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Archive for February, 2007

Ford Taurus to Return (And That’s No Bull)

February 13th, 2007

You remember the Ford Taurus, right? Not so long ago, it was the bestselling car in America. That was in the early 1990s, when the Taurus resembled an elongated bubble, and the oval as a design attribute was all the rage. (I’ll reserve comment on the attractiveness of those cars.)

But what goes up must come down. Around the turn of the millennium, the Taurus managed to get knocked off its lofty perch by those pesky Japanese automakers. The Honda Accord and Toyota Camry became the new kings of the hill, and ever since the Taurus has been on a downward spiral, to the point where the Ford brain trust decided to send the car to the woodshed and effectively end its run in 2006.

Enter Alan Mulally, Ford’s new chief executive, who rightly wondered why the struggling Ford company was trying to develop (unsuccessfully) all-new brands (like the Five Hundred) while familiar old brands (like the Taurus) had sold millions of cars in the past. It was a rather simple solution to redub the 2008 Ford Five Hundred as the 2008 Ford Taurus. Such is the power of a CEO.

So make a notation in your 2008 auto playbooks. The 2008 Five Hundred is now the 2008 Ford Taurus. When it starts showing up in showrooms later this year, it will essentially be the same car Ford recently introduced, with a family-friendly styling, a contemporary grille, and a 3.5-liter V6 generating 260 horsepower.

Ford will also slap the Taurus X badge on its Freestyle crossover vehicle. And the 2008 Mercury Montego will be redubbed the Mercury Sable. Sounds like the good times are back for Ford — er, at least, they hope so.

Car Industry News, Domestic Cars

Air Force Fun: The Audi Roadjet

February 10th, 2007

Audi Roadjet Concept

Not too long ago, Ruben Studdard won American Idol with his stirring rendition of “Flying Without Wings.” While a recent poll revealed that only about 13 people in America remembered that fact, Audi might want to have him on speed-dial for their marketing campaign when they introduce their Roadjet compact concept to European showrooms in the near future. After an eye-opening debut at the January 2006 Detroit Auto Show, Audi has announced that the concept will finally materialize in Europe in the near future.

Audi has made sure to make the ride fun for everyone. It all begins with a unique interior design, which features 3 rows that seat 5. Each front seat has a 7″ screen on the back of its headrest and the second row features a central console where you can store anything from a video game system to an espresso machine.

Got bass? The Roadjet has plenty to spare with its 14 speaker, 1,000 watt audio system. If you need more cargo room, simply fold down the two second row seats and slide down the fifth seat in the back.

While the interior design will impress just about anyone, the Roadjet really shines in its performance and high-tech specs. First, the 3.2 L, 300 hp V6 powertrain features a new 7 speed direct shift gearbox, which switches on a dime with its twin-clutch design. Acceleration from 0-60 mph takes 6.3 seconds and fuel consumption should come out to a solid 22.6 mpg. Best of all, Audi has joined forces with other manufacturers to include “car-to-car communications” transmitters that will allow vehicles to exchange information to help determine traffic patterns, find a parking space, or even save another driver who has veered too far off the road for anyone to see.

As for availability on this side of the pond, don’t get your hopes up. Experts believe that Audi will instead market the more SUV-like Q5 in order to appeal to the American automotive palette. Whenever and wherever it does arrive, expect the Audi Roadjet to keep its wheels on the ground and its hood in the clouds.

For more info, check the following sites:

http://www.audi-roadjetconcept.com/

http://www.automobilemag.com/future_cars/2008/0604_2008_audi_roadjet/

– Posted by Taeho Lim

Car Audio, Exotic Cars, Foreign Cars

2008 Mitsubishi Lancer: The New Ol’ Kid on the Block

February 8th, 2007

The Mitsubishi Lancer used its recent hiatus to undergo a makeover. The previously none-too-exciting compact sedan skips the 2007 model year and re-emerges for 2008 showing more of an edge, although you’ll still know it’s a Lancer. Think of that wallflower kid back in high school who came back after summer vacation with a cool haircut and a new wardrobe.

While I wouldn’t exactly call it bold, as some reviewers are doing, I admit that it’s nothing if not cute, the kind of thing your little sister would be all over. Its spoiler and spoked wheels give it a contemporary look, and the word sporty does suit it – as long as it’s not parked between two Spyders.

