Tuesday, July 21, 2009

2010 Buick LaCrosse

With GM cutting its number of brands in half, those who remain in the General's employ now have both the opportunity and the obligation to define their roles, build unique products, and sell lots of cars. As one of GM's four surviving brands, Buick owes a debt of gratitude to the Chinese market, where it is considered a premium marque. In the United States, the brand urgently needs to develop a similar cachet, and the 2010 Buick LaCrosse is an effort to do just that.

Younger skin for a younger Buick

Buick is making a conscious effort to attract younger buyers, and that shows in the new LaCrosse's styling. The grille is bolder, the headlights are more aggressive, and a strong character line on the sheetmetal sweeps along the profile. A high beltline and narrow glass reduce the visual height of the car to create a sportier stance. Chrome accents appear around the side glass, above the taillights, and on the door handles of some models. In all, it is an eye-catching new design, unexpected of Buick, that still doesn't betray the brand's image of comfortable luxury.

Interior by Asia

GM tapped its Chinese designers to treat the LaCrosse's cabin. The result is tasteful design of swooping lines crafted from quality materials. The interior is accented with ambient lighting in the dash, center console, and doors that glows ice blue.

With a base price of $33,765, the top-of-the-line CXS comes with a well-equipped, luxurious cockpit. Interior appointments include leather, heated and ventilated front seats with eight-way power adjustment for both driver and passenger, dual-zone automatic climate control, and a heated steering wheel with audio controls.

Because many Chinese car owners won't actually drive their Buicks (they'll be chauffeured, of course), GM placed extra emphasis on the rear compartment design. Legroom is expansive, and the rear seats are comfortable. While many sedans make do with a flat, benchlike rear seat, the Buick offers supportive, bucketlike seats for two passengers with room for a third on the hump. An available rear-window sunscreen raises and lowers with the push of a button next to the gear selector. All LaCrosses feature a 12-volt plug in the rear of the center console; a 120-volt AC power outlet is also available.

What's luxury without technology?

The high-end CXS comes with an extensive list of standard technology, including Bluetooth, keyless entry and ignition, an eleven-speaker Harman/Kardon audio system, a USB port, and the rear AC outlet. For $350, a head-up display shows speed, rpm, outside temperature, and a compass. When listening to satellite radio, song titles appear on the windshield as the song changes, and navigation directions show up as you approach a turn. Our test car came standard with rear parking sensors and was also equipped with the $1995 navigation system, which incorporates a rear backup camera. There's also an available rear-seat DVD entertainment system with two screens mounted on the back of the front seats.

An engine for every driver

Buick will offer three engines in the LaCrosse, all using direct injection and mated to six-speed automatic transmissions. The top-tier CXS model comes with the 3.6-liter V-6 engine found in the {{{Chevrolet Camaro}}} and {{{Cadillac CTS}}}. In the LaCrosse, output is about 20 hp lower, rated at 280 hp and 259 lb-ft of torque. But unlike the Camaro and the CTS, power in the Buick is routed through the front wheels. That means there's ample torque steer with spirited acceleration. In casual driving, the 3.6-liter is exceptionally refined, creating a smooth and authoritative driving experience.

The most popular engine will be the 3.0-liter V-6 found on the CX and CXL. It cedes some power to the larger-displacement V-6, with a rating of 255 hp and 217 lb-ft, but returns the same fuel economy at 17/27 mpg with front-wheel drive. The CXL with the 3.0-liter V-6 is the only LaCrosse model that will offer all-wheel drive, which knocks off 1 mpg from both the city and highway ratings.

Later in the year, Buick will add a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that will take the place of the 3.0-liter in the CX. Buick made a late decision to add the fuel-efficient four-cylinder engine to the LaCrosse lineup to meet rising fuel economy standards. Also found in the Chevrolet Equinox and GMC Terrain crossovers, the engine makes 182 hp and 172 lb-ft of torque. GM predicts about 25 percent of buyers will opt for the more fuel-efficient engine, and we hope they're right. In order for GM to continue building performance-oriented models like the Camaro and the CTS-V, it'll need to move a substantial number of fuel-sippers in other models. GM hasn't yet certified the fuel economy of the smallest engine in the Buick LaCrosse but is estimating it will achieve a 20/30 mpg rating.

Chassis by Europe

The LaCrosse rides on the Epsilon II platform that also underpins the European Opel Insignia. The front suspension setup uses MacPherson struts, and the rear uses a multilink design on the base CX trim and H-arms on the CXL and the CXS. Continuously variable dampers had been fitted to our test car with the $800 touring package. Disc brakes are standard on all four corners, as is antilock braking. On the base CX, seventeen-inch steel wheels with covers are standard, a decidedly downmarket offering on a $28,000 entry-luxury car. But eighteen-inch aluminum wheels are optional on the CX and standard on the higher trims. Nineteen-inch wheels are also available for the CXS.

Buick takes pride in the fact that the LaCrosse suspension was tuned in Europe, a land that is famed for turning out solid chassis that inspire confidence without sacrificing comfort. That focus is a stark change from Buick's reputation for cars that float down highways like a piece of driftwood rising and falling in rolling waves. It's certainly a welcome effort, but can a company so ingrained in comfort do athletic? And what about the risk of taking it too far? If grandma's dentures fall out over a stretch of rough road, is it still a Buick?

The driving experience surprise

Grandma, it turns out, still has her dentures, and she's grinning like a hooligan at a Buick that is more engaging than anything in recent brand history. The LaCrosse strikes the perfect balance of comfort and sport, with a ride that is never harsh and competent body control. It certainly isn't the second coming of the Pontiac G8, but the LaCrosse surprises with its admirable handling ability.

The steering wheel is the one place where the LaCrosse let us down, its variable-effort steering feeling feather-light and numb. This is the last nagging reminder of the old Buick that we'd love to bury six feet under.

Comfort, of course, is still a big part of the package. The powertrain is silky, and the automatic transmission makes smooth gear shifts. Buick has done an excellent job of blocking out wind noise and unwanted powertrain sounds with laminated glass and insulation. But the absence of some noises draws attention to frequent knocks from the suspension when it encounters broken pavement. Still, the overall package of luxury comfort and capable hardware creates an identity that we would love to see throughout the Buick line up.

Buick's brand new day

Set to go on sale in the fall of 2009, the entry-level CX model starts at $27,835; top-trim CXS models start at $33,765. The mid-level CXL begins at $30,395 for front-wheel drive and $32,570 for all-wheel drive. With a fresh design, a luxurious interior, and well-balanced driving dynamics, the 2010 Buick LaCrosse certainly redefines our perceptions of what was once a brand we regularly looked right past. Not only does the LaCrosse prove that the Buick Enclave crossover wasn't just a one-time badge engineering triumph, the new midsize car trumpets the arrival of a newly reinvigorated brand.
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Monday, July 20, 2009

NEWS : First shots of updated Kia Rio surface

Slowly but surely, Kia's new corporate look is filtering through its entire lineup. We've seen it in play on the Forte range, the Soul, and the updated Sorento so far. Now you can add the entry-level Rio to the list. At least we think you can. The photo above shows the newly-facelifted South Korean domestic-market Kia Pride (the Kia Rio in the U.S. market), which is reportedly set to go on sale shortly. As you can see, the car boasts an revamped front fascia, sporting Kia's dog-bone grille, new lighting, and a rehaped, Ford-like lower air intake. As for the car's tail, we'll have to wait and see -- pics haven't hit the web yet.

