Friday, October 31, 2008

New MPV Line Up

We finally have some pretty solid but unofficial details on the upcoming compact 3-row MPV that Toyota and Daihatsu have been working on, scheduled to be launched next year. This is also the same vehicle that will be the base of the new Perodua MPV to be launched in Q3 of 2009, just in time for Hari Raya.

The Toyota version has a front end and headlamps that are very similiar to the current generation Toyota Vios. In classic Toyota style in knowing exactly how some Japanese love individuality and customization, the Japanese version will also get an alternate front end that is more sporty and aggressive. The Perodua version will naturally have its own front end, with a new grille, bumper and headlamps.

Toyota also has an existing compact 3-row MPV called the Toyota Sienta so it would be fair to compare this new MPV to the Sienta, and also the Passo/Boon/Myvi. And why not throw in the new Honda Freed into the mix. Let’s have a look:

Dimensions New MPV Sienta Wish Freed Myvi F/L
Length 4180mm 4100mm 4650mm 4215mm 3750mm
Width 1695mm 1695mm 1745mm 1695mm 1665mm
Height 1620mm 1670mm 1600mm 1715mm 1550mm
Wheelbase 2750mm 2700mm 2750mm 2740mm 2440mm

From the table above we can see that the new MPV is wider as well as longer in both length and wheelbase compared to the Sienta and the Myvi. A 2750mm wheelbase is impressive - that’s as long as the Subaru Exiga, which is quite a big vehicle!

It’s also quite obvious from even photos that the new Perodua MPV will be between the Sienta and the Myvi in terms of height as the Sienta is quite tall, but this new MPV loses some of that height for a sleeker profile that is generally more acceptable outside of Japan. After all, Indonesia is expected to be a production center for the car in ASEAN.

Something also very interesting is the fact that it is equal to the Wish in terms of wheelbase but significantly shorter and also narrower. Another key difference between this new MPV and the Toyota Sienta is the fact that the Sienta has sliding doors for the rear doors while this car uses conventional swing doors.

The primary engine for the Japanese market will be the 1.5 liter 3SZ-VE producing 109 PS at 6,000rpm and 141Nm of torque, but a 1.3 liter version could be available for the ASEAN market since the Avanza 1.3 was accepted quite well here.

The Japanese market interior will feature a dashboard with a centrally-mounted speedo and also a dash-mounted shifter (CVT for FWD, 4-speed auto for 4WD). ASEAN versions could see this shift lever moved to the area between the seats instead as we’ve seen this happen before with the Myvi (Passo) and the Nautica (Terios).

From the Toyota product photos of the interior leaked by MagX, the second row looks like it can either fit 3 adults but I think 2 adults and 1 child would be more comfortable. At least it comes with 3 headrests, though this may be omitted in our market for cost cutting. The third row is a strict 2-seater.

The second and third row can be folded down for a flat loading area. The loading area is 1330mm wide at the rear-most area but when you fold down the rear seats, this width reduces to 1045mm because of the rear wheel arches protruding into the cabin. The loading area height is 858mm.

So, there you have it. There’s no telling at the moment which market will get the new Toyota compact MPV first, but it’s either between one of the ASEAN countries (Indonesia in particular), or Japan. One possible unveiling schedule could see a more “sophisticated” (dash-mounted shifter, option for DVD player, etc) Japan version unveiled first, then a low cost ASEAN version, and finally the Perodua version in Q3 2009.

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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Renault Sandero Stepway

Renault is once again displaying the versatility of the Logan platform with this new concept, the Renault Sand’Up Concept. The Sand’Up Concept is based on the Renault Sandero Stepway, a budget compact “crossover” that is based on the Logan’s platform.

Renault calls it a fusion of both a “coupe” and a pick-up, though it’s only a pickup in the sense of very light duty such as ferrying your mountain bike to the park - don’t expect to do much heavy duty work with this thing! It also shares the Sandero Stepway’s higher ride height so some very light offroading should be achievable.

I can’t help but think that Proton has attempted this before a couple of years ago with the Proton Arena. It was also a very light pick-up modified from a car chassis, and if I recall correctly it had various styles, some of which made it look somewhat like a coupe.

More discussion at forum

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Chevrolet GPiX crossover coupe concept

The Chevrolet GPiX crossover coupe concept was unveiled earlier this week at the Sao Paulo International Auto Show in Brazil. Yes, this is another one of those coupe-SUV vehicles, but after looking at it you can’t help but think - hasn’t Chevrolet already done this before back in end-2005 with the Chevrolet T2X Concept?

According to GM, the reason the GPiX has a high ground clearance is because it is tailored to the types of road conditions typically found in emerging markets, and presumably the show’s host country Brazil is considered by GM to be one of those emerging markets with horrible roads, since the concept car was launched there.

The GPiX name means Global Picture (G-PiX), which translates into Global Image as they’ve intended it to mean. It probably sets the design direction for how GM/Chevrolet’s next generation global cars are going to look like.

Just give us the Chevrolet Cruze already!

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Sunday, October 26, 2008

Mitsubishi Galant Fortis

Those who pay attention to the automotive industry should know that the new Mitsubishi Lancer has grown so much in size that it is known as the Mitsubishi Galant Fortis in Japan, save for the Evolution version which is still called the Lancer Evolution X.

I was wondering if the warm Ralliart version will be called a Lancer or Galant Fortis, but now we know the answer as Mitsubishi Motors Japan has just announced the Mitsubishi Galant Fortis Ralliart. Read more about the Evo’s younger, less powerful but more affordable sibling after the jump.

The Galant Fortis Ralliart slashes the Evo X’s horsepower count down to 240 PS at 6,000rpm. Peak torque of 343Nm kicks in at 3,000rpm. Only the Twin Clutch SST is available, but its 5th and 6th gear ratios are different from the ratios in the Evo X’s Twin Clutch SST to optimize the highway speed gears for fuel economy rather than performance. Two shift modes are available - NORMAL or SPORT.

