A lot of us pack on pounds as we age. I should know – it happened to me as I voyaged through my 30s.
We all know it’s been happening across the car world, too. Just about every model has grown in size and packed on pounds over the past two decades.
Problem is, that turns some vehicles that were once known as svelte sports sedans into bloated versions of themselves. The good news is that some of these vehicles can still do a lot of what they once did – but the swell is unfortunately noticeable.
Yes, one day this could all be yours. When the last leases signed for this now defunct model run their course, the base Chevy Cruze could be the depreciation special that finds its way into your driveway.
I’ll still be paying mine off.
Of course, you can’t criticize anything you read here today too harshly, as, regardless of what you think of the purchase decision, I spent my own damn money on this unexciting, domestic, high-MPG compact sedan. Yes, a person who types car-related words foolishly spent his meager income on a sensible new vehicle that suits his day-to-day needs, rather than a Peugeot or Porsche project car. I guess it’s now up to General Motors to retain me — again — as a customer.
And that nearly didn’t happen back in May of 2018, until Hyundai gave me plenty of reason to reconsider.
Crossovers don’t have to be totally boring.
Consider the 2020 Acura MDX A-Spec. It could just be another yawn-inducing luxo-box on wheels, but Acura has at least tried to imbue it with some sort of spirit.
Well, as much spirit as is possible with a 4,200-pound crossover.
Jaguar’s I-Pace electric hatchback provides an interesting driving experience. When it has enough charge to be driven, that is.
The I-Pace I drove for a weekend last summer spent much of that time at the dealership, charging, because it failed to charge anywhere else near my home.
More on that in a minute.
As long as individual private vehicles exist for sale, there will be a place for cheap commuter vehicles.
They don’t get much love, few aspire to buy them, but they exist to make sure that even those on a budget can get wheels that aren’t used.
Nissan’s Kicks is one such vehicle, and a pretty good one at that — as long as it sticks to its narrowly-defined mission.
When I first drove the newest generation of Toyota’s popular RAV4, I was lukewarm on the hybrid model. I liked the previous-gen hybrid better. At the time, I wrote that the best new RAV4, in this reviewer’s opinion, is the Adventure trim.
I stand by that statement, but I also think, upon further reflection, that I was a bit too harsh on the hybrid.
A week’s worth of time with a vehicle will do that. Sometimes week-long loans expose flaws that aren’t apparent in the stage-managed environs of a press junket, and sometimes it’s the other way around.
This is an example of the latter.
Even Range Rovers need to go green.
Or, at the very least, offer “green” engine options to accrue cred with the right kind of well-heeled buyers.
While I believe some of the greenies with plenty of green in their bank account are sincere about their intentions to save the planet (and I definitely believe the climate is changing, and we’re at fault), other green types are simply signaling virtue. Still others think they’re doing the right thing, without considering that not all hybrids are the same.
Some hybrids aren’t even meant to maximize fuel economy – their electrified hardware strives mainly for enhanced performance.
Somebody had to ruin the party. Five years ago the Dieselgate scandal broke, and automakers everywhere slowed down the development of their own oil-burning engines for the U.S. market. Until that point, many automakers were looking at bringing “clean” diesel tech from Europe to the U.S.
Of course, compression-ignition engines have been quite common in the truck market – though generally confined to the heavy-duty, three-quarter-ton and larger models for many years. In the last couple of years, each member of the Detroit Three has revealed a smaller diesel for their half-ton pickups. This 2020 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 is powered by a Duramax 3.0-liter inline six, backed up by a 10-speed automatic.
I’m not sure I’ve ever fallen so hard for a powertrain.
Time was, you couldn’t pay me to drive a Toyota Avalon.
Okay, that’s not true – part of this job I’m paid to do requires me to drive cars and review them. Including many vehicles that would never be on my wish list.
Allow me to rephrase, then: There was a time I wouldn’t have driven an Avalon unless I was being paid.
“Schläfer” is the German word for sleeper, or so Google tells me (I spent my foreign language education on Spanish, and I can perhaps order in a restaurant using that language. Maybe). Perhaps it should just be changed to 2019 Volkswagen GLI.
Yeah, there are still sleeper cars on the market – and this delightful spin on an already reliable German econobox is one of them.
