Lyndon Johnson
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2018 Nissan Maxima - Driven

2018 Nissan Maxima - Driven

The Nissan Maxima is something of an oddity in the automotive landscape. It used to be that the Max was the biggest car in Nissan’s lineup — hence its maximum name. But for the last couple of generations, the Maxima’s size has been matched by its cheaper sister, the Nissan Altima.

This creates all sorts of confusion for some consumers. A friend saw me comparing a Camry to an Altima and said, “Shouldn’t you compare Camry to Maxima?”

No, no you should not. The Maxima is much more of a driver’s car than any Camry, though I admit the new-for-2018 Camry closes the gap a little (more on that in a minute.)

As for anyone else who may be confused by Maxima’s place in the family sedan world, let me put it this way: It punches well above its weight — so much so that, if I were considering spending my money on an entry-level luxury car like a Mercedes CLA or Lexus ES, I’d honestly consider the Maxima in that same pack.

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2018 Chevrolet Traverse - Driven

2018 Chevrolet Traverse - Driven

The Chevrolet Traverse is all-new for 2018, and it’s a big improvement over its predecessor.

It sports an all-new design inside and out, and it offers more space for up to eight passengers and their stuff. Going nose-to-nose with the new VW Atlas and other midsize, three-row crossovers, it makes a pretty solid case for itself.

That was the main impression the new Chevrolet Traverse gave me during a week-long test drive. Is this the right crossover for your family? Read on.

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2018 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid - Driven

2018 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid - Driven

Though the badge says “Hybrid,” the important thing to know about the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid right off the bat is this: It’s actually a PHEV. You plug it in, and it runs on electricity for the first several miles of your day.

As I found during a week at the wheel of the electrified minivan, if you have the right commuting or parking situation, you might find yourself using little or no gasoline.

It’s noteworthy Chrysler is the first automaker to put a PHEV minivan on sale in America. For a brand with only three models in its showroom nowadays, this was an even bigger home run than the non-hybrid Pacifica that birthed it. The hybrid takes a great, competitive minivan and makes it truly special — even buzzworthy.

Best of all, it’s the kind of plug-in vehicle that just makes sense for a huge number of families. It’s not much more expensive than any comparably equipped competitive minivan, yet it gets an EPA-estimated 84 MPGe. It’s remarkable because the Pacifica Hybrid squeezes that kind of efficiency out of a big, practically sized, attractive family hauler instead of a small, weirdly styled car wrought with compromises.

After spending a week with the Pacifica Hybrid, I find myself hoping I see a lot more of them on the roads — and hoping FCA has the good sense to adapt this powertrain to other vehicles we might not normally associate with hybrid efficiency. Chrysler 300? Ram 1500? Jeep Grand Cherokee? All have the potential to be transformed into segment-changing vehicles if they can incorporate the Pacifica’s hybrid system.

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2018 Genesis G80 Sport

2018 Genesis G80 Sport

Almost 30 years ago, Lexus was where Genesis is today. Toyota was trying to make inroads in the American luxury market with an all-new brand, and there was no shortage of critics doubting its likelihood of success. But they kept making great car after great car, turning the industry on its ear.

In that way, the roadmap has already been laid out for Hyundai as it builds its Genesis luxury marque: Ignore the doubters, and keep building great cars. That’s exactly what they have done with the G90 flagship and its little sibling, the G80 midsize sedan.

For 2018, the smaller G80 comes in three flavors: Standard 3.8-liter naturally aspirated V6 good for 311 horsepower and 293 lb-ft of torque, “Sport” 3.3-liter twin-turbo V6 rated at 365 horsepower and 376 lb-ft of torque, and brawny 5.0-liter naturally aspirated V8 rated at 420 horsepower and 383 lb-ft of torque.

It’s the middle option I’m driving for this review. The G80 Sport impresses as a “just right” mixture of power and refinement — the “Goldilocks” of G80s.

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2018 Infiniti QX30 Sport

2018 Infiniti QX30 Sport

Infiniti makes a lot of fun cars and SUVs. But the QX30 may be the best offering in the range on a fun-per-dollar basis — particularly the 2018 QX30 Sport.

Sharing a lot in common with the Mercedes-Benz GLA Class, the smallest Infiniti crossover is eager to clip apexes on your favorite twisty road. Yet it remains practical enough for a small family to use as a daily driver, and cheap enough to make it attractive to people who might not be luxury-brand regulars.

