Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Nissan Versa takes it easy on your purse-a

If you want to know why the Asian car companies have outperformed their U.S. rivals, one good place to take a look is in the subcompact market.
While the U.S. companies have scant offerings, the Asian brands have a number of great selections, including the 2009 Nissan Versa.
The Versa, available as a four-door sedan or five-door hatchback, debuted in 2006 and immediately posted impressive sales numbers because it is inexpensive, incredibly thrifty on gas and practical.
Sure, it might not have the most sophisticated styling or offer exhilarating on-road performance, but a lot of people aren't too concerned with those things.
They want a car that is reliable and won't cost an arm and a leg to operate.
Plus the Versa, along with its key rivals the Toyota Yaris and Honda Fit, have surprisingly roomy interiors that actual-size adults can fit into comfortably.
Both the Versa sedan, which we drove, and hatchback have two trim levels: S and SL.
Our sedan was an S, which came standard with cloth upholstery, air conditioning and a six-speed manual transmission.
Options offered are a power package (windows, door locks and remote keyless entry) for $700, cruise control for $200 and a four-speed automatic transmission for $1,000.
Our base model was so base that it lacked bass - there was no radio, so add a few extra dollars for that. Or you could just bring your iPod. Or sing.
With the SL, you get premium woven seat fabric, front and rear center armrests, the power package, cruise control, stereo with six-CD changer and MP3 capability and split folding rear seats. 
The six-speed manual remains the standard tranny in the SL, with automatic optional.
There are other options, too, such as moonroof, Bluetooth connectivity and premium sound system.
But this car is all about convenience and value. 
It handles and parks easily and has adequate power for highway driving. 
The ride might not be buttery smooth, but it is certainly tolerable.
And you won't have to make many stops at the pump; our manual transmission model gets EPA ratings of 27 mpg city, 33 highway. The numbers are 25 and 31 with the automatic.
The 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine gives you enough oomph to merge onto a busy freeway, and while it's not the quietest thing on the road, the engine noise isn't terribly intrusive.
When it comes to safety, the Versa scores highly, getting five stars in government crash tests and receiving a rating of "good" from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
There are dual-stage frontal air bags, front-seat side-impact air bags, roof-mounted curtain air bags and a tire-pressure monitoring system.
The interior design isn't anything particularly eye-catching, but it is practical and there are quality materials used throughout. 
So just because this is an economy car, you don't have to put up with chintzy stuff.
The Versa is a little bigger than the aforementioned Yaris and Fit, so it might offer more comfort and versatility than those two,  plus it's less expensive than the Fit.
The Versa S sedan we drove came with a sticker price just under $13,000. If you bump up to the SL sedan or hatchback, and throw on several options you can still be in the $16,000-$17,000 range.
That kind of value is hard to beat.

Friday, May 22, 2009

A theme song from back in the day

Every automotive blog needs a theme song, right? Well we've added another one. And it's like, totally '80s - pretty gnarly.

Get groovin':

Routan clan: VW makes a nice family hauler

Sure, the minivan market might not be what it once was, say 20 years ago before the SUV invasion.
But it's still a viable segment.
Otherwise, why would Volkswagen jump back into it, right?
In the 1960s and '70s, VW was of course known for its Microbus, sort of the official vehicle of the hippies. 
It also was the precursor to what we call minivans today.
Now, the 2009 VW Routan is the German brand's family hauler, and VW likes to tout it as the "Volkswagen of minivans."
So is it?
Yeah, pretty much, if being the VW of minivans means it has a handsome design, well-thought out interior and a little fun-to-drive quotient.
The Routan is based on the Dodge Grand Caravan, which is not a bad model to follow if you're building a minivan.
Design-wise you get a little sportier front end on the Routan, and the dashboard controls are well-placed and easy to use.
The standard engine is a 3.8-liter V-6 that makes 197 horsepower and is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission.
That power plant, found on the S and SE trim levels, certainly provides adequate power.
But if you want to juice it up a bit, you can go to the 4.0-liter V-6 that makes 251 horsepower. It is standard on the SEL trim level.
The 4.0-liter actually offers better fuel economy than the 3.8: 17 mpg city, 25 highway, versus 16 and 23.
VW also likes to tout the Routan's "German-tuned" suspension, which is designed to make it more responsive and enjoyable to drive.
While the driving dynamic is not quite in the class of VW's cars, it's not too bad, especially for a minivan. The ride is smooth and poised and handles different road scenarios nimbly.
But with minivans, it's the cabin that counts, and this one delivers nicely in that area.
One of the most convenient features is the power-folding third row seat, which provides easy access to the cargo area.
And speaking of cargo, how about 144 cubic feet of storage if you take out the seats?
Both side doors slide, and have windows you can roll down. 

