Compact crossovers are big business and the Toyota RAV4 is one of the segment’s corporate all-stars.
In 2015, the RAV4 almost outsold Mazda. I’m not talking about the RAV4 outselling the Mazda CX-5, which it did handily by over 200,000 units. No, I’m talking about the RAV4 outselling Mazda in its entirely. Everything Mazda sells. All model sales put together. The RAV4 almost outsold MAZDA.
Toyota’s fourth-generation crossover has received a nip-tuck to keep it fresh after just three model years on the market. Its lineup is bolstered this year with the addition of the new RAV4 Hybrid, which we’ll be getting our hands on that in a few weeks. In the meantime, let’s take a deep dive into the second best-selling CUV in the USA in traditional gas-burner guise.
It’s quite trendy nowadays for auto writers to trash the very notion of the crossover, mostly because it doesn’t fit in with their self-defined image of being a swashbuckling, tire squealing, craft-beer-drinking car guy. Also, the economics of writing about cars tend to dictate a certain set of values and behaviors upon said auto writers, meaning that they aren’t incredibly likely to have families or, you know, own a lot of stuff. Finally, don’t forget that in the world of automotive journalism, anything mainstream is lame and everything that sells in single digits annually is awesome.
Thus, it’s now become incredibly bold for an auto writer to say something that is patently and plainly obvious to the vast majority of people who actually buy new cars. So I will: The 2016 Ford Escape is a good vehicle that fits the needs of a great many consumers, and it represents a fair value in the automotive marketplace.
From reader “Joey X” comes a tale of what it’s like to own what he calls “The most hated sports coupe ever.” —JB
Worst car in the history of the world. You try selling a car on Craigslist after getting that sobriquet slapped across its hood by Top Gear. The seller of my 2002 SC430 had the old girl listed for almost a year before I came by and snatched her for $10,000 in funny money Canadian dollars (roughly $7,200 US at the moment). She had 129,000 miles (not kilometers!) on her at this point and an iffy history containing no fewer than three previous owners.
It’s been a year since I got her — and I wouldn’t give her up for the world.
From reader-but-not-commenter Paul Stanley (save the comments, B&B) comes a review of what he feels to be the last enthusiast-focused Bimmer — JB
BMW’s neue klasse marked the beginning of an era of driver-focused cars in the 1960s by introducing a lightweight, moderately powered car that sought balance and usability above all else. Perhaps more importantly, it was affordable and not overly complex. The 2002 was a driver’s car, and so was the 3 Series that followed.
Then, in 2008, BMW introduced the 1 Series to the US market.
Since the introduction of its fifth generation, the Toyota 4Runner has been sold in three flavors: the base SR5, the loaded Limited, and the off-road focused Trail. But Toyota has a history of making small batches of special edition models and, for 2015, the carmaker showed off the Trail-based TRD Pro.
The TRD Pro featured unique suspension with remote reservoir Bilstein shocks and taller springs, black TRD wheels wrapped in Nitto Terra Grappler A/T tires, unique skid-plates, grille, badges, interior trim, and one special red color.
For 2016, the TRD Pro is back, and this time it’s in everyone’s favorite color: Brown Quicksand!
When is a BMW not a BMW? Some would say: when it has four wheels. Others will say: when it’s front wheel drive. But here we are. BMW’s smallest crossover has ditched its BMW 3-Series roots for underpinnings shared with the Mini Countryman.
Americans may be surprised to hear that the X1 is not BMW’s first front driver. Neither is it the last BMW with a transverse engine. Our European friends will soon be seeing the 2 Series Gran Tourer — a small 7-seat … minivan. Yes, a BMW minivan. What’s that sound, you ask? Minds blowing.
For purists, the notion of a trio of transverse-engined BMWs prowling around the countryside is an abomination; an affront to everything E46 M3 owners holds sacred.
For the rest of you? It’s no big deal. Seriously.
There’s something unique about Jaguars. For some people it’s the aristocratically British character, sporty pedigree and classic, elegant style of Jaguars that make them special. For others it’s the strange technical solutions, uncomfortable compromises and utter lack of reliability that make Jaguars a non-option.
These two groups aren’t likely to agree about much when it comes to Britain’s luxury marque, but both camps will likely be of the opinion that a four-cylinder diesel engine doesn’t fit the driving experience emoted by Jaguar’s iconic Leaper.
Will the upcoming Jaguar XF 2.0-liter diesel still be a proper Jag? Or will its stops at oily diesel pumps also frequented by Ford Super Duty pickups and NOx-belching Volkswagens cover the brand’s grand sporting image in a thin layer of soot?
We already have it in Europe, so I took the opportunity to find out.
Traditional car shoppers are moving away from small sedans and toward compact crossovers. That’s the conventional wisdom used to explain the slowing sales we see in some models. But could there be another reason? Could it simply be a lack of focus and attention to the compact segment?
There is one model that’s seen a meteoric rise in sales since 2013: the Sentra. Nissan’s complete overhaul three years ago and aggressive pricing doubled Sentra sales since then, moving it from a “top 15” player in sales to number five in 2015.
In an effort to maintain the trajectory, Nissan opted for a major refresh after just three years on sale. (Sounds like the Honda plan with the Civic, doesn’t it?) Perhaps the key to compact success is a combination of frequent updates and more gadgets for shoppers to choose from. That sums up the 2016 Sentra perfectly.
Did you ever have to find a way to survive and you knew your choices were bad, but you had to survive?
Irving Rosenfeld, “American Hustle“
The rental car lottery is a funny thing. Some days you win; other days you end up having your olfactory receptors assaulted by an invisible army of plastic-forming chemical fumes.
Faced with choosing between a Dodge Dart, Chrysler 200, Toyota Corolla and Hyundai Veloster this past Monday, I called our fearless leader: “Which one of these things do we need a review of?”
After Mark did a quick perusal of the site’s history, we agreed that, since our last Veloster review was over four years old, I would grab the keys to the visually, erm, interesting Hyundai.
It’s a decision I’ve been regretting ever since.
