By on September 18, 2015

2015 Subaru Outback

Over the last month, I’ve spent more time driving Subarus than any other vehicle. This was not intentional.

It all got started in August, when I went to Pebble Beach and I asked Subaru for a press car. I don’t normally take press cars, but I decided that I wanted to continue my tradition of going to Pebble Beach in a station wagon, which now spans four years and four different wagons: a 1997 BMW 528i Touring, a 2013 Cadillac CTS-V Wagon, a 2000 Volvo V70 Cross Country, and now the Subaru.

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By on September 18, 2015

Dodge Grand Caravan American Value Package

Today, I’m going to talk about a dramatically unloved segment of the automotive population: base models. You probably know base models from their lack of window tint and tremendously ugly steel wheels.

Base models aren’t discussed very often, because they’re often not very cheerful. In some cases, nobody even really buys them. For instance: I was walking along the other day, glanced inside a new Forester that was parked on the street, and it had a stick shift. I also noticed it had no sunroof, steel wheels, and cloth seats. This thing is probably rarer than a Lamborghini.

But automakers like the fact that nobody buys their base models. In fact, the entire point of the base model is basically to ensure people want to spend more money for a nicer version of the car. Dealers tell you the car “starts at” twenty-four grand, but then you show up on the lot, and there it is: twenty-four grand of no air conditioning or radio. To get a decent car, you’ve got to spend a few thousand more.

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By on September 11, 2015

fordtransit01-1346892939 (1)

Wake up, ladies and gentlemen, and listen to the happy news: we are in an automotive renaissance. The kind of renaissance that comes around but once every decade or two; the kind that’s accompanied by new designs and new powertrains and new features and new competition.

I am referring, of course, to the cargo van renaissance.

I’m not sure if you’ve realized it, but that’s exactly what’s going on around us: a renaissance of cargo vans. An explosion of new models, and new segments, and new powertrains, and new features, and new designs. When we look back years from now, we will all agree that the cargo van segment was forever changed by the years 2014 and 2015.

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By on September 4, 2015

2014 Ford Transit Connect Wagon

I recently attended the press launch for the new Lexus RX, which is a competitively priced, midsize luxury crossover that was styled by an angry man with a sword.

At this press launch, several topics came up. For instance: why did they give the styling job to this angry sword-man? Why was he so angry? What sort of sword did he have? And when are they going to put out a new plate of shrimp for us to eat?

There was also one other topic I discussed with a few people: the fact that the Lexus RX still doesn’t have three-row seating.

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By on August 21, 2015

2014 Toyota 4Runner dirt path

A few days ago, we all woke up to the sad news that the Nissan Xterra is going to be cancelled. This is especially depressing for people who post Instagram photos of themselves lifting weights.

Personally, I could take or leave the Xterra. It’s outdated, it’s trucky, it’s too tall, it’s a bit expensive, and it lacks a wide variety of modern technology. By this I am not referring to forward collision warning, or lane keep assist, or blind spot detection. I mean the base model doesn’t have a height-adjustable driver’s seat.

So the Xterra’s fifteen-year run is coming to an end, and we must all marvel at the fact that yet another off-roady vehicle won’t be available to us anymore. In the land of reasonably priced off-road vehicles, they all seem to vanish: the Toyota FJ Cruiser. The Suzuki Vitara, and Sidekick, and Samurai. The Ford Bronco. The K5 Blazer. All gone, replaced by something more mainstream, or not replaced at all, leaving the Jeep Wrangler to soldier on as today’s sole off-road vehicle choice.

Well, not quite today’s sole off-road vehicle choice. There’s also the Toyota 4Runner.

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By on August 14, 2015

2014 Toyota Prius

Fifty-one miles per gallon city. Forty-eight miles per gallon highway. Still the best numbers in the industry for nearly a decade now.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I’m referring to the Toyota Prius, which is a 5-door hatchback that looks a bit like an egg mated with a shopping cart. It’s been a decade since the Prius came out in hatchback form, and a decade since it achieved those impressive fuel economy figures: 51 miles per gallon city. 48 miles per gallon highway. And still, no one has unseated the Prius.

