Scion's cool, but cooling off
If you're not into big cars, Scion showed two new models at Chicago. The '08 xB, on sale in August, is substantially bigger, inside and out. Its 108-horsepower 1.5-liter four is replaced with a 158-horsepower, 2.4-liter engine, and its box-on-wheels-shape is replaced with a more organic, rounded edge box, designed in Toyota's California studio.
The xD (shown here) replaces the entry-level xA, and it's now on the Yaris platform, with a larger, 1.8-liter four making 128 horsepower. It's on sale in April. Both the xB and xD are offered with five-speed manuals or four-speed automatics, the latter a cost-cutting surprise from an automaker that manages to put five- or six-speed automatics in just about everything else.
Both new models, like the old ones, have loads of standard equipment, including standard a/c, power windows and a 160-watt stereo with iPod connectivity. The only options are transmission and color, and of course Toyota encourages personalization; big wheels, lowered suspension, wild paint jobs and the like. The xB and xD interiors are much cooler, bringing some of the same appeal as the Mini's interior.
But the new models make me wonder whether Scion can sustain its image. Maintaining youthful hipness is tougher than introducing it, especially when you work so hard to be blase about it. The xB has lost some of the wacky, Japanese Domestic Market-style appeal that has made it a darling of the so-called Millennial set.
Sorry but, fuel prices notwithstanding, the big, powerful Pontiac G8 is the future - the two Scions' prospects remain to be seen.
Posted by Todd Lassa, Motor Trend 9:12 PM 0 Comments | Add a Comment
G8: Most important car of the week
Chicago's most important introduction this week was the Pontiac G8 sedan. (See Motor Trend's video.) In fact, it may be more important than GM's Detroit introductions, the Cadillac CTS, Chevy Malibu and Camaro convertible.
It's the G8 that makes the Camaro possible. They're both on the same new rear-drive platform, designed and engineered in Australia at GM's Holden division.
The car is so important because...
a.) It validates the move back to big rear-wheel-drive sedans that Chrysler began with the 2005 LX models.
b.) It provides GM with an affordable rear-drive platform that can be used across most of its divisions. Cadillac's Sigma premium rear-drive platform is too costly.
The Holden rear-drive architecture, formerly known as Zeta, has a MacPherson strut front suspension and a multi-link suspension in the rear. Chief car guy Bob Lutz says it's extremely flexible, able to underpin a wide variety of cars. GM has developed it with 112-inch (Camaro), 115-inch (G8/Holden Commodore) and 119-inch wheelbases. The next-generation Buick Lucerne and Cadillac DTS replacements could run off that 119-inch wheelbase, although GM claims it hasn't made a decision about what to do with those cars.
The G8 is a performance sedan designed to target the Dodge Charger. The base G8 will come with a 261-horsepower, 3.6-liter twin-cam V-6 and five-speed automatic, aimed at the 3.5-liter V-6 Charger. The G8 GT will have a 362-horse 6.0-liter small block V-8, targeting the Hemi Charger R/T. It will come with the choice of a six-speed automatic or six-speed manual, and - thank the car gods - has a handbrake instead of a pedal-operated emergency brake. Of course, a 600-horse Z06 engine would nicely vanquish the Charger SRT-8, and take on the BMW M5 as well.
Styling is pre-Bangle BMW-esque, nicely updated, and while GM is careful not to make claims about how well the car handles, BMW's 5 Series served as the benchmark for steering and handling.
The 2008 G8 is scheduled to go on sale early next year.
Posted by Todd Lassa, Motor Trend 5:10 PM 5 Comments | Add a Comment
Kia lets the sun shine in
At the last newsworthy press conference of the day, Kia breathed some life into the Chicago show with its light-hearted unveiling of the Kia Rondo SX concept car. The Rondo's new marketing campaign includes a rainbow of singers belting out "Let the Sun Shine In," and that same cheery group made a live appearance on stage this morning.
The Rondo SX concept is based on the all-new Kia Rondo which went on-sale in December 2006. Compared to the standard Rondo, the SX gets more aggressive front and rear fascias, a dramatic new grille and 18-inch cast-alloy wheels with 235/40R18 Michelin Pilot Sport tires. A cold-air intake and free-flowing cat-back exhaust system increase the 2.7-liter V6's power rating to 192 hp.
The Rondo SX's cabin is dressed up to match the sporty exterior.
Kia claims it has no immediate plans to add the SX to the Rondo line-up, but claims instead to be gathering customer feedback.