Like cockroaches scattering in the light, Americans are fleeing sedans for the upright comfort and wagon-like space of crossovers.
The full-size sedan segment has recently been hit hard, Maxima included. Since 2012, the auto market has expanded 20 percent, while full-size sedan sales have contracted 14 percent. Based on an aging design and the entrance of Korean rivals, the Maxima’s 12-percent market share in 2012 dwindled to eight percent in 2015.
There is a fair chance no more than six people will read this review, and five of those readers will be future doctoral students deconstructing the final days of the sedan. Does that mean no matter how good the Maxima is — or could be — it’s doomed to fail?
Who has two thumbs and loves the ’79 Eldorado? This guy. I’ve spent more time writing about it than I’ve spent writing about Ferraris, Lamborghinis, and Maseratis … combined. What made the ’79 Eldorado great? Everything. It was styled with a crispness and strength of purpose never again seen on a Cadillac. It had a solid drivetrain as standard, although the optional engines and the later HT4100 tended to misbehave. The packaging was superb inside and out: trim yet spacious, small enough to be hassle-free in a parking lot but big enough to be recognizably Cadillac.
Most importantly, it was the last great coupe from a company that had a reputation for building brilliant luxury two-doors. (The CTS-V Coupe had pace but possessed neither space nor grace.) As a statement of personal wealth, taste, and maturity, no automobile truly satisfies like a full-sized luxury coo-pay. The man behind the wheel of an S-Class sedan or Cadillac XTS always risks being mistaken for a chauffeur, while the driver of a luxury SUV always risks being correctly identified as an imbecile. No, in order to convey the correct image to everyone from valets to unattached society ladies, it’s critical to drive a coupe.
Which leads me to this BMW 640i Convertible, rented by me this past weekend for the purpose of escaping Winter Catastrophe Jonas and relaxing in central Florida … but why am I talking about Eldorados in a review of what is intended to be a German sports coupe? And am I likely to quote Marcus Aurelius after the jump, seemingly to no purpose? You probably know the answer to both of these questions, dear reader.
Stress and nervous tension are now serious social problems in all parts of the Galaxy, and it is in order that this situation should not be in any way exacerbated that the following facts will now be revealed in advance.
Douglas Adams, “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”
The Cadillac XTS is a good car.
Those who wish to know why I feel this to be true, or to shout angrily at me in the comments, may feel free to click the “Read More” button now.
You may remember my decision three months ago to replace my aging Cadillac STS with a brand-new 2016 Subaru WRX. The “avoid highways” option has been selected on Google Maps ever since, as evidenced by the WRX’s above-average odometer reading. It’s not my fault that the Subie commands a twistier route every time I start it up.
However, this relationship between the WRX and me has not been without its quirks. After making a few payments and driving 5,000 miles, I’ve emerged from the honeymoon period to take a step back and evaluate this new marriage. Let’s take a look at the good, the bad, and the annoying.
As I exit the sleek, svelte coupe and to buy some ice cream, the car is crackling and popping like a campfire doused. I feel there’s something contradictory about this. After what I did for last hour or so — blasting around back roads at speeds far above socially acceptable levels, manhandling the tiller just to keep it straight under throttle, thundering through hairpin turns and using massive traction provided by a limited-slip diff — I should be doing something manly. Chomping on a fat steak and downing a beer; not licking a sweet cone filled with a frozen, sugared dessert. And the car behind me should be a butch, masculine coupe; not a curvy, chic little Peugeot.
The dog startled me, as much as I likely startled him. A blind corner coming over a rise, a low-hanging tree branch, and a bit too much aggression on early morning dew-sparkled tarmac conspired to pucker canine and human alike. The stability control kicked in moments after oversteer presented too much of the Fusion’s glowing taillights to Fido.
No, you aren’t reading the wrong review. It’s simply been too long since I’ve driven any car as the mobile portion of my personal fleet is of the SUV and minivan variety — none of which has a sporting ride height. The sports car in my fleet has been a shelf for a couple years now, falling victim to cascading failures, including the “can’t take two kids and their gear to soccer practice in a Miata” fault that has doomed so many sportscars for generations. So to be let loose on magnificent backroads in any low-slung car is exhilarating.
Honda received much flogging from the press for the last-generation Civic. The 2012 model was the result of Honda improperly reading the Magic 8-Ball amid the global slowdown. Honda’s decision makers assumed shoppers would be looking for something more modest, perhaps even austere, and changed direction to suit. The competition, assuming shoppers would be looking for greater creature comforts in a smaller package, went the opposite direction and doubled down on luxury features.
The conventional wisdom has been that Honda “stepped in it” with the ninth-generation sedan. Journalists complained about the plastic quality, the styling and … customers paid little attention. The Civic’s sales dipped slightly in 2011 during the changeover, but rapidly rebounded to over 315,000 units a year since. Some would say that Honda’s “emergency refreshes” were the reason for the sales success, but I propose a different answer: the continued sales success of the lesser-than Civic and an increase in sales of “premium” compacts showed there was plenty of room in the segment for both.
Whatever the reality, one thing is for certain: When it came time to design the tenth-generation Civic, Honda had “austere” removed from the company dictionary.
Once more into the breach, dear friends / Or close up the segment with our heavily-rebated dead.
This is the third time I’ve encountered this generation of Ford Focus SE, having enjoyed the car on its press preview and suffered through an overheated PowerShift sedan in Florida traffic a year later. Now I return once again to this vaguely-Germanic ground, this time for a 448-mile odyssey through the Michigan winter.
Since we last met, the Focus SE has been given a thorough and comprehensive revamp, from the new global front end to what looks like an all-new interior. The price has also been favorably adjusted. Is it enough to put the aging Euro-compact back on your personal radar screen?
Lexus has tended to prefer conservative design in almost every aspect of product development. Words like reliable and dependable usually spring to mind before sporty or exciting.
