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Dear Kia, Please Stop Making Me Sound Biased

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It seems like I leave every auto show thinking that the Koreans are killing it. For a while I thought it was just Kia and Hyundai exceeding expectations, but it’s been happening for so long that expectations are higher than ever. They just won’t quit being the underdog in my mind, and maybe that’s what they’re going for.

I sat down at Kia’s booth knowing that I didn’t give two shits about the CUV segment. I’ll never buy one and I automatically assume they’re driven by people who bought their driver’s license from a cousin who knows a guy. That didn’t stop me from smiling when the new Sportage was revealed, and spending more time than was strictly necessary inside it. Yet again, I left feeling like Kia just needs to release a RWD coupe (Kinda like the GT4 Stinger concept from a couple years ago) and they’ll be poised to have the ear of everybody under 35.

The new Sportage has a new look compared to the outgoing model but is instantly recognizable as it follows Kia’s current design language quite closely. The top trim enjoys luxurious bits like LED fog and taillights, as well as HID headlights and 19″ wheels. None of which are things you see often in the segment. The interior is packed with leather, soft-touch materials and/or piano finish bits which all give it the feeling of a more expensive vehicle.

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VW Apologizes Again, Tries to Distract Us With Beetles

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Did you come here to read about the two new trims of Beetle or did you come here to hear about VW sweating on stage in LA? Doesn’t matter, you’re gonna be disappointed.

Michael Horn (President and CEO of Volkswagen Group of America), is the most human speaker at most of the shows I’ve been to. The guy who, despite reading from a prompter like the rest, feels like he’s speaking his own words. He cracks jokes that make you smile, not groan, and it never feels like he’s trying to put a spin on things. So when he got on stage and addressed Dieselgate, there was no fear, no fidgeting and no fluff. He acknowledged that it’s a big deal, he took responsibility for it, he apologized and throughout the whole thing he maintained that a solution would be found. Honestly, when something goes wrong at my day job, that’s exactly what I want. “I made a mistake, let’s fix it, and then let’s figure out if we can prevent it from happening again”. Of course VW doesn’t have the luxury of finger-pointing and throwing others under the bus like my coworkers do so they didn’t really have a choice. Ah well.

Full disclosure, I have a Golf R on order and I don’t plan on walking away from it. I don’t care about this scandal, at least not to the extent that some people are claiming to. I’m a Formula 1 fan, I fully expect manufacturers to take whatever regulations they’re given and do whatever it takes to beat them without being caught. I would be blown away if every other manufacturer wasn’t doing something similar. Personally, I think emissions regulations are too strict. You’ve got some of the smartest people in the world engineering these vehicles and some of the dumbest creating legislation around them. If these guys can’t meet consumer expectations and regulations then the regulations need to be reworked. The automotive industry is one of the few where I think consumer expectations are lower than they could be. Watch 90% of people test driving new cars and, I promise you’ll catch yourself smiling along with them as they repeat “That’s so cool!” at each and every feature their existing vehicle doesn’t have.

Now please don’t think I’m a climate change denier or that I don’t understand the impact of vehicles on the environment. I’m not trying to say that vehicles should not be getting consistently more efficient, my problem is that they ARE getting more efficient, it’s just not fast enough for some people. Fuel efficiency is and always will be a selling point for vehicles. Because of this, manufacturers will spend loads of money attempting to make their vehicles as green as possible while still being as fun, luxurious or safe as people want. Isn’t that the goal here? Why do they need extra motivation?

I dunno. I understand why this situation is big news, but I honestly think most people who are legitimately angry either don’t fully understand the impact – both of the emissions themselves and fixing them – or suffer from “I need something to be outraged about” syndrome. I hope VW makes it out of this alive, because they make fantastic cars and it would be a shame to lose them.

Oh, right, they also announced the Dune and Denim variants of the Beetle and brought out the Dune Beetle, which looks just like the first concept we covered in Detroit back in 2014. I’m sure if you cared about those you skipped right to the pictures anyway.

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Hyundai Is The New Toyota with 2017 Elantra

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The new Elantra is here, and I’m thoroughly whelmed…

I mean, I had expectations and, overall, they were met. The exterior is a little blander than I expected, but it’s still nice. The interior looks about as good as I wanted, but feels better than I thought it would.

