Like other successful midsize sedans, Hyundai's stylish Sonata has a hybrid counterpart. For 2013, the Hybrid gets an upgraded electric motor and a smaller — and lighter — battery. Hyundai says this results in improved fuel efficiency. Also new, the Limited trim level, which was the model we drove.
Appearance: The Hyundai badges and a prominent logo on the trunk lid announce it's a hybrid. It also has styling features unique to the hybrid, such as a blacked-out hexagonal grille instead of the regular Sonata's horizontal chrome slats. The look is more like Hyundai's Elantra or Genesis Coupe. The hybrid shares the "Fluidic Sculpture" design philosophy that was a breath of fresh air in the midsize sedan market when this generation Sonata was introduced as a 2011 model. This design philosophy translates into a curvaceous car with front-to-back body creases and an elegant roof line. The car's solar-control windows are large, which helps reduce blind spots. Both the upswept headlamps and taillights get LED accents....
The Toyota RAV4 is credited with being the first compact crossover SUV. Now, Toyota has given it a makeover befitting the fourth generation of the RAV4, with a sleeker, contemporary look and more modern features.
Appearance: The RAV4's more agile bearing resembles some of its newer competition with its chrome-accented grille and upswept headlights. The sheet metal is more sculpted, especially in the fenders. Strong character lines, which complement the sloping roof, run the length of the vehicle. Most notably, Toyota has ditched the rear-mounted spare tire (good riddance) and the tailgate now opens upward instead of sideways. One carryover is the cladding under the grille that continues on the sides of the RAV4. For some reason, maybe to foster a more rugged image, manufacturers can't quite quit this practice. They get the balance mostly right in the RAV's case, with a little too much cladding up front but a minimum on the sides. None of that distracts from the handsome lines of the vehicle. Our Limited trim tester had 18-inch alloy wheels and the convenient height-adjustable power liftgate....
You've no doubt seen Will Ferrell's Anchorman character Ron Burgundy in commercials for the 2014 Dodge Durango, humorously praising, among other things, the glove box — "It goes on for inches!" — of the large SUV. Dodge has now given the Durango a midcycle refresh, and there's much more to like about it than the glove box.
Appearance: When the Durango was redesigned for the 2011 model year, it gained a muscle car's bearing. For 2014, that look gets bolder with new fascias and a tweak to Dodge's cross-hair grille. The headlights acquire LED bling, and tail lamps now span the rear of the vehicle and are the same Racetrack ribbon you see on the Challenger and Charger. Sharp. The Durango sits high, like a truck, and shorter drivers might find getting in and out a challenge. (Says Lyra: Ladies, it's not the best car to be driving in heels. It's a long step to the ground.) Our tester, the R/T, came with 20-inch alloy wheels, body-color accents and chrome-tipped exhausts....
Mitsubishi has given the 2014 Outlander a redesign from the ground up. The gaping trapezoidal grille, which still adorns the Outlander Sport 5-seater, is gone. More important: The Outlander has earned a Top Safety Pick+ rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, and it's clear that Mitsubishi — in both its marketing and in the SUV's available options — is making safety the big selling point. Best of all, this 7-seater's starting price is a modest $22,995....
The newest sedan in Mercedes-Benz's expansive E Class is the product of a mid-cycle refresh. Gone is the BlueTec E350 with the 6-cylinder diesel. In its place for 2014 is the E250. It features a new 4-cylinder biturbo diesel and a restyled exterior. Mercedes is an old hand at diesels, and it shows in the performance of this midsize sedan.
Appearance: The E class gets new single-lens LED headlamps and a slight sheet-metal resculpt that makes for a sleeker look. Our tester had the Sport Styling Package, which comes with sport-tuned suspension and sport exterior styling, such as the two-bar grille with integrated Mercedes star that echoes the AMG performance line. Completing the look are 17-inch wheels and an optional rear-deck spoiler ($350). We liked the Lunar Blue Metallic paint, which helped show off the chrome accents....
Toyota has long been trying to lure buyers with macho images of its Tundra: There's the truck climbing a flame-engulfed ramp in the Killer Heat commercial, while in another, it tows the space shuttle Endeavour. Now Toyota is pitching the redesigned 2014 Tundra as a truck for the family guy who needs to build a tree house or a baseball field.