Yet, the brand has been trying to change that over the last few years with love-it-or-hate-it designs; in particular, Lexus’ new “Predator mouth.” The changes aren’t simply skin deep. The current-generation IS sedan also stepped outside the luxury brand’s comfort zone with sharp handling and a focus on dynamics. Of course, this is Lexus we’re talking about, so this change in a more aggressive direction is happening at, you guessed it, a conservative pace.
Now in its third year of production, the third-generation IS isn’t getting a refresh like we’d typically see in from ze Germans. Instead, Lexus has decided to focus its attention under the hood with a new turbocharged four-cylinder engine and a de-tuned V-6 for mid-level shoppers.
Can a refreshed drivetrain help the IS stand out in a crowded segment? Let’s find out.
Ask people in the know which full-size pickup is arguably the worst new purchase you can make today and you’ll receive a resounding answer: the Titan.
Nissan’s foray into full-size pickups was a breath of fresh air when it debuted for the 2004 model year. But like all merchandise that sits stagnant on retail shelves, it quickly went out of style, became unrefined in comparison to ever-improving competitors, and could only be had with a thirsty V8 during the doldrums of the Great Recession.
It’s this languishing at the low end of the totem pole that must have cajoled Nissan engineers to seriously analyze its truck strategy going forward. Surely, if Nissan was to compete in the pickup game, it would need to update its model at the same pace as everyone else — or, the very least, at the same pace as Toyota. That’s an expensive undertaking considering an all-new model’s development is now priced well into the billions of dollars. And it’s a risky bet to invest that much cash in a segment known for ownership loyalty and domestic domination.
So, Nissan had an idea: hit ’em where they ain’t, and steal a seasoned truck guy to push the new-“class” pickup.
Twenty-three months ago, your humble author did what virtually nobody in this auto-journo game does — I went out and paid my own money for a thoroughly mass-market, middle-of-the-road vehicle. In just seven months, my 2014 Accord V6 Coupe 6MT and I made it to twelve thousand miles. Starting this spring, the pace at which I put miles on the big Honda slackened significantly as I diverted about 7,500 miles of commuting to my motorcycles.
Other than an oil change and imaginary tire rotation, the Accord didn’t require anything in 2015. Which bring us to January 2016, the 30,000-mile mark, a set of new shoes, and some long-term-style observations.
“Looks like sex, goes like stink” is the usual supercar mantra, but BMW’s guru was humming a different tune when penning the i8.
You see, the i8 isn’t just a sexy car with “butterfly doors.” It’s also a production prototype of sorts styled after BMW’s 2009 Vision EfficientDynamics concept.
Most supercars have exotic engines with high cylinder counts and drink premium gasoline at an alarming rate. BMW’s mission with the i8 was to make an efficient supercar and at the same time production-test technologies that will trickle down to its higher volume cars over time.
The i8’s efficiency is the key to understanding this sexy German. The i8 isn’t the best handling supercar, or even the best handling BMW. Neither is it the fastest BMW, the most luxurious BMW, or (oddly enough) the most efficient BMW. Instead, the i8 delivers M235i like lateral grip, M4 like acceleration, fuel economy that bests the 320i by a few miles per gallon and lines so sexy I got a thumbs up from a passing F430.
This isn’t your average sports car.
Most luxury roadsters are related to a practical, rear-wheel-drive sports sedan, but Audi prefers to march to a different drummer.
Since its inception in 1998, the Audi TT has been based not on the A4, but on the Volkswagen Golf. The original TT was the product of Audi’s best and brightest and it not only blew minds at its debut for its design, it was a hoot to drive as well.
The second generation of the TT on the other hand, failed to impress. It’s not that it was a bad car, it just didn’t excite me like the first generation did. The handling was good, but BMW’s Z4 and Mercedes’ SLK were more fun. The exterior was bolder and meaner than the original, but the interior was too “VW Golf” for the price tag. Every time I sat in one I would say to myself, “Something is missing.”
As luck would have it, Audi’s engineers were also searching for that “something.” And they found it.
Checking the files, I drove over 120 different cars, trucks, SUVs and crossovers in 2015. On track, off road, and in the Taco Bell drive-thru line. No wonder I’m tired and fat.
Here are my eight top picks from 2015. If you’re car shopping and you don’t buy one of these, you should be forced to own a Mitsubishi Mirage. Yes, I said it.
The Impala exists in an odd segment of its own. The full-sized Chevy is one of the largest sedans on sale in America, yet its base engine is only a 2.5-liter four cylinder. Based on the pricing and feature options, the Impala is designed to be a semi-step above the Malibu, yet the number of true competitors the Impala has is extremely small. That’s because GM’s philosophy in the large sedan segment is different from the rest. Most of its competitors have two entries in this segment: one mass-market option and one luxury option. GM, however, slices its pie three ways with the Chevy Impala, Buick LaCrosse and Cadillac XTS.
That puts the Impala in the dubious position of the least expensive option in GM’s full-sized portfolio. It also means the Impala’s full-sized competition narrows to just the Taurus and the Charger. Why? Because the real competitor to the Chrysler 300, Hyundai Azera, Kia Cadenza, Acura RLX and most trims of the Toyota Avalon isn’t the Impala, but the Buick LaCrosse. Meanwhile, top-end trims of the RLX, Cadenza, Azera, Chrysler 300 and Lexus ES cross shop with the Cadillac.
Has GM sliced things just a little bit too fine with the Impala? Let’s find out.
I was recently reminded that comparing cars to ladies is beyond cliché and sexist. Yet, once I settled on one particular comparison, I couldn’t shake it from my consciousness.
Every move made by the new Corvette Z06 brought to mind Miranda Lambert. Not the newly single, thinner Miranda. Naw, I mean Kerosene Miranda: more dramatic than you can handle, prettier than you will admit and better than most will ever know.
She’s at the bar after having already downed two shots of bourbon. The right word will get you a dance. The wrong one gets you punched. Do you have the guts to approach? With 650 horsepower on tap, you better be damn sure.
