Category: Car Reviews

By on January 27, 2017

2017 Volkswagen Jetta S, Image: © 2017 Michael Freed

I’d spent about a year building up to this moment: my first new car purchase since 2005. A lot happened between then and now, including a messy divorce that took two years to finalize, and which left a giant, smoking, Ground Zero-style smoking hole where my finances (and credit) had been.

But I needed a second car so my 20-year-old daughter could use my old Buick LeSabre to get back and forth to college and her student teaching gig. So, I rebuilt my credit, Six Million Dollar Man style. I did my homework on financing. I drove Lord knows how many cars over a one-year period. And I decided on one that I thought was vastly superior: a Volkswagen Golf. I even negotiated a decent price.

Still, the numbers weren’t working.

“You have to be kidding. That works out to how much?”

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By on January 25, 2017

2017 Toyota Corolla iM

Long, long ago (2003), in a land far, far away (Torrance, California), Toyota’s American division woke from a fever dream of beige sedans, took a long, hard look at its life, and promptly embarked on a midlife crisis.

While the flow of staid and sensible Corollas and Camrys never ebbed, a funky new alter ego with a polar opposite personality emerged on the automotive scene. Scion was the Mr. Hyde to Toyota’s Dr. Jekyll. Youthful, offbeat, unapologetically boxy — anything but beige.

Poochy Scion made a splash, but even crises have a shelf life. Eventually, the free-thinking, free-wheeling designs that temped college graduates a decade prior morphed into warmed-over second-generation models with watered-down attitudes. The brand’s original clientele, having abandoned their amateur photography websites and once-a-week DJ gigs for babies and 401(k)s, fell away.

After 13 years, it was time to ditch the gold medallions, torch the little black book, and go home to the wife. But Toyota didn’t pull up in the driveway empty-handed. Read More >

By on January 24, 2017

2017 Honda Ridgeline Sport - Image: © Timothy Cain/The Truth About Cars

Imagine a world full of hefty, four-seat, eight-cylinder muscle cars. Then, appearing out of thin air, the Mazda MX-5 Miata arrives. You can draw parallels. The end goals are similar. But these are strikingly different machines.

Or consider a world in which buyers in search of family friendly SUVs are limited to Chevrolet Suburbans and Ford Expedition ELs. But after decades of dominance, in walks a totally different kind of answer: the Toyota Highlander Hybrid.

Like the first-generation Honda Ridgeline that bowed more than a decade ago, the all-new second-generation Ridgeline is a pickup truck. There’s a cab and a bed. It can tow and it can haul.

Yet the 2017 Honda Ridgeline is dramatically different from other pickup trucks, and not only in terms of construction. For better or worse, Honda’s truck is a whole ‘nuther kettle of fish. As a result, comparisons with other pickup trucks are, if not unfair, rendered largely invalid.
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By on January 20, 2017

2017 Toyota Tacoma TRD Off-Road

If you want a new midsize truck, you have four-and-a-half options. The geriatric but delightfully trucky Nissan Frontier, the recently reintroduced unibody Ridgeline, the insipid GM Colorado/Canyon twins, or the relatively fresh Toyota Tacoma. Each of these trucks has something to recommend it, but the midsize segment is not the dynamic space it once was. There are more station wagons available to American consumers today than mid-size pickups.

Amid the thin field of competition, the Toyota Tacoma is the undisputed sales leader. In 2016 it outsold its next closest rival by 46,000 units on its way to a 43 percent market share. And despite the lack of choice, consumers acquired 25 percent more midsize trucks in 2016 than they did in 2015. Thankfully, growth ensures that this highly visible yet under-served corner of the market will soon offer a selection more like Amazon than a Soviet-era grocery store. The Ford Ranger returns to the market in about two years, along with the much-anticipated Wrangler pickup. Nissan will soon update the prehistoric Frontier. And both Volkswagen and Mercedes are contemplating midsize entries.

