2011 Ford Fiesta Review

                    Front 3/4 view of red 2011 Ford Fiesta sedan

When I wrote the first drive impressions of the 2011 Ford Fiesta and promised a full review soon, I had no idea that TireKicker would be taking an unexpected two week vacation...but we did and now we're back and item one has to be to fill in the blanks left by the early look at this very significant car for Ford.

The basic first impressions (a quantum leap forward for American small cars, a serious threat to future Focus sales until we get the Euro-spec model of the Fiesta's bigger brother) all hold true.

But I see I used the word "roomy". I was so eager to get behind the wheel that I neglected to sit in the back seat. After I posted the first drive, my 5 foot 11 son sat back there...or tried to. It wasn't pleasant. And it wasn't much better for my 5 foot 4 daughter. That large trunk that I mentioned came at the expense of rear seat legroom. And while none of the cars in this class (Toyota Yaris, Nissan Versa, Honda Fit, Chevy Aveo) are limos, some of them...especially the Yaris and Versa...are better.

                         Side view of red 2011 Ford Fiesta sedan

Coincidentally, I had a Yaris sedan the same week, and was able to drive them back-to-back. While the Fiesta dazzled with its newness, edginess and content, the Yaris had more rear and front-seat comfort, a quieter cabin and a smoother ride.  And it was a few hundred dollars cheaper, too...staying under $19,000 ( The Yaris had the Sport package, a $3500 option that adds alloy wheels, spoilers, foglamps, leather trimming, power everything and an upgraded audio system) while the as-tested price of the Fiesta hit $19,600 (base for the SEL sedan is $16,320).

Gas mileage was a wash....the Yaris delivering 32 miles per gallon in an even split of urban street and freeway driving, the Fiesta 31.

                       Interior view of 2011 Ford Fiesta

Honestly, both the Fiesta and the Yaris are way out of the target zone when their stickers get that close to $20K. You can get Corollas, Sentras and Civics (not to mention the 2011 VW Jetta) for that kind of money.The base Yaris sedan starts at $13,365...the base Fiesta at $13,320. That's where the battle in entry-level sedans is likely to be fought.

But will the sedans be the main focus? The Fiesta that makes the biggest splash visually is the five-door hatchback...and the base price for that is $15,120...a big step up, especially when you consider the Yaris 5-door hatch starts at $12,905 (lower than the Yaris sedan price).

The Fiesta leads the class in style...leaving the frumpy Yaris in the dust both in terms of exterior and interior. But these are entry-level vehicles. And while Europeans have a keen understanding of the term "premium compact", the Fiesta's going to have to make a value argument to drivers from the land of Wal-Mart. That could turn out to be a very tall order.

UPDATE:  We've now had a chance to drive the 5-door Fiesta...in Blue Flame metallic, like so:

Blue 2011 Ford Fiesta 5-door parked in rural setting

It's the same strengths and shortcomings as with the sedan above, but this time, Ford sent an SE model. And that brings the value equation back into line. The base price for the 5-door SE is $1200 less than the SEL sedan, at $15,120, as mentioned above. And the options list was kept to a minimum: Rapid Spec 203A (SYNC, 80 watt premium audio system, a sport appearance package, crusie control, 15 inch painted aluminum wheels and front parking lamps with black bezels) for $1,245...Ambient lighting and Sirius Satellite radio packaged together for $370...and heated front seats for $195.

With destination charges, it addes up to $17,605, but there's a "Rapid Spec Discount" of $490...so the bottom line works out to $17,115.

EPA estimates say 37 highway/28 city. 

At this price, it's worthy of inclusion in your shopping.


2011 Cadillac DTS Review

Front 3/4 view of silver 2011 Cadillac DTS

Eras end. Driven by changing tastes and the aging of customers, Cadillac will stop making and selling the big DTS sedan (the modern-day version of the Sedan DeVille) at the end of the 2011 model year.  It will be replaced by the XTS, a car that will almost certainly be targeted to the tastes of Baby Boom luxury car buyers...and thus, at Lexus, Audi and BMW.

It's easy for Boomers to ignore and even ridicule the DTS, a car you're most likely to find in retirement communities, parking lots of restaurants serving the Early Bird special dinners and the occasional rental fleet.

But it's also wrong.

Trunk and taillight detail of silver 2011 Cadilac DTS

At a base price of $46,680, Cadillac's biggest sedan is $3500 less than the BMW 335is coupe. Apples and oranges, you say? You're right. Let's put the DTS against the least-expensive big Bimmer, the 740i sedan.

