Category: Car Reviews

By on February 28, 2017

2017 Volkswagen Passat V6 rear - Image: © Timothy Cain

Time flies. 2017 is the sixth model year for the Chattanooga, Tennessee-built Volkswagen Passat, the Americanized family sedan that aimed for the heart of the market so routinely missed by its forerunners.

The other Passat, the Passat designed more for Europe’s tastes than yours, has since launched in new, eighth-generation form. Yet having lost all of the momentum created by Tennessee’s Passat in 2012, Volkswagen of America forges on with one particularly American cue: displacement.

An optional V6 engine is not entirely outside the midsize norm. In fact, the three best-selling midsize cars in America all currently offer a V6 powerplant. But it has become increasingly normal for competitors to skip the V6 in favor of turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder powerplants. That’s how Chevrolet, Hyundai, Kia, and (until recently) Ford play the game.

The 2017 Volkswagen Passat’s V6 is a 3.6-liter unit with 280 enthusiastic horsepower. All 280 ponies burble melodically at idle, as if to contradict the sober invisibility of the exterior design while heaping shame on the childish intake rasp of competitors’ four-pots.

Horsepower is undeniably intoxicating.

This new Passat, however, even with 280 intoxicating horsepower, is not a new car. And these 3,597 CCs cost a minimum of eight bucks per unit, or nearly ten bucks per CC in the case of our tester.

Unfortunately, there’s no replacement for displacement is only a valid statement if you’re willing to supplement your payment. Read More >

By on February 24, 2017

2017 Kia Cadenza blue front quarter, Image: © 2017 Chris Tonn

The squeals of delight from the back seat were nearly deafening. My eight-year-old had discovered the rear seat heater button while pawing at the door-mounted armrest.

She tends to underdress for the climate, and as usual, she was sporting shorts for her basketball game that morning — in 38 degree weather. Mercifully, the Kia Cadenza took the chill off both the leather seats and her butt, saving mine from a deserved berating from her mother.

The little details Kia sweated in creating this new Cadenza have added up to a remarkable luxury sedan that should be the benchmark for the class but instead will likely remain a second-tier player due to Kia’s history.

Shame, because I’m quite sure this Cadenza is a magnificent Buick.

Read More >

By on February 23, 2017

2017 Honda CR-V Touring Front 3/4, Image: © 2017 Timothy Cain

We’re all supposed to enjoy, or endure, an Alfa Romeo ownership experience at some point in our lives.

The 2017 Honda CR-V is diametrically opposed to everything the Alfa Romeo SZ stands for.

You’re supposed to drive a car that reveals its character through its flaws, as if a shifter that only slots into third at 2,755 rpm is somehow symbolic of soul.

The 2017 Honda CR-V doesn’t shift. At all.

You’re supposed to tell a great breakdown story that involves a leafy Vermont village, a greedy mechanic, and a 48-hour wait for a repair that resulted in the best drive ever with an ex-girlfriend who severed your relationship the next day.

Not a single word of that could possibly apply to a 2017 Honda CR-V.

You’re an enthusiast, you have taste, you’re vulnerable. We get it. But maybe you should just drive a Honda CR-V and accept the fact that boring, or dull, or soulless cars can be wonderfully effective ways of transporting one’s family.

I’m not thrilled by the realization. But I’m impressed by the all-new, fifth-generation Honda CR-V. Read More >

By on February 22, 2017

congrats

It’s been about seven months since I ran out of warranty in my 2014 Accord EX-L V6 6MT. We’re now just a touch over 45,500 miles at the third anniversary of purchase, and I’ll confess I’m starting to get a little itchy about the idea of keeping a new car for this long. Only four times in my life have I kept a street-titled car past the three-year mark: my 1990 Fox stuck around 67 months, my 944 was in my possession for the better part of 10 years, and I still have two Porsches I bought during the first term of the G.W. Bush administration. Other than that, it’s been churn-and-burn, usually somewhere between the 18-month and 30-month marks.

There are sound reasons to swap the Accord out, and sound reasons to keep it, as you’ll see below. I’ve also had a few interesting incidents with the car, one of which might even be considered a legitimate blotting of the proverbial copybook.

Read More >

By on February 21, 2017

2017 hyundai ioniq hybrid

At 30,000 feet above Nebraska, a man who could generously be described as severely corpulent had finally reached the level of personal solace required to allow his mass to spill out of seat 27D and into my own. It was another 1,500 miles to New York, and I could already feel the damp warmth of his body begin to encompass my left side as his sweat began seeping through his pants’ cotton-nylon blend and into my dark denim. Hyundai had invited me out for the introductory press event for its new hybrid/EV five-door, the Ioniq, and I desperately wished I was back in California braving unseasonably heavy rains on low rolling resistance tires as some overfed stranger’s lap oozed across my thigh.

