300 SRT8: Chrysler’s hottest sedan scorches hearts and pavement


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300 SRT8: Chrysler’s hottest sedan scorches hearts and pavement

Chrysler’s SRT sub-brand is at it again. Taking what should be run-of-the-mill, comfortable, family focused, full-size vehicles and turning them into raging speed-demons. The 2012 300 SRT8 is so ostentatious, one might be tempted to call it bipolar. That’s because there’s few other vehicles that can coddle you in comfort and technology one moment, only to throw you back in your seat with the the howl of a large displacement V8 only a split-second later.

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Driven: 2012 Subaru Impreza

If there’s anything we’ve learned from driving through cold New England winters, it’s that when a big storm hits you better have the right car.  The ability to get where you need to go despite the weather has long been the mantra of the Subaru brand.  One of the Subaru’s most popular models is the Impreza.  It’s a small four door sedan or hatch that goes squarely against the Elantra, Cruze, Civic, and Corolla.  For 2012 the Impreza is all new and ready to fight with the big boys. How well has Subaru pulled this re-design off? Lets find out.


Performance, Fuel Economy, & Handling

For 2012 Subaru has made significant changes to the drivetrain of the Impreza.  The horizontally-opposed 4-cylinder boxer engine has been downsized from 2.5L to 2.0L.  Although smaller in displacement, the new 2.0L is more efficient, powerful, and obtains 30% better fuel economy.  The new engine is also attached to a new transmission and produces 148-horsepower.  Realizing that 4-speeds isn’t going to cut it anymore, Subaru has equipped the 2012 Impreza with a new state of the art continuously-variable transmission (CVT).

The new engine/transmission pairing is extremely refined, smooth, and drivable.  This combination provides for a feeling that you’re always in the right gear. No odd downshifts and no hesitation.  A slight dip into the throttle and the Impreza steamed forward at any speed, unlike it’s predecessor which at times felt under-powered.

All-wheel-drive usually puts a huge drag on fuel economy. Not so with the new Impreza. Subaru has achieved an EPA highway estimated 36mpg rating out of the new 2.0L engine.  In the real world we didn’t quite achieve that number but we were impressed none the less. On the backwoods roads of New Hampshire we were able to average over 30mpg easily.  During our two weeks with the Subaru we had to drive more than our normal share of urban and city roads. Thus, our total average fuel economy for the week was 28.8mpg. During one highway stint we saw 35mpg, so we know the potential is there.  Over 30mpg is great for an all-wheel-drive vehicle of this size and type.

Perhaps the largest overall improvement we noticed with the new model is the strengthened chassis.  The Impreza from 2011 and earlier had a nasty habit of feeling like a tin can on wheels.  Not so in 2012. The Impreza is now on a class leading platform.  When behind the wheel it becomes obvious that this car is capable of handling much more power than what is currently available.  The stock 2012 model now carves with the confidence of the prior STi but with a smallish 148-horsepower.   The electric steering is precise and never leaves you out of sorts in a corner.  We couldn’t shake the feeling that the next generation WRX STi, based on this car, should be a killer.


Interior, Ergonomics, Fit & Finish

The outgoing Impreza had an interior that was made largely from hard, cold, and uninviting materials.  The interior in the 2012 Impreza is substantially better, showing major improvement. Soft touch plastics and varying textures add an upscale feeling to what is still ultimately an affordable car.  From the driver’s seat there’s distinct Volkswagen-like quality to things. Contrasting and complementary colors matched tastefully with simply textured surfaces are pleasing to the eye.  Subaru didn’t see the need to go crazy and futuristic, only improving on what they had been doing in years prior.

The gauge cluster features a new driver-information-center display.  Subaru has consolidated several readouts to the DIC that would normally be found with their own indicator. Gear shift position, fuel gauge, odometer, and trip odometer all find a home on the brightly lit display.  At night we wished the electronic display was inverted in color, similar to the center information readout over the headunit, as it was extremely bright at night. Only a tachometer, speedometer, and a vague instant MPG gauge have anolog readouts in the cluster.

