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First Drive: 2011 Nissan Leaf SL
Dec21

First Drive: 2011 Nissan Leaf SL

By Roger Boylan

GM’s short-lived electric car of the ‘90s, the EV1, was available in limited quantities as a lease-only proposition, so the 2011 Nissan Leaf is the first all-electric car the general public can buy. Its price is reasonable for such cutting-edge technology: around $25K, once Uncle Sam’s tax credit of $7500 is applied.  Is it worth it? It certainly has great promise, and it’s a well-conceived little car. I spent a short while behind the wheel of Leaf a couple of days ago–a very short while, unfortunately, the actual drive time  having been eaten into by a high-energy sales presentation from Nissan’s own Seinfeld-wannabe; I didn’t catch his name, and I ducked his pitch. I was there merely as an Techshake, desirous of completing my trifecta of electric-car tests (read about the Toyota PHV Prius here and the Chevrolet Volt here).

The Leaf is powered by a lithium-ion battery pack of the type familiar to me from the Prius Plug-In and Volt. Lithium-ion batteries offer quicker acceleration and a longer range than your common or garden nickel-metal hydride battery, but unfortunately, they’re still at a fairly rudimentary stage of development, with limited range and—in the Leaf—a dead weight of about 500 lbs. We were shown cutouts and diagrams by the comedian. But I was reassured to note that, notwithstanding the futuristic technology, the Leaf is a fairly normal-looking car, a four-door hatchback with that cloyingly cute Pokémon face so typical of small Japanese cars.

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NAIAS Preview: GMC Sierra All Terrain HD Concept
Dec20

NAIAS Preview: GMC Sierra All Terrain HD Concept

By Charles Krome

With the North American International Auto Show scheduled to open in Detroit in just a few weeks, we’re now starting to get information about some of the vehicles, both concept and otherwise, that are slated to make their debuts at the event. And one that’s particularly caught my eye is the GMC Sierra All Terrain HD Concept, because it’s an interesting sign of how the industry has changed in the past few years—and how it hasn’t.

As anyone who follows the industry knows, the most recent auto show seasons were primarily devoted to the showing of the green. High-efficiency small cars, hybrids and electric vehicles dominated the stands, with even supercar makers like Porsche and Ferrari getting in on the fun. Everyone seemed to be pretty geeked on the idea of a more fuel-efficient future except, it turns out, customers. Today, with fuel prices relatively stable here in the U.S., buyers are bringing renewed demand to the truck side of the business, and unsurprisingly, the “domestic” automakers are responding.

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Industry Hit by Recall Epidemic
Dec17

Industry Hit by Recall Epidemic

By Charles Krome

When news broke recently that Toyota was already recalling its all-new 2011 Sienna after just a few months on sale, it seemed like a stale joke. The Toyota Recallathon had already sucked up millions of vehicles from around the world and caused significant damage to the company’s standing here in the U.S. I know there have been some bright spots, but after once appearing to be in line to become the country’s top-selling automaker, Toyota is now well off the pace set by both GM and Ford. Worse, the company has seen sales decline in four of the past five months even as the industry itself has clearly begun rebounding. So, as I mentioned, the fact that some 94,000 Swagger Wagons are having brake-light issues was no shocker.

But when you cut through all the noise, it’s still an open question as to whether Toyota’s quality is any different than that of any other car company. Consider this week’s roll call of recalls:

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Techshake Survey: North American Car and Truck of the Year

By Charles Krome

The annual North American Car and Truck of the Year honors offer a unique take on the whole trophy business. Instead of being awarded by just a single media outlet or company, it’s a group of 49 journalists from across the U.S. and Canada that select the winners here. And while that won’t happen until just before the opening of the North American International Auto Show in Detroit in January, the finalists for the awards were announced today during an American Press Association luncheon.

The previous award winners were the Ford Transit Connect and Ford Fusion Hybrid.  This year, there won’t be a sweep by any manufacturer, though it’s a certainty that a Detroit-based automaker will win the truck award.  Interestingly, the Grand Cherokee and Durango are platform-mates, and the Volt and LEAF are in many ways competing for the very same buyers.

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Review: 2011 Volvo S60 T6 AWD
Dec16

Review: 2011 Volvo S60 T6 AWD

By Kevin Miller

I am no stranger to 300 HP, midsized Volvos. As the original owner of a 2004 Volvo V70R, I’ve watched the development of the S60’s second generation with great interest. As the original S60 remained in production long past its sell-by date, Volvo needed a replacement that could continue the original car’s’s style, while improving on rear seat room and the original S60’s now-antiquated in-car electronics.

Volvo has launched the S60 with a marketing campaign referring to the car as the Naughty Volvo. While the new S60 T6 AWD does not carry the R moniker, it probably could. Rated 300 HP, with a smooth-shifting six-speed automatic transaxle, the car does a much better job of smoothly transferring power to the ground than the R-series cars ever did, and Volvo’s latest-generation AWD system makes the car feel less front-heavy than one would be expect, given the car’s front-drive-based foundation. Unfortunately, neither a manual transmission nor the V60 wagon version of the vehicle are destined for the US market.

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CTS-V Coupe Brings Cadillac Back to the Track
Dec14

CTS-V Coupe Brings Cadillac Back to the Track

By Charles Krome

After already establishing itself as one of the most powerful coupes on the road, the Cadillac CTS-V is now out to prove its mettle on the race track: Cadillac has recently announced that it would field two race-prepped CTS-V Coupes in the SCCA’s American World Challenge, billed as “North America’s top production-based race-car series.”

It’s the logical next step for the brand, albeit one that has payed mixed dividends in the recent past. Cadillac developed LMP racers that ran in ALMS events and the 24 Hours of Le Mans beginning in 2000, but high costs helped put an end to that experiment after the 2002 racing season. During that period, the Cadillac race cars never finished higher than ninth in the endurance classic, although teams scored a number of podium finishes (but no wins) in the ALMS series. I can again provide some inside insight here, as I was at GM at this time, and there was a fair amount of bitterness at having to give up on Cadillac’s goal of eventually racking up an overall win at Le Mans—which was supposed to remind people that the brand was still the “Standard of the World.”

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The New Chevy Aveo Sonic, Take 2

By Charles Krome

Our head savant did a nice job detailing the General’s name game with the Chevrolet Aveo, but I wanted to get my pair of pennies in, too. (Also, I had already written this over the weekend, before I saw his article.)

My starting point is Chris’ comment about how the current Aveo is “not a horrible car”—because that certainly applies to where it sits in the sales standings.

Let’s do a bit of a blind test on some key players in the subcompact segment, shall we? First, here are the year-to-date numbers from three mainstream entries:

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GM Displays Model-Name ADD Again, Changing Aveo to Sonic

By Chris Haak

One doesn’t need to dig very deeply into the history books to see that GM has shown a pattern of releasing a vehicle that – to put it kindly – did not meet expectations, only to replace that vehicle with a new model after that generation.  According to the pattern, the new vehicle gets a new name as well, even if it’s filling in almost exactly the same position in the market.

Though this phenomenon is not limited to Chevrolet small cars, let’s take a look at them specifically.  The Vega hit the scene in 1971 (one generation only), followed by its Monza derivative in 1975 (one generation only).  Then the Cavalier hit the market in 1982 (which saw two LONG generations), the Cobalt in 2005 (one generation), and the Cruze in 2011.  Since 1969, Toyota has never changed the name of its car in this class:  you may have heard of it.  It’s called the Corolla.

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