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2007 Lincoln MKX – More Than The Sum Of Its Parts

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For a dyed-in-the-wool cynic, it’d be easy to dismiss the Lincoln MKX as little more than a tarted up Ford Edge. MKX could be another case of a redressed everyman’s car devised by sinister marketing types to pick the pockets of the gullible wealthy. Sure it uses the same platform, drivetrain, chassis bits and much of the sheetmetal with the more affordably priced, er, Ford. But this kind of misanthropic thinking sells the premium-badged vehicle short in many ways. Frankly, AutoPacific and VehicleVoice correspondents were suitably impressed by the MKX and how different it was from the Edge.

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For starters, Lincolns spun off high-volume Ford products have been the norm rather than the exception over the luxury nameplate’s 85 years of Ford ownership. After a calamitous attempt at building overweight Mercury and Lincoln vehicles off a common platform in 1949, both brands pretty much fell into lockstep with the lowly Ford. Other than a couple of other unsuccessful tries to build stand-alone Lincolns in mid-fifties for a decade or so, common sense (and rising development costs) meant Lincolns would have to be derived from higher volume platforms.


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2007 Lincoln MKZ – What A Difference A (Model) Year Makes

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For 2006 Lincoln got its own version of Ford’s latest mid-size sedan the Fusion. With specific sheetmetal at both ends and a unique interior the shortest car to ever carry a Lincoln badge was dubbed the Zephyr. A name for Lincoln’s illustrious past, the original Zephyrs were more modern than the KB-Series the company had been offering. They were also far more affordable carrying sticker prices a fraction of the essentially hand-built KBs.
While the latest Zephyr didn’t carry quite the same type of pricing relative to a Town Car, it did share the original Zephyr’s mission of bringing new customers to Lincoln. And while the new Zephyr sold beyond many people’s (and Lincoln’s own) expectations, a bit of Town Car style old-think found its way into the 2006 model… specifically its chassis setup. Timing constraints meant the Zephyr would have to carry over the entire drivetrain from the Fusion. This meant a modern but workmanlike 221HP 3.0L V6 and a pleasant Aisin-sourced 6-speed automatic gearbox. The Fusion’s front drive chassis was employed and received some minor, but as it turned out, rather unsettling tuning. Somebody decided that since the Zephyr was going to be a Lincoln it should ride like one. But apparently this was interpreted to mean Town Car rather than “Lincoln.” Compared to the original donor vehicle the Zephyr was softer with a far more “floaty” ride than the Fusion. The Zephyr was also shod with a V-rated “ride tire.” Biased for comfort and low-tread noise over adhesion, the Zephyr turned out to be a car better suited to riding in the passenger seat than sitting behind the steering wheel.


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2007 Hyundai Elantra – All New – Continues Raising the Bar

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The Hyundai Elantra is one of a string of all new Compact Cars introduced recently (September 2006): 2007 Nissan Sentra, 2006 Honda Civic, Kia Spectra… and smaller entries: 2007 Hyundai Accent, 2007 Nissan Versa, 2007 Toyota Yaris, 2007 Honda Fit. So, the competitive set for Elantra is very busy with better and better cars. AutoPacific was on hand for the media launch of the Elantra that included a drive from Santa Monica to Ojai.
The Elantra meets its competition head on. Wider (+2.0-inches) and taller (+2.2-inches), Elantra is much larger than before with its interior volume rating now in the Mid-Size Class. Among its facing competitors, only Sentra also is rated as a Mid-Size Car in interior volume. Hyundai brags that Elantra has a larger interior than the Acura TL.

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More Expressive Styling
While Elantra’s size may be its major distinguishing attribute, its style is more expressive than before, but Elantra is still not a head-turner. Side surfacing is more distinctive using rising contours reminiscent of the first generation Santa Fe crossover SUV, but not so contrived. The hood has a slight power bulge flowing into an evolutionary Elantra grille. While its stance is more purposeful than before, the standard P195/65TR15 tires are too anemic looking. The P205/55HR16s on the SE and Limited models look better, but still don’t give the car the beefier appearance we prefer.
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2007 Hyundai Tiburon – High Value Sporty Car Improves

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The 2007 Hyundai Tiburon, launched in November 2006 improves Hyundai’s entry into the sporty car category. Hyundai expects to sell about 18,000 Tiburon coupes per year in the dwindling sporty coupe market. Its primary competitors are the more expensive Mitsubishi Eclipse and the less expensive, but much less fully-equipped, Scion tC. You can also throw the Honda Civic coupe and coupe Si in the competitive set.
At a Glance – No Change – But Styling Details Improve
Basically a minor facelift with interior upgrades, the 2007 Tiburon gets what the industry calls a new “front and rear six (inches)”. The front fascia and hood are new. The hood has longitudinal strakes that are becoming somewhat of a Hyundai signature – if only they would be consistent and put them on everything. The front fascia is stronger looking than previous with the car now getting projector headlamps. The taillamps are new – adopting a projector-like design that is all the rage.

