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2009 Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart Review
Feb02

2009 Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart Review

By Kevin Miller

02.02.2009

Last summer, I had the good fortune to spend a week reviewing Mitsubishi’s 291 HP Lancer Evolution GSR. The car was fast, capable, and confidence-inspiring. I covered over 700 miles during my week with the Evo, and found it to love going fast and going around corners, but not so much toddling around the suburbs. With that positive experience relatively fresh in my memory, I was excited to spend a week with the 2009 Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart. While the Ralliart edition of the previous-generation Lancer was essentially a body kit and tacky wing on a front-wheel-drive Lancer, the 2009 Lancer Ralliart has a 237 HP turbocharged 2.0 liter four cylinder, all-wheel drive, and a twin-clutch Sportronic Sport Shift six-speed automated manual gearbox with magnesium paddle shifters, the same body kit and tacky rear wing found on the Lancer Evolution.

The gearbox mentioned above uses two clutches in the transmission rather than a torque converter as is found in traditional automatic transmissions. Such automated gearboxes have been the subject of much debate among auto journalists and drivers alike, and this was my first time driving a vehicle so equipped. That being said, I wasn’t really impressed. Sure, the shifts were fast, whether in automatic or manual mode. And the rev-matching on downshifts was impressive. But the conventional automatic in Pontiac’s G8 GT matches revs nearly as well. In stop-and-go or slow-and-go traffic, the gearbox was shifting constantly and noticeably, yet when stomping on the gas to move over a lane, the car always seemed to be caught momentarily flat-footed, pausing to audibly change gears before finally accelerating quickly. The sensation was surely a combination of shifting time and turbo lag.

In automatic mode the transmission was not smooth when it shifted, and it was positively rough before the car warmed up each morning. A big part of my problem with the transmission, though, was mental. I felt like a poser using the nicely tactile shift paddles. I’ve always thought that having shift actuators for an automatic transmission was a bit of overkill, features for use by boy-racers and wannabe sports-car drivers who don’t know how to drive a car with a manual transmission. The fact that there is no clutch pedal, and there is a lever with P, R, N, and D detents makes me feel like the car is “just an automatic”. Perhaps the mental block just something I need to overcome.

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Volvo XC60 Quick Test Drive
Feb02

Volvo XC60 Quick Test Drive

By James Wong

02.02.2009

Volvo launched the XC60 without much fanfare in the local scene here in Singapore. As it made its quiet entry into the market, a prominently displayed unit outside the showroom here drew some curious stares. Unlike the XC90, its bigger brother, the XC60 sports a different approach to SUV motoring – while the behemoth XC90 has loads of space for 7 people, the XC60 offers less space on the inside than one would imagine. The rear bench, for example, seems more suited for 2 comfortably seated passengers rather than 3. And the headroom for those passengers might be a little lacking. And while the XC90 looked like a true-blue SUV, the XC60 offers a curious mix of a low-slung sports car and a heightened ride, a contradiction so apparent on so many levels that the XC60 creates a new segment in the market altogether. Not unlike the X6, the XC60 is definitely an interesting car.

The range-topping XC60 (the only version sold locally) features a twin-scroll turbocharger fitted to an inline 3.0L engine making 285PS and 400Nm of torque. On paper the engine certainly has impressive specs, making nearly 100PS/ton and having enough torque to rival certain V8 engines. On the road however, the XC60’s weight keeps performance in check, dialing down the pace from rapid to brisk and from brutal to forceful. Still, it is a very powerful car this, and even at higher rpms the engine does not lose steam. However, if you want to go fast, you’ll need to have a heavy right foot as somehow torque is biased towards the top-end. During the test, fuel consumption also was dismal, averaging 18L/100km – to be fair however, the car has been driven enthusiastically by others in its test drive lifespan as well.

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Check Your Mirrors

Odds and Ends About Cars and the Car Business

By Brendan Moore

01.30.2009

FORD sustained their worst quarter ever in the last quarter of 2008, burning though $5.5 billion USD in only three months. Ford lost $14.6 billion for all of 2008. Ford officials stated, however, that they still have $13.4 billion in the bank, approximately $10 billion more in credit lines and think they’re not going to have get money from the US government. Meanwhile, Ford of Europe had a fantastic (and very profitable) year, but their last quarter looked pretty ugly, too, and they expect 2009 to be in the red.

NISSAN says that the Fiat interest in Chrysler will not affect their deal with Chrysler which calls for Nissan to supply Chrysler with two small cars and for Chrysler to supply Nissan with a full-size pickup. All this is supposed to happen in 2010, which also happens to be the year that Fiat will be supplying Chrysler with a lot of small cars. Chrysler may go from having no good small cars to an embarrassment of riches in that segment.

2009 will finally see the launch of a federal national database for badly damaged vehicles, that is, vehicles that should have been junked. There have always been companies and individuals that buy these sorts of vehicles cheap, rebuild them to various degrees of road-worthiness and then sell these vehicles to unsuspecting buyers for large profits. For the very first time, salvage yards, junkyards and insurance companies will be required to report vehicles that had been totaled in an insurance claim, and that data will reside in a national database. This data will be available for free (what is to become of CarFax?) and is scheduled to be complete (with data from every state) by the middle of 2010. So, if you have ever unknowingly bought a smoker (car that was totaled because of fire), a swimmer (car that was totaled because of flood damage), etc. in the past, maybe this will happen. If course, there will still be clickers (rolled-back odometer cars) on used car lots, so be careful out there.

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Neo-Classic Car:  1993 Oldsmobile Achieva SCX
Jan29

Neo-Classic Car: 1993 Oldsmobile Achieva SCX

By Chris Haak

01.29.2009

When I tell most people that I used to own a 1993 Oldsmobile Achieva SCX, I typically get one of two reactions.  Either they have never heard of the car before, or they have heard of the car and think that I immediately lose all credibility as a gearhead for having owned a car as lousy as the Achieva.

