Wednesday, June 30, 2010

2011 Toyota Sienna SE - Blame Ford and Mercedes Benz

I blame the Ford Flex and Mercedes Benz R-Class for the SE version of the new Toyota Sienna. For 2011 the Sienna is all new and it is a fairly remarkable minivan as far as minivans go. A spacious interior, swoopy new look, remote keyless entry and standard rear parking camera on all but the base model add up to a pretty compelling van.

But this time around there new Sienna on the block, the cool cat of minivans if such a thing could ever exist. See, Toyota says the Sienna SE is for those who see themselves as cooler than a minivan but since they're likely parents they can't deny the usefulness of a minivan. I say competition from family friendly and super stylish haulers like the Ford Flex, Lincoln MKT and Mercedes Benz R-Class led Toyota to such a radical attempt at cool. Family friendly layout + still want to drive something stylish + Toyota resale value = Sienna SE. Officially, Toyota says "The SE has a lot of design features not normally seen on a van such as a sportier grille and taillights, tighter tuned handling, and 18-inch alloy wheels to name a few."

OK, if that's the intent of the Sienna SE then Toyota can call it a success. As much as it kinda seems silly, I have to admit the sporty minivan sorta works. It does feel sportier and the look is more aggressive with that wide front air dam and rear roof spoiler. I even like the "sport" black and white gauges. Plus, it has the features that make minivans so family friendly anyway - side sunshades, power sliding side doors, fold flat third row seating and a large, very useful center storage box. But those useful features sort of miss the point of the new Sienna SE - this rap video produced by Toyota says it all.

Monday, June 28, 2010

2011 Honda Accord - Small Improvements and Better MPG

The popular Honda Accord gets a few tweaks for 2011. Thanks to better areodynamics, revised gear ratios and improvements to engine and transmission friction the 2.4 liter version of the Accord now gets 34 mpg on the highway and 23 in the city. That puts it in better contention with Hyundia's new Sonata, a car that gets an EPA highway rating of 35 mpg.

The Accord's look has been slightly redone for 2011 as well. The grille is the most noticable revision - it now has a slightly stronger look and borrows some styling cues from the Accord Crosstour. The front bumper cover has been redone as well. V6 models get new wheel choices for 2011 too. The pictured above is a 2011 Accord EX-L V6.

The interior gets a mild makeover too with some primary controls being relocated to improve ergonomics. Newly available features include USB audio input, steering wheel mounted paddle shifters for some models and a rear parking camera.

Finally, there's a new Honda Accord SE for 2011. It basically takes the features from the LX-P then adds leather, heated seats and power lumbar support for the driver's seat.

The revised 2011 Honda Accord goes on sale in August of 2010.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Living Legend Hiromu Naruse Killed in an Auto Accident

Since the 1960s, any Toyota worth getting excited about had the thumbprint of legendary test driver Hiromu Naruse on it. He started Toyota Motorsports, the 2000GT was his baby and so was the fearsome 90s era Supra. Sadly, he was killed in an automobile accident. AutoBlog has a nice tribute.

2011 Ford Mustang V6 Fuel Economy

It's clearly a stunt but Ford took the new 2011 Mustang and lapped Bristol Motor Speedway as many times as possible on just one tank of gas - the result: more than 1,450 laps or about 776 miles. Ford said they used special driving techniques to maximize fuel economy but other than that, the car is a stock 2011 Ford Mustang V6. The end result is an astonishing 48.5 miles per gallon. The Mustang's speed was kept at an average of 43.9 miles per hour. The drivers did not run the air-conditioning and avoided quick starts and stops. Keeping a steady speed also helps raise fuel economy - no matter what car you drive, these types of driving techniques can raise your mpg.

The new all aluminum V6 displaces 3.7 liters and makes 305 hp. A six-speed automatic transmission helps keep rpms low and that contributes to the Mustang's high fuel economy. Clearly Ford was feeling the sting of GM's new V6 as found in the Camaro - it too is a 300+ hp engine that delivers decent fuel economy. Ford says this engine will earn an EPA rating of more than 30 mpg highway which will top the Camaro V6's highway mpg of 29.

Friday, June 18, 2010

2011 Toyota Avalon Limited Review

As soon as my eight year old son opens the rear door of the 2011 Toyota Avalon he says "this looks like a car for someone who lives in an mansion." Is that a good thing? He sure thought so - granted, comfortable cars like the Avalon often get labeled as cars for old people but guess what, old people have nice stuff so I don't think of it as a slam.

For 2011 the Toyota Avalon gets a few cosmetic updates - the look is a little less generic and it has more presence on the road. A larger grill and restyled wheels are the only real reasons for this. Plus, some of the lines are now sharper which adds a slightly more masculine tone. The tailights have been resculpted too. Under the hood is the same 3.5 liter V6 from before - it makes 268 hp and is good for 20 mpg in the city and 29 on the highway.

The interior gets a bit of a refresh too. The gauges are now separated into two distinct clusters with metallic looking trim surrounding each. It looks good but the materials feel kinda cheap, ditto for the faux wood trim on the dash and doors. I know it's not a Lexus but this is the top of the line Toyota, some real wood would be nice.

