Category: Car Reviews

By on September 22, 2017

2018 Chevrolet Equinox green front

I tried in vain, but I couldn’t track down a proper early ‘60s surf rock station on the SiriusXM radio during my time driving the 2018 Chevrolet Equinox. I was imagining the Beach Boys’ classic “409” every time I planted my right pedal in this improbably powerful compact crossover. Sadly, the basic facts and figures don’t lend themselves to poetic lines like “She’s real fine/my four oh nine:”

She can go/my two point oh.

My nine-speed, front-drive, direct-injected two point oh.

Giddy Up, two point oh.

My apologies for the not-quite-Brian Wilson earworm. Few crossovers inspire anything, let alone any hint of song. This Chevrolet Equinox has plenty of power (and torque steer), but can it measure up beyond the engine room?

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By on September 22, 2017

2018 Acura TLX V6 SH-AWD A-Spec San Marino - Image: © Timothy Cain

Is it possible to move this elephant out of the room?

Perhaps not, but whether we try to move the elephant or allow him to stay, a review of the revamped 2018 Acura TLX, even in this top-spec V6 SH-AWD A-Spec trim, will forever be set against a backdrop that is the all-new 2018 Honda Accord, a veritable wooly mammoth.

It can’t be helped. Acura knows the new 10th-generation Accord offers features unavailable in the Acura lineup. The TLX, meanwhile, features an interior that’s more than a little reminiscent of the ninth-generation Accord’s cabin. Fonts, buttons, switches, two-screen format — the upmarket/downmarket connections are too obvious to be dismissed as simply the mandatory parts-bin sharing of a global automaker with justifiable cost concerns. The new 2018 Acura TLX and the old Honda Accord are remarkably similar cars.

But is that so bad? The Honda Accord is, with good reason, consistently one of America’s most popular sedans, and the refreshed 2018 Acura TLX is a particularly nice interpretation of that car. Besides which, the Acura TLX isn’t just an Accord. It’s not merely an Accord. The TLX’s more powerful V6, a nine-speed automatic, and a very effective all-wheel-drive system make sure of that.

True, the elephant hasn’t exited the premises. But now that it’s standing out in the hallway, we can judge the 2018 Acura TLX V6 SH-AWD A-Spec on merit, rather than simply distinguishing the degree to which the TLX is or is not a Honda. Read More >

By on September 21, 2017

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Let’s get this out of the way right up front: The 2017 Honda Civic Si is not a baby Civic Type R. Yes, it shares the name and platform, but not only does it differ mechanically and stylistically in key ways, it also provides a different driving experience.

Different, but still excellent. Just a different kind of excellent. I’ll get to that right after I find my thesaurus.

Like its main competitors – the Ford Focus ST, Subaru WRX, and Volkswagen Golf GTI, the Civic Si is supposed to be the mid-level performance trim of a compact car (in Subaru’s case, the WRX is based on the Impreza but drops the moniker). As such, it’s not the outright burner the Type R is, and that’s just fine.

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By on September 20, 2017

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Occasionally, we at TTAC allow you to do our jobs for a day and offer a reader review of your own ride. Here is a review of the outgoing Buick Enclave from reader thegamper.

A decade. That’s how long General Motors’ Lambda platform has been in production. Not many volume vehicles can claim such longevity, especially those sold primarily to retail customers.

The last remaining Lambda is now in the throes of death. I was unable to definitively verify, but the last Lambda in any variety, the Buick Enclave, may have rolled off the assembly line in mid-May, right as GM was announcing layoffs at its Lansing Delta Township Assembly plant ahead of retooling for the 2018 model. New Enclaves ride on a new platform.

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By on September 18, 2017

2017 Fiat 124 Spider Abarth gray front quarter

I suppose it’s a bit like buying a car, but at once more limiting and liberating. Anytime I take the keys of a press vehicle, I must sign a long legal form agreeing, basically, not to be too stupid while driving someone else’s car. Invariably, near the top of the form is a serious restriction – that no one other than the person who signs the form is to drive the car.

