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James Berry
News, Nissan, Pontiac

2012 Mazda 3 Review And Pictures

Accounting for nearly two-thirds of  Mazda’s U.S. sales the 3 is vital to the company’s health. Despite being the old man in its ultracompetitive set the 3 offers a quality interior and a very athletic chassis helping to overcome whatever marketplace hurdles its demented-clown face may have placed in its path. Still cursed with that circus mug this 3’s midcycle changes are only barely noticeable inside or out. But there are significant updates here nevertheless as Mazda chases after efficiency-minded buyers with its new Skyactiv engine and transmissions.

Slotting between the aged less powerful 2.0-liter and the thirsty 2.5-liter naturally aspirated fours the new 2.0-liter Skyactiv engine produces 155 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque. Of greater note: The Skyactiv sedan is rated at the magical 40-mpg-highway mark—28 in the city—when paired with the new six-speed Skyactiv automatic; increases of  7 and 4 mpg respectively from last year’s 2.0 with a five-speed auto.  Also wearing the Skyactiv branding is a standard six-speed manual that has been reworked into a smaller and lighter package. It features slightly shorter throws and reduced internal friction but forfeits 1 mpg in both cycles to the automatic. It still achieves a lofty 27 mpg city/39 mpg highway rating though up from 25/33 with a five-speed manual in 2011.

While others are off-ladling engine displacement and adding turbochargers active aero or other costly technologies in the name of fuel economy Mazda achieves its big mpg number with a 30-percent reduction in internal friction versus the base 2.0-liter’s and a high 12.0:1 compression ratio (a lower drag coefficient doesn’t hurt either). Paired with direct injection Mazda has combated the typical knock in high-compression engines through the use of special pistons. (Future iterations of the engine will increase compression to 13.0:1 and incorporate a 4-2-1 exhaust header to further improve the combustion process.)

Ford, GMC, Honda, Jeep, News

Honda Accord 2013 Review And Pictures

This latest Accord is 3.5 inches shorter bumper to bumper and 0.9 inch tighter at the wheelbase than its fleshy predecessor. Yet once again Honda conducts a master class in packaging. Against its porcine predecessor the 2013 car’s cabin dimensions vary hardly at all. The Accord still feels like one of the biggest cars in the segment with two roomy and extra-comfortable front buckets and a back bench you and two friends can stretch out on. Moreover the capacious trunk is even larger maximum volume having increased by over one cubic foot.

The overhauled DOHC 2.4-liter four falls under the somewhat nonsensical Earth Dreams marketing slogan; more important however is that it represents Honda’s first whack at gasoline direct injection for the North American market. Your only automatic alternative to the six-speed manual with this engine is a Honda-built continuously variable transmission (CVT) called the G-Design Shift (Honda’s committee for cutesy names has been working overtime).

The 2.4-liter is quieter at idle than some other direct-injection engines with their clattering high-pressure injectors particularly Hyundai’s. And the Honda likes to rev sounding healthy and full throated at its 6400-rpm power peak. But it’s the CVT’s tuning that makes the Accord feel fleet. The typical rubber-band delay has been minimized and the throttle responds curtly when you ask for acceleration (although sometimes with some audible transmission whine at high revs). In mountain snakers as well as on city streets the CVT works so efficiently that it all but disappears and you never notice the lack of a manual control. Of course we’d prefer the optional six-speed stick with its tightly spaced gates and short throws—but finally a belt-and-pulley transmission we can live with!

Somewhere between 15 and 20 percent of Accord buyers opt for a V-6 and for them the 3.5-liter goes up slightly in horsepower to 278. But the news with this engine is its lighter weight due to items such as plastic cam covers and work on the Variable Cylinder Management system that increases the time the engine runs on three cylinders. In motion the cylinder cutout is completely transparent and the V-6 does what it’s supposed to: provide more sophisticated and effortless propulsion.

