Friday, March 27, 2009

2009 Mazda6 Review

2009 Mazda6

People who truly care about cars regard the phrase fun-to-drive as three of the most coveted words in the automotive universe.

And while that phrase has applied to the Mazda6 since its introduction back in 2002, a few other phrases, like comfortably spacious, smooth riding and universally handsome, didn’t apply in a way that most American shoppers found equally enticing.

For 2009, all of that has changed.

The first car in Mazda’s portfolio to be designed, engineered, developed and built in the United States, the 2009 Mazda6 is aimed squarely at the heart of the popularly priced mid-size sedan segment. In many ways, that is the most difficult segment in which to operate. One; it is the largest, most competitive segment and two; it is dominated by Toyota Camry, Nissan Altima and Honda Accord. Camry and Accord being two of the best selling cars the world has ever known.

And while it is indeed a large segment with plenty of room for success, most shoppers looking for a car in that category go in wearing blinders that pre-dispose them to either the Honda or the Toyota. Therefore, if you’re going to compete with those two cars, you have to offer more than rock solid reliability, safety, utility, comfort, and spaciousness.

For openers, being good looking doesn’t hurt, particularly when combined with strong value for the money. And while the vast majority of shoppers in this category don’t really care if their car is fun to drive, if you can throw that in too, you’ll definitely attract people who do.

Mazda has done all of the above for the second iteration of the Mazda6.

From its outstanding over the road dynamics, to its thoroughly modern curvaceous exterior, and sophisticated interior appointments, the 2009 Mazda6 readily embraces Mazda’s core principles of engaging driving attributes and great value for the money––while also infusing the brew with sophisticated style, thoughtful appointments, airy spaciousness, and an extensive equipment list.

In fact, Mazda6 offers several features that rival cars in the entry-level luxury class.

Attributes like blind spot monitoring, keyless entry and start, Bluetooth audio streaming, and surround audio are typically found in most manufacturers’ premium models. Because the Mazda6 product planners don’t have to mind their place in the company’s lineup beneath an Infiniti, Lexus or an Acura the way Accord, Altima and Camry’s product planners do, they can offer the kind of high-tech luxury features in their volume-oriented car typically found only in premium models.

Still, keeping an eye on affordability is paramount in this segment. To that end, the 2009 Mazda6 is offered with a choice of a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 170 horsepower, as well as a 3.7-liter V6 that produces 272 horsepower. (By the way, that’s only two horsepower down from the 274 delivered by the high-performance Mazdaspeed6 of 2007.)

Fuel economy minded buyers who opt for the four-cylinder can choose between a six-speed manual transmission and a five-speed automatic with manual shift capabilities. The V6 is offered only with a six speed automatic transmission. However it does provide manual operation via paddle shifters for those who like to take matters into their own hands.

The really big news about the 2009 Mazda6 is that whether you choose the V6 or the inline four, all of the option packages and equipment in the Mazda6 portfolio can be had with either engine. In other words, if you decide the four-cylinder is the choice for you, you can still get every comfort and convenience featured offered for the Mazda6. You don’t have to drive a poorly equipped car just because you prefer the smaller engine.

Over the road, we found the four pulled admirably, particularly when paired with the slick-shifting six-speed manual transmission. Producing 167 foot-pounds of torque at 4000 RPM, the 2.5 pulls nicely away from traffic signals and makes engaging sounds when you decide to take advantage of its accelerative abilities. Frankly, if we’d never driven the V6 engine we’d never have missed it in this car. Which is to say the four-cylinder does a more than adequate job of both motivating the Mazda6 and providing an engaging experience.

Still, there’s no replacement for displacement, and the V6 definitely ratchets things up a notch or two. Wonderfully tractable and smooth like fresh cream, the 3.7-liter is easily competitive with the best from Honda and Toyota.

As you might expect, with less weight in its nose, the four-cylinder equipped Mazda6 does offer a more agile feel when asked to change directions. But both cars nicely live up to Mazda’s reputation for sportiness. Regardless of engine choice, the Mazda6 sticks nicely in corners, offers accurate steering, strong brakes, and that nice sense of balance that makes a car tremendously enjoyable to drive.

In a nutshell, if you’re looking for a mid-sized ride that does everything the leaders in the segment do, but you’d also like a taste of personality and a shot of soul, you’ll definitely want to give the Mazda6 a chance to win your heart. We’re pretty confident you’ll come away from the experience with yet another phrase resonating in your head.

2009 Mazda6
Base Price: $19,220 (includes $670 destination)
Engine(s): 2.5-liter inline four or 3.7-liter V6
Horsepower/torque: 2.5-liter, 170@ 6000 rpm/167 foot-pounds @ 4000 rpm
3.7-liter, 272@ 6250 rpm/269 foot-pounds @ 4250 rpm
Transmissions: Inline four: six-speed manual or five-speed automatic
V6: six-speed automatic
Drivetrain: Front engine, front-wheel drive
Fuel economy: six-speed manual 20 city/29-hwy
five-speed automatic 21 city/30 hwy
six-speed automatic 17 city/ 25 hwy

Source: on wheels inc

2009 Toyota Camry Review

2009 Toyota Camry

2007 saw the debut of a completely redesigned Camry; Toyota gave it sleeker styling, along with a richer feel, which resulted in the most Lexus-like Camry yet. The 2009 Toyota Camry goes virtually unchanged, aside from some minor cosmetic bits. recognizes that the Camry has always suffered a reputation of being a bit dull. Autoblog reports, "The best thing about the Camry's half-pretty styling is the anonymity afforded by the glut of them on the road, and the car itself tries very hard to avoid offending anyone." continues with that theme, adding, "The hallmark of this sixth-generation Camry is Toyota's effort to shake the stodgy, plain reputation the car had developed in some circles." The 2009 Toyota Camry is "a departure from the upright style of previous models," Automedia says, one that "shares Toyota's shapely new sedan look with its larger stablemate Avalon and upscale cousin Lexus ES." Finally, Motor Trend weighs in, commenting, "The sexier styling addresses the major complaint voiced by current Camry owners—too vanilla."