I find this somewhat limiting. I understand the reasons, but occasionally some input from others can help evaluate the car. Thankfully, I found a loophole while driving the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider Abarth – I asked my 23-year-old self to drive the turbocharged roadster, alongside the current 38-year-old edition.

At twenty-three, I didn’t have kids. I had a mortgage on a starter condo with my eventual wife, but the full weight of life’s burdens were not yet bearing down upon me. So Young Chris decided not to wait until middle age, and he bought a sports car.

That’s why this discussion between Young Chris and Old Chris is an enlightening look at the modern Italian sports car, by way of Hiroshima.

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By on September 14, 2017

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It has been one of automotive history’s great rivalries and, like many such contests throughout history, it’s always been a bit more one-sided than we would like to remember.

In 1982, the Toyota Camry arrived on these shores to do battle against the newly revised second-generation Honda Accord. Their rivals have come and gone, changing names and market positions, but the Camry and Accord have marched in neat lockstep through seven generations. During most of the past 35 model years the Toyota has managed to outsell the Honda, often through the black magic of fleet sales but sometimes just due to consumer preference. Yet this sales supremacy hasn’t been matched by critical acclaim. With just one exception — the stunning “XV10” Camry of 1992 — the autowriters, autocrossers, and auto-didact auto-enthusiasts have always preferred the Accord.

Did I say there was one exception? For me, there have been two. When I rented an XV50 (2012-2017) Camry SE for the first time, I expected to find yet another ho-hum family hauler with delusions of monochrome sporting grandeur. To my immense surprise and delight, I discovered that this light and lithe minimalist wedge was actually absolutely brilliant both on and off the racetrack. 2012 was the final year for the bloated and joyless eighth-gen Accord and I felt that the new Toyota easily surpassed it in virtually all respects. This was a short-lived victory, to say the least. The 2013 Accord might not have quite matched its crosstown competition in terms of chassis dynamics, but it offered a more boutique-feeling experience with the further enthusiast incentive of a clutch pedal.

Five years of playing second fiddle later, Toyota has a new Camry SE once more. This car boasts class-leading power, massively aggressive looks, and a price that re-emphasizes the company’s desire for sales leadership away from the fleets. On paper at least, it’s a significant improvement over the old car. The only problem is that Honda has a new Accord on the way. It’s the ninth round of this battle. Can Toyota win, either on points or through a clean 1992-style knockout?

After five hundred miles with a fresh-to-the-fleet Camry SE, I’m saddened to report that things don’t look good for the challenger from Kentucky. Far from being a pre-emptive strike against next year’s Accord, this new Toyota finds itself unable to even land a decisive punch on the half-decade-old Honda that’s slowly draining from showroom inventories as we speak.
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By on September 13, 2017

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Not long ago, I wrote glowingly about the new Honda Civic Type R. Part of my praise was based on the fact that the Type R is bargain-priced compared to its competition.

Yeah, I liked the Type R. A lot. Even took a little crap in the comments for it (fair enough). But again, a big reason for my praise was the price. If the Type R was stickered the same as its three main competitors – the Ford Focus RS, Subaru WRX STI, and Volkswagen Golf R – would it still be “all that?”

On its own merits, sure. It’s very, very good. Great, even. But a strong argument can be made that all things being equal, the Golf R is even better. And I’m about to make it.

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By on September 12, 2017

2017 Honda Civic SI, Image: Jack Baruth

Long before he launched a reasonably successful solo career, and long before he took time out of his busy day to personally criticize my musicianship, Victor Wooten was already recognized for his unique and astoundingly proficient technique on the electric bass guitar. Some time around 1990, an interviewer asked him how much time he devoted to learning new instruments. Just for perspective, it should be noted that this was very much the era of Prince and a few other musicians who, like Stephen Stills and Walter Becker before them, would often record anything from a demo track to an entire album by playing all the instruments themselves, using hired hands to fill in the gaps on the road.

