Picture Paul Newman and Robert Redford in "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid". Fast-forward to the pursuit scene, where they're looking over their shoulders at the posse on their tail and wondering aloud:
That's the mental image I get every time Infiniti ups the ante with one of its sport sedans. Infiniti's the posse. BMW is Butch and/or Sundance.
Aim for the blue-and white propeller.
As with the G37 and its target, the 3-series, the M35 isn't quite a match for the 5-series...but the gap closes each time around. And if you're not obsessing about BMW the way Infiniti does, you may find this one wins your car-buying dollar (okay, 47,950 of them before options) on its own.
303 horsepower, 262 pounds per foot of torque. A 5-speed automatic with Drive Sport mode. 18-inch alloys. Dual exhausts with quad chrome finishers.
nowhere near as obtrusive and overwhelming as the same pieces were in the FX 35 crossover. Perhaps its because the M35 has such a strong presence as a car before all the tech gets laid on.
Even with the as-tested sticker reading $54,915 and the EPA estimates far from stellar at 16 city/22 highway, I'd have a hard time talking myself out of recommending this to drivers looking for a strong, capable midsize sport sedan.
A lifetime of exposure to noisy, smelly city buses and 18-wheelers (not to mention passenger cars of the 70s and 80s) has given diesel a bad reputation.
Time to shake that once and for all. And a great way to do that is with a drive in a Volkswagen Jetta TDI.
TDI is Volkswagen's clean diesel engine...a terrific marriage of ultra-low sulfur fuel and a technology that burns fuel so efficiently, there's very little waste.
The 140 horsepower made by the 2-liter four-cylinder engine isn't a world-beater, but diesels are all about torque...and the TDI makes 236 pounds per foot of it...it's a cliche, but it really does pull like a locomotive.
Inside, the Jetta TDI is all business, no frills...but not cheap or austere. Everything is logically placed, falls easily to hand, and moves with a solid, high-quality feel.
The big payoff here is mileage. The EPA says 29 city, 40 highway...and we managed 42 and a half in a week of 50/50 urban freeways and surface streets, which makes it as good as our real-world experience with both the new Honda Insight and the Mercury Milan Hybrid.
Where the Jetta TDI pulls ahead is in the value equation. $22,830 base price (our tester had a six-speed automatic for $1,100 and a sunroof for $1,000...which, after destination charges, put the bottom line at $25,640.) and diesel longevity...250,000 miles is equivalent to 100,000 miles or less in a gasoline engine. 400,000 miles or more is not uncommon.
It doesn't scream "hey, look at me, I'm saving the planet!" the way Toyota Priuses (Prii?) and Insights do...it just gets the job done...and there's a very good chance it will be doing that job a lot longer. The Jetta TDI earns its place not only on TireKicker's Top Ten Fuel Savers, but also on TireKicker's Top 20 Cars.
Well, you certainly can't hang a truth in labelling complaint on Nissan...the Cube is exactly that...a Cube...but with wheels.
Here, it parachutes into an increasingly crowed market of unconventionally styled cars...Honda Element, Scion xB, Kia Soul.
top of the line Krom model and you'll crack 20 grand...a long way from $13,990.
Mileage: 28 city/30 highway. And how they managed to get so little difference between city and highway is a bit surprising too. Is it that the 122 horsepower engine has to work too hard at highway speeds to get optimal economy?
Bottom line: I'd say it's more fun than the Element (which is getting very long in the tooth), could be a tie with the Scion if it weren't for a 20 plus horsepower deficit and loses out to the surprisingly entertaining Kia Soul.
Imagine you're Toyota or Honda...secure in the knowledge that you build high-quality small cars, that even if you slip a bit, it will take a long time before the perception diminishes after 30 years of performance.
About three years ago, though, you see a tiny dot in your rearview mirror. Long way back...don't worry.
If you're Toyota, recent recalls, controversies and suspension of production and sales could erase the narrowing lead.
