Friday, December 26, 2008

Hyundai announces pricing for Elantra Touring

Hyundai has announced prices for its Elantra Touring five-door compact, starting at $18,495 for a very well-equipped entry-level model and $19,995 for one featuring a Premium-Sport package.

The all-new 2009 Elantra Touring is a sportier, more functional variant of Hyundai’s popular Elantra sedan, and will be available at dealerships in the first quarter of 2009.

“The all-new Elantra Touring is a fun-to-drive, functional five-door,” said Mark Dipko, manager, small car product development, Hyundai Motor America. “Elantra Touring provides buyers a unique offering in the compact segment, raising the bar as Hyundai likes to do in value, safety and quality. It is remarkable how many features a customer can get for under $20,000 in such a versatile five-door.”
The Elantra Touring is the first five-door compact to offer standard Electronic Stability Control (ESC) in addition to a host of other class-leading safety technologies. As with all Hyundai vehicles, the Elantra Touring was designed and manufactured to meet the most stringent quality standards in the industry, exemplifying Hyundai’s quality leadership position worldwide.

The Elantra Touring, with its modern, sleek styling and fun-to-drive qualities, was developed by Hyundai in response to the growing demand for stylish and functional five-door vehicles, sales of which doubled from 2001 to 2006. Five-door vehicle sales are projected to be strong into the next decade as well.

Elantra Touring builds on Hyundai’s reputation for offering loads of standard equipment, including air conditioning, power windows, heated mirrors, door locks, remote keyless entry with alarm, steering wheel-mounted cruise control and audio controls, eight-way adjustable driver’s seat with lumbar support, a cooled glove box and plenty of storage compartments. For audiophiles, an integrated 172-Watt AM/FM/XM Satellite Radio/CD/MP3 audio system with six speakers, USB input and auxiliary input jack are standard. The Premium-Sport package adds a power sunroof with tilt and slide functions, heated front seats and 17-inch alloy wheels with P215/45VR17 tires.

Like every Hyundai, top-tier safety was a key development goal for the Elantra Touring, which is fully equipped to protect driver and passengers. Passive safety features include dual front, side and curtain airbags -- a total of six protective airbags in the vehicle. Other safety features include active front headrests, seatbelt pretensioners and seatbelt reminders. The combination of side and curtain airbags, which help protect the head and body during side impacts, can reduce fatalities by more than 50 percent, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). The IIHS also notes that active front head restraints improve rear crash protection.
The Elantra Touring comes standard with Electronic Stability Control (ESC), one of the industry’s most effective life-saving technologies. NHTSA studies show that passenger cars equipped with ESC experience 30 percent fewer fatalities in single-vehicle crashes than cars without ESC. Santa Fe, Veracruz, Tucson, Sonata, Azera, Elantra SE, Entourage and Genesis are all equipped with standard ESC. Elantra Touring has earned five-star frontal and four-star side crash ratings in the compact passenger car segment from NHTSA.

The long wheelbase and generous width of the Elantra Touring, combined with Hyundai’s expertise in interior packaging, have produced an interior that delivers class-leading comfort, functionality and practicality. Elantra Touring has the most interior volume (passenger volume plus cargo space) of any five-door in its class at 125.5 cubic feet. In fact, Elantra Touring’s cargo capacity is 65.3 cubic feet with the rear seats folded down, which is more cargo space than many larger wagons and crossovers.
The Elantra Touring is the first compact five-door to offer XM Satellite Radio® and USB/iPod® auxiliary inputs as standard equipment. When an iPod or flash drive is connected through the USB port, located in the center storage compartment, not only does it play music through the vehicle’s six-speaker audio system, but it also charges the iPod and allows the driver to access tracks with the steering wheel audio controls. This system also allows both driver and passengers to easily view song/artist/title information and control the music from the audio head unit rather than only the iPod itself. The center storage compartment location of the USB assures that iPods can be safely stowed out of sight.
The roomy and functional interior is also a quiet place to be. Based on internal tests, Elantra Touring has four decibels lower road noise levels than the Mazda3 five-door.

The Elantra Touring’s exterior dimensions (176.2 inches long, 69.5 inches wide and 59.8 inches high) make it a great fit in the compact five-door segment, while its long wheelbase (106.3 inches) offers class-leading interior volume. Elantra Touring features outstanding front legroom and both front and rear shoulder room. In addition, every Elantra Touring has 60/40 split folding rear seats that fold when needed for added storage, functionality and practicality.
The Elantra Touring matches best-in-class passenger volume with best-in-class cargo capacity. There is a useful 24.3 cubic feet of luggage space with rear seats upright and a cavernous 65.3 cubic feet with the rear seats folded flat. As in any Hyundai, the utility and convenience in the Elantra Touring has not been overlooked, with a stow-and-go removable luggage cover that stores conveniently out-of-site under the trunk area compartment. An optional restraining net is also offered.
The Elantra Touring includes a number of convenient, standard stowage and storage features, including a sunglass holder, two front and two rear cupholders, door bottle holders, dash storage, central console storage, front storage tray, front seatback pockets and a cargo area under-floor storage. For tailgaters, the cargo area also has a power-retained, 12-volt outlet that does not require the vehicle to be turned on in order to work.

Elantra Touring is powered by the same fuel-efficient, 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder found in the Elantra sedan. This sophisticated, 16-valve powerplant employs Dual Overhead Camshafts (DOHC) and Continuously Variable Valve Timing (CVVT) for a power band, coupled with high fuel efficiency and low emissions. Elantra Touring is certified as an Ultra Low Emission Vehicle (ULEV). With a manual transmission, the Elantra Touring’s mileage is 23 mpg city and 31 mpg highway according to the EPA. With the optional four-speed, automatic transmission, the Elantra Touring’s EPA rating is 23 mpg city and 30 mpg highway.

Saab's smart wagon with the funny name

Saab loves to tout its heritage as a jet company.
It's kind of hard to say whether that appeals to people who are buying cars, but at least it's something not every automaker can say.
When you get behind the wheel of the Saab Aero SportCombi, you actually do get a little bit of the jet-set experience, thanks to the wagon's turbocharged engine.
And along with that driving pleasure, you get quite a bit of cargo space, making this an attractive package when it comes to small family vehicles.
When we got out on the highway in the Aero, it was easy for us to forget that we were in a wagon.
The stiffness of the suspension and the eagerness of the engine rival that of many other performance sedans and coupes in this category.

The 2.0-liter power plant provides a more-than-adequate 210 horsepower and 221 pounds-feet of torque.

The handling is superb, especially when compared with other front-wheel-drive cars.

Steering is exceptionally responsive. We made a special effort to take this wagon out on some twisty roads and were rewarded with stellar performance.

The SportCombi (we're still not crazy about that name) grabbed corners and tight turns like crazed shoppers snapping up post-holiday markdowns at the mall.

We did, however, detect just a little bit of torque steer upon rapid acceleration, but not enough to dampen the driving pleasure too much.

Also, you'll probably notice a bit of turbo lag, but it's not all that bothersome.

Braking is adequate.

Quietly, it seems that wagons are making a bit of a comeback.

Sure, they might be called different things, such as crossovers or whatever, as automakers are still somewhat reluctant to use the term station wagon.

But for their functionality and better-than-SUV gas mileage and driveability, wagons are again becoming a viable alternative in the auto market.

The SportCombi is an example of why.

It offers great performance and cargo space, and it's pretty good looking.

The interior boasts a modern yet understated style, while the exterior doesn't depart much from the smart looks of its sibling 9-3 sedan.

As for conveniences, our test drive model wasn't loaded with features that make you oohh and aahh, but it had enough to make you comfortable.

Power-adjustable seats, a fine sound system and a thicker, perforated leather steering wheel were among the amenities in the tester.

You can also have keyless entry, chrome trim on the doors, center stack and steering wheel and automatic climate control.

But the main thing buyers in this category would probably be after is utility, and the SportCombi offers plenty of that.

It has one of the largest trunks in its class, 14.8 cubic feet, that's able to hold plenty of stuff from the home- improvement or grocery store.

And the passenger space is quite impressive, too.

The driver and front passenger get great head-and legroom, while the backseat passengers get more space than you might expect, even if you put three people on the bench.

