In 2011, Hyundai was flying high. No longer the butt of reliability jokes, and buoyed by the ten-year 100k mile warranty, Hyundais no longer needed to be sold as the “value” choice. Thus, the stunning 2011 Sonata, which flaunted eye-catching styling to generate plenty of showroom traffic.
Fast-forward seven years, and every midsize sedan has bold styling features. Big grilles and swoopy C-pillars are the name of the game as automakers try and eke out bigger slices of the ever-shrinking midsize sedan pie. Hyundai has, surprisingly, been conservative when restyling their entry. The 2018 Hyundai Sonata SEL may not be a big hit like its predecessor, but it’s no mere B-side.
One of the most recent “truisms” kicked around regarding the automotive industry is that there are very few “bad” cars and trucks.
In other words, no matter what vehicle you buy, it’s likely to perform its intended purpose well, offer decent reliability, and not be too punishing to drive.
The flip side is that if almost every vehicle is “good,” then for one to stand out from its competitors, it needs to be even better.
That’s the problem Chevrolet faces with its redesigned 2019 Silverado. Being good won’t be enough, not in a segment in which the Ram 1500 garners accolades from keyboard warriors like myself for its interior design and the F-150 remains wildly popular (and just offered customers a diesel variant).
Take a good look at the photos throughout these virtual pages. A really good look. If you haven’t been obsessively reading about the refreshed-for-2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata, you are no doubt puzzled by the “First Drive” tag in the title.
Indeed, Mazda didn’t change anything visually significant in this, the fourth model year of the fourth generation of the legendary Miata. From the outside, the only real clue is the appearance of a gash in the rear bumper for a rear-view camera. But under the hood, it becomes clear that Mazda engineers channeled the storied fictional guitarist in turning the already excellent Miata to eleven.
2019 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat Redeye and R/T 392 Scat Pack First Drive - Different, Yet Still the Same
I’ve always admired the Dodge Challenger for being very clear about what kind of car it is.
It is not a crossover pretending to have off-road chops. It is not a wagon pretending to be an SUV. It is not a four-door “coupe” that’s really a hatchback.
It’s simply a large American muscle car that offers a V8, loads of available power, and operates as a throwback to an era that existed before most folks younger than Baby Boomer age were born.
In short, it doesn’t mess around.
To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the movie Bullitt, starring Steve McQueen, Ford is reviving the special edition Bullitt Mustang. This is the third time Ford has modified a Mustang to honor McQueen’s ride in the movie.
For this Mustang, there are two important factors that determine if it will be successful. First, obviously, it has to be a good car. Second, it has to be a car that makes you feel like Steve McQueen, or at least Frank Bullitt, when you’re driving it.
We hit up the streets of San Francisco, which was where the movie and the iconic car-chase scene were filmed, to see if it really will make you feel like Bullitt McQueen.
Spend a little time in the gentrified corners of your fair city, and in between all the Audi Q5s and Subaru Outbacks jockeying for spots outside the artisan cupcake shoppe, you’ll spy a right-sized pickup that doesn’t conjure up images of dreaded rural riff-raff. It’s the model that can’t help but post sales increases with each passing month, and it doesn’t come in an opulent western/ranch-themed trim.
Now, aside from a low-range uphill excursion in an old college buddy’s extended cab 4×4 in Nova Scotia, my impression of the Toyota Tacoma was — perhaps unfairly — that it, like the protagonist in the Glenn Frey song, was something that belonged to the city. It’s hard not to notice its popularity with the type of urbanite who probably jogs, but only on weekends. And only with a female companion.
With these shallow stereotypes in mind, I accepted the keys to what seemed to be the most urban-friendly Tacoma in existence: the 4×4 Double Cab V6 TRD Sport model. What would I become after a week behind the wheel?
It’s a running joke in auto journalist and car enthusiasts circles that wagons are the ultimate body type, as well as the cure for the crossover crave that seems to bother us (myself included) in ways that aren’t necessarily logical or rational.
Wagons are better than crossovers because they perform the same utilitarian duties as a crossover while still being closer in form to a sedan. Or so the argument goes.
Whether that is or isn’t “true” is a matter of opinion, of course. But the Buick Regal TourX is an example of how simply “wagonizing” a platform isn’t enough to make a decent car great.
As you might imagine, nobody at Buick is keen for me to review their cars lately. It’s a shame, because there’s not necessarily a correlation between the quality of the cars that bear the “Buick” logo and the failure of the Buick business model in the United States (to recap, move Encore and Enclave to GMC, kill the rest of the brand with fire).
But no matter — we have access to our own Buick, thanks to the lovely Luisa and the Encore Preferred she recently leased. So I decided to put a few hundred miles behind the wheel of the
Opel Mokka Encore and give you guys the lowdown.
Spoiler alert: it’s not terrible. In fact, for the price, it’s downright good. Click the jump for more.
