Saturday, March 31, 2007

BMW 3 Series Coupe

bmw 3 seriesSince the earliest days of the company, BMW Coupes have been elegant expressions of individual style and passion for driving. By the 1930's, a coupe was widely appreciated as a special automobile for people who regarded automobiles as much more than convenient transportation. The BMW 327 Coupe, introduced in 1938, was widely regarded as a truly outstanding example of that viewpoint and remains a legend to this day.

With totally new looks and thrilling performance, the all-new BMW Coupe once again sets the benchmark for elegant design, luxury and value. In true BMW tradition, it also establishes new standards of performance and driving dynamics with the introduction of an exceptional engine: the first inline six-cylinder engine with twin-turbochargers, high precision fuel injection, and an all-aluminum crankcase.

The performance potential of the new 300 horsepower turbocharged engine ensures that the 335i Coupe delivers a significant improvement in performance while maintaining the efficiency for which the BMW 3 Series is renowned. The 335i Coupe will be joined in the U.S. by the 230 horsepower 328i Coupe.

An additional dimension of driving dynamics with the benefit of outstanding traction is available in the 328xi, the first time BMW's xDrive all-wheel drive has been offered on a 3 Series Coupe. BMW xDrive is the most sophisticated and responsive all-wheel drive system on the market. It has proven its merits, in terms of agility and safety, in the ten BMW models currently offered with xDrive in the U.S.

In addition to the standard six-speed manual transmission, both models will be offered with an available six-speed STEPTRONIC automatic transmission. Designed for responsiveness, the new automatic enhances driving dynamics without sacrificing fuel efficiency.

The distinctive character of the newest BMW Coupe, internally-designated E92, is recognizable from the very first glance.

Over and above the basic shape of the car and its classic lines, the graphic design of the headlights, the detail of the taillights, the interior and even the exterior mirrors were specifically created for the new Coupe. These unique design elements reflect the special character of this elegant and sporty new car. The driver who chooses a Coupe wants a car with elegant looks as well as driving dynamics. With all this in mind, BMW engineers and designers set out to create a unique yet unmistakable blend of design, features and - most importantly - driving pleasure.

Designed to reflect the performance and elegance in the tradition of BMW Coupes The new Coupe is unquestionably a BMW 3 Series. Yet despite its close technical ties to the Sedan and Sports Wagon, it is unique in its design details. A genuine BMW from every angle, the Coupe is an individualist through and through.
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BMW 3-Series Convertible

Few other automobiles stir emotions quite like a convertible. Whether it's the feeling of freedom created by top-down driving or their seductive shapes, convertibles have long been regarded by many car enthusiasts and casual onlookers alike as providing a one-of-a-kind exhilarating driving experience.

As proof of their special lure, late last year Neiman-Marcus sold 50 specially equipped BMW M6 Convertibles featured in the retailer's Christmas catalog in one minute, 32 seconds.

The new BMW 3 Series Convertibles provide a new dimension to that experience with the introduction of a retractable hardtop. Made of lightweight steel and operated by a hydraulic system, the three-piece roof opens in just 22 seconds - takes only one second more to close - and folds smoothly into the rear compartment of BMW's newest convertibles. The three-element steel roof structure ensures lower noise levels even at high speeds, enhances safety, creates a more luxurious and comfortable cabin and helps stiffen the chassis to provide precise handling.

The roof opens automatically in a flowing motion as each of the three elements rests above the other to create a compact package.

The rear lid opens rearward and once the roof has been opened or closed and the hardtop is locked, the driver is able to open the trunklid in the usual manner. The trunklid also comes with a soft-close feature that draws the lid down gently and automatically.

The roof and luggage compartments are separated from one another by a partition that swivels when the roof is closed to provide maximum luggage capacity. Another convenient feature is that the roof can open by remote control when the car is equipped with the Comfort Access option . Like the roof controls within the interior, the remote control button must be kept pressed down for safety during the entire opening process because movement of the roof elements is interrupted whenever the button is released.

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Saturday, March 24, 2007

Audi Q7 SUV Hybrid Concept

The Audi Q7 SUV Hybrid Concept is due to rollout as a production vehicle for the 2008 season. This high-performance luxury SUV combines the styling and performance of the standard Q7 SUV with hybrid technology garnering 13-percent better mileage.

The Audi Q7 SUV Hybrid also has more power and performance than the standard Q7 with 0 - 60 mph acceleration in only 6.8 seconds (standard Q7 is 7.3 seconds). The 32 Kw (43 hp) electric motor adds an additional 148 lb-ft of torque to the power of the 4.2 liter FSI V8 engine.

Besides the hybrid technology, one of the most environmentally friendly features of the Audi Q7 Hybrid is a set of solar panels embedded into its "Open Sky" sunroof. The solar panels provide power for the air conditioning system, so that when it's hottest outside, the sun's energy can be converted into a very cool inside. The air conditioning system on the Q7 hybrid has been switched over from hydraulic to electrical operation.

Audi Q7 SUV Hybrid Concept

The electric motor is positioned in-between the V8 engine and the six-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission's torque converter. Start-ups are quicker than the standard Q7 since the electric motor doubles as a starter. Lightweight nickel-metal hydride batteries are housed in the rear of the vehicle beneath the cargo floor and provide enough juice for 1.5 miles of all-electric operation. The battery pack is recharged by both regenerative braking and by the internal combustion engine, if needed.

A separating clutch is linked to the electric motor and allows the vehicle to operate in electric-only, gasoline-only or combination modes. As in the standard Q7, the hybrid's all-wheel drive is still the Torsen quattro system.

Similar to other hybrids, the Audi Q7 SUV Hybrid will shut off its gasoline engine while coasting or decelerating. Unlike the other hybrid models presently on the market, the Q7 Hybrid will shut down its gasoline engine when it has been idling for 3 seconds, saving more fuel.

With the introduction of the Q7 Hybrid, Audi is introducing a vehicle that provides the best of all worlds to SUV enthusiasts. Power, style and increased fuel economy is sure to make this vehicle a show-stopper when it hits showroom floors in the not too distant future.

Acura TL

Not satisfied with just being good-looking and well-equipped, The 2005 edition of the Acura TL bespeaks smoothness, inside and out.

The interior is thoughtfully laid out, nice healthy analog knobs where needed, and buttons large enough not to miss. The navigation system is simply the most useful and (more important) easy to use. The seating is very comfortable fore and aft with good cargo space under the fully retracting trunk lid.

Now that is how instruments should be illuminated! My theory is that some eager young design engineers keep showing automotive managers artists renderings of "cool and sexy" all-red instrument ilumination. On paper, maybe. In real live driving situations, you can have your blurry dashes. Besides, a red indicator should be indicating a problem.

We had a gas with the 270-horsepower, 3.2-liter V6 which provided plenty of power at any engine speed. The automatic transmission is absolutely seamless; you'll have to concentrate to notice gear changes. The steering and handling are precise without being hyper-sensitive. It's all been carefully balanced. It is quite simply an effortless drive - winning plaudits equally from male and female drivers and passengers. Don't you dare think about sports sedans without including the Acuras.

Engine Type
3.2-liter, SOHC VTEC V-6 Horsepower,
SAE Net 270 hp @ 6200 rpm Torque,
SAE Net 238 lbs-ft @ 5000 rpm Redline 6800 rpm Bore & Stroke
3.50 in x 3.39 in (89 mm x 86 mm)
Displacement 196 cu in (3210 cc)
Compression Ratio 11.0:1
Induction System Programmed Fuel Injection (PGM-FI)
Valvetrain Variable Valve Timing and Lift Electronic Control (VTECÔ),
4 valves-per-cylinder, belt-driven, single overhead camshaft
Engine Block Aluminum alloy with cast in iron cylinder liners
Cylinder Head Aluminum alloy
Emission Control Electronic Emission Control –
CARB LEV-2 ULEV/ EPA Tier 2-Bin 5
Ignition System Direct ignition system with knock control system
Alternator 130 amp. max Battery 12V,
maintenance free
Recommended Fuel Premium Unleaded, 91 Octane
Layout Transverse mounted, front engine, front-wheel-drive
Transmissions 5-speed automatic transmission with Sequential SportShift
and Grade Logic ControlorClose-ratio 6-speed manual transmission
with helical gear limited slip differential Ratios (:1)
Manual Transmission1st 3.9332nd 2.4783rd 1.7004th 1.2505th
0.9756th 0.770Reverse 4.008Final 3.285
Automatic Transmission1st 2.5632nd 1.5523rd 1.0214th
0.6665th 0.480Reverse 1.846Final 4.428


Body Type All-steel unit body Front Suspension Independent double-wishbone
with coil springs and stabilizer bar
Rear Suspension Independent multi-link, double-wishbone with coil springs
and stabilizer bar
Shock Absorbers Gas-pressurized with Progressive Valve technology,
front and rear Stabilizer Bars
Automatic TransmissionFront: 1.0 in. diameter 0.18 in.
wall thickness (25.4 mm) x (4.5 mm) Rear: 0.67 in. diameter,
solid (17.0 mm)
Manual TransmissionFront: 1.07 in. diameter 0.20 in wall thickness
(27.2 mm) x (5.0 mm) Rear: 0.79 in. diameter, solid (20 mm)
Steering Type Torque-sensing, variable power-assisted rack-and-pinion
Steering Ratio 15.4:1
Steering Wheel Turns (lock to lock) 2.77
Turning Circle (curb to curb) 39.7 ft (12.1 m)
Wheels 17 x 8 JJ cast-aluminum alloy Tires P235/45R17 93W Bridgestone
Turanza All-Season235/45R17 93W Bridgestone Potentza High-Performance
(optional for models with 6-speed MT)
Braking System Dual-diagonal, power-assisted, 4-wheel disc brakes
with ABS Front Discs
Automatic transmissionVentilated, 11.4 in (300 mm) diameter;
1.1 in (28 mm) rotor thickness
Manual transmissionBrembo ventilated, 12.2 in (310 mm) diameter,
0.98 in (25 mm) rotor thickness
Rear Discs Solid, 11.1 in (282 mm) diameter; 0.35 in (9 mm)
rotor thickness
Total Swept Area Front: 242.4 sq in² (1564 cm2)
Rear: 169.9 sq in² (1096 cm2) Anti-lock Braking System (ABS)
3-channel system with 4 wheel speed sensors and electric/hydraulic
control Vehicle Stability Assist (VSA) system
Throttle control and brake control utilizing yaw, lateral g,
speed and steering sensors for traction control and stability enhancement
Traction Control System (TCS) Incorporated into VSA

