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

Monday, September 29, 2008

Infiniti intoxicates in California wine country

Well, today was a great day. I spent my day driving around beautiful Napa Valley, Calif., as part of Infiniti's rollout of its 2009 vehicles.

I got to take a spin in the EX crossover, which I hadn't driven before.

I had heard great things about it, that it was sporty, fun to drive and had neat technical features.

What did I think?

I agree.

It is a very nice vehicle, even if it does look a little like a baseball cap.

You have to give Infiniti credit for being bold when it comes to designs, and the EX is no EXception, pardon the pun.

I'll provide a more detailed look at this and other Infiniti vehicles soon, but I'm off to sample some of the great wine and food they have here now.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Monday night--Not just for football

Come on down to McDonough on Monday nights for the cruise in at Summit Racing Equipment. There will be trophies for Best in Show and Best Feature. Also, enjoy the DJ, food vendors and giveaways. Summit Racing Equipment is just off Interstate 75 in McDonough. Cruise in goes from 6 pm to 8 pm on Mondays.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Chevy Cobalt SS is smokin'


Chevrolet gets a win in the engineering league with its Cobalt SS.

This thing has wicked driveability that you wouldn't expect in such an inexpensive car.

Handling and braking are great, and the turbocharged engine is packin' some serious heat.

As for its design, the big ol' spoiler on the trunk (which is optional) gives it a classic sports/muscle/tuner car look.

The front fascia is appropriately aggressive looking.

If you need some practicality with your fun, check out the large cargo area in the trunk, the easily accessible entry and the multiple seat adjustments that allow you to find a comfortable position no matter how you like to ride.

The instrumentation on the dashboard is sharp, even if the titanium-faced gauges are a bit difficult to read.

Our favorite interior feature was the the turbo boost gauge on the front driver's side pillar. It might not be the most practical or necessary piece of equipment, but it sure was fun to see and made you feel like you were in a real live race car.

The rear seats are somewhat snug and a little tough to get to, but buyers of this car probably aren't the type who will pile folks in the car for a trip to grandma's.

Also, while we mentioned that the trunk is plenty roomy, that's pretty much the only area that gives you much storage space.

Again, that's probably not a huge concern for likely buyers of this ride.

Quite simply, the acceleration provides exhilaration in the SS.

There is some quite noticeable torque steer, which you'll want to be prepared for when you zoom off.

But taking advantage of all of the SS's 260 horsepower is still a pleasure.

My tester had a five-speed manual transmission, which was a breeze to shift with its short throws and spot on gear ratios.

Chevy says the Cobalt SS has an all-new suspension and whatever they did to it, they did it right.

On corners, the handling is the bomb.

The SS hugs the road like nobody's business and you won't notice much understeer.

And, the ride is still pretty comfortable -- you'll feel just enough road to give you some thrills, but not so much so that you're taking spills.

Pricing isn't bad, either.

The Cobalt SS starts at $23,435, which isn't exceptionally high given the performance package that you get.

Chevrolet Cobalt SS

Price: Starts at $23,435

Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged four cylinder, linked to five-speed manual transmission

MPG: 22 city, 30 highway

Dude, our stolen car won't run!

OnStar, the General Motors service that provides all kinds of conveniences for motorists, has added another one.

Many of its 2009 models will have an emergency satellite communication system with Stolen Vehicle Slowdown, which, as the name implies, slows down and eventually stops a stolen car being chased by police.
Currently, OnStar can use GPS to track stolen vehicles and locate them. Now, the technology will be able to slow down the cars so that there is no dangerous high-speed chase.

The system will only be activated when an owner reports to police that his vehicle has been taken.
When police catch up with the car, they will notify OnStar, which will then slow the vehicle and make its lights flash. Eventually, the car stops.

The service is free during the first year of ownership; after that it’s part of a $190 package.
The first vehicles with the system will be: Chevy Silverado, Tahoe, Suburban, Equinox, Avalanche and Impala, Cadillac SRX, DTS, CTS, Escalade, Escalade EXT and Escalade ESV, Buick Lucerne, Pontiac Torrent, Hummer H2 and H2 SUT, Saturn Vue, and GMC Sierra, Yukon and Yukon XL.
The system won't be able to be installed in older vehicles.

If drivers don't want the system, it can be deactivated.

Each year, approximately a million cars are stolen, with about 30,000 involved in high-speed chases that cause about 256 injuries and 350 deaths, according to federal transportation figures.

