Why The Best Alternative To The Mazda 6 Might Be The Mazda 3

2014 Mazda 3
The 2014 Mazda 3 5-door.
Regular TireKicker readers know that we hold Mazda in high regard around here.  The reasons are simple:

They make some very good cars.

They make no mediocre or bad cars.

They are much more fun to drive than the competition.

In fact, we've always been more than a bit puzzled that Mazda isn't a lot further up the sales charts in America.  Some wondered if Mazda could go it alone after its separation from longtime semi-partner Ford, but the fact is, the product has only gotten better...see the current Mazda 6, which occupies a fairly high ranking in the TireKicker Best Cars in the right sidebar of this very website, and which, for our money, is the best family sedan you can buy (which is saying something, since both the Nissan Altima and Honda Accord are good enough to land on that same top ten list).

So now, we have an all-new Mazda 3...and it is every bit as good as the Mazda 6, just smaller.


Why The Hyundai Santa Fe Is Bigger Than It Used To Be

2014 Hyundai Santa Fe
The 2014 Hyundai Santa Fe.
For all its rapid advancement in the automotive world, the one place where Hyundai hasn't been able to score and score fairly big is in the 7-passenger crossover category.  The Veracruz, on sale from 2007-2012, was decent and competent, but in that incredibly competitive segment, those are less selling points than they are damning with faint praise.

But now, Hyundai appears to have hit on a strategy.  Take the strong-selling 5-passenger Santa Fe, give it the name Santa Fe Sport, and then put the Santa Fe badge on an all-new 7-passenger crossover.

This Is The 2015 Ford Mustang.

2015 Ford Mustang
The real deal: The 2015 Ford Mustang's first official photo.

And it's not the revolutionary step away from the past that many had predicted.   But it's also not merely an evolution of the current car.

Did Ford get the 2015 Mustang right?  As always, I'll have to see it in the metal to give a firm opinion.  I will say that the slanted taillamp panel has always said "'76 Toyota Celica" more than "Mustang" to me.  Otherwise....

Well, what do you think?  Comments are always welcome.


How To Almost Double Your Gas Mileage In a Toyota Camry XLE (Hint: Buy The Hybrid)

2013 Toyota Camry Hybrid
The 2013 (and 2014) Toyota Camry Hybrid.
All right, so the headline is a bit of a giveaway.  But here's the simple truth about the Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE we drove recently:

You can take most of what we wrote about the Toyota Camry XLE V6 in early October, change the V6 to a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder, change the six-speed automatic transmission to a continuously variable transmission (CVT), adjust the 0-60 time from 5.8 seconds to 7.3 ( a mere second and a half), change the trunk space spec from 15.3 cubic feet to 13.1 (the batteries of the hybrid live underneath), and cut the base price by $2,800.

And then just about double the EPA city mileage estimate from 21 to 40 (highway goes from 31 to 38).


Why You Should Buy One Version Of The 2014 Lexus LS 460 But Not The Other

2014 Lexus LS 460 Sedan
The 2014 Lexus LS 460.

You may have noticed new signs of aggression from Lexus, for nearly 25 years the maker of whipped cream on wheels.

The signs are in the styling now for most of the lineup and in the engines and suspensions for machines like the IS, GS and most F-Sport models.

Even the flagship LS 460 has been given the new edgy treatment.  The lines are taut, purposeful....the spindle grille fits in with the rest of the family design language...and this year, the LS offers an F-Sport model.

This is good news, because the LS, for all its charms as a smooth all-day cruiser, has never had moves that would inspire confidence on a winding road.


15 Million Reasons Why Peter Mullin & Art Center College Of Design Will Influence What You Drive For The Rest Of Your Life

Peter & Merle Mullins
Peter & Merle Mullin with Art Center students and faculty.

Peter Mullin is the guy we'd all like to grow up to be. Gasoline in his veins, money in the bank and a willingness to share that money to make the world a better, more beautiful place.

In case the name doesn't ring a bell, he co-founded the Mullin Automotive Museum in Oxnard, California. He's chairman of the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles. He is also president of the American Bugatti Club.   The son of a chemical engineer, a race fan since boyhood, and a vintage car racer today.

The deep involvement with the museums and Bugatti Club tells you Mullin appreciates classic beauty.  But he's also committed to making sure that beauty and inspirational design are with us long after he's gone.  So Mullin and his wife Merle are donating $15 million to the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California.


The 2013 Toyota Camry XLE V6 Can Run With Nissan Altima and Honda Accord, But Can It Dance?