The Cadillac is $24,000 less. It has more room, costs less to insure, maintain and license and the highway fuel economy difference (23 mpg for the Cadillac, 25 for the BMW) is negligible.

So what's it like to drive? I hadn't had the opportunity in 7 years (even GM's press fleet folks have been treating the DTS like a stepchild), so I rounded one up for a week.  No, it's not meant for blasting through winding mountain roads (newsflash: neither is any Lexus save the IS-F).

Interior view of 2011 Cadillac DTS

What it is is quiet, smooth, responsive, and, given its size and lack of cutting-edge handling hardware, remarkably agile.  The people who've eagerly shelled out $65K for Escalades but wouldn't give a DTS the time of day would think they're driving a sport sedan by comparison. They'd also find they and their passengers are as or more comfortable and they could make a nice dent in the power bill with the money they save on gasoline.

Something I learned programming popular music radio back in the day: There is such a thing as out-hipping yourself, walking away from things of value to a mass audience in the pursuit of image. A week in the DTS has me strongly suspecting that we'll miss it once it's gone.

(review vehicle courtesy Lund Cadillac)


News: Chrysler and Volvo Recalls: Engine Fires, Airbag Non-Deployment

Chrysler logo

Volvo logo

No, it's not just Toyota....Chrysler and Volvo are announcing recalls too. In Chrysler's case, it's leaking brake fluid that could cause an engine fire. For Volvo, it's airbags that might not deploy as intended.

Full story from The Detroit News.

News: Toyota Recalls 1.5 Million Cars

Toyota logo

Just when the hysteria over unintended acceleration died down for lack of any evidence, Toyota has a real problem on its hands...a huge recall of a million and a half vehicles worldwide for brake fluid and fuel pump issues.

Details from the Associated Press via The Detroit News.


News: Arizona Man Sues For $8 Million Over Photo Radar Ticket

Full disclosure: This report is from ABC15 in Phoenix, my fulltime employer.

2011 Mazda CX-7 Review

Front 3/4 shot of 2011 Mazda CX-7
Rear 3/4 view of 2011 Mazda CX-7
As impressed as I am with the Mazda CX-9, the smaller Mazda CX-7 may be the better vehicle for the largest number of people.

Shorter and seating five rather than seven, the CX-7 is a strong alternative to small SUVs and more expensive crossovers.

Mazda's attention to detail and focus on fun are what seal the deal. Not to mention economic factors. Opt for a CX-7 and $22,340 buys you a 16-valve four with a five-speed automatic transmission, independent front suspension, dynamic stability control, traction control, four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes, 17-inch alloy wheels, power locks, windows and mirrors, air conditioning, Bluetooth, a multi-function information display, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, remote keyless entry, and a better-than-average four-speaker AM/FM/CD/mp3 audio system.

I'll repeat. That's standard. For the base price of $22,340. Stop there, pay the $750 delivery fee and you've just barely crossed into $23,000.

Interior shot of 2011 Mazda CX-7

Mazda sweetened the press tester with a cargo net, fog lights, a retractable cargo cover, Sirius Satellite Radio, scuff plates and a convenience package that included heated front seats, a moonroof, a rear-view camera, power driver's seat and an upgrade for the air conditioning to automatic climate control.

And the bottom line was still only $25,990.

This, my friends, is a deal.

But wait! There's more!

As in five-star frontal and side crash ratings, four for rollover....and an EPA estimated 20 city, 28 highway miles per gallon.

And because of that fun factor I mentioned earlier, it's like driving a sports sedan. The CX-7 breezes onto the TireKicker Top 20 Cars list. It's that good.

UPDATE: Just did a week in an uplevel turbo version of the CX-7...yeah, you're boosting the bottom line to $30K or better...but you're also boosting the horsepower to 244...which makes a major difference in the fun factor. And you're only giving up 2 mpg city and 3 highway (18/25).


2011 Mazda CX-9 Review

Front 3/4 view of 2011 Mazda CX-9 parked in front of house
As the tide turns from traditional truck-based SUVs, a lot of people are discovering the larger crossovers (sport-utes based on car, rather than truck, platforms). It's turning into a crowded field (including four from General Motors alone)...but there are standouts, and one is the Mazda CX-9.

As noted in previous entries here at TireKicker, Mazda doesn't make bad cars. And the CX-9, based on the very good previous-generation Mazda 6, is a strong contender.