The dot is the 2010 Kia Forte. Base price 2 grand lower than Corolla and Civic. Base horsepower higher. EPA mileage estimates a virtual draw.
Victory? A new champ? Well, the Forte is certainly deserving of notice, but in terms of winning the hearts and minds of compact buyers, there's that perception issue we mentioned. It will take Kia a while to convince millions of compact car buyers that they have something to offer beyond price...and that "resale value" and "Kia" are not mutually exclusive terms.
Once that happens, though, watch out.
Even as Subaru has refined the Forester over the years, they've managed not to lose the thread.
But, as we've noted before...good basics can be obscured by too much stuff...and ponying up for the Limited trim level might be going a bridge too far.
There's nothing wrong with what you get...especially the 225 horsepower turbocharged engine...but the moonroof, leather and upgraded audio system carry a price: $29,995.
That's right...a mere five bucks shy of 30 grand for a Forester.
And our tester had XM Satellite radio as an option (the only one), so with delivery charges, it bottom-lined at $31,143.
Especially since the base Subaru Forester is $11,000 less than that. Yep...your basic 2.5X is only $20,295...and gets 20 city/26 highway.
Now, admittedly the extra 55 horsepower of the turbo at a penalty of one mile per gallon city, two highway is pretty appealing...but you can get that starting in the 2.5 XT Premium at $26,495...a price point that still makes some sense for the Forester.
Don't get me wrong...there's not a single bad thing about the XT Limited apart from price point and mission creep. If you want a luxo Forester, go for it. But, frankly, I hope the demand is small...lest Subaru be tempted to think there's a market worth chasing at the expense of its absolutely on-target lower-margin machines.
As noted in our last test of the baby Rover, the LR2 used to be the Freelander, and it wasn't very good.
The LR2 steps up considerably from those humble beginnings, creating a small SUV that looks and feels like a legitimate little brother to the bigger Rover utes.
The one we had recently stickered at $41,475..and came with only two options, a lighting package (Bi-Xenon headlamps, adaptive front lighting, approach and puddle lights and memory seats and mirrors) and the Technology Package (Nav system, surround sound audio, Sirius Satellite radio , rear seat audio controls and a Bluetooth telephone interface).
Well, let's say that the standard lighting is good enough (it is). $1,050 falls off the window sticker just like that.
Can you live without navigation, surround sound, satellite radio, giving the kids the ability to control same and Bluetooth for your phone (hang up and drive already)?
Sure. Presto. Another $3500 gone. And you've got a very nice base vehicle (hey, the standard stereo is a 320-watt, nine speaker Alpine system with a 6-disc in-dash changer).
If it weren't for delivery charges and Land Rover's highway robbery of throwing $700 on the sticker for a "Dealer Pre-Delivery Inspection", you'd be down to the base price, too...a very reasonable $35,375...in an age of $31,000 RAV4s.
Even with the delivery and PDI, you're under $37,000. But Land Rover dealers are hungry too...I'd see if you can get them to make that PDI charge go away. It better not cost $700 to make sure one of these is ready to sell to a customer.
Prius to be green.
Lexus has been building hybrids for a while...but the big advertising and PR push is now...and with the 2010 RX 350 crossover all-new, there's a fair amount of the spotlight falling on the hybrid version, the RX 450h.
Basically, it's a 350, but with a hybrid powerplant that boosts mileage considerably...to 32 city/28 highway...an improvement of 14 and 6 respectively.
Of course, hybrid tech costs money, so the 450h starts just a shade less than $5,000 above the gasoline-powered 350...at $41,660.
Lexus, of course, wanted to show off the new 450h in the best possible light, so the tester they sent out was...well...loaded. Like ten grand worth of options loaded.
19 inch aluminum alloy wheels ($660), heated and ventilated front seats ($640), LED headlamps with AFS (adaptive front lighting system), intelligent high beams and headlamp washer ($1,875), a Mark Levinson surround sound DVD audio system with 15 speakers ($1,610), a navigation system with XM NavTraffic and NavWeather ($2,440) and the Premium Package.
