wagon. Email David Thomas

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