Ford Mondeo 2.0 TDCi

Ford Mondeo 2.0 TDCi


While premium family car ranges from BMW, Audi and Mercedes sell in ever greater numbers, sales of cheaper rivals from Ford and Vauxhall have been finding ever fewer buyers. But that doesn’t stop these brands from having repeated cracks at this shrinking market. The numbers are worth chasing if the investment is spread across multiple models and you can tempt premium buyers by offering well kitted cars developed to the point of offering irresistible value.

That’s the theory, at least. The new Ford Mondeo instantly offers value by providing more metal than your BMW 3-series as well as a level of finish, kit and sophistication that gets closer to what a BMW offers, for thousands less. It’s a combination that Ford hopes will at least allow the Mondeo to maintain its sales momentum, if not build on it.

The original Mondeo replaced Ford’s Sierra, whose Citroën-esque styling initially proved a sales deterrent. The Sierra’s advanced looks hid rear-drive underpinnings that Ford abandoned with the front-drive Mondeo, which was also intended as a world car.

It succeeded in Europe but not the US, despite gathering a fine reputation for handling, sophistication and convenience, if not style. The 2000 version was better looking and still more sophisticated, but never crossed the Atlantic, and neither will this 2007 edition, despite its greater size.


Ford Mondeo 2.0 TDCi This is the third all-new Mondeo iteration since the model’s birth in 1993, and in principle its mechanical make-up is much the same: transverse, front-drive powertrains, MacPherson strut front suspension, something multi-linked at the rear and a level of functional development that enables this Ford to offer more than might be expected in the areas of handling, steering, ride comfort, refinement and convenience.

All of this is underpinned by attention to the economic realities of insurance groups, cost of service and repair, safety, theft-proofing and low fuel consumption that can win or lose the big fleet orders that make or break models like these.

In fact, there are few truly fresh engineering features to be found in this car, which instead rides a contemporary innovation wave largely generated by its suppliers. You can have your Mondeo with adaptive cruise control, a hill-holder and various levels of voice-activated infotainment system, as well as collision mitigation systems, adaptive damping, climate control, trick headlights and so forth.

What gives it a potential edge is the thoroughness with which these systems have been developed and integrated into the car, and the sheer scope of safety and convenience features being offered in a model whose prices start at £15,000.

All this is built into a car that has grown, particularly in terms of its width, which has swollen by almost five inches. This Mondeo is also slightly longer and taller, with the result that it weighs, model for model, up to 175kg more than the outgoing car.

Still, it’s also stiffer; the torsional rigidity of this five-door is improved by 130 per cent. It’s significantly roomier than the old model and safer, too, what with seven airbags, active front head restraints and a steering wheel and pedals that move away from passengers in an impact.

On the Road

Ford Mondeo 2.0 TDCi Solid, quiet power delivery characterises the 138bhp 2.0-litre TDCi engine sampled here; it musters 236lb ft of torque between 1750 and 2240rpm, though up to 251lb ft of overboost is momentarily available. It's soft, civilised, and revs smoothly to the red line.

Our acceleration runs were recorded in damp conditions, explaining the discrepancy between our 10.0sec 0-60mph and Ford’s claimed 0-62mph time of 9.5sec. But this number fails to reveal the thrusting in-gear punch that this engine can deliver.

However, you'll often need to call upon that thrust because the Mondeo's gear ratios are tall, and the engine a little weak before the turbo kicks in; the engine starts to grumble a little if you ask it to amble at 30mph in fourth, for example. That tall gearing almost eliminates engine noise when you’re in sixth on the motorway, though.

It only takes one bend to reveal the excellence of the Mondeo’s chassis. It turns in with swift confidence, and the body comes after it without any of the heave and flop that you might expect. Body composure is impressive, then, but not as striking as the Mondeo’s resistance to understeer, which is emphatic, and your confidence is only heightened by well judged steering that delivers consistent weighting and decent precision.

On the sports suspension and 18in alloys that this test car came with, you’ll have a ride that is just pliant enough to avoid any jostling or jarring, but we’d recommend the standard suspension and wheel size. With this set-up you lose almost nothing in body composure, and gain a ride that often teeters on the exceptional.

ESP is standard, and there’s an optional electronic, adaptive damper set-up called CCD (continuously controlled damping) that functions in league with Interactive Vehicle Dynamics Control (IVDC).

The minor spoiler here is the braking. There are no issues with stopping power, but the pedal feels over-servoed and we found it hard to heel and toe.


Ford Mondeo 2.0 TDCi If you want to see where much of the graft – and money – has gone into this new Mondeo, take a look at the cabin, because its finish has been taken to a new level, as Ford chases after the standards set by industry leader Audi.

The Mondeo can't quite get there, because it costs thousands less than the equivalent A4. But you could hardly call this interior cheap. Pleasing soft-touch plastics skin much of the dashboard and doors. Tasteful aluminium décor features extensively, as do piano-black lacquer inserts.

The instrumentation looks appealing and the seat fabrics, the steering wheel and the design of the subsidiary controls lend the cabin a sophisticated, high-quality aura that makes it a pleasing place to be. There are minor cheap moments, such as the glovebox lid and the extent of the Ghia’s veneer abuse, but on the whole it is an attractive piece of work.

Ford Mondeo 2.0 TDCi At least as important is the spaciousness of this interior. We wouldn’t quite call it limousine-like (as Ford does), but there really is a lot of legroom in the back, besides a well shaped 60/40 split rear seat. The top models even come with B-pillar-mounted air vents, and there are optional seat heaters too.

The boot is huge and well shaped, the rear seats fold to form a flat floor and a protective bulkhead, and there are load hooks and tie-downs.

Ford will also be keeping service and repair costs low, though the use of a cambelt rather than a chain means eventual expense with this engine. The ‘sacrificial panel’ – a body-coloured plastic section of the tailgate that absorbs knocks to save the steel pressing – is an example of its attention to detail.

The 2.0 TDCi’s 156g/km of CO2 is competitive, as is its fuel consumption. Ford has less control over used values and the Mondeo’s (relatively) lowly branding, and its segment are all likely to condemn it average residuals. But that could make it a fine used buy.


Ford Mondeo 2.0 TDCi Even in the £21,000 top-of-the-range form we test here, this Mondeo has the qualities to be a more-than-plausible competitor against similarly priced premium offerings. If it were a little more stylish, it might win over more brand obsessives than those already tempted by its impressive roster of qualities.

Not only are the basics right, such as packaging, comfort, convenience and economy of ownership, but the Mondeo also serves up plenty of the sophistication that premium buyers seek. Many premium buyers will ignore all this and remain unable to contemplate a Ford, despite its lower price — but that’s their loss.

Against its direct competitors, many shortly to be replaced, such as the Vauxhall Vectra and Renault Laguna, it is an easy winner. The only real disappointment is styling that’s less exciting than the hardware wrapped within.That apart, this is an excellent car.



2008 Cadillac STS V-6

2008 Cadillac STS V-6

2008 Cadillac STS V-6 - Short Take Road Tests
With its revamped V-6 engine now making 302 horsepower, Cadillac seems to be making the case that the optional V-8 is no longer necessary. This latest V-6 is indeed a gem. Significant among its attributes is direct fuel injection, which squirts the fuel into the combustion chamber rather than the intake track. That’s not new technology, but direct injection is gaining in popularity because when the fuel is introduced into the cylinder, there’s a cooling effect that increases charge density and reduces the tendency for harmful detonation. This allows designers to raise the compression ratio for better efficiency and more power.
2008 Cadillac STS V-6 The compression ratio for this GM V-6, which is only in the 2008 STS for now, is 11.3:1 (compared with 10.2:1 in last year’s V-6). With variable intake- and exhaust-valve timing, power surges to 302 horsepower from 254 and the torque is 272 pound-feet, up from 252. Huge gains, considering the V-6’s displacement remains at 3.6 liters.
2008 Cadillac STS V-6 - Performance
It’ll take a finely calibrated backside to feel the difference between the new STS V-6 and the optional 320-hp V-8 model, which last year came bundled with several features and as a result cost about $9500 more. The two now share the same six-speed automatic transmission, and the acceleration times are within a few ticks of each other. The V-6 scoots to 60 mph in 6.2 seconds, behind the V-8 by only 0.2 second.
With this punchier V-6, Cadillac has seen fit to offer the performance handling package that used to be available only with the V-8. It includes a stiffer suspension, Brembo brakes, special wheels with summer tires, and retuned steering gear. The handling package should cost about $1600. Unless you want the four-wheel-drive STS, which doesn’t offer the handling package, don’t skip this option—equipped with it, the STS absorbs potholes and frost heaves with the right level of firmness, and if the stability-control system is shut off, the car will drift its tail on request.
Cadillac has made detail improvements that include a shifter which no longer feels as though it belonged in a Cavalier. Pricing was not set at press time, but figure $43,500 for a base V-6, and think hard about spending extra for the V-8.
2008 Cadillac STS V-6
2008 Cadillac STS V-6 - Specs
VEHICLE TYPE: front-engine, rear-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 4-door sedan ESTIMATED PRICE AS TESTED: $56,000 (estimated base price: $43,500) ENGINE TYPE: DOHC 24-valve V-6, aluminum block and heads, direct fuel injectionDisplacement: 217 cu in, 3564ccPower (SAE net): 302 bhp @ 6300 rpmTorque (SAE net): 272 lb-ft @ 5200 rpm TRANSMISSION: 6-speed automatic with manumatic shifting DIMENSIONS:Wheelbase: 116.4 inLength: 196.3 inWidth: 72.6 inHeight: 57.6 inCurb weight: 4100 lb C/D TEST RESULTS:Zero to 60 mph: 6.2 secZero to 100 mph: 15.7 secZero to 130 mph: 31.1 secStreet start, 5–60 mph: 6.7 secStanding ¼-mile: 14.7 sec @ 97 mphTop speed (governor limited): 141 mphBraking, 70–0 mph: 159 ftRoadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.86 g FUEL ECONOMY:2008 EPA city driving (C/D est): 16 mpgC/D-observed: 16 mpg

