5.22.2017

30 Minutes With: The 2018 Jaguar F-Pace S

Front 3/4 view of 2018 Jaguar F-Pace S
The 2017 Jaguar F-Pace S.
Publisher's note:  Normally, the cars you read about here at TireKicker are loaned to us by the press fleets of the various manufacturers for several days.  Seven is typical.  Occasionally, we'll get a longer period of time, and sometimes it'll only be three or four days.  Our "30 Minutes With" series are cars that we spent half an hour behind the wheel of during the just-concluded Western Automotive Journalists Media Days in Monterey, California.

Day one of Media Days is a driving program, with journalists taking cars from the staging area at Quail Lodge in Carmel Valley to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca via Laureles Grade.  Once there, you swap cars with another journalist for the drive back, and then swap cars again once back at the Quail. Apart from an hour's lunch, this is your day from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.  Each run is about half an hour, and driving 10 to 12 cars back-to-back-to-back gives you interesting points of reference about the next one.

My seventh car of the day was my third Jaguar and second in a row, having begun the day with the XE 35t AWD and just having gotten out of the phenomenal F-Type SVR.  And it was the one I had wondered most about...the marque's first SUV.

5.17.2017

Prius Fighter Plus: The 2017 Kia Niro Touring

Front 3/4 view of the 2017 Kia Niro Touring
The 2017 Kia Niro Touring.
It was just over a month ago that we reviewed the 2017 Kia Niro FE, the base trim level for Kia's new hybrid...and our take was that, at 52 miles per gallon city/49 highway and $23,785 including delivery, the Toyota Prius has reason to worry.

Now, we've just finished a week in the top-level 2017 Kia Niro Touring and we're still very, very impressed.

5.16.2017

30 Minutes With: The 2017 Jaguar F-Type SVR

Front 3/4 view of 2017 Jaguar F-Type SVR
The 2017 Jaguar F-Type SVR.
Publisher's note:  Normally, the cars you read about here at TireKicker are loaned to us by the press fleets of the various manufacturers for several days.  Seven is typical.  Occasionally, we'll get a longer period of time, and sometimes it'll only be three or four days.  Our "30 Minutes With" series are cars that we spent half an hour behind the wheel of during the just-concluded Western Automotive Journalists Media Days in Monterey, California.

Day one of Media Days is a driving program, with journalists taking cars from the staging area at Quail Lodge in Carmel Valley to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca via Laureles Grade.  Once there, you swap cars with another journalist for the drive back, and then swap cars again once back at the Quail. Apart from an hour's lunch, this is your day from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.  Each run is about half an hour, and driving 10 to 12 cars back-to-back-to-back gives you interesting points of reference about the next one.

My sixth car of the day was something I frankly wasn't expecting.  Pre-recession, Jaguars were fairly common in press fleets and I'd drive a few a year.  Smaller publications like TireKicker fell off their radar when times got bad.  In the seven and a half years since I last drove a Jaguar convertible, much has changed.  Namely, the level of ferocity.  In 2009, Jag was building fast, comfy droptops. The 2017 Jaguar F-Type SVR is much, much more than that.

5.15.2017

Blazing A New Path: The 2017 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack TSI SEL w/4Motion

Front 3/4 view of 2017 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack TSI SEL
The 2017 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack TSI SEL .
Plato said necessity is the mother of invention.  And a diesel scandal that stays on the TV, internet and newspaper pages for two years has created necessity for Volkswagen.  Namely, a plan.  One that keeps Volkswagen in the sweet spot of active young carbuyers who want to explore Mother Nature without inflicting damage.

The plan:  Target Subaru.  And if the 2017 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack TSI is any indication, Subaru has cause for concern.

5.12.2017

30 Minutes With: The 2017 Dodge Charger Daytona 392

Front 3/4 view of 2017 Dodge Charger Daytona
The 2017 Dodge Charger Daytona 392.
Publisher's note:  Normally, the cars you read about here at TireKicker are loaned to us by the press fleets of the various manufacturers for several days.  Seven is typical.  Occasionally, we'll get a longer period of time, and sometimes it'll only be three or four days.  Our "30 Minutes With" series are cars that we spent half an hour behind the wheel of during the just-concluded Western Automotive Journalists Media Days in Monterey, California.

