Bark's Bites: Don't Care, Don't Compare
I can tell by the falling leaves and temperatures in the air surrounding My Old Kentucky Home that the season is here. No, not autumn. Not soccer season or even football season, which are already in full swing. No, it’s the season for the tried-and-true clickfest that is known as the Comparison Test. My friends at Road & Track are doing their Performance Car of the Year test out in California this week. Car & Driver should be doing Lightning Lap any day now at Virginia International Raceway. I’m sure Motor Trend does something similar, but I haven’t read a word of their writing in decades, even before that whole Apple Car nonsense.
The whole idea of the comparison test probably originated right around the time the second car was made — after all, it’s human nature to want to know what the best anything is. For as long as anyone can remember, the Camaro has been telling the Mustang to step outside, the 3 Series and the C Class have been toe to toe, and the 911 and the Corvette have been entering the ring. And if comparing 2 or 3 cars is good, then comparing 10 cars? Well, that’s obviously even better. Hence the mega-comparisons. Not only for performance cars, but for SUVs, too.
When I was younger, I eagerly awaited the results of such tests, treating them as virtual gospel. And over the seven plus years that I’ve been a contributor here, I’ve noticed that many of you do, as well. Any time that I’ve written a review of a car, some commenter will invariably say, “Yeah, well C&D ranked the Maibatsu Monstrosity best in their Midsized SUV Shootout, so your observations are obviously wrong, even though you just spent an entire week in one that wasn’t meticulously prepped by factory techs and accompanied by an on-site mechanic for the duration of the test!”
Well, I’m here to declare an end to all of it. The super comparison test needs to go away. Here’s why.
The Comparison Test We've All Been Waiting For: 2005 Lexus LS430 Vs. 2018 Suzuki DR-Z400SM
You needn’t be an automotive writer to know that when a key is tossed in your direction, you catch it. If it’s the key to a winter-garaged, low-mileage, 2005 Lexus LS430, you grab the key and run.
I rode to a work two weeks ago on the new Suzuki DR-Z400SM with which I replaced my 2013 Scion FR-S. It’s something I do a few times per week. The bike’s fun. It’s a riot. It’s a rip-roaring good time. But it is a process. Want to meet the fam for a hastily arranged early lunch? Once I’m all geared up, I head outside and wait for the carbureted Suzuki to rediscover a happy idle. Gloves on. Cuffs straightened. Helmet cinched. Leg heaved over the lofty supermoto. Many minutes later, I’m finally on my way.
So much for the early lunch.
Two Tuesdays past, however, my good friend Jeff heard me heading out and said, “Hey, take the Lexus.” His dad’s Lexus, that is, and formerly his grandfather’s Lexus. In this moment, I not only entered deeper into the vehicular recesses of an infamous Island clan, I set up an impromptu comparison test the likes of which may never again occur.
The 2018 Honda Odyssey Just Lost a Minivan Comparison Test (*Shock Horror Gasp*)
It was quicker, quieter, more fuel efficient, and less expensive, but the all-new 2018 Honda Odyssey failed to win its first Car and Driver minivan comparison test.
The fifth-gen Odyssey is also the newest minivan redesign. The Toyota Sienna was updated for 2017 with a new powertrain but remains in large part the same minivan that arrived for the 2011 model year. The first Chrysler Pacifica minivan — aka the second Chrysler Pacifica — has been on sale for nearly a year and a half. The Kia Sedona, having lost its previous Car and Driver comparison test, was not deemed eligible for the test. Likewise, the Dodge Grand Caravan, while currently America’s top-selling minivan, was rendered ineligible by past performance.
With only three minivans in the test, all upper-crust examples of their specific nameplates, each contender finished on the platform. But lofty expectations for the all-new Odyssey failed to come to fruition, and the segment progenitor’s party trick produced a solid victory.
Stow’N’Go isn’t the only differentiator, however.
The Mazda CX-9 Predictably Won a Comparison Test of Minivan Alternatives, As Mazdas Do
Shocker. The 2017 Mazda CX-9 entered a buff book comparison test against four comparable three-row crossovers and scored a victory.
That’s what Mazdas do. It’s what I assumed the CX-9 would do when, one year ago, I called the second-generation CX-9 a class leader, asking “is perfect too strong a word?”
Swaying the jury seems to be straightforward business for Mazda. The justification for rendering a pro-Mazda verdict is familiar. “It drives so much better than any of the others,” Car And Driver’s Jeff Sabatini writes of the CX-9, after the Mazda bested the Honda Pilot, Dodge Durango, GMC Acadia, and Volkswagen Atlas. “The CX-9 is nimble and agile,” Car And Driver says. “Weight transfers smoothly in the CX-9,” and, “There is a flow to the controls.” The publication credits the quiet cabin and the attractive exterior, as well.