I’ve found the normal Jetta to be solid, affordable transport. But for those who want to spice up their schnitzel, so to speak, the GLI does the trick nicely. And unlike just about all of the other sporty compacts, include corporate stablemate Golf GTI, it does so without advertising what it is. Your mother-in-law won’t know this is a performance car, unless you dig deep into the throttle. Or downshift in anger to pass a slowpoke.
Considering the insanity our consumer markets have seen over the past few weeks, I’m kicking myself for having let my warehouse club membership lapse a year or so ago. I reasoned that there was absolutely no need for me to buy staple foods (or paper products) in bulk quantities. There would be no circumstance short of the apocalypse where my regular supermarket could not adequately fill the needs of my family.
Yeah, I’m kicking myself.
Anyhow, that got me thinking about other things that one could buy in larger packages than normal. Looking at the photos of the 2020 Mini Cooper S Countryman I drove a few weeks ago, it clicked – this is the bulk package Mini Cooper. A fair bit more Mini than the standard three-door hatchback, the Countryman is the Mini for families.
You’ve seen them lurking in your neighborhood. The suburban ninja. Clad head to toe in skintight black – usually from Lululemon, but other brands work here, too – they jog early in the morning and late at night, oblivious to the world beyond their AirPods. They’ll never jog on the sidewalk, either. They’re always in the street, ready to strike the hood of your car.
Drivers are taking back the streets, however, defending themselves and their precious rides by all means necessary. Cadillac has upped the game with the available Night Vision camera on the 2020 Cadillac XT6. No joke, the feature saved the good folks at Cadillac PR from headlines such as “Hack Journalist Slays Jogger.”
Do you consider yourself a responsible, wholesome driver? Are you a driver who maintains control in all driving situations? Or are you tempted to leave each stoplight in a snarl of revs and a haze of vaporized Michelin?
At the moment, BMW does not offer its flagship sports sedan, the M3. We are left with this, the 2020 BMW M340i. While the M3 – when it comes – will likely offer a batshit crazy amount of horsepower, I’m reminded when I drive this sensibly-powered M340i of Lord Acton’s chestnut: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
I’d like to think that I’m a decent, incorruptible fellow, thus 382 horsepower is enough for me. It’s probably enough for you, too.
Once upon a time, if you were shopping for a luxury vehicle that drove like a sports car, you’d get a BMW or, in some cases, a Jaguar. If you wanted one strictly for its comfort and opulence, you’d get a Mercedes-Benz or a Lexus. If you wanted a sort of ‘tweener, then you’d consider an Audi, particularly since it was one of the few in its segment to offer all-wheel drive. But these days, the German (and Japanese, and British) luxury giants have become so competitive with each other, they’re no longer separated by the unique characteristics that once defined them.
When it comes to the midsize-luxury-sedan trifecta, this trend couldn’t have been any more apparent. The BMW 5 Series seemingly gave up some of its enthusiast-minded “ultimate driving machine” superiority to focus on technology innovation while the Mercedes-Benz E-Class lost its allure for over-engineered excellence during its mix-up with the DaimlerChrysler merger of equals. Meanwhile, Audi took the lead with the A6, dethroning its direct competitors from their winning pedestals in numerous class comparisons over the years just by ticking all of the boxes incredibly well.
Does the story remain the same with the new fifth-generation model, which recently launched in our market?
One of my longstanding beefs with certain luxury brands that share corporate families with mainstream nameplates is that many of them don’t do enough to differentiate their high-priced metal from what’s on offer further down the ladder.
Count Maserati among that number — at least when it comes to the Levante GTS. While it boasts Italian designer looks on the outside, its connection to “lesser” Fiat Chrysler models is apparent on the inside.
I’m not, generally speaking, a crossover fan. That said, I’m not a full-on hater, either — I understand that sometimes people need the utility offered by crossovers. And some of the compact five-seat crossovers, the small ones that aren’t rolling barges, seem to be decent tools for automotive multitasking, at least to my eye.
Take Toyota’s RAV4. Always a hit with the public, if not with enthusiasts, and the newest version is quite good.
And just like the Accord/Camry battles that have been fought since before I could legally drive, the CR-V and RAV4 are fighters in opposite corners, duking it out for buyer’s bucks. Including those buyers who want to go green.
There are many reasons one buys a hybrid — the fuel-economy gains, the green cred, or the “green” posturing/posing — but no matter what the why is, there are buyers out there who want that badge.
