Monday, 5 October 2009

First Drive: 2010 Acura ZDX

2010 Acura ZDX

Acura calls its all-new ZDX "a provocative luxury four-door sports coupe," adding that it's a "passionate getaway" vehicle designed for "a couple, their belongings, and more." The proclamation is a twist on a pitch we've heard before, yet with an even narrower segment focus. While the marketplace has come to accept the stylishly squashed Mercedes-Benz CLS, Volkswagen CC and Jaguar XF into the non-sedan segment, this new niche – pioneered by the BMW X6 and accepted by consumers if only because the Bavarian delivers the goods – is still a substantial risk that could require a hard sell with pithy prose.

So to kick-off Acura's all-new non-SUV, the automaker invited us to Southern California to drive the latest addition to its growing family. Constructed on the familiar MDX platform and sharing its powertrain, the ZDX pushes the automaker's styling and innovation to the limit – it's certainly not bland or boring. However, is there enough substance under the style to win buyers in this newly targeted segment? What game-winning cards, if any, does Acura really hold with its latest "sports coupe" SUV?
To understand the Acura ZDX, one needs to know a bit about the MDX, its incredibly close sibling. The MDX is a very competent, traditionally-designed, unibody crossover utility vehicle. Motivated by a 3.7-liter V6 and sending power through Acura's rather brilliant torque-distributing Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) system, the family-oriented MDX starts with a base price of just over $40,000. Now in its second-generation (last redesigned for the 2007 model year), the seven-passenger CUV delivers typical Acura innovation, utility, reliability and safety in a package that isn't going to raise anyone's pulse from behind the wheel. Regardless, its owners don't seem to care as it does a great job of accomplishing its objective of being a luxurious crossover.

Mechanically, the MDX and ZDX are very much alike, right down to the shared unibody design, wheelbase and track (the ZDX is slightly longer overall). Both crossovers feature the identical 300 horsepower, 3.7-liter VTEC V6 sending power through a new six-speed automatic, and Acura's SH-AWD powertrain is also standard fare on each. The curb weight of the ZDX is 4,431 pounds (with Tech package), undercutting the slightly heavier MDX by more than 100 pounds. While the sturdy MDX can tow a 5,000-pound trailer, the new ZDX is chassis-limited to just 1,500 pounds.

Although sharing much of the same DNA, these dizygotic twins are very different in physical appearance. Penned by the California-based Acura Design Studio, the sleek ZDX features bold fender flares that taper inward, hidden rear door handles, and an all-glass roof that stretches from front wipers to tailgate. The automaker accurately declares, "The ZDX is like nothing you have ever seen before from Acura." That statement may be true, but the exterior design bears more than a striking resemblance to the BMW X6 – its primary identified competitor.

More so than the aggressively styled BMW, the ZDX errs on the side of femininity. A proud parent boasting about the vehicle's edgy design, Acura repeatedly uses the word "sexy" to describe the skin of the ZDX. While we liked some of the touches (the sculpted rear quarter panels are pleasingly unique), we simply weren't struck by any carnal urges.

On the other hand, we were impressed with the ZDX's interior design. Instantly recognizable as an Acura family member, the cockpit is fresh and stylish. Driver and front passenger sit apart, separated by a sweeping dash with a tall center console. Overhead, the panoramic moonroof features two individual glass panels (not one large panel, as found with BMW). The front panel slides open, while the other is fixed. Rather than close them with an opaque shade, Acura utilizes a tight fabric mesh that allows visible light to permeate the cabin without transmitting heat or UV rays to the passengers. The primary instrument cluster features traditional round dials, while the center control panel (Acura calls it a "monolith" design) is coldly black until the audio system is switched on. From where we sit, Acura has done an amazing job within the cabin environment. Premium natural grain leathers and high quality plastics add a rich and warm feel to the cockpit. From the driver's seat, it looks, feels, and smells expensive.

There is little arguing with Acura's proclamation that the passenger compartment of the ZDX is designed primarily for the front two occupants (the automaker brazenly calls it a "two plus three" and points out that the front seats are the "primary passenger zone" while the rear is the "freedom" zone for gear... or three people). Thanks to that aforementioned styling, the sloping roof and tapered rear end cleanly remove the passenger space and utility enjoyed in the MDX. Shoehorned back there, we found the rear seats are small and cramped for anyone mildly claustrophobic or even a hair taller than Tom Cruise – we've heard that the Mazda RX-8 has more room in the second row. Just for confirmation, on the way home from driving the ZDX we hustled over to a local BMW dealer to sit in the rear seats of the X6 – they were generously cavernous by comparison.