2013 Toyota Camry XLE V6
The 2013 Toyota Camry XLE V6. Handsome, roomy and quick.

Hot on the heels of our recent reviews of the 2014 Nissan Altima 3.5 SL and the 2013 Honda Accord Touring, Toyota has sent us a V6 version of the Camry.  It's a 2013 model (Toyota seems to be booking a lot of journalists into last-minute '13s), but there are no major changes in the '14s, so what the heck.

When the first Camry came along for the 1983 model year, the competition was the Honda Accord and the Nissan Stanza, which stood where the Nissan Altima is now in the lineup.  And as unlikely as it seems given the juggernaut Toyota has become in the three decades since, it was an uphill climb.  There was a waiting list for Honda Accords.  And Consumer Reports found the Nissan Altima more reliable than the first-generation Toyota Camry (ouch!) for four years running (1983-1986, inclusive).

Well, Toyota learned fast, and grabbed not only the sales but the reliability crown and has never looked back.  Until recently, the Camry was in an enviable if not glamorous position...the safe bet in a segment known for boring cars.  In fact, it was deep clover for Toyota for most of the past decade, with Honda having seemed to lose its mojo and Nissan keeping costs down to the point where its cars were starting to feel like cheap goods.

But now, as we've chronicled in this space, we're in something of a renaissance of the family sedan.

The Americans are a mixed bag...Ford's Fusion looks fabulous (Ford: You really need to get us in one, because I'm driving and writing about everyone else's), especially from the front, the Chevrolet Malibu is better than anyone thought a Chevy Malibu could be, and the Dodge Avenger and Chrysler 200 are still rental cars you'll want to upgrade out of.

The Koreans are fully competitive and credible with cars like the Hyundai Sonata and the Kia Optima.  The Germans have a contender in the Volkswagen Passat.
And even sleepy Subaru is sleepy no more, with market share that goes up month by month and a strong candidate in the Subaru Legacy.

So how does the Toyota Camry stack up?


The Number One Reason To Buy A 2013 Toyota Corolla

2013 Toyota Corolla front
The 2013 Toyota Corolla might be the bargain you're looking for.

It's not exactly sleek (even in S trim, its sportiest form).

It's very familiar.  You see them everywhere, every day.

So why should you run down to your Toyota dealer and buy a 2013 Toyota Corolla?

Because the 2014 is sleek and shiny.

That may seem like contradictory logic, but stick with me here.


How The 2014 Nissan Altima 3.5 SL Makes Family Sedan Buying Hard

2014 Nissan Altima 3.5 SL
Yes, you will actually want to drive the 2014 Nissan Altima 3.5 SL on roads like this.

Attention new car shoppers....especially mid-size family sedan shoppers.

Do you know how good you have it?

Do you have any idea?

Five years ago this was one of the most bland and boring segments in the industry.  Camry, Accord, Malibu, Fusion, Altima, Mazda 6...some were better than others, but none were inspiring, none were aspirational.
But now, every one of those cars has been re-designed and choosing has become very hard.

In January, we drove the 2.5-liter four-cylinder version of the 2013 Altima...and it landed immediately on TireKicker's Best Cars (see the list in the right-hand column).  In June, the 2013 Honda Accord Touring landed one notch ahead of it. Not really a fair fight, given that the Accord had the V6 (enthusiasts should note that the 2014 Mazda 6, with almost 100 horsepower less and a four-cylinder engine, landed squarely at #5...several slots ahead of both the Altima and Accord).


Why The 2014 Mitsubishi Outlander GT Deserves A Test Drive

2014 Mitsubishi Outlander GT
Can the 2014 Mitsubishi Outlander GT save an entire car company?

New car buyers, you have a new address to remember.

Your local Mitsubishi dealer.

Yes, it's been a long time, if ever, since you considered the triple-diamond brand for anything with four wheels.  Long enough that the very survival of Mitsubishi as an automotive manufacturer in this country has been in question the past few years.

But this...the 2014 Mitsubishi Outlander GT...shows the company is still capable of making very good vehicles.  And ones targeted at the American driver, at that.


New Car Review: 2013 Toyota Prius V

Front 3/4 view of the 2013 Toyota Prius V

The expansion of the Prius line seems to be paying off.  A decent number of the baby Prius C models are on the road, and if you look, you'll see quite a few of the Prius V as well.  V in this case is not a Roman numeral, it is a letter...and it stands for "versatile".


New Car Review: 2014 Kia Cadenza

Front 3/4 view of 2013 Kia Cadenza

Credibility.  It's a big deal.  Especially when you're trying to get people to embrace a new concept.  Like Kia making a different type of car.

