Car Review Time!

I usually don’t do posts reviewing cars (at least I haven’t in a while), but I recently test-drove a 2017 Kia Soul. My sister enlisted my help in finding a good car for her, and like any good car-loving brother, I obliged. Somehow, there were no strings attached. We made a stop at the local Kia dealer, and looked at a few Souls. Next up was a test drive. Here are my thoughts on the 2017 Soul:

It’s a great little car. Decent power for it’s size and class. Yeah, I might want a bit more power when passing at higher speeds, or when it’s loaded down with people and gear, but that’s what the new turbocharged version is for! That being said, for everyday driving, it’s perfectly adequate. I’ll talk more about the driving dynamics in a bit.

Now onto how it looks. They’re certainly not for everybody, but I think it looks cool. It’s very roomy inside because of the styling, and the tail lights are cool. Yeah, the front end could look better, but that’s just me. Other people like it. Because of its boxier styling, it’s got great visibility. The windshield is big, and when you’re backing up, you’ve got great visibility. Because it’s a compact car with a very good turning radius, it’s great for big cities where space is at a premium. In white, it looks like an enlarged stormtrooper helmet.

This is the Soul "+" (Plus) model shown.
This is the Soul “+” (Plus) model shown.

The salesman was telling us that his first client was a big, tattooed, Harley-Davidson-riding guy, who really wanted a white Kia Soul because it “looked like a stormtrooper helmet.” It turned out that he was tired of nearly getting hit by cars all the time, so he decided to get a car and keep the Harley for nicer weather.

Yes, those are all of the available colors for the 2017 Soul!
Yes, those are all of the available colors for the 2017 Soul!

Inside the Soul, you’ll find a nice interior. By no means is it a Mercedes-Benz interior, but for what you pay for, it’s great. If you’re tall and find yourself in the backseat, don’t worry! I’m 6 feet tall, and had plenty of room behind the driver’s seat set to my liking! I could easily share the backseat with 2 other people. It’s also very quiet, thanks to Kia’s use of expansion foam in the body cavities. There’s a convenient USB charging port on the front console. There are also available fast-charging ports located inside and on the back of the center console. The overhead LED reading lamps work well. It also has fully automatic climate control.

Pretty swanky for a compact hatchback, don't you think?
Pretty swanky for a compact hatchback, don’t you think?

If you want a backup camera, you’ll get a bigger screen than the cars without  one. Spring for the navigation system and you’ll have a much larger screen (8 inches). You’ll also a 3-month SiriusXM All Access trial subscription, which gives you access to over 160 channels. The available UVO infotainment system (Kia’s intuitive infotainment system) has some neat features that are integrated onto your smartphone: it can keep track of where you parked your Soul, download Kia recommended apps through their App Download Center, monitor your driving habits and provide suggestions on how to improve fuel economy, etc., access 911 Connect or Enhanced Roadside Assistance, and check any maintenance requirements through Vehicle Diagnostics, all on the touch screen. What sweetens the UVO pot is the fact that there are no suscription fees for the first 10 years of access to the UVO system! It’s also Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatible!

It’s also got a suite of safety features, some available and some standard. You can get a rearview camera, a forward collision warning system, a lane departure warning system, and one of the more appreciated features is the blind-spot detection with rear cross-traffic alert. It’s especially helpful when you have to back out into traffic.

This is a picture of the backseat of a Soul EV, but it's the same thing for all essential purposes.
This is a picture of the backseat of a Soul EV, but it’s the same thing for all essential purposes.

Now, onto how it drives. As I said previously, it drives well for something in it’s class. It won’t keep up with a Porsche 911 by any means, but you can have some fun with it, too. You can also change drive modes on the fly with the Drive Mode Select System, which has a button conveniently located on the perfectly sized steering wheel. There’s an Eco mode, which works well in heavier traffic, and a Sport Mode, which is great for merging onto a freeway, or just having some fun. Yeah, the engine gets buzzy at higher rpms, but it’s not a high performance engine. The transmission is smooth; maybe even a bit too smooth for me. It does what you ask of it, but it won’t ever be as quick as a dual-clutch transmission. There’s even a nice EV model that is supposed to drive even better (I didn’t drive it, so I can’t say).

Kia offers industry-leading warranties. You get a 10-year/100,000 mile powertrain warranty, a 5-year/60,000 mile basic warranty, a 5-year/100,000 mile anti-perforation warranty, and a 5-year/60,000 mile 24-hour roadside assistance warranty.

Here’s my takeaway:

Now, would I recommend it? Absolutely, no questions asked. I would even consider buying one for myself. Plus, they’re inexpensive, very reliable, safe, and pretty darn fun cars. Yeah, they would be pretty impractical for somebody who has kids in booster seats, but you could absolutely make it work. They have a lot of space, are safe, and last forever. Oh, and they look neat, especially in white. Kia has some pretty wild colors, which some people like (makes it easier for cops to spot them!).

Buy a New Acura NSX, Get a Custom Film!

Hey everyone! Sorry that it took me such a long time to put this post up, but school was especially stressful this semester. I’m glad that the semester is over, and that I’ll have more time to give the blog more attention. Look forward to more posts in 2017!

I have to admit, the 2017 Acura NSX is quite the looker!
I have to admit, the 2017 Acura NSX is quite the looker!
The interior isn't bad, either.
The interior isn’t bad, either.

Did you know that Jay Leno’s 2017 Acura NSX is #0003? I’m sure you knew that already, right? Why am I talking about this? Well, you and I both know that Jay Leno has one of the most amazing car collections in the world. What makes his NSX really cool is you can watch it’s creation in Acura’s new campaign video called “NSX Originals.”

If and when you drop at least $157,800 on a 2017 Acura NSX, you’ll receive a personalized digital film that matches the exact specifications and serial number of your NSX! Seriously, how cool is that? Pretty damn cool in my book. Oh, and if that wasn’t enough for you, Acura will give you a customized 1:18 scale model that is identical to your NSX! Now, how cool is THAT?

