Saturday, January 31, 2009

Plan seeks to give cash for gas guzzlers

Some congressional lawmakers are getting behind a plan to pay folks to get rid of their older gas-guzzling vehicles and replace them with more fuel-efficient rides.
They want the provision tied in with the $819-billion economic stimulus bill that passed the House. The Senate will take up that bill soon.
Backers of the car trade-in plan say it would help the economy and the environment.
The old gas guzzlers would be scrapped.
"We're for any program that seeks to boost consumer confidence and get people into showrooms," Bailey Wood, legislative affairs director for the National Automobile Dealers Association told the Detroit Free Press. But "a cash for clunkers plan is an uphill fight because of the need to get industry consensus."
Under the plan, if your ride gets less than 18 miles per gallon, you get a voucher of up to $4,500 toward a new vehicle. Vehicles from model year 2002 and newer would get the full $4,500. Older vehicles would get less.
The voucher could help buy a new or used vehicle that gets 25% better fuel economy than federal standards, or be swapped for bus and rail fares. The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy estimates the plan would scrap 575,124 vehicles in its first full year at a cost of $1.1 billion, while generating 270,877 sales of new cars and trucks.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Dodge Journey: A familiar family hauler

The 2009 Dodge Journey, a small to mid-size crossover SUV, is a very nice family vehicle, available with three rows of seats, a second-row DVD screen and some nice storage compartments.

Hey, can't pretty much all of that be said of the Grand Caravan, Dodge's entry in the minivan category?

Yeah, pretty much.

Also like the Grand Caravan, the Journey allows you to haul your crew around in comfort and just a bit of style.

The Grand Caravan is a little larger, but other than that, the only notable difference we could discern was the fact that the Journey - with its hinged, rather than sliding, side doors - is called a crossover, not a minivan.

Maybe that makes a difference to some people.

The most pleasing thing about the Journey, other than its functionality, is its ride quality.

It was relatively smooth on the roads, and engine noise was minimal.

We drove the R/T version, which came with a 3.5-liter high-output, 24-valve V-6 engine.

It made 235 horsepower and 232 pounds-feet of torque.

Its fuel economy ratings are 16 mpg city and 23 highway.

It won't thrill you on twisty roads, but you don't generally expect that from this type of vehicle.

The steering feels pretty solid, and the Journey handles uneven pavement adequately, without making you feel as if you're riding a bucking bronco.

With the R/T model, you get a little extra boost of performance; the base SE model might not feel quite as slick.

Also available is an SXT model.

On the interior, neat touches like a storage compartment beneath the front passenger seat and under the floor of the second row prompt a salute to the convenience engineers employed by Dodge.

(We don't really think there is anyone working at Dodge with that title, but whoever thinks of this type of thing is essentially functioning in that role).

Also, families, check out the integrated child booster seats.

Great idea.

Taller drivers, though, might be a bit annoyed by the cramped space for the person behind the wheel.

Your knee will keep hitting the low-hanging base of the dashboard, near where the radio controls are.

And having the radio controls there is a little awkward, too, because you feel as if you are reaching down and away to get to the knobs.

Take a few points away from the convenience engineers on that one.

The Journey also seems to fall in with much of the rest of the Dodge crowd when it comes to interior fit and finish.

That is to say, its quality is lacking a bit.

Some competing auto makers seem able to make fairly high-quality interiors without having to charge buyers an arm and a leg, so you wonder why Dodge can't do so consistently.

Our tester, which was fully loaded, carried a sticker price of $34,225.

Overall, we'd say the Journey is a good family car, even if not necessarily a great one.

2009 Dodge Journey

Vehicle type: Seven-passenger crossover SUV

Engine: 3.5-liter V-6

Horsepower: 235

Torque: 232 pounds-feet

Transmission: Six-speed automatic

Fuel economy: 16 mpg city, 23 highway, according to EPA

Price as tested: $34,225

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Diesel Jeep Grand Cherokee is powerful and pleasant

