Sunday, December 30, 2007

2008 Mazda CX-9 Touring

Once the kids are dropped off at soccer practice, or ballet, or camp, what's the point of that seven-seat penalty box? What if somebody got this crossover thing right and faithfully combined carlike agility with SUV-like capacities? And did so without it looking like a minivan?

Well, Mazda has done just that. The 2008 Mazda CX-9 is a CUV as at home on the PCH as it is at the PTA. It's a seven-passenger crossover infused with the confidence, poise and taut good looks we expect from Mazda, without sacrificing the all-important utility and third-row seating upon which we've become so dependent. Now we've added one to our long-term test fleet.

What We BoughtKeeping nearly lock-step with our Long-Term Buick Enclave CX, we chose the Touring trim level for our newest CUV. Like the Buick, it's front-wheel drive and seats seven. Like the Buick it has 18-inch rims. And, like the Buick, it starts around $32,000 — $31,615, to be exact. Unlike with our Buick, heated, leather-upholstered, eight-way power-adjustable seats are standard equipment. So is Bluetooth.

And, unlike our Enclave CX, the rear liftgate is fully manual. We didn't buy this one; it's a 12-month loaner from Mazda. We still spec'd it out to our liking, keeping value in mind. The Touring trim is well equipped, so we were able to minimize what we "spent" on options.

A moonroof is packaged with the 277-watt, 10-speaker Bose stereo. Fortunately we wanted both, so $1,760 felt like a fair price for the combo. Once we had the upgraded stereo, the addition of Sirius Satellite Radio proved to be a no-brainer at $430. To get a back-up camera on the Enclave, the $3,000 navigation system is a must. Not so for the CX-9. A trick screen in the corner of the auto-dimming rearview mirror assists in parking the big Mazda and is available for only $665.

Although the CX-9 is available with all-wheel drive, front-wheel serves our purposes in California (and probably everywhere else except North Dakota), plus it's cheaper and promotes better fuel economy. If you're eager for sporting driving, 20-inch tires are available, but we're not eager to give up so much ride comfort for quicker steering response, so the 18-inch setup works better for us. While Black Cherry Mica (purple) and Cherry Mica (red) are available, we chose the Liquid Platinum Metallic (silver) exterior paint.

With a silver exterior, black is the only interior color available. Leather, rearview camera, Bose stereo, moonroof — all for $35,065, including delivery. Why We Bought ItZoom-zoominess abounds in anything Mazda graces with its seagull-inspired badge, and its newest crossover is no exception. The 2008 model year marks the debut of the 3.7-liter DOHC V6 in the CX-9. Power has been increased to 273 horsepower, up from 263 in the 2007 CX-9 with its 3.5-liter V6. Fuel economy under the EPA's revised system is 16 mpg city/22 mpg highway. The transmission is a six-speed automatic with a sport shift feature. During a First Drive of the 2007 model, Director of Vehicle Testing Dan Edmunds noted, "The most significant CX-7 hardware item carried over to the CX-9 is the well-sorted six-speed automatic transmission.

We loved its smooth and positive shifting behavior in that application, and it's much the same here." Mazda's CX-9 also has a serious — and seriously safe — side. Stability control is standard equipment. Front and side-impact airbags are standard. There's a five-star frontal crash rating for driver and passenger. The CX-9 also gets five stars for front and rear seat occupants in the event of a side collision, and four stars for rollover protection, all of which are on par with our Enclave. We're especially taken with the way the CX-9's flexible seating package works for us. The 60/40-split second-row seat offers 5 inches of fore and aft travel for added comfort, and once you swing the second-row seat out of the way for access to the third row, there's a wide 26-inch gap to wriggle through.

Although the measurements for passenger accommodation are impressive, the CX-9 still seems a little tight to us (especially in headroom), so we'll see what we discover in the next year. In combining the agility of a car with the seating and cargo options of an SUV, Mazda hopes to deliver a CUV that's truly about crossing over. Has it successfully merged two disparate genres? Or has it, with the goal of creating a true crossover, compromised both goals?

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Ford Mustang Shelby GT vs. 2008 Subaru Impreza WRX STI

By Josh Jacquot, Senior Road Test Editor Date

Look no further than the hood scoops on the 2008 Subaru Impreza WRX STI and 2007 Ford Shelby GT to find the fundamental difference in their personalities. It's here that both cars' sense of purpose and ability is displayed prominently and publicly as a statement of their true character.Integrated into the STI's hood is an elegant and somewhat menacing scoop that feeds air through the engine's intercooler.

It's a functional and defining detail on all boosted Subarus and it enhances the car's already purposeful demeanor.On the Shelby's hood lies a nonfunctional remnant of days gone by. Days when bias-ply tires were making the smoke. Days when performance was measured by the number of barrels in your carburetor. Days when cars were built with the delicate precision of dynamite. From the driver seat, we could see underneath the Mustang's hood scoop to the road ahead, a constant reminder that it's phony and just plain disappointing on a car that bears the name of such a legend.Same Price Tag, Different State of MindSo why compare two cars whose target customers are so different? Well, first of all, they cost the same.

The STI is slightly pricier at $39,440, only marginally more than the $39,180 Shelby. With as-tested prices within $300 of each other, the reality of cross-shopping these two on price alone isn't an arguable point.We'd argue that there's another common mission between the two: putting a smile on their owners' faces. Really, they're both about having fun.

