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11:06 PM

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Nissan Maxima (2009)

Rafay Ansar

,



The 2009 Nissan Maxima, which makes its world debut at the 2008 New York International Auto Show, marks a return to the longtime Nissan flagship sedan's roots as a commanding 4-door sports car - a vehicle that is unique in both appearance and driving feel, with renewed relevance for today's active and ambitious sedan buyers. In other words, the Maxima is back.

The all-new 2009 Nissan Maxima will be offered as two well-equipped models, Maxima 3.5 S and Maxima 3.5 SV, and is scheduled to arrive at Nissan dealers nationwide in early summer 2008.

"Maxima has always enjoyed a certain 'duality' - a unique fusion of sedan practicality with the soul of a sports car," said Al Castignetti, vice president and general manager, Nissan Division, Nissan North America, Inc. "In recent years, however, competitive vehicles have caught up with Maxima in 'sporty' looks and performance. For 2009, Nissan is reclaiming its rich 4-Door Sports Car heritage with an infusion of emotional design, driving excitement and advanced technology - creating a silky, stimulating sports sedan like no other on the road today."

2009 Nissan Maxima: Reborn at the "Ring"

"Do-overs" are sometimes allowed in sports but rarely in the automotive industry. Yet midway through the development of the new-generation Maxima a mulligan was indeed granted. Rather than continue with an evolution of the previous highly successful Maxima design, the creators of the 2009 Nissan Maxima stopped and rethought the entire direction.

Inspired by the concurrent top secret development of the 2009 Nissan GT-R supercar, they threw away positioning words like "conservative" and "balanced" and concentrated instead on new concepts like "addictive performance," "striking," "commanding" and "powerful."

High targets were established, including the goal of creating "the best performing front engine, front-wheel drive car in the world," along with class-leading acceleration, braking, handling, workmanship and cockpit design.

"We aren't walking away from the strengths of the last generation Maxima, which was rated the top-ranked vehicle in AutoPacific's 2007 Vehicle Satisfaction Award for Luxury Mid-Size Cars and a winner of Strategic Vision's 2007 Total Quality Award? for Best Medium Car Ownership Experience," said Castignetti. "However, complacency breeds complacent vehicles. The new Maxima demanded taking risks in order to ultimately come up with a much more exciting and rewarding vehicle."

Three key areas were singled out for change: exterior design, which needed to be more aggressive, with more personality and attitude; a "super" cockpit, creating an interior that combines a driver orientation with high quality, roominess and user-friendly technology; and class-leading performance, enhancing what previous generation owners called "Maxima-ness."

To further push the performance envelope, the development team challenged themselves to concentrate their efforts on "emotional engineering" - to experience Maxima with the five senses in a purer, more visceral manner, rather than through CAD drawings and computer simulations.

As each designer and engineer set and exceeded higher and higher targets, they realized that confirmation of the results would require validation on the road. But not just any road. Members of the development team traveled to Germany's famed Nürburgring Nordschleife circuit - not coincidentally the site of much of the GT-R's performance development work - to test Maxima prototypes. Special attention was placed on body rigidity, suspension and steering, along with honing Maxima's competitiveness against some well-established European sports sedans.

"A number of product changes came directly from the Nürburgring trials, including enhancements to the braking and transmission systems," said Castignetti. "But more importantly, it gave notice to the entire Nissan organization that the new Maxima is back solidly in the performance arena where it rightfully belongs."

Aggressive Design Adds a "Wow" Factor to the Sedan Category

While seeking to create a simple-yet-strong presence, the designers of the new Maxima's exterior also wanted to re-assert Maxima's breakthrough personality - establishing a "wow" level of style that would clearly distinguish it from segment competitors.

The exterior design theme for the new Maxima is "Liquid Motion" - focusing on the flow of its powerful and beautiful surfaces, like the undulation of a wave. The look starts with Maxima's aggressive stance and powerful fender volume, which is not unlike many exotic sports cars on the market today. This deeply sculpted body/fender treatment is seldom used for mass market vehicles because of the engineering and manufacturing complexity required to physically accomplish it. Maxima's new stance is created by a slight reduction in wheelbase and overall length, along with a wider front and rear track.

Maxima's new look imparts a strong, premium presence. The large, wraparound L-shaped headlights add a unique dimension to the overall design, while the light surrounds suggest a powerful "turbine" appearance of energy and strength. The upturned headlight shape combines with a wide grille, large bumper opening and bulging "catamaran-style" hood to give Maxima a formidable expression, setting the tone for the rest of the vehicle.

The powerful Maxima form continues along its profile, with careful layering of the bumper, hood and fender parting lines. The polished, elegant motion spreads from the deep-waisted rear fenders through distinctive Maxima-style C-pillars and high trunk lid.

Dimensionally, versus the previous generation, the new Maxima measures the same width at the doors but wider at each fender, which not only helps project a sporty appearance but also allows a reduction in the visual gap between the fenders and wheels and tires. Maxima's dynamic performance stance is accented by 18-inch and available 19-inch aluminum-alloy wheels with low-profile performance tires.

Another new styling feature is the available Dual Panel Moonroof, which is traditionally offered only in luxury segments. The Dual Panel Moonroof includes a front section that moves like a normal moonroof (positioned farther forward than typical), with a very wide opening to provide an open-air motoring feeling. There is also a fixed translucent rear section that provides light to rear seat passengers. The overall design gives the appearance that the entire roof is composed of black glass. The Dual Panel Moonroof includes dual power sunshades for both the front and rear glass sections, adding a level of convenience.

At the rear, Maxima features a new 12-LED L-shaped taillight design, with a pair of side marker bulbs for added visibility during night driving.

"Maxima's breathtaking new exterior gives it a commanding, almost coupe-like appearance, with plenty of driveway appeal," said Castignetti. "It's one sedan that will definitely be noticed by the next door neighbors, along with a lot of other people."

Maxima is available in a choice of eight exterior colors: Winter Frost, Super Black, Navy Blue, Tuscan Sun, Radiant Silver, Mystic Jade, Precision Gray and Dark Slate.

Leading-Edge Sports Sedan Performance Platform


For five previous generations, Maxima has been built on a front-wheel drive (FWD) platform. Yet with the new Maxima's development team everything was open for discussion, including the benefits of front-wheel drive versus rear-wheel drive (RWD). Although there are well-known advantages of RWD in terms of sporty handling, it was ultimately decided that by switching Maxima from its previous platform to Nissan's new "D platform," which was first introduced on the current Nissan Altima Sedan, Hybrid and Coupe, the target Maxima performance could be delivered - without giving up the added FWD benefits of lower costs, lower weight and enhanced roominess versus a RWD platform.

"As demonstrated time and again with the new Altima, the new Nissan D platform is an amazing piece of engineering - providing responsive handling while virtually eliminating the torque steer often associated with high horsepower FWD applications," said Castignetti. "For the new Maxima, we've continued to refine the D platform, creating what we believe is one of the best-performing front-wheel drive car in the world, far above other FWD vehicles in its class. It's a level of performance that we think will be highly addictive."

In creating driving performance worthy of Nissan's flagship, the Maxima's body and chassis engineering teams worked together to create a secure feeling, virtually no torque steer during acceleration and a level of nimbleness that ultimately makes a car fun to drive.

A range of enhancements helped achieve these targets, including increasing body rigidity and adjusting the wheelbase and track dimensions. Body rigidity was increased by 15 percent and front strut mounting rigidity was increased by 100 percent, with all-new structures added to the engine compartment and additional reinforcement applied to the instrument panel structure. Maximas equipped with the Sport or Premium Packages feature a panel behind the rear seat that improves torsional rigidity by 17 percent versus models with a fold-down rear seat (a rear trunk pass-through is utilized with this panel).

The 2009 Nissan Maxima has a wheelbase of 109.3 inches, a decrease of 1.9 inches versus the 2008 Maxima, and width has been increased by 1.5 inches to 73.2 inches. The front and rear track measurement of 62.4 inches represents increases of 1.4 inches front and 1.2 inches rear over the previous model.

Additional "D platform" enhancements include the use of aluminum suspension links, revised suspension geometry, new technology shocks, revised steering and suspension geometries, a lower engine mounting and application of a new Xtronic CVT™ (Continuously Variable Transmission), all of which contribute to minimal torque steer and improved handling prowess.

A Refined Engine and CVT

Compared to the previous generation, the new Maxima offers more horsepower and torque, providing quicker acceleration response and a special "Maxima Sound" - a satisfying, sporty sounding exhaust note. For 2009, Maxima again features a standard 3.5-liter VQ-series V6 engine, enhanced and refined to take its driving performance to new levels.

The revised engine features a modular engine design with microfinished crank journals and cam lobes, molybdenum coated lightweight pistons, a resin intake collector, digital knock control, six individual coils (one per spark plug) and a cross-flow coolant pattern. Also utilized are a Continuously Variable Valve Timing Control System (CVTCS), a variable induction system, a silent timing chain and electronically controlled throttle.

In refining the award-winning VQ-series V6 for use in the new Maxima, engine development engineers focused on three areas - increasing air intake, increasing fuel burn efficiency and lowering exhaust backpressure. Steps utilized to improve air intake included increasing intake manifold collector port diameter, adding a second power valve in the intake manifold, changing intake collector material to resin for less mass and more flow, redesigning the shape of the intake valves and increasing the throttle chamber diameter. Fuel burn efficiency was improved by increasing the engine's compression ratio to 10.6:1 (from 10.3:1), changing the piston shape for reduction of friction and weight, and adding exhaust-side continuous valve timing control (quad valve timing system). Exhaust backpressure was reduced through optimizing the exhaust system layout.