A recent test drive in the Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited turbodiesel gave us a chance to see just how nicely diesel vehicle technology has progressed.
Unlike previous models, today's diesel vehicles are not smelly, don't belch smoke into the air and aren't very loud.
The Grand Cherokee Limited came with a 3.0-liter V-6 with common-rail diesel technology developed by Mercedes-Benz.
The traditional diesel rumble sound is still audible, but in no way is it intrusive — it's just a low-hum.
The five-speed automatic transmission rolls from one gear to another without drama.
Perhaps the most noticeable aspect of driving this Grand Cherokee is its torque, which is 376 pounds-feet. It's quite evident when you attempt to merge onto a freeway crowded with speeding commuters.
Horsepower is a relatively modest 215.
So why buy a diesel?
It's not because of the price of diesel fuel, which has been running consistently higher than even premium unleaded gasoline.
But, the upside is that when you fill your tank, it tends to stay full longer than a gas tank.
The EPA numbers for the tester are 17 mpg city/22 highway. In combined driving we were getting just shy of 20 mpg.
Now, compare that with the gasoline Grand Cherokee, which has a 3.7-liter V-6 and carries EPA numbers of 15 and 20. It also falls short of the diesel in horsepower and torque.
If you bump up the Grand Cherokee to the 4.7-liter V-8, your EPA numbers drop to 14 and 19.
This diesel technology gives you better power than most hybrids we've tested, its fuel economy numbers aren't too far off and you aren't weighed down with extra batteries.
Diesel fuel is widely available, too — most estimates say that about 50 percent of retail fuel stations nationally carry diesel.
Besides the diesel technology, this Grand Cherokee offered what you would expect from a Jeep.
The interior was nicely designed, there's a fair amount of room for driver, passengers and cargo, and visibility is good, thanks to the high seating structure.
We didn't check its off-road capabilities, but would assume that it performs well in this area, too.
The sticker price was $40,905.

Fast action at Atlanta Motor Speedway

Come on out to Atlanta Motor Speedway for some fast and furious action. Future racing stars hit the track in Legends, Bandolero and Thunder Roadsters for the 2008-09 Winter Flurry season. Infield passes can be purchased at the GSP building near the main entrance. (Practice starts at 11 a.m.)

WHEN: Saturday, Jan. 31, 2009, 12 noon - 3 p.m. (Practice starts at 11 a.m.)

WHERE: Atlanta Motor Speedway, Hampton, Ga.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Subaru Outback is practical, but don't let that bother you

The Subaru Outback has been one of the most practical vehicles on the market for the past several years.
It earns strong reliability ratings according to almost all who chart such measurements, is reasonably priced, gets good gas mileage, and of course has the famous all-wheel-drive system that Subaru is known for.
But one of the dirty little secrets of the automotive marketplace is that "practical" is often a euphemism for "boring."
Does that hold true for the 2009 version of the Outback?
Well, uh, maybe just a little bit.
But that certainly should not disqualify it from consideration among those who need a nice family vehicle that is, well, practical.
The Outback is somewhat like that girl who lived down the street from you and went to school with you.
She was smart, kind-hearted and a good friend. And while she wasn't at all unpleasant to look at, you didn't think of her first on Saturday night as you were thumbing through your little black book (which nobody has anymore; everybody stores numbers in their phones these days, right?)
But as you get a little older in life, you begin to realize that every night isn't Saturday night.
The Outback can get you comfortably through a Wednesday night, and you'll especially appreciate it if that Wednesday night is cold and snowy.
We didn't get to test it in those conditions (thank goodness), but what was evident was that the comfort this vehicle provides would only enhance its bad-weather performance capability.
To start with, its exterior styling is solid.
Sure, it's still a wagon/crossover type thing, but there are sporty undertones, including the angular front end and the almost muscular-looking rear.
On the interior, the cabin is full of quality materials that are neatly arranged.
The fit and finish of the textured surfaces is good, and the controls are arranged in a practical (there's that word again) manner.
The wood trim adds a bit of class.
The only thing we were disappointed in was that it was somewhat difficult to read the gauges at night, because they never seemed to light up too brightly.
Well, maybe not the only thing.
What's up with the window controls being awkwardly behind the door handle?
It's as if they didn't want it to be easy for you to open and close your windows.
Just like when that girl down the street would wear a cool necklace, the Outback has a few features that show it can have fun.
That would include the Harman-Kardon sound system that can play MP3 files and has an auxiliary input.
Also, the navigation system was not bad. It took us awhile longer to figure this one out, compared with other models, for some reason, but it was manageable.
It addition to directions, it offered fuel mileage data and a display of maintenance records.
Our tester was a Limited trim level, a step above the base, and had dual power moonroofs and leather upholstery.
Out on the road, the Outback delivers a dependable, albeit not drama-filled, ride.
Subaru became famous for its all-wheel-drive system.
The system, which the company calls Symmetrical AWD, is said to provide ideal balance that brings stability and poise.
Subaru says it's the only system that mates a horizontally opposed engine and a symmetrically arranged AWD system, resulting in a better transmission of power, better grip and quicker responsiveness.
That's probably all true, even though we didn't put it on any challenging road surfaces.
The 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine makes 170 horsepower.
Not terribly exciting, but certainly adequate to give you the pickup you need for most traffic situations.
The tester had a four-speed automatic transmission that was, if not flawless, at least smooth enough.
When you need some juice for the highway, you'll get it, in a steady allocation.
Gas mileage was good for this five-passenger vehicle; 20 mpg city and 26 highway.
When something is this practical, safety features usually come along for the ride, and the Outlook is no exception.
It has anti-lock brakes and front seatbelts with load limiters and pre-tensioners.
Side airbags come standard on the Limited.
Also available is a stability control system that helps cut the risk of dangerous skids or spins.
Our tester had a sticker price of $31,211.
So, practical is good, right?
Of course.
And so is the Outback.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Footwear fans, here's a site for you

For the latest in funky footwear, check out the site below:

Title: Adidas Shoes

Mazda RX-8: RX for boredom

The Mazda RX-8 is a sporty little car with a funky rotary engine that loves to get out and play on the pavement.

