Archive for the ‘General Motors’ Category

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Drawing for the Future and Putting Pizzazz in GM Cars

April 12, 2015
Ed Welburn - GM Global Design VP

Ed Welburn – GM’s Artist in Chief

By Roger Witherspoon

Ed Welburn was as cool as ever.

A soft-spoken man with a quiet air, he moved through the centerpiece GM exhibit at the New York International Auto Show, barely glancing at the two showcase Cadillacs under wraps, which would be unveiled at a press preview in another hour. He would pause every now and then, look at the lighting, the angle of the cars and comment quietly to one of the many GM employees bustling around the exhibition hall.

Sometimes, Welburn would suggest a slight adjustment in the scene, the type of subtle shift one might expect from a trained artist. Other times, he’d drop a word of encouragement or appreciation to anxious staff. He walked alone, observant and confident, without the trailing entourage that usually accompanies top-level auto industry executives—particularly one who is playing such a key role in the resurrection of General Motors.

2015 Chevy Malibu

Family Friendly Chevy Malibu

These have been trying times for GM, which last year had to recall nearly 27 million domestic cars and trucks and another 3 million overseas because of a host of dangerous engineering defects. This is an important show for GM, which is showcasing some 80 cars and trucks in an effort to overcome the seemingly unending flow of bad news with a cavalcade of eye-catching, flashy vehicles capable of luring motorists and their checkbooks into showrooms. On the main floor of the Auto Show, which closes Sunday at the cavernous Jacob Javits Center, are world debuts of the Cadillac CT6, the Chevrolet Malibu, the urban-oriented Chevy Spark, and the heavy duty GMC Terrain. Then there are minor amendments to some of GM’s signature sports cars, notably the Camaro and Corvette, which are sleeker and faster than ever.

City-oriented Chevy Spark

City-oriented Chevy Spark

It’s also been a trying few years for Welburn, a trained sculptor, GM’s vice president of global design, and one of the highest ranking blacks in the auto industry.  Welburn, whose father owned an auto repair shop in Berwyn, Pa., literally grew up with the car industry and was mesmerized by the sweeping designs of the big-finned vehicles that hogged the roads in the ‘50s.

“Those cars took their design cues from the aircraft of that era,” he said, “which represented the top technology of the time.  We still take design cues from aircraft.”

The current edition of Cadillac CT6, for example, with its svelte shape and small, sharp angles, is reminiscent of the silhouette of the nation’s stealth fighters. So are the lines on the current generation of Camaro, which is on schedule to deliver its 500,000th model this month.

These mobile artworks are the products of Welburn’s design teams who collaborate via floor-to-ceiling virtual meeting rooms. His job has been to keep them stimulated and churning out new and bold ideas during a period of financial collapse and bankruptcy, followed by massive recalls due to safety issues. The difficulty is keeping the creative juices flowing with a disparate group of temperamental artists after the public acceptance of their art pieces have been compromised by the poor work of others.

“It wasn’t easy,” said Welburn with a sigh, walking slowly past the newest edition of the Malibu. “The key was to stay focused.

Staying Focused

Staying Focused

“When we went into bankruptcy there were people saying the company was doomed and all was lost.  I called the team together and said stay focused. This will pass. We will get through this and when we do, people will go to showrooms and ask what kind of car have you designed?

“And when they come, we have to be ready. We have to have the designs they want. And my teams focused on that.”

It wasn’t easy for Welburn to “stay focused” during the bankruptcy. He had taken a lot of pride in personally redesigning the Saturn line, from the extremely competitive SUV down to the Saturn Sky, a Barbie-doll of a roadster that was incredibly fine to look at but was short on interior technology. How well the line would have moved will never be known – GM killed the Saturn, Pontiac and Hummer lines as part of its restructuring.

Welburn Cruises in his '69 Camaro

Welburn Cruises in his ’69 Camaro

Without a pause, Welburn poured energy into fine tuning GM’s complete line, with emphasis on two of his personal favorites, the Camaro and Corvette. Welburn still drives a vintage Camaro.

Over the last two years, problems that surfaced with GM engineering – particularly the cover-up of faulty ignition switches – could have sent GM sales into a tailspin.  But the designs kept the cars afloat.

As the ignition crisis and the recalls accelerated, Welburn had another virtual group conference. “We had the same talk,” he said. “I told them to just stay focused on what we do best, and make sure we aren’t contributing to the difficulties the engineers have.

“We had to make our designs attractive to the public, and something the engineers could readily relate to because they, too, would be getting past these troubles.”

The designs kept coming and so did GM’s customers.

“GM took a marginal hit on sales in the short term,” said Jeremy Acevedo, analyst with Edmunds.com, the car shopping website. “But by and large GM weathered that blow really, really well. The truth is that they were unaffected in the long term. GM does a lot of things right, which is why they are the best-selling auto maker in the nation.

2015 Chevy Corvette Z06

2015 Chevy Corvette Z06

“Even amid all their recall woes they still sold 2.94 million units in 2014. That’s up from 2.79 million in 2013. Their design is the critical part of selling cars. Then there is performance and reliability.  Their design could have been compromised by faulty engineering. But when you have a manufacturer firing on all cylinders, as they are now, that is when they do shine.”

The importance of design in the reception of a car can’t be overstated.

“When you think about it,” said David Smedley, associate professor of art and coordinator of Howard University’s sculpture program, “the car is the largest form of sculpture that most Americans own. We don’t buy cars exclusively for their utilitarian value either: our self-esteem and identity is invested in them.”

And cars, if they are to sell and attract hundreds of thousands of buyers, have to be more than just well-engineered. They are conceived as aesthetic aids to the home, Smedley explained, with the engineering coming second to make the product work.

“In the process of designing cars, they are actually clay first,” Smedley said.  “They make a full-sized version in clay before they finalize any design. There is nothing like the physical form in front of you, and being in the same space as the vehicle, to get the feel of what these cars are going to be like. It is an emotional attachment, and it therefore makes sense for GM and the other car companies to recruit from fine arts, especially the sculpture programs.”

Welburn and his teams don’t just sit down and draw a car; they also have to predict the future. Automobiles begin as concepts, evolving into a drawing and then a full size clay model. But the process begins one year, and comes out two to four years later – when tastes, politics, fashion, and the nation’s economy may have changed radically. By the time an eye-catching design moves from the drawing board to the showroom, it may be outdated.

But right now, GM’s designs seem to be catching on.

 2015 Camaro with 525 Horsepower

2015 Camaro with 525 Horsepower

“The Corvette operates in an interesting landscape all its own,” said Acevedo, the analyst. “It is the American answer to the foreign sports cars, at half the price. And it has a loyal following.”

