Category: Review Podcasts

By on March 1, 2006

A Volkswagen Golf by any other name is still a lot less spacious.  The power of love is a curious thing. It makes one brand weep, another brand sing. Change a bug into a little white Dub. More than a feeling; that's the power of love. Yes, I know it's old News, but Volkswagen's Beetle still gets a lot of love. You would've thought a retro reissue of Hitler's people's car would've fallen down the same rat hole that swallowed-up the mustachioed Plymouth Prowler, Chevrolet's WTF SSR and Ford's turkey T-bird. But no. Eight years after its re-introduction into the US market, VW's self-titled "New Beetle" is still here, people still adore it, and I still don't get it.

Admittedly, I'm not gay. While I do enjoy a well-formed six-pack, and consider myself a far better interior decorator than that stuck-up Connecticut con artist, I can't understand how anyone could find VeeDub's Bauhaus Bug "cute." I reckon J Mays drew the St. Louis arch over a Kohler bathtub and called it good. All the superb detailing that gave the 60's version its cutesy-tootsie cartoon character has been replaced with generic post-modern jewelery. To my eyes, the slab-sided minimalist Beetle is about as emotionally engaging as a Braun razor. The '06 facelift offers rounder headlights, more tapered wrap-around air dams and flat-edged wheel arches. It looks like… a slightly newer Braun razor.

By on February 22, 2006

Another M. C. Escher mini wagon. Anyone who looks at the new Audi A3 3.2 DSG and sees an overpriced economy car should not be allowed to play with Rottweiler puppies. While Ingolstadt's diminutive four-door may seem like a hatchback for badge snobs willing to sacrifice size for breeding, it's actually a four-wheeled fiend, a beast born and bred to take a bite out of the time – space continuum. Everything else about the A3– the foot on the Audi ownership ladder thing, the four-wheel-drive peace-of-mind shtick– is nothing more than a glossy coat on a vicious little monster. And I mean that in the nicest possible way.

The A3's aesthetic dissonance should tip off neophytes that something wikkid this way driveth. Calling the little Audi "ungainly" is like saying a Saab stretch limo lacks a certain finesse. The unconscionable gaping maw that is Audi's house snout never looked as hideous as it does here, attached to a car whose creators seems to have given up around the halfway mark. I presume the A3's sloping rear roofline was designed to distance Audi's $35k 'entry level' hatchback from the traditional econobox. At best, the A3 looks like a dwarf station wagon. At worst, it joins Mercedes' SLK as another petite whip suffering from Peter North syndrome.

By on February 10, 2006

The Chevrolet Tahoe's sheetmetal plays a Zero sub gameThe SUV is dead. Long live the sedan on stilts! Yes folks, Chevrolet has transformed their Tahoe from a cheap and cheerful workhorse for environmentally insensitive soccer Moms, to a deluxe cruiser for environmentally insensitive soccer Moms. The change is so well executed, so completely earnest in both scope and scale, you almost feel sorry for the beast. Like the Wild Things watching Max sailing back to his bedroom (already regretting his rumpus at the pumpus), the new Tahoe cries out to departing SUV buyers "Come back! We love you so!" What say you, America?

The new Tahoe is certainly a more alluring monster than the big bland boring box it replaces. Bob Lutz– the GM executive who once dismissed a passel of motor show concept cars as "angry appliances"– will be delighted with what Chevy's American Revolution has wrought: a happy appliance. The Tahoe's sheetmetal displays all the subdued modernism, implied practicality and aesthetic solidity of a Sub-Zero refrigerator, right down to the sleek door handles– I mean "pulls". The Tahoe's hood is as perfectly creased as an Armani suit. The SUV's bowed nose and tail, the gently curving C-pillar, the side mirrors' blacked-out bottoms – every detail reflects an entirely successful attempt to give the Tahoe's exterior a contemporary kitchen's supercool coherence.

By on February 2, 2006

Come join the conservative party!  Um, make that 'get together'.Getting old is not for sissies. Aside from a general degradation in motor skills, sensory perception, memory and earnings, the 401K set is prone to health complaints that are both fantastically expensive and endlessly annoying. Fortunately, there are compensations: grandchildren (kids free from a no-deposit, no-return policy) and the Mercedes Benz E350 4Matic. I'm not saying the E350 was specifically designed to salve the fading sensibilities of the blue rinse brigade, but any car this numb, beige and expensive is clearly aimed at Baby Boomers who are wealthy as Hell and aren't going to take it anymore. Unless you ask nicely.

The E350 is a polite request on wheels. While Mercedes' product developers have been busy performing bizarre genetic experiments in pursuit of The Next Big Thing– carbon fiber supercars, mutant crossovers, four-door chop tops, re-imagined Nazi staff cars– their mid-sized model remains reassuringly bland– I mean, conservative. On the downside, the E still suffers from the swoopy dorkiness of its oval headlights, which make the grill look small, which denies the E350 get-out-my-way gravitas. And it continues to share far too many family traits with the lower-priced C-Class to please the legions of status conscious Mercedes buyers.

By on January 23, 2006

Open the door and the new M5 tells it like it is: BLING, BLING!When I saw a mustard-colored Bentley GT rocketing towards my all time favorite highway exit, I knew lunch was served. Paddling from seventh to third and pressing go, I closed the gap between the M5's voracious prow and Bentley Boy's behind before the adrenalin could hit my bloodstream. As we entered the ramp, the Bimmer's heads-up display assured me I had enough rpm-age to blow-off anything that wasn't built out of carbon fiber and/or jet-powered. When the off-ramp widened for a few yards, I dove inside and dusted Bentley Boy into a fine powder. Despite my obvious, riotous supremacy, nothing changed. BMW's uber-sedan was not my friend.

Supercar scalping in a family four-door is a terrific way to kill an afternoon, but the original M5 earned its place in automotive Valhalla as the consumate all-rounder: a car that can schlep, thrash, coddle, cruise, potter and impress with equal aplomb. Make no mistake: while the M5's accelerative aggression and Nürburgring-fettled handling got the headlines, the uber-Bimmer's core appeal lay within its relatively humble origins, daily practicality and circumspect sheet metal. No other car– at any price– offered such a potent blend of ability and humility.

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.

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