Category: Review Podcasts

By on January 18, 2006

The MC Escher of station wagons. Call me an oxymoron, but I don't get the whole sports wagon thing. Fast wagon, sure. Hey kids! Watch Daddy wipe the smile off that smug bastard in the baby car. But "sports wagon" clearly implies high-speed cornering. Centrifugal force has this nasty habit of upending juice boxes, sending toys into black holes and making protective mothers scream with homicidal fury. I'd like to say BMW's 325xI Sports Wagon (SW) is an ideal high performance load lugger for lifestylers who don't share my domestic concerns, but I can't because it isn't.

The 325xI Sports Wagon's basic proportions look promising enough for wagon-loving corner carvers– should enough of them exist to establish a consensus. Although it's a fair distance between the front and rear wheels, the SW's overhangs could double as window ledges, and the car itself is athletically compact. Or not. It's hard to tell. Thanks to BMW's kooky "flame-surfacing", their 3 Series five-door's perceived size depends entirely on the viewing distance, the angle chosen and the amount of time spent staring at the thing. Taken as a whole, the flat-nosed SW says "road rocket" like a pepperoni pizza says "dessert."

By on January 13, 2006

Sweet, but not quite an obscure object of irresistable desire.If Porsche's new Boxster hardtop is a misspelled caiman, its 911 Carrera is a crocodile. While the two species share a common ancestor, put them in the same territory and one of them will end-up lunch. Maybe that's why Porsche rigged the fight; when you make a living selling Carreras, you don't want Caymans cannibalizing their cousins. Well guess what? Evolution will not, CAN not be denied. One blast around the block in a Cayman S and its future alpha status is inescapable. But let's drop this discussion of internecine conflict for a moment and consider the Cayman on its own merits…

Physically, it's no stunner. Yes, the Cayman's muscular fastback and sculpted haunches are exquisite: a deeply alluring shape that finally eliminates the Boxster's insipid push-me, pull-you design. But the Cayman's bootylicious butt draws new attention to the exceedingly bland Porsche family nose. Embedded fog lights may separate the model from its stablemates, but they do nothing to lift the miasma of mediocrity that has bedeviled the Boxster's face since birth. The Cayman's side air intakes are another distraction, lacking in both shape and scale. The German/Finnish roadster is also more color-sensitive than Martha Stewart; in anything other than black, the Cayman looks like a small and frivolous sports car souffle. Which it bloody well isn't.

By on December 19, 2005

A hedge against ego inflation?Jinking through traffic somewhere above the ton, it quickly became apparent that the Lexus IS 350 wasn't the ideal car for the job. The erstwhile sports sedan bumped and jiggled over surface imperfections like a tied-down tunermobile. It rolled through directional transitions like a luxobarge, helming with unacceptable imprecision and unwelcome lean. While the powerplant provided more than enough shove for the work at hand, the IS 350's dynamics drew a definitive line between "doable" and "enjoyable." If further proof were needed that I was in the wrong car at the wrong speed, the BMW M3 keeping pace provided it.

After a few polite lead exchanges, the M3 dropped the hammer and disappeared. I rejected the idea of visiting V-Max. The IS 350's 3.5-liter V6 holsters a surprising percentage of the mighty M3's oomph (at a fraction of the price), but it's no Bimmer beater. More specifically, maxxing-out a 3-Series anything is like gently drifting through the tunnel of love, compared to the baby Lexus' Autobahn of Doom stunt show. What upmarket motorist needs THAT kind of excitement? Indeed, why would anyone suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous ride and handling when any number of similarly priced cars offer a more pleasurable driving experience?

By on December 1, 2005

Cadillac called.  They want their creases back.  BIC on line 2.What's the difference between a rental car and a mass market motor? Not a lot. But this much is true: the new Fusion's headlight switch wouldn't seem out of place on an EASY-BAKE oven. Actually, Ford should be so lucky; Kenner has sold over 16 million cookers since the feminist's least favorite toy debuted in 1963. The probability that the Fusion will deliver similar amounts of EASY-PROFIT depends entirely on the Y factor. Why would anyone buy an automobile that's had any hint of personality professionally removed by a crack squad of cost-conscious engineers? Purchase price? Reliability? You tell me and then we'll both know.

If customers swim into their local Ford dealer's fishbowl to spawn between $17k and $21k on behalf of a new Fusion, they won't be doing so because the sedan's sheet metal haunts their dreams– unless it's a nightmare about being pursued by a giant razor. The Fusion's three-blade front foil is the car's only attempt to make a visual statement; to my eyes it looks as if it's saying "I want to be an Infiniti when I grow up". From any angle other than the front, Ford's family four-door is so generic that the binocular fusion required to scan it hardly seems worth the effort. To be fair, the Fusion's Euro-blanditude obscures its proletarian roots with unrelenting unobjectionality. How great is that?

By on November 17, 2005

The flying brick is back.You can't blame Jeep for launching a retro-styled seven-seater at a time when dealers' forecourts have become sport utility tar pits. The Dark Lords of DCX pulled the trigger on the Commander when the petrochemical sun was shining, hay was being made and the word "hybrid" applied to orchids, vegetables and farm animals. The logic was sound: build a more commodious SUV to keep fecund followers of Jeep's trail rated trucks within the fold. Something that would also lure lifestylers helming less venerable vehicles. But the execution is inexcusable. Even if Shell V-Power was free, you wouldn't want to waste it on the new Jeep Commander.