Kia-World.net, which was first online with the new shots, also reports that the interior is also revised, featuring a new steering wheel, a mildly reconfigured center stack, updated instrumentation, and a stereo system with integrated Bluetooth connectivity. Will we get this update Stateside as the 2010 Kia Rio? Well, the Rio's certainly due for a freshening, so we don't see why not, especially as the automaker makes a move toward a more unified, distinct styling language. Hat tip to Andy R.
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Update : Suzuki hits the skids in the U.S.

Name the mass-market vehicle brand with the largest decline in U.S. sales this year.

It has to be one of the Detroit 3 brands, right?

Wrong. The worst performer on a percentage basis was Suzuki, down 60.2 percent in the first half of 2009. In June, sales plummeted 78.0 percent compared with the same month last year.

Why would an Asian brand that builds small, fuel-efficient vehicles — the recipe for Detroit's rebirth as envisioned in Washington — be at the bottom of the heap?

Blame it on a shrunken product lineup, skimpy marketing and an ineffective captive finance company, which have made Suzuki all but invisible among the Asian players.

Suzuki is the latest second-tier Japanese brand to hit the skids in the United States, and some analysts wonder whether it is the next one headed for oblivion in this market.

"Suzuki had momentum, but they lost it," says a Northeastern dealer who declined to be named.

The company has failed to transfer the strength of its brand in other types of vehicles to its cars and crossovers.

"People spend $6,000 on a Suzuki ATV, $12,000 on a Hayabusa (superbike) and $18,000 on a Suzuki outboard," says Tim Faith, owner of Suzuki Auto Center in Corpus Christi, Texas. "But they question spending $21,000 on an XL-7."

The decline has been rapid. In 2006, American Suzuki finally achieved a decade-long quest to sell 100,000 vehicles, a level it maintained the following year. But this year Suzuki will be lucky to crack 40,000.

In a May 25 conference call with Suzuki's national and regional sales managers, 17 Florida dealers admitted that combined they had sold just nine vehicles that month.

The slide already has had an impact on the dealership count, which has skidded from 460 stores in July 2008 to about 380 today.

A Suzuki official says two-thirds of Suzuki dealers are in the black. But Mark Johnson, a dealership buy-sell consultant in Seattle, says that recent buy-sell transfers of Suzuki stores usually have blue-sky amounts from "zero to the low five figures," meaning dealers don't see much value in the franchise. Blue sky measures a dealership's intangible assets, such as goodwill.

Suzuki's slide
Why the brand's sales have plunged since 2007
• Daewoo-built models were eliminated.
• XL-7 production was halted.
• Fleet business declined.
• Number of dealerships fell.

Slashing product

Suzuki has drastically pared its vehicle lineup. The Reno, Forenza and Verona — volume cars of marginal quality built by GM Daewoo Auto & Technology — were deleted at the end of the 2008 model year. Sales of the Suzuki-built SX4 have replaced Reno sales somewhat, but Suzuki dealers are still waiting for the production version of the Kizashi 3 mid-sized sedan concept due later this year.

Also production of Suzuki's XL-7 mid-sized SUV has ended at CAMI, a Canadian joint venture with General Motors. Suzuki wasn't selling enough XL-7s to keep capacity high enough. So rather than eke out more units at a loss, production was halted last fall.

Those inventories have mostly run out since production ended, and there is no time frame for XL-7 production to resume — or for a replacement vehicle. A crossover based on the Kizashi platform has been rumored.

That leaves the SX4 compact sedan and hatchback and the Grand Vitara crossover as Suzuki's main vehicles. But retail sales of those vehicles have tanked.

Suzuki also has cut its reliance on fleet sales. By this time last year, Suzuki had sold 17,000 vehicles to fleets, nearly one-third of all sales. This year, just 4,000 fleet units have been sold, says Gene Brown, American Suzuki's vice president of marketing,

Technically, Suzuki's sales decline this year is surpassed by Scion's 60.4 percent drop. But Scion is a niche brand aimed specifically at Gen Y buyers who could have problems getting credit in this economy.

"We have to think holistically," Brown says. "We have made huge quality leaps. We have hit a rough patch, but there is every reason dealers can be profitable."

'Own worst enemy'

So should Suzuki dealers be poised for a rebound, or is the franchise beginning an irreversible downward spiral?

Consultant Johnson is pessimistic about the brand's future.

"I see things getting worse for them," he says. "People pick up Suzuki to get a shingle, to get some service business. But banks look at Suzuki so poorly that they won't floorplan them. Suzuki is half out of this market."

Johnson says Suzuki management "is its own worst enemy."

For instance, he says, when several Suzuki dealers in Florida folded recently, the company did not split the orphaned new-vehicle inventory among other Suzuki dealers. Instead, the vehicles were dumped into a general local auction. A Nissan dealer snapped them up and sold them as zero-mile used cars for thousands less than sticker — undercutting Suzuki's own dealers.

Dealers also are unhappy that an incentive for sales personnel paid by Suzuki has recently been lowered from $300 to $100 per unit sold. That is just one sign of Suzuki's waning marketing support.

"They stopped advertising and promotions of any consequence," says the dealer from the Northeast. "They are off network TV, and their cable advertising is seven to 10 days max. The finance company is useless. They used to buy low. Now they don't buy anybody."

Suzuki's Brown says funds for sales incentives were diverted to finance a "free gas for summer" promotion on the SX4 lineup, which last year gave Suzuki its best results of the year. He admits that Suzuki's inability to provide floorplan assistance to dealers has hurt. But he adds that banks are more effective lenders than Suzuki could be. And he says that American Suzuki Financial Services' approval rates are up.

New life?

Brown says that the Kizashi sedan coming this fall will give new life to the brand and that dealers who persevere will be rewarded with a sales turnaround. And many of Suzuki's fallen dealers had dualed with a domestic franchise that went out of business first, he says.

The unnamed Northeastern dealer is unimpressed: "If Suzuki is saving money for the Kizashi launch, what are we supposed to do until October? When new cars come out, that's all they advertise. They let the other ones coast. They never market other models at the same time."

Not all Suzuki dealers are in trouble. Corpus Christi dealer Faith has put Suzuki's Equator pickup — a rebadged Nissan Frontier — to good use in truck country. He is selling about 11 new Suzukis a month, which is enough for him to get by. But even Faith has concerns.

"Suzuki has never had dependable financing or capital funding," he says. "The manufacturer is guessing our orders rather than dealers telling the regional reps what we need."

Faith wants Suzuki to spend more on its umbrella message about other Suzuki-badged products, including motorcycles.

"In Europe, people see Suzuki on the level with Toyota and Honda, but not here," he says.

Brown says Suzuki will incorporate more of its global product message in its marketing. The company recently built a database that cross-references owners of multiple Suzuki products.

Improved quality

Suzuki also has a quality story to tell. Ending sales of the defect-plagued Daewoo-built vehicles prompted an instant leap in Suzuki's quality scores. The automaker jumped from 32nd place to ninth place in the 2009 J.D. Power Initial Quality Study, scoring better than Infiniti, BMW and Acura.

With the Daewoo-built cars gone, Suzuki also has seen the industry's most-improved residual values in the past year, according to Automotive Lease Guide.

But James Clark, Automotive Lease Guide's general manager, cautions that the improvement was relative. Previously, Suzuki's 36-month residuals had been languishing in the 30 percent range, at the bottom of the industry.

