Porsche 911 Carrera Review

Every time Porsche changes the 911, they take the risk that they'll ruin it (I know, purists will argue they did that when they switched from air to water-cooled engines). What's remarkable is how, every time, they dodge that bullet. It's the greatest high-wire act on earth...with continuous performances for the past 46 years.

If you'd asked me, I'd have told you that the 2008 911 was as good as they'd ever be able to make. I'd have been wrong.

The 2009 immediately announces its superiority. It performs better (even in the "base" Carrera, which I drove for a week recently), the interior is nicer, the electronic aids (Porsche Stability Management, Anti-lock Braking System, Anti-Slip Regulation, Engine Drag Torque Control and Active Brake Differential) all do their jobs with less intrusion on the joy and sport of driving.

And the styling refresher is a resounding success...taking the headlights ever so slightly more vertical evokes memories of the 911s of the 60s, 70s and 80s without being overtly retro.

Looking for excuses not to buy?

How about price? Porsches are insanely expensive, right? Wrong. The 911 Carrera base price is $75,600...there are a lot of far less capable vehicles that cost a lot more.

Gas mileage? Nope. The EPA says 18 city/25 highway.

Well, it can't possibly be environmentally responsible, Mike.

Um...it qualifies for LEV1 (Low Emission Vehicle) status.

Actually, price (and, okay, practicality...the back seats are a cruel joke) is about the only disqualifier that's genuine for most people. But in about five years, this is going to be the best used car purchase you've ever made.


Lexus is250 Review

If your image of Lexus is one of a maker of perfect but boring luxury automobiles, then it's time for a test drive of an is250.

This has been Lexus' sport model for six or seven years now...and while it's been on the receiving end of the "relentless pursuit of perfection", it is still a different kind of Lexus.

The 250 (there's a 350 and the F version as well) looks a little underpowered on paper (204 horsepower from a 2.5 liter V6), but it's by no means slow.

The standard six-speed automatic transmission keeps the EPA mileage numbers up (21 city/29 highway), and it's a complete, well-equipped package at the base price of $32,325.

Lexus loaded up the tester I drove for a week, adding the Luxury Package (adaptive front lighting, heated and ventilated front seats, a perforated leather seat upgrade, wood interior trim, power tilt & telescoping steering wheel, driver and passenger memory seats, illuminated scuff plates, a power rear sunshade and rain-sensing wipers) which puts nearly $3500 worth of options together for $2380, upgrading the audio system to a 14-speaker Mark Levinson Premium rig and adding Lexus Pre-Collision Dynamic Radar Cruise (which senses when vehicles slow in front of you and applies the brakes.

Total price: $39,320. Whether you'd rather have a BMW 3-series (or a loaded 1-series) or a Mercedes C-Class is a personal choice...but I'd drive all three.

Dodge Journey R/T Review

The Dodge Journey should be such an easy vehicle to ridicule. So how come I really enjoy driving it?

This is one of those few "answers to questions nobody asked" that leaves me wondering why we weren't asking. The Journey finds that sliver of middle ground between a crossover and a minivan and then steps down a size class.

The result is an efficient mover of people (5) and things (within reason). And, despite some plasticky and unimaginatively designed interior bits, it's pleasant to drive.

The $26,785 base price of the R/T model we tested buys front wheel drive (an AWD model is available), a 3.5-liter high output V6 mated to a six-speed transmission (no doubt responsible for the EPA estimated 16 city/23 highway miles per gallon...which would have been worse with a 5-speed), and just about every option you could ask for. 19 inch wheels are standard on the R/T.

In fact, the tester had just two extras: The Safe & Sound Group (Back-up camera and MyGig hard-disc music system) and a sunroof. With destination charge, the bottom line wound up at $28,900.

Five star crash ratings in all categories except rollover, where four's the max.

It just struck me: It's not a minivan or crossover at all. Dodge has just re-invented the midsize station wagon.

As the Firesign Theatre used to say: Forward, into the past!

Hey, a good idea is a good idea. And the Journey counts.


Toyota Yaris 5-door Review

If you haven't already read my post from last fall about the 2009 Toyota Yaris Sedan, now'd be a good time.

The 5-door? All the good stuff you get with the four-door minus the trunk, but plus the convenience of a hatch.

The price? Would you believe exactly ten dollars more than the as-tested price of the four-door...with the same EPA estimated 29 city/35 highway miles per gallon.

As with the four-door, there are the questions about what else $16,700 and change could buy you...but the Yaris in either configuration is well worth a look and a test drive.


Nissan Altima 2.5 S Review

Tempted by the Nissan Altima Hybrid (as I was), but looking to skip the tech and save a few bucks?

