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Throughout The Car Industry

Categories: Car Reviews

Haunted Highways: A Series Exploring The Ghosts of Cars Gone By (Quickly)

On: Mon, Jan 10, 2011 at 1:35PM | By: Lou Ruggieri

Haunted Highways: A Series Exploring The Ghosts of Cars Gone By (Quickly) test 1-1

In recent years, the great pony car war of Mustang versus Camaro has been better than ever. The new Coyote 5.0 in the GT is a bona fide Camaro-killer, and the Corvette-based LS3 is a old school torque-monster ready for any challenge.  


But this battle hasn't always been so even. When GM started using its LT1 Corvette engine in its token pony car back in 1993, the Camaro went on a winning streak that lasted seven years straight. Every stock-versus-stock magazine test, and 99% of stoplight races ended in the Mustang staring at the tail lights of the Camaro. Even when the Mustang changed to the more powerful 260 horsepower version of its single overhead cam modular engine in 1999 for its GT, it was already behind the eight ball because GM had upped the muscle car ante a year earlier to its formidable LS1 V8 that laid down a minimum of 305 horsepower. Not to mention the Camaro had six forward gears compared to the Mustang's five, and had a 3.42 rear axle gear (for the manual transmissions), while the GT made due with its "performance" 3.27 gear. 0-60 times for the Mustang hovered around the mid-to-high five second range, and quarter mile times hung around the mid-to-high 13 second department, while the LS1 Camaro times (given equal drivers, of course) were typically several tenths quicker to 60, and on average, about half a second quicker through 1320 feet, which might as well be a lifetime to most racers. The Mustang simply could not keep pace, even with its vaunted SVT Mustang Cobra; its DOHC V8 put down 320 horsepower and 317 lb-ft of torque, but just could not keep pace with the top dog Camaro SS and its more powerful powerplant. But just when all hope seemed lost, a blood-red ray of hope roared out from Ford's Dearborn assembly plant in the form of the almighty 2000 Mustang Cobra R.

(CL)oser To Perfection

On: Mon, Jan 3, 2011 at 11:16AM | By: Lou Ruggieri

(CL)oser To Perfection test 1-1

When the Mercedes CL-class first officially bowed back in 1998, it did so with a less than impressive splash into the market, and seemed to be an anomaly between Mercedes’ own S-class, E-Class, and even SL-Class models. It seemed to possess features of each of its brethren, yet nothing distinctive of its own. It seemed as if it could have been just one more luxury model for affluent buyers to try on in Mercedes showrooms, and to an extent … it was. Except that quite a few of those high-priced Allen Edmond-clad tire-kickers actually laid down the cash necessary to drive off in a new CL. Slowly but surely, the CL’s sales have quietly done very well for Mercedes, enough so to garner a second, third, and now most recently, fourth generation of the big coupe. 

Mercedes gets credit for being one of the first companies to develop a ‘corporate face’, that is, using a very similar set-up of headlights and grille to make sure that no matter what model you see in your rear view mirror, you can identify it immediately (Acura, Audi, and most recently BMW have adopted a similar motif). Since the overall face of Mercedes is changing, the CL is no exception starting with an updated grille, bumper, and headlights (a new bumper and tail lights complete the update out back). The hood is new and shows off its new larger grille.

Taking a page out of the Bimmer Book of Engines, Mercedes is switching from naturally aspirated, big displacement to more compact, forced induction motors exchanging the NA 5.5 liter V8 for a new direct-injection 4.6 liter twin-turbo V8 dropping 429 horsepower and a stump-pulling 516 lb-ft of torque. Make no mistake, direct-injection engines are the future of all gasoline engines. They produce better numbers with much better efficiency and the CL’s 4.6 liter V8 is no exception, making 47 more horsepower and 125 lb-ft of torque more than its predecessor, all while reducing emissions by 23% and improving fuel economy by 10-15% over the previous CL550’s EPA estimated 15/22 mpg.  

