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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. 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. 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.
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?
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.
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...
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Porsche of SUVs.
Four years after its introduction, the Porsche Cayenne has become part of the automotive landscape. The car-buying public has demonstrated its appreciation of the Porsche brand beyond the company's familiar sports cars by purchasing them in numbers far beyond expectation.
The five-passenger SUV is technically slick and remarkably fast, as Porsches are supposed to be, with on-road handling that belies (though does not defy) its mass. The Cayenne also delivers what most SUV buyers demand: more cargo space than the typical sedan, more than enough capability for off-highway use and impressive towing capacity. For style, pure performance and a balance of sport-utility virtues, the Porsche Cayenne is tough to beat.
Porsche didn't sit still after the Cayenne's launch in 2003, adding a V6 drivetrain that opened the model to a larger group of buyers and more useful standard equipment and option packages. For 2006, in synch with its philosophy of adding even more power during a model's life cycle, Porsche offers the 510-horsepower Cayenne Turbo S, which takes the concept of a SUV muscle car to a highly rewarding extreme.
New features for 2006 include a new ignition key with separate lock and unlock buttons; new front airbag technology; an electronic logbook; an update to the Porsche Communication Management system that allows it to play MP3-encoded CDs; and a cellphone module that hooks into PCM. Optional equipment includes Offroad Navigation that lets drivers trace their way back to a starting point, even when the area doesn't appear on the nav's system's internal map. Wider rear 20-inch SportTechno wheels, an independent interior pre-heating and pre-ventilation system, new Dark Olive Metallic exterior paint, a new Sand Beige leather-wrapped steering wheel and seats with the Porsche crest embossed on the headrests are among other new options.
Like many Porsches, the Porsche of SUVs can be very expensive. An abundance of options means a fully loaded Cayenne Turbo S cracks the $125,000 barrier, and even the V6's fully equipped price reaches far beyond its $42,200 base price. Yet whichever powertrain sits beneath the bodywork, the Cayenne will be truly appreciated by those SUV buyers with exacting demands or unshakable brand loyalty.
Cayenne's headlights and grille work closely resemble those on the 911 and Boxster and identify it as a Porsche. As it is with the 911 Turbo, the Cayenne Turbo models are distinguished by larger grilles that increase the amount of air flowing through the engine bay. The Turbo S is further distinguished by quad tailpipes, body-color front grilles and special badging.
The designers believe they've transferred all the emotion of a Porsche sports car to the Cayenne, but we'll leave that call to you. The designer's handiwork has produced a 0.39 coefficient of drag, impressive for a big SUV, and good for limiting wind noise at high speed.
The Cayenne is not a small vehicle. Measuring 188.3 inches in length, with a wheelbase of 112.4 inches, it's longer than the BMW X5 and and about the same as the 2006 Mercedes M-Class and a few hundred pounds heavier than either. Conversely, at 4785 pounds in its lightest specification, Cayenne weighs 550 pounds less than a Lincoln Navigator, which is two feet longer. An inspection underneath this SUV suggests that it's perhaps over-engineered compared to many mass-market sport-utilities, but Porsche engineers preferred not to take chances with their first SUV in the event that some owners actually drive it aggressively off road. In size, Cayenne most closely matches Volkswagen's Touareg, which is no surprise given the two vehicles were developed jointly by Porsche and VW. Engines and other Cayenne components are built by Porsche in Zuffenhausen, Germany, and mated to the Cayenne at an assembly plant in Leipzig. Both Cayenne and Touareg were created from the same basic blueprint. The standard Cayenne even shares its V6 engine with the Touareg. Engine and suspension tuning, styling and all the finish work were the separate responsibility of each manufacturer. This auto-industry backgrounder is relevant to any consumer preparing to part with a substantial amount of money for a high-end SUV, because if two vehicles share a foundation, they're likely to share a basic quality, or lack thereof. Porsche insists that Cayenne is uniquely Porsche, and as reviewers we can vouch for that. We can also tell you a loaded VW Touareg sells for about 40 percent of the price of a high-end Cayenne, and the choice is worth considering. Meanwhile, Audi has launched its version of this vehicle, called the Q7. Porsche's SUV has near optimal front/rear weight distribution of 52/48 percent, for outstanding handling balance in all circumstances (the weight in most unladen SUVs is more heavily biased toward the front). At least as important, in Porsche's view, is the Cayenne's optimal aerodynamic balance. Aerodynamic downforce on the rear wheels increases with speed, delivering the high-speed stability that has become a Porsche trademark. We prefer the monster (though expensive) 20-inch wheels, too. And if money were no object we'd choose both of the appearance packages: The SportDesign Package adds more prominent, aero-tweaked side sills and a larger rear spoiler, and it gives the Cayenne a more powerful, aggressive appearance. The Black Monochrome Exterior Package finishes the roof pillars, window trim and molding in black, giving the windows a dark,