A full-time 4WD system remains featuring a helical front LSD, a mechanical rear LSD, an Active Center Differential which regulates the speed differential between front and rear wheels electronically to feed the optimal level of torque to each wheel, Active stability control which supresses wheel spin and sudden changes in vehicle behavior on slippery roads, and ABS brakes which can regulate the distribution of braking to each wheel. Brakes are 16 inch twin-pot brakes at the front, installed behind 18 inch alloy wheels wrapped with 215/45R18 tyres.

According to Mitsubishi, the Mitsubishi Galant Fortis Ralliart retails for 2,982,000 yen or about RM89,660 but this figure is excluding various costs like recycling surcharge, insurance, taxes (but inclusive of consumption tax) and registration costs. Not sure how much these additional costs are, but if anyone knows some light shed on this is appreciated.

Friday, October 24, 2008

2009 Honda Odyssey

Thursday, October 23, 2008

2009 Honda Accord Coupe

With stylish lines and available 18-inch wheels, the Accord Coupe will attract more than a passing glance.

Eagle eyes inspired the shape of the new projector-beam headlights.

Brilliantly finished exhaust, chrome door handles (V-6) jewel-like brakelights and an exquisite attention to fit and finish are proof that the Accord has left no stone unturned.

Options Abound
Accord Coupe offers three engines: a 2.4-liter i-VTEC® 4-cylinder, putting out 190 hp; and two versions of a 271-hp, 3.5-liter V-6 i-VTEC (automatic models) and the 6-speed manual transmission.

i-VTEC engines, which come standard in all Accord Coupes (except V-6 6MT), add more power and efficiency at all engine speeds. And the 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.

Honda power meets razor-sharp handling, thanks to a low center of gravity and a multi-link rear suspension.

In the 4-cylinder models, choose a quick-shifting 5-speed manual transmission or an available 5-speed automatic. In the Accord EX-L V-6 Coupe, go with the standard 5-speed automatic or opt for the close-ratio 6-speed manual transmission.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Honda Civic Si Coupe

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Lexus 250 C (Infiniti G37 Convertible)

Hot on the heels of the Lexus IS250C is the Infiniti G37 Convertible which will make its European debut in the summer of 2009. The car will only make its first public appearance at the 2008 LA Auto Show this November but a teaser photo of the side profile has been previously revealed, and now a second teaser image is out showing a rear three quarter view.

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Monday, October 20, 2008

Subaru WRX Accident At Geylang Oct 2008

Scary accident at Geylang, torn Subaru WRX into 2 parts.
2 dead, left spouses and a 5 years old kid.

Drive safely !

Volkswagen to step up efforts for ASEAN factory

Volkswagen is stepping up efforts to find a production base in South East Asia and will send a team of 20 people led by the VW group’s head of overseas manufacturing Christof Spathelf to ASEAN countries to look for suitable locations for its production base, or possibly multiple production bases.

The scenario could be either base or bases because according to sources, Vee-Dub’s top executives are having internal debates on whether to pick one single factory that can produce between 120,000 to 150,000 cars a year, or choose several bases - up to 5 factories in 5 countries to assemble CKD kits. VW group production head Jochem Heizmann said the ASEAN market is very varied from country to country - Thailand is a strong market for pickups while Malaysia is a strong passenger car market.

Because of this scenario, there may just still be hope for CKD Volkswagen cars here in Malaysia. One thing’s for sure - Volkswagen wants to try to enter without substantial investments so we may see some form of JV at least in terms of production capacity sharing with the owner of an existing plant.

Volkswagen predicts the ASEAN market countries will collectively hold a sales potential of 3 million new cars per year by 2018 from 1.7 million in 2007. ASEAN is considered a “gap in the map” that has to be filled in Volkswagen’s plans along with Russia and India.

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Sunday, October 19, 2008


SEAT calls it a “Spanish surprise” in its Paris 2008 press release but I’ll leave it up to you to judge whether a rehashed B7 Audi A4 is surprising in any way.

I first drove the B7 A4 back in 2006 and found it to be a very nice place to be in, especially in the 2.0 TFSI guise that I had my hands on.

The Exeo updates the A4’s interior with circular air conditioning vents instead of square ones as well as a more modern instrument panel featuring classy dark LCD panels with white fonts. The B7’s interior is still very much “in” and carries a more classy and contemporary look as compared to the B8’s more sporty jetfighter-cockpit feel.

Under the hood of the Paris show car was the 2.0 liter TFSI engine putting out 200 PS and 280Nm of torque, mounted longitudinally in the engine bay but driving the front wheels.

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Saturday, October 18, 2008

Impreza Spec-C (Takumi)

The above is supposed to be a preview of the upcoming Impreza Spec-C. It’s been christened the Subaru Impreza WRX STi Takumi Concept and gives us a sneak peek at the styling of the upcoming lightweight version of the Subaru Impreza. You can expect the Spec-C to shave at least 70kg off the stock standard STi via lighter body panels and roof, with other modifications as well such as bigger brakes and revised gear ratios.

Friday, October 17, 2008

New 2009 Mazda 3

Mazda has released three photos of the upcoming new 2009 Mazda3 Sedan, which will replace the current Mazda3 which was launched about 5 years ago. It will be officially unveiled to the public at the 2008 Los Angeles Auto Show on the 19th of November 2008.

The model being unveiled will be the sedan version designed for the North American market. It will come with a choice of 2.0 or 2.5 liter engines, which are actually rather larger for a C-segment sedan, but hey - we’re talking about the Americans and their love for large engines after all!

It looks rather like a downsized new generation Mazda6. The hatchback version will be revealed later, and probably the Mazdaspeed3 sometime after! There will probably be minor styling variations with the design for other markets - bumper and tail lamps.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Audi A1

Audi’s A1 Sportback Concept displayed at the 2008 Paris Motor Show picks up where the Audi metroproject quattro concept left off last year at Tokyo 2008. This time the preview to the upcoming A1 is in a 5-door guise instead of the Tokyo concept’s 3-door body.

Inside the engine bay is a 150 PS version of VW’s 1.4 liter TSI petrol engine with a nice 240Nm of torque between 1,600rpm and 4,000rpm. There is also a 27hp electric motor that can provide an additional 150Nm of twisting power whenever needed.

