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2010 Ford Taurus SHO: Ford’s Attempt at a Muscle Sedan?

June 22nd, 2009

2010 Ford Taurus SHO-1This one is getting really mixed first-drive reviews. People want to like it, and they find its performance and engine by and large good. The steering leaves much to be desired, the brakes are inadequate, the interior is Audi-esque, the handling is good for a big car. And this is a big car: 4,368 pounds of big car, 998 more than the original. You might like its looks; I think it’s a tank.

2010 Ford Taurus SHO-2The new SHO is a very different concept from the one that debuted in 1989 with a 220-hp V6 (later a V8) developed and built by Yamaha. By taking a family sedan and transforming it into a production car, Ford caught the imagination of more than a few niche buyers. Production ended ten years later with 100,000 cars sold. Still, according to Car and Driver’s Tony Quiroga, Ford dumbed it down over that time, trying to make it appeal more to the mainstream.

The new SHO has what Ford calls an Eco Boost, 365-hp, 350-lb-ft/torque twin-turbo direct-injection V6, with a flat torque curve, all-wheel-drive, and, most agree, a great paddle-shifted automatic transmission. Jalopnik described the ride:

Put your right foot down and the SHO is fast, if unexciting. The ride is firm yet controlled in the European luxury mold and the interior is exceptionally isolated from wind, road and engine noise. There’s absolutely no body roll. The electric power-assisted steering is direct and well weighted, but almost completely absent of feel. Combine that with the extremely large proportions—at 202.9″, the Taurus is only 9″ shorter than the Crown Victoria—and the limited vision created by the high belt line and you have a car that’s pretty challenging to place accurately at speed on a winding road.

Autoweek is cheerleading for the car, with the headline “Hot-Rod Ford Taurus SHO Lives Again.” From what I read, this is hardly the case. Ford has created a high-powered luxo sedan—very quiet, very big, very mainstream, but hardly a performance sedan. Fully equipped, you’re looking at $39,825, and finally, but for the engine, it’s not all that different from the Taurus at $27,995. Where’s the beef?

Is Ford on the right path here? Or have we traveled this way before?

—jgoods

Car Industry News, Car Minded, Car Review, Domestic Cars, General Chat

Porsche Moves Upmarket and Down

June 15th, 2009

2010-Porsche-PanameraWe’re getting a first-drive report on the new Porsche Panamera from Car and Driver. So, to cut to the chase, it’s a worthy addition to the Porsche stable. If you like four-door, four-seat, four-wheel-drive, 4,000-pound sports cars with 400+ horsepower, you’ll love it. The Turbo version (@500 hp) will put you into another dimension, says C&D, as

the acceleration is almost surreal. According to Porsche, 0 to 60 mph takes just 4.0 seconds, the sprint to 100 mph takes just 9.0 seconds, and top speed is a lofty 188 mph. Running full tilt in this car is an exquisite experience that would seems [sic] to justify every single penny of the Turbo’s $132,600 asking price.

2010-porsche-panamera-interiorThree different models are available, starting at $89,800 for the Panamera S. It’s got all the sporting goodies you’d expect from Porsche, plus a very posh interior and room for lots of Louis Vuitton luggage. This sort of vehicle is definitely new territory for Porsche, at the top end of their road cars, which appeals (or should) to a very different market niche.

1976-porsche-914There’s another report, this one from German media via MotorAuthority, about an entry-level Porsche roadster which they compare to the 914 of the late ‘60s-early ‘70s. Hah! The price of the original was $3,595 in 1973 dollars; the proposed new one will be something like $48,000 (€35,000). That is the low-end price of the Boxster, and if the roadster comes about, Porsche will again be eating its own lunch as it once did with the 912 and the 924.

The report sounds totally crazy to me, particularly since the proposed new car would “be a joint effort between Porsche and VW, though the basic mechanicals would likely be drawn primarily from VW’s massive corporate parts bin.” Isn’t that what we just reported for the new concept-to-production VW BlueSport, which is closer to becoming a reality than the pseudo-914? Maybe German media, if not MotorAuthority, are confusing the two.

