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2006 Automobile News

December 1, 2006

Green-friendly Cars Highlight L.A. Auto Show

The all-electric Tesla Roadster

Having been around for 100 years, the Los Angeles Auto Show was bigger and more important than ever this year, as organizers moved the ten-day event up by a month to move it away from the North American International Auto Show in Detroit held in mid January. That means more production and concept cars debuted at the L.A. Convention Center than usual as carmakers jockeyed to unveil to the world their latest creations. A noticeable trend at this year's event was environmentally friendly cars and alternate fuel systems, from BMW's hydrogen-powered 7-Series to the all-electric Tesla Roadster.

We've broken our coverage down into concept cars, alternative fuel vehicles, and the hottest new and notable production-ready autos.

December 21, 2006

Automakers Gear Up for Detroit Auto Show with Sneak Previews

2008 Mitsubishi Lancer 2008 Chevrolet Malibu

With the Los Angeles Auto Show behind them, automakers are already in high gear for their next big event: the 2007 North American International Auto Show in Detroit. To the whet the appetites of hungry car nuts, several automakers have released "sneak previews" of the cars they'll be unveiling in Detroit. Although some, like Honda with its Accord Coupe concept, simply show artist renderings, others like Lexus and General Motors have released partial images. The new Lexus "F" series of performance vehicles was teased with a cropped pictured of the new IS-F, with its unique badging and radical body kit featuring very cool vertically stacked dual exhausts. GM previewed the handsome new interior and front fascia of its 2008 Chevy Malibu, while top executives Bob Lutz and Ed Welburn posed with the 2008 Cadillac CTS, slightly pulling the cover off it in the automotive equivalent of a striptease. Mitsubishi, meanwhile, showed the whole thing with its 2008 Lancer, revealing a sharp-looking car very similar to the striking Concept-X. The Detroit Auto Show is open to the public Jan. 13-21, but expect full coverage to begin on Jan. 7 as journalists from around the world get first access to all the hot new production and concept cars.

2008 Cadillac CTS and GM executives
Ed Welburn (left) and Bob Lutz.
Lexus IS-F

November 21, 2006

BMW Unveils 3-Series Hardtop Convertible

See our list of Top 10 Convertibles

The BMW 3-Series Convertible has always been a crowd favorite since it debuted in 1987. That original car had an innovative soft-top that disappeared beneath a hard cover behind the rear seats, eliminating the need for a flimsy tonneau cover or leaving the top’s underside exposed to the elements. Although a little late to the game, the retractable hard-top found on the new 2007 3-Series Convertible is certainly significant, as it is BMW’s first foray into the popular coupe-convertible market. The roof design allows the convertible to mimic the new 3-Series Coupe’s good looks with the top up (including keeping BMW’s trademark Hoffmeister kink), while improving rearward visibility by 38 percent over the old cloth design. The convertible weighs about 400 pounds more than the fixed roof version, so expect some handling trade-offs and slower performance from the two inline-6 engines shared with the coupe. Nevertheless, BMW says the 328i will go from 0 to 60 mph in 6.7 seconds, while the turbocharged 335i will take a swift 5.5 seconds. Other notable features include programmable memory buttons for the optional iDrive and industry-first sun-reflective leather upholstery that can reduce temperatures on dark interior surfaces by up to 68 degrees Fahrenheit.

November 10, 2006

Saturn Unveils New Opel-Based Vue and Astra

The new Saturn Vue and Astra

Gravity is rapidly pulling Saturn closer to Europe. The General Motors division best known for its dent resistant plastic body panels and quirky character is rapidly undergoing a European transformation. The next-generation Vue SUV is the latest model announced to be based on an Opel, GM’s German division sold in Europe. The 2008 Vue will be virtually identical to the new Opel Antara, a compact crossover SUV developed by GM Daewoo and built in South Korea—the Vue will be built in the United States. The two vehicles will differ mainly by the brand emblem on the grille and engine choices. This is the third Saturn that will be a rebadged Opel, following the announcements that the Opel Astra will cross the pond to replace the unloved Ion and the next-generation Opel Corsa will arrive around 2010 as Saturn’s entry level model. The new Saturn Aura also shares components with the Opel Vectra (and bears a striking resemblance). Opels sold and built in Great Britain are known as Vauxhalls and it looks like Saturn will eventually be the same type of division. This is good news, as recent Opels (particularly the Astra) have been heralded for their sporty road manners, good build quality and definite European flavor—things Saturn has never come close to boasting about. The 2008 Vue and Saturn Astra should arrive next year.

