2014 “Picks of The Litter”

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Going for a test drive is smart policy. The problem for most people is that test-driving all the available cars is not unlike visiting every Starbucks in the country. It’s not easy – and it would take a lot of time.who's number 1?

I, on the other hand, test drive new cars every week. And by dint of that, have test-driven pretty much every car on the market. I’ve distilled all that down to the following recommends – for this year –  which I hope will save you some time or at least. get you pointed in a good direction!

* 2015 Honda Fit –

Yes, technically, it’s next year’s model. But as is common practice in the car business, the next model year is often made available in the preceding calendar year. Anyhow, what makes the Fit a great fit?

Though it’s very small on the outside – and so, very easy to park and maneuver – it has more room inside than much larger cars. How about more backseat room in this compact-sized car than in a mid-sized car like the Honda Accord? And 41 MPG on the highway, too.'15 Fit pic

But it’s not purely about practicality. The Fit – like the Civic CRX of the ’80s – is also a fun car, with a typically Honda rev-happy engine and an also typically Honda shifter (in manual equipped versions) that’s pure pleasure to play with. Oh, and there’s no fuel economy penalty to going with the manual over the optionally available (CVT) automatic – as is usually the case these days.

Well, in the competition’s cars.

Full review is here.

* 2014 Mercedes E250 –

Luxury cars are many things, but rarely economical to operate. And the few that have been easy on gas have typically been hard on the soul – being embarrassingly slow.'14 E250 pic

The E250 up-ends all that via a devastating two-punch of diesel power and (for the first time ever in a big Benz) four-cylinder diesel power. Just 2.1 liters – in a 4,200 pound car. But with 369 ft.-lbs. of torque available right now ( from about 1,500 RPM on up) you still get to 60 MPH in less than 8 seconds. And you’ll also get 45 – or better – on the highway. The Benz also costs thousands of dollars less than its less efficient rivals from BMW (5 Series diesel) and Audi (A6 TDI).

As they say in Germany, ausgezeichnet!

Full review is here.

* 2014 Jeep Cherokee –

This mid-sized crossover actually crosses over. It has – can be ordered with – the equipment necessary to actually go off-road.

Yet it’s not a beast on the road.'14 Cherokee pic

Unlike every other so-called crossover – all of which are functionally just cars in SUV drag – the Cherokee is available with a serious four-wheel-drive system with Low range gearing… as opposed to the car-esque all-wheel-drive that’s typically found underneath other crossovers.

Another thing you’ll find in the Jeep that you won’t find in many if any of its rivals is a big V-6 engine – paired with a nine-speed automatic transmission. Result? Big hp numbers – and not-bad EPA fuel-economy numbers.

Full review is here.

* 2014 Kia Soul – '14 Soul pic

For once, the name fits. This little “box car” has it. Soul. It makes me smile – and I think you will, too. But it also makes sense – and that may be even more persuasive. Though it’s positioned in the econo-car class – and priced accordingly – the Soul can be ordered with a variety of engine/transmission combos and amenities that are hard if not impossible to find in the econo-car class. Among them – a heated steering wheel, heated rear seats, three-mode driver-selectable steering feel, a built-in fridge, a panorama glass roof and a big-screen (eight inch) touch-screen control interface.

All for less than $30k, without even haggling.

Full review is here.

* 2014 VW Touareg –'14 Touareg TDI

You know what’s hard to find? An SUV with a diesel engine that’s not too big – or too small – and which doesn’t make a big deal about itself and how much it cost you. The only one that fits that bill is the VW Touareg. It’s the softer-spoken version of the Porsche Cayenne and in between (size-wise) its Audi cousins, the Q5 and Q7 TDIs. It also costs many thousands less than the very nice – but very expensive – BMW X5 diesel. The Mercedes ML350 matches the Touareg’s moves (and price) but – being a Benz – is the far flashier of the two.

If you want everything the Benz offers – except the attention it will get you – take a look at the VW. It’s as luxurious – and even longer-legged, with a highway range of almost 800 miles on a full tank. That’s best in class. Also its hulky max tow rating: 7,700 pounds, or 1,000-plus pounds more than its rivals.