Accessed through the standard power-operated tailgate, the rear cargo area is as nicely finished as the front passenger cabin. High-quality materials, metal-plated handles, and closed-loop carpet mean that golf bags, mountain bikes, or skis travel in their own first class compartment. While it would never be described as spacious, hidden panels line both sides for expansion, and there's a generous storage area under the floor. The second-row seats also fold flat, in a standard split arrangement, for any oversize items.

Acura will offer the ZDX in three different flavors: ZDX, ZDX Technology and ZDX Advance. All share the same powerplant and driveline, panoramic roof, all-leather interior, Bluetooth connectivity, rearview camera, 19-inch wheels and a 266-watt audio system with eight speakers. The ZDX Technology adds navigation, multi-view camera, AcuraLink® Satellite communications, real-time weather and traffic, keyless access and an upgraded 435–watt audio package with ten speakers and a 15 GB HDD. The ZDX Advance adds icing to the Technology package with added active suspension, adaptive cruise control, collision mitigation braking system, blind spot information system, ventilated seats and a sport steering wheel.

Pricing has not been announced, but Acura says the MSRP will be higher than the MDX, yet undercut the RL sedan. We figure you'll need about $45,000 to put one in your garage (in case you are wondering, the twin-turbo six-cylinder BMW X6 optioned equivalently will set you back about $70,000).

With the detailed product orientation behind us, we put the keyless entry/ignition fob in our pocket, hit the red start button, and pointed the ZDX towards the hills above Malibu.

Settled comfortably into the front seat, we immediately realize the styling has compromised the outward visibility (those are seriously thick C-pillars). Acura has attempted to increase sight lines with the additional tinted glass panel at the bottom of the tailgate. It works, but you must rely on the standard backup camera during reverse maneuvers. The seating position is coupe-like low, putting the front corners of the hood out of view from the driver's seat, and over the course of an afternoon, we never became overly comfortable with its dimensions.

Driven like a gentleman, the Acura ZDX is as mundane as a Honda Accord and as quiet as a private library. Acura engineers were obsessed with isolating passengers from unnecessary noise, vibration and harshness (NVH). Acoustic noise-absorbing mats, wheel housing insulators and special tire tread and compound limit much of the common road and mechanical noise. Much more impressive is the innovative, and standard, Active Noise Canceling system – essentially white noise piped through the audio system – to limit unwanted frequencies. The result is an amazingly quiet cabin that makes conversation easier and travel much more relaxing.

Romp on the gas in a spirited manner and the 3.7-liter V6 wakes up immediately (it will run to 60 mph from a standstill in about 6.5 seconds). It's an excellent powerplant, but not exactly engaging for the enthusiast with its unoriginal soundtrack mostly coming from under the hood (we were told the exhaust was tuned for duty in the ZDX, but you really can't hear the rear silencers from within the cabin). The six-speed transmission shifts nearly imperceptibly and it responds well to the steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters.

After being informed that Acura did suspension tuning at the famed Nürburgring, we took the opportunity to push the ZDX on some challenging canyon roads of our own. We sampled both models with and without Acura's active suspension (IDS alters suspension damping and steering effort) and found both handled about the same at the limit. Regardless of electronic intervention, the steering is rather numb on each. However, with a rock-solid platform and the variable (front-to-back and side-to-side) torque distribution of the SH-AWD clawing at the pavement, it was tough to break the ZDX's composure even when pushed beyond its limits.

The Achilles heel of this Acura's handling is found on all four corners – the all-season Michelin tires. While their standard size is meaty (255/50R19), the compound is strictly M+S (all-season) meaning they sing like holiday carolers when pushed above 6/10ths and slide like teenage snowboarders above 7/10ths. With 58 percent of the ZDX's mass over the front tires, we expected plenty of understeer at the limit. Surprisingly, it was rather balanced mid-drift and very controllable (credit goes to the SH-AWD, most likely). The ZDX will never be mistaken for a performance vehicle – it honestly isn't enjoyable to drive hard – but rest assured the Acura can handle the mission if it's ever called for duty.

