Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Mazda CX-7: Utility, Sportiness and Lower Price Tag

For the past few years, the Mazda CX-7 has been one of the favorite crossover vehicles among those who love power and sportiness among the entrants in this segment.
For the 2010 model year, Mazda adds something, or perhaps more accurately takes something away, that more folks will love.
The new CX-7 gets a lower sticker price.
Mazda has introduced a new 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine as the standard powerplant now, while the 2.3-liter turbocharged four cylinder remains in the higher trim levels.
The lower trim levels, known as i SV and i Sport, take the new base engine, with the SV having standard cloth seats, remote keyless entry, 17-inch alloy wheels and a few other goodies that make for a nice base package.
Move up to the i Sport and you get Bluetooth connectivity and a few other amenities.
The s Touring gives you leather, heated seats and the s Grand Touring gives you pretty much everything, including backup camera and navigation system.
If you go with the new base engine, be assured that you won't be disappointed.
It's the same one found in the Mazda3 and Mazda6, two of the best non-luxury performance cars on the market.
It kicks out 161 horsepower and 161 pounds-feet of torque.
The engine is mated to a five-speed automatic transmission and a front-wheel-drive system.
Its gas mileage numbers are quite good also; 20 mpg city, 28 highway.
If you select the turbocharged engine, you get 18 and 25 mpg with the front-drive and 17 and 23 for the all-wheel drive.
The power numbers go up to 244 horsepower and 258 pounds-feet.
Overall, the driving experience in the CX-7 is certainly worthy of Mazda's "Zoom-Zoom" motto.
Despite the fact that you're in a crossover SUV, with higher seating position than a sports sedan, the CX-7 still seems well connected to the road and offers responsive steering and solid braking.
We drove the naturally aspirated engine model and were quite impressed with its power, so can only imagine how the turbocharged engine performs.Mazda says that engine is shared with its sporty Speed3 model, which is quite dramatic.The CX-7 has a nice-looking, functional interior that is not necessarily luxurious.
Chrome trim blends well with quality plastic paneling.
For front-seat passengers, comfort is no problem. The seats move liberally fore and aft, and the driver can use the tilt/telescoping steering wheel to find the right setting.
Rear seating roominess is pretty good too, with the 60/40 split bench folding down to offer a generous amount of cargo space; Mazda says it's 58.6 cubic feet.
The cargo area behind the rear seats is also very spacious, allowing for easy storage of everyday items like gym bags or grocery sacks.
In the cockpit, the controls for temperature and the radio are placed neatly on a center stack, and there is a screen that shows the displays.
For the most part, all of the controls are fairly intuitively placed and easy to manipulate.
Mazda made a great call in pricing the CX-7 a little lower, a move that will make it more competitive with other entry-level SUVs.
Our tester, a Sport model, was priced at $25,990; the entry level model starts at less than $22,000 and the Grand Touring tops out at around $33,000.
For driving pleasure with just enough utility, the CX-7 is a solid pick.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Beat's Top 10 Models of the Year

Atlanta Auto Beat presents its top models of the year. We based our decisions on a number of factors, such as affordability, fuel economy, driving performance and practicality. It was hard to limit our choices to 10, but we had to because of contractual reasons (don't ask).
So, read 'em and weep, or cheer, if you like.

But we at The Beat would like to thank you for your loyal readership, and we wish you a wonderful holiday season and the best wishes for the coming new year.

Happy Motoring!!

No. 10 Nissan Maxima

Maxima, sporting a strong V6 engine and nicely designed interior, has been called the "Four-Door Sports Car," and it has lived up to that moniker.
The latest version, a 2010 model, is an excellent choice for a sedan, with stellar performance and luxury.

No. 9 Toyota Venza

The Venza, Toyota says, has the best attributes of the brand's beloved Camry and Avalon sedans, while also injecting a bit of SUV flair - maybe a bit like the Highlander.

Plus, you'll be impressed by some of the luxury touches on the interior.

No. 8 Kia Soul

Check out this Kia and you'll feel really lucky to be on the Soul patrol, because this car is something special. It gives Kia's lineup a little bit of attitude, and has a sharp interior, a boxy but stylish exterior, is fun to drive, and offers plenty of safety features.

No. 7 Lexus RX 350

The RX was the first luxury crossover vehicle to hit the market and has defined the segment ever since. This edition maintains the familiar Lexus heritage, with its high roofline and attractive dimensions.

No. 6 Buick LaCrosse

Buick's newest version of its LaCrosse sedan has become the talk of the town for those who have seen it, and for those who get to drive it, it becomes pretty hard to shut up about it.
Its gorgeous design and outstanding driving dynamics do a great job of putting to rest the old notion that Buick is a brand for those age 65 and over.

No. 5 Kia Forte

Kia's slogan is "The Power to Surprise," but the stuff this company has been putting out over the past few years has been really strong. So now we've come to expect that. Our expectations were met once again with the 2010 Kia Forte, which used to go by the name Spectra.
The Forte will be hard to ignore.

No. 4 Hyundai Genesis Coupe

The Hyundai Genesis Coupe delivers a clear message: luxury, high performance at an exceptionally value-oriented price. Hyundai made some bold statements in the design of the Genesis Coupe, while maintaining clean lines, sharp details and proportional equality.