"It's an improvement from a low point, but you have to put it in context," Clark says. "Small-car residuals in general have moved upward since the gas spike last summer, so Suzuki benefits from that as well."
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NEWS : Germany's economics minister rules out GM buyback of Opel

Germany's economics minister ruled out any attempt by General Motors to include an option to buy back majority control of Opel as part of a deal to give up over 50 percent of its German unit in exchange for state aid.

"This is incompatible with our views and cannot happen," Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg told German Sunday paper Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung in an interview.

The comments could suggest that Belgian financial investor RHJ International may have problems with its bid if the company is viewed as only a short-term player.

Germany is expected to shoulder the bulk of the billions in loan guarantees as part of a deal, and state and federal governments are represented on the board of a trust that has to approve a sale of Opel.

The minister also warned bidders for Opel will have to invest more of their own capital for the package of state aid to obtain EU clearance, since otherwise the only ones risking anything are taxpayers.

Final offers due Monday

Guttenberg explained that the size of the state aid requested would not be the deciding factor alone for Berlin.

"That's too simple. What good is an offer that is cheap (to the taxpayers) if the return of the money is in question. The key will be if a concept is so sustainable that there is a high probability that the interest, fees and the money can be paid back," he said.

When asked what was sustainable he responded: "A competitive company that urgently addresses the need to consolidate (capacity and staff)."

Magna International, RHJ and Beijing Automotive (BAIC) have been in a race to acquire Opel, with final binding offers due at the close of business in Europe on Monday.

BAIC has requested only 2.64 billion euros in state aid, while RHJ wants 3.8 billion and Magna 4.5 billion, but the Canadian supplier is seen as heavily favored within Germany -- a country where the short-term time horizon associated with financial investors is viewed with suspicion.

Magna's board of directors was expected to approve its takeover plan for Opel at a meeting on Sunday evening.

Some executives at GM unhappy about losing control over Opel are pushing for a deal with RHJ in part because of the higher likelihood that the Detroit carmaker could reacquire control over its former German subsidiary, sources familiar with the talks told Reuters.
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Update : 2009 Volkswagen Jetta TDI

Our smooth-driving, long-legged Four Seasons Volkswagen Jetta TDI has left Michigan, but thankfully not for good - it's currently in New York for a summer fling with senior editor Joe Lorio and NY bureau chief Jamie Kitman.

Before the Jetta headed east, several Ann Arbor-based staff members weighed in on their feelings three-quarters of the way through our year with our first-ever diesel long-term car.

Assistant editor David Zenlea, perhaps the biggest fan of the TDI, drove the Jetta to Chicago in June to visit his folks. "I started out my trip with the intent of hypermiling and seeing how high the TDI could go in terms of miles per gallon," he wrote in the VW's logbook. "Of course, I soon got bored/annoyed with this idea, because it involves going slow and accelerating even slower, and I soon relapsed into my normal, mildly aggressive driving style. I should add that to get the most out of the Jetta in the suburbs, you can't be shy--you have to get on it and short shift into second and third. Still, I averaged an indicated 43.6 mpg for the whole trip."

That impressive mileage led senior Web editor Phil Floraday to reacquaint himself with our Jetta. He wrote: "I felt compelled to spend a night in the frugal, slow, Spartan confines of the Jetta TDI after a weekend of fun in the Chevy Camaro SS and a night with the Aston Martin DB9 Volante. I'm surely headed to hydrocarbon hell if I keep selecting cars with double or triple the cylinder count of the Jetta, so I'll try to do a little atoning now.

"Actually," Floraday continued, "a four-cylinder Jetta TDI isn't a bad place to spend some time. If this were my car, though, it'd be a wagon and have the DSG dual-clutch automatic. I much prefer the DSG to our manual since this TDI has so little horsepower. You really need to drop a gear or three for passing, and I'll readily admit to being too lazy for the frequent up- and downshifts required to hustle along the two-lane roads on my commute."

It seems that our new associate editor Eric Tingwall would also prefer the DSG: "I'm glad to see that others have moaned about this clutch. I stalled at two out of my first three traffic lights and then on a hill this morning--twice. There's absolutely no feel in the pedal, and even when I manage a perfectly smooth take-off, I'm not quite sure where the clutch engages or how I pulled it off. Frustrating."

Executive editor Joe DeMatio chimed in with some wisdom about the bigger picture, though, writing, "The Jetta was a nice car for a lazy Sunday afternoon drive through the country. Perfectly reasonable body control, decent steering feel, good ride comfort; really, I have no complaints. Sure, you learn to keep the revs up, especially when you're launching from an intersection, but overall it's a very tractable powertrain."

And as Jablansky noted during his trek from Michigan to New York, that powertrain is fantastic for long journeys. "After 750 miles, I'd only stopped once and still had half a tank left," he scrawled in the logbook. "On the same trip, our frugal Four Seasons Honda Fit required three stops."

Base price (with dest.): $23,090
Price as tested: $23,090


Body Style: 4-door sedan
Accommodation: 5-passenger
Construction: Steel unibody


Engine: Inline SOHC turbocharged 4-cylinder diesel
Displacement: 2.0 liters
Power: 140 hp @ 4000 rpm
Torque: 236 lb-ft @ 1750-2500 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual transmission
Drive: front-wheel
Fuel economy: 30/41/34 mpg (city/hwy/combined)


Steering: Power-assisted rack-and-pinion
Turns lock-to-lock: 3.0
Turning Circle: 35.8 ft
Suspension, Front: McPherson struts, coil springs
Suspension, Rear: Multilink, coil springs
Brakes F/R: Vented discs / solid discs, ABS
Wheels: 16 x 6.5
Tires: Continental ContiWinterContact
Tire Size: 205/55 R16 H all-season


Headroom F/R: 38.5 / 37.2 in
Legroom F/R: 41.2 / 35.4 in
Shoulder Room F/R: 54.8 / 53.1 in
Wheelbase: 101.5 in
Track F/R: 60.6 / 59.8 in
L x W x H: 179.3 x 70.1 x 57.4 in
Cargo Capacity: 16 cu ft
Weight: 3230 lb
Weight Dist. F/R: N/A
Fuel Capacity: 14.5 gal
Est. Range: 490 miles
Fuel Grade: diesel fuel

Standard Equipment

Front, side, curtain airbags
Auxiliary jack
Cruise control
Electronic stability control
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Sunday, July 19, 2009

NEWS : 2010 Lexus HS 250h Hybrid Is Becoming The Top Choice

If there is one thing that I know about this day and age, it is going to be the fact that hybrid cars are hot. With the environment becoming the way that it is right now, people are constantly looking for a way to help it and cut down on their own costs … such as gas. That is one of the main reasons why the 2010 Lexus HS 250h Hybrid is such a hot car! This beautiful car is honestly one car that I really and truly love.

The 2010 Lexus HS 250h Hybrid when you get behind the wheel could be a little stiff, however once you get used to the handling, it is definitely a car that you want to drive. The inside however did shrink in size it seems, this luxury car is slightly narrow, however it is still one of the most comfortable cars that I have ever been in.

I encourage you to check the 2010 Lexus HS 250h
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Saturday, July 18, 2009

News : Phil Hill's race-winning Jaguar C-Type on the block at Pebble Beach

The upcoming auctions at Pebble Beach are shaping up to be the stuff of legends. Which should come as no big surprise as legends are exactly what will be up for grabs. In addition to the highly anticipated launch of the new "Grand Bentley" amidst the field of lust-worthy machinery on display, auctioneers will be putting such notable classics on the block as Ettore Buggati's own Type 57C, the one-of-a-kind Miller V16 racing car, and this historic 1952 Jaguar C-Type.