It’s easy to see why some automakers resist putting premium features in mass market models. All you need to do is look at that luxury showroom to the right. In the quest to differentiate, say, the Ford Fusion from its Lincoln counterpart, or the Toyota Avalon from the Lexus ES, and so forth, manufacturers limit the options and luxuries available on the more pedestrian models.
On the surface, the Optima SXL’s mission could be confused with that of competitors from other non-luxury marques — Accord Touring and Fusion Titanium to name two — but Kia takes its top-trim game a couple steps further. You see, Kia is in a different position as the Optima has no luxury branded sistership and Kia has nothing to lose by creating an Optima trim that could arguably compete with the Acura TLX and Lincoln MKZ.
However, the Optima SXL’s existence does give rise to a very important question: Can a gussied-up family sedan be a value alternative to a near-luxury option, such as the TLX or MKZ? Or is this a case of “making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear?”
Let’s find out.
Forty-nine cars worth more than $2.2 million dollars arrived for one-week stays in my driveway during the 2015 calendar year. Seventeen of them were traditional four-door sedans, including an XSE V6 version of America’s most popular car — the Toyota Camry. Another 15 were utility vehicles of one kind or another: the tiny Jeep Renegade and Mazda CX-3 to the full-size GMC Yukon Denali and Cadillac Escalade.
There were five pickup trucks, six hatchbacks, one wagon, and two vans. Three V8s. Many turbochargers. Five diesels. And two manual transmissions.
As soon as I finished my time with the 2015 Nissan Murano, my mind immediately wandered to the new Ford Edge.
You see, the Murano is fantastic. It’s effortlessly comfortable. The ride is sublime. When you’re driving the Murano, everything is damn-near perfect. But the Murano could only be considered pretty by someone subjected to the “ Ludovico Technique” and thousands of flashing images of the Infiniti [s]QX56[/s] QX80.
The Murano is the violently green neon dress and pink knee-high boots to the Edge’s fitted black number and Saks Fifth Avenue pumps. At a black-tie affair, one of those is going to stick out, and for all the wrong reasons.
Yet, looks can be deceiving. It was underneath that retina-burning attire I found an incredibly comfortable, competent crossover in the Murano. It’s hard to fault it with your eyes closed.
Now it’s the Edge’s turn. Would I find the same characteristics in it that made me fall in love with Nissan’s lifestyle-mobile?
No good deed goes unpunished.
When Chevrolet announced its fifth-generation Camaro in 2008 after a long hiatus, many hailed (including yours truly) its avant-garde style and sleeker sheet metal. A starring role and skyrocketing sales couldn’t dim its usual criticism shortly thereafter. Fully four years into that model, good feelings waned; its overweight chassis and zest for precious, expensive gasoline overshadowed most of its good attributes.
Even our sixth-generation tester — which we picked up in Bozeman, Montana on a dreary November morning in between snowstorms and set under overcast skies — didn’t entirely impress.
The lipstick red V-8 clad SS — shod with snow rubber and little else to handle an unforgiving Western Montana winter climate — seemed overmatched with the task of climbing Lookout Pass and into Eastern Washington and beyond. A rear-wheel drive sports car could find friendlier confines than the Montana plains and mountains in winter’s first offensive.
“Very little to dislike,” I found myself responding day after day during my week with the 2016 Honda Accord.
Rarely does a visiting test car generate as many questions and compliments. But the slightly restyled Accord, riding on the Touring’s eye catching, wheel-arch-filling 19-inch wheels, was deemed by friends, family, and neighbours to be quite the looker. And because it’s a car that’s squarely positioned in the affordable realm, they didn’t just compliment the Accord the way they did the $85,000 Audi A6 I drove earlier this fall. Rather, they’d ask, “Would I like it?”
If there is one constant in the automotive world, it is that every redesigned vehicle gets bigger, more powerful, heavier and more complex. Bucking that trend is Mazda’s latest MX-5, one of the smallest and lightest cars sold in the United States.
Since the launch of the Miata in 1989, Mazda’s tiny roadster has been a beacon of light to those who prefer a “pure” driving experience. The MX-5’s core mission of being an affordable, lightweight, two-seat convertible has hardly changed. More impressive: The 2016 MX-5 is about the same size as the original Miata, and the new roadster is only 182 pounds heavier despite producing 50-percent more power and being 30-percent more fuel efficient. The price tag has also been kept in check. The 2016 model still costs about the same as a mid-sized sedan.
Making the MX-5 even more special is that it stands alone in America. Sure, Alfa is now selling their sexy and expensive 4C here, BMW still has a Z4 roadster, and Scion and Subaru are selling their two-door coupé — but none of these are like the MX-5 and that’s a good thing for Mazda.
Seemingly overnight, the Toyota Prius became a victim of its own success. A frumpy, frugal automotive fringe player was suddenly a Hollywood starlet and a Conservative America villain, all at the same time.
Toyota got the message but ignored all the criticism. It didn’t matter that the seats were quasi-uncomfortable, the dash was the color of unroasted tofurkey (which I love, by the way) or that the Prius looked like a space egg on low-rolling resistance tires. An automotive icon needs less attention than a vehicle, apparently.
The last Prius came in 2009, which was timed worse than a teenage pregnancy. The world was looking at cheap gas and salivating at expensive trucks with equal amounts of cash burning through its pockets. The Prius kept pace with eco, budget buyers, but couldn’t sustain the car’s meteoric rise from the previous generation. The follow-up is the worst part.
I’m not a “tuner” kinda guy. There, I said it. It’s a load off my mind. It’s not that I don’t like extra power, or a different suspension tune, I just prefer parts made by the company that made my car and I like the car to look “stock.”
A case in point was my 2006 Volvo V70R. I kept the factory exhaust tips but jammed in a racing cat, different muffler and I fiddled with the suspension. I didn’t lower the V70R — I raised it. [Say what?] My V70R is a tale for a different time, but I mention it because when I got an email invitation from Shelby, I almost deleted it. Fortunately, my cousin, a rabid collector of classic Shelbys [s]swore he’d saw my nuts off[/s] convinced me to fly to Vegas to check out Shelby’s latest wares.