You can immerse yourself in some amazing films of the twin-turbo, V6, hybrid NSX on the microsite (http://www.nsxoriginals.com/acura/en/). You can also watch the build of Jay Leno’s pretty slick NSX at: https://youtu.be/2KzAeU67SXw

According to a release from Jon Ikeda, Acura’s VP and General Manager, “The Acura NSX is a bespoke supercar inspired by an original concept and this campaign speaks directly to that heritage.”

What’s in these films? You can see some behind-the-scenes action of the NSX being built at Acura’s state-of-the-art Marysville, Ohio plant, which highlights the seven key manufacturing periods of the NSX. You might be wondering what those are. Let me tell you. They include: precision robotic welding, space frame construction, a zirconium bath, paint robotics, the three-motor sport hybrid power unit, custom hand assembly, and the rolling dynamometer.

I bet that there won’t be a dry eye in the house when you show your car friends the birthing video of your car!

Also, it’s best to keep that custom scale model out of reach of the kids (or grandkids) – I’m sure that they would LOVE to play with it! Hide it or risk an almost certain, “sorry, I just broke it.” I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the adults are going to want to take the full-size NSX for a spin. But hey, it’s your supercar after all!

Here’s my two cents on the 2017 NSX: After years of teasing us with various concepts, prototypes, and general speculation, the NSX has made a return. The original Honda/Acura NSX was the car that sent Ferrari, Lamborghini, and just about everybody who made supercars scrambling to the drawing board.

The 2017 Acura NSX is what Acura wants you to think of as a “usable supercar.” It’s jam-packed with the hottest technology out there. It’s definitely state-of-the-art, but according to just about everybody who’s reviewed it, that’s not what it is. It’s certainly fast, good-looking, and everything else you want a supercar to be, but a supercar is not designed nor intended to be a car that you can drive every day. While I certainly understand Acura’s point of view, Acura should have followed the original NSX’s footsteps. The 2017 NSX isn’t going to send anybody scrambling to the drawing board. Sticking to the tried-and-true supercar formula brings money in.

I think that the 2017 NSX will sell relatively well, but only time will tell. It’s got some stiff competition, what with the Lamborghini Huracan, Ferrari 488 GTB, Nissan GT-R, and Audi R8.

Does this mean that I don’t like the 2017 NSX? Far from it! I think it’s a fantastic piece of engineering, and certainly a novel idea. Sure, it’s got a lot more computers to save your bacon every day of the week, and twice on Sunday, but every supercar out there is that way. It seems to be a fantastic car. It’s definitely not the car of the future, but it’s one of the faster ways to get to the future. I think it’s safe to say that some of the technology on the 2017 NSX will trickle down to other Acuras in the next few years.

The Perfect Balance of Street and Track in a Corvette

Some of you might know how the “Grand Sport” name for the Chevrolet Corvette. If you don’t, let me explain. In 1963, Zora Arkus-Duntov was hoping to build 125 lightweight, high-power homologation-special Corvette Sting Rays so Chevrolet could qualify for the 24 Hours of Le Mans. GM smashed that plan to smithereens after Chevrolet had built just five of the so-called Corvette Grand Sports. All five were quickly spirited under the table off to legendary racers with last names like Penske, Foyt, and Hall. All five cars were raced without any factory support.

Since then, Chevrolet has revived the Grand Sport name twice – once in 1996 and once in 2010. Both of those times, the badge meant special editions with beautiful bodywork, but no massive performance gain, unlike the 1963 Grand Sports. The 1996 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 and 2010 Z06 would still outperform the Grand Sports. Of course, the 2010 Corvette ZR1 was still the most serious Corvette of that generation of Corvette.

Of course, Chevrolet’s engineers went hog-wild with the C7 Stingray Z06. It’s a combination of a massively powerful engine that has been described as one of the best-sounding engines ever (I agree), absolutely brilliant suspension, and enough computing power to sequence the human genome. Yet, it’s so approachable for the average driver that it’s truly mind-boggling. It also costs around $80,000. It’s a true giant-killer, especially with a professional driver. Even without a professional driver, this is not a car you want to tangle with.

The Z06 is also quite unlike the Corvette Racing C7.R that competes in one of the highest echelons of motorsports – endurance racing. The C7.R’s that quite simply walked away with the win at this year’s 24 Hours of Daytona actually make less power than the Z06 you can get on your dealership’s showroom floor. There’s no supercharged 6.2-liter LT4 V8 shrieking under the hood of the race-winning C7.R – those drivers have to make do with a 5.5-liter V8 sucking air through a restricted air intake the diameter of a garden hose. Because power is handicapped by a rule book (which didn’t stop NASCAR legend Smokey Yunick), the Corvette Racing team wins races with unworldly grip and highly aggressive aerodynamics. Let’s put it this way – their strategy works well.

It’s interesting that the new Grand Sport, which is the mid-range model, lives up to the “street-legal race car” cliche. It’s got some of the best street tires in the world, aggressive aerodynamics enhancements, and stock engine. Oh, and it comes with a warranty, something most race cars can’t brag about.

Let’s start off with the tires – Michelin Pilot Super Sports are standard tires, or even stickier Pilot Sport Cup 2s with the Z07 high-performance option package, which are the same tires you can get on the Z06. They’re much wider than the standard Stingray tires (40 mm wider up front, 50 mm wider out back), which means that Chevy had to put the Z06’s massive, bulging fenders to clear the massive tires.

GM’s truly brilliant Magnetic Ride Control is standard equipment, as is the highly advanced electronic limited-slip differential, as are the Z06-derived chassis sports custom stabilizer bars and springs. You can pair the brilliant 460-horsepower, 465 lb-ft, dry-sump LT1 V8 with a fantastic 7-speed manual transmission or a pretty darn good 8-speed automatic, both of which come with the Stingray and Z06. What does the Z07 package add? Carbon ceramic brakes, and even more aggressive aero, mostly.

