Wednesday, August 26, 2009

XC60: Excellent Crossover from Volvo

Volvo has long been known for its commitment to safety in its vehicles.
If you wanted to drive something that could survive a crash, you couldn't do much better than a Volvo.
That's important, but the problem has been that for many of us, we don't drive something just so that we can be safe in it.
There are other factors, such as style and enjoyment of driving, to be appreciated.
And Volvo was, well, a little lacking in those areas, according to some of us. 
Not anymore.
Volvo is now adding some style to its safety credentials, and has also upped its fun-to-drive quotient.
Latest case in point is the 2010 XC60 crossover.

Not only does the new XC60 look good, it has the moves to back it up. Powered by Volvo’s T6 engine – a 3.0 liter turbocharged 6-cylinder engine that produces 281 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque – this midsize crossover picks up speed without missing a step. Power is transferred to the ground by a 6-speed “Geartronic” automatic transmission and Volvo’s All-Wheel-Drive with Instant Traction™ (aka Haldex 4 AWD). Shift points for the transmission were programmed perfectly. Under a large variety of driving conditions, never once did we feel the transmission “hunt” for the right gear or bog down when we stomped on the “go” pedal.

In a week of city and highway driving, we posted fuel economy of about 18 mpg. 

That's passable for a vehicle of this size.

 Road handling characteristics were very good and the XC60 handled transitions from corner to corner like a running back cutting through the secondary. Body roll was surprisingly minimal for a mid-size SUV weighing close to 4,200 pounds.

Goldilocks would have found the steering response just right — not too sensitive and not anywhere near mushy. The leather-wrapped steering wheel is ready for action and feels great when gripped firmly with both hands.

 Volvo’s signature slim-design center stack has been redesigned to accommodate a navigation system. Gone is the ugly afterthought with the Volvo/Garmin sitting atop the dash board. The navigation system screen is on the small side, making some readouts difficult to decipher at a glance. Its controls are inconveniently located behind one of the steering wheel’s spokes, rather than on the center dashboard stack or having a touch-screen interface. This makes using the navigation system more difficult than it needs to be.

The textured dash surface and optional wood trim frame the electronic controls handsomely. Gauges are large and clear, as are the audio and climate functions.

The panorama sunroof looks spectacular and it’s large enough to give rear seat passengers a good view of the sky. Sure, large dual-panel sunroofs are becoming more common in cars such as the Audi A5 and Saturn Astra, but Volvo goes one step further while maintaining its safety theme by using laminated glass that won’t shatter into a gazillion pieces and cut up the passengers - even in the event of a vehicle turnover. The laminated glass also helps insulate the cabin to maintain a quiet ride.

 The two-tone color scheme for the seats is ... different. One observer likened it to a backpack. The color combination in our tester, brown and beige, was nice, but something just looked a little strange about the pattern. At least the seating is comfortable and the 8-way power adjustable seats and steering column with tilt/telescoping made it easy to find a good driving position. 

A leading dynamic is the XC60’s usable combination of horsepower and torque. If pulling a trailer is going to be part of the XC60’s work day, go for the optional Trailer Stability Assist (TSA) which offers unsurpassed control when towing a trailer. The XC60 is strong enough to tow a pair jet skis to the lake for a weekend with its 3,300 pound towing capacity. Maximum torque is available from just 1,500 rpm and remains on tap throughout the rev range. The twin-scroll turbocharger provides very fast throttle response, which translates to snappy acceleration and smooth driving when you are not towing an extra load.

The Volvo XC60 shows some new design cues that will be applied to all future Volvos. This includes pumping up the visual volume with more expressive shapes and details, according to Volvo’s designers. The XC60 grille, and on all future Volvos, becomes more prominent with angled parking lights, and with headlamps that sweep up into the front fenders.

For the XC60, the lower body is wide and the stance strong, while the upper section of the car has a sporty, dashing design. The tail section is particularly impressive with tail lamps that cascade down from the corners of the roof and with a clever glass tailgate that can be opened any of three ways: full open, top section open or lower section open.

The big news is Volvo’s new “City Safety” is standard equipment with the XC60. City Safety is a unique feature to prevent low-speed impacts that are common in stop-and-go commuting. If the car is about to drive into the vehicle in front and the driver does not react, the car brakes itself.