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Distinctive Touch – Shades of Aston Martin Gills
Not to be left out of the gill wars, Hyundai added gills to the conveniently styled bodyside strakes of the Tiburon. Nice touch that moves the Tiburon a bit away from its competition.
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Audi's Power Play 2007 – S6 & S8

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As luck would have it, VehicleVoice and AutoPacific staff had the chance to drive the Audi S6 and S8 this October, after spending time in the RS4 in spring and summer (click for our RS4 driving impressions and general overview). Audi’s high-performance sedans have provided some of our happiest driving hours this year.

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Hierarchy Weakens S6
Seemingly as an effort to carve out a niche for the S6, Audi has given it a middle of the road personality; it is sporting, but not as involving as the RS4. It is nearly as powerful as the S8, but doesn’t offer as much luxury or presence. The S6 is a nice, powerful sedan. But the more involving driving experience of the RS4 is worth the loss in interior room compared with S6. And the S6 doesn’t fill power and luxury shoes nearly as well as the S8, even keeping in mind the S8’s $92,000 base price.
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The 450HP S8 and the 435HP S6 share a 5.2L V10. The S6’s exhaust is tuned for a higher, sportier note, but the S8 gets a throatier and more pleasing rumble. The S8’s deeper tenor supports its powerful personality. Both are tuned to deliver 90 percent of their 398 pound-feet peak torque starting at 2500 rpm, so putting your foot in the throttle always brings the immediate rewards of acceleration and the pleasing exhaust notes.
The V10 gets a six-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission that is smooth and quiet in both applications, and the S6’s Sport button can liven up the experience. All in all, I’d rather have a manual for the smaller S6. Its mix of a stiff chassis, superb sport seats, and power is let down by the lack of a manual and, by extension, a lack of driver involvement. The automatic is at home in the S8, with its more remote and powerful personality.
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Selecting an Audi S car, understated as they are, can bring the admiration of those who know what to look for and keep those who don’t away. One of the coolest elements of the S6 is the daytime running lights under each headlight; each bank has five white LEDs to honor the V10 under the hood.
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The S6 offers a usual Audi quality interior and uplevel equipment, with wonderful sport seats (the S8 seats tip to the comfortable side of the scale) wrapped in silk nappa leather. The S6 does not offer as many features as the S8, including the ultra-special Bang & Olufsen stereo, but does come with more stuff than the RS4.


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2007 Ford Edge – Mustang of Crossovers

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The introduction of the all new Ford Edge crossover SUV is arguably the most significant launch in the United States for the 2007 model year. It certainly is for Ford Motor Company. And, Edge brings the knowledge of Ford’s decades of SUV dominance into the equation. One Ford competitor has described the Edge as the “Mustang of Crossovers” meaning that Edge could have Mustang-like impact on the crossover SUV world.

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Ford’s Mark Fields Introduces the Edge in San Francisco

Ford invited VehicleVoice and AutoPacific correspondents to review the Edge in San Francisco. They had a reveal in an Embarcadero-side park where Mark Fields, Ford’s North American Chief gave a brief synopsis of the importance of this new crossover SUV in Ford’s lineup. Fields turned over the duty of describing the details of the Edge to Geri Ward, Ford’s Edge Brand Marketing Manager. A former powertrain engineer, Ward brought technical knowledge with a marketing spin to her pitch.
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Ford’s Geri Ward – Edge Brand Marketing Manager


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Practicality Meets Performance – 2007 Subaru Legacy GT Spec.B

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Walking over to a Subaru Legacy doesn’t usually get my blood pumping or adrenaline going. The Subaru marqué typically conjures up visions of moving to Oregon, growing a beard or taking hikes through the redwood forest in my Birkenstocks. So, when asked to test-drive the Legacy sedan over the weekend I didn’t exactly burst into the parking lot skipping with glee. However, my experience with this sedan over the weekend would prove to be unbelievable. It has changed the way I look at Subarus… and Subaru owners…
In fact, as VehicleVoice and AutoPacific staff members drove the Legacy, opinions shifted.

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The Subaru Legacy GT Spec.B lives at the top of the Subaru food chain and does for the Legacy what the WRX STI did for the Impreza. It gives consumers a performance option and turns this four-door sedan into the ultimate Legacy. Relatively the same size as a Mazda6 the Legacy Spec.B is a fairly refined sport sedan with an edge.