Whether that fun means late-night powerslides in the Wal-Mart parking lot or Sunday morning pace-note sessions up your local canyon road, depends only on your state of mind.Plus, these two machines are remarkably similar in the power department. The STI's 2.5-liter turbocharged flat-4 is rated at 305 horsepower and 290 pound-feet of torque. The Shelby's 4.6-liter V8 is stronger than that, but not by much.

It generates 319 hp and 330 lb-ft of torque, slightly more than a standard Mustang thanks to a more efficient exhaust system, cold air intake and a revised engine calibration (which mandates premium fuel). A six-speed manual transmission puts the STI's power to all four wheels, while a five-speed manual drives the Shelby's rears.

Doughnuts and HorseplayPlant your right foot to the Shelby's floorboard and you're rewarded with an engine note so patriotic you'd swear Francis Scott Key tuned the car's dual exhaust. It's a deep, powerful sound that perfectly accompanies the thrust that comes with it. It'll take $800 in custom exhaust to get this much aural reward from the STI and even then it will only be pleasing if you happen to like the off-kilter thrum of a flat-4.

What's more, a dip of the clutch and jab at the throttle is a sure key to the best powerslides this side of a GT500.

The Shelby GT's balance on smooth surfaces is good and the information it offers a driver through its chassis is encouraging enough that we found ourselves with ample confidence to drive it very hard. Its steering is light but responsive and communicative enough to inspire reasonable confidence.

There are few rewards in life greater than executing a perfect, tire-smoking powerslide, gathering it up and pulling up confidently at the next signal. This happens often in the Shelby GT. It's the kind of fun you can't have in any Subaru. But like mullets and mopeds, it's a bit of a novelty.If outright speed is your jones, you should buy the STI. This latest version of Subaru's flagship is silly fast on any surface you choose.

It eats midcorner bumps like a turbodiesel wood chipper sucking down a sapling. It treats road irregularities, gravel and damp surfaces with the same indifference the Shelby does burnouts — they're all in a day's work.Very few cars sold today will match the STI's midcorner speed. Nor will they exercise its mind-bending grip on the tarmac with such relaxed confidence. Its electronically controlled center differential and front and rear mechanical limited-slip differentials twist any road into submission.

The staggering speed comes from perfectly managing this combination of long-travel suspension, substantial power and Velcro-like grip. Part of that management strategy includes the three-way SI-Drive throttle switch on the console that allows the driver to adjust throttle response between pointlessly slow and just right. There are also nine settings for the center differential — three auto and six manual — which is too many, but testifies to the amount of control a driver has in this car. Bottom line: There's not a Mustang made that will match it on any real road.Inside and OutUnless a few Shelby badges and a high-effort Hurst shifter are your idea of interior upgrades, you won't notice much difference between the office of a Shelby GT and a standard Mustang.

There are the same slick, flat seats, built-to-cost Ford switchgear and materials and presentation we've come to accept at the standard Mustang's $25,000 cost of entry. But this car adds a 55 percent premium, which isn't reflected in its interior.

The STI provides the expected bump in quality. From its Alcantara suede-and-leather-covered seats to its double stitching, to new plastics, there's a very different feel inside an STI than there is in a WRX.

Too bad its six-speed tranny isn't as quick-shifting or precise as we'd expect given its direct-shift configuration, and its seats are too wide to be as supportive as we'd like.

Still, they're better than the Mustang's wide, flat chairs.There's also an automatic climate control system where the Shelby has only fan speed, temperature and mode dials. Our STI was fitted with the optional navigation system, which more than compensates for the minimal price difference between the two.Outside, neither car will be mistaken for its lesser counterpart.

Most obvious are the STI's huge fenders. Bulging at every opportunity, the new shape has the same polarizing effect on Subaru enthusiasts as did the new WRX. We think the hatchback shape expands its appeal to buyers who might have previously overlooked it as too boy racerish. But love it or hate it, you're not going to overlook it.

The Shelby offers equally juiced-up exterior styling. In 2007 it was only available in black or white but will be produced in Vista Blue with the same silver stripes for the 2008 model year. There's a unique front fascia, lower airdam and side scoops plus the not-a-hood scoop. Eighteen-inch Torque Thrust look-alike wheels are at all four corners.

The wheels, scoops and stripes, however faux-retro, are striking in combination with the GT's black paint.Living Life 13 Seconds at a TimePredictably, the Shelby is 157 pounds heavier than the STI (3,508 vs. 3,351 pounds), which didn't help its case in our acceleration tests.

All-wheel grip and lots of grunt give the less powerful Subaru the ability to outrun the Shelby out of the hole — an advantage it holds all the way to the end of the quarter-mile. With an admittedly abusive launch, our STI hit 60 in 4.8 seconds — 0.4 second quicker than the Shelby.

Breaking the traps in 13.3 seconds, the Subaru's lead remains the same. Pulling hard, the Shelby gets there in 13.7 seconds, and has a 1.5-mph advantage in trap speed (103.9 mph vs.102.4 mph).If drag racing is your thing, the Mustang is your car. Slap on some drag radials and it'll likely run with the STI.

