Monday, March 30, 2009

Obama's tough love for U.S. automakers

President Barack Obama gave some tough love to the U.S. auto industry Monday, saying that g “a failure of leadership from Washington to Detroit,” had contributed to the industry's problems. He said General Motors and Chrysler needed to cut more from their operations or go it alone, without government assistance.
Obama assured the industry that he remains committed to trying to help it survive, but said it needed to do better from its own standpoint and that he was not going to let it become "a ward of the state."
He said that if bankruptcy-protection filings were needed to help GM and Chrysler survive, then that's what they should do.
“Year after year, decade after decade, we have seen problems papered-over and tough choices kicked down the road, even as foreign competitors outpaced us,” Obama said. “Well, we have reached the end of that road. And we, as a nation, cannot afford to shirk responsibility any longer.
“Now is the time to confront our problems head-on and do what’s necessary to solve them.”
For its part, GM said that it wants to work with the administration, and finally conceded that a bankruptcy filing might be in the offing.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Toyota Yaris: Just what we need right now

The 2009 Toyota Yaris is today, just as the Ford Expedition was 1999.

You remember how in 1999 the economy was great, gas was cheap and Al Gore was just the vice president, not a guy who was telling us Inconvenient Truths about the environment?

Well, a big, bold SUV like the Ford Expedition seemed right for those times.

Now, however, not so much.

With the economy needing major surgery, gas not quite as high as it had been but poised to shoot back up at any moment and people finally waking up to the fact that we've been doing atrocious things to the planet, we need a car that is right for these times.

The Yaris is that car.

It has a low sticker price and is miserly at the pump.

But just because we should value those qualities in our rides today, doesn't mean we can't have a little fun.

The Yaris is fun, too.

It scoots all over the road with nimbleness and far more power than you would expect.

The Yaris, which came out in 2007 as Toyota did away with the Echo, comes in three body styles: a sedan, a three-door hatchback and a five-door hatchback, which is the one we tested.

The Yaris comes with a 1.5-liter, four-cylinder engine that makes 106 horsepower.

That might not seem like a lot, but for a vehicle this small, it is plenty; the Yaris does not seem at all underpowered.

That engine is linked to a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission.

Fuel economy is outstanding. The manual gets 29 mpg city, 36 highway, and the automatic, which is what we had, gets 29 and 35.

In a mix of city and highway driving, we got about 34 mpg.

Boy, that was cool.

The Yaris hatchback has a 96.9-inch wheelbase and is a shorty, at about 150 inches long, and weighs less than 2,300 pounds.

But be advised that not everyone will appreciate its looks.

I found it to be kind of cute, and trust me, that's not a word I use often, especially in describing cars.

A friend, who wasn't quite so enamored, said its looks were reminiscent of the old AMC Pacer.


When I went through the carpool lane to pick up the kids from school, a teacher walking by said the car was "interesting looking."

Again, I don't think that was necessarily a complement.

Oh, what do they know?

This car drives great, is perfect for long commutes, can squeeze into the snuggest of parking spaces, and, in case I failed to mention, is great on gas.

But if the looks really bother you that much, check out the sedan, which has a much more traditional (my way of saying boring) design.

Its wheelbase is about three inches longer and its body is about two feet longer.

The Yaris, with its taut suspension and assured steering, provides quite a smooth ride.

The interior of the Yaris has a nice, neat design.

But it also has the only point of objection that we had with the car.

The speedometer and gas gauge are in the middle of the dash, a la the Prius, rather than behind the steering wheel.

Toyota says the objective behind that was to give an unobstructed view of those gauges, but instead I believe it serves as a distraction, since most drivers are naturally trained to look for those things right in front of them, rather than off to the side.

Other than that, the cabin is good, with quality plastics used throughout the dash, reasonably comfortable seats and great head and legroom for such a small vehicle.

If you want a few extra goodies, you can get the Yaris Liftback Sport model, offering body-color bumpers and side rocker panels, sport seats, a leather-trimmed steering wheel and shifter knob, 15-inch wheels, a rear defroster, a rear wiper, and an audio system with MP3 capability and an auxiliary jack.

