Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Mazda CX-7: Utility, Sportiness and Lower Price Tag

For the past few years, the Mazda CX-7 has been one of the favorite crossover vehicles among those who love power and sportiness among the entrants in this segment.
For the 2010 model year, Mazda adds something, or perhaps more accurately takes something away, that more folks will love.
The new CX-7 gets a lower sticker price.
Mazda has introduced a new 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine as the standard powerplant now, while the 2.3-liter turbocharged four cylinder remains in the higher trim levels.
The lower trim levels, known as i SV and i Sport, take the new base engine, with the SV having standard cloth seats, remote keyless entry, 17-inch alloy wheels and a few other goodies that make for a nice base package.
Move up to the i Sport and you get Bluetooth connectivity and a few other amenities.
The s Touring gives you leather, heated seats and the s Grand Touring gives you pretty much everything, including backup camera and navigation system.
If you go with the new base engine, be assured that you won't be disappointed.
It's the same one found in the Mazda3 and Mazda6, two of the best non-luxury performance cars on the market.
It kicks out 161 horsepower and 161 pounds-feet of torque.
The engine is mated to a five-speed automatic transmission and a front-wheel-drive system.
Its gas mileage numbers are quite good also; 20 mpg city, 28 highway.
If you select the turbocharged engine, you get 18 and 25 mpg with the front-drive and 17 and 23 for the all-wheel drive.
The power numbers go up to 244 horsepower and 258 pounds-feet.
Overall, the driving experience in the CX-7 is certainly worthy of Mazda's "Zoom-Zoom" motto.
Despite the fact that you're in a crossover SUV, with higher seating position than a sports sedan, the CX-7 still seems well connected to the road and offers responsive steering and solid braking.
We drove the naturally aspirated engine model and were quite impressed with its power, so can only imagine how the turbocharged engine performs.Mazda says that engine is shared with its sporty Speed3 model, which is quite dramatic.The CX-7 has a nice-looking, functional interior that is not necessarily luxurious.
Chrome trim blends well with quality plastic paneling.
For front-seat passengers, comfort is no problem. The seats move liberally fore and aft, and the driver can use the tilt/telescoping steering wheel to find the right setting.
Rear seating roominess is pretty good too, with the 60/40 split bench folding down to offer a generous amount of cargo space; Mazda says it's 58.6 cubic feet.
The cargo area behind the rear seats is also very spacious, allowing for easy storage of everyday items like gym bags or grocery sacks.
In the cockpit, the controls for temperature and the radio are placed neatly on a center stack, and there is a screen that shows the displays.
For the most part, all of the controls are fairly intuitively placed and easy to manipulate.
Mazda made a great call in pricing the CX-7 a little lower, a move that will make it more competitive with other entry-level SUVs.
Our tester, a Sport model, was priced at $25,990; the entry level model starts at less than $22,000 and the Grand Touring tops out at around $33,000.
For driving pleasure with just enough utility, the CX-7 is a solid pick.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Beat's Top 10 Models of the Year

Atlanta Auto Beat presents its top models of the year. We based our decisions on a number of factors, such as affordability, fuel economy, driving performance and practicality. It was hard to limit our choices to 10, but we had to because of contractual reasons (don't ask).
So, read 'em and weep, or cheer, if you like.

But we at The Beat would like to thank you for your loyal readership, and we wish you a wonderful holiday season and the best wishes for the coming new year.

Happy Motoring!!

No. 10 Nissan Maxima

Maxima, sporting a strong V6 engine and nicely designed interior, has been called the "Four-Door Sports Car," and it has lived up to that moniker.
The latest version, a 2010 model, is an excellent choice for a sedan, with stellar performance and luxury.

No. 9 Toyota Venza

The Venza, Toyota says, has the best attributes of the brand's beloved Camry and Avalon sedans, while also injecting a bit of SUV flair - maybe a bit like the Highlander.

Plus, you'll be impressed by some of the luxury touches on the interior.

No. 8 Kia Soul

Check out this Kia and you'll feel really lucky to be on the Soul patrol, because this car is something special. It gives Kia's lineup a little bit of attitude, and has a sharp interior, a boxy but stylish exterior, is fun to drive, and offers plenty of safety features.

