2012 Honda Civic Si Navi Coupe, Drivers Log Car Review

car review 2012 honda civic si coupe.
The four-cylinder engine in the 2012 Honda Civic Si is rated at 201 hp.

By: Andrew Stoy on 8/29/2011

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  • 2012 Honda Civic

DIGITAL EDITOR ANDREW STOY: So that's what happened to all the character that got sucked out of the regular Civic that we had a few weeks back: They took it and stuck it into this 2012 Honda Civic Si. Light, precise shifter; responsive handling; surprising grip at irresponsible speeds; firm, easy-to-modulate braking with almost no dive and a zingy engine that'll bounce off the rev limiter all day long. This is what a Honda is supposed to feel like. It reminds me of my '88 Prelude Si, a high compliment in my book.

Of course, that also means there's mediocre torque until higher in the rev band, and the car never feels out-and-out powerful in the way, say, a Mazda Mazdaspeed 3 does; balance is key here. The high-strung four-cylinder really comes alive between 5,000 rpm and 7,000 rpm, producing a satisfying surge when most engines are struggling for breath.

Inside, the Honda Civic breaks no new ground, nor is it a bad place to spend time. As I mentioned in my review of the 2012 Civic EX-L sedan, visibility is excellent, the dash textures and densities imply quality and the controls are easy to use. Again, no automatic climate control is present, and the navigation/radio head unit feels dated with pixilated fonts and poor resolution.

The separate in-dash multifunction screen showed up for duty on our Civic Si. The display toggles through a variety of screens to show radio station, fuel economy, power output and the like, presenting the information in the same plane as the digital speedometer. Overall, it was easy to use and attractive, but the detail it presented was limited. One assumes this is an interim step as Honda refines its infotainment strategy on the Civic, and as long as it's moving in the direction of this display and away from the radio/navigation head unit, improvements should be forthcoming.

EXECUTIVE EDITOR ROGER HART: The mechanicals on this car are terrific. The four-banger revs like crazy, and I'm glad Honda put lights on the dash to tell you when i-VTEC is engaged because it no longer changes the engine note as dramatically as in past Hondas. The steering is quick and precise, the suspension is more hunkered down than on the base Civic, and with the precise shifter it all adds up to a sporting drive. It's just too bad that the exterior and interior styling are just so, well, bland. There's really nothing there that hints at any excitement.

I'm not a huge a fan of the split dash, with one gauge cluster behind the wheel, another midpoint on the dash. I guess it all works, but for me, it took some getting used to. It seems gimmicky at best and it's not all that functional.

Some cars look terrific and then don't live up performance-wise to their looks. I'd say the Civic Si is just the opposite. If you can get past the bland exterior and so-so interior, it's a really fun car to drive, especially if you like engines that live to be wound to seven grand.

ART DIRECTOR TARA KLEIN: The experience in this 2012 Honda Civic Si coupe, while much better than the EX-L sedan, still left some basic needs unsatisfied. I agree with Roger and Andy that this car was way more fun to drive and impeccably responsive in all respects, but the packaging of this vehicle just doesn't hit the mark.

The exterior is boring, the interior is pretty blah as well, and I still don't quite understand the dual displays. It seems a tad overkill and unnecessary to me.

And talk about noisy--this Civic might have the loudest cabin noise I've experienced. I was driving home on a patched-up highway and it sounded as if I was driving on a rumble strip the entire way. I take this road home everyday and it has never triggered an auditory response quite like that in this Civic.

While this time in the Si steered my opinion a couple notches in the right direction, it's still far behind where it should be.

ASSOCIATE EDITOR JONATHAN WONG: It pains me to say this, but this isn't really a Civic Si in my book. Sure, it has a stiffer suspension, bigger 17-inch rims, a rear spoiler, aluminum pedals and shift knob and deeper bolstered seats, but the engine disappoints me. Yes, the more powerful engine with 201 hp (up 4 hp from the 2011 model) and 170 lb-ft of torque (up 31 lb-ft from the previous car) is what bothers me here.

Why is that? A proper Civic Si, in my opinion, has to have a high-revving engine with power peaking way up there. But how about the nice jump in torque, you say? Doesn't matter, because torque and a Civic Si do not go together in my mind. Did the Acura Integra Type R have torque? No, but it had an 8,400-rpm redline and pulled nicely if you kept the revs up. Honda S2000? Nope, but it spun up to 9,000 rpm or 8,000 rpm depending on what model year you're talking about and that car is a kick in the pants to drive. Am I wrong?

Fact is, this new 2.4-liter four-cylinder isn't special. I mean, you'll find a variant of this engine under the hood of the Accord and the CR-V. A 7,000-rpm redline is disappointing compared with the previous 2.0-liter's 8,000-rpm redline. Is there anything redeeming about the drivetrain? Yes, the six-speed manual is still here in all of its slick-shifting glory, and there is a standard limited slip.

There were also a few things I noticed in the interior. First, the gas pedal isn't bottom-hinged as in the previous car, which I know some people really liked. I don't care either way because Honda has always gotten its pedal placements right, be it top- or bottom-hinged. But I did mind the seat materials. The previous Si had seats trimmed with an Alcantara-like material and mesh inserts, while the new car uses a less expensive and slippery material. It goes along with the overall theme of the lessening of the quality of the interior overall with the deletion of soft-touch surfaces. I will say none of the plastics and trims look bad and there is some interesting graining on all of them, but I do miss the old interior.

How does the car handle? I do long for the days of double wishbones, but that isn't going to happen. But it still handles well with good grip (especially with our test car's summer tires), snappy steering response and grabby brakes, and you can place the car wherever you want without much trouble. It's very well balanced. Understeer? Of course, but the car communicates its limits to the driver well. Ride quality also has been fine-tuned some and won't come close to beating you up.

After my initial run with the new Si, I'm a bit disappointed. Maybe it will grow on me after a couple more at-bats with it. Just really miss that 8,000-rpm redline and the overall design doesn't do enough to really make it standout in the bland and boring Civic lineup.

NEWS EDITOR GREG MIGLIORE: This orange ball of fire is one of the most fun cars to drive that Honda makes. The 2012 Civic coupe in Si trim is lightning-quick with its shifts yet is easy to operate and smooth. Novices would be pampered by the smooth clutch engagement on this six-speed. The throws are satisfying and quick, and the shifter is short and easy-to-grip--making driving almost like that in a video game. As others have noted, the steering is precise and responsive. I loved the weighted, balanced steering that felt light beneath my fingers as I carved up rush-hour traffic on the way to One Autoweek Tower with the air conditioning and Springsteen cranked.

The chassis is tight without being abusive, and everything is well-composed through corners. It feels sporty, which is what the buyers of this car are seeking. I like the looks. The only thing you can beef about is they look they same. It's not a bad-looking car, it's just not different. I did find the interior to feel a bit mundane. The dashboard parts just seemed to be of lesser quality, though to the touch they were fine. The speedometer in the center was very useful.

Checking in at 2,900 pounds with a potent 201-hp four-cylinder while stickering for just less than $25,000, the Si is an excellent package of power, punch and value--all in a smart balance.

2012 Honda Civic Si Navi Coupe

Base Price: $24,675

As-Tested Price: $24,675

Drivetrain: 2.4-liter I4; FWD, six-speed manual

Output: 201 hp @ 7,000 rpm, 170 lb-ft @ 4,400 rpm

Curb Weight: 2,897 lb

Fuel Economy (EPA/AW): 25/26.1 mpg

Options: None

2012 Maserati GranTurismo MC, Flash Drive Car Review

2012 Maserati GranTurismo MC Maserati
The 2012 Maserati GranTurismo MC

By: Barry Winfield on 8/26/2011

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What is it?

The MC version of Maserati's GranTurismo coupe is an upgraded derivative of the company's 4.7-liter auto model, which is also carried over into 2012. The base 4.2-liter car is now discontinued in the U.S. market.

Basking in the reflected glory of the company's MC appellation (for Maserati Corse, the company's racing affiliate) the new GT MC has 11 hp more than the normal 4.7-liter engine (mostly due to friction reduction in the valvetrain and new, less restrictive rear exhaust mufflers). It now boasts 444 hp at 7,000 rpm and 376 lb-ft at 4,750 rpm.

