Need a car or truck? Read Steven Cole Smith's reviews
4:25 PM EDT, October 28, 2011
Not for a second will I complain about the usual diet of Hyundais and Hondas and half-ton pickup trucks that those of us who get to test new cars are typically fed, but once in a while, getting a taste of a Bentley, a Lamborghini or Aston Martin gives us a peek into how the other half drives.
October 14, 2011
There was a time when Lincoln and Cadillac were considered relatively even in the battle for the American luxury-car consumer. But General Motors gave Cadillac a shot of adrenalin about 10 years ago to update its model portfolio, and Ford has been pushing Lincoln to catch up ever since.
6:18 PM EDT, August 19, 2011
Look at the 2011 Mazda MX-5 Miata head-on, and the grille and headlights sort of resemble a big grinning face. With good reason: Since it was introduced as a 1990 model, the Miata (Mazda tried to use the global MX-5 name exclusively, but gave up when Americans wouldn't stop calling it a Miata) has faced down multiple challengers.
12:06 PM EDT, August 5, 2011
Can we agree that some cars are for transportation, and some are for, well, other things? The 2011 Ford Mustang Shelby GT350 is only incidentally transportation, in the sense that a 100-foot yacht might also be used as a fishing boat.
July 29, 2011
Perhaps the most astounding story in the automotive world is the success of Kia, which only entered the U.S. market in 1993 with the little Sportage SUV, then the Sephia, an anonymous-looking sedan. In 1997, Kia declared bankruptcy, and a majority of the company was sold to the other major Korean manufacturer, Hyundai. It wasn't until 1999 that Kia vehicles were available in all 50 states.
12:56 PM EDT, July 29, 2011
There's probably a good master's thesis to be written for someone's MBA on the Jeep marketing strategy – or lack of it. Obtaining the iconic brand, with a favorable worldwide reputation, was undeniably a central reason why Fiat bought into Chrysler.
12:39 PM EDT, July 15, 2011
Buyers of full-sized pickup trucks represent perhaps the most conservative, resistant-to-change customers in the automotive world. So asking truck buyers, who equate big V-8 engines with premium pickups, to pay extra for the smallest engine in the Ford F-150 lineup is, to understate, a marketing challenge.
July 1, 2011
Look around your living room. Do you have leather-upholstered furniture? A flat-screen TV with a DVD player and satellite television? Maybe a good, nine-speaker stereo with wireless headphones, satellite radio and perhaps a hard drive of, say, 30 gigabytes that can store more than 4,000 songs?
June 10, 2011
It was inevitable that once Fiat assumed control of Chrysler, we'd see Fiat products back in the U.S. market sooner or later.
June 27, 2011
Mention hybrids, and what comes to mind? Probably smallish gas-sipping cars, like the 50-mile-per-gallon Toyota Prius. Unfortunately, but perhaps not surprisingly, bigger, heavier hybrids like the full-sized Chevrolet Tahoe SUV just haven't gotten the traction with the buying public that their smaller, thriftier hybrid cousins have.
11:51 AM EDT, May 27, 2011
Legends regarding the "hounds of hell" have existed since Greek mythology, but I wasn't entirely sure what their baying would sound like until the 2011 Porsche 911 Turbo S arrived: Punch the throttle, and there's a pack of them right behind you, and the sound is both exhilarating and a little terrifying.
12:00 AM EDT, May 20, 2011
I've long thought that if a car enthusiast fell into a coma, say, 60 years ago and just awoke, he or she might recognize only two vehicles: The Porsche 911, and the Jeep Wrangler. Sure, both those models have undergone extensive and dramatic updates, but they still retain the general appearance, and certainly serve the same audience, as they have for decades.
May 6, 2011
Airstream is known more for its travel trailers than its self-powered motorhomes, but the Ohio-based company has been in the motorhome business for decades. If you've driven past a motorhome sales lot lately, you have seen an abundance of inventory, as the downturn in the economy and the upturn in fuel prices have crippled the industry.
11:54 AM EDT, May 13, 2011
After having only one model of the Toyota Prius since it was introduced as a 2001 model, the company is finally making use of the Prius hybrid platform for other models.
12:44 PM EDT, April 29, 2011
Just as Hyundai did with the new Sonata -- which matches and in many ways surpasses its top competition in the midsized category, the Honda Accord and Toyota Corolla -- the Korean company is hoping to drive to the front of the compact market.
