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Archive for February, 2007

Audi Gets Emotional With New A5 and S5 Coupes

February 27th, 2007

Audi is jumping feet first into what it calls a “highly emotionally charged segment” of the automotive market by introducing two new vehicles for 2008. Those vehicles are the Audi A5 and the S5, and the emotionally charged segment to which Audi refers is the specialized realm of the Luxury Coupe, which is becoming more competitive and is certainly a highly prestigious segment for automakers. And a quick glance at Audi’s two new luxury coupes will tell you that “emotional” is exactly what the German automaker was aiming for in designing these vehicles.

Just check out that deep grille (a definite design trend for 2008 vehicles), those sweptback headlights, the stunning wheels, the wide stance, sporty overhangs, and flowing lines of the A5 and S5, and you’ll see what we mean. Who wouldn’t want to drive this car from one end of the country to the other and back? A car like this would certainly be an emotional buy, with the primary emotion being happiness.

The A5 and S5 luxury coupes are scheduled for their official unveiling in early March at the Geneva Auto Show, so details on the two cars are still limited, but this much we know. The A5 will be the grand touring model (read super-luxurious), while the S5 will be a sportier version of the same car.

Both models are designed to comfortably seat four passengers, and will be powered by FSI (direct injection) engines — a 3.2-liter V6 for the A5 and a 4.2-liter V8 for the S5, with horsepower for the A5 at around 260 and around 350 for the S5. Audi will push the vehicles’ front axle forward just a bit, with the engines riding behind it to improve balance and handling. Transmissions will be a six-speed manual or a continuously variable multitronic automatic gearbox, also called a continuously variable transmission or CVT.

Audi also notes that the A5 and S5 will feature a completely redesigned suspension with a new rack-and-pinion steering system, as well as Audi’s Quattro all-wheel-drive system, 17-inch alloy wheels, an automatically opening trunk, a keyless entry system, an electromechanical parking brake, and a comfort key. A three-zone air conditioning system, a panoramic tilting roof, navigation and audio systems, and Audi’s parking system with a rearview camera are also part of the package.

All in all, it sounds like an impressive package. So get your emotions ready — the Audi luxury coupes will be rolling into U.S. showrooms later this year.

Foreign Cars

Taking the High Road: The 2008 Toyota Highlander

February 25th, 2007

2008 Toyota Highlander

If you ask a bartender how to sweeten a screwdriver, he’d probably tell you to add more juice. The same rule apparently applies to the Toyota Highlander, which will get a major power upgrade for 2008.

If you saw this model at the 2007 Chicago Auto Show, you figured the basic design wouldn’t do much to rev up the public’s imagination. However, the Highlander does more than enough to rev its own 3.5-liter, 270-hp V6 engine with five-speed automatic transmission, a jump of almost 55 horses from earlier editions.

The new Highlander makes safety a priority with seven airbags that cover all three rows. In addition, a few extra inches in length and width along with an extra few hundred pounds give the SUV extra leverage and stability on the road. Expect to get 27 mpg in the city and 31 mpg on the highway.

Besides the extra girth, Toyota continues to offer a hybrid trim that feeds off a nickel metal hydride battery when the driver flips a switch. Unfortunately, the battery only lasts a mile before it needs re-charging. In any event, amateur conservationists may still appreciate the cursory attempt at lip service to reduced emissions.

So when can we drive the new Highlander? Expect the regular model to hit showrooms in July and the ‘hybrid’ to arrive by September. The increased size and power should make them worth the wait.

For more info, check out the following links:

http://www.edmunds.com/insideline/do/News/articleId=119522

http://www.automobilemag.com/auto_shows/2007_chicago/0702_2008_toyota_highlander/

- Posted by Taeho Lim

Car Shows, Foreign Cars, Hybrid Cars, Trucks & SUVs

Toyota and NASCAR – Oh What a Feeling!

February 22nd, 2007

The 2007 Toyota in race trim

When the green flag dropped this weekend on The Great American Race in Daytona, NASCAR’s Nextel Cup Series had what, at first blush, must have seemed like a distinctly foreign new flavor. The 2007 Daytona 500 served as the Nextel Cup Series debut of Toyota as some of NASCAR’s established stars such as Michael Waltrip, Dale Jarett, Jeremy Mayfield, and Brian Vickers were be among those driving their Camrys into battle.

NASCAR long since gave up their stated goal of racing full-size, two-door American muscle cars when the full-size, two-door American muscle car went the way of the carburetor (which ironically finds its last great refuge in NASCAR), but America’s 5th major sport stalwartly held to it’s assertion that American cars would form the centerpiece of stock car racing.

