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2018 Volkswagen Passat GT - Driven

2018 Volkswagen Passat GT - Driven

For 2018, Volkswagen is introducing a new Passat GT model. The GT introduces some sporty touches to the Passat line. The Passat has mostly been about sensible family transportation until now, excluding the 2003-2004 Passat W8 perhaps. It would have been very easy for Volkswagen to come up with a sporty version of the Passat but they instead have gone for more luxurious models. It looks like Volkswagen is finally dipping their toes into the sports sedan waters to judge the public’s reaction with the Passat GT.

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2019 Toyota RAV4 - Driven

2019 Toyota RAV4 - Driven

The segment leader is looking better than ever!

Not only is the Toyota RAV4 a critical model in Toyota’s lineup, but it’s also the benchmark for the compact crossover segment as a whole. First introduced in 1994, the RAV4 now enters its fifth generation and twenty-second year of production for the 2019 model year. Highlights for this latest update include a fresh look, a revamped interior, the latest tech goodies, a new platform under the skin, and the new off-road-ready Adventure grade. The hybrid powertrain returns as well. Overall, the 2019 Toyota RAV4 looks to keep its spot at the top of the crossover heap - but does it? To find out, Toyota flew me out to Carmel, California to give it a drive.

Continue reading to learn more about the 2019 Toyota RAV4.

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2018 Mazda2 (Mazda Demio) - Driven

2018 Mazda2 (Mazda Demio) - Driven

City cars don’t get more fun than this

If cars were judged based on how cute their face is, then the 2018 Mazda2 (also known as the Mazda Demio in its native market, Japan and some other markets) would be among the best cars in the world. However, it’s obviously not just about looks, since cars nowadays, even small city cars, need to be fully featured, well-rounded vehicles that you can even drive on the highway without it feeling daunting.

Thankfully, the pint-sized Mazda2 proved to be thoroughly competent in all those areas and more - it even surprised me on a few occasions. But returning to looks for a second, the Mazda2 is certainly one of the most daring vehicles in its class, only really matched for visual impact by the Peugeot 208 - in the trinket-laden Peugeot’s presence, the 2 can almost be described as sculptural.

Its interior is equally daring, and even if it can’t match the best in class for fit and finish quality, it’s still pleasant to spend time in it. But what many owners and possible future buyers of the Mazda2 may not know (and never find out if they drive slowly and sedately) is the fact that the little 2 is a hoot to throw around - it has fun but predictable handling, and it really puts a smile on the spirited driver’s face much more so than most rivals.

If you live in North America, you can actually buy a sedan version of the Mazda2, however, it wears a Toyota badge and is called the Toyota Yaris sedan; previously it was known as the Scion iA.

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2018 BMW 330i GT xDrive - Driven

2018 BMW 330i GT xDrive - Driven

BMW’s 3-Series Gran Turismo is the other practical variant in the 3-Series lineup for those who don’t want to buy the wagon. It actually has more carrying capacity than the load lugger, and unmatched passenger room, as well as a hatchback design, so you can load big items into the back fairly easily.

It’s really the amount of interior space that impresses in the 3 GT, a car that is nowhere near as popular as it should be because, from my experience with it, there’s actually a lot to like, and it has a bit of a lovable character. Comfort levels are very high, especially if you avoid the harder suspension of the M sport pack (which apparently ruins the ride quality), and opt for the standard setup with adaptive dampers - it is the most comfortable 3-Series you can buy by quite some margin.

Design and styling may not be to everybody’s taste, certainly, but the fact that it has a bit of extra ground clearance over a regular 3-Series and the fact that it’s slightly taller overall, doesn’t negatively affect the way it looks. I think that for a halfway model whose aim is to convince you not to buy an actual crossover or SUV, it looks more than adequate and for some reason better in person than the 6-Series Gran Turismo - its larger and more expensive 5-Series-based brother.

In the 330i xDrive Luxury spec I tested, it was motivated by a turbocharged four-cylinder which is easily powerful enough for lively acceleration and not terrible on fuel. I wouldn’t call it explicitly sporty, but it is miles better to throw around a twisty road than, say, the BMW X3, which just feels tall and cumbersome by comparison.

BMW is probably not going to make a follow-up model for this 3 GT, due to its low appeal in these crossover crazed times. That means a few years down the line it will be even less of a common sight so as time progresses people may start looking for these as a rare, slightly oddball model, but one with excellent daily driver credentials.