The 2009 Nissan Maxima's 3.5-liter DOHC 24-valve V6 is now rated at 290 horsepower and 261 lb-ft of torque (estimated), increases of 35 horsepower and 9 lb-ft of torque over the 2008 Maxima.

Significant development time was also spent on enhancing the sporty engine sound for an increased "exhilaration feeling." The new Maxima also utilizes additional sound absorption material and a new "sound creator" to enhance induction sound. Noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) performance has been improved through a number of measures, including adoption of a new six-point engine mounting system. The system, which replaces the previous generation Maxima's four-point mounting, includes upper and lower torque rods, high rigidity front and rear aluminum brackets and front and rear switchable control mounts to improve NVH performance under high engine torque conditions.

All 2009 Nissan Maximas come equipped with a revised Xtronic CVT™ with manual mode, tuned specifically for Maxima's sporty driving character. The Maxima development team finessed the previous CVT design to improve responsiveness and strike a balance between sport and comfort, ultimately creating a transmission that provides a true synergy between engine and transmission, along with smooth, responsive and efficient operation.

For drivers seeking the utmost in vehicle control, a new "Ds mode" (drive sport) has been added to the CVT for 2009. "Ds mode" is an electronic control logic, that enhances sport driving through increased acceleration feel with higher engine revolutions, automatic engine braking and maintaining engine speed during cornering.

11:04 PM

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Potent Pontiacs head for SEMA

Rafay Ansar

,



A trio of potent Pontiacs is hitting SEMA next week, led by the G8 GXP Street concept with a monster crate engine.

This sedan gets a 7.4-liter powerplant that pumps out 638 hp and 600 lb-ft of torque and is paired with a six-speed automatic transmission. Ride height is lowered, and it gets stiffer springs, disc brakes stolen from the Cadillac CTS-V and custom 20-inch aluminum wheels with a black chrome finish.

The exterior gets custom fascia front and rear, unique upper and lower grilles and more black chrome.

The G8 ST concept is based on the truck version of the G8 that’s due in late 2009. It’s lowered, gets 20-inch wheels, a custom interior trim kit and a hard tonneau cover. Power comes the 6.0-liter small block V8 that makes 361 hp and is paired with a six-speed automatic.

The Solstice GXP Coupe concept is a nifty fastback with a removable roof panel for fresh-air fans. It gets a performance air-intake and General Motors’ Stage 2 performance kit, which boosts output to 290 ponies. It also gets cat-back exhaust and a race-ready suspension kit.

11:20 AM

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Versa gets smaller engine, cheapest-car title

Rafay Ansar



Nissan North America will begin selling the lowest-priced car in the United States-- reduced-price 2009 Versa sedan--Nov. 18, thanks to a smaller engine not previously available here.

That change, and the exclusion of an air conditioner, puts the sticker at $10,685, including shipping. Previously, with a 1.8-liter engine and air conditioning, the sticker price was $13,685, including shipping.



The 1.6-liter engine goes into Versas that are exported to Europe. But previous constraints on engine production prevented Nissan from offering the 1.6-liter in North America.

Currently, the least expensive new car sold in the United States is the 2009 Chevrolet Aveo, at $12,625, including shipping.

Al Castignetti, Nissan Division vice president, said the move is not intended as a bait-and-switch -- a marketing tactic that advertises low-priced models that are not actually available.

"Our dealers tell us there is demand for this," Castignetti says. "We're setting aside one-third of our sedan production capacity for the new model."

He said Nissan expects to sell 10,000 of the new models annually.

11:17 AM

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McLaren F1 supercar fetches $4.1 million at auction

Rafay Ansar



The McLaren F1 supercar is spectacular--and now it has an eye-popping sticker to match: $4.1 million.

One of the cars sold for the gaudy price at an auction this week in London, and it’s thought to have set a world record. The final tally more than doubled the expected price, and the supercar was the highlight of the seven-hour sale that featured frenzied bidding for many cars from the standing-room-only crowd.

The McLaren was joined on the block by a 1965 Ferrari 250 LM Berlinetta and a 1959 Ferrari 250 GT Tour de France that went for $3.6 million each. A 1938 Horch 853 Special Roadster went for $1.8 million, and a 1938 Bugatti Type 57C Atalante went for $1.1 million.

Perhaps the most valuable car, a 1963 Ferrari 250 GT SWB California Spyder--didn’t sell. Bidding topped out at $4.2 million--short of estimates it could go for at least $4.8 million.

Organizers said the hefty sale price could have a lasting impact on the supercar market.

“The … sale price redefined the market for these superb vehicles,” Max Girardo, managing director of RM Auctions European division, said in a statement. “The McLaren F1 is quite simply one of the most contemporary cars ever produced and tops a sale that has again shown that great cars attract great prices.”

RM and Sotheby’s organized the auction, called Automobiles of London.

12:50 AM

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Ford Fusion, Mercury Milan get enhanced engines for 2010

Rafay Ansar



Notoriously tight-lipped about future product, Ford is giving us a heads-up on the power train configurations for the 2010 Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan.

In a nutshell, the new lineup offers more power and better fuel economy and will feature the debut of the next-generation hybrid system in the sedans.

The cars are to launch in 2009. They'll have the Duratec 2.5-liter I4 that makes 175 hp and 172 lb-ft of torque, bettering the previous 2.3-liter unit by 14 hp and 16 lb-ft. We first got this engine in the 2009 Escape.

The 3.0-liter V6 gets a new air-induction system, electronic throttle control and intake variable cam timing to improve performance to 240 hp and 228 lb-ft, up 19 hp and 23 lb-ft from the previous version.

The Duratec 3.5-liter V6 also joins the lineup in the Sport model and pumps out 263 horses and 249 lb-ft of torque.

All of the engines are paired with Ford's new six-speed automatic transmission, which improves fuel economy by 10 percent with the I4, and by 4 percent to 6 percent in the 3.0-liter V6.

Fuel economy also is helped by electric power steering, adaptive spark ignition and a deceleration fuel shut-off feature.

In addition to the conventional engines, the Fusion and Milan will get Ford's next-generation hybrid system. They're set to hit showrooms in the first quarter of 2010 and can operate in electric mode at speeds of up to 47 mph. They have an estimated range of up to 700 miles of city driving on a single tank of gasoline. The hybrid system works with the 2.5-liter I4 engine.

12:48 AM

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2008 Nissan Versa SL sedan

Rafay Ansar

,



IN FLEET: Sept. 12-26
AS-TESTED PRICE: $17,290
DRIVETRAIN: 1.8-liter I4; FWD, continuously variable transmission
OUTPUT: 122 hp @ 5,200 rpm, 127 lb-ft @ 4,800 rpm
CURB WEIGHT: 2,745 lb
FUEL ECONOMY (EPA): 27 mpg

SENIOR EDITOR BOB GRITZINGER: What's stunning about the Versa is the level of equipment in a car at this price point (keyless entry and ignition and steering-wheel audio controls), as well as the interior space. What isn't pleasurable is the feeling, possibly because of the seat or its positioning, that the driver is riding on top of the Versa. This is compounded by the rubber-band action of the CVT, which works well to take advantage of available power but seems to numb the connection to the car and cause uncertainty about jumping into a hole in traffic. The suspension also seems skittish and easily unsettled on bumpy corners. Oh, and this must be where all the overstock of plastic controls went after the Altima interior was upgraded. I found myself yearning for a stick shift and some upgraded seats and suspension parts, but then the car might be priced out of this market segment.

COPY/PRODUCTION CHIEF WENDY WARREN KEEBLER: Unlike Bob, I found the Versa's interior surprisingly rich-looking. I was impressed with the multimaterial door panels and the seat materials. The CVT whine is a bit intrusive, particularly if you go for the gusto at stoplights. The engine vibrates and seems to shudder when coming to a halt afterward. The car accelerates well and feels agile, but ride comfort is lacking. The trunk is huge for a small car, with a reasonable lift-over height. But the long reach to the back of the trunk is nearly impossible for short folks with short arms like me. The exterior appearance of the Versa is a bit amusing: such an upright, formal roofline and such a short nose, not to mention the teensy wheels.

11:34 PM

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GPiX crossover bows in Brazil

Rafay Ansar



Chevrolet is showing off the GPiX two-door crossover at the Sao Paulo International auto show in Brazil.

The concept car blends the looks of a small ute with coupe styling, and it has been designed with high ground clearance to handle the uneven driving surfaces found in South America.

The GPiX is about the size of a Saturn Vue, and it's a concept in the truest form. There's no engine, no transmission--and it's not coming to the United States, a General Motors spokesman said.

GPiX stands for Global Pix, and it could offer a view into what is to come in future small utes in South America, a region where GM sales are booming.



"With this project, the Chevrolet GPiX concept could result in the development of many models for Brazil and the Mercosur region," said Jaime Ardila, president of GM operations there.

The crossover concept wears 17-inch wheels, a panoramic glass roof and LED headlamps. The front end gets Chevy's signature grille and looks similar to the Traverse. On the sides, there are also subtle wheel flares.

The GPiX is based on a chassis that blends parts from two small cars, the Celta and the Corsa, that GM sells in South America.

Inside, the GPiX has room for four, and the seats all fold down. Technologies include Bluetooth, handheld computers and audio players.

The crossover is the fruit of GM's design center in Brazil, one of 11 around the world. Expect to see more design muscle from the site, as GM is spending $36 million to expand the facility and increase the headcount from 79 to 190.