Day one of Media Days is a driving program, with journalists taking cars from the staging area at Quail Lodge in Carmel Valley to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca via Laureles Grade.  Once there, you swap cars with another journalist for the drive back, and then swap cars again once back at the Quail. Apart from an hour's lunch, this is your day from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.  Each run is about half an hour, and driving 10 to 12 cars back-to-back-to-back gives you interesting points of reference about the next one.

My fifth car of the day was a big change from the first four (Jaguar XE 35t AWD,  Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 4MATIC,  BMW 540i, Lexus IS 200t), in that it replaced refinement with raw, brute power: The 2017 Dodge Charger Daytona 392.

5.11.2017

Haulin' (literally): The 2017 Ford Transit 350 HR Cargo Van

Front 3/4 view of 2017 Ford Transit 350 HR Cargo Van
The 2017 Ford Transit 350 HR Cargo Van.
If you've been reading the "30 Minutes With" series of reviews (including the BMW 540i, Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 and Jaguar XE 35t AWD, among others), then you have some knowledge of the Western Automotive Journalists Media Days, an annual event in Monterey each spring in which members of one of the largest groups of automotive journalists in the country spend a couple of days driving exciting new cars through beautiful country on day one and on the track at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca on day two.

It's a wonderful event full of fellowship and fun.  The only downside to it is that, for that week, press fleet vehicles become scarce.  Many of them are going to be driven at Media Days, and need to be serviced, cleaned and if necessary (stuff happens) repaired beforehand.  Last year, there wasn't one available for me.  I drove Mrs. TireKicker's 2013 Nissan Versa (a fine car that doesn't deserve the bad rap it gets from automotive journalists) the 207 miles from Folsom to Monterey.

This year, there was one.  And just one.  A 2017 Ford Transit 350 HR (stands for "high roof") Cargo Van.  There are car scribes who would have said "thanks, but no thanks", and rented something flashy to show up in, or who would have driven their wife's car or their beater.  But I had a "honey do" list item that the Transit 350 HR was tailor-made for.

5.10.2017

30 Minutes With: The 2017 Lexus IS 200t F SPORT

Front 3/4 view of 2017 Lexus IS 200t F SPORT
The 2017 Lexus IS 200t F SPORT.
Publisher's note:  Normally, the cars you read about here at TireKicker are loaned to us by the press fleets of the various manufacturers for several days.  Seven is typical.  Occasionally, we'll get a longer period of time, and sometimes it'll only be three or four days.  Our "30 Minutes With" series are cars that we spent half an hour behind the wheel of during the just-concluded Western Automotive Journalists Media Days in Monterey, California.

Day one of Media Days is a driving program, with journalists taking cars from the staging area at Quail Lodge in Carmel Valley to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca via Laureles Grade.  Once there, you swap cars with another journalist for the drive back, and then swap cars again once back at the Quail. Apart from an hour's lunch, this is your day from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.  Each run is about half an hour, and driving 10 to 12 cars back-to-back-to-back gives you interesting points of reference about the next one.

My fourth car of the day was one the Phoenix Bureau liked a lot when they reviewed it at the beginning of last year...the Lexus IS 200t.

5.09.2017

Going Rogue In Hybrid Mode: The 2017 Nissan Rogue SV Hybrid AWD

Front 3/4 view of 2017 Nissan Rogue Hybrid
The 2017 Nissan Rogue Hybrid.
Small crossovers are still the white-hot part of the market.  And for model year 2016, Toyota had the field all to itself when it came to gasoline/electric hybrids, with the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid.  Longtime archrival Nissan chose 2017 to freshen its Rogue, and we liked the gasoline version we drove at the beginning of this year very much.

