Sunday, July 29, 2007

Chevrolet Avalanche


The Chevy Avalanche has been redesigned and re-engineered for 2007 and the new version is vastly superior to its predecessor. The new Avalanche rewards its driver with taut handling. It's well designed throughout with impressive attention to detail. The previous-generation Avalanche was good. This new one is better.

The Avalanche is and always has been one of a kind. It successfully combines the hauling capacity of a long-bed pickup with the comfort of a five-passenger sport utility vehicle. It switches between these roles using its ingenious Midgate, a removable rear bulkhead between the passenger compartment and the pickup bed. Along with a hard, tonneau-like bed cover, the Midgate allows the Avalanche to be configured as a Tahoe-sized sport utility with a short bed. Fold down the rear seats and open the Midgate and it's like a pickup with an enclosed eight-foot bed, capable of securing valuable gear from thieves or shielding drywall from weather. Remove the rear glass and the tonneau panels and it's a sporty, open-air truck capable of hauling an ATV.

For 2007, none of this practicality changes, including, for the most part, its workhorse capabilities. The Avalanche offers an 8,000-pound towing capacity, making it an excellent choice for towing an enclosed car trailer or a fairly big boat. It's as long as a Chevy Suburban and can haul a lot of stuff, with payloads over 1,300 pounds and a bed designed for abuse.

Handling and ride quality are greatly improved, thanks to updated underpinnings. The previous-generation Avalanche handled well for a truck its size, but this new one handles much better.

A major redesign gives the cab a more car-like look and feel, with a classier dash and more comfortable seats. Combined with better-integrated driver-assist and entertainment features, the creature comfort upgrades are as welcome as the modernized mechanicals. Also, the Midgate, removable rear window, tonneau covers and other features seem to snap together even better than before and everything appears to be of high quality.

Finally, there's the facelift. This cleaner, quieter, more mature look says as much as any of the other updates, upgrades and new technology about the vision Chevy has for its future. It's a vision with high promise. We like what we're seeing here.

Model Lineup

The 2007 Chevy Avalanche comes in one configuration, a half-ton, full-size pickup with four doors, room for up to six passengers and outfitted with a unique, fold-down rear bulkhead accessing an enclosed bed.

Three engines are offered, two 5.3-liter V8s, one making 320 horsepower in the two-wheel drive version, another 310 horsepower in the four-wheel drive model, and a 355-hp, 6.0-liter V8 scheduled to appear later in the model run. The transmission is a four-speed automatic, mated to an electronic transfer case in four-wheel-drive models. The heavy-duty Avalanche 2500 has been discontinued and is no longer available.

The LS 2WD ($31,790) is the entry-level Avalanche, along with the LS 4WD ($34,790). Seats are cloth covered benches, front and rear; the front splits 40/20/40 with a six-way power driver's seat and manual recline on both driver and passenger seat, the rear 60/40. Standard features include dual-zone air conditioning, the usual array of powered utilities including the tailgate lock, multi-media stereo radio, leather-wrapped tilt steering wheel, front and rear seat carpeted floor mats, two auxiliary power outlets, ready-to-tow trailer setup and P265/70R17 all-season tires on aluminum wheels. Notable options include a stereo upgrade adding an in-dash, six-CD changer ($300); XM satellite radio with pre-paid, three-month trial subscription ($199); power adjustable pedals ($120) with rear park assist ($245); luggage rack ($195) and cross rails ($45); auto-lock rear differential ($295); and white-letter highlighted tires ($125). Also, but only on the LS, is a delete-option (-$600) soft cargo cover in place of the standard three-piece, hard cover.

The LT 2WD ($32,490) and 4WD ($35,490) feature an upgraded interior with cloth bucket seats, six-way power adjustments for the driver's seat, manual recline on both seats, a center console, and rear-seat audio controls with dual headphone jacks. Halogen fog lamps are standard. A front bench seat is a no-cost option. Options in addition to those for the LS include: automatic, dual-zone climate control ($195); DVD-based rear-seat entertainment system with remote and wireless headphones ($1295); touch-screen, DVD-based navigation system with voice recognition ($2250); Bose premium speaker system ($495); power, tilt-and-slide sunroof ($995); universal remote transmitter ($105); and P275/55R20 blackwall tires on polished aluminum wheels ($1795).