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2018 Mercedes-AMG C43 Cabriolet - Driven

2018 Mercedes-AMG C43 Cabriolet - Driven

Hiding Its Rebellious, Brutal Nature With Comfort

A spin in the Mercedes-AMG C43 Cabriolet is definitely enough to show you just how capable AMG is of making a satisfying car. Don’t think for a second that this is a brute you wouldn’t be able to tame. It is not. Actually, the impressions I gathered driving the AMG C43 Cabriolet are dramatically different than I ever imagined them to be. See, AMG always stands for brutality and uncompromised driving performance in my head. The C43, while definitely packing some of those virtues, isn’t like that. Set it in Comfort, lower the roof, let Barry White cuddle your eardrums, and you have yourself a cruiser worthy of the Cote d’Azur. That is actually where I drove it as part of the #blackchili Continental driving experience. Yup, we tested their new tires and basically enjoyed three days in luxury, but I snitched a short test drive of this beauty as well. I had to.

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Test Drive - An Honest Take on the 2019 Audi RS3 Sportback

Test Drive - An Honest Take on the 2019 Audi RS3 Sportback

This Is Like Chili in Continental #BlackChili Driving Experience

An Audi RS3 Sportback test drive is like the holy grail for hot hatchback lovers. I visited that holy grail of mine, and boy was I overwhelmed by the experience.

As you probably figured out if you read about my time at the Continental #blackchili Driving Experience, I had a unique chance to drive a number of cool cars at an exclusive vlogger/blogger/influencer event organized by Continental AG in Nice. It was called the #blackchili Driving Experience, and I had a chance to drive the Audi RS3 Sportback there on a fantastic route that spanned for 40 or 50 miles. No, that is not enough for a proper test drive, nor was the time spent with the Audi RS3 Sportback enough for a proper assessment of its abilities or its virtues. But it was enough for one thing - to teach me that this hot-hatch is a freaking monster, an animal only a few could tame, and the biggest sleeper I have ever driven.

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Test Drive - An Honest Take on the 2019 BMW M240i xDrive Convertible

Test Drive - An Honest Take on the 2019 BMW M240i xDrive Convertible

Instant Love

I test drove the BMW M240i xDrive Convertible. The small BMW convertible showed me why I liked BMWs so much, it sparked the fire in my heart for BMWs once again, and I am not going back, ever. I love BMW, and now, finally, I definitely know why. It is for me. I am sure, if you had to chance to drive the M240i through a few bends on the mountain roads of the Gorges du Verdon canyon in France, the M240i would grow in your heart as well.

It is sublime!

I can’t even imagine what kind of a beast the M2 is. I haven’t driven it yet, but I am eagerly waiting to do so.

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2018 BMW 225xe iPerformance plug-in hybrid - Driven

2018 BMW 225xe iPerformance plug-in hybrid - Driven

BMW raised a few eyebrows when it debuted its front-wheel drive-biased 2-Series Active Tourer model, and people quickly called it “not a BMW,” it was a model which dilutes the brand, and just plain ugly. However, after spending a few days with the top-of-the-range plug-in hybrid version of the 2 AT, the 225xe iPerformance, its many qualities did start to shine through, in spite of my initial hesitation to like it.

And I did like it in the end, even if not for the usual reasons one traditionally appreciates a BMW. I found it very spacious to sit in, with surprisingly comfortable seats, I liked its excellent fit and finish, and even the one-box design started to grow on me.

The driving experience is also pretty good, but again, not very BMW-like. It drives like one of the larger models in the MINI lineup, and that’s no accident because they all use a shared (modular) architecture.

My tester was also made even more likable thanks to its plug-in hybrid powertrain which works very smoothly and seamlessly, allowing it to change its character from silent side street cruiser to a hissing, turbocharged all-wheel-drive people carrier with hot hatch performance.

Photography by Andrei Nedelea

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First Driving Impression: An Honest Take on the 2018 Tesla Model S

First Driving Impression: An Honest Take on the 2018 Tesla Model S

373 totally silent horsepower were mischievously pondering their next victim

The first time I ever saw the Tesla Model S was sometime in 2012 or 2013 at one of the car shows in Europe. I will guess that it was in Geneva. I left the Tesla stand a bit underwhelmed by its interior, but the performance, the size, and the sheer fact that someone is buying an electric car like that was more than enough to show me its importance. After that, I drove it only once. And not for a long time at that.

Now, finally, I got my third chance with the Tesla Model S at the Continental AG organized event called the #blackchili. In Nice. Yup, the South of France. I know, I am a lucky guy.

