2018 Nissan Kicks SR – A Car For The Youth

Car manufacturers have always tried to appeal to younger generations by making vehicles that in theory should peak their interest for when they buy their first car. Most notably, the Kia Soul was marketed to young drivers in urban areas and was practical and affordable, but an argument could be made that the hamster ads may not have hit the right tone.

If we take a look at recent history with car brands that are trying to reach the younger generations, small, affordable, “cool”, and somewhat tech oriented cars seem to be the main selling points. Manufacturers tend to fail when trying to capitalize on young consumers, and a lot of that has to do with appearance. The Kia Soul was never really much of a looker, and neither was the Scion iA and iB. So with that in mind, did Nissan come up with a vehicle that looks good, is reasonably priced, and has at least an acceptable amount of cool factor to make the all new Nissan Kicks a success?

What if I told you that for less than $25k you could get a bird’s eye view camera to help with parallel parking, heated front seats, a 7″ touch screen with Apple Car Play and Android Auto compatibility, two speakers in the headrest for the driver, and class leading rear cargo room, at least that’s what Nissan claims. This tiny CUV is the epitome of a college student or graduate living off campus or in a city with on street parking. Its road presence isn’t outrageous enough where you’re grabbing attention for all the wrong reasons, and it’s not boxy so you don’t feel like you’re driving a refrigerator around town.

For performance the Nissan Kicks will get a 1.6L four cylinder engine that gets 125 hp and 115 lb ft of torque. One of the downsides with the Kicks is the CVT transmission. Another minor issue is that you won’t have the option to get AWD, but competitors in the Kicks’ class also come standard with FWD. For fuel economy Nissan says you’ll get about 31 mpg in the city and 36 mpg on the highway. Obviously you won’t be breaking any speed records in this CUV, which is why its main purpose to be a practical vehicle for consumers who spend most of their time in the city.

Buyers will have their choice of colors, including a few two-toned exterior options to really give the Kicks a young and hip look. Just from appearance alone, Nissan is moving in the right direction when it comes to small CUV’s for millennials. The Honda HR-V and Toyota CH-R are a bit unconventional, and truthfully not that appealing to look at. Despite the Kicks being built on the Nissan Versa platform, it doesn’t have that dreaded look of being a rental car. On the flip side, even though the Kicks isn’t replacing the Juke which will no longer be sold in the US, some Juke loyalists may not approve of the new CUV, but it appears that Nissan is more focused on reaching a wider consumer group.

One thing to keep in mind with the trend in small CUV’s is that car brands are really trying to provide as much value for the price. For under $25k consumers are getting quite a lot. Ok, so there’s no power seats, moonroof, or any really luxury features, but in a segment that’s more economical than most, the Nissan Kicks fills its role well. At the very least, it’s more conservative in design than many small cars that came before it, and if Nissan stays away from hamsters in their ads, the Kicks could be a huge hit with younger consumers.

2018 Volkswagen Passat V6 GT – Is It A Sports Sedan?

Since 2011 the Volkswagen Passat’s design hasn’t changed much, and while some might consider the appearance, both inside and out, a bit outdated, at least VW continues to offer a V6 engine. In a time when turbocharged four cylinder engines dominate the mid-size sedan market, there’s very few that come with a traditional V6. The closest competitor that comes to mind is the Toyota Camry XSE; a car that boasts a 301 hp V6 engine. Despite slightly less horsepower, the Passat GT undercuts the Camry in price by $6k – $9k, giving consumers an affordable option if the four cylinder Passat and Jetta just isn’t enough.

For performance, the 2018 Passat GT comes with a 3.6L VR6 engine that gets 280 hp and 258 lb ft of torque, and is paired with a 6 speed dual clutch automatic transmission. A 0-60 time of 5.8 seconds is right in line with the Toyota Camry XSE, Honda Accord Sport 2.0, and Chevy Malibu Premier 2.0. Some of the slight differences compared to the other Passat trims is that the GT is lowered by 0.6 inches and gets 19 inch Tornado design wheels. It also comes with the more aggressive R-Line front and rear bumpers, black roof, black mirror caps, and two-tone leatherette seats with contrast stitching. A GTI-inspired front grille will set the GT apart from other Passats, and when combining that full appearance package with LED front headlights and tail lights, the Passat looks more refined and sporty.

