It’s Coming, It’s Coming!!

Yes, that’s right. The  North American International Auto Show is coming soon. There’s excitement in the air! Can’t wait to find out what the new cars are going to look like, feel like and what the new features the automakers are going to come out with.

Expect more stunning designs, more hybrids and pure electrics and more cabin technology.

You can find the public show dates here or just keep reading:

 

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Experience the next generation of transportation at the North American International Auto Show 2012. See more than 500 vehicles on display, representing the most innovative designs in the world and experience North America’s largest and most prestigious automotive showcase.

Date & Times

Saturday, January 14 – Saturday, January 21, 2012
9 a.m. – 10 p.m. (no admittance after 9 p.m.)

Sunday, January 22, 2012
9 a.m. – 7 p.m. (no admittance after 6 p.m.)

Early access for handicapped individuals at 8 a.m.
Enter at the Oakland Entrance.

Tickets

  • Adults: $12 per person
  • E-Tickets: $12 per person
  • Any Day Pass, Group Ticket: $8 with a purchase of 30 tickets or more
  • Seniors: $6 (65 and older)
  • Children: $6 (7-12 years old; 6 and under free with a parent or guardian)

Please contact the Ticketing Office at:

1900 West Big Beaver Road
Suite 100
Troy, MI 48084
Phone: 248.283.5173
Fax: 248.283.5172

Hours of Operation:

Monday – Friday             9 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Location

Cobo Center
One Washington Boulevard
Detroit, MI 48226
USA

American Red Cross Blood Drive

The American Red Cross will be hosting a blood drive on Saturday, January 14 – Monday, January 16 as well as Saturday, January 21. Located in room W2-62 at Cobo Center, contributors may donate from 2 p.m. – 8 p.m. American Red Cross staff members encourage both walk-ins and/or scheduling appointments at www.givelife.org. (Sponsor code: naias)

For further information, please contact the American Red Cross at 313.833.4440.

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Saved the best RETRO REVIEW for last…the Pontiac G8 GT!!!!

2008 Pontiac G8 GT

2008 G8 GT

GTO’s Big Brother Hits Our Shores With A Vengeance

by James E. Bryson

Not since the new GTO came out in 2004 have we been so anxious for a new American car to hit the marketplace. The 2008 Pontiac G8 GT could easily be the best Pontiac this side of the muscle car era. With rear-wheel-drive, a powerful and quiet(!) V8 and handling that could rouse Ferdinand Porsche out of his slumber; we may just have a verifiable hit on our hands…as long as you don’t want touch-screen navigation or built-in XM satellite radio.

Going after the Dodge Charger, which currently holds the market on Detroit cool-ness and rear-wheel V8 power, Pontiac has made a leap and two bounds past the previous Bonneville, which the G8 replaced.

Comparing the G8 and Charger, you get two totally different philosophies and demeanors, even in top trim levels. The Pontiac wins hands done in looks, with Euro-styling, flared fenders, snarling hood with requisite scoops and that looks-fast-standing-still, hunkered-down attitude. You also get a 6.0-liter L76 V8 with 361 horsepower and 385 lb.-ft. of torque and six-speed automatic with manual shifting at the lever. In the Charger, you get a 5.7-liter hemi V8 with 340 horsepower and 390 lb.-ft. of torque and somewhat bland, slab-sided styling with squared off rear lights and a somewhat fastback roofline. (No bias here, eh?)

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Inside, the G8 is Euro-inspired with well-bolstered seats, clean and tidy gauges and tactile switch gear within easy reach. There’s also some bright work that lends an aire of sophistication to the G8; satin metal surrounds on the center stack that highlight the gear shift and cup holders and a satin metal line running from door to door that helps break up the dash in upper and lower sections. Another section of satin metal trim is on the steering wheel. This piece is much better than the similar styling on the Saturn VUE as it’s not metal and not cold to the touch.

The rear seat is large, as you would expect from the big Pontiac, but it’s also comfortable enough for long trips. And the trunk Is huge…enough for a few golf bags and a week’s worth of your finest golf clothes…but please leave the funky pants at home.

Our only real gripe about the interior has to do with the top of the center stack: there is an LED display that shows secondary gauges like battery and oil temp. It’s a waste of perfectly good real estate that could house a pop-up navigation screen or something else worthwhile.

As you can tell, power corrupts. It’s exhilarating to hit 80 miles per hour on a freeway on-ramp without breaking a sweat. Or catching the apex, hitting the gas (while holding the correct gear) and squirting out of the corner like a bat out of hell…to coin a phrase.

We enjoyed the hustle and flow shown by the G8 on our test loop, especially the long, fast slow radius turns on the hilly section. Watch out Po-po, we got a mean driving machine heading your way!

2008 G8 GT (7)

Putting all the G8’s power to the pavement is easy with standard traction control and Stabilitrak stability control, but it’s a real hoot to turn those off and just let the tires spin every once in a while. (This is easier to when the car’s not yours and you’re not buying the tires!)

Speaking of paying…we got about 17 miles per gallon in the week we had the G8, in mixed driving, which puts our mileage at the lower end of the EPA estimates of 15 city/24 highway. While not bad for a performance car, it’ll surely put a big dent in the pocketbook with gas hovering around $4 nationally as this is written.

The G8 comes with V6 power (3.6 liters – 256 horses and 248 lb.-ft.) and one less cog in the tranny in the Base model, for those who want the look but not the power, better gas mileage or a lesser hit to the insurance. Pricing for the Base model starts at $27,595.

Standard equipment on both models of note include six air bags, air conditioning (dual zone on the GT), Blaupunkt 11-speaker AM/FM/CD radio with auxiliary input jack, power windows/mirrors/locks with remote keyless entry, four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, four-wheel independent suspension, the aforementioned Stabilitrak and Onstar, along with a bevy of other nice features.

The GT model we drove started at $29,310 and had only one option; the $1200 premium package that includes leather seats, front seats with 6-way power and heat and leather on the shift lever. The total, including a destination charge of $685 came to $31,245. A steal for what you get.

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Another Cool Car From The Koreans

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This is the Hyundai Veloster. Another way-cool design from those crazy kids from across that big pond known as the Pacific. Its design is reminiscent of small hatches of the 80s, especially the Honda CRX, and of the more modern hatches like the Ford Focus 3-door and the Honda CR-Z hybrid.

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Like most current Hyundais, the Veloster has attractive character lines that enhance the overall design and make it look like a much more expensive car.

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Inside, Veloster carries the corporate interior theme; handsome and elegant with an upscale look and feel and top-of-the-line technologies.

Under the hood, you’ll find a 1.6-liter direct injection powerplant with 138 horsepowers and 123 torques (to coin a phrase) that should return 40 miles per gallon, according to Hyundai.

Putting that power to the pavement is you choice of 6-speed transmissions, a manual or, if you go for the upgrade, a dual clutch with paddles and Hillstart assist that minimizes backwards rolling on hills.

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From initial impressions, it looks like Hyundai has another hit on its hands. Once you see one on the road, you too will get it!


Here’s another Retro Review:

2006 Pontiac Torrent

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Once Again, A First Ever Vehicle From Pontiac

by James E. Bryson

In the ever-increasing world of high-priced ad campaigns and catchy "catch" phrases, Pontiac did it again with it’s latest barrage of ads by proclaiming their new SUV as the first ever Pontiac Torrent, following the first ever G6…Call me when it’s safe to watch TV again.

But seriously, GM needs a new SUV like Michael Jackson needs another nose job.

