Thursday, December 30, 2010

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 Ford Edge

Ford doesn't bill its Edge crossover vehicle as a luxury model, but when you get this vehicle all decked out in its nicest trim levels, it most certainly is luxurious.

The 2011 Edge has received a refreshed look on the outside, has an upscale look inside, offers superb technology and more power. 

No. 9 Buick Regal

Buick, which has been on a hugely successful comeback trail for the past few years, continues its journey toward being one of the top nameplates on the market with the relaunch of the Regal midsize sedan for the 2011 model year.

No. 8 Honda Odyssey

Honda has given a brand new exterior and interior to the Odyssey, and both are sharp improvements on what already had been very good designs. 

No. 7 Kia Forte

Kia continues to turn out cars that offer good quality at a great value.

The latest case in point is the Forte sedan.

No. 6 Ford Fiesta

The new Fiesta offers great styling, wonderful convenience features and superb fuel economy.

No. 5 Toyota Sienna

The 2011 Toyota Sienna is still a minivan, make no mistake about it.
But its remodeled styling, new four-cylinder engine and better gas mileage make the Sienna more attractive than ever, even to many folks who aren't big minivan fans.

No. 4 Infiniti M37

The 2011 Infiniti M37 is a dynamic package of performance and sleek styling, improving on what was already a very good car in previous years.

No. 3 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid

The luxury sedan market is a supercompetitive one these days, but one competitor that is frequently overlooked has created a monster entry.

Lincoln, with its 2011 MKZ Hybrid, can lay claim to making the most fuel-efficient luxury hybrid in the U.S. market. 

No. 2 Buick LaCrosse

A gorgeous design and outstanding driving dynamics are enough to make you sit up and take notice of a car. But when you add really good fuel economy to the mix, you've got a can't miss product. That's what Buick has with the LaCrosse.

No. 1 Hyundai Sonata

This car came to symbolize all that Hyundai has become in the past couple of years: a maker of outstanding, affordable vehicles that look good and are fun to drive. This masterpiece got a substantially redesigned body for model year 2011 that makes it look like a pure luxury car, but it does not carry a luxury car price tag. Bravo, Hyundai, bravo.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

If You Think Gas is High Now...

Gas prices continue to climb and the national average price has topped $3 a gallon, according to AAA.

That is nearly 20 cents higher than it was a month ago and about 40 cents above what it was a year ago.

Unfortunately, this might just be the tip of the iceberg, according to a former oil industry executive.

John Hofmeister, former president of Shell Oil, predicts that gas prices will reach $5 a gallon in 2012.

Hofmeister is the founder and CEO of the non-profit Citizens for Affordable Energy and wrote "Why We Hate the Oil Companies: Straight Talk From an Energy Insider," which will be released in May.
In a recent interview, he said that crude oil prices topped $91 per barrel Tuesday, and a number of large investment banks predict it will reach $100 next year. Higher demand from China, India and other emerging economies added to that of developed countries will strain the world's oil supply

In predicting $5 a gallon gas, Hofmeister cites not only increased oil demand from Asia, but Obama administration clampdowns on offshore drilling.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Chevrolet Silverado: Sterling among Work Trucks

Working men and women who need a working truck to help them get their jobs done should take a good look at the 2011 Chevrolet Silverado 2500 HD.
This blue-collar machine has a new Duramax turbo-diesel engine that is not only powerful, but is also remarkably fuel efficient. 

The engine makes 397-horsepower and is a 6.6-liter V-8 that does a colossal 765 pounds-feet of torque. That engine is linked to a six-speed automatic Allison 1000 transmission that offers manual shift control. 
If you don't want the diesel, there's a 360-horsepower, 6.0-liter V-8 gasoline engine that makes a comparatively paltry 380 pounds-feet of torque that is linked to a six-speed automatic transmission.
For the record, though, there really is nothing paltry about 380 pounds-feet - that's still pretty doggone strong.
Rear-wheel drive is standard, but four-wheel drive is optional.
Chevy says there is a traditional floor-mounted transfer case or an Autotrac knob-controlled electric transfer case that engages when wheel slippage is detected. 