No. 3 Chevrolet Camaro

The Camaro benefited from a great deal of preproduction hype, and that kind of buzz can be a blessing or a curse. A blessing if the car lives up to it, a curse if it disappoints. The Camaro is no disappointment; immense driving pleasure in a wonderfully retro package.

No. 2 Volkswagen Jetta TDI

This diesel-powered car, available as a sedan or wagon, is nicely priced, but you'll also appreciate how thrifty the Jetta allows you to be at the pump, with its EPA rating of 30 mpg city, 41 highway. That puts the diesel Jetta at the top of the class for highway mileage by a nonhybrid car. Once you get it out on the highway, this four-cylinder engine powered Jetta can jet with some of the best of them, enhancing its "fun-to-drive" factor.

No. 1 Mazda6

Mazda has one of the sportiest overall lineups in the auto industry.
And the company's latest version of its Mazda6 midsize sedan is a shining example of its "Zoom-Zoom" commitment to making athletic, good-looking, fun vehicles.
The Mazda6 is larger and more powerful than its previous version, and is more agile as well.

Monday, December 21, 2009

LaCrosse is a Head-Turner for Buick

Buick's newest version of its LaCrosse sedan has become the talk of the town for those who have seen it, and for those who get to drive it, it becomes pretty hard to shut up about it.

Its gorgeous design and outstanding driving dynamics do a great job of putting to rest the old notion that Buick is a brand for those age 65 and over.
And it shows why, despite having only recently emerged from bankruptcy and having had to shed a few of its brands, General Motors has potentially a very bright future.
Add the LaCrosse to other recent winners from GM, including the Buick Enclave crossover, Cadillac CTS sedan and Chevrolet Malibu sedan.
Each of those models has combined sharp styling with wonderful on-road performance to present a compelling value to consumers.
The LaCrosse also can garner some positive attention from its sticker price.
The base price of around $27,900 gets you a CX model with a 3.0-liter V-6 engine.
Or, if you want even better fuel economy and a lower sticker price, you can check out the CX with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, rated at 182 horsepower.

That engine is found in a few Chevy models, such as the Malibu and Cobalt sedans, as well as the HHR and Equinox crossovers, as well as the new GMC Terrain crossover.

Linked to a six-speed automatic transmission, the four-cylinder engine gives the LaCrosse a legitimate claim as one of the fuel-efficiency leaders in this sedan segment, with EPA ratings of 20 mpg city/30 highway.
Many of the LaCrosse's competitors offer only six-cylinder engines.

The LaCrosse offers optional all-wheel drive and a number of new technological options.

There is also a rear-seat entertainment system and remote starting.The V-6 engine makes a very strong 255 horsepower and 217 pounds-feet of torque.

CX models feature premium cloth seats and 17-inch wheels.

The CXL is LaCrosse's midlevel version, with either front- or all-wheel drive.
The front-drive version starts at around $30,400 and has a 3.0-liter V-6, heated leather seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, fog lights, outside mirrors with LED turn signals and puddle lamps, and 18-inch alloy wheels.

The all-wheel-drive model CXL is $33,765.

The CXS is the highest trim LaCrosse, and, as tested, was priced at $33,765. It comes with a 3.6-liter V-6 engine making 280 horsepower and 259 pounds-feet of torque, and 18-inch chrome wheels.

The CXS also has heated-and-cooled perforated leather seats; 19-inch wheels are optional.

The V-6 models also come with a six-speed automatic transmission; no manual is offered.

The LaCrosse has dramatic exterior lines that maintain some of the Buick heritage, but greatly update it.
The familiar waterfall grille and faux portholes are still present, but the portholes move to the hood now, rather than the sides of the front fenders as was previously the case.

We loved the ice blue ambient lighting found throughout the cabin and extending to the door panels.

GM says the car has a European-designed chassis and suspension system with real-time damping, high-intensity-discharge adaptive headlights that turn slightly in the same direction the car is turning, a side blind-zone-alert system and Bluetooth phone connectivity.

GM also says the LaCrosse's QuietTuning feature, is designed to block and absorb noise before it enters the passenger cabin.
We'll buy that, because the interior was silent as a church mouse.

The new LaCrosse gets a Top Safety Pick designation from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which conducts its own crash tests independent of the federal government's testing program.Other LaCrosse safety features include four-wheel antilock disc brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist; traction control; front seat-mounted side air bags; and roof-mounted side-curtain air bags for both rows.

GM builds the LaCrosse at its Fairfax assembly plant in Kansas City, Kan., where the Malibu also is built.

Mustang Spellbinder

Check out the 2010 Ford Mustang performing a feat of magic in Las Vegas.