We really don't know what to think of the ZDX. Acura has hit a home run with the interior appointments, chassis tuning, and cabin isolation. However, they swung and missed with second-row comfort, outward visibility, and fun-to-drive quotient. Targeted at the BMW X6, and marketed as a "Passionate Getaway" coupe for couples, the ZDX has been positioned in an awkward and rather diminutive niche. While Acura loyalists and enthusiasts lament the loss of performance-oriented vehicles such as the Integra Type-R and exotic NSX, the plebian ZDX debuts without a compelling reason to join the team.

[Source: Autoblog]

Ferrari crafts a dozen 599 HGTE specials for China

Ferrari 599 HGTE China Limited Edition
It wasn't so long ago that the idea of seeing an exotic Italian sportscar in mainland China was as much an anathema as a Chinese car in America. But the times, as one Mr. Dylan sang, they are a-changin.' Today, China is one of Ferrari's most important markets, where the red Prancing Horse shares the streets with the Red Dragon. To mark that relationship, Ferrari has announced a special edition exclusively for the Chinese market.

Based on the 599 GTB Fiorano with the company's new Handling GTE package, the China Limited Edition has been updated with special touches designed by Chinese artist Lu Hao: the starter button glows jade green, the tachometer features ancient Chinese characters instead of the usual numerals, and the luggage is emblazoned with a map of the Silk Road taken by the famous Italian explorer Marco Polo. The Rosso Fuoco paintjob with the gray roof mimics the 599XX, and only a dozen examples will be made – with over a billion people in the market, we're betting they'll be snapped up fast.

[Source: Ferrari]

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Review: 2010 Chevrolet Camaro SS

2010 Chevrolet Camaro SS

The 2010 Chevrolet Camaro has taken so long to get to here we wouldn't be surprised if Caravaggio did the original sketches. We wanted the car when we first saw it back in 6 B.C. We drove prototypes sometime around the Norman Conquest. And now it's finally on the streets. It seems like a mighty long time, but a Camaro SS finally found its way into our hands and it was like being delivered a mail-order bride we'd been corresponding with for ages, begging, "Please, just get here." But how long would our honeymoon last? Or would there be one at all? We hit the road to find out.

The largest potential impediment to a successful honeymoon for us and our Camaro bride was the memory of our first date. See, we had met once, in a distant land – well, San Diego – for the car's launch. And we have to admit we couldn't get the hang of it. The Camaro felt awesome in a straight line, perfect for devouring long, Midwestern B-roads where its true base will use it to make the leaves and homecoming queens tremble. But then we'd get to a kink in the road and things would fall apart. Numbness seemed to be the order du jour and the next thing we knew we were veering off into the oncoming lane. After experiencing the same sensation time and time again, it was obvious there was a disconnect between what we were doing and what the car was doing, but were weren't sure if it was us or the Camaro. By the end of the day, we crawled through any sharp, high-speed turn in a haze of reluctant frustration.

But you can't give up on a three-year love affair after one lackluster afternoon. We had to get one at home, spend some time with it, "get to know it" and then we could see if we just shared an off day together.

The Camaro has done the show circuit so long that belaboring its looks would be treading through old oatmeal, so we'll just make a couple of points. When our man Nunez drove the V6 RS, he commented on how close the six-pot was to the SS in appearance, with the front chin spoiler and rear diffuser insert being the major differences. He's right. It's really the wheels that make or break the Camaro, and if you get the RS package on the V6 you'll get the big spinners. But those minor aesthetic tweaks – the chin spoiler and (yes) fake hood scoop – make all the difference. It's subtle. Big and angry, but subtle.

On the inside, however, it's a mixed bag, with a big lump of coal at the bottom being the center console – embodied by the kind of display we haven't seen since our sixth grade alarm clock. It's novel and it isn't ugly, but every time we look at the gauges they scream, "This is where your money didn't go." And while we dig the combination of large buttons and dials for the radio and fan, the eight tiny buttons inside the knobs for specific vent and A/C settings required us to decipher each hieroglyph before we could pull away. Granted, if you've had your deposit in since the Ice Age and have finally taken delivery, you'll adapt. But getting acclimated takes a few tries and an occasional blast in the face from the A/C when you meant to deploy the defroster. Otherwise, the interior is fine – as long as you don't mind a lot of plastic.

The seats are large and relatively wide, though plenty comfy and still supportive when you need a hug. While the back seats are fine places to sit for short periods, if you're taller than 5' 9" you'll have to cock your head to the side, and if someone in front is over six foot tall, leg room gets decidedly spartan in quick order.

