12.31.2016

Pocket Rocket: The 2016 Fiat 500 Abarth

Front 3/4 view of 2016 Fiat 500 Abarth
The 2016 Fiat 500 Abarth.
Four years on, the Fiat 500's fifteen minutes of fame and fashionability has long been up.  But if you still like the look, want one but haven't bought one, the one to buy is the Fiat 500 Abarth.

Abarth is an Italian racing company founded in 1949 by the late Karl Abarth, who started hot-rodding Fiats in 1952.  Fiat bought the company outright in 1971.

12.27.2016

Saved: The 2017 Toyota Yaris iA

Front 3/4 view of 2017 Toyota Yaris iA
The 2017 Toyota Yaris iA.
Toyota's decision to shutter its Scion division at the end of the 2016 model year resulted in a couple of cars too good to die being shuffled across the corporate hall into the Toyota lineup.  One is the Scion FR-S, which our Publisher and Executive Editor has raved about since its introduction, and which is now the Toyota 86.

The other is the Scion iA sedan, which is now the Toyota Yaris iA.

12.23.2016

California Screamin': The 2016 Ford Mustang GT California Special Convertible

Front 3/4 view of the 2016 Ford Mustang GT California Special Convertible
The 2016 Ford Mustang GT California Special Convertible.
Mustang fans know the story of the California Special...the 1968 Mustang that was a limited-edition (4,118 cars) run of Mustang Coupes with '65 T-bird taillights, a decklid spoiler, fake side scoops, badging and tape stripes.  Although they were badged "GT/CS", not all were Mustang GTs...and some had the Ford Falcon 200 cubic inch six-cylinder engine under the hood. That engine made 115 horsepower.

The good news is that we're seeing one of Ford's periodic revivals of the California Special for the 2016 Mustang (it's been back in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014).  The extra good news is that this year, if you get a California Special, you get a Mustang GT Premium Convertible.


12.20.2016

Hybrid Unassailability: The 2017 Lexus ES 300h

Front 3/4 view of 2017 Lexus ES 300h
The 2017 Lexus ES 300h.
Less than a month ago, I wrote that the 2017 Lexus ES350 was "the unassailable choice"...one of a handful of cars that there is no plausible downside to buying.  The hybrid version of the ES350, the ES 300h---yes, there is a space between "ES" and "300h", where there is none in the "ES350"---is the same car with the added benefits of lower emissions and higher fuel economy estimates, without the financial penalty that often comes with hybrid ownership.

12.17.2016

Soul With Speed: The 2017 Kia Soul ! (Exclaim)

Front 3/4 view of 2017 Kia Soul ! (Exclaim)
The 2017 Kia Soul ! (Exclaim).
The Kia Soul has proven itself to be the best of the funky little urban "is it a car or a crossover?" boxes that came along at the beginning of the decade.  In fact, save the Nissan Juke, which moves a fraction of the number of copies the strong-selling Soul does, the others (Scion xB, Nissan Cube) are dead and gone.

The Soul simply offered a stronger blend of utility, price and features.  And now, performance enters the mix.

12.13.2016

Leaving Excellence Alone: The 2017 Lexus GX460

Front 3/4 of 2017 Lexus GX460
The 2017 Lexus GX460.
Yes, the old phrase is "leaving well enough alone".  But where "well enough" doesn't describe the Lexus GX460, "excellence" does.

12.10.2016

Polishing A Gem: The 2017 Mazda 3 5-Door Grand Touring

Front 3/4 view of 2017 Mazda 3 5-Door Grand Touring
The 2017 Mazda 3 5-Door Grand Touring.
The 2017 Mazda 3 5-Door Grand Touring may look like the 2016 Mazda 3 S we drove this summer (on our honeymoon, no less), but there have been some significant changes made, and all for the good.

12.06.2016

Beauty Is Only Skin Deep: The 2017 Toyota Prius Four Touring

Front 3/4 view of 2017 Toyota Prius Four Touring
The 2017 Toyota Prius Four Touring.
It is the best Prius ever.  And it may ultimately be considered a failure.