Plus, it feels a hell of a lot less likely to self-destruct during a day of redline launches. Subarus have always proven durable during our testing, but the physical load on the STI's drivetrain during a hard launch is unquestionably violent.Brakes are another area where the hardware and engineering advantage of the Japanese car is apparent. Stopping from 60 in only 106 feet, the STI is in a different league than the Shelby, which requires 126 feet.Look closely at the hardware and the Subaru's value and performance are clear.

The STI is fitted with 13.0-inch rotors and four-piston Brembo calipers up front, while the Mustang makes due with 11.5-inch rotors and two-piston calipers. Perhaps an even greater factor in our single-stop test are each car's tires. The lighter STI's 245/40R18 Dunlop SP Sport 600 summer tires are far stickier than the Shelby's 235/50ZR18 BFGoodrich g-Force KDWS all-season tires.Straightening the Curves, Flattening the HillsThose stickier tires also helped the STI embarrass the Shelby in the slalom.

At 72.0 mph this is the fastest Subaru we've ever tested. Despite its Ford Racing handling package, which is lower and more heavily damped than a stock Mustang, the Shelby only managed 68.0 mph — exactly the same speed as Ford's GT500. Unfortunately, the lower suspension lacks both travel and compliance, giving the GT a wagonlike ride.Around the skid pad, however, the Shelby was surprisingly close, circling at 0.88g vs. the STI's 0.90g. It once again demonstrated the always-engaging ability to drive in never-ending sideways circles with a white haze pouring off its rear tires.

Did we mention that this is fun? Or that it can't be done in a Subaru?More valuable than our instrumented handling data is each car's real-world behavior. It's here that the Subaru's abilities are dramatically greater than the Shelby's. Its ride is compliant but controlled — a near-perfect compromise.

In the real world where there are bumps, off-camber roads and gravel, there's simply no contest. On one winding California road we reached the Mustang's limits (and its bump stops) before the STI's driver even knew we were trying to keep up.The Easy WinnerUnpack the data and the driving impressions and the results are overwhelmingly clear.

In fact, out of the 46 categories scored in this test, the STI gave up only two to the Shelby: as-tested price and quarter-mile trap speed. It tied or won every single category in our 27-point evaluation, dominated when it came to feature content and was every editor's personal and recommended pick. That's kicking some major ass.Of course this doesn't tell the whole story. The Shelby will put a grin on your face as quickly as it will autograph the tarmac in your local Wal-Mart parking lot. This, while great fun, is of limited value, which is why the Subaru wins. It's quicker in virtually every test and unquestionably quicker over any road.

It rides and handles better and its interior is light-years ahead of the Shelby.The takeaway is simple. If you want a driver's car, one that's as capable in a straight line as it is on virtually any road, the STI is your car.

