Posts By: Timothy Cain

By on March 24, 2017

If you want to beat Roger Federer or Novak Djokovic or Andy Murray or Rafael Nadal, you have to be better than Roger, Novak, Andy, and Rafa. It doesn’t matter if it costs less to train you. It won’t matter if you’re better looking. It will never be sufficient to merely stack up better on paper; to be […]

By on March 23, 2017

2017 BMW 340i manual shifter – Image: BMW USA

The manual transmission isn’t dead. But it appears to be dying. Now Munich is making sure everybody knows BMW has a hand in the demise of the third pedal.

At the traditional core of BMW’s U.S. lineup, the manual transmission 7 Series disappeared three decades ago. So foreign is a manual shifter to buyers in the full-size luxury limo category, this seems entirely natural.

M models aside, the U.S. market lost BMW 5 Series manual transmission availability after the 2014 model year.

What’s next?

“Across the world, virtually all of our 3 Series models and above already have automatic transmissions,” BMW sales boss Ian Robertson tells Car And Driver.

“We will certainly see fewer and fewer manual transmissions being offered,” says Robertson.

Ultimate Driving Machine? (Read More…)

By on March 23, 2017

2017 Hyundai Ioniq Limited – Image: © Timothy Cain

The Toyota Prius is struggling.

That’s not terribly surprising. Fuel prices are low. Efficient hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and electric cars are available at virtually every new car dealer. The Prius has lost its early adopter buzz.

Oh, and the 2017 Toyota Prius is a grotesque little creature, shaped for the wind; not your eyes.

Toyota sold fewer Prii in America last year than at any point since 2004. In 2017, Toyota expects to sell far fewer than in 2016.

Making matters worse is the 2017 Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid I’m driving this week. The Ioniq is $2,485 cheaper than the Prius. The Ioniq is, at the very least, less unattractive. The Ioniq’s interior is both more attractive and more straightforward. And hear ye this: the Hyundai Ioniq is rated at 55 mpg city and 54 mpg highway; better than the Prius’s 54/50 ratings.

But the Toyota Prius has witnessed the arrival of a direct competitor from a major passenger car player before. Yes, the Toyota Prius saw the Honda Insight and the Toyota Prius killed that Honda dead.

Will the Toyota Prius become a serial killer and murder the Hyundai Ioniq, too? (Read More…)

By on March 22, 2017

2018 Toyota Sienna Limited - Image: ToyotaSurely it’s time for a new minivan from Toyota. Despite significant interior updates for the 2015 model year and significant powertrain improvements for 2017, the third-generation Toyota Sienna that launched in 2010 is still kickin’, seven years later.

First, the 2015 Kia Sedona shook things up. Then the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica confounded expectations. Landing shortly is the 2018 Honda Odyssey, which won’t surprise anyone if it’s the best in its class.

Clearly then, it’s your turn, Toyota.

Uh… Toyota, hello? Paging Toyota. Call for Toyota on Line 1, all-new Sienna required on the Princeton, Indiana, production line.

The 2018 Toyota Sienna gets a facelift. A refresh. An update. A refurb. What’s up with that? (Read More…)

By on March 21, 2017

2017 Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio - Image: FCA

Jalopnik published its review of the 2017 Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio (man, Quadrifoglio takes forever to type) and the world discovered that Jalopnik’s Giulia did not require a tow truck.

That sounds terribly sarcastic, but we wouldn’t be compelled to point out the relative reliability of Jalopnik’s Giulia Quadrifoglio (my goodness, Quadrifoglio takes forever to type) if Giulias hadn’t failed so miserably at other prominent publications in the recent past.

Jalopnik’s 2017 Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio didn’t struggle with remote starts, spend time getting fixed at a dealer, stall while parking, or die in traffic. Bless its thumping Italian heart. But Jalopnik’s Giulia Quadrifoglio was far from perfect. Editor-in-chief Patrick George says he doesn’t care: “I am willing to do what the Alfisti have done for decades and chalk up most of its flaws to that thing that is so elusive in modern cars: character.”

But George told me yesterday, “It’s not weirdo enthusiasts like me that Alfa Romeo has to convince. It’s normal folks who might otherwise buy a BMW or a Lexus.”

“And they’re not going to put up with these issues.” (Read More…)

By on March 20, 2017

2017 BMW 4 Series Convertible – Image: BMW

Choice is good for car buyers. But in the never-ending quest to produce incremental volume gains, the planet’s largest premium auto brands agree that certain niches are quickly becoming untenable.