A paradox which I shall explain.

12.03.2016

Virtue Ignored: The 2016 Acura RLX Sport Hybrid

Front 3/4 view of 2016 Acura RLX Sport Hybrid
The 2016 Acura RLX Sport Hybrid.
I may have said this before (as TireKicker closes in on 1,000 posts, it's hard to be sure), but some cars seem to show up in the press fleet at about the same time every year.  And, sure enough...51 weeks ago, I was in the 2016 Acura RLX Sport Hybrid.

12.02.2016

Golden: The 2017 Toyota Corolla 50th Anniversary Special Edition

Front 3/4 view of the 2017 Toyota Corolla 50th Anniversary Special Edition
The 2017 Toyota Corolla 50th Anniversary Special Edition.
There are not many 2017 cars whose names and essential missions have remained unchanged for 50 years.  Mustang, maybe.  Camaro and Impala had years between 1967 and now where they were out of production.  But the Toyota Corolla has been with us continuously for that half-century, providing reliable, fairly high-content compact sedans all along.

12.01.2016

Reports Of Its Death Are Greatly Exaggerated, Or At Least Premature: The 2017 Mitsubishi Lancer 2.4 SEL AWC

Front 3/4 view of 2017 Mitsubishi Lancer 2.4 SEL AWC
The 2017 Mitsubishi Lancer 2.4 SEL AWC.
I'm tempted to call this my third annual fond farewell to the Mitsubishi Lancer.  The car...and for a while, its maker...were on life support for the better part of a decade, and the smart money was that the 2014 Lancer would be the last.

And then came the 2015, and the 2016 and now the 2017.

11.30.2016

King of the Hill: The 2017 Lexus LX570

Front 3/4 view of the 2017 Lexus LX570
The 2017 Lexus LX570.
The Dow Jones cracked 19,000 just before Thanksgiving.  Gasoline---at least here in Phoenix---is $1.90 or so a gallon. Those are ideal conditions for the people who are the intended buyers of the Lexus LX570.

11.29.2016

Solid Contender: The 2017 Kia Forte EX

Front 3/4 view of 2017 Kia Forte EX
The 2017 Kia Forte EX.
We've been charting the rise of the Kia Forte among subcompact sedans for seven years now.  The 2010 model was the moment you could pinpoint when any doubt about Kia being serious went away. It put the Koreans within striking distance of the then-and-now leaders from the Japanese, the Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic.

With the 2014 model, the Forte closed the gap.  And the new 2017, a mid-cycle refresh,  cements the Forte's position as a solid contender in a competitive segment.

11.28.2016

The Unassailable Choice: The 2017 Lexus ES350

Front 3/4 view of the 2017 Lexus ES350
The 2017 Lexus ES350
There are very few cars that one can buy and not take some criticism from one person or another. The Lexus ES350 is one of that very small group.

11.25.2016

Hello, Handsome: The 2017 Acura MDX AWD Advance

Front 3/4 view of 2017 Acura MDX AWD Advance
The 2017 Acura MDX AWD Advance.
All it needed was a shave.

For years, the Acura MDX has been wearing an awkward chrome mustache across the top of its grille...the last vestige of an ill-conceived beak that it sprouted for the 2010 model year.  Well, that's gone for 2017...the grille (actually a new stretched pentagon design) now nicely opened up, with a rather large....okay, gargantuan...Acura emblem in the middle.  The headlights, hood and fenders have gotten tweaks to accomodate the grille change. And it's all a major improvement.

11.24.2016

What's In A Name? The 2016 Infiniti Q50 2.0t Premium

Front view of 2016 Infiniti Q50 2.0t Premium
The 2016 Infiniti Q50 2.0t Premium.
About three years ago, Infiniti, under a leader who had just arrived from Audi and would within months depart for Cadillac, changed its naming convention.  The vehicles were largely unchanged, but none had the same name.  What had been for many years the G37 series of sedans became the Q50.

