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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: 16,596
    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: 16,596
    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: 16,596
    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: 16,596
    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: 16,596
    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

  • editor_karleditor_karl Posts: 418
    Drove a 2006 Audi A4 Avant home tonight. PCH is a mess; even though the rain has stopped, the shifting earth has not. There are lane closures just north of Sunset Blvd. from another mudslide, and it's causing massive back-ups in both directions. The drive in this morning took me two hours, and the drive home about 90 minutes (normally it's a one-hour affair).

    At least this car is a joy to sit in for such long stretches. I absolutely love Audi's MMI display screen. The colors, fonts and user interface are much slicker than iDrive. But it still took far too long to figure out how to manually tune the radio (which has excellent sound quality, BTW).

    The latest A4's look is appealing, and the Avant looks even better than the sedan. Yes, I know the front grille is somewhat controversial, but the wagon still works for me overall. Actually, that's been the case with every A4 for the last 10 years -- I've always liked the wagon versions better in terms of styling. Same thing with Saab's 9-5. Maybe there's just something inherently cleaner about a wagon's shape versus its sedan counterpart. Too bad their sales still pale in comparison to SUVs.

    Bring on the S4 Avant, please.
  • andys120andys120 Loudon NHPosts: 16,596
    It's interesting to note that 80% of Audi's European buyers choose the Avant, just about the opposite of here.

    I think the 9-5 wagon's shape is better resolved in the rear than the sedan's which looks like they didn't quite know what to do with it.

    Audi Avants are the best looking wagons made but you could say that about their sedans too.

    2000 BMW 528i, 2001 BMW 330CiC

  • cticti Posts: 134
    I, too, think the A4 Avant is a gorgeous car. My pet theory is that minivans became popular partly because wagons looked so ungainly and ugly.

    Despite low sales volumes, I think it is wonderful that we still have a good selection of wagons and hatchbacks. If/when my wife and I have kids/pets we will seriously consider a wagon as we are never, ever going to own an SUV of minivan.

    If it weren't for cost reasons I might already own one - or a V50 or a 325i wagon.

    How is the reliability on the A4, anyway?
  • andys120andys120 Loudon NHPosts: 16,596
    How is the reliability on the A4, anyway?

    In the case of my B5/'98 Avant 2.8 it was quite good with a fan motor being the most major item needing repair and replacement (about $600 parts/labor) outside of tires, rotors and other wear items and damage caused by mice chewing on underhood wiring..

    It was more reliable than either of the 80's era Hondas I owned.

    The car was acquired second-hand (CPO)@ 23K and traded in 5 years and 100,000 miles later.

    .

    2000 BMW 528i, 2001 BMW 330CiC

  • editor_karleditor_karl Posts: 418
    And at the opposite end of the A4 Avant spectrum is what I drove home tonight: 2006 Honda Ridgeline.

    I'm not sure what's more bizarre, that Honda is now in the truck business, or that its first truck seems inspired by a Cadillac (Escalade EXT). Remember, not so long ago Cadillac had never made a truck, either.

    Of course, unlike the Cadillac, the Honda isn't a real truck. The Escalade EXT is based on the body-on-frame Chevy Avalanche, while the Ridgeline is based on the unibody Pilot/MDX, both of which are largely based on the Odyssey.

    But this is not a knock against the Ridgeline. Car-like trucks are in these days, as proven by the sales numbers of the Toyota Highlander versus any Jeep or Isuzu product. The Ridgeline is easy to drive, very refined and has all sorts of cool features (love the "trunk" under the bed). People wanting the look/image of a truck with the friendliness of a Pilot or Highlander will love it.

    People expecting the off-road or towing ability of a real truck will not (its maximum towing capacity is 5,000 lbs while the Tundra is 6,500 lbs and the Big 3's trucks range from 8,200 to 9,400 lbs).

    But I still wonder how much of a market exists for non-truck truck buyers. SUVs offer seating for up to eight and/or the ability to haul delicate items (groceries, luggage, tax audit paperwork) in a safe environment. The Ridgeline maxes out at five passengers, and except for the relatively small "trunk" area it risks getting its cargo wet during a rainstorm.

    As long as it doesn't end up being Honda's Blackwood...
  • mirthmirth Posts: 1,212
    What I don't understand is Honda's advertising for the Ridgeline. They show it bouncing and leaping over boulders on a tough off-road course. Realistically speaking, this is not the Ridgeline's forte. Maybe it's to make the person who moves up from a 4-cylinder Accord feel more macho.
  • andys120andys120 Loudon NHPosts: 16,596
    Maybe it's to make the person who moves up from a 4-cylinder Accord feel more macho.

    Bingo! In advertising we say "perception is reality."

    2000 BMW 528i, 2001 BMW 330CiC

  • davem2001davem2001 Posts: 564
    Considering that probably at least 50% of truck buyers never go off-road, or tow anything, etc...the 4 cylinder Accord would probably do what they need just fine (commuting to work, going to the grocery store, etc..) !
  • Or a Hyundai for this matter, which with its 100k warranty looks even more practical.

    But, it is not a point. There is a very large population of the car buyers, who looks at the car as an expensive toy, a pleasure item, rather than a pure utility.
    I am one of them.
  • varmintvarmint Posts: 6,326
    Love to read your stuff. Was planning to read without posting, but I was surprised to read a mistake in that report.

    "Of course, unlike the Cadillac, the Honda isn't a real truck. The Escalade EXT is based on the body-on-frame Chevy Avalanche, while the Ridgeline is based on the unibody Pilot/MDX, both of which are largely based on the Odyssey."

    Not true. The Ridgeline is built on a fully boxed frame with a uni-body cabin on top. The design incorporates rails some 70% deeper than the supports incorporated into the Pilot. Something like 90% of the chassis is all new. It is a similar design to that used with the Grand Cherokee and LR3. (Rovers are still real trucks, right?)

    The not-a-real-truck feature for the Ridgeline is not frame-related. The odd duck on that truck is the indy suspension.
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