All seats would meet the approval of Goldie Locks: not too firm, not too soft.

In the S trim level, you get a second row folding bench seat standard, but at other trim levels there are removable captain's chairs that fold forward. 

The third row can fold into the floor or recline and face the rear, in case you want to do some tailgating. 

Very clever touch.

 Another clever touch is the flip down mirror up front that lets a mom or dad who is driving take a glance at the kids in the back without having to turn around. 

Families that buy minivans for convenience are also usually concerned about safety, and the Routan does well in that area too.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gives this VW five stars, the top rating, in frontal and side crash tests.

Driver, passenger and side curtain airbags are standard, as are electronic stability control and anti-lock brakes.

 Pricing isn't too bad on the Routan, with a base S model starting at around $25,000. 

But when you get into the higher trim levels and add all the bells and whistles, such as navigation and rear entertainment system with premium sound, you can push up into the $38,000 neighborhood.

The Routan is a very nice family hauler that defies the image of minivans as stodgy and boring. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Dodge Challenger: Absolute coolness that's surprisingly practical

Call them retro cars, heritage vehicles, new/old muscle cars or whatever else you like, but make no mistake: they are back.
Cars that evoke the look and feel of a few decades ago, with their strong design themes and even stronger engines.
Case in point is the 2009 Dodge Challenger.


Sure, there are some differences between this model and its ancestor from the early 1970s.
This one is larger, heavier and, if you get the biggest engine, much more powerful. 
This Challenger has a 120-inch wheelbase and a back seat with 37.4 inches of headroom and 32.6 inches of legroom.
This muscle/retro/heritage car has three powertrains: a 3.5-liter, 250-horsepower V-6 that starts at around $21,995; a 5.7-liter, 372-horsepower Hemi V-8 that starts at around $29,995; and a 6.1-liter, 425-hp Hemi V-8 that starts at around $39,995. 
The middle version was our tester, an R/T trim model that is a ton of fun yet also completely practical. 
And don't let the old-school look fool you; this thing is thoroughly modern when it comes to features, including its six airbags, accented interior night lighting, MP3 and Bluetooth connectivity and keyless ignition.
Dodge says this model goes 0-60 mph in 5.5 seconds. 
While we found that to certainly be plausible, we never really got to put it to our own trial because it seemed like the red test car was particularly of interest to the local authorities. 
We contend that this would be a perfectly suitable family vehicle because of its roominess inside and sizable trunk.
Gas mileage isn't bad for a vehicle of this size, with EPA figures of 15 mpg city, 23 highway.
So imagine that: you could be the coolest mom or dad in the carpool lane. 
The cabin's roominess gives you the impression that you are in a sedan, and the comfortable seats don't do anything to dispossess you of that notion. 
Standard safety features, beside the airbags, include anti-lock brakes and electronic vehicle stability. 
Plus, the R/T version was plenty powerful and fun - you really don't need to step up to the SRT8 model with the 6.1-liter engine.
But if you do, you'll have the option of a six-speed manual transmission. Your gas mileage will drop to 13 city and 18 highway.
Whether an R/T or an SRT8, the Challenger will give you driving gusto. 
Hit the throttle and experience the roar of the engine and the explosive takeoff. 
Or cruise along the road leisurely and enjoy a silky smooth ride. 
There's an admirable firmness to the suspension, and you get great stopping power from the large disc brakes. 
And as was the case when we drove the SRT8 a few months ago, guys at the gas station, gym and sporting goods shop all wanted to give a thumbs up or ask a question about the car.
Who could blame them?
The Challenger is a cool piece of work.
Chrysler, Dodge's parent company, might be in bankruptcy protection now, but that doesn't mean it doesn't still know how to make some good vehicles.
If the company can make a few of the right business moves, and keep making really good cars like this one, it will be just fine. 