The ZF six-speed automatic transmission has also been massaged, and it now shifts in half the time (around 200 milliseconds) when in sport mode. Downshifts are also accompanied by rev-matching throttle blips, a function the Italians call “doppietta.” In manual mode, the transmission will neither kick down nor shift up, even at the rev limiter.

Coil springs, some eight-percent stiffer, drop in over the shock bodies, and the front anti-roll bar diameter is increased to just under an inch. Maserati's so-called Skyhook adaptive suspension system is offered now only as an option.

As you'd expect, extensive body mods accompany the MC badge, including hand-formed front fenders, a new front bumper with integrated splitter, new air intakes on the hood, new sills, a redesigned rear bumper and repositioned exhaust tailpipes.

The aerodynamic tweaks are said to produce a 25-percent increase in frontal downforce at 125 mph, while the rear claims a 50-percent improvement at the same speed. New 20-inch flow-formed lightweight alloy wheels help shed 10 pounds, and the exhaust system takes credit for another 12 pounds.

Inside the car one finds a fair amount of carbon-fiber trim has been added to the usual luxurious trappings, along with an MC emblem on the passenger side.

How's it drive?

With fully 80 percent of peak torque available from just 2,500 rpm, the Maserati moves off on a smooth, effortless wave of V8 power. In full auto mode, a valve in the exhaust keeps sound down to pleasantly muted levels, and the excellent cabin isolation has you mistaking this Italian thoroughbred for a Lexus.

But press the sport button on the dash and the exhaust clears its throat with an emphatic baritone growl at lower speeds that rises to a tuneful snarl as the revs climb. While the MC badge does not transform the GranTurismo into the Trofeo race car, it certainly makes it come alive when driven in anger.

In sport-manual mode, the car responds to the paddles faithfully, revving out happily between shifts. The Brembo brakes (with slotted rotors on the MC) may be made of old-fashioned steel rather than carbon fiber, but they shed speed with a vengeance, and did not fade even on a long and twisty downhill run in 100-plus ambient temperatures.

Special Pirelli P-Zero Corsa tires were developed for the MC, and these demonstrated remarkable grip on our test route, assisted ably by the car's mid-front-engine layout and near-perfect weight distribution. The only minor quibble we had with the car's performance in the mountains was off-center steering response that seemed a tad slow.

In every other respect, the GranTurismo MC is a convincing jack of all trades. You can pick up the CEO at the airport and have a quiet conversation without competition from tire, wind or engine noise. Or you can strafe a canyon with a heroic soundtrack trumpeting from the tailpipes. All for just $143,400.

Do I want it?

The market niche occupied by cars above $100,000 is small, and so it should be. That's a lot of coin. But you can see where Maserati is coming from. The cars have real refinement, dramatic good looks, and a celebrated trident badge riding up front. While the performance isn't quite at Ferrari level, neither is the price.

And, for the benefit of open-air devotees, Maserati now offers an MC version of the hardtop convertible called the GranTurismo Convertible Sport. Oh, those lucky rich people.

2012 Maserati GranTurismo MC

On Sale: Now

Base Price: $143,400, inc freight

Drivetrain: 4.7-liter, 444-hp, 376-lb-ft V8; RWD, six-speed automatic

Curb Weight: 4,145 lb

0-60 MPH: 4.8 sec, mfr

Fuel Economy: 11/18 mpg (mfr)

2012 Mazda 5 Grand Touring, Long-Term Car Review Introduction

car review long term Mazda 5 minivan.
The four-cylinder engine in our long-term Mazda 5 is rated at 157 hp.

By: Natalie Neff on 8/26/2011

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Like those spunky little Japanese video-game creatures, the newest addition to the Autoweek long-term fleet is as cute as a Pikachu, only in place of the yellow fur and superpowers, our 2012 Mazda 5 is blue and has four wheels. It also has seating for six, which, to the best of our knowledge, no Pokémon character can boast.

The mini-minivan has an almost perfect combination of passenger-carrying ability and small-car maneuverability, offering all that seating, up to 97.7 cubic feet of cargo space and a turning circle of 36.7 feet-all bundled within a package just two inches longer than a Ford Focus (180.5 inches vs. 178.5).

In fact, the new-for-2012 Mazda 5 sits on the same platform as the Focus (or, more accurately, the Mazda 3) and has the same MacPherson-strut front and multilink-rear suspension setup and a very similar drive character, with a fairly nimble demeanor over twisting mountain roads and enough power to keep up with the flow on the freeway. The stiffer body maintains its composure even when pushed around turns a bit aggressively, but we could use more weight in the steering.

We spec'd up a loaded, top-of-the-line Grand Touring model, checking every option box on offer at the time of our order. Unfortunately, a navigation system was not yet available, nor was a rear-seat entertainment system, so our options consist of some $50 rear bumper guards.

To compare the sticker of our Mazda 5 with some of the minivan alternatives available, the Mazda starts at $19,990. Our Grand Touring model, with those bumper guards and its standard power-sliding moonroof, six-disc CD player, satellite radio and fog lights, tops out at $24,720.

The Honda Odyssey starts at $29,885 and doesn't max out until somewhere in the stratospheric reaches of Minivan Monroney Land, at about $45,000. Granted, even a base-model Odyssey offers a lot more space, a much more powerful 3.5-liter V6 engine and top-notch attention to detail in the fit and finish of parts and materials. But it doesn't trump the Mazda 5 in safety features, it lags in fuel economy, and it has a much tougher go of it in underground parking garages and tight parallel-parking situations.

So far, reaction in the office to the Mazda 5's new styling is mixed. Some genuinely like the crazy "Nagare," or wind-inspired, sculpting carved into the sides. Others find it a bit silly, perhaps the work of an overeager designer acting out for being relegated to penning the sheetmetal for a minivan. The corporate face is still too smiley for most, but the redesigned rear end is handsome, with more conventionally positioned taillights replacing the window-flanking taillights of the previous model.

Inside, the leather-trimmed seats are comfortable and provide adequate support. We like that the second row has captain's chairs, while the third row provides real room for its occupants-maybe not six-foot-four-inch room but enough space for smaller folks to sit comfortably.

For the more outdoorsy types on staff, the Mazda 5 should provide plenty of hauling capacity for tents, coolers and hiking gear, but there's no towing ability to speak of, so the duck boat and pop-up campers will be relegated to other members of the long- term fleet.

Somehow, we're sure we'll find plenty of stuff for the Mazda 5 to keep busy with.

2012 Mazda 5 Grand Touring

PRICING & OPTIONS

Base (includes $795 delivery): $24,670

As-tested price: $24,720

Options: Rear bumper guards ($50)

DIMENSIONS

Wheelbase (in): 108.3

Track (in): 60.2 front, 59.8 rear

Length/width/height (in): 180.5/68.9/63.6

Curb weight/GVWR (lb): 3,457/4,685

ENGINE

Front-transverse 2.5-liter/152-cid DOHC I4

Power: 157 hp @ 6,000 rpm

Torque: 163 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm

Compression ratio: 9.7:1

Fuel requirement: 87 octane

DRIVETRAIN

Front-wheel drive

Transmission: Five-speed automatic

Final drive ratio: 3.458:1

SUSPENSION

Front: MacPherson struts with coil springs, gas-charged twin-tube shock absorbers, antiroll bar

Rear: Multilink with coil springs, gas-charged twin-tube shock absorbers, antiroll bar

BRAKES/WHEELS/TIRES

Vented discs front, solid discs rear, ABS with EBD; aluminum 205/50R-17 Toyo Proxes A18

FUEL ECONOMY

EPA combined: 24 mpg

TRACK TEST DATA

STANDING-START ACCELERATION

0-60 mph: 9.3 sec

0-quarter-mile: 17.1 sec @ 81.9 mph

BRAKING

60-0 mph: 138.3 ft

HANDLING

490-ft slalom: 41.5 mph

Lateral acceleration (200-ft skidpad): 0.78 g

INTERIOR NOISE (DBA)

Idle: 38

Full throttle: 71

Steady 60 mph: 68

2012 Buick Regal GS, Drivers Log Car Review

car review buick regal gs.
The turbocharged four-cylinder engine in the 2012 Buick Regal GS is rated at 270 hp.

By: Greg Migliore on 8/25/2011

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The Buick Regal is an entirely reasonable proposition. People and stuff fit in it. It's decent looking, priced fairly and has the requisite balance of power and fuel economy for a medium-size sedan with premium aspirations.