2007 Lamborghini Murcielago LP640 Roadster - Short Take Road Tests

2007 Lamborghini Murcielago LP640 Roadster

Options are a mere $52,710.
Nabbing a Lamborghini for testing involves trying to chisel into a press-car calendar thick with celebrity-studded red-carpet parties hosted by the likes of Donatella Versace. It isn’t easy getting on the schedule. Lamborghini’s silk-suited brand managers are hyping a fantasy lifestyle, and we in the grubby Fourth Estate have nothing to offer against a Donatella photo op except burned-up clutches and chunked tires.
So when our single day finally arrived to snap into the Fritos-shaped buckets of a 632-hp Lamborghini Murciélago LP640 roadster—a car with $52,710 in options—it was tempting to dismiss it as just a cartoon commentary on the excesses of the filthy famous. Tempting, that is, until we arrived at the test track.
Introduced last year as a face-lifted Murciélago, the LP640 smoked 60 mph in 3.5 seconds and went wild whooping through the quarter-mile in 11.8 seconds at 126 mph. It brought its 4100-pound girth to a halt from 70 mph in just 150 feet and pulled more than 1.00 g on the skidpad. Ferrari Enzos move only slightly quicker and sell for more than a million. The base $351,700 LP640 roadster has some engineering cred that true car people can appreciate, even if Donatella hasn't a clue.
As with the previous Murciélago, the LP640 roadster looks like an LP640 coupe that lost its roof panel to a passing tornado. Jagged edges and some unfinished lines are the result. The roadster's roof-toupee is a better description-is a flimsy canvas sheet with a few snap-in poles and fold-out ribs to hold its shape. Practiced hands take about five minutes to insert tabs A into slots B. A plaque warns against exceeding 100 mph with the roof on, something the roadster can accomplish in second gear. When not threatening to shear off, the roof stows-just barely-in the front cargo bin.
2007 Lamborghini Murcielago LP640 Roadster
2007 Lamborghini Murcielago LP640 Roadster - Engine
At 81.0 inches wide, this Italian muscle car feels like a chopped and channeled Hummer in traffic. The visibility from this carbon-fiber foxhole is limited, especially to the rear, and you'll want to keep the windows up to hold back the Katrina-like wind lash at speed. An alarm sounds if the rear-hinged engine hatch is not latched securely, lest it rip off on the freeway. Underneath the engine cover and a latticework of carbon-fiber braces that reinforce the roadster's structure lives the DOHC 48-valve 6.5-liter dry-sump V-12, the product of an extensive freshening of the previous 6.2-liter unit.
The 487 pound-feet of torque arrive more evenly, the revs are more linear, and the big Lambo is more everyday streetable than before, especially with the optional $10,000 e-gear paddle-shift six-speed transmission that blurs its shifts under light throttle. Under full throttle, the engine bellows the big roar and the shifts crack like home-run bats. The Lambo is happiest blasting in straight lines, the result of all those pounds and a wheel beset with understeer.
Only those happy to suck up the constant attention and public palaver that inevitably accrue to a Lamborghini driver should even consider one. You know who you are. You’ve got Donatella on speed dial.
2007 Lamborghini Murcielago LP640 Roadster - Specs
VEHICLE TYPE: mid-engine, 4-wheel-drive, 2-passenger, 2-door roadster PRICE AS TESTED: $404,410 (base price: $351,700) ENGINE TYPE: DOHC 48-valve V-12, aluminum block and heads, port fuel injectionDisplacement: 396 cu in, 6496ccPower (SAE net): 632 bhp @ 8000 rpmTorque (SAE net): 487 lb-ft @ 6000 rpm
TRANSMISSION: 6-speed manual with automated shifting and clutch DIMENSIONS:Wheelbase: 104.9 inLength: 181.5 inWidth: 81.0 inHeight: 44.7 inCurb weight: 4100 lb C/D TEST RESULTS:Zero to 60 mph: 3.5 secZero to 100 mph: 8.1 secZero to 150 mph: 16.1 secStreet start, 5–60 mph: 4.1 secStanding ¼-mile: 11.8 sec @ 126 mphTop speed (drag ltd, mfr’s claim): 205 mphBraking, 70–0 mph: 150 ftRoadholding, 200-ft-dia skidpad: 1.01 g FUEL ECONOMY:EPA city driving: 10 mpgC/D-observed: 14 mpg


2007 Jaguar XKR Convertible - Previews

2007 Jaguar XKR Convertible

The most expensive Jaguar convertible ever offers flash and dash.

There is no shortage of write-ups about Jaguar’s new XK, in all its variations, on CARandDRIVER.com. That’s probably because Jag’s latest—and in terms of performance, its greatest—GT is pretty sensational, whether or not it has a roof, a supercharger, or both. We would have no problem driving all the variations over and over and over without complaint. And so here we are again, the subject this time is the supercharged $92,500 XKR convertible, arguably the glitteriest kitty in the litter—at least from an image standpoint. It also happens to shine from a performance standpoint, proving that losing its top does not mean losing its edge.

Jaguar Sex Appeal, Now with Attitude

2007 Jaguar XKR Convertible

Although some might argue that the saucy coupe version of Jaguar design director Ian Callum’s perfectly proportioned design is actually better-looking than the convertible, which is like saying Cindy Crawford is hotter than Eva Longoria—neither is a hag. But there’s no denying the inherent curb appeal of a ragtop, which, frankly, is what many buyers want when shelling out $92,500 for what is essentially an automotive aperitif. And, boy, does this thing have curb appeal, securing the prized spot of every Southern California valet—some six of them total—to whom we tossed the key fob during our time with the Jag. And evidently this design was no small feat. Callum has said it is far harder to get the proportions right on convertibles than coupes; thus, he directed his team to start with the convertible and, once it looked good, only then start work on the coupe. We won’t argue with that approach, as it seems the team got both cars right. Whichever XKR you choose, its strong chin, mesh grillwork, hood nostrils, metal side vents, and standard 19-inch wheels add some attitude to the sexy but rather benign styling of the base

Slick, Modern Interior

2007 Jaguar XKR Convertible Inside, the XKR gets patterned aluminum trim in place of the base XK’s book-faced wood (traditionalists can still opt for the wood in the XKR if they please). Driver and front passenger have a pleasing amount of room, and we praised the front seats—the only ones habitable by humans—for their comfort over a six-hour road trip, although we wished for more lateral support on the curvy sections. That wouldn’t have been a problem had our deep blue tester come with the $2100 premium leather upgrade, which features 16-way adjustable seats (up from the 10-way buckets on the base XKR) with adjustable side bolsters. Also included in said package, of course, is upgraded leather, which is more finely grained, perforated, less glossy, and much, much softer than the base stitched leather that covers the seats, door panels, and dashboards of all lesser XK models. It’s money well spent, as we’ve seen this package on a different XKR and thought it added about $10,000 in perceived value. Besides, isn’t fine leather the hallmark of a British luxury car?

We also enjoyed the relative user-friendliness of the center-mounted touch-screen audio/HVAC/nav system, which incorporates nearly as much capability as similar systems on, say, any given German luxury car, but without any sort of hockey-puck scrolling device on the center console. (Yes, that qualifies as praise for Jaguar electronics. We’re as surprised as you are.)

A glaring deficit—literally—involves the screen’s inability to compete with direct sunlight or even light coming off the cream leather on the passenger seatback when it happened to be in the sun—in other words, most of the time. Dialing up the contrast helped, but that made for blinding nighttime illumination. Another unpleasant surprise was extension of the cream-colored leather onto the top of the dash on our tester—a big no-no for any car on account of its blinding daytime windshield glare that makes polarized glasses a requirement. Alas, there’s a simple solution to the latter issue: Get a dark interior.

Excellent Engine Matched by an Excellent Transmission

2007 Jaguar XKR Convertible Although trim bits and big wheels are nice, the biggest reason to blow an extra $11,000 to upgrade to the R resides under its long hood, in the form of a supercharged and intercooled 4.2-liter V-8. With 420 horsepower at 6250 rpm and 413 pound-feet of torque at 4000 rpm, the XKR’s blown motor outguns that of base XKs to the tune of 120 horses and 103 lb-ft. We didn’t track-test this particular vehicle, but a prior 3870-pound XKR coupe sprinted to 60 in a scant 4.5 seconds; with an additional 100 or so pounds of droptop-related mechanicals, we expect the convertible to take a tick or two longer to hit the same mark (Jaguar cautiously quotes 5.0 seconds). The convertible has a subjective advantage, however, in the way it delivers its distinct NASCAR-grade exhaust note directly to your ears. Add to that the muted whine of the supercharger, and you experience sheer aural bliss.

Also aiding and abetting the driver in all vehicular shenanigans is the ZF-sourced six-speed automatic, which has a brilliant manual mode, executing up- and downshifts almost by the time one’s fingers release the steering-wheel–mounted shift paddles. Even better, in the sport automatic mode, the box serves up anticipatory rev-matching downshifts as the driver brakes or coasts, ensuring that the engine remains in the meaty part of the power band when the time comes to get on it again.

Lightness + Power - Harshness = A Thoroughbred GT Experience

Just as important as the powertrain with respect to impressive performance is the XKR’s aluminum monocoque body structure. In the case of the XKR convertible, aluminum helps keep weight to about 4000 pounds; it’s not exactly light, but it is downright wispy next to the 4400-pound BMW M6 Convertible Braking, for one thing, is stupendous. And in spite of having no fixed roof, the Jaguar convertible is amazingly stiff. Our tester had already endured 7000 harsh miles by fellow journalists, yet body flex was completely absent, and we heard no rattles from any source.

The XKR’s combination of stiffness and lightness makes the car feel sprightlier in the twisties than its rather grand dimensions might suggest. The steering quality is light yet readable and precise with lots of feedback, and all inputs are met with immediate response from the chassis. Although we’ve noted before that the XKR, which has stiffer springs than the base XK, doesn’t corner quite as flat as, say, the Porche 911 or the BMW M6, its chief rivals, you really have to be pushing pretty hard before that becomes an issue. We don’t suspect many people will do that, as these are convertibles, after all, and we expect the sporty types will opt for a coupe. Either way, any such body roll hardly exacts a toll on the fun factor, as the wide tires (245mm front, 275mm rear) offer plenty of grip. Between the chassis tuning and omnipresent torque, the XKR is quite a hoot on a good road. Just dial in the steering on entry and then use the gas pedal to rotate as needed. And in spite of the sportier setup, the XK exhibits a surprisingly genteel ride all the while, something else we particularly appreciated on the aforementioned road trip.

And so it appears that in its heaviest and most decadent form, Jaguar’s sportiest car since the XJ220 supercar is solidly built, engaging, fast, and, of course, beautiful. There. We said it.