The first C-Type Jaguar to be imported into the United States, model XKC-007 was sent straight to the race track where it was driven by no less a talent than the legendary Phil Hill. The World-Champion-to-be took this particular C-Type to three victories at Elkhart Lake, Torrey Pines and Watkins Glen, the former scoring as the first victory for the iconic C-Type in its storied history. After being retired from active duty, XKC-007 passed through several collections before undergoing a full restoration in 1986, after which it won numerous awards on the vintage concours circuit – including a reunion date with Phil Hill to commemorate Jaguar's 50th anniversary in 2002. XKC-007 will be up for auction at RM's three-day Sports & Classics of Monterey event from August 13-15. Details in the press release after the jump and images in the gallery below.
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Volvo racer Walter Cronkite dies at 92

Former CBS news anchor Walter Cronkite has passed away at 92. Although Cronkite was primarily known for his coverage of the JFK assassination, moon landing and the Vietnam war, he also enjoyed success in endurance racing with teammate and Volvo of Long Island dealer Art Riley.

When Riley died earlier this year at 93, his obit briefly mentions Cronkite's involvement with the team and its successes behind the wheel of a Volvo PV444. The team campaigned and won races at Lime Rock's "Little LeMans" in 1957, '58 and '61. Cronkite was the only finisher in a five-car team one year, taking a B-division win and placing third overall. The two also teamed up to compete in the Trans-Canada rally.

You can read Riley's full obit here, a look back on Cronkite's life here, and thanks to Mike Spinelli for bringing this little historical footnote to our attention.
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Chrysler Critics : President Obama takes on GM

With Chrysler and General Motors completing their bankruptcy proceedings and continuing on with their restructuring, it may seem ridiculous that President Barack Obama still finds the need to defend the government bailout of the two companies.

But that is exactly what he did during a speech at a Michigan community college recently. Obama said that if nothing was done, then the economy would have experienced a catastrophe due to the massive loss of jobs.

More details can be found here. What do you think? The bankruptcy's pretty much a done deal.
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Friday, July 17, 2009

Update : Darryl Hazel to leave Ford customer service unit

Two senior Ford Motor Co. executives announced their retirements today, triggering the assignment of a batch of new responsibilities for several other executives.

Retiring are:

• Darryl Hazel, 61, senior vice president and president of the Ford Customer Service Division, will leave after 37 years with the automaker. Hazel also has headed the Lincoln Mercury and Ford brands. Ford said Hazel will serve as a special adviser to Ford on “global service initiatives” through the end of 2009, reporting to marketing chief Jim Farley.

• Peter Daniel, 62, senior vice president and controller, leaves after 38 years with Ford. His departure is effective Oct. 1.

Executives with new responsibilities include:

• Farley, 47, becomes group vice president of global marketing and Canada, Mexico and South America operations. He keeps his marketing duties and adds operational responsibility for those non-U.S. units as of Sept. 1. He will report to CEO Alan Mulally on marketing issues and report to Mark Fields, Ford’s president of the Americas, on his new operational duties.

His new responsibilities mean that Ray Day, vice president of communications, will begin reporting to Mulally instead of Farley.

“Jim has made great progress connecting with our customers and building a strong foundation for our success in North America,” Mulally said in a statement. “He will continue to lead marketing globally, focusing on building the Ford brand around the world and working closely with our product development organization on strategy and planning.”

• Bob Shanks, 56, becomes vice president and controller of Ford Motor Co. on Sept. 1. He had been vice president and controller of Ford’s Americas operations. He will report to CFO Lewis Booth.

• Dave Schoch, 58, will become controller of the Americas on Sept. 1. He had been head of Canada, Mexico and South America. He will report to Fields.

• Ken Czubay, 60, will get the expanded role of vice president of U.S. marketing, sales and service. He will now report to Fields.

• Frederiek Toney, 53, will succeed Hazel and become vice president of the Ford Customer Service Division and a corporate officer as of Sept. 1. He will report to Czubay.

Said Mulally: “We will miss Peter and Darryl but are very fortunate to have a deep and talented management team poised to continue our progress toward building an exciting and profitably growing Ford.”
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NEW : House approves measure to aid GM, Chrysler dealerships

The U.S. House of Representatives approved a measure that tries to help automobile dealerships hit by the bankruptcies of Chrysler and General Motors.

The House voted 219-208 for a $24.2 billion spending bill for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1. The legislation includes controversial provisions that try to restore the economic rights of those auto dealerships that have been closed or are facing such a prospect as a result of the GM and Chrysler bankruptcies.

The bill’s future in the Senate is uncertain, and the Obama administration strongly opposes it because the cuts were deemed necessary as part of the government-financed restructuring of GM and Chrysler.

Chrysler shut down 789 dealerships during its six-week bankruptcy, which ended June 10. Before it filed for court protection on June 1, GM told about 1,300 dealerships that their franchise agreements wouldn’t be renewed when they expire in October 2010.

The legislation would return dealerships to their previous status. If automakers want to continue with the cuts, they’d have to go through state courts.

Chrysler, in a statement before today’s vote, said its bankruptcy accelerated a dealer reduction that began more than a decade ago.

"If Congress reverses this process, it flies in the face of a U.S. vehicle market that has declined 40 percent since 2007," Vice President Peter Grady said in a statement on the company's blog.

"Indeed, the U.S. dealer network was built to serve a market that once sold 16 million vehicles a year. Those days are gone."

U.S. auto sales averaged 16.4 million annually this decade through last year. This year’s sales have been running at an annual rate below 10 million.
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NEW 2010 Ford Flex with EcoBoost

With the 2010 model year, Ford is marking the start of its EcoBoost initiative, a plan that will dramatically effect the company's entire lineup in the coming years. By using turbocharging and direct injection with smaller-displacement engines, Ford says it can offer better performance and fuel economy. The company expects it will put 1.3 million EcoBoost engines on the road by 2013 and offer the technology in 90 percent of its models.

The Flex crossover is one of the first Fords to get EcoBoost. Using a 3.5-liter V-6, the Flex achieves V-8 performance with V-6 fuel economy. The Flex EcoBoost (which is only available with all-wheel drive) achieves the same fuel economy as the base all-wheel-drive Flex, which is rated at 16/22 mpg.

PowertrainThe technology in Ford's EcoBoost engines isn't revolutionary, but the company's plan for such widespread adoption is unique. In the 3.5-liter V-6, two turbochargers spin as fast as 170,000 rpm to force more air into the engine while fuel injectors spray gasoline into the cylinders at 2175 psi. Adding more air and fuel allows extra power to be squeezed out of each combustion event.

There are plenty of automakers that might detune a performance engine by 10 to 20 hp in the family crossover, but the Flex receives the same 355 hp that will move the Ford Taurus SHO, the Lincoln MKS, and the Lincoln MKT. Ford has decided that its first EcoBoost engine needs to place more emphasis on performance than fuel economy in order to build a positive impression of the technology. Future Ford engines using turbochargers and direct injection may focus more on the fuel economy side of the equation. Torque is rated at 350 lb-ft and spans from 1500 to 5250 rpm. It's that plateau-flat torque curve that creates an exciting and effective blast when the throttle is planted. Ford estimates 0-to-60-mph acceleration occurs in about 7 seconds.