Of course, with all of the features the Yaris offers, you also get Toyota's fantastic reliability.

So when you add it all up, the starting price of around $12,895 for a manual-transmission Yaris is great.
And given the times we're in today, it makes a lot of sense.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Suzuki Grand Vitara: An SUV with value

Suzuki hasn't always had the best of luck in introducing products to the U.S. market.
But with the 2009 version of its Grand Vitara SUV, the Japanese company shows that it deserves better than the also-ran status it generally is afforded here in the states.
The Grand Vitara is small, but has true SUV capabilities, meaning it can go off road better than some of its compact rivals.
With its unit-body-on-frame construction, the Grand Vitara delivers a pretty solid and smooth ride.
But Grand Vitara drivers will also benefit from its new fuel-efficient four-cylinder engine.
So if you have enjoyed your large SUV, and don't want to forfeit all of its characteristics, but need to cut the amount you're spending at the pump, Suzuki has a nice solution.
There is still a V-6 available, however, if you prefer the extra power.
The 2.4-liter four cylinder makes 166 horsepower, while the 3.2-liter V-6 comes with 230 ponies.
Our tester had the four banger, and we found it to be quite capable of delivering the necessary power that you want and need for proper merging or passing on the highway.
That engine was mated to a four-speed automatic transmission, but a five-speed manual gearbox is also offered.
The tester also was a front-wheel-drive model, but four-wheel drive is available.
Fuel economy on the tester is rated at 19 mpg city, 25 highway by EPA, and if you bump up to the six-cylinder with four-wheel drive, you still get EPA numbers of 17 and 23 - not too shabby.
After having tested a Grand Vitara about four years ago, we were surprised to find how quiet the current version is. We remembered lots of road and engine noise from that previous model, but couldn't detect much in this one at all.
Also, the ride in this model seemed sturdier.
The Grand Vitara is a relatively tall vehicle, and in the previous test it seemed as though it would be especially prone to rollover.
Not so in this model, which seems to be much more connected to the road.
Its interior is not luxurious, but is pleasantly designed and not unattractive.
The front seats are firm and comfortable, and the back seat had plenty of leg and headroom and the ability to recline.
The Grand Vitara's spare tire is mounted on the rear door, which saves interior space.
That rear door opens easily from the left.
The interior space is impressive, offering 24 cubic feet for cargo and 99 cubic feet for humans.
After looking at the Grand Vitara's list of standard features on the Xsport trim level, you see what a terrific value this SUV presents.
Standard stuff includes sunroof, heated and powered outside mirrors, leather-covered steering wheel, remote locking, cruise control, six-disc CD changer with MP3 capability and roof rails.
Oh, sorry, if you want the backup camera, you will have to pay extra for that.
Now let's hope that, for Suzuki's sake, the company finds a way to connect with the American consumer.
We recently test drove the SX4, which comes as a small wagon or sedan, and were impressed by it.
The company still offers its XL7, which is a larger SUV that has three rows of seating, and recently unveiled its Equator truck, which is built by Nissan.
I would guess that perhaps the brand's best hope for gaining traction in this market would be to push its value proposition.
All of its models seem to be reasonably priced.
For instance, the Grand Vitara, at its base model, starts at around $19,250.
The Xsport model we drove stickered at $22,613, and the model with four-wheel drive starts at around $24,150.
So, maybe it is time for Suzuki, which has for years gotten acclaim for its two-wheel transportation, to shine in the four-wheel category as well.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Audi A5 Cabiolet: A drop top that you don't have to stop

What better setting for a beautiful new luxury sports car than a beautiful Mediterranean playground.
Audi chose to give a sneak peek of its new A5 Cabriolet in the European principality of Monaco to a handful of journalists recently.
And despite weather that turned out to be a bit cooler and damper than most of us would have preferred, we still got to experience the thrill of driving a dynamic, stunning machine with its top open.

