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Chevrolet introduced the upcoming Camaro ZL1 at the Chicago Auto Show today. All you really need to know is that it has a 6.2L Supercharged V8 making 550HP and 550 lb-ft of torque. It will only be available with a 6-speed manual transmission. It has a revised suspension and a dual-mode exhaust system, which alters the sound level and character in response to engine rpm. First used on the legendary Corvette, and specifically tuned for Camaro ZL1, the dual-mode exhaust will give the car a signature sound.

The ZL1 name is derived from the all-aluminum racing engine of the same name, which was developed in the late 1960s and installed into a handful of regular-production 1969 Camaros. Only 69 were built with the engine, but they’ve achieved mythical status among enthusiasts, as they represented the pinnacle in Camaro performance – until now.

Camaro ZL1’s design communicates and supports its performance mission. Rather than using decorative elements, ZL1 is visually differentiated from other current Camaro models with elements vital to the car’s elevated capabilities.

“Everything about the ZL1’s design is directly related to its technology and serious performance, especially aerodynamics,” said Ed Welburn, vice president, Global Design. “Our designers’ goal was to execute that function-oriented design with beautifully sculpted forms, creating an imposing, powerful persona. Function becomes the aesthetic. The intent is a car that delivers on the attitude it projects.”

Major elements of the ZL1’s design are a new front fascia and hood with air extractors, designed in tandem to create aerodynamic downforce to aid handling. The car’s hood includes a signature center section constructed of carbon fiber and rendered in satin black finish. New rocker panels, wide tires, 20-inch wheels and exhaust tips portray the car’s handling and power. The ZL1 badge appears on the grille, hood and the brake calipers, all key areas portraying the technology within.

 
2012 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1
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Chevrolet (don’t call us Chevy) announced today a new program that will allow buyers of Corvette Z06 and ZR1 models to build the engine for their car! OK, they get to “help” build it, under heavy supervision. But still, how cool is it to have the opportunity to do this? I can tell you exactly how cool it is – $5800 cool. That’s how much Chevrolet charges for the PBC (“Corvette Engine Build Experience”) option on the Z06 and ZR1. PBC stands for Performance Build Center, which is the name of the facility in Wixom, Michigan that hand-builds the engines in those versions of the Corvette, as well as the Grand Sport’s.

Lest you cynically think that this is a way to avoid warranty coverage, GM says, “Like all engines assembled at the PBC, Engine Build Experience engines are covered by Chevy’s (sorry, I’ll try to use the more grown up word next time) five year / 100,000-mile transferable powertrain warranty.”

The cynic in me is shocked that the General would actually allow any moron with the money to enter their plant, let alone build an engine that will still have a warranty – even under the heavy supervision. GM’s legal staff must be pulling out what is left of their hair over this one. Remember, these are the same legal eagles that killed the Corvette ad that showed a kid dreaming about driving a Corvette, because it was irresponsible to have a kid driving. They also tried to kill a Chevy (really…I’m trying) ad that showed Chevrolet (ha! did it!) cars and trucks driving onto a car carrier already driving at highway speed.

Still, this is way cool, and if I had $5800 (on top of the $75,235 MSRP for a Z06 or $109,130 MSRP for a ZR1), I would sure do it. As Jim Campbell, VP of Chevrolet (twice in a row!) said, “Simply put, no other sports car manufacturer can match the level of personal customer involvement that Corvette offers. The Corvette Engine Build Experience takes this personal involvement to an unprecedented level.”

That’s what I (and Jim) think. How about you? Please leave your comments below.