All Toyotas, including the 2011 Avalon now get the company's Star Safety System. It incudes stability control, ABS, brake assist and traction control.

Even a quick 10 min drive proves my son is right - this is a car for people who live in mansions. It just has this serene quality that oozes luxury and quality. It's not that the cabin is so deluxe, it's not really. But driving the car reveals such a purity and isolation you can't help but love it. Sure, people who still read car magazines will agree with the arrogant editors that the Avalon is basically a Japanese Buick. Again, I don't see the harm in that but clearly that crowd does. But remember these are the same people that think spending $50,000 on a compact sedan with little rear seat room and too firm suspension is worth it because, well it's got that blue and white logo and is rear wheel drive. Instead, for less than $40,000 I'll take the Avalon and it's business class rear seat spaciousness and plenty of up to date tech features like XM nav/traffic, rear parking camera, Bluetooth and iPod connection.

The 2011 Avalon isn't lazy or floaty, it's just smooth. Smooth acceleration, smooth ride, smooth steering. You're not going to conquer the slalom in this car - then again, who lives near a slalom? Exactly, no one. Besides, a palpable smoothness speaks to precision and quality - who could be against that?

If you have enough drama at work each day and want to feel like you live the pampered life of a mansion owner (at least for the duration of your commute), spend a little time in the 2011 Toyota Avalon's accomdating, heated and cooled seats. It's a car that looks and feels like a real luxury without the luxurious price tag.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Oldsmobile Revival - With Mercury Out of the Way...

Let's face it, Mercury hasn't been a serious contender for years maybe even decades. Old S-55, Cougar Eliminator, 60s era Grand Marquis and others were certainly cool but like Janet Jackson said, "what have you done for me lately?" Well, nothing. And that's exactly why Oldsmobile is ready for it's big comeback. No, really.

Oldsmobile has a rich performance history with cars like the 4-4-2, the 65 Starfire with a 425 cu in V8, Achieva SCX and the powerful Quad 4 engine. Oldsmobile also got the luxury side of things right - witness the 60s Olds 98, 80s era Olds Cutlass, Oldsmobile Silhouette and the last Olds Aurora.

An American car that's equal parts performance and luxury is just what we need - but with a much lower price than brands like BMW and Cadillac.

There, I said it. Oldsmobile in '13 - the company is tan, rested and ready. So long Mercury, hello Oldsmobile.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee - First for New Chrysler V6

Jeep's all new Grand Cherokee should be on sale soon and with it comes an all new V6 engine that will eventually find its way into most future Chrysler products. But even that's a loaded statement because it's still not clear that Chrysler will have much of a future. Even when the '11 Grand Cherokee debuted, the new SUV was overshadowed by FIAT and Chrysler execs showing off a FIAT 500. Too bad because the new GC is more luxurious and more capable off-road with features like air-suspension and a higher grade interior.

Jeep is the one thing Chrysler owns that still rings true with consumers, especially Americans. The name Jeep still has enough equity that it will likely be around for years to come no matter who owns it - let's just hope future Jeeps aren't rebodied FIAT Pandas. Hey FIAT, good luck with the Dodge Caliber and Dodge Avenger too.

But the new Pentastar V6 sounds promising. It's an all aluminum, DOHC w/VVT, 3.6 liter engine that's good for 280 hp - Chrysler says the new V6 is more fuel efficient too. If the new engine is as good as the 2011 Grand Cherokee looks then they'll have a winner.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Hybrids are Best for City Dwellers

If you want a hybrid - deciding which one is best for you might depend on where you live. Many hybrids get better fuel economy in city driving - that's not true of convential gas only cars.

Cars like the 2010 Toyota Prius, 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid, Ford Escape Hybrid, 2010 Lexus HS250h and Mercury Milan Hybrid do better in the city while cars like the Camry Hybrid and Honda Insight are slightly better on the highway.

Here's a breakdown of which hybrids urbanites might want to check out thanks to Bunker Hill Magazine.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Father's Day Gifts for Car Loving Dad

Looking for a good, original Father's Day gift - here's a few for the dad who's into cars:

Vintage racing jackets are affordable and look cool: is a good place to start.

Old Decals work too:

Check out for a good online selection of scale model cars, old and new. Or how about some old racing movies - has old racing footage, racing movies as well as football, baseball and other nostalgic sports videos.

Or if your dad is really into keeping that old or new ride clean, hit for stuff like special buffers, lighted tweezers, a windshield cleaner that gets the corners, motor oil colonge (yes, really) and the ultimate car washing kit. They even have thier own father's day gift guide.

If that doesn't work how about a vintage soda machine - and maybe a little old style, original recipe Dr Pepper to fill it -

Friday, June 4, 2010

2010 Jeep Patriot Limited - Butterface?

Ever hear the term butterface? I never heard it before a year ago - there was this woman who worked at the office. She was blonde, drove an M3 and from about 10 yards away she looked like a teen blogger's definition of hot. This creepy guy named Glenn was all over her - I thought, no way, she's five steps over his head. Creepy, balding single guys in their 40s who spend lots of time with mother have little feel for what league they're truly a part of. Anyway, one day I saw this woman up close and was later told about butterface - everything is totally rockin' but her face. Yikes!

