Tag: Reviews

By on September 16, 2019

2019 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio front quarter
The exhaust note will suck you in. If you, like most readers of this fine publication, have a healthy appreciation for all things mechanical, you cannot help but be charmed by the baritone rasp of this twin-turbocharged V6.

I know that I was.

Thus, an impromptu road trip to Pittsburgh in the 2019 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio naturally brought me through the Fort Pitt tunnel into the city. Yes, I opened the windows, twisted the drive mode selector to Race, and slapped the paddle shifter down a couple of cogs just to hear that exhaust echo among those tile-lined walls.

(Read More…)

By on September 12, 2019


I hardly watch television anymore. I’ve a couple of shows that I keep up with via on-demand or DVR, but generally my time is spent working or with my kids. Occasionally, however, I’ll end up at the in-laws, where invariably they’ll have the old Sony tuned to some half-hearted reality show. One of their faves is Dancing With The Stars, where washed-up tertiary celebs dress in tight clothes and strut for an hour.

Often, one of those stars is a washed-up football player who’s blown through his rookie contract and trying to increase his marketability before the league pension and/or CTE settlement dough starts rolling in. Getting those hulking beasts to move with grace is quite a sight.

You can see where I’m going with this. Yeah, the platform on which this 2019 Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack Widebody is old enough to vote. But Mopar engineers, in creating this package, have taught this bruising lineman to shake a leg in style.

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By on September 6, 2019

2019 Honda Passport front quarter

For those who don’t know, my day job isn’t in the automotive industry. Rather, I’m in sales – I represent various product lines in an industrial setting, and I talk to countless small business owners and technicians who look to me to help get their job done.

I’d like to think that the better part of two decades in sales has inoculated me to obvious marketingspeak – I can see through the jargon and bullshit most of the time, as I’m usually the one distilling the bullshit for my clients. It carries over outside the office, of course, so I was skeptical when presented with Honda’s tagline for this two-row crossover: “Passport To Adventure.” Surely the 2019 Honda Passport isn’t an overlanding rig meant to tackle the worst terrain the world can offer. That said, some of Ohio’s roads must be some of the worst terrain to be called “paved” in the western world.

Every commute is an adventure.

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By on August 22, 2019

2019 Mini Cooper JCW front quarter

Does retro work when the retro becomes just plain old? The late Nineties and early Aughts saw an explosion of cars designed to ape cars of yesteryear – possibly to comfort a car-buying public terrified of what a new millennium might bring. The PT Cruiser, the HHR, and the New Beetle were among many models intentionally built to look backwards.

Mini, on the other hand, was an entire marque created out of nostalgia, and for two decades has traded on a wistful look back at the pioneer of the small front-drive econobox with an ever-growing portfolio of “same sausage, different lengths” models. Today, we look at the 2019 Mini John Cooper Works Hardtop – the original flavor three-door hot hatch. Does it still evoke the spirit of the Sixties, or is it a thoroughly modern conveyance in hand-me-down clothes?

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By on August 20, 2019

2020 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel

It will surprise exactly no one to learn that a diesel engine option needs some sort of killer app in order to command the cash. Whether it’s power, towing capacity, or fuel economy matters not so long as it has some sort of advantage over its gasoline-powered brethren. Unfortunately for Ram’s EcoDiesel, the old engines were scarce on all three.

Being first to market is sometimes fraught with peril, but also has its advantages. Ram learned this in a number of different ways with its first couple of forays into the half-ton diesel game. Now that Ford and GM also have compression-powered arrows in their quivers, Ram is back with a third kick at the EcoDiesel jerry can.

This time around, it’s more than just a curious sideshow. This time around, it’s the first Ram EcoDiesel with a pulse.

(Read More…)

By on August 16, 2019

2019 Mercedes-Benz A220 front quarter

The entry-level Mercedes-Benz sedan has an odd history. Until the W201 series in the mid-Eighties, there really wasn’t anything truly in the smaller classes, and the nomenclature (190E) seemed deceiving, reminding some of the larger E-class. Still, these were popular cars, even spawning the epic twin-cam powered Cosworth models that allowed the smallest Benz sports sedan to go race in the DTM series, and eventually bearing a more natural “C” class naming syntax.

