David E. Davis Jr. Rejoins Car And Driver

Car and Driver's new editor-in-chief Eddie Alterman is on issue number two of his tenure...and he's continuing to hit all the right notes.

At his invitation, David E. Davis, Jr., who held that office twice in the 60s, 70s and 80s (both tenures widely considered to be the golden years of C/D) has returned as a columnist.

Davis is the father of modern automotive journalism, a true giant whose talents and instincts not only propelled Car and Driver to the top while he was at the helm, but provided sufficient momentum to keep C/D there for the 23 years since his departure to launch Automobile. His most recent venture was the online magazine Winding Road.

If you took everything Davis ever wrote in his life and put it in one volume, I'd read it all (most of it for the second or third time) and then urge you to do the same.

Davis says he's rejoining Car and Driver because it is the one car magazine with the ingredients needed to succeed.

Alterman's second issue (July, 2009) is yet another big step forward in putting Car and Driver back in gear, from a thought-provoking editor's column, to continued refinements in content and artwork (including the cleanest-looking cover in years).

Last month's appearance by former editor-in-chief Csaba Csere, kicking off a series on Certified Pre-Owned vehicles, appears to have been a one-shot...Tony Swan writes installment number two (on Porsche 911's)

DED, Jr.'s first column is in there, too...a brilliant piece on former General Motors chief Rick Wagoner and what might soon be the former General Motors. Go buy a copy. Then subscribe. This is going to be very good...at a time when we car folks need it most.

Car and Driver May 1964 (Vol 9 No 11)
Automobile, December 1988, Vol. 3, No. 9.


Ford F-150 Supercrew Lariat Review

If you were wondering why Lincoln chose to discontinue building the Mark LT pickup this year, meet the reason:

The Ford F-150 4X4 Supercrew Lariat.

A fact fewer and fewer people seem to know: Full-size pickup trucks can be fairly cheap. A base Ford F-150 XL standard cab starts at $20,815.

But not this one. Base price: $37,990. And the Ford PR folks slathered on more than eight grand worth of options (special color metallic paint, limited slip axle, navigation, a chrome step bar, moonroof, the Lariat Plus package, 20 inch aluminum wheels, a trailer brake controller and heated and cooled leather captain's chairs) for a bottom line before discounts of $46,195.

Thank goodness for the $1,000 Lariat premium discount...it's really only $45,195.

Incredibly, the Lariat isn't the top of the line...meaning $45,195 isn't all the money you can spend for a Ford truck. The King Ranch edition starts about six grand higher than the Lariat base price...and the Platinum goes $1600 above the King Ranch.

Meaning you can break $50,000 here.

Mileage? Well, rent a car to go to the Sierra Club meetings. The EPA says 14 city/18 highway.

So...given all that, how is it?

If you want a full-size, four-door truck loaded like only Lincoln Town Cars used to be (and more tasefully at that)...and it appears that's exactly how truck buyers like them these days, then this is the one.

At least, I think. It's definitely one-upped the Chevy Silverado. There's also a new Dodge Ram pickup for 2009, but Chrysler pulled it out of the Phoenix press fleet a few weeks before my scheduled week in it. Will we see one again? If you know the answer, a courtesy call to the UAW workers biting their nails over Mopar's future would be nice.


Keep your gear dry with a Ford F150 tonneau cover from AmericanTrucks.


How It Happened

The once inconceivable is now reality. General Motors, rebuffed by bondholders, appears headed to bankruptcy court and a future we can only guess at. Peter DeLorenzo's piece on Autoextremist today is the best analysis of how the mightiest corporation ever managed to fall.


Mercury Mariner Premier Review

Somewhat lost in the hype over the Ford Escape Hybrid is how good a vehicle that is even without the super-green powertrain.

Its fraternal twin, the Mercury Mariner Premier came to TireKicker Villa for a week's stay recently and made its case for the traditional good life.

You see, the Escape Hybrid I tested last summer was a base model with just one option...Ford and Microsoft's SYNC audio system.

