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30 Jul 2014

2015 Hyundai Sonata

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2015 Hyundai Sonata

Completely redesigning a vehicle competing in a fiercely contested segment requires delicately balancing styling, performance, safety, efficiency, innovation, passenger comfort and pricing, while simultaneously not alienating model loyalists. In other words, it’s no simple task.

Automakers generally follow one of two paths. Some take a conservative approach and choose to raise each bar marginally, in an effort to appease all and estrange none. Others strategically take risks and focus on specific attributes in an attempt to shift perception about their vehicle.

With its all-new 2015 Sonata, Hyundai has taken the second approach when overhauling one of its best-selling vehicles. The Korean automaker has executed an impressive number of targeted improvements, yet it’s also softened some of its predecessor’s qualities in an attempt to demonstrate greater refinement and position its midsize sedan upscale. Whereas the outgoing car successfully aimed to establish itself as a credible contender in the midsize segment, the new model is gunning for customers that might otherwise be seeking entry-level models from luxury automakers.

Continue reading 2015 Hyundai Sonata

2015 Hyundai Sonata originally appeared on Autoblog on Mon, 30 Jun 2014 11:57:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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30 Jul 2014

2014 Hyundai i40 Tourer / Sonata wagon

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2014 Hyundai i40 Tourer

Recently, we took a vacation to Australia, because sometimes we have to get away from all of that other travel and good living that we withstand in order to bring you the latest car news. While there, we grabbed the keys to a Hyundai i40 Tourer, essentially the Sonata wagon we never got a chance to love here.

Even though it didn’t have a manual transmission, it did have a diesel and, for reasons beyond that oil-burner, our enduring affections. No, this story will not include another plea for Hyundai to bring it to the US – it likely wouldn’t stand a chance against our crossover- and size-crazed mania, but it’s a brilliant fit for markets that appreciate tidy haulers.

Continue reading 2014 Hyundai i40 Tourer / Sonata wagon

2014 Hyundai i40 Tourer / Sonata wagon originally appeared on Autoblog on Tue, 08 Jul 2014 11:57:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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30 Jul 2014

2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat [w/videos]

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Darrell Waltrip once said, “If the lion didn’t bite the tamer every once in a while, it wouldn’t be exciting.” The sentiment behind that aphorism is causing my adrenal gland to wake up as Dodge and SRT drivers and engineers – somber-faced to a man – give me the track talk that will precede my driving the 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT on the circuit at Portland International Raceway. PIR might not be Daytona, and the 707-horsepower Challenger Hellcat might seem tame to a legend like ol’ Jaws, but there’s a not-small part of me that’s thinking about how hard Dodge’s fire-breathing kitty might bite.

Just a few hours previous, I’d gotten behind the wheel of the Hellcat for the first time, letting its hyperbole-spitting, supercharged V8 Hemi pull me yieldingly through Portland’s morning commuter traffic. Lulled into a cocky certainty by the Challenger’s good manners at low speed, I drove the throttle just a hair too deep, too fast when I ran on to the highway ramp. For just an instant the rear tires were utterly drenched in torque, and the back end of the big Dodge loosened up like a drift car on a wet track. Throttle steer lives at the fleeting whim of your right foot in this car.

It was no big thing to lay off the gas and pull the Hellcat back in line as I entered the highway, but the incident did get me to thinking: What will this car do to me on a road course?

With the track talk ended, I picked up a helmet and a head sock – stand-ins for the whip and the chair every good lion tamer needs – hoping like hell I wouldn’t end up as a gravel-track snack for the new biggest predator in the muscle car circus.

Continue reading 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat [w/videos]

2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat [w/videos] originally appeared on Autoblog on Tue, 22 Jul 2014 11:57:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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30 Jul 2014

2014 Audi SQ5

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2014 Audi SQ5

It may be obvious at this point, but here in the United States, European manufacturers routinely give us the short end of the stick. Now, I’m not talking about models or brands that don’t come here, like the Mercedes-Benz A-Class or the entire Renault line. No, instead, I’m referring to cars that are sold right here in the Land of the Free in one bodystyle, while Europe enjoys the same vehicle with a wider variety of configurations.

A prime example of this is the Audi S4/S5 line. In America, we can have the supercharged twins in two-door coupe, four-door sedan, and cabriolet body styles. Meanwhile, our Euroland cousins get the same trio of bodystyles, as well as the A5/S5 Sportback, a characterful ‘four-door coupe,’ and a versatile hauler, the S4 Avant. At first glance, Audi of America lacks a vehicle that can compete with the latter’s blend of performance, versatility and subdued looks. So, what’s an American with around $60,000 and an obsession with quick, conservative haulers to do? Well, he can buy an SQ5. (Though it bears mentioning, our US-spec SQ5 is vastly different than what’s available to our European friends.)