Crankcase 4.2 US qt (4.0 L)
Cooling System A
utomatic Transmission8.6 US qt (8.1 L)
Manual Transmission8.3 US qt (7.9 L)
Fuel Tank 17.0 US gal (64.7 L)
Volume Passenger 97.9 cu ft
Cargo Cargo w/ Navigation System 12.5 cu ft 12.3 cu ft
Total w/ Navigation System 110.4 cu ft110.2 cu ft

FUEL ECONOMY EPA Fuel Mileage – City / Highway
Automatic Transmission20/28Manual Transmission20/30

EXTERIOR DIMENSIONS Wheelbase 107.9 in (2740 mm)
Track, front 62.1 in (1577 mm)
Track, rear 62.0 in (1576 mm)
Overall Length 189.3 in (4809 mm)
Overall Width 72.2 in (1835 mm)
Overall Height 56.7 in (1441 mm)
Minimum Ground Clearance 5.8 in (148.0 mm)
Non-Load 4.4 in (111 mm)
Full-Load Curb Weight
Automatic Transmission3575 lb (1621 kg)
Manual Transmission3482 lb (1580 kg)
w/ optional Acura Navigation System
w/ optional high performance tires
w/ optional Acura Navigation System
and high performance tires 3582 lb (1625 kg)N/AN/A 3489 lb (1583 kg)
3491 lb (1584 kg)3498 lb (1587 kg)
Weight Distribution (% front / rear)w/ optional
Acura Navigation Systemw/ optional high performance tiresw/
optional Acura Navigation System and high performance tires
Automatic Transmission 61.4/38.6 61.2/38.8N/AN/A
Manual Transmission60.0/40.059.9/40.160.0/40.059.8/40.2

Front Head Room 38.7 in (984 mm)
Leg Room 42.8 in (1088 mm)
Hip Room 55.6 in (1412 mm)
Shoulder Room 58.3 in (1482 mm)
Rear Head Room 37.2 in (945 mm)
Leg Room 34.9 in (887 mm)
Hip Room 53.8 in (1367 mm)
Shoulder Room 55.7 in (1414 mm)

Vehicle 4-year / 50,000-mile limited warranty Outer Body Rust-Through
5-year / unlimited-mile limited warranty Acura Total Luxury Care (TLC)
with roadside assistance 4-year / 50,000-mile

Acura RL

ENGINE: 3.5-liter V6
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 300 hp @ 6,200 rpm/260 lb.-ft. @ 5,000 rpm
TRANSMISSION: 5-speed automatic with sequential sport shift
WHEELBASE: 110.2 in.
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT: 193.6 x 72.7 x 57.1 in.
TIRES: P245/50R17 all-season
TRUNK: 13.1 cu. ft.
ECONOMY: 18 mpg city/26 mpg highway
PRICE: $49,470

Acura may have been one of the first Japanese luxury car nameplates, but it has never gained the reputation for super-luxury that the Lexus LS or Infiniti Q have. Yet, with a smaller 3.5-liter V6 engine compared to the V8 engines of the competition, the Acura RL doesn't lack for performance or luxury.

The RL's first impression is a neat one. There's no key, as is the fashion with many cars these days. Just keep the key fob with you and sensors in the car will recognize it and unlock the doors when you approach. You also don't need a key to fire up the engine, nor is there one of those annoying "engine start" buttons. You turn the ignition switch as you would if you had a key, but there isn't one.

The 3.5-literSOHC V6 engine is quiet, yet it offers a load of power. Delivering 300 horsepower, there's nothing this engine can't do. It can get you to illegal speeds quickly, and can get you through any winding road you choose to look for.

Power reaches the wheels through a 5-speed automatic transmission with a sequential shifter. With the sequential shifter, you can use either the shift lever or paddles located behind the steering wheel. The right one's for upshifts, the left for downshifts. I shifted to manual mode for a nice trip on a favorite winding road that is best with a manual. I didn't tell my wife. When we reached the end of the section, I mentioned that I was shifting manually. She admitted she didn't notice, which is a compliment since my shifting normally isn't the smoothest around. The paddles are also quicker than pushing or pulling the lever.

The RL has permanent all-wheel drive, much like the Lexus GS. This doesn't make the RL an off-road car, but the AWD system aids in handling and can make driving on snow or wet roads that much easier. The AWD eliminates any tire chirp on hard acceleration, but I'll trade the chirp for security.

Besides the paddles behind the wheel, the RL had audio controls on the left of the steering wheel and cruise control switches on the right. There's also an information switch inset on the right, as well as the switch for voice controls.

In the center of the dash is the navigation screen. This also gives information on the audio - what station you're listening to, what the CD is, what the tune is on XM satellite radio. If you don't hit the "okay, I promise not to be distracted" button, the screen goes black and is less of a distraction.

All the screen functions are controlled by a master joy knob on the console, similar to BMW's I Drive. Maybe I'm becoming more used to these master joy knobs, but the RL's seemed more intuitive than some others I've used. It had to be intuitive, there was no owner's manual in the car. As a luxury car should have, the Acura RL has a tasteful dash, with white numbers on black backgrounds for the instruments, and red pointers. At night there is a faint blue light that is much less annoying than Volkswagen's more garish blue instrument lighting. There is tasteful wood trim on the dash console that added a feeling of luxury.

Seats were perforated leather and the front seats were heated. The HVAC system was automatic and dual zone. Rear seats offered very good leg room and excellent comfort. The RL has a rather long 110-inch wheelbase that is used to create the leg room in the rear. The rear side windows have manual shades to eliminate sun glare (or gain privacy if you're a movie star). There's a shade for the rear window as well that is controlled from the dash.

Among the other features I found useful were the turn signal lights on the outside rear mirrors. There are assist handles over all four doors to aid in entry. And under the hood all the dipsticks and fillers are clearly marked.

While the Acura RL hasn't gained a super-luxury reputation, I feel it's still among the best. It's also smaller and sprightlier, or at least it feels so. It's also less expensive, and that's a good thing.

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Acura RL

Acura TSX

One must make rapid adjustments in this business. After a week driving the Honda Ridgeline pickup and acclimating to its size I traded it in for a strikingly red (Milano Red they call it) Acura TSX. My first impression was how tiny the rear-view mirrors are. Oh yea, this is a little car not a big trailer-hauler. And, look at that; a stubby little shifter with a six-speed pattern imprinted on its brass-colored, perhaps nickel, leather-wrapped knob. We’re going to enjoy this one.

The Japanese-built TSX, first introduced as a 2004 model, is Acura’s entry into the small sport sedan market, competing with BMW 3-Series, Audi A-4, Mercedes C-class and Lexus IS. And a good competitor it is. Based on the European Accord platform it’s smaller and much more agile than the US Accord. At around, $30,000 this 5-passenger, front-wheel-drive sport sedan with amazing standard content is a real contender in its class.

After getting the seat and mirrors right I scooted onto the Jefferies Expressway around the corner from the press car pick-up place near downtown Detroit. The entrance ramp is long and straight so I opened her up. I was just barely out of third gear and I was merging with light traffic at over 70 mph. The engine is amazingly smooth and effortless. What a hoot! I love a quick little sport sedan – especially in red.

That great 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine is a willing revver. Red line on the tach is 7,100 rpm but the rev limiter doesn’t kick in until 7,400. And, here’s my first criticism: what’s up with that rev limiter? Most cars feel like they’re running out of gas when the limiter kicks in - sort of a gentle loss of power. This Acura feels like someone jerked the hand brake, throwing me forward harshly. On the positive side, it feels great at those higher rpms – smooth and easy - to motor along on the freeway keeping the revs up to 4- or 5-grand. The iVTEC™ engine management system, featuring Variable Valve Timing and Lift Electronic Control, makes for a broad power range. The system works with dual cam profiles on a single shaft. For 2006 Acura increased the horsepower substantially to 205. That doesn’t sound like a big jump from the previous 200-horsepower but there is a new SAE standard for measuring horsepower and I’m assured that the increase is substantial. While less than awesome, the thrust is plenty gratifying for this performance enthusiast and Tune-up is recommended at 100,000 miles whether it needs it or not.

Premium fuel is recommended and the EPA estimates are 22 mpg city and 30 highway for the six-speed stick; 22/31 for the automatic. The engine is certified as LEV2 (low-emissions vehicle) by the California Air Resources Board. The fuel tank holds 17.1 gallons. Our test car weighed 3268 pounds. Coefficient of drag is an amazingly slick 0.27 partly achieved through unusual attention to undercarriage design as well as a smooth shape above. Through two tanks of fuel this week, including some spirited driving, we were consistently in the 28- to 30-mpg range.

ABS and Vehicle Stability Assist (adjusts brake pressure and power to the wheels) keeps us from getting into trouble with overconfidence. The system can be disengaged if you’re looking for some extra fun slipping and sliding.

Honda is very good at designing a lot of usable space into a small package and the TSX is a good example. Smaller than an Accord and larger than a Civic the TSX has plenty of passenger space. It feels roomier inside than the 3-Series BMW but I’ve not compared the measurements. Cargo volume is 13 cubic feet.