On the lack of name recognition, I’ll attribute that to a combination of GM’s propensity to rename the next generation of a model rather than just, you know, improving it (the Cutlass Calais begat the Achieva, which begat the Alero, which was the last Oldsmobile ever produced), and the fact that on the whole, the Achieva was a forgettable car with a stupid name.  My explanation to this group is usually something like, “it was the Oldsmobile version of the Pontiac Grand Am, but with a nicer interior and a Groucho Marx face.”

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Chrysler-Fiat Product Sharing Details Emerge
Jan29

Chrysler-Fiat Product Sharing Details Emerge

By Chris Haak

01.29.2009

Industry publication Automotive News reported this week on the tentative plans that Chrysler and Fiat have for sharing products in the venture that the companies announced last week.  The automakers have a March 31, 2009 deadline for coming to a final agreement, and Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne visited Chrysler headquarters in Auburn Hills, Michigan today to look over the company that Fiat has agreed to acquire 35% of.

Before the ink was even dry on the “non-binding term sheet” – in fact, when the alliance was reported as “likely” and not a sure thing, our own J.S. Smith walked through some of his ideas about how the Chrysler-Fiat partnership would work.  Now, some more concrete details – though still not officially confirmed by the two companies – are starting to emerge. Or to leak, as the case may be.

Overall, Chrysler will sell seven Fiat, Fiat family, or Fiat-engineered vehicles in the US at Chrysler dealerships; the seven vehicles will be built on four different platforms.  The likely candidates are mostly small cars; Chrysler has no entry in the B-segment (subcompacts) and only the Caliber, Compass, and Patriot in the larger C-segment (compacts), and needs to boost its CAFE number significantly in coming years, which will be difficult without efficient products in the lineup to offset the 15 mile per gallon Hemis.  Here are the plans as reported by Automotive News:

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England Finally Offers Bailout Money to Its Auto Manufacturers
Jan28

England Finally Offers Bailout Money to Its Auto Manufacturers

By Brendan Moore

01.28.2009

After a combination of begging and cajoling from Vauxhall, Jaguar and Land Rover over the past 90 days, the British government finally announced they were making £2.3 billion ($3.2 billion USD) available to the British auto industry.

The money is coming in the form of loans, not outright grants, but it still represents a very positive development for the car companies. The auto industry in Britain registered record low sales in December 2008 – the worst drop in sales in twenty years.

Of course, just like in the US, there was a lot of political back-and-forth before the aid happened – the Conservative party (currently the party not in power in England) lambasted the government for “too little, too late” regarding its efforts to help the auto industry. They claimed government officials hesitated too long before deciding to offer the auto industry assistance, putting valuable British jobs in mortal danger.

Besides the US auto bailout, other European governments have already set up a tab at the bar for their national automakers. France has guaranteed a large credit line of up to €6 billion ($7.9 billion USD) to PSA Peugeot Citroen and Renault SA together, as long as the jobs are kept. Opel has gotten a commitment of €1.8 billion from Germany’s federal government.

It’s worth noting, however, that there is some ambivalence among the British themselves about bailing out automakers, since every car company of any meaningful size is foreign-owned. There is also the bad cultural hangover of the massive amounts of government aid given to now-gone British car companies in the Seventies and Eighties, which, in retrospect, was money flushed down the toilet.

But, that aside, the government made its decision, and is now moving forward with the aid.

What the auto industry in England wants most is easier access to auto loans to encourage now-abesent motorists back into the showrooms and state-backed loans or short-term funding to subsidize layoffs. They feel they can make it through this bad patch with that help.

The British auto industry is responsible for 850,000 jobs in-country and produced 1.65 million cars last year. Three-quarters of those vehicles are exported, making the auto sector quite valuable to the country in terms of trade sur/deficit calculations.

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Hosed! Bridgestone, Continental and Competitors Fined $174 Million In Price-Fixing Scheme
Jan28

Hosed! Bridgestone, Continental and Competitors Fined $174 Million In Price-Fixing Scheme

By David Surace

01.28.2009

has reported tonight that Japan’s number 1 tire maker, Bridgestone, as well as German automotive supplier Continental AG (specifically its UK subsidiary, Dunlop) and three other companies have been fined a total of 131.5 million euros, or around $174 million in greenbacks, for participating in a cartel with the intent to fix prices for marine oil hose.

The fiscal smackdown comes courtesy of the European Union Competition Commission, whose commissioner, Neelie Kroes, laid down some tough words: “I will not tolerate illegal cartels and will continue to impose heavy fines on those companies found guilty of this kind of serious malpractice.”

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A Week in the (Not So) Hot Seat
Jan27

A Week in the (Not So) Hot Seat

By Andy Bannister

01.27.2009

I’ve just come back from a trip to the Spanish Atlantic island of Gran Canaria, where I spent a week negotiating hairpin bends in what should be that most quintessential of cars made in Spain, a Seat Ibiza.

For those who don’t recognise the name, Seat (it is really an acronym, SEAT, meaning Sociedad Española de Automóviles de Turismo) is the most obscure brand in the Volkswagen family, being little known outside Europe. Its values are (I think) supposed to be sporty affordability.

My transport was an example of the newly-launched (fourth-generation) Ibiza, a surprisingly large five door hatchback with a rather feeble 1.2-litre engine. Seat’s current styling theme for the Ibiza is based on rather odd upward and downward body creases, which may look good on a bright red show car with fat alloy wheels, but looked slightly incongruous on a black-painted hire car with skinny tyres and plastic wheel trims.

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