Mazda MX-5: Just for Kicks

The Mazda MX-5, formerly and commonly known as the Miata, is like a guilty pleasure for motorists.
It's nice looking, in hardtop or softtop form, lightweight, agile and so much fun to drive.
It's just not very practical. And if you ever have the misfortune of sharing the exact same space at the same time with a larger vehicle, you more than likely will absorb a pretty damaging blow.
But for sheer enjoyment at an affordable price, the 2009 MX-5 is a winner.
The MX-5 has gotten a few refreshes for this model year, most notably a sound-enhancer system that gives the engine a better growl but doesn't raise the volume.
Also, the transmission now has a higher top-gear ratio, which improves fuel-economy, and horsepower increases by one notch, to 167.
The exterior design took a few subtle changes and the suspension has been altered a bit for better handling.
But overall, the package is largely the same Miata that many drivers over the years have come to know and love.
It's a car that seems to really appreciate being driven in a spirited fashion.
It is capable of breaking into a sprint with little hesitation, and its 140 pounds-feet of torque might not, on paper, knock your socks off, but on the road, it is quite formidable.
The 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine loves to rev, and as a result, you'll stay busy shifting the manual transmission - up and down. The clutch is quite compliant and the shifter is a piece of cake to use, with its short, quick throws.
The MX-5's handling is fantastic. Taking it on a twisty road will make you consider, even if ever so briefly, not driving anything else.
Now mind you, I said briefly, because the ride can get a bit harsh at times, and you'll feel the road a little more than you would in a larger coupe or sedan.
But the overall comfort factor of the MX-5 is good, especially considering how small the car is.
If you're a tall driver, you will have to do a bit of contortion to get into the car. But once you've taken your seat, it is comfortable enough, especially if you aren't going on a very long drive.
Be warned, though, that headroom is pretty snug. You'll feel like doing a Dino from the Flintstones cartoon - you know, popping your head through the roof.
But as an alternative, just drop the convertible roof, and you'll be more comfortable.
The dashboard is neat and well organized.
But one big-time flaw is where the fuel-door release is, hidden away in a compartment between the two seats.
Come on, Mazda, seriously.
At least the manual convertible roof was easy to operate. Flip a couple of levers and push the thing down into the area behind the seats, and you're done.
To close, flip another lever and pull the thing back up to the windshield, lock another pair of levers, and you're done.
As mentioned above, the MX-5 is a short car that's short on practicality.
There is a trunk that is big enough for maybe a couple of gym bags, a not-too-deep center console and a glove compartment.
If you want to add some goodies to your MX-5, you can opt for the Grand Touring package, with such amenities as the power hardtop and seven-speaker audio system.
Additionally, the Suspension Package is available, giving you a sport-tuned suspension, Bilstein shocks and traction control, as well as satellite radio.
There's a Premium Package that adds a few more things.
The MX-5's base price, with the softtop, is a little more than $22,000, with the hardtop starting at a little more than $26,000 and topping out at under $32,000.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

State Digs Deeper into Motorists' Wallets

 Drivers in Georgia who step on the gas pedal will soon face an additional fine from the cash-strapped state.
On Jan. 1, Georgia's so-called "Super Speeder Law" takes effect, tacking on an additional $200 fine to motorists who are convicted of going 75 mph or more on two-lane roads, and also levying that fine on anyone convicted of going 85 mph or more on any road.
Failure to pay the super speeder fee subjects the motorist to an additional $50 fee and suspension of driver's license.
The state contends this law is aimed at saving lives.

This ridiculous law is another tax from a cash-hungry state government. And unfortunately, it will disproportionately hit lower-income citizens. Speed does not cause accidents. Careless driving does.

Read this opinion against the stupid speeder, 'er, super speeder law, written by a law enforcement officer, who does an excellent job of detailing why this is so absurd:

Monday, December 14, 2009

March Madness Coming to AMS

Hey, race fans, it's not too early to start thinking about March Madness, racing style, of course.

The Kobalt Tools 500 is coming to Atlanta Motor Speedway on Sunday, March 7, 2010.

For more information and to purchase tickets, click here:

Audi A5 Cabrio: What's Not to Love?

What's not to love about the all-new 2010 Audi A5 Cabriolet?

Well, had the folks at Audi just let me have the car for another 18 months or so, as I requested, I could probably tell you.But no, instead I get some excuse about providing it to other journalists.

So inconsiderate.

Alright then, what I do know, after my weeklong stint, is it is an awesome doggone machine.The A5 Cabrio supplants the A4 in the lineup as Audi’s convertible four-seater.We were quite fond of that one, but this one is even better.
Some reasons are that it's a hoot to drive (after all, it's an Audi), it has a very swanky interior and it's got a great exterior style.Technically, it is very similar to the A4 sedan and wagon.Appearance-wise, it is quite like the A5 Coupe.
Well, if you're going to build a new model, those ain't bad prototypes to follow.This model is powered by a 2-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that makes 211 horsepower.That engine, while delivering more than adequate power, is remarkably quiet.
Driving on the highway, with the top down, I was able to carry on a conversation with my passenger in which neither one of us had to raise our voices.
But even if I had to shout, I wouldn't begrudge that with this car because it is such a joy to drive.The body rigidity, especially noticeable when you aggressively take corners, is tremendous.
The 211 ponies put out by the engine feels more like 300, and the 258 pounds-feet of torque give you a nice sendoff when you hit the throttle.The continuosly variable transmission is one of the smoothest of its kind.
A six-speed automatic is also offered.Our tester had front-wheel drive, but the Quattro all-wheel drive is available as an option.The A5 Cabrio knows not to gorge itself at the pump.EPA figures are 23 mpg city, 30 highway, and my mileage, in combined driving, was about 25 mpg. The good news is that you can open or close the roof while you're moving (up to 30 mph).
The not quite as good news, for some folks, is that it comes only as a softtop. Some people prefer hardtop, but that adds extra weight to the car, which would have hurt gas mileage and probably driving performance.
Plus, this isn't one of those chintzy softtops that convertibles back in the day had. No, this one seals snuggly and seems tough enough to withstand at least some vandalism, if that's your concern.And it shouldn't be unless, you know, your woman found somebody's steamy text message on your phone and, well, I'll stop there.
The A5 comes in three trim levels: Premium, Premium Plus (our tester) and Prestige.Premium Plus included 18-inch alloy wheels, Bluetooth interface and heated front seats.Being that this is a relatively compact car, if you expect lots of storage space, you'll be disappointed.In fact, you should note that this is a four-seater, so the rear is very confined.
The trunk might hold a golf bag, or might not, but should definitely hold a reasonably sized suitcase or two.But if you're in the market for something you can drop the top and have some fun with, and who among us isn't, the A5 Cabrio is a great choice.It starts at around $42,830 and ranges as high as $60,560.Our tester had a sticker price of $51,525.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Infiniti EX Knows How to Handle its Business