It is hard to tell whether the name change had any effect on sales, good or bad, as Infiniti, contrary to the original plan 25 years ago to match Lexus step for step, has always been just big enough not to be considered a truly niche player.  The Infiniti Q50 is Infiniti's best-seller, but it is the 109th best-selling vehicle in the U.S. so far this year, with a shade under 35,000 sold.  Infiniti might, but probably won't, sell 40,000 G50s by December 31st.

11.22.2016

A Work In Progress: The 2017 Genesis G90 RWD 3.3T Premium

Front 3/4 view of 2017 Genesis G90 RWD 3.3T Premium
The 2017 Genesis G90 RWD 3.3T Premium.
Two and a half years ago, I wrote about the Genesis G90's predecessor, the 2015 Hyundai Eqqus, saying that it wasn't quite there yet ("there" being a no-excuses luxury sedan that Lexus' flagship LS 460 should fear), but that it was, in a vacuum, a remarkable achievement and that I might well be writing about how the 2019 model had well and truly arrived.

We may need to adjust that to 2021.

11.21.2016

New Kid In The Boonies: The 2017 Nissan Titan 5.6-Liter Endurance V8 PRO-4X 4WD CC

Front 3/4 view of 2017 Nissan Titan 5.6-Liter Endurance V8 PRO-4X 4WD CC
The 2017 Nissan Titan 5.6-Liter Endurance V8 PRO-4X 4WD CC
About two months ago, we discussed Nissan's large-pickup truck strategy with its new gasoline-powered Titan pickup line.  Nissan turned the playbook inside out, leading with its diesel-powered heavy duty models last year, and is now bringing the standard-duty and off-road/sport models to market for 2017.

11.19.2016

Car of the Future, Today: The 2017 Mazda CX-3 Grand Touring FWD

Front 3/4 view of 2017 Mazda CX-3 Grand Touring FWD
The 2017 Mazda CX-3 Grand Touring FWD.
Apart from electrification and autonomy (both of which are more real and more imminent than a lot of us think), this is what the folks in the know say the future of cars is:  Small crossover SUVs.

That may be the fact, and if it is, they should all be as good and as satisfying as the 2017 Mazda CX-3 Grand Touring.

11.18.2016

Edging Toward Greatness? The 2016 Lincoln MKX AWD

Front 3/4 view of 2016 Lincoln MKX
The 2016 Lincoln MKX.
There was a time, mainly in the 1960s and 70s, when a Lincoln in the driveway was a status symbol for people of means in their forties and fifties.  But that was many years, indeed decades, ago.  Now, the middle-aged drivers with money and the desire to own a luxury car simply are too young to remember those days.  Luxury cars to them are from Germany and have names like Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi or---increasingly among younger drivers---from Japan (Lexus and to a lesser extent Infiniti).

The 2016 Lincoln MKX is the first vehicle to come from the latest in many rounds of what we are promised will be a new Lincoln Motor Company, one that doesn't scream "tarted-up Ford", one that will build cars that can be considered in the same breath as those imports listed above by people with the means to buy cars priced at $50,000 and above.


11.17.2016

Economize Accordingly: The 2017 Honda Accord Hybrid Touring

Front 3/4 view of 2017 Honda Accord Hybrid Touring
The 2017 Honda Accord Hybrid Touring.
The Honda Accord is what the late David E. Davis, Junior, the man who more than any other, made me want to write about cars, would have called "A G--damn paragon of virtue".  Few cars can equal it in terms of value, fuel economy and overall excellence.

But what if the EPA-estimated 27 miles per gallon in the city and 37 miles per gallon in the highway provided by the four-cylinder Honda Accord is just not enough?

11.15.2016

Cash On The (Very Big) Hood: The Built-In Discounts of the 2017 GMC Yukon XL Denali

Front 3/4 view of 2017 GMC Yukon XL Denali
The 2017 GMC Yukon XL Denali.
Things change over 23 years.  And things don't.