Option packages for the LT include 2LT ($2,040) with automatic climate control system, the universal remote, the six-CD stereo, leather upholstery, power adjustable pedals, rear parking assist and remote vehicle starter. In addition, a rear-view camera system ($250) is available with the 2LT package. The 3LT package ($3,650) includes 2LT plus 12-way power, heated front bucket seats with two-setting driver memory; outside mirrors with dip-to-park, integrated turn signals, driver-side auto-dim and ground courtesy lighting; the Bose premium speakers; and XM satellite radio. Rain-sensing windshield wipers ($95) and a heated wiper washer fluid system ($85) can be ordered with the 3LT package.

The LTZ 2WD ($39,225) and 4WD ($42,225) come standard with most of the equipment that's optional on the other two models. Also standard is a premium suspension package with variable shock damping and air-assisted rear load leveling. Power retractable running boards ($1,095) are optional. The luggage rack crossrails are optional, along with the rear-view camera system, the sunroof, the rear-seat entertainment system and the navigation system.

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Safety features that come standard on all models include the required front-seat airbags and LATCH rear-seat child safety seat anchors. The OnStar crash-notification system is standard. Full-coverage, side-curtain airbags that protect against head injuries in side impacts and rollovers are optional ($350) on the LS and the LT, including the 2LT treatment, and standard on the 3LT and LTZ. Active safety features that come standard include antilock brakes, electronic stability control, all-speed traction control and tire-pressure monitors

Chevrolet Monte Carlo


Never mind the NASCAR association; or the bad-boy reputation. Never mind that the Chevrolet Monte Carlo is as quick as it looks, with a 303-horsepower, variable-displacement small-block V8 as its top engine choice. Never mind the neo-muscle-car image the Monte Carlo carries. The Monte is primarily about style. Always has been. Always will be.

The Monte Carlo was born in 1970 as a high-style variant on a more mundane mid-size sedan, and as a high-value alternative to more expensive personal luxury coupes. Its mission, at which it succeeded brilliantly, was to deliver a lot of visual importance for relatively small monthly payments. A big-bore SS version was there from the start, but initially the SS sold at a trickle compared to a torrent of base-model coupes with all the luxury options.

The Monte quickly developed a dual personality: Although conceived originally for visual effect, its unusual proportions seemed to give it an edge in handling balance at medium-length NASCAR oval tracks. By the late 1970s, the Monte Carlo was Chevrolet's standard-bearer in stock-car competition. Then with each successive generation, Chevrolet refined the Monte's shape to improve its high-speed performance. The Monte Carlo is now the winningest nameplate in the history of NASCAR, which is certainly something to crow about.

Something comes over us when we're in a Chevy Monte Carlo. It's hard not to fantasize we're rocketing down the front straight at Talladega with 42 stock cars glued to our rear bumper. Or maybe we're going through the inner loop at Watkins Glen, bounding off the curbs as we go through the big chicane. The Monte just has that look about it. It has that feel about it, too, making it an enjoyable and appropriate car for winding down a rural road in the South with the windows down. It still draws admiring looks in these parts.

Like we said, it's all about style.

Last year, 2006, Chevrolet face-lifted the Monte Carlo. The new look is smoother, more mature, more sophisticated. At the same time, a V8 engine became available, for the first time in a Monte Carlo since 1987. Changes for 2007 are relatively minor.

We always bond with the Monte Carlo whenever we drive one. It's roomy and comfortable and easy to operate. Despite its race-track breeding, the Monte Carlo offers more interior volume than any of its non-GM competition. It's fast and fun to drive. It's stable at high speeds for long runs down the interstate and it's great fun on back roads, the same kind of roads that form the roots of stock car racing. The SS promises the kind of performance that Monte Carlo buyers haven't seen in a long time, along with a chance to feel connected to a winning tradition.

We're expecting this to be the last year for the Monte Carlo, with production ending in August 2007. So act now if you want to buy a new one.