Now, with the standard equipment in a Lexus and the options above, I would have figured the whole car was a premium package, but no...this adds a touch open/close moonroof, auto-dimming power heated outside mirrors, a power rear door, an mp3 mini plug and USB audio plug and driver's seat, steering and mirror memory.
That's $2,400. Add in the $875 for delivery charges and this particular RX 450h bottom-lines at $52,160. A bargain? No. But a very nice machine...and probably well within the comfort level of the target buyers.
Tata of India.
So, can they build a proper Jag?
That's a question best answered over years of ownership, but my week in the 2010 XK Convertible suggests they won't miss a beat.
What's new? Well, power is up...now at a standard 385 horsepower as the XKR reaches 510.
And the rotary dial gear selector from the XF sedan has made its way into the XK. Does anyone really like this? A knob larger than BMW's iDrive that controls only one thing...the gear? And I'm on the record as not liking iDrive...or any intrusion of a "mouse" into the console. A lever would do just as well...in fact, better. As bad as Jag's old automatic J-gate shifter was, there was some sense of having locked in a gear. And that's not there with the rotary.
And then there's price. Base for the XK Convertible is now $88,150. Ours had only one option...HD Radio (digital broadcasting technology that makes AM sound as good as FM and FM as good as CD, while allowing up to 3 additional channels to each FM signal). It costs $300, and there are several issues. Perhaps the biggest: There are so few cars with HD available, and even home units cost $300, that there's nearly no one listening...and that means broadcasters are getting edgy. There's a real chance, unless manufacturers start making HD Radio standard equipment(and cutting themselves out of $300 per car) that broadcasters will abandon HD Radio as a failed experiment sooner or later. And you'll be $300 lighter with a radio that gets nothing but plain old analog AM and FM.
The other problem is one that I ran across in the last Jag convertible I tested. And that is that the standard 525 watt Bowers & Wilkins audio system just doesn't sound very good. Run it loud enough to compensate for the usual convertible noises and it can't get there. The whole thing sounds thin and bordering on distortion. Admittedly, the acoustics of convertibles, both in terms of extra noise and limited places to put speakers, are a challenge. But other manufacturers found their solutions long ago.
Anyway, with HD Radio and transportation charges, the bottom line was $89,300. EPA estimates, if anyone is counting, are 16 city/22 highway.
The XK is what it is and you're either a likely buyer or not. The good news is that a change in ownership so far appears to not be a factor in your decision.
Jeremy Clarkson at Top Gear pretty well nails how gorgeous and how much fun it is to drive in this piece, done before the power bump, the rotary shifter and the sale to Tata:
'55, '60 and '63 T-Bird (the '63 was a Sports Roadster) and a '69 Mercury Cougar XR-7. Riding in Uncle Ron's cars was always a big treat...and that's probably where I got it.
One of the best ways to address most of the above problems is a retractable hardtop. Top up, it's just like driving a fixed-roof coupe...top down, you've got a convertible.
Until now, you could get one from Lexus, but only one...the SC 430. Styling? A matter of taste. Price? 66 grand and change, base.
But this year, Lexus brings a new prize to the party...the IS 350 Convertible. As you can see in the photo above, it's a retractable. It's also, at least in my opinion, a bunch better looking than the SC 430 (also a retractable hardtop), a bunch more contemporary (the SC's been in production 11 years now, with no substantive changes) and a bunch more affordable....with a base price of $43,940. A bit of a bargain can be had by opting for the IS 250 Convertible...you give up about 100 horsepower (getting 204 instead of 306), but the base price falls to $38,940. Whether there's 5 grand worth of enjoyment in the bigger engine is your call.
All we've been exposed to is the 350...and it was a very nice ride. Since it carries the IS badge, there's more of a sporting feel (at least by Lexus standards)...and it's got more usable room (though not tons of it) than the SC430 for the driver and passengers (just don't take that back seat seriously).
EPA estimate: 18 city/25 highway.