But the C got bigger and more expensive, and soon upstart luxury brands began nipping at the heels of the three-pointed star on the lower end. The first A-class was underwhelming, though with the typical application of AMG-style power it could be fun.

This newest A-class, the 2019 Mercedes-Benz A220 4MATIC, has a good deal to answer for. Will the typical Stuttgart amenities be enough to sway those remaining small sedan buyers, or will they shy away from the babiest of Baby Benzes?

(Read More…)

By on August 9, 2019

2019 BMW X4 front quarter

There was a loud, painful sounding thunk. It wasn’t the sound of the door closing that has been compared for generations to that of a bank vault. Rather, my teenaged daughter whacked her head on the low, sweeping C-pillar, reminding me of the countless concussion protocol waivers I’ve digitally signed over her years in various competitive sports.

No damage that required missing a game, thankfully – only wounded pride. But it served as a reminder that there is a price to be paid for style. The current fashion of four-door “coupes,” whether of the sedan or crossover variety, may be trendy, but for those raising kids of greater than average height, this 2019 BMW X4 might not be the ideal statement vehicle.

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By on August 8, 2019

2019 BMW M2 Competition front quarter

Water always finds a way. Our land masses are shaped by the movement of glaciers over millennia. Our geopolitical lines are often defined by bodies of water, be it a lake, river, or ocean. Importantly to this audience, many of our greatest roads owe little to a civil engineer and all to the meander of a mountain stream.

Water finds a way, trickling from the hillside to create a damp path across one of those roadways, just over a blind ridge beyond which a sextet of motorcyclists have stopped in the middle of a narrow roadway to discuss something most certainly of incredible importance.

Turns out other liquids find a way, too, as a wee bit of wee might have leaked as I engaged any number of acronym-laden safety mechanisms designed in Bavaria to prevent headlines such as “Journalist Slaughters Six.” With the slightest sideways step, the 2019 BMW M2 Competition heeled and heeded my commands upon the two leftmost pedals, and after a few minutes to reset my blood pressure and mutter contempt for the idiot bikers, I proceeded to enjoy the rest of my drive with a massive grin.

(Read More…)

By on August 6, 2019

2019 Mazda Mazda3 front quarter

While professional sports in America are generally the envy of the world – especially when it comes to the variety of high-level team sports available to the fan – soccer (football to the rest of the world) does wonders for maintaining a competitive balance amongst teams due to the system of promotions and relegations. For those uninitiated, the last-place teams in the top level of the various soccer/football leagues are relegated to the next lower league, while the top teams in the lower levels move up a rung on the ladder.

Imagine this system were in place in mainstream American sports. The Cleveland Browns would be competing against high school teams by now.

I can see eyes glazing over already. “Stick to cars! Stay in your lane!” – just like every sports reporter hears any time they venture into politics. I’m getting to that. Basically, Mazda has long been compared to other mainstream Japanese brands – Honda, Toyota, Nissan. But now, they’ve put forth efforts to be promoted to an entry-level luxury brand, and the newest 2019 Mazda 3 AWD sedan seen here is ready to play in that league.

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By on August 5, 2019

2019 Toyota Avalon front quarter

You’ve seen the type. The solo diner, eating while working through emails at the restaurant or FaceTiming with their kids while in the lobby of the Hampton Inn out by the interstate. The salespeople, making the wheels of commerce and commission turn with each mile glued to the windshield, travelling the highways in search of the next big sale.

These professional drivers don’t need a CDL, though many log enough miles in a year to rival some truckers. They need a comfortable, dependable steed that doesn’t warrant a second thought – it just does exactly what they need.

While many Willy Lomans have moved to midsized crossovers for their work vehicles, there is something comforting and familiar to a big sedan for slogging multiple hours on the highway. Had I had a choice back when I was out on the road for work, something like this 2019 Toyota Avalon would have been ideal. A trunk, hiding whatever samples I was carrying from prying eyes, is something you don’t get in some me-too crossover.