The only saving grace for the General is the quality of build and decent lines and design of the new smaller SUVs that include the Torrent and Chevy Equinox. We were quite surprised when we saw the Torrent and Vibe in the flesh. The Torrent is definitely the Vibe’s big brother, with a cleaner, more polished look…like you’d expect of an older sibling.

Speaking of style and design, the front fascia was Pontiac-ified and looks different enough from the Equinox to keep most people from thinking they are the same vehicle. It has the double kidney design and aggressive look found on all modern Pontiacs, while not being overly aggressive and staying away from extra plastic and hood scoops – take that as you will because either you think all Pontiacs should have the scoops or not. We’re sure that Bob Lutz is right now figuring out a way to get hood scoops out to the masses in the aftermarket…maybe in a GM catalog or something.

First impression – interior colors, fabric and patterns are hideous! The crisscross pattern is similar to houndstooth but not as attractive. The feel is not bad, like it could last a long time, but the look is something from another era that maybe hasn’t happened yet. The funny thing about those last few sentences was how our feelings changed during our week with the Torrent. We got to really like the fabric and felt it was of a high quality and fit the interior to a "T".

The mid-level radio in the Torrent has good sound and a great sub-woofer to really feel the bass thumping in everything you listen to…well worth it!

The seats are as comfortable as any GM has ever produced. The second row is comfortable as well, with good fabric that clings to you and keeps you in the seat around corners; which is great because side bolstering is non-existent back there. We also like the full adjustments offered in the rear area: The seats recline, split/fold and move fore and aft for a very versatile vehicle with a voracious appetite for people and things.

Out back, we liked the tray system that had three different levels and seemed to be well thought out and expertly executed. The tray rests in a depressed area just fore of the tailgate. You just pick it up and slide it into either of two different levels of height, making it quite flexible and easy to use.

The ride of the Torrent is quite good, probably because we drove the front-wheel drive model. There was none of the harshness over bumps or excessive body roll in corners that help denote an all-wheel drive system. It seems that Pontiac worked diligently to make the Torrent a more sporting SUV, keeping the Excitement division alive in every vehicle.

The bottom line on the Torrent we drove was $27,540. Not bad considering the high level of standard and optional equipment on this vehicle.

Standard goodies include the 3400 V6, five-speed automatic transmission, remote keyless entry, traction control, anti-lock brakes, 16-inch aluminum wheels, air and power everything; all that and a bag of chips for a standard price of $22,400.

On the options list, we got the $1,555 preferred package (six-way power driver seat, tinted glass, premium cloth, cruise control, auto-dimming mirror with temperature and compass, steering wheel radio controls, luggage rack cross bars leather-wrapped wheel, carpeted floormats and cargo net); the $1,285 sun and sound package (power sunroof, stereo with six-disc changer and Pioneer seven-speaker system with sub woofer and amplifier); the $1,090 security package (side impact and head curtain airbags and one year of OnStar safe and sound); XM satellite radio for $325 with three months free and 17-inch aluminum wheels for $295.

Add to the options a $590 destination charge and you get an as tested price of $27,540. Not bad for a loaded SUV that has plenty of room for you and a lot of your stuff. Sure, you can get a smaller trucklet with all-wheel drive but you wouldn’t be getting a "first ever" Pontiac Torrent. But, you might not get all this great stuff either.

Update

On the heels of my last post that highlighted how Ford and GM need to bring their newest, most curvaceous small trucks to the US.

Well, read all about how GM is bringing that sweet Colorado, along with a couple of other cool cars to the US, here.

Here’s another couple of Retro Reviews:


2007 GMC Yukon

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Redesigned Big Ute Is Easy On The Eyes And Pocketbook

by James E. Bryson

Unless you’ve been living under a rock or hiding in a Pakistani cave, you know by now that gasoline will never again cost less than $2 a gallon and that hybrids are selling like hotcakes, for a niche market. You also know that the worst vehicles for fuel economy are big, heavy SUVs and ultra-high-performance sports cars.

Enter the 2007 GMC Yukon.

If you were a GMC engineer/designer and you had to come up with a new model that could make or break your brand you might redesign the Yukon with few hard angles and many organic shapes to make the new truck stand out and add a gas-saving feature to the 5.3-liter V8 that shuts down 4 cylinders while cruising on level surfaces, where not a lot of power is needed to keep the rig moving.

Redesigning the Yukon must have been a difficult task indeed, since the styling of the previous model was new at least five years ago and there is so much stellar competition out there. What the stylists and designers delivered was handsome, taut lines with wraparound fascias front and rear and nary a plastic add-on in sight. The design team should be commended for putting a handsome and sleek SUV of this size on the road.

One industry-wide accepted measure of build quality is the size of the gaps between the doors and the hood and fenders. We were quite impressed and a bit surprised with the small gap widths all around the Yukon. We kept marveling at the lengths the engineers must have gone to to get those lines in line, so to speak.

The new front fascia has a more refined look with a sloping grill and integrated bumper that looks like it is all one piece, because it is. This huge difference compared to the old vehicle is like night and day. The new truck looks like it was made from one piece of metal and plastic that belies its frugal price, at least in the vehicle we drove.

That high-quality look and feel followed through to the interior.

What surprised us most upon taking delivery of our test vehicle was the cloth interior. Not only was it cloth (can’t emphasize that enough) but the seating surfaces were top notch. Not since the mid-90s, to our recollection, has the General been able to put a seat out that was this comfortable and supportive.

After a few days driving the Gray Dane around, we decided to head out to wine country; so the tank was topped off and we noticed we got 19 miles per gallon in mixed driving. Considering the shear heft of the Yukon, that ain’t half bad. We also like watching the display switch from V8 to V4 and back as we drove around. And remember, don’t try this at home, we are trained professionals (or so we like to think).

Driving through rolling hills and reducing radius curves show that the Yukon has come a long way since the beginning of the SUV craze. It’s no GTO or Saturn Sky, but the Yukon gets going pretty good and there’s not a trace of wallow or too much body roll-like SUVs of old.

Switchgear is top-notch. All have a soft, tactile feel and soft detents that give this base-model truck a classy, luxurious feel.

One really neat feature is the lighted visible detent on the climate controls. During the day it is a mild-mannered dark spot on the bright chrome-like dial, telling you where your blower and output is set at. By night, it is a cool blue showman, ready for the next gig and willing to give it all for a great performance.

One gripe we have about SUVs in general that this Yukon was without was a third row of seats. There are certain vehicles, like the Yukon XL and Suburban, that can do with the extra seating capacity without infringing too much on cargo space. Our tester did without this “convenience” and we were much appreciative to have the space t haul whatever we wanted without worrying about where to store those extra seats.

Our two-wheel-drive Yukon tester stickered at $34.690, including $875 for delivery, with no chargeable options. Included on the standard feature list was the 5.3-liter V8 with Active Fuel Management (cylinder deactivation) and flex-fuel capability, four-speed automatic transmission, dual front airbags with passenger sensor, OnStar, Stabilitrak stability control/four-wheel ABS, remote keyless entry, 17-inch aluminum wheels, power heated outside mirrors, AM/FM/CD/MP3 radio, auto dimming mirror with temperature and compass and driver information center, to name just a few.

For the dough, we got a capable vehicle with towing and hauling ability matched by only a few other vehicles in a stylishly handsome body and newfound fuel frugality. Add to that the flexibility of using an ethanol blend and you have a smart package that should appeal to the eco-friendly among us as well as the staid SUV driver that wouldn’t have it any other way.