EcoBoost Flexes all receive a manual-shift mode for the six-speed automatic transmission, along with steering-wheel-mounted shift paddles. The paddles are a great addition for the performance engine but could use some refinement. When the gear selector is left in drive, the paddles can't be used to effect a downshift. In manual mode, the transmission is happy to provide downshifts at a fairly quick pace but sometimes isn't restrictive enough (yes, we just said that). Multiple times, we asked for one too many downshifts, and the Flex obliged by dropping down a gear - right on top of redline. To top it off, the coarse, dull finish on the plastic paddle shifters looks out of place compared with the rest of the well-trimmed cabin.

More than an engine upgradeThe Flex with EcoBoost is more than just a Flex with a different engine. The engineering team has also modified the suspension with stiffer springs, higher damping rates, and a ride height that has been lowered by ten millimeters. Combined with the already-low ride height and excellent body control, the subtle changes make this Flex one of the best handling crossovers on the market and do a good job of disguising its 4839-pound weight.

Ford has also equipped EcoBoost Flexes with electric power steering (the base Flex will continue to use a hydraulic system). The primary advantage is that Ford can now incorporate its Active Park Assist (see below), but the system also adds a feature called Pull-Drift Compensation. When a driver has the steering wheel slightly turned to keep the vehicle straight on a crowned road or in strong crosswinds, the computer recognizes it and activates drift compensation. By adding small amounts of torque to keep the wheel off-center, the driver can reduce the amount of effort to keep the wheel cocked and car straight.

The enthusiast's crossoverFord touts EcoBoost's advantages with a pragmatic slant: better towing with above-average fuel economy. We agree that those are admirable attributes. But driving the winding roads of the Rockies outside of Boulder, Colorado, we came to admire the Flex EcoBoost as something else: an enthusiast's crossover. Combined with confident body control and surprising handling, the torque-monster engine creates a fun driving experience. All-wheel drive provides sure footing, and the paddle shifters allowed us to run up and down through the gears and keep boost at the ready.

To emphasize the Flex's towing credentials, Ford took us to Estes Park, Colorado, at an elevation of approximately 7500 feet. Towing trailers that were loaded with 2500 pounds of ATVs and dirt bikes, we ran up mountain roads in a GMC Acadia, a Dodge Durango Hemi, and a Ford Flex EcoBoost. While the normally aspirated engines--a 3.6-liter V-6 in the Acadia and a 5.7-liter V-8 in the Dodge Durango--wheezed from a lack of air, the Ecoboost's turbochargers kept the Flex steaming ahead. At sea level, the Hemi and the EcoBoost are on a much more level playing field - but the earth is not flat. The Flex can pull up to 4500 pounds and comes standard with a trailer sway control system when equipped with the towing package.

Different crossover, same styleInside and out, the turbocharged Flex looks very much like the same vehicle that was introduced last year. Unique to the EcoBoost crossover are twenty-inch painted aluminum wheels and chrome-tipped dual exhausts.

EcoBoost will only be offered in SEL and Limited trims. That means you'll automatically get power driver and passenger seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, a six-disc CD player, and Sync, which incorporates media player control and phone integration. Stepping up to the Limited adds voice-activated navigation with back-up camera, ambient lighting, HID headlights, and LED taillights. All EcoBoost Flexes found on dealers' lots will also include the convenience package highlighted by adjustable pedals, a power liftgate, and a 110-volt power outlet.

Park it, JeevesThe headlining technology in the EcoBoost Flex is Ford's Active Park Assist, a system that identifies parallel parking spots and then steers the Flex into them. Lexus has offered a similar system on the LS460 for several years, but Lexus's system is notoriously finicky, often canceling the process in the middle of a parking maneuver.

We tested Ford's system by parallel parking a Flex in a generous-sized space between two customized Flex SEMA show cars. To start, simply push a button and cruise the street. The Flex searches for a parallel parking space on the right side of the street. If you're on a one-way street and want the Flex to check the left side, simply turn on your left turn signal.

When a spot has been identified, the system alerts you with a ding, and the display in the dash lets you know that you need to continue forward a few more feet. Another audible alert will tell you when it's time to put the transmission in reverse. At that point, the hands go in the lap as the Flex takes control of the steering wheel. As the driver, however, you're still responsible for the gas and the brake pedal. If you want to try parallel parking at 40 mph, Active Park Assist will try to keep up with you.

As you ease on the gas pedal, the wheel steering spins to lock and the eventually back in the other direction. What with the magically spinning steering wheel, a series of audible beeps, and the live action in the rear-view camera screen, it can be easy to lose focus. Don't forget to hit the brakes, or you'll smack the car behind you. To complete the maneuver, shift back to drive and allow the Flex to move to the center of the spot.

The Ford system works surprisingly well. When we're finished, the Flex is perfectly centered in the spot, just inches from the curb. While the Lexus system uses cameras to identify spaces and obstacles, Ford's system uses four ultrasonic sensors at each corner of the vehicle. It also helps that Ford gives the driver full control over the gas and the brake, so you don't have to tolerate slug-speed parking. Had our space been smaller, it's possible that the Flex would have requested multiple shifts between reverse and forward to get into the spot, but it would in all likelihood still do a better job than you would. The Active Park Assist Technology will also be offered on the Lincoln MKS sedan and MKT crossover in 2010 and is only available on EcoBoost models of the Flex.

Premium performance, premium priceTechnically, the Flex with EcoBoost will start at $36,115, but you'll have to special order that vehicle from the dealer. As mentioned, Ford is building all of its stock Flexes with additional equipment that it figures most buyers will want. That means the cheapest EcoBoost Flex SEL in stock on dealer's lots will run $39,995. Limited models start at $42,785 with the tacked-on options. Those are big numbers, but Ford does have a rare product on its hands, because this crossover offer V-8-like performance. Competition such as the Chevrolet Traverse, the Honda Pilot, and the Toyota Highlander still offer V-6 engines.

Ford hopes that EcoBoost will give even more buyers reason to shift from their large SUVs to a crossover. For those able to foot the bill, the Ford Flex with EcoBoost is an engaging, unique offering in the crossover segment.

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Thursday, July 16, 2009

NEWS Audi A5 Sportback 2010

Do you lust after an Audi A5, but need something with some extra doors and space to handle the family? Good news: Audi has just the car for you.

Well, not quite. Such a car--the 2010 Audi A5 Sportback shown here--is indeed destined for production, but not the New World. Audi says the shapely fastback doesn't mesh well with its U.S. market plans, and as such, the car will essentially be forbidden fruit for the time being.

Although it looks quite similar to the new BMW 5-series Gran Turismo, the A5 Sportback is considerably smaller. At 15.45 feet long, the A5 is a foot shorter than the Bimmer, and is closer in size to an A4.

Those accustomed to riding in the back of an A4 will complain the rear seat is slightly smaller (it's been pulled forward in light of the rakish roof), but luggage space isn't compromised one iota. The Sportback offers 16.9 cubic feet of cargo space, but that number expands to 34.6 cubic feet--nearly two-thirds of that offered in the A4 Avant--with the rear seats down. Unlike the 5-series GT, access to the cargo bay is available only through a full-size hatch.

Although it's labeled as an A5, the Sportback's engine offerings have more in common with the A4 range. The 180-hp, 2.0-liter turbocharged I-4 is the A5 Sportback's base engine, available in a front-wheel-drive model with either a six-speed manual transmission or a CVT. A 211-hp version is also available, but only with Audi's Quattro all-wheel-drive system and a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. The A4's direct-injection 3.2-liter V-6 serves as the premium gas engine, and is available only with Quattro and the S-tronic dual-clutch transmission.

