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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2013 Chevrolet Impala- Old School, Please Proceed To The Exit

CAM00342According 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.

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2014 Ford Fiesta- Along With Change Comes A Party

DSCI1721Winston Churchill once stated “To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.”  Maybe not as profound, but Sheryl Crow also proclaimed that a “change will do you good.”  During my time with the Ford Fiesta, I couldn’t help but think about how change can be profound.  The car itself is a reflection of how subcompacts, and specifically Ford’s subcompacts, have modernized in the past twenty years.  During the first initial years of the last decade, I was fortunate enough to own a used 1995 Ford Aspire during college.  It was a cheap set of wheels that I had earned after an arduous summer of busing tables and I was proud to have the aspiring little car.  For those of you who can’t recall the Aspire, it filled the minicar gap in Ford’s lineup left behind by the Festiva and was a Mazda design built by the fine folks at Kia in South Korea.  It was a cheery enough design and surprisingly flaunted the best velour seats I have ever encountered in any car.  Not only that, this particular Aspire was luxurious by mid-1990’s subcompact standards, boasting every option available; power steering, a cassette radio, air conditioning, a rear defroster, and those terrific seats.  Some of these weren’t available on the Aspire’s direct competitors or standard on some larger cars of the time.  But when it came to performance, the Aspire was a dog.  A little 1.3 liter with 63 horsepower could barely tote the small car around and a three-speed automatic would lurch while handling the timid power delivery.  And forget about power windows, cruise control, or power mirrors; they were unobtainable on any Aspire.  Yes sir, driving around in the comparably sized, and marketed, contemporary Fiesta was a reflection on how much has changed.

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2011 Mazda AZ Wagon- Everything You Need from A To Z

DSCI0505“Dang, this street is narrow” I think to myself.  “Are we going to fit?”  Before us lay a slim gap lodged between two solid concrete walls misleadingly called a street.  Jutting out like massive booby traps were more obstacles than a Championlink golf course; telephone poles, bike stands, and signs warning of pedestrians.  This passageway was barely wide large enough to fit Rush Limbaugh, let alone a passenger car with three people and a corresponding amount of baggage.  Of course, as the valiant driver, I didn’t tell my passengers about my grave concerns and embodied a confident façade.  However, the left half of my brain had grim images of missing paint, or even worse, being indefinitely wedged between centuries old stonework. Gingerly, we crawled along inch by inch and like passengers in a plane during a storm, gawked out the windows at how close we were to the passing hurdles.  Finally, success!  We clear the barricades and move onto the next street full of hardships.  There’s a famous advertising quote from the early 20th Century “The right tool for the right job.”  In this case, we had the perfect tool to overcome this situation; the Mazda AZ Wagon.

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2013 Hyundai Elantra- The Secret Recipe For Success

DSCI0274Kimchi is the national dish of Korea.  The Seoul specialty is fermented cabbage smothered in garlic, hot pepper, ginger and other pungent ingredients leading to an intense flavor.  It’s an interesting dish, but when it comes down to it; it’s still just cabbage.  The Korean-sourced Hyundai Elantra has been like that since its introduction in 1992; prepared from basic ingredients and spiced up with valued-packed pricing and a generous warranty.  At first the flavor suits the palate, but the taste doesn’t linger.  Not to say the Elantra is a bad car at all.  In fact I’ve bought two of them in the past partially due to the bargain price and was very satisfied with them.  And here lies the issue, although the Elantra has always been a competent and decent little car, there was little beyond the sticker price to recommend over other compacts if you were looking for a set of wheels with character.  When the all-new fifth generation Elantra debuted for 2011, all of that changed.

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2012 Volkswagen Passat- Das Amerikanische Auto

DSCI0264It used to be so simple in the automotive world.  Cars were cars and trucks were…..uh….trucks.  There were no crossover thingy-majigs or niche markets.  And when it came to selecting a national origin of a new car; the choices were even more clear.  Japanese cars were technologically advanced and well-made.  The Koreans aimed for the thriftiest of shoppers.  The Americans had the sumo-sized accommodations in the bag.  And the Germans graced our roads with performance oriented, but pricey, status symbols.  But things are no longer what they seem, and when a car that hails from the land of Autobahns and bratwurst starts off with a lower base price than its main Korean competitors, something is, as they say, “whack”!  Volkswagen, having nearly lost its way in the American market two decades ago, is determined to seize its share of the 16 million cars sold in the US market annually.  But to do so, they’ve fought back with larger interior dimensions and a lower price tag, addressing common complaints about the big V’s prior offerings.  In fact, the all-new 2012 Passat’s base price is $7,000 cheaper than the outgoing models ($19,995 vs. nearly $28,000 on the 2011).  This new version takes direct aim at the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata, and Chevy Malibu.  Uh oh, we’ve heard this approach before with the Jetta and the results weren’t so flattering; a mediocre car that felt cheaper than some of the Germans you’d find on Oranienburger Straße.  With that dark cloud looming over, how does this transformation work on the new Passat?

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2013 Ford Taurus- Not Such Bullish Aspirations

DSCI0235In Greek mythology, Theseus was considered to be the founding hero of Athens and the reformer of religion and social order.  Under his rule came the political unification of Attica under Athens and a stronger, more resilient city.  Despite his efforts, he lost popularity in later years and was thrown off a cliff by Skyros.  The Ford Taurus has had a similar rise and fall.  Introduced in 1986 as an all-cards-on-the-table gamble for ailing Ford, the Taurus was nothing short of revolutionary.  Being bruised and battered from financial woes and questionable quality, Ford’s future was dependant on the success of the Taurus .  The smooth, aero “jellybean” styling, thoughtful interior touches, and Euro-inspired performance proved that Detroit could indeed build a world-class product that was worth buying.  Personally, I consider it to be one of the most influential automobiles of all time; applying new features and technology we take for granted today.  The risk paid off, and not only did the Taurus receive numerous awards from journalists and was copied by competitors, but it catapulted its way to being America’s best-selling car throughout the late 80’s and 90’s.  However an equally daring, but less enticing, redesign for 1996 caused the car to lose its sales crown, and new-found profits in SUV’s during the early 2000’s resulted in Ford neglecting the Taurus completely.  The car that had saved and served Ford so well stagnated for years before finally being killed off in 2006.  Unlike poor ol’ Theseus, the Taurus was able to come back from the dead and a quick rebadge of the little-known Five Hundred brought the revered and famous name back to the Ford stable.  Finally, in 2010, Ford acknowledged that they can’t live without the name badge and introduced a brand new generation of the bullish car that was designed to be a Taurus from the ground up.  

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