Now, let’s move onto the beautiful bodywork. It’s mostly borrowed from the Z06 part bin. However, it’s got Grand Sport-specific front fender vent inserts. What about from the Z06? It’s got the Z06’s wider track (how far apart the wheels are from each other), an open-mouth front grille, and big differential cooling vents on the rear fenders. The Grand Sport has a Z06-spec front splitter, front splitters, and wickerbill rear spoiler, all of which are finished in carbon fiber in the Z07 trim. Chevy claims that they all create downforce, but the Z06’s clear plastic Gurney flip isn’t available on the Grand Sport. Oh, and then there’s a Heritage package, which adds the traditional front fender hash marks, which are now connected in a horseshoe shape. I somehow forgot to mention that Chevy has more than the entire rainbow’s worth of body, hash, and full-length racing stripe combinations.

Inside the Grand Sport, there is badging depicting the 1963 Grand Sport #002 (the only roadster out of Zora Arkus-Duntov’s original five Grand Sports) on the floor mats, headrests, and on a dash plaque directly ahead of the shifter. The brushed aluminum halo on the right of the center stack has a subtle racing stripe, which is created by rotating the brushing pattern on the metal 90 degrees during the polishing process.

Chevy says that the Grand Sport will hurtle it’s way to 60 mph in 3.6 seconds, and blast through the quarter mile in 11.8 seconds. I’m going to say that’s probably because the Grand Sport has much better tires than the Stingray does.

The Grand Sport weighs in at 3,252 pounds, which is 98 pounds lighter than the Z06. Because there’s no gigantic supercharger, the hood is lower, affording much greater visibility of the road.

Even with the windows up, the A/C on full blast, and the engine contentedly burbling along at 1500 rpm in one of the Grand Sport’s many overdrive gears, you’ll still easily pull over 1 g without the car breaking a sweat. You won’t either.

We’ll move onto the price now. The Grand Sport coupe starts at just a freckle under $66,500, which is a $5,000 premium over the Stingray. It’s also about $14,000 cheaper than a Z06. If you want to drop the top on any Corvette, plan to shell out an additional $4,000. Do you want the Z07 package? Give Chevy $8,000. Even if you buy the Grand Sport convertible with the Z07 package, that still gives you about $2000 to get some accessories, or haggling wiggle room.

The Z06 is a great car – don’t get me wrong. However, the Grand Sport was designed with a different purpose in mind. The Z06 is powerful in a way that you’ll rarely be able to enjoy. 650 horsepower is more than you’ll ever be able to use on the street – with one quick stab of the gas pedal, you’ll be well on your way to jail. On the track, it goads you into probing it’s incredibly high limits, all the while serving a main course of absolutely brilliant chassis tuning and suspension, with a side of driver aides for that moment when you push it too far. To do that on public roads, you’d better have a top-notch lawyer, a very good health insurance plan, and a glovebox filled with bribe money. OK, you can forget about the last part. Cops really don’t like it if you try and give them $20,000 in $1 bills…

The Grand Sport does something truly incredible. Chevrolet designed this car to have the same absurd limits as the Z06, but never leave you feeling like it’s a waste of horsepower because you can never floor it. While grip, balance, and power all work together, which is what makes low-power sports cars so fun, they become magical when you turn the dial up to 11.

What would happen if you put the optional Z06-spec Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires to your Corvette Stingray Z51? It’s obvious that sticky tires are key to making a good car handle well. However, good tires won’t work as well unless the chassis and suspension are dialed into those tires. Even if you somehow figured out how to make those tires fit under a stock Stingray Z51’s seductive bodywork (remember that the Z06 is three inches wider in the back), you still would have a lot of work to do. The ABS system wouldn’t be properly calibrated. Stability control intervention would be much more sudden, and the brakes would slow you down almost instantly because the Z51’s brake calibration is designed for less sticky tires. That means it would apply more brake than necessary. The electronic limited-slip differential wouldn’t perform as well, either. The suspension would also be woefully undersized relative to the massive amounts of grip that the tires generate, which would make the car feel sloppy.

What does this all boil down to? It’s more than a sloppy badge job, far more than a Corvette with some random Z06 parts, and more than a throwback to a legend. It’s the real deal, folks. This car isn’t tuned to within an inch of it’s life (and yours). This is a race car for the…wait, I don’t endorse illegal activities here.

The Surfer’s Dream (Truck)

I have a cousin. Well, I have a few, but I’m only going to talk about this one specific cousin. Why? Because he’s a rad surfer who needed a new ride, he takes gnarly photos, and is just one rad dude. Oh, and he’s my cousin. Bruh, enough with the surfer speak.

A while ago, my cousin Colin sent me an email asking if I could help him through the process of finding the perfect truck for him. After talking to him and figuring out his needs, I suggested that he look into either a Dodge Ram 2500 with the Cummins turbodiesel I6 engine, or a Toyota Tacoma. He decided that the Toyota Tacoma was the best choice for him. The Ram is a perfectly good truck, but it was just far too big and heavy-duty for what he needed.

About a month later, he contacted me saying he had found the perfect truck. It really was the perfect truck. It looked like it had just rolled off the dealership floor. Sure, it had some scratches and dings in the bedliner, but at least the previous owner used it like a truck. Who cares if there are some digs and scratches in the bed?

The engine runs like a top, it has plenty of power, and the whole truck overall feels brand-new. Everything works perfectly for him, and it will only be an amazing truck for him to use as an off-road expedition vehicle, as well as a great truck for him to use for his photography needs. Oh, and it will be big enough for home improvement projects and all of his surfboards. You can’t beat that.

The Toyota Tacoma is a wonderful platform for just about any off-road platform. Why? It’s rock-solid, has a lot of power that can be easily accessed by just about any driver. Think of it as a pickup truck version of the Jeep Wrangler. You can slap big tires on it and hit the trails. That’s literally all you need to do. The bed is big enough to hold vast amounts of cargo, and is big enough for the owner to sleep in it. It’s also compact enough to drive it around in a big city, which is exactly what the previous owner did with it.

It's a nice truck, isn't it?
It’s a nice truck, isn’t it? I’m actually not sure what’s better: the truck, or the picture itself! I wasn’t lying when I said he’s a good photographer…
While the extended cab might not be the best for hauling people around, it gets the job done, and the truck looks nice.
While the extended cab might not be the best for hauling people around, it gets the job done, and the truck looks nice. After all, isn’t a truck supposed to get the job done?

