Chrysler Minivans

What is it about the Chrysler minivans that makes them so fascinating? There’s the underdog story of how they helped save Chrysler from its dark days in the 80s. There’s the friendly  styling that contrasted sharply with monstrosities like the Chevrolet Astro, Ford Aerostar, VW Vanagon, Chevrolet Lumina APV and Toyota Previa.


The ultra-modern General Motors minivan designs were radical and did not resonate with consumers. 

And who would forget the woodgrain trim? That signature styling key that somehow fit. For its first three generations Chrysler had the secret minivan sauce. Focus was lost with the half-hearted forth generation and didn’t really rebound until the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica.

Check back in with Third Auto as we continue to explore the marvelously practical minivan in coming features.

[Images: Brian Rogers, GM]

Does New Accord Make A Better Acura Than The TLX?

With the release of the 2018 Honda Accord, the gauntlet has been thrown down in the midsize category. Stylishly executed designs both inside and out, impart a significantly more upscale presence than the outgoing Accord. With its transformation from utilitarian and rather plain to cutting edge and downright stylish, does the new Accord pose a major threat to Acura?

Unlike the Toyota Camry which has design elements that one could easily envision being modified to look more elegant on the Lexus ES, the Accord just looks so good as it is that it’s hard to image what would be changed to make it more luxurious. Time will tell whether the next generation Acura TLX has enough compelling features to differentiate it from the latest Accord. For now, let’s access the playing field for 2018 and compare the newest Accord to the carryover TLX.

Exterior Styling

Updated for 2018, the TLX received new headlamps and a revised grille and front bumper design. This latest evolution of the corporate face certainly fits better than prior iteration, yet the grille still seems too outsized and emblem far too large to look handsome.

The latest Accord has a far more fluid design language overall. Although the grille is now quite large, the horizontal chrome accent above it, which also surround the headlamps, lends a cohesiveness to the front end that is lacking on the TLX. The side profile is accentuated by deep sculpting on the lower door and rocker panel surfaces, which serves to lower the visual height of the doors and adds aggression.

Viewed from behind the TLX comes across as conflicted. Chrome bumper trim sits at odds with the blacked-out lower bumper and aggressive exhaust covers. While BMW offers Sport and Luxury packages with unique design elements, the TLX seems to have a hodgepodge of both.

With a coupe-like D-pillar recalling the 2009 Hyundai Sonata, the 2018 Accord has a sleek and upscale appearance with nicely integrated exhausts and stylish taillamps that evolve the theme started on the current generation Civic. Overall, there’s more harmony here than on the contrived TLX.


The Accord’s march up into the premium echelon continues inside. The interior design is noticeably more cohesive and echoes the last generation Mercedes-Benz E-Class. Obviously fake woodtrim not withstanding, the look is clean and luxurious. Not ground breaking by any means, but well though out and opulent.


The TLX’s interior pales in comparison to the design philosophy exhibited in the class-leading Mercedes-Benz C-Class. The swoopy design flourishes compare mostly closely with the Infiniti Q50’s interior, although it’s not as well executed here. Compared directly to the 2018 Accord’s interior, the TLX feels more closed in and less airy. The plethora of buttons sit in stark contract to the Accord’s clean console.


The TLX’s trump card is that it has an available V6, which has been dropped from the latest Accord. But at a time when 4-cylinders are becoming commonplace in every entry-luxury offering does it matter? Motor Trend recently tested ( the 2018 Accord with the 2.0L engine and it had a 0-60 time of 5.7 seconds. This compares with 5.7 seconds recorded by Car and Driver for the 2018 TLX V-6 A-Spec with SH-AWD ( Surely the TLX sprints more elegantly and quietly than the Accord, but when fuel efficiently is taken into account it’s a toss-up. For those in colder climates though, the TLX’s AWD could sway things in its favor.

Dollars & Sense

The 2018 top-tier Accord Touring 2.0T carries a base price of $36,675, just $25 shy of the 4-cylinder TLX with FWD and the $3,700 Technology Package. A loaded V6 SH-AWD TLX comes in at $44,800. In terms of style and performance and factoring in Acura’s lower level of brand equity compared to its main rival Lexus, the TLX doesn’t make a strong enough case for itself.


