Posts Tagged ‘2012 Car Reviews’

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Rolling and Profiling In the Cadillac SRX

March 13, 2012


By Roger Witherspoon

 

            For much of the last decade, there seemed to be a rule in Detroit that all one needed to have a successful, popular SUV was to make it big. It could be ugly, uncomfortable, and drink gas like an alcoholic robot and, the belief was, it would sell if it was BIG, ugly and uncomfortable.

But times changed, and the folks who wrote the old rules at General Motors took a long overdue hike when the government stepped in to finance a structured reorganization. The result was a new look, style, and feel in the GM fleet. That change was particularly noticeable in the Cadillac line, which no longer resembles the “hogs” of olden days and relies on style rather than just a venerated name to lure buyers. And in the SUV department, the new look is particularly evident in the five-passenger, mid-sized SUV, the Cadillac SRX.

Cadillac had to put quite a lot of thought into the SRX, as it entered a tough division anchored by the Lexus RX, Audi Q-5, Acura MDX, and the high-powered BMW X-5 and Porsche Cayenne.

            On the outside, the SRX has a profile closest to the Lexus RX, with a low roofline sloping to the rear.  But that’s as far as the resemblance goes. This generation of Cadillacs takes its styling cues from the angular lines of stealth aircraft, with intersecting triangles and sharp edges.  There is nothing soft about its appearance, though it is defiantly sleek and windswept. The front is angular and no nonsense, slanting downwards over the 20-inch wheels towards the street, as opposed to the sharply rising front of the Porsche Cayenne and BMW X-5.

Powering the SRX is a 3.6-liter, aluminum V-6 engine producing 308 horsepower and 265 pound-feet of torque. The car is not built for racing a Porsche, and takes time to get up to speed. But once it is moving, there is more than enough power to propel the SRX towards the triple digit mark on the speedometer.  And if you really want to spent part of your vacation in a fast car, the SRX can tow 3,500 pounds – which  means you can bring your Porsche or Dodge Charger along with you.

The SRX’ power plant is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission with a smooth-shifting, electronic manual mode and all wheel drive. The SRX’ never quite feels like a car when you are driving it particularly on sharp, hairpin turns. But it hugs the roads and even at high speeds, with its wide stance and traction control, you don’t have the fearful sensation of being at the mercy of a runaway truck.

Ed Welburn, the artist in charge of GM’s crayons, put a lot of thought into the riding experience. Upon entering, the first thing you notice is the wide, double sun roof which opens the interior to the sky and adds both light and a feeling of spaciousness that makes the SRX feel larger than it actually is. There is a power sunscreen which can cover the rear or both skylights. The front skylight is also powered and can be tilted for more air or completely opened.

The interior décor is primarily two-toned, double-stitched leather with wood accents on the doors.  Each door has thick, leather, padded armrests and two, long  trays: a shallow one just under the arm rest to hold cell phones or other small items, and a deeper, wider one near the floor which runs the full length of the door and can hold a 12-ounce water bottle and enough maps for a cross-country drive.

For comfort, the front set of thickly padded seats are wide, power adjustable and can be heated or air cooled.  In the front section of the driver’s seat can extend up to six inches for great support of long-legged drivers. In the rear, there is enough leg room for three average sized adults or a pair of basketball players pushing the seven foot mark. These seats can be heated and either laid flat to enlarge the cargo area, or laid back for a comfortable snooze.

In the entertainment sector, the SRX covers the lot. There is an easy to use navigation system with an eight-inch touch screen. The SRX’ electronic offerings include XM radio – which also provides traffic and weather updates – as well as a CD and MP3 player, USB and iPod ports. There is a 40-gigabyte hard drive to install your personal collection of a few thousand songs or movies; and a 10-speaker Bose sound system. The back of the front seats have built-in screens for watching movies or playing video games, using wireless headsets so as not to interfere with the music emanating in the front of the car. Or, if the car is sitting still, the front occupants can also watch the videos.

As with most GM vehicles, there are two cell phone communications systems on the SRX: Bluetooth and OnStar. The Bluetooth system is easy to set up and if you have a smartphone can be used for voice communications as well as playing your stored music through the car’s sound system. OnStar, GM’s satellite driven communications and service network, can handle calls in areas where there are no cell towers, and can provide turn-by-turn navigation instructions. There is also live concierge service, which can connect to emergency police and medical responders, or make reservations at a restaurant in the next town.