Model Lineup

The 2007 Chevrolet Monte Carlo comes in three trim levels: LS and LT are powered by a 211-hp 3.5-liter V6. The top-performance SS comes with a 303-hp 5.3-liter V8. All come with a four-speed automatic transmission. (The 3.9-liter V6 offered for 2006 is no longer available.)

The Monte Carlo LS ($21,015) comes with air conditioning; cruise control; power windows, mirrors, and programmable door locks; six-speaker AM/FM/CD/MP3 stereo with speed-sensing volume and auxiliary digital media jack; front bucket seats and floor console; six-way power driver's seat with manual lumbar adjustment; split-folding rear seat; tilt steering; metallic interior trim; automatic headlamps; 225/60 all-season radials on 16-inch steel wheels; 7.0 Generation OnStar with a one-year subscription; and a Passlock security system. A recent upgrade to the standard remote keyless entry allows drivers to use the red panic button to locate a car misplaced in Lowe's vast lot without activating the alarm. ABS with traction control is available ($600); as are 16-inch aluminum wheels ($350) and carpeted floor mats ($80).

The Monte Carlo LT ($22,625) adds dual-zone automatic climate control; Radio Data System (RDS); leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls; carpeted floor mats; ABS with traction control and Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD); a tire-pressure monitor; and 225/55 touring tires on 17-inch machined aluminum wheels. Powertrain dampening is upgraded for quieter running. LT is available with more options, too, including a power tilt-and-slide sunroof ($900); leather seats ($795); six-disc CD changer ($295); XM Satellite Radio ($199); eight-speaker premium sound system ($250); and universal remote ($100).

The Monte Carlo SS ($27,740) comes with leather upholstery, heated front seats, XM Satellite Radio (with a three-month trial subscription); and 235/50 W-rated Goodyear Eagle RS-A tires on 18-inch machined aluminum wheels. Also standard is a stiffer suspension that GM calls FE4. A Convenience Package ($240) for SS adds a universal remote, auto-dimming inside rearview mirror, and heated exterior mirrors. Also available are polished aluminum wheels ($350) and a new Rally Stripe package ($395) in black or silver. Cloth upholstery can be substituted for credit. Otherwise SS offers the same options as LT.

Optional on all Monte Carlos are an engine block heater ($50); remote starter preparation ($30); and seat-mounted side-impact airbags ($350). New last year, the dual seat-mounted bags replaced a single door-mounted bag on the driver's side only, and help optimize head and torso protection for the driver and front passenger.

Dual-stage frontal airbags are standard on all models, as are front seat belt pretensioners, three-point seat belts in all seating positions, LATCH child-seat anchors in all rear-seat positions, strategically padded interior roof rails, and a strengthened front seat structure.


SUVs began life as trucks. Trucks are bouncy and push a lot of air, which requires a lot of gas, and they're hard to maneuver. No fun. So SUV makers with sports car genetics, such as BMW and Porsche, have tried to marry fun driving with truck utility.

The BMW X5 is a V8-powered SUV aimed to provide the driving fun of a sport sedan. A mid-size luxury SUV, the first X5 was introduced for the 2000 model year. It was a trim-looking, tightly handling, tall-riding wagon. We drove this model with its 4.4-liter engine several thousand miles. It was short on utility, which is these days described as the ability to carry bikes and boards (sand, surf, sail, skate and snow), which the original short X5 could barely accommodate. In fact, it had less cargo space than a 5 Series wagon. A bigger BMW X5 would better meet the requirements of luxury SUV buyers, more in line with SUVs from Cadillac, Mercedes, Acura, Audi, and Volvo.

For 2007, BMW stretched the X5 seven inches, while preserving its ability to handle well and be nearly as fun to drive as BMW's sport sedans. BMW also expanded the height and width of the wagon two inches each dimension. This bigger X5 is known as the second-generation X5, same name, bigger body.

