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Karl's Daily Log Book

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  • editor_karleditor_karl Posts: 418
    Welcome to Karl’s Daily Logbook. I'm glad you've tuned in for this premier installment. My daily drive involves the Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu Canyon and Mulholland Drive, as well as some long, straight stretches of road through deserted farm land. Mixed in with the meandering pavement and picturesque scenery is a steady stream of treacherous police activity, including multiple speed traps on any given day. Don't worry -- I've got a Valentine One radar detector that usually keeps me out of trouble.



    The first contestant on this New Car Blog is the all-new 2005 Mercedes-Benz SLK350. Like BMW with its redesign of the Z3 (now called Z4), Mercedes is trying to get away from the "chick car" cross that these cute convertibles often bear. Now the SLK looks like a mini SL, which in turn looks like a slightly defanged McLaren SLR. The result is a more aggressive appearance -- I've even heard the word "phallic" used, suggesting Mercedes may be a bit too serious about injecting manliness into its Baby 'Benz roadster. Styling aside, the SLK's new 268-hp, 3.5-liter power plant feels as refined as any internal combustion engine I've driven. Forward thrust starts strong at idle and only gets better from there. What’s my favorite improvement over the previous SLK? The steering, which now matches the sports car promise this car has been making since 1997. Thank the "recalculating ball to rack and pinion" upgrade that came with the redesign. And in case the improved drivetrain and steering aren't enough, don't forget the retracting hardtop that offers coupelike ride quality when raised. I'll take mine in red with the six-speed manual and Airscarf system (possibly the coolest convertible feature ever invented -- even if the name somewhat contradicts the "anti-chick-car" direction Mercedes is going).



    Check back tomorrow for my reaction to another all-new DaimlerChrysler product: Chrysler 300 SRT-8.
  • highenderhighender Posts: 1,362
    that is one nice drive you have... :-)

    agree with your assesments on the looks and cache of the baby Benz convertibles...
  • andys120andys120 Loudon NHPosts: 16,593
    Nice job you have. Shouldn't you start with Minivans or something mundane like we drive in the real world. :-P

    2000 BMW 528i, 2001 BMW 330CiC

  • editor_karleditor_karl Posts: 418
    The Chrysler 300 is BIG! It handles well, rides extremely well and has plenty of power with the basic 5.7-liter Hemi, but it's still BIG. The SRT-8 version has a hopped-up 6.0-liter, 425 horsepower Hemi that moves the car from quick to damn fast. With the larger, 20-inch wheels and sporty front seats it can almost pass for a sport sedan...but it's just too BIG to get away with it.

    That said, the 300 SRT-8 could be the best combination of luxury and performance available for the money. I initially had this vehicle pegged in the high $40s when Chrysler showed it off last August at Pebble Beach. But it actually starts at just under $40K, and if you load it up it's still less than $45,000 (including navigation, Sirius, bluetooth and side curtain airbags).

    Don't expect it to handle like an M5 or E55, because it can't. But for buyers wanting maximum luxury and maximum forward thrust for a price well below the premium German and Japanese alternatives, this car is a steal.
  • vchengvcheng Posts: 1,284
    Is it really "recalculating" or more likely "recirculating" ball steering that was upgraded?

    Anybody else I wouldn't have corrected, but the head honcho at Edmunds? I couldn't resist.

    I look forward to enjoying this thread!
  • editor_karleditor_karl Posts: 418
    Volvo was kind enough to provide us with a long-term S40 recently, and I've had the pleasure of driving it on multiple occasions over the past few weeks, including last night.

    The all-wheel drive on our model would normally be a waste of money and gas in Southern California, but the record rainfall we've seen over the past eight weeks has kept the roads plenty wet -- and muddy along my PCH commute. The all-wheel drive has proven its merit, helping me dodge various rocks,boulders and patches of displaced earth, especially at night.

    The one issue I have with the S40 is the abrupt power delivery from the turbocharged five cylinder. It's less of an issue on the manual shift cars, but with the automatic the engine can feel sluggish when its caught in the wrong gear and turbo lag comes into play. Not a huge issue, but one to be aware of.

    On February 16 the S40 took runner up (to the Audi A6) as the inaugural World Car of the Year, as voted on by 48 journalists from 16 countries. Considering its platform is shared by the Mazda 3 and European Ford Focus, the title seems appropriate.

    For me, its the combination of safety, luxury and value that makes the S40 a solid choice in the entry-luxury segment. Gotta love that surround sound audio system!
  • editor_karleditor_karl Posts: 418
    The "recalculating steering" is only on new BMWs.

