In an automotive age where SUVs rule, station wagons are a fading market category. But Volvo has been a resolute defender of the traditional family haulers. Its all-new stylish V60, which is based on the S60 sedan, is just what you'd expect from the Swedish automaker that has a solid reputation for safety.
Appearance: Yes, wagons can be sexy. The V60's front channels the classic Volvo. The grille has a familiar diagonal line with a Volvo badge. The hood is chiseled, and the car's look is heightened by a high door line and narrow windows that appear as one uninterrupted design framed in chrome trim. The vertical taillights flare out to hug the body. At an angle, they are almost L-shaped. The spokes of the 19-inch Ixion alloy wheels have a visual twist, and the integrated chrome dual-exhaust tips finish off the look. Overall, these elements fuse into a cohesive design. The V60 has certainly come a long way from the boxy Volvo wagons of previous decades....
Americans have an insatiable appetite for the SUV. The latest segment automakers are battling over is the compact luxury crossover. Lexus' entry in the competition is the 2015 NX 200t — with the carmaker's first turbocharged engine and its hybrid counterpart, the 300h. Both models are based on parent Toyota's RAV4.
Appearance: The NX 200t we tested was a preproduction model in the F Sport trim. It's probably the sexiest crossover on the market. It carries the now-familiar Lexus spindle grille, which has prominent black mesh instead of the regular trim's horizontal slats. Everything about the NX 200t's aggressive styling — a mix of chiseled angles and bold character lines — seems calculated to send the message to a younger demographic: This isn't your father's Lexus. We particularly like how the almost-triangular headlights sweep up in a curve along the hood line and the 18-inch Y-spoked alloy wheels. ...
Despite gas prices still being over $3 a gallon, large SUVs have been making a comeback. Among them, the Infiniti QX80, one of the most sumptuous. For 2014, Infiniti's land yacht gets a new letter-number designation — previously it was the QX56 — under the brand's "renaming" of its lineup. What ever happened to actual names?
Appearance: The QX80 looks somewhat ungainly, with its high belt line and its not-quite-seamless mix of angles and curves. It's an odd look, especially in profile. Lyra likens it to a Beluga whale — albeit one that rolls on 22-inch alloy wheels and has a large chrome-trimmed grille and low-set headlights....
The Mazda MX-5 Miata marks 25 years as one of the auto world's most popular and affordable roadsters. Last month, Mazda showed off the all-new fourth generation Miata, which is due out next year as a 2016 model. Currently, there is a 2015 Miata, which includes a 25th Anniversary Edition, but we drove the similar 2014.
Appearance: The Miata still has the gaping smile that was the signature look for Mazda for a few misguided years. Thankfully, it's gone in the next generation. But as Lyra says: "In other Mazda cars, the smile was annoying. But with the Miata, it's endearing." The design is still from the less-is-more school: a rounded body with only fender flares and a few character lines to provide visual interest. If it's drama you want, you'll have to wait for the 2016 Miata. Our tester had the convertible hardtop, which gives the car a sleek profile. ...
09/24/14 Working Life
Appearance: The overall look seems more like a refinement than a clean-sheet design. The first things that stand out are the Jewel Eye LED headlights. Each has the five gemlike bulbs that first appeared on the 2014 RL, and are now being incorporated into Acura's other models. The slender headlights are brighter than halogen lamps. Acura's chevron grille now seems less pronounced, with a muted brushed-aluminum panel. The body has attractive character lines, but the look is more generic than distinctive, which has been one of Acura's challenges. We hope the upcoming NSX sports car influences the rest of the company's models much like the LFA's design cues filtered into the Lexus lineup....
The Epcot International Food & Wine Festival heralds fall for Florida's foodies. The event, which is in its 19th year, is now under way and runs through Nov. 10. A major highlight for 2014 is a newcomer to the 36 international food and beverage "marketplaces" around Epcot's World Showcase: Puerto Rico. And this isn't just a kiosk. There's a two-story stand reminiscent of the island's architecture, plus tables, landscaping and an area for a live band....
For 2014, Land Rover's venerable LR4 gets a slightly more fuel efficient engine, cosmetic tweaks and a new four-wheel-drive system. What hasn't changed is the midsize SUV's ability to carry seven passengers and do so off the beaten path if necessary.
Appearance: Recognizably Land Rover. It's tall and boxy, but with some new features for 2014, such as the grille, bumper and lights. Our tester's two-bar grille was part of the Black Design Package ($3,500), which also included 20-inch black five-spoke wheels. It's a sharp look that helps to mitigate the somewhat blocky shape. The headlamps include distinctive LED daytime running lights — a circle plus a U. Book-ending the signature asymmetrical rear window are dual round LED tail lights that also stand out. Overall, our tester had an aftermarket look....