Volvo is the first manufacturer in the world to offer this type of feature as standard, the company said. Volvo also says that City Safety clearly advertises that the new XC60 is the safest car Volvo has ever produced. The car is packed with accumulated safety know-how and technology, both when it comes to preventing accidents and protecting all the occupants in a collision.

In addition to City Safety as a standard feature, Volvo included many other safety features as standard equipment with the XC60. Whiplash Protection Seating System (WHIPS), Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS), side impact protection and airbags (SIPS, SIPSBAGS II), and Dynamic Stability and Traction Control (DSTC), Hill Descent Control (HDC) are all on the list of standard equipment with many others not listed.

The U.S. market only gets one engine, but the XC60 leads horsepower and torque in its class. With 281 hp and 295 pounds-feet of torque, the XC60 knocks over its class competitors such as the Mercedes-Benz GLK350, BMW X3, and the Lexus RX 350. Only the Infiniti EX35, with its 297 hp V6, has more power, but less torque (253).

 List price for the Infiniti EX35 with AWD starts at $33,300 compared to the XC60’s MSRP of $37,200. While the EX35 may be thousands cheaper on paper, you get less amenities, less safety equipment, and half the cargo area.

The new crossover from Volvo offers every safety feature—some standard, some optional—you can think of, plus one you probably wouldn’t. However, it’s also good to look at, readily identifiable as a Volvo, handsome within, reasonably agile, and capable of holding its own in the 0-to-60 department.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Audi is Coming Back to Kick More Tail at Road Atlanta

For the first time since its victorious debut at Sebring in March, the technologically innovative Audi R15 TDI will again compete in an endurance race in the USA: On September 26, Audi Sport Team Joest will contest the 1000-mile "Petit Le Mans" race, which is part of the American Le Mans Series, at Road Atlanta (Georgia) with two cars.


Monday, August 24, 2009

If You Can Drive It, They Can Store It

At All Wheels Auto Storage, there is one simple goal: To create the best home away from home for any vehicle.


Old World Motorcars

Jaguar won’t purr? Ferrari won’t prance? Maserati moping? Porsche pooped?

                  “Restoration is far more than the fixing of a classic car. It is truly a labor of love,” says George

Tyrones owner of Old World Motorcars, a restoration and maintenance facility in Tucker, Ga., specializing in European

Classics from the 1940’s-1970’s. “By combining old world craftsmanship with modern day technology,”

Tyrones adds, “we return classic vehicles from the back to their original splendor.”

                  When you enter into Old World Motorcars it is like walking back in time. Decorating the bays of

the shop floor at any given time one could find a 1964 Ferrari 250 GT Lusso, 1954 Jaguar XK-120

Roadster, or a 1971 Maserati Ghibli SS to name a few.

                  Armed with a team of esteemed master mechanics, Old World Motorcars is one of the very few

true restoration shops left in the country. Lead Technical Advisor and Master Technician, Terry Girone,

worked on what we call classics when they were nearly new. This “car whisperer” has had the

opportunity to work with Mario Andretti, and Paul Newman to name a few. “Every car that comes to us

has a story behind it. You can’t find that in a new car,” Girone says. “These cars cannot be hooked up to

a diagnostic machine to tell you what is wrong with it. We are the diagnostic machine!” And that is

where the labor of love becomes the essential ingredient. So many of the parts for these cars are

difficult to find or completely out of circulation, therefore, Old World talent must fabricate the part

themselves. With over 70 years of automotive experience in this team it is simply the love of these

vehicles which keep them tirelessly committed to the care of these classics. “Our customers

understand that our work is not quick or cheap, but worth every second and penny when we are

restoring Grandpa’s Jaguar or the first car they have ever owned. We are restoring memories,”

says Tyrones.