2007 Chevrolet Tahoe

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New Tahoe Is Grand In Size And Price

by James E. Bryson

Pulling out all the stops on redesigning its fleet of cars and trucks, Chevrolet is making it clear that it will not lose any more ground (nee, market share) to any and all of its rivals by bringing more new product to life this year. We got a chance to spend a week with the all-new 2007 Tahoe and what a ride it is.

Redesigned from the ground up, the Tahoe now has rounded lines and tight seems where it had angular surfaces and plastic cladding to hide behind for the last 10 years or so, it seems.

What the designers and stylists have done is give the old girl a much-needed facelift and tummy tuck. The lines have been smoothed out and the muscles are showing, not bad for a vehicle that can trace its lines to the 1930s.

In stark contrast to the ’07 GMC Yukon we recently drove, the Tahoe we were given to test was tops of the line with four-wheel-drive, leather captains chairs all around and three rows of seats, making this one a seven-passenger. While this is close to what you might get with a Suburban, the space behind that third row is not very useful, where the extra inches the ‘Burb carries goes directly to the cargo area, making it much more efficient at carrying all those people and their stuff.

And don’t misunderstand, the Tahoe is no slouch at carrying seven passengers, as long as the rearmost row is full of little people and they don’t need silly things like clothes and toiletries.

The new look features clean lines and softer styling, while keeping a similar look from years past; think of it as an evolution not revolution.

Up front, the grill is given the now-standard Chevy treatment of a strong crossbar with integrated Chevy bowtie, tying the design with the other Chevy products. Also, the domed hood and aggressive angles of the headlight clusters give the new Tahoe a snarl that seems to say “get of my way or I’ll roll over you.”

As with the Yukon, gaps are controlled and smaller, giving truck a more quality, carved-from-one-piece-of-metal look. Add to that the all-black luggage rack and running boards and the Tahoe seems to be moving uptown, with interior accoutrements to back that assumption up.

Speaking of the interior, the four captains chairs are comfy and make long rides something to look forward to. Heated seats are always good and these were well bolstered and much better than the bench in the Yukon.

The new dash design is quite handsome and the materials were the best we’ve seen in a Chevy truck. Everything also felt very familiar, like they updated the look and feel, but didn’t stray far from the previous design. Again, evolution.

One thing we found particularly neat was the rain-sensing wipers. These systems have been around for a few years but we weren’t expecting it to show up on a Chevy, let alone a Tahoe. We figured it out on a day when the rain was spotty. We turned on the wipers to get the windshield clear and wondered why they didn’t keep running every minute or so (as we had set the intermittent interval for). Then, a few raindrops and the wipers sprang to life! How glorious it felt to not have to keep adjusting the timing, or to turn the wipers on when a little rain fell. Talk about a home run for “America’s brand”.

And speaking of rain, that same day, as we were out and about in a heavy downpour, we actually got the big Tahoe into a four-wheel drift by hitting the go-pedal a bit too hard and inducing wheelspin. The only non-fun part was the intervention of the traction control system, which we immediately shut off for some more good times.

Handling for such a big vehicle is always in question and the Tahoe answers by giving good feedback through the controls and keeping most body motions to a minimum, as the laws of physics will allow. Wit that said, this new truck with its improved structure with fully boxed frame, wider front and rear tracks and a lower center of gravity handles like a vehicle half its size. We found ourselves driving hard a fast through areas we would never had thought to do in the old Tahoe, which brought us to the conclusion that it’s a little big for rallying but what a blast it might be out there!

Power is good enough to get you moving to highway speeds without too much fuss (5.3-liter V8, 320 horsepower/335 lb.-ft. of torque), just not good enough to push you deep into your seat. But with gas prices hovering around $3 a gallon, it’s good to know that the Tahoe we drove, with Active Fuel Management that shuts down four cylinders when at cruising speed, should save trips to the gas man, just not as many as we’d like. The EPA rates the 5.3 in our test Tahoe at 15 city and 21 highway, compared with 14 city and 18 highway for last year’s model.

Pricing on the Tahoe is in the stratosphere for non-luxury SUVs, but you do get a lot for what you pay. The base price on our four-wheel-drive LT was $37,665.00, which included such niceties as four-wheel antilock disc brakes, the flex-fuel 5.3-liter V8 with active fuel management 17-inch aluminum wheels, a review mirror with autodimming, compass and outside temperature, tow package, luggage rack and heated outside mirrors.

Add to the lofty price our options (LT3 equipment group ($3650)—leather bucket seats; 12-way power seats for driver and front passenger; radio with MP3-capable six-disc changer, Bose speakers and XM; power adjustable pedals; head curtain side airbags; rear parking assist; outside power folding mirrors with auto-dimming and turn signals and triple-zone climate controls.); three-passenger third row seating ($860); second row bucket seats ($490) with heat ($200); power liftgate ($350); P265/70R17 all-season tires ($125); rain-sensing wipers ($95) and a destination charge of $875.00 and the as-tested price for our loaded Tahoe was $44,605.00. Whew!

If you’re looking for a solid truck-based SUV to haul/tow/wreak havoc, the Tahoe is your stead, and the saddle is comfortable enough to keep you going long after the ride is through.

The Small Truck Revolution Continues…Elsewhere

A while back I showed you some pics of the Australian Ford Ranger (below) and mentioned that I wish we could get it here in the US.

Not to be outdone, Chevrolet recently announced a new Colorado pickup to be built in Thailand for the Asian markets. It’s design is striking, rounded lines, the corporate face and more of an integrated look than the current model. According to pickuptrucks.com, the new Thai Colorado has not been announced as a US vehicle (bummer) but will showcase new engines (four-cylinder turbo diesels) and dramatic new looks (below, all from pickuptrucks.com). If you need more picks click here to go to Car Scoop!

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The all-new 2012 Chevrolet Colorado

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These two vehicles and their design philosophy got me thinking: why is it that pickup trucks don’t change that much from year to year?

Seriously, why can’t we have these sleek trucks here in the US? Perhaps they are afraid of  slow sales for making such radical changes. Perhaps they have lost their way and don’t want to spend the R&D money. Perhaps a focus group said they didn’t like it.

Whatever the case, the US automakers should take a page from Steve Jobs who helped usher in the modern era in computing, music and mobility, technology-wise. Stop listening to the committees and start listening to the gut, to common sense, to the experience of your engineers and designers.

Sure, we’ve had innovative designs like the Chevy Avalanche, with its mid-gate that enables a full pickup bed or seating for four, along with a fully covered cargo area and a tonneau cover that can hold a 250-pound person. And then there’s the epitome of cool design, the Honda Ridgeline, with its two-way tailgate and water-tight storage under the bed.

But, these are full-size trucks with plenty of room and lets of storage possibilities.

In the small truck arena, we’ve had little change in the last 20 years or so. Take the Ford Ranger for example. The styling has changed very little since the last 90s. Yes, there has been new grills and headlights over the years but the silhouette has remained static. And let’s not even go inside where anyone who owned a 1996 or 1997 would feel right at home in a 2011.

The other small truck worth note is the Chevy Colorado/GMC Canyon built by General Motors. Yes, these were all-new in the mid-2000s but they are still square, boxy, and frumpy.

It’s time for the small pickups to join the rest of the auto industry and get aerodynamic and sleek. Ford, GM, please bring these two stylish, good-looking and modern trucks to the US market.

And while were at it, Volkswagen, please bring us your sweet-looking pickup!!!

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Keep reading for two Retro Reviews!


2007 Saturn Aura XR 3.6

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Like never before, indeed.

by James E. Bryson

When we first saw pictures of the new Saturn Aura, and then in person at the North American International Auto Show, we were duly impressed with its stance, crisp lines and overall character. You really can’t call this a replacement to the rotund LS-series. No, the Aura is what the LS should have been and where Saturn should have started back in the day.