What I mean by that is that 23 years ago, I bought the equivalent of the car you see above.  It was known as the GMC Suburban back then.  My first wife was pregnant with our second child.  She didn't like to fly, so this family of four was going to take vacations on the road, and a week or two of that with a toddler and an infant meant a lot of supplies, including a dual stroller, a Pak-n-Play and the like.

She wanted it in red.

I bought the SLE  four-wheel drive model.  It had every option you could get, which pretty much meant cloth seats instead of vinyl, an AM/FM/cassette stereo with six speakers and rear air conditioning.  It had the most powerful gasoline engine available, a 190-horsepower 5.7-liter V8 (though everyone still called it the Chevy 350 then), It got 12 miles per gallon in the city and 16 on the highway no matter how you drove it.

The sticker price was $31,000 and change and I got it for $26,900.

11.13.2016

I Did Not Want What I Haven't Got...Until Now: The 2017 Volvo S90 T6 AWD Inscription

Front 3/4 view of the 2017 Volvo S90 T6 AWD Inscription
The 2017 Volvo S90 T6 AWD Inscription.
By anyone's standards, I am a blessed man.  A beautiful, loving wife,  a gifted son and daughter, two beautiful, bright and charming stepdaughters. My re-marriage this summer has given me some wonderful new relatives, who, after only three years of acquaintance, feel like they've been with me forever.

My day job is at a leader in the field I've wanted to be in since age eight and they seem to find my contributions valuable.  I'm healthy (apart from needing to drop a few pounds).  Every "great lost song" that I spent decades trying to identify and find back in the days of out-of-print vinyl is now in my pocket, along with some brilliant new music (thanks, Spotify!).

I wake up every day in Northern California.  That, alone, would qualify.

And I'm past the point of wanting stuff.  There's a 23-year-old CRT television in our family room.  If it keeps working the rest of my life, I'm fine with it.  My cell provider offered me an iPad for some low figure this spring.  Don't want one.  I have my smart phone and the laptop upon which these words are being written (which I bought this spring on a dirt-cheap employee discount only because my previous laptop...a factory-refurbished nine-year-old model that I'd had for seven years....finally gave up the ghost.

In the words of Sinead O'Connor (whom I have never quoted), I do not want what I haven't got.

Or didn't until I drove the 2017 Volvo S90 T6 AWD Inscription.

10.25.2016

Path Found, Now For The Refinements: The 2017 Nissan Pathfinder Platinum 4WD

Front 3/4 view of 2017 Nissan Pathfinder Platinum 4WD
The 2017 Nissan Pathfinder Platinum 4WD.
If you are straining to tell what is new with the 2017 Nissan Pathfinder, it's because Nissan has refined rather than re-imagined its three-row crossover.  The styling is a bit more squared-off, especially at the front, yet smoother and more slippery, allowing for an improvement in the vehicle's drag coefficient.

10.23.2016

They Don't Make 'Em Like They Used To: The 2017 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible 1.8T Dune

Front 3/4 view of 2017 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible 1.8T Dune
The 2017 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible 1.8T Dune.
For the better part of 20 years now, carmakers have been indulging in nostalgia...making new cars that look a lot like old (50s-60s-70s) ones.  Mustang, Camaro, Jaguars and Thunderbirds from the aughts...all meant to evoke what those cars used to look like.  It all arguably began with the 1998-2011 New Beetle, and continues with the current generation Beetle, which has seen 50s, 60s and 70s Edition models...and now the Dune, which is named after and is nothing like a variety of old-school Beetles VW had virtually nothing to do with, other than providing the donor vehicle for some shade tree modifications.


10.03.2016

Seduced By An SUV: The 2016 Ford Explorer Platinum 4WD

Front 3/4 view of the 2016 Ford Explorer Platinum
The 2016 Ford Explorer Platinum 4WD.
I didn't stand a chance.

When I walked out of my office building to meet the delivery guy who was picking up the 2016 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid and dropping off the 2016 Ford Explorer Platinum 4WD, I saw the Explorer sitting in the lot, the sun gleaming off its gorgeous Ruby Red Metallic paint.