100 mpg - Say what?

General Motors Corp. says it may get clearance for its Chevrolet Volt, an electric vehicle with a gasoline generator, to be rated as achieving 100 miles per gallon by the Environmental Protection Agency.
The federal agency says testing parameters haven't been completed, but it hopes to have guidelines in place soon.
GM says it expects to start selling the Volt in about two years.
The Volt will need to be plugged in to an electrical outlet to get charged up, then can travel 40 miles before the gas generator kicks in.

We got a peek at the unveiling of the production-model Volt in Detroit, and again a few days ago at a GM event in Dallas. To see it for yourself, check out this video:


Reaching the 100-mpg mark would be a big win for GM, which is seeking to position itself as a company capable of making many fuel-efficient vehicles after years of relying on big trucks and SUVs.
Those vehicles have fallen out of favor with consumers because of high gas prices.
The highest rated car for fuel economy on the market today is the Toyota Prius hybrid, which gets 48 mpg in the city and 45 on the highway.
Most hybrids on the market today don't need to be plugged in, although GM will unveil plug-in hybrids soon.
Hybrids work differently from the Volt, because they alternate continuously between running on the electric battery and using gasoline.
The Volt will use electricity for the first 40 miles, then switch over to gas.
U.S. automakers will have to raise the average mileage of their fleets by as much as 40 percent, to 35 mpg, by 2020 as a result of new federal standards.
GM hasn't announced pricing for the Volt, but GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz said recently it may sell for more than $30,000.

Friday, September 26, 2008

New Mazda6 lives large

SEE THE NEW MAZDA6: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eo7ORZiVruY

The new Mazda6 takes the zoom-zoom that Mazda is known for and adds some room, room.

The sedan, which enters a new generation, has gotten larger and better.

Mazda says it is now a formidable competitor against the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Hyundai Sonata and Chevrolet Malibu, and we couldn't agree more.

Start with the looks.

Mazda has maintained the sporty heritage that the brand is proud of, but also given the 6 some refinement.

Case in point: So we're driving this thing in South Florida, and we have to stop to, you know, get some relief, so we pull into a Walgreen's.

We come out, feeling much better, thank you, and right next to the Mazda6 is a Lexus ES sedan. The driver of that car wasn't around, so we felt like it was OK to take a long, close look at that car and the 6 we rode in on.

After a couple of minutes, we reached a verdict in our head - the 6 is way better looking.

Now some might say that's not saying much. Lexus has never really been known for exceptional design quality.

But remember, we're comparing that one with a car that probably costs $15,000-$20,000 less, and it didn't take us long to favor the cheaper joint.

That's not a diss on Lexus, that's a big up to Mazda.

The designers deserve serious props for producing something that is sporty, classy and just downright hot.

Performance-wise, we have nothing but good things to say after getting a couple of hours behind the wheel.

We drove both the six-cylinder and four-cylinder versions, and were equally impressed with the power in both.

Mazda says it expects the four-cylinder to account for 75 percent of the sales, and we can see why.

The power is terrific and the gas mileage is very nice.

Spend a little more, though, and enjoy the thrills of the bigger engine, with not a huge hit taken in mpg.

We'll get you more on this later, but for now just know that the new Mazda6 is the truth.

Got gas?

Well, the biggest automotive-related story in Atlanta these days doesn't have to do with some hot new sports car, but, unfortunately, with the lack of gasoline in the metro area.

Atlanta obviously is an area that depends heavily on automotive transportation, and to see station after station having no fuel is to watch this city seemingly brought nearly to its knees.

When will things get better?

Hard to say. The experts - those in government and in the energy industry - say things should be looking up within a week, or slightly more.

But even if that's the case, this situation clearly drills home the point that we, as a nation, must somehow lessen our dependence on oil and its byproduct, gasoline.

I've spent some time over the past several days with executives from General Motors and it's clear that they get it.

That company is trying a number of different strategies to lessen our reliance on the traditional fuel methods that have gotten us into this trouble.

I think some of the GM strategies are better than others, but you have to give them credit for trying.

The question now is, are we, the collective American consumer base, ready to do things differently?

I'm not so sure about that one.

Phil Gramm, the former senator from Texas, got into trouble a few months ago for saying that the U.S. is "a nation of whiners."

Sure, high gas prices suck, and for a nation that is in a recession (whether the "experts" declare it one or not), they are an especially crippling blow.