The CX-9 is big enough for three rows of seats accomodating seven passengers. The weight of the vehicle, people and stuff is pulled (yep, front-wheel drive) along by a 273 horsepower 3.7 liter V6 with a six-speed automatic transmission. The six speed helps nudge the EPA estimated mileage into respectable territory...16 city, 22 highway.
Interior view of 2011 Mazda CX-9

Ordered in Grand Touring trim, as the test vehicle I drove was, the CX-9 shows up with 20-inch aluminum alloy wheels, automatic Xenon headlights, leather-trimmed seats (including an 8-way power heated driver's seat), Bluetooth hands-free capability for your cell phone, a three-zone climate control and a six-speaker AM/FM/CD audio system. Price: $33,355.

Options on the tester included Sirius Satellite Radio, a blind spot monitoring system, a package including a moonroof and a 277-watt, 10-speaker Bose surround sound sytem with a six-disc changer in the dash, a towing package and a GT Assist package...including navigation, rear view camera and power rear hatch. That propels the bottom line (with delivery charges) to $39,405. ..which puts it right in the hunt with a similarly loaded GMC Acadia.

Safety's a plus here, too, with the CX-9 getting a five-star rating from the government for frontal and side crashes for the driver and passenger, and a four-star rollover rating.
As a smaller manufacturer, Mazda often gets overlooked. In this case, that would be a big mistake.

UPDATE: Just finishing a week and a few days in the base-level CX-9 Sport...one without any options whatsoever. And it's brilliant. How? Because the basic goodness of the CX-9 as above is there...but the lower standard equipment level (not lower by much) and lack of options keeps the price just a nick under $30,000 as tested. That's ten grand below the sticker price above....for the same basic vehicle. Go. Drive. One. Now.


2011 Volkswagen CC Sport Review

Side view of silver 2011 Volkswagen CC Sport
I wonder if Volkswagen appreciates the irony of the new CC.

Six years ago, the company introduced the Phaeton, a big luxury sedan with a price tag starting around $65,000 and running all the way up to $95,000 (a hundred grand with tax) for a 12-cylinder model.

It was a monumental flop, yanked summarily from the U.S. market after only a couple of seasons (it is still sold in Europe and is on the verge of a third facelift for 2011 that has die-hard fans hoping for a return to America)

Part of the problem was that for all that money, it looked like a Passat, only bigger. And from a block away, with no perspective to judge size, it looked like a Passat, period.

So now, VW creates a truly desirable car...and it really is a Passat...but with a sleek roofline and some other styling tricks.

Front 3/4 view of 2011 Volkswagen CC SportRear 3/4 view of 2011 Volkswagen CC Sport

And...here's the good part...it carries a price tag lower than the Passat...base price for the Sport model I drove is $27,100...$1,200 below the least-expensive Passat.

The current-generation Passat is a bit of an awkward child...not Teutonically purposeful as the ones before, but without actually achieving elegance or desirability. Attempts to soften the Passat have resulted in it coming off as lukewarm.

But the CC turns up the heat by appealing to the emotions with fluid, sensuous lines.

Interior view of 2011 Volkswagen CC Sport

And the best part is that, through artful use of colors, details and materials, Volkswagen makes the CC's interior feel special, too...giving you the impression that you're driving something a rung or two above the Passat.

The CC gets these impressions so right that driving the base model (the Sport), with only two options (a six-speed automatic transmission and Sirius Satellite radio), feels like the lap of luxury...and keeps the price tag, including destination charges, under $30,000.

You can go hog-wild with the VR6 4Motion and break $40,000 without a sweat....but why, when the Sport is so good?

EPA estimate (with automatic): 19 city/29 highway. Manual transmission 21 city/31 highway.

UPDATE: Just ended a week in another CC Sport. Everything above applies...apart from a base price increase to $27,760. Still, this one bottom-lined at $29,660...with the only option being a six-speed automatic.

And about that...the gas mileage estimate improves to 22 city/31 highway. In my even mix of city streets and freeways, I got 24 for the week...and the range estimate when I took delivery of 450 miles seems plausible. I handed it back this morning with just under half a tank of gas remaining.


2011 Toyota Sienna LE, SE and Limited

All too often, advertising is better than the product.

The advertising is great. I love the whole "Swagger Wagon", "Mommy Like" and "Daddy Like" thing.

The product is better.

Front 3/4 view of 2011 Toyota Sienna

You see, to me, minivan haters have it wrong. At least from a standpoint of timing. 15 years ago, minivans were dreadful. The original Chrysler, Dodge and Plymouth vans were expanding...and not gracefully. GM and Ford didn't have a clue and the Japanese were trying to be unique...and succeeding all too well. That would have been the time to rebel against them.

But now? There are some very, very good minivans out there. And the new Sienna is at the top of the list.

