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First Drive Gallery- 2010 Ford Taurus / Taurus SHO

Forget everything you’ve ever associated with the Taurus name. Family car, people mover, bland, boring;  these adjectives do not apply to the new 2010 model.  Out of the gate you get a sense this new Taurus is something different just by looking at it. A bold new face draws lines from the best selling Taurus of the mid-90’s while concurrently looking to the future.

You will not want to miss
Our First Drive report on the new 2010 Ford Taurus
Behind the wheel of the 2010 Ford Taurus SHO

2010 Ford Taurus / Taurus SHO First Drive Photo Gallery

Photographer: Zane Merva

Road Test Gallery: Dodge Challenger SRT-8

A classic is reborn.  The 2009 Dodge Challenger SRT-8, with 425-horsepower and 6.1-liters of fury, punishes pavement with raw muscle and tempts the eye with gorgeous styling. We’ve taken one for a spin and here’s 60 photos from our coming Road Test.

2009 Dodge Challenger SRT-8 Road Test Photo Gallery

Photographer: Zane Merva
Copyright 2009

2009 Infiniti G37 Convertible: A little bit of pain mixed with a lot of pleasure

There’s one primary thing a convertible needs to do – look good. If it doesn’t look good, it’s not going to make you look good and what’s the point? After all, deep down, nobody buys a convertible because they are introverted yet worship the sun. Drop the top on a convertible and it’s the picture of Dorian Gray: you’re 20 lbs. lighter, 10 years younger and 30 percent more optimistic about life in general.

The 2009 Infiniti G37 does supremely well from that perspective. This hardtop convertible excels at drawing attention to you in the form of unsolicited praise for its beauty (even from a cop walking the beat). Plus, this “magic car” plastered an ear-to-ear smile on my four-year-old daughter as we went for a top-down cruise on a sunny Saturday afternoon.

2009 Infiniti G37 Convertible

Her happiness almost made me overcome my complaints about this car in terms of its major design flaw: it wasn’t built as a convertible. Basically, Infiniti put a hardtop convertible on its brilliant G37 coupe and called it a day.

It’s a beautiful thing to watch the three-piece roof close quickly as it tucks away into the trunk. That is until you try to use the trunk and discover it has less storage space than the glove compartment. The G37 comes with an optional wind deflector. If you decide not to use it, there’s no room for it in the trunk. So, you’re stuck with it in the backseat, which is the G37’s true trunk.

Now, other hard-top convertibles have compromised space in their trunks, but not as badly as the G37. It’s a deal breaker if you’re in the market for a convertible that can actually seat three or four for a weekend getaway. However, if you’re an Empty Nester with neither kids nor college payments to worry about, get thee to an Infiniti dealer and check out this all-new G37.

It’s a great coupe on a whole bunch of levels. As mentioned, it’s eye candy, which is always nice. No price is available on this model yet, because it doesn’t go on sale until June. (The model loaned to me for a week by Infiniti was a pre-production G37 but I could detect no problems with it.) I would ballpark this convertible starting at around $40,000 before options are thrown in.

2009 Infiniti G37 Convertible

The interior is hard to beat and is first class all the way. The G convertible’s interior includes standard leather-appointed seating, an available Bose Open Air Sound System that dynamically changes equalization based on outside noise, top position and vehicle speed, an adaptive dual zone climate control system that adjusts fan speed in accordance to top position and vehicle speed, and available climate-controlled seats that provide both heating and cooling functions. (Trust me, you’ll love that cooling function on hot summer days.)

A power walk-in device with position memory provides easy access to the second row seats (the front seats move forward automatically at the touch of a button to allow passengers into the rear seats). An available rear wind deflector helps reduce wind turbulence when the top is down. Remember, though, only the tiniest of creatures can fit in the back and there’s no place to store that wind deflector when it’s not in use and the top is down.

Every 2009 G Convertible comes equipped with a standard 3.7-liter VQ-series V6 rated at 325 horsepower. The engine is mated to either an electronically controlled 7-speed automatic transmission with available magnesium paddle shifters or a responsive close-ratio 6-speed manual transmission. The G37S Convertible Sport 6MT adds sport-tuned steering and larger sport brakes, along with 19-inch aluminum-alloy wheels and W-rated performance tires.