Volkswagen has marketed the V6 GT as an “American-born Sports Sedan”, which has led automotive journalists to test out cornering, straight-line performance, and braking in their reviews of the car. While VW has stiffened the suspension on the GT, it’s not a sports sedan, which is perfectly ok. I think many have misinterpreted or completely missed the point of the V6 GT, and instead of looking at it as a competitor to a Dodge Charger or any other sports sedans on the market today, it’s a step up from the four cylinder Passat, and may even be perceived as a more grownup VW GTI.

From the appearance alone, the GT trim has some design cues from the GTI and I can’t help but feel that Volkswagen is indirectly trying to appeal to the GTI owners who are ready to move on from the hatchback. The GTI is often associated with younger car enthusiasts who most likely don’t have a family of their own yet, but for those who do, it might be time to size up and that’s where the Passat GT comes into play. Let’s be honest, on a Saturday afternoon you most likely aren’t taking a Passat to the track, which is why this car fills the role of being a mid-size sedan you can have some fun in, while also being a good daily driver. On the other hand, Volkswagen has gone all in on the R-Line, which is why it could also be possible that introducing the Passat to a more sporty appearance is part of the plan to provide a whole new look to all models in the VW lineup.

Stepping inside you’re greeted by 8 way power adjustable heated two-toned leatherette seats. You’ll find faux carbon fiber trim on the dashboard, which I personally think is a nice touch. My only complaint, and a lot of this has to do with my time in the redesigned 2019 Volkswagen Jetta SEL Premium, is that there’s no digital information display. But again the GT is only an additional $2k more, so the upgrade in size and horsepower evenly balances out the downgrade in technology available and that’s something I could live with. You’ll get a 6.3 inch touchscreen with Apple Car Play and Android Auto compatibility, and it’s a very straight forward system to use.

Volkswagen Passat V6 GT
Volkswagen Passat V6 GT interior

In the back, passengers will get a lot of legroom as the Passat is one of the leaders in its segment in this category. For rear cargo space you’ll get 16 cubic ft of cargo room.

Some of the safety features that come standard on the Passat GT is a rear backup camera, blindspot monitoring, Forward Collision Warning and Autonomous Emergency Braking.

Overall the Volkswagen Passat V6 GT is a product of it’s time. With Toyota going more sporty with the Camry XSE and Honda having the Accord 2.0 Sport, VW had to respond to the growing trend in sport oriented mid-size sedans. We could debate for a while on whether the GT is the grownup GTI and whether that was even Volkswagen’s intention, but when a brand adds a sports appearance package that’s reminiscent of a popular model in the lineup and combines that with a V6 engine that could certainly grab the attention of maturing car enthusiasts, it’s definitely something worth noting.

Also with an aging design, Volkswagen had to bring something new to the table. Keep in mind, the all new Arteon will be hitting showrooms sometime in the fall, and seeing that VW is pushing the R-Line appearance package on the Passat and Jetta, the GT could be a sign of things to come for all models in the lineup from the German automaker.

Chevrolet Corvette C7 Z51 – An Exotic For The Everyman

Ask most car enthusiasts what their dream cars are, and a majority of them will answer with Lamborghini, Ferrari, or McLaren. These exotics are the driving force for many people to pursue endeavors and to push themselves to greater heights. On the path to success, sometimes the Ferrari has to wait, but that doesn’t mean you have to settle or feel discouraged. The Chevrolet Corvette C7 Z51 is the exotic that has a similar price tag to a new Audi A4 and will give you the same enjoyment and smiles as any $100k+ Italian exotic.

Priced around $50k for a used Z51 and a price tag of just over $60k for a 2019 model, you’ll get a 6.2L V8 engine that gets 460 hp and 465 lb ft of torque that is paired with your choice of a manual or automatic transmission. A 0-60 time of 3.8 seconds will certainly keep up with other high performance cars on the road, and if you’re on a cruise with a great group of friends you won’t be getting left behind.

