Fall is a glorious time to be out and about. The foliage is beautiful, and the weather offers a brief respite between summer's unbearable heat and winter's chill and snowstorms. It’s the optimal time to show off that new cardigan or crack open a (hopefully non-pumpkin flavored) beer.
But fall is also a great time for driving cars...so long as you do so before you crack open that beer.
We here at the Gear Patrol Motoring Desk have been behind the wheel a lot of late and wanted to give you a quick update on what we’ve been driving. You can check out the cars we've been driving this autumn— and our quick thoughts about them — below.
"The GTI, like every other Mk. 7 Golf, is tinier than its well-proportioned body makes it seem in pictures. 'It's barely bigger than a Smart car!' my girlfriend commented upon seeing it for the first time; likewise, a man came up to me unbidden in a parking lot after seeing me climb out to say, 'Man, that car is way too small for you!'
And while it does make the most of its small footprint, the interior is a bit tight once you start dealing with people six feet tall or more. At six-four, I felt a bit cramped in the driver's seat even with it pushed all the way back; on the passenger's side, one six-footer can sit behind another, but neither would be happy on a long trip. If you're considering using the GTI as a family car, here's hoping none of your family is of above-average height.
Still, there's no arguing with the way the GTI drives: with typically Germanic rock-steady manners on the highway, and with playful, quick-turning briskness on back roads. Like a Miata, you can have a blast at (barely more than) legal speeds; unlike a Miata, it never feels underpowered, thanks to the turbo engine's torque.
If there was one deal-breaking demerit against my test car, it was the price. At $29,000 for an entry-level GTI SE with plaid seats and a stick shift, it’s a good car; at $38,215 for a loaded one, it’s overly expensive. The far quicker Civic Type R can be yours for the same amount. And none of the add-ons for that extra $9K improve the car's performance; you're just spending the added money to add comfort features. And if you're doing that, why not go for an Audi A3 for the same price?" —Will Sabel Courtney
Pros: Still looks great after all these years, fun to drive
Cons: Pricey for what you get in Autobahn trim
Base Price: $36,495
"Trucks certainly come bigger than the Silverado 1500, but you wouldn’t believe that if your first time driving a pickup was piloting this beast through New York City. It simply feels on the edge of being too big when trying to weave your way through narrow side streets and between double-parked cars. The color scheme certainly fit in with NYC tastes, though; from paint to wheels to side steps to Chevy badge to interior trim, black was the order of the day, the only exception being the red tow hooks. (That does have the added bonus of minimizing the Silverado's, uh, distinctive face.)
It’s hard to argue with the sheer amount of usability packed into this crew cab truck, however. The Silverado LT Crew Cab already has ample room for five adults and niceties like heated seats, remote start and LED headlamps; the TrailBoss version adds off-road-minded features like a two-inch lift, Goodyear Wrangler tires and standard four-wheel-drive. Opting for the Midnight Edition on top of that brings not just blacked-out trim, but also a spray-on bedliner, leather upholstery, a convenience package that adds a bevy of USB and 110-volt ports inside and out, a Bose stereo, the advanced trailering pack — and, of course, the purring 6.2-liter V8 and 10-speed automatic found in the Camaro SS. Odds are good you won't find many tasks this truck can't handle...so long as it fits in your driveway." — Will Sabel Courtney
Pros: Incredible versatility and capability, V8 grunt, enough power ports to run a movie set
Cons: Still the least visually attractive full-size pickup, $58K is a lot for a truck
Base Price: $58,310
"While the Civic Type R has been around long enough to be on the receiving end of a mid-life refresh now, somehow, I never had the chance to drive it until now. Unfortunately, my time with the car came not only while I was in the midst of moving...but when I also had a Corvette Stingray to drive. (I know, I know. Woe is me.)
Still, I managed to spend enough to running about in the little Honda to get a feel for it (moving, after all, also means lots of errands). Believe the hype: the Type R is every bit as delightful a performance car as you can find in this price range, and even a good bit higher. The engine is both torquey down low yet rewarding to wring out, aided by a delight of a manual shifter whose only problem is the searing heat its metal ball holds when left out in the sun. There's barely a trace of torque steer to be found; it simply goes where you want it. And like every Civic Hatch, there's oodles of room inside; you can fit a quartet of adults and their weekend bags.
