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Best Cars for Tailgating

For Serious Tailgaters, the Car’s as Important as the Game Itself

by on Oct.23, 2015

The extended Janisse family chowing down at a Michigan State tailgate party.

He may live on the other side of the country these days, but Steve Janisse tries to get to East Lansing, Michigan as often as possible to catch the Michigan State Spartans in action.

It’s a tradition dating back to his days as an MSU student, and while it’s too long to drive in from California, he’s stayed in touch with old college friends who have made a tradition of arriving hours early to park and party. Tailgating is a pastime repeated around the country as football season gets underway, but to do it right takes more than just a ticket for the game and a parking pass. It also takes the right sort of car.

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“The tailgating is almost as much fun as the game itself,” says Janisse, a one-time auto executive who now works as a consultant in the entertainment industry. “But you want something like an SUV or a pickup that you can open up in back.”


Four of Seven Midsize Utes Fare Poorly in Crash Tests

Only Nissan Murano takes IIHS Top Safety Pick Plus rating.

by on May.12, 2015

The Nissan Murano slams into a barrier as part of the IIHS small overlap crash test.

Only three of the seven midsize SUVs scored well in a series of front-end crash tests designed to simulate real-world accidents.

And only one of the 2015 models, the Nissan Murano, earned the coveted Top Safety Pick Plus rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, though the Ford Flex and Jeep Wrangler also passed the small overlap crash test designed to simulate what happens when a vehicle’s corner clips another car or a utility pole.

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The test has posed some serious challenges for manufacturers and has led to a number of vehicle redesigns since it was first used in 2012. In the small overlap test, 25% of a vehicle’s front end strikes a barrier at 40 mph.


Marchionne: Chrysler Will Get Two “People-Movers,” but Only One Minivan

Maker will respond to shifting market with 2015 roll-out.

by on Jan.17, 2013

The Chrysler Town & Country may end its long run in 2014, when one of the maker's two minivans is expected to get a radical makeover.

The company that invented the modern minivan still sees a place for “people carriers” in its line-up, but only one will be the classic soccer mom-mobile, according to Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne.

The maker currently has two models, the Chrysler Town & Country and Dodge Grand Caravan, that will continue in production through at least 2014, but it has been sending mixed signals about whether they will both remain in the line-up going forward as sales continue to tumble, buyers looking for hipper alternatives. Now, it appears, only one will remain, the other brand getting an alternative approach.

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“People grow out of minivans,” Marchionne concluded during a meeting with reporters at the North American International Auto Show. The challenge is to find an alternative that can maintain its appeal – something Chrysler thinks it may have come up with.


Spy Shots: Ford Galaxy Van

Coming to America?

by on Jan.02, 2013

Car Spy Jim Dunne nabbed this image of a Ford Galaxy minivan testing in Detroit.

Ford is developing a new design and probably engine installation for the next version of its European Galaxy van – or so one would conclude from these shots of a prototype under test at Ford’s home base in Dearborn.

The unanswered question is whether a U.S. version of the Galaxy might be in the works.  The maker has been out of the American minivan market since abandoning the largely unnoticed Ford Freestar in 2007. It has since tried to find alternative paths to potential minivan buyers with “people-movers” like the big Ford Flex, the smaller C-Max and an assortment of crossovers.

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One look tells the story of the prototype Galaxy’s front end. Despite the heavy camo, it carries an all-new appearance, with a strong block-shape grille opening in place of the current oval. The higher hood line may have two purposes – house a taller, turbocharged (or V6 ?) engine, and change the Galaxy’s appearance to that of a small SUV from the minivan shape it now displays. Those front-hinged rear doors clearly identify – to American shoppers – this vehicle as a small SUV.


Just 21 of 98 Vehicles Pass Child Safety Seats Test

Seven flunk entirely, warns new report.

by on Apr.12, 2012

Despite a decade-old federal mandate, a new study says it's still extremely difficult to accurately install a child safety seat in most vehicles.

The news is not good for parents who have counted on child safety seats to keep the kids out of harm’s way in the event of an accident.  Despite toughened federal standards and industry efforts, only 21 of 98 vehicles met the requirements for ease of use, and seven of the latest vehicles failed entirely in a new series of tests.

That’s a surprise considering it’s been a decade since federal regulators first mandated the Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children, or LATCH system.  The rule, which went into effect with the 2003 model-year, required manufacturers to simplify the process and make it easier for parents to be sure a safety seat is properly installed.

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But despite that, “Installing a child restraint isn’t always as simple as a couple of clicks and you’re done,” warned Anne McCartt, senior vice president for research with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the IIHS, which conducted the new test in cooperation with the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, or UMTRI.