And that's where details matter.  Kia wants you to believe they've built an extraordinary near-luxury sedan. They want you to believe the woman driving the car is going to her 20th high school reunion.  Which would make her 38. Two years shy of 40. Her name is Teresa Moore, she's a supermodel and she's a lot closer to her 20th birthday than to her 20th high school reunion. There's a reason you didn't notice her in high school. She was across town in day care.

There's another version of the ad that uses mainly the night driving shots and blurbs from reviews including one from CNET that says "The Cadenza proves Kia can do luxury."  Okay, CNET said that (at least in the headline of its review).  But it's hype.

Both those things are small in the world of advertising, but it's especially a shame to see them related to the Cadenza because the Cadenza should be viewed and promoted as what it is...an amazing achievement in large family cars, a compelling competitor to the new Chevrolet Impala, Toyota Avalon, Ford Taurus, Nissan Maxima and Hyundai Azera.


New Car Review: 2013 Jeep Wrangler Sahara

Front 3/4 view of 2013 Jeep Wrangler Sahara

Times change.

Vehicles change.

People change.

35 years ago I came thisclose to buying a Jeep Wrangler.  It was known then as the Jeep CJ.  There was the CJ5 (6-cylinder) and CJ7 (V8).  As useful as it could have been (I was living in Reno, Nevada and considering the purchase during an especially snowy winter), the CJ7 was noisy, crude, thirsty and expensive.  The CJ5 was the first two and only a little less of the second two.

I bought a Toyota Corolla SR5 Liftback instead.  It was the right move at the time.

But after five days at the wheel of the Jeep Wrangler Sahara 4X4 (Chrysler needed it back two days early for an event, but I'm sure they'll find some way of making it up to me...may I suggest a long-term test of a Wrangler Sahara Unlimited?), the once unthinkable is making a lot of sense to me.  Is it me or is it the Jeep?


New Car Review: 2014 Acura RLX

Front 3/4 view of the 2014 Acura RLX

Rarely have I approached a car with such trepidation as I did the new Acura RLX.  Not only has Acura followed parent Honda off the clearly-defined path that once delivered great cars like the original Legend for a similar decade-long walk in the wilderness (plus $10,000 per car and more buttons on the dashboard), but consider this:

The RLX is replacing one of the dullest cars known to man, the RL.  Anything should get a "most improved player" award.  Yet enthusiast magazine and online reviews have largely been yawns and, scarier still, Consumer Reports, in its rave review of the Chevrolet Impala, a car costing $20,000 to $35,000 less, depending on how you option the cars, said in its print edition that the Impala was competitive with the RLX.  Yeah, they also said the Impala could run with the Audi A6, Lexus LS460L and Jaguar XF, too...and as much as we love the 2014 Impala, that's really just CR needing to call the doctor because it's been more than four hours.


TireKicker Turns 5!

Where does the time go?

Five years ago today, with almost 11 years under my belt as an automotive journalist for other people in radio and television, I started writing for myself.  As I've written before, I stared at the blinking cursor on a blank screen and wondered if I'd be able to write anything anyone would want to read even once.

Well, I've done it 688 times since.  And yes, people have, read, commented, even posted links to them from their sites.  And the number of people doing that continues to grow.   We're nowhere near done yet.  Thanks for coming along for the ride.

Michael Hagerty


Dick Van Dyke Wants To Sell You His Jaguar

It's a bit smoke and water damaged....fire-damaged, too...as you'll see in the video.  Dick makes the offer at the end of the video.

The actor, 87, is fine.


New Car Review: 2013 Toyota RAV4

Front 3/4 view of 2013 Toyota RAV4

They grow up so fast.

The Toyota RAV4 was among the first wave of small SUVs, then called "cute utes", more than a decade ago.  It was set apart from the rest  (which came to include the Honda CR-V, Ford Escape, Chevy Equinox, Nissan Rogue, Mazda CX-5, Subaru Forester, Hyundai Tucson and Kia Sportage) by it's somewhat stubby profile, rounded edges and the spare tire mounted on the tailgate.

The others have matured, grown and moved on in terms of materials and technology.  In 2013, it's the RAV4's turn.


New Car Review: 2013 Toyota Highlander

Front 3/4 view of the 2013 Toyota Highlander

It's an interesting automotive phenomenon....how certain cars are invisible until you start driving one, and then you notice all the others like it on the road.

For most people it only happens with rentals or every few years when it's trade-in time, but for professional TireKickers like yours truly, it's a weekly occurrence, with an ever-changing group of invisicars drifting into and then falling off the radar.

Which brings us to the Toyota Highlander.  The Highlander has been with us for almost 13 model years now...and part of its relative invisibility might be that it changes relatively little.  For Hyundai and Kia, 13 years would bring at least four full re-designs...but the 2013 Highlander is the Gen 2 model...rolling on essentially unchanged since 2008.

