Less Pain at the Pump

It’s almost impossible to remember the last time I watched a newscast that didn’t include2009 Ford Escape Hybrid a report on the rising price of gas. As the numbers break the $4 a gallon mark, even those who can afford the $100 tank of gas are rethinking their choices.

The one-two punch of environmental awareness and soaring gas prices has led GM to shun its behemouth Hummer and has made the used SUV market a bargain for anyone who doesn’t mind making up for it at the gas pump.

So now, some good news: GM has turned its attention to the Volt, its plug-in hybrid, with production set for 2010. For those who don’t want to wait, CarandDriver.com has released its list of the 10 most fuel-efficient vehicles in the U.S.

It’s no surprise to find the Toyota Prius at the top of that list. The highly praised Prius has become a celebrity in its own right and the symbol for all things green. With 48 mpg/highway and 45 mpg in the city, no other car can touch this one. Yet.

Following on its heels are the 2008 Honda Civic Hybrid (45/highway, 40/city); the tiny Smart Fortwo (41/highway, 33/city); the 2008 Nissan Altima Hybrid (35/highway, 33/city); and the 2008 Toyota Camry Hybrid (34/highway, 33/city).

Rounding out the top 10 list are the 2009 Volkswagen Jetta TDI, the 2009 Ford Escape Hybrid, the ’08 Toyota Yaris, the ’08 Mini Cooper and the 2008 Honda Fit. See the whole story here.

Keep It Clean – But Conserve Water

Posted in: General

waterless-on-benz-low-res-5620.JPGThose of us who are concerned about the environment face some sizeable challenges when it comes to our love of cars. Let’s put aside the whole gas-guzzling issue for a moment, and look at something we used to take for granted – keeping our cars clean.

Yes, we all want that fresh-from-the-factory look when we’re driving down the street. A clean, shiny car – regardless of its make or model – simply looks and feels better than a dirty one. At the same time, however, there’s been a lot of attention given to our evaporating natural resource, water, and so hosing down the sports car can certainly inflict some feelings of guilt.

Before the month is over, it could go beyond guilt, as nearly two dozen states are considering water convservation plans for the rest of the summer.

Fortunately, there’s a fairly simple solution on the market right now. Detail Magic, which makes a nice line of automotive detailing products, has introduced a Waterless Car Wash and Wax that lets you keep your car sparkling clean without spilling so much as a single drop of water.

Although it’s not going to let you scrub up your Land Rover after a muddy romp through the swamp, it’s the solution you’ve been looking for to keep your car in mint condition between washings. All you do is shake it, spray it and then wipe down your car. It’s like cleaning your kitchen – only a lot faster! – and the planet will thank you.

What If Your Hybrid Needs Repairs?

Posted in: General, Hybrid cars

2007-toyota-prius.jpgHybrids have become some of the hottest property around, thanks to that one-two punch of environmental consciousness and skyrocketing gas prices. In fact, according to Automotive News, sales of the Toyota Prius are up nearly 4 percent from last year and a year-old Prius is now worth more than it was when it was new.

That’s good news for owners – and for the environment – but this new ownership comes with some new questions. Like – Where do you get it fixed if you are far from your home dealership?

The answer, according to Angie Hicks – namesake and founder of Angie’s List, a service company rating site – is getting easier to find.

“Right now the easiest way to ensure you get a hybrid-certified mechanic is to use the service department of a dealership that sells new hybrid vehicles,” recommends Hicks. “Mechanics at those dealerships are required to undergo extensive hybrid training that some independent mechanics may not have gotten yet.”

However, with hybrids heating up the market, more repair shops are sending their mechanics back to school to learn the tricks of this new trade. She advises to simply ask for proof that the mechanic is certified to work on a hybrid before handing him the keys.

The best plan, of course, is to find a certified mechanic before you need one. Developing a long-term relationship with your mechanic is always a good idea, so plan ahead and start cultivating this before you need one. Some of Hicks’ tips for hybrid auto repair also include:

– Never work on the electrical system yourself.

– Be timely with the tire rotations, as the torque of a hybrid engines can wear out tires faster than on a traditional gasoline engine.

– Keep your routine – maintenance, that is. Staying current on your regular maintenance schedule extends the life of your hybrid in addition to preserving its resale value.

As if lower gas bills and environmental do-goodism weren’t enough, Hicks found another piece of good news for hybrid owners: Maintenance and repair costs are less than maintenance of traditional vehicles, thanks to fewer components that require regular maintenance. So you aren’t just driving green – you’re saving green!