As we noted at the end of that review, it's the value equation that makes the Rogue a contender, and this year, Nissan has brought a Rogue Hybrid to market that keeps the value strong.

5.08.2017

30 Minutes With: The 2017 BMW 540i

Front 3/4 view of 2017 BMW 540i
The 2017 BMW 540i.
Publisher's note:  Normally, the cars you read about here at TireKicker are loaned to us by the press fleets of the various manufacturers for several days.  Seven is typical.  Occasionally, we'll get a longer period of time, and sometimes it'll only be three or four days.  Our "30 Minutes With" series are cars that we spent half an hour behind the wheel of during the just-concluded Western Automotive Journalists Media Days in Monterey, California.

Day one of Media Days is a driving program, with journalists taking cars from the staging area at Quail Lodge in Carmel Valley to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca via Laureles Grade.  Once there, you swap cars with another journalist for the drive back, and then swap cars again once back at the Quail. Apart from an hour's lunch, this is your day from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.  Each run is about half an hour, and driving 10 to 12 cars back-to-back-to-back gives you interesting points of reference about the next one.

My third car of the day was one of my favorite cars, the 2017 BMW 540i.

5.05.2017

Endurance Racer: The 2017 Chrysler 300S

2017 Chrysler 300S front view
The 2017 Chrysler 300S.
I remember the first time I saw a Chrysler 300 in the flesh.  It was 2004.  Although there was a refresh six years ago, the effect is still pretty much the same.

This is called not messing with success.  There is a market for a large, Bentley-esque (if you squint) American sedan with a range of powerplants under the hood...from a six-cylinder for the rental market to a Hemi V8.

5.04.2017

30 Minutes With: The 2017 Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 4MATIC

2017 Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 4MATIC front 3/4 view
The 2017 Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 4MATIC.
Publisher's note:  Normally, the cars you read about here at TireKicker are loaned to us by the press fleets of the various manufacturers for several days.  Seven is typical.  Occasionally, we'll get a longer period of time, and sometimes it'll only be three or four days.  Our "30 Minutes With" series are cars that we spent half an hour behind the wheel of during the just-concluded Western Automotive Journalists Media Days in Monterey, California.

Day one of Media Days is a driving program, with journalists taking cars from the staging area at Quail Lodge in Carmel Valley to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca via Laureles Grade.  Once there, you swap cars with another journalist for the drive back, and then swap cars again once back at the Quail. Apart from an hour's lunch, this is your day from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.  Each run is about half an hour, and driving 10 to 12 cars back-to-back-to-back gives you interesting points of reference about the next one.

After driving to the Quail from the host hotel, the  Monterey Tides at Sand City, in the 2017 Jaguar XE 35t AWD, it was straight into the 2017 Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 4MATIC.

5.03.2017

New Millenium 510? The 2017 Nissan Sentra NISMO

Front 3/4 view of 2017 Nissan Sentra NISMO
The 2017 Nissan Sentra NISMO.
Half a century ago---Lord help us---Datsun (the marketing name for Nissan in North America at the time) set the economy car world on its ear with the 1968 Datsun 510 sedan.   When a simple economy four-door would have done, Nissan sweated the details, focused on suspension bits and handling and came up with a car that was a budget alternative to BMW's 2002.

5.02.2017

30 Minutes With: The 2017 Jaguar XE 35t AWD

Front 3/4 view of the 2017 Jaguar XE 35t AWD
The 2017 Jaguar XE 35t AWD.
Publisher's note:  Normally, the cars you read about here at TireKicker are loaned to us by the press fleets of the various manufacturers for several days.  Seven is typical.  Occasionally, we'll get a longer period of time, and sometimes it'll only be three or four days.  Our "30 Minutes With" series are cars that we spent half an hour behind the wheel of during the just-concluded Western Automotive Journalists Media Days in Monterey, California.