And it's a groundbreaking vehicle, too...the first of the car-based crossovers...intended to eventually replace the truck-based 4Runner (which, rumor has it, may actually happen in the next year or two).


New Car Review: 2013 GMC Acadia Denali

Front 3/4 view of 2013 GMC Acadia Denali

Full disclosure:  20 years ago, I signed on the dotted line for five years worth of payments on a brand new 1993 GMC Suburban.  We had a small child, another on the way, Mrs. TireKicker didn't like to fly and so with a week or two worth of vacation clothes, a double stroller, a Pak N' Play and all the rest, the big 'Burban seemed like a sensible family vehicle.

As I said, that was 20 years ago.  Since then, GMC has renamed the Suburban the Yukon XL, and while it's still in production along with its identical cousin, the Chevrolet Suburban, those vehicles have gone back to their roots as vehicles for folks who really need that sort of size and capability.

The mass market for SUVs has found its way into crossovers. You can get seating for seven and double-digit cupholders in surprisingly small packages these days.

Which makes the original big crossovers, which seemed tidy and compact when they arrived six years ago, seem big now.  But big is as big does.  And GMC's done a great job keeping the Acadia Denali on top of its game.


Concept Car: Mazda Deep Orange 3

Front 3/4 view of Mazda Deep Orange 3
Photos courtesy Art Center College of  Design and Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research

Here's a real sneak peek into the future of cars, as viewed by people who are at the very beginning of their careers.

The Mazda Deep Orange 3 is not only a concept vehicle, it's been designed and engineered from the ground up by students: Fredrick Naaman from the Art Center College of Design and a team of automotive engineering students  at Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research (CU-ICAR).

New Car Review: Ram 3500 Laramie Crew Cab

Front 3/4 view of 2013 Ram 3500 Laramie Crew Cab

There are trucks...and then there are TRUCKS.

A Ram (the truck formerly known as Dodge) is a big truck even in 1500 (half-ton) form.  Step up to the 2500 (three-quarter ton) model and "huge" is more the word.

Friends, this is no mere 2500 (a vehicle a 2500 owner referred to as "a baby" while looking over our tester)....no, this is the 3500.  It'll hold 6,080 pounds in its rear bed. It'll tow 29,260 pounds. That is just shy of 15 tons.  It has SIX wheels.

What's it for, you ask?  Towing stuff.  Like a really big horse trailer. The surprise is that, as much as the laws of physics allow, the Ram folks have made this truck surprisingly livable in everyday use.

New Car Review: 2013 Nissan Pathfinder

Front 3/4 view of 2013 Nissan Pathfinder

If you surf around on the web, Googling things like "2013 Nissan Pathfinder review", you'll find more than a few autojournalists bemoaning the fact that the Pathfinder is no longer about rugged off-road utility and has become a carlike crossover.

That's true...but here's a little secret gleaned from driving a few Pathfinders as news vehicles in television:

The last generation wasn't the best vehicle for that kind of thing (off-roading) anyway.  It had become too big, too ungainly.  For the past nine model years, the best choice for adventure where the pavement ends at your Nissan dealer was...and still is...the Xterra.

Time to either kill off the Pathfinder or re-invent it.  And given that crossovers are a thing, killing it would be leaving money on the table.


New Car Review: 2013 Hyundai Azera

Front 3/4 view of 2013 Hyundai Azera

By this point, I'm going to assume that you've paid enough attention that you're aware Hyundai is no longer the punch line to a joke.  They worked on quality control for most of the last decade, comfort and convenience after that and moved on to power and even....(gasp!) styling.  And in the process, made a couple of standard-bearers (Toyota, Honda) look stodgy.

With the Azera, Hyundai is moving into a highly competitive but somewhat smaller niche of the car market...the big full-size sedan.  It's head-to-head now against Toyota's Avalon, the Ford Taurus and the Chevrolet Impala.

And, in what should come as a surprise to no one, Hyundai turns in a thoroughly worthy effort.  In any other year, it would probably walk off with the prize, but there's the truly remarkable 2014 Chevy Impala to contend with.  So, how's the Azera stack up?


New Car Review: 2013 Nissan Sentra

Front 3/4 view of 2013 Nissan Sentra

It doesn't get the kind of press that Hyundai and Kia have been getting, but Nissan has been taking some big leaps in terms of improved product lately.  Regular TireKicker readers know we love the new Altima enough to include in our Top Ten Cars (So Far)...and now, it's the 2013 Sentra that's knocking our hat in the creek, with one possible reservation (more about which as we go on).