But anyone who has paid attention over the past several years has heard the warnings that fossil fuels wouldn't last forever.

So why would we just keep consuming them as if they would - buying bigger and bigger trucks and SUVs and not adjusting our driving habits?

If we as consumers had demanded - really, truly, loudly, forcefully demanded - automakers to address fuel consumption several years ago, we probably wouldn't be in this mess we're in now, certainly not to this extent.

So, the true test would be for gas prices to actually fall significantly, to, say, $2.50 a gallon over a sustained period.

Would Americans then go back to the showrooms and start snapping up big trucks and SUVs again?

If so, we would deserve whatever we would get in the future in terms of outrageously high gas prices and, yes, shortages.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Help on the way for the Detroit 3?

Well, the Detroit 3 automakers apparently will get the $25 billion loan package from Congress they've been seeking.
But Chrysler, Ford and General Motors are reported to be seeking more flexibility in the terms of the package.
For example, they want a break on the fuel economy requirements their vehicles would have to meet.
That's a tough issue, because on the one hand, the car-buying public has made it clear that it wants more fuel-efficient vehicles, and as such, that's what the automakers want to provide.
However, for the Detroit 3, that's a little easier said than done. After years of making vehicles that weren't as thrifty on gas as what is demanded now, it's hard to stop on a dime and suddenly change all that you do to improve fuel economy.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Atlanta Auto Beat Q&A: GM Vice President of Global Design Bryan Nesbitt

We recently spent a few minutes chatting with Bryan Nesbitt, vice president of global design for General Motors.

Q. The Chevy Volt, GM's plug-in electric car, is generating a lot of buzz. What's your take?

A. Our designers worked to create something that would not only draw attention because it's electric, but something that people would like the looks of. Also, in designing it, we had to play a role in fuel efficiency. We spent over 500 hours in the tunnel working on aerodynamic efficiency, which has a big impact on fuel economy. To make this car capable of running 40 miles on electricity, we had to pay close attention to wind resistance and every design detail that would help it be more efficient.

Q. Are there common threads among the design styles across GM brands? It seems like some elements found in Cadillac can also be found in Chevy. Some elements in Buick can be seen in Saturn.

A. We've got a lot of studios and we've got a lot of brands. Our job as design managers is to make sure the brands are moving in different directions. Chevrolet has a bold face and quite a bandwidth of identities. And we want there to be characteristics that are recognizable for each brand. The Aero X is driving a distinctive identity for Saab, for instance.

Q. Does GM's well-publicized effort to improve the overall fuel economy of its vehicles present certain design challenges?

A. There are all kinds of efficiency tactics to improve fuel economy. Can the vehicle sit lower? Can we manipulate the air flow over the vehicle better? That's where we spend a lot of time. And we look closely at the materials we use, to make sure they are the lightest weight for fulfilling the purpose.

Q. How will this decade be remembered from a car design standpoint?

A. How fashion has changed is interesting. There were a lot of vehicles in 2000 that didn't have to account as much for fuel economy. Now, that is obviously very different. The Volt is the game changer in the industry. In the past, we certainly could see the influence of the pickup truck. Now we see the transition to a single purpose vehicle.

Q. Manufacturers say they want consumers to have an "emotional connection" to their vehicles. What does that mean to you?

A. This gets in to how we manage the interior design and exterior design. For the exterior, you want the reaction of people to be almost lustful, to capture that instant appeal. The interior is what you live with for a while. It's less about the emotional than the experience. Ultimately, customers want the best of both worlds. That's a big objective. The reputation of the car isn't built on the exterior design.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Looking for something to do tonight? Sat. 9/20

Hey, if you need some nice free entertainment tonight, head on down to Locust Grove, Ga., where, at the Tanger Outlet Center, there will be an antique car show.
It runs 5 pm to 9 pm, and weather should be nice.
Just head straight down I-75 and you'll see Tanger on your left.
See ya!!

One cool cat

One way to define charm is when someone or something has the ability to make you do something that you really wouldn't ordinarily do, just because that person or thing is so cool or smooth.

The Jaguar XKR convertible prompted us to ride with the top down even though the summer sun was beaming down on our heads on a sweltering 90-something degree day with high humidity.The XKR's cool caused us to lose ours.


