Friday, February 23, 2007

2007 Kia Rio

New Rio SX brings sportiness to benchmark subcompact.
By John Rettie


Kia Rio was setting new standards for subcompacts even before last year's complete makeover. Now this roomy little car is better than ever. Rio has received Autobytel's "Editor's Choice for Most Improved New Car," and ranked highest for initial quality in the subcompact segment in the J.D. Power and Associates 2006 Initial Quality Study. Rio has also been recognized as one of the most fuel-efficient vehicles on the market by both the Environmental Protection Agency and by J.D. Power.

The '06 Rio that earned all that acclaim was offered as a practical sedan or as a more deluxe and sporty five-door hatchback called Rio5 SX. For '07, Kia has added an SX-trimmed sedan featuring all of the hatchback's sporty equipment: front fog lights, 15-inch alloy wheels, rear spoiler, metal-finish interior trim, metal pedals, black mesh sport fabric seat inserts and door panels, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, and red stitching and highlights throughout.

All '07 Rios come with new shift knobs (manual and automatic), a chrome Kia logo on the steering wheel pad, and an illuminated ignition-switch surround. The SX models' 15-inch alloy wheels have been redesigned, and 16-inch rims are now available. SX models also feature new chrome accents on their instrument panel air vents.

Rio competes against a wave of new subcompacts that includes the Toyota Yaris, Nissan Versa, Honda Fit, and Chevrolet Aveo, along with Rio's corporate cousin, the Hyundai Accent. All of these cars are smaller than market-dominating compacts like the Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic, but many offer better fuel economy with little loss of interior space. Rio rates as high as 38 mpg on the highway, while delivering agile handling. And Rio comes standard with six airbags, a safety feature normally associated with expensive luxury cars, not subcompacts.

Mechanically, there isn't much to distinguish a Rio from a Hyundai Accent. That's no bad thing, as both are state-of-the-art small cars. Rio is a bit more boldly styled than Accent, and the five-door variation is a Rio exclusive. Chassis tuning is a little different as well, with Accent biased toward ride comfort and Rio toward handling.

The stigma attached to owning a small car in America is becoming a thing of the past and the latest iteration of the Kia Rio is among the reasons why that's happening.

Model Lineup

The Kia Rio sedan and five-door hatchback are powered by the same 110-hp, 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine. It's a sophisticated, modern engine, complete with dual overhead camshafts and variable valve timing. Safety features for all models include front seatbelt pre-tensioners along with six airbags: dual frontal, front seat side-impact and full-coverage side-impact curtain.

The Rio sedan is still available as a very basic base model or in more mainstream LX trim. New for '07 is the sporty SX. The Rio5 five-door hatchback remains available exclusively in SX trim.

The base Rio sedan ($10,770) comes strictly with a manual transmission, wind-up windows, and manual door locks. Tires are 175/70's on 14-inch steel rims. There's no radio or air conditioning, not even power steering. But it does come with a sporty mesh fabric on the seats, an eight-way adjustable driver's seat with a fold-down armrest, tachometer, rear defroster, dual 12V power outlets and a convenient shopping bag hook on the back of the front passenger seat. It also comes with the same six airbags and other safety features found on all Rio models.

The Rio LX sedan ($12,695) is likely to be the most popular model as it adds air conditioning, power steering, and an AM/FM/CD audio system with four speakers; plus a tilt steering column and 60/40-split folding rear seat. Tires upgrade to 185/65R14 with full wheel covers. LX comes standard with the manual gearbox, but a four-speed automatic transmission is available ($850). LX buyers can also add a Power Package ($600) that includes power windows, power door locks with keyless remote, power heated outside mirrors and tweeter speakers; four-wheel antilock brakes ($400); and, new for '07, dealer-installed 14-inch wheels. The two remaining options on the list, a rear spoiler ($300) and carpeted floor mats ($85), are also available on the base model. The Rio5 SX hatchback ($13,750) and new SX sedan ($13,495) come with all the standard equipment of the LX, plus 195/55 tires on 15-inch alloy wheels, fog lights, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, metal-finish interior trim and metal pedals. The spoiler is standard and 16-inch wheels with 205/45 tires are available ($200); otherwise SX models offer the same list of options as LX.

There is nothing wimpy looking about either of the Kia Rio models. The sedan has a solid looking front end with a strong nose and big headlights that give it a purposeful appearance. The crease along the side of the car below the big windows ends up wrapping around the trunk, giving the sedan more the look of a European sports sedan than that of a Korean econobox.

