“Huh,” I think as I stand in the drizzling rain and watch wisps of steam dance across the hot front tyres of the Volkswagen Tiguan R. “There aren’t many family SUVs that can do that…”

We’re in the mountains and I’ve just hustled the Volkswagen up one of the most challenging drive loops in the Wheels arsenal.

If we were skiing it’d be a black run; an evil mix of hairpins, fast sweepers and mid-corner bumps that’s a challenge for dedicated sportscars let alone an 1800kg family SUV.

And the Tiguan has demolished it. Not just for speed, stability and composure, either. Thanks to its twin clutch packs and true torque vectoring, on our rain-soaked run there were even a few moments of throttle-provoked oversteer.

Like I said: “Huh…”

A cynic might think shoehorning the same powertrain and chassis hardware from the iconic Golf R into a taller and heavier SUV body would deliver lazier dynamics, but as we discovered when we drove the Tiguan R and Golf R together on track earlier this year, any performance loss is actually quite marginal.

This is a potent and talented fast family SUV. And with an asking price of $68,990 before on-road costs, it also doesn’t seem to have many obvious rivals. To get this level of performance, chassis wizardry and hardcore focus from another brand you’ll need to start looking at something like an Audi RS Q3 which costs $30,000 more. Ouch.

Except there is one similarly priced alternative that most people overlook…

The Skoda Kodiaq RS copped a fairly heavy update back in March that didn’t only bring a host of improvements to the design and cabin but also ushered in a switch from diesel power to petrol.

The new engine is the very same EA888 2.0-litre turbo petrol that lurks under the Tiguan’s bonnet and while it mightn’t pack the same level of firepower – it’s a GTI tune compared to the full-fat R outputs of the Tiguan – the Skoda has an ace up its sleeve: a third row of seats.

Skoda has priced its hot Kodiaq almost identically to the Tiguan R, too, at a whiff under $70,000, and like the VW it’s all-wheel drive and built on the same MQB A2 platform.

The Skoda has an ace up its sleeve: a third row of seats.

Plus, it offers the promise of a more liveable ride/handling compromise. Taut body control and corner-carving precision might be great for a blast up your favourite road on a quiet Sunday morning but on the school run? Not so much.

So the question is, if you’re a parent who likes a hit of spice and sportiness from your daily driver, which way should you jump: hardcore Tiguan R or more practical Kodiaq RS?

This one is shaping up to be an intriguing tussle…

JUMP AHEAD

  • Pricing and features
  • Comfort and space
  • On the road
  • Ownership
  • VERDICT
  • Specifications
  • “TLDR!”

Pricing and features

In the value stakes, it’s a dead heat. At $68,990 for the Tiguan R and $69,290 for the Kodiaq RS (both before on-road costs), just $300 separates this pair.

And it’s a similar story when you start to cross-reference their standard equipment lists. Both of these SUVs represent the pinnacle of their respective ranges and are specced accordingly.

High-tech Matrix LED headlights, sequential indicators and blingy alloy wheels (21s for the Tiguan, 20s for the Skoda) are all present and accounted for, as are electric tailgates, full leather interiors and customisable digital instrument clusters. Even their central infotainment screens as the same size at 9.2 inches.

There’s little to separate them on the safety front, as well. Both have autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian and cyclist detection, adaptive cruise control, lane keep and departure systems, blind-spot monitoring, 360-degree surround view cameras and parking sensors front and rear.

Airbag coverage is also similar, although the Skoda has a total of nine compared to the VW’s seven due to an extra pair required to cover the third row.

One key difference? Rear cross-traffic alert is standard on the Tiguan but is $1250 extra on the Skoda. As you’d hope, both carry five-star ANCAP ratings but the Volkswagen has higher scores for occupant and pedestrian protection.

So it’s neck and neck when it comes to the big-ticket items, but dig a little deeper and you’ll unearth some differences that might start to irk you. The Skoda’s front seats, for example, offer heating and cooling whereas the VW’s are heated only.