Saturday, May 16, 2009

Used car buyers: Beware of scams

Buying a used car is still the most economical way to get some new (to you) transportation. But as with anything involving money, there are some pitfalls you must watch out for. Check out these tips from the Fraud Abatement through Industry Response group:

--Overseas Confidence Scams: Originating in Eastern Europe, Russia and Africa, these often involve ‘phantom vehicles’ that do not exist or cars that are offered for sale elsewhere on the Internet by legitimate sellers.

--F.A.I.R. Recommendation: and recommended that prospective buyers insist on establishing voice contact with the seller. Perpetrators of this type of fraud often avoid direct contact and will abandon the transaction when pressed for a direct local phone number.

--WMDs (Wrong & Misleading Descriptions): The traditional online used car market has sometimes been affected by sellers providing inaccurate descriptions used to intentionally mislead buyers.
--F.A.I.R. Recommendation: As a best practice, buyers should have a vehicle’s condition validated by an independent third-party professional, which can potentially save money on unforeseen repairs. Next month, PepBoys will announce a new web-based inspection request and viewing system to assist used car buyers through technology provided by Mota Motors.

--Odometer Rollbacks: CARFAX reported a 57 percent increase in this type of fraud over the last two years attributed directly to the popularity of vehicle leasing and the associated mileage penalties in returning a vehicle. Not only does this type of deception affect the value of the vehicle, but it places future owners at physical risk due to neglected scheduled service and maintenance.
--F.A.I.R. Recommendation: By obtaining a vehicle history report, consumers are able to see the accumulation of mileage over time and quickly determine if there are any potential anomalies.

--VIN Cloning: Essentially identity theft for vehicles, this ruse involves replacing the vehicle identification number (VIN) on a stolen vehicle with a VIN copied from a similar vehicle located elsewhere.
--F.A.I.R. Recommendation: Prospective buyers are encouraged to obtain a vehicle history report which will often show the same VIN number registered in different jurisdictions at the same time.

--Black Market Airbag Fraud: This emerging scam involves removing expensive airbags in modern vehicles and replacing them with faulty ones, or even omitting the airbags entirely. This is potentially the most dangerous risk to consumers as the Department of Transportation (D.O.T.) indicates in a recent study that up to 40 percent of automotive fatalities are the result of a faulty airbag.
--F.A.I.R. Recommendation: When buying a used car, consumers should obtain a professional independent inspection which can confirm the airbags are installed and in good-working order.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Land Rover's Range Rover Sport: A classy rock climber

I used to wonder why there was a luxury SUV market. If you wanted luxury, I thought, wouldn't you just drive a luxury car? If you wanted an SUV, I thought, wouldn't you want something tough and rugged?
Shows what I know.
The luxury SUV market has become a strong segment, with offerings such as the Porsche Cayenne (which we reviewed recently), Audi Q7 and Q5 (which we also drove recently) and Infiniti FX35 among the top presences in the field.
Land Rover is one of the more venerable brands of this group, and if I had paid attention to the steady success it has had over the years, I probably wouldn't have been so quick to dismiss the prospects of luxury SUVs. 
Land Rover's products are known for being classy, yet rugged enough to handle serious off-roading.
The 2009 Range Rover Sport can certainly be described that way. 
The Range Rover Sport is a few inches shorter in length and height than a regular Range Rover, and its overall styling is a bit more sleek.
But otherwise, it is very similar in appearance to the Range Rover, including its large windows and front-end styling. 