October 14, 2006

Mercedes-Benz Classic Car Center Opens in Irvine, Calif.

With many automobile design bureaus and corporate headquarters, the city of Irvine, Calif., has attracted yet another star in its galaxy of automotive businesses—a three-pointed one. Ernst Lieb, President of Mercedes-Benz USA, welcomed an exclusive group of faithful customers, city officials and auto journalists Oct. 14 to the new Mercedes-Benz Classic Car Center. The glamorous ribbon cutting ceremony officially opened the museum-like structure to the public. The luxurious garage’s collection ranges from the Patent car (the world’s first automobile) to the recent Maybach Exelero concept car. Center stage for the opening evening was occupied by a sensational gathering of fully restored 300SL Gullwings, which is indicative of what the Center is all about: bringing back to factory-new condition now-classic models like the 300SL.

“We are proud to welcome all of you in this state of the art facility…” Lieb said. “Where you should feel at home—you and your loved ones,” loved ones being the assembled collectors’ cars.

For more information, visit

October 4, 2006

New Cars Debut at Paris Motor Show

Audi R8

Automakers from Europe and from around the world converged in Paris for the annual Mondial de l'Automobile or Paris Motor Show from Sept. 30 to Oct. 15. The usual array of concept cars was on display, including the breathtaking Citroën C-Métisse, while other production-ready models made their world debut. In the wake of the Caliber's surprising success in Europe, Dodge chose to unveil its all-new Avenger mid-size sedan in France as an effort to build the brand further across the pond. Meanwhile, European makers showed hot new performance models, like the Audi R8, BMW M6 Convertible and Mercedes-Benz CL63 AMG. Expect many of these models to show up at forthcoming auto shows.

September 18, 2006

GM to Put Hydrogen Car Prototypes on the Road in 2007

The way of the future is one step closer to becoming a reality. General Motors has announced it will put 100 hydrogen fuel cell cars on the road in 2007 as part of a global market test. Using the Chevrolet Equinox as a base, the fuel cell car will be capable of traveling 200 miles on 4.2 kg of hydrogen gas held in tanks below the floor and above the rear axle. It will meet all 2007 safety regulations, and have the same interior space as the normal Equinox. A variety of drivers in California, the New York City area and Washington, D.C., will drive the Equinox Fuel Cells as part of “Project Driveway,” which GM hopes will provide insight into how consumers will react to hydrogen-powered vehicles—such as day-to-day driving, different climates and refueling.

“General Motors is demonstrating its commitment to hydrogen fuel cells as the answer for taking the automobile out of the environmental debate and reducing our dependence on petroleum,” said Larry Burns, GM vice president of research & development. “The Equinox Fuel Cell is powered by GM’s most advanced fuel cell propulsion system to date, and demonstrates an important milestone on our pathway to automotive-competitive fuel cell propulsion technology development.”

August 23, 2006

Government Regulates Car ‘Black Boxes’

Not a real event data recorder

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) ruled Monday that automakers must disclose to consumers whether their new vehicle is equipped with an event data recorder or “black box.” Already deployed in 65 percent of 2005 models, these devices gather information seconds before, during and after a crash including speed, braking force and seat belt use. Automakers and safety groups say they use the information to monitor and improve the safety performance of new cars. The new government rule that takes effect in September 2010 mirrors laws in 10 states that declare owners must be told about the recorders. However, the NHTSA fell short of declaring—as many of those states do—that the data collected by a black box belongs to the vehicle owner and cannot be accessed without permission. The NHTSA did say that the data recorders should be made more durable and all manufacturers should monitor the same type of information. Privacy groups have expressed concern about these devices, because their presence could theoretically lead to future watchdog technologies that monitor the driver’s behavior, such as alerting authorities to a speeding car or seat belt use. On July 1, a New Hampshire law banned such driver “surveillance.”

To find out if your car comes equipped with an event data recorder, consult your owner’s manual or contact the manufacturer with your VIN.

