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18 Sep 2014

2015 Kia Sedona

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2015 Kia Sedona

Minivan sales have stagnated in recent years, and Kia tells me that no fewer than 15 models have been completely eliminated from the market since crossovers rose to prominence. So why in the world is the company not only sticking by the Sedona, but also actively investing in it, giving it a complete overhaul for the 2015 model year?

The Korean automaker isn’t convinced that the minivan’s “family box” reputation is truly warranted, and it sees an opportunity to snare younger, more active buyers by designing, engineering and marketing the Sedona as something versatile, edgy and comfortable. While that logic may seem both a bit familiar and somewhat far-fetched, Kia says forty-five percent of minivan buyers don’t actually have kids and are instead simply looking for space, so the approach should be based at least in part on sound reasoning.

I spent an afternoon in Northern California behind the wheel of Kia’s new non-minivan with a healthy does of skepticism about its new strategy, but an open mind, as well. Does the Sedona’s execution live up to Kia’s lofty criteria and expectations of what a nontraditional minivan should be? Will buyers ditch their CUVs for something with a little more junk in the trunk? Read on to find out.

Continue reading 2015 Kia Sedona

2015 Kia Sedona originally appeared on Autoblog on Wed, 17 Sep 2014 11:59:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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11 Sep 2014

2016 Audi TT [w/video]

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What came first, the metrosexual or the Audi TT? While it was close, the descriptor-turned-epithet preceded the 1995 concept car by one year. However, they were both notable cultural evolutions and they happened to work together perfectly. Hugh Grant, playing the cad Will Freeman in the 2002 film About a Boy, could not have chosen a better example of character than his silver TT.

A decade later, the original TT was still important enough that when rumors of the third-generation coupe began to surface in late 2012, the most exciting fantasy was that the 2014 coupe might “recapture some of the distinctiveness and impact” of a 16-year-old car (the TT came to market in 1998). Even speculation by dedicated Audi observers thought the brand would do something novel, even if not mimicry. The obvious takeaway: no one was going to be lighting any candles for the departed second generation. All of that is why when the first leaked image slipped onto the Internet, people began to get suspicious. When the third generation took the stage at the Geneva Motor Show, we could almost hear the digital deflation over the Ethernet, our poll results notwithstanding.

Yet it’s still the TT, and in spite of having seen its interior and virtual cockpit and clocked its specs, we couldn’t judge it before heading to Marbella, Spain to drive it. What we found out was while it’s better than the second generation, it’s still very much a TT.

Continue reading 2016 Audi TT [w/video]

2016 Audi TT [w/video] originally appeared on Autoblog on Wed, 10 Sep 2014 11:58:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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03 Sep 2014

2015 Jaguar F-Type V6 S Coupe

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2015 Jaguar F-Type V6 S Coupe

My first, ill-fated job in the auto world was at an exotic car dealer in metro Detroit. The job itself sucked, but the cars, they were exceptional. Amidst a sea of Tiptronic Porsche Boxsters, first-gen Mercedes-Benz SLKs and abused second-generation Range Rovers, there were some real gems.

In particular, I have fond memories of a trio of undrivable Jaguar E-Types. Two Series II coupes as well as a Series III convertible (that featured a mostly broken roof) spent the entirety of my brief tenure at the dealership in the back of the musty service garage. I’d make side trips through there just to see the trio of E-Types, which rarely failed to put a big, ridiculous grin on my face.

Since that time in the summer of 2005, there hasn’t been a single Jag that’s been capable of eliciting the same goofy smile. Not the XFR-S, with its un-aristocratic wing, nor the XKR-S. At the 2013 Los Angeles Auto Show, though, Jaguar introduced this F-Type Coupe. Sure, the droptop model had been around for a bit, but I thought it was the new coupe that most captured the E-Type’s classic aesthetic, with a swooping roofline, those gorgeous rear haunches and a long, powerful hood. I had to drive one.

It was lucky, then, that a hardtop F-Type V6 S arrived in my driveway not long ago. I’m not sure who at press fleet operations drew the lucky assignment of configuring the company’s F-Type media cars, but I’d like to tip my hat to them. My tester showed up in as classically perfect a color scheme as you’ll find – British Racing Green with tan-and-black interior upholstery. The 19-inch Centrifuge wheels it wore did their part, too, with the alloys being the closest thing Jaguar offers to the original multi-spoke wheels of the E-Type.

These aesthetic decisions only served to heighten the attractiveness of the Coupe. This is a stunning vehicle in person, with a bevy of interesting curves and angles that force you to stop, linger and stare. The muscular haunches at the back are complemented by the chiseled hood and aggressive front fascia. The roofline forms a single, unbroken arc, as it forms in the A-pillars and runs to its abrupt end at the F-Type’s tail. The wide, slim, wraparound taillights are intriguing at night, and are unlike anything else on the road, while the headlights and their LED accents give off a predatory look that similar designs like the Chevrolet Corvette and Dodge Viper only wish they could emulate.