Autoblog remarks of the Toyota, 2009 edition, "Its exterior styling is more expressive than previous Camrys; one could even get away with saying the styling was a motivating factor in the purchase of a Camry," adding that "the front end has a suggestion of feline to its face, and the hood has some well developed surface detailing that plays light nicely." Furthermore, Automedia points to the SE edition, saying that it "looks decidedly more athletic than the others."

Automedia calls the 2009 Toyota Camry's interior "more modern and stylish than before," while Automobile Magazine describes it as "intelligently designed." "Large controls are logically placed," says Edmunds of the Toyota 2009 Camry, adding, "One of the few exceptions to the hyper-practical design dictum is the stylish ice-blue backlighting for the audio and climate controls."

The 2009 Toyota Camry may not be a sport sedan, but it's certainly not slow. Three engines are offered, and the 3.5-liter V-6 is a potent source of motivation.

The 2009 Toyota Camry can be had with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 158 horsepower, a 3.5-liter V-6 that makes 268 hp, or Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive system, which also powers the Prius. The V-6 "is available on all trims except the base model," Edmunds reports. The Hybrid model is covered in a separate review.

Motor Trend calls the V-6 "burly" and estimates that the 2009 Toyota Camry SE with the V-6 "should be capable of reaching 60 mph in about 6.5 seconds." ConsumerGuide goes one better, saying, "In our tests a XLE V6 did 0-60 mph in 6.2 seconds." Automedia reports that the "upgraded four-cylinder provides adequate power with good fuel economy." But Edmunds sums it up by advising, "A more appealing choice for those who can spend more is the smooth and vigorous V6, which transforms the Camry into one of the fastest mid-priced sedans on the road, with barely any penalty in fuel efficiency."

The four-cylinder Toyota 2009 Camry offers "a five-speed manual or five-speed automatic, while the V6 sends its power through a standard six-speed automatic," Edmunds reports. The automatic is a favorite at Motor Trend: "The new six-speed auto sets a fine example for shifting with speed and seamlessness," they proclaim. The five-speed automatic, Autoblog says, "aims for fifth gear and takes a search warrant to find a downshift," adding that "the autobox is recalcitrant, if efficient."

However, the gearing of the five-speed automatic helps provide fuel mileage with the four-cylinder equal to that of the five-speed manual. reports gas mileage is strong in the Toyota; 2009's Camry has estimated fuel economy ratings of "21/31 mpg city/highway for the four-cylinder with manual or automatic, [and] 19/28 for the V-6." That's not much of a price to pay for more than 100 extra horses.

A more sport-oriented SE version "truly delivers on its sporty promise," Motor Trend says. Other versions get lower marks. ConsumerGuide notes that "most models—SE excepted—are spoiled by marked cornering lean from their comfort-biased suspensions." thinks the "SE still rides more comfortably than the Honda Accord," while other versions are even more "compliant." Automobile Magazine observes that the 2009 Toyota Camry SE "doesn't have the sort of body control that begs you to throw it into the sweeping curves on the winding roads above Santa Barbara, but if you do so anyway, the chassis digs in and hangs on without too much protest, and the car loses grip predictably and controllably." Car and Driver is a bit harsher, stating that "the Camry's chassis engineers prioritized creamy ride quality above all, and as a consequence it's hard for us to perceive anything sporty about this car." And of the SE, Car and Driver advises, "We'd avoid this trim level, because expecting the Camry to be a sports sedan is only going to end in disappointment." However, the brakes "provide smooth and ample stopping power," according to ConsumerGuide.

The 2009 Toyota Camry has always been known as a high-quality, comfortable car, but reviews researched by find that Toyota hasn't upped the ante in terms of interior space or materials.

Automedia points out some of the measures taken to preserve interior room in the Toyota: 2009's Camry has slimmer front seatbacks and more travel for front seats. In addition, "larger footwells and a half-inch more legroom better accommodate back-seat occupants, and the rear seatbacks recline in XLE models." However, the reclining seatbacks come at the price of losing the ability to fold down the seatbacks in models so equipped, moving to admonish Toyota for taking "a major step backward to replace folding backseats in the SE and XLE with small pass-thru openings."

While rear-seat occupants enjoy a little more space, there's less room overall in this Camry; Toyota trimmed a bit of the volume compared to past versions. Motor Trend points out that "inside, passenger volume is down 0.4 to 2.1 cubic feet, but rear legroom is up half an inch," and it feels "Toyota engineers have added room where it'll be appreciated and deleted space where it won't be missed." "By the numbers, cargo and towing are what took a hit," says. "The trunk volume has decreased from 16.7 cubic feet to a maximum of 15 cubic feet in the CE and LE. The higher trim levels measure 14.5 cubic feet." Regarding the trunk, ConsumerGuide reports, "sickle-shaped lid hinges intrude and the trunk opening is too small for really bulky items." However, Edmunds commends the 2009 Toyota Camry's "nice selection of cubbies and compartments to collect whatever personal effects that may be accompanying you."