Here’s the specs on a 2006 Toyota Tacoma 4×4.

The 4.0-liter V6 is powerful. It makes 236 horsepower and 266 lb-ft of torque. That’s more than enough to move a 3,500-ish pound truck. My cousin’s truck has the optional five-speed automatic (a six-speed manual came standard). While it would be fun to drive a Tacoma with a stick shift, it most certainly wouldn’t in Los Angeles. Believe me, I drove stick for a summer there. It wasn’t fun, nor was it pretty.

Back to his truck! The interior isn’t as nice as something in, say, a Buick, but it’s a truck. It’s not meant to be nice. It’s a truck. It’s meant to get dirty, so why be nice? Many modern trucks have nicer interiors than my dad’s Buick Enclave! The ride is comfortable. It feels like a car, albeit a bit stiff on choppy roads. But, that’s to be expected with any truck. It’s hard to get a smooth ride when there’s no load in the bed. It’s not to say that it’s impossible, it’s just prohibitively expensive for an automaker to do it for hundreds of thousands of trucks. That being said, the ride is amazing for a truck. Most of the time, you won’t even notice that there’s a bed behind you. Backing up, there’s visibility for miles. The hood is short, and you have what might be one of the most commanding views of the road. Who doesn’t want to feel like the Supreme Ruler of the Road?

It has high mileage on it, at 153,000, but these trucks last well over 400,000 miles, so it’s broken in! According to the previous owner, most of those miles were on the highway. Considering the pristine shape the truck is in, I believe it.

Overall, he has a smoking hot truck! Would I recommend a Tacoma to a prospective truck buyer? Of course I would. It behaves like a truck in all the ways that you want it to, yet is docile and easy to drive for any kind of driving you might do. The Tacoma is a great truck for somebody who wants a daily driver that they can use for some light towing/hauling or home improvement projects over the weekend. The Tacoma gets about 20 mpg combined, and can get up to 25 mpg on the highway. Why? Because the engine is powerful enough that the truck doesn’t have to work hard to get around. 20 mpg is pretty good for a truck, let alone one that’s nine years old.

I had mentioned that he takes gnarly photos. Check out his Instagram account at https://www.instagram.com/blackurchin/

He’s got a website he’s almost done setting up right now (blackurchin.co), but he has another website with a lot of absolutely breathtaking photos. https://colinericphoto.smugmug.com/

If you were wondering if that little bit about his photos is sponsored by him, it’s not. He has no idea that I’m telling the whole wide world about how good of a photographer he is. I just want to get the word out about one of the most rad photographers out there. Oh, and I’ve heaped enough praises about the Tacoma for one day. Well, maybe I haven’t, but I’ll cater to your good side.

If I’ve helped you find a car, and would like me to feature it, I’d love to! I’m always here to help people find cars. I love doing all the research, helping find the right car, and then watching the lucky buyer come out of the dealership or from where they met the seller with a big goofy grin on their face. I get a big goofy grin as well.

The Best Cars for This Holiday Season

Yes, this is a holiday tradition for me. I love picking out cars that are perfect for this holiday season. I know that none of you will run out to the dealer and order one as soon as you’ve finished reading this post, but I can keep wishing, right?

  • Ford Focus RS: If you want a hot ticket into the performance car world, this is it. It’s got AWD sending somewhere around 350 horsepower and 350 lb-ft of torque to all four wheels through a six speed manual transmission, this car is definitely going to be eating Corvettes and Honda sportbikes all day long in the canyons and some race tracks. It’s going to be one fun ride. Car & Driver was lucky enough to take a ride in one, and I’ll be a tad bit jealous at them for a while. They said it’s an experience few cars can replicate.

    It looks like a legitimate rally car without all of the stickers, doesn’t it? The fans will be right behind you, don’t worry about that!
  • Chevrolet Colorado: Any version of the 2016 Chevrolet Colorado is going to be one of the best trucks on the market. It won the 2016 Motor Trend Truck of the Year award. I should also mention it won the 2015 Truck of the Year award as well. The engine that I would recommend is the 2.8-liter four-cylinder Duramax diesel engine. It gets 26 mpg combined, according to Motor Trend’s “Real MPG” testing procedures. That’s almost as good as my Mazda 3! According to the Real MPG program, a Colorado with any of the available engines (a 2.5-liter four-cylinder and a fantastic 3.6-liter V6) will have class-leading mpg. That’s really saying something. If you go for the Duramax, it will tow 7,600 pounds, and will get better mileage than any other Colorado engine. Oh, and it will be much smoother and rewarding to drive. The Colorado, and it’s GMC twin, the Canyon, both received a “Good” rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Chevrolet designed the Colorado to be a daily driver for any kind of driver, so it should come as no surprise that it drives like a fullsize sedan with a light rear end. If I was going to recommend any one truck, this would be it.

    It looks really sharp, doesn’t it? This is the Trail Boss model, which adds knobby tires, a lightbar, and skid plates.
  • Volvo XC90: Some of my older readers will remember and love the Volvos of the 1970s and 1980s. They were big tanks of cars, designed with utility rather than sexiness, yet they were so exquisitely built that people bought them over a Mercedes-Benz. Something as simple as the XC90’s key shouldn’t be worth mentioning, yet this one is wonderful. It is made of the same Nappa leather that covers it’s three comfortable rows of seats. Volvo is a really small player in the U.S. Toyota made nearly three times as many Priuses as Volvo sold cars. BMW sells seven cars for each one that Volvo sells in the U.S. You might be surprised to hear that the only engine that you can get with the 2016 XC90 is a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. Before you get up in arms about that, just know that it cranks out 316 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque. How does it do that? A gigantic turbocharger and a small supercharger that steps in when the turbo is spooling up. It gets 22 mpg combined, according to the EPA. It’s far quieter than the also-new Honda Pilot, which has a screaming V6 that will scare the deer off the road. AWD is standard. Right now, the only powertrain upgrade is to the T8 model, which Volvo claims to be the first seven-seat plug-in hybrid. It makes 313 horsepower from the same engine, but has an electric motor powering the rear wheels, bringing total power output to 400 horsepower. It has some seriously long gearing (80 mph in 3rd gear). Yeah, Volvo is still going after hauling families over hauling some butt. The XC90 has a gigantic touchscreen that Motor Trend called “almost Tesla-like.” A Volvo wouldn’t be a Volvo if it didn’t have more safety features than a crash cart in a hospital. All seven seat belts have pyrotechnic pretensioners, and the front seat frames have energy absorbers to cushion vertical forces during impact. It has a bunch of really great features, but I’m going to skip over most of them. One final safety feature worth mentioning is that the XC90 will automatically activate the brakes if the driver attempts to make a left turn into oncoming traffic. You’re on your own if you somehow make a right turn into oncoming traffic, though. Just like the Tesla Model S was a pivotal car for electric cars in 2013, the Volvo XC90 is a game changer, a moonshot for SUVs.

