After a mere six decades of testing the waters, Volkswagen decided to get serious about the American car market. For the second time. To avoid a repeat of the Westmoreland debacle, this time they’ve designed a pair of sedans specifically for American tastes. They’re also building the larger of the two, intended to lure Americans away from their Camcords, in an entirely new, non-unionized American plant. And so, with the new 2012 Volkwagen Passat, tested here in V6 SE form (earlier, briefer drives sampled the other two engines), we learn what Americans really want—as seen through a German company’s eyes.
Tag: Road Test
Most driving enthusiasts have written off the entire Camry line as the poster child for dull driving appliances. But those who overcame their prejudices and took the 2007-2011 Camry SE for a spin discovered surprisingly firm suspension tuning and, with the V6, a smooth, powerful engine. The most courageous even tried to spread the word. Encountering an anti-Camry diatribe, they’d respond, “But what about the SE?” For 2012 there’s a new Camry. An earlier review covered the overall changes and specifically the non-sport, non-hybrid variants. And the SE?
The year: 1992. The rental car: the then-new third-generation Toyota Camry. My father was surprised how much the car drove like his Lexus LS 400, it was so smooth and quiet. While enthusiasts might deride the Camry as an appliance, it had this, and for the last two decades has served as the midsize sedan segment’s benchmark for refinement. Despite dull handling and an interior that grew cheaper with each redesign, sales increased, to the point that the Camry has been the best-selling car in the U.S. for 13 of the last 14 years.
But with competitors more stylish, more powerful, better-finished, and even poised to pass the Camry in refinement, the Camry increasingly trades on past accolades, incentives, and a reputation for reliability. Consequently, younger drivers go elsewhere, and the average buyer has hit the big 6-0. Many have bought their last car. To maintain its leadership, the Camry must improve. With the 2012 redesign, does it? (This review covers the regular Camry. The SE and Hybrid will be evaluated separately.)
Due to the state of the economy and the price of gasoline in America, it’s no small wonder small car sales are on fire. For those that wish to hide the fact that they have downsized for sensible reasons like lower operating costs, there is a segment of the market just for you: small retro cars. While everyone has tried their hand at this game from Chrysler’s PT cruiser, Chevy’s HHR and the continual resurrection of the VW Beetle, nobody seems to have hit the nail as squarely on the head as BMW with their Mini franchise and their 40,000 in yearly sales. What’s the new Italian owner of an American car company and dealer network to do? Sell a “minier” Mini-fighter of course.
The regular Mazda3 is already one of the best-handling choices in the small car market and you can get it with either a revvy little two-litre engine or a torquier 2.5L mill with 167 horses. For a front-wheel-drive compact, 167 ponies should be plenty. I mean, what kind of a lunatic would you have to be to want more power than that?
Wait a minute. I’m a lunatic!
Last Monday’s review of the new 2012 Volkswagen Passat 2.5 SE found the large, value-priced German sedan to be roomy but unpolished. Today: the TDI in SEL Premium trim. In this form the “from $19,995*” new Passat gets a bit far from the segment’s mid-twenties sweet spot, with a list price of $32,965. But perhaps the turbodiesel engine and top-of-the-line interior transform the car?
Volkswagen intends to become the world’s largest auto maker. Selling far more cars in the United States would accomplish this goal. Euro-spec cars haven’t been doing the trick, as too few Americans have been willing to pay the resulting semi-premium prices. So VW engineered a new Jetta compact sedan and a new Passat midsize sedan specifically for American tastes and budgets. Confident of the latter’s success, they’ve even constructed an all-new factory in Chattanooga, TN, to assemble it. Should the UAW’s latest targets expect to be working overtime? Today’s review evaluates the 2.5-liter five-cylinder gas Passat in SE trim, while Wednesday’s will compare the 2.0-liter turbodiesel in SEL Premium trim.