2009 Infiniti G37 Convertible

The G37 I drove came with the six-speed manual transmission. Frankly, from what I’ve read, (and this could be considered heresy among automotive journalists) I think I would have enjoyed the automatic transmission more in the long run. The manual transmission is best left to enthusiastic drivers because it requires an emphatic stomp on the accelerator to get up and go. If you’re idea of fun is ambling along back roads, opt for the automatic.

According to Infiniti, the convertible, with the six-speed manual transmission, averages 16 mpg city and 24 mpg highway and runs on premium fuel (as will the convertible). But what’s a few more pennies at the pump when you look this good behind the wheel? Official EPA numbers have not been published on the government website yet.

(Questions and comments about this review and other automotive concerns can be e-mailed to [email protected] All queries are answered.)

2009 Infiniti G37 Convertible Specifications

Wheelbase: 112.2 inches
Length: 183.3 inches
Width: 72.9 inches
Height: 55.1 inches
Curb weight: 4101 lbs.
Engine: 3.7-liter, V6
Horsepower: 325 @ 7000 rpm
Torque: 267 @ 5200 rpm
EPA estimated mpg city/highway: 16/24
Base price: $43,900 (est.)
As-tested price: $48,190 (est.)
Also consider: (a comparative vehicle) Audi S4, BMW 3 series, Mercedes Benz CLK Class

2009 Infiniti G37 Convertible Photo Gallery

Road Test: 2009 Dodge Durango Hybrid

If there was ever a vehicle that portrayed what may be the ultimate paradox it may be the 2009 Dodge Durango Hybrid.

And, yeah, that thang’s got a Hemi, too.

Take one full-size SUV that has three rows of seating, can tow up to 6,000 pounds, boasts 385 horsepower from a 5.7-liter V-8 Hemi engine and toss in a two-mode hybrid setup to boost in-town gas mileage and provide 20/22 EPA estimates from the 27-gallon gas tank and you’ve got the Durango Hybrid. During the past week, the trip computer registered 20.4 miles per gallon overall during more than 600 miles of mixed driving.
That figure, of the estimates guessed by many who offered sympathy at the size of the land-locked Leviathan on wheels, surprised everyone at its relative miserly way.

2009 Dodge Durango with highlighted Two-Mode Hybrid System

Utilizing a two-mode hybrid setup, the big Durango takes advantage of a fuel-saving Multi-Displacement System (MDS) technology. Total output, when combined with the advanced two-mode hybrid system, is 400 horsepower and 380 lb.-ft. of torque – the most powerful hybrid SUVs. This mechanical magic results, according to Chrysler, at a 25 percent increase in city mileage and 40 percent overall.

The hybrid system, which was developed with General Motors, Mercedes-Benz and BMW, delivers a “two-mode” full hybrid system by integrating proven automatic-transmission technology with a patented hybrid-electric drive system.

The two modes in the hybrid system result from low- and high-speed electric continuously variable transmission (ECVT) modes. During the two ECVT modes, the system uses electric motors for acceleration, improving fuel economy, or for regenerative braking to utilize energy that would normally be lost during braking or deceleration. The energy is stored in a 300-volt battery pack for later use. The system’s two modes are optimized for city and highway driving. The setup includes four fixed gear ratios for “efficiency” and power-handling capabilities.

The first mode is designed for low speeds and light loads. In this mode, the vehicle can operate in three ways: electric power only, engine power only, or any combination of engine and electric power.

In city use, up to about 20 mph, Durango runs off battery power, sounding like an oversized golf cart until the Hemi kicks in.
The second mode is used primarily at highway speeds. The second mode provides full power from the HEMI when needed, such as passing, pulling a trailer or climbing a steep grade. Durango’s 380 lb.-ft. of torque is more than enough for low-end grunt pulling.

A controller determines when to use the first or second mode and shifts the torque as needed.

A 300-volt battery pack powers the system without crabbing interior room – which is cavernous to say the least. A rectifier located under the hood converts AC to DC in order to power conventional 12-volt accessories, including interior lighting, climate control and the audio system.
The MDS system shifts the engine from using all eight cylinders to four, depending upon the power required. A light green hard-to-see and read dash light displays a needle showing when the economy is at its best while cruising.

