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Let's Talk Cars: Bridgestone's Drive and Learn (and spin!) plus the 2006 Ford Mustang Test Drive

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This week, we take you to a Bridgestone Drive and Learn clinic at the California Speedway in Ontario, CA. Why? Because we like to spin out on wet slalom courses and knock over orange traffic cones. Why else? And while we were doing the kind of things we get ticketed for on public roadways, we learned a little bit about tire technology. Bridgestone uses its Drive and Learn events to acquaint drivers with safe wet and dry driving techniques while comparing its new tires with that of its competitors.
PROGRAM NOTE: After watching the tire test, don’t forget you can share your opinions regarding tires and brand recognition – it’s on your home page at VehicleVoice.
Also on tap, we take you on another Test Drive. David Barrett is behind the wheel again, but this time he’s taking a brand new 2006 Ford Mustang around the Hawaiian island of Oahu. Yeah, we know. David’s got a tough job. ED NOTE: Barrett gives the Mustang an unexpected upgrade by mentioning the six-disc in-dash DVD player. In reality, the mustang has an in-dash CD-player. Must have been the effects of “island life.”
Show Rundown
00:28 Bridgestone’s Drive and Learn: David Barrett, VehicleVoice Contributor and Cameron Barrett, Let’s Talk Cars Host
06:08 2006 Ford Mustang Test Drive: David Barrett, VehicleVoice Contributor


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Ford's New 3.5L V6 Finally Puts Out

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When Ford announced its new 3.5L DOHC 24-valve V6 engine, many were underwhelmed by its 250-horsepower output. After all, similar displacement modern V6s from Ford’s Japanese competitors have achieved that level of output for years. Gads, even Japanese Minivans were approaching 250-horsepower with the Honda Odyssey at 244-horsepower. The Acura MDX gets 253HP from 3.5L. The Nissan Altima gets 265 from 3.5L.
Those of us at AutoPacific and VehicleVoice were wondering if Ford just didn’t get it. Couldn’t they read competitive specifications?
Ford’s New 3.5L V6 Gets 265-Horsepower
Well, Ford finally has let the “official horsepower” number slip and it’s good news. The 3.5L V6 gets 265-horsepower on regular grade fuel. That means the first vehicles to get it should feel pretty darn nice. Ford Edge, Lincoln MKX and Lincoln MKZ all get the new powerplant. And, Ford says that the 3.5L will be its high volume powerplant of the future.
Hope it feels as good as it sounds.


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Mustang Racer for Rent at Hertz

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Special Editions and Hertz Rentals
Part of Ford’s strategy to keep Mustang fresh involves special editions rather than a specific facelift or minor change. Implementing the strategy included Ford’s introduction at the 2006 New York auto show of a Mustang being built specifically for the Hertz rental fleet, with the help of Carroll Shelby. About 500 examples of the Shelby Mustang GT-H will be built and put in service through Hertz‘s Fun Collection in rental fleets across the nation. Just to make sure they are easily to spot, they are painted black with gold stripes, the colors of Hertz. This is a partner project between Ford, Shelby Automobiles, and the Hertz Corporation. Ford supplies the V8 Mustang to Shelby Automobiles, where the Shelby and Ford Racing Performance Parts are installed, and then Hertz rents the cars. AutoPacific and VehicleVoice contributors were in New York for the show, and here are some pictures and information we found.

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2007 Ford Explorer Sport Trac

The First Sport-Utility with a Truck Bed is New for 2007
With the new-for-2001 Sport Trac, Ford was the first to put a short pickup bed on the back of an SUV passenger cabin, then based on the Ranger just as prior Explorers were. The shape has not taken off like gangbusters, but Sport Trac has managed to sell between 48,500 units and 83,600 units most years, with little marketing support behind it. And its owners are enthusiastic enough to have created a fan-based web site (www.mysporttrac.com) and an annual two-day rally in June (Ford will support one of the two days this year). Along with the annual Louisville meet, centered around the truck’s production location, there have been regional meets all over the country. Since its launch, sales have dropped below 40,000 units only twice, and in 2005 this was in part due to a short production year.