I knew I’d have trouble writing about it, but my deadline is approaching and I seriously don’t know what to say. I don’t want to sit here and rattle off specs, because there’s nothing on the list that will make you say “Oh, neat” or “Hm, I’m disappointed it’s missing that”. It’s exactly the car you expect it to be, so it’s difficult to have anything but a neutral opinion about it.

Oh, hold up, it’s got collision avoidance and bending headlights. Rare to find those on a compact car. Lots of interior space, too. So it’s got that going for it. Which is nice. Seriously, they’ve got an entire page in their press release dedicated to how much interior space it has. So much so that it’s classified as a mid-size by the EPA.

It’s a Toyota Corolla. I’d call that the highest praise a boring car can receive, but I’m not actually sure what boring people consider praise for their cars. That said, for Hyundai to be able to have, and meet, such clear expectations says a lot about the brand. I gush about the Koreans a lot, I’m aware of it, but the fact that the Elantra is in to “Well, it’s no longer surprising that it’s this good” territory means Hyundai has succeeded. Good for them. Shame it means I’ll never be interested in half their cars again.

Well… Enjoy the pictures!

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Scion C-HR Concept Was Designed By Thirteen Year Old Me

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Scion’s C-HR (Compact – High Ride height) concept gives us a look at how teenage me would design a competitor to the Fiat 500X and MINI EntireLine-upOfVehicles. I still haven’t figured out whether or not that’s a good thing. I love me some 90s concepts, they’re ridiculous in all the right ways, but something about this one just doesn’t do it for me.

If you’re sick of Hellaflush, don’t worry, Scion’s got you covered with Nothingflush. The taillights protrude from the rear end, the wheels overlap the tire sidewalls and the entire vehicle looks like a strange growth on top of the even-guys-with-300Cs-are-like-whoa oversized wheels. But whatever, it’s a concept and concepts are supposed to be silly. Not even fun-loving Scion is immune to taming their vehicles prior to production.

I’m not sure when we’ll be seeing the production variant of this thing, but I’m not confident I’ll have figured out whether or not I like the concept by then.

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New Lacrosse Keeps Buick on the Path to Relevance

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Buick’s presentation was basically buddy reading off a bloody spec sheet.

Yes, I remember the Avenir concept. No, I don’t think the new LaCrosse looks like it.
Yes, I like the tri-colour logo. No, I don’t think you should call it “new”.
Yes, I appreciate you telling me about the all-new chassis with five-link rear suspension. No, I don’t think you should have ended the press release there.

Anyway, once the presentation was done I went back and wrote “This is what Lincoln should be doing”, and by that I mean that they’re copying Cadillac. Or maybe going for a slightly more usable, less performance-oriented Cadillac. Which is still way better than whatever Lincoln is thinking. Seriously though. They took a good car in the LaCrosse and made literally everything better.

The new LaCrosse is lower, wider, stiffer, and 300lb lighter than the outgoing model. It’s got available active suspension, active grill shutters and, notably, dual-clutch AWD providing legitimate torque vectoring, which is something rarely seen in luxury sedans. In terms of performance, the new LaCrosse is leagues ahead of the old one. In fact the only problem with it is the lack of a more powerful engine. It looks like the LaCrosse is stuck with the 305 hp V6, and although it’s paired with a nice 8 speed automatic, it seems like this car is begging for the extra 100 hp of the turbo variant that their sister Cadillacs get.

Almost as dramatic as the performance improvements are the new looks. Buick made a big deal of bringing back the tri-colour logo, but the rest of the design is what deserves the attention. The new front end is a nice blend of Mercedes and Chrysler. That maybe doesn’t sound like a compliment, but it works. The rear looks modern and the wheel suit the car. I’m not big on the silhouette but, like the rest of the car, it’s a big step forward. Of course the interior is well appointed. It’s plush and soft but without making you feel old. Wireless charging, lumbar massage, collision avoidance, park assist, and CarPlay/Android Auto are just some of the cool tech that the new model receives. It’s still what you’d expect from a Buick, so there’s not much to say.

Honestly, if you’re looking at a mid-size sedan these days, you’re spoiled for choice. Is this going to compete with a C-class for luxury, or a 3-series for sportiness? No, definitely not, but it can definitely hold its own against Lexus, Lincoln and even Audi right now.