Toyota’s small trucks have long been associated with bulletproof reliability ( and occasionally militant militias). Despite the Tacoma splitting from the legendary Toyota Hilux bloodline in 1995, the Taco (as some fans refer to their trucks) has continued Toyota’s rugged and reliable image. A big factor in the Tacoma’s long-term reliability is the Toyota’s philosophy to change: it should happen slowly and only when necessary.
Although the 2016 Tacoma is dubbed an “all-new third generation,” just like we see in the Camry, large portions of the design are carried over from last year’s model. This is excellent news for some, but may come as a disappointment for others. The changes are enough to keep brand loyalists happy, radical enough to be called a re-design, but sedate enough that folks eyeing a GMC Canyon may not be swayed by the lure of Toyota’s legendary reliability.
In a nutshell, Toyota swapped in a set of tried-and-true transmissions, fitted a Lexus V-6 under the hood, tweaked the frame with stronger steel and covered the truck in new sheetmetal. On the inside, we get a new dashboard, infotainment systems from the Toyota Highlander and a steering wheel from the larger Toyota Tundra. If you’re a Taco man, that’s all you need to know before you run out and buy one. For the rest of us, click past the jump.
Most midsize sedans don’t have a happy ending.
Many get passed down as second-hand family cars, looking for their second wind from being a daily commuter only to find themselves as daily bangers in high school parking lots. Or worse.
Mid-sized sedans can be sold at used car lots as forgettable appliances; used like washing machines and put away wet like skinny jeans.
The Altima lives such a life.
Coupé-like styling is one of the biggest buzzwords at new car launch parties. Although this is more of a modern phenomenon, the root of the seemingly contradictory four-door coupé is older than you might think.
In 1962, Rover dropped the rear roofline on its P5 sedan and dared to call it a four-door coupé. In 2004, Mercedes picked up on this idea with the CLS-class Coupe. It was only a matter of time before Audi and BMW joined the party with the A7 and 6-Series Gran Coupé.
Now, many of you may say we already have a name for the four-door coupé. It’s a sedan. I agree with you. Audi isn’t entirely convinced by the “coupé” designation either, and they only dare mention it twice in the 62-page brochure. This means the S7 is a $12,000 styling exercise atop a tasty and more practical S6.
I come to bury the old Camaro, not to praise it.
In the past few years, I’ve had a chance to drive a variety of the more powerful and competent fifth-gens on and off track, including the mighty Z/28. None of them ever struck me as being more interesting or enjoyable than their Mustang or even Challenger equivalents. At best, the old Camaro was a lousy car that could really do the business on a racetrack. At worst… well, it’s what you see here.
America loves big cars, big trucks and fat crossovers. If you doubt me, all you need to do is look at 2015’s top sellers. The top five vehicles account for 13 percent of all vehicles sold in the USA this year, and the smallest of the five is the Toyota Camry. Not so small. Check the top 20 list, and the smallest entry is the Corolla which has grown so large we would have called it “midsized” in the ’80s.
Today, we’re looking at a very different kind of car: the 2016 smart fortwo (yes, that’s all lower case for some reason), a car that is six feet shorter than the Corolla.
2008 was Smart’s best year in the USA with some 24,000 cheeky micro cars sold. Since then, sales haven’t been swift. Yearly sales numbers in the USA bounce between 5,000 and 14,000. Canadians, however, seem to love them. Sales volumes in the Great White North hover around half the US volume. Not impressed? The entire Canadian market’s sales numbers are “smart-sized” compared to the United States. Heck, Smart outsells Maserati in Canada. Could it be that, like nationalized healthcare, the Canadians are up to something good? Or, just like healthcare, is this a good idea somewhere else, just not in the USA?
Under the best circumstances for the 2015 Cadillac Escalade, I could find a half-dozen reasons not to drive it: It’s too big. Too heavy. Too slab-sided. Too thirsty. Too tall. Too long. Too unwieldy. Too gaudy. Too powerful.
But I kept driving it. Like a salmon driven upstream through bear-infested waters, the Escalade kept calling me to ignore the challenges and instinctually clamber up the power retractable running boards, loosen my belt and start the motor. Who wants to procreate in here?
It’s antithetic to my person. I’m not interested by big, heavy SUVs that cost $89,360 and return mileage firmly rooted in the teens — but somehow I am drawn to them.
Which makes me wonder: why?
Accord sales are down 11 percent versus last year. Surprised? So was I. Looking at the numbers, the winner is even more surprising: the Chrysler 200.
Tim’s numbers at GoodCarBadCar tell an interesting tale. Overall segment sales are down slightly with most models seeing only modest sales differences. Then we have the Accord and 200. Honda sold 35,000 fewer sedans so far this year than last while Chrysler sold 72,000 more.
While the 200 is far from a sales segment leader, the increase is impressive nonetheless, and begs the question: Are Honda’s traditional buyers opting for an American alternative? It’s not possible to answer that question simply by the sales numbers, but it is an interesting question.
Despite Americans getting bigger in every generation, the family sedan’s focus on the back seat is in decline. This is partly due to the crossover revolution and partly because cars like the Chrysler 200, Ford Fusion, Kia Optima and even the Subaru Legacy are cutting rear headroom in an effort to look sexier from the 3/4 shot.
Fear not, families of four: Honda continues to carry the torch for pragmatic sedan shoppers with the refreshed 2016 Accord.
I call Scions “the acronyms from hell” because even I have trouble keeping up with all of them.
iQ, iA, iM, tC, xB, xD. Did I forget one? The xA and…wait! I forgot the FR-S, but that’s only because I rarely see those go through the auction block. Everything else, save the two new iA and iM models, seems to make a perennial pilgrimage to the wholesale heaven of unwanted used cars for one unfortunate reason.
Scion, historically, can’t help but hit ’em where the customers ain’t.
There are myriad ways to improve SUVs and Jeep won’t do any of them to the Wrangler.
Instead, the Wrangler remains hopelessly impractical, wonderfully unapologetic and, to own, like living with a Libertarian: there are no compromises and everything is wonderful when you play by their rules.
