Tuesday, June 30, 2009

BMW X5 35d: Go ahead, it's OK to love a diesel

About 30 years ago, Americans had plenty of reasons to hate diesels. 

They were sluggish, loud, dirty and smelly.

Not anymore. 

To see how far the technology has come, check out the 2009 BMW X5 35d.

This luxury diesel SUV is rated at 19 mpg city and 25 highway, has more than adequate power and offers an interior with ample amenities.

 The X5's twin sequential-turbo 3.0 diesel makes 265 horsepower, which is five better than the X5's gasoline version.  

Plus, the 425 pounds-feet of torque made by the 35d is mighty, and you'll certainly feel it upon acceleration. 

Speaking of acceleration, BMW says the 35d goes 0-60 mph in 6.9 seconds, pretty swift for a vehicle of this size. 

But you don't have to feel guilty about possessing all that power.

This diesel engine emits low enough levels of exhaust to meet requirements in all 50 states.

If you're buying the brand with the three letters and the propeller logo, most likely you want sharp driving characteristics, and to be sure, you'll get them with the X5

Despite the size of this machine, you'll feel very few road bumps and experience very little body roll. 

Plus, its rigid suspension makes for a precision-driving experience, just as one would get in a BMW sedan or coupe. 

BMW says the X5 has a vehicle weight of almost 5,000 pounds, but it drives much lighter than that. 

The X5 comes with a six-speed automatic transmission and full-time all-wheel drive.

You will surely enjoy the docile but powerful and quiet feel that the engine offers. 

On the interior, this generation of the X5 improves upon the interior space offered by the prior version, which seemed just a tad cramped. 

The front seats are adjustable buckets, while the rear has a 60/40 split bench.

But in the rear seating you don't have to deal with that bothersome hump in the center of the floor that makes sitting in the middle so unpleasant. 

The X5 has an optional third-row, but that wasn't included in the tester. 

That's fine just the same, since we usually find third rows to be more trouble than they are worth.

The firmness of the seats make for great comfort and support, even if you are driving a long way. 

The overall interior design is classy. No skimping on the materials - which you would never expect BMW to do in the first place.   

There are options galore, and the tester had many of them, such as the premium sound and technology packages, cold weather package, heated seats, backup camera, power tailgate and lighted door handles. 

Yes, iDrive, BMW's famous (or infamous) user interface system is still present, but you just kind of figure it out the best way you can after a couple of days and move on.

On the exterior, the X5 has all the qualities that make the BMW so handsome, including the distinctive grille with the quad headlights. 

The X5 seems to have gotten a bit larger, and is more athletic looking, preventing it from being too wagonish for those who want a generous dose of style in their family hauler. 

There is a long list of safety features, including a dynamic stability control system and adaptive headlights, that add to the overall value of the vehicle. 

Our tester, which carried a sticker price of around $65,600, also had park distance control and vented disc brakes to round out its safety menu. 

So while it's true that you're going to pay more for a diesel model, if doing your small part to reduce our gasoline consumption and having plenty of power are among your priorities, the 35d is certainly worth a look. 

Monday, June 29, 2009

Blind man fulfills his dream

See the true story of a blind man getting the opportunity to fulfill his dream of driving a Ford Mustang.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Cadillac CTS: Brilliant luxury that offers strong value

The Cadillac CTS is the vehicle that really sparked the iconic American luxury brand's comeback a few years ago.
Sure, the Escalade SUV got a lot of attention for its size and gaudiness, but it was the CTS that showed the automotive world that Caddy still knew how to build a really good car that was well-appointed, beautifully designed and a pleasure to drive.
Now, at the end of this decade, the 2009 CTS continues to display all of those attributes, and can now be rightfully called one of the finest cars on the market.
The CTS distinguishes itself with its styling, such as the aggressive lines and muscular appearance found on the exterior and the smoothly contoured shaping of the instrument panel. Better materials were used inside beginning with the redesign that took place in the 2008 model year.
The interior now has quality upholstery and trim that oozes class. 
In front, firm sport seats give good support, while the backseat area is a bit small but comfortable enough for two adults.
 The CTS rides as smoothly as silk, and its handling is as capable and energetic as any luxury brand from across the ponds.
The CTS comes with a direct-injected, 3.6-liter V-6 that makes 304 horsepower, with base models getting a 263-hp version of the engine. 
All-wheel-drive is available with either engine, but a six-speed manual is only available with the 263-hp engine.
 A six-speed automatic does the shifting for the rest of the model lineup.
Options include an advanced hard drive-based infotainment system with the ability to rip CDs or record and play back radio broadcasts, new for 2009 Bluetooth connectivity, and an advanced navigation system that incorporates the XM NavTraffic feature. New for 2009 across all Cadillacs is a new option called Cadillac WiFi that can be dealer-installed. 
The CTS is bigger than some of the other luxury cars it competes with in its segment, but that in no way compromises acceleration and handling.
The CTS is very well-balanced and has an especially well-tuned Stabilitrak stability control system.
Plus, with an EPA-estimated 26 mpg highway, CTS offers better fuel economy than some of its competition.
Our tester, which was fully loaded, made a compelling case for value, too, carrying a sticker price of around $49,000.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Hyundai Genesis Coupe: Smart choice for performance and luxury at a low price