Full review is here.

* 2015 Hyundai Genesis'15 Genesis

Those old enough to remember what the car market was like before 1990 will recognize the history being repeated. Just as Lexus changed everything when the first LS sedan appeared back in ’89, so also Hyundai is changing everything – only this time, it’s mainly the Japanese in the crosshairs. The Genesis is aimed squarely at Japanese luxury sedans like the current Lexus LS – which costs $20k more to start and still isn’t as powerful (or as roomy) and arguably less luxurious than the audacious Hyundai.

Even the base model shames its name-brand rivals.

And what’s in a name? Don’t forget that back in ’89, “Lexus” was by no means the blue chip brand it is now. But the smart money knew it would be – and bought in early.

Full review is here.

Also praiseworthy:2015 Chevrolet Corvette Z06

* The 2015 Chevy Corvette Stingray – 

Costs $20k less than a new Z28 – and delivers better performance than Porsches that cost nearly twice as much. Wildest looking ‘Vette since 1967, too.

*  The 2015 Mustang “Ecoboost” – 

The first four-cylinder-powered Mustang since the ’80s out-performs the V-8 Mustangs of the ’90s – and gets better mileage than both of them courtesy of “Ecoboosted” turbocharging. It’s like having an old SVO Mustang – and a Five-oh GT – in the same package.

* The 2015 Mitsubishi Mirage – '15 MIrage pic

Three cylinder-powered cars are back (see here) but only one of them isn’t turbocharged – and doesn’t cost $16k and up. That car is the Mitsubishi Mirage – which starts just over $12k (making it about the most affordable new car you can buy) and delivers better-than-40 on the highway (making it one of the most efficient cars you can buy. Combine the low cost to buy – and feed – and you’ve got one one of the least expensive cars to drive you can buy.

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  1. Genesis / Lexus comment:
    Shouldn’t that more appropriately be the Equus?

    One diff. though: Huyndai didn’t come up with a retort, invented brand.

    A concept that SHOULD have been laughable enough to fail, and prob. the reason why MB, BMW, underestimated the viability for the domestic market.
    Not to mention that design wise, it was just clone heaven for a decade and a half…, even down to the logo (they even copied the chrome “font” from MB…)

    I’ve talked to people who, to this day, don’t realize that Lexus = Toyota.
    or, that many Lexus (not the LS so much of course) are just rebranded Toyotas, more cleverly executed than the old GM badge engineering, as seen in the 70s, 80s esp. and 90s.

    Hyundai is doing it more like VW with the Phaeton, adding top-line models within the same brand.

    And boy does the Vdub still get panned for not fitting in the line, or the, “what, 70k for a VW, lol” comments, even when there was hardly a bad word about the Phaeton as a well-executed luxury sedan
    Now, whenHyundai repeats the concept, people are ok with it…
    That’s where you have to laugh, at us.
    True enough about your smart money comment, but again, very local context.
    It’s NOT true outside of the US, at least not in degree, just look at sales success of Lexus et.al. from Japan outside of N.A.,, and speaks of a remarkable American, markeing-yanked, psyche.

    Honda / Acura: they don’t even bother, their main Acura model is actually sold as a Honda Accord in other countries.

    • Hi Chris,

      The Equus is a great choice (and alternative), too!

      Toyota was smart – in my view – to separate/spin-off its luxury line in the U.S.

      Except for the ES sedan (and the SUVs) Lexus models are specifically Lexus and not rebadged or gussied-up Toyotas (as opposed to current Lincoln models, which are all gussied up Fords).

      I think it’s a mistake to follow the VW example of including luxury models under the same umbrella. People who spend luxury car money tend to want the prestige associated with a luxury car brand – as well as a separate (nicer) dealer experience.

      It’ll be interesting to see which route Hyundai eventually chooses.

  2. I looked over the ‘crop’ of 2014 autos (not pickups or SUVs) late 2013.
    Interesting was the great handling Mazda 6 Touring with manual trans.
    While near ‘perfect’, I made it better:
    Increased air intake thru K&N air filter and gforce ECU add on.
    Freer air exhaust by changing to Magnaflow muffler.
    Results: Better acceleration. Actual highway mileage of 43.5 mpg vice EPA 37 mpg.