Talk about a departure: Kia, the Korean automaker perhaps best known in the U.S. market for its funky little Soul crossover or the more mainstream Optima family sedan, has just introduced a full-size, rear-wheel-drive luxury car. Even more surprising: Other than a name that seems lifted from a TV infomercial, the 2015 K900 delivers.
Appearance: This is new territory for Kia, so the automaker can be forgiven if it looked at the full-size luxury competition and appropriated some styling cues: The long, creased hood, the sleek body with a high belt line and the wind tunnel-designed roof would not look out of place on a Jaguar. Elsewhere, touches such as integrated dual-chrome exhaust tips, integrated turn signals in the side mirrors and 19-inch wheels add some tasteful bling. Even Kia's signature "tiger nose" grille is more subtle, with an intricate wavelike mesh pattern. The headlights feature two quad LEDs that swivel to adapt to speed and driving direction. The only design misstep: a distracting and nonfunctional fender-top "vent."...
If the Cadillac Escalade, once the favorite of celebrities, briefly lost its cachet, then the redesigned 2015 model should put it back on the A-list. This upscale cousin to the full-size SUVs of Chevy and GMC can even seem like a bargain when compared to its brethren. (Our tester — the extended wheelbase model — had a sticker price of $90,985, while the regular wheelbase Chevy Tahoe we drove recently was more than $71,000.)...
2014 Land Rover Range Rover Sport Autobiography
$63,525 base start, $103,435 as tested
We drove the all-new 2014 Ranger Rover Sport HSE last year and were impressed with its look, ride and interior quality. Its V-6 engine was spirited, but we wanted a bit more power. Along comes the Range Rover Sport Autobiography with a supercharged 5.0-liter V-8, paired with a smooth 8-speed automatic. With 510 horsepower and 625 pound-feet of torque, the SUV was robust and sure-footed on the highway, even on a recent drive through chaotic South Florida traffic. The four-wheel drive and the stability-control system kept the car under control, even in heavy summer downpours. The Rover sits high, so, without a running board, it was difficult for Lyra to get in and out. ...
When Hyundai came out with the sixth-generation Sonata, it was a wakeup call for midsize sedans and other manufacturers' mundane styling. With its "Fluidic Sculpture" design, the Sonata dared to be different. Now for the new generation Sonata, Hyundai — for better or for worse — has reined in those sculptural flourishes.
Appearance: Overall, the 2015 Sonata is longer and wider. In fact, it's now classified as a large sedan. Lyra sees the new design as a natural progression to a more mature look. Peter thinks it now looks like most of its competitors — generic. Still, he will admit that the sloping, coupelike roofline, especially with our tester's panoramic sunroof, is a winning design. But he doesn't care for the wider, more stately grille that now wears its Hyundai badge on an unattractive black insert. Some nicer touches on our Limited tester: an integrated spoiler on the rear decklid, dual chrome exhaust tips and LED running lights and taillights....
When we drove the redesigned Lexus IS 250 last year, we were impressed with the new look, but were left wanting a bit more power under the hood. The IS 350 F Sport, with more power, may be our answer. We drove the sedan, which carries hints of Lexus' future, as well as the convertible, which seems stuck in the past.
Appearance: It's a tale of two generations. The sedan's makeover is dominated by the distinctive hourglass-shaped grille, which gives the car a menacing look. The new sheet metal includes sculpted character lines that sweep up from the bottom of the car and blend into the rear body panels. These lines define the sweep of the body. Lyra is troubled by the taillights; she imagines the designer falling asleep with pencil in hand and his lines trailing off the drawing board. The F Sport package adds 18-inch five-spoke graphite alloy wheels and dual chrome exhaust. It's a sharp-looking sedan. The same can't be said for the convertible, which carries on the previous generation's no-drama design. The rear can look somewhat out of proportion because it has to accommodate the hardtop roof. Otherwise, the convertible has an attractive, coupelike profile when the top is raised. (Lyra thinks the trunk lid, which spans the width of the convertible, is extremely heavy. And there's no power lift gate.)...
If a crossover just doesn't meet your needs, then Chevrolet's Tahoe may fill the bill. The full-size SUV shares body-on-frame construction with the Silverado truck and is built for big jobs: towing, hauling, off-roading. For 2015, Chevy redesigned the Tahoe, upgrading the interior, exterior and engine. But all that versatility comes at a steep price.
Appearance: Chevy has improved on the boxy appearance of the previous generation. The Tahoe now carries a bolder and more attractive chrome-trimmed grille — slatted in the top-level LTZ trim like our tester — swept-back bilevel headlights and streamlined sheet metal. Our LTZ had the premium White Diamond Tricoat paint ($995), which adds a classy touch along with the 20-inch alloy wheels....
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. ...