11:33 PM

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2008 Nissan Versa SL sedana

Rafay Ansar

,



IN FLEET: Sept. 12-26
AS-TESTED PRICE: $17,290
DRIVETRAIN: 1.8-liter I4; FWD, continuously variable transmission
OUTPUT: 122 hp @ 5,200 rpm, 127 lb-ft @ 4,800 rpm
CURB WEIGHT: 2,745 lb
FUEL ECONOMY (EPA): 27 mpg

SENIOR EDITOR BOB GRITZINGER: What's stunning about the Versa is the level of equipment in a car at this price point (keyless entry and ignition and steering-wheel audio controls), as well as the interior space. What isn't pleasurable is the feeling, possibly because of the seat or its positioning, that the driver is riding on top of the Versa. This is compounded by the rubber-band action of the CVT, which works well to take advantage of available power but seems to numb the connection to the car and cause uncertainty about jumping into a hole in traffic. The suspension also seems skittish and easily unsettled on bumpy corners. Oh, and this must be where all the overstock of plastic controls went after the Altima interior was upgraded. I found myself yearning for a stick shift and some upgraded seats and suspension parts, but then the car might be priced out of this market segment.

COPY/PRODUCTION CHIEF WENDY WARREN KEEBLER: Unlike Bob, I found the Versa's interior surprisingly rich-looking. I was impressed with the multimaterial door panels and the seat materials. The CVT whine is a bit intrusive, particularly if you go for the gusto at stoplights. The engine vibrates and seems to shudder when coming to a halt afterward. The car accelerates well and feels agile, but ride comfort is lacking. The trunk is huge for a small car, with a reasonable lift-over height. But the long reach to the back of the trunk is nearly impossible for short folks with short arms like me. The exterior appearance of the Versa is a bit amusing: such an upright, formal roofline and such a short nose, not to mention the teensy wheels.

12:26 AM

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Audi TTS Roadster (2009)

Rafay Ansar

,



Audi is taking the wraps off a new sports car - the Audi TTS, the top of the TT model line. It will be coming to dealer showrooms in the early summer. Under its hood lies a two-liter TFSI high-performance engine delivering a mighty 200 kW (272 hp). This intense power propels the TTS Coupe to 100 km/h (62.14 mph) from a standstill in just 5.2 seconds and on to a governor-limited top speed of 250 km/h (155.34 mph). The Audi TTS is available as both a 2 + 2-seater coupe and as a roadster.

Designed to appeal to a young and dynamic clientele, the TTS represents the Audi brand's Vorsprung durch Technik ("advancement through technology") in its very latest form. The TFSI engine in the TTS takes the two Audi technologies of gasoline direct injection and turbocharging and blends them to form a perfect partnership. Aside from its output of 200 kW (272 hp), it is its peak torque of 350 Nm (258.15 lb-ft), which is constantly on tap between 2,500 and 5,000 rpm, that makes the compact and lightweight four-cylinder unit so impressive.

Compared to the engine it was derived from, the two-liter power unit has been reengineered and strengthened in a number of key areas to ready it for operation in the TTS. Thanks to its excellent efficiency, the sporty-sounding TFSI has an average fuel consumption of just 8.0 liters of fuel per 100 kilometers (29.375 mpg) in the Coupe when partnered by the six-speed manual transmission, while the figure for the roadster averages 8.2 l/100 km (28.659 mpg). These figures are improved by 0.1 and 0.2 l/100 km (by 0.372 and 0.716 mpg), respectively, if the optional S tronic dual-clutch transmission is fitted.

S tronic, which deploys two clutches, is capable of performing extremely quick gear shifts at high engine loads and rev speeds; consequently, the time taken to sprint from zero to 100 km/h (62.14 mph) is cut by a further two-tenths of a second in both the Coupe and Roadster. Loss-free transfer of power to the road is the task of the standard quattro permanent all-wheel drive that enables the TTS to accelerate quicker and with greater stability than its rivals. At the heart of this system is a hydraulic multi-plate clutch that works faster than ever thanks to a new pressure reservoir.

The TTS rolls off the production line equipped with yet another high-tech module - the Audi magnetic ride adaptive damping system. This gives the driver the choice of two characteristic settings: "Standard" mode is designed for a wellbalanced, comfortable ride, whereas in the "Sport" setting the TTS harnesses all of the potential of its sports suspension - which lowers the body by 10 millimeters (0.39 in.) - to deliver uncompromisingly dynamic handling. Its front suspension is mainly made of aluminum, while the efficient technology of the precision electromechanical steering also helps to improve fuel consumption considerably. The sports car is safely brought to a standstill by the high-performance braking system with its 17-inch discs.

Yet another factor in the supreme performance of the TTS is the hybrid construction of its body. Steel is used at the rear end, while the front and center sections of the body are built from lightweight aluminum. ASF (Audi Space Frame) technology optimizes axle load distribution and reduces the overall weight. The manual Coupe weighs just 1,395 kilograms (3,075.45 lbs), which equates to a power-to-weight ratio of 5.1 kg/hp (11.24 lbs/hp).

Powerful looks: 18-inch wheels plus new headlights

The Audi TTS instantly stands out as the dynamic flagship of the TT model line. The standard 18-inch aluminum wheels are a highlight of the exterior design, as are the headlights, comprising newly designed bi-xenon units with LED daytime running lights. Inside, passengers are welcomed by deep-set sports seats trimmed in a mixture of leather and Alcantara, with Silk Nappa leather seat upholstery in four different color combinations available as an option. The gray instrument panel as well as the multifunctional steering wheel add further styling touches.

The Audi TTS Roadster comes with an electrohydraulic drive for the soft top, a power wind deflector, plus, for added practicality, a load-through facility. The rear seats in the Coupe have a split-folding design, allowing luggage capacity to be increased from 290 to 700 liters (10.24 to 24.72 cubic ft.). The hard-top TTS is priced at 44,900 euros and the convertible version at 47,750 euros.

The unveiling of the TTS also marks something of an anniversary for Audi: It was 10 years ago that the TT Coupe first took to the road, swiftly acquiring the status of design icon. And the TT has stayed firmly in the fast lane ever since.

The Drivetrain

The TFSI engine fitted in the TTS summons its power from a displacement of 1984 cc, and blends two separate Audi technologies - gasoline direct injection and turbocharging - to form a partnership that is perfect for a sports car. It is with good reason that an international jury of motoring journalists has crowned the two-liter four-cylinder power unit "Engine of the Year" three times in succession since 2005.

It is not only the 200 kW (272 hp) of output that makes the TFSI so scintillating, there's its hefty pulling power too - the maximum torque of 350 Nm (258.15 lb-ft) is constantly on tap from 2,500 up to 5,000 rpm. The Coupe with manual transmission takes just 5.4 seconds to race from zero to 100 km/h (62.14 mph), while a mere 4.4 seconds are required to speed up from 80 to 120 km/h (49.71 to 74.56 mph) in fourth gear. The Roadster is almost as impressive, recording times of 5.6 and 4.6 seconds respectively for the same two exercises. The electronic limiter calls a halt to this outstanding propulsion at a speed of 250 km/h (155.34 mph) in both models.

Compared to the engine it was derived from, the two-liter power unit has undergone extensive reengineering and strengthening to ready it for operation in the TTS - overhauled areas include the engine block, the cylinder head, the pistons, the connecting rods and the turbocharger, which can build up as much as 1.2 bar of relative air pressure. The intake and exhaust systems have undergone elaborate honing to allow the refined four-cylinder engine to both breathe freely and generate a powerful, resonant soundtrack. An optimized and highly efficient intercooler lowers the temperature of the compressed air, producing a crucial increase in the quantity of air supplied for combustion.

Thanks to its outstanding efficiency, the TFSI has impressive fuel consumption of 7.9 liters per 100 km (29.747 mpg) in the Coupe when partnered by the S tronic transmission, and just 8.0 l/100 km (29.375 mpg) in the Roadster. The two-liter engine is extremely light, weighing in at 153 kilograms (337.31 lbs). This has considerable benefits for the overall weight of the TTS as well as for the axle load distribution and, consequently, for the vehicle's handling.

High-tech gearshifting: S tronic

Transmission of the engine's power is handled as standard in the TTS by a manual six-speed gearshift with a light-weight magnesium housing. As an alternative, customers can opt for S tronic, which operates using six gears and two clutches positioned one behind the other. At high engine loads and rev speeds, it is capable of shifting in just two-tenths of a second. As a result of this high-speed shift work and its dynamic start-off capabilities, the dual-clutch transmission from Audi shaves a whole two-tenths off the time taken for the sprint from zero to 100 km/h (62.14 mph) in both the Coupe and the Roadster.

S tronic, which likewise boasts excellent efficiency, also allows the driver to shift gears manually using the one-touch lever or by means of paddles on the steering wheel, just like in a racing car. There is also a choice of two automatic operating modes: N for "Normal" and S for "Sport." The clutches also have an adaptive design, enabling the start-off characteristics to be varied - whereas caution is exercised on slippery surfaces, full power can be unleashed at the driver's command when there is firm grip.

The standard-specification quattro permanent all-wheel drive ensures loss-free transfer of the engine's power to the road. With drive power being delivered to all four wheels, the TTS is able to accelerate quicker and more safely than its rivals, delivering dynamism coupled with supreme stability under all conditions.

At the heart of the quattro system is an electronically controlled and hydraulically operated multi-plate clutch, which now works even faster than ever thanks to a new pressure reservoir. If required, all of the drive force can be redirected from the front to the rear wheels within a matter of milliseconds. To make allowance for the high torques produced by the TFSI engine in the TTS, the drive train has been reinforced as required.