“The Camaro is another story. It has had competition from the Ford Mustang and the other Pony Cars, and it perennially slugs it out with the Mustang. In 2014 Camaro came out on top, selling 86,297 while Mustang sold 79, 675. The Dodge Challenger was behind with 51,611. But this year is going in the opposite direction. In the first quarter there were 29,695 Mustangs sold while Camaro sold 17, 320.  And that’s a design issue.”

The Mustang, in keeping with its 50 year anniversary, came out with a new, powerful, popular edition.  Camaro, on the other hand, is in the fifth year of this edition and despite the various minor changes, is looking dated by comparison.

2015 Ford Mustang - Running on 400 Horses

2015 Ford Mustang – Running on 400 Horses

But the 2016 Camaro, to be introduced next month, has been completely redesigned and the market will determine if Welburn and his crew have been using their crayons effectively. Currently, their plant is closed for retooling, Acevedo said, which limits sales until the new edition begins rolling off the factory floor.

Design has also helped GM’s truck division, which has a 35.7% share of the nation’s market – just 1% less than industry-leading Ford. The Ford F-150 is actually the world’s best-selling vehicle.

Ford F-150 - Still #1

Ford F-150 – Still #1

“But it’s the GMC Sierra and Chevy Silverado that are doing very well against the F-150 and are keeping GM  near the top of the truck market,” said Acevedo. “Chevy in particular has taken a bite out of Ford’s market share. With trucks, buyers look first for utility, but after that, it’s the styling that counts. And the Silverado and Sierra have developed a very loyal base of buyers.”

2015 GMC Sierra HD All Terrain

2015 GMC Sierra – Still Trying

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Taming Texas in a Chevy Camaro

October 16, 2012

By Roger Witherspoon

 

I had stopped for gas in the middle of nowhere – which is just about any place in the arid, dusty, 150-mile stretch of the west Texas Panhandle between Lubbock and the New Mexico border where the monotonous view of scrub brush is only interrupted by slowly cranking oil wells. I did not plan on staying long.

This is a region noted for being inhospitable to strangers in general and Blacks in particular, and where the top elected officials publicly warn residents to be prepared to fight off United Nations troops sent in by President Obama to usher in a socialist takeover of America. Nature doesn’t help, either. While there are plenty of shaded, roadside “picnic areas” where a tired motorist can catch a nap, many of these have skull and crossbones signs warning of fatally toxic sulfur fumes from leaking gas lines. Which means your nap may be your last, so it’s best to keep moving.

So it was disconcerting to come out of the station’s mini mart and see the parking spot next to my car occupied by a heavy duty pickup truck with a rifle and a shotgun on the gun rack across the rear window. Three men in weathered, Stetson hats who were standing, arms folded, next to the driver’s door stopped talking as I approached. Then, one stepped towards me and said, “Man, that’s a really sweet car! Can we see it?”

How could I resist?

            They ran their hands along the smooth lines of the  fire engine red, 2013 Chevy Camaro SS convertible, and positively gushed as they looked under the hood at the 6.2-liter, aluminum V-8 engine capable of cranking out 427 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque. What they really liked was the fact that the Camaro, on its  20-inch, painted aluminum wheels, could dash from 0 – 60 miles per hour in just 4.7 seconds, pass the quarter mile mark in 12.9 seconds with the speedometer at 113, and top out at 155 MPH. And that is just your average, $45,000 Camaro.

Chevy has a heftier model, the 580 horsepower Camaro ZL-1 which goes from 0 – 60 in 3.9 seconds (an area normally reserved for Corvette and Porsche), hits the quarter mile in 12.3 seconds and tops out at 188 miles per hour. And in Texas, one could actually get a chance to try that and worry more about hitting an armadillo than drawing the attention of the State Police.

With the push of a button I put down the canvas top and the trio, hats included, sat in the car and passed me their cell phones to take pictures. Then they wished me God speed. That is not an idle wish in west Texas, where the 75 mile an hour speed limit is considered a recommended floor rather than a legal ceiling.

The audience nodded appreciatively as the Camaro started with a loud rumble and a steady vibration as the V-8 engine rhythmically rocked the car. When parked, the sports coup most resembles an angry cat and, once started, it seems anxious to leap.

A hologram of the speedometer appeared as if by magic, seemingly hovering over the hood between the bulging air scoop and the left wheel. The floating, Heads Up display would make it unnecessary to take my eyes off the wide Texas roadway to monitor my speed or change the music.

With a wave, I floored the accelerator and the cowboys quickly disappeared in the rear view mirror. A nice feature of west Texas highways is that they are wide, flat, and the curves are steeply banked. I leveled off when the hologram showed the speed at 140, and the sound of the wind was drowned out by Usher belting “Yeah!” from the nine, large, 245-watt speakers. The 20-inch wheels ate up the hardtop, and the automatic stability controls kept the Camaro level on the wide, banked highway curves.

The newest version of the Camaro, with an updated interior and electronics, is a clear descendant of the 1960s version of the Pony Car General Motors created to compete with the Ford Mustang. It has the same wide stance and curved silhouette that captured attention in that tumultuous era. That is not surprising since Ed Welburn, GM’s vice president and design chief, still drives his ’69 yellow Camaro with the twin black racing stripes on the hood. If the new Camaro is a bit wider than the original, well, so are today’s drivers.

Inside, there is an emphasis on comfort. The seats are double-stitched, two-toned leather, and are wide, thickly padded, and soft. The front seats can be heated, a feature appreciated by younger drivers in cold climates and older drivers most of the time. The rear seats are more for show than use, though there is leg room if everyone in the car is well under six feet. Passengers taller than that will have serious leg cramps.  The rear seats do fold flat, however, which enlarges the ample trunk space.

The décor in the Camaro is sport plastic – the molding on the dash and doors matches the exterior of the car and the seats. In this case, the trim was red and the black seats matched the black stripe on the hood.

For entertainment, the Camaro is aimed at a younger generation. The designers apparently feel CDs and DVDs are yesterday’s technology, as there is no place to use them. If, however you have a movie on your iPod, smartphone, or USB flash drive, then plug it in and watch it on the seven-inch color screen. Or, you can switch between HD, satellite radio, and the other technologies.

The new Camaro is a mix of the old and new. In the ‘60s I was interested in speed, and any amenities besides an AM radio were a bonus I could take or leave. A half century later I still want speed – but want to be comfortable, prefer a navigation system so I don’t get lost, and like the thought of traction control and air bags when the speedometer is in triple digits.

What is consistent about the Camaro is it’s a head turner to look at, and a pleasant way to fly on the open road.