One of the downsides of doing this job is adapting to a new car every week. While the joy of never actually performing maintenance on your daily driver makes up for it, I struggle with basic tasks at times that should be second nature. Various cars have different locations for parking brakes, for example — I once stomped toward what I thought was a pedal-actuated parking brake, and instead caught my toe on the hood release.
That struggle extends to plug-in hybrids like this 2018 Volvo XC60 T8 — I simply forget to plug the darned thing in. Volvo quotes up to 17 miles of all-electric range. My commute to the office is right around 8 miles. I rather like the idea of not using a drop of gasoline to get to the day job, but two things conspired to keep me from that goal: my general idiocy, and the intoxicating torque supplied by this innovative powertrain.
I’d like to think of myself as a reasonably enlightened being. Despite living my entire life in the cultural wasteland known to coastal elites as “flyover country,” I’ve somehow avoided marrying kin and sought to broaden my views on any number of subjects.
However, some of my neighbors are doing their best to keep the stereotypes alive, at least in the automotive realm.
As any self-respecting automotive journalist does when handed the keys to a truck, I headed to the home center to haul things I didn’t want to subject my usual ride to. In this case, bags of mulch. When I handed my receipt for 20 bags of mulch to the young man tasked with loading, he genuinely seemed concerned that the 2018 Toyota Tundra would need at least 10 trips to handle the load, and that even two bags would cause the bumper to drag. Xenophobic jokes like this are getting old.
See that headline up there? I really wanted to write “swing and a foul ball,” but it just doesn’t “pop” as well. Because Toyota’s attempt at a quirky subcompact crossover isn’t fully a miss, but it’s not quite fully baked, either.
The C-HR is styled, um, controversially, and it’s positioned below the RAV4 in terms of size and price. It’s meant to duke it out in the growing subcompact crossover segment with the likes of the outgoing Nissan Juke, the incoming Nissan Kicks, the Ford EcoSport, the Hyundai Kona, the Jeep Renegade, and others.
I’d been derisive of the C-HR since first laying eyes on one, simply due to its looks. But that’s unfair – beauty is more than skin deep, and there are plenty of ugly cars that are fun to drive or have otherwise redeeming qualities.
The C-HR isn’t one, but it comes closer to being in that category than I would’ve expected at first glance.
That’s the word that kept flowing from pen to notepad as I tried to collect my thoughts on this 2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk. The thought of 707 supercharged horsepower in a midsized family SUV is nothing but absurd.
And yet, if you don’t mind getting friendly with both your neighborhood gas station owner and your local replacement tire shop over your ownership term, the Trackhawk is a compelling choice. Unless you relish anonymity.
“It’s a Jeep thing; you wouldn’t understand.” That phrase might be a breathtaking bit of cultural appropriation at a level that shocks even your aging and decidedly hidebound author, but it’s not wrong.
Consider, if you will, the vehicle pictured above. It’s the old “Wrangler JK” — a vehicle which has had a decade-plus run as talisman, touchstone, profit center, and Jurassic-DNA-in-mosquito-frozen-in-amber for Chrysler in no fewer than three corporate iterations. From the moment you touch the rough plastic of the pushbutton exterior doorhandle, it’s absurdly plain that everything on this vehicle was designed from the outset to cut costs, only to have more costs cut as the years go on. Not that the bones of the thing aren’t fit for purpose — they are — but my God has there been a Great Cheapening going on in Wrangler-land over the past few years.
“Listen, dummy,” you’re no doubt saying, “of course this is going to be cheaped-out. It’s the final form of the model, kept in production until recently for the rental fleets, the skinflints, and the people who are both allergic to change and unable to get themselves to a dealership during an entire year’s worth of new-for-2018 Wrangler publicity. What did you expect? A ‘Golden Eagle’ luxury model?” Well yes, I did expect that, and they did in fact make some, but that’s not the problem here. Nor is it the fact that Jeep ran the old model for an extra year. That was a groundbreaking practice in 1996 when Ford did it to hedge its bets with the jellybean ’97 F-150, but it’s become fairly common in the two decades since then. Birds do it, bees do it, Malibus do it. (A bit of trivia for you: Ford had planned to do that as well with the 1986 Taurus, by keeping the aero Fox LTD in production at the Atlanta plant, but as the zero hour approached they decided to go all-in on the new car. What a disaster that would have been.)
No, my beef with this coupon-clipper old-shape 2018 Jeep is as follows: It ain’t cheap.
The plan was, as are all great and awful ideas alike, both simple and last-minute. A family reunion, over Memorial Day weekend, with a couple dozen family members spread from all over the East Coast, and ages spread from 5 to 93. Let’s pick a small touristy town with limited lodging choices — all while a major regional soccer tournament is happening — just for fun.
And we were hauling my mother along with the kids, which meant we needed room for five and luggage for eight. Why does one person need a 29-inch spinner, while my kids, my wife, and I fit everything needed for the long weekend in a 22-inch carry-on? Trips like this typically mean minivan, but, despite my protests, nobody seems to buy minivans anymore. So a three-row crossover is the best alternative. I figured that since Honda makes a hell of a minivan, any crossover built in the same factory has to be at least okay.
