There has been much handwringing lately among us keyboard warriors that the entry-level end of the new-car market isn’t well covered.
Overall, this is true – there are fewer cheap wheels than there used to be. But there are still some options for the first-time buyer or those with shallow pockets. Sometimes, though, there’s another kind of price to pay for snagging a bargain.
Those who have suffered through reading my works here and elsewhere over the past seven years likely have suspected - I’m merely using this second career as an automotive reviewer and journalist as an extended test-drive opportunity while I sort out what the next car that I purchase for my own use might be. It’s a happy accident, of course, but a financially-prudent one considering the drastic turns we’ve seen in real-world transaction prices and in interest rates. Not having had a car payment for myself (only for my wife’s car) has been helpful as we squirrel away cash for the pair of teens careening in the general direction of college.
It’s really easy to love a sporty entry-luxury sedan that has all the right handling moves and doesn’t totally break the bank.
It’s a bit less easy to love a car with Audi badging that seems to be short of some luxury features, features that you no doubt could have – if you just spent a little more.
It’s also a bit less easy to love a luxury car when there are a bit too many interior reminders of the mainstream brand it shares its platform with.
That’s the 2022 Audi A3 Quattro sedan I drove in a nutshell.
As goes General Motors, so goes the nation. Apocryphal or not, the above statement dates to the Eisenhower era when The General was indeed one of the largest influences on American lives. From Dinah Shore to the shores of wherever a GM-built military vehicle might be carrying a GI, Chevrolet and the other divisions once played an outsized part in our world.
Even in the Nineties as the corporation rebounded from its malaise-era nadir, GM took chances and pushed boundaries. The EV1 drew attention as the first legitimate mass-produced electric vehicle. But the EV spotlight - and Wall Street glory - has been seized by a demagogue and a merry band of followers, making a funky-looking EV genuinely mainstream.
The Bowtie isn’t taking this lying down, but the approach is somewhat novel. Rather than targeting big money from luxury sedans and the like, the volume sales EVs from GM are the pair of Bolts, including this 2023 Chevrolet Bolt EUV. Deliberately aping the ever-popular crossover market, the Bolt EUV brings something unusual to the EV space - a total lack of weirdness.
It’s the beginning of the new year as I write this, and we are being bombarded by easy-to-pen yearly listicles in the “hey, remember this B-list celebrity that died in February?” Like most, I’ll read one or two of these in my downtime out of sheer boredom, and will occasionally notice a critical reappraisal of someone’s supposed genius that wasn’t properly appreciated until they had passed.
Like people, of course, consumer products have life cycles. And while very few might shed a tear for the untimely demise of a particular flavor of dishwashing sponge, the same can’t be said of automobiles. Even the least popular mass-produced car or truck has thousands of owners across the country, and certainly, some feel a sort of kinship to the model. So even though it seems forever destined to remain in sixth place on the full-sizer sales charts, the 2023 Nissan Titan PRO-4X is worthy of reassessment.
I’ve long been a fan of Subaru’s plucky WRX compact sports sedan. But as you’ll see when our next podcast drops, I found the 2022 Subaru WRX one of my most disappointing cars of the year.
“Disappointing” doesn’t mean “bad”, to be clear. The WRX is still a joy to drive and would still be on my shopping list if I was buying in this class. But it’s lost a step compared to the competitive set, in part because the newest version makes its flaws a bit more visible.
Ford’s Maverick small truck has been highly reviewed, including by yours truly, so when two (one of each powertrain) arrived at my door within weeks of each other earlier this year, I was curious if my original take would hold up.
Hold up indeed it did, and I came away even more impressed with the truck – though I’d still lean towards the gas engine over the hybrid in most cases. If fuel economy or a few other factors matter more to you, then go for the hybrid. Otherwise, take the gas. But we’ll get to that.
Making a massive brick-shaped object fuel efficient is a hell of an exercise in engineering, I’m certain. There are certain laws of physics that must be accommodated - mass, friction, and aerodynamics all factor in the equation of turning energy into propulsion. Reducing mass, improving aero, and limiting resistance losses from the tires are all ways one might make a truck use fuel more effectively.
Recovering some of that energy used in propulsion is another method - which is what birthed the hybrid vehicle. Toyota has been the leader in hybrids for decades now, which is why it’s rather surprising that it’s taken so long to bring some Prius magic to the full-size truck market. But here we are, with the 2022 Toyota Tundra TRD Pro - an off-road focused, top-of-the-line package that can only be had as a hybrid. But does a simple battery make this three-ton brute a hypermiling champ?