On a cold January morning during the 2015 North American International Auto Show, Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn debuted the brand’s all-new pickup truck. It wasn’t a typical full-size, half-ton offering. Rather, it was a “tweener” that sits between the half-ton and three-quarter ton trucks currently on sale. Ghosn made the business case for the truck, stating that nearly 150,000 people every year switch from a half-ton to a three-quarter ton truck or vice versa because there’s no real truck out there to meet their needs. Additionally, the truck would have a 5.0-liter Cummins diesel V8 engine.
Fast forward to 2020 and things have changed. Sales of the first-generation Titan XD were lackluster at best, and the company has completely discontinued the diesel engine and regular cab options. Ghosn himself was smuggled out of Japan in an instrument case back to Lebanon to avoid the Japanese legal system. But there is a new version of the Titan XD, and Nissan claims things will be different this time.
A few years ago, the family and I rented a car and drove to a national park, just like thousands of others do every year. After a few hours of hiking and sightseeing, we found a restaurant in the park for lunch. Our rental that day? A silver Nissan Altima. Here’s the weird part: there were eight more silver Altimas parked side-by-side, all with minor trim differences and stickers from different rental agencies.
It was genuinely weird.
TTAC has a long history of reviewing cars from rental agencies – initially as a ward against potential influence from the automakers, and occasionally to review cars we don’t normally see in media fleets. This isn’t one of those. This 2020 Nissan Altima AWD is a marked improvement from the rental counter – it’s no longer the ubiquitous scourge of indifferent travelers.
My review of the all-new 2020 Kia Telluride last year was mostly positive.
There’s a reason for this – I thought it was pretty damn good. Especially given its price point, and that it was Kia coming up with a very good three-row crossover, seemingly out of nowhere.
Yep, Kia, a brand that hadn’t been a player in this segment since its last attempt, a body-on-frame SUV called Borrego, ran into the economic headwinds of the Great Recession. Kia had help from corporate partner Hyundai – that brand’s Palisade is the more urbane sibling to Telluride – but still, Kia’s reentry to the segment seemed remarkable.
After living with the Telluride for a week as opposed to a day, that remains true.
What happens to an OEM that may have been caught napping while its competitors race to fill every possible niche with crossovers?
It takes its three-row crossover, lops off the third row and some rear space, gives it a name that plays off the existing moniker, and puts it out there.
Hence we have the 2020 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport, which shares its platform with the Atlas (the wheelbases are even the same) but loses about three inches of length and a bit more than two inches of height while offering seating for just five.
Give Ford credit – the Blue Oval could, at any time, create a special Mustang Bullitt that’s little more than an appearance package.
Yet, the current Mustang Bullitt, like the one offered a decade ago, isn’t just a GT with cosmetic changes. It’s a certified bruiser that goes as well as it shows.
We all know what happens to you and me when we assume, and a lot of folks will assume the 2021 Kia Seltos shares its bones with the also-new Hyundai Venue.
I know I did, and when I questioned Hyundai to fact-check myself, I didn’t get a clear answer (as the two companies tend to silo their information from one another).
The assumption that the Seltos is just a re-boxed Venue is wrong. The Seltos, despite playing in the same class as the Venue and being similar in size, is actually based on a different Hyundai – the Kona.
Not that you’d know it from looking at it. The Seltos has a busier, more futuristic look than the Kona, although it doesn’t have the latter’s odd headlight placement. Like the Venue, it offers two-tone styling, and at first glance it looks more like the boxy Venue than the wedge-shaped Kona.
Hence, the assumptions.
I’m almost certain there is an unwritten code for automotive reviewers that TTAC has generally avoided, if not openly mocked. You’ve seen the fruits of this code on newsstands, where every other month either a Camaro or a Mustang asks the other, in bold print, to STEP OUTSIDE. Another example is the inevitable requirement for someone reviewing a Volvo to somehow reference the awful Dudley Moore flick Crazy People and the “boxy-but-good” tagline.
We won’t talk about the faux Jaguar ad here. This is a family joint. For more discussion, select “private mode” on your browser of choice and look for TTAC After Dark.
Seems the good folks in Gothenburg were affected by the lighthearted fictional criticism, as since the late 1990s Volvo has been applying styling to its previously staid machines. The current-generation models are all stunners, from the largest wagons (swoon) to the smallest crossover, like this 2020 Volvo XC40 T5.
But is the beauty more than skin deep?
Jeep’s Gladiator pickup truck was one of 2019’s most anticipated vehicles. Fast-forward nearly a year, and it’s an award winner.