Thus the 2018 Honda Pilot Elite became our steed for a long weekend road trip. Did it make me forget my beloved van?
I may be an avowed sedan stan, but I do get the appeal of crossovers. Especially small ones. Credit/blame me for being an urbanite, I guess, but I understand the appeal of a hatchback vehicle that can swallow cargo, be street-parked with ease, and has good visibility due to a tall ride height.
Sure, crossovers may not be my cup of tea. But I get why so many of my neighbors drive one.
Which is to say, I liked the 2018 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid more than I expected I would.
That’s in part because the RAV4 seems to stand for “generic yet reliable and popular crossover.” Odd, angular styling hasn’t helped it stand out much from the crowd.
Crossovers are meant to convey people and cargo about town with ease, and that’s the RAV4’s specialty. Looks aside, it blends because it’s supposed to.
For those of you keeping score at home, this is indeed the second Genesis G80 I’ve driven in the last few months. While my February drive of the 3.8-liter V6-powered G80 revealed a budget competitor to underpowered four-cylinder models from Germany, note a few extra letters on the trunklid of this car.
This 2018 Genesis G80 AWD 3.3T Sport is, well, a mouthful — but those extra badges reveal a car with a bit more character than the solid but appliance-like car I drove previously.
Does the Sport trim make this big sedan a lion to the standard lamb?
Despite winning some key awards upon introduction (including 2017 North American International Car of the Year), the 2018 Chevrolet Bolt has flown a bit under the radar thanks to all the noise surrounding Tesla’s Model 3.
Which is a pity, really. I don’t know if the Tesla is better than the Bolt, as I haven’t yet driven the 3, but I do know the Bolt is worthy of more attention than what it’s getting.
I also know that the rest of Chevy’s small-car lineup could use an infusion of the Bolt’s design. There’s plenty to like about the car that has nothing to do with its EV powertrain, and some of those good qualities would be well-suited to other vehicles in the brand’s portfolio.
The gentleman next to me rotated his arm in the universal “roll-down-your-window” maneuver, even though the actual motion is completely foreign to many drivers in this era of ubiquitous electric window lifts. I did, revealing a grey-haired gentleman wearing a Naval ship hat, sitting behind the wheel of a pristine, domestic full-size half-ton pickup truck.
“I knew it’d be a young man behind the wheel of that car. That’s a young man’s car. That’s the kind of car I’d have if I were young like you.” His eyes must be failing him a bit — how else would he miss the grey in my beard? With 40 inbound like a careening freight train, I appreciate the inference that I’m a young man in his eyes, and thanked him for both his compliments and his service.
Normally, I’d end a conversation like this with a rumble of throttle in appreciation — but I didn’t want to disappoint our sailor with the sounds of a minivan engine. So I motored off in relative silence. While this V6-powered, all-wheel drive Dodge Challenger GT doesn’t have the aural pleasures of its Hemi-powered brethren, it clearly still makes people take notice.
Imagine if automotive history were flipped a bit, and that crossovers were the default compact family vehicle for decades, rather than sedans. We’d be reliving the “longer, lower, wider” craze of the late ‘50s in the modern era, but with revolutionary things called “hatchbacks.”
Really, that’s all a subcompact crossover is — a hatchback with a bit of ground clearance, and sometimes a higher roof. It’s a repackaging of an older concept to market to new customers.
Toyota was the trailblazer in the car-based SUV business with the original RAV4, subsequently building up a solid lineup of crossovers large and small. Now, with the polarizing styling and compact dimensions of the 2018 Toyota C-HR, Big T takes aim at the entry level. Will the funky styling bring buyers, or will they shield their eyes?
The marketing executives at Hyundai Motor America would likely prefer you forget about their first offering on these shores, the extraordinarily low-priced Excel. Introduced around the same time as the underwhelming Yugo GV née Fiat 127, contemporary news reports inextricably linked the two bargain hatchbacks, and thus the poor reputation of the Yugo stuck to the good-by-comparison Hyundai.
Frustrated by the acceptable-but-cheap label created by its early models, Hyundai progressively improved both the design of its cars and the overall quality. No longer the butt of jokes, Hyundai’s offerings are rightfully comparable to the leading models in whatever class they compete. So, when I was handed the keys to this 2018 Hyundai Accent SE, I was curious to see how the lineup’s bargain model improved over the decades, and whether the essence of the cheerful econobox was retained.
It happened again. A neighbor, a casual acquaintance at best, messaged me on Facebook, asking for a used car recommendation. As usual, I suspect they were trying to get me to literally point them to a specific car for sale, but I’ve been roped into enough third-party late-night Craigslist-and-Cars.com binges to bite this time.
“Just buy the best Camry you can afford,” was my reply. I’ve given the same advice before to plenty of other non-enthusiasts, those for whom a car is merely an appliance. While I can easily rattle dozens of interesting choices to someone properly invested in driving enjoyment, I’d rather avoid the repercussions of recommending a 10-year-old M3 to a suburban mom who wants nothing more than a hassle-free commute.