Posted by Kelly Toepke, Edmunds.com Inside Line 3:37 PM 0 Comments | Add a Comment
Toyota says that it asked previous-generation xB owners what their cars lacked, and gave it to them in the new 2008 model. I disagree - from the looks of it, Toyota's R&D department did some research and figured out what made the original xB such a huge success. And then got rid of it.
Okay, that's a bit harsh - but what I (and buyers) loved so much about the xB was its anime-quality toughness at two-thirds scale. Unlike the slow-selling xA, the xB never looked modern, it never looked soft, and it certainly never looked bubbly. The new one tries to look all three of those, and ends up losing all of the original's charm.
But, I digress. It's not all bad. The 2008 xB rides on an all-new platform, and is numerically better in every way: It's twelve inches longer, three inches wider, and rides on a wheelbase that's four inches longer. Its rear discs are two inches larger. It holds eight cubic feet more stuff. And the best news is that the underpowered 1.5-liter four has been replaced by the tC's 158-hp 2.4-liter, solving my biggest complaint about the old model.
The new xB goes on sale late spring and rides on sixteen-inch wheels. Transmission choices are a five-speed manual or four-speed manu-matic. There are no options, and all xBs come standard with power everything, loads of safety equipment, and an iPod jack that enables the audio system to display song titles on its display.
So on paper the new xB is better in every way. It's bigger and comes with a 53 percent increase in horsepower. It's too bad that it's met with a similar decrease in coolness.
Posted by Jason Camissa, Automobile Magazine 1:21 PM 6 Comments | Add a Comment
It's a small world
Some of the stars at this show in America's heartland are actually from outside the U.S., though they are wearing domestic nameplates. GM Motors unveiled the Saturn Astra, a mildly revised version of the Opel Astra that GM makes in Germany and the Pontiac G8, based on a Holden model in Australia.
Undoubtedly watching this closely, new Ford CEO Alan Mulally is pushing Ford to follow GM's lead in leveraging its global vehicles. Mulally has said Ford may bring some models from Europe to the U.S. Ford's President of the America's said Mulally has given management the marching orders for Ford's global operations to share assets and behave like a global company. Also under Mulally, Ford has appointed a product developing champion along the lines of GM's Bob Lutz.
(Image from Allposters.com)
Posted by Michelle Krebs, Edmunds AutoObserver.com 10:59 AM 0 Comments | Add a Comment
Pathfinder gets more muscle
Given that trucks and large-platform SUVs keep middle America running, it's fitting that most of Nissan's Chicago show announcements had to do with the Japanese automaker's three largest vehicles. The Pathfinder, Armada, and Titan all receive minor changes for 2008, and with the exception of the Pathfinder's newly available V-8, few of those changes are worth crowing about.
Yep, you heard right: up until now, Nissan's Pathfinder wasn't available with a V-8. The Pathfinder's newfound grunt comes from the same 5.6-liter pump found in both the Armada and the Titan; it delivers over 300 hp ('08 outputs have yet to be finalized) and roughly 380 lb-ft of torque.
The Pathfinder's old 266-hp V-6 carries over, though it remains to be seen how dimly the V-6's light will shine when compared with that of its larger-displacement sister. New wheels, trim, available Bluetooth connectivity, a revised navigation system, and Nissan's Music Box in-dash hard drive technology also make an appearance. Front and rear styling-- including hood, grille, bumpers, and liftgate -- are also revised for the upcoming model year.
The Titan pickup doesn't receive any new engine or powertrain components this year, but it does undergo a good chunk of change -- new King Cab and Crew Cab long-wheelbase models, each boasting an extra foot and a half of bed length compared with the standard the standard model, make their debut. (Toyota's My-Truck-is-Bigger-Than-Your-Truck 2008 Tundra no doubt played a role in the Titan's '08 upsizing.)
A new off-road Titan variant dubbed PRO-4X -- featuring custom Rancho shicks, a lower rear axle ratio, two additional skid plates, an electronically locking rear differential, and unique trim -- debuted as well, along with a 350-watt, ten-speaker Rockford Fosgate audio package offering Bluetooth connectivity. Like the Pathfinder, the Titan also recieves Nissan's new corporate front and rear styling motifs.
Like its Titan and Pathfinder siblings, the Armada recieves a comprehensive interior and exterior facelift for 2008, but little else is new. Twenty-inch wheels are available for the first time, and the new interior boasts a much more luxurious feel.
The 2008 Pathfinder, Armada, and Titan are scheduled to go on sale in Spring of 2007.