On the other hand, the confusion may have to do with the continuing infighting between Porsche and VW. Back in the late ‘60s they were also squabbling over who should produce the 914, and history may well be repeating itself.

On a related (or unrelated) note, in Porsche’s unrelenting quest for financial backing, it appears to be selling a 25-percent stake to investors in Qatar. The drama continues.

Should Porsche concentrate its efforts upmarket or down? What do you think?

—jgoods

Car Industry News, Car Minded, Car Review, Exotic Cars, Foreign Cars, General Chat

Tesla Model S Video Introduction

June 10th, 2009

As our regular readers already know, we’re big fans of Tesla Motors and its plan to build long-range plug-in electric cars with performance that matches or exceeds that of most sports cars. So we’re naturally very excited about Tesla’s anticipated Model S sedan, due for release as a 2011 model.

The Model S will extend Tesla’s thinking into a vehicle that can accommodate four adults at a much lower price point than that of Tesla’s currently available Roadster. You can get a better sense of the Model S through the video below, which features Chief Designer Franz von Holzhausen and Tesla Chairman, Product Architect, and CEO Elon Musk.

What do you think: Will a relatively affordable, high-performance, pure-electric sedan serve as a game-changer for the auto business, at least here in America? Do you think Tesla’s Model S will be that game-changer?

-Steve Halloran

Car Minded, Car Review, Domestic Cars, Electric Vehicles, Gas for your car..., General Chat, Hybrid Cars

Do You Really Want One of These?

June 8th, 2009

2010-PriusA lot of people do, it seems, and Toyota recently increased its production of the 2010 Prius to 500,000 a year, up 25 percent. There is real demand out there.

But, as I’ve said before, it’s not easy for a car enthusiast to like the Prius, even though we can applaud the intent. If we’re going to do the green thing, we want to drive a Tesla.

2010-prius-dashThe Prius is a car for the green do-gooders, for the tech-obsessed, for the socially conscious eco babies. Car and Driver said it was anything but exciting. “The excitement, we suppose, is in wearing your beliefs on your fender.” People who love cars will hate it. The first time I got into and drove one, a friend’s 2006, it seemed like I was in a movie. This is the feeling Jay Shoemaker expressed about the new car, adding:

I was still entombed in the resin chamber that passes for an automobile interior. If Ralph Nader had been an engineer, this is the car he would have designed, a vehicle for people who loathe automobiles.

And the barbs continue, as he knocks everything from ergonomics to handling and the over-reliance on gimmicks to drive up the price. Jalopnik liked the car better, but said it had decent road manners only with the optional 17-inch wheels.

We’re coming down to a media battle between the automotive press, mostly comprised of enthusiasts, against the practical, green, transport-oriented, global-warming crowd, who clearly outnumber the car-lovers. But the greenies should remember that their beloved Priuses and Insights are not really cars yet. They are transportation vehicles or, as Shoemaker called them, “personal vehicular transportation modules.” Which means, for most car lovers, that they’re still bureaucratic people-movers out of some futuristic movie.

Which side are you on: enthusiast or green? How can we bridge the gap?

—jgoods

Car Industry News, Car Minded, Car Review, Foreign Cars, General Chat, Hybrid Cars

What happens when an auto writer becomes an auto buyer?

May 3rd, 2009

lexus-rx330My wife’s car has given us trouble since the day we got it. 

This weekend we’re finally succumbing to the reality that we probably need to replace it before it leaves us stranded somewhere in the middle of Wyoming.

And so begins the process of shopping for a car. As an automotive writer, it’s easy for me to dish out advice and recommend certain makes, models, and strategies for getting the best deal. But when me-the- writer turns into me-the-consumer, things get more complicated.

My wife decided she wanted to look at a pre-owned Lexus RX 330 and a pre-owned Nissan Murano. After looking online at CarGurus.com and searching local listings, we headed first to the Lexus dealership and then the Nissan dealer. What a difference in experience between the two!

