A quick history lesson: In 2008, Subaru released the third-generation Impreza WRX–a grotesque blobfish of a car that was almost universally criticized in the automotive press and by WRX fans for being incredibly ugly and boring. The backlash was so bad that Subaru gave the car a significant update just a year into its production car run. They couldn’t/didn’t fix the styling, but I guess they substantially improved the driving experience, because most of those complaints stopped. Now, almost a decade and a half later, Subaru has come out with a new WRX, and, uh, this thing had better drive really, really well, because if not, it’s 2008 all over again.
At the risk of being Captain Obvious, there are a lot of cars in the world. And especially in the past few years, it seems like there are new cars being released all the time. Because I can't possibly write about all of them, I tend to stick to the absolute most important or exciting reveals. But there are a lot of cars out there that are not quite interesting or important enough to get their own article, but too interesting or important to ignore. So I've decided to take a look at a few of the most interesting or significant cars that have debuted recently. (All photos are from manufacturer websites)
CHEVY BOLT EUV
GM vs. Ford has been one of the fiercest automotive rivalries ever, and I'm not going to take sides. Yet both companies share one major problem. They may make huge (and hugely popular) pickup trucks with enough torque to put a dead planet back into orbit. And they make iconic V8-powered muscle cars, which now offer Ferrari levels of performance for half the price. Yet when it comes to their lineups of ordinary cars (well, mostly just crossovers now), both companies fall well short of their rivals from Japan and Korea. And despite GM's head start on hybrids and EVs a decade ago with the Volt, today it's in the same position as all the other legacy automakers--chasing Tesla. The Bolt EV--the only electric car GM currently makes--is a very good car, and was very well-received when it came out in 2017. But it's just not as cool or interesting as the Tesla Model 3, and thus has not sold as well. And the new Bolt EUV is, for the most part, more of the same. There's nothing at all wrong with the car--it has a reasonable range of 250 miles, as well as the option of GM's excellent Super Cruise semi-autonomous driving system. But the car is completely anonymous -GM hasn't done nearly enough to set the EUV apart from the normal Bolt. There's simply no way in which the Bolt EUV stands out, except one: The price. And the price is likely to be what saves this car. It's $8K less than a Tesla Model Y, and is even around $3K cheaper than the previous generation of the regular Bolt (the refreshed version of the regular Bolt is around $5K cheaper). The EUV is only about $3K more than the Mini Electric, a vehicle that's more interesting than the Bolt, but also less practical and with just 110 miles of range. In fact, it's substantially cheaper than any other EV with similar range. A base model Tesla Model 3 is about $37K, as is the Hyundai Kona EV, while the Nissan Leaf Plus is around $38K. So the Bolt might not be particularly exciting, but I suspect it will probably convince a lot more internal-combustion car owners to switch permanently to electric.
Despite (or more likely because of) the fact that the last Nissan Frontier dated back to the Mesozoic era, I always liked it. For one thing, it was the last truly small pickup truck on sale. And because of its age, it lacked modern luxuries, which made it a more utilitarian vehicle than most other pickups. But inevitably, the Frontier has been redesigned after 17 years (!), and this newer version should be a strong contender in its class. For one thing, while it's grown bigger during the redesign, it's still not huge, which is good. For another, it's very good looking, and it could serve as a lesson to Ford and GM on how to make a truck that looks tough without looking ridiculous and quite possibly homicidal. On the other hand, the interior does look kind of cheap in photos. I don't mind (it is a truck, after all), but all those weirdos who use their trucks as luxury vehicles might want to look elsewhere. Overall, though, the Frontier looks like it will be a strong competitor in the midsize truck segment, although it's too early to tell if it will be the best in class.
BMW M5 CS
It seems like really track-focused sedans are becoming more and more common nowadays. First there was the slightly bonkers and entirely awesome Jaguar XE Project 8, then the Alfa Romeo Giulia GTA, and now this even faster version of the BMW M5. The M5 CS closely follows the established formula for special editions of existing high performance cars, in that it's a little lighter, a little more powerful, and a lot more expensive. In fact, the CS starts at $143K, which is more than $30K higher than the regular M5. That's a pretty steep price difference, and it's a little di cult to see how it could be worth the price. On the other hand, reviews of the BMW M2 CS seem to indicate that it's significantly better than the regular M2, so maybe BMW will be able to make the price gap seem justified. Overall, the CS seems to take a slightly different approach than some other track-focused sedans. It's not nearly as track-focused/insane as the Jaguar Project 8, lacking the huge wing, roll cage and loud styling of the Jag (and the BMW also has back seats). The M5 CS is more like the wingless Touring version of the Project 8--more focused than a regular supersedan, but still with some concessions to luxury and on-road usability.