What is it about the Chevrolet Corvette that sets it apart from the Dodge Challenger Hellcat, Chevy Camaro, and Ford Mustang? It could be argued that in this day and age, 460 hp is nothing special, especially when the Hellcat comes with 707 hp. The C7 generation has brought exotic styling that right now is unmatched by other American auto manufactures, as the Dodge Viper is no longer in production and the Ford GT is far too expensive for the average consumer. While the Z06 has almost 200 more horsepower than the Z51, it’s the price that may be a stretch for most car enthusiasts, but the Z51 is that perfect balance that allows anyone to get behind the wheel of a car that can perform at supercar levels.

Chevrolet has always preserved it’s heritage with the Corvette, no matter how many changes they’ve made over the years. The Corvette is still the symbol of an American muscle car that any hard working American can step inside and have fun the minute they take to the streets. I’ve always felt that out of the muscle cars, the Corvette was the classy choice for a middle aged adult, but the C7 design has brought much more to the table that now appeals to a generation that is obsessed with exotics.

Adding to that appeal, the Z51 can be customized with Z06 appearance packages, and unless the people you drive by are knowledgeable about cars, from far away it could easily be mistaken for a Z06. Out of the box, the stock exhaust that comes with the Z51 sounds absolutely incredible. A few years ago SaabKyle filmed a Pure Sound video for the 2016 Chevrolet Corvette Z51, and if those 10 minutes don’t sell you, nothing will.

In an era of high horsepower numbers and exotic cars with striking looks that turn heads, the Corvette brings both and won’t clean out your entire bank account. In my eyes, the C7 is the last remaining american muscle car that in terms of looks, fits right in when cruising with Ferrari’s, Lamborghini’s and McLaren’s. Even better, it’s significantly cheaper, making the Z51 the perfect car to introduce you to high performance exotics.

The lifecycle of the C7 Corvette is coming to a close, but in a few decades, we will look back on this car as being a classic from our generation. Chevrolet got it right, and whether you own one today or 20 years from now, this car will always look great!

5 Reasons Why The Volkswagen GTI is the Perfect Car For Young Enthusiasts

For many car enthusiasts like myself, finding the perfect car can be extremely challenging. You want something cool and fast that will turn heads, but for some, you also have to be practical and live within your means. This is a problem many of us face, as you may have to compromise and try finding a perfect balance where you can have fun but also have a car that can be daily driven year round. Of course, this means cars that were once on your radar have been eliminated, and now it comes down to finding the best option available.

The Volkswagen GTI, whether you’re in the market for a new or used vehicle, is one of the best examples of a car that satisfies the needs of enthusiasts, but is also functional for everyday use. Here’s 5 reasons why the Volkswagen GTI is the perfect car for enthusiasts looking to join a car scene while also having a daily driver.

Overall Practicality

If you’re living on a budget, you’re most likely not going to be that guy who has more than one vehicle in his garage, so focusing on sports cars that are great for car season but not the winter certainly isn’t an option. You’ll also probably be looking for something with a decent amount of cargo room and maybe even a car that’s fuel efficient. The Volkswagen GTI checks off all the boxes for practicality, as 25 mpg in the city and 33 mpg on the highway is going to keep you away from the pump when traveling to car events or cruising on the weekends with a group of friends.

For rear cargo space, you’ll initially get 17 cubic ft of cargo room, but your max volume capacity is 54 cubic ft, which is one of advantages of going with a hatchback. When speaking of a daily driver, the GTI functions as a normal compact car and in the winter, a good set of winter tires will get you through even the worst New England snowstorms.

Affordability

The GTI is one of those cars that’s affordable both new or used. For a base model 2018 GTI S you’re looking at a price tag of around $26k-$28k. If you’re like me, you’re probably leaning more towards certified used unless you have every intention of modifying your car that could void your warranty depending on what you have in mind. The sweet spot for used seems to be in the $15k-$19k range.

