Category Archive:

Economy Compacts Fare Poorly in Crash Tests

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has just released their first crash ratings for Economy Compact Cars. They call them “minicars”. The IIHS often releases results like this to pressure car makers to achieve higher safety results than are required by the Federal Government (NHTSA). Being part of the insurance industry, the IIHS charter is to provide information that consumers can use to select a safer car or light truck – and hence a car that might generate lower personal injury claims in an accident.
Force Still Equals Mass X Acceleration… F=MA
The first thing you learn in Physics 101 is F=MA. Basically, this equation means that something bigger is going to win if it hits something smaller. People have historically bought Lincoln Town Cars partly because they were so big that they were guaranteed a “win” in an accident. The same thinking goes with Large Sport Utility Vehicles like the Chevrolet Suburban.
A very small car is going to lose in an accident with a much larger vehicle. There will be much more physical damage to the small car than to the big one. And all things being equal, people riding in the small car are more at risk. The IIHS and Federal Government have noted that as fuel economy goes up (through vehicles getting lighter and smaller), damage and injuries also go up. In this case, bigger and heavier is better. But with skyrocketing gas prices folks rightly want more fuel efficient cars and trucks.

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With that in mind, Economy Compacts have been introduced… Toyota Yaris, Honda Fit, Nissan Versa are the three that were launched in 2006 as 2007 model year cars. Only the larger Versa aced the crash tests… Versa includes side curtain air bags as standard equipment. Yaris, where side curtain air bags are optional, fails if it is not equipped with these safety enhancements.
The IIHS press release is included below the fold if you want to read the whole thing. But just remember, when it comes to safety, and all other things are equal, the bigger vehicle will win. F will always equal MA.


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Ward's 10 Best Engines of 2007

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WardsAuto.com has announced its 10 Best Engines for 2007. Let’s see how VehicleVoice agrees with the Wards’ results… they are presented in alphabetical order:

Audi AG 2.0L turbocharged DOHC I4 – Audi A3 –
We agree wholeheartedly with this engine selection, but Ward’s gives it short shrift by identifying only the Audi A3 as having this engine. It is also found in the Audi A4, Volkswagen Eos, Volkswagen GTi, Volkswagen Jetta and even the Volkswagen Passat. A real nice driving 4-cylinder turbo that is the workhorse of the spirited Volkswagen/Audi lineups.
BMW AG 3.0L DOHC I6 – BMW Z4 3.0si – BMW in-line sixes are always works of art. Smooth, effortless, always feel that they are putting out more horsepower than their ratings. Ward’s has selected the higher horsepower version found in the Z4 3.0si – it puts out 255-horsepower and has 220 pound-feet of torque. This engine is also found in the BMW 530 sedan.
BMW AG 3.0L turbocharged DOHC I6 – BMW 335i – We don’t really go with turbocharged engines much. There is usually no replacement for displacement. But the 3.0L Turbo in the 335i is a sweet piece. Turns the 335i into a Q-ship with near M3-levels of performance.
DaimlerChrysler AG 3.0L DOHC V6 turbodiesel -Mercedes-Benz E320 Bluetec/Jeep Grand Cherokee CRD – We appreciate the sentiment, but until a diesel can be sold in all 50 states, we won’t agree that it is one of the best engines. Diesels deserve a significant place in the USA automotive landscape, but regulations, technology, fuel costs, fuel availability have all conspired against widespread diesel acceptance.
DaimlerChrysler AG 5.7L OHV Hemi V8 – Chrysler 300C – Chrysler Group has built a franchise around the HEMI. The low cost, Mexican-produced, overhead valve, high output engine almost singlehandedly resurrected Chrysler from its early 21st Century doldrums. Don’t forget the HEMI can be found in all large, rear wheel drive Chrysler, Dodge products as well as the two largest Jeep entries.
Ford Motor Co. Duratec 35 3.5L DOHC V6 – Ford Edge/Lincoln MKX – Ward’s specifies the Ford/Lincoln Crossover Sport Utility Vehicles as the vehicles where the new Duratec 35 is found, but don’t forget the Lincoln MKZ (Zephyr) and the Mazda CX-9. While this higher output V6 is sorely needed by Ford and will eventually find its way through the Ford lineup, somehow the horses feel weaker than its 263-horsepower output suggests. We’ll reserve judgment on this one.
Ford Motor Co. 4.6L SOHC V8 – Mustang GT/Mustang Shelby GT – The 4.6L is the workhorse V8 for Ford’s rear wheel drive platforms. A very reliable, bulletproof powerplant, the 4.6L has proven to be very flexible up and down the horsepower scales. Driving the higher horsepower versions in the Mustang is a delight.
Mazda Motor Corp. 2.3L DISI turbocharged DOHC I4 – MazdaSpeed3 – A very willing and berserk powerplant in the MazdaSpeed3, the 2.3L Turbo provides more than enough power to generate nutso torque-steer in the MazdaSpeed3. Torque steer has always been a bugaboo in high output front wheel drive Mazdas and the combination of power and chassis dynamics in the MazdaSpeed3 may have set a new high (or low).
Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. 3.5L DOHC V6 -Infiniti G35 – We assume that Ward’s is referring to the higher output VQ found only in the Infiniti vehicles for 2007/2008. A significant upgrade from previous VQ V6s, the Infiniti has been finessed to new levels of power, smoothness and “engine music”. Still a bit of a lump in the fuel efficiency category, however. And the VQ’s refinement has pretty much been sub-par compared to the Audi, BMW and Lexus (Toyota) sixes against which it competes.
Toyota Motor Corp. 3.5L DOHC V6 -Lexus IS 350 – Another Japanese V6 putting out over 300-horsepower from 3.5-liters. Sweet, quick revving, quick. But unlike the Nissan VQ in the Infiniti, the Lexus 3.5L seems to lack the passion that really stirs the senses. Maybe it is the “engine music” thing. But it’s far more likely the effect of the Toyota engine’s astonishing refinement.