With headlamp washers, the Luxury Package (Bi-Xenon high-intensity headlamps, adaptive front lighting, heated and ventilated front seats, leather, wood, memory seats, illuminated scuff plates, and rain-sensing wipers), and a nav system that also upgrades the audio system to a 275-watt Mark Levinson AM/FM/5.1 Surround DVD system, the bottom line wound up at $51,860.
That's up there for the size of the car (apart from the new HS hybrid, the IS is the smallest Lexus) and the level of the luxury, but more than 20grand cheaper than a similarly-outfitted SC 430. Your call.
Here's a cool CGI video created for the Lexus website that shows off the retractable hardtop's operation and other features:
A great way to make the case for diesel's economy and lower emissions is to put it in an SUV.
The X5 xDrive35d (that's the name, folks) is one of the new generation of clean diesels...odorless, largely noiseless, with good performance from a V6 making 265 horsepower and tons of torque.
The EPA says 26 miles per gallon on the highway...which is five mpg better than the X5 3.0 6-cylinder gasoline engine...rated at 260 horsepower. And the price premium to step up to the diesel is less than $4,000. But that does put the base price a shade above $50,000...which seems to be a major psychological price point in the new reality.
Apart from large, mainly 3/4 ton and 1 ton American trucks, it's the Germans who are carrying the flag on diesel. They're not wrong.
Months after our turn in the Camaro RS, comes the long-anticipated week in the Camaro SS.
What's the difference, ask the less than die-hard Camaro fans?
2 cylinders, 120 horsepower and 11 grand.
The SS is this year's bad boy Camaro...a 6.2 liter V8 making 425 horsepower. Not long ago, this was Corvette territory.
Sure, it's fast. Yes, it makes a marvelous noise when you put your foot in it.
Yeah, I would have loved this car in high school. No, there's not much I'd change about it....except maybe the slightly claustrophobic interior.
But would I buy one?
Even assuming an epic middle-age crisis, I really don't know. The V6 RS, packing 305 horsepower, a price that begins in the $22,000 range and an EPA highway estimate of 29 miles per gallon strikes me as close to having it all.
425 horsepower is better on paper, but where and how do you use those extra horses and not endanger your future as a licensed driver? And the tradeoffs for that power of uncertain usefulness include a sticker that starts at $33,430 and an EPA highway estimate that drops to 24.
In absolute terms, it's a screaming deal....the tester bottom-lined at $35,850...which for this level of performance is amazing...and 24 highway for sheer muscle is a compelling number.
But factor in the uncertain times in which we live and banking the extra 10 grand from the purchase price and the weekly savings in gasoline, not to mention insurance, just seems like the smarter pick if you're shopping Camaros.
The Avalon has been out there for so long that even with updates and upgrades, it's settled into its own image...that of the Japanese Buick. Toyota made its money and reputation off Baby Boomers, but the Avalon has always seemed like the one they built for our parents.
Well, it's a good thing one finally made it into the press fleet, because if that ever was true, it's not now. Or it's become so good that it's overcome the generational thing. I'm not sure. But the Avalon is a nice ride...larger and roomier than the Camry, but not feeling overstuffed.
You can get the base model for $27,945, but the press car was a Limited...bumping the starting sticker up to $35,285. As you can imagine, that pretty much makes every desirable option standard (6-speed automatic, 18 inch alloy wheels, moonroof, rain-sensing wipers, a 360-watt JBL Synthesis audio system, memory seats and a whole lot more).
The only options on this one were a nav system ($2,000...and you know we'd never do that with our own money...not with TomToms and Garmins for a tenth of the price and most new cell phones coming with GPS apps), 8-way power front seats with adjustable heat settings ($300...maybe if we lived in a cold climate), and floor and trunk mats for $399.
Add the delivery charge and the bottom line is $38,534. Even blowing off the nav and heated seats, you're still over 36. My guess is the smart way would be to take the base model at just under 28 and be really picky with the options. At 32, maybe even 33, this would be tempting.