For the most part, the new Impreza receives high marks for switch-gear placement and use. However, we found the heated seat selectors hard to use and requiring you to bend your arm and wrist in an unnatural direction. The seats are generally comfortable for a 1-2 hour time frame but started to feel stiff after that.



Technology, Safety, & Electronics

Subaru seems to get what people expect to get, technology wise,  in a car these days. The 2012 Impreza we tested came complete with a USB port, aux input, bluetooth handsfree and audio streaming. The stereo supports iPods and iPhones but its small display made it a hassle to operate those devices through the headunit. With that said, they were easy to setup and worked. Audio quality is substantially better than in the previous generation but audiophiles will be looking for more.

Subaru includes 4-wheel antilock disk brakes and vehicle dynamics control (stability/traction) standard across the entire 2012 Impreza line.  Paired with the standard all-wheel-drive, the Impreza is an impressive winter weather machine.  Because Subaru uses a full time and proper all-wheel setup, you not only get all-weather traction but balanced performance in all conditions.  With proper snow tires, the Impreza would be virtually unstoppable in a winter storm. Unfortunately, we didn’t get a chance to try the new Impreza in the snow.  On dry pavement however,  the all-wheel-drive system keeps a composed and sporty driving dynamic.

The Impreza doesn’t skimp with it comes to airbags. A full outfit of protection surrounds the driver and passengers. Subaru’s “Advanced Airbag System” includes curtain side, front seat side-impact, driver’s knee, and rear seat headrest airbags.


So, is the 2012 Impreza something that Chevy, Hyundai, Toyota, and Honda should be scared of? In short, yes.  Until now, the Impreza has been a much loved vehicle that a small niche of the market has coveted dearly. With a few tweaks and some much needed refinement, Subaru has set the 2012 model appeal to a substantially wider audience. Suddenly, all those folks in New England and anywhere else it snows no longer need to choose between fuel economy and all-weather ability.  The 2012 Subaru Impreza delivers both. That makes it unique, compelling, and a home run.


The Impreza has successfully made the leap from cult favorite to competitive mainstream model.  Subaru kept everything we loved about the outgoing generation intact while fixing everything we didn’t.

What we liked:

  • Fuel economy is impressive for a vehicle with all-wheel-drive
  • Subaru’s symmetrical all-wheel-drive never disappoints
  • Modern but not outrageous styling

What we didn’t:

  • Heated seat switches are incredibly awkward to use
  • Cabin heater quick to give “warm” air but slow to provide “hot” air on cold mornings
  • Cargo area carpet has “Velcro” like effect with dirt

Photo Gallery

Specifications as-tested

Model Year: 2012
Make: Subaru
Model: Impreza
Trim: 2.0i Premium 5-door

EPA Fuel Economy: 27-mpg city/ 36-mpg highway
Observed Fuel Economy: 28.8 mpg (mostly urban driving)

Base MSRP: $19,295
As tested MSRP: $22,045

Engine: 2.0L 4-cylinder boxer / 148 horse-power at 6,200 rpm and 145 lb.- ft. of torque at 4,200 rpm
Transmission: Continuously-Variable (CVT)
Drivetrain: all-wheel-drive (AWD)

Editor’s Note: AutoInsane.com tests and reviews vehicles provided to us directly from automobile manufacturers and distributors. No additional consideration is provided to any Manufacturer in return for access to these vehicles.


First Drive: Mercedes-Benz S350 BlueTEC Diesel worth the 15 year wait?

Mercedes is serious about offering S-Class buyers a lot of choice when it comes to the engine that will power their Benz. Today, buyers can choose from six unique and compelling powerplants that deliver big on everything from raw power to fuel economy.