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Dodge Nitro: Does It Live Up to Its Looks?

Dodge showed concept and production versions of Nitro at the Chicago Auto Show, in 2005 and 2006 respectively (click for our coverage of the 2006 reveal). In September, VehicleVoice and AutoPacific correspondents had our first opportunity to drive it. Starting at Broadway Pier in the San Diego Harbor, we drove the Nitro on a long, winding route to Palm Springs.

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Related to the Jeep Liberty and built in the same facility, Nitro is bigger, has an all-new suspension, and is optimized for the on-road side of life. Entering this segment late, Dodge’s best opportunity for creating a buzz was exterior styling or innovative new interior features. Dodge saw an opportunity for an in-your-face look with a decidedly male-oriented bias and went for it; the brand’s established in-your-face attitude would be best supported by an aggressive, in-your-face mid-size SUV and there aren’t many of those out there already. Nitro competes with soft-road or crossover SUV entries including Toyota RAV4, Saturn VUE, and latest Mitsubishi Outlander as well as with more traditional SUVs Nissan Xterra, Kia Sorento, and Jeep’s own Liberty. In this arena, only the Xterra wears strongly masculine styling.
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Good Bye Ol' Paint – Infiniti M45 Off Lease

Unlike many media/analysts, AutoPacific and VehicleVoice staffers actually have their own cars. We actually go to dealerships and buy them just like normal folks.
Two years ago just as the lease was coming due on my 2003 Ford Expedition Eddie Bauer I was driving through the local auto mall and rolled past the Infiniti dealership where they were having a fire sale on out-of-production first generation M45s. You remember the 1st M45. It was a Nissan Cedric/Gloria/Cima with “sporty” cues like a fast greenhouse and frameless door windows. The M45 had been put in the Infiniti lineup as a stopgap between the fading-fast I30 and the already faded Q45. Only a short-term proposition, Infiniti did what it could to differentiate the car and make it an “Infiniti” – did a pretty good job.

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New Lease Chosen for Most Horsepower for the Buck
Frankly, I didn’t like the way the car looked, but the price was too good to pass up. Turns out I have gotten into the mode of leasing vehicles based on horsepower per lease payment dollar. The 340 horsepower for the M45 made the discounted lease they were offering a real deal.
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The M45 was the 1st sedan I had personally had for ten years. The previous five two-year leases had been SUVs – one Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo and four Ford Expeditions. Just could not bring myself to get sixth SUV for this iteration.
On the upside, the Infiniti was very, very fast. The V8 sounded outstanding at full roar. Handling was OK. The seats with temperature controls interfering with your inboard thigh were among the most uncomfortable in the industry for few years. They were shared with the G35 and FX and thankfully they have been replaced by better seats for its most recent cars.


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2007 Infiniti G35 – All New – Even Better

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Infiniti chose Palo Alto, California to showcase the all new 2007 Infiniti G35 to journalists. AutoPacific and VehicleVoice was there to experience the driving opportunity first hand. The conclusion, in a nutshell, is that Infiniti has made the G35 even better than the excellent first generation effort.

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On sale in November 2006, the 2007 G35 Sedan uses the second generation of the Nissan FM platform. “FM” means Front Mid-Ship or Front engine with a slightly mid-ship engine placement and rear wheel drive. The coupe derivative of this generation G35 will be introduced in mid-2006. This means that the new sedan and old coupe will be sold side-by-side for the first part of the year.
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The G35 target buyer is aged 30-49 with an income level between $85,000 and $150,000. Slightly over half are married. The G35 buyer appreciates handcrafted quality and is a performance enthusiast. Infiniti describes this person as self-assured and quietly confident.
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Evolutionary Contemporary Design
At a glance, the new G35 is immediately recognizable as a G35. It is slightly more curvaceous with a long wave-like hood. While the 1st generation G35 was a good looking car, the latest iteration is less blocky. Even though the A-Pillars are steeply raked, the G35 maintains good ease of entry and exit.
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Perhaps the most welcome change is in the interior. The instrument paney is very straightforward and elegantly styled. The instrument panel is now a swept away design instead of the bluff design of its predecessor. The material selection is top notch – a departure from previous lower level Infiniti entries.
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Each G35 comes with a center mounted 7-inch display whether the car is equipped with a Navigation System or not. The implications of this are huge. If Infiniti is thinking into the future, this display can be used to integrate iTunes or handheld GPS systems through Bluetooth. All you need is the interface and the Bluetooth technology and the car becomes the receptacle.


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