Although one of the Camaro's defining design elements is its high shoulder line and low greenhouse, you'll have to endure a few functional trade-offs. The low roof frame caused an occasional (and painful) head-to-headliner encounter when we leaned forward to look left, something we've only experienced when manning the helm of the Lamborghini Murcielago LP640.

The lower deck brings up another issue in the form of visibility, or better yet, opacity. At the four compass points, everything's fine. The rear window is smallish and the rearview mirror is... quaint, but everything you need to see is present and accounted for. However, we'd advise staying back when you get to intersections equipped with high-mounted traffic lights, otherwise they're out of sight and the horn orchestra is all too happy to let you know when things have changed from red to green.

If given enough fluting and capital, the A-pillar could do double-duty as an Ionic column. It's positively huge, and on curvy bits it always seems to be perfectly angled to stay between us and easy sight of the road, causing us to juke and jive for a clear view during mountain runs. By the same token, the blind spots are tremendous due to the massive width of the C-pillars. You can still get a bead on everything at your 5 and 7, but this isn't a quick flick over the shoulder and lane swap; it's look, check the mirror, look again, then ease over and listen for a crunch. It's the same experience the first time you pull out of an angled parking spot when you realize all you can do is say a prayer, roll down the windows and listen up. Thankfully, many of these shortcomings fall by the wayside once pointed straight and underway.

Our SS tester was fitted with the six-speed Tremec 6060, and it is a sweet-shifting transmission. Combined with gearing that's neither too short nor too long and 426 hp, you've got long, deep pulls through every ratio up to redline. Sadly, when you really get on it, the exhaust and sound deadening muffles the noise so thoroughly you can't hear the forces at your disposal.

The suspension veers toward sportiness, yet there's a healthy range in terms of comfort. The car can swallow all manner of bumps without saying, "All right, that hurt," unless they are exceptionally pointed or the sheer frequency gets ahead of the suspension's ability to keep things smooth. Freeways and long macadam roads are a breeze, but the real test comes in the canyons.

The Camaro's final exam was conducted on one of our favorite mountainous roads, and after a handful of corners we realized: Yes, we can make this relationship work. The steering is a tad numb on center, but turn it just a couple of degrees and it weights up quickly and smoothly; you know exactly where the wheels are and exactly where they're going to be.

Normally, our hands are planted at the 9 and 3 o'clock position, but the Camaro's tiller is so big we dropped them down to about 4:30 and 7:30 and simply fed the wheel through. For switchbacks we could throw a hand up and pull down, but the rack was quick enough to allow almost every turn to be handled by merely feeding line.

The gearing encouraged us to keep the car in second or third if the straights really opened up between corners. You could do a lot of shifting if you were trying to take home a trophy, but we found it much easier and just as satisfying to let the 426 horses do a little extra work when the revs got down below 2,500 RPM.

The Pirelli P Zeros (245/45 up front, 275/40 in back) ate it all up and didn't so much as grunt during the meal. By the time we were able to get some "We're really working now" noises out of the rubber, we'd approached the upper reaches of the Camaro's mechancial grip and understeer would come on in a smooth progression. At that point, you're a few clicks away from folly, but even then, the six-pot brakes up front and four-pots in the rears haul things down stupendously, and never faded on our runs up and over.

It was a glorious morning, and we basked in the afterglow when we got back. Until we got to the pump...

Gas gauges are, to be sure, imprecise things, but we've run the same stretch of canyon in numerous cars and we have never run out of gas as quickly as we did in the Camaro. On our first run we had an indicated quarter of a tank, but we had to stop before we even reached the top of the hill because the low fuel light came on. That's never happened before, but we're simultaneously unsurprised that it did.

She'll take you where you want to go and even do it just like you like... but you better make sure she's got a full tank.

When Alex drove the V6 RS, he said that model was the one to have if you were going to drive a Camaro every day. While we can understand his points, all of them valid... we say, "No way, Nunez." The SS is the one to get. The V6 might be almost as good for less money, but you just can't fake a V8; and at $35K for the kitted out version and that syrupy smooth six-speed, why should you? It isn't almost the thing, it is the thing... until the Z28 comes out.

[Source: Autoblog]

Michael Bay says Transformers 3 coming... on July 1, 2011

Transformers 3

We may have found this summer's blockbuster, Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen to be heavy on the sizzle and lean on the meat, but that doesn't mean we've written off the series – after all, it's hard to dismiss excellent CG work, the childhood toys of our youth... to say nothing of that siren Megan Fox.