2008 Chevrolet

The 2008 Chevrolet HHR SS does not want to kill you.
This cannot be said of all its competitors. We don't want to name names here, so let's just say that the HHR SS has really only one direct competitor, the Dodge Caliber SRT-4. This competitor acts like a drug-addled co-driver who grabs the steering wheel and saws wildly if you dare to use more than a feather's touch of throttle.What the hell are we talking about? Why our old buddy torque steer, of course — that troublesome houseguest of powerful front-drive cars.But the HHR SS badly wants to be your friend. And despite a few rough edges, it's a pretty genial companion.
Power to the (Less Old) PeopleWith a turbocharged 2.0-liter pumping a healthy 260 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque into its bones, the 2008 Chevrolet HHR SS promised to be a fair amount more raucous than it turned out to be.Certainly there are moments at full whack when the steering starts thinking about its independence.
And you will feel some unwanted reticence through the little wagon's little steering wheel. But that's it.It's a good thing, too, because the engineers at GM's Performance Division who tinkered with this PT Cruiser clone didn't intend for the HHR SS to be an all-out tuner car. They'll save that for the next Cobalt SS, which will also be powered by this same 2.0-liter turbo.
In contrast, Chevrolet expects that the average HHR SS buyer will be in his 40s, pretty much like the buyers of the Chrysler PT Cruiser.And unlike SRT-4 or the Mazdaspeed Mazda3 (another competitor, Chevy says), the HHR is available with an automatic transmission. In fact, the company says it expects 70 percent of SS buyers to opt for the slushbox instead of the Saab-supplied five-speed manual.Once you combine all this with quasi-retro styling and a dramatically larger cargo hold than these competitors, you quickly realize the HHR SS is a pretty unique proposition.
That its standard 18-inch wheels are available only in a glinting high polish must mean something as well.DrivenThe downside to the SS's relative docility is that it doesn't feel as fast as the 285-hp Caliber, which explodes with that characteristic turbo rush shortly before trying to steer you clear off the road. Chevrolet estimates that the 3,280-pound (with manual transmission) SS will get to 60 mph in 6.3 seconds. If we can achieve this number when we strap our test gear to the car, it will only be a tenth of a second off the Caliber's pace. And, according to Chevy, the HHR SS will only be a couple of tenths behind the SRT-4 through the quarter-mile — 14.8 seconds vs. the 14.6 seconds we got from the Dodge.
The HHR SS's standard traction and stability control system has four settings: everything on (the default mode); traction control off; traction and stability control off; and competitive driving mode.
The competitive driving mode is accessed by two stabs at the traction control button on the center stack, and it backs off the threshold at which the stability control intervenes and also initiates a launch control program. At a stop with the clutch and gas pedals fully depressed, the engine revs to 4,100 rpm and holds steady. Release the clutch and the system allows some wheelspin, yet retards the engine spark to prevent overpowering the front tires. All you need to do to make speed is keep your right foot planted.
The system works pretty well, although it isn't foolproof. Dump the clutch too quickly and the engine bogs for a second. Ease off the pedal too gingerly and the cabin will fill with vaporized clutch lining. The system can't tell how grippy the pavement is either, so 4,100 rpm is the compromise because it covers as many situations as possible.The SS also incorporates what racers call no-lift shift, as in don't lift off the gas while shifting.
If you can retrain your right leg to stay planted, the system works smoothly. The turbo never gets a chance to rest, so there's no waiting for the power to come back on in your new, taller gear. Chevy reckons this system saves a bit of time on each shift — something on the order of a couple flaps of a hummingbird's wings, we imagine.Driving Around CornersChevy makes a big deal of the HHR SS's somewhat unlikely pedigree as a veteran of the Nürburgring Nordschleife, noting that the trucklet holds the class record around the tortured north loop (8:43.52 minutes).
The idea that there's really a defined class into which the HHR SS fits is, um, tenuous. But the SS's development on that most famous of test tracks does indicate Chevy's lofty goals.
We drove the HHR SS on one of the road courses at the compound of the Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving at Firebird International Raceway in Arizona and, well, the thing handles pretty nicely.
This is still a tall front-driver that carries 59 percent of its weight over the front axle, so it's no Formula Ford. But given these caveats and the pedestrian nature of its strut-type front suspension and torsion-beam rear axle, the thing is really capable around the track.
The development team added bigger antiroll bars front and rear and stiffer springs and shocks all around, and the SS is more willing to rotate into the corners than the vast majority of front-drive cars. It's also genuinely fun.Driving around town or even on snaking mountain roads, the HHR feels handy enough and seems to ride well. But despite the bigger bars, the car still rolls a fair amount in corners. And the HHR's pseudo-SUV high seating position exaggerates this impression.
Steering and Other Matters of SignificanceThe HHR SS's steering ratio is 14.8:1, much quicker than the standard HHR and quicker than the SRT-4, too.
And commanded through the smaller-than-standard steering wheel, the SS feels lively, although GM's electric-boosted unit still feels artificial and not entirely progressive. The shift linkage for the five-speed manual transmission has also gotten a taste of the performance pie. Its throws are shorter than the standard unit and the shift lever has been moved forward and upward on the center console. It's not the slickest shifter, but the throws are very short and its synchros are up to quick shifting. The tachometer, which looks smaller than some Panerai wristwatches we've seen, is not easily read.
The SS's four-wheel disc brakes are pretty reasonable, but a Brembo brake package will be offered as an option sometime in the spring of 2008, which brings larger front rotors and calipers.Living the DreamChevy has dressed up the inside a bit with two-tone interior trim, including a startling black-and-bright-red combination.
The seats, while more supportive than the standard units, are no match for the sweet Recaros that were originally offered on the old Cobalt SS Supercharged.
We want those back, bad.There's no hiding the HHR's proletarian origins, especially in interior materials that are a little cheap-looking. Then there's the wind and the road noise. And could somebody please mount a grab handle into this thing?We're not sure who is going to buy the 2008 Chevrolet HHR SS. It's not likely to be us. We'd trade the Chevy's big cargo hold and cushier ride for the locked-down, precision feel and high-quality interior of the Mazdaspeed 3 any day.

5 Star on Euro NCAP score

W204 Crash Test

The new W204 Mercedes-Benz C-Class now has an Euro NCAP score - 5 stars, thanks to its 7 airbags, seatbelt tensioners, belt-force limiters, and NECK PRO head restraints - all fitted as standard items on the European spec C-Class.

Of course, the body structure also plays an important part in the survivability of the passengers - crumple zones and such. 70% of the Mercedes-Benz C-Class’s body panels are made from state-of-the-art, high-strength steel alloys that minimise weight and maximise safety. Quadruple-skinned B-pillars and the side members absorb the bulk of any side-impact forces and channel these forces into the body structure, are made partially from ultra-high-strength, hot-formed high-tech steel.

Honda Inspire for the Japanese market unveiled!

The US domestic market Honda Accord (and our Asian version as well) is known as the Honda Inspire in Japan, because the Japanese Accord follows the smaller and sportier European Honda Accord.

Soon after the US market Accord was unveiled, comes the Japanese 5th generation Honda Inspire. There are two variants - the 35iL and the 35TL, and both come powered by the new 3.5 liter i-VTEC V6 engine with cylinder deactivation. The J35A is a SOHC motor and produces 280 PS at 6,200rpm and 342Nm of torque at 5,000rpm.
This engine features a cylinder deactivation system called Variable Cylinder Management. It allows the engine to either run on the full 6 cylinders, or either 4 or 3 cylinders, depending on driving conditions. This means either a 2.3 liter V4 or a 1.75 liter inline-3 engine. A little green ECO light denoting economy mode will light up on the dashboard when VCM is activated.
Safety features include a standard airbag system which includes driver and front-passenger i-SRS airbags, front-seat i-side airbags, and side curtain airbags. The body uses Advanced Compatibility Engineering which ensures the passengers are protected during a collision. The top of the range 35iL model has Honda’s CMBS (Collision Mitigation Brake System) and E-pretensioners.

