Archive for August 22, 2011


Over the past weekend, I attended the 2011 Inland Empire Auto Show at the Ontario Convention Center. It was a three-day affair, from Friday August 19 through Sunday August 21, 2011. Saturday was a glorious day in Ontario. Usually an oppressive cauldron during the summer, we were spared the usual triple digit heat and it never passed 80 while we were there.

This is the first auto show of the season in So Cal.  The big LA Auto Show isn’t until November 18-27, so I really didn’t expect much from this show. Most of the cars on display were provided by local area car dealers, not manufacturers.   The notable exceptions were GM (Chevy, Buick and Cadillac), Toyota (including Scion) and Chrysler (Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and Fiat) — all of whom had Drive-N-Ride courses set up.

In order to drive the 2012 Dodge Charger SRT8 or the 2011 Dodge Challenger SRT8 muscle cars, you had to drive another Chrysler Group car.  For better or worse, the only car no one wanted to drive was the 2011 Jeep Compass, so I took one for the team and volunteered for the orphan Jeep.

Under new Chrysler leadership, the Compass had received a new “Grand Cherokee-like” grille and the interior had been seriously revamped, adding the excellent Garmin GPS navigation system, upgraded electronics and infotainment and soft-touch plastics with an extra dollop of soundproofing materials. I pity any sucker who bought the 2010 Compass because the 2011 model is so much better. That said, I still think it’s a homely contestant, always destined to be a bridesmaid, never the bride.

An all-new Fiat-based replacement for the Dodge Caliber and its corporate cousin, the Jeep Compass,  is planned for the 2013 model year. The current Compass just has to hang on a little longer.

The 2012 Dodge Challenger SRT8 was the highlight of the various Drive-N-Rides.  The Charger was completely and successfully redesigned for the 2011 model year. For 2012, Dodge’s Street Racing and Technology (SRT) tuning division worked its magic for all us car guys, gearheads, fuel-freaks and aging baby boomers waxing nostalgic for the American Muscle Car.

2012 Dodge Charger SRT8 at the Inland Auto Show driving event.

SRT replaced the “old” 6.1L Hemi V8 with a 6.4 L (392 cubic inches) unit boasting 470 horses and matching lb-ft of torque.  The only transmission is the old, but reprogrammed, 5-speed automatic.  It sounds as good as it looks and there is nothing like a living, breathing muscle car that fires all 8 cylinders when you punch the gas pedal.

For 2012, the Dodge Hemi V8 increased to 6.4 liters making 470 hp and 470 lb-ft of torque -- all to the rear wheels.

I found the transmission shifts harsh at times, but with so much torque spinning the rear wheels, who cars? The rear tires even chirped for me. Heaven.  Handling was excellent with little body roll. The old Mercedes E-class chassis has been thoroughly modernized by Chrysler and fitted with new, more sophisticated suspension parts. It’s sport-tuned stiff, so you hear and feel the road more than in the “standard” Charger, but that’s the point of the SRT8.

The Charger's 4 doors make life easier if you've got kids or passengers on a regular basis. Easier to justify to your partner, too.

It’s sheer linear fun in a very liveable, daily driver 4-door package.  While it’s $50,000 (which seems expensive for a Dodge) it delivers superior, modern muscle combined with the convenience of a roomy 4-door sedan and a host of electronic convenience and comfort gadgets usually only found in much more expensive cars. You buy this car for the torque-drunk fun you will have daily. Even if  you have to sit in traffic you can gun the engine for aural pleasure.  You’ll be lucky to get 14 mpg in the city. Cylinder deactivation buys the Charger low 20s on the highway.  Pleasure with the gas pedal yields pain at the pump. Such is life.

The 2012 Prius V (V is for Versatility, according to Toyota) is a wagonized version of the ubiquitous third-generation Prius.  I couldn’t tell the difference between the regular Prius and the V, when it comes to driving; however, it does seem to offer substantially more cargo space.

The 2012 Toyota Prius V looks like a cross between a Toyota Matrix, Prius and Mazda5 MPV.

The Prius V has a cavernous rear cargo area and a large tailgate.

Lots of families were checking out the new Prius V

The heavier body reduces fuel economy to a combined 42 mpg; but that won’t stop it from flying out of LA-area Toyota dealers’ showrooms.

The 2012 Plug-In Prius is just that. It’s a third generation Prius with more powerful, more expensive lithium-ion batteries that can both be recharged by plugging it in and it can drive up to 13 miles in EV mode only.  Once you exhaust the EV mode, it feels, drives and functions exactly like the “normal” Prius.  The new battery pack can fully recharge in 3 hours from a normal 110 volt plug or in only 1.5 hours using a 220 volt hook up.  For people like me who make short trips around town every day, I could drive all week in EV mode and only use the hybrid mode on my weekly Palm Springs pilgrimage.  Toyota hasn’t released exact pricing yet, but it’ll be priced between $3,000 – $5,000 more than the “standard” Prius.

Except for the bright decals and a small plug, the 2012 Plug-In Prius looks nearly identical to the "regular" Prius - inside and out.

Toyota had a small display at the IE Auto Show. The banner lets you know that the plural of Prius is Prii and the family is growing.

The 2012 Plug-In Prius will also fly off dealers’ lots.   Price is no obstacle for some well-intentioned green wallets in Metro LA.

I tortured myself by riding in the back of a Fiat 500 while my friend test drove.  Fortunately, the Fiat rep was a short, thin, pretty young woman and she rolled her seat almost into the dash. The back seat of a Fiat 500 is not the place for tall people.

Below are some other vehicles I saw at the show. Enjoy!