 

2013 Chevrolet Camaro SS

 

MSRP:                                                                        $44,960

EPA Mileage:                        15 MPG City                          24 MPG Highway

As Tested Mileage:                                                   16.8 MPG Highway

 

Performance / Safety:

 

            0 – 60 MPH                                                    4.7 Seconds

            ¼ Mile:                                                           12.9 Seconds at 113 MPH

            Top Speed:                                                     155 MPH

 

6.2-Liter, cast aluminum engine producing 426 horsepower and 420 pound/feet of torque; 6-speed automatic transmission; double ball-joint, multi-link strut front suspension; 4.5-link independent rear suspension; 4-wheel disc, Bembro performance brakes with ventilated rotors and anti-lock brake system; 20-inch painted aluminum wheels; Halogen head lamps; fog lights; traction and stability controls; front, side, and head curtain airbags.

Interior / Comfort:

 

AM/FM/XM satellite radio; 245-watt, Boston Acoustics premium sound system with 9 speakers; iPod, USB and MP3 connections; Bluetooth phone and audio; 7-inch color information screen; backup camera; tilt & telescoping, leather wrapped steering wheel with fingertip cruise, audio and Bluetooth controls; leather, powered and heated front seats; Heads Up display; folding rear seats.

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What Does $25,000 Put on the Road? And Would You Want to Drive It?

February 22, 2012


By Roger Witherspoon

            Let’s say you are looking for a compact family sedan for under $25,000.

For years, the low end cars in domestic and foreign automotive fleets were little more than basic transportation: bells and whistles cost a lot more. Still, there is nothing wrong with wishing that you could get a small family car which wasn’t boring to look at, was comfortable to sit in, had enough gadgets to keep everyone happy and, if you floored the gas pedal, actually took off.

For many motorists, that was the turf of the Honda Civic, long the entry level workhorse of the popular Honda line.  They were short on flair and long on utility, but consistently reliable, efficient, durable and, with an EPA rating of 41 miles per gallon in highway driving, easy on the pocketbook.  What they provide, however, is basic transportation: the Civic is not a balm for the ego or a rolling sculpture destined to grace the driveway.

And if you are willing to get the basic, no-frills version, you can roll out of a Honda showroom with a Civic HF for under $20,000. But the Civic is actually a family of compacts, from the no-frills, HF box to the competitive $25,000 EX  sedan.

The bare bones version of the Civic HF has plain cloth seats, but they are wide, manually adjusted. The dashboard is contoured, to give it a little character. And the dials, in blue and white, are easy on the eyes with digits easy to read. The doors had mostly hard, molded plastic with a thin layer of padding where the elbow rests and, as a result, were not very comfortable on long trips. Surprisingly, the car lacked Bluetooth communication, but it did have a single disc CD player, and connections for MP3, iPod, and USB. Its four-speaker, 160-watt sound system was adequate for the small interior, but nothing special. There is room in the rear for a couple of average sized adults, but the only cup holders are in the front. But the HF is intended to be just basic transportation.

            For about $5,000 more, the Civic can be upgraded to the EX model, which better reflects the quality of the Honda line. At that price, the cloth gives way to thick, padded leather seats which are power adjustable and heated. Overhead is a power sunroof, which gives the compact a feeling of spaciousness. And the bare bones entertainment system is replaced by a navigation system, satellite radio, and Bluetooth. At that point, the Civic is a car one can look forward to owning for several years.

Under the hood, the Civic HF has a 1.8-liter, four-cylinder engine producing just 140 horsepower.  Thus the small car is fine on the road, but sluggish when you take off or need to accelerate. That small engine, however, is why the Civic has an EPA rating of 29 miles per gallon in city driving and 41 MPG on the highway. And on the open road, the Civic HF handle with the assuredness expected of a Honda in any price range.

I awakened to find there were five inches of loose, powdery snow one Saturday morning, and the stuff was destined to fall intermittently all day. The main roads were kept relatively clear by municipal plows, but home owners on most of the side streets had to fend for themselves in the slippery stuff. This was no problem for the Civic.

The compact, with its all weather tires, had no trouble on hills, curves and uneven surfaces though more expensive vehicles were skidding that morning through the same slippery terrain. The Civic’s snow-oriented traction control compensated for the bad road conditions – which showed that not all safety technology is saved for the expensive players. With the Civic family, Honda is trying to get a lock on the low end of the compact sedan market.

But Honda doesn’t have the small car field all to itself.

The Zoom-Zoom guys would like a word with you about their Mazda 3.

On the outside, the 3 doesn’t room to exhibit the styling flair of Mazda’s bigger models – but it’s not a rolling box, either. It has a small, aggressive, black grill flanked by recessed intakes that give it the appearance of a miniature racer. There is a sharply sloping front hood leading to a wide expanse of glass. The sloping roof line leading to a sharply cut-off rear prevents the 3 from having the boxy look.

Underneath that hood is a 2.0-liter, four cylinder engine producing a respectable 155 horsepower – which is a lot for a light car like this one.   The small engine is also light on the gas consumption, with an EPA estimate of 28 miles per gallon in city driving, and 40 MPG on the open road. The Mazda 3 has a six-speed transmission which, in manual mode, can hope like a respectable sports sedan. The double-spoke, 16-inch wheels make the 3 look sportier than it really is.

But while the outside is pleasant, it is far more important what Mazda put inside, where you spend your time. And here, the Zoom-Zoom crew gave a lot of thought to the interior of the 3 so that it didn’t look or feel like the low end of their automotive line.

The three spoke steering wheel is leather wrapped, tilts and telescopes, and has push button controls for every function. The seats are wide, thickly padded, and leather rather than cloth. The front seats can be heated, which is a great antidote to cold weather or sore backs. The driver’s seat is powered, while the front passenger seat is manually operated. But there is thick, faux leather padding on the doors, arm rests and dash board which makes the 3 look more expensive than it is and, functionally, is comfortable for long drives.  The dash is curved, instead of a plain, straight slab, and provides individual spaces for the front occupants. There is also soft, blue lighting under the dash and along the floor boards at night so you don’t have to fumble around in the dark.

And in case one is changing lanes in a hurry, there is a blind spot warning light in the side mirrors which lets the driver know if there is a vehicle in either blind spot. For the night vision, add bi-xenon, self-leveling headlights.         

      Most cars in this price range would not have a navigation system and color information screen. The 3, however, is different. There is a recessed, color, three-inch screen – similar to the screen on a hand held Garmin – which serves the navigation system. Depending on the strength of your glasses, it can be difficult to read the names of cross streets, but most of the information on the screen is quite legible and the system is easy to use.  It can be accessed manually from the center console or the buttons on the leather steering wheel, or run by voice.