It's a compact - very compact - sports coupe, with a tiny back seat, but it packs a wallop of a performance punch, and at a price a bit lower than that of some other cars that like to tout their performance credentials.


The RX-8 comes with a rotary engine - basically one that has rotors inside that circulate and combustion chambers but no cylinders.

For 2009, the RX-8 gets a few styling modifications, as well as some technical revisions.

The RX-8's design speaks to its performance - sinewy and aggressive.

One of our favorite features about its design, though, remains intact: the "clam-shell" doors that provide easy access to the back seat.

The doors open from the center outward, and there is no middle pillar to impede entry.

So getting back there is pretty simple.

Sitting back there, however, is not particularly easy for adults of average size or above.

But if you're just putting kids back there, they'll be fine.

It's in the performance arena where this car really shines.

The 1.3-liter engine produces a robust 232 horsepower and is linked to a six-speed manual transmission that shifts quite smartly.

An automatic transmission is available, and the engine with that gearbox makes 212 horsepower.

Handling on the RX-8, which comes with rear-wheel drive, is superb.

Take it out on some curvy roads and you will be rewarded handsomely.

The electric power steering is directly responsive, and the wide, low tires also contribute to the strong on-road performance.

You'll feel some of the road, to be sure, but only enough to remind you that you're enjoying an invigorating ride.

Even when you are cruising along a highway, there's a refinement to be admired.

The downside is that fuel economy is disappointing; 16 mpg city, 22 highway, according to EPA.

The interior has quality materials and is quite comfortable (for front passengers anyway).

Our tester had the optional R3 sports package, which in addition to a firmer suspension included Recaro front bucket seats, a Bose audio system, Bluetooth wireless phone connectivity and keyless ignition.

On the outside, the sport package offers a rear spoiler, 19-inch aluminum wheels and high-performance tires.

The dashboard controls are a bit cluttered, but fairly easy to use.

The RX-8's price tag can mostly be justified by its performance and its uniqueness.

The tester, which was loaded with just about everything, went for $32,580.
Mazda continues to churn out impressive products.

A few months ago, we tested the new version of the Mazda6 midsize sedan, and found it to be better than its predecessor.

The CX-7 and CX-9 crossovers are fun, functional and follow the "Zoom-Zoom" credo that Mazda is known for.

And the MX-5 Miata remains a favorite of roadster lovers.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Pep rally: Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart can get rowdy

A sporty, four-door sedan that offers great driving performance and aggressive styling.

Must be a European brand, or maybe an offering from one of the leading Asian automakers, right?

Not necessarily.

The Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart, new for 2009, is derived from the Lancer GTS, a model that has had somewhat of a cult following among tuner and performance enthusiasts.


Mitsubishi is an Asian brand that has had its struggles over the past several years, but still has managed to hang in there, probably thanks to its ability to make products such as this one.

Several months ago, we drove the Lancer Evolution (nicknamed Evo), and noted how it made such a big impression on guys in the 18-24 age bracket who loved its styling and were also familiar with its performance chops.

The Ralliart has much of the same driving ability, thanks to taking its powertrain and all-wheel-drive technology from the Evo.

But it seems to be just a tad more mature.

If the Evo is the unruly college frat boy, the Ralliart is the graduate who is married, or at least engaged, but still likes to hang out with the fellas every so often.

For instance, even though the Ralliart's interior is similar to the Lancer GTS and Evo, we found the Ralliart's cabin to somehow be a bit more comfortable.

The front bucket sport seats feel pretty good, even if not quite like your favorite recliner.

And the back seat is adequately roomy, considering this is not a large sedan.

The leather-wrapped sport steering wheel comes with audio and cruise control switches.

But it's performance that sets the Ralliart apart from so many other sedans.

Its engine is derived from the Evo's turbocharged 2.0-liter four banger and is linked to a Twin Clutch-Sportronic Shift Transmission, which is a six-speed automatic.

There are paddle shifters if you want to manually control the tranny, as well as a console shifter that also lets you do it yourself.

You can choose normal or sport shifting modes.

That engine proves to be quite capable, kicking out 237 horsepower and 253 pounds-feet of torque.