Hyundai rolled out an aggressive advertising campaign when it launched its Genesis sedan. The Korean automaker was trying to show people that they could get a luxurious, high-performance sedan for far less than they would pay for a Lexus or Infiniti or other high-end brands.

It has been a little less outspoken in promoting the Hyundai Genesis Coupe. But the message should remain: luxury, high-performance (this time in a coupe) at an exceptionally value-oriented price.

Hyundai made some bold statements in the design of the Genesis Coupe, while maintaining clean lines, sharp details and proportional equality. 

Yes, there are some similarities to the Infiniti G37 Coupe, which we recently tested and loved. But there are enough differences so that the Hyundai buyer doesn't have to feel like he or she is getting a cheap knockoff of that model.

Additionally, with all the quality materials, inside and out, on the Genesis Coupe, there is no way anyone can say that this car feels cheap in any way. 

 The interior of the test model had beautifully designed rich textures and a nice fit and finish, including classy silver accents.

For the driver, the dashboard-mounted controls are logically placed and easy to use, and seating is particularly comfortable for driver and passengers -- just the right amount of support and padding. 

The Coupe's 3.8-liter V-6 powerplant was energetic yet refined, making 306 horsepower. Also available is a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder. 

The Coupe engines are mated to six-speed manual or five-speed automatic transmissions. The automatic in the tester was smooth shifting. 

The four-cylinder model has a starting price of just $22,000, but if you want the added power of the V-6, it starts at around $25,000.

There are all kinds of bells and whistles you can add depending on what you desire for performance and such, but even if you max it out, the Coupe stays in the low $30,000 range.

And if you're into performance, the Coupe has standard strut tower braces and an optional limited-slip differential. Braking is outstanding.

The Coupe also performs well when it comes to steering. The responsiveness and precision are remarkable, better than that of cars we've driven that cost twice as much. 

That must be why when this car was presented to a group of journalists in Atlanta recently, it was accompanied by a short film showing it off on a drifting track. 



The Coupe will tempt you to drive it aggressively, and if you give in to that temptation, you are rewarded with superior pleasure. 

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Crazy Power, Cool Looks, Colossal Value: Chevy Camaro

It seems like we've spent the past few years hearing about how cool the newest version of the Chevrolet Camaro would be. 

We saw the photos and liked the retro styling.

We read about how, amid the resurgence of muscle cars, this was going to be the one that firmly put its stamp on the movement to enjoy America's performance heritage again.

But who knew for sure how it would turn out; we've been disappointed before.

Perhaps aware of that, Chevy seems to have paid particular attention to getting it right this time, and the result is a 2010 Camaro that is truly a winner.



For a tad under $23,000, you get a Camaro LS with a 3.6-liter V-6 engine that makes 304 horsepower, which outpaces or rivals the V-8s in some other models.

Bump up to the Camaro SS with the 6.2-liter V-8 and you're jockeying 426 ponies, and your starting price is still under $31,000.

Its rivals in the old-is-new-again muscle car category, the Ford Mustang and Dodge Challenger, have their positive attributes as well.

The Mustang is known for its sheer driving pleasure, and after a recent review of the Challenger, we noted how, in addition to being a really cool ride, it is large enough to serve as a more than adequate family car.