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LA Auto Show – 2007 Nissan Sentra SE-R

Nissan launched its latest Sentra SE-R at the 2006 LA Auto Show Number II. The SE-R model is the higher performance version of Nissan’s bread-and-butter compact sedan. The SE-R will be in Nissan showrooms in March 2007 – as a 2007 model year product.
Think of SE-R as a Q-Ship. Subtle design cues on the exterior with an upgraded interior in terms of seat trim and instrument panel gauges. But, with the mild cosmetics, the story is under the skin.

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SE-R is available in two states of tune – the plain-jane SE-R and the SE-R Spec V. The Spec V is the really high performance version putting out 200-horsepower. Nissan is touting 200-horsepower for less than $20,000. For those of us who actually select vehicles by horsepower per dollar (I select mine by horsepower by dollar of lease payment), the Spec V is a pretty good bargain.
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LA Auto Show – 2008 Nissan Altima Coupe – Reveal

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The introduction of a new coupe is usually a controversial affair. We struggled whether to include the new 2008 Altima Coupe in the VehicleVoice “What Were They Thinking?” category and here is why…

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1. Coupes are a struggling bodystyle.
Coupe sales have been deteriorating for years and only when there are really significant new entries does the sales in the segment spike. Mustang is the big dog and even though the Altima Coupe is officially a “Premium Mid-Size Coupe” sales will not be robust.
2. Altima Coupe is a me too. Maybe Nissan has extra investment dollars in the kitty that they can spin off a highly differentiated bodystyle off the Altima. No big deal. Not too expensive. But the Altima Coupe follows the Honda Accord Coupe and the Toyota Camry Solara Coupe and Convertible. In the future we can also expect a coupe from the Ford Fusion/Mercury Milan.
So, not much original thinking here.
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3. Coupes are package-challenged sedans. Once upon a time General Motors decided that a coupe should have a shorter wheelbase than a sedan. Looks sportier, you see. (Note the Pontiac G6 sedan and coupe have identical wheelbases). So, the Altima Coupe has worse ingress/egress, worse visibility and worse headroom. What’s good about that. Well, I guess you can argue that it looks sexier.
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4. Coupes are ego cars for management. Think about it. Auto designers always are the most proud of the coupes and sporty cars they have designed than of great sedans. More sex appeal. “Let’s design a car that a young guy would really like to buy. He doesn’t care if he can get into it, or out of it, or can see out of it. He just cares about style.” Car company management lusts to have the development of a successful coupe on their resume.
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With that anti-coupe flailing around, assuming that a coupe is OK, the 2008 Nissan Altima Coupe is a worthy competitor. The style behind the B-Pillar is what counts and Altima’s stylists have done an outstanding job. The resulting style has familiar Nissan coupe cues found on the Z-Car and the Infiniti G35. If they had to do it, this is a good job.
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Blowing Off the Lot – the Hot Sellers

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Since we have identified the vehicles that have the longest days supply, we have been asked to show which vehicles have the shortest days supply. Which vehicles are so hot they just blow off the dealer’s lot? As with the slower moving vehicles where we arbitrarily cut off the days supply at 150 days, here we are using 50 days as the cut off point. The details are shown “below the fold”


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Stuck to the Dealer's Floor – Inventory Numbers Tell the Story

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Which cars and trucks are planted to the dealer’s floor? In other words, which vehicles take the longest to sell? Who cars? Why does it matter, anyway?
Well, while it may not seem that important to you, it’s critically important to the industry s a whole… from the manufacturese, component suppliers, dealers and quite a few financial institutions. First, if you know the time it takes to sell a vehicle, you know how much it is dragging on the dealer’s floorplanning costs. Floorplanning is the term for the amount it costs the dealer to finance the a vehicle in inventory waiting to be sold. If a vehicle has been hanging around for weeks, he’ll be more likely to deal aggressively to get rid of it. Also, vehicles that have high days supply may be less popular. From that perspective, they may be the ones you want to stay away from.


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Nissan Qashqai: A Rogue In European Clothing?