August 16, 2006

BMW Pulls Cover Off All-New Mini Cooper

Believe it or not, the photos you see at right are of the all-new Mini Cooper. It’s not some mid-life freshening either; almost every aspect of the hit British hatchback is new—except that famous profile. Mini’s makers, BMW, realized it would be a bad idea to mess with such a successful formula (dealers still can’t keep them on their lots after five years), and kept the changes subtle. Most notably, the headlights are no longer attached to the hood, keeping costs and complexity down, while larger grille openings lend a more aggressive look. Once again, contrasting roof, mirror and wheel colors will be available to complement the new range of twelve colors.

So what were the big changes, then? Under the hood are new 1.6-liter inline-4s developed with Peugeot that make 120-horsepower in the naturally aspirated Cooper and 175-horsepower in the now-turbocharged Cooper S (the outgoing model is supercharged). The biggest differences can be found inside, where a thoroughly modern update of the outgoing model’s quirky retro design has occurred. The radio is now integrated into the signature central speedometer, making it easier to see, while the automatic climate control is both more stylish and simple to use. Thankfully, the toggle switches remain.

Pricing hasn’t been announced, but expect the new Coopers to hit dealers this fall. If the popularity of the last generation is any indication, also expect a long line for one.

August 10, 2006

Rolls-Royce Unveils Sleek New 101EX Coupe

Enquiring (stylish and rich) minds want to know when the next models will come out of Rolls-Royce’s Goodwood factory. After the success of the BMW engineered and built Rolls-Royce Phantom (800 units are sold annually), these minds can start thinking of the spacious convertible due out now. For even more forward-thinking minds, we bring you the 101EX, an experimental coupe. The final decision on whether they will build it has not been made yet, but the situation is looking good.

“We are just showing the car to gauge interest, and get reactions,” said Peter Miles, CEO Rolls-Royce Motor Cars North America.

We were lucky enough to see it and shoot it today in Los Angeles…but we could not touch it. For now, there is only one prototype embarking on a world-wide tour to tantalize those enquiring minds.

August 9, 2006

BMW Reveals All-New X5

The first generation BMW X5 introduced in 2000 proved SUVs could actually be sporty, paving the way for fun Utes like the Infiniti FX and Porsche Cayenne. The second generation unveiled this week has maintained the sport, but has grown up, distancing itself from the X3, and dialed up the technology to keep up with the rest of BMW’s line. As the last “un-Bangled” Bimmer, the X5 also receives the requisite flame surfacing and swoopy headlights, but it appears the designers restrained themselves. Lines are cohesive and athletic without any of the extravagance so indicative of the 5, 6 and 7 Series. The X5 gets standard all-wheel drive, Active Steering and ActiveDrive, an automatic damping control that limits the top-heavy vehicle’s roll in turns. A 350-horsepower V8 and 260-horsepower V6 will be available. Inside, iDrive rears its ugly head, but this time with six programmable buttons and a Head-Up Display that may improve this finicky technology. The quite-literal big news is the X5’s expansion to seven-seats that should allow it to compete with the Mercedes-Benz GL450, while giving it a leg up (or four legs up) on the Cayenne. Pricing will start at $46,595 for the six-cylinder model and $55,195 for the V8.

August 3, 2006

GM Crosses Over After SUV Sales Dive

In a move that will surely irk health-conscious environmentalists, Hummer has teamed up with McDonalds for a new promotion that will place toy versions of the iconic SUVs in Happy Meals. Not only will kids be able to collect eight different models of the vehicles in various shapes and colors, but the gas guzzler replicas will be designed to perform different actions as well. Some speed forward when pulled back, others have winches and retractable spare tires, while others will light up. The full Hummer range is represented (H2, H2 SUT, H3 and the departed H1), plus a few special editions like the hydrogen concept H2H. Besides the new toys, the Golden Arches will also offer apple slices, juice and low-fat milk in lieu of the traditional french fries and soda, so the kids may wind up not so Happy after all.

