By on January 30, 2018

Mazda Skyactiv-X prototype

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.

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By on June 13, 2017

2017 Honda Civic Si Coupe Red and Blue, Image: © 2017 Mark Stevenson/The Truth About Cars

After a four-hour journey that included a ferry ride across the Northumberland Strait from Prince Edward Island, we arrived at one of the largest import car meets in Atlantic Canada in Bedford, Nova Scotia. There, owners showed off rows upon rows of cars in varying states of modification and personalization, from tasteful to tasteless.

My car club friends and I walked though to say hello to other folks we’d only previously chatted with on our local import forum, all the while gawking at some of the wildest vehicles east of Quebec. Body kits, massive turbo setups, and convoluted engine swaps ruled the day. But I only remember one vehicle vividly, parked at the end of a row and free from the usual slack-jawed, drooling masses: a pristine, unmodified, 1999 or 2000 Honda Civic Si Coupe (actually an SiR in Canada) still wearing its factory Electron Blue Pearl paint.

To me, back in 2007, this was automotive perfection.

Fast forward some 10 years later. I had the chance to meet the 2017 Honda Civic Si, a quicker, more mature, and more usable younger sibling wearing a similar shade of blue — then proceeded to act like a 22-year-old again and drive the ever-living snot out of it.

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By on May 18, 2017

2018 Acura TLX, Image: © 2017 Jack Baruth

Stop multi-tasking and listen to me for a minute, because I’m going to tell you the most important thing you’ll read this week.

Many years ago, when I was still in the pharmaceuticals game, I had a business mentor of sorts. He was a thick-set, bald, African-American fellow in his early 60s who dressed exclusively in velour tracksuits and, at the time of this story, had a custom-ordered pink S500, an SL500, and an aftermarket-droptop Lexus SC400 in his garage.

We were sitting at dinner one night and I was griping about a fellow we knew who had been given every chance possible by both of us to become remarkably wealthy. Yet every time one of us gave him a chance, he pissed it away through random acts of fiscal impropriety or domestic violence. I couldn’t understand why this dude could not get his act together and handle his business in an appropriate manner.

“Listen up, young blood,” my mentor said, stabbing me in the chest with a finger about the size of a Mag-Lite flashlight, “you cannot want something for someone they do not want for themselves.” I think I dropped my fork. He was right, of course. In the years since then, I’ve had occasion to remember those words again and again. You cannot want something for someone they do not want for themselves.

I need you to keep that in mind as you read this review. If you are like most automotive enthusiasts, you want Acura to return immediately to the glory days of the beautiful first-generation Legend and the sublime twin-cam Integra. But you cannot want something for Acura that it does not want for itself. Acura is perfectly content with being primarily known as the manufacturer of the RDX and MDX sport-utility vehicles. Those two products are market leaders and they’re more than enough to guarantee Acura’s continued existence. If you continue to hope that Acura will build razor’s-edge sporting compacts and M3 rivals, you will continue to be disappointed. Period, point blank. Got it?

Let’s continue.

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By on May 15, 2017

2018 Honda Odyssey Silver Front Quarter

“Remember, you are in a minivan,” my better half commanded as I tapped the left-hand gearshift paddle, grabbing a lower gear to power out of the improbably banked corner on a mountain two-lane. The 19-inch Bridgestones squealed in protest as I pushed it a bit wide, just as the kid squealed from the third row over a funny movie.

What was I to do? It’s not like the roads Honda chose for this drive are the typical minivan haunts — namely suburban surface streets or long interstate slabs. There are no real suburbs on the big island of Hawai’i, and interstate drives would get quite wet after a couple of hours in any direction. So I pressed on, trailbraking as if I were hustling a much smaller car around an autocross course.

It’s indeed a minivan, but the new 2018 Honda Odyssey is surprisingly rewarding to drive. While the majority of miles racked up by any minivan undoubtedly result from a commute, either on city streets or the interstate, taking the long way home in this Odyssey won’t feel like punishment.

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By on April 7, 2017

2018 Volkswagen Atlas grey front quarter off road

For whatever reason, Volkswagen has shied away from the mainstream, large, family vehicle market for decades. When most American parents and spawn headed to Wally World in massive station wagons, Volkswagen offered the Microbus. When minivans became the rage, the sages of Wolfsburg set forth the quirky, rear-engined Vanagon. And through the ‘90s, as the SUV became the default soccer mom transport, the Eurovan continued the tall and narrow van theme.