Incredibly, this new diesel engine makes more power but also gains an 11 percent improvement in fuel economy. Emissions have also been reduced compared with the previous year’s model.  The fuel tank is a cavernous 36 gallons that provides you with about 680 miles of range, meaning city-highway fuel economy is right around 18.8 mpg.

Towing capacity has been raised to 17,800 pounds, Chevy says, thanks to the fully boxed frame on the Duramax diesel. With the single-rear-wheel gas V-8, towing is now 14,500 pounds. Chevy says maximum payload capacity is up to 4,192 pounds.

The Silverado can be configured in a variety of ways thanks to the four models, three cab configurations and two bed lengths that are offered.
At the base level, there is the two-wheel-drive, two-door Work Truck, with standard features such as vinyl seats, XM Satellite Radio and a CD player.  The four-wheel-drive LTZ model has automatic locking hubs, leather seats, remote power door locks, cruise control, dual zone climate control, heated and powered front seats, and an upgraded Bose stereo with seven speakers and a subwoofer.  Options include a power glass sunroof, adjustable pedals, a rearview camera, a TV, and a DVD-based navigation system.  OnStar 9.0, mobile WiFi, Bluetooth connectivity and a USB port are also offered.

For safety, the stout structure of the Silverado and dual front airbags protect passengers in collisions, but standard antilock brakes and traction and stability control systems can help prevent wrecks.  Trailer sway control, hill-hold assist and GM’s StabiliTrak stability and traction control systems are other key safety features.

The Silverado starts at around $28,400 and ranges as high as the $55,145 sticker on the test drive model, a four-wheel drive LT crew cab.

The pickup truck market suffered a bit of a slump over the past couple of years, thanks largely to the economy and to consumers' concerns about fuel prices.
But thanks to a slight economic recovery and some pent-up demand, pickup sales are starting to warm up a bit.
For those who need a solid, meat-and-potatoes truck that can get the job done, the Silverado presents a sterling option.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Atlanta Automotive Colleague Passes Away

The Atlanta automotive journalism community has suffered a tremendous loss. Karl Ritzler, who served for many years as automotive editor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution then later worked for other media outlets, passed away on Christmas eve, surrounded by family.
Karl was a kind and humorous man, in addition to being an outstanding journalist.
Our condolences go out to the Ritzler family.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Acura TL is Refined, Sporty and Powerful

With outstanding luxury and performance, the 2011 Acura TL is a midsize sport sedan that offers understated elegance and scintillating driving character.

The TL comes in a base front-wheel-drive or Super Handling All-Wheel-Drive trim level.
Choose between two strong engines: a 280-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 or a 305-horsepower, 3.7-liter V-6.

Those power plants are linked to a five-speed automatic transmission with auto-manual mode or a six-speed manual transmission. The SH-AWD sends more torque to the outside rear wheel to give the TL the ability to turn more quickly and make the ride more balanced. Gas mileage is solid, with the TL ranging from 17-18 mpg in the city and 25-26 mpg on the highway.

The TL has standard 17-inch aluminum wheels or optional 18- or 19-inch aluminum wheels that improve handling. The beautifully appointed interior has leather trim and a power moonroof, dual-zone adaptive climate control, 10-way power adjustable driver seat and eight-way power adjustable passenger front seat.

Acura says an eight-speaker audio system with a six-disc CD changer, AM/FM tuner, XM Satellite Radio, Bluetooth connectivity and HandsFreeLink wireless telephone interface are standard, and an optional Technology Package includes a navigation system with voice recognition, real-time traffic alerts and rerouting capabilities, and a 10-speaker premium sound system. The hill start assist system keeps the car from rolling backwards when you let off the brake while stopped on a hill.

The TL gives a nice set of safety features that includes dual-stage, multiple-threshold front airbags, dual-chamber front-seat side airbags with front passenger seat occupant position detection system and side-curtain airbags for front and outboard rear seating positions. Also, Acura says its Advanced Compatibility Engineering body structure enhance passenger protection. Added standard safety gear includes four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist, vehicle stability assist, a tire pressure monitoring system and daytime running lights.

