It’s a truism, but it’s true nonetheless: Every brand has a core product, and this is doubly true for automakers. The core product for BMW is the 3/4/whatever-Series of once-compact cars. If you buy a 3 Series BMW, it requires no explanation. Audi’s core product is currently in the process of Schrodinger-vibrating between A3 and A4; those are the cars that make the most sense in Ingolstadt’s lineup.
The core product at Mercedes-Benz, at least for those of us who don’t own G-wagens, is the S-Class sedan (in America) and the E-Class sedan (in Europe). They are the descendants of the almighty Seventies-era 240D and 450SEL that built the Benz brand around the globe. The values associated with that brand don’t translate very well to smaller cars. The 190E did a pretty good job in my opinion, but both it and its successors have long been the victims of color-magazine after-the-fact snark the minute the next model showed up.
The 2017 C300 that I rented in Las Vegas for a quick trip to Ventura, CA and back is, theoretically, the modern equivalent of the 190E 2.3, right down to the miserly specification and the characterless inline-four moaning under the hood. After several hundred miles behind its Benz-generic wheel, however, I’m thinking that Mercedes-Benz has finally succeeded in connecting its smallest Systeme Panhard sedan to a greater and more resonant tradition.
The look back. That longing glance at your beloved ride as you walk away is a rite of passage for car enthusiasts. One more gaze at the car’s beautiful lines before you walk into the office can help that first cup of coffee kickstart another day of work.
Until I drove the 2017 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring, I’ve never looked back at any crossover. Never had the need or desire, since most CUVs have all of the style and personality bred out of them in an effort to attract the widest variety of shoppers. Not the Mazda. The design of this compact crossover is nothing short of stunning.
I’m certainly an outcast among automotive journalists. So many in this line of work absolutely fetishize the Jeep brand. Mottos like “It’s A Jeep Thing, You Wouldn’t Understand” and “If You Can Read This, Roll Me Over” flow through reviews and tweets like a lifted CJ on thirty fives. I’ve never really seen the appeal. I’m a suburbanite to the bone and, as such, I’ve never had the need or desire to take a vehicle off-road.
My first experiences with Jeeps came as a service writer, where I’d drive a vehicle to try and better relay handling problems to the tech. Every Jeep I drove was a loose-steering, ill-handling pig. Of course, in that job I was always driving vehicles that needed work, but the pride of Toledo always seemed particularly nasty on the tarmac.
Jeep was listening, it seems, as it has begun offering a variety of car-based crossovers that are pavement rated. Take this 2017 Jeep Compass Limited — the big 19 inch alloys with low-profile tires make the intended path quite clear. Has the essence of Jeepness become eroded, or can this Compass point the way forward?
Honda’s Clarity is an interesting, and likely oft overlooked, entry in the brand’s lineup. Available in electric, fuel cell, and plug-in hybrid versions, the Clarity is part of Honda’s strategy to electrify two-thirds of its global lineup by 2030.
Other key vehicles in this effort that are already on sale (or are soon to be) are the hybrid version of the latest Accord and the Civic-based Insight hybrid.
This first drive was different than the norm – our drive route wasn’t as comprehensive as most. I was behind the wheel for about 30 miles, with part of the drive taking place on gently curving suburban parkway and the rest in New York City traffic. No long stretches of interstate, no curving canyon roads.
Which is fine, since most Clarity buyers are going to use it as a commuter car. That’s certainly the case with the plug-in hybrid version I sampled north of New York City.
It’s probably a little too on the nose for any automaker to launch a car in the city, state, or region it’s named after, but that didn’t stop Hyundai from bringing media to Hawaii to drive the newest entry into the subcompact crossover class.
Hyundai did so not just because of the “synergy” (ugh) between place and name, but because the company wanted to show us scribes how sporty and fun and well-suited to outdoorsy folk the Kona is. Never mind that most compact SUV buyers aren’t hauling long boards – they’re hauling little humans.
Every automaker does this — projecting their crossovers as the key to adventure. And I have no doubt that equipped with the correct accessories, the Kona can haul your bikes to the trailhead just fine. But most of these are going to be found in traffic on city streets, just like most of the crossovers buyers will cross-shop against the Kona.
The bigger question, then, is where does the Kona fit in a segment Hyundai calls the “Wild West?”
I’m not joking. The Supertramp song in the title did indeed start playing on SiriusXM’s Classic Rewind station as I pressed the start button after another long day at the office. I’m sure “Take The Long Way Home” and Foghat’s “Slow Ride” are the most often-played afternoon drive time songs for classic rock stations nationwide, but it seemed serendipitous.
I didn’t have to be home right after work. It was a dry, sunny, albeit brisk afternoon. And I had a willing partner – the 2018 Hyundai Elantra GT Sport – fitted with a proper six-speed manual gearbox. Instead of turning south at the roundabout toward home, I turned north, dropped a gear, and followed the meander of the river. Magically, I’d forgotten about the day I’d spent glued to spreadsheets.
“When the mind houses two personalities, there’s always a conflict. A battle.”
So says the psychiatrist in the third-last scene of Psycho in an attempt to explain the curious behaviour of an odd motel proprietor. It’s an age-old internal conflict depicted time and again in novels and film — Norman and Mother, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Golyadkin Sr. and Golyadkin Jr. in Dostoevsky’s The Double, that Black Swan girl — and it’s perfectly embodied by the sportier of the “green” Toyota Camrys.
In SE Hybrid guise, America’s best-selling midsize sedan tries to be two things. At its core, it’s a competent, mature sedan, endowed with all the attributes needed to make it a first pick among car buyers. But it’s also conflicted, pressured to be something it’s not.
If these past stories tell us anything, it’s that the dominant personality always wins.
There’s no denying that the Lexus LC is a sexy-looking car.
Sure, there will be some detractors – no design is universally loved – but there is little wrong, at least to my eye, with the Lexus’ looks.
At least on the outside.