Known for questioning in 2014 whether the global sports car market would ever recover from its post-recession collapse, BMW sales boss Ian Robertson told Car And Driver earlier this month that “some body styles will be removed in the future.”

Meanwhile, the head of Mercedes-Benz Dieter Zetsche said at the Geneva auto show that the lack of Chinese uptake for specialty cars “makes the business case for these vehicles less easy.”

Yet long before a model cull returns us to the days of tidy luxury lineups — 3 Series, 5 Series, 7 Series, and 8 Series as the 1990s intended! — premium German marques will first introduce a slew of new models. And the body styles destined for removal? Likely not the silly four-door coupes and impractical SUVs you love to hate. (Read More…)

By on March 17, 2017

2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid - Image: Acura

At American Honda’s upmarket division, the Acura MDX is the lifeblood; the premium crossover that keeps Acura’s trains running on time.

In 8 of the last 10 years — including each of the last 7 — the Acura MDX has been Acura’s best-selling model. Fully one-third of Acura’s U.S. volume over the last decade has been generated by the MDX.

Honda knows best of all just how important the MDX has been to Acura’s fortunes, having watched as the brand’s passenger car volume was essentially chopped in half over the last decade. Honda is removing the interference caused by the Pilot, Odyssey, and Ridgeline at the MDX’s Alabama plant by moving production of the big Acura to Ohio.

And more importantly for consumers, the first hybridized MDX — the 2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid — is launching now with a pricing scheme that evidently makes the hybrid the best MDX of all. (Read More…)

By on March 16, 2017

2017 Toyota Corolla iM rear – Image: © Timothy Cain

A year and a half since Scion introduced the iM in the United States, little more than a year since Toyota announced the Scion brand’s discontinuation, and six months since the Scion iM began to operate as the Toyota Corolla iM, almost every Toyota Corolla buyer chooses the inferior Corolla sedan instead of this hatchback.

Fortunately, the iM generates more sales activity for Toyota than it did for Scion. Over the last four months, for instance, the Corolla iM produced 6,548 U.S. sales, up 34 percent compared to the year-before figure claimed by the Scion iM.

After spending a week with the refreshed 2017 Toyota Corolla XSE sedan in January and the last week with the 2017 Toyota Corolla iM, it’s clear the iM is the superior Corolla. It’s clear that a far greater percentage of the 28,000 monthly American Corolla buyers should be choosing this car.

But they don’t. And they won’t. And there are a number of reasons why. (Read More…)

By on March 16, 2017

Honda Canada Utility Commercial: Image: Honda Canada/YouTube

Underneath its skin, the Honda Ridgeline is a significantly altered Honda Pilot, a large three-row utility vehicle related to the next-generation Honda Odyssey minivan. That’s hardly the stuff of which traditional, body-on-frame pickups are made.

But the Ridgeline has a separate, exposed bed, an elevated ride height, and competitive payload ratings. Therefore, it’s a pickup truck.

Or is it? In one recent Honda Canada commercial, the Ridgeline is portrayed alongside the HR-V, CR-V, and Pilot under the Honda Utility banner.

“Go where you wanna go,” The Mamas & the Papas sing, as a tree-lined bike trail appears with the CR-V in the HR-V’s rear seat, as a mountainside Pilot scene materializes in the CR-V’s cargo area, as the Ridgeline’s soccer setting unfolds from the Pilot’s third row.

Has Honda decided the Ridgeline is a sport-utility vehicle? A CUV? (Read More…)

By on March 15, 2017

2017 Alfa Romeo Giulia Ti - Image: FCA

In the latest episode of Consumer Reports’ Talking Cars YouTube show, hosts Jon Linkov, Gabe Shenhar, and Mike Monticello discussed the persistence with which their bought-and-paid for 2017 Alfa Romeo Giulia Ti has visited the dealer.

Only recently purchased by Consumer Reports’ undercover team, the new Alfa Romeo Giulia has hardly been able to undergo Consumer Reports’ testing.

“It’s a sexy car,” Shenhar says in introducing the new Alfa. “It has a really storied brand name. As compelling as it might look,” Shenhar says, introducing the new Alfa,”I don’t know if I’m ready to send anyone to buy this car.”

“It’s been back to the dealer about three times since we bought it.” (Read More…)

By on March 15, 2017

All Porsche 911 Turbos - Image: Porsche

Meet the new Porsche 911, Porsche will say in two years, same as the old Porsche 911. Same as the 911 before that, which was same as the old 911 before that and, well, you get the picture.