This motor seems to be smaller than the metroproject quattro’s unit which was capable of 40hp and 200Nm of torque. Also, in the previous concept car, the motor was positioned at the rear axle giving the car all-wheel drive but in this concept the motor is integrated into the drivetrain powering the front wheels together with the combustion engine.

When the Audi drive select is set to the default efficiency mode, the electric motor will be run selectively as the sole power source to minimize the use of the combustion engine. The brain that controls this also communicates with the onboard satnav system. For example, when you key in a journey that will take a distance of less than 50km, only the electric motor will be used.

The lithium-ion batteries that the motor draws its power from can provide enough power for up to a maximum of 100km on a full charge. The car is also a plug-in hybrid - the batteries can be recharged via plugging the car into a regular power outlet. Whenever maximum power is needed, both powerplants can function at once delivering maximum propulsion.

This is also one of the few hybrids which do not use a CVT transmission, instead sending power to the wheels via an S-Tronic dual clutch transmission with a new ESP-controlled active front differential lock.

Something else interesting is the Audi mobile device which has evolved from the mobile control unit that was found in the metroproject quattro. This time, such functionality will be available with any mobile phone that supports a special software you can download from the internet - I assume any J2ME phone would work. The phone would also need wifi support as it communicates with the car through an access point in the car.

The software will allow you to pre-plan your onboard satnav route from the phone while you are still in your home or office. But it won’t work if your office is very far away from the car park though as wifi range is not that far. You can also constantly monitor the status of your car such as whether all windows and doors are closed or not.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Proton MPV Spyshots

This could possibly be the first spyshots of the new Proton MPV and it’s all thanks to reader the_king, who snapped them on the highway near the Prai Industrial Estate. We previously saw the car’s drivetrain being tested in a test mule based on the Toyota Wish.

I believe that judging from the proportions in these photos you can already judge that the MPV will be quite tall, which should mean good headroom which is especially needed when you are trying to get into the third row from the second row doors.

As with the Satria Neo spyshots, there is no front view as the photographer was alone in the car. We can see a little bit of the vertical rear lamps exposed and as expected they have a similiar layout to the one in the teaser video, with the brake light positioned at the bottom and the signal lamps at the top.

Those wheels look like they’re 15 inches in size but because this is a prototype test vehicle, the wheels could be different or perhaps the right size but of a different design than the one that will go onto the production vehicle. But even so, we can’t see that detail in these photos because the Proton MPV was moving.

Look after the jump for 2 more shots, or have a look at my previous posts linked below with exclusive details on the new Proton MPV.

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Lexus IS-250 Sports

Lexus displayed the Lexus IS 250 Sports Concept at the 2008 Australian International Motor Show. Lexus says this new Sports Concept previews an upcoming version of the IS 250 that could provide younger customers with less deep pockets a taste or preview of what the IS-F could potentially give. This is exactly what BMW is doing with the M-Sport versions of their cars, except about 6 alphabets down the alphabet table.

The kit that was displayed included better cross-drilled two-piece brakes with 6-pots at the front and 4 at the rear, Bilstein shocks, sway bars and a chassis brace for better chassis rigidity, a performance air intake, exhaust, carbon fiber engine cover, front and rear lip spoilers and 19 inch 10-spoke alloy wheels done up in graphite grey.

Manual transmission versions also get a performance clutch with 16% better grip as well as a short shifter kit.

“The introduction of the IS 250 Sports Concept is still in preliminary stages but it’s something we definitely want to investigate. In the meantime, Lexus will concentrate on introducing the IS F performance sedan to the local market. Once we get the hero car into the marketplace, the rest will fall into place,” said Lexus Australia CEO John Roca.

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Thursday, October 09, 2008

2009 Bentley Brooklands Vehicle Overview


When a company with the lineage and prestige of Bentley introduces a new model, car fanatics the world over take note. They're bound to get even more excited when the company's latest luxury coupe displays classic Bentley styling cues -- along with a radically sloping roof line -- on an improved version of the Azure chassis. However, only spoiled Hollywood celebrities -- or those fortunate few with disposable incomes to match -- can afford to place an order for the limited-edition 2009 Bentley Brooklands.

Bentley named its latest handcrafted luxury creation after a famed English prewar auto racing circuit, which was the world's first banked track. In keeping with Bentley's race-winning heritage, the Brooklands packs an engine that gives axle-twisting torque a whole new meaning. The 6.8-liter twin-turbo V8 comes from the Brooklands' stablemates, the Arnage and the Azure. But it's updated with quicker-spooling turbochargers, less restrictive intake and exhaust systems, a revised camshaft and recalibrated engine management. Official output is 530 hp and 774 pound-feet of torque. While that may seem like overkill, bear in mind that the V8 has some serious poundage to haul around .The Brooklands is more than 17 feet long -- enough to swallow a full-sized SUV whole -- and weighs almost 3 tons.

With a base price of $348,085, why would anyone buy a Brooklands instead of a decadent executive luxury car, say, or an ultra-high-performance sports car? The answer is that this Bentley makes a statement the others don't. It's a modern representation of that bygone automotive era when women wore long dresses and cars had skirts. Back then, affluent gentlemen desired a large, luxurious coupe that was supremely dignified, yet powerful enough to be the king of virtually any highway. Today, whether the driver wears a tailored suit to the boardroom or a tracksuit to the set of a hip-hop video, the Brooklands brings the same goods -- all one needs to do is come up with enough cash to match its stratospheric price tag.

Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options

The 2009 Bentley Brooklands is a four-seat premium luxury coupe. It comes in only one trim, but of course, it's loaded with standard features. These include 20-inch wheels, xenon headlights, a navigation system with a back-up camera, Bluetooth, massaging front seats and power-reclining rear seats. Buyers can turn up the decadence a notch with the Mulliner option, which includes your choice of various exotic leathers and wood, carbon fiber or aluminum veneers. Custom exterior paint finishes and badging can also be had. Presumably, the only limitations here are your imagination and your credit limit.