Our test car is equipped with the navigation system. Browsing around without reading the book I could manage most functions. With an 8-inch screen the map is easy to read. I don’t tend to use these navigation systems much unless I’m in unfamiliar territory and as a low-tech kind of guy I’m not all that intrigued by them. Colleagues who know about these things say the Acura’s navigation system is one of the best.

A few days into my week with the TSX we had occasion chase some orphan cars around Ann Arbor, which means a nice back road run with some twisty bits, through the little burg of Hell, along an end moraine left behind by the glaciers. (The orphan cars were doing a bit of a road trip in preparation for the Orphan Car Show at the Hudson dealership in Ypsilanti.) That route, Patterson Lake Road, has been badly neglected by Livingston County leaving it lumpy and bumpy and pocked. The TSX demonstrated its prowess by dancing over those rough spots with poise and perfect control. The damping of the suspension is just right to maximize sporty handling characteristics without a hint of harshness. The torque-sensitive, variable power assisted steering has a precise feel. The drive-by-wire throttle senses changes in driver input and adjusts itself for just the right resistance. The race-inspired, double wish bone independent suspension front and rear kept those Michelins firmly planted in spite of our pushing it hard.

Warranty is 4 years/50,000 miles on the vehicle, 6 years/70,000 miles on the powertrain and 5 years/unlimited miles on rust-through.

Since its introduction as a 2004 model the Acura TSX has been one of Car & Driver magazine’s 10 Best Sport Sedan. NHTSA has awarded the TSX a 5-Star rating (the best) for safety and the IIHS named it a Best Pick in frontal impact tests.

I’m impressed with the pricing of the TSX. The base price is $27,890, and it matters not whether one wants the sophisticated 5-speed automatic with manual mode, or the close-ratio, short-throw 6-speed stick. For that price the cars has more content than anything else in its class, we might say “full-zoot.” It comes with soft, perforated leather seats, moonroof, power everything, heated seats, dual exhaust, 8-way power drivers seat, 4-way front passenger seat, premium sound system with Bluetooth compatibility, XM Satellite-ready, auxiliary jack for iPod or other MP3 player, 17-inch aluminum alloy wheels shod with low-profile 50-series all-season Michelins, and more smart air bags than a Senate hearing. Add 2-grand to the price for the optional navigation system with 8-inch screen and voice recognition that will handle 650 commands. There are a few options one might add, but I’m not sure what more one might want or need. I might go for the $4,300 boy racer option called A-Spec which involves lots of performance enhancements, some of which may compromise every-day roadability.

I’m not sure how many Acura dealers there are but there are none closer than 60 miles to my mid Michigan location.

Sadly, I have to turn the TSX in this afternoon, so I’ll make the best of my drive back to Detroit – probably through Hell again। I’m picking up the award-winning Civic SI, another handling and performing icon from Honda. So I’ll have driven through Hell and back for Honda today, and mighty pleased to do so.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Chrysler 300

Smooth, quiet operation, tight handling, space, luxury: The Chrysler 300 sedan has it all, at attractive prices. Yet what the 300 has more than anything is bold styling that appeals to a lot of people.

The Chrysler 300 line offers a wide range of engines and amenities. The base model comes well-equipped for less than $25,000, with a frugal V6. The Touring model adds leather, amenities and a more powerful V6 for about $28,000. The 300C offers a truly powerful Hemi V8, with Chrysler's fuel-saving Multi Displacement System, and it can be equipped with most of the gizmos and luxury features available today.

The 2007 lineup includes new long-wheelbase models. Aimed primarily at the chauffeur-driven executive class, they may also appeal to families. The longer wheelbase turns the 300's roomy back seat into something past cavernous, with more leg room than just about anything on the road. Great for tall folks or anyone who likes space and convenience. These long-wheelbase models can be equipped with custom features such writing tables and foot rests.

The Chrysler 300 marked a return to rear-wheel drive for large American sedans, and we consider that a benefit. Rear-wheel drive adds to the driving pleasure, which is partly why luxury sedans and sports car have traditionally used it. The traction and stability electronics are well sorted and effective on this car, delivering good all-season performance. All-wheel drive is an option for those who live in the snow belt. With the big-torque V8, it also allows something buyers have been seeking through sport-utility vehicles: enough towing capacity to pull a lightweight trailer.

The Chrysler 300 models are comfortable. They're also responsive for large cars. The 300C delivers thrilling acceleration and the SRT-8 true high performance in civilized fashion. Think of it as Detroit's answer to the BMW M5 or the Mercedes E63 AMG, for about $30,000 less.

Then there's the styling, inside and out, where this car makes no apologies. It won't be mistaken for any other sedan the road. It can be trimmed with chrome, mono-chrome and various wheels to look stately and elegant or downright mean.

The Chrysler 300 delivers impressive value, but emphasizing the cost/benefit ratio may minimize its other strengths. The 300s are good, appealing cars, and they've set the benchmark for Detroit's car builders.

Model Lineup

The 2007 Chrysler 300 lineup includes seven models: two V6 engines, two V8s, all-wheel drive, and two long-wheelbase models.

The base Chrysler 300 ($24,320) has a 2.7-liter dual-overhead-cam V6 generating 190 horsepower and 190 lb-ft of torque, matched to a four-speed automatic transmission. It's reasonably well equipped, with cloth upholstery, power driver's seat, cruise control, solar-control glass and 17-inch steel wheels with hub caps.

The 300 Touring ($28,320) upgrades to a 3.5-liter single-overhead-cam V6 making 250 horsepower and 250 pound-feet of torque, with a five-speed automatic and Chrysler's AutoStick manual-shift feature. The Touring also adds leather seating, 17-inch aluminum wheels and fog lamps.

The 300 Limited ($31,005) adds 18-inch chrome wheels, heated front seats, a power passenger seat, automatic headlamps, automatic temperature control and an electronic vehicle information center.

The 300C Hemi ($34,975) features a 5.7-liter overhead-valve V8, delivering 340 horsepower and a substantial 390 lb-ft of torque.

New for 2007 is the W.P. Chrysler Executive Series, or long-wheelbase option ($10,600). The long-wheelbase is offered on the 300 Touring and 300C with rear-wheel drive, and must be ordered from a dealership through the Acubuilt coachworks, which finishes the cars in partnership with Chrysler. The package extends the wheelbase six inches, and gives the 300 more rear-seat leg room than executive-class stalwarts such as the Audi A8L, BMW 750Li and Jaguar XJ-8L, at a substantially lower price.

The SRT-8 ($40,420) tops the 300 pecking order. This is a true high-performance sedan, in the mode of BMW's M models or Mercedes' AMG brand, and it features loads of performance tweaks, unique design features and most of the luxury gear. The SRT-8's centerpiece is a 425-hp, 6.1-liter Hemi V8.

Performance enthusiasts will appreciate the SRT Design Group option ($1,495) for the 300C. It adds many of the SRT design cues, and more significantly, engine tweaks and special exhaust that raise the 5.7-liter Hemi's output to 350 horsepower, for a fraction of the full SRT-8 package price.

Options are plentiful and potentially confusing, with 15 separate packages. One of the most popular is Protection Group II ($890), which adds curtain-style head-protection airbags, rear park assist, self-sealing tires and cabin air filtration. Stand alone options include a DVD-based GPS navigation system ($1,495), rear-seat DVD entertainment with a seven-inch LCD screen ($1,150), a power sunroof ($950), UConnect hands-free communication ($250), and a Boston Acoustics audio upgrade with six-CD changer, subwoofer and 368 watts of output.

The Chrysler 300 has earned a five-star rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for front-impact crash protection, but its standard safety features fall below the class benchmark. All 300s come with multi-stage front airbags and anti-lock brakes (ABS); all but the base model come with Electronic Stability Program (ESP), all-speed Traction Control System (TCS) and Brake Assist for the ABS. Curtain-style head protection airbags for outboard passengers are optional, but the 300 does not offer torso-protecting side-impact airbags, front or rear. Other safety-related options include the rear park-assist, HID headlamps, a tire-pressure monitor, and all-wheel drive.

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Saturday, March 17, 2007

Hyundai Sonata

The mid-size, mid-price car market is approaching saturation. Depending on how they're counted, more than seven nameplates compete for shoppers looking for a car that's thrifty, yet performs; that's comfortable, but not expensive; that's fresh and new, but promises to be reliable.

Korea's car makers have never been a part of this class. They've danced around the edges, with the Kia Optima and Hyundai Sonata. But neither car has broken through and established a solid foothold in the mainstream U.S. market.

Enter the all-new 2006 Hyundai Sonata.

While the previous-generation Sonata made a dramatic jump to the top spot in the J.D. Power and Associates 2004 Initial Quality Study ranking of entry midsize cars, the 2006 Sonata has been completely redesigned. It's bigger, better equipped, more technologically advanced and sharper looking than the 2005 model it replaces.

The class in which the new Sonata competes, however, is blurred. Exterior-wise, it goes against mid-size sedans, primarily the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry and Nissan Altima and secondarily against the Chevrolet Malibu, the Kia Optima and the upcoming Ford Fusion. Inside, though, the '06 Sonata moves up a class, to large car, which gives it a potential edge in creature comfort.

With minor and essentially immaterial exceptions, it lives up to that potential. It's roomier in almost every dimension than its midsize competitors, which is no surprise. Fit and finish is on a par with most others in the class, which also is no surprise. In terms of performance, it equals or bests comparably featured cars, which is a surprise. It's cleaner, too, than earlier Sonatas. Just as important, if not more so, the new Sonata is aggressively priced, positioned smack in the middle of the range of prices of the mid-size sedans.

All this combined makes the 2006 Hyundai Sonata good enough to put the mid-priced, midsize market on notice. There's a new player.

