We exist in a world of pervasive screens and connectivity and touch interfaces. In that world, almost everything we do is intermediated, filtered and converted through layers of ones and zeros. In fact, in the not too distant future, it’s likely that many if not most of us will never actively drive a car again. Fortunately, we’re not quite at that final place yet and there remain a handful of virtually unfiltered driving experiences like the 2016 Alfa Romeo 4C Spider.
It’s been a quarter century since I drove a BMW for the first time. After years of reading Car and Driver’s praise of the 3 and 5 Series, my entre into the brand came via the big coupe which in those days was the 850i. The 8 series had supplanted the 6 series while moving significantly upmarket. The 8 was only produced for a single generation before giving way to an eventual revival of the 6 which I finally had a chance to drive recently in 650i form.
Up until the early-1970s the Detroit-based automakers absolutely dominated the American market. However, ever since then they have progressively lost share to brands from Asia and Europe in virtually every segment of the market, save one. Somehow Detroit has managed to maintain a near stranglehold on the full-size pickup truck. After what can only described as a swing and whiff with its original Titan pickup, Nissan is back to try again and this time they have really stepped up their game. But is it enough?
A decade ago if you looked deeply in General Motors sales results, you find that the company was selling huge numbers of Chevrolet Cobalts and Pontiac Sunfires, but it wasn’t actually making any money on them. That’s because if you traveled and had to rent a car, chances were pretty good that you’d find row upon row of these cars populating the lots at Hertz, Avis, Budget and Enterprise. Then in September 2008, just before the financial collapse and subsequent bankruptcy, GM introduced a small car that consumers might actually want to buy, the Cruze. It would be two more years before the Cruze would hit American streets, but it actually did pretty well and in June 2015, Chevrolet revealed an all-new second-generation Cruze which I just had a chance to drive for a week.
The idea of the off-road vehicle is by no means new, but it used to be that people that wanted to go bouncing around in sand dunes, crawling through canyons or racing through the desert would basically have to build their own. Aside from the Jeep Wrangler and its predecessors, almost no factory-built truck had real serious off-road capability. However, in the past decade we’ve seen automakers go from building hot-rod trucks like the Chevy Syclone, Ford F-150 Lightning and Dodge Ram SRT-10 to more serious off-roaders like the F-150 SVT Raptor and this Toyota Tacoma TRD Off-Road.
If you’ve been following along over the past year or so, you’ve probably noticed that I’m quite enamored with the current generation Hyundai’s midsize sedan, the Sonata. Since early 2015, I’ve driven the 1.6-liter turbocharged Eco, the 2.0-liter Hybrid and now the newest member of the lineup, the Plug-in Hybrid. The Sonata PHEV is the first Hyundai-branded model sold in North America with a plug and it’s one of only two plug-in hybrids in the midsize family sedan segment, the other being the Ford Fusion Energi.
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.
There are more than two billion smartphones in active use globally now with the vast majority of them running either Google’s Android or Apple’s iOS. People have access to all of the world’s information and entertainment almost anywhere they go and they’ve come to expect to be able to use it anytime they want, including in the car. Thus, 2014 brought the announcements of Apple Carplay and Android Auto.
The typical American car buyer is a fickle beast, constantly evolving and chasing the latest fashion. You might think that as the second biggest purchase that most people make after their home, selecting a vehicle would be a more rational decision, but in reality it is often far more emotional. That’s probably why the crossover utility vehicle has become one of the hottest segments in the market with the Honda CR-V and Ford Escape each selling more than 300,000 units in 2014 and numerous other models in the segment topping 200,000. For Mazda, the compact CX-5 is the brand’s second best seller, just behind the Mazda3 and selling nearly twice as fast as the midsize Mazda6 sedan. I recently got to spend a week with the 2016 CX-5 Grand Touring AWD to see if it lives up to the brand’s fun-to-drive philosophy and came away impressed.