Blog Posts by Aki Sugawara

  • 2014 Honda CR-Z, seeking a wilder mild hybrid: Motoramic Drives

    I’ve always loved what the CR-X stood for: a nimble economy car that’s all smiles when squealing the tires at the speed limit. So when I first drove the hybrid CR-Z from 2011, it felt like a betrayal of its predecessor; a close cousin of the gutless Honda Insight, it neither offered the sprightly dynamics nor the understated style of its classic ancestor.

    But although Honda couldn’t fix all of the CR-Z’s shortfalls with a mid-cycle refresh, it’s surprisingly improved behind the wheel.

    Yes, the front is still one giant overhang and the side looks like a crudely cut cheese wedge. But sit inside and the red-tinged black fabric seats are a step up from the pallid grey ones in the 2012 model, which resembled a dentist’s chair. And while not having the impudent spunk of a Veloster Turbo, the 130-hp engine actually gained some pep in the mid-range, making it enjoyable to row through the six-speed manual’s gears. For the price range it’s still one of the better transmissions around, with a

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  • 2013 Dodge Dart long-term update: Unintentional keyless ignition

    We’re nearing 12,000 miles on our Dodge Dart, which has proven itself a reliable road-trip car. The transmission-seizing woes of the past haven’t cropped back up, though there’s a slight lurch when nearing the stop (and the Dart prefers feathering of the throttle between shifts). But the Alfa-based compact still had some surprises--positive and negative--up its sleeve.

    On the upside, I realized new nooks for storage space. The glove box is one of most cavernous that I’ve ever experienced—when reaching for a pen my arm disappears inside, and I can almost hear echoes as my fingernails scrape its depths. The passenger front seat also has a storage space in the cushion, which I could only

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  • Aston Martin Rapide S, gloriously analog: Motoramic Drives

    Luxury sedans are a dime a dozen in Silicon Valley, where the Tesla Model S has become the must-have accessory for rising, thirty-something tech VPs. As an entrepreneurial mecca, old-money cars like a Bentley Mulsanne barely turn heads, and it takes a special kind of saloon to soak up attention.

    But Aston Martin does just that with its Rapide S sedan.

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  • Rare Porsche shines at Concours d’LeMons, an auto show for clunkers

    If you’ve been to Concours d’Elegance or watched the live stream video, you’d know the event not only showcases museum-quality vintage cars, but also plays up its upper-crust exclusivity (it’s full of social elite who sound like Thurston Howell from Gilligan’s Island). But there’s a more plebeian car show held during the weekend, one where mere mortals can bring their run-down hooptie to be displayed. It’s called the Concours d’LeMons, which according to the official site, highlights the “oddball, mundane, and truly awful of the automotive world.”

    As expected, there are some infamously terrible rides old and new, like the AMC Gremlin, Pontiac Aztek and even the East German Trabant, complete with an 18-hp motor that miraculously got to the show on its own. Since I was desensitized by a weekend full of McLaren MP4-12Cs, Ferraris and Lambos, I expected to drop by LeMons, snap a couple shots of forgettable kitschy cars and move on. But one car captivated me: a tattered 1958 Porsche 356A.

    The Porsche actually first got our attention at the grassy parking area of Concorso Italiano the day before, which was spotted by Greg Anderson, our editorial director. Rust voraciously ate through the oxidized sheet metal, but you got the sense it wore down over the years because somebody loved driving it, and didn’t care to keep it coddled as a museum piece.

    That hunch was confirmed at the LeMons show when I talked to the

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  • BMW M4 bucks tradition, concept leaks ahead of official reveal

    BMW’s name change of the iconic M3 to the M4 may draw howls of protests from Bimmerphiles, but look past the nomenclature and there’s lots to love about the M coupe, which leaked ahead of its official debut at Pebble Beach.

    Although called a concept, the production version won’t change much visually when it debuts next year. Like the outgoing M3, the M4 sees subtle visual tweaks from the standard 4 Series, which include a power-domed hood, a boomerang fender vent (integrating more seamlessly with the character line), larger wheels, and a quad-exhaust system in the back.