Day one of Media Days is a driving program, with journalists taking cars from the staging area at Quail Lodge in Carmel Valley to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca via Laureles Grade.  Once there, you swap cars with another journalist for the drive back, and then swap cars again once back at the Quail. Apart from an hour's lunch, this is your day from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

I jumped in the 2017 Jaguar XE 35t AWD for my first run of the morning (the longest one of the day, from the Monterey Tides Hotel at Sand City, past Mazda Raceway, onto Laureles Grade and then back west via Carmel Valley Road to the Quail.

5.01.2017

Choosing Wisely: The 2017 Lincoln MKZ Reserve Hybrid

Front 3/4 view of 2017 Lincoln MKZ Reserve Hybrid
The 2017 Lincoln MKZ Reserve Hybrid.
The math behind hybrids is critical:  How much more will you pay for using less gasoline?  And how long will it take to make up in fuel savings the extra outlay for the hybrid?

The 2017 Lincoln MKZ Reserve makes it a no-brainer.  Both the gasoline and the hybrid versions cost the same...a base price of $39,670.

4.17.2017

The (Almost) 80 Grand Grand Cherokee: The 2017 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT

Front 3/4 view of 2017 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT
The 2017 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT.
Apart from the Fiat end of things, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles has turned into the toy shop for folks who like their cars speedy.  The new Alfas certainly fill that bill, Chrysler will sell you a 363-horsepower full-size sedan in the 300C, Dodge is giving us 485-horsepower hot rods like the Challenger R/T Scat Pack (to say nothing of the 707-horsepower Hellcat and the coming 808-horsepower Demon) and the Charger R/T as well as its beefier brothers Charger Daytona and Charger R/T Scat Pack.

And Jeep is not left out of the high horsepower fun, either.

4.12.2017

Better Late Than Never: The 2017 Jeep Compass Limited 4X4

Front 3/4 view of 2017 Jeep Compass Limited
The 2017 Jeep Compass Limited 4X4.
Nearly five years ago, our Publisher and Executive Editor wrote about the Jeep Compass, noting that it would be leaving the Jeep lineup after 2014.  It was true at the time, but Fiat Chrysler Automobiles changed plans, deciding it would be less than good business to not have an entrant in the rapidly-growing small SUV segment.  So, despite its shortcomings, the first-generation but heavily facelifted Compass soldiered on while a replacement was designed and engineered.

Now it's here---and it is exactly what the Compass should have been all along.

4.11.2017

South Korean Sport: The 2017 Hyundai Elantra Sport

Front 3/4 view of 2017 Hyundai Elantra Sport
The 2017 Hyundai Elantra Sport.
About a year ago, I had a major revelation while driving the all-new 2016 Hyundai Elantra Limited.  Namely, that Hyundai had built a tight little sedan that could gobble up one of my favorite stretches of twisty road (CA 128 between Rutherford and Winters) without breaking a sweat, with its automatic transmission set in "Sport" mode.

Now, Hyundai sweetens the deal with the Elantra Sport.

4.08.2017

Two Liters, Lower Price Tag: The 2017 Lexus GS200t

Front 3/4 view of 2017 Lexus GS200t
The 2017 Lexus GS200t.
Lexus is by no means a bargain-basement brand.  But for the second time in just under two years, I find myself reviewing a Lexus GS with a lower price tag.  Then, it was a $2,195 price reduction on the GS350 F-SPORT from 2014 to 2015.  This time, changes come with the price adjustment, because this is an entirely new GS variant.

4.07.2017

Sign Here: The 2017 Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD

Front 3/4 view of 2017 Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD
The 2017 Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD.
We've made no secret of our love for the Mazda CX-9.  During the holidays, we had and told you about the 2017 Mazda CX-9 Grand Touring, and last July, spent a week at the wheel of the top-of-the-line Mazda CX-9 Signature.  Now, since that was a '16 model, it's back to the top we go.

4.06.2017

The Last Best Sports Sedan? The 2017 Volkswagen Jetta 2.0T GLI

Front 3/4 view of 2017 Volkswagen Jetta 2.0T GLI
The 2017 Volkswagen Jetta 2.0T GLI.
It is, these days, a crossover world.  The not-quite-a-station-wagon-not-quite-an-SUV has become the vehicle of choice for most Americans.  And it has done so to the extent that some people who watch and predict trends say the traditional three-box four-door sedan is on the verge of extinction.