For a top level SUV, GM has offered a lot for $51,000. But given the quality of the other luxury, mid-sized SUVs on the market, Cadillac had to step up to a demanding marketplace, or stay out of it. The market has yet to determine the winner in this four-wheeled competition. But the 2012 SRX is likely to be a competitor.


2012 Cadillac SRX

 

MSRP:                                                                        $51,055

EPA Mileage:                        16 MPG City                          23 MPG Highway

Towing Capacity:                                                      3,500 Pounds

 

Performance / Safety:

 

3.6-Liter cast aluminum DOHC V-6 engine producing 308 horsepower and 265 pound/feet of torque; all wheel drive; 6-speed automatic transmission; 4-wheel power assisted disc brakes; independent strut front suspension; linked H-arm rear suspension; 20-inch aluminum wheels; stability and traction control; heated outside mirrors; fog lamps; back-up camera; adaptive xenon headlights; driver and front passenger front & side impact airbags; rear side head curtain airbags.

Interior / Comfort:

 

AM/FM/XM satellite radio; 10-speaker Bose surround sound system with 40 gigabyte hard drive; CD and  DVD player with wireless headsets and 2 rear seat screens;  MP3, USB and iPod connections; Bluetooth; OnStar; tilt and telescope, leather and wood, heated steering wheel with fingertip audio, phone and cruise controls;  heated and air cooled, front leather seats; heated rear leather seats; front and rear climate controls; powered sunroof and sunshade; satellite navigation system with 8-inch touch screen.

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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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The Infiniti M-35 Hybrid: Sometimes a Gas Saver

February 21, 2012


By Roger Witherspoon

 

            I knew it was a hybrid. I just didn’t care.

Saving money in a hybrid is mostly a matter of with fulfillment: you want better mileage, so you drive differently than you normally would. Instead of burning rubber, you take off slowly, allowing the electric motor to accelerate the car at a rate slow enough to allow you to finish your morning cup of tea before reaching the nearest intersection.

On the highway, you avoid the passing lanes and go with the slow flow. If you have to change lanes, you wait till there is an opening rather than hitting the accelerator and jumping into a small, moving slot.  All the while, you are watching a luminous dial by the speedometer giving you a second by second reading of your gasoline miles per gallon – and you really, really like the number to be north of 50. It’s a sensible, safe, self-taught, economic way to drive – but only if you are in the mood to be sensible, safe, and economic.

Which brings this discussion back to a sunny day with a dry, nearly empty highway, and the 2012 Infiniti M-35 hybrid. At the push of a button, the eight-inch, color navigation screen  readily shows you where the power is coming from – the 302-horsepower, V-6 gasoline engine, the 67 horsepower electric motor, or both if you mash the pedal to the floor.  The latter move, of course, defeats the purpose of a gas saving hybrid.

But then, the hybrid combo can be viewed as a gasoline engine enhancer, rather than a gas saver – and the nearly 200 pound-feet of additional torque provided by the electric motor directly to the axels pushes this hybrid, family sedan into the category of a sports car.

So I floored it. The 18-inch rear wheels dug in as the M shot forward, the speedometer hitting 60 in just over five seconds and passing 100 and the quarter mile in just over 13 seconds. And then, since one can’t go too far or fast on the Northeast highways without upsetting the guys with the sirens and guns, it was time to slow down, act responsibly, and enjoy the ride.

One can actually get a speeding ticket while acting responsibly in the M-35 – its electric motor is capable of pushing the car past 60 miles per hour, about twice the norm for most hybrid electric motors. The combined system provides the power of a V-8 engine while sipping gasoline like a more sedate 4-cylinder, Audi A-4. The sedan has an EPA rating of 27 miles per gallon in the city and 32 miles per gallon on the highway – but if you drive for fun the actual mileage is likely to be considerably lower and you’ll just have to grin and pay at the pump.