Much to the dismay of Girone, “this is a dying profession. It takes years and years of experience

to work with these special automobiles. It just has to be a passion.” It is through this experience,

time and patience that have satisfied so many of the countries automobile enthusiasts.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

XK Convertible: Jaguar is Back

Driving a Jaguar these days is like being reunited with a good friend who you had lost touch with for awhile.
There was, after all, a period a few years ago when it seemed as though Jaguar had lost its way, and couldn't make cool cars anymore
Well, Jag is back now, and the 2010 XK convertible provides clear evidence of that.
XK models now come with either a naturally aspirated or supercharged V8 engine.
Both are more powerful and fuel efficient than the previous ones.
The XK also features a ZF six-speed automatic transmission that can be controlled with paddle shifters or a rotary knob on the center console.
The XK convertible, at 4,674 pounds, is surprisingly heavy.
Engineers were tasked with minimizing engine weight, while producing performance that makes the XK feel lighter than it actually is.
Jaguar says it started the process with aluminum engine blocks and heads, limiting the use of cast iron to the cylinder liners and crankshafts. Forged steel connecting rods can withstand the punishment of aggressive driving. The new engines are shorter than the blocks they replace, allowing for a larger open space at the front of the engine bay.
New technologies including direct injection and variable cam and valve timing increase engine power, while minimizing emissions.
Jaguar says more efficient lubrication systems allowed engineers to increase oil change intervals from 10,000 to 15,000 miles.
The ZF automatic transmission adapts to the driver’s style, holding gears longer when the car is driven for sport.
The transmission works with an active suspension system that adjusts shock damping and roll according to driving conditions. The driver chooses among three modes: dynamic, normal and winter. The dynamic mode stiffens suspension components for high-speed driving, while the winter mode dampens throttle response for better performance in wet weather. Normal is the default mode when the driver starts the engine.
The new engine, transmission and suspension produce abundant power, nimble handling and great, responsive steering. The naturally aspirated engine goes from 0-60 mph in just over five seconds.
It makes 385 horsepower and 380 pounds-feet of torque.
Fuel economy is rated at 16 mpg city and 22 highway.
Jaguar says it retuned the car for a more aggressive exhaust note. All models come with dual oval chrome exhaust tips. A new rear spoiler is also standard.
My time with the Jaguar came in early August in the Atlanta area, so I would have baked if I had put the top down.
But I did take note that the cloth top’s sound insulation was excellent.
The top has three layers to minimize wind noise. It also does a surprisingly good job of keeping heat out of the cockpit, even in 93 degree weather.
Though Jaguar calls the XK a sports car, it feels more like a grand touring sedan.
Its elegant styling makes it seem more at home on winding two-lane roads than a racetrack.
Jaguar says a large air dam under the oval-shaped grille helps the engine breathe better, while side air scoops cool the large disc brakes. The brakes stop the car in a firm, linear fashion without being grabby.
The XK rides on 19-inch standard wheels with low-profile tires. A new wheel design incorporates Jaguar “growler” emblems in the center caps.
As convertibles go, visibility around the car is pretty good. Side mirrors with redundant signal markers do a good job of minimizing blind spots to the rear corners. Standard park assist sounds an audible warning if the car comes close to objects below the driver’s sight line. Forward visibility is pretty good.
In the interior, the XK has classic touches such as the growler emblem on the steering wheel hub, as well as high tech features like heated and cooled seats, dual-zone temperature controls, Bluetooth and iPod interface. Both front seats have 16 adjustments, and three memory positions.
Optional burl walnut veneer on the test car sweeps across the center console and the instrument panel.
The center console bin includes a USB port and iPod interface; the cigarette lighter serves as a 12 volt power point.
The tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel includes audio, Bluetooth and cruise controls, as well as the shift paddles. The center console houses the start button, electronic parking brake, rotary shift knob, and controls for the dynamic stability control system.
The driver can turn stability control off by holding down the DSC button.
Large analog gauges in the instrument panel are easy to read. A digital screen between the speedometer and tachometer includes an analog clock, fuel and trip meters and gear indicator.
Audio and climate controls on the center stack function intuitively, and are easy to reach from either front seating position.
The navigation screen at the top of the center stack doubles as a touchscreen display. It includes navigation system programming options (including points of interest), seat heater and cooler controls, system and vehicle settings.
The test car comes with the optional audio upgrade: a 525 watt Bowers & Wilkins surround-sound system, with HD and Sirius satellite radio.
The overhead console includes two reading lamps and controls for the soft top. The top deploys in 18 seconds and stows beneath a metal boot.
As you might expect, the XK convertible doesn't offer much trunk space.
And the back seats are pretty much seats in name only, but at least provide a bit more storage space.
Storage areas around the passenger compartment include map pockets in the doors, two small cupholders, a locking glovebox and the center console bin.
The XK convertible comes standard with front and side airbags, a roll bar, stability control and antilock brakes.
Our tester carried a sticker price of around $90,300.
That's pretty hefty.
But for this package of style and performance, maybe it's worth it.
Welcome back, Jaguar, old buddy.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Teacher vs. Student On the Track

Mustang Payback is the story of a dream that any high school gearhead would relish: the chance to drag race their teacher.


