The Truth About Cars » american car The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Sun, 27 Jul 2014 14:03:49 +0000 en-US hourly 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 (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 » american car Ur-Turn: An Ode To The Hellcat Wed, 21 May 2014 16:24:04 +0000 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Supercharged

TTAC reader and Charger R/t owner Rich Murdocco pays tribute to the Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat.

I’d say 6.2 liters is plenty of engine. Too much, in fact, especially if you’re trying to save the planet one bike lane at a time. It’s simply too much engine that consumes too many gallons of gasoline, which causes all sorts of problems down the road. Every time this 6.2-liter behemoth starts, I hope the driver, who is probably some man-child who never grew up, thinks of the plight of the polar bears. Shame on Fiat, the spunky Italian auto giant, who bought Chrysler, for creating this anachronism. Those peppery Italians have some nerve.

And then they added a supercharger.

The name of this testament to outdated American stubbornness? The Hellcat. This monster is named after the Grumman Hellcat, the naval fighter plane that helped secure America’s air superiority in the Pacific Theater during World War II. And what a name it is.

Husband: Honey, let’s go to the theater. I hear that “Waiting for Godot” is divine.

Wife: Oh darling, once I am done increasing our portfolio’s yield I’d be happy to.

Husband: Shall we take… the Hellcat?

Cue the wailing guitar solos and pyro, as every window in their mansion shatters at mere mention of the beast’s name.

That burble at start up; it stirs the soul. Listen, and picture volcanoes erupting, the earth quaking, and lightning piercing the blackest of skies.

What was once the realm of legends is now, somewhat approachable to us common men and women. For about $55,000, us mere mortals can pilot these rocket-sleds to oblivion. What an incredible time to be an auto enthusiast.

The Hellcat will compete in the Parthenon with a bevy of epic creatures – the Mustang, with Shelby’s coiled Cobra emblazoned on it, the Chevrolet ZL1. Each with enough horses in their stables combined to supply a glue factory for a decade. The bible got it wrong: There aren’t four horsemen to signal the end of times, but rather, the end will be brought by these three American-made chariots that run on the fossilized remains of our ancestors. How metal.

For perspective, in the 1990s, a McLaren F1, a million-dollar supercar had 627 horsepower. That power is now in a Dodge, the company that birthed the Neon. Incredible.

The Hellcat – what a name. One can imagine how the fine folks at Dodge came up with it. What creature can beat a Cobra? A panther? A mountain lion? Nay, only a hellcat. For less than the price of a BMW M3 or a Corvette, you can drive a leather-clad rocket that eats both tires and souls.

Baby boomers pine for the muscle-car era of the 1970s. In the age when a basic Camry can outrun Magnum PI’s Ferrari, when a mere Dodge can run with the best of them, as it’s been said before, we’re truly living in an automotive renaissance. Enjoy it my friends.

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Cadillac CTS-V Wagons Made Up 0.5 Percent Of CTS Sales Tue, 28 May 2013 16:47:05 +0000 Cadillac CTS-V Wagon. Photo courtesy Brendan McAleer.

Juan Barnett of DC Auto Geek tweeted some interesting information last weekend regarding the last generation of CTS-V; just 1,200 examples of the CTS-V wagon were sold during the car’s lifecycle; by comparison, Cadillac sold a total of 254,000 examples of the CTS.

Of those, 215,000 were sedans (with 8,000 being V-Series), 32,000 were coupes (6,000 were V-Series) and a mere 7,000 were wagons. Given Cadillac’s assertion that 5 V wagons needed to be sold to break even on the project, it seems that Cadillac managed to make their money back many times over on a variant that accounted for barely 0.5 percent of CTS sales. If nothing else, it was a profitable PR exercise for Cadillac. Even male fashion bloggers and the guy from American Pie ended up driving them.

(N.B: Many of you have expressed disbelief at the “5 wagons = profit” figure, so I’ll explain the rationale behind it. The tooling was already there, the drivetrain was certified, the car was crash tested and all the associated FMVSS regulatory crap was homologated. For Cadillac, it was simply a matter of bolting it all together. The above points are the exact reason why European manufacturers are reluctant to bring their high-power wagons over here. The costs of doing all of these seemingly minor things add up very quickly. We are talking low to mid 8-figures.)

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Where’s The Chrome Badging? Tue, 27 Nov 2012 16:14:30 +0000

For 2014, the Chevrolet Impala will get a price hike of $850, and the return of an iconic badge that had been absent for years.

The base 2.5L Impala will start at $27,535, while the V6 models start at $30,760 and $36,580 respectively. Pricing for the eAssist version was not announced.

But the big news for 2014 is the return of the Impala badge, the little leaping chrome creature that’s been absent for so many years. According to the Wall Street Journal

 In a cost-saving move a few years ago, GM stopped equipping the car with the chrome, leaping antelope that had symbolized the Impala for decades.

A quick peek on the car’s C-Pillar shows that the antelope is back. The fact that hardly anyone noticed might be a bigger problem.

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Generation Why: Chevrolet Pours Water On The Spark Thu, 26 Jul 2012 15:58:35 +0000

Chevrolet is slowly launching the Spark subcompact in select markets across the United States, with more MTV/Viacom-derived “millenial focused” ad campaigns. But Chevrolet is being cagey, if not evasive, regarding projected sales.

GM is planning a whole slew of tie-ins with the music/entertainment network to help promote the Spark. According to the Detroit News

“For more than a year, GM and its largest brand have been working with MTV Scratch, a Viacom consulting company, on creative ways to reach millennial consumers.

The Spark will be featured on MTV websites such as MTV Iggy in a promotion involving new music and emerging artists, Landy said. The company will use Facebook, other MTV sites and social platforms to bring people to MTV Iggy for the promotion.”

A couple things jump out here

1) What the hell is MTV Iggy? I’m apparently the target market for this car (young, urban etc.) and I have never heard of it. A quick search reveals that it’s a platform to introduce American listeners to music from around the globe. When One Direction and Katy Perry are topping the charts, the zeitgeist may not be sophisticated enough to support Canto-pop or bailie funk, and the people interested in those genres would not ever want to be associated with the MTV brand.

2) Facebook? What happened to GM and Facebook breaking up? And what kind of efficacy is there with respect to Facebook marketing? Past explorations have yielded a consistent answer – not much.

The least promising sign of the whole project is GM’s refusal to release any kind of sales projections for the Spark. Despite GM’s assertion that “…we are very confident this Spark will be very popular”, they’re not willing to make any kind of prediction. The Detroit News quotes a Kelly Blue Book analyst projecting between 500 to 1,000 sales per month – for a company like GM, that’s a rounding error. The Spark is destined to languish in Smart ForTwo territory.

The only two customers profiled in the Spark story are 30 and 51 years old respectively. 30 is pushing it for a Millennial. 51 might as well be the parent of one. The 51-year-old, a former Ford employee who was laid off a couple of years ago, simply wanted a cheap to car commute with, while the 30-year-old wanted to ditch his V8 Cadillac.

