The Cadillac ATS is being touted as the luxury brand's best chance at making serious inroads in the performance luxury market currently dominated by BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Audi. It also represents the latest evolution in Cadillac's "Art and Science" design philosophy, part of General Motor's strategy to bring the brand—which has a seemingly unshakeable reputation as a stuffy, old person's brand—into the 21st Century.In both of these aspects, Cadillac is setting the bar very high. So high that it becomes tempting to praise is asking for the ATS to be judged against some very stiff competition, that's the standard against which it must be evaluated.On the RoadIn terms of performance, the ATS is definitely good enough to take on all comers. A look at the numbers confirms that the ATS is the equal of the BMW 3-Series, the Mercedes C350, and the Audi A4 in terms of horsepower, torque, 0-60 speed, and price. And behind the wheel of this rear-drive powerhouse, the car definitely feels Autobahn-worthy. Steering, handling, and cornering are as precise and confident as any Bavarian or German wündercar. The ATS's suspension settings allow the driver to enjoy their ride smooth or sporty, but the growl from the performance package's dual exhaust is fairly harsh—a muscle car yawp sounds ridiculous from inside a luxury car's cabin, especially one that is otherwise so nicely insulated against road noise. To continue the review, click here.
by Bob Plunkett
A corkscrew road ripping over Appalachian foothills in Pennsylvania works like a Formula One course to challenge both driver and car in tests we devised to sample the aggressive character of a sporty new sedan by Acura, the line of performance and luxury vehicles derived from Honda of Japan.
A trunk tag labels the new car as the ILX and Acura describes it as a new gateway vehicle to the brand offering sporty handling traits plus premium features and value on a luxury scale.
Cast on a rigid chassis with a four-cylinder engine directing all torque to the two front wheels which also steer, the ILX stocks all of the hardware components to make a responsive sports sedan.
Apply a tape measure to the ILX and the numbers reveal a package size fitting in the compact class with a wheelbase of 105.1 inches and wheel track width of 59.4 inches front and 60.3 inches rear, the car body stretching to 179.1 inches long, a body width of 70.6 inches and the roofline rising to 55.6 inches.
Acura offers only one style for the ILX package -- a shapely 4-door notchback sedan -- but delivers three powertrain choices including the brand's first high-mileage gasoline-electric hybrid. To continue the review, click here.
Sedate. Soft. Boring
These are adjectives often lobbied Lexus’ way, and the company has tried to deflect them with cars like the IS and GS series, and more recently, the IS F.
While the IS and GS have certainly added some fun quotient to the lineup, they’ve been perceived as disappointing by the enthusiast crowd, and they haven’t quite hit the balance of sport and luxury that Lexus is looking for. Not to mention that they’ve been tight on interior space.
Lexus is looking to change things up with the next GS line, which launched in February as a 2013 model. While the V-6 carries over (more on that later) and the styling seems more evolutionary than revolutionary—although it’s still quite different—this new GS 350 is indeed a different ride than what it replaces.
Let’s start with said V-6. It only gains a handful of ponies—up three to 306—and torque similarly rises by three on the 3.5-liter unit to 277 lb-ft. There’s no V-8 (at least for now. Maybe Lexus will release a GS-F at some point in the future. Pretty please?) but those who hunger for more power will like the 338-horsepower GS 450h. The hybrid gets a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) while the 350 has a six-speed automatic. All-wheel drive is available on the 350 (rear-wheel drive is standard) while the hybrid is rear-drive only. To continue the review,click here.
Coupe style but bears 4 doors of a sedan
By Bob Plunkett
We're whipping along the two-lane Empire Grade that slithers down slopes of California's Coastal Range to Santa Cruz on the Pacific Ocean in a test car with dramatic package styling and power to spare: It's the Volkswagen's 2013 CC.
The CC slots into the mid-size class in configuration with a 5-seat cockpit and four doors for passengers plus a tail-side trunk bin.