            For entertainment, the 3 has AM/FM and XM satellite radio, a six-disc CD player, as well as iPod, MP3, and USB connections. The surround sound emanates from a 10-speaker, 265-watt, Bose system. And if you keep your music on your smart phone, the Bluetooth will access it and play through the system.

If one listens to the Republican presidential contenders, the auto makers in Detroit should have folded up shop three years ago. But they didn’t, and not only has General Motors paid back its taxpayer loans, but it reported record profits for 2011. One of the reasons for its comeback is the snappy Chevrolet Cruze. Here, Chevy borrowed a trick from Nissan, which put a turbocharger in their four-cylinder Juke, and put a turbocharger onto their equally small Cruze engine.

But the Nissan speedster sells for more than $27,000, and the Cruze is aimed at a lower end. So it has fewer amenities than the Japanese sedan, but at $20,000, is more competitive in the economy end of the auto line.

The Cruze sedan has the low, wide stance similar to that of the Camaro, but that is the only similarity. The trademark Chevy badge and wide grill on the Cruze forms more of a smile welcoming family motorists, than the dark, aggressive grimace gracing the sports car.

Under the hood, the Cruze sports a 1.4-liter engine cranking out just 138 horsepower. But with the turbocharger, it never feels underpowered. The engine is billed as getting 26 miles per gallon of regular gas in city driving and 37 MPG on the highway.  That seems a bit wishful: the test car got 23.7 MPG in mixed driving.

   GM was thoughtful in designing the interior, though frugal with some of the amenities. The interior has attractive, two-toned seats, but they are unheated and cloth rather than leather like the Mazda 3. The seats are manually operated and, depending on your weight, may not be the easiest to maneuver, particularly when you are trying to adjust the seat’s height. The seats are, however, are wide and comfortable.  The two-toned motif is used all around the interior, with the padding on the doors and dash matching the look of the center of the seats. The dash itself is a double curve, providing a separate space for the driver and passenger and demonstrating that a car does not have to be plain to be inexpensive.

There is enough leg and head room in the rear for two tall passengers to travel comfortably, and the rear seats fold flat for additional storage space.

For entertainment, the Cruze came with AM/FM and XM satellite radio in addition to the CD and MP3 players, and the iPod and USB connections. The six-speaker sound system, with sub woofers in the front doors, was more than ample to envelope the cabin in sound though it doesn’t quite compete with the Mazda’s Bose. And the car’s wind suppression is effective enough to allow you to easily hear every note in a soft solo even though the car is rolling down the road at triple digit speeds.

There is no navigation system in the Cruze, but the car has both Bluetooth connection for your smartphone and OnStar, GM’s satellite communications network. So one can either use an app like Google’s navigation system or push the OnStar button and get turn-by-turn directions as the system’s satellites follow you down the highway.

 In addition to the trans-Pacific competition, the Japanese auto makers are also facing challenges the Koreans, whose Hyundai Elantra seeks a share of the small car, under $25,000 market.

The Elantra, priced in the middle at just over $22,000, is not just a means of getting around. It is the latest model out of a California design studio which takes its “fluidic” styling cues from the imprint of waves along the Pacific coast sands. In January, the Elantra was voted Car of the Year by jurors at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

The win partly stems from the fact that even though it’s a small car, the Elantra is individually, stylistically beautiful. It does not resemble a truncated version of a larger model like the Genesis, which won the 2011 award, or the full sized Sonata, which is so popular its resale value after a year is higher than its original sticker price.

The Elantra continues the Hyundai practice of offering a lot for less.  Under the hood is a typically small, four-cylinder engine producing just 148 horsepower. Unlike the Cruze, it is not turbocharged, and will not be mistaken for a racing car despite its sleek, flowing silhouette and 17-inch wheels.

   The Koreans put their efforts inside. The Elantra has two-tone leather seats, and both the front and rear seats can be heated. For entertainment, the Elantra has satellite radio as well as Bluetooth audio and connections for iPods, USB and MP3 players. The sound system is the largest of the bunch, with a 360-watt premium surround sound system with six speakers and rear amplifier designed for tailgate parties. The Elantra comes with a navigations system and seven-inch touch screen that is mated to the satellite radio to provide real time XM traffic and road condition updates.

All cars provide basic transportation. But aside from that function, they are generally the largest investment a family makes in utilitarian art.  In the category of the car as mobile sculpture, it is the aesthetics which determine what attracts a buyer and keeps a car owner happy for several years. If one is seeking a $25,000 art project, there are a lot to choose from.

–Roger Witherspoon writes Shifting Gears at www.RogerWitherspoon.com

2012 Mazda 3

 

MSRP:                                                                        $24,970

EPA Mileage:                        28 MPG City                          40 MPG Highway

 

Performance / Safety:

 

2.0-Liter, 4-cylinder engine producing 155 horsepower and 148 pound/feet of torque; 6-speed automatic transmission with electronic manual mode; stability and traction controls; anti-lock and 4-wheel disc brakes; front wheel drive; rack and pinion steering;  independent front & rear suspension; blind spot monitoring; automatic leveling, bi-xenon headlights.

Interior / Comfort:

 

AM/FM/XM satellite radio; 265-watt Bose audio system with 10 speakers; iPod, MP3, and USB connections; 6-disc CD player; Bluetooth phone and audio;  powered sunroof; tilt and telescoping, leather wrapped steering wheel with fingertip audio, phone, cruise and entertainment controls; leather seats; heated front seats; powered driver’s seat;  navigation system with 3-inch screen.

2012 Honda Civic HF

 

MSRP:                                                                        $20,225

EPA Mileage:                        29 MPG City                          41 MPG Highway

 

Performance / Safety:

 

1.8-Liter SOHC, aluminum alloy, 4- cylinder engine producing 140 horsepower and 128 pound/feet of torque; 5-speed automatic transmission; MacPherson strut front suspension;  multi-link rear suspension; front wheel drive; 15-inch alloy wheels; rack and pinion steering; stability control; driver and front passenger dual stage and side airbags; side curtain airbags.

Interior / Comfort:

 

AM/FM radio; 160-watt audio system with 4 speakers; CD player; MP3, USB, and iPod connection; tilt and telescope steering wheel with fingertip audio and cruise controls;

2012 Chevrolet Cruze

 

MSRP:                                                                        $21,455

EPA Mileage:                        26 MPG City                          37 MPG Highway

As Tested Mileage:                                                   23.7 MPG Mixed

 

Performance / Safety:

 

1.4-liter, DOHC, cast aluminum, turbo-charged engine producing 138 horsepower and148 pound/feet of torque; 6-speed automatic transmission with manual mode; traction and stability controls; independent, MacPherson strut, front suspension; torsion beam rear suspension; 17-inch wheels; 4-wheel, anti-lock brakes; driver and front passenger front, knee, side impact, and head curtain airbags; rear side impact and head curtain airbags.