The Spark is going to be a tough sell ; a Sonic or even a Honda Civic is only a few thousand dollars more, gets better EPA numbers and offers a lot more space, power and content (though they don’t have the Spark’s cool touch screen infotainment system). Second, Americans have a historic aversion to small cars, and the A-segment Spark is about as palatable to them as a Jewish King is to Saudi Arabians.

Furthermore, the millennial demographic that Chevrolet is targeting is not going to go for this car. The key concept for anyone targeting this group is aspirational. Job prospects may be bleak, living at home after college may be common but constant viewing of Sex and the City and Entourage (depending on your gender), along with the excesses of the past decade has helped Generation Why get acclimated to frivolity and luxury. Some people are secure enough to just go and buy a Cruze; that doesn’t mean that the “used 3-Series” crowd has died off.

Hyundai gets this instinctively (and Ford is starting to pick up on it as well). Whether it’s an Elantra, a Sonata or a Genesis, their products look like something that costs more than it should. The average consumer will have no shame in declaring their desire for a Hyundai because it “looks like a Benz”. We’ve explored how Chevrolet can capitalize on this, with something like a Cruze-based coupe that could be an S5 at a distance. Unfortunately, nothing says “poverty” like a tiny hatchback painted in a HI-LITER shade.

So who is going to buy the Spark? If past experiments like the Honda Element and Scion xB1 are anything to go by, they will likely be similar to the initial customers; older folks, secure with their station in life, who just want frugal, practical transportation. There’s nothing wrong with that; perhaps there’s even something honorable in that pursuit. The problem is that Generation Y (myself included) are too stupid to realize that, and all we want to do is impress our friends and whatever sex we are attracted to.

My one unanswered question remains; why does GM insist on paying significant sums of money to a bunch of charlatans for lame ad campaigns that blatantly pander to the most cynical, hard-to-reach consumers of all…and for a vehicle that may sell 12,000 units per year, based on optimistic projections?

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Cadillac ATS Undercuts BMW 328i By $910 Mon, 07 May 2012 15:18:18 +0000

The Cadillac ATS will have a starting price of $33,990 for the base version equipped with a 2.5L 4-cylinder engine. The ATS will undercut the 4-cylinder turbocharged BMW 328i by $910.

The base engine’s 200 horsepower and 149 lb-ft of torque won’t get too many hearts racing. It’s likely to be used just to lure customers into the showrooms in the hopes of up-selling them to the $35,795 version with a 270 horsepower 2.0L Ecotec turbocharged 4-cylinder. Cadillac’s own press release said little about the 2.5L version, but was careful to tout the 2.0L as being available with a manual or automatic transmission as well as rear or all-wheel drive. The 3.6L V6 powered ATS will cost $42,090, a significant step up, but only an automatic transmission was mentioned. Cadillac’s CUE infotainment system will also be standard.

Having just seen an F30 328i on the street, and being wholly unimpressed with its “shrunk-in-the-wash-528i” looks, I think Cadillac may have an opportunity to finally take on BMW for the small luxury sedan crown. The Audi A4 is making a strong push for the title, but if Cadillac’s performance chops are really up to par, then the buff books (especially the outlets that got their CTS-V Wagon “long term testers”) will be able to crown a new champion, amid a field that includes an aging Mercedes-Benz C-Class and Infiniti G.

Of course, Cadillac has a history of only getting 80 percent of the way there when it comes to competitive products (ahem, CTS Coupe), and any new segment leader would be a reflection of the 3-Series fall from grace as much as any new product’s competence.

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Farewell, Chevrolet Avalanche Fri, 13 Apr 2012 16:17:07 +0000

Chevrolet announced that production of the Avalanche pickup will come to an end in 2013 – and there’s no replacement in sight. Ironically, the Avalanche was a victim of its own success.

GM’s Tom Wilkinson told Automotive News that

“As the crew cab pickup became an increasing part of the light duty market, Avalanche sales have really been tapering off…”We have a very passionate following but unfortunately it’s not large enough to make a strong enough business case to do a next generation Avalanche as part of the next generation full-size truck program.”

Crew cabs apparently make up 65 percent of the truck market, and it’s difficult to justify buying an Avalanche when a full-size crew cab is available. Nevertheless, I personally have a soft spot for these cars – a friend has a 2008 in midnight blue with the 6.0L V8 and all the bells and whistles. It’s a lovely truck, though I can’t recall him ever using the Midgate. Chevrolet will release a special edition, dubbed the Black Diamond, to commemorate the Avalanche’s departure from the lineup, in the 2013 model year.

No word on the fate of the Cadillac Escalade EXT. One can only assume that it would disappear along with its platform-mate.

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Azure Dynamics Files For Bankruptcy, Suspends Ford Transit Connect Electric Production Wed, 28 Mar 2012 13:34:22 +0000 The Detroit News is reporting that the company that electrifies Ford’s Transit Connect Electric vans, Azure Dynamics, AZD, has filed for bankruptcy and suspended the production of the small battery electric van. Azure Dynamics announced that 120 employees, including 50 at their Oak Park facility just outside Detroit where AZD performed the conversions, have been laid off. So far about 500 Transit EVs have been made since late 2010. There is no word if the company will be able to restart production.

A Ford spokesman said, “Our priority is to ensure that Azure’s Transit Connect Electric customers continue to have support throughout their ownership experience,” but declined to say if FoMoCo is looking for a new producer to pick up production. AZD also produces the Balance Hybrid Electric, a medium duty hybrid truck based on the Ford E-450. Last year AZD said they had 2,200 orders in hand for the Transit Connect Electric, including a $112 million order from the U.S. government’s General Services Administration. The state of Michigan gave AZD a tax credit of $1.7 million over seven years and the city of Oak Park gave them an abatement on local taxes for 11 years to persuade the company to locate in Michigan. An AZD spokesman expressed optimism that the company would be able to reorganize under bankruptcy. “I think we really have a bright future,” he said. The Canadian based company will not be making a planned public stock offering. It doesn’t have enough cash to cover the cost of appealing an Ontario Securities Commission ruling concerning that IPO. In a statement the company said, “We wish to convey to the company’s stakeholders our terrible sadness at this outcome.”

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can dig deeper at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS


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2013 Chevrolet Camaro To Get 1LE Package, Positioned As Mustang Boss 302 Rival Tue, 27 Mar 2012 14:42:07 +0000

The 1LE package Chevrolet Camaros have a long history in competitive motorsports, with the 1LE package on the third and fourth generation Camaro offered as a means to make the car competitive in SCCA Showroom Stock racing. For 2012, the 1LE will return to compete with the Ford Mustang Boss 302.