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Not only are there enough buyers who appreciate this combination and enough opportunity for sharing components for Ford to keep it alive and bring us the second generation Explorer Sport Trac for 2007, some in the competition have borrowed from the playbook. GM takes on this configuration compete amongst full-size crew-cab pickups, and include the Chevrolet Avalanche/Cadillac Escalade EXT and Hummer H2 SUT, though GM adds a mid-gate for hauling even longer loads. Honda’s Ridgeline goes most directly up against the latest Explorer Sport Trac. If Dodge’s Rampage concept (Chicago, 2006) is any indication, they are at least considering playing in this group. The GM products are based on full-size SUVs and Honda looked to the Pilot for a base, though the platform was substantially modified. For now, there aren’t many like the Sport Trac in the automotive landscape, and it competes most directly with four-door crew cab pickups, as do Avalanche, Escalade EXT, and Ridgeline.
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In late March 2006, AutoPacific and VehicleVoice correspondents got the opportunity to climb behind the wheel of the latest Explorer Sport Trac, reaching dealers as these words are being written. Here are our first thoughts.


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SUV Jihad Continues as SUV Segment Atomizes

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Back in November 2005, a VehicleVoice Blog commented on the existence of a periodic jihad on sport utility vehicles in the USA and worldwide. The introduction of General Motors’ GMT900 SUVs – the Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban, the GMC Yukon and Yukon XL, plus the Cadillac Escalade and Escalade ESV have set the earth-is-flat crowd wailing again.

Audi Q7 Latest Target of SUV Jihad… This Time From British – Austrian Axis

But June 2006 intro of the Audi Q7 in the USA following its earlier introduction in Europe also will be watched closely. As Audi is about the last major brand to add an SUV to its lineup, it is a fresh target for the anti-SUV crowd. The March 2006 issue of CAR Magazine is a case in point. Georg Kacher, a 6-foot, 13-inch Austrian based in Germany, writes, “Big, heavy, chunky, aggressive, unwieldy – SUVs deplete our resources, tear up the countryside and flatten whatever they hit.

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So why does a company like Audi, renowned for advanced engineering enter this bad karma segment?”
Because the market is allegedly craving a mud-crawler made in Ingolstadt, and because Audi firmly believes it can add a new dimension to the SUV game.”
As with many non-USA automotive journalists and even American buff book scribes, Kacher’s loathing of SUVs is mis-directed.
SUVs respond more to customer pull than manufacturer push. After the demise of station wagons (or estates as the Europeans so lovingly call them) and the image black hole called Minivans, came sport utility vehicles. These jack-of-all-trades vehicles carry people and stuff with aplomb. Well… more aplomb today than at any time in the past when they were admittedly crude trucks with a closed in cargo area. They go anywhere, anytime, with anyone, carrying anything within reason. They come in all flavors from the late and not particularly lamented Ford Excursion to the Suzuki Vitara. Populated between the Excursion and Vitara are SUVs of every ilk. Some are suited for suburban streets only. Some are rock crawlers. Some are designed to tow horse trailers and boats.
The beauty of SUVs is the breadth of choice within the segment. The SUV buyer has the luxury of choosing between more brands and more models than ever before. Like the overall auto industry, the larger SUV segment is atomizing into smaller and smaller niche entries.
Choice is good and Audi is welcomed.


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Motorweek 2006 Driver's Choice Awards

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Motorweek, the PBS-oriented car show, announced the winners of its 2006 Driver’s Choice Awards at the 2006 Chicago Auto Show. It will be interesting to see how these winners correspond to the owner awards from VehicleVoice and AutoPacific. The surveys for the annual AutoPacific Vehicle Satisfaction Award are in the field during the 1st Quarter 2006 and winners will be announced in early May.
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Their winners include:
Best of the Year: Honda Civic
Best Small Car: Honda Civic
Best Family Sedan: Hyundai Sonata
Best Minivan: Honda Odyssey
Best Convertible: Pontiac Solstice
Best Luxury Sedan: Infiniti M-Series
Best Sports Sedan: BMW 3-Series
Best Performance Car: Ford Mustang
Best Small Sport Utility Vehicle: Toyota RAV4 (guess they didn’t measure it… Mid-Size SUV now)
Best Family Sport Utility Vehicle: Ford Explorer and Mercury Mountaineer
Best Pickup Truck: Ford F-150
Best Eco-Friendly: Toyota Highlander Hybrid
Best Dream Machine: Chevrolet Corvette ZO6, Dodge Viper SRT10 Coupe, Ferrari F430
Special Category: Most Jane Car: BMW 3-Series


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2007 Ford Expedition and Expedition EL