Five-star crash ratings, four-star rollover and EPA estimated 19 city/28 highway.
Want to see more? Here's the official video Toyota produced for the Avalon in '09:
CLK 350. Well-built, smooth and slick...nice lines, and, with the 350's lighter six instead of the 430's heavy V8 over the front wheels, beautifully balanced.
Over time, the CLK lost its allure...as did the entire Mercedes line when it went chasing volume at the expense of quality.
Well, the good news is that there's mounting evidence that Benz is back...and intent on building the best-engineered automobiles to a standard rather than a price.
The CLK convertible lives on, but the coupe is now part of the E-Class.
I mean, just look at the pictures above. It's gorgeous.
And once inside, you're not let down...the car reinforces the "good choice" vibe every inch of the way.
Cheap? No. Just barely reasonable, really...at $48,050...and lightly optioned at $54,245. But it's how good the car is that carries it off.
For your money, you get looks, style, quality, performance (0-60 in 6.2 seconds) and reasonable (17 city/26 highway) fuel economy. And, thanks to M-B no longer chasing market share above all else, you'll be driving something different...you won't see three just like yours driving home every night.
Even in a recession, there's a place for high quality and true luxury. $50,000 Chevy Tahoes are out...but there'll always be a place for a car like this.
Watch the pretty blonde lady take a test drive in her mind in this slick Mercedes-Benz official video:
For decades, GMC has been selling re-badged Chevrolet trucks. In fact, for most of that time, the badges (and a slightly higher GMC price tag) were all that separated the products. Then, just in time for the SUV and luxotruck boom, GMC hit on the idea of loading theirs up with luxury features.
Which was fine until Cadillac started selling its own tarted-up Chevys and suddenly Escalades were only a bit more expensive than Yukon Denalis.
Though Pontiac, Saturn, Hummer and SAAB were the obvious targets, GMC could have been another casualty of last year's Carpocalypse. Not enough money to develop its own product line...not enough difference between GMC and Chevy.
But GMC survived the cut and the Terrain is meant to be the template for the way forward. Based on the Chevrolet Equinox, GMC makes a lot of changes to the appearance of the vehicle yet keeps the base price within $1,000 of the Chevy.
Move up the trim levels and the differences magnify. The tester I drove was the top-of-the-line SLT-2, $7,600 more expensive than the base Equinox, but with an impressive list of standard features (power liftgate, 18-inch wheels, rearview camera system, sunroof, leather, heated seats, climate control, a Pioneer premium sound system and more).
That actually still leaves room for options...though with a standard content level that high, there's a limit...in the case of our tester, an additional $5,140.
The 3.0 liter V6 replaced the standard 2.4 liter four at a cost of $1,500. Horsepower goes up from 182 to 264, torque from 174 pounds per foot to 222. But gas mileage takes a big hit...from an EPA estimated 22 city/32 highway to a fairly pedestrian (for this class of small SUV) 17/24. And the gas tank size goes up from 18 gallons to 20...making each fill-up a bit pricier.
Ours also had the navigation system (a $2,145 choice we'd never make, though it does add a 40 gigabyte hard drive for music storage) , 19-inch wheels ($900), trailering equipment ($350) and a cargo management package (rear cargo security cover, cargo convenience net and roof rack crossbars for $245.
Bottom line, with $745 for destination charges: $36,885.
I liked it. A very nice ride. My wife informed me a few minutes ago that if the Terrain had a third row of seats, she'd want one.
But $36,885 for a small SUV gives me pause.
It could work for GMC, though...taking the Terrain out of direct competition with Chevy but into a size and price range where they're not bumping up against Cadillac and, by comparison to that brand, seem like a bargain.
Here's how GMC's making that case:
By now, the word is out to the extent that there are Amish who know that the Volkswagen Routan is a re-badged Dodge Grand Caravan/Chrysler Town & Country minivan.
So was Brooke Shields lying to us about that "German engineering" stuff?