As the A5 Sportback is tailor-made for Europe, a number of diesels are also part of the model mix. Volkswagen's ubiquitous 2.0-liter turbo-diesel I-4 serves as the base engine, while 2.7-liter and 3.0-liter turbo-diesel V-6s offer buyers additional power. To further boost fuel economy, both the 2.0-liter gasoline and diesel engines come with a start/stop system on models with manual transmissions.

Europeans should see the A5 Sportback in dealers this September, but we'll have to wait until 2010 to see a Sportback--a larger A7 model--arrive on our shores.

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News : Mercedes Benz Sls 2011

We're flat-out on Germany's Sachsenring race track in the new Mercedes SLS AMG, chassis number 00045, a mildly camouflaged pre-production model. Ahead is an SL65 AMG Black Series--twin-turbo V-12, 670 hp, 738 lb-ft of torque--driven by Tobias Moers, head of AMG's r&d division, seasoned race instructor and today's pace-setter. Filling his mirrors, our red gullwing keeps pushing harder and harder, even though its normally aspirated 6.2-liter V-8 is rated at a comparably modest 571 hp and 479 lb-ft. The Sachsenring has plenty of slow corners, lots of climbs and descents, two long straights and two very fast and very blind fourth-gear bends.

As our session progresses, this track is becoming a nightmare for the wide, fat SL, and dreamland for the light and nimble SLS. Despite the Black Series car's four more cylinders, 100 extra hp and 259 lb-ft of added torque, it's punished by its 551-lb weight penalty. The SLS not only uses a significantly lighter double-wishbone aluminium suspension, it also boasts a featherweight spaceframe body which tips the scales at a mere 531 lbs. Perhaps even more significant is the weight distribution. In contrast to the nose-heavy SL, the new gullwing places only 48 percent of its mass on the front axle and 52 percent on the driven wheels.

In this match, the Black Series SL doesn't stand a chance. It understeers early, and after only ten laps it has practically run out of front tires. The momentum gained on the straights can never compensate the speed lost on the approach to and through the infield.

The SLS is a totally different animal. It is 49 inches low and 76 inches wide, with cab-backward proportions that emphasize the front-mid-engine layout. The boxy light-alloy skin is draped over a long, 105-inch wheelbase. The gullwing doors open at a large 70-degree angle, but even when fully deployed, the maximum clearance is a scalp-threatening 5 feet, so that short people can still reach the inner grab handles from their seats. The power-operated buckets, which feature lightweight magnesium backrests, are comfortable and supportive. The steering wheel's squared off bottom is a bit of a nuisance through the esses, and in a car this sporty, the shift paddles should be attached to the column--not the wheel.

Instead of a conventional transmission lever, the SLS features a small T-handle gear selector. Push it forward to engage reverse, pull it backwards to select drive, hit the button marked P for park. To the left are five buttons marked engine start, transmission mode (controlled efficiency, sport, sport plus, manual), ESP (on, off or sport), rear spoiler (it automatically extends at 75 mph) and AMG (to store your favorite settings). The familiar Comand system controls the various communication, navigation and entertainment functions. Like every AMG car, the SLS offers a choice of in-dash readouts which relay the coolant, engine and gearbox oil temperatures, the current ESP setting and the most recent lap and trip times. Above the two large main round instruments, there is a supplementary digital LED rev counter with one amber warning segment at 6900 rpm and two red warning dots which come on at 7100 and 7200 rpm.

The exterior design of the new gullwing incorporates modern and retro elements. The large grille, the side cooling gills, and the signature doors all mimic the original 1954 silver arrow. The cleverly packaged and neatly finished interior charms with its rather unique cocoon effect provided by the clamshell doors and the extra-tall sills. The cabin feel is snug but by no means claustrophobic. Standard equipment includes keyless ignition, heated seats trimmed in soft Designo leather, parking aids complete with rear-view camera, and lightweight pedals with rubber studs. Extra money buys speakers by Bang & Olufsen, carbon fiber trim, memory seats, a DVD changer, and your choice of multi-hued color schemes with contrasting stitching and piping. This is definitely not your father's Benz.

Thumbs up Let's go! This time, there is no Black Series lead car. We're on our own now, for eight more hot laps. Time to hit the AMG button and summon the preferred set-up: transmission in sport plus, ESP in sport. There is no choice of setting for the dampers or the steering, the latter of which takes only 2.7 turns from lock to lock. In sport plus, the seven-speed dual clutch transmission swaps the gears with the same brutality as in the Ferrari California, and it also blips the throttle during downshifts. Engine and gearbox are connected via a carbon-fiber torque tube, which distributes the power to the rear wheels via a 100 percent mechanical limited-slip differential.

First gear runs out of revs before you can say "Wow," second is only suitable for the slowest corner of the track, third is a wonderfully elastic ratio which perfectly matches the engine's 4750-rpm torque peak, fourth successfully conquers fear through the two heart-attack left-handers, fifth is just about all you need to reel in the short downhill stretch and the hunchback start-finish straight.

Unlike the tail-happy C63 and the slightly ponderous SL63 we drove to acquaint ourselves with the track, the SLS AMG is so stable and composed, it feels strangely uneventful and uninvolving. How come Because the new dry sump lubrication helps provide an exceptionally low center of gravity, the transaxle layout ensures an amazingly neutral handling balance, and the staggered-size tires (265/35R19 in the front, 295/30R20 in the back) provide an almost insane amount of grip. As a result, the 3571-lb two-seater is as expressively dynamic in one direction as it is absolutely unshakeable in any other. Although confidence is quickly established, it takes at least half a day--and an eye-opening ride with the former DTM champ Bernd Schneider--to fathom the true potential of this very special Mercedes.

But even then, the prevailing impression is compiled of such pragmatic virtues as compliant ride, accessible performance, perfect balance, enough noise but no undue vibrations or harshness. For a rear-wheel-drive supercar, the SLS is incredibly benign and forgiving.

One key dynamic asset is the steering. Meatier and less damped than in other AMG models, it opens up a new level of man-machine dialogue. It's a precision tool that fuses minimum input and maximum control, even through that adrenalin-pumping 110 mph uphill kink where the coupe's fat rear end wants to play catch and release. Then there's the electronic throttle, which allows you to modulate and time the torque flow to perfection. The free-breathing, high-revving V-8 responds to the driver's right foot like a thoroughbred to the prose of a horse whisperer. Especially in manual mode, where the transmission holds the chosen gear no matter what, the SLS rides the torque surf so expertly that every approach is a trough, every apex is a crest, and every exit is a mighty tidal wave.

To boost the 6.2-liter V-8's power output from 525 hp to 571 hp, AMG developed a new larger-diameter intake plenum, hotter camshafts, a more ambitious lightweight valve train and a low-resistance multiple-pipe exhaust system. Other measures include slimmer forged pistons, reinforced crankshaft bearings, toughened reduced-friction piston liners, a stiffer crankcase, a shorter cooling circuit and a more efficient lubrication. Lighter, torquier and quite a bit more powerful, the tweaked 6.2-liter V-8 actually uses less fuel than the version in the E63 and S63 (though U.S. EPA figures are not yet available). Mercedes is quoting a 0-to-62 mph time 3.8 seconds and a top speed of 197 mph.

Equally impressive are the brakes. One can specify extra-large carbon-ceramic rotors which are immune to high temperatures and offer a 40 percent weight advantage, but even the standard steel discs are very good at neutralizing excess kinetic energy. Despite the commendably short pedal travel, the massive six- and four-pot calipers cover the complete deceleration spectrum from touch-then-go-again to all-anchors-dropped.