Step inside, and the perspective shifts. The cockpit also looks good – but that form comes with a functional cost. One that could have been avoided, perhaps.
We’ve all taken a few chances in our lives. Whether it was jumping off the roof of a shed as a youngster or accepting that new job in a different town as an adult, most of us find there is very little reward without some risk.
Some 25 years ago, two brothers in our rural fishing community built a new vessel which explored the edges of legal length at the time, banking on future changes to regulations allowing them to use such a big boat in their type of fishery. The brothers, naturally, christened the boat Takin’ Chances, because if their gamble didn’t pay off, they’d be out a significant investment. Guess what? They gambled correctly and, with regulations changed in their favor, Randy and Ross went on to enjoy a great deal of success.
For 2019, Ram is also taking a few chances. With the deep-sixing of the truck’s mini-Kenworth styling and signature gunsight grille, the company has crafted a pickup that is arguably its biggest gamble since 1994.
If the 60 Minutes-driven fall of Audi in America was a perfect example of media activism gone wild, the brand’s Millennial resurrection was surely a perfect combination of cynical engineering and masterful marketing.
Yes, there was some genuine innovation present in the form of the aluminum-framed A8 — but it was the decidedly prosaic A4 that led the charge back to desirability. Essentially an early release of the G.O.A.T. with less room, more profit, and a variety of “Cool Shades” that looked stunning in the showroom but persisted only indifferently under the assault of the Southern sun, the A4 was a showroom success simply because it offered a credible alternative to the default-choice E36 BMW 325i. The fact that the BMW was a thoroughbred rocketship while the A4 was a slightly scaled-up Volkswagen Fox mattered not at all. By 1995, the Roundel had become more than a bit passe among the cool kids.
Fast forward 20-plus years and four generations. The A4 is neither cool nor hot nowadays. Rather, it’s the sensible-shoes sedan for people who are too proud to buy the Golf-derived A3 and too poor to buy the increasingly strident A6. It’s also a pretty good value. A front-wheel-drive, 190-horsepower “Ultra” model starts at just $36,500, while the 252-horse Quattro Premium is a tick north of forty grand. Hertz would love to sell you a used 2017 A4 2.0T Quattro Premium at a $15,000 discount. Should you bite on that? And what if you found out that the person who rented it before you bought it took it to a racetrack? Would that bother you?
Spoiler alert: At some point in this review, I am going to make the idiotic suggestion that the Buick Regal GS ought to come with a manual transmission.
I’m assuming you’re all somewhat familiar with the Buick Regal, a lightly Americanized version of the European-market Opel Insignia. By our standards, the Insignia is legitimately European. It’s a hatchback masquerading as a sedan, which is (or at least used to be) a popular bodystyle in Europe. It’s built in Germany, which is more than a lot of BMWs and Benzes can say. By European standards, though, the Insignia is – well, it’s sort of a Buick. It’s wallowy and a bit soft around the tummy.
The GS is the hod-rod model, which dumps the 2.0-liter turbo four and replaces it with a 310 horsepower version of GM’s corporate 3.6-liter V6. It gets a nine-speed auto tranny and all-wheel-drive, bigger front brakes with red-painted Brembo calipers, unique front and rear fascias, and fancier gauges and front seats.
When I was a teen in the ‘90s, the big Buicks roaming suburban streets were mostly LeSabres, with the occasional Roadmaster or Park Avenue thrown into the mix. Now, Buick (along with everyone else) seems to be crossover central, thanks to the Envision, Encore, and Enclave.
Yeah, I know. It’s a crossover world and we’re just living in it.
The “big” Buick sedan still exists in the form of the LaCrosse, and the Regal has been recently re-done in wagon and hatchback guise. Yet your father’s (or mother’s) Buick is almost certainly a crossover at this point.
To be honest, I would have rather had anything else on the lot, and I do mean anything. However, when I arrived at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, National Car Rental was a bit short on cars on the ol’ Emerald Aisle. There was a line of people about ten deep waiting for cars to be brought up from the overflow lot, and I had a meeting to get to. So I did what anybody else (who rents 40 cars and spends about $10,000 annually with National) would do — I walked over to the “upgrade” area, hopped into the least expensive “luxury” car available, and drove it to the exit booth.
“I won’t be paying any extra for this,” I explained to the booth attendant, “because a Mercedes-Benz CLA 250 is not an upgrade.”
Three days and a couple hundred miles later, I realize how prescient I’d been at the time. I would have rather had a Chevrolet Impala, a Dodge Charger, or even a Nissan Altima over the Hungarian Baby Benz. Here’s why.
Jaguar claims the F-Pace, its first crossover SUV, more or less doubled the automaker’s sales almost overnight. That little factoid makes a statement about the state of the automotive industry – namely, that crossovers are hot and that just about every brand needs to sell one to survive, regardless of a brand’s history.
Just ask Porsche. If not for the Cayenne (and now the Macan), could that company continue to afford to build the venerable 911, as well as the Boxster and Cayman?
The answer, of course, is probably not. That’s a big part of the reason why even “exotic” brands such as Bentley and Lamborghini have gotten into, or are getting into, the SUV game.
Certainly, Jaguar has picked up on the trend. Following the F-Pace comes the smaller E-Pace, and soon to follow is the I-Pace, complete with an all-electric powertrain. It may still seem weird to many of us that Jaguar is building and selling crossovers, but we’re also living in an era in which former Jaguar owner Ford offers a turbocharged four in the Mustang (as something other than a weak “base” powerplant) and Mitsubishi is planning on using the Eclipse name on a crossover. Things change, man.
It’s one of those scenarios that brings to mind William Gibson’s maxim about the future being unevenly distributed. About 90 days ago, approximately 1,000 Chinese-made electric scooters appeared more or less overnight around Santa Monica and Venice in California. Each scooter featured an individual QR code and directions to download the “BIRD” app. With that app, anybody with a credit card and a California driver’s license could “unlock” the scooter and ride it anywhere in the area. The cost? One dollar to start, and 15 cents a minute.