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At the Paris auto show this September, Nissan revealed the newest addition to their European lineup, and VehicleVoice and AutoPacific were on hand for the introduction. The Qashqai four-door crossover SUV goes into production at Nissan’s plant in Sunderland, U.K., in December 2006 and on sale in Europe in early 2007. A version known as Dualis will go on sale in Japan during 2007 as well, and if the illustration Automotive News has published of the Rogue’s rear taillight is any indication (click here), the vehicle joining Nissan’s 2008 U.S. lineup is very much like the Qashqai, if not identical. Nissan USA has announced that a U.S. small crossover, with at least the concept wearing the name Rogue, will be revealed at the 2007 North American International Auto Show in January.

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We had the opportunity to take an up-close look at the Qashqai in Paris. Though taking photos at show stands can frequently be challenging, the Qashqai was among the most mobbed cars at the show, for reasons I’m not sure I get. It was never without lots of people checking it over top to bottom and inside out, with Nissan having several examples on the stand and giving easy access to them. Though clearly lots of folks were interested, I didn’t think styling was impressive in person. The interior is nicely laid out and promises to help reverse Nissan’s reputation for new models with poor interior materials.
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Renault is also planning to offer a version of this vehicle, which has a joint Renault-Nissan platform underneath, and the Renaul Koleos concept seemed to have more presence in the tin than Qashqai. Of course, the Renault was shown in concept form and is likely to be toned down for production.
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2007 Nissan Sentra – Sentra in the City

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AutoPacific and VehicleVoice had the opportunity to evaluate the all new 2007 Nissan Sentra on the roads East of San Francisco Bay. The all new Sentra competes with the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Mazda3, Ford Focus and Chevrolet Cobalt. For 2007, every major dimension has been expanded to meet American tastes.

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For the Record
Global development effort between Nissan and Renault. Delayed by about a year after bombing in USA product clinics. Went back to the drawing board to get it right.
Built at Nissan’s Aguascalientes Plant in Mexico: Plant underwent a $800 million upgrade to accommodate all new Sentra and all new Versa. 350,000 units per year capacity.
On sale October 12, 2006.
Target Customer: Echo Boomers – Generation Y between the ages of 18 and 29. Sentra needs to serve many purposes – going out with friends, carrying a bike, taking road trips, buying furniture at IKEA.
Strives to be Compact Class Benchmark
No longer a compact car aimed at the lowest common denominator customer, the new Sentra strives to be the benchmark of its class when it goes on sale October 12, 2006. While the Sentra slots into the Nissan car lineup above the all new Versa (which actually is larger in some dimensions) and below the all new Altima, the Sentra has grown over its predecessor in wheelbase (+5.9-inches), overall length (+2.3-inches), overall width (+3.2-inches) and overall height (+4.0-inches). Now the “compact” Sentra nudges the Mainstream Mid-Size Car in basic dimensions.
The Sentra has substantially more passenger volume than Civic, Corolla, Mazda3 and Cobalt. Similarly, it has a large cargo volume only slightly topped by Corolla and Cobalt.
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Nissan Murano – Wins Motorist's Choice Midsize Crossover

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AutoPacific Take on Nissan Murano’s Win – Nissan Murano wins the inaugural Motorist’s Choice Award® for the Mid-Size Crossover Vehicle class. It also won AutoPacific’s 2006 Ideal Vehicle Award® for its class. Murano owners rate its dynamic qualities strongly. Fun to Drive, braking, handling, ride are all important contributors to its win. Quality, reliability and dependability are rated strongly. In many ways Murano is a “package tour de force”; easy to get into and out of, great visibility, good seating front and rear.
IntelliChoice – The Murano is one of those vehicles that was expected to do well in the inaugural Motorist’s Choice award program. Rarely do we find a vehicle that continues to look great on the road and hold its place as a leader in it’s class year after year; especially in the tough Crossover SUV market. With a 5 Year Cost of Ownership just over $37,000, more than $3000 less than it’s competitors, the Murano will reward all of your senses.


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Nissan Armada – Wins Motorist's Choice Utility (Also a 2006 VSA winner)

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AutoPacific Take on Nissan Armada’s Win – The Nissan Armada wins the inaugural Motorist’s Choice Award® for the Utility Vehicle class. Armada also won AutoPacific’s 2006 Vehicle Satisfaction Award® for its class. Owner ratings for exterior styling, seating capacity, driver’s seat comfort and ease of getting in and out were important factors in its win. However, Armada really excels in being Fun to Drive with excellent ratings for power and acceleration from its standard 5.6L V8 engine. Owners’ perceptions of feeling safe while driving and Armada’s reliability and dependability also contributed to its win.
IntelliChoice Analysis – Following on the heels of it’s corporate cousin, the Motorist’s Choice winning Infiniti QX56, the Armada sets the standard for exciting and rewarding full size SUVs. With a 5 year Ownership Cost of just $48,372, $1700 less than it’s competitors, the Armada blends the virtues that have helped so many drivers fall in love with Nissan’s big SUV.


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