Inside the 2009 Lincoln MKS

Posted in: General, Lincoln

With rising fuel costs and uncertain economic times looming, even luxury buyers are taking a more conservative approach to shopping. With that in mind, Lincoln will roll out a new luxury sedan this summer that combines some high-end features with a surprisingly moderate pricetag.

The 2009 Lincoln MKS, which will hit showrooms this summer, starts at around $38,000. That price tag is meant to help attract first-time luxury buyers, and Lincoln is unveiling some attractive amenities to help first-timers plunge into the luxury experience.

Outwardly, the car boasts the clean, classic lines you’d expect from a Lincoln. The distinctive double-wing grille was inspired by the 1941 Lincoln Contintental, and that’s the starting point for an elegantly designed body that comes in nine colors, from the sedate, executive-feeling Tuxedo Black Metallic to the much more energized, ready-for-the-nightlife Sangria Red Metallic.

Inside, the cabin is a terrific combination of business class and high-tech innovation. The stylish two-tone interior has such luxury touches as a leather-wrapped steering wheel, wood trim and leather seats with the heated/cooling features we’ve come to expect. They’ve super-sized the glove box and given some thought to cupholder design – there’s even a fold-down console in the back to give rear-seat passengers access to cupholders of their own.

But beyond the design of the interior, it is the high-tech touches that make this car truly stand out. Lincoln has pumped a lot of life into this car, and it shows with such features as SYNC – a voice-activated in-car systm that lets you access your cell phone and digital media player; Adaptive Cruise Control, which not only sets the car’s speed but automatically adjusts to keep a safe distance between you and the car in front of you; automatic moisture-activated windshield wipers; a rearview camera system and a forward sensing system, which together will pretty much eliminate any parking problem you might run into – except finding an actual parking space.

As a clincher for luxury-minded consumers who are also watching their checkbook, Lincoln has borrowed the powertrain from its MKX, which was named one of Ward’s 10 Best Engines for 2007. The aluminim block and lightweight four-valve heads ensure smooth operations, even at high RPMs, and it delivers the power of a V8 with the efficiency of a V6.

Lincoln has already reported a huge response to this sedan, with nearly 9,000 pre-order already placed. Find out more about it here.

Study: New Cars Are Losing Their Luster

Is that new car smell losing its thrill? Could be, according to a new survey released by J.D Power and Associates.

The 2008 APEAL (Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout) Study shows that drivers are less thrilled with their new car purchases than they were a year ago. But it isn’t necessarily the cars themselves that are to blame. Instead, drivers point to prices at the pump, which have gone up 27 percent since last year’s survey.

“The increased cost of filling their vehicles … leads to a greater level of dissatisfaction with fuel economy than in the past,” notes David Sargent, vice president of automotive research at J.D. Power and Associates. “Manufacturers that deliver more fuel-efficient vehicles…stand a better chance of delighting their customers.”

And there definitely were some delights to be found. Although Honda fared the best, capturing the highest level of satisfaction in three categories, luxury marque Porsche held its own with top ratings in two categories. It took home the APEAL award for its Cayman in the “Compact Premium Sporty Car” category and for the Cayenne in the “Compact Multi-Activity Vehicle (MAV)” division.

Jaguar also fared well, earning a perfect score in “Overall Performance and Design.”

Luxury models that got the thumbs-up from satisfied drivers were the Lexus IS 250/IS 350/IS-F (Entry Premium Car); the BMW 5 Series (Midsize Premium Car) and the Mercedes-Benz S-Class (Large Premium Car).

Joining the Porsche Cayenne in the Premium MAV category was Land Rover‘s Range Rover, which topped the list for Large Premium MAVs.

The survey goes hand-in-hand with J.D. Powers and Associates’ Initial Quality Study, which was released about three weeks ago and focuses on problems experienced by new owners during the first 90 days of ownership. To see how your favorite auto manufacturer fared, click here.





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Land Rover’s New Concept a Winner

Land Rover’s latest brainchild hasn’t hit the production line yet – but it’s already a hit.

The South East Automotive Media Organization named Land Rover’s LRX Concept the 2008 North American Concept Truck of the Year on Tuesday, citing its great looks and new technology as major factors. The award is based on design, style, materials, technology, market viability and market responsiveness.