Seemingly overnight, the beach paths and access roads of Santa Monica were overrun with people whipping along at the BIRD top speed of 22 miles per hour. Quite a few of them got hurt. The city of Santa Monica was very unhappy. Apparently the BIRD deployment had happened without notice — and without so much as a vendor’s license application. They sued BIRD for operating a business without a permit. Worse than that, they deployed the cops to issue tickets to anybody breaking any law on a BIRD, from operation without a helmet to parking on a right of way.
BIRD paid $300,000 in fines, limited the speed of the scooters to 15 mph, and started “cracking down” on underage riders. But the BIRDs remain controversial, to say the least. Naturally, the minute I heard about these things I figured I’d better high-tail it to Venice for some BIRD time of my own. As everybody knows, Los Angeles is the home of Motor Trend, a magazine where rumor says the editorial staff is not permitted to test the cars on track, so I figured I’d honor that tradition by bringing a test driver who has won races on both two wheels and four to operate the BIRD at its very limit.
We all like comfort food. It’s not sexy, it may even be bland, but it keeps us feeling full and fulfilled. Meatloaf, a basic steak and potatoes, a hot turkey plate – all of these items serve that purpose.
I don’t know enough about German cuisine to guess what constitutes comfort food in Wolfsburg, and I don’t want to stereotype with guesses about spaetzle and schnitzel. Whatever passes for hale and hearty fare in Lower Saxony likely shares a lot with the feel of the 2018 Volkswagen Atlas.
Big, boxy, and brawny-looking, the blocky Atlas has one main mission – get up to seven folks from point A to B simply and comfortably. While there are plenty of modern features, that doesn’t mean there’s frills or design silliness, and while it offers enough power to do the job, it’s not precisely built for speed.
Miles per gallon can vary from driver to driver. We all know that. Now, Infiniti is trying out an engine that can vary its compression ration from scenario to scenario.
Miles per gallon is also a key spec for the new QX50, since the variable compression ratio tech is responsible for a claimed improvement in combined fuel economy – 35 percent for front-drive vehicles and 30 for all-wheel-drive units.
As is the usual case on first drives, I had no chance to verify those numbers – which, according to Infiniti, work out to 27 mpg combined with front-wheel drive and 26 mpg with all-wheel drive. Improved fuel economy is just part of the picture when it comes to variable compression, which is making its production debut in the 2019 Infiniti QX50.
Numerous proverbs and quotes, variously attributed to Colton, Wilde, Marcus Aurelius, and others, can be distilled into the familiar “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” The line has been cited by college plagiarists for ages.
Industry uses a better euphemism – benchmarking. Evaluating the competition to offer an alternative that’s remarkably similar to existing products, but with enough differentiation to compel converts, is the essence of product development, no matter what the widget might be.
It’s only natural that when Hyundai decided to build a midsize luxury sedan for its Genesis luxury sub-brand, it looked closely at the two German models that have consistently led this market. Whether buyers see the 2018 Genesis G80 as a legitimate contender is up for debate, as the biggest divergence from the standard – at least on the surface – is the price.
Jeep loves to brag about how capable its SUVs are off-road, and the brand can back it up. But considering that most folks who purchase SUVs use them only on-road, does rock-crawling ability outweigh on-road performance?
For most buyers, I suspect the answer is no. That could be a bit of a problem for the refreshed 2019 Jeep Cherokee.
I don’t think I heard the term “MVP” used in software development until six or seven years ago. It doesn’t mean “Most Valuable Player,” nor does it mean either of the two rude but hilarious things from the “roasting” episode of Arliss, neither of which would be appropriate for a family website like TTAC. Rather, it means “Minimum Viable Product.”
The purpose of an MVP is to get your software out there in public usage so you can both obtain user feedback for future development and earn enough money to fund that future development. Google is well known for doing this: its original search page was the very definition of MVP compared to the monstrous multi-purpose interface that it is today.
You can make the argument that some non-software products out there are also MVPs. The toothbrush and toothpaste you get at a Holiday Inn Express when you’ve forgotten your own Black Series electric? That’s definitely a minimum viable product. When most young people furnish their first dorm room or apartment, they are definitely looking for their own MVP. When you’re traveling for business and they call closing time at the bar, you’re going to take a very open-minded view of what constitutes that minimum viable product for the evening.
What about cars? What’s the MVP of the modern automobile? Contrary to what some of the B&B believe, it’s not a 200,000-mile Corolla or Volvo. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: you gotta be rich to own a cheap car. Let’s look instead at what the minimum viable product might be for someone with very limited mechanical knowledge. Someone with no tools, no covered parking, no garage in which to service, no high-school buddy who now owns an import repair shop. In other words, a reliable vehicle with low cost of entry, low cost of operation, and a high likelihood of starting and running at all times.
What would that look like? What would it cost?
In an era where just about every automaker is talking about electrification of its powertrains to some extent or another, Mazda is taking a different tack — remaining heavily focused on the good ol’ internal combustion engine.
This doesn’t mean electrification isn’t part of the company’s future powertrain strategy – it is – but in the nearer term, the company is working on ways to increase power while boosting fuel economy in its small gas-powered engines.
(Before we get to that, yes, the company’s long-promised diesel is still coming to America, though there’s still no official date.)
In order to show off its new tech, Mazda invited journalists to its research and development HQ in Irvine, California to drive prototypes outfitted with the Skyactiv-X engine.
The WRX has racked up some miles since our last update over a year ago. While the car is still as enjoyable as ever, that doesn’t mean a few new annoyances haven’t popped up. The odometer reads just over 55,000 miles as I type this, so we’re well past the mileage limits for the standard warranty, along with just a few thousand miles remaining for the powertrain warranty.
I’ve only made a few changes to the car, though there’ll be more coming as I try to sort out minor annoyances and feed my habit of making modifications. Overall, the car has proven very reliable, but a few issues crept up along the way that required a warranty repair.