By on November 11, 2005

Where's the reset button? I probably shouldn't admit to auditory hallucinations, but every time I sat behind the new Civic's diminutive silver and black steering wheel, I heard the Star Wars theme welling-up inside my head. I know it's crazy: a vehicle known throughout the galaxy as the automotive equivalent of a pair of Birkenstock nurse's shoes suddenly inspiring thoughts of an Incom T-65 X-wing Starfighter. But there it is: an electroluminescent mass market motor clearly designed to appeal to the light saber set. In other words, the eighth gen Honda Civic sedan is the car of the future, straight from the past.

By on November 5, 2005

Imperious wafters need not apply.Generally speaking, I'm not partial to cars that remind me of death. But I respect Lexus for selling a model lineup that keeps faith with their "luxury car as mobile mausoleum" brand heritage. That said, the Japanese automaker's sensory deprivation shtick has taken a couple of major hits since the debut of the LS400, in the form of leathered-up, badge-engineered Toyotas. But the "new" GS300 is a far more worrying development: a bespoke model that turns its back on everything that made The Big L successful in the first place.

Visually, that's a good thing. The new GS300 represents a bold and beautiful break from Lexus' amorphous aesthetic. The four-door's front end seems a bit of an 8-Series crib, and the rear is as confused as an absinthe drinker, but the GS300's hunkered stance and nose-heavy proportions project a genuine sense of aggression. The rear pillars are especially wikkid, and the swageless sides add a statement of streamlined modernity. If ever a car promised to give the BMW 530i a decent run for the money– and quite a lot of money it is too– the GS300 is it.

By on October 27, 2005

A peach of a pastiche; perfect for its niche.You know what I love about the new Hyundai Sonata? Nothing. You know what I hate about it? Nothing. In other words, it's a hit. Out there in the real world– away from the elitist, over-educated automotive palate of a professional car reviewer– any vehicle that asks nothing whatsoever of its owner is guaranteed a place in the average American motorists' affections. If the automobile in question is cheap, reliable, comfortable and inoffensive, millions of people will buy it, love it and, eventually, buy another one. The new Hyundai Sonata is all that, and more. Not much more, but some…

Aesthetically, you've got to credit Hyundai for their tireless pursuit of total inoffensiveness. Rather than stick with any one of the company's four previous schnozzes, the Sonata's designers opted for yet another round of plastic surgery. This one's a winner; it's vaguely Japanese, completely unobjectionable and utterly forgettable. The Sonata's front end is proof positive that it's easier to copy a copy (i.e. the Honda Accord) than it is to knock-off an original. The same principle holds true for the rest of the Sonata's sheet metal; it's a riff on the Ford 500's riff on the Audi A6. For people who can't afford the real deal, or even recognize it when they see it, the Sonata is a perfectly judged pastiche.

By on October 21, 2005

 Greed is good, but gluttony is better. Greed means you have an insatiable desire for more. Gluttony means you're busy catering to your insatiability. Although many observers still consider the Porsche 911 a Gordon Gecko greedmobile, it's actually a glutton. For curves. No matter what kind of corner you throw at it– from a highway sweeper to a twisting country lane to a freshly laid race track– the C4 wants, needs, must have more. Reverse camber, broken surface, bad weather– it doesn't matter. As soon as it's exited one corner, the C4 is ready for the next. And the next. No question: the way this thing handles is a sin.

The C4 is the next-up next-gen 911: a wide-hipped iteration of the new Carrera's Coke-bottle-as-suppository design theme. As such, it's also a minimalist vision of the forthcoming be-winged and bi-gilled Turbo. Although the C4 offers Porsche-spotters a few cosmetic tweaks to the basic model's retro-modern mix, it is, at its core, another Armani-clad psycho-killer. Considering the C4's inherent potential for luring its pilot into legal entanglements, the stealth wealth aesthetic is probably a blessing in disguise.

By on September 16, 2005

The A4 Avant (mit Euro-plate). Is it-- finally-- Audi's tipping point? You gotta love Audi. Despite its rivals' explosive growth, The Boys from Ingolstadt have resisted the lure of sudden intended niche acceleration. While questions about reliability and resale value have shadowed the brand's progress like a pack of predatory wolves, Audi keeps on plugging away with a limited line of luxury limos, waiting for their turn to fill US owners' heated garages. As always, the A4 is both the point man and the mainstay of Audi's long march. Does the latest evolution finally signal the beginning of the end of the beginning?

From a sheet metal standpoint, the A4 is perfectly positioned to enjoy a rare window of unopposed conservatism. BMW's once-staid products have been turning Japanese (I really think so), Mercedes has renounced their discreet design heritage, Jaguar has overexploited theirs, Cadillac continues to live on the edge and the Asian brands are stuck in Pasticheland (save Infiniti). Aside from its inappropriately voracious snout– perfectly designed to make US license plates look ugly and stupid– the A4 is the ideal choice for drivers who believe discretion is the better part of showing off. It's old money on wheels.

By on November 26, 2002

 I have never driven a Porsche so slowly in my life. Of course, it was broken. Please note: it wasn't the company's fault. When the nice man from Porsche handed me the key to the Cayenne S, the box fresh SUV looked more than ready to show the world that the Sultans of Stuttgart can build a damn fast, fine-handling truck.

At first, the aesthetically challenged Cayenne S motored down the Spanish pavement with reasonable aplomb. That said, the coil spring suspension reminded me of a tightly sprung trampoline. But hey, not even the Germans can tie down an SUV to the point where it can blast around corners, without falling over or ploughing straight ahead, while providing Jaguar ride quality. The best thing that can be said about the Cayenne S' on-road comfort is that the BMW X5 4.6 Sport is a lot worse.

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