Continue reading 2015 Jaguar F-Type V6 S Coupe

2015 Jaguar F-Type V6 S Coupe originally appeared on Autoblog on Wed, 03 Sep 2014 11:57:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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29 Aug 2014

2015 Cadillac Escalade

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2015 Cadillac Escalade

I have never liked traveling to Monterey, CA. The picturesque coastal city is about 300 miles from my home in Los Angeles, which means cramped and uncomfortable regional aircraft are part of the equation when the turnaround is only one night. Over the years, I have cursed the LA Basin’s bumper-to-bumper traffic en route to the airport, argued with TSA personnel over carry-on baggage and waited countless hours for the fog to lift just for the anguish of being packed into a small regional jet for the flight. Of course, the process repeats on the trip home with equal misery.

Yet this time I am not suffering.

Cadillac has dropped its all-new 2015 Escalade in my driveway. Instead of battling city congestion, attempting to reason with misinformed government agents, snacking on a too-small bag of pretzels and physically rubbing shoulders with a dubious stranger for 90-plus minutes within the confines of a bumpy aircraft, I have chosen to forgo air travel and drive myself door-to-door in a fullsize luxury sport utility vehicle.

The trip should be less expensive, less stressful and it may even be quicker. Most importantly, if what Cadillac is saying about its all-new Escalade holds true, my drive will be more comfortable and unquestionably more enjoyable.

Continue reading 2015 Cadillac Escalade

2015 Cadillac Escalade originally appeared on Autoblog on Fri, 29 Aug 2014 12:00:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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27 Aug 2014

2014 Kia Forte Koup SX

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2014 Kia Forte Koup SX

The Kia Forte and Hyundai Elantra have long followed similar paths, with each available in a four-door sedan, a five-door hatch and (most recently) a two-door coupe bodystyle. The recent death of the Hyundai Elantra Coupe in the US may be threatening to change the narrative on these two affordable compact lines, of course, but the Korean two-doors have a lot in common under their distinct skins. Their most recent iterations came to market under the power of the same 2.0-liter, 173-horsepower four-cylinder paired with six-speed automatic transmissions and riding atop MacPherson strut front suspensions and torsion-beam setups out back. Each arrived weighing between 2,800 and 3,000 pounds and could be had in base form for less than $20,000. Considering this, the empirical performance stats figured to be similar.

There’s an important distinction to be made, however. Rather than offer a simple two-door version of a four-door car, like Hyundai did with its Elantra Coupe, Kia has gone to lengths to craft a vehicle with its own unique attitude and attributes. Kia has embraced a sportier stance with its two-door Forte Koup, offering up a standard six-speed manual and going further in an effort to craft a more unique, aggressive coupe design.

That drive to be different was further accentuated last year, when Kia raided Hyundai’s parts bin and plucked out the 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder from the Veloster Turbo. The resulting car is decidedly different than any other Forte we’ve tested, while also feeling like a better all-around product than the smaller hot hatch it stole its engine from. To see just how much better, we drove the Forte Koup SX for a week and set about seeing how this enhanced model stacks up as a performance offering.

Continue reading 2014 Kia Forte Koup SX

2014 Kia Forte Koup SX originally appeared on Autoblog on Wed, 27 Aug 2014 11:58:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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19 Aug 2014

2014 Audi R8 V8

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2014 Audi R8 V8

Where to even begin with the Audi R8 V8.

Let’s start with the Ferrari 458 Italia, a car that doubles the base price of the Audi. It’s much more fun to drive than it is to talk about; discussions among enthusiasts usually begin with someone saying, “It’s amazing!” and end with everyone else agreeing. Opposite that is the vast, swirling nebula of cars that are often more fun to talk about than they are to drive.

In between, there are very few cars that are as fun to discuss as they are to drive, and this Audi is one. It’s a car that challenges our notions about its actual competitive set and, even better, its philosophical competitive set, its driving experience, its price, its future, its present viewed from the future, and its verifiable and/or potential pedigree.

We recently attempted to sort out some of those notions during ten days in an R8 V8 driving from Munich to Le Mans. We arrived at quite a few answers, and although we walked away from it still confounded, there’s no denying one thing: it is so, so good.

Continue reading 2014 Audi R8 V8

2014 Audi R8 V8 originally appeared on Autoblog on Tue, 19 Aug 2014 11:57:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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14 Aug 2014

2014 Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG S 4Matic Wagon

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2014 Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG S 4Matic Wagon

On a recent, transcontinental flight home I warded off the mild urge to get some work done and started browsing Delta’s list of terrible movies for something that a) I hadn’t seen before, and b) I wouldn’t get in trouble for watching without my wife. I settled on a documentary called Somm, which follows four young and accomplished sommeliers on a mission to pass the mind-bendingly difficult Master Sommelier exam. In between a lot of late-night flash cards, obsequious Windsor knot tying and the popping/sniffing of hundreds of corks, I learned that there is a variety of wine enthusiasm that lives exclusively in the I-don’t-give-a-damn zone of connoisseurship.

