Victory Lap: 2015 Mazda MX-5 Miata Grand Touring PRHT

Front 3/4 view of 2015 Mazda MX-5 Miata Grand Touring PRHT
The 2015 Mazda MX-5 Miata Grand Touring PRHT.
I've said it many times in 17 years of reviewing cars...the Mazda MX-5 Miata makes me smile.  And in this, the final year of production for this generation of Miata, nothing has changed, including its spot atop the TireKicker's Best Cars list.

Find me, if you can, a two-seater weekend toy that is also so thoroughly livable as a daily driver...especially in PRHT (Power Retractable Hard Top) form.


Consistency Is A Virtue: The 2015 Lexus GX460

Front 3/4 view of 2015 Lexus GX460
The 2015 Lexus GX460.
The 2014 Lexus GX460 endeared itself to us late this spring, when we took it on a lengthy road trip through the Eastern High Sierra and Yosemite. A big, brawny SUV, it's an uncanny melding of luxury and rugged utility.

The Start Of Something Big, Part III: The 2015 Hyundai Genesis 3.8

Front 3/4 view of 2015 Hyundai Genesis
The 2015 Hyundai Genesis 3.8.
If, on the day I launched TireKicker in August of 2008, I had posted that the day was coming when Hyundai would be a threat to Lexus, this blog likely would not be here today.  No one would have believed me. Credibility would have been lost on day one. I didn't believe it then. What a difference six years and three months makes.


Substance Over Style: 2015 Mitsubishi Lancer SE

Front 3/4 view of 2015 Mitsubishi Lancer SE
The 2015 Mitsubishi Lancer SE.
Nine years without major changes can transform just about any car into rolling wallpaper...with zero chance of sticking out from the crowd.  Factor in said car never having been a hot seller, and from a company that is a perennial favorite on the list of car companies that won't be doing business in the USA much longer, and you've got a recipe for invisibility.

Which, in the case of the 2015 Mitsubishi Lancer SE, is a shame.

The Start Of Something Big, Part II: The 2015 Kia K900

Front 3/4 view of the 2015 Kia K900
The 2015 Kia K900.
A couple of months ago, we reviewed the 2015 Hyundai Genesis 5.0 and suggested that it should be regarded as a serious competitor to Lexus' flagship LS460, at a significantly reduced price. Now, from Hyundai's corporate cousin Kia comes the K900.  And it is every bit as impressive, if not more so.

Why The 2015 Mazda 3 Is Our Favorite Compact Sedan

Front 3/4 view of the 2015 Mazda 3
The 2015 Mazda 3.
It takes a lot to stand out in a crowded field.  Take compact sedans. You've got Ford Focus, Chevy Cruze, Dodge Dart, Volkswagen Jetta, Toyota Corolla, Nissan Sentra, Honda Civic, Mitsubishi Lancer, Kia Forte and Hyundai Elantra.

And then there's the Mazda 3. Which, for our money, tops 'em all.

The 2015 Honda Accord: Another Model Year of Greatness (with one drawback)

Front view of 2015 Honda Accord EX-L
The 2015 Honda Accord EX-L.
It was only nine months ago that I wrote about the Honda Accord EX-L...suggesting that buyers go for the four-cylinder version of this benchmark family sedan because I honestly thought I was driving the more expensive and thirstier six-cylinder for the entire week I had it.

That was the 2014 Accord.  Now we've had a week in the '15.  What's changed?


Beauty Is As Beauty Does: The 2015 Hyundai Sonata

The 2015 Hyundai Sonata.
The previous generation Hyundai Sonata was such a styling breakthrough...lithe, lean, more than vaguely Italian....that the new one, blockier, with a more upright nose, has a lot of my fellow automotive journalists whining about how Hyundai's great styling revolution may have been a flash in the pan.

Let's set the record straight, shall we?  There are factors (pedestrian safety, placement for the distance-keeping smart cruise control) that pretty much dictate the taller hood and more upright grille. And beyond the subjectives of styling, the new Sonata is simply better than the one it replaces.

Four Acura ILXs From Three Model Years In 20 Months: Same Verdict.

Front 3/4 view of 2015 Acura ILX 2.0 Tech
2015 Acura ILX 2.0L Tech.

I am, by nature, a fairly positive person.  An optimist at heart, I'm always looking for (and usually finding) the good in most situations, places, people and things. Regular TireKicker readers know that negative reviews happen here, but are, on balance, in the minority.  As my Dad's buddy, Jim Ellis, who owned Ford dealerships in the Eastern High Sierra of California where I grew up, told me during my hyper-critical teenage assessment of the new 1972 somethingorother, every car is the right one for someone (actually, Jim said "There's an ass for every seat", but the sentiment is the same).