For safety, the SportCombi offers adaptive force front airbags, active head restraints and seat-mounted side torso airbags.

Side curtain airbags give protection to people riding in the front and rear seats in the event of side-impact collisions.

Electronic brakeforce distribution, antilock brakes, traction control and stability control systems are standard on all models.

The driver gets an assist with large instrumentation gauges with easy-to-read script.

Also, the climate and radio controls are not too hard to figure out and a new center-mounted display screen on top of the dash lets drivers check the settings while easily keeping an eye on the road.

As General Motors continues to figure out what direction it's headed in, it appears at least somewhat likely that it will put the Saab brand, which it has owned for a few years, up for sale.

For GM, that would be somewhat of a downer, because Saab's products are pretty good and it is a well-respected brand.

But that would make it attractive to potential buyers.

Whatever its future is, let's hope Saab continues to stay on its game with good stuff like the SportCombi wagon.

Monday, December 22, 2008

New reviews coming

It's been a while, AAB fans, but we promise more reviews are on the way. So stay tuned.
And happy holidays!!

Loan to automakers was the right move, poll says

Before U.S. automakers got their assistance money from the federal government, polls showed most Americans opposed a government bailout of the domestic auto industry.
But now that President George W. Bush has tapped the TARP (the $700 billion rescue package for the financial industry) to aid General Motors and Chrysler, most Americans in a new poll say they approve of the move.
Bush gave the two companies $13.4 billion in loans on Friday, amid dire forecasts of the companies possibly facing bankruptcy or other threats to their existence.
A poll of 1,013 adults commissioned by CNN and conducted by Opinion Research Corp. indicated that 63 percent backed the move.
However, 70 percent of respondents said that's it; no more aid should be given.
The poll also found that:
• 28 percent of respondents think that GM and Chrysler will pay back most or all of the loans.
• 65 percent believe a bankruptcy filing by a U.S. automaker would create further serious problems for the nation's economy.
• 34 percent said that they would be somewhat or very likely to buy a vehicle from a company in bankruptcy protection.
• 82 percent hold unfavorable views of U.S. automaker executives.
• 61 percent hold unfavorable views of leaders of the auto workers’ union.
• 73 percent hold favorable views U.S. automakers' workers.
The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Bailout faces tough road in Senate

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a $14 billion aid package for General Motors and Chrysler on Wednesday evening, but the bill's prospects in the Senate are murky.
Several Senate Republicans have voiced opposition to helping the companies, and if they remain firm on that stance, they could derail the plan.
The bill needs 60 votes to pass in the Senate, which would include at least 20 Republicans.
But Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said he believed the bill has "less than a handful of votes" among Republicans, according to news sources.
"This bill is an incredibly weak bill, it's the product of an administration that wants to kick the can down the road, and I think it has minimal, very little support in our caucus," he said.
George Voinovich, a Republican senator from Ohio, supports the bill but concedes that changes must be made to it in order for it to pass the Senate, news reports said.
The package provides GM and Chrysler with $14 billion, which the companies say will last them through March. Ford Motor Co. says it only needs a $9-billion credit line. GM and Chrysler would have to grant the government stock or warrants that could give it a majority stake in either company, and also restrict executive pay and end corporate jet travel.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Poll finds public opposition to automaker bailout

U.S. automakers are facing a tough time trying to persuade lawmakers on Capitol Hill to give them funding to boost their struggling businesses.
The American public is also skeptical.
A poll taken this week found a majority of Americans opposing the use of government money to help Detroit’s automakers.
The poll, taken by CNN/Opinion Research on Monday and Tuesday, found that 61% oppose federal loan assistance and 36% favor it.
“Seven in 10 say that a bailout would be unfair to American taxpayers,” CNN Polling Director Keating Holland said.
The poll, which has a margin of error of 3 percentage points, found the greatest opposition in the West, at 67%, and among Republicans, at 70%.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Detroit 3 seek bigger aid package

The Detroit 3 automakers increased their request for federal assistance Tuesday to $34 billion, with General Motors and Chrysler saying they could buckle by year's end because of the increasing pressure on their business.
Lawmakers in Washington will hold hearings Thursday and Friday to consider the requests, with the top executives of the companies arriving in Washington in hybrid vehicles rather than the corporate jets that generated such a firestorm last time.
The beleaguered industry is facing sales declines, which continued in November, and is cutting production next year.
Chrysler says it needs $7 billion by the end of the year and GM says it needs $4 billion.
“Absent such assistance, the company will default in the near term,” GM told lawmakers, “very likely precipitating a total collapse of the domestic industry and its extensive supply chain, with a ripple effect that will have severe, long-term consequences to the U.S. economy.”
GM is seeking a total of $18 billion, with $12 billion in loans and $6 billion as an emergency line of credit.
The company has said it would cut four of its U.S. brands, nine factories, up to 30,000 workers and billions of dollars in costs, in order to reach profitability by 2011.
Ford asked for a $9 billion government credit line.

Chrysler Town & Country still among the best

Chrysler, which originated the minivan in 1984, still does it better than just about anyone else.

True, there aren't a whole lot of competitors still in the minivan game, as slumping sales in the category have made it less of a priority among automakers, which prefer to make SUVs.

But when it comes to value, practicality, comfort and even a bit of, dare we say, style, Chrysler's family haulers get it right.

In this category, practicality is the key feature.

Minivan drivers have to take the kids to school and to sports practice, have to pick up groceries and other large items from big box stores and have to head out on the road for the occasional vacation.

With the Chrysler Town & Country and its sibling Dodge Grand Caravan, you can do all that and more.

Last year, when Chrysler introduced its swivel-n-go option, it continued its tradition of being on the leading edge of the minivan market.

Swivel-n-go allowed passengers to use a table in the middle of the van and turn seats toward it, to make it almost like you're at home at your dining room table.

This feature previously could be found only in RVs, but now you had it in a vehicle that was much more mainstream.

Well, despite that and some other neat additional features, Chrysler couldn't generate a huge uptick in minivan sales.

But among those in the market for the vehicles, the Chrysler products were very well received.

Whether you choose the Grand Caravan, or the slightly more upscale Town & Country, you can be sure that Chrysler's minivans will get you there in comfort and with plenty of room for all of your stuff.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

It's a buyer's market out there

In the auto industry, the first thing to go in this economic slide was the big truck and SUV market.
Gas prices went up, sales of those vehicles went down, way down.
Sales of small cars picked up pretty smartly, though.
Then, the economy went even deeper into the tank, and now even small car sales have slipped.
But now, things have gone so far down hill that the automakers are even offering incentives on the fuel sippers.
Toyota, for instance, put $1,000 on the hood of the Corolla and offered zero percent financing for 36 months.
Ford put $2,000 on the hood of its Focus sedan, and offered zero percent financing on it, too.
Whatever you're in the market for, you're likely to be able to get a pretty good deal on it, thanks to automakers' strong motivation to move products off dealers' lots.
The best deals are being offered by the Detroit 3 - Ford, General Motors and Chrysler - for obvious reasons: their sales have struggled mightily and they are in the midst of asking the federal government for assistance.
"Consumers are just not in the mood to buy anything,” John Casesa, managing partner at Casesa Shapiro Group LLC, told the Wall Street Journal.
Dealers really don't want to be stuck with high inventories during the coming winter months, which traditionally are slow in sales. “There’s going to be motivation to deal on anything except the absolute hottest models,” Casesa said.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Obama says auto bailout plan needs more specifics

President-elect Barack Obama backed a move by Congress to deny a $25 billion bailout to U.S. automakers, saying the Detroit 3 didn't give enough details on how the funds would be used.
“I was surprised they did not have a better thought out proposal when they arrived in Congress,” Obama told a news conference at which he named his economic team. “I think Congress did the right thing, which is to say you guys need to come up with a plan and come back before you’re getting any taxpayer money.”
Last week, auto company executives pled their case for aid before lawmakers in Washington, saying the industry was facing a possible collapse if it didn't receive assistance.
Lawmakers said the executives offered few specifics, and gave the companies a deadline of Dec. 2 to draft a proposal about how they planned to use the money and how it would be repaid. Obama said that the plan would need to present an outline of how the automakers would achieve long-term viability, so that the government aid wouldn't just be a temporary fix to the current problems facing the industry.
“The auto industry needs to present us with some clarity in terms of the dollars,” Obama said in the news conference. “Are they describing for us an auto industry that is focused on retooling, understands that we’re entering into a new energy economy, that is going to be competitive globally?
“That is the kind of plan everyone wants to see. We need to see a plan and when we see a plan we’ll be able to shape the kind of assistance plan that makes sense.”