The Skoda also has a wireless charging pad for your phone, which is a perplexing omission in the VW. And if you’re a sunroof kind of person, you score a panoramic glass roof as standard fare in the Skoda but it’ll cost you an extra $2000 in the VW.

Where the Tiguan hits back is with a standard head-up display and the inclusion of a single USB-C charging port for rear passengers. There are no USB ports for second or third-row passengers in the Skoda, which seems a glaring oversight given its family focus. A road trip with no ability to charge the kids’ iPads? No thanks. (There’s at least a 12V port.)

A little extra for a little more

As for optional extras, both cars are so rammed with standard gear that there’s precious little to think about. The Tiguan only offers two: the aforementioned $2000 sunroof and a premium Harman Kardon sound system for $1000. The Skoda also only has two optional extras: rear cross-traffic alert ($1250) and side steps ($1400).

Where the value equation starts to separate is when it comes to your priorities. If you have more than two kids then the Skoda’s extra seats are a hugely valuable addition. As is its extra space.

Kodiaq RS v Tiguan R: Boot space compared

The Kodiaq’s wheelbase is 110mm longer than the VW and it also has a bigger boot: 765L behind the second row plays 610L in the Tiguan. And with the second row folded, the Kodiaq has 2005L of luggage capacity against the VW’s 1655L.

If you don’t need the extra seats, though, the Tiguan feels the smarter buy. It has a marginally better safety package as standard and in the performance and engineering stakes, it’s a cut above.

Power and acceleration

With 235kW/400Nm on tap, it can rocket from 0-100km/h in 5.1 seconds whereas the 180kW/370Nm Skoda takes 6.6s. And the VW’s torque vectoring chassis is far more complex and desirable than the Kodiaq’s more traditional all-wheel-drive setup.

A final point worth mentioning on price?

While a cigarette paper might separate this particular pair, Volkswagen has just introduced a new, de-specced Grid variant to the Tiguan R range.

It misses out on a host of worthwhile equipment like the Matrix lights, LED tail lights, electric leather seats, head-up display and rear-cross traffic alert but it brings a $5000 saving thanks to a sticker price of $63,990 before on-road costs.

VW has introduced this option to sidestep semiconductor-related supply issues, so wait times on Grid editions will also be shorter compared with a regular Tiguan R. Something worth considering.

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Tiguan R v Kodiaq RS: Comfort and space

2022 Volkswagen Tiguan R 2022 Skoda Kodiaq RS
Body 5-door, 5-seat medium SUV 5-door, 7-seat large SUV
Boot space 615L/1655L 270/765L/2005L
Towing 2200kg braked 2000kg braked

You might think this section will be a cakewalk for the Skoda given its extra space and seats, but it’s not quite that simple.

While the Tiguan has a marginally smaller footprint, it’s still one of the roomiest family SUVs in its class.

And all of the packaging goodness that makes a regular Tiguan so convincing – namely the sliding back seat, excellent vision, ample cabin storage and the large 610L boot – continues in the flagship R.

Slip inside and you’re greeted with an ambience that feels like a regular Tiguan R-Line with a dusting of R-branded tinsel. There’s blue stitching, woven carbon fibre inserts on the dash and door cards and a racier flat-bottomed steering wheel with an ‘R’ drive mode selector button on the left spoke. Feels nicely screwed together, too, and it nails the basics.

Storage is ample thanks to a large centre console with retractable cup holders, two large cubbies in the roof and enormous door bins that are also flocked to stop loose items from sliding around and rattling.

The driver’s seat is 12-way adjustable so the seating position is decent (I’d personally prefer the wheel to come a smidge closer, though) and the connectivity and tech package is hard to fault – lack of wireless phone charger notwithstanding.

