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Archive for December, 2006

The Honda Fit: Small, Functional and Fun

December 28th, 2006

Honda must have brought some sorcerers onboard with the design team of the 2007 Honda Fit, because there is no way that something with a body so small could possibly have that much interior room without magic and still remain so cute. Almost everything about the 2007 Honda Fit looks small: the engine is a 1.5 liter I-4 that somehow manages 109hp, the car is about 5 feet wide, and the 14 inch wheels. However, the number of huge features is staggering, like the 33/38mpg it gets, or the way the trunk has 21 cubic feet with the rear seats in place, which themselves have 33 inches of legroom. I wouldn’t suggest carting around a family and their possessions around in the Fit, but for a single person or a childless couple, this is a car that should handle everything with ease.

How about some basics? Well, I’ve already told you the engine size, which has a 0-60mph of 9.3 seconds, which is certainly respectable from a inexpensive hatchback. The 5-speed manual transmission that comes standard allows for some fun driving, though if you’re not interested, a 5-speed automatic is optional. And the front wheel drive and ABS system give the 2007 Honda Fit a rather high level of control for a vehicle in this class. And the all around airbag system makes sure that if any of those things fail (or other drivers on the road are worse than usual), you and your passengers remain safe.

I had the distinct pleasure of being inside a 2007 Honda Fit, albeit just for a trip to get some lunch down the road. Sitting inside, I felt no more cramped than in a Camry, or another mid-sized sedan. There was never any hesitation in entering traffic or in keeping up with the flow. The trunk looked like it could hold all the food I would ever need for a couple of weeks, and if more space was required, the rear seat folds away. I know after one ride, the 2007 Honda Fit is definitely on my list of cars I could realistically buy next time I get a car.

The 2007 Honda Fit, and other cars like it (i.e. the Mini Cooper or the Toyota Yaris) are something of an answer to the massive SUV craze that has been sweeping this country, much to the detriment of the environment. As a normal gasoline car, the Honda Fit performs almost as well as many hybrids. For most people, the Honda Fit is more than enough car. Perhaps its introduction to the American market signifies a change in the wind of unnecessarily and obnoxiously massive vehicles. I guess we can hope.

Foreign Cars

The 2008 Rolls-Royce Drophead Coupe: A Refreshing Glimpse of Days Past

December 28th, 2006

Old world style and charm meet new world technology and innovation in a suave and sophisticated blend called the 2008 Rolls-Royce Phantom Drophead Coupe. A four-door convertible, something not found around these parts in a number of years, the 2008 Phantom Drophead Couple has a bold and stylish look, and all of the power and luxurious amenities one could expect from a company as prestigious as Rolls-Royce. A 6.7 liter V-12 with 453 hp rests comfortably under the hood, just waiting to be unleashed on an unsuspecting road somewhere, while the leather seats long to hold someone.

The cloth top of this elegant convertible retracts neatly and swiftly into a compartment behind the rear seat that is made from teak wood, a high class move on Rolls-Royce’s part that many companies don’t think of. Teak wood can take a beating in the weather, as can the carpet on this luxurious land-liner, which is made of nylon, not wool. Not only is the interior more resistant to getting caught in the rain than other convertibles, it also has more legroom in the back, a definite plus for anyone who has ridden in a two-door convertible.

It’s the little touches that make this car stand out in the line of luxury convertibles. Like the part of the trunk that flaps down into a seat. Or the rear hinge doors. Or the hydraulic system that raises and lowers the driving height of the car, depending on what you’re doing. Or perhaps the mahogany wood trims that line and accentuate much of the car. My favorite feature, however, is the simple transmission, with three options: forward, backward, and neutral. It’s the simple things that make life worth living.

The 2008 Rolls-Royce Phantom Drophead Coupe, aside from the strangely long and awkward name, is the epitome of luxury and style. Long and limber, the car’s lines seem to have a life of their own, and seem to be inviting you to lounge languidly inside while you drive from locale to locale. Alliteration aside, the 2008 Rolls-Royce Phantom Drophead Coupe seeks inspiration in the distant past while so many are looking to the future, which is why it will be a stand out car of 2008.

Exotic Cars, Foreign Cars

Let’s Get Small: New Mini Cooper Debuts in January

December 27th, 2006


On Dec. 21, BMW and Mini announced that the second-generation Mini Cooper and Cooper S hardtops would make their official North American debut at the North American International Auto Show, to be held in Detroit in early January. In addition, the Mini Convertible Sidewalk will make its world debut at the autoshow.