Perhaps it's a bit too reasonable for enthusiasts, who prefer their muscle cars raw and their sedans to be taut and sporty. The Regal GS is by no means a stone-cold killer, but it has more than a streak of irascibility. And that's why car purists will appreciate this athletic execution from Buick.

The brand has a turbo--a turbo Regal, in fact. But the GS model gets a considerable power boost, to the tune of 270 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque from its 2.0-liter four-cylinder. Do the math: That's a specific output of 135 hp per liter, and Buick says it's the most power-dense engine ever certified by the Society of Automotive Engineers. Pair that with a six-speed manual, and the basics of an enthusiast-oriented sedan are set.

Buick didn't stop there. It added Brembo brakes, sharp, polished alloy wheels that almost border on gaudy and a tighter suspension that can be tailored to taste via a set of buttons on the instrument panel. The seats are supportive and sporty, in line with what an energetic driver would seek, and the steering wheel has a flat bottom. Top it off with a creamy, shiny white paint option and the saber-tooth air inlets unique to the GS, and suddenly the Regal is a sedan with the potential to get a little hot tempered.

Suddenly, it's not a model or trim. It's a Gran Sport. And that's a good thing for car guys and gals. They might choose the Regal because it is responsible, but they choose the GS because they like to drive.

We tested the GS on the winding roads of northern Michigan, lapping lakes and dashing through leafy open roads. Unlike our earlier test, where we sampled the GS on a closed course with an ace driver riding shotgun and offering pointers, this time we had to contend with vacationers, joggers and, well, real driving.

The GS adds a different element to that. It's fast. The power and torque come on quick and stay strong all the way to redline. Any enthusiast will quickly agree that rowing through the gears is simply the way to drive. One can imagine using this car for errands but also blitzing into work and carving up corners and slower-moving traffic in the process.

The throws are quick and easy, with a smooth clutch that has easy take-up. The chassis is well-calibrated, and drivers can choose from normal, sport and GS modes, which adjust the suspension and steering levels. We took turns aggressively at times, downshifting through maneuvers and passing at will. The car was up for it all. It remained tight and composed yet wasn't abusive. It's a delicate balance, but this Regal toes the line well.

Conversely, leisurely driving with the windows down and the radio up (which we did the previous day), is equally rewarding the in GS. It's versatile without feeling like a chameleon. The looks draw some attention, but really, this is a sleeper car, though the wheels and headlights do seem to awaken onlookers.

The cabin does let in a bit of outside noise, perhaps more than would be expected from a Buick. The dashboard also is a bit pedestrian with a button-laden center stack. The door materials and headliner, however, feel of high quality.

The verdict? Short of a rear-wheel-drive coupe named Riviera, the Regal GS is the car enthusiasts have been waiting for from Buick. It's about as much fun as you can have without being unreasonable.

2012 Buick Regal GS

ON SALE: October

BASE PRICE: $35,310

DRIVETRAIN: 2.0-liter, 270-hp, 295-lb-ft four-cylinder; FWD, six-speed manual

WEIGHT: 3,710 lb

0-60 MPH: 6.7 sec (est)

FUEL ECONOMY (EPA): 22 mpg

2012 Nissan GT-R Premium, Drivers Log Car Review

2012 Nissan GT-R Premium Photo by: David Arnouts

2012 Nissan GT-R Premium. Photo by David Arnouts.

2012 Nissan GT-R Premium Photo by: David Arnouts

2012 Nissan GT-R Premium. Photo by David Arnouts.

2012 Nissan GT-R Premium Photo by: David Arnouts

2012 Nissan GT-R Premium. Photo by David Arnouts.

2012 Nissan GT-R Premium Photo by: David Arnouts

2012 Nissan GT-R Premium. Photo by David Arnouts.

2012 Nissan GT-R Premium Photo by: David Arnouts

2012 Nissan GT-R Premium. Photo by David Arnouts.

2012 Nissan GT-R Premium Photo by: David Arnouts

2012 Nissan GT-R Premium. Photo by David Arnouts.

2012 Nissan GT-R Premium Photo by: David Arnouts

2012 Nissan GT-R Premium. Photo by David Arnouts.

2012 Nissan GT-R Premium Photo by: David Arnouts

2012 Nissan GT-R Premium. Photo by David Arnouts.

2012 Nissan GT-R Premium Photo by: David Arnouts

2012 Nissan GT-R Premium. Photo by David Arnouts.

Published on 8/25/2011

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EXECUTIVE EDITOR ROGER HART: This 2012 Nissan GT-R Premium is an absolute gigglefest. If going from naught to 60 mph in 2.9 seconds is enough to make you break out into a big grin, certainly when you grab second gear with the paddle shifter and your head snaps back against the headrest will. This car is just so much fun to drive it like you stole it. Passing a long line of cars on a narrow two-lane is no problem. Grab a couple of gears lower and nail the throttle, and hang on. It's an amusement-park ride. No, it's better, because you are in complete control.

Even though this thing is blindingly quick, it is also extremely stable, and the quick handling, the surefootedness of the AWD system and the overall balance of the car gives the driver so much confidence that you want to head to the nearest racetrack and take on all comers.

Considering all of the other 500-plus-hp cars on the market today, this might rank among the best bargains. The 2.9-second 0-to-60-mph time equals that of the Porsche 911 Turbo and at thousands of dollars less. And while Nissan has sold about 4,000 GT-Rs, you still don't see them everywhere. And the kids love it.

ASSOCIATE EDITOR JONATHAN WONG: I have to hand it to the boys at Nissan on the continual improvement of the GT-R. When this bad boy hit the U.S. scene for the 2009 model year, it blew me away. After years of driving R32s, R33s and R34s virtually on PlayStation and staring at the 1:18 scale die-cast Autoart models of the R34 on my desk, the chance to finally saddle up behind the wheel of one was a treat.

The look is unmistakable for a GT-R, and the twin-turbocharged V6 was a brute. It hustled around corners remarkably well for a 3,800-pound car with the various sensors telling the AWD system where to send power, and the high-speed stability was stellar. However, it wasn't perfect. The dual-clutch gearbox was rough when you weren't on it just rolling around town normally. If you wanted anything remotely close to a smooth shift in those situations, you would have to lift of the throttle, flip the paddle and then get back on the gas.

Nissan was aware of that and wasted no time in improving the car. The next year, it massaged the transmission some and really smoothed out the gear engagements. Now, for 2012, Nissan made it even better. Is it still a little clunky? Yeah, a little, but compared with what it was, I don't think we really should be complaining about the 2012 car. The benchmark for dual-clutch transmissions is Ferrari, but let's be honest--this is a $90,000 vehicle, and what it offers is exceptional.

For that money, you've got more than 500 hp, a great gearbox and handling prowess that is more than you'll ever be able to tap into on the street. Of course, the curb weight will still hamper you on a track, but again, this is a big car. It seats four, and the back seat isn't some penalty box like the Porsche 911's, and it has AWD.

I've always liked the interior of the car, too. The front buckets are comfortable and supportive and the carbon-fiber-like trim is sharp. Materials are of high quality and the central screen with the various readout maps developed by the makers of the Gran Turismo video-game series is neat to page through.

Launch control isn't nearly as violent as it was in 2009 with good reason, to cut back on driveline wear. The 530 hp from the forced-induced V6 is still spectacular, with power available seemingly everywhere in the rev band. I like the column-mounted shift paddles for the transmission, which I've debated about countless times with motorsports editor Mac Morrison, who prefers them on the wheel. Guess it's just personal preference.

Steering is weighty and responsive enough, and the suspension in comfort mode is livable for daily running. Where the GT-R really comes alive is when you flip everything into "R" mode and tackle your favorite ribbon of winding road. It doesn't disappoint listening willingly to all commands.

If I had to come up with a complaint about this car, I would only be able to point to the curb weight and that maybe, just maybe, the driver is taken out of the drive equation a little too much. You can yammer on about it not having a manual gearbox, but in this situation, I think the GT-R may be one of those cars that falls into a category where I don't find myself missing the third pedal all that much. I felt that way about the 458 Italia and I think it applies here with this Nissan as well.

INTERACTIVE ASSOCIATE EDITOR DAVID ARNOUTS: All hail Godzilla, the Beast from the East! The "tuner crowd" will recognize this term for the Nissan GT-R while those not versed will more than likely scratch their heads.