To handle the test drive route, we took the version with the 3.0-liter V-6 supercharged engine linked to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission that can be shifted manually if the driver chooses.
Three engine choices will be available when the car arrives on U.S. shores in the fall.
Audi says this supercharged engine is equal in power to the V-8 that was used previously in the A5 coupe, but offers far superior gas mileage.
That's a good thing, because even those with enough Benjamins in the bank to afford this car will want to drive it frequently and spiritedly, and won't want to be interrupted by regular trips to the pump. Three of the U.S. models will have Audi's famous Quattro all-wheel-drive system, including the one we tested.
Audi officials said this system is better than most because it not only sends power to all four wheels and the front and rear axles, but can also shift power from right and left wheels, which aids steering and handling.
Along with the A5, Audi is introducing an S5 Cabriolet, with the German brand traditionally designating its sportier models with the letter S.
The A5 and S5 cabrios will replace the A4 and S4 drop tops.
Speaking of dropping the top, you don't have to stop.
That is to say, you can be driving at speeds up to 30 mph and still open or close the cloth top, simply by depressing a button.
It takes 15 seconds to open, 17 to close.
Audi says it went with a soft top instead of a hard one because it fits into the design profile of the Cabriolet more harmoniously than a steel roof would have.
A steel roof also would have added weight and created wide, obvious body joints in the rear and decreased trunk space.
The ability to close the roof on the fly came in handy on our test drive, as somewhere along one of the twisty Monaco roads, it started to rain moderately.
Sure enough, after slowing down a tad, the roof closed on demand.
From an interior design standpoint, you couldn't ask for much more in such a luxurious, sporty model.
The front seats are perfectly ergonomically tailored and offer neck-level heating as part of their climate-control package.
An adjustable fan blows warm air through ducts to the back of the head and neck.
That also came in handy when we had the top down, because the air was a bit cool and damp, and the warming fan made things much more comfortable.
The high-grade materials and craftsmanship found throughout the interior are exactly what you would expect from Audi, which seems to set new standards for great interiors.
This car could be a huge hit when it comes to the U.S. this year.
In addition to the 3.0-liter V-6 engine, U.S. cars will offer a 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbo or a 3.2-liter V-6.
The base model will have front-wheel-drive, with others having the Quattro system.
Pricing hasn't been announced yet.
While it was incredible to check out the A5 cabrio on the beautiful European roads - how could you beat that? - it would be nice to get one for a longer period to put through its paces on the more familiar roads here in the States, if you're listening, Audi.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

At the show: Ford Taurus SHO

The Ford Taurus SHO, short for Super High Output, is on display at the Atlanta Auto Show. It was in dealer showrooms a decade ago and featured a smooth V6 engine from Yamaha and a manual transmission. The 2010 all-wheel drive model is powered by a twin-turbo charged V-6 generating 365 horsepower and 350 pounds-feet of torque mated to a six-speed paddle-shifter.
There's more power, more torque and at 25 mpg on the highway the EcoBoost engine is more fuel-efficient than the original V-8 Taurus SHO of a generation ago.

At the show: Honda Insight Hybrid

The all-new 2009 Honda Insight hybrid is featured at the Atlanta Auto Show. The five-passenger, five-door Insight will go on sale in a few days. The 2009 Insight is an exciting car because of its practicality, value, and styling —three highly sought-after qualities. Poised to be one of the most value-packed cars for 2009, the Insight could change the automotive hybrid landscape. Functional while retaining the performance, efficiency and reliability Honda vehicles are known for, the 2009 Insight is the right car at the right time. It can go 400 miles on a tank of gas. It will get 40 mpg city, 45 highway. The starting price is $18,900.

At the show: Infiniti G37 S Convertible

Infiniti brought its 2009 G37 S Convertible to the Atlanta Auto Show.

It has a V-6 engine that makes 325 horsepower.

It goes on sale in mid-June, likely to cost in the mid-$40,000 range.