2012 Buick Verano - Front. It's based on the Chevy Cruze.

The rear of the Verano is interesting. I'm not sure about the chrome eyebrows over the tail lights. Maybe this was done for the Chinese market, where GM sells LOTS of Buicks.

The Buick Verano's interior shows its Chevy Cruze origins; however the materials are upgraded as are the leather seats. I understand the Buick has packed it with more soundproofing to give it that Buick hushed quality.

The 2011 Cadillac CTS-V Coupe is a looker. I just wish that each time I looked at it, I didn't see an old geezer (kind of like the old guy talking to the young model on the stand).

The Cadillac CTS-V (v for "velocity") has a nice rear too. However, the plastic center brake light felt like it was going to fall off. GM needs to do better with those small things.

The 2011 Cadillac CTS also comes in sedan and wagon guise. I love the rear tailgate of this 2011 CTS-V Wagon. They don't sell many of these wagons, so they will likely be collectible in 25 years.

The interior of the CTS-V Wagon is handsome and I like the darker wood inserts. However, there is still too much cheap-looking bright bits that will annoy you when driving in the sun.

I was surprised to find the 2012 Chevy Camaro SS Convertible at the IE Auto Show. I don't think it's on showroom floors yet.

The big news for the 2012 Camaro is the upgraded interior plastics, a new, handsome corporate steering wheel and the addition of power lock controls on both doors (not just in the center before).

The rear of the Camaro is lean and mean. It screams muscle. The white color with orange stripes and interior accents looks sharp, very desirable.

The Camaro never had much trunk capacity, and the convertible top sucks up lots of precious space. But what is impressive here is the lovely. expensive gas struts that assist the trunk's hinges. This way, the hinge doesn't interfere with the cargo.

The 2011 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 is one expensive, sexy machine. With a top speed of 205 mph, it's the fastest GM production car EVER. GM produces these in very limited quantities, so I was surprised to see it at this auto show.

The Corvette ZR1's engine is a 6.2L LS9 V8 engine producing 638 hp and 604 lb-ft of torque. It uses a four-lobe Eat0n Twin Vortices Series (tm) supercharger.

This Carlisle Blue Metallic Beauty has a MSRP of $123,500. Nice if you can afford it!

The 2012 Chevy Sonic LTZ Turbo. It will be on sale in a few months, so I'm told. Chevy even sent a model to read a script about its virtues.

A closer look at the front of the 2012 Chevy Sonic. GM hopes you'll forget that its predecessor, the Aveo, ever existed.

The interior of the new Sonic still looks to have some hard plastic surfaces. Then again, it is the entry-level model for Chevy. Looks way better than the Aveo.

The Sonic will be available in a 5-door hatch (seen here) and a 4-door sedan. This LTZ Turbo model is the top of the line.

This 2011 Dodge Challenger R/T in Toxic Orange Pearl Coat paint (love the name) looks pretty nice. The interior upgrades for 2011 increase its appeal.

The Challenger is a Mean Machine!

I had to show you this 2012 Fiat 500. The dealer gave it a matte black paint job. It's also possible that the look is merely a "wrap" like when you see cars that turn into rolling billboards. I've seen the MINI dealer to a matte black wrap for the Countryman and it looked pretty good. If it's paint, it probably cost as much as the car, if it's shrink-wrap, it still costs thousands. Don't waste your money on a car this inexpensive.

Need a big truck that can tow a house? Look no further than this 2011 Ford F-350 SuperDuty 4x4 truck with the PowerStroke 6.7L V8 diesel engine.

Note the B20 and green leaf part of the badge. This gigantic PowerStroke Turbo-diesel engine can run on B20 which is Biodiesel, 20%. You won't find B20 at more than a couple of pumps in all LA, but it is available in farm/rural areas.

This is the window sticker for the 2011 Ford SD F-350 4x4 CrewCab Lariat 172" wheelbase Styleside truck with the 6.7l V8 Powerstroke turbo-diesel engine and a 6-speed automatic. You better need the brute power of this truck because it's $60,290.

The only thing interesting about this 2011 Honda Pilot was the standee next to it. It looks like one of the crazy school-girl ninjas from the Crazy 88s gang in Kill Bill.

This is the interior of the 2012 Honda Civic EX sedan, with the leather option. If only the plastics were a bit nicer. The cockpit is just passable - something that we shouldn't be saying about the Honda Civic.

The 2012 Nissan NV 1500 V6 utility van is already on the streets. It's the first time a foreign manufacturer has challenged Ford, GM and Dodge Ram in the full-size utility van market. They are very large and odd-looking.

The cockpit of the Nissan NV is utilitarian and well laid out. You can't get rear seats. It's strictly a cargo affair. It can be customized to any number of contractor needs.

The widow sticker for the 2012 Nissan NV 1500 V6 SV. It's very competitive at $27,750. It depends on how much you will spend to customize it for your needs.

This is the 2012 all-new Subaru Impreza 5-door hatchback. It's nothing like the sexy concept Impreza from 2010. It looks chunky and utilitarian - not rugged. Is that what a Subaru should be?

The 2012 Subaru Impreza hatch does opens wide for lots of cargo. The rear seats easily flip down.

The Impreza's interior is much improved, but I'm not sure it's enough to keep up with the competition. I still felt lots of rubbery plastic.

The 2012 Scion iQ was present, but not open. I wish I'd had the chance to sit inside, see if I fit, adjust the seats and feel the plastics. The window tint made taking interior pictures impossible. It will be interesting to see how well Toyota markets the new 1.3 liter 4-cylinder, 94 hp iQ and if it gains traction in all-so trendy LA.