Author - John Kucek

First drive: 2012 Kia Rio/2012 Kia Soul


Photos courtesy of Kia.

Mother nature can be one fickle witch. For evidence, look no further than the scorched Texas hill country landscape we’re driving through at the moment. The worst drought on record has sapped water from lakebeds, turning Austin’s sprawling Lake Travis into little more than a kiddie pool. So far this year, Austin has experienced more than ninety days of 100 degree heat, keeping both the city’s native Mexican free-tailed bat population (and fixed-gear-riding hipster population) in the shade for most of the day. The lack of green vegetation has also driven hordes of Odocoileus texanus, aka Texas White tail deer, to the roadside in search of the only suitable grub for miles. This last factoid is of particular interest to us at the moment, because my co-driver and I happen to be hurtling past the same roadsides these deer find so enticing at 60 mph. Deer carcasses appear frequently enough to serve as mile-markers, and the live ones are nearly as plentiful. At this moment, the only feature of our 2012 Kia Soul+ that is of any worth to me is its widescreen windshield.

 

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2011 Dodge Grand Caravan — “Brother, can you spare a double class upgrade?”

“I see we’ve got you booked for a minivan today- how many people will there be in your party?.” As I thought about explaining to the attendant at the Alamo desk that I’d be the only one using the van, and that I’d basically be living out of it for the next 24 hours, better judgment prevailed: “Four. Thanks.”

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Rearview Mirror: Reflections From A Once-Upon-A-Time Honda Enthusiast

 

Way, way back at the turn of the 21st century, Honda ruled the roost. At least in the eyes of myself and my cohorts, the company could do no wrong. We dreamed of the day we’d be able to call an NSX or S2000 our own, although even being able to afford the various baubles and bolt-ons from Japan we all yearned for seemed like a distant dream at the time.

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Great expectations, part 2: 2012 Ford Focus SE Sedan

Ford’s been on a crusade lately to win the hearts and minds of the small car buyer with its new Focus, and so far it seems to be working. The Focus has risen to the top of the heap in most comparison test results for its ability to blend functionality and driving dynamics. But how does it match up to its competitors when the two biggest industry buzzwords – fuel economy – are dropped? In search of the almighty MPG, we decided to borrow a 2012 Focus SE sedan for some driving impressions.

 

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Great expectations, part 1: 2011 Hyundai Elantra GLS

Hyundai’s made good on a slew of promises over the past few years, from improving the build quality of its products to releasing more interesting, appealing and competitive vehicles. But last year, the company set perhaps its most audacious goal yet: hit a Corporate Average Fuel Economy rating of 50 mpg across its entire range by 2025. Hyundai has already made strides in improving the fuel consumption of its vehicles in recent years. Cars like the redesigned 2011 Elantra, which is rated at 29 mpg city and 40 highway, play an important role in helping the company meet its lofty goals. It’s also helping Hyundai build a lot of brand cache, whose ads are already touting the four models they build that achieve 40 mpg highway.

 

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SSL on the road: 2011 Mustang GT Coupe

It was just outside Route 411’s ‘Last Chance Beer & Fireworks’ at the Tennessee border that the Mustang I was driving nearly died on me. Not in the literal sense, mind you. Internet-fueled worries aside, the Getrag gearbox on this particular example did not lunch itself. The failure my car experienced was more of the existential variety, and it came to a head while cruising the byways of one of small-town America’s last great hamlets.

Any car enthusiast worth their salt knows all the particulars of the newest Mustang GT by now. A 4951 cc, 412 horsepower DOHC brute under the hood, 0-60 in 4.something and a $30 grand base. Among the best performance buys of the decade, and all that jazz. Some reviews have even suggested an almost Germanic quality that places it in the rarefied air of other 4-seaters costing nearly twice as much. But that’s a bunch of BS. Because more than anything, today’s Mustang GT is still every bit the American muscle car. And it’s also probably the last.

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