The Chassis

Audi has opted for a McPherson front suspension with lower triangular wishbones for the TTS. The suspension is largely made of aluminum, thereby reducing the unsprung masses. With a view to increasing rigidity, the subframe is bolted to the body at six points. The sensitive, high-precision power steering is driven electromechanically, a technology that improves fuel consumption by 0.2 liters per 100 km (0.716 mpg). The characteristics of the steering's power assistance have been adapted to reflect the dynamic nature of the TTS.

The four-link rear suspension offers considerable benefits for vehicle handling, as it is capable of dealing with the longitudinal and lateral forces separately from one another. All of the links are made from high-strength grades of steel, while modified bearings emphasize the taut feel of the TTS. The coil springs and shock absorbers are fitted separately from one another, meaning that they take up little space.

The TTS comes standard with 18-inch cast aluminum wheels that sport the fivearm parallel-spoke S design and are shod with 245/40-size tires. Further wheel variants are optionally available, including a new 19-inch cast aluminum wheel designed by quattro GmbH. The exceptionally dynamic top-of-the-line TT model comes equipped with a high-performance braking system. Large disks are fitted front and rear, with the front disks being internally ventilated too. Inside the black-painted calipers, which bear the TTS emblem at the front, are the sport brake pads. Audi has devised a second, sporty level for the ESP stabilization program which enables controlled drifting.

Audi magnetic ride - crisp and versatile

The TTS rolls off the production line equipped with yet another high-tech solution — the Audi magnetic ride adaptive suspension system. Circulating inside the damper pistons is a special fluid containing minute magnetic particles. When an electrical voltage is applied, the oil's flow properties change the characteristics of the suspension.

Audi magnetic ride works adaptively, meaning that it adjusts automatically to suit the prevailing conditions. The driver can select one of two suspension settings. In "Normal" mode, when oil viscosity is high, the TTS offers a well-balanced, comfortable ride. In the "Sport" setting, meaning low viscosity, the TTS harnesses all of the potential of its sports suspension - which lowers the body by 10 millimeters (0.39 in.) - to deliver uncompromisingly dynamic handling.

The Audi generates non-stop fun at the wheel as it speeds around corners like a go-cart with absolute crispness and precision, seemingly glued to the road. Any body roll is suppressed from the moment the vehicle starts to turn. The steering becomes more responsive and direct, and selective bracing of the wheels makes the self-steering more neutral.

The Body


The superior performance of the TTS can be partly attributed to the technology of its bodywork, whose hybrid construction combines two different types of materials. Steel is used at the rear end, while the front and center sections of the body are built from lightweight aluminum.

Audi first developed this principle, known as the Audi Space Frame (ASF), in the early 1990s, triggering a revolution in body manufacturing. Extruded sections, pressure die-castings and load-bearing aluminum panels together form a light, rigid and extremely safe structure. On the Coupe, the side sections and the roof are laser welded together, producing a precision seamless joint — another clear indication of how Audi strives for perfection when building its cars.

The construction of the TTS has the added major benefit of optimizing distribution of the axle loads and reducing the vehicle's total weight. The Coupe's body weighs a mere 206 kilograms (454.15 lbs), of which 140 kg (308.65 lbs) is aluminum and 66 kg (145.51 lbs) steel. In the case of the TTS Roadster, whose body incorporates special reinforcements, the figure is 251 kilograms (553.36 lbs). All in all, the manual version of the Coupe weighs in at just 1,395 kilograms (3,075.45 lbs), equating to a power-to-weight ratio of 5.1 kilograms (11.24 lbs) per hp. The Roadster's weight of 1,455 kilograms (3,207.73 lbs), meanwhile, corresponds to a ratio of 5.4 kg/hp (11.90 lbs/hp).

The Audi TTS instantly stands out as the dynamic flagship of the TT model line. One of the design highlights is undoubtedly the headlights - newly designed bixenon units featuring a horizontal strip of white LEDs that serve as daytime running lights. The single-frame grill in a platinum gray finish is embellished with slender chrome strips, while large air intakes in the restyled front apron add to the striking look.

When viewed in profile, it is not only the large 18-inch wheels that stand out; the widened, deeper door sills are equally eye-catching. A muscular rear bumper, a gray-colored diffusor trim, plus two sets of twin tailpipes protruding from the left and the right inject the vehicle's tail with a sporty character all of its own. The spoiler on the TTS extends automatically when the speed reaches 120 km/h (74.56 mph) and retracts again when it drops back to 80 km/h (49.71 mph).

Both the Coupe and the Roadster measure 4,198 millimeters (13.77 ft) long and 1,842 mm (6.04 ft) wide; the hard-top TTS is 1,345 mm (4.41 ft) in height, its open-top counterpart 1,350 mm (4.43 ft). The Roadster features an electrohydraulically operated soft top which opens and closes in twelve seconds, even on the move at speeds below 50 km/h (31.07 mph). The soft top incorporates a large glass rear window and folds in a "Z" shape. Neither a tonneau cover nor a cover flap is needed. Extra matting between the headlining and the outer skin improves insulation, and an electrically extending/retracting wind deflector shields the occupants' necks from drafts when the hood is down.

The Interior



Awaiting the passengers inside are deep-set sports seats featuring seat heating and height adjustment. They come as standard with leather/Alcantara seat covers in either black or black and silver, plus silver-colored contrast stitching. The sports seats are optionally available in Silk Nappa leather upholstery. There is also the option of the Impulse leather package, comprising black trim with silver stitching in the Coupe or chennai brown trim with espresso-colored contrast stitching in the Roadster.

The cockpit in the TTS is molded around the driver like a sleek-fitting suit. Its clean-cut, sporty design and uncompromising quality of construction is another Audi trademark. Instruments with a gray background and white needles, metal pedals, aluminum trim panels, plus a multifunctional leather sports steering wheel with a rim that's flattened at the bottom add further styling touches.

The driver information system with its new, high-resolution white display concentrates all important information where it can be clearly seen by the driver, and includes a timer function that is able to record lap times on race tracks. Mobile entertainment out on the road comes in the form of the chorus audio system with CD player.

As well as being great fun to drive, the new sports car from Audi boasts a host of credentials that make it eminently suitable for day-to-day use. The Roadster is available with an optional load-through facility complete with removable ski bag for added practicality. The trunk has a capacity of 250 liters (8.83 cubic ft). The rear seats in the Coupe have a split-folding design, allowing luggage capacity to be increased from 290 to 700 liters (10.24 to 24.72 cubic ft.).

The Features

Sales of the TTS will begin in the early summer. The Coupe is priced at 44,900 euros and the Roadster at 47,750 euros. The TT line's dynamic top model comes generously equipped. Its list of features includes quattro permanent allwheel drive, the Audi magnetic ride adaptive suspension system, 18-inch aluminum wheels, xenon plus headlights with LED daytime running lights, plus - on the Roadster - the fully automatic soft top including power wind deflector.

The interior is dominated by the multifunctional leather sports steering wheel. The extended aluminum styling and heated sports seats with their leather/Alcantara upholstery are further highlights. An automatic air conditioning system and Isofix child seat mountings on the front passenger seat are designed to enhance both comfort and safety.

The list of optional extras includes two navigation systems, a Bose sound system, an iPod port, an LED interior lighting package, electrically adjustable seats, as well as the Audi adaptive light dynamic cornering light system. The S tronic dualclutch transmission is an Audi technology that remains unmatched by anything the competition has to offer.

12:24 AM

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Jaguar XKR-S (2009)

Rafay Ansar

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The Jaguar XKR-S coupe is the fastest production XK to date. Powered by Jaguar's acclaimed 4.2litre V8 supercharged engine, it has been developed for the true Jaguar enthusiast. It is faster and more agile than the XKR, taking the Jaguar sports car experience to a new level, whilst retaining the refined, dynamic excellence and crafted luxury that is unique to Jaguar.

Sharing the XKR's highly advanced lightweight aluminium body architecture, the high performance of the Jaguar XKR-S is made totally accessible by the enormous reserves of the 4.2-litre all aluminium four-cam supercharged V8's 420bhp (SAE) and 560Nm of torque.

With recalibrated engine management, the Jaguar XKR-S reaches an electronically limited top speed of 174mph (280kph) - 19mph (30kph) faster than the XKR. This additional performance is made accessible by improved aerodynamics (reduced drag and lift) and unique suspension set-up.

Sharing the XKR's class-leading six-speed sequential automatic transmission, the Jaguar XKR-S has exceptional refinement and the option of ultra-fast manual shifts controlled by steering wheel-mounted paddle shifts - with shift times measured in milliseconds to make this one of the fastest shifting transmissions in the world.

To match its increased performance, the Jaguar XKR-S adopts the most powerful brakes on any Jaguar production model, plus extensive changes to its suspension and steering to provide further enhanced ride and handling characteristics without compromising comfort.

The high performance braking system for the Jaguar XKR-S was developed by Jaguar's Special Vehicles team in partnership with British competition brake specialist Alcon, which supplies the stopping power for some of the fastest cars in the world, on both road and track. The brakes were perfected over thousands of miles of testing on some of Europe's most demanding roads, and by Jaguar's engineering team at the Nurburgring in Germany. The Jaguar XKR-S Alcon R Performance braking system features 400mm diameter discs on the front and 350mm discs at the rear. Each disc is radially ventilated for maximum cooling and to resist fade even under the hardest use, and will perfectly match the Jaguar XKR-S's increased top speed. The friction surfaces of each disc carry a series of crescent-shaped grooves that help clear water from the discs during wet weather and help to keep the brake pads clean at all times. The Alcon R performance brake package uses lightweight monobloc six-piston callipers at the front and four-piston callipers at the rear - each calliper finished in a distinctive red and carrying the R logo.

