Tag: Driven

By on January 28, 2016

2016 Honda Civic EX Exterior

Honda received much flogging from the press for the last-generation Civic. The 2012 model was the result of Honda improperly reading the Magic 8-Ball amid the global slowdown. Honda’s decision makers assumed shoppers would be looking for something more modest, perhaps even austere, and changed direction to suit. The competition, assuming shoppers would be looking for greater creature comforts in a smaller package, went the opposite direction and doubled down on luxury features.

The conventional wisdom has been that Honda “stepped in it” with the ninth-generation sedan. Journalists complained about the plastic quality, the styling and … customers paid little attention. The Civic’s sales dipped slightly in 2011 during the changeover, but rapidly rebounded to over 315,000 units a year since. Some would say that Honda’s “emergency refreshes” were the reason for the sales success, but I propose a different answer: the continued sales success of the lesser-than Civic and an increase in sales of “premium” compacts showed there was plenty of room in the segment for both.

Whatever the reality, one thing is for certain: When it came time to design the tenth-generation Civic, Honda had “austere” removed from the company dictionary.

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By on November 23, 2015

2016 smart fortwo exterior-005

America loves big cars, big trucks and fat crossovers. If you doubt me, all you need to do is look at 2015’s top sellers. The top five vehicles account for 13 percent of all vehicles sold in the USA this year, and the smallest of the five is the Toyota Camry. Not so small. Check the top 20 list, and the smallest entry is the Corolla which has grown so large we would have called it “midsized” in the ’80s.

Today, we’re looking at a very different kind of car: the 2016 smart fortwo (yes, that’s all lower case for some reason), a car that is six feet shorter than the Corolla.

2008 was Smart’s best year in the USA with some 24,000 cheeky micro cars sold. Since then, sales haven’t been swift. Yearly sales numbers in the USA bounce between 5,000 and 14,000. Canadians, however, seem to love them. Sales volumes in the Great White North hover around half the US volume. Not impressed? The entire Canadian market’s sales numbers are “smart-sized” compared to the United States. Heck, Smart outsells Maserati in Canada. Could it be that, like nationalized healthcare, the Canadians are up to something good? Or, just like healthcare, is this a good idea somewhere else, just not in the USA?
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By on October 16, 2015

2016SubaruForesterXT_(3_of_14)

According to my nephew and me: If one is good then 100 is a good place to start.

My nephew is 11. I’m 33. Hopefully his gene pool is deeper than mine. But excess is extra good in my life. I appreciate a larger-than-I-need TV most nights and not one, but two, cheeseburgers in my value meals sometimes. If a Forester is good then a turbo Forester must be great according to my juvenile definition of the world.

Already one of the best crossovers on the market, the Forester actually benefits from Subaru’s glacial powertrain pace: flat-four up front, all-wheel drive underneath — and they’ll check back sometime during the next decade. The naturally aspirated, older 2.5-liter flat four does work in pedestrian Foresters; its 170 horsepower is competent like gas station coffee. Force feeding 80 more ponies — to a total of 250 for the turbo XT — should make the Forester better. It could, right?

I’ll put it this way: Does gas station creamer make gas station coffee better?

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By on June 19, 2010

Wuchtig. I’m sitting, panting, trying to catch my breath on the side of a tiny two-lane road running through the vineyards of California’s Napa Valley. I’m in an American car. I haven’t spoken German regularly since I was 18. Adrenalin has chased everything resembling a coherent thought from my mind. And yet, strangely, the only thing left banging around my speed-addled skull is a single German adjective for which the English language has no translation: wuchtig.
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By on May 7, 2010


Not so long ago Volvo attempted to poach some customers from BMW by offering high-performance R variants of the S60 sedan and V70 wagon. Then it decided these weren’t selling well enough to justify the expense of developing them. So now we’re offered “R-Design” variants instead. These involve larger wheels, a mildly stiffened suspension, and a slew of styling tweaks. Not part of the recipe: additional horsepower. Halfway through the 2010 model year the XC60 gained such a variant. All sizzle, or is there some steak here as well?

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By on April 23, 2010

John Steel, 42. Resident Nurburgring hotlapper, amateur race driver and menace of all slow moving objects. On weekends, he likes thrashing his Porsche 997 Mark II GT3-RS around the local track. Karen Levy, 25. Professional mall stormer, party queen and dedicated student. Enjoys a fine café-latte by the Mediterranean Sea and the gentle spring breeze while driving her Fiat 500C.

Two people, two separate sides of the automotive equilibrium. This time, driving around the peaceful and slow moving streets of southern Tel Aviv, amongst buzzing restaurants and overcrowded coffee shops, I get to explore the latter. Meet the Fiat 500C: the open-air sibling of the 500 retro car, and an inevitable win of form over function.
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By on April 21, 2010

Driving enthusiasts love to hate the Toyota Camry. Yet, despite the company’s current troubles, it remains the best-selling car in the United States. Hyundai would love to steal the crown, or at least tens of thousands of customers. So it recently launched a totally redesigned 2011 Sonata and will be advertising it heavily. Should Toyota be concerned?