Toyota pulled the cover off of the newest Camry in Detroit last year, and the rakish new styling has been flooding the streets ever since. Tim tested the four-cylinder model a few weeks back, but he wished for a bit more power. Fortunately, the gods of horsepower and displacement smiled upon me, and delivered upon my driveway this 2018 Toyota Camry XLE with the big V6.
Does the redesign tick the default box for enthusiasts, too?
For those of you voyeurs who enjoy peering at perfectly curated photos of strangers’ lives, do me a favor and click over to Instagram and search the “Vanlife” hashtag. It’s a seemingly endless parade of young folk who have eschewed traditional housing for a thoroughly modified full-size van — typically a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter or Ram ProMaster, kitted with beds, kitchens, and storage for implements of extreme living such as mountain bikes or kayaks.
The thing you’ll notice about nearly all of these vanlifers: no kids. It’s hard to get the little ones to hockey practice when you’re living life to the extreme.
I live a very different kind of vanlife here in suburbia. While certainly there are times when I’m hauling an empty box behind me, more often than not I have two kids and their assorted crap to haul. Other times, my van doubles as a truck, with a few sheets of OSB or 10 bags of mulch. I’ve even hauled a spare Miata engine to a race track for a friend who’d popped one in an early race session.
For those of us who need to get back and forth to the office, rather than to or from a trailhead, a traditional minivan is nearly perfect. The only downside? Fuel economy isn’t great, as you’re pushing a big, heavy box through the air. Chrysler recognized this with the 2018 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid, offering a good bit more efficiency in a familiar package. Does it make #DadVanLife more palatable?
Never mind the bollocks coming from professionally cynical actors-turned-rappers: This is America. At least it is for much of this country’s working middle class. The F-150 is designed in America, tooled-up in America, and made in America. By an American company. For a customer base that is overwhelmingly American. It’s also a solid candidate for the title of World’s Best Passenger Vehicle.
Don’t believe me? I don’t blame you. The media has long vilified the full-sized pickup as an avatar of this country’s long-discredited and frankly unwanted silent majority. Never mind the fact that today’s pickups have long surpassed traditional automobiles in many of the qualities that real customers want and will pay for. Nor should you look too closely behind the curtain that covers the deficiencies of unibody SUVs when compared to full-sized trucks. My colleagues in the car business, many of whom are notable for their childlessness, sedentary lifestyles, and complete lack of a classical education, love to screech about BANNING these HICK-MOBILES from the VIBRANT STREETS OF AMERICA. Some of their points have merit: I’m far from thrilled with the ride height of today’s half-tons from both an active safety and a visibility standpoint. Most of their complaints, however, are so much sound and impotent fury signifying nothing more than the fact they can’t afford to drop $60k on a cowboy Cadillac of their own.
The 2018 F-150 is already in showrooms and media fleets, but if you know me then you know I prefer the spin-free zone of the rental counter to the walled garden of a press trip drive. Furthermore, there are thousands of trucks just like this available through secondary sources for prices in the $24,000-28,000 range. What do you get for that money? Let’s find out.
Depending on how pedantic you feel like being, one can argue that the original Volkswagen GTI was not the first hot hatch. Alec Issigonis, with the revolutionary Mini, clearly inspired Volkswagen to move to the space-saving front-engine, front-drive, two-box form factor, even though the Austin/Morris original never had a true hatchback. No matter. Whatever the lineage, there’s no arguing that keeping mechanical bits in a separate box from the fleshy bits can yield impressive room from a small car.
My personal fleet reflects my typical suburban middle-class life — a minivan, a body-on-frame midsize SUV, and a midlife crisis disguising itself as a roadster-shaped shelf in the garage, not to mention the press car gravy train making frequent stops. And while my wife and I drive separately to our respective offices, pretty much all other times we are together in a single car.
I sometimes forget that many families throughout the world really don’t have a use for multiple vehicles — they need one that does everything. Hauling people, hauling stuff — one car does it all. That’s where the two-box solution shines. And if the driver likes driving, the minimal weight and compact dimension are a natural plus. So, the 2018 Volkswagen GTI is quite clearly shaping up to be a perfect one-car solution.
A few months ago, I wrote about the Honda Clarity PHEV, saying it’s a fine but unremarkable fuel-saver sedan and commuter car.
Prepare for déjà vu.
You see, Honda has brought forth another Insight hybrid for 2019. And my take on this Civic-related sedan is much like that of the Clarity – well-built, great for commuters, and remarkably unremarkable.
I say “Civic-related” because the Insight does share bones with the Civic, but there are key differences, especially with its skin. Yet Honda also sets it up as the “mature” compact sedan in its lineup. More on that later.
Editor’s Note: This article is written by contributor Jeff Taylor. Due to technical difficulties, it is under the TTAC Staff byline. Once those difficulties are fixed, Jeff’s name will be properly attached.