The TL competes against formidable opponents such as the Lincoln MKS, Infiniti M37 and Hyundai Genesis.
The sticker price on our test-drive model, which had front-wheel drive and the tech package, was a reasonable $40,895.

With its sportiness and sleekness, the Acura TL is a powerful and technologically advanced entrant in the midsize sedan performance luxury market.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Three Brands Fell in 2010

Pontiac ends production in 2010

The American auto industry is showing clear signs of recovery, but the problems that plagued it in recent years bore a number of casualties, among them three brands that folded in 2010. 
 Pontiac, Mercury and Hummer were victims of changing consumer tastes, mismanagement and an ultracompetitive marketplace.

General Motors began back in 1926, and was well known for high-performance models such as the GTO.

  Mercury, a Ford brand, offered virtually the same vehicles as the blue oval, with different trim levels. That was part of its problem. The brand was a bit pricier than Ford, but a bit less expensive than Lincoln. Ultimately, that proved to offer not enough of a market.

 Hummer was originally applied to military vehicles produced by AM General, particularly the famous Humvee. GM bought the rights to the name in 1998 and produced a line of street-legal vehicles mimicking the design of the military vehicles. In the wake of its reorganization, GM attempted to sell the brand and couldn't. 

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

San Diego Automotive Museum

The Beat recently got to visit the San Diego Automotive Museum, which offers a glimpse of America's, and especially California's, longtime love affair with the automobile.

Check out a few scenes from this wonderful attraction.

This vintage car is a beauty that resides in the San Diego Automotive Museum.
The museum featured a tribute to Jack In The Box, one of America's first drive-thru restaurants. It got its start in San Diego. The display featured a screen (right) that showed a continuous loop of old Jack In The Box commercials from the 1960s and '70s, a display of what a drive-thru looked like (center) and a menu board (left) featuring hamburgers for 25 cents. 
These brightly hued vintage cars were displayed in the California Roll section of the museum, dedicated to the Golden State's illustrious automotive history.
This psychedelic Volkswagen Microbus was accompanied by an information board that gave a brief but interesting history of hippie culture. Far out, man!
Everybody's going surfing, surfing USA.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Nissan Quest Making a Return

The Nissan Quest has returned from a two-year hiatus with some substantial changes. Nissan recently unveiled its minivan to The Beat and several other automotive journalists and mommy bloggers (what a fun group) in San Diego. 
For starters, the new Quest is built in Kyushu, Japan, instead of Canton, Miss., where its predecessor was made. It's also smaller than the 2009 Quest, which had a 124-inch wheelbase.
It now is scaled similarly to its key competitors in the segment, the Toyota Sienna and Honda Odyssey (scroll below to see review).
 The Quest is still built on the same platform as the Altima and Maxima sedans and the Murano crossover -- Nissan's D-segment platform. 
The new Quest's wheelbase is 118.2 inches, with a 68.1-inch track and length of 200.1 inches.
Nissan says that, unlike the Odyssey and Sienna, the Quest is a seven-passenger minivan with no bench option in the second row. The 60/40-split third-row seat folds flat with a single pull of a strap (or it can be powered down on the higher trim levels). The second-row captain's chairs recline and adjust fore-and-aft, as well as fold. But without the bench, Nissan says, it will be easier for users to adjust for big hauling assignments. Maximum cargo volume is 148 cubic feet.
The Quest has always been known for atypical styling among minivans, and this version follows that pattern.  It is inspired by the design of Nissan's Japanese-market minivans, with a taller, boxier look than its competitors. Nissan reportedly says the 2011 Quest is meant to look as if it's "carved from one solid piece of sculptor's stone," and says this design provides aerodynamic benefits. 
The engine is Nissan's VQ-Series 3.5-liter V-6, which is rated at 235 horsepower and 240 pounds-feet of torque.  The engine is linked to Nissan's continuously variable transmission (CVT), which is used in the Maxima and Murano. Nissan estimates that fuel economy on the Quest will be 16 mpg city and 24 highway.
There are a number of safety and convenience features offered, including a jumbo 11-inch screen for the rear entertainment system and tri-zone climate control system with the Plasmacluster air purifier and grape polyphenol filter that debuted on the Infiniti M sedans. 
Also, perhaps the coolest feature is the tire-pressure monitoring system that includes a horn alert to let you know when you've achieved the correct pressure when you're putting air in the tires.
The Quest, going on sale in January, will come in S, SV, SL and LE trim levels. The base S model has the basic minivan features, along with keyless start. The SV includes back-up camera, automatic climate control, Bluetooth and a USB input, among other things. Move to the SL and get the power-fold feature for the third row along with leather upholstery, and the top level LE provides a navigation system, a 12-speaker Bose audio system, a rear entertainment system, the Plasmacluster purifier, a blind spot warning system and low-beam xenon headlights.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Honda Odyssey is a Cool Take on the Minivan