At the show: Nissan Cube

Nissan presented the all-new 2009 Nissan cube 1.8 at the Atlanta Auto Show. It will carry a starting price of $13,990 when it goes on sale in early May. Nissan also rolled out a specialty vehicle model – the cube 1.8 Krom. The new cube Krom, developed by NNA’s new Specialty Vehicles Group, features exclusive exterior and interior treatments, elevating cube’s unique styling to a sportier, more aggressive dimension. The 2009 Nissan cube will now be offered in four versions, cube 1.8, cube 1.8 S, cube 1.8 SL and cube 1.8 Krom.
In addition, Nissan announced that the cube will be available with more than 40 individual accessories, ranging from a unique 20-color interior illumination kit and “shag carpeting” instrument panel inserts to aerodynamic body kits and custom 16-inch aluminum-alloy wheels – allowing cube owners to personalize their vehicles to reflect their own tastes and personalities.

At the Show: New Dodge Ram

Large pickup trucks aren't quite hot sellers these days, thanks to the economy.

But they're still a necessity for many people.

So Dodge has unveiled its new 2010 Dodge Ram pickup at the Atlanta Auto Show. Among the prominent new features of the Ram Heavy Duty line are a first-ever optional crew cab. Engine choices include a 6.7L Cummins turbodiesel rated at 350hp and 650lb-ft of torque. The big diesel is also 50-state emissions compliant, and is fitted with a standard exhaust brake. A 5.7L HEMI V8 is also available, rated at 383hp and 400lb-ft of torque.

Winners at the Atlanta Auto Show



The Greater Atlanta Automotive Media Association, of which Atlanta Auto Beat is proud to be a part, honored two vehicles on display at this year's Atlanta International Auto Show.
Those winners are:


2010 Buick LaCrosse


Cadillac SRX

Atlanta Auto Show opens

The annual Atlanta International Auto Show opened to the public today.

Despite the tough economy, and especially difficult times in the automotive industry, the carmakers are eager to roll out some of their best wares for consumers in the Big Peach to view.

There are more than 30 nameplates on display at the show at the Georgia World Congress Center.

For more information, including admission prices and show hours, click this link:

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Lexus RX 350: The first, and still among the best

The Lexus RX 350 gets a makeover for the 2010 model year, but the changes are definitely more evolutionary than revolutionary.

There have been two previous versions of the RX, which was introduced in 1998 as a 1999 model and was the first luxury crossover.

The RX has defined the segment ever since, and is among the leaders of the large crossovers.

This edition, which we recently tested at lovely St. Simons Island, Ga., maintains the familiar Lexus heritage, with its high roofline and attractive dimensions.

Lexus officials say the RX was designed with four Cs in mind:




-Customer first.

While we agree that this vehicle possesses those qualities, or at least we can attest to the first three, we're not sure how those have been enhanced in this latest version.

It's not that we think the new RX is better or worse, it's just subtly different.

The drivetrain has changed a bit, with the 3.5-liter V-6 engine now making 275 horsepower, an increase of five.

That power plant is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission, with front- or all-wheel-drive being available.

Lexus says the awd system has an adaptive torque split for when driving conditions change quickly.

A sport-shift mode is also featured in the transmission.

But if you're more concerned with fuel economy than peppy driving, check out the "eco driving" light, which informs you of when you are driving in the most fuel-efficient manner.

The RX 350 gets 18 mpg city, 24 highway.

Lexus has also updated the hybrid version, the 450h, and it gets 30 mpg city, 27 highway.

The ride remains as smooth and quiet as ever.

This is not a thrill machine, but most people who buy these types of vehicles aren't looking for thrills, but rather comfort, luxury and functionality.

Eighteen-inch wheels are standard and 19-inchers are optional.

Lexus said it has increased the size of the brake rotors for improved braking.

On the interior, the new RX gains 5 percent more cargo room behind the rear seats, which is a nice change.

The bonus is that the rear seats don't seem to lose any of their roominess; three adults can fit there with relative comfort.

Up front, the driver controls have been condensed, leaving more blank space on the dash that is covered with an unoffensive plastic.

The previous version had more of a wood-grain theme, so if you liked that, you might be a bit disappointed.

Safety remains a key attribute, too.

