Story Of The Year: Car Crash Leaves Woman In Persistent State of Sexual Arousal

Forget the GM and Chrysler bankruptcies. This is the automotive story people will be talking about the most as 2009 draws to a close.

From Jalopnik. Though the original, significantly less smart-alecky version, including an interview with Joleen Baughman can be found on the KOAT-TV Albuquerque website.


Volkswagen (New?) Beetle Review

After 10 years, Volkswagen is still calling it the New Beetle. Apparently, it will go out that way, because next year, there will be a new New Beetle...probably a 2011 model.

So should you wait? My knee-jerk reaction would normally be to say yes...but after a refresher in the existing Beetle, I'm not so sure.

18 months or more ago, I'd have written the Beetle off as tired and way overdue to be put out to pasture. But I drove one recently with the new realities firmly in my brain and you know what?

It's got a lot going for it.

I mean, just look at the basics: $18,540 base price...20 mpg city, 29 highway. Yes, the Jetta and Golf (a previous generation of which the Beetle is based on) are a few hundred dollars cheaper and get an extra mile per gallon or so, but the incredible feeling of space inside the Beetle (thanks to that arching roofline) is hard to beat.

If you're looking for unassuming, economical transportation without feeling cramped and invisible, the Beetle may be exactly the right call.


New for 2010: The 1993 Ford Taurus

The folks at the news satire site The Onion have done it again. Funny and depressing at the same time:


Car and Driver's Redesign

Good news in the December issue of Car and Driver. Editor Eddie Alterman lets us know that come January, there'll be a new look...a redesign of the once (and hopefully future) king of the car mags.

Alterman discusses the disastrous last redesign three years ago, which he rightly describes as making C/D look "like a comic book".

And it was worse inside, with a jumble of fonts and a graphic look that was universally hated by readers, who were told "we ain't going back."...which Alterman describes as a public relations move roughly as successful as the docking of the Hindenburg.

To his credit, each issue of C/D since Alterman's arrival has been cleaner-looking than the last. Here's what he inherited early this year:

And here's September's cover:

The January 2010 redesign is expected to draw heavily on the sense of style from C/D's glory days. We can't wait.

Scion tC Review

Here's a question I've never asked:

"If Darth Vader were a college student and drove a Scion, what would it look like?"

See above.

Okay, that's probably a bit harsh...but I was more than a bit bugged by the Scion tC.

Not the car itself, which I have always liked a lot...but by the way it was optioned.

The tC, for the uninitiated, is a smart, tight, fun little coupe...with a base price of just $17,000, an EPA estimate of 20 city/27 highway, more handling capability than most vehicles with a Toyota pedigree, and an impressive list of standard features (17 inch alloy wheels, moonroof, 160-watt Pioneer audio system with subwoofer)for the price.

Hard to beat.

But the tester came with $4000 of options that made absolutely no difference. $1083 for ground effects. $430 for a rear pedestal spoiler. $65 for a different shift knob. A metal one. In Phoenix. In summer (okay, that's worse for me than for a lot of folks). $1999 for 18" black wheels and Toyo tires. And $389 to upgrade the Pioneer audio system...though it doesn't specify what the upgrade was, exactly and it sounded about as good as the stock one (at least according to memory).

So $17,000 becomes $21,000...the performance of the car isn't improved (arguably, the 18 inch wheels hurt the ride) and the all-black menacing look....well, c'mon...it's a Scion. It's just not that menacing.

Still love the tC. Great car. Just buy it as-is, bone stock and you've got something. But jacking up the price by more than 20 percent for this stuff? Pass.


Lexus GS 460 Review

Think you've seen that car before? Well, you're right. The Lexus GS460 has been around quite a while now.

Want proof? Look on the instrument panel.

There...where the audio controls are.

Volume knob...tuning knob....memory buttons...CD slot.

Cassette deck.

Yes, cassette deck. There. Behind the gear shift.

Actually, it's kind of cool...made me want to dust off the old mix tapes during the week I had the car...but it's a serious indicator that it's time for some freshening.