I was 15 or so, basking in the heady scents of Armor-All, Windex, cheap suits, and desperation. Mom was waiting for the salesman to “check with the manager” as she negotiated for her second of six Corollas. I wandered off, as I typically did when presented with rows of shiny new cars.
You’d think I’d have gravitated to the Supra, or perhaps the Celica, considering my youth and love of motorsports. Nope. The brand new first-generation Tacoma 4×4 is what caught my eye that day. Taut lines and purposeful flares made it look so much more aggressive than the old nameless Toyota Truck. Not that I hated the classic HiLux – while other kids of my era gravitated toward the DeLorean in the Back To The Future series, I lusted after Marty’s black Xtracab 4×4.
It seems that every time I’m looking for a new vehicle, a Toyota truck ends up on my shortlist, but I’ve yet to pull the trigger. I’ve never really needed the capability of a traditional pickup, so I was interested in seeing how the modern midsize crew cab works as a family hauler. This 2017 Toyota Tacoma TRD Offroad appeared at my door just as I was doing my periodic rationalization of the current fleet. Can this minivan family live with a truck?
I’m on the record with my assertion that the minivan is the perfect family vehicle. A low floor and high roof combine to provide maximum space for both humans and cargo. For those who don’t need to haul five kids to Walley World every week, however, the classic hatchback gives much of that minivan flexibility in a condensed, occasionally fun-to-drive package. The modern subcompact hatch isn’t the penalty box that littered American roads in the late Malaise Era.
My two kids had a packed weekend between softball, soccer, and cheerleading. Carrying all the required equipment, including camp chairs and coolers, would be taxing for nearly any car. And yet, we had one of the smallest cars I’ve ever driven at our disposal, a 2018 Honda Fit Sport. Did the Fit fit everything that needed to, um, fit?
General Motors launched its Maven rideshare service in 2016 with the goal of providing renters with a taste of its vehicles, while also bringing in a little extra revenue. The service offers a wide array of vehicles ranging from small hatchbacks like the Chevrolet Spark to large SUVs like the Tahoe.
The service is available in many larger cities across the country and, since I was visiting Detroit for the auto show, I decided to give it a try to see what a potential renter might encounter. I signed up for the app and rented a couple of vehicles without notifying GM in order to experience the vehicles just as the general public would.
The vehicles were far worse than I expected.
Fun, when it comes to cars, manifests itself in different ways. The Fiat 500 Abarth represents one of those ways, in theory – extra power in a small car, plus the right suspension tuning, should result in a quick, nimble hatchback.
Not content with that recipe, Fiat also made the Abarth version of its 500 city car into a brash, loud machine that doesn’t go anywhere in subtlety.
That last bit isn’t an exaggeration. Like or not, the Abarth’s exhaust is set at a volume that’s not normally seen (heard?) in this class.
Why Infiniti needs a subcompact crossover that shares its platform with the Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class is a mystery that only the folks at Nissan HQ know the answer to.
After all, I spent four days wheeling one all over Los Angeles, from the airport to downtown and back, and I still don’t know the answer to that question.
Separating the QX30 from its platform mate and judging it on its own merits, however, is nonetheless revealing.
3.1 inches, and 4,529 miles. These two dimensions are what make this Volvo unique. If you’re not hip to the lingo, the “Inscription” label on this car has nothing to do with a scribbled authors’ note on the front page of a favorite book. Inscription means, oddly, an extended wheelbase. 3.1 inches, to be precise.
4,529 miles? That’s a bit more straightforward. This long-wheelbase Volvo S60 is built in a market where that extra rear passenger space is valued above all else: Chengdu, China – over four thousand miles away from the ancestral Volvo home in Gothenburg, Sweden.
Do these figures matter? Is the Sichuan-made S60 a credible competitor, or will the point of final assembly scare too many shoppers away?
It seems like yesterday, but it was six months ago when I took delivery of my 2017 Chevrolet Silverado LTZ Crew Cab Long Bed with the much-desired Max Tow package. I’d taken a pretty major hit at a local skatepark just two days prior; although I had to play down the extent of the injury so I didn’t get booted off a big European car test, now that everything’s done I can mention that I’d broken six ribs and fractured my right arm.
I also want to mention that the beds in Switzerland tend to be the consistency of slabbed granite and that cobblestone roads can make you vomit if you have enough blood floating around in your mouth already.
Oh well. Half a year later, I’m about 90 percent rehabilitated and the Silverado has gone everywhere from South Carolina to Detroit and back again, performing a broad range of trucky jobs and doing a variety of trucky things. I’d like to tell you that it’s been 100 percent trouble-free, but that has not been the case.
Some years ago, product planners at Nissan, Honda, and Kia each decided to cut stylists out of the design process for a new car line and hand everything over to engineers. Those engineers, looking for the most practical and efficient shape to haul maximum cargo – fleshy or otherwise – each decided to use a cube for inspiration. Nissan didn’t stray far even for a name.
Each of those boxes was marketed toward the youth of the day – when they came out, I was part of that target demographic. Problem was, the kids didn’t have money to spend on a new car. That’s why many Elements, Cubes, and Souls tend to be driven by older, somewhat more affluent folks who appreciate the practicality, and can also afford it.
Well, I’m now approaching that second demographic. My forties are within sight. Is the 2017 Kia Soul right for me? In other words, is an old soul right for a new Soul?
The litmus test for defining a “proper” sports car has been a moving target ever since the first G.I. brought a rickety MG stateside, but the question has been argument fodder in bars and internet forums for nearly as long.
Some argued that the radical 1962 MGB wasn’t a sports car, due to its unibody construction and lack of folding windscreen. Others argued that the revolutionary 1963 Corvette wasn’t a sports car, as the coupe profile didn’t fit the roadster norm that had thus far defined Chevrolet’s fantastic plastic essence. Last year, McLaren sought to define a sports car with four characteristics which, by the miracles of marketing, eliminate basically every other car ever built, including some of its own.