Powertrains and Performance

The Brooklands has a 6.8-liter twin-turbo V8 backed by a six-speed automatic transmission with a manual shift mode. Rated at 530 hp and 774 lb-ft of torque, this frighteningly potent power plant blasts the burly Brooklands from zero to 60 mph in an estimated 5 seconds. EPA fuel economy is listed at 12 mpg city and 20 mpg highway.


The Brooklands features front and rear side-impact airbags, antilock brakes with brake assist, traction control, stability control and parking sensors.

Interior Design and Special Features

The 2009 Bentley Brooklands' interior is classically British with a few modern highlights. The ability to customize the interior with a vast array of hand-finished leathers and wood veneers will please buyers who covet an exclusive passenger compartment. By utilizing the rear-cabin structure of the Arnage sedan and power reclining rear seats, the Brooklands provides ample amounts of passenger room for a coupe.

Driving Impressions

Thanks to the mountains of torque and hp generated by the twin-turbo V8, the mammoth 2009 Bentley Brooklands can accelerate with the authority of a sports car. The suspension does a worthy job of isolating the cabin from road noise and pavement irregularities, while the steering provides a good amount of feedback to the driver. When it's pushed down a twisty road at an enthusiastic pace, there is still little doubt that you are piloting a vehicle that's nearly 3 tons, but the Brooklands maintains enough composure to minimize the drama.

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Tuesday, October 07, 2008

2009 Audi R8 Review


Passers-by in Los Angeles are as automotively jaded as they come, thanks to the endless stream of exotic sports cars roaring down the city's numerous boulevards. The 2009 Audi R8, however, is the perfect antidote to their indifference. Maybe it's the relative scarcity of these midengine all-wheel-drive supercars, or maybe the distinctive low-slung design is just that sexy. Whatever the case, the R8 attracts more stares from Angelenos than Al Gore at an OPEC meeting.

That kind of curb appeal is exactly what many buyers in this rarefied segment are looking for -- but they'd better be prepared to pay dearly. With a base price well over $100,000, the R8 is tens of thousands of dollars more expensive than such high-performance luminaries as the BMW M3, Chevrolet Corvette Z06, Nissan GT-R and Porsche 911. What's more, while the Audi's sonorous V8 makes it thrillingly quick, the GT-R and Z06 are quicker still, as is the competitively priced 911 GT3. Only when one considers that the R8 is based on the exclusive Lamborghini Gallardo does its price tag seem somewhat reasonable.

Considered on its own merits, though, the R8 is an awesome car. It all starts with that 4.2-liter 420-horsepower V8, which is one of our favorite engines currently in production. Power is sent to all four wheels in typical Audi fashion, and it's supported by communicative steering and brilliant handling. Inside, the R8 is impressively roomy for such a squat car, and the nicely shaped seats afford ride-all-day comfort. Along with its tolerable ride quality, this makes the R8 an exotic sports car you can genuinely live with every day. In fact, we'd venture to say that the R8 is one of the most accommodating supercars ever produced.

The 2009 Audi R8's shortcomings are few. Most glaringly, the optional automated manual R tronic transmission sucks too much joy out of the driving experience, delivering delayed, clunky upshifts. Also, there's an engine under the hatch and not much space in the nose-mounted trunk, so good luck carrying any cargo. And finally, there's that price tag -- for the same price as an R8, you could buy a GT-R or a Z06 and an Audi S5 coupe, which is powered by a lesser version of the R8's V8. But this doesn't change the fact that the R8 is one of the world's most desirable cars. We turn our heads, too, whenever we hear one purring past.

Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options

The 2009 Audi R8 is a two-door midengine AWD exotic sports car. Standard equipment includes 19-inch wheels, a retractable rear spoiler, xenon headlights, LED brake lights and turn signals, leather and Alcantara upholstery, power-adjustable sport seats, aluminum trim, automatic climate control, Bluetooth connectivity and a seven-speaker stereo with a six-CD changer.

Optional are carbon-fiber "sideblade" exterior styling panels, a Bang & Olufsen premium stereo, a navigation system and upgraded Napa leather upholstery. There's also the Convenience Package, which contains parking sensors, auto-dimming rearview mirrors and a "hill-holder" feature for models equipped with the conventional manual transmission.

Powertrains and Performance

The R8 sports a midmounted 4.2-liter V8 -- clearly visible through the R8's distinctive transparent engine cover -- that churns out 420 hp and 317 pound-feet of torque. Power flows to all four wheels (56 percent to the rears by default) through either a traditional six-speed manual transmission or Audi's six-speed R tronic automated manual. The latter features a computer-controlled clutch and can be shifted using either the console-mounted shift lever or steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters. The R tronic also offers a fully automatic mode.

In performance testing, we hustled a manual-shift R8 from zero to 60 mph in 4.2 seconds, dispatching the quarter-mile in 12.7 seconds at nearly 111 mph. In the R tronic model, our times increased to 4.6 seconds and 12.8 seconds at 108.4 mph. EPA fuel economy estimates stand at 13 mpg city/20 highway and 15 combined for cars equipped with the conventional manual transmission, while the R tronic lowers the highway estimate to 19 mpg.


Standard safety equipment includes antilock disc brakes, stability control, seat-mounted side airbags and knee-protecting airbags.

Interior Design and Special Features

The 2009 Audi R8 features an attractive interior with high-quality materials, although there are a few cheap-feeling bits, such as the hard plastic on the center console and the substandard emergency brake handle. The center stack swoops elegantly toward the windshield; however, this design requires the driver to lean forward in order to adjust certain controls. Also awkward is the race-inspired flat-bottomed steering wheel -- it may not telescope out far enough for those with long legs. The seats are superbly contoured for both hard driving and long-distance cruising.

Unlike in most newer Audis, the R8's Multi Media Interface (MMI) controls are mounted below the LCD screen on the center stack, which is less convenient than their typical location on the center console. Audi claims there's room behind the seats for two golf bags -- your results may vary. There are also 3.5 cubic feet of cargo space in the trunk; in practice, however, this less-than-optimally shaped cargo hold can't swallow much more than a duffel bag and some odds and ends.