No. 7 Lexus RX 350

The RX was the first luxury crossover vehicle to hit the market and has defined the segment ever since. This edition maintains the familiar Lexus heritage, with its high roofline and attractive dimensions.

No. 6 Buick LaCrosse

Buick's newest version of its LaCrosse sedan has become the talk of the town for those who have seen it, and for those who get to drive it, it becomes pretty hard to shut up about it.
Its gorgeous design and outstanding driving dynamics do a great job of putting to rest the old notion that Buick is a brand for those age 65 and over.

No. 5 Kia Forte

Kia's slogan is "The Power to Surprise," but the stuff this company has been putting out over the past few years has been really strong. So now we've come to expect that. Our expectations were met once again with the 2010 Kia Forte, which used to go by the name Spectra.
The Forte will be hard to ignore.

No. 4 Hyundai Genesis Coupe

The Hyundai Genesis Coupe delivers a clear message: luxury, high performance 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.

No. 3 Chevrolet Camaro

The Camaro benefited from a great deal of preproduction hype, and that kind of buzz can be a blessing or a curse. A blessing if the car lives up to it, a curse if it disappoints. The Camaro is no disappointment; immense driving pleasure in a wonderfully retro package.

No. 2 Volkswagen Jetta TDI

This diesel-powered car, available as a sedan or wagon, is nicely priced, but you'll also appreciate how thrifty the Jetta allows you to be at the pump, with its EPA rating of 30 mpg city, 41 highway. That puts the diesel Jetta at the top of the class for highway mileage by a nonhybrid car. Once you get it out on the highway, this four-cylinder engine powered Jetta can jet with some of the best of them, enhancing its "fun-to-drive" factor.

No. 1 Mazda6

Mazda has one of the sportiest overall lineups in the auto industry.
And the company's latest version of its Mazda6 midsize sedan is a shining example of its "Zoom-Zoom" commitment to making athletic, good-looking, fun vehicles.
The Mazda6 is larger and more powerful than its previous version, and is more agile as well.

Monday, December 21, 2009

LaCrosse is a Head-Turner for Buick

Buick's newest version of its LaCrosse sedan has become the talk of the town for those who have seen it, and for those who get to drive it, it becomes pretty hard to shut up about it.

Its gorgeous design and outstanding driving dynamics do a great job of putting to rest the old notion that Buick is a brand for those age 65 and over.
And it shows why, despite having only recently emerged from bankruptcy and having had to shed a few of its brands, General Motors has potentially a very bright future.
Add the LaCrosse to other recent winners from GM, including the Buick Enclave crossover, Cadillac CTS sedan and Chevrolet Malibu sedan.
Each of those models has combined sharp styling with wonderful on-road performance to present a compelling value to consumers.
The LaCrosse also can garner some positive attention from its sticker price.
The base price of around $27,900 gets you a CX model with a 3.0-liter V-6 engine.
Or, if you want even better fuel economy and a lower sticker price, you can check out the CX with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, rated at 182 horsepower.

That engine is found in a few Chevy models, such as the Malibu and Cobalt sedans, as well as the HHR and Equinox crossovers, as well as the new GMC Terrain crossover.

Linked to a six-speed automatic transmission, the four-cylinder engine gives the LaCrosse a legitimate claim as one of the fuel-efficiency leaders in this sedan segment, with EPA ratings of 20 mpg city/30 highway.
Many of the LaCrosse's competitors offer only six-cylinder engines.

The LaCrosse offers optional all-wheel drive and a number of new technological options.

There is also a rear-seat entertainment system and remote starting.The V-6 engine makes a very strong 255 horsepower and 217 pounds-feet of torque.

CX models feature premium cloth seats and 17-inch wheels.

The CXL is LaCrosse's midlevel version, with either front- or all-wheel drive.
The front-drive version starts at around $30,400 and has a 3.0-liter V-6, heated leather seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, fog lights, outside mirrors with LED turn signals and puddle lamps, and 18-inch alloy wheels.

The all-wheel-drive model CXL is $33,765.

The CXS is the highest trim LaCrosse, and, as tested, was priced at $33,765. It comes with a 3.6-liter V-6 engine making 280 horsepower and 259 pounds-feet of torque, and 18-inch chrome wheels.

The CXS also has heated-and-cooled perforated leather seats; 19-inch wheels are optional.

The V-6 models also come with a six-speed automatic transmission; no manual is offered.