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Chevrolet Traverse: GM proves again that it can do SUVs


The 2009 Chevrolet Traverse is a new SUV from General Motors.Yes, it is a relatively large SUV, when sales of such vehicles are down amid a sharp drop in overall vehicle sales.
Yes, it is similar to three other SUVs on what GM calls its Lambda platform: the Saturn Outlook, Buick Enclave and GMC Acadia.
But if you're able to put all that aside and just evaluate this vehicle for what it is, you can see that it's a beautiful, functional, stylish machine.
The Traverse offers pleasant driving manners and the smooth ride that you expect from a large luxury vehicle.
Its impressive agility can be attributed to a power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering system.
Safety features are abundant, including the StabiliTrak electronic stability control system and rollover mitigation technology (RMT), which is designed to prevent rollover.
Side-impact air bags and curtain air bags are activated if on-board sensors detect a potential vehicular rollover.
Also, there are frontal and seat-mounted side-impact air bags for front seats and the curtain-style air bags mounted above outboard seats at all three rows.
The Traverse is large, albeit rather deceptively so.
Its exterior design lines seem to hide the fact that it is about 17 feet long and six feet wide.
The extended wheelbase (118.9 inches) and broad wheel track of 67.8 inches in the front and 67.4 inches in the rear assist in smoothing out the ride.
Drivers can choose front wheel drive or a full-time all-wheel-drive system.
That AWD system can determine how much power is needed for each wheel to keep its footing.
For an SUV, the Traverse is remarkably designed for maximum aerodynamic efficiency.
The integrated rear spoiler and a splitter at the bottom of the front air dam assist the aerodynamics of the Traverse, said Bryan Nesbitt, GM's vice president of design.
That's important because it aids the fuel efficiency of the vehicle.
Nesbitt also alluded to design touches such as the aggressive front-end shaped in a sculpted block, the dramatically raked windshield and stylish single-bar grille accented with chrome.
Those touches, he said, make the Traverse stand out among family vehicles.
The Traverse is powered by a 3.6-liter V-6 engine that makes 281 horsepower and 266 pounds-feet of torque.
Gas mileage is listed at 17 mpg city, 24 highway, according to EPA.In a mix of city and highway driving, we got about 19 mpg.
Inside, the Traverse offers an incredible amount of comfort.
That's first noticed when you enter the vehicle.
Instead of having to step up like you do with so many SUVs, you just kind of slide right into this one.
The second row of seats offers a choice of captain's chairs that move fore and aft or a bench, which can seat three people.
The third row also holds three passengers on its 60/40 split bench.It's relatively easy to get to the third row because the second row seats move without difficulty.
When the third row of seats is up, you get a spacious 24.4 cubic feet of cargo space in the rear.
Fold those seats down, and you get an even more spacious 68.8 cubic feet.Put the second row down too and your space grows to something that's enough to build a small condo: 116.4 cubic feet.
The Travese comes in its base LS trim, upgraded LT1 and LT2 trims and top of the line LTZ level.
The LS starts at around $28,255, while the loaded LTZ that we tested went for $41,130.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Another category scrambler: The Kia Rondo

There is no official category of vehicle on the market known as the not-quite-sure-what you call it.

But some vehicles, such as the Kia Rondo, fit this description.

We recently wrote about the Mazda5, a sort of minivan, sort of sedan, sort of wagon-type thing that also would be in this group.

The Rondo is equally blended - sort of wagon, sort of car, sort of small SUV, maybe even a hint of minivan.

The Rondo is a bit taller and wider than the Mazda, but enjoys the same amount of versatility, the thing we liked most about that car, 'er van, 'er whatever.

What we like about the Rondo is how nicely it's priced.

For a seven-seat vehicle that's not too big and not too small, it's hard to beat the Rondo in value.

Our tester had a sticker price of $23,495, about two grand cheaper than the similarly equipped Mazda5 we had.

At that price, our Rondo was the higher trim level EX (the other one is the LX), with 17-inch alloy wheels and options such as leather, heated seats, a power sunroof and a third row of seats, which is tiny, but OK for small kids.

The EX also offers a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, lighted vanity mirrors and an MP3-capable audio system with extra speakers and controls on the steering wheel.

The EX's exterior gives you chrome door handles, roof rails, body-side molding and a crossbar on the grille.

LX models have 16-inch alloy wheels, full power accessories, a height-adjustable driver seat and a 60/40-split folding rear seat.

The LX Convenience Package includes remote entry and cruise control.

If you've got a small crew or a little stuff to haul, the Rondo is a fine choice.

The second- and optional third-row seats fold flat to give you a nice amount of cargo capacity. The third row seats split 50/50.

If your crew members are thirsty, the Rondo lets them drink up with quite a few cupholders.

Storage bins also aren't lacking, another cool convenience feature.

The Rondo is a front-wheel drive vehicle only, and comes with either a four- or six-cylinder engine.

The Rondo is on the same platform as the Kia Optima sedan.

The four-cylinder engine in both vehicles is a 2.4-liter that is linked to a four-speed automatic transmission.

It makes 162 horsepower and 164 pounds-feet of torque.

The V-6, which we had in the tester, is a 2.7-liter linked to a five-speed automatic transmission. It makes a stout 182 ponies and 182 pounds-feet.

We were very impressed with the engine, as it offered decent passing and merge power on local highways.

We tried out the manual shifting feature a couple of times and got an even sportier response.

Most people buying in this category of vehicle aren't terribly concerned with dynamic performance, but it's nice to know that you don't have to feel like your senses have died when you get behind the wheel of the Rondo.

Mind you, BMW isn't exactly trembling with fear at the prospect of huge numbers of Rondos taking on the twisty roads of America, but for a low-$20,000 car, performance ain't too shabby.

Also, the engine was much quieter than we expected, even at highway speeds.

We thought sure we'd get a little bit of that high revving whine that you seem to get with value-priced cars, but if there was any, it was barely audible in the Rondo.

Gas mileage was OK. The Rondo's EPA figures are 18 mpg city, 26 highway.

In combined driving, we got about 20, which was a bit of a disappointment, but not altogether lousy.

The Rondo presents a fine list of safety features, including front-seat mounted airbags, side-curtain airbags for all three rows, electronic stability control, antilock disc brakes and a tire-pressure monitoring system.

All are standard.

Kia calls the Rondo a crossover utility vehicle, and that label seems to fit as well as any, one supposes.

But whatever your needs might be, it's nice to have a multipurpose vehicle that can wear a few different hats - and they all seem to fit well on the Rondo.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

For Sale: A classic

Check out this beautiful 1964 Oldsmobile Dynamic 88.

It's a two-tone baby blue and white classic car in running condition.

It has a rebuilt 394 engine with less than 500 miles on it and new drum brakes all the way around.

Also new are the fuel pump, tires, hoses and belts.

This classic car runs great, its engine is very quiet and it's got killer pickup on the highway!

The interior is all original, with blue carpet, and all windows and doors work.

So how much do you need to fork over for this baby?

It's yours for the low, low price of $7,000.

If you're interested, email me and let's get down to business.

THIS is how you drive

I've driven a Subaru WRX before, but not quite like this.

We should all be so lucky as to be able to get behind the wheel and experience this kind of thrill.