Pictures at purportedly show a Camaro 1LE concept, seen above. A matte black front hood as well as a grey front splitter and rear spoiler are the biggest visual changes, along with wheels borrowed from the Camaro ZL1. Chassis changes include thicker sway bars front and back (27mm and 28 mm respectively) as well as a higher 3.91 final drive and a liquid cooling system for the 6-speed manual. A dual-mode exhaust (similar to the Corvette), variable effort power steering borrowed from the ZL1, upgraded shock mounts, toe links, wheel bearings, a strut brace and a ZL1 fuel pump are also on hand to make the car more durable for track work. The 1LE may not be as focused a track machine as the Boss 302, but the upgrades sound promising in light of the performance and price deltas between the Camaro SS and the ZL1. Chevrolet is apparently touting a sub 3 minute laptime at VIR, as well as 1 G on the skidpad. Over to you, Jack.

Official press release below

2013 Camaro 1LE: 426-hp, 1g cornering, under $40,000

1LE features Camaro ZL1-inspired chassis and suspension enhancements
2013 Camaro LT, SS and ZL1 models available with MyLink infotainment system

DETROIT – The road-racing inspired Camaro 1LE performance package returns for 2013 with unique gearing, suspension tuning, and tires that makes the model capable of more than 1 g of lateral acceleration and a sub-three minute lap time at Virginia International Raceway’s Grand Course. It is offered on Camaro SS coupes with manual transmissions.

“The Camaro 1LE combines the best elements of the SS and ZL1 to take road-racing performance to a whole new level,” said Al Oppenheiser, Camaro chief engineer. “That the 1LE breaks the three-minute lap at VIR puts it in the upper echelon of performance cars. That it starts under $40,000 makes the Camaro 1LE one of the most affordable, most capable track-day cars offered by any manufacturer.”

In anticipation of consumers entering the 1LE in amateur-racing events, Chevrolet is pursuing SCCA approval of the 1LE package for Touring Class competition.

For 2013, all Camaro SS models including the 1LE will feature standard variable-effort electric power steering and an available dual-mode exhaust system. Both features were introduced on the ZL1. Additionally, 2013 Camaro LT, SS and ZL1 models are available with Chevrolet’s color touch radio with MyLink infotainment system.

“With the 2013 model year, Camaro offers something for almost every driver, including: the 323-horsepower, 30-mpg 2LS; the all-new, 580-horsepower supercharged ZL1 convertible; the COPO Camaro for drag-racing; and the new 1LE for amateur track days,” said John Fitzpatrick, Camaro marketing manager. “We expect the range of choices, and enhancements for 2013, will help Camaro remain America’s most-popular sports car.”

Camaro sales were up nearly 20 percent for the first two months of the year, building on an 8.5-percent gain for all of 2011. The 1LE package goes on sale this fall with the 2013 Camaro line. Pricing will be released later this year.

A heritage of handling

The Camaro 1LE package was introduced in 1988, inspired by Camaro’s involvement in Pro-Am road racing.

For 2013, the 1LE package is offered only on 1SS and 2SS coupe models, featuring a 6.2L LS3 V-8, which is rated at 426 horsepower (318 kW) and 420 lb-ft of torque (569 Nm). In addition, 1LE is only available with a six-speed manual transmission.

While the Camaro SS features a Tremec TR6060-M10 for all-around performance, the Camaro 1LE features an exclusive Tremec TR6060-MM6. Paired with a numerically higher 3.91 final-drive ratio, the close-ratio gearing of the transmission is tuned for road-racing performance. As with the ZL1, the 1LE transmission features a standard air-to-liquid cooling system for track use.

The 1LE also features exclusive, monotube rear dampers instead of the twin-tube dampers on SS models. The new hardware allowed engineers to tune the 1LE suspension to focus on optimal body-motion control while preserving much of the ride quality and wheel-motion control of the Camaro SS.

Other changes to optimize the 1LE for track-day use include:

Larger, 27-mm solid front stabilizer bar, and 28-mm solid rear stabilizer bar for improved body control
Higher-capacity rear-axle half shafts to cope with increased levels of traction
Strut tower brace for improved steering feel and response
ZL1-based 20 x 10-inch front and 20 x 11-inch aluminum wheels
285/35ZR20 Goodyear Eagle Supercar G:2 tires front and rear (identical to the front tires for ZL1)
ZL1 wheel bearings, toe links and rear shock mounts for improved on-track performance
ZL1 high-capacity fuel pump and additional fuel pickups for improved fuel delivery during high-cornering

Visually, the 1LE package for 2013 is distinguished by its matte-black hood, front splitter and rear spoiler – as well as the 10-spoke ZL1-based wheels, which are finished in black. The functional front splitter and rear spoiler contribute to the car’s on-track performance by helping to reduce aerodynamic lift at high speeds.

Inside, the 1LE package incorporates the ZL1′s flat-bottom steering wheel, trimmed in sueded-microfiber and designed for easier heel-and-toe driving on the racetrack. The quick-acting, short-throw shifter from the ZL1 is also trimmed in sueded microfiber.

Electric power steering and dual-mode exhaust bring ZL1 technology to SS models

All 2013 Camaro SS models, including the 1LE, will benefit from performance technologies that debuted on the 580-horsepower Camaro ZL1.

The improvements began in 2012, when all SS Coupes incorporated the ZL1-derived chassis element: Stabilizer bars with drop links repositioned outboard of the control arms. This made the stabilizer bars four times more effective than in previous models, for improved control of body roll and crisper response to steering input.

New for 2013, the electric power steering system developed for the ZL1 will be standard on all 2013 SS models. The variable ratio, variable effort system provides light efforts for easy maneuverability at parking-lot speeds as well as increased resistance at higher speeds. This provides more feedback, and a more direct steering feel, to the driver.

Also new for 2013 is an available dual-mode exhaust system, available on Camaro SS models with the LS3 V8 engine and six-speed manual transmissions. Similar to the systems found on the ZL1 and Corvette models, this vacuum-actuated system provides a quieter driving experience at low engine speeds and a more aggressive sound at high engine speeds.

MyLink connects you

Chevrolet’s color touch radio with MyLink infotainment is available on all 2013 Camaro LT, SS and ZL1 models. The color touch radio, with a 7-inch touch screen, also can be paired with an available in-dash GPS navigation system – a first for the Camaro.

The color touch radio with MyLink gives customers a higher level of in-vehicle wireless connectivity and customized infotainment options, while building on the safety and security of OnStar. It seamlessly integrates online services such as Pandora® internet radio and Stitcher SmartRadio® using hands-free voice and touch-screen controls via Bluetooth-enabled phones.

MyLink adds stereo audio streaming and wireless control of smartphones, building on the voice-activated Bluetooth hands-free calling capability already offered in most Chevy vehicles. The high-resolution, full-color touch screen display makes media selection easy to navigate.

MyLink also retains all the capabilities of today’s entertainment functions, including AM/FM/Sirius XM tuners, auxiliary and USB inputs.

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Review: Chevrolet Orlando Thu, 22 Mar 2012 19:07:41 +0000

It’s not often that automakers go to the trouble of bringing a car to Canada, but refrain from selling it in the United States. With one tenth the population and different homologation laws than the United States, the costs rarely make it worthwhile for automakers to import unique products to the Canadian market.

