By on October 20, 2017

2018 Honda Fit LX - Image: © Timothy CainSubcompacts, if they ever were in favor, have quickly fallen out of favor in the United States. In 2017, sales in the first three-quarters of the year plunged by more than a fifth, year-over-year. The Honda Fit, modestly updated for the 2018 model year, is on track in 2017 to fall to a five-year low of around 50,000 sales, a far cry from the nearly 80,000 American Honda sold a decade ago.

The Honda Fit, not now in third-gen form nor in any prior iteration, has never sold on the strength of style. There have always been less expensive subcompacts, faster subcompacts, and better-equipped subcompacts, as well.

There have not, however, at least not during the Fit’s tenure, been any subcompacts that offer the flexibility of the Honda Fit. But does the fact that the 2018 Honda Fit is likely the only current subcompact that could operate as my family’s lone vehicle make up for the fact that the Fit lags behind rivals in key areas? (Read More…)

By on October 18, 2017

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Outside of perhaps its front styling – especially the slightly bug-eyed headlamps and the pinched grille – the Kia Niro doesn’t really stand out in a crowd.

It’s quiet, thanks to a hybrid powertrain. It’s compact in length and height. It has a driving experience that isn’t memorable in ways good or bad.

And none of that preceding paragraph is meant as an insult.

(Read More…)

By on October 16, 2017

2018 Mazda CX-3 GX Red - Image: © Timothy CainDoes it matter that I think it’s a hatchback? In the minds of the consumers Mazda is targeting, the modestly updated 2018 Mazda CX-3 is a crossover, an ess-you-vee, a utility vehicle.

We ought to make some allowance for the designation differences. The Mazda CX-3 offers all-wheel drive. The wheelarches are cladded in black plastic. The loftier ride height creates 6.1 inches of ground clearance, up from 5.5 inches in the Toyota Yaris iA, which is essentially a Toyota-branded sedan version of the latest Mazda 2 (that’s never been sold in the United States) on which the CX-3 is also based.

Let’s give in to Mazda’s marketing for a moment, then. If the CX-3 “may lead to spontaneous excursions,” how will it respond to a harvest season visit into Prince Edward Island’s endless reserve of potato fields?

To make matters more interesting, our CX-3 steed lacks Mazda’s optional all-wheel drive as well as Mazda USA’s standard automatic transmission. Count’em: there are three pedals. (Read More…)

By on October 16, 2017

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I’m normally among the first to roll my eyes when automakers speak about “brand identity” and other such marketing claptrap, but when Land Rover employees speak of how the new Range Rover Velar fits in with the brand, it is hard to deny that they’re being accurate. Whatever it is – or isn’t – the Velar has a certain feel about it that only its stablemates share.

More on that later. First, an introduction. For those that don’t know, the Velar is meant to slot between the Evoque and the Range Rover/Range Rover Sport in the Range Rover lineup. It’s also meant to be a more-stylish alternative to the slightly gawky Land Rover Discovery.

The Velar sits in a weird space in the luxury SUV landscape. Its closest competitor may be the Porsche Macan, but the two don’t line up exactly in terms of performance. Jaguar’s F-Pace, which shares its platform with the Velar, plays the part of both sibling and rival, while the Audi Q5 is also in the conversation. But price, specs, and mission vary among these four – as well as others, such as the BMW X4 and the Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class.

Land Rovers and Range Rovers are supposed to offer luxury, off-road capability, some on-road fun, and charming (and not-so-charming) British quirks. They’re also sometimes tarred with a reputation for spending more time in the shop than on the road.

(Read More…)

By on October 9, 2017

2018 Kia Rio EX 5-Door - Image: © Timothy CainDuring a year in which Kia is about to drop a BMW 3 Series-rivalling sports sedan with a price tag that rises above $50,000, it’s not hard to see why the arrival of a new Kia subcompact hatchback goes relatively unnoticed.

It’s not hard to see why the arrival of any subcompact goes unnoticed. In the United States, subcompact car sales are a pittance, forming just 2 percent of the market after losing one-fifth of their collective volume so far this year. Kia’s entry, meanwhile, fills only a narrow gap in America’s subcompact niche, suffering from a 51-percent year-over-year sales drop to only 11,952 sales in 2017’s first nine months, equal to just 4 percent of the subcompact market.

This is nothing new. U.S. interest in the Kia Rio, valued at over 50,000 annual sales way back in 2002, perked up with the dawn of the outgoing third-generation model half a decade ago but quickly diminished. Kia USA averaged fewer than 30,000 annual Rio sales over the last three years.

