Tag Archives: Chevy

First Drive – 2010 Lexus RX350

The Lexus RX350 is the class leader, the segment champion, it is what all others are measured against.  You get the idea.  Without question the competition is trying to knock this vehicle off its podium.  Most “car guys” hate the RX350 and for one reason, it is the essence of beige.  What’s beige you ask.  Beige is boring, bland, not dynamic, uninspiring and overall just blah.  Yet that seems to resonate with the general public in the U.S.

The RX350 is a cross-over utility vehicle that is front-wheel-drive based with optional all-wheel-drive.  The 2010 is the third generation of the RX cross-over.  The second generation RX was very evolutionary while the third generation is a slightly more drastic change, but still in many regards evolutionary.  Though, being evolutionary is not a bad thing, when you are the segment leader.  Lexus is doing something right with the RX and rightfully would like to keep the sales momentum going.  Losing market share over a huge redesign would be a nightmare.  So what is the reason this vehicle sells so well?

The entire experience of both riding and driving the third generation Lexus RX is easy.  Everything is easy: from the ingress into the vehicle, to the light steering, to the simple yet good-looking gauge cluster.  Things seem intuitive and easy to operate.  Everything has a buttery smooth feeling while operating the RX.  The transmission is smooth and never seems to have a rough spot, while the powertrain is refined. The ride is never harsh either.  The dual pane windows make the RX especially quiet as well.  The leather is soft and supple while at the same time the seats are supportive.  The family will definitely be very comfy cruising to the coffee shop in this cross-over.

As I mentioned above the exterior on the RX continues as an evolutionary design.  The styling is called “L-Finesse design” by Lexus and is used across the whole brand.  Highlighted by soft curves and flowing lines the CUV is not “sharp” like the Cadillac SRX styling.  Instead, it’s soft and inoffensive.  The whole front end of the RX does have more sculpting overall then the previous generation.  From the side view, the front fenders have a shoulder like line that continues down the side of the CUV to meet the rear taillights continuing into the rear bumper.  The rear has an integrated rear spoiler, which hides the rear wiper when not in use.  In my opinion, the exterior overall is improved from the last generation mainly due to more sculpting and more character lines that flow into each other.

The interior of the new RX has had a complete overhaul.  The center stack now has a swoosh starting in the center stack that goes across the front passenger seat onto the dash.  The center stack has a LCD screen in the upper brow that shows the radio and climate control information.  The materials all feel terrific with soft touch pieces placed almost over the entire cabin.

There was however, one piece of plastic that felt particularly out place.  This piece felt so out of place I wanted to make a point to talk about it.  The piece of plastic on the center console right to the left of the gearshift and it runs down into the center console between the seats.  This is the lone piece of plastic that felt ridiculously cheap and it was very hard.  It was out of place next to the soft touch dash materials.

Note The Ridiculously Cheap Feeling/Looking Piece Of Plastic

The gauge cluster had a cool blue hue that bled down from the top of the cluster.  The rear seats slid fore and aft to either increase rear seat legroom or rear cargo room depending on preference.  The seats also fold flat at the pull of a handle.  This is a feature I noted on the new Chevy Equinox and GMC Terrain that I thought was especially clever.  This feature is notably absent from the new Cadillac SRX.

The powertrain as I mentioned was very smooth.  The sole engine choice in the RX350 is a 3.5L V6 putting out 275 hp and 257 ft-lb to either the front wheels while all wheel drive is optional.  The power it channeled through the six-speed automatic with manual shifting capabilities.  Rated at 18/25 mpg in front wheel drive I saw an average of 18.5 mpg.  There is an eco indicator that comes on when you are driving gently.  The RX350 I drove was front-wheel-drive and exhibited little to no torque steer (tugging of the steering wheel under hard acceleration).  Going around corners the suspension is soft and you will feel some body roll.  This is not a sports car or even a sporty CUV, though it makes no such claims.

The RX350 I had was equipped with both packaged and standalone options.  The premium package costs $2,400 and added things such as: USB audio connectivity, front seat memory, moonroof, power rear hatch and auto dimming mirrors.  Standalone options included: the integrated back up camera system which tied into the rear view mirror for $350, wood and leather steering wheel and shit knob for $330, heated and ventilated front seats for $640.  The total sticker price after destination came to $42,220.