 Vehicles like the Mercedes-Benz B-Class or Nissan X-Trail are exceptions to the rule – compact utility vehicles that are fuel efficient and priced in the lower end of their segments. General Motors originally intended to sell the Chevrolet Orlando in the United States, but according to GM Canada, American engineers wanted to include features like knee airbags to help the Orlando meet an obscure American crash test regulation, but the cost of this change would have made the venture unprofitable. Since the vehicle already met every other unified North American standard, it was an easy choice to sell it in Canada, where higher fuel prices and a love of smaller vehicles would make it an attractive choice.

Minivans may be considered “uncool” by some, but they’ve yet to lose their luster up here. The Dodge Grand Caravan is one of Canada’s best-selling vehicles, and starts at the bargain basement price of $19,995 – identical to the Orlando. The similarities end there, as the Orlando is more a re-incarnation of the first generation Odyssey than a successor to the dreadful Uplander minivan that most of us have erased from our memories.

Like the old Odyssey, the Korean-built Orlando has conventionally hinged doors, a 4-cylinder engine and a smaller footprint than most traditional minivans. The Orlando, at 183 inches long, is nearly two feet shorter than a Grand Caravan and is 669 lbs lighter. The Orlando’s lack of heft means it feels like a big Cruze behind the wheel, with the same well-weighted but somewhat vague steering and relatively car-like driving dynamics. A 2.4L Ecotec engine and 6-speed automatic transmission are employed here, and while they feel slightly taxed in this application, the Orlando has enough power to get out of its own way. Pity that the GM 6-speed automatic still feels as if it’s on a 5-second delay to catch any instances of vehicular obscenity, as it spoils what could otherwise be a well-matched powertrain. Fuel economy around town was about 23 mpg, or 1 mpg better than GM’s city rating (supposedly it will return 34 mpg on the highway). A manual transmission is available, but the market for this unit is probably smaller than those Canadians who favor privatized healthcare or more lax gun laws.

The cabin of our tester was utilitarian, with all-black fabric and black plastic surfaces throughout our 2LT tester. The dash is basically identical to the Cruze, and all the controls will be familiar to anyone who has been in a recent GM product. One neat feature is a hinged stereo faceplate that can flip upwards to reveal a hidden storage compartment – great for cell phones, iPods and other gadgets. The seat fabric appears to be some kind of easy-to-clean material rather than plush cloth, likely a concession to owners who will want to clean up spilled apple juice rather than luxuriate in some fine imported fabric.

What the Orlando adds on the “car” side of the equation, it lacks on the “utility vehicle” side. There is no fancy stow-and-go seating arrangement like the Caravan, just conventional folding seats in the second row. The third row is very tight and suitable only for small kids. Owners would frankly be better off folding them flat, which opens up a much larger cargo area that would easily swallow up a couple suitcases.

Sales of the Orlando haven’t been that brisk, with the Mazda5 outselling it by over 100 units so far in 2012, and the Caravan comprising 60 percent of the total minivan market. The Caravan’s Stow ‘N Go seats, and the ability to swallow multiple hockey bags (thanks to the Caravan’s larger size) and identical pricing – both base models start at $19,995, and a Caravan with Stow ‘N Go starts at $23,995, while our Orlando 2LT starts at $500 less. The Orlando’s car-like nature made it easy to park and maneuver in the tight confines of downtown Toronto, and was able to haul myself, 4 friends and a dog around with ease on a weekend jaunt to a local park. But with most minivan buyers residing in the suburbs and ferrying multiple kids to school, hockey and all points in between, it’s easy to see why a traditional minivan may suit their needs better than the Orlando, despite the Chevrolet’s merits.

orlandotitle orlandotitle Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail 2012 Chevrolet Orlando. Photo courtesy Chris Blanchette for The Truth About Cars TTAC 2012 Chevrolet Orlando. Photo courtesy Chris Blanchette for The Truth About Cars TTAC 2012 Chevrolet Orlando. Photo courtesy Chris Blanchette for The Truth About Cars TTAC 2012 Chevrolet Orlando. Photo courtesy Chris Blanchette for The Truth About Cars TTAC 2012 Chevrolet Orlando. Photo courtesy Chris Blanchette for The Truth About Cars TTAC 2012 Chevrolet Orlando. Photo courtesy Chris Blanchette for The Truth About Cars TTAC 2012 Chevrolet Orlando. Photo courtesy Chris Blanchette for The Truth About Cars TTAC 2012 Chevrolet Orlando. Photo courtesy Chris Blanchette for The Truth About Cars TTAC IMG_0098 IMG_0094 IMG_0093 IMG_0092 IMG_0087 IMG_0085 IMG_0084 IMG_0077 IMG_0071 IMG_0062 IMG_0055 IMG_0051 IMG_0042 IMG_0038 IMG_0035 IMG_0031 IMG_0030 IMG_0021 IMG_0003 IMG_0101



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Review: Chrysler 300C SRT8 Sun, 04 Mar 2012 17:09:00 +0000

Back in the day, “American cars” were vast pieces of rolling sculpture powered by low-revving V8s driving the rear wheels through three-speed slushboxes. With a column shifter and bench front seat, they were designed to float effortlessly along in a straight line. The “imports” were the opposite of all of the above. Today these distinctions have all but disappeared. Four-wheeled wretched excess—in styling, in horsepower, in features, in sheer mass—has become much more typical of Munich and Stuttgart than Detroit. Neither GM nor Ford even offers a large rear-wheel-drive sedan to Americans. If you want the most traditionally American car available—that isn’t a truck—your only options come from an Italian-controlled plant in Canada. The 2011 Dodge Charger (in 370-horsepower R/T form) and I didn’t hit it off. Perhaps the Dodge, with its “four-door muscle car” exterior and 4/3-scale instrument panel, was just too American for me. So I requested the Chrysler variant to test the 470-horsepower SRT mill. Is the 2012 Chrysler 300C SRT8 too American, appropriately American, or not American enough?

Exterior styling: appropriately American

In recent decades, domestic manufacturers haven’t had much luck getting the general public to notice their new cars. But periodically they put one out that EVERYONE notices. With bold, even brash styling, the 2005 Chrysler 300C was one of these cars. The 2011 redesign is more elegant and less gangsta. Would it have made as great an impact as the 2005 back in ‘04? Probably not. But with the 2005 to blaze a trail, and a strong resemblance between the two, the second-gen car can afford to be more subtle. The “baby Bentley” grille (stealing from the Brits being a longstanding American tradition) has been toned down, perhaps overly much. But a little rake to the beltline, which lends the car a more dynamic appearance, and a brilliantly executed rear end make up for this. Have the refinements robbed the 300C of its distinctly American character? Well, American styling isn’t necessarily over-the-top. Detroit didn’t only give the world the ’57 300C and ’59 Eldo. It also gave us the ’61 Continental and ’63 Riv.

