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Let's Talk Cars: Test Drives – Chevy HHR, Nissan Pathfinder, and 6-speed Volkswagen Passat

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Welcome to Let’s Talk Cars

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This week on Let’s Talk Cars, more from our slew of new car reviews, walk arounds and test drives – Chevrolet HHR, Nissan Pathfinder, and a base-model Volkswagen Passat with a peppy 6-speed manual transmission.

First, VehicleVoice correspondent David Barrett climbs inside Chevy’s take on the PT Cruiser. The HHR has a lot of great things going for it, including its fun, retro looks, but a lack of horsepower and some styling issues come up in our review.

Next, host Cameron Barrett brings you this week’s Rev It Up – with 90-seconds on the Nissan Pathfinder. This medium-sized SUV isn’t afraid to get its wheels dirty or its tow ring used.

And finally, we drive a base model Volkswagen Passat, one of the best values out there for your money. But the excellent 6-speed transmission causes some heartache because of its lack of availability in higher end models. The Passat won AutoPacific’s coveted 2006 Vehicle Satisfaction Award for Premium Mid-Size Cars.

Show Rundown
00:47 Chevrolet HHR: David Barrett, VehicleVoice contributor
10:05 Rev it Up: Nissan Pathfinder: Cameron Barrett, Let’s Talk Cars’ Host
11:22 Volkswagen Passat: David Barrett, VehicleVoice contributor


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Chrysler's Pacifica Updated for 2007

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Previewed in addition to the all-new Chrysler Sebring at Chrysler’s “What’s Coming” event at their Chelsea Proving Grounds was an update for Chrysler‘s Pacifica, which is going into its fourth model year. Unlike the Sebring, VehicleVoice and AutoPacific were able to take the Pacifica for a quick spin around part of the DaimlerChrysler Proving Ground test track. The Pacifica update enhances the powertrain, tweaks exterior appearance and finesses the interior a bit, but, as true of most mid-cycle updates, does not provide a reason to buy where one had not already been.

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New Engine Launches in Pacifica
The Pacifica sports a new 255HP 4.0L SOHC 24v V6 engine, mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. Compared with the outgoing 3.5L, horsepower is only up by about 5HP, but it brings 265 lb-ft of torque to the table and smoother power delivery with extra forward gear. The peak torque increase is 15 lb-ft, but it is available earlier and longer throughout the rev range. Though not simply a larger-bore version of the 3.5L V6, the 4.0L design was started with the 3.5L as a building block. This 4.0L will find its way into other Chrysler products down the road, including the updated minivan due for 2008MY. With the 2007MY, the base Pacifica sticks with the 200HP 3.8L V6, but the 4.0L is standard for most Pacifica trim levels.
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Exterior changes are limited to hood, headlights, and grille. The headlights take on a more sculpted look, the lower portion of the front bumper is revised and the grille was tweaked. The hood is one of three new 2007MY hoods to take on Crossfire-inspired strakes, including Sebring and the all-new, Dodge Durango-based Aspen.
Interior updates include making the new easy-clean YES fabric available and adding more standard safety equipment. All-row side curtain airbags, ESP, and traction control are now standard, and a rear backup camera is a new option.
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Chrysler Introduces Sebring at Home

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At DaimlerChrysler’s Chelsea Proving Grounds, Chrysler Group President and Chief Executive Officer Tom LaSorda introduced the new-generation 2007 Sebring. The Sebring will be in dealers by November 2006, and VehicleVoice and AutoPacific were on hand for the unveiling.