(Read More…)

By on July 8, 2019

2019 Lexus LX 570 front quarter

In the beginning, Willys created the sports-utility vehicle. Now, the sports was negligible and the utility was strictly for the military-industrial complex, and darkness was over two continents at war. And when the war ended, Willys said “let there be civilians who want to drink cheap beer and go rock crawling,” and there were knobby tires and lift kits.

Then the off-roaders began to multiply, each taking their own form. And it was good. But then one saw that the fruit of a tree in the garden looked like a half-used bar of soap — this tree, known as the crossover, represents all that is evil.

Lexus has embraced everything within the realm of the sports-utility spectrum. From tiny crossovers to this massive 2019 Lexus LX570, nearly all needs can be covered. But is this biggest Lexus good or evil?

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By on June 26, 2019

In case you haven’t noticed, America’s truck wars are in full swing. Now, more than ever, the Detroit Three are gleefully beating each other over the head with a proverbial chair printed with towing and torque figures. Prodigious power? Sure. Enormous cabins? Yewbetcha. Grilles to the moon? They got ya covered, buddy.

Hot on the heels of a half-ton rethink, the crew at Chevrolet turned their attention to the Heavy Duty series of pickups. In a perpetual race with their competition, and the introduction of new engines and no fewer than fifteen camera views, you know this thing is going to haul trailers like a large poutine from Frank’s Diner turns your author’s bloodstream into artery putty.

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By on June 25, 2019

2018 Suzuki DRZ400sM 2005 Lexus LS430 - Image: © Timothy Cain

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. (Read More…)

By on June 14, 2019

Allow me to take you on a trip in the Wayback Machine for a moment. The year was 2001, and a 23-year-old Bark (that’s me) had just gotten a job as a Kiosk Sales Representative for Verizon Wireless. My first month, my sales quota was 55 new phone activations — I ended up selling over 120. If you doubled your quota, you qualified for a 300 percent payout. The regular commission was $27 an activation, which meant that I earned $81 per activation on 120 or so sales. I literally didn’t know what to do with all of the money — my dad was still paying my rent, and I didn’t have a dime of debt. A lot of it ended up going to a lovely young professional dancer named “Skyy,” if I remember correctly.

The rest of it, I took to Hatfield Hyundai for a down payment on a 2001 Hyundai Santa Fe GLX. Hyundai Finance was kind to young buyers back then, and they allowed me to pay something like 5 percent APR over 60 months for the new-for-2001 SUV. My black and gray version had every box checked — leather, V6, and all-wheel-drive. My Santa Fe was the only one I had ever seen with chrome door handles, and I door-handle checked every other model I saw on the road just to confirm. I think the princely sum I paid was somewhere around $23k.

Yes, it’s true that Hyundai overstated the horsepower numbers, and the car had some minor issues along the way, but when I traded it in on my RX-8 in 2005, I had gotten about 100,000 worry free miles from Hyundai’s first SUV effort. Overall, I was incredibly pleased with the ownership experience — bland, perhaps, but reliable and competent.

Well, fast forward about eighteen years or so, and Hyundai has another small SUV on the market, and it’s roughly the same price that my Santa Fe was in 2001 (yes, I’m aware of inflation). But unlike that Santa Fe, this one is awful. It’s called the Kona, and what I’m about to tell you about it flies directly in the face of every other review you’ve read. Why? Read on.

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By on June 11, 2019

2019 Volvo V90 CC front quarter      

Ever since Volvo showed the V90 wagon in Detroit in 2017 – in journo-bait brown, no less! – I’ve been keeping an eye out for this stunningly styled family hauler. I never see them, especially not in that lovely Maple Brown hue. Are wagons dead?

I rather hope not.

So, while the V90 is still nominally available, the very similar Volvo V90 Cross Country is a more frequent sight on our roads. With a few tweaks to appeal to those who want to cosplay as an uncouth mountain dweller, the low-slung wagon is transformed into something resembling a crossover.

(Read More…)

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