The Jaguar XKR-S coupe's dynamic balance focuses on achieving an even more sporting character while retaining the XKR's supple ride comfort. Its blend of control and refinement begins with the extremely stiff all-aluminium body structure, and a re-tuning of the XKR's all-wishbone suspension. The Jaguar XKR-S features new springs, new anti-roll bars and unique dampers. All the major suspension parameters are recalibrated, and the Jaguar XKR-S uses Jaguar's proven Computer Active Technology Suspension (CATS) with unique tuning. It also uses a faster ratio steering rack, for quicker reactions and optimum feel.

The limited edition coupé in Ultimate Black is identified by the unique Jaguar XKR-S badge on the rear of the car. The exterior of the Jaguar XKR-S has been subtly enhanced to make it recognisably different without being overstated. Another significant element in the revised handling package is that the ride height of the Jaguar XKR-S has been reduced by 10mm compared with that of the XKR, and the Jaguar XKR-S sits on unique, lightweight 20-inch Vortex forged alloy wheels with bespoke tyres. That naturally makes the Jaguar XKR-S look lower and even more sporting, but it has a number of other distinguishing details. It features a new front aerodynamic splitter, side sill extensions, revised rear spoiler and rear diffuser panel, with contrasting finishes to details such as the front mesh grille, power vents, sills and rear diffuser panel.

The Jaguar XKR-S has an Active Exhaust System, which is specifically tuned to ensure quiet, refined high-speed cruising while producing a much more hard-edged and sporting V8 sound under hard acceleration - not over loud, but full of performance character.

While the mechanical specification and the exterior revisions are driven largely by performance and dynamic enhancement, the interior changes reflect Jaguar's vision of the Jaguar XKR-S as an uncompromisingly luxurious sports car.

The full soft grain leather trim is finished in Charcoal with Ivory twin-needle contrast stitching, with leather wrapping the seats, instrument panel top, centre console, inner door panels and rear side panels. This is complemented by Piano Black veneer, Charcoal Alston luxury headlining, plus a revised instrument cluster - calibrated to accommodate the higher top speed - with XKR-S branding. The contrast-stitched leather trimmed steering wheel, alloy and leather gear selector with alloy surround, bright aluminium pedals, and XKR-S branded head-restraints, tread-plates and carpet mats further set the tone for this very special interior.

Taking Jaguar's 525W Premium Audio system with Pro Logic II surround sound as a starting point, renowned premium British loudspeaker manufacturer Bowers & Wilkins has tuned a signature speaker system specifically for the cabin of the Jaguar XKR-S. High output, low distortion Kevlar mid-range speakers and specially designed aluminium-dome tweeters deliver superb mid-range and extended high-frequency responses.

On sale in summer 2008 and limited to just 200 cars in European markets only, the Jaguar XKR-S is an even more driver-focused sports grand tourer than the XKR.

10:24 AM

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Lamborghini to launch racing series in '09

Rafay Ansar



Racing. Lamborghini. Racing a Lamborghini. An amazing fantasy? Oh, yeah. And now it's reality.

Lamborghini is launching what's being billed as the world's fastest one-marque racing series in May 2009, called the Blancpain Super Trofeo.

It will have a grid of 30 cars, and teams will get to drive the Super Trofeo, a race-car version of the Lamborghini Gallardo LP 560-4.

It's open to individual, professional and "gentleman" drivers, as well as Lamborghini dealer teams. The factory also will have a car earmarked for celebrity guest drivers.

The series starts May 3 at Silverstone in Britain and will crisscross Europe with races in Italy, Germany, Belgium and Spain. It wraps at Monza in October 2009. The races will be held alongside other events, including the FIA's GT championship and the World Touring Car championship.

It costs about $250,000 at current exchange rates for the Super Trofeo car-and-parts package, and there's also an entry fee and taxes. Drivers get three 40-minute races each weekend, with the results added together. It also includes qualifying and practice sessions.

The Super Trofeo is a lightweight version of the Gallardo LP 560-4 slimmed down to a dry weight of 2,866 pounds with a reworked chassis. Power comes from a 5.2-liter direct-injection V10 that makes 570 hp, which is channeled through permanent all-wheel drive.

It's paired with a six-speed gearbox. Other enhancements include a carbon-fiber wing, racing brakes and a safety cage.

10:23 AM

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VW: U.S. may get Scirocco after all

Rafay Ansar



Volkswagen AG may bring its resurrected Scirocco sport coupe to the United States after all.

In March, VW said it would not sell the Scirocco in the United States for fear it would take sales from the Golf GTI. The strong euro, which makes vehicles produced in Europe more expensive in the United States, also was a factor.

But prodding from enthusiasts and the Scirocco's popularity in Europe, where it returned in August after a 16-year-hiatus, has VW executives rethinking that decision, said Steve Keyes, a spokesman for Volkswagen Group of America Inc. The dollar's gain on the euro also doesn't hurt.

Keyes said VW is considering selling a limited edition of the Scirocco in the United States that would have more horsepower and a higher price tag than the GTI.

"People are looking at: 'Would it make sense? What are the volumes?' and all that," Keyes told Automotive News at a press event in Wolfsburg, Germany, last week. "There's no real decision yet, but we're now discussing whether maybe there's another way to bring a Scirocco here, positioning it a little bit differently."

VW has sold limited-edition vehicles in the United States before. In 2004, the automaker introduced a high-performance, all-wheel-drive variant of the Golf, known as the R32, that sold in the United States for one year. The R32 gave a U.S. encore in 2007 after the redesign of its European counterpart. In 2007, 1,756 R32s were sold in the United States.

"That's the model we've chosen to take a look at for a special Scirocco," Keyes said. "We've got some experience with that type of idea, and it's been successful, so it would seem to make some sense to replicate that with the Scirocco."

A decision on the Scirocco has no timetable, Keyes said. VW builds the coupe at its factory in Setubal, Portugal, where it also makes the Eos.

5:52 AM

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Fiat delays Alfa's U.S. return

Rafay Ansar



The broadening global financial crisis has forced Fiat Group Automobiles to postpone two targets it had set two years ago for 2010: returning the Alfa Romeo brand to the United States, and selling 300,000 units a year in China.

Alfa's return to the United States will be delayed by a year to 2011, Fiat Group and Fiat Group Automobiles CEO Sergio Marchionne said Thursday. The new 2010 goal for Fiat sales in China is now 50,000.

Alfa's U.S. return was originally planned by Marchionne for the final quarter of 2009, then later delayed to the 2010. In pushing that back another year, Marchionne told analysts, because "it would be simply crazy investing for returning Alfa in such a depressed U.S. market."

In China, Fiat has so far missed all the targets Marchionne had previously set.

The Italian automaker has not produced vehicles in China since December 2007, when it ended its joint venture with Nanjing Automobile.

Fiat is currently importing "a few thousand" vehicles produced in Italy and Turkey, Marchionne said. Each is sold at a loss, but the automaker needs to continue importing vehicles to bolster its Chinese dealer network.

Because of this, Marchionne acknowledged that the 300,000 units sales target he had set for 2010 is unreachable.

The Italian automaker is in negotiations with Chery Automobile to form a joint venture to produce the Alfa Romeo 159 premium sedan and the 940 project, which will replace the 147 in Europe from late 2009.

Fiat also is negotiating with Guangzhou Automobile to build the Fiat Linea sedan.

Details of the agreement with Guangzhou could be announced next month.

People familiar with the matter told Automotive News Europe that Fiat is planning to build 70,000 to 80,000 Lineas a year in one of Guangzhou plants.

Guangzhou has joint ventures with Honda and Toyota.

5:50 AM

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Audi S4: You won't miss those two cylinders

Rafay Ansar

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Raw figures rarely relate the whole story. But in the case of the fourth-generation Audi S4, they do provide a reliable guide as to the overall effectiveness of its new 3.0-liter V6.

Running a Roots-style supercharger that sits between the cylinder banks and operates at a maximum 24.7 psi, the V6 cranks out 333 hp at 5,500 rpm. This is down 11 hp from the third-generation S4's naturally aspirated 4.2-liter V8.

But the blown V6 also delivers 22 lb-ft more torque than the V8, an impressive 324 lb-ft being released between 2,900 rpm and 5,300 rpm. So there is no great hardship in the loss of two cylinders and 1.2 liters of displacement.

It is sufficient, Audi claims, for an official 0-to-62-mph time of just 5.1 seconds-- 0.8 second less than the old S4 and just 0.2 second shy of the time Audi quoted for the last RS4. A more-telling indicator of real-world performance, however, is the 50-to-75-mph fourth-gear time of just 4.4 seconds.

That is quick by any standard and reflects the effectiveness of the V6's prodigious torque in shifting the S4's 3,637-pound curb weight. Top speed is still limited to 155 mph, but there is little doubt the new Audi would haul beyond this if left to run all the way to its 7,000-rpm cutoff in top gear.

What is even more impressive is that the S4's supercharged V6 achieves all this with 27 percent better fuel economy than the V8. Audi puts the combined fuel-economy rating for the new S4 at 24.9 mpg.

As S4 tradition dictates, power is channeled to all four wheels via a standard six-speed manual gearbox. You can also choose a rapid-fire, seven-speed twin-clutch unit. But beware: Despite offering a manual mode and remote shift paddles, it always acts like an automatic.

Rather than holding on to gears as a proper manual does, the slick-shifting unit automatically changes up a gear when the revs reach 6,800 rpm--about 200 rpm shy of the redline. As with all of its new models in recent times, Audi has given this latest S4 a nominal 40:60 front-to-rear apportioning of drive power.

