The Truth About Cars » Review Podcasts http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Thu, 17 Apr 2014 14:00:20 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Review Podcasts http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/category/podcasts/review-podcasts/ Pontiac Solstice GXP Review http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2007/03/pontiac-solstice-gxp/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2007/03/pontiac-solstice-gxp/#comments Thu, 01 Mar 2007 11:37:37 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=3243 x07pn_st001.jpgI once drove off the road, screaming, at 80mph. Why? I was in love. When love turns blind, men do irrational things. As far as healthy, loving relationships go, the one presaging my off-highway excursion was a malignant tumor wrapped in an iron lung. I imagine that owning a Pontiac Solstice GXP is a similar affair. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury; the prosecution calls her a “femme fatale on wheels.” I ask you: how could something this beautiful be so damn dangerous?

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x07pn_st001.jpgI once drove off the road, screaming, at 80mph. Why? I was in love. When love turns blind, men do irrational things. As far as healthy, loving relationships go, the one presaging my off-highway excursion was a malignant tumor wrapped in an iron lung. I imagine that owning a Pontiac Solstice GXP is a similar affair. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury; the prosecution calls her a “femme fatale on wheels.” I ask you: how could something this beautiful be so damn dangerous?

The Solstice GXP is the first modern car I’ve ever felt like licking. More hygienically, the petite Pontiac is a slam dunk that shatters the backboard of gorgeous. I could describe the velvety sexiness of each angle. The perfectly judged headlight cluster. The long, European nose and properly sculpted flanks. The classic five spoke alloys. Suffice it to say, look at the pictures. Well, OK; here’s one:

x07pn_st003.jpgGreat looking rear ends have eluded car designers for decades. The Solstice gets it right. Park the Pontiac's derriere next to a TT Convertible and Ingolstadt's droptop looks like a Bug in a soiled diaper.

Entering the excitement division's roadster, I wasn’t entirely disheartened by the usual litany of sub-third world interior parts. In fact, I only counted one hard plastic edge capable of slicing open flesh (ideally positioned right near the door handle). And how could a gainfully employed designer place cup holders behind your elbow, strategically situated to open when selecting second gear? 

Please, no accusations of nitpicking. The laundry list of ergonomic catastrophes continues.

x07pn_st008.jpgThere's no oil temperature gauge– essential for aggressive GXP’ers who fancy a track attack. There is an oil temp readout, but you have to toggle a button on the steering wheel to see it. Only the buttons on the steering wheel are too small for human thumbs. And even if there was a proper gauge, it wouldn't matter; the deep set dials are illegible.

When the Solstice debuted, it was rightly chided for having a center tunnel harder than tooth enamel. For 2007, Pontiac tried to rectify the situation by installing a slab of softer-touch plastic. It’s still as hard and cheap as Katja Kassin. If only they made it (the GXP) out of the softer, nicer material used for the door inserts. Sigh…

Notice I didn't even mention the complete and total lack of storage, hidden controls or the fact that you can raise and lower a Miata's soft top fifteen times in the span it takes to retract the Solstice's just once. And now, the good stuff…

solsticegxp07_engine22.jpgThe GXP's engine should replace every non-V8 in The General's stable. In the same way that Cadillac reduced the displacement of the Northstar V8 when fitting a supercharger to it for STS-V duty, Pontiac decreased the Solstice's Ecotec I4 from 2.4 to 2.0-liters. This was largely accomplished by reducing the stroke, which allows the eager motor to rev faster. Result? A four-banger with a single turbocharger and no detectable lag. No really. None.

Spitting out 130hp-per-liter, the GXP's direct-injected mill produces the highest specific output of any GM engine. Ever. The torque ain't bad, what with 260 ft. lbs. of the good stuff available between 2000 – 5300rpm. Sure, the engine sounds like it is made from sick clocks (what’s with that continual ticking just in front of the steering wheel?), but with the top down and the monumental thrump-a-thrump from the clownishly over-sized wheels, nothing could matter less.

x07pn_st010.jpgPerformance? Rest to 60mph happens in well under six seconds. A MX-5 Miata takes about seven flat. That's a big difference. In strict, straight-line terms, it’s worth the few thousand extra for the Pontiac. If the truncated (and rather brutal) Corvette driveline was massaged a bit more by the boffins, 60mph would live in the low 5s, if not less. But what about when the road, you know, bends?

Here's the truth. At or below 8/10ths, few cars are as entertaining to fling around bent backroads as the Solstice GXP. Turn in: sharp. Chassis: flat. Attitude: neutral. Brakes: faultless. Push a little harder and the car utterly fails. The steering goes from vague to dangerous. The suspension moans and stops thinking straight. The transmission backfires. You are suddenly overcome by the sensation that you are a driving a mutant machine made of cast-off pieces from other vehicles. Which, of course, you are.

How can Pontiac get so much right (looks, engine) and, at the same time, get so much wrong (everything else)? Enthusiasts (OK fine, Alfa Romeo and Triumph owners) are used to looking the other way when confronted with the sins of their beloved. Will Solstice GXP buyers be able to do the same? Sure. All's fair in love.

[Click on play to hear RF and JL discuss the GXP below.] 

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http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2007/03/pontiac-solstice-gxp/feed/ 99 I once drove off the road, screaming, at 80mph. Why? I was in love. When love turns blind, men do irrational things. As far as healthy, loving relationships go, the one presaging my off-highway excursion was a malignant tumor wrapped in an iron lung. I once drove off the road, screaming, at 80mph. Why? I was in love. When love turns blind, men do irrational things. As far as healthy, loving relationships go, the one presaging my off-highway excursion was a malignant tumor wrapped in an iron lung. I imagine that owning a Pontiac Solstice GXP is a similar affair. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury; the prosecution calls her a “femme fatale on wheels.” I ask you: how could something this beautiful be so damn dangerous? The Truth About Cars no
Mercedes SL550 Review http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2006/09/mercedes-sl550/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2006/09/mercedes-sl550/#comments Thu, 07 Sep 2006 11:16:23 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=2184 front.jpgYou may have noticed this website tends to celebrate performance automobiles. While this predilection for dynamic distraction places us within the media mainstream, it doesn’t square with urban car culture. I'm sure you know that car owners who inflict double-dubs on their whips happily sacrifice ride and handling on the altar of, gulp, style. Even so, ladies and gentlemen, I’ve seen the light. Thanks to the Mercedes SL550, I now know middle aged white people can stunt and floss with the best (worst?) of them.

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front.jpgYou may have noticed this website tends to celebrate performance automobiles. While this predilection for dynamic distraction places us within the media mainstream, it doesn’t square with urban car culture. I'm sure you know that car owners who inflict double-dubs on their whips happily sacrifice ride and handling on the altar of, gulp, style. Even so, ladies and gentlemen, I’ve seen the light. Thanks to the Mercedes SL550, I now know middle aged white people can stunt and floss with the best (worst?) of them.

Whether it’s Compton or Carmel, when it comes to making a statement in the ‘hood, the ideal car has to have both class and flash. If you consider these characteristics mutually exclusive, consider the SL550. On one hand, the roadster’s purposeful stance, balanced proportions and delightful details create an endlessly elegant, brand faithful gestalt. On the other hand, it’s da bomb. Treasured trailer queens and in-yer-face Ferraris aside, no other motorcar offers onlookers such an irresistible expression of automotive joie de vivre.

interior.jpgInside, well, it’s a bit serious in here, mein Herr. The SL550’s seats, door panels, under dash plastics and carpets can be dressed in your choice of Ash, Black or Stone– a color palette that seems carefully designed for fans of Ingmar Bergman movies. You can also sign-up for burl walnut wood trim– that’s almost as dark as it is slick. None of the SL550’s interior options can ameliorate the rest of the cabin’s “MIB uber alles” aesthetic. The unrelenting blackness of the car’s pervasive plastics and expansive dash cast a pall over the ergonomic excellence therein; button pushing is about as exciting as filling-out an insurance form.

God knows there are plenty of buttons to push: heated/ventilated/memory/massaging seats, dual zone climate control (that adjusts for driving speed, window and hardtop positions), trip computer, sat nav, telephony, stereo, cruise control, etc. While you can’t blame Mercedes for stuffing all the luxury car toys into one of their top-of-the-line models, the switchgear is a bit fussy, cheap-to-the-touch and serious-minded. If Audi can make it chic, if Maserati can make it beautiful, Mercedes should do both. Luckily, the best button is the best button: the silver switch that raises and lowers the roof.

side.jpgMerc makes a big deal out of the convenience of the SL’s folding hardtop. Fair enough. Top-up and you’ve got chassis rigidity, tin top quiet, protection from box cutter wielding automotive terrorists and two front row tickets to a superb mechanical ballet. Top down, and you’re a star. Who packs light. With soft cases. BEFORE you put the top down. And remembers to snick the luggage protector into place even when the top’s up, because the roof won’t go down otherwise. Anyway, once you’ve stowed both gear and lid, you’re free to concentrate on the car’s true metier: cruising.

Forget autobahnery; the SL550 is best experienced at a walking pace. First, it’s the master of the mysterious metaphysical zone between rest and movement, commonly known as “tip in.” Gently press the go pedal and the SL550 gently proceeds, without any hesitation or unnecessary urgency. (Three-hundred and ninety-one foot pounds of torque @ 2,800 – 4,000 rpm can do that for a car.) Second, Merc’s sublime seven speed gearbox lets you control the world’s woofliest standard issue V8 (back to four valves per cylinder thank Gott) with infinite, mindless ease.  And lastly, why would you want to rush past onlookers when you look so damn good ambling by?

2007_my_sl-class-img_4381.jpgOf course, there are those pistonheads who will continue to insist that a [nearasdammit] 100 grand 382hp German two door should be able to go like Hell– maybe even take a corner at speed– you know, from time to time. Obviously, there’s plenty of schnell on tap: the German roadster roars to 60mph in a shade over five seconds. Aside from a highly inconvenient pause and a nasty little driveline shunt, the SL550’s in-gear acceleration is similarly brisk. Not so obviously, the SL550 takes corners exceptionally well. No really. While everyone credits Porsche for creating a sharp-handling car with an engine positioned behind the rear wheels, how about a 4202 lbs. roadster that doesn’t wallow?

Did I mention that you can throw the SL550 around corners with glorious abandon, cackling with glee at mega-dB’s of tire squeal? Or that the SL’s brakes– 12.3 inch front and 11.8 inch rear discs– put the “will you cut that out RIGHT NOW” into indefatigable? Or that the gear-holding, roll-reducing Sport mode is plenty comfortable? Oops. There I go again. Anyway, forget all that high-speed driving stuff. The SL550 doesn’t need to be a stunt car– at least not in the Joey Chitwood sense of the word. It needs to be satisfying to drive, and be seen driving. That it is. As long as you leave the wheels alone.

[Mercedes provided the vehicle reviewed, taxes, insurance and a tank of gas.] 

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http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2006/09/mercedes-sl550/feed/ 35 You may have noticed this website tends to celebrate performance automobiles. While this predilection for dynamic distraction places us within the media mainstream, it doesn’t square with urban car culture. You may have noticed this website tends to celebrate performance automobiles. While this predilection for dynamic distraction places us within the media mainstream, it doesn’t square with urban car culture. I'm sure you know that car owners who inflict double-dubs on their whips happily sacrifice ride and handling on the altar of, gulp, style. Even so, ladies and gentlemen, I’ve seen the light. Thanks to the Mercedes SL550, I now know middle aged white people can stunt and floss with the best (worst?) of them. The Truth About Cars no
Porsche Cayman S Revisited http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2006/07/porsche-cayman-s-revisited/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2006/07/porsche-cayman-s-revisited/#comments Thu, 06 Jul 2006 20:05:08 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1783 CaymanS_1024c.jpgThe moment I dropped the hammer on the Porsche Cayman S, an entirely unexpected emotion welled-up inside: fear.  I was holding the wheel of the world’s best sports car on a perfectly-groomed country road and I couldn’t fully commit to a corner.  I wasn’t afraid of crashing— the Cayman is far too accomplished and forgiving and electronically mindful for that.  I was afraid of the unknown.  What if some dumb ass pulled out of a hidden drive without looking?  What if a child’s bike suddenly appeared just beyond the apex of a turn?  My sightlines were good, but my nerves were shot.  I suppose that’s what happens when you spend too much seat time in a Honda Odyssey.  

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CaymanS_1024c.jpgThe moment I dropped the hammer on the Porsche Cayman S, an entirely unexpected emotion welled-up inside: fear.  I was holding the wheel of the world’s best sports car on a perfectly-groomed country road and I couldn’t fully commit to a corner.  I wasn’t afraid of crashing— the Cayman is far too accomplished and forgiving and electronically mindful for that.  I was afraid of the unknown.  What if some dumb ass pulled out of a hidden drive without looking?  What if a child’s bike suddenly appeared just beyond the apex of a turn?  My sightlines were good, but my nerves were shot.  I suppose that’s what happens when you spend too much seat time in a Honda Odyssey.  

As I struggled to reclaim my high-speed equilibrium, I wondered how I’d ever decided that the Porsche Cayman S was underpowered.  If the mid-engined marvel was so acceleratively challenged, why was I dabbing at the stoppers almost as often as the go pedal?  If I had extra power underfoot, what the Hell would I do with it?  I’d either have to drive faster— a scarcely credible concept at the time— or find another road with big-ass sweepers.  The Cayman is a sports car, not a GT.  All my attempts to mind meld with the Cayman’s mojo foundered on the rocks of personal paranoia.


caymans06_03_1024.jpg And then, slowly, my brain formed the neurological pathways needed to parse the information the Cayman S was delivering to my hands, feet, body, eyes, ears and nose (I love the smell of smoking brakes in the morning).  Although I couldn’t string together two coherent corners, I began to see that it wasn’t impossible.  Although I couldn’t get her out of third gear, I stopped trying. As my faith in the Cayman’s stoppers grew, as the little tin top swept away my go-faster cobwebs and locked me into the now, all of those bad feelings disappeared.  I was getting faster and safer.  Confidence was high.

If you’ve never sampled a Cayman S (or a Boxster or Boxster S), here’s what happens.  For the first dozen miles or so, you think it's far too easy to drive for a “real” sports car.  Porsche's boffins have weighted all the major controls for delicacy and precision, rather than heft.  The helm answers with mindless ease.  The clutch action is lighter than a pedal-operated trash can (and plays like a slide trombone).  The brakes shed speed without apparent effort.  Once you get acclimatized, the Cayman S loses its chick car shtick… and starts to resemble an adrenalin-crazed hunting dog bouncing on its paws, waiting for that blissful moment when it can finally realize its genetic imperative.

caymans06_02_1024.jpg

And so it does.  The harder you thrash the Cayman S, the more sense it makes.  The car suddenly gets fitter, better, stronger, happier.  You forget the Cayman’s incredible lightness of being, and concentrate on its incredible fleetness of foot.  (There are four-term congressmen who can’t change direction as fast than this car.)  You don’t need any special skills to make the Cayman dance.  You can accelerate, point, turn.  Brake, turn, accelerate.  Turn, accelerate, accelerate.  Cha cha cha.  Unlike a Corvette C6 or BMW Z4M, the Cayman is the perfect partner; always ready to subsume its personality to flatter yours.  In that sense, it's also the perfect teacher.  With its reptilian grip, unflappable suspension, seat belt imprinting brakes and benign limits, you don’t have to get it right to A) live B) have fun and live. Just like the Boxster and Boxster S, the Cayman S makes you a better driver without ever punishing you for being a bad one.

So where’s the downside to this mid-engine merengue?  Power.  Yes, I know; I began by confessing a misbegotten urge for additional oomph.  Well I was right the first time.  There is no question whatsoever that the Cayman’s engine bogs down at low revs— especially compared to the seamless thrust delivered from 3000rpm to the all-too-easily discovered rev limiter.  First gear is a bit of a bun fight, and the bottom end of third and fourth forces you to either ease into or fully commit to speed– rather than just lunging at it whenever you like (as you can in Variocamland).  Another 100 horses spread peanut butter thick across the rev range would certainly prove helpful in this regard, Wendelin.


interior1.jpgThe second complaint is the car’s lack of soul.  The Cayman is a thoroughly German sports car.  In other words, it’s all about the driving, not the car.  Yes, you become one with the motorized scalpel that transforms you into a corner carving God.  But there’s nothing about the Cayman that tugs at your heart strings.  The new shape makes a valiant attempt; but it ends up being handsome rather than svelte.  The new engine sound is magnificent— in a brutally efficient sort of way. The interior’s controls are ergonomically sound, but undersized and deployed without a hint of the spizzarkle that makes a Ferrari ghetto fabulous.  In short, the Porsche Cayman S is nothing less– and strangely nothing more– than the ultimate driving machine.      

[Porsche provided the vehicle reviewed, insurance, taxes and a tank of gas.] 

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http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2006/07/porsche-cayman-s-revisited/feed/ 28 The moment I dropped the hammer on the Porsche Cayman S, an entirely unexpected emotion welled-up inside: fear.  I was holding the wheel of the world’s best sports car on a perfectly-groomed country road and I couldn’t fully commit to a corner. The moment I dropped the hammer on the Porsche Cayman S, an entirely unexpected emotion welled-up inside: fear.  I was holding the wheel of the world’s best sports car on a perfectly-groomed country road and I couldn’t fully commit to a corner.  I wasn’t afraid of crashing— the Cayman is far too accomplished and forgiving and electronically mindful for that.  I was afraid of the unknown.  What if some dumb ass pulled out of a hidden drive without looking?  What if a child’s bike suddenly appeared just beyond the apex of a turn?  My sightlines were good, but my nerves were shot.  I suppose that’s what happens when you spend too much seat time in a Honda Odyssey.   The Truth About Cars no
Toyota Yaris Liftback Review http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2006/05/toyota-yaris-liftback/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2006/05/toyota-yaris-liftback/#comments Thu, 11 May 2006 00:00:00 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=492  My automotive odyssey began in a Ford Pinto. I didn't need Ralph Nader to tell me that The Blue Oval's first sub-compact was a death trap. The Pinto was so nasty on so many levels I'm surprised it didn't spontaneously combust in shame. Then again, why would it? Ford had no shame. Like the rest of the Big Three, their greed, arrogance and incompetence handed the small car market to the Japanese. As far as I can tell, nothing much has changed in the last 35 years. Once again, gas prices are squeezing cash-strapped motorists. Once again, domestics don't have a compelling answer. And once again, Toyota does: the Toyota Yaris.

Do without any optional frills (power windows, remote keyless, a radio) and an autobox Yaris Liftback will set you back about twelve large. If the repo man has never darkened your drive and you have a grand to put down (or are willing to also do your own shifting), payments are within spitting distance of $200. That's to own the car, not a lease with a phone book's worth of fine print. And not just any car, but a brand spankin' new, made-in-Japan, everyone's-sister-knows-it'll-never-break Toyota. A Hummer driver spends twice as much just to keep the tank topped off. Speaking of which, you get over 35 mpg in a Yaris, with a three-year bumper-to-bumper hakuna mutata.

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 My automotive odyssey began in a Ford Pinto. I didn't need Ralph Nader to tell me that The Blue Oval's first sub-compact was a death trap. The Pinto was so nasty on so many levels I'm surprised it didn't spontaneously combust in shame. Then again, why would it? Ford had no shame. Like the rest of the Big Three, their greed, arrogance and incompetence handed the small car market to the Japanese. As far as I can tell, nothing much has changed in the last 35 years. Once again, gas prices are squeezing cash-strapped motorists. Once again, domestics don't have a compelling answer. And once again, Toyota does: the Toyota Yaris.

Do without any optional frills (power windows, remote keyless, a radio) and an autobox Yaris Liftback will set you back about twelve large. If the repo man has never darkened your drive and you have a grand to put down (or are willing to also do your own shifting), payments are within spitting distance of $200. That's to own the car, not a lease with a phone book's worth of fine print. And not just any car, but a brand spankin' new, made-in-Japan, everyone's-sister-knows-it'll-never-break Toyota. A Hummer driver spends twice as much just to keep the tank topped off. Speaking of which, you get over 35 mpg in a Yaris, with a three-year bumper-to-bumper hakuna mutata.

 Of course, when I say "you" I mean poor people. Sorry, members of the working class, seniors on a fixed-income, recent college graduates and teenage children of heavily mortgaged parents. Let's face it: very few Americans outside this frugal-by-necessity subset would be wiling to drive a car this small. Even die-hard greens would favor a mid-sized hybrid over a car that could double as an H2 escape pod. Actually, that's being kind. The Yaris Liftback looks like a demonically-possessed doorstop. While the Yaris' ass-in-the-air stance has a certain Gallic charm, the tilted coffee table windshield and grotesquely oversized headlamps makes you wonder if the shape was penned by an adolescent (or alcohol-impaired) M.C. Escher.

Like the new Civic, the Yaris' windscreen angle takes it toll on cabin karma (though not on the bugs glancing off its slightly angled surface). There may be drivers who are perfectly happy looking across an acre of uninterrupted dash, through a narrow aperture, between enormous pillars, at a hoodless vista filled with vehicles four or five times as large as the tin can surrounding them, but I'm not one of them. Obviously, the Yaris' raked glass improves its fuel-efficiency at speed. I'd gladly pay a tad more at the pump for a less SUV-ish [non-Pontiac] vibe, and instrumentation that doesn't look like a digital Quonset hut plonked in the center of a black plastic field.