Check out this clip, sent to me by my main man, journalist and auto enthusiast Charles Jones.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Audi A5 gets an A+

You might be a huge fan of the Audi R8, as I am.
But you might also think, as I do, that paying six figures for a car is a bit ostentatious, especially in tough economic times.
So Audi rolls out its first midsize U.S. coupe in several years, probably not so much bowing to that concern, but just because they thought it would be cool.
Well the A5 coupe is cool, and it's a little less than half the price of the R8 supercar.
There are endless things to appreciate about it, too.
You can start with its performance.
You'll cruise down the highway or on city streets with a smoothness and fluidity that raise the level of sports car road manners to a new high.
When you accelerate to higher speeds, those road manners come right along with you.
Take on some twisty roads, and watch the quattro all-wheel-drive system grip the road tightly and experience the responsiveness you get from its handling.
The steering offers a firm enough, but not overbearing, command of the car.
The 3.2-liter V-6 engine is quiet and exceptionally efficient, and more than adequately powerful, making 265 horsepower.
Gas mileage is listed at 18 mpg city, 27 highway, according to EPA.
The six-speed automatic transmission is velvety smooth, but if you choose to use the paddle-shifters, you'll experience a bit more joy.
Add to that dynamic performance a design that is sleek and sophisticated, but still understated.
The headlights have the new signature feature that Audi offers, slim LED strips that underline the main bulbs. That feature first gained fame with the R8, and thankfully Audi is adding it to its higher sales volume cars.
When you turn on the turn indicator lights, the LED strip goes off - what a neat trick.
The curves of the A5's body are artistic without being gaudy.
You will get some nice, admiring glances in this car, but not the kind of overblown, hormonally charged expressions of lust that some flashier cars elicit.
The interior is classic Audi - quality materials arranged perfectly.
There are brushed metal accents that set off the high-end plastics on the dash.
The leather seats have a richness that looks great, providing more than ample comfort.
There is even a dose of practicality, with back seats that can fit kids fairly comfortably and a spacious trunk that would accommodate a golf bag and a number of other items.
Also, the thing that taller drivers love about Audi is the overall roominess of the cabin.
At 6'6", I don't even have to slide the driver's seat all the way to the farthest back position.
Audi is just about the only automaker whose cars I can say that about - it's usually a trait found only in SUVs.
Quality products such as this one are helping Audi make more of a mark on the U.S. market.
Audi said it reached a market share of 8.6 percent within its competitive set in October, up from 6.2 percent a year earlier.
Audi also said it set a sales record in October, despite a crummy environment for auto sales.
It cited the A5 as one of the drivers of its strong sales.
Only Audi reported growth on a car basis in the import high group in October, a segment that includes brands such as BMW, Jaguar, Mercedes, Volvo, Acura and Lexus.
Those brands are probably well aware that Audi is charging at them, and products like the A5 are leading the way.
The A5 starts at around $41,000.
Our tester, equipped with the Navigation Plus system and premium and technology packages, had a sticker price of $52,140.
At that price, I could buy two of them and still have spent less than what an R8 would cost.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Mazda5: Whatever you call it, call it good


We've always seen the Mazda5 as one of those, "What is it?" vehicles.
You know, the type that makes you wonder: sedan, small SUV, crossover, minivan or whatever?
The answer is a bit of each.
The Mazda5, introduced a few years ago as Mazda's replacement for its MPV minivan, is versatile, practical, fun to drive and even a little stylish, once you gain an appreciation for its unusual design.
You've probably heard all about how there has been such a sharp decline in minivan sales this decade, as the popularity of crossovers has risen.
But the fact is, minivans were a good idea in the first place because of the functionality they offered families and other people who wanted easy access to the front, middle and rear rows of their vehicles.
Some crossovers have been able to offer that, others haven't.
But the Mazda5 has it, with its sliding side doors and middle-row individual seats.
Plus, with those seats and the back row folded down, you get a healthy amount of cargo space.
Loading boxes, groceries or a stroller is a breeze, making this a great vehicle for young families or grandparents, two key demographics of minivan drivers.
The sliding doors operate easily, and aren't heavy at all, but they do feel sturdy enough that you won't feel like they could come unhinged at any moment.
The second row seats slide fore and aft to give more legroom for passengers, or perhaps more room for stuff you might toss back there.
If passengers in that row are carrying gear such as duffel bags, they can toss that in the third row and sit quite comfortably.
In fact, the seats themselves are very comfortable. They are wide and cushiony enough to be accommodating on even a long trip.
The only problem you might have is that if you are a tall person driving, your legroom is a little bit compromised.
We wished Mazda had made the driver's seat with a bit more room to slide back, because after about 45 minutes to an hour of driving, things were getting a little cramped and we had to stop to stretch out.
But if you're under, say, 6'2", this shouldn't be a problem.
Design-wise, we loved the modern interior styling.
No boring minivan features are to be found here.
The control display on the dashboard even has sort of a luxury-type appearance.
You also get steering wheel mounted audio controls, an optional navigation system, dual 12V outlets and a sport shifter.
A sport shifter on a little minivan - is that really necessary?
Yes, because this thing lives up to Mazda's Zoom-Zoom credo.
Its suspension is tight, steering is precise and acceleration is energetic.
The five-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly.
The aluminum 2.3-liter four cylinder engine makes 153 horsepower and 148 pounds-feet of torque.
But one of our favorite attributes is the gas mileage.
The Mazda5 is listed at 21 mpg city, 27 highway according to EPA data.
In combined driving, we got about 26 mpg.
That is very good for a six-passenger vehicle.
Another thing that we noticed that scored points for the Mazda5 is how when it was loaded down with people or stuff, it didn't seem to affect its performance.
We tossed in a few big lawn and leaf bags full of clothes that we were donating, and carried a few people to the donation center and had seemingly as much power as when the vehicle is empty.
Because of its relatively small size, zipping in and out of parking spaces is not a problem, either.
You can't say that for most minivans and some of the crossovers on today's market.
The sticker price on the Mazda5 we drove was $22,675.
The Mazda5 is another reason we think Mazda has one of the best product lineups among automakers today.
If you would prefer a crossover, check out the CX-7 or CX-9, two that are among the tops in their respective categories.
For a small sedan or hatchback, the Mazda3 is sporty, very stylish and priced nicely.
If it's a larger sedan you're after, the Mazda6 has been newly redesigned and now competes well with luxury cars of the same size but higher price ranges.

Friday, October 31, 2008

The bold and beautiful BMW X6


In today's automobile industry, more than ever, timid is out, bold is in.
Bold ideas, bold designs, bold marketing.
The BMW X6 is, if nothing else, assuredly bold.
The X6 has luxury status and a design that sets it apart, way apart, from most other vehicles on the road.
But BMW is smart enought to realize that drivers who want that sort of distinction don't want to see this vehicle in their neighbor's driveway or in the parking space next to them at work.
So it's a low-volume model.
With its unique appearance and keen driving capabilities, it is creating a limited but enthusiastic cadre of aficionados who are passionate about this Sports Activity Coupe (that's what BMW calls it).
The X6 debuted in model-year 2008 as a sport utility vehicle with a twist.
It is big, rides high and comes with all-wheel drive, like an SUV.
It has four doors and a comfortable, luxurious interior, like a sedan.
It has dramatically sloping exterior lines, especially in the rear, and dynamic driving prowess, like a coupe.
So the best description of it that we've heard is from the press fleet driver who delivered it and proclaimed it a sport coupe on steroids.
The fact that it drives with such force and great handling should actually be no surprise.
BMW hangs its hat on making vehicles that are in firm command of the road.
The great steering, suspension and braking systems allow the vehicles to back up the German brand's claim of producing the ultimate driving machines.
Our test drive model had a 3.0-liter twin turbocharged inline six-cylinder engine making 300 horsepower.
That model, designated the xDrive 35i, goes from 0 to 60 mph in 6.5 seconds, BMW says.
Also available is a 50i with a twin turbocharged 4.4-liter V-8 engine making 400 horsepower.
BMW lists its 0-60 time as 5.3 seconds.
Those numbers are pretty impressive considering how big and SUV-ish the X6 is.
Fuel economy on the six-cylinder test model was listed at 15 mpg city and 20 highway.
Driving the X6 is a pleasant experience that indulges different purposes.
If you want it to be smooth like a luxury sedan, it can do that.
It has a terrific cruise control system that is manipulated from a short stalk on the steering column.
It allows you to increase or decrease the speed setting in 1-mile-per-hour increments.
Also,the X6 rides quietly.
Not quite as quietly, perhaps, as the Buick Enclave, which has such a stunning lack of sound that it has been compared to a deserted library.
But the X6 is quiet nonetheless, even at highway speeds.
And speaking of speed, this thing can do that.
It you want it to be more like a sport coupe, go for it.
Give it some throttle and witness its noteworthy power.
You will, however, detect some turbo lag.
It's not quite bothersome enough to make your driving experience unpleasant, but it's noticeable.
If you want it to function like an SUV, you get that, too.
It is a two-and-a-half-ton wagon with all-wheel drive, four doors, a spacious interior and a large cargo area under the rear hatch.
The one thing that might be a little inconvenient is its four-passenger capacity.
Looking at it, you would naturally assume that the X6 seats five, but BMW, again being bold and seeking to give it some differentiation, chose to put a center console in the rear seats.
We had to once again reacquaint ourselves with the maligned iDrive system that controls interior features such as sound and navigation systems and temperature.
Yes, it's still a pain in the neck, but no, it didn't necessarily cause us to love the vehicle any less.
Well, OK, maybe just a tad less.
So who would by the X6?
Probably some folks who might be looking at the X5 or maybe even the smaller X3 crossovers that BMW makes, but who want something a little different, with a bit more of a stylish flair.
Also, people who might have their eyes on the Infiniti FX, a race-car like crossover that also has an unusual style.
The X6 starts at around $53,000. Our tester, including its sport and technology packages, stickered at $64,670.
That price may strike some as being a little bold, but this is, without a doubt, a bold vehicle.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Tough times on the car lot