Certainly, the Routan was a typical minivan — albeit provided by Chrysler — and the Touareg followed a traditional (if pricey) luxury SUV path, but VW hasn’t been a player in the meat of the market. Considering the challenges the company has faced over the last couple years, Volkswagen simply cannot afford to yield high-volume market segments. Besieged dealers need something bigger than a midsized sedan to sell.

Most of all, as noted by Michael Lovati, Volkswagen’s Vice President of Midsize and Fullsize vehicles in North America, “VW needs to regain trust.”

Step one in rebuilding trust is the all-new, American-made 2018 Volkswagen Atlas, which aims squarely at the ever-popular three-row midsize crossover market, especially the beloved Ford Explorer and Honda Pilot.

Does Atlas hit the bulls-eye, or miss wildly?

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By on March 16, 2017

2017 Mazda MX-5 RF, Image: © 2017 Seth Parks

Let’s get right to it. Retractable hardtop MX-5 owners will pay a 113-pound penalty for their motorized, targa-topped fun. 113 pounds. Mazda engineers and marketers do not take that sum lightly. But we can, because unless you are stripping down your Miata for competitive track work — in which case you will select the softtop anyway — you will not feel the difference.

The hardtop does absolutely nothing to diminish the balanced, driver focused, analog pleasure of the fourth generation MX-5. And for the purists, consider your baby may one day only be visible in the rearview mirror if Mazda can not expand the audience for this little icon.

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By on March 15, 2017

2017 Mazda CX-5, Image: © 2017 Seth Parks

Mazda wants you to know its 2017 CX-5 is more than just another compact crossover. Not in terms of size, power, or price, but in its transcendent experience. Media introductions are often an exploration into the esoterica of automotive design, and this launch is no different — except for a refreshing dose of substance sprinkled over a focused, if understated, redesign.

Compact crossovers recently eclipsed full-size trucks as the largest automotive segment. And right on cue, CX-5 is Mazda’s best-selling vehicle, accounting for 38 percent of its U.S. sales last year. Not only that, but it was Mazda’s fastest nameplate to earn one million sales worldwide. It’s thus no shock that as important as this little ute has become to Mazda, its first generation lasted just five years. Nor is it a surprise that its well received first generation is followed by an evolutionary and not a revolutionary second gen, with a diesel on the way to further extend its reach.

If it ain’t broke, tweak it.

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By on March 14, 2017

2017 Land Rover Discovery, Image: © 2017 Matthew Guy

The Land Rover Discovery has, up until now, always been so veddy, veddy British. Since 1989, Land Rover mixed the Discovery’s bolt-upright styling with mountain goat off-road capability — not to mention a few features only people from the UK or its former colonies would understand.

For 2017, the curry hook and other British quirks remain, but the purveyor of British SUVs has finally straightened the Disco’s teeth in search of wider appeal.

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By on February 21, 2017

2017 hyundai ioniq hybrid

At 30,000 feet above Nebraska, a man who could generously be described as severely corpulent had finally reached the level of personal solace required to allow his mass to spill out of seat 27D and into my own. It was another 1,500 miles to New York, and I could already feel the damp warmth of his body begin to encompass my left side as his sweat began seeping through his pants’ cotton-nylon blend and into my dark denim. Hyundai had invited me out for the introductory press event for its new hybrid/EV five-door, the Ioniq, and I desperately wished I was back in California braving unseasonably heavy rains on low rolling resistance tires as some overfed stranger’s lap oozed across my thigh.

I would have given practically anything to be back behind the wheel of one of Hyundai’s demo cars — not because the Ioniq was the pinnacle of automotive excellence, but because, a day earlier, the company claimed the hybrid version could make the entire transcontinental journey for roughly $100. I’d have gladly paid the Benjamin and spent four headache-free days on the road to avoid four of the most emotionally traumatic hours of my life.

While saying that Hyundai’s new green machines are little more than a preferable alternative to being smothered by middle-aged flesh isn’t the highest praise, I can also say that the Ioniq Electric, Hybrid, and Plug-in Hybrid are all superlatively serviceable — surpassing expectations without ever becoming a sensation. This is adequacy at its most acceptable(Read More…)

By on February 9, 2017

2017 Ram 2500 Power Wagon

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles has been on a bit of a mental streak lately.

Rip the seats out of a Hellcat to create the Demon? Sure!

Drop a V8 engine the size of a grand piano into a Durango and perform all-wheel drive burnouts? Why not?

The level of brash, automotive lunacy on offer from Auburn Hills is appalling. I think it’s great.

