Sports Car Concepts Reach Production
Three years ago, in September 2003, there were two head-turning concept stars at the Frankfurt auto show. This year, the Paris auto show (Mondial de l’Automobile) hosted introductions of both in production form. Both are low volume propositions, both borrow chassis from related low-volume models, both offer 420HP V8 engines, but each takes a different personality. One is the German all-wheel-drive, mid-engine Audi R8 and the other the front-engine, rear-drive Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione.
The good news is that North America will see the R8. Unfortunately, the Alfa is a tease. Though the brand intends to return to the North American market, the limited-edition 8C is not among the expected products.
AutoPacific Take on Audi A6’s Win – Audi A6
owners’ strong ratings of the car’s feeling of safety and traction in all weather conditions helps the A6 achieve its leading performance in the Sports Sedan class. Clearly, Audi’s renowned Quattro all wheel drive system contributes to this feeling of confidence for the car. Another Audi hallmark, interior styling, trim and materials also strongly contribute to its position at the top of its class.
IntelliChoice Analysis –
The A6’s standing in the inaugural Motorist’s Choice awards show just how well balanced the vehicles from Volkswagen’s premium division have become. Over 5 years, IntelliChoice rates the A6’s Cost of Ownership to be $45,969, over $5000 less than comparable vehicles in its class. Combine this great value with the A6’s great performance and you have a true winner.
INTELLICHOICE.COM AND AUTOPACIFIC TEAM UP TO ANNOUNCE FIRST ANNUAL MOTORIST’S CHOICE AWARDS
– Awards Recognize Vehicles with Highest Driver Satisfaction and Lowest Cost of Ownership –
– Infiniti QX56 Wins Highest Rating Among All Classes/Vehicle Models –
AutoPacific, the industry source for automotive owner satisfaction ratings and IntelliChoice.com, the online source for automotive ownership cost and value analysis, today announced the results of the newly established Motorist’s Choice Awards for the 2006 vehicle model year.
IntelliChoice.com and AutoPacific created the Motorist’s Choice Awards to determine the vehicles that delivered both the highest satisfaction and lowest cost of ownership. The collaboration between the two respected firms, who have each been authorities on the U.S. car market for the last 20 years, takes selected owner satisfaction data from AutoPacific’s surveys of new car and light truck buyers and combines it with IntelliChoice.com’s rating methodology to create a new measurement that speaks to both the hearts and minds of car buyers.
“While the economic analysis of car ownership remains very important—it can save or cost you thousands of dollars over the life of the vehicle—it is also important to recognize owner satisfaction as another significant influencer in vehicle purchases,” said James Bell, publisher of IntelliChoice.com. “These are the two key benchmarks we think car buyers should be most attuned to.”
“Ratings of owners’ satisfaction with their new car and truck illustrates how well the vehicle is satisfying the emotional and practical needs of the driver. Satisfaction is more than simply how well a product is screwed together and there are many more dimensions to the equation. Combining AutoPacific’s satisfaction results with the value analysis from IntelliChoice provides the car buyer with an outstanding benchmark to use when selecting a new vehicle,” said George Peterson, President of AutoPacific.
For the inaugural awards, IntelliChoice.com and AutoPacific identified 29 winning models by segment and class. The top-ranked vehicles in their respective categories are:
o Cars: Lexus LS430
o Trucks: Chevrolet Avalanche 1500 (2WD)
o SUV/Crossover: Infiniti QX56
o Minivans/Wagons: Audi A6 4.2 Quattro
In terms of overall rankings, the Infiniti QX56 SUV scored highest in both driver satisfaction and lowest cost of ownership, followed closely by the Lexus LS430 sedan.
Welcome to Let’s Talk Cars
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This week on Let’s Talk Cars, exclusive, red hot test drives. And we’re not just being metaphorical here.
First, VehicleVoice correspondent David Barrett revisits his racing past when he hops inside Audi’s new RS4 to spend a few hours roaring through Pasadena’s Old Town and whipping past the Rose Bowl. With 420 horses, the latest Quattro AWD setup and a purring/screaming V8 motor, the RS4 is everything you’d ever want a sports sedan to be, and then some. The sound alone makes this podcast special.
Plus, a ride in a big red fire truck, (a 1997 Seagrave Triple Apparatus to be exact) courtesy of the Los Angeles Fire Department. Find out what it’s like to maneuver a truck that weighs over 40,000 pounds through the crowded city streets of downtown Hollywood. Sparky says this is the best job in the Department.