2008 Shelby GT500 KR

2008 Shelby GT500 KR

Below is the full press release from Ford Motor Company DEARBORN, Mich., March 30 - Ford and Shelby Automobiles are at it again, this time in celebration of the fortieth anniversary of the 1968 Shelby Cobra GT500KR. To be unveiled at the 2007 New York International Auto Show, the 2008 Shelby GT500KR—the most powerful Mustang to date—will once again mark Mustang as ‘King of the Road.’ 2008 Shelby GT500 KR “I’m proud to once again be a part of an historical moment, bringing back the ‘King of the Road’ Mustang, and collaborating with Ford SVT and Ford Racing” said Carroll Shelby. “I’m committed to continuously upping the ante when it comes to performance, and it’s great to be doing it with Ford.” “The return of the Shelby GT500KR further establishes Mustang as the true king of the pony car segment,” said Robert Parker, manager of Ford Car Brand. “With the unveiling of the new KR we are staying true to the promise we made our loyal Mustang fans to continue Mustang’s prowess by bringing new, exciting and more powerful Mustangs to market.” Forty years ago, at the 1967 New York Auto Show, Ford introduced the most powerful Shelby Mustang ever. Like every Mustang that bore the name ‘Shelby,’ the GT500KR carries with it its own unique story. The 1968 Shelby Cobra GT500KR was a mid-year introduction, based on the 1968 Shelby GT500. Ford added ‘Cobra’ to the Shelby’s moniker to help usher in the beginning of a new performance era at the company. The Cobra name referred to the new 428 Cobra Jet V-8 that was planted under the KR’s custom fiberglass hood. It was the engine that would once again vault the Mustang to the head of the pack. Ford conservatively rated the 428 CJ at 335-horsepower, but in reality it made more than 400-horsepower and 440 pounds-feet of torque. The KR model was also equipped with a modified suspension and was offered both in fastback and convertible models. Ford dealers sold 1,570 GT500KR models in 1968, 1053 fastbacks and 517 convertibles. While the name ‘King of the Road’ may have been the perfect fit for the world’s most powerful Mustang, it also provided Shelby the chance to steal the thunder from cross-town rival General Motors. As the legend goes, Shelby learned that GM was planning to introduce a high-performance model and call it ‘King of the Road.’ Since he had always wanted to use the name, and as one to never miss an opportunity, Shelby set his organization in gear, registering the name and designing new badging for the Cobra Jet-powered Mustang, christening it the GT500KR, and bringing Ford’s ‘King of the Road’ to market before GM ever got a chance to apply the name to their product. Thoroughbred Pedigree Just like its 1968 namesake, the 2008 Ford Shelby GT500KR builds on the strong foundation of the Shelby GT500. Packing 40 more horses under its custom-designed carbon composite hood, the GT500KR is the most powerful production Ford Mustang ever produced. The modern Shelby Mustang line-up started with the 2007 Shelby GT500 coupe and convertible. With the recent launch of the 2007 Shelby GT, the 2008 Shelby GT500KR becomes the third production high-performance Mustang brought to market through the relationship of Shelby Automobiles and Ford. Ford and Shelby Automobiles also partnered up with Hertz to produce a special limited run of 500 Shelby GT-H “rent-a-racer” Mustangs available only for rent. The 2007 Shelby GT500 has been one of the most successful vehicle programs in the 14-year history of Ford Special Vehicle Team (SVT) and that success has opened the door for more performance collaborations with Shelby Automobiles and Ford Racing. Working together, these three performance powerhouses are driving Mustang momentum on the street and on the racetrack. Dealers cannot keep the cars on their lots, customers are clamoring for more, and racers are bringing home championships. Shelby Mustangs have already achieved some impressive highlights showcasing an enthusiast demand that is unmatched in the business: -The first 2007 Shelby GT500 available to the public sold for $600,000 dollars at the 2006 Barrett-Jackson Collector Car Auction in Scottsdale, AZ benefiting the Carroll Shelby Children’s Foundation. -2007 Shelby GT VIN#1 also went for $600,000 at charity auction, this time at the 2007 Barrett-Jackson Collector Car Auction (and the winning bidder also took the opportunity to purchase VIN#2 at MSRP). -Shelby GT-H coupes auctioned off to Ford dealers after completion of Hertz rental duty consistently average $50,000, with high auction bids of $90,000. The Shelby GT500KR will be produced in an exclusive run of 1000 units and will begin arriving in Ford dealers in the spring of 2008. Crowning the New “King of the Road” Doug Gaffka, Ford SVT chief designer, and his team worked closely with Carroll Shelby and the Shelby team to make certain the new KR was crafted in the spirit of the original Shelby muscle car. “This was a great effort between Ford and Shelby Automobiles,” said Gaffka. “The Shelby team and I were in constant contact melding Carroll’s classic design cues with some modern concepts and ideas and finessing them into the design of the new KR.” Gary Davis, vice president of production and product development for Shelby Automobiles, played a key role in defining the look of the custom designed carbon composite hood for the GT500KR. His knowledge of the original GT500KR helped sculpt a modern interpretation of the original’s bulging hood scoop, a visual indication of the extra horsepower packed beneath it. The hood is secured by a pair of stainless steel, twist-down hood pins. The composite front valance houses a pair of chrome-trimmed, functional brake ducts to cool the large 14-inch, vented Brembo front brakes. Side stripes are true to the original KR right down to the font used for the ‘GT500KR’ lettering, while the classic LeMans-style striping that races down the center of the car has been deleted between the leading forward edge of the hood scoops and the front of the hood, accenting the scoops and giving the KR its distinctive face. “That was Shelby’s idea,” said Gaffka. “It’s a special touch that adds some down-the-road differentiation. There will be no doubt that it’s a ‘King of the Road’ Mustang that’s filling up your rearview mirrors.” The show car wears exclusive, Shelby-designed 20-inch, forged, polished aluminum wheels with special custom center caps, mounted on Pirelli rubber. Production models will arrive with an 18-inch version of the design. Each KR model is identified by special 40th Anniversary KR badges on the fenders and grille, distinctive body colored mirror caps and Shelby lettering stretching across the front of the hood and along the rear portion of the deck lid. A special Shelby VIN tag is affixed to each vehicle, mounted in the engine compartment. The all-leather interior features Carroll Shelby signature embroidered headrests and an official Shelby CSM 40th Anniversary GT500KR dash plate mounted at the top of the center stack.
The KR’s 5.4-liter V-8 Gets the Royal Treatment Just like its namesake, the 2008 ‘King of the Road’ packs a walloping dose of Ford performance power under its massive composite hood scoops. The Ford SVT-engineered 5.4-liter supercharged V-8 is treated to a Ford Racing Power Upgrade Pack that boosts horsepower to an estimated 540 and torque to 510 ft.-lbs., thanks to revised ignition and throttle calibration and a cold air intake system that replaces the stock unit. Calibration modifications include advancing the ignition timing as well as re-mapping of the electronic throttle settings to provide quicker throttle response for better off-line and mid-range acceleration. Increased throttle response will be met with a sharper roar from the Ford Racing-inspired exhaust system. Power is delivered to the rear wheels through a Tremec TR6060 six-speed manual transmission and 3.73:1 rear axle ratio, upgraded from the standard GT500’s 3.31:1. Gear selection is courtesy of an all-new Ford Racing short-throw shifter making its debut on the KR. Topped with a white ball, the new shifter is 25 percent shorter than the unit on the GT500 providing for crisper, sharper shifts. Ford SVT, Ford Racing and Team Shelby worked together to develop the KR’s suspension tuning. Based on initial work by Ford Racing and the team at Shelby, often at Shelby’s own facility on the grounds of Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Ford SVT chassis engineers will apply fine tuning techniques to prepare it for the streets. “The production Shelby GT500 was maximized to deliver the perfect balance between ride and handling,” said Jamal Hameedi, chief nameplate engineer, Ford SVT. “In that same ride versus handling continuum, the KR will lean heavier towards all-out handling while still making it drivable on the street.” Chassis engineers worked closely with the engine department in a holistic approach to the Development of the KR, tuning the suspension to best optimize the engine enhancements. “We aren’t fixing our attention on one or two attributes, but working on the vehicle as a whole,” stated Gary Patterson, vice president of operations for Shelby Automobiles. “The throttle response, power delivery, exhaust note, and handling should all gel together to deliver a total driving experience.” The GT500KR will feature unique spring rates, dampers, stabilizer bars, and strut tower brace, all designed specifically for the KR, to deliver the precision handling package. Mustang Momentum Cannot be Stopped Unwilling to wait for the impending pony car war to heat up, Ford is extending Mustang’s leadership position by feeding the enthusiast demand for more models, features, performance parts, and special editions. Ford has committed to at least one new Mustang ‘feature’ vehicle per year. For 2007, it is the Shelby GT, and for 2008, there will be at least two including the Shelby GT500KR and the previously announced Mustang Bullitt. Ford’s ‘Steed for Every Need’ strategy currently offers four horsepower options for Mustang, with pricing from $19,995 for a 240-hp V-6 Mustang coupe to $46,500 for a 500-hp Shelby GT500 convertible. Ford has also introduced several special packages on Mustang further increasing its unique offerings, including the Pony Package and the California Special. In addition, Ford Racing offers a complete catalog of performance parts for Mustang fans, from custom wheels and exhausts to the complete, turn-key Ford Racing Mustang FR500C race car. As a result, Ford offers Mustang enthusiasts the ability to buy, modify and drive the steed that perfectly fits their need. 2008 Ford Shelby GT500KR – Specifications and Design Highlights
-5.4-liter supercharged V-8 producing an estimated 540-horsepower and 510 ft.-lbs. of torque
-Ford Racing Power Upgrade Pack featuring revised calibration and cold air intake system
-2.73:1 Rear axle gear ratio-Ford Racing performance exhaust system
-Unique performance suspension tuning: springs, dampers, and stabilizer bars
-Shelby-designed "GT500KR" 20-inch wheels (18-inch version for production)
-Ford Racing short throw shifter and front strut tower brace
-Unique carbon composite hood featuring classic Shelby GT500 KR design
-Front brake cooling ducts
-"Shelby" lettering across the front edge of hood and rear decklid
-40th Anniversary badges on the front quarter panels
-Carroll Shelby signature embroidered headrests and floor mats
-Official Shelby CSM 40th Anniversary GT500KR dash plate
2008 Shelby GT500 KR


Ferrari 430 Scuderia

Ferrari 430 Scuderia Ferrari 430 Scuderia: the lowdown

High-performance track focused Ferraris are back on the menu in Maranello. Ferrari announced its return to the rich blokes' track day market today with this road legal F430. Due to be unveiled at the Frankfurt Motor Show by Ferrari golden boy Michael Schumacher, the most hardcore F430 yet, named the Scuderia, or 'team' (a reference to the company's racing heritage), is likely to cost around £150,000, £20k more than the standard car. Like its predecessor, the equally track focused Ferrari 360 Challenge Stradale, the Scuderia gives you less to give you more, and will hit our shores before the end of the year.