10:48 AM EDT, April 22, 2011
Funny how some cars look better, and some look worse when you cut the top off. The Volkswagen New Beetle looks awkward as a convertible, and the poor Chrysler PT Cruiser cabriolet looks like it is wearing a headdress. The sleek roofline that helps define the Ford Mustang coupe is compromised by a soft top.
4:40 PM EDT, March 17, 2011
Making a sequel to a big hit is tough, as anyone who paid to watch Airplane II, Blues Brother 2000 or Grease 2 can testify.
11:49 AM EDT, April 1, 2011
Somewhere between the introduction of the pioneering Chrysler minivan in 1984 and today, we lost the "mini" in minivan. The original base-model Dodge and Plymouth minivans were 175.9 inches long. Now, the best-selling minivan is the maxi-sized Honda Odyssey, which is 202.9 inches long, more than two feet longer.
11:50 AM EDT, March 25, 2011
The most expensive part of designing and building a new vehicle is not what you see -- the body and the interior -- but what's underneath: The basic platform, consisting of the chassis, the engine and the transmission.
4:48 PM EST, March 1, 2011
With vehicles like the new plug-in hybrid Chevrolet Volt and the 30-miles-per-gallon Buick Regal, General Motors seems to be selling itself as the sensible-shoes car company, populating its lineup with plucky, practical cars that offend no one.
February 18, 2011
With vehicles like the new plug-in hybrid Chevrolet Volt and the 30-miles-per-gallon Buick Regal, General Motors Co. seems to be selling itself as the sensible-shoes car company, populating its lineup with plucky, practical cars that offend no one.
5:45 PM EST, February 7, 2011
With the introduction of the Toyota Avalon in 1995, replacing the Cressida, the company made it very easy for customers for whom a car is essentially an appliance. Toyota gives those customers three choices: small (the Corolla), medium (the Camry) and large (the Avalon).
4:57 PM EST, January 21, 2011
Test Drive: 2010 Dodge Viper SRT10 Coupe car review
Yes, it's a bit odd to be reviewing a 2010 vehicle in the midst of the 2011 model year, but there are two extenuating circumstances: One, the manufacturer didn't cease production of the Dodge Viper until last summer, and since there is no 2011 model, they built some extras to give dealers a few to sell for a little longer.
3:02 PM EST, January 3, 2011
Text Drive: 2011 Ford Explorer
Numbers don't lie: There's no denying that the Ford Explorer, introduced in 1990, was an enormous success, quickly becoming — year after year — the top-selling SUV. The four-door, V-6-powered sport utility vehicle filled an enormous hole in Ford's lineup, as the models that preceded it, the Bronco and smaller Bronco II, were never offered with rear doors.
1:25 PM EST, December 22, 2010
Dodge was startlingly late to the four-door SUV party, a problem not solved until 1998, when the company introduced the Durango, based on the platform of the Dakota pickup truck. It was an immediate hit, as Dodge adapted the tough Ram truck look to the smaller SUV.
January 9, 2011
When Land Rover redesigned the mid-level LR4 SUV for 2010, many of my colleagues proclaimed that it was a leaps-and-bounds improvement over the model it replaces, the LR3.
December 17, 2010
Twenty years ago, or even 10 years ago, the idea that anyone would pay more than $65,000 for a Hyundai -- for a Hyundai! -- would be unthinkable.
November 29, 2010
Test Drive: 2011 Nissan Juke review
Judging from its initial unfocused advertising campaign, Nissan doesn't seem to know exactly what to do with the 2011 Juke. And after a week testing it, I see the problem: It doesn't fit into conventional categories.
October 15, 2010
I've written often about vehicles that will quicken your pulse -- a Chevrolet Corvette, a Dodge Viper, any Ferrari or Lamborghini -- but there's much to be said for a vehicle that can actually lower your pulse rate. That's the feeling I get behind the wheel of the Dodge Ram 2500, a truck so big and brutally capable that you feel in control of most any situation.
October 25, 2010
Test Drive: 2011 Honda Odyssey
Good news for Chrysler: The company's minivans are no longer the ugliest in the new-car showroom, now that Honda has introduced the redesigned 2011 Odyssey.
7:03 PM EST, November 12, 2010
Test Drive: 2011 Nissan Rogue SUV review
Nissan was a little late to the compact crossover SUV party -- with only its truckish Xterra to battle car-based products like the Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V, Mitsubishi Outlander and Ford Escape -- until the 2008 Nissan Rogue was introduced. The fact that the Rogue was based on the Sentra platform was not encouraging -- the Sentra was fine as an entry-level car, but how would it work as the basis for an SUV?