    Someday they'll inject automotive terms into spell check and it won't make these "helpful" corrections...
  • editor_karleditor_karl Posts: 418
    Every time I see or drive a Volvo XC90 I'm reminded of how much more the average American buyer is focusing on safety.

    This car is not particularly attractive, and between its Volvo badge and chunky station wagon looks it's hardly "cooler" than any minivan. Yet this is one of Volvo's most successful models, and much of it has to do with the car's (well-deserved) reputation as a street legal bank vault for families.

    My ongoing problem with the XC90 was always the weak drivetrain options. Either you bought the more powerful T6 model and you had to put up with an outdated four-speed automatic. Or you went with the smaller 2.5T engine to get a modern five-speed automatic, but the car was left wheezing with only 208 horsepower (remember, that double-strength chassis is HEAVY; this car weighs over 4,400 lbs!).

    But the 2005 version I drove today offers a 315 horsepower V8 and a SIX-SPEED automatic. Now that's more like it! At $46,000 it ain't cheap, but the XC90 finally brings performance, luxury and benchmark-setting safety together in one package (the styling still won't set your heart aflutter).

    I can say this without hesitation: If divine enlightenment suddenly told me that my wife and kids were going to be in an accident tomorrow, and the only element I could control was the light duty vehicle they would be in when it happened, I would choose this vehicle.
  • andys120andys120 Loudon NHPosts: 16,593
    With the larger, 20-inch wheels and sporty front seats it can almost pass for a sport sedan...but it's just too BIG to get away with it.

    Is it really that big or do the big wheels and small windows make it look bigger than it is?
    I parked next to one in my E39 Bimmer (528iA) and noted that the 300 appeared only fractionally longer taller and wider. The E39 is classified as a "compact sedan".

    2000 BMW 528i, 2001 BMW 330CiC

  • andys120andys120 Loudon NHPosts: 16,593
    If divine enlightenment suddenly told me that my wife and kids were going to be in an accident tomorrow, and the only element I could control was the light duty vehicle they would be in when it happened, I would choose this vehicle

    Not me, I'd opt for the lower V70 or XC70 which have lower CGs ergo less chance of flipping.

    I'd have to disagreeagree w your assesment of it's looks though. It's really quite attractive for a Volvo and it's selling like hotcakes for that reason IMO.

    2000 BMW 528i, 2001 BMW 330CiC

  • editor_karleditor_karl Posts: 418
    Don't forget that a lower CG also means a lower hip point for the passengers, meaning if the other vehicle in the accident has a high CG (increasingly common in today's world) an impact between them will likely involve vital organs for the lower vehicle (like an XC70).

    Besides, rollover accidents are still relativley rare, and the most dangerous elements, if they do happen, are when:
    A. The occupants aren't wearing seat belts or
    B. The vehicle collapses in on itself and/or an occupant's head strikes an interior surface like the roof or roof pillar

    The XC90 has some of the most advanced anti-rollover technology available, and it has a structure that's very unlikely to collapse in on itself (the roof is made of Boron steel). And it has three rows of side curtain airbags. And my family is always properly belted in.

    I'll stick with the XC90, higher CG and all.
  • calhoncalhon Posts: 87
    Karl, single-vehicle rollover crashes accounted for 47 percent of occupant deaths in SUVs in 2003 compared with 36 percent of deaths in pickups and 19 percent of deaths in cars. Rollovers are rare but their impact is tremendous:

    Crashes in which a vehicle rolled over accounted for 33 percent of passenger vehicle occupant deaths in 2003 (55 percent of single-vehicle occupant crash deaths and 12 percent of multiple-vehicle occupant crash deaths).

    Stats from http://www.iihs.org/safety_facts/fatality_facts/occupants.htm#sec4
  • editor_karleditor_karl Posts: 418
    How many of those rollover fatalities involved the Volvo XC90?

    If your answer is "I don't know" then I'd follow up by saying, again, that the XC90 has extremely advanced anti-rollover technology, and even more advanced safety technology to protect occupants in the (unlikely) event that it does rollover.