Interior styling: not American enough

The 2005 Chrysler 300C’s interior was too traditionally American, with rectangular elements finished in silver and trimmed in faux chrome. With the 2011 redesign the interior was entirely redone. Materials have been upgraded, yet aside from the synthetic suede on the seats and door panels seem much more appropriate at $33,000 than at $53,000—always a danger when a single model spans a very wide price range. Most of the surfaces are the soft-touch sort, but many don’t LOOK soft. The design of the new interior is overly generic, and fails to continue the bold flavor of the exterior. As in many current Chryslers, the surface detailing is overly plain and seems incomplete. In SRT8 trim, which includes an anthracite headliner, only the instruments’ powder blue lighting (an interesting choice) saves the cabin from having all the cheer of a coal bin. Not a bad interior, just a cold and boring one.

The toned-down exterior pays visibility dividends. With a less radically upright windshield and enlarged windows, it’s much easier to see out. But you’re still clearly not sitting in any old car—the view over the hood still suggests size and muscle. As in the Charger, those under 6-2 will want to raise the front seat. Unlike in the Charger, the instrument panel doesn’t seem ridiculously large even with the seat raised. The front seats are large and comfortable, but aren’t as aggressively bolstered as those in the first-generation SRT8. This last change could be good or bad, depending on how large you are. But all is not optimal for the XXL driver: you won’t find the sort of wide open space that used to typify American iron thanks to the height and breadth of the un-American center console.

The rear seat isn’t as wide as the broad-shouldered exterior suggests, but the cushion is comfortably high and rear legroom, at just over 40 inches, is ample. The center console can swallow a fairly large camera. Truck volume, at 16.3 cubic feet, is merely acceptable for a car of this size, but the rear seat can be folded to expand it. This last feature is ironic: in a reversal of tradition, it’s now as rare in upscale Japanese sedans as it used to be in American ones.

Features and functionality: ergonomics knows no borders

The interior’s aesthetic restraint contributes to easy-to-use controls, which pair large knobs with a fat-finger-friendly touchscreen. A SafetyTec Package includes adaptive cruise, forward collision warning, a blind spot warning system, and cross-path detection. These systems work well enough—if you properly configure them. When the sensitivity of the forward collision warning is set to “far,” it detects an impending collision at any curve in the road where a sign is posted. I also disabled the audible warning for the blind spot system. Prior to these two tweaks the frequency of warning beeps was maddening. Unfortunately, no settings are offered for the seatbelt warning system, which has no grace period. (Buckle up immediately or be scolded.) The SRT8 includes an acceleration timer and G-meter. One suggestion with the latter: round very small numbers to zero. As is, the meter often displays 0.02 or so when heading straight down the road. A final oddity: the “Sport” button that adjusts the transmission and adaptive dampers is on the page for the seat heaters.

Engine: gloriously American

Look, Ma, no cover! For 2012, the SRT “HEMI” V8 engine gets a bump from 6.1 to 6.4 liters and the 5.7’s multi-displacement system. The former change enables a 45 horsepower bump, to 470 at 6,000 rpm. Torque is up 50 pound-feet, to 470 at 4,300 rpm. The 6.4 is vocal when prodded, but not too loud, and its noises are music to any enthusiast’s ears. Despite a fairly high state of tune and pushrod valve actuation, there’s no lumpy idle or mechanical thrashing at high rpm. The regular 300C mill is hardly torque-deficient, with 394 pound-feet at 4,200 rpm. Still, the SRT8’s additional twist is readily evident. In fact, the Goodyear Eagle RS-A 2s on the tested car were not remotely capable of handling all of it. Mash the go pedal at any speed up to 35 and the rear end not only breaks loose but kicks out to the right. On dry pavement. Grippier summer tires are a $150 option. (These were originally installed on the tested car, but were removed for the winter.)

Transmission: too American even if it’s German

Though Detroit’s longstanding ratio deficiency appears to be nearing its end, this end hasn’t come soon enough for the 2012 300C SRT8. The five-speed automatic supplied by former “partner” Daimler is not only short on ratios but slow to react and often bumpy when it finally does so. Hopefully the ZF 8-speed automatic paired with the V6 migrates up the line soon.

Fuel economy: too American

The original SRT8 engine incurred a $2,000 gas guzzler tax. (Unless you got the Dodge Magnum wagon, which was classified as a truck.) One reason: the 6.1 lacked the 5.7’s cylinder deactivation system, whereby the engine runs on only four cylinders while cruising. I suggested that they add it.

With the 6.4, they have. Results are…mixed. The EPA ratings are up from 13 city / 19 highway to 14 / 23. The gas guzzler tax is halved. In suburban driving with a light to moderate foot the trip computer reported between 14 and 16 miles-per-gallon. A heavy foot easily sends the numbers into the single digits.

So, what’s not to like about this improvement (aside from its modest size)? Combine the SRT8’s more vocal character with cylinder deactivation and you get a mildly unpleasant rumble in “eco.” Active noise cancellation would help.

Handling: too American?

The 300C SRT8, with the benefit of a slightly firmer suspension and adaptive dampers, handles better than the Charger R/T. But it’s still not a budget alternative to the $67,000+ Cadillac CTS-V. The Chrysler feels much larger—partly because it is larger (198.6 x 75.0 vs. 191.6 x 72.5 inches, 4,365 vs. 4,255 pounds). But beyond this the Chrysler’s steering doesn’t feel as sharp, as nuanced, or as direct and its body motions aren’t as tightly or as precisely controlled. Pitch the big car into a curve and there’s a touch of slop before the chassis takes a set (even in “Sport”). Once there, the car handles stably and predictably. In a much more fair comparison, the SRT8 rides and handles with considerably more composure than the Hyundai Genesis R-Spec, the only other largish sedan with 400+ horsepower at a similar price.

While the suspension can get jittery over the small stuff, it absorbs larger bumps well and remains far from harsh. Noise levels are fairly low, with the overall ambiance just short of that of a truly premium car. The 300C SRT8 doesn’t make you want to take the long way home, but it doesn’t make every mile of your commute feel like a punishment, either. You’ll feel like a badass while driving this car, without suffering one.