The car’s face has a fierce look, somewhat reminiscent of a fighter jet (don’t forget – it was Mitsubishi who gave the world the legendary Zero). The hood, air intake, and bumper present a cohesive front, united by body color.

The interior is a bit edgy, with a somewhat unconventional design that has the shifter coming forward from the dash rather than up out the floor. It saves a bit of space and looks clean. The instrument panel is uncomplicated, yet modern-looking. But don’t expect to set too much down on the dash, as it is steeply sloped.

This new Lancer is built on the same platform as the Outlander crossover, which has also been redesigned. Although the wheelbase is longer than the previous generation’s, this Lancer is a tad shorter overall. The compact sport-sedan will be fully outfitted with safety equipment, from ABS to air bags.

All trim levels of this little buggy will have a 2.0-liter engine that kicks out 152 horses, except for models sold in California, where the special PZEV-certified engine will produce 143 horsepower. The ’08 Lancer will become the first Mitsubishi sold in the U.S. to offer a continuously variable transmission.

Check your local Mitsubishi dealership for the new Lancer, which will come in three trim levels, starting in March 2007. If you prefer the higher-powered Lancer Evolution X, you’ll have to wait an additional year.

Foreign Cars

Bigger is better? That’s Scion’s bet!

February 6th, 2007

Toyota unveils the 2008 Scion xB at the Chicago Auto Show this week, and word is that it’s going to be bigger. Advance reports suggested that the Scion group had responded to drivers’ requests for a roomier vehicle with the same zip and agility.

In fact, Toyota went so far as to invite a group of Scion drivers to a special invitation-only December preview in Miami Beach; hosted by Rainn Wilson of “The Office” and featuring a performance by hip-hop star Ludacris, the aggressively hip evening offers a clue as to whom Toyota is trying to sell the Scion.

At the Miami event, Toyota did a bit of viral marketing by sharing some advance details about the new xB. According to attendees, it’s bigger in every dimension, with a softer, curvier exterior design and some new touches of comfort in the interior. Not as boxy as the Scion t2B concept model that was previewed in 2005, the new Scion xB still has a heftier presence than in past years.

Another announcement that surprised no one was the retirement of the Scion xA. Its replacement, the Scion xD, is quite a bit bigger, but still sleek compared to the new xB. Scion group VP Mark Templin seems to be committed to the idea of ”giving the customers what they want,” and apparently they want bigger Scions.

Whether or not we’ll want bigger Scions if fuel prices spike up once again is, of course, another question. The move in the European market seems more and more toward mini-SUV models; the Japanese and American producers may be caught napping if someone imports that trend successfully. Reading UK reviews of the Fiat Doblo with its 35-45 mpg fuel rating, for instance, makes me wonder if the new Scion hasn’t taken a wrong turn somewhere.

Update: The new Scion xB was unveiled today (Thursday, February 8 ) to great excitement. Apparently, this really is what people want. I’ll admit it’s a gorgeous little SUV!

2008 Scion xB

Read more about the new Scion xB at the always-intrepid AutoBlog.com.

Car Industry News, Car Minded, Car Shows

In A Time of Nostaglia, VW Introduces the Inevitable

February 4th, 2007

The More Things Change, the more they stay the same. For many years, American consumers have been embracing the retro movement. Athletic shoes, team jerseys, and advertising posters led the way, and now automobiles have followed.
microbus_leftside.jpg

VW gets most of the credit for turning back the clock with the new Beetle in the late 1990s. Dodge has followed with a new Charger fit for Bo and Luke Duke, and a Challenger with even stronger ties to its muscle car roots is also in the works for 2008. Other automakers like Jaguar, Aston Martin, and Bugatti retain many of the styling cues that have historically defined their cars. A look at several upcoming models will confirm that many current designers demonstrate a great reverence for the past.

So in the midst of this nostalgic movement, where’s the Mircobus? VW has a design and even a prototype, but a release date has not been written in stone. While this new version’s styling will be reminiscent of the sixties counterculture icon, that is where the similarities end. Volkswagen plans to incorporate a powerful engine and a myriad of luxury items: concepts which were alien to the Microbus predecessor.

scotts bus.JPG

Many of us may be too young to recall the first and second generation VW people-haulers in action. However, a used Microbus is not to hard to find today, with many well-kept models priced around $5,000. What you’ll get is a stylish eight to ten passenger van with a rear-mounted 47 horsepower engine. So buckle up.