With an aire of sophistication never before deemed possible by the fledgling automaker, the Aura has set a new standard for the import fighter that we can only dream will catapult the rest of Saturn’s lineup into the outer cosmos…or, at least, out near Neptune.

Driving the Aura is a pleasure usually reserved for those who plunk down big bucks for Infiniti, BMW, Acura or Mercedes, to name a few. Yes, the Aura is in that league of astonishingly fun sports sedans, but for a fraction of the cost.

With a 3.6-liter V6 with variable valve timing and 252 horsepower and 251 lb.-ft. of torque, a six-speed, manually controllable transmission, four disc brakes with ABS and a stout suspension, the Aura can hold its own with many of the more expensive vehicles.

On our handling loop, we found driving at 8 or 9 tenths was easily accomplished and we seemed to make record time getting through the tight, twisty turn section. Speaking of that, we noticed speeds reaching 60 miles per hour on more stretches than in previous drives. Quite a feat for a GM sedan, not to mention a Saturn.

When we first got the Aura, we thought the brakes were soft and required a little too much pressure to stop the 3600-pound Saturn. After driving our test loop, we now know that the brakes are spot-on awesome and we wouldn’t change a thing. Also, we noticed hardly any fade, and we were on the brakes more so than usual (due to traffic and the aforementioned higher speeds).

Out on the open road, the Aura is composed and a delight to pilot. With all that power on tap, passing is a non-issue and keeping pace with traffic is not needed, since you will be making the pace. Never did we notice any float or unwelcomed suspension vibrations. Our only real gripe with odd noises is the tendency of the sunroof shade to bounce on its track. It was just a bit loose and more than once we had to push it back in the open position when it slid forward. (Couldn’t have done that from our driving!)

Inside the Aura, you find a tranquil, pleasing, luxurious place to conduct the business of driving. The leather seats, wheel and shifter, coupled with the satin metallic-looking trim give this big Saturn an upmarket, sporty feel. The gauge cluster is neat and concise, with quickly read gauges and controls that fall at hand. We felt like we knew this car the first time we drove it.

If you are safety-conscious, like most of us these days, then you’ll be pleased to know that the Aura comes with a plethora of airbags like dual-stage frontal, head-curtain side impact and front-seat-mounted thorax protection. Also, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration rated the Aura with five stars in both frontal and side impact tests.

Aura also comes in XE trim with a 3.5-liter V6 (224 horsepower and 220 lb-ft. of torque) and four-speed automatic, along with struts up front and the same independent rear suspension as the XR, though tuned a bit less sporty, with 17-inch wheels and tires. Expect a base price about $21k.

With the XR as the top of the Aura line, you expect it to be more expensive, but at a base price of $23,495.00, you sure do get a lot.

Expect a year of OnStar, the 3.6-liter V6 and six-speed automatic transmission with steering wheel paddles, disc brakes all around with antilock, remote keyless entry and vehicle start, dual frontal/head curtain/outboard rear side impact airbags (That’s a lot of bags!) and so much more.

Such a long list of standard items means not many options are needed to make you happy, right? Well, we got some very nice ones to keep us company on the long road, wherever it takes us: For starters, our tester had the Premium trim package with leather seats, wheel and shift knob ($800); the Enhanced Convenience package came with a six-way power seat for the passenger and power adjustable pedals ($425); the sunroof ($800); XM ($199) and premium trunk and floor mats ($100) for a grand total (with $650 in destination charges) of $26,919.00.

For the price, you get a European-inspired sedan with solid looks, great handling and an interior trimmed with the finest materials this side of a BMW or Mercedes, for half the price. How can you go wrong?


2008 Cadillac CTS4

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Chalk One Up to Good ‘Ole American Ingenuity

by James E. Bryson

If you’ve seen the pictures but have not seen one in person, go to a Cadillac dealer right now. Drop whatever menial task you’re doing and go. I mean it. Go. You have got to see the new CTS up close and personal.

Redesigned for the 2008 model year, the square-ish, slab-sided, angular CTS of last year makes way for a more muscular, rounded, sporty looking vehicle. It’s definitely an evolution in the right direction. Our first glimpse of the real deal was at the 2007 North American International Auto Show and we were instantly smitten.

When we got the original call about the week’s worth of driving, we were delighted. Then came the call that there had been an accident and we wouldn’t see the CTS until maybe next year (the problem living away from the Michigan/California car centers).

Then, we get the rebound call, "I can send you the CTS. How’d that be?"
After a second of silence, the answer came out a bit snarky, "I guess if you have to send it, I can take it off your hands for a few days."

The biggest surprise of all was getting the all-wheel-drive version. Now don’t take the next few lines the wrong way, there’s nothing better than a sporty rear-wheel-drive car. But to have a 300+ horsepower automobile with a tight suspension, great brakes and the uncertainty of spring weather in the Midwest, all-wheel-drive is looked on as a blessing, not a curse.

As for the CTS’ new styling, you either like it or hate it. It’s a bit more muscular than the previous version and keeps some of the angles, though they are a bit softer. Most striking is the way the designers sculpted the body to give it more appeal and morphed it into something similar and yet completely different from the previous generation CTS.

Up front, the grill has been elongated and the headlights made more elegant (now housing xenon lights that turn as the steering wheel turns) with LED lights accenting the sides of the housing. At the rear, the taillights have been lengthened and slimed down and the center brake light is now a de facto spoiler; very classy.

08cts4_1Driving the CTS is a Zen experience to the max. With a little understeer at the limit, it scoots around corners, utilizing all the traction of all-wheel-drive for all it’s worth. On the highway, it’s another matter. Remember, this is a Cadillac and it rides like a 21st century Caddy…tight but not bouncy, with a comfy ride on the Interstate and enough control to make it fun in the twisties.

And with 300+ horses, this thing flies! We were out on the Interstate, carting a friend out into the boonies to get his car from the ‘rent’s and smack-dab in front of us was a Dodge Neon SRT-4. Now we didn’t make any move more aggressive than riding this Neon’s tail for about a mile. He got the point and took off. We were able to catch and pace that SRT-4 pretty easily. The funny part was this Neon got off at the same exit we needed. With a knowing nod, we left each other in peace to drive like maniacs on another day.

The only drawback to our driving style, the high horsepower and all-wheel-drive was an observed MPG around 20. For an SUV or truck, that’s not bad. For a sedan you might want to drive back and forth to work in, you may want to buy a Chevy Aveo for that task.

The interior is a step above. The lighting at night is spectacular, with accents that run the length of the dash and into the doors. All footwells are lighted as well as the door pulls. It’s a classy touch that makes the cabin more appealing and warm.

One little quip: We kept setting the parking brake out of habit, and pulling the hood release since it’s in the spot most vehicles that have a foot-activated parking brake have it. Annoying, but not necessarily a deal-breaker.

As it is in every car review, and life for that matter, price must be considered, especially considering the price of gas these days.

Our test car, in the prettiest shade of red (crystal red premium to be exact) based at $34,545.00, including such basics as the 304 horsepower V6, six-speed automatic transmission, independent suspension at all four corners, 17-inch wheels, traction control, tire pressure monitoring, leather steering wheel with auxiliary controls, dual zone climate control, 8-way power driver seat, airbags all around (including head curtain side bags front and rear), remote keyless entry and OnStar, to scratch the surface.