The SQ5 has a huge number of things going for it that make it a viable alternative to a proper hot wagon, and foremost among them are its looks – this is a sleeper. Audi has thankfully decided not to molest the clean looks of the standard Q5 when penning the sportier model.

The SQ5 gains a unique set of wheels: 20-inchers are standard, but our tester was fitted with a set of 21-inch rollers. Visually, neither make a huge departure from the standard Q5 though. Other standard features of Audi’s S models are also found on the SQ5, including a set of quad exhausts, silver mirror caps and mildly different front grille and foglight surrounds. If anything, the Q5 TDI diesel I tested late last year looks sportier than today’s tester.

Continue reading 2014 Audi SQ5

2014 Audi SQ5 originally appeared on Autoblog on Thu, 24 Jul 2014 11:57:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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13 May 2014

2015 BMW M4 Coupe

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2015 BMW M4 Coupe

Launched out of the seat by a huge, unexpected dip in the road, yet still held largely in place by the smooth webbing of my safety belt, I clench my teeth waiting to come back to earth. A tenth of a second later, the M4 Coupe touches down and my body is slammed into the leather seat cushion. All of the air is forced out of my lungs upon landing, but the BMW’s chassis, suspension and steering appear unfazed. Pleasantly surprised, I mash the accelerator to the floor in giddy pursuit of the car in front of me – an absolutely identical 2015 BMW M4 coupe.

A cavorting game of cat-and-mouse on a desolate twisty canyon in southern Portugal is an excellent way to explore the real-world driving dynamics and performance of BMW’s all-new M4 Coupe. But to truly push it to the limit – without having to worry about oversize depressions in the asphalt – requires a dedicated racetrack. Graciously, my hosts have rented the famed Autódromo Internacional do Algarve racetrack, or Portimão circuit, for an afternoon of automotive debauchery.

It’s hard to believe this passes for work.

Continue reading 2015 BMW M4 Coupe

2015 BMW M4 Coupe originally appeared on Autoblog on Mon, 12 May 2014 11:59:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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08 May 2014

2014 Toyota 4Runner Limited

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2014 Toyota 4Runner Limited

What would you say if we told you that outside of Jeep and Land Rover, the best brand for those who want to go off road is Toyota? Sounds remarkable, eh? But the truth is, Toyota’s history of providing vehicles for the rougher bits of our blue marble dates back to 1950, barely a decade after Willys built the first Jeeps and only a few years after Land Rover made its big debut with the iconic Series I.

In fact, Toyota’s start in off-roaders was with a small contract for providing the US Army with vehicles, during the Korean War. From that, the BJ was spawned. This Jeep-like vehicle evolved into the 20 Series and then into the iconic 40 Series Land Cruiser in the 1960s.

So yes, Toyota knows its way around the trails. While the Land Cruiser, deservedly, gets all the attention thanks to its impressive longevity, we’re partial to the 4Runner, which is a far more affordable entry that serves as Toyota’s challenger to the Jeep Grand Cherokee.

For 2014, Toyota issued a light refresh of the fifth-generation 4Runner, which originally arrived back in 2009. You’ll recall that we already have a test of the off-road-oriented Trail trim level, thanks to our man Michael Harley. For this test, we’re driving the top-of-the-line Limited model.

Continue reading 2014 Toyota 4Runner Limited

2014 Toyota 4Runner Limited originally appeared on Autoblog on Thu, 08 May 2014 11:57:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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07 May 2014

2014 Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive

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2014 Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive

Mercedes-Benz has made reviewing the B-Class Electric Drive pretty darn easy. They included the grade the car deserves right in the name: A nice, solid B.

For an electric car in today’s climate, that’s actually pretty high praise. No, this car does not represent the crowning achievement of alternative-fuel engineering that we’ve been waiting for since Robert Davidson started tinkering with electric motors back in the mid-1800s. But it does further the case that electric cars don’t have to be frumpy, stripped-down plastic cases on wheels. Tesla and BMW have helped to make tremendous strides in the public perception of EVs, employing striking design and athletic driving dynamics to make them cool, sexy and sporty. Mercedes-Benz, with the B-Class, has now added the weight of its three-pointed star to this emerging trend.

