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.
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.
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.
New Lease Chosen for Most Horsepower for the Buck
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
correspondents were on hand to get the first hands-on driving expeirence of the Altima in San Francisco.
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).
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.
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.
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.
Just got my hands on AutoPacific’s 2007 Mazda MX-5 for a few days while being evaluated by VehicleVoice and AutoPacific analysts. Like previous Miatas, this one fits like a glove. Ours came in “True Red” with a 6-speed manual, keyless ignition, and a retractable hard top.
General Motors hosted a two-day event in sunny Southern California showcasing quite a few of their 2007 makes and models. The event kicked off with a press conference at Saturn of Temecula with the first day’s events focusing on Saturn’s new lineup, followed by a ride and drive down to San Diego. Choices for the drive included the new Saturn Sky, Aura, and Vue. The second day of the event featured a broader spectrum of GM’s lineup ranging from a turbo charged Saab 9-5 to a Mid-Duty GMC Top-Kick towing a boat touting GM’s Vortec engine. With a handful of GM vehicles poised to attack the autocross course or engage in a ‘truck-pull’, at the end of the day the tough part would be deciding which models were the most note worthy.
I was at the event as VehicleVoice contributor and AutoPacific analyst.
An obvious choice at the top of the list was the Saturn Sky, which breaks from the conservative styling cues typically found on every vehicle bearing the Saturn marque. With its more aggressive lines, pronounced fender peaks and menacing front end the Sky definitely makes a bold statement. Many may liken it to a miniature Corvette or GM’s version of Mazda’s MX-5 (Miata)
, but not many will call it boring.
On Chrysler’s web site, they describe the new Sebring as “poised to inspire.” VehicleVoice and AutoPacific staff were among the groups of journalists that the Chrysler Group invited to Palm Springs, California, to experience first-hand the all-new Sebring, as well as the Aspen, to find out for ourselves.
The drive route took us from Palm Springs, where we were staying at the Parker Palm Springs
and sightings of supermodel Tyra Banks were rumored, to Borrego Springs, California, where we lunched at La Casa de Zorro Resort
before dashing back. The roughly 160-mile round trip provided the opportunity to drive Sebring on twisty roads, flat straight state highways, Interstates, and through various elevation changes. The Sebring was a comfortable companion throughout the drive, whether driver or passenger.
What a sweetheart!
Finally an affordable sporty car with a retractable hardtop!
Volkswagen has just introduced its new Eos sporty car. They call it a CSC or “Convertible Sunroof Coupe”. VehicleVoice got the first opportunity to drive the Jetta-based Eos at a Volkswagen-sponsored event in Portland, Oregon. This was a really risky proposition for the VW PR folks… having a convertible launch in one of the dampest areas of the country. But the weather cooperated and we missed the rain.
Eos – Affordable Aspiration
The Eos is a very pleasant small car. Volkswagen PR folks describe it as affordable aspiration
and it fills the bill. Priced at $27,990 for the base car, it can be equipped to just shy of $40,000 when all the boxes are checked on a 3.2L V6 version.
While Volkswagen contends the Eos is not a chick’s car, it certainly is. The old VW Cabriolet had about 80% female ownership. Southern California was crawling with young blonde girls driving Cabrios… see my car, see me. Remember the movie Clueless
?… yep, VW Cabriolet. Now, VW says that there will be a 50/50 split between genders. We don’t see it. Chick car all the way.