Sales are robust for Toyota’s mid-sizer, but is it ready for tomorrow’s competition? Read More >

By on January 18, 2017

2017 Toyota Corolla XSE – Image: © Timothy Cain/The Truth About Cars

So you say you want to understand Toyota. You want to look the company in the eye and get a sense of its soul. Without spending hours studying kaizen and poring over 2000GT imagery and learning the significance of the number 86, you want to know why Toyota is different from, say, Porsche.

Allow the 2017 Toyota Corolla to be your tutor. In LE Eco guise, the fuel-sipping Corolla’s 1.8-liter four-cylinder produces 140 horsepower. In “sporty” SE and XSE trims, the 1.8-liter produces eight fewer horsepower.

No kidding.

With nothing more substantive than rear disc brakes, bigger wheels, and wider low-profile tires, the 2017 Toyota Corolla XSE and its less luxurious SE sibling hardly bring performance to the Corolla lineup. The loss of eight horsepower — and the gain of two pound-feet of torque – compared to the more efficient LE Eco aren’t performance-altering characteristics, either.

Think then of this Corolla XSE as just a Corolla, as merely a Corolla, as only a Corolla, as perhaps the most prudent transportation-oriented purchase a North American car buyer can make this year.

Or as the most joyless way to spend $24,130 on a new car. Read More >

By on January 17, 2017

2017 Porsche Cayman S Side at Massey Hall, Image: © 2017 Peter Bleakney

Replacing the lead singer in an iconic rock band is a thankless task. Van Halen fans never fully embraced Sammy Hagar. Paul Rodgers’ recent stint as lead singer with Queen was okay, I guess, and Axl Rose is now screaming it out in front of AC/DC. All fantastic singers and more than worthy in their own right, but how to you replace David Lee Roth, Freddie Mercury and Brian Johnson?

Enter Porsche’s 2017 reboot of its beloved mid-engine Boxster/Cayman. Same deal. The operatic flat-sixes that have propelled this duo since their respective inceptions sing no more, replaced by a pair of gruff turbo flat-fours.

Oh, the conundrum.

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By on January 13, 2017

2017 Nissan Titan Platinum Reserve - Image: © Timothy Cain/The Truth About Cas

To beat the establishment at the establishment’s game, one needs either to employ a high degree of anti-establishmentarianism or prove to be obviously superior than the establishment.

Recognizing that the establishment is entrenched, with six Detroit brand pickup truck nameplates earning better than four out of every five pickup truck sales in America, two pickup trucks launched in 2016 with markedly different approaches.

Honda, quite evidently, does not believe the world’s eighth-largest automaker can endure a head-on collision with the Ford F-150, Ram 1500, Chevrolet Silverado, and GMC Sierra. The Ridgeline is still a unibody pickup with a V6 engine, a 5,000-pound towing capacity, and a trunk under the bed. Put Honda down in the anti-establishment column.

Nissan, however, clearly wants to be part of the establishment. The second-generation Nissan Titan approaches Detroit’s pickups with ostentatious design, a rumbling V8, full-size dimensions, and a new chrome-laden top-trim level. But remember, Nissan can’t merely match the best trucks — the Titan must demonstrate indisputable superiority. Read More >

By on January 9, 2017

2017 Infiniti QX30 AWD - Image: © Timothy Cain/The Truth About Cars

Look familiar?

The 2017 Infiniti QX30, launched in the United States in late August, is the product of a now tenuous partnership between the Renault-Nissan Alliance and Daimler. There’ll be more such vehicles, most notably the Mercedes-Benz X-Class pickup truck that uses the Nissan Navara as its foundation.

That truck won’t come to America. But by procuring the Mercedes-Benz GLA’s architecture, Nissan now has an entrant in the rapidly growing subcompact luxury utility vehicle sector. Built in Sunderland, England, rather than the GLA’s German factory, the Infiniti QX30 shares its powertrain with the GLA250 and benefits from an Infiniti renovation.