 Fortunately, miraculously, the Yaris provides enough head, leg and shoulder room for four full-sized adults– as long as they don't mind sitting on fabric with a half-life greater than plutonium 239. The Yaris' roll-up windows are a welcome bit of nostalgia (if only to freak out the grandkids) and all the switchgear clunk clicks with firm but fair tactility. The stereo proves my long-held theory that economy-cars need kick-ass tunes more than expensive ones. The Yaris' radio makes FM sound like AM and AM sound like a SETI beacon heard from somewhere inside the Pleiades star cluster.

The Yaris isn't a pig to drive. Who knew that a handbag-sized four-cylinder engine could generate enough oomph to transport kith, kin and 2335 lbs. worth of car down a road without inviting comparisons to continental drift? Needless to say, Toyota's tweaked the Yaris' erstwhile powerplant seven ways to fun day: intelligent variable valve timing, double-overhead camshafts, 16-valves, direct ignition and an electronic throttle. OK, maybe not "fun" per se. But the Yaris is a peppy little thing that only develops asthma at highway cruising speeds, where additional forward momentum requires kicking down into third and… patience.

 The Yaris' handling is equally remarkable. With a dinner plate-sized turning circle and power-assisted rack and pinion steering, the four-wheeled micro-lite is predictably nimble in the cut-and-thrust of urban warfare. And unpredictably stable through the corners. Throw the Yaris Liftback into a proper turn and she'll hang on with all the tenacity of a Rush Limbaugh caller. Eventually, the Yaris' all-season rubber squeals surrender, but it's just a bit of harmless fun in a too-boring-to-do-again-except-to-prove-it-can sort of way. The front disc, rear drum set-up is equally steadfast, and the suspension makes rough roads feel like rubberized rough roads. How great is that?

Pretty great– at the price. Again, the Yaris is a superb value proposition. If you have the extra cash and want a stylish runabout, you wouldn't choose a Yaris over a MINI. But if you don't have the cash and don't want to bum rides, use public transportation or throw more money at your decrepit gas-guzzler, Toyota wins. Again. Still.

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http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2006/05/toyota-yaris-liftback/feed/ 10 My automotive odyssey began in a Ford Pinto. I didn't need Ralph Nader to tell me that The Blue Oval's first sub-compact was a death trap. The Pinto was so nasty on so many levels I'm surprised it didn't spontaneously combust in shame. My automotive odyssey began in a Ford Pinto. I didn't need Ralph Nader to tell me that The Blue Oval's first sub-compact was a death trap. The Pinto was so nasty on so many levels I'm surprised it didn't spontaneously combust in shame. Then again, why would it? Ford had no shame. Like the rest of the Big Three, their greed, arrogance and incompetence handed the small car market to the Japanese. As far as I can tell, nothing much has changed in the last 35 years. Once again, gas prices are squeezing cash-strapped motorists. Once again, domestics don't have a compelling answer. And once again, Toyota does: the Toyota Yaris.Do without any optional frills (power windows, remote keyless, a radio) and an autobox Yaris Liftback will set you back about twelve large. If the repo man has never darkened your drive and you have a grand to put down (or are willing to also do your own shifting), payments are within spitting distance of $200. That's to own the car, not a lease with a phone book's worth of fine print. And not just any car, but a brand spankin' new, made-in-Japan, everyone's-sister-knows-it'll-never-break Toyota. A Hummer driver spends twice as much just to keep the tank topped off. Speaking of which, you get over 35 mpg in a Yaris, with a three-year bumper-to-bumper hakuna mutata. The Truth About Cars no
Honda Fit Sport Review http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2006/04/honda-fit-sport/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2006/04/honda-fit-sport/#comments Sat, 29 Apr 2006 00:00:00 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=268  Fit. That's a good one. At the exact moment that America's obese SUV's are giving the country petrochemical chest pains, Honda invites us to get healthy. Why chug-a-lug gas and stagger around like a big-bellied lummox when you can sip petrol and sashay around town with all the moral superiority of a marathoner? OK, but getting fit involves sacrifices: unpleasant bending, less grunt, no street cred, etc. Or does it? Let's face it: the less we give up, the higher the likelihood we'll do it. Does the Honda Fit let us frugalize without fear?

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 Fit. That's a good one. At the exact moment that America's obese SUV's are giving the country petrochemical chest pains, Honda invites us to get healthy. Why chug-a-lug gas and stagger around like a big-bellied lummox when you can sip petrol and sashay around town with all the moral superiority of a marathoner? OK, but getting fit involves sacrifices: unpleasant bending, less grunt, no street cred, etc. Or does it? Let's face it: the less we give up, the higher the likelihood we'll do it. Does the Honda Fit let us frugalize without fear?

Honda's Fit Sport is the best looking of the new wave Japanese fuelmeisters (Nissan Versa, Toyota Yaris). The Sport package adds real 15' wheels, a spoiler (that thing got downforce?), a contorted front dam and twisted sills. The Fit's bowling ball-sized headlights are it's most prominent and friendly feature– a welcome turn away from the shrunken-head family face Honda's been slapping on its recent products. Glass is the dominant motif. It's everywhere: huge mirrors, a highly-raked windshield lifted from a Dodge Ram and a truly massive greenhouse. (Stoners take note: we seeee you.) Yes, yes, the Fit's a bit of a blob, but so is the Bentley Continental GT. I'll take both in black, thank you very much.

 The windscreen's panoramic pleasures (aided by retro-as-new triangular glass ahead of the A-pillars) are tempered by blind spots big enough to hide refrigerators. The Fit (and not so fit) driver sits up high, catering to the American consumer's wrong-headed conviction that elevated eye lines make you bigger and safer. The cabin adds to the illusion, with tri-brat compatible fold-flat-as-Kansas rear seats. Origami them, and you could host an all-canine poker party. The Fit's plastics and cloths wouldn't seem out of place in a VW and there's none of the Civic's Star Trek crap. And there's plenty of kit: six-disc changer, iPod jack, plipper, AC, cruise control and adjustable steering column (take that Tahoe).

Fire-up the Fit's 1.5-liter in-line four, snickity-flick the shifter into first and… it goes! It goes fast! You'll never mistake a Fit for a Vanquish, but the 109-horse powerplant hustles the Fit to 60 in just under 9 seconds. That's not bad when you realize that the more powerful Civic (140 ponies) does the deed in 8.6. More importantly, the Fit feels faster than the numbers indicate. It sounds quick too; the bassy VTEC buzz reverberates through the cabin whenever the mini mill crests 3500 rpm. Let's reiterate; the Fit's 16-valver motorvates 2471 lbs. with 105 ft.-lbs. of torque. Little dog, big bite. Make that nip; the Fit's fast-acting drive-by-wire throttle is a price point bonus.

 For such a light whip, the Fit feels remarkably well planted. The ride quality is a cut above your typical penalty box, maybe two. You feel the bumps, but never resent them. With its well-sorted suspension (MacPherson struts up front, torsion beam bringing up the rear), uni-body construction and a puny wheelbase, the Fit's handling is crisp, direct and unexpectedly fun. The Fit don't drift, but it's got enough poke, control and feedback to generate some of the Mini Cooper's smile-generating tossability. Rumor (Car & Driver) has it that the Fit can hustle through cones faster than a Z06. Yes, you just read that. And the brakes are out of this class.

The Fit's clutch is a bummer, especially when compared to last week's shockingly perfect Accord pedal. (A five-speed auto is available with the obligatory mileage, weight and price penalties.) Like its bigger brother, the Fit's left pedal weighs as much as four feathers. And like the ancient Volvo 242, it offers nine-feet of travel for a quarter inch of activation. Worse, the dead pedal has shuffled off this mortal coil, and there isn't any room to store your left foot. While stirring the shifter is as fuss-free as blinking, Honda missed a trick in the cog provision department. A sixth gear would make a lot of sense in a car aimed at people who don't have money and those that hate spending it.

 Americans aren't always bright bulbs when faced with car decisions. Despite escalating gas prices, oil wars and all those Prius-driving starlet role models, nearly 100k of us took home a giant GM SUV this past quarter. Even the Sierra-Club's hated Hummer is (for now) in the black. However, the tide is turning. With the word "four bucks a gallon" passing network anchors' powdered lips, plenty of people are thinking about working out of their gas-guzzler. The new Honda Fit is a relatively painless vehicle for drivers looking to shape up and ship out, or people who just want a decent cheap car. All you have to give up is your pretentious classicism. Well, that and your full-size spare tire.

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http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2006/04/honda-fit-sport/feed/ 5 Fit. That's a good one. At the exact moment that America's obese SUV's are giving the country petrochemical chest pains, Honda invites us to get healthy. Why chug-a-lug gas and stagger around like a big-bellied lummox when you can sip petro... Fit. That's a good one. At the exact moment that America's obese SUV's are giving the country petrochemical chest pains, Honda invites us to get healthy. Why chug-a-lug gas and stagger around like a big-bellied lummox when you can sip petrol and sashay around town with all the moral superiority of a marathoner? OK, but getting fit involves sacrifices: unpleasant bending, less grunt, no street cred, etc. Or does it? Let's face it: the less we give up, the higher the likelihood we'll do it. Does the Honda Fit let us frugalize without fear? The Truth About Cars no
Toyota FJ Cruiser Review http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2006/04/toyota-fj-cruiser/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2006/04/toyota-fj-cruiser/#comments Fri, 28 Apr 2006 00:00:00 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=63  Toyota is the master of the pastiche. The company's designers never met a Mercedes they couldn't morph, or a Bangled BMW they couldn't bootleg. Granted, capturing the essence of a rival's design without ending up on a hard bench outside the World Intellectual Property Organization is something of an art form. But quite what Toyota had in mind with the FJ Cruiser is hard to fathom. In one sense, they're finally getting 'round to ripping themselves off: riffing on the FJ40 Land Cruiser's riff on the original Jeep. On the other hand, anyone who clocks the FJ Cruiser's brick-like bearing and doesn't think Hummer just isn't trying hard enough-- which ain't something you can say about Toyota. Ever.

From the front, the FJ Cruiser is a Lego Transformer. Funky chunky bumpers-- complete with molded silver "wings"-- combine with a cylindrical light assembly, swooping sides and a gun slit front window to create a mondo-bizarre snap-to-fit aesthetic. The FJ's hood-- which looks like a half-submerged bomber hangar-- doesn't quite work. But it's Henry Moore to the side profile's Dali-esque dissonance. The FJ's rear windows makes the SUV look like it's sagging in the middle, while the gigantic C-pillars are almost as funny (both humorous and peculiar) as the mini-flares over the rear arches. And the FJ's back end makes the full-size spare hanging on the door look like a child's inflatable pool.

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 Toyota is the master of the pastiche. The company's designers never met a Mercedes they couldn't morph, or a Bangled BMW they couldn't bootleg. Granted, capturing the essence of a rival's design without ending up on a hard bench outside the World Intellectual Property Organization is something of an art form. But quite what Toyota had in mind with the FJ Cruiser is hard to fathom. In one sense, they're finally getting 'round to ripping themselves off: riffing on the FJ40 Land Cruiser's riff on the original Jeep. On the other hand, anyone who clocks the FJ Cruiser's brick-like bearing and doesn't think Hummer just isn't trying hard enough– which ain't something you can say about Toyota. Ever.

From the front, the FJ Cruiser is a Lego Transformer. Funky chunky bumpers– complete with molded silver "wings"– combine with a cylindrical light assembly, swooping sides and a gun slit front window to create a mondo-bizarre snap-to-fit aesthetic. The FJ's hood– which looks like a half-submerged bomber hangar– doesn't quite work. But it's Henry Moore to the side profile's Dali-esque dissonance. The FJ's rear windows makes the SUV look like it's sagging in the middle, while the gigantic C-pillars are almost as funny (both humorous and peculiar) as the mini-flares over the rear arches. And the FJ's back end makes the full-size spare hanging on the door look like a child's inflatable pool.

 In other words, it's a hit! In a world of bland, cookie-cutter vehicles, the FJ sticks out like a wacky retro concept vehicle produced by a company that's making so much money building bland, cookie-cutter vehicles it doesn't matter whether it sells or not. The FJ Cruiser's interior betrays its mutant origins in no uncertain terms. The wet-look plastic surrounding the radio and accenting the interior is show car overkill. The bog-standard Toyota steering wheel is equally convincing (and lamentable) proof that the bean counters had the last word. The FJ's bluish dials and tabletop instrument cluster split the difference.

As you'd expect, the FJ's sight lines are diabolical. If you're the kind of driver who doesn't know how to rely on your side mirrors, you're the kind of driver who shouldn't drive a Toyota FJ Cruiser into a school parking lot. Which would anger the kids; the FJ's rear seats are a perfectly-sized perch for tweenies to preen and be seen in Daddy's way cool lifestyle machine. Of course, there are advantages to being square; the FJ's rubber-floored way back is large enough to schlep a brace of labradors, a week's worth of camping gear or, with the second row tumbled forward, both. All to the accompaniment of the kickingest OEM stereo we've ever encountered.

 Turn the FJ's Camry-like key and the SUV's 4.0-liter six expels a coffee-can tuner drone out the rear pipe. It's yet another indication that the FJ Cruiser is the lite beer of SUV's: it can't decide whether it's aimed at buyers who want great taste or more hilling. Thump a bump, feel the FJ's ladder frame chassis and solid rear axle galumph along, and it's clear that the stylish SUV is, at its core, a truck. Well, that and decidedly slow progress, a prodigious thirst for dead dinoflagellates, enough wind noise to provide a soundtrack for a B-grade horror movie, a distinct reluctance to push past 70mph and the extra knob just ahead of the main shift gate, which offers a choice of high or low-range four-wheel drive with Torsen limited-slip locking differentials.

If you have any idea what all that means, you're in for a treat. You don't have to flog the FJ at a military off-road course to know that Toyota's entry-level 4X4 brings the noise (that damn blatting just never stops). But if you do, you will. Even in its street shoes, the relatively small FJ has all the boulder-bouncing, mud-plugging prowess of a Toyota 4Runner and Lexus GX470– with which it shares it well-protected mechanical underpinnings. Leave the blacktop behind and the FJ's lethargy is soon forgotten. A wave of torque pushes, pulls or digs you out the rough stuff. No question: the FJ Cruiser is a seriously capable piece of kit.

 And here's the kicker: all this for under $28k. City slickers can save a couple of grand by specifying the two-wheel drive slushbox version; which will still four-wheel you out of the muddy periphery of your daughter's soccer field (without messing with "extra" levers). To quote Richard Nixon's imaginary remark to his Watergate henchmen, that would be wrong. The FJ Cruiser was born to disappear from the admiring glances of fashion victims and mix it up in the outback. I mean, YOU try and parallel park the thing.

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http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2006/04/toyota-fj-cruiser/feed/ 2 Toyota is the master of the pastiche. The company's designers never met a Mercedes they couldn't morph, or a Bangled BMW they couldn't bootleg. Granted, capturing the essence of a rival's design without ending up on a hard bench outsi... Toyota is the master of the pastiche. The company's designers never met a Mercedes they couldn't morph, or a Bangled BMW they couldn't bootleg. Granted, capturing the essence of a rival's design without ending up on a hard bench outside the World Intellectual Property Organization is something of an art form. But quite what Toyota had in mind with the FJ Cruiser is hard to fathom. In one sense, they're finally getting 'round to ripping themselves off: riffing on the FJ40 Land Cruiser's riff on the original Jeep. On the other hand, anyone who clocks the FJ Cruiser's brick-like bearing and doesn't think Hummer just isn't trying hard enough-- which ain't something you can say about Toyota. Ever.From the front, the FJ Cruiser is a Lego Transformer. Funky chunky bumpers-- complete with molded silver "wings"-- combine with a cylindrical light assembly, swooping sides and a gun slit front window to create a mondo-bizarre snap-to-fit aesthetic. The FJ's hood-- which looks like a half-submerged bomber hangar-- doesn't quite work. But it's Henry Moore to the side profile's Dali-esque dissonance. The FJ's rear windows makes the SUV look like it's sagging in the middle, while the gigantic C-pillars are almost as funny (both humorous and peculiar) as the mini-flares over the rear arches. And the FJ's back end makes the full-size spare hanging on the door look like a child's inflatable pool. The Truth About Cars no
Cadillac Escalade Review http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2006/04/cadillac-escalade-2/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2006/04/cadillac-escalade-2/#comments Wed, 19 Apr 2006 00:00:00 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=538  The new Cadillac Escalade is a mission critical machine. It's one of the few remaining General Motors products whose sales don't depend on Mexican-sized kickbacks and/or a Day-Glo "Closing Down, Everything Must Go" sticker on the windshield. What's more, as a badge-engineered Chevrolet Tahoe, it's only slightly more expensive to build than a Chevrolet Tahoe. In other words, the 'Slade's is a cash cow on factory double dubs, trying to keep it real for GM's ten point six billion dollar man, Rabid Rick Wagoner; know what I mean? No? Let me spell it out for you: if the 'Slade ain't da bomb, it's a nail in the General's coffin. Well guess what? RIP.

Clock those side vents. At the precise moment when Caddy's luxury SUV should swagger into town with unabashed American style, the 'Slade arrives with its main design cue "borrowed" from Land Rover's Range Rover Sport. While the cynical amongst you might assert that the Escalade's target market is no more likely to connect the two vehicles than smoke crack and drive (as if), the fact remains: the porthole plagiarism betrays a staggering lack of confidence and originality. Of course, badge engineering a Chevrolet Tahoe betrays a staggering lack of confidence and originality, but, um… where was I? Something about the enormous gap in the SUV's wheel arches making the 'Slade look like a punk ass bitch? No… that wasn't it. Or was it?

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 The new Cadillac Escalade is a mission critical machine. It's one of the few remaining General Motors products whose sales don't depend on Mexican-sized kickbacks and/or a Day-Glo "Closing Down, Everything Must Go" sticker on the windshield. What's more, as a badge-engineered Chevrolet Tahoe, it's only slightly more expensive to build than a Chevrolet Tahoe. In other words, the 'Slade's is a cash cow on factory double dubs, trying to keep it real for GM's ten point six billion dollar man, Rabid Rick Wagoner; know what I mean? No? Let me spell it out for you: if the 'Slade ain't da bomb, it's a nail in the General's coffin. Well guess what? RIP.

Clock those side vents. At the precise moment when Caddy's luxury SUV should swagger into town with unabashed American style, the 'Slade arrives with its main design cue "borrowed" from Land Rover's Range Rover Sport. While the cynical amongst you might assert that the Escalade's target market is no more likely to connect the two vehicles than smoke crack and drive (as if), the fact remains: the porthole plagiarism betrays a staggering lack of confidence and originality. Of course, badge engineering a Chevrolet Tahoe betrays a staggering lack of confidence and originality, but, um… where was I? Something about the enormous gap in the SUV's wheel arches making the 'Slade look like a punk ass bitch? No… that wasn't it. Or was it?

 Meanwhile, in the rush to market, someone at GM forgot to give their "new" SUV an independent rear suspension. (Doh!) So here we have, once again, a nearasdammit seventeen foot truck that can only accommodate four passengers in anything like comfort. Not to put too fine a point on it, asking three pro-football players to find a place in the second row would be an invitation to a brawl, and even the most heinous Charles Dickens' villain would think twice about strapping a small child into the Escalade's claustrophobic, flat-floored third row. And if a 'Slade driver dared carry a full manifest of miserable human cargo, there's be no room left for anything other than a small assembly of pocket-sized torture devices.

At least the build quality sucks. No really. The Escalade seems specifically constructed to give ammunition to those carless, dealerphobic, stock-shorting curmudgeons who dare call GM's best efforts "90%" vehicles. The ashtray unfolds gracefully, triggered by the world's flimsiest metal catch. The pedals move, but not the steering wheel. The plastics look soft, but feel like fossilized elephant dung. The chairs squish reassuringly, but offer as much lateral support as a Ziploc bag. Everywhere you look there are examples of NQE (Not Quite Engineering), constantly reminding you that there's $10k profit in this machine that could have been spent on, well, you. Or, if you prefer, telling you to go and buy a virtually identical high-spec Tahoe.

 Of course, then you'd miss out on the bigger engine. And? Despite cranking-out 403hp and 417 ft.-lbs. of twist, despite an endlessly raucous engine note, the Escalade's 6.2-liter pushrod powerplant is no match for mega-mass and a mileage-seeking six-speed gearbox. Floor it and… wait. Yes, it'll kick down and go properly when prodded, but there's no excuse for a cramped vehicle that gets single digit mileage feeling slow, as well. And even with computer-controlled real-time damping, the 'Slade never lets you forget its ladder-frame underpinnings. Not that it doesn't try: the astoundingly over-assisted steering requires sufficient concentration to distract you from any other dynamic concerns.

On the positive side, the 'Slade's 13" ventilated disc brakes are superb, offering plenty of feel, lots of power and only the slightest whiff of burned rubber. And the Stabilitrak system keeps the beast flat and level through the twisties– even if understeer arrives unfashionably early and the seats do nothing to keep you from hip-checking the door or any beverages unfortunate enough to sit in the cupholder. And hey! It's better than the last model.

