New Car Review: 2013 Cadillac ATS AWD 3.6L

Silver 2013 Cadillac ATS
The 2013 Cadillac ATS.

Journalism (automotive and otherwise) is not a great profession if you expect to be told the truth. Oh, sure, it's your job to find and report the truth, but being told it...that's another thing altogether.

Not that the un-truths come in bald-faced lies. Not always. There's a spectrum. For example:

With the Cimarron, Cadillac told us it "behaves like a civilized car should" and "beats the imports at their own game". A bald-faced lie, as those who parted with $12,131 in 1981 dollars for a tarted-up Chevy Cavalier learned the hard way.

A decade and a half later, they told us once we experienced the Catera's European luxury and performance, we wouldn't want to let go. That wasn't true, either, but really wasn't a bald-faced lie. The Catera was European (an Opel with Cadillac badges stuck on it), and the rest can be excused as opinion.

Then came the original CTS. By this point, advertising had matured to the point where it dispensed with hyperbole and just showed us quick cuts of a CTS driving quickly while Led Zeppelin's "Rock And Roll" played for 30 seconds. And then a font that said "Cadillac. Breakthrough."  The implication was that Cadillac had finally found the formula that would let them stand toe-to-toe with BMW.

Not true. But that one we can chalk up to optimism and wishful thinking.

Don't get me wrong. The CTS was then a good car and has gotten better every year since its introduction. But the driving dynamics just weren't there...as good as they have become.

That's why, as I walked to the Cadillac ATS for the first time, key fob in hand, I was prepared to be mildly disappointed. This was the car that, no excuses, was to be Cadillac's answer to the BMW 3-Series. And there was just no way...it was bound to fall short somehow. Most likely in the steering.


New Car Review: 2013 Buick LaCrosse

Red 2013 Buick LaCrosse on rooftop garage against downtown buildings
The 2013 Buick LaCrosse.

Almost three years ago, we reviewed the then-new Buick LaCrosse and came up with the conclusion that while their advertising was targeting Lexus, the car itself was close in a lot of ways but only won when price got factored in. That Lacrosse was the CXL model and it ended up costing $31,000 and change...which put it nearly 10 grand below a comparably equipped Lexus ES350.

Well, Buick has dumped the direct hit on Lexus from their advertising, and now has five trim levels...LaCrosse (base, which starts at $31,660), Leather ($33,870), Premium I ($35,285), Premium II (also $35,285) and Touring ($39,240). As you'd expect, Touring is loaded...to the point that the only two options on our test car were rear-seat mounted thorax air bags ($350) and the Crystal Red paint ($325). With $875 destination charge, the bottom line shows $40,790.


New Car Review: 2013 Ford Mustang V6 Coupe

Extreme closeup of black 2013 Mustang V6 Coupe
The 2013 Mustang V6 Coupe.

Way back when....a few months shy of 49 years ago, the Ford Mustang was the originator of a segment called "Pony Cars". Never mind that the other cars in the segment were named after a fish (Barracuda) and, well...nothing that actually existed (Camaro). The Mustang was the standard, with a formula that allowed owners to option the three body styles that eventually were available in the first model year (coupe, fastback and convertible) from, as Ford literature put it, "mild to wild".

In fact, in year one (model year 1965), there were six-cylinder engines making as little as 105 horsepower and V8s delivering 271, allowing for some room between the Pony Car and Muscle Cars like the Pontiac GTO, which in 1965 offered a choice of 335 or 360 horsepower (from the Tri-Power engine, which had three 2-barrel carburetors).

Throughout its life, even as Shelby GT 350s, GT 500s, Mach 1s, Boss 302s, Boss 351s and Boss 429s were brought into the Mustang corral, there was always the "mild" option.

It's not so anymore. For while it looks like a small number in the shadow of the 2013 Mustang GT's 420 horsepower, the 2013 Boss 302's 444 horsepower and the 2013 GT 500's 650 horsepower, the most basic, humble Mustang you can now buy packs 305 horsepower.


New Car Review: 2013 Audi A4 2.0T quattro tiptronic

Silver 2013 Audi A4 2.0T quattro on rooftop garage at night with buildings in background
The 2013 Audi A4 2.0T quattro.

As we've noted here at TireKicker before, the worst part of a successful car is keeping the ball rolling...doing the freshening needed to keep the car relevant without losing the thread and screwing it all up. Last time around, two and a half years ago, I worried that Audi was letting the magic of the A4 slip away.  If they were, they fixed it in a hurry.