A pair of USB-C ports are provided ahead of the gear selector, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto worked seamlessly during our time with the car and the high-res central screen includes an R-specific display that shows G-force, oil temp and boost pressure.

With the sliding second row all the way back, the amount of rear room on offer is virtually identical to the Kodiaq. Tall passengers will appreciate generous knee- and toe-room, while headroom is actually superior to the Skoda, which is impeded by its chunky sunroof.

There are thoughtful touches back here, too. The rear seats are more heavily bolstered than a regular Tiguan, there’s an extra little storage tray on either side of the seat bench which you don’t get in the Skoda and there are useful storage pockets in the backs of the front seats for phones and other small items.

But the Tiguan’s cabin is not perfect. The front seats are comfy and are trimmed in soft Nappa leather but they lack the support of the more heavily bolstered buckets you get in a Golf R. Not really an issue on straight roads but throw the Tiguan R up a twisty section and slighter drivers may struggle for lateral support.

For functionality, there are some foibles.

The steering wheel features VW’s dreaded haptic touch pads and they’re so unintuitive to use that even company CEO Thomas Schafer has publicly conceded they’re rubbish and has promised to terminate them for future models.

The touch-sensitive tech is also used on the Tiguan’s HVAC slider controls and trying to alter the fan speed or temperature on the move is tricky. Touch them once and you’ll bump up the temp by half a degree; try to hold the slider down and you’ll rocket from 18 to 30 degrees in the blink of an eye. Chalk this solution up as a technological dead end.

A final gripe? Hard plastics around the centre console and on the rear door cards erode the general sense of quality which, weirdly, actually feels a touch higher in the Skoda…

The Kodiaq’s cabin is more conventional than the Tiguan’s and it’s all the better for it.

There are traditional dials and buttons for the major controls, it equals the Tiguan for tech and connectivity and there’s a sprinkling of ‘simply clever’ touches like a second glovebox in the top section of the dash, a moveable cup holder insert that includes a slot for the key and a rubbish bin that slips into the flocked door pocket.

Skoda also supplies superior front seats. Unlike the flat ‘comfort’ spec pews you get in the Tiguan, the Skoda’s huggy front buckets deliver the kind of bolstering you expect from an SUV with proper performance credentials.

It has a better driving position, too, thanks to loads of tilt and reach adjustment from the flat-bottomed wheel.

The general ambience also feels properly sporty. As part of the MY22 update, Skoda upgraded to a full leather interior and the black seats are struck through with red diamond stitching that makes the whole cabin feel like a man’s wash bag. In a good way.

One thing that might jar? The swathes of fake carbon fibre used on sections of the dash won’t be to everyone’s taste. Personally, though, we like them.

The Skoda also offers more for second-row passengers. There’s acres of room for adults, the seat slides fore-aft and the second row is also heated, which you don’t get in the Tiguan. Window blinds are another inclusion missing from the VW, which is especially useful to keep kids out of the sun. There are some compromises, mind.

As mentioned earlier, there are no USB ports, leaving a 12V socket to cope with rear-seat recharging demands. And while the big bucket seats are great for front passengers, they impede outward vision for those in the back.

As for the third row, it’s… okay. Simply having the additional seats is a boon in itself but don’t expect to be shoehorning adults back there on a regular basis. Unless you don’t like them much, that is.

Getting into the third row is relatively easy thanks to decent ingress/egress but once there adults will find it a tight fit for knee and toe room.

Headroom is a little snug, too, and annoyingly the back row has no top tether mounts for child seats so it’s strictly a no-go zone for little kiddies. Best used for adults on short journeys or kids that no longer need to be harnessed in.

In the battle of the boots, we already know the Skoda gazumps the Volkswagen for total load-lugging ability but the Czech SUV also has some amenity advantages like cargo nets, additional storage beneath the boot floor for the luggage blind and a space-saver spare.

The Tiguan has no spare tyre, meaning you have to make do with a puncture repair kit. So which SUV wins for cabin quality, comfort and space? That’d be the Skoda.