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2017 Volkswagen Golf TSI SEL — Driven

2017 Volkswagen Golf TSI SEL — Driven

Luxe compact hatchback, no schnitzel

When my friends talk about compact hatchbacks, sometimes the Volkswagen Golf gets left out of the conversation. But it really shouldn’t be that way: The Golf is far and away the best-selling compact in Europe. There are good reasons for that, not least of which is the Golf’s supreme practicality.

Here in America, we don’t get quite as many Golf variants as Europe does. We get the highlights, though: regular Golf, sporty GTI, raucous Golf R, cargo-friendly Golf Sportwagen, and most recently, soft-road-ready Golf Alltrack.

Volkswagen has sent me two Golf Rs in the last year. You might consider those the most evolved version of the car, in terms of overall performance. Fast and fun to toss around the twisties, the R also happens to be the most expensive version of the Golf — expect to pay $40,000 if you want one. But this time, VW sent me a regular Golf TSI SEL, a luxurious hatchback without all the high-performance hype — and it’s 25% cheaper than the Golf R, even though it’s loaded with options. It proved itself to be a great little transportation pod for my family of four.

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2017 Mercedes-Benz GLS450 - Driven

2017 Mercedes-Benz GLS450 - Driven

Merc beats GM’s big SUVs at their own game

It’s not often I get to say this, but a Mercedes-Benz might just be a better value than a Chevrolet — if, that is, you’re looking at supersize SUVs.

For decades, the Chevrolet Suburban and its GMC counterpart — now known as the Yukon XL — have been near-insurmountable behemoths atop SUV Mountain. They’re huge. They’re capable. They make great road-trip vehicles if you can afford to feed them a steady diet of unleaded.

But now enters Mercedes-Benz with its GLS450. It threw my preconceptions about the word “value” out the window. When I laid eyes on it, I expected this would be an expensive SUV, and it is: My tester came in at $80,790. Sure, you can buy a Chevy Suburban much cheaper than that, with the base price of a Suburban starting just a few dollars shy of $50,000. But pile on the options to match my Mercedes-Benz GLS450 tester, and the ‘Burban soon loses most of its price advantage.

On top of it all, the GLS450 is better suited to hauling people since it’s not hiding a pickup truck-based frame and axle underneath its big body. There’s more room in this big Merc for passengers in all three rows. A Suburban’s third row isn’t somewhere adults typically want to find themselves for an extended period. The GLS450’s third row is perfectly suited to adult-sized occupants.

For that reason, and because the GLS450 can tow almost as much as a Suburban/Yukon XL, I came away impressed. This is a stunning value in its segment.

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2017 Mercedes-Benz GLC 300 Coupe - Driven

2017 Mercedes-Benz GLC 300 Coupe - Driven

A little sportscar soul in a brawny SUV

Let’s get this out of the way up-front: I don’t “get” the Mercedes-Benz GLC 300 Coupe or its cohort of other luxury-brand SUVs that have sporty, coupe-like rooflines. And I have not had the pleasure of driving most of the GLC 300 Coupe’s competition: sport-tinged SUVs like the BMW X4 and Porsche Macan come to mind.

These are intended to be more fashionable, driver-centric versions of their boxy-backed, taller SUV sisters. To that end, the GLC 300 Coupe was pretty fun to drive, as SUVs go. But it probably makes some cargo space and headroom sacrifices compared to the non-Coupe GLC 300. After all, as with fashionable clothing, sometimes it’s necessary to sacrifice comfort for vanity.

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2017 Fiat 500C - Driven

2017 Fiat 500C - Driven

Tiny, topless Italian

Dated and diminutive it may be, but the Fiat 500 remains a frugal and fun — and tiny — car. Adding a canvas top to the pint-size Cinquecento just increases the smiles-per-gallon it generates.

As a cheap-and-cheerful commuter, the Fiat 500 has long been a favorite of mine for its European style and driving characteristics. Among cars in its price range, the little Italian remains near the top of my fun-to-drive list. The Fiat 500C has even more charm thanks to its fully retractable roof.

For 2017, Fiat simplified the 500 lineup to just three trims: base-level Pop, leather-trimmed Lounge, and sporty Abarth. All are available with the “C” designation, which stands for “Cabrio.” In prior years, there were twice as many trims available. Most of the equipment from those additional trims is still available in the options list.