Thankfully for the rest of us, who welcome a little compromise, there are other Jeeps. A crowd of SUVs — and soon to be pickup — will sport the seven-slot grille for mountains of money to keep FCA running well into the black at the moment. When it’s convenient, those cars are compared to the Wrangler to tout their capabilities. When it’s not, well, let’s remember the Compass.
Like Robert Hunter said (kind of): The problem with the 2015 Jeep Renegade is the problem with me.
Kia gained a well-deserved reputation in the ’90s for cheap and nasty transportation, but lately they are the greatest social climber since Cinderella. “2016 Kia” and “1996 Kia” are totally different from one another. Even “2006 Kia” seems like a distant memory.
Unusual for a car company, Kia doesn’t shy away from its troubled beginnings in America, which can be seen both in its marketing toward the press and in its product portfolio.
The 2016 Sorento is a perfect example. While the model we were lent for a week is a solid contender to the Ford Edge, Toyota Highlander and even the Acura MDX, Kia also sells a model priced at $24,900, just above the Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V and Ford Escape.
Does this make the Sorento conflicted? Or is the Korean born, German designed and American built crossover the “just right” CUV?
* A cautionary tale.
Traversing the [s]great[/s] state of Wyoming with hundreds of pounds of men, gear (including a Chairman Mao stencil) and snacks needs no fewer than 14 cupholders.
(Two cupholders were used for drinks, the rest were used for toy cars and various empty wrappers.)
Building a family car isn’t a trick. Rather, it’s a compromise between size and economy, comfort and capability, familiar and futuristic. Anyone can build a battleship, but moving it down the road at 25 miles per gallon requires some finesse.
This isn’t a story about the Littoral combat ship. Instead, it’s a story about three overweight men, eight hours to wonder aloud in a van in Wyoming about Nixon, road noise and absolutely no legal marijuana from Colorado crossing interstate lines. (Sorry to get your hopes up.)
I understand the logic behind the modern crossover, especially in Sweden.
Sweden’s 360,000 mile network of public and private roads is only 30-percent paved. That leaves some 252,000 miles of unpaved glory to explore. This high percentage of unpaved roads explains why Volvos have long had reasonable ground clearance, why the Swedes invented the headlamp wiper, why the XC70 exists and why Haldex was founded there.
The concept of the crossover is to give you the efficiency of a traditional “car” blended with some offroad ability normally found in a truck-based SUV. (Of course, the modern American crossover is little more than an all-wheel-drive minivan with less practical seats.) While other companies created boxy crossovers like the Highlander and CR-V, Volvo took a European approach by starting with a station wagon, adding all-wheel drive and jacking the ride height up to create the first V70 Cross Country. The result was more aerodynamic than an SUV, had the ride height of a crossover, the practicality of a station wagon and the driving position of a car. Hold that thought.
My childhood was a bit different than most kids. My mother informed me that when I was 4 years old I didn’t know a cow from a sheep, but I knew the make and model of just about every car on the road.
For that, she was pissed at my father, who would read car magazines to me — not children’s books. It was his insistence to watch things like Camel Trophy and Formula 1 races, and not a soccer games, that has sculpted me into the car nut I am today.
And it was his influence and experience that led me to believe that a certain brand makes the best four-wheel drive, by far.
It only took Honda 15 years to get the Civic right again.
After Honda, a company known for engineering prowess in the 1990s, attempted to make the Civic a more palatable option for plain jack and janes — enthusiasts either hung on to what they had or went elsewhere.
To me, the last real Civic was the sixth-generation model, which Honda sold from 1996 to 2000. It was also the last generation that Honda sold as an honest to goodness hatchback in North America. Sure, the British-built Si came to our shores later, but you needed to shell out big bucks for Honda’s pride and joy from Swindon.
Thankfully, the automaker is going back to its roots — 15 years in the past — to deliver a driving experience I’ve missed since saying goodbye to my 2000 Honda Civic Coupe many, many years ago.
And, to top it all off, there are now two flavors — regular and turbocharged.
BMW has M, Audi has a whole alphabet and Honda has Si. In truth, just the Civic has Si. Honda’s “Sport injection” trim started back in the 1980s but never expanded beyond its compact offerings in the U.S. Honda’s performance trim also never expanded beyond sharpened responses, a modest dollop of power and some looks-fast trim additions. The first Honda Si model came to our shores in 1985, but the first wasn’t a Civic — it was a Prelude. The Civic Si joined us a year later in 1986. But I digress.
Cars like the Civic Si are popular with journalists like me. The reason is simple, quite like the Civic itself. Unlike some performance packages, the Si treatment still favors sharpened responses and improved feel over simply jamming an over-boosted turbo engine under the hood. While the later is obviously a hoot and a half, the former is ultimately more pleasing to my peculiar tastes.
“What brings you to Vermont?” asked the young woman I was sitting beside on my flight to Burlington to drive the newly refreshed Passat.
“Volkswagen,” I replied simply.
After a pause, and with an eyebrow raised, she came back with the question: “Diesel?”
This is how every conversation about Volkswagen will start for years to come. And, to be fair, it’s also how we’ve talked about Volkswagen for the last 20 years — minus the eyebrow. Volkswagen is as intrinsically connected with diesel as Vermont is to small-town values that border on being Canadianesque.
Except now, conversations about Volkswagen diesels are punctuated with that eyebrow — and for all the wrong reasons.
According to my nephew and me: If one is good then 100 is a good place to start.
My nephew is 11. I’m 33. Hopefully his gene pool is deeper than mine. But excess is extra good in my life. I appreciate a larger-than-I-need TV most nights and not one, but two, cheeseburgers in my value meals sometimes. If a Forester is good then a turbo Forester must be great according to my juvenile definition of the world.
Already one of the best crossovers on the market, the Forester actually benefits from Subaru’s glacial powertrain pace: flat-four up front, all-wheel drive underneath — and they’ll check back sometime during the next decade. The naturally aspirated, older 2.5-liter flat four does work in pedestrian Foresters; its 170 horsepower is competent like gas station coffee. Force feeding 80 more ponies — to a total of 250 for the turbo XT — should make the Forester better. It could, right?