Granted, the 2009 Toyota Camry must maintain a high standard of quality in order to simply maintain the status quo for that model, but most reviewers mention a slip in build quality. ConsumerGuide says of the Camry, Toyota's "cabin materials are generally solid and serviceable, with soft-touch surfaces and inoffensive faux metal or wood trim," but adds, "Recent test examples have suffered uncharacteristic lapses in materials and workmanship." Car and Driver concurs: "Downsides to the latest Camry include some disappointing interior plastics, inconsistent fit and finish."

The 2009 Toyota Camry comes packed full of the safety features one would expect in a modern, family-oriented car, but other cars in the segment still include more.

Edmunds reports that the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) "gave the Camry its highest rating of 'Good' for frontal-offset and side collision protection." In addition, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gives the 2009 Camry Hybrid five stars, its highest rating, in both frontal and side crash safety. It scored almost as high in NHTSA's rollover avoidance test, earning four out of five stars.

Every Toyota 2009 Camry comes with "antilock brakes (with brake assist), front-seat side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags and a driver knee airbag," according to Edmunds. praises the "driver's knee airbag," which is designed "to keep the occupant from sliding down and forward (submarining) in a collision."

Traction control is standard, but stability control remains optional, even on pricier, more powerful V-6 models. observes, "That it's available on any trim level is a plus. That the Hyundai Sonata and Volkswagen Passat include it standard is a minus for the Camry and other midsize sedans." Oddly, the Camry Hybrid is the only Camry to include stability control as standard. Also, ConsumerGuide points out that the 2009 Toyota Camry has an "emergency inside trunklid release," which is a new feature required of cars so that people aren't trapped inside them.

Source: the car connection

Monday, February 9, 2009

2009 Ford F-150 FX4 Review

2009 Ford F-150 FX4

Back in the late '70s you could buy a Ford F-150 with a coil-sprung Dana 44 front axle, a Ford 9-inch rearend, and a frame that could bear weight beyond the 1/2-ton designation. This vintage of the F-150 was often heralded for its built-tough mechanicals and lauded for the over-built engineering. For 2009, Ford continues the trend with its improved F-150 that again widens the gap with class-leading payload, towing, and improved fuel economy, while narrowing the gap between the F-150 and F-250 Super Duty.

For 2009 the more aerodynamic F-150 gets a new look that shares more of a family face with other Ford newcomers like the Flex and reintroduced Taurus. It also gets a bit larger, while losing some weight and gaining capability. The Super Crew is 6 inches longer (now with a flat load floor), thanks to new front doors that are shared across the F-150 lineup. Previously the four-door regular cab shared front doors with the SuperCrew, while the Super Cab had its own longer doors. But for 2009 all F-150s have the same front door and the regular cab reverts to a two-door model, giving up the rear mini doors. This lessens manufacturing complexity, at the same time improving fit and finish and lowering wind noise.

The roof of the '09 F-150 is also 15 mm taller to accommodate the side-curtain airbags and is full of other safety features from standard Advance Trac with Roll Stability Control, a full complement of airbags, and four-channel ABS to Ford's Personal Safety System and optional reverse camera system.

The foundation of the 2009 F-150 is a new fully boxed frame that is up to 15 pounds lighter than the outgoing frame, yet gains a 10 percent improvement in torsional stiffness. Composed of hydroformed and high-strength steel side rails with through-frame crossmembers, the new frame delivers a class-leading tow rating of 11,300 pounds. Rear leaf springs have also been lengthened 6 inches for better ride and lateral control.

Other towing advances include a standard Trailer Sway Control and an optional integrated Trailer Brake Controller system, which, when ordered in tandem work together to sense and manage dangerous trailer sway, using both the F-150's braking system, as well as the trailer's braking system. And because of its integration with the F-150's electronics and braking system, it doesn't have to infer driver intent from the tow vehicle braking system like an aftermarket unit does and makes for a less cluttered dash.

Ford has also upgraded the hauling portion of the 2009 truck with a slew of available equipment, including a tailgate step and collapsible bed extender, similar to the Super Duty, as well as a new box side step for helping to access the F-150's box over the tall bedsides and a new cargo management rail system that can hold up to 600 pounds per cleat and use a number of available accessories, such as lockable boxes, that can mount to the rails. Payload numbers haven't been announced as of this writing, but Ford assures us those numbers will also be best-in-class.

The engine lineup will be familiar to any Ford truck owner, with a number of V-8 choices. The 4.2L V-6 has now been replaced by a 2V 4.6L V-8 backed by a four-speed automatic, which will get the same fuel economy as the outgoing V-6-powered truck. The middle engine will be a new 3V 4.6L V-8 and the top engine will again be the 3V 5.4L V-8, backed by Ford's new six-speed automatic transmission. A deep 4.17 first gear in the six-speed has allowed Ford to offer taller rear axle ratios across the board to improve fuel economy, while still maintaining off-the-line grunt. Unofficially, the flex-fuel 5.4L is said to make 320 hp and 375 lb-ft of torque across the F-150 lineup, and average mileage is up 1.5 mpg over the old truck. Ford will be announcing the official horsepower numbers for the rest of the engine lineup later this year.

As expected, the interior continues the Ford tradition of mixing leading-edge style with high-quality materials and is beautifully executed with even more storage than before. The serenity of the cab has been improved by 9 percent in wind noise, 5 percent in road noise, and 5 percent in NVH thanks to a new acoustic headliner, a quiet steel dash, and other sound-deadening tricks. There is also a new 8-inch screen that comes with the voice-activated navigation system that now is Sirius Travel Link and SYNC compatible. Ford's Work Solution RFID tool tagging system is also available for the professional customer.