It’s no surprise, then, Ram chose to amp up the capability and in-your-face style of its Power Wagon when it came time for a refresh. Big tires, bold grilles, and billboard-sized badges; customers in the market for a Power Wagon are not generally a bunch of wallflowers.

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By on February 3, 2017

2017 Kia Niro Hybrid Hotel Emma, Image: © 2017 Mark Stevenson/The Truth About Cars

Remember MTV? Back on September 18, 1983, the once-music-oriented television station — before its foray into an endless stream of mindless reality programming — broadcast a momentous event in rock history. The members of KISS, who’d never previously showed their bare faces in public, appeared in front of a camera without makeup for the very first time.

Instantly, the members of New York City rock band were normal — as far as rockers can be considered normal, I suppose.

In that same vein, Kia’s new Niro is the unmasking of the hybrid. Its crossover shape wouldn’t look out of place as a conventional, dino-juice powered vehicle on any dealer lot. The Niro sports no folded sheetmetal, no oddly proportioned kammback, and no spaghettified headlights.

It’s normal — as far as hybrids can be considered normal, I suppose. And that’s the point.

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By on February 2, 2017

2017 Subaru Impreza Sport Exterior, Image: Subaru

The Impreza has been the oddball of the economy car bunch since its inception, so it’s fitting that Subaru launched the next-generation compact at the unique and peculiar Pantai Inn in La Jolla, California.

The Pantai Inn features rooms decorated with Balinese art and other luxurious features, but those rooms lack some basics, such as digital TV reception and usable electrical outlets. Old Imprezas were similar to the Pantai Inn, with high-value features like all-wheel drive provided as standard, yet missed some staples — like fuel economy.

But this is a different Subaru, and an even more different Impreza, which the company has transformed thanks to its new Subaru Global Platform. The new car is more Kimpton than Pantai, as it still retains unique characteristics — like the aforementioned all-wheel drive — but refocuses on mainline amenities, such as fuel economy and comfort. Additionally, the new platform brings a significant change to how the Impreza drives, which provides a nice preview of what’s to come for the rest of the automaker’s lineup.

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By on December 12, 2016

2017 Honda CR-V Green in forest, Image: © 2016 Mark Stevenson/The Truth About Cars

Update: An earlier version of this story stated the 2017 Honda CR-V was “American-made.” However, the CR-V is manufactured in both the United States and Canada for North American consumption. Sorry, Allistonians.

We sat down for dinner in a rented space shortly after arriving in Monterey, California. The food, standard fare for such a gathering, consisted of no less than three different types of meat, the usual suspects of sides, and one or two items my small-town mind couldn’t infer from the non-Anglo-Saxon names printed on the buffet placement cards.

This was normal for a manufacturer press launch dinner: provide just enough “exotic” items for attendees to feel fancy, privileged, and cultured, but make sure the usual assortment of normal standbys are present so as not to confuse the rest of us with indecipherable choice.

Not adventurous enough to take on that mystery sushi? Here’s some roast beef.

That sauteed vegetable of dubious origin giving you second thoughts? Here, have a potato.

To the front of the room stood two new 2017 Honda CR-Vs. Much like the edibles offered to the journosaur guests, one of the examples wore a resplendent, bright hue; the other a more muted pigmentation for those with more conservative sensibilities.

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By on November 20, 2016

2017 Chevrolet Camaro 1LE pulled over by police

It’s fall in the Mojave Desert. Morning greets us with a cool and blinding brightness at Spring Mountain Motorsports Ranch in Pahrump, Nevada. Several of us mill about like the speed freaks we are, anxiously awaiting our next fix, sipping coffee, smoking cigarettes, pacing in anticipation.

And then it happens: someone hits the little rectangular start button on the SS 1LE to my left. Synapses fire up in unison with the 6.2-liter LT1 V8, brain buzzing to the rhythmic burble pouring from the quad tips of the Camaro’s Active Exhaust, one swift kick of the right foot away from liberating bliss.

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By on November 8, 2016

2017 Honda Civic Hatchback white rear through trees, Image: © 2016 Mark Stevenson/The Truth About Cars

As I drive the new 2017 Honda Civic Hatchback through the yellow leaves of Ontario’s autumn, a very tired metaphor comes to mind. You probably know the one. It includes a guy with the initials R.F. — and no, not the one who founded this particular corner of the internet.

I’m going to refuse this inspiration. Leveraging The Road Not Taken in automotive journalism is as banal as quoting Dom Toretto.

Instead, let’s talk about something else entirely: The ’70s.

(Read More…)

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