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Auto Corner with John Dickerson

Auto Corner with John Dickerson

The Car to Beat: 2012 BMW 3 Series

BMW's new 3 series remains the best in the world

2013 Jaguar XF Review: This Cat Purrs

Jaguar’s XF Upsets the Balance of Luxury Sedan Leaders

2012 Hyundai Genesis: Game Changer

Hyundai's Genesis Upsets the Balance of Luxury Sedan Leaders Each year, dozens of automakers each produce dozens of models. Many are good. Some are great. But rarely—every decade or two—a true game changer is unveiled, a vehicle that entirely upsets the balance of the industry. Toyota unveiled one such game changer in 1990, with the first ever Lexus. Hyundai, now the fastest growing automaker on the planet, is now in a position much like Toyota in 1990. And, like Toyota/Lexus, Hyundai introduced a game changing luxury sedan in 2008—the Genesis. The Hyundai Genesis blew all of our expectations out of the water. It was quieter, smoother and faster than we expected. It was more refined. And it started at just north of $30,000—tens of thousands less than the vehicles it truly competes with. {sidebar id=11} This year, Hyundai introduces dozens of improvements to the 2012 Genesis. Most importantly, its suspension is even better. So is the "base" engine on the cheapest available model—now priced at $35,000. The Genesis is intentionally priced far below any competing BMW, Lexus or Audi. It's priced more in line with loaded Ford Taurus's, Chrysler 300's and Nissan Maxima's. And yet, the Genesis is designed to take on the best from BMW, Mercedes, and the like. And in many ways, it belongs more among those top brands than other $30,000 sedans. What the Genesis offers more than any of its bargain-luxury-priced competitors is a sense of big-dollar luxury. From the outside-in, the Genesis represents a brave new era for Hyundai. High-dollar touches and design are complemented by class-leading technology and breathtaking performance. Genesis buyers can choose from three awe-inspiring engines, depending on their need for speed and budget. The Genesis's smallest engine, a 3.8 liter V-6, now boasts 333-horsepower. The available 4.8 liter V-8 offers 385 horsepower, and the performance bred R-Spec boasts a 429-horsepower 5.0 liter V-8. These numbers are not incidentally similar to the horsepower numbers available on pricier Jaguar, Audi and BMW sedan. And yet, despite those powerful engine numbers, the Hyundai's price tag remains stubbornly low—starting at $35,000 for the V-6, at $45,000 for the V-8, and at $47,000 for the performance R-Spec. For most buyers, the "base" V-6 offers plenty of gusto. It rockets the Genesis from 0-60 in a startling 5.5 seconds. The R-Spec V-8 makes the same sprint in an incredible 4.8 seconds. In all, the Genesis sedan doesn't unseat any of the true top-tier luxury sedans—Audi, Mercedes, BMW, or the upper Lexuses for that matter. It's a great car, but it lacks the decades of experience that these storied brands all carry. What the Hyundai Genesis does do is make a whole bunch of mid-level luxury sedans look irrelevant and over-priced. For the price of a loaded Nissan Maxima, you can now have a sedan that looks, feels and performs a lot more like a BMW. Anyone looking for a nice luxury sedan—and looking to get the most luxury, comfort and performance per penny—would do well to test-drive the 2012 Hyundai Genesis.  