We recently took the B-Class Electric Drive for a spin around Silicon Valley – an appropriate location, as the German automaker collaborated with and took inspiration from numerous tech giants whose sprawling campuses adorn the landscape. While we weren’t left with mouths agape after our time behind the wheel, we feel confident in saying that while the B-Class Electric Drive isn’t for everyone, those looking to add a luxurious and versatile EV to their existing stable will be quite impressed with what it has to offer, despite a few noticeable flaws.

Continue reading 2014 Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive

2014 Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive originally appeared on Autoblog on Wed, 07 May 2014 11:58:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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29 Apr 2014

2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA250

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2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA 250

With more than a year separating my test week with the 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA250 from its debutante ball at the 2013 Detroit Auto Show, I had the advantage of a mountain of data and diatribes with which to inform my initial opinion. Conversations with colleagues and coworkers netted splintered ideas about the CLA’s driving demeanor; reading hundreds of comments posted on Autoblog articles revealed a popular divide about everything from exterior styling to the execution of its navigation screen.

While commentary from the public and pundits alike has spun in a circle over the front-driver Mercedes this last year, the car-buying public has been voting the CLA up in fantastic fashion. Early sales have been very strong for the lowest-cost-of-entry Benz, despite being capacity constrained over the first months of 2014. Mercedes-Benz USA PR manager Christian Bokich told me that dealers are “selling the 250 and 45 AMG as fast as they can get them,” and though he wouldn’t share the internal number, says that the CLA has the lowest day supply of any model in the brand’s lineup. Clearly, while we’ve been happily shouting at each other, Mercedes sales’ staffs have been swiftly compiling signed purchase agreements, and racking up numbers.

Given the context of this first year of existence, I thought it would be helpful to review the CLA250 with a special eye to those areas of the car that have been the most hotly contested. By my research, that means wading into the fray on the attractiveness of its sheetmetal, the polish of its interior, the starchiness of its suspension and the thrift of its luxurious bottom line.

Continue reading 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA250

2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA250 originally appeared on Autoblog on Tue, 29 Apr 2014 11:57:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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24 Apr 2014

2014 BMW 328i xDrive Gran Turismo

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2014 BMW 328i xDrive Gran Turismo

“The Ultimate Driving Machine” has been BMW’s tagline for nearly 40 years. Launched in the 1970s, the marketing campaign was a stroke of genius by ad firm Ammirati & Puris, as the phrase helped differentiate the imported Bavarian cars from their fellow European rivals by subtly pointing out that Mercedes-Benz and Audi were offering luxury models, while BMW was selling sporty and youthful driving dynamics. The campaign worked – some would argue that stands among the most effective ad campaigns ever – and countless Baby Boomers embraced the brand’s fun-to-drive image by taking delivery of the company’s new models.

BMW still boasts that its vehicles are “The Ultimate Driving Machine” four decades later, but the brand is very different today. It offered just a few model lines in the mid-1970s, and only a handful of vehicles within. In 2014, the automaker offers an exhaustive range comprised of nearly a dozen lines with almost 50 different models. To survive and thrive, BMW has decided it must massively broaden its appeal.

One of the latest arrivals to BMW’s ever-growing stable is the 2014 3 Series Gran Turismo. The five-door hatchback is best thought of as a smaller version of the company’s 5 Series Gran Turismo built on stretched 3 Series platform that, in the case of this test car, shares the running gear of the 328i xDrive sedan. On paper, the five-passenger vehicle checks all the proper boxes with regards to performance, utility and economy. But does this family-focused 3 Series still deliver driving dynamics that qualify it for the title of Ultimate Driving Machine?

Continue reading 2014 BMW 328i xDrive Gran Turismo

2014 BMW 328i xDrive Gran Turismo originally appeared on Autoblog on Thu, 24 Apr 2014 11:57:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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22 Apr 2014

2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Convertible

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2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Convertible

It may be impossible to spend a day in Chevrolet’s new C7 Corvette without someone asking what you think about the iconic sports car – magnetism is an understatement. I was approached by strangers in a grocery store parking lot, parents waiting for their children after school and enthusiasts on a canyon road after I had pulled to the side to take in the view.

All sneak up with a curious smile on their face, take a deep breath and then start spitting out questions like an overly aggressive prosecuting attorney. Is this the new Corvette? What do you think of it? Is it fast? How much does it cost?

While a closed-roof coupe offers a protective shield from the verbal onslaught – it’s hard to field questions through a solid roof – the droptop Stingray Convertible allows the full inquisition to rain down each time one slows to a stop. These opportunities include incessant chatter with complete unknowns at stoplights, street corners and even while stuck in traffic.

Continue reading 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Convertible

2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Convertible originally appeared on Autoblog on Tue, 22 Apr 2014 11:57:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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