A BMW X5 adds a dimension to its intended tasks, traveling to places where active, fun sports take place, for example. Instead of hauling equipment and gear, the X5 gives sensitive automotive connoisseurs the top equipment they want to enjoy the activity of driving as much as possible. That's why BMW is trying to get its SUVs to be called SAVs, for sport activity vehicle. In other words, it's better for driving than hauling. This is not the wagon you fill with mulch for the garden and lumber to finish the basement. This is the car you take to the resort, and enjoy the drive, no matter the weather.

Powerful, smooth engines propel the X5 and exhilarate the driver with quick reflexes. Handling is intuitive, like a sculpted water ski, and ride is supple, like a freshly adjusted and tuned full-suspension titanium Merlin mountain bike. If you enjoy the sport of driving, you'll like the dynamics of the X5 every bit as much as the nimble old X5. That's a tough feat to pull off, since the new X5 outweighs the old one by about 400 pounds. A new suspension design and special variable ratio steering contributes greatly to the ride and handling.

Like other BMWs and the previous X5, the 2007 BMW X5 is pretty, with swoopy sheetmetal, a trademark double-grille fashionable nose, and deep, shiny metallic paint. Now this new version of the SUV fashion statement will hold more of the gear and boards that active folks use.

Model Lineup

The 2007 BMW X5 comes in a choice of two models, distinguished by engine.

The BMW X5 3.0i ($45,900) is powered by a 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder engine that makes 260 horsepower.

The BMW X5 4.8i ($54,500) is powered by a newer 350-hp 4.8-liter V8 engine. The 4.8-liter model also makes available a host of extra high-tech gizmos, such as headlights that move with steering inputs, multiple variable electrically operated front seats, and both models include the iDrive control for the navigation, climate, entertainment, and personal preference functions.

Options include a premium sound system with a six-CD changer ($1,800); rear privacy glass and front and rear climate zones ($700); driver's massage seat and front seats with fan-powered ventilation and multiple adjustable contours ($2,100); DVD rear-seat entertainment system ($1,800); satellite radio ($595); rear-view camera with parking assist system, satellite navigation, voice activation for some functions, and traffic information ($2,600); integrated garage opener and light switches, full-roof sunroof and power shade, auto dimming mirrors, adjustable lumbar supports, cargo cover, compass, vanity lights, and a live service assistance with Bluetooth phone function ($2,650); front seat heaters, headlight washers, heated wheel, and ski cover for luggage compartment pass-through ($900); leather steering wheel, 19-inch wheels, run-flat tires, anti-roll-over stability system, electronic damping control, larger seat bolsters ($3,600).

Safety features include the mandated dual front airbags which have two-stage threshold activation, plus side-curtain airbags for head protection and side-impact airbags built into the front seats. Active safety features include anti-lock brakes, electronic stability control, all-wheel drive, traction control, front seatbelt pretensioners and force limiters, adaptive headlights and cornering lights. Optional safety features include a rearview camera and parking assist as part of a Technology Package ($2,600), and anti-roll stability system and run-flat tires as part of a Sport Package ($3,600).

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Audi TT


Audi has redesigned the TT for the 2008 model year. Audi's goal in the redesign was to make a bigger sports car with better handling characteristics. We think they succeeded. The new car is wider and longer than last year's model for more comfort yet it feels light and tossable.

The 2008 Audi TT will appeal to true sports car enthusiasts and weekend cruisers alike. Handling is crisp and steering is direct. With the standard 17-inch tires, the ride is quite compliant for a sports car, but it can be busy and bumpy with the available 18s and 19s. The interior is top-notch Audi. Tight panel gaps and soft-touch materials abound. The new, bigger TT is more accommodating to larger drivers than most of the other sports cars in this class. Both engine choices offer brisk performance, and the 2.0T is easy on gas.

The new Audi TT comes in a range of body styles, with engine and transmission options, and available all-wheel drive. You can choose anything from an affordable, high-mileage hatchback with plenty of cargo capacity to a more-powerful, high-end two-seat roadster with unique interior appointments. Watch your options, though, because pricing can run high. No matter what TT you choose, you'll be sure to have fun behind the wheel.

