2018 Jeep Renegade- Please Like Me

Ahhhh…… the Renegade. There’s already a collective, uncontainable tribal chant from diehard Jeep devotees with this car, and this review. “That isn’t a real Jeep!” is the universal outcry.

“It’s a Fiat! It’s not a real Jeep!”

“It’s not American! It’s not a real Jeep!”

“It can’t off-road! It’s not a real Jeep!”

Okay, okay! Let’s get all of this out in the open before discussing the Renegade any further. No, it is not a Wrangler. It never was intended to be and never will. The Wrangler will always hold the title as the most iconic and capable Jeep out there. But, with Wrangler prices skyrocketing north of $40k and becoming unobtainable for the masses, this little critter starts below $20k and is intended for budget minded buyers and soft-roaders who can’t afford the “real Jeep”. The two products do not overlap or compete, and the Renegade is not replacing the Wrangler anytime soon (unlike the situation 30 years ago when Ford planned on replacing the beloved Mustang with the Probe). Sure, it’s built in Italy on a platform shared with the Fiat 500X. Yet Jeep has beefed up the suspension, raised the ground clearance, and added the same 4WD systems that are shared with other noteworthy Jeep models, namely the Cherokee. Sure it’s the first Jeep product ever built outside of North America, but this is becoming a globalised world. Now that all of our panties aren’t in bunch, let’s move on…..

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2018 Kia Forte- The Name Game

What’s in a name? Well, according to Kia; a lot. Their compact sedan offerings have gone through a slew of names over the past two decades. Released for 1994, their first compact player in the U.S., the Kia Sephia, not only sounded like a car from a Dr. Seuss story, but was equally fun to read out loud. That car lasted two generations until being replaced by the more serious Spectra in 2004. The more grown-up moniker reflected on Kia’s ambitious goals to be a major contender in the industry. Finally, the Spectra was replaced by the Forte in 2008, and the name has since tenaciously stuck through three generations. The definition of “forte” is a strength or skill, and Kia would like to make you think that their small car as a strong competitor. But does the name stack up?

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2016 Kia Sportage- The Ultimate Battle of Sport VS Utility


Ask any Kia enthusiast (and yes, they do exist) which model is the longest running nameplate in the brand’s history, and the easy answer is “the Sportage!”.  Sure, the Kia brand has been around since 1944, but didn’t reach U.S. shores until five decades later; 1994.  The Sportage arrived a year later and has been a common sight in Kia showrooms ever since.  That first Sportage, along with the Suzuki Sidekick/Geo Tracker twins, and the Toyota RAV4 shortly after, helped kick-start the small “cute-ute” SUV craze that continues to this day.  That inaugural Sportage was indeed cute, adorable even, and being based on a Mazda truck platform, was a rugged, capable off-roader.  A random, useless triva note is that it was also the first production vehicle ever to have a knee airbag, way back in 1997.  Despite all of that, a lot has changed with the Sportage and Kia since then.  That’s our excuse to look at Kia’s most well-established model.

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2016 Hyundai Elantra GT- Kimchi with Euro Fusion

thumbnail_image16“Whoa Cowboy!” You may exclaim.  “You already tested this generation Hyundai Elantra way back in 2013.  What’s the point of testing the hatchback version?”  While it’s easy to dimiss the Hyundai Elantra GT as being just an Elantra with a humpback, it’s not quite that simple.  Sure, the two share the same engine and most Hyundai dealers will group the sedan and hatch together in the same corner of the sales lot.  But unlike the sedan which was designed from the get-go for the Korean and American markets, the hatch was intended for European consumers and is based on the German-engineered Hyundai i30.  There’s enough of a unique, Euro flavor in the GT that it was worthy of its own separate review.

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2015 Ram 1500- The Beast Has Been Tamed

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.

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2014 Holden Commodore- The Greatest Car That You’ve Seen But Never Heard Of


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.

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2014 Mitsubishi Mirage- The Small Car With A Big Responsibility

CAM00753 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.

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2014 Chrysler 300- The Lights Are Still On In Detroit

CAM00612[1] 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?

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2013 Mercedes C250- The Diet Coke Of Luxury Cars

CAM00498 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.

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2012 Kia Sedona- Demand Some R-E-S-P-E-C-T

CAM00444Rodney 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.

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