Posts Tagged ‘Diesel’

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.


The rise of fuel prices in Los Angeles and the rest of the country has been a boon for the makers of  Xanax and a pain in the wallet for all drivers.  At this point, almost every grade of gasoline or diesel is $4.00/gallon or higher.

Americans seem to have collective amnesia after The Great Gas Panic of 2008.  Remember when gas was nearing $5/gallon around LA?  I do, but apparently most don’t. Throughout 2009 and 2010, sales of hulking trucks and SUVs that, at best, returned fuel economy in the high teens, were on the rise again.  In fact, during 2010, residual values of big, heavy, gas-guzzlers increased significantly because there was such high demand.  That may be coming to an end.  The  new Gas Panic of 2011 has arrived and it threatens to derail our already fragile economy.

2011 Ford F-150, the best-selling vehicle in the United States.

As usual, the top-selling vehicle for 2010 was the Ford F-series pickup truck. Ford sold a staggering 528,349 units – great news for Ford. But if that wasn’t bad enough, the Chevy Silverado pickup truck was the number two selling vehicle in 2010 with 370,135 units.  If you add the sales of GMC’s Sierra (Silverado’s spawn) of 129,794 units, total GM light truck sales totaled 499,929 units.  Wow – you sure don’t see that in LA metro where it seems like almost every other car is a Toyota, Honda, Mercedes or BMW.  Where I live in West Hollywood, you can’t throw a stone without hitting a Prius.

Even as recently as February 2011, the top selling vehicles in the US market were:

As usual, we can’t get enough of the big, bloated trucks. But is that about to change?

There was a short period during the 2008 Gas Panic when the Ford F-series truck was knocked from the top position by the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord; but that was short-lived as gas prices receded when the Wall Street-driven speculative oil futures bubble burst.

This time around, the price hikes are fueled by fears of uprisings in oil-producing countries in the Middle East and Northern Africa.  There is no oil shortage – for now.  However, as events in those regions unfold, and the stability of oil production and supply becomes ever more precarious, the high oil prices may stick around for a longer time.  Assuming our “friends” in Saudi Arabia and the Emirates hang on to their kingdoms and autocratic authoritarian governments, eventually oil prices will stabilize at a lower level and gas prices will recede again.  If those regimes fall, all bets are off.  It looks like high prices at the pump are here to stay for a while.

There are many more great fuel-efficient cars on the market today than there were in 2008.  However, there are very few choices in the luxury category if you want something that gets better than 25 mpg.  It seems like if a luxury hybrid attains 22 mpg, it’s cause for celebration.   But I think there is a larger market for affordable, luxury (or near luxury) cars that can top 35 mpg.

While Toyota’s Lexus division beats every other manufacturer with the sheer volume of hybrids, only the RX 450h, a fancy Toyota Highlander, offers a significant bump in fuel economy(>30%) over its gas-only cousin, albeit at a $4,560 premium. The new CT 200h is a gussied up, less fuel efficient, Prius.  The HS 250h is a Toyota Adventis from Europe with the Camry Hybrid drivetrain.  The GS 450h and LS 600h L have no Toyota analog, but neither have stellar fuel economy (see below).  As things currently stand today, the CT 200h is the (near) luxury fuel economy champion.

2011 Lexus CT 200h

A close up of the interior panels of the 2011 Lexus CT 200h.

The new Infiniti M Hybrid, rolling into showrooms in April, is quite nice; however with an entry level price of $53,700 you pay a lot to chase its 32 mpg.

2012 Infiniti M35 Hybrid

The Lincoln MKZ is merely a rebadged Ford Fusion, and while it’s nice, I’m not sure it’s worth the extra $6,000. I’d pick the Ford over the Lincoln.

2011 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid

The German luxury brands – Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche – all offer a hybrid or clean diesel, but mostly for big, heavy, expensive SUVs whose fuel economy sucked to begin with. So an increase of 15-20% seems great when you’re talking about a dismal 16 mpg in the city.  Now you can get 18 mpg in town with a diesel or 20 mpg with a hybrid. Whoop de doo.