We say this is an “official” announcement, but details of the new Minis have been available for awhile. The cars will in showrooms in February, but if you can’t wait until then, you can place your order for one now at the automaker’s website at www.miniusa.com.

Among the updates will be two new, more powerful aluminum-alloy four-cylinder engines, which should keep the Minis moving zippily along the highways of America. The Mini Cooper will be powered by a new 118-horsepower, 1.6-liter naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine, while under the hood of the Cooper S will be a turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder that will generate 172 horsepower, propelling the car from 0 to 60 in 6.7 seconds. Top speed will be 139 miles per hour.

Mini notes that despite the more powerful engines, they will actually be more fuel efficient, with the Mini Cooper getting up to 40 miles per gallon on the highway with a manual transmission.

The new Minis have been completely redesigned from the ground up, according to the automaker, and are about 2 inches longer than their predecessors. In addition to new engines, the Minis will receive redesigned interiors. New options, including ambient interior illumination, which can be varied in color from warm orange to cool blue, depending on the driver’s preferences, will also be available.

The Convertible Sidewalk package will be offered as an add-on to either the Cooper or Cooper S packages. In addition to the drop-top itself, the Convertible Sidewalk package will include special light-alloy wheels, English leather sport seats, a Harmon/Kardon sound system, and special interior surfaces and graphics. It will be available in the spring of 2007 at a cost of $4,000.

Car Review, Car Shows, Foreign Cars

The ’07 Saturn Aura Green Line Hybrid: It Ain’t Easy Being Green

December 26th, 2006

Environmentalists have lobbied for alternative fuel sources to gasoline and the market has made efforts to deliver. Saturn will look to build on its hybrid lineup sometime next year with an alternative version of the 2007 Aura. However, the question remains as to whether you’re really saving gas if you buy this “progressive” vehicle.

Some people might say the industry has moved too slowly in developing hybrids. Others (especially manufacturers) will tell you that it’s moving at just the right pace. My feeling is that the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

Early reports from Saturn tell us that fuel economy in the new Aura hybrid will exceed the non-hybrid Aura XE by at least 25%. The problem? The hybrid will use a 4 cylinder engine while the Aura XE uses a 3.5 L V6. So as some commentators like to say, Saturn is really comparing “apples and oranges.”

I think these people have a point. First of all, drivers have come out and said they want more than just a 25% increase in fuel economy for the money they pay. The Aura Green Line never relies exclusively on electricity, which causes consumers to label it a quasi-hybrid. In addition, the new Aura apparently won’t even have an instantaneous fuel consumption display to tell you how much gas you’re saving. So in essence, Saturn wants you to buy the car, feel good about doing your part to save the Earth, and trust the machine to do the rest.

On the other hand, we’ve seen this before. Saturn doesn’t take many risks, as evidenced by its late entry into the SUV, sportscar, and premium mid-size sedan markets with the VUE, Sky, and Aura, respectively. My feeling is that Saturn will take it slow and see how well they do with what they have.

For now, they’re doing the smart thing by injecting some green into a promising new model.

For more on the new Aura Green Line, visit: http://www.treehugger.com/files/2006/12/2007_saturn_aur.php

http://www.edmunds.com/insideline/do/AutoshowArticles/articleId=117733

- Posted by Taeho Lim

Domestic Cars, Hybrid Cars

Place Your Order for the 2008 Tesla

December 20th, 2006

News flash — The 2007 Teslas are sold out, so if you want to get your hands on one of these 100-percent electric roadsters, it’s time to put your order in now for a 2008 model. Of course, it will set you back about $92,000 (not including extras like custom floor mats at $125, XM satellite radio for $400, and a touchscreen navigation system for $1,200), but you’ll get quite a lot of car for your money.

For starters, you’ll get a sports car that produces one-tenth the pollution and is six times more efficient than the best sports car available today, according to the automaker. In fact, the Tesla has no tailpipe, because it produces no emissions. The car is powered by a 70-pound, single-rotor electric motor, which is connected to an Energy Storage System (ESS) that consists of thousands of lithium-ion cells. The result is a car that can accelerate from 0 to 60 in about 4 seconds, delivers plenty of torque throughout the range, and can travel about 250 miles on a single charge

Okay, that’s all well and good, but the real fun starts when you jump online to Tesla’s site at www.tesla.com to build your own vehicle. You can choose from a range of metallic and non-metallic colors, including Racing Green, Brilliant Yellow, and Obsidian Black, and customize it to your heart’s content. A reservation payment starts at $30,000 ($50,000 if you want to jump to the front of the line), so be sure to check your bank account — and do it before the 2008 models are sold out.

