By on May 14, 2019

Somehow, while I wasn’t looking, the box office has become dominated by movies featuring superheroes. Iron Man, Batman, Spider-Man, Wonder Woman, and the like have used various superpowers to make tons of cash for stale popcorn purveyors worldwide. Avengers: Endgame is raking it in as I type.

I won’t pretend to drop any movie references here  – I’ve never really been into the genre. Nothing against the various costumed fantasy characters and those who love them, but my heroes typically wear Nomex. Jerry Titus, Dan Gurney, Ronnie Bucknum, and Parnelli Jones are some of the legendary drivers who drove heroic machines to glory.

The machine is important in this movie, too. Loud, brash, and most importantly fast, a noble steed for motorsports triumph is critical. Ford has drawn upon an incredible back catalog to refine the Mustang into this, the spectacular 2019 Shelby GT350. Built for track duties, but with enough refinement to make it livable on the street, the GT350 is the All-American Superhero. Captain Blue Oval, perhaps.

And the only spoiler alert I need here comes with a Gurney flap.

(Find Out…)

By on May 13, 2019

The howling denizens of the Internet may not be a representative sample of real life, but they are loud nonetheless, and they’ve seemingly had it in for the Toyota Supra since the wraps came off.

It’s too much a BMW, they say. It doesn’t feel like a real Supra, thanks to all those German parts underneath. Others (understandably) whined about teaser fatigue, or complained about the car’s styling.

While subjective complaints about a car’s looks are understandable, and while I understand the complaints about the new Supra not being Toyota enough (I did ask for a percentage breakdown of Toyota/BMW parts content; the company politely declined to comment), all of the noise ignored one thing – what it’s like to actually drive the damn thing.

That’s what will likely matter most to those who will drop over 50 large on this car.

Oh, that “GR” stands for Gazoo Racing, but everyone is just gonna call it Supra.

(Find Out…)

By on April 12, 2019

The script for the first-gen Range Rover Evoque included downsizing the Discovery luxury experience to a compact size and extending the distinct styling and off-road capability the brand is known for. The first-generation Evoque came in two-door and four-door variants, followed by a two-door cabrio version.

The second-gen Evoque follows the original script, but drops the three-door and cabrio versions. Land Rover will offer Evoque in six trim levels: S, SE, First Edition, R-Dynamic S, R-Dynamic SE, and R-Dynamic HSE. I tested several pilot-production 2020 European-spec SE trimmed Evoques during a media-launch program. In freakin’ Greece, of all places.

Over several days we were able to test the Evoque on-highway, off-road, and even suspended high in the air – more on that shortly. After all that extensive on-road driving and some mild-to-moderate difficulty wet/dry off-road driving, here’s what buyers can expect of the second-generation Evoque.

(Find Out…)

By on April 1, 2019

Jeep engineers and PR folks wasted no time in telling media, assembled in Sacramento to drive the all-new 2020 Jeep Gladiator mid-size pickup, that this truck is more than just a Wrangler with a pickup bed slapped on the back.

Technically speaking, it’s true — there are key mechanical and structural differences. So no one who uttered this assertion was lying.

But while those mechanical differences are important, they don’t change the fact that the Gladiator still feels just like a Wrangler with a bed. No matter what anyone from Jeep tells you, the Gladiator is, in a way, a Wrangler with a bed.

And that will be a good thing for many, if not most, potential buyers.

(Find Out…)

By on December 17, 2018

As you may or may not know, invitations for press junkets often arrive quite some time in advance. So when Nissan sent the invite to drive the 2019 Maxima more than a month before the wraps came off the real thing in Los Angeles, I was excited.

See, I’ve always liked the idea of Maxima – a large, front-drive sedan endowed with a little bit of sportiness. Maybe it’s not the four-door sports car of yore, but surely it’s less sleepy than an Avalon, less generic than an Impala, and less in-your-face than a rear-drive Charger/300.

So, if the execution fell a bit short, and if the look grew a bit stale, well, maybe now is the perfect time for an update, I thought. After all, the smaller Altima is all-new. It seemed like the Maxima would be next in line for a full-zoot reboot, even though it launched a little less than four years ago.

