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By on June 5, 2006

 As I fired up the GL450, I noticed that the big Merc's trip computer had begun calculating my mpg. I watched in startled fascination as the idling SUV's fuel economy began to drop from the previous night's calculation. Although Mercedes deserves props (or brickbats) for releasing such a glorious gas hog at the tail end of America's SUV craze, the dropping digits left me wondering how the GL450 could possibly rationalize this lampshade-on-the-head consumptive behavior. Even if the target market's interest in fuel economy is more political than wallet-driven, the GL still needs to stump-up some serious self-justification.

By on May 2, 2006

 Turn the ignition, and its carnal soul stirs from hibernation. The engine rumbles and burps its way to idle. Blip the throttle and unbridled power and torque stir your soul. Grab the pistol grip shifter, throw the slush box into D and let em' rip. There's no denying the truth about muscle cars, and no denying their place in the world. Known and revered globally, Japan has their R34's, Deutschland has their M's and AMG's and the US, of course with its goats, 427's and Hemi's. The muscle cars' place on this earth is to remain politically incorrect, defy the law, and spit in the face of the rebel which lies in all of us.

Some would argue that the term "muscle car" is an American term, originating during the 50's or 60's. But in actuality, the muscle car has lived, exactly, since the assemblage of automobile number 2. Over the years, muscle cars have evolved from an existence solely defined by monster displacement, to fully sorted and balanced ubermachines, equally capable of accelerating, turning and stopping within un-comprehensible and convention defying specifications. If necessity is the mother of invention, then muscle cars are the dead-beat father of innovation. Through their evolution, laws (governmental, physical or otherwise) have challenged engineers and gearheads to do more with less. Inevitably they succeed.

By on May 2, 2006

 In an act of enormous generosity, a fresh-from-the-farm fraternity pledge offered to drive the Polo-clad seniors around in his car—a restored 1967 GTO with Centerline wheels. "No one in Independence (Missouri) ever beat it," he proudly declared. "Worth over 20 grand." That was in 1990. The older fraternity brothers winced. "We'll be seen in that?" Showing maturity beyond his years, he stabled the Goat and returned next semester with a beat-up Tercel. This was, ironically, the more socially acceptable choice at my upper-middle-class fraternity.

Muscle cars are cool. They're tough. They're American. But they're not for up-and-comers. Refined? Well, no. Sophisticated? Hardly. A technological tour de force? Save them words for androgynous Europeans with little glasses. If you're the type who understands opera or worries about the safety of dolphins or includes "tofu" on your grocery list, don't even try to understand.

By on May 2, 2006

 I grew up in the Muscle-Car Belt – the area between the Rockies and wherever the first Ivy League university is in the east. Problem was, my family was Not From Around Here. We were English. We spoke funny. We ate Marmite. We were scrawny and had bad teeth.

But worst of all – and this sounds like an infectious disease – we had Jags.

By on March 14, 2006

When Chrysler unveiled its PT Cruiser in 2001, it was hailed as a fun, versatile retro-mobile. While sales have remained relatively robust, virtually every automaker in the Cruiserweight class has introduced a new or reworked small wagon: the Toyota Matrix/ Pontiac Vibe twins, Mazda 3 and Chevrolet HHR (a.k.a. 'Me-Too Cruiser') among them. Even the […]

By on March 3, 2006

An LR3 in Range Rover drag.   The Range Rover Sport arrived just as Britain's Parliament banned fox hunting. Call it fortuitous happenstance. At the precise moment Britain's shotgun-wielding aristocrats lost their main motivation for chasing each other over hill and dale, the Ford subsidiary came plying more on-road aggression. If these frustrated followers of British blood sports looked upon the new Landie Sport as an opportunity to blow off a little steam in less mucky surrounds, it's a goal they share with America's wealthier PTA MILFs. So, does the Sport have what it takes to get the blood pumping for aristocrats on both sides of the Pond?

The Land Rover Sport HSE looks like a top-shelf Range Rover with its hair slicked back. The Sport shares the exact same two-box profile with its big brother– complete with Rover's trademark 'floating' cantilevered roof. The more rakish Sport's canted greenhouse (both fore and aft) is the model's main distinguishing feature, and its only real attempt at a skosh of street cred. In the name of differentiation, Gaydon's designers replaced the Rangie's classy aluminum front-fender vent slat with a more traditional aperture, and substituted some overly ornate taillights in place of the bigger Rover's refined rounds. Details aside, the Sport remains the very picture of 21st-century shooting brakedom, albeit one rockin' a set of air suspenders.

By on November 23, 2005

jettatdi1.jpgFor years, Volkswagen’s diesels were like cod liver oil: a worthy medicine that few American consumers could stomach. The stripped-down oil-burners hidden in the back of US forecourts seemed specifically designed for penny-pinching college professors and health food store managers. Customers who considered engine clatter, black smoke and lack of comforts (creature or otherwise) a badge of honor. When $3-a-gallon gas arrived stateside, hordes of “normal” customers suddenly joined the Euro-throngs clamoring for their daily dose of diesel. And no example was– is– more sought after than the VW Jetta TDI.