2012 Porsche Panamera S Hybrid starts at $95,000.

2011 Lexus LS600h L starts at $111,350 and gets a whopping 19/25 city/hwy.

Here’s a short list of luxury hybrids and advanced clean diesels. Most of them are so expensive that any bump in fuel economy is probably meaningless to the driver.  If you are going to pay over $110,000 for the Lexus LS 600h L, do you really care about its fuel economy? If you drop $95,000 on the base Porsche Panamera S Hybrid (it’s at least $115, with options), do you care that it gets better fuel economy or do you just want the bragging rights when you toss the key fob to the valet at the SoHo House?  Most of the luxury hybrid (or advanced diesel) SUVs are sold in low volume to people in L.A. with money to burn (or someone else’s money) who want a big SUV with “green” bragging rights.  Such is life in Hollywood.

  1. Lexus CT 200h 43/40 City/Hwy FWD
  2. Lexus HS 250h 35/34 FWD
  3. Lexus RX 450h 32/28 FWD
  4. Lexus GS 450h 22/25 RWD
  5. Lexus LS 600h L 19/23 AWD
  6. Infiniti M35 Hybrid 27/32 RWD
  7. Lincoln MKZ Hybrid 41/36 FWD
  8. Cadillac Escalade Hybrid 20/23 RWD
  9. BMW X6 ActiveHybrid 17/19 AWD (this is a hybrid?)
  10. BMW 335d Advanced Diesel 23/36 RWD
  11. BMW X5 xDrive35d Advanced Diesel 19/26 AWD
  12. Mercedes-Benz ML350 BlueTec Diesel SUV 18/25 AWD
  13. Mercedes-Benz ML450 Hybrid SUV 20/24 AWD
  14. Mercedes-Benz GL350 BlueTec Diesel SUV 17/21 AWD
  15. Mercedes-Benz R350 BlueTec Diesel SUV 18/24 AWD
  16. Mercedes-Benz S400 Hybrid 19/25 RWD
  17. Porsche Panamera S Hybrid (TBD, but estimated around 33 mpg) RWD
  18. Porsche Cayenne S Hybrid 20/24 AWD
  19. Audi Q7 3.0 TDI Clean Diesel 17/25 AWD
  20. A3 Sportsback 2.0 TDI Clean Diesel 30/42 FWD

Of all the Germans, only the BMW 335d and Audi A3 2.0 TDI offer a significant leap in fuel economy over their gas-powered cousins. Both use advanced clean diesel technology.

2011 BMW 335d sedan

BMW 335d rear trunk lid and badge.

I’ve driven the BMW 335d and it’s a fantastic car.   The 425 lb-ft of torque available at just 1750 rpm is intoxicating. The BMW 3-Series is the benchmark for all other sports sedans and the 3.0 liter TwinPower Turbo diesel engine is the most powerful and sophisticated in-line six diesel in production today.  Put the two together, it’s magic.  But magic is pricey.  The 335d starts at $45,575, a whopping $3,525 premium over the excellent gas-powered 335i and a staggering $10,975 more than the entry level 328i. Yes, at 36 mpg, the 335d is 30% more efficient than the 328i, which is rated at 28 mpg — but at what price?  When you add the normal options like the Sport, Cold Weather, Convenience and Premium Packages, navigation, upgraded sound and satellite radio to the 335d, the price is over $57,000.  Almost any savings you get with the terrific fuel economy are negated by the extra cost of the diesel package.  Would it have killed BMW to bring in a less expensive, more fuel efficient diesel engine to the US market?

2011 Audi A3 2.0 TDI Sportsback

Having eliminated the big SUVs and ultra-expensive sedans, only the new Lexus CT 200h and the Audi A3 TDI offer a real-world, affordable mix of luxury and economy.  Both cars are front drive 5-door wagons. However, the Lexus uses Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive found in the current Prius while the Audi is using the Volkswagen Group’s 2.0 liter TDI engine found in the Golf and Jetta.  The A3 also uses the Golf platform, which is an excellent, dynamic platform that has spawned many derivatives.