Model Lineup

The 2006 Hyundai Sonata comes in one body style, a four-door, five-passenger sedan. Two engines and three transmissions are available. The base engine is a 162-horsepower four-cylinder. The uplevel engine is a 235-horsepower V6. The four-cylinder can have either a five-speed manual transmission or a four-speed Shiftronic automatic. The V6 comes only with a new-for-2006 five-speed Shiftronic automatic.

The model line begins with the Sonata GL ($17,895), which comes standard with the four-cylinder engine and manual transmission. Standard equipment includes air conditioning; cruise control; power outside mirrors, windows and central locking with keyless remote; AM/FM/CD/MP3 stereo; and leather-wrapped, tilt steering wheel. There are but two options, the four-speed automatic ($900) and carpeted floor mats ($85).

One step up the ladder is the GLS ($19,395), which comes standard with the four-cylinder engine and automatic transmission. The list of standard items starts with those on the GL and expands to include fog lamps; premium-grade cloth upholstery and cut-pile carpeting; choice of wood-grain or metal-grain interior trim accents; steering wheel-mounted, redundant audio controls; adjustable lumbar in driver's seat; five-function trip computer; carpeted floor mats; and 16-inch alloy wheels in place of the GL's hub-capped steel wheels. The GLS order sheet has two option boxes. One is for a power, tilt-and-slide glass sunroof ($850). The other is for a Premium Package ($1350) containing the aforementioned sunroof plus auto-dimming inside rearview mirror with compass (both with a much-appreciated on/off switch), HomeLink programmable garage and security remote and eight-way power driver's seat.

Next up the GLS V6 ($20,895), which comes standard with a five-speed automatic. This brings with it solar control window glass, chrome exterior window trim and chrome-tipped dual exhausts. The sunroof is an option ($850). The optional Premium Sport Package ($1500) includes the sunroof, 17-inch wheels with Michelin Pilot tires, the electrochromic rearview mirror with compass, HomeLink and power driver's seat.

On the top rung is the LX ($22,895), which comes with everything on the GLS plus leather-trimmed seats and simulated leather interior door panel inserts. Distinguished by chrome exterior door handles, the LX also gets automatic air conditioning with Hyundai's Air Quality System, which shifts to recirculating when it detects offensive or polluted outside air; a sliding cover on the front center console; the auto-dimming inside rearview mirror with compass; the HomeLink system; the eight-way power driver's seat; and a tilt and telescoping steering wheel. The sunroof can be obtained separately ($850) or as part of an LX-exclusive Premium Package ($1400) that also has a AM/FM/CD6 changer/MP3 stereo with subwoofer.

Safety features in addition to the mandatory dual-stage front-seat airbags include front-seat side-impact airbags for torso protection and full-coverage side curtain airbags, designed to provide head protection, all standard on all models. Active-safety features include antilock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and electronic stability control with traction control, all standard. These crash-avoidance features are optional or not available on many of the other vehicles in this class.

Hyundai QarmaQ Concept

Proof that the EU has officially caught the SUV bug can be found in the number of production or concept SUVs making their Geneva debut. Among the most interesting of them came right out of Hyundai Motor Europe’s Design and Technical Center, in corroboration with General Electric: the QarmaQ crossover. The QarmaQ has just two doors and seriously high ground clearance. It's almost completely recyclable, very light in weight, and rather good-looking. One could say their “qarma” is good.

Actually, the QarmaQ derives its name “from traditional Inuit dwellings, constructed from earth, whalebone, and animal skins” and was so named to reflect the use of unconventional materials for conventional objects. GE Plastic’s involvement evidently allowed designers to create complex shapes inside and out that wouldn’t have been possible with conventional materials such as metal and glass. For example, sheetmetal for the body panels was rejected in favor of plastic, and paint was eliminated in favor of color molded in.

Among GE Plastic’s most interesting contributions is the “glazing” technology that replaces window and windshield glass with a polycarbonate resin, allowing a panoramic wrap-around greenhouse that reaches down into the door in a C-shape arrangement. To resist scratching, a thin layer of glass is actually integrated onto the element. The technology is said to cut weight in half compared with standard glass.

Hyundai also claims the plastics enabled engineers to creatively meet or in some cases exceed safety requirements. Among the QarmaQ’s claims to fame is its “Elastic Front” design, utilizing advanced and strategically placed plastics to make the vehicle’s front end as pedestrian-friendly as the front end of any car could be.

The QarmaQ is powered by Hyundai’s 2.0-liter diesel four-cylinder engine that meets strict EURO5 standards for emissions.

Inside the four-place interior, the driver sits in a pod-like structure. Many controls are activated by touch sensors or glowing, floating elements. LEDs, silicone-imbibed leather, and cool aluminum contribute equally to the QarmaQ’s interior mystique.

Now, will they make such a thing? Well, Hyundai claims some 30 technologies developed for the QarmaQ will be phased in between next year and 2014.

As for the vehicle itself, Hyundai calls the QarmaQ a “totally relevant concept” that “underlines the commitment of Hyundai to design innovation in this market sector.” Still, we’ve seen a lot of other automakers put their spin on this “totally relevant concept,” sometimes resulting in bland five-door cute utes but more often producing no results at all. Sure, we would love to see a cool crossover coupe finally make it to market, but we’ll believe it when we see it.

Suzuki SX4

Among enthusiasts, Suzuki is better known for motorcycles than cars. How the company that peddles the 186-mph Hayabusa bike can also sell the lackadaisical Reno hatchback is a mystery, but the 2007 SX4 is a step in the right direction. And unlike the Hayabusa, the SX4 offers standard all-wheel drive—for less than any other car on the market.

The 2.0-liter inline-four in the SX4 puts out 143 horsepower and 136 pound-feet of torque. That’s less power than in the Hayabusa but good enough for second place when judged next to the engines in seven econoboxes we tested last year [“$15,000 Cheap Skates,” C/D, May 2006]. The 9.1-second 0-to-60 time was hampered by a transmission that killed the power after each shift, but the 9.3-second time in the 5-to-60 street start and 0.80 g on the skidpad would have been the best when put up against that comparo group. The only disappointment is the 184-foot braking distance. Good and bad credit is due to the all-wheel-drive system, which helps grip but adds weight, and extra pounds hurt braking and acceleration. Fuel economy suffers as well: Our test car returned a not-impressive 22 mpg.

The SX4 has a switch next to the parking brake for front-wheel drive, AWD auto, or AWD lock. In the AWD modes, power is sent to the rear wheels via an electromechanical clutch. Lock mode sends 30 to 50 percent of the power to the rear wheels (up from 0 to 50 percent in auto) and automatically switches to auto at 36 mph.

Inside, the base SX4 has a respectable amount of equipment (the $1400-more Sport model includes traction and stability control, keyless ignition, and auto climate control), but the giant dashboard and the sail windows give the impression of a shrunken-down minivan. Although the SX4 is not quite as fun to drive or versatile as the Honda Fit, the SX4 is unique with its all-weather mobility and almost-SUV-like height of 63.2 inches, and that may be enough to make it a success.

VEHICLE TYPE: front-engine, front/4-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 5-door hatchback

PRICE AS TESTED: $15,594 (base price: $15,594)

ENGINE TYPE: DOHC 16-valve inline-4, aluminum block and head, port fuel injection
Displacement: 122 cu in, 1995cc
Power (SAE net): 143 bhp @ 5800 rpm
Torque (SAE net): 136 lb-ft @ 3500 rpm

TRANSMISSION: 5-speed manual

Wheelbase: 98.4 in
Length: 162.8 in
Width: 69.1 in
Height: 63.2 in
Curb weight: 2907 lb

Zero to 60 mph: 9.1 sec
Zero to 100 mph: 30.1 sec
Street start, 5–60 mph: 9.3 sec
Standing ¼-mile: 16.9 sec @ 83 mph
Top speed (drag limited): 114 mph
Braking, 70–0 mph: 184 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.80 g

EPA city driving: 23 mpg
C/D-observed: 22 mpg

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

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Cadillac Escalade

Luxury SUVs have gained widespread popularity in the United States, thanks in no small part to Cadillac's most conspicuous display of worldly opulence, the Escalade. The 2006 Escalade is all-new, more decadent than ever, with even more power, more luxury features and bolder styling than any American sport-utility vehicle in history. In addition to providing five-star comfort, it's goal is to be the ultimate symbol of power and achievement, a mansion on wheels. And in that respect, it succeeds.

The Escalade is offered in three distinct models; the standard Escalade is a full-size sport utility sharing the same architecture (and roughly the same dimensions) as the Chevy Tahoe. The Escalade ESV is the Suburban-sized model, sharing the latter's architecture. Finally, the Escalade EXT is a sport utility/pickup combination that quickly converts from a pickup with an enclosable eight-foot bed to a five-passenger luxury vehicle, basically, Cadillac's interpretation of the Chevy Avalanche. All three feature a high-performance, 403-hp 6.2-liter V8 mated to a six-speed automatic transmission that includes manual shift control (a rarity in this class). The standard Escalade comes with rear-wheel drive or optional all-wheel drive while the ESV and EXT come only with all-wheel drive.

Built on GM's robust new full-size truck platform, the Escalade, ESV and EXT make excellent tow vehicles. At the same time, they're roomy and luxuriously appointed, letting them haul family or friends or business associates in real comfort. The 6.2-liter V8 supplies serious power for surprisingly quick acceleration, along with strong torque for towing. On the road, all three Escalades are smooth and stable, nicer in ride than base Tahoe or Suburban models but taut and well-controlled (by full-size SUV standards) for surprisingly good handling.

2007 Cadillac Escalade
2007 Cadillac Escalade

Model Lineup

The standard Cadillac Escalade is available with two-wheel drive and all-wheel drive. The high-output 6.2-liter V8 engine comes standard on all models, including the rear-wheel drive Escalade (53,850) and the all-wheel drive Escalade ($56,405). They come standard with a six-speed automatic transmission with manual shift control, 18-inch alloy wheels, and the Autoride suspension.