Because, when you're rolling in a machine as beautiful as this one, you surely want to be seen. Maximum exposure is achieved with the top down.Jaguar has gone through a little bit of a slump in recent years, as its products seemed to lose focus.

Products like the XK and XKR have helped Jag regain its footing, though.

The XKR has a 4.2-liter V-8 engine that cranks out 420 horsepower.But its not so much raw power as it is more of a refined energy.When you accelerate in this ride, you'll feel more like you're just beginning to glide above all the traffic, rather than rudely blowing doors off other cars.

Handling was slithery, like a snake meandering its way through a grassy field.

You sit low in the XKR, but comfortably so. And there is no sacrifice of visibility for the driver.There are back seats, but they offer only a token presence -- don't put real humans back there.

The interior design is stunningly rich - beautiful wood trim and leather. The XKR we drove was well-appointed, too, with such amenities as a premium sound system, 19-inch wheels and adaptive cruise control that automatically maintains a space cushion between you and the car in front of you.

The push-button operation of the convertible top was a cinch.Gas mileage is rated at 15 mpg city, 23 highway by EPA.Check out the XKR convertible, but don't lose your cool.


Price as tested: $100,060

Engine: 4.2-liter V-8

Transmission: Six-speed automatic

Fuel economy: 15 mpg city, 23 highway

For Hyundai, does Genesis have the Invisible Touch?

With its new Genesis sedan, Hyundai continues its assault on the positions of its more established Asian automaker rivals and luxury European marques.
The Genesis is available with Hyundai’s first-ever V-8 engine, and as a rear-wheel drive sedan, it seeks to demonstrate serious performance chops.
So does it deliver?
Kind of hard to say. Our test-drive route in South Florida, while scenic, didn’t exactly lend itself to really putting the Genesis through its paces.
But from what we could observe, the V-8 does have admirable power, and the handling seemed at least adequate.
The Genesis is taking aim at others in the luxury segment such as the Lexus GS, Infiniti M and even the BMW 5-Series.
But as is always the case with Hyundai, it seeks to set itself apart from those by providing a compelling value case.
Indeed the Genesis 3.8, which logically has a 3.8-liter V-6 engine, can be had very nicely equipped for about $36,000. That compares with about $44,655 for an Infiniti M35 and about $50,625 for a BMW 535i.
The Genesis 4.6, which logically has a 4.6-liter V-8, tops out at around $42,000.
The question now is can Hyundai turn some of those, uh, not snobby, but let’s say brand-conscious consumers of Lexus and BMW into potential Genesis buyers?
Some slick marketing will help, and Hyundai has already rolled out TV commercials for the Genesis.
But most likely, it will all come down to how folks view the product.
Here’s our view.


Hyundai chose not to go too bold in designing the Genesis. Its lines aren’t all that sweeping or dramatic.
But it’s also a design that isn’t likely to turn off too many people. If you like premium or luxury mid- to large-size sedans such as those made by the brands named above, you likely won’t have much of a problem with this one.
That goes for the interior, too.
The leather seats were comfortable, the dashboard was well arranged with easy to use controls and the lighting was effective and a little stylish.
But there was nothing revolutionary, and maybe that’s Ok..


We got to test both the V-6 and V-8 and afterward concluded that Hyundai’s projection of 80 percent of its buyers choosing the six-banger should come to pass.
That’s no knock against the V-8. Its 375 horsepower and fuel economy numbers of 17 mpg city and 25 highway were impressive.
Plus, Hyundai says you don’t have to put premium fuel in it.
But, the V-6 makes 275 ponies that felt like more and its mpg numbers are 18 and 27.
So save one or two grand and get Genesis 3.8.


The Genesis boasts a strong lineup of amenities that will appeal to buyers in this segment.
In the 3.8, you can get a Premium Package for $2,000 that will give you a leather-wrapped dash, power sunroof, integrated memory system, power rear sunshade, rain-sensing wipers and a Lexicon 14-speaker surround sound system.
Move up to the Technology Package and you add three speakers to the system, XM Satellite Radio and NavTraffic and a cooled driver seat, among other items.
The 4.6 offers a similar tech package.