Driving Impressions

The 2009 Audi R8 won't let you forget that it's an exotic sports car -- you'll feel every bump, and road noise is pronounced relative to most other Audis. But the ride quality is certainly livable, and there's surprisingly good visibility in all directions. On back roads, the R8's prodigious power, razor-sharp reflexes and heroic grip make this AWD exotic feel almost as tossable as a lightweight roadster, albeit one with handling limits beyond the reach of all but the most skilled (or foolhardy) drivers.

We can't recommend the outdated single-clutch R tronic gearbox, though, because its automatic throttle blips on downshifts can't compensate for its cranky upshifts, which manage to be at once sluggish and neck-snapping. The conventional manual transmission, on the other hand, is a joy to operate, featuring an excellent mechanical feel augmented by an audible clink-clink as you row through the exposed metal gates.

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2008 Kia Rio Review


In the rather unexciting subcompact car segment, traits such as reliability and refinement take precedence over head-spinning styling and tire-spinning performance. And in that respect, the 2008 Kia Rio has the bases more than covered. Pleasant to drive, stocked with features, solidly built and boasting that long (10 year/100,000-mile) powertrain warranty, the current-generation Rio is something the dodgy first-gen Rio wasn't -- very competitive in its class.

This year, the Kia Rio lineup expands via the addition of the Rio5 LX. Those who prefer the five-door hatchback body style now have a cheaper way in, as the hatch previously only came in the top-dog SX trim level. The Rio family now consists of three sedans (base, LX and SX) and two hatchbacks (LX and SX). With its Euro-flavored good looks that seem inspired by Renault, the Kia Rio hatchback offers an extra dash of style compared to the more mainstream sedan, along with the practicality of its roomy cargo hold.

In the budget ride ($11,000 to $15,000) price segment, we're fond of the 2008 Kia Rio as well as its sibling, the Hyundai Accent. However, in light of the Rio's varying trim levels and pricing structure, our recommendation is somewhat split. If low cost is of utmost importance, the base Rio measures up favorably against its more direct rivals such as the Chevrolet Aveo. Move up to the higher trims, however, and you will find more desirable choices available like the Honda Fit and Nissan Versa.

Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options

The 2008 Kia Rio is a subcompact available as a sedan and four-door hatchback. The sedan comes in base, LX and SX trim levels, while the Rio5 hatchback comes in LX and SX trims only.

The base sedan is bare-bones in most respects. The LX adds popular features that include wider tires, air-conditioning, power steering, a 60/40-split-folding rear seat, a tilt steering wheel and a CD player with an auxiliary audio jack. The sporty SX versions add foglights, 15-inch alloy wheels, a rear spoiler, metallic interior accents, drilled metal pedals, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and a black-with-red-accents cabin theme.

Options include the Power package (which adds full power features, keyless entry and tweeter speakers) and 16-inch alloy wheels for the SX.

Powertrains and Performance

Every 2008 Kia Rio is powered by a 1.6-liter inline-4 with 110 horsepower and 107 pound-feet of torque. A five-speed manual transmission is standard across the board, while a four-speed automatic is optional on all but the base sedan.

With the automatic gearbox, acceleration is slightly subpar. A Rio5 SX we tested took 11.5 seconds to run to 60 mph. However, the automatic does provide swift, well-timed shifts. As expected, the manual transmission makes the Rio more sprightly and fun to drive. Although the engine can get noisy under full throttle, it's relatively smooth and cruises quietly once up to freeway speeds.

Fuel mileage ratings for 2008 stand at 27 mpg city and 32 mpg highway with the manual and 25/35 mpg, respectively, for the automatic.


Front-seat side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags are standard on all Rios. The LX and SX trims also come with adjustable rear headrests. Antilock disc brakes are optional on those higher trim levels as well.

In government frontal-impact crash testing, the 2008 Kia Rio scored four stars (out of five) for driver protection and five stars for passenger protection. In its side-impact test, the Rio earned four stars for front-occupant protection and three stars for the rear. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety testing yielded a score of "Acceptable" (the second highest of four) in frontal offset tests and a score of "Poor" (the lowest possible) in that agency's side-impact test.

Interior Design and Special Features

The Rio's cabin, especially in beige, has an airy feel unexpected in this price segment. The materials quality is generally above average, though some trim isn't up to Honda levels. Seat comfort is very good for most body types, though drivers north of 6 feet tall may get fidgety after more than an hour behind the wheel. A fold-down armrest is standard for the driver, but we'd prefer a more traditional center console box that provides this feature for both front occupants along with handy storage space. In back, headroom is a bit tight for 6-footers, but legroom is fully adequate and the tall bench provides good thigh support.

Driving Impressions

The 1.6-liter four provides decent low-end pull and the manual-transmission version offers enough thrust to merge into highway traffic with ease, although the engine gets noisy at higher rpm. Precise gates and a smooth clutch make shifting the manual gearbox enjoyable. The automatic isn't as peppy, though its gearchanges are smooth and relatively quick. The 2008 Kia Rio's ride is smooth and stable, and even at 75 mph, the cabin is hushed. The suspension isn't as composed over broken pavement as we'd like, though, as large impacts tend to shudder through the cabin. Pushed through corners, the Rio responds with predictable body roll and unexpectedly crisp steering.

Monday, October 06, 2008

2008 Ford Focus SES

If you follow business news, you probably know that Ford's finances haven't been in the best of shape these past few years. As such, there hasn't been much money to go around. So what's an automaker to do when one of its cars is in need of an expensive redesign? Put out the tin cup? Hope that Monopoly money suddenly becomes legal tender?

No, silly. Give it an Extreme Makeover: Ford Edition! While the 2008 Ford Focus is being labeled as new, in fact, it's the beneficiary of a major refresh rather than a redesign. The car has updated sheet metal, a new coupe body style, a new interior design and the much-hyped Ford Sync system, but the underlying body structure and powertrain are largely the same as last year...and none too different from seven years before that.

The question, of course, is whether this makeover is sufficiently deep to keep the Focus a viable and recommended choice for a small car. To find out, we bought a 2008 Ford Focus SES Coupe for our long-term program. This road test concerns that car.