When it was announced that the Camry would enter the Nextel Cup and Busch Series in January of 2006, the howls of the purists were long, loud and plaintive. But I wonder how many of the purists know that the Camry was the only nameplate in the starting grid in Daytona that is actually built in the United States. Chevy’s Monte Carlo, a longtime staple of the series, is built in Canada, as is the Dodge Charger, which joined the series in 2005. Dodge of course is now owned by a German company but still carries the perception of an American brand. Ford’s entry, the Fusion, is made in Mexico, a long way from Toyota’s manufacturing facilities in the Blue Hills of Kentucky.

And while the Daytona 500 was Toyota’s coming out party in Nextel Cup, the race marked the third anniversary of the Japanese manufacturer’s participation in NASCAR’s higher profile racing series. Toyota joined NASCAR’s pickup truck schedule, the Craftsman Truck Series, in February of 2004 and won their first race in July of that same year. In 2006 Tundras found their way to Victory Lane in 12 of 25 races and Todd Bodine won the series Championship for Toyota, their second in a NASCAR series following a 2003 win NASCAR’s relatively unknown Dash Series.

Of course once you breakdown the cars in the Nextel Cup series you find out that their 2007 version of the “stock car” is far from stock. Any resemblance between Michael Waltrip’s NAPA Auto Parts Camry at Daytona and the Camry in your neighborhood showroom is purely coincidental and less than skin deep. The printed graphics that depict the Camry’s headlights are pretty much where the similarities end.

Underneath the basically generic sheet metal of a typical Nextel Cup car, a rolled steel-tube chassis provides a fortress of a roll cage that protects the driver from all angles. In the case of the Toyotas on race day that chassis will also carry the Camry Racing V8, a power plant fed 112-octane Sunoco fuel by an 830-cfm carburetor.

The 358-cubic-inch cast iron engine with aluminum heads will generate 850 hp while turning 9,000 rpm for the better part of three and a half hours each Sunday. Its 12:1 compression ratio will help provide 550 lb-ft of torque at 7,500 rpm.

Toyota continues to battle for acceptance in the garage amid criticism that they are attempting to buy dominance in the series by out-spending their struggling American competitors and raiding their team talent. But at least the owner of one of NASCAR’s biggest stable of race teams, Jack Roush of Roush Racing, believes that this only the beginning of the march of foreign manufacturers into America’s premier racing series.

“Nissan, Honda, Toyota will all be here,” he said. “I just hope when we’re done with it, we still have Ford, Chevrolet and Chrysler.”

Auto Racing

Short but Swede: Meet the XC60, Volvo’s Concept Cute-Ute

February 22nd, 2007

Break out the cigars. The enormously successful Volvo XC90, the Swedish maker’s first true SUV, is going to be a big brother. This blessed event – the arrival of the XC60 mini-ute – is expected by 2009 at the latest.

The world has been watching this dragged-out gestation period for some time now, as various incarnations of the XC60 concept have appeared at the world’s auto shows. It’s even gone through a name change, having grown up a notch from the original XC50 moniker.

It will compete with an impressive list of premium compact utes, including the BMW X3, the Acura RDX, and the forthcoming Mercedes-Benz GLK. The XC60 will get its drivetrain and platform from the Land Rover LR2, which awaits its U.S. launch in May.

Although it greatly resembles its XC90 idol, the new Swedish SUV is also based significantly on Volvo’s C30 sports coupe – look at the roofline, for instance. To be sure, its developers have consciously aimed for a beautiful blend of coupe and utility vehicle.

At the moment the XC60 concept has an innovative split tailgate, which features radical, form-following taillights along its angled edges and is heavy on the glass for better rear visibility. Its design also allows it to be opened in tight situations, for instance if another car is parked close to its bumper. Up front, the traditional Volvo iron-symbol grille is beefy, and it accents a new V-shaped “face” with ultra-modern rearward-reaching headlamps that may find its way across the product line.

The most notable feature on the inside is a very modern, slim-line center console that “floats” to save space and calls to mind a chrome-framed iPod. But this is a Volvo, so the big story will be the abundance of integrated safety features. Expect it all, from reinforced construction to whiplash-protection head restraints and every kind of airbag to electronic stability control.

Look for a 3.2-liter DOHC inline six (similar to the one in the S80 sedan and the Land Rover LR2) to provide the power, in the range of 230 horses. There’s no word yet on what the XC60′s towing capacity or offroad capability may be, but the concept model has been outfitted with front and rear skid plates that may or may not make the cut.