All models come with hefty body-color side moldings that do not detract too badly as they align nicely with the wraparound edges of the front and rear bumpers. The fender flares actually look a shade too big on the base and LX models, which have skinnier tires. The fender flares fill out much better on the SX with its lower-profile tires and 15-inch wheels.

Despite significantly more carrying capacity (and identical passenger room), the Rio5 hatchback is 8.8 inches shorter than the sedan; for the record, it's an inch and a quarter shorter than even the Hyundai Accent Coupe. We think that gives the Rio hatch a trim and sporty look. Rio5 looks taller than the Rio sedan but it is actually the same overall height. It's a couple of inches lower in height than the Scion xA, and a bit lower than the Chevrolet Aveo, its closest rivals. The rear of the Rio5 is distinctive with backup lights that wrap around the taillights and almost look like part of the body. The C-pillar curves down to the taillights and the tailgate has full width glass, making the rear view more attractive than on many hatchbacks.

2007 Kia Rio
Interior Features

The interior of the 2007 Kia Rio represents a big improvement over the older, pre-2006 models. This latest Rio has a nicely contoured dashboard with a generous binnacle over the instrument panel, which includes a tachometer even on the base model. The radio is well positioned in the center stack with large buttons and knobs for changing stations or volume. Three big knobs for the climate control are mounted on a bulge in the center that brings them closer to the driver's hands. A chrome Kia logo, added to the steering wheel center for '07, brightens what as a bit of a dull spot in last year's model.

The seats are on the soft side and don't offer the lateral support we'd expect on a sports sedan. Those of us with larger frames, however, will not fault Kia for that. Rear seat legroom is better than the numbers suggest, because passengers can place their feet under the front seats thanks to the generous open space below them.

Big storage pockets in all four doors, along with a reasonable size glovebox, provide places to stash stuff. A slot in the center stack can hold parking passes or toll tickets. The rear seatback folds down in a 60/40 split for added versatility in all but the base model. At 92.2 cubic feet, subcompact Rio's total passenger volume edges past the popular compact Honda Civic (90.9) and Toyota Corolla (90.3). In practical terms, they are all pretty close.

The Rio5 has a total cargo carrying a capacity of almost 50 cubic feet with the seats folded down, which is substantially more than in other hatchbacks of this size. Even with the rear seat open for passenger's the remaining 15.8 cubic feet of trunk space seems to belong to a much bigger car. The sedan's trunk measures 11.9 cubic feet, still not bad for the class.

Minor touches make the SX models a bit nicer. Metal pedals and a leather wrapped steering wheel and gearshift knob carry over from last year. New for '07 is red stitching in the leather, chrome accents on the HVAC vents, and new fabrics on the seats and doors. Both SX models will appeal to driving enthusiasts.
Driving Impressions

2007 Kia Rio

After driving three varieties of the Kia Rio on highways and freeways around Seattle, we came away impressed.

We spent time in an LX automatic and a Rio5 SX manual. We enjoyed shifting the manual as it definitely makes for a more sporty experience. However, the LX with the automatic transmission was no slouch. Cars in this class traditionally suffer a big performance and fuel economy hit with an automatic, but the new Rio confirms that modern transmissions have largely addressed these deficiencies. In fact, the automatic Rio rates slightly better EPA mileage on the highway, with 38mpg against the manual's 35. EPA estimates for city driving are more what you might expect, at 29 mpg for the automatic and 32 for the manual.

Kia claims it is making its cars more sporty and athletic than the Hyundai Accent, the Rio's sibling. There's nothing exceptional about Rio's MacPherson strut front suspension or twist-beam rear axle, but Kia says they both designed for long wheel travel, a characteristic long favored by European automakers for combining a comfortable ride with responsive handling. The Rio is far from being a sporty car, but the SX handled nimbly without too much body lean or sloppy motion. The LX, with its skinner 14-inch tires, was not quite as secure, although most drivers would not complain.

The power steering, which stiffens up as the engine speed increases, felt taught with just the right amount of feel dialed in. We did not try a base model, which comes without power steering.

Standard-issue brakes are 10.1-inch discs up front and 8.0-inch drums in the rear. Order the optional ABS and, in addition to the four-channel anti-lock system, rear brakes upgrade to 10.3-inch solid discs.