Gets You Into Car Events

Obviously, one of the points in buying a sports or performance car is to become part of the community. A concern some new members may have is whether their car is unique enough to get in. What’s interesting about the Volkswagen GTI is that even when fully stock, it’s welcomed with open arms, and that’s because of the admiration many enthusiasts have for the hatchback, which is something we’ll get into in a minute. So if you don’t have any initial plans to modify the GTI as soon as you get your hands on one, you’re not going to be rejected when showing up to a local event.

Enthusiastic Group of Owners

When looking for the vehicle that will introduce you to the car scene, one aspect that often gets overlooked is the sub community that is created by a very enthusiastic group of owners for a particular model or brand. Some cars more than others have a great community that helps each other out, offers advice on modifications both esthetically and performance, and also hosts their own events that’s based on the cars they own.

The Volkswagen GTI has some of the most passionate owners I’ve ever met, and what’s great about this hatchback is that there’s a variety of mods that can be done to make your car perform and look better. Having a great group of fellow owners around you or even in a Facebook group page is going to give you ideas on how to make your GTI unique.

Understated Performance

For the 2015 model year, Volkswagen began offering 210 hp and 220 hp turbocharged four cylinder engines that come with an eye opening 258 lb ft of torque which is a significant increase from the MK6 generation. The MK7 also has a lot of potential through modifications, which could make the GTI a sleeper to an unsuspecting driver you pass by on the highway. Even at completely stock, you won’t be get left behind by other cars in your class, unless they have performance upgrades.

The Potential Is There For Toyota To Be A Fun Brand

For almost the past 20 years, Toyota has been looked upon as being the reliable, safe, and least fun brand in the automotive industry. Appealing to the average consumer rather than giving at least some attention to car enthusiasts can either be seen as smart from a business perspective, or a mistake by not creating an excitement that would extend to all car buyers. From an enthusiast’s perspective, utter the word “Toyota”, and there’s two cars that come to mind. The Supra and the Prius. Vehicles from two different extremes and eras, marked as either a car most recognized from Fast and Furious, or the hybrid that’s the bane of car lovers existences.

Toyota has made attempts through commercials the past three years to seem more exciting, as they released an ad for the Camry where two brothers are racing on the streets of Monaco. At the time, it didn’t make any sense why a brand that’s not recognized as being race oriented in the United States outside of Nascar, would try to change the direction of a brand despite the vehicles being no different than their predecessors. That all changed late last year with the introduction of the 2018 Toyota Camry XSE, and since then the brand that brought us the Supra and MR2 seems to be heading into 2020 with the potential of being a very fun and exciting automotive manufacturer once again.

2018 Toyota Camry XSE
2018 Toyota Camry XSE

Starting with the Camry XSE, Toyota surprisingly stuck with a V6 engine that gets 301 hp instead of following rival brands who are moving in the direction of turbocharged 4 cylinder engines. The XSE trim also comes with an optional two-toned exterior and red sports seats, which just feels really out of character for a Toyota vehicle. The only drawback is that fully loaded, the Camry’s price is around $40k, which many consumers have voiced their discontent as they believe it’s too high of a cost.

Around the same time the new Camry was hitting showrooms, Toyota added the GT86 to the brand, which was formally known as the Scion FR-S. A small coupe that has a cult following, it’s actually a fun and attainable car for young enthusiasts, and adding to the appeal is the list of aftermarket parts and modifications that can be done to the GT86 to enhance performance and appearance. Honestly, this little coupe is a throwback to what JDM culture was all about in the 90’s. I would never go as far to say that it’s this decade’s Honda Civic, but the GT86 does give you that sense of being a pure Japanese compact sports coupe.

Back in late March at the New York Auto Show, Toyota unveiled the all new Corolla hatchback which will come with an optional manual transmission. At this point, their vision for the next few years is becoming more clear as boring may no longer be an adjective associated with the brand. A few minutes later, the re-designed RAV4 was also unveiled and that’s when the energy in the room was lifted to a whole new level.

The new RAV4 is much more rugged than last generation, taking on the appearance of the Highlander, which was a very smart move by Toyota. For 2018 and beyond, crossovers are no longer just a family vehicle as the automotive industry is moving towards bringing either sporty or off-road elements to a segment that is actually quite bland. Toyota decided to go with more of the off-road look, which is a jab at Jeep. They’re also setting themselves apart from Ford, GM, and Honda who really haven’t drastically changed the styling of their crossovers. While it could be perceived as a major risk, Toyota could certainly be a legitimate player in stealing market share from rival brands in the crossover segment.

