Not even 10 minutes into NBC’s preview of its upcoming workplace sitcom, American Auto, I had hopped into TTAC’s Slack channel to offer a negative appraisal.
That’s unusual for me – I tend to give a new show more than 10 minutes before judging – but I was struggling to find redeeming qualities. It’s one thing for a show about a fictional car company to get things about the auto industry wrong – much more on that in a bit – but this is a comedy, and I wasn’t laughing.
I dutifully forced myself to keep watching the rest of the two-episode, one-hour preview. The show got better – but it still needs work.
There are pros and cons to living in Ohio while attempting to convince people that I’m a motoring journalist. On the plus side, I don’t have to live with the horrendous roads or the stifling car insurance rates that come with living near Detroit.
Downside? I’m not in the heart of the action. Many times, a last-minute invite to an event will materialize – but I need to plan an entire day around it, as I’m 200 miles from Detroit. I need to take an entire day away from work – mind you, I really don’t mind missing work – but it takes more planning than my Detroit colleagues.
An unexpected win, however, comes with loaner cars. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the various press fleets have generally been sending me cars in a non-stop weekly rotation as they don’t want to have two drivers (one driving and one retrieving my loaner) in a car together for three-plus hours. Thus, I’ve had two (occasionally three) cars in my driveway nearly continuously for over a year.
The thing is – I don’t have time to review them all. So we’ll try a new monthly feature on for size. Since this fat-ass isn’t allowed to go to a REAL buffet anymore, I’m bringing you small, bite-sized samplers of the variety of cars I’m driving each month. It’s possible some of these might get the full review treatment at some point – or one of us here might have already done a full review. Still, I’m here to bring you a bit of everything.
Ed. note: We will still be doing the regular full reviews, as well, the ones that are mostly written by either Chris or myself. So stay tuned for those.
Maybe I am softening in my old age, or maybe crossovers are getting a bit better to drive, or both, but I found myself semi-charmed by Audi’s Q8 crossover. Of course, a luxury crossover should be somewhat enticing, lest the buyer feel he or she wasted money each month when that car payment auto drafts out of the bank account.
I say semi-charmed for a few reasons. One, the Q8 is still a crossover, not a sport sedan. Two, there were tradeoffs.
First, a disclaimer. I appreciate the Mustang and maintain that it belongs on the short list of anyone shopping sub-$50,000 performance cars. However, this is not a Mustang review. This is a Saleen S302 White Label review. Saleen has been a purveyor of modified Mustangs since 1984.
The White Label is the entry offering from their S302 White, Yellow, Black Label range.
At a glance, the S302 White Label’s over-car stripe and copious badging place it in good company with its predecessors. They also put it at risk of presenting as a stripe and sticker package. There are no fewer than 12 Saleen badges on the exterior, 10 on the interior, and one under hood (I may have missed some). A look beyond the badges reveals bespoke 20-inch wheels (20×9.5 front, 20×11 rear) wrapped in ZR-rated rubber tucked neatly into the wheel arches, a relatively subtle high air-flow grill, and a high down-force rear spoiler. In addition to the interior brand reminders are a substantial shift knob on shortened shaft, white-face gauges, Alcantara-trimmed steering wheel, and the obligatory serialized plaque under the passenger side binnacle. Underneath are RaceCraft front and rear springs and sway bar pivot bushings, as well as mildly upgraded brakes. Saleen also adds its PowerFlash calibration, which nets owners a 15 horsepower bump over stock to a new peak of 475 horsepower.
All this comes at about an $8,000 premium over whatever Mustang GT you select. So, is Saleen trading on its racing heritage and hoping some supercar over-boost will sell Mustangs, or has it built a compelling performance proposition? To address this burning question, I sacrificed one long weekend.
If you read nothing else about the 2020 Mazda CX-9, let me be clear: this is the first car in which I’ve experienced a llama gnawing on the exterior trim, and yet I didn’t need to make a dreaded phone call to the automaker to explain any unusual damage.
Day 124 since lockdown yielded, for once, a new experience. Rather than our usual day of driving somewhere remote to get away from humanity, we drove somewhere remote to get closer to nature. Well, caged nature, at least, as we trekked to a drive-through safari/zoo in northern Ohio just to break the kids away from YouTube and Netflix for a few hours.
This biggest Mazda not only shed the licks and nibbles of captive animals – the mark from a bison’s horns wiped off with a towel – but it proved a comfortable long-distance hauler with better than expected fuel economy.
The next time certain product planners in Wolfsburg look in the mirror, they have a question to ask themselves: “How did we let the Volkswagen Passat get so damn dull?”
Especially after a refresh.
It’s not like the company is incapable of producing quality, fun sedans. The Jetta GLI is a hoot. The Arteon might struggle to find buyers, but that has little to do with the car’s dynamics, as it’s pretty fun to pilot. Even the non-GLI Jetta mixes practicality and pleasure well enough.
Why, then, did the Passat, which was once relatively engaging, if not an outright sports sedan, get so boring?
I have long been a family sedan buyer and was looking at replacing my aging ride. I have enjoyed rowing my own gears for more than two decades now, with the occasional automatic transmission thrown in the mix.
This time was a little different, in that there are so many extracurricular activities with three kids. My wife and I frequently find ourselves having to divide and conquer to get it all done. Making the challenge more difficult has always been the fact that I prefer a manual transmission, while she avoids driving a stick-shift like the plague, despite being fairly well versed in the three-pedal dance. I guess, like the market in general, she just doesn’t find joy in that level of engagement.