2007 Kia Rio

Unlike subcompacts of the past, the 2007 Kia Rio is a car you can be happy living with. We found the Rio5 SX the most enjoyable with its combination of hatchback versatility and sporty/luxury touches. All Rios come with a comprehensive set of passive safety features. Even the base model includes six airbags. It also includes a generous five-year/60,000 mile warranty coupled with a 10-year/100,000 mile powertrain warranty. correspondent John Rettie is based in Santa Barbara.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

2007 Acura MDX


The Acura MDX is all-new for 2007. It's larger then the previous model and has been improved in every area. That's saying something given that the first-generation MDX (2001-2006) had a unique combination of style, design, utility, and a rock-solid powertrain with both good power and good fuel economy that made it very popular among mid-size luxury SUVs. It sold in record numbers right to the end and was the second-best-selling Acura model (after the TL sports sedan).

The all-new 2007 Acura MDX is built on a proper truck platform, and is not an adaptation of the Accord passenger car platform. It doesn't look larger than last year's MDX, but it is in fact several inches longer and wider. That makes it among the largest vehicles of its type. It offers more space for folks and flotsam inside, totaling almost 143 cubic feet. From its wild new grille to its elaborately stylish cat's-eye headlamps to its huge new taillamps, it's got a more muscular look compared to the original, especially in the areas around the tires.

Sporty styling cues include the big, fat dual exhaust tips that look like they belong on a V8, and the hefty five-spoke alloy wheels. Even the Acura badge in the grille has been changed, and is now twice as big as it once was.

The seats are laid out in three rows of two, offering seating for up to seven people. The 10-way driver and 8-way front passenger power seats allow huge adjustment latitude for long-distance comfort.

The new MDX is physically stronger than the previous model, with a more rigid structure that's much more resistant to twisting and bending, beneficial for ride and handling as well as tightness as the vehicle ages.

Powertrain improvements include a larger, more powerful V6 engine, combined with a five-speed manual-shift automatic transmission. The completely updated exterior appearance, which is sportier still than the original, will make it easy to spot the new one. Inside, there is a completely new approach to SUV interior design, a more organic, unified presentation of instruments and controls, a more involving scheme for the driver that should be appreciated by moms and dads alike.

We found the MDX quiet and quick, with nicely weighted steering. The active damper system that comes on the Sport model makes driving the MDX more fun, with a flatter ride and less body roll in the corners. The driver can select between sport and comfort modes for sharper handling or a softer ride. The navigation system, satellite radio, iPod input jack and Bluetooth phone synching make it easy and fun to go down the road.

Acura says the new MDX competes with the BMW X5, the Volvo XC90, the Lexus RX 330, the Mercedes-Benz ML350, as well as the Cadillac Escalade and GMC Yukon Denali. Acura hopes the new MDX will appeal to women who want a sports car but need an SUV.

Model Lineup

The 2007 Acura MDX ($39,995) offers three major options packages, two of which are positioned as models.

With the Technology package ($43,495), the MDX gets Acura's wonderful voice-activated navigation system, this time out with Zagat reviews and ratings embedded, a rearview camera, AcuraLink satellite communications with real-time traffic data, a 410-watt ELS surround sound system with 6CD changer and 10 speakers, wireless telephone equipment, and three-zone automatic air conditioning.

The Sport package ($45,595) includes the Techology package and adds Delphi active-damping magnetic rheological shock absorbers, perforated leather interior trim, alloy wheels, and self-leveling HID headlamps.

The Entertainment package ($2,200), available with either the Technology or Sport packages, adds a DVD rear entertainment system, heated second-row seats, a power tailgate, and a 110-volt power point in the front console.

Safety equipment on the new MDX is as complete a package as there is in the industry. The front bucket seats each have two-stage air bags and active head restraints, two-stage driver and front passenger knee bolsters, front seat side air bags and three-row side-curtain air bags including rollover triggering. That's in addition to the mandated front airbags. Active safety features, designed to help the driver avoid accidents in the first place, include all-wheel-drive, electronic stability control, and anti-lock brakes (ABS) with electronic brake force distribution and brake assist for panic stops.

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Monday, February 19, 2007

2007 Ford Focus

Ford makes lots of money selling trucks, but it's concentrating more on cars for 2005. So it's logical that the automaker's first 2005 model is a revamped version of its subcompact Focus.

The 2005 Focus line features a new top-line model, more power and revised styling, inside and out.

It's unfortunate that Americans don't get the all-new European 2005 Focus. The American version of the Focus gets the rather subdued styling of the new, large, flagship Ford Five Hundred sedan instead of its old, quirky "new edge" styling.

