Wednesday, October 31, 2007

2009 Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione Review

The corner was slow, even unremarkable. A constant-radius, 2nd-gear curve that happened to be a part of Circuito de Balocco, Fiat's official test track, although it could have been any decent-size roundabout in the world.

We turned the wheel, and as the nose of the car greeted the apex, we squeezed the accelerator hard. As expected, the rear wheels slid wide, and thanks to a little steering lock to catch up to them and a touch more power, we were able to keep the tail out of shape for a second or two until the corner opened up.

It was a childishly simple maneuver, but there, in an instant, was a moment for which we have been waiting more than 15 years.

We were powersliding a brand-new Alfa Romeo — the 2009 Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione.

Back From the Brink of Front

Wheel DriveThese are such simple pleasures that it seems absurd that one of the world's most evocative, emotive marques, one that built its brand on pure driving pleasure, has been denying them to its devotees this last decade and a half. Since 1992, a rear-wheel-drive Alfa Romeo has not been available, as a succession of front- and all-wheel-drive platforms was supplied to Alfa Romeo from its Fiat parent.The car responsible is the 2009 Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione.

It's been a long time coming. First shown in concept form at the 2003 Frankfurt Auto Show, the car finally is scheduled to go into production next year. You know the wait has been worth it as soon as you see how little its shape deviates from the original, how wonderfully proportioned it is and how it acknowledges Alfa's past without being defined by it.Its purpose? Think of it doing the same sort of job for Alfa Romeo as the Ford GT has done for the Blue Oval. What matters is that they get enthusiasts feeling warm about their respective brands once more.

Both companies realized the need to drive their product ranges upmarket, and a dream car is cheaper and more effective than a lengthy marketing campaign.This is why all 500 8Cs that will be made in 2008-'09 were sold long before anyone so much as sat in one, even at a price of about $226,000. The 8C will also reintroduce Alfa Romeo to the United States. About 99 cars of the production allotment will cross the pond, and then 500 8C Spiders will be built and a batch will also come to America.

Good Cars Come From Good PartnersWhen faced with building 1,000 cars that bear no relation to anything already in your store cupboard, you can't simply start from scratch. You have to knock on a few doors. Given that Alfa Romeo now has overall control of Maserati, the door that opened widest was the one with a large trident on its front.It would be hard indeed to underestimate the contribution that Maserati has made to the 8C. The floor is borrowed from a Quattroporte, then cut and shut to suit the 8C's wheelbase and adapted to Maserati's double-wishbone independent suspension.

The engine is the Maserati V8, its displacement increased from 4.2 to 4.7 liters, presently a specification that is unique to the 8C for now but will soon be found in Maseratis as well. It's matched with the six-speed automated sequential manual transmission that came with the first version of the Maserati Quattroporte.The whole thing is assembled not in Alfa Romeo's Turin, but instead at the Maserati factory in Modena. Which is why when you need your 8C Competizione serviced, it is to a Maserati dealer that you will drive.Carbon Fiber Can Be StylishThe 8C Competizione is made from carbon fiber, which is more than you can say about any Ferrari on sale today, let alone Maserati. The shape is distinctly, inimitably Alfa Romeo.The gorgeous cabin owes little to anything else, too.

Nasty instrument dials apart, this is one of the best-looking cabins this side of a Bugatti Veyron. There are plastic parts if you look for them, but these are not what your eyes fall upon, as they are rather too preoccupied with all the leather, aluminum and carbon fiber.And the view down the hood — an almost lost art these days — is unforgettable. You peer through a quite small windshield to the two kicked-up humps marking the tops of the front fenders. When driving hard, you can use them to guide you in and out of corners.

Speed Thrills

Hard driving is what this car invites more than most, even in the rarefied air of the six-figure supercar. After waiting so long for an Alfa whose direction of travel can be determined as much by your foot as your fingers, the temptation to streak off into the sunset is overwhelming. Only the concrete confines of Balocco stop us from doing so.Initial impressions are uniformly good. The engine note is perfect. This 450-horsepower V8 has a similar capacity to a small-block Ford in the classic Mustang, but its voice is not a transatlantic rumble but instead the smooth, sweet melody of the true European aristocrat. Hit the Sport button, which sharpens the throttle response, cuts the shift times in half and opens a valve in the exhaust, and the 8C sounds at once gloriously rich, angry and assertive.There are 354 pound-feet of torque at 4,750 rpm, so if you hit the throttle pedal hard enough, this Alfa sits back on its heels, takes a deep breath and then cannons you up the road, with its fat, rear 285/35R20 Pirellis yelping all the way. The engine develops its 450 hp all the way up at 7,000 rpm, and the 8C will fling you past 100 km/h (62 mph) in 4.2 seconds on its way to the far side of 180 mph. The swiftness of the gearchanges doesn't defy logic as with the Ferrari 430 Scuderia, but it's still quicker than you'd manage on your own.

Let's Go Drifting

There is, however, mild disappointment in store and you find it when you reach the corners. For while the 8C Competizione will slide and slide until its tires are molten, this is not a delicate car to handle.There's too much inherent understeer, not enough steering feel and the sense that if you turned off all the safety systems and really drove the doors off it, then it might just reward your efforts with an unseemly excursion through the nearest hedge.We're not sure that we should be too bothered by this. We've lost count of the number of people who have asked if the 2009 Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione is Alfa's greatest work to date.

Out there, among enthusiasts everywhere, most of whom will never even see an 8C, this really matters.And to everyone we have given the same reply: It's not the greatest, but it is very good. Most important, for the purpose of bringing Alfa Romeo back to the U.S., it is more than good enough.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

2008 Ford Edge SUV

Midsize crossover SUVs are fast becoming the family car of choice. Offering carlike ride and handling along with a more reasonable size and fuel economy than traditional truck-based sport-utilities, these crossovers have found appeal with a wide range of shoppers.
Ford's entry for this segment is the Edge. Debuting just last year, the five-passenger Edge boasts handsome looks and a punchy 265-horsepower V6 engine. Inside, the cabin is sufficiently roomy and comfortable for daily use. A third-row seat, an increasingly popular feature for this vehicle segment, isn't available, though its usefulness in competing vehicles is debatable. If you're truly in need of a six- or seven-passenger vehicle, the larger Taurus X is probably a better choice anyway.

This year's Edge receives a few new thoughtful features. Among them are the available "Sync" system (which allows integrated and voice-controlled operation of all kinds of personal electronics such as cell phones and MP3 players), an optional power liftgate and a voice-activated navigation system. There is also a new Limited trim level and optional 20-inch wheels.
Overall, the 2008 Ford Edge is a solid pick for the would-be midsize-SUV buyer. But there are a couple things to note. Its overall cabin design and quality is a step behind many competitors, and in testing we've found that its brakes lack the power we would expect from this class of vehicle. If these prove to be turn-offs for you, models like the Hyundai Santa Fe, Mazda CX-7, Nissan Murano and Toyota RAV4 V6 might prove more appealing.

Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2008 Ford Edge is a five-passenger midsize crossover SUV. There are three trim levels: SE, SEL and Limited. The base SE comes with 17-inch alloy wheels, privacy glass, automatic headlights, air-conditioning, full power accessories, a tilt-telescoping steering wheel and four-speaker audio with a CD player and auxiliary audio jack. The midlevel SEL adds body-color door handles and mirrors, foglamps, reverse park assist, metallic interior trim, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, a power driver seat, a CD changer, a trip computer and an auto-dimming rearview mirror.

The Limited adds a chrome beltline body accent, heated exterior mirrors, leather upholstery, heated front seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, driver-seat memory, a power passenger seat (that folds flat) and a power release feature ("EasyFold") for the folding rear seats.

The SE doesn't offer a whole lot in terms of options. Major options for the SEL and Limited include the Vista Roof (consists of a power front sunroof and fixed rear skylight), a power liftgate, 18- or 20-inch chrome wheels, the aforementioned Sync system, an upgraded nine-speaker sound system, a voice-activated navigation system and a rear entertainment system. Although the factory DVD entertainment system cannot be combined with the Vista Roof, Ford dealers can install a dual-screen system that mounts the displays in the front headrests. Satellite radio and Class II towing preparation are available on all Ford Edges.

Powertrains and Performance
The Edge comes with a 3.5-liter V6 rated for 265 hp and 250 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed automatic transmission is standard. All trim levels offer a choice of either front-wheel or all-wheel drive. On AWD models, power flows primarily to the front wheels until wheel slippage occurs, in which case nearly all the power can be redirected to the rear.

The Edge is quick, with a 0-60-mph time of just 7.4 seconds (front-driver version). Shifts from the six-speed automatic are smooth and well-timed, though we wish there was better manual access to gears. (You're limited to "D," "O/D off" and "L.") Properly equipped, the Ford Edge can tow up to 3,500 pounds, which is average for the segment.

Fuel economy estimates for 2008 are a mixed bag, with the Edge's city figure at 16 mpg on the low side, while the highway number of 23 is about average. Those are for the FWD version; the AWD Edge rates 1 mpg lower on the highway.

