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Rose Bowl or Bust

Buick Enclave takes us on a cross-country run for the ages to the centennial Pasadena game.

by on Jan.06, 2014

Our intrepid correspondent drove a 2014 Buick Enclave like this one from Detroit to Pasadena.

For more than a century, college football fans have packed their gear and headed out across the land to the “Grand Daddy of Them All,” the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California.

What began as a midwinter event to promote southern California tourism has grown into one of sports most heralded annual events, replete with a week’s worth of team and fan activities, a five-mile-long parade and a football showdown that makes even a non-fan’s bucket list. So when the opportunity presented itself to attend the 100th playing of said game, complete with all the pomp and pageantry, we jumped at the chance to become a rolling media stunt of our own.

Big Game!

While many of the fans attending the first college football matchup on the grounds where the Rose Bowl now stands no doubt hitched up their horse-drawn conveyances to get to the game, we stuffed and stowed our gear into a diamond white 2014 Buick Enclave for the cross-country journey to the 100th Rose Bowl between the Michigan State Spartans and the Stanford Cardinal.


First Drive: 2014 Mazda3

Not your old econo-box.

by on Sep.20, 2013

The new 2014 Mazda3 is the latest model to pick up on the Kodo design language.

The Mazda3 has been around for a while now and familiarity has no doubt bred an array of preconceptions about the car.

With the launch of 2014 Mazda3 with SkyActiv technology, however, Mazda3 is going to force a lot of buyers to drop their pre-conceived notions about compact cars. The new Mazda3 is definitely not your aunt’s econobox.

Instead it’s sleek and nimble, as well as comfortable, efficient and versatile. In fact, the exterior design of the new Mazda3 — which carries on the distinctively sculpted Kodo design language the automaker has highlighted with recent concept vehicles — makes it one of the most stylish vehicles in a crowded segment.

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That’s no faint praise when you consider the alternatives include the Hyundai Elantra, Ford Focus, Honda Civic and the new Toyota Corolla.

But while some of those competitors are content with a single body style, the new Mazda3 will be offered in both four–door sedan and five-door hatchback form.


Stylish yes, But is 2013 Ford Escape as Useful as Old One?

Sleek new cute ute is a major departure from the old box.

by on Dec.26, 2012

Ford says the 2013 Ford Escape is as useful as the original, but now in a sleek and stylish package.

For me, a new Ford Escape is personal. Our 2002 model was simply the best car we’ve ever owned.

With its optional V-6, it was powerful, it was as maneuverable as a go-kart and it had an interior that simply could not possibly have fit inside what looked like a smallish sport utility on the outside. Tough grey plastic cladding on the bottom gave that original Escape a rough and read, youthful look and it brushed off road debris without trouble.

Sleek and Modern!

There’s a good reason buyers have made it the best-selling small SUV on the market. It may have been a box, but it just worked.

But now Ford has built a new Escape, with swoopier styling, new powertrain options and a modern interior. The question is whether this new Escape can live up to or improve on one of the most useful vehicles of its size ever made.

Let’s take a look.

First Drive: 2013 Ford Explorer Sport

Big crossover conquers the only jungle that really matters.

by on Nov.30, 2012

The Ford Explorer Sport is the perfect vehicle for conquering the concrete jungle.

The Ford Explorer Sport is the perfect vehicle for conquering the concrete jungle.

It’s a jungle out there and you need a vehicle that can handle it. Pitted trails, obstacles to avoid, narrow spots to fit through.

Yep, the parking lot can be a real test for any vehicle … Oh, you thought this was about the REAL jungle? As in vines, mud holes and “roads” that are more like deer trails? Ha, while SUVs may purport to go there, virtually everyone knows that the only time the large majority of these beasts ever leave the road is to enter the parking lot at the mall.

So it is with that in mind that we put Ford’s new Explorer Sport to the test. In fact, we subjected Ford’s biggest crossover – sorry, Ford may want you to view this as a sport utility vehicle, but it’s based on the same platform as a Ford Taurus – to the most grueling test possible: Black Friday shopping.

Back from the Jungle!

The test actually began with what became a reconnaissance mission on Thanksgiving Eve Wednesday night – go ahead, call us geeks – to Carson’s where we were able to scout locations for bounty which would become critical Thursday night/Friday morning.

As is typical these days, Black Friday actually begins Thursday night as families are wrapping up their Thanksgiving Day celebrations. So having a sure-footed CUV with a commanding driving position becomes important in the battle to avoid other motorists in their tryptophan-induced stupors.

There were presents to buy, deals to be had and mobs of people to be crushed by. Our Black Friday escapade was on.


First Drive: 2013 Scion FR-S

Toyota CEO says he wants more passion and this new sports car delivers.

by on Nov.08, 2012

The Scion FR-S fills a noticeable void in the market - the affordable rear-wheel drive sports car with somewhat useful interior space..

In recent years, if you wanted a true sports car, your only choices were to accept a car based a front-wheel drive econobox or cash in your 401(k) to buy a real sports car putting its power to the rear wheels.

No more. Subaru and Toyota – a seemingly unlikely pair to create this car – got together to develop what is essentially the Holy Grail of fun cars – the affordable sports car.