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On the road

2022 Volkswagen Tiguan R 2022 Skoda Kodiaq RS
Drive All-wheel drive all-wheel drive
Engine 2.0-litre 4cyl, DOHC, 16v, turbo-petrol 2.0-litre 4cyl, DOHC, 16v, turbo-petrol
Power & torque 235kW / 400Nm 180kW / 370Nm
0-100km/h 5.1sec (claimed) 6.6sec (claimed)
Transmission 7-speed dual-clutch 7-speed dual-clutch
RON 98 95

Right, time for the Tiguan R to play its trump card: how it performs on the move when you turn everything up to 11. Thing is, it’s raining. Sideways.

And our ‘black run’ of a road loop isn’t only twisty and slippery but there are piles of leaves and patches of moss lurking in the shadows. Best build up to it, then…

The Tiguan R misses out on the Golf R’s Drift and Nurburgring drive modes (instead you gain hill descent control and the ability to lock the rear diff should you fancy some light off-roading) but you still have four modes to explore: Comfort, Sport, Race and Individual. Leave the drive mode selector in Comfort and, despite its ferocious-looking spec on paper, the Tiguan feels like any other family SUV.

Its throttle is docile, the adaptive dampers help to deliver a ride that’s controlled and comfortable despite the large 21-inch wheels and low-profile rubber and the dual-clutch gearbox verges on lazy as it slurs through the ratios. Refinement is also decent, although the Skoda is marginally quieter on coarse-chip roads.

Start to ratchet things around to Race mode, however, and the Tiguan R steadily reveals an angrier side. The steering gets heavier, gearshifts become crisp and decisive and the 2.0-litre engine takes on a frenzied edge.

You also gain a vocal soundtrack that’s enhanced by some obviously synthesised induction noise. We don’t mind the artificial enhancement but you can turn it off by engaging a ‘Pure’ mode for the powertrain.

Race firms up the damping noticeably, too, but it doesn’t deliver the bone-jarring track-only ride I was expecting. The Tiguan is certainly firmer and more physical to hustle on our bumpy test loop than the more softly sprung Kodiaq, but it doesn’t skip off-line or crash through unpleasantly.

Instead, the tauter body control and reduced roll combine to boost confidence.

Another surprise? How much grip there is in these soaked conditions. Our Tiguan was running 255/35 R21 Hankook Ventus S1 EVO3 rubber and after some tentative exploration, you quickly discover there’s ample adhesion to lean on. And once you start to trust that the front axle will stick, it becomes a touch alarming how much speed the Tiguan R can carry into corners.

The chassis gives you options, too. Experience on a dry track tells us overarching grip and benign stability tend to be the R’s default handling characteristics but on a wet road it’s easier to unlock some playfulness.

Our Tiguan was running 255/35 R21 Hankook Ventus S1 EVO3 rubber and after some tentative exploration, you quickly discover there’s ample adhesion to lean on.

A single press on the traction control button engages ESC Sport and with the electronic nanny wound back a smidge you can really feel the torque vectoring at work. The twin clutch packs on the rear axle can apportion up to 100 per cent of drive to a single wheel and if you commit to the loud pedal early enough, it’s possible to revel in some rear-end throttle adjustability.

Nothing lairy enough to warrant a degree or two of opposite lock, but it’s sufficient to give the feeling that you’re powering out of turns with the rear tyres loaded.

As for the level of propulsion on offer? VW’s EA888 is as dependable and clean-revving as ever and there’s ample thrust on tap to power out of corners. This is a properly quick SUV.

Strong brakes with excellent modulation complete an impressively well-rounded dynamic arsenal that, on these roads at least, doesn’t have an obvious weak spot. If we were being super critical we’d point to the steering which, while meatily weighted and accurate, is more of a dependable supporting act than an engaging communication device but that’s about it.

