Category: Car Reviews

By on September 20, 2019

2020 Ford Mustang EcoBoost High Performance Package

During Ford’s product presentation, held just north of the famed Golden Gate bridge on a chilly Bay Area morning in September, one of the men who worked on the 2020 Ford Mustang EcoBoost High Performance Package trotted out a not unexpected comparison.

He brought up the old LX trim available on Fox-body Mustangs of yore, and compared today’s four-cylinder Mustang to that model.

It’s not the world’s worst comparison, although the LX back then was available with the same renowned 5.0-liter (yes, I know it that it’s really a 4.9) V8 that was under the hood of the GT. The LX’s claim to fame was that it was lighter, cheaper, and perhaps less expensive to insure, while still offering V8 power and a five-speed stick. That’s why your author bought a used ’89 example in the late 1990s.

As someone who owned that LX Fox body for five years, I sniggered a bit, since the Mustang parked in front of us had just half the cylinder count, but of course today’s turbocharged four-banger could smoke the V8 of yore. I understood where Ford was going with this, though – the EcoBoost Mustang High Performance Package is meant to be the value performance buy, and not just a rental-fleet darling or the car for Mustang shoppers who care more about show than go.

Of course, when I relayed this spiel to the ne’er do wells in the TTAC Slack channel, contributor Chris Tonn shot back “SVO”, typed out repeatedly, a la Nicholson’s manuscript in The Shining.

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By on September 19, 2019

2020 Ford Escape Hybrid

The 2020 Ford Escape Hybrid faces the same problem as its gas-engined sibling: Styling.

That’s the bad news for Ford. The good news is that this particular hybrid doesn’t sacrifice too much of the gas Escape’s fun-to-drive factor in the search for better fuel economy.

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By on September 18, 2019

2020 Ford Escape

Ford says it is eventually going to phase out most of its cars – save the Mustang – but the brand isn’t above basing a compact crossover on a car platform.

Yeah, it may be called a crossover, especially by people who draw paychecks from the Blue Oval, but the 2020 Ford Escape is based on the company’s European Focus platform.

Perhaps it’s a bit of a cynical approach, especially with a more rugged “baby Bronco” on the way. But if ride and handling are something you care about, even when shopping crossovers, the results may be pleasing to you.

Possibly more pleasing than the Escape’s styling, anyway.

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By on September 16, 2019

2019 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio front quarter
The exhaust note will suck you in. If you, like most readers of this fine publication, have a healthy appreciation for all things mechanical, you cannot help but be charmed by the baritone rasp of this twin-turbocharged V6.

I know that I was.

Thus, an impromptu road trip to Pittsburgh in the 2019 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio naturally brought me through the Fort Pitt tunnel into the city. Yes, I opened the windows, twisted the drive mode selector to Race, and slapped the paddle shifter down a couple of cogs just to hear that exhaust echo among those tile-lined walls.

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By on September 12, 2019


I hardly watch television anymore. I’ve a couple of shows that I keep up with via on-demand or DVR, but generally my time is spent working or with my kids. Occasionally, however, I’ll end up at the in-laws, where invariably they’ll have the old Sony tuned to some half-hearted reality show. One of their faves is Dancing With The Stars, where washed-up tertiary celebs dress in tight clothes and strut for an hour.

Often, one of those stars is a washed-up football player who’s blown through his rookie contract and trying to increase his marketability before the league pension and/or CTE settlement dough starts rolling in. Getting those hulking beasts to move with grace is quite a sight.

You can see where I’m going with this. Yeah, the platform on which this 2019 Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack Widebody is old enough to vote. But Mopar engineers, in creating this package, have taught this bruising lineman to shake a leg in style.

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By on September 11, 2019

2019 Hyundai Elantra Sport

The 2019 Hyundai Elantra Sport makes a compelling case for saving the manual transmission. But perhaps not compelling enough, as between the time I drove this car and wrote this review, Hyundai killed the stick in the 2020 Elantra Sport.

I daresay that’s not the car’s fault — the stick-shift Sport would be on my shopping list if I were eyeing a sporty compact commuter. Market forces continue to kill off manual transmissions and, while some brands are fighting the good fight, Hyundai must not have seen a business case in doing battle.

That’s too bad, because the budget buyer looking for value in a sporty compact car just lost one option.

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By on September 9, 2019

2020 Kia Soul profile

Names and categories used to matter when referring to cars. Coupes used to have two doors, period. Porsche got a bunch of flak last week when they called their electric sedan a Turbo. Tesla uses the term Supercharger for a device that isn’t connected to a crankshaft with a big belt.

Click through to Kia’s website (open a new tab, please – don’t leave me here alone!) and you’ll note five distinct categories. Sedans, hatchbacks, minivans, and hybrids/electrics all follow the hot one – SUVs and Crossovers. Unsurprisingly, this 2019 Kia Soul sits right atop that list, though by any traditional automotive taxonomy this box is a hatchback. Peel back the sharp edges, however, and the Soul offers many of the advantages of a popular crossover without the compromises.

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By on September 6, 2019

2019 Honda Passport front quarter

For those who don’t know, my day job isn’t in the automotive industry. Rather, I’m in sales – I represent various product lines in an industrial setting, and I talk to countless small business owners and technicians who look to me to help get their job done.

I’d like to think that the better part of two decades in sales has inoculated me to obvious marketingspeak – I can see through the jargon and bullshit most of the time, as I’m usually the one distilling the bullshit for my clients. It carries over outside the office, of course, so I was skeptical when presented with Honda’s tagline for this two-row crossover: “Passport To Adventure.” Surely the 2019 Honda Passport isn’t an overlanding rig meant to tackle the worst terrain the world can offer. That said, some of Ohio’s roads must be some of the worst terrain to be called “paved” in the western world.