With its low roofline and integrated rear doors, the CC looks sleek like a curve-craving coupe that slinks snug against asphalt, yet it provides a pair of doors on each side like a family-friendly sedan with two rows of seats in the posh cabin and easy entry/exit for every passenger.
It's as if designers for the German automaker Volkswagen tossed a coupe and sedan into a gigantic car blender and mixed ingredients until the sleek CC emerged.
VW laces the CC with serious mechanical hardware which includes a strong engine (with options for a turbo four-pack or zipper V6), and electronics governing the vehicle's dynamic movements as well as communications, navigation, comfort, even on-board entertainment gear. To continue the review, click here.
If you've ever been a bit late to catch on to a current fashion trend, you'll know how Nissan likely feels about the 2013 Pathfinder. Nissan is moving the Pathfinder from truck-type body-on-frame construction to a more car-like unibody crossover platform for 2013, following in the footsteps of its rivals such as the Ford Explorer, which underwent the same transformation for the 2011 model year.
Oddly enough, Nissan was once actually ahead of the curve. This isn't the first time the Pathfinder has gone unibody--it did the same from the 1996-2004 model years. This time, though, the change seems likely to stick. Unibody construction offers a more car-like ride and better fuel economy than body-on-frame construction, and shifting consumer tastes (buyers are trending toward car-like ride/handling over boulder-bashing toughness) and rising Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards mean that crossover construction is likely to takeover the segment.
Nissan may have joined the party late, but that doesn't mean the Pathfinder isn't trying to be fashionable.
On the Road
If you remember the Pathfinder fondly as a rock-crushing SUV with serious off-road chops, Nissan salespeople will gladly sell you an Xterra. The new Pathfinder is meant to be a family hauler (hence the seven-seat configuration), and it shows. To continue the review, click here.
By Bob Plunkett
The steep slope on a rough trace cut across Oregon's rugged Coast Ranges presents a challenge for a four-wheeling test drive through tall timber in a new2013 Ford Explorer Sport crossover utility vehicle.
Loose dirt and chat on the trail often causes even nubby tires like Explorer Sport's 20-inch P255/50R20 rollers to slip and skid on a steep descent, which in turn may propel the vehicle faster than prudent to maintain steady control for safe passage down the grade.
No way that runaway momentum will occur with the new Explorer Sport, however, because it stocks sophisticated electronic controls linked to the all-wheel-drive (AWD) system as well as the anti-lock brakes (ABS) and Ford's AdvanceTrac electronic skid control (ESC) device with traction control and roll stability control (RSC), which measures vehicle motion on both the yaw and roll axes.
And a new electronic safety device aboard is dubbed Curve Control -- it can detect when the driver runs too fast into a turn, then automatically deploy the brakes to slow and stabilize the wagon.
But there's more: Explorer Sport totes a serious power package. It incorporates a unique direct-injection and twin-turbocharged V6 -- promising the fuel economy of a V6 but the power and torque of a big V8 -- labeled by Ford as the 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6. To continue the review, click here.
Infiniti JX stylish new 7-seat CUV steps up to luxe mode
By Bob Plunkett
Our first encounter with the 2013 Infiniti JX, a stylish luxury crossover utility vehicle with seats for seven riders, occurs on a parking pad in front of the USA headquarters of Infiniti/Nissan in Franklin, Tenn.
Stretching over 16 feet long and decorated with a raked face flashing a chrome-finned double-arch grille and speed-strafed bi-functional xenon headlamps on front corners plus curvaceous fender blisters bulging over the optional 20-inch silver-finish alloy wheels, Infiniti's newest wagon looks and functions like a sport utility vehicle but it drives and handles more like a pavement-hugging sporty car.
The lower body seems substantial and strong like a SUV yet the upper section including a narrow wrap of windows with a broad windshield cocked back at an extreme angle and the trailing tapered roofline seems more akin to a rakish GT-style sports coupe.