There are 10 airbags, standard anti-lock brakes, and stability and traction control on each model.

There is now a hill-holder system that prevents you from drifting backward when you start off from an incline.

Other safety options feature automatic high-beam lights, adaptive lighting, a dynamic-handling system that blends traction and stability regulation, and a pre-collision system that senses, using radar, when you might be about to hit something and applies some braking control.

The new thing that we found most impressive on the RX is the Remote Touch system, which is a user interface that Lexus officials implied was designed to be much easier to use than BMW's much-maligned iDrive.

The controller is more akin to a regular computer mouse, both driver and passenger can get access to it, which helps the driver avoid distraction, and it doesn't take long to pick up on how the system works.

If this is well received, it could be a game changer for user-interface systems.

The list of standard amenities is what you would expect: CD player, Bluetooth connectivity, dual-zone climate control, and 10-way power front seats
Optional goodies are the hard-drive navigation system, XMNavTraffic, a rear-seat entertainment system, ventilated front seats and remote start.

Lexus says it sold about 80,000 RX models last year, and even in this unpredictable market, says it thinks that number will increase slightly this year.

The RX 350 starts at $36,800 for the front-wheel-drive model, and $38,200 for awd.

While there are a fair number of competitors in today's luxury crossover segment, it's hard not to view the RX as one of the best.

Nissan Altima Coupe:An affordable sports car that's a daily driver, too

There is a lot to love about most of the cars in Nissan's lineup.

Besides being practical, fuel-efficient and attractive, they are fun to drive.

That's especially true of the 2009 Nissan Altima Coupe.

It handles like a sports car, with its dynamic, responsive power steering and ability to accelerate like nobody's business.

But the interesting thing is that with those qualities, the Altima Coupe also delivers everyday-driving capability that would make it decent family car.

I have been hungering to get Nissan's new 370Z sports car for a test drive, after hearing wonderful things about it from colleagues who have been behind the wheel.

But now, having driven the Altima Coupe, I feel like I've at least gotten a nice sample of what the Z might be like.

(Nissan, if you're reading this, I'd still like a little quality time with the Z).

Nissan's designers probably had the Z in mind when they drew up the Altima Coupe, as you'll notice some striking similarities in appearance.Also noticeable is the family resemblance to the G37 Coupe from Infiniti, Nissan's luxury brand.

Fortunately, though, the Altima Coupe comes with a much lower sticker price than both of its relatives - sort of like getting lobster for the price of a tuna sandwich.

The Altima Coupe starts at less than $22,000. Our tester, which came plied with options such as the technology package and premium package (leather, sunroof), stickered at $30,030.

Compare that with the 370Z, which starts at $29,930, or the G37 Coupe, which is $35,900 on the low end.

Mind you, while those two rear-wheel-drive cars would rate better by almost any standard when it comes to performance, the Altima Coupe's performance and value, as a front-wheel-drive car, are admirable.

Nissan rolled out the coupe last year, and gave it a substantially different exterior style from its Altima sedan sibling.

The company was also smart enough to retain the qualities that make the Altima one of the more popular sedans on the market.

For example, the coupe shares the sedan's roomy and fashionable interior.

And while some buyers may shy away from coupes because they have two doors and not four, once you access the back seat, it is pretty comfortable.

It is designed to hold three people, but it would get kind of snug - it's a better fit for two.

But the contrast with the sedan is most notable on the exterior, where the design is more dramatic.

The coupe's rear end shows more sweeping lines and smaller side windows.

Nissan says the coupe and sedan are the same width, but that the coupe is about seven inches shorter and three inches lower than the sedan.

Also, the wheelbase of the coupe is three inches shorter than that of the sedan, which Nissan says was done to give it sportier handling.

The coupe's engines are the same as those in the sedan, with a base 2.5-liter, four cylinder that makes 175 horsepower and 180 pounds-feet of torque.

That version, the 2.5 S, is what we tested, and it had a six-speed manual transmission.

The 3.5 SE model has a 3.5-liter V-6, which posts 270 horsepower and 258 pounds-feet.