    I don’t care what people say about it – I think it looks really nice for something it’s size.
  • Subaru WRX: This list wouldn’t be complete without a Subaru on it. Of course I chose the WRX. While Subaru doesn’t make it as a hatchback anymore, which is a true shame, it doesn’t make the WRX any less spectacular. It’s got that wonderful Subaru boxer engine growling howl, and is probably the perfect all-weather car. It can handle it’s own on just about any surface. Good luck keeping up with one with summer tires on a racetrack, or one with winter tires in inclement weather. It’s a stylish jack-of-all-trades.

    It doesn’t look like much, but I can tell you it looks mighty intimidating with that gaping hood scoop and wailing four-cylinder.
  • Audi A3: It starts off at nearly $31,000, so the opening bid itself is a good proposition to buy one. It’s a good-looking car by all means, but it doesn’t advance Audi’s design at all. The car gets more fun to drive as you add on the speed. It just gets really expensive, so keep that in mind when you pile on the options.

    See what I mean? It looks nice, but it’s no huge design advancement for Audi.

That’s it for this list. I know it’s shorter than ones in years past, but I think these are all solid choices. You can’t go wrong with any of them. I wish you all a wonderful, safe and happy holiday season. As always, I will be taking a week off about next week, but I’ll update you on Friday about that, don’t worry!

The Best $40,000 SUVs You Can Buy

Until about 2012, one could easily delineate between a luxury SUV and a mainstream SUV. It’s different now. Big players in the luxury SUV market (BMW and Mercedes-Benz) have started to move some vehicles down market in the hopes of snagging sales that would typically go to a mainstream manufacturer. Mainstream heavy hitters like Kia, Hyundai, Honda and Mazda are moving up market in the hopes of wooing buyers from the luxury brands. Let’s say you want an SUV but have a budget of $40,000. This can get you a lot of car. It doesn’t matter if you are looking for a luxury SUV or a mainstream SUV. There are many good SUVs to choose from. Here are my picks.