08cts4_2Of course, unless you’re a Mary Kay Sales Director, you’d expect much more, so our optioned out car included the Performance Collection ($3300): 18-inch aluminum wheels and tires, xenon headlights that turn with the steering wheel, limited slip differential, performance cooling system, 10-way power seats for both driver and front passenger with memory and heat, heated windshield washer fluid with headlamp washers; the Luxury level one package ($850): theft deterrent alarm system, rain sensing windshield wipers and the aforementioned accent lighting; the ultimate radio upgrade ($3145): MP3/CD/DVD player, 10-speaker Bose surround sound, 40GB hard drive, and a nav screen with XM Nav Traffic; all-wheel drive ($1900); Crystal Red premium paint ($995); sapele wood on center console, instrument panel and door trim ($495); All-wheel ABS with performance disc brakes ($395); compact spare tire ($250); and Sapele wood on the steering wheel and shift know ($150). Add a destination charge of $745 and you get a whopping $46,770.00 grand total…and we do mean GRAND.

The CTS is an awesome car that’s about 10 years too late. Let’s hope the General can keep these types of interesting, fun to drive cars coming in the near future!

Stay tuned for the next installment where I’ll talk about a new Hyundai…

Chrysler 300 Redesign Moves Car Upscale

Chrysler 200 Super Bowl Commercial

If you are like most American consumers then you will understand the feeling of disdain towards companies who you feel screwed you in one way or another. Whether real or perceived, those feelings may never go away.

It is unfortunate, this disdain, since we are in the worst economic times of this generation and the “Made In The USA” movement is making some think twice about where that shirt, dress, TV or any other goods came from.

No where is this felt more than in the automotive industry. Globalism has caused some strange things to happen, like calling a Honda or Toyota “American Made”. Luckily, our federal government has taken some steps that make it easier for us to know where the parts to make our cars came from, as well as where all those parts were put together.

Which brings me to this point: A company like the Chrysler Corporation needs to work a little harder getting the word out that their past quality issues have been exorcised. A lot of people out there, including myself, have horror stories with Chrysler products. My own story involves a Dodge Omni that caught fire after a few minutes of “spirited driving”. Sure, the car had a lot of miles on it but you don’t expect any car to catch fire, while sitting in the street, after said “spirited driving”. I use quotation marks because the Omni was no sports car so there wasn’t much spirit to wring out!

Mine might be an extreme example, surely there are worse, but there is also the other side…those who owned Chrysler products and loved them. There are those people, you know who you are, who aren’t as critical about the little quality issues they faced; premature brake replacement, power windows that stopped working, horrible radios, etc..

One prime example of Chrysler’s rebounding quality is the my PT Cruiser. Once we got an oxygen sensor issue worked out, one that caused the car to stutter when trying to accelerate, everything has been quite nice. Even after sideswiping a tree, and $5000 in repairs, the car is as good as new and still trucking with almost 100k miles.

The thing that Chrysler seems to be doing right is great design. Couple great design with strong advertising, including those ads with Eminem’s music and voice, and Chrysler seems to be on the right track. According to this article from Motor Trend’s website, Chrysler had its best sales in June since 2007.

Whether it’s improved quality or new, more appealing products, the Mopar brand seems to be making the right moves under Fiat ownership.

So, if you are Chrysler’s top brass, how do you keep the momentum? By keeping your products fresh and modern. The newly refreshed 300 is a case in point.

The most striking exterior changes are to the front and rear fascias. The new front clip has a large grill with the “wave” look first seen on the 200. Then there’s the new headlights! An oblong look with LED accents that double as daytime running lights. It’s a classy, polished look that gives the 300 a more upscale look.

Out back, the most notable change is to the taillights. The new units feature a more streamlined appearance with a vertical chrome accent that is rather art deco-ish and totally awesome!

 

 

The other big change is to the interior.

More refined and luxurious, the 300’s cabin is a great place to spend quality time with softer materials and higher quality components.

The other HUGE change for 2012 is an 8-speed transmission, which, according to Chrysler, will increase fuel mileage (by up to 17percent) and should add smoothness to the drive line.

Here’s one of their newest commercials, touting the fuel efficiency of the newly redesigned 300:

 


2004 Pontiac GTO

04gto

Rebirth of the Goat

by James E. Bryson

A few years ago, a sprightly rumor made its way around the auto show circuit and through the rank and file of the automotive press: The GTO may return!

And there was much rejoicing…yay.

Until, that is, the public got its first look and screamed to the tops of the highest mountains that this WAS NOT a GTO. No, it was just another bland Pontiac styling exercise, albeit, without the body cladding that made recent Pontiacs the butt of a few styling ha-has.

Since I was born just before the demise of the Muscle Car era, and weaned on the overboard 80s style of design, I find the new GTO an elegant, understated and compelling creature.

The nose is definitely Pontiac, with the familiar dual snout found on everything from the Grand Am to the Bonneville. The headlights seem to sweep out from there, making an almost hawk-like front fascia that seems to hint at what lies beneath.

In profile, the lines are clean from nose to tail and the sounds emanating from the engine bay and especially the tailpipe give you the impression that this car really means business.

The rear, on the other hand, is unlike any other Pontiac. It’s bulbous, but serves a greater purpose with the standard wing spoiler, making the car even more wedgier than a Grand Am.

The truly funny thing is this car is Australian-made, based on the popular Holden Monaro; Holden being GM’s Australian subsidiary.

As I stated earlier, I grew up in the 80s, where we had “performance coupes” like the Thunderbird TurboCoupe and Dodge Shelby Chargers. The new GTO, then, is a truly modern take on the classic muscle car. Except that it’s not based on a sedan but designed as a coupe and made for hard running.

As in the past, the automakers run at their own speed and make the rules as they go. For a muscle car to work today, global sources need to be used because our economy and culture is much more global than it was 40 years ago.

To that end, I say the GTO’s styling is right on target. It’s on the “bland” side but just enough to keep Smokey off your back. Once you get around the copper, punch the gas and see what this car is really about.

The funny thing about the “performance coupes” of the 80s was that the performance came more from looking fast than ever really going fast. Not so with newer cars, especially ones fitted with Corvette engines.

That’s right kids; the GTO has a 5.7-liter, tried-and-true, pushrod-pumpin’, gas guzzlin’ beast of a motor rated at 340 horsepower and 360 lb.-ft. of pavement-ripping torque. (The $1000 gas guzzler tax is proof that it’s a thirsty beast.)

Couple that “rad” engine with a four-speed automatic, four-wheel independent suspension, disc brakes at each corner and 17-inch P245/45 tires and it all starts making sense.

Take a corner in this beast and you can almost hear it laughing, goading you into pushing harder and faster through the twisties like no other Pontiac had the cajones to do in recent memory.

We’re thirty years down the road from the end of the Muscle era and, if they would have never died off, this is what they would be today; nothing more than a basic car with a touch of attitude on the outside and a monster motor to get the blood pumping.

“The styling is bland.” “It’s not like the original.” “At least there’s no cladding.”

These words were overheard in a parking lot where we stopped for some groceries and loitered trying to gauge reactions on the newly minted Pontiac GTO.

All I can say is…get over it. This new GTO is killer in all the right ways, but no so great in tertiary ways.

Getting into the backseat was definitely a chore. The GTO is a strong candidate for the “quad coupe” treatment Saturn has bestowed upon its Ion.

Luckily, the back seat is quite comfy once you get back there. The seats are bolstered just like the fronts; making this a true four-seater…not that anyone would really be able to ride on the hump anyways.

Then there’s the missing features: OnStar, XM, heated seats, Sunroof, no inside trunk release…You get the drift.

And, hopefully, you won’t want to go on that weeklong driving adventure because the trunk is majorly slighted because of the suspension taking most of it. (No one over said fun cars had to be practical too!)