Personally I never loved the last generation Rx350. Admittedly I liked it more then the first generation.  I somewhat feel the same way about the new third generation.  I am not in love with it but it is better then the second generation.  Clearly, I am not the correct demographic for this vehicle.  This makes sense as it would not be high on my personal list of vehicles to own.  All that said, I would have absolutely no hesitation recommending this vehicle to someone looking for a luxurious crossover to get from point A to point B.

Would it be my top recommendation in the competitive luxury CUV segment?  Only if the RX is what the person already wants to buy because really I have no reason to say it is a bad vehicle.  I just wish there was more engagement to the driving dynamics.

In the end, I can see why this is the class leader in the segment. With this third generation the Lexus RX has the goods to continue holding the sales segment title.  If I were to use cooking as a metaphor for the RX: the third generation has certainly had a bit of spice added for additional flavor, but the chef has not deviated too far from the winning recipe that made it the sales success it has enjoyed.

Full Disclosure- Vehicle was from a local Lexus dealership.

First Drive – 2010 Corvette ZR1

The Corvette ZR1 is one of those cars that just screams “America can do it”.  America can build a world quality sports car.  Yes, you read that correctly.  America can build a car that competes with and can beat Ferrari’s, Lamborghini’s and more.  While in development, the ZR1 was code named the Blue Devil with the reasoning behind that the current CEO at the time, Rick Wagoner, went to Duke and the mascot is the Blue Devil.

Let’s start with the specs.  The hand built, supercharged LS9 V8 pumps out 638 hp and 604 ft-lb going to the rear wheels.  The power is put down through a Tremec six-speed manual.  The power goes to the rear wheels via two half shafts which are each different diameters to minimize wheel hop under hard launches.  The driver’s side half shaft is larger to offset the weight of the battery being on the passenger’s side in the rear.  Ride control features Delphi’s Magnetic Selective Ride Control system.  The shocks in this set up provide real time dampening and change instantly with road conditions.  There is a sport and touring mode which is controlled by a round knob on the center console.  To save weight, the frame of the ZR1 is aluminum and many body panels including the fenders, roof, hood, front splitter and rocker extensions are all made of carbon fiber.  The hood has a polycarbonate window that allows visibility of the intercooler and the polycarbonate window is visible on the hood while driving.

Driving the ZR1 is both surreal and yet also familiar.  The experience is familiar in the sense that everything feels like a normal Corvette.  The interior is, for the most part, the same.  The seats have ZR1 embroidered on the headrests but other then that, they are stock.  The seats are comfortable, just like any other Corvette, but this is not just any Corvette.  The ZR1 is capable of 1.1 g’s of force and these stock seats are fine for the road but on a track, more bolstering is needed.  The recaros from the CTS-V would be terrific, but unfortunately they will not fit in the current C6 interior.

The clutch is light and easy to modulate.  The supercharger whine is noticeable whenever you are on the gas, more than when just cruising.  The gauge cluster is stock Corvette other than a boost gauge and the 200 mph speedometer with ZR1 screen printed on it.

As I mentioned the experience is surreal as it is familiar.  The experience is surreal in the sense that the car just launches like a rocket with 0-60 coming in 3.3 seconds under ideal conditions.  You can hit 66 mph in first gear.  Bringing you back to reality are the brakes which are carbon ceramic rotors originally developed for the Ferrari Enzo and FXX.  Driving is difficult to explain.  The speed builds fast yet the car always feels planted.  Wind noise is surprisingly in check.  The steering is easy and not over boosted and yet, is lighter then some of the competitors.  The dual mode exhaust opens the butterfly valves above 3000 rpm’s and then it just sounds like a symphony. The redline comes quickly under acceleration, reaching the maximum 6800 rpm with 10.5 psi of boost. The ZR1 is the every day super car because the suspension does not beat you up on city streets and highway expansion joints.

The interesting thing about driving a ZR1 on the street is the way people react. You could almost venture that it is a sleeper car in some ways because Corvettes are commonplace.  They are not as uncommon as Ferrari and Lamborghini (depending on where you live) and when you are on the road, most people do not even notice the car.  In fact, the only time the car was noticed was under hard acceleration when the dual mode exhaust opened up and the exhaust turned devilish.  When cruising next to any other car, it never received a second glance.  If you are looking for some serious attention from what you drive, you will either have tell everyone how much power this thing really has, or shop elsewhere.