Yeah, this week’s Let’s Talk Cars is red hot.
02:06 Exclusive Test Drive – Audi’s New RS4: David Barrett, VehicleVoice contributor
13:36 Exclusive Test Drive – LAFD Fire Engine: Brett Sparkman, LAFD Engineer
Pasadena to Willow Springs
The line of RS4s was waiting behind the Ritz-Carlton Huntington Hotel in Pasadena under a fine mist of heavy California “coastal haze”.
Grabbing the keys for a stunning muted silver RS4 my co-driver twisted the key (thankfully no start button like in Europe) and the 420-horsepower V8 rumbled to life. Luckily he got to drive the first (lots of congestion) half of the route from Pasadena to the Hidden Springs Cafe on Angeles Crest Highway. As navigator, I listened to positive descriptions of shift quality and engine tractability. After all, with all that torque on demand, you could keep the RS4 in fifth and negotiate most of the winding mountain roads from leaving the Freeway to Hidden Springs.
By the time we had reached Angeles Crest, the day had turned glorious and the Los Angeles funkiness was left far behind. Now… for Willow Springs and some real driving. Switching drivers at Hidden Springs, I got to drive the RS4.
The dynamics of the car are outstanding. It goes where pointed. The engine sound is thrilling under full throttle. The ride is very well controlled but just a bit harsh – not unexpected with an aggressive suspension set-up and 19-inch tires and wheels. Nice ride – puts a smile on your face.
The Audi RS4 is the highest performance model from Audi’s popular A4. Final assembly is by Quattro GmbH, Audi’s high performance house, in Neckarsulm, Germany. AutoPacific had the chance to drive the RS4 from Pasadena to Willow Springs Raceway in early May. The car goes on sales in the USA in June, 2006.
Subtle Styling Tweaks Even With Substantial Exterior Sheetmetal Differences
Available in the USA only as a 4-door sedan, but in other markets as an Avant (wagon) or cabriolet (convertible), the RS4 is very different from the rest of the A4 line. First, only the basic body shell is the same. Doors and roof are common, but front fascia, front fenders, hood, rear quarters, decklid are all unique to the RS4. Ride height has been lowered by 1.2-inches and the USA-spec RS4 rides on 19-inch tires. With all this uniqueness, the appearance of the RS4 is not, at-a-glance, hugely different from the A4.
The fenders have muscular flairs that cover larger 19-inch tires and wheels riding on a wider track. This forces the rear quarter panels to be unique and Audi uses this as an opportunity to style a unique decklid with a subtle integral spoiler.
Exterior appearance is strong, subtle and powerful. But, it is still clearly an Audi A4.
2007 S4 and A4 Cabrios Get North American Intro in New York
Audi’s A4 and S4 sedan and wagon underwent a moderate change for the 2006 model year, but the convertibles carried on unchanged for a year. Though the launch of Audi’s cabrios may be overshadowed a bit by the second-generation TT coupe also being launched in New York, this is the first chance for U.S. buyers to get a look at the updated A4 and S4 convertibles. The worldwide introduction was at the 2006 Frankfurt show in September 2005, where AutoPacific and VehicleVoice correspondents were in attendance.
The A4 convertible sports new engines along with its new look, while the S4 continues with the 340HP V8 it has offered since 2004 model year. The convertibles continue to offer active front airbags, an active roll-over protection system with roll bars behind the rear seats, and side airbags.
The change brings the A4 and S4 convertible exteriors and powertrains in line with their four-door brethren. For the A4 this means adaptations of the new corporate grille, a 2.0T version with the 200HP 2.0L DOHC 16v direct-injection I4, and the 255HP 3.2L DOHC 24v direct-injection V6. Both engines are available in the A4 and A3. The 2.0L can be ordered with quattro, but the all-wheel-drive system is standard with the V6.
Introduced on the sedan last year, the V8-powered S4 cabrio also gets an updated Audi singleframe grille, this one designed for the S cars. S4 convertibles also get larger air intakes, V8 badges on the fenders, four oval exhaust pipes, and standard eighteen-inch wheels.
Six-speed manual and six-speed automatic are the transmission choices for the S4 convertible; the standard convertible gets a CVT with a seven-speed self-shift mode when the front-drive 2.0T is specified, but a six-speed automatic with quattro. International markets complement the drivetrains available in the States with several diesel choices as well as a 163HP I4 for the A4.
Is Q7 the Benchmark the Industry Expects?