Lastly we have the long awaited arrival of the Toyota Supra which details have been leaked pertaining to performance and pricing. The new Supra is rumored to get a turbocharged inline 6 that gets 335 hp and 369 lb ft of torque, with a 0-60 time of around 4.5 seconds. Unfortunately as we all feared, it’s not going to be cheap. From the leaks, a starting price of $63,500 is to be expected. We won’t find out for sure until the 2019 Detroit Auto Show, but to know that the Supra is making a return is definitely something to look forward to.

The last 10-12 months for Toyota has certainly been exciting. Unfolding in front of our eyes the emergence of an auto brand that was once looked at as being dull or not cool to now being rather interesting and also a bit of a mystery. What is Toyota’s long term vision and plan? Is sports cars something we can expect from the brand moving forward, or is this a five year window of hope and change but then will fizzle out by the time we get closer to 2025? There’s so many questions that haven’t yet been answered, but for the time being, let’s take in the complete shift in culture at Toyota and enjoy every minute of it.

Is the Four Door Sedan A Thing of the Past?

With the recent announcement that Ford will cut the Taurus, Fusion, and Fiesta from their lineup starting in 2020 to focus more on crossovers and SUV’s, the direction of the automotive industry is becoming clearer. In the last 2 to 3 years, car brands have continued to grow their crossover lineups while transitioning to emerging segments such as the gran coupe and sportback. Despite the negative feedback that Honda has received with the redesigned Accord, it’s apparent that even in failure, automakers are experimenting with new designs that maximizes overall practicality when it comes to four door sedans.

Honda’s risk taking may have been too much for their consumers, but Kia is reaping the benefits of the all new Stinger. In the few short months since its arrival to car dealerships, The Stinger outsold the Audi A5/S5 Sportback and BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe. This segment has continued to grow which is slowly beginning to influence car brands to start adding sportbacks to their lineups. If the all new Mercedes Benz AMG GT63S isn’t enough proof that gran coupes and sportbacks are the future of four door cars, maybe the Porsche Panamera or Audi RS5 Sportback is.

When did this all begin? It’s a question that many have begun to ask themselves, and it’s difficult to pinpoint an exact timeframe when sedans were slowly getting phased out. This goes far beyond the emergence of crossovers, as 2018 is seeing a resurgence in station wagons. The Buick Regal TourX was one vehicle that certainly raised eyebrows, as it’s the first station wagon in a GM lineup in two decades. Volvo’s V90 and V60 along with Jaguar’s XF S Sportbrake and Mercedes Benz E-Class Wagon are bringing luxury and performance to the segment, and at the same time are offering an alternative to crossovers.

Then there’s the hatchbacks. Toyota’s all new Corolla hatchback impressed many at the New York Auto Show when it was unveiled in late March. Chevrolet added a hatchback variant for the Cruze which is already in dealership’s showrooms. The Ford Focus and Volkswagen Golf and GTI are hot sellers, which also offer performance trims to appeal to a younger market. These vehicles add practicality and styling, making compact sedans almost obsolete.

Lastly we have the newest trend and segment, which is the compact crossover. This includes the all new Hyundai Kona and Volvo XC40. They’re bigger than compact sedans, have more cargo room, and are more practical. When it comes to sedans they’re getting hit from all angles, not just from crossovers, so fingers can’t be pointed in one direction.

When taking a step back, it does appear that we’re seeing the slow demise of the traditional four door sedan. However, there are many car brands that haven’t made any plans to go in the same direction as Ford, at least for the time being.

Before getting too somber or overreacting to the changes we’re seeing in the automotive world, there’s been highs and lows throughout the last 30-40 years. Large American cars were replaced by small imports and German luxury vehicles in the 90’s and when the recession hit in 2008, SUV’s were dealt a difficult blow. Now with a stable economy, consumers are gravitating towards crossovers that provide practicality, but are not necessarily the most economical. Everything happens in waves and trends. Station wagons were once cool in the United States and then disappeared for a while. Sedans may be going through the same situation.