Several variations were available through the years. Later models like the Vanagon and EuroVan received more power and additional convenience features, but they were not as popular in the United States. VW was never able not offer a reasonably priced competitor in the ever-expanding minivan market.

VW will not address this shortcoming with the next Microbus. The new model will be equipped like a Passat, and receive an interior finish similar to the Toureg. The price is expected to be in the $30,000-40,000 range. Like the new Beetle, affordability is no longer a selling point. So the question is: can VW find a market?

A 3.2 liter front-mounted V-6 will supply 230 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque. The V-6 is twice the size of the original engine, and it generates five times the power. Other revolutionary additions include 20 inch wheels, a five speed automatic transmission with tiptronic, a rotating middle row of seats, and an entertainment system with four 7-inch screens. The rearview mirror is replaced by fifth 7-inch LCD screen which displays images sent from a rear-mounted camera.

The German automaker has not yet announced plans for a new VW Thing or Rabbit Pickup. Every retro movement should have some limits.

Car Industry News, Car Review

Porsche re-dials 911

February 2nd, 2007

2004 Porsche 911

When we were in kindergarten, my friends and I used to ask each other what cars we would get when we grew up. I always said I wanted a Chevy Chevette because my mom drove me to school in one. The more refined members in our Transformers play group called me crazy and said we should all get Porsches.

If we had some dough left over, we promised each other we would get the option to make our models come together and form into Voltron.

Yes, I eventually learned that cars can’t transform into robots. Nevertheless, Porsche has shown an uncanny ability to transform how the public perceives the people who drive their vehicles. The 2008 Porsche 911 lays claim as a worthy heir to the automotive throne by featuring some minor changes that should make major waves.

While the 2007 911 trims pack anywhere from 325 to 480 horses under the hood, industry insiders tell us that new direct-injection engines should increase those figures by 5 to 25 hp across the board by ’08. Fuel economy should improve by 10-15% and Porsche plans to replace the Tiptronic automatic transmission with a smoother dual clutch gearbox.

In the end, when it comes to updating its crown jewel, Porsche appears to practice addition by inertia: until the competition submits a worthy challenger, the 911 shouldn’t have to worry about anyone pushing it around anytime soon.

For more info, check the following links:

http://www.autoblog.com/2006/12/25/porsche-to-update-911-for-2008/

http://www.motorauthority.com/cars/porsche/details-on-porsches-2008-911-update/

– Posted by Taeho Lim

Exotic Cars, Foreign Cars

Bugatti: A Pioneer In the $1,000,000 Sedan Market

February 1st, 2007

veyron_sedan.jpg
Let’s say you’re shopping for luxury sedans with a $1,000,000 budget. What would you buy? Four Bentleys? Nine Mercedes S500s? Thirty Toyota Avalons? Maybe you’d like twelve hundred 1985 fair condition Cadillac Sedan De Villes?

How about one Bugatti. One million dollars seems like a lot of money just one car, so how can the French automaker justify such a sticker price? Enter the Veyron.

Shortly after becoming a Volkswagen subsidiary in 2000, Bugatti SAS began the development of a new super car called the 16.4 Veyron. Bugatti’s clear intention was to build the fastest car ever offered to the public, at the highest price the automotive world had ever seen. Production faltered throughout the early part of the decade, due to vehicle stability issues during high speed tests.

The rear mounted engine was your run-of-the-mill 8.0 liter quad-turbocharged W-16 with 987 horsepower and 922 pound-feet of torque. The 0-60 time is just 3.0 seconds, and 0 to 186 mph took fourteen seconds. In addition to special cross-drilled brakes, the car was also equipped with a rear air brake. This feature helped bring the Veyron from 252 mph to a halt in less than ten seconds.

The final version 16.4 rolled off the production line in 2005. Bugatti now plans to follow up with a sedan version.

The new Veyron is a 950 horsepower, one million dollar sedan. An entirely new platform has been constructed, but the same W-16 engine and (AWD/seven-speed transmission) drive train will be utilized.