As for looks, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Designers of all three models have done a superb job of capturing the heritage styles that made these cars so beloved a few decades ago, while adding just enough modern flair to be appealing to younger folks who weren't around back then.

As for the Camaro, in addition to its great value, you must appreciate its fine fuel economy: 17 mpg city, 29 highway for the V-6, and 16 and 25 for the V-8 with automatic transmission.

The Camaro has five trim levels: LS, 1LT, 2LT, 1SS and 2SS.

All the LTs have the V-6, and the SSs have the V-8.

The LS includes such standard gear as 18-inch wheels, tilt/telescoping steering wheel, satellite radio and keyless entry.

As you might expect, more stuff is added on with each move up in trim levels, although the 1SS has a few less luxury features but gets you the more powerful engine.

With either engine, you can get a six-speed manual or automatic transmission, with the automatic also having manual shift control.

On the road, which is where cars like this really earn their stripes, the Camaro handles brilliantly, letting you push the limits and kick out its backside a little, while maintaining a highly interactive steering feel.

You might feel a bit of body roll, but not enough to dampen the enthusiastic driving experience.

Our tester had the V-6, and never once did we feel like we needed to drive the V-8 to really witness the thrills that the Camaro can deliver.

However, we certainly would be willing to take on that task should the opportunity present itself.

On the inside, the Camaro is neatly designed and appropriately ergonomical. 

The biggest difference that we noticed in comparison with the Challenger is that its interior seems much more compact.

We noted that the Challenger could serve as a large family sedan; the Camaro, while quite comfortable, is more akin to a mid-size sedan that could seat four adults but wouldn't leave you with a whole lot of extra room.

But most buyers of this category of vehicle aren't so much looking for a people hauler as they are something that can haul ... well, you know.

The greenhouse, or amount of glass you get, is relatively small, which might also add to the perception of the compactness of the interior.

But that doesn't seem to compromise visibility, which was unlike the impression we got when we drove the dearly departed Dodge Magnum a few years ago.

 With the Camaro, we also loved how high the steering wheel sat - it didn't feel like it was cramped in our lap as is the case with a number of cars. Tall drivers might appreciate that.

Also, the steering wheel looks great and seems to fit the hands wonderfully.

We also loved the dashboard gauges, another small detail that captured the retro look exceptionally well.

Check out the speedometer and you'll swear they yanked it out of a '71.

Overall, the interior materials look good, and seem to be of decent quality as well.

The Camaro has benefited not only from a great deal of preproduction hype, but also from the current buzz from its appearance in the Transformers movie.

That kind of buzz can be a blessing or a curse.

A blessing if the car lives up to the hype, a curse if it disappoints.

The Camaro is no disappointment.

It is ready to run with its rivals, and ready to show what the new General Motors can be all about:

affordable, fun-to-drive, fuel-efficient cars.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Dealer Closings Questioned

U.S. House members vented their frustration at General Motors Corp. and Chrysler Group LLC’s dealer closings Friday, demanding a fuller explanation of how the automakers made their choices and whether they would save any money.

As they did in a previous Senate hearing, executives from both automakers defended their decisions and the methods they were using to aid dealerships targeted to close, saying only a handful of dealers had refused help.

But lawmakers aggressively questioned the rationale and motivations behind the cuts, criticizing them as uncertain and unfair. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., played a computer animation showing the 136-mile drive that GM customers in Burns, Ore., will now have to make to reach the nearest GM dealer for service.

“We have yet to get a clear answer on how this so-called rationalization will save the automakers and taxpayers money,” Walden said.


I am very sorry that some longtime family businesses had their franchises taken away, that dealership employees lost their jobs and that communities are facing the burden of more shuttered retail locations.

But this had to be done.

One of the US auto industry's biggest problems of the past few years was that they had way too many retail locations. The objective of the bankruptcies of Chrysler and GM is to correct their problems.

That would not be accomplished without severe cuts in the number of dealers.



Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Porsche Boxster Is a Classic Roadster

Can something 12 years old be a classic?
I say yes, if we're talking about the Porsche Boxster.
For the 2009 model year, this roadster continues to wow with its great looks, outstanding performance and pretty fine value.


Porsche appears to have not wanted to get too fancy in designing the Boxster, and that was a great move. 
The simplicity of the exterior and interior designs are easy on the eyes, yet still convey distinctiveness.
The base Boxster has a 2.9-liter six-cylinder engine that makes 255 horsepower and is mated to a six-speed manual or seven-speed automatic transmission. 

