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Volkswagen Passat Range Expands With New Wagon

Passat Wagon Introduced at 2006 Los Angeles Auto Show
The all new Passat sedan went on sale in in the USA in Fall 2005, with the launch of the wagon in January 2006, about the time that the range also added 4Motion models just in time for Winter in the Snow Belt. The Passat wagon has been available in Europe since late 2005 with the USA launch at the 2006 Los Angeles Auto Show clearly overshadowed by the reveal of the Volkswagen GX3 concept 3-wheel motorcycle.
The wagon benefits from all of the updates the sedan received for 2006 model year, including all-new sheetmetal bearing the latest design direction of the brand and a switch from longitudinal to transverse engine placement. The Passat continues with a choice of in-line four or V6 powerplants. The previous-generation offered a W8 engine that did not sell well has been dropped with the transverse powertrain Golf-based Passat.
The Passat sedan and wagon are offered in similar trim and engine packages, including the 2.0T Value Edition, the 2.0T, the 3.6L and the 3.6L 4Motion. There are two engines available with the latest North American Passat, an in-line four-cylinder and a V6, with no diesel yet offered. A direct-injection 200HP 2.0L turbocharged DOHC 16v I4 replaced the prior generation’s 1.8L four-cylinder. The V6 engine is also a direct-injection unit that replaced the 2.8L of the prior generation. While several VAG products offer this latest VR6 in 3.2L displacement, the Passat (and Touareg) gets a 280HP 3.6L version. Volkswagen only offers its 4Motion system when the V6 is selected, whether sedan or wagon. The sedan and the wagon offer the same powertrain lineup, the same basic trim level setup, and the same optional equipment. Models taking the 200HP I4 are badged 2.0T, with the V6-equipped models badged 3.6L or 3.6L 4Motion. Only a six-speed automatic with Tiptronic is offered; no manual transmission is planned for this family-oriented entry.


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Hummer H3x: Appearance Package for 2007MY

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SEMA’s H3 Street Concept Becomes New-for-2007MY H3x.
At the 2005 SEMA show, Hummer displayed a special H3 called the Street. This has translated into a production model due on showroom floors in mid-2006. Though an off-the-shelf package, the H3x works to attract buyers who want a custom look without the extra effort. H3x takes the H3 Luxury package and adds chrome tube steps, the chrome appearance package, and a chrome fuel door. H3x also wears a body-color grille and spare tire cover, a brush guard, and unique tires, wheels, and center cap. The interior is the same as other H3 trim levels, but adds embroidered headrests. Buyers can customize their H3x by their interior and exterior color choices, which include the whole eight exterior and three interior color palette on the H3.


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Pontiac Solstice GXP – Hot Rod Roadster

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What makes a hot convertible hotter? More power, of course
Pontiac follows up the launch of the 177HP Solstice roadster with the introduction of the 2007 Solstice GXP at January’s 2006 Los Angeles auto show. Not content with the 177HP in the standard car, but also looking to keep the balance in the overall package that the four-cylinder engine contributes to, Pontiac decided to turbocharge a four-cylinder engine to create the go-fast version rather than shoehorning a larger (and much heavier) engine into the bay. The Solstice and Solstice GXP will be featured in an upcoming VehicleVoice videocast.
The turbocharged GXP engine delivers 260HP from only 2.0 liters, and Pontiac promises a 0-to-60mph time of 5.5 seconds, slightly faster than the Honda S2000. Pontiac’s Ecotec 2.0L DOHC 16v I4 looks to several tricks to get the power up that high. Among them, this engine is fed with direct injection (fuel is injected directly into the combustion chamber), a first for General Motors in North America. A dual-scroll turbocharger is used, with a lightweight turbine and air-to-air intercooling. As is true of the base car, standard transmission will be a five-speed manual with an optional five-speed automatic available.


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Mercedes-Benz S65 AMG – Super-Stomper from Stuttgart

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S65 AMG: Still the Most Powerful Series-Production Sedan
Mercedes-Benz has been hard at work adding new products to its portfolio with the R-Class, upcoming GL-Class, all-new M-Class, and European-market B-Class all arriving within a sixteen-month span, but the company has not left behind its flagship S-Class sedan. The choice of dignitaries everywhere was officially introduced at the 2005 Frankfurt auto show, ahead of late 2005 sales in Europe.
Mercedes saved the introduction of the currently fastest version of the S-Class for North America, however. The latest S65 AMG is being introduced at the 2006 North American International Auto Show in January. Though the GL-Class is expected alongside the S65 AMG, the S65 will retain the title of the world’s most powerful production-series sedan, carrying on with the 6.0L biturbo V12. This year, its output has increased slightly to 612HP.
Along with modifications to some of the materials and components in the engine for improved performance and better cooling, there are other AMG touches. Befitting the most powerful series production sedan, it is supported by an AMG sports suspension based on the Active Body Control system and stopped by all-new high-performance composite brakes. The engine continues to be mated to a five-speed automatic transmission. Along with specific nineteen-inch wheels, there are the to-be-expected AMG exterior touches. Among them are a redesigned front apron with bigger air intakes, side skirts, and V12 biturbo lettering on the front fenders. Borrowing a page from the Porsche handbook, the S65 AMG introduces AMG’s take on in-car lap-timing software with the RACETIMER system. For those track days, the system stores last lap, average lap, and best lap times as well as the track distance.
Sounds wonderful, but about a month past being able to add it to your Christmas list!