At Lexus, we were warmly welcomed, shown a few cars, and then asked to test drive one. The salesman quickly sent us on our way. We returned wanting to look at a few other older models that would save us some money. The Lexus salesman never put pressure on us and even asked us what we wanted to happen next. He’s crunching some numbers as I type this.

nissan-muranoNext we drove to Nissan, where the environment was completely different. We parked in front of a group of 5 salesmen and were approached by one before we even got out of our car. He showed us a few Muranos, but wouldn’t let us drive them alone as the Lexus dealer did. During our test drive they managed to take our car for a trade-in appraisal, assumed we were going to buy the Nissan, and acted shocked when we said we weren’t interested in it. 

Then they played the whole “let me go find your keys” game while we stood and waited as someone else tried to talk us into buying the Murano.

The idea of car shopping is exciting and fun. Actually doing it can be frustrating as heck.

Today we want to look at Mazdas, Subarus, and Volkswagens. I can only hope we run into more dealers like Lexus! Tomorrow I’ll fill you in on the deals I’m seeing and provide insights from the dealers on the state of their business. I’m surprised at what they’ve said so far!

What family-friendly domestic models would you consider buying? If you have advice or experience on car shopping, let’s hear it!

-tgriffith

Car Industry News, Car Minded, Car Review, Domestic Cars, Foreign Cars, General Chat, Trucks & SUVs

Is the best car America produces headed for the scrap heap?

April 29th, 2009

Pontiac G8Its interior has been compared to the phenomenal Audi layout. Its driving experience has been likened to BMW.

We’re not talking about anything new from Lincoln, Cadillac, or Buick… the car receiving such accolades is the 2009 Pontiac G8, specifically in its GXP trim. 

The irony runs deep, as anyone who even remotely follows the auto industry knows the Pontiac brand will soon cease to exist. Had that been announced in 2006, the only disappointed folks would be the ones who buy cheap Pontiacs destined for rental fleets. 

Now that GM has created a real contender in the RWD performance sedan market, there’s a lot of people saying, “Whoa… we’ve gotta keep this car around!”

The GXP uses a Corvette 6.2-liter, 402-hp V8 that reaches 60 miles per hour in under 5 seconds. The handling is tight, and the interior is downright comfortable and even…luxurious! The G8 is truly a home run, and GM is going to let it die? Let’s hope not.

Our friends at Jalopnik threw out the idea that the G8 GXP could become a Camaro or Impala SS sedan. Heck yeah it could! 

An Australian Web site said that Holden (GM’s affiliate down under that markets the G8 as the Commodore) is in talks to provide U.S. law enforcement with a Chevy-badged version of the G8 to replace their aging Ford Crown Victoria squad cars. 

As cool as the fantasy world of the G8 living on is, the most likely reality is that it’ll fade into automotive lore as coming too late to turn Pontiac around. 

I’m sensing a future collectible and am half-tempted to go make a deal on one, have some fun with it in the summer months, then store it in my garage until someone makes me an offer on it that I can’t refuse!

Is the G8 GXP the car that could have saved Pontiac had it come sooner?

-tgriffith

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

Video Preview of the 2010 Prius

December 29th, 2008

Members of the Blue Man Group serve as guides for a video preview of the 2010 Toyota Prius now available on YouTube. Looks like the new Prius will have a less-distinctive profile than the current version, not to mention headlight washers, an iPod jack, a new display for the hybrid system, and a somewhat swankier interior. Strangely enough, the retro-cool music featured in the preview has garnered almost as many comments on YouTube as the car itself.

Are you open to purchasing a hybrid vehicle within the next year? If not, what needs to change before you’ll consider buying one? And what do you think of the music in the Prius preview?

-Steve Halloran

Car Minded, Car Review, Foreign Cars, General Chat, Hybrid Cars

2009 Ford F-150 vs Ram 1500

November 17th, 2008

Both the F-150 and Ram 1500 are being introduced for 2009 with major overhauls, and both Ford and Dodge are airing TV commercials saying they have the tougher truck.

The market for these trucks has been cut in half during the last 4 years, with nearly 3 million pickups selling in 2004 and a projected 1.6 million this year. Which pickup is truly the toughest and most deserving of your cash?

I’m going to get to the bottom of this and tell you.

