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2018 Subaru WRX STI – Driven

2018 Subaru WRX STI – Driven

The rally racer for everyday errands

Those television commercials say Subarus are made from love. That’s only the case if we’re talking about the love of motorsports and rally racing. See, generations of Subarus, most notably the Impreza WRX and WRX STI models, have taken home World Rally Championship trophies from events around the world. Thankfully, Subaru injects this racing pedigree into the production version of its WRX models, making them some of the best performing, all-weather and terrain racing machines on the planet. And now for 2018, the WRX and WRX STI receive a slight cosmetic refresh paired with a handful of mechanical upgrades.

I recently spent a few days with a 2018 WRX STI Limited painted in that lovely WR Blue Pearl hue. At first glance, the acid-green brake calipers and tall rear wing command the eye’s attention. But looking deeper, you’ll see the front grille is ever so slightly more aggressive than before. A new set of 19-inch, Y-spoke wheels are new, as are those bright brake calipers and the larger rotors they squeeze. Things inside change little, too, through the small changes make big improvements in comfort. A larger information screen atop the dash has new graphics, the StarLink Infotainment system now measures 7.0 inches, the rear seat gets a folding center armrest with cup holders, the door panels have new grab handles, and road noise is hushed thanks to thicker side glass and added insulation. Mechanically, Subaru gave the STI a new fully electronic center differential that’s said to work faster than the previous mechanical and electrical DCCD. Sadly, Subaru chose not to completely rework the WRX STI onto the Impreza’s new-for-2017 chassis. Even the 2.5-liter Boxer engine remains untouched at 305 horsepower and 290 pound-feet of torque. But does this dull the rally-inspired driving experience. Hardly. Keep reading to find out more.

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2018 Audi A5 Cabriolet – Driven

2018 Audi A5 Cabriolet – Driven

The new generation brings vast improvements

Audi has been hard at work revamping its A5 and S5 lineup over the last few years. The two-door coupes and four-door Sportback versions debuted in the U.S. for 2017, bringing the new MLB Evo architecture, big updated in active safety features, and Audi’s widely praised Virtual Cockpit. Now for 2018, the drop-top version gets its go, completing the A5 lineup. But rather than taking Audi’s word on these improvements, I needed the wind through my hair.

A 2018 Audi A5 Cabriolet 2.0T with the Prestige package arrived for the week fitted with nearly every option. While that inflated the price slightly past $65,000, the A5 proved its competence at being an all-rounder, working both as an everyday luxury coupe and as an open-top weekend toy. All it takes is 15 seconds to lower the top and the car changes its demeanor. Much of that can be credited to the multi-layer “acoustic” soft top and generous amounts of insulation. Even passing a semi truck on the interstate is hushed. The new interior pushes the bar for Audi, yet again. Soft-touch materials are paired well with high-end trimmings and in-dash technology that feels cutting-edge. Heck, there’s even microphones embedded into the front seatbelts for taking calls with the top down. It’s this attention to detail that makes the 2018 A5 Cabriolet so interesting. But what’s it like to live with? Keep reading to find out.

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2018 Chevrolet Equinox – Driven

2018 Chevrolet Equinox – Driven

Chevy hits the mark with its third-gen Equinox

I don’t need to remind anyone just how explosive the crossover market is these days. The competition is growing evermore fierce as automakers fight for consumer dollars as sales of sedans plummet and traditional body-on-frame SUVs crawl up-market toward the luxury segment. That’s why the Equinox is so important for Chevrolet. It splits the difference. And having spent a week driving the all-new, 2018 Equinox, it’s clear Chevy sharpened its knife before redesigning this two-row crossover.

The new, third generation Equinox gains fresh (though arguably bland) styling for 2018, along with a far more modern interior with tons of in-demand active safety and tech features. Available attractions include a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot, six USB ports, wireless phone charging, heated and vented front seats, lane keep assist, forward collision alert, and a 360-degree camera system. Chevy improved the ride, too, with a stiffer and lighter chassis, four-wheel independent suspension, and three engine choices that include a turbodiesel estimated to achieve 40 mpg highway. Even as a jaded journalist used to driving high-end products, I found myself deeply impressed by the 2018 Equinox. Keep ready to see why.

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2015 - 2017 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro – Driven

2015 - 2017 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro – Driven

The ultimate 4Runner

The 2015 – 2017 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro is Toyota’s most rugged and capable SUV. Thanks to some clever engineering in the Toyota Racing Development labs, the 4Runner enjoys a truly hard-core off-road version that usurps even the venerable Trail Edition 4Runner. Heavy duty Bilstein shocks with remote reservoirs, thick coil springs with a 1.0-inch suspension lift, upgraded wheels and tires, and a tank-like front skid plate makes the TRD Pro a natural in the dirt. All the same off-road tech on the 4Runner Trail Edition carries over to the TRD Pro, too. This includes the electronic locking rear differential, manual transfer case, and Toyota’s Multi-Terrain Select system.

