By Chris Haak
Forget the “Naughty Volvo.” The 2011 IS F is unquestionably the Naughty Lexus. If power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, having a car like the IS F to drive every day could easily be a recipe for losing one’s driving privileges. The temptation afforded by a small car, an eight-speed, paddle-shifted transmission, and a big, honking, 5.0 liter 416 horsepower, 371 lb-ft V8 is just too great.
When I reviewed a Lexus IS 350 a few years ago, I was awestruck by what a fast car it was. There was power available in any spot of the rev range, the transmission shifted quickly, and the 306 horsepower direct-injected V6 had a refined, yet boisterous, soundtrack. So how do you make a car like the IS 350 better? Just add more: more power (a 5.0 liter V8 that would be at home in a Mustang GT 5.0), more gears (eight forward speeds instead of six, and more sound. It was damn near impossible for me to keep my right foot away from the IS F’s gas pedal, because the deep bass sound that emanates from the exhaust outlets is far more addicting than any sound ought to be.
By Charles Krome
I know it might seem a bit late to tackle the Super Bowl ads again, but there’s an interesting story about them in today’s Detroit Free Press that provides an inside look at the lengths to which some automakers go to get the most out of their efforts.
Here’s the deal according to journalist Chrissie Thompson: Almost as soon as the VW Passat/Star Wars ad hit the Internet (two days before the big game), it started to get people’s attention. And among those people were Joel Ewanick, GM’s global chief marketing officer, who has earned quite a reputation in the industry for his PR acumen. Ewanick apparently knew a good thing when he saw it, then showed exactly how he garnered that aforementioned rep. He had Chevy work a short-term deal with Google so that when folks searched certain intergalactically related terms—like “Darth Vader”—links to Chevrolet’s Super Bowl ads popped up at the top of the page. And then he did the same kind of thing with the phrase “Imported from Detroit” after the Chrysler 200/Eminem ad broke.
By Chris Haak
Smart USA at this point is such a non-factor in the US passenger-car market that it barely warrants its own article, but we’ll indulge anyway. To get you up to speed with what’s happened to this point, Daimler AG wasn’t sure that Smart would be a good fit in the US, so it held the cars out of the US market for years. Finally, in 2008, Daimler granted megadealer Roger Penske exclusive distribution rights to the Smart brand in the US, which meant only the Fortwo. Around that time, gas prices shot through the roof, the people who wanted urban runabouts all bought them, and the brand’s sales collapsed to little more than a rounding error in terms of overall US market share. How does 5,947 US sales in 2010 sound?
Smart USA hired former Saturn General Manager Jill Lajdziak as its president after Saturn closed its doors, and the company announced that it was entering into an agreement with Nissan to produce a larger, B-segment Smart (perhaps called a ForFour), which turned out to be little more than a rebadged Nissan Micra (sold overseas, not in the US).
By Charles Krome
When the Buick LaCrosse was redesigned for 2010, the car immediately jumped to the head of the class of near-premium, front-wheel-drive, full-size-ish semi-luxury sedans. Especially notable was the LaCrosse’s striking exterior, with its distinctive character line and aggressive proportions, and that seemed to say the car was destined to be more than just an American version of the Toyota Avalon or Hyundai Azera. Well, after spending a week in a 2011 LaCrosse CXL, courtesy of Buick, which also provided a free tank of gas, it’s now clear that the car has more than fulfilled that destiny.
The story still starts with the LaCrosse’s exterior design. The car shows the traditional long-hood/short-rear-deck appearance of a traditional sports car—accentuated by that side character line—as well as wheel arches that extend beyond the body of the car itself and a steeply raked front windshield, so the overall impact is surprisingly athletic. Yet at the same time, the refined light treatments and the way the rear glass gently slopes down to the trunk provide a fair amount of streamlined sophistication. It makes for a much more eye-catching silhouette than found on the Buick Regal or Verano, or most of the other mainstream sedans on the road today.
By Chris Haak
It’s well known that the Panther platformed-Lincoln Town Car is being put to pasture later this year (as is its platform-mate, the Ford Crown Victoria). Lincoln does not intend to concede those sales (over 11,000 Town Car sales in 2010, and over 75,000 sales on the platform), so just as Ford is crossing its fingers that taxi operators will flock to the Transit Connect, and law enforcement will flock to to the Explorer-based and Taurus-based Police Interceptors, it’s hoping that livery buyers will consider the new MKT-based Town Car.
To create the MKT Town Car, Lincoln actually split the line into two variants. The first is the standard-length MKT Town Car Livery model uses the same body shell as the regular retail-sold MKT, but adds a few touches to make it more appropriate for livery duty. For instance, the rear seat has been moved rearward by 1.5 inches to increase legroom. When we reviewed an MKT EcoBoost, we found the second-row accommodations to be perhaps the best seats in the house.
By Chris Haak
Of course, Valentine’s Day is about showing the people you love how much you love them, not about cars or even websites about cars and the car business. But that won’t stop us from considering which vehicles we truly love. To keep the conversation on track, let’s focus only on vehicles that we’ve actually owned. Which cars did you love, and what did you love about them?
I’ve owned about a dozen cars during my 20 years with a driver’s license (not counting the cars that I had the use of growing up as the son of a car dealer, which meant changing the car that I was driving – but not owning – a number of times ). The car I loved the most was…
By James Wong
So the new Pagani is finally out. Years back when we were reading about the then ‘C9’ designated car, we wondered what car could ever succeed the stunning Zonda, almost literally a car built by a group of craftsmen in a small industrial estate in Italy. What made the Zonda more unique than any other supercar, for me at least, is its combination of exotic build, materials and looks and daily driver usability, durability and reliability. Pagani made the right move to source its engine from AMG, the makers of Mercedes AMG cars which generally tend to be more reliable than if Pagani were to build its own engine in-house. And anyway, Pagani’s efforts would have been distracted from the rest of the car if it also had to build its own engine. So, the AMG engine gave the car a lease of reliability when its Italian roots might suggest otherwise. But more than that, Pagani has also managed to make a gruff AMG engine sound completely different from its usual vocals. The Zonda has one of the most pure, unadulterated V12 wails of any engine, period.
It also has a manual gearbox which, in the all-too-common situation of complicated dual-clutch gearboxes failing, is both a welcome reassurance and an exhilarating companion to the naturally-aspirated V12. Given these factors, it is not uncommon to see Zondas that have been used regularly, without ridiculous service intervals expected of other supercars. Yet, according to those who drive it at least, it gave such an unmatched sensation behind the wheel. What a combination.
By Chris Haak
So, it was about the floormats and pedals after all.
More than a year after Toyota’s reputation for quality and safety was damaged by a tsunami of recalls (18 million vehicles worldwide) to repair sticking accelerator pedals, and after a cloud of suspicion that Toyota’s electronic throttles were somehow at least partially to blame for the runaway Priuses and Camrys featured on the six o’clock news, it turns out that there apparently aren’t any electronic gremlins causing the problems. At least, that’s the findings after a 10-month study done by the US Department of Transportation, with the help of NASA engineers.