Transaction prices on new vehicles fell for the 10th month in a row in October in the U.S., according to the Power Information Network.
That drop is more bad news for automakers, which are seeing declining revenue, and likely, less profitability.
Falling profits have prompted automakers to cut production and jobs, which has contributed to the weakness in the economy.

PIN, a subsidiary of J.D. Power and Associates, said economic woes such as tight credit, low consumer confidence and high fuel prices are to blame for the drop in transaction prices.

Auto sales have fallen 12.8 percent so far this year, through September, compared with the first nine months of last year.

Also contributing to the slide in transaction prices is buyers' distaste for big trucks and SUVs, which carried larger price tags than the smaller, more fuel efficient vehicles that have come into favor.
PIN said the drop in transaction prices has worsened as the year has progressed. In the first quarter of the year, transaction prices fell by nearly 1.5 percent.
By the first three weeks of October, transaction prices sank by 7.7 percent.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Hummer H3s need love too

Hummer is an automotive brand that could use a little love these days.

As the overall market for SUVs has soured, no brand represents the recent distaste for large, fuel-gulping vehicles more than Hummer.

So when we got a Hummer H3 recently as a test drive vehicle, we had mixed emotions.

Yes, it is fun to sit up so high and be noticed.

But you do feel a little guilty driving something like this in times like this.

Sure, gas prices have come down in the past couple of weeks.

But you can't help but feel that Hummers and other giants of the road got us into this predicament of seeing sub $3 a gallon gas as an absolute steal.

But anyway, off we went in our gargantuan chariot.

We found that driving at less than highway speeds in this H3, which came with a 3.7-liter inline five-cylinder, gave us enough power to handle city and suburban roads nicely.

But when it was time to hit the interstate, the H3 got a little sluggish.

It should be noted that the H3 is also available with a V-8 engine in a model called the Alpha.

Presumably, power in that model is far superior.

That engine, which is a 5.3-liter, makes 300 hp and 320 pounds-feet of torque. Hummer says it has a 0-60-mph time of 8 seconds.

But you'd hate to see what the fuel economy numbers are for that one.

For our tester with the five-cylinder, EPA numbers are 14 mpg city and 18 highway.

In combined driving, we got about 16.

It makes 242 horsepower and 242 pounds-feet of torque.

Perhaps Hummer's strongest attribute is its off-road capability.

The H3 has a 9.1-inch ground clearance, oversized all-terrain tires and standard skid plates.

It is ready to do rock climbing with the best of them.

But most drivers rarely go off road.

So what really counts is how SUVs such as this one handle more civilized surfaces.

For the H3, that would be not too badly.

The ride is very stable, perhaps thanks to it being such a heavy vehicle.

Plus, there is a certain comfort level you get from riding so high and with so much mass around you.

If you can afford the gas, this is actually a pretty good family road-trip vehicle.

As for its looks, it's pretty much a scaled-down version of its larger sibling, the H2.

You get the huge wheel flares, industrial grille, and windows patterned after those of an armored car.

But because it is significantly smaller than the H2, the H3 is more practical.

You can drop off and pick up the kids from school, park without too much difficulty in the supermarket and home-improvement store lots and take your adult friends out for a night on the town.

However, with a cargo capacity of 29.5 cubic feet with seats up and 55.7 cubic feet with seats down, it offers a little less space than what you might expect for a vehicle of this size.

But at least the rear door, which is side-hinged, offers easy access.

Four adults can sit quite comfortably inside, with sufficient head- and legroom.

The H3 comes in three trim levels: base, H3X (which offers more luxury) and the strong-engine Alpha.

The base has 16-inch alloy wheels, full skid plates, air-conditioning, cruise control, OnStar telematics, keyless entry, full power accessories and a six-speaker CD stereo with satellite radio. The H3X gives you a Monsoon audio system with CD changer, leather seating, power and heated front seats, chrome accents and 18-inch chrome wheels.

The Alpha brings the V8 engine as well as the luxury interior from the H3X, but it has 16-inch chrome wheels.

The base model also has an Adventure package that gives you off-road suspension, a shorter-geared transfer case that is suited for off-road use, locking rear differential, 33-inch off-road tires and the Monsoon audio system.

To give the buyer more confusion, 'er, choices, the base model also offers a Luxury package.

That has the Monsoon system, leather seating, heated front seats and oversized floor mats. Other options include a navigation system and a backup assist camera.

Got all that?

The powertrain packages are a little simpler.

All H3s have full-time four-wheel drive and a two-speed transfer case.

The standard transmission is a five-speed manual, with a four-speed automatic being optional.

As we mentioned, the Alpha has the V-8 engine.

The five-cylinder models have a towing capacity of 4,500 pounds.

Towing capacity is 6,000 pounds on the Alpha.

The safety feature lineup is impressive, with antilock disc brakes, traction control, stability control and full-length side curtain airbags all standard.

In National Highway Transportation Safety Administration crash tests, the H3 got the highest score, five stars, for the driver and four stars for the front passenger in frontal impacts.

In side impact testing, the H3 got five stars for the front and rear.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Kia Borrego does SUVs proud

There was a time a few years ago when even the notion of a $36,000 Kia would have been ridiculed.

The company made cheap cars that had, well, cheap quality.

Those days are long gone.

The Kia Borrego, just added to the Korean company's lineup for model year 2009, is a wonderful SUV that more than justifies its price tag.

The Borrego joins the Sportage and the Sorento in the Kia SUV fleet.

We have driven the Sportage and given it very high marks, rating it as one of the most fun to drive small SUVs on the market.

We've never tested the larger Sorento, but we can say that it's a nice-looking vehicle.

But it would be hard to imagine that it would be better than the Borrego.

The Borrego's positive attributes start with its terrific engine.

The 3.3-liter V-6 is energetic and very capable of giving the vehicle the strength it needs to accelerate into highway traffic.

But it's also smooth and relatively silent.

It offers admirable fuel economy for a four-wheel-drive vehicle of this size: 16 mpg city, 21 highway.

If you go with the two-wheel-drive version, you get 17 and 22.

Kia also offers the Borrego with a 4.6-liter V-8 engine, the same one used in the new Genesis sedan made by its sister brand, Hyundai.

When we drove both the V-6 Genesis and the eight-banger, we said there was no way you should spend more for the 8; the six is plenty powerful.

We haven't driven the Borrego with the eight yet, but we would still say that the six-cylinder offers more than enough power.

It's hard to imagine that Kia or Hyundai will sell many vehicles with the V-8, the first time they've offered that powerplant, with people still leery of those engines because of the high gas prices they've seen recently.

On the inside, the Borrego is understated luxury.

It's not as blingy as, say, a Cadillac Escalade or even an Audi Q7, but it is full of quality materials that make you feel justified in paying the higher than your typical Kia price tag.

The leather seats, finely arranged dashboard and quality workmanship make for a comfortable environment.

The Borrego is not a crossover - an SUV built on a car platform.

It is the real deal, built on a truck platform.

It has off-road capabilities, but we didn't test them.

