Posts Tagged ‘GM’

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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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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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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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Regal Roading by Buick

February 9, 2011

By Roger Witherspoon

The weather forecast called for 60 mile per hour wind gusts, and eight inches of rain.

Unfortunately, that really didn’t explain the condition on the ground, on single lane roadways meandering through Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountain region. It seemed as if the sky had simply opened, dumping its liquid contents on the region in a continuous, eye-blurring splash. The picturesque brooks serenely coursing around the expanse of the Poconos Raceway had turned into ugly, 20-foot wide expanses of white water rapids that left their little banks and took over the track.

And the roadways out of the region were no better. Wetlands by the roadway became lakes, spilling little rivers and racing streams across roads and turning any dip in the roadway into an instant pond. The road itself was covered with a sheet of fast moving water. These were the kinds of conditions that made one wish for a Hummer, Land Rover or some other heavy duty off road vehicle.

But this was a day for luxury roading and I was cruising along in a new Buick Regal. Mary Mary was embedded in the entertainment system’s 10-gigabyte hard drive, belting “Get Up” from the sedan’s nine Harmon-Kardon speakers – a tune which seemed appropriate as the Regal pounded through puddles and parted streams, sending mini- mountains of spray in all directions.  At times, it seems as if the sharply sloping hood of the Buick was diving into a pool, as it plunged into a deep, road crossing stream and the spray rolled up the front and over the windshield.

At this point, there was a nod of thanks to the GM engineers who developed a computer-coordinated stability and traction control system so the Regal always moved in a straight line, whether or not individual wheels were on the road or in the sea. It is not the most powerful of sedans: the Regal has a 2.4 liter, I-4 engine cranking out just 182 horsepower. And while the EPA says the small engine can get up to 29 miles per gallon in highway driving, in the real world it drank regular gas at a modest rate of 22 MPG.

But this is a relatively light sedan, designed to counter the popular, aggressive, Acura TSX and Volvo S-60, so the small engine is not problematic.  For those who want a little more Zoom from their cars, the Regal does offer twin turbos for the engine, which boosts its horsepower to 220. Still, this was never intended to be a racing car, or leave tracks in the road from tire-squealing take-offs. It is a mid-sized sedan intended for comfortable cruising and, in that regard, the power plant is quite sufficient.

The rain didn’t let up. But after 60 miles of back roads, running water and the occasional lost frog I hit Interstate 80 and it was time to switch from the driving gospel of Mary Mary to a mellower sound of Miles.  It continued to rain, but after slogging through the mountain roads, the six lane interstate was a welcome treat.

Outwardly, the Buick Regal CXL is a teardrop-shaped, wide bodied, smooth-rolling vehicle whose most distinctive feature is the trademark,  big, grinning grill. It’s attractive, though not a head-turner. A lot more care went into designing the interior, which is characterized by a décor that is two-toned leather accented by wood paneling, with front seats that are wide, power adjustable, and heated.

There is an entertainment system, which is controlled by voice command, fingertip wheels on the leather steering wheel, or from the dashboard console. The system has a single disc CD player, XM satellite radio, a USB port and iPod and MP3 connections. The hard drive allows you to copy an entire CD or individual songs from the disc and arrange your music box any way you choose. The satellite radio also is coordinated with the navigation system, providing real time traffic and weather warnings and, where possible, allowing you to change your route to detour around the problem. In this case, the storm blanketed the East coast, and there was nothing to do but plow through it and trust the 19-inch wheels to hold the road.

The rear seats don’t recline, but there is enough room between the front and back for the average 6-footer to travel long distances comfortably.  At night, soft lighting emanates around the dash and in the cup holders and door pockets, making it unnecessary to fumble around for items.

BM, which has made quite a comeback from its recent bankruptcy, is counting on the understated Buick Regal to make a mark against its flashier rivals. Considering all that is offered in this $31,000 package, it may give the big boys a run for their money.

2011 Buick Regal CXL Sedan

MSRP:                                                                       $31,030

EPA Mileage:                        18 MPG City                          29 MPG Highway

As Tested Mileage:                                                   22.4 MPG Mixed

Performance / Safety:

2.4-Liter I-4, DOHC, cast aluminum engine producing 182 horsepower and 172 pound/feet of torque; 6-speed automatic transmission; stability and traction controls; daytime running lamps; 4-wheel disc brakes; fog lamps; Halogen headlamps; 19-inch painted alloy wheels; front & side impact front and driver airbags; head curtain front & rear airbags.

 

Interior / Comfort:

AM/FM/XM satellite radio; OnStar communication; Bluetooth; 9-speaker Harmon-Kardon sound system; navigation system; CD and MP3 player; iPod and USB port with 10-GB hard drive; power sunroof; tilt & telescoping leather steering wheel with fingertip audio, phone, and cruise controls; 120-volt power outlet; heated front leather seats; power adjusted driver seat.

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