Short Takes: Reviews, Oddities and Milestones

Jim Motavalli

Jim Motavalli | Feb 06, 2017

It’s 2017.

Exactly 100 years ago, America was plunged into the depths of World War I, but it was also completing the transition from the horse to the horseless carriage. A Vancouver Daily World reporter that year reported on the advantages. Cars, he said, “don’t keep you up at night with distemper. They don’t balk. They don’t have lockjaw. When they step on rusty nails, they keep right on going. They don’t die ... For the foregoing reasons, and for many others too numerous to mention, the horse is just about a has-been.” The car, one scribe wrote then, “is making old people young again.”

The Mazda CX-3: hitting the hot subcompact crossover segment. If you "need" an SUV, maybe this is the one. (Mazda photo)

The 2017 Mazda CX-3 is in the hottest car segment. Everybody is buying crossovers. In some ways this is a good development, because they’re car-based, and tend to be usefully fuel efficient. The CX-3 is a subcompact crossover—a hatchback with styling cues—which means we’re segmenting a segment. Under the hood is a 146-horsepower, two-liter Skyactiv four, coupled to a six-speed auto. As a Mazda owner myself, I got along with the CX-3 just fine, though prospective buyers should keep in mind that they have just 12 cubic feet of cargo space with the second row of seats in place (but up to 44 with them folded). Prices start under $20,000, and add $1,50 for AWD.

A resplendent 1935 Pierce Arrow 845: We'll never see its like again.

In the 1910s and 1920s, there were literally hundreds of auto manufacturers. They ranged from companies that merely assembled cars from available parts to full-scale manufacturers that even fabricated their own engines. Now we're down to the Big Three, plus Tesla. Did the companies that disappeared deserve to die? Many did, but I miss Packard, Pierce Arrow, Studebaker, Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg, and many others.

These videos are all over the internet. The Tesla Model S takes on…in this case it’s the new P100D, capable of zero to 60 in 2.5 seconds, versus a 2016 Lamborghini Huracan LP610-4. It’s a fun joust, with the cars changing places—but the Lamborghini ultimately pulls away. The Tesla has the horsepower advantage in Ludicrous mode, though, 760 versus 602. Is that a public road they’re drag racing on?

I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, too, but infotainment has actually gotten slower to respond than in the 50s—when the transistor radios were instant-on and easy to use. Turn on the “system” now and it runs legal mumbo-jumbo by you, and sometimes takes a full minute or two to start making noise. Plus, if you go into reverse, the back-up camera takes over and disables all audio controls—so you sometimes get blasted out by your kid’s dance pop before you can turn it down. And the camera occasionally keeps control for at least 30 seconds while you’re moving forward. Don’t get me started on complicated Euro-type systems that require four screens to find a radio station. What gives here?

Infotainment is getting complicated these days, Fido says. And what's with all the beeping?

Why are so many car writers complaining about their cars beeping at them? Boo hoo, it’s the nanny state. I know it’s not macho to have active safety equipment on your car, but it saves lives and I’m all for it. Go ahead and drive your classic muscle cars with 400 horsepower, no seatbelts and marginal brakes, if that’s what floats your boat. But don’t come crying to me when you have an accident.

The Acura TLX: You can live with the base model. (Acura photo)

The Acura TLX was trotted out for the 2015 model year, replacing not one but two other models—the TSX and the TL. It’s a high-tech tour de force aimed at Audi, BMW, Benz and Jaguar’s XE (which I also sampled recently). Car and Driver calls it “the Japanese answer to the Buick Regal,” which is certainly not the insult it might once have been. Buyers can choose between a 206-horsepower four and a 3.5-liter V-6. With the latter you can get a sophisticated AWD system, and also opting for the Technology package will make the TLX a very capable (but getting expensive) small sedan. You can live with the four and FWD, because the difference in pricing is rather dramatic—$32,840 for the 2.4-liter base, versus $45,740 for the top-of-the-line 3.5-liter with the Advance package. I was happy with the TLX, and it would make a fine commuter car, though it’s not extraordinarily distinctive.

Toyota's Camry Hybrid offers 38 mpg, but don't expect much from EV mode. (Toyota photo)

Hybrid cars, like the 38 mpg (combined), $35,029 Toyota Camry XLE I’m testing, come with an EV button so you can switch into all-electric mode. But the range is only about a mile, and the conditions have to be just right. My Camry lasted in EV mode about 10 seconds before it gave me an “excessive acceleration” message. Really? I’d just tapped the darned thing. If you want EV mode, opt instead for something like the Prius Prime, a plug-in hybrid that’s a real bargain, too. I liked the Camry just fine otherwise. How about a Toyota Camry Prime?

Mileage champ: The Hyundai Elantra Eco achieves 40 mpg on the highway, without hybrid drive. (Hyundai photo)

Hyundai’s Elantra Eco makes up for Hyundai’s earlier problems with fuel economy ratings. It really does get 40 mpg on the highway, compared to 28/29 for the regular version. And 32 mpg in town isn’t bad, either. The Eco has a totally different engine from the standard Elantra, a direct-injected, 1.4-liter turbo four, coupled to a sophisticated seven-speed dual-clutch automatic.

The good news is that the Eco is fun to drive, too, and actually faster than the base model. Some reviewers have complained about jerky low-speed performance, but the Eco was well-mannered with me. Cars this good are challenging the hybrids in the marketplace.

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