July 27, 2006

Mazda Car Carrier Capsizes Off the Alaskan Coast

Photo by U.S. Coast Guard

Almost 5,000 Mazdas are teetering on the edge of a watery grave off the coast of Alaska’s Aleutian Islands. The Singapore-registered freighter Cougar Ace began to list heavily on the night of Sunday, July 23, after a routine intake of ballast water caused excessive flooding. All 23 crew members were safely evacuated by Coast Guard and Alaska Air National Guard helicopters, and a Coast Guard cutter is monitoring the 654-foot car carrier as it sits in the ocean perched perilously on its side at an 80-degree angle. A salvage tow will haul the ship to the closest Canadian or American port, while an investigation is conducted by the shipping company and its insurer. The 4,700 cars on board were bound for the ports of Vancouver, B.C., Tacoma, Wash., and Port Hueneme, Calif., and consist of 60 percent Mazda 3s and 40 percent new CX-7 SUVs that are being eagerly awaited by dealers across North America. The vehicles are secured with heavy chains and should not be damaged, barring any further water intake. In a similar incident three years ago, the car carrier Tricolor sank in the English Channel after striking another vessel, destroying 3,000 new vehicles, mostly Volvos.

UPDATE August 1: A salvage crew member was killed Monday when he slipped on the ship's near-vertical deck falling about 80 feet and hitting his head. The salvage team had been wearing safety harnesses, but the deceased removed his for an unknown reason. The team was attempting to figure out how to safely tow the listing vessel to safety. Since last week, the Cougar Ace has begun drifting in relatively calm seas.

July 19, 2006

Alfa Romeo to Grace U.S. Roads in 2009

American roads are about to get a whole lot prettier. Alfa Romeo announced last week that they will be returning to the North American market in 2009 with an initial line-up of three cars. Widely praised in Europe for their stunning looks, the recently introduced 159 sedan (pictured), Brera coupe and Spider convertible are all front- or all-wheel-drive models that have a penchant for handling and style. Each was designed with U.S. safety and emissions regulations in mind, and will most likely be offered with four and six cylinder engines. A diesel option could be available if the market shows a demand for it in 2009. Alfa exited North America in 1995 with a reputation for unreliability that has historically plagued the company (like other Italian manufacturers), but their newer cars are considered far more reliable. Alfa is owned by Fiat, and the three new models will be sold alongside Maseratis, another Fiat-owned brand that was brought back to North America after an extended absence.

July 12, 2006

GM Crosses Over After SUV Sales Dive

The demand for American mid-size SUVs has dive bombed this year due to rising gas prices and competition from more on-road-friendly crossover SUVs. Vehicles like the Chevrolet TrailBlazer, Ford Explorer, Jeep Grand Cherokee and Dodge Durango have seen their sales drop 20 to 30 percent, prompting General Motors to cancel its plans to redesign the TrailBlazer. Instead, GM is introducing at least three crossover models that will offer three rows of seats, improved fuel economy and more car-like ride and handling.

The first of these to be introduced was the Saturn Outlook, and now joining it is the GMC Acadia (the Buick Enclave will arrive next year). Named after a French colony located in present-day Eastern Canada, the Acadia sports clean lines that hide its eight-person capacity. Its unit body construction provides a low center of gravity, that when coupled to its 267-horsepower V6 with variable valve timing, should result in a driving experience light-years beyond truck-based SUVs. Its estimated gas mileage of 17 city, 24 highway is only a slight improvement over GM’s current truck-based mid-size SUVs. There’s no word yet about if and when the TrailBlazer-based GMC Envoy, Buick Rainier, Saab 9-7X and Isuzu Ascender will be axed. GM also hasn’t announced if crossovers would replace the latter two and the TrailBlazer itself. The Acadia and Outlook arrive in showrooms later this year.

July 5, 2006

Americans to Get Smart

After years of hype and speculation, the diminutive smart fortwo is making its way to the United States in 2008. Smart parent company DaimlerChrysler announced that the forthcoming second generation city car will hit American streets with three models—coupe, convertible and an unknown body style. The current fortwo is on sale in 37 markets around the world, including Canada, where it has been a success in urban centers.

“The time has never been better for this,” DaimlerChrysler head Dr. Dieter Zetsche said. “I am convinced that the smart fortwo, as an innovative, ecological and agile city car, will soon become just as familiar a sight on the streets of New York, Miami or Seattle, as it is today in Rome, Berlin and Paris.”

Originally a joint venture between Mercedes-Benz and Swatch watches, the smart fortwo became world-renowned for its extremely tiny dimensions (almost four feet shorter than a Mini Cooper) and turbo diesel engine that gets upwards of 59 mpg in the city. Its design features a “hard shell” tridion safety cell and air bag systems that make the smart just as safe as vehicles exponentially larger.

