When Toyota introduced the Highlander in 2001, it was one of the first true "crossovers," and the midsize SUV has had a long and successful run. For 2014, the Highlander has been redesigned with a bolder look and higher-quality cabin. Our tester was the hybrid version, which gave us a case of sticker shock for a nonluxury family hauler.
Appearance: The new look is sleeker and more athletic. The Highlander gains a more macho black-slatted trapezoidal grille similar to the Tundra pickup's. The grille is trimmed with chrome, and a horizontal bar extends out on each side of the Toyota badge into the slender upswept headlights. Character lines sweep back along the body, which is accented by high wheel wells. Our tester's paint — Ooh La La Rouge Mica — is a rich burgundy color that really pops in the sunlight, along with the 19-inch Chromtec alloy wheels....
2015 Mazda6 Grand Touring
$21,190 base start, $33,345 as tested; MPG: 28 city/40 highway; mazdausa.com/mazda6
Not much has changed for the 2015 Mazda6, which is a good thing. This new-generation sedan is one of the more stylish in the midsize segment. Our tester was the vivid Soul Red, which is one of our favorite red finishes. The 2.5-liter SkyActiv-G engine produces 184 horsepower and 185 pound-feet of torque. The base model comes with a rare-in-its-class manual transmission, with an available upgrade to a 6-speed automatic. For 2015, Mazda introduced new packages for lower trims. One feature we were intrigued with is the i-ELOOP regenerative engine braking, which comes with the Technology Package ($2,080). The system captures energy when you take your foot off the gas pedal. The car then stores that energy to help power in-car electronics, such as the air conditioning and power steering. Mazda says it saves fuel by as much as 5 percent. The technology package also includes safety features such as radar cruise control, forward-obstruction warning and lane-departure warning. ...
Finally, Chrysler has a midsize sedan that can live up to its "Imported from Detroit" ad slogan. The all-new 200 is the successor to some really mediocre cars — think Sebring sedan and the previous-generation 200 — that only really seemed to find homes in the nation's rental-car fleets. No more.
Appearance: Where the previous 200 was a stop-gap car for a troubled Chrysler — and looked like it — this new 200 easily fits in with the competition in the family sedan segment. The new look is curvy and contemporary, with a rounded roof that gently tapers into a short rear deck. Chrysler has jettisoned the wide 300-style face of its predecessor in favor of a slender, swept-back shape that holds the automaker's new winged logo and merges with the catlike headlamps. Those lamps are highlighted by LED daylight running lights (available with the Premium Lighting Group, $795). Our tester, the 200S, added gloss-black trim for a more menacing and sporty look. There also are dual chrome exhaust tips integrated into the rear fascia. ...
Young racing fans who want to go fast like their favorite NASCAR drivers now have a chance to do just that with the Junior Ride-Along offered by the Richard Petty Experience.
Kids ages 6 to 13 who are at least 48 inches tall can ride shotgun with a professional driver in a stock car that goes up to 140 mph and is equipped with a child-size racing seat and a five-point harness.
In Florida, they have two regular track options: the 1-mile three-turn Walt Disney World Speedway with banking of up to 10 degrees, or the 2.5-mile tri-oval Daytona International Speedway with banking of up to 31 degrees....
We've driven a few generations of the Honda Civic Si coupe, but this is the first opportunity we've had to drive the four-door version. The Civic, of course, comes in several different trims, but the Si choice is simple: with navigation or without.
Appearance: Like the regular Civic sedan, the Si has an aerodynamic design with a sculpted hood, chrome-trimmed grille and slender headlights. The Si gets a more athletic look with the body-color integrated decklid spoiler, chrome exhaust and 18-inch alloy wheels. ...
2014 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara
$26,195 start, $40,280 as tested. jeep.com/wranglerunlimited
The four-door Wrangler Unlimited is a true sport utility vehicle: It's rugged enough to handle off-roading while versatile enough to haul five passengers and tow up to 3,500 pounds with an available towing package. With several roof-top configurations and plenty of after-market options, how rugged or urban it looks depends on you. The high-riding Unlimited has the familiar Wrangler look with the trademark seven-slot grille, round headlights, clamp-down hood and rear-mounted full-size spare. Our tester, the mid-level Sahara trim, had the body-color three-piece removable hardtop upgrade ($1,795), which made it look more like a standard city-slicker SUV. The 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 is competent, but the heavier weight and longer wheelbase of this four-door model make it feel more sluggish compared to the zippy two-door Wranglers we've driven. Still, the ride is fun, though a bit jittery. Our tester's cabin was nicely appointed with supple leather on the seats and steering wheel. Plastic on the dash and trims comes off as cheap. But after all, the Wrangler's interior can be washed down; there's a drain plug on the floor. However, even with the hardtop and better sound insulation, the cabin is prone to road noise. Getting into the Wrangler can be a challenge for shorter drivers; there's a step, but even that is placed high. With summer here, we can see how this Wrangler can be the ultimate beach machine. But is it a daily commuter? The ride and estimated fuel mileage (16 mpg city, 20 highway) may say no, but this Jeep's ruggedness and utility could overcome our reluctance....
There's a Civic for every taste — from hybrid to the sporty Si — and Honda's goal is to keep it that way. Maybe that's why the automaker quickly moved to improve the car after its 2012 redesign met with much criticism. Since then, Honda has fast-tracked updates. For 2014, there are styling tweaks and a new transmission: CVT. We drove a Civic sedan and coupe — both EX-L models with navigation. ...
We've wanted to drive the Escape ever since Ford made over the compact crossover in 2013. What was once boxy is now sleek and technology-laden, with features that include a unique foot-activated lift gate that has been the centerpiece of TV commercials.