Video Crack: Codemaster's Formula1 2010

On: Thu, Dec 30, 2010 at 1:01PM | By: John Welch

Video Crack: Codemaster's Formula1 2010 test 1-1

My Christmas was, how shall I put this, uhm, interesting. Time was spent with family and friends, but it was a very small amount of visiting when viewed next to my other Yule-tide preoccupations. Namely: mouth surgery and Formula1 2010. The former began on Friday, the 24th, with a follow-up wisdom tooth removal on Monday, the 26th. I have never had so much surgery at once and am understandably incoherent because of it. That being said, this review may be clouded by my love of top-tier motorsport and my drooling, mostly invalid condition.

Christmas came between the multiple trips to the dentist's chair, and with it came the best present of the season. Not socks, (though i did get some awesome socks) not jackets or candy or Legos or a new bike; not even the all-conquering Gran Turismo 5. No, I received Codemaster's Formula1 2010, originally released way back in September, and it has replaced every other racing game, or game, period, in my tiny mind. This is F1-Dork Nirvana.

The Sickness

On: Mon, Dec 27, 2010 at 2:13PM | By: Lou Ruggieri

The Sickness test 1-1

So that’s it. You’ve created the biggest, baddest, meanest, most brutalizing road-going supercar of all time. It costs over a million dollars, can  run 0-60 quicker than most family sedans can go 0-30, and has exactly one pony over 1,000 horsepower being produced from its behemoth 8.0 liter 16-cylinder engine. Oh, and the car can hit 253 mph before it runs out of steam. That should be enough. Honestly, that should be enough.     .   


Yet, it’s not. The ‘you’ I’m referring to is Bugatti. The car is the Veyron. When it bowed onto the scene in 2005, it became the ultimate king of the hill. No Ferrari, Lamborghini, turbo Porsche, LFA, Viper, or GTR even comes close to dethroning it. Just to put it in perspective, in a race to 150 mph with a Lamborghini Murcielago LP640, the Veyron walks away from the Lambo to the tune of about four car lengths, which in the auto world is a Secretariat-caliber win. That should be enough, yet somehow it is not.


A Wolf In Sheep's Clothing

On: Fri, Dec 17, 2010 at 10:37AM | By: Lou Ruggieri

A Wolf In Sheep's Clothing test 1-1

When is a Cobra not a Cobra?  Any gearhead who has been to a car show can tell you the answer to that seemingly simple question. A Cobra is an original car Carroll Shelby made, and any replica is just an imitation. Or is it? Upon further investigation, it may be a deeper question than at first glance.   

A lot has changed since Carroll Shelby took a mild-mannered AC Ace and stuffed a thumping 289 Ford V8 into it, and then later dropping the legendary 427 into that barely-over-a-ton body to instantly create the Superman of hot rods. Science has evolved, technology has improved, and we as a human race have been introduced to more ethical questions than ever before. Mention the idea of cloning to anyone back in 1965 and it would sound like some obscure science fiction movie. Yet, just about thirty years later, science gave us Dolly, the first cloned sheep. Now, here’s where things get fun. Was Dolly a real lamb? Well one argument says yes, in fact, she was a real lamb. She existed in the world, ate food, breathed air, and walked among us as a creature of Earth. The opposing argument, however, says that she was not even a she, she was an ‘it’, and it was never born, but was created by man in a test tube. ‘It’ was an abomination, and can not, should not, and will not ever be considered to be a real lamb.  

So what does this have to do with a simple automotive column? We will get to that, but in order to do that, first your humble pseudo-philosophical author presents to you the Iconic AC Roadster. An 800 horsepower, 2400 pound street demon that looks a lot like a very famous reptilian car of yesteryear. The facts of this car are simple and simply amazing all at once. Powered by a NASCAR derived 7.0 liter Ford V8, pumping out an aforementioned NASCAR-like 825hp and 680 lb-ft of torque funneled through a Tremec-derived six-speed, this racer is shod with top of the line parts inside and out.

Pricing The Kia Optima: Starts At $18K, Could Climb To $30K, Worth It?

On: Thu, Dec 16, 2010 at 1:20PM | By: John Welch

2011 Kia Optima test 2

We have found ourselves in a sort of puppy love with the Kia Optima. The Hyundai Sonata is great, but we prefer the Kia's slightly more angular, imposing appearance. We have reported, breathlessly, on both cars, and have enjoyed every second we have spent with them. The Kia gets the final nod because of its driver-centric interior, sportier suspension, and overall aggression.