Pricing: appropriately American

The tested $53,435 car had the SafetyTec Package and the 900-watt audio system, each of which bumps the price by $1,995, but not the $1,495 panoramic sunroof (which would have helped lighten up the dark interior). A Cadillac CTS-V equipped like an unoptioned 300C SRT8 is over $18,000 more—hence the unfairness of my comparisons to it. And the Hyundai Genesis R-Spec? It has standard equipment comparable to that of the tested car, plus a sunroof. Add 19-inch tires to the Hyundai, and it lists for $48,750, with no gas guzzler tax. So about $6,200 less than the Chrysler before adjusting for remaining feature differences and about $4,100 less afterwards (based on TrueDelta’s car price comparison tool). Compared to any other 400-plus-horsepower sedan, though, the Chrysler costs far less. An Infiniti M56 is about $15,000 more. Something European? If you have to ask…

Overall: honestly American

A sign of the times: the most American sedan you can buy is assembled in a Canadian plant with a Mexican engine and a German transmission by an Italian-controlled company. So what makes it American? The configuration, the look, the feel. A large, powerful, boldly (yet also tastefully) styled semi-premium car at a relatively low price? You can’t get much more American. The Hyundai Genesis R-Spec has similar specs and a similar price, but it has no identity, neither a heritage nor anything that makes it special. Granted, the 300C SRT8 looks more special than it feels. In normal driving, its drivetrain and chassis provide few clues to the car’s performance potential. But is this a weakness? For me personally, yes. But today’s upscale sedans sacrifice driver involvement in favor of driver isolation. They’re all becoming more American because this is what many people worldwide, not just most Americans, want. At least the Chrysler comes by this character honestly.

Chrysler provided the car with insurance and a tank of gas.

Michael Karesh operates, an online provider of car reliability and real-world fuel economy information.

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Review: 2012 Chevrolet Sonic LTZ Turbo Take Two Sun, 12 Feb 2012 18:54:59 +0000

My intial review of the 2012 Chevrolet Sonic was less than stellar. Considerably less. But, as noted, that reviewed covered the LT trim level with the normally-aspirated 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine and six-speed automatic transmission. Everyone else (aside from our own Steve Lang) has been reviewing the LTZ trim level with the 1.4-liter turbocharged four and six-speed manual transmission. They’ve been much more positive about the car. How much difference can an engine, transmission, and tires make?

The differences begin with exterior appearance. Car companies frequently fit cars with a smaller wheel than they were designed for, but how they expect this to help sell cars escapes me. Even if some people buy the aesthetically afflicted car, others will see it on the road and form their initial impressions accordingly. Though not a beauty in any configuration, the Sonic looks much better with the LTZ’s 17-inch alloys than the LT’s 15s. The aggressively styled front end and chunky fenders were clearly penned with the larger wheels (or perhaps even larger ones) in mind. Especially when the car is painted orange, as both tested cars were, the 17s should be mandatory. Both of the tested cars were also hatchbacks, but unlike with other B-segment cars the Sonic sedan is equally attractive.

The interior plastics didn’t seem any nicer after a week than they did during my earlier test drive. Even in the LTZ they’re competitive with other cars in the segment but a clear step down from the fabric trim (on the instrument panel!) and soft-touch polymers of the C-segment Chevrolet Cruze. My fondness for the motorcycle-inspired gauge cluster did grow with familiarity. Unlike the oddball digital instruments of decades past, those in the Sonic actually work well, clearly and entertainingly presenting essential information.

The driving position and interior dimensions are of course unchanged from the LT to the LTZ. In either trim the Sonic feels larger than its direct competitors, and more like cars from a size class up, thanks to a high beltline and distant windshield. Whether this is a plus or a minus depends on whether you prefer your small cars to actually seem small. Chevrolet’s bet, is no doubt a sound one: most people buying a B-segment car would get something larger if they could afford it. Actual interior room is among the best in the segment, so the average adult will just fit without scrunching. The front seats are comfortable, but those seeking much lateral support will be much happier in the upcoming 2013 Sonic RS. Oddly, the heated seats only have one level of adjustment.

The 1.4-liter engine might be turbocharged, but with the same peak horsepower rating as the normally-aspirated 1.8 it’s not a screamer. In fact, it’s the opposite. Where the 1.8 lugs, gargles, buzzes, and roars in the process of motivating the Sonic’s 2,600 pounds (which shouldn’t actually be a tall order for a 138-horsepower 1.8), the 1.4T effectively accomplishes this task. The difference: a much plumper midrange (indicated by 148 pound-feet of torque vs. 125) and much more refinement from idle to redline. In fact, the 1.4T isn’t only smoother and stronger than the Sonic’s other engine, but better than the segment’s other powerplants. If you’re seeking a B-segment car that provides effortless acceleration in typical suburban driving, the Sonic with the 1.4T engine is your only option in North America.

Given the engine’s plump midrange and less stout top end—it was clearly optimized for the former—there’s little joy in and even less justification for making runs to the redline. But the six-speed manual transmission is still the way to go. The stick feels slicker and more solid than past GM efforts—and than Hyundai’s current effort in the Accent. Aside from the more direct connection with the car a manual transmission always provides, this one provides the additional benefit of avoiding the unrefined, poorly programmed six-speed automatic. Then again, the automatic isn’t yet available with the 1.4T (though this combo has been offered since launch in the Cruze.) The EPA ratings: 29 city, 40 highway. In suburban driving with a light foot the trip computer reported from 34.5 to 37.5. With a heavier foot it reported 27 to 30.

Already noted: the Sonic feels like a larger car from the driver seat. Aside from this, it handles quite well in LTZ trim, where the 205/50HR17 Hankook Optimo H428 tires actually provide enough grip to exercise the suspension (if still much less than the suspension could handle). There’s even some communication from the steering, though a smaller diameter wheel than the GM standard unit would be welcome. Likely tuned with young, inexperienced drivers in mind, the Sonic feels very stable and controllable even as the front tires begin their progressive slide into moderate understeer. For all but the least skilled drivers the Sonic LTZ 1.4T should be an easy and enjoyable (if not quite engaging) car to drive quickly along a curvy road.

Given this safe, predictable handling, a stability control system that cuts in much earlier and more aggressively than the typical GM system is overkill. Holding down the button to turn the system off doesn’t actually turn it off, only bumps the intervention threshold. And even then the system cuts in a little early. If you can’t safely exercise the Sonic even without the aid of a stability control system, you probably shouldn’t be driving.

Though the Sonic’s handling borders on crisp and its body motions are better controlled than those of more softly-sprung Cruze, its ride is about as smooth and quiet as it gets in this class. The Ford Fiesta feels more Euro taut and solid, but the Chevrolet feels larger and steadier.

The big disadvantage of the 1.4T engine: it adds $700 to the Sonic’s price, a significant sum in this most price-sensitive segment. Go with the LTZ to get suitably-sized rims, and the sticker comes to $18,695. A Hyundai Accent SE with an equally powerful but not nearly as torquey 1.6-liter four is $2,000 less. The Sonic does include quite a few additional features, among them four additional airbags, a telescoping steering wheel, automatic headlights, heated seats, and OnStar. (But if you want rear disc brakes like those standard on the Hyundai, you’ll need to wait for the even pricier 2013 Sonic RS.) Adjust for these feature differences using TrueDelta’s car price comparison tool, and the Accent retains a $600 advantage. Which is essentially how much the 1.4T engine costs. Consider this the price of midrange torque and, once feature differences are adjusted for, the two cars are close in price. And the Ford Fiesta? Topping $19,000 when similarly equipped, it’s clearly the priciest of the three.