If there’s any silver lining at the end of the day, car brands are offering performance crossovers. Twenty years ago consumers would trade in their sports cars for minivans and SUVs when they started having families, which ended the days of having fun behind the wheel. With the Porsche Macan, Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrofolio and Maserati Levante, you can still be cool even at the drop off line at your children’s school.

BMW 3 Series vs BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe – Why the 4 Series Is Better

I’m never one to get caught up in the slight upgrades, face lifts, and body designs when it comes to comparing consumer vehicles, but for the BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe I’ve been hooked since it’s arrival to showrooms. In an automotive segment that has seen an increase in competition, the gran coupe/sportback is without a doubt the most interesting market for 2018. BMW made the first move with the 4 Series Gran Coupe, shortly after Audi followed suit with the A5 Sportback, and then Kia comes out of nowhere with the Stinger which has taken the segment by storm, outselling their competition in a few short months.

Despite Audi’s recent unveiling of the all new RS5 Sportback at the New York Auto Show and the Kia Stinger GT which offers a twin turbo V6 engine that gets 365 hp, the BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe continues to grab my attention. While it may be outperformed on the track or in a straight line by the quicker S5 Sportback and Stinger GT, the Gran Coupe provides style, luxury, and class that I can’t ignore.

When parking it next to a BMW 3 Series, the minor changes in the front facia are enough to make a big difference. It has the front end of a 4 Series coupe, and when walking around the side of the vehicle, the sloping sportback design cues makes the car look so much better. Recently, a friend received a 430i Gran Coupe loaner vehicle, and no matter what angle we were standing at, the car still looked good.

BMW 430i Gran Coupe
BMW 430i Gran Coupe

Personally, it’s not about the performance or even the style that I find appealing. It’s the fact that the 4 Series is a viable option if the 3 Series isn’t enough car for your tastes. For instance, the 330i sedan and 430i Gran Coupe overlap in price point, and if you’re willing to sacrifice a few optional features then the Gran Coupe comes into play for your next vehicle. For the same price tag, choosing the Gran Coupe will increase cargo volume and overall interior space which gives it a more than entry level luxury feel, and that’s what I believe BMW is trying to achieve here.

There’s no difference in fuel economy or engine size so you’re not sacrificing anything in terms of practicality. Optional features and packages however are a different story. The 430i Gran Coupe offers the Track Handling Package which provides Variable Sports Steering, M Sport Brakes, and Adaptive Sports Suspension, along with the ability to upgrade to 19″ wheels with all-season or performance run-flat tires. Additional safety features includes the optional side and top view cameras to aid in parking. It’s these small things that really make the Gran Coupe more appealing, especially since it’s in the same price range as the 330i. To receive any of these features on the 3 Series, you’ll have to upgrade to the 340i, and with that being said, we would then have to start looking at the 440i Gran Coupe as well.

For car enthusiasts, the 340i would probably be the better option because of the optional 6 speed manual transmission. However, the Gran Coupe would get additional points for luxury and class, and obviously consumers looking for comfort and additional size would gravitate more towards the 4 Series.

When it comes to performance, you’ll get 248 hp with the 430i and 320 hp on the 440i. Again, the Gran Coupe won’t be taking on the S5 Sportback or Stinger GT in a race, but if horsepower isn’t a priority you’ll still have fun behind the wheel of the 4 Series. One thing to remember is that for the time being, the Gran Coupe doesn’t have an M variant, whereas the 4 Series coupe and 3 Series do. BMW isn’t trying to take on Audi or Kia in this particular segment, and instead is focusing more on the comfort and driving experience for consumers.

Overall, what competitors are putting on dealerships’ lots doesn’t effect my thoughts, good or bad pertaining to the 4 Series Gran Coupe. As a daily driver, it offers everything consumers are looking for. Having driven the Audi A5 Sportback recently, I wasn’t overly impressed despite being a fan of the updated interior from a few years ago that was first present on the Q7 and A4.