There is also a Boxster S with a 3.4-liter six-cylinder power plant.
The Boxster can sprint from 0-60 mph in 5.6 seconds, Porsche says. 

But the pleasantness with which the Boxster approaches its road duties might be what's most remarkable. 
When you drive a mid-engine car such as this one, you might expect a bit of harshness and some kind of feeling that you are sitting right on top of the engine (since you basically are).
But with the Boxster, this feeling is virtually negligible, because the car is so mannerly. 
Its handling, braking and gear-shifting are so smooth and responsive that you might be tempted to believe for a moment that you are in a mid-size sedan (except for the fact that there are no back seats).
But most mid-size sedans wouldn't be nearly this fun on winding roads.
It's impressively free of the vibration that normally accompanies convertibles. It may not be as comfortable as a new 911, but its seats are supportive and relaxing.

Gas mileage is pretty good too, considering the strength of the engine: 20 mpg city, 29 highway for the 2.9-liter engine. 
The Boxster S engine delivers 18 and 25.
The base engine brings a deep, guttoral current of air that rushes through the intakes and is most exhilarating to the ear.  
But even with that, you can still enjoy cruising around residential areas or busy in-town streets at low rpm.
You'll also love the easy livability of the Boxster. 
The top can be raised or lowered at a moment's notice, making top-down motoring an easy decision. 

There is a great deal of standard equipment, such as automatic air conditioning with air filtration, a CD stereo, a rear spoiler, leather upholstery, heated washer nozzles, and locking alloy wheels. 

The Boxster also comes with front, side, and special head-protecting side-impact airbags, which deploy from the doors' windowsills. That safety gear is standard.

Under the front hood, there is a pretty sizable storage area, which helps compensate for the tiny interior space. 

You could certainly pay less for a nice convertible roadster, because the Boxster starts at around $46,600, and the Boxster S starts at around $56,700.
But then you wouldn't be driving a Porsche, with all of its style and character. 

Monday, June 8, 2009

Penske: Saturn's savior?

He’s been called a “competitive cuss,” especially by those who’ve had to go up against him, whether on track or in a business deal.  Roger Penske is a take-no-prisoners kind of executive, someone whose basic approach is to outwork, outthink, and out-execute the competition.  Now he’s going to have to prove that he can outperform General Motors. 

As part of its court-managed restructuring, the automaker will shed four of its eight North American brands.  The suburban Detroit-based Penske Automotive Group has inked a tentative deal which would put it in control of what is generally seen as the most promising of that quartet, the Saturn Division, by the end of the year.

“It’s a historic move,” proclaimed Jill Lajdziak, general manager of the Saturn division, who has spent a decade trying to revive the momentum of what was once predicted to be the salvation of GM.



Sunday, June 7, 2009

Jaguar XF Supercharged: This cat is bad

Jaguar tried the S-Type and the results were, well, underwhelming.

Critics didn't like it much, consumers didn't buy it much.

Overall, it dragged down the Jaguar brand.

But the S-Type is gone now.

Replaced by something much better, the XF.


With the XF, Jaguar has built a larger, better looking and more powerful car that much more captures what the cat brand's heritage is all about.

We tested the XF Supercharged, which comes with a 4.2-liter V-8 engine that makes 420 horsepower. It gets 15 mpg city, 23 highway.

The XF offers a more aerodynamic style than you would expect in most four-door sedans.

The XF has the fancy qualities that Jaguar has become known for, such as the rotary dial on the console that rises when the engine starts - that's the gear lever.

Also witness the vents that emerge from the dashboard when the engine starts.

The powerful V-8 engine is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission, but paddle shifters are mounted on the steering wheel if you want to take on the job yourself.

Acceleration is smooth and the supercharger exudes power, making the engine feel more like a V12 than a V8. Turbocharged engines offer a great kick when the boost kicks in, but supercharging offers a more steady application of power.
Handling is what you’d expect from a Jaguar. The brand is famous for its racing heritage, but its modern production cars offer a more practical ride.

Sure, the handling around corners is almost as good as a racing car, but it’s the ride quality that’s important.