All told, I'd be hard-pressed not to find a way to take one home if I were in the market for a cheap speed machine...were it not for the looks. I might be able to handle the wild design were it not for that giant, excessively busy wing. Make me a 911 GT3-style Type R Touring, Honda, and I'll be yours for life." — Will Sabel Courtney
Pros: More entertaining than most cars, as helpful and convenient as any Civic
Cons: Literally can't touch the shift knob when the car's been sitting in the sun, infotainment is as mediocre as any Civic
Base Price: $37,495
"Mazda has hit on a magic formula with its recent offerings, making its reasonably priced cars feel luxurious and fun to drive. The Mazda6 midsize sedan, though a little old, still fits that mold.
I drove the full-zoot Signature trim with ventilated Nappa Leather seats. The interior is stunning, though Parchment (white) may not be the optimal choice for kids and dogs.
The 2.5-liter turbo is quick, thanks to its 227 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque. It handles excellently and has an intuitive automatic transmission (there's no manual anymore, but we can’t blame them). Keep this between you and me, but I kind of enjoyed it more than the Mercedes I had here at the same time. And the Mazda6 was about half the price." — Tyler Duffy
Pros: Fancy interior; every aspect of driving it
Cons: Exterior is a bit dull
Base Price: $35,400
"The Ioniq may not be the sexiest electric car on the road, but it earns a lot of respect by doing what Hyundai has long done: offering a high-quality vehicle at a reasonable price point. After the federal tax credit, the SE model starts at $26,540, and state tax credits can bring it down even further; New Jersey residents, for example, can knock the base price down to $21,540.
Its EPA-estimated range of 170 miles is more than enough for second-car duty — commuting and short road trips — and while 134 horsepower isn’t much on paper, the instant torque delivery makes it feel zippier than that around town. There’s enough space for four adults to fit inside easily, and even the base model comes loaded with safety and convenience features.
Perhaps the best proof I can offer of its quality: not one but two people I know have taken the Ioniq EV home this year, and both couldn’t be happier with their choice." —Will Sabel Courtney
Pros: Surprisingly roomy; packed with features; great price
Cons: Could charge quicker; one-box looks not to everyone’s taste
Base Price: $33,045
"The Toyota Corolla excites few and inspires no panegyrics, but there are reasons it has been a fixture in Toyota’s lineup since the 1960s. It’s affordable, comfortable, legendarily reliable and —especially in modern form — fuel-efficient. My tester with the larger 2.0-liter non-hybrid engine still earns 34 mpg combined.
The Corolla is hard to sex up — my wife asked if we had a Prius — and its 'sport suspension' and contrast stitching can’t make it a sports car. But it is relentlessly competent transport. It will only disappoint you if you realize you could have bought a Mazda3." — Tyler Duffy
Pros: Reliable; surprisingly roomy; offers a stick in some trims
Cons: Slightly dorky appearance; groaning engine
Base Price: $25,550
"There’s no arguing that the second-generation GLA-Class, like the closely-related CLA, is a much better car than its predecessor. What is up for discussion is who, exactly, this subcompact is aimed at. Mercedes-Benz considers it an SUV, but that’s stretching the term to its limits; besides, anyone who wants a tiny Benz crossover seems more likely to go for the GLB, which offers the same platform with a boxier, roomier body for the same price.
The GLA is, in effect, a hatchback on tiptoes. Which, to be fair, is a great idea, especially in an era when people don’t like bending down to enter or exit their cars. It’s just an odd one to find in a Mercedes-Benz dealership.
My tester’s MSRP didn’t help make the case for the GLA 250,either; it came in at roughly $57,000, and didn’t even have all-wheel-drive. That sort of cash will buy you a basically-loaded GLC300 4Matic, which feels much more worth the money." —Will Sabel Courtney
Pros: Nimble and peppy, even with FWD; looks cool, inside and out
Cons: A bigger, nicer Benz isn’t much more; a quicker, more involving hot hatch is way less
Base Price: $36,230
"Volkswagen debuted the 'all-new' Passat for 2020. It was, appearance aside, virtually the same North American-spec Passat running on a dated platform. But that car was pretty great. Motor Trend named the Passat Car of the Year in 2012, after all.
Even in 2020, it still offers plenty: an ample 206 lb-ft of torque, decent luxury, and reasonable value for the sage but fortunate few looking for a comfortable and affordable midsize sedan, if not quite an Audi on a budget. — Tyler Duffy
Pros: Comfortable; nice and torquey; well-priced
Cons: Underwhelming transmission; feels a little phoned-in in places
Price as Tested: $28,645
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"Given the Avalon’s stereotypical standing as a Japanese Buick — the sort of car your grandparents buy between retirement and the move to Florida — a TRD-tuned version seems entirely counterintuitive. In practice, however, the TRD touches make the Avalon just right for regular drivers — especially ones who want or need a big, roomy car but don’t want to sacrifice handling by going to an SUV.