The 2009 model will be available in no less than seven trim levels, which include XL, STX, XLT, FX4, Lariat, King Ranch, and Platinum with other variants rumored to be on the horizon.

Most exciting to the Four Wheeler crew is the new FX4 package that is not just a trim level, but a real off-road package, complete with an electronically activated rear locker that can even be used in 4-Hi up to 20 mph. The FX4 model also boasts a best-in-class crawl ratio of 41:1 and unlike the competition, the FX4's air dam doesn't compromise approach angle. Ford engineers also worked hard to make a more flexible suspension that sees an 8-percent improvement in the RTI. Other equipment that you get when checking the FX4 box are real skidplates that tie in to the frame, a unique transmission shift strategy in 4-Lo, special shocks, and available LT275/70R17 Goodyear A/Ts with a much more aggressive tread than Ford usually offers. We'll have driving impressions of the FX4 model in an upcoming issue of Four Wheeler.

The 2009 F-150 is a satisfying upgrade over the previous generation, especially in the interior where most of your time is spent. And with increased capability that encroaches on the F-250 Super Duty territory, Ford is essentially offering two 3/4-ton trucks-one for those who want the better ride of IFS and one for those who need the increased brawniness of a solid axle. With major competition coming from the 2009 Dodge Ram, with its lower capacities and coil-sprung rear suspension, it will be interesting to see which strategy pays off in the real world.

Source: fourwheeler

Monday, January 19, 2009

2006 Ford Fusion Review

2008 Ford Fusion

Sized and equipped to go head-to-head with the most popular midsize imports, the 2006 Ford Fusion is the first Ford to be completely developed digitally- esigned, engineered, and tested for manufacturing in computer simulations before being physically constructed. The Fusion fits between the smaller Focus and the larger Five Hundred, and in ancestry, it demonstrates Ford's global orientation and current way of doing business. Ford owns controlling interest in Mazda, Mazda has a good if undermarketed sedan in the Mazda6, and so the Mazda6 structure was widened, lengthened, and strengthened to become the Fusion's architecture.

Like the import brands that are its direct competitors, the Ford Fusion is offered with both four-cylinder and V-6 engines. The four-cylinder is the 2.3-liter, 160-horsepower unit also found in the Focus, matched to a five-speed manual or automatic transmission. The 221-horsepower V-6 comes with only a six-speed automatic. The list of standard equipment for the three trim levels is long, including AM/FM/MP3-compatible CD sound systems. But don't look for a nav system, cell phone integration, satellite radio, or MP3 player compatibility in the factory option list.

Our test car was a top-of-the-line Fusion SEL V-6, with a very reasonable base price of $21,710. Even after adding leather seats for $895, antilock brakes for $595, heated front seats for $295, the $395 Safety and Security package (with front side-impact air bags, full-length side curtain air bags, and a perimeter alarm), the $595 SEL Premium Package (with heated outside rearview mirrors with puddle lamps, an electrochromic inside rearview mirror, and automatic headlights), and the $650 destination charge, the total was $25,135.

An all-wheel-drive model is planned for introduction late in the 2006 calendar year, with a hybrid in 2008.
Sometimes the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. With the 2006 Ford Fusion, Ford reached into its global parts bin, mixing, matching, and modifying familiar ingredients, then wrapped the result in a new look. For the most part, it's successful, lacking only key electronic options that appeal to tech-savvy buyers. As a car, it's the first Ford to offer a serious alternative to the popular midsize sedans.

The Ford Fusion's styling earned many looks and some interesting comments during our time with it. While it was parked on the street in a Silicon Valley residential neighborhood one morning, we observed a jogger stop and spend several minutes carefully checking out the car. This is a reaction not normally associated with affordable midsize sedans.

Its clean exterior design and attention to details including tight panel gaps and external mirror shape. Its gasketless windshield and rear window glass help reduce noise inside the Fusion, as does extensive use of a variety of noise-damping materials around the interior.

The interior has a fresh, international look, with three motifs depending on trim level. Our Fusion SEL V-6 was a handsome two-tone tan and black, with--as on all Fusion models--high-quality soft-touch synthetic materials on the instrument panel and doors. Controls for cruise, climate, and audio were mounted on the steering wheel. In the place of too-common artificial wood trim was what Ford calls piano black plastic, which fits well with the other interior materials and textures.

Instruments are shaded from glare under a European-looking hood. The SEL model comes with a good-quality six-speaker AM/FM/in-dash, six-CD sound system that can play MP3 CDs, displaying title, artist, and album information. Loading and unloading discs is, as with most changers, best done at a stop or by the front-seat passenger. Unfortunately, there is no provision for using an external MP3 player or iPod without aftermarket accessories. Satellite radio, navigation, and Bluetooth cell phone integration are also left to the aftermarket. The analog clock in the center of the stack is a bit incongruous but is easy to read at a glance. A bin located in the top of the dash provides storage space for small items.

The Fusion SEL also has an automatic climate-control system that is simple to use and warms the car quickly in cool weather. There is a power point at the bottom of the center stack, where it joins the console, and another in the bottom of the two-layer console box. Anyone planning to charge a phone in that box is advised to keep it in the lower compartment, as there is no pass-through to the top.

