Auto News for Dec. 31

Auto News for Dec. 31

Happy New Year to all of you!

03

A small blurb in “Car” magazine really caught my eye. As if the current Bugatti Veyron was not fast enough, an even more powerful model might be in the works. It is said to top out at 288 mph, with a rumored zero to 60 in an astounding 1.8 seconds. The magazine said the ultra-Veyron will be a limited edition model and make its debut at the 2013 Frankfurt Auto Show. It might be expensive – perhaps in excess of $2-million. Check your lottery tickets.

Motor Trend has more information on the upcoming 2014 Corvette. It says the styling will not be that radically different, except for Camaro like taillights. A 6.2-liter V8 should provide all the traditional Corvette power of at least 450 horsepower and a not insignificant 450 lb-ft of torque. You can see more at:

http://wot.motortrend.com/we-hear-leaked-renderings-of-2014-chevrolet-corvette-show-all-308773.html#axzz2GcDNJK3g

Ford is on track to sell 2.2 million vehicles in the U.S. for 2012. That would be two straight years above the 2-million mark. Focus and Fiesta were among the global best sellers.

Looking ahead, there will be Saturday test of the new Range Rover early next year in a most unlikely place.

Fiat and Chrysler, in case you haven’t heard, are working on a new smaller Jeep. It will be built in Italy with production starting in late 2013 according to various reports. Indications are it will be a crossover vehicle with the distinctive Jeep Wrangler style and front wheel or four wheel drive depending on which rumor you believe.

Cars of the Year – 2012

2012’s Best

It’s That Time Again!

By Ron Amadon

DAMASCUS, MD – The ball will drop again in Times Square, champagne will flow freely from coast to coast, old songs will be sung, and friends both living and dead will be toasted as millions ring in a new year that ends in the lucky 13.

All that means that it is time for my annual column that recaps some of the top cars that were road tested in the past calendar year. That allows the inclusion of some 2013 models just as the rumor mill starts to heat up about the 2014s. No one said this had to make sense.

For better or worse, and feel free to comment on this, here are my top picks of the year. As usual, in all categories, the fun to drive factor is of utmost importance.

Sports Car of the Year

 McLaren MP4-12C

img_001011.jpg

Sweeping through the Roadrunner cartoon like twists and turns in California’s San Bernardino National Forest in this irresistible, nearly hand-made, lightning fast, Ferrari/Lambo challenger my passenger surprised me. “You could go a little faster,” said the company rep. I thought I was doing pretty well passing everything in sight on the twisty mountain road yet my brain was tuned to a song lyric – “I turned around and there we were at Deadman’s Curve.” As a result, I forgot McLaren’s exalted history. It is the only brand to have captured Indy, Can-AM, Le Mans and Formula One championships. So I exercised its 592 horsepower, 443 lb-ft of torque and near race car handling still further, especially on my host’s favorite back road out of the mountains and back to base camp – a race track. OMG, it made the GT with the strange name a runaway pick for sports car of the year. Yet it was a car one would drive every day. Now here comes the McLaren 12C Spider convertible and the fantastic P1 concept first displayed at the Paris show. As if 0-60 in 3 seconds was not enough!

Biggest Surprise

Buick Regal GS

Buick Regal GS

A Buick you might ask? Has he lost his mind? Nope! The Regal GS proved that GM is serious about changing perceptions of the Buick line as well as Cadillac. Take a 2.0-liter four, add in a turbo for 270 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque, tweak the suspension in all the right directions and you have a car that forces you to forget all about your Uncle Mort’s 60’s era LaSabre. “Imagine,” said the Buick rep riding with me, “you can now get something on a Buick that you can’t get on a Lamborghini” referring to the stick shift! Around Michigan’s Upper Peninsula the Regal GS was a great drive and a colossal surprise.

Best Sedan

Kia Optima SX

Kia Optima

The Optima is Kia’s best seller on just a bang for buck basis if nothing else. Kia’s standard equipment list is generous and there is a 10-year, 100,000 mile limited powertrain warranty and 5-year, 50,000 mile basic coverage. Step up to the SX model and you get a turbocharged 274 horsepower 4 matched with a nifty 6-speed automatic with paddle shifts. A firm suspension helped out in the handling department and turned it into a smile-making machine. You can easily fit two six-footers in the back seat and check options for such things as Nappa leather seating, 18-inch chrome wheels, rear camera, and on and on. It is a well-built, attractive, economical sedan that is happy on country roads and interstates and very worthy of being on this list.

