Exhaust Notes

Decision Guide


Here are the cars you bought or ignored last year, plus a few that won't be coming back.

By Clifford Atiyeh Jan 4, 2013 1:09PM

Americans are a tough bunch. We don't easily forgive poor quality. We're mostly in love with large, high-riding cars, not station wagons or hatchbacks. We like saving fuel, but hate underpowered engines. We love pickup trucks and can't get enough of the Ford F-150. We always buy Honda and Toyota, no matter what.

That last sentence isn't true anymore, although the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord still top the sales charts. Competition was fierce from all corners in 2012, and as the U.S. market continues to recover from the recession's depths, it'll get harder and harder to find a truly bad car.

To that end, we present a few standout cars you bought last year, some others you didn't, plus a few that will never return.


MINI Countryman earns 'good' rating, Mazda5 called 'worst-performing model.'

By Douglas Newcomb 10 hours ago

Small cars and crossovers are increasingly popular as consumers gravitate toward gas-sipping vehicles. But there’s always the question of how safe a small vehicle is in a collision.

In the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s most recent round of evaluations using its tough new small overlap front crash test, the independent group found that a dozen vehicles, including several compacts, “run the gamut” in terms of occupant protection. Of the 2014 model year cars tested, only one scored the highest “good” rating, five earned an "acceptable" rating, two received a "marginal" rating and four a "poor" rating.

IIHS, an independent nonprofit group funded by insurance companies, introduced the small overlap test in 2012 to replicate the front driver’s side corner of a car colliding with another vehicle or an object such as a tree or utility pole at 40 mph. IIHS said that the small overlap test “is more difficult” than both the head-on crashes conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration or its own moderate overlap test since a vehicle's “crush zone” that's designed to absorb the impact of a crash is mostly bypassed. As a result, the occupant compartment can collapse, potentially causing more injury to those inside.


What is the world coming to when a Land Rover outguns sports cars on a racetrack?

By Clifford Atiyeh 11 hours ago
When a Range Rover starts beating exotic sports cars around racetracks, you'll know the automobile has reached a mighty strange zenith. That time, according to that luxury SUV's maker, is now.

Land Rover just scored an eight-minute, 14-second run around Germany's Nürburgring with its new Range Rover Sport SVR, an upcoming high-performance version of its bestselling SUV. While these stopwatch times are meaningless to buyers, they do carry enormous insight into a car's performance around the most challenging stretch of road in the entire world.

By the clock, this big, leather-lined 4-wheel-drive tank is as fast as a 12-cylinder Mercedes convertible, faster than the first Aston Martin V12 Vanquish from 2001 and steps on the toes of plenty more sports cars that can't handle a snowflake, let alone two feet of standing water under their tires (see the whole Nürburgring list here). It's also 20 seconds faster than the sportiest of all SUVs, the Porsche Cayenne Turbo. 

On Sept. 8, XE will be unveiled at 'a secret location' in London.

By AutoWeek 11 hours ago

XE is the name of the noble gas xenon, the name of a popular currency conversion site, and for a while, the name of the infamous Blackwater paramilitary company. For our intents and purposes, though, it is the name of that small Jaguar sedan we've been waiting since the F-Type became old news. (Jaguar, among others, is very good at playing the long tease.) Now, that drawn-out tease enters another stage: We see the front end, unwrapped, in "S" specification.

We've seen the rest before, exposed and dissected like an automotive Body Worlds, showing off its unique aluminum-intensive chassis. Surprise, surprise: The front matches pretty nicely. If it looks like a squarer XF, that would be intentional.

But beyond that, the XE will carry forth Jaguar's new line of 2.0-liter turbo fours, the default engine layout of the Continent these days: Only Jaguar will name its turbo four "Ingenium," a word James Cameron should've used in Avatar instead of "Unobtanium." Jaguar claims that the gasoline and diesel engines -- which will be versatile enough for transverse or longitudinal positioning, depending on AWD or RWD -- will not only return great mileage but also propel the car to 186 mph.


The 'problem' only affects drivers in crashes who don't buckle up, according to Chrysler.

By Exhaust Notes 14 hours ago
Chrysler is recalling the Fiat 500L to replace knee airbags, according to a brief statement by the company.

About 29,500 500L models from 2014 and 2015 have driver's-side knee airbags that "may not deploy in the proper position if the driver is not wearing a seatbelt." Such are the tough regulations by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that automakers have to meet even to protect people who fail to put on their belt. Only 25,500 cars will need a replacement in the U.S., with the rest in Canada. Chrysler hasn't set a start date for repairs. In the meantime, owners can call Chrysler at 1-800-853-1403.

In March, Chrysler recalled 18,100 500L models in the U.S. to fix dual-clutch automatic transmissions that could be slow to shift out of park or engage other selected gears. The 500L is a new model for 2014.

In May, 4,141 Fiat 500e electric cars were recalled for power inverters that could leak coolant onto electrical components and cause a short circuit.

[Source: Chrysler]

Two sensor problems marred an otherwise pleasant hands-free drive with Florida Gov. Rick Scott.

By Clifford Atiyeh 17 hours ago
We all know computers and electronic devices crash for no reason, so perhaps it shouldn't be a surprise that Audi's autonomous car had to reboot twice on a Florida highway.