Well, the Altima 2.5 S is one heck of a deal. All the Altima goodness that I've been telling you about in both the Hybrid and Coupe models, but with a 2.5 liter 16-valve four-cylinder under the hood. 170 horsepower routed through a continuously variable transmission. Way beyond adequate performance and amenities and some seriously stingy results in terms of mileage. The EPA says 23 city/31 highway, just missing TireKicker's Top Ten Fuel Savers...and we saw a real-world combined 27 miles per gallon in our week with the car.

And the price is right...base $21,540...loading it up with luxuries like leather, a moonroof, Bluetooth and an upgraded Bose audio system still only pushed the bottom line to a very reasonable $25,800.

With Accord, Malibu and Fusion in the mix, there are a lot of strong family sedans to choose from...the Altima belongs on absolutely everyone's list.

Kia Borrego EX V8 Review

For those of you who read my review of the Kia Borrego EX powered by the 3.8 liter 6-cylinder and said "I want a V8", well...they make one.

For the life of me, I can't tell much of a difference between the engines in terms of power and performance. Fuel economy won't help you choose, either...the V8 is only 1 mile per gallon thirstier than the V6 (dropping to an EPA estimated 15 city/20 highway).

About the only difference I can see is that the 8 costs more...a $3,000 difference. Drive 'em both. If it were my money, I'd take the six.


Jaguar XKR Convertible Review

I remember the thrill I felt as a tiny TireKicker when I saw the Jaguar XKE Convertible back in 1961. There was no question: I was in the presence of something special.

Even with the passage of 48 years (!), it's tough to top that design. The requirements of modern motoring make it virtually impossible to build anything that sleek and lithe (where would the computers fit?). Jaguar's attempts to evoke the old E-Type have largely fallen far short of the mark...until the current XK and XKR.

Again, practicalities keep the new car bigger in every dimension than the original E-Type, but there is a sense of something special...and a close-cousin resemblance to the current Aston Martins that's not a bad thing, either.

No question, it's a dream to drive...the XKR packing 420 horsepower mated to a six-speed automatic transmission and a computer active tech suspension with speed sensitive steering.

Downers? The Bowers & Wilkins premium audio system was just barely adequate for top-down listening at speed, and the control screen housing the audio, navigation, Bluetooth and climate settings was prone to freeze up. The only way out was to turn off the engine and re-start the car...sometimes more than once. By the end of the test, I was simply calling it "re-booting".

So, it's a mixed bag. High marks for looks and performance (with decent mileage...EPA estimates are 15 city/23 highway)...but a big question mark (as in "is it just the one I drove or is this a bigger problem?")over the reliability of the control screen. $93,400 (base price...$104,425 as tested) should buy you perfection...or at least peace of mind.

Toyota Land Cruiser Review

Even before the economy turned to jello and gas prices went bipolar, the idea of a new Toyota Land Cruiser...a new, bigger, Toyota Land Cruiser...seemed like a pretty iffy proposition. The writing's been on the wall for a couple of years now: This is a time of change. Smaller, more economical approaches are the future.

So I got behind the wheel of this $64,000 behemoth ($72,000 and change as equipped) with reservations.

I ended up loving it.

Look: The Toyota Land Cruiser (along with the Chevy Suburban, GMC Yukon XL and the Range Rover) have a right to survivor status. They were here, doing what real sport-utility vehicles are supposed to do, long before the amateurs (suburbanites steering with their knees, texting with one hand and sipping a latte' with the other) got involved. When used as intended, by someone who understands, respects and hopefully needs their capabilities, they are exceptionally good vehicles. All Toyota has done here is make it better.

No question the tester was loaded to American tastes...with upgraded audio system, DVD for the people in the (heated) back seats, and all that. But not once could I convince myself that this was a frivolous vehicle. Driving it inspired confidence every inch of the way.

No, the gas mileage isn't awesome, but it's not bad either...the EPA estimated 13 city/18 highway is about right for this market segment...helped by Toyota's inclusion of a six-speed automatic as standard equipment.

As the amateurs leave the true sport-utes for crossovers and whatever the next fad might be, the remaining true SUVs may get serious. If so, the Land Cruiser would be a fine template to follow.


Honda Pilot Touring Review

The handwriting was on the wall when Honda nailed the minivan concept with the current-generation Odyssey a few years back: No segment is safe from Honda superiority. It's just a matter of time.

Well, other segments (full-size pickups) will have to wait, but here's some more bad news for Detroit: The new Pilot is a home run.