The Carbon Fiber Roof Panel

The ZR1 I drove was loaded with the $10,000 premium package which includes the leather wrapped dash, heated seats, memory seats, navigation, Bluetooth, premium Bose sound system and much more.  Also optioned on this particular ZR1 was the chrome wheel package.  You do get slapped with a $1,300 gas guzzler tax on all ZR1’s.  All said and done, the total sticker price came to $121,465.00 which is a lot of money for a Corvette, though this is not just any Corvette.

The ZR1 is a testament that General Motors really can build a world class super car.  Taking on the world’s best, both on the road and the track, for a fraction of the price.  The value proposition is insane.  When looking at the competition, the ZR1 falls short in the interior but this car is all about the powertrain and, more specifically, that supercharged LS9 with an intoxicating exhaust note that is like music to your ears.  The question comes down to if would you buy this over the competition.  An Audi R8 starts at $114,200, is not as fast and while having a distinct look and a much nicer interior along with that premium brand name, has less power.  When looking at the competition, you have to ask yourself what is most important: the best bang for your buck and one of the fastest cars on the road or a brand name that costs more and delivers less. If more power for less money sounds better then you should really take a look at the ZR1.

Full Disclosure- Vehicle was provided for a first drive by Classic Chevrolet

Interview with Hagen Durant from Classic Chevrolet

Classic Chevrolet was the number one volume Chevrolet dealership for the past four years.  This past weekend I had the opportunity to interview the general manger Hagen Durant about the key to their success.

Betting on the Little Guy

Americans in general have never associated small cars with high price tags.  They are seen as regular transportation and not premium vehicles.  In Europe this is simply not the case rather small cars are very popular and the price tags are not cheap.  They are fully featured cars with options many small cars do not have in the U.S.  With the new CAFE standards coming soon automakers in the U.S. are starting to realize that maybe we need to be a little more like Europe.  Smaller cars with higher fuel efficiency and more options.

The Detroit Auto Show was all about downsizing.  Engines were being downsized using lower displacement and it is all about getting more from less.  Utilizing forced induction both in the way of turbo charging and super charging the automakers are doing what they can with the latest technologies.  It is going farther then that.

Americans are realizing they need less.  Not everyone technically needs a Suburban to haul the kids to soccer practice.  The reality of it is when you are taking two kids to soccer practice you are not towing a 25 foot boat.  In fact most people that have large vehicles do not need them at all.  It is a perception and comfort thing.  While I know some of you are readying your pitch forks, just hear me out.  Yes, some people do need their large vehicles.  Some people actually do need SUV’s.  I drive an SUV and do use it to tow boats up north.  If we weigh out how much I need an SUV it is probably more then some but still less then others.

Interior of the 2012 Ford Focus

The automotive manufacturers are starting to bet on the little guys.  Ford’s new small car line up will begin with the new Fiesta.  The Fiesta has a base price just above $13,000 but that price can get very close to $25,000 after customizing it with a myriad of options.  Next Ford debuted the next generation Focus as a 2012 model at NAIAS last month.  The new Focus will be more refined while offering more options and features.  While they have not talked pricing you can naturally assume it will cost more.  The current Focus pricing starts a little over $16,000 topping out around $22,000.  It is estimated by some that while the base price of the the new Focus will increase slightly, a fully optioned Focus might approach $30,000.  That is a lot of coin for a small car.  The question is, are Americans willing to pay a premium on these new small cars?  Some are probably scratching their heads saying how could they charge so much.  We as Americans have been asking for the same product that Europe has been getting for years.  Ford has finally listened and decided it would be cheaper to amortize costs, thus the “ONE Ford” strategy comes to play.  Cars will be developed by Ford to be sold globally with minor changes for safety regulations and such.

2011 Chevy Cruze

Chevrolet is betting on the new Cruze to carry its sales in the compact car market.  This new model will replace the lackluster Cobalt which itself replaced the Cavalier.  The new Cruze is said to be rated at 40 mpg on the highway which is an impressive number to be sure.  The car is said to be dynamic to drive and offer the premium feel of a larger car.  That is exactly what these smaller cars with larger price tags will have to do.

So will we Americans embrace these smaller cars with larger price tags?  I think it all depends on where the starting price tag is.  This all goes back to my post about why strippers are important.  The base price on a model is what seems to drive traffic to show rooms.  Maybe that will change with time and it will be features that drive customers to the showroom.  One thing is for sure, the pricing and options work in Europe where people are paying more for less.  Are you really getting less?  In the end it is all about how you look at it.  You are getting more miles per gallon, you are getting more technology and amenities all in a slightly smaller package.  So the question is, will people buy these small cars that all the auto manufactures are betting on?

