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Would the Real “Man Van” Please Stand Up?
Mar26

Would the Real “Man Van” Please Stand Up?

By Chris Haak

From time to time, Chrysler has threatened to create a sporty variant of its garden-variety Grand Caravan.  Sometimes, they actually do it.  The first-generation Dodge Caravan was available with both a 2.5 liter turbo four cylinder and a five-speed manual transaxle back in the early 1980s.  Surprisingly, buyers seemed to prefer the V6/automatic combination instead.  Then in the van’s third generation – the first curvy one – Dodge showed a Caravan R/T concept on the auto-show circuit.  With giant Viper-like crosshair grille, giant hood scoops, oversize wheels, and bright red paintjob, perhaps cooler heads prevailed, and the Grand Caravan R/T never made it past the concept stage.

At the 2008 Detroit Auto Show, Dodge again dusted off the notion of a Grand Caravan R/T, but toned down a bit more. It skipped the Viper grille and massive hood scoops, but did have upsized wheels, ground effects, and very bright paint.  Dodge was so quiet about the van that it had no press conference; the thing was just sitting on the show floor behind ropes.  Curiously enough, they’re actually making a Grand Caravan R/T (pictured here), but toned it down even further from the concepts.  The production version has re-calibrated suspension, subtle ground effects, and is probably the most male-centric minivan on the market, if there is such a thing.  But is a sporty minivan really a so-called “Man Van?”

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Audi Teams Up With T-Mobile For Audi Connect Service

By Carl Malek

Audi has recently announced that T-Mobile Service Inc. will carry the company’s upcoming Audi Connect Services system which will be available throughout the company’s vehicle lineup beginning with the 2012 model year.

The new wireless service (which will make its world debut in the 2012 Audi A7 when it launches in April) will include features such as voice-activated Google Earth, Google Interactive Search, and Sirius Traffic information which when combined with the use of Google Earth Imagery will not only provide drivers with topographical and satellite images, but will also be the first time this technology has ever been used in the industry.

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Review: 2011 Mazda Mazda6 S Touring Plus
Mar25

Review: 2011 Mazda Mazda6 S Touring Plus

By Chris Haak

Thanks to the likes of the Mazda3 (and MazdaSpeed3), MX5 Miata, and the diminutive Mazda2 subcompact, Mazda has staked out its claim as the “Zoom-Zoom” car company for years.  It’s not exactly “The Ultimate Driving Machine,” but it has perhaps more meaning than “We Build Excitement” did against a backdrop of the Pontiac 6000 and Daewoo-builtLeMans did.

We now find the Mazda6 in the middle of its life cycle, and its competitors are not slowing down their pace of improvement.  During the week that I spent evaluating the Mazda6 S, I found that the car had plenty of zoom from its big 3.7 liter V6 (which produces a class-leading 272 horsepower and 269 lb-ft of torque), but that the car lost a bit of its handling prowess into its transition from a lithe midsizer into a super-sized Americanized midsize sedan.

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Holden Considering Hotter Cruze SS; How About a Chevy Version?

By Chris Haak

GM’s down-under subsidiary, Holden, is seemingly populated by car guys who get it.  Not only did they create the excellent Zeta large rear wheel drive platform that underpins the Commodore, Caprice, Calais, Chinese Park Avenue, and even (in modified form) the Cadillac CTS and STS, but the crew in Australia has concocted some outrageous derivatives.  The HSV-modified W427 comes to mind; it’s basically a heavily modified Pontiac G8 with the Corvette Z06’s 427 428 cubic inch 500-horsepower V8 under its hood, body, interior, and suspension modifications.

Granted, Holden proper didn’t concoct the W427, but you get the idea.  So my ears perked up when I read an article (, via ) that noted how Holden was working on a higher-performance Cruze flagship, to be called the Cruze SS.  SS carries similar weight in the mind of both Americans and Australians, though, so it’s not entirely clear that the rumored 1.6 liter turbo would be enough of a performance upgrade to warrant the designation.  The volume engine in the US Cruze is a 1.4 liter turbo, good for just 138 horsepower and 148 lb-ft of torque, and that’s just barely enough to move the car with anything approaching alacrity.

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Fisker Karma Production Commences in Finland

By Chris Haak

The day that many thought would never occur has happened.  The Fisker Karma – a plug-in hybrid luxury-sports car – has begun at Valmet Automotive’s plant in Uusikaupunki, Finland.  This means that the first customer deliveries of the Karma should occur in the US and Europe by the end of April.

Fisker’s Karma is an ambitious project.  Similar in concept to the Chevrolet Volt, but more expensive, faster, and more stylish, the car boasts a shapely silhouette designed by Henrik Fisker and a 2.0 liter turbocharged direct injection GM-sourced four cylinder, an electric motor and sizable battery pack.

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