Jaguar’s new I-Pace EV is the first vehicle in the automaker’s plan to fully electrify — or electrically assist — all of its vehicles beginning in 2020.
The I-Pace raises the question: can Jaguar’s EV powertrain live up to everyday driving demands and deliver the premium experience luxury buyers demand without a huge power-suck mileage penalty?
Additionally, mainstream and luxury manufacturers have announced aggressive electrification plans of their own, which puts more heat on Jaguar to get it right or risk its plug being pulled.
To gauge Jaguar’s level of success, I spent some time in Lisbon, Portugal for the I-Pace Media Drive. During the launch program, I put the I-Pace through some tough driving situations and made some surprising discoveries about both the vehicle and what it means for the industry moving forward.
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.
Toyota likes to brag about its Prius “family.” Well, if the various Prii are grouped as such, the C may just be the black sheep.
Not the rebellious black sheep, but rather the underachieving kind. The kid with promise that went unfulfilled. Nice enough, at least makes an effort – but doesn’t quite have what it takes, nor has the ability to figure it out.
Take the 2018 version. Affording it a mild style update and new standard safety features isn’t enough to make up for the car’s shortcomings.
Has it really been five years since I rented and tested the previous Nissan Maxima? Well, as Natalie Merchant once said about children, “At your age / in a string of days / the year is gone.” That less-than-maximum Max was, in my opinion anyway, the worst Maxima ever.
Is there anybody out there who expected anything more than mediocrity from the current Maxima, despite the in-your-face styling, despite that hugely evocative Super Bowl ad? I doubt it. The five-year gap between my last go-round with a big Nissan sedan shrinks to insignificance when compared to the three-decade gap that separates today and the introduction of the first (and last) first-rate automobile to bear this particular nameplate.
Here’s the good news: The new one’s better than the old one, and the one before that. It counts as a pleasant surprise in a business which is increasingly bereft of such consolations. All you need to appreciate this car is the proper perspective, which we’ll triangulate based on two historical points: the first-generation Datsun 810 “Maxima”, and the Renault Laguna.
Car enthusiasts love to argue about cars, and will debate generally anything related to the topic ad nauseum. My wife knows not to talk cars with me unless she’s prepared to engage in an multi-hour discussion with outlines, Powerpoints, and 8×10 glossy photos. Discussions like these have birthed countless internet forums and blogs, including the usually brilliant comment section here at TTAC.
A common topic: are there any truly BAD cars anymore? We may all hate various brands or models because of poor prior experiences, but it can generally be assumed that all cars sold new in the U.S. can at least perform the basic function of a car satisfactorily for roughly the length of the factory warranty.
*Does it move sentient bags of meat from one place to another without parts falling off? Then it qualifies as NOT BAD.
Through that lens, then, we can look at the 2018 Mitsubishi Outlander. It’s not a bad looking vehicle, and it certainly does what it’s supposed to. Broaden the view a bit, however, and it’s clear that there are few compelling reasons to buy Mitsubishi’s biggest crossover.
The subcompact crossover class may possibly offer more varieties of flavor than most. Not in terms of available models, but in types of mission for each model.
You have rugged off-roaders (Jeep Renegade), quirky runabouts (Toyota CH-R, Kia Soul), jack-of-all-trades (Honda HR-V, Hyundai Kona), urban scooters (Chevy Trax/Buick Encore, Ford EcoSport), tall wagons (Subaru Crosstrek), and now the Nissan Kicks.
Nissan employees will quickly correct you if you assert the Kicks is a replacement for the company’s previous entry in this segment, the Juke, which is no longer on sale in North America (but remains available in other markets across the globe). They’ll tell you the Juke was/is aimed at a different customer than the Kicks.
That may or may not be true, but if it is, it also evades at least two other truths about the Juke – it was too weird and too pricey for our market.
Enter the Kicks. Although it still has plenty of quirky details and styling, the overall look and feel is much more conventional. And the price tag is much, much lower than not just the Juke, but some of the key competitors.
It seems like lately I’ve developed a habit of reviewing vehicles on the verge of being replaced by a brand new generation. And by habit, I mean one review. But it seemed fitting when the local Enterprise location handed me keys to a “Full Size” and it turned out to be the soon-to-depart, current-generation Nissan Altima.
With a new Altima already unveiled, promising more/better/faster everything, is there anything to miss about the outgoing model? After a week living with one, I can definitely say there might be.
I didn’t fear failure when I was young. I feared being just like everybody else, another face in the crowd. In a word, I feared being average. It seemed like a fate worse than death. Well, look at me now, living in suburbia, just another middle-aged white guy with a lawn and a 401(k) and a nagging worry that each and every racing physical I take will reveal that I do, in fact, have inoperable Stage IV cancer of the colon. “You have 42 pounds of undigested meat in there,” the doctor will sigh, “just like Elvis.”