Ferrari 430 Scuderia It all looks pretty stripped inside. What happened to the carpets?

Carpets? Don’t be daft. Ferrari has taken away all the luxuries associated with the ‘ordinary’ F430 coupe and spider. This 430 has undergone a serious diet and has managed to shed 100kg, leaving it tipping the scales at just 1250kg. That makes it 80kg lighter than Lamborghini’s supposedly lightweight Gallardo Superleggera. That reduction comes from stripping out all non-essential items - so that’s carpets, stereo, the standard heavy seats and rear windscreen all gone. Instead there are bare floor panels and a Plexiglass rear windscreen, through which you can marvel at the raucous V8 lurking behind your lightweight bucket seat.

Ferrari 430 Scuderia

And presumably it’s more powerful too?

It certainly is: the naturally aspirated 4.3-litre engine now produces 503bhp, giving you 20 more horses than the standard car, with peak power arriving at 8500rpm. The standard F430’s 0-62mph speed was an impressive 4.0 seconds but we anticipate that the new car could well take half a second off that given the weight loss and power hike. The Scuderia’s top speed will no doubt creep up a little too, so expect it to reach 200mph before it runs out of puff. Bigger brakes and semi-slick but road-legal rubber are also expected in the new package to help bring proceedings to a halt in neck-breaking times.

Ferrari 430 Scuderia

Has much technology been carried over from Ferrari’s F1 programme?The Scuderia will feature what Ferrari calls F1 Superfast and F1-Trac, the latest software developments derived from grand prix experience. The F1 Superfast transmission swaps cogs in just 60 milliseconds, less than a third of the time the Enzo’s box required. But the best development however, comes from the F1-Trac system controlled by the steering wheel manettino lever which integrates the F430’s E-diff electronic differential with stability control for the first time. You can now turn off the car’s traction control whilst keeping the stability control active, allowing the car to flatter the driver while keeping him out of trouble. Ferrari 430 Scuderia What's changed on the outside?Visually, the front of the Scuderia takes an even more aggressive stance over its F430 siblings. The front air intakes have been reshaped and become even bigger, while a new front splitter helps the Scuderia carve a cleaner line through the air and keep the front end more firmly planted. The rear intakes too have been slightly tweaked, with a slight flare due to the larger sills that accentuate the new racing profile of the car. Ferrari 430 Scuderia As this is the only view I will see of F430 Scuderia what should I look out for?The F430’s aggressive makeover continues at the rear with a revised exhaust layout. Gone are the four pipes of old, replaced by two larger exhausts situated either side of the number plate. The rear diffuser has been altered but retains the familiar shape of the standard car's, while the boot vent gets larger and a 430 Scuderia badge. The Scuderia makes its official debut at the Frankfurt show this September and CAR will be driving it shortly afterwards.


Lotus Exige 265E

Lotus Exige 265E

It looks like a slightly more colourful Exige - what's the story?

This is the Exige 265E - the fastest ever Exige and the first bio-ethanol Lotus. The digits 265 denote the 265PS power output, or 261bhp in old money – up 46bhp over the standard car. The 'E' informs people that this car runs on ethanol, alcohol made from the fermentation of crops, mixed with petrol. Using this greener fuel results in a claimed 70 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions. The Exige 265E is a development prototype created by Lotus Engineering, the Norfolk firm's fiendishly clever consultancy arm. In only five weeks between July and August 2006, its engineers completely re-engineered the Toyota engine powering the standard Exige S to run on the wheat-derived fuel. The result is the fastest road-legal bio-ethanol car (and the fastest Exige) ever built. Performance is sensational - 0-60mph flashes up in only 3.88 seconds before running out of puff at a mind bending 158mph. Who says being green is boring?

Lotus Exige 265E

Slow down future boy! Surely this is the stuff of 2060 - not 2006...

Far from it. The technology to make all this possible is remarkably low-tech. The basic aluminium block (built for Toyota by Yamaha) is exactly the same as that fitted to the Exige S. The supercharger and intercooler combination is tweaked slightly to cope with the increase in power and the ECU has been remapped for the new fuel mix. These tweaks do nothing to make the Exige faster, the extra power is entirely down to the fuel. Ethanol burns more efficiently than conventional petrol thanks to the extra oxygen atom attached to the ethanol alcohol molecule in its makeup. In English this means the combustion process is more effective and more power can be produced.

Lotus Exige 265E

Brilliant! So why aren't we all driving them?

You and I are the main hurdle. Buyers are only going to opt for the new fuel, sold as E85 (85 percent ethanol, 15 percent petrol), if it's both readily available and substantially cheaper than conventional petrol or diesel. For this to happen the government needs to truly commit to the fuel and encourage the creation of a bio-ethanol fuel station network. Currently the Morrisons Group is the only major supplier of the fuel with pumps dotted around Norfolk and Somerset. The technology needs to be proven too. For Lotus this means a substantial investment in testing and productionising the new, higher-output ethanol-powered engine. For now, Lotus claims it won't take the project further, but its manufacturer clients surely will. And surely a green Lotus would then follow...

Lotus Exige 265E

So what’s it like to drive?

As you'd expect it's utterly insane but - like the standard car - very useable. The Exige weighs only 930kg. There's no build up, no gradual gathering of speed - the performance is instant and borderline vicious. Your neck snaps back as the supercharger kicks in to take the engine right up to the 8200rpm redline. Combined with a slick, precise six-speed gearbox and limpet-like grip, the Exige is a devastating point to point machine. The performance is incredibly easy to exploit thanks to an extra dollop of torque supplied by the ethanol fuel - much more so than the standard car. Floor the accelerator in any gear and the Exige punches hard and simply never lets up. As with any other Exige the 265E is easy to drive - the steering's heavy but precise, the brakes possess serious bite and the damping is near perfectly judged to offer both comfort and control. It might be noisy and difficult to get into but there are few cars - at any price - that offer a better driving experience down a twisty road.

What's the flipside of ethanol?

Apart from the obvious lack of ethanol stations in the UK there are more fundamental problems. Ethanol has less stored energy per unit volume than traditional gasoline. This means economy suffers and you need to stop more often for fuel. And that reduced inefficicency means more CO2 emissions. The reason Lotus claims a 70 percent reduction is because the crops extract carbon dioxide from the atmosphere before they are turned into fuel, creating a net saving in overall emissions. Lotus hopes to convert the Exige 265E test car to be able to run on conventional petrol, bio-methanol or bio-butanol depending on availability.

Need to know: Lotus Exige 265E Price: Not on sale Engine:1796cc, 4cyl, 265bhp @ 7800rpm, 181lb ft @ 5500rpm Transmission:six-speed manual, rear wheel drive Performance:0-62mph in 4.0secs, 158mph, 25mpg (est), 151g/km CO2 (est) How heavy/made of?930kg / aluminium How big (length/width/height in mm)? 3797/1727/1163

2007 Lamborghini Gallardo Superleggera

2007 Lamborghini Gallardo Superleggera Overview Now that it has been bought by the Volkswagen Group and put under the direct supervision of Audi, Italian sports car manufacturer Lamborghini, passed from owner to owner for the last 35 years, finally has a stable platform from which to operate, and a group of companies that can offer high-technology and manufacturing synergies while it goes about designing and building breathtakingly beautiful sports cars. The new, 2007 Lamborghini Gallardo Superleggera is proof that the partnership is working. Superleggera means super light, in Italian. The Lamborghini designers took the existing Gallardo coupe, added still more power and more torque to the V10 engine, and then took 220 pounds out of the car by substituting lightweight carbon fiber and titanium throughout the car to make it quicker and faster than it was before. This thing is so quick, so fast, so loud, and sounds so angry at full-throttle that it may scare kids, old people, pets, and livestock. But that's just part of its charm. This is one of the most exciting, easy-to-drive sports cars ever built, a very special car for the few who can afford it. Model Lineup The Lamborghini Gallardo is available in coupe and roadster versions. The Superleggera is intended for drivers who may want to take it to the race track on weekends, so it comes only as a coupe, safer and more structurally rigid than a superlight roadster would be. Options for the Superleggera include a stationary rear wing instead of the standard articulated wing that rises and falls with the speed of the car. Also on the options list are eight-piston carbon disc brakes ($10,000), as well as a window net, fire extinguisher, and a bar for competition seat belts. The six-speed manual transmission is a no-cost option. A navigation system and an entertainment system is available for the Gallardo, but not on the Superleggera version because it would add weight. You can listen to the AM/FM radio, or just listen to the music from the V10 engine. Safety features include seat-mounted side air bags, anti-lock brakes, traction control, electronic stability control, and all-wheel drive.