Standing in the lobby at Mitsubishi’s suburban Nashville headquarters last week, I looked out the window and saw Nissan’s own HQ just down the street. Even though Mitsubishi tells me that it’s just a coincidence that the two offices are that close to one another, the two companies are part of a larger alliance that also involves Renault. Even if it’s not intentional, one can feel the corporate synergy.
Yeah, I know. That title is clickbait. Especially as we’ve told you time and again that there are no self-driving cars, and there likely will not be any self-driving cars for quite some time. Every vehicle on our roads today needs a driver.
But not all of them want to be driven.
There may come a time when this fine publication will need a name change lest we fall behind the times. News articles dutifully report that automakers continue to research autonomous driving technologies designed to keep people safer by entrusting the speed and direction of our personal mobility devices to fallible sensors and algorithms designed by the lowest bidding mathematician.
Like it or not, the big crossover is here to stay. Three rows of seating that would really be better suited to a minivan or - dare I say it - a wagon shall be jacked up slightly so drivers can feel somewhat at ease when surrounded by all of the other tall wagons, pickups, and eighteen-wheelers clogging our roads.
Just because the words Sports and Utility are theoretically in the definition of the vehicle segment doesn’t mean that sport needs to be part of the equation. We’ve seen many a big crossover that should never see anything more rugged than a dirt path to a youth soccer field - and many a rugged SUV that never actually sees anything more rugged than that same dirt path, so it doesn’t matter much anyhow. These are comfortable family vehicles with easy step-in heights - no more, no less. That hasn’t stopped automakers from tossing the classic luxury playbook at these vehicles, however. Leather, wood and metal trim, big wheels, and the usual advanced tech features abound on the upmarket trims.
The 2022 Infiniti QX60 Autograph is a noble effort from Nissan’s luxury division for this particular market. Light on the ruggedness, heavy on the plush - can the QX60 find a path to sales success?
Hi there, this is take two of our new series in which I give you short notes on something I am driving or have driven recently. It doesn't necessarily mean a given car will or won't get a full review in the future -- it's just a chance to hit some highlights sooner since it can take some time before a full review gets published. And some cars don't get full reviews, anyway.
Today's ride: The 2023 Kia Sportage Hybrid.
Step back in time with me to the Seventies, and imagine being in a boardroom in Highland Park, Michigan. The marketers and advertising copywriters of Chrysler were, at the time, reacting to the personal luxury vehicle trend with the Cordoba. Ricardo Montalbán had worked everyone up into a rich Corinthian lather, all but assuring buyers that good times and sexytime were simply a signature away at the local Chrysler dealer.
In another room, the Dodge truck folks were trying to compete with crosstown rivals. Adding accessories and other fripperies to the D-series pickup created what was known as the “Adult Toys” lineup - including the black/gold Warlock model, as well as the smokestack-equipped Li’l Red Express. These factory customs acknowledged that people were buying trucks not just for work - and anticipated in part the explosion of the truck market that was to come.
But Khan himself could have never foreseen something like the 2022 Ram 1500 Rebel - a four-wheel drive, five-passenger truck that rides better than the nicest Chryslers and Imperials while handling truck duties better than any Dodge of the disco era.
I suppose I can be an occasional automotive Luddite. I’m mentally throwing wrenches at the twenty-year-old German project car in my garage since it’s not nearly as straightforward to repair as the thirty-year-old Japanese project car right next to it. More than once I’ve pondered the possibility of adapting carburetors to both.
Hello there and welcome to the first edition of the TTAC Quick Drive. This is basically a short version of a car review that we will apply either when a test vehicle doesn't really need a full review (perhaps its a mild refresh and mechanically unchanged) or we didn't get a lot of miles on a car (perhaps we drive a vehicle at an event for only 15 minutes). We may also use this to preview the full review of a vehicle that will publish later.
In the beginning, God created the dinosaurs. He saw that they would eventually decompose into petroleum, and said this is good. And God said let there be bitchin’ V8 engines.
And God said Oh Crap, I didn’t kill off enough dinosaurs to feed these hungry V8 engines. So on the seventh day, he left it to someone else to create EV charging stations way too far apart in sketchy parts of everything that he had made, and he rested.
