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First Drive: 2019 Nissan Altima

One very good reason why the sedan isn’t ready to die.

by Paul A. Eisenstein on Sep.28, 2018

For 2019, the new Nissan Altima will be offered in a heavily equipped First Edition trim.

The sedan is dead. Long live the sedan. Or so goes what currently passes for conventional wisdom, backed by the decision to slash the number of four-door models, indeed, eliminate them entirely at Ford Motor Co.

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But I have seen the future and it is not an entirely SUV and CUV-driven world. If the complete makeover that is the 2019 Nissan Altima is any indication, there’s a clear place for sedans for the foreseeable future. And among the many new features that would seem to make the Altima a natural alternative for Snowbelt buyers who might really want a more conventional set of wheels: Altima marks the first time Nissan is offering all-wheel-drive in one of its sedans. That is, in fact, a relatively rare feature among mainstream four-doors, and not available on segment leaders Toyota Camry and Honda Accord.

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First Drive: 2019 Subaru Ascent…Proving Bigger is Better

The Japanese automaker learns its lesson with all-new three-row SUV.

by Paul A. Eisenstein on May.23, 2018

The Subaru Ascent's X Mode is able to handle a wide variety of conditions, including wet sand.

An hour-some outside of Portland, as you head for the rugged Oregon coast, you’ll pass through the quaint old town of McMinnville. It’s known, it seems, for three things: walnuts, the annual Alien Festival – which celebrates a local farmer’s alleged encounter with a UFO – and the Evergreen Air and Space Museum. Dwarfing an indoor football stadium, the star of the collection is the legendary Spruce Goose, among the biggest aircraft ever built.

With eight radial engines mounted across its 321-foot wingspan, the 220 foot-long “Flying Lumberyard” was designed as a troop transport able to squeeze in nearly 800 soldiers on a trans-Atlantic flight. There are times when having plenty of passenger space, it seems comes in handy – something we had in mind before heading to McMinnville for a couple days to drive the all-new Subaru Ascent.

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While dwarfed by what was officially known as the H-4 flying boat, the 2019 Ascent is the Japanese automaker’s biggest offering yet, capable of seating up to eight passengers in a good bit more comfort than soldiers would have experienced had the Spruce Goose ever gone into service. Equally important, it has the styling and features that were sorely lacking when Subaru launched its first three-row model, the ungainly B4 Tribeca back in 2005.

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First Drive: 2018 Toyota Camry

Toyota aims for a younger buyer with the 2018 Camry, but what will the faithful think?

by Larry Printz on Jun.21, 2017

Coming at you: Toyota has more gas and hybrid variants to choose from with the 2018 Camry.

Here’s a question for you: how many redesigned sedans have been launched over the last two or three years, and what are they? It’s something Jack Hollis, Toyota Division general manager, asked last week as journalists gathered for the first drive of the completely redesigned Toyota Camry.

“Nothing really stands out,” he said during the event in Oregon. “If you’re a sedan buyer, what are you getting excited about? The new truck, the new crossover the new SUV.”

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It’s a concern for Hollis and his employer as Toyota gets ready to launch the fully redesigned midsized sedan later this year. The Camry has been the number one-selling passenger car in the U.S for 19 of the past 20 years, while more than 18 million have been sold worldwide since its launch in 1982. Yet Toyota hasn’t been exempt from the sudden shift in buyer preference, as 63 percent of U.S. car buyers opt for trucks, SUVs, and crossovers rather than passenger cars.

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Snowbound: Dodge Challenger GT Weathers the Storm

Testing out the new 2017 AWD muscle coupe.

by Paul A. Eisenstein on Jan.31, 2017

Dashing through the snow...a 2017 Dodge Challenger GT takes a run.

There’s nothing unusual about lining up a Dodge Challenger at the start of a quarter-mile drag strip; the muscle coupe was born to race. Nothing unusual, that is, unless there’s a half-foot of snow on the ground.

But that’s where we found ourselves recently, getting ready to put pedal to metal to see how the 2017 Challenger would handle. Of course, we had one thing working in our favor: this was the new, all-wheel-drive edition of the Dodge muscle car, the 2017 Dodge Challenger GT.

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Dodge has already put its AWD system in the Challenger’s sibling, the Charger, so we had a sense of what to expect, but the 2017 Challenger GT proved itself with aplomb during a couple days up in the snow and ice of Maine and New Hampshire, with plenty of time on public roads, as well as on a track normally closed for the season.

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First Drive: 2017 Genesis G90

Big car, big ambitions.

by Paul A. Eisenstein on Aug.16, 2016

The 2017 Genesis G90 will take on such lofty competitors as the BMW 7- and Mercedes S-Class.

Say the name, “Hyundai,” and most folks are likely to think of a small econocar like the original Excel, or perhaps something a little larger and more modern, such as the Sonata. And that’s the problem the Korean carmaker has been struggling with as it has tried pushing into the luxury market with offerings like the Genesis and Equus sedans.

No wonder, then, that Hyundai decided to reverse course last year, announcing plans to launch a separate luxury brand that could more directly be positioned against established high-line competitors like BMW, Lexus and Mercedes-Benz.