Antilock disc brakes, stability control (with rollover avoidance logic), front-seat side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags are all standard. Rear parking sensors are optional on SEL and Limited models.

In government crash tests, the 2008 Ford Edge nearly had a perfect sweep. It scored five stars (out of five) for the driver and four stars for the passenger in frontal-impact tests, while it earned five stars in side-impact testing for both front and rear passengers. In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety crash tests, it scored the highest possible rating of "Good" in both frontal-offset and side-impact testing.

Interior Design and Special Features
In contrast to the exterior, the cabin of the Edge is rather ordinary and not smartly designed. The cruise control buttons aren't intuitive to use, for instance, and the center stack air vents don't offer enough movement. Many of the interior materials are of low quality as well. Features like a telescoping steering wheel, numerous storage bins and reclining rear seats ensure long-haul comfort, at least. The optional glass Vista Roof imparts an airy feel. Without the power feature, the Edge's rear hatch can be hard for shorter drivers to close, but cargo capacity is a respectable 32 cubic feet with the backseat in use. Folding down the second row opens up a not-so-flat cargo floor and a max capacity of 69 cubes. That's more than a CX-7, but less than the "compact" RAV4 and considerably less than a Murano or Santa Fe.

Driving Impressions
Out on the road, the 2008 Ford Edge is one of the quicker SUVs in its class and manages to provide both sporty handling and a smooth, quiet ride. As with most of its peers, off-roading is not really within its grasp, but equipped with AWD, it should make a fine winter-weather vehicle. Unfortunately, the Edge has one major weakness: its brakes. Pedal feel is solid, but stopping distances are much longer than they should be in panic situations. An Edge we tested needed 152 feet to stop from 60 mph. That's a foot longer than a Ford F-450 Super Duty pickup we tested, and much longer than other midsize crossovers, which tend to stop in the 130s.

Subaru WRX STi at Tokyo Motor Show 2007

The seven-seater Exiga concept from Subaru

The new Subaru Impreza WRX STi

Scooby's WRC Concept

Monday, October 29, 2007

Cute Big 3

Cute, communicative and cubic seem to be the fashion statement as far as offerings from Japan's "Big Three'' automakers Toyota, Honda and Nissan, debuting at the Tokyo auto show later this month.

Sporting whimsical names - Rin, Puyo and Pivo 2 - the toylike "concept," or show, cars appear to be inspired more by the iPod, futuristic space capsules and Japanese manga animation than what we are used to associating with vehicles.

This is Honda's Puyo concept. - AP Photo.Indeed, they're all being billed as therapeutic.
And none of them are promised for sale to the public anytime soon.
Behind the offerings is the growing view among Japanese automakers that more must be done to fight the image of cars as culprits of pollution, global warming and traffic accidents.

And it's got scissor-doors! Unbelievably large ones at that. - AP Photo.Their answer: Transform the car into a friendly companion - not just a machine for getting around.
Honda Motor Co even says its white bubble-shaped rubbery-surfaced Puyo, equipped with a panoramic window, is supposed to be a pet.
The cabin part of Puyo, a fuel-cell vehicle, rotates so it never has to go into reverse.

Is this where everyone goes Puyo? - AP Photo.The body glows in various colors of lighting to communicate with people, such as turning green when it's happy about its condition, according to Honda.

The speedometer glows in a subdued blue tone from its dashboard that resembles gray cloth so the interior feels more like a room.
In a preview presentation to reporters, Honda compared the aesthetics of Puyo, whose name is based on the Japanese word that describes floating or soft objects, to cute things like a bunny and balloon.

And this is Toyota's Rin concept.Toyota Motor Corp's Rin looks similar to Puyo, but it has some dashes of green on white to highlight what the automaker says is its serenity so the driver feels at one with nature.
Rin, which means "upright'' and "graceful," has a transparent floor and big windows.
Its beige seating enhances passengers' skin tones, and the seats are designed to improve posture, according to Toyota.

Nissan will be showing its Pivo 2 concept at the show. - AP Photo."This car is about a beautiful and healthy mind," says Satoru Taniguchi, who oversees Rin, a plug-in gas-electric hybrid.
Plug-ins run longer on electricity than a regular hybrid because it recharges in a household socket.

The cabin of Nissan Motor Co's Pivo 2, an electric vehicle, can rotate on its wheel base so that it can face the opposite direction.

The vehicle's tires can also turn 90 degrees, allowing it move sideways into tight spaces.
To make sure its message of cuteness isn't lost on visitors at the Tokyo Motor Show, which opens to the public on Oct 27, Pivo, derived from "pivot,'' has a bobbing robotic head near the steering wheel that talks in a high-pitched voice. - AP

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Santa Fe perks up

MIDSIZE crossover SUVs are becoming popular among car owners here and Hyundai-Sime Darby Motors Sdn Bhd is well aware of the fact.

To tap the market, Sime Darby has started to assemble the Hyundai Santa Fe locally.
So what is the difference between the Santa Fe CKD and CBU units?
Well, at a glance, the radiator grille styling badge now has an Inokom icon and there are a number of improvements.

The locally assembled Santa Fe is a little bigger and comes in petrol and diesel versions. But let's go on to the best news first. The Santa Fe prices are now lower by S$10K - S$15K depending on the specification levels,

The locally assembled Santa Fe comes in two models – a 2.7 V6 DOHC petrol and 2.2 CRDi diesel. Both are fitted with automatic transmission.
The Santa Fe models marry the styling and functionality of the traditional SUV with a sportier ride.

Its strong masculine and smooth lines gives the vehicles a more upmarket look.
The high waistline, neat body matching and tough yet elegant bumpers with wraparound protection and dual exhaust pipe outlets add some aggression, as do the large alloy wheels.
The CKD Santa Fe is now a little longer and taller and this translates into better legroom and headroom inside.

The interior exudes a sedan-like atmosphere. The up-market fabrics, the leather seats, and the mixture of metallic and wood trimmings used for its dashboard provide a contemporary feel in a vehicle with a sedan-like atmosphere.

But what I like most about the two models are the air outlets mounted on the B-pillar for the comfort of rear passengers.

For extra comfort of rear occupants, the Santa Fe also comes with reclining rear seats with a centre armrest.

If you have even more passengers, the Santa Fe has optional third-row twin seats that fold neatly into the luggage floor area.

Talk about cargo space, both the cars have nice concealed multi-trays and compartments for easy and neat storage of goods in the rear compartment.

And like most new vehicles these days, airbags are provided for the front passenger and driver.
The driver and front passenger seats give a comfortable ride on long-distance shunts.
Definite plus: Dual exhaust pipes, a high waistline and tough yet elegant bumpers confer an aggressive stance. The Santa Fe is a 4WD vehicle and has an easy one-touch 4WD lock button option while on the move for this function on its dashboard.

However, when it comes to the performance between these two models, my pick is the 2.2-litre diesel engine, which is sold at RM160,358, compared with the 2.7-litre petrol engine, which is priced at RM158,827.

In road tests – on the road and light off-roading - both vehicles handled well in most situations.
But the diesel, which is fitted with the Variable Geometry Turbo technology, seems to give better running power, engine performance and fuel consumption over long distances.
This new Santa Fe also comes with better soundproofing.

And new Santa Fe owners will also have the option to fit a GPS navigation system and a camera view for the reverse sensor.

Whatever it is, this locally assembled Santa Fe, going by the price for its class, is a steal to own.

Friday, October 26, 2007

2008 Chevrolet Aveo Review

Chevrolet doesn't exactly have a glorious history in the subcompact car category. The mere mention of a Chevette is good for an easy laugh. Yet the Chevy lineup must have a low-priced little guy that does its job reliably day-in and day-out without much flash. The 2008 Chevrolet Aveo satisfies this need, but does so with a quality that distances it from the gold bowtie's sketchy subcompact past. The Aveo sedan in particular, which was significantly refreshed last year, gives budget buyers a fuel-efficient car with attractive styling, a nice interior, a useful features list and of course, a low price.

The Aveo is built in South Korea by General Motors' subsidiary Daewoo, the former independent company that disappeared from the United States in 2002 after a rather inauspicious run. As Kia and Hyundai have proven, though, Korean cars improve rapidly with every generation, and the 2008 Chevy Aveo is much better than Daewoo's previous econoboxes.
Of particular note is the sedan model's improved interior and more substantial-looking styling. The 2007-year update is made all the more evident by the fact that the Aveo5 hatchback model remains relatively unchanged from its 2004 debut form. Therefore, unless the hatchback's utility or rock-bottom base price (it's the lowest in America, in fact) are of paramount importance, we'd skip it in favor of the Aveo sedan or a superior subcompact hatchback from another manufacturer.