Standard features include leather upholstery, leather-wrapped steering wheel with genuine wood trim, aluminum and faux wood interior trim, Bose 5.1 Digital Surround Sound audio with AM/FM/6CD/SAT, power adjustable pedals, power windows, power locks, fog lamps, remote vehicle starting, rear climate control, six-passenger seating configuration, third-row bench seat, heated first and second row seats, XM Satellite Radio, Ultrasonic rear park assist and heated windshield washer fluid.

Escalade ESV ($57,935) and Escalade EXT ($52,815) feature all of the above and come standard with the all-wheel drive. ESV features an additional 14 inches of wheelbase and 19.5 inches of additional length, greatly enhancing third-row seat legroom and rear cargo space. The Escalade EXT deletes the third-row seat in favor of a lined, lockable and enclosable pickup bed with manually folding midgate and removable rear window.

Options on Escalade models include the Climate Package ($625), which includes heated steering wheel, heated and cooled front seats; the Information Package ($2,495), which includes IntelliBeam automatic headlights, the navigation system with rearview camera; the rear-seat entertainment system ($1,295); a second-row bench seat (n/c); engine block heater ($50); power folding second-row bucket seats ($425); power sunroof ($995); 22-inch wheels ($2,995); 18-inch chrome wheels ($795); White Diamond exterior color ($995).

Safety features on all Escalade models include anti-lock four-wheel disc brakes and an electronic stability control system called Stabilitrak with rollover sensing. Passive safety features include front seat belts with pretensioners and load-limiters, dual front air bags and side curtain air bags that span all three rows of seats. Tire pressure monitors are also standard.

All models also come with the Generation 6 OnStar system (with a one-year Directions and Connections service plan). The system includes the General Motors Advanced Automatic Crash Notification system, making crash data available to emergency services to potentially dispatch the appropriate life-saving personnel and equipment to crash scenes faster. If the vehicle is in a crash that activates an air bag, the OnStar system automatically notifies an OnStar Advisor, who will check on the occupants or summon emergency help if necessary. OnStar also can assist authorities in locating a vehicle if it is reported stolen (though its ability to locate stolen vehicles varies with conditions).

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Cadillac DTS

It took courage to abandon the 57-year-old DeVille nameplate, but that's exactly what Cadillac did last year while overhauling its biggest and most conservative sedan for 21st Century duty। The DTS designation used to indicate the DeVille Touring Sedan, a sporty version of the old model. DTS now stands for the whole revised and revamped model line. It's fitting, given today's DTS is sportier than yesterday's DeVille. The DTS takes turns with poise and dignity, making it an enjoyable steed when the road goes curvy. Sporting fresh body lines, a redesigned interior, upgraded running gear, and suspension refinements, the current version was launched as a 2006 model. For 2007, it's offered as a single model, with a single interior, but with a number of packages and two levels of engine power for a wide range of personalization. The DTS is a full-size luxury car and it is, indeed, a big car, riding on a 115.6-inch wheelbase that would have qualified it as full-size car even in the mid-1950s. Its styling is restrained, but it's stuffed with modern technology and electronic goodies. And unlike many luxury cars these days, there's no need to study the owner's manual to make the DTS do its job. This is a rational luxury car, easy to operate in addition to being large and luxurious. The DTS offers impeccable road manners and a warm, spacious interior. Yet the DTS also offers crisp handling and good grip for improved composure and driving enjoyment on winding roads. The 2007 Cadillac DTS is a full-size luxury sedan, powered through its front wheels by Cadillac's 4.6-liter Northstar V8. A four-speed automatic transmission is standard. The engine develops 275 horsepower, but a higher-revving, 292-hp version is also available. Model Lineup The 2007 Cadillac DTS comes in one trim level with the option of two luxury packages and one performance package. Safety features that come standard on all models include six air bags, including a dual-depth front-passenger air bag. DTS ($41,170) comes with eight-way power front bucket seats with adjustable lumbar support; OnStar with one-year Directions & Connections Service; Adaptive Remote Starting; Magnasteer magnetic variable-assist rack-and-pinion steering; 17-inch chromed wheels, xenon HID headlamps; laminated side glass; and an MP3-capable stereo. XM Satellite Radio is also standard, including three months free service.

DTS with the Luxury I package ($44,170) adds StabilTrak; Brake Assist; memory for seats and outside mirrors; ultrasonic parking assist; heated outboard seats front and rear; seat cooling for driver and front-seat passenger; heated leather-wrapped steering wheel; heated windshield washer fluid; heated outside mirrors with integrated turn signal indicators; and a universal home remote। The Luxury II package ($46,490) includes Luxury I plus a six-disc in-dash CD changer; eight-speaker Bose audio system; tri-zone climate control; four-way adjustable lumbar with massage for the front bucket seats; power tilt and telescoping steering column; wood accents on steering wheel; adjustable rear-seat headrests; rear-seat sun visors with vanity mirrors; power folding outside mirrors; IntelliBeam automatic headlamps; Rainsense wipers; and a cargo net for the trunk. Road wheels are still 17-inch chrome but feature a design unique to this package, and real dark burl walnut replaces the standard interior woodgrain trim. The Performance package ($48,540) includes all but a few of the Luxury items plus the higher-tuned (L37) Northstar 4.6-liter V8 with 292 horsepower, performance algorithm shifting, Magnetic Ride Control, 18-inch wheels and H-rated tires. Options include adaptive cruise control ($1695), a DVD-based navigation system ($1945), a front bench seat (no charge), DTS-exclusive Tehama leather upholstery ($1995), body color grille ($100), and a power tilt/slide sunroof ($1200)

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Buick LaCrosse


LaCrosse is the Buick of mid-size sedans. So, as you would expect, it's quiet, pleasant-mannered, and demands little of its driver or passengers. Its styling is sophisticated and modern, yet conservative. Inside is a rich, high-quality cabin with attractive woodgrain trim, nicely presented instruments and controls, and available leather seats with nice-looking gathered stitching.

What owners of recent Buicks might not expect is the way LaCrosse drives. Its steering is more precise, and it turns into corners crisply, with little body lean. In short, it handles quite impressively on winding mountain roads where it's capable of keeping up with any of the imported mid-size cars. Its V6 engines offer good power, growling under acceleration, but motoring along smoothly and quietly on the freeway. And of course its transmission works flawlessly.

Electronic features make the well-equipped LaCrosse a safe, all-weather family car with nice conveniences. Among them: a remote starting system that will work from up to 500 feet away, great on cold winter mornings; OnStar, which will dispatch emergency crews to your precise location if you have a wreck and don't respond to operators' calls; XM Satellite Radio to pick up Fox News, CNN, ESPN, or your favorite music; and StabiliTrak, which can help keep you from skidding off a slippery road. ABS and side-curtain airbags come standard.

For 2007, Buick LaCrosse benefits from revised trim and equipment upgrades, including a standard tire-pressure monitor and available Turn-by-Turn navigation from OnStar. Otherwise, it's largely unchanged from 2006.

Model Lineup

The '07 Buick LaCrosse comes in three models. The base CX and the more luxurious CXL are powered by Buick's veteran 3.8-liter overhead-valve V6, rated at 200 horsepower. The performance-oriented CXS comes instead with a 3.6-liter V6 with modern double overhead camshafts and variable valve timing; although slightly smaller in displacement, it develops 240 horsepower.

CX ($22,230) comes with cloth upholstery, manually operated air conditioning, tilt wheel, six-way power driver's seat, programmable power locks with remote keyless entry, power windows and mirrors, theater-style interior light dimming, leather-wrapped shift knob, and a six-speaker AM/FM/CD sound system. All models also come standard with OnStar hardware and a one-year subscription to OnStar service. For '07, a tire-pressure monitor has been added to the standard-equipment list as well.

CXL ($24,645), features leather upholstery, dual-zone automatic climate control, a leather-wrapped tilt-and-telescope steering wheel, power lumbar adjustment for the driver's seat, a split-folding rear bench seat, driver information center, and content theft alarm.

CXS ($26,860) comes with thicker anti-roll bars front and rear, and 17-inch wheels and tires to go with the more powerful V6. CXS also boasts additional touches like driving lights under the front bumper.

Five- or six-passenger seating is available. Front bucket seats with a center console and leather-wrapped floor shifter come standard, but a six-passenger option for the CX and CXL is available that moves the shifter to the steering column and substitutes a 40/20/40-split bench seat whose center cushion flips over to become a mini-console.

A Comfort and Convenience Package ($690) for CX adds a remote vehicle starter, multi-language driver information center, dual-zone automatic air conditioning, a theft-deterrent system, steering wheel-mounted audio controls, tilt and telescope steering column, visor-mounted illuminated vanity mirrors and a cargo net.

A Driver Confidence Package for the CXL ($1,250) and CXS ($1,150) adds steering wheel-mounted audio controls, universal transmitter, electrochromic inside rearview mirror, dual heated and power-operated outside rearview mirrors, six-way power adjustable front passenger seat, Ultrasonic Rear Parking Assist, rear passenger interior reading lamps, and tilt-and-telescoping steering column.

Other options include nine-speaker stereo with MP3 capability ($545) or six-disc CD changer ($695); digital audio with XM Satellite Radio ($199) that includes a one-year subscription; power sunroof ($900); heated front seats, now available with cloth or leather ($295); power adjustable passenger's seat ($350); 17-inch chrome wheels ($650-750); remote starting ($190); and an engine block heater ($50).

Safety features on all 2007 Buick LaCrosse models include anti-lock brakes (ABS), traction control, a tire-pressure monitor, and side-curtain airbags, along with the required front airbags. Optional safety features include park assist and StabiliTrak electronic stability control.

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Monday, March 12, 2007

Toyota Highlander

On Sale: Third Quarter 2007
Expected Pricing: $26,000-$43,000

The 2008 Toyota Highlander, revealed at the Chicago auto show in February 2007, is the second generation of Toyota's car-based mid-size SUV. In response to people who chose not to buy a Highlander, Toyota has made the new Highlander bigger and more powerful. A third-row seat is available, along with a gas-electric hybrid model.