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The all-new Genesis brand made its debut earlier this year with the launch of the G80, a modestly updated version of the Hyundai Genesis sedan targeted against the likes of the BMW 5-Series and Mercedes E-Class. But now, the Koreans are set to put a halo around the new marque with the roll-out of the big Genesis G90. And we jumped at the chance to take the premium luxury sedan for several hundred miles of driving through the gorgeous mountains outside of Vancouver, British Columbia.

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First Look: Mercedes-AMG GT R

Green Hell from Stuttgart.

by Paul A. Eisenstein on Jun.27, 2016

A bright green bat out of hell, the GT R.

Ever since Mercedes-Benz rolled out the GT sports car a couple years back, we’ve been expecting a few variants, the typical modus operandi for the Schwabian automaker. Now, it seems, we’ll soon be getting a flood of them, including the recently introduced GT S, a “base” model due next year and, shortly after that, the Mercedes-AMG GT R that made its debut at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in England over the weekend.

Able to launch from 0 to 60 in a mere 3.5 seconds – about 0.2 seconds faster than the 2016 GT S model – you might be tempted to call it a bat out of hell. So, appropriately enough, Mercedes is introducing the new GT R with a new paint scheme called Green Hell Magno.

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Beyond that blinding hue, you’ll be able to distinguish the new Mercedes-AMG GT R from other versions of the two-seater thanks to new, widebody trim that adds about two inches in width to the more mundane versions of the GT.

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First Drive: 2016 BMW 640i xDrive Gran Coupe

A Bavarian snowmobile

by Brian Armstead on Mar.04, 2016

Definitely not the Autobahn.

When you live in Maryland, USA in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. you get four true seasons each year.  Note to Mother Nature:  You can have winter back.  This year’s treacherous winter was epitomized by “Snowmageddon” a Nor’easter fired storm that dropped 36 inches of snow in my immediate area, and paralyzed the Eastern Seaboard from the Carolinas to New England.

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Obviously overwhelmed, it took local authorities three days to begin digging out the roads in my small community.  Luckily, after my trusty snowblower cleared the driveway, my test 2016 BMW 640i Gran Coupe was at the ready.  I know, I know, BMW’s are not normally known for snow and ice prowess, but this Bimmer was outfitted with xDrive, BMW’s high-tech All-Wheel Drive system.

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First Drive: 2017 Cadillac CT6

Shooting to become the “standard of the world”…again.

by Paul A. Eisenstein on Jan.26, 2016

The 2017 Cadillac CT6 will run from around $60,000 to $88,000 for a loaded Platinum edition.

We’ve seen some intriguing entries from Cadillac in recent years, such as the third-generation CTS and the smaller ATS line. But it’s been a seeming lifetime since the Detroit luxury brand could lay honest claim to being the “standard of the world.”

Now that it’s moved its headquarters to New York and laid down plans to roll out a procession of new models, might General Motors’ flagship brand finally be back on the right road? If any new model gives us an indication of where Cadillac is heading, it’s got to be the new CT6 sedan.

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Yes, the name is confusing, as it signals plans to tweak the brand’s alphanumeric model designations — again. But don’t get hung up on the name. The 2017 Cadillac CT6 is the maker’s first new offering we’ve seen in years that serves up an unabashed challenge to dominant import luxury marques like Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Lexus. (more…)

First Drive: 2016 Toyota Prius

New look, new suspension - great mileage and moderate improvements to ride.

by Paul A. Eisenstein on Nov.23, 2015

The top-line Toyota Prius Four Touring model starts at $30,000 plus delivery fees.

In an era when so many cars have a tendency to look alike, the Toyota Prius has been an unabashed, if somewhat geeky, standout. Of course, it’s what’s below the skin that really makes the difference. The Prius was the world’s first hybrid-electric vehicle when it made its debut in Japan in 1997 and, ever since, it has overwhelmingly dominated that segment worldwide.

But times have changed, and the third-generation Toyota Prius has been losing a lot of sales momentum this year. There are several reasons why, perhaps most notably the sharp slide in fuel prices that has reduced demand for all “green” vehicles. But there are other factors, among other things that geeky design and the less than thrilling ride offered by the old Prius.

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And those are issues Toyota has set out to address with the fourth-generation hybrid. The 2016 Toyota Prius gets a complete, top-to-bottom makeover: new skin, a new platform, a new independent rear suspension — and an updated Hybrid Synergy Drive system that delivers as much as 10% better mileage.

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First Drive: 2016 Honda Civic Sedan

Pushing beyond mainstream.

by Paul A. Eisenstein on Oct.19, 2015

Longer, lower, roomier. Honda's 2016 Civic.

Honda delivered one of the year’s biggest surprises when it pulled the wraps off an all-new version of the compact Civic at the New York Auto Show last April. The Honda Civic has been a perennial best-seller, but it was nonetheless a major surprise to see the Japanese maker unveil an all-new version barely four years after the current model made its debut.

If anything, Honda seems intent on proving that Civic’s ongoing success is more than a fluke. The outgoing, gen-nine model took some initial heat for its lackluster styling and less than inspiring on-road dynamics, forcing the maker to rush an “emergency refresh to market barely a year later to maintain Civic’s momentum.

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The NY debut revealed a striking design loaded with new features meant to push the 2016 Honda Civic up against the boundaries of what might normally be considered “mainstream.” But to find out how it actually felt behind the wheel, we set off for Los Angele a few weeks ago to get a first drive of the new sedan.

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