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2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee

2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee

Jeep released images yesterday of the all-new 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee, which went into production this week atChrysler’s Jefferson North Assembly Plant in Detroit. This is the 4th generation of the Grand Cherokee, originally introduced in 1992. It is completely reengineered and redesigned for 2011 – with a new sculpted body, athletic profile, panoramic dual-pane sun roof and an interior with premium soft-touch materials. The 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee features Chrysler’s all-new 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 engine that boasts an 11 percent improvement in fuel economy and delivers up to 23 mpg and more than 500 miles on one tank of gas. Capability highlights include a choice of three 4×4 systems, new Jeep Quadra-Lift™ Air Suspension and Selec-Terrain™ systems and towing capability of 7,400 lbs. On-road dynamics are improved courtesy of new independent front and rear suspension systems and a new body structure that dramatically increases torsional stiffness.

Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo 4×2 models start at a sticker price of $30,995 – $495 lower than the outgoing model. Grand Cherokee Laredo 4×4 models start at $32,995 – $465 lower than the outgoing model. The Overland model is the top of the line, with a price of $42,995 in 4×4 guise. The Limited model slots in between. The 2011 Grand Cherokee arrives in Jeep showrooms next month.

It is hard to overstate the importance of this product launch to Chrysler. Before Fiat’s present management, Chrysler was run by Daimler, which cost-cut the products into irrelevance, and then Cerberus, which cut the cupboard bare of new product investment. There is very little new product coming in the short-term, so it is very important that the new launches it does have are home runs. Chrysler plans to make improvements to just about every product in the next year, but no major launches outside of the Grand Cherokee and the Chrysler 300/Dodge Charger due later this year until Fiat-based new products start coming next year and the year after. The Grand Cherokee looks like a winner, but SUV sales are down overall, which will limit the sales potential. Ford and GM, though, have abandoned the true, off-road (mid-size) SUV market, leaving the market to Jeep, Nissan (Xterra & Pathfinder) and Toyota (4Runner).

2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland

2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland

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First, Ford announced the new V6 for the 2011 Mustang with its 305 horsepower and 30 MPG. Then came the announcement of the new GT, with 412 horsepower and 25 MPG. Now Ford announces the upgrades to the Shelby GT500, the big kahuna of the Mustang lineup. The 2010 Shelby made due with only 540 horsepower; the ’11 bumps that up to 550. Torque stays at 510 lb.-ft. The engine is now made of an aluminum block instead of the iron block, and this contributes to a 102 pound weight reduction for the engine. The weight reduction helps the ’11 Shelby improve fuel economy from 14 city/22 highway to 15/23. This might not sound like much, but the 1 MPG improvement results in the first Shelby not subject to the dreaded gas guzzler tax.

New for 2011 is an SVT Performance Package for those who want even more performance out of their Shelby GT500 for racetrack-ready driving dynamics. Complete with all-new Goodyear Eagle F1 SuperCar G:2 tires that SVT engineers worked directly with Goodyear to develop, the car is ready to race. The tires offer superb dry traction and precise handling, complete with a race-inspired high-performance tread compound.

The optional package also offers unique styling, lighter wheels, a higher rear axle ratio and stiffer springs, and it is available on both the convertible and coupe. Ford’s data show the 2011 coupe with the SVT Performance Package is 3.0 seconds faster per lap than the 2010 Shelby GT500 on a 2.3-mile test track.

For 2011, Shelby GT500 also benefits from NVH (noise, vibration and harshness) improvements. Ford improved road noise by 20 percent versus the 2010 Shelby by adding sound-deadening material on either side of the instrument panel, sound absorption behind interior trim panels, and a rear wheel arch liner to reduce noise on gravel or wet surfaces – all resulting in the driver hearing more exhaust and engine sound and less road and air noise.

The Shelby GT500 convertible model features enhanced structural rigidity, with lateral stiffness improved by 12 percent versus the 2010 model. The structural improvements to the convertible gave SVT the opportunity to be more sport-oriented in the chassis tuning, without trading comfort. Along with the chassis and structural improvements, the 2011 model also will get standard 19-inch aluminum wheels.

One of the biggest changes for this Shelby is that the convertible acts and feels like a coupe,” said Jamal Hameedi, SVT chief nameplate engineer. “Before, they had a very different character, and the convertible is taking a big step in the sportiness and handling precision area, without degrading the ride.”