Production shouldn’t be as painstaking here, because the new Veyron will need less high-speed-focused engineering. The 200+ mph top speed potential will be limited far short of that. Although the sedan will be built with revolutionary aluminum and carbon composite materials, it will retain many traditional Bugatti features, like the split rear window and absurd price.

While the market for the previous Veyron 16.4 super car was understandably finite, chairman Thomas Bscher is confident that Bugatti can find buyers for the sedan. Certainly, this car is marked by being in a class by itself, with respect to both price and performance.

Exotic Cars, Foreign Cars

The Nissan Skyline GT-R: It’s the Limit

February 1st, 2007

For years now the rumor mill has been buzzing like an overcrowded apiary in July heat: when is the Skyline finally coming to America?

The legendary Nissan Skyline, which debuted in 1969, has never been sold in the U.S. – unless you count the quasi-legal sales of right-hand-drive crash-test guinea pigs. Well, after a bit of a false start the car’s itinerary now appears to be officially booked, once and for all, and Uncle Sam will soon get his chance to slip behind the wheel (on the left side, thank you) and push 180.

After speculation that the car would be released as a 2008 Infiniti in the U.S., Nissan chief Carlos Ghosn announced a year ago at the New York Auto Show that it will in fact be called the Nissan Skyline GT-R. Alas, things always change, and now that date has been crossed out and moved futureward once again. It will now be a 2009, with the projected availability date now autumn of 2008. Those of you with the big bucks burning a hole in your checkbook are just going to have to be patient and keep believing that it’ll be worth the wait.

Although the Skyline has enjoyed decades of respect and popularity in its native Japan as well as the other countries in which it has been sold, it wasn’t a hit right out of the gate. But various incarnations of Skylines began to take much of the world by storm, rolling out with more and more state-of-the-art improvements and innovations until it became the host of Japanese performance cars.

Aside from the ol’ switcheroo with the driver’s seat, there shouldn’t be many changes for the U.S. market. The same twin-turbo, 3.7-liter V6 will power it over here – and that means 450 horses, so saddle up! We’re talking about the fastest Nissan ever.

Perhaps the best news about the Skyline GT-R is that it will be based on a unique chassis, all its own, rather than a sedan derivation. Spy photos confirm that this is one sexy body that just screams performance. (Can you say 0 to 60 in 3.8 seconds?) The deep rearward pitch of the roof toward those tight C-pillars and the broadening toward the back end confirm that the car is built for speed. A great deal of air-flow analysis and research went into the final design decisions, and rumors hold that some of the brains behind Lotus may have been consulted.

The car’s “face” is dominated by a unique headlight formation and prominent grille whose field of blackness is interrupted only by its shiny brand-badge. The taillights appear as two pairs, offset in a slight diagonal with the top one larger than the other. Below each set is a pair of titanium exhaust pipes that look formidable enough in a still photo – so imagine how they’ll look and sound while they’re doing their thing.

So what else is behind all that sexy sheet metal? This upcoming GT-R should become the first ever with an available 7-speed, paddle-shifted automatic transmission. Its twin turbochargers are fed by a single, centered air intake for maximum efficiency in powering the V6 that won out as the engine of choice over the too-heavy V8 of earlier consideration.

All-wheel drive comes courtesy of Nissan’s ATTESA E-TS system, which uses a microprocessor to continuously monitor the driving situation to determine how much torque to distribute to each axle. In a relaxed cruising situation the function is basically rear-wheel drive, but up to 50% (the smartypants system determines the appropriate ratio) of the power can be transferred to the front axle when the system detects rear-wheel slippage. Are you excited yet? Then you’ll really be tickled to hear that this car will likely have four-wheel steering to boot.

So if you’re considering, say, a brand-new Porsche 911, you might want to think it over some more. Just hold your horses (yeah, all 450 of ‘em) and wait ’til next year, when you can reach the Skyline.

Exotic Cars, Foreign Cars

Crikey! A New Pontiac from Down Under!

February 1st, 2007

Between the headline-hogging BMW Hydrogen 7 launch, and the Big Three’s desperate attempts to draw attention to their new truck models, another Chicago Auto Show unveiling might go next to unnoticed. I’m intrigued, though, by General Motors’ decision to import Australia’s best-selling sedan, the Holden Commodore, and market it as the new Pontiac G-8.

Pontiac G-8

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Car Industry News, Car Minded, Car Shows