On the inside, high-quality leather, rich carpeting and pleasant wood trim let you know that Land Rover takes luxury seriously. 
Comfortable seating, a very good sound system and other amenities also make the Range Rover Sport experience a pleasurable one for passengers and driver.
Practicality isn't something you have to sacrifice to enjoy the luxury.
For instance, when you fold down the 60/40 split rear seat, you get a huge cargo area. 
Also, with the large windows, visibility is terrific. You don't have to crane your neck every which way if you are trying to squeeze into a parking space that might be a little snug. 
The driving experience is solidly SUV-like, to be sure.
Some of the other competitors in the field can lay claim to being a bit more car-like in how they drive.
But that's not to say the Range Rover Sport is unpleasant.
The braking is steady and assured and steering is precise.
The suspension is pretty middle of the road; you'll for the most part have a smooth, luxury-like ride, but you'll also be able to feel some of the contour of the surface you're traveling, especially at higher speeds.
The V-8 engine is adequately powerful, even if at times it gets a little noisy.
That engine gets a little thirsty, too, with its fuel economy being pegged at 12 mpg city, 18 highway by EPA. 
The Range Rover Sport takes premium fuel, too, which will take a little bit more out of your wallet at the pump. 
If you plan to go off road, you'll appreciate Land Rover's Terrain Response system, which adjusts the suspension, brakes and throttle to more appropriately fit with the type of surface you're driving on, such as  mud, sand, snow or regular paved roads. 
It's a smart system that can recognize the conditions on its own.
The Range Rover Sport comes in trim levels that include the HSE version and the Supercharged. 
Features such as heated rear seats, cornering lights and adaptive headlights that swivel when you turn are standard on the higher trim Supercharged, but come as options on the HSE. 
Other features include the navigation system and front and rear parking sensors, available on both HSE and Supercharged. 
There is an auxiliary jack for MP3 players and other gear, but it is placed, somewhat illogically, behind the center console.
I suppose Land Rover thought the main users of the jack would be people who normally sit in the back seat. 
Also, if you plan to put some stuff in that huge cargo area, you'll appreciate the rear cargo door, which is split so that it can be lifted in its entirety or so that just the glass window portion will open. 
The pricing bandwidth for the Range Rover Sport is as wide as the ocean.
You can get an HSE for around $57,750, but if you choose the Supercharged version, you can go as high as nearly $96,000.
So choose your options and packages wisely.
But overall, this luxury rock climber has a lot to offer. 
Luxury SUVs? Of course, it all makes perfect sense now. 

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Get started on your summer automotive reading list

If you are compiling your summer reading list, here are three entries from the automotive field that you might consider:

Automotive Custom Interiors Idea Book by Sue Elliott (hits shelves July 12) – OVER 650 COLOR PHOTOS!

The interior--perhaps more than any other aspect of a vehicle--lends itself to customization, to the expression of a personal style, a desire, a conviction.  The question is, how far to go?  How different, how comfortable, how functional, how wild?  Whatever the answer might be, this book will help you get there. And the most surprising part is just how budget-friendly a custom automotive interior can be.  With images of an incredible assortment of custom interiors--from the ultimate in luxury to race-inspired minimalism, from monochromatic to psychedelic, from totally high-tech to retro hot rod styling, from suede and leather to tuck 'n' roll, and from inlaid wood to rusty metal--Automotive Custom Interiors gives you the inspiration to envision your dream interior, plus the tips and connections to make it a reality. 


Hot Rods Idea Book: Roadsters, Coupes, Customs by Dain Gingerelli ( hits shelves July 15) – OVER 520 COLOR PHOTOS!

When it comes to building your hot rod, you’re faced with choices for everything from which go-fast goodies to slap on your mill to what paint and other eye candy might define your rod more than anything else.  And when it comes to a hot rod, parts aren’t just parts; it’s all in how they come together--either it works or it doesn’t. This new Motorbooks Idea Book covers every system of a traditional hot rod—be it roadster, coupe, or tub—illustrating with hundreds of color photos the various options for frame rails, suspension, steering, brakes, wheels and tires, drivetrain, electrics, cooling, body, interior, and paint.  Looking through this book, you’ll be able to assess which choices fit your aesthetic sensibility as well as how they suit your plan to use your hot rod.  


How To Restore Automotive Trim and Hardware by John Gunnell ( hits shelves July 15)

When it comes to restoring classic cars, the devil is often in the details--specifically, the small pieces of decorative trim and hardware.  In this book one of the best auto restorers around provides step-by-step instructions for getting those essential details just right.  Whether you're looking to replace it, repair it, polish it or re-chrome it, this book tells you how---and photos guide you through each step.  Master craftsman Jeff Lilly covers the repair of stainless steel and aluminum trim, decorative strips, fenders, bumpers, hub caps, wheel covers, door and trunk handles, and more. 