The new Focus look is hardly a radical change, but Ford bills it as being more "upscale" and "aspirational."

More Substantial Look
The Focus does have a cleaner, more substantial look, although it still doesn't begin to stand out in parking lots. There's a restyled nose, new hood and slightly larger grille—and recontoured front fenders merge into more conventional-looking headlights.

The rear end features new taillights and has been reshaped—partly to better accommodate U.S. license plates. The old trunk lid had a European design to handle longer, narrower European plates, leaving U.S. plates dangling awkwardly. Thanks, Ford, for small favors.

Revamped Interior
The most dramatic design departure is the revamped interior, partly because Ford is concentrating on making interiors look better. The all-new instrument panel is symmetrical; the driver and front passenger areas are divided by two rectangular climate control registers, hazard switch and a shallow center stack for the climate and audio control systems.

The interior still needs more flair, although improved materials are used for it.

Variety of Trim Levels
The Focus comes as a 2-door hatchback (ZX3), 4-door hatchback (ZX5) and 4-door sedan (ZX4)—and as a station wagon (ZXW). The entry trim series is S—followed by SE, SES and ST, which have more equipment and options. Options and option packages have been simplified to make ordering easier.

The 170-horsepower hot rod Focus SVT version has been dropped and replaced with the new top-line ZX4 ST sedan. That $17,705 version has performance that is almost comparable to that of the higher-strung SVT, which was too radical a trim level for most Focus buyers.

However, it's sort of strange that the only high-performance 2005 Focus is a sedan. (The SVT also was sold as a more sporty 2-door hatchback.) However, the ZX4 ST is more refined and costs about $1,400 less than the SVT. The lowest-cost Focus is the $13,005 ZX3 2-door hatchback.

Standard Equipment
The base S Focus has a fair number of standard items, including a manually height-adjustable driver's seat, console, split-folding rear seat, AM/FM/CD sound system, intermittent wipers, rear defroster and rear wiper-washer for the hatchback.

The SE adds considerably more items, including air conditioning, MP3 player and power windows, mirrors and door locks with remote entry. The SES adds a tachometer, tilt-telescopic steering wheel with radio controls, cruise control, in-dash CD/MP3 player and wider (50-series vs. 60-series) tires on wider (16-inch vs. 15-inch) aluminum wheels.

In addition to the larger engine, the ST adds a sport suspension, traction control, anti-lock all-disc brakes and heated power mirrors.

Safety Options
Safety options include $400 anti-lock brakes for versions other than the ST and $350 head-and-torso front side airbags for all versions.

A power sunroof is a $625 option for the SE, SES and ST.

New Engine
Ford mainly dropped the SVT because it has replaced the Zetec 4-cylinder engine used in the Focus since its arrival here in 2000 with an economical 4-cylinder "Duratec" engine developed by Mazda, in which Ford has a controlling interest.

The new 2-liter 4-cylinder Duratec engine with 136 horsepower replaces the old base 2-liter 4-cylinder, which generated 110 and 130 horsepower.

The ZX4 ST gets a 2.3-liter Duratec 4-cylinder with 151 horsepower. It lets the ZX4 ST hit 60 mph in 7.9 seconds with its 5-speed manual gearbox, which is the only one offered for this version. The engine drones a bit during highway cruising, and a downshift to fourth gear is needed for the best 65-75 mph passing time.

Other Focus trim levels can be had with the manual gearbox or a 4-speed automatic transmission. The manual gearbox shifts easily and works with a nice clutch that's not a pain in stop-and-go traffic, although the extra torque of the ZX4 ST engine makes lots of shifting unnecessary.

The new 2-liter Focus engine calls for additional shifting. The $815 automatic transmission shifts crisply, but saps some power.

Good Ride and Handling
The front-drive Focus has a well-developed chassis with an all-independent suspension for good ride and handling. The ZX4 ST has the stiffer shock absorbers of the SVT, but softer spring rates for a more comfortable ride. However, the springs increase body sway a little.

All Focus versions are generally fun to drive, with the ZX4 ST being the most enjoyable with its more powerful engine, sport suspension and wider tires. It has quick, communicative steering, nimble handling, compliant ride and good braking, with nice pedal feel.

The Focus interior has noticeable wind noise at highway speeds, but easily reached controls and gauges that can be read at a glance. There's a good number of storage areas, with front door pockets that contain areas for beverage holders.