The Premier came loaded...nearly six grand worth of options including heated mirrors and seats, 17 inch painted aluminum wheels, moonroof, a mini-overhead console with map light, the rear cargo convenience package, a navigation and audiophile music system, dual zone climate control and a reverse sensing system.

The moonroof gets a "Moon & Tune" discount (that's what they call it on the window sticker) of $395, so with $725 in delivery charges, the Mariner bottom-lined at $29,670...a stone's throw from the as-tested price of the Escape Hybrid.

Ah, you say....but you're giving up all that fuel economy. Well, yes and no.

Hybrids are designed to deliver the biggest improvements in fuel economy in the city, where the electric engine can often take over completely in low-speed driving (or crawling, as commuters on L.A.'s 405 freeway might know it).

Often, hybrids' EPA estimates are the reverse of normal cars...higher in city than on the highway. That's the case for the Ford Escape Hybrid...34 city/30 highway.

At 20 city, the loaded Mariner (even with the four-cylinder engine our tester had) uses a lot more fuel.

But what if you do mostly highway (or uncongested city freeway) driving? Well, then things get interesting...because the Mariner's EPA estimate is 28...only two mpg less than the Hybrid (which, by the way, you can get in the Mariner as well).

If your driving tips the scales toward highway, then a loaded Mariner with a gasoline four, selling for a grand or so less than a base Escape Hybrid with SYNC (though the tax credit pretty much makes it a wash) might make as much or more sense. Less complexity...less uncertainty about what the bill might be when the battery pack fails after the warranty runs out.

Your call. They're both very good small SUVs.


And Miles To Go...

Whether the fuel economy standards announced by President Obama yesterday are a good thing or not is a matter of opinion (or perhaps ideology). But, as Peter DeLorenzo notes in today's Autoextremist, it is what it is...and now the work begins.

So how far from the targets are the cars we drive now? Jalopnik did the math, and found that not a single automaker is there yet.

UPDATE: But then, Los Jalops learned more about the nuts, bolts and...um...air conditioning...behind the figures. Turns out the bar's a lot lower than the headlines suggest.


Nissan 370Z Review

Oh, man, I hope the Nissan dealers have sold all the leftover 350Zs already.

Because once you drive the new 370Z, there is no going back.

The 350Z was nice and all...apart from a seriously cheap interior...but this...well, wow.

332 horsepower. 270 pounds per foot of torque.

A six-speed manual transmission.

18 inch wheels.

An interior someone spent time and money on.

That's the standard stuff...that comes with the $29,930 base price.

The one I drove for a week (and seriously considered hiding when Nissan came around to pick it up) had Chicane Yellow paint ($500: see photo above), carpeted floor mats ($115) and the Sport Package (SynchroRev Match manual transmission, viscous limited slip differential, 19 inch RAYS forged wheels, upgraded P245 and P275 tires, front chin and rear spoiler and Nissan Sport Brakes for $3,000).

Total price, including $695 destination charge:


Oh, sign me up already!

I haven't wanted a Z like this in 30 years. And it doesn't hurt that while you're rocketing across the universe (or so it feels), the EPA says you're getting 18 miles per gallon in the city and 26 on the highway.

The Z lost its way for a couple of decades...but it's all the way back now.

Lincoln MKS Review

Do something enough times and people can assume it's true again, even when it's not.

Case in point: Lincoln has spent the last few years taking Fords and dressing them up with Lincoln grilles, badges and logos (Expedition becomes Navigator; Explorer becomes Aviator; F-150 becomes Mark LT; Fusion becomes MKZ, Edge becomes MXK) that when I saw the new MKS on a stand at the Auto Show in November 2007, I assumed that it was a gussied-up Taurus.

I was wrong.

Sure, the MKS and Taurus are built of the same platform (shared with the Volvo S80), but Lincoln has shaken off the doldrums and built its own car here...and one that actually deserves the Lincoln nameplate.

Start with the leather, top-quality stuff sourced from the same company that provided hides to Lincoln 50 years ago. Move on to fit and finish...well above anything we've seen from Dearborn in a long, long time. The interior designers have crafted a distinctly Lincoln instrument panel, making the common item from the Ford parts bin look less, rather than more conspicuous.