Want a 621-horsepower V-12 four door sedan? You’ve got it in the S65 AMG. Maybe you fancy all the luxury but really wanted a hybrid.  No need to worry, because MB also offers the S400.The most popular model, the S550, offers some middle ground.  A 4.6L Twin-Turbo V8 producing 429-horsepower.  If those options are not right for you, then a 510-horsepower S600 and 536-horsepower S63 AMG will most likely be right up your alley. Even with an all you can eat powertrain buffet, one type of engine has been noticeably absent in S-Class.  A diesel.

2012 marks the year that a diesel engine option returns to the US S-Class for the first time since 1996.  In the US, cheaper priced gas mixed with misconceptions about diesel have fueled a negative perception about the use of diesel in cars. In reality, diesel makes a great choice in cars for many reasons.  While it may be a more expensive fuel per gallon, diesel engines provide a significant increase in fuel economy.  Diesels are also fun to drive, producing power in a more usable and lower RPM range compared to their gasoline counterparts.

The S350 BlueTEC is powered by a 3.0L turbodiesel. It’s the same basic engine that you’ll find on other Mercedes BlueTEC models that are currently on the market, but slightly more powerful.  It produces a not so great looking 240-horsepower, but in reality that’s not very worrisome.  Because it’s turbocharged, the diesel engine in the S350 produces an earth moving 455 lb-ft of torque.

Think  four-door super luxury sedan that punches you in the gut every time you throw down the throttle.

We drove the S350 on the streets of downtown Boston and came away with the impression that the car is a bruising sleeper. First off, you’d never know it was a diesel unless someone told you. It’s that quiet and that smooth. Secondly, the low end punch on acceleration is impressive for any car, let alone one of this size.

Along with brute force, the BlueTEC diesel also satisfies the fuel miser in all of us.  Able to get an estimated 31-mpg on the highway, the S350 rates 5-mpg better than the S400 hybrid or the popular S550.  That’s right, the diesel S350 out performs the hybrid S400 on city and highway fuel economy by a large margin. The S350 also comes standard with 4MATIC all-wheel-drive, which is sure to make northerners happy.

To top everything off, the S350 is the second cheapest in the S-Class lineup. It’s $92,550 base price is only $700 more expensive than the S400 Hybrid.  The specifications of the S350 nearly make the S400 Hybrid obsolete.  All-wheel-drive and a 5-mpg gain on the highway seems to be a great deal for only $700 more.

But not everything about the S350 is better. Because it’s a “clean diesel”, the S350 uses a diesel exhaust fluid to curb emissions. The fluid must be refilled periodically, but Mercedes believes that most owners will never have to worry about filling the separate 7-gallon tank (located under the spare tire).  This is because a full tank should only need to be refilled beyond the 10,000 dealer maintenance interval, and thus will be topped off by dealers.

Owners who want to refill on their own can do so relatively easy since the process only requires removing the spare tire.

The bottom line

We drove the S350 BlueTEC around Boston and came away impressed.  The low end torque is outstanding and the fuel economy is impressive.  Mercedes diesels have proven to be bullet proof, so expect the engine in the S350 to keep churning for as long as you keep the car around it intact. It may have taken Mercedes-Benz 15 years to offer a diesel engine in the S-Class again but as far as we can see it was well worth the wait.

We’re itching to spend more time in the S350 and hope to do so late next month.  Look for our full review then.




2012 Nissan Altima still a strong option in the midsize market?

The fourth generation Nissan Altima is entering its sixth year on the road.  We take a look at the vehicle, how it competes in the mid-size segment, and see what’s new for the 2012 model year.

Specifications as-tested

Model Year: 2012
Make: Nissan
Model: Altima 2.5 SL

Engine: 2.5L 4-cylinder / 175 hp at 5600 rpm and 180 lb.- ft. of torque at 3900 rpm
Transmission: Xtronic CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission) with manual mode
Drivetrain: Front-wheel drive

EPA Fuel Economy: 23-mpg city/ 32-mpg highway
Observed Fuel Economy: 28.2 mpg

Base MSRP: $22,570
As tested MSRP: $32,095

Equipped Options:
2.5S Technology Package (Navigation, XM NavTraffic/Weather) [$1,780]
Premium Audio Package (Bose Audio, USB/Aux Ports) [$990]
Rear Decklid Spoiler [$370]
Fog Lights [$310]
Moonroof Wind Deflector [$100]
Required Fees: Delivery Charge [$760]