There's nothing wrong with the GS, which is now in its fifth year since its last redesign...but it plays in a segment where innovation is a selling point. The base price of the GS 460 is $53,470. The tester I drove, with Mark Levison audio, Navigation, rear camera,/ rear spoiler (why?), power rear sunshade, trunk mat, Illuminated door sills (again, why?), XM Satellite Radio and delivery charges, bottom-lined at $59,443.

These days $557 shy of 60 large fairly demands compelling reasons for the expenditure...and while the GS is a nice ride, it's so quiet and so familiar that its sales strategy seems to be just hoping you'll just decide you like it that much all on your own.

And like every perfectly nice guy who wanted the prom queen to fall in love with him, that trick rarely works.

EPA estimate: 17 city/24 highway.

UPDATE: A night's sleep (okay, 3 hours) tells me I'm damning with faint praise here. Let me clarify.

The GS 460 is one of the nicest sedans I've driven in a long time. Smooth, quick, comfortable and confidence-inspiring. It made me feel like a better driver, and kept me fresher longer than most.

My concern (especially given that there's not a ton of promotion for it) is that it's going to get passed by...that five seasons without a significant re-do makes it invisible on the street and that anachronisms like the cassette player could brand it as last century's car for the few buyers out there still looking to spend $60,000 on a sedan.

It's well worth the test drive. I'd be perfectly happy with one in my driveway for the next five years. And my cassettes would feel less neglected.


Ford Raptor

Thanks to Randall Bohl and Joe Sage of Arizona Driver Magazine for snapping and posting this shot of yours truly behind the wheel of the 2010 Ford Raptor.

Yes, I'm wearing a tie. TV and all that.

Anyway, this was at a special Ford event this past Tuesday (10/6) at Firebird Raceway south of Phoenix...a ride and drive for members of the Phoenix Automotive Press Association to get familiar with hot new FoMoCo product all in one place.

Some of them were vehicles already tested and posted here on TireKicker (Ford Taurus, Mercury Milan Hybrid), but we got a couple of fresh rides, too...including the Raptor.

A full review is coming, but I'll say this much in advance: The Raptor is going to be a huge and deserved hit among the serious off-road crowd, and is so well engineered and so civilized in everyday on-pavement driving that I believe it will sell to an even larger pool of drivers.

There's no denying the visual impact. And the way Ford's guys sweated every detail...well, that's a story for the full review.


Inspiring Badge Envy

Once supplies run out, you and I won't be able to buy the wonderful Pontiac G8 anymore.

But according to Jalopnik, we'll be able to enjoy the thrill of being pulled over by them, as GM plans to import them as police vehicles.


Lexus RX350 Review

And the Volkswagen Beetle award for subtle refinement goes to....

Okay, that's a bit of a stretch. But let me toss you in the Wayback Machine here. At the top of this article is the 2010 Lexus RX 350. Now here's what that vehicle (then called the RX 300) looked like 11 model years ago, in 1999:

Of all the vehicles on the road today, I'm betting only the Ford Crown Victoria and Mercury Grand Marquis are still that instantly identifiable as the same car over that 11 year span.

It's a case of not messing with success, yet (as VW did with the Beetle) making constant changes and refinements.

We're talking about a ton more power (275 horses today compared to 210 then), slightly better fuel mileage (18 city/25 highway now versus 17 city/22 highway in '99) and a much nicer environment from which to drive.

Best of all, the refinements come at only a slightly higher price. In 1999, base price was $32,950. In 2010, $36,800. Less than $4,000 in 11 years.

Our tester added 19 inch alloy wheels, a heads-up display, bi-xenon headlamps with automatic high beams, heated and ventilated front seats, a Mark Levinson audio system with DVD changer and 15 speakers, a nav system with XM NavTraffic and NavWeather (I find being able to see real-time radar more beneficial than real-time traffic...especially in monsoon season in the Desert Southwest)...the Premium Package with leather, moonroof, auto-dimming miror, power rear door, and the ominously named Pre-Collision System with Dyanmic Radar Cruise Control.

Yeah, it all adds up. Bottom line: $49,300 including $875 delivery. Still, that's a lot of luxury and a lot of features coming in this side of $50K.

