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Our 3 favorites
Lyra's three favorite things with bold leadins.
Pete's three favorite things with bold leadins
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Audi is part of the Volkswagen Group, which is currently embroiled in an emissions-cheating scandal over its diesel-powered cars. VW recently issued a stop-sale order for several of its diesel vehicles, including the 2015 Audi Q7 TDI that we drove recently. Hopefully, this will be sorted out soon. In the meantime, here are our thoughts on the full-size luxury crossover.
Appearance: The Q7, first introduced in 2005, is winding down its first-generation life. (The second generation is due out soon.) The Q7 has a stately look that is beginning to feel a bit dated — we can't wait to see the redesign. Our tester, the Premium Plus trim, had the optional Offroad Style Plus package (which seems mostly for cosmetic purposes at $3,200) that includes matte-black roof rails, more-rugged fender flares, front and rear stainless steel skid plates and 20-inch Audi Sport wheels with titanium finish. It's a custom look, especially with the Daytona Gray Pearl Effect paint. ...
The Subaru WRX STI has always been among our favorites with its rally-inspired ride and raw power. The 2016 model brings a few tweaks, mostly inside, which makes this car even more desirable for gearheads.
Appearance: The WRX, no matter the model, is a compact sedan whose styling is driven by its performance trim. For example: We were both glad that it also came with the low-profile trunk-lip spoiler. An option for STI Limited buyers is the tall wing spoiler that borders on ridiculous. (Of course, that's just us. The Fast and Furious set, no doubt, will love the oversized down force-reducing wing.) Elsewhere, the car's functional hood scoop, front wheel vents, dual twin-exhaust tips and 18-inch BBS aluminum wheels tell us this isn't your average commuter compact. To further emphasize that point, our tester came in a distinctive WR Blue Pearl paint....
Though this would once would have been considered automotive heresy, the Cayenne has proved to be a bestseller for Porsche — even with a popular new SUV sibling, the smaller Macan, nipping at its heels. Now far along in its second generation, the Cayenne may be getting older, but it's also getting better.
Appearance: The Cayenne was redesigned in 2011 and it hasn't changed much since. Still, the 2015 crossover gets revisions — refinements, really — that include the hood, front fenders and headlights. In our model-S tester, this was evident in a blacked-out grille and modified air scoops. The BiXenon headlights now have integrated daytime running lights with four LED spotlights per unit. Our tester also featured optional 20-inch RS Spyder double-spoke alloy wheels, two dual-exhaust tips and a hatch-top spoiler. Overall, the Cayenne manages to have a classic Porsche look without trying to push the envelope of SUV design....
Mercedes-Benz purists must shake their heads when they see the GLA 45: Is this M-B pandering to younger drivers? Is the GLA 45 a crossover? An SUV? Or in the case of this AMG version, a hot hatch? The answers are yes, yes and yes. We're not M-B purists, so we say: Pander all you want, M-B.
Appearance: Mercedes would be happy to hear that the GLA 45 AMG got a lot of admiring glances from millennials while we had it. Maybe it's because this SUV (Mercedes' words) is really a hot hatchback in luxury clothing. We're not surprised our car drew looks; it's a swept-back collection of sharp creases with a long hood, sculpted body panels and a truncated rear end that is crowned with a rear wing that makes it look like a custom tuner from The Fast and the Furious. Up front, the car sports a more minimalist grille, with the Mercedes emblem set in the AMG cross-wing. Our tester had the optional AMG Aerodynamic Package combined with the Night Styling Package, which includes a large gloss-black front splitter and the rear-hatch spoiler. Our tester had 20-inch AMG 10-spoke alloy wheels painted black with bright red brake calipers. That combination looked great when contrasted with the Cirrus White paint....
We had high hopes for the TLX, Acura's new sedan that replaced the zippy TSX and comfortable TL. But we were slightly disappointed after we tested the 4-cylinder sedan, which left us wanting more power. Now comes the V-6 version loaded with high-tech safety features and a new transmission.