Appearance: The new Tundra has a large in-your-face grille that gives it an industrial look, as does the "Tundra" stamped into the tailgate. The front end is more chiseled, and the amount of chrome varies depending on the truck's trim level. We liked our tester's Silver Sky Metallic paint, but the chrome would pop better with a darker color. The Tundra's hood line is high, even for a truck, perhaps to accommodate the integrated air scoop that spans the width of the grille. The truck has a wide stance, and its character lines are more pronounced. Our tester had a bed liner with an integrated rail with adjustable tie-down hooks. The ground clearance is 10.4 inches, so running boards are a must, especially for shorter drivers....
We recently drove a trio of sedans, from a limousine-style hybrid to the more modest, everyday luxury of an under-$40,000 car. Here are our impressions.
2013 Lexus LS600h L
Price: $120,060 start, $128,610 as tested.
For the executive who needs a mobile workspace, we present the hybrid Lexus LS600h L. It may look like a normal Lexus, but behind the now-familiar spindle grille, the LS600h L seems not so much a car as a test case for parent Toyota. Why else would you create an extended-wheelbase luxury sedan and give it two powerplants that make it exceedingly fast but not so economical? Why else would you stock it with every comfort and electronic-safety amenity available, including rear seating that pampers the occupant with everything except a manicurist? We suspect the LS600h L was designed in part for the emerging 1-percenters in the Chinese market who enjoy being driven. Surprisingly, you could actually use this car in daily life if you didn't mind doing the driving yourself or are not put off by its paltry estimated 19 miles per gallon (city) and 23 (highway). Lexus pairs its stout 5.0-liter V-8 with a high-output permanent magnet electric-drive motor; together they combine for 438 horsepower, and because of the electric motor, the low-end torque is outstanding. It also makes for great acceleration for a vehicle that weighs more than 5,000 pounds. The E-CVT hybrid transmission with sequential shift is one of the few CVTs we didn't dislike. Then there's the ride: The AWD car has adaptive variable air suspension that smooths out the bumpiest roads. And chances are, you won't hear those bumps either: Road noise is forced into a cavity in the 19-inch alloy wheels. The vibrations there cancel out the noise. It's an interesting concept. Inside, the car may be one of the quietest we've encountered thanks to those noise-canceling wheels, double-pane windows and an insulated hood and other features. Even the interior trim is one of our favorites: Lexus' attractive matte-finish bamboo. It makes for a Zen-like cabin. When you want to break that serenity, there's the 19-speaker Mark Levinson premium surround system. It's also loaded with safety features, from rear cross-traffic alert to an advanced precollision system to lane-keep assist. The sedan's elongated interior allows room for the Executive-Class Seating Package ($7,555), which includes a foldup tray table, power reclining seat complete with leg rest, multifunction massager, cool box and Blu-Ray player with wireless headphones. Is this car affordable or even practical for those of us who draw an hourly wage? No, but that's not the point. As Lyra said: "Peter, you can drive. I think I'll just relax in the backseat."...
The Lancer has long been a mainstay in Mitsubishi's dwindling U.S. lineup, from its no-frills economy model to the coveted high-performance Evolution. Even with more than five years in its current body style, the 2014 Lancer remains one of the more attractive compact sedans on the road. We drove the GT, which slots just below the frisky Ralliart in the Lancer's five-trim lineup. (The Evo is a separate beast.)...
It has always seemed to us as if Lexus' IS models were aimed at the buyer for whom comfort trumped style and, especially, performance. So for 2014, Lexus has redesigned its entry-level luxury sedans. Would more performance follow? We were eager to drive the redesigned IS 250 to find out.
Appearance: We love the new look, which finally puts the IS in the same design league as its competition. It really is a stunner, from the new Lexus "spindle" or "hour-glass" grille to its flared fenders and sharp character lines that embellish the hood and body. Overall, the sedan now has a wider, menacing stance. Even the details mimic this sharp-creased look. Check-mark-shaped LED running lights underscore the headlights, and the wraparound taillights taper to a thin point whose line continues across the rear fenders down to the side skirt. Dual chrome exhaust tips and V-spoke wheels, ours was the optional 18-inch alloys, finish the look....
Hyundai offers two models of its redesigned flagship crossover SUV for 2013: the long-wheelbase Santa Fe and the smaller Santa Fe Sport. The Sport is a five-seater. The slightly bigger Santa Fe can seat up to seven, and replaces the three-row Veracruz. Our tester was the Santa Fe configured for six passengers.