The LaCrosse has dramatic exterior lines that maintain some of the Buick heritage, but greatly update it.
The familiar waterfall grille and faux portholes are still present, but the portholes move to the hood now, rather than the sides of the front fenders as was previously the case.

We loved the ice blue ambient lighting found throughout the cabin and extending to the door panels.

GM says the car has a European-designed chassis and suspension system with real-time damping, high-intensity-discharge adaptive headlights that turn slightly in the same direction the car is turning, a side blind-zone-alert system and Bluetooth phone connectivity.

GM also says the LaCrosse's QuietTuning feature, is designed to block and absorb noise before it enters the passenger cabin.
We'll buy that, because the interior was silent as a church mouse.

The new LaCrosse gets a Top Safety Pick designation from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which conducts its own crash tests independent of the federal government's testing program.Other LaCrosse safety features include four-wheel antilock disc brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist; traction control; front seat-mounted side air bags; and roof-mounted side-curtain air bags for both rows.

GM builds the LaCrosse at its Fairfax assembly plant in Kansas City, Kan., where the Malibu also is built.

Mustang Spellbinder

Check out the 2010 Ford Mustang performing a feat of magic in Las Vegas.

Mazda MX-5: Just for Kicks

The Mazda MX-5, formerly and commonly known as the Miata, is like a guilty pleasure for motorists.
It's nice looking, in hardtop or softtop form, lightweight, agile and so much fun to drive.
It's just not very practical. And if you ever have the misfortune of sharing the exact same space at the same time with a larger vehicle, you more than likely will absorb a pretty damaging blow.
But for sheer enjoyment at an affordable price, the 2009 MX-5 is a winner.
The MX-5 has gotten a few refreshes for this model year, most notably a sound-enhancer system that gives the engine a better growl but doesn't raise the volume.
Also, the transmission now has a higher top-gear ratio, which improves fuel-economy, and horsepower increases by one notch, to 167.
The exterior design took a few subtle changes and the suspension has been altered a bit for better handling.
But overall, the package is largely the same Miata that many drivers over the years have come to know and love.
It's a car that seems to really appreciate being driven in a spirited fashion.
It is capable of breaking into a sprint with little hesitation, and its 140 pounds-feet of torque might not, on paper, knock your socks off, but on the road, it is quite formidable.
The 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine loves to rev, and as a result, you'll stay busy shifting the manual transmission - up and down. The clutch is quite compliant and the shifter is a piece of cake to use, with its short, quick throws.
The MX-5's handling is fantastic. Taking it on a twisty road will make you consider, even if ever so briefly, not driving anything else.
Now mind you, I said briefly, because the ride can get a bit harsh at times, and you'll feel the road a little more than you would in a larger coupe or sedan.
But the overall comfort factor of the MX-5 is good, especially considering how small the car is.
If you're a tall driver, you will have to do a bit of contortion to get into the car. But once you've taken your seat, it is comfortable enough, especially if you aren't going on a very long drive.
Be warned, though, that headroom is pretty snug. You'll feel like doing a Dino from the Flintstones cartoon - you know, popping your head through the roof.
But as an alternative, just drop the convertible roof, and you'll be more comfortable.
The dashboard is neat and well organized.
But one big-time flaw is where the fuel-door release is, hidden away in a compartment between the two seats.
Come on, Mazda, seriously.
At least the manual convertible roof was easy to operate. Flip a couple of levers and push the thing down into the area behind the seats, and you're done.
To close, flip another lever and pull the thing back up to the windshield, lock another pair of levers, and you're done.
As mentioned above, the MX-5 is a short car that's short on practicality.
There is a trunk that is big enough for maybe a couple of gym bags, a not-too-deep center console and a glove compartment.
If you want to add some goodies to your MX-5, you can opt for the Grand Touring package, with such amenities as the power hardtop and seven-speaker audio system.
Additionally, the Suspension Package is available, giving you a sport-tuned suspension, Bilstein shocks and traction control, as well as satellite radio.
There's a Premium Package that adds a few more things.
The MX-5's base price, with the softtop, is a little more than $22,000, with the hardtop starting at a little more than $26,000 and topping out at under $32,000.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

State Digs Deeper into Motorists' Wallets

 Drivers in Georgia who step on the gas pedal will soon face an additional fine from the cash-strapped state.
On Jan. 1, Georgia's so-called "Super Speeder Law" takes effect, tacking on an additional $200 fine to motorists who are convicted of going 75 mph or more on two-lane roads, and also levying that fine on anyone convicted of going 85 mph or more on any road.
Failure to pay the super speeder fee subjects the motorist to an additional $50 fee and suspension of driver's license.
The state contends this law is aimed at saving lives.