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USA Today – Yaris Pleasant Enough to Drive

Jim Healey of USA Today reaches similar conclusions as VehicleVoice (http://www.vehiclevoice.com) and AutoPacific (http://www.autopacific.com) relative to the upcoming Toyota Yaris. Excellent replacement for the Toyota Echo, low entry price, but seems a little expensive when loaded with equipment most American drivers demand.
ATLANTA — Yaris is a small, economy car that will replace the unloved Echo in Toyota’s U.S. lineup this spring, and while it is pleasant enough behind the wheel, Yaris seems to fall short of Toyota’s promise of a premium vehicle at a bargain price.
Two body styles of Toyota’s Yaris are offered in the USA, a four-door sedan and a “liftback.”
Final judgment must wait for specific pricing, which Toyota won’t announce until closer to Yaris’ March or April on-sale date. But $12,000 to start is a fair guess, and for that price you won’t get a radio, possibly not a tachometer, definitely not anti-lock brakes. (Photos/audio: Toyota Yaris with Healey’s comments)
Most of the desirable features are available, for a price. If that strategy bumps Yaris up to, say, $14,000 outfitted as most Americans like, then it will be within a few hundred dollars of bigger, more refined cars such as Honda Civic and Toyota’s own Corolla. Not incidentally, Corolla’s fuel-economy rating is better than Yaris’, and Civic’s is nearly as good, even though both are bigger, heavier and have more-powerful engines.
The industry axiom is “small cars, small profits,” and it’s often true. So why bother introducing a subcompact into the size- and space- and power-loving American market? Because 45% of small-car owners — the most of any segment — eventually trade up to pricier, more-profitable models known as premium compacts, such as Civic and Corolla, according to the Power Information Network. And within that group, a significant number — 30%-plus is common — stay with the same brand, PIN data show.
In other words, buyers captured by small cars don’t require as much expensive persuading to get them to move up through the same car company’s more-profitable models.
Hoping to leverage Yaris’ appeal, Toyota says it put two separate engineering teams to work on two versions of Yaris — a four-door sedan and a two-door hatchback — and kept them apart to encourage independent design.
Toyota calls the hatchback a “liftback,” sensing that “hatchback” remains a pejorative term in the U.S. market.
The sedan is the bigger car, outside and in. The rear seat in the hatchback slides fore-aft to maximize either legroom or cargo space. With the rear seat all the way back, there is plenty of adult legroom. That’s remarkable in such a small vehicle.
The main test vehicle was a two-door hatchback equipped with a five-speed manual transmission.


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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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Long Live Yaris, Toyota Echo is Dead!

VehicleVoice (http://www.vehiclevoice.com) and AutoPacific (http://www.autopacific.com) have been strong advocates of replacing the bottom of Toyota’s lineup – the Echo – in the USA with the Yaris. The Echo was an unlucky car. Echo was designed for the lowest common denominator buyer and was ugly to boot. Sure it was inexpensive, but it was an embarrassment to be seen in. A Hyundai Accent was a better choice especially with its 100,000 mile powertrain warranty.
Echo and Yaris are essentially the same car, but somehow Echo’s styling came across as terminally dorky and Yaris looks sophisticated. The conventional wisdom is that hatchbacks don’t sell in the USA and cars need to have trunks to sell here. Well, an ugly car with a trunk won’t sell anywhere. Thankfully, Toyota Motor Sales USA convinced its Japanese parent company to bring the critically acclaimed Yaris into the USA in lieu of the Echo.
Toyota will add a Yaris 4-door sedan and 3-door hatchback to its line-up in Spring 2006.
Here is the press release Toyota released announcing the launch of Yaris…
European Favorite Toyota Yaris Arrives in U.S. in All-New Liftback and Sedan Versions
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2007 Toyota Yaris 4-door sedan and 3-door hatchback
12/26/2005, Torrance, CA: The 2007 Toyota Yaris will make its U.S. debut when it arrives in showrooms this spring in four-door Sedan and three-door Liftback configurations.
First launched in Europe in 1999, the Yaris was named the 2000 European “Car of the Year” and has become Toyota’s best-selling model in the European market. In fact, Yaris was also named “Japan Car of the Year,” marking the first time the same vehicle captured both honors in the same year. For the U.S., the Yaris will replace the ECHO in the subcompact passenger-car segment.
“As Toyota’s most affordable passenger car, the Yaris will feature contemporary exterior styling and a surprising upscale interior,” said Jim Lentz, Toyota division group vice president and general manager. “It will be one of the most economic and youthful passenger cars Toyota has built in the subcompact category.”
The Yaris Liftback will be offered in one grade, while the Sedan will offer two grades, adding a sport-themed Yaris S.