I had three different trim levels of Sienna over the summer. There are five. But the Swagger Wagons on loan to TireKicker were the one-step-up-from-base LE, the next-step SE and the top-of-the-line Limited.

The Limited? Well, let's just say that exposure to it caused one die-hard minivan-hater I know to go into a spasm of "Oh my God"s...and in a good way. Reclining captains chairs with footrests in the second row with which to enjoy the split screen entertainment system will do that to you. And the Limited is decked out very nicely. It's the Lexus of minivans. And ours had the $4,025 LTD Premium package. 

Base price? $39,770. As tested? $45,890.

Yeah...that's a lot for a minivan. But it's good enough that if I was looking at family vehicles (SUVs, wagons, minivans) with a max budget of $50,000 (have you priced vehicles that seat seven lately), I'd pop for the Sienna Limited in a heartbeat.

But if you listen to your inner CPA, stepping down to the SE is by no means trading riches for rags. It's a wonderfully solid piece, with the same engine and transmission as the Limited, but less weight, resulting in a boost from 16 miles per gallon city, 22 highway to 18/24. And it's hard to argue with the savings...base price drops to $30,550 and our tester topped out at $33,518.

However, my favorite (no surprise to regular TireKicker readers) was the second-from-base LE. The 3.5 liter V6 is replaced by a 2.7 liter 4-cylinder which is more than adequate and bumps the EPA numbers up to 19/24. Base price drops down to $25,345 (ours had the LE Preferred Package, adding power sliding doors and driver's seat, backup camera, sunshades, upgraded audio system and Bluetooth) and the as-tested was $29,703.

Well-equipped minivans under $30K are not everyday things. But then, neither is the Sienna. I'd happily make the LE my daily driver.

2011 Dodge Charger SRT-8

Front 3/4 view of 2011 Dodge Charger SRT-8

Never underestimate the power of something that looks this mean.

It's kinda easy to do, given that the Dodge Charger has been with us for 5 years now and a new one's on the way. We've seen it too many times in airport car rental lots and giggled as Mark Harmon and the gang on NCIS make the 6-cylinder ones they drive try to look menacing.

But five minutes in a Charger SRT-8 is enough to wipe that smirk right off my face...and replace it with a great big ear-to-ear grin.

                              Rear 3/4 view of red 2011 Dodge Charger SRT-8

Tromp on the pedal of an SRT-8 and the rear of the car is what everyone else on the road is going to see.

Yes, it has a Hemi. 6.1 liters worth, putting out 425 horsepower with 420 pounds of torque. The 5-speed "AutoStick" automatic transmission is up to the task, though a real six-speed manual would be ideal.  Whatever...the point is brute strength and the Charger SRT-8 delivers big time.

According to the window sticker that came with our tester, it's the official passenger car of NASCAR, which makes perfect sense. This is what NASCAR used to be. Take a big standard car, stuff the hairiest engine possible under the hood and hang on.




No...but a big barrel of fun for a reasonable price. Base is $38,180. Yeah, that is awfully close to $40K. Find me this much performance for less than this money and maybe I'll change my mind.

Of course, you can load these up and that's just what the Dodge PR people did. This one had the SRT Option Groups II and III, roughly $2,800 worth of options including an upgraded radio, 13 high performance speakers, a 322-watt amplifier, a 200-watt subwoofer, surround sound, Uconnect, iPod control, a security alarm and a nav system.

Throw in the power sunroof ($950), HID headlamps ($695), performance tire and wheel upgrade ($250), rear seat video system (in a sedan?) ($1,480) and the inevitable gas guzzler tax (13 city/19 highway) of $1,700 and your bottom line after $750 destination charge is $46,850.

If your heart and your bank balance say yes, there's a lot of fun to be had here.

2011 Subaru Legacy 2.5 i and 3.6R Limited Review

Front 3/4 view of 2011 Subaru Legacy

Rear 3/4 view of 2011 Subaru Legacy
Subaru has made its place in the automotive world the past 35 years or so by being the Japanese SAAB. Quirky, yet loveable...attracting a small but devoted following.

Attempting to go mainstream is part of what very nearly killed SAAB, so there's precedent for concern every time Subaru gets a bit more normal.

Except that Subaru's managed it quite well...first with the Outback, then the Forester, and now with the Legacy.

The Legacy is stepping up in size and refinement, becoming for the first time a logical and direct alternative to Honda Accord and Toyota Camry.

