There’s always been that tidbit of manly advice that a guy should have a truck at least once in his life. The reasons behind it are still unknown. Maybe it’s too reassure us of our masculinity while dealing with a back-breaking ride. Or maybe to prove our dominance while peering over every car on the road. Or maybe this advice was started by someone who was trying to coax their friends into helping them move. Who knows? Whatever the reason, trucks are fun. Memories of learning to drive in my Dad’s 1968 Chevy C10 Pickup always come streaming back when I think of the word “truck.” Like most pickups at the time, that Chevy was designed for utilitarian purposes. It was loud, it was minimalist, it guzzled fuel, the steering was about as precise as the trajectory of a North Korean missile, and I swear the suspension was made of masonry bricks. Although it refused to pamper its passengers, that truck had character and proved its worth as a workhorse.
Imagine a land where the family car of choice is not a silver Toyota Camry or gold Honda Accord. Where the prevalent sedan on the road comes with rear-wheel drive, the choice of a V6 or potent V8, the availability of a manual transmission and a station wagon, and offers up to 576 adrenaline-infused horsepower. Oh yeah, and can be had in provocative colors such as “red hot” and “fantale orange.” It’s a land where the geriatric “Camcords” of American highways are relegated to being slow sellers. This place sounds like an enthusiast’s wet dream, but it really does exist. If you’re thinking Germany, you’d be making a good guess. But you’ve got to think a little further south; as in all the way to Australia. For years, the land Down Under has been a place of fascination for American car buffs; both for it’s isolation, obscurity, and the shared love for large cars with big engines. But unlike in the US, Australia’s top sellers have prominently remained these cars. And no large car gets more attention in Australia than the Holden Commodore; the local pride and joy.
Forget about the children. Today’s cars are also suffering from the epidemic of obesity. To put it bluntly; they’re fat. Overweight and plump from being laden with enough airbags for the Mars Pathfinder landing and enough tech goodies to put a Game Stop to shame, and despite the extensive use of lightweight materials, they continue getting heavier each year. The average car in 1987 tipped the scales at 3,221 lbs, while in 2010, the common car crashed through them at just over 4,000 lbs., or about a 25% increase over 23 years. Most of us can probably relate to gaining that percentage of mass in the time frame as well. I often hear car buyers as well as enthusiasts complain that there’s no simple, lightweight cars anymore. Surprisingly, many clamor for such cult classics like the original Geo Metro of the late 80’s and early 90’s. With an uncomplicated three-cylinder engine, miniscule dimensions, cheap price of entry, and no luxuries that add a burden to weight, the Metro, along with its Japanese tri-cylinder comrades, the Subaru Justy and Daihatsu Charade, were able to achieve well over 40 mpg without hybrid technology in an era when gas was just peaking over a $1.00 per gallon. During their tenure, they were little more than just curiosities on our immense American roads and were the butts of many jokes, and the idea just never took off during such good economic times. The last three-cylinder Metro, which had long outlived the Subaru and Daihatsu, was phased out in 2000. As they say, timing is everything. During the recent recession and gas spike, demand for the thrifty old Metros skyrocketed and spawned the famous urban legend of some examples selling for $8,000 on Ebay, or about the same price as they were brand new 20 years earlier. It also begged the question; why can’t GM, or anyone, introduce a simple, basic, and fuel efficient glorified scooter that offers the same mileage as the hybrids for half the price? There was obviously a demand. In that time, with the exception of the puny Smart ForTwo, no one had attempted to reintroduce a three-cylinder car to America. That was until this 2014 model year, when Mitsubishi stepped up to the plate with the all-new Mirage.