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2007 Toyota FJ Cruiser – Concept to Reality

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VehicleVoice (http://www.vehiclevoice.com) and AutoPacific (http://www.autopacific.com) have been closely watching the development of the Toyota FJ Cruiser since retro SUV concepts began appearing at Toyota auto show displays in the early 2000s. The FJ Cruiser, shown in essentially production form during the 2003 auto show season, is the first truly retro SUV to come to market it’s certainly more capable than the pseudo-SUV Chrysler PT Cruiser, Chevrolet HHR and the Honda Element (which also uses rear access doors similar to FJ Cruiser). In fact, FJ Cruiser is a true off-roader more of the ilk of the Nissan Xterra.
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2007 FJ Cruiser w/FJ40 in background
On December 26, 2005 Toyota issued the following (lenghty) press release supporting the launch of the FJ Cruiser. Sales will begin in March 2006 with production in Japan.

2007 Toyota FJ Cruiser: The Result of Art, Technology and Heritage

12/26/2005 Torrance, CA: Toyota advances both the art and science of the off-road vehicle while recalling its own off-road heritage with the introduction of the 2007 FJ Cruiser sport-utility vehicle (SUV), available in March 2006.
The FJ Cruiser offers a youthful, contemporary spirit and employs the same state-of-the-art comfort, power, economy, safety, emissions and convenience technology available in other Toyota vehicles. As it does so, it provides optimized off-road capabilities, value and styling clues reminiscent of Toyota’s famed FJ40 4×4 utility vehicle, sold in the U.S. from 1960 to 1983. The FJ40, which during its production life served around the world as the safari and expedition vehicle of choice, remains a desirable and collectable off-road vehicle.
“The FJ Cruiser effectively fills a gap in the Toyota lineup that was once our core heritage – capable, affordable and durable vehicles that are youthful, fun to drive, aggressive and tough,” said Jim Lentz, group vice president and general manager, Toyota Division. “The FJ Cruiser will deliver true off-road ruggedness, image and performance at an affordable price, making it highly accessible and desirable to a large volume of young buyers.”
The five-passenger FJ Cruiser was designed as a concept vehicle at Calty Design Research in Newport Beach, Calif. It was first seen at Detroit’s North American International Automobile Show in 2003. Public and media reaction to the FJ Cruiser concept was so positive that the vehicle was slated for production using most of the same design parameters as the original concept. As an indicator of the vehicle’s unmistakable family DNA, several of the FJ Cruiser’s available color choices are reminiscent of the colors found on FJ40s.


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Toyota Launches Japanese Version of Scion xB

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The Scion xB was launched in the USA in 2003 first in California, then the Southeast and finally nationally. The xB has been a pleasant sales surprise for Scion and Toyota Motor Sales, USA. In fact the Spartan xA hatchback was projected to outsell the xB by a wide margin and the reverse happened. Interestingly, when first images of the xB were released VehicleVoice (http://www.vehiclevoice.com) research and AutoPacific (http://www.autopacific.com) forecasts projected that xB would be more of a success than predicted by Toyota itself.
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Scion xB by Toyota Motor Sales USA
The xB is a rolling box. It is a low-priced people mover with a huge rear seat and little cargo room, but has proved popular with young and old alike.
The Scion concept is to take Toyota vehicles on sale in Japan and sell them in the USA with minimal changes. Originally, each vehicle was to be a one-off. In other words, each Scion would live for only a few years and then be dropped. A new vehicle would be launched that would provide Scion dealers with equal or more volume. In this way, there would be no successor to the xB. Because of the popularity of the xB, there may indeed be a successor.
Launched in 2000 in Japan, Toyota has just released its successor to the bB (xB’s Japanese name). While not as boxy as the present xB, the Japanese bB is clearly evolutionary. It continues the highly space-efficient packaging, if not the funky styling, of the present vehicle.
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Toyota bB launched on December 26, 2005 in Japan
If Scion xB continues, expect it to be a mild evolution of the new bB in Japan. But the scary thing is the whimsical description Toyota uses to describe the bB in Japan, “A Car-shaped Music Player that Incorporates Youthful Sensibilities”… WOW!


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Honda's Newest Civic Earns Its Reputation

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Honda introduced the latest version of its Civic in early Fall 2005, the eighth generation of a product at the core of Honda’s existence in North America. Though Accord remains Honda’s best-selling product, Civic is a close second. Civic’s annual sales have remained at or above the 300,000-unit mark since about 1997, despite that the seventh-generation was a shadow of former generations and received heavy criticism from public and press alike for its de-contented feel and lack of enthusiasm versus prior iterations. In spite of this, as recently as 2004 the Civic outsold its nearest competitor (Ford Focus) by more than 100,000 units. Though the seventh-generation sold well, it did so by skating on a solid image generated by previous iterations. The new-for-2006MY Civic restores the substance behind the reputation.
The results of this transformation are being immediately felt. The eighth generation is praised even more than the prior car was criticized. It recently won Motor Trend Magazine’s Car of the Year award and is a finalist for the same honor in the North American Car of the Year competition. With such advance praise, we were looking forward to a turn behind the wheel. Now that a Civic EX has spent a week in AutoPacific’s Southfield, Michigan office, we’re happy to say that we’re also impressed.
The Civic has returned, long live the Civic!

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