Mazda honcho wins executive award

Jim O’Sullivan, president and CEO, Mazda North American Operations, and managing executive officer, Mazda Motor Corp., was named 2009 Automotive Executive of the Year.


The award recognizes excellence in automotive leadership, honoring those individuals with “staying power” who emerge from the crowd as survivors, thinkers and doers.  The Automotive Executive of the year Award nominating committee is comprised of automotive industry media, various industry analysts, and automotive supplier CEOs.


Past winners include Carroll Shelby, Henry Ford II, Bill Ford, Jr., Jim Press, Roger Smith, Lee Iacocca, John DeLorean and former Mazda Motor Corp. President Kenichi Yamamoto.


“As a native Detroiter with a strong background in the actual sales process, coupled with a lean inventory, a solid partnership with JP Morgan Chase, and a great market offering in the MAZDA3, Jim is the ideal candidate for the 2009 Automotive Executive of the Year,” said Robert Djurovic, executive director of the Automotive Executive of the Year award program.

Chrysler wants to trim dealers

Chrysler is seeking to close 789 of its more than 3,200 dealerships, saying that it has too many retail locations and they compete with each other too much. 
The company must get bankruptcy court approval to make such a move.
Auto industry observers have long said that one of the key problems of the US automakers is that they have too many dealers. 


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Infiniti G37 Coupe: Great performance, fine luxury

The luxury sports sedan/coupe market is a robustly competitive field, with great offerings from brands such as BMW, Lexus, Audi, Acura and others.


One of the finer offerings in the class comes from Infiniti, with its 2009 G37 Coupe. 

Infiniti took its popular G35 model, which was nice, and made it a little better. 

The result is a great looking, great handling, fun-to-drive model that comes with a reasonable sticker price. 

The G37 has a dynamic 3.7-liter V-6 engine, the same one found in the Nissan 370Z that we recently drove.  

It makes a breathtaking 330 horsepower. 

For 2009, Infiniti has added a seven-speed automatic transmission, which replaces last year’s five-speed.

Infiniti also included one of the neatest features on the automotive market on the G37: the new self-healing clearcoat paint.

 If you get small scratches in the clearcoat (not the base coat underneath) they will heal themselves after a day or two, keeping your car’s finish unblemished and avoiding the hairline scratches that typically accumulate on cars. 

You can also get the G37 in a sedan, and coming soon is a convertible that Infiniti has shown at the Atlanta auto show and other shows.

 The G37 Coupe combines sportiness and luxury in an attractive package. The interior has a handsome design, with aluminum highlights and a well-organized, clean dashboard. 

Infiniti says the G37 Coupe goes from 0 to 60 mph in a shade over 5 seconds.

Its cornering ability is superb, and steering is responsive and tight. 

The taut suspension lends itself well to performing as a sports car, or, when you prefer, riding like a luxury car. 

The exhaust note has a growl that, for performance car enthusiasts, is absolutely melodious.

The seats are adjustable and quite comfortable.

And a feature that we noted that we liked in the 370Z is present in the G37, too: the instrument cluster moves when you adjust the tilt and telescoping steering column, so that the gauges aren’t blocked by the wheel.

There are other neat technological features, such as adaptive cruise control, adaptive front lighting, which pivots the headlights around turns for better visibility and an effective GPS that can be controlled with buttons or touch screen.

You also get an on-board iPod integration.

The G37 Coupe's interior space isn't cavernous, and the back seat is pretty cramped. But the driver should have enough room to be comfortable. 

The trunk was larger than we expected, which was a nice surprise. 

The 2009 Infiniti G37 Coupe, which starts at around $38,700, is a terrific value in the luxury segment. Even when you upgrade with a few of the option packages, it remains a good value. 

For instance, you can get the G37x Coupe, which is equipped with intelligent all-wheel drive, which keeps the car in rear-wheel drive until it detects slip, then lets it send up to 50 percent of its power to the front wheels. 

Also available are the $1,150 Technology Package, $3,000 Premium Package, $2,200 Navigation Package, $330 illuminated kick plates, and the $1,650 upgraded 18-inch wheels. 

