Now and then you run into a car that just “fits”. It’s like finding a perfect shoe, or a comfy smoking jacket. Until now I have been keeping my secret love on the down-low for several reasons. First off, I’ve always thought having a “favorite car” tends to color one’s judgment when comparing cars, so I try to avoid such statements. Secondly, my dalliance with my automotive flame was fleeting. As most of us know, one-night-stands rarely hold up to the scrutiny of a long-term relationship. And lastly, coming out as a hybrid-lover has been difficult. When folks ask me “what was the best car you drove in 2013?” and my answer is “the 2014 Accord Hybrid,” they stare at me like I have three eyeballs.
Engine downsizing is all the rage. Making the engine smaller increases fuel efficiency, reduces emissions and cuts vehicle weight. With ever tightening fuel economy legislation in the United States and CO2 emissions regulation in the European Union, mainline manufacturers are turning to turbochargers like never before. In 2009 just 5% of cars sold in America sported turbos, and that 5% consisted largely of European brands like Volvo and BMW with a long history of forced induction. By 2013 that number had more than doubled to 13%. Honeywell expects the number to rise to 25% in the next four years and the EPA tells me that by 2025 they expect 90% of cars sold in America to sport a turbo engine. With turbos becoming so ordinary, what’s a turbo pioneer like Volvo do to keep a competitive edge? Add a supercharger of course.
In my mind, Volkswagens used to be the “Euro Buick.” Positioned one note above the mass market rabble, VW’s Passat shared parts with Audi’s A4, while the Touareg and Phaeton were luxury cars with a mass market logo on the hood. Then Volkswagen decided this was the wrong strategy for them, so they repositioned VW as the German alternative to Toyota and Chevrolet. This left a gaping hole in the market for shoppers looking to step into a European near-luxury vehicle that flew under the radar. And then Buick stepped in.Buick’s Opel-based product offensive has transformed the brand from Barcalounger wheels for the octogenarian, to a window into the soul of GM’s German brand. This transformation isn’t an easy one as Buick’s problem wasn’t just blue-haired buyers and slinky-soft springs. Buick is the penultimate middle child. Jammed between Chevrolet and Cadillac, brand B’s mission is to give Chevy buyers something to aspire to and Cadillac buyers something to graduate from.
The mainstream compact car segment is the perfect example of the infamous “driving appliance.” The Corolla and Civic sell in enormous volume because they are the middle-of-the-road “white bread” option, not in-spite of the vanilla. Unlike many in the automotive press, I don’t find anything wrong with that. In fact, I love me some Wonder Bread. But sometimes you feel like a pumpernickel, and that’s where the 2014 Mazda3 comes in. Mazda was so excited about their new loaf that they invited me to spend the day with them in San Diego. Want to know if you should spend 5+ years with one? Click through the jump.
The 3 series has been the benchmark to which all manner of vehicles are measured. The comparisons go beyond the likes of the A4, C-Class and S60 and include things like M3 vs Camaro, 328i vs Prius. There’s a problem with your largest volume product being put on this kind of pedestal: how do you redesign it? Carefully, mildly, infrequently and only when absolutely required. With increased competition from the Audi A4, a redesigned S60 and Caddy’s new ATS, can BMW afford the same formula again? Michael Karesh got his hands on a 328i back in March, while I spent a week testing the 328i in its natural habitat: the California freeway. (Oh, and we spent some time on Lagua Seca as well.)
Once upon a time, in a country known as America, SUVs roamed the land with large-displacement inline 6s, optional V8s, and locking axles. Nobody had heard of a “cute ute.” Of course, gasoline was also under a buck a gallon. Today the landscape is different. While the last energy crisis caused entire vehicles to downsize, the response to the latest energy “crisis” (and government pressure) has been to downsize engines while leaving the rest of the vehicle intact. Case in point? The Ford Edge EcoBoost. No, this isn’t the 3.5L fire-breathing twin-turbo you’ve heard about before, this is the all-new 2.0L engine that puts the Eco in EcoBoost.
Kia’s mission in America over the past decade was to compete squarely with the likes of Honda and Toyota. Lately however, the plucky South Korean brand seems to have larger aspirations. With the new Optima and Sportage turbos it would appear that Kia may just have budget near-luxury brands in mind as competition. Competition is fierce in the CUV market and the cute-ute segment is especially cut-throat with (by my count) no fewer than 11 vehicles that more-or-less compete directly with the Sportage. Among the main competition lurk the likes of the Rav 4, CR-V, Rogue, Juke, Compass, Patriot, Escape, Tiguan, Equinox, RDX and possibly the Q5.
However the 260HP turbo Sportage SX is possibly a different beast, and if you were to whittle this list down to just the 200HP+, turbocharged competition the list gets considerably shorter: Tiguan, Q5 and RDX. As Kia continues their claw upmarket, it should come as no surprise that Acura’s baby crossover should be found in Kia’s crosshairs. The question is: does the Sportage have what it takes to convince entry-level luxury CUV shoppers to stop at the Kia dealer? Or is this just faster competition for the RAV 4 and CR-V? Michael Karesh was able to get a Sportage SX turbo for a day from a local dealer, but what’s it like for a week? Lets find out.
It’s been 12 years since BMW offered a four-cylinder engine on a US-market offering, but starting this October, US dealers will begin offering new “TwinPower”four-pot versions of the Z4 roadster and 5-series sedan. And, as BMW’s US-market boss Jim O’Donnell explains to Automotive News [sub], there’s no reason to fear the four… anymore.
It wasn’t in line with our image, because it didn’t have the performance of the six cylinder. We were selling ourselves as the ultimate driving machine and really it wasn’t. Now that the engines have developed so far, it’s not an issue at all.
But now BMW is offering four-bangers because they offer an even better driving experience, right? Less weight, better turn-in, that kind of thing… right?
We’ve spilled a few pixels on these pages over Hyundai’s dedication to direct injection (DI) technology, even going as far as to crown Hyundai the “new Honda” of motor technology. But DI technology isn’t without its downsides, and Hyundai tells Automotive News [sub] that the technology isn’t likely to appear on future engines with less than two liters of displacement.