I would have given practically anything to be back behind the wheel of one of Hyundai’s demo cars — not because the Ioniq was the pinnacle of automotive excellence, but because, a day earlier, the company claimed the hybrid version could make the entire transcontinental journey for roughly $100. I’d have gladly paid the Benjamin and spent four headache-free days on the road to avoid four of the most emotionally traumatic hours of my life.

While saying that Hyundai’s new green machines are little more than a preferable alternative to being smothered by middle-aged flesh isn’t the highest praise, I can also say that the Ioniq Electric, Hybrid, and Plug-in Hybrid are all superlatively serviceable — surpassing expectations without ever becoming a sensation. This is adequacy at its most acceptableRead More >

By on February 21, 2017

2017 Mercedes-AMG C63 S Sedan at Sebring, Image: © 2017 Jack Baruth

When Mercedes-Benz brought the W201 platform here as the somewhat oddly named 190E 2.3, it was immediately nicknamed the “baby Benz.” The successor to that car, yclept “C-Class” to fit precisely within Daimler-Benz’s new idiot-compatible nomenclature, became known as the “Cheap-Class” at Mercedes-Benz dealerships.

The car you see above, piloted by Danger Girl at Sebring International Raceway in what was not a violation of the Hertz Dream Cars rental agreement, is no longer baby-sized. Nor is it particularly cheap at the as-tested price of just over $74,000. So what is it, exactly?

Well, it’s absurdly powerful; the Pep-Boys-style block “S” at the end of the C63 badge indicates a full 503 horsepower from a twin-turbo 4.0-liter V8. It’s remarkably well-equipped, although there are a few omissions about which one could gripe and I’ll discuss those below. It’s as competent as you’d expect, being the top-spec sedan version of a car that is surprisingly decent even in its poverty-spec, MB-Tex-equipped four-cylinder form.

Most of all, however, the 2017 Mercedes-AMG C63 S is a sharp reminder that AMG isn’t what it used to be, for better or for worse.

Read More >

By on February 14, 2017

2017 Chevrolet Cruze PRemier hatchback - Image: © Timothy Cain/The Truth About Cars

It’s not easy to live down past embarrassments.

In a junior high school basketball game, I banked in a free throw. Two decades later, do you think my older brothers have forgotten?

More than two decades ago, General Motors launched the third-generation Chevrolet Cavalier. The degree to which it was an abysmal excuse for a Honda Civic rival became increasingly clear over its decade-long run. Although its replacement, the Chevrolet Cobalt, won’t go down in history as an all-time great, it was a meaningful leap forward. The Cobalt’s replacement, Chevrolet’s first Cruze, was full of big car manners in a small car body.

Now we have the second-generation Cruze, thankfully offered in North America in a hatchback bodystyle.

The 2017 Chevrolet Cruze Hatchback is by no means perfect, but if you haven’t already re-written the line in your brain under “Chevrolet Small Car Reputation,” it’s time to do so. Read More >

By on February 13, 2017

2017 Subaru Crosstrek 2.0i Limited

The 2017 Subaru Crosstrek has the bad luck of living in the shadow of a vehicle that doesn’t yet exist. That phantom would be the looming 2018 Crosstrek, which borrows the new-for-2017 Impreza’s modular platform and, no doubt, enough technological, mechanical and appearance upgrades to make the old model look ancient overnight.

So, if you’re stuck living in northern climes and counting pennies is your idea of a thrilling good time, now’s a great time to sit back and wait patiently for a killer deal on the outgoing model. Because, replacement or not, it’s popular for good reason. And no, not just because of Subaru’s newfound status as the go-to conveyor of the nonconformist middle class.

With little changed since its 2013 model year debut, save for the elimination of the “XV” prefix, a minor 2016 facelift, and the disappearance of a short-lived hybrid variant, the Crosstrek enters the last year of its first generation with confidence. This jacked-up Impreza 5-door has a life ahead of it and a fan base behind it. Anyone who questions the reasons for the model’s popularity had best pack their bags, head north, and experience a month where it snowed at least every other day. Read More >

By on February 9, 2017

2017 Ram 2500 Power Wagon

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles has been on a bit of a mental streak lately.

Rip the seats out of a Hellcat to create the Demon? Sure!

Drop a V8 engine the size of a grand piano into a Durango and perform all-wheel drive burnouts? Why not?

The level of brash, automotive lunacy on offer from Auburn Hills is appalling. I think it’s great.

It’s no surprise, then, Ram chose to amp up the capability and in-your-face style of its Power Wagon when it came time for a refresh. Big tires, bold grilles, and billboard-sized badges; customers in the market for a Power Wagon are not generally a bunch of wallflowers.

Read More >

By on February 9, 2017

Bozi driving 2016 Subaru WRX on track in Charlotte, Image: © 2016 Bojan Tatarevic

The WRX passed the one year mark a few months ago and the odometer hasn’t stopped rolling. It’s been on a few road trips, a track day or two, and racked up another 12,000 miles since the last update in August.

