Talking Cars (HQ)

Two Ford F-150s were purchased for our test fleet, one with the familiar 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 and the other with Ford's new 2.7-liter EcoBoost V6. Acceleration results from our test track proved surprising. Less surprising were the fuel economy numbers from the lightweight aluminium-bodied truck; we put those into perspective. In other news, our Tesla Model S P85D suffers an early malfunction, highlighting Tesla's customer service. We then reach deep into the mailbag, answering a variety of inquiries. Vehicle collaborations that were reliable, comparing the VW GTI to the Golf R, Acura ILX hate mail, sporty small SUVs, and the forgotten Mazda CX-9 are all discussed.

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Jeep sales are setting new records, driven by models like the new Renegade. These models might help Fiat-Chrysler Group’s balance sheet, but do they risk alienating traditionalists? To find out, we invited George to bring in his off-road-ready 1999 Jeep Cherokee. Other than mercilessly mocking his project Jeep’s various shortcomings, we talk about how the Renegade fits with the brand, how it matches customer expectations, and if it’s a good value or not. Next we answer some reader complaints about reliability and recommendations, particularly comparing the Jeep Cherokee and Volkswagen Golf. Finally, we look at the VW Golf R, the top-trim model of the legendary GTI hot hatch. As expected, the gang is split on the car’s appeal and value.

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We see it all the time in the YouTube comments: questions about the Mazda6 and CX-5. Both models were updated for 2016, so Talking Cars highlights the changes. Both cars stay true to form, with sharp handling and impressive fuel economy. We discuss if Mazda was successful in reducing interior noise, long a brand shortcoming. Also updated for 2016 is the Acura ILX. Despite changes, the car doesn't reach far beyond its Honda Civic roots, making us seriously question its $30,000 price tag.

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Back in Episode #62, we asked our Talking Cars viewers if we should buy a Tesla Model S P85D, and heard a resounding "yes." Your support and interest was one reason for us to buy our most expensive test car yet. While the P85D delivers "insane" performance combined with impressive energy efficiency, that wasn't the only reason for our purchase. This latest Model S also offers Autopilot, with upcoming software updates that will make the Model S one of the first self-driving cars you can buy.

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Talking Cars hits the road, covering the 2015 New York Auto Show in an episode recorded right from the show floor. Honda surprises everyone with a 10th generation Civic. Old-school rivals Cadillac and Lincoln face-off, with the soon-to-production CT6 and the Continental concept. Lexus goes down a different road with the now-sportier RX: will it alienate previous buyers? The Chevrolet Malibu loses hundreds of pounds, yet gains four inches of needed rear seat room. While the Malibu looks way different from the previous car, it takes a much closer eye to spot the changes in the redesigned Kia Optima. The new Nissan Maxima draws on its oddly enduring brand equity. Subaru teases us with a BRZ STi while Scion outsources their iA and brings out a Corolla-based iM hatchback. Finally, the Volkswagen Golf Sportswagen Alltrack sets off a discussion about mainstream vs. enthusiast wagons.

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Other car companies promise self-driving cars, coming years in the future. Tesla just shrinked that timeframe to months, thanks to software updates to the Model S. With the technology leading legislation, this raises a bunch of questions. We discuss how the car is becoming a rolling supercomputer, how that affects vehicle design, and what this all means for driving enthusiasts. 

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The magic number for this episode is "two." We look at two new two-row SUVs, the Ford Edge and Lexus NX, both powered by 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinders. While the Lexus tries to be sporty (with some success), the 2015 Edge winds up being the better "Lexus," thanks to a redesign that transforms the car. Normally Toyota does hybrids well, but the hybrid NX300h isn't as fulfilling as the turbocharged NX200t. Viewer feedback ran deep from our annual Top Picks episode, asking about the lack of a sports car pick and our small car choice. Finally, we talk about the possibility of buying a Tesla Model S P85D.

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Coinciding with our annual April auto issue, it's time to reveal Consumer Reports' Top Picks for 2015. Selections have to be among the top-scoring cars in their category, and must have average or better reliability according to our survey data. Two big trends emerge this year: American brands are fighting back, taking three of the ten top spots. Subaru also continues to dominate, grabbing three of the other spots. We discuss each pick, why there isn't a choice for top pickup truck this year, and look at some cars that almost made the list.

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Right now, it feels like we're buying nothing but SUVs for the Consumer Reports test fleet. The two latest additions are the Kia Sorento and Chevrolet Trax. While the Sorento is a well-finished rival to rivals like the Toyota Highlander, the Trax literally comes up short - except for its optimistic price tag. We then dive into the viewer mailbag, answering questions about wintertime testing. Finally, several viewers didn't agree with us about the Cadillac Escalade, as discussed on episode #60.

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They're both big, plush, and expensive: the Cadillac Escalade and Lincoln Navigator join the Consumer Reports test fleet. Each scores points in this skirmish in different ways, but we can't help thinking that this segment's heyday has come and gone. We also look at the new Nissan Murano, which aims for a upscale look and feel at a price point dominated by family haulers. After complaining about the Murano's steering feel, we debate how much that matters to its buyers. Finally, we answer two viewer questions from the Detroit Auto Show: Could Buick build the Avenir concept car without stepping on Cadillac's toes? And, could brands other than Volvo overcome the reputational baggage that comes with selling Chinese-built cars in America?

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