Pretty Roomy
The Focus is pretty roomy; four 6-footers fit, although legroom is tight behind a driver who moves his seat back halfway. Front seats are supportive, and there's excellent head room in front and rear compartments. Back doors should open wider, and entry to the rear is more difficult with the 2-door hatchback.

Cargo areas are large and have low openings. The sedan's trunk lid has strut-type hinges that don't eat into cargo room. The entire split-folding rear seat easily folds forward to significantly increase cargo space.

The hood also smoothly raises on struts to reveal easily reached fluid-filler areas. But the short manual hood prop is awkward to use when checking the engine oil level and such.

A Honda Civic is more refined and a Mazda3 is sportier, but the latest, well-developed Focus feels more grown up.
From :

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Updated Audi A4 to debut at the Paris Motor Show

audi a4The new Audi A4 Saloon and Avant models will make their world debut at the 2004 Paris Motor Show. The 2005 model year range is transformed with all-new exterior sheetmetal, as well as dynamically with the arrival of four advanced new engines and extensive chassis modifications.

A striking single frame front grille follows the new Audi family face used on the A6, A3 Sportback, and A8 W12 and inspired by the 2003 Nuvolari quattro concept. The clear-glass headlights with their sweeping bottom edge and inward taper give the new A4 a new and more expressive face. At the rear, the influence of the Nuvolari continues, with the sweeping curve of the two-piece lamps. The bodyside is more sculpted, with the shoulder line defined by an undercut edge. With new bumper facias front and rear, the A4 has grown slightly compared with its predecessor: the Saloon is 38 millimetres longer, the Avant 41 millimetres

audi a4The interior of the A4 has been updated to include a new generation of steering wheels, new cloth and leather upholstery options and new technology including a DVD-based satellite navigation system.

audi a4Audi is offering two newly designed petrol engines with FSI petrol direct injection for the new A4 for the first time: the 188 kW (255 bhp) 3.2 FSI V6 and the turbocharged two-litre four-cylinder 2.0 T FSI, which delivers 147 kW (200 bhp).

In the A4 Avant a variable load-area floor provides three different floor-panel positions, with a load area capacity between 377 (floor closed), 422 (floor partially open) and 442 litres (floor removed). The maximum storage capacity with the rear seat folded is 1,184 litres.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Audi A3

audi a3Some entry-level cars aren't very desirable outside of their lower prices because their producers cheapened them to keep their cost down. But that isn't the case with Audi's new entry A3 sedan.

An early 2006 model, the compact A3 is the most conveniently sized Audi for parking and such. It's slightly smaller than Audi's top-selling A4, but offers most of the A4 sedan's attributes for lower prices.

Pricing for a 2005 A4 sedan begins at $27,350. The A3 costs $24,740 with a 6-speed manual transmission and lists at $26,220 with Audi's race-car-inspired Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG) transmission. The DSG is derived from a conventional 6-speed manual gearbox and essentially is a clutchless manual transmission that can be set to shift like an automatic.

The DSG in my A3 test car provided lightning fast gear changes with an electro-hydraulically controlled twin clutch, although it was mostly left in "drive" mode because it shifts smoothly and efficiently in that mode.

Upscale Appearance
The front-wheel-drive A3 looks upscale and is handsome—despite having Audi's new, rather ungainly looking larger grille. Somehow, the grille looks better on the A3 than on larger Audis.

audiThe approximately 3,300-pound A3 resembles a small station wagon, although Audi knows that's an unwanted description in America. So it calls the A3 a "premium compact sedan with the sportiness of the Audi TT coupe sports car."

Whatever. The A3 actually could be described as a utilitarian crossover vehicle because of its hatchback and generous cargo area, especially with the split rear seatback folded forward.

There's decent room for four 6-footers, but legroom becomes tight behind a 6-foot driver who moves his seat more than halfway back. The right rear passenger doesn't have that problem, although neither rear passenger has a surplus of room.

Fun to Drive
The A3 is agile and fun to drive, although some may feel that Audi's new electromechanical steering with speed-dependent power assist is too light at lower speeds.
audi a3The steering becomes progressively firmer to provide a reassuring feel at highway speeds and requires less energy than a conventional steering system.

Touchy Brake Pedal
Audi's comparison of the A3 with its TT sports car isn't too far off the mark. In fact, the A3 almost feels like a lithe 2-seater. Anti-lock, all-disc brakes with a brake assist feature for sudden stops are powerful enough, although their touchy pedal takes some getting used to.