Appearance: The Escape is more stylish sport wagon than SUV, with a dynamic look accented by bold body lines, elongated head lamps and a raised, creased hood. In the top-level Titanium trim like our tester, the Escape's somewhat generic-looking split grille is enhanced with chrome accents. Our tester came with the optional 19-inch luster nickel-painted aluminum wheels, but we split on the design. Lyra said the design looked like wrenches welded together, while Peter liked the industrial look and thought it made for a nice contrast with the Escape's athletic stance and stunning Sunset Metallic paint. Overall, the whole package makes for what may be the most stylish small crossover on the market...
For 2015, Honda has completely redesigned the Fit, which already is one of the most versatile subcompacts on the market. Big changes often can spell trouble of the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" variety, but Honda has managed to give the Fit more style and more cabin space all while upgrading the car's powertrain and chassis.
Appearance: This new Fit, the third generation, still carries the car's familiar wedge shape, which has been refined to make it look more like a grownup car and less like a quirky subcompact. Bold lines now crease the body to give it more character. It's enhanced by a more modern chrome-trimmed black grille and sleek headlights. From the rear, the Fit now sports Volvo-like vertical taillights that are integrated with the rear hatch. The effect is sharp and sporty. Our top-of-the-line EX-L with Navi came with five-spoke, 16-inch alloy wheels that also added a sophisticated touch, as did the Midnight Plum Pearl, which we found to be a refreshing change from the primary colors common in so many small cars....
The Lexus RX is one of our favorite crossovers in any class. We've always liked its combination of luxury and utility. Until recently, we'd never driven the hybrid version of this midsize SUV, the RX 450h, which holds the promise of bringing greater fuel efficiency to the feature-laden vehicle. Lexus already has rolled out the 2015 models.
Appearance: The RX was one of the first luxury SUVs on the market when it debuted in the late '90s. Some might find the look a bit dated, even with the recent redesign. But the RX 450h is still handsome, with elegant lines, tapered side windows, a built-in roof rack and sloped rear hatch with integrated spoiler. Classic. Giving the RX 450h a little more contemporary touch are Lexus' spindle grille, chrome accents, LED running lights and 18-inch alloy wheels. ...
There are times when we'd rather show off a car than talk about it. This is one of them. Behold the 583-horsepower Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT Roadster. The car is greater than the sum of its acronyms — it's a link to a rich Mercedes tradition that produced the iconic gullwing coupes. Let's put the top down and take an appreciative look.
The SLS AMG GT Roadster is the sophisticated supercar that looks right at home cruising the waterfronts of Tampa Bay and is comfortable in ordinary driving....
Coming off of a relatively mild 2013 hurricane season, it's easy to get lackadaisical about emergency planning. But don't get caught off guard. Here are some products to help you be prepared.
You should store at least a gallon of water per person per day. (And don't forget to add rations for your pets.) Drinking water should be kept in a clean container, not in old milk jugs which can harbor bacteria. ...
The Honda Pilot is a somewhat boxy throwback among the increasingly more streamlined world of midsize crossover SUVs. It seats up to eight with its standard third row, and its dimensions offer a lot of usable cargo space for the family.
Appearance: The tall-and-square Pilot won't win any design awards with an almost vanlike appearance. (We think it looks better in a darker color such as our tester's Dark Cherry Pearl.) The top-level Touring trim did have some accents such as chrome side molding, chrome exhaust tips and 18-inch alloy wheels to break up the blandness. The rear liftgate was electronic, and the rear glass opens independently, which is handy....
The Cadillac ELR is the sophisticated city-slicker cousin of Chevy's Volt electric car. The four-passenger coupe uses a similar powertrain as the Volt with its combination of electric motor and gas-engine-powered generator. Unlike the Volt, the ELR — Electric Long Range — offers dramatic styling, interior luxury and a price that's far from entry level.
Appearance: The ELR is definitely a head-turner, which is no surprise because it is based on Cadillac's stunning Converj concept car that was a hit on the auto-show circuit in 2009. The ELR is all sharp angles with a cab-forward modern design that's highlighted by the stunning four-lens vertical LED headlights that bookend the large enclosed grille with its large Cadillac badge. Our tester came in Crystal Red Tintcoat — a $995 option — that seems a perfect fit for the car. Our ELR also had 20-inch machined aluminum wheels with Midnight Silver Premium paint as part of the Luxury Package ($1,695). Other modern touches: chrome trim that adds a sharp presence to the geometric design — especially around the side windows. The door handles are recessed for clean lines and better aerodynamics. ...
We live in the crossover age. These vehicles fuse features of SUVs with those of people movers. There are so many that we often find ourselves behind the wheel of different versions of models we've recently driven. Here are a few.
2014 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Sport Unlimited
$17,895 base start, $24,990 as tested
For 2014, Subaru tweaks the wagon version of the Impreza. The result is a roomier cabin and better fuel mileage. A new gearbox — a CVT — helps produce an estimated 27 mpg in the city and 36 on the highway. The downsides are the sluggish acceleration and transmission noise at higher revs. Still, the Impreza, especially its five-door guise, is a practical and comfortable daily driver with the advantage of having standard all-wheel drive. Peter was quite impressed with the cargo space, using it to deliver several large bags of clothing and toy donations to a local shelter. The car's 2.0-liter horizontally opposed "boxer" 4-cylinder engine produces 148 horsepower, which is adequate in interstate driving but seems better suited for the city. One thing you can say about the Impreza: It's predictable, and that's not a bad thing....