A Grocery Getter for Dads

2012 Toyota Sienna wins Sportiest in Minivan Wars Dads with style have long resisted minivans, mostly due to the stigma they bring with them. Toyota, not typically the leader in vehicle sportyness, has realized this. And they’ve created what is perhaps the sportiest looking minivan to date, the SE version of the new Toyota Sienna. First, a word about the minivan industry in general. In October, 2011, Chrysler announced that it will soon stop producing its Dodge Caravan. Toyota’s Sienna is one of the reasons why. It’s simply far better than other vans on the market, including the Dodge. If you’re thinking Wasn’t the Caravan the best-selling van in the world a decade or so ago?, then you’d be right. {sidebar id=10} Just as Toyota and Honda pushed the Ford Taurus out of its slot as best-selling sedan, they have now pushed the Caravan out of its space as best-selling minivan. Why? Their vans are quieter, smoother, incredibly more reliable and, simply put, better vehicles. Even the new entries from Nissan and Kia are better than the Dodge—though I wouldn’t put them in the same category with the Sienna (more on that later). If you’re shopping minivans—or even if you’re not—the Toyota Sienna may be precisly what you’re looking for, if you can afford it. As with the Caravan that created this niche market, the Sienna is marvelous for young families. However, more and more Babyboomers and retirees are also buying Sienna’s and similar minivans, like Honda’s Odyssey, because they’re so easy to get in and out of. They’re incredibly reliable, and they easily carry lots of friends and cargo in comfort. If long-term reliability, comfort, luxury and hauling ability are all on your list of wants, you’d do well to test drive a few of the newest minivans. Having piloted all these luxury-wagons, I find the Toyota to be the most sophisticated and enjoyable, as well as the best value. None of these new-school minivans are cheap. Most start barely shy of $30k. The Sienna starts toward the bottom, at $25k. Load any of these vans up with leather, navigation and all the power options, and you can easily be looking at a van north of $40,000. Keep in mind though, these loaded vans drive about as nicely as a Lexus (also made by Toyota), Acura (Honda’s luxury badge) or Infiniti (Nissan’s luxury brand). And what about the competition? The Kia Sedona and Nissan Quest are upping the ante in this category. Nice as those slightly-cheaper competitors are, neither has the proven reliablity of the Sienna. For the leading manufacturers, the minivan wars are heating up. The new Sienna only has one serious competitor, the Honda Odyssey. The sporty new Sienna SE, however, has no true competitor as a cool van for dads.
Toyota improves an already-great Camry for 2012 My only complaint with the 2011 Toyota Camry was that it was a bit bland. Though, that complaint was not shared by many. Some 328,000 Americans thought the Camry was the best car for their money—making it the best selling sedan in the U.S. for yet another year. For the few of us who did find the 2011 Camry a bit too conservative, there is good news. Toyota has improved the 2012 Camry with edgier styling and slightly tighter, better handling springs. In all, Toyota has taken its best-seller and made it even better. It rides better, looks better, and inside it feels more upscale than the 2011 model. With all that improvement, the 2012 Camry still retains its bargain price. In other words, the most practical sedan money can buy is now an even more comfortable and good looking. With the exception of the Honda Accord, no other family sedan can touch Toyota’s reputation for reliability or its middle-of-the road family appeal. If resale value, gas mileage and crash ratings top your priority list, then the 2012 Camry is your baby. This car shines and ranks near the top in most, if not all those contests.  {sidebar id=9} The new Camry can be had with either a 2.5 liter four-cylinder engine or a potent and smooth 268-horsepower V-6, which may be the best V-6 engine in the family sedan market. The four-cylinder offers enough power for most drivers (179 horsepower in the SE model), while earning 25 miles for every gallon of city driving and a noteworthy 35 mpg highway. The V-6 delivers a more refined and confident drive with plenty more punch off the line. It lands 21 mpg city/30 highway.The Camry does not pretend to be a sports sedan. However, shoppers looking for a sporty family sedan should not write off the sport-tuned SE trim package. I recently tested a 2012 Camry SE and was delighted with its gas mileage, handling and value. The SE offers a small step in the direction of driving excitement, while retaining Toyota value, reliability and resale value. It starts at just $23,000. Of course, the Camry hybrid remains one of the most comfortable and civilized hybrids on the road today. It delivers 43 mpg in the city and 39 mpg on the highway. With any of the optional engines, the Camry earns a gold stars for its safety score. Five gold stars, to be precise. That’s the perfect score that The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gave for front and side crashes in the 2012 Camry. On the previous model, I complained that the Camry had lost the quality interior materials that set the base Camry apart in the 1990’s. Thankfully, all that has changed for 2012. The interior of the “base” model Camry now feels more upscale and competent. In all, the 2012 Camry resolves my only two complaints with the previous Camry. And, it continues doing what Camry has always done best – delivering an unbeatable concoction of practicality and value.
2011 Ford Mustang exceeds expectations in quality, mileage and performance.
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