The MKS was also my first experience with Ford's new SYNC system featuring live weather radar, up-to-the-minute sports scores and movie listings (I wouldn't have blamed them for making it a Lincoln exclusive for a year, but it's also available in the Ford Flex and the Escape Hybrid).

On the road? More than adequate power, and far better handling than any Lincoln I can remember.

The distinctive grille, meant to evoke memories of the late 30s-early 40s Continentals, is actually pointing the way to Lincoln's future. Let's hope the MKS is indicative of what Lincoln not only can but will do with future models.

UPDATE: Recently had a week in a second MKS, this one with "premium" rather than "ultimate" leather, and missing the dual-panel moonroof. Everything I wrote above still stands. But as a full production model, this one came with price and EPA estimates.

Base price: $37,665.

Options: $1,115 for the Technology Package (rain sensing interval wipers, adaptive headlamps with auto high beam, forward sensing system and Intelligent Access push button steering wheel).

$2,995 for the Navigation Package (voice activated nav system, rear-view camera, THX-II certified audio system with 5.1 surround sound).

$510 for 19 inch bright machine cast aluminum wheels.

Bottom line (including $800 delivery charge): $43,085. Pretty much in line with Cadillac CTS.

EPA estimates: 17 city/24 highway.

Crash ratings still pending at time of shipment.

Cadillac CTS Review

Welcome to exhibit A in the argument that Americans can still (or maybe "again") build world-class, exciting, involving cars.

Two true stories: The first from about six or seven years ago, when my boyhood race driver hero, Bob Bondurant, swapped his fleet of Mustangs at the Bondurant School of High Performance Driving near Phoenix, Arizona for the first-gen Cadillac CTS. Was he kidding, I asked?

Bob himself tossed me the keys to a leftover Mustang and told me to take the slalom course (my favorite) for as long as I wanted and get my best time...and then take a CTS.

It took about four tries to get it with the Mustang.

In the CTS, I blew the best Mustang time away on the first shot...and it got better from there. The thing handled like it was on rails.

Yeah, it was a bit underpowered and the interior was kinda plasticky, but the car was a ball to drive...and it has gotten better not with every generational change, but with every model year.

Second, I have a friend who has owned a string of Mercedes-Benzes. He's now on his third CTS. Everytime the lease comes up, he orders another...and calls me, marveling at how they've made a great car better.

The '09 CTS simply rocks. $36,265 gets you a 263 horsepower V6 that's smooth as silk, mated to a six-speed manual, anti-lock brakes, 17-inch wheels, dual-zone climate control, terrifically comfortable seats, an 8-speaker Bose audio system with AM/FM/CD/mp3 and XM and more. Stop there and you've got a great car and an amazing bargain.

But toss $9,300 or so in options on it, like GM did with our test car and you'll be blown away. This one had the luxury level one package, a hugely upgraded audio system including a 40 gig hard drive music device and a very, very good navigation system that hides inside the dash when not in use, a six-speed automatic and...wonder of wonders, real wood on the center console, instrument panel and door trim.

There's only one cooler Cad on earth...and it's spoken for until at least 2012.

UPDATE: Another week in another CTS...this one with only $5,000 worth of options (kissing the upgraded audio and nav systems goodbye) just reinforces my earlier opinions. Though I'd probably pop for the audio.

Range Rover Supercharged Review

Sometimes the photos just nail it. It's tempting to write as little as possible and let the image do the talking.

To me, the shot of the Range Rover Supercharged above says "There are no other vehicles." "I'm it."

If that were the case, we'd need to carpool. The Range Rover Supercharged costs $93,325. That's without California emissions or transportation charges.

Which means it really costs $94,225.

If you could find one without options. The one Land Rover sent over for a weeklong test had black wood, a six disc DVD system with dual headrest displays, remote control and a 4-zone climate control.

Which cost $97,775.