That's why the Acura ILX frustrates me so.  Because in four go-rounds in just over a year and a half, in models from three different model years (2013, 2014 and 2015), I can't bring myself to recommend it to anyone.

Six Thousand Dollars For Nine Extra MPG In The City: Is The Toyota Highlander Hybrid Worth It?

Front 3/4 view of 2014 Toyota Highlander Hybrid
2014 Toyota Highlander Hybrid.

Back in June, Michael wrote a fairly unflattering review of the newly redesigned Toyota Highlander.  I have to agree with most of the points he made apart from the lack of headroom (I'm not as tall as he).  It's not a terribly attractive vehicle, it does not carry quite as much behind the seats as the previous model did, and the instrument panel, while attractive, puts virtually every control that matters---especially the HVAC, audio controls and touchscreen---well out of the reach of most drivers.

But would a big boost in fuel efficiency offset those sins?


UPDATED: The One Option Your 2014 Lexus LS460 Should Have

Front 3/4 view of 2014 Lexus LS460
The 2014 Lexus LS460.

About 12 years ago, the Lexus LS460 passed the Mercedes-Benz S-Class as the luxury car I recommend to friends for whom cost is no object.  I've never looked back.  Oh, I've compared each successive year of the LS to the S-Class, the BMW 7-Series, the Audi A8 and others, all great cars, but the LS has never lost the thread.  It's every bit as good, only better, because it's a Lexus.  It won't break. It won't leave you stranded.  Those 2002 LSs that I told folks to buy are still out there and still look good.  Heck, so are the 1990 models.

But we're here to talk about the 2014.  I drove one in Phoenix shortly before moving to Sacramento.  Three, actually...a side-by-side-by-side comparison of the LS460, the AWD LS460 and the LS460 F-Sport in which the F-Sport came off least well, feeling like an attempt at building a BMW M7 that just didn't quite put all the pieces in balance.

Generally, here at TireKicker, we work to avoid duplication between the cars in the Sacramento and Phoenix offices, but I said yes to an LS460 here and I'm glad I did, because I think I've found the Goldilocks solution for people who want more sport, especially in handling, than a stock LS offers.


Why The 2014 Toyota Avalon Is The New Caprice or LTD

Front 3/4 view of the 2014 Toyota Avalon
The 2014 Toyota Avalon.

Among the casualties of the 1970s energy crises were large family sedans that aspired to be a bridge to luxury cars. Ford was the first of the type, adding better upholstery and nicer trim to the 1965 Galaxie to make it the LTD.  Chevrolet followed the next year, applying the same formula to the Impala and creating the Caprice.  Dodge and Plymouth did it as well, but less successfully.

For many middle-class families of the time, a well-optioned LTD was the next best thing to a Lincoln Continental, and there were those who could afford a Cadillac who couldn't see the sense in spending the extra money for one when a fully-equipped Caprice was everything a Cadillac was just two years before.

But, especially after Energy Crisis II in 1979, the concept withered.  Part of it was the downsizing of all American cars. Another was that the buying age for traditional American luxury had risen.  It was no longer the man in his mid-to-late 40s who had arrived.  Buyers of Cadillacs and Lincolns were suddenly, or so it seemed, in their 60s.  And the middle-class, middle-aged American family man and woman were no longer buying full-size Chevrolets and Fords.  The market had shifted to Toyotas and Hondas, specifically Camrys and Accords.

How The Lexus ES 300h Isn't Just A Re-Badged Toyota Avalon Hybrid

Front 3/4 view of the 2014 Lexus ES 300h
The 2014 Lexus ES 300h.
Choice is among the things that make America great.  It can also make life difficult, or at the very least confusing.

A wonderful example is the Lexus ES 300h.  Based on the same platform as the Toyota Avalon Hybrid of which Michael is enamored enough to buy, given the wherewithal, powered by the same hybrid system of a 2.5-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine and a High Output Permanent Magnetic Drive electric motor with a continuously variable transmission and promising the same EPA fuel economy rating of 40 miles per gallon city, 39 highway, it has a base price $2,050 lower than the Avalon Hybrid, a nicer interior and a more prestigious nameplate.

Why would you buy the Toyota?

How The Lexus IS250 Charmed Me

Front 3/4 view of 2015 Lexus IS250
2015 Lexus IS250.