The universe depends on my average-ness. I work three jobs and I pay a truly astounding amount of taxes to at least five separate governmental entities. I haven’t taken a non-working vacation since 2006. There is not a single assistance program anywhere for which I qualify. About a decade ago I decided to go back to school in the evenings and get my doctorate in literature. “As a 35-year-old white man,” the dean told me, “you wouldn’t be eligible for any of our assistantships.”
“Not a problem,” I replied, “I’ll pay cash. How much does the degree cost?”
“Well…” he huffed. “There’s no actual cash price per se because everybody is on assistance, which is only fair given today’s bigoted climate.”
“So I can’t pay to go to school, because nobody pays and you don’t know how much I would have to pay, because there’s no cash price for presumed bigots who are not on assistance because they’re ineligible for assistance.”
“I’m not sure that’s a fair way to phrase it.” Each and every day I have a better idea of what motivated the character of “D-FENS” in Falling Down. He, too, was an average fellow.
As fate would have it, I have a perfectly average car, and a perfectly average payment. Two of them, actually, although I only have a payment on one of them. Let’s see how they are doing.
Yes, you read the headline correctly — this is indeed a review, running in June 2018, of a 2017 model year vehicle. Chalk it up to other priorities (after all, writing isn’t my full-time gig) but honestly, it doesn’t really matter in this case.
Toyota hasn’t really made significant changes its minivan since the early years of the Obama administration. Sure, minor details are always tweaked year over year, but the essence of the 2017 Toyota Sienna XLE AWD isn’t significantly different from that of the 2011 model. And that’s not a bad thing — no matter the age, minivan owners keep flocking back to the Swagger Wagon.
When I wrote my review of the Lotus Evora 400 for our friends over at Jalopnik a couple of summers ago, I submitted it with the headline “The Lotus Evora 400 is the Best Dual-Purpose Car I Have Ever Driven.” Unfortunately, that wasn’t deemed to be a sexy enough headline, so it was switched to “Best Track Car.” Such is the life of a freelance contributor.
While there’s no doubt the Evora 400 shines on the racing line, its true genius is revealed on the highways and byways of these United States. It’s rare to find a car that can both quicken the pulse and comfort the soul as well as the Lotus does. To that end, when Lotus sent the Evora to my Old Kentucky Home for a week for some extended testing, I decided to revisit my original premise: Is the Lotus Evora 400 really the best dual-purpose car I’ve ever driven?
To find out, I decided to drive from Winchester, Kentucky to Dawsonville, Georgia and back in the same day, a round trip of 700 miles. Oh, and I figured that I might as well go to the SCCA’s Track Night in America at Atlanta Motorsports Park while I was at it. Dual-purpose? You bet.
Age can be a strength or weakness, and in the case of Toyota’s 4Runner, it’s almost certainly the former.
Indeed, I expect that when it comes time for the company to fully update the model, there will be plenty of hand-wringing among 4Runner fans as they worry that Toyota will screw it up. Considering that Jeep just successfully modernized the Wrangler without diluting what made it great, and considering the current 4Runner is already more civilized than the last Jeep, I think the next 4Runner will be just fine. But I understand the concern.
The current 4Runner is an old-school SUV – big, blocky, and tough-feeling. It even has old-school body-on-frame construction and boxy looks with a big ‘ole mean-looking grille and front end. Furthermore, the current generation stretches back nearly a decade.
Changes for 2018 are, fittingly, minimal. The changes consist of two new available options packages and two new trim levels. That’s it.
In the fiercely competitive compact crossover segment, a game arguably invented by Lexus, a company has to have a killer app in order to stand out. The XC60 trades upon a platform of safety, thanks to the goodwill built by the Volvo brand. BMW has – rightly or wrongly – its rep for being the Ultimate Driving Machine to lure customers into an X3.
But Acura? Most would struggle to finger a standout attribute of their current offering in that segment, the RDX. This is not to say it is a bad machine – it outsells two of its closest rivals – but the company knows change has to be made, and consequently plans to turn up the volume … in more ways than one.
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.
TTAC recently spent some time out in rural Utah, where GMC was keen to show off the 2018 Sierra Denali’s capabilities in both towing and everyday driving. Does the soon-to-be-replaced luxury pickup have what it takes to get the job done?
That depends on the options boxes, and which ones have been checked.
I could have told the guy “71 extra pounds.” Then again, maybe “$5,400 more” would have been a better response. Both of these figures are correct, but it’s the latter that best answers the question, “What’s an Avenir?”
The passer-by who accosted me — in a friendly manner, thankfully — outside my residence hadn’t seen the word “Enclave” on the back of the big, white Buick I had parked outside, but I assume he knew the model and wondered what the hell an Avenir nameplate was doing on both front doors.
“Okay, you know Denali…?” I answered. The rest isn’t hard to imagine.
Some car companies seem to listen to the gripes of us underpaid yet overfed journalist types more closely than others. Hyundai and corporate sibling Kia are particularly good at that – if there’s a consensus among cranky critics about a particular car’s failings, the next generation will almost certainly address the criticisms and improve upon them.
