Would-be pretenders to the BMW 3-series’ sales throne rise and fall about as often as the sun. As a car lover, this is a good thing. Witness the long list of near-luxury sedans whose manufacturers designed them to do many things – sometimes all things – more successfully than that stalwart compact sedan from Bavaria. Want great handling? Look no further than the Cadillac ATS. A beautiful, luxurious interior? Mercedes C-class, right this way. Reliability, value, and a dash of banzai Japanese styling thrown in for good measure? The current Lexus IS is one of my personal favorites. And yet while many try, most carmakers fail to lovingly recreate everything that the 3-series ideal represents, including but not limited to dynamic handling, zesty powerplants, a driver-oriented interior and styling that stands the test of time. With their latest A4, however, Audi appears to have finally picked up on the plot that BMW seems to have lost in recent years.
Amid a sweltering mid-summer heatwave, the IMSA WeatherTech Sportscar Championship descended on Connecticut’s iconic (and beautiful) Lime Rock Park last weekend for the Northeast Grand Prix. Although the top-dog Prototype class skips this event for purposes of traffic – the short 1.5-mile track is composed of flowing, fast, and mostly right-hand corners, but its size doesn’t lend itself to the massive speed advantages the Prototype cars carry – the GT LeMans, GT Daytona and Prototype Challenge classes were present and accounted for. As it is, even well-driven GTD-class cars were lapping in the low 50-second range, making a lap around Lime Rock more akin to a typical autocross run than a racing circuit, time-wise. With short laps and high average speeds – over 100 MPH in most cases – the racing is usually intense, and this year did not disappoint.
I’m of the opinion that, after much exposure to their lineup of fire-spitting muscle cars, there’s nobody else in the automotive industry that captures the spirit of classic American steel better than the Italians; specifically, Fiat-Chrysler group. And while the thought of a muscle-bound Jeep Wagoneer probably wouldn’t have been widely accepted back when that truck first debuted in the 1960s, if it had been built, it would have no doubt felt a lot like today’s ballsy Grand Cherokee SRT.
Long considered little more than a Ford Edge in fancy clothes, Lincoln has gone to painstaking levels to differentiate the latest MKX from its more plebian sister, and the result seen before you certainly looks the part. The real question is, does it stack up from a dynamic perspective, and are all of these changes enough to both set itself apart in a sea of luxury midsize crossovers, and justify a lofty $64,000 as-tested sticker? Read on to find out.
Though Honda’s latest Civic has captured most of the (admittedly few) headlines there are in the compact car segment this year, two of the class’s perennial heavyweights just went under the knife for major reconstructive surgery, too. The Chevy Cruze and Hyundai Elantra are two takes on the small sedan theme that are aimed at the exact same buyer – rental fleets! Just kidding – let’s find out which of these revamps has proven to be the most successful.
It’s reassuring to see Japanese automakers taking a renewed interest in driving dynamics for mainstream models, and nowhere is that more evident than in the latest Lexus IS. The company’s original IS300 was a moonshot at the near-luxury segment behemoth, the BMW 3-series, and what the Lexus lacked in credentials it made up for with polished driving dynamics, edgy looks and peerless build quality. Compact, lithe, and powered by a lusty, naturally-aspirated straight-six driving the rear wheels, it pulled all of its most important moves directly from the BMW playbook. It also helped establish Lexus as a builder of something other than discounted, more reliable Mercedes-Benzes – it finally became a builder of sports sedans.