One feature is particularly contentious: the manual transmission. For decades, “true” sports car enthusiasts eschewed anything with two pedals, as the act of manually selecting gears was surely essential to spirited driving. Yet a virtual stroll through the websites of most sports car makers shows a dearth of clutch pedals.
Surely the Toyota 86 would be an exception. It’s a real sports car, designed from a clean sheet with rear-wheel drive and compact packaging for supreme tossability. There’s no way it could be anything less than awful when burdened with an automatic transmission. Right?
Was it really 22 months ago that I first encountered the fleet-customers-only 2016 Chevrolet Malibu? Indeed it was — and although the rental companies were quick to take advantage of what was presumably an absolutely massive discount on the General’s leftovers, they have not been in a hurry to release their inventory of these cars into the auction lanes.
That’s particularly true in the case of our local National Car Rental franchisee, which is actually a Chevrolet dealer in disguise. Which explains why Danger Girl’s final car rental of the year turned out to be a rather well-worn and thoroughly undistinguished example of the fleet-spec ‘Bu LTZ.
Why review this car yet again? Simple. You’d never guess it, but my review of the rental-spec Chevrolet Captiva turned out to be one of the biggest articles in TTAC history. A lot of people who were looking at ex-rental Captivas in the used market ended up reading it and (one hopes) learning something about the vehicle they did or did not buy. Consider this 2016 Malibu LTZ review to be aimed at the used-car customer, particularly the person who is looking for a new-shape 2016 Malibu but comes across one of these instead. They will want to know that the combination of old style body and 2016 VIN means “fleet car” for sure and “rental car” more often than not. They might also be interested in knowing how these cars survived the abuse to which their first “owners” put them.
Saddle up, used-Malibu intenders, and let’s ride out.
It’s nice to be born into good stock. Having the correct last name or access to a hefty trust fund certainly gives one a leg up on their competition. We see this in business, Hollywood … and car lines, too.
Not everyone makes the best of the hand they’re dealt. Plenty of famous sons and daughters have frittered away their chance at greatness assuming they can coast on the accomplishments of their forebears instead of doing, y’know, actual work.
The newly christened Audi Sport branch of the Haus der Ingolstadt trades upon its 80-year trail of success on motorsport. The R8, the RS5, and the fabulously bonkers RS7 all live up to family expectations with fabulous driving dynamics and a healthy dose of performance. Can their new little brother, the compact and slight manic RS3 do the same? Or has it simply been given a corner office without earning it?
In a year of great political transition, there was also much change afoot at The Truth About Cars and more than a few alterations made in the way my life intersects with the automotive industry.
2017 was crazy. Yet midst all of the external upheaval (Trump, TTAC, Apple skipping the iPhone 9, the launch of a new Honda Odyssey) and an array of internal disorder (GoodCarBadCar’s acquisition, a move to rural Prince Edward Island, Miata purchase, new job) there was at least one constant.
I drove a ton of cars. Many tons of cars, to be more accurate.
26.1 pounds of boost. A seriously stiff suspension. Matte paint finish. Brash red-painted brake calipers. A showy wing. A silly loud exhaust.
Do any of those describe your mental image of a Mercedes-Benz product? Or, when presented with that combination of features, do you conjure a car rejected from one of the early The Fast and the Furious films?
When the Mercedes-AMG GLA 45 was revealed a couple of years ago, I recall writing it off as a pretender – after all, it’s a crossover! After spending some time in this absurd vehicle, however, I began to appreciate the magic of AMG.
“You drive sports cars on track, yes?”
Igor Palagin, a giant bear of a man who looks more of a member of the Red October crew than a racing driver, looms over me as I strap myself into the driver’s seat of his Fast & Speed USA dirt buggy.
“Yes, I do,” I reply somewhat nervously.
Igor laughs a hearty, booming laugh. “Forget everything you know about driving. This is completely different.”
As I struggle to even see the nearly 100 feet of elevation of the dirt course at Thunderhill Raceway through the tiny, wire-cage lined windscreen in front of my face, I think silently to myself: No kidding, Igor.
More than a few automotive publications have taken possession of an Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio for a loan or test, only to have the car sidelined by mechanical or electrical gremlins of one kind of another.
So it was with some trepidation that I took the keys to a Giulia immediately after returning a Stelvio to my local press-fleet driver. I’d spent a week with one Alfa and had no problems; could I do it twice? Or would I be making the “uhhh lots of warning lights are on, please advise” call to the fleet manager?
As the beyond dominant sales kings of the large SUV segment, the body-on-frame General Motors brutes can afford to mix things up a little and take a chance on something new. Like a sports team whose winning streak assures them a spot in the playoffs, trying a new play no longer carries with it the same amount of risk. After all, its failure is not exactly going to scupper the season.
Chevrolet heeds this advice for 2018, electing to plug a new player into its lineup by stuffing the mighty 420-horsepower 6.2-liter V8 in its Tahoe, creating the Tahoe RST.
A long-running stereotype of Italian cars is that they’re fun to drive and sexy in style, but also flawed and expensive. Not to mention unreliable – and expensive to repair.
Allow me to extend that stereotype to an SUV of Italian descent, the 2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio.
At first glance, this compact luxury crossover is one of the best-looking out there, one of the few that’s actually attractive to my eye. After a week with it, my opinion of its looks remained the same – it’s a head turner.
I’m not the only one who thinks so. I was picking up lunch at a chain fast-food joint in a local strip mall and a gaggle of teenaged dudes went gaga over the Stelvio. I guess today’s youth have different cars postered on their bedroom wall than I did.
(In keeping with our goal of providing interesting and varied content, we sometimes bring you stories published by TTAC’s sister sites that we feel will satisfy your discerning tastes. This first drive review of Honda’s Clarity plug-in hybrid comes to us from a familiar name. It was first published by Hybrid Cars.)
Honda has rolled out its newest salvo in the effort to wean drivers off gasoline.
In a three-pronged approach, a team simultaneously deploys multiple solutions to solve a particular problem. We see this tactic at work when your humble author tries to assemble furniture or harried parents attempt to get their toddler to eat dinner.