2007 Mercedes-Benz CLK-Class

2007 Mercedes-Benz CLK-Class New engines, great balance. The Mercedes-Benz CLK feels right in just about any role. It's good looking, stylish, sporty to drive and personal, yet it will work for two couples during an evening on the town. Those who prefer understated, buttoned-down elegance will like CLK Coupe. Extroverts and sun worshippers can choose the one-button convertible top on the CLK Cabriolet. For 2007, the V8-powered CLKs have new engines. The CLK550 gets the latest-generation Mercedes V8, with variable valve timing and 27 percent more power than the engine in the 2006 CLK500, yet the same EPA mileage ratings as before. The new CLK63 AMG has a race-inspired V8 built start-to-finish by one technician at the company's AMG high-performance subsidiary. The new engines mean a slight change in model nomenclature, but the CLK lineup really has not changed. There's still a coupe and convertible, with either a V6 or V8 engine. The super-fast AMG model is available only as a convertible. The CLK has rear-wheel drive in a class increasingly populated by front-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive cars, and it has a sporting flair some mid-size luxury cars lack. In general, the CLK is one of the sportiest cars in the Mercedes lineup. Most buyers will be quite happy with the CLK350 and its 268-horsepower V6. With its seven-speed automatic, the CLK350 delivers a fine balance of spirited acceleration, quiet cruising and decent fuel mileage. Drivers who demand more performance can choose the CLK550. Its new V8 generates 382 hp and an even more impressive 391 pound-feet of torque. (Torque is that force that launches the car from intersections and propels it up hills.) Measured by acceleration and engine response, the CLK550 meets just about any standard of high performance. The CLK550 transmits a feeling of being more stuck to the road than the CLK350 does, with sharper handling and better high-speed stability. The limited-production CLK63 AMG goes a couple of magnitudes better. It will out-accelerate, out-brake and out-corner all but a handful of four-place cars anywhere. Yet around town it's incredibly docile and belies its 475-hp AMG engine. On the open road, the CLK, no matter the model, is satisfying, responsive and exceptionally stable at high speeds. It inspires confidence on twisty roads and bears up well in a spirited drive. It's also easy to live with. Its ride is firm, but not intrusive. Its relatively small size makes it easy to park and maneuver in crowded city centers, but its back seat is roomy enough for two adults. In a word, the CLK is balanced. Its stylish design and elegant interior make it a pleasant place to spend time, and it delivers Mercedes cachet that works in almost any circumstance. Walkaround The Mercedes-Benz CLK is beautiful, no arguing that, and its beauty lies in its symmetry and balance. The CLK looks forceful, but also elegant and sophisticated, and it blends form and function nicely. Under the rear half of its sweeping roofline is a back seat with room for two adults, not the parcel shelf that passes for a seat in some high-end coupes. The CLK is a fairly compact car, based on a lengthened version of the same chassis used for the small Mercedes C-Class sedans. Yet the designers have successfully infused it with the presence and bearing of a much larger coupe like the big Mercedes CL. The coupe aesthetic starts with the profile. The CLK dispenses with a center roof pillar, so the roof sweeps uninterrupted from the base of the windshield to the trunk lid. The rear windows lower completely below the sill, emphasizing the smooth, open flow, and the effect is enhanced by the absence of any visible antenna for the radio, telephone or navigation system. The CLK replaces a conventional steel trunk lid with a composite panel that allows the antennas to be imbedded the lid's structure. The second, unmistakable coupe element is the CLK's front end. This Mercedes forgoes the traditional hood ornament in favor of a lower, much larger three-pointed star embedded in the wide, three-slat grille, which greets the world with just a hint of a sneer. On first impression, it seems the CLK has four headlights, but a closer look confirms a single ellipse-shaped cluster on each side. And there's more to the headlights than slick design. The optional bi-xenon lights swivel to point into curves and are equipped with high-pressure washing jets; they also change beam angle as the CLK moves up and down with road imperfections, keeping the high-intensity light below the sight line of the drivers in oncoming cars. When its fabric top is closed, the CLK Cabriolet is nearly identical in silhouette to the coupe, with only a hint of a break in the roofline where it meets the trunk lid. The fabric top is fully lined and insulated, and opening or closing it is a one-button operation. Roughly 30 seconds after the driver hits the button, the top tucks neatly under a hard cover behind the rear seats. Rollover protection hoops are integrated in the rear-seat headrests, allowing the same clean look when the top is down. In the event of an imminent collision or rollover in the cabriolet, two roll bars deploy and lock in place within 0.3 seconds. Details distinguish the CLK models. The CLK350 has neutral-tinted glass and gray vanes in its grille, while the CLK550 gets blue-tinted glass, high-gloss black vanes with chrome trim on the grille, and a short rear spoiler. The hotrod CLK63 AMG sports a front valance with three separate sections, mesh grillwork and flared rocker panels between the wheels. The CLK350 and CLK550 come with 17-inch wheels, slightly wider with fatter tires in back, to create the staggered-wheel look of a race car. The wheels on the CLK350 are a light-alloy five-spoke design. Those on the CLK550 feature an AMG-styled monoblock design. The CLK63 AMG has 18-inch wheels in a highly polished double-spoke pattern with lower profile Z-rated tires. What's New for 2007: The optional Sport Appearance Package for the CLK350 is easy to spot, thanks to unique 10-spoke aluminum wheels. This option includes a sports suspension that lowers the CLK slightly, and cross-drilled brake rotors that are visible through the wheels. The brake calipers are painted with Mercedes Interior Features The Mercedes-Benz CLK is a fairly compact car, but there is enough space and seat adjustment inside to accommodate very tall people in front. Generally, the cabin has the look and feel of success. While we've had quibbles with the fit and finish inside some Mercedes models the last several years, those don't apply in the CLK. Materials are very good throughout. Soft polyurethane sprayed onto the dashboard provides an attractive appearance and a luxurious feel. Black-stained ash wood trim and black carpet is standard, though traditional burl walnut is available at no charge. Nice touches of wood and gathered leather on the door panels make for a very attractive cabin. When front passengers close the doors, an electric arm on each side of the CLK extends to present the seatbelts, making it easier to reach the belts. The belt presenters retract once the belts are buckled. It works well, though we've seen passengers startled by them, fearing the return of the motorized mouse. Most controls and switches, including climate adjustments and audio, are stacked in the center of the dash above the console. They're easy to locate and big enough to adjust without a lot of concentration. Standard features include digital dual-zone temperature control with a sun sensor to optimize air distribution. The rain-sensing wipers are operated with a stalk on the right side of the steering column. Storage options have improved by Mercedes standards, but come up short when compared with other cars. The two-tiered glove box is large, but the optional CD changer will take up one of the shelves. The center console has two cup holders and a storage bin. The gauge cluster is a mix of traditional analog gauges and LED graphics. A large round speedometer and tachometer dominate the center, flanked by two smaller, thermometer-like gauges for the fuel level and coolant temperature. It's both attractive and effective, with crisp illuminated script that's easy to read at a glance, though at first you may confuse full and empty on the gas gauge. The CLK steering wheel is one of our favorites: just the right size, thickness and firmness for this car, and power-adjustable for tilt and reach. Rocker buttons on its spokes allow operation of several systems, including stereo, climate and telephone. These buttons also manage an LED information display in the center of the gauges. There's a wealth of information available, including trip functions such as average speed and distance to empty, but it takes a bit of concentration to scroll through and find what you're looking for. Access to the rear seats is easier than it is in many coupes, but that's mostly because there is more room than in many coupes. The front seats help by tipping and sliding forward with a quick-release lever. If the front passengers don't have their seats moved too far rearward, there's enough room for two adults in back. At least for traveling to dinner and a show, if not a cross country trek. The rear seat folds down with 60/40 split, and that's good. With 10.4 cubic feet of space in the trunk, the CLK will hold a load of luggage for two, but its trunk is smaller than typical in a sedan of its size. The fold-flat rear seat helps a bit with oversized items. You won't lose much rear seat space with the CLK Cabriolet, but you will lose a lot of storage in the trunk, even when the convertible top is up. With the top up, there's enough space for four to six bags of groceries. When the top is down, it cuts the trunk space almost in half. Nonetheless, the top is thickly insulated and beautifully lined, and it's almost as pristinely quiet in the CLK Cabriolet as it is in the coupe, when the