The 2013 Audi A4 2.0T quattro is simply tremendous. A car that pulls of the trick of feeling utterly contemporary and timeless at the same time. The timeless thing is important because Audi's had the A4 pretty close to perfect for a long time. To wander too far from what has made an A4 an A4 for the past decade or so would be courting disaster.

New Car Review: 2013 Cadillac XTS AWD Premium

Black 2013 Cadillac XTS on curve above city at dusk
The 2013 Cadillac XTS.
Cadillac made its name with big cars. Coupes and Sedan DeVilles...but to read the majority of motoring press this year, you'd think the only thing they had to talk about was the new, small ATS.

Don't get me wrong, the ATS is a remarkable car (we've just driven it and a review is coming very soon), but there are two stories to be told...and the XTS is the other.


New Car Review: 2013 Nissan Z Roadster

Blue 2013 Nissan Z Roadster sideways in parking lot
The 2013 Nissan Z Roadster.

As a journalist (automotive and otherwise), I work hard to bury my biases, to keep my personal tastes from getting in the way of or into the story. By and large, I think I succeed.

But I have one bias that's best just confessed. I'm a pushover for convertibles.

I think it goes back to my Uncle Ron, who had a succession of them ('55, '59 and '63 Thunderbirds...the '63 was a Sports Roadster...and a '69 Cougar XR-7). From as young as I can remember until age 13 (when he passed away), one of the biggest treats on earth was a ride in one of Uncle Ron's convertibles. The wind in the hair, the warmth of the sun (through SPF 50 sunscreen these days) and all the other sensory delights make open-air motoring a special thing.

That's not to say every car that has a top that goes down wins me over. There have been some wretched convertibles. And even otherwise good ones battle the structural rigidity loss that comes from cutting off the roof. But the good ones are very good. And the Nissan Z Roadster is definitely one of those.

It needs to be, because it was intended to be driven in a spirited way. Small, light, 332 horsepower...this isn't for slow cruises down Main Street on Saturday night. Nissan's engineers have done a great job making sure the structure is solid and confidence-inspiring.

New Car Review: 2013 Lexus GS450h

White 2013 Lexus GS450h front three-quarters view at dusk with trees and hills
The 2013 Lexus GS450h.

Regular TireKicker readers know we consider the 2013 Lexus GS a big step forward...especially in F-Sport trim. So, how does it do with most sporting intentions swapped for eco-friendliness?

Well, we've always been a fan of big hybrids. For the technology to really work, it needed to move upmarket from small people-movers, and Lexus gets big points for diving in and applying it to everthing up to and including its flagship LS model.

But...tech costs money. Most hybrids are significantly more expensive than the conventionally-powered versions of the same model, and that's certainly the case for the GS450h, which is $12,050 pricier than the GS350 (there is no non-hybrid 450 this year).


New Car Review: 2012 Ford Explorer

Brown 2012 Ford Explorer front three-quarters view against rocky hills
The 2012 Ford Explorer.

One of the maddening things about car buying these days is the wide price range for the same vehicle. It's caused by multiple trim levels. Case in point: The Ford Explorer. You can get it in four different levels...Explorer, Explorer XLT, Explorer Limited and Explorer Sport. And from the Explorer to the Explorer Sport, there's an $11,585 price spread.

That's a chunk considering the base price of the base model is $29,135 (we're comparing 2-wheel drive models here. 4X4 costs extra).

13 months ago, we reviewed the Explorer and said "The price is right."

For that one, it was. It was a four-wheel drive XLT, which started at $33,190 and with options rang in at $37,505...a fortuitous price point for Ford, since it was $580 below the Jeep Grand Cherokee that charmed its way into the TireKicker Top Ten Cars (So Far) the month before and still is on the list.


New Car Review: 2012 Toyota Prius C

Habanero (Orange) 2012 Toyota Prius C with trees in background
The 2012 (and 2013) Toyota Prius C.

There's a school of thought that says hybrid owners like to call attention to their eco-friendly ways. If true, some say it explains why radically-styled hybrids like the Toyota Prius (well, it was radical until it became a best-seller) outsell "stealth" hybrids like the Honda Civic Hybrid, which looks...exactly like every other Honda Civic.

So what do you do when the Prius styling is beginning to become mainstream, and you're introducing a smaller, lighter, even more economical Prius...one that's less expensive, to boot? How do those people call attention to themselves?

Well, you could paint a huge number of them (including the ones sent to automotive journalists) bright orange. Toyota calls the color "Habanero". I call it "Orange Sherbet With Artificial Coloring".