As big a Honda fan as I've been for the past 25 years, I was underwhelmed by the first-gen Pilot. It was competent, but little else. The new '09 had me won over in about ten minutes.

Time for an objectivity test: My wife. For some reason I've never understood, Hondas leave her cold. She just doesn't like them.

She gets in the Pilot. We drive for 10 minutes, she turns and says:

"I want one of these."

Our two teenagers, who are a bit jaded after 11 and a half years of climbing in new cars every single week, agreed: Go buy one, Dad.

After a full week, no change in anybody's opinion. The only thing I don't like is the sea of buttons on the center stack (which has been a bad habit of Honda and Acura cars since the tech thing got rolling). But I could live with it.

The Touring model is the top of the line Pilot...coming standard with leather, navigation, a DVD entertainment system, a 512-watt, 10-speaker, USB friendly AM-FM-XM 6-CD premium audio system with 10 speakers, Bluetooth, a three-zone climate control, 8-way adjustable power driver's seat, memory seat and mirrors, a 4-way passenger power seat, heated front seats....

This could go on all day. "Loaded" would be an understatement. We'll cut to the chase:


No options. All standard. Add $670 for destination charges, and it's $40,665. Or about 10 grand less than any comparably equipped American 3-row SUV.

And although it looks light on paper, the 250 horsepower 3.5 liter SOHC 24-Valve V6 has plenty of power...and nudges the EPA ratings up to 16 city/22 highway (combined EPA rating: 18).

The economy and handling of a midsize SUV...with the capacity of a fullsize. All with Honda's typically stunning execution.

No, it's not pretty, and there are all those buttons on the center stack, but that's nowhere near enough to tip the scales the other way. If you're at all thinking SUV, you've got to test drive the new Pilot.

Land Rover LR3 Review

As I noted in my review of the Land Rover LR2 a while back, Land Rover has finally hit on the key to success for its smaller, less expensive (compared to the top-of-the-line Range Rover) vehicles: Make them as much like the flagship as possible.

They've certainly applied it brilliantly to the mid-size LR3 (known once upon a time as the Discovery). What was once a fairly stark, utilitarian vehicle now coddles you in the same kind of luxury as the Range Rover, especially when ordered with the optional HSE LUX Package, which this tester was.

How luxurious are we talking about? Well, if the Ritz-Carlton made SUVs, this would be the one they'd make. It's luxury that's complete and thorough, but not flashy or ostentatious.

The base LR3's no slouch...and at $45,975, is something of a bargain, too...especially when you consider the off-road capabilities of the LR3. The photo above is baby stuff...it will climb a tree if you're brave enough.

Mine (for a week, anyway) added the Heavy Duty Package (full size spare tire and locking rear differential) for $750, the aforementioned HSE LUX Package (Premium leather, 19" alloy wheels, a premium audio system, Bi-Xenon headlamps and adaptive front lighting, driver memory pack, a console cooler box, navigation, SIRIUS Satellite Radio, Bluetooth, a cold climate pack, front parking control and an electrically adjustable steering column) for $6,750 and the 7 Seat Comfort Package (a 3rd row seat with curtain airbags, split-folding 2nd row and rear climate control) for $1,150.

Bottom line, with California Emissions and transportation charges: $55,500. Not cheap, but not out of line either...you'll be hard pressed to find luxury SUVs for less...and you can option Tahoes and Expeditions within a hair of this price.

Mileage? About what you'd expect for a heavy SUV with a 300-horsepower V8: The EPA says 12 city/17 highway.

If you want a Range Rover but can't quite swing the $75,000 to $80,000 price range, the LR3 is a great way to get the luxury and the capability and save $20,000 to $25,000.

Bob Golfen on Speed

(Oh, sure, Bob...like you thought I could pass up that headline.)

A TireKicker tip of the hat to Bob Golfen, newly appointed Automotive Editor at speedtv.com.

11 and a half years ago, when I was a television reporter and the station I worked for needed new segments to fill their expanding newscasts, I decided it would be a great time to indulge my boyhood dream and become a professional TireKicker. I just had no idea how to start. So I called Bob (who'd been writing automotive reviews and other stories at The Arizona Republic for 9 years at that point) and asked for one...just one...name and phone number of a press person at an automobile manufacturer.

Bob spent the next 20 minutes on the phone reading me his entire Rolodex. And he's been supportive as I've evolved from rookie to veteran, from TV to radio to online. It's fair to say TireKicker might not be here if it hadn't been for his encouragement and generosity in the late summer of 1997. Thanks again, Bob.

His first piece for Speed posted yesterday and is a great read: http://automotive.speedtv.com/article/golfen-automotive-enthusiasm-remains-alive-and-thriving/