Is it as agile and as engaging as a Golf R? Of course not.

The lower-slung and circa 300kg-lighter hatch would be the pick for keen drivers but in the realm of sporty mainstream SUVs, the chuckable, fast and involving Tiguan R is impressive.

Perhaps the question we should be asking, however, is do you really need this level of potency and focus in a family SUV? Or would most buyers be just as happy with a less intense interpretation of sportiness?

Enter the Kodiaq RS…

It’s noticeably more sedate than the VW. A weak latte next to the Tiguan’s vodka-laced double espresso, yet there’s still plenty of talent for a keen driver to exploit. It’s certainly a more eager companion than the old diesel version thanks to a 56kg weight improvement in the nose.

And we’ll take the smooth sound of a 2.0-litre petrol over a diesel any day. Like the VW, there’s some heavy-handed sound augmentation going on to enhance the Kodiaq’s EA888 but again it’s possible to turn it off via the Individual mode.

The steering is also crisp and quick (at 2.1 turns lock-to-lock it matches the Tiguan for rack speed), the ride on adaptive dampers and 20-inch wheels with chunkier 45 profile rubber is nicely judged and on a spirited drive, the handling is fluent, predictable and fun.

It can’t keep up with the Tiguan R, though. On our drive loop, it only takes a few corners for the VW’s taillights to start edging away. And it’s not just that the Kodiaq is down on grunt, although there is noticeably less punch coming out of corners.

Where the Tiguan blazes out of turns, the Kodiaq is missing the same degree of urgency and feralness. It’s more to do with the fact that the Kodiaq feels less connected and eager. Where the Tiguan is foursquare and agile, the Kodiaq seems narrower, taller and heavier.

And when you do lean on the chassis, you’ll discover there’s not as much grip on offer, either. The 235/45 R20 Continentals are more prone to understeer and it’s even possible to break the rear end loose under heavy braking for tighter corners.

Is the Kodiaq RS a capable and well-sorted SUV? Absolutely. Is it a match for the Tiguan R dynamically? Afraid not.

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Ownership

This one’s a slam dunk for the Skoda. The Czech brand has recently moved to a seven-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty for all its vehicles, meaning it has a longer-than-average coverage period.

The Volkswagen, meanwhile, carries a now industry-standard five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty.

Both Skoda and VW offer attractive pre-paid servicing plans but again, the Skoda has a superior scheme. Five years of servicing for the Kodiaq RS can be bundled together for $2000, while seven years will set you back $2900. By comparison, VW offers three- or five-year servicing plans for the Tiguan R priced at $1650 and $3100 respectively.

Another thing to consider is that the Volkswagen requires 98 RON while the Skoda only needs 95. Both have a 58L fuel tank and at today’s fuel prices ($2.12/L for 95 and $2.20/L for 98) the VW will cost you $4.64 more each time you fill up with a full tank. If you fill up weekly, that blows out to an extra $241.30 a year.

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VERDICT

Which of this pair is the better sporty SUV? That’s easy: the Tiguan R.

It’s quicker, more engaging, grips harder and is simply on a different plane for dynamics thanks to its angrier engine and more sophisticated, performance-orientated all-wheel drive system.

But really, there are no losers here. And that’s not a cop out; it’s more of an understanding that no matter how they drive, the biggest deciding factor between this pair is how many seats you need. If you stopped at two kids (or two dogs) then buy the Tiguan.

Whether it’s the best fast VW currently on sale is up for debate – we’d tip our hats in favour of the Golf R wagon which is identically priced, is arguably cooler to look at and just as practical – but if it’s an SUV you’re chasing, there’s no denying this flagship Tiguan lives up to the reputation of the ‘R’ badge.

If you do need seven seats, however, the Skoda won’t disappoint.

Its performance focus might be dialled back a notch but it still looks tough, has a longer warranty, better servicing conditions, and it’s quick and capable enough to feel genuinely sporty.