There is a place in the world for right-sized, decently powered vehicles with balanced handling.  For many years, my favorite in that class was the Acura TSX. It's gone now, replaced by the somewhat larger TLX, which we should be reviewing here at TireKicker World Headquarters soon.  But it'll have to be very good, because the TSX's place in my heart has been taken by the 2015 Lexus IS250.

The Lexus IS-F Has HOW Much Power?

Rear 3/4 view of 2014 Lexus IS-F
2014 Lexus IS-F.
418 horsepower.

Zero to 60 in 4.2 seconds.

I had to look it up, but here are the cars that the 2014 Lexus IS-F is just as quick as from zero to 60:

The 2015 Lexus RX 450h: Frugality Redefined

2015 Lexus RX 450h front detail
2015 Lexus RX 450h.

If you're ever a contestant on the TV game show "Family Feud" and the category is "Why People Buy Hybrids", you can't go wrong with "to save gas".  That's pretty much everyone's number one answer. But outside of TV game shows, it begs the question:  How much will you save?

A surprising number of people out there believe all hybrids get 50 miles per gallon, like the Toyota Prius. Regular TireKicker readers know that's not true. There are vehicles that use hybrid technology to go from passable gas mileage with a regular powerplant to better-than-average.  The Lexus RX 450h is one of those.


What An Extra $5,695 Can Do For Your Lexus GS350

Front 3/4 view of 2014 Lexus GS350 with F-Sport Package
Lexus GS350 with F-SPORT Package.
Lexus builds some fine sedans, the GS350 included, but they had until very recently been trapped by their image, one of sterile perfection.  No, there was nothing wrong with Lexus cars, they were utterly reliable, well-built and used fine quality materials, but they lacked sizzle, emotion and performance, making it difficult to attract buyers beyond those who were already Lexus fans.

Why The 2015 Subaru Legacy Looks Different

Front 3/4 view of 2015 Subaru Legacy
2015 Subaru Legacy.
Snub nose, swoopy rear roofline.  Subaru, the automaker that has always marched to a different drummer, has joined the parade with the 2015 Legacy, coming up with a car that, if you swapped the badges, could be mistaken for a Nissan Altima.


Eight Days, 1800 Miles And Two Big Surprises In The 2015 Kia Sorento SXL

A good trip is made infinitely better by good traveling companions.  I'm blessed with the best one ever in Navigator, and so the thought of eight days on the road, much of it behind the wheel at the end of August, was a most pleasant one.

Folsom-Utah trip map
(source: Google Maps)
The trip: A tour of some of Nevada and Utah's national parks and monuments.  The overall plan:  Folsom (suburban Sacramento, California) to Great Basin  in Nevada on day one.  Two days each at Capitol Reef, Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bryce Canyon (all in Utah), then home a different way...stopping to see family in the impossibly tiny town of Newcastle, Utah on the seventh day, with a dawn-to-dusk final leg across Nevada and through the Sierra back to Folsom on day eight.

Oh.  And except for the one night with family, we'd be camping. So a tent, sleeping bag, clothes, food and firewood to last eight days....it all had to be accomodated. Go big enough (Tahoe/Suburban) and cargo would be no sweat, but there was at least 1600 miles to cover with gas at an average price of $4.00 a gallon.

So what to drive?  8 days required extending the usual one-week press loan to two weeks, and the fine folks at Kia and STI stepped up, offering the new version of an old friend...the 2015 Kia Sorento.


Why The Beetle TDI Is The Most Beetle-Like Of All

2014 Volkswagen Beetle TDI front 3/4 view
Volkswagen Beetle TDI.
For a car that is an exercise in nostalgia, there is very little that really connects the current-generation Beetle with the one that captured America's hearts from 1949 to 1979.  As I illustrated in my review of the Beetle R-Line this summer, the current Beetle is a much larger car, with styling meant to evoke rather than emulate the original.  It is certainly much more complex, much more expensive (even when adjusted for inflation, today's Beetle costs nearly double what the original did at any point in its production) and, as every wag who used to own one will point out---the engine is in the wrong place.


UPDATE: How The World Has Caught Up With The 2014 Toyota 4Runner

Front 3/4 view of 2014 Toyota 4Runner
The 2014 Toyota 4Runner.
Four years ago in this space, I wrote a review of the Toyota 4Runner in which I quoted Casey Kasem's most famous outtake, linked to Sajeev Mehta's piece in The Truth About Cars comparing it to fat Elvis and basically said the 4Runner was going the wrong way for the times.