Hyundai’s Veloster has taken a lot of crap from us keyboard knights for being a sporty hatch that lacked in power, had a crashy suspension, and offered so-so handling. Oddly, the unusual three-door body style never seemed to be the biggest complaint (surely, some even like it).
Enter generation two. Hyundai’s made a lot of changes, and every one of them goes towards making the Veloster a better car. Most succeed in that endeavor.
The three-row crossover field is a crowded arena. Gearheads like us can rhyme off verbatim the critical differences between models. But the Average Joe or Josephine who’s simply trying to buy a machine that’ll ferry the brood? For many of them, it’s like trying to pick their favorite trumpeter out of a college brass band with 50 players.
Subaru’s killer app is, natch, the standard inclusion of all-wheel drive. Will mountain goat levels of traction, a quirky ad campaign, and 19 cupholders be enough to let it play the loudest in a noisy segment?
Complete the last part of the phrase in the headline up there. Yeah, it’s “master of none.” Thing is, that doesn’t apply to the 2018 Toyota Camry – it really is a jack of all trades, and it even masters at least some.
Fight it we might, but most automotive journalists, or at least most of us who grew up as enthusiasts, have biases. One of mine has been to rag on the Camry, dismissing it like so many others as a boring and beige (figuratively, not literally) commuter sleigh.
Toyota was listening, and every generation got a bit better, even if the driving dynamics part of the equation was still lacking compared to some of the competition.
Well, now that part is finally on par.
Unless you’re living on Mars, you’ve heard that Ford Motor Company has officially thrown in the towel on the sedan business. It’s a shocking move, but not necessarily a disappointing one, given that the basic versions of those sedans weren’t all that great to begin with. But the performance versions of those sedans are special. If you need a practical, affordable car with a talent for separating you from your driver’s license, Ford has (or had) one for every budget, and that makes it a unique automaker.
But that’s the Old Ford. Apparently, New Ford is all about crossovers, and its newest offering in these parts is the already-sold-overseas Ecosport. Does the EcoSport provide a crystal-ball look into Ford’s future crossovers? For the company’s sake, I hope not.
The old mining track descends from the shattered and tilted tablelands toward an imposing palisade of Wingate sandstone running to the horizon in each direction. This is one of the more dramatic and violent geologic upheavals on the Colorado Plateau and the road across it isn’t kind.
Sunbaked boom-time miners once hacked out jeep tracks across this wilderness, scouring for uranium to feed America’s nuclear frenzy. Only a few made it big, but if there ever was a more intriguing landscape in which to lose your mind seeking fortune, I’d like to see it. We’re here for lighter reasons, though, blithely rolling over rocks and ruts that would have halted most CUVs miles before, dropping into steep wash crossings that would stub the long front overhang of an Outback, and confidently inching up a stepped bedrock shelf that would trouble the long wheelbase of a full-size pickup.
Cheap cars often get a bad rap. That’s not surprising – our status-obsessed society tends to look down upon any low-cost product, unless that product is so superior to its competition that it can be labeled a “value” or a “bargain.”
The Kia Rio probably isn’t good enough for that status, and there are other relatively inexpensive automobiles that perform better across various metrics, but if you need cheap wheels and don’t want to be punished, you could do worse.
Toyota’s Corolla iM was an orphan almost from birth. Conceived by Scion, the compact hatchback joined the Toyota clan after its youth-focused parent brand took an eternal dirt nap.
Despite styling that bordered on edgy, the iM failed to elevate drivers’ enthusiasm to a point where its sales numbers played much of a role in the Corolla nameplate’s popularity. Testing revealed a five-door hatch that, while versatile, severely lacked in both power and comfort.
Simply put, it wasn’t very special. At all.
That all changes for 2019, as Toyota’s making amends for its weak earlier effort. With its new Corolla hatch (the iM name disappears, erasing the last trace of Scion from the automotive landscape), the automaker hoped to create a car owners might actually want to toss around — and one they can drive without going nuts finding a proper driving position.
There are some vehicles on the market that offer bargain pricing without punishing their buyers.
The Mitsubishi Outlander Sport 2.4 SEL AWC isn’t one of those.
Mitsubishi has seemingly been in “barely getting by mode” for years now, and the Outlander gives a clue as to why.
Years fade into the past, but the public’s thirst for high-riding, do-everything vehicles never seems to ebb. In light of this seismic shift, the Toyota Avalon’s continued presence at the top of the brand’s model line increasingly comes across as mysterious. Perhaps it shouldn’t be.
Introduced for the 1995 model year, the front-drive full-sizer always stayed true to itself — dressed in conservative clothing, it boasted a comfy, roomy cabin, ample V6 power, old-school Toyota dependability, and little chance of drama. If flashiness or cargo volume wasn’t your thing, who could ask for more?
In its recent study of America’s longest lasting vehicles, iSeeCars.com discovered the Avalon was the passenger car most likely to see 200,000 miles. Treat it right, and it’ll outlast multiple owners.