First, the 2009 Ford F-150:

The 2009 F-150 borrows it’s looks from last year’s Super Duty truck and creates one massive and intimidating front end, with a body to match. It’s offered in a near-endless array of trims with prices beginning around $20K and sailing all the way across the $40K barrier. The big news here is that all trim levels have a base 4.6L V8 engine. No more V6’s for the ol’ F-150!

Step up to the 5.4 V8 though and get slightly better fuel economy, to the tune of 15/20. Not bad for a mighty truck!

Innovation in the F-150 includes a trailer towing package that monitors your trailer and adjusts itself if it senses sway, giving you a level of trailer control never seen before. Speaking of trailers: the F-150 can tow up to 11,300 pounds and offers a payload capacity of 3,030 pounds.

Ride quality though is where the tradeoffs may come, as Ford continues to rely on the traditional rear leaf spring system. Why not though, since no self-respecting truck company would ever build a truck with sissy coil springs. Right?

Enter the 2009 Dodge Ram 1500:

It’s true; they broke the cardinal rule of truck-dom and are using coil springs on the rear. Albeit massive coil springs, but still…

Well not to worry! Dodge took a risk and it looks like everything’s going to work out just fine, though at the cost of not matching Ford’s tow numbers. 

Ram is offered with a 3.7L V6, probably for under $20K. Prices and trim levels of course multiply from there, ending upwards of $40K for the top of the line version. Dodge’s 390 horsepower 5.7L V8 Hemi will tow a max of 9,100 pounds and achieve gas mileage of 13/18.

But those coil springs will provide a ride quality never before felt in a pickup.

So which truck should you buy? Well OK, I’ll let you tell me:

Better MPG and higher tow rating of the F-150, or a smoother ride and decent tow capacity with the Ram 1500?

 -tgriffith

Car Review, Domestic Cars, Trucks & SUVs

Hybrid Escalade? Gimme a break!

September 24th, 2008

I want to talk about something that’s incredibly simple, but for some reason a lot people don’t seem to get. 

There’s so much talk right now about the importance of miles per gallon, and ways to increase the MPG of the cars being built.

The challenge so far is building a car that can be driven more miles for each gallon of gas it consumes. A popular solution that automakers, and the public, are embracing is the hybrid vehicle. While some hybrids do increase the MPG, they also cost a heck of a lot more money than comparably sized cars.

And I won’t even get into the fact that it takes years and years to even recover the cost of the car in gas savings. And what will happen to the toxic batteries once the car’s life is over?

What I want to talk about right now is even more basic than that: weight.

This is just simple physics, friends: the less something weighs, the less energy it takes to propel it.

Following so far?

I just don’t understand why the automakers in this country are so stuck on the hybrid concept, when we can achieve even better MPG than a hybrid in a gas-powered car that weighs less.

Instead, we have GM slapping a hybrid sticker on the side of a $70,000 behemoth Escalade that gets 20 MPG. Does that make sense? Think about how many non-hybrid vehicles get significantly better mileage than that.

It’s completely insane folks, and we need to step up as consumers and say, “Hey, GM, we don’t want a 6,000 pound monster that costs over 70 grand and gets 20 MPG. We want a 2,000 pound vehicle that gets more than 30 MPG.”

We can’t have it all, America, and it’s time to start making choices that have serious effects on the environment and perhaps more importantly, on our wallets.

Instead of dropping 70K on a hybrid SUV, save yourself 50 THOUSAND dollars and pick up a MINI Cooper that goes nearly twice the miles on the same gallon of gas.

What would you buy: a hybrid Escalade or a gas-powered Cooper?

-tgriffith

Car Review, Domestic Cars, Foreign Cars, General Chat, Hybrid Cars, Trucks & SUVs

CarGurus’ 2009 Honda Accord Review

September 24th, 2008

The Honda Accord has been at, or near, the top of it’s class for more than a decade now, and we don’t see things changing anytime soon.

The CarGurus View

Sure, the engine isn’t a pillar of performance, and yes, the suspension leaves a lot to be desired. The bottom line is, this isn’t a sports car. Sooner or later, as more and more manufacturers raise the bar for even their economy contenders, the Accord will have to follow suit as well. Until then, you’d still be hard-pressed to find a better value. Read More…

2009 Honda Accord

2009 Honda Accord

Car Review