Best Gas Sipper

 Kia Soul

Kia Soul

 When you start looking over the field of economy cars, one thing that often slips away is the silly grin on the face of approaching owners – as if the car were saying “Let’s go play.”  That is not the case in this Kia full of Soul.  An EPA estimated 26-34 mpg may not be the best mileage on record these days and 164 horsepower with a zero to 60 run in 9 seconds may not stir your personal soul. But it is the way this Kia goes about its business that makes it a fun car. Small, easy to park, with ample space for people and their goodies, the Soul does a lot of things right for a base of $14k and change. Hmmm. Take this platform, add a turbo and a couple of seats, and you just might have a dandy sports car!

Best Uber Alles Car

 Porsche 911 Carrera S

Porsche 911 Carrera S

 Some might want to convince you that the Cayman is equal to or better than the 911. Don’t believe them. The Cayman is a great engineering feat – no doubt. But there is NOTHING like a 911. It just keeps getting better year after year. The Carrera S was a perfect blend of speed, handling, luxury and exquisite sounds from the 400 horsepower rear mounted six with a hefty 7,600 rpm redline. In the words of Carly Simon – “Nobody Does It Better” among production sports cars.

Comeback Kid

 Ford Fusion

Ford Fusion

 I said there was no confusion with this Fusion. With its head-turning Aston Martin-like styling, rock solid build, and luxury touches on upscale models, Ford has announced it is damn serious about playing with the big boys in the hotly contested mid-sized sedan market. In a day long drive to Western Maryland the Fusion was very comfortable, the 1.6 four sipped gas, and I was able to program in my favorite satellite channels. However, the Sync/My Ford system stinks in an overly complex manner. Despite that there is so much to like in the rest of the vehicle that it would be a crime to not include it on the year end list.

Fun Cars Not To Be Forgotten

Shelby GT 500

 2013 Shelby Mustang GT500. The deep blue paint with white stripes, plus the Cobra on the grille tell you this is not your ordinary Mustang. It is in fact one that the late Carroll Shelby would give two thumbs up. Six-hundred-sixty-two horsepower and 631 lb-ft of torque, a six speed manual tranny and brisk three second ride to 60 mph. Bottom line? Hotter than Shelby’s chili!

If your bank account won’t swing the GT500 one should really test drive the Focus ST. A joy on country roads, a neat 2.0 liter turbo 4 worth 252 horsepower and a price tag of $28,990 explains why this car has been praised from Los Angeles to London.

Cadillac ATS

The Cadillac ATS proved that it is more than worthy of being on the same soccer field with BMW. Sized nearly the same as the BMW 3-series, the ATS test car was powered by a 3.6 liter V6 cranking out 321 hp and 275 lb-ft of torque. Just 5.5 seconds to get to 60 from a dead stop helped out in no small amount by a responsive 6-speed automatic. Brembo brakes were installed for those times when a quick stop was the order of the day. While the CUE system had its moments, it was not always as responsive as it could be and made too many simple tasks more complex. Those seeking a performance sedan would do well to reject old stereotypes and actually enter a Cadillac showroom and test-drive the ATS. It came within a whisker of being my yearly winner.

Car Of The Year

 Audi S5

Audi S5

 In a close race with the ATS, the Audi won me over with its outstanding power, handling and style. So sure of its product was Audi that it let me loose on the twisting roads of the Colorado Rockies. Around hairpin curves, up steep grades and passing slow moving trucks the S5 felt like a slightly more complete package than the ATS. While styling is a rather subjective thing, I preferred the less in your face approach of the Audi. It even looked good in front of a saloon in the old mining town of Leadville. Power wise there was plenty: a 3.0-liter, Eaton-supercharged 3.0 liter V6 tied to a slick shifting six speed manual will propel the S5 to 60 in 4.9 seconds and a top speed of 155 mph. Comfortable and quiet on the interstates, almost sweat inducing fun in the mountains, with a high quality interior, car buffs will be richly rewarded if they add an S5 to their garage. Don’t overlook it!

Cars I Want To Drive

 Triumph TR-4, McLaren P1 and Roadster, Jaguar F-Type, Ferrari F40, Pagani Huayra if it ever comes to the States, Porsche 918, and just for an afternoon, three cars.  My first new car which was a new ’69 black VW Beetle with narrow whitewalls and iffy heat, my first car, a Peugeot 504 and my very much loved 914 (VW) Porsche.