Rather than placing all their eggs in one particular alternative-fuel basket, Honda has decided to pursue a cadre of options: a plug-in hybrid, a battery-powered all-electric, and a hydrogen fuel cell car. So confident are they in their gambit, the company has developed a car that can be equipped with either of these three powertrains.
The machine you see here is the Honda Clarity.
Taking stock of my leather- and suede-trimmed surroundings, the first thought to cross my mind after settling into the top-spec 2018 Toyota Tundra tester was, “I can think of an easy way to save $500.”
That’s the extra coin you’ll pony up for the 1794 Edition package Toyota Canada tacked on to this range-topping, root beer-colored pickup. (“Smoked Mesquite” for all you color swatch fans.) To my left and right, and even straight ahead, pale, butterscotch-colored leather sprung up on the dash and doors, complemented — if you can use that word — by faux woodgrain so shiny, you’d swear a shoulder check might reveal the presence of an opera window.
It’s 180 degrees from subtle, and perhaps the same distance from tasteful. Below my feet, embossed 1794 Edition floor mats called attention to the founding of JLC Ranch, home to Toyota Motor Manufacturing Texas. Round brass studs glistened on either side of my shoes, bearing an uncanny resemblance to the base of a centerfire rifle cartridge.
My second thought, once America’s oldest full-size pickup got underway, was: “Haven’t these buyers ever visited a Ford dealer?”
Mini Coopers are one of those cars that easily starts a debate among the TTAC staff in our Slack channels. Are they fun to drive or not? Too “cutesy” or no? Is there a place in the market for them? Are they overpriced?
I’ve long been of the mind that Minis are fun to drive, too expensive, and it’s up to the beholder when it comes to the styling. I also think there is a place in the world for small “city” cars – though I’m biased, as I live in the kind of congested area where small cars thrive.
What I struggle with is why this Mini needs to exist. Other than a cynical attempt at boosting corporate fuel economy numbers, I don’t see a need for an all-wheel-drive plug-in hybrid that doesn’t have much EV-only range and doesn’t really need to be plugged in. Of course, if you don’t plug in, you get a shorter fuel range when running on gas than that of its stablemates.
The previous-generation all-electric Nissan Leaf (technically “LEAF,” but that acronym sends my MacBook Air into a snit befitting Peter Frampton), with toenail clippings for headlights and a face only a mother could slug, has historically done very well for itself, selling well over 100,000 units in America since its introduction eight long model years ago.
For 2018, the Japanese automaker set out to prove an all-electric car doesn’t have to look like a science experiment. In the past, new models were denoted by the holy trinity of longer, lower, and wider. In the EV sphere, that trio takes the form of longer (range), lower (charge times), and wider (infotainment screens).
It’s always risky trying to soften up an object that’s known for being badass in order to better please the larger market.
After all, who wants to see a movie in which Danny Trejo and Norman Reedus debate Wittgenstein over a game of backgammon while sipping on tea?
That’s the challenge Jeep faced with the 2018 Wrangler – how to modernize it in terms of on-road behavior and creature comforts while not losing any of its off-road capabilities. The company had to keep the toughness while also softening the roughest edges. It’s not an easy balance to strike, but based on a first drive, Jeep pulled it off.
Thanks to a seemingly never-ending slow drip of leaks, it feels like we’ve known the next-gen Wrangler’s official details for eons now. Never mind that I took my turn behind the wheel just about exactly one week after the official wrap came off at the 2017 Los Angeles Auto Show.
For several years, outlets around the Web have been alternately asking and telling us about the impending doom facing cars. That “millennials” don’t want cars. That “kids these days” don’t want to learn to drive, as their parents will chauffeur them wherever they need to go.
It’s certainly anecdotal, but in my brief time driving the new 2018 Lexus LC 500, kids and millennials alike were absolutely astonished by it. I’ve never driven anything that attracts so much attention.
The youngster shoving shopping carts at Kroger respectfully asked to photograph the car as I ran in for milk. The twentysomething – in a similarly-stunning G-Body Hurst/Olds, incidentally! – driving down my suburban street turned around and cruised by slowly for another look. The high school football team gawking – “Yo, that’s a Lexus LC 500!” (seriously) – as I negotiated the treacherous speedbumps past the stadium to retrieve my kid from softball practice. These youths were certain that, even if they didn’t know exactly what this car was, they had a primal need to get closer.
Many years ago, a friend of mine married the daughter of a local real estate kingpin. She was loud and large and her taste, as they say, was all in her mouth. She had her father’s friends build her a massive McMansion encased in beige stucco and filled to the brim with the latest furniture from Pottery Barn and gold-plated bathroom fixtures. She was a big believer in retail therapy.
I would go to their house and see dozens of freshly stuffed shopping bags from the local semi-upscale stores. Prada, Coach, Ann Taylor, the kind of stuff you find in the mall. It was all “Designed In California” or “Designed In Italy” or plastered with the name of a city: Donna Karan New York. But there was always a tag somewhere out of sight that said, “Made In China.” Almost without exception, it was ephemeral garbage, meant to be worn a few times then thrown away. The pleasure was 90 percent in the purchasing and 10 percent in the ownership.
So now we have this 2018 Volvo S90. Designed In Sweden, with a svelte, tasteful, proportional shape that makes the big barges from Benz and BMW look like ’99 Navigators by contrast. It’s a study in minimalist luxury, powered by a tiny engine and self-consciously focused on a low-consumption aesthetic yet possessed of enough backseat space to carry the King of Siam. As you will see below, it’s often delightful, frequently gratifying, and always respectable.
There’s just one little problem. The website might talk about “Scandinavian Design,” but just like everything you see at the outlet stores, the 2018 Volvo S90 T5 AWD is Made In China.
The most successful piece of used car advice I ever gave a friend involved telling her to buy a secondhand Chevrolet Cobalt.
Shock! Horror! Boredom! It panned out, though. No lie.