The all-independent suspension of my test A3 provided a ride that was supple but firm. I suspect that it would have been firmer if the car had the optional ($1,800) Sport package. That package adds a stiffer sports suspension, higher-performance tires, aluminum interior trim, front sports seats, leather covering for all seats and a roof spoiler.

My test car did have the $2,025 Premium package. It contains a power driver's seat and most features of the Sport package—except for the stiffer suspension, performance tires, spoiler and sport seats. Still, the standard front seats could be mistaken for sport seats because they provide excellent support.

My advice? Forget the Sport package and opt for the Premium option unless you like to drive really hard.

Occasional Tire Noise
Some highway surfaces brought out tire noise that was so excessive it caused front occupants to raise voices during normal conversation, although that wasn't the case on most roads. The A3 is generally as quiet and refined as the A4. Fits and finishes are superb, and upscale interior materials are used.

Some audio and climate controls are small, but the dashboard is nicely designed and nothing inside the car shouts "cheap."

Lively Acceleration
The turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine generates 200 horsepower and provides such rapid acceleration (0-60 mph in 6.7 seconds) that it feels larger than it is. Audi likes to break new ground, so the A3 has the first production engine to combine FSI gasoline direct injection with a turbocharger.

That technology was in the Audi R8 that won the famous 24-hour Le Mans endurance race in France. It allows good responsiveness in all speed ranges, with maximum torque of 207 pound-feet available across a wide engine speed range—from 1,800 rpm to 5,000 rpm.

Engine revs are higher than in larger-engine cars above 65 mph with the DSG transmission, but the engine is relaxed even at 75-80 mph, with reserve punch for passing.

Decent Fuel Economy
Fuel economy is decent, at an estimated 25 mpg in the city and 31 on the highway.

A 250-horsepower V6 with 237 pound-feet of torque will be offered with the DSG transmission and Audi's well-proven quattro all-wheel-drive system early next year, along with optional 18-inch wheels. That engine probably isn't really necessary, but America is horsepower-crazy.

Nicely Equipped
Despite its entry status, the A3 has a good amount of comfort and convenience equipment. It includes automatic climate control, remote keyless entry, power windows, cruise control and an AM/FM/CD sound system with 10 speakers.

A $700 Cold Weather package probably doesn't seem like a "must-have" option in the spring, but will be appreciated in northern winters with its heated front seats, windshield washer nozzles and exterior mirrors.

Fresh air and open-sky fans might go for the $1,100 "Open Sky" sunroof system; it consists of two glass panels—the front one opens and the rear one over the back seats is fixed. Both have sunshades.

Safety Items
Safety features are an anti-skid/traction control system, front torso side airbags and head-protecting side-curtain airbags. Rear torso airbags cost $350.

Entry-level cars are mostly designed to convince owners to eventually move up to an automaker's larger, more expensive models. The A3 should do a good job in that regard.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Porsche Boxster scooped

2008 Porsche Boxster: the lowdown
Porsche is preparing a string of revisions for the evergreen Boxster. Due for the 2008 model-year, the roadster will be given a visual nip 'n' tuck, as well as some important mechanical changes.

You'll spot the tweaked Boxster at the front by new LED auxiliary strip lights like on the 911 Turbo, while the disguise around the headlamps suggests that the main lights will also be redesigned. The whole front bumper will be discreetly reprofiled, too.And what about the rear of the Porsche Boxster? Much change there?
LED lights will be added to the rear of the Boxster, too; you can just make out the bright shape of the diodes through the gloom of this scoop shot snatched during winter testing in Scandinavia.

Although these photographs are of the Boxster, many of the changes - including the LED lights and reprofiled bumpers - will also appear on the Cayman coupe. Expect to see the new Boxster at this autumn's Frankfurt Motor Show.
And what's under the bonnet?
Porsche is working on new direct-injection technology for the Boxster and Cayman; it's already appeared on the facelifted Cayenne SUV, and now Stuttgart is keen to share the power and economy gains on its entry-level roadster and coupe.

Dubbed Direct Fuel Injection (DFI), Porsche claims the technology can cut fuel consumption by up to 15 percent, while increasing power by up to 13 percent. DFI cuts emissions by warming up the catalytic converter more quickly, and ensures a sharper throttle response. Better for your right foot - and the planet, then.

DFI allows much more precise measurement of fuel supply and injection at pressures up to 120 bar; it has numerous combustion modes, with different cycles for cold-starting, low-speed driving and performance driving. It should make the Boxster even more responsive to drive.