As the months went on ol' butterface realized even she was out of Mr. creepy, winebar stalker, pseudo-intellectual, wannabe movie expert's league and she started to ignore him. Good thing, she probably would have ended up in mother's basement.

That's just a long and draw out way to say the 2010 Jeep Patriot is sort of like a butterface - looks great, works well on paper and seems to offer a good dose of Jeep-ness for a low price. But up close and personal things start to get unattractive. The drone from the 172 hp, 2.4 liter inline four is bothersome and the CVT feels kinda clunky. Still, 172 hp isn't bad for a four banger and the Patriot is good looking when compared to the generic Honda and Toyota compact SUVs.

The Patriot doesn't have much rear seat legroom and the quality of materials inside isn't anything to get excited about but the darn thing starts at about $16,000. Opt for the Limited and your well into low $20,000 territory. For that price you'll get leather seating, 17-inch polished aluminum wheels and monochrome paint. Even in 4 wheel drive trim, the Jeep Patriot delivers best in class fuel economy - 28 mpg highway is the best you'll get in an SUV that drives all four wheels and the Patriot does have an off road mode and hill descent control for the the 4x4 version. Much has been made of the Chevy Equinox's 32 mpg on the highway but that's for the front-wheel drive version.

Yes, the Jeep Patriot may be a butterface of sorts but just like that semi-attractive woman with the M3, someone will marry her and think he won the lottery - nothing wrong with that. The Patriot is the same way, it will have plenty of takers simply because it looks like a real deal Jeep from 50 paces - the low price doesn't hurt either. But look a little closer and the flaws become obvious.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

A Few Good Reasons to Kill Mercury

As a counterpoint to Inside Line's excellent The Art of Mercury photo essay I'd like to point out a few reasons Mercury should have been killed long ago and how they've never really had their act together since the 1970s. Starting with the most unattractive sports car ever - the 1990 Mercury Capri. An American Miata? Not really, the Australian built Capri's front wheel drive and sedan like styling meant Capri shoppers ran to the local Mazda dealer as soon as they got a whiff of this disaster.

But there was trouble long before in the form of the Merkur brand, a German built Ford or Mercury depending on how you look at it. How do you say ugly in German? I think it might be Merkur Scorpio. Hey Germany, please stick to building harsh riding $50,000 compact sedans and starting wars - you rock at both.

The 1986 Mercury Cougar was the only car that made the Chevy Celebrity look sexy. Congrats on that one!

Maybe it was the 1980s that really killed Mercury and they've been sort of a walking corpse ever since. The Mercury Topaz was a Ford Tempo clone...., and that's the good news. The cars were hoplessly unreliable and even doing a double take you'd still mistake a Topaz for the equally attractive Plymouth Acclaim, or Dodge Aries or maybe a Nissan Stanza (Pssst, that's not a compliment).

And what about this hideous contraption - it looks more surprised than Christina Gonzalez after her well publicized facelift. Thanks to Ford for this gem. The Mercury LN7 was, well it was just a hideous contraption - and yes, I'm gonna keep using the word contraption.

And finally, please to present..., the 1999 Mercury Cougar! Ugly doesn't even begin to cover it. The edgy design seemed modern at the time but it looked dated real fast, sort of like that teal green Honda used on the 90s era Accords. This Cougar was a fairly large coupe and yet the rear seat was for contortionist and babies only - even then, I recall a few babies asking for more leg room. The quality was poor and even with the V6, you could feel the A/C sapping power as it cycled on and off. Horrible car. So long Mercury, I guess I won't miss you as much as I first thought.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

2010 Mercury Milan Hybrid - The Last Mercury I'll Drive

I was all set to say how much I like the 2010 Mercury Milan Hybrid. Yes, it's basically a Ford Fusion Hybrid but I just like the way the Mercury Milan looks. On the road it feels like the Fusion - smooth, refined and plenty powerful. There is a bit of engine drone under full throttle but it is a remarkably nice car and gets about 40 mpg. It's easy to get high mpgs because the car willing goes into full electric mode. Prowling parking lots or stop and go freeway traffic usually means you're using no gas at all.

But it really doesn't matter because Ford is killing the Mercury brand. Let's face it, all Mercury vehicles are just re-branded Fords and many are set to expire soon. The Crown Vic and Mercury Grand Marquis are both set to be replaced soon and the Mountaineer (a Mercury version of the Explorer) is also dead. The only real relevant Mercurys are the Mariner and Milan both have hybrid versions but both are also just Fords with nicer trim.

Mercury is 71 years old and has brought us notable cars like the Mercury Cyclone GT, Mercury Comet, Colony Park wagon and the Mercury Monterey S-55. It used to make sense that there'd be a brand between the basic Ford and the classier Lincoln but now that can be accomplished with an high end Ford model (say a Taurus Limited) and an entry level Lincoln (say a Lincoln MKZ).
So long Mercury - the 2010 Milan Hybrid is probably the last new Mercury I'll ever drive.