There’s no doubt it’s a capable off-roader, which is part of its appeal — and a part of why it’s an award-winning pickup. I’ve experienced it off-road, and so has contributor Chris Chin.
Thing is, most truck owners won’t taking it off-road that often, if at all. What’s it like to live with the Gladiator in urban and suburban settings? That is the key question.
In a word: Interesting.
I’ll admit it. I’m a bit of an Anglophile — at least in the automotive realm. I don’t take any interest in the drama surrounding England’s monarchy, nor do I drape my clothing with any form of the Union Jack. I’ve simply come to enjoy the cars of the British motoring industry.
After all, I did spend many nights and weekends as a kid rolling around a cold concrete floor, dusted in stale Castrol and kitty litter, helping to get my dad’s 1970 MGB running. I lost a pair of eyebrows to a massive backfire while sorting out tuning issues on the pair of SU carburetors. And I fondly recall the 2002 Mini Cooper S my dad and stepmother bought new — a car she still owns fifteen years after dad’s passing.
So when a new British car passes my way, I’m sure to take notice. Especially when it’s a car that has potential to create new young enthusiasts. This 2019 Mini Cooper Oxford Edition is one of those things — a bargain-price runabout that promises affordable fun.
Camera in hand, I left the truck idling as I descended the running board onto the dirt path. I’d planned to get a couple of quick snaps in a beautiful natural setting, considering the vehicle’s considerable off-road prowess.
The report of what could only be a 12-gauge shotgun fired a couple hundred yards away made me reconsider my artful ambitions.
Have I ever mentioned how much I appreciate good, clear rear-view cameras? I’m not the greatest at parking large vehicles, so the tech is useful in many situations — but this feature was especially helpful as the 2019 Ford Raptor and I quickly escaped a bad situation in reverse.
Believe it or not, there are plenty of people who spend the majority of their days in a van of some sort. I’m not talking about the beautiful people on social media hashtagging their rebranding of the Seventies-era shaggin’ wagon as “vanlife.” I’m talking about tradespeople, for whom a van is as important a tool as a hammer or pipe wrench.
For most of my working life, I’ve worked alongside these van drivers — I’ve been selling various products to these workers for the better part of two decades. I’ve noticed over the years that the variety of vans has expanded recently. Where the parking lot of whatever supply house was once filled with cookie cutter vans from the Detroit Three — occasionally dotted with repurposed minivans — these days any variety of tall, Euro-styled boxes-on-wheels might greet me.
The Sprinter was the leader of this new vanguard, with workers praising improved driving dynamics and improved space efficiency. Now a smaller model comes, the Mercedes-Benz Metris, to deliver much of those improvements in a more city-friendly package. Can this sturdier (not-so)minivan replace the stalwarts?
I’ve never owned a truck. Over my two-plus decades of driving, I’ve shopped for trucks new and used, but have always stopped short of stroking a check for something with a bed for various reasons big and little. Typically I needed something with more interior space, more lockable cargo space, or more comfort — but one thing always holding me back was fuel economy. Traditionally, trucks aren’t particularly efficient.
However, modern diesel engines can yield impressive economy, which is why we’re beginning to see them trickle into the half-ton range of pickups from each of the Detroit Three. Ford, long the sales leader in the segment, has given the Power Stroke treatment to this F-150, and we were curious if it improves an already impressive truck.
Well, maybe the crowd can’t always be trusted. Over the last two hundred-plus years, there have been more than a few instances where our plurality voting system has yielded suboptimal victors in statewide and nationwide elections alike.
I’ve promised before that I’d stay away from politics here, so I’m not getting any more specific than that. I’m sure I’d piss off someone who doesn’t feel like hearing my thoughts on Franklin Pierce.
Anyhow, in 2019 Toyota pushed nearly half a million of these compact crossovers out the doors, making the 2019 Toyota RAV4 the fourth best-selling passenger vehicle in America — and if you exclude half-ton pickups from each of the Detroit Three, the best selling vehicle, period. But why?
At some point in the past few years, the word “basic” began being used as a pejorative, aimed at young men and women whose personal style and interests were “ exceedingly ordinary,” in the words of the great Urban Dictionary.
You know the stereotype: pumpkin spice lattes and Ugg boots for women; untucked button-down shirts, Axe body spray, and dingy baseball hats for men.
