We're fans of the conventional Kia Soul, so we were eager to drive the electric Soul. For starters, EVs are not for everyone — especially if you're a long-distance commuter like Lyra. That said, this Soul — Kia's first electric, which rolled out initially in California — proved to be all that we liked about the gas-powered model with only a few drawbacks.
Appearance: It's the same funky little hatchback, with the most noticeable difference being the grille, or the lack of it. Instead, there's a panel that covers the grille opening. This panel contains a door that opens to reveal the charging ports. The EV also has a body-color front bumper. Our tester was Caribbean Blue with a white roof....
Chevrolet has redefined the SUV — literally. The carmaker calls its new Trax a "Smart Urban Vehicle." And that, it is. The mini sport utility vehicle is nimble around town, yet provides ample cargo space. The Trax is new to the United States, but its concept is not: Buick's upscale version, the Encore, was introduced in 2013.
Appearance: This subcompact SUV is built on Chevy's Sonic platform, just like the Encore. This ute-let is only 167 inches long and resembles a more muscular compact hatchback with its fender flares and a tall, creased hood. The rather-small two-part grille, with its chrome-trimmed horizontal slats, seems to almost pucker. Having already kissed up to younger buyers with the Encore, which has proved to be a hit with them, General Motors no doubt hopes this cute ute does the same. Our LTZ trim tester came with 18-inch five-spoke aluminum wheels that added a bit of character to what is an otherwise generic design....
We're glad to see that Kia hasn't run up the white flag on its Sedona minivan, which was long overdue for a redesign. The segment is dominated, after all, by Chrysler, Toyota and Honda. The frumpy Kia has been all but an afterthought until now. For 2015, the Sedona is going all-in in the minivan race.
Appearance: Call this new Sedona's style Minivan Modern, with hints of design influences from its competitors. The look is best expressed in the front end, which reads more SUV than minivan: low nose, wide black-mesh grille trimmed with bright chrome and wraparound headlights bisected by LEDs. It's unfussy and effective. The body is now creased by subtle character lines, and our tester had 19-inch chrome-alloy wheels....
It's now game-on in the midsize truck segment. Toyota's Tacoma had led the segment until General Motors reintroduced its Chevy Colorado/GMC Canyon last year. Toyota will soon respond with an all-new Tacoma for 2016. We recently got a chance to drive a '14 Tacoma. Because there were few changes for 2015, we decided to give it a spin.
Appearance: It now looks a bit stale compared to the new midsize pickups we mentioned from GM or even its big sibling, the Toyota Tundra. Our tester's color — Spruce MIca — was an attractive dark green. (Sadly, not available for 2015.) Our Tacoma "Access Cab" came in the PreRunner trim, and had the TRD Sport Extra Value Package ($3,575). With that, you get TRD graphics, 17-inch alloy wheels, a hood scoop and touches such as body-color trim surrounding the grille and flared fenders. The truck also sits high with a 9.3-inch ground clearance. Overall, it has an off-road, but dignified look. ...
Volkswagen's venerable Golf recently was named North American Car of the Year. That honor, along with a similar award from Motor Trend, took many by surprise. Maybe it shouldn't have, because the redesigned-for-2015 Golf has a model range — from EV to diesel to performance — that pushes the boundaries of the compact hatchback.
Appearance: Now in its seventh generation, the '15 Golf is not a radical departure from its predecessors, retaining the familiar wedge-shaped hatchback design. The changes are subtle: upswept headlights and taillights and some character lines on the side body panels, generally a more angular look. Our tester, the four-door TSI, was an attractive Silk Blue Metallic color, which contrasted nicely with the car's black- and chrome-accented grille and 15-inch Lyon alloy wheels. A nice touch that we've always liked: In the rear, the VW badge is actually the hatch latch....
New cars and experimental concept vehicles were introduced at the North American International Auto Show, which will continue through Sunday. Here are some notables:
Ford GT: The lightweight, carbon-fiber GT has a twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6 engine that produces more than 600 horsepower. The two-seater has deep, dramatic scoops in the hood and the sides and advanced aerodynamics, including a deployable rear spoiler. It's Ford's first GT in more than a decade and one of 12 new Ford performance vehicles coming to market by 2020. Pricing will be announced later, but executive chairman Bill Ford says it will be in the range of other exotic supercars like the $200,000 Lamborghini Gallardo. ...
The Accord has long been a bestseller, but the car is in a class of its own when it comes to model range: Honda is the only automaker that still makes a coupe version of its midsize sedan. In some ways, it's a throwback to the day when two-door cars were common. For 2015, most of the changes to the Accord involve features for the various trims.
Appearance: Overall, the look is a bit simple, some might say bland, for a sporty coupe. But in this case, less is more. This isn't a performance car, after all. What you get is a handsome coupe with enough visual interest — bold, black-mesh grille, LED-underscored headlights, flared fenders, 18-inch alloy wheels — to stand out among the drones on your morning commute....
