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.