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With Ford and GM easily dominating the full-size SUV segment and both companies offering heavily revised and improved entries for the 2007 model year, it is a good time to be a large-SUV buyer. Beyond the updates to Expedition and the GM lineup (GMC Yukon/Yukon XL, Cadillac Escalade and Escalade ESV, Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban), Chrysler joins the fray with the Aspen and change is in the wind for the Toyota Sequoia soon as well. Though the sheer number of people buying full-size SUVs is shrinking in the current climate of fuel-cost concerns and an uncertain economy, there are still customers whose lives demand the level of utility that can only be found in a vehicle this large, and these buyers have lots of new toys to pick from this fall.
Ford has released much of the information on the new Expedition, which reaches showrooms in fall 2006 in two lengths. With the 2007MY, Ford buyers can go from Escape to Edge to Explorer to Expedition to Expedition XL in their search for their own “just right” sized SUV.

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VehicleVoice contributor and AutoPacific president George Peterson has had considerable experience with the Ford Expedition, having leased four in a row until he decided he was in a rut. Will the new Expedition be enough of a change to get him out of his CAR and back into an SUV? Time will tell.


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Ford Edge Expands Ford SUV Range to Five

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Introducing the Ford Edge
The hot buzzword in early 2006 is CUV, or crossover utility vehicle. Loosely defined as car-based product in the shape of an SUV, these types of vehicles have been around for about ten years. But as the domestic brands, specifically GM and Ford, are in the midst of expanding their offerings of this type of vehicle, they are fueling use of the term. Vehiclevoice (http://www.vehiclevoice.com) and AutoPacific (http://www.autopacific.com) analysts believe that these vehicles are not really crosses between anything, but rather the evolution of the SUV. Or what we like to call Post-Modern SUVs.

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Whatever the name, these are clearly the vehicles that the majority of SUV buyers in the mid 1990s really wanted. Truck-based SUVs provided more off-road ability, that wasn’t used in many cases, and more towing capacity, also not used by the majority of SUV buyers. For those that actually use the expanded capability, there will continue to be truck-based options. For the rest of us, why not put the best attributes of an SUV onto a predominantly front-drive platform with a smaller and more fuel-efficient engine? The result of this evolution is vehicle ranging from the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V that started the trend (back in the days when they were called Cute Utes and knocked for their lack of truck-toughness) to the Chrysler Pacifica to Mercedes-Benz R- and ML-Class to Pontiac’s Torrent to Ford’s Escape and including Ford’s new-for-2007MY Edge.
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Just like the Lincoln MKX, the Edge uses the platform introduced with Ford’s latest trio of mid-size sedans, the Fusion, Mercury Milan, and Lincoln Zephyr. Edge will broaden Ford’s SUV lineup to five when it arrives in late 2006, similar to Toyota’s lineup. Ford dealers will offer Edge, Explorer, Escape, Freestyle, and Expedition for 2007MY. Edge is sized and powered above Escape, but smaller than the Explorer or Freestyle. It brings Ford’s car-based SUV total to three (Escape, Edge, Freestyle), with the Explorer and Expedition continuing their truck-based personalities.
If the Edge is as good on the road as it sounds on paper, it should find a sweet spot in the market. Styling is more modern and attractive than the boxy and aging Escape. The current Escape was developed when manufacturers were first realizing that some customers want the utility of an SUV but the drive, handling, and fuel economy nearer their cars and the talk of crossovers was nil. Ford designed the Escape to look as much like a truck-based SUV as possible, but since then the market has been snapping up softer-looking utility vehicles. In the world of post-modern SUVs, the utility vehicle is taking a shape much more like that of a tall wagon than borrowing truck cues. The Edge is set to be the right product at the right time, and Ford may find more success with it than they did with the Escape.


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Ford Reflex Concept Explores Small-Car Market Potential

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Reflex Introduction at 2006 NAIAS
It is said around town that Ford is considering how and when they may re-enter the (very) small-car segment, which includes cars priced from around $10,000 to $15,000 or so fully equipped. This segment is expected to see substantial growth over the next several years. These cars are smaller in size than entries like the Ford Focus or Honda Civic, and most typically wear sedan or hatchback bodystyles. Chevrolet’s Aveo, Toyota’s all-new Yaris and the defunct Echo, the Scion xA, the Hyundai Accent and Kia’s Rio are among examples of vehicles in this segment.
While the 2005 Ford SynUS concept explored the possibilities a boxy urban vehicle might provide (certainly in part inspired by the Scion xB), on the 2006 auto show circuit the concept is for a sporty small car that takes into account room for small children. Enter the Reflex. Reactions by VehicleVoice (http://www.vehiclevoice.com) and AutoPacific (http://www.autopacific.com) analysts are very positive.