New Car Review: 2012 Infiniti QX56

Silver 2012 Infiniti QX56 with Sierra Nevada mountains in background
The 2012 Infiniti QX56.

You are looking at a thing of beauty.

It's just behind that hulking SUV.

It's the Eastern High Sierra of California, where I was fortunate enough to grow up between the ages of 9 and 18. Some of those mountain peaks top 14,000 feet...especially dramatic since the Owens Valley floor is only about 4,000.

I have fond memories.

Now, about the hulking SUV.

It is the Infiniti QX56. It spent years as simply a gussied-up version of the Nissan Armada but has, in its latest iteration taken things well beyond that. It's as though Infiniti got caught in a time warp and decided an '02 Lincoln Navigator was its benchmark.


First Look: McLaren P1 Supercar

McLaren publicity photo of new McLaren P1
McLaren P1 (Photo courtesy McLaren)

You now have a whole new reason to become wealthy beyond all reason. Behold the successor to the million-dollar McLaren F1...the McLaren P1. Unveiled today, debuting at the Paris Auto Show next week. Full story from The New York Times Wheels Blog here.


New Car Review: 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth

White 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth front 3/4 view on desert road
The 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth.

For a bit over a year now, Fiat 500s have been making us smile whenever we see one on the street (increasingly common near TireKicker World Headquarters in Phoenix, Arizona, where they seem to be selling well). Regular TireKicker readers will recall that we liked the first 500 we drove...the 500C...last fall.

All well and good...but no preparation whatsoever for the ear-to-ear grin and maniacal laughter produced by the Fiat 500 Abarth.

What's an Abarth? Well, it's an Italian racing company founded by the late Karl Abarth in 1949, and which began building hot versions of Fiats in 1952. Fiat bought Abarth outright in 1971, but allowed the name to descend to trim level packages and not much else by the 90s.

But Abarth is back, and a great way to make a statement that Abarth means fast is to take a 2,533 pound Fiat 500 and swap the 101 horsepower 1.4-liter four-cylinder with a turbo version making 160 horsepower.

Or as Top Gear's Jeremy Clarkson called the Abarth, "A small, cuddly pet mouse that can be used for killing burglars."


New Car Review: 2012 Lexus CT 200h Premium F Sport

Extreme closeup front 3/4 view of dark grey 2012 Lexus CT 200h Premium F Sport
The 2012 Lexus CT 200h Premium F Sport.
Regular TireKicker readers will recall that just 13 months ago we were puzzling over the place of the CT 200h in the universe...or at least in Lexus' lineup.

Our questions revolved around whether Lexus needed another small car (question since answered...they've killed off the over-priced HS 250h, the closest Lexus has ever come to the Cadillac Cimarron or Lincoln Versailles).

Well, sales are up 500% so far this year over last, so apparently, there is a market for a small Lexus hybrid hatchback.

Now...how about a performance model?


TireKicker's 4th Anniversary!


There's only one thing more intimidating to a writer than a blank sheet of paper. And that's day one of an online venture. It's not just a single page with not a mark on it...it's infinity. And that's where yours truly was four years ago today, August 24, 2008, when I sat down to begin writing the first review for TireKicker.

11 years of reviewing automobiles in other media (radio and TV) still didn't erase the apprehension of the unknown...of dipping that toe into the water. It has turned out more than fine. 48 months, more than 600 reviews and articles and an ever-growing number of readers in all 50 states and many countries around the globe.

As we enter year five, we're as always looking for ways to make TireKicker better, smarter, and most important...more useful to you. If you have a suggestion, by all means, use the comment button below or drop us an email at tirekickerblog@gmail.com .

Most of all, thank you for your readership. Please support our advertisers (don't miss Zipcar's $25 off special in the right-hand column). And if you're a business owner, why not consider what TireKicker can do for you?


New Car Review: 2013 Ford Flex

Front three-quarters view of blue 2013 Ford Flex. in suburban driveway
The 2013 Ford Flex.
I parked the new, mildly facelifted 2013 Ford Flex next to a 2012 in a shopping center parking lot a few days ago. By coincidence, the woman who owned the '12 and I came out of the store at the same time. She saw me opening the '13 and asked:

"Where did you go to get your Flex customized like that? I LOVE it!"

That, my friends, is the sign of a successful freshening. Most of the time, you still can't tell last year's model from this years. With a shape as distinctive as the Flex's, that risk is increased. But the new grille and "I didn't know you could make them like that" headlamps transform the Flex.