June 27, 2006

Miata Adds Retractable Hard Top Option

One of the Mazda MX-5 Miata’s best attributes has always been how easy it is to raise and lower its lightweight vinyl roof. Just pop one or two latches, flip it back over your head, or pull it up into place. It was quick, and anybody with average arm strength could do it. The downside, like many soft tops, was the amount of road noise seeping through the raised roof.

All of this is about to change. Mazda has unveiled photos of the new MX-5 Miata Power Retractable Hard Top model that will make its debut at the London auto show in late July. Appearing to be simpler in design than the Mercedes-Benz SLK or Cadillac XLR roadsters, the roof doesn’t seem to occupy much more rear space than the normal soft top. That's good news in regards to the MX-5’s already-diminutive trunk, and for those concerned that a power retractable roof would add too much weight. The car hits showrooms this fall, so we’ll have to wait until then to find out how much more quiet and livable the new optional roof is, as well as how much its weight affects the MX-5’s legendary handling prowess. Pricing has not been announced.

June 20, 2006

Audi Diesel Racer Conquers Le Mans

Following the Audi R10’s victory at Sebring in March, we pondered what Audi would do next at the 2006 24 Hours of Le Mans. Last weekend we got an answer: the revolutionary diesel-powered racer and its team of three drivers produced an uncontested win of arguably the greatest race in motorsports. Although its sister car suffered several mechanical problems, the No. 8 winner ran virtually problem free for 380 laps (3,202 miles) at an average speed of 133 mph. It was quicker than its competition, and more significantly, the R10 traveled two more laps (almost seventeen miles) on a tank of fuel than its gasoline-powered competition could.

With fuel efficiency on the minds of every consumer, it’s interesting to see even auto racing teams embracing less thirsty engine designs like the R10 diesel or the 100-percent Ethanol power plants, which will be fitted to every Indy Racing League car next year. While racing technology has often trickled down into normal road cars, it seems like the opposite is starting to happen. Diesel technology is popular in Europe, because of its higher fuel economy and lower CO2 emissions. High sulfur content in diesel fuel and bad memories of stinky, smoke-billowing diesels in the 1980s have kept them out of American showrooms, but technologies like Audi/Volkswagen's Pumpe Düse and Mercedes-Benz’s BLUETEC could lead to a triumphant return.

June 14, 2006

Hyundai Places Third in Initial Quality; Toyota Continues to Dominate

Problems per 100 Vehicles

Top 5
1) Porsche 91
2) Lexus 93
3) Hyundai 102
4) Toyota 106
5) Jaguar 109

Bottom 5
34) Suzuki 169
35) Hummer 171
36) Volkswagen 171
37) Isuzu 191
38) Land Rover 204

America’s best warranty might not be needed after all. In the latest J.D. Power Initial Quality Study, Hyundai finished only behind Porsche and Lexus respectively in providing trouble-free vehicles. The Korean car company has been on a meteoric rise to the top of the consumer list, with its rapidly improving line of cars and SUVs. Known throughout the 1980s and 90s as a maker of unreliable clunkers, Hyundai backed up its claims of improved reliability with an impressive 10-year/100,000 mile warranty. Couple that with its J.D. Power results, and buying a Hyundai seems like a very safe bet.

In terms of individual models, Toyota/Lexus practically swept the proceedings with eleven top rankings out of nineteen categories. With all-new models being introduced this year in at least three of the “lost” categories (Yaris, RAV4 and Tundra), Toyota/Lexus could actually be looking at an even bigger sweep in 2007.

The study is based on the number of reported problems per 100 vehicles sold. For the first time, the survey was broken down into two parts—vehicle defects (rattles, break-downs) and design issues (cup holders too small)—which improves result accuracy. In the past, a complaint of “My Hummer is only getting 8 mpg” was weighed equally with “My brakes stopped working.” Hyundai, Lexus and Porsche were in the top five of both categories.

June 7, 2006

Dude, Where's My 'Slade? King of Bling Most Likely Car to be Stolen

While fitting 23-inch dubs to your new Cadillac Escalade might be a top priority, it would probably be a good idea to invest in a Brink’s-quality security system as well. According to a new study commissioned by the insurance industry, the big bling Caddy SUV is the No. 1 target for car thieves in the United States for the fourth year in a row, followed by the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution and Dodge Ram. From 2003 to 2005, these three models were four to five times more likely to get boosted than the average car.