Being that the Ford Fusion is a completely new model, we would expect the interior to include 21st-century digital appointments--at the very least, an auxiliary audio input. However, the audio system sits in a double-DIN slot, and the center stack would work fine for a more robust aftermarket system.
The 2006 Ford Fusion is powered by a 3.0-liter dual overhead cam, 24-valve Duratec V-6 with variable cam phasing on the intake camshafts, and electronic throttle control. It makes 221 horsepower at 6,250rpm, with 205 pound-feet of torque coming at 4,800rpm. Thanks to the variable cam phasing, there is good torque down low for quick acceleration when necessary, and both performance and fuel economy are assisted by a six-speed automatic transmission. This transmission allows a wide spread of gear ratios, with lower lows and higher highs, for both better acceleration and improved fuel economy. EPA mileage is listed at 21mpg (city) and 29mpg (highway). According to the car's trip computer, we averaged 19mpg around town and 27mpg on the highway, and it runs happily on unleaded regular gasoline. Acceleration, at around 7.5 seconds for 0 to 60mph, is brisk.

The six-speed automatic was smooth in operation, and its many ratios and the engine's broad torque band ensure that the correct gear for the situation is chosen more often than not, which is good, as there is no manual gear selection; the driver gets to choose between D and L only. Despite the lack of manual shift control, we found the Fusion to be an enjoyable car to drive. If not truly sporty, it's also not merely a transportation appliance. The engine and transmission both represent good employment of modern technologies.

While there is nothing revolutionary in the Ford Fusion's mechanical specification, it is very well executed, with good attention to detail. A solid chassis structure and a carefully designed and calibrated fully independent suspension give it highway comfort and good handling as well.

The front suspension is, unusually, a short-and-long-arm design, not the usual MacPherson struts. Rebound springs in the front shocks help reduce pitch during acceleration and deceleration, as well as lessen roll when cornering. The rear multilink setup is designed to limit the effect of lateral forces for more precise handling. The Fusion's springs, shocks, and stabilizer bars are tuned more firmly than expected in a mainstream sedan but matched for moderately firm yet comfortable ride quality. The power rack-and-pinion steering is not overly light, and the Fusion's handling response feels more European than American or Japanese. Large four-wheel disc brakes provide good stopping power. Bottom line: The Fusion is a much more enjoyable car to drive than the average midsize, middle-class sedan. The only drawback, inherited with the Mazda6 chassis, is a wide, 40-foot turning circle that can make for extra work in tight spaces.

The suspension also does a good job of controlling torque reaction, always a potential problem with a front-wheel-drive vehicle. Only under full-throttle acceleration with the front wheels turned is it overly noticeable.

The V-6 gets a ULEV II tailpipe emissions rating from the California Air Resources Board. The four-cylinder engine with the five-speed automatic qualifies as a PZEV vehicle.
Entrance to the 2006 Ford Fusion is controlled by Ford's first integrated fob key, which places the physical key and fob containing the lock, unlock, trunk, and emergency buttons together in one unit.

The Fusion's rigid structure is designed to protect occupants in an impact in any direction by controlled deformation, directing energy around and underneath the passenger compartment. Side impact is controlled not only by the B-pillar design and anti-intrusion beams in each door but also by blocks of energy-absorbing expanded polypropylene foam in the doors. Energy-absorbing polycarbonate-polyester materials are placed behind the front and rear bumpers.

Ford's Personal Safety System includes dual-deployment front air bags, energy-absorbing three-point safety belts for all occupants, and load-limiting retractors and pretensioners. A side air bag package is included with perimeter lighting in the Safety and Security option package. It includes seat-mounted front thorax and full-length head-protection air bags. The head air bags are designed to fill up between the window glass and an occupant's head, for protection from both impact and glass shards.

Strong four-wheel disc brakes are standard equipment, with ABS a $595 option. There is no stability control system, but V-6 models with ABS may be outfitted with traction control.

Like all 2006 Fords, the Fusion is covered by a three-year, 36,000-mile bumper-to-bumper limited warranty on materials and workmanship. The safety-restraint system is covered for five years or 50,000 miles. Perforation from corrosion is covered for five years, with unlimited mileage.

Source: cnet reviews

Friday, January 16, 2009

2008 Fiat Punto Review

2008 Fiat Punto

GM Global Product Maven Maximum Bob Lutz claims that satisfying new U.S. federal fuel economy regulations will cost the consumer an additional $6k per car, on average. That seems a bit of a strange statement, as there are already plenty of cars capable of besting the freshly-minted mandate. From Japan to Jerusalem, from Mumbai to Milan, the world is filled, and filling, with suitably fuel efficient passenger cars. The real question is whether or not America is ready– make that “willing”– to buy the same sort of frugal machines that the rest of the world has been driving for years. Take the Fiat Grande Punto. Please.

Despite the word “Grande,” the Punto is 158 inches long– a little longer than the ten foot pole with which most American Camry drivers wouldn’t touch an Italian car. Thanks to oversized details like swept back headlights and chunky door handles, the Punto doesn’t look especially small. The gorgeous front end evokes the, gulp, Maserati Coupe GT. The sides are sporty without the usual cheese wedge demeanor. The back end is wonderfully chunky and perfectly tidy.

In short, literally, after the MINI Cooper, the Punto is proof positive that manufacturers needn’t beat small, inexpensive cars with the fugly stick (I’m almost looking at you, Toyota Yaris).

The Grande Punto’s interior is its weakest link: a totally unremarkable design with materials appropriate for an American car that cost about $13k. Mercifully, Fiat has blessed the car's rock hard plastics with a pleasant matte finish. And the panels line-up with such precision you’d think the Italians drafted in some anal-retentive Swiss or Germans workers to screw the Punto’s interior together. (It’s the robots, stupid.) While bland, the cabin creates the impression that the Punto is well-assembled– a notion that no Italian car should be without.

