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I grew up in the Muscle-Car Belt the area between the Rockies and wherever the first Ivy League university is in the east. Problem was, my family was Not From Around Here. We were English. We spoke funny. We ate Marmite. We were scrawny and had bad teeth.
But worst of all and this sounds like an infectious disease we had Jags.
When Chrysler unveiled its PT Cruiser in 2001, it was hailed as a fun, versatile retro-mobile. While sales have remained relatively robust, virtually every automaker in the Cruiserweight class has introduced a new or reworked small wagon: the Toyota Matrix/ Pontiac Vibe twins, Mazda 3 and Chevrolet HHR (a.k.a. 'Me-Too Cruiser') among them. Even the […]
The Range Rover Sport arrived just as Britain's Parliament banned fox hunting. Call it fortuitous happenstance. At the precise moment Britain's shotgun-wielding aristocrats lost their main motivation for chasing each other over hill and dale, the Ford subsidiary came plying more on-road aggression. If these frustrated followers of British blood sports looked upon the new Landie Sport as an opportunity to blow off a little steam in less mucky surrounds, it's a goal they share with America's wealthier PTA MILFs. So, does the Sport have what it takes to get the blood pumping for aristocrats on both sides of the Pond?
The Land Rover Sport HSE looks like a top-shelf Range Rover with its hair slicked back. The Sport shares the exact same two-box profile with its big brother– complete with Rover's trademark 'floating' cantilevered roof. The more rakish Sport's canted greenhouse (both fore and aft) is the model's main distinguishing feature, and its only real attempt at a skosh of street cred. In the name of differentiation, Gaydon's designers replaced the Rangie's classy aluminum front-fender vent slat with a more traditional aperture, and substituted some overly ornate taillights in place of the bigger Rover's refined rounds. Details aside, the Sport remains the very picture of 21st-century shooting brakedom, albeit one rockin' a set of air suspenders.
For years, Volkswagen’s diesels were like cod liver oil: a worthy medicine that few American consumers could stomach. The stripped-down oil-burners hidden in the back of US forecourts seemed specifically designed for penny-pinching college professors and health food store managers. Customers who considered engine clatter, black smoke and lack of comforts (creature or otherwise) a badge of honor. When $3-a-gallon gas arrived stateside, hordes of “normal” customers suddenly joined the Euro-throngs clamoring for their daily dose of diesel. And no example was– is– more sought after than the VW Jetta TDI.
The Pacifica is the original crossover, launched by Chrysler before sky high gas prices turbocharged the entire genre. The Pacifica combines the utility of a minivan (without the stigma of actually having to drive one), the raised seating position of an SUV (without getting dirty looks from drivers with "Proud To Be Vegan" bumper stickers) and the handling of a sedan (without the fuel efficiency). While it may not have everything it needs to roust suburban schleppers from their SUV's, the station wagon stilts is still the original and best shot over the SUV's bow.
In keeping with its multi-tasking mission, the Pacifica doesn't look like anything else on the market. With its dramatic belt line diving from back to front, the forward-leaning Pacifica's sheet metal has all the style of a Sinatra fedora. The details are equally compelling. Unlike its minivan competitors, the crossover's 17" wheels fit the wheel wells. The door handles aren't refugees from a bottomless parts bin. The bright work is deployed sparingly and with taste. In short, the Pacifica is the first pentastar product in a long time that doesn't look like it was designed by committee.
That my trusty sidekick decided to pack it in just days before this WRX STi arrived can hardly be viewed as coincidence. Rather than face the license and physics compromising surety of Subaru's turbocharged, all-wheel-drive juggernaut, my radar detector committed suicide. In the dead of night, leaping from her once-cozy, hardwired and suction-cupped perch, Michelle (my BEL) fatally dashed upon the rocky shoals of my daily driver's center console. It wasn't a cry for help, as nary an ear was around to hear her final (undoubtedly false) bleating. Tragic, yes
but completely understandable given the circumstances.