Anyone who has spent time in one of Porsche's sports cars will get a familiar feeling in the Cayenne driver's seat. The cues are pure Porsche: the shape and feel of the gear selector or the thick, grippy, steering wheel; the three-spoke hub design, with a brand crest and multiple controls for audio, trip computer and climate adjustments; the ignition switch to the left of the steering column or the contour of the seats. Cayenne's instrument cluster is tucked under a single, prominent arch, with two big gauges on either side of a central multifunction display, tachometer on the left, speedometer on the right. This display presents information on audio and trip functions, mechanical operations and ambient conditions. Automatic speed and wiper controls are located on stalks on either side of the steering column. The bulk of the switches, including audio and climate controls, are racked in the center of the dash above the center console. These are replaced with a CRT monitor on Cayennes equipped with Porsche Communications Management. A dozen vents throughout the cabin distribute warm or cool air evenly. The Cayenne is not as richly appointed as a similarly priced Range Rover, but it's not supposed to be. The emphasis here is sporting flair rather than traditional luxury. With the exception of a cheesy looking headliner and oddly designed armrests in the doors, the materials and finish are acceptable for a vehicle of this ilk. One of our test vehicles was equipped with the Light Wood package. It's polished to a gloss and expensive looking, but almost blond. Some of us at newcartestdrive.com love light woods, some of us lean toward the dark burr. The standard leather upholstery is high grade, while the standard metal trim has a brushed finish. The front seats stand out for their balance of support, comfort and adjustment range, and the navigation display screen is one of the largest we've encountered. The navigation system calculates routes and makes adjustments very quickly. It uses DVDs rather than CDs, allowing for maps for the entire United States on a single disk, rather than several that must be changed from region to region. There's also an optional electronic logbook, which automatically records the mileage, journey length, date and time, starting point and destination address for every trip made. In addition, buyers can opt for a module that will help you find your way back to your starting point, even if the roads or trails aren't on the system's map. Cayenne transports five adults in reasonable comfort. The rear seat is well contoured, with excellent headroom and decent legroom, even when the front seats are well back in their travel range. Seating for five is something we haven't seen previously in a Porsche, but don't expect the interior volume of a Lincoln Navigator, and don't look for a third-row seat. The rear seatback folds forward in a 60/40 split, and it includes a pass-though slot with a ski sack, allowing Cayenne to haul longer, narrow items inside without flattening (or messing up) the rear seat. A cargo net keeps grocery bags and other items from sliding around during travel and a retractable shade-type cover opens and closes over the cargo hold. The Cayenne boasts 19 cubic feet of stowage space with the rear seat in place and 62.5 cubic feet with the seat folded. That gives the Porsche more cargo space than the BMW X5 but about 10 cubic feet less than the 2006 Mercedes-Benz ML. The tailgate is two-stage, so either the glass or entire gate can be opened upward, and the electronic latch lets you simply lower the gate to the latch while the electric mechanism pulls it shut. The dimensions of the tailgate opening and load floor allow Cayenne to haul small appliances such as a bar-size refrigerator or a large TV set. Moreover, with an impressive payload of 1600 pounds, a Cayenne owner should be able to haul just about anything that can be crammed inside and on top without worrying about exceeding recommended weights.
The Porsche of SUVs is what those familiar with the brand probably expect from the Cayenne. If you pay close attention, you can feel most of the mechanical components working, each doing its own job, yet it all blends together in a smooth, synchronous whole. The Cayenne is fast, satisfying and, even in the things it does least efficiently, utterly competent. It stops with more energy and precision that any SUV we can name. The V6 runs well, but it's the V8 engines that separate Cayenne from others in the SUV pack.
Want Porsche? Sit still in the Cayenne's driver seat and gently blip the accelerator pedal (just like the guy in the commercial). These are not the sounds emanating from the typical SUV. The Cayenne's exhaust rumbles a bit louder, maybe, but mostly deeper. Even at idle, the burble of low-restriction mufflers, the cams and the suck of intake air remind us of the late, great Porsche 928, a V8-powered GT that swallowed chunks of pavement at an alarming rate. Yet this is an SUV, and the thought can be difficult for longtime Porsche enthusiasts to get their arms around. Perhaps Cayenne more appropriately invokes images of the Porsche 959s that won the grueling Paris-Dakar Rally through North Africa, skimming over giant dunes in the Sahara at 140 mph.