Either way, the Nissan GT-R--with the 2012 updates and improvements--delivers. The GT-R retains the original aspects upon which so many people base their love, gaining it a cult following. The slight adjustments and improvements (horsepower boost and launch control) have helped the car evolve.

Among those changes is the facelift on the front bumper. The built-in LEDs help improve the rearview-mirror presence over the previous year's GT-R. Second is the horsepower. Now rated at 530 hp, the 40-odd additional horsepower is just what the doctor ordered for a kick in the pants over its previous incarnations.

Then there's the reimplementation of the famed launch-control system that previously voided owner warranties when used. It has been reengineered to be enjoyed without the worry, as the system has a lockout fail-safe system which only allows four consecutive launches. Drive just a mile and a half, and the launch control is available again.

While driving through town, our GT-R had an inordinate amount of squeaks and creaks for the normal person. The interior is nice for a sports car, the seats were firm yet comfortable, and there's good room for two and some bags. The back seat is functional depending up the height of the driver and the front-seat passenger. Rear-seat passengers will have to fight over the one rear-center-console cupholder. Apparently Nissan knew not many folks would be riding back there.

The dual-clutch transmission is a bit clunky and jerky in low-speed conditions, but seriously, what would one expect? If you wanted the Maxima, you wouldn't be in the GT-R.

The interior, with all of the electronics and technology, makes one feel as if he is driving in a simulator. Want to check what your transmission temperature is at the click of a button? Check. Want to move on to your steering inputs, g-force acceleration, fuel-flow rate and a litany of other options? Check, check, check and check. You can even activate the built-in stopwatch to time you drive home or laps on the track.

Despite all of the cool gadgets and "wow" factor for gearheads, the average or uninformed drivers might find the GT-R overwhelming or even a bit of "overkill."

I, however, perceive the GT-R to be a labor of love. It's not a handmade, Italian-made supercar or a refined English sedan, or even a rudimentary "performance only" American sports car. The GT-R is a Japanese supercar, plain and simple. They just do things differently.

The love/hate response to the interior is overshadowed once inside the cockpit with an open road in front of you. With the windows down and the sound of the twin turbochargers spooling and the exhaust growling, it's a visceral experience not to be missed. With one stab of the accelerator you'll violate every speed limit in North America. The sensation is disorienting, but you'll have smile on your face a mile wide.

Once you tap into the car's true potential and designed purposes, you'll begin to overlook the minor idiosyncrasies that distract, realize you are driving a GT-R and just enjoy the fun of it.

So if the Chevrolet Corvettes come with beer bellies and Hawaiian shirts, and Ferraris and Lamborghinis with plumes of chest hair and gold chains, to whom does the GT-R appeal? Perhaps the trust-fund babies with Xbox controllers in hand or the techno gearheads? It could be all of the above.

But, the price point can be a bit steep side depending on how many zeros your W2 has. Our GT-R Premium was priced at $91,230. No paltry sum by any means, but it's an incredible value considering the performance figures.

Even if a standard GT-R isn't enough, fear not, the exclusive Black Edition can be had for roughly $5,000 more for the cosmetic upgrades. That's assuming the GT-R needs more than it has, but that's up to you.

2012 Nissan GT-R Premium

Base Price: $90,950

As-Tested Price: $91,230

Drivetrain: 3.8-liter twin-turbocharged V6; AWD, six-speed dual-clutch sequential manual

Output: 530 hp @ 6,400 rpm, 448 lb-ft @ 3,200-6,000 rpm

Curb Weight: 3,829 lb

Fuel Economy (EPA/AW): 19/14.4 mpg

Options: Carpeted GT-R logo floor mats ($280)

2012 Mercedes-Benz SLK350, Drivers Log Car Review

car review 2012 Mercedes-Benz SLK350
The V6 in the Mercedes-Benz SLK350 is rated at 302 hp.

By: Greg Migliore on 8/24/2011

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NEWS EDITOR GREG MIGLIORE: This 2012 Mercedes-Benz SLK350 is an athletic package with a surprisingly tight chassis and aggressive seven-speed automatic. The suspension walks the fine line of (slightly) beating up the driver, which is an invigorating experience for a Benz.

The V6 is loud and strong and almost a bit uncouth, cackling and roaring at various points in the band. It's a healthy amount of power, and frankly, it's needed to jolt this two-seater into motion. This is a small car, but 3,400 pounds on its bones is rather well-fed and it feels that way at times. I know it's because of the retractable hardtop, but still.

The steering is light and quick, and the cabin is well-appointed and comfortable. It fit my five-foot-nine frame perfectly. I really can't remember when I was this comfortable in a car this size.

The other standout feature is the sunroof, which changes color (in simple terms) to let in different amounts of light. It is fun, looks cool and sets a serene scene for driving. The retractable roof works fine and the open-air experience is pleasant.

I love the SLS-inspired looks and proportions up front. It's exactly how a Mercedes roadster should look. This is a fun car. Not perfect, but a lot of energy and adrenaline is served up for the driver.

EDITOR WES RAYNAL: Somebody in the office the other day was talking about chick cars. Is this one? I'd argue the old one was, and this is my first time in the new car, the third generation of the SLK. Sure enough, where the old one appealed mostly to gals, Mercedes-Benz is trying to get more men interested.

The car looks better, with a bit of an SLS/CLS front end. It also feels wider to me, and thus the interior seems a bit roomier. The ride/handling feels good, with good balance and body control and quick steering. There's decent power as well, and it felt better than I thought it would.

I liked it better than it thought I would overall and enjoyed my time in it with the top down. I don't know if that's because I wasn't expecting much or what, though.

ART DIRECTOR CHERYL L. BLAHNIK: Who could ask for anything better than a SLK and fine weather? Looking at the exterior of this car I think it looks much better than its predecessor with a more squared-off look. I wasn't a fan of the wheels and would prefer a more traditional five-star design.

The interior is nice and is done in a tasteful manner with comfortable and supportive seats. It is, however, rather tight in the cabin, and the trunk isn't much to talk about, either. If you're thinking of a road trip, you better pack light.

But for fun, this car really is a blast. Give the throttle a push and the V6 shoots this little SLK forward to slap a big smile on your face. It feels tight in corners, but the suspension is still comfortable enough for easygoing, top-down driving.

COPY EDITOR CYNTHIA L. OROSCO-WRIGHT: What fun to have this 2012 Mercedes-Benz SLK350 over the weekend and be able to enjoy it top-down on a Friday night for dinner and shopping.

This car is lovely, with the low-slung body and the sleek lines. I'm not normally a fan of white paint on cars, but I thought it looked fine on this SLK350. The exhaust note is thrilling and makes you want to drive even faster. And you can do that by simply letting your right foot take over. The power comes on smooth and strong and stays that way, especially on the expressway. And the brakes provide confident stopping power.

I did notice a rather heavy feel through the steering wheel. Even though this is a "smaller" car, it felt a bit hefty. And, some contorting is required to get into and out of the car, especially for my six-foot-tall hubby. But once you retract the top, none of that mattered. We were happy to feel the night breeze on our faces and the whoosh of passing other cars.

Amazingly for this small of a vehicle, we were able to get three 12-packs of pop and six or eight bags of purchases in the minimal storage space in the trunk. Yes, my co-driver had to hold a couple of bags, but riding in this roadster, he didn't mind.

2012 Mercedes-Benz SLK350

Base Price: $55,675

As-Tested Price: $66,805

Drivetrain: 3.5-liter V6; RWD, seven-speed automatic

Output: 302 hp @ 6,500 rpm, 273 lb-ft @ 3,500-5,250 rpm

Curb Weight: 3,397 lb

Fuel Economy (EPA/AW): 24/21.8 mpg

Options: Premium package one including iPod/MP3 media interface, Airscarf neck-level heating system, satellite radio, Harman/Kardon premium sound system, heated seats and IR remote roof automation ($2,590); Magic Sky control panorama roof ($2,500); multimedia package including Comand system with hard drive navigation, seven-inch high-resolution LCD screen with 3-D map views, enhanced voice-control system, 10GB music register, six-disc DVD changer, Gracenote album information including cover art, SD card slot and satellite traffic and weather ($2,150); lighting package including headlamp-cleaning system and bixenon headlamps with active curve illumination ($1,070); trim package including burl walnut trim on center console and doors, wood and leather shift knob, and wood and leather steering wheel ($990) digital dual-zone climate control ($760); diamond-white metallic exterior paint including beige leather and burl walnut trim ($720)

2012 Jeep Wrangler, Flash Drive Car Review

2012 Jeep Wrangler

2012 Jeep Wrangler.

2012 Jeep Wrangler

2012 Jeep Wrangler.

2012 Jeep Wrangler

2012 Jeep Wrangler.

2012 Jeep Wrangler

2012 Jeep Wrangler.

2012 Jeep Wrangler

2012 Jeep Wrangler.

2012 Jeep Wrangler

2012 Jeep Wrangler.

2012 Jeep Wrangler

2012 Jeep Wrangler.

2012 Jeep Wrangler

2012 Jeep Wrangler.

2012 Jeep Wrangler

2012 Jeep Wrangler.

By: Greg Migliore on 8/21/2011

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What is it?