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Think about it. Subaru, known for its variety of sensible all-wheel drive cars with just one performance-oriented model, the WRX, wants to build a car that is completely out of its element, a RWD sports car. Knowing it couldn’t justify the investment without a partner, the small Japanese automaker approached giant Toyota, known recently more for its fuel-sipping hybrids, but with a somewhat forgotten history of performance machines.

Together, they created a masterpiece, a car to be celebrated by everyone who enjoys driving, but wasn’t born with a trust fund in his mouth.


First Drive: 2013 Ford Taurus

Ford flips the big engine/small car paradigm to provide better fuel economy with similar performance.

by on Oct.19, 2012

A 2.0-liter four cylinder may sound small for a full-sizer, but Ford makes it work with turbocharging and direct injection.

Car enthusiasts love the small car/big engine formula when it comes to sports cars. But now automakers are starting to flip the formula, putting small engines in big cars.

None have been more aggressive than Ford with its EcoBoost engine strategy. A case in point is the refreshed 2013 Taurus, where the 2.0-liter EcoBoost is now an option to the standard 3.5-liter V-6. Of course, another engine carrying the EcoBoost name, the 3.5-liter twin turbo is still available in the high-performance SHO.

The tenets of EcoBoost are smaller displacement, direct fuel injection and turbocharging and providing performance that is similar to the bigger engine with better fuel economy.

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The smaller engine comes up 48 horsepower short compared to the standard V-6, but it actually has more torque: 270 vs. 254 pound-feet. And it peaks at lower rpms: 3,000 vs. 4,000.

But the bottom line is fuel economy. The 2.0-liter is rated at 22 city and 32 highway, both three higher than the V-6. We saw 25 in a combination of freeways and rural two-lanes.


First Drive: 2013 Acura RDX

Honda’s luxury brand bucks conventional wisdom, replacing a turbo four with a V-6.

by on Sep.25, 2012

Acura redesigned the RDX to be more luxury oriented and less sporty.

Just when many carmakers are downsizing their engines, it came as quite a shock when Acura announced at the Detroit auto show earlier this year that it was replacing the turbocharged four cylinder in the RDX compact luxury ute with its venerable 3.5-liter V-6.

But cars are about the bottom line, the way the car performs, not what’s under the hood. If bucking conventional wisdom works, then why not?

Powerful, Yet Efficient!

In a lot of ways a V-6 makes a lot of sense for a luxury sport utility. No matter what you do to make a four feel smooth, an extra pair of cylinders will almost always feel smoother.

So, what’s the verdict? Does the new V-6 make for a better luxury crossover? Let’s found out.


First Drive: 2012 Kia Rio Sedan

Kia continues stylish reinvention of its lineup with revamped subcompact.

by on Sep.21, 2012

Kia's Rio continues a string of strong designs from the Korean automaker's design group.

It’s good to be Kia right now. Kia and its sister company, Hyundai, have received a lot of attention lately for groundbreaking styling along with class-leading fuel economy in some segments.

In fact, we’ve often said in this space that once the Koreans figure out the black art of proper suspension tuning, the pair could rule the automotive world.

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Well, with this little Rio subcompact, it would appear that Kia has come to grips with finer points of ride and handling development.

So, does that mean the little Rio is ready for world dominance? Let’s find out.


2012 Prius c Impresses, Even Out of its Element

Baby Prius finds sweet spot on price, fuel economy.

by on Sep.12, 2012

Even though long-distance cruising isn't what it does best, the Toyota Prius c returned 46 mpg on a 1,150 trip.

When planning a bladder-busting road trip, deciding which car to bring is a key decision.

Let’s consider the contenders. In this corner, we have a 2013 Toyota Prius c, the new baby in the four-member Prius family of hybrids. The challenger: a 2008 Dodge Grand Caravan.

The trip was a follow-up to visit to our new freshman at Michigan Technological University in Houghton, a 530-mile drive. Our cavernous challenger would provide extra space for stuff that our young student forgot in the first go round. But at 23 mpg on the freeway, a loan might be necessary to pay for the fuel.

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So the kid will have to live without his snowboard until Thanksgiving (this is Houghton; snow before Thanksgiving is not out of the question).

That’s because of the critical number for the Prius c: 46. That’s the average fuel economy for our trip, which totaled 1,150 miles.


First Drive: 2013 Mazda CX-5

Skyactiv Brings Excellent Fuel Economy, but Does it Accelerate Quickly Enough?

by on Sep.05, 2012

The 2013 Mazda CX-5 is the first vehicle to use the full suite of Skyactiv technologies, which includes engines, transmissions and body and chassis improvements.

When it comes to fuel economy, hybrids are all the rage, but Mazda is showing that there may be more more than one way to solve the problem.

Mazda’s new CX-5 offers the best fuel economy of any small crossover on the market. Not even the hybrids can beat it.

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Mazda is betting the farm on what it’s calling Skyactiv technology. While its new 2.0-liter four cylinder was the first seen in the new 3 compact, the CX-5 employs the whole suite of Skyactiv bits including the new engine, transmissions and body and chassis components. All of this is in the name of fuel economy.

But this is Mazda, so it couldn’t be about just fuel economy. It had to be fun to drive.

Did Mazda succeed in making a fun-to-drive compact crossover – as much as oxymoron as that is? Let’s find out.