Basic doesn’t have to mean bad, boring, or ordinary, though. It can also mean simple. And the 2020 Hyundai Venue is just that: Simple. And that’s not meant as a pejorative.
Which isn’t to the say the Venue is without flaws. But it’s meant for basic – there’s that word again – transport, and not much else, and it’s poised to do that job well.
In order to promote the Mustang Mach-E that would be unveiled later that night, Ford gave journalists who’d flown to California for the reveal the chance to drive the rest of the Mustang lineup.
From Shelby GT500s and GT350s to GTs and EcoBoosts, they were all on hand for a run up the Angeles Crest Highway.
Perhaps unintentionally, the drive was a reminder that the Mach-E probably isn’t going to fit right in. It may actually be fun to drive – certainly, as an EV, it will have plenty of torque – but we won’t know that for a while. Still, it’s hard to picture it running the mountain the same way the two-door coupe Mustangs do.
Which is to say, pretty damn well.
Do you remember 2008? I do. I was six years into a career in sales with a Fortune 500 company that I figured I’d retire from. I had an 18-month-old daughter, with a second on the way toward the end of the year. I had a shiny silver Motorola Razr cell phone, though some of my colleagues were gushing about a newfangled device from Apple that married a phone with an iPod.
Well, I now have two daughters in and around their teen years, each of whom have a smartphone fancier than that first iPhone. I’ve moved around to a few different sales careers, supplementing my income (to pay for those daughters and their data plan) by writing. Things change.
Except at Toyota, it seems, as they are still making the 2019 Toyota Sequoia with very few changes since the waning days of the Bush administration. But people keep buying them, so there must be a reason for it.
I knew I might need wheels during a week-long trip to Los Angeles. I was hoping for something well-suited for a run over the Angeles Crest Highway.
Instead, a Jeep Grand Cherokee was the vehicle available. I hadn’t driven one in years, but I’ve always been fond of the current generation — a generation that is aging rapidly. Would the ravages of time sour my opinions?
Short answer: No. While aging, the Grand Cherokee remains a pleasant SUV for around-town commuting, with off-road capability in its back pocket.
When your author’s 2019 Golf SportWagen (to be revealed soon) went into the shop for warranty work after just two weeks of ownership, the dealer provided a service loaner for a couple days (or four). And it was a brand new Passat, but one company PR would never release into the hands of any journalist: the most basic version.
Let’s see if the spacious S sedan is an Ace of Base.
The midsize pickup truck market was once thought dead, particularly in the wake of seemingly unstoppable sales in the full-size class. But after General Motors brought forth updated generations of the Chevrolet Colorado and the GMC Canyon a few years ago, Ford brought the Ranger back to North American shores, realizing that it couldn’t sit on the sidelines, joining the Japanese stalwarts – the Toyota Tacoma and Nissan Frontier. Now midsize pickup market isn’t just heating up, it’s starting to catch fire.
To see if they’re up to the task of some good ‘ole classic four-wheelin’, I took part in an event that rounded them all up — well, nearly all of them — at the Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area in Eastern Pennsylvania for a day to test their off-road chops.
Although they may not seem quite as imposing as the larger full-size pickups, these midsize brutes offer plenty of capability. Their smaller footprint also allows for easier maneuverability around tight trails. So a bunch of us auto journalists gathered up all the contenders in the most off-road-biased specification to duke it out for off-roading superiority: The Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Bison, Ford Ranger FX4, Jeep Gladiator Rubicon, and Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro.
I was focusing on the road while piloting the 2020 Nissan Sentra down the canyon roads just outside Los Angeles, yet somehow I didn’t notice the previous-generation Sentra headed in the opposite direction that my drive partner pointed out.
In fact, I had a hard time even picturing in my head what the outgoing Sentra looks like. That’s because, like the cheaper Versa, the old Sentra had become quite forgettable.
And just like the newest Versa, the newest Sentra is actually memorable again.
Keen observers of the new car market have taken note of the proliferation of compact and subcompact crossovers, with new models shoved into niches seemingly too small to fit yet another jacked-up hatchback. Where once there might have been but a single model, today there are four or more edging more traditional cars off the showroom floor.
Mazda is no different. The CX-5 and CX-9 have won accolades as the driver’s choice among the myriad indifferent blobs clogging the lanes of every interstate and supermarket, while the subcompact CX-3 has proven to be a decent entry choice. But much like that one person behind you in the left lane who is determined to win the race to the exit half a mile ahead, Mazda is wedging its shield-shaped grille into any gap it can find.