Posted by Samuel Smith, Automobile 10:45 AM 0 Comments | Add a Comment
Saturn's safety orbit
During the Astra unveiling, Saturn General Manager Jill Lajdziak said, "At Saturn, we have never taken our eye off the ball when it comes to safety."
She was referring to the Astra's roster of safety systems, including stability control, ABS, six air bags, and active head restraints.
However, has Saturn always been on the ball when it comes to safety?
Looking at Consumer Reports data, current Saturn models we have tested post Good to Very Good results in our accident avoidance test. Though, looking at our aggregated crash test data, there are some red flags.
The Saturn Ion is rated only Acceptable in the frontal offset crash test by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). When tested with front and rear head curtain air bags, the Ion received the same rating as without: Poor.
The 2002-2007 Vue faired better in the front test, earning the highest rating of Good. However, in the only side test performed by the IIHS, without side air bags, the Vue was rated Poor.
In the Institute's words: "Measures taken from the [driver] dummy indicate that rib fractures would be likely in a crash of this severity. Serious neck injuries as well as a fracture of the pelvis would also be possible. In addition, loading to the shoulder was excessive." Ouch.
The Vue also tipped-up in the government rollover test.
The Relay minivan scored a Good in the front test. No surprise, really, as the enlarged front end added to the basic GM minivan design for the latest, and last, generation was in direct response to crash test performance. Three separate side tests were conducted by IIHS, representing changing air bag configurations. The results range from Poor to Acceptable.
The newer Aura, Outlook, and Sky have not yet been tested.
We're not sure where Saturn's celestial eye has been focused, but the results speak for themselves. And the message is: don't believe the hype and research cars on your own. Especially when it comes to safety, trust the data, not the hyperbole.
Posted by Jeff Bartlett, Consumer Reports 10:16 AM 0 Comments | Add a Comment
Serious people power
While everyone else was busy paying attention to Ford's renamed 2008 Five Hundred (a car so good they unveiled it twice!) and Toyota's brand-new Highlander, Volkswagen quietly unveiled its 2008 R32. VW's Golf GTI-based, all-wheel-drive hatchback features a 3.2-liter, naturally aspirated, narrow-angle V-6, a standard twin-clutch (DSG) transmission, and more than a few subtle exterior changes.
The R32's power - 250 hp and 236 lb-ft of torque - comes from a version of Volkswagen's famed 15-degree VR6 engine. All that grunt is transferred to the pavement through a modified form of VW's 4Motion all-wheel drive. The best part? At least 75 percent of the VR6's available torque is sent to the back wheels at all times, ensuring both lurid throttle-induced drift possibilities and rear-wheel-drive dynamics.
Although a standard manual transmission isn't offered (and we'll bemoan that fact until the day we die), VW's six-speed DSG box should do an admirable job. Based on our experience with DSG-equipped "ordinary" GTIs, we can say without reservation that Volkswagen's twin-clutch `box is the best two-pedal transmission we've ever seen. Its near-seamless gear change technology allows the R32 to hit 60 mph in just 6.4 seconds.
A whole host of different styling and accessory touches come standard on the R32 as well. A brushed aluminum grille surround, new front and rear bumpers, twin chrome exhausts, R32-specific 18-inch alloys, and unique door handles and mirrors complete the package. Both track and ride height have been altered (wider and lower, respectively), giving the R32 a meaner stance than the standard GTI.
While we love the R32 in concept, we're not exactly sure what to make of it. Volkswagen's 3.6-liter "new-generation" V-6, as fitted to the rest of its current lineup, wouldn't fit in the current GTI's engine bay, and so power changes little from the last-generation (2004) R32. (Incidentally, that car shared the new R32's engine.) Weight increases, and while the rear-biased torque split is a welcome change - giving the R32 more of a rearward torque split than Audi's famed RS4 - we wonder whether the new R32 will be as entertaining to drive as the last one.
In other news, Volkswagen also announced a return to factory-sponsored road racing in North America. Beginning in 2008, VW will offer a healthy contingency program for SCCA club racing on both a regional and national level; cash awards will be handed out based on victory counts, and some level of factory support will reportedly be available in this country. A production-based spec series known as the GTI Cup and featuring identically prepared GTIs was also announced; the series will utilize near-stock production cars, provide an entry-level, low-cost way to get into professional motorsports, and be fully sanctioned by the SCCA. (VW GTI Cup races will be held as support races during SPEED GT events.)
Posted by Samuel Smith, Automobile 10:11 AM 0 Comments | Add a Comment
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