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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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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2012 Volkswagen Jetta- Suit And Tie

DSCI0158There’s a stage in all of our lives when society expects us to disappoint Peter Pan and grow up.  A time to do away with the baggy pants, blue hair and the McJob, and replace them with a grey iron-pressed suit and a career.  Losing that uniqueness  can be a painful transition that tears away at one’s very soul, but there’s no choice when it’s a matter of survival.  Otherwise. Mom and Dad aren’t bringing out the welcome mat anytime soon.  It’s a predicament that Volkswagen has recently faced with its Jetta.  Since 1980, the small sedan has always gone to the beat of a different drummer.  It’s been continuously marketed as a premium compact sedan and proudly geared toward niche consumers who are into indie rock and give normalcy a shrug of the shoulder.  With quirky features coupled with a higher price than the competition, the Jetta has always possessed an eccentric character .  Although the Jetta, and VW in general, has gained a small cult following for its “sticking it to the man” attitude, the more serious and conventional Toyota Corolla outsold the Jetta by three and half times in 2008.  Being peculiar and wacky can be fun, but it doesn’t pay the bills.  And Volkswagen, like any other company, is out to make money.  So what’s the manufacturer to do?

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2013 Toyota Camry- The American Idol

IMG_20130420_081220Riddle me this: what is the Japanese word for “crown” and if you look outside your window towards the street at this very moment, you’re likely to see at least one?  Take a good look out there.  Give up?  It’s the Toyota Camry.  With the exception of 2001, the Camry has been the best-selling car in America every year since 1997.  It’s a title that every automaker wants to claim but only one can.  The popularity of this car is astonishing and as sure as the sun rises in the east, it has comfortably outsold its rivals from Honda, GM, and Ford annually.  Since its introduction in 1982, there have been over nine million sold in the US and 308,000 found homes in 2011 alone.  To put that in perspective;  that’s more sales in the same year than the entire lineups from Audi, Volvo, and Mini combined.  Interestingly enough, even though the Camry sells like hotcakes in the US and Australia, it’s not a volume seller in its home market of Japan and was even discontinued in Europe almost a decade ago.  Fellow auto journalists love to belittle the Camry, accusing it of being soulless and bland, and having no excitement to offer.  So what gives? How has a car that is condemned by enthusiasts and consumers in other markets found the elusive recipe to success in America?  It was time to find out.

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