Fittingly, there’s a meaningful discount available for a buyer who’s willing to consider the Infiniti variant instead of the original Benz. A fully optioned 2017 Infiniti QX30 AWD enters the playing field with a haughty $45,495 MSRP, absent a number of features you’d expect on a much less costly car, lacking the space of a typical compact car, and deprived of the illustrious three-pointed star that adorns its twin. Yet this QX30 costs roughly $5,000 less than a comparably equipped Mercedes-Benz GLA250 4Matic.

$5,000 less, but better. Marginally better. Read More >

By on January 6, 2017

2017-chrysler-pacifica-touring-l-granite-crystal-metallic7

I’ve said it before, and I’ll repeat myself: the minivan is the one kid hauler to have when you’re hauling more than one kid. Crossovers are the rage, certainly, but lack vertical cargo and passenger space due to the relatively high ride height. Also, a minivan’s sliding side doors are a godsend when strapping down squirming small-human cargo — especially when aided by a power open/close feature, or when parked in a tight garage.

That’s why I own a minivan — a 2012 Chrysler, to be precise. Besides the two kids, I’m often hauling family members, the kids’ friends, and/or the various implements of suburban remodeling/destruction. No other vehicle is as versatile, but I’m as susceptible to the pull of the shiny new thing as anyone else. Thus, I welcomed the appearance of this 2017 Chrysler Pacifica in my drive for an informal comparison.

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By on January 3, 2017

2017 Volkswagen Golf Sportwagen front quarter, Image: © 2016 Chris Tonn/The Truth About Cars

I’ve no idea how, as I’ve lived in the same Ohio county for all of my 30-plus years (sounds better than nearly 40) on this earth, but I stumbled upon an unfamiliar rural road not far from home last week while testing the new 2017 Volkswagen Golf SportWagen. New roads are naturally meant to be explored, so I flicked the signal lever and looked for adventure.

The weather was typical for late December: brisk, with frost in spots making the fallen leaves a bit slick. My first instinct was to drive cautiously, but I realized that I never get opportunities like this. A few hours alone behind the wheel, in daylight, with nowhere to be. The 4Motion all-wheel drive should save me if things get hairy, right?

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By on December 22, 2016

2017 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack – Image: © Timothy Cain/The Truth About Cars

If only I’d thought ahead.

If only a day earlier I had instructed the Department of Transportation to position cameras across the length and breadth of Nova Scotia and installed a few in-car GoPros, I could have sold footage from our first full day in the 2017 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack to Volkswagen for the prototypical all-wheel-drive commercial.

Bitterly cold temperatures had made the snow-clearing efforts from the Friday before a hit and miss affair. Our 150-minute drive from the Atlantic coast, in Eastern Passage, to the Fundy coast, in Cornwallis, turned into a 200-minute drive because of messy roads throughout the Annapolis Valley.

That was only the beginning. The next low began to pass through just after the noon hour, and by the time our 4 p.m. departure time rolled around, we knew we were in for a long drive home. With the confidence inspiring, brand-new Continental WinterContacts at all four driven wheels, we steeled ourselves for what would become a 270-minute drive home.

Four Cains, fast-falling snow, freakishly heavy traffic: this calls for extra ride height. Just a very little bit of extra ride height. Read More >

By on December 20, 2016

2017 Chevrolet Cruze Premier, Image: © 2016 Jack Baruth/The Truth About Cars

“Smooth, silent, and heavy.” That’s what I said when I drove a first-generation Cruze with 55,000 miles on the digital odometer. Another thing I said: “Ready for prime time.” Daewoo’s, excuse me, GM Korea‘s first take on a compact-class world car was, to misuse a phrase from an Eighties Updike novel, “a thick, sweet plaything” that broke all Korean-car stereotypes by being substantially heavier, quieter, and more solid-feeling than any of its competitors.