So, all of that is nice, but will it be enough to do battle in a competitive market segment?
Hyundai says it will try to highlight the remarkable engineering behind the Genesis, and the thoughtfulness that went into the car’s creation.
For instance, it sought to build a driver information system that would be much easier to use than the BMW I-Drive system, which induces headaches among many users.
From what we could observe, Hyundai was successful, offering a much more intuitive system.
Hyundai also says it wants to target a broader audience to elevate its brand, with plans to advertise in such publications as Forbes, Time and Sports Illustrated and on the ESPN, CNBC and CNN TV networks.
Additionally, Hyundai is embarking on a 15-city Discover Genesis tour, which sounds like something that ‘80s rock group that featured Phil Collins would do.
But maybe Hyundai has that invisible touch that will make this Genesis a big hit.
(Sorry if that song is now stuck in your head).

Me too, Chrysler says

Not to be outdone by its Detroit 3 rival, Chrysler appears poised to unveil its own electric car, according to news reports citing "people familiar with the plans."
The move follows the unveiling by General Motors this week of the production model of the Chevrolet Volt, a plug-in electric car that the company says will be for sale in 2010.
Clearly, Chrysler needs something.
The company has been rumored to be nearing a bankruptcy protection filing, and its sales continue to slide amid a general downturn in the auto industry.
Jim Press, Chrysler's president and vice chairman, said recently that the company would launch seven new vehicles in 2010 -- an ambitious plan, to say the least.
If more automakers build electric cars, that would be a good thing, because with competition, the products can only improve.

Chevy Volt--IS IT TIME?

General Motors unveiled the long-awaited production model of the Chevrolet Volt on Tuesday (9/16) in Detroit, at the company's 100th anniversary celebration. This is the car that will be a plug-in electric vehicle, capable of driving for 40 miles on a single full electric charge of its battery pack. That pack can then drain down, after 40 miles, before the gas-generator kicks in, which will allow it to go for hundreds more miles.

GM says the Volt will greatly reduce gasoline consumption and expenses and help protect the environment.

But not only that, GM says the Volt will offer a liquid crystal instrument display that can be configured by the driver, a standard seven-inch touch screen vehicle information display, touch screen-style climate and infotainment controls, an optional navigation system with onboard hard drive for maps and music storage and a standard Bluetooth for cellular phone and USB/Bluetooth for music streaming.

GM says the car will be ready by 2010.

Among GM executives and employees at the event, you could feel the, uh, electricity in the air.
I think this might work, too, for some folks. But I'm not sure it is THE answer for everyone.

Are we ready for this?

2009 Audi A4

The 2009 Audi A4 enters its fourth generation with a redesign that keeps it among the luxury sedan class leaders.
Inside, the design is classy, not gaudy.

It's a fairly nimble machine when it comes to performance, but of course it doesn't quite have the performance characteristics that we love so much about some of Audi's more sports-car oriented offerings.

How does this car compare with the previous generation?

It's larger.

The A4 has gained 4.6 inches in length, to 185.6 inches, and 6.5 inches on the wheelbase, to 110.6 inches.

You can tell on the inside that this car is larger - it's a bit more comfortable. Also, the ride quality seems to be enhanced by the added size.

The result: more space in the cabin and a smoother ride.
The 3.2-liter V-6 engine has 265 horsepower and 243-pound-feet of torque. Audi says it does 0-60 in 6.3 seconds.

A turbo engine is also available.

2009 Audi A4
-- Price: Starts at $32,700

-- Transmission: Six-speed automatic

--Fuel economy: 21 mpg city, 27 highway

Who says American car companies can't make affordable, functional vehicles that are fun to drive.Pontiac has done just that with the 2009 Vibe GT.This upright, compact sport wagon is a great family vehicle that also can show its cool side. If you don't want the "soccer mom or dad" label stuck to you, but you still need something practical to haul the kids around in, you've got to check this out.Not only is it practical and fun to drive, but it gets terrific gas mileage and is very reasonably priced.Also, even if you don't consider yourself a fan of wagon-type vehicles (which I often am not), you have to appreciate the sporty looks this one has.It is similar to the Toyota Matrix, but is even a little jazzier.On the inside, it has an unbelievably spacious cabin, with elevated seating that gives you the vantage point that you might enjoy from an SUV.You can do like I did and pack the kids in for a trip to the beach, and you'll be quite comfortable.And you'll have plenty of space for your baggage.I'll get to the facts now, and then you tell me what you think - is this a car you would consider buying?