If you have a pulse and a willful ignorance of the local speed limit, you’re probably not interested in the Chevrolet Spark. If you’re a media-savvy hipster who’s on Facebook sixteen hours a day, you’re probably not interested in the Spark, either. If you’re a techno-geek or an eco-geek, you’re probably still not interested in the Chevrolet Spark.
If you need something to get you from point Alpha to point Beta and aren’t willing to pay too much, you might be interested in the Spark. But only after all the alternatives have been removed from your short-list as being too sensible. And even then, a lobotomy might be required to help you make up your mind.
That’s a shame, because the Spark isn’t really that bad.
I haven’t been to Italy, in 21 years. My cousins and I are having dinner together for the first time in 21 years. If I didn’t already know it, I’d have learned it now: males with Italian blood are obsessed with cars. My cousin Nicola even works for FIAT, in the seaside town of Termoli.
“Are there Fiats at Chrysler stores in Canada now?” he asks.
“Just the 500,” I inform.
“That’s not the real 500,” says Angelo, his younger brother. Two hours later, we’re in my Nonna’s garage. He pulls the tarp off a stunning, perfectly restored 1968 Fiat 595 SS Abarth. “Quest’è la vera Cinquecento!” he informs me.
Even if the Acura TL SH-AWD 6MT were not a good car, it would still deserve our support as the only upscale midsize sedan available with both all-wheel-drive and a manual transmission in North America. Even BMW has vacated this space. You can still get the 5-Series with either all-wheel-drive or a manual transmission, but not both in the same car. If you need all-weather capability and ample space for four adults, but also want to row your own, the TL is it. So, what are you stuck with?
It will come as no surprise to regular TTAC readers when I say that Scion has had some sales issues lately. But instead of euthanizing the brand as some on TTAC have suggested, Toyota has decided to take a different route. Thankfully, rather than creating more me-too models based off of US-market Toyotas, the plan includes some JDM/Euro models and the much anticipated “Toyobaru “sports car. The first object of foreign desire landing stateside to start off Scion’s resurrection is the Toyota iQ micro-car. The iQ should be in showrooms across the country soon, but does Scion have the IQ to make a smarter Smart?
Ever since I test drove the original Honda CRX a quarter-century ago I’ve been a big fan of small cars. In everyday driving I’d rather have a small car with limited power than a large car with a lot of it. And yet I’ve never quite connected with the MINIs I’ve driven. Perhaps I just needed more time in the seat? To find out, I recently spent a week with a MINI Cooper S—a small car with plenty of power.
I didn’t drive the Bugatti Veyron, but here you are reading my review. So how exactly did an automotive journalist with zero manufacturer connections, and no income (at the time) aside from menial paychecks as a drum instructor get the nerve to write a Veyron review?
“SOLD…to the gentleman by the staircase!” bellowed the auctioneer, before everyone applauded the winner of the night’s ultimate charity prize: a trip to Bugatti central for a factory tour and a full day of seat time in the Veyron. As I stood next my brother, who was still in shock from being that high bidder, I knew he’d once again give TTAC a taste of the high performance combined with the brilliantly decadent. But, over a year later, the good Dr. Mehta is still busy beating cancer into remission. And we’re running out of time before the Veyron slips into the history books.
Luckily, he was kind enough to being me along.
As recounted in an earlier review, the new Focus in Titanium trim is good enough to justify a price tag over $27,000 for a compact Ford. But what if you don’t want to spend that much, or want a manual transmission, which is not available with the SEL or Titanium trim levels? How much do you give up with the SE? I requested a $21,380 Focus SE hatchback with the Sport Package to find out.
Platform shared with the Evo + three rows of seating = the ideal vehicle for an enthusiast with kids? This formula encapsulates the promise of the second-generation Mitsubishi Outlander. But back when it was introduced, for the 2007 model year, the reality fell short, with too many rough edges in both the chassis and the interior. Last year the Outlander was freshened with a more Evo-like nose, an upgraded interior, and a new GT trim that added an active front differential. More than ever Mitsubishi was pitching the Outlander as the family hauler for enthusiasts. But do the tweaks go deep enough?