This is the 2012 Jeep Wrangler, redesigned in perhaps the most significant area that matters--under the hood. Jeep finally dropped the 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 used in the Charger, the Grand Caravan, the 300 and seemingly everything even halfway important the company makes. In simple terms, this engine is a big deal--and it has a big impact on this, the most iconic of Jeeps.

The engine makes 285 hp and 260 lb-ft in the Wrangler, easily eclipsing the 202-hp, 237-lb-ft ratings of the old 3.8-liter engine. This completes a two-year makeover that saw the interior redone for the 2011 model year, transforming the Wrangler into a rather premium entry that maintains its still affordable $22,845 base price--despite the gains in power and fuel economy. Rest easy, hard-core Jeep faithful, the Wrangler looks exactly the same as last year’s model, except for the rectangular headlights (just kidding).

What is it like to drive?

On road, the potent Pentastar shines through, easily blowing the detachable doors off the old engine. On test roads in Northern California, there was little debate: The new engine is simply better and executes its mission in a more demonstrative manner. It makes less noise and doesn’t labor nearly as much the previous engine.

The cabin is reasonably quiet, and for the price, this well-appointed small ute is very comparable and competitive in this segment. It would be more than up for Sunday brunch or taking the retriever to the vet.

That being said, once we hit the famed Rubicon Trail, the Wrangler showed its teeth. We exchanged our auto-shifting grocery-getter for a manual, military-green four door—with no doors. What a hoot. We crawled over rocks, forded creeks and generally tackled the most treacherous of terrain without breaking a sweat. Well, we did, but the Jeep was universally composed. The two-door version was equally capable.

Really, on-trail experiences don’t show off the Pentastar’s capabilities. It’s a stronger engine that’s most evident when darting around town. Still, the trail is more fun.

Do I want it?

Absolutely. If you liked the old one--and it’s still selling at a brisk pace, even with the new V6 looming--you’ll like the 2012 Wrangler. The looks, the drive character, the price--they all strike the right chord for Jeep faithful. Plus, rocks will tremble when they see you coming.

2012 Jeep Wrangler

ON SALE: Now

DRIVETRAIN: 285-hp, 260-lb-ft V6; 4WD, six-speed manual

BASE PRICE: $22,845

CURB WEIGHT: 3,760 lb

0-60 MPH: 8.4 sec

FUEL ECONOMY (EPA): 19 mpg

2011 Land Rover Range Rover HSE, Drivers Log Car Review

2011 Land Rover Range Rover Land Rover
The 2011 Land Rover Range Rover

By: Wes Raynal on 8/19/2011

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EDITOR WES RAYNAL: I always enjoy drive time in this quintessential British SUV. The interior in the 2011 Land Rover Range Rover HSE is flat-out stunning in terms of looks, materials and initial build quality. This is by far the best SUV interior on the market, and one of the best in the overall market. The exterior is timeless, and the engine-trans-chassis combo is one of the few in the car business that would allow you to slowly pick your way through the jungle all day and afterward hose it off and drive it to the symphony that evening. Really, in how many cars can you do that? I think there is only one.

While I love the supercharged engine available, this normally aspirated V8 is not exactly a slouch. It's quiet and powerful and the shifts from the transmission are smooth to the point of being unnoticeable. The car drives well. It's comfortable with a little roll, but the ride soaks up Detroit streets like none other.

I like it a lot. Again, I love the supercharged model, but the regular V8 would do just fine, too.

EXECUTIVE EDITOR ROGER HART: I agree with Wes that the interior on this car is simply beautiful. The wood trim looks like something you'd see in a men's club. The interior is quite comfortable with nice little touches, such as the ability to adjust the height of the armrest, is just one of the ways Land Rover has paid attention to details. At freeway speed, this thing is amazingly quiet.

There are other things that frustrated me. All of the doors lock after putting the transmission in gear, and you cannot open them without using the central locking button, a small button located on the dash beneath the flashers. Or with the key fob. Speaking of which, do you really need something that big? (“Is that a Land Rover key fob, or are you happy to see me?”) Having to carry something that large around with you all of the time would be a pain.

I tried unsuccessfully to use the USB/iPod interface. It seems that, in order to attach an iPod, you need to have a special Land Rover iPod cable. You cannot connect via the USB port.

Overall, this is a great-riding, comfortable, capable sport-ute. And after spending a weekend behind the wheel, I think I'd still opt for a Jeep Grand Cherokee. It's just as capable, and maybe the wood trim isn't quite as nice, but it's just as comfortable, and with the Pentastar six-cylinder, it gets way better fuel economy. And I'd have $40,000 more left in my pocket.

EXECUTIVE EDITOR--AUTOWEEK.COM BOB GRITZINGER: Because I grew up driving on gravel back roads that would've made automaker torture tests look like child's play, I intuitively drive potholed roads in a manner that minimizes the jostling by taking the best of the bad choices. But in the 2011 Land Rover Range Rover HSE, I forgot about the bumps and more than once I deliberately aimed the vehicle directly at the potholes, just to see what would happen. Nothing, that's what. This big brute ute is so capable of smoothing out road surfaces that it's almost hard to find a normal pothole that registers all the way through the chassis to your seat. It's easy to see why vehicles of this brand and ilk have been the transportation of choice on many a harrowing backcountry expedition over the years.

I can see where the Range Rover is massively capable of hauling itself through just about anything Mother Earth could throw at it--snow, mud, water, sand. From my experience with this and its siblings, I'm quite sure it's up to the task. At the same time, the vehicle is pure luxury on the beaten path, riding high and mighty with nary a trace of odd chassis roll or steering wander. The vehicle is simply steady as she goes. Though this isn't the wicked supercharged Sport, this engine still packs a decent amount of power for the package.

Inside, the leather seats are firm and comfortable, the wood trims are exquisite, and even the parlor tricks such as the instrument panel's skyline-at-sundown display when you shut down the ignition are special. I'm all for “real” gauges, but having seen the clarity and icy-cool appearance of these new virtual LCD readouts on this and the Lamborghini Aventador, I am wholeheartedly embracing this future. I'm not quite so happy with the navigation/audio interface and while I hate to admit it, but this vehicle might actually benefit from some kind of iDrive-like controller for all of this stuff. But that might directly conflict with the Terrain Response Control knob occupying that real estate in the center console. Something has to be better than this touch screen/buttons setup, though.

NEWS EDITOR GREG MIGLIORE: In a week in which I had a couple of very interactive, sporty coupes, the 2011 Land Rover Range Rover HSE was my favorite test car simply for its relaxing cabin and sumptuous power from the V8. It's potent, and it takes off on the expressway. I really like the steering as well. It has a light feel, yet there's a lot of feedback and response. The black middle clock reminds of a vintage watch I considered buying.

The interior is well laid out, and the materials present in luxurious fashion. The wood, the leather, the accents--it's all here. Plus the road view is outstanding. It's a quiet setting, and the digital gauges are gorgeous and colorful. They remind me a bit of the setup in the Jaguar XJ.

The looks outside are iconic, and everything from the wheels to the headlights are sharp. It's very British and has an attitude. I got some stares, and that was fun.

