By Charles Krome
Getting into a new Ford Fiesta had been pretty high on my list, so I was plenty happy when the Blue Oval obliged me by sending over a Blue Flame model with a five-speed manual transmission, along with a full tank of gas. And more importantly, I was plenty happy driving it, too. Well, maybe not “driving” it, but certainly being transported in it.
By Carl Malek
Rather than wait until the Frankfurt Auto Show, BMW has decided to lift the curtain early on its upcoming 2012 BMW 1 series hatchback model. Looking much more complete and aggressive than its predecessor, the new 1 Series boasts revised styling with brand new front end design that takes its cues from the not only the top of the line 7 series, but the 5 Series GT as well. The rest of the car is more or less an evolution on the same styling themes that made their initial debut on the previous model but the overall effect of the new design is rather promising and should make the new 1 Series look rather handsome to casual observers.
By Carl Malek
Following the recent unveiling of the company’s R8 GT coupe, Audi has officially taken the wraps off the droptop version of the GT coupe. Known officially as the Audi R8 GT Spyder, this model utilizes many of the same features and enhancements that did their part to help the coupe version stand out from the rest of the supercar crowd. This means the same extensive use of carbon reinforced plastic and other lightweight materials to help shed the car of unnecessary weight, as well as tweaked mechanical components which not only help the car shed even more pounds, but also to improve its driving dynamics and performance on the road.
By Chris Haak
Last week, about two years after exiting bankruptcy protection, Chrysler Group LLC has repaid its outstanding government loans. Between a $5.9 billion USD repayment to the US government (principal interest) and a $1.7 billion USD repayment to the Canadian government, the company repaid $7.6 billion USD of its obligations to the two countries’ taxpayers. Today, Fiat announced that it has purchased the 6 percent of Chrysler owned by the US government for $500 million USD.
By Charles Krome
I paid a little visit to the Ford Product Development Center this morning, where I joined the automotive elite to hear the Blue Oval’s Derrick Kuzak, group vice president of Global Product Development, and Joe Bakaj, vice president of Global Powertrain Engineering, introduce some key new advances. (In the pictures, Kuzak is the guy with the facial hair; I’m betting everyone will be able to figure out who Bakaj is. And I’ve also tossed up images from some of the slides Ford showed; sorry for the odd perspective, but I was sitting of to the side.)
First up was the latest EcoBoost engine, a 1.0-liter unit with three cylinders destined for all markets. You read that right, Ford is going to bring out a three-cylinder engine, and yes, it will be offered in the automaker’s future U.S. small-car lineup. Leveraging a fresh-sheet design—not a current block re-engineered to have fewer cylinders—the engine is expected to provide “horsepower and torque outputs equivalent to or better than most normally aspirated 1.6-liter [I4] gasoline engines,” while also turning up the same kind of fuel-efficiency gains seen in bigger EcoBoost engines; that is, improvements of about 15 percent compared to the larger engine it replaces, as well as lower emissions.l
By Roger Boylan
My test Highlanders arrive on auspicious occasions. Last year’s came on the weekend of my daughter’s high-school graduation, and was pressed into nonstop service ferrying out-of-state relations hither and yon. This year its ’11 successor, a white (or “blizzard pearl”) front-wheel-drive Limited, rolled up just before Memorial Day weekend, with an agenda nearly as full. Over the following week I covered more than 500 miles across the Texas Hill Country, which, as I’ve pointed out many times in these pages, is the ideal terrain for road tests. It subjects a vehicle to a variety of driving conditions, easy and difficult, the difficult ones including extreme off-road treks and, during our sporadic tropical downpours, near-flood conditions; but it hasn’t rained here in ages, and the Highlander isn’t made for off-roading, at least not in front-wheel-drive mode (AWD is available). It’s made for the solid middle-class family market of solidly middle-class families with between $28K and $40K to spend depending on trim (Base, SE, Limited), and who have a yen for something less domestic than a minivan but not an SUV, exactly… a crossover, that’s it. Something that looks like an SUV, with an SUV’s cargo capacity, but that rides like a car, and almost handles like one. That’s where the Highlander comes in.
By Carl Malek
For decades, Audi and all-wheel drive have gone together like an automotive peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Indeed, if one is to look at the current Audi lineup, all-wheel drive is available equipment on nearly all of the company’s current offerings with one big exception, the Audi A1. Originally launched as a front wheel drive only offering, the A1 was designed to be Audi’s response to competitors such as the Alfa Romeo Mito and the MINI Cooper. Its success against these competitors, however, has been mixed. Despite the models so-so sales numbers, Audi has been working on making the engine power go to all four of the A1’s wheels and has chosen the 30th annual Wortherseetour in Austria (which is one of the biggest annual gatherings of Volkswagen vehicle owners in the world) to give prospective buyers a sneak peek of what such a car would look like.
By Charles Krome
This one’s from the “you learn something new every day” department—or at least the “I learn something new every day” department. Because until I stopped to take pictures of this fascinating Ford sedan, I had never heard of the “Custom 300.” It looked like some interesting example of 1950s Detroit iron when I first drove by it, and although I’m no expert on this era’s cars, I figured I’d at least recognize the name of this one when I got close enough to see it. But as I said, no dice.