New Car Review: 2013 Scion FR-S

Front three-quarters view of Red 2013 Scion FR-S in desert setting
The 2013 Scion FR-S.
For eight years now, Scion has been plugging away (or flailing about, depending on how you look at it) trying to finally be what Toyota intended it to be...the first truly hip youth brand in cars. The formula: Keep prices low, make the styling a bit out of the box, and make sure it's got a killer audio system.

The first-generation xB (aka "The Toaster") was a mild success, but the second generation xB....not so much. The xD sedan is virtually a synonym for "meh" (would anyone really buy an xD over the new Toyota Yaris...or even the old Toyota Yaris, for that matter?).

About the only sense that Scion has a groove to find has been in the tC coupe.

Until now.

New Car Review: 2012 Acura TSX

Front three-quarters view of red 2012 Acura TSX on rooftop garage in front of skylight
The 2012 Acura TSX.
If your age begins with the numbers "3", "2" or "1", you might wonder why people whose ages begin with "4", "5" or "6" seem to think so highly of Honda. And you probably wonder just what the heck Acura is supposed to be.

It was not always thus.

As we noted in our review of the CR-V, Honda's not building bad cars, they're just not meeting the incredibly high expectations of people whose first Honda experiences were in the 80s and early 90s, when just about everything they did was a revelation in terms of engineering, efficiency and ergonomics.

So...wanna know what all the fuss was about, Milennials and late-Gen Xers?


New Car Review: 2012 Jeep Compass Latitude 4X4

Front three-quarters view of red2012 Jeep Compass Latitude driving on city street
The 2012 Jeep Compass Latitude.
As that great poet, philosopher and automotive journalist Jim Morrison of the Doors once said, "Been down so G-----n long, looks like up to me."

Jim died 41 years ago, and he was never one during his four short years of stardom to sell his songs for ad campaigns, but in the case of the Jeep Compass, he just might have made an exception. For in six years on the market, the Compass has largely been reviled as cheap, crude and worst of all...not really a Jeep.

New Car Review: 2012 Buick Regal E-Assist

Front three-quarters view of silver 2012 Buick Regal E-Assist driving on city street
The 2012 Buick Regal E-Assist.
Four-cylinder Buick.

The phrase can cause some worry...especially among those of us of a certain age who might remember when such things existed before (Skylarks from model years 1980-1998).

Regular TireKicker readers know that things are much better now, from our recent run in the new, small Buick Verano. Today's Buick 4 is far from agricultural...in fact, it's smooth and quiet and gives little indication that it's not a six, apart from perhaps a little lower urgency level.

But that's the Verano. The littlest Buick. This is the Regal. Not only larger, but the one nameplate in the Buick stable meant to evoke a sporting character. And there is at least one legitimate firebreather...the GS (a full review of which is coming soon). But when you go shopping for a standard Regal, the four is what you get. And, for additional cost, you can get it with E-Assist.


News: Ford Recalls 11,500 2013 Ford Escapes; Fire Hazard; Tells Owners To Stop Driving Them

Red 2013 Ford Escape front view on hill in San Francisco

Ford wants 11,500 of its 2013 Escapes with the 1.6 liter EcoBoost four-cylinder engine in the shop right now...and is telling owners not to drive the car. That's rare...recalls are usually "bring your car to the dealer at your convenience".

Three fires have been reported due to a fuel line that can split. Full story from the Detroit Free Press here.  Owners are being asked to call their Ford dealers, who will deliver a loaner car and collect the Escape to take it in for the repair (presumably on a flatbed tow truck).


New Car Review: 2012 Honda Ridgeline Sport

Black 2012 Honda Ridgeline Sport front 3/4 view parked
The 2012 Honda Ridgeline Sport.
When I first started professionally TireKicking (reviewing automobiles) 15 years ago, things were pretty predictable. Most of the major manufacturers made sure one of every model they sold wound up available at least once a year. Sometimes more often. If a model was long in the tooth and about to be replaced, it might skip a year. But by and large, you could pretty much count on yearly refreshers.

As the economy got more challenging, manufacturers got a bit more selective...sometimes only putting vehicles into the press fleet that were all-new, significantly refreshed or that had added some bit of standard or optional equipment that had not previously been available.

And then there's the Honda Ridgeline. I first drove one seven years ago...the summer it was introduced. It was also the last time I drove one. That's right...somehow, the Ridgeline has sat out six years worth of local press fleet duty...until now.


New Car Review: 2012 BMW 328i

White BMW 328i 3/4 view parked in country setting
The 2012 BMW 328i.

Automotive history is littered with small cars that packed on the inches and pounds until they were no longer small. In a sense, it's already happened with the 3-Series BMW, or else we wouldn't have had a 1-Series going on five years now.