The Focus comes equipped with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. In most states, it produces 140 horsepower and 136 pound-feet of torque. Focus models sold in California and other select states meet the super squeaky-clean "PZEV" tailpipe emission tier; this is the case for our car, and consequently power drops slightly to 132 hp and 133 lb-ft. In instrumented testing, our four-speed-automatic-equipped Focus accelerated from zero to 60 mph in 9.7 seconds.

As economy cars go, 9.7 seconds is about average. Given our car's sporty coupe body style, however, one might expect better performance. Unfortunately, a more powerful optional engine — cars like the Chevrolet Cobalt coupe and Honda Civic coupe offer one — isn't available. The flip side, however, is that the Focus delivers better-than-average fuel economy. The EPA gives an automatic-equipped Focus a 24 mpg city/33 mpg rating, with a combined rating of 28 mpg. In our time with the car, we saw slightly lower numbers.

On the move, the 2008 Ford Focus SES falls in the middle of the road in regards to handling performance. Earlier Focus models were known for their lively steering and fun-to-drive nature. These attributes aren't as immediately apparent in the new car, as Ford chose to prioritize stability and ride quality instead. This is even the case with the as-tested SES trim, which comes standard with sportier wheels and tires and a rear antiroll bar. The Focus still possesses decent steering response and grip. But drivers looking for a sport-themed small car will find driving excitement elsewhere.


Ford says that it made a number of improvements to the 2008 Focus to help reduce wind noise. This is all well and good, but the Focus won't be getting many smiles from shush-happy librarians. Wind noise is, in fact, fairly muted, but road noise and vibration can be intrusive at highway speeds. The Focus' ride quality, at least, is pleasingly stable for a small car.

The front seats are firm and flat — they seem shaped for people who never met a Triple Whopper with Cheese they didn't like. On the SES coupe, height adjustment for the driver comes standard. One disappointment is the lack of a telescoping function for the steering wheel — this previously available feature was discontinued for 2008.

The Focus coupe isn't as rear-passenger-friendly as other small coupes. The front seats don't slide or cant forward easily, nor do they return to their original positions when placed back. Once seated in the rear, at least, normal-size adults will find suitable amounts of legroom and headroom. There's also generous foot room thanks to high mounting of the front seats. Unfortunately, there aren't any rear head restraints, which hampers long-distance comfort for adults and raises questions about crash safety.


Sync this into your brain: Sync is cool. Essentially, it's a Microsoft-developed, voice-activated control system for portable MP3 players plus Bluetooth cell phone connectivity for hands-free calling. It comes standard on the Focus SES.

Most portable MP3 players are compatible. You just need to use a special cable to hook up the player to the combo auxiliary audio jack/USB port. Sync will scan the MP3 player's musical contents and then one can control the player using voice commands, such as "Play artist: Madonna," or "Play playlist: Driving Songs." Sync confirms commands with a synthesized voice ("playing: Madonna"). Song information is also presented on a dash-mounted display. Other nice touches: MP3 players get their batteries charged while connected, and you can use the steering-wheel-mounted controls to skip through tracks.

In general, Sync worked very well for us. It recognized most of our voice prompt requests, and it didn't get tripped up when we threw some Spanish song titles at it. (The thick Sync manual says it can even be set up to operate in French or Spanish. "Tocar artista: Madonna!") There were times when Sync didn't recognize a voice request (it absolutely refused to play any music associated with Dean Martin), which means you're out of luck since the Focus' dedicated buttons can only advance tracks within a voice-selected song list. Plus, once your player is connected, you can't operate it by its own controls. You can, however, simply plug your iPod into the standard auxiliary audio jack (if you're really hankering for some Dino).

Design/Fit and Finish

Ford did what it could to make the Focus look new. But most of our staff found the '08 model to be worse looking than past models. The car's lines simply aren't cohesive, and certain design elements, such as the chrome fender vents (which don't actually vent anything) look totally tacked on.

Change for the better will be found on the inside. The dash and center stack have been completely redesigned and additional storage areas have been added. The look of the dash is high-tech. At night, the controls have blue illumination, and our car had the optional custom-color LEDs that light up the cupholders and footwells. There's enough interior storage for cell phones and MP3 players, and the center console bin is quite deep.

There are some annoying design missteps, however. The interior door handles for the coupe are placed too far forward. Leveragewise, this makes the doors feel overly heavy when closing. The white-faced gauges are hard to read. Finally, many of the interior materials simply aren't up to snuff. Fit and finish is fine, but overall quality is a few steps behind what's available from class leaders.

Who Should Buy This Vehicle

Ford's tagline for the 2008 Focus is "Where MP3s meet MPGs." And guess what? Sync really does work. If you live your life one MP3 at a time and score big with pricing incentives, maybe the 2008 Ford Focus is for you. But to us, this is an underachieving small car more fitting of the following tagline: "Good enough for government work."

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Sunday, October 05, 2008

2008 Honda Civic LX

Not many relationships can last 35 years. Yet Americans are still in love with the Honda Civic, a car that debuted in the 1970s and has gone on to be one of the best-selling cars in the U.S. Sure, the Civic hasn't often been the flashiest of the economy sedans out there, but it has always boasted the most desirable attributes of a successful long-term partner: reliable, safe and economical. And the Civic has still managed to keep its youthful look over the years thanks to occasional reworkings and face-lifts. The most recent redesign dates back to 2006 and includes dramatic exterior styling and a futuristic dash design.

We decided to test a 2008 Honda Civic to find out how well this latest Civic is faring in the marketplace. Our test car was a four-door, five-seat Civic LX sedan — a step above the base model. It comes standard with many features that are pretty much expected these days, such as antilock brakes, side and side curtain airbags, a CD player and an auxiliary audio jack. These features, along with impressive build quality, a fuel-efficient and peppy engine and plenty of cargo space make the 2008 Honda Civic LX a great all-around economy sedan.