New Car Review: 2014 Chevrolet Impala

Front 3/4 view of 2014 Chevrolet Impala

By now, you've no doubt heard that Consumer Reports has gone gaga over the 2014 Chevrolet Impala.  I mean, the Amish have heard.

When CR takes a first-year American sedan and leapfrogs it over everything but the Tesla Model S and the BMW 135i, giving it a rating of 95 out of 100, that's news.  Especially when last year's model got a 63.  That's the difference between "buy now" and "kill it with fire" in Consumer Reports-speak.

But CR also said it considers the Impala competitive with the Audi A6, the Lexus LS460L, the Acura RLX and the Jaguar XF.  Which makes me think that Consumer Reports, long the dullest, dryest read possible when it comes to cars, has found its inner hype machine.  They should schedule a lunch with Motor Trend to talk about the possible long-term effects should the product not live up to all that (Car of the Year 1971: Chevrolet Vega....1974: Ford Mustang II...1976: Dodge Aspen/Plymouth Volare...1980: Chevrolet Citation...1983: AMC Alliance)

So, here's the rational counterpoint to Consumer Reports.


New Car Review: 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo 4X2

Front 3/4 view of 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee

In a time when mid-size SUVs can blow right past the $50,000 mark, it's refreshing to drive one that comes in about 20 grand below that.

Generally, the manufacturers like to put their highest or second-highest trim line vehicles, loaded with options, into the press fleets that TireKickers (automotive journalists) like myself drive.

If they'd done that with the 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee, let's say a top-of-the-line Summit 4X4, we'd be looking at a base price of $50,995.  And as loaded as the Summit is, there's still another $7,000 plus worth of available options.  We could have been bumping up against 60 grand.

But Jeep chose to introduce us to the heavily refreshed 2014 Grand Cherokee by giving us the base Laredo 2-wheel drive.  Starting price? A very reasonable $28,795.  It comes with a 3.6 liter V6 that produces 290 horsepower and 260 pounds per foot of torque, is mated to Chrysler's new 8-speed automatic transmission, and gets an EPA-estimated 17 mpg city/25 mpg highway.

Not too shabby.


New Car Review: 2013 Mini John Cooper Works Roadster

Front view of 2013 Mini John Cooper Works Roadster

Two of the things we focus on rather regularly here at TireKicker are practicality and value.

But when a vehicle starts out with limited practicality to begin with, why not go all the way?  That appears to be the thinking at Mini, which is expanding its lineup with an ever-increasing number of variants on the basic Mini Cooper.

Mini hasn't sent many our way, so as much as I'd love to tell you about the Clubman, Paceman and Countryman, I can't.  I can, however tell you about the latest, the John Cooper Works Roadster, close cousin to the John Cooper Works Coupe and a more distant relative of the John Cooper Works Convertible.


New Car Review: 2013 Toyota Tundra CrewMax Limited 4X4

Front 3/4 view of 2013 Toyota Tundra CrewMax

Think of big pickup trucks and odds are the names that spring to mind are American...Chevy, Ford, GMC, Ram.

The Japanese have tried to get a significant piece of the American truck market.  They started out too small (and Honda, deliberately, has stayed there with its Ridgeline), and even after learning from that mistake and bulking up, Nissan with its Titan, Toyota with the Tundra, they're still not making the Detroit 3 (Chevy and GMC are both General Motors products) lose any sleep at night.

If ever there was a truck that could do that, it would be the 2013 Toyota Tundra.  It absolutely hits the target of "full-size American truck".  It's as though Toyota City had moved to Texas.


New Car Review: 2014 Subaru Forester

Front 3/4 view of the 2014 Subaru Forester

If you'd asked me what you could do to improve the Subaru Forester, I'd have been struggling for any answer other than "just don't screw it up".

The Forester has, since its introduction sixteen years ago, been one of those rare vehicles that knew what it wanted to be, what its customers wanted it to be, and then hit that target year after year, generation after generation.

When I walked up to the 2014 Forester for the first time, I was worried.  It's bigger.  And bigger in these machines can be duller and dumber.


New Car Review: 2013 Lexus RX 350 F Sport

Front 3/4 view of 2013 Lexus RX 350 F sport

Among enthusiasts, Lexus has something of a bad reputation. Despite stunners like the LFA supercar and the recently-reviewed-here IS-F sedan, the image is stil that of isolation chambers on wheels.

And out of the Lexus lineup, the vehicle that gets singled out for perhaps the greatest amount of abuse and derision among the smugly superior driver's set is the RX crossover.  It is, intentionally, the least sporting Lexus, designed to be a supremely comfortable conveyance appealing primarily to middle-aged and well-off females.  And it's been selling like hotcakes for well over 15 years.