Having said that, let's option out an Optima and see if it is as value-conscious as it is stylish. After popping over to Kia's website, we find ourselves confronted with several different models. The LX is the cheapest, and only model available with the manual transmission, and the SX is most expensive. I can tell you right now, unless it were a second car, I would not buy this car until a manual is offered with the turbo engine. Shifting is that important to me.

We will start with the LX, try and find an acceptable Optima for as little as possible, then move on to pricier models in search of the perfect Kia Optima.


On: Fri, Dec 3, 2010 at 10:38AM | By: Lou Ruggieri

(Aston)ished test 1-1

There are few cars that actually elicit a physical reaction from people when they start up, but the Aston Martin N420 will make a believer out of anyone, gearhead or otherwise. Not like an Aston Martin needed anymore fanfare. Being the go-to car for most James Bond films over the years has all but inducted it into the Hollywood Garage of Fame. However, this new Bond car is one that the bad guys could hear coming a mile away.  


Now in its sixth year, the Vantage has been a very successful model for Aston, and has gone through a few iterations bearing the same name in those half a dozen years.  The N420 is actually an improved version of the N400, which was released as a commemoration (and metaphorical company-wide high-five) of their successful N24 hot rod racer entry to the Nurburgring. The original N400 celebrated with a 4.3 liter 400 horsepower V8, but the N420 uses a 4.7 liter V8 that puts out a very predictable, you guessed it, 420 horsepower. The N420 is differentiated from a "regular" Vantage by 19-inch, ten-spoke aluminum wheels with a gloss black and diamond turned finish, rear diffuser, fender vents, a carbon-fiber splitter, and wider sills. 

Pricing The VW Jetta: Is 16 Grand Realistic?

On: Thu, Dec 2, 2010 at 3:33PM | By: John Welch

Pricing The VW Jetta: Is 16 Grand Realistic? test 1-1

Yesterday we reported on Volkswagen's November fortunes. To sum up, things are good. VW's concerted effort to dominate the world's auto industry is working rather well, helped, of course, by the redesigned Volkswagen Jetta. It's no secret that the Jetta has been engineered to a price point. Interior materials are poor compared with the previous Jetta, the rear suspension is twist-beam only, and, at the moment, 170 charging horses are all you can expect to find under the hood of a Bora . . . eherrmm, Jetta. Though sold in Europe, this car is clearly designed to meet North American needs; the 'new' Jetta has a bigger trunk, more foot and knee room, and a slightly wider stance. The most alarming development to come from all of this rearranging? The Jetta is now nearly as cheap as a Scion xD. I assure you, the worst Jetta is still better than the best xD.

But is it worthy of the 40% bump in sales it is allegedly responsible for? The public has spoken, and the public doesn't notice the cheesy dash plastic or the ancient base engine. So there must be something to this new Jetta, right? To see if I could find a sub-$20,000 Jetta that pushes enough of my buttons to be a serious consideration, I clicked over to VW's website and optioned out a new Jetta of my very own. How did things pan out? Ye shall see, inside the post . . .

Top Gear USA: Has Potential, Needs Some Work

On: Mon, Nov 29, 2010 at 4:34PM | By: John Welch

Top Gear USA: Has Potential, Needs Some Work test 1-1

First of all, let me point out that Top Gear UK was around for 20 years before it was morphed into the program we all know and love today. Jeremy Clarkson has been cracking-wise about cars for a long time; he has a deep, thundering voice, and is very good at belching out sound bite-sized quips while maintaining control of whatever car he may be piloting at the time. Rutledge Wood has been a NASCAR circus clown for the last six years, Adam Ferrara is a stand-up comedian, and Tanner Foust is a race-driver turned SPEEDtv Host-Monkey, and as such has layer upon layer of hokey, Canadian-style television training to shed before he is anything other than wooden in front of a camera. Lower your expectations a might bit, and Top Gear USA can be seen for what it is: a start.

James May and Richard Hammond were both polished writers and public personalities before they began hosting Top Gear. Top Gear UK's producers have a larger budget, more experience and the joys of a British tv schedule working for them—no commercial interruptions equals a 58-minute "hour" instead of a 43-minute "hour". Top Gear USA is haphazard at best, and that isn't the fault of the hosts, producers or the History Channel. Trying to follow in the footsteps of the single greatest television show of all time isn't something one just does . . . it will take many seasons for TGUSA to shine as brightly as TGUK, if it even can. The first episode was not a home run folks, not even close . . . but the second episode displayed significant improvement. Still not "good", but better with the potential to become great.

Haunted Highways: A Series Exploring The Ghosts of Cars Gone By (Quickly)

On: Fri, Nov 26, 2010 at 11:00AM | By: Lou Ruggieri

Haunted Highways: A Series Exploring The Ghosts of Cars Gone By (Quickly) test 1-1

Instead of always trying to be ahead of the world on information and breaking news, sometimes it's better to take a deep breath and look back on what has already come to pass. In this next edition of our Haunted Highways series (see Haunted Highways 3000GT VR4 for our last installment), we aim to do just that. 


Some may argue that the Golden Age of automobiles was the mid to late 1960s; however, there is a compelling argument that can be made for the mid to late 1990s as either a second Golden Age or perhaps even a Renaissance. Although instead of huge displacement and grossly overrated horsepower numbers, these later cars used forced induction and new technology to compete on the highest level of production vehicles. 


The second generation 300ZX was perhaps the epitome of automobile technology, having been the first car to have been designed by the CRAY supercomputer way back in 1989. The 300ZX debuted its new style to Americans in 1990 and continued to evolve for the next six years. The long hood and quick abrupt dropped-off rear end had a polarizing effect, but most seemed to love its new styling, especially magazine editors of the time. The new 300ZX won Motor Trend's 1990 Import Car of the Year, as well as Automobile's Design of the Year and made an appearance on both "Ten Best" lists from Car and Driver and Road & Track.  

The Great Mini-Van Wars of Aught Ten: Nissan Quest Debuts In LA, Speedometer Back Where It Belongs

On: Thu, Nov 18, 2010 at 4:22PM | By: John Welch

The Great Mini-Van Wars of Aught Ten: Nissan Quest Debuts In LA, Speedometer Back Where It Belongs test 1-1

The "Toilet of Bad Ideas" has been overflowing for some time now, clogged with the foul remains of things like "Pops-a-Dent" and the Flo-Bee. Also swirling 'round in this brain turd stew, you guessed it, the center-mounted gauge cluster. What a stinker of an idea! Sure it works in a MINI, whose massive speedo really couldn't go anywhere else, lest it knock the tach off of its rightful throne, the steering column. Every other car laden with this terrible mistake, this distracting, poorly conceived pretentious waste of good dash space, was left with at least one glaring fault—the stupid center-mounted gauges.

College kids who buy and operate Toyota Echos need to watch the effing road! They're already so helpless and ineffective behind the wheel; I don't think making them look down and to the right while in motion, so they can check the speed of their ugly 4-wheeled snot box, is a very good idea. No, I think its a terrible idea. That's why it flounders away in the aforementioned "Toilet of Bad Ideas". A Saturn Ion Redline could be considered a fairly peppy vehicle. Some might even say "quick". So let's stick the gauge cluster in the middle of the dash and watch the insurance cash roll in! The Prius . . . oh gawd, why waste the effort typing. The Prius is just stupid, for so many reasons; the center-mounted slowometer isn't even in the top ten. The world has a finite supply of nickel, idiots; let's start there . . .

The third generation Nissan Quest was one such dash-zit sporting vehicle. The overall package was decent, different, attractive in some circles. Nissan and Renault were hooking up in a janitor's closet while this van was being designed, and its French influence can be seen both inside and out. The avant garde headlamps, bulging fenders, and strange 3/4 view all screamed "Renault". Look in the cabin and we have seats from the Moon Raker, an instrument panel stolen from the ISS . . . and . . those . . . freaking center-mounted gauges. Ahhhk.