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Chrysler has promised the new Sebring is “creating inspiration in the common car,” is “as good as or better than the best mid-size sedans in the world,” and that brings “unexpected levels of style, craftsmanship, technology, and affordable performance.” Sebring offers some features new to mid-size sedans, but for the most part, it leans toward the “as good as” side of the equation rather than on the “better than” side. Safety is advanced from the current Sebring, but only to the point they match the top players. In terms of performance, the base four-cylinder should be a strong contender and Sebring offers an atypical six-speed automatic for the top V6, but at 235HP the top V6 puts Chrysler only mid-pack in the brochure horsepower wars.
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The Sebring package is well researched and well plotted. Based on our initial review in the metal, it is in the subjective area of overall styling and in the look and feel of some interior materials where we think Sebring may have landed just off the mark.
Value Proposition
Final pricing comes later, but LaSorda promised MSRPs lower than Toyota Camry or Honda Accord models closest in content to new Sebring models. Where the 2006 Sebring sedan has a short $20,730-$23,160 price ladder, a taller ladder is expected for 2007. The 2007 Camry and the 2006 Accord start a bit below $20,000 and go as high as about $29,000 (aside from hybrids). Chrysler has said the 2.7L V6 models will be priced closer to competition’s four-cylinder-equipped offerings. Chrysler will position this new, longer ladder so that the both top and bottom ends stay below the key competition. The Sebring may see a drop in MSRP from 2006 to 2007, which may bring the MSRP closer to transaction price.
The Chrysler Group has been successful in finding a sweet spot for pricing their new entries of late; Sebring will be just as aggressively priced and well contented.


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Chrysler Gets Into the Limousine Game

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2006 New York Auto Show Introduction for the Next Big Thing in Limousines
Chrysler has quite logically chosen this spring’s New York auto show for the introduction of a new 300 derivative, given that city’s heavy use of taxi cabs and limousines. Given the 300’s success with the bling set, a variant for the chauffer-driven of the world makes sense.
Having ridden in a Chrysler 300C executive car, the 300 is certainly challenged when it comes to rear seat room. The 300 Limo is a welcome addition to the line for livery companies wanting more comfortable and commodious transportation for their upscale, well-heeled clientele.
Being assembled by specialty vehicle builder Accubuilt, the 300 for the livery/limousine market arrives in fall 2006. Accubuilt has been around for decades, building specialty vehicles from a Cadillac DeVille Executive Sedans to unique versions of Ford SuperDuty pickup trucks and hearses. The long-wheelbase 300 will be available to retail buyers, but the special-order vehicle is likely to find only a low volume of retail takers. Those who do opt for the extra-long variant get six more inches between the wheels, with the extra room added in the rear passenger area. Production of the long 300 could come home to Chrysler down the road, depending on the model’s success and Chrysler’s production capacity and needs.

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The Chrysler Group has been aggressive with its pricing for most models introduced in the past couple of years, the specialty nature of this will likely bring with it a relatively high sticker. Pricing will be announced in fall, nearer to the sales launch.


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Let's Talk Cars: The Cost of Fuel & Chrysler – One-Trick Pony?

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Welcome to “Let’s Talk Cars”

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In this edition, we talk with VehicleVoice contributor Jim Hossack about the current state of fuel pricing, the impact it is having on American drivers, and the results of a recent VehicleVoice survey on fuel. We will also talk with noted automobile expert Jim Hall on the state of affairs at Chrysler. Is Chrysler on the way back with innovative new cars, following on the success of the Chrysler 300 and the new Dodge Charger – or, is Chrysler a one-trick Pony?


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Chrysler Revives Imperial Nameplate for Luxury Concept

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Imperial Takes Style Cues from the Past
The Chrysler Group has a history of presenting stunning concepts, particularly at the North American International Auto Show. Some of these reach production, though the 2006 Imperial concept is still just a concept. The Imperial may have a weaker business case than the Dodge Challenger it was introduced next too, but with it Chrysler explores how far up the luxury chain they may be able to reach. Vehicle Voice and AutoPacific correspondents were on hand for the unveiling, complete with star of Desperate_Housewives Eva Longoria flubbing her line. Expected to say she was desperate to have one, she turned out to be not that desperate to have one. No matter, in the end, as the concept won best in show from a 100-person Detroit News readers’ panel.

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The Imperial is envisioned as a flagship sedan, and looks to a lengthened version of the Chrysler 300 (LX) platform, though it has an additional seventeen inches between the axles and another six inches in height. This allows for the long, narrow proportions the company was looking for as well as the room to pamper rear-seat passengers. While the Dodge Charger borrowed inspiration from the Charger of old and the Dodge Challenger concept was a modern replica of the 1970 Challenger, Imperial looked to the 1930s and 1950s sedans that also bore the name.
Frankly, the styling of the Imperial has been very controversial no matter what the Detroit News poll says. Pundits have been ripping it apart. One design chief we talked to wondered what has happened to Chrysler’s vaunted styling team? Another senior designer thought it had interesting cues from the side view but that the front and rear designs were abominable. We know Chrysler can do a tasteful, very upscale Imperial. We’ll wait to see the next one.