So further enlargement of the 3 in its latest generation might not seem like such a good thing on paper. But this is not The Ultimate Reading Machine. So we drive.


TireKicker Time Machine: 1986-1992 Volvo 240 GL

Blue 1986-1992 Volvo 240 GL sitting in parking lot after rainstorm
The 1986-1992 Volvo 240 GL.
Boxy, slow and Spartan.

Still, I (almost) kick myself for not having bought one new and I'd love to find a solid one for the right price today...but the Volvo 240 is finally approaching an age where the true survivors are becoming few in number.


New Car Review: 2013 Kia Sorento

Front 3/4 view of dark grey Kia Sorento parked
The 2013 Kia Sorento.

Meet the all-American midsize crossover.

Yep, it's a Kia.

I'll spare you all the roaring up in the rearview mirror analogies that seem so unavoidable when writing about Kia's huge and so far unfailing strides from punch line to today's version of what Honda was in the 80s. Short version is this is now and so is the Kia Sorento. It's a right-sized crossover SUV, made in America for Americans and it hits the bulls-eye dead center.


TireKicker Time Machine: The Half-Million Mile Acura Retires (Sort Of)

1994 Acura Legend odometer reading 514,200 miles
Most recent odometer reading of Tyson Hugie's 1994 Acura Legend 6-speed Coupe.

Last August, we did a piece on Tyson Hugie, a young man whose virtually flawless 1994 Acura Legend 6-speed Coupe was nearing the half-million mile mark on the odometer.

Well, as you can see, he and it got there...but there's more to the story...including a well-deserved rest for the 18-year old big Coupe...and a new Acura in Tyson's life.

Acura hands Tyson the keys to a new ILX.

Acura, thrilled with the publicity from Tyson's 500,000 mile Legend, has rewarded him with the use of a new 2013 Acura ILX for the next year, after which it's his (he'll be responsible for the tax implications).  It's an arrangement that lets Tyson rack up the miles in a way no press fleet vehicle would be allowed, and he's already making the most of it. You can follow along on his blog.


New Car Review: 2012 Mini John Cooper Works Cooper Coupe

Front 3/4 view of blue 2012 Mini John Cooper Works Cooper Coupe with silver top parked in country setting
The 2012 Mini John Cooper Works Cooper Coupe.

What do you do when you're a decade or so along selling a not terribly practical (as in daily use by a family of four) car?

Well, after making some more practical variants (Clubman, Countryman), you can always make one that's even less practical. Of course, it helps if it's also even more fun than the original. And any time you see the name "John Cooper Works" attached to a Mini, you know the fun quotient has been attended to.

Rear view of blue 2012 Mini John Cooper Works Cooper Coupe with silver top in country setting
Rear view of the 2012 Mini John Cooper Works Cooper Coupe.
The Cooper Coupe dispenses with the back seat, giving the Mini a trunk instead of a hatch, a seriously racy roofline, and an ability to start conversations in parking lots. Even though you can get a Cooper Coupe three different ways (base, S and John Cooper Works), they're still rare enough that most people think you've had your Mini customized.


News: Click and Clack to Retire: 25 and Done for Car Talk

Tom and Ray Magliozzi of NPR's Car Talk appear to be singing
With apologies to Spanky and Our Gang, Saturday will never be the same.
Tom and Ray Magliozzi, aka Click and Clack, The Tappet Brothers, are ceasing production of new episodes of NPR's Car Talk at the end of September.

As both a car guy and a former radio guy, I can tell you...Car Talk was the best of both, while pretending to be the worst (part of the charm). Damn, I'm gonna miss this. The show goes on with material culled from 25 years of archives, but that's gonna get old in about...26 years.

Read the full NPR statement.


News: Prepare For The Ferrari Enzo Hybrid

Ferrari Logo

It's the end of the world as we know it. The Guardian newspaper in the UK is reporting that Ferrari will launch its first hybrid vehicle by the end of the year.

Red 2012 Ferrari Enzo parked on wet pavement

It'll be a gas/electric version of the Ferrari Enzo, which costs $643,330 as a purely gasoline-powered machine. Bet on the hybrid to cost more. Full story here.


News: Caroll Shelby: 1923-2012

'Ol Shel, the man who gave us the Cobra, the Mustang GT350 and so much more, died last night of complications from pneumonia. The best Carroll Shelby story I've ever heard is largely true, and was told by none other than Bill Cosby onstage at Harrah's Tahoe in 1968. It's also one of the best stories, period...and a masterpiece of stand-up comedy:


TireKicker Time Machine: 1963 Ford Falcon Sedan

Front view of blue 1963 Ford Falcon sedan parked on urban street
1963 Ford Falcon Sedan.