No, we don't know yet how the SLS fares on broken pavement, on twisty autobahn sections, or in stop-and-go traffic. If the performance on the track is any indication, the new AMG-Mercedes promises to be one of the true greats.

Look for the SLS to make its public debut at the Frankfurt auto show in September and U.S. sales to start next summer, with production capped at 5000 per year. Next in the five-year cycle of the project is the roadster, which goes on sale in early 2011. Three and a half years later, we are going to see a limited-edition farewell Black Series gullwing. And believe it or not, there is also a zero-emission version in the works for 2012.

Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG - Preliminary Specifications (per manufacturer)

Engine: 6.2-liter, 32-valve DOHC V-8
Power: 563 hp @ 6800 rpm
Torque: 479 lb-ft @ 4750 rpm(7200 rpm max engine speed)

Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch automatic
Drive: rear-wheel
Wheels: 9.5 x 19 inch front, 11.0 x 20 inch rear
Tire size: 265/35 R19 front, 295/30 R 20 rear

Length: 183 in
Width: 76 in
Wheelbase: 105.5 in
Track front/rear: 66/65 in
Curb weight 3571 lbs

0-62 mph: 3.8 seconds
Top speed: 196 mph
Fuel economy: 18 mpg (city/hwy combined on Euro cycle)

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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

NEW 2010 Land Rover Range Rover 4X4

For 2010, the Range Rover gets a variety of upgrades aimed at improving the driving experience: both available engines have an extra dose of horsepower, the interior is even more luxurious, and the level of technology, both inside the cabin and under the skin, is more impressive than ever.

The Look

We'll forgive you if your eyes can't detect the slight changes in appearance from a distance. In addition to a revised grille, LEDs around the headlamps and taillamps, and slightly different side gills with LEDs that function as turn indicators, the fog lights move from the front bumper down to the sides of the air intake. The current Range Rover has aged quite well, so only minor changes seem appropriate.

The Power

For 2010, all Land Rover models get the new direct-injection 5.0-liter V-8. Horsepower is up 75, to 375 hp, and torque is at 375 lb-ft -- both figures represent big upgrades over the aging 4.2-liter V-8, which sometimes struggled to move vehicles as big and heavy as a Land Rover. Supercharged models share the 5.0-liter block but also get an intercooled sixth-generation Eaton blower that pushes power to 510 hp and 461 lb-ft of torque. The whole supercharger/intercooler assembly fits nicely in the valley of the engine, the revised air intake is more efficient, and supercharger whine has been reduced by more than 50%.

Both engines are mated to a ZF six-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive. The increase in power from the 5.0-liter engines allows the torque converter to lock up earlier, which increases fuel efficiency. An adaptive sport mode provides more aggressive shift points and "learns" an individual driver's style to provide more appropriate responses to throttle inputs.


Half the reason to consider purchasing a Land Rover is its proven off-road prowess. For 2010, the Range Rover receives some significant improvements in this area. Land Rover's Terrain Response system now includes a launch control program for starting the SUV in sand. In this mode, wheel spin is limited, based on the vehicle's speed, to turn power into forward motion rather than digging a trench. Revisions to rock crawling mode and hill descent control also promise an easier time on the trail. Gradient release control is another new feature that prevents the vehicle from gathering speed too quickly once the brakes are released on a steep slope.


To improve the on-road ride of the Range Rover, adaptive dampers are now used. Pressure at each damper is monitored 500 times per second to allow for instantaneous adjustment of the individual damper's firmness. Like the transmission, the damper system "learns" the driver's style, so responses will be more appropriate for a given situation.

Brake upgrades are also part of the 2010 refresh. Non-supercharged models now have 14.2-inch vented discs with four-piston floating calipers in the front and 13.8-inch vented discs with single-piston aluminum floating calipers in the rear. Supercharged models see 15.0-inch vented discs with six-piston monoblock calipers up front and 14.3-inch vented rotors with single-piston floating calipers out back.

Upgrades to the stability control system allow brakes to be applied to individual wheels if the system determines that the vehicle is taking a corner too quickly. A new rollover prevention system uses a similar strategy to rapidly brake individual wheels in an effort to widen the turning radius and keep the SUV on all four tires. The stability control improvements also offer a trailer sway control system: if the vehicle senses dangerous trailer sway, individual wheels are slowed to bring the rig back in line.


The Range Rover has been at the top of the luxury SUV mountain for a long time, and this year's interior upgrades promise to keep it there for the foreseeable future. If you have any doubt, just look at the optional full-leather interior package and the upgraded "waterfall" interior lighting system.

Drivers will notice an all-new electronic instrument panel with a twelve-inch TFT display. The display can be customized to show specific information between the speedometer and tachometer via a five-way controller mounted on the steering wheel. Everything from outside temperature to wheel articulation can be displayed there.

An upgraded infotainment interface promises more intuitive operations, with many functions able to be controlled by voice commands, and a hard-drive-based navigation system now offers faster route calculation along with better map coverage.


Land Rovers have always been full of technology, and the new Range Rover does not disappoint. The most useful technologies are the available blind spot monitoring system and the 360-degree view cameras, similar to those in the considerably smaller Infiniti EX35. In towing assist mode, the camera system even provides guidelines to help determine where the trailer will be while backing up based on several user-entered data points such type of trailer, width, and number of axles.

Other notable electronic assistance systems are adaptive cruise control, emergency brake assistance, and automatic high beam headlamps. The adaptive cruise control system has four settings for following distance that range from 1 to 2.2 seconds of open road between you and the vehicle ahead. The system defaults to 1.8 seconds, which equals about 164 feet at 62 mph. Emergency brake assist uses the same radar as the ACC system and can automatically apply the brakes if a collision is imminent. High beam assist will switch on the brights when the vehicle detects low light levels and then switch back to low beams when traffic approaches.

Perhaps the most important part of all these electrical gadgets is the all-new electrical architecture. The combination of Controller Area Network and Media Oriented Transit System should share data across the vehicle's systems and save weight, with a side benefit of improved reliability, according to Land Rover. We suppose it will take a while to support the claim of a more reliable electrical system, but we hope it's not hyperbole.

The Drive

Once you slip behind the wheel, the 2010 Range Rover's increased power is most impressive. Normally aspirated vehicles are nearly as fast as the outgoing supercharged models and the new supercharged engine is almost frighteningly quick. We've been told to expect 0-to-60-mph sprints in 5.9 seconds and that time doesn't feel optimistic. The shift time has been cut in half when compared with the outgoing six-speed automatic, which also helps with acceleration. When sport mode is dialed in, the shifts are nearly perfect and passing is effortless, even on normally aspirated SUVs.

The predictive dampers were especially impressive during a bout of spirited driving -- the Range Rover is far from a sports car, but it offers remarkably flat cornering and very predictable handling when hustling through back roads that would better suit a Jaguar XF. Throttle tip-in is a bit stiff, but that's more of a characteristic than a problem. We found the variable ratio steering to be quite predictable and it feels surprisingly natural.

In addition to being able to travel the autobahn at speeds up to 140 mph, the Range Rover is quite happy chugging along off-road. The trails we tackled outside Barcelona were quite impressive and the overall experience was rather relaxing and confidence inspiring. If you let the vehicle's Terrain Response System do its job, rather spectacular obstacles can be traversed while you sip a latte or discuss your most recent investments.

When Can I Get One?