  • Mercedes-Benz GLA250/GLA250 4Matic: While it might look like a hatchback with a body lift, it’s really more than that. Some of us might remember the Mercedes C230 crapback of the early 2000s that was about the same price. Man, was that thing awful! The GLA250 starts at $32,225, and the GLA250 4Matic (AWD) starts at $34,225. That’s a lot of wiggle room for options. You can get the Multimedia and/or Premium packages, both of which give you such goodies as navigation, a Harman Kardon audio system, a rearview camera and heated front seats. That’s a pretty good deal. Throw in the fact that it’s a sporty little crossover, and you’ve got a good deal. You’ve got a mini crossover that is posh and carries the Mercedes-Benz cache. 
  • Audi Q3: The Q3 is another mini crossover, but it’s a very good one. It starts at $34,625 with FWD, and starts at $36,725 with AWD. A good deal for a Q3 would be a FWD Q3 Premium Plus, which starts at $34,625. You get such goodies as HID headlights with LED accents, a panoramic glass roof, leather seats and upholstery, heated front seats and keyless entry/start, all of which are standard. At this point, you can still easily add the Technology and Sport packages without cracking the $40,000 mark. If you need AWD, add on $2,500.
  • BMW X1 sDrive 28i/X1 xDrive28i: The BMW X1 is the cheapest BMW sold in America. It starts off at $32,195 for the sDrive28i and $33,995 for the xDrive28i. It’s a bargain BMW. The result is that you can get a lot of options for less than $40,000, especially with the RWD sDrive28i. You can even get the Sport Line, Technology, Lighting and Driver Assistance packages without cracking $40,000.
  • Land Rover Discovery Sport: Even though the Land Rover Discovery Sport SE starts off at a hefty $38,065, it comes with a lot of bang for the buck. Maybe it won’t break down a ton. It comes standard with a nifty AWD system, an 8-inch infotainment screen, a 5-inch TFT screen for the driver, Bluetooth connectivity, a rearview camera with backup sensors, four (yes, four) USB ports, 18-inch alloy wheels and dual-zone climate control. Throw in navigation ($800) and Jaguar Land Rover’s InControl smartphone apps ($430), you’ll have a sticker price of $39,745.
  • Lexus NX 200t: The NX 200t starts off at $35,405 with FWD, and $36,805 with AWD. It’s a really well-priced crossover for the money. However, you can’t get very many options, because just about everything is bundled into some sort of package. The best deal for the NX 200t would be an AWD NX 200t with the Navigation Package, which includes Lexus’s Enform apps, and it will even stay below $40,000.
  • Lincoln MKC: This is Lincoln’s newest entry into the luxury world. For the past five years or so, they’ve been blundering around the woods with a bag over their heads. None of their cars have been successful lately, and that’s a problem for them. They hope to change that with the MKC. It starts off at $33,995 for FWD models and $36,490 with AWD. It has a lot of standard features including an 8-inch infotainment touchscreen, two USB ports, rear parking sensors, a rearview camera and Bluetooth connectivity. There’s even more wiggle room with FWD MKCs, and for a touch under $39,000, you get navigation, a panoramic sunroof, leather and a hands-free liftgate.
  • Lincoln MKX: Yeah, I know. Two Lincolns in a row. Yowza. The MKX is larger than the MKC, but it’s still a good buy, even if it costs $39,025. You won’t have any wiggle room with this one, but that’s OK. You get the Ford/Lincoln SYNC infotainment system, a rearview camera, a 10-speaker high-quality audio system and keyless entry/start. Just because you go for the base model doesn’t mean that you will be sorely lacking in power. The standard engine in the MKX is a 3.7-liter V6 that is expected to crank out 300 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque. It’s the same engine that’s in the base-model Ford Mustang.
  • Acura RDX: Acura has long been a heavy hitter in the bargain-basement fun-to-drive luxury segment. Even though the RDX has gone up in price, it’s still an incredibly good buy. It comes standard with LED headlights, a premium ELS sound system, a power liftgate, a rearview camera and Bluetooth connectivity, all for just $36,190 with FWD models. AWD models are a tad more at $37,690. Even getting the Technology Package will keep the price below $40,000 in FWD models. If you buy an AWD model, you can get the AcuraWatch safety features. The problem is that you can only get one or the other, as getting both packages will crack the $40,000 mark regardless of whether you have FWD or AWD.
  • Volvo XC60 T5 E-Drive/XC60 T5 AWD: Volvo has long been known for their bang for the buck. Their best-selling crossover comes standard with many great features such as City Safety automatic emergency braking, a 7-inch infotainment screen, Bluetooth connectivity and 18-inch alloy wheels. The FWD T5 E-Drive starts off at $37,395, while the AWD T5 AWD starts off at $38,895. The XC60 is right at the same price as many other comparable luxury crossovers. You won’t be able to get many options in the XC60, unfortunately, as many options are bundled into expensive packages that will send the sticker price well over $50,000.
  • Volvo XC70 T5 E-Drive/XC70 T5 AWD: The Volvo XC70 was one of the first crossover wagons to go on sale. Since then, it’s been a staple in the Volvo lineup. It starts off at $38,095 for the T5 E-Drive and $39,595 for the T5 AWD. It doesn’t come with a ton of standard or optional features. It’s also not the best-seller in Volvo’s lineup, as it’s showing it’s age. Volvo has tried to spice it up with a recent refresh and new powertrain options, but buyers would rather buy an SUV than an aging wagon.
  • Jeep Grand Cherokee: The Jeep Grand Cherokee is a great value. It starts off at a cheap $30,990 for RWD models and $32,990 for 4WD models. It offers a great combination of luxury and proven off-road capability. It comes standard with Fiat Chrysler’s amazing UConnect infotainment system, keyless entry/start and a 7-inch TFT display. Because it starts at such a low price, you can buy gadgets and goodies, or step up to higher trim levels. If you want navigation or the optional turbodiesel engine, be prepared to fork out more than $40,000. The navigation system doesn’t come with a package. You have to step up a couple of trim levels. Oh, and it’s built like a gigantic LEGO set. You can easily swap in better suspension, wheels, and just about anything you could think of.
  • Jeep Renegade: The Jeep Renegade is the replacement for the awful Compass and Patriot. It starts off at $18,990 and goes all the way up to $26,990. While it might be the cheapest new Jeep, it’s also in Wards Auto’s 10 Best Interiors for 2015. A fully loaded Renegade won’t even come close to $40,000, which is a good incentive for value-oriented buyers. It offers class-above equipment, a very nice interior and the Trailhawk models have decent offroad capability.
