Tag: Review

By on August 26, 2020

The bad news comes at you daily, it seems. No, I’m not talking about the pandemic, the state of our economy, politics, or the dumpster fire that passes for public discourse these days. I’m talking about bad news that hits even closer to our hearts – the slow demise of the traditional manual transmission.

Pundits may wring hands. Activists may cling to Save The Manuals hashtags. But we know that automakers, while occasionally misguided by trends, are not collectively idiots. They only build what can sell – and very few cars with three pedals will sell anymore.

Mazda may be our last hope. The company that singlehandedly revived the affordable roadster market offers a stick in this, the 2020 Mazda 3 hatchback. Might it finally revive the enthusiast we hope lies deep within every compact car buyer?

(Read More…)

By on August 5, 2020

Seth Parks

According to pre-COVID-19 data from the American Automobile Association, 53 million Americans were expected to pack themselves and their stuff into 12 million automobiles and hit the road for an average 300-mile road trip in 2020. Most point to the relatively low cost, schedule flexibility, and reduced packing constraints as reasons to use their car versus anther conveyance.

But it’s the joy of the journey, baked together with a healthy dose of nostalgia, that drives me. Cars are necessary mobility implements in most of our day-to-day lives, but come road trip time they transform into chariots of adventure. Conduits to discovery.

As a kid, a 1979 full-size Chevrolet Van was my family’s dutiful wagon of exploration. We crisscrossed the West from Glacier National Park on the U.S.-Canadian border to Yosemite National Park in the central Sierra, up and down the Pacific Coast Highway, and points between. Road trips were coveted family time and these van-born experiences played no small part in the development of my love for the American West, as well as the automobile. And like all parents, I want to share the peak experiences of my childhood with my progeny. (Read More…)

By on May 26, 2020

2020 Lincoln Aviator front quarter

We were never a family that splurged on high-end brands. Store-brand staples were generally good enough for most household needs. Our TVs and stereo equipment were Sony only because my dad sold electronics at a big retailer in the Eighties. We straddled the fine line between frugality and cheapness. We just weren’t those kinds of people.

If there was a luxury brand of car, it was certain that we wouldn’t have it. Chevy or Olds, not Cadillac. Ford, not Lincoln – at least until I was out of the house. Dad, when choosing yet another car to ferry him on his sales calls around the Great Lakes, finally splurged on a late ‘90s front-drive Continental. As I recall, it was fine, but it didn’t wow me with the luxury I’d expect from the Lincoln nameplate.

Today, however, Lincoln is staging a comeback. First, the brand restored ACTUAL NAMES to its vehicles, rather than tacking MK-whatever on everything. Now, this genuinely elegant 2020 Lincoln Aviator makes a legitimate claim to the luxury SUV throne.

(Read More…)

By on June 25, 2019

2019 Buick Envision front quarter

Around these digital pages, Buick gets a bad rap. Some have negative connotations of Buick as an old person’s car (disclaimer, my paternal grandfather was a Buick man) or hold grudges simply because the brand was continued while Oldsmobile and Pontiac were killed off during the Great Recession (disclaimer, my father was an Oldsmobile man), seems few have good things to say about the division from Flint.

Disclaimer: I hate the theme music from Buick’s TV commercials.

Let’s make a deal, then. Let’s try and ignore the badges on this 2019 Buick Envision for a few minutes. Let’s evaluate this entry-level luxury crossover against the competition, rather than against whatever demons lurk within our collective subconscious.

(Read More…)

By on June 24, 2019

2019 Chevrolet Blazer front quarter

As I’ve been reviewing cars for this venerable publication for nearly three years, I’ve noticed how easy it is to become jaded about new cars. While I’m not like some journalists, getting handed keys to six figure exotics every week, I am rather lucky to experience cars on a regular basis that frequently cost more than I’d likely ever spend with my own money.

I’m reminded of this most often when something unusual graces my driveway, and a neighbor strikes up a conversation — or when I’m walking back to the car from the supermarket and someone is waiting to ask about the car. It doesn’t happen often — but this new 2019 Chevrolet Blazer RS seemingly compels conversation.

Plan your trips accordingly.

(Read More…)

By on December 11, 2018

2018 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport profile

Crossovers are the future. As much as I hate to say it, more and more buyers vote with their wallets every year, choosing a smaller-yet-taller, less fuel-efficient alternative to the traditional sedan. Automakers would build nothing but brown, diesel, manual station wagons if buyers would buy them — so you can’t fault the manufacturers for tossing every possible permutation of the CUV as chum for the always-hungry shopper.

Mitsubishi is no different. Of the four distinct models it offers here in the States, three are crossovers. But which one is right for you? Today, we look at the 2018 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport, the smallest of the trio. Is it distinct enough to be worthy of your driveway?

(Read More…)

By on August 30, 2018

I want to love you, CKD.

But who, or what, is CKD? It stands for Completely Knocked Down, and it’s a term used for a rather strange way to build a car. It works like so: A “mother plant” builds a new car. But not all the way. Just into sub-assemblies that can be put together in another plant devoted specifically to final assembly. Think of Ikea furniture; that’s CKD. That Tamiya Hornet you built back in 1985? Miniature CKD, my friend. I think you get the idea.

Now, it so happens that there are some countries out there that like to stimulate local employment by placing heavy tariffs on cars built elsewhere. Malaysia is one of those countries. So in March of 1967, Volvo opened a plant there to assemble CKD Volvos sent over from Sweden. This wasn’t “manufacturing” in its purest sense, but CKD assembly is often how “transplant” factories are jump-started; the first Accords made in Ohio were CKDs and now Marysville is itself a Global Mother Plant that is capable of making CKDs to be assembled elsewhere. Sure enough, after a while the Malaysian plant came up to speed and started building Volvos from soup to nuts.

In 2016, Volvo introduced the T8 “Twin Engine” version of its razor-edged S90 sedan. Compared to the S90 T5 I reviewed last year, the T8 has another 63 horses from increased boost pressure, plus an 87-horsepower electric motor driving the rear wheels. That S90 T5 was made in China to be sold in America. China is a long way from the United States. It is not a long way from Thailand. So when the owners of EVOLTN Magazine asked me to drive a Malaysian-assembled Volvo S90 T8 across Thailand, it seemed reasonable to assume that the CKD “kit” from whence it sprang would be Chinese. But as we all know, when you “assume”…

(Read More…)

By on August 27, 2018

2019 Chevrolet Malibu RS front quarter

I thumbed the start button, adjusted the mirrors, and backed away from the coffee shop. A couple of miles later, my co-driver/navigator was distracted and we missed a turn on our route guide. I hustled around an unexpected roundabout, trying to make up time, and the mid-sized sedan dove into the corners like a much smaller car.

It’s remarkable how unremarkable the 2018 Chevrolet Malibu RS really is. I expected a dull car with dull responses and no power — which would provide ample opportunity for devastating snark. And yet, I can’t stop thinking about how surprisingly well this Chevy drives.

(Read More…)

By on August 1, 2018

Image: Steph Willems/TTAC

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? (Read More…)

By on June 6, 2018

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.

(Read More…)

By on May 24, 2018

Image: Steph Willems/TTAC

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. (Read More…)

By on April 23, 2018

Image: Steph Willems/TTAC

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. (Read More…)

By on April 11, 2018

2017 Mazda CX-5 Front Quarter

 

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.

(Read More…)

By on April 10, 2018

Image: Steph Willems/TTAC

“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. (Read More…)

By on April 9, 2018

2017 Jeep Compass front quarter

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?

(Read More…)

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