2011 Land Rover Range Rover HSE

Base Price: $79,685

As-Tested Price: $88,485

Drivetrain: 5.0-liter V8; 4WD, six-speed automatic

Output: 375 hp @ 6,500 rpm, 375 lb-ft @ 3,500 rpm

Curb Weight: 5,697 lb

Fuel Economy (EPA/AW): 14/15.2 mpg

Options: Luxury interior package including 14-way adjustable power front seats, oxford leather on seats, door pulls and console lid/console wood trim, heated and cooled front seats, removable luggage net, 20-inch alloy wheels ($4,600); rear-seat entertainment including six DVD, two headrest displays and remote ($2,500) audio system upgrade including 1,200-watt, 19-speaker Logic7 HD radio ($1,700)

2012 Kia Rio 5-Door, Flash Drive Car Review

car review redesigned Kia Rio.
The redesigned Kia Rio is powered by a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine rated at 138 hp.

By: Jonathan Wong on 8/18/2011

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What is it?

With the subcompact market growing more crowded with the arrival of the Ford Fiesta, the Chevrolet Sonic, the Mazda 2 and the new Hyundai Accent, the timing couldn't be better for Kia to roll out a revamped Rio. For 2012, the Rio lineup--which includes a sedan and a five-door--is all new with a more distinctive design inside and out, a new direct-injection engine, an impressive list of available features and optional stop-start technology. The five-door will hit dealerships first in September, with the sedan following in December or January.

Riding on a new platform which is longer, wider and lower-riding than that of the previous Rio, the 2012 model has a more hunkered-down stance with shorter overhangs front and back. The body is now made from 63 percent high-tensile-strength steel, and torsional rigidity is improved by 31 percent. Styling falls in line with what we've seen on the latest Optima and Sportage, with a slimmed-down version of the company's tiger grille, sloping shoulder lines and a wedge-shaped appearance.

Power comes from a new 1.6-liter, direct-injection four-cylinder producing 138 hp and 123 lb-ft of torque connected to either a six-speed manual transmission (available only on LX models) or a six-speed automatic (standard on EX and SX trims). According to Kia, it estimates fuel economy for the sedan with either the manual or automatic are 30 mpg in the city and 40 mpg on the highway. The hatchback is slightly lower, at 29 mpg for the city and 39 mpg on the highway. However, for an addition fuel-economy bump, the Rio will be the first in the segment to offer start-stop technology. Kia says the system is good for an additional 1 mpg in the city.

Like most vehicles in the class, the Rio's suspension uses MacPherson struts up front and torsion beam out back. Fifteen-inch wheels are standard on LX and EX while SX models get 17-inch alloy wheels.

What is it like to drive?

We spent an afternoon hustling a 2012 Rio 5-door EX through the crowded streets of Seoul and on expressways through the Korean countryside, and the experience wasn't anything like that with its predecessor. The ride inside the cabin was fairly quiet with only a bit of wind noise seeping into the cabin. At expressway speeds, we were able to have conversations with our driving partner at a normal tone, and it didn't feel as if we were piloting a tin can--in fact, it was far from that.

The new four-cylinder is powerful for the class, and the six-speed automatic gearbox was quick to downshift when we needed some extra kick for merging and passing. It's not fast by any means, but what car in this category can you call fast? The electric power steering is light and responsive enough with some play on center but it's perfect for targeted customers. Ride quality is good--even larger bumps weren't really able to upset the car. Body control is solid, and the Rio hatchback felt well planted rounding corners and turns, even with our EX's 15-inch tires. It would be safe to assume that the SX's wider 17s would help the car feel even more sure-footed.

Our test car was also equipped with the stop-start system, which would kill the engine when we came to stops, only to fire up again once you remove your foot from the brake pedal. Operation seemed a bit crude, with a noticeable, audible tone of the starter turning over to get the car running again, unlike systems on much more expensive vehicles that are nearly seamless. Kia hasn't decided how much the system is going to cost just yet, either. According to executives, it was going to be grouped in with a few other features in a package that might cost about $300 to $400. For an extra 1 mpg in the city, that would take a bit of time to recoup.

Do I want it?

If you're shopping the class, we suggest you take a serious look at it. The styling is truly standout and the interior is smartly laid out with large controls, a nice leather-wrapped steering wheel and smartly placed soft-touch surfaces to give the cabin a upscale feel. With the available navigation with a seven-inch screen or the UVO hands-free system developed by Microsoft, it offers some nice premium touches. There's also standard stability control with brake assist and hill start assist. Without question, there's a level of refinement in the new Rio that you wouldn't have expected.

2012 Hyundai Accent SE Five-Door, Drivers Log Car Review

2012 Hyundai Accent Hyundai
The 2012 Hyundai Accent

By: Mark Vaughn on 8/18/2011

SENIOR WEST COAST EDITOR MARK VAUGHN: When I first saw the marathon blue 2012 Hyundai Accent SE that I was going to drive I thought, “Who's car is that?” I was supposed to get an Accent, one of those tiny tin cans from Korea purchased by those desperate to repair their credit. Yet, there in front of me was what looked like a slightly more rounded-off Pontiac Vibe/Toyota Matrix-size wagon thing. Last time I drove a Hyundai Accent it was downright dinky, and it sure as heck was not a wagon.

Did I say wagon? Hyundai, and every other carmaker in the world with such a configuration, calls it a “five-door,” which is clearly a more exciting moniker, evoking the kayaking/hang-gliding/pool-snorkling active lifestyle that these owners no doubt lead. Wagons are what your grandparents drove in Mad Men.

Of course, I remembered, the “five-door” debuted at the New York auto show in April, alongside the “four-door” (what's wrong with “sedan” and “wagon?” Don't get me started.). I was planning a family trip the coming weekend that would have to accommodate two adults, two kids, one dog and a healthy pile of stuff. I had assumed we'd take our Volkswagen van. But when I saw how big the Accent was, I changed my plans. Sure enough, come Friday after work, the Accent five-door stood packed, fueled and ready to go. No one complained, not even the dog.

That's because the EPA classifies this as a compact, and Hyundai proudly points out that the Accent five-door's 21.2 cubic feet of cargo area is more than that of the Matrix, the Audi A3, the Dodge Caliber and the five-door versions of the Subaru Impreza and the Mazda 3.

First leg of the journey, completed at a freeway average of 80 mph, El Accent went 138.8 miles and returned 32.2 mpg, more than its city rating of 30 mpg but considerably less than its highway rating of 40 mpg. I was clearly driving too fast and was too loaded (that is, the car was loaded, I was sober as a concours judge). The second leg was 210.2 miles of mountain driving on very curvy roads in second, third and fourth gears. That returned 30.5 mpg. The last 190.5-mile tankful, completed on flat, straight highways and freeways, should have been closer to the EPA's 40-mpg figure but was only 34.0. Driving a constant 55 mph on flat, straight superhighways would surely result in a better highway figure, I figured.

In the mountains, it was as fun as anything in the compact and subcompact classes except maybe a Honda Fit or a Mazda 3, but I haven't driven a Fit in quite a while so it might surpass even that watermark of tossability. Second and third gears were too far apart for most of the curves I was negotiating. There was not much torque available below 3,000 rpm at the higher elevations, despite the sophisticated 1.6-liter, gasoline direct-injection four-cylinder engine with CVVT (imagine GDI in a car that costs $15,925). The power and torque curves did widen out a little as we got closer to sea level.

The last day I had it I put the Racelogic box on it and gave it a few launches to see whether it was quick. When I first drove this car, I thought the clutch engagement of the six-speed manual was awkward; it took a while before I could do it smoothly. But after a week I was used to it and it wasn't a problem. Engaging the clutch at about 4,500 rpm with a good amount of wheelspin seemed the quickest way off the line. I kept getting a slight bog after the 1-2 shift and as a result probably lost about three-tenths of a second.

I got a few 9.0-second 0-60s but you, with your better technique, will surely get into the eights because you rule. One thing that did help was that second gear was good for about 64 mph. That's a long gear. I had noticed earlier while driving through those tight mountain curves that the distance between second and third gear was too far; I had to keep rowing up and down. But when going for a 0-to-60-mph time, I could use the entire tachometer--the soft redline is 6,750 rpm and the hard redline is 7,500 rpm. That's a heck of an engine for the money.

Then I stomped on the 10.1-inch front vented, 10.3-inch rear solid discs and hauled the whole thing down from 60 mph in an entirely reasonable 128.4 feet. A few days before I had also stomped on them when traffic stopped suddenly on I-5, and it did a fine job of stopping the fully loaded rig well short of the shiny Ford Edge in front of me.