Most people probably won't either.

SUVs came into popularity because people liked the idea of being able to go off-road more than they actually did go off-road.

SUVs have fallen from popularity because of the runup in gas prices and all the new crossover choices that let consumers haul people and stuff as they would in an SUV, but without having to lug around such a large, gas-chugging vehicle.

So, maybe Kia's timing in rolling out the Borrego wasn't the greatest.

But it really couldn't have been helped.

Car makers are usually working about three to five years in advance of the time that a vehicle will be ready to hit the market.

So a mid-to large-size SUV in 2003 or 2004 didn't seem like such an awful idea.

Now maybe it does seem like a bad idea.

But if you get past that kind of thinking, and just evaluate this vehicle for what it is,

you see that the Borrego is one special machine that deserves a look for anyone who needs a seven-passenger hauler that offers a little bit of style.

Friday, October 17, 2008

GM, Chrysler still talking marriage

Chrysler, which is owned by Cerberus Capital Management, and General Motors are still in talks to merge, but financing is the issue that's keeping them apart, a person familiar with the talks told the Detroit Free Press.
But Cerberus, a private equity firm, is “willing to put in cash to any deal that makes sense,” another source said.
A merger is seen as Cerberus’ preferred solution for Chrysler, where U.S. sales have dropped 25 percent so far this year, the people said. But financing a deal such as this can be complicated and could involve money flowing either way. When Cerberus acquired majority control of Chrysler from Daimler last year, the $7.4-billion deal included then-DaimlerChrysler spending money to get rid of its U.S. unit.
Because neither Cerberus nor GM is making public statements about the talks, it’s hard to definitively say how things are going. What is clear is that a number of scenarios -- including a laundry list of automakers and possible equity stakes -- are floating around Detroit about the future of the auto industry and Chrysler in particular.
GM hopes to have a deal by the end of the month, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.
It noted that J.P. Morgan Chase, a key lender to both automakers, favors a deal. Citing people briefed on the talks, the paper said a deal is far from settled.
The turmoil in the U.S. auto industry could have historic ramifications. Industry sales in the United States are down almost 13 percent; GM’s sales are down nearly 18 percent.
GM reportedly had earlier approached Ford about buying that company, but Ford rejected those overtures, news reports said.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Kia Borrego: The right SUV at not quite the right time


We recently got a chance to take a test drive in the new Kia Borrego SUV. You can certainly say that it's not a great time to be bringing a large, luxury SUV into the market. But Kia couldn't have predicted that we would be in the situation we're in right now when they were designing the Borrego. So, as fate would have it, the vehicle comes in at a time of high gas prices (though we've gotten a bit of a break lately) and an economy that is in the dumps.

Regardless of that, the Borrego is a nice ride. It's pretty roomy, drives smoothly and comes well equipped.
Hopefully, we'll get an extended test later so we can write a full review.

Green, lean and keen- Chevy Malibu Hybrid

Chevrolet set out to make a stylish, functional midsize car when it produced the latest Malibu.

It succeeded, and for the hybrid version of that car, you can add great fuel economy.

The refined design of the Malibu can be attributed to improvements in the global midsized car platform used by General Motors.

The new Malibu gains 3 inches in overall length and 6 inches in wheelbase length.It has some sports car-like lines that suggest strong on-road performance.

You might not be blown away by its performance ability, but for a family car, it holds its own. The fact that this is a hybrid is well advertised with badges on the rear and sides.

Fuel economy, which is important to just about everybody today, is aided by the hybrid system, which turns off the engine when the car stops and starts it up again when it's time to accelerate. It also cuts off fuel supply when the car is slowing down, as well as taking other measures to boost fuel efficiency.

The Malibu Hybrid has an electric motor that's linked to a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine and four-speed automatic transmission.

Its EPA ratings are an impressive 26 mpg city, 34 highway, and our tester got close to 34 mpg in a mix of highway and stop-and-go driving.

Our week spent with the car gave us a nice respite from hitting the gas station every couple of days.

It's fun to watch the Eco gauge light up when you are driving at maximum fuel efficiency, and you can try to keep it lit as long as you can just to amuse yourself.

Oh, and because it's good for the environment and for cutting fuel consumption.

Interior design is pretty nice, befitting a car significantly more expensive. The instrument panel flowed nicely and the blue lighting of the gauges is easy on the eyes. Also, there's just enough subtle lighting elsewhere in the cabin to make it feel classy but not overly illuminated.

The Malibu Hybrid is more expensive than a regular Malibu, as you might expect; the hybrid starts at $24,695.

But GM says this year's hybrid model is better because of its new battery charging control software that trims the work rate of the engine.

It also features new 17-inch low rolling resistance tires, after using 16-inch tires last year.

The Malibu Hybrid doesn't quite catch the Toyota Camry Hybrid’s EPA rating of 33 mpg city, but it ties it with its 34 mpg on the highway.

Plus, the Camry Hybrid is costlier, starting at $26,150.The Malibu Hybrid's powertrain is based on GM’s long-wheel based Epsilon platform, with the Ecotec engine and a 36-volt electric starter-motor-generator linked to a nickel metal hydride battery pack.

It makes 164 horsepower, which is certainly adequate.The four-speed transmission shifts smoothly.

The Malibu Hybrid handles well, maneuvers gracefully through traffic and is surprisingly responsive.

Thanks to its longer wheelbase, it rides extremely comfortably, so it's good for long trips.

Another bonus comes from the fact that it has a $1,300 tax credit for buyers.

The Malibu Hybrid is backed by a five-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Honda Accord Coupe - Practically a sports car. And it's practical.

The new Honda Accord Coupe has a more rigid body and new frame rails that assist aerodynamics.

There is also a new version of what Honda calls Variable Cylinder Management, which makes the engine run more efficiently, while still boosting its power.

Plus, its new body is sizzling - athletic, upscale and sexy.

So what does all this amount to?

The new Accord Coupe has come a long way from the cute hatchback that it used to be, but has retained its quality and reliability.

Overall, this car is an incredible deal.

The Accord Coupe's price has increased to accompany its larger size and added features.

The LX-S model with the 190-horsepower four-cylinder engine starts at $22,255.

Move up to the EXL, which has luxury features such as heated, power-adjustable leather seats, climate control, a V-6 engine and navigation system, and you're talking around $31,045.


A better question here would be what's not to love.

The V-6 engine, which our tester had, makes 268 horsepower and was mated to a six-speed manual transmission that created a ton of driving fun.

This is the eighth generation of the Accord, and it is larger than the last one. The wheelbase has grown 2.3 inches and the overall length has grown 3.2 inches.

Its interior volume has risen over 120 cubic feet.

Weight is up, too, but only by about 200 pounds.

In addition to the V-6, you can get one of two four-cylinder engine choices, with horsepower ratings of 177 and190, respectively.


If you are driving a car with a six-cylinder engine and a manual transmission these days, most likely you are driving a German sports car.

But the Accord Coupe offers that, and therefore must be considered a sports car.

This car offers so much driving excitement you'll forget how to spell all those German brands, even if someone gives you an M or a W as a hint.

I was fortunate enough to find a huge, empty parking lot that allowed me to really see what its performance ability was all about, and believe me, I was most impressed.

Handling, smoothness and ability to attack the road are characteristics quite abundant in the Accord Coupe.

Its fuel economy numbers are 17 mpg city, 25 highway.

In a mix of driving, I got a tad over 19 mpg.

That's not too bad, especially when you consider how large and powerful this car is.

The back seat, for instance, can hold a couple of adults in relative comfort.

When it comes to safety, the Accord does well, using features such as aluminum cylinder heads and a racecar-like double-wishbone suspension and multiple airbags. This body structure bolsters the car's ability to disperse crash energy in a frontal collision.


The Accord has long been known for its quality since its introduction in 1976.

It has been among the top five sellers in the U.S. for almost 20 years, with nearly 10 million units sold throughout its history.

The Accord is built in Marysville, Ohio.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Chevy Aveo is right for the times

Chevrolet deserves some credit for offering the only subcompact from the Detroit 3 automakers.
And while that entry, the Chevy Aveo, is no superstar, it is solid, affordable transportation that deserves a look in these tough economic times.
The Aveo comes in sedan and five-door hatchback configurations.