Thus, the 2020 Mazda CX-30. Logically, this would be the CX-4, but a different vehicle exists in other markets (China, mostly) using that badge – and since so many consumers cross-shop dealerships between Beijing and Bay City, it pays to minimize badge confusion.
Where does the CX-30 fit on the Mazda lot? And does it fit in your garage?
We all have that one friend who puts Tabasco sauce on everything. Even foods that aren’t meant to be spicy are doused – this person has to give their food a kick.
Hyundai’s 2020 Sonata N Line is sort of the midsize sedan equivalent of that.
I flew to Arizona to test the redesigned 2020 Hyundai Sonata, and while there I got a surprise – I’d be driving an N Line prototype part of the way back to the hotel from lunch.
I drove the racetrack-ready Hyundai RM19 prototype, and I didn’t crash it.
The day after the Los Angeles Auto Show, while most of the rest of the assembled automotive media was either at home or in an airplane heading that way, I was in a shuttle bus heading north from Westwood/Beverly Hills towards the desert. Awaiting me would be the RM19 high-performance version of the Hyundai Veloster N.
The bus was ferrying me to Hyundai’s Proving Grounds located in/near California City, California. In addition to driving the RM19, I’d autocross a production Veloster N against the clock – something I did on the launch last year, outside of Sacramento – and be offered the chance to ride right-seat with a pro driver on an autocross in a race-prepped Veloster N. I’d also get to off-road a Palisade SUV and take a Nexo fuel-cell crossover around the high-speed track.
I skipped the right-seat ride due to lack of time, and I have little to say about autocross or the off-road. Those were merely repeats of experiences I’ve had before. The story here is the RM19, which Hyundai claims is a preview of future N products.
That exact future isn’t yet clear.
Near the start of this decade, I thought the Hyundai Sonata was perhaps the most attractive mid-size sedan on the market.
I also thought it drove like crap.
The steering was disconnected from the road, it felt slower than its rivals, et cetera.
Hyundai’s next Sonata was better in terms of driving dynamics and on-road behavior, but its styling was conservative to the point of boring. It felt like Hyundai was flailing about, unsure how to build a car that both drove well and looked good, while its rivals were having no problem doing the same. Even its corporate sibling, Kia, was offering up an engaging and handsome Optima.
Enter the 2020 Sonata. It looks good (better from certain angles and with certain colors), but does it drive well? Can it walk and chew gum at the same time?
As I’ve mentioned before, reviewing cars here at TTAC is not my primary career. At best, I get a few hours a week working in my basement office to pound out prose that the Best and Brightest loves to critique. As such, I don’t always get around to writing about each car I’ve driven until several weeks (or more) later.
As the calendar pages tear away furiously toward a new year, like many I’ve taken stock of what I’ve done over the past eleven months. I’m realizing that of the cars I’ve had the pleasure of wheeling, there are only a few that I can legitimately picture myself buying. These cars are objects of desire and obsession for a gearhead like yours truly.
The 2019 Honda Civic Type R is at the top of the list, certainly. The blend of incredible performance and everyday utility make it a favorite of many reviewers. But that’s the problem – everybody’s written about it. What can this part-time auto scribe say about it that hasn’t yet been said?
Do not adjust your dial. Despite all appearances to the contrary, you have not been magically transported back in time to halfway through the Obama administration. Yes, we know the design of this venerable website hasn’t changed significantly since then, but you have to trust us on this one – it is indeed late 2019, and yet I’m driving a cab from 2012.
It’s the 2012 Ford Escape Hybrid Taxi, fresh from service on the mean streets of New York City, and with over four hundred thousand miles on the original hybrid powertrain. It’s been stripped of the meter and medallion, of course – can’t have shrimp-eating journalists trying to double-dip by hacking while being a hack – but otherwise is very close to how it rolled into Ford’s care a few months back.
It’s a marketing stunt, to be certain. Ford is using one of its oldest, highest-mileage hybrids to sell journalists and the general public on the durability of this solution to electrified motoring. I’m here to say that, while I was skeptical of this stunt, I’m now a believer.
Nissan’s full-size Titan pickup truck has a problem that Nissan engineers, marketers, and product planners will probably never fix.
That problem? The truck isn’t built by one of the Detroit Three automakers.
