You might be getting tired of reading about the Mazda3’s greatness on these pages, but we’ll never tire of proclaiming it so long as Mazda keeps pushing it to the head of the class. This week’s example is the fully loaded hatchback version with the gutsy 2.5-liter I4. With sweet steering feel, handling that chews up any corner and responsive brakes there really isn’t much left for us to ask Mazda for. That’s especially true now because for 2015 Mazda has listened to the vocal enthusiasts among us who want to do their own shifting with the more powerful 2.5-liter and made the stick the standard transmission with both engines. Better rest up because it sounds like you might be hearing some more about our favorite small car once we get our hands on one of those.
Toyota wants to move the latest Highlander onto more buyers’ radar and they’re doing that by toughening up the style to attract more men and refining the family friendly features to keep it’s female fan base from straying to the competition. We like what they’ve done inside with smart designs like the massive center console, useful full-width dash shelf and teen-friendly second row captain’s chairs. Toyota has given us less to get excited about under the skin with carryover engine and a 6-speed automatic that doesn’t push any envelopes. Do we recommend the total package or suggest a pass? Our latest video review has that answer.
We’re a weird bunch. For many reasons probably, but primarily because the AT staff is part of that slim subgroup of auto enthusiasts who believe the only way to improve on a BMW 3-Series is to extend the roofline and add a liftgate. In other words, we would spec our 3 as a Sport Wagon. So you can imagine how happy we were to have a week with the latest Sport Wagon after first fearing that BMW may stop importing the cargo-friendly version when the latest generation debuted. Yes, we would like the option of a 6-speed manual and rear wheel drive in place of the all-weather capable xDrive setup that BMW wrongly assumes everyone wants, but there’s still plenty to love here as you’ll see in our latest video review.
Back in the 1960’s, the Beetle was a car at the bottom of the automotive food chain. If one wanted a cheap and reliable car the Beetle was an obvious choice. Problem was, the Beetle offered very few comfort and convenience features. VW replaced the Beetle with the highly successful Golf (known for a time as the Rabbit in the States). When the New Beetle hit the roads in the late 1990’s it was fully modern in features and retro in style. Problem was, it wasn’t the most manly of cars. VW decided to replace the New Beetle with a more macho car, one that had finally grown up. Indeed, this car is far more civilized and comfortable than any of its forbearers. The question remains, has it improved enough in the last decade and a half to remain relevant? Read more…
It is hard to believe that it has been 30 model years since Hyundai introduced the lowly Excel to the United States. Priced at $4995 it pretty much was undercut in price (and quality) by only the Yugo GV. The Excel has long left the market and Hyundai has slowly and surely been moving the top end of its brand upmarket. Rather than introduce a separate marque to sell premium cars Hyundai has simply added the range topping Equus. The ‘base’ Equus we piloted starts at $61,250. For that type of money one could purchase a whole fleet of Excels if one were skilled enough to find any unlikely survivors. And yet at just over sixty grand the Equus undercuts similarly spec’ed flagships like the 7-Series and A8. This pricing strategy mirrors that of Lexus in its inaugural 1989 model year. Has Hyundai truly refined its skills to offer a legitimate luxury cruiser capable of threatening the established BMW, Mercedes, and Lexus offerings? Will the well-to-do be willing to shop for their Equus in the same showroom as those who are negotiating for low monthly payments on an Elantra? Watch as we ponder these questions in the video above. Read more…
It took a few tries, but Kia now has a legitimate competitor to the excellent Buick LaCrosse and it’s called the Cadenza. Kia has equipped the Cadenza with a strong V6 that uses 293 hp to move it around just as well as the slightly stronger Buick and, although the looks might not quite match the Lacrosse’s luscious lines, it smartly uses a little chrome to pass off as a player that belongs. Inside is where Kia really did their homework, offering all the appropriate features like an excellent Infinity audio system, heated seats all around, a heated steering wheel, panoramic roof, rear sunshade, even a driver’s ventilated seat. Done up nicely with two-tone black and cream leather and stylish dark wood, the Cadenza has to make no apologies for its quiet and comfortable cabin. If we snap into our hyper critical mode the switchgear on the center console lags the best of the competition and the front grille still lacks personality in our opinion, but consider the pluses and add in the value of a ten year warranty and the $42k sticker price is spot on.
F Sport is Lexus talk for sport package equipment and styling layered onto one of their mainstream models. We’ve come to like the idea, especially in the GS F Sport configuration which feels far livelier and more rewarding to drive than lesser GS models. Unfortunately the IS 250 F Sport we just spent a week with doesn’t feel as comprehensively upgraded as it should. The result is a tidy little sedan that should be light on its feet and responsive being hampered by a transmission that shifts slowly even in sport mode and steering that doesn’t deliver the corner carving connection that you can find in other F Sport models. Of course the F Sport package does improve the IS’s looks with attractive wheels and the gauge cluster is one of the neatest on the market. We’re afraid it’s just not enough to win our recommendation for Lexus’ little sport sedan.
If you want style in the Volkswagen lineup you’re going to be shopping for a CC. One of the original “four door coupes” continues in 2014 as a entry level luxury sedan distinguished by sleek styling and an athletic turbo four cylinder that may be rated at only 200 hp but feels like closer to 250. During our week with the oft-verlooked Passat alternative we came to enjoy features like opening the trunk with a wave of your foot under the bumper, the easy to fold down back seats and the superb cabin materials. We didn’t find much love for the slow to respond infotainment screen or the couple rattles that materialized around the interior. With strong competition in the mid to upper $30k segment the CC has to rely on its looks to get by but for some buyers driving a car that isn’t found in every driveway in the community is appealing enough to sign on the dotted line.
Mazda knows how to build cars we like. From the rewarding 6 and consistently excellent 3 to the newcomer CX-5, which brings sporting dynamics to the crossover market, the little Japanese manufacturer keeps giving us what we want. So you can bet we were excited to get behind the wheel of the new 41 mpg third-generation 3 recently. Of course you’ll want to watch the video for all the details, but we’ll drop a spoiler here: if you buy another small car, you’ve made the wrong choice.
The Passat has been a comfortable and roomy family sedan since we were gifted our own built-in-America version a few years back. What it has lacked is a good base engine and a bit of style. The Passat Sport aims to address both with a few design flairs, and thankfully, a new 1.8-liter turbo four to replace the lethargic I5. Are the updates enough to warrant a recommendation? You’ll have to watch to find out, but if passenger space is high on your priority list then the Passat should be high on your test drive list.