For as you can plainly see, Subaru hasn't exactly wrought a Q-ship here. The STi is utterly infested with attention-grabbing aerodynamic addenda: skirts, scoops, vents, canards, EVERYTHING. Factor-in the gaping mesh grille inserts, look-at-me STi stickery, 17" 12-spoke BBS alloys, and it's a miracle owners ever make it out of their driveways without police choppers whirring overhead. And then there's the small matter of the rump, where some Suba-guru epoxied a park bench to the decklid, screwing a Dutch Boy finial to the pipework as some sort of perverse coup de grâce.
Accord and Camry owners: "You're Welcome." At the risk of sounding sniffy, Toyota and Honda owners owe a large debt of gratitude to Nissan. Without the Altima, rival pink-slippers might still be trundling around in severely underpowered appliances. Rewind to 2002, when Nissan lit a fire under the collective backsides of every carmaker in the family sedan segment. At the time, Altima's haute-couture shape and Tabasco-infused engine gave competing engineers gray hair– and their marching papers. How else do you explain today's 240hp Accord?
That was then. And this is
later. Fortunately, while Nissan's busied itself immolating the wick at both ends of their considerable lineup, they haven't lost sight of the car that put them back in the game. I submit Exhibit 'SE-R'. Okay, so the new uber-Altima only boasts a modest bump in horsepower (10) and an extra ratio (6) in the manual gearbox. But don't be misled: the revised Altima is no trim-and-tape proposition designed to hold the fort until reinforcements arrive. It's yet another leap forward for Nissan's standard bearer.
Life for this wee Swede hasn't been easy. Low man on the totem pole, bastard half-Asian stepchild to the rest of the family, Volvo's S40 sat idly by in darkened showroom corners while siblings bulked up courtesy the brand's design NordicTrack. Unable to do little but watch its brethren emerge with quickened reflexes, broadened shoulders and finely tailored threads, the colorless S40 must've felt like Billy to the rest of the Baldwins.
But no more. That's because Volvo's finally replaced the (ironically-named) Mitsubishi Carisma doppelganger with something more befitting the brand. As here in T5 guise, that means 'out' with the 1.9-liter light-pressure turbo (a tepid lump that'd barely get out of its own way, let alone stand up at stoplights), and 'in' with a properly force-fed 2.5-liter five-cylinder and six-speed manual. 'Out' with the uninspired oriental NedCar chassis, 'in' with a more robust platform spun from the same cloth as the Mazda3 and Euro-market Ford Focus.
Today's showrooms teem with vehicles with false pretensions. Four door 'coupes.' Hardtop convertibles. 'Sport' wagons. SUV-schnozzed minivans. Hybrid-powered trucks. At best, most crossbreeds and half-casts are insincere. At worst, they're incestuous counterfeits. In Nissan's case, the Maxima no longer lives up to its 'four door sports car' billing. The Quest is a minivan masquerading as modern art. The Murano is an SUV that doesn't want to get its feet wet. So consider the Xterra Nissan's mea culpa. It does exactly what it says on the tin: it's a truck's truck.
Nissan's new Xterra is based on yet another variant of the company's stout F-Alpha platform, first seen underpinning the massive Titan. As with the previous iteration, the new model is a fantastically buff, well-resolved form– butch without being vulgar. Clipped overhangs and purposefully-vesicated sheetmetal give it the muscular good looks of a gym rat. If the compact SUV segment were an elementary school playground, Xterra would liberate its classmates of lunch money, yet they'd all feel cooler by association.
Strolling through one of Honda's vanilla dealerships and coming across the new Ridgeline is a bit like happening upon Mike Tyson supping Earl Grey tea at the Dorchester Hotel in London. Not that you'd say it out loud, but the word that springs to mind is 'fugly'. Which doesn't really do Honda's first-ever pickup truck justice. For better or worse, the Ridgeline is right hook to your aesthetic expectations, instantly redefining the pickup genre in both form and function.