 But not nearly good enough to restore GM's lost luster. In fact, the Cadillac Escalade pisses me off. This was the perfect opportunity for GM to give the middle finger to critics like me who constantly slag GM's products for being perennial also-rans: vehicles that are a full model cycle behind the class-leaders. If this $60k-and-up SUV had crushed the competition, if the Cadillac Escalade had set a new standard for luxury SUV's that even Audi's new Q7 couldn't top, it wouldn't even matter if the Escalade sold well. That SUV would have been an automotive line in the sand for GM's current stewards. As it stands, the Escalade is nothing but a feeble attempt to tread water, even as the sharks start to get chummy with The General.

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http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2006/04/cadillac-escalade-2/feed/ 2 The new Cadillac Escalade is a mission critical machine. It's one of the few remaining General Motors products whose sales don't depend on Mexican-sized kickbacks and/or a Day-Glo "Closing Down, Everything Must Go" sticker on the windshield. The new Cadillac Escalade is a mission critical machine. It's one of the few remaining General Motors products whose sales don't depend on Mexican-sized kickbacks and/or a Day-Glo "Closing Down, Everything Must Go" sticker on the windshield. What's more, as a badge-engineered Chevrolet Tahoe, it's only slightly more expensive to build than a Chevrolet Tahoe. In other words, the 'Slade's is a cash cow on factory double dubs, trying to keep it real for GM's ten point six billion dollar man, Rabid Rick Wagoner; know what I mean? No? Let me spell it out for you: if the 'Slade ain't da bomb, it's a nail in the General's coffin. Well guess what? RIP. Clock those side vents. At the precise moment when Caddy's luxury SUV should swagger into town with unabashed American style, the 'Slade arrives with its main design cue "borrowed" from Land Rover's Range Rover Sport. While the cynical amongst you might assert that the Escalade's target market is no more likely to connect the two vehicles than smoke crack and drive (as if), the fact remains: the porthole plagiarism betrays a staggering lack of confidence and originality. Of course, badge engineering a Chevrolet Tahoe betrays a staggering lack of confidence and originality, but, um… where was I? Something about the enormous gap in the SUV's wheel arches making the 'Slade look like a punk ass bitch? No… that wasn't it. Or was it? The Truth About Cars no
Volkswagen Golf GTI DSG Reviews http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2006/04/volkswagen-golf-gti-dsg/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2006/04/volkswagen-golf-gti-dsg/#comments Thu, 06 Apr 2006 00:00:00 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=700 De-pimp this!I don't know about you, but I've been feeling sorry for Volkswagen for a while now. VW didn't so much lose their mojo as strap it to the nose of a Titan IVB and fire it into deep space. No disrespect to the world's fifth most populous country, but was anyone really surprised when a Brazilian Golf turned out like German bobo de camarao? Now that Vee Dub's got THAT out of their system, here comes the new, Wolfsburg-built Golf GTI. It's an Old School hot hatch with a Masters in Engineering. Viva VW!

For reasons best left to The International Museum of Marketing Doublespeak, Volkswagen decided to begin their mission-critical US Golf refresh with a two-door. More's the pity. The fifth-gen four-door is a far more handsome beast than the coupe-- if only because the Golf's rear portals soften the enormous disparity between the front windscreen's bottom edge and the side windows' lower boundary. This bizarre asymmetry pisses on the Golf's 32-year history of two-box harmony. The resulting rear end trades brand recognition for something vaguely Japanese-- as if the Golf suddenly decided to play the Accordian. And then there's the front end's unresolved echo of Audi's unconscionable house snout...

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De-pimp this!I don't know about you, but I've been feeling sorry for Volkswagen for a while now. VW didn't so much lose their mojo as strap it to the nose of a Titan IVB and fire it into deep space. No disrespect to the world's fifth most populous country, but was anyone really surprised when a Brazilian Golf turned out like German bobo de camarao? Now that Vee Dub's got THAT out of their system, here comes the new, Wolfsburg-built Golf GTI. It's an Old School hot hatch with a Masters in Engineering. Viva VW!

For reasons best left to The International Museum of Marketing Doublespeak, Volkswagen decided to begin their mission-critical US Golf refresh with a two-door. More's the pity. The fifth-gen four-door is a far more handsome beast than the coupe– if only because the Golf's rear portals soften the enormous disparity between the front windscreen's bottom edge and the side windows' lower boundary. This bizarre asymmetry pisses on the Golf's 32-year history of two-box harmony. The resulting rear end trades brand recognition for something vaguely Japanese– as if the Golf suddenly decided to play the Accordian. And then there's the front end's unresolved echo of Audi's unconscionable house snout…

Steering wheel from God; plaid seats from Germany.  If you're offended by the new GTI's jarring, over-reaching modernity, open the door and clock the retro-plaid seating surfaces. You can almost hear David Hasselhoff burning-up the German pop charts. The rest of the GTI's interior keeps faith with VW's noble history of crafting car cabins so dark they make Citizen Kane look like a romantic comedy. Thankfully, brushed aluminum accentuation abounds, and the quality of the polymers almost makes up for their dour demeanor. The switchgear's flimsy imprecision and the stereo's ectomorphic timbre are the last remaining vestiges of the Golf's multi-decade mediocrity.

Wrap your mitts around the GTI's squashed crown steering wheel and you'll soon know that beauty is in the right foot of the beholder. Fire-up the uber-Golf's in-line four and the delightful zizz blatting from the modest twin pipes foreshadows the hoonery to come. The GTI's 2.0-liter powerplant is a high-tech handbag, complete with dual overhead cams, four valves per cylinder, inter-cooled turbo, drive-by-wire throttle and FSI direct injection. And here's the kicker: Wolfsburg's de-pimpers have bestowed its Dual Sequential Gearbox (DSG) upon America's mid-market motoring madmen, placing the reins to 200 horses in the GTI driver's fingertips. This, folks, is what the Brits call a serious piece of kit.

Fast is our friend. Serious as in seamless. With 207 ft-lbs. of torque from the basement (1800 rpm) to the penthouse (5000 rpm), and six gears available for your dining and dancing pleasure, the VW GTI DSG is an express elevator from any speed A to any speed B. We're talking Johnny Bravo quick; zero to sixty in 6.3 seconds and 14.8 seconds for the quarter. Whoa Mama! (OK, that's no better than a MINI Cooper S, but I don't remember anyone calling the other German brand's hot hatch slow.) The Vee Dub's power-on-demand paddles are an electro-mechanical all-areas VIP pass if ever there was one, facilitating the kind of instant-on maniacal acceleration normally reserved for $70k and up thoroughbreds.

The GTI's cornering is equally phenomenal. This time 'round, VW didn't skimp on the fundamentals; laser welding makes the GTI tight, a fully independent four-link rear suspension, coil springs, telescopic shocks and stabilizer bar make it right. While BMW's electro-mechanical steering system has about much feel as a phantom limb, the GTI's similarly-assisted rack-and-pinion helm delivers an endless stream of road info, excellent on-center feedback AND tightens the rack at speed to avoid paddle-disconnecting hand movements. When it's time for the madness to stop, the GTI's brakes are powerful, fade-free retards.

THE bang-for-the-buck bargain.   Bottom line: you can blast the new Volkswagen GTI DSG through a tight bend almost twice as quickly as you'd imagine possible– at least at first. Once you get used to the GTI's adhesive tenacity, once you accept the fact that the understeer slide justain'tgonnahappen.com, only the cleanliness of your license, children on board and the stupidity of fellow road users prevent you from endless adrenal indulgence. Although the GTI rides a bit like a proper sports car tied down with rubber bands, it's comfortable enough to enable a daily fast.

A combination of balls-out fun, affordability and everyday practicality made the original GTI a working class hero. In that sense, June's four-door GTI will be the better– and better-looking– bet. And while there's no question that the new GTI represents a welcome return to form for cash-strapped pistonheads, the jury is out on the reliability part of the practicality equation. If that's an issue, I strongly recommend that you do NOT test drive the new Golf GTI DSG until AFTER you've read Consumer Reports.

[VW provided the vehicle tested, insurance, taxes and a tank of gas.]

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http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2006/04/volkswagen-golf-gti-dsg/feed/ 9 I don't know about you, but I've been feeling sorry for Volkswagen for a while now. VW didn't so much lose their mojo as strap it to the nose of a Titan IVB and fire it into deep space. No disrespect to the world's fifth most populous... I don't know about you, but I've been feeling sorry for Volkswagen for a while now. VW didn't so much lose their mojo as strap it to the nose of a Titan IVB and fire it into deep space. No disrespect to the world's fifth most populous country, but was anyone really surprised when a Brazilian Golf turned out like German bobo de camarao? Now that Vee Dub's got THAT out of their system, here comes the new, Wolfsburg-built Golf GTI. It's an Old School hot hatch with a Masters in Engineering. Viva VW!For reasons best left to The International Museum of Marketing Doublespeak, Volkswagen decided to begin their mission-critical US Golf refresh with a two-door. More's the pity. The fifth-gen four-door is a far more handsome beast than the coupe-- if only because the Golf's rear portals soften the enormous disparity between the front windscreen's bottom edge and the side windows' lower boundary. This bizarre asymmetry pisses on the Golf's 32-year history of two-box harmony. The resulting rear end trades brand recognition for something vaguely Japanese-- as if the Golf suddenly decided to play the Accordian. And then there's the front end's unresolved echo of Audi's unconscionable house snout... The Truth About Cars no
Lamborghini Gallardo SE Review http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2006/03/lamborghini-gallardo-se/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2006/03/lamborghini-gallardo-se/#comments Tue, 28 Mar 2006 00:00:00 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=695 Profile of a German - Italian half-breed.Testing a Gallardo SE in Miami is like sipping Chateau Lafite Rothschild in a public urinal. The little Lambo was born to annihilate the twisting mountain roads surrounding Italy's supercar valley, or flirt with V3 on a derestricted German autobahn. Miami's geometric streets and traffic-choked highways offer the Gallardo driver nothing more than a sinuous onramp and an occasional half-mile sprint-- which is plenty damn exciting but about as satisfying as red wine slammers. So, whilst fending-off a frantic flackmeister preoccupied with the definition of the words "driving impression," I guided the baby bull towards the nearest race track.

As I quick-quick-slowed through the cars clogging I-95 North, I was taken aback by the lack of stare and attention given the Gallardo. With its strange combination of diminutive footprint, cab forward stance, drop snout, near horizontal windshield and unrelenting angularity, the Gallardo lacks what native S-Class owners call "uberholprestige": that indefinable yet unmistakable car-isma that convinces fellow road users to move the Hell over. Either that or Floridians are fed-up with the automotive tastes of Bolivian drug lords. In any case, we now know what happens when a Belgian designs a supercar for a legendary Italian nameplate under the wary eye of a German conglomerate; and it ain't what I'd call pretty.

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Profile of a German - Italian half-breed.Testing a Gallardo SE in Miami is like sipping Chateau Lafite Rothschild in a public urinal. The little Lambo was born to annihilate the twisting mountain roads surrounding Italy's supercar valley, or flirt with V3 on a derestricted German autobahn. Miami's geometric streets and traffic-choked highways offer the Gallardo driver nothing more than a sinuous onramp and an occasional half-mile sprint– which is plenty damn exciting but about as satisfying as red wine slammers. So, whilst fending-off a frantic flackmeister preoccupied with the definition of the words "driving impression," I guided the baby bull towards the nearest race track.

As I quick-quick-slowed through the cars clogging I-95 North, I was taken aback by the lack of stare and attention given the Gallardo. With its strange combination of diminutive footprint, cab forward stance, drop snout, near horizontal windshield and unrelenting angularity, the Gallardo lacks what native S-Class owners call "uberholprestige": that indefinable yet unmistakable car-isma that convinces fellow road users to move the Hell over. Either that or Floridians are fed-up with the automotive tastes of Bolivian drug lords. In any case, we now know what happens when a Belgian designs a supercar for a legendary Italian nameplate under the wary eye of a German conglomerate; and it ain't what I'd call pretty.

What is behind me is not important.  Thank Gott. What DO you call it? Audighini? Lamboraudi? Inside, it's equally hard to tell. Pride of place goes to a bog standard Audi head unit and dual-zone climate control system. A row of faux aluminum toggle switches tries to reclaim the cabin from Ingolstadt's anal retentives, violating both common sense (depress and hold for lights?) and haptic satisfaction (a Barbie washing machine offers more profound clickery). This single stylistic flourish is lost in an interior dominated by generic minimalism. The Gallardo's bland, unbranded gauges are only the worst example of the flairectomy. If you're looking for a sense of occasion, breathe deep; an intoxication of musky leather provides a much-needed supercar cue.

Alternatively, prick up your ears. At idle, the Gallardo's V10 sounds like a mono-chromatic bassoon player jangling a set of keys. Up to 3500rpm, it's hard to tell which is less impressive: the amount of usable torque or the engine's subdued sonic signature. At four grand, the Gallardo SE gets its freak on. When I finally mashed the go-pedal, charging down the literally named Beeline Highway, the Gallardo's 512-horse powerplant emitted a bellow that sent distant gators scrambling for submersion. The aural belligerance increased in direct proportion to the escalating violence created by the car's gut-punching thrust. This all the way to the Gallardo's scarcely credible 8100rpm redline.

Careful with that polygon Luc!Two clicks on the stationary e-gear paddles (flippers to a piss ant parody of Audi's DSG) snapped us to 140 miles per hour. And yet we seemed no closer to the limitless, brooding horizon. And then the Gallardo started to vibrate like an electrified motel bed, indicating a suspension issue, an alignment problem, worn tires or some lamentable combination thereof (not entirely unknown to drivers of thoroughly played press cars). My soul mate demanded I Chuck Yeager the situation, but repeated blasts through the century and a half mark only exacerbated the supercar DT's. Meanwhile, we'd arrived.

I most emphatically did NOT take the Lamborghini Gallardo SE onto the track at the Moroso Motor Sports Park in Jupiter, Florida. But if I had, I might have reported that the Gallardo was as happy roaring around tight corners as a Prius golf carting in an Earth Day parade. That the German/Italian pocket rocket is a perfectly stable platform for drivers determined to hear the clack of their passenger's helmet ricocheting off the side window. That the four-wheel drive supercar turns eight tenths into five tenths, and punishes nine into eleven tenths with an understeer slide– unless you switch off the ESP traction control.

Eh.In that case, I probably would have discovered that the Gallardo's tail loses its implacable resolve to stay behind the front end– which would have been great for some tire-smelting drifting but a REAL problem for anyone stupid enough to paddle the e-gear during lateral-G's. I might also have pointed-out that the Gallardo SE's uprated brakes still fail to meet the standard set by Stuttgart's stoppers for bite, feel and ferocity. But, as I said, I didn't get the chance to put the Gallardo SE through its paces; and I'm not the type of automotive writer to indulge in uninformed conjecture.

Remaining in the theoretical realm, it's easy to see how Lamborghini could take the Gallardo to the next level. A couple of turbos would eliminate the low-end torque deficiency. A DSG gearbox would transform the herky-jerky e-Gallardo into a daily driver. And a bit of extra design coherence would sort out the uglies. Oh wait, that's the upcoming Audi R8. Huh. Now what?

[Prestige Imports provided the vehicle, insurance, taxes and a tank of gas.]

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http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2006/03/lamborghini-gallardo-se/feed/ 3 Testing a Gallardo SE in Miami is like sipping Chateau Lafite Rothschild in a public urinal. The little Lambo was born to annihilate the twisting mountain roads surrounding Italy's supercar valley, or flirt with V3 on a derestricted German autobahn. Testing a Gallardo SE in Miami is like sipping Chateau Lafite Rothschild in a public urinal. The little Lambo was born to annihilate the twisting mountain roads surrounding Italy's supercar valley, or flirt with V3 on a derestricted German autobahn. Miami's geometric streets and traffic-choked highways offer the Gallardo driver nothing more than a sinuous onramp and an occasional half-mile sprint-- which is plenty damn exciting but about as satisfying as red wine slammers. So, whilst fending-off a frantic flackmeister preoccupied with the definition of the words "driving impression," I guided the baby bull towards the nearest race track. As I quick-quick-slowed through the cars clogging I-95 North, I was taken aback by the lack of stare and attention given the Gallardo. With its strange combination of diminutive footprint, cab forward stance, drop snout, near horizontal windshield and unrelenting angularity, the Gallardo lacks what native S-Class owners call "uberholprestige": that indefinable yet unmistakable car-isma that convinces fellow road users to move the Hell over. Either that or Floridians are fed-up with the automotive tastes of Bolivian drug lords. In any case, we now know what happens when a Belgian designs a supercar for a legendary Italian nameplate under the wary eye of a German conglomerate; and it ain't what I'd call pretty. The Truth About Cars no
Lincoln Zephyr Review http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2006/03/lincoln-zephyr/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2006/03/lincoln-zephyr/#comments Wed, 08 Mar 2006 00:00:00 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1264 A Fusion by another name still smells like badge engineering.Badge-engineering. You know the drill: take a run-of-the-mill bog standard plain Jane vanilla sort of car, add some external bits and internal pieces, tweak the ride, slap on a more prestigious badge and jack-up the price. More specifically, the "new" Lincoln Zephyr is a Ford Fusion with a modified grill, wood trim, floatier ride, Lincoln logo and an inflated sticker price. So rather than badge engineer my Ford Fusion review, I'm going to tell you what Ford-- sorry, Lincoln, should have done with this car.

The obvious answer is nothing. Lincoln needs a front-wheel-drive mid-size sedan like Hummer needs a camouflage SMART (unless they use it as an H2 escape pod). Even if we ignore Lincoln's illustrious past-- first betrayed in 1936 by a funny-looking car called a Zephyr-- the brand's recent history sets the standard. Exhibitionist A: the Lincoln Continental Mark IV: a huge, thirsty, poorly-built, foul-handling beast from a time when jeans had bells at the bottom. While the infinitely smaller [modern] Zephyr is so safe and reliable it Hertz and boasts twice as much everything room than the old Mark, Lincoln's '70's luxobarge holstered a 7.5-liter V8 with more swagger than Ludacris at a Kapp Alpha Theta. Now THAT'S what I'm talking about.

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A Fusion by another name still smells like badge engineering.Badge-engineering. You know the drill: take a run-of-the-mill bog standard plain Jane vanilla sort of car, add some external bits and internal pieces, tweak the ride, slap on a more prestigious badge and jack-up the price. More specifically, the "new" Lincoln Zephyr is a Ford Fusion with a modified grill, wood trim, floatier ride, Lincoln logo and an inflated sticker price. So rather than badge engineer my Ford Fusion review, I'm going to tell you what Ford– sorry, Lincoln, should have done with this car.

The obvious answer is nothing. Lincoln needs a front-wheel-drive mid-size sedan like Hummer needs a camouflage SMART (unless they use it as an H2 escape pod). Even if we ignore Lincoln's illustrious past– first betrayed in 1936 by a funny-looking car called a Zephyr– the brand's recent history sets the standard. Exhibitionist A: the Lincoln Continental Mark IV: a huge, thirsty, poorly-built, foul-handling beast from a time when jeans had bells at the bottom. While the infinitely smaller [modern] Zephyr is so safe and reliable it Hertz and boasts twice as much everything room than the old Mark, Lincoln's '70's luxobarge holstered a 7.5-liter V8 with more swagger than Ludacris at a Kapp Alpha Theta. Now THAT'S what I'm talking about.

Big lights equals narrow look. Here's the thing: if Lincoln was stuck with the po' faced Fusion, they should've at least re-designed it for gang bangers. But no; once again, street culture rescues a luxury brand from the dumpster and the suits go straight back to building boring cars for stupid white people. The official terminology for the Zephyr's 'waterfall' grill and tail lights (which make it look narrower than a Chevrolet Aveo) is "unpretentious luxury." News flash: stealth wealth went out of style around the same time MTV started showing rap videos and Gianni Versace sold his first $2000 silk shirt. Lincoln's coveted younger buyers crave "subdued luxury" about as much as they hanker after a Michael Bublé CD. Probably less.

Not that it's easy to bling-out a Fusion. For last year's SEMA tunerfest, Ford handed-out free Fusions like they were going out of style (as if). In terms of sex appeal… let's just say that finding the show cars on the tuners' websites is a bit of challenge. Anyway, Lincoln should have ripped the clothes off the Fusion– all of them– and started again. Or at least come up with something a little racier than a Lincoln LS mini-me grill. When your family face says airport limo, plastic surgery that leaves your design heritage in the bio-hazard bag is more than OK. It's mission critical.

Blingmeisters need not apply.Inside– oh c'mon; is that really the best American luxury can do? Wood that looks like plastic, plastic that looks like plastic, leather that feels like plastic and a redesigned dash that's the luxury car equivalent of the White Cliffs of Dover? Lincoln should have given the Zephyr to a proper pimper and let loose the dawgs of design. The Zephyr should have one of those wikkid touch-screen ICE deals that unfolds itself from the dash and hits you with some LSD graphic equalizer visuals and a bazillion watts of surround sound. I'm also thinking screens everywhere but the ashtray and a chilled glove box with Lincoln-branded water. Leather piping around the seats? Spizzarkle uber alles baby!