The new Highlander continues to be based on the same platform as the Camry and Avalon, but is a full three inches longer in wheelbase and four inches longer overall. Gone is the base four-cylinder engine. The base model now is powered by a 270-hp 3.5-liter V6 coupled to a five-speed automatic transmission. It is offered in 2WD or 4WD. Despite an increase in size, weight and power Toyota says the overall fuel consumption will be little changed from the current Highlander.

A hybrid version powered by a 3.3-liter V6, that produces the same horsepower, and an electric motor, will hit the market later in the year. It will have the more sophisticated full time 4WD-I system coupled to a CVT automatic as standard.

According to Toyota, another complaint from would-be Highlander owners was that the first-generation model was uninspiring. They told Toyota researchers that they wanted something that would inspire them with more forceful styling.

Certainly the new Highlander has a more striking appearance. Ironically, it was introduced a day before the new mini-utility Scion xB and maybe it's no coincidence but there are distinctly similar looks to the front end in the way the hefty bumpers blend into the fenders at the front. That's not necessarily a bad thing, as both vehicles look set to make their presence known on the highway.

Inside, there is a grand total of an extra 12 cubic feet of interior volume. There are three rows of seats. The second row features captain's chairs that can be converted to a bench seat for three passengers using a center seat cushion, which is hidden under the console between either front seats. This gives the two middle row passengers extra space for storing things and allows access to the rear seats in much the same way as in a minivan. The center seats also slide forward and back up to nearly five inches and can also recline.

Like other Toyota SUVs, the Highlander will feature Toyota's STAR safety system that includes anti-lock brakes, traction control, electronic brake-force distribution, brake assist, vehicle stability control with electronic power steering। A stand-alone backup camera will be fitted on all but the base model।

Pricing will not be announced until close to the on-sale date in the summer

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Saturn Astra

opel saturn astraSaturn is launching a new car to replace the Ion compact this fall. The introduction of the 2008 Saturn Astra, revealed to the American public at the Chicago auto show, will complete a revamp of the entire Saturn lineup that began little over a year ago.

The new Saturn Astra is essentially a federalized version of the Opel Astra. The snazzy looking Astra is a common sight there, and was the top-selling model in its segment last year, outselling the Ford Focus.

The new 2008 Saturn Astra will be available as a three-door coupe or a five-door hatchback.

Both the three-door coupe and the five-door hatchback will follow the modern European look with a sleek front end and large rear end. The five-door model has close to a vertical tailgate while the three-door model has a sloping tailgate with an interesting wrap around taillight treatment.

Opinions seemed to be equally divided among visitors to the Chicago auto show as to which version looked best. Some liked the five-door best, while others thought the sportier three-door with it's lower roof line and larger wheels was far more attractive.

Inside, there is room for five passengers. The 60/40 split rear seat folds down for increased storage space. When the seats are in use there is 12 cubic feet of storage space under the cargo cover. Fold down the back seats and this grows to 45 cubic feet, measured up to the ceiling.

The instrument pod is located in front of the steering wheel and incorporates two large circular gauges for the speedometer and tachometer with a small analog fuel gauge between them. The center stack has a smooth faux aluminum finish. The controls are operated by large knobs.

The Astra will be offered in two trim levels, XE and XR. All models will be powered by GM's 1.8-liter Ecotec engine with variable valve timing producing 140 horsepower. Transmission choices are a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic.

Safety features on all Astra models include dual-stage frontal air bags, front seat-mounted side air bags to help protect front occupants and head curtain air bags for front- and rear-seat occupants. Other safety features include active head restraints, collapsible pedals, front safety belt pretensioners and load limiters plus OnStar with one year of Safe & Sound service. StabiliTrak electronic stability control system with traction control is standard on the three-door, and optional on five-door models.

The Astra replaces the Ion as the lowest priced model in the Saturn lineup, although it will likely be priced a few thousand dollars higher when it goes on sale in the fall।

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Lincoln Navigator

lincoln navigator

The 2007 Lincoln Navigator has been substantially redesigned in an effort to re-establish itself at the top of a category it more or less invented. It remains a big, heavy, luxurious sport-utility vehicle, with most of the advantages and disadvantages that go with big sport-utility vehicles.

The Navigator is now offered in two versions: the standard size, and an even larger, longer, Navigator L. With the exception of its 300-hp, 5.4-liter V8 engine and six-speed automatic transmission, everything inside and out has been thoroughly revised. It's still available with rear-wheel drive or four-wheel drive.

We'd call the 2007 Navigator an across-the-board improvement, except perhaps in the very subjective area of styling. Yet it's an incremental improvement, and it doesn't restore the clear edge Lincoln once had among full-size luxury SUVs. While Navigator hits the basic targets set for such vehicles, it's not loaded with emotional appeal.

The Navigator is essentially a truck, with a ladder-type box frame and separate body. As such, it's not as responsive, certainly not as sedan-like, as the unit-body sport-utilities proliferating at the high end of the market. But it's a smooth, quiet truck, with lots of noise- and vibration-mitigating technology and a fully independent rear suspension.

The Navigator also is very big. That means lots of passenger room and a full-size third seat, acres of cargo carrying space and impressive towing capacity. It's well equipped with safety features, including full-cabin head protection airbags, electronic stability control and a rollover protection system. Its styling seems deliberately retrogressive, probably in an effort to recreate the romance of Lincoln's glory days. Those who embrace the styling will find a nice finish inside, with rich wood and leather, and nearly all the bells and whistles available in luxury sedans. With the upward trend in gasoline prices, big, luxurious sport-utility vehicles have lost some of their luster as a group. Still, the strengths that made them popular to begin with remain: real space for eight passengers, high bling factor and the comfort and convenience of an expensive sedan with the towing and load potential of a truck. The Lincoln Navigator shares those strengths at a competitive luxury-class price, and it doesn't even require premium fuel.

Model Lineup

The 2007 Lincoln Navigator is available with a standard or long wheelbase, and rear-wheel or four-wheel drive. Any version of this full-size sport-utility vehicle can seat either seven or eight. All are powered by a 300-hp 5.4-liter V8 with a six-speed automatic transmission.

The Lincoln Navigator 4x2 ($45,755) and Navigator 4x4 ($48,655) come with features expected in the luxury class. Leather upholstery and a choice of Dark Ebony or lighter Anigre wood trim are standard. Two second-row captain's chairs also are standard, though a three-place split bench seat is available at no charge.

Standard features include a high-watt stereo with six-CD changer and auxiliary jack, three-zone automatic climate control with rear-seat fan and controls, leather-and-wood steering wheel with audio and climate controls, front seat position memory, power-deploying running boards, rear park sensor warning, roof rack, high-intensity discharge (HID) headlights, 18-inch alloy wheels, fog lamps and complimentary maintenance for one year.

The Navigator L 4x2 ($48,775) and Navigator L 4x4 ($51,655) are 14.7 inches longer than the standard models. Passenger accommodations are essentially the same, but the Navigator L provides an additional 25 cubic feet of cargo volume behind the third seat.

The most popular option grouping is the Ultimate Package ($2,000), which adds heated and cooled front seats, Lincoln's power-folding third seat, power liftgate and power moonroof. The Elite Package ($5,575) is the full ride, and includes a voice-activated navigation system, rear-seat DVD entertainment package with eight-inch screen, and the Preferred Appearance package, which adds custom seat stitching, contrasting piping and embroidered Lincoln logos.

The navigation system ($1,995) and rear-seat DVD entertainment ($2,485) are available separately. Other stand-alone options include Sirius Satellite Radio hardware ($195) with a six-month subscription, a remote starter ($445), 20-inch chromed wheels ($1,495) and a heavy-duty tow package ($595).

The Navigator's standard safety features meet the luxury-class baseline: dual-stage front airbags, front occupant side-impact airbags and curtain-style head protection airbags for all outboard seats. The curtain bags feature a rollover sensor, and all Navigators are equipped with Lincoln's AdvanceTrac anti-skid stability program. This system features Roll Stability Control, which uses a gyroscopic roll-rate sensor to enhance rollover resistance. Four-channel antilock brakes (ABS) and a tire-pressure

Complete review visit :

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Acura RDX : The sports car of crossover SUVs.

What's old is new again. Acura gave the century-old technology of turbocharging a new twist in the RDX, an appealing small SUV with a wealth of technology goodies, all aimed at toppling the BMW X3 from its perch.

Announced June 1 and due in dealer showrooms by late summer, the all-wheel-drive RDX may be the ideal vehicle for the urban dweller who weekends in the country with friends and spends occasional time on unpaved or snow-covered back roads. The RDX falls into what's being called the "entry premium SUV market," meaning cars that are bigger and more luxurious and have more technology than a Toyota RAV4, and are smaller and cheaper than the Acura MDX or BMW X5. Buyers of these $30,000-to-$40,000 vehicles are looking for a big dose of technology, and the RDX has it.
Turbocharging for Power, Economy

This is the first foray into passenger-vehicle turbocharging for Acura and its parent company, Honda. Though turbocharging dates back to 1905 and a Swiss engineer named Alfred Buchi, Honda/Acura made a major technological advance in reducing turbo lag and increasing performance with its variable-flow turbocharger.

Acura RDX

Turbocharging uses the pressure of engine exhaust to force more air into the engine intake flow: Step on the gas, and an impeller in the exhaust manifold spins faster, as does a second, connected impeller in the intake manifold. Acura overcame turbo lag, the roughly one second of hesitation that occurs while the impeller spools up to deliver max power, with a flap that varies the flow into the impeller, and did it in such a way that the hinge isn't directly in the way of the superheated exhaust gas (which is 1,000-plus degrees). This is a simpler solution than, say, using a small turbocharger that spins up quickly but doesn't deliver a lot of power, plus a second, big turbocharger for high rpm power.