JEEP GRAND CHEROKEE
The Jeep Grand Cherokee is sort of like the AC/DC of cars--hugely, consistently popular, and it hasn't changed at all for 40 years. OK, that last one is an exaggeration, but 10 years is still a long time between redesigns for a vehicle as popular and important as the Grand Cherokee (it's the best-selling vehicle Jeep makes, even ahead of the Wrangler). Now, however, Jeep has finally released a redesigned Grand Cherokee, and, in order to compete with other large crossovers, it now has three rows of seats, making it a cheaper Grand Wagoneer for people who have taste (sort of). Here's the basic information: The Grand Cherokee L (a two-row version will arrive later) starts at $38K for the base model, and goes up to $60K for the top trim level. That's more than competitors like the Honda Pilot or Kia Telluride, but I guess you pay more for the Jeep name. The engines are the same 3.6 liter V6 and 5.7 liter V8 that were in the last one. OK, that's enough boring information, now on to my opinions. First, the styling. I like it. It looks similar to Jeep's atrocious Grand Wagoneer concept from last fall, but it's a lot more restrained, without the gratuitous overuse of chrome and LEDs that was a key component of the Grand Wagoneer's styling. The other key thing about the Grand Cherokee is that it looks immediately like a Jeep, unlike the blobby and boring regular Cherokee. It has a boxy and slab-sided pro le, like all Jeeps should have, and the detailing is also more interesting than the last Grand Cherokee. But what's even better than the exterior is the interior. It looks incredible--well-designed, with great materials, and even some actual physical buttons in addition to the obligatory massive screen. In short, the new Grand Cherokee seems to do everything it has to, and I expect that Jeep will continue to sell millions of them.
Ever since it was released in the late 1980s, the VW Jetta GLI has always played second fiddle to the more famous Golf GTI. Several generations of GLIs have been less powerful and, judging from contemporary road tests, not as good. Well, the new VW Jetta GLI now has the same amount of horsepower as the GTI, but is it as good? My dad and I test drove it at the 2020 Washington Auto Show to find out (all impressions of steering, handling, and powertrain responsiveness are my dad’s--because I’m not old enough to drive).
On the show floor, I spent some time in both the GLI and the GTI, and the difference in interior room was dramatic. The Golf had an OK amount of space, but it was not enough to be comfortable on long trips. The Jetta had significantly more rear seat space than the Golf, which helps me to understand why it’s so much more popular among American buyers. The Jetta also has a very large trunk. (click the title to read more)
All photos from VW's US website
The interior of the Jetta is pretty good. It won’t blow you away, but it feels very well made, and the materials are quite good. The design is sort of restrained and elegant. Unfortunately, this doesn’t extend to the outside of the car. There’s nothing offensive about the car’s styling, but it’s pretty generic and not nearly as attractive as the Golf.
Despite being larger than the GTI, the GLI starts at about $1,600 less ($26K vs. $27,600). Not a major difference, but fairly surprising still. In the past, the tradeoff was that you got less power in the GLI, but that’s not the case anymore--the GLI gets the same 228 horsepower, 258 lb-ft of torque turbocharged 2.0 liter inline four as the GTI, and in both cars, the engine comes with either a 6-speed manual transmission or a 7-speed DSG automatic. Our test car was the top trim level, the $30K Autobahn model, and it came with the optional DSG. However, the DSG was excellent--very responsive and smooth, even in stop-and-go traffic where other dual-clutch gearboxes we’ve tried (I’m looking at you, Ford Focus and Dodge Dart) have been horribly unrefined and unresponsive. I’m sure a manual would have been more fun, but the point remains: There’s no shame in getting a GLI or GTI with a DSG--unlike, say, getting an automatic Miata.
The GLI also rode very well--as well as the (non-performance oriented) Honda Civic. Overall, it was a very comfortable car that I think the vast majority of Americans could use as a daily driver. And yet the GLI doesn’t seem to sacrifice driving fun to achieve these goals. The environment that we were driving in (downtown D.C.) was not exactly ideal for testing performance cars, so I can’t say for sure how good it was. However, the GLI seemed like a very fun car, with sharp, responsive handling and excellent body control. Also, the engine was excellent. Certainly, comparing the GLI to an ordinary compact sedan, you see exactly where your money has gone. And speaking of money, that’s the other great thing about this car--many people can easily afford it, especially if you skip the frankly unnecessary Autobahn trim, which basically only gives you leather seats, a substance that is inferior in nearly every single way to cloth, and requires you to kill animals to get it--but I digress.
The GLI has gone through phases of being extremely good and being slightly underwhelming, but this is definitely one of the good ones. It’s quick, fun to drive, practical and good value. It’s a sports sedan with none of the downsides, a GTI with more room and a lower sticker price. If you can afford to buy a dull family crossover, you can afford to buy this, and you will give up very little to do so. If you want a daily driver that is fun to drive and still very usable, it’s hard to think of a better option.
Compact cars: Have they gotten so good/big that they have rendered midsize sedans pointless? At the 2020 Washington Auto show in late January, Honda offered test drives of the Civic and Accord, giving me the opportunity to determine which is the better car when price is taken into consideration. All impressions of handling are my dad’s -- because I’m still not old enough to drive. (All photos are from Honda’s website.)
