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


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


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.