Appearance: For its third generation, the Santa Fe carries Hyundai's "fluidic sculpture" design philosophy, which makes for a handsome SUV with its bold grille, sculpted rear fenders and swept-back headlights. The body creases and LED "eyebrows" on the headlights add character. (The rear roof pillars, however, impede rear visibility, which made us both ask: Why no blind-spot monitor?) We liked our tester's Frosted Mocha paint, which looked sophisticated and is another example of brown being the new black in car paint. ...
Appearance: The whole design looks sportier than its predecessor, which looked a bit staid. The lines of the car now seem to flow better from front to rear. Up front, there's now a larger, aggressive grille with a more prominent three-star Mercedes logo. Below it sit large, air scoops that wouldn't be out of place on a sports car. The upswept headlights have been elongated and are divided by sharp LED, which look stunning at night. (Full LED is available as part of the $1,500 Lighting Package that also has curve and corner illumination.) Our tester had the 18-inch twin five-spoke AMG alloy wheels as part of the Sport Package ($x,xxx). The rear wheels are wider than the front for better handling....
Kia reportedly has high aspirations — luxury car aspirations. So for 2014, the Korean automaker has rolled out a full-size sedan, the Cadenza, whose name erroneously brings to mind furniture, but really is a musical term for a solo flourish that heralds an important passage. Is Kia sending us a message?
Appearance: The Cadenza is handsome, with a design that tends toward the familiar and has plenty of chrome trim. We see cues from other cars — a touch of the Nissan Altima and Suzuki Kizashi — in its look. Maybe its conservative approach is more for an older buyer? Even Kia's "tiger-nose" grille is toned down: The growl is less fierce, and its mesh is surrounded by a slender chrome trim. The upswept headlights feature LED running lights that have a futuristic glow at night. Especially sharp: our tester's 19-inch multispoke alloy wheels, which are part of the technology package ($3,000), and its rich exterior color: Smoky Blue....
Allow us to extol the joy of rear-wheel-drive sports cars, which long have been the favorites of enthusiasts for sheer driving fun and their propensity for oversteer (the rear end stepping out). Here are three we've driven recently.
2013 Scion FR-S
We loved the old-school feel of the Scion FR-S we had earlier this year, but were a little disappointed with some of its interior features — even for a no-frills sports compact. The buttons for the audio controls were tiny and felt cheap, and the interface was ridiculously convoluted, especially when connecting our phones via Bluetooth. The Premium Audio with BeSpoke ($1,200 upgrade) in our latest tester made a world of difference: It has a 5.8-inch LCD touchscreen instead of a sliver of a digital readout, eight speakers, USB connectivity, automatic sound levelizer, 36-preset capability and Pandora Internet radio (through your smartphone). The BeSpoke iPhone app allows voice command, speech dictation, routing to destinations and social networking services. It's much more user-friendly and interactive than the archaic base audio system. Our tester also had the 6-speed automatic transmission paired with its 2.0-liter 4-cylinder Boxer engine. The verdict? It's not as fun as the 6-speed manual. The shifts were somewhat sluggish, and you lose the liveliness. Thank goodness the automatic comes with paddle shifters. That helps put some life back into your driving experience. The automatic also gets a more efficient estimated mpg of 25/34, compared with the stick's 22/30. If you do a lot of rush-hour driving, the automatic might be worth a look, if you don't mind sacrificing a bit of performance. $25,255 base start, $26,930 as tested....
Maybe you've seen Acura's conceptual "Made for Mankind" commercial that claims its quest was to build the "world's smartest luxury SUV for mankind." Wow, that's a lot of baggage for a midsize SUV to carry. We found this new-generation MDX's many strengths to be a little more down to earth.
Appearance: Our fully loaded tester came in an elegant and striking Forest Mist Metallic that we both immediately liked — it's gray with a hint of green. (The Eucalyptus interior also had a hint of green.) This third-generation MDX has also inherited the Jewel Eye LED headlights from its cousin, the Acura RLX sedan. Some may find them a bit much, but it's really the SUV's sole concession to bling....
It seems there's always a new "minivan alternative" on the market, so it's easy to overlook the venerable family hauler. We drove two updated vans, which reinforced our view of them as the practical choice for many families.
2014 Honda Odyssey
Bland cars are often derided as "appliances." So when Honda introduced the new version of its popular Odyssey, it was surprising to hear the buzz surrounding it involved an appliance built into it....