Thankfully, director Michael Bay informs us via his official website that the next installment is already in the works, and it's been assigned a release date – July 1 of 2011. That's a long time from now, granted, but Bay intimates in his blog post that Megan Fox has already signed on for the TF3 project, and hopefully Shia LaBeouf will make the scene too. Bay is already meeting with Hasbro to discuss new characters, so we'd expect a few new transforming automobiles to show up as well.


By The Numbers - September 2009

By The Numbers - September 2009

Here it is, the first full month of sales after the government's popular Cash for Clunkers has ended. The expected result – that auto sales would plummet once the feds stopped handing out free money in exchange for clunkers – didn't exactly happen. Nine brands posted positive sales in September versus the same period in 2008 with another three posting single-digit losses.

Of course, there were automakers that dropped right back into the cellar, including General Motors (-44.98 percent) and Chrysler LLC (-42.06 percent). General Motors, however, is in the process of shrinking, shedding brands and dealers left and right, so its sub-par performance will be par for the course for a while. Chrysler LLC, however, apparently just can't compete with its dated products.

The Koreans have once again remained remarkably popular, with Hyundai sales up an incredible 27.24 percent and Kia enjoying a 24.39-percent rise. Subaru, which can usually be found on the sales podium along with the Koreans, fell back a bit but still managed a 0.70 percent increase. Ford, meanwhile, continues to out play its cross town rivals and delivered a decent -5.08 percent drop for the entire company and -4.06 percent fall for the Ford brand itself. The Blue Oval's September sales performance even bests its competition from Japan with Toyota (-12.65 percent), Honda (-20.07 percent) and Nissan (-7.0 percent) all down more.

Check out how the rest of the industry performed in the chart below.

NOTE: Audi not yet reported.

Brands and companies are both displayed in descending order according to their percentage change in volume sales. There were 25 selling days in September 2009 and 24 selling days in September 2008, so the change in monthly sales volume will be different than the change in the average daily sales rate for each brand/company.


Brand Volume % 9/09 9/08 DSR*%
Hyundai 27.24 31,511 24,765 22.15
Kia 24.39 21,623 17,383 19.42
Volvo 16.33 4,716 4,054 11.68
Lexus 11.80 17,939 16,045 7.33
Mini 9.73 4,128 3,762 5.34
Porsche 8.44 1,581 1,458 4.10
BMW 2.06 15,047 14,744 -2.03
Volkswagen 1.46 17,358 17,109 -2.60
Subaru 0.70 14,593 14,491 -3.32
Ford -4.06 98,516 102,685 -7.90
Nissan -5.80 48,783 51,786 -9.57
Cadillac -8.79 11,339 12,432 -12.44
Mercedes-Benz -9.55 16,985 18,779 -13.17
Mazda -11.97 14,234 16,169 -15.49
Infiniti -15.03 6,610 7,779 -18.43
Toyota -15.71 108,076 128,215 -19.08
Mercury -15.98 5,443 6,478 -19.34
Honda -19.23 69,970 86,629 -22.46
Jeep -19.34 17,287 21,431 -22.56
Lincoln -21.01 5,980 7,571 -24.17
Acura -27.39 7,259 9,997 -30.29
Buick -33.04 9,455 14,121 -35.72
Mitsubishi -36.13 4,712 7,378 -38.69
Chevrolet -40.66 102,538 172,803 -43.04
Dodge -42.68 35,864 62,572 -44.98
Pontiac -52.50 11,079 23,324 -54.40
GMC -52.96 18,359 39,029 -54.84
Smart -54.22 814 1,778 -56.05
Suzuki -54.42 1,861 4,083 -56.24
Chrysler -61.25 9,046 23,346 -62.80
Saab -72.58 484 1,765 -73.67
Hummer -81.46 426 2,298 -82.20
Saturn -83.85 2,993 18,528 -84.49

BMW Group 3.62 19,175 18,506 -0.53
Ford Motor Company -5.08 114,655 120,788 -8.87
Nissan North America -7.00 55,393 59,565 -10.72
Toyota Mo Co -12.65 126,015 144,260 -16.14
Honda America -20.07 77,229 96,626 -23.27
Chrysler Group LLC -42.06 62,197 107,349 -44.38
General Motors -44.89 156,673 284,300 -47.10