"Man, that's pretty", I told him as I took the key fob and signed the paperwork.  I glanced at the bottom line of the window sticker and was shocked.  $55,155 is big SUV money, at least in my mind. Psychologically, subconsciously, I expect something in the Explorer's size class to stay on the sane side of $50K.

9.25.2016

What's The German Word For "Price Cut"? The 2016 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid SEL Premium

Front 3/4 view of 2016 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid SEL Premium
The 2016 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid SEL Premium.
In a business based on forward momentum, it shouldn't be a surprise that most of the time, prices move up from year to year.  Staying even with cost increases, exchange rates and sometimes more than a little hubris when the manufacturer senses it has a product for which customers will pay more all contribute to sticker price creep.

Sometimes it's several hundred dollars.  If it's only a hundred bucks, we'll comment on it (as we did last week in our review of the 2017 Kia Sorento SXL AWD V6) as being an instance of admirable restraint.  And we'll call attention to it when the price remains unchanged.

So imagine our surprise and delight to find that the 2016 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid SEL Premium costs $775 less than the 2015 model we reviewed a year and a half ago.

9.21.2016

Gas For The Titans: The 2017 Nissan Titan Endurance V8 SL 4WD Crew Cab

Front 3/4 view of 2017 Nissan Titan Endurance V8 SL 4WD Crew Cab
The 2017 Nissan Titan Endurance V8 SL 4WD Crew Cab.
Give Nissan credit for doing everything counter to expectations with the new Titan pickup.  Where the big boys (Ford, Chevy, GMC and RAM) roll out their light-duty half-tons and then follow up with the Extra Duty/Super Duty/HD variants the following year, Nissan led with the big-brute diesel XD on launch this spring.

Now...right now, in fact...Nissan dealers are getting the first of the gas-powered models, the Endurance V8 series, which Nissan is branding as the "Every Duty Truck".

9.20.2016

All-American From Korea: The 2017 Hyundai Santa Fe Limited Ultimate AWD

Front view of 2017 Hyundai Santa Fe Ultimate
The 2017 Hyundai Santa Fe Limited Ultimate.
The headline above may cause some controversy, so let's establish what I meant, right off the top.  By "All-American", I'm not talking about place of manufacture, the source of the engine or transmission.  All that is Korea.  No, by "All-American", I'm talking about hitting the target of what American families in 2016 seem to want in a vehicle...and in this case, hitting pretty close to the bulls-eye.

9.19.2016

Relentless Pursuit, Pursued: The 2017 Genesis G80 RWD 5.0 Ultimate

Front 3/4 view of 2017 Genesis G80 RWD 5.0
The 2017 Genesis G80 RWD 5.0 Ultimate.
It takes an enormous amount of confidence for a mainstream carmaker to spin off a new luxury line.  Toyota's choice to do that with Lexus makes it look like a no-brainer, but it's wise to remember that  Nissan has not done nearly as well with Infiniti, nor has Honda with Acura.  And Mazda was thisclose to launching one, Amati, but after three years and more than $400 million in research, decided not to.

With all that to consider, Hyundai is making the move.  For 2017, Genesis is its own line of cars.

9.18.2016

4x4 Status Symbol: The 2016 Ford F-150 4x4 SuperCrew Lariat

Front 3/4 view of 2016 Ford F-150 4X4 SuperCrew Lariat
The 2016 Ford F-150 4x4 SuperCrew Lariat.
Those of us old enough to remember when a Lincoln in the driveway was the sign you had arrived are rapidly becoming a minority.  It has been a while.  And the new expression of that status, especially here in the Desert Southwest, is a truck.  An expensive truck.