Hearing his shop teacher Mr. Rosenblum talk up his racing skills in class, it became 18-year-old Derek Murrell's dream to face off against his teacher and mentor. Derek submitted this idea in an essay to the 2010 Mustang Unleashed contest and was selected to have his dream produced in a video diary.


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Nissan Armada: Might Not Be in Vogue, But It's Still Pleasant

It seems like such a long time ago that it was OK to drive big, gas-guzzling SUVs.
But it really wasn't all that long ago.
If you rewind the clock to the pre-Cash For Clunker, pre-sometimes three-buck gas days, automakers were still rolling these things out and touting their size, comfort and functionality.
The Nissan Armada, for instance, made its debut relatively recently: the 2004 model year.
A lot has happened since then, but Nissan is still putting a few Armadas in showrooms.
The 2010 model still offers everything that we used to like about the behemoth vehicles: comfort, roominess and a nice bit of style.
But yes, it also still is quite thirsty, with its 5.6-liter V-8 engine garnering fuel economy numbers of 12 mpg city, 18 highway.
Oh boy.
The Armada comes in SE, Titanium and Platinum trim levels and offers standard seating for eight passengers.
The SE, the base level model, is very nicely equipped with features such as 18-inch wheels, side-step rails, rear parking assist, dual-zone automatic climate control and rear climate controls. 
Our tester, a Titanium, adds leather upholstery, Bluetooth and an 11-speaker Bose audio system. 
Step up to the Platinum and you're rewarded with front parking sensors and a power rear liftgate, among other pleasantries.  
So suffice it to say, you can get an Armada exceptionally well loaded up.
The Armada comes with either rear-wheel or four-wheel drive, but the only engine is that big V-8 mentioned above, which makes 317 horsepower and 385 pounds-feet of torque. 
Nissan says it offers a "Flex Fuel" version of this engine in some markets that runs on E85 (remember when some people were excited about that?). 
The transmission is a five-speed automatic.
Nissan says the Armada can haul up to 9,100 pounds, which is impressive but not surprising, given the strength of the engine.
Also, when it comes to safety, the Armada gives you the on-road equivalent of Fort Knox.
It comes standard with antilock disc brakes and brake assist, stability control, front seat active head restraints, front seat side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags.
Frontal-impact crash tests done by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration resulted in the Armada scoring the maximum five stars for driver protection and four stars for passenger protection.
And speaking of passengers, be well assured that they will ride in comfort as well as safety.
The three rows of seats are big in head and leg room, and in the second row in the Platinum model, you can get captain's chairs, if you prefer them over the 40/20/40 bench.
The fit and finish of the interior is superb; you really feel like you're riding in luxury in the Armada.
And the controls are logically placed and easy to use for the driver.

Families, especially those on long trips, will appreciate the many storage areas. And if you want to go into pickup truck mode and put all the seats down, you'll end up with a cavernous 97 cubic feet of cargo capacity. 

 As for the driving experience, you won't be surprised at how heavy the Armada drives, because, well, it's a heavy vehicle. 

But that doesn't mean it's not smooth. Even when you take bumps in the road, this mammoth absorbs them pretty well so that passengers won't feel them. 

Steering, as you might also guess, requires a little more effort than what you would need in a Nissan Versa, but it is far from being cumbersome. 

We didn't get to take the Armada off-road, but would guess that it is at least a serviceable performer there.  

Our very well-equipped tester carried an MSRP of $44,940.

For folks who still need a vehicle this big and with this much power, the Armada remains a fine choice.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Kia Forte: A Good-Looking, Good Deal

Kia, which has as its slogan "The power to surprise," seems to surprise us now only when it goes a couple of months without introducing a new or refreshed model.

The slogan was probably meant to tell people that they would be surprised at the quality, good looks and reliability of the Korean company's vehicles.

But we're not surprised by that anymore.

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.

The Forte, a small-sedan, used to go by the name Spectra. 