    What’s more compelling are the changes underneath the sheet metal. Downsizing from the sonorous V-8 that redlines at a stratospheric 8400 rpm, the engine in the M4 will be a turbocharged straight six, making an estimated 450 horsepower. And BMW finally reverses

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  • All-new 2014 Toyota Corolla goes from bland to bold

    The Toyota Corolla has long been the antithesis of the enthusiast car. It’s the automotive equivalent of smooth jazz — ubiquitous and innocuous but seldom loved. And like a forgettably syrupy Kenny G ballad album, it’s also enjoyed enviable success over the years; in 1997 it beat out the Volkswagen Beetle to become the best-selling nameplate of all time, and is always near the top of the charts for its segment, selling 290,947 units in 2012 in spite of being near the end of its model cycle.

    But reputation and bulletproof reliability alone hasn’t been enough to stave off competition in recent years, and it’s been sparring with the Ford Focus for bragging rights as the best-seller. Since a half-hearted makeover would likely lead to losing more market share, Toyota has unveiled a new, eleventh generation Corolla that’s sleeker and dare I say, interesting.

    Surprisingly similar to the carbon fiber-trimmed Corolla Furia concept from this year’s Detroit Auto Show, the production version sheds the frumpy profile from the existing car by stretching the wheelbase and overall length by almost four inches. With chiseled lines and sculpted creases on the outside and a sportily svelte cabin within, it’s the best-looking Corolla yet. Nonetheless, the smallish tires tucked into cavernous wheel wells show it’s still an economy car at its core.

    And while the fundamentals of the car won’t change much — there’s still

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  • Aston Martin DB9, fine art in motion: Motoramic Drives

    When shopping for a $20,000 commuter, the things you look for are simple and practical, like whether there’s enough rear headroom, of if frogurt stains will wipe off fabric seats. But how do you gauge the value of a $200,000 Aston Martin DB9, an iconic, James Bond-branded exotic? That’s enough scratch to buy a house in most parts of the United States — or a whole Detroit city block.

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  • Volkswagen Golf and GTI get a trim, cut for 2015

    Given that the current-generation Golf is a thinly veiled, cost-conscious facelift of the fifth generation, the people's hatch has been on cruise control for a number of years. Thankfully, it receives a chiseled upgrade for the 2015 model year: longer, lower and lighter, the all-new Golf and GTI unveiled at the 2013 New York Auto Show strike a sleeker profile, thanks in part to Volkswagen’s new MQB architecture.

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  • 2014 Jeep Cherokee evokes shock, little awe

    If there's a valuable design lesson to be learned from the Nissan Juke and Pontiac Aztek, it's that dual headlights rarely work. And Jeep adopted that look not just on any name plate, but on an all-new Cherokee — a classic brand with a loyal following for its utilitarian, no-nonsense style despite its absence from production since 2001.

    Not surprisingly, reactions to its dramatic resurrection, which has been called "contemporary" by Chrysler/Jeep design chief Ralph Gilles, have been brutal, especially in social media.

    "God-awful ugly, and a complete disgrace to its forefather... shame on Chrysler," lamented one twitter user.

    "Looks like a dinosaur," quipped another.

    Earlier this month, frontal shots of the Cherokee were released by Chrysler following leaked photos from the factory. Its official unveiling today at the 2013 New York Auto Show hasn't dulled any of the seething vitriol directed toward the

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  • The rare good angle on an X6 M: Flickr photo of the day

    The BMW X6 and its sloped hatch is—well, ugly. And opinions further polarize when talking about Mansory’s outlandishly customized X6 M, which has air inlets up front big enough to inhale a deer. But it’s captivating in black from this rear, low-angle shot, courtesy of Stefan Sobot. If you have an eye-catching photo of your own to share, add to the Motoramic group on Flickr, or send us a message via Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.

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