2009 Dodge Durango Hybrid

Though Chrysler, aka Dodge, claims the MDS shifts back and forth seamlessly, and a CVT transmission is supposed to provide seamless shifting up and down the band range I found otherwise.

MDS did not work behind the scenes without interfering with the ride, noise or being noticeable. Neither did the CVT. This was surprising because other vehicles with similar setups rode and drove as advertised. Instead, I found that slower traffic along Route 33 and through Market Square caused Durango to constantly hunt and search for the right speed and setting. Disengaging or changing it up was noticeable and disappointing.

Despite its largess – which is another disappointing factor since it was originally introduced in 1998 as the perfect midsized SUV – measuring nearly 18 feet long and weighing 5,553 pounds empty, Durango was rather light on its feet, aided by power rack-and-pinion steering. Of course, turning or parking in any parking area will be a challenge, but is aided by the rearview camera in the tailgate.

To support a vehicle of this size one needs 18-inch standard tires and a stiff suspension for its fulltime 4×4 ability. Thus, the independent front suspension and rear coil springs with a solid rear axle provided a torsionally stiff and somewhat jarring ride when it came to rough road and railroad tracks. Much more vibration was transmitted into the cab that I had expected and found acceptable given today’s standards.

2009 Dodge Durango Hybrid

There’s little to want in the way of options in Durango and it comes loaded with a price tag as big as its profile: $44,540 with $800 additional for delivery. Toss in a tow package, power sunroof and a rear seat video package and the sticker soared to $48,410 for a vehicle that might have been a technical marvel 3 or 4 years ago but is viewed with disdain today.

For someone with a large speedboat, horse trailer or family that skies and needs the 102.4 cu. ft. provided with the rear seats folded down, (68.4 c.f with the seats up) it’s a workhorse.

But for the company trying to find its way back to what made it what it was when the Bobs – Eaton and Lutz – ran it, an oversized Durango and a hybrid edition Hemi are the wrong mixes at the wrong time.

2009 Dodge Durango Specifications As Tested

Engine: 5.7-liter HEMI® Hybrid, OHV, V-8 with Multi-displacement System (MDS)
Power Output: 345 hp @ 5300 rpm
Torque: 380 lb.-ft. @ 4200 rpm
Electric Motor Output: 87 hp
Torque: 235 lb.-ft.
Type: 2 AC synchronous electric motors
Voltage: 300 V max
Battery Power Output: 40 hp
Voltage: 300 V
Type: Sealed Nickel-metal hydride
Total Power Output: 385 hp
Emission Control: Dual three-way catalytic converters, heated oxygen sensors, electronic EGR and internal engine features
MILEAGE: 19/20 mpg (city/hwy)
Transmission: Two-mode Hybrid
Wheelbase: 119.2″
Length: 202.1″
Width: 76.0″
Height: 73.6″
Base Price: $44,540
Delivery: $800
Options: $3,070
As tested: $48,410

2009 Dodge Durango Photo Gallery

Ford Transit Connect brings european practicality to commercial vehicle market

Consider this more a preview than a review because only part of a day was spent with the Ford Transit Connect. But if my first impressions are correct (and they usually are with automobiles) this little commercial truck that has been on sale in Europe since 2002 could be quite a hit in the United States.

2010 Ford Transit Connect

As Ford demonstrated during a program in Manhattan at the end of May, this is going to be a good vehicle for small businesses. Ford chose Manhattan (as well as five other cities across the U.S.) to show how well the Transit Connect handled itself in an urban setting but I see this van being a big hit in the suburbs and smaller cities, too.

The primary reason is going to be its cargo capacity. This little truck can swallow up a lot of items. The Transit Connect has 135.3 cubic feet of cargo space and can hold a payload capacity up to 1,600 pounds – a larger payload than the full size Dodge Ram 1500 standard-cab short-box pickup truck, according to Ford. Plus, and this part absolutely intrigues me, the Transit Connect is rated at 22 city, 25 highway EPA miles per gallon. That’s unheard of for a delivery vehicle. (As a matter of fact, the city mileage is better than a 4-cylinder Toyota Camry, which is quite an accomplishment.)

