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.
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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.
The word "cobalt" comes from 'kobolt', variant of the old German word 'kobold', meaning 'goblin.' As the story goes, German silver miners of yore believed that goblins would come and steal their booty, leaving worthless cobalt in its place. Not exactly an auspicious choice of names for a car, then. Still, one can hardly fault […]
Applebee's. Outback. Red Lobster. Mediocre eateries are carpet-bombing America's landscape with the sort of scorched-earth expansionist verve that would chafe Sam Walton. How is that, exactly? To a chain, most such restaurants have been designed to look, feel, and taste the same regardless of locale. Accidental tourists who dined in a Scranton Ruby Tuesday's have a sporting chance of finding the bathroom in the Seattle franchise without asking the waitstaff. Outsized, filling portions dominate, with the quantities served constituting something of an apology for the food itself. And yet, to gorge oneself stupid on basket after basket of Riblets is to leave feeling strangely bloated and unsatisfied.
So it is with Ford's new Five Hundred. Make no bones about it: Dearborn's 'Year of the Car' centerpiece is no gourmet's feast. More to the point, the Five Hundred is a blandly flavored proposition inside and out, enticing consumers on portion size, a smorgasbord of ingredients and a low price point. Like the themed restaurants in front of which it will inevitably park, the Five-Hundred is a blatant attempt to appeal to the lowest-common denominator, blueprinted to offend as few as possible.
The 2005 Dodge Grand Caravan SXT is a bland, blend-into-traffic ovoid. Despite ten years of mechanical innovation and evolution, the Dodge (and its sibling the Chrysler Town & Country) is still a dead ringer for the very first minivan. It still has about as much road presence as a Budget rental car.
Even so, the Grand Caravan has a message for all those NASCAR dads and soccer moms who left ten-foot-pole marks on the genre, opting for the go-anywhere machismo of towering, gas-guzzling sport-utes: come back, all is forgiven. If you can get over your image issues, the SXT is by the better beast for real-world parenting. Let's start with soccer
Here's the thing: the 2004 Honda Civic Si has already been written off. Somehow, the car that popped the cherry for America's import racers has become an also-ran, outgunned by a new generation of high-horsepower compacts like the Subaru WRX and Dodge SRT-4. Honda's legendary hatchback now finds itself in an awkward and unfamiliar position: on the outside looking in. So is it time to say 'Sayonara' to the Si?