Although it’s still technically an SUV, the sleekly designed Land Rover LRX Concept incorporates some rather innovative options into its design. It’s a turbo diesel hybrid vehicle – the first of its kind – which means it can get over 50 miles to the gallon and can run on bio-diesel. With just three doors, it is smaller and lighter than the Land Rovers on the road tody, and it also has an “ECO” mode to optimize fuel economy.

Inside, the interiors are as luxurious as ever, but it’s designed to not only look good, but to reduce the weight of the LRX as well. Instead of glass in the roof and side windows, designers used polycarbonate – which is 40 percent lighter than glass and blocks virtually all UV light. At the same time, Land Rover used special nanotechnology within the polycarbonate to reduce infra-red transmission, which helps the interior keep its cool.

With an eye toward sustainability, the LRX uses vegetable-tanned leather, aluminum (good both for reducing weight and for recycling) and carpeting made from sustainable sources. The fine suede on the door inserts and headliners is actually made from recycled plastic bottles and fibers. And the creature comforts aim to please, with touches like an iPod docking station, a cool box (no more bulky coolers in the car!) and even a bottle chiller.

So, finally, there’s a Land Rover that is as good for the environment as it is good-looking. In fact, the only problem I could see with this vehicle is that it’s not on the road yet. Here’s hoping that Land Rover will make that happen long before the LRX’s previously anticipated 2011-ish debut…

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Inside the Infiniti FX50

Posted in: General, Infiniti

In just over a week – on June 24 – Infiniti will begin selling its latest incarnation of the FX, its luxury crossover SUV. For everyone who has resisted owning/driving an SUV in order to avoid the stigma of being a minivan mom, it just might be time to rethink that decision.

In an effort to continue putting the “sport” in “sports utility vehicle,” Infiniti has put technology to work both inside and out on this beautifully designed machine. The 2009 lineup includes three models – the FX35 RWD ($40,950), the FX35 AWD ($42,350) and, at the top of the line, the FX50 AWD ($56,700). For the new year, the FX has been given a lower nose and sleeker profile, and for those seeking the perfect marriage of style, substance and performance, the FX50 is an absolute dream to drive.

Nice touches – such as paddle shifters on the steering column – definitely add to the sporty appeal, while an impressive list of safety features and high-tech driving aids make it a smart choice for the safety-minded.

For those who think “safety first,” let’s go there: The new FX is the first vehicle to roll out a new safety technology called Distance Control Assist, or DCA, which is designed to make driving in heavy traffic a little bit easier. DCA intuitively releases the throttle and applies the brakes to keep you a safe distance from the car in front of you. Also new to the industry is the FX’s Intelligent Brake Assist (IBA), which provides automatic emergency braking and a forward collision warning . And just to make sure you keep it between the lines, the car has a Lane Departure Warning and an automated Lane Departure Prevention system.

So, in case you’re wondering – yes, you can buy this car and put a bumper sticker on it that reads, “My car is smarter than your honor student.”

Techno-features aside, the comfort and styling of the Infiniti offer an impressive ride. The dash is an eye-catching combination of wood and leather that serves as the perfect display panel for the interior features. Of those features, one of the most useful is the Around View Monitor, which was a hit for Infiniti on its EX models and now works just as well here. It makes parking a breeze, and the only thing that could make it any easier would be a personal valet.

If you’re picking the kids up from soccer practice, you’ll also appreciate the automatic air recirculation feature, which switches the air source when it detects odors in the car and gives you a fresh supply. (Where was this feature when I was growing up and had to go on long car trips with my brothers?!)

Appointments such as an 11-speaker Bose audio system and great navigational features round out the package. The sporty cockpit is designed to be intuitive, driver-friendly and has the comfort you’d expect from a luxury car .

The beauty of the FX50 is that it has all the attributes you need in an SUV without driving or feeling like one. It has a 390 horsepower 5.0 liter V8 (the FX35s have a 303 horsepower 3.5 liter V6) and a seven-speed automatic transmission. With that kind of action under the hood, this is the SUV that just might make them the next cool car.

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Let Your Lambo Play Dress-Up

Posted in: General, Lamborghini

As we all know, accessorizing is the one thing that separates women from the animals. And from men.

However, there’s no reason to limit your accessorizing to your shoes, handbags and jewelry – there are many great ways to dress up your car as well. And if you happen to have a Lamborghini Gallardo in the garage, you’re in luck.