From a car enthusiast’s perspective, of course there’s better options out there, and in the $50k price range the Kia Stinger GT would certainly be my pick because of what you’re getting for the price. On paper, you’re making sacrifices on both sides, but at this point it comes down to personal preference. No matter what the decision is, there will always be that one person who will say, “But for this price, you could have bought (insert competitor model)”.

At the end of the day it’s not what your gaining or losing, it’s what fits your daily lifestyle. For me, the BMW 430i Gran Coupe provides more than the 330i with additional safety and technology features, it looks great, and has unannounced and subtle performance that will allow me to enjoy my driving experience behind the wheel.

2018 Toyota Camry XSE – Redefining Entry Level Luxury

2018 has started with a few surprises in the automotive industry. First, Buick comes out with their all new station wagon, the Regal TourX. It’s very possible and not too far fetched to say that the TourX could reshape the opinions of consumers on whether crossovers are the best option when shopping for a vehicle that provides cargo space, practicality, and a relative sense of performance. The all new Kia Stinger GT is setting out to take on the likes of the Audi S5 Sportback, as it provides a surprisingly great driving experience and performance. Then you have the 2018 Toyota Camry XSE. The sedan that just might redefine the term, “entry level luxury”.

When you think of the Toyota Camry, performance and luxury are probably not the first adjectives you’d use to describe this sedan. In fact, most likely it’s practicality and reliability that are the more accurate terms. However for the 2018 Camry XSE, it feels as though Toyota has made a sedan that challenges all preconceptions, opinions, and perceptions that it’s just a car that will get you from point A to point B. Having had the opportunity to test drive this car at the New England International Auto Show, I can no longer look at the Toyota Camry as being a means of transportation for the average driver. Instead, the Camry has given me hope that during a daily commute to work, I can still have some fun behind the wheel and enjoy the driving experience without having to pay $45k+ on a new luxury vehicle.

With the very distinct and almost retro-like two-toned exterior, which is optional on the XSE, the Camry looks much more aggressive than in previous years. A black mesh front grille and 19″ wheels also adds a sporty appeal on this trim. For performance the XSE comes with a 3.5L V6 engine that gets 301 hp and 267 lb ft of torque and is paired with an 8 speed automatic transmission that do come with paddle shifters. You’ll go from 0-60 in 5.8 seconds which is 0.1 seconds slower than the Honda Accord 2.0T Touring but faster than the Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima.

Inside you’re greeted by a very comfortable and spacious interior. For a car that’s not considered a full-sized sedan, the Camry comes with a lot of arm room. You don’t feel cramped, and you’re not so close to your passenger that it begins to feel uncomfortable. The most important aspect of the interior are the seats. Along with the two-toned exterior, you’ll get red sports seats that literally hug you while driving. It surprised me that I was behind the wheel of a Toyota with paddle shifters and was actually comfortable during the test drive.

2018 Toyota Camry XSE
2018 Toyota Camry XSE

I don’t know if it’s almost the two decades long biases I’ve had against the Camry or Toyota in general being a car enthusiast, but I was genuinely impressed with both the looks and driving experience.

Toyota has been marketing themselves lately as being more sporty and cool which didn’t make much sense to me prior to spending time with the Camry. However, I’m beginning to buy into their latest changes as the XSE is surprisingly fun to drive and provides a comfortable luxury-like driving experience.

The Camry XSE comes with a base price of $35k and can reach $39k fully loaded. While it could be argued that the Camry is reaching entry level German luxury sedan territory, what can’t be denied is that Toyota is beginning to offer some sense of luxury with performance. It will be interesting to see where the brand goes from here, as the redesigned Toyota Avalon shares the same design cues as the Camry, and the facelift looks just as good.

Japanese and Korean car makers are stepping up their game, and with that comes better designed cars. The next few years are going to be exciting, and for me, I’m looking forward to what’s down the road as car brands that weren’t emphasizing luxury at all, are beginning to offer features, styling, and performance that’s hard to pass up if you’re a consumer in the market for a sedan in the $35k – $40k price range.