CMBS determines if there is a danger of a collision and alerts the driver. If a collision is imminent, CMBS activates the brakes to reduce speed automatically. E-pretensioners retract seatbelts automatically before a collision occurs.

The front of the new Honda Inspire is similiar to the US model Accord, featuring HID-equipped headlamps and a bold trapezoidal grille. The rear is slightly different, with two extra strips of red taillamp area on the bootlid stretching from the taillamps to the number plate holder. This is probably what our Asian Honda Accord’s rear end will look like, instead of the USDM rear end design.

The new Honda Inspire is bigger than its predecessor not only on the exterior but on the interior as well. or rear passengers, the tandem distance (a measure of the distance between front and rear seats) has been increased by 25mm and the floor lowered to provide a more natural seating position. Knee space has also been increased by 35mm, while the couple distance for front occupants has been widened by 40mm.

A thinner floor frame and slender fuel tank are employed along with optimized exhaust system layout to achieve a 15mm reduction in floor height. The trunk has been made 54mm longer to create a spacious 510 liter capacity.

5-Door Lancer 2008 (Sport Back)

The “warm” version of the Lancer Evolution, the Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart is expected to be unveiled sometime in 2008, and it is expected to be based on the 5-door hatch version of the Lancer. The 5-door Lancer was previewed to us through the Mitsubishi Sportback Concept.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The New Vios

The new Vios addresses squarely the question of space. We explore the matter further.

THE new Vios, the third generation in the series, looks set to be another success story for Toyota as it has resolved the most pressing problem of the previous models – that of space.

As we drove off from UMW Toyota Motor Sdn Bhd’s Shah Alam headquarters, it was immediately apparent that the interior had more space, not only in length but also width so that the driver has more breathing space, so to speak.

To prove this, we went five up and found that the three rear adults surprisingly sat very comfortably unlike sitting in the previous Vios which was more compact. The front passenger also found that there was more space to move around.

This is due to the increased wheelbase of 1,965mm, 120mm longer than that of the previous Vios. The end result is that there is more legroom, especially for rear passengers.

The new Vios also has a bolder and more youthful appearance. This is evident in the sleek and smooth curves, the combination of convex and concave surfaces that flows freely throughout.

Toyota says that it has developed exclusive aero parts for the new Vios to enhance the sporty looks by giving it a more low-slung appearance. The kit comprises a front bumper spoiler, side skirts and a spoiler for the boot lid.

We found the engine responsive.

The 1.5-litre four-cylinder VVT-i (Variable Valve Timing – Intelligent) aluminium engine has been further improved. The changes include a redesigned air intake and exhaust system to enhance low and mid-range torque. Power output is now 109bhp at 6,000rpm with 141Nm of torque at 4,200rpm.

The four-speed automatic transmission has an uphill/downhill shift control for an optimum gear position when driving on hilly terrain.

We wondered where the overdrive on/off switch was. There was none.

The four-speed automatic has a gate-type shifter. To drop to third gear to overtake from “D” position, we only needed to shift the gear shift lever to the right, overtake, and then shift back to the left for “D” again.

The new Vios has slightly larger brake discs for the Vios 1.5S and 1.5G variants. They both have 15-inch front and rear discs (ventilated for the front, and solid discs for the rear). The entry level Vios 1.5E has 14-inch discs.

We found the steering to be light. This is because the power steering uses an electrically controlled system. At a stroke, power steering hydraulic leaks, which are expensive to repair, are history.

Further contributing to a more comfortable drive is the flat floor at the rear, made possible because of a chassis redesign. The engineers have routed the exhaust pipe in a way that eliminated the intrusive hump on the floor.

For those with a large family, the larger body also means the boot space is bigger – there is 75 litres more for a total of 475 litres in volume.

The fold-down rear seats have a 60/40 split for those long and awkward pieces of luggage.

The instrument panel is mounted in the centre of the dashboard as before, which works well ergonomically.

The new Vios has a highly rigid yet lightweight structure incorporating strategic use of high-tensile steel, which provides strong resistance against impact. This satisfies Toyota’s Global Outstanding Assessment, which is a tough in-house safety standard that meets international requirements and in some aspects exceeds them.

Safety is also addressed with standard driver and passenger front airbags (only for the driver in 1.5E models) while whiplash injury lessening concept seats support both the head and back to reduce neck injury should a rear collision occur.

Seatbelt pre-tensioners and force limiters are also available to driver and front passenger. The 1.5E variant has these only for the driver.

While the previous Vios 1.5G variant was equipped with ABS (Anti-lock Braking System) and EBD (Electronic BrakeForce Distribution), the new Vios goes one step better with ABS, EBD and BA (Brake Assist) on all models.

UMW Toyota says the Vios 1.5G is available for RM84,800 (on-the-road with insurance).

Monday, December 24, 2007

Nissan's all-new affordable MPV

Edaran Tan Chong Motor Sdn Bhd has launched the all-new Nissan Grand Livina.

The Grand Livina is a mid-size seven-seater MPV designed and engineered in the Nissan Technical Center in Atsugi, Japan, and was introduced in China last year and in Indonesia, Taiwan and South Africa this year.

It is currently the best-selling Nissan model in Indonesia with record sales bookings of 12,500 units by the end of November since its debut in April 2007.