(Find Out…)

By on October 15, 2018

Until recently, anyone wanting a purely electric vehicle capable of driving beyond the confines of a daily commute was stuck shelling out the big bucks. Then Chevrolet introduced the Bolt in 2016, proving that 200+ miles of range wasn’t out of the question. With most EV competitors achieving just over half that, it seemed like it might be awhile before we saw another mainstream nameplate surpass that achievement.

Keen to one-up the Americans (even though the Bolt was developed by GM Korea), Hyundai has come forward with the 2019 Kona Electric. This subcompact crossover replaces its standard four-cylinder and fuel tank for an electric motor and 64-kWh battery pack. The end result is a familiar platform with an unfamiliar powertrain that’s capable of 258 all-electric miles, according to the manufacturer. It also happens to be quite enjoyable to drive. The Kona even hums like an an angel at low speeds, something I found wildly entertaining as I wheeled it around Los Angeles.

If I had to be run over by a car, I would love for that noise to be the last thing I heard before the world went dark.  (Find Out…)

By on August 27, 2018

Image: Steph Willems/TTAC

If Chevrolet’s Silverado is truly like a rock, the upper trims of GMC’s Sierra line are semi-precious gemstones, continuously growing in hardness and value. We’ve sampled Chevy’s new-for-2019 half-ton already, but last week was GMC’s chance to turn its glitzy 2019s loose — while keeping the lesser trims’ intriguing 2.7-liter four-cylinder, as well as the late-availability 3.0-liter diesel inline-six, out of reach of journalists’ paws.

Yes, the range-topping Denali earned top billing during this Newfoundland jaunt, but General Motors’ truck division seems to be growing into its self-declared status of premium truck provider. There’s a new flavor of Sierra 1500 for 2019, and it’s neither spartan nor cheap: AT4 — the off-roader for people who like nice things. (Find Out…)

By on August 24, 2018

2019 Ram 1500 eTorque

If the pithy sub-title to this review sounds familiar, give yourself a pat on the back. Or an extra carrot during ing time. “Fresh horses” is a term deployed to describe steeds that riders substitute in place of the exhausted horses that grew tired during a long ride.

When Ram introduced its new 1500 pickup back in April, it was clear to all that the company shovelled many cubic acres of cash into revamping its exterior, chassis components, and interior. Lighter, sleeker, and more luxurious, about the only thing missing at launch were tweaks to the venerable Hemi V8 – an apparent lack of fresh horses, right?

The company promised tweaks in the form of a forthcoming mild hybrid system appended to both the truck’s V6 and V8 engines. Now, those fresh horses are here and we had a chance to let them run.

(Find Out…)

By on August 21, 2018

From 2009-2012, I spent some of the most frustrating days of my life behind the wheel of a Honda Pilot. My good friend Marc and I traveled the entire eastern half of this great nation in a Pilot with a 2008 Honda S2000 Club Racer in tow—literally—as we competed on the SCCA national Solo and Pro Solo circuit. If you haven’t done autocross at the highest level, you don’t know the frustration of having driven 12 hours each way for six minutes of total seat time over two days, only to lose a spot on the podium by less than a tenth of a second. My favorite memory is the time when Marc was so frustrated by the combination of a loss and being lost that he put his fist directly through his windshield-mounted Garmin GPS system.

The point of this opening paragraph is to let you know that I am one of the extremely few people who’ve actually done anything truck-related with a Honda Pilot besides taking it to Home Depot and Bed Bath and Beyond for a . The folks at Honda want to change this perception of the Pilot for 2019, and thus I was flown out to SoCal for two days to spend some time getting dirty with Honda’s three-row “light truck” SUV.

(Find Out…)

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.

(Find Out…)

By on June 13, 2017

2017 Honda Civic Si Coupe Red and Blue, Image: © 2017 Mark Stevenson/Paardensex

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.

(Find Out…)

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.

(Find Out…)

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.

(Find Out…)

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?

(Find Out…)

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.

(Find Out…)

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