If you don't want the manual tranny, you can get Nissan’s continuously variable automatic transmission.

The four-cylinder engine is rated at 23 mpg city, 32 highway.

With the automatic transmission, it's 23 and 31.

The V-6 models with manual get 19 and 27, or 19 and 26 with automatic.

Nissan and Inifiniti might now be seen as the coupe market leaders, with the Altima, 370Z and G37.

Honda's Accord coupe is a strong competitor, now that it has been redesigned to look more aggressive and less bland.

Toyota is giving up on its low-volume Camry Solara coupe, but will continue to make the convertible.

The Altima Coupe's strengths are its roomy interior, reasonable price, and nimble handling.

Faster, roomier, and more sophisticated than many compacts on the market, the Altima Coupe has offered a real, between-floors alternative that some people might find just right.

That's why we now are wondering why it took Nissan this long to bring out this Altima sedan sibling.

But we're sure glad it did, because it holds onto the Altima's unique charm.

Friday, March 6, 2009

New Ranger on display in Geneva

Ford seemed to be toying with the idea of getting rid of the Ranger small pickup truck.

But apparently that idea has been scrapped for the moment, as it showed off a redesigned Ranger at the Geneva motor show.

The time might be right for small pickups.

The offer some of the functionality of large pickups, but with a much lower fuel bill.

Lovely Geneva

In addition to all the great cars we saw in Geneva, we were extremely impressed by how beautiful the city is.

With a huge lake and a great view of the nearby mountains, this city combines natural beauty with traditional European architecture that is classic.

Bentley serves a hot super

Another dazzling entry from the Geneva motor show was the Bentley Supersports.

Sure, the economy stinks, and this is very costly, and sure, it will guzzle a lot of fuel at a time when we're trying to cut back.

But it's still fun to fantasize.

Check it out:

More from Geneva: A cool Audi, too cool for the U.S.

At the Geneva motor show, Audi showed us a lot, but perhaps the most striking thing was the new TT RS.

Check it out. But don't get out your checkbook; Audi says it currently does not plan to bring this hot ride to the U.S.

What a shame, we say.

VW CC is crazy cool

The all new Volkswagen CC has a gracefully styled exterior and an elegant interior, creating an overall package that bears a striking similarity to something that would come from VW's luxury sister brand, Audi.

Its performance and handling are also quite impressive, and actually outdo some Lexus and Mercedes models we've driven.

So the real question is, will people want to pay a somewhat hefty (though worth it) sticker price for such a beautifully trimmed car that is wearing a VW badge?

We'll have to wait and see.

On the interior, we loved the CC's front and rear headroom.

The backseat also provided plenty of room.

But given the CC's two-and-two configuration (two seats in front, two in rear), we wished for a bit more practicality.

This would actually be a terrific family car if the backseat could hold three people.

Nevertheless, legroom back there is good.

And the pair of souls who sit back there get a nice center console that has storage bins and cup holders.

Not surprisingly, given VW's other products, the interior is very attractively designed.

The test drive car had brushed aluminum trim, supple leather upholstery and quality component material on the doors and dashboard.

The driver will have no problem viewing the clear, well-placed gauges and using the intuitively designed controls.

The trunk is rather deceptive; it looks fairly small, but actually goes back very deep.

Volkswagen says there are 13 cubic feet of storage space in the trunk.

So as long as you're not going on a really long trip with lots of luggage, you should be fine.

On the road, the CC, which is basically a more upscale version of the Passat sedan, has a buttery smooth ride.

The tester, a VR6 4Motion, had a 3.6-liter, six-cylinder engine that made 280 horsepower and 265 pounds-feet of torque.

It was mated to a six-speed tiptronic automatic transmission.

The 4Motion refers to the car's four-wheel drive system, which would no doubt be a big plus in cold-weather climates.

Also available is a base front-wheel drive model with a 2.0-liter turbocharged direct-injection four-cylinder engine that makes 200 horsepower.

It comes with a six-speed manual transmission, with automatic being optional.

The most striking thing about the CC's on-road capability was its acceleration.