top is up. What's New for 2007: Interior features and options are essentially unchanged on V6 and V8 models. Driving Impressions Once underway, the Mercedes-Benz CLK offers a balance of virtues. It's luxurious and comfortable, but also energetic. Its rigid structure contributes to its smooth, quiet operation, lack of vibration, and balance of ride quality and handling capability. A rigid chassis does not mean a stiff ride, however. The CLK suspension absorbs bumps without fanfare. The only disturbance comes from the crack of tires over potholes, and it's heard more than felt. The CLK is comfortable, but not numbing, so the steering feeds good information back to the driver about how well the front tires are gripping. This balance of smoothness and road feel means you might be driving the CLK harder than you realize in fairly short order. When the straight, flat roads of the city give way to twisty two-lanes in the hills and countryside, the coupe handles curves with the grace of a thoroughbred. It maintains a nice, flat attitude through sweeping bends and won't bob or weave with frequent application of the brakes. We like the way Mercedes has refined its electronic stability program, which can help the driver maintain control by reducing skidding. In the CLK, the system is virtually transparent, intervening unobtrusively to prevent wheel spin, but without the heavy-handed reduction in power that marred some of its early applications. Engine performance is satisfying in all models. The 268-hp V6 in the CLK350 has all the power most drivers need, accelerating with authority from a stoplight and moving the car smoothly through the gears. Acceleration times for the V6 match those for the typical V8-powered luxury car of the late 1990s, and there's a reserve of power that makes passing on two-lane roads a stress-free process. Nonetheless, the new 5.5-liter V8 in the CLK550 is a significant, noticeable step up, from both the CLK350 and the previous CLK500 models. With 382 horsepower and nearly 400 pound-feet of torque, acceleration here is thrilling. Capable of accelerating from 0 to 60 mph in just 5.1 seconds, the CLK550 is high performance by nearly any definition. Slam the accelerator at any speed and what follows, almost instantaneously, is a satisfying, muted growl from the exhaust and a whoosh of speed. Both the CLK350 and CLK550 are equipped with the seven-speed automatic, and we like this transmission. Beyond the extra gears, its control program works better than that on the Mercedes automatics of previous years. This one doesn't slack off when you need it most, kicking down to a lower gear fast, sometimes three gears at once, if you slam the accelerator hard. Alternate shift buttons, which allow selection of a specific gear, are located on the back of the steering wheel hub, right where fingers wrap around the spokes. The touch-shift manual mode works nicely. The AMG model also gets a seven-speed automatic, labeled the AMG Speedshift 7G-Tronic. Its internal parts are beefed up to reduce shift times in manual mode and handle the power generated by the CLK63 AMG V8 engine (465 pound-feet of torque). Previously powered by a 5.5-liter V8, the previous AMG CLK was merely fast. With the 6.3-liter engine and seven-speed automatic, it's blindingly quick. Throttle response is instantaneous, automatic downshifts nearly so, and the manual control electronics are better programmed to hold a gear near the engine's redline, allowing high-rev, low-gear driving enthusiast drivers enjoy. The CLK63 AMG we tested had a fluttering sound in the idle that was a bit annoying by Mercedes standards, but when we recalled it was a 475-hp engine, practically a race motor, it seemed a little less so. The CLK Cabriolet AMG was already one of the most drivable cars in Mercedes' inventory, and with the new engine it's more so. It's not equipped with the Active Body Control or variable air suspension used on Mercedes ultra-luxury models, just good suspension tuning, good steering feel and crisp turn-in. Some Mercedes-Benzes will dutifully go along for the ride when driven hard, behaving quite predictably as they go. The CLK63 likes to be pushed, and when the driver finishes a go through an empty canyon, the CLK is ready for more. The brakes on the CLKs stop the car with authority, and deliver a nice, easy-to-modulate pedal feel that's distinctly lacking on some Mercedes models. The CLK63 AMG Cabriolet is equipped with multi-piston brake calipers and larger rotors that kick everything up a notch, virtually eliminating the possibility of brake fade anywhere this side of a race track. The AMG is also equipped with something called Racetimer, which can record acceleration, top speed or lap times and store them for retrieval at the driver's request. With its smooth aerodynamics, generally quiet manners and excellent anti-skid electronics, the rear-drive CLK Coupe is suitable for all-season use, in our view. Snow tires would remove any reservation, even in regions with lots of snow. If you love top-down motoring, there's no real reason to pass on the CLK Cabriolet. With the top up it's almost as snug and quiet as the coupe. With the side windows up and fold-up windblocker in place, you could motor top-down on sunny days when the temperature is in the 40s. Best of all, there is no serious degradation in that tight, solid feeling that characterizes the CLK Coupe. Extensive use of high-strength steel alloys and liberal structural re-enforcements maintain the torsional stiffness and help minimize vibration. Mercedes claims the stiffness of the cabriolet's body is equal to that of the coupe, and we find no reason to challenge that assertion. Of course, those structural re-enforcements add weight to the Cabriolet, so owners are likely to see a slight reduction in fuel economy compared to the coupe. Lineup What's new for 2007: More powerful engines for the V8 models. The CLK550 replaces the CLK500, with a new 5.5-liter engine generating 27 percent more power than the previous 5.0-liter V8. The ultra-high-performance CLK63 AMG Cabriolet replaces the CLK55 AMG, with a hand-built 6.2-liter V8 producing 475 horsepower. Also new for 2007 is a Sport Appearance Package ($490) for the CLK350. It includes a firmer sport suspension, cross-drilled brake rotors and 10-spoke, 17-inch aluminum wheels. The Mercedes-Benz CLK is available as a coupe or convertible. Three models are distinguished by engine size, and all come with a seven-speed automatic transmission that can be shifted manually with buttons on the steering wheel. The CLK350 Coupe ($46,200) and Cabriolet ($54,200) are powered by a 3.5-liter V6, which develops 268 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. Standard features include leather upholstery, dual-zone climate control with pollen and dust filter, 10-way adjustable power seats with three memory settings and rain-sensing windshield wipers. Black-stained ash wood trim is standard, and more traditional burl walnut is available as a no-charge option. The Cabriolet features a fully automatic, heavily insulated convertible top. The CLK550 Coupe ($54,900) and Cabriolet ($62,900) get the new-generation V8 introduced in the big S-Class sedan. This dual-overhead-cam 5.5-liter engine generates 382 horsepower and 391 pound-feet of torque. The CLK63 AMG ($89,200) is available only as a cabriolet. Its 6.2-iter V8 is built by a single technician at Mercedes' AMG racing subsidiary, with 475 horsepower and 465 pound-feet of torque. The CLK63 also gets sporting upgrades to its brakes and suspension, and comes with a longer list of ultra-luxury features. Options are grouped in three packages: Premium I, II, and III. Exact content and price vary with the model. On the CLK350 Coupe, Premium I ($2,530) includes auto-dimming mirrors, a programmable built-in garage door opener, a premium harmon/kardon stereo with six-CD changer and a glass sunroof. Premium II ($3,630) adds turning bi-xenon headlights with washers and a heated windshield washer system. Premium III ($4630) includes everything in PI and PII, plus ventilated seats. Stand-alone options include a navigation system combined with on-screen control for the stereo and air conditioning ($2,270); Sirius satellite radio ($510); hands-free telephone communication ($925); wood and leather steering wheel ($540); heated front seats ($700); electronic trunk closer ($520); and Keyless Go push-button starting ($1,100). For that extra special touch, designo Silver Edition and Graphite Edition trim packages are available ($7,050). Safety features that come on all CLKs include multi-stage front-impact airbags. Coupes get front passenger side-impact airbags that protect the torso, and curtain-style head protection airbags for both front and rear passengers. The convertibles combine both torso and head protection in the same side-impact airbags. The also feature pop-up rollbars that automatically deploy if the electronics sense a pending rollover. TeleAid accident notification is standard. Side-impact airbags for the rear passengers are optional ($390). Anti-lock brakes (ABS) with emergency Brake Assist and Electronic Stability Control are standard. The Extended Mobility package ($200) includes run-flat tires and a tire pressure warning system. 4Matic all-wheel drive adds a measure of safety in slippery conditions. Final Word The Mercedes-Benz CLK is a rare blend of style, luxury and sporty driving performance. It's elegant, tasteful and engaging inside and out, and its design should wear well with time. There's room inside for two couples during an evening out. Both the coupe and convertible will work as all-season cars in most locales. The V6-powered CLK350 will satisfy most owners, while the CLK550 V8 delivers high performance by nearly any measure. The CLK63 AMG is strictly for enthusiast drivers. The CLK550 so good in most respects that those less committed are not likely to appreciate what the CLK63 adds for its $26,000 price premium.