Here, the XF is comfortable without being too soft, yet inspires the kind of confidence you need to enter almost any turn with confidence that you’ll exit out the other end in one piece.

Interior comfort is also pure Jaguar. There’s the right combination of leather and wood to let you know you’re in a luxury car with a sticker price of just about $65,000. The dash and instrument panel are laid out in a sensible line across the front of the car.

Instruments are classic Jaguar; white-on-black dials with clear markings. The navigation system shines brightly at night, but can be dimmed.
Getting into the glove box is another challenge the designers have thrown at us. There is no button. There is a small chrome design in the wood that spans the dash. Touch it correctly in the center and the glove box opens.

This is highly unnecessary; Jaguar, you can do better.

Three versions of the XF are available. In addition to the Supercharged, with a base price of $62,975, there is the Premium Luxury with a base of $55,975. That one has a naturally aspirated engine that makes 300 hp and has 19-inch wheels and tires.

The base model is the Luxury model, with a base price of $49,975 and the 300 hp engine and 18-inch wheels and tires.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Monday Night Fun

For street rods, muscle cars, trucks and more, come to the Monday Night Cruise-in at Summit Racing Equipment in McDonough.
The event starts at 6 pm on Mondays, and includes awards, door prizes and manager specials. All vehicles are welcome, with different makes and models featured each week.
The event is free.

Summit is at 20 King Mill Road in McDonough.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Infiniti FX35: A sport sedan disguised as an SUV

Sure, the 2009 Infiniti FX35 is a crossover SUV, at least on the outside.
But on the inside, this baby is dying to be a sport sedan.
Its strong 275-horsepower V6 and sport-tuned chassis let it accelerate aggressively, swallow corners hungrily and give a spirited on-road performance.
But on top of all that cool driving stuff, you get the functionality of an SUV. 
Plus, since this is an Infiniti, you won't be slummin'; you get plenty of luxury. 


 The interior is pleasantly designed from an ergonomics standpoint, and the leather seats are quite comfortable. 
Upscale features like a 300-watt Bose stereo and backup camera make life even easier.
The somewhat unusual shape of the FX35 took a while to grow on us, but we were so won-over by its performance and convenience that we started to see beauty in its form.
So we're sorry about those remarks we made a while back in which we likened its shape to a baseball cap. 
Another reason to love the FX35 is that Infiniti didn't bow to the now-annoying trend of trying to jam a third-row seat in. 
You get two roomy front bucket seats and one spacious back seat bench, and that's it. 
The rear cargo area is not huge, but has enough room for most daily loads (gym bags, groceries, etc.).
 As for goodies, check out the standard 18-inch alloy wheels, xenon headlights, leather upholstery, power front seats, power telescoping steering wheel, a Bose audio system with an in-dash six-disc CD changer, a rearview monitor, dual-zone automatic climate control, keyless entry and full power accessories. 
Options include a moonroof, Infiniti's Intelligent Key keyless entry and start, Bluetooth connectivity, a rear-seat DVD entertainment system and run-flat tires. 
The Technology Package bundles a navigation system, a lane-departure warning system and adaptive cruise control. There's also the Sport Package that adds a sport-tuned suspension, 20-inch wheels, aluminum interior trim and a dark chrome front grille.
The 3.5-liter V6 makes a potent 303 hp and 280 pounds-feet of torque.
Gas mileage is decent; an EPA estimated 16 mpg city, 23 highway. 
A five-speed automatic transmission with a manual-shift mode is the sole gearbox.
 Rear-wheel drive is standard, though the FX35 offers an optional all-wheel-drive system with a rear bias to preserve its sporty handling capabilities.
Antilock disc brakes with brake assist, front-seat side airbags, full-length curtain airbags, traction control and stability control are all standard, as are a rearview monitor and tire-pressure monitor. 
The optional Lane Departure Warning System alerts the driver to unintended movement of the vehicle out of a designated traffic lane. You might find it annoying, as we did, and in such cases you can turn it off by pushing a button.
 In National Highway Traffic Safety Administration crash tests, the FX scored five (out of five) stars for its protection of occupants in both front and side impacts, and in Insurance Institute for Highway Safety frontal-offset testing, the FX earned the top score of "Good."
Our tester, which was fully loaded, carried a sticker price of $49,865.
Not bad for a nicely equipped sports sedan, 'er, SUV.