If so, and if you are among those who like a good German sports sedan, the 2017 Volkswagen Jetta 2.0T GLI is probably the one to rush out and buy.

4.05.2017

Prius Fighter? The 2017 Kia Niro FE

Front 3/4 view of 2017 Kia Niro
The 2017 Kia Niro.
Traditionally, fuel economy has not been enough to make a car competitive with the Toyota Prius.  The sales charts are littered with failures that got close to the Toyota hybrid's vaunted fuel economy, but didn't sell ---because they didn't look like a hybrid.  People who bought the Prius over much of its 20-year history have wanted other people to know they were driving a fuel-saving hybrid just by looking at it.

Well, in its current generation, Toyota appears to have taken the "different" way too far.  The radically re-styled Prius is selling in fractions of the numbers of its ancestors.

So is the time right for a car that delivers the mileage but looks like a conventional car?

4.04.2017

A Sporty Coupe By Any Other Name: The 2017 Toyota 86

Front 3/4 view of 2017 Toyota 86
The 2017 Toyota 86.
For five years, you have seen a car that looks like the one above carrying a badge identifying it as a Scion FR-S, or perhaps a Subaru BRZ.   The shuttering of Scion as Toyota's youth brand resulted in a product shuffle, with the FR-S becoming the Toyota 86 (which was its name globally) for 2017.

4.01.2017

The Humble Giant: Terry Page 1950-2017

Page One Automotive founder Terry Page
Terry Page.
The automotive world lost a visionary, a major player and a truly nice guy last weekend.  Terry Page, the founder of Page One Automotive, a Bay Area-based company that, in addition to providing event services, is one of only a handful that manages and maintains manufacturer vehicle press fleets and handles the logistics of getting them from one automotive journalist to another so you can read about them, passed away of cancer at the far too young age of 66.

Terry revolutionized the way guys like me get the cars you read about.  Time was, each manufacturer maintained their own fleets and hired several someones ( often individual people) to manage it for them.  Terry was handling it for Ford in Northern California more than 30 years ago when he realized there was a better way for everyone involved.  I said Page One was one of a handful...it was also the pioneer. Roughly half of the thousand or so cars reviewed in the eight and a half years of TireKicker's existence thus far have come to us through Page One.

Terry was also a major and early supporter of Western Automotive Journalists, the Northern California professional association of automotive journalists, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.  When I relocated TireKicker World Headquarters to Northern California in the fall of 2013, I joined WAJ and three weeks later, found myself sharing a table with Terry at the annual holiday party.  We've bumped into each other at events since, and chatted a bit.  Many people knew him far better than I did, but every single one of us has the same bottom line:  Unfailingly kind, smart, gracious and open.

If you've never heard of Terry, that's because, to Terry, it was never about him.  The photo you see above is the one on the internet...from Page One's own website, in the smallest resolution (250x250) possible.  And I'll bet that's exactly what Terry wanted.  It was about the work, the product, the people he served and the people he employed, not him.

I have the good fortune of working fairly closely with his people in both the Bay Area and Phoenix, and to say they're devastated by the news of Terry's passing would be putting it mildly.  There are too few like him in any business.  I'm thankful I was able to meet him, and get to know him a little.  I wish I'd known him better.

3.14.2017

The Optimal Optima? The 2017 Kia Optima Plug-In Hybrid

Front 3/4 view of 2017 Kia Optima Plug-In Hybrid
The 2017 Kia Optima Plug-In Hybrid.
I am rapidly becoming a fan of plug-in hybrids.  Here's my reasoning:

Pure electrics can leave you stranded, or at the very least, unable to get where you need to go as quickly as you could with a gasoline-powered car.

Gasoline-electric hybrids use gasoline and pollute the air for at least part of most trips.

A plug-in hybrid gives you a certain amount of pure electric range before switching into hybrid mode...meaning it's at least possible, depending on your commute and other trips, to not use a single drop of gas or put a particle of tailpipe emissions into the atmosphere for days, weeks or longer.