Foreign Cars, Trucks & SUVs

Green Lightning! Lotus Brings Bioethanol to the Track

February 21st, 2007

We all seem to be pretty green-minded here at the CarGurus blog these days; my excuse is that a friend of mine recently came back from Tennessee and the “Inconvenient Truth” training with Al Gore and company, and her enthusiasm and wealth of information has left me feeling like a fossil-fuel-swilling roadhog.

But wait! There’s hope on the horizon, even for hopeless car junkies and racing aficionados. While reading this interesting article about the rise of bioethanol in Europe, I discovered that Lotus has created a bio-powered racing car, the Lotus Exige 265E.

What could be cooler than a supercharged Exige? A supercharged Exige that delivers 265 horsepower and faster speeds than the regular Exige, and does it all on E85 fuel (that’s 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline). The unique concept car is a one-off demonstration model, but the performance has been so consistent that reviewers and drivers alike are calling for Lotus to add a bio-friendly element to its luxury line.

Lotus Exige E265

The green stripe is for…well, you’ve probably figured it out, but the sleek, streamlined design is old-school Lotus at its finest. The lucky people at CarMagazine.co.uk got to take this beauty for a spin, and it’s every bit as fast as it looks.

Okay, so you probably can’t afford a Lotus (I know I can’t). But this kind of creativity is testing the limits of what new, planet-friendlier fuels can do. We’re seeing innovation like this all over Europe–Saab’s Biopower models, which are being sold right now in Sweden and elsewhere, are an indication of how these alternative-fuel cars can command a place in the market.

And my only question is this: is the American car industry going to catch up?

Auto Racing, Foreign Cars, Gas for your car...

Its Getting Easier to be Green

February 20th, 2007

2007 Honda Civic Hybrid

Automobile manufacturers have not rushed to directly cater to consumers who factor environmental concerns into their decisions about which car to buy. But that doesn’t mean there’s a lack of “green” options in the automotive marketplace.

Fortunately for the Earth-friendly, there is a major area of overlap in the factors that make a car both less offensive environmentally, and more economically attractive. As gas prices rise consumers of all ecological stripes seek cars that are efficient with a gallon of gas. No matter what the intent of the buyer, a car that uses less gas creates fewer emissions and that helps the environment,

Of course several car companies have responded to the market outcry for fuel efficiency with hybrid cars but that technology currently requires an extra outlay of cash, somewhere in the neighborhood of $1,000 to $3,000. That premium continues to test the resolve of tree huggers everywhere but our marketing research friends, J.D Power and Associates say that you can still be green, or certainly greener, without going hybrid.

A list of the top 30 environmentally friendly, 2006-model-year vehicles released by J.D. Power contains just 8 hybrids. Among the 22 other cars on the list are the more traditional internal combustion types such as the Acura RSX; Chevrolet Aveo and Cobalt; Ford Focus sedan and wagon; Honda Accord and Civic; Hyundai Accent and Elantra; Kia Rio and Spectra; Mazda 3 and MX-5 Miata; Nissan Sentra; Saturn Ion; Scion xA; Suzuki Reno; Toyota Camry and Corolla; and the Volkswagen Golf (now known as the Rabbit for 2007), Jetta and New Beetle.

Those 22 models represent 15 of the 37 brands sold in the United States and include Ford and Chevy. The American manufacturers didn’t do so well, however, on a similar list released by Yahoo. Their list of top “green cars,” which includes the 2007 model year, developed in consultation with Environmental Defense (what Yahoo describes as “a leading non-profit that finds practical ways to protect the planet,” includes just the 2007, and 2006 version of the Ford Escape (#9 and #15) as the only vehicles from American companies. The Escape is also the only SUV in the top 15 of Yahoo’s list.

The Honda Civic Hybrid CVT for 2006 and 2007 takes the top two positions on the list, offering 49/51 mpg with a navigation system for under $25,000.

The 2006 and 2007 models of the Toyota Prius, also a hybrid, holds down spots #3, and #4 offer 60/51 mpg at a little more than $1,000 less than Honda’s hybrid.

Hybrids are gaining acceptance and popularity, and attracting incentives every day. Kansas is currently considering offering a $2,500 state income tax credit to residents who purchase a hybrid vehicle. Two Kansas state legislators, Rep. Anthony Brown and Rep. Tom Hawk, a Republican and a Democrat, told the Kansas House Energy and Utilities Committee that the tax refund would prompt car manufacturers to increase production of fuel-efficient hybrid vehicles, and help clean the environment.

“This also would be a good way to curb our use of foreign oil,” Brown said.

Despite the lack of a national advertising campaign, many Toyota dealers across the country have waiting lists for their hybrid Prius that are up to a year long, and customers were paying several thousand dollars more than sticker price for the cars that did reach the floor.