Every commute is an adventure.

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By on August 29, 2019

2020 GMC Sierra HD

Heavy-duty truck buyers tow things often. So do many light-duty truck buyers. So perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised to be be asked, shortly after stepping off an airplane, to get behind the wheel of an HD truck towing something like 13,000 pounds of RV.

This, despite having trailering experience that hovered near zero. I can count on one hand how many times I’ve trailered. I did it years ago in Maryland on another GMC event, and last year in the same region (Jackson Hole, Wyoming) with the light-duty Chevrolet Silverado, but until last week, that was about it.

Gulp.

GMC would tell you that the combination of its trucks’ capability and some high-tech doodads make trailering easy, even for the novice. GMC would be correct on that count, but there’s more to the story when it comes to this year’s crop of trucks.

We were turned loose in a variety of GMC Sierra trucks over the course of two days – and not all had a mobile home’s worth of weight behind them. Still, towing and hauling were a bit part of this particular junket; even when we weren’t towing, we were driving trucks with beds full of logs. We also did a bit of light off-roading.

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By on August 28, 2019

2020 GMC Acadia

GMC has long made a fuss about its Denali sub-brand, which is meant to signify the most luxurious trim available for any given GMC model. GMCs, of course, are supposed to be more upscale versions of Chevrolet trucks and SUVs, even without Denali badging.

Enter a new sub-brand – AT4. First available as an off-road-oriented trim on the Sierra full-size pickup, and intended to become available on all GMC models within the next two years, AT4 is a trim that aims to emphasize off-road ability – or at least look the part.

While the Sierra’s AT4 trim offers mechanical changes that serve to improve the truck’s off-road prowess, the Acadia version is more about off-road looks, all-terrain tires and standard all-wheel drive notwithstanding. GMC knows the Acadia is a suburban shuttle, not a bad-ass off-roader, and has adjusted the AT4 treatment for this vehicle as such.

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By on August 22, 2019

2019 Mini Cooper JCW front quarter

Does retro work when the retro becomes just plain old? The late Nineties and early Aughts saw an explosion of cars designed to ape cars of yesteryear – possibly to comfort a car-buying public terrified of what a new millennium might bring. The PT Cruiser, the HHR, and the New Beetle were among many models intentionally built to look backwards.

Mini, on the other hand, was an entire marque created out of nostalgia, and for two decades has traded on a wistful look back at the pioneer of the small front-drive econobox with an ever-growing portfolio of “same sausage, different lengths” models. Today, we look at the 2019 Mini John Cooper Works Hardtop – the original flavor three-door hot hatch. Does it still evoke the spirit of the Sixties, or is it a thoroughly modern conveyance in hand-me-down clothes?

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By on August 19, 2019

2019 Lexus ES 300h

Automotive journalists have long labeled the Lexus ES, and especially the hybrid version, as “boring.”

Count me among that number.

To its credit, Lexus has worked to remedy that reputation. The current-gen ES is still no sex machine or thrilling sports ride, but it’s more engaging than before without sacrificing the isolating comfort Lexus is known for. A new F Sport model does provide a bit more pizzazz, but even the fuel-saving hybrid is less of a snooze-fest than before.

I got my hands on one in North Carolina earlier this year, just to get a sense of how much less yawn-inducing it is than before.

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By on August 16, 2019

2019 Mercedes-Benz A220 front quarter

The entry-level Mercedes-Benz sedan has an odd history. Until the W201 series in the mid-Eighties, there really wasn’t anything truly in the smaller classes, and the nomenclature (190E) seemed deceiving, reminding some of the larger E-class. Still, these were popular cars, even spawning the epic twin-cam powered Cosworth models that allowed the smallest Benz sports sedan to go race in the DTM series, and eventually bearing a more natural “C” class naming syntax.

But the C got bigger and more expensive, and soon upstart luxury brands began nipping at the heels of the three-pointed star on the lower end. The first A-class was underwhelming, though with the typical application of AMG-style power it could be fun.

This newest A-class, the 2019 Mercedes-Benz A220 4MATIC, has a good deal to answer for. Will the typical Stuttgart amenities be enough to sway those remaining small sedan buyers, or will they shy away from the babiest of Baby Benzes?

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By on August 12, 2019

2019 Acura NSX

One of the more frequent comments I’ve heard since the C8 Corvette dropped is some variation of “the Acura NSX is screwed.”

That comment makes sense – Chevrolet is promising similar performance numbers from the newly mid-engined ‘Vette, with a base price that is nearly $100K cheaper.

So yeah, if the next Corvette fulfills Chevy’s promise at a significantly lower cost than the NSX, that could spell trouble for a supercar that’s already selling slowly by supercar standards.

Still, the NSX has two things going for it. One, logic and rationality doesn’t always matter among the well-heeled – in other words, some will pay for the pricier car, regardless of specs, because of brand name/loyalty, or styling, or whatever.

Two, the NSX is just plain fantastic.

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By on August 9, 2019

2019 BMW X4 front quarter

There was a loud, painful sounding thunk. It wasn’t the sound of the door closing that has been compared for generations to that of a bank vault. Rather, my teenaged daughter whacked her head on the low, sweeping C-pillar, reminding me of the countless concussion protocol waivers I’ve digitally signed over her years in various competitive sports.

No damage that required missing a game, thankfully – only wounded pride. But it served as a reminder that there is a price to be paid for style. The current fashion of four-door “coupes,” whether of the sedan or crossover variety, may be trendy, but for those raising kids of greater than average height, this 2019 BMW X4 might not be the ideal statement vehicle.

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