Appearance: The TLX is elegant but conservative. Some might even call it bland. Slender five-lamp Jewel Eye LED headlights have strong chrome borders for a visual punch. They flank a now-subdued brushed-metallic "beak" grille. Chrome also surrounds the side windows that taper with the roof line. Elongated and slender taillights wrap around toward the rear fenders. The 18-inch machine-finished aluminum alloy wheels look crisp against the Crystal Black Pearl exterior paint. ...
We've driven the Corvette Stingray — convertible and coupe — on a few occasions since its 2014 redesign, and found it greatly improved compared with the previous-generation Vette. Still, we always thought we weren't getting its true essence because those cars had automatic transmissions. Now we know what we've been missing.
Appearance: Someone — no, not Prince — once said that all Corvettes are red in spirit. Well, for once, our tester actually was red. Torch Red. Even though we prefer the profile of the coupe, the convertible is not without its allure — even with the top down — thanks to its bold, angular body contours. Our tester's Z51 Performance Package also came with painted aluminum wheels that complement against the Torch Red paint. The power convertible cloth top retracts smoothly and tucks away cleanly; even its rear window has a defogger. (The top can even be put down remotely with a push of a fob button.)...
The bottom line: The Cadillac Escalade is for those who need a luxurious family vehicle that also carries some cachet. (Don't need that? Try the Chevy Suburban.) As long as gas prices don't rocket, big is back.
When we tested the newly redesigned 2015 Cadillac Escalade ESV (extended wheelbase) last year, we said the changes would put the big SUV back on the A-list for those who like their luxury large. Recently, we drove the regular Escalade — in the fully loaded Platinum trim — and it's still a case of livin' large. ...
The bottom line: We like the Rogue, we just wish it had a little more horsepower and a more driver-engaging ride.
We've always considered the Nissan Rogue a stylish, fun-to-drive compact crossover — even though the only engine available is a four-cylinder. Since we last drove a Rogue, Nissan has given it a facelift, but we're not sure it's keeping up with the competition....
Those who fondly remember the Horsepower Wars of the '60s and early '70s must be shaking their heads at the monstrous output of today's muscle cars. After all, in today's eco-conscious era, doesn't "charger" call to mind something for your electric car? Well, maybe so, but when the Charger is Dodge's SRT Hellcat, the electricity comes from the visceral thrill of more than 700 horsepower.
Performance: When a car comes with two sets of keys — one to unlock its full fury — you know it's not an ordinary sedan. That's because this Charger carries the new supercharged 6.2-liter Hemi "Hellcat" V-8, which it shares with the Challenger muscle car. The black key fob restricts the power to a "mere" 500 horses. The red fob unleashes a street-shaking 707 horsepower. Some other numbers touted by Dodge would make enthusiasts drool: 650 pound-foot of torque, 0 to 60 mph in 3.7 seconds, a quarter-mile time of 11 seconds and a top speed of 204. Dodge says the Charger Hellcat is the most powerful production sedan on the planet. All of this power is routed through a quick-shifting TorqueFlite 8-speed automatic transmission (with manual mode) whose rev-matching downshifts work particularly well. As for stopping power, we both found the Brembo brakes were up to the task. Despite all the power, this Hellcat is well-mannered in city driving. In Street mode — one of three settings you can pick, along with Sport and Track — it drives pretty much like a family sedan. Save for some supercharger whine and the low rumble of the Hemi at idle, you could almost forget what's under the hood. One thing's for sure, you're guaranteed to have the most potent grocery-getter in the neighborhood. The steering feel is good as it loosens up at higher speeds, but the power assist is all but lacking when you're maneuvering in and out of those tight supermarket parking spaces. We had the red key only for a few hours. Peter had the car then. His reaction: "There is no thunderous fanfare when you start the Hellcat with the red fob. I drove it on a rainy morning and let's just say that 700-plus horsepower on rain-slicked streets can be an adventure, especially with the traction control off. (Lesson learned.) No matter what drive mode you select, it's almost effortless to leave some rubber behind when you take off. Push it, and acceleration is a theme-park ride that pins you to the seat."...