So, the writing was on the wall: An automatic transmission was in my future when I began hunting for a new whip.
The study of user experience, often shortened to UX (since everything needs to fit in a neat 140-character limit), looks at how humans interact with a particular system. Often applied to computers, cell phones, and the like, UX looks at usability, ergonomics, and human feelings as they pertain to whatever system is being studied.
Lexus has a different definition for UX. The brand’s UX is this 2020 Lexus UX 250h, an “Urban Crossover.” While budget constraints have affected city infrastructure maintenance nationwide, leaving many roads a pockmarked hellscape, I’m not completely certain I buy the crossover story. So I grabbed the keyfob, prepared to thrash this pretender in the old TTAC tradition.
Yes, one day this could all be yours. When the last leases signed for this now defunct model run their course, the base Chevy Cruze could be the depreciation special that finds its way into your driveway.
I’ll still be paying mine off.
Of course, you can’t criticize anything you read here today too harshly, as, regardless of what you think of the purchase decision, I spent my own damn money on this unexciting, domestic, high-MPG compact sedan. Yes, a person who types car-related words foolishly spent his meager income on a sensible new vehicle that suits his day-to-day needs, rather than a Peugeot or Porsche project car. I guess it’s now up to General Motors to retain me — again — as a customer.
And that nearly didn’t happen back in May of 2018, until Hyundai gave me plenty of reason to reconsider.
Somebody had to ruin the party. Five years ago the Dieselgate scandal broke, and automakers everywhere slowed down the development of their own oil-burning engines for the U.S. market. Until that point, many automakers were looking at bringing “clean” diesel tech from Europe to the U.S.
Of course, compression-ignition engines have been quite common in the truck market – though generally confined to the heavy-duty, three-quarter-ton and larger models for many years. In the last couple of years, each member of the Detroit Three has revealed a smaller diesel for their half-ton pickups. This 2020 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 is powered by a Duramax 3.0-liter inline six, backed up by a 10-speed automatic.
I’m not sure I’ve ever fallen so hard for a powertrain.
You’ve seen them lurking in your neighborhood. The suburban ninja. Clad head to toe in skintight black – usually from Lululemon, but other brands work here, too – they jog early in the morning and late at night, oblivious to the world beyond their AirPods. They’ll never jog on the sidewalk, either. They’re always in the street, ready to strike the hood of your car.
Drivers are taking back the streets, however, defending themselves and their precious rides by all means necessary. Cadillac has upped the game with the available Night Vision camera on the 2020 Cadillac XT6. No joke, the feature saved the good folks at Cadillac PR from headlines such as “Hack Journalist Slays Jogger.”
Considering the insanity our consumer markets have seen over the past few weeks, I’m kicking myself for having let my warehouse club membership lapse a year or so ago. I reasoned that there was absolutely no need for me to buy staple foods (or paper products) in bulk quantities. There would be no circumstance short of the apocalypse where my regular supermarket could not adequately fill the needs of my family.
Yeah, I’m kicking myself.
Anyhow, that got me thinking about other things that one could buy in larger packages than normal. Looking at the photos of the 2020 Mini Cooper S Countryman I drove a few weeks ago, it clicked – this is the bulk package Mini Cooper. A fair bit more Mini than the standard three-door hatchback, the Countryman is the Mini for families.
Do you consider yourself a responsible, wholesome driver? Are you a driver who maintains control in all driving situations? Or are you tempted to leave each stoplight in a snarl of revs and a haze of vaporized Michelin?
At the moment, BMW does not offer its flagship sports sedan, the M3. We are left with this, the 2020 BMW M340i. While the M3 – when it comes – will likely offer a batshit crazy amount of horsepower, I’m reminded when I drive this sensibly-powered M340i of Lord Acton’s chestnut: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
I’d like to think that I’m a decent, incorruptible fellow, thus 382 horsepower is enough for me. It’s probably enough for you, too.
On a cold January morning during the 2015 North American International Auto Show, Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn debuted the brand’s all-new pickup truck. It wasn’t a typical full-size, half-ton offering. Rather, it was a “tweener” that sits between the half-ton and three-quarter ton trucks currently on sale. Ghosn made the business case for the truck, stating that nearly 150,000 people every year switch from a half-ton to a three-quarter ton truck or vice versa because there’s no real truck out there to meet their needs. Additionally, the truck would have a 5.0-liter Cummins diesel V8 engine.
Fast forward to 2020 and things have changed. Sales of the first-generation Titan XD were lackluster at best, and the company has completely discontinued the diesel engine and regular cab options. Ghosn himself was smuggled out of Japan in an instrument case back to Lebanon to avoid the Japanese legal system. But there is a new version of the Titan XD, and Nissan claims things will be different this time.
A few years ago, the family and I rented a car and drove to a national park, just like thousands of others do every year. After a few hours of hiking and sightseeing, we found a restaurant in the park for lunch. Our rental that day? A silver Nissan Altima. Here’s the weird part: there were eight more silver Altimas parked side-by-side, all with minor trim differences and stickers from different rental agencies.
It was genuinely weird.
TTAC has a long history of reviewing cars from rental agencies – initially as a ward against potential influence from the automakers, and occasionally to review cars we don’t normally see in media fleets. This isn’t one of those. This 2020 Nissan Altima AWD is a marked improvement from the rental counter – it’s no longer the ubiquitous scourge of indifferent travelers.