I’ll put it this way: Does gas station creamer make gas station coffee better?
Many of you have asked why we bother to review a car we’ve already reviewed based on a few hours at a launch event. The all-new 2016 Volvo XC90 is a textbook example of why more time with a car allows for a more complete review.
At launch events, you have no time to perform acceleration or brake tests of a vehicle (and, of course, you aren’t testing the car on the same circuit that the rest of the cars have been tested upon) and you have no ability to drive the competition back-to-back to get a sense of comparison. There is a reason that first drive reviews tend to be fact based: it’s hard to review a car in a vacuum.
So why is the XC90 a textbook example? Because of my own biases. Biases are interesting things. They can blind you to a car’s faults, or they can lead you to overcompensate and find fault.
After digesting my time with the XC90, I started falling into the latter camp. Edmunds 0-60 tested the XC90 and found it slower than expected. I started wondering if I had been wearing rose-colored glasses and asked myself: “Was it really that good?” Therefore, I had to get my hand on one again so I could run it through our battery of tests and drive it on my own for a week to find the answer.
The answer: It is better.
Have you ever heard of the word anticipointment? It’s one of those Urban Dictionary words that seem to be all the rage with the kids nowadays. Basically, it means that you look forward to something with great anticipation, but the experience ends up being incredibly disappointing.
Yeah, that’s kind of how I felt after attending the GT350 Track Tour at Sebring International Raceway. Let me count all the ways that this event wasn’t awesome.
This will likely come as a bit of a surprise to those of you who get your news through glass bottles tossed into the ocean and carried by persistent currents to the remote island on which you’ve been stranded by the crash of your FedEx plane, but Volkswagen is in a little bit of trouble due to some questions about diesel emissions. I think it’s a safe bet that the fellow I saw on Route 71 the other day with “TDI LOVE” as the license plate on his Jetta isn’t feelin’ it.
While the New New Beetle — now called just Beetle — was available as a TDI prior to the current kerfuffle, the version that I rented on Monday is powered by the same turbocharged gasoline engine that I liked in the Jetta TSI earlier this year. As tested, it’s $22,615.
So, should you buy one?
Audi is a brand associated with all-wheel drive, well-fitted interiors and design evolution that requires you to park a new model next to an old one to tell what has been changed. The 2016 A6 doesn’t diverge much from this formula despite being a thorough refresh of the outgoing A6.
This Audi plays in the crowded midsize luxury pool with competition coming from every angle. The big boys are, of course, the BMW 5-Series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class, but 2016 also brings an all-new and all-aluminum Jaguar XF. We also have Cadillac’s latest CTS, a Maserati Ghibli for those that want something less reliable than a Jag, the Lexus GS and Infiniti Q70 from the land of the rising sun and the Koreans have the Genesis — and that’s before we start including the more distant competition from Volvo, Acura, Lincoln, etc. The last A6 was a midsized luxury unicorn, because not even Nissan thought they could sell a front-wheel drive luxury car in America with a CVT. As it turns out, not even Audi could defend the CVT in a luxury entry, so 2016 sees the end of Audi’s dalliance with the cogless tranny. Fear not folks, the A6 is still the odd German out since the base model is still front-wheel drive.
2016 Jaguar F-Type S 6-Speed Manual
3.0-liter AJ126 DOHC V-6, supercharged (380 horsepower @ 6,500 rpm; 339 lbs-ft @ 3,500-5,000 rpm)
6-speed ZF Manual
16 city / 24 highway / 19 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)
20.1 (Observed, MPG)
* Prices include $995 destination charge.
Jaguar has long occupied an interesting niche in the luxury segment due to not being a full-line brand. With a few exceptions, the English brand’s primary targets have been the E-Class/5-Series, the S-Class/7-Series and whatever high-end coupe and convertible the Germans are selling at the moment. That is changing now that Jaguar has decided to expand their portfolio with the 3-Series fighting XE and the brand’s first crossover, the F-Pace. (Yes, I know that Jaguar has had SUVs for decades called Land Rovers, but I digress.)
Part of Jaguar’s renaissance has been product based, and part has been returning to Jaguar’s sporting roots. While many folks still think of Jaguar as the brand that makes the “English Town Car” (yes, that is a Lincoln reference) like the 2005 Super V8 that sits in my driveway, my “stuffily” styled Jag was actually the start of the modern Jaguar we’re seeing today. You see, the X350 generation XJ was all-aluminium and as a result it could actually be described as “light and nimble” compared to an S-Class of the era. The F-Type harkens back to the old E-Type Jaguars of yesteryear, but this time Jag skipped ye olde styling and created one of the sexiest looking Jags ever. For 2016, Jaguar has re-tweaked the coupé and convertible adding AWD and a manual transmission.
You heard that right manual lovers: this kitty has a stick.
2015 Volkswagen Golf R
2-liter DOHC I-4, turbocharged, variable intake and exhaust timing, variable
exhaust-valve lift (292 horsepower @ 5,400 rpm; 280 pounds-feet of torque @ 1,800 rpm)
6-speed DSG automatic transmission
23 city/30 highway/26 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)
24 mpg on the 60/40 city/hwy, 45 percent boot-full of throttle everywhere (Observed, MPG)
Tested Options: Reflex Silver Metallic paint, Titan Black Leather interior; 6-speed DSG automatic transmission.
Base Price (Golf R):
As Tested Price:
* All prices include $820 destination fee.
Like walking in on your parents on a Saturday night, let’s take a minute to get this situation up to comfortable.
Volkswagen is in dire straits; there are no other words for it. For abusing consumer confidence and lying to the federal government, the German automaker will have to pay billions — and lose tens of billions more in repairs, buybacks, lawsuit payouts and expensive public mea culpas — before they can sniff legitimacy.