See, VW did go in and re-work the suspension...so technically, it's German engineering.
And while it's not engineering per se, we'll give thumbs up to the VW crew who gave it a more attractive front and rear styling treatment.
They also ripped out a ton of cheap interior materials and put in the good...well, decent...stuff for the Routan.
So, from a handling, appearance and interior quality (or at least "niceness") standpoint, you really have to say that the VW Routan is what Chrysler should have built in the first place.
I drove the mid-pack SE model with Trim Pack 2 (sunroof, adjustable pedals, roof rails and an auto-adjustable rear suspension. It also had heatable front seats and a remote starter.
Bottom line: $32,720. Much better than the over-optioned Dodge Grand Caravan that started with a base price 2 grand cheaper than the Routan but ended up at 41 grand and change.
The EPA says it's good for 16 miles per gallon in the city, 23 on the highway (the 6-speed automatic helps).
And it's five stars on all the crash tests (four on rollover).
So, if you want a Dodge Grand Caravan or Chrysler Town & Country, the best one might be a VW Routan.
That's fine, but I'd prefer for Dodge and Chrysler to build them right themselves and for VW to build...VWs. Like the VW Microbus concept they teased us with at the beginning of the decade.
If you agree, let VW know. Given that only 5,000 or so Routans have found homes so far this year, they're probably considering options.
UPDATE: With both GM and Ford out of the minivan business and the asian minivans fairly long in the tooth, I thought it was time for another taste of the Routan.
Everything above still stands...and until Toyota, Honda, Hyundai and Kia show up with their new ones (2011 and later), the VW Routan (equipped as above) would be my choice, playing with my own money.
So I have to know: Did anyone really look at a Toyota Prius and say "I wish Lexus made one of these"?
Because, folks...that's what we've got here. Swap the hatchback from the Prius for a proper trunk in the HS 250h, give the Lexus a more powerful (and less economical) hybrid powerplant, and slather the whole thing in wood, leather and tech.
Presto! The $22,000 base Prius becomes a $36,970 base Lexus HS 250h.
Yes...that's a $15,000 price increase...and no, you don't stand a chance in the world of finding one without options.
In much the same way that it's easier to find a $30,000 Prius on a dealer lot, there are still things to add to your HS 250h that can run the tab to dizzying heights.
The press vehicle added a wide view front monitor and backup monitor. The front works at low speeds and presumably helps keep you from crunching into your garage wall. $700.
LED headlamps with intelligent high beams, adaptive front lighting and headlamp washers. $1,805.
A Mark Levinson audio system with 15 speakers and a 6-disc in-dash DVD changer. This replaces the standard Lexus Premium audio system. $1,580.
A navigation system including XM NavTraffic, XM NavWeather and XM Sports and Stocks, which constantly updates you on your favorite teams and investments...if you pay for a subscription after the 90-day free trial. $2,125.
The tech package. Lane keep assist, dynamic radar cruise control, heads up display, park assist with front and rear sensors (that's in addition to the front and rear cameras), and a pre-collsion system with driver attention monitor. $3,900.
Premium floor mats (I wonder if for extra money, you could upgrade to Mark Levinson floor mats). $265.
Remote engine starter. $375.
And finally, the Preferred Accessory Package (possibly "preferred" because it's the least expensive thing so far)...consisting of a cargo net, trunk mat, wheel locks and rear bumper applique'. $281.
Oh, and $875 for delivery, processing and handling.
You've lost count, haven't you?
That's okay. I've got the window sticker right here.
I said, $48,876.
One thousand, one hundred and 24 dollars shy of 50 grand for a pimped-out Prius.
Oh, yeah...and that lower mileage I mentioned at the beginning...35 city/34 highway. Good enough to make TireKicker's Top Ten Fuel Savers, but way below the Prius' 51/48.
The Green Hollywood types who've been driving Priuses to make a statement (that they hope offsets the Bentleys and Lambos also in their garages) will absolutely love this car. I don't know who else they could possibly sell it to. This is how they're trying: