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2006 Pathfinder – Long Since Grown Up

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Remember the first Pathfinder? The two-door model with the refinement of a skateboard? Well the 2006 Pathfinder has long since grown up. The current (redesigned in 2005) model has come a long way from the earlier testosterone versions. Sitting on the “F-Alpha” family platform like the Xterra, Armada, Frontier and Titan, this new Frontier performs with more comfort and sophistication than any of its predecessors.
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2006 Chevrolet Impala SS – Delivers on its Name

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The 2006 Chevrolet Impala is a complete reskin from its dorky looking predecessor. It now looks very purposeful and almost modern. We have read many criticisms of its freshened styling, but, while not head-turning, the Impala is a huge improvement. The interior is ergonomically friendly and everything falls to hand easily.
So, what are the gripes. In an obvious cost-reduction, the bezel surrounding the console-mounted shifter in the Impala SS does not have P-R-N-D-L or anything else to tell you what gear you are in. The only indicator is on the instrument cluster where there is a LED read out. I don’t remember any car not having the gears shown near the shift lever. Probably saved a buck.

Excitement Reigns Under Full Throttle

In another obvious goof that many buff books have identified and I can confirm, torque steer is wild. Punch the 303-horsepower small-block V8 and things get exciting fast. It’s like you can’t figure out which way the car is going. Unlike many cars having fearsome torque steer (they usually turn hard right), the steering in the Impala SS under power seems almost omni-directional. If it consistently pulled right, you could anticipate it, but the SS seems to be everywhere.
Apparently, this is fixed on the Pontiac Grand Prix GXP with the same powertrain and platform but with larger tires up front. Chevy should spring for this fix. The Impala is a premium priced model and such obvious cost cuts should not be tolerated.
Impala Best Chevy Sedan since the old Impala SS
But, enough nit-picking. The Impala SS is truly the best non-Corvette car we have driven in a long time.


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2007 Hyundai Santa Fe – New, and From Alabama

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Some of us grew up around friends or acquaintances who found adolescence a challenging phase. We’ve all heard stories of the ‘late bloomer’ or wished we had been nicer to the girl down the street who came into her own only after our returning from college.

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Fortunately, the 2007 all-new Hyundai Santa Fe is materialistic and can be wooed with money alone. It doesn’t care to remember the snide remarks or perplexed gawking it drew from its adolescent years. It no longer looks like an overstuffed pork chop with pointy ears. The new Santa Fe has made it through puberty, lost the baby fat and come into its own.


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Chrysler's Pacifica Updated for 2007

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Previewed in addition to the all-new Chrysler Sebring at Chrysler’s “What’s Coming” event at their Chelsea Proving Grounds was an update for Chrysler‘s Pacifica, which is going into its fourth model year. Unlike the Sebring, VehicleVoice and AutoPacific were able to take the Pacifica for a quick spin around part of the DaimlerChrysler Proving Ground test track. The Pacifica update enhances the powertrain, tweaks exterior appearance and finesses the interior a bit, but, as true of most mid-cycle updates, does not provide a reason to buy where one had not already been.

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New Engine Launches in Pacifica
The Pacifica sports a new 255HP 4.0L SOHC 24v V6 engine, mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. Compared with the outgoing 3.5L, horsepower is only up by about 5HP, but it brings 265 lb-ft of torque to the table and smoother power delivery with extra forward gear. The peak torque increase is 15 lb-ft, but it is available earlier and longer throughout the rev range. Though not simply a larger-bore version of the 3.5L V6, the 4.0L design was started with the 3.5L as a building block. This 4.0L will find its way into other Chrysler products down the road, including the updated minivan due for 2008MY. With the 2007MY, the base Pacifica sticks with the 200HP 3.8L V6, but the 4.0L is standard for most Pacifica trim levels.
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Exterior changes are limited to hood, headlights, and grille. The headlights take on a more sculpted look, the lower portion of the front bumper is revised and the grille was tweaked. The hood is one of three new 2007MY hoods to take on Crossfire-inspired strakes, including Sebring and the all-new, Dodge Durango-based Aspen.
Interior updates include making the new easy-clean YES fabric available and adding more standard safety equipment. All-row side curtain airbags, ESP, and traction control are now standard, and a rear backup camera is a new option.
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Jeep Compass Points Portland to Pacific City, Via Tillamook

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VehicleVoice and AutoPacific correspondents have been fortunate enough to experience some spectacular scenery over the years, driving new vehicles in locations we might never find on our own, and our opportunity with the Jeep Compass was no exception as we explored the Tillamook State Forest in Oregon and drove on the beach alongside the Pacific Ocean. Stephanie Brinley was on the first wave of this event and George Peterson was on the final leg. Comments from both are included.

