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2007 Hyundai Elantra – All New – Continues Raising the Bar


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


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


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.



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.

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.

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.

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


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


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.


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.


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


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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2007 Nissan Altima – All New – Upgraded


Smaller Altima to Save Costs
When the specifications of the all new Nissan Altima surfaced, we were shocked that the car had gotten smaller. After all, for most Americans “Bigger is Better”. Why did Nissan develop an all new “D-Platform” for the all new car? This new “D-Platform” is (mostly) all new – not a mild evolution of the previous car.

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The wheelbase is shorter as is the overall length. Where the previous Altima was one of the biggest cars in its class, this generation Altima is sized right on top of the all new 2007 Toyota Camry and 2007 Honda Accord. AutoPacific and VehicleVoice correspondents were on hand to get the first hands-on driving expeirence of the Altima in San Francisco.
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As with the exterior, the interior of the Altima is marginally smaller than its predecessor. Altima has much more front headroom than the all new Camry – and about the same as the Accord. Rear headroom is substantially smaller than both – a sacrifice to styling. Front legroom is competitive and rear legroom is much larger than Camry and Accord. The trunk is substantially larger than both Camry and Accord.
Why this smaller package? Simple. Cost containment. Making a car the same size as its predecessor would have been more expensive… not within the budget.
In truth, the Altima does not feel smaller than the previous car. Nissan has done a good job with surface designs and color coordination to make the interior seem inviting and spacious.
Styling and Materials – Styling Continues Nissan Expressive Design – Materials Much Better
We always thought the previous generation Nissan Altima was one of the better looking mainstream mid-size cars. It was expressive and had a real presence where the previous Camry was invisible and the Accord was trying too hard to look different. The style of the 2007 Altima pushes the envelope, but not too much. The headlights are expressive and the taillamps are very distinctive… and very expensive. And, we found out how the Nissan product planners partially paid for them… old style trunklid hinges that intrude into the cargo space when the trunk is closed (even the Sentra has gas struts).
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The interior materials are much better than its predecessor that was much maligned for the quality and fit and finish of the interior and interior materials. Now, Altima has soft touch surfaces on the instrument and door trim panels, padded armrests, tasteful accents. The overall style of the Altima interior is pleasant – contemporary and with the times. Thankfully, everything is understandable and easy to use. It is the first car in its class to offer a standard Intelligent Key with push button ignition. The touch screen navigation system is now available with XM Real Time Traffic. We would prefer the screen to be mounted higher than its mid-center-stack position.

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2007 Nissan Sentra – Sentra in the City


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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