Interior / Comfort:

 

AM/FM/XM Satellite radio; CD and MP3 player; USB and iPod ports; 6-speaker sound system; Bluetooth and OnStar communications; tilt & telescope steering wheel; leather wrapped steering wheel with fingertip audio, Bluetooth,  and cruise controls.

 

2012 Hyundai Elantra

 

MSRP:                                                                        $22,110

EPA Mileage:                        29 MPG City                          40 MPG Highway

 

Performance / Safety:

 

1.8-Liter DOHC aluminum engine providing 148 horsepower and 131 pound-feet of torque; 6-speed manual transmission; independent MacPherson front suspension; torsion axel rear suspension; rack and pinion steering; ventilated front disc brakes; solid  rear disc brakes; 17-inch alloy wheels; stability and traction control; fog lights; front, side impact, and rear curtain airbags.

Interior / Comfort:

 

AM/FM/XM satellite radio; CD and MP3 player; iPod and USB ports; 360-watt premium sound system with 6 speakers and amplifier; Bluetooth phone and audio;  tilt and telescoping steering wheel with fingertip Bluetooth, audio, and cruise controls.

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Running on E: The Chevy Volt Hits the Road

September 20, 2011


By Roger Witherspoon

What was left of Hurricane Lee was rapidly losing steam.

The rainfall had eased from a blinding deluge dropping two inches per hour, to a gentle, late summer rain. And the long distance haulers were taking advantage of the relative lull to make up for lost time by racing their big rigs up the New England interstate.

The speedometer approached 70 as I eased from the long entrance lane onto the right lane of US I-84 near the New York-Connecticut border – an unremarkable speed in normal circumstances, but close to excessive on this rain-slicked roadway. My visibility was suddenly poor: the rain was no match for the windshield wipers on the electric Chevy Volt, but the water pouring from the huge tires of the 18-wheeler in the middle lane next to me created the highway equivalent of a surfer going through a fast-curling Pacific wave off the Hawaiian coast.

Suddenly, I realized the wave was closing and the wheels of the big rig were getting closer. The truck was moving into my land and, with the Chevy lost in the water wall thrown up from the tires, the driver couldn’t see me.  There was no shoulder, and the shortest route to safety lay straight ahead. So I floored the accelerator.

There was no satisfying, accompanying engine rumble since the Volt’s 111 kilowatt, electric engine runs silent. But it does deliver 273 pound-feet of torque directly to the axels, and there was a satisfying feel of gravity pushing me deeper into the leather seats as the volt shot forward. In seconds, the speedometer hit 95 and the traction control fought to keep the car running straight on the soaked roadway as the car just cleared the rumbling truck’s front bumper.

            It took less than a minute for the latest innovation from General Motors to show that it could compete with front running family sedans in terms of performance and handling. And in developing the Chevrolet Volt, GM has staked out a unique technological course in a newly evolving field of hybrid electric transportation. Whether the Volt and its successors will catch on with the car buying public, however, is still an open question?

The Volt is the third and, perhaps, the most versatile of the mass produced electric vehicles aimed at the general public, charting a different course than the Nissan Leaf and the Toyota Prius Hybrid Plug-in Electric (http://bit.ly/jj7N0Z ).

Toyota was the first off the electric block but is entering the market tentatively. The company is circulating 160 of the Plug-in Hybrids around the country at this time, gathering user feedback in anticipation of a formal launch next year. The initial Prius was revolutionary in that Toyota envisioned and developed a car which could fully operate on two different power plants. The new plug-in goes a step further, allowing you to drive with three power systems.

The hybrid power systems are standard. What is different is that the new battery pack powers the electric motor for about a half hour, or 13 miles, at speeds up to 60 miles per hour. After that, the charge is depleted and the car reverts to the standard hybrid combination with the interplay between the gas engine and electric motor.  The electric motor can drive the car unaided at speeds up to about 25 miles per hour. After that, the Prius either uses both the gasoline engine and the motor or, at high speeds, just the gasoline engine. The difference the additional of the plug-in component makes in terms of gas mileage is incremental: the 13 miles running solely on electric power just extends the miles per gallon average of the car.

Nissan, on the other hand, completely bit the electric bullet with its Leaf. It has only an electric motor. The drawback, however, is that the car can get only about 75 miles before it needs a new charge – which can take eight hours.  That makes it a perfect car for getting around in small towns or daily commutes within traffic-snarled metropolises like New York. But it is fairly useless for vacation trips and could be problematic in sprawling cities like Los Angeles. Nissan is banking on the Leaf being the preferred car of the future, when the electric charging infrastructure is as ubiquitous around the nation as the gas pump. But selling that notion now is a challenge.

With the Chevrolet Volt, GM is hedging its bets with what amounts to a reverse hybrid. With this sedan, only the electric motor can power the car, and a full charge – which takes 10 hours on a normal 110-volt outlet – will provide the equivalent of just 31 gas-free miles. The mileage is not absolute because sitting in New York City traffic, for example, can eat up with charge without the car physically going very far.

But after the charge is used up the small, 1.4-liter gasoline engine kicks in. It will not drive the Volt, but it serves as a generator to keep the battery charged to power the electric motor. That combination – an electric motor with a gasoline battery charger – gives the Volt its driving range of about 330 miles between visits to a traditional gas station.  It is also what gives the Volt an EPA estimated mileage of 37 MPG on the highway, and a whopping 93 MPG in city driving.

The interplay between the gas engine and the battery required some tradeoffs. It provides enough juice to keep the car going, but not enough to fully charge the battery while the car is being driven and bypass the need for the 10-hour battery charge.

Pam Fletcher, the chief engineer of the Volt, said “there is always some minimum buffer in the battery to drive the car. The Volt’s engine uses about 65 percent of the battery’s capacity, and the internal combustion engine charges enough to maintain that minimum state of power. It does not power it back up to full.

“Our philosophy was if you want to go from the minimum state of the battery up to a full charge, you have to get that energy off the grid, where it is less expensive and more efficient to generate. And it is likely that the electricity you get from the grid will be generated in an environment with more easily treated emissions than those from a bigger internal combustion engine.”

Getting power off the grid is not free. Charging the Volt nightly can boost the electric bill of a three-bedroom home as much as 50%, according to some industry estimates.  In high utility rate areas like New Jersey and New York, that means the savings you get by having less frequent trips to the gas station is nearly offset by the monthly electric bill.

