2012 Porsche 911 Carrera S: To PDK or Not To PDK?

2012 Porsche 911 Carrera S, profile

When someone invites you to drive a 2012 Porsche 911 Carrera S, you do it. That’s just a simple rule of life.

Whatever might be on the schedule for the day should be cleared and an appropriate amount of time reserved for one of the most iconic cars ever built.

So, after a call to the dentist (cavities can wait a week), I headed toward Northern Idaho on a clear and sunny 80-degree day to fulfill my obligation to the 911. But there was just one problem.

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2010 Mazdaspeed3: The Most Hideous New Car Ever?


Look away, it’s hideous!

In one of the most disappointing debuts in the history of automobiles, the 2010 Mazdaspeed3 is almost laughably ugly. Uglier than an Edsel. Uglier than an Aztec. This car, based on the front end alone, is destined to land on every future top 10 list of ugly cars from now until eternity.

The grinning front end looks like a combination of Ronald McDonald, that guy in the Smilin’ Bob commercials, and the inside of fish gills.

I’m shocked that the good people over at Mazda ever thought this was actually a good design strategy. Maybe all the effort went into the car’s performance, which I admit is impressive, and styling was just an afterthought left to an overly happy intern.

The thing is, I don’t care that the new Mazdaspeed3 is rated at 262 hp or puts down 280 lb-feet of torque at 3,000 rpm. Heck, I wouldn’t care if it had the engine from Aston Martin’s screamin’ new One-77, I’m not getting within 20 feet of a car that looks like a rolling Enzyte commercial.

The hood scoop looks out of place, and the bluntly rounded front end looks like a dead, bloated dolphin.

Reviewers really dig the Mazda’s exhilarating track performance, but that doesn’t change the fact that its ridiculously silly face looks like a pukey cutesy Pokemon character. Does Mazda seriously think a young hip adult will go for this happy-faced new 3 over a WRX or Mitsubishi Evo?

Studies have shown that buyers prefer cars with angry faces. That’s especially true with young, brooding 20-somethings, who won’t spend $25K on a car that looks like it belongs in a Candy Land game.

I sure hope disgusting front-end treatments don’t start getting popular. Acura did it and now Mazda. As much as I despise Acura’s cringe-worthy new beak, I think I’d rather have that than this new Mazda.

What do you think of Mazda’s new face on the 2010 Mazdaspeed3?


Best-Looking Cars of 2009-2010

2009 Dodge Nitro

We’ve polled people from Maine to California, and they all come up with the same answer: The sharpest, sexiest, hottest vehicle of this past year is … the Dodge Nitro!

Well, if enough people think it’s the best-looking, that will make it so. That’s how the Mercedes E-Class Coupe got to the top. In May it was reported that

the German publication AUTO BILD asked its readers to vote for the best looking car in each of five categories, with the prerequisite being that all of the vehicles must have made their debut in the last year. Then, some 100,000 readers responded, voting the 2010 E-Class Coupe winner in the “Coupe and Cabriolet” category and bestowing the 2010 E-Class sedan with top honors in the overall ranking. Based on this highly scientific, one-hundred percent definitive study, Daimler arrived at the only conclusion that one could derive from a study of this type: that the E-Class business saloon [sedan] is “the most attractive new car in the world.”

Well, the cars shown here, excepting the Nitro, are my choice, my taste, and so there. The E-Coupe is just above. You decide.

The Germans are surely producing prettier cars than they have in years past. BMW’s new Z4 is a big improvement on the older version. I want one.

There has been much hoopla about the new Jaguar XJ, and I’ve looked at some photos and video. I think they missed the boat on this one. The downmarket XF is better looking and still a great performance sedan. I saw one in New York a couple of months ago, and it’s even better looking in the flesh.

In the same vein, we’ve heard much about the Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione, including its $300,000 pricetag. For that kind of change, it better be good looking. Alfa has also produced the MiTo (above), which may be the world’s best-looking small car.

Okay, you ask, why no American cars? ‘Cause most of them are just plain ugly. Everyone says the Fusion is the best looking U.S. hybrid. If so, that speaks volumes about how lackluster our cars are. The Mondeo (above), on which the Fusion was based, is much better looking, but Ford dumbed the design down, for reasons best known to them.

But we still like the Corvette, especially the Grand Sport version.

And finally the Mazda CX-9 crossover, which is a really sharp design for a medium-size crossover, beautifully executed. My nephew has one, and it makes his former 2006 Volvo look like something out of a World War II motor pool.

Let us know how you rank these babies and, of course, which cars I should have included but didn’t.


Consumer Reports: Honda Insight Disappoints


I can’t remember Consumer Reports ever not liking a Honda.

In a recent press release, though, the popular consumer magazine thrashes the new hybrid Insight, saying,

The Insight is the most disappointing Honda Consumer Reports has tested in a long time. The Insight is a noisy, stiff-riding car with clumsy handling that is nothing like the Fit on which it is based.

Ouch. They go on in the lengthy press release, but I’ll spare Honda more embarrassment here. Not from Jeremy Clarkson, though, who was even more blunt when he said,

It’s terrible. Biblically terrible. Possibly the worst new car money can buy. It’s the first car I’ve ever considered crashing into a tree, on purpose, so I didn’t have to drive it any more.

Ouch again. He didn’t even trash the Chrysler Sebring that badly.

Considering Honda wanted to challenge Toyota’s Prius and take a piece of its monster market share in the hybrid market, these kinds of reviews are killers. Consumer Reports didn’t even give their coveted “Recommended” designation to the Insight, which was beaten badly by the VW Jetta, Chevy HHR, Pontiac Vibe, and Hyundai Elantra Touring. In fact, the Honda ranked 21st out of 22 wagons and hatchbacks.

Number 22 was the Dodge Caliber, but heck, the Tato Nano could beat that automotive disgrace, so it doesn’t mean much that Honda barely did.

To be fair, a Honda spokesman responded to CR’s wrath by telling Edmunds InsideLine,

Feedback from customers and automotive media regarding the all-new 2010 Honda Insight has been very positive. In fact, the Insight has won several hybrid comparison tests completed independently by automotive media outlets including Car and Driver, Edmunds.com and Motor Trend.

Whatever, dude. Looks like your car sucks…. Don’t defend it, go build a new one. You’re Honda, and Honda doesn’t screw up. You’d better not start making mistakes now.

Does Consumer Reports influence your car-buying decisions? Would you consider an Insight after this?


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

2010 Ford Taurus SHO-1

This 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.

The 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?


Porsche Moves Upmarket and Down


We’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.

Three 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.

There’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?


Tesla Model S Video Introduction

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

Do You Really Want One of These?


A 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.

The 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?


What Happens When an Auto Writer Becomes an Auto Buyer?


My 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.

Next 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!


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

Pontiac G8

Its 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?