Good For: The shrinking mid-sized sedan. I already drove a Buick mid-sized sedan 4 months ago. But there's another one - the Regal. Introduced a year after the Lacrosse, it also has the new GM computer screens in the dashboards that I enjoy. The controls and displays are almost exactly the same as the Chevrolet Cruze, so the entire experience was very familiar. Features were almost identical to an LTZ rental I had recently.
Compromises: The size of the Regal is actually closer to the compact Cruze, while weighing 500 pounds more. The Regal has an optional 2.0L turbo with a 6-speed manual configuration to aid in differentiation from other models, but it's still a small, expensive, heavy, front-wheel-drive car with lots of torque steer and an electronic e-brake.
Overall reaction - Thumb down: If GM's goal was to create a smaller, sportier mid-sized sedan, they fell short and ended up with a smaller, less practical sedan. The shortened Epsilon platform still handles well, and the 3.23 final drive optimizes the 2.4L base engine's power. But the bigger motors would do better bolted into a Cruze, providing a true upgrade instead of just compensation for the weight. It seems like GM is going down that route with the Verano introduced this year. They could keep the ball rolling by offering the turbo and manual transmission configuration too, but please GM, put a real hand brake on it.
Thursday, 26th of April, 2012
Good For: Keeping the RWD American sedan alive. Other American brands have been letting their full-sized RWD sedans go stale and die in recent years, but Chrysler seems committed to keeping the 300 fresh with technology updates. While the new Pentastar V6 doesn't have a horsepower rating that starts with 3, I'll gladly take 292, and RWD is way more fun than wrestling with the torque steer on the competitors' FWD cars. Eight forward speeds on a transmission sounds ridiculous, but posting 39 mpg on the highway shows that it works. You'll find standard technology in the cabin too, like an 8.4" touch-screen media system that even reads SD cards. The body styling provides a pleasantly unique driving experience - the roofline drops towards the windshield in a way that complements the retro "chopped" effect of the windows, but visibility all around is still better than the modern curves you see in most cars today.
Compromises: The 300's starting price seems to position it as a premium sedan, but basic premium features push the price up rather quickly. Relatively basic things like fog lights, Bluetooth, and leather heated seats require stepping up to the $32k Limited trim, which the rental car was equipped with. Bluetooth audio was nice since I still can't stand the audio quality of Sirius. It occasionally had trouble keeping a connection with my iPhone, which has never been a problem in dozens of other cars. The simple garage door opener is buried in a $2420 safety package, though it does upgrade you to luxury gadgets like adaptive cruise control. Want a HEMI? Now you're looking at almost $40k.
Overall reaction - Thumb up: With so many available luxury features, one would expect to play the package configuration game. It's also easier to play if you don't mind getting the Dodge Charger instead. But regardless how the 300 is sliced, you end up with a decently fun RWD (or RWD-based automatic AWD) sedan. This is fundamentally superior to the compromised offerings of most other manufacturers, who have catered to the idea that the mainstream buyer doesn't know or care about the drive layout of what they're buying.
Wednesday, 25th of April, 2012
Tuesday, 24th of Apri, 2012
Monday, 23rd of April, 2012
Thursday, 19th of April, 2012
Good For: Tall rally car. The tradition for the Forester's design is to lift the Impreza wagon's suspension and square off the body, giving it the practicality of a small SUV while retaining the handling of a car. The 3rd generation sticks to this, though there is more differentiation from the Impreza this time around, as evidenced by the 5-door hatch design for the Impreza. It is noticeably taller and bigger than previous Foresters, and unique features like reclining rear seats and an oversized sunroof are carried over providing a nice experience for those in the back seat too.
Compromises: I like the older Foresters better. The 3rd gen is almost too tall for my tastes. Also, the turbo XT, along with the other nice packages, is now stuck with the 30-year-old 4-speed automatic, which makes it more of a downgrade.
Overall reaction - Thumb up: I can accept that if I want a fast turbocharged car, I should be getting the 5-door Impreza STi as opposed to a tall wagon. At least Subaru left the handbrake in the proper place on the Forester. In spite of the old 4-speed automatic, gas mileage is on par with the new Legacy, thanks to the new FB25 design of the flat-4 motor.
Tuesday, 17th of April, 2012
Monday, 16th of April, 2012
Thursday, 5th of April, 2012
Good For: Mainstream Subaru. The latest Legacy blended in with all the other sedans at Hertz - I almost missed it and hopped into a Jeep this week. Compared to previous Legacies, it has tons of room, and shares many of the updated elements of the Impreza, like the standard fuel computer, and the no-brainer $1300 Premium package that adds Bluetooth phone and music, USB, 6-speaker stereo, alloy wheels, and steering wheel controls.
Compromises: The trunk lid is microscopic for a sedan this size - the sloping rear window kind of begs to be turned into a 5-door but nobody else likes that sort of thing. In spite of all the passenger room, I still prefer the versatility of body styles like the Impreza wagon. Just bring the Legacy wagon back to the United States already. The Outback doesn't count, by the way.
Overall reaction - 2 Thumbs up: The Legacy continues to show superiority in the sedan segment - none of the Altimas, Malibus, and Mazdas parked in the same row have Bluetooth, flappy paddles on the steering wheel, heated seats, and AWD. The CVT squeezes great efficiency now out of the EJ25, doing well over the highway rating of 28 mpg with my mixed city driving. However, I would spring for the option to get the same 3.6L flat-six shared with my Tribeca. It even gets the VTD drivetrain with the planetary center differential!