      There are a number of thoughtful features in the M, beginning with the notion that if you pay $65,000 for a car you want a lot of comfort and amenities in addition to speed. Buyers in this range are looking for more than mere transportation: The car, as an art form, has to have an irresistible, aesthetic appeal. With the M-35, you can start with the sculptured theme of flowing raindrops. The outer shell is wide with a hump over each front wheel, tapering towards the rear as if the car were comprised of a flattened bubble flanked by two stretched raindrops. It is a theme repeated inside, with oak wood grain flowing in gentle curves across the dashboard and around the chrome door handles.

Infiniti’s designers also gave some thought to pedestrians, who might not hear the car coming if it is in electric mode. The biggest danger to pedestrians comes when cars are slowing down to turn, and those who listen but don’t look are particularly threatened by hybrids and plug-in electrics. So the electric motor has a built-in whine which comes on when the car starts, and gets louder as the car drives, cutting off at 15 miles per hour on the assumption that pedestrians aren’t in the middle of fast moving traffic.

The central console is nine inches wide, containing a cup holder designed to securely hold two large cups or water bottles side by side, and a thickly padded arm rest over a deep storage bin. The arm rest is wide enough to be comfortably shared by the driver and passenger, and adds to the spacious feel of the interior.

The wide leather seats are power adjustable, have powered lumbar supports and as expected, the may be heated. The leather-wrapped steering wheel telescopes and tilts, contains fingertip audio, cruise and Bluetooth controls and at the touch of a button is also heated – which is really appreciated at this time of year. The leather padding on the dash and side walls are offset by generous use of wood trim made from Japanese ash.

Like most cars of this era, the M-35 uses an “intelligent” electronic key, which merely has to be inside the vehicle in order for you to start it by pushing the ignition button. But this key is a bit smarter than most. Once you have set your seat, mirrors, climate controls and turned on the audio system to your preferred sounds, the key memorizes it and makes any necessary adjustments as soon as you start the car.

For sound, the M comes with XM satellite radio, as well as a USB port and iPod connections. The Bluetooth, which is easy to set up for cell phones, also serves to provide music from a smartphone or other Bluetooth music system. It has a single disc CD player and surround sound provided by a 16-speaker Bose system. In addition, there is a 9.3 Gigabyte hard drive music box to store 1,000 or so of your favorite jams. The XM satellite system also serves to provide real-time traffic updates for the navigation system, which is both easy to use and see on an 8-inch color pop-up monitor.

The M-35 offers a lot for those interested in a comfortable, fuel efficient, luxury sedan. It also offers a lot for those who are primarily interested in performance sports sedans and consider gas mileage a secondary consideration.

Sometimes, it’s nice to have choices.

2012 Infiniti M-35 Hybrid

 

MSRP:                                                                        $65,395

EPA Mileage:                        27 MPG City                          32 MPG Highway

 

Performance / Safety:

 

            0 – 60 MPH                                                    5.2 Seconds

            ¼ Mile                                                            13.9 Seconds at 103 MPH

            Top Speed                                                      140 MPH

3.5-Liter DOHC aluminum alloy V-6 engine producing 302 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque; 50 KW electric motor producing 67 horsepower and 199 pound-feet of torque; hybrid net power 369 horsepower;  rear wheel drive; 7-speed automatic transmission with electronic manual shift mode; double-wishbone, independent front suspension; multi-link independent rear suspension; regenerative brake system; 4-wheel vented disc brakes; anti-lock braking system; 18-inch, 5-spoke, aluminum-alloy wheels; rear view camera; high-intensity, bi-functional Xenon headlights; traction and stability controls; side impact airbags; roof-mounted curtain side impact air bags; blind spot and lane departure warning systems; blind spot intervention.

Interior / Comfort:

 

AM/FM/XM satellite radio; Bose digital audio system with 16 speakers; single disc CD player; MP3, iPod and USB ports; Bluetooth phone and audio; 9.3 GB hard drive Music Box; 8-inch video screen; backup and forward monitor; heated steering wheel and front seats; voice activated navigation system; leather, tilt and telescoping steering wheel with fingertip audio, cruise, and phone controls;  Japanese white ash wood trim; front and rear seat climate controls;  power, tinted sunroof; power rear sunshade.

Competition: BMW 5 Series; Mercedes Benz E-Class

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Mercedes C-300: The All-Purpose Luxury Car

December 31, 2011

 

By Roger Witherspoon

 

The snow was no problem.

