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First Drive: 2011 Chevrolet Volt
Oct10

First Drive: 2011 Chevrolet Volt

By Kevin Miller

This past weekend, GM kicked off the Chevy Volt Unplugged tour, a consumer-oriented ride-and-drive event which takes the Volt on a twelve-city, cross-country tour. Seattle is the first stop on the tour, and I was able to participate in the tour’s second day.

As a brief refresher, the Chevrolet Volt is powered by GM’s Voltec propulsion system, consisting of  a 16-kWh lithium-ion battery pack and 149 HP electric drive unit that provide pure electric range between 25 and 50 miles, and a 1.4 liter, 82 HP (63 kW) gasoline-powered engine that extends the range up to an additional 310 miles on a full tank of fuel by providing electrical power to drive the car; the gasoline engine is not mechanically coupled to the wheels.

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Deconstruction Zone: Nissan Juke “Donut Action”
Oct07

Deconstruction Zone: Nissan Juke “Donut Action”

By Charles Krome

With the 2011 Nissan JUKE nearly ready to hit the street, Nissan has unveiled a new television commercial that aims to show customers exactly what they’re getting in this odd-looking vehicle. The answer? If you never actually looked at the JUKE itself, you might think the vehicle was a coming Miata fighter.

First off, the ad is titled “Donut Action,” which could describe the plot—a young exec gets a call in his JUKE and has to rush off to get “donuts” for a morning meeting—but it could also be a subtle nod to one of the country’s most popular winter-time driving activities for the younger crowd: Doing doughnuts in snow-covered parking lots.

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Review: 2010 Mercedes-Benz GLK 350 4Matic
Oct06

Review: 2010 Mercedes-Benz GLK 350 4Matic

By Kevin Miller

Today’s compact luxury crossover utility vehicle (CUV) segment is chock full of little wagons with upright designs and ride heights, mostly with starting prices in the mid- to upper-$30k range, but usually selling for closer to $50k when equipped with the features that buyers are actually looking for. Nameplates like the BMW X3, Volvo XC60, Audi Q5, Lincoln MKX, and Cadillac SRX all are aiming for the same buyer.

Mercedes-Benz’ luxury CUV entry is the GLK 350. The GLK (Geländewagen Luxus Kompaktklasse, to decode the acronym) is based off of the current C-Class Sedan/Wagon platform, with design heavily influenced by it. Stylewise, the GLK wears a large Mercedes star prominently on the grill, while it otherwise tries to looks like a scaled-down version of its big brother, the  GL class. At the back, the GLK resembles a first-generation Toyota Highlander. The overall side and front look like a bit crisper take on a Subaru Forester, and the rectangular headlamps with their top-mounted turn indicators channel a Dodge Diplomat, of all things. The only truly special detail on the exterior is the 19-inch wheels, which really set off the bright Mars Red paint job on the example I tested.

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smart USA Signs Memorandum of Understanding With Nissan to Develop Larger Car
Oct06

smart USA Signs Memorandum of Understanding With Nissan to Develop Larger Car

By Chris Haak

Hot off this morning’s newswire is news that smart USA has signed a memorandum of understanding with Nissan for the collaboration of a new B-segment (subcompact) five-passenger vehicle to be sold in the US under the smart brand.  The new vehicle is expected to go on sale in about a year, in the fourth quarter of 2011.  Full terms of the non-binding MOU were not disclosed, and all actions are dependent upon coming to definitive agreements on the transaction.

Daimler and Renault had previously entered into a fairly wide-ranging technology-sharing collaboration earlier this year, and this move is likely related to those efforts.  The companies even exchanged equity stakes in one another to put some skin in the game, though this alliance is certainly more limited in scope than the Renault-Nissan alliance that shares CEO Carlos Ghosn.  Roger Penske must have forgiven Mr. Ghosn for the latter’s inability to convince Renault’s board to sell rebadged Renaults through Penske’s dealer network as Saturns, since this deal is between the Penske-owned smart USA Distributor LLC and Nissan – not technically between Daimler and Nissan.