The Volt does have some of the battery-charging features of the standard hybrid, such as regenerative braking, which converts the heat in the brake shoes to electricity. But it would take a bigger engine and batteries with greater storage capacity to have the4 Volt fully charged while on the go –and that would drive up its already hefty price of nearly $45,000.

Aside from the power plant technology the Volt is, above all, a family car, and it will be on the road competing with mid-sized sedans such as the Nissan Altima, Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla – which all have much lower sticker prices, and higher gasoline bills. In that regard, what has GM done?

Outside, the Volt is as sleek as its name implies. Its wide front and split grill could be viewed as aggressive were it not for the curved headlights which turn the metal grimace into more of a smile. The long, sloping hatch back ends in a raised spoiler instead of fading into the bumper, which gives the Volt more the appearance of a sporty, four-door coupe.

Inside, the Volt is a spacious sedan with the trimmings you would expect in a car with this price tag, and a few designs that may take some adjustment. The leather seats are wide, comfortable, and can be heated, which is particularly useful.

The dials on the dashboard are novel. There is a blue column showing the amount of electricity in the battery, which runs down as the battery is used up. And there is a green floating ball resembling a suspended Earth which monitors the Volt’s power flow. The center console is a white plastic with raised letters for Climate, Radio, and other controls, all activated by lightly touching them. Women who got into the Volt uniformly disparaged it as the controls of a blender. 

But it is efficient. The rear backup camera is crystal clear. The navigation system is easy to use with a seven-inch LCD screen and, for communication, there is either the Bluetooth linking your cell phone to the car’s audio system, or GM’s satellite-based OnStar system.  Live help at OnStar can provide turn-by-turn directions if you prefer that to the lady robot in the navigation system.

For entertainment, the Volt offers everything. There is a CD player, AM/FM and XM satellite radio, and connections for the iPod, MP3 player, or USB port. In addition, there is a 30 gigabyte hard drive to download a few thousand of your favorite songs and create your own travelling juke box.

For a hatchback, the Volt is surprisingly spacious. It is about the length of a Honda Civic, but has more interior leg room, so a pair of six-footers can actually ride in comfort in the rear seats. 

The Volt is a smart entry into the plug-in world, since an infrastructure for all around use does not yet exist for fully electric cars. Whether it catches on, or becomes a transitional vehicle as the electric infrastructure matures will be determined by events unfolding over the decade.

The Volt is a stylish, versatile, comfortable, sporty sedan which is dependable in a variety of road conditions. It will give the other electric road runners – and quite a few gas guzzlers – a quiet run for the money.

2011 Chevrolet Volt

 

MSRP:                                                            $44,680

EPA Mileage:                        93 MPG City              37 MPG Highway

Top Speed:                                                     100 MPH

 

Performance / Safety:

 

111 Kilowatt electric motor and 1.4-liter gasoline engine delivering 84 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque; 5-speed automatic transmission; front wheel drive; independent MacPherson strut front suspension; torsion beam rear suspension; lithium-ion battery; antilock and 4-wheel disc brakes; stability and traction control; 17-inch forged painted aluminum wheels; rear vision camera; dual stage, frontal, knee and side-impact airbags.

Interior / Comfort:

 

AM/FM/XM satellite radio; Bluetooth and OnStar communications; Bose audio system with 6 speakers; CD player; 30 GB hard drive; USB port; iPod and MP3 connection; navigation system with 7-inch LCD screen; tilt and telescoping, leather wrapped steering wheel with fingertip audio and cruise controls.

 

 

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New Kid on the Block: Cruising in a Chevy Cruze

July 26, 2011

By Roger Witherspoon

 

 

 

To say it was pouring rain would be an understatement.

It was the kind of heavy, continuous, seamless torrent of water flowing ceaselessly from above that made the air just slightly less damp than the swollen creeks and, a few millenniums back, probably prompted fish to move topside and evolve into amphibians.

It was definitely not made for driving, since the winding highway through the lower Hudson River Valley Highlands had a steady cross flow of a half inch or more of water and the going was, at best treacherous. And to make matters worse, one of Bambi’s cousins under a tree in the wide center median decided the shelter was better on the other side of the roadway, and began splashing across.

There wasn’t a lot of time to avoid becoming one of the 1,200 motorists who hit a deer on New York State roadways each week. I tapped the brakes to avoid a skid and sharply turned the wheel left to cross the shoulder behind the bolting Bambi. The left wheels crunched gravel then rose slightly on a grassy mound while the traction control strained to even out the spin rates between those off-road wheels and the two still on water-covered pavement.  I expected the sharp maneuver to trigger a skid – this was, after all, a $20,000 Chevy Cruze, not a high priced performance car.

But the engineers in Detroit apparently know what they are doing these days, and the Cruze handled the rain dance with aplomb. Even Keiko Matsui, whose delicate jazz piano was wafting softly from the Cruze’s CD player, never skipped a beat as the car bounded on and off the roadway. No wonder GM is making money.

The mid-sized, four-door sedan is a crowded field where it is hard for a newcomer to carve a niche – especially in the under $25,000 group. This is an area which, for too long, offered motorists little more than wind-blown boxes on wheels. But times have changed. Asian entries like the Kia Soul, the Suzuki Kizashi and the Toyota Scion tC; and Detroit models like the Ford Fiesta and Dodge Avenger offer an impressive array of gadgets and amenities and have become cars people seek, rather than relatively inexpensive wheels that people settle for.

So Chevrolet had work to do to make the Cruze noticed in the mid-sized pack. They started with the face. The sedan has the low, wide stance similar to that of the Camaro, but that is the only similarity. The trademark Chevy badge and wide grill on the Cruze forms more of a smile welcoming family motorists, than the dark, aggressive grimace gracing the sports car.

Under the hood, the Cruze sports a 1.4-liter, four-cylinder engine cranking out just 138 horsepower. But this is a light car and the engine is turbocharged, so it never feels underpowered. And since it is mated to a six-speed transmission, the Cruze is responsive in automatic or electronic manual mode. The engine is billed as getting 26 miles per gallon of regular gas in city driving and 37 MPG on the highway.  That seems a bit wishful: the test car got 23.7 MPG in mixed driving.

GM was thoughtful in designing the interior, though frugal with some of the amenities. The interior has attractive, two-toned seats, but they are unheated and cloth rather than leather. The seats are manually operated and, depending on your weight, may not be the easiest to maneuver, particularly when you are trying to adjust the seat’s height. The seats are, however, are wide and comfortable.  The two-toned motif is used all around the interior, with the padding on the doors and dash matching the look of the center of the seats. The dash itself is a double curve, providing a separate space for the driver and passenger and demonstrating that a car does not have to be plain to be inexpensive.