 

Auto News for Dec. 28

Please join me on line Saturday morning for a fun column. It is time to select the top cars for calendar year 2012 and especially my pick for Car of the Year. I can say this was a very tough choice between two outstanding candidates and it was very nearly turned over to the Electoral College.

Hyundai claims it broke a sales record for its mid-sized Sonata. Yearly sales topped 225,000 and more than half of buyers opted for the base model GLS. Hyundai also reported record sales for the Elantra.

Hyundai Sonata

 

In a joint road test, Cars.com, USA Today, and Motor Week selected the revamped Honda Accord as the top mid-sized sedan. Each of the test cars had to sell for under $26,000. Other entries were the Ford Fusion, Sonata, Kia Optima, Nissan Altima and Toyota Camry.

Some owners of Nissan’s all-electric Leaf who live in warm weather states have complained about poor battery performance. Now Nissan says it will replace those batteries and offer extended warranty protection to about 18,000 Leaf owners according to the Detroit News.

Perhaps it is not a big surprise that the nation’s top selling vehicle is the most searched on the CarMax web site. The F-150 pickup topped its sibling the Mustang. Rounding out the top five were the Jeep Wrangler, Honda Accord and Civic models.

Auto News for Dec. 27

Toyota will pay more than $1 billion to settle lawsuits tied to claims of unintended acceleration. A brake-override system is being installed that will halt the vehicle if it receives commands to both stop and go. Toyota will also settle with owners who claimed the resale value of their vehicles fell when Toyota announced a giant recall. It recalled eight million vehicles for sticky pedals or bulky floor mats that could tangle up with the accelerator. A California judge must approve the settlement.

On the other side of the coin, Toyota believes it will sell 9.7 million vehicles this year, and that would be a record. Its sales forecast for 2013 is 9.9 million. Auto industry experts are predicting that Toyota will be the world’s top automaker this year moving ahead of GM.

Cadillac’s super fun ATS and the macho Ram pickup are car and truck of the year according to the Detroit Free Press and auto critic Mark Phelan. The North American Car and Truck of the year will be announced at the Detroit Auto Show next month. My picks for top vehicles of calendar year 2012 will appear right here on Saturday. Don’t miss it and let me know your thoughts.

Ford will invest $773 million in six plants in southeastern Michigan. The blue oval wants to step up production capacity and install some new equipment.

Gee I wonder where this event will be held.

“The San Diego International Auto Show is returning this weekend at the San Diego Convention Center in downtown San Diego” wrote one scribe. And all this time I thought it was in Cucamonga.

 

Auto News for Dec. 26

U.S. light vehicle sales will increase to about 15-million units this year according to the Fitch Ratings Report. The firm predicts that sales will continue to rise for the next several years. Things are not as rosy in Europe where Fitch sees sales falling off for the sixth year in a row.

A Christmas e-mail from New England said they are in for a ‘Noreaster Thursday with what my bud called “plowable” amounts of snow. That brought to mind a report from CarMax that showed 65 percent of those polled do not have a winter emergency kit in their car. It should include a flashlight, ice scraper, jumper cables, first-aid kit, flares, some warm gloves and a blanket among other items.

Autos.ca of Canada has named the Subaru BRZ the best sports car of 2013. Editors called it an “instant classic.”

Ford claims that its high performance Raptor pickup is a hot seller in the toy and gaming segments. It said sales are up 12 percent this year and Raptor has replaced the Hummer as the most sought after licensed truck. The real McCoy is a blast to drive.

The Spokesman-Review newspaper in Spokane reports that Eastern Washington’s last remaining drive-in will close next year. The paper said the owner could not afford the switch to digital display that is now the trend in Hollywood. I was surprised to learn there are six drive-ins left in the state of Washington.

Auto News for Dec. 24

There is nothing more important this morning than wishing you all a very happy holiday season. May you travel safely and have at least one fond wish come true in the New Year. This column will return on Dec. 26.

Suzuki recently announced that due to weak sales it will pull out of the U.S. market. Now it reports that demand has increased since the announcement and it will import roughly 2,500 more cars. The automaker, according to the Detroit News, is not rethinking its pull out move.

You can’t exactly put one under the Christmas tree, but many consumers decided this was a good time for a new car. Forecasters think new car sales will be up anywhere from 10 to 14 percent in December. They cite a slowly improving economy and replacement of vehicles damaged by Hurricane Sandy.

