Jan 242013
 

Most of you don’t know this, but I had to say goodbye to my beloved 2003 Acura CL Type S in mid-October. It was a period of mixed feelings, parting with a dependable friend, but starting a new chapter in my life.

ScionTC1To begin said chapter, I picked up a 2013 Scion tC 6-speed. It has been a quick 3 months and 9,ooo miles with the 4-cylinder hatchback — I know I have put on some serious miles in a short stretch of time. In addition to trips to Atlantic City and Washington DC, we can thank Hurricane Sandy for some of those extra miles — I was making 100 mile round trips to Pennsylvania just to get gas for a good two weeks after that damn storm. I feel I am ready, then, to share some of my impressions with you. Continue reading »

Mar 052012
 

Note, the following review was originally written May 5, 2011.

I didn’t actually set out to drive a Subaru today.

No, I started out with the intention of driving the new Buick Regal Turbo with the 6-speed manual transmission. Since I am one who likes fast sedans, I wanted to see if the Regal is as slick and sporty as they claim. Moreover, I wanted to see if the shifter is as bad as Car & Driver made it out to be. Since GM is a huge waste of time, though, it became clear pretty quickly that I wasn’t going to be able to do that. I won’t get in to that story here, though, since you clicked to read about another car entirely.

After leaving the third Buick dealer of the morning, I was at a loss. My plan was ruined, but I still wanted to drive something. So I meandered up the highway to see what other dealerships I could stumble across.  A small Subaru dealer was the first one that piqued my interest. I chatted up the sales lady for a few moments and told her of my interest in a quick sedan with a manual transmission. We walked around the lot for a while, looking for a Legacy, but as fate would have it none were to be found.

What we did find was an Impreza 2.5i Premium equipped with a 5-speed manual. It wasn’t exactly what I was looking for, but as I read the equipment list, I realized that this was quite a bit of car for the money. I said as much to the sales lady and, having heard those magic words, it didn’t take her long to toss me the keys. Continue reading »

Mar 052012
 

Note: This review was originally published on February 24, 2011 on my original WordPress blog.

I spent nearly 4 years working for Volvo in the latter part of this past decade, including a stint in Parts and Logistics at the corporate headquarters in Rockleigh, NJ. One of the biggest perks of being there, especially for a guy like me, was Volvo would bring in preproduction models of cars yet to be introduced and give us a chance to drive them before anyone else. In 2007, for instance, Volvo was preparing to introduce two new models for 2008: a completely redesigned XC70 all-wheel drive crossover wagon, and the all-new C30 hatchback. Both were made available to us.

I was doubly interested in driving the C30 because, not only was it a genuinely intriguing car, but at the time I was looking to replace my aging ‘97 Lexus ES300. The C30 seemed like it would be a great car for me. When the sign-up sheet came around I eagerly signed my name and requested one with a manual transmission, then set about waiting impatiently for that day to arrive.

I don’t remember all of my first impressions of the car. I do remember that, by and large, I was very impressed. It was quick, great on the highway, fun to drive, and had an undeniably slick feel. I concluded that I was driving something of an oxymoron: a sporty Volvo. Continue reading »

Mar 052012
 

Note: This review was originally published on September 24, 2010 on my original WordPress blog.

Back in early spring of 2002, while I was still in college, I test drove a Mazda Protégé ES. The idea was to determine if Mazda’s then-new “Zoom-Zoom” marketing campaign was really representative of the cars it was selling. The answer, I found, was a resounding yes. I had a blast in that car. It handled great, had decent pep, and gave you all sorts of stuff standard that the Civic only offered as options — alloy wheels, fog lamps, trunk spoiler, etc. It was a lot of car for the money and, fair or not, it became the benchmark by which I continue to judge every Mazda I drive.

Despite setting the bar high, Mazda has generally done a very good job of meeting or exceeding expectations, in my opinion. I have been very pleased with the 3, the 6 and the MX-5 and I was downright impressed with the MazdaSpeed 3 when it hit the streets.

But Mazda is entering new territory in the U.S. market with the introduction of its new entry-level 2 model. The car looks like a winner on paper — the price is very competitive, the value for the money is high, and the power and gas mileage specs are right in line with other cars in its class.  The question, though, is whether it can do all of those things and still keep the “Zoom-Zoom” spirit of those other Mazdas.

To find out, I tested a manual transmission example in base trim. As I discovered, the answer is not a clear-cut yes or no. Continue reading »

Mar 052012
 

Note: This review was originally published on August 14, 2010.

I’ve always been a bit of a sucker for a sporty wagon. A lot of people turn their noses up at the stodgy reputation of the family station wagon, and there are certainly plenty of cars deserving of that rebuke. But I love a car that can haul a lot of stuff just as well as it hauls ass. Volvo’s 850 Turbo Sportswagon and the BMW 5-series wagon were, to my mind anyway, the pinnacle of the genre, which, sadly, peaked in the ‘90s. They were fast, handled exceptionally, and could take your Siberian husky to the vet without a second thought.

The rise in popularity of the SUV, though, signaled a death knell for the family station wagon. Sure, some examples persisted (Volvo and BMW both continued to offer exceptional wagons), but popularity waned considerably and most of the major manufacturers scratched them from their lineups in favor of the lumbering, fuel-sucking four-wheel drive behemoths the American public had become obsessed with.

Fast forward the better part of a decade, however, and we find that most Americans have realized that bingeing on SUVs wasn’t really such a good idea. The reasons for this (running through several prehistoric era’s-worth of fossilized remains in less than ten years, for instance) have been aired ad nauseum in the automotive press, so there’s no need to rehash them here. The result, though, has been a surprising renaissance for the station wagon. Albeit one with a twist. Continue reading »