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By on April 19, 2010

Driving the Renault Mégane R26.R on the snow-covered L-10–a public road-cum-rally track near the famous Nürburgring–is an unforgettable affair. And not simply because summer tires and slush don’t mix. This particular Mégane is a stunning piece of machinery in any condition: no Stateside machine comes even remotely close. And unlike most European unobtainium, it’s no sculpted, Teutonic monument to cash-flow either. It’s French. Cheap gas, Japanese quality and the Detroit-centric Eisenhower Interstate System have given Americans no reasons to contemplate, let alone lust after, French cars in the modern era, but not having this Ferrari-killing hatchback on crack is a bummer. The Mégane R26.R is so wrong it’s gotta be right.

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By on April 9, 2010

Et tu 4Runner?  So many historically famous cars are back with “good old days” styling but added overweight dimensions to the party. It’s sort of like Fat Elvis, on four wheels.  That said, “Moody Blue” is a pretty catchy song. And there’s nothing especially wrong with the 2010 Toyota 4Runner.  Elvis rocked the rhinestones with passion and the 4Runner combines it’s rugged past with urban sheetmetal and a host of electronic cocktails for pleasure and enjoyment. Which gives the impression that happy days are here again, even if polypharmacy did lead to the death of the King of Rock ‘N Roll.

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By on April 7, 2010

The logic behind the Lincoln MKZ is clear enough: if Toyota can get away with making a Lexus out of a Camry, why can’t Ford do the same with a Fusion? The ES 350 is arguably convincing as a Lexus (I’d argue pro, if not with much vigor, while there’s no shortage of people who’d take the other side). But does the MKZ make for a convincing Lincoln?

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By on April 5, 2010

Diesel clatter in a BMW is like watching Bullit to the tunes of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. In other words, distasteful and illegal in 48 states. And yet, driving BMW’s new X1 is a surprisingly John Deere-like experience. Is this a BMW or the ultimate agricultural machine? Maybe this sort of confusion is the X1’s worst problem.

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By on March 31, 2010

Powered By Ford. There’s something special about those words, something iconic, something that evokes a grand American scope, from the first cross-country trips in a Model T to a majestic GT40 hammering down the rain-soaked Mulsanne straight. Powered by Ford. It’s the logo stamped into the cam covers of the five-liter Mustang, but you won’t need to raise the hood to understand what it means. The first time this majestic engine swallows through its thirty-two adjustably timed valves and bellows a crescendo through its twin exhaust, it will be more than crystal clear.

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By on March 29, 2010

“Hey there!”

“Excuse me?”

“Ain’t that one of them Ay-cord koops?”

“Why, yes it is. Aren’t you sporting the hairstyle commonly referred to as a ‘mullet’?”

“I sure am! Good enough for Brian Bosworth, it’s good enough for me. Is that Ay-cord fast?”

“It has 271 horsepower.”

“Well, shucks! Mah Mustang here done got Three. Oh. Five. Guess it’s faster, cause I don’t think it weighs more than a touch ahead of what you got.”

“Well, the Accord is also rated for twenty-eight miles per gallon on the highway. Much better than that Mustang. It’s important to conserve the planet’s resources.”

“Aw, hell. Guess you’re right. I mean, I’m only GITTIN’ THIRTY-ONE! YEE HAA!” And we close with the sound of a Flat Rock-fashioned burnout. End scene.

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By on March 22, 2010

I’m too young to remember the 1970s, but I have recollections of a Cadillac-based abomination known as the “Castilian Fleetwood Estate Wagon.” Perhaps the recent success of Cadillac-based trucks made someone at the RenCen give the Cadillac Wagon a second look. Yet the CTS Sport Wagon isn’t a cobbled-up engineering afterthought, though it reeks of branding desperation: the American icon formerly known as the pinnacle of everything now goes for entry-level luxury success in a station wagon. And that’s why this mirage hailing from the days of Motorized Malaise has some ‘splaining to do.
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By on March 19, 2010

If Lincoln were a person, it would have been committed to a psych ward years ago. Battered by corporate politics, economic cycles, and a desire to both retain traditional customers and conquest new ones, the brand has lacked a coherent identity for over a quarter-century. There have been times when each of its models was the product of a different strategy and expressed (or failed to express) a different design language. In the early 2000s Lincoln seemed to finally be getting its shit together, with a brilliant Continental Concept and a common design language applied to all of its 2003 models. Then the wheels came off the wagon—again—and a bankruptcy-skirting Ford had no choice but to cancel the ambitious cars in the PAG pipeline and redo Lincoln on the cheap. Did they spend their pennies well? What is a Lincoln in 2010? There’s no better place to find out than the driver’s seat of the current flagship, the MKS EcoBoost.
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