With the Premium package, you get a moonroof, upgraded audio, power tilt/telescoping steering wheel, and Bluetooth, while the Tech package adds adaptive cruise control, adaptive front lighting, and front pre-crash seat belts. 

The Navigation package has a hard drive-based nav system, voice recognition, rear back-up camera, and a 9.3-GB hard drive music system.

 Our tester had a sticker price of around $45,000.

When it comes to performance and luxury, Infiniti is truly a leader, thanks to great models like the G37 Coupe. 

Monday, May 11, 2009

Chrysler's task is tough, but there's hope

By the time Chrysler filed for bankruptcy, it already had endured years of hard times. Now the real work begins.

To rescue the Chrysler brand, experts say the company must attack a laundry list of gargantuan tasks, starting with successfully emerging from bankruptcy and including everything from pruning its product line to improving its employees’ battered morale.

The challenges faced by Chrysler could derail even the strongest of companies at the best of economic times.


Sunday, May 10, 2009

From A-Z, this Nissan's a winner

Seems like everywhere you go, if the subject of the Nissan Z cars comes up, someone always has some kind of connection to one of the sporty little rides.

They either used to own one, know someone who owned one, have always wanted to own one, or just plain consider themselves an admirer.

Well, all of that won't change with the latest version of this iconic model.


The 2009 Nissan 370Z gets its first full redesign since it was reintroduced as a 2003 model. This version capitalizes on the positive attributes of the predecessor and delivers a great value, awesome style and impressive performance.

Many components of the car have been redesigned from the predecessor, known as the 350Z.

There is now a shorter wheelbase, more lightweight body materials, larger engine with more horsepower and a seven-speed automatic transmission.

There is also a synchronized downshift rev matching system that goes with the six-speed manual transmission. That feature blips the throttle during downshifts and achieves smoother "heel-toe" downshifting.

Revised exterior styling has given the Z a more aggressive stance. One of the most notable new features is the "barbed" headlight and taillight style.

The new body is more rigid, too, and therefore helps its performance.

The 332 horsepower, 3.7-liter V-6 engine is mighty.

Nissan reduced the length of the area behind the door, which enhances the coupe's long-hood look.

You can see some similarities with Nissan's popular GT-R sports car, and that's a good thing.

Like the exterior, the interior is revised greatly.

Well-positioned controls and ergonomic touches such as the main gauges moving with the tilt steering column make for great convenience and utility.

The materials are good quality.

There are three racing-inspired gauges in the center of the dash for water temp, voltage and clock.
Fuel economy has improved to 18 mpg city, 26 mpg highway for the automatic.
The Z's handling dynamics are sensational, and it's thrilling to whip it around.

The new suspension is compliant yet firm.

The Z isn't the most quiet car on the road, but if you really appreciate performance, it shouldn't bother you.

Safety features abound, including traction control, ABS, and electronic stability control.

Those features work with a responsive chassis that let you avoid accidents. But should you encounter one, front and side airbags are standard, as well as roof-mounted side-curtain airbags, for your protection.

The 370Z is available in two models: the standard Z and the better-equipped Z Touring, which we drove.

Options are simple, too: the Sport Package with 19-inch wheels, and the Navigation Package. Cruise control, power windows, and an Intelligent Key keyless entry/start are all standard. The sound system is from Bose, and the separate DVD-NAV system includes a 9.3GB Music Box Hard Drive with an iPod interface.
We also recently drove the 370Z's more luxurious cousin, the Infiniti G37 Coupe. It's a bit more refined and has more interior room, but it's pricier, too. Stay tuned for a full review.

The 370Z Touring that we drove, well equipped and with Sport package, had a sticker price of $39,865.

When it comes to world-class performance and design, the 370Z has it all, from A-Z.

Friday, May 8, 2009

It's an SUV, and it's a Porsche -- the 2009 Cayenne

Porsche enthusiasts weren't all that thrilled when the German luxury brand decided to build an SUV a few years ago, thinking it would cause the automaker to lose focus on making the world class sports cars for which it has been known for so many years.

But the automaker went forward anyway.

The result?

The Porsche Cayenne has become one of the most luxurious and dynamic SUVs on the market.

Oh, and Porsche still has managed to keep building pretty good sports cars, too.