3.12.2017

Unlikely Object of Desire: The 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Touring L Plus

Front 3/4 view of 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Touring L Plus
The 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Touring L Plus.
If you want proof of the power of peer pressure, look no further than the minivan.  More useful than sedans or most SUVs for most American drivers, filled with convenience touches other vehicles do not or cannot provide and configurable in everything from base-level family hauler to near-private jet luxury, they are uncool.

Why?  Because everyone says so.

The one vehicle that could turn that around is the Chrysler Pacifica.

3.07.2017

Old Faithful: The 2017 Mitsubishi Outlander GT S-AWC

Front 3/4 view of 2017 Mitsubishi Outlander GT
The 2017 Mitsubishi Outlander GT.
Sixteen months ago, I wrote about how the Mistubishi Outlander GT, despite winning on value arguments, was rapidly showing its age.  I stand by that review.  But I also have a renewed appreciation for the Outlander GT, what it can do, and how (comparatively) little it costs.

3.05.2017

Prime Time: The 2017 Toyota Prius Prime Advanced

Front 3/4 view of 2017 Toyota Prius Prime
The 2017 Toyota Prius Prime.
With hybrid sales in general---and the Prius' in particular---down, it might seem like dark days for this segment.  But the Toyota Prius Prime is a brilliant vehicle.

2.28.2017

Why Trim Levels Matter: The 2017 Mazda MX-5 Miata Grand Touring

Front 3/4 view of 2017 Mazda MX-6 Miata Grand Touring
The 2017 Mazda MX-5 Miata Grand Touring.
A little over a year ago, we had our first week in the new-generation Mazda MX-5 Miata.  I was torn.  While the new MX-5 Miata was better than the previous one in every possible performance metric, I found it less comfortable to deal with in day-to-day driving.  There were a couple of possible factors. One was me...if I were 20 years younger or 20 pounds lighter, would I love it more?  And the other was the trim level.  We were in the Club the first time around...the model most suited for the track.

2.27.2017

Alternative Energi: The 2017 Ford Fusion Hybrid

Rear 3/4 view of 2017 Ford Fusion Hybrid
The 2017 Ford Fusion Hybrid.
Earlier this week, our Publisher and Executive Editor wrote a highly favorable review of the 2017 Ford Fusion Energi, which is a plug-in hybrid.  Plug-in hybrids have their advantages, namely greater pure electric range before switching over to the standard gasoline/electric hybrid mode, but they also have drawbacks.

For those of us who are apartment dwellers, a plug-in is less practical.  We are unlikely to have 240-volt chargers in our garage---or a garage, for that matter.  Running an extension cord from your apartment is likely to get you evicted, or at the very least, your extension cord stolen. And that's why Ford makes a non-plug-in version as well, which is what we drove.

2.25.2017

Even Better: The 2017 Mazda 6i Grand Touring

Front 3/4 view of 2017 Mazda 6i Grand Touring
The 2017 Mazda 6i Grand Touring.
Longtime TireKicker readers know that the Mazda 6 is one of our favorite cars...to the point that it's been in the TireKicker's Best Cars list on the right of this page for many years.  Freshly updated in 2016, it's a matter of minor tweaks to the 2017, all of which make the Mazda 6 an even better car.

2.23.2017

Fahrvergnugen: The 2017 Volkswagen Golf GTI S 4-Door

Front 3/4 view of 2017 Volkswagen Golf GTI
The 2017 Volkswagen Golf GTI.
The early 1980s were a dreary time for people who love to drive.  Emissions regulations had resulted in low-horsepower engines.  Gasoline prices and overall inflation were prompting many people to buy cars they really didn't enjoy, in the name of economy.

And then came the Volkswagen GTI.