Obviously, fuel economy is of prime concern for buyers in this segment. The 2008 Chevrolet Aveo sips fuel at a sufficiently frugal rate, but not quite at the level of the Honda Fit or Toyota Yaris. These models also sport more refined, lively engines. Because of that, and in matters of price, the Aveo is more comparable with the Kia Rio and Hyundai Accent. Needless to say, customers interested in this class have a lot of research and test-drives to do to find the subcompact that best meets their needs. But unlike Chevy's past subcompacts, the 2008 Aveo is a vehicle worthy of consideration rather than jokes.

Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2008 Chevrolet Aveo subcompact is available in sedan and four-door hatchback body styles. The latter is known as the Aveo5, which unlike the sedan, was not updated last year. Both Aveo body styles come with two trim levels: Special Value and LS on the Aveo5 hatchback, and LS and LT on the Aveo sedan.

Special Value equates to not paying a lot but not getting a lot, either. Standard equipment includes 14-inch steel wheels, manual mirrors and windows, manual locks and a simple AM/FM radio with four speakers. The Aveo5 LS adds the availability of major options such as 15-inch alloy wheels, air-conditioning, cruise control, a sunroof, power windows, carpeted floor mats, keyless entry and a CD/MP3 player. The Aveo LS sedan is similarly equipped, but offers an upgraded interior with better materials and an auxiliary MP3 jack. The top-line LT sedan comes standard with almost all of the LS model's optional features, while offering upgraded seat cloth and the availability of options like leatherette upholstery and upgraded audio with an in-dash CD changer and steering-wheel-mounted audio controls.

Powertrains and Performance
The Chevy Aveo has a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine that delivers 103 horsepower and 107 pound-feet of torque. A five-speed manual transmission is standard, and there's also an optional four-speed automatic with an electronic "hold" feature for 2nd-gear starts when driving on slippery surfaces. For 2008, fuel mileage estimates are 23 mpg in the city and 33 on the highway with the manual gearbox and 23/31 with the automatic -- close to the Hyundai Accent's numbers but less efficient than either the Honda Fit or Toyota Yaris.

Antilock brakes are optional on LS and LT models. Front-seat side airbags are standard on all trim levels, but side curtain airbags, a safety feature that is increasingly common on subcompacts, aren't available. In National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration crash tests, the 2008 Chevrolet Aveo earned a five-star rating (the best possible) for its protection of front occupants in frontal impacts and four stars for occupants in side impacts. In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety frontal offset crash tests, the Aveo received a score of "Average," or one spot from the top.

Interior Design and Special Features
The Aveo sedan and Aveo5 hatchback feature different interior designs, with the sedan benefiting from an overhaul last year. It sports better-quality materials, wood-grain or metallic trim, a driver's armrest, additional storage and other advantages over the older Aveo5, which has a very bargain-bin feel to it. On the upside, the hatchback does have a folding 60/40-split rear seat that allows it to carry up to 42 cubic feet of stuff. The sedan's trunk swallows a respectable 12.4 cubic feet of cargo, with a fold-down rear seat that allows for the transport of longer items.

Driving Impressions
While the 2008 Chevrolet Aveo is certainly no thrill ride, it provides respectable vehicle dynamics. The steering is direct and the suspension is well-tuned for day-to-day commuting. The 1.6-liter engine is adequate, but it's loud and buzzy when revved and not particularly powerful. We normally recommend that buyers in this class opt for a manual transmission, but in the Aveo's case, the automatic is the better bet: The manual tranny's gear ratios are too wide, leaving the car underpowered on highway grades and ultimately compromising fuel economy.

Save gas? Try cylinder deactivation

With a daily roundtrip commute of 120 miles, Marie Czapiewski needed good gas mileage in her new car, but didn't want to give up a V6 engine for something less powerful.
So when she bought another Honda Accord in September, Czapiewski was pleased to learn about a new feature that shuts off some cylinders in the engine when she's cruising along Interstate 90 in southern Minnesota.

Chevy's Impala, one vehicle with the cylinder deactivation system option."With the V6, I'm getting 27 miles per gallon and that's going at a high speed, too," said Czapiewski, a 47-year-old customer service representative from Winona, Minnesota.

Cylinder deactivation systems have been available on some sport utility vehicles, pickup trucks and minivans for the last few years, and now the technology is becoming more widespread on passenger cars.

They can help people get more miles per gallon while keeping horsepower they crave. Honda Motor Co, General Motors Corp, and Chrysler are bringing the systems to V8 and V6 engines.
"It's adding that extra gas economy that everyone's looking for right now," said R.W. McKay, a general sales manager with Gordon Chevrolet in Tampa, Florida, who has the system on his 2007 Chevrolet Impala.

The technology helps the engine seamlessly operate on a reduced number of cylinders under light conditions, such as when a vehicle is on the highway. By shutting off cylinders, the engine reduces fuel consumption but still has the flexibility to provide more power when necessary.

There there's the Pontiac Grand Prix GXP.Cylinder deactivation is part of a tool kit that the auto industry is using to improve fuel economy, said Mike Omotoso, senior manager of global powertrain for J.D. Power & Associates.

The portfolio includes gas-electric hybrids, variable valve timing and "start-stop" technology that turns off the engine when the vehicle comes to a halt in traffic or at a stop light.
"The consumer wants to have a powerful engine but hates to pay for the fuel that comes with the V8," said Gottfried Schiller, director of engineering for engine management systems at auto supplier Robert Bosch LLC. He said the automakers "are looking for an effective way to give them both."

Honda's system, which is called Variable Cylinder Management, is available for the first time on the new Accord with automatic V6 engines. An earlier version of the system has been on the Odyssey minivan since the 2005 model year and the two-wheel drive Pilot SUV since the 2006 model year.

Or how about the Chevy Tahoe?The Accord's system allows the driver to operate on three, four or all six cylinders, depending on driving conditions. For example, a driver can stay in four-cylinder mode when driving along a highway with mild hills at speeds of up to about 80mph.
The driver, as a result, gets more power without compromising gas mileage.

For example, the 2008 Accord with an 3.5l V6 engine and a five-speed automatic transmission achieves 268bhp with fuel economy numbers of 19mpg in the city and 29mpg on the highway. That compares with an automatic, 2.4l inline four-cylinder engine on EX models that generates 190bhp with fuel economy marks of 21mpg in the city and 31mpg on the highway.

Czapiewski said the technology was ideal for her because southern Minnesota has its share of snow and icy roads during the winter and she wanted to have the power of a V6 engine. But she's had to commute to Rochester, Minnesota, for the past four years as gas prices have risen.

Gary Robinson, Honda's senior product planner, said the automaker noticed a drop-off in V6 Accord sales when gas prices surpassed US$3 a gallon in some parts of the country. He said bringing the system to the V6 Accord will help it balance the performance/fuel economy equation.

"We don't think it's the mainstream - it's 25% - but there's definitely that group of people that wants the power but are increasingly unwilling to accept a disadvantage on fuel economy," Robinson said during a recent ride-and-drive of the new Accord in suburban Washington DC.
Honda officials declined to provide a precise cost estimate of the technology. But industry officials said it is considerably less expensive than hybrids, which typically add about US$3,000 to the sticker price.

Or the Buick LaCrosse? All come with the technology as option.General Motors first introduced its cylinder deactivation technology on mid-size SUVs such as the Chevrolet TrailBlazer and GMC Envoy in the 2005 model year.

In 2008, the technology will be on 16 vehicles, including the Chevy Tahoe SUV and Silverado pickup, along with passenger cars such as the Buick LaCrosse, Pontiac Grand Prix GXP and G8 and V6 and V8 versions of the Impala. GM says it gives up to a 12% boost in fuel-efficiency.
Carl Kilby, 61, of Centerville, Virginia, traded in his 2005 Grand Prix for a new Impala with the system last week, and was surprised when he didn't hear any noise as the vehicle shifted into four-cylinder mode. "It was as smooth as silk," he said, estimating it gives him a 4-to-5 mile per gallon improvement.

Chrysler, meanwhile, has used its system on seven vehicles with 5.7 HEMI V8 engines, including SUVs such as the Jeep Grand Cherokee, Jeep Commander, and Dodge Durango, the Dodge Ram pickup and passenger cars such as the Chrysler 300C and Dodge Charger R/T. The systems provide fuel savings of 6% to 8%, company officials said.

The automaker has outlined plans to bring the technology into the V6 with its "Phoenix" family of engines, which are expected to arrive in the 2010 model year. Chrysler has not yet announced which vehicles will use the engines.

Greg Pannone, Chrysler's manager of powertrain systems development, said the engines help reduce carbon dioxide emissions in large numbers of vehicles while appealing to consumer interest in fuel economy.

"We can come out with technologies that are boutique - 50,000 units, 10,000 units - they're not really hitting the masses," Pannone said. "If we come out with something like this V6, we're hitting the masses."

Honda lower its domestic sales forecast

Honda may trim its Japan sales forecast for this year, a company executive said Thursday, the latest sign of a stagnant home market for the world's most profitable automakers.

Last week, Toyota Motor Corp, which makes Camry sedans and Lexus luxury cars, lowered its 2007 Japan sales forecast, while maintaining its overall global sales target.