Don't think of using the Honda Civic LX as a getaway car — it isn't going to blow the doors off any highway patrol vehicles. But the 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine, which makes 140 horsepower and 128 pound-feet of torque, still has plenty of power for just about any other situation. Our five-speed automatic-equipped Civic accelerated from zero to 60 mph in 9.6 seconds, which is quite respectable for a small sedan; for comparison, a Mazda Mazda3 with the 2.0-liter engine we recently tested got to 60 mph in 9.8 seconds.

One nice attribute about the Civic was its frugalness — for the time we spent with our 2008 Civic LX tester, we averaged 27 mpg. The EPA gives the Civic a 25 mpg city rating and a 36 mpg highway rating, both of which rank near the top of the economy sedan segment.

Braking, while mostly on par with the class and price point, leaves a little to be desired. We found significant ABS noise and shudder during the braking test, especially up front. The Civic also has a tendency to wander slightly under full braking.

These aren't issues that will likely come up during less stressful driving, of course, and it was here that the Civic shines. The steering is accurate and the handling, though modest in terms of absolute limits, is sporty enough to make the car fun to drive on twisty roads.


The 2008 Honda Civic LX is particularly roomy for a small car. There is plenty of headroom and legroom in both the front and the rear. The fabric front seats in the Honda Civic LX are comfortable, but in a hang-out-on-the-sofa kind of way, as opposed to a stay-awake-and-drive-all-night kind of way. While soft, they lack any bolsters or reinforcements for additional support. The manual adjustments offer a broad range of seating positions, and a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel comes standard. Some of our taller staffers remarked that the Civic's driver seat doesn't go back as far as those on some other models we've tested, such as the Toyota Corolla. The backseat sits three adults relatively comfortably, and the completely flat floor in back saves the middle rear passenger from having to navigate any uncomfortable humps.

The Civic's small, yet reasonably thick steering wheel feels good in our hands and reminds us of those found in sportier cars. Overall visibility from the driver seat is just fine, but the positioning of the Civic's pillars and headrests create a couple of blind spots.

While driving, we experienced a good deal of wind and road noise, but it wasn't uncomfortable or overly distracting. (Hondas in general aren't particularly known for their quiet ride.)


It might be a stretch to call the 2008 Honda Civic controversial, but one of the styling cues that seems to cause quite a stir among drivers is Honda's split gauge cluster design. A traditional tachometer is in the usual spot behind the steering wheel, while the digital speedometer and fuel gauge sit higher up in the dash, above the sight line of the wheel. While this seems strange at first, we find that the placement makes it easy for us to check our speed and fuel levels without having to take our eyes very far off the road. And the icy blue lights on the black display are very pleasing to look at. Other controls, such as those for climate, are simple and easy to use.

The 160-watt, four-speaker AM/FM/CD audio system doesn't shake anyone's windows while we wait at red lights, but it does an adequate job of playing our tunes. Auxiliary audio jacks are a must-have feature these days, and the Civic LX comes standard with one. We noticed how a tray in the center console between the gearshifter and the cupholders was the perfect place for our MP3 player to sit while plugged in.

Trunk space is impressive, as we were easily able to fit a large suitcase and two sets of golf clubs horizontally, with a bit of room to spare. Our only complaint is that the folding rear seat only comes down as one unit; it's not split.

Design/Fit and Finish

The fit and finish of our 2008 Honda Civic LX is impressive, and we generally think the Civic is one of the best in the segment in this regard. On the outside, body panel gaps are tight and consistent. On the inside, a mix of colors and textures keep the car visually interesting without being garish. Materials are of decent quality — the seat cloth, for example, is one of the nicest in the price range (but we would avoid getting the light color our test car came with). Overall, the Civic's interior gives the impression that you're driving a more expensive car than you actually are.

Who Should Buy This Vehicle

A student, retiree or small family who wants a well-performing economy car. Alternately, a road-weary commuter who's ready to ditch the big SUV for better gas mileage and a lower cost of ownership.

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Saturday, October 04, 2008

Test Drive: 2008 Subaru Impreza WRX

Subaru Impreza WRX owners are a pretty fanatical lot. They love their cars for their funky body styling, spunky turbocharged engines and athletic handling that would shame many pricier sport coupes and sedans. Yet reading message boards about the redesigned 2008 WRX, you'd think Subaru has made the biggest business blunder since the introduction of New Coke.

The uproar mostly has to do with Subaru's approach. For this new Impreza, Subaru is hoping to attract a wider customer base. It improved the quality of the interior, softened the suspension tuning for a better ride quality and took a more conservative approach toward styling.

Unfortunately, Subaru enthusiasts think that it softened the suspension too much and sanitized the styling to the point of pure blandness. So has the WRX truly lost its mojo? We tested a 2008 WRX hatchback to find out.


Like the previous Subaru Impreza WRX, the 2008 version has plenty of get-up-and-go. Our test car skedaddled to 60 mph in just 6.2 seconds and flashed through the quarter-mile in 14.6 seconds, quicker than cars like the Honda Civic Si. Braking was similarly solid, with a stop of 123 feet from 60 mph.

Swapping gears with the five-speed manual's gearshift is pleasant enough, with a fairly precise run through the gates and an easily modulated clutch pedal. Enthusiasts will likely also dig the turbocharged flat-4's healthy growl. Sadly, fuel economy isn't impressive, with EPA ratings of 19 miles per premium gallon city, 24 mpg highway and 21 mpg combined. In our time with the car, our admittedly heavy feet resulted in a combined figure of 18 mpg.

Anyone who has driven the previous WRX will be most disappointed in the new version's softer suspension tuning. Although the window sticker states under standard features "Suspension: Sport-Tuned," it could've fooled us. Perhaps they meant "sport" in the same light as lawn bowling or badminton.

In an attempt to win over folks who might've deemed the previous car's underpinnings too stiff, the chassis guys went too far the other way. Take on a twisty road and you won't feel the buttoned-down composure you'd expect, but rather an abundance of body roll. As a result, this compact sport sedan doesn't inspire much confidence, nor does it feel all that sporty. Perhaps the assembly line routed the WRX engines into the standard Impreza by mistake? We're not sure. On the upside, the WRX does deliver a compliant ride on pockmarked city roads and during high-speed cruising. But we think most shoppers would trade this for better handling.