Despite the Punto’s largely urban remit, the seats are built for the long haul. And you can forget the Italian astronaut driving position (if you like); the helmsman’s throne has manual adjustments out the wazoo. Space is also well managed; there’s plenty of room in the back for two adults or three Gumbys. Drop the second row, and the hatchback accommodates all your Euro-commodities.

The driving experience reveals the Fiat Grande Punto as a mini (no caps) masterpiece. We begin with the fizzy, crackling engine. Don’t let its 77 horsepower output fool you. Scientists from the Research Institute of Research have released a study that proves it is impossible to drive the Grande Punto without a shit-eating grin. Wind it all the way up, dump the clutch, wind it up again, and continue. For an engine with about half the displacement of a pair of galoshes, it sounds magnificent. Two valves per cylinder? Who gives a damn when it sounds like you’ve got a micro Ferrari.

The optional Duodrive semi-automatic transmission is like the one bar in Times Square that’s worth visiting. It’s a computer controlled five-speed manual transmission (like the high-performance transmissions in Maseratis, Ferraris, and Lamborghinis) with a clutch under the hood. Leave it in pure automatic mode and the computer will do everything for you. Or drive it in sequential mode and you may as well be driving a stick– without the clutch pedal.

The upshot to this system: it’s absolutely the closest any automatic transmission can come to feeling like you’re driving a manual. Gear changes are nearly instant. Volkswagen’s DSG is faster and smoother, but the Fiat feels every bit like the real deal. You’ll roll backwards on hills, neutral has a real use, and you can even feel light vibrations when accelerating from a standstill. The average American would no doubt bitch about an automatic with feedback, but Europeans have different tastes.

Again, the Fiat Grande Punto was designed for European cities. To wit: its over-light electronic speed sensitive steering. At velocities below 30mph, it’s like a videogame– which makes the Punto a breeze to drive around the average continental avenue’s absurd 135 degree turns. When you get up to speed, the steering tightens-up to give sporting drivers some of the weight they need for speed.

Understandably enough, the Punto’s suspension is more about comfort than sport. That’s what higher performance Puntos are for (with a whopping 100 horsepower). For a city car, the base model absorbs the abuses of urban roads extremely well– while preserving the fun factor. Cars with tiny powder keg engines beg to be flogged; the Punto’s suspension places the “S” over the “M.” There’s some body roll through the corners, but it’s less dramatic than you’ll find in a regular Civic or Mazda3.

The Fiat Grande Punto is a small, easy to maneuver car with a hoot of an engine, a ripping good transmission, great handling, an outrageous price and fantastic fuel economy. It's just not for Americans. So, uh, what is?

Source: the truth about cars

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

2009 Acura MDX Review

2009 Acura MDXThe 2009 Acura MDX is a four-door sport utility vehicle that is a carryover from the prior model year. This seven-passenger SUV includes a powerful engine, advanced navigation unit, and several features to enhance passenger comfort. This luxury model, compared on size to the Audi Q7, is both elegant and modern, with a streamlined, graceful exterior. Buyers can upgrade their 2009 MDX with a number of packages that include accessories like sophisticated entertainment equipment and a power liftgate. However, some potential buyers might be turned off by the high sticker price. Nevertheless, consumers can rest assured knowing that they will certainly be getting their money's worth.

Under the hood, the Acura MDX is fitted with an impressive 300 horsepower 3.7L V6 engine. While the engine has generous power, some consumers could be disappointed with the lack of options. A five-speed automatic transmission is standard and includes Sequential Sportshift. This feature creates smoother shifting, keeps the transmission in the appropriate gear, and can adapt to manual mode for more driver control. Acura's Super Handling All-Wheel Drive improves handling in high-performance circumstances. For example, when going around a curve, the SH-AWD will select the proper gear and hold it, rather than switching in the middle of a turn. Also, the Acura MDX gets around 15 city MPG and 20 highway MPG - around the median fuel efficiency for a mid-size SUV.

Inside, the 2009 MDX includes tri-zone climate control. This allows the driver, front passenger, and rear passengers to each control the climate to meet their specific needs. Steering wheel mounted controls let the driver connect to the Bluetooth system, adjust the volume or radio station, and access the navigation system directly from the steering wheel. A multi-informational display is located in the instrument cluster. This digital readout will alert drivers when maintenance is needed on their MDX and if a tire has too much or too little pressure.

One of the biggest selling features of the 2009 MDX is the Acura Navigation System. Available with the upgrade to either the Technology or Sport Package, this in-dash navigation unit includes an eight-inch LCD screen and a voice recognition system. The voice recognition can understand commands and automatically insert the data into the unit, without a driver even having to lift a finger. AcuraLink Real-time Traffic will provide drivers with up-to-date traffic reports, and the Zagat Survey feature can give owners restaurant suggestions in the area. However, buyers should be aware that even with the purchase of an upgrade package that includes the nav unit, the extra features on the system expire after 90 days and require a fee-based subscription to continue services.

Overall, the 2009 Acura MDX includes a great number of features that are sure to impress even the most discriminating buyers. However, families on a budget might be hard pressed to come up with the $40,790 base price. Not only that, but with only one engine and transmission choice, those that are looking to customize a drive train will need to look elsewhere. Of course, for buyers that are searching for cutting edge technology and driver and passenger comfort, the Acura MDX is hard to beat.

Source: car seek

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Ford Fiesta Zetec Review

Ford Fiesta Zetec

Ever wondered what it feels like to be caught with your pants down? It certainly happened to Ford Australia a few years ago when Kia announced it would stop making the Festiva, which it on-sold to Ford. And, no, Ford would not be getting the larger Rio that would replace it because Kia was keeping that for itself.