Interior of 2011 Subaru Legacy

And to show just how good the basic product is, Subaru sent us a no-frills Legacy 2.5i. Not a single option (but with 17-inch alloy wheels, 4-wheel anti-lock disc brakes, air conditioning, AM/FM/CD, an auxilary audio jack, XM/Sirius capability, a multifunction trip computer, an outside temperature gauge, cruise control, tilt/telescoping steering wheel, power windows, door locks and mirrors, a remote keyless entry system, and map and courtesy lights all standard, it's a complete package without any options).

Even though the Legacy is bigger now, it's lighter than the competition...handles better...and don't forget...it's a Subaru, so all-wheel drive is part of the deal.
And the power from the 2.5 liter engine (170 horsepower), teamed with a smooth 6-speed manual, is more than adequate.

That six-speed is a help for the fuel economy...the EPA says 19 city, 27 highway.

And the price?

Well, the price had me reminding myself to think Subaru for my next family sedan: $19,995.

Remember the deal about no options? That's right...apart from $695 delivery charge, $19,995 is the base and the bottom line. There's a Camry a few hundred bucks cheaper, but not as satisfying, and the least-expensive Accord is $21,055. That's compelling math for a car that no longer has to be explained. The Legacy has arrived.

Japanese TV viewers got this commerical, with Robert DeNiro at the wheel of the new Legacy:

UPDATE: I chose to repeat the above review because the base Subaru Legacy is just so darn good.  But recently, I had a week in the top-of-the-line 2011 Subaru Legacy 3.6R Limited.  And it, too was a revelation...just for different reasons.

Regular TireKicker readers know that I believe you can too easily goop up a good car with add-ons and lose the basic flavor. But Subaru swings for the bleachers with the 3.6R Limited and hits a home run.

First of all, the engine....the 170 horses of the base car jumps to 256 in all three flavors of the R (R, R Premium and R Limited)...which puts the performance of the Legacy into another league entirely. The six-speed manual gets swapped for a five-speed automatic, but the extra power, the lack of a clutch and one fewer gear end up extracting the smallest penalty...18 city, 25 highway (as opposed to 19/27 for the base model).

And then, the creature comforts: Dual-zone automatic climate control, Bluetooth, a 440-watt Harmon Kardon 9-speaker audio system, leather-trimmed seats (including a 10-way power adjustable driver's seat and a 4-way power adjustable one for the front passenger)....all standard. In fact, the only option on our car was a power moonroof ($995)...running the base price of $28,295 to an as-tested (with $725 delivery charge) $30,015.

There are absolute bargains. The 2.5i is that. There's no other way to describe that much car for under $20,000.

And then there are bargains based on the comparison of content and price. And that's where, for a shade more than 8 grand more, the 3.6 R Limited earns its bargain status. Subaru has built a car that can run with a significantly pricier pack..and, as with the 2.5i, if it were my money...it would be an immediate contender.


UPDATE: Make That $41,000 For A Single Volt

But that includes delivery charges.

(Cue crickets)

Chevy says it can make the argument that unlike the purely electric Nissan Leaf, which starts below $33,000 before tax credits, the plug-in hybrid Volt is a "real" car. And GM's working some math magic to make lease payments competitive with the Leaf despite the sticker spread.

And full credit to Edward Neidemeyer over at The Truth About Cars , who got past the price tag, hauled out the spec sheet and found the Volt's range extender (what you and I might quaintly call a "gasoline engine") requires.....

Premium fuel.


40,000 Volts Is Quite A Shock. So's One Volt For $40,000

That's the price General Motors has arrived at for its 2011 electric Chevrolet Volt, according to Automotive News (free subscription required).

The announcement comes tomorrow, and the blow will be softened somewhat by a $7,500 tax credit...but, still...$40,000? A chunk above now-retired GM product guy Bob Lutz' prediction of "the upper 20s"...and significantly higher than the Nissan Leaf's $32.780 before tax credits.

Would you? And if not you, then who?


WSJ: Feds Find Toyota Unintended Acceleration Cases Actually Driver Error

The Feds aren't going out of their way to talk about it, but the Wall Street Journal says after analyzing dozens of alleged unintended acceleration incidents, the U.S. Department of Transportation has found that the drivers were standing on the gas and never applied the brake.

The only exception...the San Diego area Lexus crash that killed a California Highway Patrolman and his family. In that one, the gas pedal was trapped under a floormat.

Yes, we did tell you so.


2010 Toyota 4Runner SR5 4X4 Review

Massive. The exact first word that struck me as I walked up to the 2010 Toyota 4Runner the day it was dropped off.

What was once the prototype for compact SUVs has packed on the pounds and the new styling is like putting shoulder pads on top of all that bulk.