Wooten gave the interviewer his characteristic cocked-head pause before replying. “Instead of putting time into learning other instruments,” he noted, speaking slowly as if to a child, “I take that time… and I put it into learning my instrument.” There’s a lesson here, if anybody cares to learn it. Don’t waste your time doing things badly.

In the paragraphs that follow, I will attempt to convince you that the Civic Si is eminently superior to its more celebrated Type R sibling because it adheres strictly to Victor Wooten’s advice. The Type R attempts to supersize its platform’s basic capabilities to the point where it can do battle with everything from rally-reps to ponycars, but the Si pursues the much cheaper, much less ambitious path of being simply the best Civic possible.

Its success in doing so is beyond any contradiction.

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By on September 9, 2017

2018 Camry Hybrid, Image: Evan Williams

As part of a larger group of automotive publications, TTAC has access to a variety of content. We wanted to bring you some of the unique content we think lives up to TTAC’s standards and offers legitimate insight or a properly critical viewpoint to car evaluation. This story, by Hybrid Cars author Evan Williams, showcases the 2018 Toyota Camry Hybrid.

Toyota’s replacement for its popular hybrid sedan – sales of which have been falling off this year – comes along with the thorough overhaul of its entire Camry line. After years of cars that were reliable, efficient, and perceived by some to be boring, Toyota wants the new model to be reliable, efficient, and fun to drive. No, really.

Toyota is selling the new Camry as being an emotional choice, not just a rational one. Chief Engineer Masato Katsumata called it “visceral.” A strong word for a family sedan. Read More >

By on September 8, 2017

2017 Lexus IS350 F Sport AWD - Image: © Timothy CainBefore you’ve even pressed its starter button, you’re already mindful of a number of reasons most sports-sedan buyers veer away from the 2017 Lexus IS350 F Sport.

The IS’s decidedly Japanese styling, which I’m personally quite fond of but many TTAC authors detest, is an instant turn-off for luxury-car buyers who prefer subdued Teutonic touches. The Lexus IS is a look-at-me car, especially with $595 Ultrasonic Blue Mica and F Sport bodywork.

The third-gen Lexus IS is also bizarrely packaged. Driver’s ingress is made nearly intolerable by a small aperture. The doorframe lusts after your right hip; the center tunnel is waiting to aggressively greet your right knee. Entering the IS is like crawling under your kitchen table. Sure, you’ll fit once you’re under there, but adult frames aren’t designed for such maneuvers.

More obvious, now that you’re primed to ignite the 3.5-liter, 306-horsepower naturally aspirated V6, is the array of buttons and switches and controllers and contraptions that encompass the cabin’s frontal lobe. Few are where you’d expect them to be. Many do not operate in the conventional fashion to which you’ve grown accustomed.

Buyers could be put off by the 2017 Lexus IS350’s design, by its awkward access, by its unusual ergonomics, or by all three factors. If so, they’re missing out on an exceptionally balanced driver’s car. Read More >

By on September 6, 2017

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Let me start this review off with a promise: I will try to avoid any “VTEC kicked in, yo” jokes.

That’s in part because the 2017 Honda Civic Type R doesn’t exhibit the behavior of past VTEC engines that inspired the jokes, but mainly because the meme is played out.

Full disclosure: Honda provided us with travel to the Seattle area, and provided us with airfare, food, and lodging. They even used a seaplane to get us from Seattle to the hotel and fed us dinner on a small cruise ship. We got some track time in the Type R in addition to on-road drives. Also, they gave us seat time in go-karts, in which I spun out a lot. They left us with a scale-model Type R which will likely never leave its box. If it does, I will use it for living-room races against a scale-model Ford Focus ST I have from a previous gig, if I ever take that one out of its box.
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By on September 1, 2017

2018 Volkswagen Tiguan Habanero Orange - Image: © Timothy CainIt took Volkswagen forever. But finally, in 2008, more than a decade after the compact SUV craze began, the first-generation Tiguan landed on U.S. shores. The Tiguan was more premium-priced than it deserved to be and smaller than it needed to be, but with a potent powerplant and fun-loving on-road behavior, those who could afford it and fit in it were happy.