Kia, News

Chrysler 200 2015 Review And Pictures

The X3 combines the utility of a crossover with the sophistication and driving fun of one of our favorite sedans: the legendary 3-series. There are three turbocharged engines—a 240-hp 2.0-liter four; a 300-hp 3.0-liter six; and a 180-hp 2.0-liter diesel four which offers improved economy but less refinement. An eight-speed automatic is standard; all but the base rear-drive X3 have xDrive. The options list is long but in our opinion the Dynamic Handling package is one you must consider.

New compact luxury crossovers are being introduced apace with strong-selling models like the Lexus NX and the Lincoln MKC claiming large slices of a pie once carved up almost exclusively by Acura BMW Mercedes and Audi. But there’s still goodness to be found among the older guard particularly BMW’s X3.

Introduced in 2003 as one of the first of its breed the BMW X3 entered its second generation for 2011 and was updated for 2015 with revised styling the addition of diesel and rear-drive models and some new convenience features. So far the only refreshed model we’ve tested was—ahem—the xDrive28d diesel but we’ve reviewed this generation plenty. The turbocharged gasoline four-cylinder model won a comparison test against the Audi Q5 and the Range Rover Evoque and we’ve also spent quality time with the four-cylinder xDrive28i and the pre-update xDrive35i.

News, Porsche, Toyota

Jeep Renegade 2015 Review And Pictures

The Renegade certainly doesn’t look like a sellout although it does look weird. Then again its segment includes so many outlandish shapes—Kia Soul Nissan Juke Mini Countryman—that it’s not so much a class of vehicles as it is a clown college. And it’s about to get weirder with the Chevy Trax Honda HR-V Mazda CX-3 and the Renegade’s sibling rival the shapely Fiat 500X. Odd it may be but the Renegade doesn’t look bad and it certainly isn’t as cheap as the Patriot or as dorky as the Compass. It’s cheekily confidently butch without being overdone its upright stance trademark grille and taillights that protrude from the bodywork immediately identifying it as a relative of the Wrangler.

Inside the design theme is something Jeep calls “Tek-Tonic.” To us that sounds like a Silicon Valley fad cocktail the sort of thing made with lumbersexual-spec craft gin sold in bottles reclaimed from excavated colonial New England outhouse pits. (Don’t worry it’s alcohol! It kills any lingering bacteria.) But that’s not what Tek-Tonic is. Well not this one. This one is a blend of soft and rugged forms befitting a tiny stylish off-roader and it looks nicer than one might expect in a sub-$20000 Chrysler product. Anodized-look trim adds a touch of richness and even the interior door handles and lock tumblers are finished in matte silver.

Opt for the 2.4-liter naturally aspirated four-cylinder and you gain 20 horsepower but sacrifice 9 lb-ft of torque. We had a very difficult time discerning a difference in pace with the two engines although there is a difference in character. The bigger four is gruffer becoming a little coarse at high rpm. The torque peak also rises from 2500 rpm with the turbo to 3900 rpm. The bigger four is combined only with Fiat Chrysler’s nine-speed automatic and the plethora of forward ratios means the engine is in its sweet spot no matter your road speed. In the Cherokee we never actually got the transmission to shift into ninth; on this drive we never got up to a speed where we bothered trying. With either powertrain Jeep claims highway fuel economy exceeding 30 mpg; that’s likely only with front-wheel drive however.

Lincoln, Mazda, Mitsubishi, News

2013 Ford Mustang Review And Pictures

Accounting for nearly two-thirds of  Mazda’s U.S. sales the 3 is vital to the company’s health. Despite being the old man in its ultracompetitive set the 3 offers a quality interior and a very athletic chassis helping to overcome whatever marketplace hurdles its demented-clown face may have placed in its path. Still cursed with that circus mug this 3’s midcycle changes are only barely noticeable inside or out. But there are significant updates here nevertheless as Mazda chases after efficiency-minded buyers with its new Skyactiv engine and transmissions.