The Detroit Free Press has announced the winners of its Automotive Leadership Awards. GM CEO Dan Akerson and Toyota’s President and CEO Jim Lentz share the Executive Leadership Award. It was nice to see the Design Award go to the Ford Fusion design team. You can see more at:

 

http://www.freep.com/article/20121223/BUSINESS01/312230099/Free-Press-top-auto-leaders-named

 

2013 Cadillac ATS

Cadillac ATS

 

2013 Cadillac ATS

For Real? You Bet!

By Ron Amadon

DAMASCUS, MD – People who once bought big finned Cadillacs believed that putting money in stocks traded on the New York Stock Exchange was the thing to do and the place to be.

How times change! The once powerful NYSE is to be purchased by an upstart firm whose focus is not on floor trading but on computer trading and not of stocks but derivatives. (It’s vowing to maintain NYSE floor trading.)

And Cadillac, in a move to lure in younger customers, is not concentrating on derivatives of its old luxo-boats but taking on big name European competition.

First the CTS-V proved to the world that Cadillac was serious about changing its image. Now we have the ATS – sized, powered and designed to take on BMW’s 3-series. Did Caddy succeed? After a week behind the wheel I can emphatically say YES!

In all the areas held sacred by driving enthusiasts, the ATS is a world class competitor. Consider the numbers associated with this weekend’s test car.

A perfect 50-50 weight distribution, a 321 horsepower 3.6-liter V6 that achieves maximum torque (275 lb-ft) at 4,800 rpm and 0-60 runs under 5.5 seconds. It was married to a wonderful 6-speed automatic infused with lots of performance genes – enough to make use of the magnesium paddle shifters virtually unnecessary.

On back roads it seemed to sense your next move and was ready for lightning quick downshifts. And when a “Whoa Nelly” was called for the ATS had superb Brembo brakes to right things.

Buyers of the “Premium Collection” package can choose settings for touring, sport and snow storms. For virtually the entire test period, the choice for me was Sport. It delivered crisp steering, an aversion to body roll, and a firm ride – yet not so firm that it threatened your dental work.

Magazine road testers were able to rack up an impressive .9g or so on skid pads, and that boys and girls is virtually equal to the 318i.

Inside the leather covered performance seats did a good job of keeping the bod in place during exuberant driving while being long trip comfy. Two thumbs up to Caddy for its heads up display which was an easy way to track ones forward progress here in speed camera crazy Maryland.

2013 ATS interior

 

On interstates the fun began on deserted entrance ramps and then continued when you really let that V6 feel its oats getting up to speed. The great sounds it produced and the brisk acceleration at your beck and call made it easy to forget that not that long ago a Caddy without a V8 was pure blaspheme. It should be noted that the ATS is available with a turbo four.

There was ample room up front but things got tight for rear seat passengers mainly in the area of knee room.

Drivers could call up a multitude of information in a panel set between the tach and the speedometer. This raised the question in my mind about how much info a driver would want while still concentrating on operating the car.

I came away with mixed feelings about the CUE system that is housed in an 8” color touch display in the upper center stack. It was cool to be able to run your finger along the top of a chrome strip to raise or lower audio system volume. It was also nice to wave your hand at the screen and have it display the basic menu items. The “Haptic” feedback was also impressive – your finger receiving a pulse when you correctly selected something. Testers have marveled at how much it is like an iPad, but I found the system took too much attention away from the road and would be best operated at a full stop.

Of course CUE’s voice commands would address this, yet I still longed for the two knobs and six memory buttons on my Honda that allow me to make audio selections while keeping my eyes on the road and my mind on my driving. The same goes with the three big Honda ventilation knobs that can be operated even when wearing warm but bulky winter gloves.

Perhaps future generations of CUE (Cadillac User Experience) will be better – after all even Microsoft has not always received great reviews for its new software.

With a $995 “Thunder Gray Chromaflair” paint job (that’s its real name), $850 18” aluminum wheels, $600 heated front seats and steering wheel, the “Premium Collection” test car listed for $50,035 including transportation.

A well optioned BMW 328i tested on Edmunds.com recently listed for $50,475 so price-wise the Caddy is in the ball park.

Those seeking a performance sedan would do well to reject old stereotypes and actually enter a Cadillac showroom (heaven forfend), and test drive the ATS. It will be an eye opening experience.

Along with the Ford Fusion, Chevy Volt, Focus ST, and Dodge Dart, the ATS shows that Detroit is serious this time about having a knock-down, drag out back ally fight with the imports.