All that bulk goes straight to the driving experience. As Casey Kasem said in his most famous outtake, "Ponderous, man...ponderous". 270 horsepower feels no more than adequate in overcoming the inertia of this 4400 pound machine...and the EPA estimate of 17 city/22 highway?  Let me know when you see that, okay? Here at TireKicker, we get surprisingly close to, and on occasion exceed EPA estimates...but the best this one would do for us was 16 in a mix of urban streets and freeways. Without the freeways, 13-point-something or 14 would have been about it.


Even the interior is set up to convey size, heft, bulk...almost as though the idea were to transform the 4Runner into a junior version of the Land Cruiser. But we like the Land Cruiser....mainly because it is what it's supposed to be. Oh, and its EPA is 13 city/18 highway...which is about all the 4Runner will do, based on our week's test.

Ours was the SR5 4X4...base price a reasonable $30,915...optioned with an audio system upgrade ($585), backup camera (a necessity in this vehicle at $525), a convenience package including moonroof plus front and rear AC power outlets ($1050), leather and power sliding rear seats with extra airbags ($3570) and floor mats and cargo mats ($204). With $800 for destination charges, the bottom line was $37,649.

Not outrageous for this level of equipment. If it had been on the '09 4Runner, I wouldn't have batted an eye. But this strikes me as a chunk of change for a vehicle that appears to be going the wrong direction at the wrong time.


Mini John Cooper Works Convertible

Cute only goes so far. Fast and cute goes a lot farther (comments posted about girls you knew in college will be deleted upon reciept).

But fast and cute will cost you money, just like that girl in college (I'm invoking one-time editor/founder privilege).

This is the story of the Mini John Cooper Works Convertible. Its base price is $10,000 and change more than a base Mini Cooper Convertible, but that ten grand buys you the difference between 118 horsepower and 208....between a top speed of 123 and a top speed of 146...while giving up only 3 miles per gallon in both city and highway fuel economy (the EPA says 25 city/33 highway).


It also gets you a six-speed manual Getrag transmission, 17 inch alloy wheels with run-flat tires, and red Brembo front brake calipers. All of which covers going and stopping. And it handles like a slot car.


Inside, it's six-way adjustable sport seats with height adjustment, an on-boarad computer, a leather three-spoke steering wheel and the Sport button...which produces quicker throttle and steering response....neither of which was in short supply to begin with.

This is one of those cars that will put a grin on your face that will take days to go away.

No, $34,700 for a Mini convertible isn't cheap....nor is the $38,400 as-tested price (Mini threw in a cold weahter package, premium package with alarm, automatic air conditioning and chrome interior and exterior accents), Xenon headlights, custom paint, a Bluetooth and USB/iPod adapter (frankly, Mini's got....what's the German word for cojones?...charging $500 for that piece...which most automakers are including free of charge)...and white turn signal lights ($100? Really?) .

But find another convertible with this blend of speed, handling and fuel economy...and then find one anywhere near $38,400....much less $34,700.

A truly exciting car today...and, because it's likely to sell in smallish numbers, a collector's performance machine you'll be glad you kept years from now.


Toyota Highlander 4 Cylinder and Hybrid Review

A four-cylinder Highlander would have been considered a great leap backwards just a couple of years ago. Now it looks like an inspired move.

187 horsepower turns out to be adequate to move this mid-size SUV, and the resulting gas mileage (20 city/27 highway) is nearly identical to the much smaller 6-cylinder RAV4, which gets 21 city/27 highway.

Not only that, but the 4-cylinder Highlander I drove for a week was optioned sensibly (upgraded audio system, cold weather package, convenience package, manual rear air conditioning, the third row seat package, the towing prep package, cargo and floor mats and a tow hitch with wiring harness added less than $4,000 to the $25,705 base price)...resulting in a bottom line 2 grand lower than the V6 RAV 4.

More SUV...less money...essentially the same gas mileage. In this economy, that sounds like a strong package.

UPDATE: The polar opposite of the brilliance of the 4-cylinder Toyota Highlander is the Toyota Highlander Hybrid. Seven miles more per gallon in the city, true...but two fewer on the highway (27 city/25 highway)...with a base price $16,000 higher. That's right...the starting price is $41,020. And Toyota loaded our tester with enough options to hit $49,086 (an Extra Value Package discount brought the final number down to $48,386).

That's 20 grand more for the same vehicle with a different powerplant, a higher trim level and more options. As with so many hybrids, the Highlander is fine to drive, makes you feel good about your relationship to the environment and all that....but can't win the value argument.