2.22.2017

Energi From Multiple Sources: The 2017 Ford Fusion Platinum Energi

Front 3/4 view of 2017 Ford Fusion Platinum Energi
The 2017 Ford Fusion Platinum Energi.
I said it about eight years ago on this very eight-and-a-half-year-old website:  The market for alternative power (hybrids, plug-ins) is not in little boxes that get great fuel economy with a gasoline engine.  It's with larger cars that experience a big jump in mileage when you apply the tech.

Case in point: The 2017 Ford Fusion Platinum Energi.

2.21.2017

Situational Intelligence: The 2017 smart fortwo cabrio

Front 3/4 view of 2017 smart fortwo cabrio
The 2017 smart fortwo cabrio.
First, before you comment to complain about typographical errors: The car company known as smart chooses to spell its name in all lower-case.  The same is true for its model names. So it is, accurately, the smart fortwo cabrio.

Ten years ago, the smart fortwo was supposed to be the next big thing in very small cars.  In some places, Europe, for example, they are everywhere, and are a valid solution to narrow streets and challenging parking.  In the United States, a handful of eastern cities and San Francisco are probably closest to those conditions.  But probably not close enough.  The smart fortwo has not taken America by storm.

Now, miraculously, some say, a second-generation smart fortwo has come to the USA.

2.20.2017

A Reminder Of How Good It's Been: The 2017 Volvo XC60 T6 AWD Inscription

Front 3/4 view of 2017 Volvo XC60 T6 AWD Inscription
The 2017 Volvo XC60 T6 AWD Inscription.
After several years of status quo, Volvo is getting a lot of attention thanks to its newest vehicles---especially the car that sits atop the TireKicker's Best Cars list on the right of this page, the new S90.

It and the XC90 SUV are leading the way to the next generation of Volvo products, but a week in the XC60 is a great reminder that, while they've been around a while, the current-generation Volvos are pretty wonderful vehicles.

2.07.2017

A Quicker Kind of Quirky: The 2017 Hyundai Veloster Turbo

Front 3/4 view of 2017 Hyundai Veloster Turbo
The 2017 Hyundai Veloster Turbo.
I'll confess.  I have no idea who's buying the Hyundai Veloster.  What is the market for a three-door coupe of unusual proportions?   Doesn't matter.  Enough of them sold in 2016 to edge out the Corvette, not that they are in any way direct competitors.

2.06.2017

Last Chance: The 2017 Volkswagen CC Sport

Front 3/4 view of 2017 Volkswagen CC Sport
The 2017 Volkswagen CC Sport.
The four-door coupe took the luxury car world by storm a few years ago.  Volkswagen jumped in with the CC---really just a lowered Passat with a different roof and taillights---and found that the phenomenon was not universal.  So, 2017 will be the last year for the CC.

2.03.2017

The Time May Be Right: The 2017 Kia Cadenza Limited

Front 3/4 view of the 2017 Kia Cadenza Limited
The 2017 Kia Cadenza Limited.
Three years ago, Kia launched the new-for-2014 Cadenza.  The ad campaign called the car "impossible to ignore".  Car shoppers managed.  I can't find the '14 sales figures, but in 2015, they sold all of 7,343 of them, which puts it in Buick Cascada territory.  2016 was worse, with sales down to 4,738, which makes it the 225th best selling car in America (the list only goes to 298), outselling the Porsche Panamera but running behind its similarly targeted cousin, the Hyundai Azera.

Part of the problem, as I wrote at the time, was that Kia was promoting the '14 Cadenza as a luxury car when, in fact, what they'd built was a very good full-size family sedan with several features usually found on more upscale cars.  Commendable, especially at $35,100, but not a luxury car.  Even with another six grand-plus worth of options that took the bottom line to $41,900.

2.02.2017

Value Equation: The 2017 Ford Escape SE

Front 3/4 view of 2017 Ford Escape SE
The 2017 Ford Escape SE.
It is mid-cycle freshening time for Ford's hot-selling small crossover, the Escape.  The new grille treatment makes the Escape look more like a Ford, and more to the point, a Ford truck, than an Asian import of indeterminate brand, which was pretty much the look through 2016.