The new S4 also is the first model from Ingolstadt to receive what Audi describes as its sport differential--a complex torque-vectoring gear set that acts like a traditional mechanical locking differential by varying the amount of drive going to each rear wheel. When sensors within the electronic stability program detect understeer during cornering, the sport differential provides greater drive to the outside wheels to help provide the car with a more neutral trajectory. The opposite goes for oversteer, the sport differential delivering more drive to the inside wheels.

We've yet to drive the S4 in manual guise, but the optional twin-clutch gearbox (there is no automatic option) encourages spirited driving. Its tightly staked ratios help to make the most of the flexible qualities of the engine. Upshifts are performed in a crisp and smooth manner--even at high revs--with a distinctive bellow from the engine as each gear is engaged and boost pressure is created by the supercharger is dumped, while the electronics are clever enough to provide an alluring blip on the throttle on the downshifts.

Since its inception in 1997, the S4 has become a key model in Audi's efforts to provide its lineup with a more sporting flavor. While lacking the overall excitement afforded by its more heavily focused RS4 siblings, the S4 has nevertheless built up a solid following, thanks to its typically effortless performance and the dynamic security offered by its standard four-wheel-drive system.

This new one continues in the same vain, but adds one important element: added entertainment. Based on Audi's new MLP platform that provides significant improvements in weight distribution, it is more willing and responsive that just about any four-door Audi has produced.

There is an inherent sharpness to its actions that make it a much more engaging car to drive than its predecessor. It all starts with the steering, which is both direct and well-weighted. This is backed up by excellent body control and seemingly endless levels of grip. Then there's the S4's ability to get its power down without any undue fuss in any weather and/or road conditions.

It all results in fluid handling. Arriving in a corner at high speeds still induces understeer, but the actions of the sport differential ensure it never builds to quite the same level as before, and there is far less interruption from the ESP system. Audi has engineered its new system to vary the drive going to each of the rear wheels both under load and on a trailing throttle. The upshot is a more stable feel during cornering and higher apex speeds.

Another area in which the new S4 displays a clear advance on the model it replaces is in ride quality. With the addition of electronic dampers for the first time, it gives the driver the choice between three levels of stiffness--comfort, automatic and dynamic. A longer wheelbase and increased track widths help, of course. But no matter what mode you choose, there are far greater levels of compliance and more control from the individual suspension components when the surface turns nasty, providing the new go-fast Audi with improved comfort and refinement.

Buyers can option their car up with Audi's so-called drive select system, which provides the basis for sharper and more responsive actions by remapping the characteristics of the throttle, transmission shift points, dampers and steering--the latter receiving a low-friction axial transmission that provides whipcrack attributes. It's probably the best steering of any Audi model right now--the R8 included.

If the idea of a rapid but practical everyday car possessing true all-season ability and bulletproof quality appeals, we wouldn't talk you out of it. Not when Ingolstadt is promising to the S4 will land here at a price that goes against the trend by undercutting that of its predecessor.

While the decision to replace the S4's V8 with a supercharged V6 has robbed it of some of its aural appeal--some might say soul--its real-world performance is never in doubt. This is a fast car. An advanced new driveline featuring the latest in four-wheel-drive technology also helps provide newfound levels of agility.

The S4 is now a much more rounded car than before, one that is sure to provide the BMW 335i with its stiffest competition yet when it lands here next year. The only problem for prospective buyers is whether to opt for the style of the sedan or the versatility of the wagon. Whatever you choose, you won't be disappointed.

11:11 PM

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SEMA's wildest horse--Galpin Auto Sports' Scythe is pure custom

Rafay Ansar



"It started out as a Mustang," Beau Boeckmann began, explaining the Scythe, the latest creation from Galpin Auto Sports.

Actually, you have to go farther back than even the Mustang, back to the beginning of a Southern California car dealership called Galpin Ford. Beau's father, Bert, started working at Galpin in 1953, bought it from the owner in 1963, and soon set about finding ways to offer more than just bone-stock cars straight from the manufacturer. He found quite a few.

If you follow the Galpin historical script, you would say that Galpin Ford was single-handedly responsible for the automotive evolutions that became the custom van, the 4x4 pickup craze and painting and graphic designs on new cars too numerous to name.

Bert Boeckmann hired a young immigrant named Heinz Prechter to install some of Prechter's wacky European sunroofs on Galpin cars to see whether they'd help move the iron. They did. Prechter went on to found American Sunroof and make millions of cars with sunroofs (and no roofs) for carmakers throughout the world. So add the sunroof to trends started at or by Galpin.

Anyone who listens to all the ads on Southern California radio stations knows that Galpin is the No. 1 Ford dealer in the United States, and part of that success is the result of the dealership's constant desire to set itself apart--hence the customization.

In the 1960s and '70s, car customizing done the Galpin way became known as "Galpinizing." Galpin made everything from leopard-print T-Birds to flying Pintos. The Galpinization of Southern California has been going on for almost four decades.

It was into this crazy car-customizing world that Bert's son Beau was born. Beau grew up not only amid these various Galpin projects, but also as an admirer of the work of Ed "Big Daddy" Roth. So much so that, as he worked his way up through the dealership and the means became available to him, Beau purchased (so far) four original Roth cars and "more assorted Roth stuff than I can name."

Beau also founded and runs Galpin Auto Sports, a modern take on the great SoCal custom shops of the '50s and '60s. At its most elemental, the Scythe is meant to demonstrate the capabilities of the crew at GAS to do to your car anything you want them to do. For the last four seasons, GAS has been the home of the MTV show Pimp My Ride. So Boeckmann is living his dream.

Keep all that in mind when you look at the Scythe, or when you see it on the Ford stand at the SEMA show.

"It's the most customized car of all time," Boeckmann said when he showed it to us.

Let's start with the body. It was designed with help from Ed Newton, who worked for Roth in the '60s. Up front is a Roth-like snout flanked by triple headlights and antipedestrian pincers down at shoe level.




Voice control is the theme of the interior of the Scythe.
The doors open electrically, each side sliding out on a single pivot arm that then rotates up. It looks as if it must have been hard to engineer.

"That's why we did it, to demonstrate the talent of our crew," said Boeckmann. "To me, technology is an art form and the engine is an art form. To me, it's an expression of functional art. And who has never dreamed of building their own car?"

Up above there are no B- or C-pillars. Instead, the seat backs arch up to the roof and hold it in place with huge machined aluminum ramparts. The glass wraps around the back like a Galpin fish-tank Pinto (another Galpinized creation from the dealership's archives).

Under--and above--the hood is a massive engine inspired by the twin-turbo Shelby Cobra that Boeckmann saw sell at an auction for $5 million. The Scythe's engine came about after a conversation with GAS engine builder Chris Whitney.

"We wanted the 'Whoa!' factor," Whitney said.

They certainly got it. Those are two helical three-rotor Magnussen superchargers bolted to a custom manifold that routes intake air downward to an intercooler. With methanol fuel and an 11.5:1 compression ratio, the goal of the 5.0-liter V8 is 1,000 hp. They hope it won't blow apart the transmission--a Mustang 5-speed automatic, fitted with beefed up TCI internals and a Shift Kit, as well as a 3,500 rpm stall converter.

"Fire it up, buddy," said one GAS crewman to another. Then, to us, "It sounds like the world's coming to an end."

He fired it up. There was no muffler. The world may have been coming to an end but, like Robert Frost said, it'll be a nice end.

Inside, the Scythe is an electronics showcase built by Pimp My Ride's Mad Mike. It features voice control for everything, from starting the car to reading you back your grocery list.

"I wanted to change how we communicate with our automobiles," said Boeckmann. "I wanted to make something that would be helpful in your daily life, something you could interact with, a virtual personal assistant."

Mad Mike demonstrated it all to us.

"I guess I watched too much Knight Rider as a kid," said Boeckmann.

The difference is, none of those kids who watched Knight Rider got to live out their dreams the way Boeckmann and his happy crew are doing now.

After the Scythe debuts at SEMA, it will appear at other car shows across the country. Then, who knows, maybe Boeckmann will make it his own daily driver. Look out, pedestrians!

11:10 PM

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Back in black: Chevy teases a Camaro for SEMA

Rafay Ansar



The reborn Chevrolet Camaro is the "car of the show" for this year's SEMA convention. And that means we're going to see a few new Camaros in various states of accessorization.

On Friday the Chevy PR machine put out a little teaser on one of the Camaros. The theme: black. A good thing for the heavy metal fans in the audience.

Here's a look at what Chevy put out. More details arrive when we get them.

5:55 AM

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Mazda RX-8 2009

Rafay Ansar

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Launched in 2003, the Mazda RX-8 hit the global market with a serious bang. The RX-8 has won more than 50 global awards since its release including 2003 RJC Car of the Year in Japan Australia's Wheels magazine's Car of the Year for 2003, 2003 International Engine of the Year, 2004 Singapore Car of the Year, the 2004 U.S. Best Sports Car and UK Car of the Year 2004. It was also named on Car and Driver magazine's Ten Best list for 2004, 2005, and 2006. All together, Mazda has sold nearly 167,000 RX-8s around the world.

For 2009, Mazda will further the evolution of the four-door, four-seater sports coupe, giving Mazda RX-8 a refreshed exterior and interior design, enhanced performance and a new R3 sport package for the ultimate driving enthusiast.

Unchanged is the core of the Mazda RX-8 - a high-powered, lightweight and perfectly balanced machine powered by the world-renowned twin-rotor RENESIS rotary engine.