We drove the latter, known as the Aveo5.
Driving the Aveo won’t send chills down your spine, unless it’s kind of a breezy day and you roll all the windows down.
The noise level from the engine, a 1.6-liter four-cylinder, is pretty high. Plus, that engine is somewhat weak.
But the car’s suspension and handling are good enough to give you the kind of ease of driveability that you would expect from a subcompact.
The engine makes 107 horsepower and 111 pounds-feet of torque.

Manual and automatic transmissions are available; we had the five-speed manual.
It shifted easily, but its ratios were too broad and probably contributed to it not doing as well on fuel economy as we would have liked.
The EPA numbers for the Aveo5 are 27 mpg city and 34 highway. In a mix of city and highway driving, we got about 26 mpg.
Buyers in this segment generally have fuel economy as a key concern, and in that regard, the Aveo falls a little short of its competitor, the Toyota Yaris.
Plus, Aveo has to overcome the quality perception issue; Toyota’s quality record is seen as being far superior to that of Chevrolet.
Additionally, we’ve test driven the Yaris and another competitor, the Honda Fit, and can say that the engines of both are stronger than that of the Aveo.
But give Chevy credit for the Aveo’s design. For a small economy car, it actually has a few nice styling touches.
Check out the exterior gills at the base of the A-pillar. That’s a nice little design addition that gives the Aveo just a bit of bling.
On the inside, there is some very nice wood trim that you certainly wouldn’t expect to see in a car in this price range.
A few metallic accents also give the Aveo a bit more upscale-ness than would be expected.
The seating is comfortable, with plenty of headroom and adequate legroom.
The AM/FM stereo is OK, but you’ll have to crank it up pretty loudly sometimes to overcome that engine noise.

The folding 60/40-split rear seat gives you 42 cubic feet of cargo space.

The Aveo is made by Daewoo, a General Motors subsidiary in South Korea.
A recent study by, a consumer automotive Web site, found that the Aveo is the least-expensive vehicle to operate.
Edmunds said the Aveo has a per-mile operating cost of 42.7 cents, or $6,405 a year (based on 15,000 miles and a fuel price of $4.06 a gallon).
So who is this car aimed at?
Well, as we stated, gas mileage is a key concern for buyers in this segment, so those looking to make infrequent visits to the pump would be prime targets.
Also, the Aveo is a great commuter car, so you could see someone who owns an SUV but doesn’t want to drive it 25 miles to work every day buying one of these to carry them to the job.
Also, since it is an affordable car, those on a budget would be looking at the Aveo. That would include college students.
In fact, Chevy is making a special point of targeting college students with its marketing for the Aveo.
The brand has recently relaunched a "Livin' Large" ad campaign, using a "College Cab" that takes video footage of students in the Aveo5 in a short ride.
GM, which first began its “Livin’ Large” ad campaign in 2006, hopes to spread its Aveo message with viral marketing.

Students who land on the video will be able to share the footage with friends.
Also, there will be a contest for students in which they can win a new Aveo.
Chevy aims to build customer loyalty by targeting college students.

Get ‘em at this age, the thinking goes, and when they’re ready to move up to cars costing $20,000-$30,000, they’re more likely to stay in your family of brands.

That may or may not work, but for now, the Aveo is a good car for these times.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

A collection of cool cars

The Southeastern Automotive Media Organization held its annual ride and drive event for automotive journalists in the region this week.

The event, at Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, Ga., drew a nice collection of '09 vehicles from several automakers.

We got to drive a lot of them, and others we took a nice peek at.

Here are some of our impressions:

-- The new Nissan Maxima, which bills itself as the "four-door sports car," is an attractive sedan that drives nicely, is roomy and should sell well.

Redesigned for the 09 model year, the Maxima has 18-inch wheels standard, 19-inchers optional, it makes 290 horsepower and comes with paddle shifters for your more spirited driving moments.

--The latest Dodge Ram comes in three configurations: regular cab, quad cab or crew cab. It has a bodacious Hemi V-8 engine, new interior styling and a rear floor storage compartment. But the coolest thing, literally, is the optional Ram box -- a lockable, drainable storage container on the side rear panel above the cargo bed that can be used as a cooler. Must be nice to be able to throw several cans of your favorite beverage in there and head off to the tailgate party.

--The Cadillac Escalade hybrid allows you to drive a humongous SUV without all the guilt. Priced at around $71,000, this vehicle gets EPA ratings of 20 city and 21 highway, which is better than a regular Escalade. And, at that price, it's pretty fully loaded - the only options available are four-wheel drive and power running boards.

--Our absolute favorite vehicle in the entire collection in Pine Mountain, though, was by far the new Volkswagen CC sedan. This thing is the truth -- a 3.6-liter V-6 engine that makes 280 horsepower and 265 pounds-feet of torque, and one of the most beautifully designed sedans on the market. Inside and out, this thing has a ton of style, and we absolutely cannot wait to get our hands on it for an extended period and write a full review on it. It starts at under $27,000, but the model we drove was the fully loaded version that goes for about $43,000.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Nissan unveils electric concept car

Nissan unveiled its Nuvu concept car at the Paris Auto Show, as carmakers continue to try innovative ideas for dealing with a changing auto market.
The Nuvu is an electric car, but not the one Nissan will sell in the U.S. and Japan in 2010.

The Nuvu is tiny, only about a foot longer than the Smart ForTwo, according to news reports, seats three passengers and has some cargo capacity.

The car has 12 small leaf-shaped solar panels, which charge the battery from a source within the vehicle.

Nissan says the interior contains natural, organic and recycled materials.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Saab 9-3 Convertible - Fun with top up or down


The Saab 9-3 convertible is great fun when you've got the top down, but even when you don't, this car has a lot to offer.

Its comfort, convenience and safety features make it an all-out great piece of driving machinery.

If the air is a little too chilly for you to enjoy having the top down, then make use of the dual-zone automatic climate control, multi-function car computer, heated sideview mirrors, high-pressure headlamp washers and 150-watt AM/FM sound system with XM Satellite radio.

Add to that its power window and door locks, cruise control and wide angle side view mirror, and you've got quite a package.

Saab, a General Motors brand, prides itself on its heritage as an aircraft company.

That heritage is in evidence in the 9-3's design, which is sharp and aerodynamic.

The test-drive model had a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that was a screamer.

It made 210 horsepower and 221 pounds-feet of torque.

Gas mileage is rated at 18 mpg city, 24 highway.

The six-speed automatic transmission shifted precisely.

The convertible roof is operated at the touch of a button, opening and closing in only about 20 seconds.

For even more convenience, the steering wheel, which is leather wrapped, is adjustable and has audio-system control buttons.

There is an eight-way control mechanism on the driver's seat and a 12-volt system on the center armrest.

There is a fair amount of storage space in the trunk when the roof is up; when it's down, not so much.

The rear seating area isn't all that big, but you wouldn't expect it to be.

Some of the options on the test model included rear parking assist, fog lamps and heated front seats.

The Bose Centerpoint surround sound system seems perfectly acoustically tuned for this car -- you can crank some serious bass in this joint.

For safety's sake, there is electronic stability control, active rollover protection, side-impact airbags, active head restraints on the front seats, traction control and anti-lock brakes.

The 9-3 has a five-year/100,000-mile power train warranty that features courtesy transportation and roadside assistance and free scheduled maintenance for three years/36,000 miles.

The sticker price was $46,425.

2009 SAAB 9-3

Price: $46,425

Engine: 16-valve turbo 4-cylinder 2.0 liter

Horsepower: 210

Torque: 221 pounds-feet

Transmission: Six-speed automatic

Gas mileage: 18 mpg city, 24 mpg highway

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Audi does it again at Road Atlanta

Audi wins ninth straight Petit
race at Road Atlanta

Audi won the 11th annual Petit LeMans at Road Atlant Saturday, fending off a formidable challenge by Peugeot.
It was Audi's ninth straight Petit victory.

Allan McNish, behind the wheel of the Audi in the top LMP1 class, had to muster a comeback after missing the first two laps of the race because he crashed as he came around to line up for the start.


But he eventually outmaneuvered Peugeot, driven by Christian Klien.

For McNish, it marked his third straight win and fourth overall for him and his co-drivers, Dindo Capello and Emanuele Pirro.