How do you get excited about a minivan?
Well, it can be a little difficult, frankly, unless you're talking about the 2011 Honda Odyssey. 

Honda has given a brand new exterior and interior to the Odyssey, and both are sharp improvements on what already had been very good designs. 

The engine is a 3.5-liter V-6 that makes 248 horsepower and 250 pounds-feet of torque.
It comes with Honda’s fuel-saving cylinder deactivation system, which turns off cylinders in the engine when they are not needed, to conserve gas and raise efficiency. 
The LX and EX trim levels have a five-speed automatic transmission and the Touring and Touring Elite have a six-speed.

The fuel efficiency on the Odyssey is remarkable for such a large vehicle. City numbers are 18-19 mpg and highway numbers are 27-28 mpg. In a week of combined driving, we got approximately 26 mpg.

 There are other really nice minivans on the market, including the Toyota Sienna, Dodge Grand Caravan, and Chrysler Town and Country, but those models don't come close to the Odyssey in fuel economy.

The exterior changes on the Odyssey include a sharp slope on the belt line under the side windows to the rear of the sliding doors. Honda says the design inspiration was lightning bolts, and that the new styling improves third-row visibility.  There is also a larger, more aggressive grille, sportier front headlamps and 17- or 18-inch wheels.

Honda's interior renovations include a flip-up ring to mount a trash bag for second-row passengers, a “cool box” in the front that allows you to keep a six-pack of beverages chilled and a center second-row seat that slides fore and aft, in case you might have a young passenger who you'd like to keep closer to the first row to attend to. 

Plus there are 15, that's right, 15, cupholders. Your crew will never be thirsty.

Comfort and convenience factors abound. All but the LX trim models have tri-zone automatic climate control, with optional heated leather seats and moonroof.  

Honda also offers a rear entertainment system with a 16.2-inch widescreen display, which can split the screen and play different programming for the right or left side passengers.  Honda says navigation and the rear entertainment system are standard on Touring/Touring Elite trims.

The Odyssey's safety features are outstanding and include front-, side-impact and three-row side curtain airbags, antilock brakes and an active electronic stability system.  A blind spot warning system is optional and the Odyssey includes LATCH anchors for up to five child safety seats.

So Honda is proving that a little bit of style can go along with the functionality people expect in their minivans.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Nissan Leaf Makes an Appearance in Atlanta - Will Be Sold Here Soon