GT500 gets a new exhaust for 2011, roaring with an even more aggressive sound than the 2010 model. The 2.75-inch exhaust with all-new tuning helped to deliver the additional 10 horsepower.

Thus completes the powertrain upgrades for the 2011 Mustang. With a lineup that starts at 300HP and goes up to 550, the Mustang has the best engine lineup in the segment, perhaps the industry. Hopefully, I will be able to test drive this demonic engine, or at least one of its tamer brothers, sometime soon.

That’s what I think – how about you? Please leave your comments below.

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2011 Cadillac CTS-V Coupe

2011 Cadillac CTS-V Coupe

In a move that surprises nobody, Cadillac announced today that it will introduce the production version of the new CTS-V coupe at this month’s North American International Auto Show (NAIAS). Obviously, the CTS-V coupe is the combination of the CTS coupe that Cadillac has show previously with the 556HP supercharged V8 motor from the CTS-V sedan.  It also includes Magnetic Ride Control, racing-bred Brembo brakes and an available automatic transmission with paddle-shift control.

The CTS-V Coupe employs the LSA 6.2L supercharged V-8 engine also found on the CTS-VSport Sedan. Rated at 556 horsepower (415 kW) and 551 lb.-ft. of torque (747 Nm), it is the most powerful engine offered in Cadillac’s history and propels the CTS-V Coupe from 0-60 mph in 3.9 seconds.

A pair of six-speed transmissions is offered in the CTS-V Coupe: a Tremec TR6060 six-speed manual with a dual-disc clutch and a Hydra-Matic 6L90 six-speed automatic with paddle-shift control. Performance Algorithm Shifting is part of the auto’s programming and provides a performance-oriented shift pattern during sustained high-performance driving. As with other Cadillac models, the driver needs only to slide the shifter into the manual “gate” to put the transmission into that more aggressive mode.  As I have told you in previous stories, this car should only be ordered with the manual.  Why?  Because it has 3 pedals on the floor – as God intended.  The auto is only offered because some of you can’t/won’t drive a manual – and Cadillac needs the sales.

So what is “Magnetic Ride Control”?  It is an advanced suspension system also found on the Corvette.  GM describes it like this:

Electronic sensors at all four wheels literally “read the road” every millisecond, making constant adjustments to damping to create virtually instantaneous and extremely precise control of body motions. This is of particular benefit for a high-performance car because it helps keep the car very composed during hard cornering, acceleration, braking and other dynamic maneuvers.

The Magnetic Ride shocks also enable a broader range of damping control to optimize the ride and handling for all driving conditions. In the CTS-V Coupe, an extra measure of control is offered, with two selectable modes (Tour and Sport), enabling the driver to tailor the suspension for grand touring or more spirited performance driving.

The CTS-V coupe starts production this summer.  Look for it at a Cadillac dealer soon after.  And don’t forget your driving gloves (and a big checkbook).

That’s what I think – how about you?  Please leave your comments below.

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The Emperor Has No Clothes

8th December 2009

In the most recent in a line of quality issues for Toyota, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has opened an investigation into a stalling problem in 2006 Corolla and Matrix models.  NHTSA has received 26 complaints of random stalling, sometimes in intersections or on highways.  The review only covers 2006 models with the IZZ-FE engines.  Apparently, Toyota has known about the problem, having issued a service bulletin in 2007 calling for replacing the engine computer following complaints of stalling.

The follows on the heels of the 3.8 million vehicles that Toyota recently recalled to fix the accelerator pedals in many models that were getting stuck in the wide open throttle position, causing uncontrolled acceleration.  Toyota also recently recalled Tundra pickups to fix a rusting frame problem and also had a similar problem on Tacoma pickups.  They also had a well-publicized problem with engine sludge causing engine failure in Camrys.