The so-called “track tuned” suspension feels just right for a daily driver, helping serve up quick, direct inputs without delivering too stern of a ride. The larger front disc brakes provide greater stopping power — just as handy on the streets as on a race course. And the exterior changes not only add a bit more panache, they make the giant maw seem more at home than it does on the sleeker sheetmetal of other Avalons. It’s not the car I’d buy for $43K...but I’d happily live with one for a year or two." —Will Sabel Courtney
Pros: One of the last full-size sedans that isn’t a luxury car; great skill set balance for the real world
Cons: That face, though; a Kia Stinger GT costs less, is more fun
Base Price: $42,875
"Maserati’s SUV was, for the longest time, something of an also-ran in the high-end SUV segment. The company’s been working on improving it, bit by bit — but it’s the sweet new eight-cylinder bit beneath the hood that finally makes it worth considering. That 3.8-liter twin-turbo V8 is basically Maserati’s version of the dynamo found in the Ferrari Portofino, Roma and F8 Tributo, albeit dialed down to 550 horses and 538 lb-ft.
Indeed, the entire Levante GTS package makes you wonder about the potential of Ferrari’s upcoming Purosange crossover, which Maranello says will be, uh, unconventional. With its air suspension dropped all the way, it looks more like a station wagon than an SUV; it handles more like a super-sedan than a regular crossover, as well. A Ferrari interpretation — perhaps with an 800-hp V12 beneath the hood — could be awfully appealing." —Will Sabel Courtney
Pros: Finally has the engine it deserves; drives like a car, not an SUV
Cons: Competitors feel more luxurious; not particularly roomy for a $125K SUV
Base Price: $122,090
"The Tiguan is Volkswagen’s take on the compact crossover. Like the Golf, the Tiguan looks upscale outside, it feels spacious inside; unlike the Golf, though, it’s a crossover you can get with all-wheel-drive. It’s the all-arounder most American buyers want.
The Tiguan lacks the Golf’s precision handling or anything resembling quickness. But buyers, who bought the Tiguan three times as often as the entire Golf lineup combined, have shown what they cared about with a new car." — Tyler Duffy
Pros: Upscale appearance; ample space
Cons: Not much fun to drive; not much fun in any other way
Price as Tested: $40,290
"The 2021 model year brings a hearty mid-life refresh to Lexus’s smallest sedan, proving that Toyota’s luxury division has no intention on giving up on its sporty little rear-wheel-driver. My test car was perhaps the least sporty of them, however — the IS 300 AWD, which uses the same V6 as the Camry, just tuned to make less power. It’s also the only IS saddled with a six-speed automatic, instead of a more modern eight-speed.
Still, the IS has sporty character baked into its bones, making it a fun little driver for the daily commute. The new infotainment system is better than the horrible old one, thanks to a touchscreen that lets you ignore the awful trackpad. And the 2021 update’s new sheetmetal makes it look far more aggressive and exciting than the previous version — cool enough, in fact, that you might find yourself sneaking second glances at it as you walk away." —Will Sabel Courtney
Pros: Looks great; genuinely entertaining
Cons: Scotty, I need more power, damnit; teeny-tiny back seat
Base Price: $41,000
"The current XC90 was the defining vehicle of Volvo’s modern era; the first to wear its new design language, the first to wow us with a stunningly nice interior, and the first to transition to an all-four-cylinder lineup. Five years on, it’s not as novel as it once was — but it’s still a delight in top-shelf form.That’s exactly what the T8 Inscription is: the nicest interior ever to grace a Volvo — a hygge wonderland of tasteful leather and wood — fitted inside an SUV with a plug-in hybrid powertrain that makes more than 400 horsepower when gas and electric motors combine.
It’s only worth the added expense, though, if you have a place to plug in every day; if the battery is full, it can knock out 18 miles on EV power, but once it’s drained of wall-sourced electrons, the car defaults to a haphazard hybrid program that features the frequent starting and stopping of the coarse-sounding inline-four. Quick, yes; $64,000-car refined, no." —Will Sabel Courtney
Pros: One of the best interiors for the money; incredibly roomy
Cons: Powertrain lacks smoothness; infotainment a little past its prime
Base Price: $63,450
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