            There is enough leg and head room in the rear for two passengers who dwell well north of six feet to travel comfortably over long distances.  In addition, the rear seats fold flat, providing additional storage space to an already ample trunk.

For entertainment, the Cruze came with AM/FM and XM satellite radio in addition to the CD and MP3 players, and the iPod and USB connections. The six-speaker sound system, with sub woofers in the front doors, was more than ample to envelope the cabin in sound. And the car’s wind suppression is effective enough to allow you to easily hear every note in a soft solo even though the car is rolling down the road at triple digit speeds.

There is no navigation system in the Cruze, but the car has both Bluetooth connection for your smartphone and OnStar, GM’s satellite communications network. So one can either use an app like Google’s navigation system or push the OnStar button and get turn-by-turn directions as the system’s satellites follow you down the highway.

The Cruze will have to work to make a dent in the tough, crowded, mid-sized marketplace. But it is likely to give the leaders in the segment a good run for the front of the road-running pack.

 

2011 Chevrolet Cruze

 

MSRP:                                                                        $21,455

EPA Mileage:                        26 MPG City                          37 MPG Highway

As Tested Mileage:                                                   23.7 MPG Mixed

 

Performance / Safety:

 

1.4-liter, DOHC, cast aluminum, turbo-charged engine producing 138 horsepower and148 pound/feet of torque; 6-speed automatic transmission with manual mode; traction and stability controls; independent, MacPherson strut, front suspension; torsion beam rear suspension; 17-inch wheels; 4-wheel, anti-lock brakes; driver and front passenger front, knee, side impact, and head curtain airbags; rear side impact and head curtain airbags.

 

Interior / Comfort:

 

AM/FM/XM Satellite radio; CD and MP3 player; USB and iPod ports; 6-speaker sound system; Bluetooth and OnStar communications; tilt & telescope steering wheel; leather wrapped steering wheel with fingertip audio, Bluetooth,  and cruise controls.

 

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Road Running Investments: 4 Cars Worth More Used Than New

May 31, 2011


By Roger Witherspoon

 

            People contemplating potential financial investments are not likely to put a car on the short list of places to park their money for a year. Indeed, the standard mantra – though exaggerated – is that a new car loses half its value the moment it leaves the dealership.

But if you had bought a 2010 Toyota Prius Hatchback, a 2011 Hyundai Sonata SE, a muscular, 2011 Chevy Camaro SS, or the iconic 2011 Kia Soul, you could have made money putting it on the market after driving it around for a year. And that’s with serious driving.

The EPA considers 15,000 miles to be the average an American motorist drives the family car in the course of a year. According to Kelley Blue Book ( www.KBB.com  ), which tracks private party and Internet sales through sites such as www.Autotrader.com ,  a Prius (  http://bit.ly/lynbyq ) with 22,500 miles and an original MSRP of $22,150 is now selling on the private market for $24,705 – an increase of $2,555 over the purchase price. That’s a return of 11.5 percent, which is higher than the return Bernie Madoff gave his favored investors during the heyday of his Ponzi years.

The stylish Sonata sedan ( http://bit.ly/mtnAO4 ) with 13,500 miles on it, sells for $24,170, an increase of $855 over its purchase price of $23,315 for a respectable 3.7 percent return. The Kia Soul ( http://bit.ly/lGLbXz ) , which uses hip hop hamsters to hype its appeal to youthful buyers, held pretty steady with a resale price of $14,055 after 13,500 miles. That’s just $60 over the purchase price of $13,995, but its more than the Federal Reserve was paying on treasury notes during last year’s financial crisis.

And near the top of the investment list is an entry from Detroit, the 2011 Chevrolet Camaro SS Coupe, which left the showroom with a sticker at $$31,000 and after 8,000 miles on the road can now be sold for $34,000 – an investment return of 9.6 percent (http://bit.ly/mdRgHg ).

“In most cases a car is not an investment,” said Alec Gutierrez, manager of vehicle evaluations for Kelley Blue Book. “Over the last several years, however, used car values have been on the rise.  Part of that is a lack of vehicles available due to the economy and a reduction in new vehicle sales.

“Cars fit the classic definition of a depreciating asset. But with supply decreasing and fuel assets increasing, their value has been really strong.”

The domestic car market, Gutierrez explained, dropped from 17 million cars per year in 2005 and 2006 to a low of 10.5 million in 2009, a decline of nearly 40 percent. So there are far fewer cars on the used car lots. “The increases depend on the segment, however,” he added. “Overall, used car values are up between 5 percent and 6 percent. But the value of fuel efficient vehicles can but up anywhere between 15 percent and 20 percent, and we attribute that to the rapid rise in gasoline prices.

“The resale value of the Prius is definitely tied to gas prices. It has always been in demand, and even prior to the earthquake in Japan Toyota had only a 10-day supply in the showrooms. But it is one of the vehicles that consumers flock to immediately as gas prices rise.  We have seen demand for the Prius shoot through the roof, with some Prius values increasing between $3,000 and $4,000. And that goes for two, three, and even four-year-old Prius.”

The Sonata’s appeal, he said, has come from he termed its “phenomenal” new design (http://bit.ly/mzwk2z ).  “Even as it becomes used,” he said, “There is a lot of interest and it stays close to the MSRP. We see that from time to time when the design is great. The new Camaro has done well because of the redesign.

”The standard 2011 Camaro is selling $200 to $500 above sticker price and the convertible is really hot.”

            Hyundai spokesman James Trainer said that in addition to the design, the Sonata is offered as a standard sedan, or a hybrid or a turbo, and the hybrid gets 40 miles per gallon and the standard and turbo get 35 MPG. The Sonata is the only car in the mid-sized sedan segment that does not offer a V-6 engine.

“The competition – Camry and Honda Accord – have to be engineered to carry the weight of that bigger engine.  But our turbo-charged four cylinder engine, with 274 horsepower, gets better horsepower than any of the 6’s do.”

The resale value is also helped by Hyundai’s 100,000 mile warranty.

The Kia Soul, said Gutierrez, has benefitted from rising gas prices “and it’s a fun design. Nissan has tried to jump into that market with its Cube. That car is performing well, but the 2010 model is just about $1,000 below its MSRP. The Kia Soul is just more in demand.”

The reception of the boxy Soul comes as something of a surprise, particularly with its pants-sagging, hoody-wearing, hip hop hamsters comparing this odd-shaped Kial to standard boxes and toasters (  http://bit.ly/mCKQx3 ). “The car was targeted equally at male and female Gen Y consumers in their mid-20s who are looking for their first car,” said Michael Sprague, Kia’s vice president of marketing.