Anyway, a week's worth of high-speed hauling made me love this thing. I tend to love cars that are efficient. Yes, that makes me a communist weirdo. But who can argue with a car that will do all of this and stickers for $16,685? The Accent five-door had more standard features than Hugh Hefner's most recent spouse: AM/FM/XM/CD with six speakers, steering-wheel-mounted controls for the stereo and cruise control, Bluetooth, power everything and even fog lights and a rear spoiler. All of that for $16,000. The GS five-door starts at $14,000, and Hyundai is still offering that 10-year powertrain warranty. What's not to love?

2012 Hyundai Accent SE Five-Door

Base Price: $16,555

As-Tested Price: $16,685

Drivetrain: 1.6-liter I4; FWD, six-speed automatic

Output: 138 hp @ 6,300 rpm, 123 lb-ft @ 4,850 rpm

Curb Weight: 2,430 lb

Fuel Economy (EPA/AW): 34/32.2 mpg

Options: Carpeted floor mats ($95); iPod cable ($35)

2012 Toyota Yaris, Flash Drive Car Review

2012 Toyota Yaris Toyota
The 2012 Toyota Yaris

By: Mark Vaughn on 8/17/2011

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What is it?

For 2012, Toyota stretched the wheelbase of the three-door version of its entry-model Yaris subcompact almost two inches, increased the cargo volume of both three- and five-door models (the old four-door sedan soldiers on in fleet sales) and wrapped them both in new sheetmetal. The drivetrain carries over with a 106-hp 1.5-liter VVTi four and your choice of a four-speed automatic or a five-speed manual. They're both plenty roomy--we sat in front and in back and had lots of headroom and knee room.

What is it like to drive?

Toyota said that the upper-end SE model was specially designed by chief engineer Hiro Yamamoto to be “sporty and dynamic,” so we grabbed one of those first, with a five-speed manual. The drive route was a short one through Los Angeles suburbs, so it wasn't like we took it on a road course or a twisting mountain two-lane. Sporty? Just about all small cars are inherently sporty, and this one didn't seem unsporty. Maybe a Honda Fit is more fun to drive, but this one was playful enough that you wouldn't be afraid to throw it around when the feeling struck you.

Clutch takeup and engagement was easy to master and the engine revved happily to its 6,000 rpm 106-hp peak. Redline is at 6,500 rpm. The 103 lb-ft of torque felt as if it was available across a wide band, peaking at 4,200 rpm. The SE model gets 16-inch alloys with 195/50R-16 tires, better than the entry-level L and LE models, which get 175/65R-15s on 15-inch steel wheels. The SE gets 20 percent stiffer front springs, faster electric-power-steering ratio (2.3 turns lock-to-lock instead of 3.0) and four-wheel discs. It also gets unique bumper fascias, chrome exhaust tips and a few other distinctions. But when we tried out an entry-level model with crank windows and all, it felt just about as sporty as the sporty SE. The L, LE and SE models all ride on MacPherson struts up front and a torsion beam behind. Maybe a slalom course would have shown up the distinction between the two.

All in all it wasn't bad, it was fun, and if you are in this demographic, you could do a lot worse than this stylish-looking Yaris. It looks better than a Fit, a Nissan Versa and Ford Fiesta, we'd say.

Do I want it?

Toyota lists the truly all-new Hyundai Accent as a competitor, though the Accent is a compact and the Yaris is a subcompact. But the Accent also gets gasoline direct injection and a six-speed manual while the Yaris has to wait two years for a new powertrain. Toyota said the Yaris is still competitive on fuel economy with the old powertrain, and it has a point there. We'd say the Yaris leads the pack in looks and is highly competitive in driving feel, as much as anything in the class--none of which sacrifice economy to get great handling.

The entry-level L starts at $14,875 while that sporty SE starts at $17,160, if you include the mandatory destination charge. Those prices are a little more than before because Toyota made standard certain options that everyone was buying anyway.

2012 BMW Z4 sDrive 2.8i, Flash Drive Car Review

The BMW Z4 hugs the curves. Photo by: ROGER HART

The BMW Z4 hugs the curves.. Photo by ROGER HART.

The BMZ Z4 has a wide look. Photo by: ROGER HART

The BMZ Z4 has a wide look.. Photo by ROGER HART.

Open the hard-roof top and let the wind flow. Photo by: ROGER HART

Open the hard-roof top and let the wind flow.. Photo by ROGER HART.

BMW Z4 with the roof closed. Photo by: ROGER HART

BMW Z4 with the roof closed.. Photo by ROGER HART.

Driver controls are well placed. Photo by: ROGER HART

Driver controls are well placed.. Photo by ROGER HART.

A view of the twin-scroll turbo engine. Photo by: ROGER HART

A view of the twin-scroll turbo engine.. Photo by ROGER HART.

The BMW Roundel. Photo by: ROGER HART

The BMW Roundel.. Photo by ROGER HART.

By: Roger Hart on 8/17/2011

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What is it?

The body style of this generation Z4 has been around for a couple of years, so the real news here is the new N-20 twin-scroll turbocharged four-cylinder engine. While BMW has a history of producing excellent four-cylinders--the 1973 2002 turbo and the four-cylinder turbo that powered a Brabham to the Formula One world title in 1983--this is the first time in a dozen years that BMW has sold a four-cylinder in the United States. And note that this is not a twin-turbo engine but rather a twin-scroll turbocharger. BMW calls it a "twinpower turbo." The exhaust from two cylinders are directed to one of the two scrolls in a single turbocharger. This increases the engine's efficiency, lessens the lag time it takes to spool up the boost and increases the fun. BMW is getting 120 hp per liter all the while increasing the fuel economy over a six-cylinder model by 20 percent. The engine also has direct fuel injection with the fuel system pressurized to 2,000 psi. This allows for precise amounts of fuel to be delivered at the exact time needed, to help with overall efficiency.

The all-aluminum engine weighs about 40 pounds less than a six-cylinder, and it was built to handle both RWD and AWD applications. Because the engine has two fewer cylinders, the entire engine sits behind the front axle, getting more weight toward the rear of the car and helping with the car's handling balance.

Also coming with the new engine is an eight-speed automatic that gets better fuel mileage than the six-speed manual.

What is it like to drive?

The engine is really good, with a wide torque band from about 1,250 rpm up to 5,000 rpm. On a drive up a twisting mountain road north of Ojai, Calif., we spent most of the time in third gear, using the wide power band to our advantage and amusement. The engine is responsive, especially down low in the rev range. The wide torque band reduces the need for lots of shifting, if you don't want to do it.

Do I want it?

While the Z4 sDrive 2.8i (yes, that is a mouthful) is a fun car to drive, it's not an all-out sports car. The exhaust note from the N-20 is, well, quiet. With the top down and traveling at any speed, you can't hear any exhaust note. With the top up, the air-conditioning fan is louder than the exhaust. At slow speeds, you catch just a whisper of intake noise. For most buyers of the Z4, a quiet overall ride might be just what they are looking for. But it is not the kind of noise enthusiasts want from their performance car.

However, the big plus here is the overall efficiency. The specific output--120 hp per liter--is outstanding. And while the EPA figures are not yet finalized, BMW expects at least a 20 percent gain over the mileage of the base six-cylinder. That's significant, especially considering the torque is higher and the overall drivability of the new engine is excellent.

And if the Z4 isn't your type of car, BMW will use the new N-20 engine next in the 2012 528i, due in dealerships this September. In that application, BMW expects the EPA highway mileage to come in at 32 mpg. With a government mandate to increase fuel economy across the board, expect automakers to continue to use smaller-displacement turbocharged engines to meet the federal mandate, and to meet customer's needs for performance.

2012 Volkswagen CC Lux Limited, Drivers Log Car Review

car review volkswagen cc.
The turbocharged four-cylinder engine in the Volkswagen CC is rated at 200 hp.

By: Bob Gritzinger on 8/16/2011

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EXECUTIVE EDITOR--AUTOWEEK.COM BOB GRITZINGER: Hmm, let's see: Here we have a stylish, coupelike German four-seat sedan, but this 2012 Volkswagen CC Lux Limited only carries a $35,485 price tag. When you look at it that way, the sticker isn't so shocking compared with what you'd have to spend to get a similar model from one of the German luxury brands. That's not to say that the CC is a direct competitor to the Audi A7 or the Mercedes-Benz CLS by any stretch, but for those shopping the genre, the VW is a reasonable and considerably less expensive alternative.