Car Industry News, Car Minded, Car Review, Electric Vehicles, General Chat

Acura: Too “Advanced” for U.S.?

December 19th, 2006

The Acura Advanced Sedan Concept, introduced at the LA Auto Show in early December, was not the hit the folks at Honda had hoped it would be. Reviewers and showgoers responded pretty negatively, overall, to the rather extreme design elements. The folks at Autoblog.com said, “[O]ur first reaction was shock and amazement, followed by a touch of nausea,” and that was one of the nicer comments. (Most reviewers did comment favorably on the concept’s potential roadworthiness, with its big tires and low center of gravity; it was definitely the look that turned people off.)

Acura Advanced Sports Car Concept
Well, Honda is getting another chance to impress the U.S. automotive community, with the unveiling of the Acura Advanced Sports Car Concept at the Detroit Auto Show in early January. The Sports Car Concept is, if anything, even more “advanced” in terms of styling than the Sedan Concept.

What do you think? Are U.S. drivers ready for something like this (even a softened version)? I somehow don’t see drivers who’ve spent the past several years enjoying their SUV’s headroom switching to something with a roofline raked this dramatically. It seems to me to have all of the wedgy un-charm of late-’70s sports cars, with the bottom-heavy clunkiness of a late-’80s sedan.

I guess we’ll have to wait and see how people react in Detroit.If I were Honda, I’d be worrying. The Acura brand has been floundering in the U.S. for a while, and even though this might look like a silver bullet, I don’t see it acting like one.

Car Industry News, Car Shows, Foreign Cars

BMW 1 Series: Coming to America?

December 13th, 2006

BMW 1 Series
An affordable, economical BMW? Isn’t that an oxymoron? It’s not if you consider the BMW 1 Series, which is currently sold in small-car friendly Europe and is due to arrive in U.S. sometime in 2007. After years of rumors, MINIs, and begging and pleading, BMW finally confirmed that the 1 Series would be sold Stateside, though the automaker is not relinquishing many details.

The impending arrival of the BMW 1 raises a lot of questions. First and foremost, what will it look like? The European 1 Series is a hatchback, but despite the apparent hatchback revival in the U.S., BMW has suggested that the 1 Series will take the shape of a coupe, sedan, and wagon in the States. Will it be rear-wheel-drive, like in foreign markets? Possibly, though affordable rear-wheel-drive vehicles are rare in the U.S., and it can cost valuable interior space, which is an important point for shoppers in the small car market. Will people buy an economical car with a luxury badge? It is a tricky marketing conundrum, and it will be interesting to see how BMW approaches it. However, car enthusiasts like novelty, and the 1 Series might put a BMW within reach for people who had only dreamed of owning one before.

What all BMW fans really wonder is, will the 1 Series be the new 2002, the beloved BMW sports sedan sold in the ’60s and ’70s? Only time will tell.

Read more about it at Kicking Tires, the cars.com blog.

Foreign Cars

All I Want for Christmas is the 2007 Jaguar XJ Super V8

December 11th, 2006

Santa, baby, are you reading this?

Royal Ford’s review of the new Jaguar XJ Super V8 in Sunday’s Boston Globe has given me the biggest new-car crush I’ve had in a long time. According to this piece, and others, the 2007 Jaguar XJ has the retro-classic style we love on the outside, and a high-tech, high-performance engine, drivetrain, and suspension.

As someone who’s always loved the Jaguar style, but feared its famous unreliability, I couldn’t be more thrilled. (I had a friend, years ago, whose advertising-mogul dad had two Jags–not out of any conspicuous consumption impulse, but because one or the other was always in the shop!) Since the Ford buyout, repair records for the Jag have improved dramatically. If I was in the market for a luxury sports sedan, I don’t think I would deliberate too long before going for the Jag.

And yet, the Jaguar folks are offering some sweeteners. I wonder why–is the luxury market softening? Do many buyers share automotive journalist Royal Ford’s belief that the classic Jaguar style is outdated and needs a revamp? To me, if it’s not broke, don’t fix it–people who want a Jaguar that doesn’t look like an old-school Jaguar can always go for an XR, after all.