Most vehicles are stolen for their parts, especially expensive ones like air bags, xenon headlights and wheels. The Escalade and Evo have these, plus they are also extremely popular vehicles amongst young people—the former frequently pops up in trendy hip-hop videos. On the other hand, the least stolen cars are probably more likely to show up on Neptune than on MTV—the Ford Taurus wagon, Pontiac Vibe, Buick LeSabre and Buick Park Avenue.

Cadillac has upgraded the Escalade’s security system for the all-new 2007 model, and only time will tell if it’s enough to drop the king of bling from thieves’ radar.

May 26, 2006

Michelin CEO Dead at 42

Edouard Michelin died Friday in a boating accident off the coast of France. Named after his great-grandfather who founded the tire company, Michelin had been CEO since 1999. Details about the accident that also claimed his fishing companion are unknown at present, but an investigation has begun.

May 24, 2006

Aston Martin's "Rapide" Response to Porsche

The race is on for two legitimate four-door sports cars. Aston Martin boss Ulrich Bez announced the company will be going forward with a production version of its Rapide (Ra-peed) concept car and that it will arrive in showrooms ahead of the Porsche Panamera sedan in 2008. Both are top-end examples of a growing trend toward so-called four-door coupes like the Mercedes-Benz CLS.

Introduced at this year’s Detroit auto show, the Rapide concept resembles a stretched DB9 with a V8 Vantage rear. The production version should look nearly identical and sport a V12 engine making around 500 horsepower. The relatively quick two-year transition from show stand to showroom is the result of the sedan essentially being a four-door DB9. In fact, the concept was created in a mere seven weeks. The Panamera, on the other hand, is being built from the ground up using a new front-mid engine platform.

The Rapide will be the third four-door vehicle from Aston Martin, although its predecessors were dismal failures. The Edsel-looking 1961-1964 Lagonda Rapide only sold 55 units and the 1976-1989 Lagonda suffered from extremely poor reliability. With Aston’s recent successes and determination to beat Porsche, that trend seems likely to change.

May 17, 2006

GM Says Goodbye to Original Hummer

Somewhere a guy in a hemp shirt chained to a tree is rejoicing. General Motors announced this week that the original Hummer, the H1 Alpha, will be discharged from service after fourteen years.

Originally sold by AM General, the civilian version of the Humvee military vehicle was made famous by the Gulf War and then-actor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s glowing endorsement. After the 2002 introduction of the more passenger-friendly and popular Hummer H2, though, the H1’s demise became inevitable. The new model was more comfortable and almost 90 grand cheaper, while still dripping with more machismo than Rambo’s bandana.

Meanwhile, with sky-high fuel prices and the H1’s paltry 10 mpg mileage, it was no longer just environmentalists who viewed driving around in a leather-trimmed Humvee as akin to piloting the Exxon Valdez into a duck sanctuary. Throw in the simple impracticality of maneuvering something more than seven feet wide through suburban streets, and it’s understandable why only 400 people called the H1 into service last year.

May 10, 2006

Aston Martin Unveils James Bond's New Ride

Aston Martins are as synonymous with James Bond films as shaken-not-stirred martinis and beautiful women named Christmas or Solitaire.

Rightfully so, 007 will be back behind the wheel of an Aston Martin in the upcoming “Casino Royale” starring new 007 Daniel Craig. Called the DBS, the newest Bond car is essentially a DB9 with aggressive body cladding and a sport interior filled with chrome, red lights and suede leather. There is no word yet whether it will receive engine modifications or such useful optional extras as an ejector seat and Stinger missiles.

Aston Martin’s first Bond appearance was made in 1964’s “Goldfinger” by the iconic silver DB5 that appeared in four other films and can be seen briefly in the recently released “Casino Royale” teaser trailer. Different Astons appeared in three other films, including a DBS in 1969’s “On Her Maesty’s Secret Service.” Hopefully for Craig, though, he will last longer than that film’s once-only 007 George Lazenby.
“Casino Royale” opens Nov. 17

May 4, 2006

Rabbit Redux

To paraphrase that noted car expert Elmer Fudd, “That wascally wabbit is back.” Volkswagen announced that the fifth-generation Golf — the best-selling car in the world — will finally be available in North America this summer under its original Rabbit moniker. Europeans have been driving it since 2003, but its introduction was thought to be delayed in the United States due to Americans eschewing hatchbacks in favor of sedans like VW’s own Jetta. Volkswagen is hoping the iconic Rabbit nameplate will boost sales by creating a nostalgic feeling similar to the one enjoyed by the New Beetle. The original American-made Rabbit sold more than 1.3 million units from 1974 to 1983, while its popular convertible Cabriolet version lasted until 1993.