Honda Motor Co vice president Koichi Kondo told reporters it was "likely" the forecast for Japan sales will be reduced from the current projection for 660,000 vehicles - which already represents a 1.8% drop from the previous year.

Toyota president Katsuaki Watanabe said last week that overseas sales, including regions such as the Middle East, Southeast Asia and Russia, will make up for the expected drop in Japan sales.

Toyota now expects domestic sales of around 1.65mil vehicles for this year, lower than the initial projection for 1.72mil vehicles.

The Japanese auto market has been stagnant in recent years.
One major problem is that public transportation is so good in Japan's urban areas, traffic congestion so bad and parking so expensive that car owners here are generally weekend drivers.
Analysts cite other reasons, including declining paychecks and an overall demographic shift toward lower birth rates, that have reduced prospective buyers. Youngsters aren't interested in cars, they say, but instead spending money on cell phone bills and gadgets.

Even Toyota and Honda, Japan's No. 1 and No. 2 automakers, which have mostly scored success in global sales, are struggling to woo customers in Japan.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Mazda Taiki Concept !

Mazda Motor Corporation will be premiering its Taiki concept car at the Tokyo Motor Show later this month.

The vehicle continues the evolution of the Nagare design theme, following in the footsteps of the Nagare, Ryuga and Hakaze concept vehicles, and reflects one possible direction for a future generation of Mazda sports cars aimed at helping create a sustainable society.

Taiki-ng it to the next step.It evolves the “flow” theme to establish a breathtaking presence that clearly distinguishes it as the next in the series, and which visually expresses the atmosphere – called taiki in Japanese – that wraps Earth.

The basic proportions begin with the stretched coupe form of a front-engine rear-wheel-drive layout, with short overhangs and the liberating feel of an all-glass canopy.
The challenge to create “a design that visually expresses the flow of air” was inspired by the image of a pair of Hagoromo – the flowing robes that enable a celestial maiden to fly in Japanese legend – floating down from the sky.

All that's missing are the wings.Meanwhile, the notion of creating an Air-tube became the concept word for the interior design. As such, from the dashboard and seats down to the door trim, the interior space creates the dynamic sensation that the flow of the wind is being visually depicted.

Technologies that will be seen in the Taiki include the next-generation RENESIS (rotary engine 16X), which sets new standards for environmental and driving performance, a front-engine rear-drive layout, a unique two-seat configuration, and Mazda’s rotary sports package.

Spot the Sport

It was a dark and stormy night. The rear lights of the cars travelling in the fast lane seemed to glow brighter as I neared the one directly in front of me.

I had easily made my way past the others who now trailed behind – motorists seemingly unclear on the concept of the overtaking lane in a three-lane, dual-carriage highway.
Of course, this meant I had to use the middle lane to zip past the inconsiderate road hogs. On some of the more twisty sections of the perpetually traffic-heavy highway, this was not an entirely risk-free manoeuvre, more so when travelling at considerable speed.

It required a fair measure of intestinal fortitude, especially since the road was wet. But I was not about to let a little water stop me, primarily because I was having so much fun.

And while the wife – my co-driver that night – periodically reminded me to be careful, what was there to worry about (much), since I was driving the new Suzuki Swift Sport?

After having read some very positive things about the car, I jumped at the offer of a test drive.
I had initially planned to ease myself into it, savouring the Swift portion of the car before giving the Sport a bit of a workout.

But as it turned out, I could only car get my hands on the car several hours later than scheduled, hence the need to quickly jump into the business end of the test drive.

It became clear pretty quickly that you would not do the Swift Sport justice if you were to use it largely to potter along to the sundry shop for some groceries. Not that there's anything to stop you if you were so inclined, but this is not your sister's standard Suzuki Swift.

For starters, the Sport sports a larger engine – a 1.6l twin-cam that churns out 125hp at 6,800rpm, compared with the standard 1.5l with 101hp at 6,000rpm.

It’s a sweet one, matched to a smooth, four-speed auto transmission. The engine is remarkably responsive and is just itching to be unleashed.

You can pull away pretty quickly when you need to in this, and once you get going, there’s no holding back.

The morning after my MRR2 night run, I woke up early and took the Sport for a spin along the Sungai Buloh-Kuala Selangor trunk road, a nice stretch with several interesting twist and turns.
The Sport did not disappoint. The Bridgestone tyres, wrapped around 16-inch wheels, provided great feel. Coupled with the stiffened suspension, the car stood firm on the bends, which I approached with relish, the semi-bucket seats keeping me firmly planted.

When you need them, the disc brakes are there to quickly rein in any over-enthusiasm.
The Sport is easy to drive, and set up the way it is, the car gives you the confidence to push a bit more if you’re looking for some extra excitement.

Appearance-wise, there’s little to fault, at least on the outside.

The Sport looks the business, with the main external differences compared to the standard Swift being its front bumper, side skirt, rear bumper, and twin chromed exhaust tips, not to mention the cool-looking 16-inch wheels.

Inside, it’s a different matter. Given the built-for-speed external styling cues, I found the interior much less exciting, even with the Recaro seats.

It’s got a solid steering wheel that’s integral to the tremendously enjoyable drive experience, plus there’s the keyless entry (you push buttons on the door handles) and start system (you twist a knob), but other than that, things seem positively ordinary.

Still, the overall quality of the interior is good, and this is after all supposed to be an affordable hot hatch.

Speed of light(ness)

Like all boys aged 14 to 84, I love toys. But, as we grow into men, most of us are beaten into conformity by the harsh realities of working life.

I’ve accepted, albeit reluctantly at first, that I can’t have all the toys I want. I have to be practical. Of late, I’ve even managed to convince myself that I’m no longer interested in things I can’t have.

Now, comfortably ensconced in middle age, middle class suburbia, I find there are not many things worth forsaking a Sunday morning lie-in for.

Yeah, he sacrificed some sleep and hauled himself out on a Sunday morning for this ...An invitation to take a Lamborghini for a spin would be one of them, I suppose. (Woohoo!) And not just any Lambo, but the Gallardo Superleggera, no less.

“I hear you’re into 4X4s,” says Marcus Chye, chief operating officer of Lamborghini Kuala Lumpur. “Well, this car has four-wheel-drive.”

I took the bait. But first, a quick lesson in Italian and Spanish.

Superleggera is simply Italian for “super lightweight”. (Is it just me or does everyone else also find that most things, especially things automotive, sound so much sexier in Italian? I mean, Bahasa Malaysia’s Palingringan or Hokkien’s Chinkhin just don’t have the same glamorous ring, do they?)

It’s an Italian car but Gallardo is pronounced “ga-yar-dor” because the Spaniards like to bunch two “Ls” together and pronounce it as “y”. Gallardo is a famous breed of Spanish fighting bulls, which matches Lamborghini’s famous emblem. It is also the Spanish word for “striking”, which is certainly an apt description of the car’s looks.

The cockpit is a snug fit.(Music fans will know that Senegalese-American artiste Akon – more from him later – sings about his Lamborghini “ga-lar-dor” in his hit Smack That, but then again, Americans pronounce Porsche as “posh” instead of “porshuh”. Perhaps it’s relevant to talk about German as well since Lamborghini now belongs to Audi, and its CEO is Stephan Winkelmann, which is as German a name as you can get.)

Language class is over, let’s hit the road. A quick press of the accelerator is enough to extract that glorious howl from the engine and pin me to the seat. A couple of seconds later, the bend is coming up fast and the massive carbon-ceramic brakes scrub off just the right amount of speed to take the corner.

Lift off the accelerator, a quick pull on the left paddle, the engine blips to lift the revs, the robot gearbox shifts down a cog and the V10 behind my left ear roars.
The sound is awesome. It’s primal, it’s visceral, it’s glorious, it’s spine tingling. If it doesn’t stir your soul, you don’t have one.

If the sight of carbon fibre turns you on, well, you've definitely come to the right place.For a shattering impact, forget the proverbial bull in china shop. Try, instead, a Chinaman in a raging bull through the Karak Highway tunnel just after the Genting turn-off. Ten cylinders on song send out a thunderous roar that reverberates through the tunnel like 530 bulls in a stampede.
Yes, on that quiet Sunday morning, the hills of Genting and Bukit Tinggi were alive with the sound of music, a glorious Italian aria that rose and fell … err, okay, I’m getting a bit carried away here.

Lamborghini says the Superleggera has a top speed of 315km/h and some independent testers elsewhere have apparently gone even faster than that; but, on Malaysian public roads with plenty of Sunday drivers around, I didn’t even bother to try going anywhere near its limits.
What makes the Superleggera special is weight – or, more precisely, the lack of it. Using advanced materials and technologies, Lamborghini engineers trimmed the already light standard Gallardo by 100kg, to 1,330kg (empty and without fuel).