1.24.2017

The Truck With a Trunk...and Tricks: The 2017 Honda Ridgeline

Front 3/4 view of 2017 Honda Ridgeline AWD Black Edition
The 2017 Honda Ridgeline AWD Black Edition.
There was talk that the Honda Ridgeline (at the time ten years into its first and only generation) would leave us about mid-decade.  Honda instead gives us an all-new one, just in time for the boom in mid-size pickup trucks.  And the good news is that this Ridgeline is still weird.

1.21.2017

Never Upstage The Star: The 2017 Lincoln MKZ Reserve AWD

Front 3/4 view of 2017 Lincoln MKZ
The 2017 Lincoln MKZ.
The striking face you see in the picture above is the new look of Lincoln---debuting on this year's much-awaited Continental.  The Continental is meant to establish that the days of Lincolns being gussied-up Fords are now over.

Which is why putting that face on the mid-size MKZ the very same year as the Continental's launch is a monumental error.

1.12.2017

Fiata: The 2017 Fiat 124 Spider Lusso

Front 3/4 view of 2017 Fiat 124 Spider Lusso
The 2017 Fiat 124 Spider Lusso.
I am a beauty addict.

That's why I came thisclose to buying a 1979 Fiat Spider brand new.  And why the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider speaks so strongly to me now.

1.11.2017

Price Control: The 2017 Volkswagen Passat 1.8T SEL Premium

Front 3/4 view of 2017 Volkswagen Passat 1.8T SEL Premium
The 2017 Volkswagen Passat 1.8T SEL Premium.
Challenge:  Find a 2017 car priced only $100 higher than the same car's 2014 model.

You would be looking a long time.  Most cars have had several hundred dollars in price hikes over those four model years (2014-2015-2016-2017).  But the top-of-the-line 2017 Volkswagen Passat 1.8T SEL Premium has a base price of $30,995.  And that is a mere one hundred dollars more than the 2014.

1.10.2017

One With Everything: The 2016 Jeep Renegade Limited 4X4

Front view of 2016 Jeep Renegade Limited
The 2016 Jeep Renegade Limited. 
Back in August, the Phoenix bureau wrote a very positive review of the 2016 Jeep Renegade Sport, the base model of the small Jeep.  Now, we up here at TireKicker World Headquarters in Northern California have had a turn...but ours was a very different Renegade.

1.07.2017

Timing Is Everything: The 2017 Nissan Rogue SL AWD

Front 3/4 view of 2017 Nissan Rogue SL AWD
The 2017 Nissan Rogue SL AWD.
It is better, they say, to be lucky than good.  Nissan had the good fortune of introducing a heavily-refreshed Rogue at about the same time the promotion began for the latest Star Wars film, Rogue One.  And in a bit of corporate synergy, Nissan and Lucasfilm/Disney cooked up a promotional campaign that benefits both, though one has nothing to do with the other---and thankfully, the parties involved avoided trying to squeeze Nissan product placement into a film about a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.  There is, however, a Star Wars Limited Edition Rogue.

1.05.2017

Restraint Has Its Rewards: The 2016 Mazda CX-9 Grand Touring FWD

Front view of 2016 Mazda CX-9 Grand Touring
The 2016 Mazda CX-9 Grand Touring.
It was just five months ago that I wrote very enthusiastically about the new 2016 Mazda CX-9 Signature.

Signature is the new top-of-the-line trim level of the CX-9, bringing with it Nappa leather-trimmed seats, auburn-colored interior accents, genuine rosewood interior trim, and enough other luxury equipment that I called it a Mercedes with a Mazda price tag.

But would I need all that to stay in love with the CX-9?

1.04.2017

Building A Better Corolla: The 2017 Toyota Corolla XSE

Front 3/4 view of 2017 Toyota Corolla XSE
The 2017 Toyota Corolla XSE.
About the only complaint anyone can make about the Toyota Corolla is that it is---well---boring. Beyond that, it has space efficiency, fuel economy, build quality and legendary reliability all on its side.

Now, Toyota has decided to address "boring".