But Lexus is on a mission to be taken seriously, and so this year, there's an F Sport edition of the RX 350.  Unlike the IS-F, there's no engine swap, just a much-appreciated upgrade of the transmission, suspension and some nice trim bits.


New Car Review: 2013 Honda Crosstour

Front 3/4 view of 2013 Honda Crosstour

About six weeks ago, we raved about the 2013 Honda Accord and made mention of how it was evidence of Honda recovering.

The Crosstour is what the Accord is recovering from.

Don't let the Honda-supplied images throw you. The Crosstour is nowhere near that sleek and svelte.  It's a last-gen Accord pulled and stretched and jacked up and.....


New Car Review: 2013 Lexus IS-F

Front 3/4 view of 2013 Lexus IS-F

It's year-end clearance time!  Gotta move out the '13s and make room for the new 2014 models!
Those of you who've bought a few cars know that, in fact, you can do well by being patient, not needing the latest and grabbing the last remaining of last year's models.

Good case in point, the Lexus IS-F.  In a matter of weeks, as I write this, the photos and words here will be obsolete as an all new 2014 Lexus IS-F comes to market.  But in the meantime, there exists a very, very compelling '13 IS-F and you might be able to score one and save a few bucks.

What is an IS-F?  Well, it's the serious performance variant of Lexus' sportiest model (save the LFA supercar), and if you've read our recent review of the IS 350C retractable hardtop you know we're duly impressed by the goodness of the basic package.


New Car Review: 2013 Volvo C30 T5 M R-Design

Front 3/4 view of the 2013 Volvo C30 T5 M R-Design

Once upon a time, Volvo built a neat little sporty car called the P1800 and, after a few years, the P1800 ES, which had a big glass hatchback.  They were cool-looking cars and went a long way toward furthering Volvo's image as being about more than just rugged, safe boxes on wheels.

A few years back, Volvo gave us the modern-day successor to the P1800 ES, the C30.  In fact, a straightforward stock C30 was one of the first cars reviewed here on TireKicker nearly five years ago.


New Car Review: 2013 Lexus ES 300h Hybrid

Front view of 2013 Lexus ES 300h

When Lexus introduced the ES, its entry-level model, 23 years ago, there was no mistaking what it was: A Toyota Camry swathed in leather and wood, painted in richer colors than the donor family sedan could be ordered in and loaded up with sufficient sound-deadening material to make the interior quieter than any other Japanese car of the time, save the big-brother LS sedan.

Despite the rather pedestrian roots, the formula worked…so much so that Lexus hasn’t bothered to do much more over the past couple of decades than take the latest-generation Camry and give it the above-mentioned treatment.

Until now.


New Car Review: 2013 Jeep Patriot Latitude 4X4

Front 3/4 view of 2014 Jeep Patriot

We've said it before (about a year and a half ago), we'll say it again. The Jeep Patriot doesn't get much respect. In fact, if it weren't for the not-really-a-Jeep Compass, the Patriot wouldn't get any at all. But at least it's more of a Jeep than something else in the lineup.

Or so goes the conventional wisdom. As we've suggested before, though, the Patriot is the closest thing you can get in 2013 to the fondly remembered 1984 Cherokee...the first of the small SUVs.


New Car Review: 2013 Lexus IS350 C

Front 3/4 view of the 2013 Lexus IS350C

If you want proof positive that Lexus is serious about building more exciting, involving automobiles for enthusiasts, this is a good place to start.  See the picture above? That's the 2013 Lexus IS350C, a retractable hardtop.

What's so great about it? Well, Lexus chose to make its retractable hardtop using perhaps its best drivers' car...the IS.  And that's an improvement because last time around, Lexus gave us the SC430.  Go ahead, click that link. You'll get a visual reminder of the car that found its way onto Top Gear's "Worst Car In The World DVD", along with a list of the areas in which the long-running SC missed just about every target.

No such worries for the IS, though.  A car that already is so good that non-believers say "This is a Lexus?", the ability to take the top down and enjoy some open-air motoring is just icing on the cake.


New Car Review: 2013 Honda Accord Touring V6

Front 3/4 view of 2013 Honda Accord

Mojo is a horrible thing to lose. And for much of the last decade or so, it appeared Honda had lost it.  The products became too big, too plastic, too...boring.  And the Accord became all those things.  It was as though Honda decided to out-geezer the 1999 Avalon. I expected to find coupons for the Early Bird Special at Hometown Buffet in the glove box.