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By on August 13, 2015

saab-900 the real thing

So I’m driving along the other day and I notice a badge on the tailgate of the latest Lincoln Navigator that says “EcoBoost.”

That’s right, folks: the giant, bold, shout-out-loud Lincoln Navigator is now using an EcoBoost engine. The V-8 is gone. The big, brawny, “look at me” V-8 rumble has disappeared. Lincoln has now dropped that stuff in favor of turbocharging.

It would be one thing if it were the MKZ, which is a midsize sedan that looks sort of like a woman’s shoe turned upside down. That thing is turbocharged, and nobody really seems to care. It’s just another car, in a sea of cars, looking to eek out the best possible fuel economy.

But the Navigator! The giant, truck-like Navigator. Lincoln’s answer to the Cadillac Escalade, even though it debuted before there was a Cadillac Escalade. The huge flagship model of the Lincoln lineup; something Lincoln drivers across the world aspire to own, from airport limousine drivers to Lincoln dealership owner spouses. It’s now turbocharged.

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By on August 7, 2015

2015 Volkswagen Beetle 1.8L Turbo Engine-001

If there is one recent trend in the automotive industry today, it’s turbocharging.

Of course, there are a lot of other trends, too. That whole SUV coupe thing is bizarrely catching on. And I think we can all agree that it’s only a matter of time before someone sees the Subaru Outback’s 20 years of unrivaled success and finally decides to re-enter the wagon game.

But in the last few years, it’s turbocharging that has really managed to beat out everything else for today’s most popular automotive trend.

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By on July 31, 2015

2004 Chrysler Crossfire Rear Retractable Spoiler

I think it’s time to discuss something that we should’ve brought up a long time ago: the stupidest automotive feature.

Oh, sure, we’ve discussed the worst automotive feature, and the best automotive feature, and the automotive feature you wish you had, like spiked tires that could cut through ice and offending road users.

But what about the stupidest feature?

I ask this because I think there are a lot of unnecessary automotive features out there in today’s world; items that have no basis or bearing for real life use, or customer desire, brought to us by automakers who are hellbent on coming out with a vehicle that offers the highest possible level of gadgets and equipment so they can use the phrase “BEST IN CLASS” over and over in their ads.

Interestingly, however, I don’t believe the stupidest feature is one of these newfangled ideas that seems to exist for the sheer sake of existing. I believe the stupidest feature is actually an oldie. And it is: a retractable spoiler.

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By on July 24, 2015

Screen Shot 2015-07-24 at 8.13.35 AM

I recently had the opportunity to test drive an automobile, and I remembered why I hate it so much: because test drives are insanely short.

They’re not just a little short. They’re wildly, absurdly, ridiculously short. Some test drives last for eight minutes, even though you will likely own the vehicle you’re driving for several years, you will pay tens of thousands of dollars for it, and you will spend several hours in it every day of your life.

Obviously, we know why this is: dealers don’t want to waste time with test drives. They want these things to go by quickly, so the cars don’t accumulate very many miles, and then they want you to get back into the showroom and start arguing over the price. This is how they get ya. The more time you spend arguing over the price, the more you want the car. “I don’t really want this car,” you think to yourself. “But I’ve already devoted six hours to arguing about the price. So I’d better get it.” This is how Chevrolet sold so many Cobalts.

But is the car buying public really content with these test drives?

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By on July 23, 2015

I think the time has come to wave goodbye to one of the auto industry’s most fickle segments: the small luxury convertible. Once formerly strong and full of life, the segment now consists of a bunch of cars that leave people asking: Do they still make that?

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By on July 10, 2015

Escape to which mountain?

Another day, another recall. Or, at least, this seems to be the growing trend lately in the automotive industry.

Years ago, I remember recalls being a rarity. My mom owns a Ford Escape that she bought new in 2003, and I distinctly remember her thinking about getting something else because she was worried about all the recalls. It had, at the most, three. This is what used to pass for a high-recall vehicle.

No longer.

(Read More…)

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