For lying and cheating their way through emissions standards with their diesel cars, anyone who has gone for a run in a metro area north of the Mason Dixon line in December for the last 10 years has a legitimate gripe against Volkswagen.
I won’t bury the lede here either: The 2015 Golf R isn’t the type of car that could forgive and forget all indiscretions, either. It’s too hard, too narrow and too expensive to be fit for mass-market consumption. It’s not the car that VW can ride through the rough stuff, mostly because it feels on the inside like it’s riding in a paint shaker.
But every atomic cloud has a silver lining.
For all that we’ve heard and read about Volkswagen over the last week, the larger picture remains: 4 out of 5 Volkswagen cars sold aren’t diesels, and as the world’s second-largest automaker (for now) there are a lot of cars that Volkswagen could talk about.
And we’re talking about the Golf R, and talk we shall.
2015 Ford F-350 King Ranch 4×4
6.7-liter OHV V-8, turbodiesel (440 horsepower @ 2,800 rpm; 860 lbs-ft @ 1,600 rpm)
6-speed 6R140 automatic
Not tested under EPA regulations*
14.1 (Observed, MPG)
Tested Options: King Ranch trim, Super Crew cab, 4×4, 6.7-liter turbodiesel engine, 3.31 locking rear axle, Ruby Red paint, 5th wheel prep, spray-in bedliner, heated seats, upfitter switches
Base Price (F-350 XL Regular Cab 4×2 Flex-Fuel V-8):
* Heavy-duty pickups are exempt from EPA fuel economy ratings.
** Prices include $1,195 destination charge.
There was a time when a 1/2-ton pickup could haul around 1,000 pounds of payload and a 1-ton truck was good for around 2,000 pounds. Twenty years ago a good tow rating for a 1/2 ton truck was 7,500 pounds and 1-ton trucks were used by ranchers for hauling 14,000 pound cattle trailers around. Today things are different.
Now we have a Ford F-150 that can tow over 12,000 pounds and haul 3,300 pounds in the bed without batting an eye. In this world, we have 3/4- and 1-ton trucks boasting towing abilities that would have required a Class 5 medium-duty truck in the 1990s. It’s in this world that the F-350, F-450 and Ram 3500 now exist.
These trucks have pushed the envelope, boasting towing capabilities that 99 percent of pickup truck shoppers can’t even legally test. With massive turbodiesel torque figures, Ford and Chrysler’s latest trucks can tow 21,000 pounds more than my plain-old California Class C license allows. With the 2017 Ford Super Duty on the horizon sporting more aluminum than an Alcoa factory and Chrysler nearing the sale of their re-tweaked Cummins engine and its 900 lb-ft of torque, let’s deep-dive into the Super Duty you can buy now.
2016 Cadillac ATS Sedan
3.6-liter LGX DOHC V-6, variable valve timing, active fuel management and cylinder deactivation (333 horsepower @ 6,800 rpm; 285 pounds-feet @ 4,800 rpm)
8-speed 8L45 automatic transmission
20 city/30 highway/24 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)
24.5 mpg combined in 60/40 city/highway, downtown traffic nightmare combined cycle (Observed MPG)
Tested Options: Driver Assist Package — $2,885 (Adaptive cruise control, automatic braking, seat belt tightening, electronic parking brake); Kona brown semi-aniline leather seating — $1,295; Power sunroof — $1,050; Cold weather package — $600 (heated seats, heated steering wheel); Dark Adriatic Blue Metallic Paint — $495.
As Tested Price:
* All prices include $995 destination fee (U.S.)
It’s easy to get caught up in the BMW-Mercedes-Audi hyperbole. Those automakers swap spec superlatives in generational battles for supremacy that, in all reality, won’t matter when it comes time for most of those buyers to pull the proverbial trigger.
In many ways, the Cadillac ATS gets left out in the cold. It doesn’t have the history, drama or marketing machine that the 3 Series and C-Class beat us over the head with everyday.
In fact, when Cadillac announced that it would take head-on those vaunted cars, most people laughed as long as it took for them to drive one. Then it became very real. Although the ATS competes with the Germans on price, it also competes in capability. The underpinnings are rock solid. The engine lineup is comparable. And the performance ATS-V is really damn good.
For 2016, little has changed with the ATS, but incremental improvements in interior tech and its top-of-the-range engine bring the car ever closer to being on par with — or in some cases better than — its German counterparts.
And for a lot of people, it’ll be an awkward, angular shaped pill to swallow for the future.
2016 Alfa Romeo 4C Spider
1.75-liter DOHC I-4, direct injection, turbocharged, CVVT (237 horsepower @ 6,000 rpm; 258 lbs-ft @ 2,200-4,250 rpm)
6-speed “Alfa TCT” dual-clutch automatic
24 city/34 highway/28 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)
28.1 (Observed, MPG)
Tested Options: Rosso Alfa Red paint, Fascia Stone Protector, HID Headlamps, Carbon Fibre Trim Kit, Convenience Package, Racing Exhaust, Red Calipers, 18/19 Inch Staggered Wheels, Leather Package,
* Prices include $1,595 destination charge.
Up ’til now, if you wanted an Italian, mid-engined, street-legal track roadster made out of exotic materials, you needed to be a one-percenter to afford one. But all that is changing with the relaunch of the “other Italian brand,” Alfa Romeo. For the price of a single black-market organ “donation” you can get your hands on the new 2016 Alfa Romeo 4C Spider. Unlike Alfa’s last car sold in America — the Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione — the 4C Spider is pronounceable, will be available in quantity, and is ostensibly attainable at $53,900 for the coupé and $63,900 for the rag top that we got our hands on.
Like the hardtop 4C, this exotic isn’t an enormous bruiser that’s as wide as Kansas, and it doesn’t have a V12. Instead Alfa opted for a small four-cylinder turbocharged engine and a serious dedication to lightweight construction. In some ways you might call this the Italian Lotus. Until we see the 2017 Alfa Romeo Guilia, FCA’s 3-Series fighter, the 4C and 4C Spider are spearheading the brand’s American reboot.
Is that good or bad?