Fueled by gasoline prices reaching towards $3 a gallon last fall, Toyota sold 106,971 Priuses in the U.S. last year and 280,000 worldwide. But the lack of available product and the drop in gas prices this winter slowed sales. As a result Toyota will launch its first national ad campaign for their hybrid in April as the manufacturer gears up to deliver as many as 170,000 cars in 2007.

Spots #5 and #6 are held by Honda’s Civic GX NVG which uses natural gas as fuel which burns cleaner than gas but offers just 28/39 mpg.

For the less adventurous among us, the first traditional gasoline-fueled cars come in at #10, #11, and #12 in the form of (respectively) the 2007 Toyota Yaris S, the 2007 Hyundai Elantra, and the 2007 Toyota Corolla.

Even if environmental concerns won’t fuel your next car purchase the pursuit of the tree-friendly automobile will pay dividends in 2007 for those looking for economical transportation. We are still a ways away from complete acceptance and availability of cars with hybrid technology however, so this year being as green as possible in your garage will still cost you more green from your pocket.

Links

Yahoo’s Top 100 List of Green Cars for 2006-7: http://autos.yahoo.com/green_center-top100/

J.D. Power and Associates: http://www.jdpower.com

Car Industry News, Hybrid Cars

Poor Man’s Phantom / Rich Man’s Chrysler

February 18th, 2007

imperial1.jpg

The 1993 model year was the last time a new Chrysler wearing the Imperial badge rolled off the production line. A defining model for Chrysler, the Imperial was produced nearly without interruption from 1926 to 1975, with production only being suspended during the height of WWII. Chrysler resurrected the long-running name for brief stints in 1981 and 1990. In 1994, it was replaced by the LHS.

Perhaps the return of the Imperial should have been expected when DaimlerChrysler introduced the aggressive retro-styled 300 for 2005. While the 300 revisited some of Chrysler’s past attributes, its overall presentation seemed most inspired by current Bentley and Rolls Royce models.

The upcoming Imperial will bare many similarities to the current 300 and will share the LX platform, which was once the foundation for the Mercedes E-Class. Hints of the Rolls Royce Phantom will be very apparent throughout. There are also many 1960s Imperial design cues found here, including the long hood, short rear deck, free-standing headlights and taillights, and suicide doors.

The Imperial can be easily differentiated from the 300 by its size and the orientation of the cabin. While the 300 has more of a balanced layout, the Imperial’s roofline has positioned further to the rear of the car. This brings more interior space and the noticeably stretched hood. The Imperial is also much larger. The wheelbase has been pulled out three inches, and the overall height has been increased by half a foot. The Imperial reaches 214 inches in length, which is just short of the Bentley Arnage RL ‘Limosine’, and over a foot longer than the 300.

A car this size needs a lot of power, so Chrysler will drop in its most potent engine. A 5.7-liter Hemi V8 will provide this 4,000+ pound car with 340 horsepower and 390 pound-feet of torque. SRT-like acceleration is expected, but the Imperial will probably ride atop a softer suspension.

Front and rear French-style doors open to reveal a significantly higher quality interior. The Imperial is finished with leather seats, abundant California burl wood, and aluminum accents. Luxury elements will include a DVD entertainment system, reclining rear seats, and many soft LED lighting enhancements. The six-figure image which Chrysler hopes to establish will be further supported by the inclusion of many handcrafted items.

If the Imperial arrives as anticipated, along with the new Dodge Challenger in 2008, it will be slated as Chrysler’s new flagship sedan.

Car Industry News, Classic & Vintage Cars, Domestic Cars, General Chat

End of the Road: The Nissan Bevel Aims For An Older Crowd

February 17th, 2007

Nissan Bevel

Pro football coach Bill Parcells once said, “You are what you are.” But if you go out and tell everyone what you are, do you risk putting yourself in a box? This scenario illustrates the potential dilemma that the Nissan Bevel concept SUV faces after rolling out for its flashy debut at the 2007 Detroit Auto Show.

Nissan execs essentially label the Bevel as the new midlife crisis-mobile, geared toward 45-60 year old men whose kids have left the house and who finally have time to enjoy themselves. Call it a Rogue for the old folk.

Any way you spin it, Nissan decided that older men apparently enjoy solitary time with their dogs and their power tools. Enter the “utility/pet zone,” an area where you can fold down the rear seats to do some manual labor, store your camping equipment, or give Fido some room to roam outside of his specially designed home away from home near the tailgate. Need some more juice for the powerdrill? Plug it into the 110 volt outlet that draws power from the solar panel roof.