My friend was on her way to take a newspaper job in the wilds of northern British Columbia. She needed something reliable and ubiquitous. Something affordable to buy, but more importantly, something affordable to fix in a market not exactly saturated with premium imports. I knew from experience that the bland box’s 2.2-liter Ecotec was pretty bulletproof. Six years on, and that ’08 Cobalt, now located on the other side of the country, is still going strong. Operating expenses? Practically nonexistent.
Not long ago, a very different phone call preceded another friend’s used car purchase.
My godson’s dad, a full-time entertainer and owner of a Scion xB (past owner of a ’72 Super Beetle, too), doesn’t do things quietly. Kudos for being avant-garde, even in your driving preferences. Having just recently moved to a remote lakeside compound in some rugged territory over an hour north of town, the lure of a second vehicle had grown overwhelming. Work gigs, a wife who works in the city, two kids staying over on the weekend — maintaining a one-car lifestyle was next to impossible. Never mind what the bike fanatics say.
“I’ve found a four by four,” he told me.
“Oh yeah,” I said, assuming he’d locked in on an old four-wheel-drive GMC Sonoma, or perhaps some beat-up, mid-2000s crossover.
“You’ll never guess what it is,” he continued. Well, consider me intrigued … and suddenly worried.
Selling a car in the subcompact/compact classes is an exercise in balance.
For one thing, car buyers will no tolerate a penalty box, even at cheap price points (the Mitsubishi Mirage notwithstanding). There’s a baseline of expectations that’s higher than it once was. Case in point: A previous-generation Hyundai Accent rental nearly drove one of our writers to tears on a recent vacation.
Enter the redesigned 2018 Hyundai Accent. Content matters now in this class, and two of the three trims offer the features most buyers have come to expect these days.
Hyundai keeps it simple with the new Accent. There’s just three trims, one engine, and two transmissions. Options are grouped by trim level.
The formula for the Volkswagen Golf GTI is simple; take a good car, add horsepower, add styling flourishes, and make something special. For the past 35 years in the United States, the GTI has done this more often than not.
Sure, there may have been some misses in there, but for over a decade now, it has been all hits. The 2018 GTI continues this trend. Even though it’s just a refresh of the seventh-generation GTI we first saw in 2015, the coming model year’s changes make the vehicle better in almost every way. The GTI is currently the best new car available in these United States of America that can be purchased for an MSRP of under $30,000.
That may be a bold statement, but it isn’t without merit.
The Volkswagen Golf is one of the best-selling vehicles of all time, in the top three in many global markets, but is somehow a niche vehicle in the United States. With consumer tastes shifting to crossovers and SUVs, Volkswagen has continued to differentiate the Golf from its peers by offering six unique versions. The most notable addition to the seventh-generation Golf is the off-road focused Golf Alltrack. Volkswagen accomplished this by lifting the Golf Sportwagen, adding standard all-wheel drive, and slapping on some body cladding.
The result is an attractive and viable crossover alternative. However, it may give up something car buyers love about the Golf: how it drives. After driving the Golf, Golf Sportwagen, and Golf Alltrack, it was obvious that significant driving fun is lost in making the Alltrack a crossover competitor. In its basic hatchback form, the Golf is an excellent driving vehicle. The Sportwagen retains most of that fun-to-drive character. The Alltrack however, doesn’t feel nimble or precise.
Volkswagen used the slogan “Drivers Wanted” for a number of years, but the Alltrack isn’t what someone who prioritizes driving actually wants.
Anyone who likes to cook knows it’s rare to get a new dish right on the first try. It usually takes a few tweaks to reach perfection, no matter how good the base recipe is.
That’s the case with the much-hyped Kia Stinger. Kia has never built a grand-touring sports sedan before, so the brand was essentially starting from scratch. Which could explain why the Stinger, which we’ve been hearing about for what seems like an eternity now, is very good, but not as great as I’d hoped.
If you’re over a certain age – say 30, or 35 for sure – you remember the large sedans of the ‘90s. Comfortable, quiet, and roomy, those LeSabres and Park Avenues weren’t fun for enthusiasts, but they moved five or six people across town with relaxed ease.
That’s now the purpose of lots of crossovers, including the Dodge Durango pictured here. They’re built to haul families and cargo in comfort, and if they’re even a little bit fun to drive, well, that’s gravy.
That means, on balance, I tend to look askew at this category of vehicles, no matter how well they’re built or how well they do their assigned job. I like cars that are fun to drive, and I prefer sedans, wagons, and hatchbacks. Which means I am not the average consumer.
For the average buyer – the one that counts for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles – the priorities are different, and not so different from that of the large, front-wheel-drive sedans that once roamed suburbia before demands for utility and a higher seating position collided with the proliferation of unibody architecture, causing demand for crossovers of all sizes to explode.
All this rambling means that there’s more than one way to judge vehicles. Do you judge them based on how fun they are to drive and how they resonate with your enthusiast tendencies, or do you judge them based on how well they do their intended job, or some combination of both?
Twenty years and five months ago, I took delivery of my first Land Rover. It was a five-speed ’97 Discovery SD, black with tan interior, leased for $451 per month, driven to the absolute limit of its 15,000-mile-year contract provision as I criss-crossed the Midwest pursuing the bitter end of my ur-career as a professional BMX racer and cycling journalist.
Those early US-market Discos were infamous for giving trouble but mine was almost flawless despite enduring more than its fair share of dirt road and winter-recovery stupidity. My father was so impressed by the truck that he promptly snagged a ’99 Range Rover, which proved to be the nightmare embodiment of British quality stereotypes. His experience did not put me off. I replaced the Discovery with a Freelander then traded it in 18 months later for the ultimate final Disco, a 2003 4.6-liter seven-seater in a fetching shade of green frost.