The 2010 Infiniti EX35 is a stylish crossover that highlights all the best attributes of the Japanese luxury brand.
One of the reasons crossovers became popular is because they handle well; better than the traditional SUVs that spawned their creation.
But among the good-handling crossovers, the EX might be the best. With that characteristic, it is easy to see a connection between this vehicle and the other fun-to-drive cars in the Infiniti lineup. Infiniti says the EX's front mid-ship platform balances its weight, resulting in responsive steering and the ability to handle curves sharply.
The EX drives nimbly, thanks in part to the 3.5L V-6 engine, which is linked to a five-speed automatic transmission. The impressive 297 horsepower and 253 pounds-feet of torque provide plenty of thrills, but there is some high-level thinking that this vehicle does too. It can adjust to your unique driving method and make the modifications to achieve the highest level of performance.
Also, you can put the transmission in manual mode if you wish.
The EX offers fuel economy that's adequate: 17 mpg city, 24 highway, according to EPA.
In combined driving, I got about 22 mpg.
The EX is available in both rear-wheel and all-wheel drive, but with the latter, under normal conditions all of the vehicle's power is sent to the rear wheels. The power is only distributed to all wheels when needed.
But this isn't just some performance machine that has ordinary looks.
Infiniti is a luxury brand, and the EX represents that nicely on the interior.
The fit and finish are wonderful, and the quality and appearance of the materials and the design of the lines are terrific -- highly refined, but not at all pretentious.The driver surely will appreciate that all the controls are within easy reach and are easily identifiable, even though there are a lot of buttons and knobs.
The layout of the instrument panel is intuitive. Plus the seating, windows and steering position have memory, allowing you to get all your settings just like you like them, then capture them so that, if you're like Goldilocks and you want everything just right, you'll have it.
The back seat is a bit cramped, especially when it comes to headroom, thanks to the sloping roofline design. If you haul passengers frequently, and especially if they are adults, this might not be the ideal vehicle for you.
One really cool option offered by Infiniti on the EX is the around view monitor system, which is standard if you get navigation. There are four cameras -- up front, on each side and in the rear -- that allow you to see a top view of the vehicle when you are backing into or inching forward in a parking space. So you can not only see forward and behind, but also how close things are to you on the sides.
Plus, you'll hear beeps whenever you get too close to something in front or in the rear.
Think of it as a very enhanced version of the backup camera that has become common on many vehicles today.
The navigation system is linked to XM satellite radio's traffic service, which shows you where the congestion is on the roads and other hazards to avoid.
There is also an iPod jack, Bluetooth capability and pushbutton keyless ignition.

If you opt for the technology package, you'll additionally get lane departure warning, which uses sensors to give you a beep to tell you that you are veering over your line.
That system worked a little too well for me, being activated with even the slightest line encroachment, so I just pushed the button to turn it off.
But if you're driving while sleepy, which of course isn't such a good idea, it's a nice feature because it will assist your alertness.
The tech package also includes distance control assist, intelligent cruise control and intelligent brake assist, all designed to prevent crashes by notifying the driver if he or she is getting too close to something, and in some cases it will activate the brakes.
The EX starts at a little more than $34,000 and ranges to a little more than $40,000 when nicely equipped.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

New Hyundai Sonata Unveiled

Hyundai has introduced its all-new 2011 Sonata. This marks the North American debut of the latest version of the popular midsize sedan, introducing Hyundai’s “Fluidic Sculpture” design language and an all four-cylinder engine lineup to the U.S. market. It has a new Theta II 2.4-liter gasoline direct injection (GDI) engine and in-house six-speed automatic transmission

o                  Cla               Fuel economy is pegged at 23 mpg city/35 mpg highway. It makes 198 horsepower standard* (200 horsepower on SE trim.  It's made in Hyundai's plant in Alabama and will be in showrooms in January.

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Last Pontiac Rolls Off the Assembly Line

As part of its restructuring, General Motors has had to shed some brands, one of which is the venerable Pontiac nameplate.

The last vehicle has rolled off the assembly line. Some are sad to see it go away. But in reality, it was impossible for GM to maintain as many brands as it tried to over the past several years.


Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Audi Unveils Its New A8 Flagship Sedan in Miami

The new generation of the A8, Audi brand's flagship, introducing a new era in progressive excellence. Combining dynamic exterior and luxurious interior design with sporty driving characteristics, while providing the highest level of comfort and convenience equipment in the segment. The D4 (fourth generation flagship sedan) stands for a unique combination of aluminum space frame, MMI user interface, interior craftsmanship, quattro all-wheel-drive and adaptive air suspension. The Audi brand icon with the perfect execution of sporty, progressive, and sophisticated character. 