"Dating back to the Cosmo Sport released in 1967, every sports car ever developed by Mazda has had the same fundamental mission - to provide car lovers with a vehicle that's fun-todrive, exciting to look at and easy to own," said Tetsu Nakazawa, Mazda North American Operations' Mazda RX-8 vehicle line manager. "The new Mazda RX-8 embodies that mission, conveying the unique and distinctive Mazda brand DNA to the fullest."

To enhance the highly successful Mazda RX-8, Mazda engineers focused on innovation in three key areas for the new Mazda RX-8: styling, performance and packaging. "The enhancements made to Mazda RX-8's exterior, interior, packaging and performance takes it to a whole new level of visual and driving excitement," remarked Nakazawa.

STYLING INNOVATION - REFRESHED DESIGN CUES PROVIDE "HIGHQUALITY" DYNAMISM

Mazda RX-8 was designed with an athletically sculpted exterior that provides a sense of originality that's unrivaled in the marketplace today. The new Mazda RX-8 receives design enhancements that are meant to freshen the styling and give Mazda RX-8 a new look, without impairing the basic design theme. Refinements for the new Mazda RX-8 include restyled front and rear bumpers and front fascia; sporty, high quality finish front and rear headlamps; and larger exhaust pipes (now measuring 90 mm across). The new Mazda RX-8 also offers a new five-spoke wheel design featuring a symbolic and sporty design reminiscent of the rotary engine, with different arrangements for each wheel size.

Taut muscular lines give Mazda RX-8 the liberating look of an athlete in motion. The muscular styling maintains classic sports car proportions while adding a Zoom-Zoom edge that is unmistakably Mazda.

The RX-8's unique "freestyle" four-door design is proof that a true sports car does not need to sacrifice space or convenience for performance. The advanced design of the rear-hinged rear doors provides a large door opening, allowing adult-sized passengers to easily enter and exit the vehicle. This design is also advantageous when securing a baby or a small child in the back seat. With a spacious rear seat area providing ample passenger room for four full-size adults, and enough trunk space for a weekend's worth of luggage, this sports car proves its versatility.

The Mazda RX-8's exterior styling presents a genuine sports car form, while the interior boasts a comfortable and intelligently designed cabin. Minor enhancements were made for the new Mazda RX-8 to provide a simple and functional interior design that supports driving pleasure. The center IP shape was redesigned to give a feeling of dynamic movement, a variable red-zone was added to the tachometer that will rise as the engine comes to operating temperature and a new steering wheel and redesigned front and rear seats are also added.

An extremely low cabin floor allows the seats to be mounted low in the chassis, which, along with a low instrument cluster and hood, allows a low center of gravity and allows outstanding occupant visibility. Mazda designers concentrated on the shape of the front seat backs and the rear seat cushions to ensure adequate rear-seat knee room. Front seat slide-rails are positioned to allow maximum leg room for rear-seat passengers.

The rotary design element is incorporated through the interior of the Mazda RX-8 in creative ways, appearing in the seats. The stylish cabin also evokes a sense of luxury and high-end quality. Mazda's design team examined every aspect and component of the interior and has created an elegant, driver-centric atmosphere. Through the use of advanced ergonomic research, Mazda engineers determined that improper seating posture is a major cause of driver fatigue and built in optimum support in the front seats to help offset discomfort. In addition, the color of the Mazda RX-8's instrument cluster was developed to reduce eye fatigue and strain.

PERFORMANCE INNOVATION - MORE SPORTS CAR DRIVING PLEASURE

Through-and-through, the Mazda RX-8 is a pure sports car that gives the driver an exciting and dynamic experience. For the new Mazda RX-8, engineers improved body rigidity through the addition of structural reinforcements, by adding a trapezoidal strut tower bar and enhancing the local rigidity of the front suspension tower areas. Also, the rear suspension geometry has been reconfigured for better handling performance and driveshaft rigidity is improved, lowering NVH levels and improving performance.

In addition, the differential gear ratio on manual transmission-equipped cars is lowered from 4.444 to 4.777 for improved off-the-line performance. While minimal, these performance changes give Mazda RX-8 increased acceleration and performance, as well as even greater responsiveness to the accelerator pedal - always a rotary-engine and Mazda RX-8 hallmark.

To achieve this sophisticated dynamic, Mazda utilizes the advanced RENESIS (Rotary Engine genesis - or rebirth of the rotary engine) engine. The Mazda RX-8 remains the only mass-produced rotary-powered passenger car in the world. While exhibiting unusually high power output for a naturally aspirated engine, RENESIS outstrips comparable reciprocating engines in terms of acceleration, the feeling of power in reserve and quick response.

The new Mazda RX-8 is available as either a 232-horsepower model fitted with a sixspeed manual transmission, or a 212-horsepower model fitted with a six-speed Sport A/T automatic with steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters for a Formula 1-style driving experience.

By turning a triangular rotor in a cocoon-shaped combustion chamber, the Mazda RX-8's rotary engine efficiently performs the four processes of intake, compression, combustion and exhaust. The RENESIS engine is remarkably smooth and high revving — all the way to 9,000 rpm (7,500 rpm on Sport A/T-equipped models) — and offers a smaller engine footprint than traditional internal combustion engines (some 60 percent smaller and lighter than a comparably powered V-6, and 40 percent smaller and lighter than a four-cylinder). In fact, the packaging and styling that define the Mazda RX-8 would not have been possible had Mazda engineers chosen a conventional piston engine.

Improving upon 40 years of rotary designs, the RENESIS engine features side intake and exhaust ports with nearly 30 percent more intake port and twice as much exhaust port than its predecessors. The efficiencies gained through shortening intake/exhaust overlapping period and using the larger intake and exhaust ports in delivering world-class performance.

The Mazda RX-8's normally aspirated 1.3-liter engine might appear diminutive to the untrained eye when compared to large-displacement V-8s or heavyweight V-10s or V-12s. However, through the incredible efficiencies of a rotary powerplant, an advanced three-stage intake system and an electronic throttle, the RENESIS engine delivers smooth, linear power on a grand scale.

The Mazda RX-8 uses an aluminum double-wishbone front suspension, reducing unsprung weight over the use of steel components. By mounting the upper and lower arms on a highly rigid sub-frame, the long arms ensure linear alignment changes throughout the jounce and rebound of the front wheels. All corners are fitted with mono-tube gas-filled shock absorbers designed with large-diameter internal pistons and valving, which offer excellent road feedback and a smooth ride.

An electric rack-and-pinion power-steering system transmits just the right amount of road information back to the driver. Mazda engineers have chosen to pursue their own path by using an electric motor for steering assistance rather than a conventional power-steering pump. The electric motor provides additional assistance at low speeds to ease parking and reduces steering assistance at higher speeds to provide greater road feel, responsiveness and feedback. And, in keeping with the rest of the development on Mazda RX-8, it is far lighter and easier to package than a conventional power-steering rack.

PACKIGING INNOVATIONS - ULTIMATE PERFORMANCE RX-8 R3

To cater to the driving-conscious enthusiast, the new Mazda RX-8 will offer a new R3 sport package. Providing the very best in rotary-powered motoring, the R3 harkens back to the R1 and R2 packages offered on the mighty third-generation Mazda RX-7, and adds a sport-tuned suspension with Bilstein shock absorbers and front suspension crossmembers filled with urethane foam. Filling the crossmembers makes for a smoother ride, minimized NVH and greater suspension control.

On the visual side of the package, a rear spoiler, side sills, fog lights and sporty front bumper are added to give an aggressive appearance, along with 19-inch forged aluminum-alloy wheels with high performance tires. Inside, the R3 adds a 300-watt Bose® audio system with Centerpoint® surround sound and AudioPilot® noise compensation technology, Bluetooth hands-free phone system, front Recaro sport seats with leather side bolsters, leather-wrapped parking brake handle and Mazda advanced keyless entry and start system.

Three other trim levels are also offered including: a Sport trim, a Touring trim (adds HID headlights, fog lamps, auto dimming mirror with Homelink® and 6-disc auto changer on top of the Sport trim features and DSC; add 18-inch wheels, a limited-slip differential, sport-tuned suspension and larger front disc brakes to these items for A/T cars, and Bose® audio system, moonroof, SIRIUS satellite radio are offered as the package option), and a Grand Touring trim (on top of the Touring trim features, adds automatic air conditioner, Bluetooth hands-free phone system, Bose® audio system auto headlight, rain sensing wiper, poweradjustable driver's seat with lumbar support and memory function, leather seating surfaces — heated front seats— and heated outside mirrors and Mazda Advanced Keyless Entry & Start system. A DVD-driven satellite-navigation unit is available as a stand-alone option and uses a single DVD for mapping the entire United States and portions of Canada. Additionally, a moon roof and SIRIUS satellite radio are offered as an package option.)

All Mazdas come with a roadside assistance program. With a call to a toll-free number, owners can access roadside assistance 24 hours a day, 365 days a year throughout the United States and Canada. In addition, a comprehensive three-year/36,000-mile warranty covers every part on the vehicle except those subject to normal wear. Also, all models receive a fiveyear/ 60,000 mile powertrain warranty and a five-year/unlimited-mileage corrosion warranty.

SUPERIOR SAFETY

When designing the Mazda RX-8, safety was given as much of a priority as was performance. For Mazda, the safety process incorporates both accident avoidance and accident protection. In effect, this approach to safety means the RX-8 can help the driver avoid various dangers and protect occupants in the unfortunate event of a collision. In rollover tests performed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the Mazda RX-8 achieved an impressive five-star rating.