It was only about two inches deep and, at that level, most cars would ignore it. But the temperature kept skipping just above freezing, producing cold rain, and then heading back south, turning the white stuff into a two inch glaze. It was the kind of road conditions made primarily for snow plows, tow trucks, and Jeeps and if I didn’t have to take a low riding, sleek, Mercedes sports sedan out during the middle of this mess I wouldn’t have.

Not that it mattered. With some cars, icy conditions are problematic and the only way to move is by disconnecting the electronic traction control because the continuous, unpredictable, uneven skidding among the tires crashes the wheels’ computer system. That was not a problem here. While the five-spoke, 18-inch aluminum wheels and  all-weather radials looked good on the four-wheel drive Benz, they were also quite functional and treated the ice as just another hard surface.

That was helpful on the Taconic Parkway rolling through the Franklin D. Roosevelt State park behind a fast moving Jeep Cherokee. We entered a slight curve in the highway and the rear of the SUV began to sashay back and forth. The driver, panicking, hit the accelerator in an effort to bull his way through the ice – which was precisely the wrong thing to do. The Jeep did a slow 360 across the three-lane highway and ended up on the shoulder.

            I eased up on the C-300’s accelerator to give the Jeep space to dance across the lanes, and then easily cruised around him and continued on my way. There is a lot to be said for having four-wheel drive, traction control and appropriate tires.

            The new Mercedes Benz C-300 is a four-door sports sedan whose long, sleek, low silhouette is intended to turn heads. But its exterior design, for all its eye-catching details, is always second to its primary function providing safe, sure, extremely comfortable transport in all conditions. In that regard, the Mercedes C-300 is a petty package on a really efficient, versatile, sports sedan that offers a lot for about $48,000.

Under the hood is a relatively small power plant for a sports model, producing just 228 horsepower. But it is mated to a seven speed, automatic transmission which seamlessly gets the most torque out of each gear and effortlessly shifts among them. The quality of the transmission is particularly evident when used in electronic manual mode on an open road. It is not a car for drag racing – the top speed is just 130 miles per hour, and it accelerates from 0 – 60 in just over seven seconds. But except for Saturday night drag racing on certain urban streets, you really don’t use maximum acceleration unless you are already on the road and need to pass something in a hurry or get out of the way. And when it matters, the C-300’s power plant can deliver.

The ability to maneuver on icy terrain is part of a package of road condition safety features Mercedes hopes will steer buyers to its showrooms the same way Volvo cars have traditionally drawn those who view safety and stability as primary features.  In addition to the relatively standard traction and stability controls, Mercedes’ engineers have added capabilities, such as cross wind sensors which actually shift the angle of the car’s chassis to slightly tilt into the wind. The effect of the innovation is particularly noticeable on mountain curves, where you can hear the wind howling down the side of the mountain towards you, only to flow harmlessly over the changed silhouette.

This Mercedes has side radar alerting the driver to the presence of cars on either side when changing lanes – a feature that is becoming common in upscale cars. But Mercedes has changed it from a passive system noting objects in the area, to an active safety system calculating how fast the distance between the cars is closing. The system can do two things: alert the drive to a possible pending collision and, if a crash is imminent, apply safety features such as tightening safety belts, reducing speed, and readying airbags.

            Inside the sedan is what you would expect to find in a luxury car: a powered sunroof and rear window sunscreen; soft, powered, leather seats which are heated in front and can fold in the rear; and a host of electronic gear. The leather-wrapped steering wheel tilts and telescopes, and has fingertip controls for cruise, information, audio, and easy to use Bluetooth. There is a 7-inch pop-up color screen for the navigation and entertainment systems.

For music there is a 6-disc CD player, as well as connections for USB drives, iPods, and MP3 players, as well as a six gigabyte hard drive to carry 1,500 or so of your personal favorites. The music emanates from eight speakers, producing a smooth surround-sound blanket which could lull you to sleep – except there is an alarm which goes off if the car drifts into another lane or onto the shoulder.

Whether one is driving through snowy, seasonal Nor’easters or watching the speedometer hit triple digits while rolling past mountaintop windmills in the Berkshire Mountains in Massachusetts, the C-300 provides quite a ride.