  3. Did anyone else see the Kia Soul commercial with Michelle Wie (famous LPGA golfer)? She drives into the parking lot of a staid country club full of horrible middle-age white guys with money, blasting rap and disturbing the cozy whiteness. The valet is speechless and overwhelmed by such a superior creature. She then proceeds to stripe her opening tee shot 320 down the middle…

    • Hi Jeff,

      Yeah.. but sales of the Soul are up double digits. It is one of the most successful new cars on the market. I hate rap “music,” too – but the car is another matter.

    • Dear MM,

      I know what you mean.

      I mean, contrast these body designs to both Detroit and European design from several decades ago.

      The only one that looks halfway decent is the Genesis.

    • That may be, but IMHO, the ‘fugliest’ is the Nissan Joke – they typoed when the badged it ‘Juke.’
      The soft top Murano and its Infiniti cousins aren’t far behind.

  4. I have to agree with swamprat. The Kia being pick of the litter is tough to swallow for me. I own a taxi business in Idaho Falls, ID. I have two 1st gen Scion xB’s, a Camry and a Soul. The Kia is the worst car I have ever purchased. It’s as prone to breakdowns as my previous 200,000 mile GM and Chrysler minivans–total junk. After 110,000 miles I have changed a clutch, both front axles and the tranny is set to be replaced. I have changed axles and the clutch on one scion that has over 200,000 miles. Clutch was half the price for the scion and axles were 1/3 the price of the Kia. Kia is absolute junk. I have talked with other people who own Kia’s and they say the same thing. Interestingly, my two scions are wrecked rebuilds and still outdo the clear title Kia.

  5. I, like Swamprat, also have to take issue with the KIA Soul pick.

    I own a taxi business in Idaho Falls, ID. I have one soul, two 1st Gen scion XB’s and a Camry. The KIA is probably the worst car I have ever owned. At 110,000 miles, I have replaced the clutch, both drive axles and it needs a new tranny. One of the XB’s has had a clutch replacement and one axle. The clutch was half the price of the KIA. The axle was 1/3 the price of the KIA. It also has 200,000 on it.

    • I’ve heard that Kia’s are a lot better than they used to be. My daughter bought a Sephia back when they first came out. Good thing she sprung for the 100k warranty (it wasn’t standard back then). When it got close to 100k, she traded it off, because she had already had the tranny replaced twice.

  6. “The 2105 Chevy Corvette Stingray”

    I knew you weren’t from our time. 🙂 Dispatch from the future?

    Can you imagine? Nope me either. At this rate Corvettes will be outlawed long before then.

  7. Eric- There’s a rare time I disagree with you automtively or politically. But, the Kia Soul is the pick of the litter? Maybe the litterbox. Only hamsters would drive that car.

    • swamp, I often look askance as some cars deemed good or great by almost any reviewer I know of. No dig to eric or any other person but I sure miss Tom Mc Cahill’s reviews. He was a big man and didn’t pull any punches on small seats or cramped conditions.

      I’m not nearly the size of Tom but we’d probably wear the same clothes except for the length of our pants. Even when young and skinny I was wide shouldered and had a wide chest. Almost without exception except for luxury brand cars, the Asian cars have seats too small for my chest with the side bolsters keeping the rest of me from settling into the seats.

      I have no doubt Honda’s and Toyota’s(and other Asian cars) are great cars, I can’t get comfortable in any of them except the luxury models like Lexus and Infiniti.

      My wife recently rented a couple of cars, one being an Altima. I drove it, hated it only because of the seats but liked the rest of it, esp. the controls and that’s what she said of it after a week although she doesn’t have my ribcage problems. Her next rental was a Malibu and it was ok according to her but it had that touchscreen bs she hated. I didn’t care for it either but the seats according to both of us were much better than the Altima.

      We’re shopping for a new vehicle. I suspect it will have Duramax on the side since a 24′ cattle trailer is sort of overkill for a Altima. Now those are comfortable seats.


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