As I noted in last year's review of the last-gen RX, I wondered a decade ago whether anyone would buy a vehicle so funny-looking (I called it the "Lunar Rover"). Not only have they, but in sufficient numbers that the styling endures.


David E. Davis, Jr: "I've never told this story in public before..."

Car and Driver's David E. Davis, Jr., guesting on Autoline After Hours, tells the story of his departure from Automobile, the magazine he founded in 1986 with Rupert Murdoch.

It involves allegations of treachery, which inspires DED, Jr. to dream of a piano falling from an airplane and onto former protege' (now Automobile Editor-In-Chief )Jean Jennings. Scroll in to 14:55 and let it roll for a minute until the host and other guests start squirming.

Also: Davis' story of his 1968 firing from C/D (about 10:30), and what inspired his 1985 resignation from his second tour at the magazine (11:43).

And if you have the time, what follows is a very good discussion about Cash For Clunkers, the state of the automotive industry, Cerberus and more between David, host John McElroy, Autoextremist.com's Peter DeLorenzo and BusinessWeek's David Welch.

The New Order of Things Automotive

Can't tell the players without a scorecard in the brave new post-carpocalyptic world? Mint.com's got you covered with a handy chart, suitable for framing. Click the image above to enlarge.


Thanks for a great first year!

Hard to believe, but TireKicker turns 1 on Monday, August 24. Thanks for your visits, hits, clicks, links and recommendations. You've taken us from a blank computer screen to 151 posts and counting. And the best is yet to come!


Nissan Armada Titanium Review

When I first booked a week in the Nissan Armada Titanium, I had exactly the wrong idea.

The name "Titanium" had me thinking this would be a new top-of-the-line trim level.

Nope. It's actually a mid-level version...adding leather, 20 inch wheels, a backup camera without requiring a navigation system, keyless ignition and a Bluetooth hands-free phone interface to the stuff found standard on the base SE, for a little less than $5,000 extra.

While the SE is probably the smartest buy, the Titanium gets you a lot of neat features without springing for the top-of-the-line Platinum (interior shown below), which throws in navigation, DVD entertainment, a sunroof and sonar for 7 grand more than the Titanium and a whopping 12 large over the SE.

The one I had recently was a four-wheel drive version, a $2,800 premium over the 2wd Titanium. But Nissan's people held the line on optional equipment (just $220 for floormats and a rear cargo mat), showing just how good a stock Titanium is. And that kept the bottom line to $46,940 with delivery charges...by no means cheap, but a relief after a series of 50-grand plus full-size SUVs.

It's still big...very big...and it still gets marginal gas mileage (even with a 5-speed automatic, the 317-horsepower 5.6 liter V8 is only EPA rated at 12 city/18 highway). But if your needs dictate a full-size SUV, the Armada should be considered and the Titanium strikes me as a reasonable way to step up from the SE (which is the real bargain of the bunch).


Chevy Aveo LT Review

Scroll to bottom of review for update.

TireKicker Phrase I Never Expected To Write #1:

"The Chevy Aveo is a good car. It's worth a look, a test drive and possibly a place in your driveway or garage."

If they gave a "Most Improved Player" award to cars, the new Aveo would win it, hands-down.

I'll get to how good the '09 Aveo is in a second, but here's what it had to overcome: Raised on the somewhat snarky automotive writings of David E. Davis, Jr., Jean (Lindamood) Jennings, John Phillips, P.J. O'Rourke and others, I've got a smart-aleck streak in me (okay, it was there before I ever picked up a car magazine).

After testing the first Aveo five years ago, someone asked me what I thought. I broke into song, using my best Harry Belafonte impression (to the tune of The Banana Boat Song [Day-O]):



A-Veo come and me wanna walk home



A-Veo come and me wanna walk home

Is piece of crap Korean car

A-Veo come and me wanna walk home

Is piece of crap Korean car

A-Veo come and me wanna walk home.

There may have been more. I really don't remember. But it was that bad. A bottom-line Daewoo freshly acquired by GM with no time to do anything but slap a couple of Chevy badges on it and ship it to the USA.

Well, time and development are wonderful things. Yes, the Aveo is still small, inexpensive and Korean-built, but now it's Korean as in "keeping up with Hyundai's growth curve".