Don’t get me wrong, I love wine, and I like to think that I can appreciate the difference between Barolo and Beaujolais, but the subtleties in variance between 2009 Bordeaux from Château Larrivet Haut-Brion or Château Tronquoy-Lalande are lost on me.

There’s a similar story to be told, I think, with this almost completely incomparable 2014 Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG S 4Matic wagon – and I’m not only talking about the coded and lengthy proper name. For guys like me, and a lot of you, there’s something almost sexually compelling about the idea of a 577-horsepower, 590-pound-feet-of-torque V8 engine powering a freaking station wagon. Something primal in the desire for a vehicle that can both carry a rented pressure washer back to the house, and beat a Corvette Stingray out of the Home Depot parking lot.

That combination of things might interest you about as much as the subtle difference between grapes grown on neighboring vineyards in Provence interests me. Rational people, even rational people that like cars, might legitimately look at this $100k rocket boat and scratch their heads at my (our) ardor. But if you care on that level of geekery at all – wine or wagons – chances are good that you care a lot.

Continue reading 2014 Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG S 4Matic Wagon

2014 Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG S 4Matic Wagon originally appeared on Autoblog on Thu, 14 Aug 2014 11:58:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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30 Jul 2014

2014 Acura MDX SH-AWD

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2014 Acura MDX SH-AWD

There are certain vehicles on sale today that are affected by what I call ‘Camry Syndrome.’ Named after Toyota’s ubiquitous family hauler, Camry Syndrome affects a fair number of cars and trucks, many of which are exceedingly popular with consumers.

The issue I have with these vehicles is that while they’re adequate, they lack ambition. Their looks are clean and reasonably attractive, but they’re not particularly stylish, let alone adventuresome or – heaven forbid – polarizing. Their interiors are comfortable and well screwed together, with the sort of popular features that consumers expect at a given price point. Their engines are decently powerful and vocal enough to set the heart very slightly aflutter, yet they’re not too thirsty. Their transmissions are invisible and their rides are best described with whatever buzzword synonym Joe Consumer might come up with for “sporty” or “luxurious.” In short, they’re boring.

In reality, provided they sell well, there’s really nothing wrong with automakers building Camry Syndrome vehicles – they’re reasonably competent at everything and clearly meet a need. The problem is that I want some aspects of my vehicle to be better than others, because contrast breeds character. I wish someone at Acura felt the way I did when it redesigned this MDX for 2014, because for me, there’s so much of this premium crossover that’s merely middle of the road.

Continue reading 2014 Acura MDX SH-AWD

2014 Acura MDX SH-AWD originally appeared on Autoblog on Thu, 15 May 2014 11:57:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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30 Jul 2014

2015 BMW M3 Sedan

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2015 BMW M3 Sedan

BMW’s all-new M3 Sedan is dynamically nearly identical to its two-door M4 Coupe sibling: a stopwatch reveals that both are sub-four-second cars to 60 miles per hour, a racetrack proves that the mechanical twins are equally as adept on a road course and a full afternoon of driving on public roads demonstrates that each possesses talented everyday adaptability.

Yet after driving both BMW models back-to-back over two full days in Portugal, it’s clear there are a few noticeable differences, both objective and subjective, that don’t require instrument testing to reveal. All it takes is a few hours behind the wheel of both cars to conclude that one is slightly more agile, and the other a bit more twitchy. One has better outward visibility, while its counterpart is unquestionably more convenient.

It is the little things – subtleties attained through seat-of-the-pants observations – that eventually allow me to choose a favorite.

Continue reading 2015 BMW M3 Sedan

2015 BMW M3 Sedan originally appeared on Autoblog on Tue, 20 May 2014 12:15:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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30 Jul 2014

2015 Ferrari 458 Speciale

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2015 Ferrari 458 Speciale

I wasted my last hour with the 2015 Ferrari 458 Speciale pacing the polished concrete floor of Home Depot. My quest was to find an industrial-strength adhesive that would permanently bond me to the bright-red Italian’s carbon-fiber racing seat. At that moment, I was determined to spend the rest of my life with this Ferrari – glued behind its F1-inspired steering wheel – selfishly dismissing trivial matters like eating, bathing and all future interaction with my wife and kids.

After reviewing literally hundreds of exceptional vehicles, many considered the finest enthusiast offerings each automaker has to offer, I had finally found my mechanical soulmate – the limited-production 458 Speciale. I somehow became convinced that cementing myself within its spartan cabin would ensure that our love affair would never end. My plan was ingenious, assuming the hardware store still had a large bottle of Gorilla Glue on the shelf.

Simply put, there is no better way to start a weekend than with a gassed-up Rosso Corsa Ferrari 458 Speciale parked in your driveway and instructions to “Enjoy!”

Continue reading 2015 Ferrari 458 Speciale

2015 Ferrari 458 Speciale originally appeared on Autoblog on Wed, 28 May 2014 11:57:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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