Toyota has a reputation for high quality vehicles that they have earned over many years of hard work.  However, to just assume that they have and will always have high quality vehicles that never break down is just as inaccurate as assuming that the domestics have and will always have low quality vehicles that always break down just because they used to have quality problems.  Toyota is not perfect, and neither is Honda, Nissan or anybody else.  JDPower and others have made their mark figuring out which vehicles have the highest quality.  You owe it to yourself to check the real facts on quality before buying and certainly before bashing anybody’s quality.  The life and the job you save could be your own.

That’s what I think – how about you?  Please leave your comments below.

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E85 – What You Need to Know

3rd December 2009

First, please understand that this isn’t a scientific journal, nor an economics one. This is an automotive website, so this discussion will only talk about E85 as it pertains to cars and driving. I will not discuss whether E85 is artificially cheaper because of government subsidies (it is) or whether or not the production of E85 from corn takes food away from people (I don’t know). I only want to briefly educate you about the pros and cons of buying a car that can use E85 and what you can expect when you do use it.

E85 is the abbreviation for fuel that is 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline. No vehicles for sale in the US can run on ethanol alone. You need at least that 15% gasoline. Vehicles that can run on E85 can run on any ethanol/gasoline combination with at least 15% gasoline. That’s why they’re called flex fuel vehicles (FFVs). You can fill up on E85 one day, then regular gasoline the next time without any problem. Flex fuel vehicles are more expensive to build than “regular” vehicles because of the special components that can withstand the corrosive nature of ethanol. There are only 2211 stations that sell E85 in the US, which means that most vehicles capable of running on E85 never do. So why do the automakers build them? They get CAFE credits for offering the FFVs, even if they never use E85 (can you say “loophole”?) and you get to feel good aboutmaybe helping lessen our dependence on foreign oil.

So what’s the difference when you use E85 instead of gas? The first thing you’ll notice is that E85 tends to cost less, though not always and the amount varies. e85prices.com says that the national average price is $2.22/gallon, while regular gasoline is $2.57/gallon. Great, right? Not so fast, my friend. Because of the differences between the fuels and the engine design compromises made to allow the engine to use either fuel (or any combination of them), using E85 results in lower fuel economy versus using gasoline in the same vehicle. The Slandy Report analyzed the differences in the EPA rating of every FFV sold in the US and found that the rating is approximately 27% lower for E85 use than for gasoline. We also found that the average range of a tank of gas is also more than 100 miles less on E85 than for gasoline, so you would need to refuel more often. When you combine the lower prices of E85 with the lower fuel economy, E85 still comes out more expensive by 16% compared with gasoline. In other words, gas is 16% cheaper than E85 if you look at cost per mile.

So why buy an FFV? Some things are not easily quantified in dollars, like the foreign oil point made above. While E85 is more expensive to use than gas, you will use 79% less gasoline per mile driven than if you use gasoline. Corn is also a renewable source, so theoretically, we would never run out. Buying an FFV vehicle is a matter of choice, of course, and so it the decision to use E85 instead of gasoline. You now have some real-world facts that will help guide your decision.

That’s what I think – how about you? Please leave your comments below.

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Today, Ford announced details of the 2011 Mustang V6, which will receive substantial upgrades in the powertrain.  Gone is the SOHC 4.0L Cologne V6, which has powered the V6 Mustang since the present generation (S197) was introduced in 2005 (and which traces its lineage back to 1968).  In its place will be the newest version of the Cyclone engine family, a 3.7L V6 with Twin Independent Variable Camshaft Timing (Ti-VCT), which can adjust the valvetrain “in microseconds”. With Ti-VCT operating its four valves per cylinder, the new Mustang V6 powerplant sends significantly more horsepower and torque (305 hp and 280 ft.-lb.) to the rear wheels than its predecessor (210 and 240, respectively) – despite its smaller displacement.