This ridiculous law is another tax from a cash-hungry state government. And unfortunately, it will disproportionately hit lower-income citizens. Speed does not cause accidents. Careless driving does.

Read this opinion against the stupid speeder, 'er, super speeder law, written by a law enforcement officer, who does an excellent job of detailing why this is so absurd:

Monday, December 14, 2009

March Madness Coming to AMS

Hey, race fans, it's not too early to start thinking about March Madness, racing style, of course.

The Kobalt Tools 500 is coming to Atlanta Motor Speedway on Sunday, March 7, 2010.

For more information and to purchase tickets, click here:

Audi A5 Cabrio: What's Not to Love?

What's not to love about the all-new 2010 Audi A5 Cabriolet?

Well, had the folks at Audi just let me have the car for another 18 months or so, as I requested, I could probably tell you.But no, instead I get some excuse about providing it to other journalists.

So inconsiderate.

Alright then, what I do know, after my weeklong stint, is it is an awesome doggone machine.The A5 Cabrio supplants the A4 in the lineup as Audi’s convertible four-seater.We were quite fond of that one, but this one is even better.
Some reasons are that it's a hoot to drive (after all, it's an Audi), it has a very swanky interior and it's got a great exterior style.Technically, it is very similar to the A4 sedan and wagon.Appearance-wise, it is quite like the A5 Coupe.
Well, if you're going to build a new model, those ain't bad prototypes to follow.This model is powered by a 2-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that makes 211 horsepower.That engine, while delivering more than adequate power, is remarkably quiet.
Driving on the highway, with the top down, I was able to carry on a conversation with my passenger in which neither one of us had to raise our voices.
But even if I had to shout, I wouldn't begrudge that with this car because it is such a joy to drive.The body rigidity, especially noticeable when you aggressively take corners, is tremendous.
The 211 ponies put out by the engine feels more like 300, and the 258 pounds-feet of torque give you a nice sendoff when you hit the throttle.The continuosly variable transmission is one of the smoothest of its kind.
A six-speed automatic is also offered.Our tester had front-wheel drive, but the Quattro all-wheel drive is available as an option.The A5 Cabrio knows not to gorge itself at the pump.EPA figures are 23 mpg city, 30 highway, and my mileage, in combined driving, was about 25 mpg. The good news is that you can open or close the roof while you're moving (up to 30 mph).
The not quite as good news, for some folks, is that it comes only as a softtop. Some people prefer hardtop, but that adds extra weight to the car, which would have hurt gas mileage and probably driving performance.
Plus, this isn't one of those chintzy softtops that convertibles back in the day had. No, this one seals snuggly and seems tough enough to withstand at least some vandalism, if that's your concern.And it shouldn't be unless, you know, your woman found somebody's steamy text message on your phone and, well, I'll stop there.
The A5 comes in three trim levels: Premium, Premium Plus (our tester) and Prestige.Premium Plus included 18-inch alloy wheels, Bluetooth interface and heated front seats.Being that this is a relatively compact car, if you expect lots of storage space, you'll be disappointed.In fact, you should note that this is a four-seater, so the rear is very confined.
The trunk might hold a golf bag, or might not, but should definitely hold a reasonably sized suitcase or two.But if you're in the market for something you can drop the top and have some fun with, and who among us isn't, the A5 Cabrio is a great choice.It starts at around $42,830 and ranges as high as $60,560.Our tester had a sticker price of $51,525.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Infiniti EX Knows How to Handle its Business