This time I had the Tesla Model S for 40 or so miles. Not the P100D, but the one with 373 horsepower. More than enough, believe me. Considering I drove the car for less than 50 miles, it may seem like I don’t have anything to write home about. How can I call this a short test drive then!? Well, I can because I will tell you about the Tesla Model S from the perspective of a guy who drove European cars all his life, and who never really had an EV stint like this.

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2018 BMW M550d xDrive - Driven

2018 BMW M550d xDrive - Driven

Meet one of the maddest performance diesels ever made

Europeans have enjoyed plenty of fast diesel cars over the last decade, and even in the wake of Dieselgate, manufacturers are still offering fast oil burners which don’t get much faster than the BMW M550d xDrive. The most unique thing about it is its power plant which uses no fewer than four turbochargers on its three-liter straight-six diesel to achieve some remarkable performance numbers.

Being a BMW, it drives with great precision too and even if it’s a bit on the heavy side, agility around bends is not an issue. It has plenty of tech on board to ensure fast driving is not only possible, but also enjoyable and surprisingly frisky - unlike other lesser-powered all-wheel drive diesel BMWs, the M550d’s tail will step out when you stab the throttle on corner exit.

It also stands out alongside lesser 5-Series models, thanks to the standard-fit M Performance aero pack, trunk lid spoiler and massive M brakes with blue calipers; the only other 5-Series which could attract more attention is the mighty M5.

Only available in Europe, the M550d is not the most powerful diesel in the world, but it is by far for its engine displacement. Being a diesel, it’s also considerably more efficient than a gasoline burning performance car with the same output and if you can refrain from driving it like a hooligan (which it kind of edges you to) its large fuel tank means you can cover quite a lot of ground without having to stop.

Photography by Andrei Nedelea

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2018 Hyundai Santa Fe - Driven

2018 Hyundai Santa Fe - Driven

The 2018 Hyundai Santa Fe is a perfectly suitable choice in the compact crossover segment. But with an all-new, redesigned Santa Fe coming for the 2019 model year, how competitive is the outgoing model?

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2019 Lexus ES - Driven

2019 Lexus ES - Driven

A welcome break from the European status quo

The Lexus ES enters its seventh generation this year, offering a new design, fresh underpinnings, an updated engine lineup (including a hybrid), the latest infotainment goodies, and for the first time, a more engaging F Sport model variant. Framed as Lexus’ entry-level midsize luxury sedan, the ES is the most popular four-door in the brand’s stable, selling in 90 countries across the globe. However, does it have what it takes to compete with rivals from Europe? To find out, Lexus flew me out to Nashville, Tennessee, to give it a drive.

Continue reading to learn more about 2019 Lexus ES.

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Latest Toyota RAV4:

2018 Genesis G90 5.0 Ultimate - Driven

2018 Genesis G90 5.0 Ultimate - Driven

Genesis has wowed a lot of folks with its full-size luxury sedan, the G90 — including me.

Competing in the space occupied by titans of the industry such as the Mercedes-Benz S-Class and BMW 7 Series can’t be easy. Buyers in this segment can be very demanding. They want space, power, and luxury appointments. I’m here to tell you the G90 delivers on all those, and does so at a much cheaper price point than its European rivals.

The last review I did of a Genesis product was the G80 Sport. In that review, I said Genesis is where Lexus was 30 years ago: the scrappy underdog offering a compelling package for a value price. The G90 was its opening shot across the bow of the establishment — including Lexus. All of them should be paying attention.

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2018 Subaru Crosstrek - Driven

2018 Subaru Crosstrek - Driven

I see a lot of the Subaru Crosstrek. After spending a week behind the wheel of one, I finally understand why they’re so numerous in my area despite the fact there’s no Subaru dealer nearby.

The Crosstrek proved itself equal parts practical, efficient, and rugged during my weeklong test drive. It’s fitting that Subaru does so much advertising targeted at dog owners. The Subaru Crosstrek was as lovable as a golden retriever, as ruggedly handsome as an Alaskan malamute, and as stoic as a Weimaraner in the face of difficult conditions.

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2018 MINI Cooper S E Countryman ALL4 - Driven

2018 MINI Cooper S E Countryman ALL4 - Driven

Plug-in cars are the future, and the MINI Cooper S E Countryman ALL4 seeks to prove they can be both practical and fun to drive.

And we’re not talking fun to drive in the “let’s see how far I can go on a tank of fuel” sense. We’re talking in the traditional, pedal-to-the-metal sense.

In a lot of ways, the MINI Cooper S E Countryman ALL4 succeeds in its mission. In one important way, however, I felt like it needed a little work.

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