That car was pretty good, but it was easily overlooked in a field crowded with worthy Asian competitors. 

The Forte, though, is very attractive and with Kia's stepped up marketing efforts, it will probably be much harder to ignore. 

Like the fashionable 2010 Soul, the 2010 Kia Forte merits a new trip to the Kia dealership and perhaps a new look at Kia, which is quickly shedding its reputation for dowdy vehicles. The Forte has many of the elements of much more expensive cars, yet it’s still one of the least expensive small sedans.

Thank Kia's new design studio in California for creating such clean, assertive, and attractive look for the 2010 Forte.

 With smooth, clean sheetmetal and an uncluttered look in front and in back, the new Forte doesn’t go over the top and it’s likely to age well; even more to the point, they got the trim proportions right. 

The svelte Forte doesn’t have any awkward angles, and a nice wide stance from the front and back somehow matches the flowing, elegant roofline. 

Inside, the look is simple, with a smoother, more organic version of the teardrop center stack used in the Forte; the look is no-nonsense yet surprisingly upscale.

Forte shoppers have a choice of two different engines—a 156-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder in LX and EX models or a 173-hp, 2.4-liter four in the sportier SX. 2010 Kia Forte LX and EX models have a standard five-speed manual and optional four-speed automatic, while SX models get a six-speed manual or five-speed automatic.

The 2010 Kia Forte delivers a lot more driving satisfaction (and sophistication) than most value-minded buyers will expect. 

Both engines deliver more than adequate acceleration, and they function just fine with the automatics as they both are happiest in the mid-rev ranges. Kia expects acceleration to 60 mph to be in the low eight-second range for the SX.

 The standard hydraulic power steering responds well, outward visibility is good, and the ride is firm but absorbent—a nice compromise for daily driving. There’s not a lot of nosedive in hard braking, and the four-wheel discs stop the Forte confidently. 

Automatic Fortes include a manumatic shift mode that actually locks in a gear; unlike other systems it won’t force a downshift if you floor it.

The EX Fuel Economy Package keeps the 2.0-liter engine but upgrades to a five-speed automatic, and includes electric power steering, low-rolling-resistance silica tires, and some minor aerodynamic enhancements. The package ups fuel economy ratings to 27 mpg city, 36 highway.

Without the fuel economy package, our tester is rated at 25 and 34.

The rather tall roof and wider body works wonders for passenger space in the Forte. Front seats aren’t generously proportioned, but there’s adequate headroom even with the sunroof for this 6’-6” driver, with lots of legroom, and the back seat has plenty of space for two adults, three in a pinch—though there legroom is limited. The trunk is huge. Overall,Kia has done a great job damping the noise and vibration that usually accompanies the cheapest small cars, and even over the coarsest road surfaces the cabin boom wasn’t excessive. Seat materials are unremarkable, and while there’s definitely some hard plastic around the cabin we couldn’t find any ragged edges.

All safety features are standard across the entire 2010 Kia Forte line; that includes dual seat-mounted side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags, front active headrests, anti-lock brakes with brake assist, and electronic stability control.

All 2010 Kia Forte models get Bluetooth, Sirius Satellite Radio, and an auxiliary input jack for the audio system, plus steering wheel controls and voice activation. The EX model adds air conditioning, power accessories, and the SX adds fog lamps plus upgraded upholstery and trim. The SX model is the “image leader” of the lineup; in addition to those details and the stronger engine, it gets a sport-tuned suspension, larger brakes, and showy 17-inch alloy wheels.

Other options on the 2010 Kia Forte are limited to a power sunroof, leather seat packages (heated in front), and a Convenience Package that adds A/C and other upgrades to the LX.

Our EX tester had a sticker price of $19,290, with optional leather seats and sunroof.

The Forte is a strong contender in every way -- with its good looks and nice driving characteristics -- and it won't leave a big gap in your wallet. 