While we were unable to get an official 0-60 mph time, our own informal test said that it got there, well, pronto.

Handling on corners was also solid.

The tester's fuel economy rating was 17 mpg city, 25 highway.

In combined driving, we got almost 19 mpg.

VW says you should use premium gas to get the best performance.

Volkswagen, an iconic German brand, is making an aggressive push to raise its profile in the U.S.

After going through a period of a few years of irrelevancy, it seems determined to compete to be among the top sellers.

It's building a plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., that should help lower its production costs, and therefore make it better able to compete on price in this market.

For the 2009 CC, prices start at around $26,790 for the base models.

The tester, which was fully loaded, stickered at $42,630, which again raises the question of whether a car carrying that kind of price tag and wearing a VW badge will sell.

VW is trying to get the word out about the CC.

It is running those mildly clever TV ads in which a couple is riding in the car and they see the testimonial words about the car flash over their heads, and realize that they are in a car commercial.

If only now the company can get actual people to get into the car, they'll probably be impressed and see that Volkswagen can do luxury.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Geneva auto show media day kicks off

We are reporting live to you from the Geneva auto show in beautiful Switzerland.

This show is packed, as hundreds of journalists have come out to see what the automakers have on display.

It is an extremely difficult time in the auto industry now, but that adversity has not dampened the enthusiasm of the car companies about their products.

They are eager to show consumers that they are making products that fit their lifestyles, are fuel efficient, and perhaps most important in the current economic environment, are affordable.

The automakers want to be poised to help lead the recovery and hope that by presenting products that fit current demand trends, they will be able to reignite sales.

More updates from Geneva coming soon.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Geneva Auto Show

Your Atlanta Auto Beat correspondent is spanning the globe to bring you the latest and greatest from the automotive world.

Currently on our agenda is the Geneva auto show in Switzerland, which opens to the media on Tuesday.

The show should be interesting, given the troubles the auto industry has to deal with and the challenge of creating and promoting new, exciting products in this economic environment.

But if you're going to be challenged, why not do it somewhere as beautiful as Geneva.

More to come later.

This Titan can go on road and off

The 2009 Nissan Titan 4x4 Pro-4X King Cab pickup truck is a true workhorse.

It can haul cargo, tow or go off road.

Starting at nearly $34,000, this macho machine offers plenty of options for extra convenience and functionality.

This version of the Titan is powered by a 5.6-liter Endurance V8, which makes 317 horsepower and 385 pounds-feet of torque.

That powerhouse is linked to a five-speed automatic transmission.

This ain't no fuel sipper - gas mileage is 12 mpg city and 17 highway, according to EPA figures.

But that fuel can be put to good use, with the Titan's ability to tow 9,300 pounds and haul 1,870 pounds in the 79.1-inch bed, which is standard.
Our tester had the Max Utility Package, a $1,250 option that boosts towing ability through use of a Class IV integrated receiver hitch, seven-pin wiring harness, trailer brake prewiring and power heated extendable tow mirrors.

Also, in the cargo bed, you get a Utili-track channel system, spray-on bedliner, tailgate area lighting and 12-volt power outlet.
You can also get a sliding bed extender that pulls out when needed to add to the cargo space or to keep whatever you are hauling from shifting around all over the bed.

Another neat feature is the lockable integrated bedside storage cubby that lets you store smaller items.
But if you want to do more than just work - that is, you want to go play in the mud - this Titan switches with ease into 4H or 4LO four-wheel-drive modes by turning and pushing a center-stack-positioned knob.

There's also electronic locking rear differential to assist traction.

Our tester came with 18-inch aluminum-alloy off-road wheels and BF Goodrich Rugged Trail P275/70R-18 tires.
Interior convenience is commendable, too.

For comfort, you can get leather front captain's chairs and a leather-wrapped steering wheel.

If you find yourself always toting around a handful of valuables, such as a laptop and other gear, you'll surely be able to use the the lockable center console.

The 60/40-split rear folding bench seats three passengers quite comfortably, another testimony to how large this vehicle is.