  • Buick Enclave: It’s certainly not the newest three-row crossover on the market, but it’s a very good one, despite having been introduced all the way back in 2008. You can get it in base model form for $39,975. Standard features include 18-inch alloy wheels, Buick’s IntelliLink infotainment system, a rearview camera, remote start and a power liftgate. I’m speaking from experience when I say you should seriously consider it. It’s quick, quiet, and incredibly comfortable for every passenger. It has a lot of space, and gets decent fuel economy for something so large.
  • Buick Encore: Despite being tiny in size, the Encore is a pioneer in the subcompact luxury crossover market. It was also the first of its kind in the segment. It starts off at an incredibly affordable $24,990, and even fully loaded falls far short of the $40,000 mark. It’s got a quiet interior for the segment. It’s a good choice for large city dwellers who need a car, but need it to have space but be small.
  • Ford Edge: Even though it doesn’t have that luxury cache to it, the Ford Edge offers plenty of luxurious amenities. Even if you don’t want to spend more than $40,000, you can get an Edge Titanium with AWD and gadgets such as SYNC with MyFord Touch, navigation and a Sony audio system. You could also get a sparsely-optioned Edge Sport with it’s twin turbo V6 and navigation if you want more power.
  • Ford Explorer: You don’t need to get the Ford Explorer Limited to be well-equipped in one. While the Explorer starts off at $31,645 for FWD models and $33,645 for AWD XL models, your best bet is the $34,345 XLT, which has many more standard features than the XL. Getting the XLT nets you rear parking sensors, keyless entry/start and a 10-way power driver’s seat. You can also get navigation, SYNC with MyFord Touch, remote start, a nine-speaker audio system and heated front seats without coming close to $40,000.
  • Nissan Murano: The 2016 Nissan Murano has a design that certainly isn’t for everybody. It’s aggressive and daring. You can make it even more daring with vibrant paint colors. Even though it looks upscale, you don’t need to go for the range-topping Platinum model to have a well-equipped Murano. The base model Murano starts off at $30,445 with FWD and $32,045 with AWD. Both the SV and SL models offer plenty of conveniences and gadgets including navigation, NissanConnect apps, remote start and two USB ports. While an AWD Murano SV will set you back $39,435, you get a lot of good stuff with it. You get all of the standard SV features, plus Nissan’s Around View camera feature, a premium Bose audio system, leather upholstery and seats and adjustable ambient lighting. That sounds like a good buy to the adventurous, but value-oriented buyer.
  • Nissan Pathfinder: It’s no longer the rugged offroader that it used to be. It’s now more of a mall-roader. It starts off at $30,515 for FWD models and $32,205 for AWD models. The SL trim is the best out of the vast range of models, due to its standard remote start, a power liftgate and leather seats and upholstery. However, other tech goodies will be out of reach, due to the fact that they are stuck in expensive packages.
  • Hyundai Tuscon: The 2016 Tuscon is completely redesigned. In every trim, especially the Limited model, the Tuscon offers value, class-above features and a dizzying array of electronic wizardry in one incredibly stylish package. Regardless of drivetrain choice, the Tuscon Limited doesn’t even come close to $40,000. If you check each and every option box, you will have everything from a 4.2-inch TFT display to navigation to such safety features as automatic emergency braking and pedestrian detection.
  • Hyundai Santa Fe Sport: Hyundai has long been known to pack immense value into their SUVs. The Santa Fe Sport is no exception. It starts off at $25,845. Regardless of whether you get it with FWD or AWD, or different engines, it’s still a very good buy. You can check just about every option box and still not be close to $40,000. For anywhere from $30,000-38,000, the Santa Fe Sport will give you an Infinity Logic 7 audio system, navigation, a panoramic sunroof and a hands-free power liftgate. That sounds like a lot of value for not very much money to me.
  • Hyundai Santa Fe: The Santa Fe is just the three-row version of the Santa Fe Sport. It remains a very compelling buy in its segment. It starts off at $31,295. It comes with a host of standard features including blind spot warning, keyless entry/start and a hands-free power liftgate. Those come with the $36,545 GLS model. However, you can’t get navigation with the GLS, as that comes with the expensive Ultimate Package, which crakcs $40,000.
  • Toyota Highlander: The wildly popular Toyota Highlander is a good buy. It starts off at $30,650. The $37,870 FWD XLE and $38,935 AWD XLE models are the best buys. The XLEs come with the Entune infotainment system, which includes navigation, an 8-inch touchscreen, keyless entry/start and heated front seats thrown in for good measure. Throw in the legendary Toyota reliability and you’ve got yourself one helluva good deal.
  • Kia Sorento: Kia and Hyundai both are well-known for their value injections in every vehicle. The Sorento is the sister to the Santa Fe. The Sorento starts off at a reasonable $25,795. You can get a nicely optioned Sorento EX with either FWD or AWD, or a V6 or turbocharged four cylinder. The standard features on the EX are many, so I’ll just list a few. You get a nifty 8-inch infotainment touchscreen, navigation, a panoramic sunroof, a 7-inch TFT screen, an Infinity Logic 7 high-quality audio system, keyless entry/start and leather seats and upholstery.
  • Honda Pilot: The newly-released 2016 Honda Pilot looks promising to me. It’s got more space than before, better looks than before, and has more features than any other Honda SUV. It starts off at an affordable $30,875 to boot. For the best bang for the buck, go with the EX-L trim with navigation, as you will get the LaneWatch system, Honda Link with an 8-inch main screen and a power liftgate for just a tad under $40,000, even with AWD. That sounds like a good deal to me. 
  • Mazda CX-3: Talk about something that really punches far above it’s weight! It starts off at an incredibly affordable $20,840, but even fully loaded, won’t go past $30,000. The best one to get is the range-topping Grand Touring model. It has a beautiful interior filled with white/black leather/suede upholstery, an amazing infotainment system and a delightful Bose audio system. Throw in some fun driving dynamics for good measure, and you have a winner.
  • Mazda CX-5: The Mazda CX-5 is basically the sports car of the compact SUV segment. It brings goodies that were previously unobtainable to the average person into reach. These goodies include a neat infotainment system and LED headlights. A base model CX-5 starts off at $22,675. While a fully-loaded one won’t come close to $40,000, a $33,655 compact crossover is a bit pricey. But, you will get such safety aids as automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning and adaptive cruise control. Many of the CX-5’s competitors don’t even offer these gadgets. Don’t get the smaller 155 horsepower 2.0-liter four cylinder (it’s a great engine), rather, go for the more powerful 184-horsepower 2.5-liter four cylinder. The smaller engine doesn’t have much of a noticeable fuel economy advantage over the bigger engine.