Longish story short, the Sonic is a much better car with the 1.4T engine and the LTZ’s larger wheels. Unfortunately, these features also bump the price considerably. For price-sensitive folk GM needs a more refined base engine and a 17-inch wheel option for the LT. For enthusiasts, an RS is on the way with sport buckets and sport suspension. What the RS won’t have: a stronger engine. This is a shame. While the 1.4T is the best engine in the segment for the typical driver, it’s strength—a strong midrange—makes it less suitable for enthusiasts seeking a payoff north of 4,000 rpm. The Opel Corsa is available with a 189-horsepower 1.6-liter engine. If GM were truly swinging for the fences, this would be the engine in the Sonic RS.

Chevrolet provided the car with insurance and a full tank of gas.

Michael Karesh operates, an online provider of car reliability and real-world fuel economy information.

Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail Sonic LTZ front, photo courtesy Michael Karesh Sonic LTZ front quarter high, photo courtesy Michael Karesh Sonic LTZ front quarter, photo courtesy Michael Karesh Sonic LTZ side, photo courtesy Michael Karesh Sonic LTZ rear quarter, photo courtesy Michael Karesh Sonic LTZ interior, photo courtesy Michael Karesh Sonic LTZ interior right, photo courtesy Michael Karesh Sonic LTZ instrument panel, photo courtesy Michael Karesh Sonic LTZ rear seat, photo courtesy Michael Karesh Sonic LTZ cargo, photo courtesy Michael Karesh Sonic LTZ instruments, photo courtesy Michael Karesh Sonic LTZ engine, photo courtesy Michael Karesh Sonic LT front quarter, photo courtesy Michael Karesh Sonic LT side view, photo courtesy Michael Karesh ]]> 86
Cadillac XTS, Lincoln MKT Livery Cars On Display Next Week In Las Vegas Tue, 31 Jan 2012 16:49:45 +0000

Panther fans, grab your heart medication. Cadillac and Lincoln will be unveiling their entrants into the livery car market next week at the International LCT show in Las Vegas, based on the front-drive Cadillac XTS sedan and Lincoln MKT crossover.

The “W20 Livery Sedan Package” appears to be a trim level on its own, with distinct extended wheelbase and sedan chassis variants offered later this year. The W20 looks like  comes loaded with every option available, including the Brembo brake package. Lincoln has previously shown their MKT livery car concept. For my money, nothing beats a nice Signature L. The full press release is below.

Cadillac, Premier Sponsor at 28th Annual International LCT Show Produced by LCT (Limousine, Charter and Tour) Magazine, Set to Debut New Livery Vehicle

LAS VEGAS, NV–(Marketwire – Jan 26, 2012) – Annual International LCT Show produced by Bobit Business Media, with media sponsor, LCT (Limousine, Charter and Tour) Magazine announced a Premier Sponsor, Cadillac, will debut new their newest livery vehicle during the event, taking place February 13-15 at the MGM Grand Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas.

Cadillac jump-starts a changing limousine market with a long-awaited premier luxury sedan it hopes will catapult it ahead of longtime livery rival Lincoln. Once unveiled Feb. 13, the Cadillac XTS will go head-to-head with other luxury brand sedans in the industry. Buyers will need to choose between the multiple luxury sedan offerings and the crossover-styled MKT Town Car that Lincoln is showing.

While a successor to the former DTS/DeVille line of luxury sedans, the XTS heralds a revamped design that emphasizes a sportier, younger luxury image suffused with advanced technology and intuitive connectivity. “This new vehicle will help dispel some of the myths out there about Cadillac,” said Ray Bush, Cadillac Professional Vehicles Program Manager. “The Cadillac of old was from the standpoint of large, floaty vehicles. Cadillac has moved away from that with its new products launched over the last 10 years. The XTS will further that with outstanding ride characteristics that compare favorably with Cadillac vehicles of the past.”

Standard features include: illuminated door handles, push-button start, Brembo brakes, rear vision camera and obstacle detection, and OnStar. Optional features include: Navigation system; a Luxury Package with a memory driver’s seat, heated/cooled front seats and a premium audio system with surround sound; and a Rear Comfort package with heated seats, side-window and backlight sun shades and Tri-zone HVAC controls.

The XTS “W20 Livery Sedan Package” will be unveiled in the Cadillac booth at the International LCT Show, with the extended sedan and limousine chassis available later this year. Special pricing and incentives are expected be announced at the show as well. All vehicles for the chauffeured transportation industry are covered with PVPP extended warranty for 3 years or 150,000 miles, whichever comes first.

For more information on the International LCT Show, visit

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Canadian Condo Won’t Let Chevrolet Volt Owner Charge His Car Fri, 27 Jan 2012 16:49:32 +0000

A Chevrolet Volt owner in Ottawa, Ontario has been blocked by his condominium board from charging his Chevrolet Volt – even though he has offered to reimburse the board for the $1 (approximately) in electricity it takes to charge the Volt at local rates.

Mike Nemat, who bought a Volt a couple months back, lives in a high-rise condominium building where tenants collectively share the cost of things like electricity bills. Nemat has an electrical outlet near his parking spot, originally intended for an engine block heater, that he’s been using to charge his Volt.

Under the condo’s rules, Nemat is allowed to use a block heater, which consumes almost as much electricity as a Volt. But if Nemat wants to use his outlet for charging purposes, the board says he must install a separate electrical meter, at a cost of $3,000. The board claims that they do not subsidize the fueling of other vehicles, and therefore shouldn’t be paying for electricity for the Volt – Nemat offered to reimburse the board for any electricity used, but the board still declined (though without a meter, a precise figure couldn’t be determined), and will disable that particular outlet.

One of Nemat’s neighbors had a pragmatic take on it, suggesting that someone using a toaster or leaving the lights on all night is just as much of a drain on electricity as Nemat’s Volt. Increasing numbers of Canadians in urban areas live in these buildings, and some are friendlier than others – one Toronto condo even hosts Tesla Toronto’s vehicles and allows them use of a 240V charging station. Nemat and his Volt are likely the tip of the iceberg with respect to this issue – as plug-in vehicles and higher density housing take root (and really, a downtown condo owner is the kind of person that a Nissan Leaf is perfectly suited for), there will be increased demand for charging stations.

Disclaimer: The above photo is not Nemat’s Volt. I tested a Volt for a week in December, and parked it at a public garage which has a 240V EV charging station. One day, a Durango took my spot, and so I parked it next to a standard 110V outlet and used the factory trickle charger. I came back to find the unit unplugged, thus ruining my 4-day streak of not using a single drop of gasoline. In typical Canadian fashion, the cord was neatly drapped across the side-mirror, the charge port door had been closed and the trickle charger unit placed off to the side and out of harm’s way. I can only assume it was done by a security guard who thought I was “stealing electricity” from the garage.

