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First Drive: 2014 Toyota Corolla

New sedan quietly delivers with more style and efficiency.

by on Aug.27, 2013

Toyota delivers an all-new and more exciting midsize option with the 2014 Corolla sedan.

By almost any measure, the Toyota Corolla is one of the most significant vehicles built over the past half century.  That’s certainly true if you’re going by sales, the compact sedan lagging only the bigger Toyota Camry on the passenger car charts.

That said, the outgoing Corolla has taken its share of criticism, even from within Toyota where senior officials have been promising to move away from the bland styling of the outgoing model.  They gave a hint of what they had in mind with the Furia Corolla concept unveiled at the Detroit Auto Show last winter. And while the production 2014 sedan has clearly been toned down, the new Corolla will likely disappoint few of its traditional fans.

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The only ones who might take pause are those few looking for something smaller. If anything, the 2014 Toyota Corolla has grown both longer and a bit wider than its immediate predecessor. The wheelbase has been extended by 3.5 inches – and the payoff is obvious for both those sitting up front and in back since most of those extra inches have been translated into interior space.


First Drive: 2013 Dodge Dart GT

Successfully reviving an old formula.

by on Jul.08, 2013

Dodge adds some muscle to its initially anemic Dart with the launch of the GT model.

Even during a quick couple spins around Chrysler’s suburban Detroit test track, it is very hard not to be impressed by the performance of the 2013 Dodge Dart GT.

Just now reaching showrooms, those two little letters speak volumes about the latest version of the Dart, a promising and generally well-executed sedan that had one big problem when it came to market a little more than a year ago: a set of seriously underpowered engines.

The GT is, as those letters are meant to suggest, the sort of sporty addition to the Dart line-up that Dodge desperately needed.  That’s all the better in light of the fact that the lavishly equipped GT packages comes with more standard equipment than many a car costing twice as much.

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But what is likely to sell most potential buyers is the new 2.4-liter “Tiger Shark” inline-four engine that packs 184 horsepower and 174 pound-feet of torque into a compact platform that is both fast and nimble. The enhanced sports suspension only adds to the car’s excellent feeling out on the road, even jouncing over the lumpy pavement built into the Chrysler test track in Chelsea, Michigan.


First Drive: 2013 Dodge Dart

Shifting the balance of power in the compact class.

by on Apr.30, 2012

Coming at you - Dodge redefines the American compact car with the help of its partner, Fiat.

With its unexpectedly strong first-quarter earnings it’s no wonder Chrysler officials have been crowing about the turnaround of a company that was bankrupt just three short years ago.  Those profits have largely been driven by a surge in demand for models ranging from the midsize 200 sedan to the big Jeep Grand Cherokee.  But there’s a gaping hole in the Chrysler corporate line-up that the maker must fill if it hopes to keep that momentum going.

To plug that gap the Dodge division is getting an all-new compact sedan for which the maker curiously decided to revive an old nameplate, the launch of the 2013 Dodge Dart brings back a once-formidable badge last used in 1976.

That means there are perhaps two generations of American motorists who have, at most, vague memories of that nameplate.  As for older Baby Boomers, well, the original Dart was popular enough in its heyday but, like so many American models of the 1970s, it had serious issues by the time Dodge dropped it from the line-up.  So, gaining traction for an all-new Dart will clearly be a challenge, especially with Dodge aiming at two distinctive audiences: young buyers starting up a family and older empty nesters.

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But spending a couple days with several late pre-production models convinced that Dodge has nailed the needs of compact customers – enough to pose serious challenges to the segment’s traditional Japanese leaders. That’s especially true when you consider that Dodge will offer five different versions of the new Dart, with six powertrain combinations – including one bumping up to “41-plus” mpg – 14 color and trim packages, three different wheels and 100s of customizable options.