2007 Dodge Durango

2007 Dodge Durango Smoother styling reflects driving refinement. Dodge Durango looks tough but rides smooth, with a level of refinement not usually associated with Chrysler Corporation products. Its handling is stable and relatively agile given its size and heft. Inside is a quiet, roomy, comfortable and technologically sophisticated cabin. This second-generation Durango, which first appeared as an '04, is significantly larger than the original, slipping between the Chevy Tahoe and Ford Expedition in exterior dimensions. For 2007, the Durango has been significantly face-lifted outside and updated inside. An entirely new front end maintains Durango's identity, while adding smoothness and sophistication. Second-row bucket seats are now available. Seat fabrics are more stain resistant, and Limited models now feature dual-zone automatic climate control. Also new for 2007 are power windows that operate in express mode both up and down. A new one-touch lane-change feature allows the driver to quickly activate a three-blink turn signal when changing lanes just as with a Mercedes. Limited models can be ordered with full-screen CD/DVD navigation and Bluetooth hands-free communications. Safety has been enhanced by making an electronic stability program (ESP) and side-curtain airbags standard. A tire pressure monitor is now standard in most models and ParkSense ultrasonic parking assist is standard on Limited and optional on SLT. Dual-stage front air bags and an occupant-sensing system for the passenger-side front air bag became standard beginning with the 2006 models. Perhaps the best news of all is that, despite all this new equipment, Durango prices are actually lower this year than last. One thing that has not changed is Durango's space efficiency. Durango can seat up to seven passengers with its folding third-row seat. With all seats folded, there's more than 100 cubic feet of cargo space. You can slide full-size sheets of plywood in back. And a properly equipped Durango with the optional Hemi engine is rated to tow up to 8,950 pounds. A V6 is standard, but two V8s are available and both are superb. The popular 4.7-liter V8 is now a flex-fuel engine in 45 states, running on gasoline or up to 85 percent ethanol (E85). It's smooth and it's powerful, but drivers who want or need more can opt for the celebrated 5.7-liter Hemi. Both engines come with a five-speed automatic transmission that's smooth, refined, and responsive. This transmission includes a Tow/Haul feature we like that holds lower gears longer when towing to reduce gear searching. Interior Features The Dodge Durango feels spacious inside. Large amounts of glass contribute to that feeling along with lots of cargo space. Durango is officially classified as a midsize SUV, like the Ford Explorer, but it's bigger than that and inside it feels like a full-size SUV. The front seats are comfortable, neither too soft nor too firm, and the four-spoke steering wheel is nice. Upholstery materials have been revised for 2007, and the standard YES Essentials fabric in SLT is said to be stain, odor, and static-resistant. The SLT has orange-hued wood trim, while the Limited presents a cleaner look with its brushed aluminum. And that trim is real wood and real aluminum, not plastic. A new option for '07 is bucket-type seating in the second row, replacing the standard 40/20/40 bench. A second-row floor console is part of the bucket-seat package. And if you order the optional heat for the front bucket seats, the second-row buckets get it, too. As a compromise for customers who need to carry five adults, a 40/20/40 bench with recline feature remains standard on Limited, optional on SLT and Adventurer. Separate rear-seat climate controls are standard on those models and optional on SXT; that's a useful feature when carrying dogs. For '07, Durango models with rear-seat HVAC also come with a 115-volt power inverter. Also new for '07 are power windows that operate in express mode both up and down. A new one-touch lane-change feature allows the driver to quickly activate a three-blink turn signal when changing lanes. Details are carefully thought out, including convenient grab handles cleverly molded into the stubby rear leg of the second-row seat, which ease climbing back to the third row. Once back there, a small bubble in the ceiling provides additional headroom for third-row passengers. A one-piece third-row bench is optional on SXT and standard on SLT and Adventurer. On Limited models, the third row is split 60/40 for additional convenience. SLT and Adventurer (but not SXT) buyers can order the 60/40 split at additional cost. Behind the second row of seats is 68 cubic feet of cargo space, equal to the total for many SUVs. Put the second row down, and there's 102 cubic feet of cargo capacity. The distance between the wheel housings is 48 inches, so full-size sheets of plywood can be loaded flat. Speaking of loading cargo, this task is aided by the liftgate, which opens very easily. A power liftgate is also available. The cargo floor is relatively low, thanks to the rear suspension design, making loading and unloading easier. The second and third rows are notably easy to access because the rear doors open an exceptionally wide 84 degrees. The second-row seat easily flips forward with the touch of one hand, and the seatback flops flat just as easily. This is no small virtue. Instrumentation is clean, handsome, easy to read and easy to operate. It looks classy. We especially like the simple black-on-white gauges and rectangular black Venetian-blind style heating and cooling vents. The center console is deep, under a removable tray. On Limiteds it is now covered in leather. Forward of that is another important compartment designed to serve as a fast-food bin. Two integrated cup holders with removable neoprene for different sizes of drink containers are provided. We found the SLT's manual heating controls and the wiper controls fussy, and the high beams seemed a little lacking one wintry night. The Limited model's high-tech climate-control panel with automatic temperature adjustment is better. And we welcome the availability of seat heaters. Driving Impressions With its size and refinement, the Dodge Durango can be a good compromise between the medium and extra-large SUVs available from other manufacturers. It's smooth and quiet, quite different from earlier noisy, rough-riding sport-utilities. Both V8 engines are good choices but for overall power, cost, and fuel economy we'd opt for the 5.7-liter Hemi. The 4.7-liter V8 engine is competent, powerful and very smooth. For 2007 it is rated at 235 horsepower and 300 pound-feet of torque; that's 5 more horsepower and 10 more pound-feet than in the 2006. But it still rates only 14/18 mpg with 4WD, using 87-octane regular. The 5.7-liter Hemi is rated at 335 horsepower and 370 pound-feet of torque. That's a lot more power than the 4.7-liter, with around-town mileage suffering only slightly at 13/18 mpg with 89 octane recommended, 87 acceptable. The Hemi's fuel economy is enhanced by Chrysler's Multi-Displacement System, which disables four of the eight cylinders when cruising by deactivating the valve lifters. In our tests of variable displacement on other Chrysler products, we found the transition between cruising and power modes nearly indiscernible. The Hemi seems like a good value. Plus, it can tow up to 8,950 pounds with the optional 3.92 rear axle, compared with 7500 pounds for the 4.7-liter. Also, the two-speed transfer case comes standard on 4WD models with the Hemi, while it's optional with the other engines. Hemi, by the way, refers to the overhead-valve, hemispherical combustion chamber design, and harkens back to the 1960s when the 426-cubic-inch (7.0-liter) Hemi dominated both NASCAR stock car and NHRA drag racing. That engine was itself a revival of the original 1951-58 Hemi. Chrysler modernized the basic design in 2003 after it had been gone (but not forgotten) for decades. Still, the Hemi didn't feel like 335 horsepower to the seat of our pants. The 5.7-liter Hemi felt a little more powerful than the 4.7-liter, but it wasn't a night-and-day difference. The double overhead-cam, 5.6-liter, 305-horsepower Nissan Armada feels more responsive than the 5.7-liter Durango, which feels solid, but heavy. We were most impressed by the five-speed automatic transmission that comes with both V8 engines. The shifts were incredibly smooth. Shifting up or down between third and fourth gears is undetectable. The transmission features a Tow/Haul mode, which holds the gears longer and will even downshift under deceleration, as might be needed with a trailer on mountainous terrain. It's cool when you come toward a turn at high speed and back off, and your automatic transmission drops a downshift for you. The best fuel economy comes from the 3.7-liter V6, rated at 210 horsepower, 235 pound-feet of torque and 16/21 mpg. It comes with a four-speed automatic and is rated to pull a 3750-pound trailer. The Durango has good brakes. When you need to slow down or stop, they'll be there. They're big vented discs with twin-piston calipers in front, just the thing for holding back this heavy beast. ABS helps the driver maintain steering control by eliminating wheel lockup, while electronic brake-force distribution (EBD) balances braking forces front and rear for more stable stopping. We slammed on the brakes several times from 70 mph and found the Durango stopped steady and true. Cornering and handling are excellent, maybe even superb, for a big SUV. The earliest Durangos borrowed some running gear from the Dakota pickup; but since its first major re-design for 2004, Durango has been built on its own mechanical platform. Chassis rigidity benefits from hydroformed box-section frame rails. The ride quality is quite good as well, thanks to plenty of wheel travel built into Durango's suspension. Up front, torsion bars absorb impacts while providing tight control. Out back, Durango centers its live rear axle with a three-segment Watt's link instead of a single-segment Panhard rod. This not only eliminates the slight bit of sway that's built in to Panhard or track bar systems, but also makes room for a lower, wider load floor. Dodge engineers say they considered an independent rear suspension, but found this arrangement provided many of the same handling and space advantages, while retaining the superior load capacity of a live axle. Durango's rack-and-pinion steering provides a 39.9-foot turning circle, three feet larger than a Ford Explorer, but pretty good for a vehicle of this size. We found the Durango offered good, responsive handling over more than 100 miles of remote twisty roads in the Texas Hill Country. It stayed on an even keel through some very hard cornering. The engine sits relatively far back in the chassis resulting in better balance. We drove 4.7- and 5.7-liter models. Driving a 5.7-liter Durango SLT around Detroit in January backed up our earlier impressions. It felt very secure in icy conditions. In off-road driving, our Durango didn't hit bottom even when driving aggressively over rough terrain. However, crawling over irregular terrain in 4-Low reveals the suspension is set up more for on-road handling than off-road flex. On a great 4x4, the suspension articulates to let the wheels droop to the ground. That's fine for severe off-highway use, but it's at odds with good handling on pavement. In the Durango's case, Dodge has traded some extreme off-road capability for superior on-road handling, which more people will appreciate on an everyday basis. The off-highway capability, meanwhile, is plenty good enough to get the Durango down primitive roads and two-tracks in the backcountry. We towed a 5,950-pound trailer for about 30 miles behind a Durango with the 5.7-liter Hemi and decided that's what you need if you need to tow something that heavy. The 4.7-liter wouldn't have been enough Lineup The 2007 Dodge Durango is offered in four models: SXT, SLT, Adventurer, and Limited. Each is available with two-wheel drive (2WD) or four-wheel drive (4WD). A 210-hp 3.7-liter V6 is standard in 2WD SXT, SLT, and Adventurer models. The 235-hp 4.7-liter V8 and five-speed automatic are optional ($785) in those models, and standard in Limited and all 4WD models. The 5.7-liter Hemi V8 is optional in SLT, Adventurer, and Limited. Standard convenience features for SXT 2WD ($26,280) and 4WD ($29,260) include air conditioning, cloth interior with front bucket seats, 40/20/40 folding second-row seat, power heated foldaway mirrors, front and rear 12-volt power outlets, four-speaker AM/FM stereo with in-dash single-disc CD player, cruise control, tilt steering column, remote keyless entry, 17-inch aluminum wheels with on/off-road tires, a full-size spare and a 27-gallon fuel tank. SLT 2WD ($28,950) and 4WD ($31,930) add fog lamps, woodgrain instrument panel, power-adjustable driver's seat, one-piece fold-down third-row seating, rear-seat heating and air conditioning, 18-inch aluminum wheels, tire-pressure monitor and a 160-amp alternator. The SLT comes standard with the same cloth seats as the SXT, but leather-trimmed front bucket seats are available ($925). A power sunroof ($850) also becomes available at the SLT level. Adventurer 2WD ($31,445) and 4WD ($33,565) come with all SLT features, plus special off-road equipment that includes tubular side steps, reversible slush mats, a rubberized washable cargo liner with built-in cargo organizer, Sirius Satellite Radio, unique machine-finish wheels and Mineral Gray moldings and fascias. Adventurer also comes with a Thule roof rack with a choice of six rack systems or a unique Adventurer accessory kit. Adventurer reverts to 17-inch wheels, but with wider tires than SXT. Limited 2WD ($33,800) and 4WD ($35,925) are the plushest Durangos, with premium leather seats; power for both driver and front passenger's seat; a recline feature for the second-row 40/20/40 folding bench seat; 60/40 split folding third-row seat; dual-zone automatic climate control; overhead console with (new for '07) driver information center; premium metallic-finish instrument panel bezel; eight-speaker, six-CD/MP3/Sirius audio with subwoofer (an Alpine system replaces last year's Infinity); 18-inch chromed aluminum wheels; security alarm and Sentry Key engine immobilizer; auto-dimming for the side mirrors; and a memory system for seats, mirrors, radio, air conditioning and adjustable pedals. A full-screen navigation system with CD/DVD capability, hands-free communication system with Bluetooth wireless technology, and 20-inch chrome-clad aluminum wheels have been added to the Limited's list of exclusive options. Many of the Limited's luxury features are available as extra-cost options on lower-cost models. A rear-seat DVD player ($1200) can be added to all models except SXT. Skid plates and a two-speed transfer case are available for all 4WD models. Light-duty and Class IV trailer packages are also offered. Safety features on all models now include side-curtain air bags with roll-over sensors; these provide significant head protection in a side impact or rollover accident. Seat or door-mounted side-impact air bags, however, are not available. Durango's advanced front air bags deploy with varying power based on the weight of the person in the seat. ABS is also standard, as is electronic stability control with traction control. A tire pressure monitor is now standard on SLT and Limited. Ultrasonic rear park assist is standard on Limited and optional on SLT. Final Word Dodge Durango is smooth and powerful with either of the two V8 engines. It rides well and handles especially well, and has excellent engineering touches and details. It was value-priced last year, and with prices reduced and standard equipment added for 2007, it's a better bargain than ever. If you're in the market for a large SUV and like the Durango's rugged looks, you should check it out.