Well, times change.  That was written in the aftershocks of the 2008 crash, and while there has by no means been a complete recovery and gas prices are higher now (the Sacramento average for a gallon of regular as I write this is $4.11), the world has continued to spin and Americans have, as they always have, adapted, adjusted and bought as large as their credit scores would allow. In those intervening four years, I have driven an additional 200-plus new vehicles and, in the current landscape, the 4Runner no longer seems out of place.

Mind you, I still think Toyota is slicing the SUV spectrum mighty thin with RAV4, FJ, Highlander, 4Runner, Sequoia and Land Cruiser...but (apart from the FJ, which is in its last season) it seems to be working.

Why The 2014 Lexus IS 350C Looks Like The Last Generation IS

Front 3/4 view of 2014 Lexus IS350C
The 2014 Lexus IS 350C.
There is a sleek, svelte new Lexus IS in town.  You have seen it, on this very site.  About seven months ago, I reviewed it, in the form of the IS 350 F-Sport. But the IS 350C retractable hardtop convertible and the high performance IS-F sedan still carry the rounder, smoother design from the previous-generation IS.


This Could Be The Start Of Something Big: 2015 Hyundai Genesis 5.0

Front 3/4 view of 2015 Hyundai Genesis
The 2015 Hyundai Genesis 5.0.
The story on Hyundai the past few years has been how quickly it has roared up onto Toyota's rear bumper...from the butt of more than a few jokes (Rodney King was widely presumed innocent in car circles because his Hyundai couldn't possibly have been going 110 to 115 miles per hour as the California Highway Patrol had claimed) to a serious contender.

Now, the 2015 Genesis 5.0 makes a case for the brand having done the same to Toyota's luxury division, Lexus.


Most Improved Player: The 2015 Chrysler 200C

Front 3/4 view of 2015 Chrysler 200C
The 2015 Chrysler 200C.
Having expounded a few times on my thoughts regarding automobiles and art, it should come as no surprise that I considered the 2014 and earlier Chrysler 200 as graffiti.  An ungainly mess of a car, excused only by the fact that it was something of an improvement over the Chrysler Sebring.  Fiat did a rush job putting lipstick strategically on a pig.

But this---this is what can happen when you have time, taste and money all devoted to building a new mid-size sedan.


What Sets The Buick Verano Apart From The Chevy Cruze

Front 3/4 view of 2014 Buick Verano
The 2014 Buick Verano
A bit more than two years ago, Michael reviewed the Buick Verano and had a very basic problem.  Even though the Verano was nicer and smoother, it cost three thousand dollars more, felt slower with the 2.4-liter four compared to the 1.4-liter turbo in the Cruze and got worse gas mileage.

Since Michael's drive, there's been an addition to the Verano lineup that erases most of those concerns. The 2-liter turbo engine.


2014 AmericanMuscle Car Show

2014 AmericanMuscle Car Show Arrivals
Arrivals at the 2014 AmericanMuscle Car Show.
One of our proudest associations here at TireKicker is AmericanMuscle...a long-term sponsor.

They held their annual car show on August 16th, 2014 in Mohnton, Pennsylvania at Maple Grove Raceway. This was the first year the show was held at Maple Grove and allowed a far greater number of Mustangs and spectators to enjoy the show. Brett “Big Schwag” Wagner, host of the show “Pass Time” was one of the hosts of the show, MCing different events. 2,600 Mustangs converged at Maple Grove to make it one of the largest Mustang Events in the country, with 10,000+ spectators at the event.


Now With Two More MPG City and Highway: The 2015 Mazda 6 I Grand Touring

Front 3/4 view of 2015 Mazda 6
The 2015 Mazda 6.
Regular TireKicker readers know of our love for the Mazda 6. We fairly raved about the 2014, and promptly put it on our list of TireKicker's Best Cars.

The 2015 is in dealer showrooms now and while there are no visible changes, there's a nice one you'll see at the gas pumps.


Why The 2014 Volkswagen Passat 1.8T SEL Premium Competes Against Itself

Front 3/4 view of 2014 Volkswagen Passat
The 2014 Volkswagen Passat. 
And now, a quandry from Volkswagen.

A week driving the 2014 Passat SEL Premium reveals it to be a competent, comfortable family sedan, capable of getting very good gas mileage (24 city/34 highway).  That is thanks to its 1.8-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine.  That engine is small for its class---most of the competition has 2.5 liters---VW relies on the turbo to provide extra power on an as-needed basis, allowing the Passat to benefit from a gas-sipping engine most of the time.