The Transit Connect is built on a dedicated front-wheel drive commercial vehicle platform to meet and exceed the needs of small-business owners and entrepreneurs. To prepare Transit Connect for United States duty, the powertrain was upgraded to include a proven Duratec 2.0-liter dual-overhead cam (DOHC) I-4 engine and a four-speed automatic overdrive transaxle. Several design details, including the grille and interior touches, have been updated to lend the vehicle a fresh, new look for its American debut.

There are some other features that business owners will like. The split rear cargo doors open at a standard 180 degrees, or an optional 255 degrees and are held in place by powerful magnets so the doors don’t flap open in heavy traffic. Lift-over height is less than two feet, when the Transit Connect is unloaded The cargo area opens up to a maximum of 59.1 inches of floor to ceiling height. The load width is 48.1 inches, between the wheel arches. Load length is a 72.6 inches or more than six feet of cargo floor space and dual sliding rear side doors provide wide access to the generous cargo space.

2010 Ford Transit Connect

While swallowing up all this cargo, the Transit Connect doesn’t leave a big footprint. It’s only 180.7 inches long with a wheelbase of 114.6 inches. The Ford Edge, by comparison, seems like a giant at 185.7 inches but the Transit Connect is a lot more versatile.

I had no complaints driving the Transit Connect through the west side of Manhattan. We stopped at a hardware store, grocery market, and florist to hear the business owners talk about how the Transit Connect could fit into their lives. The florist seemed the most remorseful because she drives a Jeep Grand Cherokee that doesn’t handle the diversity of a Transit Connect.

The hardware store owner is waiting for the Transit Collect electric version that is coming in 2010. Ford says it is part of an aggressive new electric vehicle plan to bring pure battery-powered vehicles, hybrids and plug-in hybrids to market. The Transit Connect battery electric vehicle will be the initial offering in Ford’s recently announced electrification initiatives. Ford says many commercial users travel predictable, short-range routes, with lots of stop and go in urban and suburban environments. A range of up to 100 miles makes the battery electric-powered Transit Connect a useful hauler, with significantly reduced operation and maintenance costs.

One thing Ford didn’t do in its demonstration was make us jockey for parking spaces in the city. We didn’t get the opportunity to parallel park the Transit Connects. Instead, it was more like a mall experience with us pulling straight in. Heck, they even stopped traffic for us. Sight lines were pretty good in my driving experience. This is a van after all. You can’t overlook that. You will have to get used to driving with your side mirrors.

Here’s the big secret that Ford isn’t really pushing – the Transit Connect is entering the United States as a personal vehicle (to avoid a 25 percent import duty). It will have seating for four people and will be a heck of a station wagon in my view. Ford should push this angle more because it will be a vehicle that small business owners can use commercially and privately. (I’ll leave it up to their accountants to figure out the whole mileage issue.)

2010 Ford Transit Connect

Transit Connect keeps passengers and cargo safe and secure, too. Front and side air bags help keep driver and first-row passenger safe. Four-wheel anti-lock brakes and a tire pressure monitoring system are standard, as well. Roll stability control is standard on wagon versions and optional in van configurations. (Ford deserves credit for making the stability control a stand alone option and not tied into more expensive features.) A locking exterior hood release helps keep things secure up front. Lock-in-Latch shielded door locks help Transit Connect resist break-in.

Pricing for the Transit Connect begins at $21,475. It goes on sale later this summer.

(Questions and comments about this review and other automotive concerns can be e-mailed to [email protected] All queries are answered.)

Vital Statistics

Wheelbase: 114.6 inches
Length: 180.7 inches
Width: 70.7 inches
Height: 79.3 inches
Curb weight: 5005 lbs.
Engine: 2.0-liter
Horsepower: 136 @ 6300 rpm
Torque: 128 lb.-ft @ 4,750 RPM
EPA estimated mpg city/highway: 22/25
Base price: $21,475
Also consider: Chevy HHR, Honda Element, Scion xB

2010 Ford Transit Connect Photo Gallery