You either like or don't like the shape of a subcompact hatchback. There's not much room to work with, so most look like the Aveo from the windshield back. Chevy's taken the step of adding what's becoming the family nose (the bold, split grille from the Malibu) to the Aveo...giving it a longer hood and making the entire car look quite a bit more substantial.

Inside, well...somebody's been inside a Volkswagen recently. Better-than decent plastics, the top half of the dash grained like VW, in a tasteful two-tone (the tester was the mid-range 1LT trim level). Every surface attractive to the eye and to the touch.

The $13,595 base price brings with it a year in OnStar's Safe & Sound plan, air conditioning, a rear window defogger, a tilt steering column, front and rear floor mats, and armrest, height and lumbar adjustments for the driver's seat, and a 180-watt premium audio system with six speakers, AM/FM/CD and iPod jack. GM's vehicle fleet folks loaded it from there...$425 for power windows, door locks and remote keyless entry, $925 for a 4-speed automatic transmission, $440 for anti-lock brakes and $250 for cruise control. Total tab: $16,295, including delivery.

That puts it in the reach of some tempting larger alternatives like Honda Civic. But the payoff is at the gas pump: The EPA says 25 city and 34 highway...both believeable figures based on how little the fuel tank needle moved during my week with the car.

Oh, and the safety statistics are impressive too: Five stars for driver and passenger in the frontal crash test, four stars for both in the side crash and rollover tests.

Like everything but the price? The base LS model starts at $12,625. If you can live with rolling up your own windows, locking your own doors, not having a remote and living with four instead of six speakers (and less wattage) for the audio system, you're set...especially if you live someplace where air conditioning isn't a must. If you need air, then it's a dealer-installed option, the price is likely to be at the dealer's discretion, and you're probably dead even or better off stepping up $900 to the 1LT and getting it standard from the factory.

Even without the grim first-gen Aveo to compare it to, the new Aveo is a solid pick for subcompact buyers.

UPDATE: Some mid-year changes have been made and they're not good. First, base price is up for the 1LT...it's now $14,100.

But more troubling is the smell in our second Aveo tester this year. There is a strict no-smoking rule in press vehicles...and like all strict rules...especially aimed at journalists...it occasionally gets ignored. Doesn't happen as much as it used to, really.

But the Aveo smelled like someone smoked a carton of the worst cigarettes on earth and then tried to cover it up with a can of air freshener.

And nothing got rid of it...not even Ozium.

I parked it after a day and a half. Couldn't stand to be in it.

The GM reps took the car in and had someone try to find the problem....was it in the HVAC ducts? In the compressor?


It was in the seats. More accurately...the glue for the seats. When it gets hot...as it does in Phoenix in the summer...it smells like this.

Now, it's never exactly cold in Phoenix...a locked car in sunlight in January can get over 90 degrees inside...and the first car didn't smell like this, so I don't know what's up. Maybe some have it and some don't.

But if you go shopping for an Aveo...spend some time in it before you let the salesman turn on the air, okay?


Ford Focus SES Coupe Review

I began my automotive journalism career 12 years ago this fall by testing a small Ford coupe that impressed me more than I expected. So it's kind of appropriate that this, the 150th TireKicker post (first anniversary is August 24), is also about a small Ford coupe that impressed me more than I expected.

The Ford Focus has been a bit of a disappointment simply because there's a better one being sold in Europe. But there are two bits of good news: We'll be getting the Euro Focus (or something very close to it) in a year or two...and the American version is being constantly improved and refined in the meantime.

The SES I drove had a 2 liter DOHC four, a 5-speed manual that's one of the best I've had from Ford and 17 inch wheels.

Inside, air, SYNC, and auxilary audio jacks are all standard.

Options on the tester included leather heated bucket seats, a moonroof and an upgrade to the audiophile sound system...as well as anti-lock brakes (which really, really should be standard).

Base price: $17.570. As tested: $20.615.

EPA estimates: 24 city/35 highway.

Now in that range, there's a lot of competition (it takes 26 city to make the TireKicker Top Ten Fuel Savers...and a lot of compacts are priced in that $17,000-$20,000 range), but the Focus is now good enough that it's able to run in that crowded pack.