The 2009 Cayenne has a 4.8-litre V-8 engine linked to either a six-speed manual or an optional Tiptronic S dual-mode automatic transmission, which our tester had.

The Cayenne makes 405 horsepower and 369 pounds-feet of torque. 

In addition to all that power, fortunately you also get great braking and handling.

Porsche Stability Management with automatic brake system also has anti slip regulation, automatic brake differential and engine drag torque control.

The steering is right on the money, and is effectively weighted for low or high-speed driving.

The list of standard equipment includes 21-inch wheels, variable ratio power steering, front and rear stabilizer bars and a double wishbone front - multi-link rear suspension, which really reminds you that even though it's an SUV, the Cayenne is a true Porsche.

You can pick from different damper settings, which allow the Cayenne to get down on its hunches and firm up at different levels.  In sport mode, you get an even distribution of fearsome power and a seemingly louder note from the exhaust pipes. 

That's the one you want to use if you get out on some nice twisty roads that aren't attended to by local authorities.

A true Porsche also has a certain level of luxury, and the Cayenne delivers that as well.

Amenities on the inside include a great AM/FM/CD sound system with 12 speakers, 12-way adjustable front seats with driver’s memory and a three-spoke heated leather steering wheel with audio controls.

Convenience for the driver is also aided by a five-gauge instrument panel that presents information clearly, including speed, rpm, gear selection and outside temperature and thumb shift paddles for the Tiptronic S transmission.

Porsche made wise choices in designing the interior.

For example, note the grab handles on both sides of the transmission section and the big center console that contains the navigation and audio systems.

The automatic climate control system lets you regulate temperatures in the front and rear zones.

The back seat comfortably sits three and offers pretty good legroom.

It has a 60/40 split configuration that folds down for added cargo utility.

The exterior design has been tweaked from its debut in 2003, and the Cayenne now has a bit more of an aggressive stance.

But the muscular, compact posture remains, and now there is a new headlamp style and the wheel wells are larger.

As you might expect, gas mileage isn't great.

According to EPA figures, you'll get about 13 mpg city, 19 highway in the Cayenne. 
In a mix of driving, we got about 15 mpg.
As you also might expect, the Cayenne isn't exactly an inexpensive machine.
They start at around $70,000, and our tester, a Cayenne Turbo, was tagged at a little over $108,000.
But if you covet performance, engineering, luxury and the prestigious Porsche name, in an SUV package, the Cayenne delivers.
Take that, enthusiasts.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Rear end collision? BUMP THAT!!

Mohr Manufacturing makes portable, crash tested, energy absorbing rear safety under-ride guards for pickup trucks and SUVs.

These spare bumpers prevent rear-end collision damage and whiplash from the two most frequent vehicle accidents: getting hit while parked and the rear-end collision.

These under-ride guards are similar to the “Mansfield Bar” on the rear of semi truck trailers.

What's a Mansfield Bar? On June 29, 1967 the car that actress Jayne Mansfield was riding in crashed into the rear of a tractor-trailer that had slowed down because of a truck spraying mosquito fogger. The automobile struck the rear of the semi tractor and under-rode it. She was killed instantly. Rumors that Mansfield was decapitated are untrue, though she did suffer severe head trauma.

The scene was so gruesome that it wasn’t long before the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration made it mandatory that all semi truck trailers be outfitted with a rear under-ride bar or bumper.

All of Mohr's products have the same patented, crash tested compression system.

Why should you consider an under-ride guard? Here are a couple of reasons:

-- The most frequent accident on the highway is the rear end collision – at 29.7%.

--$1,618 – average cost to fix a full size pickup truck bumper from a 5 mph collision – in 2004 prices.

For more information, check out Mohr Manufacturing's Web site at:

A peek at the new Audi Q5

The Beat got a recent look at the Audi Q5 crossover. This luxury small SUV offers dynamic performance, cool styling and plenty of practicality. It is the younger sibling to the Q7 SUV, which is a large luxury ride.

The Q5 comes with a 3.2-liter V-6 direct-injection engine, Quattro all-wheel drive and six-speed Tiptronic transmission.

The Q5 is the first Audi offering Generation 3 MMI interface system and navigation with real time Sirius traffic information.

