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.

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