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2017 Volkswagen GLI - Driven

2017 Volkswagen GLI - Driven

The hatchless hot hatch

The Volkswagen GLI is kind of like the Volkswagen GTI hot hatch — only, no hatch. Instead of throwing a lot of go-quick goodies into a Golf, the VW skunkworks had its way with a Jetta. The result is a seriously fun compact sedan that won’t break the bank.

Just a few weeks ago, I drove the more pedestrian Volkswagen Jetta SE 1.4T with a five-speed manual transmission. The GLI I drove for this review was unfortunately an automatic, but in all other ways was quicker and more engaging to drive than its easygoing sibling — which is not to say I found the regular Jetta boring to drive. I might go so far as to say I preferred the Jetta 1.4T over most compact, front-wheel drive cars I have reviewed in recent years.

Among compact sedans with hotted-up chassis and engine components, the GLI might just make it 2-for-2 for Volkswagen.

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2017 Hyundai Ioniq - Driven

2017 Hyundai Ioniq - Driven

Pay attention, Prius

Toyota Prius, you’re on notice: The Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid is here, and it’s arguably doing this whole hybrid, fuel-efficient family car thing better than you.

The Prius has had this market sewn-up for over a decade now. There’s been competition, but it’s been limited. Considering gasoline has been “cheap” here in the States for most of that time, it’s easy to understand why automakers haven’t been eager to challenge Toyota with a compact hybrid hatchback. After all, compact cars aren’t the hottest-selling things in truck-and-SUV-loving ‘Merica, so getting folks to pay a little more for a hybrid electric powertrain in a compact car can be a hard sell.

So while other compacts like the Ford Focus, Nissan Sentra, Kia Forte, and yes, even Toyota’s own Corolla and Hyundai’s own Elantra fought it out for a piece of a shrinking pie, the Prius more or less had the super-efficient niche all to itself.

All three versions of the Prius — compact Liftback, subcompact “C”, and midsize “V” — sold 136,632 copies combined in 2016 — down 48,162 from the year prior. (Toyota didn’t provide a breakdown of individual Prius model sales in its 2016 year-end sales stats.) By comparison, the brand’s Corolla sedan sold 360,483 copies in the same year, and that’s not counting the 17,727 copies of the closely related Corolla (née Scion) iM hatchback. But to show you how much we ‘Mericans love trucks and cheap gas, Ford sold more gas-guzzling F-Series pickup trucks in 2016 than all of the above combined — 820,799 trucks total.

Into this fuel-swilling American marketplace steps Hyundai with its first dedicated compact hybrid, the Ioniq, designed specifically to compete with the Prius Liftback. Even with the Prius getting a much-needed total redesign this year, there are things I like better about the Ioniq. First and foremost: its design.

Continue reading for the full story.

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2017 Volkswagen Jetta SE - Driven

2017 Volkswagen Jetta SE - Driven

Europe’s compelling swing at the value compact sedan segment

The 2017 Volkswagen Jetta is a little different from its competition. In America, the Jetta’s compact sedan segment is dominated by players from Japanese, Korean, and American makes: Cars like the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Nissan Sentra, Mazda3, Kia Forte, Hyundai Elantra, Ford Focus, and Chevrolet Cruze sell well here and put up a good fight for a competitive portion of the market.

Compact sedans are popular with a wide cross-section of shoppers, and for good reason. They’re big enough nowadays that a young family can easily haul a couple of kids in the back seat. They have trunks large enough to accommodate an occasional run to Costco or Sam’s Club to buy a bulk load of peanut butter and breakfast cereal. They’re easy to own because they don’t drink a lot of fuel and they don’t have high maintenance requirements. Also, they’re easy to park.

The 2017 Volkswagen Jetta is a very European take on the compact sedan. It hasn’t always fought for buyers by trying to match prices with the competition. Previous generations of the Jetta were marketed as kind of a near-premium alternative to the usual compact sedans here in the States. But when the latest generation of the Jetta (and its big sister, the Passat) debuted in America a few years ago, that changed. Now you can buy a 2017 Volkswagen Jetta SE like the one I tested for well under $20,000 at most VW dealers. It’s price-competitive with just about everything in the segment, when optional equipment is considered.

I hear long-time VW fans saying it now: “Yeah, but they gave up a lot to compete on price.” Sure, some things changed, mostly under the skin. My test car’s suspension wasn’t as swift as the independent-rear-suspension Jettas of yore. Its interior materials weren’t as nice as Jettas I remember from the 2000s. But there’s still enough Germanic charm in the 2017 Volkswagen Jetta SE – particularly in my five-speed manual transmission test car – to make it stand out from the pack.

