THERMAL, Calif. — It's been more than 10 years since Lexus launched its high-performance F models. Ten years. After a full decade you'd think Toyota's luxury division would have it figured out by now, but the 2020 Lexus RC F Track Edition isn't the hardcore machine we were hoping for.
Maybe our expectations were too high. We saw its lackluster specs at the Detroit Auto Show in January, but you just never know until you get behind the wheel. And while there's a lot to like here — this is the most powerful and track-capable Lexus since the LFA supercar was launched in 2011 — it's quickly apparent that Lexus' engineers were held back from making the RC F Track Edition what they wanted to make.
The 2019 Toyota Camry is a striking-looking family sedan in a narrowing, but still extremely competitive segment. The car is an excellent all-around vehicle that is near the top of the segment with a comfortable ride, spacious cabin and excellent engines, including one of the only V6 engines available in the class and a hybrid model that boasts superior fuel economy without any significant drawbacks. It's also more responsive to drive than past Camry generations, meaning those seeking a more dynamic driving experience should no longer write it off.
The Nissan Murano was an early entrant into what is now a sprawling universe of midsize crossovers, first appearing as a 2003 model. Against a rising tide of fellow two-row midsizers such as the Ford Edge, Hyundai Santa Fe, Kia Sorrento, and Subaru Outback, the Murano has attempted to retreat to more luxurious ground. The vehicle's most recent full redesign in 2015 saw it adopt a much more stylized exterior and more upscale interior. And now, four years on, the 2019 Murano gets a mild update.
From the outside, the Murano gets restyled LED headlamps and taillights, new LED fog lights, a black-painted front bumper section that visually heightens the grille, and redesigned 18- and 20-inch wheels. Inside, the top-spec Platinum model gets fancier with diamond-stitch patterned, semi-aniline leather, and all models up the airbag count with side airbags for the rear seat and knee airbags for the front passenger. Additionally, Nissan's rear door alert is now standard (if a rear door is opened before a trip but not reopened afterward, the system honks the horn to remind the driver to check the rear seat). The available navigation system features enhanced graphics including satellite imagery and adds traffic-sign recognition and online POI search capability.
MONT-TREMBLANT, Quebec — All-wheel drive comes to the Nissan Altima with the model's 2019 redesign, and while that's big news for the U.S. market, it's an even bigger deal in the Great White North, where all Altimas are so equipped. To herald the news, Nissan had built what it calls the Altima-TE, an AWD Altima outfitted with snow tracks, and we recently had a chance to drive it. "Altimate" ... get it?
The tracks are 30 inches tall, and although the car's standard suspension travel is retained, the tracks necessitated raising the ride height by three inches. It's not unlike the Nissan "370Zki" we drove in February of last year, in concept if not execution. The result is a big climb up to get in, but once inside, the interior is standard Altima. The powertrain is unmodified, which means even this AWD Altima sends 100 percent of its torque to the front wheels — er, tracks — unless it detects slippage (which seems unlikely in this application).
We're about 70 miles southwest of Tokyo on the grounds of Fuji International Speedway. Yoshihide Yano puts his hand on the camouflaged carbon fiber roof of the 2020 Subaru WRX STI S209 prototype we're about to drive and smiles. "This will never make a business case," says the assistant manager of Subaru's North America Business Planning Department. "We don't want to make more than 250. The more we make, the more money we lose."
From the wince of his co-workers, Yano is clearly off the script, but his statement isn't a huge surprise. Building the STI S209 is complicated and time-consuming, with most of its extensive engine, suspension and aerodynamic modifications being installed by hand at STI's small off-site headquarters just outside Toyko. Founded in 1988, Subaru Technica International is the automaker's motorsports division and employs only 120 people. It can produce just two cars a day.
ST. GEORGE, Utah — Apologies to the talented Honda Powersports design team, but the Honda Talon 1000X and 1000R are — like most side-by-side ATVs — homely contraptions by enthusiast car standards. They look chunky and top-heavy. Plastic bodywork covers plastic fittings inside. The inline two-cylinder engine thuds and whines, sounding a bit like a generator crossed with a moped. They aren't elegant devices, with none of the passion or emotion that radiates out of two-wheeled enthusiast machines like, say, a Triumph Bonneville.
Notice that I haven't said a whit yet about how the Talon twins move, because the first time I barreled into a whoop the size of a foothill at 45 mph and braced for a violent impact that never came, I started scheming, doing some desperate and feverish math. Could I sell my old, tired 4x4 pickup and pull one of these on a trailer with my Subaru track car? Use a Talon as intended, and you have too much fun to sweat the rough edges.
SAVANNAH, Ga. — Since the model's introduction in 1966, more Toyota Corollas have been sold than any other nameplate in the world. In 2018, the Corolla got a big makeover when Toyota introduced the 2019 Corolla Hatchback as a replacement to the Corolla iM. That was our first promising taste of what was to come from the newest generation. Now, the rest of the Corolla lineup has arrived in sedan form. It's also the first time Toyota is offering a hybrid version of its affordable Everyman's commuter.
Despite sales figures, the Corolla hasn't always been the most exciting. As we've said in the past, "It's basically the official car of people who literally could not care any less about cars or driving." Now, on a new platform, with new powertrain offerings and new technology, that could change. The hatchback showed promise. Perhaps the rest of the lineup can, too.
SAN DIEGO — The 2019 Nissan Leaf Plus is one of those "ask and you shall receive" situations. The company has lagged behind in the range discussion for too long — the redesigned 2018 Leaf has only a 150-mile range, after all. This is plenty for some people, but the competition offers more. Nissan heard the cries, and now we have the Leaf Plus. Hallelujah, right?
Picking out a Leaf Plus from a group of normal Leafs is easiest if you're looking at it from behind. Nissan added a "Plus" badge to the bottom right-hand part of the hatch under the trim designation. Then if you're a true EV sleuth, the lower front bumper lip is painted in a contrasting blue as long as you didn't opt for the dark blue paint option. This looks good on some colors, but a bit disjointed on others. Choose wisely, we'll say.
We were amazed last year when we learned that Papadakis Racing built Fredric Aasbo a rear-drive, 1,000-horsepower 2017 Toyota Corolla iM for drifting. Now we're amazed that the car could end up in the hands of an average person, because the car is currently going for auction on Bring A Trailer.
Just as a quick recap for those that might have missed hearing about the car last year, the little Toyota hatch features a turbocharged and nitrous-injected 2.7-liter 2AR-series Toyota four-cylinder. Variants of that engine are found in older Toyota RAV4s and Camrys. According to Bring A Trailer, the engine hits 1,000 horsepower and 850 pound-feet of torque when running on E85. Power goes through a four-speed dog box manual transmission to the rear wheels.