The decision left Ford searching the world for a new small and cheap entry-level model. Desperation is a word you could use. With sales of its bread-and-butter Falcon slipping with the AU's popularity and nothing to bolster volume at the bottom end, those were dark days indeed for what was once Australia's biggest-selling car company.

What Ford decided on was the European-based Fiesta - close in name to the Festiva, but a completely different car - in a similar way to how it replaced the Japanese Laser with the German Focus. There was also the little Ka, which proved unsatisfactory for its three-door body and lack of an auto option.

This is the first Fiesta we've seen in Australia, despite it being a long-term badge in Europe, and the current car has been out for two years. Ford Australia has used that time to hone the pricing position, with the result being an extremely competitive $14,990 starting point for the base three-door version.

That price-leading LX model comes with dual airbags, a CD player, power front windows and remote locking, but air-conditioning is a pricey $2000 option. It's a similar case in equipment terms for the $15,990 five-door LX.

Sitting a little higher in the range is the Zetec, a slightly sportier model with more equipment. As air-conditioning, alloy wheels and front fog lamps are fitted, it looks like pretty good value at less than $19,000 despite being available only with the three-door body.

The Zetec is powered by the same 1.6-litre, 16-valve engine as all Fiesta models including the more expensive Ghia. It's a slightly bigger unit than in rivals such as the Holden Barina and Toyota Echo, or even the Hyundai Getz, Mazda 2 or Honda Jazz. So its perky outputs of 74kW of power and 146Nm of torque are to be expected, if welcome.

One catch, though, is that those figures are only achieved using more expensive premium unleaded. However, it will cope on regular petrol with a slight power drop.

What is perhaps more surprising is that this is a sweet engine and not like the flat, uninspiring power plants fitted to the larger Focus. It has crisp pulling power from low revs and doesn't mind exploring the upper end of the tachometer. The five-speed manual gearbox has a quick, positive shift via a rather long gear lever. Overall, it's a small car you wouldn't mind driving all day by choice.

There's a bit of engine noise, but it is not unpleasant and levels of road and wind noise are also generally low. The Fiesta works well in the city thanks to its vim, vigour and small body - ideal for picking tight gaps and small parking places - while at higher speeds it is a bit more frenetic because its short fifth gear has the engine spinning at about 3000rpm at 100kmh.

Our Fiesta Zetec came with optional 16-inch wheels, fitted with low-profile tyres. They seem like a good buy for only $900, as the wider rubber fills the guards and gives added grip without adversely affecting ride quality. In fact, the Zetec's ride is one of its best features. Unlike some crashy small-car suspensions, this one seems to have plenty of travel and an ability to soak up some really poor road surfaces.

The steering is very direct and that helps give the handling a responsive, sporty feel. As mentioned, there's plenty of roadholding but the soft ride does come at the expense of body control. Tweak the steering wheel and the front wheels react instantly; the body takes a little longer to settle on the suspension, and it's up to the driver to readjust slightly.

Anti-lock brakes are welcome, and they work well on gravel as well as bitumen.

The Fiesta's styling is heavily based on the so-called "edge" look of the Focus, although softened a little. Inside, there's none of the bigger car's mix of curves and corners. In fact, it's all disappointingly plain with lots of hard, dark plastic and not even padded inserts for the elbow rests. The seats are firm and lacking in lateral support and there's no telescopic adjustment for the steering column.

Other than that, the radio and ventilation controls are easy to use, once the additional stalk for the stereo is deciphered.

The rear seat is relatively easy to access and, once ensconced, two adult passengers will find adequate leg and head room, given the Fiesta's tight external dimensions.

Boot space is neither large nor small. Although the hatch lacks an exterior latch, there's a remote switch on the dashboard and one on the key fob. The split-fold seat doesn't fold flat, and there's a space-saver spare under the floor of the boot.

As a kind of warmed and sporty small hatch, the Fiesta Zetec makes good sense with a fun engine, pleasant styling, a good ride and above-average handling. Better than that, though, you get most of this on the cheaper LX model.

But with keen specification, plenty of enjoyment for the driver and levels of refinement above its station, the Zetec is a winner in its own right.

Ford Fiesta Zetec

How much: $18,990 (manual), $21,290 (auto) plus on-road costs.
Insurance: RACV insurance premium not yet available. Car goes on sale in April.
Warranty: Three years/100,000km.
Engine: 1.6-litre, DOHC, 16-valve four-cylinder, 74kW at 6000rpm and 146Nm at 4000rpm (combined).
Transmission: Five-speed manual or four-speed auto. Front-wheel-drive.
Steering: Rack and pinion, 2.8 turns lock-to-lock. Turning circle 9.8 metres.
Brakes: Ventilated discs front, drums rear. ABS standard.
Suspension: Front -- independent MacPherson struts with stabiliser bar. Rear -- torsion beam with coil springs and stabiliser bar.
Wheels/tyres: 15 x 6.0-inch alloy wheels, tyres 195/50.
How heavy? 1038kg (manual).
How thirsty? 8.1 L/100km average. Premium unleaded recommended, 45-litre tank.
Equipment: Driver airbag, CD player, remote locking, power windows, alloy wheels, air conditioning.

Interior notes:
. Extra stalk on steering column for audio controls.
. Lots of hard, grey plastic on dashboard and doors.
. Stereo well laid out, easy to operate.
. Prominent circular air vents.


Holden Barina SRi - $22,490 - 3 stars (out of 5)
Larger engine doesn't give noticeably better performance than Fiesta but handling is a notch better. Doesn't make up for price gap.