If you’re looking for the kind of revolutionary design changeover seen when Ford introduced a new Mustang in 2005 or Dodge unveiled a new Ram for 1994 or Hyundai debuted the 2011 Sonata, you’re looking at the wrong automaker.

This is the Porsche 911 we’re talking about, the car that causes other automakers to believe they, too, can merely tinker with existing models to please loyalists and protect their resale values. (We’re looking at you, Chevrolet Camaro.) This is the Porsche 911, a car that still carries its engine where Camrys carry groceries. This is the Porsche 911, a vibrant $90,450–201,450 ode to success that sells more often than budget-minded Toyota sports cars and Buick convertibles.

There’s absolutely no reason to change it. As a result, the Porsche 911 that will drop in 2019, CAR Magazine has revealed, will scarcely be distinguishable from the outgoing 911. (Read More…)

By on March 14, 2017

2017 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack/SportWagen - Images: Volkswagen

It’s no Subaru Outback, soaring toward the top of sales charts with all the force of an automaker riding a decade-long wave of rapid U.S. growth. But the Volkswagen Golf Alltrack, launched in the United States last autumn, is steadily earning a place as the most important Volkswagen wagon. By far.

In fact, the Golf Alltrack is quickly becoming the bright spot in Volkswagen of America’s Golf lineup and the Volkswagen brand’s overall hierarchy. Not surprisingly, the Alltrack is also dimming the spotlight previously shone upon the Golf SportWagen. (Read More…)

By on March 13, 2017

2018 Lexus LC500 front – Image: Lexus

Lexus has lofty goals for the new LC performance coupe, a two-car range encompassing V8 and V6 hybrid cars. The Lexus LC, Toyota’s premium division hopes, will attract 400 buyers in America per month.

That’s a big number.

Granted, Toyota sells more than 1,000 Camrys in the United States every day. In fact, Lexus sells 300 copies of the RX, America’s all-conquering premium utility vehicle, every day.

But the 2018 Lexus LC is not America’s best-selling midsize car 15 years running, nor is the LC the dominant luxury crossover in a market gone gaga for luxury crossovers. The Lexus LC, on the other hand, is a $92,995–106,295 Japanese coupe. 400 monthly sales for a two-door priced in that stratosphere is truly a big number.

And Lexus believes it will outsell the Jaguar F-Type, Porsche Cayman, Mercedes-Benz SLC, and Audi TT. Lexus believes the LC will sell roughly three times more often than the Nissan GT-R ever has. Lexus intends to attract more buyers with the LC than Mercedes-Benz can with The Establishment, the SL-Class; more buyers than BMW attracts with the vast BMW 6 Series range.

Why? Lexus certainly has its reasons. (Read More…)

By on March 10, 2017

2017 Mazda CX-5 – Image: Mazda USA

Mazda, heretofore an avid provider of manual transmissions, is killing off the manual transmission in the brand’s most popular product, the CX-5.

CarsDirect’s pricing analysts informed TTAC of the CX-5’s exclusively two-pedal future, having received confirmation from Mazda.

Few consumers were taking Mazda up on the company’s offer of an entry-level CX-5 with a manual transmission, so while the CX-5’s advertised base price shoots up by $2,290 with the loss of the standard shift, the typical transaction price for the typical CX-5 buyer won’t change.

CarsDirect says the CX-5’s manual transmission will continue to be offered north and south of the border. But for American consumers in search of a manual shift crossover, where are they to turn? (Read More…)

By on March 9, 2017

2017 Subaru Outback - Image: Subaru

“Washington is not a place to live in. The rents are high, the food is bad, the dust is disgusting and the morals are deplorable. Go South, young man, go South and grow up with the country.” —Not Horace Greeley

Subaru generates 60 percent of its global sales in the United States. For a Japanese brand that still relies on imports for half of its volume in its largest market, Subaru knows that 60-percent reliance on America is way too high.

Subaru needs strength in other markets. Subaru needs to diversify its portfolio. Subaru needs another America.

Unfortunately for Subaru, history suggests the brand won’t quickly find strength in other markets. History suggests Subaru’s attempts to diversify its portfolio won’t succeed.

Fortunately for Subaru, however, there is more America.

“It’s true we want to increase sales in other countries, but in terms of the place with the best chance to increase sales, it has to be America’s Sun Belt,” Yasuyuki Yoshinaga, CEO at Subaru’s Fuji Heavy Industries parent company, told Bloomberg.

In other words, Subaru wants to add some New Orleans to its order of New Hampshire; Burlington with a side of Birmingham; Kennebunkport supplemented with a dose of Port St. Lucie. (Read More…)

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