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White House Denies Delaying Chevrolet Volt Fire Announcement Mon, 16 Jan 2012 17:18:50 +0000

Obama! Socialism! Taxes! Jesus! Faith! Guns! Now that you’re paying attention, it’s time for our regularly scheduled programming. A Detroit News article claims that NHTSA is denying any interference on the part of the White House with respect to the Chevrolet Volt fires that resulted from government crash test procedures.

News of the fires only came to light in November, despite the fires occurring in June. NHTSA head David Strickland claims that the White House wasn’t informed until September. A letter sent to three Republican congressmen states that

“shortly thereafter informed the Executive Office of the President regarding the June fire and NHTSA’s test plans to determine if the fire indicated that there is a risk of post-crash fires in Chevrolet Volts. No one from the Executive Office of the President requested or in any way suggested that NHTSA delay public release of information related to the Volt fire,” 

GM previously announced a fix for the Volt’s battery pack and leaky coolant, which is said to have caused the fires. GM has yet to restart production of the Volt since the line went idle in December, and won’t be able to apply the new safety measures to the Volt until some time in February of this year.

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NAIAS Preview: Cadillac ATS Reveal Mon, 09 Jan 2012 13:18:25 +0000

Note: Photos courtesy of Cars In Depth. Click here for a complete gallery of photos from the Cadillac ATS reveal.

At an invitation only event held at Detroit’s College For Creative Studies, last night Cadillac revealed its new BMW 3 fighter, the ATS. The location was appropriate since CCS is located in a former General Motors’ building, actually the first location of Harley Earl’s “Art & Colour” department, the progenitor of what is now called GM Design. In fact there’s a lounge where Earl’s corner office used to be right around the bend from the hall where the reveal was, and the hall itself was formerly used by GM styling for in-house displays. Twenty of the 170 CCS graduates at GM Design worked on the ATS project and Cadillac is a major benefactor of the school. The choice of the location was anything but a coincidence. Cadillac is undoubtedly using styling to set the ATS apart from its luxury C segment competitors.

At least from the front, the ATS makes a visual statement that’s more dramatic than anything that BMW, Mercedes or Audi offers in that segment. When you see the ATS’ ‘face’ you’ll know immediately that it’s a Cadillac but also that it’s a new Cadillac. Choosing to not take a page from the same German sausage in different sizes cook book, the ATS is also distinctive from the CTS and other current Caddies. The grille is a bit narrower top to bottom than in the CTS, the hood is raised from the fender line giving it a power bulge look, and the headlights extend back into the fender well over the wheel well. Those lamps are have a contour that’s slightly raised from the fender. I asked if that was to create some kind of aerodynamic flow past the rear view mirrors but was told that it was strictly a styling decision. At the back it’s more Art & Science, with a nice looking contrasting color lower valence/diffuser that integrates two chrome exhaust tips. Following the trend of “four door coupes”, sedans with rooflines like that of the Mercedes-Benz CLS, the ATS has a  fastback profile, with the short deck lid continuing the line of the back window, culminating in a little ducktail spoiler cum CHMSL brake light. While the flanks are a bit generic, in profile the ATS does have an nice, aggressive stance. Cars in this class are “self rewards”, there’s an aspect of wanting to stand out from the crowd. Cadillac says that their market research shows that the more cars that BMW sells in that class, the more common they become, the less aspirational the 3 becomes to those who want to show that they’ve arrived. So the ATS was designed to stand out in a crowded country club parking lot. You may be less likely to see it at your local senior center. If my 22 year old daughter’s reaction is any gauge, the ATS will not be seen as an old folks’ car. She said it was “sexy” and that she thought people her age would like it. That brought wide smiles to the faces of the people wearing Cadillac pins.

Taking on the relatively staid Germans with dramatic styling is one thing. Detroit has always been known for styling. Taking on the Germans’ reputation for performance is a much more difficult task, and make no mistake, it is the Germans that they are taking on. The words Infiniti and Lexus were never mentioned, though BMW, Mercedes Benz and Audi certainly were, as was the word “Nurburgring”, where the ATS’ suspension was tuned. Subsequently much of the press conference’s emphasis was on performance, stressing how a manual transmission will be available with all three engines, perhaps an allusion to rumors (since denied) that BMW would not be offering a stick shift on the next M5. The three engines are a 2.5 liter normally aspirated four, a new 2.0 L turbo motor that has the highest specific output in its class, and Cadillac’s 3.6 L V6. The V6 is tuned for 320 HP in this application, and they were sure to point out that figure is higher than that offered in the segment’s benchmark, the BMW 3. GM marketing and communications folks made it clear that we can anticipate ATS variants along the same line as the CTS nameplate has been expanded. I don’t know about a ATS wagon, but I think it’s safe to anticipate high performance V versions and probably some kind of two-door coupe.

The autojournos were crowding into the three sample ATSes on the stage, so I didn’t get a close look at the interior, but it does have one trick feature that I noticed, the nav screen flips up to reveal a secure storage area. The three cars represented three different levels of interior trim out of the five that will be offered. As with recent Cadillacs, there is a surfeit of detail stitching on the upholstery and interior trim. The metallic black car was kitted with rather flashy red and dark grey upholstery along with real carbon fiber panels. The top trim line represented had a dove grey interior with very impressive looking zebrano wood panels on the doors.

In his remarks Mark Reuss said that the design brief for the car was to make it nimble, quick and fun. Towards that end, he said that they worked hard to reduce weight, paying attention to grams, not just kilograms.  The paddle shifters, for example, are made of magnesium. The result is that the ATS, at just under 3,400 lbs, weighs less than the BMW 3. Yes, I know that the General has had a weight problem, with its cars sometimes weighing hundreds of pounds more than competitors, but in this case Florine Mark  would be proud of them, they’ve watched the ATS’ weight. That weight is said to be distributed equally over the front and back wheels, 50/50. It’s a rear wheel drive platform, though it’s also available in AWD. Another thing that Reuss said should give hope to those that think that the bankruptcy has changed the culture at GM. Reuss said that he hates the word “competitive”, that their intention was not just to make a competitive product but rather a class leader. We’ll know if that’s just marketing talk or not in a few months when the ATS goes on sale in the US this summer and in other markets, particularly Europe later on.

Nobody would give me projected production figures for the ATS, which will be built in Lansing, Michigan. I was told, repeatedly, though, that they expect the ATS to be Cadillac’s volume leader. The ATS is being priced deliberately to create space between it any future variants and the CTS line. Hopefully for Cadillac the ATS won’t cannibalize too many sales from the CTS. If that’s the case and the ATS does indeed turn out to be the brand’s volume leader, that means total sales for the Cadillac brand could increase dramatically. On paper and in person the ATS looks like a winner. How it will perform on the road and in the showroom, though, is a different question. Reuss is correct. Competitive sets the bar too low. BMW dominates that segment perhaps like no other car company dominates an automotive market segment. If Cadillac is going to do something about that, it has to be compelling, not just competitive.

GM CEO Dan Akerson, VP of Design Ed Welburn & GM President Mark Reuss


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