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We can’t forget the first night’s entertainment for later media waves. Attending our first AAA baseball game in years – the Portland Beavers and the Tucson Sidewinders (Tucson won 7-4) at PGE Park a short walk from The Hotel DeLuxe, our hosts from Jeep brought out the requisite hamburgers, hotdogs, potato salad and beer. Nice ambiance for the journalists and the 500 fans in attendance.
After our rooftop morning presentation, Jeep’s drive route took us from the hotel, through the Tillamook with its breathtaking views, to Pacific City, where we lunched at Pelican Pub & Brewery and enjoyed a view of Haystack Rock, one of the largest sea stacks on the Pacific Coast. The solitary monolith, the third largest in the world, is 235 feet tall. This area of Oregon is also home to the Sand Lake Dunes, where you’ll find a park that welcomes ATV riders and Jeeps. After lunch, it was off to the dunes.
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The route allowed us to experience the Compass in driving conditions from the city to expressways to rural two-lane switchbacks to two-track dirt roads to the sand dunes, with some construction thrown in for good measure. As active-lifestyle oriented Jeep drivers search out unusual terrain for fun, rather than bearing it as an obstacle, it was particularly appropriate to experience the Compass on such a varied drive route. Read on for our driving impressions, or check our New Model Introduction section for an overview of the Compass.
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Hyundai Azera First Impression and Test Drive

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If you were to have ever told me that I would actually feel comfortable peering through Korean glass at the road ahead, I would have laughed and told you that it would only be on the off chance I took an unplanned road trip through Seoul.
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However, when the Hyundai Azera won AutoPacific‘s Vehicle Satisfaction Award as top rated car I broke down and decided to take one home for the night, just to take a closer look. My initial reaction was one of surprise as I walked over to a substantial vehicle with contemporary styling and opened the solid drivers door to a plush, high-grade leather interior. This is a Hyundai? I’m used to bland aesthetics and plastic wheel covers, this car actually had decent lines. I was about to realize how quickly a manufacturer could sneak up on my perceptions. The simple fact was that the Azera, Hyundai’s luxury flagship, was going to introduce me to the tenacity of the Hyundai Motor Company, and their fierce determination in this market segment.


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2007 Lexus GS 450h – Seduced By The "Electric Turbocharger"

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We all know that until gas prices go up to somewhere over $4.50/gallon and stay there for a goodly bit of time, the wonder of gasoline/electric hybrid technology won’t deliver enough in fuel savings to pay off the incremental cost of most systems for the average driver. So the reasons for hybrid interest lie somewhere beyond economy. Honda, purveyors of the Civic Hybrid and the amusing but impractical Insight, decided that the concept of a performance hybrid might have some traction. The company teased us with the concept of a performance-based hybrid in the guise of the Accord Hybrid. But for several reasons, not the least of which was the combo of less-than-earth-shaking acceleration with a $30,000+ price tag, the anodyne hot-rod hybrid Honda has failed to perform in the market. In the case of America’s most popular hybrid vehicle, Toyota’s Prius, the obvious reason for its success and buzz is the car’s distinctive styling that makes the petit five-door hatchback stand out for the crowd. It all but screams “I’m making a statement.” And in the case of the Prius that statement is one of saving the environment.
Beyond the Prius and Insight, hybrids are far less distinctive on the road. Pretty much all that differs the majority of hybrids from their conventionally propelled sister vehicles are wheels, badging and, in one or two cases, a specific grille.

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Invisible Lexus GS 450h Tests Consumer Demand for Distinctive Hybrid Styling
So it is with the latest addition to the Toyota/Lexus lineup of Hybrids. Beyond a set of chrome-trimmed 18-inch wheels, a small “h” on the rear and an even smaller Hybrid badge in its lower-body moldings, the 2007 Lexus GS 450h could pass for the V8-powered GS 430.
Jim Hall, AutoPacific Vice President and VehicleVoice contributor had a recent opportunity to drive a GS 450h during one of his frequent trips to the mother ship in California. Impressed, he coined the term “electric turbocharger” to describe the impact of the Hybrid Synergy Drive on the performance of the GS.