 


2012 Mercedes Benz C300

 

MSRP:                                                                        $47,850

EPA Mileage:                        17 MPG City                          24 MPG Highway

 

Performance / Safety:

 

3.0-Liter DOHC V-6 engine producing 228 horsepower and 221 pound-feet of torque; 7-speed automatic transmission with electronic manual mode; 4-matic all wheel drive; 3-link independent front suspension; multi-link independent rear suspension; 18-inch, 5-spoke alloy wheels; 4-wheel disc brakes; electronic stability program; dual 2-stage front airbags; side airbags; head protection curtains; dual front pelvic airbags.

 

Interior / Comfort:

 

AM/FM/Sirius satellite radio ; voice controlled 7-inch retractable color display;  6-disc CD/DVD player with 6 GB hard drive; iPod, USB, and MP3 connections; Bluetooth  phone and music connection; 8 speakers;  tilt and telescope steering wheel with fingertip cruise, phone and entertainment controls; voice activated navigation; power sunroof; heated front seats; split, fold flat rear seats; powered rear sunshade.

 

 

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Dodging Arrows and Raising Dust: Revving the Horses in a CTS-V

October 15, 2011


 

By Roger Witherspoon

 

The hawk sat motionless, like death on a holiday, in the arms of the elm tree, its brown wings blending in to the yellow and brown fall canopy billowing over the Taconic highway rolling through the Hudson River Highlands.

It was easy to tell it was a teenage predator, by the color of its tail feathers, and the unmistakably cocky attitude as it cocked its head and slowly surveyed the Cadillac CTS-V Coupe on the grassy knoll below it. There was a grudging sense of approval as it gazed at the sharply angular face, with the short open-mouthed grill over an aggressive, low scoop with the Cadillac emblem resting in the middle. As a bird of prey, the hawk’s nose has a center mounted pillar which produces a more even air flow as it dives at speeds exceeding 100 miles an hour.

            The emblem on the face of the CTS-V doesn’t serve quite that function. Its eight-cylinder, 556-horsepower, supercharged V-8 engine replaces the wings and propels the car from 0-60 in just 3.9 seconds, en route to a top speed of  196 miles per hour. The coupe’s windshield slopes sharply back, melding into a side expanse of glass on the sides. That provides a wide field of vision which the hawk can only emulate by swiveling its head 180 degrees.

The sides of the CTS-V are heavy and smooth, with a slight airfoil at the bottom seemingly designed to help it glide through the air. In reality, the CTS-V is decidedly earth bound, with angular shapes modeled after those old stealth fighters to minimize air interference and keep noise to a minimum. In fact, even at speeds approaching 200 miles an hour, the interior of the coupe is surprisingly quiet, the result of a blend of heavy padding and smooth design. Its airfoil is such that the car is quieter at speeds over 80 MPH than under it.

The rear is pointed, with wide red tail lights flanking the corners – a touch the juvenile hawk could respect since its tail feathers turn redder with age and experience. The young hawk cocked its heard in that universal, teenage arrogant gesture meaning “I could take you if I wanted to.” And then it flew off.

Actually, it couldn’t.

If one were to believe the latest round of Cadillac commercials the CTS-V, one of the world’s fastest production cars, was designed to emulate the aerodynamics of a high performance bow and arrow (  http://bit.ly/p8fCsd  ). And as if to prove the point, the car takes off over the straight desert course just as a small army of archers loose their black-shafted arrows. Not surprisingly, they never catch up with their streaking target.

While the imagery of the black hunting arrows chasing the streaking black Cadillac – whose paint is infused with soft gold flecks which make sunlight dance off its skin – is captivating, in reality the origins of the design are grounded in the modern Air Force. For Ed Welburn, General Motors’ design chief, the latest incarnation of the Cadillac is an evolutionary knockoff of fighter jet technology. The huge tailfins on the Cadillacs of the 1950s emulated the technology of the huge, lumbering, Korean War-era bombers that ruled the period’s skies. They were known more for their size than speed – hence the common nickname of Hogs.

The new edition, however, takes its design cues from the angular stealth fighters, capable of racing half way around the globe and attacking before anyone knows they are there.

This new edition Cadillac comes in three flavors: the standard, $50,000  CTS Coupe, powered by a 304-horsepower V-6 engine; the supercharged, $71,000 CTS-V Coupe; and the slightly slower, 191-mile per hour, CTS-V Station Wagon whose sticker price is about $71,500. All of them roll on 19-inch wheels. The latter was introduced at the 2010 New York Auto Show and when asked why he would design a racing station wagon Welburn replied, grinning, “Because we can. Besides, does that look like a station wagon to you?”

