Ever since Fiat Chrysler reintroduced Alfa Romeo to America a few years back, each successive model has become more practical and usable. The tiny 4C is a brilliant little carbon-fiber roadster, but best considered a toy. The Giulia is a gorgeous midsize sports sedan that’s available with a twin-turbocharged V6 that sounds like it came straight out of a mid-1980s Ferrari F1 car. But as much as I adored the Giulia Quadrifoglio, it’s pricey and as discussed previously it’s too low to the ground to deal with a major snow storm. But Alfa has us covered there as well with its first-ever utility vehicle, the Stelvio which I drove the week before the big storm.
Ok, let’s immediately deal with the elephant in the room. The Toyota Prius Prime is not an attractive vehicle. In fact, to my eyes, it’s quite homely. Now that we have that out of the way, I’ll leave the aesthetic judgements to your own tastes and move on to how Toyota’s sophomore effort at a plug-in version of its icon works. While the first-generation Prius PHV was a bit of a swing and a miss, the functionality this time is in most respects a home run.
For a time from late in the last decade through the first half of this one, it seemed like a second generation Acura NSX would become the automotive equivalent of Duke Nukem Forever. Starting in 2003, every few years Honda would reveal a new concept that seemed to preview a new supercar but for some reason or other, the project just never came to fruition. At least not until the spring of 2016 when Honda’s newly christened Performance Manufacturing Center in Marysville, Ohio started turning out a handful of cars per day.
In 2017, do vehicle segment labels even have any meaning anymore? Back in the dark ages of the 1970s we knew what a sport utility vehicle was. It was essentially a shortened body-on-frame pickup truck with an enclosed, but often removable rear body. But then in 1984, Jeep introduced the XJ Cherokee and it all began to change. Now a utility vehicle can be whatever an automaker’s marketing department deems it to be including a high-performance compact, hot hatch like the Mercedes-AMG GLA45.
It’s not unreasonable to think of Buick as the original near-luxury brand. It was the first of the many brands that Billy Durant acquired as he began building up General Motors more than a century ago. Later as Alfred Sloan organized GM’s marketing efforts and brands into a stair step from Chevrolet at the entry level to Cadillac at the pinnacle, Buick was slotted in just below the top as the “doctor’s car.” A few decades ago, a big sedan like the LaCrosse would have been the brand flagship, the model an up and coming professional would be driving on their way to eventually having a Cadillac. Today, the recently introduced third-generation LaCrosse is almost an afterthought for customers as they rush to buy crossovers like the sub-compact Encore and full-size Enclave.
With the Volkswagen diesel buyback now in full-force here in the United States, up to half a million drivers will be looking for new cars in the coming months. A significant chunk of that group has declared that they want to keep their cars despite the emissions cheating while others including at least one friend of mine are lining up to buy the leftover unsold 2015 models now that a fix has been approved by the EPA. There is clearly still some demand for affordable diesel cars in America and Chevrolet wants a piece of it with the new 2017 Cruze diesel.
It’s been just over four decades since the modern hot hatch was born with debut of the original Volkswagen Golf GTI. In the intervening years, most other automakers have produced higher performance versions of their compact cars but since the turn of the century a new class of even quicker machines has evolved. Until recently, with the exception of the Volkswagen Golf R, these machines have been forbidden fruit on American shores. Fortunately for enthusiasts, Ford finally homologated its legendary Focus RS and American Honda dealers will soon start delivering the latest edition of the Civic Type-R.
Cadillac -The Standard of the World. Built Ford Tough. Mercedes-Benz -The Best or Nothing. BMW – The Ultimate Driving Machine. Audi – Truth in Engineering. Well maybe not so much on that last one, but you get my point. Successful automotive brands have an image associated with them that may or may not be entirely accurate, but that’s what marketing is all about. Honda’s premium Acura brand has always struggled with trying to determine what it’s image should be, no matter how good its products have been and they have typically been very good. The latest stab at remaking the brand image image is the 2017 MDX SUV which I just spent a week with.
Given the current market trends and consumer favor for SUVs, Volvo probably made the right call in coming out of the gate with the big XC90 for the first complete reboot of its product lineup after separating from Ford. Fortunately, for those of us less enamored with driving utilities on a daily basis, they’ve quickly followed that up with the S90 sedan and soon the V90 wagon. I recently spent a week with the S90 and found that unsurprisingly it shares most of the same strengths and foibles as its higher riding sibling but in a much sleeker package. (more…)
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.