As for the powertrain, Nissan hasn’t mentioned much of anything beyond the 2.5 L V6 hybrid electric design. Then again, mature older men shouldn’t care how many horses their vehicle can pack under its hood. Nissan says you’ll drive alone in your Bevel almost 90% of the time anyway.

So when should we expect this concept to materialize? Most experts report that the Bevel should hit showrooms sometime in 2009 or 2010. Until then, be nice and let Dad take the Rogue out for a spin every once in awhile as he prepares for the twilight of his driving career.

For more info, check out these links:

http://www.ifilm.com/video/2814710

http://autos.msn.com/advice/urlart.aspx?contentid=4024583

http://www.autoblog.com/2007/01/07/detroit-auto-show-nissan-bevel-is-a-fresh-approach-for-a-utilit/

- Posted by Taeho Lim

Foreign Cars, Hybrid Cars, Trucks & SUVs

Little Big Car: The Mini Traveller Concept

February 15th, 2007

Never mind simple spy photos – by now even the spy video footage is out, and the world has seen what there is to see of the forthcoming five-passenger “estate” car from Mini, at least in its current form. Changes are expected, but for now this is how it looks.

The Mini Traveller concept car, which first showed its adorable frog-eyed face at the 2005 Frankfurt Motor Show, is an ever-evolving modern interpretation of the Morris estate cars of 1960s Britain. BMW owns the original Morris manufacturing plant, where it builds its Mini cars today.

The difference in size from the Cooper is said to be 18 inches overall – nope, not quite enough to call for installation of a rear-obstacle detector. Still, this space will make a huge difference in cargo capacity and may even allow Mini to claim it offers a family car.

Although the original Travellers often sported exterior wood, you shouldn’t expect that of the forthcoming Mini version. In fact, the concept car that appeared at the 2006 North American International Auto show in Detroit was outfitted with a stainless-steel roof rack (complete with token snowboard to appeal to the tres-young-and-cool car-buying segment). The Geneva Concept Traveller also appeared in 2006 at the Swiss city’s auto show.

No matter what accessories may end up on the outside of the Traveller, it’s the formation of the basic glass and sheet metal that grabs one’s attention. It looks much like the original, but in reverse, with an extended driver’s-side window uninterrupted by a B-pillar, and a “suicide” door on the passenger side, complete with B-pillar.

Another retro element is around, at least for the time being, as well: split rear barn doors – with their hinges forward of the taillights – in lieu of a hatchback. The rumor mill buzzes with word that parallel sunroof panels may serve as a completely modernizing feature.

Other 21st-century quirks that exist for now are the swiveling front seats with their centered (and thus hidden) mechanisms, and a hovering/revolving speedometer that moves as the needles stays put. Aside from some of these interesting elements possibly vanishing from the production Mini estate, the Traveller name itself may say cheerio: ownership of that name has not been clearly determined, so it may not in fact be available for use by BMW and Mini.

Look for the Traveller – or whatever it will be called – at your Mini dealership by 2009 at the latest. It’s expected to use the Cooper’s current 1.6-liter, four-cylinder engine, and there may be a turbocharged version.

Classic & Vintage Cars, Foreign Cars

Coupe de Grace! The 2008 Scion tC–More Elegant Than Ever

February 15th, 2007

With all the Chicago Auto Show buzz about the bigger new Scion xB, and the replacement of the xA by the new xD, a lot of the automotive press kind of forgot about the changes promised for the 2008 Scion tC. Not our friends at AutoBlog.com, though. Their coverage of the new look for the Scion tC coupe had me starry-eyed over the graceful, sleek revamp of the little car that could.

2008 Scion tc

The official press release describes the redesigned front fascia as “menacing”. “Menacing”? It’s about as “menacing” as a streamlined Siamese kittycat. The blacked-in headlights and mesh-and-lattice grille give the front end a curvy Art Nouveau feel, and the new taillights are similarly retro. Inside the cockpit, there are a few new hipster touches (a very cool combination meter, for instance) that add to the old-school sportscar vibe.

The Scion tC’s low-slung stance and swooping lines also contribute to its “flashback to elegance” style. But the folks at Toyota know their market niche–they’ve added standard iPod connectivity to their standard sound system (which was already well tricked-out for the price point). And of course, the Scion tC is tuner-friendly; Toyota makes it easy on buyers who want to customize their cars, with a range of enhancement parts available from Toyota Racing Development, as well as a tuner-targeted tC Spec Package trim that comes off the line bare-bones and ready for customization.

With the Scion tC, Toyota’s found the sweet spot at the intersection of affordability, style, and fun. The 2008 Scion tC coupe is definitely going to keep them right in the groove. I can’t wait to test-drive one!

Car Shows, Foreign Cars