2011 Audi A3 2.0 TDI rear

In 2010, the A3 TDI won the Green Car of the Year award from the Green Car Journal.  Of course, the 2011 GCOTY went to the Chevy Volt — everyone expected that; but the little Lexus could be a contender for 2012.  However, with so many new electrics and hybrids coming to market for 2012, the CT may get lost in the electrified hype.

The CT is 1.2 inches longer than the A3 and both are almost identical in height while the A3 is 9 inches wider.  The A3 has 19.5 cubic feet of cargo capacity (seats up) while the CT trails by 5 cubic feet.  The weight advantage goes to the CT which tips the scales at 3,130. The Audi has an extra 188 pounds.  When it comes to fuel economy, weight drags down the numbers.

The A3 2.0 TDI starts at $30,250, $1,130 more than the Lexus CT 200h at $29,120.  Fully-loaded, the Audi can bust the $40,000 mark — more than $3,000 over a fully-loaded CT.   On the fuel economy front, the CT beats the A3 handily if you just look at the EPA figures.  However, there is lots of anecdotal evidence from TDI devotees that on the highway, the A3 (and Volkswagen Golf) TDI approaches 50 mpg – a good 10 mpg  better than the Lexus.  If you do more highway driving, like I do, the A3 may be the winner.

2011 Lexus CT200h interior

2011 Audi A3 TDI Sportsback interior

The A3 has a 2.0 liter common rail turbo diesel (TDI) rated at 140 horsepower with 236 lb-ft of torque.  A six-speed S-tronic® dual-clutch automatic transmission is standard.  Of course, it sucks down more expensive diesel fuel.  The CT’s power comes from a 1.8-liter gasoline engine rated at 98 horsepower and an 80 horsepower electric motor.  Together, they produce 134 net horsepower.  Torque is rated at 152 lb-ft.  A continuously variable automatic transmission is standard.  The Lexus needs only regular grade gasoline, so it has the fuel price advantage.  The A3 TDI does a respectable zero to 60 in 8.9 seconds while the CT clocks in at a leisurely 9.8 seconds.

Lexus is pitching the CT 200h as a “sporty hybrid” with its “Darker Side of Green” campaign, but it’s not going to match the A3 TDI for driving dynamics and sheer fun.  The A3’s platform is more agile and I like to think of it as wonderfully-tossable.  Its steering is sharper.  The German engineering ethos applied to the little Audi imbues it with that intangible feeling that it’s more than just a dressed-up Golf.  It feels as though it’s carved from a single billet of aluminum. It’s fun to drive and the TDI powertrain is deeply satisfying.

I haven’t driven the CT, but I have driven many Prii.  The new Prius is a well-made car; the plastics and fit and finish are better than the previous generation.  However, it still has that appliance vibe.  I’ve seen the Lexus CT in the flesh and it is definitely an upgrade from the Prius, particularly inside, but the styling between the Prius and CT is a toss up and if I had to pick, I’d prefer the Prius front styling with the hatchback of the CT.  The CT is 88 pounds heavier than the Prius and coupled with the reprogrammed “sports” drivetrain, it doesn’t get near the 50 mpg of the Prius.

Front of the 50 mpg 2011 Toyota Prius

Rear of the 2011 Lexus CT200h

For my money and driving fun (and yes, I’m a car-crazed enthusiast), I think the 2011 Audi A3 TDI packs the most luxury with exceptional fuel economy.   The Lexus is tempting, but it’s not the enthusiast’s choice.  With lackluster sales of the HS, GS and LS hybrids, Lexus hopes for more sales and younger buyers for its entry-level CT.

The A3 TDI is already a very popular car.  In 2009, Audi sold only 3,874 A3’s.  With the introduction of the A3 TDI for the 2010 model year, sales jumped 69% to 6,558 units of which 53%, or 3,480 units, were the TDI.  Audi sells every TDI it can get in the US, so be prepared for the dealer to tell you that they can’t find the A3 TDI that you want. Keep looking, it’s out there.