The vaunted Golf R; the pinnacle of performance for VW’s humble hatchback. For the enthusiast crowd, the allure of a speedy little 5-door hasn’t wavered which is why Volkswagen is leaving the base Golf off of their American car menu and instead is exclusively importing the GTI and Golf R; the models the drivers want. And this all-new Mk8 keeps to the Golf R’s tenets of being fast, glued to the road, fun-to-drive and within financial reach of mere mortals. Don’t worry manual lovers; a 6-speed is still available but this DSG automatic-equipped Golf R with all of its features as standard carries an MSRP of $45,885. It only comes in 3 colors and if you’re shift-for-yourself curious the stick costs $800 less, delivers 15 fewer pound-feet of torque and loses 3mpg. This Golf R is so good at what it does I sometimes feel like I’m just along for the ride. Either way we should all be glad that VW hasn’t abandoned this car – a nice counterpoint to the EV revolution.
You may have heard; the Toyota Land Cruiser no longer has a home here in the States so it’s gussied up Lexus counterpart the LX is going to have to carry the flagship SUV torch all by itself. Sure, Lexus stocks a bunch of SUVs – 5 to be exact – but it’s the LX that separates itself from the group with a starting MSRP of about $90,000. Can it off-road? Yes. Can it take you from the Ritz Carlton to the airport all the while looking the part? Also, yes. And it’s “all-new” this year…an adjective rarely used when describing a Lexus SUV but after 14 years it was time to give it a complete redesign. The result? A big, bodacious grille, more sensuousness to the body, a new, more fuel-efficient twin-turbo V6 under the hood and a complete redo of the infotainment electronics. It’s lighter and more powerful but as for changing the LX’s footprint or other notable dimensions Lexus punted…choosing to preserve its heritage sizing of being nimble enough to tackle a wooded trail or the Nieman Marcus parking lot. And with the expanded Multi-Terrain Select, low-speed gearing, a locking center differential, crawl control and in this case – a height-adjustable suspension – the LX is the body-on-frame SUV of country club dreams…and a number of those features have been improved upon this year such as the much quicker reacting Active Height Control system with 3 levels of lift and a fast squat for easier coming and going. This Atomic Silver example looks amazing, the black open-pore wood trim is so classy and if an infusion of new tech is a turnoff to you the LX won’t overwhelm. You can also now get one in F SPORT Handling trim and a $130,000 Ultra Luxury model with individual rear seats fit for a king. It’ll fit in your garage and exudes an old money vibe that fits in perfectly with New England beach communities.
There is no more Civic Coupe or Civic Hybrid but there is a stellar new sedan, frisky Si model and an upcoming high-performance Type R. And when you begin with a car that’s this good you might as well make as many variants as possible. So here’s the Hatchback, priced with a $1,000 premium over the Civic with a trunk for a starting MSRP of $24,365 including destination. How much different is it than the sedan? It’s 5” shorter, can be had with a 6-speed and takes cargo volume with the seats up to over 24 cubic feet or the same as an HR-V. That’s basically it. And the sedan does have a couple of advantages…more paint choices and better gas mileage. This top-of-the-line Sport Touring trim comes only in black, white or gray and in an apples-to-apples comparison loses up to 3mpg when equipped with the standard CVT. But if you crave this kind of short throw shift for yourself fun make sure you choose one of the 4 Hatch trims that starts with the word Sport otherwise you’re getting a CVT…not a bad one but still. And then if you want the stick and the turbo? Well, you’re looking at it…you’ve got to go Sport Touring. The good news is that the manual is a no-charge option and the turbo is actually more fuel efficient than the 2.0-liter base engine. In typical Honda fashion there’s just about zero personalization options but at least everything you see here is standard for an as-tested price of $31,260. And for that price you are getting a well-stocked car with leather, sport pedals, heated seats, a moonroof and the full panoply of driver assistance features. And it’s the Sport Touring that’s the only hatch that gets such goodies as parking sensors, rain sensing wipers, an auto-dimming rear view mirror with garage door opener, a power passenger seat though one without height adjustment, and more substantive stuff like wireless phone projection, the big touchscreen with navi, an awesome sounding 12-speaker Bose sound system with sat and HD radio, a wireless phone charger, rear USB ports, and the bigger and better driver info screen. Outside, this is the only one to get fogs and dual exhaust finishers. With sharp styling, an exciting drive and SUV-fighting cargo room, the Hatchback is yet another variation to the Civic lineup worth keeping.
All of the full-size trucks on the market are pretty amazing…there isn’t a bad choice in the lot. But this Tundra Limited with the TRD Off-Road Package is a near-perfect blend of luxury sedan and weekend warrior hitting all the right notes in terms of comfort and capability. I love this truck for all that it is…but I just can’t believe Toyota didn’t give the 4-wheel drive system an auto setting…the other truck makers have learned that lesson but here you’re either in 2-wheel drive or 4-high with no variability for changing road conditions. Toyota wanted to make the Tundra the leader in driving comfort and this is a beautiful drive with car-like precision that’s been engineered into all of these new trucks. And with the off-road suspension you can tear down that trial while floating over the rough stuff. The new V6 grumbles like the V8, there’s plenty of power and the drive modes are intuitively integrated. Other than the lack of 4WD Auto this is a great setup for a truck that can do it all without going to extremes. I’ve really connected with this truck; it hits all of the right notes. Too bad it doesn’t fit in my garage.
The new Kona N – a performance SUV within financial reach. $35,445; that’s the modest price of the Kona N – one of the most unique enthusiast cars on the market today…or shall I say SUV. However you describe the Kona N, this is Hyundai at its nuttiest and I mean that in a good way. The high-performance N story began with the Veloster and has since spread to the Elantra and now the Kona with more to come later this year. Available in white, black, blue or red with a 2.0-liter turbo, 8-speed dual-clutch transmission, a limited slip, electronically controlled shocks and summer-use Pirelli rubber, the Kona N is a front-wheel drive hooligan. With 276 horsepower and 289 pound-feet of torque delivered more linearly via what Hyundai dubs “Flat Power” technology, this is a torque-steering, exhaust-popping, rigid ride with fun technology built-in. Names like Grin Shift, Grin Control and Corner Carving Differential intertwine with N Mode infotainment creating a video-game-like atmosphere. There’s launch control, all sorts of ways to measure and monitor your performance and even built-in racetrack layouts with lap timers. This Kona is a hoot. It’s super stiff and gives you the feeling that you’re driving a rally car. Short for N Grin Shift, when you press this button it’s like inserting a sugar IV needle into a kid’s arm; 20 seconds of over-boosted turbo and the most aggressive shifting available when rapid acceleration is required. Kudos to Hyundai for producing something this crazy that isn’t so over the top that it’s completely impractical. This one’s for the driver who craves automotive personality.