I'm sure there's something you could find on the option sheet that costs $2,225 to bring this up to a nice, even hundred grand.

So what does it buy you? Well, it buys the flagship Range Rover, a thoroughly impressive vehicle...but with a 400 horsepower supercharged engine that makes 420 pounds per foot of torque. Which means this thing pulls like a freight train and once it overcomes inertia, it's all about speed.

Black inside, black outside, with 20 inch alloy wheels...a 710-watt, 14 speaker surround sound audio system. Hey, I was rollin' like an NBA player (apart from the 6 foot tall, 30 pounds overweight, 53 years old part).

Look, if you can afford it (don't forget tax, license, insurance and that 12 miles per gallon in town is expensive...and 18 on the highway isn't stellar), it's pretty awesome.

The Great Depression had Deusenbergs...we've got this.

A New Day Dawns at Car and Driver

(Graphic originally created and posted by Jalopnik.)

Do you know this man? You will. It will be on his watch, most likely, that America's best car magazine (and once upon a time...say 1982-1985...I'd argue, America's best magazine, period) will either fade away or enter a new golden era.

I'm betting on the latter.

His name is Eddie Alterman. Never met him, never exchanged a single phone call or e-mail...but I've read his stuff over the years (MPG, Jalopnik) and he's good. Really good. He's the new editor-in-chief at Car and Driver, replacing Csaba Csere after a very long run.

It wasn't Csaba's fault, but a tremendous amount of decline occurred in the last few years. Cost-cutting as the general malaise in print hit Car and Driver resulted in some bad decisions (parting ways with the legendary Brock Yates, a highly-questionable re-design, an at least temporary dumbing down of the once brilliant writing that was a hallmark of C/D) that only accelerated the attrition of the faithful.

The June 2009 issue is Alterman's first, and while it's too early to tell much, there are some encouraging signs: The art and graphics are cleaning up, the brilliant and hilarious John Phillips has four pieces in this issue (after months where he was so low-profile that I was checking the masthead in fear that he'd been Yates'd) and Csaba himself is on-board with the first in a series on Certified Pre-Owned vehicles (apparently he no longer has access to the C/D press fleet).

But most encouraging is the tone Alterman himself sets in his introductory column. The two worst things that could have happened to this magazine would have been to hire someone with no sense of the history of Car and Driver or to hire someone who treated it like a museum...with blinders on as to where magazines (or whatever might replace magazines) are heading and a plan to get there first.

Alterman, in his late 30s, has hands-on experience with the web (which is no walk in the park...Winding Road has gone to a subscription model for its innovative .pdf edition, which rarely works for something that's been free for years, and The Truth About Cars has suggested recently that it's going to need to see some money from readers to stay afloat), but was raised by a father who read C/D religiously. Alterman not only knows who David E. Davis, Jr. is, he interned for him at Automobile. And he also knows from Leon Mandel, Don Sherman, William Jeanes and Karl Ludvigsen.

With archrivals Motor Trend and Automobile in trouble (parent company Source Interlink has filed for bankruptcy protection), Car and Driver has a unique opportunity to get very far out in front.

Go read Eddie's column online...then go down to Barnes & Noble and get one of the subscription cards out of the magazine and mail it in. A 2-year sub is 75 cents an issue (newstand price is $4.99). I'm betting you'll be renewing in 2011.


Toyota Venza Review

I get a laugh reading some of the reviews my fellow automotive journalists post sometimes. All too often, they review the concept or idea of the car and leave me wondering if they ever actually stuck the key in the ignition and...you know...drove it.

The prevailing bad rap on the Toyota Venza is "Oh, another crossover based on the Camry."

Okay, there is the Lexus RX 350, the Highlander and even arguably the Sienna minivan. And on paper, you'd be excused for thinking they were trying to cram vehicles into paper-thin niches.

But that's not the reality for the Venza, at least not as I see it. My view says you have to put the Venza up against its competitors (Ford Edge, Chevy Traverse, Nissan Murano). Is that a segment a full-line car company can afford to ignore? No way.