Car Industry News, Car Review, General Chat

It’s Official: 2008 Saturn Astra to Join Lineup

December 10th, 2006

It’s been rumored for awhile, but on Dec. 7 General Motors announced it officially. The European-made Opel Astra will join GM’s revamped lineup in late 2007 as the 2008 Saturn Astra. Available as a two- or four-door hatchback, the Astra will be a replacement for the Saturn Ion when it joins the new Vue, as well as the Sky, Aura, and Outlook, in Saturn showrooms. GM points out that when the Astra goes on sale, none of the vehicles in the Saturn lineup will have been on the market for more than 20 months.

That’s certainly a welcome change for Saturn. There was a lot of hope for the GM offshoot company when it began making cars at a new plant in Tennessee in 1990. In fact, just moving the plant out of the Detroit area and adopting a Japanese philosophy and management style were intended to give the mark a fresh start. And for awhile it worked. In its early years, there was a certain mystique about the Saturn, much as there had been with the Volkswagen Beetle when it first appeared in the U.S. And Saturn appropriately nursed that mystique, with its “Different Kind of Car Company” slogan, its no-nonsense (“the price is right on the windshield”) sales approach, and its annual summer events at the Tennessee plant for Saturn owners.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the showroom. The cars just weren’t very good. I owned a Saturn in the mid-1990s, and was kind of excited to get my hands on it. But the car gave me problems the entire time I owned it. Once, when I took it in for service, the mechanic told me part of the engine had been recalled, and they proceeded to replace the “top” part of the engine but not the bottom. Very strange. After that, the car ran okay but it drank a quart of oil a week. I traded it in after a couple of years.

GM hopes that by sharing technology and design with Opel, which was founded in 1863 and taken over by GM in the 1930s, it can cut some costs, consolidate some of its processes, and hopefully build a better brand. GM has hinted that future GM vehicles, including Chevys and Pontiacs as well as Saturns, will share platforms and designs with Opels, and that additional Opel models, such as the Vectra, could be sold in the U.S. under the Saturn badge.

The Saturn Astra will be nearly identical to the 2007 Opel Astra that was recently unveiled at the Bologna Motor Show in Italy, according to GM. The European version will go on sale in February 2007. Both the European and U.S. versions will be built at Opel’s plant in Antwerp, Belgium. The 2008 Saturn Astra will have its official unveiling at the Chicago Auto Show in February 2007.

Car Industry News, Car Shows

BMW explores new Hybrid technologies in the X3

December 7th, 2006


Joining the search for the ultimate hybrid technology is BMW, with the release of their concept Hybrid X3, based on the line of SUV that BMW released in 2004. While the concept probably won’t be put into production in its current form, the X3 provides a useful testing platform for BMWs new technologies. Bear in mind during the rest of this article that with the introduction of these new technologies, performance improved immensely as fuel economy did. The top speed of the X3 Hybrid is around 146 mph, and the 0-60mph is 6.7 seconds, a full three seconds faster than the non-hybrid version. And with these performance increases, the X3 hybrid uses 20% less fuel.

The first technology BMW brought into the X3 Hybrid is the High Precision Injection System. Without getting too technical, this changes the location and make-up of the fuel injectors, allowing it to make a more efficient mix of fuel and air, without as much waste. The jet-injectors have more precision and control of the fuel than other injectors. BMW claims that this HPI system uses at least 10% less fuel than other fuel injectors, while increasing the performance of that fuel.

The second new technology BMW introduces in the X3 Hybrid is the Supercap, a high-performance capacitor. The Supercaps provide acceleration in conjunction with the engine, which is where the 3 seconds comes from in the 0-60 tests. Because the Supercaps are only used for about 3 seconds at a time for acceleration, they are recharged after each use, so you always get the maximum output out of them.

The Active Transmission combines the power of the Supercaps, an 80hp electric motor, and a traditional engine for maximum performance and fuel efficiency. And better still, all of the support systems, like air conditioning, are run electrically, so they don’t have any kind of drain on the engine, allowing for more power toward acceleration. If production of these combinations ever becomes standard, BMW could corner a market on high-performance hybrids. Estimates say that the X3 Hybrid would get about 25 miles per gallon, excellent fuel efficiency for an SUV. I can’t wait to see how BMW actually utilizes any or all of these technologies.

Exotic Cars, Foreign Cars, Hybrid Cars, Trucks & SUVs