While the extra horsepower and refined engine operation are great, the 2011 Mustang 3.7-liter V6 also achieves projected class-leading fuel economy:

  • 19 mpg city/30 highway with six-speed automatic transmission, up from 16 mpg city/24 highway on the 2010 model with automatic – a 25 percent improvement
  • 18 mpg city/29 highway with six-speed manual transmission, up from 18 mpg city/26 highway on the 2010 model with manual

Refinements throughout Mustang’s body, powertrain and chassis design also contribute to the improved fuel economy numbers, including the new Electric Power Assist Steering (EPAS) system which eliminates the drag of an engine-operated hydraulic power steering pump (it also reduces noise), six-speed transmissions that allow lower cruising revs without sacrificing off-the-line performance and aerodynamic improvements such as a new front fascia, tire spats on the rear wheels, modified underbody shields, a taller air dam and an added rear decklid seal.

Enthusiasts who want a premium performance-oriented Mustang V6 can opt for the new Performance Package, which will be available August 2010. Designed for driving enthusiasts, the Mustang V6 Performance Package comprises:

  • A 3.31 rear axle ratio for quicker off-the-line acceleration
  • Firmer Mustang GT suspension
  • 19-inch wheels (1st time available on a V6 Mustang)
  • Summer performance tires
  • A strut tower brace for increased chassis rigidity
  • Unique electronic stability control calibration with sport mode for performance driving

For 2011, Mustang also includes new technology and convenience features, including a standard driver’s message center in the instrument cluster, integrated blind-spot mirrors in the side-view mirror housings, Ford’s MyKey™ system, designed to encourage safer teen driving and safety belt use, also is newly available on Mustang.

So where does this leave the V8 Mustang?  While today’s announcements did not discuss the V8 Mustang, Ford will obviously have to do something. The new V6, as noted above makes 305 hp and 280 ft.-lb. of torque, while the present 4.6L V8 makes 315 and 325, respectively. The torque difference is enough to notice, but the horsepower is way too close. While Ford has not yet announced the details, word has leaked that the 2011 V8 Mustang will be powered by a new 5.0L V8 that will make at least 400 hp and 400 ft.-lb. – stay tuned for more details.

So who’s on top in the latest chapter of the Pony Wars? It’s a complex comparison, but the Mustang, which already beats the Camaro and Challenger in several areas besides power, will now be very competitive in power as well. As you can see, all 3 vehicles are about the same size, with the Mustang smallest in most dimensions and the Challenger the largest in every dimension. If the 2011 Mustang GT matches the Camaro SS in power, it will indeed be a very compelling package – especially if they hold the line in pricing.  Sadly for Dodge, it will now be underpowered in a bigger, heavier package.

2011 Mustang

2010 Camaro

2010 Challenger

V6 HP/Torque

305/280

304/273

250/250

V6 Fuel Economy

19/30

17/29

17/25

V8 HP Torque

400+/400+ (est.)

426/420

372/400 (5.7L)

425/400 (6.1L)

V8 Fuel Economy

TBD

16/24

16/25 (5.7L)

14/22 (6.1L)

Base MSRP

$21,845 (2010)

$23,530

$23,460

Length

188.1″

190.4″

197.7″

Wheelbase

107.1″

112.3″

116.0″

Height

56.1″

54.2″

57.0″

Width

73.9″

75.5″

75.7″

That’s what I think – how about you?  Please leave your comments below.

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GM announced today that their 2010 full-size pickups will achieve a higher EPA rating for 2010, giving the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra the highest fuel economy in the segment (previously, the highest economy versions tied with the best Ford F150).

Silverado and Sierra 5.3L V-8 engine EPA-estimated fuel economy improves for 2010 from 14 city / 20 highway to 15 city / 21 highway MPG, while Extra Fuel Economy (XFE) models move from 15 city / 21 highway to 15 city / 22 highway MPG. This development, combined with the fact that GM’s hybrid pickups achieve an EPA estimated 21 city / 22 highway, puts Silverado and Sierra at the top in fuel economy.  This fuel economy improvement comes with no compromise in capability. Horsepower, payload, and trailering specifications remain the same for Chevy and GMC full-size pickups.