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2007 Ford Sport Trac – Advances the Breed

VehicleVoice (http://www.vehiclevoice.com) and AutoPacific (http://www.autopacific.com) were impressed with the previous Ford Sport Trac and are more impressed with the new 2007 version of Ford’s Sport Utility Truck. The 1st Sport Trac was a funky, hose-it-out, derivative of a two-generations ago Explorer. In its last year in production, the first gen Sport Trac came within a hair’s breadth of winning AutoPacific’s Vehicle Satisfaction Award for the compact pickup category. This is quite an achieve for a last-year vehicle.
The new Sport Trac goes upscale and more sophisticated and adds a V8 to its powertrain offerings. Adopting the more modern Explorer as its basis, Sport Trac gets an independent rear suspension for the first time.Sport Trac gets Ridgeline-like storage bins in the cargo bed. But the key improvements are the V8 and IRS.
Here is Ford’s press release for the 2007 Explorer Sport Trac….
2007 FORD EXPLORER SPORT TRAC AS UNIQUE AS ITS OWNERS
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Ford Explorer Sport Trac Adrenalin Concept
Gone are the days when vehicles fit neatly into one of three categories: truck, van, or car. Today, the automotive landscape is much more complicated, with vehicles for every personality or lifestyle. Leading the way in originality and versatility has been the Ford Sport Trac.
The new 2007 Ford Sport Trac follows the same formula of its predecessor. First launched as a 2001 model and based on the best-selling Ford Explorer, the Sport Trac offered the refinement and five-passenger seating of an SUV with the cargo bed and towing capacity of a pickup truck. Its unique blend of capability and personality has attracted a loyal fan base, whose passion for their vehicles rivals that of Mustang enthusiasts.
In fact, nearly 100 Sport Trac fans attended the unveiling of the 2007 Sport Trac at the State Fair of Texas in Dallas, some driving from as far as San Francisco and Buffalo. What the owners found was the 2007 Sport Trac kept what they loved about their Tracs, and addressed their three biggest requests: a V-8, more towing capacity, and more refinement.
Underhood, Sport Trac features a standard 4.0-liter V-6 and five-speed automatic transmission, rated at 210 horsepower and 254 pound-feet of torque. The big news with the 2007 model, however, is the addition of a V-8.
“Customers have been asking for a V-8 since day one,” says Bryan Olson, Sport Trac marketing manager. “These customers want the added capability and towing capacity, as well as the power and performance that only a V-8 can deliver.”
This V-8, inspired by the one found thumping under the hood of the Mustang GT, is a 4.6-liter, three-valve V-8 delivering 292 horsepower and 300 pound-feet of torque. Paired with a six-speed automatic transmission, the V-8 Sport Trac delivers an impressive maximum 6,800 pounds of towing capacity, and 1,390 pounds of payload.
That payload is stored in the 40 inch-long cargo box, made of sheet molded composite (SMC) with a molded-in black inner liner that resists scratches and is dent-proof. Notches in the box for two 2×4 boards across the bed provide tiered storage of materials – including 4×8 sheets of plywood.
Inside the box are three integrated cargo bins recessed into the bed floor, with two six-pack-sized bins in the right and left rear of the box and one large bin that runs the length of the box headboard. The bins are equipped with weather-resistant lids and removable drain plugs for storing wet gear or ice.
An available tubular aluminum cargo cage acts as a cargo divider or can be swung out as a bed extender for extra storage capacity when the tailgate is lowered.
Inside, the hose out Tuflor™ rubber floor covering is offset by Berber-carpeted floor mats, and available two-tone six-way power seats or 10-way heated leather seats give the 2007 model two tiers of interior comfort.
Other cool features available on the 2007 Sport Trac include a heated windshield, which uses micro-wires embedded in the glass to help prevent fogging and speed up de-icing, and a six-disc CD changer with integrated SIRIUS satellite radio and navigation.
Refinement is dramatically improved with the all new frame, which Ford engineers say is 427 percent stiffer than before. For the first time, the Sport Trac features an independent rear suspension, which offers significantly better handling over both smooth and rough surfaces as each wheel reacts independently to bumps in the road. In addition, IRS drastically reduces rear-end skate, which is the lateral movement that occurs when a vehicle with a solid rear axle travels over sharp bumps or washboard/corrugated road surfaces.


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