Spending To Save: The 2014 Lexus GS450h Hybrid

Front 3/4 view of 2014 Lexus GS450h
2014 Lexus GS450h.
"Conspicuous consumption" and "hybrid" would seem to be mutually exclusive terms, but not at Lexus. You can, in fact, spend $120,000 with that carmaker for a hybrid that only gets 19 miles per gallon in the city and 23 on the highway...the outlandish LS600h L (a "base" LS460 costs nearly $50,000 less and gets 16 in the city, 24 on the highway).

But if you'd like to make a somewhat smaller statement about your personal status and a larger one about the environment, the next step down the Lexus hybrid ladder gets you a much more rational, yet still luxurious, vehicle.


UPDATED: Where We Took The 2014 Lexus GX460

Front 3/4 view of 2014 Lexus GX460
The 2014 Lexus GX460.
A typical test drive is a lousy way to get to know a car.  But it's all most people get. Ten minutes or so in the blocks around the dealership, with a salesman in the passenger seat distracting you from really absorbing what the car does well and not so well.

Even after you buy it, you'll probably spend less than an hour a day in your new car, so you don't get a real sense of what your vehicle is about until the first good road trip.  Since TireKicker World Headquarters relocated to Sacramento late last year, we've been doing those on a semi-regular basis (see our day trip to Placerville via back roads in the Mazda MX-5 Miata, to Ukiah and Mendocino in the Mitsubishi Lancer and to Ukiah then down the coast in the Toyota Avalon Hybrid), and our most recent was just two weeks ago, in the Lexus GX460.

How The 2014 Lexus IS-F Might Be A BMW-Killer

Front 3/4 view of 2014 Lexus IS-f
2014 Lexus IS-F.

418 horsepower.  371 pounds per foot of torque. 8-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters. Zero to 60 in 4.2 seconds.

It's a Lexus sedan.

I'll give that a minute to sink in.  You'll be excused for being surprised, because Lexus still has this image out there of being pure luxury vehicles...Toyotas swaddled in leather and wood, all noise, vibration and harshness hunted down and eliminated until the driving experience is one of riding on a perfectly silent wave of whipped cream.

And it's not true.  Not for the most part, anyway and not in recent years.  Regular TireKicker readers have seen our reviews of F-Sport models from Lexus (GS 350, RX 350, IS 350, LS 460), which usually involve suspension upgrades and in one rather unfortunate case reviewed by the Phoenix bureau recently (CT 200) simply is a trim package.

But if you want the whole F-Sport experience, apart from the $300,000-plus LFA supercar, you need to get behind the wheel of the IS-F sedan.


Why The 2014 Scion tC Co-Exists With The FR-S

Front 3/4 view of 2014 Scion tC

Pretty is as pretty does, and the 2014 Scion tC is definitely more of a looker than the '13.  No, this isn't an all-new car, or even that much of a comprehensive makeover...the changes this year are a much more aggressive-looking nose with projector beam headlamps and LED accents and a re-styled tail (which, really is a different set of taillights, some fake vents in the rear bumper and a black panel in the bottom middle).

UPDATED: How The 2014 Kia Soul's Changes Make It Worth More Money

2014 Kia Soul
The 2014 Kia Soul.

Behold the all-new 2014 Kia Soul.

What's that?

Looks like the Kia Soul you've seen on the streets for years?

Well....yeah, until you do this:

How To Equip A 2014 Hyundai Elantra GT

Front 3/4 view of 2014 Hyundai Elantra GT
2014 Hyundai Elantra GT.
Almost three years ago, we had our last spin in a Hyundai Elantra, arriving at the conclusion that it was going to make life tough on the then-current Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic.

Well, Corolla is all-new and Civic has been largely re-done since then....but the Elantra is still in the same generation as the 2011 model...and showing its age a bit.


Where To Test Drive The 2014 Scion FR-S (Good Luck Convincing Your Local Dealer)

2014 Scion FR-S front view
2014 Scion FR-S.
It's been two years since our last shot at the wheel of a Scion FR-S and a lot has changed.  TireKicker World Headquarters has relocated to Sacramento, California from Phoenix, Arizona. We've gained winding, twisting mountain roads and the best travelling companion one could ask for.

The FR-S is pretty much the same car that we drove in the summer of '12...still packing the Subaru 2.0-liter boxer four-cylinder that makes 200 horsepower, with a six-speed manual (you can pay extra for an automatic, but for the love of God, why would you?), 17-inch alloy wheels, an independent MacPherson strut front suspension and a double wishbone rear suspension with a Torsen Limited Slip differential. There's a new touchscreen audio system standard (but if you want navigation, that's extra).  Base price is up $200 from the original 2013 model, to $24,700...and ours was optionless, so with $755 delivery processing and handling fee, the bottom line was $25,455.