When you’ve got it, flaunt it: The Gallardo Superleggera’s mighty V10 is certainly worth displaying beneath the transparent polycarbonate cover. Bear in mind this is a super car with a massive 10-cylinder 5.0l engine, and it weighs just 30kg more than a 2.0l Proton Perdana. For a bit more perspective, the Mercedes-Benz SL500 is over half a tonne heavier at 1,845kg.
The engine hood (that’s in the rear, of course) is made of visible carbon fibre and transparent polycarbonate, a type of material that guarantees lightness and shows off the magnificent mid-mounted V10 engine.

The rear diffuser and underbody covering, the rear view mirrors, door panels and the central tunnel’s covering are also made of carbon fibre. The Superleggera has so much carbon in it that it’s almost organic (as in organic chemistry, the study of carbon-containing compounds).
Further reductions in weight were achieved by replacing certain glass surfaces with polycarbonate, and even the windscreen has been made thinner.

At the end of the intensive and expensive weight-loss regime, the Gallardo Lite … drum roll … “needs only 3.8 seconds to go from 0km/h to 100km/h, 0.2 seconds less than the basic model,” according to Lamborghini’s brochure. Huh? Well, at this level, a fraction of a second means a lot, apparently.

A familiar sight, if you pedal this metal around a bit.For the interior, vast expanses of sensual Alcantara leather cover the entire dashboard as well as one-piece carbon fibre sports seats.
Not many people have driven Lamborghinis but, thanks to Astro’s Discovery Real Time, many know that these exotic Italians are difficult to reverse because rearward vision is virtually non-existent. Surprisingly, the Gallardo gives the driver a pretty good view of the rear, plus there is an optional TV camera that makes it a breeze to back up.

Superleggera customers usually don’t pay attention to the audio system since the only aural entertainment that’s ever needed comes from the 390,000watt sound system called the V10.
Less (weight), in this case, adds up to more (money). For 100kg less car, you pay RM300,000 more. The Superleggera is priced at RM2.15mil, compared to your garden variety Gallardo that’s just RM1.85mil.

For that much money, the Superleggera makes you adjust the seat with your own muscle power. Electric motors are heavy, you see.

Back to Akon, who sings, “Wanna jump in my Lamborghini Gallardo….”

Well, the reality is that you don’t jump into a Gallardo, or any Lamborghini, for that matter.
You contort your torso and limbs, carefully and slowly, and execute a manoeuvre that rivals origami in intricacy. You don’t jump out of it either; you unfold yourself out of it.
Driving the Superleggera was an exhilarating experience for sure, but I ended up with a stiff neck and sore knee, just from the unfamiliar exertions needed to get in and out of the car. Having said that, the actual driving position is comfortable, if a bit snug, and the posture is great for spirited motoring.

So, if you’re dreaming of owning one of these toys, buy one before you turn 40. If you think it’ll take longer to gather enough loose change, take up yoga now. Oh, if you’re on the heavy side of 90kg, start dieting too.

Mitsubishi Concept-cX compact SUV

Mitsubishi Motors Corporation is set to give its Concept-cX compact SUV its global unveiling at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September.

Mitsu's interpretation of what a SUV/sports hatchback crossover looks like. The company states that the concept vehicle's 4.1m long body makes for easy maneuverability around town and the high driving position improves visibility and will bring the easy drivability expected of a SUV. Utility is enhanced with the split tailgate already well received on the production Outlander for the way it facilitates loading and unloading of luggage.

And from the rear three quarter ...The concept vehicle will be powered by a new Euro 5 compliant high-output, high-efficiency 1.8l clean diesel engine featuring a variable geometry (VG) turbocharger and a diesel oxidation catalyst, with a diesel particulate filter.

All that's missing are the photon torpedoes and trans-warp drive ...This will be mated to the company's new Twin Clutch SST (Sport Shift Transmission). The vehicle will also feature Mitsubishi's electronically-controlled 4WD system and large 225/45R19 tyres.

Now, that looks like a handy place to put the rolled-up newspaper ...Among the number of new environmental technologies applied in the Concept-cX is the extensive use of interior trim materials made from Mitsubishi's own Green Plastic, including bamboo and other plant-based resins, as part of the company's conservation efforts.
The company will also introduce the European version of the new Lancer sports sedan in Frankfurt, with three engines available for the market - a 138bhp 2.0l turbocharged diesel and two DOHC MIVEC petrol units, a 1.8l offering 141bhp and a 1.5l putting out 107bhp.

No toll increase next year

There will be no toll increases next year, at least not until the Cabinet has discussed the matter, said Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.

“Why do you speculate? Wait until the Cabinet decides,” he told reporters when questioned on the toll increase that was announced by Works Minister Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu on Sunday.
Najib was speaking to reporters after chairing the Cabinet committee meeting on local government here yesterday.

It will eventually cost more. The question is, when?Samy Vellu had said Malaysians could expect a 10% increase in toll rates, with eight concessionaires raising their charges from Jan 1 next year.

At a different function, Samy Vellu said his ministry was trying to work out a “win-win” increase in charges for eight tolls due for revision in January.

He said he wants to devise a mechanism where motorists would not feel too much pain but at the same time, prevent the toll concessionaires from losing money.
“We are studying and talking to the concessionaires to find out ways to benefit both sides. We want to find a way in which the people will not feel too much burden. In Malaysia, the most sensitive thing is toll,” said Samy Vellu.

Samy Vellu said a thorough study would be done and the completed working paper would be submitted to Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and Najib.
“We will only announce the new rates once it is approved by the Cabinet,” he said after launching the festive season road safety campaign from Oct 7-20 at the Sungai Buloh rest and recreation area.

Should the Cabinet still not give their approval by January when the eight toll rates were up for revision, Samy Vellu said the current charges would apply.
“If there is no Cabinet approval by then, we have to pay compensation to the toll concessionaires,” he said.

Mazda launches "Prestige Edition" Roadster

Mazda Motor Corporation has launched a special edition Mazda Roadster Prestige Edition for the Japanese domestic market.

What the Prestige Edition looks like. The two-seat lightweight open-top vehicle, better known as the MX-5 in overseas markets, has been newly outfitted with premium features including black genuine leather seats and alloy wheels made by BBS Japan.

Lots of cowhide, and in black.The Roadster Prestige Edition is based on the Roadster RS RHT and Roadster VS RHT, the premium grades of the Mazda Roadster Power Retractable Hard Top range, and is available in both six-speed manual and six-speed auto versions.

BBS Japan did this one. Features include exclusive heated bucket seats with black genuine leather upholstery highlighted with grey stitching, exclusive 17-inch BBS Japan aluminium alloy wheels, glossy stainless steel scuff plates and front fog lights with black bezels.

So you always know what car you're driving before you get in ...Additionally, a front strut tower bar (cowl connecting type) and Mazda’s Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) system are specially added to the six-speed automatic transmission (AT) model. For the manual variant, the former is standard equipment while the latter is available as a factory-installed option.

The prestigious on the move.Also included, a lever on the side of the driver’s seat can be used to adjust the seat height by 30mm. Sales of the Roadster Prestige Edition will be conducted on a made-to-order basis.

Lexus launches IS F in Japan

Lexus has announced that it will begin sales of the IS F in Japan starting on Dec 25, at a price of 7.66mil Yen (RM224,370).

Built to compete with the best Teutonic machines.The vehicle is powered by a 2UR-GSE 5.0l V8 D-4S direct injection four-stroke gasoline engine - which combines both port and direct fuel injection - offering more than 400bhp and 475Nm of torque.

Plenty of tips on this one ...Transmission type is an eight-speed Sport Direct Shift transmission, based on the eight-speed auto box in use on the LS460. A new torque-converter lock-up control allows for a direct, crisp gear change through the constant lock-up of the torque converter in second through eighth gears, allowing for more direct acceleration response.

Swanky interior, as befits the ride.Springs, shock absorbers, stabilisers and some other parts have been revised to provide both outstanding stability and agility. The specifically-designed Brembo braking system works with 14.2-inch perforated front discs and six-piston aluminium calipers, and 13.6-inch rear discs using two-piston calipers, with high-friction brake pads fitted all around.
In addition to 19-inch forged BBS aluminium wheels, the IS F uses large-diameter, wide 225/40R19 tires at the front and 255/35R19 tires at the rear for superior gripping performance, excellent handling and cruising stability.

The only thing shifty about the whole deal.The IS F features an all-new, three-mode version of the Lexus Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management (VDIM) system. In addition to the Normal mode, this new version of VDIM features a Sport mode that allows the driver to push the car even further before its braking-, throttle- and steering-control systems kick in. The third VDIM system mode is "Off," which is explanatory.
The vehicle will be assembled at Toyota's Tahara Plant, and a monthly sales figure of 40 units has been targeted.

No decision yet on VW-Proton deal

The Malaysia Government has not decided on whether to allow Volkswagen AG (VW) to take control of national carmaker Proton Holdings Bhd.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi confirmed yesterday that the matter was discussed but said “we have not finalised yet.”

He said the Malaysian Government hoped it could finalise the deal as soon as possible but “they (VW) want to be very certain about everything as they are investing a lot of money.”