The Nissan Maxima is the Madonna of mid-priced motors. It can perform wild and sensational stunts, come home, pop on the kettle and write heart-warming children's books. Not bad for a car whose roots stretch back to 1981, when it was a 120hp wagon called a Datsun 810. Those days, salesmen probably threw in a couple of lawn chairs and two tickets to Grease at the drive-in to move the metal. Now all they have to do is toss a potential customer the keys.
Or just let them study the car for a while. The Maxima's body looks the way the Cadillac CTS wishes it did, before its designer decided to run for Mayor of Polygon Town. It's a clean, fresh design that's deceptively attractive. At first glance, it's easy to mistake the Maxima for another Japanese blandmobile. But then, as you experience the car's perfect proportions and restrained detailing in various lights and settings, the design begins to work its magic. Before you know it, words like 'handsome' and 'Nissan' seem less like oxymorons, and more like an invitation to a VIP room.
The second I saw the Acura MDX, it was déjà vu all over again. Like the recently sampled Honda Pilot, the MDX that landed on my drive was an eight-passenger SUV riding on bisected five-spoke alloys, slathered in Red Rock Pearl paint. Of course, there ARE important differences. Most prominently, the MDX is about 25% more expensive than the Pilot. Which makes the MDX Acura's $10,000 Question: Is the higher-priced SUV that much better than its well-sorted sibling?
Although the Acura MDX is a platform partner with both the Honda Pilot and Honda Odyssey, casual onlookers will scarcely place the MDX on the same family tree, let alone branch. Unlike Ford's chrome-reliant Mercury division, Honda didn't opt for the easy route to affluence. Up front, Acura's designers sanded away the Pilot's bluff prow and pulled the MDX' sheet metal into a beak, complete with projector headlamps book-ending a narrow, wing-shaped grille. They also opted for a more severely raked windshield and sloped backlight. By sacrificing utility for style and aerodynamics in pursuit of a more car-like aesthetic, Acura has done an admirable job avoiding the vehicular "parent trap."
Yup, the Griswolds are back. Or as near as I can figure, anyway… because this Honda Pilot is surely the Clark clan carrier incarnate. Granted, someone's gone and prized off the Wagon Queen Family Truckster badging, coating its formerly pea-green flanks with something called 'Redrock Pearl'. But make no mistake: despite whatever lip service the Pilot pays to off-road cred, Honda has chamfered what few edges remain on the SUV franchise and produced a whale of a big foul-weather wagon.
Props to The Dodge Boys for their steadfast refusal to give up on the Neon. Its original incarnation was a googly-eyed flexible flyer, with sharp handling and a willing (if coarse) drivetrain. The sports sedan earned plenty of praise for its sensibly-priced enthusiasts' appeal and cheeky looks– at least until its predilection for rattling to bits revealed itself. Predictably, over the last couple of years, the Neon's glow has been eventually eclipsed by newer, sharper, faster, better-built competitors.
And yet, here it is, in full SRT-4 regalia, slathered in Orange Pearl Blast paint.
Subaru has remained 'willfully odd' for eons. The Japanese brand's long-held construction tenets– horizontally-opposed powerplants, all-wheel-drive and eccentric styling– have only recently been embraced by the masses. Okay, so America's roads aren't exactly awash in boxer-engines, but controversial styling is certainly making a resurgence, and we all know how that AWD car/truck thing worked out. Most manufacturers now have at least one car-based 'cute ute' in their showrooms, from Honda's CR-V to the Saturn Vue and Hyundai's roly-poly new Tucson.
With the massive success of its Outback lineup, it comes as no surprise that Subaru decided to fit some lifts and extra-tall glazing on its Impreza platform in search of a few more sales. The resulting Forester is an enigmatic little toolbox with many charms, but an unclear role in the family constellation.