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First Drive: 2016 Toyota Prius

New look, new suspension - great mileage and moderate improvements to ride.

by on Nov.23, 2015

The top-line Toyota Prius Four Touring model starts at $30,000 plus delivery fees.

In an era when so many cars have a tendency to look alike, the Toyota Prius has been an unabashed, if somewhat geeky, standout. Of course, it’s what’s below the skin that really makes the difference. The Prius was the world’s first hybrid-electric vehicle when it made its debut in Japan in 1997 and, ever since, it has overwhelmingly dominated that segment worldwide.

But times have changed, and the third-generation Toyota Prius has been losing a lot of sales momentum this year. There are several reasons why, perhaps most notably the sharp slide in fuel prices that has reduced demand for all “green” vehicles. But there are other factors, among other things that geeky design and the less than thrilling ride offered by the old Prius.

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And those are issues Toyota has set out to address with the fourth-generation hybrid. The 2016 Toyota Prius gets a complete, top-to-bottom makeover: new skin, a new platform, a new independent rear suspension — and an updated Hybrid Synergy Drive system that delivers as much as 10% better mileage.


First Drive: 2016 Honda Civic Sedan

Pushing beyond mainstream.

by on Oct.19, 2015

Longer, lower, roomier. Honda's 2016 Civic.

Honda delivered one of the year’s biggest surprises when it pulled the wraps off an all-new version of the compact Civic at the New York Auto Show last April. The Honda Civic has been a perennial best-seller, but it was nonetheless a major surprise to see the Japanese maker unveil an all-new version barely four years after the current model made its debut.

If anything, Honda seems intent on proving that Civic’s ongoing success is more than a fluke. The outgoing, gen-nine model took some initial heat for its lackluster styling and less than inspiring on-road dynamics, forcing the maker to rush an “emergency refresh to market barely a year later to maintain Civic’s momentum.

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The NY debut revealed a striking design loaded with new features meant to push the 2016 Honda Civic up against the boundaries of what might normally be considered “mainstream.” But to find out how it actually felt behind the wheel, we set off for Los Angele a few weeks ago to get a first drive of the new sedan.


First Drive: 2016 Infiniti QX50

An SUV by any other name.

by on Sep.28, 2015

The new QX50 with designer Alfonso Albaisa during the crossover's debut earlier this year.

At times, the auto industry has at least one thing in common with baseball: you can’t tell the players apart without a scorecard. That’s especially true with Infiniti, the Japanese automaker sowing plenty of confusion when it decided to rename familiar products like the old G and JX lines.

It’s hard to tell whether that’s the reason why sales of the Infiniti EX stumbled to a virtual halt after it was renamed the QX50 for 2014. Perhaps it was simply the result of a once-popular product growing old in hotly competitive segment. Whatever the reason, the luxury arm of Nissan Motor Co. is hoping to kick-start the crossover’s momentum with a modest, but much-needed refresh for the 2016 model-year.

Product, Product, Product!

The basic shape will immediately be familiar. Like the bigger Infiniti FX, the EX was one of the first crossover-utility vehicles to stop trying to pretend it was a classic SUV, instead putting an emphasis on styling, features and on-road manners. That part hasn’t changed. During a trip to San Diego to try out the 2016 Infiniti Qx50, off-road capabilities didn’t even merit a footnote.


First Drive: 2016 Range Rover Sport Td6

No-compromise diesel is fuel-efficient, quick and powerful.

by on Sep.02, 2015

In the U.S. both the 2016 Range Rover and Range Rover Sport now offer a Td6 diesel option.

The rock and gravel path seems to vanish as we approach the edge of the cliff. But we’re determined not to give up. So, tapping a few buttons on the center console , we press on – and over, the big SUV maintaining complete control all the way down.

A moment later, we come to an equally daunting challenge. The only way to continue is to climb up and over a slick wall of granite. It’s the sort of obstacle that might leave other vehicles stranded. But not the 2016 Range Rover Sport Td6. We point the noise, tap another button on the steering wheel and lift our feet off the pedals. Requiring only a little guidance on the steering wheel, the Range Rover begins its climb as confidently as a mountain goat.


The British SUV has long had a reputation as one of the most competent trailblazers you could find. The 2016 model takes things to an entirely new level. And with the addition of the first diesel powertrain bound for the U.S., the 2016 Range Rover Sport Td6 adds to the formula unexpectedly compelling fuel economy.


