By on June 20, 2016

2016 Toyota RAV4 SE AWD

“Competent” — it’s one of the least sexy words in the dictionary. Hell, the word “dictionary” is arguably sexier. You’ll find the term next to “cardigan” and “financial adviser,” which are probably familiar words for someone known to be competent.

Competent Guy is that dude in the office who doesn’t cause you any grief. He never fails to complete a task, doesn’t cause any drama, and avoids pissing everyone off. He’s the reliable friend people ask to help them move. It’s guys like this who keep an operation humming along, and their reward is being able to put down roots, grow old, and enjoy the spoils that come from being a respectable member of society.

The Toyota RAV4 is the Lucy fossil of crossover SUVs, and it didn’t get there by making a bad impression. No nameplate reaches 22 years of age by frustrating owners, and you don’t become (and stay) the top-selling crossover by being hard to live with. For volume-hungry automakers, the RAV4 (aka. Competent Guy) is a rolling how-to guide for sales success — do the basics well, avoid controversy, don’t offend with styling, and make a good enough impression during the test drive that buyers take it home after the date.

It’s after the vows are exchanged that Competent Guy starts to show off his quirks. (Read More…)

By on June 20, 2016

2017 Honda Ridgeline at boat launch ramp, Image: © 2016 Mark Stevenson/The Truth About Cars

Honda is playing the long game when it comes to its cute little pickup truck. After selling the original, first-generation Ridgeline for an almost-unheard-of nine years (for perspective, the ninth-generation Civic lasted an incredibly short five years, including a mid-cycle emergency refresh), the second coming of the unibody, light-duty hauler is here.

And guess what? It’s absolutely phenomenal — but there’s a massive catch.

(Read More…)

By on May 18, 2016

2016 Infiniti QX50 AWD Front 3/4, Image: © 2016 Matthew Guy/The Truth About Cars

From krill-hungry Lincolns to Predator-style Lexus grilles, the automotive market is littered with luxury crossovers like rocks covering the landscape of my home province of Newfoundland. With few exceptions, they’re all ponderous boxes offering the driving dynamics of tapioca pudding. Adding a sport package to these machines simply upgrades them to slightly warmer tapioca pudding.

The 2016 Infiniti QX50, though, surprised me … and I like surprises — for example, buying a new type of beer and finding it to my liking, or having a tool work better than expected. These are all experiences that give me pure joy. Heck, I even bought my first house largely based on the fact its floorplan wasn’t what I expected.

(Read More…)

By on May 6, 2016

2016 Nissan Murano Front Three-Quarter, Image: © 2016 Seth Parks/The Truth About Cars

Upon its introduction in 2003, the Murano possessed a unique combination of traits that, in retrospect, make its La Jolla, California design studio and Design Chief Taiji Toyota look genius.

The Murano was built on the Altima platform, making it relatively inexpensive to build. It had a segment-first four-wheel independent suspension, imparting a genuine car-like driving experience. It featured generous proportions, yet eschewed three-rows in favor of spacious seating for five. Combined with its catchy anti-establishment styling, snappy 245-horsepower V6, and total lack of off-road pretension, it was the 21st century spiritual successor to the personal luxury car.

(Read More…)

By on April 22, 2016

1992 Toyota Previa in Colorado Junkyard, LH front view - ©2016 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

Living in Colorado, I have become something of a connoisseur of low-sales volume, all/four-wheel-drive versions of otherwise commonplace vehicles. The rarest one so far has got to be this ’87 Ford Tempo AWD, but I also have managed to find some fairly unusual All-Trac-equipped Toyota vehicles.

There’s this ’90 Camry All-Trac, a car that’s a rarity even in this state and just about unheard of anywhere else, and a few examples of the Corolla All-Trac wagon. Now we have this gleaming gold Previa All-Trac. (Read More…)

By on April 8, 2016

2016 Ford Flex Limited Exterior Front 3/4, Image: © 2016 Jeff Voth/The Truth About Cars

“Get that thing off my driveway!” was how Ford’s former executive director of design Peter Horbury described his wife’s reaction the first time she saw the newest people-mover from Ford back in 2008. It was a radical shift for a company that recently exited the minivan market (goodbye Freestar) in favor of something more in tune with the times.

At least that was the plan.

(Read More…)

By on March 21, 2016

2017 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack

Volkswagen has revealed the production version of its 2017 Golf Alltrack, a wagon for people who worry they won’t be able to clear that shallow ditch in a regular Golf.

Based on the Golf Sportwagen, the Alltrack pairs that body and drivetrain with 4Motion all-wheel drive, lower body cladding, and close to an inch of extra ground clearance.

(Read More…)

By on March 1, 2016

2016 Totota RAV4 Hybrid Exterior-003

A few short weeks ago, I was inside a very purple 2016 RAV4 marveling that Toyota’s compact crossover nearly outsells the Mazda brand. My bottom line for that RAV4 read like this:

Why are the RAV4’s sales so high when there are more fun options out there? The reasons can be found in its strong value proposition, a soft ride about which journalists often complain, included scheduled maintenance and Toyota’s reputation for reliability.

The 2016 RAV4 isn’t going to light many souls on fire, but it gives the average CUV shopper more of what they obviously want.

Except fuel economy or performance.

That’s where the first full-hybrid compact crossover since Ford abandoned the Escape Hybrid five years ago comes in.

(Read More…)

By on February 10, 2016

00 - 1982 AMC Eagle wagon in Colorado junkyard - photo by Murilee Martin

I live in Colorado, where the AMC Eagle sold as well in the 1980s as the Subaru Outback does now, and so I see the all-wheel-drive versions of the American Motors Concord and Spirit everywhere here. This means they show up in Denver-area self-service wrecking yards like clockwork, and I photograph them when they do (and I walk right by most air-cooled Beetles, which I know is wrong).

So far, I have documented the demise of this ’79 wagon, this ’80 coupe, this white-with-plaid-interior ’80 wagon, this GM Iron Duke-powered ’81 SX/4, this ’82 hatchback, this ’83 SX/4 Sport, this ’84 wagon, this ’84 wagon, this ’84 “woodie” wagon, and this ’85 wagon. Now we’ve got this gloriously brown-and-tan-and-beige-and-brown example of Malaise Era proto-crossover Kenosha goodness. (Read More…)

By on January 19, 2016

2016 Lexus IS 200t Exterior

Lexus has tended to prefer conservative design in almost every aspect of product development. Words like reliable and dependable usually spring to mind before sporty or exciting.

Yet, the brand has been trying to change that over the last few years with love-it-or-hate-it designs; in particular, Lexus’ new “Predator mouth.” The changes aren’t simply skin deep. The current-generation IS sedan also stepped outside the luxury brand’s comfort zone with sharp handling and a focus on dynamics. Of course, this is Lexus we’re talking about, so this change in a more aggressive direction is happening at, you guessed it, a conservative pace.

Now in its third year of production, the third-generation IS isn’t getting a refresh like we’d typically see in from ze Germans. Instead, Lexus has decided to focus its attention under the hood with a new turbocharged four-cylinder engine and a de-tuned V-6 for mid-level shoppers.

Can a refreshed drivetrain help the IS stand out in a crowded segment? Let’s find out.

(Read More…)

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