Sunday, November 29, 2009

Ford Ranger: Sportiness in a Truck Package

The Ford Ranger is a sporty truck that gives combines the toughness Ford Trucks are known for with the usability, performance and fuel efficiency of a small pick-up.
Four Models of the 2009 Ford Ranger are available to choose from - The Ranger XL, XLT, Sport and the FX4. The Ranger is available in Regular Cab or SuperCab as well as 4x2 and 4x4 configurations depending on the model selected.
The interior of the regular cab seats two or three depending on whether it comes equipped with the 60/40 split bench or bucket seats. The SuperCab can be configured to seat five or six. Cloth seat trim comes standard on all models with leather trimmed seats available on most models.
Standard on the XL is an AM/FM stereo receiver that can be upgraded to the standard AM/FM stereo with CD/MP3/SAT capability with audio input jack sound system that comes standard on all other models.
The Ford Ranger is available in Regular Cab and two and four door versions of the SuperCab.
All models come with a standard 6' styleside cargo box while the XL and XLT have an available 7' Styleside cargo box.
The 2009 Ford Ranger XL, XLT and Sport models come standard with a 143 horsepower 2.3L DOCH I4 engine available in 5-speed manual or 5-speed automatic transmission. Powering the Ranger FX4 and available for the other models is a 207 horsepower 4.0L V6 also available in 5-speed manual or automatic transmissions.
The 2.3L I4 4x2 with manual transmission achieves an excellent fuel economy rating of 21 city / 26 highway mpg.
When properly equipped the Ford Ranger has a maximum towing capacity of 6,000 pounds - see the specification page for more information on towing capacities, base curb weights and GVWR of the various Ranger configurations.
As with all Ford vehicles the 2009 Ford Ranger boasts a high level of safety and security features. Ford's Personal Safety System comes standard on all models and features dual-stage front airbags and a front passenger sensing system. Other standard safety features include - 4-wheel ABS and a tire pressure monitoring system.
SecuriLock passive anti-theft ignition system comes standard on all models.

Audi TT Coupe Makes a Strong Impression

With its artistic design and powerful yet fuel efficient turbocharged engine, the 2010 Audi TT 2.0T Quattro Coupe is hard to resist.
Considering that the Quattro four-cylinder TT can be had with all-wheel drive for $38,125, or just $2,100 above what the now-departed front-drive version cost, this TT looks like a pretty good bargain, too.
Audi says the 2.0T goes 0-60 mph in 5.7 seconds, and that its quarter-mile time is 14.4 seconds at 96 mph.
So when we got behind the wheel, we were not at all surprised by how quick it is. But keep in mind, this comes despite the fact that the Quattro is 250 pounds heavier than the front-drive model was.
Yet it also has the same horsepower and gearing as the front-driver.
The transmission is a six-speed dual-clutch automated manual.
Audi says the S tronic’s launch-control system, which raises engine revs and then drops the clutch automatically, helps to offset the higher vehicle weight.
Audi also says that the front-drive model launched quickly and spun its wheels for a brief moment before the tires hooked up.
In the all-wheel-drive, the TT is able to surge forward without that slight delay.
The all-wheel drive also makes it possible to zoom out of corners but still find traction efficiently.
You'll also be impressed with how the TT demonstrates sharp sports-car reflexes, robust braking and unrelenting skidpad grip.
In our week of combined city and highway driving, we posted fuel economy of right around 24 mpg.
This TT, with all-wheel drive and the 200-horsepower turbo four, making 207 pounds-feet of torque, comes pretty close to the more powerful TTS version.
It offers many of the same driving dynamics.
But it's about $8,000 cheaper.
So our advice would be to go with this one.
Our nicely loaded tester came with a sticker price of right around $49,500.
Audi says that the TT combines the original Bauhaus styling with Audi's current modern design theme and advanced technology.
The frame of the coupe is 69 percent aluminum and 31 percent steel.
For the roadster, it's 58 and 42.
Most of the steel is in the rear to offset the weight of the engine and better balance the car, Audi says.
Safety features include front, side and knee airbags, run-flat tires with pressure monitoring and four-wheel anti-lock brakes and stability control.
With sexy styling and affordable sports car dynamics, the TT 2.0T Coupe is a compelling package.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Audi TT Roadster: Size Has Gone Up, Top Goes Down

After rolling out the latest version of its TT Coupe, Audi unveiled the new TT Roadster, with a new exterior, interior, chassis, and powertrain.

The new roadster, like its hardtop counterpart, is bigger than the last one -- about five inches longer and three inches wider.

One key change is the addition of Audi's new corporate face - aggressive headlights and a large grille.

Audi says it made a conscious decision to keep a manually operated cloth roof for the new TT Roadster.

The soft top concept "fits in perfectly with the philosophy of puristic open-top motoring and also offers a number of benefits over a folding steel hard top," the automaker said.

Audi says the new roof keeps weight to a minimum and lowers the center of gravity.

The car is available with a four- or six-cylinder engine.

The entry-level turbocharged four-cylinder engine delivers 200 horsepower between 5100 rpm and 6000 rpm, while cranking out 207 pound-feet of torque from a low 1800 rpm, all the way up to 5000 rpm. This model is available with front-wheel-drive only.

The more powerful V6 mill serves up 250hp at 6300 rpm and 236 pound-feet of torque in the 2500 to 3000 rpm range.

The engine lets the TT hit 62 mph in 5.7 seconds via its Quattro all-wheel-drive.