We tested both cars in top of the line Touring trim levels. The Civic came in at around $31K, the Accord at $37K. Both came with leather interiors, a large screen, and a suite of active safety features called “Honda Sensing.” (There's a read more link down in the bottom right corner, or click on the headline to read more. Sorry how hard it is to figure that out, Weebly was designed by idiots. But I digress).
Toyota Supra: I really like it, and I think it looks fantastic, but none of those fake vents can easily be made real, despite what the Supra's chief engineer said. Still, even if you disapprove of the BMW underpinnings, you can't deny that it's a lot better than the last notable collaboration between Japan and Germany.
Toyota 86: Probably my favorite car Toyota makes, and now it comes in a really cool green-with-gold wheels color scheme
Toyota Land Cruiser: The official company car of Greenpeace
Toyota Corolla Hatchback: A very nice car ruined by a useless back seat that has about as much space as the back seats in the 86.
My thoughts on the new Tesla Cybertruck: https://drivetribe.com/p/heres-what-i-think-of-the-new-tesla-aQBhHiFQSU-t9F0f_KaZfA?iid=IBnaM-6xT1WE3gNL47mI6Q
My thoughts on the Mustang Mach E: https://drivetribe.com/p/ford-reveals-new-electric-mustang-LsjzH_W6TNaTDT1P5CInyA?iid=PkFqa3YlS2ydEj6kFfDvag
Welcome to Too Awesome For Production, where I highlight the greatest concept cars of all time. I will continue to do this until I get bored or run out of ideas.
The Audi Nanuk Quattro Concept is the greatest concept car of the past decade. Do not try and argue, just look:
Say what you want about Ferdinand Piech, but there can be no doubt that he is one of the most significant figures in the entire history of the automobile.
At Porsche, he oversaw the 917, one of the most dominant race cars ever built.
At Audi, he oversaw the Quattro, which permanently changed high-performance cars by introducing all-wheel drive into the equation.
And although his failed attempts to move Volkswagen upmarket are not really celebrated, I think that period deserves recognition for giving us some of the most wonderfully insane cars of the 21st century. The following are six of my favorites from When Volkswagen Went Nuts.
Just because you don't like a car does not mean it is terrible
I am writing this because I have noticed that approximately 99.9% of people on Drivetribe
(and most car enthusiasts in general, but on Drivetribe it seems accentuated by the
presence of one J. Clarkson) really hate the Toyota Prius. And I do mean really hate it. They
regard it the same way they do cars like the Yugo, or the Pontiac Aztek. I am here to say
enough is enough. I don't like the Prius either, but the indignant hatred for this car among
my fellow car enthusiasts is completely uncalled for. And today, I will explain why.
JUST BECAUSE YOU DON'T LIKE SOMETHING DOESN'T MEAN IT IS BAD.
I don't much like the Bugatti Veyron. I know it's very fast, but I think it's too heavy, and I
don't like the way it looks. But that does not mean it isn't one of the most incredible
technological achievements in recent automotive history.
I don't like modern pickup trucks. I think they are way too big, and I hate how their front
fascias always make them look like they are about to run you over and then eat you off the
road. But that doesn't mean they are bad. In fact, even I admit that the way modern pickup
trucks combine better-than-ever payload and towing capacities with luxury car comfort is
nothing short of astonishing.
And so it goes with the Prius. I don't like the Prius. I think the current one looks like it was
chopped to pieces with a machete and then artlessly reassembled by a hyperactive 3-year
old. I also think it is incredibly boring. But here's the thing: The Prius also has several good
Chief among those is how unbelievably refined and comfortable it is. I have ridden in the
previous 3 generations of Prius (I am not old enough to drive them). I have also ridden in a
brand new, top-of-the-line Cadillac CT6, and although the Cadillac had more luxury
features, the Prius was practically as comfortable simply through the virtue of its pillowy
ride quality and total absence of noise beyond a faint hum from the electric motor and the
engine. I know many hardcore track-day fans won't believe me, but there are times when
these things are good.
More of interest to car enthusiasts is the engineering that goes into this car. Whether you
truly love the Prius, or despise it with every fiber of your being, you have to admit it is an
impressive feat of engineering. To get a gas-electric hybrid to be so unobtrusive and
refined is not easy to do; just ask Honda, who have tried (and failed) at least three times
already to make a credible Prius rival.
And then there is the most obvious Prius high point: Miniscule carbon emissions.
Look, you can complain about this last point all you want. But I don't care what Clarkson or
Our Orange Overlord say. Climate change is a proven scientifc fact, and if you deny it, you
are not in touch with reality. There are now many green cars coming out that are cool and
interesting and in general the sort of things that car enthusiasts would love. None of this
is possible without the Toyota Prius. It eliminated most of the obstacles to green car
ownership, and in doing so, might literally have saved the world.
So, my point is this. You don't have to like the Toyota Prius. But try not to hate it quite so
Rory Cahill is a highly sarcastic teenage car enthusiast and amateur automotive journalist, who is especially interested in 80s/90s cars, classic off-roaders, and anything weird. He owns a 1984 Mercedes-Benz 300D Turbodiesel. He is also very interested in rock music and politics, and wrote this whole bio in the third person because he is a filthy, filthy snob