It has best in class fuel economy ratings of 18 mpg city, according to EPA.

It also tops its class when it comes to towing capacity, at 4,400 pounds.

But most importantly, it drives like a winner, which is pretty much true of anything Audi puts on the road these days.
We'll have more on this fine ride later. But for now...


Monday, May 4, 2009

Kia Soul: Bringing the Funk

If you really want to get funky out on the road, but you want to do it on a budget (and who doesn't, these days?) check out the all new Kia Soul.

This hip, wagon-type thang gets down with its bad self, and delivers some new energy to the Kia mix. 

If you dig the  Scion xB, the Honda Element, or the new Nissan Cube, see what the Soul is trying to lay on you: a roomy interior with some far-out designs, a groovy exterior style, and outta sight gas mileage. 

The Soul's boxy little body has just enough flair to keep it sexy, and the front holds onto Kia's latest grille styling.

You can almost picture the headlights serving as a set of cool shades.

So there's roundness, but also sharp sloping lines, you dig?

On the interior, you get some off-beat options, such as the houndstooth-check pattern on the seats and the bright colors for the dash and paneling. 

For engines, the base Soul has a 1.6-liter four-cylinder making 122 horsepower and 115 pounds-feet of torque. That one is linked to a five-speed manual transmission.

Its fuel economy is a hearty 26 mpg city, 31 highway; great numbers for a vehicle with this size and versatility. 

The other engine is a 2.0-liter four-cylinder that makes 142 horsepower and 137 pounds-feet.

It comes with the manual or a four-speed automatic, and brings in a still very strong 24 and 30 mpg. 

The Soul comes in trim levels that are known as Soul+, Soul!, and Soul Sport, and they come with the latter engine/transmission configuration. 

 Base and mid-line Souls have 15- or 16-inch wheels, while the Soul Sport, which we most recently test drove and is the model's best performance version, has 18-inch wheels.

It's also tuned a bit more aggressively. 

When it comes to on-road performance, though, each model is more than up to the task, displaying great acceleration, steady handling, firm braking and an overall very comfortable ride.

Plus, even at highway speeds, road noise is much less than what you might expect. 

The Soul seats five adults, and the backseat is relatively comfortable, especially if you aren't going too far. 

 For the driver, the controls are easily accessible and there is plenty of comfort in the driving experience - headroom, legroom and visibility. 

The second-row seats fold down, which will then provide you with about 53 cubic feet of cargo space. But if that's not enough in the practicality department, notice the fact that the cargo floor lifts to expose more storage area.

There is also an optional cargo organizer that goes in there.

For other little neat things that give the Soul extremely high practicality marks, check out the two-tier glove box, which Kia says is large enough to hold a laptop; a handy center console; a bin on the center stack that can hold an iPod or Blackberry, and a ton of cupholders.

The Soul looks smallish from afar, but it has more size than it might first appear to. It is 161.6 inches long, 70.3 inches wide, 63.4 inches high, and has a 100.4-inch wheelbase.

Kia added plenty of safety features, too, like the standard six airbags, anti-lock brakes, traction and stability control, and tire pressure monitoring system. 

Other standard stuff on the base model (which starts at $13,300) includes tilt steering, air conditioning, Sirius Satellite Radio (the first three months of service are free), USB and auxiliary inputs for music players, and power windows.  The Soul+ starts at $14,950 and you get cruise control, steering-wheel audio switches, Bluetooth connectivity, and dual 12V outlets. The $16,950 Soul! gets a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a tan-and-houndstooth interior trim package, and a 315-watt audio system with speaker lighting, which lights up according to music beat or "mood." The $16,950 Soul Sport comes with the same features as the Soul! but adds 18-inch wheels, sport suspension, metal pedals, and a red-on-black interior scheme. 

Other options for the Soul are the sunroof, the 315-watt audio system, and more than 60 accessories, from styling add-ons to interior trim. Kia really touts how buyers can personalize their Soul. 

And of course, you get Kia's 10-year/100,000-mile limited powertrain warranty.

The Soul: it's got funk, it's got spunk, and you can put some junk in its trunk. Plus, it won't cost you much grip if you want to get one and be hip.