The 2006 Rabbit will be offered as a three- and five-door hatchback, sporting the Jetta’s top-notch build quality and 2.5-liter V5 engine. A high-performance version, the GTI, has been on sale since last year.

April 25, 2006

Mercedes BLUETEC Makes Clean-Burning Diesel a Reality

Everyone from the president down is talking about the fact that we need to do something about reducing fuel consumption and dependence on foreign oil. While some are just talking, the engineers at Mercedes-Benz are actually doing something about it. They call it BLUETEC and we’ve driven it first hand in a GL-Class derivative.

“BLUETEC is the new blueprint for the cleanest diesels in the world,” says Dr. Dieter Zetsche, CEO of DaimlerChrysler and head of the Mercedes-Benz Car Group.

The system depends on the use of low-sulfur diesel fuel making its appearance in the United States this fall. BLUETEC incorporates three after-treatment units in the exhaust system. During regeneration pulses, nitrogen oxides are released, reacting with other exhaust gases to form harmless nitrogen. What this means to you is an opportunity to buy an environmentally friendly vehicle with high fuel economy capable of significant savings at the pump.

Early models from Mercedes-Benz will be the E320 BLUETEC, ML320 CDI, R320 CDI followed by a GL320 CDI (pictured) in 2007. There is also a good chance that BLUETEC models will appear in future Chrysler Group vehicles.

April 18, 2006

Hit the Streets of Tomorrow with Audi

Audi takes to the Streets of Tomorrow today with a ten-city tour. Featuring Audi’s new 2007 Q7 SUV and RS 4 super sports sedan, this “ride and drive” event will distinguish itself by providing guests with a wide assortment of posh lifestyle demonstrations, lectures and interactive sessions.

On the automotive side of things, guests will get an opportunity to test drive the Q7 in real-life, on-road conditions without a car salesman over their shoulder. As icing on the cake, visitors will be able to test Audi’s full model line on the “quattro” course that features elements of acceleration, slalom and evasive maneuvering. A timed-performance course will also be available to drive the RS 4 at its handling limits.

Once their high speed needs have been satisfied, guests will work with a concierge to design their own program of interactive sessions. These include gourmet cooking demonstrations by local chefs, exotic travel lectures, live entertainment and other activities intended to inform them on the latest lifestyle trends. Travel company Abercrombie & Kent, Bang & Olufsen sound systems and Ducati superbikes will be on hand to aid in outfitting the Streets of Tomorrow.

April 4, 2006

Lance Armstrong to Helm Indy 500 Pace Corvette

Seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong's next race will be just a little faster than what he's used to. The American cyclist icon will be behind the wheel of the 2006 Cheverolet Corvette ZO6 pace car at the 90th running of the Indianapolis 500.

This will be the 17th time a Chevy has paced the greatest spectacle in racing and the seventh time a Corvette has been used. Recent ceremonial pace car drivers have included former Secretary of State Colin Powell, actor Morgan Freeman, John Mellencamp's wife Elaine and "Tonight Show" host Jay Leno.

As always the Indy 500 will take place Memorial Day weekend (May 28) at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The gentlemen will start their engines at 1 p.m. EDT and can be viewed on ABC.

March 18, 2006

Audi Diesel-Powered Race Car Wins Twelve Hours of Sebring

If there was any doubt Audi is a force to be reckoned with in motorsports, it was left behind in the dust at the 54th Annual Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring that kicked off this year's American Le Mans Series. Not satisfied with five consecutive victories at Le Mans with the R8, the four ringed brand's R10 - a turbo diesel V12-powered racer - took the checkered flag in its maiden voyage, the first win ever by a diesel-powered sportscar. "TDI power did it," exulted Dr Wolfgang Ullrich, Head of Audi Motorsport, referring to the unique all-aluminum engine. The latest and greatest from the engineers in Ingolstadt churns out 650 horsepower and 1100 Newton meters of torque.