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Audi Q5: A Crossover? Yeah, Right, It's a Sports Car

Come on, Audi, seriously, this is an SUV? 
Or a crossover?
Could have sworn it was a sports car.
Ok, fine, the 2009 Audi Q5 really is a crossover, a very nice one.
But when you focus on the driving, you'll forget that and feel like you're in one of Audi's exhilarating-to-drive sedans.
And that's not because the practical stuff that you need from a small SUV is missing.
It's there.
The roominess for cargo and passengers.
The easy-to-access storage area accessible by the rear lift gate.
Plenty of other nice touches, too.
But what really makes the Q5 a keeper is its street chops.
Sure, there's competition from some other fine models in the luxury segment.
We just finished an enjoyable test drive of the Mercedes-Benz GLK350.
And it wasn't so long ago that we had a nice stint in a BMW X3.
But it seems just a tad bit easier to form an emotional bond with the Q5, possibly thanks to its user friendliness.
Audi rolled out the Q5 a while back to present a smaller offering than its lovely Q7 SUV.
Good move.
With gas prices being so unpredictable, and with a growing number of consumers wanting SUV functionality with mid-size sedan practicality, there's sure to be ample demand for the Q5.
Especially when the economy perks up and when more people learn how good it is.
For instance, the Q5 only trims three cubic feet of passenger space from its Q7 big brother.
Also, the 
Q5 comes standard with Audi's Quattro all-wheel drive system. 
It has an efficient 3.2-liter V-6 engine.
It's built on the same chassis as Audi's way cool A4 and A5. 
Audi's typically comfortable and high-quality interior styling is present in the Q5.
The 60/40-split backseat moves fore and aft. 
And one of the most thoughtful features is the plastic tub under the cargo floor, which can be removed and is a nice storage space.
Good thinking, four-ring guys.
But let's get to the real delight of the Q5.
It is tuned to deliver a sporty driving experience, and that it does. 
Audi says the engine's position, which is slightly to the rear of that of a sedan, lets the transmission give more torque to the rear wheels under normal driving conditions. 
In that sense, it performs like a rear-wheel-drive sports car. 
Plus, when driven on twisty roads, an area in which I believe Audi is dominant, the Q5 kicks more butt, providing a solid, but not too weighted-down ride. 

And when it's time to accelerate, no problems to report - just go.
Now get this: with all this sportiness, the Q5 also has a towing capacity of 4,400 pounds, which is far above that of any similar vehicle.
I'm not really sure that most folks who would buy something in this category are big towing types (however, I guess most of them have big toes).
But it's nice to know you can if you need to, I suppose.
If you want to add more cargo and you run out of room inside, use the roof rack, which has sensors that detect when the standard cross-members are installed and tells the electronic stability system that the vehicle is now more top heavy and adjusts accordingly. 
As for gas mileage, it's pretty good: 18 mpg city, 23 highway.
Pricing is also quite competitive, starting at around $37,200. 
Our tester, all optioned-out, carried a sticker price of $48,275.
The Q5, with its many amenities and superb driving characteristics, makes a nice choice for any buyer seeking a practical yet cool vehicle with some luxury.

Monday, August 10, 2009

2009 Jetta TDI is a Fuel Economy Champ

America finally seems ready to "get it" when it comes to fuel consumption, having learned that guzzling endless quantities of low-priced fossil fuels is not a reality.

So, if you're ready to turn 

in your clunker, get some cash, and drive something that's sporty and takes you pretty much around the globe on a single tank, check out the 2009 Volkswagen Jetta TDI.



This diesel-powered car, available as a sedan or wagon, is nicely priced, carrying a sticker price of $23,169 for our tester, which had a six-speed manual transmission. 

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.

But don't be surprised if, in real world driving, you surpass those numbers. 

In a mix of city and highway driving during my weeklong test drive, I average nearly 43 mpg. So maybe you couldn't really get around the globe on a single tank, but it's still pretty amazing.

Plus, this thing didn't just putt along. 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. 

If you're concerned about resale value, fear not. Diesel VWs have retained more value than gas-powered models, thanks in part to their very durable engines.

The Jetta has some competition in the diesel market from German rivals such as BMW, Mercedes-Benz and even its sister brand, Audi.

But those models are all priced substantially higher. 

Like most new diesels, the Jetta has a turbocharger and ultra-high-pressure fuel injectors to raise power and appropriately plot its combustion. 

And today's diesels don't have the smell, smoke and loud sound of those of the past.

 With 140 horsepower and an impressive 236 pounds-feet of torque, the TDI is barely louder at idle than a gasoline Jetta; it actually seems quieter on the road.