Gas mileage is listed at 17 mpg city, 25 highway.

The all-wheel-drive system enhances the vehicle's handling using an active center differential unit that can respond to driving conditions.

You can pick tarmac, gravel or snow mode, depending on which type of terrain you are riding.

Mitsubishi says the Ralliart's chassis is engineered for performance, and you'll probably agree once you experience how effectively the suspension helps latch onto the road.

Handling also is aided by the active stability control and traction control, which is standard.

Mitsubishi included a generous amount of standard safety features, including front seat-mounted side-impact air bags, advanced dual front air bag supplemental restraint system with occupant sensors, a driver's knee air bag and side curtain air bags.

For gadget fans, there's a Bluetooth system with voice recognition and an auxiliary MP3 input jack.

Our tester had Sirius Satellite Radio.

If you're going to drive a car that boasts this kind of performance, it has to look the part, and the Ralliart does.

Start with the duct and vents on the hood, move down to the racing-inspired grille and cruise the sculpted body back to the rear spoiler, and this machine exudes sportiness.

So what's not to like?

The materials, especially on the interior, aren't of poor quality by any account, but don't seem to be quite up to the price point the Ralliart occupies.

The tester had a sticker price of $27,165.

That's not bad considering the overall package, but Mitsubishi could make a stronger competitive value case by trimming a bit off of that figure.

But for youthful fun with a dose of maturity, the Lancer Ralliart is a fine choice.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Cadillac Escalade Hybrid: Not subtle, but nice

When it comes to the Cadillac Escalade, it's hard to be subtle.

The high-riding Escalade has attained a status as one of today's vehicles of high society.

So even when you drive the hybrid version of the Escalade, which we recently tested, you're still going to stand out like an NBA player at a convention of jockeys.

For starters, there is the huge HYBRID label affixed to the sides of the SUV.

One can't help but think that General Motors placed that on vehicle as if to say "Yes, we know this is a huge, politically incorrect SUV, but please contain your disgust - it's much greener than you think."

And truly, it is.

Gas mileage is listed at 20 mpg city, 21 highway, but in a mix of driving conditions we got close to 23 mpg.

For a vehicle as huge as this one, that's very good.

How big is it?

Well, it has three rows of seats, and adults can actually fit in all three rows.

Its curb weight is 5,717 pounds, it is 202.5 inches long and it's 79 inches wide.

It has a large cargo bin behind the third row of seats in which it seems you could install an Olympic-size swimming pool.

But with all this size comes an almost equal amount of comfort and luxury.

On the bling scale, this vehicle definitely rates at least a 9.2, with 10 being reserved for autos with diamond-encrusted door handles.

The ride is absolutely soothing.

In the traditionally powered Escalade, the engine sounds like a whisper, even above 60 mph.

In the Escalade Hybrid, it's even quieter, thanks to the hybrid technology, which shuts off the gasoline engine at stops and low speeds to rely on the electric motor.

The Stabilitrak stability control system provides a silky smooth glide over surfaces paved and unpaved.

Handling is tight, with a certain exactness on turns that is reassuring.

Acceleration is also quite nice, thanks to the 6.0-liter V-8 engine that produces 403 horsepower and 417 pounds-feet of torque.

The tall stance of the vehicle can be a source of comfort, too, making driver and passengers feel less vulnerable in the event of a collision.

There have been many predictions of the imminent demise of this sort of vehicle — those with big bodies, big engines and big fuel bills. And in fact, General Motors has taken some heat for making so many of them over the past few years, but having to seek federal assistance to continue its business operations.

But the fact is, someone is still buying them.

That's probably because luxury on wheels, no matter how big those wheels, is still in demand. For the crowd that desires the rich life, the interior of the Escalade does not disappoint.

Start with lots of chrome that glistens nicely by day or night.

There's gadgetry galore at your fingertips, such as climate controlled front seats, power fold-and-tumble second row seats and a power liftgate.

Front and center on the dashboard is an analog clock that adds a real touch of elegance.

But if you prefer more modern timekeeping, the time is displayed digitally on the vehicle's main screen a few inches below.

The supple leather seats offer abundant comfort and nicely complement the soft ride that this SUV brings, so that if you do happen to feel a road bump or two, it's cushioned nicely.

On the dashboard, the gauges are attractive, if not always the easiest to read.

The lines and numbers don't immediately jump out at you, but aren't too hard to get used to.

As we've come to expect in the high-end vehicles of today, there's a DVD/MP3/CD/satellite-radio-playing sound system that is terrific.

For overall appearance, it's always been tough to beat the classic styling of a Cadillac, and this model cuts quite a striking figure.

This colossus of luxury and power goes for around $72,780.

But if bling is your thing, it's sure to satisfy.