2018 Buick Regal TourX – The Station Wagon Is Back In The US

In the automotive market, 2018 has begun much like every year this decade. Crossovers are the vehicle of choice by consumers and with each passing year, brands introduce new models to appeal to the growing demand for small SUV’s that provide road clearance, cargo space, and for some, off-road capability. Throughout this era of crossover dominance, there’s been a sentiment festering in the hearts of some Americans who want station wagons to once again have a presence in car brands’ lineups. The good news is that their wishes have been granted by GM with the all new Buick Regal TourX.

For Buick, this is the first time since 1996 that they’ve offered a station wagon. At first glance the TourX has a very European look and that’s because of the collaboration between Opel and GM. In the UK, the TourX is known as the Vauxhall Insignia Country Tourer. Many often refer to the TourX as being a twin to the Audi A4 Allroad, and while they do share similar design cues in terms of appearance, there is absolutely no relation. However, this is a blessing for Buick, as any similarity to a well known German station wagon could yield high rewards in the near future.

Buick is offering their station wagon at a base price of $29k, with the most expensive trim, the Essence, topping out at around $42k. There’s only one engine option: A turbocharged four cylinder engine that gets 250 hp and 295 lb ft of torque, and is paired with an 8 speed automatic transmission. For the drivetrain, AWD does come standard on the Regal TourX. The most important specification on this station wagon however is just how much cargo room you get. With the rear seats up, the TourX comes with 35 cubic ft of cargo room, but when the seats are folded down, that room doubles in size, outclassing all competition in it’s price range.

A lot of that has to do with Buick going with a mid-sized station wagon, rather than competing against the smaller Volkswagen Golf Alltrack. The TourX provides more cargo room than the Audi A4 Allroad, and in fact is more in line with most crossovers in terms of interior dimensions, but is significantly cheaper. Buick’s goal is to take on the crossovers in it’s price range, primarily the Subaru Outback. While the TourX isn’t an off-roader by any means, it’s a viable alternative as a daily driver for consumers who want the sensation of driving a car, but still have the cargo room that can be found in a Honda CR-V and Toyota Rav4.

Ultimately, the most appealing aspect of this station wagon is the fact that it offers European luxury for less than the German and Swedish competitors. While there are GM elements that make up the interior of the TourX, it can be said that it’s at least on par with crossovers in it’s price range, and I’d argue that the interior is better than what you’d find on a Volkswagen Golf Alltrack.

When taking a look at the TourX Essence which is the top trim, you’ll get leather seats, a heated steering wheel, dual zone climate control, and an 8″ touch screen display. You’ll get a navigation system, along with up to date traffic reports, and even a 5 day weather outlook. A panoramic moonroof is optional, which brings in a lot of natural light and just gives the TourX a more luxurious feel. Optional packages include a number of safety features such as rear park assist, rear cross traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist, lane departure warning, and front automatic braking.

Overall the TourX is a breath of fresh air in an automotive era filled with crossovers, especially in a price range at or below $40k. Hopefully in the near and not to distant future, American auto manufacturers build off what Buick is offering: 250 hp and AWD coming standard, no CVT transmission, and styling that is very appealing, even to consumers who aren’t in the market for a station wagon. Time will decide whether the TourX is the beginning of a new trend in the automotive world, but with other station wagons like the Audi A4 Allroad, Volvo V60 and V90, and the Volkswagen Golf Alltrack on the market, it could be argued that station wagons are creeping back into the United States.

The 2018 New England International Auto Show

This past weekend was the New England International Auto Show in Boston, with this year featuring a Pagani Huayra, Porsche 918, Lamborghini Aventador SV, Bugatti Veyron, the completely re-designed Aston Martin Vantage, and the Porsche 911 GT2 RS!

Here’s the video from Thursday’s Press Day, where we got to take an exclusive look inside the GT2 RS and check out some of the brand new cars that are arriving in dealership showrooms this year!

Look forward to reviews coming this year on some of the cars in this video. The Toyota Camry XSE was very impressive, as it’s two-toned exterior and red interior certainly grabbed attention. Also the all new Buick Regal TourX made it’s Boston debut, which comes with 250 hp standard.