It’s been more than eight years since I first drove one of BMW’s MINI E electric prototypes around downtown Los Angeles. One of the first characteristics I noticed about that car was the extremely aggressive regenerative braking that enabled driving virtually without touching the brake pedal. While BMW has persisted with that strategy as the only control mode on the production i3, other automakers have provided similar abilities only when shifting the transmission to Low mode. After driving the new Chevrolet Bolt EV from Tesla’s Silicon Valley backyard into the heart of San Francisco, I think all Bolt drivers should consider driving this way all the time.
It’s been a decade since General Motors finally gave up on trying to stake out a claim in the minivan market and then trying to recast its vans as pseudo-SUVs. In 2006, GM launched an all-new platform for full-size crossover utilities that was known internally as Lambda and ultimately spawned four nameplates, Buick Enclave, Chevrolet Traverse, GMC Acadia and the now-defunct Saturn Outlook. Having achieved some notable success with the platform with steadily growing sales of more than 200,000 units annually since 2010, an all-new second-generation Lambda is now ready and hit the streets in 2016 under a redesigned version of the Acadia.
Earlier this year, nearly eight years after Ford started divesting its controlling interest in Mazda, the Japanese brand finally replaced the last of the products that shared hardware with the Dearborn brand. Mazda’s biggest vehicle was also its oldest with the original CX-9 lasting nearly a decade before a complete redesign. Now that the CX-9 is new and fresh, does it finally fit in with the rest of the family from the brand that says “driving matters?”
Torque is a good thing. To any gearhead, having copious quantities of readily available torque available under their right foot is always welcome and the 2010 BMW X6 M has plenty to spare.
When Steve Ballmer left the CEO’s office at Microsoft, he went and spent a good chunk of the fortune he had amassed buying the Los Angeles Clippers. If instead, he had chosen to become an automotive marketing executive, I could picture him stomping around the stage at a dealer meeting in a sweat drenched shirt shouting “Utilities! Utilities! Utilities!” As consumers increasingly opt for either traditional SUVs or more modern crossover utilities, automakers are scrambling to add more nameplates. For Kia, 2016 seems like the perfect time to launch an all-new version of the oldest continuous model in its lineup, the Sportage compact crossover.
For most of its nearly two decade history, the midsize RX crossover has been the best seller in the Lexus lineup by a fairly wide margin. Like other Lexi prior to the current generation, it also had generally inoffensive, but uninspired design. That all changed in 2015 with the debut of the fourth-generation RX including the hybrid RX450h F Sport that I recently drove. Whether you like the new design direction or not, this latest RX is at least less likely to get lost in a crowd.
The luxury vehicle market today shares a very important characteristic with the market for more mainstream models. While enthusiasts may prefer the cars, especially sporty, performance oriented models, crossovers are where the big money is at. For all the strategic issues that Ford’s upmarket Lincoln brand has had over the past couple of decades, they at least seem to have recognized this truism. Thus instead of a BMW and Cadillac-chasing rear drive sports sedan or coupe, we have the new MKX midsize crossover and frankly that’s not an entirely bad thing.
Last year Fiat Chrysler Automobiles launched two B-segment SUVs based off the same platform but with very different designs and personalities. The more stylish Fiat 500X that I drove recently is targeted at a mainstream audience that wants the high-riding look of a utility with a modern look but has no intention of ever tackling anything more challenging than a gravel driveway. For those that actually want a real off-road capable SUV in a small package, there is the Jeep Renegade Trailhawk.
Let’s face it, the re-entry of Fiat into the American marketplace in the wake of the Italian company’s post-bankruptcy absorption of Chrysler has not gone as well as CEO Sergio Marchionne had hoped. The diminutive 500 never reached the sales targets expected of it and the larger 500L MPV did even worse. We still have some months to wait before the Miata-derived 124 roadster hits the streets but there is one other Fiat entry that may yet have the potential to be a breakout hit, subcompact crossover 500X.
Over the course of its first 25 years, the Ford Explorer has had quite a roller coaster ride. It got off to a strong start in the original SUV wave of the 1990s eventually hit peak sales of more than 445,000 in 2000 before starting a decade of mostly steady decline. By 2009 when the shine was almost entirely off of the SUV in the depths of the great recession, Ford moved barely 52,000 Explorers. In 2011, Ford rebooted the whole concept, dumping the long-running body-on-frame layout for a car based unibody and it’s been smiles ever since. Fresh off a mid-cycle refresh, nearly 250,000 Explorers found a home last year, second only to the compact Escape. I spent a week with the new top-of-the-line Platinum edition and have some thoughts to share.