The 2010 Infiniti EX35 is a stylish crossover that highlights all the best attributes of the Japanese luxury brand.
One of the reasons crossovers became popular is because they handle well; better than the traditional SUVs that spawned their creation.
But among the good-handling crossovers, the EX might be the best. With that characteristic, it is easy to see a connection between this vehicle and the other fun-to-drive cars in the Infiniti lineup. Infiniti says the EX's front mid-ship platform balances its weight, resulting in responsive steering and the ability to handle curves sharply.
The EX drives nimbly, thanks in part to the 3.5L V-6 engine, which is linked to a five-speed automatic transmission. The impressive 297 horsepower and 253 pounds-feet of torque provide plenty of thrills, but there is some high-level thinking that this vehicle does too. It can adjust to your unique driving method and make the modifications to achieve the highest level of performance.
Also, you can put the transmission in manual mode if you wish.
The EX offers fuel economy that's adequate: 17 mpg city, 24 highway, according to EPA.
In combined driving, I got about 22 mpg.
The EX is available in both rear-wheel and all-wheel drive, but with the latter, under normal conditions all of the vehicle's power is sent to the rear wheels. The power is only distributed to all wheels when needed.
But this isn't just some performance machine that has ordinary looks.
Infiniti is a luxury brand, and the EX represents that nicely on the interior.
The fit and finish are wonderful, and the quality and appearance of the materials and the design of the lines are terrific -- highly refined, but not at all pretentious.The driver surely will appreciate that all the controls are within easy reach and are easily identifiable, even though there are a lot of buttons and knobs.
The layout of the instrument panel is intuitive. Plus the seating, windows and steering position have memory, allowing you to get all your settings just like you like them, then capture them so that, if you're like Goldilocks and you want everything just right, you'll have it.
The back seat is a bit cramped, especially when it comes to headroom, thanks to the sloping roofline design. If you haul passengers frequently, and especially if they are adults, this might not be the ideal vehicle for you.
One really cool option offered by Infiniti on the EX is the around view monitor system, which is standard if you get navigation. There are four cameras -- up front, on each side and in the rear -- that allow you to see a top view of the vehicle when you are backing into or inching forward in a parking space. So you can not only see forward and behind, but also how close things are to you on the sides.
Plus, you'll hear beeps whenever you get too close to something in front or in the rear.
Think of it as a very enhanced version of the backup camera that has become common on many vehicles today.
The navigation system is linked to XM satellite radio's traffic service, which shows you where the congestion is on the roads and other hazards to avoid.
There is also an iPod jack, Bluetooth capability and pushbutton keyless ignition.

If you opt for the technology package, you'll additionally get lane departure warning, which uses sensors to give you a beep to tell you that you are veering over your line.
That system worked a little too well for me, being activated with even the slightest line encroachment, so I just pushed the button to turn it off.
But if you're driving while sleepy, which of course isn't such a good idea, it's a nice feature because it will assist your alertness.
The tech package also includes distance control assist, intelligent cruise control and intelligent brake assist, all designed to prevent crashes by notifying the driver if he or she is getting too close to something, and in some cases it will activate the brakes.
The EX starts at a little more than $34,000 and ranges to a little more than $40,000 when nicely equipped.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

New Hyundai Sonata Unveiled

Hyundai has introduced its all-new 2011 Sonata. This marks the North American debut of the latest version of the popular midsize sedan, introducing Hyundai’s “Fluidic Sculpture” design language and an all four-cylinder engine lineup to the U.S. market. It has a new Theta II 2.4-liter gasoline direct injection (GDI) engine and in-house six-speed automatic transmission

o                  Cla               Fuel economy is pegged at 23 mpg city/35 mpg highway. It makes 198 horsepower standard* (200 horsepower on SE trim.  It's made in Hyundai's plant in Alabama and will be in showrooms in January.

·            I    

Last Pontiac Rolls Off the Assembly Line

As part of its restructuring, General Motors has had to shed some brands, one of which is the venerable Pontiac nameplate.

The last vehicle has rolled off the assembly line. Some are sad to see it go away. But in reality, it was impossible for GM to maintain as many brands as it tried to over the past several years.


Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Audi Unveils Its New A8 Flagship Sedan in Miami

The new generation of the A8, Audi brand's flagship, introducing a new era in progressive excellence. Combining dynamic exterior and luxurious interior design with sporty driving characteristics, while providing the highest level of comfort and convenience equipment in the segment. The D4 (fourth generation flagship sedan) stands for a unique combination of aluminum space frame, MMI user interface, interior craftsmanship, quattro all-wheel-drive and adaptive air suspension. The Audi brand icon with the perfect execution of sporty, progressive, and sophisticated character.