8.27.2016

Mojo Restoration In Progress: The 2016 Honda Civic 1.5T 2-Door Touring

Front 3/4 view of 2016 Honda Civic 1.5T 2-Door Touring
The 2016 Honda Civic 1.5T 2-Door Touring.
Most of this decade has been spent by professional TireKickers like myself lamenting how Honda in general and the Civic in particular had lost its mojo.  Once the hippest of the hip, the car company that could do no wrong in the eighties and nineties---the company that, I maintain, WAS Apple in that it produced beautiful, simple things that worked and that people were willing to line up and pay more for.

The turnaround began in earnest a couple of years ago.  And we're seeing the fruits of it in the 2016 Honda Civic 1.5T 2-door Touring.

One Step Beyond: The 2017 Acura RDX with Advance

Front 3/4 view of 2017 Acura RDX with Advance
The 2017 Acura RDX with Advance.
About a year ago, we had nothing but good stuff to say about the then-new 2016 Acura RDX with Advance.

It hasn't changed, other than the EPA fuel economy estimate of 19 city/28 highway having been revised to 19/27 and a paltry $100 increase in base price (from $43,420 to $43,520).  So what do we mean by "One Step Beyond"?

8.14.2016

Cheap Jeep: The 2016 Jeep Renegade Sport 4X4

Front 3/4 view of 2016 Jeep Renegade Sport 4X4
2016 Jeep Renegade Sport 4X4.
The phrase "small, inexpensive Jeep" causes great heartburn among the Jeep faithful.  There is the contingent that believes the only true Jeep is the original CJ, the current generation of which we now call the Wrangler, and that it was always meant to be small and inexpensive,  Another group has wholeheartedly embraced everything from the wood-paneled 1980s and 90s Grand Wagoneers to today's Grand Cherokee, but knows that, from the evidence of the Compass and Patriot models, when Jeep tries to go small and cheap something gets lost in the translation, and the product ends up being a lesser one (Patriot) or not a Jeep at all (Patriot).

When word got out that the next small Jeep, the Renegade, would actually be based on the same platform as the Fiat 500L and built in Italy, the predictions of a disaster were fast and furious.

What's A "Sport" Button Doing In A Hyundai? The 2016 Hyundai Sonata Sport 2.0T

Front 3/4 view of 2016 Hyundai Sonata Sport 2.0T
The 2016 Hyundai Sonata Sport 2.0T.
Show me a squiggly line on a road map and I just naturally want to drive it.  Mrs.TireKicker and I were in the last three days of our ten-day honeymoon drive up California's Highway 1 from Morro Bay to Gualala.  As noted in our review of the 2016 Mazda 3 S Five-Door Grand Touring, we'd begun our trip in that car...but we traded in Monterey two days earlier for the 2016 Hyundai Sonata Sport 2.0T (our thanks to the fine folks at DriveShop for their flexibility in pickup and dropoff locations).

The trade netted us considerably more room for people and cargo (the Sonata's trunk easily accommodated what we had to fold down the rear seats in the Mazda 3 to hold), and without a horrendous penalty in fuel economy (an EPA estimated 23 city/32 highway compared to the Mazda 3's 26/35...and ultimately both wound up getting 29.5).  But the biggest squiggly line of the trip lay ahead.

The Real Deal: 2016 Volkswagen Golf TSI SEL

Front 3/4 view of 2016 Volkswagen Golf TSI SEL
The 2016 Volkswagen Golf TSI SEL.
With Volkswagen's green image in tatters from a very nearly year-long diesel emissions cheating scandal that continues to make headlines as VW tries to come up with an owner compensation plan regulators will agree to, automotive journalists, industry analysts and especially dealers are asking "So what is Volkswagen, now?"

It's not the current Beetle,  a niche product that appeals to a shrinking fan base.  Nor is it the Passat or the CC, never strong contenders in the now-evaporating midsize sedan market. SUVs and especially crossovers are hot, but the Touraeg and Tiguan aren't.

Truth be told, at this moment, Volkswagen is the Golf and its sedan sister, the Jetta.