One last gripe we found while picking up the dry cleaning: No garment hooks at all. Either the Australians don’t have their fine clothes dry-cleaned or the hooks got lost somewhere in the translation.

On the flip side, the Goat is one on the most solid GM vehicles we’ve driven, ever. If the now-gone Camaro and Firebird had build quality, awesome sightlines (except, of course, over the shoulder into the HUGE C-pillars) and great ride control like this, they would surely still be alive and well today fending off that new Mustang at every corner.

The nitty-gritty on the GTO is this: For less than 34 big ones, excluding tax, title and license, you can own a piece of new American history, albeit built in Australia.

Firebird is dead…long live the Goat.


2006 Buick Lucerne

06lucerne

You Can Have A V8

by James E. Bryson

It’s always interesting to watch the cycles of the auto industry, with features and models coming and going, colors ever changing and how fashion plays its role with the design and styling of current and future models.

Take Buick, for example. In the late sixties, Buick was in the middle of the horsepower wars with big V8 power in the GS. In the 70s and early 80s, Buicks were smaller and had anemic four-cylinders, as did most cars from the era-except for the biggest of Buicks, the Park Avenue and LeSabre.

Then in the late 80s, Buick regained some of its credibility by producing the Grad National, which was touted as the fastest production car at the time, and with a turbo V6, no less. The last V8 Buick car was the Roadmaster of the early 90s, an offshoot of the Chevy Caprice, which died about the same time.

Fast forward to 2006 and, after a decade without, Buick is reentering the V8 market with the brand new Lucerne, which replaces the Le Sabre and Park Avenue models that have carried Buick through the last 20 years with aplomb.

The Lucerne is a great-looking car with smooth, rounded lines and a low-slung feeling due to its width, which leaves plenty of room inside for people and stuff. It’s a great golf car as well, with a roomy trunk that is wide and deep, big enough for your foursome and their bags.

The design seems to be an extension of the LaCrosse, with flowing lines, a few creases for dramatic effect and a wide grill and headlights that make the car look “awake” rather than mean or sleepy like some cars out there. Dimensionally, the Lucerne is close to the Cadillac DTS, of which it shares its platform and Northstar V8 (GM’s venerable 3800 V6 is the standard engine on the base-model Lucerne).

Inside, the Lucerne is spacious. The seats, buckets on our test model, were supportive for long drives but left a bit to be desired for spirited driving, more on that later. The best part of the seats was the perforations for the cooling fans to operate. There’s nothing more luxurious at this time than cooled seats; anyone can have heated seats, but only a few have the gumption to actually cool the seats.

Switchgear feel and placement are top notch in the Lucerne. Based on the new DTS, this should come as no surprise. But, what gets us is the noticeably fake wood trim found across the dash and doors. It’s not that it looks bad; it just doesn’t look like wood.

While we didn’t get the chance to make a run through our handling loop, we found the big Buick to drive well and we took most corners like we were driving a sporty car. That’s how good Buick’s engineers have dialed in the Lucerne’s suspension.

We did find some strange sensations coming from the suspension, making it through to the pedals on certain bumps and holes in the road, most notably the driveway of our residence. The bad part was the vibration continued halfway up the drive. It was the only truly negative experience with the Lucerne, and it was something we could definitely live with.

This car is great in the wet. After an evening driving on rain-soaked streets, we had a new appreciation for the technological advances in brakes (antilock) and propulsion (traction control). Both systems were difficult to out do, not that we tried. Too hard.

Power delivery from the Northstar V8 (275 horsepower/290 lb.-ft. of torque) was excellent. It’s a darn smooth engine and coupled with the electronically controlled four-speed transmission, kept the Lucerne moving.

Gas mileage is so-so with EPA ratings of 17 city and 25 highway. Our Lucerne’s computer said we got 20 miles per gallon in mixed use. Granted, our lead foot may have had a hand in keeping our mileage figures down, but we just couldn’t get enough of that V8’s throaty growl.

It was a nice surprise to see on the display that rain sensors were active and the wipers started going on their own. We had driven a BMW 3-series with this function about five years ago and it didn’t seem to work all that well. At least the technology seems to have caught up.

Our Lucerne CXL tester had a base price of $30,265 which included the Northstar V8, magnetic power steering, traction control, gobs of airbags, remote keyless entry, tire inflation monitoring, electrochromatic mirrors, 17” wheels and tires, a six-speaker AM/FM/CD/Mp3 stereo, leather seats, steering wheel and shifter and rear window defogger.

Options on our tester added almost $4-grand to the total vehicle price: heated and cooled front seats ($1075), 17” chrome plated wheels ($650), remote starter/theft deterrence/rear parking assist ($595), eight-way power driver and passenger seats with memory settings for two drivers ($595), Stabilitrak stability control ($495), replacement radio with the same features as the standard one except for the addition of theftlock ($300) and heated washer fluid ($100). Giving us a grand total, including $725 for shipping, of $$34,800.

Not bad for a big car with tons of features and decent handling abilities.


2007 Cadillac Escalade

07sclade

Family Reunions Will Never Be The Same

by James E. Bryson

Like all other large SUVs in the General Motors stables (Yukon, Tahoe, Suburban), the most luxurious of them all, the Cadillac Escalade, Escalade ESV and Escalade EXT, also got a major remake for twenty-o-seven. This remake, like the others, went beyond sheer cosmetics, down to the very core of the vehicle and what a difference it makes!

On the outside, the ‘Sclade received a more angular look, akin to the CTS, STS and XLR, to make it fit in more at family functions. With a big, imposing grill slotted between stacked headlights and a HUGE Cadillac emblem, you won’t mistake this big Ute for anything other than a Cadillac.

Another major Cadillac styling feature, that is sure to be featured on more Caddies in the years to come, is the vents located on the trailing edge of the front quarter panels. It’s a good look that lends an aire of class and sophistication.

Out back, there’s another HUGE Caddy emblem on the power liftgate along with a longish third brake light atop the liftgate and standard-looking brake lights flanking the tailgate.

As with the other big GM Utes, The windows have the pillar-less look, with the glass flush with the sheet metal above and below. It’s a good look that moves the ‘Sclade into the higher echelons of luxury rides without batting an eye.

Our tester, and all 2007 Escalades for that matter, came with the 6.2-liter Vortec V8 that features variable valve timing (but not displacement on demand or flex-fuel capability) and is rated at 403 horsepower and 417 lb.-ft. of torque. With all that power under foot, the Escalade felt lighter on its toes than we expected and got going in most situations with little drama, thanks in part to the six-speed transmission.

Like any big SUV, the ‘Sclade does not like to be hurried around corners, nor does it like undulating pavement. These two items upset this big Caddy like nothing else, except for the high gas prices.

Only once in three days did we need to appease the legal beagles and consent to the “screen of no fun” by hitting OK on the nav system signifying that we understand the dangers of operating the system while driving, which is a nice change as some other systems make you do it every time you get in the car.

Rattles and squeaks did find their way to our ears, surprisingly. The roads that elicited those demons were pocked with frost heaves and small holes, but we definitely were not expecting any sounds like that. We chalked it up to (possibly) being an early production mule with a lot of miles on the odometer.

The suspension exhibited only small amounts of land-barge-like float, but there was plenty of squatting and diving in most situations. It’s difficult for a vehicle this large and heavy not to obey the laws of physics, but the big Caddy makes the most of what it has.