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Pontiac Solstice: Its Style Gets in the Way

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Driven at Home and On the Road
At AutoPacific‘s Detroit office, we recently had the opportunity to drive the Pontiac Solstice, though the rainy Michigan weather precluded any top-down stick time. This Michigan experience supplemented an opportunity to drive the Solstice in Oregon last August, in ideal conditions far from the daily grind. The 300 miles or so spent driving in Oregon (on roads chosen in part for their ability to help the car shine) included wonderful, sweeping roads and perfect top-down weather. Sunny skies and warm temperatures meant the top only came up for about 50 of the Oregon miles, and then only out of obligation to test it that way.
You can also check out a VehicleVoice video podcast of initial reaction to the Solstice by VehicleVoice contributor George Peterson at the LA Auto Show. Jim Hopson, Pontiac-GMC Communications Manager gives us a walkaround introduction of the upcoming Solstice GXP.

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My Disappointment
As the co-owner of a 1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata and a 2002 Audi TT coupe, my automotive purchases seem to always prioritize fun and styling over practicality and interior space. Our household tends to choose style and fun over practicality and function. With no kids, two-seaters are just the right size for my husband and myself. Two-seat convertibles prioritize fun and style over function and space, and we fully embrace the idea. On paper, I’m the type of buyer who should have already put down a deposit for either Pontiac Solstice or Saturn Sky. And I wanted to like the Solstice and Sky enough to recommend them over the Mazda, to be genuinely excited about a homegrown product. But I find myself disappointed instead.
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Driving the Audi RS4 – California Dreaming

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Pasadena to Willow Springs
The line of RS4s was waiting behind the Ritz-Carlton Huntington Hotel in Pasadena under a fine mist of heavy California “coastal haze”.

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Grabbing the keys for a stunning muted silver RS4 my co-driver twisted the key (thankfully no start button like in Europe) and the 420-horsepower V8 rumbled to life. Luckily he got to drive the first (lots of congestion) half of the route from Pasadena to the Hidden Springs Cafe on Angeles Crest Highway. As navigator, I listened to positive descriptions of shift quality and engine tractability. After all, with all that torque on demand, you could keep the RS4 in fifth and negotiate most of the winding mountain roads from leaving the Freeway to Hidden Springs.
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By the time we had reached Angeles Crest, the day had turned glorious and the Los Angeles funkiness was left far behind. Now… for Willow Springs and some real driving. Switching drivers at Hidden Springs, I got to drive the RS4.
The dynamics of the car are outstanding. It goes where pointed. The engine sound is thrilling under full throttle. The ride is very well controlled but just a bit harsh – not unexpected with an aggressive suspension set-up and 19-inch tires and wheels. Nice ride – puts a smile on your face.


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Dodge Durango to Getty Villa on Day Without an Immigrant

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You might have known that months ago we had picked the “Day Without an Immigrant” – May 1 – to visit the Getty Villa in Malibu. The visit required a trek from central Orange County through Los Angeles to get to the Pacific Coast Highway in Santa Monica and then up to the Villa. Those familiar with getting from here to there can imagine the stairstep of freeways – 57-91-605-105-405-10-PCH.

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We gave ourselves two hours for the trip, piled in a 2006 Dodge Durango and set out to brave a day that promised two massive demonstrations in Los Angeles and others in surrounding cities. The Durango was perfect for the trip quickly carrying four from The OC to Malibu. The HEMI gives the power to point and shoot the big SUV into openings in the traffic, but we didn’t need it. There was no traffic… didn’t have to slow down once. Within 45 minutes we have made a trip that usually would be well over an hour. No traffic. Folks were avoiding the freeway and all eyes were on the demonstrations. Whew. The nice folks at the Getty were kind enough to let us in more than an hour early.
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Apparently, the 11 o’clock demonstrations in downtown drew 250,000 people and the 4PM demonstrations along the Wilshire corridor drew 400,000 marchers. This was enough to nicely empty the freeways away from the march routes. As we drove along, we wondered how our friends at r/comnetworks were doing. They were invited to video the earlier march from the venue of a Los Angeles Fire Department hook and ladder staged to respond to the scene.


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