8.13.2016

Costco To Costco On A Tank Of Gas: The 2016 Mazda 3 S 5-Door Grand Touring

Front 7/8 view of 2016 Mazda 3 S 5-Door Grand Touring
The 2016 Mazda 3 S 5-Door Grand Touring.
Over the past two years and several months, regular TireKicker readers have seen references to Navigator, the best travelling companion known to man.  Well, Navigator is now Mrs. TireKicker, and we decided our kind of honeymoon was a leisurely ten-day trip up California's Highway 1 from Morro Bay (a charming place, but don't book a family vacation based on what you saw in "Finding Dory" without doing some research, Mom and Dad) to Gualala (pronounced wah-LA-la), 356 miles north.  And the car in our possession the day we would leave would be the 2016 Mazda 3 S 5-Door Grand Touring.

So what's that got to do with the Costco to Costco reference in the headline?

Solid And Sensible: The 2016 Nissan Altima 2.5 SL

Front 3/4 view of 2016 Nissan Altima 2.5 SL
The 2016 Nissan Altima 2.5 SL
There are a lot of choices in the midsize family sedan segment.  The Toyota Camry and Honda Accord get most of the attention.  The Ford Fusion is a contender, as well.  But there's one that's in that same class, with enviable sales figures, that just goes about its business without a lot of publicity, and that is the Nissan Altima.

7.21.2016

UPDATED: What A Difference Eight Years Makes: The 2017 Kia Sportage SX FWD and AWD

Front 3/4 view of 2017 Kia Sportage SX FWD
The 2017 Kia Sportage SX FWD.
TireKicker is about six weeks away from its eighth birthday.  When we published our first pixel in August of 2008, the Kia Sportage was a penalty box...a cramped, underpowered, underwhelming attempt to get in on the ground floor of what then were called "cute utes".

A few weeks later, though, the 2009 model hit dealer showrooms.  It was several levels of improvement all at once.  You can read our review and see some regrettably low-res pictures here.

If the '09 was that much of a leap forward, the 2017 Kia Sportage defies laws of physics and heads straight for alchemy.  Yes, it's that good.


Minivan Marvel: The 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Touring

Front 3/4 view of 2017 Chrysler Pacifica
The 2017 Chrysler Pacifica.
The backlash against minivans is a real thing.  Ford and General Motors have been sent from the segment with their tails between their legs.  The only major players left are the Toyota Sienna, Honda Odyssey and the replacement for the two minivans that combined, ruled the sales charts, the Chrysler Town & Country and Dodge Caravan  It is the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica.


For A Few MPG More: The 2017 Hyundai Elantra Eco

Front 3/4 view of 2017 Hyundai Elantra Eco
The 2017 Hyundai Elantra Eco.
You may have read, three months ago, how the 2017 Hyundai Elantra Limited impressed me on one of my favorite stretches of Northern California backroad.  But what if you want a small car for the usual reasons....fuel economy and low purchase price?


Warehouse On Wheels: The 2016 Nissan NV 3500 High Roof SL

Front 3/4 view of 2016 Nissan NV 3500 High Roof SL
The 2016 Nissan NV 3500 High Roof SL.
If you are a tradesperson who believes that form should follow function and you need a lot of room in your business vehicle, the 2016 Nissan NV 3500 High Roof SL might just be what you need.

It might also help if you're something of a traditionalist, old-school type.


7.12.2016

Mercedes With A Mazda Price Tag? The 2016 Mazda CX-9 Signature

Front 3/4 view of 2016 Mazda CX-9 Signature
The 2016 Mazda CX-9 Signature.
The automotive landscape is a rapidly changing place.  Case in point, the Mazda CX-9.  We raved about it in 2011, but almost a year and a half ago, found the 2015 model (the same as the '11, with some minor modifications) was no longer one of the most compelling vehicles in its class.

That matters in a Mazda more than in most cars because Mazda is all about driving.  You know, zoom-zoom and all of that.  The new MX-5 Miata is number one on the list of TireKicker's Best Cars on the right hand side of this page.  A few slots below it is the Mazda 6 sedan.  The Mazda CX-5 is our choice among midsize crossovers, perhaps the most crowded, hotly contested segment in the market today.