It took Volkswagen forever. But finally, in the summer of 2017, nearly a decade after the first Tiguan arrived and eventually watched the release of two new Honda CR-Vs, two new Hyundai Tucsons, countless rival redesigns, and a bevy of new competitors, the second-generation Tiguan landed on U.S. shores.

The 2018 Volkswagen Tiguan is now competitively priced. It’s properly sized — marginally larger than many rivals rather than distinctly smaller. This time, however, because of extra weight and an intransigent powertrain, the Tiguan doesn’t feel quite so punchy off the line. And in place of a dynamic repertoire vaguely reminiscent of an Mk5 Golf GTI — lively steering, quick turn-in, grippy cornering — the 2018 Tiguan is comfort-focused, keen on absorbing and mollifying and coddling.

Bigger, more comfortable, and arguably more attractive? The 2018 Volkswagen Tiguan finally sounds like a Tiguan American crossover buyers might actually want. Read More >

By on August 29, 2017

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Volvo Canada flew me and other automotive journalists to Denver, Colorado to drive the all new 2018 Volvo XC60. The XC60 is Volvo’s latest participation to the current compact luxury crossover boom, one in which it aims at upping its current market share from 3.9 percent to seven.

Full disclosure: Volvo wanted us to drive the XC60, so they flew us to Denver to do so.

It comes as no surprise that the XC60’s crosshairs are aimed directly at established German rivals such as the Audi Q5, BMW X3, and Mercedes-Benz GLC. Except, this Volvo has a special weapon up its sleeve: a 400-hp, plug-in hybrid T8 version. During my drive throughout the picturesque Colorado countryside, I had the opportunity to get plenty of seat time between both T8 and T6 versions, which not only differentiate themselves by their claimed power figures and efficiency, but also by their entirely different driving dynamics. Read More >

By on August 23, 2017

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Now that Steph has had his crack at it, we figured it was time for another one of us to get some wheel time with the 2018 Hyundai Elantra GT. Oh, and I spent about half an hour piloting the refreshed 2018 Hyundai Sonata, too.

I’ll cover the Sonata at the bottom of this report. For now, let’s talk about Hyundai’s hottest hatch, at least until the Veloster returns with an available N performance trim.

Based on the European Hyundai i30 but presented with unique-to-North America suspension tuning and powertrain choices, the 2018 Elantra GT arrives with a new design language and subtly enhanced proportions.

Hyundai will readily tell you the Elantra GT is a “tweener” – meant to be sportier than the standard Elantra sedan (including that car’s Sport trim), but not so sporty as to be a direct threat to the Volkswagen GTI and Ford Focus ST.

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By on August 22, 2017

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Confirmation bias can be a tricky thing to overcome in this business. You might not know this, but some people in this business think I have a bit of a preference for the Blue Oval. Some of my frenemies in the automotive journalism world have accused me of being pro-Honda. As for me, I’d like to think that I can objectively evaluate any car, but let’s be realistic here — we’re all humans. We have experiences and biases that rear their ugly heads even when we are doing our damnedest to shove them deep down inside ourselves.

But there’s a entire class of car I personally find reprehensible, for no other reason than I find the types of people who drive them to be, well, reprehensible. When I think “Luxury Compact CUV,” I think “Basic Bitch.” These vehicles serve no actual purpose. In most cases, they have less space than their compact car siblings, worse gas mileage, and prices that soar at least $5-7k higher. The only reason to purchase or (more likely) lease such a Basicmobile is to fit in with the other SAHMs in your subdivision who have seamlessly transitioned from college frat mattress to PTA vice-president in only 10 years flat. When a female friend of mine texted me recently with, “What do you think about the Audi Q3?” my response was so vile that I can’t put it into print (and if you think about the things I’ve written, that’s saying something).

As a result, I was absolutely determined to hate the 2017 Audi Q3 Premium when I selected it from the Emerald Aisle at Miami International Airport. There was only one problem with drinking this particular flavor of haterade.

It’s a pretty damn good car.

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