Mazda engineers integrated numerous active and passive safety elements throughout the car. Active safety features, which require input from the driver, include the use of large ABSequipped disc brakes on all wheels as well as precise steering and suspension systems. Dynamic Stability Control (available on Sport models with Performance package, standard on Touring and Grand Touring) delivers a superior level of handling that can be disabled when driving and road conditions allow safe operation.

Passive systems, or those that take effect automatically without the driver's involvement, also are present throughout the Mazda RX-8. Despite the absence of a center B-pillar, the Mazda RX-8 has an exceptionally rigid body, accomplished through the use of the vertical pillars built in the rear doors and a series of locking pins, which hold the doors together and bind each door directly into the roof and floor. Integrating the frame components helps dissipate crash energy through the vehicle's structure.

Other standard passive systems on the Mazda RX-8 include front airbags, seat-mounted sideimpact airbags and side-curtain airbags. Additionally, the front end and engine bay have ample crumple zones, the front seats are designed to reduce whiplash injuries, the brake pedal is designed to break away in the event of a collision of sufficient force to protect feet and legs and all four seating positions are fitted with three-point seatbelts. Even pedestrian protection was considered, as the RX-8 is fitted with Mazda's "shock-cone" hood design that yields more to the impact of a pedestrian onto the hood than a standard design, yet is strong enough to not deform in normal use.

5:43 AM

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Scion tops in Consumer Reports reliability rankings

Rafay Ansar



Scion was tops in the Consumer Reports annual reliability study released on Thursday, followed by Acura and Honda, as the results showed continued strength by Japanese brands and increasing quality from Ford.

Toyota, a longtime mainstay near the top of the rankings, was fourth and was trailed by its luxury division, Lexus.

Lincoln had the best showing of any domestic nameplate, ranking 11th. General Motors checked in with an 18th-place by its venerable Buick brand. Chrysler had a dismal showing, with its highest brand, Jeep, not appearing until the 28th spot.

Overall, Ford's quality is nearly on par with import rivals Toyota and Honda, though its products remain a bit bland, said David Champion, senior director of Consumer Reports' auto-test division. GM, on the other hand, offers sexier models, but its quality is a bit off, he said.

"If you could merge the two--and I'm not saying you should--you could really get the best of both worlds," Champion quipped at a luncheon in downtown Detroit.



Toyota, which has been buffeted by declining sales this year and high gas prices, didn't regain its automatic "recommend" status from the magazine, though several of its models--including the V6 version of the Camry--rebounded to get at least "average" ratings.

Champion left open the door that the Japanese giant could grab the automatic status again. Honda and Subaru currently have recommendation, and he said Hyundai is poised to get it.

Fuel-sippers performed well, with the Toyota Prius, and hybrid versions of the Toyota Camry, the Nissan Altima, the Toyota Highlander, the Ford Escape and the Mercury Mariner all were among cars rated above-average in reliability.

Consumer Reports got 1.4 million responses to its annual survey this year.

10:41 AM

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Land speed record holders eye 1,000 mph barrier

Rafay Ansar



Richard Noble and Andy Green know a few things about going fast--they set the current land speed record of 763 miles per hour.

But they wanna go faster! So the duo is preparing a car--it really looks more like a land rocket--which they say will break through the 1,000 mile per hour barrier.

The "car" will be a bit more than 42 feet long and contain piston, jet and rocket engines. The car should make the run from 0 to one thousand fifty miles per hour in just 40 seconds.

Of course, you don't just roll out a car like this and drop the hammer. The team aims to make the thousand-mile per hour run in 2011. Next year it hopes to hit 800 miles per hour, with a 900 mile per hour run in 2010.

Nevada's Black Rock desert is the likely place where the super-fast runs will be made--it's not like you can just go out to the nearest long, straight, rural road, you know.

10:39 AM

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2009 Mercedes-Benz SL550

Rafay Ansar

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As-tested price: $109,465
Drivetrain: 5.5-liter V8; RWD, seven-speed automatic
Output: 382 hp @ 6,000 rpm, 391 lb-ft @ 2,800-4,800 rpm
Curb weight: 4,220 lb
Fuel economy (EPA/AW): 16/17.9 mpg
Options: Premium I Package including active ventilated multicontour seats, electronic trunk closer, AIRSCARF, keyless ignition ($3,750); Distronic ($2,230); panorama roof with sunshade ($1,950); SL wheel package including 19-inch AMG wheels, sport steering wheel with shift paddles, smoke-colored headlamps and tail lamps, silver front-brake calipers ($1,950); full leather seating package including leather upholstery, wood/leather steering wheel and shift knob ($1,510)

OUR TAKE: The formula for Mercedes-Benz's SL hasn't changed much since 1989, but for the addition of the latest in technological gadgetry and a power-folding hardtop. It's a beautiful, expensive, luxury car, which is fine if you accept it for what it is--a big, two-seat hardtop convertible better suited for cruising than cutting tight corners.

But in a sports-car context, the SL seems big, heavy and ponderous. Reaction times from the seven-speed automatic are slow, the steering is heavy (but hyper-responsive), and the braking action seems somehow delayed, leaving you with a "whoa!" feeling far too often.

The car is a great driver for those who want to settle in and enjoy the ride, maybe with the top down, the audio system soothing with smooth jazz, the seat massager in full motion and the Distronic keeping track of speed and following distance. But those seeking more edge in their sports cars might want to look elsewhere, because nothing about this car makes you want to drive it like you stole it.

1:35 PM

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DRIVERS LOG: 2008 Dodge Caliber SRT4

Rafay Ansar

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2008 Dodge Caliber SRT4
IN FLEET: Sept. 16-30
AS-TESTED PRICE: $26,145
DRIVETRAIN: 2.4-liter turbocharged I4; FWD, six-speed manual
OUTPUT: 285 hp @ 5,700-6,400 rpm, 265 lb-ft @ 2,000-5,600 rpm
CURB WEIGHT: 3,189 lb
FUEL ECONOMY (EPA/AW): 22/19.4 mpg

EDITORIAL ASSISTANT JONATHAN WONG: I've said it before, but this is not your normal Dodge Caliber. If it were, especially one equipped with the CVT, I wouldn't have wasted my time. Thrust from the boosted four-cylinder is healthy, and torque steer is well controlled for a front-driver.

When pushed hard, it does plow into corners, but the wide rubber helps put the power down and keep things controlled.

But steering feel is just too heavy. Blame the tires and/or a steering system that doesn't dial in enough assist, but it is a pain around parking lots and the like.

Brake performance is strong, and the suspension keeps body motions tidy while being plenty forgiving when motoring around on normal roads.

The styling alterations made to the SRT4 are clean and give it a nice, hunkered-down look. The only thing I would change inside is to put the boost gauge on the A-pillar instead of down low to the left of the main cluster.

SENIOR EDITOR KEVIN A. WILSON: Jonathan having been so conscientious in his evaluation, I am allowed to just be opinionated, right? This car is ugly, but at least it steers like a truck, rides as hard as one and handles like a car with 400 pounds of cargo mounted on the roof.

The SRT guys have done what they can with what they were given, but they were given a turdmobile, and the best you can do with that is build a faster turdmobile. I much preferred the Neon SRT4 of yore.




As for the more objective view: Everything Jonathan said, plus I really like this orange paint job. It's different from all the bland greige on the highway but does not resort to standing up and shouting "Look at me!" the way yellows and most reds do.

ART DIRECTOR KEN ROSS: I have to agree with Kevin: Stuff this powertrain under the hood of almost any other small vehicle, and you would have a vehicle worth taking a look at. But the Caliber is simply too tall, the suspension too harsh.

As for how cheap the car feels, the interior is where most of the money was saved. The ceiling panel collapses about a half-inch when you turn on the interior lights, and the doors are so light that you're constantly slamming them--and they still sound open.

But the color is nice.

1:29 PM

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2009 Ford Fusion SE

Rafay Ansar

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As-tested price: $21,935
Drivetrain: 2.3-liter I4; FWD, five-speed manual
Output: 160 hp @ 6,250 rpm, 156 lb-ft @ 4,250 rpm
Curb weight: 3,181 lb
Fuel economy (EPA/AW): 23/23.7 mpg
Options: Blue suede package including interior trim pack, blue interior accents, 18-inch wheels, P225/45R tires, sport-tuned suspension, ambient lighting ($895); AdvanceTrac with ESC ($495); Sync voice-activated system ($395); hands-free mirror ($150)

OUR TAKE: The Ford Fusion might be a Mazda 6 dressed up in a Ford outfit, but it's actually better because Ford took the liberty of adding even more stiffening properties to the Mazda chassis for the Fusion, Mercury Milan and Lincoln MKZ. How good were those changes? Good enough for Mazda to use them on the new 6, too.

The solidity of this car is the most impressive part. From its on-road behavior buzzing down the expressway to driving around town over bumps, this Fusion stays composed at all times. The sport suspension still provides good damping when the going gets rough, but also gives the Fusion good cornering behavior with the 18-inch tire package. Combine that with decent steering response and a nice-shifting five-speed manual transmission and you have a rather athletic Ford on your hands.

The 160-hp inline-four will disappoint some, but when bolted to the manual, you can ring out the power well for ample scoot. The engine gets buzzy on the highway, but besides that, it's a smooth unit.

For the interior, you'll find the same boring and straightforward layout you can expect from Ford. Dash materials and door panels are covered in a nice rubbery finish. The blue Alcantara seat and door panel inserts give the otherwise boring cabin a little flair. The Alcantara also helps hold you in place in corners.

If Ford would wake up its SVT group from hibernation, it would take only minimal upgrades to move the Fusion into awesome territory.