There’s a problem, though, in the fact that fewer and fewer buyers visit Toyota showrooms in search of a large sedan. Avalon sales declined each year following the model’s 2013 post-recession sales peak. Clearly, a change is in order. In crafting its next-generation Avalon, Toyota sought to create a model capable of wooing loyal, returning customers and — for the first time, it seems — younger buyers.
The trouble is, by messing with a formula that worked well for two decades, you risk alienating both groups.
Jeep really loves touting its off-road heritage, along with the capability of its current stable of SUVs. To that end, FCA invited Chicago-area automotive media out to play in the mud at an off-road park in central Illinois.
The very same off-road park in which I stuffed a Ford Raptor into the mud, multiple times.
Even though this was not a traditional first drive, and I’d driven both the new Wrangler and new Cherokee off-road – one in Arizona, the other in California – I wanted a little more time with both away from the pavement. Especially since the never-ending winter of 2018 provided rain and snow in the days leading up to the drive.
That meant there’d be mud, and lots of it.
It’s as if John Hughes and George Barris envisioned the coming swarm of SUVs and crossovers in the early Eighties. Why else would they name the metal-and-DiNoc star of National Lampoon’s Vacation a “Truckster,” when quite clearly the Country Squire-based behemoth in no way resembled a truck? Fast forward thirty-five years, and the default family-unit transport device is indeed something that is truck-like. Just from the top three brands, nearly three-quarters of a million three-row crossovers rolled off dealer lots last year alone. Beneath those butch facades lies a plush, roomy station wagon on stilts.
No stranger to high-volume family cars, Toyota has consistently placed near the top of the sales charts in the three-row crossover segment. The 2017 Toyota Highlander Limited is an incredibly popular choice for those who need plenty of space for cargo, human or otherwise, and for those who have embraced the crossover lifestyle.
Try as I might, I’ve not been able to use Toyota’s online configurator to option the Highlander with faux wood paneling.
Most of us mature as we age, sanding off the rough edges and perhaps muting some of the rowdier aspects of our characters for the sake of grace and politeness. This often accompanies a shift in behavior to accommodate some more upscale habits and hobbies – dressing better as your bank account grows, for example. Or maybe taking in operas instead of rock concerts.
Not all youthful spunk is lost, however – even the most cultured of the gray-hair set cuts loose once in a while.
Peek at the 2019 Volkswagen Jetta, which marks the car’s seventh generation, and you can see this process in action. Interior materials and road manners suggest a car that prefers a gentle life rather than a sporty trashing, but the exterior design, which remains conservative overall, uses details such as character lines to infuse some enthusiasm that was missing in recent years, possibly in a bid to cut a bit loose.
Yeah, I know, I know – we’re three months into 2018 and I am reviewing a 2017 model. That’s because some 2017s are still kicking around the press fleets, and also because I was working on other things and just now got around to writing up this GX.
Honestly, though, I don’t feel bad about the delay. That’s because the GX is one of those vehicles that just doesn’t change much over time.
Browsing the media materials, you see only incremental, minor changes for 2017 over 2016 – or 2018 over 2017. In a world in which change of all kinds occurs at such a clip that it’s almost impossible to keep up, the GX, along with a couple of other Toyota and Lexus models, remains a source of comfort in its consistency. It’s a little like Jeopardy or Wheel of Fortune – those shows have had the same hosts and format for what feels like forever. Meanwhile, the GX has had the same bones for what feels like, well, forever.
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.
“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.
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.
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?
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.
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?”
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- CEastwood Seven mil nitrile gloves from Harbor Freight for oil changes and such and the thicker heavy duty gripper gloves from Wally World for most everything else . Hell we used to use no gloves for any of that and when we did it was usually the white cloth gloves bought by the dozen or the gray striped cuff ones for heavy duty use . Old man rant over , but I laugh when I see these types of gloves in a bargain bin at Home Cheapo for 15 bucks a pair !
- Not Previous Used Car of the Day entries that spent decades in the weeds would still be a better purchase than this car. The sucker who takes on this depreciated machine will learn the hard way that a cheap German car is actually a very expensive way to drive around.
- Bullnuke Well, production cuts may be due to transport-to-market issues. The MV Fremantle Highway is in a Rotterdam shipyard undergoing repairs from the last shipment of VW products (along with BMW and others) and to adequately fireproof it. The word in the shipping community is that insurance necessary for ships moving EVs is under serious review.
- Frank Wait until the gov't subsidies end, you aint seen nothing yet. Ive been "on the floor" when they pulled them for fuel efficient vehicles back during/after the recession and the sales of those cars stopped dead in their tracks
- Vulpine The issue is really stupidly simple; both names can be taken the wrong way by those who enjoy abusing language. Implying a certain piece of anatomy is a sign of juvenile idiocy which is what triggered the original name-change. The problem was not caused by the company but rather by those who continuously ridiculed the original name for the purpose of VERY low-brow humor.