   The station wagon bears no resemblance whatsoever to the surfboard-toting family wagons popularized by Hollywood beach movies of a bygone era. In fact, the functional station wagon did not look like one at all. The rear was more tapered, the windows were trapezoids under a sloping roof reminiscent of Acura’s crossover, the ZDX, and the front was the aggressive grill of the Cadillac cat.

“Who wouldn’t want one?” asked Welburn, rhetorically.

It can be a family car. There was more than enough room in the back to take three grandchildren – two of them still in children seats – and assorted toys and presents on a day trip through Virginia’s scenic Blue Ridge Mountains. Two tall adults would also enjoy the ride in the rear seats. And when the kids were gone, the rumble of the big V-8 engine became a smooth, baritone vibration as the speedometer hit 120 along the sparsely traveled mountain highway.

The interior of the Cadillac triplets are what you might expect from a premium car line.  The interior décor is leather with a generous amount of wood accent on the steering wheel, doors and dash.  The steering wheel, with fingertip audio, Bluetooth, and cruise controls, tilts and retracts. The CTS features a pop up, seven-inch, touch information screen which makes the satellite-augmented navigation system extremely easy to use. It also provides crystal clear viewing from the backup camera.

            For entertainment, there is a single disc CD player, iPod, USB and MP3 connections, as well as AM/FM and XM Satellite radio. The system contains a massive 40-gigabyte hard drive to hold a few thousand of your personal favorite tunes, and the sound comes clearly through a Bose system.

If there is a down side, it’s that the huge engine with the CTS-V drinks gasoline like kids go through soda. The CTS-V wagon, with an EPA rating of 14 miles per gallon in city driving and 19 miles per gallon on the highway, carries a $1,300 gas guzzler tax while the Coupe, with a 12 mile per gallon rating in the city and 18 miles per gallon on the highway, has a $2,600 gas guzzling penalty. That’s not surprising. The actual mileage for the wagon, for example, was slightly less than its EPA billing, at 12.5 MPG in city driving and 18 MPG on the open road. The stats for the Coupe were just 10 MPG in the city and 17 MPG on the highway. The standard CTS with the V-6 engine avoids the tax and has an EPA rating of 18 MPG in the city and 27 MPG on the highway.

But you don’t get a Cadillac – particularly one with GM’s most powerful engine – if saving gas is your primary concern. You get it for the comfort and the joy of driving.

And if low flying in style is what you crave, the Cadillac CTS-V provides a good place to start.

 

2012 Cadillac CTS-V Wagon

 

MSRP:                                                                                               $71,485

EPA Mileage:                        14 MPG City                          19 MPG Highway

As Tested Mileage:           12.5 MPG City                       18 MPG Highway

 

Performance / Safety:

           

                                    0 – 60 MPH                            3.9 Seconds

                                    Top Speed                              191 MPH

 

2012 Cadillac CTS-V Black Diamond Edition Coupe

 

MSRP:                                                                                    $70,790

EPA Mileage              12 MPG City                          18 MPG Highway

As Tested Mileage:   10 MPG City                          17 MPG Highway

 

Performance / Safety:

 

                                    0 – 60 MPH                            3.9 seconds

                                    Top Speed                              196 MPH

6.2-Liter, supercharged, aluminum alloy V-8 engine producing 556 horsepower and 551 pound-feet of torque; 6-speed automatic transmission with electronic manual mode and paddle shifts; magnetic ride shocks; Bembro brakes; 4-wheel independent suspension; 19-inch aluminum wheels and Michelin performance tires; stability and traction control; fog lights; high definition headlamps with adaptive lighting; backup camera; front & side impact airbags; head curtain side airbags.

Interior / Comfort:

 

AM/FM/XM Satellite radio; Bose sound system; iPod, USB and MP3 connections; single disc CD Player; 40 GB hard drive; Bluetooth; tilt & telescope, leather wrapped steering wheel with fingertip audio, phone and cruise controls; OnStar; satellite navigation system with 7-inch pop-up screen; heated front seats; leather seating; split, folding rear seats.

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