The new car smell might be fading, but it feels just as new as it did 15 months ago. I’ve mostly kept my urge to modify it at bay, but it’s received a few tweaks for comfort along with a few parts to make it perform a little better on track.

Our last update ended with a plan to attend some competitive driving events and, as luck would have it, SCCA offered a demanding multi-day event that would put the car through its paces.

Read More >

By on February 7, 2017

2017 Ford Flex Limited EcoBoost - Image: © Timothy Cain/The Truth About Cars

My sister hates the Ford Flex.

She’s never driven a Ford Flex, mind you. She just hates the way it looks.

I, on the other hand, am a huge fan of the Ford Flex’s exterior design, particularly in Blue Jeans paint, particularly without these black wheels.

There are only two sides to this argument. There is no middle ground on which you stand and declare, “Meh, it’s alright.” Since 2008, consumers have fallen on either one side of the fence or the other. You either love the Ford Flex, or you hate the Ford Flex.

Based on the Flex’s lack of marketplace success, there are apparently too many haters. Some nine years after the Flex was launched, inspired in 2008 by the 2005’s Ford Fairlane Concept, Ford’s alternative crossover is increasingly forced into an ever-narrowing niche. The style quotient remains high — at least in the eyes of those who’ve always loved it — but the Flex now manifests too many signs of old age in a market full of remarkably competent and more popular challengers. Read More >

By on February 6, 2017

2017 Nissan Rogue SL AWD Palatial Ruby Front Quarter, Image: © 2017 Chris Tonn

Internet eyeballs are like sweet candy to “content producers” like yours truly, so I apologize for the clickbait title. After all, the iconic, elemental roadster has nearly nothing in common with a two-ton, all-wheel-drive CUV at first glance — or even fifth glance. But look deeper at each vehicle’s mission, and I’m convinced the 2017 Nissan Rogue defines its category just as the Miata has become the universal sports car.

While I’d love nothing more than to see a pack of 50 Spec Rogues bashing each other at the SCCA Runoffs this September, I’m referring to how thoroughly each vehicle completely disappears around the driver. I felt immediately at home upon sliding behind the wheel, and my daily commute was as relaxed as any I’d experienced in any car.

Read More >

By on February 3, 2017

dominos-dxp-the-truth-about-cars-img_0095

If you’re going to a party to watch the big game this Sunday, there’s a good chance pizza will be on the menu.

According to the good folks at the National Restaurant Association, Super Bowl Sunday is the biggest day of the year for the pizza industry. Pizza Hut will sell at least 2 million pies and Domino’s expects to sell over 12 million slices.

Why are we talking about pizza at a car publication? Well, since game watchers will be too busy, erm, watching the game, they’ll likely have their pizzas delivered. If that pizza comes from your local Domino’s, it’ll be delivered by this: the Domino’s DXP.
Read More >

By on February 3, 2017

2017 Kia Niro Hybrid Hotel Emma, Image: © 2017 Mark Stevenson/The Truth About Cars

Remember MTV? Back on September 18, 1983, the once-music-oriented television station — before its foray into an endless stream of mindless reality programming — broadcast a momentous event in rock history. The members of KISS, who’d never previously showed their bare faces in public, appeared in front of a camera without makeup for the very first time.

Instantly, the members of New York City rock band were normal — as far as rockers can be considered normal, I suppose.

In that same vein, Kia’s new Niro is the unmasking of the hybrid. Its crossover shape wouldn’t look out of place as a conventional, dino-juice powered vehicle on any dealer lot. The Niro sports no folded sheetmetal, no oddly proportioned kammback, and no spaghettified headlights.

It’s normal — as far as hybrids can be considered normal, I suppose. And that’s the point.

Read More >

By on February 2, 2017

2017 Subaru Impreza Sport Exterior, Image: Subaru

The Impreza has been the oddball of the economy car bunch since its inception, so it’s fitting that Subaru launched the next-generation compact at the unique and peculiar Pantai Inn in La Jolla, California.

The Pantai Inn features rooms decorated with Balinese art and other luxurious features, but those rooms lack some basics, such as digital TV reception and usable electrical outlets. Old Imprezas were similar to the Pantai Inn, with high-value features like all-wheel drive provided as standard, yet missed some staples — like fuel economy.

But this is a different Subaru, and an even more different Impreza, which the company has transformed thanks to its new Subaru Global Platform. The new car is more Kimpton than Pantai, as it still retains unique characteristics — like the aforementioned all-wheel drive — but refocuses on mainline amenities, such as fuel economy and comfort. Additionally, the new platform brings a significant change to how the Impreza drives, which provides a nice preview of what’s to come for the rest of the automaker’s lineup.

Read More >

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