We are well beyond the book of Genesis when it comes to electric vehicles - we no longer look to an EV as simply an efficient urban runabout not suited to the open road. Witness the big two-letter badge on the decklid of this 2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E GT - yes, there is a healthy dash of grand touring within Ford’s sporty EV. And, should you wish, a touch of sports car joy.
Part of becoming a parent is making compromises. Instead of a weekend in Vegas with some friends, you spend your vacation money taking the kids to visit a rat in a Florida swamp. Instead of enjoying a variety of interesting meals each night, it’s chicken fingers with boxed mac and cheese night after night after night.
We heard them before we saw them.
Our merry band of journalists and PR folks were walking to dinner in Bozeman, Montana on the second night of the 2023 Jeep Wagoneer/Grand Wagoneer L press launch when we crossed paths with a bunch of college-aged folks who were walking the opposite way shouting “hi-ho, hi-ho, fossil fuels have got to go!”
If only they could lay eyes on this particular Jeep, which caused one colleague to tweet out a reference to The Simpsons' Canyonero.
Ever since the late David E. spaketh his missive and/or advertorial on behalf of a sports sedan, a pair of German brands have been the symbols of having made it...or at least being on a clear path to making it. Audi, on the other hand, was the third wheel - occasionally gaining respectability, but too often finding itself fighting against the memory of a vengeful Sunday evening “news” program.
Lately, however, Audi has been cutting their own path, with a distinctive style unlike any other automaker. The four rings within a gaping black grille are being recognized and appreciated as genuine markers of a fine luxury automobile - and not, as once was the case, as simply a nicer Volkswagen.
It’s hard to come up with a better hot hatch than the 2022 Volkswagen Golf R. Unfortunately, it’s also hard to build such a sublime vehicle and also make it a bargain.
If you’re on a budget, VW will happily sell you a GTI and you’ll get about 80 percent of the Golf R’s performance. On the other hand, if you have the scratch, the Golf R is worth it.
Those who have known me for a while - or have been reading the words I’ve been spewing on this and other sites - know that I’m a minivangelist. I’ve owned several (I’ve lost count) of these unrestrained vehicular symbols of virility and/or fertility, and have appreciated their presence in my driveway every time I had to bring home a dishwasher from the big-box store, or shuttle a few stray children about town. There is no vehicle type better suited for suburban families than a minivan.
But nobody wants ‘em.
The consensus, at least among us shrimp-sucking keyboard warriors who get paid to review cars, is that the Jeep Wagoneer is a bit of a flop, mostly due to an oddly-proportioned exterior design.
Sure, the overfed journo writes between bites of shellfish, the Wagoneer has a nice interior, an excellent stereo, and an unobjectionable, if unremarkable powertrain. But its looks frighten small dogs.
One could be forgiven for worrying that when Honda updated the Civic, it would muck things up. Make a good thing worse. Especially when it comes to the enthusiast-oriented Si trim.
The eleventh-generation car debuted last year as a 2022, and the Si version followed soon after. As most of you no doubt know, the Si is the hopped-up performance version of the Civic, though it’s not the highest-performance trim. That would be the Type R, which is currently on hiatus for the moment – the 2023 Honda Civic Type R will bow soon.
Extremes are easy to write about.
Just as sportswriters would prefer to cover either contending teams or basement dwellers instead of those that win about as much as they lose, most auto writers find it easier to describe sexy sports cars or to lampoon rolling failures.
This is why writers who are itching to show you how well they can use a thesaurus are almost as happy to see a Mitsubishi Mirage arrive at their home as they would be a Ferrari. Almost.
Those who’ve studied the build and price site for the Ford Bronco will note that the company labels the upper trim Badlands and Wildtrak versions as the ones you should select if you plan to go wheelin’ often. That’s before even thinking about adding the Sasquatch package.
The "Save the Manuals" crew will also note that the Badlands trim is the only way to get a loaded Bronco with a clutch pedal.
The idea of a plug-in hybrid Jeep Wrangler intrigues me. Wranglers that run exclusively on dead-dino juice have never been terribly fuel efficient. That’s true of recent efforts, too, despite overall improvements in automotive technology/design/engineering that have helped even the thirstiest of gas guzzlers become, well, less thirsty.
So it makes sense that a Wrangler that can run at least part of the time on electrons would pique my interest. Even if the alternative powertrain underhood changes little else about the Wrangler experience.
They’re coming for our cars. It may not be tomorrow, but indicators point toward a future where personal transportation options may be severely restricted. Gleaming alloy air-cars two lanes wide may be our transportation solution going forward.