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Hey, There’s a Cool Car: Second-Gen Ford Probe GT
Oct05

Hey, There’s a Cool Car: Second-Gen Ford Probe GT

By Charles Krome

Somewhere in an alternate universe, this car is thought of in nearly the same terms as the 1963-1967 C2 Corvette: In that place, both represent second-generation vehicles that transformed their predecessors from “me too” wannabes to full-on, award-winning sports cars that would be followed up by a long, ongoing run of high-performance progeny.

Here in our world, on the other hand, the second-generation Ford Probe, produced from 1993-1997, was a one-hit wonder that morphed into the “modern” Mercury Cougar before being put out of its misery in 2002, a victim of America’s addiction to low fuel prices.

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2012 Ford Focus to Get Its Rally On
Oct04

2012 Ford Focus to Get Its Rally On

By Charles Krome

After striking online gold with its comprehensive “Fiesta Movement” marketing campaign, Ford is taking things to ye olde next level for the launch of the 2012 Focus. That’s the word this morning from Dearborn, Mich., where Ford brought in the media—including yours truly—for the launch of its “Focus Rally: America” effort.

The short story here is that Ford has teamed up with the creators of The Amazing Race reality show to essentially put together an online, automotive version that will run on Hulu.com beginning early next year. The event will feature six two-person teams, with each duo in their own Focus, as they drive across the U.S. and compete to finish a variety of sure-to-be-wacky challenges on the way. (Those interested in getting some seat time in the promotion can head over to www.FocusRally.com for info on casting.)

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Saab Tech Announcements Reveal Details of Next 9-3
Oct01

Saab Tech Announcements Reveal Details of Next 9-3

By Kevin Miller

Saab has been in the news in the past couple of weeks with a number of technology announcements. While not particularly enlightening when considered in isolation, looking at the announcements together tells us much more, and offers a good prediction of what we will see in the next-generation 9-3, which can be expected in 2012.

We first saw the pre-Paris revelation of the all-electric 9-3 ePower, which uses high density energy storage in lithium-ion battery cells with 35.5 kWh capacity, to drive the front wheels with a 184 hp electric motor through a single-speed transmission. Instant torque enables zero to 62 MPH acceleration in just 8.5 seconds, together with a top speed of 93 MPH. Now on the Saab stand at the Paris Auto Show, the working example of the all-electric 9-3 SportCombi is great to see. Of course, the 9-3 chassis (or any existing ICE chassis, for that matter) is not the most efficient or lightweight starting point for an EV (which is why, for example, Nissan and Mitsubishi have created new platforms for their Leaf and iMIEV vehicles).

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Review: 2010 Volkswagen CC Sport
Oct01

Review: 2010 Volkswagen CC Sport

By George Straton

Lately auto manufacturers have become veritable Baskin Robbins outlets when it comes to product variety. Consider this past decade’s trend towards increased utility, which came at the expense of personal sporty cars. In 2004, Mercedes-Benz served up a new flavor, the “four door luxury coupe,” in the form of the CLS.  Trying to capitalize in this niche, luxury stalwarts including Audi and BMW have followed suit. Volkswagen, partly in its quest to increase global sales, offers up a variation of the flavor – the affordable four-door premium coupe – which it calls the Comfort Coupe or “CC.” Here at Techshake, we recently spent a week in a 2010 entry-level CC Sport to see how well Volkswagen addresses the four-dour coupe issue.

Costing just $600 more than the functional-yet-conservative Passat from which it is derived, the CC is about high style. The nose is more aggressive than anything else Volkswagen manufactures, except for the not-for-North-America Scirocco sports coupe.  The beltline is quite high where it joins the sloping roof line. Frameless door windows allow more glass to brighten the cabin. While not as low-slung as the Mercedes CLS, observers claimed the CC looked longer than other cars in the segment, including the Passat. (The Passat is actually longer by a hair.)

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