Agent Provocateur – The Sequel

2014 Jeep Cherokee Latitude
2014 Jeep Cherokee Latitude 4X4 at the office. All Photos by Randy Stern

We are past debating about the nose of the 2014 Jeep Cherokee by now…

For the most part, the new unibody SUV riding on a Fiat-developed platform has delighted us with rigidity, space and agility. It proved that it is a Jeep, despite its nose. Rather, because of it.

We have grown accustomed it its face. Curious posers and scrutinizers alike wanted to break down the Cherokee’s front end clip to see why it was chosen the way it did. Some might say that the “angle of approach” has a lot to do with it. Others think that some Italian from Fiat may have provided that sketch to Ralph Gilles (yes, he is still Senior Vice President of Design in Auburn Hills) without anyone noticing.

Who cares? Continue reading

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James Garner 1928-2014

James Garner as Jim Rockford - Image courtesy of

James Garner as Jim Rockford – Image courtesy of

James Garner was not just some Hollywood actor. Yet, he was quite good at roles that suited his persona and beyond.

We lost the actor this weekend at age 86. Garner lived a long life, and possibly outlived those contemporaries that have lived on the edge a bit more than him. This is not a criticism of those contemporaries, but it showed the balance Garner had in his life and career.

Garner was a sportsman. He was also a fan. Yet, we know him more as a true car guy. He was up there with Steve McQueen, Paul Newman and other actors who had their turn on the track and on Mulholland Drive with his proficiency.

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Historiography: “Cars That Make Sense”

1986 Hyundai Excel - All Photos (c) Hyundai Motor America

1986 Hyundai Excel – All Photos (c) Hyundai Motor America

Do you remember your first Hyundai? Could it be one of the first ones sold here in the USA?

It was only twenty-eight years ago when the first Hyundai Excel sold in the States. That year, Hyundai sold 168,882 of the compacts – a strong showing thanks to sharp marketing and a base price of under $5,000.

On the occasion of the launch of the 2015 Sonata, I had the opportunity to catch up with Mike O’Brien, Vice President of Corporate and Product Planning at Hyundai Motor America to reminisce about the early days of the company. O’Brien first arrived at Hyundai’s Orange County, California offices in 1987 and is on his second stint with the company. Continue reading

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Still “Go?”

2015 Honda Fit EX-L w/Nav
2015 Honda Fit EX-L. All Photos by Randy Stern

A Victory & Reseda review of the 2015 Honda Fit

This Fit has grown up.

Or, has it? Since 2006, Honda sold their subcompact by showing how fun it is to drive. It was a fun little car that sold quite well. Some have even put the Fit above everyone else as the best in its class. The interior volume and rear seat flexibility are the main draws to the small Honda.

For years, we were told that “Fit is Go.” Now that the new Fit are now at Honda showrooms waiting for you, is it still a “go?”

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Fluidic 2.0

2015 Hyundai Sonata Eco
2015 Hyundai Sonata Eco. All Photos by Randy Stern

A Victory & Reseda Preview of the 2015 Hyundai Sonata

Meet the new Sonata…same as the old one?

Hyundai would rather have you think otherwise. The 2015 Sonata has arrived, sporting a “mature” look with a few new twists to their midsized family sedan. A week-and-half after driving the outgoing model, I drove the new model along U.S. Highway 12 from Chicago, through the south shore of Lake Michigan and into southern Michigan countryside towards Ann Arbor. It was the perfect chance to get a feel of the changes Hyundai made to their popular family sedan along some bucolic and charming countryside.

The last Sonata was edgy with its Fluidic Sculpture design inside and out. This model stood out amongst the crowd, though some elements had been adopted by its competitors. The public responded with over 825,000 units sold since its introduction in the spring of 2010, selling over 200,000 units every year for the past three years. According to Mike O’Brien, Vice President of Corporate and Product Planning at Hyundai Motor America, the Sonata is responsible for 29% of all Hyundai sales annually.

Instead of creating something more revolutionary, Hyundai adjusted the best elements of the prior Sonata onto Fluidic Sculpture 2.0. Essentially, what O’Brien said that while the first Fluidic Sculpture Sonata “got us into the party,” the new model is “going to get us invited back.” In other words, Hyundai felt that if new Sonata was going to look more radical than the last, the customers might feel more alienated from it. What the new Sonata signals is a “maturing” of their Fluidic Sculpture, achieved by “doing things a little smarter…something that looks more premium…more value,” according to O’Brien.

