As the western coast of the United States rises up from the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean, a 655-mile stretch of the boundary between land and water is marked by a strip of pavement known as California Route 1. Known in various locations as the Pacific Coast Highway or Cabrillo Highway, the road winds, climbs and falls as it seeks purchase along the perimeter of the continent. It’s the ideal road for the kinds of cars built by Jaguar and I recently spent some time there in one of the venerable British brand’s newest products. But rather than a car, I was driving the all-new F-Pace S.
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?
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.
If you’re the type of driver that inclined toward cars like the Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Camaro or Dodge Challenger but regularly need to bring along more than one adult friend or strap kids into car seats, Dodge has an alternative for you. In many respects, the Dodge Charger is the family pony car. After spending a week with a 2016 Charger SXT Black Top Edition, I can attest that it has the feel these drivers would be looking for.
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.
As I sit down to write these words about the 2016 Chevrolet Volt, I just realized that it has been almost exactly 10 years since Jon Lauckner and Bob Lutz sat down and sketched out the basic architecture for what they hoped would be a truly practical plug-in car. In the days and weeks that followed, Lutz and Lauckner gathered up the core of an engineering and design team that would eventually bring the first-generation Volt to production four and a half years later. A decade on from those first discussions, the second-generation Volt is now on sale and it’s vastly superior to the original in every way.