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2017 Infiniti Q70 – Driven

2017 Infiniti Q70 – Driven

Executive limousines are a different breed, and the Infiniti Q70L has its own distinct take on the mid-size executive limo segment. Imagine you took a mid-size, rear-wheel-drive, luxury sedan and stretched its wheelbase a few inches, giving you more rear-seat legroom. Understandably, these cars offer passengers first-class space and amenities. But, does Infiniti have what it takes to earn business in this ultraluxe segment? Established players from Europe have these cars down to a science, and the Q70’s Japanese rivals make a solid case for themselves, too.

I recently spent a week driving the long-wheelbase Infiniti Q70 model and came away thinking it’s not quite ready if it’s looking to compete with established rivals like the BMW 5 Series, Mercedes-Benz E Class, and Lexus GS. But, it also offers V-8 motivation at a price point where many of its competitors have half as many cylinders. That gives it a lot of appeal to those who appreciate sporty driving. Much like the Infiniti Q60 Red Sport 400 I reviewed recently, the Infiniti Q70L a value leader in its segment – as long as you don’t value the latest-and-greatest infotainment features or the quietest interior more than you value a stonking-fast V-8.

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2017 Volkswagen Golf R - Driven

2017 Volkswagen Golf R - Driven

It Ain’t Broke, So VW Ain’t Fixing It

The Volkswagen Golf R is not the paper champion of the hot-hatch segment. Others in the field might make more horsepower or put down a faster quarter-mile drag time. That could lead some bench-racers to opine that VW needs to ante up and “fix” the Golf R by adding power or decreasing weight. But those armchair critics miss the point of the Volkswagen Golf R. It’s a solid-feeling, rip-roaring hot-hatch, sure. But it’s also easy to live with on a daily commute — something others in this class may not excel at.

Continue reading to learn more about the 2017 Volkswagen Golf R.

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2017 Audi S3 - Driven

2017 Audi S3 - Driven

All-wheel drive, compact size, really flies

The 2017 Audi S3 may not draw a lot of unnecessary attention to itself, but don’t be mistaken: Underneath its understated design is a spicy little number that is among the best-driving compact sedans on the market, bar none. With 292 horsepower from its TFSI turbocharged four-cylinder engine and the handling prowess of Quattro all-wheel drive, the 2017 Audi S3 is a riot on curvy roads. It’s also adept at munching miles on interstate highways, particularly if you’re not hauling a carload of passengers.

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2017 Chevrolet Cruze RS - Driven

2017 Chevrolet Cruze RS - Driven

Sleeker, smaller, snappier...and slower-selling?

The Chevrolet Cruze was not hurting for fans. As its first generation neared the end of its run in 2014, Cruze sales reached their high point, with more than 273,000 copies sold. Curious, then, that the Cruze suffered a setback in sales when it was redesigned in 2016 for the 2017 model year. Having spent a week with it recently, I can say that confuses me. The Cruze got sexy new sheet metal, a more-efficient powertrain, a new hatchback model, and improved ride and handling when it was redesigned. Yet, it sold fewer than 200,000 copies for the first time ever in 2016, if you don’t count its late introduction in 2010 when it was on sale for just three months. So, what gives?

Continue reading to learn more about the 2017 Chevrolet Cruze RS.

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2017 Hyundai Santa Fe – Driven

2017 Hyundai Santa Fe – Driven

In deep segment, Korea has its act together

Midsize crossovers are plentiful. They’re among the most popular vehicles on our roads today. As such, the 2017 Hyundai Santa Fe has its work cut out for it. After all, this is the segment of such titans as the Ford Explorer, Chevrolet Traverse, Nissan Pathfinder, Honda Pilot, and Toyota Highlander.

Those who pay attention to the vehicles around them on the road every day probably see a lot of midsize crossovers. It’s a super-popular class. Right-sized and relatively budget-friendly, these are the station wagons of our day.

With so much competition, it would be easy to get lost in the crowd. Ask Mazda’s CX-9 – the slowest-selling in this class in the 2016 calendar year, not counting the oddball, high-priced Volkswagen Touareg. With that in mind, Korean automaker Hyundai has its act together, and sales bear this out: The company moved 131,257 Santa Fes in 2016, an 11.1-percent increase over the year prior.