The WRX's well-shaped sport seats offer solid long-distance support as well as ample side bolstering, though the latter is of questionable value given the car's lack of cornering prowess. A tilt and telescoping steering wheel and height-adjustable driver seat allowed a wide range of staffers — from 5-foot-5 to 6-foot-3 in height — to find an ideal driving position. And the WRX's relatively high roof line means tall folks can ride comfortably; we had a pair of 6-foot-1 staffers seated one behind the other with ample headroom and without knees touching the seatback.

At speed on the freeway, the WRX offers a quiet ride, with wind and road noise well muted. Hard acceleration brings a strong growl from the engine compartment, but as mentioned before, we imagine that enthusiasts will take delight in the sound. We certainly did.


The climate control knobs are located rather low on the center stack, but apart from that, most controls in the Subaru WRX are a snap to use. The navigation system features a simple interface and high-mounted screen. It's nice that there are steering-wheel-mounted audio controls, but the small, similar-shaped buttons take a little acclimation before they can be operated without a glance.

Should you choose the hatchback version of the WRX (like our test car), you'll find generous cargo capacity. With the split rear seats up, there are 19 cubic feet available (about the same as a Cadillac DTS). Flip them down and it expands to 44.4 cubes. Our test car was fitted with the optional cargo tray, a grippy mat with a lipped edge, which proved ideal for keeping things from sliding around. Stowing a couple of golf bags or a large suitcase back there is no sweat. Thanks to the roomy cabin and tall greenhouse, securing a rear-facing child seat in the back is also a snap.

Design/Fit and Finish

Even though it sports a hood scoop, 17-inch alloy wheels and spoilers fore and aft, the latest WRX still manages to look rather tame. That undesired effect is due chiefly to the generic grille and bland body styling. The upshot is that the WRX is more invisible to Johnny Law while cruising the interstate than its harder-edged, extroverted STI sibling.

The cabin is much more attractive than the exterior, with a sweeping dash design, tasteful faux metallic accents and solid build and materials quality throughout. A large tach sits front and center, emphasizing the WRX's feisty performance.

Who Should Buy This Vehicle

Those who value straight-line gusto and the all-weather grip of all-wheel drive but don't care much about athletic handling may want to check out the 2008 Subaru Impreza WRX. Everyone else should consider the worthy rivals shown below or just wait until next year, when Subaru is slated to firm up the WRX's suspension and give it more power to boot.

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Friday, October 03, 2008

Peugeot Prologue Concept

Peugeot will be displaying the Peugeot Prologue Concept on its home turf at the 2008 Paris Motor Show. It pretty much looks like a conventional 5-door hatchback although it appears to be higher and larger than the likes of the Peugeot 308.

It seems that Peugeot will be releasing a production MPV called the Peugeot 3008 built on the 308 platform soon and the Prologue previews the 3008’s styling cues. It doesn’t look like it will sit 7 or even 6 so this may be a 5-seater MPV in the style of the Citroen C4 Picasso (as opposed to the C4 Grand Picasso).

Not much details have been revealed but under the hood is a petrol-electric hybrid system that produces a joint peak output of 200 horsepower. Is this the 1.6 liter turbocharged BMW-Prince engine mated to an electric motor? CO2 output is 109g/km on the combined cycle or 0g/km in fully electric mode.

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Thursday, October 02, 2008

Mitsubishi will build Concept-cX SUV

It comes as no surprise that Mitsubishi will be making a production version of the Concept-cX SUV first shown at last year's Frankfurt Motor Show. The design was well received and will slot right beneath the Outlander in size and price. Equipped with a new 1.8-liter, Euro 5-compliant Clean Diesel four-cylinder turbo engine, the cute 'ute will be the new flag-bearer for Mitsu's green efforts. Borrowing the twin-clutch SST transmission and all-wheel-drive platform from the latest Evo aims to put the 'sport' back in the Sport Utility Vehicle.

While the new SUV and Mitsubishi's line of Clean Diesel engines is a lock for the European market, we are still waiting for an announcement regarding what other markets the cX will be headed to and what other engine options will be available.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Toyota Begins Testing Plug-in Hybrid Vehicles in UK

Tokyo — TOYOTA MOTOR CORPORATION (TMC) announces that together with EDF Energy, the British subsidiary of the French energy company EDF, it began testing TMC-produced plug-in hybrid vehicles on public roads in the United Kingdom on September 10.

To officially kick off the tests, TMC and EDF held a joint press conference in Hyde Park, London, on the same day, which was attended by, among others, UK Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform John Hutton, other members of the UK Parliament, London municipal government officials and the Japanese Ambassador to the United Kingdom Shin Ebihara. EDF Energy Chief Executive Vincent de Rivaz, TMC Managing Officer Koei Saga, Toyota Motor Europe Senior Vice President Graham Smith and others were also present.

At the press conference, TMC's Saga, who is in charge of hybrid system development, said, "We are very excited to expand our PHV road testing program to the UK in collaboration with EDF Energy. Today's announcement represents a step-change towards acceptance of electricity in combination with hybrid technology as a viable and sustainable transport solution."

The UK road tests, like those conducted with EDF in France starting in autumn 2007, involve setting up necessary infrastructure, evaluating vehicle performance and ease-of-use, and surveying participating vehicle users. Plans call for the test period to continue for more than one year.

The UK is the fifth country in which TMC has conducted tests of plug-in hybrid vehicles on public roads, following tests that began in 2007 in Japan, the United States, France and Belgium.

While the current tests involve use of vehicles equipped with nickel-metal hydride batteries, TMC is also accelerating development of plug-in hybrid vehicles equipped with lithium-ion batteries. Sales of the latter to fleet customers in Japan, the United States and Europe are planned to begin—ahead of the original schedule—by the end of 2009.

TMC intends to continue meeting the challenge of achieving sustainable mobility that aims to create harmony among cars, people and the environment, and, to this end, positions its hybrid technology, including its plug-in hybrid vehicles, at the core of its environmental technologies.