Slotting between the aged less powerful 2.0-liter and the thirsty 2.5-liter naturally aspirated fours the new 2.0-liter Skyactiv engine produces 155 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque. Of greater note: The Skyactiv sedan is rated at the magical 40-mpg-highway mark—28 in the city—when paired with the new six-speed Skyactiv automatic; increases of  7 and 4 mpg respectively from last year’s 2.0 with a five-speed auto.  Also wearing the Skyactiv branding is a standard six-speed manual that has been reworked into a smaller and lighter package. It features slightly shorter throws and reduced internal friction but forfeits 1 mpg in both cycles to the automatic. It still achieves a lofty 27 mpg city/39 mpg highway rating though up from 25/33 with a five-speed manual in 2011.

While others are off-ladling engine displacement and adding turbochargers active aero or other costly technologies in the name of fuel economy Mazda achieves its big mpg number with a 30-percent reduction in internal friction versus the base 2.0-liter’s and a high 12.0:1 compression ratio (a lower drag coefficient doesn’t hurt either). Paired with direct injection Mazda has combated the typical knock in high-compression engines through the use of special pistons. (Future iterations of the engine will increase compression to 13.0:1 and incorporate a 4-2-1 exhaust header to further improve the combustion process.)

Cadillac, Chevrolet, Chrysler, Dodge, Ferrari, News

2015 Toyota Tacoma Trd Pro Review And Pictures

The Tacoma TRD Pro affectionately dubbed the “Taco Supreme” by its maker doesn’t exactly rewrite the rules of off-roading (most of its specific modifications have been available on the Tacoma TRD T|X Baja Series package since 2012) but it is arguably the roughest-and-tumblest compact pickup Toyota has ever offered. It starts with all the goodies found on the TRD Off-Road package (including an electronically locking rear differential hill-start assist and downhill-assist control) and adds one-and-three-quarters inches of lift to the front suspension large Bilstein 2.5-inch front shocks and 2.0-inch rear shocks with remote reservoirs and increased wheel travel (1.5 inches up front and 1.0 inch in back). Other mods include red Eibach springs with softer spring rates a sweet set of 16-inch black and silver bead-lock-style wheels wrapped in BFGoodrich all-terrain tires and a throaty TRD cat-back exhaust system said to add some low-end torque and up to eight horsepower to the Tacoma’s otherwise stock 4.0-liter V-6 that’s still officially rated at 236 horsepower.

The Pro Series Tacoma looks the part too with blackout lighting elements a matte-black grille with FJ40-inspired TOYOTA lettering and sundry TRD interior bits. Oh and you’d better like black white or a charismatic orange called Inferno because those are the only colors you’ll be able to get on this 2015 Tacoma. The Tacoma Access Cab with rear-hinged rear “suicide” doors and the Tacoma double cab with four conventional doors can be upgraded to TRD Pro Series status.

Aston Martin, Audi, BMW, Bugatti, News

2013 Lincoln Mkz Review And Pictures

The 2013 Lincoln MKZ is ostensibly a luxury car but one built by Ford whose nearly complete lack of understanding of the genre has been on wide display for at least a decade­. (See: Jaguar et al.) Which is not to damn the MKZ for its lineage but rather to suggest that Russian director Timur Bekmambetov’s recent depiction of the 16th president fighting the undead in Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is only marginally less fanciful than the thinking vis-à-vis Lincoln that’s been going on lately in Dearborn.

Indeed Ford is battling its own demons with the MKZ principally in the form of the 2013 Fusion a nameplate with which the new Lincoln model again shares its roots. In base front-wheel-drive trim the Fusion plays in an altogether different class but that same car can be easily optioned up to and beyond the $36800 starting price of the MKZ. Whereupon that spendthrift Ford customer will actually be acquiring most of the Lincoln’s optional features at a considerable saving from all-wheel drive to nav to driver-assist features like automatic parallel parking lane-departure intervention and adaptive cruise control. An MKZ equipped similarly to a loaded Fusion costs some $9000 extra and by the time the Lincoln customer ticks the boxes for the MKZ’s two signature options a 3.7-liter V-6 ($1230) and a retractable glass roof that obstructs rear visibility when opened ($2995) he will be looking at a price tag much like the one of our $51185 test vehicle.