The Audi car is powered by the company's TDI turbodiesel technology, which is clean and quiet.
Helio Castroneves, best known as an Indy car driver, was on the track. Just a day earlier, he was in court facing tax-evasion charges. But he and teammate Ryan Briscoe won the LMP2 category for Penske Racing.

I was lucky enough to be down in the pit with the Audi crew in the waning moments of the race. Seeing the whole operation was a thrill, and even though you might be tempted to think of race car driving as an individual sport, when you are in the pit, you see how much of a team sport it really is.

There were people monitoring virtually everything that could be monitored, and they all worked with such precision.

And when the race is as close as it was last night, even the slightest error can be very costly.

What a rush it was to witness all that up close -- thanks, Audi.

All in all, it was a great night of racing at Road Atlanta.

If you've never been to the track, make sure you go -- it's a great place to have fun and enjoy motorsports.

For $400k, you too can drive the latest Rolls-Royce


We got a chance to check out the new Rolls-Royce Phantom Coupe, which officially goes on sale next month with a base price around $400,000.

Rolls-Royce says this is its sportiest model ever.

It comes with a 6.7-liter V-12 that makes 453 horsepower and 531 pounds-feet of torque.
Its suspension is stiffer than the other models in the lineup, which also enhances its performance characteristics.

The Phantom Coupe is the third new Rolls-Royce model since BMW Group bought the brand in 1998.

The Coupe possesses classic Rolls-Royce features such as the long hood (or bonnet, as the British like to say), large-diameter wheels, short overhangs in the front and long ones in the rear and the familiar rising profile.

On the front, slender LED sidelights and big, round headlights give it a distinctive design.

The edges are soft, creating a raked appearance that flows into the long bonnet and abruptly ends with sharp A-pillar lines.

Its doors are the traditional "suicide" types that Rolls is known for -- rear hinged.

To make them easier to use, there is a button inside that can be pushed to close them once you're inside the car.

In the interior, wood grains, chrome accents and rich leather are the best that you'll find in any vehicle.

Perhaps its quirkiest feature is a ceiling that can light up to produce a "stars at night" effect, with the touch of a button.
We sort of felt like this was something Rolls-Royce should have left for the after-market enthusiasts to add on.
It's like if you saw a dude wearing an expensive Armani suit, then, as a fashion accessory, he whips out a pair of those glasses you wear to watch a 3D movie. Not quite a great look.

Rolls-Royce says the Coupe is ideal for long trips, thanks to its roominess, luxury, comfort of ride and power.

It has a top speed of 155 mph and goes 0-60 mph in 5.6 seconds.

While Rolls-Royce readily admits that this isn't the ultimate performance machine, the car will still hold appeal to buyers who want to own a Rolls-Royce product, with all its luxury and glamor, but want to upgrade its performance ability to some degree.

In that regard, the Phantom Coupe has accomplished its mission.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Honda unveils new hybrid

Honda, a leader in the automotive industry in producing fuel efficient vehicles, showed off what it calls an "affordable" hybrid family car at the Paris auto show, hoping to cut into the dominance enjoyed in hybrids by Toyota, which makes the popular Prius.
The concept car will be unveiled as a production model in January, Honda says.
The new hybrid, named Insight after a previous Honda hybrid, will go on sale early in 2009.
Its sticker price is expected to start at around $20,000.
Fuel economy numbers aren't available yet.
The Insight will be a five-passenger hatchback.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Traverse joins the crossover party

General Motors, which has had success with a line of crossover vehicles that spans three of its brands, has added another one, this one going to its flagship Chevrolet brand.

The Traverse joins the Buick Enclave, GMC Acadia and Saturn Outlook on GM's Lambda platform.

We got our first chance to look at it and drive it last week at GM's 2009 model lineup unveiling.

What did we think?

The same thing we think of the other three -- an exceptionally well-made vehicle.

The Traverse has a 3.6-liter V-6 engine linked to a six-speed automatic transmission, just like the other three.

You can get front- or all-wheel drive.
New for 2009 for the vehicles will be direct fuel injection versions of that engine - which has been used in the Cadillac CTS.
The result is increased power: up to 288 horsepower on models with a dual-exhaust system. Single exhaust models will make 281 ponies.

GM says the engine actually improves fuel economy, too.

The Traverse's towing capacity is 5,200 pounds, compared with 4,500 for the other vehicles from the last model year.
So, we honestly did really like the vehicle.

The only question we have had consistently for GM is "Do you need four versions of virtually the same vehicle?"

Mind you, the Enclave is the most distinct.

It truly is a luxury vehicle with its styling inside and out.

But from among the Acadia, Outlook, and now, Traverse, it is hard to see a whole lot of differentiation.

GM has answered our redundancy question in a few ways, at one time saying it was about different price points (kind of, but not really) and at another time saying it was about stylistic variations (again, kind of, but not really, except in the case of the Enclave).

Probably, the answer is that the company really needed to have an entry of this kind of popular vehicle with a Chevy badge, to satisfy dealers and to maintain the importance of that brand.

Fair enough, but maybe you could then jettison the Acadia and Outlook. You would have the Traverse as the entry level large crossover and the Enclave as the luxury level one.

Just a thought.

The Traverse is landing in dealerships this autumn with a sticker price beginning at around $28,990.

Chevy Cruze makes its debut

General Motors raised the curtain on its Chevrolet Cruze car yesterday at the Paris Auto Show.

The Cruze, a compact sedan, is seen as a key element of GM's global strategy, as it will be built on at least four continents.
"Chevrolet is GM's biggest brand and the third-largest automotive brand in the world," GM President and Chief Operating Officer Fritz Henderson told reporters. "It's extraordinarily efficient to have one key brand you throw resources to."
The Cruze will go on sale in the United States in the spring of 2010, a year after it starts selling in Europe.

GM is pinning its hopes on the Cruze to reverse its trend of money-losing cars. GM has relied on trucks and SUVs as its moneymakers, but those vehicles are falling out of favor because of high gas prices.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The FX has quite an effect

The bold styling of the Infiniti FX clearly puts an emphasis on the sport in sport utility vehicle.

While the latest generation of this vehicle, which we checked out this week in Napa Valley, Calif., is pretty consistent with its predecessors, the look has been sharpened ever so slightly.

For instance, there are now side gills to assist the impressive engine's respiratory process, and the front grille is a bit wider.

Also, the taillights were tweaked just a bit.

When it comes to performance, though, the FX50, with its 390 horsepower and 369 pounds-feet of torque, is a force.

You can chalk that up to the new 5.0-liter V-8 engine, which will have you shaking your head as you marvel at its power.

We expected power from this vehicle, what we got instead was sheer force.

But along with this sheer force comes a nice set of road manners.

Some of the roads that we tested the FX on were a little on the lumpy side, but the FX remained firm in its resolve to deliver a smooth ride.

The nimbleness of the handling also was worth noting, because this is a vehicle with a little bit of size to it, and yet it still takes turns quite crisply.

When you get in the FX, you find an interior that has been handsome in previous generations and still is, with its real wood, leather and classy aluminum.

Nothing chintzy here - everything has a commanding presence of quality.

The fore and aft movement of the front seats creates easy access, and other ergonomic touches, such as the tilt steering wheel, also provide terrific comfort.

The large center console is a little bit busy - there are controls for stuff you didn't even know you could control.

But it doesn't take too long to figure out what operates what.

The sound system, a colossal 11-speaker Bose premium unit, is studio quality.

The rear seating area offers a little less space than you might expect, but it still is fairly comfortable.

If it's innovation or technology that you're into, the FX delivers substantially.

There is an intelligent cruise control system that can bring the vehicle to a complete stop, then get it going again, with no input from the driver.

Talk about being on auto pilot.

Also, the Around View Monitor lets you see all angles around the vehicle -- think backup camera for every side.

It does this by using a camera mounted on each side of the vehicle.

What a great safety feature, and one that we hope other automakers pick up on.

2009 Infiniti FX 50

Price: Starts at $58,400
Engine: 5.0L V8 DOHC 32-valve

Transmission: Seven-speed automatic with manual mode

Drive train: All-wheel drive

Fuel economy: 14 mpg city, 20 highway