Ford Transit Connect Review

Is this the future of small business vehicles in America?

It is if enough florists, caterers, handymen, plumbers and electricians decide they don't really need full-size pickups and vans.

The Ford Transit Connect has sold 600,000 copies in 58 countries since 2003. Now, Ford brings it to the USA.

Selling points?

A low base price...starting at $20,780.

Fuel economy....EPA estimates are 22 city/25 highway.

Innovative technology....more on which later.

The interior is more Focus than F-150...but it's roomy and especially well put together.

In work vehicles, it's what's in back that counts...and thanks to a low load floor and tall roofline, the Transit Connect has a surprising amount of room for tools of whatever trade you're in.

The innovative tech? In-dash computing which allows internet access, scheduling, invoicing and more....right from the driver's seat with a wireless keyboard. It's a $1,395 option.

Add another $1,220 and you get Tool Link. Put radio frequency tracking tags on your tools and Tool Link keeps track of them. Leave the office or a work site without your full complement of stuff...and you get an alert on the in-dash display before you can drive away...saving the cost of return trips for forgotten items or replacements for things lost.

Ford is even offering a wagon version that seats five (base price $21,135) to sell to consumers who like the cargo space. There's also a strong possibility that these will become the next-gen taxicab as the Crown Victoria ends production.

Ford hosted a Transit Connect event for journalists, dealers and small business owners on Monday (7/13) at Firebird Raceway in Phoenix. And that's where we learned the other selling point: Maneuverability. The Transit Connect handled the slalom course like no E-Series van ever could (except, perhaps with Firebird's next-door neighbor Bob Bondurant at the wheel).

As we took the course, we noticed that one of the group had actually knocked over one...but only one...of the cones. Arizona Driver photographer Randall Bohl actually caught the culprit in the act:

But tinted glass and the driver's side A-pillar conceals the identity of the culprit. That is, until Arizona Driver publisher Joe Sage spent a little time with Photoshop:

The object in mid-air would be ABC15's $4,000 video camera.

Thanks, Joe.

Here's the story as I did it for ABC15:

Toyota FJ Cruiser Review

If this were Jalopnik, the headline above would no doubt be something like "Honky Tonka" (Well, maybe not Jalopnik...their heads tend to be longer and more ironic).

After all, that's what the FJ Cruiser has been for the three years it's been around...a real-life, full-scale Tonka Truck.

But that's about to end. Toyota has said there won't be a next generation FJ...there's no assurance it will live beyond the 2010 model year.

My take is that the FJ got a bad rap. Being a large scale, in-your-face SUV, a lot of people have lumped it into the same genre as Hummers...and they couldn't be more wrong.

The FJ is actually a fairly economical vehicle...with base prices beginning at $23,320 and EPA mileage estimates of 17 city, 21 highway.

It's rugged, fun and (relatively) cheap. If that sounds like what you're after, do yourself the favor of a test drive...and if you like the FJ, get one before they're gone.


Jalopnik's Graverobber Swings For The Bleachers

Jalopnik has a fun regular feature, "Nice Price or Crack Pipe", in which readers debate whether a used vehicle offered for sale (usually on eBay or Craigslist) is worth the asking price.

The contributing writer usually gets a few clever lines in, but Graverobber has outdone himself with today's entry about a 1985 Dodge 600 Convertible with a price tag of $15,000.

And yes, there's a definite P.J. O'Rourke influence at work here.


Car and Driver: Texting While Driving

Not a day goes by that I don't see some fool text messaging at the wheel (and my commute is at 3:30 AM and 12 Noon...imagine the target-rich environment of rush hour).

Anyone with a brain (which apparently doesn't include the above-mentioned multi-taskers) knows it's dangerous.

But how dangerous?

Well, the guys at Car and Driver broke out the instruments and measured texting while driving against driving under the influence of alcohol.

Please, watch this video. And if you have ever texted while driving, don't ever do it again.


Patrick Bedard Retires from Car and Driver

Patrick Bedard just announced (in print, in the August issue of Car and Driver) that he's retiring. August is his last column.