As for the drivetrain, Lincoln of all brands should know that mindless ease is the name of the luxury car game. Obviously, that's a gig requiring some serious shove and massive twist. Unfortunately, the Zephyr's 3.0-liter whiney six is both anemic and torquerexic. Speaking of American innovation, Lincoln should've transplanted the teeny-tiny Japanese V8 nestling in the nose of the Volvo XC90 into the Zephyr's engine bay. Or they could have stuck a supercharger or turbocharger or steam turbine onto ye olde Duratec. It might've made a Hell of a racket, but it might also have given customers both ancient and contemporary a reason to live.

Front-wheel drive Lincoln. Bleh.Why Lincoln decided to plush-out the Zephyr's ride is beyond me; the Fusion's handling dynamics are the best thing about Lincoln's donormobile. As far as I can tell, the chassis guys simply added some nauseating horizontal waft to the equation and dialed out a bit of steering feel. OK, the lumps and bumps have been muted; but is the Macarena any less annoying at lower volumes? Lincoln should have either left the Fusion's ride and handling as they found it, or smothered all road feel, in the great Lincoln tradition.

Of course, money makes my plan unworkable. The Zephyr was built– I mean badge-engineered– to a budget. Doing anything interesting to the Fusion would have elevated the Zephyr beyond its "natural" price point. Yes, well, it's that kind of thinking that got Ford into this hole in the first place.

[Lincoln provided the vehicle reviewed, insurance, taxes and a tank of gas.]

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http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2006/03/lincoln-zephyr/feed/ 1 Badge-engineering. You know the drill: take a run-of-the-mill bog standard plain Jane vanilla sort of car, add some external bits and internal pieces, tweak the ride, slap on a more prestigious badge and jack-up the price. More specifically, Badge-engineering. You know the drill: take a run-of-the-mill bog standard plain Jane vanilla sort of car, add some external bits and internal pieces, tweak the ride, slap on a more prestigious badge and jack-up the price. More specifically, the "new" Lincoln Zephyr is a Ford Fusion with a modified grill, wood trim, floatier ride, Lincoln logo and an inflated sticker price. So rather than badge engineer my Ford Fusion review, I'm going to tell you what Ford-- sorry, Lincoln, should have done with this car.The obvious answer is nothing. Lincoln needs a front-wheel-drive mid-size sedan like Hummer needs a camouflage SMART (unless they use it as an H2 escape pod). Even if we ignore Lincoln's illustrious past-- first betrayed in 1936 by a funny-looking car called a Zephyr-- the brand's recent history sets the standard. Exhibitionist A: the Lincoln Continental Mark IV: a huge, thirsty, poorly-built, foul-handling beast from a time when jeans had bells at the bottom. While the infinitely smaller [modern] Zephyr is so safe and reliable it Hertz and boasts twice as much everything room than the old Mark, Lincoln's '70's luxobarge holstered a 7.5-liter V8 with more swagger than Ludacris at a Kapp Alpha Theta. Now THAT'S what I'm talking about. The Truth About Cars no
Volkswagen Beetle Review http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2006/03/volkswagen-beetle/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2006/03/volkswagen-beetle/#comments Wed, 01 Mar 2006 00:00:00 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=462 A Volkswagen Golf by any other name is still a lot less spacious.  The power of love is a curious thing. It makes one brand weep, another brand sing. Change a bug into a little white Dub. More than a feeling; that's the power of love. Yes, I know it's old News, but Volkswagen's Beetle still gets a lot of love. You would've thought a retro reissue of Hitler's people's car would've fallen down the same rat hole that swallowed-up the mustachioed Plymouth Prowler, Chevrolet's WTF SSR and Ford's turkey T-bird. But no. Eight years after its re-introduction into the US market, VW's self-titled "New Beetle" is still here, people still adore it, and I still don't get it.

Admittedly, I'm not gay. While I do enjoy a well-formed six-pack, and consider myself a far better interior decorator than that stuck-up Connecticut con artist, I can't understand how anyone could find VeeDub's Bauhaus Bug "cute." I reckon J Mays drew the St. Louis arch over a Kohler bathtub and called it good. All the superb detailing that gave the 60's version its cutesy-tootsie cartoon character has been replaced with generic post-modern jewelery. To my eyes, the slab-sided minimalist Beetle is about as emotionally engaging as a Braun razor. The '06 facelift offers rounder headlights, more tapered wrap-around air dams and flat-edged wheel arches. It looks like… a slightly newer Braun razor.

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A Volkswagen Golf by any other name is still a lot less spacious.  The power of love is a curious thing. It makes one brand weep, another brand sing. Change a bug into a little white Dub. More than a feeling; that's the power of love. Yes, I know it's old News, but Volkswagen's Beetle still gets a lot of love. You would've thought a retro reissue of Hitler's people's car would've fallen down the same rat hole that swallowed-up the mustachioed Plymouth Prowler, Chevrolet's WTF SSR and Ford's turkey T-bird. But no. Eight years after its re-introduction into the US market, VW's self-titled "New Beetle" is still here, people still adore it, and I still don't get it.

Admittedly, I'm not gay. While I do enjoy a well-formed six-pack, and consider myself a far better interior decorator than that stuck-up Connecticut con artist, I can't understand how anyone could find VeeDub's Bauhaus Bug "cute." I reckon J Mays drew the St. Louis arch over a Kohler bathtub and called it good. All the superb detailing that gave the 60's version its cutesy-tootsie cartoon character has been replaced with generic post-modern jewelery. To my eyes, the slab-sided minimalist Beetle is about as emotionally engaging as a Braun razor. The '06 facelift offers rounder headlights, more tapered wrap-around air dams and flat-edged wheel arches. It looks like… a slightly newer Braun razor.

Red, red whine.The Beetle's interior extends the cognitive dissonance between Herbie and Helmut. In the old rear-engined Beetle, the proximity between your head and oncoming traffic was endearing / alarming– accentuated by the fact that there really was nothing between your head and oncoming traffic. In the new front-engined Beetle, there's so much dash ahead of you it feels like you're sitting in middle of a small powerboat. Or a greenhouse. In fact, people who live in glass houses will feel right at home, and they don't need to stow thrones; the Bug's warm leatherette is deliciously comfy. Unfortunately, the New Beetle's artsy roof line renders the rear seats only slightly more accommodating than a cat carrier.

The New Beetle proves that love is at least partially blind; the overarching design theme necessitates front pillars that could hide a full-size pickup. And do. The rest of the New Beetle's black-hole-black cabin casts its magic spell over silly Buggers with three dignified gauges, an equal number of chintzy rotary knobs, a severely limited array of buttons and… that's it. In these days of voice-activated rear window blinds, who knew that an interior appealing to latter day Spartans would be considered "delightful?" Oops. I almost forgot: the link to the Bug's hippy dippy past– the in-dash flower vase– is still plastic. Dishwasher safe. Fabulous. And VW put chrome rings around the vents. How great is that?

VW's golden arches (also available in red)As the Vee Dub's turbo four was a bit on the manic anemic side, and the New Beetle's engine bay can't stomach a six, and California-dreaming legislators dictated that you can't buy a diesel car in this neck of the tree-hugged woods, our press car holstered the new-for-'06 2.5-liter straight five. According to the website, this application "borrowed" the V10 Gallardo supercar's cylinder head– which is a bit like a six-year-old chess player wearing Victor Kasparov's sports jacket. Fire-up the five-pot and the Beetle's aural signature seems carefully crafted to comfort diesel wanna-be's. Clatterer though it is, the buzz ain't bad and there's nothing wrong with the way the New Beetle goes about its business. Zero to sixty takes… not that long. Passing is… entirely possible.

The New Beetle sits on the old Golf's platform. The front-wheel-drive set-up clearly favors nimble handling over ride comfort. Wrong answer. At the risk of sounding like a crashing bore, the New Beetle's suspension– independent McPherson struts (front) and independent torsion beam axle (back) with coil springs, stabilizer bars and telescopic shocks– makes the car something of a crashing bore. It's a remarkably stable corner carver, but sluggish throttle response means preparation is the better part of valor. Highway cruisers exchange rough pavement fatigue for side wind susceptibility. The manufacturer claims the New Beetle will do 126 mph, but I wouldn't like to blow through an 18-wheeler's wake at that speed.

Simple and elegant, cheap and cheerful; or dark and austere?So what makes the New Beetle so damned adorable? Its owners. While the New Beetle's driving dynamics and interior accoutrements are nothing special, the car's aggressive pricing, comprehensive unobjectionality and mid-20's mileage allow Beetle-lovers to project their adoration onto the machine without fear of contradiction. Last year, almost forty thousand consumers drove home in a new Beetle or Beetle cabriolet. That's not bad for a poorly-packaged German retromobile that critics dismissed as a passing fad. As empty nest Moms pass their Bug down to college-bound daughters, as used Beetles find new friends down market, the New Beetle is sure to generate warm fuzzies for years to come.

[Volkswagen of America provided the vehicle reviewed, insurance, tax and a tank of gas.]

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http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2006/03/volkswagen-beetle/feed/ 2 The power of love is a curious thing. It makes one brand weep, another brand sing. Change a bug into a little white Dub. More than a feeling; that's the power of love. Yes, I know it's old News, but Volkswagen's Beetle still gets a lot of l... The power of love is a curious thing. It makes one brand weep, another brand sing. Change a bug into a little white Dub. More than a feeling; that's the power of love. Yes, I know it's old News, but Volkswagen's Beetle still gets a lot of love. You would've thought a retro reissue of Hitler's people's car would've fallen down the same rat hole that swallowed-up the mustachioed Plymouth Prowler, Chevrolet's WTF SSR and Ford's turkey T-bird. But no. Eight years after its re-introduction into the US market, VW's self-titled "New Beetle" is still here, people still adore it, and I still don't get it.Admittedly, I'm not gay. While I do enjoy a well-formed six-pack, and consider myself a far better interior decorator than that stuck-up Connecticut con artist, I can't understand how anyone could find VeeDub's Bauhaus Bug "cute." I reckon J Mays drew the St. Louis arch over a Kohler bathtub and called it good. All the superb detailing that gave the 60's version its cutesy-tootsie cartoon character has been replaced with generic post-modern jewelery. To my eyes, the slab-sided minimalist Beetle is about as emotionally engaging as a Braun razor. The '06 facelift offers rounder headlights, more tapered wrap-around air dams and flat-edged wheel arches. It looks like… a slightly newer Braun razor. The Truth About Cars no
Audi A3 3.2 DSG Review http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2006/02/audi-a3-32-dsg/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2006/02/audi-a3-32-dsg/#comments Wed, 22 Feb 2006 00:00:00 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1418 Another M. C. Escher mini wagon. Anyone who looks at the new Audi A3 3.2 DSG and sees an overpriced economy car should not be allowed to play with Rottweiler puppies. While Ingolstadt's diminutive four-door may seem like a hatchback for badge snobs willing to sacrifice size for breeding, it's actually a four-wheeled fiend, a beast born and bred to take a bite out of the time - space continuum. Everything else about the A3-- the foot on the Audi ownership ladder thing, the four-wheel-drive peace-of-mind shtick-- is nothing more than a glossy coat on a vicious little monster. And I mean that in the nicest possible way.

The A3's aesthetic dissonance should tip off neophytes that something wikkid this way driveth. Calling the little Audi "ungainly" is like saying a Saab stretch limo lacks a certain finesse. The unconscionable gaping maw that is Audi's house snout never looked as hideous as it does here, attached to a car whose creators seems to have given up around the halfway mark. I presume the A3's sloping rear roofline was designed to distance Audi's $35k 'entry level' hatchback from the traditional econobox. At best, the A3 looks like a dwarf station wagon. At worst, it joins Mercedes' SLK as another petite whip suffering from Peter North syndrome.

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Another M. C. Escher mini wagon. Anyone who looks at the new Audi A3 3.2 DSG and sees an overpriced economy car should not be allowed to play with Rottweiler puppies. While Ingolstadt's diminutive four-door may seem like a hatchback for badge snobs willing to sacrifice size for breeding, it's actually a four-wheeled fiend, a beast born and bred to take a bite out of the time – space continuum. Everything else about the A3– the foot on the Audi ownership ladder thing, the four-wheel-drive peace-of-mind shtick– is nothing more than a glossy coat on a vicious little monster. And I mean that in the nicest possible way.

The A3's aesthetic dissonance should tip off neophytes that something wikkid this way driveth. Calling the little Audi "ungainly" is like saying a Saab stretch limo lacks a certain finesse. The unconscionable gaping maw that is Audi's house snout never looked as hideous as it does here, attached to a car whose creators seems to have given up around the halfway mark. I presume the A3's sloping rear roofline was designed to distance Audi's $35k 'entry level' hatchback from the traditional econobox. At best, the A3 looks like a dwarf station wagon. At worst, it joins Mercedes' SLK as another petite whip suffering from Peter North syndrome.

The three pedal performance car is dead.  Long live the DSG.Inside, the A3 adheres to Ingolstadt's well-established Buddhist gestalt: discipline (sila), meditative concentration (Samadhi) and wisdom (prajna). On the downside, the A3's lack of rear legroom forces full-sized adults to assume the Lotus position. On the upside, the interior offers occupants peerless ergonomic Zen. From the steering wheel's textured perfection, to the white-on-black gauges' lack of affectation, to the switchgear's clinically measured clicks, the A3 serves-up no more or less functionality than necessary for the job at hand. Alternatively, you could say that the A3's cabin's displays all the brutal minimalism of a Heckler and Koch submachine gun.

Fire-up the A3's 3.2-liter six and it's clear the Germans have re-lit the pilot light under the hot hatch genre. The A3's powerplant marries a soft burble to a horny zizz; like a banker and a showgirl itching to strip naked, jump under the hood and put the pro back into in procreative. As you pull away, the A3's torquey powerplant confirms the impression: objects in your rear view mirror will soon be further than they appear. At first, the Audi's steering seems a bit vague and the brakes a touch touchy– but that's only because you're not going fast enough. Right foot rectification tightens-up the controls and unleashes the dogs of driving.

Understeer uber alles; but mach shnell over long sweepers.If ever a right-sized performance car wanted to snap its leash and chase hubcaps, well, here it is. You can hammer the A3 in any gear, on any road, anytime, anywhere, and enjoy unabashed, confidence-inspiring dynamic synthesis. The A3 3.2 DSG goes exactly where you point it, stays planted while you're going and doesn't waste a second getting there. Because the A3 sits on a modified fifth gen front-wheel-drive VW Golf platform, really determined and/or demented drivers will soon discover that understeer arrives early and stays for breakfast. But in any situation other than a series of tight radius turns– long sweepers, point-and-squirt, straight lines, highwaymanship– the A3 is a pocket rocket poster child.

The devil's in the drivetrain. In the TT we tested back in '04, the same engine / cog swapper combo suffered from manic depression: lazy in Drive, over-eager in Sport, blah when paddling. In the A3, the system is flawless. Thanks to new software, Drive shuffles through the six gears quickly and efficiently, but kicks down and kicks ass when asked. Sport keeps things fizzing along without straining against the aforementioned lead, but races for redline at a moment's notice. As for the A3's paddles, it's official: you can kiss the three-pedal car goodbye. The DSG system delivers seamless, rapid-fire, idiot-proof changes up or down the gearbox at any engine speed. It's a toy, it's a weapon, it's a wonder. No suprise Stuttgart has suddenly sidled up to Wolfsburg: every Porsche made needs a DSG gearbox mach schnell.

The Heckler and Koch of Buddhist interiors.  Or something like that. Although the A3 is a reasonably practical proposition– a slightly cramped machine offering excellent mileage and safety– the 3.2 comes with Audi's S-Line suspension as standard. Loonies like, wafters wince. The A3 3.2 isn't hard riding per se; its aluminum subframe has a rubbery kind of dampening effect on the endless jolts delivered by the tiniest surface imperfections. But there's no question that the A3 is a jiggy machine in more ways than one. If you're not the kind of driver who considers a highway off ramp's speed limit as only 50% accurate, if you don't like counting cobbles, then the significantly less expensive, more softly sprung A3 2.0T (with the optional DSG) is the way to go. Although the jury's out on the lighter engined A3, I have a sneaking suspicion that it won't hang about either. It's all in the genes.

[Audi of America provided the vehicle reviewed, insurance, tax and a tank of gas.]

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http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2006/02/audi-a3-32-dsg/feed/ 2 Anyone who looks at the new Audi A3 3.2 DSG and sees an overpriced economy car should not be allowed to play with Rottweiler puppies. While Ingolstadt's diminutive four-door may seem like a hatchback for badge snobs willing to sacrifice size for b... Anyone who looks at the new Audi A3 3.2 DSG and sees an overpriced economy car should not be allowed to play with Rottweiler puppies. While Ingolstadt's diminutive four-door may seem like a hatchback for badge snobs willing to sacrifice size for breeding, it's actually a four-wheeled fiend, a beast born and bred to take a bite out of the time - space continuum. Everything else about the A3-- the foot on the Audi ownership ladder thing, the four-wheel-drive peace-of-mind shtick-- is nothing more than a glossy coat on a vicious little monster. And I mean that in the nicest possible way.The A3's aesthetic dissonance should tip off neophytes that something wikkid this way driveth. Calling the little Audi "ungainly" is like saying a Saab stretch limo lacks a certain finesse. The unconscionable gaping maw that is Audi's house snout never looked as hideous as it does here, attached to a car whose creators seems to have given up around the halfway mark. I presume the A3's sloping rear roofline was designed to distance Audi's $35k 'entry level' hatchback from the traditional econobox. At best, the A3 looks like a dwarf station wagon. At worst, it joins Mercedes' SLK as another petite whip suffering from Peter North syndrome. The Truth About Cars no
Chevrolet Tahoe LT Review http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2006/02/chevrolet-tahoe-lt/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2006/02/chevrolet-tahoe-lt/#comments Fri, 10 Feb 2006 00:00:00 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=683 The Chevrolet Tahoe's sheetmetal plays a Zero sub gameThe SUV is dead. Long live the sedan on stilts! Yes folks, Chevrolet has transformed their Tahoe from a cheap and cheerful workhorse for environmentally insensitive soccer Moms, to a deluxe cruiser for environmentally insensitive soccer Moms. The change is so well executed, so completely earnest in both scope and scale, you almost feel sorry for the beast. Like the Wild Things watching Max sailing back to his bedroom (already regretting his rumpus at the pumpus), the new Tahoe cries out to departing SUV buyers "Come back! We love you so!" What say you, America?

The new Tahoe is certainly a more alluring monster than the big bland boring box it replaces. Bob Lutz-- the GM executive who once dismissed a passel of motor show concept cars as "angry appliances"-- will be delighted with what Chevy's American Revolution has wrought: a happy appliance. The Tahoe's sheetmetal displays all the subdued modernism, implied practicality and aesthetic solidity of a Sub-Zero refrigerator, right down to the sleek door handles-- I mean "pulls". The Tahoe's hood is as perfectly creased as an Armani suit. The SUV's bowed nose and tail, the gently curving C-pillar, the side mirrors' blacked-out bottoms - every detail reflects an entirely successful attempt to give the Tahoe's exterior a contemporary kitchen's supercool coherence.

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The Chevrolet Tahoe's sheetmetal plays a Zero sub gameThe SUV is dead. Long live the sedan on stilts! Yes folks, Chevrolet has transformed their Tahoe from a cheap and cheerful workhorse for environmentally insensitive soccer Moms, to a deluxe cruiser for environmentally insensitive soccer Moms. The change is so well executed, so completely earnest in both scope and scale, you almost feel sorry for the beast. Like the Wild Things watching Max sailing back to his bedroom (already regretting his rumpus at the pumpus), the new Tahoe cries out to departing SUV buyers "Come back! We love you so!" What say you, America?

The new Tahoe is certainly a more alluring monster than the big bland boring box it replaces. Bob Lutz– the GM executive who once dismissed a passel of motor show concept cars as "angry appliances"– will be delighted with what Chevy's American Revolution has wrought: a happy appliance. The Tahoe's sheetmetal displays all the subdued modernism, implied practicality and aesthetic solidity of a Sub-Zero refrigerator, right down to the sleek door handles– I mean "pulls". The Tahoe's hood is as perfectly creased as an Armani suit. The SUV's bowed nose and tail, the gently curving C-pillar, the side mirrors' blacked-out bottoms – every detail reflects an entirely successful attempt to give the Tahoe's exterior a contemporary kitchen's supercool coherence.

Tough luck tough luxury.  Tahoe ups the stylistic, ergonomic ante  The Tahoe's cabin continues the cognitive displacement. Whereas the previous Tahoe's pickup truck-style interior was about as inviting as an Al Qaeda cell meeting, the new cockpit sees Ford's "tough luxury" and raises it an Aston. OK, the Tahoe's soft touch materials aren't, the chairs are flatter than a Kansas pool hall, and how much does it cost to smooth off the ends of plastic stalks? But the Tahoe's lowered dash is faultless in its Starke simplicity. The symmetrical gauges are elegantly restrained. The tasteful dials are ringed with faux chrome and sensibly grouped. The remaining buttons are separated by tiny chrome slashes, with built-in lamps indicating activation. If only BMW's looked this good and worked this well.

The ergonomic success story does not extend to packaging. Our Tahoe LT was set up in the worst possible combination: two, three, three. In this configuration, the huge second row bench tilts forward and up for access, and then comes crashing back down like a big ass guillotine. Even if your spare children move their feet quickly enough to avoid depeditation, the third row is a sick joke, with no foot well, leg room or visibility. The third row seats are easily removed and replaced – provided Mom has a Bow Flex body – but then what? Alternatively, you could go two, two, two; but then you can't tote enough grub to feed the troops more than a light lunch – never mind re-clothe them the following day. There's no excuse for a vehicle this big and thirsty to be this stingy on space.

Third row legroom, not.  Three, three, three is three times worse.Yes there is that. If you're an SUV driver who tows a boat and/or plugs mud, who cares about fuel consumption? But if you're looking at the so-not-a-butch-minivan-it-literally-hurts Tahoe as some kind of "lifestyle choice," I'm here to tell you that the EPA figures are bad (16 / 22mpg), the reality worse (11 mpg). Even though the Tahoe LT's 5.8-liter V8 shuts down four-cylinders in cruise mode, there's just too much SUV to lug around for its powerplant to stop gargling gas. If you like a lick of speed, the Tahoe's gonna tear a big old hole in your wallet– and even if you don't.

Oh well. At least the Tahoe drives well. The buckboard ride and handling that used to make Mom feel like one of the cowboys has been sucked out every nook and cranny. Chevy started by stiffening the big rig's frame, turning a wibbly wobbly trucky sort of vehicle into something stable enough to draw attention to its other dynamic deficiencies. So they got rid of them too. They replaced the Tahoe's laughable recirculating ball steering system with a rack and pinion helm that's genuinely accurate, if equally numb. They made the brakes less squidgy, if only marginally more effective. They ditched the torture– I mean torsion bar suspension for coil springs and a rear multi-link axle, creating a more comfortable, if similarly floaty-drift ride.

In short, the Tahoe looks, rides, handles, steers, stops and feels like a luxury car. So, if that sort of thing appeals, how about a luxury car? Or a minivan? You know: something with better mileage and a bit more space. Yes, I thought so. Despite a huge evolutionary leap, the Tahoe still doesn't have what it takes to lure gas-conscious Americans back into their trucks. Max is back in his bedroom with his credit card. And it's still hot.

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http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2006/02/chevrolet-tahoe-lt/feed/ 1 The SUV is dead. Long live the sedan on stilts! Yes folks, Chevrolet has transformed their Tahoe from a cheap and cheerful workhorse for environmentally insensitive soccer Moms, to a deluxe cruiser for environmentally insensitive soccer Moms. The SUV is dead. Long live the sedan on stilts! Yes folks, Chevrolet has transformed their Tahoe from a cheap and cheerful workhorse for environmentally insensitive soccer Moms, to a deluxe cruiser for environmentally insensitive soccer Moms. The change is so well executed, so completely earnest in both scope and scale, you almost feel sorry for the beast. Like the Wild Things watching Max sailing back to his bedroom (already regretting his rumpus at the pumpus), the new Tahoe cries out to departing SUV buyers "Come back! We love you so!" What say you, America? The new Tahoe is certainly a more alluring monster than the big bland boring box it replaces. Bob Lutz-- the GM executive who once dismissed a passel of motor show concept cars as "angry appliances"-- will be delighted with what Chevy's American Revolution has wrought: a happy appliance. The Tahoe's sheetmetal displays all the subdued modernism, implied practicality and aesthetic solidity of a Sub-Zero refrigerator, right down to the sleek door handles-- I mean "pulls". The Tahoe's hood is as perfectly creased as an Armani suit. The SUV's bowed nose and tail, the gently curving C-pillar, the side mirrors' blacked-out bottoms - every detail reflects an entirely successful attempt to give the Tahoe's exterior a contemporary kitchen's supercool coherence. The Truth About Cars no
Mercedes E350 4Matic Review http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2006/02/mercedes-e350-4matic/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2006/02/mercedes-e350-4matic/#comments Thu, 02 Feb 2006 00:00:00 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=211 Come join the conservative party!  Um, make that 'get together'.Getting old is not for sissies. Aside from a general degradation in motor skills, sensory perception, memory and earnings, the 401K set is prone to health complaints that are both fantastically expensive and endlessly annoying. Fortunately, there are compensations: grandchildren (kids free from a no-deposit, no-return policy) and the Mercedes Benz E350 4Matic. I'm not saying the E350 was specifically designed to salve the fading sensibilities of the blue rinse brigade, but any car this numb, beige and expensive is clearly aimed at Baby Boomers who are wealthy as Hell and aren't going to take it anymore. Unless you ask nicely.

The E350 is a polite request on wheels. While Mercedes' product developers have been busy performing bizarre genetic experiments in pursuit of The Next Big Thing-- carbon fiber supercars, mutant crossovers, four-door chop tops, re-imagined Nazi staff cars-- their mid-sized model remains reassuringly bland-- I mean, conservative. On the downside, the E still suffers from the swoopy dorkiness of its oval headlights, which make the grill look small, which denies the E350 get-out-my-way gravitas. And it continues to share far too many family traits with the lower-priced C-Class to please the legions of status conscious Mercedes buyers.

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Come join the conservative party!  Um, make that 'get together'.Getting old is not for sissies. Aside from a general degradation in motor skills, sensory perception, memory and earnings, the 401K set is prone to health complaints that are both fantastically expensive and endlessly annoying. Fortunately, there are compensations: grandchildren (kids free from a no-deposit, no-return policy) and the Mercedes Benz E350 4Matic. I'm not saying the E350 was specifically designed to salve the fading sensibilities of the blue rinse brigade, but any car this numb, beige and expensive is clearly aimed at Baby Boomers who are wealthy as Hell and aren't going to take it anymore. Unless you ask nicely.

The E350 is a polite request on wheels. While Mercedes' product developers have been busy performing bizarre genetic experiments in pursuit of The Next Big Thing– carbon fiber supercars, mutant crossovers, four-door chop tops, re-imagined Nazi staff cars– their mid-sized model remains reassuringly bland– I mean, conservative. On the downside, the E still suffers from the swoopy dorkiness of its oval headlights, which make the grill look small, which denies the E350 get-out-my-way gravitas. And it continues to share far too many family traits with the lower-priced C-Class to please the legions of status conscious Mercedes buyers.

Beige.Inside the E350's cabin, it's… beige. Although the soft touch plastics dominating the cabin blend well with the black controls, burled wood and [slightly less dark] leather, it gives the Merc's cockpit a nursing home's demeanor. No surprise, then, that E350 residents aren't troubled by any of that mouse-driven menu-mad multi-media mishegos; they enjoy sensible controls sensibly located requiring nothing more than common sense and reasonable eyesight. The rear seats are only more than merely adequate for two– count 'em two– passengers, and the front headrests and sloping C-pillar restrict sightlines, making the Ecar seem unacceptably small and confined.

The E350's V6 engine is, in contrast, large and expansive (expensive?). After ten years spent thumbing through Mercedes' in-house parts catalogue, their E engine engineers have finally given the old powerplant a major makeover. They've added displacement, compression, valves, dual overhead cams, variable cam phasing and an industrial-strength KRUPS espresso maker. Well it sure feels that way. Whereas the old E always arrived a few minutes late and a bit groggy to the game known as forward thrust, the new E350 is fully caffeinated and good to go. With 268 horses foraging underhood, and 258 ft-lbs. of torque keeping them saddled for action, enthusiasts would be hard-pressed to find a smoother-spining mill.

Pedestrians beware!  Road feel disappears through the turns. Hard-pressed indeed. What's with Mercedes and their rigor mortis go-pedals? Did some overly literal German executive overhear an American say "step on it" and figure we prefer to stand on the gas pedal rather than tickle it with our toes? The 4Matic's five-speed gearbox does an excellent job making up for the E350's Novocained throttle, slurring changes like Greg Allman during his Elijah Blue period. But you can still find yourself kicking down when you're trying to stretch out. Bottom line: torquefest or no, if you don't cane the E350 4Matic at slow speeds, it's takes a while to get to the higher ones.

Once you're there, don't chuck the E350 into a corner. It's not about the chassis; the E350's suspension delivers an ideal blend of comfort and control, complete with progressive breakaway and safe as houses understeer at the limit (should you be daft enough to explore the performance envelope of a car that's more fundamentally sedate than solo shuffleboard). It's about the steering. Rotate the E350's rotund helm going into a bend and it's as if someone's unplugged the road feel generator. There's no way to judge your wheels' position in the turn. In fact, it's all too easy to overcompensate; continuing to turn long after the turn has been turned. It's not an ideal set-up for inattentive drivers.

Bigger, faster, smoother. (Upmarket duct tape: no charge.)Did I say "inattentive"? Maybe I should have said "old". Luxury motoring might mean "mindless ease" to the people whose money ultimately defines the term, but any car that encourages sloppy driving amongst our elderly population is more than slightly worrying. And here's another problem: older buyers may recall the days when Mercedes were built like brick shit-houses. This $50k sedan is most decidedly not. From a glove box and trunk lid that close with all the solidity of a Pampers wipes box, to the upmarket duct tape flapping around in the engine bay, the E350 fails to sweat the small stuff. Although Audi lacks Mercedes' cachet, if Ingolstadt continues to trounce Stuttgart in perceived build quality, that could change…

Meanwhile, financially secure luxury-seeking car buyers without sporting aspirations will find the E350 4Matic a wonderfully comfortable, reasonably rapid carcoon for motoring from empty nest to college campus, regardless of the weather up there at Hah-vaad (please God). If they want more zing out of life, well, there's always Viagra. And the E55 AMG.

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http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2006/02/mercedes-e350-4matic/feed/ 0 Getting old is not for sissies. Aside from a general degradation in motor skills, sensory perception, memory and earnings, the 401K set is prone to health complaints that are both fantastically expensive and endlessly annoying. Fortunately, Getting old is not for sissies. Aside from a general degradation in motor skills, sensory perception, memory and earnings, the 401K set is prone to health complaints that are both fantastically expensive and endlessly annoying. Fortunately, there are compensations: grandchildren (kids free from a no-deposit, no-return policy) and the Mercedes Benz E350 4Matic. I'm not saying the E350 was specifically designed to salve the fading sensibilities of the blue rinse brigade, but any car this numb, beige and expensive is clearly aimed at Baby Boomers who are wealthy as Hell and aren't going to take it anymore. Unless you ask nicely.The E350 is a polite request on wheels. While Mercedes' product developers have been busy performing bizarre genetic experiments in pursuit of The Next Big Thing-- carbon fiber supercars, mutant crossovers, four-door chop tops, re-imagined Nazi staff cars-- their mid-sized model remains reassuringly bland-- I mean, conservative. On the downside, the E still suffers from the swoopy dorkiness of its oval headlights, which make the grill look small, which denies the E350 get-out-my-way gravitas. And it continues to share far too many family traits with the lower-priced C-Class to please the legions of status conscious Mercedes buyers. The Truth About Cars no
BMW M5 Review http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2006/01/bmw-m5-2/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2006/01/bmw-m5-2/#comments Mon, 23 Jan 2006 00:00:00 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=980 Open the door and the new M5 tells it like it is: BLING, BLING!When I saw a mustard-colored Bentley GT rocketing towards my all time favorite highway exit, I knew lunch was served. Paddling from seventh to third and pressing go, I closed the gap between the M5's voracious prow and Bentley Boy's behind before the adrenalin could hit my bloodstream. As we entered the ramp, the Bimmer's heads-up display assured me I had enough rpm-age to blow-off anything that wasn't built out of carbon fiber and/or jet-powered. When the off-ramp widened for a few yards, I dove inside and dusted Bentley Boy into a fine powder. Despite my obvious, riotous supremacy, nothing changed. BMW's uber-sedan was not my friend.

Supercar scalping in a family four-door is a terrific way to kill an afternoon, but the original M5 earned its place in automotive Valhalla as the consumate all-rounder: a car that can schlep, thrash, coddle, cruise, potter and impress with equal aplomb. Make no mistake: while the M5's accelerative aggression and Nürburgring-fettled handling got the headlines, the uber-Bimmer's core appeal lay within its relatively humble origins, daily practicality and circumspect sheet metal. No other car-- at any price-- offered such a potent blend of ability and humility.

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Open the door and the new M5 tells it like it is: BLING, BLING!When I saw a mustard-colored Bentley GT rocketing towards my all time favorite highway exit, I knew lunch was served. Paddling from seventh to third and pressing go, I closed the gap between the M5's voracious prow and Bentley Boy's behind before the adrenalin could hit my bloodstream. As we entered the ramp, the Bimmer's heads-up display assured me I had enough rpm-age to blow-off anything that wasn't built out of carbon fiber and/or jet-powered. When the off-ramp widened for a few yards, I dove inside and dusted Bentley Boy into a fine powder. Despite my obvious, riotous supremacy, nothing changed. BMW's uber-sedan was not my friend.

Supercar scalping in a family four-door is a terrific way to kill an afternoon, but the original M5 earned its place in automotive Valhalla as the consumate all-rounder: a car that can schlep, thrash, coddle, cruise, potter and impress with equal aplomb. Make no mistake: while the M5's accelerative aggression and Nürburgring-fettled handling got the headlines, the uber-Bimmer's core appeal lay within its relatively humble origins, daily practicality and circumspect sheet metal. No other car– at any price– offered such a potent blend of ability and humility.

Stealth wealth?  Not with those wheels...Well, you can forget the stealth part of the proceedings. The "flame surfaced" donor car is so fundamentally bling that the old M5's appeal– a set of nudge nudge, wink wink performance cues grafted onto an accountant's daily driver– has been lost. The prominent lips above the M5's quad pipes and the in-yer-face indented 10-spoke wheels are hopelessly, needlessly crass. It's the John Gotti of everyday supercars: dapper, powerful and as subtle as a bullet to your brain. Sporting drivers who understood the legal advantages of owning a car that performs like a Ferrari without looking like a Ferrari will not be well pleased.

You can also disregard the cruising part of the program. That pain has a name: SMG (Sequential Manual Gearbox). Why BMW would give one of the world's fastest sedans the world's worst gearbox (a mistake first inflicted on the otherwise sublime Eurospec E36 M3) is a question almost as difficult as finding a suitable way to use the damn thing. Drivers must choose their preferred shifting mechanism (paddles, center stick or auto), horsepower configuration (400 or 500hp), shift mode (eleven choices), suspension adjustment (three levels) and traction control intervention (three levels). The total number of permutations isn't as annoying as the M5's inability to deliver rapidfire quickshifts or, more to the point, mindless Mercitude.

Great car, wrong engine, wrong gearbox. To achieve a [relatively] smooth shift in the new M5, you have to dial-in the SMG's most aggressive setting and paddle the beJesus out of its V10 engine– which eliminates the possibility of effortless low-speed cruising. At low revs in autobox mode, the torque-challenged engine and dim-witted gearbox make for slow, annoying advancement. Floor it and the engine just up and dies– until the computer can blip the throttle on your behalf. And then the M5 takes-off like a scalded cat shot from a big bore Winchester– a turn of events that isn't exactly conducive to around town ambling. Anyway, what's the point? Whereas the previous M5's V8 burble was a pistonhead's siren song, the V10's low-speed clatter has all the sonic allure of a diesel delivery van.

Thankfully, the M5 isn't appointed like a commercial vehicle. The cabin materials are faultless and faultlessly assembled: a sumptuous, tasteful gathering of suede, leather, brushed aluminum and wood. The perfectly-proportioned accommodations and generous trunk space remind you why the 5-Series is such a hit with money both old and new. Unfortunately, the M5 also suffers from the same technological overkill bedeviling a "normal" 5-Series: iDrive [you nuts], turn indicators you can't cancel with a stick and lots of little buttons that do God knows what. More worryingly, the key kept falling out of the slot during hard cornering.

Understeer uber alles; but mach shnell over long sweepers.And there's your upside. The new M5 handles a lot better than the old car, and not a lot worse than a race car. Although you can still feel the M5's mighty mass shifting around you through a turn, the new car's rack and pinion steering (sans BMW's lamentable Active Steering) is ideally weighted for fully committed hooliganism. The M5's 19's hold an apex-hunters' chosen line like grim death, at speeds that defy the G-force gods. It's a corner carver par excellence.

In fact, the new BMW M5 only makes sense in two situations: driving like a lunatic around long sweeping bends and driving like a lunatic from 100mph to V-Max. In both cases, rapid progress demands that you stay in 500hp mode at the top end of low gears, guzzling gas like a dragstrip refugee. Sure it's exciting. But then what? In the old M5, you could have just as much fun doing other stuff. In this car, you can't.

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http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2006/01/bmw-m5-2/feed/ 6 When I saw a mustard-colored Bentley GT rocketing towards my all time favorite highway exit, I knew lunch was served. Paddling from seventh to third and pressing go, I closed the gap between the M5's voracious prow and Bentley Boy's behind bef... When I saw a mustard-colored Bentley GT rocketing towards my all time favorite highway exit, I knew lunch was served. Paddling from seventh to third and pressing go, I closed the gap between the M5's voracious prow and Bentley Boy's behind before the adrenalin could hit my bloodstream. As we entered the ramp, the Bimmer's heads-up display assured me I had enough rpm-age to blow-off anything that wasn't built out of carbon fiber and/or jet-powered. When the off-ramp widened for a few yards, I dove inside and dusted Bentley Boy into a fine powder. Despite my obvious, riotous supremacy, nothing changed. BMW's uber-sedan was not my friend. Supercar scalping in a family four-door is a terrific way to kill an afternoon, but the original M5 earned its place in automotive Valhalla as the consumate all-rounder: a car that can schlep, thrash, coddle, cruise, potter and impress with equal aplomb. Make no mistake: while the M5's accelerative aggression and Nürburgring-fettled handling got the headlines, the uber-Bimmer's core appeal lay within its relatively humble origins, daily practicality and circumspect sheet metal. No other car-- at any price-- offered such a potent blend of ability and humility. The Truth About Cars no
BMW 325iX Sports Wagon Review http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2006/01/bmw-325ix-sports-wagon/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2006/01/bmw-325ix-sports-wagon/#comments Wed, 18 Jan 2006 00:00:00 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=823 The MC Escher of station wagons. Call me an oxymoron, but I don't get the whole sports wagon thing. Fast wagon, sure. Hey kids! Watch Daddy wipe the smile off that smug bastard in the baby car. But "sports wagon" clearly implies high-speed cornering. Centrifugal force has this nasty habit of upending juice boxes, sending toys into black holes and making protective mothers scream with homicidal fury. I'd like to say BMW's 325xI Sports Wagon (SW) is an ideal high performance load lugger for lifestylers who don't share my domestic concerns, but I can't because it isn't.

The 325xI Sports Wagon's basic proportions look promising enough for wagon-loving corner carvers-- should enough of them exist to establish a consensus. Although it's a fair distance between the front and rear wheels, the SW's overhangs could double as window ledges, and the car itself is athletically compact. Or not. It's hard to tell. Thanks to BMW's kooky "flame-surfacing", their 3 Series five-door's perceived size depends entirely on the viewing distance, the angle chosen and the amount of time spent staring at the thing. Taken as a whole, the flat-nosed SW says "road rocket" like a pepperoni pizza says "dessert."

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The MC Escher of station wagons. Call me an oxymoron, but I don't get the whole sports wagon thing. Fast wagon, sure. Hey kids! Watch Daddy wipe the smile off that smug bastard in the baby car. But "sports wagon" clearly implies high-speed cornering. Centrifugal force has this nasty habit of upending juice boxes, sending toys into black holes and making protective mothers scream with homicidal fury. I'd like to say BMW's 325xI Sports Wagon (SW) is an ideal high performance load lugger for lifestylers who don't share my domestic concerns, but I can't because it isn't.

The 325xI Sports Wagon's basic proportions look promising enough for wagon-loving corner carvers– should enough of them exist to establish a consensus. Although it's a fair distance between the front and rear wheels, the SW's overhangs could double as window ledges, and the car itself is athletically compact. Or not. It's hard to tell. Thanks to BMW's kooky "flame-surfacing", their 3 Series five-door's perceived size depends entirely on the viewing distance, the angle chosen and the amount of time spent staring at the thing. Taken as a whole, the flat-nosed SW says "road rocket" like a pepperoni pizza says "dessert."

Looks good in the gloaming. Looks better in the dark.Any doubts about the SW's actual dimensions disappear when you sit in the second row. To compensate for the rakish roof, the rear chairs are angled backwards. Even so, there's just enough head and leg room to accommodate normal-sized adults, but not enough to relieve the overall feeling that Mom's station wagon got shrunk in the wash. The SW's helmspot doesn't threaten to violate your human rights, but you still might want a word with the international taste police. Our test car served-up a queasy farrago of red leather, black plastic, polished chrome and burled wood– with a bit of flame-surfaced rubber running across the dash for good measure. (More aesthetically restrained combinations are available, and recommended.)