The Grand Livina provides a sedan-like standard of drivability, ride comfort and handling for the mid-size MPV class living up to its "Drives Like A Sedan, Fits Like A MPV" tagline.

In addition, the Grand Livina comes with the new generation engine that offers brisk performance coupled with exceptional fuel economy to meet the lifestyle needs and desires of Malaysians.

Targeted at those who seek an active and modern lifestyle, the model name Livina is coined from the words “life” and “living” to signify "active" and lively".

In Malaysia, the Grand Livina is assembled at Tan Chong Motor’s brand new Serendah plant utilising the Nissan Production Way, Nissan’s international standard for global quality manufacturing and assembly.

Following the same "modern living" interior design philosophy similar to that in the Teana and Latio, the Grand Livina has a luxurious interior upholstered with a high quality fit and finish.

The third row seat, which gives the Grand Livina a seven-passenger seating, along with an easy-to-handle passenger/cargo space conversion feature, ensures a high degree of flexibility for this vehicle.

The split fold-down second row seat with a double folding function and the third row seat with an easy lock release strap allows for easy extension and the flexibility of cargo space when folded in full-flat condition.

The Grand Livina is developed on a monocoque body structure that gives exceptional control, agility and stability on winding and curved roads. The monocoque body structure also makes the Grand Livina lighter for more economical fuel consumption.

In addition, the monocoque body structure ensures a lower step-in height, enabling easy ingress and egress for both driver and passengers.

The Grand Livina applies the latest ripple control suspension technology which helps to minimize vibration in the cabin as well as body swing from the outside. This ensures a stable and comfortable ride even with bad road conditions.

Powering the vehicle are the new weight-saving all-aluminium gasoline engines in either 1.6-litre capacity (HR16DE) or 1.8-litre capacity (MR18DE). The MR18DE engine is equipped with Nissan's Continuously Variable-valve Timing Control (CVTC) technology which aids the engine in increasing power and torque efficiently with every engine rotation.

The 1.8-litre engine delivers efficient fuel consumption of only 6.5 litres per 100 km.

Representing the sophistication of the vehicle, the Grand Livina also uses drive-by-wire technology that ensures increased efficiency, accuracy and a swift handling response level.

Besides, the engines are equipped with high air-intake positioned above the grill, enabling the vehicle to go through flooded roads as high as the level of the tyres.

“Today, we are very excited to introduce the first non-national CKD medium-size MPV in the 1.6-litre and 1.8-litre segments. We aim to capture 15% of the total MPV market with the Grand Living,” said Datuk Dr Ang Bon Beng, Executive Director of Edaran Tan Chong Motor.

The Grand Livina will be offered in 3 variants in Malaysia, with a choice of two engine specifications - a 1.6-litre engine (offered with either manual or automatic transmissions), and a 1.8-litre engine (automatic transmission only).

On-the-road prices (inclusive of insurance, road tax, registration fee and ownership claim fee) valid for Peninsular Malaysia are RM82,800 for the 1.6-litre manual, whereas the 1.6-litre automatic is priced at RM86,600. The 1.8-litre automatic transmission with C-VTC (Continuously Variable-valve Timing Control) comes with a price tag of RM95,300.

The Grand Livina comes with a 3-year or 100,000 km (whichever comes first) warranty.

Porsche 911 GT2

There are faster ways to raise the adrenaline than Porsche' s new 911 flagship but most of them are airborne.

IT’S dripping wet at Ahlhorm airfield in Bremen, Germany, and former rally champion Walter Rohrl is at the finer limits of Porsche’s new 911 flagship, the GT2.

It’s an old airfield that dates back well before the Second World War – the kind where you might imagine Junkers and Stukas parked on the grass.

But the snarl of a twin turbocharged flat six defying physics is something that reminds you it’s the wrong era.

That octave nestles within the fastest and most powerful 911 to roll out of Stuttgart.

“It’s the best 911 ever. It has the stability and smoothness of a race car and yet is easy enough to drive to work every day,” Walter says, winding through the gears as we get thrown deeper into the racing sports bucket seats.

No one relished the thought of going skating with 530bhp on perilously wet German B-roads on very fat rubbers.

So Porsche moved the airfield programme forward in the day, hoping for clearer skies later.

For now, the man who gives his seal of approval before a new Porsche enters production, is delivering an unadulterated dose of adrenalin, held teeteringly in check by some 19-inch Pirellis.

“Even with the traction control switched totally off – which you can do for the first time in a road-going Porsche – it is still very predictable and progressive. It never loses its tail suddenly,” he says animatedly, inducing just that in mid-corner before gently stroking the wheel in a counter steer.

Agreed, there is nothing nasty about the GT2's behaviour at half past the limits. For most, those tummy butterflies will come from the gut-wrenching limits in themselves.

Our ride with Walter done, we headed off for a deserted stretch of autobahn to do our own bidding.

The GT2 is not homologated as a race car but is what some call race-ready.

It's a great car to have in your garage for that special outstation jaunt or a weekend at the track.

For the latter purpose, it can be finetuned via adjustable anti-roll bars, spring plates, and wheel camber plates, among others.

Tread lightly and the GT2 is comfortable and unfussy enough to be in all day.

The ride is firm and at lower speeds, at worst, a little nuggety over uneven surfaces.