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Porsche Makes a Big Deal Over AWD, 911 Targa 4

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Seriously, they held a press conference with the Targa 4 and Targa 4S on the main stage. There was fanfare and even a dramatic unveiling with two models. Most of us thought the AWD Targas were already out. Here’s some pictures of a car you’ve already seen. Hey Porsche, stop wasting my time.

Oh, and turn up the AC in your booth. Sweatin’ balls in there.

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Fiat’s 124 Spyder Gives Me Everything I Wanted in a BRZ

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Turbo and a soft-top. Turbo and a soft-top. Turbo and a soft-top.

Give me a BRZ with a small turbo and a soft-top and you’ll be blinded by my firm and vigorous smile. While Toyobaru are busy making the GT86 exactly the same, Fiat has stepped in with their Italian passion™ and delivered me the revived 124 Spider. 1.4L turbo in the front sending 184 lb/ft to the rear wheels and my throbbing grin enjoying open air in between. And while we get double-wishbone front suspension and multilink rear, the good news ends there. It advertises light electric steering, which is the opposite of what I wanted to hear, and there’s suspicious lack of mentioned LSD.

It’s also got wheels and ride height that look better suited on a 90s Miata. The exterior design is nice, certainly nicer than anything else in Fiat’s North American line-up, but could look awkward outside of a showroom. The interior is also nice and lacks the quirks that make the 500 something for people who can be described as “bubbly”, but it could also bring the price of the car into unwelcome territory. That’s not to say it’s going to be a bad car, or that something amazing has been been tainted by a couple small failures, but my mouth has been downgraded to a semi-smirk to try and manage expectations.

At the very least, the 124 Spider is another entrant into the growing “little fun” segment that has been shamefully sparse for the last decade. I can’t wait to drive one. Though $10 says I finish my review with “I’d rather have a BRZ with a turbo and soft-top”.

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Lincoln Reveals the Face-lifted MKZ

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When Lincoln first began their new design language and Matthew McConaughey ads, I loved it. I was happy that they were following Cadillac’s cues and refreshing their entire image, and I hoped that the end result would be yet another brand of vehicle my generation would be interested in. The MKC was unveiled and my enthusiasm held. Here was a modern-looking SUV with a lot of hype and excellent standard of luxury. I thought it would appeal to buyers of all ages and I couldn’t wait to see them on the streets.

Then I saw them on the streets and I was like “Myehhhhh, it’s alright. First car of a new design, they’ll do better on the next one”. Buuuut they didn’t. The exteriors of the Lincoln line-up still look like they’re made for people too old to be driving at all, and the new MKZ is no exception. They’ve kept the “Please notice the rear of this car because it will be coming to an abrupt and unwarranted halt” rear light bar but replaced the front fascia with what I can only assume is the result of this conversation:

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Optima Batteries Brings Ultimate Street Cars to SEMA 2015

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The Optima Invitational, or Optima Ultimate Street Series, or whatever they’re calling it these days, invites owners of any and all vehicles to join in a multi-stage performance test in a bid to be crowned the ultimate street car (and driver). Cars are split into classes based on age and weight, and follow pretty standard rules – mandating street tires, limiting aftermarket aero and, of course, making sure everything is safe – as they tackle up to 4 challenges during 1 of 8 qualifying rounds across America. From Pike’s Peak to Michigan International, drivers from all over the country are able to show up and try their luck in road rally, road course, autocross or speed stop, as well as receive points for how streetable their car is. The top performers at each qualifying round, as well as the winners of each event and some lucky “Spirit of the Event” cars get invited to the final showdown at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, held immediately after SEMA.

Unfortunately for us, the majority of cars had already rolled out before we could get shots, but we got to see some great cars at their booth inside the hall. Check out the gallery for all the pics that we managed to get!

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Lexus and Hyundai, Together At Last! – SEMA 2015

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I know, I know, it’s really weird that we’re combining Lexus and Hyundai. “Why didn’t you just lump Lexus in with Toyota”? Because we’re in Vegas, the land of bad decisions and worse consequences. “I really don’t understand why you can’t just do it now instead of typing a stupid explanation”. Because the files are already named as such and it’s more difficult to fix it than to just apologize.

Honestly though, does it matter? You’re just here for the pictures and we’ve organized them nicely, Hyundai first, then Lexus. Wanna see a Veloster? Start at the beginning. Wanna see an RCF? Start near the middle. These are the sort of simple concepts that we COMPLETELY FAIL TO GRASP ON A REGULAR BASIS.

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