When I knew we'd have the FR-S in our possession last weekend, I asked Navigator to find us a good winding, twisting road.

She found three.


Why The 2014 Hyundai Tucson Is Going Away

2014 Hyundai Tucson front 3/4 view
2014 Hyundai Tucson.
We're on a bit of a roll here at TireKicker when it comes to small crossovers, or what they used to call "Cute-Utes".  The Phoenix Bureau just posted its review of the 2014 Nissan Rogue this afternoon, I updated my review of the 2014 Toyota RAV4 earlier in the week, and it was about a month ago that I reviewed the 2015 Mazda CX-5.

So where does the 2014 Hyundai Tucson fit in that incredibly competitive segment that also includes the Honda CR-V, Chevrolet Equinox, Ford Escape and Kia Sportage?

How The 2014 Nissan Rogue Has Grown Up

Front 3/4 view of 2014 Nissan Rogue
2014 Nissan Rogue.
To fully appreciate the changes to the 2014 Nissan Rogue, it is extremely helpful to read Michael's review of the first-generation Rogue, written a bit more than five years ago.  The pictures tell part of the tale. The new Rogue is much more put-together, more of a mini-Pathfinder than a Versa wagon.

The biggest surprises are that the new Rogue is still using the original 170-horsepower 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that powered the original half a decade ago, and that, despite gaining 117 pounds, it now gets much better mileage.  That's because of a new Xtronic Continuously Variable Transmission that Nissan says generates 40% less friction loss.  Last year's EPA-estimated 23 miles per gallon city and 28 miles per gallon highway is now 26 mpg city and 33 mpg highway.


What $2,720 Extra Buys You In The Toyota RAV4 Limited (UPDATED)

2014 Toyota RAV4 Limited
The 2014 Toyota RAV4 Limited.

A shade over 4 months ago in this space, we reviewed the 2013 Toyota RAV4, the XLE model...and liked it a lot.

Well, you can get a RAV4 three ways...the base LE model, the XLE we tested and the Limited. Given that the Limited is only $3,710 more than the LE and a mere $2720 higher than the XLE we tested, we thought it would be worth a look.

Does The 2015 Kia Sorento Look Familiar To You?

Front 3/4 view of 2015 Kia Sorento
The 2015 Kia Sorento.
Regular TireKicker readers will certainly recognize this crossover...a frequent visitor to the "Most Viewed Reviews This Week" feature in the right-hand column in both its 2013 and 2014 model years, and which we reviewed, in different trim levels, not once, not twice but three times in MY 2014.  We had two SX front-wheel drives (one in Arizona, one after the move to Sacramento) and a lower-spec EX all-wheel drive. Each time we came away impressed with the Sorento's overall goodness, to the point that I said (and will stand by) that if I were shopping in this segment, playing with my own money, the Sorento would be the one to beat.

Now the 2015 Sorento is already on the streets, getting a multi-month jump on the competition...so what's new?


Why The Lexus CT200h F-Sport? Really, Why?

Front 3/4 view of 2014 Lexus CT200h
The 2014 Lexus CT200h.

Almost 2 years ago, Michael reviewed the Lexus CT200h F-Sport, expressing surprise that there was really a market for a $30,000-plus Lexus small hatchback hybrid, much less an extra-cost one offering no performance benefit that, as equpped, approached $40,000.

"Do you see something here we're not seeing?" Michael asked.  And no one answered. Averaged out over the four model years of its existence and forecasting 2014 based on the first six months of the year, Lexus manages to find homes for about 16,000 of them per year. That is not huge, but it is certainly more demand than driving it would suggest it would generate.

Is The 2014 Lexus RX350 F-Sport Worth The Extra Money?

Front 3/4 view of 2014 Lexus RX350 F-Sport
The 2014 Lexus RX350 F-Sport.

Eight days shy of a year ago, we had our first test of the Lexus RX350 F-Sport.  At the time, surrounded by  the relatively flat streets and urban freeways of Phoenix, Arizona, we had to work in a side trip on the winding roads along the edge of Camelback Mountain to determine whether the F-Sport package (which leaves the stock RX350's 270-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 in place but adds an 8-speed automatic with paddle shifters and an F-Sport tuned suspension) was worth the additional seven grand plus change on top of a stock RX350.

Well, as is so often the case, it really depends on where you live and drive. Since moving to Sacramento last fall, winding roads have become a way of life. And the 2014 Lexus RX350 F-Sport, $100 more expensive than last year's model at a base price of $47,450, proved itself day in and day out.