It was an intelligent, thoughtful decision on General Motors’ part, assuming it was a decision and not simply a side effect of the General’s notorious inability to understand compact-car engineering. And it ensured the Cruze continues to have a reasonable reputation in the used market as a safe choice, marrying some of the J-car’s cockroach durability with vaguely modern over-the-road dynamics.

But there was a price to be paid, and that price was fuel economy. The Cruze was always a heavy drinker, exceeding four-cylinder Camrys and Accords in its fondness for the pumps. Something had to be done, and something was done. The new Cruze is “up to 250 pounds lighter” according to GM’s press releases.

I’m here to tell you that the SlimFast program worked. The Cruze now gets class-competitive fuel economy. Which leads to the question: If that’s what you gain when you “get the lead out”, so to speak, what do you lose?

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By on December 16, 2016

2017 Acura MDX black, Image: © Timothy Cain/The Truth About Cars

With remarkable consistency, the Acura MDX has remained exceptionally popular for more than 15 years, through three generations, and in the face of increasing competition.

Vital to the fortunes of American Honda’s upmarket brand, the MDX is consistently Acura’s top-selling model, earning more than one-third of all Acura U.S. sales in four of the last seven years. No premium-badged three-row utility vehicle now sells more often in America.

But why is it so popular? And does it deserve to be such an automatic choice for nearly 5,000 buyers per month, for more than 835,000 American SUV buyers since its launch in 2000?

Refreshed styling for the 2017 model year joins key mechanical upgrades from the 2016 model year to create this fully optioned $59,340 Acura MDX: all-wheel drive, entertainment package, technology package, advance package.

With distinctly wintry pre-winter conditions and six occupants aboard, we spent one week with a 2017 Acura MDX and came away with few heartfelt compliments and few serious complaints. Read More >

By on December 14, 2016

2017 Honda Civic Hatchback vs 2017 Mazda 3 5-Door - Image: © Timothy Cain/The Truth About Cars

Until recently, American car shoppers generally treated hatchbacks with a level of disdain normally reserved for that fetid cheese you forgot about in the back of the fridge.

It made sense; most of them were base-model penalty boxes with all the charm of plain oatmeal. Now, though, the market is awash with five-doors featuring content levels and power outputs formerly reserved for much more expensive machinery.

Honda recently re-entered the hatchback game with its 2017 Civic, while Mazda has been hawking a five-door 3 since its introduction a dozen years ago. Last week, the stars aligned and the press-fleet gods shone upon TTAC by placing a Honda Civic Hatchback and Mazda 3 5-Door in the grubby hands of Tim and Matt during the same week.

While the two cars were optioned differently (a CVT-equipped Civic LX and a manual-equipped Mazda 3 5-Door Grand Touring), we nevertheless took the opportunity to get these two hatchbacks together and ask the question: “Which is gooder?” Read More >

By on December 12, 2016

2017 Honda CR-V Green in forest, Image: © 2016 Mark Stevenson/The Truth About Cars

Update: An earlier version of this story stated the 2017 Honda CR-V was “American-made.” However, the CR-V is manufactured in both the United States and Canada for North American consumption. Sorry, Allistonians.

We sat down for dinner in a rented space shortly after arriving in Monterey, California. The food, standard fare for such a gathering, consisted of no less than three different types of meat, the usual suspects of sides, and one or two items my small-town mind couldn’t infer from the non-Anglo-Saxon names printed on the buffet placement cards.

This was normal for a manufacturer press launch dinner: provide just enough “exotic” items for attendees to feel fancy, privileged, and cultured, but make sure the usual assortment of normal standbys are present so as not to confuse the rest of us with indecipherable choice.

Not adventurous enough to take on that mystery sushi? Here’s some roast beef.

That sauteed vegetable of dubious origin giving you second thoughts? Here, have a potato.

To the front of the room stood two new 2017 Honda CR-Vs. Much like the edibles offered to the journosaur guests, one of the examples wore a resplendent, bright hue; the other a more muted pigmentation for those with more conservative sensibilities.

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