By on September 22, 2005

Hi!  Remember me? The Pacifica is the original crossover, launched by Chrysler before sky high gas prices turbocharged the entire genre. The Pacifica combines the utility of a minivan (without the stigma of actually having to drive one), the raised seating position of an SUV (without getting dirty looks from drivers with "Proud To Be Vegan" bumper stickers) and the handling of a sedan (without the fuel efficiency). While it may not have everything it needs to roust suburban schleppers from their SUV's, the station wagon stilts is still the original and best shot over the SUV's bow.

In keeping with its multi-tasking mission, the Pacifica doesn't look like anything else on the market. With its dramatic belt line diving from back to front, the forward-leaning Pacifica's sheet metal has all the style of a Sinatra fedora. The details are equally compelling. Unlike its minivan competitors, the crossover's 17" wheels fit the wheel wells. The door handles aren't refugees from a bottomless parts bin. The bright work is deployed sparingly and with taste. In short, the Pacifica is the first pentastar product in a long time that doesn't look like it was designed by committee.

By on August 2, 2005

 That my trusty sidekick decided to pack it in just days before this WRX STi arrived can hardly be viewed as coincidence. Rather than face the license and physics compromising surety of Subaru's turbocharged, all-wheel-drive juggernaut, my radar detector committed suicide. In the dead of night, leaping from her once-cozy, hardwired and suction-cupped perch, Michelle (my BEL) fatally dashed upon the rocky shoals of my daily driver's center console. It wasn't a cry for help, as nary an ear was around to hear her final (undoubtedly false) bleating. Tragic, yes… but completely understandable given the circumstances.

For as you can plainly see, Subaru hasn't exactly wrought a Q-ship here. The STi is utterly infested with attention-grabbing aerodynamic addenda: skirts, scoops, vents, canards, EVERYTHING. Factor-in the gaping mesh grille inserts, look-at-me STi stickery, 17" 12-spoke BBS alloys, and it's a miracle owners ever make it out of their driveways without police choppers whirring overhead. And then there's the small matter of the rump, where some Suba-guru epoxied a park bench to the decklid, screwing a Dutch Boy finial to the pipework as some sort of perverse coup de grâce.

By on July 19, 2005

The desperate housewife of the mid-priced sedan set. Accord and Camry owners: "You're Welcome." At the risk of sounding sniffy, Toyota and Honda owners owe a large debt of gratitude to Nissan. Without the Altima, rival pink-slippers might still be trundling around in severely underpowered appliances. Rewind to 2002, when Nissan lit a fire under the collective backsides of every carmaker in the family sedan segment. At the time, Altima's haute-couture shape and Tabasco-infused engine gave competing engineers gray hair– and their marching papers. How else do you explain today's 240hp Accord?

That was then. And this is… later. Fortunately, while Nissan's busied itself immolating the wick at both ends of their considerable lineup, they haven't lost sight of the car that put them back in the game. I submit Exhibit 'SE-R'. Okay, so the new uber-Altima only boasts a modest bump in horsepower (10) and an extra ratio (6) in the manual gearbox. But don't be misled: the revised Altima is no trim-and-tape proposition designed to hold the fort until reinforcements arrive. It's yet another leap forward for Nissan's standard bearer.

By on July 7, 2005

The Volvo S40.  The runt with grunt.Life for this wee Swede hasn't been easy. Low man on the totem pole, bastard half-Asian stepchild to the rest of the family, Volvo's S40 sat idly by in darkened showroom corners while siblings bulked up courtesy the brand's design NordicTrack. Unable to do little but watch its brethren emerge with quickened reflexes, broadened shoulders and finely tailored threads, the colorless S40 must've felt like Billy to the rest of the Baldwins.

But no more. That's because Volvo's finally replaced the (ironically-named) Mitsubishi Carisma doppelganger with something more befitting the brand. As here in T5 guise, that means 'out' with the 1.9-liter light-pressure turbo (a tepid lump that'd barely get out of its own way, let alone stand up at stoplights), and 'in' with a properly force-fed 2.5-liter five-cylinder and six-speed manual. 'Out' with the uninspired oriental NedCar chassis, 'in' with a more robust platform spun from the same cloth as the Mazda3 and Euro-market Ford Focus.

By on June 27, 2005

It is what it is.  But is it for you?Today's showrooms teem with vehicles with false pretensions. Four door 'coupes.' Hardtop convertibles. 'Sport' wagons. SUV-schnozzed minivans. Hybrid-powered trucks. At best, most crossbreeds and half-casts are insincere. At worst, they're incestuous counterfeits. In Nissan's case, the Maxima no longer lives up to its 'four door sports car' billing. The Quest is a minivan masquerading as modern art. The Murano is an SUV that doesn't want to get its feet wet. So consider the Xterra Nissan's mea culpa. It does exactly what it says on the tin: it's a truck's truck.

Nissan's new Xterra is based on yet another variant of the company's stout F-Alpha platform, first seen underpinning the massive Titan. As with the previous iteration, the new model is a fantastically buff, well-resolved form– butch without being vulgar. Clipped overhangs and purposefully-vesicated sheetmetal give it the muscular good looks of a gym rat. If the compact SUV segment were an elementary school playground, Xterra would liberate its classmates of lunch money, yet they'd all feel cooler by association.

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