In fact, the 325xI Sports Wagon looks like it was designed at night. I mean that in a good way. Darkness transforms the SW from overworked, overwrought domestic appliance to slinky, mysterious uber-babe. Mr. Bangle's odd swage lines shed their random aggression. Pools of blue light cascade from the door handles. The cabin's jarring angularity softens in BMW's trademark interior glow. Suddenly, you're back in an Old School Bimmer, where minimalism and functionality impart a profound sense of automotive mastery. If only the good vibes weren't so vampiric…

Ponderous steering, touchy brakes, dead go-pedal. Is that an upside-down L? And so we come to the nub of the matter: driving. By all accounts, the SW should be a terrific steer. The 325i sedan is a world-class masochist: it begs for a proper thrashing and generously rewards any Dom driver who obliges. But the SW comes laden with more than just expectations. Thirty-five large buys you 430 pounds of four-wheel-drivery, whether you like it or not. Mountain men and gully girls will be well pleased with the extra traction, but anyone else should give this some serious thought…

There's no question BMW's answer to Audi's quattrology is a clever piece of kit– Munich's system taps into the Dynamic Stability Control computer to transfer power from front to back (via a multi-disc clutch) and/or side to side (via electronic braking) as and when a wheel or set of wheels loses grip. It's equally obvious that Bimmer's anti-slip gubbins is a genuine passion killer. The first indication that all is not ultimate driving comes through the wheel. The SW's steering is positively ponderous. It's the heaviest helm I've felt since supercars were sweat boxes. While there's still plenty of road feel filtering through the controls, man, do you have to work for it.

Not slow, needs snow. The SW's throttle is another mechanical throwback to the bad old days. More specifically, the wagon's DOA go-pedal harkens back to the W124 Mercedes E-Class. Your right foot can tap along to the killer tunes blasting from the SW's Premium Sound System ($1200) without the slightest effect on forward progress. Thankfully, the 325iX Sports Wagon holsters BMW's 3.0-liter, sweet-spinning six, complete with Valvetronic and Double-Vanos power extraction technology. So when you finally manage to roust the SW's powerplant from its default torpor, she'll get-up and go with admirable alacrity. In other words, it ain't slow.

The handling ain't half bad neither. Although the suspension crash bang wallops over serious potholes, the little load lugger hangs on through the bends with brand-faithful poise and safe-as-houses understeer. If the SW's front seats were a bit more supportive, and Bimmer's chassismeisters had dialed-out just a bit more body lean, the SW might even have lived-up to its marketing promise. As it is, the 325xI Sports Wagon is a pricey hatchback for well-heeled schleppers happy to sacrifice driving pleasure for all-weather security. Like they say: if you don't get it, it's not for you.

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http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2006/01/bmw-325ix-sports-wagon/feed/ 1 Call me an oxymoron, but I don't get the whole sports wagon thing. Fast wagon, sure. Hey kids! Watch Daddy wipe the smile off that smug bastard in the baby car. But "sports wagon" clearly implies high-speed cornering. Call me an oxymoron, but I don't get the whole sports wagon thing. Fast wagon, sure. Hey kids! Watch Daddy wipe the smile off that smug bastard in the baby car. But "sports wagon" clearly implies high-speed cornering. Centrifugal force has this nasty habit of upending juice boxes, sending toys into black holes and making protective mothers scream with homicidal fury. I'd like to say BMW's 325xI Sports Wagon (SW) is an ideal high performance load lugger for lifestylers who don't share my domestic concerns, but I can't because it isn't. The 325xI Sports Wagon's basic proportions look promising enough for wagon-loving corner carvers-- should enough of them exist to establish a consensus. Although it's a fair distance between the front and rear wheels, the SW's overhangs could double as window ledges, and the car itself is athletically compact. Or not. It's hard to tell. Thanks to BMW's kooky "flame-surfacing", their 3 Series five-door's perceived size depends entirely on the viewing distance, the angle chosen and the amount of time spent staring at the thing. Taken as a whole, the flat-nosed SW says "road rocket" like a pepperoni pizza says "dessert." The Truth About Cars no
Porsche Cayman S Review http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2006/01/porsche-cayman-s/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2006/01/porsche-cayman-s/#comments Fri, 13 Jan 2006 00:00:00 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=688 Sweet, but not quite an obscure object of irresistable desire.If Porsche's new Boxster hardtop is a misspelled caiman, its 911 Carrera is a crocodile. While the two species share a common ancestor, put them in the same territory and one of them will end-up lunch. Maybe that's why Porsche rigged the fight; when you make a living selling Carreras, you don't want Caymans cannibalizing their cousins. Well guess what? Evolution will not, CAN not be denied. One blast around the block in a Cayman S and its future alpha status is inescapable. But let's drop this discussion of internecine conflict for a moment and consider the Cayman on its own merits…

Physically, it's no stunner. Yes, the Cayman's muscular fastback and sculpted haunches are exquisite: a deeply alluring shape that finally eliminates the Boxster's insipid push-me, pull-you design. But the Cayman's bootylicious butt draws new attention to the exceedingly bland Porsche family nose. Embedded fog lights may separate the model from its stablemates, but they do nothing to lift the miasma of mediocrity that has bedeviled the Boxster's face since birth. The Cayman's side air intakes are another distraction, lacking in both shape and scale. The German/Finnish roadster is also more color-sensitive than Martha Stewart; in anything other than black, the Cayman looks like a small and frivolous sports car souffle. Which it bloody well isn't.

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Sweet, but not quite an obscure object of irresistable desire.If Porsche's new Boxster hardtop is a misspelled caiman, its 911 Carrera is a crocodile. While the two species share a common ancestor, put them in the same territory and one of them will end-up lunch. Maybe that's why Porsche rigged the fight; when you make a living selling Carreras, you don't want Caymans cannibalizing their cousins. Well guess what? Evolution will not, CAN not be denied. One blast around the block in a Cayman S and its future alpha status is inescapable. But let's drop this discussion of internecine conflict for a moment and consider the Cayman on its own merits…

Physically, it's no stunner. Yes, the Cayman's muscular fastback and sculpted haunches are exquisite: a deeply alluring shape that finally eliminates the Boxster's insipid push-me, pull-you design. But the Cayman's bootylicious butt draws new attention to the exceedingly bland Porsche family nose. Embedded fog lights may separate the model from its stablemates, but they do nothing to lift the miasma of mediocrity that has bedeviled the Boxster's face since birth. The Cayman's side air intakes are another distraction, lacking in both shape and scale. The German/Finnish roadster is also more color-sensitive than Martha Stewart; in anything other than black, the Cayman looks like a small and frivolous sports car souffle. Which it bloody well isn't.

Bland family nose now apparent. Embedded fogs no help.It's funny how a roof adds gravitas to an interior. For one thing, the Boxster's Chicklet-sized buttons don't seem quite so tiny. For another, the containment instills a profound (if subconscious) feeling of safety, increasing the overall sense purpose. Although there's nothing particularly wrong with the Boxster's switchgear or its cabin's fit and finish, Porsche's decision not to alter anything in their 'not a Boxster hardtop' is indefensible. Where's the Cayman-specific shift knob, steering wheel or pedals? Porsche buyers' brains are wired for that kind of action.

And for driving fast. If you want to boldly go where police chase cameras yearn to record, the Cayman's an ideal whip. It's the laser-sighted Glock of sports cars: a perfectly balanced weapon offering infinite accuracy and virtually limitless stopping power. The ammunition provided is controversial– the 295hp 3.4-liter six nestling in the Cayman S' belly could just as easily be the Carrera S' 350hp 3.8-liter mill– but there's no doubt that Porsche's two-plus-nothing tin top has enough shove to hunt with the big dogs, and enough poise to leave them panting by the side of the road. Lest we forget, the Boxster S spanked the Enzo through Road and Track's slalom course. The Cayman S is both stiffer AND faster than a Boxster.

Silver on silver good, but not as good as black on blacktop. Out in the real world, the Cayman S drives with surefooted chuckability. At slow speeds, the car's fingertip steering, flyweight clutch and slow (though progressive) throttle fools you into thinking it's a bit dim-witted. As you pile on the revs, the Cayman's controls suddenly synergize: the steering gains heft, the six-speed snicks home like a spring-loaded knife and the engine switches into lunge mode. To get the best of the whipper-snapper's powerplant, you have to keep the revs above 4000rpm– which is a bit like saying you have to drink a glass of '59 Chateau LaTour to enjoy it. The noise blatting from the cojoined pipes is cargasmic: raw, animal, aggressive.

The first time you chuck the latter day lil' bastard into a corner its superiority to big brother 911 is immediately apparent. The Cayman's mid-engine layout and light weight make it far more precise going into a turn, more stable through the apex and more benign coming out (C4 and Turbo excepted). Thanks to Porsche's decision to put the 911 into the horsepower protection program, the Cayman can't match the Carrera's post-corner blastitude. But the Cayman's inherent balance lets you carry more speed into the corner. Ultimately, all the [bigger-engined] Carrera variants are faster than a Cayman S. Even so, they can't touch the Cayman S– or the Boxster S– for pedal-to-the-metal fun. What's more, with PSM (Porsche Stability Management) in Sport, Frau Nanny allows a whiff of drift. Wikkid.

The Cayman's Boxster twin: a missed branding opportunity. Hey kid. Ever dance with the redline in the pale moonlight? Cayman drivers will. And it won't be enough. The truth is, the Cayman S lacks the low end grunt, the mad cackle motorvation it needs to complete its performance matrix and achieve the greatness it deserves. If Porsche put a bunch more whoa Nellie underfoot, the Cayman S would wipe the floor with all but the mightiest 911. In fact, the Cayman S is nothing less than a detuned supercar. What's the point of that? Protecting Carrera sales? Not to coin a phrase, that's a croc. This is the German sports car company that constantly harps-on about the importance of evolution. Ironically enough, Porsche will eventually realize you can't keep a good reptile down. The Cayman will force the 911 to adapt or die and, in the process, bite the hand that feeds.

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http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2006/01/porsche-cayman-s/feed/ 3 If Porsche's new Boxster hardtop is a misspelled caiman, its 911 Carrera is a crocodile. While the two species share a common ancestor, put them in the same territory and one of them will end-up lunch. If Porsche's new Boxster hardtop is a misspelled caiman, its 911 Carrera is a crocodile. While the two species share a common ancestor, put them in the same territory and one of them will end-up lunch. Maybe that's why Porsche rigged the fight; when you make a living selling Carreras, you don't want Caymans cannibalizing their cousins. Well guess what? Evolution will not, CAN not be denied. One blast around the block in a Cayman S and its future alpha status is inescapable. But let's drop this discussion of internecine conflict for a moment and consider the Cayman on its own merits…Physically, it's no stunner. Yes, the Cayman's muscular fastback and sculpted haunches are exquisite: a deeply alluring shape that finally eliminates the Boxster's insipid push-me, pull-you design. But the Cayman's bootylicious butt draws new attention to the exceedingly bland Porsche family nose. Embedded fog lights may separate the model from its stablemates, but they do nothing to lift the miasma of mediocrity that has bedeviled the Boxster's face since birth. The Cayman's side air intakes are another distraction, lacking in both shape and scale. The German/Finnish roadster is also more color-sensitive than Martha Stewart; in anything other than black, the Cayman looks like a small and frivolous sports car souffle. Which it bloody well isn't. The Truth About Cars no
Lexus IS 350 Review http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2005/12/lexus-is-350/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2005/12/lexus-is-350/#comments Mon, 19 Dec 2005 00:00:00 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=513 A hedge against ego inflation?Jinking through traffic somewhere above the ton, it quickly became apparent that the Lexus IS 350 wasn't the ideal car for the job. The erstwhile sports sedan bumped and jiggled over surface imperfections like a tied-down tunermobile. It rolled through directional transitions like a luxobarge, helming with unacceptable imprecision and unwelcome lean. While the powerplant provided more than enough shove for the work at hand, the IS 350's dynamics drew a definitive line between "doable" and "enjoyable." If further proof were needed that I was in the wrong car at the wrong speed, the BMW M3 keeping pace provided it.

After a few polite lead exchanges, the M3 dropped the hammer and disappeared. I rejected the idea of visiting V-Max. The IS 350's 3.5-liter V6 holsters a surprising percentage of the mighty M3's oomph (at a fraction of the price), but it's no Bimmer beater. More specifically, maxxing-out a 3-Series anything is like gently drifting through the tunnel of love, compared to the baby Lexus' Autobahn of Doom stunt show. What upmarket motorist needs THAT kind of excitement? Indeed, why would anyone suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous ride and handling when any number of similarly priced cars offer a more pleasurable driving experience?

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A hedge against ego inflation?Jinking through traffic somewhere above the ton, it quickly became apparent that the Lexus IS 350 wasn't the ideal car for the job. The erstwhile sports sedan bumped and jiggled over surface imperfections like a tied-down tunermobile. It rolled through directional transitions like a luxobarge, helming with unacceptable imprecision and unwelcome lean. While the powerplant provided more than enough shove for the work at hand, the IS 350's dynamics drew a definitive line between "doable" and "enjoyable." If further proof were needed that I was in the wrong car at the wrong speed, the BMW M3 keeping pace provided it.

After a few polite lead exchanges, the M3 dropped the hammer and disappeared. I rejected the idea of visiting V-Max. The IS 350's 3.5-liter V6 holsters a surprising percentage of the mighty M3's oomph (at a fraction of the price), but it's no Bimmer beater. More specifically, maxxing-out a 3-Series anything is like gently drifting through the tunnel of love, compared to the baby Lexus' Autobahn of Doom stunt show. What upmarket motorist needs THAT kind of excitement? Indeed, why would anyone suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous ride and handling when any number of similarly priced cars offer a more pleasurable driving experience?

A pillar of the establishment?It's all about the big O: ostentation. The IS 350 may be as manic as a radio controlled Kyosho Inferno, but the Lexus badge on its nose and tail tells the world that its driver is a man of wealth and taste. Thanks to a few meticulously-engineered models and exceptional dealer service, US public opinion has elevated Lexus to level-pegging with BMW, Mercedes, Audi, et al. Meanwhile, back where the rubber meets the road, Lexus has lost the plot. Although the company continues to manufacturer some superlative wafty coddlers, the IS 350 is yet another Lexus displaying a stunning lack of brand consistency. It's no more a luxury car than a Mustang GT.

Thankfully for sales, looks can be deceiving. The IS 350's combination of sharply-tailored creases and sensual curves create a perfectly judged blend of accelerative intent and stately elegance; a recipe that's bound to make upmarket buyers feel good about driving a small car. The bland butt is a tad too Toyota, but the rest of the IS 350's sheetmetal projects all the restrained modernity that Chris Bangle failed to realize for BMW. Overall, Lexus' mid-market model proves that their new house style– "L-Finesse"– is more than a pissed-off Pokemon in a Brioni suit. It's a pissed-off Pokemon in a Brioni suit with a touch of Maserati thrown in.

Haptic Hell on wheels. The IS 350's cabin certainly isn't the swish inner sanctum you'd expect at this price point. Although you can't fault the pliability of the soft-touch plastics or the leather's Velveetatude, close your eyes, press a button and you'll swear you're sheltering inside a top-spec Avalon. The sooner Lexus replicates Audi's haptic hit squad, the better. And while they're at it, the Japanese designers should L-finesse some of that lustrous wood onto the main fascia; the dark grey plastic surrounding the IS 350's instruments and gauges is about as classy as a quilted toilet roll holder. Still, you get some aluminum paddle shift wings and a dead cool "engine start" button…

That hooks you up to one of the most mental motors made. It sure doesn't sound like much– a Pontiac Grand Am's pushrod powerplant whines to mind– but the Lexus' V6 is ready to go anytime, every time, all the God damn time. With 306 horses underfoot, and a six-speed automatic gearbox that grabs the next gear like a two-year-old coveting her sister's Nintendo DS, going fast is simply a matter of forgetting to go slow. Drop a couple of cogs via the paddles, plant your right foot, and the IS 350 will punch through the ether at a ferocious clip, belied by a dearth of engine vibration. Not to put too fine a point on it, this dog will hunt.

Where's MY billiard table tarmac?But it won't dance. The IS 350 is only slightly less hard-riding than a Skyline GT-R– with none of the corresponding car control. Woe betides any hard-charging enthusiast who finds an expansion joint or a big old bump in a tight corner; the little Lexus will hop, skip and jump like a colt struggling to get out of a horsebox. Switch off the electronic Nanny, and it's woe Nellie!– oversteer oblivion courtesy of the sharpest yet least progressive brakes money can buy. By the same token, I pity the poor bastard who bought an IS 350 thinking he could cruise through an urban landscape without an overly-intimate exploration of the concrete topography.

In short, the IS 350 is a bad BMW, rather than a great Lexus. Shame. As I watched the M3 evaporate that afternoon, I wished I was driving an LS, SC or RX. I could have cranked-up the tunes, kicked back and… relaxed.

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http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2005/12/lexus-is-350/feed/ 18 Jinking through traffic somewhere above the ton, it quickly became apparent that the Lexus IS 350 wasn't the ideal car for the job. The erstwhile sports sedan bumped and jiggled over surface imperfections like a tied-down tunermobile. Jinking through traffic somewhere above the ton, it quickly became apparent that the Lexus IS 350 wasn't the ideal car for the job. The erstwhile sports sedan bumped and jiggled over surface imperfections like a tied-down tunermobile. It rolled through directional transitions like a luxobarge, helming with unacceptable imprecision and unwelcome lean. While the powerplant provided more than enough shove for the work at hand, the IS 350's dynamics drew a definitive line between "doable" and "enjoyable." If further proof were needed that I was in the wrong car at the wrong speed, the BMW M3 keeping pace provided it. After a few polite lead exchanges, the M3 dropped the hammer and disappeared. I rejected the idea of visiting V-Max. The IS 350's 3.5-liter V6 holsters a surprising percentage of the mighty M3's oomph (at a fraction of the price), but it's no Bimmer beater. More specifically, maxxing-out a 3-Series anything is like gently drifting through the tunnel of love, compared to the baby Lexus' Autobahn of Doom stunt show. What upmarket motorist needs THAT kind of excitement? Indeed, why would anyone suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous ride and handling when any number of similarly priced cars offer a more pleasurable driving experience? The Truth About Cars no
Ford Fusion SEL Review http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2005/12/ford-fusion-sel/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2005/12/ford-fusion-sel/#comments Thu, 01 Dec 2005 00:00:00 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=932 Cadillac called.  They want their creases back.  BIC on line 2.What's the difference between a rental car and a mass market motor? Not a lot. But this much is true: the new Fusion's headlight switch wouldn't seem out of place on an EASY-BAKE oven. Actually, Ford should be so lucky; Kenner has sold over 16 million cookers since the feminist's least favorite toy debuted in 1963. The probability that the Fusion will deliver similar amounts of EASY-PROFIT depends entirely on the Y factor. Why would anyone buy an automobile that's had any hint of personality professionally removed by a crack squad of cost-conscious engineers? Purchase price? Reliability? You tell me and then we'll both know.

If customers swim into their local Ford dealer's fishbowl to spawn between $17k and $21k on behalf of a new Fusion, they won't be doing so because the sedan's sheet metal haunts their dreams-- unless it's a nightmare about being pursued by a giant razor. The Fusion's three-blade front foil is the car's only attempt to make a visual statement; to my eyes it looks as if it's saying "I want to be an Infiniti when I grow up". From any angle other than the front, Ford's family four-door is so generic that the binocular fusion required to scan it hardly seems worth the effort. To be fair, the Fusion's Euro-blanditude obscures its proletarian roots with unrelenting unobjectionality. How great is that?

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Cadillac called.  They want their creases back.  BIC on line 2.What's the difference between a rental car and a mass market motor? Not a lot. But this much is true: the new Fusion's headlight switch wouldn't seem out of place on an EASY-BAKE oven. Actually, Ford should be so lucky; Kenner has sold over 16 million cookers since the feminist's least favorite toy debuted in 1963. The probability that the Fusion will deliver similar amounts of EASY-PROFIT depends entirely on the Y factor. Why would anyone buy an automobile that's had any hint of personality professionally removed by a crack squad of cost-conscious engineers? Purchase price? Reliability? You tell me and then we'll both know.

If customers swim into their local Ford dealer's fishbowl to spawn between $17k and $21k on behalf of a new Fusion, they won't be doing so because the sedan's sheet metal haunts their dreams– unless it's a nightmare about being pursued by a giant razor. The Fusion's three-blade front foil is the car's only attempt to make a visual statement; to my eyes it looks as if it's saying "I want to be an Infiniti when I grow up". From any angle other than the front, Ford's family four-door is so generic that the binocular fusion required to scan it hardly seems worth the effort. To be fair, the Fusion's Euro-blanditude obscures its proletarian roots with unrelenting unobjectionality. How great is that?

Great guages, shame about the buttons...The Fusion's interior is another story: How to Build a Cockpit So Bland it Hertz. While the cabin's quad-adult accommodations and ergonomics are fundamentally sound (in a mindless humming kinda way), there's no excuse for the Fusion's insipid, haptically-challenged ICE and HVAC controls. Well, yes, there is: money. Ford fits the identical control systems (complete with 70's-era "connect the toothpicks" digital readouts) to all its cars, from the Five Hundred to the Focus to the F150. When a consumer can purchase a decent looking head-unit from Best Buy for a couple of hundred bucks, Ford is nuts not to shell-out the necessary cash to differentiate one model's dash from the next.