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A Hybrid With Moar

2014 Lexus CT 200h F Sport
2014 Lexus CT 200h F Sport. All Photos by Randy Stern

“The Lexus CT 200h is the proverbial Catch-22 for the enthusiast with a sustainable lifestyle. However, I would have no qualms driving a hybrid with true driving dynamics. This CT was worth every mile of petrol sipped through its kitten-like veins.”

That was October 4, 2011, as stated here on V&R. It was the first time I sampled the then-new Lexus CT 200h. Based off of Toyota’s MC platform – the one which the Corolla rides on – the “Creative Touring” hatchback offers a two-fer for the Lexus brand. One, it is the entry point for all Lexus consumers on the basis of price and size. Also, it is a hybrid with, yes, true driving dynamics marked for those who want sustainability and a sporty urban go-getter at a premium price.

Yet, they seem so opposite of each other – an oxymoron, if you will. That engine is straight out of the Prius, as is the electric motor, continuously variable transmission, the battery pack and the energy regeneration system. Still, it is a head scratcher. How could anyone plunk the hybrid drive setup from a Prius under a polarizing skin and a suspension set-up developed for a sports compact?

Three years ago, it proved itself quite well. This time, there is a twist.

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Commentary: The Flip Side of Wandering

It Just Is
Photo by Randy Stern

If you wander, you will find…

Find what? Something shiny? Perhaps it is a reward or a treasure that is worth the trip? Maybe the quest was unfulfilled and the effort of the journey was one for naught?

We often have a destination in mind. There is something there we want to be a part of. Our own recreation is one thing, as we set off to a lakeshore, a beach, a far away destination to unwind and release.

Maybe we are trying to find something. It is the old hunter-gatherer behavior for thousands of years sustained our existence. Have we found it yet? What will we do when we find it – what ever “it” is?

Or, do we just wander – just to wander? Continue reading

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Commentary: Fix ‘Em!

As a Result of the Rain and Flooding...
As a result of the rain and flooding… All Photos by Randy Stern

Yes, there has been flooding throughout parts of Minnesota – including Minneapolis.

Shocked? You should not be. Locals just shrug their shoulders and call it “part of living in Minnesota.” It is one of those things that should be managed – rather, controlled.

Another thing that is part of living in the Minnesota: Snow. As an affect of the snow, you have potholes. Every year, there were lots of potholes to swerve and avoid in the thaw.

How do you manage and/or control natural occurrences, such as flooding, snow and potholes? Continue reading

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Historiography: Forward Looking

2014 10,000 Lakes Concours d'Elegance
All Photos by Randy Stern

1955 was a great year for the automobile.

It was a breakthrough one for one particular manufacturer thought to be lost with the shenanigans of the early part of the decade by America’s biggest two pugilists of the business.

That year saw Chrysler gaining the world’s attention. It came up with something that took our breath away and almost made us lose it in the process.

Until the 1950s, Chrysler had a reputation for “great ideas that were not well executed.” Continue reading

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Lasting Impressions

2014 Hyundai Sonata Limited
2014 Hyundai Sonata Limited. All Photos by Randy Stern

A Victory & Reseda review of the 2014 Hyundai Sonata

Let us look at its resume for a moment…

The generation prior to this – codenamed NF – won the first Victory & Reseda Vehicle of The Year. Then, it won the VOTY again for this generation back in 2010 – known as the YF. It was also the first mid-sized sedan of this era to made people’s heads turn. It was also the first of its class to shed the V6 option for the sake of efficiency – and a high-powered turbocharged four-cylinder engine.

The first “fluidic sculpture” Hyundai – the Sonata – remains one for the history books. It made us notice. It certainly shook up things in its wake.

Soon, this will be gone. A new Sonata has been shown already in commercials during the FIFA World Cup. Yet, you can still get one of these on the lot – new or pre-owned.

This is why I welcomed a 2014 Sonata back to the fold. This is a VOTY that has witnessed others getting crowned. Since its second award, a Buick, a Dodge and a Cadillac had taken the crown. Each one had a story to tell – just like this Sonata.

The question is whether this Sonata has a final chapter to dictate.

Continue reading

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