BMW 1-series coupe and convertible caught

BMW 1-series coupe and convertible: the lowdown
BMW is the past master of massaging model ranges to fill every niche; just look at the myriad bodystyles and engines available in the 3-series. Small wonder it's now conceiving further progeny of the 1-series family - and we've got the latest photos to prove Munich's smallest range will include a coupe and convertible.

Caught during Scandinavian cold-weather testing are the E82 coupe and E88 soft-top - just two of the swelling 1-series brood. And it won't end here: on top of today's three- and five-door hatches, unusual Sportvan and estate bodystyles are also under consideration. A One for every taste, seems to be flavour of the day in Munich.

Up close: the 1-series coupe
First up is this 1-series coupe, expected to turn up at the Los Angeles Motor Show this autumn - a few months ahead of the convertible. This duo are likely to sell strongly in America, hence the Stateside debuts.

The notchback will keep familiar 1-series styling at the front, but its rear end will be a mix of coupe/saloon, creating a usefully large boot. Don't expect much in the way of rear-seat space, though. And it looks like the 1-series badge will stay; the 2-series name was considered for the two-doors, but BMW reckons it wouldn't get the shared benefit of promoting a single range - and the halo cars wouldn't have the desired effect on the estate agent repmobile 116i specials. So 1-series it is, then.
Up close: the 1-series convertible
We'll see the soft-top One in 2008. No folding hard-tops here - BM's smallest convertible sticks with a classic fabric roof, electrically operated. Under that disguise, you'll see a car that's extraordinarily close to the CS1 concept of 2002. Do you remember how wacky we thought that car looked five years ago? It was one of the concepts that heralded massive change in Munich's design department...

The convertible's rear seats won't be comfy for many occupants, but the boot is said to hold 250 litres of luggage even with the roof down.
What's in the engine department?
A mix of four- and six-cylinder engines will be offered on the new two-door Ones, stretching from 1.6 to 3.0, depending on the size of your wallet. The fastest ones use the 3.0-litre straight six with 258bhp - although rumours persist of an M version, touted to use the outgoing M3's 343bhp straight six.

Beneath the skin, the 1- and 3-series are much more closely related than their appearance reveals, sharing around 60 percent parts. BMW plans to build 70,000 coupes and cabriolets a year once sales are in full swing.

Peugeot 207 CC

Peugeot 207CC: the lowdown
Peugeot has re-invented its folding hard roof supermini, the car that brought Mercedes-style roof technology to a wider audience. The 207 Coupe Convertible goes on UK sale next March, priced from just under £15,000.

This CC is based on the 207's stiffer, front-wheel drive chassis, and the big news is that it has an all-new roof mechanism. Two petrol engines and one diesel will be offered at launch. It's a little bigger, although it remains a 2+2 with rear seats only good for torturing naughty children.

Dropping the top
While the original roof was made by French supplier, Peugeot has taken 207CC production into its own Madrid plant. Although the original was wildly successful, with 360,000 sales making it the world's best-selling (and longest on the market) small coupe cabriolet, the roof mechanism was marred initially by glitches.

The current car's twist release handle is gone; all you need to do is hold down a button and the windows drop and the roof folds away. The process takes around 25sec.

In the nose
Three engines will be offered at launch. The new 1.6-litre petrol engine, co-developed by BMW and Peugeot for the new Mini and 207, is offered with two outputs. The entry-level unit kicks out 120bhp and 118lb ft, while the addition of a turbo hikes outputs to 150bhp and 177lb ft. Diesel power comes from the familar 110bhp 1.6-litre common rail unit. All engines are mated to a five-speed manual 'box, although a four-speed auto can be specified with the 120bhp unit.

The 120bhp CC cracks 0-62mph in 10.7sec, although this is reduced to 8.6sec by the turbo engine. The diesel takes 10.9sec, but the compensation is a claimed 54.3mpg – compared with 43.4 or 39.2 for the two petrols.

The inside story
The dash is familiar from the 207 hatch, although it can be trimmed in optional leather more befitting a supercar than a supermini. The seats are mounted lower than in the hatch, and Peugeot claims they fold easily to get access to the rear seats.

The boot is pretty accommodating for a small car, stowing 187 litres roof down and 449 in coupe mode.