The same false economy applies to the Fusion's steering wheel. In the top-spec SEL, this mission-critical man/machine interface is covered with leather torn from a cow genetically engineered to outlast the Holocene epoch. By the reverse token, the Fusion's top box has a lid whose flimsiness is only matched by its undamped imprecision, with panel gaps that make a Land Rover Defender's bodywork look Lexian. But oh, those gauges! Their elegance, clarity and proportions offer a tantalizing glimpse of an alternative universe, where inexpensive and stylish play happily in a world made safe by The Big Blue Oval. And then you clock the dot matrix trip computer loitering between the analogue instrumentation… Oh well.

A nimble mid-sizer with a terrific ride and plenty of road feel.  Fire-up the Fusion and it's immediately evident she'll do the fandango. Just don't expect thunderbolts and lightning. While the SEL's 3.0-liter Duratec six has variable valve timing (finally!) and stables 221 horses, the mileage-seeking six-speed autobox forces G-force junkies to whip the lardy little filly without fear or favor. And then the wrong-wheel-drive sedan's front hooves scrabble for traction and you wonder why you bothered in the first place. Luckily, you can make some allowances; the Fusion has enough low-down grunt to let you sneak-up on some serious speed, which you can then carry through the corners with remarkable ease.

The Fusion reflects Ford's world-class ride and handling expertise. The company's clever "This is Life" TV ads, which contrast everyday frustration with the quick-cut excitement of Fusion thrashing, may be a bit of an exaggeration (as witnessed by the fact that the energetic driver slams the autobox into Park). But there's no question that the Fusion's new CD3 chassis and independent (front and rear) suspension offer an ideal blend of comfort and control. The torsional rigidity voodoo that they do so well keeps both major and minor lumps and bumps from intruding on your carma AND forestalls the inevitable understeer slide for a lot longer than you'd ever imagine possible.

No traction control?  You'll want to waive that collision damage waiver. That said, we're not talking about a rear-wheel-drive 3-Series killer. We reserve the right to reexamine the situation a year from now, when Ford fits the Fusion with four-wheel-drive. Meanwhile, although Ford's aggressive participation in this year's SEMA tuner tournament indicates that they're fishing for thirty-something cut-and-thrusters, it's far more likely that the Fusion will find its true métier as a mid-sized, middle class family sled. And why not? The keenly-priced Fusion's got everything they'd want from an equivalent Toyota, Honda or Hyundai: a bit of style (but not too much), plenty of room for four, a big trunk, all the mod cons and an excellent chance of staying out the repair shop for the better part of its journey through life. All of which also makes the new Ford Fusion an ideal rental car. Huh. Who knew?

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http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2005/12/ford-fusion-sel/feed/ 0 What's the difference between a rental car and a mass market motor? Not a lot. But this much is true: the new Fusion's headlight switch wouldn't seem out of place on an EASY-BAKE oven. Actually, What's the difference between a rental car and a mass market motor? Not a lot. But this much is true: the new Fusion's headlight switch wouldn't seem out of place on an EASY-BAKE oven. Actually, Ford should be so lucky; Kenner has sold over 16 million cookers since the feminist's least favorite toy debuted in 1963. The probability that the Fusion will deliver similar amounts of EASY-PROFIT depends entirely on the Y factor. Why would anyone buy an automobile that's had any hint of personality professionally removed by a crack squad of cost-conscious engineers? Purchase price? Reliability? You tell me and then we'll both know. If customers swim into their local Ford dealer's fishbowl to spawn between $17k and $21k on behalf of a new Fusion, they won't be doing so because the sedan's sheet metal haunts their dreams-- unless it's a nightmare about being pursued by a giant razor. The Fusion's three-blade front foil is the car's only attempt to make a visual statement; to my eyes it looks as if it's saying "I want to be an Infiniti when I grow up". From any angle other than the front, Ford's family four-door is so generic that the binocular fusion required to scan it hardly seems worth the effort. To be fair, the Fusion's Euro-blanditude obscures its proletarian roots with unrelenting unobjectionality. How great is that? The Truth About Cars no
2005 Jeep Commander Review http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2005/11/jeep-commander/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2005/11/jeep-commander/#comments Thu, 17 Nov 2005 00:00:00 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=526 The flying brick is back.You can't blame Jeep for launching a retro-styled seven-seater at a time when dealers' forecourts have become sport utility tar pits. The Dark Lords of DCX pulled the trigger on the Commander when the petrochemical sun was shining, hay was being made and the word "hybrid" applied to orchids, vegetables and farm animals. The logic was sound: build a more commodious SUV to keep fecund followers of Jeep's trail rated trucks within the fold. Something that would also lure lifestylers helming less venerable vehicles. But the execution is inexcusable. Even if Shell V-Power was free, you wouldn't want to waste it on the new Jeep Commander.

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The flying brick is back.You can't blame Jeep for launching a retro-styled seven-seater at a time when dealers' forecourts have become sport utility tar pits. The Dark Lords of DCX pulled the trigger on the Commander when the petrochemical sun was shining, hay was being made and the word "hybrid" applied to orchids, vegetables and farm animals. The logic was sound: build a more commodious SUV to keep fecund followers of Jeep's trail rated trucks within the fold. Something that would also lure lifestylers helming less venerable vehicles. But the execution is inexcusable. Even if Shell V-Power was free, you wouldn't want to waste it on the new Jeep Commander.

Before I tear the Commander a new tailpipe, I want to point out that Jeep's largest ever SUV is as a far more civilized beast than the rough-and-ready Cherokees of yore. Sure it looks exactly like the rough-and-ready Cherokees of yore: a remorselessly rectilinear shape with all the aerodynamic efficiency of a breeze block. And yes, it sucks gas with the same gay (but butch) abandon as its four-by-forbearers. And the Commander boasts all the steering feel of its predecessors (i.e. none). But the big Jeep is a thoroughly modern motor that carries five passengers in safety and comfort, regardless of weather (ex tornados) or terrain (ex precipices). It's those two remaining passengers that are the bitch.

Knees-up Mother Brown!Well, if they weren't bitches when you put them in, they will be when they get out. After five minutes in the Commander's tippy-up "theater-style" rear seats, full-sized adults will wish they weren't. Thanks to a foot well that's shallower than the British Royal family's gene pool, even polypeptide deficient three-year-olds sitting in the way back run the risk of giving themselves a pair of shiners with their knees (try explaining THAT to social services). The Commander's third row is like the Porsche 911 Turbo's cupholders: you may be glad they're there, but you'd be foolish to use them. And yet you do.

And pay the price at the pump. Bopping around town, the Commander's mileage readout never posted numbers capable of challenging our two-year-old's numeracy skills. Although I have no moral/political/environmental/social qualms about driving a vehicle that gets single digit mileage, I can't abide a gas hog that doesn't offer suitable compensation. The Lincoln Navigator may burn fuel less efficiently than an Icelandic fishing trawler, but at least it's NFL-linebacker compatible transportation. Not to belabor the point [much], the Commander couldn't schlep a Pee Wee soccer team's midfield without seriously compromising their ability to walk– never mind run.

If you think this looks dark, you should [try to] see it in black.While a Navi is suffused with bling, the Commander's interior makes a Calvinist church look like a Chuck E. Cheese pizzeria. Saying that, the Jeep's soft-touch plastics offer yet more proof that DCX has mastered the art of fabricating and fitting world class polymers. But the cabin's unrelentingly dark coloration and generic Chrysler design make it seem small and bleak. The Brink's truck-sized front windscreen does nothing to relieve the interior's claustrophobia, and much to increase it. And what's with the dashboard's fake Allen holes? If they were meant to be reassuring in a Tool Time manly sort of way perhaps Jeep should have resisted the urge to emboss fake Allen holes onto the ersatz chrome adorning its steering wheel and shift knob.

There's only one other possible justification for the Commander's prodigious thirst: speed. Our 5273-pound tester holstered a 4.7-liter V8, good for 235hp at 4500rpm. As those numbers suggest, the Commander's official zero to sixty stat is decidedly leisurely: 10.2 seconds. On the positive side, the V8 torques a good game; the Commander tips in with genuine conviction and feels a lot faster than it is– especially when kickdown rouses the powerplant from its default torpor. As the Hemi engine option trims a couple of seconds from the Commander's erstwhile sprint times and cuts consumption by "up to" 20%, it's hard to understand why anyone wouldn't saddle-up those 95 extra ponies.

A touch of H3, but great in H2O.Money. Yes, well, our tester cost $37k without sat nav or a cargo net (the trunk floor doubles as a launch pad). That's a lot of wedge for a cramped vehicle sans spizzarkle und Hemi. We would be remiss for not pointing out that many of the Jeep Commander's inherent shortcomings are directly related to the big, heavy, clunky gubbins that enable its superior off-road abilities. There, that's done. Now, can someone please tell me why Jeep didn't make a better job of this?

No one expects a Jeep– any Jeep– to drink like a Prius or coddle like a minivan. But surely the guardians of the legendary brand know that a nostalgic shape needn't be accompanied by nostalgic mileage and packaging. Heads-up guys: it's time to go back to the future.

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http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2005/11/jeep-commander/feed/ 1 You can't blame Jeep for launching a retro-styled seven-seater at a time when dealers' forecourts have become sport utility tar pits. The Dark Lords of DCX pulled the trigger on the Commander when the petrochemical sun was shining, You can't blame Jeep for launching a retro-styled seven-seater at a time when dealers' forecourts have become sport utility tar pits. The Dark Lords of DCX pulled the trigger on the Commander when the petrochemical sun was shining, hay was being made and the word "hybrid" applied to orchids, vegetables and farm animals. The logic was sound: build a more commodious SUV to keep fecund followers of Jeep's trail rated trucks within the fold. Something that would also lure lifestylers helming less venerable vehicles. But the execution is inexcusable. Even if Shell V-Power was free, you wouldn't want to waste it on the new Jeep Commander. The Truth About Cars no
Honda Civic EX Review http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2005/11/honda-civic-ex/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2005/11/honda-civic-ex/#comments Fri, 11 Nov 2005 00:00:00 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=288 Where's the reset button? I probably shouldn't admit to auditory hallucinations, but every time I sat behind the new Civic's diminutive silver and black steering wheel, I heard the Star Wars theme welling-up inside my head. I know it's crazy: a vehicle known throughout the galaxy as the automotive equivalent of a pair of Birkenstock nurse's shoes suddenly inspiring thoughts of an Incom T-65 X-wing Starfighter. But there it is: an electroluminescent mass market motor clearly designed to appeal to the light saber set. In other words, the eighth gen Honda Civic sedan is the car of the future, straight from the past.

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Where's the reset button? I probably shouldn't admit to auditory hallucinations, but every time I sat behind the new Civic's diminutive silver and black steering wheel, I heard the Star Wars theme welling-up inside my head. I know it's crazy: a vehicle known throughout the galaxy as the automotive equivalent of a pair of Birkenstock nurse's shoes suddenly inspiring thoughts of an Incom T-65 X-wing Starfighter. But there it is: an electroluminescent mass market motor clearly designed to appeal to the light saber set. In other words, the eighth gen Honda Civic sedan is the car of the future, straight from the past.

Externally, Honda's enterprising artisans set their phasers on kill. Unfortunately, their brazen attempt to replace their three-box sedan with a one-box wonder looks like more like a transporter malfunction involving an economy car and an SUV. The Civic's front end is an Odyssey unto itself, with a windscreen so steeply raked it's virtually a forward facing sunroof. The muffed multi-model matrix is equally obvious at the back. The eagle's head lamp treatment is pure Audi A4, while the horizontal crease is straight off BMW's 3-Series. Taken as whole, the Civic's new shape displays all the anomalous futurism of Captain Kirk's concubines, with none of their intrinsic allure.

Tinky Winky.There's more '70's time-traveling inside. A huge numeric speedo lives under a Teletubby-style hutch emerging from the plastic playing field stretching between dash and glass. This bizarre throwback to Cadillac's ill-fated digital displays is flanked by bar 'graphs monitoring fuel level and engine temp. The strange choice of mission critical info is mirrored by the tachometer's preposterous prominence– at least for an family four-door– in the real estate normally reserved for gauges. A square-bottomed steering wheel only slightly larger than a Pizza Hut personal pan pizza completes the videogame-themed ergonomics.

Or not. The Civic's drop snout is the piece-de-la-Atari. By denying drivers even a glimpse of the car's muzzle, windscreen becomes widescreen. If it weren't for the Civic's A-pillars– columns of such magnificence that Honda felt obliged to put triangular windows at their base– you'd be tempted to press the alternative view button. Oh wait, there isn't one. But the Civic EX is available with a sat nav iPod XM CD WMA voice recognition backup camera system. Given the rest of the instrumentation's disco obvious look and feel, the unit's dour, aftermarket demeanor and fat finger flummoxing buttonology is a bit of a downer. Still, play value is high…

As underpowered as the original Porsche Boxster. Just in case you didn't quite make the connection between car and game, hit restart. I mean, fire-up the wee beastie, give her some gas and turn the controller– wheel. The new Civic's helm is more direct than an IRS audit. And it's got the handling to match. Thanks to MacPherson struts at the front, a reactive-link double wishbone in the rear, larger wheels and tires, and performance-oriented spring and damper tuning, the Civic EX is a tenacious corner carver. The sedan stays flat and level through the most tortuous twisties. Even if you're [a professional driver on a closed course] driving with your eyes closed, you'll know this isn't your Mom and Dad's Honda.

Unless you put your foot down. While the Civic's in-line four has more than enough oomph for a high mileage shopping trolley, the 140hp 16-Valve i-VTEC® powerplant fails to provide punch to match the car's boy racer dynamics. Around town, the biggest problem is a drive-by-wire-throttle that's jumpier than a "dancing" chicken. At cruising speeds, or [theoretical] passing situations, you're good to slow. Drivers practiced in the fine art of piloting a plodding car quickly (i.e. mercilessly thrashing the engine and maintaining momentum at all costs) will find the Civic sedan a willing partner. Anyone else will be driving it slowly anyway, so it won't really matter.

One box fits all. The new Civic will be a tremendous hit– as a coupe. With its hotter engine and more harmonious (if equally goofy) "To Infiniti… and beyond!" sheet metal, the new Civic Si will find favor with twenty and thirty-somethings. They'll take one look inside and "geddit". They'll take one drive and want it. A percentage of these prospective owners may also seek the practicality of a four-door, but it won't be a large one. As for the rest of Middle America…

As a mainstream product, the new Civic is just too wacky to capture the tepid hearts of conservative car buyers. Sure, the sedan boasts all the virtues that made it such a perennial sales success– reliability, practicality, frugality and comfort. But the Civic faithful will not be well-pleased by the disconcerting view out the windscreen and the bizarre instrumentation in front of them. It's one thing to watch an X-wing fight its way through tie fighters. It's another to drive one though traffic.

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http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2005/11/honda-civic-ex/feed/ 3 I probably shouldn't admit to auditory hallucinations, but every time I sat behind the new Civic's diminutive silver and black steering wheel, I heard the Star Wars theme welling-up inside my head. I know it's crazy: a vehicle known throug... I probably shouldn't admit to auditory hallucinations, but every time I sat behind the new Civic's diminutive silver and black steering wheel, I heard the Star Wars theme welling-up inside my head. I know it's crazy: a vehicle known throughout the galaxy as the automotive equivalent of a pair of Birkenstock nurse's shoes suddenly inspiring thoughts of an Incom T-65 X-wing Starfighter. But there it is: an electroluminescent mass market motor clearly designed to appeal to the light saber set. In other words, the eighth gen Honda Civic sedan is the car of the future, straight from the past. The Truth About Cars no
Lexus GS300 Review http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2005/11/lexus-gs300/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2005/11/lexus-gs300/#comments Sat, 05 Nov 2005 00:00:00 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=119 Imperious wafters need not apply.Generally speaking, I'm not partial to cars that remind me of death. But I respect Lexus for selling a model lineup that keeps faith with their "luxury car as mobile mausoleum" brand heritage. That said, the Japanese automaker's sensory deprivation shtick has taken a couple of major hits since the debut of the LS400, in the form of leathered-up, badge-engineered Toyotas. But the "new" GS300 is a far more worrying development: a bespoke model that turns its back on everything that made The Big L successful in the first place.

Visually, that's a good thing. The new GS300 represents a bold and beautiful break from Lexus' amorphous aesthetic. The four-door's front end seems a bit of an 8-Series crib, and the rear is as confused as an absinthe drinker, but the GS300's hunkered stance and nose-heavy proportions project a genuine sense of aggression. The rear pillars are especially wikkid, and the swageless sides add a statement of streamlined modernity. If ever a car promised to give the BMW 530i a decent run for the money-- and quite a lot of money it is too-- the GS300 is it.

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Imperious wafters need not apply.Generally speaking, I'm not partial to cars that remind me of death. But I respect Lexus for selling a model lineup that keeps faith with their "luxury car as mobile mausoleum" brand heritage. That said, the Japanese automaker's sensory deprivation shtick has taken a couple of major hits since the debut of the LS400, in the form of leathered-up, badge-engineered Toyotas. But the "new" GS300 is a far more worrying development: a bespoke model that turns its back on everything that made The Big L successful in the first place.

Visually, that's a good thing. The new GS300 represents a bold and beautiful break from Lexus' amorphous aesthetic. The four-door's front end seems a bit of an 8-Series crib, and the rear is as confused as an absinthe drinker, but the GS300's hunkered stance and nose-heavy proportions project a genuine sense of aggression. The rear pillars are especially wikkid, and the swageless sides add a statement of streamlined modernity. If ever a car promised to give the BMW 530i a decent run for the money– and quite a lot of money it is too– the GS300 is it.

Outclass or outcast? Entering the GS is a disconcerting experience. Although sumptuous leather stimulates your smug satisfaction gland, little details jar. The gray matte plastic surrounding the touch screen and dials is an obvious and unwelcome refugee from the Toyota side of the tracks. While the GS' central display and flanking buttonology are a clear and present arranger, the graphic display is pure Prius. The default screen's real-time reminder of fuel consumption invites ridicule on every level. The instrument cluster is more garish– and garishly lit– than the Moulin Rouge, and about as elegant as its crocodile wrestler. Overall, the interior's stuck on Pampercon 5.

Fire-up the GS' 3.0-liter six, squeeze the go-pedal and it's immediately clear that Munich's flame-surfaced sedan can continue niche carving without fear of L-badged aggravation. For one thing, our test GS shunted like a badly bumped bumper car. For another, never in the course of automotive events has so much horsepower done so little for so few. Although the GS300's powerplant stables 245 horses, there's nowhere near enough torque to canter uphill, gallop past lesser-priced motors or join a long-distance sprint with comparatively-priced thoroughbreds. If Honda can make its Odyssey-class six run silent, run deep, why must the GS' engine be both slow AND noisy?

Smooth, quiet, powerful.  Not.  A luxury car without a smooth, powerful, quiet, slick-shifting engine is like a bodybuilder without a syringe. By failing to provide a magic carpet ride, the GS300 is a drug-free bodybuilder with a hernia. Despite double-wishbones at the front and a trick multi-link set-up at the back, the GS crashes over major and minor surface imperfections with all the grace of a Toyota Avalon; maybe less. The GS300 makes a mockery of Lexus' well-earned rep for imperious wafting– to the point where you wonder if the model was designed as a secret torture device for America's nouveaux riche.

The harsh ride probably reflects a focus group's assertion that the sporty-looking GS should possess sporty handling dynamics. That it does. The original Lexus LS400 was such a wallowy luxobarge owners were heard to shout "Hard 'a port!" through rotaries. The GS300's handling is the exact opposite; Lexus' revised sedan is so tied down that chauffeuring a professional dancer is the only way you'll ever get body lean. The GS300's flat stance and tenacious grip are capable of inspiring comments more along the lines of "See? I TOLD you we wouldn't hit that tree." I say 'capable' because it's hard to imagine a pistonhead who could be bothered to thrash a car with zero-G steering, numb (but effective) brakes and a thoroughly recalcitrant powerplant.

Toyota plastic surrounds the screeen. Has Lexus lost its way?Strangely enough, it's the GS300's Mark Levinson stereo that really rankles. As a Pinto survivor, I can attest to the fact that killer tunes can cover a multitude of mechanical sins. Even if you overlook the fact that the GS300's head unit is not MP3able, the ICE's sound quality is a deep disappointment. The mid-range tones are more grating than an blind waiter shaving a block of parmesan over your spaghetti. On the positive side, the reverse cam's color image is startlingly clear. In both cases, play value is limited.

The GS300 is proof positive that ugly– I mean, "beauty challenged" chick's moms were right: it's what's inside that counts. (Some commentators might say "what's under the hood", but that would be sexist, gratuitous and infantile.) I'm reasonably sure that the GS430's 100 extra foot pounds of torque would transform the model from whiney wanna-be road rocket to something altogether more capable and, perhaps, luxurious. Even so, the devil's in the details. It's time for Lexus to re-hire the obsessive compulsives who gave the brand its fame.