2007 Dodge Nitro

2007 Dodge Nitro All-new mid-size SUV. The 2007 Dodge Nitro is an all new mid-size SUV. Dodge redesigned the full-size Durango in 2004, and since then has been planning the Nitro, which is 22 inches shorter. There are many mid-size SUVs out there, and Dodge wanted the Nitro to be distinctive, in order to keep up its reputation for bold styling. The result is a very squared-off vehicle, with exaggerated fender flares. The Nitro looks and feels larger than its size, with a high seating position that SUV owners like, and good cabin space. It features Load 'n' Go, a cargo storage system whereby the rear seats and front passenger seat fold totally flat in seconds; additionally, the cargo floor slides rearward out over the rear bumper, and can hold 400 pounds, making the loading of heavy objects much easier. It could prevent back injuries. The Nitro comes in either two-wheel drive or four-wheel drive, with a choice of V6 engines, one old and one new. The new 4.0-liter V6 is better than the old 3.7-liter, with 50 more horsepower and fuel economy that's only one or two miles per gallon less. However the 4.0-liter engine only comes in the top-of-the-line R/T model, which costs about $2700 more than the most popular SLT. But a five-speed automatic also comes with the R/T, and that transmission, too, is better than the standard four-speed in the SLT. The R/T has a more comfortable ride, as well. There are three types of upholstery: basic cloth, a handsome stain-repellant cloth, and beautiful perforated leather. No matter which covering, the seats are very comfortable. The cabin is quiet thanks to heavy use of sound deadening material, and visibility out the rear and to the front corners of the Nitro is excellent. For a base price of $19,225, a Nitro owner gets many safety features that are usually optional on other vehicles, such as front and rear side airbags, side curtain airbags, an electronic stability program with traction control and brake assist, electronic roll mitigation and a tire-pressure monitor. Walkaround Dodge publicity makes a big thing about the Nitro's looks, citing its so-called athleticism. We're not sure. We might call it brawny, but mostly it just looks boxy. The exaggerated fender flares are the only rounded parts in the styling. Every other angle is square-ish. It looks and feels larger than mid-size, which some will find to be a good thing. From the front, it's unmistakably Dodge. It's got that big crosshair grille, which looks much better in body color (R/T) than chrome (SXT, SLT). The horizontal headlamps, turn signal slits and foglamps are a tidy fit in the massive face. However it doesn't appear as if much attempt was made to have the front bumper/fascia be tidy; it's got edges all over the place, including a valley that might hold a three-foot-wide license plate, or maybe a bumper sticker that says, "I'm a Dodge so I'm in your face!" Under that, there's a wide air intake for the power steering cooler, whose thin fins are exposed to flying stones because there is no screen. Taking a cue from the faux portholes on the Buick Lucerne, or possibly the tradition of a Mercedes-Benz sports car, there's a trapezoid-shaped insert, black plastic with three chrome ribs, located just forward of the mirrors. It's intended to look like a cooling slot. It's a nice touch, and for such a small piece it goes a long way toward relaxing the Nitro's blocky shape. In silhouette, with its relatively upright windshield, very high beltline and rectangular windows, plus short front overhang, its shape is reminiscent of, say, a '62 Dodge Power Wagon. But from the rear three-quarter angle, the lines around the rear glass are reminiscent of its bigger cousin, the Jeep Commander. We like the cleaner black, rather than chrome, around the windows. Our test Nitro R/T was equipped with standard 20-inch chromed aluminum wheels, and they sure are showy. The much narrower sidewall on the 20-inch tires doesn't appear to offer much defense against flats. Interior Features The SXT comes in a basic cloth, but the cloth in the SLT and R/T is something called YES Essentials; it claims to repel stains, control odors and reduce static electricity. The optional perforated charcoal leather with red stitching in our test R/T was beautiful. The front buckets were very comfortable and supportive, with excellent bolstering. The steering wheel is a handsome four-spoke, with a big center hub and thick spokes at 9:00 and 3:00 o'clock, smaller spokes at 5 and 7; the info center buttons are under your thumb on the big spokes. There are three big main instruments: speedo in center, tach on right and fuel and temp on left. They're very good looking and especially legible, with the digital information still visible in the sun because the three pods are thoughtfully shrouded. Chrysler does gauges right, and generally blows GM out of the water when it comes to handsome style and function. There's good front seat legroom, and it feels like there's even more because the dashboard is narrow, making the cabin feel nothing like that in a minivan. The dash also has an insert over the center stack, about 6 by 9 inches with grippy rubber at the bottom, and it's perfect for, well, things. The glovebox is the full width of the passenger side. Rearview visibility is very good, with just windows back there, no attempt at swoopy styling with sheetmetal. And again, because the front fenders have no rise or real shape, it's easy to see the front corners of the vehicle, making parking a relief compared to many vehicles this size. The square theme continues with the center stack and its instruments and buttons for the sound system and climate control, although nowadays many cars look like that, which isn't bad, just almost natural. Everything is clean, easy to operate, and easy to understand. We especially like the door handles, an intelligent ergonomic design: they're like a half loop, and you simply slip three or four fingers of the hand against the door inside the handle, fingers facing forward so there's no twist of the wrist, and pull. Between the seats, along with the gearshift, transfer case, and emergency brake lever, there are two fixed cupholders and a small recess for change. There's a shallow tray in the top of the center console storage bin, and a deep compartment under that; as one lady on the press launch said, it's big enough to stash her cat, on road trips. But the Nitro really rises to the occasion behind the front seat. The Load 'n Go function quickly and easily flops the 60/40 rear seats and front passenger seat totally flat. With the liftgate raised, the carpeted (washable vinyl on the SXT) cargo floor slides rearward 18 inches, out over the bumper, saving a loader's back. It can hold 400 pounds. Under half of the cargo floor there's a four-inch-deep compartment that can store things such as jumper cables and tools, or hide a laptop. For the past couple of years, Dodge has been working hard on making their SUVs quiet, and the Nitro succeeds. The 3.7-liter engine is rather harsh-sounding, but the Nitro's sound-deadening material muffles it well. Finally, the air conditioning might be fine on a normal hot day, but it seemed marginal for searing conditions. We drove from San Diego to Palm Springs on a September day, and when we got there it was 104 degrees. The AC was going full blast, and it wasn't doing the job. The fan was blowing strong, but the air coming out of the vents wasn't cold enough to cool the cabin. Driving Impressions After long drives in both the Dodge Nitro SLT 4WD and R/T 2WD, we prefer the R/T. The 3.7-liter engine in the SLT is slightly harsh and too slow, and the four-speed automatic transmission needs another gear; we floored the SLT once at 40 mph, and the tranny didn't kick down and the vehicle felt gutless. The suspension takes bumps with a jolt, especially at lower speeds and mostly at the front wheels. And when we turned off the stability control and drove it aggressively around a hairpin turn, the front end washed out as badly as anything we've felt in a long time, on its Goodyear Wrangler on/off-road performance tires. This was surprising, because the Nitro is a rear-wheel-drive platform. The R/T costs about $2700 more, but it's worth it. It's better looking anyhow, with more of its trim in the same color as the body, although those 20-inch chrome wheels are a bit much (as a $1405 option on the SLT, too bad you can't get 17-inchers on the R/T and save the money). Chrysler's R/T models are considered higher performance, but in this case it's not hot-roddy high performance, it's more literal: simply a higher level of basic performance by the engine, transmission and suspension. The 4.0-liter V6 is a new single overhead-cam engine. It's rated at 260 horsepower, 50 more than the engine in the SLT, and it provides 265 pound-feet of torque at 4200 rpm. That's a lot of horsepower and torque, and we can't say that the R/T really feels like it has that much; but we can say that it accelerates up to 90 mph without messing around. The R/T engine is quieter than the 3.7-liter in the SLT, and it gets nearly the same mileage: 17 city and 21 highway in 2WD, with 89 octane recommended but 87 acceptable. We got 16.7 mpg driving the R/T very hard out in the country. The five-speed automatic transmission makes a world of difference in smoothness over the four-speed. However in manual mode, it doesn't listen. It only responds to a shift by the driver (at least this driver) about half the time. Most of the shifts to which it doesn't respond are about saving gas. It refuses to short-shift, or upshift before redline under heavy throttle. Nor will it upshift when you back off the throttle. As a result, passing on two-lanes is unnecessarily un-smooth. The upshifts near redline (6000 rpm) are also a bit slow, not as sharp as one might expect from an R/T. And the shift mechanism is not ergonomic; that is, the shifts are made by moving the lever from side to side, not forward and back, which would be easier on the wrist. The handling of the R/T is reasonably sure-footed, and considerably more precise than the SLT; Goodyear Eagle tires help a lot. But it's the ride that's radically better, in this 2WD model. Theoretically the R/T's tuned suspension should be firmer, and surely it is overall, but it's also a lot more comfortable. Lineup The 2007 Dodge Nitro comes as three models, each with a choice of two-wheel drive (2WD) or four-wheel drive (4WD). re are three models of the new 2007 Dodge Nitro: the SXT in 2WD, $20,735 with part-time 4WD), SLT ($22,635 and $24,145) and R/T and with full-time 4WD); all prices plus $660 destination. The SXT ($19,225) comes with a 210-hp 3.7-liter V6 and a choice of six-speed manual transmission or four-speed automatic ($1000). The 4WD model ($20,735) uses a part-time four-wheel-drive system. Standard equipment includes cloth upholstery, air conditioning, remote entry with power windows and door locks, 115-volt power outlet, flat folding front passenger seat, 60/40 folding rear bench seat, AM/FM/CD with MP3 and six speakers, tilt steering column, traction control and brake assist, slate-colored molded front and rear fascias and fender flares, folding power mirrors, rear window washer/wiper, and 16-inch steel wheels. The SLT ($22,635) and SLT 4WD ($24,145) come standard with the automatic. The SLT adds stain-resistant cloth seats, power six-way adjustable driver's seat, leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, Load 'n Go cargo storage system with tie-down rails, overhead console, cruise control, heated mirrors, compass, auto-dimming rearview mirror, vehicle information instrumentation, tinted windows, body-colored front and rear fascias and fender flares, and 17-inch aluminum wheels. The R/T ($25,310) features a new 4.0-liter V6 making 260 horsepower, mated to a five-speed automatic. The R/T 4WD model ($26,970) has a full-time four-wheel-drive system. The R/T comes with a sports suspension with 20-inch wheels and Goodyear Eagle tires. The R/T is equipped like the SLT, though it also has Sirius Satellite Radio. Options for all three models include a power sunroof, foglamps, engine block heater, full-size spare tire, and trailer tow package. Full-time 4WD is an option on the part-time 4WD SXT and SLT models. Options for the SLT and R/T include leather upholstery, navigation system, remote start, hands-free phone, AM/FM/6CD/CD/DVD/MP3 sound system with eight speakers plus subwoofer. The optional MyGIG Multimedia Infotainment System features navigation, audio, entertainment and communication wrapped into one, along with voice command and a 20-gigabyte hard drive to store music and photos. Final Word The Nitro is the first mid-size SUV from Dodge, and has all the Dodge character. It's built on the platform of the future Jeep Liberty, and actually feels bigger than its size, thanks largely to a high beltline, high seating position, and much glass instead of sheetmetal at the rear corners. It's not easy to make an SUV look distinctive, and the Nitro tries very hard. Mechanically, it's hindered by the 3.7-liter engine and four-speed automatic transmission in the SXT and SLT, the most popular models. The R/T, costing on average about $2700 more, has a more powerful and smoother new 4.0-liter engine, which gets about the same gas mileage at the 3.7, along with a good five-speed automatic transmission. It also has a more comfortable ride. Go for the R/T.

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