For reference, the following information is the most recent available EPA-estimated comparable fuel economy data for GM’s main competitors in this segment.

  • Ford – 5.4L: 14 city / 20 hwy; 4.6L with 6-speed transmission: 15 city / 21 hwy
  • Dodge – 5.7L: 14 city / 20 hwy
  • Toyota – 5.7L: 14 city / 18 hwy; 4.6L: 15 city / 20 hwy
  • Nissan – 5.6L: 13 city / 18 hwy

To be fair, GM is comparing its 2010 models against 2009 models for all of the above except Toyota.  Ford, Dodge and Nissan may well have a fuel economy trick up their sleeves for 2010 also.  Nevertheless, GM is showing that it takes fuel economy seriously and will do what it can to make incremental improvements without resorting to smaller vehicles with less capability.  Nice work.

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2010 Chevy Equinox

21st July 2009

2010 Chevrolet Equinox LTZ

Chevrolet’s Equinox was launched for the 2005 model year in 2004. Like many of GM’s entries into new segments, this one was “a day late and a dollar short”. Designed to compete against more established small SUVs, like the Ford Escape, Toyota RAV4, and Honda CR-V, the 2005 Equinox was larger on the outside and smaller on the inside than its intended competitors. It also only offered a V6 engine, while all the others had a 4-cylinder engine available. This increased costs and provided worse fuel economy than the competitors’. Interior space was also sub-par, especially in the rear cargo area. A clever shelf could be added to give 2 stories of storage, but the mechanism intruded too much on the space, even when not in use.

For 2010, the Equinox is brand new, and I recently had the opportunity to drive one for several hundred miles. The new Equinox is better than its predecessor in every way, starting with its looks. The 2010 has a better all-around look, as opposed to the cobbled-together look of the previous version. The interior is equally handsome, especially on the LT2 version with leather seats that I drove. The LT2 package includes remote start, Bluetooth, 8-way power driver seat, automatic climate control, foglamps, USB – among other goodies. This one included the 3.0L V6 engine with direct injection, good for 264hp. The base I4 gets best-in-class economy of 22 city / 32 highway. The V6 is rated at 17/25. It drives very smoothly, thanks in part to the 6-speed tranny and the independent suspension at all 4 corners. The kids enjoyed the rear-seat DVD player, which includes dual screens on the backs of the front seats. Their mom and I enjoyed listening to the iPod or XM Radio while they were watching the movies. Our tester was also equipped with a DVD navigation system to help us find our way.

The fit and finish was very good, with no noticeable gaps or color mismatches. The interior was finished in very attractive beige leather, and the seats were very comfortable and supportive for the long drive.

Gripes? Sure, there were a few, notably the IBM Selectric-like array of buttons on the dash for controlling the radio, navigation and climate. While I complained a little about the buttons at first, I quickly became used to them and their layout. Call it a B.

Another issue was the software that controls the navigation system. Having used several systems in the past (both portable and built-in), this one has a “feature” that makes no sense. When a destination is programmed, the system constantly updates the miles and time to the destination, like most or all other systems. However, this system, remarkably, updates based on some running average of the speed you are traveling. For example, if we had 120 miles/2 hours to go and encountered bad traffic that brought us to a stop on the highway, the 2 hours would gradually creep up until we were able to resume highway speeds. Other systems assume that you will drive the speed limit the entire trip, so it is never possible for the remaining time to go up, as long as you stay on your route. This makes more sense unless the ETA is tied into live traffic conditions, which is not the case here. The system is linked to the XM traffic service and thoughtfully tried to re-route us around an accident, which we ignored to our dismay.

The cargo area handled all of our bags with ease (not that we had much for a long weekend).

Overall, we thought the 2010 Equinox is a very strong entry in the small-ish SUV/crossover segment. It’s attractive and comfortable with enough power from either engine and delivers best-in-class fuel economy with the base I4 engine. What more could you want?

Overall Rating: 8 out of 10




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