There is a gentle whine as the turbos spool up and with a peak torque of 680Nm, maintained consistently between 2,200rpm and 4,500rpm, there isn’t a hint of peakiness about the engine.

You can potter about town quite rapidly and overtake many things with minimum gear changes.

Mash pedal to the metal however and the power from the flat six is explosive.

It is so fast that you get a momentary facelift as it whittles past the 100kph mark, 3.7 seconds later – the result of

530bhp propelling just 1,440kg of car.

You have to recalibrate your mind as you shift through the manual six-speeder. There’s help in the form of a flashing red light at 6,000rpm on the rev counter that tells you it’s time to change up – just enough – before the limiter cuts in at the 6,750 redline.

Walter’s personal lap times on the old Nurburgring north track indicate the progress over past icons.

For the 911 RS and 911 GT3, it is respectively 7min 42 seconds and 7 min 41 seconds.

On the new GT2 , it is 7 min 32 seconds.

Nuts and bolts

Porsche has lightened this car in many ways over the standard 911 Turbo on which it is largely based.

Not having the Turbo's four-wheel-drive has given the engineers more room to play around with the front suspension

and steering geometry, ensuring a more upright tyre footprint at all times.

What follows is a steering that jitters with road feel and a turn-in that is bitingly sharp.

The weight-shedding measures extend to eliminating the rear seats and extra light composite seats.

Titanium exhaust pipes and ceramic composite brake discs further lighten the scales, the latter giving for some pulverising braking.

Porsche has wrung an extra 50bhp over the old GT2. The engine is based on the six cylinder boxer seen in the 911 Turbo which uses two turbochargers complete with Porsche’s variable turbine geometry (VTG).

The extra power comes partly from an enlarged compressor wheel and a flow-optimised turbine housing, both of which are laid out for even higher charge pressure.

But Porsche engineers have also combined the turbocharged power unit in the 911 GT2 with a so-called expansion-type intake manifold.

The idea is to use the oscillating intake air during the cooler expansion phase to prepare the fuel/air mixture, keeping the temperature of the mixture lower. This significantly increases all-round efficiency – more power on less fuel. Fuel consumption also drops by up to 15% under full load.

For absolutely sizzling starts, the launch assistance modes require just that you floor the throttle at standstill, the appropriate gear in mesh and clutch pedal pressed to the floor.

The system sets the optimum engine speed, leaving the driver only to lift his foot off the clutch as fast as he can for blastoff.

Ground effects

The weather stays wet and we are resigned to keeping much of the GT2’s capabilities in check but hope comes along on a 10km stretch of quickly drying bitumen.

From 190kph, flooring the throttle in fifth gear hurtles us past the 250kph mark for a quick change to sixth before 300kph registers moments later.

It's hard to believe the rate at which the figures arrive. The autobahn has become narrower and the straights are now long bends as we blink past.

At 300kph, the speed at which a jumbo jet achieves take-off, the GT2 feels glued to the ground.

It’s totally exhilarating and yet the feeling of solidarity with terra firma assures that you are well within the car’s capabilities.

Ease off the pace and the car assumes a nonchalance that could fool some.

From a rear view mirror perspective, we’d suspect only Porsche enthusiasts would have an inkling of the scale of the lurking menace behind them, given the subtle differences between the GT2 and lesser 911s.

That’s because Porsche designers have been at pains to maintain the purity and purposefulness of the original 911 design.

It’s a way of doing things that harks back to the original philosophies behind the 911 – one where the form follows function.

What’s amazing is the gorgeous shape that followed. It's survived 35 years and is in no danger of losing its lustre.

In these days when designers make cars that shout for attention and making a statement is fashionable, the 911 is a refreshing anarchy.

And the GT2 is the epitome of that concept.

Now into its third progression, it remains devastatingly effective.


Porsche 911 GT2

Engine: 3,600cc, six cylinders, horizontally opposed, water-cooled, variable valve timing, two turbochargers with variable geometry turbines.

Maximum power: 530bhp at 6,500rpm

Maximum torque: 680Nm from 2,200rpm to 4,500rpm

Transmission: Six-speed manual, rear wheel drive, limited slip differential

Suspension: (Front) MacPherson design optimised by Porsche, cylindrical springs, fully controlled single sleeve gas pressure damper units; (Rear) multi-link, cylindrical springs, fully controlled single sleeve gas pressure damper units

Brakes: (Front) Six-piston callipers, 380mm ceramic composite cross-drilled discs; (Rear) four-piston callipers, 350mm ceramic composite cross-drilled discs

Safety: Anti-lock Braking System, Porsche Active Suspension Management, Porsche Stability Management with three stage control, Traction Control.

Wheels: (Front) 235/35/ZR19, (Rear) 325/30/ZR19

Acceleration (0 to 100kph): 3.7 seconds

Top speed: 329kph

Proton Satria Recalls

Proton has just announced a recall for a certain wheel jack supplied with Proton GEN2s since January 2004 to date, and Proton Satria Neos since April 2006 to date.

If you have a bronze/gold-ish jack (as opposed to a blue jack), please do bring it in to any authorized Proton service branch to get a free replacement. All you need to do is to bring your jack and your vehicle registration card with you.

Call Proton i.Care at 1300-880-888 for more info.