Friday, March 9, 2007

Chrysler Aspen

The 2007 Chrysler Aspen is a big, traditional sport utility. Representing a new nameplate, the Aspen is a full-size SUV based on the Dodge Durango. Aspen shares Durango's size and mechanicals; the main differences being styling, interior and tuning. Both use truck chassis and engineering. So the Aspen offers the advantages of a cavernous interior and the ability to tow moderate trailer loads. It's in the same class as the Chevy Tahoe, GMC Yukon, and Ford Expedition.

Aspen is an attractive package with a competitive line of engines, including a 235-horsepower, flex-fuel V8 that runs on either regular gasoline or E85 (a blend of 15 percent gasoline and 85 percent ethanol) and a 335-hp, 5.7-liter V8 with a system that conserves fuel by shutting off half the cylinders when the engine is running under a light load. Buyers can choose between rear-wheel drive and four-wheel drive with either engine.

Styling is pure Chrysler, with a traditional-but-subdued, egg-crate grille; mildly curvaceous bodylines vaguely reminiscent of the smaller, but genetically related Durango; and an attractively sculpted tailgate. Tires and wheels properly fill wheel wells, with good-looking, 20-inch, chrome rims adding bling to the uplevel model.

Aspen accommodates six, seven or eight passengers, depending on seat configuration. Three rows of seats are standard, starting with front buckets, a second-row bench and a third-row bench. Buckets are optional for the second row.

The interior blends elegant-looking, satin-finish metallic accents with wood-grain trim on the dash and center console. Standard upholstery is Chrysler's trademarked fabric that resists stains and odors. The requisite leather trim that's standard on the up-level Aspen is optional on the base model. All the usual power and personalization features are available.

Once past the initial impression, signs of cost cutting, inattention to detail or both begin to emerge, however. Interior finishes look better and more expensive than they feel. Stylists, or the people who pay their bills, seem to have scrimped on such subtle things as thickness of padding on armrests and bin covers.

A few critical ergonomic decisions, too, show an imbalance between looks and function. For example, that the steering wheel, a luxurious-looking combination of woodgrain and leather, comes standard with a tilt adjustment is appreciated. And that power adjustable pedals are offered as an option is also a plus. Only problem is, with the standard, fixed pedals, it's difficult if not impossible for short-stature drivers to position the seat where they can reach the pedals and still maintain the 10-inch safety zone drivers that should maintain between their upper body and the steering wheel's airbag. Optional power-adjustable pedals are designed to address this.

The Aspen receives better and more consistent marks on the technology front. Both powertrains earn decent fuel economy ratings by the federal government, either matching the competition or at worst giving up no more than one or two miles per gallon, even in the new, revised system the EPA will use for the 2008 model year. And the Aspen's standard electronic stability control system incorporates a new and so far exclusive feature that controls the dreaded and eerily destabilizing trailer sway.

Model Lineup

The Chrysler Aspen 4X2 ($30,745) and 4X4 ($33,520) come standard with the 4.7-liter V8. Standard features include Yes anti-stain and odor-resistant fabric upholstery; air conditioning, cruise control, AM/FM/CD stereo with four speakers and steering wheel-mounted audio controls; power windows, heated-and-fold-away outside mirrors and keyless-remote central locking; tilt steering wheel; eight-way power driver's seat (with manual lumbar); 40/20/40 second-row seats; third-row seat; Vehicle Information Center with compass heading, ambient temperature, trip computer readouts, tire pressure warning and driver personalization settings; programmable, universal garage/gate remote; 115-volt auxiliary power outlet; Interior Convenience Group with overhead console, illuminated visor mirrors, automatic headlamps, rear seat courtesy/reading lamps and front center console floodlamp; fog lamps; and P265/60R18 on-/off-road tires on aluminum wheels.

Options start with the 5.7-liter V8 ($995). When the 5.7-liter engine is ordered with the 4X4 ($1,190), the single-speed transfer case is standard (accounting for the price difference), the two-speed transfer case is optional ($195). The stereo can be upgraded with eight Alpine speakers accompanied by a 276-watt amplifier ($395) and an in-dash, six-disc CD/MP3 changer ($300). Other audio-electronic options consist of a DVD-based, GPS navigation system with a six-disc changer ($1,595); a rear-seat entertainment system with wireless headphones ($1,200); Sirius satellite radio ($195), including a one-year subscription; and Chrysler's UConnect Hands-Free Communication system, with Bluetooth capability and auto-dim rearview mirror ($360).

Other options include leather-trimmed front bucket and second-row, folding bench seats ($905); leather-trimmed, second-row bucket seats ($700); heated front seats ($250); heated second-row seats ($250); three-passenger, 60/40 split, third-row seat ($300); power adjustable pedals ($120); a Power Convenience Group comprising rear park assist and power liftgate ($655); power sunroof ($850); laminated front and rear door glass ($300); and front and rear floor mats ($30). On the hardware side are a trailer-tow group, with seven and four pin pre-wiring, transmission cooler, heavy duty engine cooling, power steering cooler, Class IV hitch, 160-amp alternator and 750 cold cranking amp battery ($455); engine block heater ($35); a low, 3.92 rear axle ratio ($40); accent-color running boards ($445); remote start ($185); and on the 4X4 a skid plate group, with tow hooks and plates for the fuel tank and transfer case ($170).

Limited 4X2 ($37,190) and 4X4 ($38,510) come standard with the 5.7-liter V8. The single-speed transfer case is standard on the 4x4, the two-speed case not offered. Other upgrades include dual-zone, automatic climate control; the leather-trimmed front bucket and second-row, reclining bench seats; the heated front seats; two memory settings for the outside mirrors, power adjustable pedals, eight-way power driver's seat, audio and climate control; a four-way power front passenger seat; the 60/40-split, third-row seat; the Alpine speakers with amp; the in-dash CD/MP3 changer; the one-year Sirius service; the Power Convenience Group; the accent-color running boards; the floor mats; the laminated door glass; and P265/50R20 BSW all-season tires on chrome-clad aluminum wheels with locking lug nuts. Beyond these upgrades, the same options are offered as on the base model, including the navigation system ($1,295).

Safety features include roof-mounted, full-coverage (all three rows of seats) side-curtain airbags that protect the head from injury in side impact and roll-over crashes, along with the mandatory dual, multi-stage frontal airbags. All seating positions are fitted with three-point belts and adjustable head restraints. Missing, however, are front seat-mounted side airbags that protect the upper body in side crashes, a feature increasingly common on cars and SUVs. The second-row seats have child safety seat anchors and tethers (LATCH), the third row doesn't. The electronic stability program, which attempts to keep the vehicle from spinning out, is augmented with a rollover-sensitive algorithm, which extends deployment duration, and all-speed traction control, which limits tire spinning in slick conditions. Electronic brake-force distribution, which optimizes front-to-rear brake application in emergencies, and brake assist, which quickens braking response during panic stops, add effectiveness to the four-wheel, antilock brakes, which allow drivers to steer around obstacles under heavy braking. A tire pressure monitoring system signals when tires are low on air. And rear park assist warns of obstacles not visible to a driver when backing up.

The Chrysler Aspen looks like a lot of other full-size SUVs, but we found it attracted admiring looks and inquiries. Chrysler styling cues set the Aspen apart from its sibling, the Dodge Durango.

The grille, with bold crossbars and classic Chrysler medallion, attempts to stake a claim for the Aspen at the top of the brand's pyramid. Strangely un-prepossessing, low-key headlamp units diminish the claim, which isn't helped either by the bland bumper and generic fog lamps. Embossed strakes in the hood running back to the windshield carry on the newest Chrysler-brand styling motif, seemingly inspired by the jewel-like cap on the famous Chrysler Building in New York City and appearing first on the Crossfire then on the new Sebring.

The side view is an uninspired take on standard SUV proportions and features. This isn't to bad mouth the Aspen's styling, only to recognize the difficulty in finding a new, fresh presentation of a look that's been around for, well, more than half a century. After all, what is an SUV but a closed-in, short-bed pickup with four doors? Full-round door handles make for ease of use in bad weather and are kind to fingernails. The swept-back windshield looks sleek and shows homage to aerodynamics. The optional running boards do a better job of dirtying the backsides of trouser legs and long skirts than serving as truly functional steps. Mildly creased, visually pleasant blisters circle the wheel wells. A chrome-topped, overstated molding strip pulls double duty, breaking up the expanse of metal between the front and rear wheel wells while insulating the doors against parking lot dings. Side mirrors proudly perch on brackets extending from the base of the A-pillars (the side frames of the windshield). A slight ridge defining the beltline (where the side windows meet the lower body panels) extends beyond the base of the D-pillar, accenting the graceful outline of the rear quarter window. A short front overhang and tucked-up lower hindquarters invite thoughts of venturing off the highway to explore an unpaved track on the occasional weekend outing.

It's the rear aspect of the Aspen that has the most presence, the view most will have of it in traffic. A strong rear bumper with a deep, non-skid clad step cups the one-piece liftgate. Chrome-like trim on the bumper's end caps tie into the side molding strip. The medallion-and-wing treatment from the grille repeats above the stylized license plate recess. Gently bowed sides and rounded top give the back end a smaller, less massive look than the rest of the vehicle. A conservatively sized notch centered in the bumper's lower edge makes room for the optional hitch receiver and junction box.

Interior Features

On first impression, the interior looks classy in its material selection, presentation and packaging. On closer examination, however, and after some quality time spent experiencing its quirks and nuances, some of that initial luster fades.

The satin-finish metal accents and wood-like trim give the interior an elegant touch, as does the silver-ringed, old-fashioned style clock tucked into a recess in the top-center of the dash. The woodgrain looks better than it feels, however, as do the expanses of textured plastic panels, which are hard to the touch and replete with seams that pose threats of squeaks and buzzes as the miles rack up. Where there's padding, it's noticeably thin. The symmetry of shapes and simplicity of features and controls for stereo, air conditioning and navigation system are pluses that partially counter some of the questionable elements.

