Commentary: The Heirloom’s Convergence

2014 MLB All Star Game
All Photos by Randy Stern

When I committed to writing about automobiles over baseball, it was a liberating experience.

The results have been many. Doors opened and experiences multiplied through the journey of covering the automotive industry and its products.

On occasion, I would return to baseball. It is not exactly an obligatory thing, but it is deep in my DNA that it could not be totally eliminated. Though I could be deep in discussions about the 707-horsepower Dodge Challenger SRT or watching the supposed early production units of the 2015 Ford F-150 slowly coming out of hiding, there would be a blip of baseball that would come across the screen – any screen. It is that piece of eye candy that distracts even anyone’s field of vision.

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The Answer: QX60…Hybrid

2014 Infiniti QX60 Hybrid AWD
2014 Infiniti QX60 Hybrid. All Photos by Randy Stern

Oh look, it is another hybrid!

Wait, is that an Infiniti? Better still – a JX35?

Yes, V&R reviewed the JX35 back in January of 2013. There have been some changes since then, despite it looking practically the same as before. First, the name has changed. We can no longer call it a JX35, but rather QX60. It is still the same looking luxury three-row crossover that I found the soul of the original Infiniti deep inside of it – the Q45.

The other change may be just as subtle from the outside. Continue reading

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The Speculator: Envision This!

2011 Chevrolet Equinox 5
Wait, that Buick rendering sort of looks like me! All Photos by Randy Stern

You hear that cheering in the background? It is because General Motors is going ahead and replacing one of its more popular vehicles.

Though reports show a heavily revised Chevrolet Camaro in disguise during testing, it is not the vehicle I am referring to. This one is even more important to GM on at least two continents. For one, it has been a success for the two brands it is sold under. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave both versions their Top Safety Pick + designation. In another market, it opens the door for the popular brand to include a right-sized product slotted between two strong selling models.

This story however was prompted by a leak. Continue reading

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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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