From my stringback-gloved hands, I proclaim. While I’ll take the train should my commute dictate, I still find both solace and pleasure in engaging with a genuine driver’s car. A car that doesn’t need a “SPORT MODE” button conspicuously glaring next to the CVT drive selector knob. In the 2022 Mazda MX-5 Miata, the start button IS the sport mode.
The last time I reviewed a Land Rover Defender, I commented on how I enjoyed its driving experience despite some very British electrical failings such as the radio going AWOL for half an hour.
I expected similar from the two-door version, and to my pleasant surprise, I got the good parts without any real gremlins or bugs.
Over my years in the auto industry, one thing has been made abundantly clear: Truck buyers are loyal. Sure, the occasional fluctuation will occur, but for the most part, Ford buyers will buy another Ford when the time comes, and the same with Chevy, GMC, Ram, and Toyota.
Why, then, do the truck makers keep redesigning? Beyond incorporating new technologies for improved performance, safety, and efficiency, there’s always a risk of alienating their base customers when reaching for conquest sales. Chevrolet did that a few years ago with the Silverado, revealing a truck with an interior that was not nearly as nice as the rest of the industry. The good ship Bowtie has been righted with the 2022 Chevrolet Silverado, thankfully, as even on this LT trim the passenger accommodations have been vastly improved.
Most automakers have some stuff in their past of which they’re rightfully proud. Certain landmark models are fondly recalled long after they’ve been relegated. Pristine examples of those beauties will often be rolled out and dusted off either during launches of new, tangentially-related models or during serious lulls in the product cycle where everything on lots is dull. Sometimes, these heritage cars will even be loaned to us journalists for a brief time.
Volkswagen has done this in the past - I’ve seen my colleagues joyously cruising in stunning Beetles and Microbuses. What’s remarkable is this 2022 Volkswagen Passat is nominally a new car, but it doesn’t appear on the Build-And-Price tool at vw.com. It seems to be a curious case where a brand new car has been prematurely shuffled off to the heritage fleet.
I want to be perfectly honest with you guys — this is The Truth About Cars, after all — I didn’t like driving the 2022 Lexus RX450h AWD F Sport. It’s not that the Lexus is a bad car, it’s that it’s not the right fit for me … and I mean that both figuratively and literally.
Americans have got a fever, and the only prescription is more crossovers. Virtually every automaker trying to do business in this country has some sort of lifted wagon – if not a handful. Large ones, small ones, performance ones, economy ones. No convertible crossovers anymore, thank goodness. They’re shoehorning a crossover into nearly every possible market segment.
Here, we have the 2023 Mazda CX-50, with a name very much like their popular CX-5. And it’s very close in size to said CX-5. Of the six distinct non-electric vehicles offered by Mazda, four are crossovers – but why did they bring us something so very clearly similar to something they’ve been selling well for many years without replacing it?
Oh, and don’t give Mazda any ideas about a Miata crossover, please.
I’ve always had mixed feelings about Lexus’ NX compact crossover. I’ve found it to be fairly sporty – in general, and not just by staid Lexus standards – and overall more engaging to drive than the larger (and highly popular) RX, but also a bit cramped inside. Not to mention that the NX, like most Toyota and Lexus products, just seemed a step behind when it came to infotainment.
Lexus addressed two of those criticisms with the current model and did so quite nicely.
I’ll grant that I’m not a university-trained linguist, but I will forever cringe when I encounter egregious misapplications of the English language. Examples include the otherwise-excellent Alanis Morissette applying the term “ironic” to simple coincidence, and the ever-present misuse of “literally” by my kids when describing a figurative.
In the realm with which I’m more familiar, we can consider the heinous mislabeling of sundry sedans and crossovers as “coupes” due to their sloping rooflines. Another is the haphazard use of the “GT” badge, a violation that most automakers have made over the decades. GT, of course, originally implied Grand Touring – and has been since claimed by various racing series to denote race cars that have been based upon street cars.
I’m not certain which definition was in mind when the 2022 Kia Forte GT was in development.
One of the things this author has always appreciated about the Honda Ridgeline is its car-like qualities. More than once, the phrase “Accord on stilts” has escaped my lips when talking about the Ridgeline with fellow auto scribes, and I meant it as a compliment.
Imagine my dismay to find that the refreshed 2021 Honda Ridgeline felt jussssst a bit more “trucky” than before.
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