    Are rollovers bad? Yes. They are also rare (as you admit) and unless someone can point to the XC90 having a preponderance for rolling over (I would bet that any research on the subject would prove the opposite) then I'm going to stick with my position that the XC90 is EXTREMELY safe -- desptie being an SUV (to me it's really a tall wagon).
  • calhoncalhon Posts: 87
    I just wanted to correct any impression that rollovers were of low importance because they are rare. On the contrary, it's the very reason why the XC90's safety systems, of which I'm a big fan, are so significant. See, we are on the same side.
  • I would have to disagree with you, Karl, on one point:
    - The XC90 is a looker. It is the most striking mid-size SUV on a market IMHO. Our Ruby Red draws a lot of attention everywhere we go. My wife, who drives the car, compares it with a fancy dog - she gets hits from male drivers every time she stops for a gas ;-)

    And 208HP seems to be more than adequate to us. It is an SUV, the family/cargo hauler, is it?

    I will buy a sport coupe, if I need an adrenaline pumper.
  • highenderhighender Posts: 1,362
    I think the Cayenne with the adjustable air suspension also has really good anti rollover technology...perhaps better than the Volvo due to its self-leveling suspension that can help the car balance itself in milliseconds.
    ...but Porsche is about performance...so they do not advertise the safety angle...

    the Volvo is good ... I drove the XC-90 at speed at a closed course... even made the wheels skid and drift. I drove both the tamer model and the twin turbo one....and liked them...

    however, I do not like the XC-90 rear end lights going up like the way they do, IMHO. LOOKs are subjective...SO if I were to design them, I would do something diff....the front end looks good...the interior is also good. It even has a radiator that breaks up ozone, a polluter.

    I would have no problem owning one...
  • editor_karleditor_karl Posts: 418
    Aston-Martin, like Cadillac and Suzuki, is in the midst of a revival. But unlike Cadillac and Suzuki, Aston-Martin has the type of heritage that any modern car company would kill for. Victory at Le Mans, a longstanding (and recently revived) association with the world's most famous secrent agent, and a reputation for making British sports cars that are as sexy as anything to come from Modena or Zuffenhausen.

    The company hit some rough patches in recent times, including a discernible drop in quality and a reputation for being glorified Jaguars.

    But the 2002 Aston-Martin Vanquish signaled a paradigm shift for the British marque, and the all-new DB9 continues the momentum. I drove the DB9 today on some of the most entertaining roads in Southern California, and let me confirm for you now that the company's future is bright. The U.S. is its fastest-growing market, and the dealer count has more than doubled in the last five years.

    And the car? Well, the 2005 DB9 is perfectly balanced on the road and downright decadant inside (it makes Lexus wood look like cork board). The automatic tranny offers paddle shifter functionality and the type of rev-matching on downshifts that normally require a sequential manaual design with a clutch and pressure plate. But this unit has a torque converter, meaning no annoying head-toss when left in full Auto mode, despite the manual-tranny-like rapid response time when manually shifted.

    I'll have a First Drive story (with video) available soon, but here's a quick sneak peak: It's a damn fine automobile.
  • andys120andys120 Loudon NHPosts: 16,593
    but there's a downside in that they have neglected the needs of Jaguar which has had three LeMans victories to AM's one in the last 50 years.

    Ford has done with Aston what it's neglected to do with Jaguar and that is to go racing. This year the DB9R will compete in the ALMS and in the LM 24hour race. The competition with Corvette for the GT crown ought to be fierce.

    In the meantime Karl, you should try out the new small AM, the V8 Vantage model and let us know if it's a worthy competitor to the 911.

    2000 BMW 528i, 2001 BMW 330CiC

  • editor_karleditor_karl Posts: 418
    The Aston folks (along with most of the journalists at the DB9 event) were all a twitter with anticipation regarding the AM V8. I certainly look forward to driving it in the coming months.

    And I totally agree with you regarding Jaguar. Considering the brand equity (and historic sales numbers compared to Aston) under the leaping cat's belt it's quite painful to watch this once mighty British brand go down in a blaze of broken race cars and malfunctioning headlights (anyone see the Advanced Lightweight Coupe at Detroit?).

    But as they say, Rome wasn't burned in a day. GM is just now getting Cadillac really working, and Saturn looks to be next in line. Maybe now that Volvo, Land Rover and Aston-Martin seem to be firing on all five, six, eight and twelve cylinders, Ford can focus on Jag.

    Here's hoping so.
  • andys120andys120 Loudon NHPosts: 16,593
    I'm not so sure that they have Land Rover firing on all cylinders yet. They have some good new products but some think the LR3 is so good it makes the top-of the-line RR irrelevant.

    Let's see if their dismal FOR improves.

    2000 BMW 528i, 2001 BMW 330CiC

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