Way back in 2003 we tested an Escalade and it topped out at less than the base price for this 2007, my how things have changed. For $56,405.00, you get the basic vehicle (if you can call it basic), which includes the 6.2-liter Vortec V8; six-speed automatic transmission with manual control; road sensing suspension with rear load leveling; traction control; four-wheel ABS; leather; 14-way power front seats with heated cushions and backrests and second row heated seats; Bose 5.1 surround sound audio system with six-disc CD changer/DVD/Mp3 player and XM satellite radio receiver; power liftgate; heated power folding outside mirrors power adjustable pedals; heated washer fluid; airbags all around; Stabilitrak stability control; rear parking assist; OnStar and much more. We’re talking almost fully loaded in base trim.

Add the few, but expensive, options ($2995 for the 22-inch chrome wheels; the $2495 information package – rear view camera, navigation system with CD/DVD and Intellibeam, which changes from high to low beams when oncoming or leading traffic is sensed); $1295 for rear seat DVD system; power sliding sunroof for $995; premium paint for $995; the Climate package which includes heated and cooled front seats and heated steering wheel for $625 and a power release second row for $425. Couple these expenses with the $875 destination charge and you can get a similar Escalade for our as-tested price of $67,105.00.

Our biggest dilemma, then, is whether to buy this 403 horsepower behemoth for $67-large or buy two Pontiac GTO’s for about the same price, but with 800 horses between them.

Decisions, decisions.

Here Come The Alfas!!!

Saw this on the road a while back:

It’s an Alfa Romeo Giulietta. Hope it comes here fast!!!

See more here!

Here’s another view on the road:

And one more:

Look for the Giulietta on a street near you!


2006 Pontiac Solstice

06solstice

Baby, Where Have You Been All My Life?

by James E. Bryson

It’s not everyday that a beautiful car comes out of the General Motors design studios. And we’re not talking a Corvette that is expected to look great. We’re talking a drop-dead gorgeous convertible that looks good with the top up and exquisite with the top down.

Pontiac is the lucky division this year within GM. They got the edgy-lined G6, masculine Torrent and now the Solstice. Not that the other divisions are lacking for new product, but it seems the General is finally getting serious about putting real excitement into Pontiac.

The funny thing about us getting the Solstice when we did was that we were expecting a Cadillac STS. But, for the better, there was a scheduling snafu and we definitely got the sportier end of the deal. The only deal-breaker was the frigid temps during our week with the car that made it difficult, although not impossible, to drive with the top down, which is highly recommended.

It’s also nice to know that the Bob Lutz era at GM has finally arrived. Finally, a car worthy of styling accolades has made it off the production line with no need for excuses or the old “we’ll fix that at when we freshen it up.”

The Solstice looks striking from almost every angle. It sits low, wide and has a masculine stance that belies it sporting intentions and makes the heart flutter with awe and appreciation, especially considering this is a GM vehicle and the product development team had to fight through reams of red tape and bureaucratic hoop jumping to get it out the door.

With short overhangs front and rear and an upturned tail with dual humps directly behind the cockpit, the Solstice is one gorgeous vehicle. Add to that a distinctive face, with prominent Pontiac emblem front and center, rounded lines throughout and classy everything and you seem to forget you’re looking at a Pontiac. One thing’s for sure…you won’t mistake Solstice for a Miata or Honda S2000.

Inside, the Solstice is not for the claustrophobic. Tight is a loose way of describing the cockpit and how it fits around you and hugs you with soft leather seats and well-positioned switchgear and a great shifter connected to a short throw five-speed manual that seems to help the driver find the next gear. Talk about easy to drive. The dash layout is superb, with a dual binnacle gauge cluster with big tach and speedo, both of which are very easy to read.

There’s auxiliary radio controls and cruise controls on the wheel spokes, a beautiful two-tone color scheme that mixes light brown and dark gray leather throughout the interior. Our only real complaint is the silly cupholder located at the rear of the center tunnel hump. Using the cupholder whilst driving is quite difficult because it interferes with your shifting action…mainly your elbow and the cupholder will become very close by the time your drive is over.

Power comes from GM’s newer engine family, the Ecotec. Displacing 2.4 liters, it is the only engine available until 2007 and puts out 177 horsepower and 166 lb.-ft. of torque. Not ground splitting numbers by any stretch, but you can get the Solstice moving easily enough. (If you wait for a few months, you might be able to get your name on an ’07 with the new turbo Ecotec that will pump out 260 horses and 260 lb.-ft. of torque.)

As for the driving experience, a movie line sums it up: The thing corners like it’s on rails. Bumps can sometimes be harsh but most are soaked up by the suspension.

Top actuation is a little weird if not totally cool. You hit the trunk button on the key fob to eject the spears that hold the flying buttresses in place, open the trunk clamshell, unlatch the top from the header, fold the top back and close the trunklid. Simple, right? Actually, we found it fun to open the trunk for people to see their reaction as the flying buttresses pop up.

Solstice is definitely a car that will take you places in style. However, due to the very nature of the roadster it is, you won’t be taking much with you; let alone anyone else. Sure, you could put a soft-sided bag or two in there but nothing else. Add to that the odd U shape of the storage spoace and you have a good argument for a matching trailer like the one they made for the Plymouth Prowler.

Solstice has only been on sale for maybe a month as of this writing and we were quite surprised to pass one on the road. We of course gave each other a big “thumbs up” but little did he know that we didn’t pay the $24k for ours. But that’s all right. What he don’t know won’t hurt him…as the saying goes.

If you can get your name in, and don’t mind paying more than sticker for such a cool car, then Solstice is for you. And if you think 177 horses isn’t enough to get your blood boiling, then you might want to wait until 2007 and the turbo Solstice.


2008 Volkswagen Jetta S

08jetta

A Peoples’ Car For The Driver In Us All

by James E. Bryson

Once upon a time, in a land known for sauerkraut, Schnitzel and cold beer, there was a small company called Volkswagen that made a little car for the masses. They made a lot of little cars actually, with little air-cooled engines and skinny tires and meager horsepower.

But now they’re making bigger cars, with bigger liquid-cooled engines and fatter tires and real power. Yes, Volkswagen has come a long way since before World War II when all they made was the Beetle. Now, with a bevy of new cars, station wagons and SUVs, VW has got a foothold into the 21st century.

Enter the recently redesigned Jetta, a venerable model that seems to get only better with age. We got the opportunity to drive an S model with few options but lots of personality. As we usually get fully-loaded test cars, it was nice to have a more basic model to drive, especially since the S model is the one we keep seeing on the road.

The look of the Jetta has morphed from a squarish, hunkered-down Euro-sedan to a more rounded, svelte and attractive world car, not easily pigeon-holed into European, Japanese or Korean styling. Lets just say it looks like a VW. And that’s a good thing. Enough said.

That look includes an attractive front clip with jeweled headlights, a thick chrome strip dividing the grill, with chrome accents under the headlights, and a large VW emblem to top it all off. Move down the flowing fenders, into the large greenhouse, past the turn signal-embedded mirrors and feel the body grow in height until you reach the rear end with its stylized taillights with integrated reverse lamps and low liftover into the cavernous trunk, with which you can easily store enough bags for three or four people on a week-long trip.

Jetta S comes standard with a 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine with 170 horsepower, and that’s up from 150 HP last year, and 177 lb.-ft. of torque that flows through either a five-speed manual gearbox that’s standard, or our tester’s six-speed automatic with Tiptronic and sport modes. With this engine expect 0 to 60 times in 8.5 seconds or so, according to VW.

If your heart needs more power, then you can upgrade to the GLI model with a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that puts out 200 horsepower and 207 lb.-ft. of torque. But those 30 extra horses come at a premium price of about $6000 over the as-tested cost of our S model.

