New Car Review: 2012 Volkswagen Beetle

Front 3/4 view of black 2012 Volkswagen Beetle Turbo
The 2012 Volkswagen Beetle.

13 years ago, a local Volkswagen dealer tossed me the keys to one of the first New Beetles. It wasn't set to go on sale for about a month. To say I got attention would be an understatement. People raced up behind, beside and in front of me to get a look. People stopped me to talk about it. People leaned out of the windows of moving cars to snap pictures with their disposable film cameras and 1 megapixel digitals.

Every last one of them was female. From that moment on, the New Beetle and the pejorative "chick car" were inextricably linked.

Rear roof detail of black 2012 Volkswagen Beetle Turbo
The 2012 Volkswagen Beetle roof, spoiler and taillamp.

In re-doing the car, VW had to somehow make the car more appealing to male drivers. They were also fighting the fact that most people, including some fans, had gotten mighty bored. The New Beetle was....very, very old, with only the most superficial of freshenings in its 13-year run.

The 2012 Volkswagen Beetle side view.

They did it.


New Car Review: 2012 Acura TL

Front 3/4 view of 2012 Acura TL on road
The 2012 Acura TL front view.

I am not a fan of plastic surgery. Too many botched jobs out there reminding us every day that the nose wasn't really that big or other bits weren't really that small. In the case of the 2012 Acura TL, however, I'm prepared to say that sometimes a nose job is really what the patient needed.

In case you don't remember the 2009, 2010 and 2011 TL, here's the "before" picture:

The 2009-2011 Acura TL front view.

If you think it's not so wonderful in pictures, trust me...that's a flattering angle. A change was needed...and now, we have one. The TL is, as it was before 2009, a conventionally handsome sport sedan.


New Car Review: 2011 Chrysler 300

Front 3/4 view of black 2011 Chrysler 300 driving on mountain road
The 2011 Chrysler 300.

This is the second 2011 Chrysler 300 the press fleet folks have sent our way in the past few months. I wrote about the first one for High Gear Media's Carnewser.com a couple of weeks back.  That first car came option-free...sporting a price tag $7590 less than the 2011 Dodge Charger reviewed here on TireKicker in late September.

The Carnewser.com piece focused on my trying (and failing) to understand why Chrysler, working to set itself apart as an upscale brand would build and sell such reasonably priced examples of their flagship, the 300.

Since then, though, word has come that Chrysler's dropping the ax on the Dodge Grand Caravan. Come 2013, they'll only be selling the Chrysler Town and Country, setting off speculation that once Fiats, Alfa Romeos and Lancia-sourced Chryslers begin appearing in showrooms, the product mix between those brands, Dodge and Jeep may be very different from what we see now.

So let's assume a plan is in the works and assess the 300 on its own merits, absent percieved price crowding with its cousin, the Dodge Charger.


New Car Review: 2011 GMC Terrain

Front 3/4 view of white 2011 GMC Terrain
The 2011 GMC Terrain.

As easy as it is to take potshots at badge engineering (taking one vehicle, putting a different grille, taillights and nameplate on it and calling it something else), think about what it must be like to be a corporate cousin of a big volume brand like Chevrolet. You need product or your brand won't survive, and the fact, even prior to the great recession and Carpocalypse, is that the bucks aren't there to build unique vehicles for each brand. Platform sharing...and the more blatant badge engineering...are the only way to go.


New Car Review: 2011 Kia Optima Hybrid

Front 3/4 view of white 2011 Kia Optima Hybrid
The 2011 Kia Optima Hybrid.

As impressed as we were with the 2011 Kia Optima just a month ago, nothing could have prepared us for the Kia Optima Hybrid.

Here's the recipe: Take everything that makes the Optima a winner, and add a hybrid powerplant. But make it a hybrid powerplant that delivers the mileage. 24 mpg city/34 highway in the gasoline Optima becomes 35 city/40 highway in the Optima Hybrid...good enough to vault into 7th place on TireKicker's Top 10 Fuel Savers, ahead of smaller, lesser-performing cars like the Honda CR-Z and Lexus HS 250h.


New Car Review: 2012 Fiat 500C

Rear view from above of 2012 Fiat 500C driving on a narrow road at dusk with the roof retracted
The 2012 Fiat 500C.

Regular TireKicker readers know I am hype-averse. The more something gets promoted, plugged, built-up, the more skeptical I am about it.

So, a dumb commercial featuring J. Lo and the Fiat 500C is a great way to turn me all the way off:


New Car Review: 2011 Hyundai Elantra

Front 3/4 view of blue 2011 Hyundai Elantra on rooftop parking garage
The 2011 Hyundai Elantra.

It's the one-two punch the Japanese have been dreading.

A little over two months ago, we reviewed the 2011 Hyundai Sonata...the upshot being that Hyundai, for 20 years the Korean underdog, had now built a credible competitor to the Toyota Camry and the Honda Accord (and everything else in the family sedan segment too...Focus, Malibu, Passat...).

Well, just as Accord has Civic and Camry has Corolla...Sonata has Elantra...but it's better than that. The Elantra, the smaller of the two, is as good in its class as the Sonata in its and maybe better. It's reminiscent of the days when Accord and Civic were so good you couldn't begin to come up with a reason to buy anything else.


New Car Review: 2012 Chevrolet Cruze ECO

Front 3/4 view of blue 2012 Chevrolet Cruze ECO
The 2012 Chevrolet Cruze ECO.

Comes now our third test of a Chevrolet Cruze in the past five months. Each one has been a different flavor. We started out with the loaded Chevrolet Cruze LTZ. Loved it, but for $24,000 and change as tested, we'd better have.

Then just about two months ago, it was almost the opposite end of the spectrum...the Chevrolet Cruze 1LT (one level up from the base Cruze).  Also a thumbs-up, and at a more reasonable $18,995.

Now it's the Chevrolet Cruze ECO. What makes an ECO an ECO? Well, mostly it's the 1.4 liter ECOTEC engine mated to a six-speed manual transmission with ECO overdrive. But to tell it apart from the other Cruzes in traffic, you'll probably have to look at the trunklid.