After this week's really rough 1970 Chevrolet Bel Air, here's a TireKicker Time Machine with a bit more hope in its future...a 1963 Ford Falcon sedan.


New Car Review: 2012 Kia Rio Sedan and 5-Door

White 2012 Kia Rio Sedan 3/4 view parked in front of wall
The 2012 Kia Rio Sedan.

If the rest of the world's automakers aren't taking Kia seriously yet, it may be too late.

With the 2012 Kia Rio, these guys have stepped into serious contender status, and if I were playing with my own money, they might just end up selling me a car.

The Rio has, in the shortest imaginable time, gone from being the worst thing that could happen to you at the rental counter to a car that absolutely nails its intended target in a way a car in this class hasn't done since the mid-1980s glory days of the Honda Civic.


TireKicker Time Machine: 1970 Chevrolet Bel Air

Front view of white 1970 Chevrolet Bel Air with rusty roof parked in parking lot

Some TireKicker Time Machines are well cared-for, almost museum quality pieces.

And...some aren't. But there's beauty in surviving against the odds, and this 1970 Chevy falls into that category.


New Car Review: 2012 Buick Verano

Front 3/4 view of dark brown 2012 Buick Verano parked in resort setting
The 2012 Buick Verano.

I sense a slippery slope ahead when I'm at the wheel of the Buick Verano. And it has nothing to do with the pavement under the tires.

Call it generational perspective. I'm old enough to remember when Buick wanted a compact car so badly that it took a 1973 Chevy Nova, made it a bit prettier (in the eyes of some beholders, anyway), a bit cushier, a bit more upscale, and sold it as the 1973 Buick Apollo.


TireKicker Time Machine: 1986-89 Porsche 911

Front view of purple 1986-1989 Porsche 911 parked in parking lot
Front view of a classic '80s Porsche 911.

After a much too long absence, TireKicker Time Machine is back as a regular feature...and we start with a car I literally stumbled across and photographed mere minutes ago.


New Car Review: 2012 Honda CR-V

Front 3/4 view of red 2012 Honda CR-V parked with hillside behind
The 2012 Honda CR-V.


That's the problem Honda has at the moment. I've read a few mediocre to bad reviews of the 2012 Honda CR-V, and after a week and 500 miles at the wheel, I can tell you, they're wrong. And it stems from expectations.

Those of us of a certain age watched as Honda went from building underpowered motorbikes to two-door rollerskates like the Honda 600 to world-beating sedans like the 1980s Accords and Civics in what seemed like the blink of an eye...and maintained the edge in quality, reliability and even innovation.

For the past decade or so, Honda's been operating with different priorities, and it shows. Their cars are no longer cutting edge. The simplicity and flawless ergonomics have given way to a fascination with electronics and buttons in the cabin. I've even said it...in a lot of ways, Kia is now building what we (of a certain age) expected from Honda.

But that doesn't mean that their cars are bad...or even less competitive in their categories.


New Car Review: 2012 BMW Z4 2.8i

Front 3/4 view of white 2012 BMW Z4 parked with top down in country setting
The 2012 BMW Z4 2.8i.

Pundits have been predicting the end of our second golden age of performance for quite a while now...and reason tells you they're probably right...that a combination of increasing mandated Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards and just plain old pain at the pump will someday result in liters and horsepower taking a back seat to efficiency and economy.

That being the case, the news that BMW, maker of the sweetest six-cylinders on this or any other planet, was shifting to four-cylinders in some variants of some of its models, was especially worrying.

Well, stop it. Now. The BMW Z4 2.8i, the four-cylinder that this year replaces the 3.0-liter 6, is soooo good.

Remember how much we loved the Z4 3.5i last year?  We love the 2.8i more.


New Car Review: 2012 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Premium

Front 3/4 view of 2012 Subaru Impreza on rural road
The 2012 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Premium.

It's the #1 question asked by someone meeting an automotive journalist:

"What's the best car?"

Now, of course, that can only be answered with a question (or more accurately, a series of questions).

"What for?"

"What kind of driving do you do?"

"How many people do you need to carry?"

"How much stuff do you need to carry?"

"What's your budget?"

Occasionally, I'll find myself talking to someone who's really trying to choose between the Audi R8 and a Porsche 911. But 9 times out of 10, it's someone who's looking for something reliable to get to and from work that gets good gas mileage, although sometimes, they'll take their spouse and 1.7 kids on a road trip for a few days.

