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First Drive: 2013 Nissan Pathfinder

Switch to crossover design yields plenty of advantages, few sacrifices.

by on Nov.01, 2012

The 2013 Nissan Pathfinder adopts a lighter, more fuel-efficient crossover platform that can still handle moderately rough trails.

Admittedly late to the party, can Nissan regain its place in a radically changed sport-utility market? That’s the big question the maker faces as it rolls out an all-new version of the long-running Pathfinder.

The new model is more than just a face-lift, in fact, more than the usual redesign.  The 2013 Nissan Pathfinder evolves from a classic, truck-based body-on-frame ute to a car-like unibody-based crossover.  The move has significant advantages, shaving about 500 pounds of mass to deliver a more nimble ride and fuel economy.

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But it also raises the possibility that classic SUV buyers might turn up their noses.  On the other hand, the market for classic, truck-like utes has all but vanished, so the bigger question is whether Nissan can regain the buyers who’ve migrated to competing products, such as the latest-generation Ford Explorer, that previously made the SUV to CUV migration.


First Drive: 2012 Subaru Impreza

Subaru aims for the mainstream.

by on Oct.03, 2011

Subaru brings an all-new version of the Impreza to market for 2012.

When one thinks of compact cars, the name Impreza probably doesn’t leap to the top of the mental list, unless the one doing the thinking is a Subaru loyalist. The small Japanese maker is looking to change that with the updated 2012 Impreza, which is restyled inside and out and features an all-new powerplant.

First things first: Only the relatively mainstream Impreza is changing—the sportier WRX and STi spin-offs aren’t going under the knife just yet. Nor are they going anywhere, they’ll carry on in current form for a while until replacements are ready. So breathe easy, Subaru/rally fan boys and girls.

Now, to the Impreza itself. The new model is definitely more attractive, both inside and out, with a more refined interior package.  But the biggest news besides the new design is the all-new 2.0-liter horizontally-opposed “boxer” engine that makes 148 horsepower.   Other significant changes include the deletion of the Outback Sport model, and news Subaru will now be able to tout an increase in fuel economy to a maximum of 36 mpg.

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The Impreza is going head-to-head with other compacts like the Ford Focus, Honda Civic, and Volkswagen Golf. So not only does Subaru have to compete with those models, but it will have to live up to its reputation for sporty all-wheel-drive performance if it hopes Impreza can become a better-selling model in the company’s portfolio.


Toyota Cutting Price on 2012 Camry

Maker bows to increasingly competitive market.

by on Aug.24, 2011

Toyota will cut $1,150 off the starting price of the new 2012 Camry LE Hybrid.

Today will cut the price on its updated 2012 Camry sedan by as much as $2,000, depending on the specific model – a move that reflects the increasingly competitive nature of the U.S. midsize car market, the maker acknowledged during the official launch of the new model.

That doesn’t reflect the recent run-up in Toyota’s rebates and other incentives. The maker has increased givebacks, in recent months, as it has struggled to reverse declining sales.

Few cars are as important as Camry to Toyota, the sedan topping the passenger car sales charts for the last nine years, and 13 of the last 14 years, but in recent months, demand for the Camry has been slumping, and Toyota doesn’t want to risk momentum as it begins one of its most important new product launches in years.

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“We expect Camry will continue to earn its position as America’s number-one selling passenger car,” said Toyota brand boss Bob Carter, speaking from Los Angeles at an event simulcast to media gathered in a number of cities around the country.


First Drive: 2011 Lexus LF-A

500 cars, 552 horsepower, 202 mph -- and $375,000.

by on Oct.22, 2009

After a decade of development, the 2011 Lexus LF-A supercar is finally nearing production.

After a decade of development, the 2011 Lexus LF-A supercar is finally nearing production.

So much for sunny Florida.  As I pull out of the pits at Homestead Raceway, veteran driver Scott Pruett riding shotgun, the gentle drizzle that had been falling most of the morning has turned into a classic tropical downpour.

Rivers of cool water flow across Turn 1, at the end of the first straight, and my initial inclination is to simply pull into the pits and wait the storm out.  But Pruett, putting his life in my hands, only encourages me to go for it.  So I squeeze the throttle, shift into fifth and watch the speedo on my Lexus LF-A surge past 100 before it’s time to brake and dive into the flooded corner.

There’s no question having the eight-time Daytona champion along for the ride is a confidence builder, but as I turn laps, gaining speed despite the storm, I realize the real credit goes to the LF-A itself.  It’s the sort of car that makes even an average driver feel like he could win Daytona.

Supercars, SUVs, Crossovers and More!

Supercars, SUVs, Crossovers and More!

Slipping behind the wheel of the LF-A was a long-awaited treat.  It’s been nearly five years since the Lexus supercar made its debut, in concept form, at the North American International Auto Show, in Detroit.


First Drive: 2010 Subaru Legacy Sedan

Pushing more mainstream?

by on Jun.26, 2009

With Subaru's all-new, 2010 Legacy sedan, the company aims to step up its presence in the mainstream midsize market.

With Subaru's all-new, 2010 Legacy sedan, the company aims to step up its presence in the mainstream midsize market.

To many folks, the voice of the small import automaker, Subaru, carries with it an Australian accent.  That’s courtesy of actor Paul Hogan, aka Crocodile Dundee, who became synonymous with Subaru and its line-up of sport-utility vehicles, dubbed Outback, when they were launched a couple decades back.  The utes – and the memorable ad campaign – helped revive the then-foundering brand, but also shifted Subaru’s focus from mainstream sedans and coupes to SUVs and ute-like crossovers.

With the launch of the 2010 Subaru Legacy a midsize four-door, the Japanese-based maker is circling back on itself.  It’s by no means walking away from the truck-like products that have proved its salvation – indeed, helped it maintain nearly flat sales in a market where even Toyota is down, for the year, by more than 30%.  But with its market share at record levels, and brand awareness booming, as well, Subaru is betting a better-equipped and more stylish sedan can gain traction against more mainstream marques, like Nissan and Volkswagen. headed for the Pacific Northwest to get some stick time in the 2010 Legacy, which had made a semi-official first appearance as a “concept” car, at the Detroit Auto Show, last January, and then reappeared in full production trim at February’s Chicago Auto Show.