The 2010 Land Rover Range Rover will go on sale by the end of July in the U.S. If you're looking to drive one home, be prepared to shell out $79,275 for the normally aspirated HSE model and $95,125 for the Supercharged flavor. Both prices include destination charges, but no options. Land Rover representatives expect sticker prices to range from $80,000 up to nearly $110,000 for a fully loaded Supercharged model with the Autobiography package. Autobiography is the ultimate in luxury and adds features like a full-leather interior and unique 20-inch wheels as part of the $14,500 package.

PricingBase Price, HSE: $79,275Base Price, Supercharged: $95,125


Body Style: 5-door SUV
Accommodation: 5-passenger
Construction: Steel unibody


Engine: Naturally aspirated or supercharged 32-valve V-8
Displacement: 5.0 liters
Power: 375 hp / 510 hp (supercharged)
Torque: 375 lb-ft / 461 lb-ft (supercharged)
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Drive: Four-wheel


Steering: Power-assisted rack-and-pinion
Turns lock-to-lock: 3.5
Turning Circle: 39.4 ft
Suspension, Front: MacPherson strut
Suspension, Rear: Double wishbone
Brakes F/R: Power-assisted ventilated disc; ABS
Wheels: 19-inch aluminum/ 20-inch aluminum (supercharged)
Tire Size: 255/55R19, 255/50R20 (supercharged)

MeasurementsHeadroom F/R: 39.3/38.3 in
Legroom F/R: 38.9/35.5 in
Shoulder Room F/R: 61.4/60 in
Wheelbase: 113.3 in
Track F/R: 64.1/64.0 in
L x W x H: 195.8 x 80.1 x 73.4 in

Cargo Capacity (max): 74.2 cu. ft.
Weight: 5697 lb/ 5891 (supercharged)
Fuel Capacity: 27.6 gal
Towing Capacity: 7716 lbs

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

NEWS Future of the Automobile

Bill Reinert, Toyota's in-house energy guru and resident contrarian, looks like he's just taken a whiff of a long-expired container of milk.

Reinert is serving on a future-of-the-car panel at a high-powered green-think conference sponsored by Fortune magazine and featuring heavyweights such as President Bill Clinton and Bill Ford. Although the symposium is being held in a button-down bastion of Orange County, the ambience is totally Silicon Valley, all iPhones and Aeron chairs, with lots of clever but undercapitalized tech entrepreneurs sniffing around for angel investors. At the moment, Shai Agassi, the charismatic founder of Better Place, is making a dynamic pitch for creating vast networks of battery-charging stations to support electric vehicles that will, he claims, be cheaper than the equivalent gasoline-powered cars. While executives from Ford, BMW, and Fisker Automotive listen with polite smiles, Reinert squirms in his seat, crosses and recrosses his legs, and generally behaves like a schoolkid who can't wait for the bell to ring so he can escape for recess.

When it's his turn to speak, Reinert bites his tongue. He mildly questions the viability of Agassi's wildly improbable plan to create battery-swapping stations for the coming wave of EVs. He lobs a few gentle barbs in the direction of the ethanol lobby, which he privately regards with unalloyed scorn. He outlines his genuinely radical vision of a future where publicly owned and shared cars are used to complete urban mass-transit systems. But by and large, he's on his best behavior, showing the benevolent public face of the world's greenest car company. Until the mics are turned off.

"That's the first law of Disney at work--wishing will make it so," he mutters shortly after bolting out of the conference room and yanking off his tie. "Using ethanol for fuel is like electing the dumbest kid in school as class president. As for plug-in electrics, they're just not plausible right now. Lithium-ion batteries are too expensive by at least an order of magnitude. They're not energy-dense enough. And we generate a lot of our electricity from coal. I don't think Shai is being disingenuous. I think he really believes what he's saying. I see it all the time from those Palo Alto types. They think the whole world is like a computer company, and they're always trying to recreate the dot-com economy. You see exactly the same mind-set with Tesla. It's all going to work out. It worked out with eBay. It worked out with SAP. But transportation is a different world. I mean, Shai's bragging about driving an electric RAV4 with a seventy-mile range. How many of your friends are going to buy that car?

As national manager of Toyota Motor Sales' advanced technology group, Reinert supervises a brain trust--four full-time employees and several outside consultants-- with the freedom to explore, well, just about anything. At the most conventional level, they play the role of product planners, and their fingerprints are all over the new, third-generation Prius. But Reinert also is charged with forecasting fuel prices, analyzing new technology, predicting (and influencing) regulatory developments, conducting life-cycle modeling, and anticipating demographic trends. Trained as an engineer focusing on renewable energy, Reinert is a passionate car guy with a vintage Porsche in his garage. He is an unlikely character playing an unlikely role as corporate fortune-teller, gazing at a crystal ball of his own design to keep Toyota ahead of the curve.

"Bill is a futurist," says his longtime friend David Shearer, a scientist and entrepreneur who's devoted most of his career to the study of renewable energy. "He's a big thinker, and he always has the larger context in mind. He's a leading light in the energy and next-generation transportation spaces. He's superbright, but he can talk about these things in a way that people can understand. And he's able to create bridges to the NGOs [nongovernmental agencies] that are so important in driving these big ideas forward. He has the unique gift of being able to talk to different groups, create excitement, and prepare them to accept ideas that might appear to be contrary to what they believe in. But Bill speaks the truth no matter what group he's with, and sometimes he doesn't make friends doing that."

At first glance, Reinert seems like a singularly poor fit at Toyota, a notoriously conservative company with a rigid corporate hierarchy. Reinert is, by his own account, something of a loose cannon. At 61, he still bears the residue of his hippie years; his young staffers call him Uncle Bill. Also, the glib--and often controversial--pronouncements that have made him a favorite with the media haven't always played well in a corporate culture that prizes the group more than the individual.

Outside Toyota, Reinert is the company's most articulate - and highest-profile - spokesman on energy issues. (Scott Samuelsen, director of the National Fuel Cell Research Center, calls his lively presentations "out-of-body experiences.") But although Reinert is himself a staunch environmentalist and he's pushing research in areas ranging from fuel cells to carbon sequestration, he doesn't have much time for conventional wisdom or political correctness. He's been especially critical of the commercial prospects for EVs, and he was cast as one of the skeptics in Who Killed the Electric Car?
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Monday, July 13, 2009

NEW Pontiac G8 will live on as a Chevrolet Caprice

Only hours into his latest tenure at General Motors, Bob Lutz was back at what he does best, namely, slipping product information to the media and giving enthusiasts a reason to believe in the beleaguered auto company.

Asked about the future of the Pontiac G8, slated to end production with the 2009 model year, Lutz told Automobile Magazine the car would find its way into Chevrolet showrooms under the Caprice name.

"The last time we looked at [the G8], we decided that we would continue to import it as a Chevrolet," Lutz said. "It is kind of too good to waste."

CEO Fritz Henderson has repeatedly denied that the G8 would survive as part of another brand, saying he's "not a fan of rebadging."

But Lutz, citing export agreements with Australia and the fact that the Holden Commodore is already sold in many countries as a Chevrolet, assured us GM would not let the car die.

Lutz also confirmed that the Cadillac CTS-V Coupe was still very much in the pipeline, and noted that members of the government taskforce took special interest in the super coupe.

"When we went through design and looked at the future product, the procession stopped at the model of the Cadillac CTS-V Coupe," Lutz told us. "I think that some of these guys are personally going to buy CTS-V Coupes."

Lutz also noted that a CTS-V Wagon is still a possibility, saying, "I think that'd be fun. I'm sure we'll build at least one."
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