For many years (a couple of decades, in fact) the Honda Civic was my default, no-risk recommendation. More recently, it's been the Mazda 3. But for the past seven days (and likely for some time to come), there's a new favorite compact car here at TireKicker World Headquarters.


New Car Review: 2012 Nissan Murano

The 2012 Nissan Murano.

There is a drawback to getting it right the first time. You change at your own risk. It's often better to sit still. But then you sort of fade from consciousness.

Case in point: The 2012 Nissan Murano, which looks an awful lot like the 2002 Nissan Murano...because, well...because they got it right ten years ago. In fact, the Murano really showed the way for the entire crossover segment. To tamper with it would be to mess with success, so Nissan has simply refined the Murano constantly along the way.


New Car Review: 2012 Chevrolet Volt

Front 3/4 view of silver 2012 Chevrolet Volt parked on a bluff overlooking the sea
The 2012 Chevrolet Volt.

Quick. Name a car George Bush (either one) owned before or after the presidency. How about Bill Clinton (okay, an El Camino with Astroturf in the rear bed is kinda hard to forget)? Ronald Reagan? Jimmy Carter? Gerald Ford?

Presidents aren't usually car guys. But President Barack Obama today (2/28/12) said when his term in office is over, he's buying and driving a Chevy Volt.

Obama's previous car choices have sent mixed signals. His last car before becoming Commander In Chief was a Ford Escape Hybrid (also a recent Bill Clinton choice)...but until he announced his candidacy in '07, Senator Obama drove a Chrysler 300C...with a Hemi...leading us to believe he might be lusting in his heart (to borrow a Jimmy Carter-ism) for the new SRT8.

But let's take the Prez at his word. What kind of car is the Volt to live with and drive?


New Car Review: 2012 Chrysler 300 SRT8

Front 3/4 view of white 2012 Chrysler 300 SRT8 in front of bridge
The 2012 Chrysler 300 SRT8.

It's been almost three years since our last test of a Chrysler 300 SRT8. Normally, that wouldn't allow for much in the way of changes, but the 2012 SRT8 is soooo much more car than the '09.

6.1 liters worth of V8 Hemi muscle has become 6.4. 425 horsepower is now 470 (with 470 pounds per foot of torque to back it up). The "Wow!" that involuntarily escaped your lips last time around is now more like "Whooooooaaaaa!". 60 miles an hour comes up in under 5 seconds.


New Car Review: 2012 Toyota Prius

Front three-quarters view of white 2012 Toyota Prius next to green rolling hills
The 2012 Toyota Prius.
Fifty. Five-Zero.

If there's a number that's caused great consternation among Prius drivers since the car was launched, it's the number 50.

That's the miles per gallon that people seem to expect to get from the now-veteran (12 years and counting) Toyota hybrid. And it's the number people rarely have gotten.

I've driven several Priuses (Priii?) a year for each of those 12 years. My personal best has been 48...a number that I would average with some regularity for the first several years. Lately, it's dropped off to 45 or 46.

But in the 2012 Toyota Prius that just left my care this morning.....I averaged 50.4 miles per gallon.

New Car Review: 2012 Nissan Versa 1.6 S Sedan

Front three-quarters view of a gray 2012 Nissan Versa being driven on an urban street
The 2012 Nissan Versa.

Sometimes my fellow automotive journalists are just the biggest whiners in the world. Reading their reviews of the new for 2012 Nissan Versa, I was braced for a new miserable experience, one lending new meaning to the words "ugly", "uncomfortable" and "cheap".

Did all of them have Porsche 911s the week before or something?

Now, I know I have a somewhat higher tolerance for basic transportation than some folks in this profession...but that doesn't mean that the car doesn't deserve to be judged on its merits. And frankly, the 2012 Nissan Versa 1.6 S Sedan surprised me.


New Car Review: 2012 Volvo S60 T6 AWD R SR

Front view of red 2012 Volvo S60 T6 AWD R SR being driven on winding road
The 2012 Volvo S60 T6 AWD R SR.

In the Swinging 60s, "Sweden" and "Sexy" were synonymous. But by 1968, Volvo was adding "Safe" and "Sensible" to the Swedish image.

It's been that way for so long that you have to be of a certain age to remember the "Sexy Swede" thing. Volvo wants to fix that with the S60.