The car has a spoiler that deploys at 75 mph.

The interior of the car is also vastly different, bringing the TT in line with the standards set by Audi's more expensive models.

Audi's interiors are among the best in the business, and this one falls right in line with that.

The high-tech Audi magnetic ride damper system is available as an option.

In this system, tiny magnetic particles circulate in the oil inside the shock absorbers. When a voltage is applied to them, they alter the damping characteristics within milliseconds.

This adaptive system simultaneously ensures high levels of ride comfort and thoroughly sporty dynamism, according to the specific driving scenario and the preferences of the driver.
Our tester was priced at slightly over $41,000.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Four-Door Sports Car Reigns: Nissan Maxima

The Nissan Maxima, sporting a strong V6 engine and nicely designed interior, has been called the "Four-Door Sports Car," and it has lived up to that moniker. 

The latest version, a 2010 model, is an excellent choice for a sedan, with stellar performance and luxury. 

The front-wheel-drive midsize sedan packs a 290-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 engine. Conveying engine power to the front wheels is a continuously variable transmission (CVT). 

The Maxima is now a bit shorter than its earlier versions because Nissan wanted to boost its handling and give it a more appealing style.

There are two trim levels: 3.5 S and 3.5 SV. 

The base-model S is exceptionally well appointed, with standard features that include keyless ignition/entry, dual-zone automatic climate control and a full range of safety features. 

SV models boast more luxury with features like leather upholstery and a premium nine-speaker Bose stereo. Numerous packages are available that give you the chance to upgrade with options like a voice-activated navigation system, iPod integration and a rearview camera.

Monday, November 16, 2009

GM's Fortunes Taking a Turn for the Better

General Motors Co. says it lost $1.2 billion from the time it left bankruptcy protection through Sept. 30, far better than it has reported in previous quarters and a sign that the auto giant is starting to turn around its business.

General Motors Corp. President and CEO Fritz Henderson speaks during a news conference at company headquarters in Detroit, Monday, Nov. 16, 2009. General Motors Co. says it lost $1.2 billion from the time it left bankruptcy protection through Sept. 30, far better than it has reported in previous quarters and a sign that the auto giant is starting to turn around its business.(AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
General Motors Corp. President and CEO Fritz Henderson speaks during a news conference at company headquarters in Detroit, Monday, Nov. 16, 2009. General Motors Co. says it lost $1.2 billion from the time it left bankruptcy protection through Sept. 30, far better than it has reported in previous quarters and a sign that the auto giant is starting to turn around its business.(AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
FILE - In this Jan. 12, 2009 file photo, the General Motors logo is seen on display at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. General Motors Co. said Monday, Nov. 16, 2009, it lost $1.2 billion from the time it left bankruptcy protection through Sept. 30, far better than it has reported in previous quarters and a sign that the auto giant is starting to turn around its business. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File)
FILE - In this Jan. 12, 2009 file photo, the General Motors logo is seen on display at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. General Motors Co. said Monday, Nov. 16, 2009, it lost $1.2 billion from the time it left bankruptcy protection through Sept. 30, far better than it has reported in previous quarters and a sign that the auto giant is starting to turn around its business. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File)
Snow covers the company logo on the grille of an unsold 2010 Sierra pickup truck at a GMC Truck dealership in Lone Tree, Colo., on Sunday, Nov. 15, 2009. General Motors Co. said Monday it lost $1.2 billion from the time it left bankruptcy protection through Sept. 30, far better than it has reported in previous quarters and a sign that the auto giant is starting to turn around its business.(AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
Snow covers the company logo on the grille of an unsold 2010 Sierra pickup truck at a GMC Truck dealership in Lone Tree, Colo., on Sunday, Nov. 15, 2009. General Motors Co. said Monday it lost $1.2 billion from the time it left bankruptcy protection through Sept. 30, far better than it has reported in previous quarters and a sign that the auto giant is starting to turn around its business.(AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
In this Nov. 1, 2009 photo, unsold 2009 Chevrolet Suburbans sit in a long row under a General Motors sign at a Chevrolet dealership in Englewood, Colo. General Motors Co. said Monday, Nov. 16, 2009, it lost $1.2 billion from the time it left bankruptcy protection through Sept. 30, far better than it has reported in previous quarters and a sign that the auto giant is starting to turn around its business. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
In this Nov. 1, 2009 photo, unsold 2009 Chevrolet Suburbans sit in a long row under a General Motors sign at a Chevrolet dealership in Englewood, Colo. General Motors Co. said Monday, Nov. 16, 2009, it lost $1.2 billion from the time it left bankruptcy protection through Sept. 30, far better than it has reported in previous quarters and a sign that the auto giant is starting to turn around its business. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

    The company also says it will begin repaying $6.7 billion in U.S. government loans with a $1.2 billion payment in December. It could pay off the full amount by 2011, four years ahead of schedule, but the money will come from funds loaned by the government.

    Thursday, November 12, 2009

    Nissan Altima Looks Better Than Ever

    We recently got a chance to drive Nissan's entire lineup of sedans at its North American headquarters in Nashville, Tenn. Here's what we thought of the Altima:

    The 2010 Nissan Altima, which comes in both Coupe and Sedan body styles, as well as a hybrid sedan, starts at the very reasonable price of $19,900.

    With the sedan, three trim levels are offered.

    Go for the Coupe and the price starts at $22,440 with four levels of trim.