NAIAS- Chevrolet Aveo RS Concept Intro Video

Full Disclosure- My NAIAS travel and accommodations were provided by General Motors

AutoBird Podcast Episode 10

Episode 10 starts by discussing the past week on both of our respective blogs, AutoBird Blog and AccelerateMpls. The week in review included 2009 sales numbers, and my post about why strippers are important.  We move along to talk about NAIAS (the Detroit Auto Show) and the things we will be seeing.  That list includes the next generation Ford Focus, the Chevrolet Aveo RS concept, Ford’s MyFord, and the Buick Regal GS concept.  Next we discuss the new Dodge naming scheme and announced Chrysler powertrain updates.  The last topic continues to be the Saab story that continues to unfold.


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Why Strippers Are Important

Why do strippers exist?  What is the point of them?  Many people say they would never touch a stripper but I am willing to bet otherwise.  Some have even touched one without even knowing it.  Hey get your head out of the gutter!  We are talking about basic cars here.

All cars come in base or entry level trim in some form or another.  This means the vehicle is lacking certain options.  Options are all relative.  For example a base Audi A4 will include leather, power windows, power locks, power driver seat, automatic climate control, and the list could go on.  That car also has a base price starting at $31,450, with which you are paying for those standard features in that base price.  Now take for example a Toyota Camry, which has a base price $19,395.  You lose the power seats, leather, automatic climate control, prestige branding, and many more options that are standard on the Audi.  Take this one step farther and you could buy a Nissan Versa for $9,990.  What does that $9,990 get you?  A car, four wheels, an engine, and air bags, along with all the things that make the car run.  No air conditioning, no power anything, steel wheels with hub caps, though you do get six air bags and a tire pressure monitoring system.  This is the essence of basic transportation at its finest.

So why do these “stripper” models exist.  I imagine you are saying to yourself, “who buys these?”  In reality these models sell in higher volumes then you think.  Two directions are taken when it comes to sales of these models.  One is fleet sales, there are a ton of stripped down or modestly equipped Toyota Camry’s and Chevrolet Impalas in rental car fleets.  The second route is simply people that want basic transportation.  Believe it or not, there are people out there that simply care about getting from point A to point B.  Sure most say they want a stereo with a CD player, and air conditioning is usually a requirement for them as well.  The fact is a base stripped down Toyota Camry or Chevrolet Impala meets those needs.  They are also relatively inexpensive to maintain.  Most even get respectable gas mileage.

Few cars come without CD players and radios.  Almost none (save for a handful) come without air conditioning.  Modern conveniences are in tow.  Safety is always there, air bags are standard on all cars (though more are sometimes optional).  Shockingly some cars do not have ABS (Anti-Lock Brakes) standard.  I personally know a handful of people that are car guys, and they feel power seats and other newer technologies are just extra weight in a car.

The point is simple, “stripper” or base cars play a vital role in sales on different levels.  Advertising the lowest price on a base vehicle is what gets people in the door.  Once they realize how many things are missing they start to think about upgrading, but that stripper got them in the door.

Officially Official- The Lexus LF-A is finally here

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Lexus finally took the wraps off the new LF-A super car this week at the Tokyo Motor show.  This car has been in development since approximately 2000 and the amount of man hours put into this project is staggering.  Most of the leaks, when it comes to specifications, were spot on if not close.  The car will be rear wheel drive with an all in house developed V10 engine sitting up front.  That V10 is a 4.8- Liters making 562 hp and 354 lb-ft will rocket the car 0-60 in 3.7 seconds.  Lexus says the top speed is 202 mph which is super car territory and tops that of many competitors.  Weighing in at 3,263 lbs, it is rumored that weight distribution is 48/52 front-to-rear which would explain why Lexus is boasting about the driving dynamics.  Another tidbit of awesomeness on this cake is the redline is a staggering 9000 rpm!  That helps explain the F1 sound coming from the LF-A flying around the Nurburgring all these years.  The inside is luxurious for a sports car and it has a trick gauge cluster.  The whole speedometer is digital.  When you hit redline the whole background turns red.