First Look: Ford B-Max

New “people-mover” coming to Geneva Motor Show.

by on Feb.03, 2012

The B-Max is the newest - and smallest - member of Ford's growing "people-mover" line-up.

While it may have walked away from the classic – and fast-shrinking — minivan market, Ford is betting big on the growing “people-mover” niche, with an all-new offering set to make its debut at the upcoming Geneva Motor Show.

The Ford B-Max will be the smallest in the fast-growing array of minivan alternatives from the Dearborn maker, slotting in beneath the C-Max, S-Max and Flex.

Geneva show-goers might get a sense of déjà vu when Ford CEO Alan Mulally lifts the covers next month.  A concept version of the Ford B-Max appeared on the PALExpo stage last year. This image offers the first look at the production version.

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Ford’s people-movers have, in general, delivered a surprising amount of room in a small package.  To further enhance the functionality of the new B-Max, the maker has removed the traditional B-Pillars between front and rear doors – they become part of the doors themselves.  With the reverse-opening latest of the rear portals that makes for a positively cavernous opening that eases the way if you’re loading in oversized cargo.


Chrysler 700 Concept Tests Minivan Alternatives

Getting people back into people-movers.

by on Jan.11, 2012

The Chrysler 700 concept hints at a radically different approach from the company that invented the modern people-mover.

They’re the vehicles Americans love to hate.  Few automotive products do their job more efficiently than the minivan.  Yet they’re much maligned and have become something that even the most dedicated soccer mom is likely to trade in as soon as the kids are old enough.  So, the once huge minivan market segment has shrunk to near-irrelevance.

Is it ultimately doomed to disappear? Unlike, industry analysts suggest, though few expects sales to recover significantly – at least not without the sort of breakthrough that helped launch the original minivan boom when Chrysler rolled out its first offerings in the mid-1980s.

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The maker, which has suffered an especially sharp decline in recent years, is hoping to find a way to recover its past glory and rolled out an extreme design, dubbed the Chrysler 700, that could point the way to a very different look for the future.


First Look: 2013 Ford Flex

Redesign maintains focus on functionality.

by on Nov.08, 2011

Ford will show the updated 2013 Flex at the upcoming L.A. Auto Show.

“I just couldn’t warm up to the Flex until I actually drove it,” said Jan Queen, a suburban Detroit media executive, echoing the opinion of many motorists when it comes to Ford’s big people mover.  The exterior styling, as designers like to say, is “polarizing,” though it has generated plenty of kudos for its interior functionality and flexibility.

Now, Ford is hoping to win more bravos for design, as well, with an updated version of the Flex ready to take its bows at the Los Angeles Auto Show later this month.

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The 2013 update will feature some modest styling changes but put the emphasis on performance, fuel economy, comfort and functionality.

As with the first-generation, the 2013 Ford Flex eschews the bulbous curves of the classic minivan in favor of a more retro-modern two-box design.  The exterior updates are relatively modest, the most notable being the more machine-like grille, with a billet-sized bar stretching across the grille and anchoring newly-updated projector-style headlamps.


First Drive: Mazda CX-9

What to drive when family responsibility dictates that your sports car days be put on hold.

by on Jul.29, 2011

Mazda's CX-9 is really just a supersized sports car.

We’ve all heard it before. “You won’t catch me driving a minivan,” the raffish 20-something says. Of course, that is before the invasion of the Little People, and all of their paraphernalia, from diaper bags to portable playpens. Some have turned to sturdier-looking sport utilities and crossovers, but the stigma is even starting to attach to those.

So you’re longing for the days of BLP – before Little People – for the days when the idea of driving a vehicle with three rows of seats was unfathomable. But now there are two kids and another in the oven, so three rows are mandatory if the dreaded – and incurable – Don’t Touch My Syndrome is to be avoided.

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Mazda may have the answer. This is the Zoom-Zoom company, so it designs its cars with the goal of offering the sportiest driving experience in the segment. That includes its big three-row crossover, the CX-9.


Can Kia Reinvent the Van?

Maker offers a tease of its KV7 concept.

by on Jan.07, 2011

Is Kia readying a new minivan based on the KV7 concept debuting at the Detroit Auto Show?

Reports of the minivan’s demise have been greatly exaggerated and, if anything, the proliferation of new product, such as the all-new Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna, and updates of the Chrysler vans, have started pumping new life into the niche.

But other players continue to find it a hard slog to carve out share of their own.  Just ask General Motors, Ford – and the Koreans, who haven’t done very well with their initial attempts to gain traction in the minivan market.

With segment sales still topping 1 million and showing signs of a modest rebound, Kia is ready to give it another try.  Or so it hints.  The smaller of the two Korean carmakers is offering up this less-than-revealing tease of the KV7 concept, which it plans to reveal during its Monday afternoon news conference at the Detroit Auto Show.