Stylish, swift and refined inside and out, the 2018 Accord is compelling enough to make the jump to Acura not worth it.

[Images: Honda, Acura]

2000 & Late: 2002-2005 Mercedes-Benz C230 Kompressor

You might say that it was something of forbearer to the current day CLA, the 2002 C230 Sport Coupe was an entry point into the Mercedes-Benz dynasty at the dawn of the millennium. Fifteen years later, the design has aged incredibly well. The aerodynamic front with its swept back fascia still looks fresh and the tall rear treatment, which seemed awkward upon launch, almost looks fresher in 2017 when tall rear treatments are on trend.


The Mercedes-Benz C230 Sport Coupe still looks modern nearly 16 year later.


The latest Honda Civic and Hyundai Elantra feature the tall stubby look, much like the C230 Sport Coupe.

Hyundai and Honda have a similar tall and stubby backend on the latest version of the Civic and Elantra. It’s almost as if the C230 grew into its looks over time, which is not often the case.

Comparing the 2002 C230 to the CLA, the older design seems to have a sense of purpose and solidity missing on the low-slung CLA. Front-wheel-drive proportions play a role, but there also something more honest about the C230’s purposeful design that makes the CLA seems too flashy and a bit gimmicky, like it’s trying too hard. Long live the reverse-aging C230.

[Images: Mercedes-Benz, Honda]

Finding Buick

In recent years Buick has experience most of its success with its SUVs, then large three-row Enclave and the compact Encore. For 2017, the Envision was introduced to slot in between the two. While its sedan sales have been tepid overall, SUVs have carried the brand.

For 2018 the popular Enclave receives its first major redesign since being introduced back in 2008. Building upon the design first seen on the Avenir concept and then on the 2017 Lacrosse full-size sedan, the Enclave has a nicely proportioned exterior that’s evocative of the Infiniti QX60.


Sleek and a bit blingy, the 2018 Enclave is the smartest looking vehicles in Buick’s lineup.

For 2018 the popular Enclave receives its first major redesign since being introduced back in 2008. Building upon the design first seen on the Avenir concept and then on the 2017 Lacrosse full-size sedan, the Enclave has a nicely proportioned exterior that’s evocative of the Infiniti QX60.

A major upgrade from the previous generation, the interior has a very cohesive design with a car-like dashboard and sweeping design motifs. It comes across as a very relaxed environment in which to spend rush hour. Most changes are experienced inside when selecting the Avenir trim, which decks the cabin out with wood trim, brightwork and stitching for a very upscale ambiance.


The 2017 Enclave interior had a straightforward design that aged fairly well.


The 2018 Enclave interior is a definite upgrade in terms of design with its gentle curves.

More so than any of its sedan offering, the Enclave, especially in Avenir form, exudes the understated elegance that has defined the Buick brand for decades. Hopefully, this same design aesthetic will filter down to the Envision and Encore, which do not feel special enough to wear the Buick badge in their current form.

avenir interior

The Avenir trim interior steps up the game further with unique color combinations and materials.

It might be considered wishful thinking, but if Buick were to drop the 6.2L LT1 V8 engine from the Corvette into the Enclave, it could be like the spiritual successor to the grand Roadmaster Estate of yore.

[Images: Buick]

Who Will Kia’s Stinger Hurt The Most?

As Kia continues its ascent into the premium category with the flashy 2018 Stinger, questions arise over what models it will compete most closely with. On one hand, its RWD layout and performance focus mean it could conquest muscle car fans in need of more space than what’s offered in a Camaro or Mustang. In terms of brand identity, Kia is more traditionally aligned with Ford and Chevrolet.

However, now that features once exclusive to luxury cars like heated leather seats, premium stereos and panoramic sunroofs are widely available on even basic cars, what defines luxury is blurred and buyers may have less allegiance to prestige brands if the same features, and more, are available for less elsewhere. Kia’s own Optima, for example, can be equipped with quilted Nappa leather heated and ventilated seats, heated steering wheel and premium stereo, for less than it costs to get a Lexus ES 350 with fake leather covering the seats and none of those “luxury” features.

