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Kia Teases Geneva Concept: Are You the New Optima?

Show car could feature battery-based drivetrain.

by on Feb.10, 2015

Kia offers a hint of what could be the next Optima.

Kia has some big news coming in Geneva. And it’s confirming plans to reveal a new concept vehicle it says it has “created as a spacious and versatile accessory to an active lifestyle.”

Unlike other Korean concept cars of the recent past, this D-segment, or midsize, show vehicle appears – at least from this teaser image – to be nearly ready for production, which suggests that it may very well be a thinly disguised version of the next-generation Kia Optima.

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It is, the maker, hints, “a purposeful, energetic design study for the style-conscious, and as a sanctuary from the stresses of the modern world.”


First Drive: 2015 Hyundai Sonata

“An athlete in a tailored suit.”

by on Jul.10, 2014

The 2015 Hyundai Sonata's styling may be toned down, but it remains a striking entry in a segment that has typically emphasized bland design.

First introduced in 1985, the Hyundai Sonata was a largely overlooked entry into the crowded midsize market, but that all changed with the launch of the 2011 sedan which quickly put to rest all those bad jokes and nasty reviews the Korean maker earned – often deservedly – during its early year in the U.S. market.

The sixth-generation Sonata broke the rather restrictive mold carmakers used when designing the midsized sedans. Instead of a drab, boxy silhouette, the recession-era Sonata was sleek, curvy and nicely proportioned. And it marked Hyundai’s coming of age as a serious global player – suddenly a serious challenger to top-rated Japanese brands such as Toyota and Nissan.

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Now Hyundai is rolling out the Gen-7 Sonata for the 2015 model year, and while it has actually toned down the over-the-top styling that made the outgoing model a visual standout, the Korean carmaker intends to build on the value story that turned Sonata into a major hit for the company.


Can Ford Land on Top With New Fusion?

“Aiming for the sweet spot.”

by on Sep.19, 2012

Celeb pitchman Ryan Seacrest will step up his efforts on behalf of the 2013 Ford Fusion.

If you’re hoping to measure the importance of the new Fusion sedan to Ford’s future just consider the efforts the automaker has gone to this week to give the newly redesigned midsize model a strong send-off.  The maker notably trotted out CEO Alan Mulally and other senior executives for a series of high-profile previews in New York, Los Angeles, Miami, San Francisco and, of course, Detroit.

It’s understandable.  The new Fusion is Ford’s most important launch of the year.  Some might contend it’s the most significant in several years.  Among other things, it repositions the Detroit maker as a viable contender in the hotly contested midsize sedan segment for the first time in years.

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The last time Ford dominated it was selling the original version of the Taurus, a quarter-century ago.  But after shifting focus to its SUV line, that once-heralded sedan lost its momentum and eventually turned into little more than a rent-a-car option.  The Japanese took over in the midsize market, a dominant position they have held ever since.


Midsize Cars Dominating the Market

Camry tops sales charts, with Ford F-Series close behind – but hybrids are on a tear.

by on Sep.11, 2012

The Toyota Camry led the market for the first half.

If you’re wondering what impact rising fuel prices have had on automotive sales this year consider that the Toyota Camry has displaced the perennially best-selling Ford F-Series at the top of the chart.

So-called “midrange” cars dominated the market during the first half of the year, according to a new study of vehicle registrations by Experian Automotive.  In fact, five of the top 10 vehicles were midsize sedans, including not only Camry but the Ford Fusion and Nissan Altima.  There also were two compact sedans and a compact SUV.

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But don’t rule out big trucks. The F-Series is only a hairsbreadth behind Camry and could yet land as the nation’s best-seller for the full year, according to Experian, continuing a nearly three-decade-long domination.  Rounding out the top 10 was another full-size pickup, the Chevrolet Silverado. And while they didn’t come close to the top, hybrid vehicles definitely made some significant gains early in the year.


First Look: Honda Accord Coupe Concept

by on Jan.11, 2012

Honda reveals a Coupe Concept for its ninth-generation Accord line.

“To say last year was an incredible challenge would be a gross understatement,” suggested John Mendel, the chief U.S. executive with American Honda, as he opened up the maker’s Detroit Auto Show news conference.

The maker suffered a double-digit decline in U.S. sales, largely as a result of production shortages following the devastating Japanese earthquake and tsunami of March 11 – but it also had problems with some of its new product launches, the 2012 Honda Civic, for one, taking serious criticism.  So, the upcoming launch of that long-time midsize market mainstay, the Honda Civic, will be a critical step in the maker’s efforts to turn things around.

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Honda is offering a glimpse of what’s to come in the form of the new Accord Coupe Concept making its debut at the 2012 North American International Auto Show.  A production version of the 2-door will be unveiled at an upcoming auto show, with both the ninth-generation Honda Accord Coupe and Accord Sedan set to join the maker’s line-up for 2013.


First Look: 2013 Ford Fusion

Ford goes gunning for Camry and Accord.

by on Jan.09, 2012

Ford's new 2013 Fusion sedan.

More than a quarter century after the original Ford Taurus revolutionized automotive design – and put the U.S. automaker at the top of the midsize sales charts – Ford is hoping to do it again with the launch of the new 2013 Fusion sedan.

The new Fusion, making its debut at the North American International Auto Show, in Detroit, this week, takes aim at such import stalwarts as the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord by delivering a mix of cutting-edge design, competitive fuel economy and a mix of features not typically found on a midsize sedan.