    The Hybrid, starting at $26,780, is only available in one well-equipped trim level.

    Mechanically, the 2010 Altima Coupe gets a six-speed manual transmission available with either the 175-horsepower 2.5-liter four-cylinder or the 270-horsepower 3.5-liter V-6 engine. 

    The only alternative is the Xtronic CVT (continuously variable transmission). The sedan is only available with the Xtronic CVT, doing away with last year's available manual. The Hybrid gets a special version of the four-cylinder engine for a combined power rating of 198 horsepower together with the electronic motor, piped through an eCVT, which isn't the same CVT as in the other models.

    The hybrid gets 35 mpg city and 33 mpg highway, a significant upgrade over the CVT four-cylinder sedan's 23 mpg city/31 mpg highway rating. The Coupe manages an identical score to the sedan with the four-cylinder, with the manual adding 1mpg highway to the Coupe's rating. Both Sedan and Coupe also rate 19 mpg city and 26 mpg highway when equipped with the V-6 and CVT. The manual-V-6 option on the Coupe changes its figures to 18/27 mpg.

    An upgraded 4.3-inch display with rear-view monitor, XM satellite radio and Bluetooth and USB inputs is now available as an option, while the Hard Drive Navigation System upgrade brings the screen to 6.5 inches and adds a 9.3-gigabyte hard-disk music/navigation system.

    The front end of the 2010 Altima lineup is interestingly devoid of the hook-like headlights found on the 370Z and Maxima, giving the Altima a new design direction--or a return to the previous one. Notably bolder than the previous version, the 2010 Altima carries over many of the same styling cues, but in more extreme form. The strong character fold, following back down the side of the car from the fender, for example, was present on the 2009 model, but the new car's looks to be sharper and more expressive.

    The blacked-out fog light surround and lower fascia element have been replaced by a body-colored surround and vent as well, and the wheels get a split-spoke design in place of the solid spoke of the current model. Revised interior materials freshen the look and feel.

    Wednesday, November 11, 2009

    Nissan Sentra: Appearance Tweaked, Price Slips

    The 2010 Nissan Sentra, now available in dealerships, has undergone some minor changes to its appearance.

    Also, you can now opt for a color navigation/entertainment system.

    But the best change for the new Sentra is the price, which has fallen by as much as $1100.

    With its updated styling, Nisaan got rid of the orange screen multi-media interface.

    Now you get a color screen with available backup camera. 

    But you really can get excited about the price decline, which is down $130 from the 2009 MSRP of the base 2.0 CVT (now $16,600), $1100 from the 2.0 SL (now $18,560), and $1080 from the SE-R ($19,580) and Spec V ($20,080) editions. 

    That's the kind of pricing consumers need in this economy. 

    Friday, November 6, 2009

    Lexus RX 450h Hybrid Offers Power and Great Mileage

    The 2010 version of the Lexus RX 450h hybrid SUV is better than its predecessor when it comes to fuel economy and amenities. 
    Lexus has also reduced emissions and noise. 
    In fact, noise has been cut so much so that it is non-existent when you first start the engine and when it is idling, relying solely on the electric motor. 
    That's not unusual for a hybrid, but if you're not used to driving one, it does take some adjustment. 
    I've been behind the wheel of a few hybrids, but the first morning I had the RX 450h, I came rushing out of the house trying to be on time to a meeting, started up the car, heard nothing, so started it again, heard nothing again, before finally realizing that "hey, dummy, you can go ahead and drive."
    And when you do drive, you can go quite a ways before visiting a gas pump, as this SUV gets 28 mpg in the city; 27 highway, which is 1 mpg and 3 mpg, respectively, better than the last RX hybrid. The AWD version gets 28 and 26.
    And the 450h's 3.5-liter, V-6 engine is no pushover. It's linked to an electric motor and makes a hearty 295 horsepower. 
    When you need a nice surge to get yourself up to speed in highway traffic, the 450h delivers, and does so with smoothness. 
    The 450h handles nicely, too, with the electronically controlled brakes working nicely, and acceleration and cornering taking place seamlessly. 
    You can switch to another driving mode, ECO, which results in improved fuel economy, and EV -- quieter and less polluting. The sequential shift mode makes the 450h perform like a six-speed manual transmission, if you want that experience.
    From an exterior-appearance standpoint, this version is not radically different from the design themes that we've been used to in the RX in recent years. 
    One nice touch is the blue-tinted headlamp covers. 
    Also, there's a rear spoiler conceals the top-mounted rear wiper.
     Lexus improved visibility by adding quarter windows in front of doors.
    Interior design remains quite refined, with quality materials that are soft to the touch, and elegant, sloping angles on the dash.
    Lexus says cargo space has been added, too, and you'll like the handles in the cargo bay area, which drop the back seats flat.
    Technological gains include a rearview camera that is optional, but that you don't need to also add the navigation system with, unlike in the past.
    But if you get the new navigation system, you'll get XMNavTraffic and weather.
    The mouse-like gadget that controls the system is fairly easy to use after a few minutes of getting used to it. 
    The 450h is priced at around $41,700 at the low end for a front-wheel-drive model, but if you choose an all-wheel-drive version, and add all the fixings, your price tag goes to nearly $60,000, which is pretty steep. 
    Lexus started the luxury hybrid SUV category, and continues to offer one of the best available. With all its great features and its lessened environmental impact, it's a keen, green machine. 