A solid choice

It’s not easy to compete in the midsize market. First off, it’s crowded. This is the same consumer space that the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata, Chevy Malibu, Kia Optima, Ford Fusion, and Volkswagen Passat all vie within.  More so,  all those competitors have seen medium to major redesigns since the current Altima first went on sale in 2008.  For 2011 the Altima saw a very minor exterior refresh (the hood) and for 2012 the only change of note is a new color. A major redesign of the Altima is scheduled to happen next year for the 2013 model but today we’re driving the 2012 Altima 2.5 SL.

Like a fine wine, the Altima has only grown better with age. It’s not the newest and it’s not the fanciest, but it’s rock solid. It’s the only model of the midsize bunch that uses a continuously-variable-transmission (CVT).  That means the transmission never really “shifts”. Instead it’s always adjusting and matching the right engine speed for the current situation.  The advantage is two fold; providing both satin smooth acceleration and an engine that always seems to be in the perfect spot whenever you need to accelerate.

On the road the Altima drives with confidence and a spark you don’t normally associate with a mid-size family sedan. This isn’t your neighbor’s Toyota Camry and it shows. The Altima drives with  European-like composure. Nimble and responsive at city speeds yet smooth,  solid, and predictable on the highway.

We didn’t get a chance to sample the up-level 270-horsepower 3.5L V6, but our tester’s 2.5L four-cylinder got the job done adequately. Putting out 175-horsepower, the 2.5 SL is refined and works well with a CVT.  As much as we tried, we couldn’t match the EPA rated 32-mpg during our real world highway testing. We attribute that to the CVT, which often pegs the engine in the middle of the RPM band for acceleration but takes time to settle into a lower cruising gear ratio. Our 28.2mpg mixed driving average is none the less impressive for a vehicle of this size.


It’s whats on the inside that counts

Another advantage the Altima brings to the table is an extremely refined interior. It’s not as expressive as the Hyundai Sonata or Kia Optima, but the plastics and trim are of a much higher quality. While other automakers have tried to trim down costs by substituting hard materials and cheaper switchgear, Nissan has actually invested more into the interior of the Altima and it’s well noticed.

A soft touch dash, fine wood-like accents, and Infiniti level switch-gear are among the very best of this segment. We found the seating to be comfortable on our backside, even during longer trips.

Our Altima test car came equipped with the optional Technology Package. This included a high-resolution Navigation system with XM Traffic & Weather.  We would imagine most won’t opt for the Navigation system but it’s important that Nissan offers the technology. Ford and Hyundai both offer competitive navigation systems that offer live weather alerts, sports scores, and stock quotes. The Premium Audio Package our tester was equipped with is well worth the additional $990. It features Bose speakers and a USB/Aux input that gives you an iPod/USB Drive compatibility.

New for 2012

There are only a few changes for the 2012 model year.  This is not surprising, as the Altima received a relativity minor exterior update last year.  One new color is being offered for this year; Dark Slate replaces Metallic Slate. A carryover Special Edition package complements a new Value Package offered on the lower trim 2.5 S.



The Altima has been and continues to be one of the most solid choices in the mid-size market. However, it’s hard to ignore that the segment is full of strong contenders and the Altima is handicapped with a higher price than most of its newer and more expressively styled rivals. In short, we really enjoy the Altima and what it brings to the table but struggle to find a reason why it’s more expensive than its competitors.  With a substantial redesign on the way for 2013, we’re eager to see what Nissan has in store.


  • High quality interior materials and fit/finish
  • Super smooth 2.5L engine/CVT combination
  • Well balanced driving dynamics


  • More expensive than the competition
  • Real world fuel economy lower than competition
  • Styling leaves us wanting more

2012 Nissan Altima Road Test Gallery