New Car Review: 2012 Mazda 3 Skyactiv i Grand Touring

Front 3/4 view of 2012 Mazda 3 Skyactiv i Grand Touring driving on two-lane road
The 2012 Mazda 3 Skyactiv.
Five weeks ago, we gave you our first impressions based on a very short (fewer than 100 miles) time behind the wheel of the Mazda 3 Skyactiv. Bottom line for the link-averse, it was all good things we expect from Mazda in general and the Mazda 3 in particular, with some promising gas mileage figures (we averaged 29.5 miles per gallon, the EPA estimates are 28 city, 40 highway).

The first car was a bare-bones stock model...zero options, with a price tag of $19,300 plus delivery charges.

This time around, things were different. Mazda USA's press folks sent an i Grand Touring model with Skyactiv. Base price $4,000 higher at $22,300...and there were options.


New Car Review: 2011 Kia Forte SX 5 Door

Front 3/4 view of 2011 Kia Forte SX 5-door
The 2011 Kia Forte SX 5-Door.
Hatchbacks never went out of favor in Europe, but somehow, in the early-mid 80s, Americans rejected them as too low-rent. Shortsighted, because hatches offer enormous versatility, combining the best attributes of sedans and wagons without having to permanently commit to either.

There have been signs recently that the US ice is breaking when it comes to hatches, and the Kia Forte 5-Door should go a long way toward the thaw. Every bit as good as the Forte sedan we loved so much two years ago, with the enhanced utility of that fifth door in back.


New Car Review: 2012 Lincoln MKT

Front 3/4 view of silver 2012 Lincoln MKT
The 2012 Lincoln MKT.
It's been nearly a year since our review of the Lincoln MKT (that one with EcoBoost), so we requested another, this one with the standard 3.7 liter Duratec V6, from Fiesta Lincoln in Mesa, Arizona.

The differences? You give up 87 horsepower (getting 268 instead of 355), get one mile per gallon more in both the city and highway EPA estimates (17 and 24) and keep $1,995 in your pocket (paying a base price of $44,300 instead of $46,295).


New Car Review: 2012 Toyota Prius V

Front 3/4 view of blue 2012 Toyota Prius V
The 2012 Toyota Prius V.

Toyota's expansion of the Prius into a full family of cars begins here with the Toyota Prius V.

We can hear the puzzled readers now: "Prius V? What are Prius A through U like?" No, this is V as in roman numeral for the number 5. So it's "Toyota Prius 5". Why? Because it has five doors (okay, it also stands for "Versatility", according to Toyota).


New Car Review: 2011 Hyundai Genesis Coupe 3.8 R-Spec

Front 3/4 view of 2011 Hyundai Genesis Coupe 3.8 R-Spec in front of warehouse at night
The 2011 Hyundai Genesis Coupe 3.8 R-Spec.

Let's settle one thing right now. This is not the car that will keep Ford's Mustang up all night, shivering from fear in its corral. If, in the early days of the Genesis Coupe, that was true, the rapid development of the 'Stang into a performer in 6-cylinder guise and an outright muscle car with the V8 has moved the target.

So let's assess the Genesis Coupe 3.8 R-Spec for what it is. A smartly styled, aggressive Asian sport coupe. The Toyota Supra of our time perhaps....for our time's equivalent of Celica GT money.


First Drive: 2012 Mazda 3 Skyactiv

Overhead shot of blue 2012 Mazda 3 Skyactiv crossing a bridge
The 2012 Mazda 3 Skyactiv.

Regular TireKicker readers know we've always loved us some Mazda 3. It's a fun, tossable little sedan (or hatch, you choose) for a reasonable price with better than average performance and fuel economy.

So what would juice the excitement factor? Well, more fuel economy would be a good place to start.
Mazda's been behind the 8-ball on that one,  with a lot of people remembering that rotary engines aren't the best in that regard (never mind that the only Mazda still using a rotary is the RX-8, now in its last year of production) and Mazda being the lone ranger among the big 4 Japanese carmakers (Toyota/Lexus, Honda/Acura and Nissan/Infiniti being the others) not to have hybrids in their lineup.

Rear 3/4 view of 2012 Mazda 3 Skyactiv
Rear view of the 2012 Mazda 3 Skyactiv.

Not that the 3's a gas guzzler by any means. The EPA says 22 city/29 highway for the standard Mazda 3 5-door with the 167 horsepower 2.5 liter four-cylinder and a 5-speed automatic.

But Skyactiv makes it better without making it a hybrid. According to Mazda, Skyactiv's engine produces 10-15% more low-range torque, and 15% lower fuel consumption than their previous 2-liter engine (which was EPA rated 24 city/33 highway).