Front seats are supportive, with adequate bottom and side bolsters for the Aspen's intended use. The fabric upholstery is more comfortable than the somewhat stiff leather. The pivot point for the front seatbacks' recline is positioned above the seat bottom, much like the seats on those regional commuter jets, where to recline in the seat requires sliding one's posterior forward on the bottom cushion, which effectively shortens the seat bottom and reduces thigh support.

The laid-back windshield pushes the dash and with it the steering wheel close enough to the driver that the adjustable pedals are strongly recommended to permit a short-stature driver to sit far enough from the steering wheel to maintain the minimum, safety-related, recommended distance between the driver's chest and the steering wheel airbag. And the dead pedal against which drivers might want to brace their left foot while navigating sharp turns is somewhere up near the front bumper and useless for anybody not as tall as, say, Lebron James.

The low roofline limits visibility from the inside. The tinted rear glass enhances the image on the rear-seat entertainment system's drop-down video screen, but limits the driver's view somewhat. When deployed, the rear-seat video screen reduces visibility through the rearview mirror.

The steering wheel and gas pedal transmit an irritating buzz to the driver's hands and right foot. Something in the underpinnings sends vibrations up through the floor. And at any setting above the lowest, the air conditioning fan emits a coarse noise that gnaws at the edges of the stereo's otherwise quite impressive sounds.

Second-row legroom is limited and trails the competition (Ford Expedition, Chevy Tahoe, GMC Yukon, Nissan Armada, Toyota Sequoia) by one to four inches. Knee room for back-seat riders is cramped when the front seat is comfortably positioned for a 6-foot driver. Getting in and out of the second row is easy. The back doors swing open a welcoming 84 degrees and leave space enough in their lower reaches for all but NBA-size shoes.

The third-row seats compare well with the competition. The flop-and-flip second-row seats make access to the third row easy. In headroom, the Aspen's back row tops all but the Sequoia. Its legroom handily bests all but the Expedition. Hiproom and foot room in the third row is relatively tight, however, especially in the center position, the automotive equivalent to the center seat in the back of a plane.

Cargo space is aplenty. With the third row folded, the Aspen's 68.4 cu. ft. of cargo tops the competition. Fold and flip everything behind the front seat and the Aspen's 102.4 cu. ft. is average when compared with the other full-size SUVs.

Cubby storage is about par for the class. Each row of seats gets at least two cup holders. The front doors have fixed, hard plastic map pockets. The backside of the driver's seat has a pouch for magazines. The glove box is adequate, but the undamped door can crack the shins of an unwary front passenger. The front center console lid is hinged on the right-hand side, making access difficult for the front seat passenger.

Aspen has imported some features from the German side of the DaimlerChrysler family. One is tip start, which requires only a twist and release of the key to start the engine. Another is a one-touch lane-change function on the turn signals, where touching and releasing the lever produces three blinks of the turn light. The third is a setting in the driver's personalization settings that turns on the windshield wipers whenever the headlights are on, a useful feature for drivers living in states where that's required by law.
Driving Impressions

The Chrysler Aspen rewards the driver with hearty mechanical sounds from the engine compartment, prompt throttle response, solid gear shifts and thoroughly competent brakes.

Ride and handling attributes are more mediocre than marvelous, however. The reason: It's tall, heavy and narrow. The ride tends to the springy end of the scale, and the Aspen loses composure around curves. The up-level Aspen's 20-inch wheels with fatter tires stick better than the base model's taller tires and 18-inch wheels at the price of a slightly harsher, but no less bouncy ride.

The top-level engine, the vaunted, 5.7-liter Hemi, runs out of breath on the far side of 80 miles per hour. However, the torque rating promises it can pull a four-ton-plus trailer.

If towing is not a required use, the 4.7-liter V8 is the preferred choice, and made even more attractive by the availability of the two-speed transfer case.

Towing trailers long distances should be eased by a promising new feature Chrysler calls Trailer Sway Control. This system senses trailer sway and employs the electronic stability control to apply tiny amounts of brake pressure selectively to individual wheels and to reduce engine torque to counter trailer-induced yaw. We haven't hooked a trailer to an Aspen, but the concept is logical and impressive and we'd assume it works as intended.

As for fuel efficiency, the Aspen is equal to the competition.


The 2007 Chrysler Aspen is a competent full-size SUV that offers the hauling and towing capability of a truck. In snapshot comparisons with the competition, the Expedition feels roomier, the Tahoe/Yukon rides and handles better, the Armada feels, and is, heavier, and the Sequoia feels better put together. correspondent Tom Lankard filed this report from Palm Springs, California.
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Thursday, March 8, 2007

Mercedes-Benz E320 BLUETEC

From Aaron Gold, The E320 BLUETEC is the diesel-powered version of Mercedes' revamped E-Class. While the outgoing E320CDI used a 3.2 liter inline-six, the E320 BLUETEC uses a new 3.0 liter V6 engine; BLUETEC denotes Mercedes' new clean-diesel technology. Why go diesel? Fuel economy. The E320's EPA numbers are 26 MPG city/37 highway, the latter holding the promise of 700+ miles on one tank. And with a starting price of $52,550, just $1,000 more than a gas-powered E, it's easy to make up your investment.
First glance: How long can I keep handing you the same old line?
Writing reviews of diesel cars is more and more becoming an exercise in frustration. It goes something like this: A manufacturer comes out with a new diesel car. I drive it, then write an article saying "You'll never believe this is a diesel car." Then the manufacturer comes out with a new diesel that's even less diesel-like, so I write another review that says "This time you really won't believe this is a diesel car." This was all well and good when there were only a handful of diesels, but the new E320 BLUETEC is just one of three diesels Mercedes plans to start selling in the US this year. Worse yet, it's the most un-diesel-like diesel I've ever driven. Now what the heck am I supposed to write?

I thought about simply writing the phrase "This is what I've been talking about" over and over again. The article template has space for about 170 properly-punctuated repetitions of this phrase. All the reasons I think diesels are superior to gasoline cars are embodied in the E320 BLUETEC. For all intents and purposes, you may as well be driving a gasoline-powered E350 -- except you won't have to visit the gas station nearly as often.
n the Driver's Seat: E320 makes it easy to forget you're riding in a diesel car
2007 Mercedes-Benz E320 BLUETEC interior
Inside, the E320 BLUETEC is equipped identically to the E350 Luxury
Photo © Aaron Gold
Inside, the E320 is virtually indistinguishable from the E350 Luxury. (Alas, the diesel will not be offered in Sport trim.) The interior of the E-Class has become a much more pleasant place to spend time now that Mercedes includes a 6-disc CD changer and a sunroof as standard equipment. Leather and high-quality wood trim are standard, as are dual-zone climate control and power everything. Mercedes puts their power-seat controls up on the door panel, and it wasn't long before I had both the seat and the electric steering column, which tilts up-and-down and telescopes in-and-out, adjusted to my preferences. Aside from the stereo, which still has too many buttons for my liking (photo), I found it easy to get comfortable in and familiar with my surroundings.

Driving the E320 BLUETEC is little different than driving the gasoline-powered E350. The E320 idles almost as quietly and by 30 MPH or so the rumble of the tires eclipses any noise from the engine. At lower speeds you can sometimes hear the familiar diesel growl, but just barely -- it almost sounds as if it's coming from the car next to you. The E320 uses the steel-sprung suspension of the E350; the E550's wonderful air suspension is, sadly, not available with the diesel.
On the Road: Excellent mileage and clean BLUETEC technology
The E320's 3-liter V6 may sound sedate at 208 horsepower, but it's the 400 lb-ft of torque that makes things happen. (Horsepower is a function of RPM; diesels spin slower than gasoline engines, hence the seemingly low hp numbers.) Mercedes claims a 0-60 time of 6.6 seconds, but that doesn't tell the whole story. Floor the E320 from a standstill and you'll be unimpressed -- but stomp on the accelerator to pass a slow-moving truck and you'll be blown away. The E320 accelerates from a standstill like a gas-powered V6, but it passes like a V8. The E320's engine is coupled to a 7-speed automatic transmission which helps with the fantastic passing power and awesome mileage: My driving partner and I averaged between 31 and 34 MPG on most segments of our drive through the Nevada desert.

The BLUETEC system refers to the E320's system of emissions controls. (For more information, see my article How Mercedes-Benz BLUETEC works.) The result is green power: The E320 BLUETEC uses low-sulfer "clean" diesel, available at most filling stations in the US and Canada, and meets emissions standards in 45 states (all except California, Maine, Massachusetts, New York and Vermont). A 50-state version of the E320 BLUETEC will arrive in 2008.
Journey's End: Return on investment
2007 Mercedes-Benz E320 BLUETEC engine
New 3.0 liter V6 replaces the 3.2 liter inline six in the outgoing E320CDI
Photo © Aaron Gold
I mentioned earlier that the E320 BLUETEC diesel only costs $1,000 more than an identically-equipped E350. How fast you will recoup your investment depends on fuel prices, but chances are E320 owners will be ahead after 25,000 or 35,000 miles.

Of course, old-guard Mercedes diesel owners will tell you they don't keep their cars for 25,000 or 35,000 miles. They keep them for 250,000 or 350,000 or more. Often a lot more. Diesels are durable and mechanically simple, and when it comes to lifespan they are the giant tortoises of the automotive world.

Diesels also offer the opportunity to run biodiesel, a clean fuel derived from vegetable oil. With no set standards for biodiesel formulation, Mercedes will only condone the use of BD5 (5% biodiesel, 95% petroleum diesel) without voiding the warranty, but plenty of diesel owners run mixes from BD20 all the way up to 100% biodiesel. (Visit to learn more.)
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