5:32 PM EDT, October 16, 2010
General Motors' touted Chevrolet Volt rolls into Miami and Orlando late this month as part of a 12-city national road show, designed to introduce the high-mileage sedan to a curious public. Unfortunately for GM, it arrives under a cloud. Whether it is one of those little white fluffy clouds, or a big dark storm cloud that threatens to rain on the Volt's parade, you decide.
July 1, 2010
Test Drive: 2010 Nissan Altima 3.5 SR Coupe review
Two-door coupe versions of popular four-door sedans have been fading in popularity since designers figured out how to make four doors look sexy. Gone is the Toyota Solara, a two-door Camry. Ford has never sold a two-door version of the Taurus or Fusion, and Chevrolet's Monte Carlo, essentially a two-door Impala, lives on only in the memories of NASCAR fans. Honda still has a two-door Accord, but sales pale compared to the sedan.
September 10, 2010
In 1990, Mazda got it right with the Miata, and it has not strayed far from the formula with the 2010 Mazda MX-5.
2:12 PM EDT, May 5, 2010
On paper, few vehicles make less sense than the 2010 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8: Huge, thirsty engine; not that much room inside; and though it's four-wheel-drive, it's too low-slung for off-roading. While the big chrome-plated dual exhausts look great, they stick out right under the license plate, effectively eliminating a full-sized trailer hitch.
11:57 AM EDT, June 9, 2010
It's sobering how close Volvo and Saab came to joining Mercury, Pontiac, Saturn, Hummer, Plymouth, Isuzu, Daewoo and Oldsmobile on the lengthening list of recently shuttered brands.
3:00 PM EDT, May 26, 2010
There's a long, long list of very competent sport utility vehicles in the $25,000 range, and really not that much to differentiate them.
12:07 PM EDT, April 30, 2010
If the "Dog Friendly" badges don't tip you off, the thick rubber floor mats with a dog bone pattern should: This 2010 Honda Element is equipped with a special optional package that should appeal to dogs — and, presumably, their owners.
12:20 PM EDT, April 21, 2010
The term "entry level" can mean a lot of things in the automotive market — with Hyundai, it means a sub-$10,000 Accent, and with Ferrari, it means a $188,000 F430. Somewhere in between is the entry-level Mercedes-Benz, which is the C300, at just more than $34,000.
9:29 AM EST, March 5, 2010
You'd think it would be easy for other manufacturers to copy – just buy a BMW, dismantle the suspension and duplicate it, and you could match the ride and handling. But for reasons I can't explain, BMWs still feel like BMWs, unmatched for road feel and the ability to offer both a comfortable ride on the highway, but still make you feel like you last name is Andretti on winding backroads.
7:56 PM EDT, April 9, 2010
Fit is go!
5:16 PM EDT, April 16, 2010
The 2010 Nissan Versa hatchback is an attractive car, with one downright gorgeous feature: The window sticker. At most any trim level, the Versa is one of the best buys in the entry-level category.
2:34 PM EST, February 19, 2010
Manufacturers seldom place really big, heavy-duty pickup trucks in media press fleets, because members of the media tend to run into things. A few years ago, a big six-wheel "dualie" pickup was sent back to Detroit before I ever even saw it, because colleagues kept crunching the extended rear fenders.
9:31 PM EST, January 22, 2010
Seldom has a vehicle worn its federal Gas Guzzler tax — $2,600 in this case – so proudly as the 2010 Cadillac CTS-V sedan. With a supercharged 6.2-liter V-8 – that's 376 cubic inches – under the hood, the smallest Cadillac with the largest engine amounts to a finely tuned blunt instrument.
5:23 PM EST, January 8, 2010
The Mitsubuishi Lancer has long been the company's alternative to the Honda Civic and the Toyota Corolla, and this current version — on the market since 2007 — matches up well with the two market segment leaders.
December 31, 2009
It isn't unusual to go to a car show, admire a concept vehicle and say, "Wouldn't it be neat if they actually built that car?"
December 17, 2009
Once in a while, life serves up one of those little disconnects that reminds you of an old dubbed-into-English Japanese horror movie, where the actors' lips seem to be saying one thing, their voices something entirely different.