Earlier this week, Florida Gov. Rick Scott sat shotgun in a fully automated A7 as a small convoy of Audi engineers and media drove down a closed highway section in Tampa. But sensor glitches forced the car to a halt twice, even with just two cars nearby and on a perfectly sunny day, according to the Tampa Bay Tribune.

Florida is one of four states, along with Washington, D.C., that permit road testing for autonomous cars. Nevada came first in February 2012, and then Florida in July of that year, followed by California and Washington, D.C. in April 2013, and Michigan in December.  

LR2 replacement set to go on sale next year, will feature '5+2' seating.

By AutoWeek Thu 1:33 PM

Land Rover has taken to using camouflage not only as a means to disguise the prototypes and pre-preduction cars, but also a canvas to give sneak peeks at upcoming cars. And while the recently-revealed Range Rover SVR wore a wrap meant to evoke a lightning bolt, Land Rover is giving the world a preview of the upcoming Discovery Sport by peeling back the camo a bit to give everyone a look inside.

Land Rover has been developing a replacement for the Freelander, which has been called the LR2 in North America since the 2008 version was offered here, and this is it. If you'll recall, the Discovery is no longer called the Discovery in North America as it is in other markets; ours is called the LR4. So the Discovery Sport will be taking over for the LR2 rather than being a spin-off based on the larger LR4.

The company has decided not to offer a smaller if not necessarily sportier version of the LR4, as it did with the three-door version of the 1989 original (don't bother looking for them on eBay, they weren't sold in North America), with the Discovery Sport taking on that role instead. And the upcoming midsize SUV is expected to use a version of the Range Rover Evoque chassis.


Pair will work together to produce high-volume, low-cost batteries for Tesla’s upcoming mass-market Model 3.

By Douglas Newcomb Thu 10:46 AM

Tesla Panasonic Gigafactory agreement. Photo by Panasonic.Another piece of the Tesla Gigafactory puzzle is now in place. But it’s not a complete surprise that the electric automaker’s partner in the massive new battery factory will be Panasonic.

Tesla has made no secret that Panasonic would be involved in its proposed factory to build lithium-ion batteries for the company’s electric vehicles and possibly those of other automakers. But both companies officially announced today that they’ve signed an agreement.

The factory is designed to produce more batteries for significantly less than what they cost now. And this will ideally enable Tesla to price its mass-market electric car, the Model 3, that it hopes to roll out in a few years for $35,000.

According to Tesla, the Gigafactory will require an investment of up to $5 billion. The deal announced today with Panasonic lays out the terms for each partner’s participation and confirmed that the two companies will cooperate on the plant’s operation. Tesla also said that the Gigafactory will create up to 6,500 jobs. Which state will get the plant and those jobs is still to be determined — and a subject of speculation and jockeying by politicians who want the plum Tesla plant.


Advanced safety systems save lives, but ‘will thrash entire industries built on the fact that you crack up your car.’

By Douglas Newcomb Wed 1:28 PM

2013 Ford Fusion Driver Assists. Photo by Ford.Driver assistance systems such as forward-collision prevention that take over steering and braking have been proven to save lives and reduce injuries. But as the technology spreads to more cars and prevents more types of accidents, it also has the potential to save car owners money from collision repairs — and put a major dent in the revenue of auto body shops and other businesses that profit from crashes.

That’s the conclusion of a recent blog post by David P. Carlisle, chairman of the consulting and research firm Carlisle & Company, after analyzing trends and data from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The Carlisle analysis took into account four driver assist systems — forward collision warning or prevention, lane departure warning or prevention, blind spot warning and adaptive headlights — and their potential to prevent accidents.

Using IIHS data and the company’s own “mathematical modeling,” Carlisle deduced that 30 percent of all collision repairs could be avoided once the systems become available in all cars. Of course, that could take years. But Carlisle noted that the IIHS's companion research agency, the Highway Loss Data Institute, predicts that approximately 20 percent of all registered vehicles will have forward collision warning systems by 2020. This alone could prevent more than 3 million car crashes — and have a major financial impact on the collision repair industry.



  • Cliff Atiyeh

    Clifford Atiyeh has spent his entire life driving cars he doesn't own. Raised in Volvos, he has grown to love fast, irresponsible vehicles of all kinds. He is the senior news editor at MSN Autos and also reports for Car and Driver, Road & Track, The Boston Globe and other publications.
    In the garage: 21-speed Iron Horse, 2002 Jeep Wrangler X (not his)

  • Doug Newcomb

    Doug Newcomb has covered car technology for over 20 years for outlets ranging from Rolling Stone to Edmunds.com. In 2008, he published his first book, "Car Audio for Dummies" (Wiley). He lives and drives in Hood River, Ore., with his wife and two kids, who share his passion for cars and technology.
    In the garage: 1996 Chevrolet Impala SS, two 1984 Chevrolet Blazers, 2008 Honda CR-V

  • James Tate

    James Tate learned to drive stick at age 13 in a 1988 Land Cruiser - in La Paz, Bolivia. He's since been a mechanic, on a pit crew and has wrenched on every car he's owned since his first 1989 Honda CRX Si (and won't stop until the car is a 1973 Porsche 911 RS). His work has appeared in Car and Driver, Popular Mechanics, Automobile and others.
    In the garage: 1995 Porsche 911 Carrera, 1988 BMW M5

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