Now, there's a new CX-9.  So how is it?


7.11.2016

And Now For Something Completely Different: The 2016 Toyota Prius Two Eco

Front 3/4 view of 2016 Toyota Prius Two Eco
The 2016 Toyota Prius Two Eco.
Let's pretend that you run a carmaker, one of the world's largest.  You are known for making utterly reliable automobiles and for playing it a bit safe when it comes to changing those automobiles.  You also make the most popular hybrid automobile on earth.  It is the car most people think of when hearing the word hybrid.  Apart from the first generation, which people thought was odd-looking despite a mostly conventional sedan shape, your best-selling hybrid has benefitted from evolutionary thinking over the past two decades.  Moving forward, but not taking big risks.

And then one day, you decide to roll the dice.  Push the envelope. Instead of another smoothing of the existing design, you dare to dare.  Even the propulsion system, praised for delivering on its EPA estimate of 51 city/48 highway no longer looks good enough.  You swing for the bleachers.


7.05.2016

Beaucoup Bucks Beetle: The 2016 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible R-Line SEL

Front 3/4 view of 2016 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible R-Line
2016 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible R-Line.
Behold the most expensive Volkswagen Beetle Convertible one has ever been able to purchase new from one's local VW dealer.  The modern-day descendant of what was the ultimate "cheap car" of the 1940s, 50s, 60s and 70s is not cheap in any of its guises...the base Beetle's $19,795 starting price works out to nearly $2,700 in 1966 money, adjusted for inflation.  That year, the base price was $1,585.

Even so, the price tag of the 2016 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible R-Line SEL is a bit of a shocker.  It is $36,050.  That's almost $5,000 in 1966 money, adjusted for inflation.  Which would have bought you a 1966 Ford Thunderbird convertible or two 1966 VW Beetle convertibles, the latter from which you would have had hundreds of dollars left over.


7.03.2016

Executive Transport: The 2016 Volkswagen CC R-Line Executive w/ Carbon

Front 3/4 view of 2016 Volkswagen CC R-Line
The 2016 Volkswagen CC R-Line.
It's amazing what a sleek roofline can do for a car.  The Volkswagen CC is basically a Passat  with a slicker roof, lower stance and different taillights...but it generates "ooh"s and "aah"s and "how much?" like no Passat ever has.  And guesses as to its price, even by people who have a pretty good grip on which cars cost what, are almost always in the $50,000-$60,000 range.


Beauty Is As Beauty Does: The 2016 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk

The 2016 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk 4X4.
You may have noticed that we have entered the age of angry comic book styling in the car world. Front ends, which once endeavored to present earnest, friendly "faces", now look like they want---no, intend---to eat you.  And none looks more hungry than the Jeep Cherokee. Even now, three years since the first one rolled onto American roads, the effect is still a bit startling to some.


7.02.2016

A Class Of One: 2016 Ford Focus Titanium Hatchback

Front 3/4 view of 2016 Ford Focus Titanium Hatchback
The 2016 Ford Focus Titanium Hatchback.
You're probably wondering exactly what that headline means..."A Class Of One".  There are a lot of small cars on the market.  But the Ford Focus Titanium is something different---a premium American compact.


6.26.2016

The Mid-Size Diesel That Does: The 2016 GMC Canyon 4WD SLT

Front 3/4 view of 2016 GMC Canyon 4WD SLT
The 2016 GMC Canyon 4WD SLT.
Until this year, if you wanted a diesel pickup, you wanted a big pickup.  Not just the full-size half ton pickup, mind you, but one of the "Super Duty", "Extra Duty" or "Heavy Duty" 3/4 ton or one ton trucks.  The last GMC pickup I reviewed was one of those---two years ago---a beautiful behemoth Sierra 2500 HD with an as-tested price of $62,525 and an observed fuel economy of 13.4 miles per gallon in a mix of city street and urban freeway driving.

But what if you want less truck, need a lower purchase price and would like more miles per gallon?