Just pray you don’t run into a Tiguan R on your morning backroad blast…

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SCORING

Tiguan R Kodiaq RS
Safety, value & features 8.5 8
Comfort & space 8 8.5
Engine & gearbox 8.5 8
Ride & handling 8.5 8
Technology 8.5 8

Volkswagen Tiguan R: 8.4

Things we liked

  • A talented performance SUV for keen drivers
  • Nicely judged ride/handling balance
  • Rapid acceleration
  • Roomy and flexible cabin

Not so much

  • Front seats lack support
  • Patchy cabin materials not as premium as Kodiaq
  • No wireless phone charging
  • No spare tyre. Not quite as fun to drive as a Golf R wagon
  • Fiddly touch controls

Skoda Kodiaq RS: 8.1

Things we liked

  • Added space and flexibility of seven seats
  • Punchy performance and talented chassis
  • Better cabin quality and front seats
  • Longer warranty and cheaper servicing costs

Not so much

  • Not as engaging to drive as Tiguan R
  • Artificial engine sound won’t be to everyone’s taste
  • GTI engine tune lacks Tiguan’s firepower
  • Third row tight for adults yet lacks anchor points for small kids

Choose the Volkswagen Tiguan R if:

  • You are a keen driver. The Tiguan R is quicker, grips harder and is more fun
  • You want to save some cash. The Tiguan R is about $1000 cheaper and there’s a new, de-specced Tiguan R Grid variant that saves you another $5000
  • You don’t need a third row of seats
  • You might tackle the occasional track day. A well-driven Tiguan R could claim some scalps on track

Choose the Skoda Kodiaq RS if:

  • You want a sporty flavour but aren’t hung up on outright dynamics
  • You need the flexibility of seven seats
  • You want a cabin with a better mix of materials and more supportive front seats
  • You are drawn towards cheaper servicing costs and a longer seven-year warranty

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Volkswagen Tiguan R and Skoda Kodiaq RS specifications

2022 Volkswagen Tiguan R 2022 Skoda Kodiaq RS
Body 5-door, 5-seat medium SUV 5-door, 7-seat large SUV
Drive All-wheel drive all-wheel drive
Engine 2.0-litre 4cyl, DOHC, 16v, turbo-petrol 2.0-litre 4cyl, DOHC, 16v, turbo-petrol
Power 235kW @5600-6500rpm 180kW @ 5250-6500rpm
Torque 400Nm @ 2000-5600rpm 370Nm @ 1600-4300rpm
0-100km/h 5.1sec (claimed) 6.6sec (claimed)
Transmission 7-speed dual-clutch 7-speed dual-clutch
Weight 1722 (tare) 1790kg (tare)
Fuel consumption 8.8L/100km (combined) 14.0L (tested) 7.5L/100km (combined) 14.2L/100km (tested)
Front suspension MacPherson struts, adaptive dampers, coil springs, anti-roll bar MacPherson struts, adaptive dampers, coil springs, anti-roll bar
Rear suspension Multi-links, adaptive dampers, coil springs, anti-roll bar Multi-links, adaptive dampers, coil springs, anti-roll bar
L/W/H 4520/1859/1668mm 4699/1882/1685mm
Wheelbase 2681mm 2791mm
Brakes 357mm ventilated/drilled discs with two-piston calipers (front); 310mm ventilated discs with single-piston caliper (rear)
Tyres Hankook Ventus S1 EVO3 SUV 255/35 ZR21 Continental Sport Contact 5 235/45 ZR20
Wheels 21-inch alloy (puncture repair kit) 20-inch alloy (space-saver spare)
Price $68,990 $68,390/$69,290 ($74,990 D/A)
Boot space 615L/1655L 270/765L/2005L
Warranty 5 years, unlimited km 7 years, unlimited km
RON 98 95
Towing 2200kg braked 2000kg braked

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