In 41 years at C/D, Bedard could be counted on to tell it straight...even (make that especially) the stuff you didn't want to hear. Like how the automotive air bag is the first "safety device" in history to have a warning label saying that properly used, the device can cause death.

He called BS on a number of things that needed it...shortened yellow light times that started showing up when red light cameras did...incessant and insane attempts at regulation...I'd need a while to fill out the list. Simply put, if it deserved calling out, Bedard did it.

And he knew of what he spoke...not because he was a journalist (see David E. Davis' August column for the best line about journalism in a while), but because he was an engineer. He not only knew about cars...he knew how to (and not to) design and build them.

After 41 years, I can't begrudge Bedard his retirement. But I'll miss him...and coming at a time when C/D appears to be heading to new heights, I'll always wonder how much better it would be had he stuck around.


Toyota Prius Review

Cult cars can be a lot of fun. For one thing, they're instant conversation starters.

And no matter what you say, the 2010 Toyota Prius is a cult car. A big cult, to be sure, but a cult nonetheless...with the faithful believing everyone should drive them and an equally passionate resistance trying to set the English-language record for the number of times the word "smug" can be used in a single sentence.

But back to the conversation starter thing...having just handed the Prius back to Toyota yesterday following a week at the wheel...there are a handful of core questions everyone asks:

How many miles per gallon does it get?

How much money does it cost?

Is it nicer than the last one?

The answers:

51 in the city, 48 on the highway (according to the EPA).

$25,800 base...$30,709 the way the tester came (with moonroof, solar powered air conditioning, voice activated navigation, upgraded audio system, Bluetooth, backup camera, floor mats and security system).

Yes. In fact, here...have a look inside:

Much more upscale than last time around...in fact, Toyota's channeling its Lexus side here.

Oh, yeah...the other big question is "How does it drive?"

Heck with that...I wanna know why it stops.

As in without warning.

20 years ago, Audi suffered through a non-phenomenon called "unintended acceleration"...where owners claimed their sedans were roaring off at full speed while they stood on the brakes (evidence later showed they were, every last one of them, standing on the accelerator).

Well, let's call this "unintended de-celeration". You're driving along when suddenly, the Prius is coasting...the gas pedal does nothing...and you eventually crawl to a stop.

I'll solve the mystery. You probably just made an adjustment to the climate control system (while keeping your eyes on the road like a good driver should) and accidentally pressed the "Park" button.

That's right...for the uninitiated, Priuses (Priii?) don't put Park on the gear shift...it's a separate button...marked with a big "P", above and to the left of the gear shift...and for 2010, it's directly below the climate controls.

From online research, it appears a handful of last-gen Prius owners found this flaw the hard way (at first, you think the car has simply died on you) back around 2005...and Toyota whipped up a software solution so that pressing the Park button in motion above 7 miles per hour would have no effect.

I don't know whether it got overlooked in the new Prius, or if the tester malfunctioned, or what...but after figuring out why it happened by accident, I was able to make it happen multiple times...at 25 miles per hour.

Hey, look...they fixed it once and if it needs fixing again, Toyota will do it. But it does point up the issues raised by gimmicks and complexity. Does the Prius really need a giant function key instead of a legitimate parking gear on the shift lever? The answer, in my view, is no...which is why hybrids that resist the urge to re-invent everything and focus purely on the economy and emissions appeal to me more.


Ford Mustang GT Review

Okay, throw the old script away. You know, the one where Mustang invents the pony car, but after a couple of hot new kids named Challenger and Camaro come to town, rapidly loses its edge.

That was so 40 years ago. Literally.

One thing is immediately clear after an afternoon...much less a week...in the 2010 Mustang GT:

Ford is serious.

The new 'Stang ought to be just a mid-cycle refresher...but it goes a big step further...it's slightly smaller, a bit lighter, handles and rides a ton better than last year's...and the interior is now a much nicer place to do business. We're talking a jump of two or three grades of materials and workmanship. And it's lighter and airier than the Challenger and Camaro, both of which tend to sit you low and cloak you in darkness.

The GT comes with those big fog lamps in the grille, leather trim sports seats, a power 6-way driver's seat, air, ambient lighting, the Shaker 500 audio system, SYNC, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel standard.