A unique front grille with the blocky T-O-Y-O-T-A lettering sets the TRD Pro apart, along with TRD Pro badging on the C-pillars and bespoke TRD Pro wheels and all-terrain tires. Things inside aren’t much different than other 4Runners, beside a TRD gear shifter and some like-branded floor mats. So how does the TRD Pro handle everyday life and the sandy trails of Central Florida? Keep reading to find out.

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2016 Ford Focus RS – Driven

2016 Ford Focus RS – Driven

The hottest hot hatch is hella fun!

The Ford Focus RS is finally blitzing across American soil after exclusively blasting around European hedgerows and rally circuits. Launched for the 2016 model year, the Focus RS uses some high-tech mechanics, EcoBoost power, and ultra sticky rubber to out-class its competition: the Subaru WRX STI and Volkswagen Golf R. Ford thought I should try the car myself, so a Focus RS coated in Stealth Gray arrived in my driveway. The tester came packed with nearly every option, including the 19-inch aluminum wheels wrapped in Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires. Yeah, it was a fun week.

The RS, or Rally Sport, nomenclature started back in 1970 with the Ford Escort RS1600. It was among the first road-going cars to employ a four-valve cylinder head design. Decades later, Ford launched the 2002 Focus RS. This three-door hatch paid homage to Rally Sport-badged Fords before it, while igniting the hot-hatch segment. Sadly, production was kept to only 4,501 examples. Ford got wise by the decade’s end and launched the second-generation Focus RS for 2009. Still, production was kept to small quantities. That has changed with the third-generation Focus RS. Ford plans to produce the 350-horsepower beast through the 2018 model year, capstoned with a 1,500-unit Focus RS Limited Edition model And as mentioned, the Focus RS is selling in both Europe and North America.

So what’s it like to live with the 2016 Ford Focus RS? Keep reading to find out.

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2017 Land Rover Discovery – Driven

2017 Land Rover Discovery – Driven

[The] Disco is back, baby!

The Land Rover Discovery is one of the most iconic vehicles on the planet. Next to a Jeep CJ/Wrangler and the original Volkswagen Beetle, most folks can identify the Discovery in a lineup. Beginning in 1989, four generations of Discos have explored the far-flung reaches of earth and tackled city traffic on every continent, well, save for Antarctica – and that’s only because there’s a stark shortage of traffic down there. Here in the States, the Series I Discovery made its debut in 1994, followed by the Series II in 1999. Land Rover introduced an all-new model for 2004, known in North America as the LR3. This model lasted until 2016, with its 2009-facelift getting the LR4 name. But for 2017, the Discovery has undergone its biggest change yet.

Gone is the body-on-frame design and generous use of steel. Rather than this typical SUV recipe, Land Rover borrowed from its Range Rover line. An aluminum-intensive, unibody architecture replaces the boxy frame, helping the fifth-generation Disco shed nearly 1,000 pounds while adding structural rigidity. Not a terrible trade-off, eh? That’s especially true considering the 2017 Discovery is more capable off-road thanks to improved approach, break-over, and departure angles, combined with 1.7-inches of extra ground clearance and a whopping 7.8-inches of extra water fording depth. Add to that the Disco’s vastly improved on-road characteristics, and it’s clear Land Rover’s decision to adopt 21st-century technology paid off big time.

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2017 Chevrolet Cruze Hatchback – Driven

2017 Chevrolet Cruze Hatchback – Driven

Just like the Cruze sedan, only better

The Chevrolet Cruze has undergone some big changes in the last two years. For 2016, the sedan moved into its second generation by hitting the gym for weight reduction and added muscle. Now for 2017, Chevy has added a hatchback version complete with all the upgrades introduced a year before. I got the chance to spend a week behind the wheel of Chevy’s new hatch, surmising the little bowtie is darn good at hauling people and their stuff.

Admittedly smitten, I even said the Cruze Hatchback is a better choice than most compact crossovers. The data proves it, at lease objectively in regard to fuel economy and interior volume. Subjectively, the Cruze Hatch feels light on its feet and doesn’t mind being thrown into a turn. No, the Cruze Hatch’s 1.4-liter turbo-four is hardly a monster, but it appropriately balances power with efficiency. It’s hard to complain about 38 mpg highway, even when the sprint to 60 mph takes nearly eight seconds. So, what’s it like to live with? Find out below.

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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 Mazda Miata RF – Driven

2017 Mazda Miata RF – Driven

The less-expensive Porsche 911 Targa

Needing no introduction, the Mazda Miata RF is well into its first year of production. This retractable fastback version of Mazda’s insanely popular two-seat sports car not only adds a level of interior comfort with lower noise levels and better insulation against extreme temperatures, but also adds some beautiful aesthetics to the MX-5’s Kodo Design language. Coated in the gorgeous Machine Gray metallic paint, out recent test car proved the Miata RF is more than a mere replacement for the last-generation power-retractable hardtop.

The Miata RF is a looker. Its styling flows with more grace and elegance than the ragtop convertible. Crisp edges meet with curved fenders and voluptuous haunches. Mazda’s attention to detail moves the Miata further up-market, while its price and fun-loving nature remain firmly planted in the obtainable sports car category. Aside from the roof, the Miata RF changes little from its roadster counterpart. An extra 113 pounds, a slightly revised steering calibration, and modestly retuned suspension comprise the most notable differences. But how does this affect the drive? To find out, I spent a week with the Miata RF, flogging it over familiar roads around Central Florida, all the while enjoying the springtime air flowing through the open cockpit.

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2017 Toyota Tundra Platinum – Driven

2017 Toyota Tundra Platinum – Driven

How does the oldest half-ton pickup perform?

The Toyota Tundra has been around since 2014 with nary a change. Before that, it was 2007 when the Tundra saw any action from Toyota designers – and that was the second-generation Tundra’s debut! Needless to say, Toyota’s full-size pickup is long in the tooth. But how does this decade-old pickup perform? To find out, I spent a week with the truck on familiar streets I’ve traversed plenty of times with the Tundra’s competition.

As mentioned, the current Tundra debuted in 2007 as an all-new, ground-up truck that replaced a much smaller pickup bearing the same name. Toyota had been accosted by consumers and journalist alike for not having a true full-size competitor. To much applause, Toyota delivered. The truck came with a powerful 5.7-liter V-8, three cab options, available 4WD, and payload and towing capacities that ranked well against Detroit’s Big Three.

The Tundra then lay dormant for seven years. A mid-cycle refresh came in 2014 bringing some new sheet metal and a revised interior. However, the powertrain, frame, and suspension remained unchanged. Fast forward, and the first major change is scheduled for 2018. Even that is limited to the TRD Sport trim and consists of new grille mesh, LED headlights, and some active safety systems. We’ll have to wait at least to 2019 or 2020 before Toyota finally brings an all-new model. But despite its age, the Tundra isn’t a bad truck. Here’s why.

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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 Honda Civic Hatchback – Driven

2017 Honda Civic Hatchback – Driven

It skips the races and arrives at practicality

The Honda Civic has long been a go-to car for practicality and honest transportation. Sure, there have been several hyped models with plenty of horsepower and fun, but the vast majority of Civics are built to handle the daily grind. Say what you will, but there’s merit in that endeavor. Well, Honda knew its customers needed something outstandingly practical, but mixed with some flare and excitement – sort of a witch’s brew of pragmatic and provocative. Enter the 2017 Honda Civic Hatchback.

The Hatchback joins the Civic lineup for 2017, two years after the tenth generation debuted for 2015. It shares the spotlight with the popular Civic Sedan and fun-loving Civic Coupe. The trio now gives customers a choice in body style, while still delivering that Civic personality. All three ride on the same platform and share powertrain options.

Since the Civic Hatchback is new, Honda sent an example to test for a week for evaluations. Our tester was the EX-L Navi trim and came equipped with Honda Sensing. Otherwise, the car had no options, giving a full taste of the Civic Hatch’s second-most expensive trim. Even still, the as-tested price only rang up $27,175. That’s not bad for a vehicle with crossover-like interior room, leather seats, tons of in-dash tech, all the latest active safety features, and a turbocharged engine that averages 42 mpg on the highway. Color us impressed.

So how did the 2017 Civic Hatchback do? Keep reading to find out.

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2017 Audi Q3 - First Impressions

2017 Audi Q3 - First Impressions

Long ago, Audi was dominating Rallycross events in a Sport Quattro S1. It helped to brand Quattro as one of the best all-wheel drive systems in the world. Several years later, the A8 garnered popularity with its starring role in The Transporter, while the TT earned the attention of passersby who gave themselves whiplash as they took in the unusual design for the time. Since then, the RS4 and R8 eared themselves a spot on many dream lists across the world and more pedestrian Audis like the A4 were eating into BMW’s sales.

The aforementioned are all cars. Today, things are a bit different over at Audi as it seems the priority is to invest more and more into SUVs. In North America, there are already three in the lineup. A fourth, the Q2, is on sale overseas and is expected to eventually arrive on our shores. Then there’s the Q8 which is expected to be even bigger than the Q7 along with a four-door coupe-like SUV a la BMW X6 that is also expected to join the family.

Why are Audi’s SUV’s now overshadowing the cars in its lineup? I decided to take one out for a week to find out.

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2017 Toyota Corolla iM – Driven

2017 Toyota Corolla iM – Driven

Scion passes the iM baton to Toyota with its dying breath

Ah Scion, Toyota’s youth-market sub brand. Now in 2017, we can only reminisce about bygone days when new Scion hatchbacks, coupes, and toasters sat in showrooms waiting for eager high-school teens to arrive with daddy’s money or senior citizens to stroll in looking for something more economical than their worn-out Mercury Grand Marquis. Those days are gone though, thanks to Toyota shuttering Scion and consolidating a few of its models into the Toyota fleet. One such example is the Scion iM.

The iM was all-new for the U.S. market in 2015, launched beside the Mazda-derived Scion iA sedan. The iM was basically a Toyota Corolla Hatchback, though you’d never hear a Scion salesman pointing that to potential buyers. The car featured the same, 1.8-liter four-cylinder as the Corolla, as well as the six-speed manual or optional Continuously Variable Transmission. But, sadly, the iM and iA couldn’t save the Scion brand. Toyota ended the brand’s 13-year run in August of 2016. Fast-forward to today, and Toyota has rebadged the iA, iM, and FR-S as the Yaris iA, Corolla iM, and the 86, respectively.

I recently got to sample the Corolla iM for a week – living with it during the daily grind. My tester came equipped with the six-speed manual transmission and zero options. It’s rare to have press fleet cars come so equipped. But rather than being a buzzkill from the usual whiz-bang gadgetry and overly complicated nature of many modern cars, the iM’s basic nature proved a welcomed reprieve and rather enjoyable. Heck, my tester didn’t even have floor mats. (I’ve heard Toyota is stingy with their floor mats.)

Of course, the most noticeable feature of this iM is its color – that big, bright, green color. Oh boy. Toyota calls it “Spring Green Metallic.” I call it ugly. Yet the color helped add a particular flare to car it wouldn’t have otherwise had. It also attracted everyone’s attention. I lovingly named my tester Snot Rocket.

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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.

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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 Cadillac CT6

2017 Cadillac CT6

Here’s how you know that the Korean automakers are truly making a splash: when a brand that has been around for 114 years starts to take their concept and run with it.

The Korean twins have propelled themselves into many podium finishes when it comes to comparison tests, awards, and more crucially, sales. Arguably the key to this success, achieved within a relatively short period of time, is their focus on value. That means making certain features standard that would otherwise be optional with the competition without raising the price point much if at all. It means adding an aura quality on the base or mid trim levels of that would otherwise be reserved for top trims. And, recently, it means taking on brands that would otherwise be well outside the realm of typical competition.

For Cadillac, it has always been associated with the likes of premium German and Japanese brands. But it seems like it may be taking a page from the Koreans when it comes to competing with the rest of the established players – at least in terms of value. And it is evidenced in the all-new CT6; a model meant to be the flag bearer of the brand – at least for now.

If you want a large, executive sedan the big three come to mind: the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, the BMW 7 Series, and the Audi A8. You might even consider the Lexus LS. Those are large sedans that can easily crack the $100,000 mark once you option them out.

The CT6 is a large sedan, but it starts well below the aforementioned rivals. Sure, the DTS and XTS did too, but in terms of style, drivability, and tech – they were nowhere near the levels of Cadillac’s rival brands. Cadillac says it has remedied that, all while keeping the price comparatively low with the CT6. Have they succeeded?

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2017 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD Inscription – Driven

2017 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD Inscription – Driven

The humble brag of luxury SUVs

Volvo has been making the XC90 since 2002, and with great success. The first generation SUV sold well all over the globe. Even in the U.S., the XC90 sold roughly 35,000 examples annually before the crash of 2009. Updates late in the first-generation XC90’s life kept it kicking, though with only modest sales in America. That’s all changing with the second-generation XC90, which debuted for the 2015 model year. A highbrow design, an opulent interior, sophisticated powertrain options, and a matured sense of luxury all bring the XC90 into the modern times. Even with the 2017 model already two years old, the Volvo SUV continues to look like a futuristic concept.

To get a better feel for the Swede, I spent a week driving a 2017 XC90 fitted with the T6 AWD powertrain and decked out with the high-end Inscription trim line.

For those unfamiliar, the XC90 (and most Volvos, for that matter) come standard in the Momentum trim. The XC90 is also available in the R-Design, the Inscription, and the range-topping Excellence trim. While the limo-like Excellence trim is absolutely stunning thanks to its reclining second row bucket seats and full-length center console, the Inscription trim provides all the luxury anyone without a chauffer could desire. Skipping the Excellence trim also keeps the XC90’s third-row seats.

So what’s it like to live with the 2017 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD Inscription? Keep reading to find out.

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