Nissan brought its new Leaf all-electric car to Atlanta for a sneak peek and brief drive a few days ago, and observers seemed to come away very impressed.
Nissan is calling the Leaf the world's first affordable all-electric vehicle, and is initially rolling it out for sales in Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Portland, Seattle, Phoenix, Tucson and Tennessee this month.
In the new year, the car will be available for sale in Georgia and elsewhere in the U.S.
The Leaf is a five-door hatchback that seats five and has a fair amount of cargo room.
Headroom was terrific -- at 6'6", this driver (who also happens to have a pretty large melon atop these shoulders) didn't come close to the ceiling. Legroom was also good.
Nissan says the Leaf has no tailpipe emissions because there is no tailpipe and the car never uses gasoline.
The lithium ion battery pack gives the car a 100-mile range on a single charge. And there are range-management technologies that allow you to gauge how much farther you've got -- making it convenient, Nissan says, for the 90 percent of U.S. drivers who travel less than 100 miles per day.
When you're at home, you'll plug the car into an electrical outlet to charge it up that will be installed in your home upon purchase.
As is the case with hybrid vehicles, which rely partly on gas, partly on electricity, the Leaf is very quiet.
In fact, Nissan had to add some noise to it for pedestrian safety, especially for blind pedestrians.
The car is 99 percent recyclable and is made of recycled materials; for example, the seats are made of plastic from water bottles.
The Leaf is built on the same platform as the Versa and Cube, and Nissan says that by 2012, it will be produced at its plant in Smyrna, Tenn.
So how affordable is it?
The SV trim level is priced at $32,780. Upgrade to the SL trim and you'll pay $33,720.
But you'll also be eligible for a federal tax break of $7,500 and Georgia buyers will be eligible for a state tax break of $5,000, which truly does make the Leaf quite affordable.

Gas Prices Rising in Georgia, Nationally

A weak dollar is pushing gas prices higher, and Georgia drivers are feeling the increase more than most.

The average price of regular unleaded has hit $2.83 in Georgia, up 11 cents from last week. The national average is $2.93, up 7 cents.
Experts predict gas prices will continue rising. Last week's news that U.S. employers added far fewer jobs than forecast for November weakened the dollar and increased the appeal of crude oil as a commodity to foreign investors, according to AAA Auto Club. Crude prices settled Friday at $89.19 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.


Friday, December 3, 2010

Rearview Cameras Could Become More Common

Rules proposed by the federal government on Friday could make rearview cameras more common in future cars and trucks, aiming to respond to concerns about drivers unintentionally backing over children.
The new requirements from the Transportation Department are intended to improve rear visibility in cars by the 2014 model year, according to news reports. Most carmakers would comply by installing rear-mounted video cameras and in-vehicle displays. The government believes video systems would add about $200 to the cost of each new vehicle.
Congress in 2008 set in motion the safety upgrades in response to dozens of accidents in which children were backed over. At issue in particular were blind zones in large sport utility vehicles and pickups.
"There is no more tragic accident than for a parent or caregiver to back out of a garage or driveway and kill or injure an undetected child playing behind the vehicle," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told reporters. He said the changes would "help drivers see into those blind zones directly behind vehicles to make sure it is safe to back up."

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Hyundai, 3 U.S. Brands Post Sales Gains

Hyundai led a string of automakers that posted higher sales in November, seeing a 45 percent gain from the same month last year. Nissan sales rose 27 percent, followed by Honda at 21 and Ford with 20 percent. Chrysler posted a 17 percent increase, while General Motors reported sales 11 percent higher than November of last year.
Toyota sales dropped 3 percent, and the company said it came as a result of a 60 percent cut in sales to fleet buyers such as rental car companies. Toyota said sales to individuals rose slightly but they didn't increase as much as the industry average.
Toyota has battled safety problems, recalling more than 10 million vehicles worldwide mostly for problems with sticky gas pedals or floor mats that can trap the accelerator pedal.
GM reported increased showroom visits near the end of the month, an encouraging sign after its initial public stock offering on Nov. 18. The U.S. government, which spent $49.5 billion bailing GM out of its financial troubles last year, lowered its stake in the company from 61 percent to about 33 percent by selling stock in the IPO. GM has said that government ownership has hurt its image with consumers, dropping sales.
GM has pared itself to four brands — Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac — in order to be more focused on delivering quality vehicles. 
Ford's numbers were boosted by a 34 percent bump in truck sales. The year-ago result includes sales figures for Volvo, which Ford sold this year. 
Chrysler posted its eighth-straight month of year-over-year sales increases, driven largely by the Jeep and Ram brands. The newest version of the Jeep Grand Cherokee continues to sell well, more than tripling from November of last year.