A stock RX350 is an isolation tank...very little feedback from the road or your surroundings.  That's by design.  The F-Sport turns the equation inside out...feedback and control are your new best friends. Whipped cream on wheels transforms into a textbook on tight, taut and tossable.


Why The 2014 Hyundai Azera Is One Of The Two Best Large Family Sedans You Can Buy

Front 3/4 view of 2014 Hyundai Azera
The 2014 Hyundai Azera.
Two weeks shy of a year ago, I reviewed the 2013 Hyundai Azera, compared it to that year's Chevrolet Impala, and pronounced the Azera the winner.  At that point, I had yet to drive the all-new Toyota Avalon.  That's been remedied (the Phoenix bureau has reviewed the Avalon Limited, I drove the Avalon Hybrid), so, we're back to the question...among full-size sedans, which is the best buy?

If you read the reviews of the two Avalons, you may think you know the answer, as both landed well north of $40,000 and the bottom line of the Azera Limited we're talking about here is $37,905.  But we're not comparing hybrids here, and there are a lot of differences between the standard equipment on an Azera Limited and an Avalon Limited.  That's because Toyota has four different trim levels (not counting hybrids) of the Avalon, while Hyundai has two.  The more direct comparison to a Hyundai Azera Limited is actually a Toyota Avalon XLE Premium.

The Azera is $1,305 more expensive than the Avalon ($34,750 versus $33,445).  There are things the Hyundai has the Toyota doesn't...fog lamps, a memory exterior mirror, speed-sensitive wipers, a memory steering column, standard satellite radio (it's an option on the Avalon), standard navigation (again, an option on the big Toyota), front power memory seat, and a folding rear seat. Optioning up the Toyota so that it more closely matches the Azera, it's still about $100 less expensive (most of that can be accomplished by stepping up to the Avalon XLE Touring, which adds other features including some the Hyundai doesn't have, and tips the $100 price difference the other way).

In this class of car, $100 is a rounding error, so we move on.


Why The 2014 Honda Civic Has A Fight On Its Hands

Front 3/4 view of the 2014 Honda Civic EX-L
The 2014 Honda Civic EX-L

Honda Civic.

Those two words used to be the gold standard in small sedans.  They stood for simplicity, dependability, fuel economy, high quality and brilliant ergonomics.

The Civic is still a hit, despite wandering off course the past few years, cheapening materials to the point where even Consumer Reports (if the Amish had a version of Car and Driver...) noticed it and docked them points.

Honda got the message and re-contented the Civic.  But is it all the way back?


How I Almost Came To Love The 2014 Acura ILX

Front 3/4 view of the 2014 Acura ILX Premium
2014 Acura ILX Premium.

Regular readers know I haven't been especially kind to the Acura ILX.  In April of 2013, I directly compared it to its close cousin, the Honda Civic, found the price differential to be too extreme and called it "silk purse/sow's ear stuff"...comparing it to the gone and completely unmissed Lincoln Versailles (badge-engineered from a Ford Granada) and Cadillac Cimarron (a tarted-up Chevrolet Citation).

More recently, just six and a half weeks ago, in fact, I reviewed the ILX Hybrid.

And found it lacking. Especially at the price ($35,495).

Now comes the ILX Premium...and it's different.  Instead of the poky hybrid or the 150-horsepower, 2.0-liter four with an automatic, this one had the 201 horsepower, 2.4-liter four.....with a stick.

Where The 2014 Toyota Tundra 1794 Edition Is A Big Hit

Front 3/4 view of 2014 Toyota Tundra 1794 Edition
2014 Toyota Tundra 1794 Edition.

Not six months ago, I wrote a review of the Toyota Tundra Limited and said that while we believed Toyota had gotten the big pickup formula right the year and generation before, buyers didn't agree (The Tundra ranks sixth in pickup sales in the U.S., behind the Ford F-150, Chevy Silverado, Ram 1500, GMC Sierra and the Tundra's little brother, the mid-size Toyota Tacoma). My take was that loyalty is huge in the pickup market and as good as the Tundra is, it hadn't found whatever it would take to make Ford, Chevy, Ram and GMC owners break ranks in sufficient numbers.

Not quite a month ago, the Phoenix bureau reviewed the Toyota Tundra 1794 Crewmax 4X4 and came to the same conclusion (including our other observation...the Tundra's gas mileage, which at 13 city/17 highway, is worse than Ford, Chevy, Ram and GMC).