First Drive: 2016 BMW 7-Series

A techie’s dream car.

by on Aug.28, 2015

The new 2016 BMW 7-Series will come to the U.S. only in long-wheelbase form.

The value of a luxury car has traditionally been measured by the pound and feet, by the size and number of cylinders of its engine and, of course, by the number of trees and cowhides used to complete its passenger compartment. But the old measurements have begun to change, and nowhere is that more apparent than in the sixth-generation BMW 7-Series.

True, with U.S. buyers now set to get only the long-wheelbase version, it’s bigger than ever. But the new sedan also gets lighter, thanks to the extensive use of carbon fiber, aluminum and ultra-high-strength steel. It uses a twin-turbo engine to punch out incredible amounts of power from a relatively modest 4.4-liter V-8. And while there’s more leather and wood than ever – some of it barely apparent to passengers – BMW expects buyers to be drawn to the incredible array of technologies that have increasingly come to define the best luxury vehicles.

The Last Word!

In developing the 2016 7-Series, BMW engineers intentionally set out to one-up the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, the latest version having become the current, high-tech automotive benchmark. And, at least in terms of the number and range of new features the 7-Series offers, it would seem they’ve succeeded. From a comfort and safety standpoint, never mind the manufacturing side, the new BMW 750i is a high-tech showcase.


First Drive: 2016 Hyundai Tucson

Third-generation CUV should help redefine the brand

by on Jul.20, 2015

The 2016 Hyundai Tucson advances the Fluidic Dynamics design language.

Mention the name, Hyundai, and many American motorists will give you a blank stare. For its first two decades in the U.S. market, the Korean carmaker offered cheap, low-quality and largely forgettable products like the original – and oxymoronic — Excel. But if you’re one of those giving Hyundai the cold shoulder, it may be time to think again.

Along with Korean sibling Kia, Hyundai has delivered a series of surprises in recent months. They topped the charts among mainstream brands in J.D. Power’s latest Initial Quality Study, as well as AutoPacific’s Vehicle Satisfaction Awards. And one good reason is the Hyundai Tucson.

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The second-generation crossover, launched in 2009, was stylish, sporty and surprisingly well-equipped. Now, Hyundai is back with a third-generation Tucson, and with the compact crossover segment becoming increasingly competitive, we headed off to Minnesota for a first drive to see how it stacks up.


First Drive: 2016 Mitsubishi Outlander

Quiet, roomy and affordable. Oh, and did we mention real knobs?

by on Jun.11, 2015

The 2016 Mitsubishi Outlander is one of the most affordable 7-seaters on the market.

Mitsubishi, remember them? The once popular marque was an alternative to traditional Japanese brands like Toyota and Honda, and offered such intriguing products as the 300GT and the Evo. After a series of missteps that nearly drove it into bankruptcy, Mitsubishi is struggling to regain some momentum with a barely-there line-up that will increasingly be focused on utility vehicles.

We’ve seen some intriguing hints of what might be coming in the form of some recent, over-the-top concept vehicles like the GC-PHEV that was unveiled at the Chicago Auto Show last February. Mitsubishi insiders promise that we’ll see these edgy prototypes translate into production form with the launch of the new Outlander Sport a few years from now.

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In the meantime, Mitsubishi is updating its other crossover model for 2016, and while the Outlander adopts a far less extreme design language, it is definitely not going to get lost in the crowd.


First Drive: 2016 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid and Plug-In

Hyundai plugs in with updated HEV and all-new PHEV sedan.

by on May.26, 2015

Hyundai's second-generation Sonata Hybrid.

Initially slow to embrace alternative powertrain technology, Hyundai is determined to catch up with green rivals like Toyota and Honda. It was the first to market with a retail hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle and it is about to update its original Sonata Hybrid for 2016 – while also adding its first plug-in hybrid model.

The timing likely isn’t the best. With gasoline prices running about a dollar lower than a year ago, and likely to say depressed for a while, demand for battery-based vehicles has taken a dive. But based on a day’s drive of the two new Korean models, green-minded buyers looking for alternatives would be well advised to check out the 2016 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid and Sonata Plug-in Hybrid.

Stay Plugged In!

The plug-based model, in particular, offers the longest range of any midsize PHEV on the U.S. market and its gas-electric driveline provides one of the smoothest, most transparent rides of any plug-in we’ve so far tested.


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.