The TT is once again offered as a two-seat roadster or 2+2 coupe. Each is available with front-wheel drive or quattro all-wheel drive. Both body styles are 5.4 inches longer and 3.1 inches wider than the previous TT, which was last offered in 2006. The wheelbase has grown as well, up 1.8 inches to 97.2, but the weight is down more than 150 pounds, thanks to the extensive use of aluminum. V6 and turbocharged four-cylinder engines return, but the four-cylinder is a 2.0-liter instead of a 1.8.

Both the coupe and roadster are offered as front-wheel-drive 2.0T and all-wheel-drive 3.2 quattro models. The 2.0T models have a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that makes 200 horsepower between 5100 and 6000 rpm and 207 pound-feet of torque from 1800 rpm to 5000 rpm. The 3.2 quattros use a 3.2-liter V6 that produces 250 horsepower at 6300 rpm and 236 pound-feet of torque from 2500 to 3000 rpm.

The 2.0T has EPA fuel economy ratings of 22 mpg city and 29 highway for the roadster and 23/31 for the coupe. EPA ratings for the 3.2 quattros are 17/24 for roadsters and 18/24 for coupes. Audi recommends premium fuel for both engines.

Model Lineup

The Audi 2.0T is available only with Audi's S-tronic direct shift gearbox (DSG), which is a clutchless manual transmission that can be operated as an automatic or as a manual via the gearshift or steering wheel paddles. A six-speed manual transmission is standard on 3.2 quattros, and the S tronic is a $1400 option.

2.0T models come standard with 225/50R17 all-season run-flat or summer performance tires, alloy wheels, limited-slip differential, leather/alcantara upholstery, automatic climate control, tilt-telescope leather-wrapped steering wheel, cruise control, six-way manually adjustable front seats, center console, aluminum interior trim, heated power mirrors, power windows, power locks, remote keyless entry, AM/FM/CD player, digital clock, trip computer, variable intermittent wipers, rear defogger, theft deterrent system, rear spoiler, and fog lights. Coupes add a split-folding rear seat and roadsters get a manual convertible top with a heated glass rear window.

3.2 quattros come with all-wheel drive, 245/45R17 all-season run-flat or summer performance tires, heated 10-way power adjustable front seats, AM/FM radio with six-disc CD changer, steering wheel audio controls, auto-dimming rearview mirror, compass, HomeLink universal garage door opener, rain-sensing wipers, and automatic headlights. On 3.2 quattro roadsters, the convertible top is power operated.

A Premium package for 2.0T models ($2150 coupe, $3050 roadster) adds heated 10-way power adjustable front seats, steering wheel shift paddles, AM/FM radio with six-disc CD changer, auto-dimming rearview mirror, compass, HomeLink Universal garage door opener, rain-sensing wipers, and for roadsters, a power top.

An additional Enhanced Interior package ($1100 coupe, $1250 convertible) delivers Nappa leather-covered seats, a leather-covered interior instrument pod, underseat cargo bins, and, in roadsters, a trunk passthrough with ski sack. Roadsters can also be ordered with Baseball-Optic leather upholstery for $1000.

Audi's Magnetic Ride Suspension, which has base and sport-oriented shock settings, is a $1400 option. An available S line package ($3000) includes 255/35R19 summer performance tires, special interior trim, and more aggressive front and rear styling.

Other stand-alone options include a power top ($900), a navigation system with iPod interface ($1950), 245/40R18 all-season run-flat or summer performance tires ($800), Bluetooth cell-phone connectivity ($450), heated seats ($450), Bose premium audio with Sirius satellite radio ($1000), and bi-xenon adaptive headlights ($800). The iPod interface is available separately for $250, and the satellite radio costs $350 by itself.

Safety equipment includes front airbags, seat-mounted front side airbags that protect the head and thorax, front knee airbags, ABS with electronic brake force distribution and brake assist, traction control, antiskid control, active head restraints, and a tire-pressure monitor. Roadsters have rollover bars mounted behind the seats, and coupes have LATCH-style rear seat child seat anchors. Rear obstacle detection is a $350 option.

The standard warranty is four years or 50,000 miles with no-charge first scheduled maintenance

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