November 25, 2009
Lexus introduced the IS 300 sedan for 2001, taking direct aim at the perennial leader of the entry-level luxury import segment, the BMW 3-Series, and coming pretty close to the bull's-eye. The IS sedan remains an appealing alternative to the BMW, but has yet to knock the German off the throne: In the first nine months of 2009, BMW sold 67,220 copies of the 3-Series in the U.S., while Lexus sold 27,911 of its IS model.
December 3, 2009
Several years ago, Ford gave a preview to members of the automotive media, showing some future and prospective products. One that caught my eye was the Ford Transit Connect, a purely-European little delivery van that has been selling well overseas for six years. There was, and is, nothing like it in the U.S., and for that reason, when Ford executives were working the crowd, looking for input, the Transit got my vote as the most interesting product on the floor.
November 6, 2009
Let's get this out of the way first: The Volkswagen GTI is based on the new 2010 VW Golf. Yes, the Golf name is back: In 2006, Volkswagen dropped the Golf, returning to the Rabbit, which was the original name for this car from 1975 through 1984. Then it became the Golf, then in 2006 the Rabbit again, in 2010 the Golf again. Why? Even the people at Volkswagen don't seem to know.
November 13, 2009
As part of its restructuring, General Motors executives decided to save Buick, kill Pontiac and Saturn. I remain unconvinced that this was the right decision, but I have to admit that the 2010 LaCrosse makes a very strong case that there is life left in Buick.
October 23, 2009
With the Acadia and the Yukon, GMC has the mid- and full-sized SUV market covered, but the company has lacked something smaller. I hesitate to say "entry level," because the all-new 2010 GMC Terrain SLE starts at just under $25,000, and at the top end, like the SLT test model, can hit $35,000. But for SUV customers who only need five seats, the Terrain is an attractive option.
October 9, 2009
Pity the poor Porsche loyalists: Just as they've gotten over the heresy that is the Porsche Cayenne sport utility vehicle — a Porsche SUV! Blasphemy! — now comes the 2010 Porsche Panamera, which resembles a stretched Porsche 911 that has, count 'em, four doors, a big back seat and nearly 16 cubic feet of luggage space in the rear.
October 16, 2009
I wrote my first test drive in 1984, and plenty of them were obituaries for departed brands that either died or left the U.S. market — Oldsmobile, Plymouth, Peugeot, Daihatsu, Daewoo, Yugo, Eagle, Isuzu, TVR, Bitter, Laforza, Merkur, Renault, Sterling, Alfa-Romeo, AM General — and man, that list turned out to be a lot longer than I thought it would be when I started writing this sentence.
September 25, 2009
There's a class of performance cars called "pocket rockets" — small, powerful vehicles that come in a compact package, but still pack a punch: The Honda Civic Si, the Chevrolet Cobalt SS, the Volkswagen GTi, the Subaru Impreza WRX — and the MazdaSpeed3.
July 19, 2009
Careful, Steve: Careful what you write about the Toyota Prius, which judging from the newspaper's parking lot, is on its way to becoming The Official Car of the Orlando Sentinel. Prius owners tend to be committed, even evangelical. Write the wrong thing, and I could be sitting on a whoopee cushion tomorrow.
September 18, 2009
Seldom does a week go by that I don't get at least one call or e-mail that accuses me of favoring import brands over domestics, and another that insists I bang the drum for American cars. Fine: If both sides think I favor the competition, then I must have found some sort of balance.
September 11, 2009
Hyundai is billing the 2010 Genesis Coupe as the "evil twin" of the Genesis sedan, which was named the North American Car of the Year for 2009 by a panel of 50 automotive journalists that included me.
August 30, 2009
Kia has spent the past few years phasing out competent but mediocre products and phasing in class-competitive vehicles. The latest has just arrived: The 2010 Kia Forte replaces the nothing-special Spectra, which was built on the last-generation Hyundai Elantra platform.
July 12, 2009
In 1990, Dudley Moore starred in Crazy People, a film that featured patients in a mental institution writing painfully honest advertising slogans such as, "Quaker Oats — how does it taste? Who knows, but the box is cute!" or for a "Visit New York City" campaign: "There were fewer murders last year."
June 28, 2009
The first all-new product from the all-new General Motors is bound to be scrutinized. After all, bankrupt GM has, like Chrysler, been propped up by your tax dollars, so it seems fair to pay close attention to how our money is being spent.