    Thursday, November 5, 2009

    Nissan Versa Gives an Economic Stimulus

    • We recently got a chance to drive the entire lineup of Nissan sedans at the company's North American headquarters in Nashville, Tenn. We enjoyed each of the cars. Here's what we thought of the low-end model:

    • The 2010 Nissan Versa is a wonderful choice for people who want to ride in comfort but want great gas mileage and a low sticker price. The Versa’s small-outside/big-inside dynamic is evident both in the hatchback and sedan editions. The Versa hatchback is in effect a high-roof wagon that gives a quartet of six-footers plenty room for knees and noggins, or, with the rear seat folded, ingests your girlfriend’s dinette set. The Versa sedan paces it for passenger space, though of course not for cargo volume. And unlike the geek-chic Versa hatchback, the sedan’s styling has no redeeming value. At just $10,620, including destination, the Nissan Versa Sedan 1.6 Base model, however, does contend for title of “America’s least-expensive new car.”
    • The Versa now has a new grille, updated wheel styles, and some sporty new body addenda for the top-line model. Unchanged is the size or basic shape of the artfully proportioned Versa wagon (a nice hatchback) or the Versa sedan. Both body styles share a 102.4-inch wheelbase, which is the distance between the front and rear axles and a key determinate in passenger room. It’s not a long wheelbase for a compact car, but both the Versa hatchback and sedan have a tall roof that makes possible comfortable, upright seating. The lineup continues with model designations that reflect their engine size. It starts off with the1.6 Base Sedan and the 1.6 Sedan. Next up are the1.8 S Sedan and 1.8 S Hatchback and the 1.8 SL Sedan and 1.8 SL Hatchback. The 1.8 SL Hatchback is considered the top-of-the-line model and it gets the biggest appearance changes for 2010. Like other 2010 Versas, the 1.8 SL Hatchback gets a new grille, but it’s complimented by fresh front and rear fascias, new body side sills, a rear spoiler, and standard front fog lamps. The 1.8 SL Hatchback is also available for the first time with 16-inch alloy wheels in place of the standard 15-inch alloys it shares with the 1.8 SL Sedan. All models also get reddish orange cabin illumination for 2010.
    •  The 2010 Nissan Versa doesn’t veer from its well-developed front-wheel-drive layout. This platform is sound enough to underpin the 2010 Nissan Cube, as well. Versa is a larger car than the Cube, though the two share a 122-horsepower 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine. The Versa, however, is available with a smaller engine, a 107-horsepower 1.6-liter four that’s integral to holding down the cost of the Versa 1.6 Base Sedan and 1.6 Sedan models. The Versa and Hyundai Accent vie for title of lowest-priced new car in the U.S. Both come in well under $11,000, including destination fees. Versa is among the few compact cars with four available transmissions: manuals with five and six speeds, a four-speed automatic, and – exclusive to the 1.8 SL Hatchback -- a continuously variable transmission. Abbreviated as CVT, this type of transmission performs the task of an automatic but with a rheostat-like delivery of power rather than with a limited number of pre-set gear ratios. The intent is to more precisely match available engine power to demand, and the goal is better fuel economy.

    Ki-what? Come on, Suzuki

    Check out this press release about a new sedan from Suzuki. I like Suzuki - it's a company that makes underrated cars. But maybe one of the reasons the company gets overlooked by U.S. buyers is that it thinks it can name its cars Kizashi. Come on, now - do you really think American consumers are going to buy something called Kizashi (unless it comes as a side with your sushi order)?
     Sort of reminds me of some ghetto mama who names her kid Laquandarionus then doesn't understand why the kid doesn't get a fair shake in life.
    Not to say that every kid needs to be named John or Mary. Nor to say that every car needs to be called Malibu or Fusion.
    But I am saying think about what kind of image you are conveying before you name something, parents and car companies.

    • Kizashi is the best equipped mid-size sedan starting under $19,000, with volume models averaging between $22,000 and $24,000.  


    • Kizashi offers the most standard safety features in its price class and already meets the NHTSA’s 2014 safety standards.


    • The AWD Kizashi, available in all trim levels with CVT transmission, can be purchased for less than some of the segment’s volume leading FWD sedans.



    BREA, Calif. (Nov. 5, 2009) – Tapping in to its heritage of building high performance outboard motors and motorcycles, American Suzuki Motor Corp. today announces pricing for the all-new 2010 Kizashi sedan (pronounced “Kee-Zah-Shee”) which will debut in dealer showrooms in December 2009.


    The Kizashi offers a unique blend of dynamic performance attributes, premium design aesthetics and craftsmanship yet to be experienced in this category. Suzuki expands on its best-in-class platform while offering features more appropriate to the near-luxury segment. In short, Kizashi delivers a premium package and experience without the premium price tag.


    With the well-equipped entry-level Kizashi S priced between $18,999 and $21,749 (plus $735 for destination and handling), a prospective customer enjoys an energetic platform, comfortable accommodation and expressive design for prices appropriate to a modestly equipped compact. This base price includes many standard features usually found in vehicles costing thousands more or as options in the competitive class. Standard features of the Kizashi S include:

    • 8 airbags (front/rear side and curtain)
    • Pushbutton keyless start
    • Dual-zone climate control
    • 9-speaker audio with steering controls
    • EPS Stability Control and ABS
    • Projector beam headlamps
    • Power windows, doors and mirrors
    • Ambient and footwell lighting