Where am I going with this, other than into the gauze-covered abyss of nostalgia? Just here: I want you to understand that I have genuine affection for, and not inconsiderable experience with, proper Land Rovers and Range Rovers. I was an unabashed fan of the brand for a very long time. I don’t use Land Rover or its products as the punchline for a cheap auto-journo joke and I don’t mindlessly repeat stereotypes about the quality or performance of products from the formerly British firm. I approach every new product from Land Rover with the same sense of fondness that some people reserve for reunions with distant but dearly missed family.
So when I tell you that the Range Rover Evoque is an exercise in sloppily-executed cynicism that makes the Cadillac Cimarron look like the 1995 Lexus ES300 by comparison, I hope you’ll understand that it hurts me to tell you that. Want to hear why? Click the jump and join me on a less-than-solid Tennessee excursion that ends with me returning a rental car just a few hours after picking it up.
I groaned when I saw the Ford Raptor on my press car schedule.
That’s because trucks and the part of Chicago I live in don’t mix well, necessarily. Parking is a hassle, streets are crowded, and miles-per-gallon figures are comically abysmal in city traffic.
In the Raptor’s case, I worried I wouldn’t be able to use it the way Ford intended: Off-road.
That said, I do get the appeal of trucks. Whether it’s the image of toughness or the utility on offer, I understand why so many people snap up pickups from dealer lots, especially when gas prices drop, even if most truck owners never use them for their intended purpose.
And after I put it through its paces (and then some), I get the appeal of the Raptor.
When people saw me in the 2017 Chevrolet Suburban last week, resplendent in black-on-black leather, they typically had one of a few reactions:
“My God, why is that thing so big?”
“Why did you rent such a huge vehicle?”
“Roberto? Wait, you’re not my UberXL driver?”
In all three cases, they weren’t wrong to ask. When I stepped into the rental car garage at Miami International Airport this weekend, I was faced with three options.
Having just recently rented the Expedition in Raleigh, and not ever wanting to put myself through the joyless exercise of driving a Journey again, I opted for the mighty GM. It is, dare I say, an elegant vehicle, typically reserved for doing important things like shuttling the members of the President’s security detail around or picking up large groups of people from the airport (Hi, are you my UberXL? STILL NO). It’s also one of the most expensive vehicles you’ll ever find on rental row — a Suburban LT, optioned exactly like mine, starts at $56,575 at your neighborhood Bowtie dealer.
It’s clear what Volkswagen is trying to do with the Dune trim level of its Beetle two-door.
The company claims the Dune is inspired by classic Beetles that were modified into “dune buggies.” Which is fine, but all it really is is a current Beetle with a raised suspension, black exterior cladding, rear spoiler, bumpers unique to its trim, unique air intakes, 18-inch wheels, LED taillights, special interior stitching, and cloth/leatherette seats.
Other than that, little sets it apart from its Beetle brethren. It’s powered by the same 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder found in most Beetles (the R-Line has a 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder) and mates to a six-speed automatic transmission.
A small, relatively lightweight (it’s still a tick over 3,000 pounds) compact coupe like the Beetle should be fun to drive, even if it’s raised, like the Dune is. But “should be” and “is” are two different things.
Like it or not, bias is always going to be a concern whenever consuming any sort of media. Efforts can be made to present fair and balanced reporting on any issue, but the problem is, quite simply, that news organizations are made up of people who hold their own opinions. The best way the reader/listener/viewer can navigate the bias is to know what those biases are, and account for them.
Let me be clear – I’m biased against the Prius. Nearly two decades of negative reinforcement about the Prius and Prius drivers have hardened a dislike of the little wedge that promises nothing but slow driving in the left lane. Minimal performance and a focus on fuel economy above nearly all else is foreign to those of us who truly enjoy driving.
Thus, I dreaded the arrival of this 2017 Toyota Prius Prime to my driveway, worrying that I might doze off from sheer boredom during my commute. When I saw the white paint applied to the vehicle’s sharply-angled flanks, I was further concerned about the appliance-like nature of this plug-in people hauler.
Subcompacts, if they ever were in favor, have quickly fallen out of favor in the United States. In 2017, sales in the first three-quarters of the year plunged by more than a fifth, year-over-year. The Honda Fit, modestly updated for the 2018 model year, is on track in 2017 to fall to a five-year low of around 50,000 sales, a far cry from the nearly 80,000 American Honda sold a decade ago.
The Honda Fit, not now in third-gen form nor in any prior iteration, has never sold on the strength of style. There have always been less expensive subcompacts, faster subcompacts, and better-equipped subcompacts, as well.
There have not, however, at least not during the Fit’s tenure, been any subcompacts that offer the flexibility of the Honda Fit. But does the fact that the 2018 Honda Fit is likely the only current subcompact that could operate as my family’s lone vehicle make up for the fact that the Fit lags behind rivals in key areas?
Outside of perhaps its front styling – especially the slightly bug-eyed headlamps and the pinched grille – the Kia Niro doesn’t really stand out in a crowd.
It’s quiet, thanks to a hybrid powertrain. It’s compact in length and height. It has a driving experience that isn’t memorable in ways good or bad.
And none of that preceding paragraph is meant as an insult.
Governments big and small can issue far-off bans on gasoline and diesel all they want, but in the here and now, no one’s stopping you from taking home a Ford F-350 crew cab for family hauling duties. There’s no shadowy apparatchik barring the front door at the local Dodge dealership, preventing you from signing on the dotted line for that 392 Scat Pack or Hellcat.
Choice, glorious choice, awaits us all. Enjoy it while you can. For now, only the number of coins in our pockets (and maybe our parking situation) can keep those automotive love affairs at bay.
So, is it any wonder few people buy an electric car? The future’s electric, CEOs tell us, but high prices, low ranges, and a fledgling recharging network means EV ownership was mainly — at least until the Chevrolet Bolt came along — the domain of those dropping big bucks on Mr. Musk’s long-range wondercars. Destitute, but still achingly green? A used Nissan Leaf can haul your butt across town for a price rapidly approaching $0.
Is there room in this lopsided landscape for a new Hyundai with no exhaust pipe, a price lower than the competition, and a body that doesn’t scream “status”? If there is, can you live with it?