Well, forget all that.  The company that won Boomers over 30 years ago by showing that jewel-like quality, advanced engineering and just plain fun could co-exist in an affordable automobile (four of them, actually...Accord, Prelude, Civic and CRX) is back with the 2013 Honda Accord.


New Car Review: 2013 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible 70s Edition

Brown 2013 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible 70s Edition front 3/4 view at ocean

I have one question regarding the 2013 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible 70s Edition:

Did they actually ever make them in this color, or anything close to it in the 70s?  I was around for the last decade of the Beetle soft-top, and I remember orange, and yellow and by the final two or three years, very nearly every one was triple-white.  But Toffee Brown Metallic with beige top and beige interior?  Not ringing any bells. Maybe it's an earth tones reference. We were big into those back in the day.

Anyway, despite having no idea what makes this a 70s Edition (where are the Coco Mats?), I have to say the Beetle Convertible is a very nice ride.


New Car Review: 2013 Lexus GS450h Hybrid

White 2013 Lexus GS450h front 3/4 view at ocean

A lot of people think “hybrid” and see a small car. Let’s face it, the Toyota Prius has had a lot to do with that over the past 15 years. But small cars generally get pretty good mileage to begin with. If you’re looking to make a difference in fuel consumption, bigger is the way to go…and Lexus has gone there with the new GS450h.


New Car Review: 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport

Front 3/4 view of 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport

The original idea behind the crossover SUV was to get people from huge trucks to carlike sport-utes...eliminate some of the bulk and achieve some efficiencies in both packaging and fuel economy. For the most part, it's worked. But there's one thing the Suburbans and Tahoes and Expeditions whetted an appetite for that's not going away...and that's the third row of seats.

Many manufacturers have simply crammed in a final row at the expense of cargo room. Others are making their crossovers bigger to accommodate the extra seating. Hyundai, on a roll lately, came up with what looks to be the intelligent solution...keep the Santa Fe at its current size as a five-seater and offer a new, slightly larger model with three rows of seats.

The only confusion is, to capitalize on the equity in the Santa Fe name, that's what they're calling the new three-row crossover. What was the Santa Fe last year is now the Santa Fe Sport. But it's been re-designed, refined and just plain made a lot better.


New Car Review: Lexus GX460

front 3/4 view of 2013 Lexus GX460

15 years as a professional TireKicker (automotive journalist) and there are still things to learn.

When I got the Lexus GX460 for a week, I thought it was a spectacularly dumb design for one thing...the tailgate. The window would open upward, but the whole assembly didn't swing up and the gate below the window wouldn't swing down. Drove me nuts. Why would Lexus build a $60,000 SUV and make you load the cargo compartment from the rear seat?

A few hours later, my teenage son walked up to the GX for the first time, and opened the door out to the side.


I could cut myself some slack and say it's an unusual, if not unique design for a rear door on a big SUV, but for many years I owned a Suburban with barn doors, so I really have no excuse.

Why am I telling you this? Because it's the only thing I could find wrong with the GX460...and it wasn't.


Spock vs. Spock for Audi

Will this sell Audis? Will it cause Mercedes-Benz intenders to have second thoughts?

Don't know. Don't care. This spot is priceless. Use the little buttons at the bottom of the post to share via Twitter, Facebook and/or e-mail.

New Car Review: 2013 BMW X1

Front 3/4 view driving shot of white 2013 BMW X1

Comes a point when a crossover becomes so carlike that the term "crossover", much less "small SUV", no longer really fits.

The BMW X1 is at that point. With low ground clearance, this really is more a station wagon than anything else, though BMW likely won't be happy I said that.


New Car Review: 2013 Volvo S60 T6 R-Design

Front 3/4 view of blue 2013 Volvo S60 T6 R-Design

The phrase “Mid-size Volvo sedan” no doubt causes some eyes to glaze over, especially for those who think they know what Volvo’s all about. But the key is to ask “Which mid-size Volvo sedan?”

Yes, they’re all called the S60, but that car comes in three different turbocharged flavors these days: The T5, a 2.5-liter 5-cylinder with 250 horsepower; the T6 AWD, which adds half a liter, one cylinder, two more driving wheels and 50 additional ponies; and the T6 AWD R-Design, which pulls 325 horsepower out of the same 3-liter six. And that’s the one we’re talking about here.


New Car Review: 2013 Lexus RX 450h

Front view of 2013 Lexus RX 450h

You have to give Lexus credit. They were early to the party (first, in fact) when it came to putting hybrid power in luxury vehicles, opening up a market among buyers who had extra money to spend.