Ram, GM, and Ford each have such loyal followings that it seems like the full-size truck market is simply impenetrable. It’s not just Nissan, either – Toyota’s Tundra faces the same challenge.
To its credit, Nissan seems to understand this. Company reps say that they know that conquest sales will be tough, so they’re focused on the over half-million truck buyers (their number) that don’t really harbor any brand loyalty, as well as current Nissan owners who may be looking to move into a full-size truck.
That may just be PR speak – putting a positive spin on things is their job, after all. Then again, perhaps it isn’t. While the Titan doesn’t have the built-in brand loyalty of its Detroit rivals, it’s not a bad truck. It’s not on par with the segment’s best two – Ram’s 1500 and the Ford F-150 – but it’s ready to tangle with Chevy and GMC. On its own merits, it’s plenty competent.
There’s not a lot of major change that would be acceptable to Jeep Wrangler buyers. They have a set image of what the vehicle should look like and what it should be. Deviate too far from that formula, either in terms of style or mission, and there will be trouble.
According to Jeep brand bosses, there was one thing that buyers were “clamoring” for — an item that would change the model’s character without affecting styling or negatively affecting capability, on- or off-road.
That thing? A diesel engine.
Crossovers are our future, it seems. Every time I crack open another issue of this dusty website, I’m confronted and confounded by the proliferation of tall (and not-so-tall) hatchbacks in every possible size category.
The 2019 Hyundai Kona is, for the moment, the smallest of five crossovers in the Hyundai lineup – at least until the inexplicably-smaller Venue shows up very soon. Where does it fit? Or is it destined to be a misfit?
The biggest news concerning the mildly updated 2020 Honda Civic Si is either the changed final drive ratio, the addition of a volume knob, or the inclusion of Honda Sensing — the company’s safety suite of driving aids — as standard equipment.
Obviously, this means the car hasn’t changed a whole hell of a lot.
That’s a very good thing.
The race to fill every nook and niche within the crossover market is on. No gap between existing models is too small, as consumer demand for tall wagons seems insatiable. A crossover for every purse, right?
Cadillac has often been seen as trailing broad trends over the decades, and fittingly the lux brand from GM has been sedan-heavy of late. Still, the midsize XT5 has been selling well, so shrinking it a bit to fit more wallets makes sense. Thus, this 2019 Cadillac XT4 has appeared. Will it, like the marketers claimed years and years ago, become the standard of the world?
Cinched into a five-point racing harness, with a head-and-neck support device attached to my helmet, I felt a bit of nerves as I awaited my turn to pilot the 2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 at full-tilt-boogie around a road course at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Without the benefit (or restriction, depending on your point of view) of a pro driver riding right-seat.
Just a tiny bit, anyway. I’m no Bark, but I have track experience. I’d just handled a similarly powerful Hellcat Dodge Charger at an arguably more difficult track with no drama just a few weeks prior. And unlike some of the folks who fill up the press-junket buffet line, I know my limits. If I’m slower than some buff-booker with an extensive resume of laps, so be it. I’m not going to drive off into the desert in service of my ego.
That last bit helped keep me calm while waiting for my turn, but there was also this bit of knowledge on hand to keep my heart rate down: If the Mustang’s on-road behavior was any indicator, this 760-horsepower muscle/pony car wouldn’t be half as intimidating to drive at speed as it looked. This snake would be a sweetheart.
They’re coming for our cars, people. “Alternative mobility solutions” are all the rage at many big automakers attempting to virtue signal (and electric-scooter) their way into social acceptability. I’m pretty certain that I heard a sweaty politician say something like, “Hell yes, we are going to take your crossover!” Even some automotive journalists have called for outright bans of private cars.
I suppose this is where I photoshop a Momo Prototipo into the infamous “from my cold, dead hands” Charlton Heston photo.
Do me a favor, friends. Let’s stem the tide. Take these car-haters for a ride in a proper sports car, like this 2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF. Better yet, let them drive. All other worries of the world wipe away like raindrops on the windscreen as the right hand slots the shift lever into third, all while the corners of the mouth gently turn upward. The Miata is our last hope for motoring freedom.
No one has a need for a large family sedan that produces over 700 horsepower.
But I’m glad one exists.
Dodge is now offering a wider Charger Hellcat and Scat Pack in a bid to keep reminding us enthusiasts that the Charger’s aging platform may still have plenty of life left in it. Somehow, this trick continues to work.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.