Being the smallest of the Detroit “Big Three”, Chrysler has often been regarded as the runt of the litter. Compared to GM and Ford, the Pentastar brand has the least global influence, fewest models, and the most shallow pockets. However, being the most diminutive of the American brands means that Chrysler has to be a determined warrior and more creative to make itself heard. Even though headlines may focus on the turbulent relationship with Daimler or the troubling times that led to a government bailout, Chrysler has had its fair share of success stories to make the company viable throughout the years. Three decades ago, the brand essentially created a whole new segment, called the minivan, that was revolutionary at the time and has since been copied by car makers around the globe. The LH full-size sedans, the Dodge Intrepid, Eagle Vision, and Chrysler Concorde, set the standard for “cab-forward design” twenty years ago by utilizing as much interior space as possible and pushing the wheels to the car’s corners long before it was mimicked by others. Ten years ago, the LH series had ran their course and were ready for retirement. Instead of doing a mild touchup or going for a more European derived style, as was becoming the trend in Detroit, Chrysler did not shy away from risk and introduced a new series of wagons and sedans that not only grasped good ol’ fashioned American style, but smothered themselves in it like cheese and bacon over french fries. The 2005 Chrysler 300 and it’s Dodge Magnum and Charger counterparts, introduced at the New York Auto in ’04, basked in the glory of everything American; big, bold, crude, rear-wheel drive, large engines, and exhibiting a chiseled, masculine, retro style that looked like nothing else on the road. In the true Yankee sense, the 300 had also claimed itself some badass notoriety, being featured in rap videos and serving as Walter White’s ride on “Breaking Bad” once he became a feared and successful meth dealer. Under the new leadership from Fiat, Chrysler redid the 300 for 2011 to keep things fresh, but sensibly didn’t stray too far from the original formula that made the car an overnight sensation. Now a decade later, is the 300 still worthy of all the hype?
Once upon a time, the cheapest and easiest ticket into the prestige of owning a Mercedes-Benz was by purchasing a C-Class. Mercedes had always anticipated swaying young professionals into the Benz family with its “entry-level” sedans, coupes, and wagons that were introduced in 1994 as the replacements of the tired, old 190 Series. As those youthful buyers became more successful, they would remain loyal to the brand and move upwards to an E-Class and eventually, an S-Class. Or so Mercedes had always hoped. Times are much different now post-recession, and with the release of the European B-Class based $29,990 2014 Mercedes CLA, the regular C-Class is no longer the most frugal Mercedes one can buy in the U.S. However, many will argue that unlike the CLA, the C-Class remains a true Mercedes inside and out. Plus with its longtime countryman rival, the BMW 3-Series, being recently redesigned, it was time to see if the C-Class was still worthy of displaying the German marque’s three-pointed star.
Rodney Dangerfield often commented that he received “no respect, I tell ya.” In one of his standup gigs, the comedian recalled the time he was kidnapped, and the kidnappers sent his parents a note that said, “We want five thousand dollars or you’ll see your kid again.” I was reminded of these jokes while spending a weekend with the Kia Sedona. Did you forget Kia still made it? Don’t feel bad, one of my good friends who is very car savvy thought it had been discontinued years ago. In a way, he was right. While the rest of the Kia lineup, even the lowly Rio, have had an extreme makeover in recent times, the Sedona has soldiered on in the same guise since 2006, and was dropped from the brand’s profile after 2012. Sales of the Sedona had been a fraction of the competition and its corporate twin, the Hyundai Entourage, had been discontinued after 2009 for the same reason. But just like Rodney’s self-deprecating humor and persistence, the Sedona has returned for 2014 to take another beating, being largely unchanged from the 2012 model (no 2013 existed) aside from a new bumper, grill, and storage compartment that will now fit an iPod. However, also like Rodney, there is more than meets the eye with the Sedona and it turned out to be a lovable critter.
According to a popular 80’s sci-fi film, the best automobile to travel back in time was a DeLorean. Not just any DeLorean, mind you, but Doc Brown’s highly modified DMC-12 equipped with a flux capacitor and some plutonium stolen from Libyan terrorists. Great in concept perhaps, but also somewhat pricey to buy and it could cause an inadvertent nuclear war. A much easier and less risky alternative to time travel only requires a visit to your friendly, local Chevrolet dealer. There, they will be happy to show you the remaining outgoing 2013 Impalas that tenaciously remain unsold on their lots. Yes, there is a feeling of deja vu with the Impala; a sense that I’ve been here before in the past and that this car is awfully familiar. This ninth-generation ‘pala has remained virtually unchanged since its last redesign back in 2006, making it the oldest unchanged model in all of GM’s American lineup. It’s a quick study on how GM used to do things before the recession and the government bailout, both good and bad. And despite all of this, it remains the corporation’s best-selling passenger car, although the vast majority of sales are ironically to rental fleets. Alas, Chevrolet has recently introduced an all-new 2014 Impala to continue the sales momentum but this time intends the brand to land in more driveways than before. Considering its long and loyal service to the General, it was only fair to take one last look at the outgoing Impala.