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Last night on #carchat we had a open discussion about this car and it seems many people do not like it.  Keep in mind we are not the customer Lexus is going after with this vehicle.  Most of us are not rich and could not afford the $375,000 price tag associated with ownership.  The majority said it was ugly and that for the money they would rather buy other cars.  Many mentioned cars such as the Chevrolet Corvette Zr1 or the Nissan GT-R for the price and performance.  Fact is those aren’t exclusive cars when compared to this car, though they are both halo cars for each brand and in that regard they are similar to the LF-A.  I was definitely in the minority and thought it was a good looking car and truly love the sound of the V10 at full tilt from the videos leaked.  I feel the LF-A is definitely not a screaming value then again with only 500 units being made this will be a exclusive car.  The fact remains that while the price puts this car deep in super territory where the elite compete such as Ferrari, Lamborghini, Aston Martin and others, what separates this car from those.  The separation comes with what Toyota/Lexus does best, reliability.  Super cars are not known for being super reliable.  This could be a new way to compete.  Without question Lexus/Toyota will be taking a loss on each car after all the years of development.  Then again can you put a price on a halo car that truly puts your brand in the spotlight with a super car even for a moment?  Lexus has not had a sports car nor a halo car to speak of.  Toyota just announced recently they want to be building fun cars again that stir the soul of the driver.  While that is not what they are currently known for this car might put a pulse to that statement.

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Check this video by Lexus/Toyota listen to that engine.

Review- 2010 Chevrolet Equinox

2010 Chevrolet Equinox

2010 Chevrolet Equinox

Many of my friends scoffed at me when I said General Motors is really making a come back. In fact most of my friends will not consider buying a American car due to the damage they have done to themselves over the last decade. This is all changing and the 2010 Chevrolet Equinox is big step in that fight.

The previous generation Equinox was barely class competitive and was no where near best in class in any area. The fact remains that for a time most of this did not matter and vehicles sold. While the previous generation Equinox sold Chevrolet was no longer satisfied having just another entry into the compact SUV market. Enters the new 2010 Chevrolet Equinox. This completely redone Equinox is not only class competitive, its class leading! Coming to market the main talking point is this new Equinox has class leading gas mileage. The exterior has great styling with real flair. The front has jelly bean like headlights and a dual port grill like the new Malibu. The side of the vehicle has a side spear going from the front fender back to the rear tail lights.

The new Equinox is available with two engine options both feature direct injection and both are tied to a six speed automatic transmission. The 2.4 liter 4 cylinder pumping out 182 HP all while achieving 22/32 mpg in front wheel drive is the real banner story! Those mileage ratings on for the front wheel drive variant while I had the all wheel drive variant which is rated at 20/29 mpg. I averaged around 18.5 mpg with a mix of city and city/hwy driving. While the 4 cylinder is powerful enough for most daily tasks those wanting more power a V6 is available putting out 264 HP With V6 the mileage ratings drop to 18/25 in front wheel drive and 17/24 in all wheel drive. Both engines are capable of towing with a max of 1500 lbs for the 4 cylinder and 3500 lbs with the V6. The 4 cylinder has a eco button that when pressed will help achieve one mile per gallon better fuel economy. When in eco mode the torque converter locks up quicker and the shift points move. I really did not see a difference in fuel economy though I felt the transmission shifted smoother while in eco mode.

General Motors for the longest time has been no where near class competitive in the interior department. Most have been travesties. It is obvious to me that designers spent a lot of time on this vehicle. The interior is really as class leading as the engine choices. While most panels are hard to the touch they look great and in this class that is what counts. The competitors also have hard panels but everything you actually come in contact with in the Equinox is nice to the touch. The interior at night lights up like something from Tron. The vehicle I had was equipped with cloth seats and they are something of a airy mesh that is quite interesting. The seats are firm and comfortable. I liked the material used on the seats. The Equinox I had was a 1LT with the only option being a back up camera for $320. The screen for the review view camera was integrated into the rear view camera on the left hand side. When in reverse the left hand side of the review mirror becomes a screen.

In a class lead by Honda CR-V and Toyota Rav4 the new Chevrolet Equinox should be putting those two competitors on notice. The Equinox both drives and looks like a breath of fresh air in the an all too boring segment. Chevrolet is pricing the new Equinox as aggressively as it is restyled, starting at $23,185 and topping out around $35,000. This vehicle is gone from barely class competitive to being segment leader in every category as far as I am concerned. With a class leading interior and very competitive pricing, the great fuel economy and high tech engines are icing on the delicious cake. I would recommend this vehicle over anything else in its class to anyone. The bottom line is this, if you are in the market for a small to midsize crossover SUV and you do not test drive the new Equinox you are doing yourself a big disservice.