*2.4-liter four-cylinder engine

*Five-speed manual transmission

*OnStar safe and sound service plan

*AM/FM stereo, with CD player and XM satellite radio (first three months' subscription included)

*Fuel economy: 21 mpg city, 28 highway (EPA figures)

*Leather accented seats


*Price as tested: $20,595

2009 Toyota 4Runner

The Toyota 4Runner remains one of the best meat-and-potatoes SUVs on the market, even if the American public has lost a lot of its appetite for this type of vehicle.
It's good-looking and tough and is proud of its truck heritage. Unlike other vehicles in today's SUV market, many of which are crossovers that have more car-like attributes, the 4Runner can haul stuff, go off road and carry your crew.
The engine choices on the 4Runner consist of : a 4.0-liter V-6 that makes 236 horsepower or a 4.7-liter V-8 with 260 ponies. Towing capacity is 5,000 pounds on the six-banger and 7,300 pounds on the V-8Rear-wheel or four-wheel drive is available. There are three trim levels: SR5, Sport and Limited. SR5 is the base, and offers such standard features as 16-inch wheels, automatic climate control with rear vents, cruise control and keyless entry. The middle trim level, the Sport, gets you 17-inch wheels, power front seats and a telescoping steering wheel.The highest trim rank, Limited, means you get illuminated running boards, leather interior and 18-inch wheels. One of the things you'll really appreciate about the 4Runner is its safety features. Antilock disc brakes and VSC stability control are standard. And the 4Runner has earned four stars in National Highway Traffic Safety Administration crash testing in the front-impact grading and five stars, which is tops, in side impact tests. The 4Runner rides smoothly as SUVs go, but you won't mistake its ride for that of, say, a luxury sedan. There is still a very trucklike quality here, and that's not necessarily a bad thing if you want a real SUV. Handling is just adequate.In our rankings, the 4Runner is superior to the Nissan Pathfinder, Chevrolet Trail Blazer, Mitsubishi Montero and Ford Explorer. We like each of those vehicles to varying degrees, but for overall satisfaction, the 4Runner came out on top.Also, it holds the advantage of carrying the Toyota name, which for so many years has stood for quality. Toyota might have had a few hiccups in that area in recent years, but it still can lay claim to being one of the top brands for reliability.
The sticker price on our test drive model was $29,415.

Ford Focus

The Ford Focus comes with a base 2.0-liter engine that will pleasantly surprise you with its power.
In addition to that, the fun to drive factor is greatly enhanced by really keen handling and sharp steering.
You only wish Ford had paid as much attention to its marketing of the Focus as it did with the driving experience. That might seem strange --U.S. car companies usually have the opposite problem, touting cars that really weren't well made.
But in this case, Ford created something that is really neat, but seems determined to keep it a secret.
Since small cars are selling very well these days, it might seem difficult to spark interest in the Focus, since it might not be on most people's radar screens already and must play some catch-up. But it probably can be done anyhow, because when people get a look at and get behind the wheel of the Focus, they will see that this is a car to be reckoned with.What makes it so nice?The thing we were most fond of was the driving experience. That little 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder cranks out 136 horsepower, which sounds quite modest. But these are 136 ponies that are raring to go. We had the five-speed manual transmission, which was smooth shifting and went through its progressions nicely. We also absolutely loved the gas mileage. The Focus had an EPA rating of 27 mpg city, 37 mpg highway with the manual. In a mix of city and highway driving, we got about 29 mpg. Additionally, we were thrilled to be in a small car that had such great interior space. Taller drivers and passengers will be quite comfortable in the front seats. Tall folks might have a little tougher time settling into the rear seats, but folks of average height or below will be just fine back there. The interior design was very basic -- no fancy bling here. But the controls were exactly where you would have placed them and they were easy to use. Overall, it was really nice to drive the Focus and be reassured that yes, American car companies can still produce something good that is not a pickup or SUV.
Now they'll have to figure out how to spread the word among consumers.
The Focus that was test driven had a sticker price of $17,375.

Welcome to Atlanta Auto Beat

Hello, motorists! -- Welcome to the inaugural posting of Atlanta Auto Beat, the blog that keeps you up to speed on today's auto market.
We'll have news, reviews and a place for your views on the best wheels to cruise in.
Atlanta Auto Beat was started by Rob Douthit, former automotive editor at a major Atlanta daily newspaper.
Douthit will share his insights into today's auto industry, providing news about the auto manufacturers, reviews of vehicles and other notes of interest to those who are shopping for cars or just enjoy talking and reading about them.
We hope you'll enjoy Atlanta Auto Beat.