Still a little ways to go, it seems.Abdullah also called on the press to be patient and not to speculate as the matter had to be discussed and decided on.

He was speaking to reporters after chairing the Iskandar Regional Development Authority board and advisory council meeting at his office here yesterday.

Press reports quoting sources claimed that VW was just waiting for a nod from the Malaysian Government to take control of Proton.

The report also said that the German auto giant was looking at taking only a 20% stake in Proton and was also seeking management control of Proton Holdings.

Honda Hybrid Sports 2009 (Tokyo Motor Show)

Honda to unveil hybrid sports car at TMS

Hybrids don't have to sacrifice looks to be environmentally friendly - they can be muscular and stylish, too. That's the message Honda hopes to send at this month's Tokyo motor show with its new gas-electric hybrid sports car CR-Z.

Green means lean, and not just in consumption. - AP Photo."This is something rivals can't offer," Tetsuji Morikawa, a Honda Motor Co engineer, said of the CR-Z, whose sales date is promised for the "near future."

The vehicle has maintained "the essence of the sports car" while still delivering good mileage and less pollution, he said.

Hybrid vehicles tend to be bulkier than sleek sports cars because of the size and complexity of the hybrid systems, which include a battery, motor, engine, converter and other parts. They're usually not known for their torque, acceleration, handling and innovative design.

What a high rear belt line this one has. - AP Photo.The CR-Z comes with a new hybrid system developed by Honda whose breakthroughs allowed designers to get around such restrictions to achieve its lean cutting-edge look, said Morikawa, while declining to give details about the hybrid system and the vehicle.

The model will be on display at the biannual Tokyo Motor Show, which opens to the public Oct 27 in the Tokyo suburb of Chiba.

Japan's No. 2 automaker already sells the hybrid Civic but discontinued the hybrid Accord and hybrid Insight. It has promised a new hybrid in 2009.

Does it mean comfortable runabout zled then? - AP Photo.Interest in hybrids is high among the world's automakers amid concerns about global warming and rising oil prices.
Japanese rival Toyota Motor Corp has emerged the leader in the technology, having sold more than a million hybrids globally over the last decade.

Tokyo-based Honda, which has sold about 220,000 hybrids worldwide so far, is eager to make its stamp on hybrids by showing how its reputation for sporty cars will also work for hybrids. - AP

Honda CR-Z (Compact Renaissance Zero)

This is the Honda CR-Z, which stands for Compact Renaissance Zero - Honda’s third attempt at a modern interpretation of the Honda CR-X. The first was the Honda REMIX Concept shown late last year, and between that and now there was the Honda Small Hybrid Sports Concept but not many consider the latter as an interpretation of the CR-X. The Small Hybrid Sports Concept did however give us an indication that any future CR-X-like model from Honda would come with a hybrid system.

“The CR-Z comes with a new hybrid system developed by Honda whose breakthroughs allowed designers to get around such restrictions to achieve its lean cutting-edge look,” says Tetsuji Morikawa, a Honda Motor Co engineer.

You’ve got the customary LED headlamps that is a must on all concept cars in this age, and the front sports an oversized grille, also something that has been popular with concept car designs. Looks like Audi got it right from day one.

Mazda Atenza (2008)

When the new second generation Mazda 6 was launched, the press release specifically stated that particular car was the European model, and a separate North American model will be coming soon. Mazda unveiled the Mazda Atenza at the 2007 Tokyo Motor Show today, which is essentially the JDM market name for the European second generation Mazda 6.

Unlike the European Mazda 6 which only seems to have one bumper and grille design, the Japanese market Mazda Atenza seems to have two different styles, perhaps representing a low spec and high spec model with different engines. The differences are small though, for example the rear lamp design one is red and the other is clear. There are also two different bumper and grille designs.

With these minor differences, is this considered a separate model and will be the one destined for North America? Or will the North American Mazda 6 be significantly different from the Japanese Atenza and the European Mazda 6? We’ll still have to wait to see what the North American one looks like, and then later wonder which model we’re going to get in our own market. Perhaps at the Los Angeles show next year or something.

The 2.0 liter baseline model makes 150 PS at 6,500rpm and 182Nm of torque at 4,500rpm and is mated to a 5-speed automatic gearbox. The new 2.5 liter MZR engine puts out 170 PS at 6,000rpm and 226Nm of torque at 4,000rpm. This particular engine is mated to a 5-speed auto for the front wheel drive versions, but the all wheel drive version is mated to a new 6-speed auto. Both 2.5 liter model gearboxes come with active adaptive shift control, a technology that first made its debut in the Mazda RX-8. The active adaptive shift control system has a slope control function and is able to evaluate both the gradient and winding of the road as well as driver intentions such as the acceleration and brake operation, enabling the selection of an optimum gear.

Mazda designed the Atenza’s paddle shifters to work the same way BMW designed their non-M car paddle shifters to work, the paddles on both sides of the steering wheel do the same thing, but you push either paddle away from you to downshift and pull the paddle towards you to upshift. I’ve already blogged about the car, so please check out the car’s details in this previous post to find out more information about available engine options and equipment.

The Mazda Atenza or the Mazda 6 as we know it looks pretty gigantuan in product shots but in reality when I saw it in person I felt that is not really that big, though it matches its D-segment peers like the new Accord and the new Camry in size, unlike the previous generation where the Mazda 6 looked more like a big C-segment instead. The interior looks like an evolution of the first generation Mazda 6. In fact, I suspect the trip computer multi-info display is a carry over component.

2nd Generation of Honda Jazz

The new second generation Honda Fit - known as the Honda Jazz in our local market - has been officially announced by Honda and here are the some initial details of the car.

The new Honda Fit is longer than the previous generation by 55mmat 3,900mm and has a longer wheelbase of 2,500mm which is 50mm longer, but it’s height remains the same at 1,525mm. However despite this, interior height has increased by 10mm to 1,290mm. The new Fit is also wider than the previous generation with wider front and rear tracks. This enhances stability and the increase in exterior width also improves cabin width by 30mm to 1,415mm.
Driver visibility has also been improved - if you look closely you will notice the A-pillars are relatively thin - they’ve been made thinner by 20mm each compared to the outgoing model.
There are two engine options for the Honda Fit in Japan - one is a 1.3 liter i-VTEC engine putting out 100PS. This is mated to a CVT which now comes with a torque converter. The higher grade Fit called the Fit RS (apparently stands for Road Sailing) with a larger 120PS engine. You will be able to see torque curves for both these engines after the jump. Like most hatchbacks these days, the rear uses a torsion beam setup to help reduce suspension intrusion into the cabin, while the front uses MacPherson struts.

A trademark Honda Fit/Honda Jazz offering are the Ultra Seats. The Ultra Seats are back with this version of the Fit and they have four modes: a utility mode that increases luggage space to a flat length of 1,720mm, a long mode which places the front passenger seat folded flat down for a further increased length of 2,400mm, a tall mode where you fold up the rear seat cushions to fit in a tall item (as mentioned before, interior height is 1,290mm), as well as a refresh mode where the front seat headrests can be removed and the front seats can be folded down to create a long stretched rest area within the car. This front passenger seat also hides a storage compartment.
The Ultra Seats tall mode has been achieved by moving the centrally mounted fuel tank which was previously under the rear passenger seat to below the front passenger seats.

Something new is the Ultra Luggage system which has a regular mode, a tall mode and an upper/lower mode which divides rear boot space into two levels of storage. You will be able to see diagrams explaining how this works after the jump. However because of the new Ultra Luggage tall mode, the car no longer has space for a spare tyre so it will be equipped with an emergency tyre repair kit instead.

2009 Nissan GT-R

We’re only a few days away from the official public unveiling of the 2009 Nissan GT-R, but a few motoring magazines have already had their go at Nissan’s at long last attempt at the successor to the venerable R34 Skyline GT-R.

Nissan aims the car at the likes of the the Porsche 911 Turbo - nearly every manufacturer of a new “supercar” seems to have the 911 Turbo as the holy grail of benchmarks, an example is the recent Audi R8. AutoWeek magazine has a test drive report online and even compares the new GT-R with a 911 Turbo in a mini shootout of sorts, as a 911 Turbo had been provided by Nissan on the track day.

According to AutoWeek, the new engine is called the VR38 and sits slightly behind the front axle, with two of its 6 cylinders before the front axle and the other four behind it. The VR38 engine sends power to a GR6 twin-clutch 6-speed gearbox at the rear transaxle through a carbon fiber propellor shaft. Another shaft runs from the gearbox at the transaxle to the front axle for the front wheels. We now officially have shift times for this gearbox - 200ms. In comparison, Volkswagen’s DSG does upshifts in 8ms but unanticipated shifts that have not been preselected by the DSG can take up to 400ms.

The car uses Nissan’s new PM platform, or Prime Midship platform, which uses a combination of polypropylene, carbon composite and the usual metals used in a car chassis for its construction.