While the Jetta is officially a compact, in practical terms it bridges the gap between small and midsize models. The enormous trunk has more usable space than those of many bigger sedans. The back seat is spacious enough to handle three adults in a pinch, with a relatively broad and comfortable center perch.

The interior is straightforward, rather than gimmicky. 

The gauges are appropriately marked and logically placed, and the seating is comfortable. 

In fact, among the really high-achievers in fuel economy, this might be the most comfortable car. 

On the road, the Jetta TDI cranks up more than adequate power, and steering is sporty and precise. The suspension is stiff, and the tires grip nicely.

Braking is solid also. 

The manual transmission might stall a bit too easily in first gear, but you can crawl in second with no need to hold the accelerator, making for less clutching and rowing in traffic. VW’s terrific dual-clutch automated manual transmission — which has been mimicked by Porsche, BMW and others — costs $1,100 extra and brings a 29/40 mileage rating.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

GLK is a Mercedes Through and Through

Mercedes-Benz has long been known for building transportation that offers comfort, style and a bit of performance. 
Its latest SUV, the GLK, certainly fits that profile. 
The GLK fills a spot in the Mercedes lineup that is below the midsize M Class, full size GL Class and rugged G Class, and joins a segment of the luxury market - small SUVs - that is growing quickly. 
You can detect inspiration from the GL in its general shape, with a touch of ancestral boxiness from the G Class. There's also a little Jeep in there - perhaps from the brand's years of association with now-divorced Chrysler.
Although the GLK is meant for on-road use by regular folks in civilized places, it attended the corporate equivalent of automotive boot camp. Fire and ice testing takes sample units to the heat of the Namibian desert and the frigid Arctic Circle to see if the company can break the car before you ever see it. As a program graduate, the GLK is the Navy Seal of compact SUVs.
 But mind you, it's also a luxury vehicle. Inside, the seats are firm and supportive, putting you in an alert, upright position. The interior, while as angular as the body, still features burl walnut trim, wade swaths of brushed metallic trim garnished with a chrome strip, and the usual range of comfort and convenience features you'd expect.

There's dual-zone automatic climate control, a trip computer, and power windows, locks and mirrors. You get cruise control, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, and a Bluetooth interface for your phone.

The goal is to offer "Mercedesness" at a reasonable price point and responsible size. As part of that mission, the GLK uses a 3.5-liter V6 that gets 16 mpg city, 21 highway. 

The 268-horsepower V6, which runs through a seven-speed automatic, can pull the car from zero to 60 in about 6.5 seconds and tops out at 143 mph.

You can push a button to change the automatic shift patterns. Selecting S (sport) sensitizes accelerator pedal response and moves the shift points for more exciting driving. The C (comfort) setting yields better fuel economy. The automatic has a hill-holder setting.

There are lots of high-tech features that distinguish the GLK from ordinary compact SUVs. The Agility Control suspension provides "amplitude-responsive damping" that changes depending on driving conditions. It keeps the suspension nice and comfortable under normal driving but tightens it up for brisker driving or under evasive maneuvering, for example, when you discover a tree in the road as you round the bend.
Adaptive braking varies stopping response depending on circumstances, and initiates faster than an unassisted drive could. Antilock braking works with Acceleration Skid Control to help you avoid trouble.

Based on Mercedes more than 60 years of research, testing and simulations, the ARAMIS system customizes the car's crash response depending on severity. Front and rear crush zones absorb impact while a strong passenger cell prevents intrusion. A careful collection of airbags steps in to cushion the blow.  

Despite being well equipped out the gate, you can add a lot more to a GLK, including everything from Tele Aid emergency system and heated front seats to Premium and Multimedia Packages.

The Premium Package adds things like memory for multiple driver's seat, mirror and steering column settings, autodimming exterior mirrors, a panoramic sunroof, and Sirius satellite radio. The Multimedia package brings in a superb Harman/Kardon audio system, rearview camera, and voice control for the telephone, radio and navigation applications, among other things.

While the GLK's base price starts around $35,900, adding a lot of the aforementioned goodies can take it up to around $46,345. But with the overall quality of the ride and features, that's a fair price. 

As Mercedes continues to battle against luxury market rivals such as Audi, BMW and Lexus, its broad product mix is an effective weapon. From the modest C Class sedan all the way up to the S Class sedan, and the SUVs, Mercedes remains a formidable player in the luxury arena.