They started 8 years ago with a hybrid version of the RX crossover (it was the 400h then). There have been changes along the way, but this year, there are several significant revisions:

The basic RX design has remained constant for 15 years, but 2013 brings a freshening that gives all RX models the signature Lexus spindle grille, a new bumper and headlamp design, LED daytime running lights, updated tail lamps and four new colors (Silver Lining Metallic, Claret Mica, Deep Sea Mica and Fire Agate Pearl).


New Car Review: 2014 Mazda CX-5 Skyactiv

Blue 2014 Mazda CX-5 front 3/4 view by ocean.

Big changes rarely happen in year two of a new vehicle. But Mazda’s not known for coloring within the lines and, frankly, it can’t afford to hold good stuff back for the mid-cycle refresh three or four years down the road. It needs your attention now. And if the 2014 Mazda CX-5 doesn’t get that attention, it’ll be your loss as well as Mazda’s.

The big news is a second engine option:  A 2.5-liter SKYACTIV-G mill brings 29 more horsepower and 35 more pounds per foot of torque to the party than the standard 2.0-liter SKYACTIV-G, but gives up only one mile per gallon, dipping from 26 city to 25 and 32 highway to 31 (EPA estimates for automatic transmission front-wheel drive models).


New Car Review: 2013 Kia Soul

2013 Kia Soul. They call the color "Alien".

Kia's been surprising people for a few years now, but maybe the biggest surprise was how the Soul ended up a big-seller when other seemingly similar funky boxes (Scion xB, Nissan Cube) failed.

Sure, the Soul had the Hamstars (love them or hate them, you know who they are and what car they're selling), and marketing matters. But the Soul caught on because the Soul works.


New Car Review: 2013 Acura ILX

Front view of 2013 Acura ILX on desert road

On paper, it had the makings of an unmitigated disaster: Take Acura, the upscale brand of Honda struggling for an identity, and base its new entry-level sedan on the Honda Civic, a compact that has lost its edge to the point that Consumer Reports ripped it apart and Honda felt compelled to rush a thorough refresh...but not until after the debut of the Acura.

Well, disaster averted. The Acura ILX isn't a bad car. And that's what I'd feared most. But it's not a winner, either.


New Car Review: 2013 Kia Optima SX

front 3/4 driving shot of white 2013 Kia Optima SX

Kia has come a long way in a big hurry.

From butt of many an automotive joke to low-cost transportation alternative to "as good as what the Japanese were doing five years ago", each step came in rhythmic cadence. The inevitability that Kia would make a fully competitive vehicle was apparent to anyone willing to admit it. It was about a year and a half ago that I admitted not only had Kia arrived there, but with the then all-new Optima, had actually leapfrogged the competition (Ford Focus, Chevy Malibu, Toyota Camry, Honda Accord) in terms of style.

Now comes the next hurdle. And this one may be tougher.

Is the world ready for...and will it buy...a $35,000 Kia Optima?


New Car Review: Mitsubishi i-MIEV

side view of silver 2012 Mitsubishi i-MIEV

62 miles.

Can you get through a day driving that little?

For those of us whose commute and getting kids to activities and unplanned errands and emergencies often result in adding 100 or more miles to the odometer in the course of a day, the number is woefully inadequate.

But that's the absolute max you'll get on a single charge in the Mitsubishi i-MIEV. And, as with most EVs, your range may vary.


VIDEO: NASCAR's Jeff Gordon Tortures A Used-Car Salesman in an '09Camaro

Yeah, it's a long-form Pepsi ad...but it's still a hoot, as a disguised Jeff Gordon takes a used car salesman for a full-throttle test drive in a 2009 Chevrolet Camaro. Use the buttons at the bottom of the post to share it quickly and easily with your friends via Twitter, Facebook or email.

UPDATE: If you're thinking it was too good to be true, you're right. Travis Okulski at Jalopnik did some digging and confirms almost nothing in the video is what it seems to be: http://jalopnik.com/that-jeff-gordon-terrifying-a-car-salesman-pepsi-ad-is-453519481


FIRST LOOK: 2014 Corvette Convertible

First photo of 2015 Corvette Convertible

The official unveiling comes Tuesday at the Geneva Auto Show, but GM released this look over the weekend. It's the 2014 Corvette Convertible. Let us know what you think in comments. And the little buttons below let you share this with your friends via Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and e-mail.


UPDATE: I-17 Chase North Of Phoenix (VIDEO)

A long and fast-moving chase from suburban Phoenix into a remote area north of that city Wednesday (2/27) afternoon...3 suspects in a stolen Honda Civic. Here's how it ended live on NBC affilate KPNX-TV:

Use the buttons at the bottom of this post to easily share this with your friends on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or by e-mail.