Honda Accord Coupe (268hp)

Three Ways to Go
Accord Coupe offers three engines: a 2.4-liter i-VTEC® 4-cylinder, putting out 190 hp; and two versions of a new 268-hp, 3.5-liter V-6, iVTEC (automatic models) and the 6 speed manual transmission. On V-6 models equipped with the 5-speed automatic, the V-6 features i-VTEC and Variable Cylinder Management.™

Powerfully Efficient
All Accord Coupe engines utilize i-VTEC (except V-6 6MT) for more power and efficiency at all engine speeds. And the new V-6 features the latest generation of Honda’s Variable Cylinder Management™ (VCM®) technology, which activates the engine’s cylinders as needed, providing both brisk acceleration and fuel savings.

Superb Handling
Whichever eager engine moves your Accord Coupe, that power is matched to razor-sharp handling thanks to a low center of gravity and a multi-link rear suspension for high lateral rigidity.

Choose a quick-shifting 5-speed manual transmission or an available 5-speed automatic. In the Accord EX-L V6 Coupe, go with the standard 5-speed automatic or opt for the close-ratio 6-speed manual transmission.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Pioneer AVIC-Z2

The AVIC-Z2 is the ultimate in HDD navigation and multimedia. Pioneer's AVIC-Z2 is a double-DIN all-in-one system that is equipped with a 30GB hard disk drive (HDD) to deliver information, entertainment, and convenience on the road. With the Z2's ultra-fast processing and the enormous Tele Atlas database offering 12 million points of interest, getting where you need to be has never been so easy. And with a built-in HDD music library, DVD playback on the large 7-inch display is easy, and iPod direct control expansion is only an adapter away. The AVIC-Z2 ensures that you'll be entertained every second on the road.

What's New for 2007...The AVIC-Z2 replaces the 2006 AVIC-Z1 and it features all of the powerful capabilities of its predecessor, while adding some cool new enhancements such as:

Point Addressing
The AVIC-Z2 takes advantage of a new mapping feature, Point Addressing. Many destinations are now geocoded to a precise location, rather than to an address range, making routing more precise than ever before.

3D Landmark Icons and Updated POI Icons
The AVIC-Z2's graphic map interface features 3D landmark icons for airports, amusement parks, golf courses, stadiums, and zoos. POI icons appear on the map en route, making it easy to identify the locations closest to your path.

Traffic Icons and Traffic Flow Lanes
An enhanced display of traffic conditions of a 1.0 ~ 2.5-mile map scales provides maximum navigation efficiency.

Bluetooth Voice Operation*
Dial any of your programmed entries on the internal hard disk phone book with a simple voice command.

*Requires use of the Pioneer ND-BT1 adapter (sold separately)

Key Features:
In-dash DVD player/navigation system with built-in amplifier (22 watts RMS/50 peak x 4 channels)

fits double-sized dash openings (a perfect fit for vehicles with double-sized, 4" tall dash openings)

motorized 7" video screen with touch-panel controls

turn-by-turn map and voice guidance

built-in 30GB hard drive performs all navigation functions

stores up to 10GB of music files

voice command capability; microphone included

text-to-speech technology announces the names of most roads

learning capability: remembers frequently traveled roads and suggests familiar routes

smart routing algorithm takes data such as posted speed limits and number of turns into account to suggest the most efficient route possible

plays DVDs, DVD-R/RWs, DVD+R/RWS, CDs, CD-R/RWs, and MP3/WMA discs
navigation antenna included

nearly 12 million points of interest

Roadside Assistance display

one year of free Roadside Assistance Service

64MB internal memory

3-band parametric EQ
XM and SIRIUS Satellite Radio-ready (subscription, tuner and antenna required and sold separately)

XM's NavTraffic premium service available with your XM subscription for an extra $3.99 per month, or for $9.99 per month on its own (NavTraffic not available with a SIRIUS subscription, or through a SIRIUS radio); check the NavTraffic radio for a list of covered cities
compatible with Pioneer's iPod interface adapter, Bluetooth adapter, and DVD/CD changer

audio/video input
rear-view camera input
front, rear, and subwoofer preamp outputs
tri-zone capable
Supertuner IIID AM/FM tuner
18 FM/6 AM presets
1 year Sonic Electronix warranty

Smarter GPS Navigation and Familiar Path RoutingThe AVIC-Z2 uses a "smart routing algorithm" to analyze and assess routes by taking into account current road data like posted speed limits, the number of turns to the destination, etc. The AVIC-Z2 is unlike any other navigation unit... it actually recommends the most efficient path. It also conveniently "remembers" your frequently traveled roads and uses that personal historical information to help you navigate.

Voice Recognition / Smarter Voice RecognitionThe AVIC-Z2 has advanced voice recognition that makes voice command easier than ever. You can search for destinations by saying a name such as "McDonald's" without having to specify a category, such as "restaurant." Full address searches can be done by saying the city name, street name, and address. The system can also accept multiple commands, such as "go to LAX or display Oakland." Additionally, the system can recognize a larger vocabulary, allowing you use alternative words for the same command - such as "go to" or "search," instead of "destination." Voice commands for Audio and Video sources and other attachments like Bluetooth wireless-enabled cell phones are just as easy.

Follow Your GuideThe AVIC-Z2 uses a Text-to-Speech (TTS) engine and Tele Atlas phoneme data, which enables the system to accurately pronounce street names during voice guidance. For example, the system will pronounce "turn right on La Jolla Street" with an "H", greatly improving its assistance ability.

Gracenote CDDB - Store Songs Internally. Command Playback Vocally.Want quick access to tons of songs? The AVIC-Z2 allows use of up to 10 gigabytes of its HDD space for a music library. You can listen to music while at the ripping and storing tracks at 4 times the playing speed. The system also includes the Gracenote CDDB™ Music Recognition Service, which automatically "tags" the music you record with the artist name, song title, genre, and album title. This allows you to conveniently access songs by simply saying the artist name, song title, genre, or album title.

Bluetooth Technology - Go Wireless with Bluetooth*Take your hands off your phone and call safer using the AVIC-Z2 with Bluetooth wireless-enabled cellular phones for easy, hands-free operation, which allows you to talk via the headunit's microphone and your vehicle's speaker system. To make calling even easier, you can store the phone book on the Z2's hard disk and access it by voice or the touch screen display. For even greater convenience, you can access phone numbers associated with the POI database, letting you call the location you are being guided to. *Optional Pioneer ND-BT1 adapter required and sold separately.

"Factory-Fit" StyleThere's no need to worry about the AVIC-Z2 looking good in your dash. The Z2 is designed for a perfect fit in many vehicles that feature a "double-DIN" size. The system seems to melt into the dashboard, providing a fit and finish similar to factory systems. The front panel is motorized to provide access to the hidden disc slots, and the default position can be set to any of 6 choices for the optimum viewing angle.

Just a Touch AwayUsing Pioneer's navigation system is a snap. Just touch large, bright icons on the screen to navigate menus, plot routes, or change map views. An easy to read status indicator provides current location information, turn distances and approximate time to destination. The touch screen has extremely fast response rates and a wide viewing angle.

Best Seat in the HouseBesides being a navigation system, the AVIC-Z2 is a full-featured mobile entertainment hub. The built-in DVD/CD player allows you to play either DVD Video (for the rear seat entertainment capability), or CDs with audio or MP3 files. If you're a radio listener you'll get great sounding AM/FM radio from the high-performance Supertuner IIID tuner and you can expand the Z2 with a digital satellite radio tuner to enjoy even more music options on XM or Sirius Satellite Radio. Whatever your media preference, the music comes alive with maximum power (MOSFET50) and sound performance (Easy EQ).

iPod Ready - Connect and Direct Your iPodIf you're the type to listen to your iPod everywhere you go, you'll love the ability to access your iPod library through your car stereo via the AVIC-Z2. The Pioneer iPod adapter (Pioneer CD-IB100II required and sold separately) allows direct control and playback of iPod via the large touch panel display. Easily connect an iPod via this dedicated adapter and using the intuitive on-screen interface, listeners can scroll through the iPod library and play music.

Watch Your Vehicle's RearKeep an eye on your backside using the optional Rear View Camera (Pioneer ND-BC2 required and sold separately). Two rear-view modes are offered: while you're in reverse the rear-view camera can be in full screen. Or while moving forward, you can also see what's behind you with the rear-view split screen, which displays both the navigation map and the rear-view camera image.

XM NavTrafficTrafficNever Fear Fighting traffic will never be the same again. Using the optional Pioneer GEX-P10XMT XM NavTraffic Satellite Radio Tuner, XM NavTraffic™* powered by NAVTEQ Traffic allows Pioneer Navigation Systems to serve as a powerful tool in helping understand traffic conditions and routing the driver to their destination, avoiding traffic congestion. If there is a traffic jam on the route to your destination, the Navigation System will automatically alert you, and suggest any alternate route found by the unit. *Requires XM radio subscription and XM NavTraffic™ service subscriptions sold separately.