Pity the minivan. The family hauler seems under assault from the ever-expanding market for SUVs and crossovers, and now the automakers seem to be scrambling to make them hip (?) and competitive. Enter the refreshed-for-2015 Toyota Sienna, one of the leaders in the minivan segment.
Appearance: It's tough to make a boxy minivan look good, but Toyota has done its best. Most of the changes are in the front fascia, which is bolder and more chiseled, a la the rest of the Toyota line, and has more modern upswept headlights. In our SE tester, the restyled grille came with chrome-trimmed black mesh that gave it a sporty look. The SE also comes with 19-inch, 6-spoke alloy wheels....
When it comes to cars, the term "entry level" has a no-frills connotation. When it comes to Mercedes-Benz, however, it's a relative term. To wit: the new SL400. The sporty two-seater is nominally the entry-level SL model, but for $84,000 — $22,000 less to start than the more powerful SL550 — there's little this roadster lacks.
Appearance: With its convertible top down, the low-slung SL400 carries the classic Mercedes roadster profile: long hood, raked windshield and sweeping lines that seem born of a sculptor rather than of a computer. As a design element, the wide mesh grille makes a statement all its own. It's bisected by a chrome bar that has the three-blade, propeller-style Mercedes-Benz logo in the middle with a deep air dam beneath it. The car's iconic look is complemented by LED running lights and wraparound LED taillights....
Auto sales are up, gas prices are dropping and 2014 ends with the big SUVs surging in popularity again. But it was two small SUVs that impressed us. Here are our favorites from among the vehicles we drove this year. As always, there were many we didn't get the opportunity to drive, so we are already preparing our 2015 wish list.
Lexus NX 200t (2015): The Lexus is one of the best-looking small SUVs on the market and carries the automaker's first turbocharged engine. It has the practicality of a "ute," but in its F Sport trim also has lively performance and handling. Not to mention it's eye candy — all chiseled angles and bold character lines. Best of all, it's fun to drive. ...
It's not every day the term "mac daddy" is used to describe the Toyota Camry, which despite being the bestselling car in America, has always been more bland that hip. But when Peter pulled the redesigned-for-2015 Camry into a Publix parking space, the car was greeted by an admiring onlooker calling it the "mac daddy" of Camrys. That's true — our tester was the top-level XSE, a new package — but in any trim, this is not your daddy's Camry....
We've all heard the saying "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." Fortunately, so has Subaru. For 2015, it has refined its Outback both inside (more room, nicer cabin) and out (bolder design) without changing what makes the crossover so popular.
Appearance: We call it a wagon, Subaru calls it a crossover. No matter. For 2015, the Outback carries a new front fascia with a more integrated design for the hexagonal grille and bumper. (The grille also has active shutters to cut down on drag.) The headlights now carry a hint of the automaker's sporty WRX. There's less gray plastic cladding and more chiseled character lines on the body. In all, these changes make for a handsome wagon. ...
The Mercedes-Benz M Class is the luxury automaker's midsize SUV. For 2015, the ML400 replaces the ML550 and its gas-guzzling 4.7-liter V-8. There's no question the SUV has better fuel efficiency and, of course, luxury, but does it have anything that makes it stand out?
Appearance: The "designo" Diamond White Metallic (a $1,515 option) shimmers in the sun. Aside from that striking paint, the ML400 is a handsome, if slightly generic-looking, SUV that wears Mercedes' three-slat grille with traditional fan-blade logo. Standout design details include chrome skid plates, bold character lines and LED daytime running lights. Our tester had the optional 20-inch AMG five-spoke wheels and Bi-Xenon headlamps. Those headlights have Active Curve Illumination and adaptive high beams, which came in handy on the dark back roads Lyra sometimes drives....
The bottom line: The WRX STI is one of the last of a dying breed: street-legal rally cars. We're glad Subaru is committed to improving this gem.
Earlier this year, we drove the newly refreshed 2015 Subaru WRX Limited, and loved it. But consider that model the "WRX light." We've driven the rally-inspired STI performance version, and wow, the car is a beast.
Appearance: For 2015, the WRX STI comes only in a sedan, which grows slightly and looks ready to pounce. The car has a bold front end with squinting headlights and muscular fenders. And, of course, there's the cartoonish wing, which is almost big enough to invoke the Road Runner Superbird for those of us old enough to remember it. Our tester's paint was the catch-me-if-you-can Lightning Red Metallic, which really stands out in traffic — so watch your speed....
It seems like it was just the other day that we drove the 2014 Corvette Stingray — a convertible — and were impressed with the all-new, seventh-generation Corvette. Now we've driven the 2015 model — this time a coupe — and Chevy already has made a big improvement: There's a new 8-speed automatic transmission that's more refined than the previous 6-speed gearbox. Even manual enthusiasts should take notice. ...