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http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2005/11/lexus-gs300/feed/ 2 Generally speaking, I'm not partial to cars that remind me of death. But I respect Lexus for selling a model lineup that keeps faith with their "luxury car as mobile mausoleum" brand heritage. That said, Generally speaking, I'm not partial to cars that remind me of death. But I respect Lexus for selling a model lineup that keeps faith with their "luxury car as mobile mausoleum" brand heritage. That said, the Japanese automaker's sensory deprivation shtick has taken a couple of major hits since the debut of the LS400, in the form of leathered-up, badge-engineered Toyotas. But the "new" GS300 is a far more worrying development: a bespoke model that turns its back on everything that made The Big L successful in the first place. Visually, that's a good thing. The new GS300 represents a bold and beautiful break from Lexus' amorphous aesthetic. The four-door's front end seems a bit of an 8-Series crib, and the rear is as confused as an absinthe drinker, but the GS300's hunkered stance and nose-heavy proportions project a genuine sense of aggression. The rear pillars are especially wikkid, and the swageless sides add a statement of streamlined modernity. If ever a car promised to give the BMW 530i a decent run for the money-- and quite a lot of money it is too-- the GS300 is it. The Truth About Cars no
Hyundai Sonata LX Review http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2005/10/hyundai-sonata-lx/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2005/10/hyundai-sonata-lx/#comments Thu, 27 Oct 2005 00:00:00 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=937 A peach of a pastiche; perfect for its niche.You know what I love about the new Hyundai Sonata? Nothing. You know what I hate about it? Nothing. In other words, it's a hit. Out there in the real world-- away from the elitist, over-educated automotive palate of a professional car reviewer-- any vehicle that asks nothing whatsoever of its owner is guaranteed a place in the average American motorists' affections. If the automobile in question is cheap, reliable, comfortable and inoffensive, millions of people will buy it, love it and, eventually, buy another one. The new Hyundai Sonata is all that, and more. Not much more, but some…

Aesthetically, you've got to credit Hyundai for their tireless pursuit of total inoffensiveness. Rather than stick with any one of the company's four previous schnozzes, the Sonata's designers opted for yet another round of plastic surgery. This one's a winner; it's vaguely Japanese, completely unobjectionable and utterly forgettable. The Sonata's front end is proof positive that it's easier to copy a copy (i.e. the Honda Accord) than it is to knock-off an original. The same principle holds true for the rest of the Sonata's sheet metal; it's a riff on the Ford 500's riff on the Audi A6. For people who can't afford the real deal, or even recognize it when they see it, the Sonata is a perfectly judged pastiche.

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A peach of a pastiche; perfect for its niche.You know what I love about the new Hyundai Sonata? Nothing. You know what I hate about it? Nothing. In other words, it's a hit. Out there in the real world– away from the elitist, over-educated automotive palate of a professional car reviewer– any vehicle that asks nothing whatsoever of its owner is guaranteed a place in the average American motorists' affections. If the automobile in question is cheap, reliable, comfortable and inoffensive, millions of people will buy it, love it and, eventually, buy another one. The new Hyundai Sonata is all that, and more. Not much more, but some…

Aesthetically, you've got to credit Hyundai for their tireless pursuit of total inoffensiveness. Rather than stick with any one of the company's four previous schnozzes, the Sonata's designers opted for yet another round of plastic surgery. This one's a winner; it's vaguely Japanese, completely unobjectionable and utterly forgettable. The Sonata's front end is proof positive that it's easier to copy a copy (i.e. the Honda Accord) than it is to knock-off an original. The same principle holds true for the rest of the Sonata's sheet metal; it's a riff on the Ford 500's riff on the Audi A6. For people who can't afford the real deal, or even recognize it when they see it, the Sonata is a perfectly judged pastiche.

Seamless shove a cut above.The Sonata's interior wanders into the no-man's land between cheapskate and artistic minimalism. With its gray and beige color scheme, only the quality of the Sonata's cabin materials and sensible ergonomics prevent it from disappearing into a fug of rental car mediocrity. The Sonata's MP3-ready radio typifies the tension; the head unit is as dowdy as an Amish church, but you can't help but admire its honesty of form and simplicity of function. In short, the interior's too earnest for its own good.

The mood brightens the second you summon the Sonata's six-cylinder engine. The new 3.3-liter powerplant transforms the Sonata from a pace car for the Hubbard Glacier into a genuinely frisky four-door. In fact, there's enough oomph at full stomp to trigger a mild case of torque steer. More importantly for its target demographic– who probably think torque steer is something Texas cattlemen do after work– the engine's continuously variable valve timing assures smooth acceleration right up to redline. While only an Impala driver would mistake the Sonata LX for a high-performance sedan, even a 3-Series snob would appreciate the Korean's surfeit of seamless shove.

Plastic fantastic.Seamless, yes; charismatic, no. Hyundai's relentless campaign to eliminate any reason not to buy the Sonata failed to encompass the powerplant's whiney tone and treble-intensive timbre. If the Koreans had strangled the mechanical din at birth, the Sonata would've been hailed as the ultimate bargain basement luxury car. Passengers sitting in its spacious back seats wearing noise cancellation headphones could still make that claim, but then they'd miss out on the Sonata's sonorous sound system. Pop in your favorite go-faster CD and you're loaded for bear.

No, really: the Sonata is a sharp-handling machine. Thanks to its accurate steering and thoroughly modern suspension– double wishbones up front, a multi-link at the back and coil springs over gas shocks all 'round– the four-door negotiates corners with admirable poise, reasonable tenacity and minimal body lean. Pump-up the volume and she'll stay as flat as yesterday's Diet Coke– until the inevitable understeer slide spoils your fun. You could switch off the handling Nanny and let loose the dogs of war, but then Koreans eat dogs and that's just too weird. Besides, anyone who wants to drift a Sonata shouldn't buy one in the first place.

A four-door snobs can't adore.  The Sonata's harsh ride is the flip side of its commendable body control. [Note to Hyundai engineers: road feel isn't supposed to hurt.] I'm sure the Sonata's core clientele would've gladly sacrificed a bit of sporty spice for a better flavoring of crash suppression. That said, the Sonata's chassis feels incredibly solid– IS incredibly solid– until a series of bumps jars its occupants back to price-related reality. Taken as a whole, the sedan's dynamics conform to the theory that the economy car with the least objectionable road manners wins. Who can argue with that?

Nor can you argue with the Sonata's rise up the sales charts. If Hyundai tweaks the Sonata's suspension for comfort, adds another layer of sound-deadening (to cater to Americans' predilection for a "big car feel") and maintain its rep for reliability, the model will take a massive bite out of its deeply-entrenched Japanese competition. Even without these changes, the Sonata has everything it needs to be a total success amongst America's value-driven car buyers. The fact that car snobs wouldn't touch it with a ten-foot pole tells you everything you need to know about its prospects.

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http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2005/10/hyundai-sonata-lx/feed/ 7 You know what I love about the new Hyundai Sonata? Nothing. You know what I hate about it? Nothing. In other words, it's a hit. Out there in the real world-- away from the elitist, over-educated automotive palate of a professional car reviewer... You know what I love about the new Hyundai Sonata? Nothing. You know what I hate about it? Nothing. In other words, it's a hit. Out there in the real world-- away from the elitist, over-educated automotive palate of a professional car reviewer-- any vehicle that asks nothing whatsoever of its owner is guaranteed a place in the average American motorists' affections. If the automobile in question is cheap, reliable, comfortable and inoffensive, millions of people will buy it, love it and, eventually, buy another one. The new Hyundai Sonata is all that, and more. Not much more, but some… Aesthetically, you've got to credit Hyundai for their tireless pursuit of total inoffensiveness. Rather than stick with any one of the company's four previous schnozzes, the Sonata's designers opted for yet another round of plastic surgery. This one's a winner; it's vaguely Japanese, completely unobjectionable and utterly forgettable. The Sonata's front end is proof positive that it's easier to copy a copy (i.e. the Honda Accord) than it is to knock-off an original. The same principle holds true for the rest of the Sonata's sheet metal; it's a riff on the Ford 500's riff on the Audi A6. For people who can't afford the real deal, or even recognize it when they see it, the Sonata is a perfectly judged pastiche. The Truth About Cars no
Porsche 911 C4 Review http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2005/10/porsche-911-c4/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2005/10/porsche-911-c4/#comments Fri, 21 Oct 2005 00:00:00 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=705  Greed is good, but gluttony is better. Greed means you have an insatiable desire for more. Gluttony means you're busy catering to your insatiability. Although many observers still consider the Porsche 911 a Gordon Gecko greedmobile, it's actually a glutton. For curves. No matter what kind of corner you throw at it-- from a highway sweeper to a twisting country lane to a freshly laid race track-- the C4 wants, needs, must have more. Reverse camber, broken surface, bad weather-- it doesn't matter. As soon as it's exited one corner, the C4 is ready for the next. And the next. No question: the way this thing handles is a sin.

The C4 is the next-up next-gen 911: a wide-hipped iteration of the new Carrera's Coke-bottle-as-suppository design theme. As such, it's also a minimalist vision of the forthcoming be-winged and bi-gilled Turbo. Although the C4 offers Porsche-spotters a few cosmetic tweaks to the basic model's retro-modern mix, it is, at its core, another Armani-clad psycho-killer. Considering the C4's inherent potential for luring its pilot into legal entanglements, the stealth wealth aesthetic is probably a blessing in disguise.

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 Greed is good, but gluttony is better. Greed means you have an insatiable desire for more. Gluttony means you're busy catering to your insatiability. Although many observers still consider the Porsche 911 a Gordon Gecko greedmobile, it's actually a glutton. For curves. No matter what kind of corner you throw at it– from a highway sweeper to a twisting country lane to a freshly laid race track– the C4 wants, needs, must have more. Reverse camber, broken surface, bad weather– it doesn't matter. As soon as it's exited one corner, the C4 is ready for the next. And the next. No question: the way this thing handles is a sin.

The C4 is the next-up next-gen 911: a wide-hipped iteration of the new Carrera's Coke-bottle-as-suppository design theme. As such, it's also a minimalist vision of the forthcoming be-winged and bi-gilled Turbo. Although the C4 offers Porsche-spotters a few cosmetic tweaks to the basic model's retro-modern mix, it is, at its core, another Armani-clad psycho-killer. Considering the C4's inherent potential for luring its pilot into legal entanglements, the stealth wealth aesthetic is probably a blessing in disguise.

 The C4's interior remains unchanged from the last time Porsche changed it. Now that The Sultans of Stuttgart furnish their 911 interiors to match their $70k-and-up price tag, we can stop bitching about the quality of the cabin materials– and start bitching about the ICE and HVAC interface. Although the C4 has all the gizmology you'd expect for one so dear– sat knavery, XM radiology, integrated cellularity– its Chicklet-sized buttons make its functions a hit-and-miss affair. (Even the daintiest digits suddenly seem elephantine.) Given the C4's glove-weather capabilities and the dashboard's limited real estate, a central touch screen would have been the logical solution.

Nothing needs doing in the sound and fury department. Crank the C4's starter and the Porker's 3.6-liter engine tells the world that motorized mayhem is manifest. The C4's flat six's sonic signature is hard to pin down– and even harder to forget. It combines the nuclear-powered bass notes of Mr. Incredible's cartoon car, the mechanical whirlwind of a Florida Everglades fan boat and the resurrected rasp of Porsches gone by. It's about time paddles appeared on either side of the blissfully button-free steering wheel, but at least the C4's clutch action is perfectly judged. The six-speed snicks home with all the tactile satisfaction of a swooshed b-ball. Right. Time to smoke 'em since we got 'em…

 The C4's surge into VarioCam Land is so smooth it's easy to mistake the rev limiter's stuttering for aberrant ABS. It all happens so fast. Sure, the weight of the all-wheel-drive gubbins makes the C4 a tad slower than the identically engined C2. As both mean machines sprint to sixty in near-as-dammit five seconds, arguing about the difference is like debating the relative merits of Dom Perginon and Cristal. More to the point, the C4's ability to transfer up to 40% of its horsepower to the front wheels makes it the quicker of the two cars in anything other than a straight line.

When contemplating the C4's ability to violate the laws of time and space, the main thing to keep in mind is, of all things, safety. The C4's stability-controlled four-wheel-drive system and its stupendous stopping power give adrenalin-crazed amateurs the freedom to make mistakes at truly monumental speeds. This is the sports car that maintains its death grip on the tarmac when rear wheelers have twirled off into the scenery; that lets you know when you're about to make a mistake; that tells you when you've just made a mistake; that gives you a chance to rectify your mistake; that shrugs its computerized shoulders and sorts it all out for you, so you can try again.

 If you really want to get picky, yes, the C4 has a bit more understeer at the limit than the C2. On the other hand, the C4's slightly heavier helm makes it easier to position than the rear-wheeler. Again, these are differences without a distinction. Both Carreras are finely-honed surgical instruments fully capable of dissecting your favorite road and leaving it for dead in less time than it takes to deploy its [much-appreciated] cup-holders. That said, only one of these cars significantly increases your chances of avoiding the same fate as the roadway, should over-exuberance and inexperience conspire to kill you dead.

The biggest problem presented by C4 ownership is… greed. Once you've driven the C4 boldly where you've only tip-toed before, you will feel a deep, irresistible urge for more horsepower. And then it's straight to… envy. The first time you see the Carrera 4S or, God forbid, the new Turbo, you will experience an ugly mix of desire and hatred. As anyone who owns a Carrera will know, buying the new C4 makes you a glutton for punishment.

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http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2005/10/porsche-911-c4/feed/ 3 Greed is good, but gluttony is better. Greed means you have an insatiable desire for more. Gluttony means you're busy catering to your insatiability. Although many observers still consider the Porsche 911 a Gordon Gecko greedmobile, Greed is good, but gluttony is better. Greed means you have an insatiable desire for more. Gluttony means you're busy catering to your insatiability. Although many observers still consider the Porsche 911 a Gordon Gecko greedmobile, it's actually a glutton. For curves. No matter what kind of corner you throw at it-- from a highway sweeper to a twisting country lane to a freshly laid race track-- the C4 wants, needs, must have more. Reverse camber, broken surface, bad weather-- it doesn't matter. As soon as it's exited one corner, the C4 is ready for the next. And the next. No question: the way this thing handles is a sin.The C4 is the next-up next-gen 911: a wide-hipped iteration of the new Carrera's Coke-bottle-as-suppository design theme. As such, it's also a minimalist vision of the forthcoming be-winged and bi-gilled Turbo. Although the C4 offers Porsche-spotters a few cosmetic tweaks to the basic model's retro-modern mix, it is, at its core, another Armani-clad psycho-killer. Considering the C4's inherent potential for luring its pilot into legal entanglements, the stealth wealth aesthetic is probably a blessing in disguise. The Truth About Cars no
Audi A4 Avant 2.0T Quattro Review http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2005/09/audi-a4-avant-20t-quattro/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2005/09/audi-a4-avant-20t-quattro/#comments Fri, 16 Sep 2005 00:00:00 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=372 The A4 Avant (mit Euro-plate). Is it-- finally-- Audi's tipping point? You gotta love Audi. Despite its rivals' explosive growth, The Boys from Ingolstadt have resisted the lure of sudden intended niche acceleration. While questions about reliability and resale value have shadowed the brand's progress like a pack of predatory wolves, Audi keeps on plugging away with a limited line of luxury limos, waiting for their turn to fill US owners' heated garages. As always, the A4 is both the point man and the mainstay of Audi's long march. Does the latest evolution finally signal the beginning of the end of the beginning?

From a sheet metal standpoint, the A4 is perfectly positioned to enjoy a rare window of unopposed conservatism. BMW's once-staid products have been turning Japanese (I really think so), Mercedes has renounced their discreet design heritage, Jaguar has overexploited theirs, Cadillac continues to live on the edge and the Asian brands are stuck in Pasticheland (save Infiniti). Aside from its inappropriately voracious snout-- perfectly designed to make US license plates look ugly and stupid-- the A4 is the ideal choice for drivers who believe discretion is the better part of showing off. It's old money on wheels.

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The A4 Avant (mit Euro-plate). Is it-- finally-- Audi's tipping point? You gotta love Audi. Despite its rivals' explosive growth, The Boys from Ingolstadt have resisted the lure of sudden intended niche acceleration. While questions about reliability and resale value have shadowed the brand's progress like a pack of predatory wolves, Audi keeps on plugging away with a limited line of luxury limos, waiting for their turn to fill US owners' heated garages. As always, the A4 is both the point man and the mainstay of Audi's long march. Does the latest evolution finally signal the beginning of the end of the beginning?

From a sheet metal standpoint, the A4 is perfectly positioned to enjoy a rare window of unopposed conservatism. BMW's once-staid products have been turning Japanese (I really think so), Mercedes has renounced their discreet design heritage, Jaguar has overexploited theirs, Cadillac continues to live on the edge and the Asian brands are stuck in Pasticheland (save Infiniti). Aside from its inappropriately voracious snout– perfectly designed to make US license plates look ugly and stupid– the A4 is the ideal choice for drivers who believe discretion is the better part of showing off. It's old money on wheels.

Who put the matching pair of eagle heads on the tail, and why? The A4's rear lamp treatment is the only other concession to the vagaries of style. Audi's artisans added a pair of lenses resembling eagle heads to the tailgate/trunk. And? One suspects they were devised solely to help anally-retentive German corporate car buyers gauge their relative worth (with appropriate efficiency). No matter: the A4 is still as sensible as a bran flake breakfast. I reckon the Avant (that's "station wagon" to you and me) is the only machine that can make a Buick LaCrosse (that's "masturbation" to Quebecois) look like a hot rod.

Inside, welcome to the world's best interior. Not even brother Bentley can compete with the A4's superbly coordinated combination of shapes, textures, colors, materials and ergonomics. Did you know that every A4 switch, from the radio station buttons to the odometer's trip reset to the HomeLink transponder, responds with the exact same click? Or that the carmaker employs haptic and olfactory teams to make sure Audi interiors feel and smell like, um, Audi interiors? If you were wondering how the guys running Ingolstadt's four ring circus dare charge 40 large for a miniature station wagon, then you've never road tripped in an A4 Avant– or worn an Armani suit.

Simply the best. Yes, there is that. By American standards, the car is too small by half. I'm not sure if you could park an A4 Avant in the back of a Dodge Magnum, but I'd like to see you try. Meanwhile, the A4's rear chairs are less accommodating than a Turkmenistan Airlines economy class seat. Rear legroom is so scarce there are knee-shaped indentations on the back of the front seats. The obvious DVT danger restricts the A4 Avant's appeal to middle-aged Euro-snobs with small children. Works for me…

As does the dynamic payoff. While BMW's 3-Series is the better steer, there is nothing wrong with the way the A4 Avant drives. Cruising is the small Audi's default mode, but there's plenty of scope for speed-oriented shenanigans, what with seriously grippy brakes, Quattro four-wheel-drive and a supernatural handling Nanny keeping an eye on things. Unfortunately, the Servotronic speed-sensitive steering is lighter than an anorexic dust mite. In fact, all the Audi's major controls– helm, throttle, clutch and brakes– lack sufficient heft for small car drivers who enjoy regular bouts of contemptuous sniggering. Still, as the Audi product planning guy says, it's easy to park.

Safe, solid and swift and frugal. S-line sports suspension anyone? The Avant's two-liter four-cylinder turbo deserves special mention. The powerplant stumps-up enough low-end grunt to maintain smooth progress without dialing-up the revs. Once the turbos kick-in, the five-door Audi skeedaddales with the kind of free-flowing mechanical abandon that makes tuning shops very, very happy. Even without the inevitable used car bargain boy racer mods, the A4 Avant sprints to sixty in 7.4 seconds and tops out at a buck-thirty. That's not bad for a 3800lbs. vehicle that travels 25 miles to a gallon of dead dinoflagellates.

In fact, there's just one thing wrong with the A4 Avant: size. In the US market, "small" and "luxury" go together like "bling" and "Brooks Brothers". If this spatially-challenged luxury wagon had the word "Volks" in front of it and stickered for $10k less, it'd sell like heissekuchen. The A4 Avant and its sedan sibling are just not big enough to earn their crust for US drivers rooting around at this elevated price point. Aspiring Avantissimos are advised to buy used or plunk down $10k more for the A6 Avant and hold onto it for life. If the cost scares you, remember: it's what's inside that counts.

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http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2005/09/audi-a4-avant-20t-quattro/feed/ 3 You gotta love Audi. Despite its rivals' explosive growth, The Boys from Ingolstadt have resisted the lure of sudden intended niche acceleration. While questions about reliability and resale value have shadowed the brand's progress like a pac... You gotta love Audi. Despite its rivals' explosive growth, The Boys from Ingolstadt have resisted the lure of sudden intended niche acceleration. While questions about reliability and resale value have shadowed the brand's progress like a pack of predatory wolves, Audi keeps on plugging away with a limited line of luxury limos, waiting for their turn to fill US owners' heated garages. As always, the A4 is both the point man and the mainstay of Audi's long march. Does the latest evolution finally signal the beginning of the end of the beginning?From a sheet metal standpoint, the A4 is perfectly positioned to enjoy a rare window of unopposed conservatism. BMW's once-staid products have been turning Japanese (I really think so), Mercedes has renounced their discreet design heritage, Jaguar has overexploited theirs, Cadillac continues to live on the edge and the Asian brands are stuck in Pasticheland (save Infiniti). Aside from its inappropriately voracious snout-- perfectly designed to make US license plates look ugly and stupid-- the A4 is the ideal choice for drivers who believe discretion is the better part of showing off. It's old money on wheels. The Truth About Cars no