Added to that sweet five-cylinder engine is a set of McPherson struts and a stabilizer bar up front, plus a fully independent four-link rear suspension with another stabilizer bar at the rear. and it rides on 16-inch all-season tires. Now you’ve got yourself a great handling car, with a good ride and a high fun-to-drive quotient.

Since we had to leave town for a few days, we didn’t get a chance to drive our usual test loop. We did, however, drive in some hilly terrain and never lost confidence in the Jetta on the unfamiliar roads; it went where pointed and never complained.

Driving the Jetta around became more fun as the days passed with more familiarity of the controls and adhesion limits and figuring out when best to shift for ourselves or when to just let the computer do all the work.

That transmission computer really got us going, too. We found we enjoyed driving in the sport mode through the hills, rather than shifting ourselves. There was a delay in shifting that most automanuals have, so letting the computer decide when to shift gears was more fun and really put to good use the available torque at any given moment. With more time behind the wheel, we probably would prefer the former but sometimes time is not on your side.

And since gas prices are reaching ever higher, we were pleasantly surprised to get about 32 miles per gallon on an extended highway trip, especially considering the EPA ratings of 21 city and 29 highway. When was the last time you heard of an automotive journalist, or anyone for that matter, beating EPA estimates? We could boil it down to an inaccurate trip odometer reset, but the few miles difference wouldn’t amount to that much.

Inside the Jetta is all business with its tidy gauge cluster, easy to use controls and comfy seats all around. As in years past, the speedo and tach gauges glow blue at night, but the handy driver information display stays red, as do that surrounding gauge lights. It’s a good look that’s easy on the eyes.

We loved the versatility and ease of use getting a good seating position; it seemed that everything was adjustable, except for the pedals. The steering wheel tilts and telescopes and the seatback motorized but the rest of it was manually adjustable. It didn’t take long for either driver to find a good perch and both were fatigue-free by the end of eight hours on the road.

The Jetta begins at $16,990 with a whole big bunch of standard items, including power windows and locks and a nifty feature where you can roll up or down all four windows with the key in the driver’s door, electro-mechanical speed sensitive steering, split folding rear seats, eight-speaker AM/FM/CD stereo, as well as ABS, traction control (Anti-Slip Regulation in VW speak), Electronic Brake-pressure Distribution and TPMS (tire pressure monitoring). Add the Tiptronic six-speed automatic and you’re only talking another $1,075, for a grand total MSRP of only $18,065. For what you pay, you really get a whole lot of automobile here for a very reasonable price.

Think of the VW Jetta as a pair of sensible shoes that you can take out for a comfortable jog on a nice sunny day.

Guarding Splashes, Check…

In our continuing series regarding Ely the Element, it’s come time to affix some Honda-designed/produced accessories to make Ely a little more stylish and clean.

DSC01487Costing $60 (or $15 apiece) from a West Coast dealer who under cuts the local dealers by $45, the “genuine factory Honda splash guards” came is a stylish and functional clear plastic bag. Luckily, they decided to put it into a nice cardboard box for shipping ease.

In the bag was four splash guards with screws and some hardware bits but, fashionably missing, no instructions!

Thank goodness for the internets…where I found the correct instructions for my year.DSC01492

Needing only a screwdriver, a stubby phillips at that, installing all four guards was pretty easy. The hardest part was making sure the front wheels were in the right position for accessing the interior screw.

Now, the instructions say to save two of the screws from up front to reuse and use two new ones but our set only cam with two new screws rather than the four needed. Using superior intelligence, it was deduced that reusing all four screws would not make for any negative consequences.

Like the instructions, the only before and after pics taken were from the left side as each side had the same screws in the same place, just opposite each other.

Front:

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Rear:

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And some of the whole vehicle with the new splash guards:

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So there you have it. An easy way to personalize an Element and possibly keep the rocker panels cleaner!


2006 Pontiac G6 GT Convertible

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Way Cool Hard Top for the “Excitement” Division

by James E. Bryson

In our present world, we have plenty of worries to keep us up at night; fuel prices, medical and other insurance costs, and not the least of which…our safety.

It was safety that was cited as partially responsible for the demise of the convertible in the late 70s; The weak structure, the lack of a roof to support the car in a rollover, among many other bad attributes.

Fast forward 30 years and most of those “demons” have been expunged, save rigidity, which is the last and most difficult of the gremlins to exorcise, but not outside of an engineer’s expertise; it’s just too expensive and adds unwanted weight.

For those brave souls out there who dream of owning one of the new breed of convertibles, you are in luck. For, starting under $30,000 is a new hard top convertible from the least likely of places: GM. Enter the Pontiac G6 GT convertible.

06g6_1The regular G6, in either sedan or coupe variant, is a handsome automobile with crisp lines, attractive curves and comfortable accommodations for most people. The convertible gives up some structural rigidity with the top down, some rear seat space and most of the trunk volume for the ability to tan your self on a nice day.

In a less complex, compared with the more expensive hard tops, but still utterly satisfying show of technical engineering moxie, the top opens and closes with just the push of a button: Hold that button, located on the windshield header, for about 30 seconds and the top is either gone from view letting the sun shine in or back in place, ready to protect you from the outside world. We loved the smooth action and orchestration of the whole process, from the quarter windows rolling down to the clamshell action of the dual-hinged trunklid. As we mentioned earlier, the only bad part of the convertible experience is the total disappearance of usable trunk space. But, really, it’s a small price to pay for a complete package convertible like the G6.06g6_2

Ride and handling are confidence-inspiring, which we were surprised to find. Don’t take that the wrong way, we just thought a front driver like the G6 would have so-so handling and a soft ride. What we got was good (if not great) handling and a comfortably firm ride that soaked up most minor bumps and never felt floaty or out of control. That said, with the top down, that was a lot of cowl shake (more of a shimmy) over really rough spots like train tracks and pot holes. With the top up, the hard top remember, the G6 took on a whole different persona. Sure, it was a touch claustrophobic, but it made the car so much more rigid that we sometimes forgot we were driving a droptop.

The suspension is made up if Macpherson struts with L-shaped control arms and stabilizer bar up front and a four-link independent rear with gas shocks, coil springs and stabilizer bar.

06g6_3Stopping was easy to do with the vented front/solid rear disc brakes with standard ABS. We had a chance to get out into the winding roads and found the brakes to be rather fade resistance and easy to modulate, not too spongy like previous GM brakes were prone to be.

The manumatic four-speed was a nice surprise. In manual mode, the shifts were actually quick and done with purpose, which was a surprise since every other manumatic we’ve driven were sad substitutes for sporting adventures with slow shifts and hesitations and dismal gear engagement.

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There’s wood-grained trim on the doors and shifter surround that seems a tad out of place in a sporting convertible as this. Out of place, maybe, but we actually liked it because it added a bit of class to an otherwise sterile cockpit. In front of the driver is a set of gauges nicely laid out with the tachometer on the left, speedo front and center and tertiary gauges for fuel and temp to the right. It’s a handsome cluster with shiny bezels giving it an upscale look.

The seats were comfy but we found the headrests hit us awkwardly, resulting in a less comfortable experience in daily cruising with a touch of neck strain. Otherwise, the seats and driving position were spot on and ergonomics were standard GM fare of late; switches and knobs were easy to use, felt good under hand and were where you would expect them to be.

The best aspect of the G6 GT Convertible is its price; starting at around $29,000, expect to pay around $32,000 for a loaded GT with the 3.9-liter V6 and all available factory options.

In all, the Pontiac G6 GT Convertible is a great value and strong performer and a great looking vehicle that fits well into a lot of budgets.