Audi has always been a technology innovator ranging from making full-time all-wheel-drive available across its range decades ago to the first application of an aluminum spaceframe for a production model. In recent years, Audi has been a benchmark in the execution of its interiors. Tasteful, elegant, functional… Audi interior could not be matched by anyone including BMW and Mercedes. Well, can the Q7 achieve benchmark status with its interior and move beyond that with its overall product excellence? Let’s find out.
Ever since the 1996 Audi A4 appeared, Audi’s have garnered a reputation of having the best executed interiors in the business. The company has more than earned this reputation over the last decade with each new model being better designed and better built than the version that preceded it. Over the last three years, the company has taken cost out of interiors of its volume models, but to Audi’s credit this has been done in a fashion that has proven to be all but unnoticeable to the customer and many competitors as well.
Audi NOT a Fast Follower Into SUV Market
One area where Audi hasn’t been at the forefront of the industry is the Sport Utility Vehicle market. While archrivals BMW and Mercedes were chasing down and defining the concept of the German premium nameplate SUV Audi decided to take another, far more timid direction… the SUV-trimmed station wagon. Audi’s Allroad was essentially an A6 wagon with a smattering of the cosmetic trimmings of an SUV. Overfenders, gray cladding and bumpers, air suspension for increased ground clearance and a few bits of aluminum at the front and rear to give the illusion of scrape guards was the limit of the company’s venture into the lucrative and exploding luxury SUV market. By using the same formula pioneered by Subaru when it dressed up its Legacy wagon with some SUV fluff and created the original Outback, Audi effectively stayed out of the X5-ML-RX 300-MDX battle but did so at the expense of total volume.
Every year, Car & Driver, one of the high circulation car enthusiast magazines in the United States, publishes the results of its 10Best awards. The 2006 10Best Cars awards were released in the January 2006 issue of Car & Driver and you can find them on the C&D website at (http://www.caranddriver.com/article.asp?section_id=33&article_id=10354)
Not having looked at the winners prior to writing this blog, VehicleVoice (http://www.vehiclevoice.com) staff conjectured about what types of cars Car & Driver would select.
We knew that, being a buff book, they’d select cars that appealed to the enthusiast, maybe throw one or two mundane winners into the mix, be heavy on import marques and generally favor smaller cars. Lets see how accurate we were?
BEST SPORTS SEDAN – Acura TSX
BEST SPORT COMPACT- Audi A3
BEST LUXURY SPORTS SEDAN – BMW 3-Series
BEST PERFORMANCE CAR – Chevrolet Corvette
BEST FULL SIZE SEDAN – Chrysler 300
BEST MUSCLE CAR – Ford Mustang GT
BEST FAMILY SEDAN – Honda Accord
BEST ROADSTER – Mazda MX-5 (Miata)
BEST SPORTS COUPE – Mazda RX-8
BEST LUXURY SPORTS CAR – Porsche Boxster
So, lets see, seven are import brands, 3 of the imports are from Germany and four are from Japan. Mazda picks up two wins with its sports cars.
Crossover SUVs will outsell Traditional truck-based SUVs beginning in 2006. This forecast comes from George Pipas, Ford’s Manager of Sales Analysis and Reporting in a presentation in Long Beach, CA on December 12, 2005. Refer to the VehicleVoice Blog on December 8 citing a USA Today article on similar observations.
A Few Comments on What a Crossover SUV Is
Pipas’ analysis charts the meteoric rise of Traditional SUVs during the 1990s and the similarly meteoric rise of Crossover SUVs since 1996 when the first crossovers – the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 – were introduced. Of course, defining SUV categories is getting murkier and murkier. VehicleVoice (http://www.vehiclevoice.com) and AutoPacific (http://www.autopacific.com) have used the “at-a-glance” rule to define SUVs. If you can, at-a-glance, tell that a vehicle is an SUV, then by golly it is an SUV. In this way you are not confused about whether it is car-based or truck-based. (Pipas contends that only about 70% of Crossover SUVs meet this at-a-glance requirement with 30% easily confused as cars, hatchbacks, or wagons.)
Traditional SUV 2007 Cadillac Escalade – Category Expected to Decline as a Percentage of Overall SUV Universe
The auto industry thinks differently and often gets caught up in definition problems. They have variously called car-based SUVs “hybrids” (a term since adopted by gasoline-electric ‘hybrid’ powerplants) or “crossovers”. In our research, we have found that folks really have not yet adopted the crossover term and still like to refer to SUVs as SUVs. But enough about splitting hairs about what is a crossover and what is not.