Volvo S60 Pedestrian Detection

I have mixed feelings on this one....part of me thinking that the driver should determine when to brake (having assessed what's around him) and the other part acknowledging the intent and likely reduction of car-pedestrian accidents.

Your thoughts and comments are welcome.

Volvo S60 Pedestrian Detection (1:57)


Honda Crosstour 4WD EX-L NAV Review

Companies don't have ideas. The people that work for them do.

People retire, die and are replaced by other people with other ideas.

Nothing lasts forever.

Nobody's perfect.

No, TireKicker has not become the official journal of the obvious. I'm reminding myself how we can go from a 25-year string of absolutely brilliant products (virutally everything Honda built from the 1976 Accord onward) to the Honda Crosstour.


I'll usually recall my dad's car dealer friend Jim Ellis' words ("there's an ass for every seat") when considering styling and then default to a phrase like "a matter of taste".

But....no. The Crosstour is ugly. Not quite Pontiac Aztek ugly...but ugly. And with a blind spot the size of....well, a 1976 Accord.

I know BMW started the big four-door hatchback thing with the X6, but if BMW jumped off a building......

What's wrong with it? Well...let's put it this way...it's an Accord...with four-wheel drive, an open hatch instead of a trunk, the aforementioned blind spot, the aforementioned ugliness, and in the case of our tester a price sticker of $36,930....or more than 5 grand more than the bottom line for a loaded Accord EX-L V6 with navigation.

Would you?

Me, either. And, not seeing a bunch of these on the street, I'm guessing most people are passing.

If there is in fact a market for something beyond the Accord sedan in terms of versatility and capability, the best move would be to bring back the Accord station wagon. No, it wasn't much of a hit last time around, but wagons were at their low point in terms of appeal...there's a revival going on now. And the Accord's new larger platform could make for a truly useful machine.

A good looking one you could see out the back of.



L.A. City Council Exempts Red Light Cams From Arizona Boycott

A few weeks ago, the city where I was born and lived until age 9, Los Angeles,  made a great big hairy deal about boycotting the state where I live now, Arizona, over its passage of SB1070, which requires police to enforce laws on illegal immigration identical to those in both California and federal law.  The boycott meant the city of L.A. refused to do business with Arizona, its cities and businesses based in the state.

But that's not important now. At least when it comes to the city's red-light cameras, supplied and operated by American Traffic Solutions of....Scottsdale, Arizona.

Standing by the boycott would have meant shutting down the cameras. And if that had happened, and someone had been killed at an intersection with a formerly working red light camera, city councilman Richard Alarcon said "the media would have a field day".

So, the council voted 13-0 to temporarily exempt the red-light camera program from the boycott.

Full story with a fascinating insight (no matter which side you take on the immigration enforcement issue) into politicians unanimously voting to sustain a program that loses the city money and is of dubious success in terms of accident reduction from The Los Angeles Times.

2011 Ford Mustang V6 Convertible Review

Front 3/4 view of 2011 Ford Mustang Convertible

Blue was, for most of my life, my favorite color. Three of my cars were blue. But there is something about Ford's Grabber Blue that really doesn't work for me. It's hard to explain...it photographs better (see above) than it looks in person. At least to me. And, apparently, to several other people who've mentioned "that hideous, cheap shade of blue they're painting Mustangs in now" to me.

That's probably sacrilege in Dearborn, where Ford is headquartered. In fact, I understand what it is they like about Grabber Blue. They identify it with this:

                         Front 3/4 view of 1970 Ford Mustang Boss 429

That is the 1970 Ford Mustang Boss 429. Built solely for the purpose of making its monster 429 cubic inch, 375 horsepower (a deceptively low number quoted by Ford...reality was more like 500hp) engine eligible for NASCAR racing in the midsize Torino, it was very likely the hairiest, most brutal muscle car of its time...and given that the era was ending...it would stand as the ultimate example of brute power until the arrival of the Dodge Viper more than 20 years later.

They built them in 1969 and 1970....but in 1970, one of the new colors available was Grabber Blue. And it seemed like any Boss 429 in the buff books of the day was a Grabber Blue model. At age 14, that seemed like a lot of cars. Now I know it was probably one or two getting shipped around to the fortunate few journalists allowed to test it.

In 1970, only 500 Boss 429s were built and only some of those were Grabber Blue. I never saw one in person until decades later at Barrett-Jackson.  But I saw plenty of these:

                        Front 3/4 view of 1972 Ford Maverick Grabber

And these:

                       1974-1977 Ford Pinto

So many, in fact, that when I see Grabber Blue, I think of Mavericks and Pintos, not Boss 429s. And that's probably true of most of us old enough to remember the 70s.