Diesel technology is quite popular in Europe, representing 65% of vehicles sold there. A win at a prestigious race like Sebring drives buyers into the showrooms and that's exactly what Audi is banking on for the U.S. market. In his own words, Prof. Dr. Martin Winterkorn, Chairman of the Board of Audi AG: "Audi has once again written motorsport history, this time by being the first manufacturer to win an endurance race with a diesel powered sportscar. This impressively confirms the efficiency of the modern TDI technology. It is especially remarkable that this success was achieved at the very first race of the new Audi R10 TDI. The whole team from Audi Sport and the Technical Development of Audi has once again done a great job. I thank everyone who is participating in this ambitious project." It was a great moment for everyone involved in the project including Shell who provided the specially formulated fuel. What will Audi do to wow the field again at Le Mans in June? Stay tuned.

February 14, 2006

Harlem’s first auto center to open in forty years received its initial delivery of vehicles from General Motors on Valentine’s Day. The Harlem Auto Mall comprises the Chevrolet-Saturn and the Cadillac-HUMMER dealerships, both scheduled to open their doors by March 1, 2006. Occupying nearly an entire city block, this will be one of the largest auto sales and service centers in New York City. The Harlem Auto mall will benefit from its key location near the Triborough Bridge, FDR Drive, Queens, the Bronx, and suburbs of New York and Connecticut, where an estimated 350,000 vehicles will pass it daily.

Both the Chevrolet-Saturn dealership and the Potamkin Cadillac-HUMMER dealership were developed with minority development programs. The first and longest-running such program in the automotive industry was established in 1972 by General Motors, which to date owns 357 minority-operated dealerships.

January 27, 2006

The winding, narrow streets of Italy might be crowded with Vespas and smart cars, but they will be mighty packed if (or when) Fiat releases its seven-ton concept car, the Oltre, unveiled at the Bologna Motor Show, held January 7-17. Based on the Iveco Light Multirole Vehicle, used by the Italian and British military, the Oltre weighs four tons more than the Hummer H2. Being an expansive 4,870 mm long, 2,050 mm tall and 2,200 mm wide, the Oltre is slightly narrower than the H2, but wins the height competition by 15.24 cm. Its turbocharged three-liter diesel engine produces an underwhelming 185 horsepower, yet achieves 3,336 lb.-ft. of torque at 1,800 rpm. True off-road fanatics will appreciate the Oltre’s capability to cross water as deep as five feet and climb grades of 40 percent. Watch out, world, a new monster might be on the prowl soon.


January 09, 2006

The L.A. Auto show is making two (yes, two) appearances in 2006: the usual one in January as well as a re-branded International Show to debut in November (dates to be announced).

At this January L.A. Auto Show (scheduled for January 6-15), there was a special appearance for all the dreamers out there: the world’s fastest and most expensive car, the Bugatti Veyron 16.4. It made its U.S. auto show debut alongside more accessible models.

Some of these include the 2007 Volkswagen Eos, a new two-door, five passenger hardtop convertible; Toyota’s 2007 Yaris, a subcompact car; Audi’s first-ever SUV, the Q7 and a powerful new offering from Porsche: the Cayman S. With more than thirty automobiles making their world or North American premieres, the L.A. Auto Show is sure to be a memorable one.

January 03, 2006 

Those lucky enough to attend Designers’ Tuesday at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Calif., on January 3 got a glimpse of the all-new Audi R10, a speed and power demon packing more than 650 hp, over 1,100 Newton meters of torque and sporting a V12 diesel engine made entirely of aluminum. The car will become the first diesel-powered automobile to race in the prestigious 24 Hours of Le Mans race in June 2006, but before that, this TDI menace will make its racing debut at the 12-hour race at Sebring in Florida, on March 18.

Tom Kristensen, seven-time Le Mans champion, will be behind the wheel of the R10 for both races. At the Designers’ Tuesday, Kristensen said, “Since I already drive an Audi TDI in my everyday life, I thought I’d race one at Le Mans and win.”

Audi introduced TDI technology in production cars—and since racing victories boost car sales, here they go on the racing circuit. To read reviews of Audi vehicles, click here.

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