Oh, yeah...and a 325 horsepower 4.6 liter V8, which logic says ought to be mincemeat for the V8 Challenger and Camaro, but ends up being very competitive...partly due to the weight and size savings I mentioned earlier.

All that for a base price of $30,995. Sure, a six-speed manual would be better than a five, but the five shifts smoother and easier than ever before.

The one I had for a week (up until this very morning, in fact) had the premier trim with color accent (see photo above) for $395, a Security Package (another $395), a Comfort Package with heated seats ($595), and the 3.73 rear axle ($495). With destination and delivery ($850), the total tab was $33,725...a couple grand less than the Challenger.

Gas mileage? 16 city/24 highway, according to the EPA. Again, a six-speed would be nice.

A lot of the goodness in the new Mustang GT comes from last year's Bullitt package, right down to the throaty exhaust note and the chrome cue-ball shifter. Here's hoping they're not done with that franchise and that there will be a new Bullitt to raise the bar further still.

I took it to the local cruise night this past weekend...the Ford guys were all over it...and the GM and Mopar guys expressed admiration too. They talked about the styling, the interior upgrades, the engine note.

But the thing everyone dug most?

Yep...gotta love the sequential turn signals. Tells the guys in lesser cars where to follow.

Write this down...if pony cars survive at all, Mustang's here to stay.

Mercury Milan Hybrid Review

Note: The Mercury Milan is gone, just like all of Mercury. However, the Ford Fusion Hybrid is virtually identical apart from some cosmetics. Until we get a Fusion Hybrid to review, we'll roll with the Milan.

I've said it before...the real game in hybrids isn't in small cars like the Toyota Prius and Honda Insight that are born economy machines...it's in the conversion of larger, more thirsty vehicles and getting great mileage from them.

So far, the best examples have been the Nissan Altima Hybrid , Ford Escape Hybrid and Toyota Camry Hybrid.

Here's a surprise (at least it was to me): The Mercury Milan Hybrid blows those three away.

The EPA mileage estimate (41 city/36 highway) is enough to pole-vault over that trio (as well as the Insight) for second place on the TireKicker Top Ten Fuel Savers (clickable list in the right column of this page, just below the TireKicker Top 20 Cars (So Far).

But EPA estimates...you know...even the new, improved ones...you can't really trust 'em....they're estimates...not Gospel.

For the Milan Hybrid, they're low.

Nothing on that sheet says that I should have been able to do a 40 mile roundtrip in town (one-third freeway, two-thirds surface streets) and get 45 miles per gallon. But I did. Or the Milan Hybrid did, anyway. And I wasn't playing the game...just trying to get a library book across town before the branch closed and I owed a fine. Which means if anything, I was driving a little less than eco-conciously.

Didn't seem to matter.

How do I know how I did on one trip? Well, that's the other cool thing (besides sheer mileage) aoout the Milan Hybrid...its new LCD instrument cluster looks more like something from a high-end laptop than a Dearborn dashboard...and it serves up interesting and useful information...including your mileage from the moment you turn the car on until you shut it down. Trip after trip. Want to know more? Watch this Ford-produced video:

I put 300 miles on the Milan Hybrid in a week's worth of driving. I handed it back to Ford with half a tank of gas and a distance to empty reading of another 300.

$27,500 gets you into a Milan Hybrid. My tester had a package including Moonroof, a 12-speaker Sony audio system, a driver's vision package, the "Moon & Tune" package (moonroof and audio), blind spot detection, a rear-view video camera and rear spoiler. Package price: $3,735, minus a $660 Rapid Spec discount. This one also had a nav system ($1,775).

Leather seating? Standard.

Anyway, with $725 destination and delivery charges, this bottom-lined at $33,075. Ditch the moonroof and nav system and you're under $30K. Buy the Ford Fusion Hybrid (essentially the same car) and the base price is $230 less.

Comparably equipped, the Camry and Altima Hybrids still cost a bit less...but the story of hybrids thus far has largely been about people paying a premium for the highest gas mileage. If you're looking for an excuse to go green and buy American, it's just arrived.