Also described? The reason 98 percent of buyers in the Mazda CX-9’s segment choose a different vehicle.
Five Years on, Scion FR-S/Toyota 86 Has Few Buyers Left, But Still There's a Comparison Test Win up Its Sleeve
Five years have passed since the Scion FR-S — known elsewhere as the Toyota GT86 and known now in America as the Toyota 86 (and at Subaru as the BRZ) — arrived in America. Buyers, never particularly numerous to begin with, are few and far between. Toyota now sells 62 percent fewer Toyota 86s in America than the Scion FR-S managed during its first year.
You expect to see sports cars peak early and then gradually fade. The degree to which the Toyota 86 née Scion FR-S has faded, however, has been more than a little striking. FR-S/86 sales have fallen so far, so fast, that U.S. car buyers are now ten times more likely to acquire a new Chevrolet Camaro, three times more likely to acquire a new Volkswagen Golf GTI, and twice as likely to acquire a new Mazda MX-5.
But is the Toyota 86 deserving of such rejection? Not according to a just-completed CAR Magazine comparison test in which the five-year-old Toyota claimed victory — ahead of the Mazda MX-5 RF and BMW 2 Series.
The Mazda 3 Can Lose A Comparison Test, Apparently
Mazda hasn’t always proven capable of winning hearts and minds in the U.S. marketplace. But in buff book comparison tests, Mazda possesses a recipe for success.
Nine months ago, for instance, a 2016 Mazda 3 i Grand Touring spanked the Nissan Sentra and scored substantial victories over the 2016 Chevrolet Cruze LT and 2017 Hyundai Elantra Limited in a five-car Car And Driver comparison test. Only the 2016 Honda Civic EX came close. Car And Driver was quite right in pointing out the Mazda 3 overachieved “in a world where excellence isn’t always rewarded with sales.” TTAC’s east coast reviewers came to the same conclusion four months ago.
Indeed, U.S. sales of the Mazda 3 fell to a 10-year low in 2016. Now, with sales in 2017 on track to fall to a 13-year low, the Mazda 3 has lost a comparison test.
And not just to one car, but two.
Retro Comparo: 1992 Honda Prelude Si Vs. 1992 Acura Integra GS-R
Comparison Test: 2017 Honda Civic Hatchback Vs. 2017 Mazda 3 5-Door - Grins Matter
Until recently, American car shoppers generally treated hatchbacks with a level of disdain normally reserved for that fetid cheese you forgot about in the back of the fridge.
It made sense; most of them were base-model penalty boxes with all the charm of plain oatmeal. Now, though, the market is awash with five-doors featuring content levels and power outputs formerly reserved for much more expensive machinery.
Honda recently re-entered the hatchback game with its 2017 Civic, while Mazda has been hawking a five-door 3 since its introduction a dozen years ago. Last week, the stars aligned and the press-fleet gods shone upon TTAC by placing a Honda Civic Hatchback and Mazda 3 5-Door in the grubby hands of Tim and Matt during the same week.
While the two cars were optioned differently (a CVT-equipped Civic LX and a manual-equipped Mazda 3 5-Door Grand Touring), we nevertheless took the opportunity to get these two hatchbacks together and ask the question: “Which is gooder?”
2016 Mazda3 Wins Comparison Test, All The Losers Win Bigly In The Real World
Enthusiast praise for the Mazda3 began before the current-generation compact Mazda arrived in late 2013. Previous iterations benefited from hugely positive reviews. “We’re going to love the 3 once it arrives in America,” Automobile wrote in December 2003. Credit for dynamic excellence was the norm a generation later. “Steering is direct and the suspension is firm enough for spirited driving and equally competent at soaking up bumps,” said AutoGuide in early 2009. I haven’t hesitated to get in on the action, writing in my second review of the latest compact Mazda, “The Mazda3 is still the best compact car you can buy.”
It’s therefore not surprising to see that in a five-way compact car comparison for the magazine’s July edition, Car and Driver named the 2016 Mazda3 i Grand Touring the winner of the test. Car and Driver handed the Mazda 203 points, 44-percent more than the fifth-ranked 2016 Nissan Sentra SL achieved.
Industry observers also won’t be surprised to learn that Car and Driver’s fifth-ranked Nissan Sentra produced 139-percent more first-half sales than the Mazda, while the other three losers all roundly outsold the Mazda, as well.
Toyota Camry Hybrid Vs. Volkswagen Passat TDI: Which Would You Buy?
Hybrid or diesel? For peak fuel economy in a $30,000 midsize sedan you need one or the other. The Toyota Camry is the most efficient of the five available hybrids (until the 2013 Ford Fusion arrives). If you live in Europe, the diesel world is your oyster. In North America, you have one option for an oil-burning mid-size sedan, the Volkswagen Passat. Which would you pick?