So I put the key in the ignition (well, actually, the Venza uses a starter button) and drove not one...but two Venzas. A loaded ($9,000 worth of options) V6 and a nicely equipped (no leather, DVD or navigation system) 4-cylinder.

Both of them are stylish (more than a match for the Edge, Traverse and Murano), solid, spacious and comfortable.

The loaded V6 at $37,624 as tested is about as good a value as loaded V6 crossovers get these days.

But the one I liked most was the less-loaded four cylinder. Yes, it gives up 86 horsepower and 64 pounds per feet of torque to the V6...but in normal, everyday around-town driving...a mix of city streets and freeways...I didn't miss the power. The four is perfectly adequate.

And the bonuses come on the price sticker...at the bottom line ($29,949) and the EPA estimate (21 city/29 highway as opposed to 19/26 for the V6). A believable number, by the way...the much larger 4-cylinder Venza delivered exactly the same in-town mileage for me as the Nissan Rogue (which is EPA rated 21/26, so the Venza should do better on the highway. And that Rogue bottom-lined at $27,800).

Think about that for a minute...less than $30,000 and 29 miles per gallon on the highway. For something that seats five comfortably and has room for quite a bit of luggage, groceries...whatever...behind the back seat.

I'd take the four.

But if you think you have to have the six, the price tag can still be reined in. The base price of the V6 is only $2,000 more than the four. Equip it like the four I drove (skipping leather, DVD and nav) and you're in just below $32,000. Which is still a strong value.

Scion xD Review

As small sedans go, the Scion xD strikes me mainly as okay. There are a bunch I can think of that are more fun to drive, better looking.....but the price points ($15,450 base, equipped with stability control, floor and cargo mats and a security system for $17,394) are within bounds, crash tests (four-star frontal, five star side-impact) are great for a small car, reliability appears to be a strong suit...and it's hard to argue with the EPA numbers here:

26 city/32 highway.

Sure, I know gas is half the price it was last summer. But even if it stays in the $2 per gallon range, in an uncertain economy, just how much of your money do you want going into a tank and out an exhaust pipe?

It may not be love at first sight, but over time, you could develop quite an attachment to a car with these qualities.

Toyota Camry Hybrid Review

There are some cars that make so much sense it's difficult to discuss them. You can really get by with just mentioning their name. It becomes its own concept. Like:

Toyota Camry Hybrid.

Well, there ya go, right? A family sedan with a reputation for bulletproof reliability with a hybrid engine...making it an even bigger gas-saver. End of story.

Popping the hybrid powerplant under the hood of the Camry does wonders for the gas mileage, launching it into the upper regions of the TireKicker Top 10 Fuel Savers list (EPA says 33 city/34 highway).

What's remarkable about the Camry Hybrid is that you can buy one for Prius money (give or take $500), even though the Camry is a much bigger car...seating 5 comfortably to the Prius' 4.

The base price on the Camry Hybrid I drove for a week was $25,650, which is about $1900 higher than the base price of the Prius TireKicker tested most recently. But...loaded, that Prius bottom-lined at $30,554. and the Camry with similar options (Convenience Package, Leather Package, Navigation and upgraded JBL audio system) maxed out at $30,988...a $434 difference....though the Nissan Altima Hybrid has them both beat on price.

The decision on space versus mileage is yours to make...but the fact that $30,000 ($25,000 if you can live without leather & nav and are okay with the stock audio system) can buy you a reliable, roomy family sedan with mileage in the 30s from both Toyota and Nissan is something to applaud.

UPDATE: Just had a second week in a different Camry Hybrid sedan...and if anything, I liked it more. As time and events progress, this car makes more and more sense.

Scion xB Review

Want to kill some time? Try to find someone with no opinion either way about the styling of the Scion xB. It's pretty much love it or hate it.

Me? I preferred the looks of the first-generation xB, but overall, the second-gen is the better vehicle to live with.

Light enough that the 158-horsepower 4-cylinder engine isn't overwhelmed, designed with room for people and their things, able to score four stars in frontal crash tests for driver and passenger (five stars for side impact) and getting 22 miles per gallon in the city and 28 on the highway, according to the EPA.

