Though it may seem like an also-ran in a segment packed with sales heavy hitters like the Ford F-Series and Chevy Silverado/GMC Sierra, Toyota still moves plenty of metal with the Tundra – about 10,000 units a month, in fact. Mazda sold about as many smiley-face 3s this year, and I see plenty of those rolling around. With a fresh redesign under their belts, Toyota corporate is probably hoping those numbers improve towards the second generation’s peak in 2007 of almost 200,000 (Toyota would like to call this revised 2014 model a new generation, but I’m sticking to my guns in calling it a 2nd-gen, given it’s mostly a fascia-and-interior reskinning).
I always relish the opportunity to test different iterations and trim levels of the same model, perhaps because it helps me determine whether the inherent goodness (or badness) of a given car is innate, or limited to a specific loaded-up example. In the case of the Dodge Challenger, my experience with the model line had thus far been limited to the full-fat SRT8 392 model with 470 horsepower and 470 lb-ft of torque. I thoroughly enjoyed that car, loaded as it was to a near $50k price tag, but would its core values be retained in the 95-horsepower-tamer R/T Coupe? Only one way to find out.
The original Scion TC came to prominence in 2005 right around the time my youthful interest in front-wheel-drive sport compacts had started to wane, so I never really gave the little hatchback much attention. I had friends that purchased and loved them for many years, but I always brushed it off as an also-ran in a sea of competent small coupes. That sea has gradually turned into a puddle, with more and more two door compacts falling by the wayside in favor of boxy hatchback shapes or proper four doors. The Chevy Cobalt, Acura RSX and Mitsubishi Eclipse have all since been put out to pasture, leaving a compact coupe buyer just a handful of options – the two-door versions of the Civic, Hyundai Elantra and Kia Forte. And, of course, the refreshed 2014 TC you see here.
Nissan’s been making waves within the automotive press lately with two announcements – first, that it’s developing a sports car to go head-to-head with the likes of the Subaru BRZ and Scion FR-S, and second, that it’s slashing the sticker prices of 2014 370Z Coupes by up to $3 grand versus last year. The two statements seem to go hand in hand, considering the current 370Z’s been around since 2008 more or less unchanged. Dropping the price on the hardtop, which has seen some key new competitors come into the marketplace since then, will incentivize those buyers on the fence to make the move now. What remains to be seen is what, if any, effect that new sports car will have on the next Z car, or if perhaps a change in mission in fact means the next Z is that new BRZ/FR-S competitor.
“Engineered in Germany – Manufactured in Asia” might be a good tagline for the advertisements of Buick’s new compact baby, the Encore. It was conceived as the funky Opel Mokka, and is sold under that nameplate in Europe. With GM interest in the Chinese market strong, a manufacturing base there and in nearby South Korea seems a well-thought-out plan, so that’s what GM executed. As Opel’s unofficial stateside dealer network, Buick picked up the ball and ran with it – marketing the Encore toward urban young professional female types who want strong feature content in a small and upright package. The Encore I drove delivered on those counts, being both quite compact and imbued with feature content that wouldn’t be out of place in a vehicle a few size classes up.
For American shoppers unfamiliar with the Fiat brand other than since the company’s recent re-entrance into this market, the newly released 500L crossover might seem like a bit of a departure from the norm. But, if you cast your eye toward the Continent, you’ll notice a history peppered with such vehicles – even before the term “crossover” was applied to cars. The 500L officially replaces the Idea, a mini MPV with sliding rear seats and a tidy, if generic, profile. Spiritually, though, the 500L sticks closer in character to the Multipla compact MPV and the 600 Multipla variant of the 1960s to which the newer model can ascribe its name.
It’s no secret that Lexus has been on a bit of a roll lately, especially in their attempts to imbue their lineup with the necessary bit of “Sport” that was lacking in the brand’s early years. Beginning with the IS-F, the momentum carried through with years of teasing the LF-A super sports car, which was finally released to both praise and shock (at the price) a couple of years ago. Now, with a very competent midsize sports sedan already in their lineup (see the GS350 F-Sport I reviewed last June), a gap at the compact end of the sales spectrum has finally been filled with the car you see here – the new IS.
In a marketplace with competitors numbered mostly at 1, Subaru continues to market and sell a raw, (once) rally-bred, four-wheel-drive sedan and hatchback on our shores. Lucky us – though Mitsubishi’s on again, off again relationship with the Lancer Evolution seems to be “on” at the moment, along with its presence on our shores, it hasn’t been that long since these cars first became available to those in the US, and it might not be that long until they leave those shores, either. For the foreseeable future, the same battle wages on – a brand new WRX and STI based on the latest Impreza chassis are just around the corner and as previously mentioned, despite threats to the contrary, a quick trip to Mitsubishi’s US homepage reveals that a 2014 model year Lancer Evolution can still be yours from $35,790.
Mitsubishi and Subaru each sold turbocharged, all-wheel-drive sport sedans back in the early 1990s, but while the Galant VR-4 and Legacy GT offered great performance for their time, neither were in the same league as the smaller Lancer Evolution and WRX STI that were just beginning to take the rally world by storm. The newcomers were raw, uncompromising, stripped out economy sedans that had been fitted with highly pressurized 4-cylinder turbo engines, sophisticated all-wheel-drive systems and suspension components, and aerodynamic add-ons bred not for sleek looks but rather effective stabilization at speed. And to the dismay of car enthusiasts, they weren’t offered for sale in this country. At least, not until 2003 – the year the Evolution VIII went on sale, with the WRX STI following in 2004.
Efficient Luxury Transport for the Pleated Set
Put yourself in a place for a moment – one where Porsches, Mustangs and Corvettes are of little concern. Hard to imagine, I know, but bear with me – at some point, many car shoppers decide they’ve endured the stresses of enthusiast auto ownership for too long. Maybe they bore the brunt of a few too many high dollar repairs, or been left stranded in the office parking lot for the last time. They’ve grown weary of having something “sporty” and all the compromises that go along with that. It’s time for a change – they want something comfortable, relaxing, quiet and luxurious – maybe even something that gets really good gas mileage. For one reason or another, maybe a diesel is out of the question – you wouldn’t want your significant other accidentally topping off the tank with gasoline, you know. That can make for a hefty repair bill. They’d even be willing to consider a shade of beige for the paint color. If only there was a car that fit those exacting needs…
Enter the Lexus ES300h.
Readers of this site with particularly strong memories will recall that I have a bit of a history with the latest generation of Mustang GT. I drove a few of the 5.0-liter cars when they came out back in 2011, and I liked them so much that I shelled out my own money for one – a Yellow Blaze GT Premium coupe with a 6-speed manual and the Brembo package; no other options. The test car on this page was more or less equipped similarly to mine, save for two crucial factors – its convertible top and a 6-speed automatic. Having never sampled a newer GT configured with either of those options, I was eager to grab the keys to one for a week.