Toyota Echo Sportivo - $20,240 - 3 stars
Not much of an improvement over standard three-door Echo, despite extra engine power.

Mazda 2 Neo - $18,490 - 4 stars
Reasonably priced with air-conditioning and, now, power windows. Roomy, bright and airy, grips the road well, with a punchy engine.

Honda Jazz VTi - $19,990 - 3 stars
A cute looker with a flexible interior and five doors. Variable valve timing on 1.5-litre engine means lots of performance. CVT auto is a winner but the Jazz is expensive.

Source: drive

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Suzuki SX4 Review

Suzuki SX4

Suzuki became a serious player in the small car class with the Swift. Now it's trying to do the same in Corolla territory with the SX4.

The SX4 has confusing nomenclature. It's available with all wheel drive, where the SX4 name makes sense. But the car we're testing here is a more recent addition to the range, a conventional front wheel drive hatch and sedan. So why isn't it called the SX2?

Anyhow, the base model costs $19,990; the S is $22,990. The all wheel drive hatch costs $24,390.

The base model includes an MP3 compatible in-dash CD player with audio controls on the wheel, two front airbags, ABS brakes, 15 inch steel wheels (16s on the hatch) and air conditioning.

The S adds side and curtain airbags, automatic air, cruise control, and 16 inch alloy wheels (15s on the sedan).

Selected options: Four speed auto $2000.

You sit high in the SX4 hatch, almost as in a people mover. Vision is clear around the car, assisted by big side mirrors and wrap over rear seat head restraints.

There's plenty of headroom, seat height adjustment and enough seat travel for most drivers. No reach adjustment is provided for the wheel, but it protrudes quite a way into the cabin, so the overall driving position is acceptable for taller drivers.

The dash layout is similar to the Swift. Simplicity, clarity and functionality are reasonable, however there were some inefficiencies and annoyances on the test S.

The audible indicator on warning is too quiet, we can't see the point in a keyless starting system when a key slot is also provided, there's insufficient covered storage handy to the driver and the air conditioning was only just doing the job on a 30 degree day. Sound quality from the audio system is tinny, and there is no plug in for a music player.

Cruise control buttons are on the wheel of the Sport, the door bins will hold 750ml water bottles and a bag hook is provided on the rear of the front passenger seat, where it's easy for the driver to reach.

* The SX4 is comparable in size to a Toyota Corolla, but slightly smaller.
* It uses a 2.0 litre, four cylinder petrol engine which produces 107kW of power at 5800rpm and 184Nm of torque at 3500rpm. It's a long stroke design.
* A five speed manual gearbox is standard.
* Suspension is MacPherson strut front/torsion beam rear.
* Front brakes are discs; the hatch has rear discs, while the sedan has drums.
* The sedan has 195/65 tyres on 15 inch wheels; the hatch has 205/60 tyres on 16 inch wheels.

The SX4S hatch, with front, side and curtain airbags, scored four stars out of five in Euro NCAP tests.

The SX4 hatch scored 55 points out of a possible 120 in the NRMA Insurance security ratings.

The driver's seat is big, with a broad cushion and supportive bolstering. The backrest could use more curvature towards the base for better lumbar support.

Access to the back seat is easy. You sit high, on a firm cushion, with good legroom and footroom. Tall adults aren't forced into a knees up posture as in some rivals. Headroom is sufficient for those to 185cm.

Three child restraint anchors are provided on the rear seat back.

Boot space in the hatch is reasonable - better than the Corolla. The floor is large and deep. It's easily extended to 1.3 metres by the old style tumble forward 60/40 rear seats, which involves minimal interference with front seat travel but does require the folded back seats to be secured with straps.

There's lots of plastic, as is common at the cheap and cheerful end of this class, but fit and finish are tight, as expected from a car that's made in Japan.

Australian standard average fuel consumption figures are at the thirsty end of this class: 8.6 litres/100 km for the manual and 9.5 litres/100 km for the auto. Regular unleaded is recommended. CO2 emissions are also high, at 200/221gkm.

The 2.0 litre is acceptably smooth but it's at the sluggish end of this class when it comes to performance, so you have to get busy with the gearbox. The midrange lacks torque, which isn't helped by gearing that's optimistically tall in the manual. In fifth, it dies a bit on highway hills, where the cruise control can't maintain a steady speed.

It would struggle with the four speed automatic.

The manual has a light, clicky action; it will baulk at the gate if you try to hurry a gearchange.

The Swift is one of the better handling small cars; the SX4 can't replicate its ability in this class, where there are some very competent rivals.

It has soft springs which are slightly mismatched with relatively firm dampers. In tight corners, understeer occurs early. Quick changes of direction can upset the car's balance. The back end can become very light under moderate braking, and it moves around a bit too.

The steering is light and the SX4 is easily manoeuvrable in town. It's rather vague on centre at highway speeds.

The suspension deals well with smaller bumps but can crash and bang when it's given a whack by larger ones, so while the ride is pretty good overall, and especially in town, it can get harsh or rough surfaces, which in extreme situations can also give the body a shake.

Not a strong point. Overall performance is relatively weak, and as mentioned previously the back end can become light and unstable under brakes, especially in a corner. The electronic brakeforce distribution system may need recalibrating.

Average for the class. The engine is one of the more refined 2.0 litre fours.

You can buy a better car than the Suzuki in this very competitive class. We'd suggest the Corolla, Ford Focus, Mitsubishi Lancer and Hyundai Elantra or i30 at base model level, and the Subaru Impreza, Holden Astra, or Mazda 3 if you have $25,000 to spend.

Source: my nrma

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