“We positioned the Soul to break out from the ordinary and offer a new way to roll.  Our creative agency, David and Goliath, came up with the concept of hamsters who were on the wheel and broke out of that cycle. We thought it was great imagery to convey that you don’t have to buy the traditional little compact car out there. You can have this really cool car instead of one of the other boxy cars.

“A lot of parents are putting the money down and buying it for their children, with the children making the ongoing installment payments.”

Kia has also found that a large portion of their sales are to senior citizens, who are still active and like its price, interior spaciousness and the fact that it is easy to get into and out of.

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Muscle Cars and Speed Kings

May 1, 2011


By Roger Witherspoon

 

            The muscle cars and speed kings are back in force.

Anyone who worried that an automotive era dominated with talk of fuel efficiency and practical cars meant an end to the most expensive, powerful, fast, flashy set of wheels can rest easy.  Yeah, there is a lot of talk about these cars being the most fuel efficient ever in their class. But that class deals with a lot of horsepower, drinks premium fuel like its Gatorade and measures its performance in fractions of a second.

These are the cars that you do not need to commute to work, and will not get you to a place of worship any faster than the old folks in the minivan in front of you. And they’ll get 20 miles per gallon mostly in your dreams.

But that’s really irrelevant.

If what you are looking for is a car which looks as if it is flying when it’s really parked; which will cause heads to spin and neighbors to drool; which has a powerful growl you can hear down the block without thinking someone has lost a muffler; and, if you floor the pedal, will rock you back in your seat hard enough for you to recall being a dumb teenager, then the New York Auto Show has a set of wide wheels for you. Some may fit your household budget, and some may just fit into your imagination. They come with old fashioned American swagger, as well as foreign flair.

For starters, let’s say you are a family man and want to be somewhat “responsible” and get a car which can take the family to the grocery store and the kids to school when you are not looking for an empty, unpatrolled road to really roll on. Detroit has two family-friendly, fast cars to choose from, and the Germans have added a third.

First, there is the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT-8, a well-heeled SUV from the renovated Chrysler-Fiat group which can get the kids to their soccer game at 150 miles an hour. You will be traveling tire to 20-inch tire with the Porsche Cayenne, which was also designed to help you pick up the school kids in a hurry. Both are luxury SUVs, with wood paneling, an elaborate music and entertainment system, and a price tag that’s well south of $100,000. Porsche used to have a decided edge in interior comfort, but the redesign and attention to quality and detail in the new Chrysler-Fiat company significantly trims the difference down to a simple matter of personal taste.

If the notion of an SUV is not to your liking, Cadillac has a station wagon for you that rolls along on 19-inch aluminum wheels. The CTS-V Sport Wagon – a slightly larger version of the 180-mile-per-hour CTS-V supercar – uses the same 6.2-liter V-8 engine cranking out 556 horsepower. The station wagon will only get you 150 miles an hour – which is no better than the SUVs – but it looks good doing it.

Okay. Skip being responsible.

You want a car like the one you wish you had when you were younger.  In that case, Detroit has brought back several muscle cars, and made the engines bigger, the cars faster, the gadgets more numerous and the seats larger to accommodate older and bigger drivers.

At the top of the heap is the 220 mile per hour Corvette ZR-1. Its supercharged V-8 engine cranks out 638 horsepower and lets the car bolt from 0 to 60 miles per hour in about 3 seconds. The 2012 ‘Vette has 19-inch wheels in front and 20-inch wheels in its bulging back for added stability. That’s a step up from the zooming Corvette Z-06, which is clocked at just 198 miles per hour. The EPA says the new Corvette can get around 14 miles per gallon of gas though, at that speed, who is checking for anything except the Highway Patrol?

Slightly slower – somewhere between 190 and 200 miles per hour – is GM’s Chevy Camaro ZL-1, with a 6.2-liter, turbo-charged, 550-horsepower, V-8 engine. This Camaro looks a lot like it did in the 60s – only faster. If you drop down below 190 MPH, you can find the iconic, Ford Mustang Shelby GT 500. It is still a head turner a half century after Steve McQueen went airborne chasing the bad guys up and down San Francisco’s unreasonably steep hills in one. Under the Mustang’s recognizable hood is a 550 horsepower, supercharged V-8 engine which costs only $50,000 and, according to the EPA, can get 23 miles per gallon of gasoline while racing down the highway. The mileage may be less if there are frequent stops for police.

Dropping down about 100 horsepower, but keeping up the image and speed is the 2012 Dodge Charger, with a 6.4-liter, Hemi V-8 engine. It looks a lot like the one the Dukes of Hazard drove – but meaner.

Perhaps American muscle cars, whose designs are geared to men, aren’t up to your aesthetic standards. A professional woman on the go may opt for one of the more beautifully designed cars on the road, the Jaguar XKR-S.  While the Jaguar is easily recognized for its soft, smooth-flowing lines, there is nothing soft about it. Under the gently sloping hood is a 550-horsepower engine which can rocket the car from 0 – 60 miles per hour in 4.2 seconds en route to a top speed of about 185.

Which means the woman who shells out more than $100,000 for the XKR-S will look very good as she leaves you way behind.

If you dole out about $175,000, you can get behind the wheel of the 190 mile-per-hour Porsche Panamera, whose 550-horsepower turbo-charged engine lets you race down the highway while getting 23 miles to the gallon of premium gasoline – which is pretty good for this segment. But if you like the looks of the Panamera but want to be more ecologically minded, there is a hybrid version of the Panamera. Its combined V-6 gasoline engine and electric motor deliver just 380 horsepower and the top speed is only 167 miles per hour. But while the hybrid can’t run with the really big dogs on the road, its price is only $95,000 – which means you save enough to add a Corvette to your garage.

And then, for performance and elegance, there is the Bentley Continental GT, the ultimate in refined, expensive, muscle cars. For $250,000, one can slide behind the wheel of one of the world’s fastest production sedans, whose W-12, twin-turbocharged engine cranks out  567 horsepower, jets the car from 0 – 60 miles per hour in 4.4 seconds and 0 – 100 in 10.2 seconds with a top speed of an even 200 miles per hour.

The exterior refinements on the 2012 Continental GT are subtle: the rear was widened an inch and a half and there is a soft ridge which curls around the front wheels and flows through the middle of the door handle towards the humped, 21-inch rear wheels. The big changes are in the interior electronics. The continental now has a touchscreen driving the infotainment system featuring a 30 GB hard drive as well as satellite radio and connections for iPods, flash drives and MP3 players.

Traveling in the Bentley Continental GT means going places in very expensive style. But with the exception of the guy in the little Corvette, no one is going to get to their destination faster.


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