I love the ripping yet refined 2.0-liter turbo, and the chassis is set up for serious handling. Set it into a corner, and the car tracks beautifully from one end of the arc to the other, even if you add throttle en route. The car is seriously well planted, especially for a front-driver.

Inside, the CC is as elegant as you're going to get without upgrading to a luxury car, with four picture-perfect bucket seats beckoning occupants. Everything here is comfortable and close at hand, with an excellent driving position.

Is $35,000 too much for a VW? Maybe, but it's not bad for a car of this type that is this well done.

DIGITAL EDITOR ANDREW STOY: My favorite cars to review are the ones I'd seriously (and realistically) consider calling my own. The CC has been on my radar since it was launched, and I've always thought it an attractive car inside and out for a reasonable price. After spending an evening in the loaded CC Lux Limited, I'm no less enthusiastic about the car, but I have a better sense about the trim I'd select.

The turbocharged four gives this sedan plenty of grunt, with its modest output enhanced by a torque curve that masks its displacement. As for the DSG gearbox, I could take it or leave it. Shifts were exceptionally quick, but the initial clutch takeup can still be awkward at low speeds, and there's an occasional moment of confusion when the throttle is hammered. No sport mode or paddle-shifting provisions further diminished my enthusiasm, but it was still worlds better than the PowerShift unit in our recent Ford Focus.

Inside, the CC is gorgeous. The combination of cream and black trim in our tester looks classy and feels comfortable, and the switchgear has a solid feel that competes with the best German sedans. Getting in and out of the CC was somewhat compromised, though, as would be expected from the coupe roofline. Note, too, that you'll be seeking wide parking spaces if you use the rear seats. That pinched rear-door trailing edge is a door-ding weapon par excellence.

For the technophile, our CC had a multifunction navigation/Sirius XM/iPod head unit that competes with the best of them. It's one of the few infotainment systems that worked pretty much exactly as I expected it to when I connected my devices, and it rivals the Honda/Acura system for intuitive design from my perspective.

Back to my "personal" CC: Were I currently in the market, I'd save a few thousand and opt for a CC R-Line with leatherette and a six-speed manual. At an MSRP of less than $32,000, it's more of a bargain Audi than anyone at either company would likely care to admit.

ART DIRECTOR CHERYL L. BLAHNIK: The thing that impresses me the most about this car isn't its handling or its exterior but rather its interior. I've always been a fan of VW interiors, but the CC's seems perfect for a car in this segment, with the color combination of vanilla and black working well together.

The exterior doesn't hurt this car, either; it has a streamlined look, giving a feeling of movement without sharp lines. It really comes off as having a very polished look. And the cool thing is that you don't see these all over the place.

The CC handles well, but more power would be welcome. I believe if you loaded it up with four adults and gear, it would be a little bogged down. With just me onboard, it was fine.

NEWS EDITOR GREG MIGLIORE: I like this 2012 Volkswagen CC Lux Limited. It's well executed inside and out, and the risk-taking, swoopy styling makes it a halo sedan of sorts for the brand.

I'm most impressed with the sheetmetal, which is curvy and well proportioned and strikes an elegant pose. I'll second Andy's Audi comparison. I love the raked roofline in back and the gorgeous lights front and rear. The CC is voluptuous, and as the accents and wheels indicate, it wears its jewelry well.

Inside, the cabin offers tons of natural lighting thanks to the expansive and tone-setting sunroof. The seats are comfortable, supportive and sharp, with stitching and color combinations used in excellent fashion.

The engine serves up plenty of torque low in the band, and the acceleration is actually quite quick. I think it could use a touch more power, however, as this is a meaty sedan, and a turbo four-banger is a bit too under-the-radar and subtle.

The chassis is comfy, and for a big car, it's entirely well mannered. The steering is very light, and it's not exactly a car that yearns to be pushed. The fuel economy is impressive, although the premium-fuel requirement grates on me. I put 87 octane in a Ford Mustang GT with twice the horsepower in the morning and 93 octane in this four-banger in the afternoon.

Still, for the money, this is an excellent product that looks and drives well. It's also very elegant and very swoopy. I give all the credit in the world to VW for taking a risk, trying something different in both audience attraction and styling--and I'd say pulling it all off. The sales numbers might not be what VW would like, but the car is sharp.

2012 Volkswagen CC Lux Limited

Base Price: $35,485

As-Tested Price: $35,485

Drivetrain: 2.0-liter turbocharged I4; FWD, six-speed dual-clutch sequential manual

Output: 200 hp @ 5,100-6,000 rpm, 207 lb-ft @ 1,700-5,000 rpm

Curb Weight: 3,147 lb

Fuel Economy (EPA/AW): 25/25.5 mpg

Options: None

2012 Volvo S60 T6 AWD R-Design, Flash Drive Car Review

2012 Volvo S60 T6 AWD R-Design Volvo
2012 Volvo S60 T6 AWD R-Design

By: Barry K. Winfield on 8/15/2011

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What is it?

Volvo's S60 R-Design is the company's most powerful production vehicle, with output boosted an additional 25 hp from the normal S60 T6's 300-hp output, thanks to development undertaken by Volvo's racing and performance parts partner, Polestar.

By increasing turbo pressure and recalibrating the engine-management system, Polestar found the extra power (along with a 9 percent torque improvement, peaking at 354 lb-ft), without hurting the car's fuel-consumption ratings. Appropriately, the increase in engine performance is accompanied by various suspension tweaks.

All of the springs were shortened by 15 millimeters and are 15 percent stiffer, and monotube rear shocks replace twin-tube equivalents for faster response. The rear bushings are 20 percent harder, and the front antiroll bar has 20 percent more resistance. Up front, a strut brace ties the front towers together. This stiffer new chassis rides on 18-inch Ixion alloy wheels shod with high-performance summer tires.

The R-Design model is distinguished by exterior styling additions that include a front facia, a piano-black grille and a new rear diffuser. Inside, the car gets unique seats with extra cushion bolstering and an embossed R-Design logo across the front-seat backrests. The interior also has a sport steering wheel with R-Design logo, gear selector, sports pedals, floormats and a blue watch-dial instrument cluster.

What is it like to drive?

With its torque peaking between 3,000 rpm and 3,600 rpm, the R-Design car feels pleasingly muscular on the road. In addition, the fast-spooling turbo and rapid-response six-speed Aisin-Warner transmission provide virtually instant reaction to a dig at the throttle. But despite the power and suspension upgrades, the Volvo remains decently refined on the road.

The structure is clearly good enough to maintain civilized levels of isolation, and the car rides smooth and flat on most surfaces despite the stiffened undercarriage. Path control is very good, and the steering manages a fair amount of feedback for an electrically-assisted mechanism.

The suave road manners belie the car's track talents, and a few laps at Northern California's Thunderhill Park showcased the S60's good chassis discipline and the remarkable effects of the front-axle torque-vectoring system. This uses ABS to brake the inside wheel (thus deterring wheelspin) while transferring torque to the laden outside wheel for optimum traction.

Torque vectoring greatly minimizes understeer, and in concert with the Haldex all-wheel-drive system, it pretty much abolishes torque steer. The only fly in the Volvo's ointment at the track is its squashy brake pedal--something much less noticeable on public roads--which worsens as the brakes overheat. Whether due to flexy calipers or compliance throughout the brake circuit, this shortcoming is regrettable in a sport derivative.

Do I want it?

At $42,500 (plus $875 delivery), the Volvo S60 R-Design undercuts the hot-rod versions of BMW and Audi models by a significant margin. Yet its performance, traction advantages and high level of retained refinement make it a good choice for drivers for whom those attributes are important. The brakes disqualify it as a track-day regular, but its conduct on-track is otherwise nothing to be ashamed of.

And, there is all of that Volvo safety technology (city safety, pedestrian detection, etc) available, along with a desirable five-year/50,000-mile free service and warranty provision. Doesn't sound like a bad deal, does it?

2012 Volvo S60 T6 AWD R-Design

On Sale: Now

Base Price: $43,375, including freight

Drivetrain: 3.0-liter, 325-hp, 354-lb-ft I6; AWD, six-speed automatic

Curb Weight: 3,835 lb

0-60 MPH: 5.5 sec (mfr)

Fuel Economy: 18/26/21

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