STRUT, the California-based luxury aftermarket auto accessorizer, has added a new collection of car jewelry to its offering. This time around, they’re offering carbon fiber and stainless steel appointments to let you customize your Lambo. Although they don’t have anything to offer first-year Gallardos, STRUT’s new collection includes two grilles with carbon fiber surrounds and stainless steel diamond-woven mesh bearing the STRUT shield for Gallardos built between 2004 and 2008. They also have matching side, rear hood, rear intake and bumper vents to add to the personal touches.

The result of these additions – besides making it a bit more personal – are a meaner profile and a distinctively different look to your Lambo. (Beats the heck out of a customized antenna ball or a bumper sticker!)

The Lamborghini Gallardo jewelry collection is $25,000 for the carbon fiber/stainless steel set and $35,000 for the limited edition titanium collection.

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What Kind of Car Are You Attracted To?

Hot on the heels of a survey that indicates women find hybrids sexier than hotrods (See What’s Sexier – A Porsche or a Prius? ), LeaseTrader.com has released a new look at what kind of women are attracted to certain cars. Or, more specifically, the men who drive those cars.

Teaming up with dating expert DeAnna Lorraine, they’re released a new look at how women react to the cars men drive.

“A man’s car reveals more about his personality and values, and may determine a woman’s attraction toward him,” Lorraine says. “Women pay attention to more than just a man’s personal looks.”

Based on the five most popular cars being leased by men, Lorraine created the following profiles:

Chevy Suburban : The men at the wheel of this car like travel, adventure and spending time with friends and family. Therefore, they tend to attract women who are family-oriented, down to earth and easygoing.

Mercedes S-Class : These guys are classy, successful and stylish – Lorraine refers to them as “Sugar Daddies.” Consequently, she believes these vehicles attract sophisticated women in their late 30s and 40s who enjoy being taken care of.

Ford F-150 : OK, please step away from the gun rack and don’t shoot the messenger here. Lorraine says that the men driving these trucks tend to be insecure and overcompensate on a tough, macho level. And the little woman on the seat next to them? They’re looking for someone to protect them.

Toyota Camry : These cars attract drivers who Lorraine called “solid, reliable and committed” – and the women they attract tend to be sweet, level-headed, uncomplicated and undemanding.

Last but not least, of course, is the Corvette . Lorraine says these drivers are “conservative but trying to satisfy a mid-life crisis by displaying their wild side through their car.” Lucky for them, they attract “hot, bad girls that are impulsive, wild and rebellious.”

I’d be interested to see her take on the women who drive these cars – and the kind of men they attract. I’m guessing it would go something like this:

Chevy Suburban : Has more kids than she has hands, and consequently spends much of her time transporting them to and from soccer/guitar/baseball practice. Secretly longs for a two-seater with a really good stereo system and a man who’s had a vasectomy.

Mercedes S-Class : This woman is career-driven and enjoys the finer things in life. She is looking for a man who (a) is not threatened by her success and (b) does not consider “moving back home with mother” a viable retirement plan.

Ford F150 : Not afraid of hard work, this little lady loves being in the driver’s seat. She wants a man who knows when it’s time to sit down, shut up, pop open a beer and ride shotgun.

Toyota Camry : Here’s good news for all the accountants out there! This car is piloted by a no-nonsense woman who craves a good value and longevity. The man who wins her heart will be loyal, consistent … and probably about as exciting as a box of hammers.

Corvette : The woman at the wheel of this car thinks that mid-life crises are for sissies, and she doesn’t have the time or patience to listen to her man whine about losing his hair. She wants to get where she’s going fast, and wants to look good getting there. In fact, she would probably rather race most men than date them. And she would probably win.

Serengeti’s Shades of Summer

Posted in: General, Hi-end eyewear

The right car requires the right pair of sunglasses to go with it, and at the moment I’ve grown incredibly fond of the new Maestrale by Serengeti.

Sporty enough to be worn for vigorous summer activities, but stylish enough to look and feel right at home in your favorite automobile, the Maestrale is one pair of shades that encourage you to see the world through rose-colored glasses. The shatter-resistant PolarMax lenses provide full sun protection from top to bottom and from side to side, so you can’t beat them for those afternoons spent cruising in a convertible with the top down.

The tortoise shell frames let you dress them up or dress them down, which is a great thing because once you’ve put them on your face, you’re going to want to keep them there. And if you absolutely have to have everything in basic black, they also come in Satin Black with black lenses. Retail price is only $160, which leaves you several pennies to put more petro in your tank.

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