The auto purist inside nearly every enthusiast still pines for the now far-gone days when automakers, conceived of, built, and sold each of their creations – owning both the process and the results from cradle to grave. Of course the results of such one application engineering weren’t always laudable, and the process was (and is where and when it still happens) inherently more wasteful than the modern practice of building multiple vehicles on the same or similar running gear. And yet even today, platform sharing vehicles, especially those between two distinct parent companies, are often dismissed with a “badge engineered” label and cast as being somehow less good than the earlier product with which they share an architecture.
After spending some time with Mercedes’ hot-burning C63 AMG, we thought it apt to give the rest of the C-Class range a shot to see if the new Benz C can all-around top other premium sport sedans like the BMW 3-Series and Lexus IS. While we did enjoy our C300 Sport, we found the $45,000 as-tested price a little high, especially when a BMW 335i offers better performance for a more reasonable price. Still, much of the blame for the hefty price tag is down to heavy treading on the options list…
One of the more ubiquitous sights on the American Road is the Ford Ranger pickup. It is handsome, in a hard-working, rectilinear way, and you don’t see many that appear to have suffered neglect or abuse. Now the Ford Escape (and Mercury Mariner) SUVs join the Ranger pickup in its ubiquity. Not only do you see a lot of them, and not only do they look good, they are good. They may be the class-leader of the compact SUV category.
For 2009, Mercedes-Benz has outfitted all of its diesel vehicles with the latest in Bluetec technology. First pioneered in the E320, the ML-, GL-, and R-Class now get the cleanest version of Benz’s oil-burning 3.0-liter V-6. This engine is good for 210 horsepower and an extremely useful 398 pound-feet of torque. However, we were rather skeptical if this would be enough power to move the large R-Class family hauler with enough spirit to keep our enthusiast hearts beating. What we found was a rather pleasant people mover with ample power and a comfortable, luxurious interior perfect for long drives.
Just as we recently wrote about the new BMW 7-Series, the midlife fifth-generation 3-Series also makes its first impressions with its exterior and passenger cabin. What’s different in the case of the E90 3-Series four-door is that the all-new version introduced in 2005 has been an enthusiast favorite, whereas the 7-Series has received little else but sharp ridicule for its exterior design and the horrid earlier versions of the iDrive system, since going on sale in 2000.
Just as soon as I received word that my request for a fleet vehicle to take on my summer vacation to the great state of Maine was to be filled with a Crimson Red 2008 BMW 335xi Coupe, I immediately knew that I would have to add a significantly expanded program of challenging roads to the itinerary. My girlfriend, Molly, was understandably overjoyed.
We were recently invited, along with an immodestly large group of our fellow scribes, to have our way with the whole of the 2009 General Motors lineup at the bustling Autobahn Country Club in Joliet, Illinois. And despite the siren song of several Corvette ZR1s wailing from the direction of the north track, we took the afternoon to acquaint ourselves with a vehicle that seems to have an ever increasing importance for GM’s near term future, the 2009 Chevrolet Aveo5.
If you’ve driven pickups much over the last thirty years, when you’re behind the wheel of the 2009 Dodge Ram 1500, the notion might occur that pickups shouldn’t be so quiet, ride so smoothly, carve corners so competently, accelerate so quickly, or have so many features. These were our prevailing thoughts as we drove a Laramie 4×4 through the Tennessee countryside, enjoying a driving experience so good that it provides a compelling argument to drive a full-size truck if you can figure out how to rationalize it.
Now that we’ve tested the BMW M3 Coupe and Sedan, it’s time to round off the M3 lineup with the hardtop convertible. While we were quick to proclaim the Coupe and Sedan as fantastic automobiles, we’re having second thoughts about the cabriolet. Many of us have qualms with the folding hardtop and even though BMW has re-engineered their dual-clutch setup, some of us would still prefer the straight-up six-speed manual gearbox. All in, the M3 Convertible proved to be good fun for top-down driving, but we’re not sure if our M3 love stands true to this model.
Even though the original Fit debuted in 2001, we Americans were deprived of the little Honda that could until it finally arrived Stateside in 2006. After years of successful sales in Japan and Europe (where it sold as the Jazz) the folks at Honda decided to see how the diminutive hatchback would do in the bigger-is-better United States auto market. At that time, a gallon of regular unleaded still cost less than three dollars and consumers were lined up for miles waiting for new crossovers and sport-utilities to hit dealer lots. Not even Honda had anticipated that the Fit would sell roughly 80,000 units each year in America.
Hard as it may be to fathom, we automotive journalists get things wrong every once in a while. Despite perpetually cheering for the 2003-2008 Mazda6’s ragtag charms and dynamic excellence in a crowd of somnambulant sedans, it never really sold. Nevermind that it was a wieldy package and fun to grab by the scruff on winding roads, it languished on showroom floors while far duller drives poured out of showrooms like so many bags of rice. Heck, we even heartily applauded the availability of a segment-best three separate body styles (sedan, wagon, and touring), as well as a genuine high-performance variant, the Mazdaspeed6. Still no dice. Great handling and a multiplicity of formats are evidently no substitute for outright size and power in the family sedan stakes. Not that we’re bitter or anything.
We at Winding Road and NextAutos frequently get the chance to sample luxury offerings from Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, et cetera. And while all of those German manufacturers make wonderful vehicles, it’s a rare occasion that some Italian blood works its way into our test fleet. Our Maserati Quattroporte test car proved to be a sporty, elegant cruiser, and can turn heads in a way that none of the German automakers can.
While it may be a year old, the diesel BMW 5-series was never sold in America, but it’s still something we wish we could have the option to shop for in this market. Our friends at Bosch imported a Euro-spec 535d for us to test, featuring a 3.0-liter diesel inline-six capable of producing 286 horsepower and a whopping 428 pound-feet of torque. Our test car also adorned BMW’s M Sport appearance package, available on the European 5-series. This, combined with tinted rear windows and a badge-less rear end made this 5-series our stealth bomber of choice for cruising.
This was an incredible sensation we have to tell you about first. We’ve melted tires and drifted BMW M3s, M5s, and M6es without any effort whatsoever. We tried getting the 128i or 135i to do these things and it wasn’t easy. We tried the 335i and it’s just too composed to make it easy, though it can be done under certain circumstances. Bottom line is that BMW makes cars that must seize the driver’s heart and soul without much ado. They should goad us to play.
We’re just back from a day of participation in what Mitsubishi called its Lancer Family Road Show, where the main event was our debut drive in the new center of the range, the 2009 Lancer Ralliart.
We at Winding Road and NextAutos are always eager to test the diesel offerings from global manufacturers and we were grinning with excitement when the folks at Bosch offered us the keys to a Mini Cooper with a 1.6-liter diesel engine. According to Bosch, this Mini will achieve fuel economy numbers in upwards of 50 miles per gallon, which will shame many hybrid offerings currently sold in the States.
Over the past twelve months we’ve driven or reviewed (and often both) something on the order of 250 vehicles. Be it on some far-flung and usually stunning road served up by an automaker for a new car launch, or on the slightly more humble highways and byways that surround our Michigan and Texas offices, we’ve had a fair taste of what was on offer in the automotive universe during 2009. We figure the very least we can do is to tell you which ones we liked best.