Toyota's venerable 4Runner is a throwback to the days when SUV owners actually needed a vehicle for occasional excursions away from the pavement. It has been refreshed for 2015 — mainly in its off-road technology — but loses none of its ruggedness.
Appearance: The front fascia is brawny, with a black mesh grille resting behind a thick body-color crossbar and bumper. This is accented by a large silver skid plate, which is standard, as you might expect on an SUV with off-road capability. Flanking the grille are angular projection-beam headlights that include check mark-shaped LED running lights. The hood sits high, and has an air scoop. Overall, the 4Runner seems proud to still carry a rugged, boxy look. Our 4x4 Trail Premium tester also came with a moonroof and 17-inch, seven-spoke alloy wheels....
We've seen the trickle-down effects of Chrysler's merger with Fiat, with more vehicles introduced from the Italian automaker. Now, a popular European workhorse, the Fiat Doblo, comes to the United States as a slightly altered Ram ProMaster City — in Tradesman and Wagon configurations — to satiate a growing appetite for compact cargo vans.
Appearance: Boxy is back with the City Wagon. The tester has a profile more associated with utility vans than family haulers. An aerodynamic low and short hood leads to a large raked windshield. The lower fascia looks like a masked bandit with plastic cladding that goes up all the way to the high-set headlights. (The mask-less SLT trim with body-color bumpers is much more attractive.) At the center of this mask is the recognizable crosshair Ram grille. The City Wagon adds windows to the side doors that slide back easily like in a minivan. To the rear is a big and simple windowless cargo box. But in the City Wagon, you get windows on the 60/40-split doors for better visibility. The rear door handles are large and easy to open — up to 180 degrees. ...
We've driven a few generations of the Mitsubishi Outlander and have always found the crossover severely lacking when compared to the competition. Now the Outlander has been given an overhaul for 2016. Is it enough to give Mitsubishi, an all-but-overlooked player in the marketplace, a boost up?
Appearance: The Outlander now sports a really large grille and front fascia that looks like a Transformer. Half of this new Dynamic Shield design works, especially the thick chrome that starts from under the headlights and drops down to form the "shield." From the side, this chrome also accents the elongated profile. The lower fascia — black with a skid plate — seems to get lost, however. Our SEL tester also came with 18-inch alloy wheels with an intricate spoke design. Overall, it's somewhat of a bigger "small" crossover....
The Honda Pilot has always seemed to us to be a vehicle in search of an identity. Is it a boxy and rugged SUV? A family hauler with third-row seating? Honda couldn't seem to decide — until now. The all-new third-generation Pilot is a sleek crossover for those who need plenty of passenger room but don't want to sacrifice styling or comfort.
Appearance: This is one redesign that is long overdue. The word "boxy" is now but a memory. The new crossover is aerodynamic and sophisticated — befitting of a vehicle called a Pilot. The Honda family's DNA is evident in its upswept lines and the long body that recalls the Odyssey minivan. The creased hood sits high above a chrome-heavy grille. The grille's top bar integrates with the upswept headlights that are framed by LED running lights in the Elite trim like our tester. The Pilot's fender flares help give it a bolder look, as does a hatch-top spoiler and 20-inch alloy wheels....
Hyundai redesigned its midsize Sonata sedan for 2015, dispensing with its "Fluidic Sculpture" philosophy for a more stately look. Now Hyundai has seen fit to extend that redesign to its Sonata hybrid, which gets the new look for 2016.
Appearance: Our tester came in Seaport Mist, a hue unique to the hybrid model that Lyra likens to a sea-foam gray or maybe putty. (Peter just calls it bland.) Hyundai's "Blue Drive" and "Hybrid" badges tell you this is not your average Sonata. Besides those badges, the hybrid's front fascia is different, with front-active air flaps and a trapezoidal grille that recalls Audi. There also is an integrated spoiler and rear diffuser to help make the hybrid more aero-efficient. Otherwise, the hybrid has the 2015 Sonata's less-busy exterior lines and gently sloping roof. It's almost as if Hyundai felt it had outgrown its wild design years and is aiming for a mature look. Our tester came with 17-inch Eco-spoke aluminum-alloy wheels....