So do this: Get your new 2011 Mustang V6 convertible in a color other than Grabber Blue.

My God, these guys at Ford have found the afterburners. They've updated and refined the existing Mustang, and fixed the biggest problem with the six...power...while delivering epic gas mileage.

The 2011 V6 has 305 horsepower....one more than the '10 Chevy Camaro V6.  And they've won the mileage wars, too...EPA estimates 19 city/31 highway to the Camaro's 17/29.

                      Instrument panel view of 2011 Ford Mustang

And the best part comes when you get behind the wheel.  The tweaked interior is better put together and made of better materials than last year's. It's smoother and more contemporary, while still giving you that little flash of '60s era Mustang.

Driving? Well, 305 horsepower was Mustang GT territory before....so this gets up and runs...and Mustang has a major edge on the Camaro and Dodge Challenger because it's smaller and lighter...it simply handles better.

The convertible? You can intellectualize all day long about how the fixed-roof Mustang is the way to go in terms of structural rigidity and blah, blah, blah....

It's gorgeous. Pretty women turn and smile. Drive it two blocks on a sunny day and you'll want one. And now, no one will bust you for cheaping or wimping out and going with the V6.

Base price for the V6 convertible: $30,845. As tested (Mustang Club of America Package, 6-speed automatic transmission, 3:31 ratio axle, security package and HID headlamps), $35,000 including delivery.

Chevy intends to fix the power deficit in its 2011 Camaro, but they're stuck with the excess weight. Hands down, the Mustang is the better drive among the new-gen six-cylinder pony cars.

Can't wait to drive the 2011 Mustang GT 5.0 (hint to Ford PR).

Mazda MX-5 Miata PRHT Grand Touring Review

This may be the first car I've driven where the name, if put on a badge, would be longer than the car itself.

It is the heaviest and most expensive Miata I've driven in 13 years of professional TireKicking, but I can't say I love it any less (for just how much that is, see last year's review here). And that's because Mazda is now doing the kind of magic that used to be solely the province of Honda.

Retractable hardtops, while offering security from knife-wielding thieves and a lower level of cockpit noise, usually add weight and cost and steal a large chunk of what little trunk space the ragtop version of a car has in the first place.

But Mazda has kept the weight gain to 80 pounds...lighter than putting a passenger onboard. And because of how it folds into place, it takes up less than one cubic inch of trunk space.

That, folks, is just plain brilliant.

Cost? Yes, it's more. In the case of the Grand Touring model, going with the PRHT (let's just call it the "retractable" from here on out) adds $1860 to the tab.  And while $1860 is $1860, that's less than most cars charge for a nav system that will be obsolete by the time you need new tires.

So the starting point for the retractable Grand Touring is $28,400. Yeah, that's a chunk for a Miata, especially when the base Miata Sport softtop starts at $22,960. But here's what you get by going with the Grand Touring:

  • Run-flat tires

  • Xenon headlights

  • Automatic climate control

  • Advanced keyless entry

  • Leather-trimmed  heated seats

  • Bose audio system

  • Sirius satellite radio

  • Bluetooth hands-free phone capability

  • Dynamic stability control

  • Traction control system

In short, a seriously loaded luxury Miata. And Mazda added the Suspension Package (a sport-tuned suspension, Bilstein shocks and limited-slip differential) for $500....which just enhances this real-life version of a slot car. Bottom line: $31,300 including delivery charges.


If you have never driven a Miata, you owe yourself at least a test-drive. They are addictive cars...delivering what the old MGs, Triumphs and Austin-Healys only promised...embarrassing the earnest efforts of the now-dead Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky. If you've dismissed them as merely cute, or a "chick car", you're wrong, pure and simple. 68 percent of all Miatas are bought by men, and it's because they are the next-best thing to a Porsche Boxster at a fraction of the price. They reward energetic, involved driving...20 minutes on a winding road will put a smile on your face that will last all day.





L.A..'s Arizona Boycott Could Mean End Of Red Light Cams

Los Angeles is among the cities boycotting Arizona's new immigration enforcement law. But where does that leave the city in its dealings with the Arizona-based supplier of its red-light cameras? The story from KABC-TV.

California License Plates May Go Digital, Display Advertising

California is considering a digital license plate. Yes, digital. Stop for four seconds or more and the letters and numbers disappear, replaced by....advertising (and Amber Alerts).

The revenues (higher plate fees, plus ad dollars) would supposedly help the Golden State dig out of its financial hole.  The full story from KABC-TV.