Roadside Assistance Display* The AVIC-Z2 ensures extremely easy access to roadside assistance information. The unit shows emergency phone numbers and your current location — by street name, city, and state, plus longitude and latitude. The units also display any personal information you've entered, including vehicle identification number, insurance number, and insurance company phone number. There is even a dedicated icon for easily locating the nearest car dealer. Additionally, 1-Year Emergency Roadside Assistance Service is offered free of charge*. *Service provided by Signature's Nationwide Autoclub, Inc. See registration for full details and restrictions. Separate registration with Signature's Nationwide Autoclub, Inc. is required to receive the free service.

2008 Ford Taurus Limited

The 2008 Ford Taurus demonstrates that, although Ford builds good quality cars, it still can't come up with a logical product lineup. Ford ended production of its original Taurus model, then renamed the poorly selling 500 model as Taurus for the 2008 model year. Yet the 2008 Taurus is only slightly bigger and more powerful than the Ford Fusion, a lack of model differentiation that will make little sense to buyers.
As for the tech, the 2008 Ford Taurus gets a very advanced navigation system and voice command, a feature we haven't seen on a Ford until now. The stereo is over-amplified, a boon and a curse, and it handles all the usual digital formats. Unfortunately, Ford's new Sync system was not available at the time of this review, so we didn't get a chance to check that out.
Test the tech: UFO searchChanging the name from 500 to Taurus didn't change the looks: The Taurus is a big, beefy-looking sedan, which is probably its main distinction from the Ford Fusion. One of our staff members thought it looked like something the Men in Black would drive, so we went on a Men in Black-style mission, investigating UFO sightings. We had plenty to choose from, as there are hundreds of sightings reported every year at the Mutual UFO Network.
We selected five UFO sightings from Sausalito to Mountain View, and programmed those locations into the Taurus' navigation system. This navigation system is worthy of Men in Black technology, as it easily let us enter all our addresses, optimized their order for the most efficient travel time, and computed a route between them all.
The Taurus' navigation system plots a route to all our sighting locations.
Sighting date: 8/29/2007Location: SausalitoDescription: Reporter monitoring a Webcam saw a "cigar-shaped and very bright" object. In successive frames of the Webcam, the object moved from left to right, then up close.CNET report: We arrived at the Webcam location in the Ford Taurus, parked, and looked back across the Bay. After a few minutes, an object moved quickly in a downward motion. Its speed made it blurry in our photograph.
Sighting date: 5/23/2003Location: Marin HeadlandsDescription: A reporter with self-described "extra sensory gifts" was sight-seeing in this highly scenic area, when he saw "an almost-circular object floating maybe a few football fields high over the ocean."CNET report: We drove up to the Marin headlands, following the route guidance from the Ford Taurus navigation system. On the winding road leading up there, we noted the car's poor handling and understeer. When we parked at the sighting location, we noted an object similar to the one we had just seen in Sausalito moving downward. Again, our photograph only produced a blurry image.
What's the blurry object in the sky over the San Francisco Bay?
Sighting date: 8/14/2007Location: Lincoln Park, San FranciscoDescription: Reporter was taking photos overlooking the ocean. On reviewing the photos later noticed a UFO in the pictures.CNET report: We drove the Taurus across the Golden Gate Bridge and up to Lincoln Park in San Francisco. We appreciated the big windows and high roofline in the Taurus for the visibility it afforded on the very scenic bridge. At the location of the sighting, we noticed a brief flash in the sky, as if a strange object darted by, but got nothing distinct on a photograph.
Sighting date: 7/18/2004Location: Emerald Lake, Redwood CityDescription: Reporter noticed an object very high up that looked "cylindrical and cone-like on one end." The object seemed to be stationary, with a reflective, metallic body.CNET report: On the cruise down to the sighting location, we listened to an MP3 CD on the Taurus' stereo. We were impressed with the amplification, which produced strong bass, but not so much with the speakers, which rattled at high volume. The navigation system flawlessly brought us through a series of small, winding streets to the sighting location. At the location there was a nice little lake, but we didn't see the reported UFO. We could, however, see planes landing at SFO.
Is it a space alien? No, just NASA's experimental space suit.
Sighting date: 7/16/2003Location: Moffett Field, Mountain ViewDescription: Reporter describes a "plunging orb over Moffett Field."CNET report: Moffett Field hosts the NASA-Ames Research Center, where many UFO sightings have occurred. Many of these could be secret government projects. We enjoyed our trip down to the Research Center in the comfortable Taurus. Exploring the area, we found what we thought was an alien, but turned out to be an experimental space suit. We completed our investigation at the gift shop picking up a very cool die-cast model of the X-33 space plane.
In the cabinAlthough our 2008 Ford Taurus Limited came with just about all the tech options, the one we are most looking forward to, Ford Sync, wasn't available yet. As it was, we were very impressed with the navigation system, voice command, and the stereo. These systems don't have the luxury look that you find in a BMW 535i, but they accomplish most of the same tasks.
The voice command worked well, not up to the same level as that found in the Honda Accord, but almost as good. We pressed the button marked PTT and the car's voice said "main menu," while an icon and the word "Listening" appeared at the top of the LCD. After playing with the system for a little bit, we found out how to issue navigation and audio system commands. For example, with a CD playing, we hit the PTT button and said "audio system," then said "shuffle," and the system played our CD tracks in random order. Navigation is a little more limited. When we tried to enter a destination, it would only let us pick from its POI database, although that worked well when we wanted to find a place for lunch.
We're not crazy about how the maps look in the navigation system, but the functionality is top notch. You can use the voice command or the touch screen, the latter giving you more flexibility in entering destinations. Along with entering a street address, you can pick a location on the map, choose a freeway intersection, and even type in a phone number. If the phone number is in the car's POI database, it will do a reverse look-up on the address.
The premium stereo system has digital signal processing, but its amp will rattle the speakers.
We mentioned above how this system easily handles multiple addresses. It also does route guidance very well, offering adequate notice and using graphics to indicate upcoming turns. Better yet, it has text-to-speech capability, so it can read out the names of streets, a particularly advanced feature.
The stereo in our 2008 Ford Taurus Limited was the upgraded, audiophile model, which meant it had a six-disc in-dash changer and an amp that was too powerful for the speakers. At half volume it was almost painful, and above that the speakers started rattling. This isn't a finely balanced system, but it does produce satisfying bass. The overall audio quality is also good, although it lacks crispness in the high range.
We've also seen this stereo interface in other Fords. It works very well, although it should take more advantage of its screen real estate by showing more song information. Currently, it uses very large buttons and only two lines of text on the display. We like that you can navigate the Sirius satellite radio by channel or genre. There is also an auxiliary audio input in the center console to hook up an iPod.
Although there is a button marked "Phone" next to the LCD, it merely mutes the audio system. Bluetooth cell phone integration will only be available with Sync.
Under the hoodWith a 3.5-liter V-6 under the hood, the 2008 Ford Taurus doesn't want for power. As our car was the all-wheel-drive version, we didn't get any torque steer on a fast start, but you probably would with the standard front-wheel-drive version. That engine puts out 263 horsepower, and we could feel all of it when we stomped on the gas. We could also hear it, as the engine makes a delightful growl that penetrates through the dampening material Ford put under the hood.
Of course, the six-speed automatic contributes to the satisfying acceleration, holding its low gears when we gave it the gas from a stop and downshifting nicely when we wanted some passing acceleration on the freeway. The only thing we missed with this transmission was the ability to manually select gears. With the car under heavy acceleration and the engine growling, our hand naturally moved to the shifter, only to find there was nothing for it to do.
With its powerful V-6, we wanted a manual gear selection option on the six-speed automatic.
The transmission didn't give us a performance downshift when we braked on the approach to a hard corner, but that didn't really matter as we found way too much understeer for canyon carving. We knew we had a problem when, on the first sharp corner we took it into, we found our arms crossing as we rolled the steering wheel around. The suspension wasn't particularly into cornering either, as it let the car body roll out in the direction the g-forces wanted. Sure it has all-wheel-drive, but it seems more designed to deal with heavy snows rather than dry mountain roads.
EPA fuel economy for the all-wheel-drive 2008 Ford Taurus comes in at 17mpg city and 24mpg highway. In our testing we saw an unimpressive 19.2mpg from both city and freeway driving. For emissions, the California Air Resources Board has the all-wheel-drive Taurus listed as a SULEV, a very good rating. As the Ford 500, this car achieved one of the highest safety rankings for a sedan, so if that's part of your criteria, the Taurus is worth a look.

The good: The navigation system in the 2008 Ford Taurus Limited works very well, with many useful features, along with functional voice command. The premium stereo system is very powerful, and the car achieves top safety rankings.
The bad: Cornering is hampered by loads of understeer. The speakers aren't up to the power of the amplifier, producing bad rattle at anything over half volume.
The bottom line: Although not in any way a sport sedan, the beefy-looking 2008 Ford Taurus will get you around in comfort, and the navigation system makes it easy to set up complex routes.