An Auris for Us?

The Toyota Corolla is due for a redesign, and if what is on the foreign markets is any indication, the new Corolla could be a significant departure from its boring, conservative past. Starting in spring of 2007, the Toyota Corolla will be replaced by the Toyota Auris in European markets. In Japan, it will be sold alongside their version of the Corolla.

A compact three- or five-door hatchback, the Auris will compete overseas against cars like the Volkswagen Golf and Honda Civic in the tight C-class market.

The new Yaris, which has been sold overseas for several years now, and FJ Cruiser have proven to American drivers that the Toyota design team actually does have a spark of creativity now and then. The Auris continues this trend with friendly and yet aggressive-looking styling, kind of like a cartoon bulldog. The Auris hearkens the Yaris with its rounded nose, but it looks a bit meaner and more powerful. Still, it also seems like the kind of car a young mom would be happy to drive to the grocery store. The interior is shaping up to be much nicer than previous Corolla incarnations, with one blogger who saw it at the Paris Auto Show last month comparing the inside to that of a Lexus.

But will it come to the US? Maybe not. Despite the recent proliferation of tiny cars, hatchbacks and wagons are not big sellers here, and a car like the Auris is marketed to a different, less adventurous audience than youthful entry-level hatchbacks like the Yaris and Honda Fit. The new US Corolla will perhaps take some styling cues from the Auris, but with a more traditional sedan body style. Only time will tell, but if the new Corolla does only come in sedan only, I think it is our loss. After more than a decade of overgrown, boxy, lookalike SUVs, I think the US is ready for an Auris of our own.

For a peek at the Toyota Auris and to read the official press release, visit Autoblog.com.

Clean Diesel? Mercedes Has It!

The US launch of Mercedes’s new BLUETEC “clean diesel” technology has been attracting some attention in the last few weeks: an NPR piece, a story in the Detroit News, and a lot of word-of-mouth buzz. I wanted to take a look (and a smell) at it, but it’s not going to be sold in Massachusetts, where I live, because although it meets Tier 2 emissions standards, it doesn’t meet the more stringent Tier 2 Bin 5 standards. And, no, I have absolutely no idea what this means.

The Mercedes BLUETEC models are the only 2007 model-year diesel passenger cars slated for sale in the US. This seems silly, until I think about how many of the gas stations near me offer diesel fuel anymore. The answer? Not too many. As a forty-something person, I remember when diesel was touted as the wave of the future for passenger cars; could that wave be coming again?

Then there’s biodiesel, which I’m a little suspicious of only because its most visible advocate is Willie Nelson. I’m sure Willie’s a lovely man, and “Crazy” is one of the greatest songs ever written, but his business acumen and judgment haven’t always been his strong suit. I like the idea of a car that smells like French fries, though.

In any case, the Mercedes BLUETEC cars are coming to Massachusetts (and California, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Maine, Vermont, and Rhode Island) for model year 2008, thanks to an even more effective emissions-reduction technology that involves urea. Yes, urea, also known as the active ingredient in…er…urine. This may be the first time urea made anything smell better!

So, alas, I can’t try out the Mercedes E320 BLUETEC for a while. The engine looks great–a 3.0 liter V6 than can deliver 208 horsepower and 400 lb.-ft. of torque. And the “green factor” is pretty appealing. And let’s not forget that all of this power and social responsibility is tucked inside a luxurious Mercedes sedan. What’s not to love?

Check out the Detroit News preview of the Mercedes E320 BLUETEC models for 2007 here! What do you think–are you ready to go diesel?

The 2009 Camaro: The Return of the Muscle Car?

Chevrolet Camaro Concept

Chevrolet Camaro Concept

A fuel-efficient muscle car? Gee, it really must be the 21st century. When you think of American muscle cars (those full-throated beasts of the 1960s and ’70s), a few names spring immediately to mind – the Pontiac GTO, the Trans Am, the Ford Torino, the Mustang, the Hemi ‘Cuda. And right there near the top of the list was the Chevy Camaro.

The Camaro was instant cool, no doubt about it. The Z28 in particular, with its hunky lines, 302-cubic-inch V8, heavy-duty suspension, and dual exhausts, is still a classic coveted by collectors. Too bad that, after more than 30 years in production, the last of the Camaros rolled off the assembly line in 2002. The end of an era? Perhaps . . . and perhaps not.

At the 2006 Detroit Auto Show, GM vice chairman (and chief cheerleader) Bob Lutz rolled out the Camaro Concept Car to much fanfare (the event was so loud ear plugs were handed out to attendees). Taking design cues from the original Camaro, which was introduced in 1967, the Camaro Concept has a low, angular appearance, with that distinctive Camaro flare over the wheels, a raised hood, large tires, and a very contemporary grille. Under the hood is a 6.0-liter LS2 aluminum-block V8 that can pump out 400 horsepower – certainly in the muscle car range.

The Camaro Concept comes with a six-speed manual transmission, a state-of-the-art chassis with four-wheel independent suspension, and four-wheel disc brakes. But perhaps best of all is its Active Fuel Management system, which saves fuel by shutting off four of the cylinders when they’re not needed. As a result, the new Camaro can get up to 30 miles per gallon – not bad in this age of fuel-efficient hybrids, and a true sign of the automotive times.

The lastest news has the Camaro Concept appearing in early 2009 as a production vehicle, though other real news is in short supply. If it does make its way to a showroom near you, it will join an ever-growing list of reintroduced muscle cars, including the new Mustang, as well as a new version of the Dodge Challenger (also apparently coming in 2009) and the reappearance of the Ford BOSS 302 engine. It’ll be like 1970 all over again – except cooler and more fuel-efficient. And maybe it really is part of a turnaround for American automakers.

The coming of the 2007 Lexus LS 600h is near

Lexus is throwing down the gauntlet to all other manufacturers of hybrid vehicles. The LS 600h, scheduled for release in spring 2007, is going to be the world’s first V8 hybrid, a hefty accomplishment that answers the whining that ‘hybrids can’t be as powerful as a regular engine.’ The 5.0 liter V8 will have a horsepower output of around 430, and still falls into the ‘Super Ultra-Low Emission Vehicle’ category. And their revolutionary engine innovations have not taken away in the slightest from the luxury that Lexus has been known for over the years.

Another world-first is contained in the 2007 Lexus LS 600h: LED headlights. The list of interior features that come standard read like the options on most other sedans, including wood trim, XM Satellite Radio, an 8GB hard-drive for music, an Intuitive Parking Assist, a voice-activated Navigation system, and much, much more. Throw all of the available options on top of that, and it’s amazing that you even have to drive the car.

Of course, the body of the 2007 Lexus LS 600h is as gorgeous as it should be, oozing prestige and grace out of every inch of metal. Gliding low to the road, the LS 600h is near perfect: beautiful, comfortable, and safe for the world around and the people within. While I have yet to actual view this car in person, I cannot wait for that glorious day to arrive, and perhaps, just perhaps, for the day where I actually get to slide behind the driver’s seat and feel the power and cleanliness of the first-ever V8 hybrid. That will be a good day.

Have a look at some pictures of the stupendously crafted 2007 Lexus LS 600h here.