All this with a base price of $16,700. The tester I drove had only floor and cargo mats and a security system. That, with destination charges, still kept the bottom line under $18,000 (by six whole dollars).

This is a growing segment, with Kia's Soul, Nissan's Cube and Honda's veteran Element all trying to carve out a niche. The Scion strikes me as a better buy than the Element, and maybe the Cube, which gets pricey when you try to outfit it properly. But my vote goes to the Soul.

Chrysler 300C SRT8 Review

When the bad times subside (and they will) and we're looking back at the cars from before it all went sideways, this is one we'll look back fondly upon.

It's hard to remember right now, with the streets clogged with V6 versions owned by rental car companies, but the Chrysler 300C was a game-changer, an earth-shaking revelation of an automobile just five years ago...a sign that, after years of focusing on trucks and SUVs, the great American performance sedan was back.

The 300C SRT8 is the ultimate expression of that concept. A big, brawny, well-sculpted sedan (the SRT8 has enough unique styling cues that it almost doesn't need the refresh that the rest of the line is overdue for) with a magnificent 425 horsepower 6.1 liter HEMI, rolling on 20-inch wheels.

$43,860 is the price of admission...and our recent tester added SRT Option Group I (supplemental side curtain front and rear air bags, seat-mounted side airbags, side curtain ari bags and an instrument cluster with performance display screen) for $640; SRT Option Group II (uconnect gps, Multimedia Navigation System with GPS, Sirius Traffic, uconnect phone, auto-dimming rear view mirror with microphone and an iPod interface) for $900; an upgraded audios system for $685 and Sirius Backseat TV (three channels...Disney, Nick and Cartoon Network) for $1,460.

Add $700 for the destination charge and you're at $48,245, which includes a $1,700 gas guzzler tax (because the EPA says 13 city/19 highway).

But you know what?

It's fun.

If you want one and can afford one, buy it. Drive it a little now, keep it nice...in 20 years, you'll be in possession of a true classic. This isn't the direction cars are going anymore...but that doesn't mean it wasn't worth doing or having.

Chevrolet Tahoe LTZ 4WD Review

Timing is everything. Especially when it comes to money and demand.

So, as the economy as a whole, car sales in general and the SUV market in particular comes crashing down, it's more than a little disconcerting to walk out to the freshly-delivered Chevrolet Tahoe, reach in the glovebox, pull out the photocopied Monroney (the price sticker found in the window of all new cars) and find an as-equipped price of:


For a Chevy.

One that doesn't say "Corvette" on it.

Regular TireKicker readers know that I believe there is a legitimate need and place for fullsize SUVs and that the Suburban and Tahoe (really a shortened 'Burban) should be granted survivor status once the great shaekout is over and the former Starbucks-weilding soccer moms are behind the wheel of something smaller holding McCafe's. They are simply excellent vehicles of their type.

But $58,635 is crazy...even for the top of the line, which the LTZ is.

Base price for that trim line is $52,350 (almost $15,000 more than a base LS model)...and that buys you what would have been an unimaginable array of features in a Tahoe five years ago.

But GM loaded this one further...$4,790 for the "Sun, Entertainment and Destination" Package (navigation, upgraded audio system, rear seat DVD system and a sunroof); $1,095 to step up to the 6.2 liter V8 from the 5.3 liter (which drops the EPA city estimate from 14 miles per gallon to 12 and the highway figure from 20 to 19); $500 for 20" chrome clad wheels (the same size as the standard polished aluminums); and the non-negotiable $950 destination charge.

Yeah, GM figures in a $900 "package savings" for the "Sun, Entertainment and Destination" thing (otherwise, this would have bottom-lined at $59,535), but c'mon.
What we have here is a Chevy selling for just about $5,000 less than the base price of a Cadillac Escalade.

As GM lops of the heads of dealers to try to stop cannibalization within markets, they need to really consider how close Chevrolet can get to Cadillac both in terms of features and price-point.