Continue reading for the full story.

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2017 Fiat 124 Spider Lusso - Driven

2017 Fiat 124 Spider Lusso - Driven

In some ways the “Fiata” is the better Miata

Much has been made in the automotive press about the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider’s close relationship with the Mazda Miata. But the so-called “Fiata” is no mere badge-engineered Miata. In some ways, the 124 is better than the Miata with which it shares its chassis and a production line.

Continue reading to learn more about the Fiat 124 Spider Lusso.

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2017 Infiniti Q60S - Driven

2017 Infiniti Q60S - Driven

A value leader, if not a race leader

The Infiniti Q60, formerly the G37 Coupe, soldiered on for an absolute lifetime in car years without a substantial update. Finally updated for 2017, the Q60 is much improved.

The Q60 and its competitors exist in a relatively small end of the market, in raw sales numbers. Personal luxury sports coupes aren’t at the top of any automaker’s sales chart. That said, they’re fast, they handle well, and they’re sexier than the models that do top those sales charts.

Continue reading to learn more about our test drive on the 2017 Infiniti Q60S.

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Take Two: Nissan Rogue Sport is the Right Idea with the Wrong Engine

Take Two: Nissan Rogue Sport is the Right Idea with the Wrong Engine

Wherefore art thou, turbo?

Our Ciprian Florea recently said the Nissan Rogue Sport unveiled at North American International Auto Show was a sign of “what’s wrong with the industry.” I disagree – mostly.

I think the Nissan Rogue Sport – Qashqai to Nissan outside the U.S. – is a great idea with the wrong engine.

Size matters...

Florea took issue with the Rogue Sport’s size being too close to that of the Rogue. I say buyers will like that it’s more than a foot shorter than Rogue. And Nissan engineers deserve kudos because they did this without much compromise on the wheelbase, which is only 2.3 inches shorter than the Rogue. This should make for an interior that is surprisingly roomy compared to the exterior footprint.

More importantly, it will slot the Rogue Sport into a sweet spot in Nissan’s lineup. While the Nissan Juke is widely credited with igniting the subcompact crossover segment in America, many find it too small.

Last time my wife was car-shopping, she first test drove the current-generation Rogue. She liked the interior space, but found the vehicle somewhat intimidating to maneuver in tight parking lots. Several years of daily driving a snub-nosed Nissan cube will do that to you, I guess. Mostly, she was intimidated when backing the Rogue, though Nissan’s AroundView monitor was helpful, she said.

Right after she drove the Rogue, she drove a Nissan Juke at my insistence. The Juke is a fun little thing, and it’s not much larger than the cube to which she was accustomed. I thought it might be a winner. She had less trouble parking it and could back it more easily, but the interior was simply too cramped for our family.

She ultimately settled on a second cube, buying one of the last 2014s available in the knowledge that Nissan would not be importing the model to America in 2015. But now that she’s seen the Rogue Sport, she says she would have liked to had a chance to drive it.

The other thing about the Rogue Sport’s size that will be attractive to buyers, including my wife: Smaller tends to mean lighter, which tends to mean better fuel economy. Nissan hasn’t released EPA fuel economy estimates yet, but I would expect it to do better in the real world than the Rogue, which itself gets pretty good fuel economy. The last Rogue I reviewed a couple of years ago averaged miles per gallon in the mid-20s in mixed city/highway driving. The EPA rates the current Rogue at 33 mpg highway, 26 mpg city, 29 combined.

I think the Rogue Sport will be, for a lot of buyers, the Goldilocks of the Nissan SUV lineup: Not too big, not too small, not too thirsty – just right. Keep reading to find out why!

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2017 GMC Acadia All-Terrain - Driven

2017 GMC Acadia All-Terrain - Driven

It’s been nearly a year since our Mark McNabb provided a first look at the redesign of the GMC Acadia. Now, we have driven it. Did GMC make good on its promises of better driving dynamics, technology, and efficiency?

In a word, yes. Compared to the first-generation GMC Acadia, the redesigned 2017 model is slightly smaller, a lot lighter, and positively packed with the latest technology. GMC said the newly slimmed-down Acadia positioned the model better between the not-quite-compact, not-quite-midsize Terrain crossover and the gargantuan truck-based Yukon SUV. That strategy is coming into full view that GMC has announced the Terrain will likely take on a similar diet to become smaller and lighter.

Continue reading for the full review.

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