But you can forget the Stinger for a moment, you can set aside the K900, ignore the Cadenza, and temporarily dismiss the Sorento SX Limited. This is the 2018 Kia Rio. Kia won’t even let you spend more than $20,000 on this subcompact hatch. (Read More…)

By on October 6, 2017

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If I were opening a performance driving school tomorrow and needed to strike a deal with an OEM for a supply of cars, the Toyota 86/Subaru BRZ would be on that list.

To be sure, plenty of other production cars are well-suited to the purpose of instructing students. Last time I went through a track school, the company used BMWs (3 Series, if memory serves, but the 2 Series is also good). The Mazda Miata and its related cousin, the Fiat 124 Spider, would also serve as good choices. I could probably, without much effort, pick a whole bunch of cars from the current market, utilizing all types of drivetrains and transmissions, that would be great for novice track drivers to get their feet wet with.

(Read More…)

By on October 2, 2017

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Let’s get this out of the way up front – I’ve always had a soft spot for the Honda Accord. I wouldn’t go so far as to call myself a fanboy, but I am a former owner of an ‘90s-era Accord coupe (I bought it used in 2005 or so and sold it in 2012) and I always felt that the Accord was sportier, generally speaking, than most other mid-size sedans.

Sure, the Mazda 6 has been the best driver’s car in the class for a while, and the Ford Fusion is fun to drive, but I’ve long thought the Accord had a sporting character the Camry and others lacked, at least until recently. Honda seemed to get more vanilla with the Accord in the past generation or two, even though the car still presented a strong package overall. Would the newest Accord, which comes with a choice of turbocharged engines and is available with a three-pedal setup, bring back the flavor of yore? (Read More…)

By on September 29, 2017

2018 Mercedes-Benz E400 Coupe - Image: © Timothy CainThe 2018 Mercedes-Benz E400 Coupe’s high beams unfurl like a curtain, quickly and progressively spreading light across the forests on either side of the road. And that’s only the Benz lighting system’s third act.

It’s a late summer evening and you open the E400 Coupe’s vast door, welcomed by ambient lighting that swirls around the cabin, hued to your liking, with a glow bright enough to be useful but soft enough to be easily ignored. The turbocharged V6 ignites and a light show is instantly projected onto the house in front of you with radiant beams and excitable flashes.

With the auto industry well into its second century, it’s increasingly difficult for a luxury automaker to set itself apart. Equipment alone doesn’t do the trick, particularly when a car as costly as this heavily optioned 2018 Mercedes-Benz E400 4Matic Coupe lacks, for example, the ventilated seats of a $29,190 Kia Optima.

No, it’s the special stuff that makes the difference; it’s the memorable moments that distinguish the extraordinary from the ordinary. Heated seats must also warm the accompanying door panel and center console. A variety of dramatic light exhibitions must always attract your attention. The central infotainment display must seamlessly merge with the gauge cluster to create a vast screen stretching 28 inches across.

And the windows must roll down to reveal a pillarless structure, a redolent whiff of classic coupes long since expired.  (Read More…)

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.

(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.
(Read More…)

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 21, 2017

2017 Lexus ES300h red - Image: © Timothy CainThis is not a proper review, not the kind of tome presented to TTAC’s audience after a major vehicle spends a full week with one of the site’s editors. I didn’t drive the 2017 Lexus ES300h across multiple states. I didn’t resolve to land on as many beaches as possible on EV power. I didn’t get a proper chance to take pictures. I hardly drove the Lexus ES300h at all.

Ah, but the one journey undertaken by the midsize luxury hybrid and your humble TTAC Prince Edward Island bureau chief was quite a journey indeed.

What happens when the least sporting Lexus car is suddenly tasked with arriving at a destination on the other side of the Island in order to be removed from Island duty? What happens when you rush a car that was never intended to be one of Lexus’ rushable cars?

Decidedly un-hybrid-like mileage, for one thing. (Read More…)

By on August 15, 2017

2017 Buick Envision Preferred AWD - Image: © Timothy CainGeneral Motors apparently believes you’ll pay a genuinely lofty price for the 2017 Buick Envision precisely because it’s a Buick.

A basic 2017 Buick Envision, upgraded with Preferred trim in order to select the $1,850 all-wheel drive system, costs $38,645. That’s correct: the least costly AWD Envision is priced from $38,645. General Motors will sell you a larger, V6-engined, AWD GMC Acadia for only $445 more.

But that’s a GMC. A generic, garden variety, menial GMC. The Envision seeks to mercilessly trample on the Acadia’s blue collar status.

Who would want a spacious GMC when you could own a Buick; a smaller, less powerful, China-made Buick with cloth seats, no sunroof, blank switches at the front of the center console, and no advanced safety gear? Evidently, the person who’s willing to pay a premium for the Buick tri-shield badge. You know, the buyer who places a value on supposed Buick prestige over and above any accompanying equipment that may (or may not) accompany this alleged luxury SUV. (Read More…)

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