Friday, February 9, 2007

2008 Aston Martin Rapide

aston martinAt the 2006 Detroit auto show, Aston Martin stunned the gathered crowd with a breathtakingly beautiful four-door styling exercise called the Rapide. Named for the legendary late-1930s Lagonda flagship engineered by W. O. Bentley, the Rapide is the second four-door Aston project initiated under Ford ownership. The first, the 1993 Lagonda Vignale show car, was designed by Ghia and later mothballed. The Rapide, however, is all set for production in 2008, just ahead of its direct rival, the Porsche Panamera. We drove the concept car in Gaydon, England.

"Our goal was to make the most beautiful four-door car in the world," says design director Marek Reichman. The team succeeded from an aesthetic point of view, but the rear-seat packaging is unacceptable. Although the wheelbase was stretched from the DB9’s 107.9 inches to 117.7 inches, which matches that of the standard Lincoln Town Car, tall passengers will find it very difficult to squeeze through the narrow aperture defined by the low roofline and the restricted door opening. "The rear doors will swing open much farther in the production car," promises Reichman. "Slimmer seats will provide more legroom, and we may even alter the platform to lower the hip point, but that would require a $3 million investment." We say it would be worth it. The rear seats are beautifully sculpted, and we’d like to be able to sit in them.

Because it's a show car, the Rapide is replete with glitzy features such as power-folding rear seatbacks, a collapsible chessboard, and a bar with crystal champagne flutes. The four leather-clad bucket seats are separated by a substantial full-length center console, which eats up precious rear legroom. We hope Aston keeps the spacious, beautifully finished cargo deck, the practical liftgate, and the variable-tint polycarbonate roof. At the push of a button, the electrochromatic roof changes the in-cab atmosphere from airy to moody. The interior trim is equally impressive, with skillfully chosen matte poplar accents, blue sharkskin, and green-beige saddle leather.

The shiny chrome controls grouped around the custom Jaeger-LeCoultre clock are a bit over the top, but we're drawn to the starter button, which fires the 5.9-liter V-12. It's the same engine as in the DB9 but with its output bumped from 450 to 480 hp. Here, unfortunately, the mighty V-12 is castrated—it's limited to 4000 rpm. Mercifully, the car's character remains intact, and the engine's beautiful noise is further accentuated by large-diameter tailpipes and a pair of intake louvers reminiscent of the DBR9 race car’s.

Derived from the DB9 platform, the Rapide will take relatively little investment and time to complete its journey from show car to production model. If anything, the four-door treatment enhances the presence and beauty of the coupe's form language. How much will the newcomer cost? We hope that the narrow price gap between the $161,100 DB9 coupe and the $174,100 DB9 Volante (convertible) will accommodate a third model. If money were no object, would we join a queue to be guaranteed early delivery? Absolutely—if Aston can fix the packaging problem without altering the Rapide's elegant shape. If not, then forget it. Or rethink the marketing gambit and call the Rapide what it is: a four-door sport coupe.

2008 Lexus ISF

lexusA V-8 version of the current IS sedanthat will go head-to-head with the next-generation V-8-powered BMW M3. The ISF will use the 4.6-liter V-8 from the new LS460 and should also feature that car's new, eight-speed transmission, probably with paddle shifters. Not surprisingly, a manual gearbox will not be offered. Expect the usual round of go-fast body modifications and a sticker price somewhere north of $50,000, arriving in 2007. Lexus mulled over various consonants to affix to the IS prefix in arriving at a special badge for its V-8 sport sedan, but F, as in ISF, likely will get the nod. Lexus has a history with the letter f, as the original LS400 was known internally as the F1, for Flagship 1.

Nissan goes green with fuel cell cars

nissanJapanese carmaker Nissan has announced it has embraced fuel cell technology with a new vehicle due to be ready in 2010. The automaker, Japan's second largest, has previously lagged behind rivals Toyota and Honda in designing environmentally friendly vehicles. However, announcing its Green Program 2010, the company appeared determined to re-establish itself as a company with its sights firmly fixed on green goals. Nissan has set three main environmental targets for the next four years, being to cut CO2 emissions and reduce exhaust emissions, as well as stepping up its recycling efforts. Measures for the plan include the development of a 'three litre car', a more fuel efficient vehicle that can travel 100 kilometres on three litres of fuel, development of its hybrid fuel cell vehicle and the launch of a new electric car. "The Nissan Green Program 2010 provides a transparent view of Nissan's future commitments to all aspects of environmental management," said Toshiyuki Shiga, Chief Operating Officer, Nissan Motor Company. "Nissan Green Program 2010 has been designed to address immediate challenges as well as creating the foundation towards a long-term sustainable business model."