“We knew we needed a more premium design than our previous (Fusion) or our competitors,” says Chris Hamilton, Fusion’s styling chief.

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While it’s not quite the revolutionary breakthrough of the original 1986 Taurus, which ushered in the aerodynamic “jellybean” look that swept through the industry in its era, the Fusion is clearly a standout in a segment that has traditionally favored blander designs like the relatively plain-vanilla 2012 Camry, the new Fusion creating quite a buzz since Ford provided automotive journalists a sneak peek just before last month’s holiday break.


Detroit Aims to Regain Control of Midsize Market

But Japanese makers aren’t ready to roll over.

by on Jan.04, 2012

Ford's new Fusion will borrow heavily from the design cues of the Evos Concept - minus the gullwing doors.

It’s been more than a quarter century since the original Ford Taurus made its debut – the last Detroit sedan to dominate the large and critical midsize market segment.  But the number two U.S. maker is hoping to score another home run with the launch of an all-new version of the four-door Fusion at next week’s North American International Auto Show.

While the maker is being tight-lipped with details, the new sedan is already generating quite a buzz, the 2013 Fusion expected to borrow many of the design cues of the Ford Evos Concept first seen at the Frankfurt Motor Show last autumn.  Along with cutting-edge styling, the new Fusion is expected to offer luxury-segment technologies – like lane departure warning – at mainstream prices.

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Ford won’t be the only domestic maker putting the emphasis on midsize models at the Detroit show, Chevrolet rolling out the production version of its new 2013 Malibu Eco, a “mild” hybrid model getting more than 40 miles per gallon in a segment that has become highly sensitive to mileage.


Inside the 2013 Chevy Malibu

We get our first chance to crawl all over Chevy’s next-gen midsize sedan.

by on Jul.28, 2011

The next Chevrolet Malibu will make its debut for 2013.

It’s not often you get a chance to crawl inside a major product more than a year before its official launch, but even as most makers are starting to push their 2012 products, we found ourselves this week getting up-close-and-personal with the all-new 2013 Chevrolet Malibu.

The Malibu, you may recall, created something of a shock wave when the current version made its debut as a 2007 model – quickly grabbing an array of awards including the coveted North American Car of the Year trophy.  It remains a solid seller, but the market has moved on and with all-new versions of the top-selling Toyota Camry and Honda Accord soon to market – never mind offerings like the Hyundai Sonata and Ford Fusion to deal with – Chevy is wisely hoping to wow us with the next-gen Malibu.

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We got a first glimpse of the midsize sedan at the New York Auto Show, a few months back, but the General Motors division had a prototype on hand – along with some of the key designers and engineers working on the 2013 program – as we headed out to its sprawling Milford (Michigan) Proving Grounds.

There’s no question that Chevrolet isn’t planning to play it safe.  As senior GM officials have stressed, the worst thing you can shoot for is simply a “competitive” vehicle.  Inside and out, if Chevy ever hopes to seriously tackle the imports it has to be bold and aggressive.


Tim Allen to be the New Voice of Chevrolet

TV celeb debuts next week in spots. Howie is, well, Long gone.

by on Sep.03, 2010

Cruze is a $17,000 to $25,000 offering that GM hopes will take some sales back from the Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic.

TV and movie celeb Tim Allen will be the voice of Chevrolet starting with advertising for the all-new 2011 Cruze starting next Tuesday.

Allen displaces Howie Long, who is currently running on regional 2010 model year clearance spots and has been a Chevrolet spokesperson since 2004.

The classic Friday afternoon release made no mention of Long.

However, Joel Ewanick, the new vice president, U.S. marketing at General Motors, who recently jumped from Nissan after a brief stint there – literally weeks – following a gig at Hyundai, said, “Tim Allen brings the right combination of a recognizable voice with the credibility, likeability and humor that will connect with viewers.”

The change is indicative of the ongoing turmoil at GM, which is struggling to prove that it can increase its share post bankruptcy with an impending Initial Purchase Offering of stock due in the fourth quarter.


Driving the Toyota Camry Hybrid

Delivering 36 mpg with high technology, but not without quirks.

by on Aug.09, 2010

If you are looking for fuel economy and comfort, the Camry Hybrid is an excellent choice.

There’s no question that the Camry hybrid is a technological triumph that produces stunning increases in fuel economy, particularly during urban and suburban driving that many of us face. However to achieve this Camry hybrid employs a number of sophisticated systems that affect the performance and feel of the popular family car.

These systems result in driving aspects that differ from those of any non-hybrid car you’ve ever driven, starting with the continuously variable transmission, the start/stop engine and regenerative braking. As Toyota’s mainstream entry in the U.S. family car market, this might present a customer satisfaction challenge as sales volumes increase and the driving audience widens on this extremely competent car.

Unlike the hugely successful Prius with its large following of hybrid technology geeks – and I mean that as a complement – Camry is a car that has been accepted largely because drivers can ignore it. Buy a Camry, change the oil once in a while, and keep driving it. Camry is the perfect automotive appliance.


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However, there’s no ignoring the operation of the Camry hybrid system, if only because the pictorial energy monitors adjacent to the speedometer and on the navigation screen constantly tell you what’s going on and how efficiently you are driving. Annoying at first, the meters soon challenged me to increase my driving efficiency, which I did by following the monitors. Studies have shown that such efficiency “video games” do produce real world fuel economy improvements.