Those are the best SUVs and crossovers you can buy for under $40,000. They are all great choices, depending on what you are looking for. Of course, I highly recommend you test drive at least some of them before you settle on one!

I apologize for the extreme delay in posting. I’m just crawling out of the pit that is midterms.

The Best New Trucks for Working and Towing

Pickup trucks are some of the most popular vehicles in the U.S. But, they don’t come cheap. Fully optioned models can fetch prices well over $70,000. Not all consumers want a truck with more bells and whistles than a BMW. Here are my suggestions for the best trucks for working and hauling. If you’re in the market for a new work truck, or know somebody that does, this might be helpful for them!

  • Nissan Frontier: Midsize pickups are probably the best vehicles for deliveries in congested urban areas. The Nissan Frontier King Cab SV V6 4X2 should fit the bill for you. It has a payload of 1,471 pounds with a six speed manual and 1,449 pounds with a five-speed automatic. Let’s say you are a fleet owner in a big city like Los Angeles. The 22 pound decrease in payload will save more money in the long run. You won’t have to worry about burning up the clutch. You can tow up to 6,500 pounds with either transmission. The King Cab SV V6 4X2 configuration has the highest tow/haul capacity of any Nissan Frontier configuration.nissanfrontier
  • Toyota Tacoma: This is the main competitor to the Nissan Frontier. You can get a 2015 model for relatively little money, as the redesigned model is coming out next year. There are going to be massive incentives and discounts on this generation of the Tacoma. The models with the available, sturdy 4.0-liter V6. The PreRunner model with 2WD has a payload rating of 1,500 pounds and can tow 6,500 pounds. Stepping up to the Double Cab (crew cab) will retain the towing capacity, but payload drops to 1,305 pounds. It just boils down to whether you want a Toyota or a Nissan.toyotatacoma
  • Chevrolet Colorado/GMC Canyon: The Chevrolet Colorado and the GMC Canyon used to be only good for work trucks. However, the redesigned Colorado and Canyon are incredibly refined trucks. Their ride has been compared to a car’s. An extended cab with 2WD, a four-cylinder engine, and a six-speed automatic is the most affordable model. That truck can haul 1,580 pounds and tow 3,500 pounds. Should you need to tow more, you can get the Z82 trailering package, which bumps the towing capacity up to 7,000 pounds, regardless of configuration. The highest payload rating for the V6 model is 1,560 pounds with the crew cab body, the short bed, and 2WD. The new 2.8-liter Duramax diesel engine will arrive for the 2016 model year (fall of 2015). That model will tow 7,700 pounds with 2WD and 7,600 pounds with 4WD.chevroletcolorado gmccanyon
  • Nissan Titan: The outgoing generation of the Nissan Titan is old. It hasn’t had any updates since it’s release in 2004. That’s why Nissan is selling the new generation of the truck next year. In the meantime, this generation of Titan is a perfectly good work truck. The Titan King Cab S 4X2 has a maximum payload of 2,102 pounds and can tow up to 7,400 pounds. That’s more than enough for most people. The truth is, if you need to tow and haul more, step up to a heavy duty pickup. Should you need to tow more, the Titan King Cab SV can tow up to 9,500 pounds, but payload drops a little bit to 2,053 pounds. The Titan is outdated, and it shows. The interior looks like it’s from the 1990s, but the powertrain is punchy and the truck handles itself well for something it’s size.nissantitan
  • Chevrolet Silverado/GMC Sierra: The Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra are true workhorses. Getting a Regular Cab model with the long bed will net you a very good work truck for not very much money. In addition, the 4.3-liter V6 that comes standard with these trucks makes 297 horsepower and 330 lb-ft of torque. That’s more than some V8s! In fact, it produces the most torque of any V6 engine in any pickup truck! The Silverado and Sierra can haul 1,980 pounds and tow 5,900 pounds in this configuration. Should you need a V8, the 5.3-liter V8 is a very good choice. It increases the tow rating all the way up to 9,800 pounds without sacrificing any hauling capacity.chevroletsilverado gmcsierra
  • Toyota Tundra: Toyota has several Tundra models, but a 2WD regular cab with the long bed and the optional 5.7-liter V8 has the highest payload rating of 2,080 pounds. It can also tow 10,500 pounds. That’s what heavy-duty pickups were rated to tow five or six years ago! No matter how else you spec out this truck, this combination is the strongest.toyotatundra
  • Ram 1500: Long one of my favorite trucks, the Ram 1500 is a fine looking work truck. It’s got sharp, clean lines. It doesn’t look big and blocky like the current Ford F150. In it’s most basic configuration, it can haul 1,900 pounds of whatever you want in it’s long bed. If you get the available 3.55:1 rear end gear ratio, it can tow a whopping 7,280 pounds! Step up to the available 5.7-liter HEMI V8 to tow 10,650 pounds, but payload will drop slightly to 1,720 pounds. If fuel economy matters more than towing and hauling capacities, get the Ram 1500 EcoDiesel. The small diesel engine delivers in spades. The maximum payload rating for the EcoDiesel engine and the 3.92:1 rear end gear ratio is 1,500 pounds, and it can tow 9,200 pounds. That’s still more than most people will ever use.ram1500
  • Ford F150: While the Ford F-Series Super Duty is one serious work truck, most people don’t need something that heavy duty. The new Ford F150 shows promise. The F150 XL Regular Cab with the long bed and the standard 3.5-liter V6 is an affordable lighter-duty work truck. It can haul 1,910 pounds and tow 7,600 pounds. If you need to step up a bit, the F150 comes with an optional 5.0-liter V8. With this engine, it can haul 3,300 pounds and tow 11,100 pounds. If you want to get turbochargers with your F150, get the F150 with the 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6. It can haul 3,270 pounds and tow an insane 12,200 pounds.fordf150
  • Chevrolet Silverado 3500HD/GMC Sierra 3500HD: These heavy-duty twins offer more bed/cab/engine transmission combinations than McDonald’s does with their happy meals. A 4WD 3500HD Regular Cab with the long bed, dual rear wheels, and the Duramax diesel V8 can tow 23,200 pounds from a fifth wheel hitch in the bed, or 16,000 pounds from a standard bumper receiver. It can also haul 5,817 pounds in the bed. If you don’t tow very often with a fifth wheel, but do tow a lot with the standard receiver, you should go with the aforementioned model, but with a Crew Cab. That model can tow 19,600 pounds with the standard receiver or a still-impressive 22,600 pounds from the fifth wheel. Payload for that model is rated at 5,205 pounds. If all you care about is hauling stuff in the bed, get a 2WD Regular Cab with the long bed, dual rear wheels and the 6.0-liter gasoline-powered V8. That model can haul 7,374 pounds and still tow 14,200 pounds with either hitch.chevroletsilveradohd gmcsierrahd
  • Ram 3500 Heavy Duty: The Ram 3500 Heavy Duty Regular Cab 2WD with dual rear wheels and the 6.7-liter Cummins diesel inline six cylinder engine can tow 30,000 pounds. Payload for that model is a respectable 6,580 pounds. The 2016 model (I’ve been talking about the 2015) can tow as much as 31,200 pounds. Going from the diesel engine to the 6.4-liter HEMI V8 will diminish towing capacity to 16,520 pounds. However, payload capacity goes all the way up to 7,390 pounds.ram3500
  • Ford F-Series Super Duty: If all you want to do is tow, go for the Ford F450, which delivers in spades. The monster comes in one configuration only: Crew Cab, long bed, dual rear wheels, 4WD and the 6.7-liter Power Stroke turbodiesel V8. It can tow 19,000 pounds from the standard receiver and 31,200 pounds from the fifth wheel. It can also haul 5,450 pounds. For those who don’t care as much about towing, but hauling is more important, there is an F-Series Super Duty for you. The 2WD F350 Regular Cab with a long bed and dual rear wheels can haul 7,260 pounds. It doesn’t matter if you get the 6.2-liter gasoline-powered V8, or the Power Stroke if you want to tow – it will tow 12,500 pounds from a standard receiver.fordf450 fordf350

You know that automotive technology has advanced so far that you realize that when you throw around terms like “respectable” for trucks that can tow and haul massive amounts of whatever you want! Tell me your choice of truck, and if you have one of these trucks! If you’re in the market for a new work truck, I hope that this list helped you narrow it down somewhat!