Size-wise, the body of JX measures up to the mid-size CUV class. Wheelbase runs to 114.2 inches long, with front and rear wheel track widths coming to 65.7 inches. In Infiniti's line of wagons the JX slots between the smaller five-seat FX CUV and a larger eight-seat QX SUV.
The expansive structure of JX creates a passenger compartment comprising 149.8 cubic feet over a flat platform floor and housing three rows of seats for seven passengers. To continue the review, click here.
By Tim Healey
One way to make a sporty-looking car look even sportier is to lop off two doors, and that's what Hyundai has done with its new-for-2013 Elantra coupe.
The 2013 Hyundai Elantra has garnered positive press for its good looks, and a coupe version can't hurt that rep. Meet the next competitor to Kia's Forte Koupand Honda's two-door Civic.
Besides being short two doors, the Elantra Coupe doesn't differ all that much from the sedan. That means it has the same 1.8-liter engine, the same 40-mpg promise (with the manual transmission), and the same "fluidic design" styling theme. It comes in two trims: SE (sporty) and GS (well-equipped), and offers two six-speed transmissions, one manual and one automatic. It’s also longer and wider than the Civic coupe.
Features & Prices
Bluetooth is standard on the Elantra Coupe, and available features include a USB port, an auxiliary port, 17-inch wheels (16s are standard), push-button start, a navigation system with a 7-inch touch screen and rearview camera, a tilt/telescopesteering wheel, fog lamps, and satellite radio.
A GS with the manual transmission starts at $17,445, while a top-line SE with the automatic will start at $20,745. Neither price includes the $775 destination fee. To continue the review, click here.
Twenty years ago, the world was introduced to Wayne's World on the big screen, Bill Clinton was elected president, and the Nissan Altima debuted.
OK, in the pantheon of world events, the birth of the Altima probably flew under the radar. But for Nissan, the car's a big deal, since it's the company's mid-size entrant. And for its 20th birthday, it got a full redesign.
First unveiled at the 2012 New York International Auto Show, the 2013 Nissan Altima will likely retain its title as the best seller in Nissan's lineup. For 2013, the company promises better fuel economy--up to 38 mpg--and more attractive interior and exterior styling. We'll be the judge of that. First, some basics.
The biggest news here is the redone styling and the addition of some new tech. The 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine gets seven more horsepower, up to an estimated 182, and the 3.5-liter V-6 carries over with 270 estimated ponies. Nissan has redesigned 70 percent of the components in its continuously-variable automatic transmission (CVT) with the aim of improved fuel economy and acceleration. To continue the review, click here.
by Tim Healey
We were bombing away at speeds well north of the speed limit in the Texas Hill Country west of Austin (we'll decline to name the speeds, since the statute of limitations has yet to expire) in a 2013 Dodge Dart when a road runner darted (pun fully intended) across the road in front of us. Before we could even think about braking or swerving, the bird was already safely on the other side of the road, leaving us feeling like Wile E. Coyote.
We mention this because the late Plymouth brand once sold a car dubbed the Road Runner, and another Chrysler name from that era--the Dart--has been resurrected by Dodge. So even though the original Dart and Road Runner were different animals, the coincidence was not lost on us. It seemed a fitting moment for our time behind the wheel of the latest car to use an old name.
Like the original Dart, the 2013 iteration is a compact. Unlike the original, it has foreign roots, based off the Alfa Romeo Giuletta platform. This makes the Dart the first Dodge to dig so deeply from Fiat's well (Chrysler and Fiat partnered up in 2009 as part of the former's federally managed bankruptcy). More importantly, Dodge needs a competitive entry in the compact class--to say the late Caliber compact was unloved is kind of like saying that the Titanic had sprung a small leak--to keep up with its foreign and domestic competitors. That's especially true now that rising fuel prices and shrinking household budgets have driven more Americans into smaller cars. To continue the review, click here.