Tata 1-Lakh Car

Tata Abarth 1-Lakh Car

This is a little bit of imagination going wild here… but something I think is interesting nonetheless. Most of you know that Tata is developing a 1-Lakh car (USD2,500), and we’ve seen an artist’s impression of it when I wrote about the car back in October.

Now, Tata currently has a JV with Fiat, and Fiat’s plant at Ranjangaon, Pune is making both Fiats and Tatas. Tata even uses Fiat diesel engines for its Tata Indica and Tata Indigo. Now, what if Fiat uses the Tata 1 lakh car as a baseline budget model, and a pure styling-enhanced Abarth model is created from it?

Seems like a long shot… but doesn’t stop the very generous Theophilus Chin from flexing his Photoshop muscles and creating something at a request from another reader, who had this crazy idea in the first place.

Above is the result, along with a new artist’s impression of the Tata 1-Lakh car, looking alot better than the previous version I posted. The original 1-Lakh car is a 5-door, while the “Abarth” is a 3-door version.

Nissan Forum Concept

Nissan FORUM

Nissan’s FORUM Concept will be showcase at the 2008 Detroit Motor Show in January next year, and it is a vehicle that Nissan hopes to produce in the future for all your Nissan Grand Livina buyers to graduate to one day.

Nissan designed the Nissan FORUM Concept to offer an ‘engaging space’ for children and a ’sophisticated space’ for adults. The interior is done up in leather and aluminium, and features wireless displays for DVD and gameplay.

The 2nd row seats can swivel 180 degrees to create a “living room” configuration, with the second and third row seats facing each other. Passengers can easily engage in activities during a long tiring “balik kampung” drive this way.

The second and third row is accessed via long sliding side doors using a special hinge system to allow for a clean, trackless profile, and the omition of the B-pillar, safely engineered by reinforcing the roof and door frame.

Each headrest has speakers in them, and the audio system is engineered by Bose. Cameras mounting the 2nd and 3rd rows send images to a display at the front - a CCTV system of sorts to monitor your kids. There is also a “time out” button to pause all media (each passenger can view his own media, like on a plane), allowing the front occupants to announce whatever they need to announce.

Nissan FORUM

Nissan FORUM

Nissan FORUM

Nissan FORUM

Nissan FORUM

Nissan FORUM

Nissan FORUM

Nissan FORUM

Nissan FORUM

Nissan FORUM

Nissan FORUM

Nissan FORUM

Nissan FORUM

Nissan FORUM

Nissan FORUM

Nissan FORUM

Nissan FORUM

Nissan FORUM

Nissan FORUM

Nissan FORUM

Nissan FORUM

Nissan FORUM

Toyota Venza 2008

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Toyota Mark X ZiO
Toyota Mark X ZiO

Toyota will be launching a new US model at the 2008 Detroit Motor Show in January next year called the Toyota Venza. Toyota has kept us in the dark about what model this is, without even a concept sketch but they say it’s a “crossover sedan” which will be a “unique blend of sedan and sport utility vehicle, offering seating for five, easy ingress and egress, a car-like ride and functional utility.” The Toyota Venza was esigned and engineered in the United States and will be assembled at Toyota’s plant in Kentucky.

This so-called crossover sedan will most probably be a restyled version of the Toyota Mark X ZiO (shown above) with unique SUV-like styling more suited to the American market tastes. Design inspiration will likely be drawn from the Toyota FT-SX concept - of which photos are available after the jump.

Toyota FT-SX

Toyota FT-SX

Toyota FT-SX

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Distance Control Assist and navigation-enabled Intelligent Cruise Control systems

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Nissan will introduce two pioneering technologies with its new Fuga sedan, which is set for release in Japan this month. These are the world's first Distance Control Assist and navigation-enabled Intelligent Cruise Control systems.

The Distance Control Assist system determines the following distance of the driver's vehicle, as well as the relative speed of both vehicles, using a radar sensor installed in the front bumper.

You push it, it pushes back.

When a vehicle approaches close to the ahead and the accelerator is not engaged, the system activates the brakes to decelerate smoothly. Alternately, if the accelerator is engaged, the acceleration actuator is activated through a "push-back" mechanism to help the driver to release the pedal.

In a situation where the vehicle ahead slows down or brakes, requiring the driver to respond by braking, the system instantly alerts the driver through message and audio warnings. At the same time, the system pushes back the accelerator to assist the driver to switch to the brakes.

As for the Intelligent Cruise Control system, this one operates using information from a radar sensor installed in the front bumper. When following a vehicle ahead, the system controls following distance appropriately, using the driver's preset speed is the maximum limit. With no vehicle ahead, the vehicle cruises at the constant driver preset speed.

With the ICC, you get a full-speed range following function. And turning capability while on guidance as well.

Several pioneering technologies are to be found on this one. Where previous systems functioned only within the range of approximately five to 100kmh, the new system works across the full-speed range, starting from zero. The system is capable of activating the brakes in order to stop the vehicle under the certain traffic conditions.

Utilising route-information fed through the on-board navigation system, the ICC can modulate the vehicle-speed in anticipation of the next curve on the road. When approaching a curve, the system gradually decelerates, and as it clears the turn onto a straight road, the system seamlessly resumes to its original speed.

When both the Distance Control Assist and Intelligent Cruise Control are installed, the driver can select either function setting, using a wheel-mounted switch according to different driving conditions.