On the luxury side, the Stinger would compete with RWD-based Lexus IS, Cadillac ATS, BMW 3/4 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class. The Alfa Romero is a bit player in the market, but matches up closely with the Stinger in many ways. With pricing expected to start somewhere around $30,000, this will present a more enticing value to luxury car shoppers than the expensive and rather boring Kia K900.

With products like the Stinger, Kia is brining the heat to the luxury brands and stands poised to profit from consumers with weakened allegiances to luxury brands.

[Images: Kia]

Sharpening The Focus

Let’s face it, the Honda Civic is eating the Ford Focus’s lunch. Last month in the U.S. Honda sold 35,452 Civics, while Ford sold just 11,751. That means that for every one Focus sold, Honda moved three Civics off the dealer lot. Clearly the Ford is not the focus for compact car shoppers.

So, what can be done to sharpen Ford’s spear in the compact car sales battle? Outlined below are the steps that could make the next Focus a winner as the current model soldiers on essentially unchanged since its 2011 release.

Out-Style Civic– Currently the Civic is the style-leader in its class. It’s edgy, evocative, modern and doesn’t come across as cheap. The current Focus looks boring in comparison and it never wore the Aston Martin style grille and Kinetic design language as well as the larger Fusion. Ditch the trapezoidal grille. Ditch the dull side panels and taillamps. Make the Focus stand out from the crowd with a nicely crafted design with proper proportions. At a time when even the Toyota Corolla has some design flair, Ford need to up its game.

Clean Up Interior Design– Those with Claustrophobia should steer clear of the current Focus’s interior. The bulging, dark and button-heavy console contributes to a closed-in feeling within the cabin. The Civic has a wider, cleaner and airier design that looks more upscale.

MPG’s– The 2018 Focus Auto gets 28 MPG combined, while the Civic achieves 34 MPG combined. This mitigates the $1,000 or so price disparity between a Civic LX sedan with auto and a comparably equipped Focus SE with auto.

[Images: Ford, Honda]

2000 & Late: 2003-2006 Volvo XC90

Volvo designs with their stoic minimalism have traditionally aged well. A mid-90’s 850 sedan with its high trunk or 850 wagon with taillamps dominating the D-pillars, just like the latest Escalade, still look remarkably fresh over 20 years after their debut. Another enduring design released in the early 2000’s in Volvo’s first SUV, the XC90.

Released for model year 2003, the XC90 was a home run in terms of both sales volume and styling. Just enough height was added to make the car-based XC90 look rugged, while its fluid lines create a purposeful look. Penciled in during the brand’s “Revolovlution” era, a high water mark for Volvo design, the XC90 came together in a very cohesive package.

Plastic cladding was liberally applied, but to good effect, giving the XC90 a rugged appearance while simultaneously reducing visual mass, especially upfront where it was expertly incorporated to the bumper to give the design a sense of lightness that belies its size. Sadly, with the facelift in 2007 the front bumper adopted a more conventional look that took away from the athletic stance by removing the cladding beneath both headlamps.


2003-2006 Volvo XC90 styling was punctuating with tastefully applied cladding.


A facelift saw much of the cladding replaced or toned down, which in turn added visual mass and made the XC90 look heavier and less rugged.

The first application of Volvo’s signature D-pillar taillamp design aesthetic to an SUV was quite successfully executed. The large taillamps with their narrow peaks leading down to the hipline where they widen, managed to look better here than on the V70 wagon of the same era.

A pre-facelift element that reduces visual mass was the circular turn-signal and reverse lamps mounted in a staged arrangement. It’s playful without being frivolous and aged better than the more traditional tiered arrangement found on the facelifted design that would appear in 2007.


Pre-facelift taillamps with staggered turn signal and reverse indicators lent the design a sense of levity as they almost appeared to be floating.


A more staid and conventional taillamp assembly was deployed for the 2007 facelift, which took away from the vehicle’s character.