And getting back to the back seats is a snap, thanks to the wide-opening rear doors.

With all of its goodies, our tester ran in the $40,000 neighborhood.

That's a lot for a truck.

Plus, while gas is still reasonably priced these days, you know it's going back up, which will make filling this big Titan's tank prohibitively expensive.

But if you are in the market for a workhorse, on road and off, this one can surely get the job done, and it looks pretty good doing it.

Yes it is a hybrid, and yes it works like a pickup truck: the Chevy Silverado

San Antonio, Texas -- Despite being in the throes of a dreadful recession, the pickup truck market, just like the housing market, the stock market and the economy as a whole, will rebound someday.

We hope.

So with that in mind, General Motors is rolling out two new twists on pickup trucks: hybrid versions of the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra.Recently in the hill country near San Antonio, Texas, GM put these trucks on display, exhibiting their fuel economy, towing power and hauling capacity.

For these models, GM has employed an Electrically Variable Transmission and a 300-volt nickel-metal hydride Energy Storage System that conserves and regenerates unused power.

The two-mode hybrid system lets the Silverado start moving on just electricity, which then gives way to the gas engine.

To further enhance fuel economy, the V8 engine also has Active Fuel Management, which shuts off four of the eight cylinders when the truck reaches highway speed.

Then, for good measure, another jolt of electric power kicks in to keep it in four-cylinder mode yet give it all the power it needs to maintain speed.

The automotive journalists who gathered in San Antonio got to drive the Silverado and Sierra on a mostly urban route around and through the city that was designed to display its fuel economy performance.

Hybrids often do better in gas mileage in city driving compared with highway driving because they are relying more on electric power.

We also got to drive a hybrid truck towing a large recreational boat and another that had about 800 pounds of sandbags and plywood in its cargo bed.

The verdict that most of us reached was that this truck's performance at least equaled that of a traditionally fueled truck, which is to say it was pretty impressive.

Sure, you knew you were in a hybrid at stoplights, because the thing gets so darn quiet you almost think the engine has cut off (in a way, it has - the gas engine, anyway).

But it was fun to keep an eye on the average fuel economy indicator, which, for most of us, registered consistently around the 21 mpg mark.

That result is better than the EPA estimate of 20 mpg city, 20 highway for the four-wheel-drive model that we drove.

Two-wheel-drive models are rated by the EPA at 21 city, 22 highway.

Traditional Silverado pickups get 13 and 18 with the 5.3-liter V-8 and 14 and 19 with the 4.8-liter V-8.

We drove the crew cab model, which looks identical to the regular Silverado except for its hybrid badge.As far as the mechanical configuration goes, things are pretty neatly arranged.

The hybrid electric motors are placed where the EVT transmission rests, and the battery sits in a box under the rear seat.

But the important thing, with this being a pickup truck, is answering the question of whether it can function in a way that serious pickup truck drivers use it.

The answer is yes.

As mentioned earlier, we got to do some towing in San Antonio, dragging a boat around for a few miles.

The Silverado hybrid performed admirably.

GM says it can tow more than 6,000 pounds.

The electric motors solely provided enough power to pull the boat from our initial start, and the gas engine kicked in seamlessly as we picked up speed.

The truck continued to operate smoothly in cruise control.

Understandably, gas mileage suffered, dropping to about 12 mpg, according to the truck's gauge. Overall, we were quite impressed with the truck's performance, whether towing, hauling or riding by itself.

The sticker prices for the hybrid trucks started at around $38,000 ranged to nearly $45,000.

At each level, you would be paying a few thousand more than you would for a regular Silverado or Sierra, so it bears noting that it might take you a while to realize savings on fuel.

But if you want to go green, and a pickup truck is what you need, these models are worth a look.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Checking out the Audi A5 and S5

Your roving Atlanta Auto Beat editor is in Monaco this weekend, checking out the new Audi A5 and S5 Cabriolet models.
It is tough work, but someone has to do it.
Stay tuned to AAB to read reviews of the vehicles.
Our early impression is very favorable. The cars have great engines and handle quite nicely.