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Chrysler Aspen Arrives in a Blizzard

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Though the all-new SUV was introduced at the 2006 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, the blizzard was not provided by Mother Nature but brought in by the clowns. In a flurry of paper snow inspired by his Snowshow production , the internationally acclaimed clown show headed by Slava Polunin assisted Frank Klegan as he brought out the Chrysler Aspen. VehicleVoice and AutoPacific correspondents were part of the crowd that was covered nearly head to toe by the blast of paper snow, and it was fun!

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This event confirmed that the rumors are true. Chrysler’s first full-size SUV, the Aspen, goes on sale in fall 2006, and Chrysler promises it is the 300 of SUVs. The Aspen is derived from the Dodge Durango, though offers a significantly changed look with much more chrome and style than the Dodge personality allows. Aspen will likely compete with Premium Luxury SUVs, a segment that includes large SUVs like the Cadillac Escalade, Lincoln Navigator, Infiniti QX56, two Land Rovers, and the Lexus LX, expect Chrysler may be able to undercut their base price and offer a value proposition along the lines of the 300 and other recent introductions.
Our take on the styling of the Chrysler Aspen is that Durango got hit with a boring stick. An SUV aspiring to luxury tastes can still be distinctive (Escalade, Navigator, QX56, etc) and do not have to be dulled down to appeal to more upscale pocketbooks. At least an SUV is a more appropriate vehicle type to use the Aspen name with than the Dodge Aspen of old. Remember the Dodge Aspen and Plymouth Volare? Wonder how many are still on the road?
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New 2006 Chrysler 300C "Heritage Edition" Debuts at the Los Angeles Auto Show

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VehicleVoice [(http://www.vehiclevoice.com) & (http:/.vehiclevoice.com)] is an admirer of the Chrysler 300 and 300C. Chrysler will debut its new Heritage Edition 300C at the Los Angeles Auto Show and we’ll be there to cover its unveiling. In the meantime, here is a teaser press release from Chrysler.

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• New “Heritage Edition” model pays homage to the 1957 Chrysler 300C which was described as the “Beautiful Brute”
• 2006 Chrysler 300C Heritage Edition offers luxurious performance, exclusive features and unique heritage badging
• New model is the first Chrysler brand vehicle with SmartBeamTM headlamp technology
Auburn Hills, Mich. – Paying homage to the great Chrysler 300s of the late 1950s, the Chrysler Group announced today the new 2006 Chrysler 300C “Heritage Edition,” debuting January 4 at the 2006 Los Angeles Auto Show.
Available in dealerships this spring, the limited-production Heritage Edition is a performance specialty vehicle offering the power of the award-winning 5.7-liter HEMI® engine with the fuel-saving Multiple Displacement System (MDS), high-performance styling cues of the popular SRT line-up and exclusive features, including the first-time use of SmartBeamTM headlamp technology in a Chrysler vehicle. And, to contemporize its illustrious past, the Heritage Edition has a chromed bodyside molding with a distinctive tri-color 300C badge that is modeled after the badge on the 1957 Chrysler 300C, a vehicle described in its day as the “Beautiful Brute.”
“The Chrysler 300C Heritage Edition honors the long line of beautiful Chrysler 300 vehicles by combining power and fuel-economy in a sporty, stylish package,” said Jeff Bell, Vice President — Chrysler.
Production of the 2006 Chrysler 300C Heritage Edition will begin this spring at the Brampton (Ontario) Assembly Plant.


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Car & Driver – 10Best Cars 2006

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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)
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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.


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Did Anybody At Chrysler Ever Think About This?

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By the middle of 2007, Chrysler-Jeep showrooms will be populated by a befuddling number of quite traditional and Post-Modern SUVs (The Scribe refuses to use that vile “crosso___” term). While currently Chrysler-Jeep dealers have only the Wrangler, Liberty, Grand Cherokee and recently added Commander to worry about, their portfolio of SUVs will nearly double over the next eighteen months or so.


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