The latest XC90 was released in 2017, and was the first major update for the nameplate. It builds upon the unique, albeit toned down over time, styling of Volvo first SUV.

[Images: Volvo Cars, Wikipedia]

Cars That Look More Expensive Than They Actually Are

When it comes to cars, sometimes you get more than you paid for, or at least it can appear that way. A select few cars are styled in such a way that they look more expensive than other vehicles within their class.

Although priced no more than their contemporaries, these vehicles have a more premium appearance that belies their price. Tasteful applications of chrome, restrained lines and proper proportions lend an air of elegance to designs that punch above their weight, and could fool anybody not in the know into thinking you’ve spent a small fortune.

Volkswagen Tiguan

Upgrade to the SE model and the added chrome window surround and lower door trim make the Tiguan look downright luxurious. Classic 10-spoke wheels and binged-out grille, rear bumper and exhaust outlets all make for a decidedly premium looking package. At $30,380 equipped with 4Motion, it comes across as much more mature and refined compared to the $30,350 Ford Escape SE 4WD, which is only $30 cheaper. The Honda CR-V EX-L AWD rings in at $30,595, $215 more than the Tiguan, but its garish wheels and odd proportions make it look cheaper, despite chrome window trim.


2018 Volkswagen Tiguan


2018 Ford Escape


Chrysler 300

With all the hallmarks of a true luxury sedan like RWD proportions and imposing bodywork, the veteran Chrysler 300 still makes quite an impression. At $30,090 it has far more curb appeal than the Toyota Avalon XLE, which costs $33,500, $3,410 more. The 300’s classic lines can even hold a candle to the INFININTI Q70, which at $50,300, is a whole $21,070 more expensive.


2018 Chrysler 300

2018 Infiniti Q70

Ford Mustang

At $26,085 the V6 Fastback Ford Mustang is $140 cheaper than the  $26,225 Honda Civic Coupe Touring. Yet, its brawny styling and classic muscle car proportions make it look far more premium. Vintage-inspired five spoke wheels come across as classier than the Civic’s busy wheel design, and its iconic looks give it the curb appeal advantage.


2018 Ford Mustang


2018 Honda Civic Coupe

[Images: Volkswagen, Ford, Chrysler, Infiniti, Honda]


Design Analysis: 2018 BMW 5 Series

Part of what makes the auto industry so fascinating is that it is constantly changing. Like clockwork, every five to seven years most models get redesigned. With reputations and standards to uphold, not to mention customers to impress, stakes are always high for automakers as they go back to the drawing board to rethink, restyle and, occasionally, reinvent their offerings.

The iconic BMW 5 Series has long been a favorite among those in the know, so the release of a new version is always anxiously awaited. Lauded for its balance of luxury and sportiness, it’s been a major player in the midsize luxury sedan space for decades. As a new 5 Series is released for 2018, let’s look back at the exterior design of the four prior generations, starting with the model released in the mid-90’s.

The fourth generation 5 Series, sold form 1997-2003, is widely considered the gold standard in terms of design and packaging for the model. It featured classic BMW design cues and perfectly balanced elegance and athleticism.

Change came in the form of the radically redesigned fifth generation, sold from 2004-2010, with controversial “flame surfacing” exterior styling. This ultra-modern interpretation still looks fresh to this day. Its high trunk and complex sculpting have been mirrored across the industry. This design was influential, but a bit too jarring.

Following that, the fifth generation 5 Series, sold from 2011-2017, toned down the avant-garde look for more traditional styling. However, visually the car looked too big and tall. This generation lost the taut and planted look of prior generations, taking on a Lexus-like appearance.

That bring us to the 2018 model which evokes the style of the fourth generation with a lower, wider and overall sleeker appearance. Aggressive lower body sculpting, massive headlamps and grille area, and superfluous sporty design elements make it lack the subtle elegance of the 90’s model, however this is is a welcome return to form for the venerable 5 Series.

Be sure to check back in with the Design Analysis section  on Third Auto as we feature upcoming commentary on more makes and models.

[Images: BMW]