But...it's still a very nice truck.  It's a Toyota, so it's likely to be trouble-free and last very nearly forever.  What's the problem?

Hoping for answers, I requisitioned a Tundra here in Sacramento and planned a roadtrip.  There are 5 models of Tundra (SR, SR5, Limited, Platinum and the new 1794 Edition), so I figured the odds were good that I'd get one of the three not reviewed here at TireKicker.  Instead, much to my surprise, a 1794 Edition was delivered. By no means a hardship, since I'd yet to see one in the metal, and I was curious how it would compare to its obvious target, the Ford F-150 King Ranch.


How The 2015 Volvo S60 T6 Drive-E Has Changed Everything

Front 3/4 view of 2014 Volvo S60 T6 Drive-E
The 2015 Volvo S60 T6 Drive-E.

If you find yourself wondering "Whatever happened to Volvo?", you can't be blamed.  A status symbol of sorts as the thinking man and woman's car in the 70s, 80s and 90s, ownership changes--from the original Swedes to Ford and then to Geely of China--some less than stellar vehicles (the S40, essentially a re-badged Mitsubishi Carisma) and a loss of focus in what Volvo stands for have driven Volvo's sales to the point of near-invisibility.

This may be the turning point.


Why The 2015 Mazda CX-5 Keeps Its Crown

Front 3/4 view of 2015 Mazda CX-5
The 2015 Mazda CX-5.

There are very few constants in life. One of them, at least for the nearly six years of TireKicker's existence (and the 11 years as an automotive journalist before I founded it) is:  Mazda doesn't make bad cars.  In fact, they usually make cars that are arguably better and more involving for a driver than everything else in their class. Mazda 2Mazda 3, Mazda 6, MX-5 Miata, the CX-9...about the only Mazda that never won us completely over was the departed RX-8 (though that one got better near the end).

Mazda's small crossover is the CX-5.  Playing in an intensely competitive segment (Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V, Nissan Rogue, Hyundai Tucson, Kia Sportage, Ford Escape, Chevy Equinox, Jeep Cherokee, Volkswagen Tiguan and others), it needs to stand out, and does...if you equip it right.

Where The 2014 Volkswagen Beetle Fits Today

Front 3/4 view of 2014 Volkswagen Beetle R-Line
The 2014 Volkswagen Beetle R-Line.

There is great ambivalence about the Volkswagen Beetle.  Not the original and not the New Beetle, but the current model, which replaced the New Beetle two years ago.  It was thought the more angular, less round, less cute design would boost sales, and to an extent it has, but this is still nowhere near the phenomenon the original Beetle was in the 1960s.

The May sales figures for the United States show the Beetle selling 29th among small cars, lagging behind such automotive rarities as the Hyundai Veloster, Nissan Juke and Buick Encore. Dodge sells nearly three times as many Darts.  And the Dart is not a car that is setting the world on fire.


Could The 2014 Toyota Corolla S Be The First Desirable Corolla In A Generation?

Front 3/4 view of the 2014 Toyota Corolla S
The 2014 Toyota Corolla S.
As the Phoenix bureau made clear in its review of the Toyota Corolla LE ECO about six weeks ago, Corollas have not historically been cars one aspires to.  You'd have to go back to the mid-80s Corolla GT-S and FX-16 to find the last time someone eagerly saved up their money with a Corolla as the end goal.  Since then, it's all been about reliability, fuel economy and price.  And Toyota has done just fine with that on the business end while making some dreadfully boring appliances (see my review of the 2013 Corolla).

That may have changed.  The Corolla certainly has.  While the Phoenix bureau is correct that the all-new Corolla is actually an artful blend of old and new, a salient fact was missing from that earlier review (as Executive Editor, I'll take responsibility...I should have caught it).  The new Corolla has a 3-inch longer wheelbase than the old one.  That has a lot to do with its better looks, and it greatly improves what was a none-too-wonderful ride.

But beauty is as beauty does...and if you follow one simple rule in your Toyota shopping, you'll find the '14 Corolla does exceptionally well.  That rule?  Skip the L, the LE and the LE Eco.  The one worth having is the Corolla S.


Why The 2014 Nissan Pathfinder Could Give Toyota Trouble

Front 3/4 view of 2014 Nissan Pathfinder
2014 Nissan Pathfinder.

There are times when all it takes to win is to be in second place when the leader stumbles.

If you have read Michael's review of the 2014 Toyota Highlander, you have read the prologue to this review.  And if you have read his review of the 2013 Nissan Pathfinder from last August, you know the Pathfinder, in his view, improved greatly as a result of its redesign.