The Sahara we couldn't arrange, but we have mucked a Cayenne through a muddy off-road course in the south of Spain. This was not a boulder-laden wilderness trail like the Rubicon, but it included axle-deep mud and steep, low-grip 50-yard grades. Up, down and across, the Cayenne performed flawlessly with little sweat for the driver. In most cases the onboard electronics did the heavy lifting, and the driver had to simply, lightly, modulate the throttle or brake in low range. When introduced, Cayenne's back country performance impressed even the jaded, and it supported Porsche's assertion that it has more off-road capability than the BMW X5 or Mercedes M-Class, which we've driven in similar conditions. Cayenne has a maximum ground clearance of 8.5 inches, or 10.7 inches with the optional air suspension, and a water fording depth of nearly 22 inches. The Advanced Offroad Package adds skid plates to protect the underbody and a locking rear differential. We drove a Turbo S with these options on the desert sands of Dubai and were astounded by the vehicle's prowess in such difficult conditions. We also got some lessons off road in the operation of Cayenne's permanent all-wheel-drive system, and how it might affect performance on pavement, where most owners are more likely to drive. This system, with its variable-rate center differential managed by multiple clutch plates, is similar to that used on all-wheel-drive versions of the Porsche 911, with two Cayenne enhancements: a low range for off-roading and a locking center differential. It's managed by Porsche's latest stability- and traction-control electronics, modified to handle the special needs of off-road driving. Cayenne's AWD can vary the amount of engine power distributed to the front and rear wheels, sending more or less power in one direction depending on available traction and other conditions. In many luxury SUVs, the default torque distribution is as much as 70 percent front wheels, 30 percent rear and this can make them drive like a front-drive minivan. The Cayenne has a default power split of 38 percent front, 62 percent rear, so the rear wheels clearly rule. This more closely replicates the rear-drive characteristics of a sports car. On the road, the Cayenne handles crisply, but it isn't a Porsche 911. Its 4800-pound curb weight, which ballons to 5192 pounds in the Turbo S (and over 5800 pounds when fully optioned), rears its head in transient maneuvers. It performs these maneuvers better than an SUV, but there's no getting around the physics of all that mass when pushed hard in tight cornering situations. That said, it offers excellent grip in steady state corners, which can be taken quite quickly. The standard Cayenne's narrow-angle 3.2-liter V6 engine was developed by Volkswagen. Porsche did its own finish work for its version of the V6, which features variable timing for both the intake and exhaust valves for an impressive combination of smooth idling, good low-end torque and free-revving high-end horsepower. Theoretically, at least, the V6 Cayenne should offer a mileage advantage over the V8s; unfortunately, the Cayenne's weight negates most of that potential gain. With EPA ratings of 15 mpg city and 19 highway, the Cayenne does only 1 mpg better then the V8-powered Cayenne S. That may or may not prove significant in real driving. However, with 247-horsepower and 250 pound-feet of torque over a wide range of engine speeds, the Cayenne V6 is no slouch. It's aided by a six-speed manual transmission. The manual is equipped with a feature called Porsche Drive-Off Assistant, which allows a driver to easily set the Cayenne in motion on steep grades; the system automatically maintains brake pressure when the brake pedal is released, then releases the brakes once the driver begins to let out the clutch pedal. The manual's shift action is Porsche sweet, and the V6 Cayenne is anything but underpowered. Porsche reports 0-60 mph times of 8.5 seconds and a top speed of 133 mph; 10 years ago, those numbers were good for a sports car, and they remain competitive among SUVs. Further, the V6 is as pleasant to operate as the V8s, if not as exhilarating. Its wide power band gets the Cayenne up to speed in convincing fashion, and the V6 Cayenne actually feels lighter, perhaps better than the V8s, for mundane chores like commuting or shopping. Yet the V6 also demonstrates what we might call the conundrum of Cayenne. It's perfectly suited for the typical SUV buyer's driving tasks and it's priced competitively with the VW Touareg and SUVs from Japan's luxury car makers. Yet for roughly the same price as the standard Cayenne, the Touareg offers a 310-horsepower V8 and a bit more standard equipment. A V6 Touareg sells for thousands less. And Cayenne is a Porsche, for crying out loud, with the expectation of acceleration and exhilaration that goes with that. But if you want Cayenne with acceleration that begins to separate it from the mundane pack, you'll have to ante up for the Cayenne S. The Cayenne's V8 engines are pure Porsche. These 4.5-liter V8s have all the latest high-tech systems and materials, including a unique dry-sump lubrication system that allows uninterrupted oiling at extreme angles of operation, either off road or at high lateral gs on pavement. To account for higher operating pressures, the intercooled, twin-turbocharged versions in the Cayenne Turbo and Turbo S have durability enhancements such as forged pistons and more oiling jets. The normally aspirated 4.5-liter engine makes 340 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 310 pound-feet of torque between 2500 and 5500 rpm, which puts it near the top of the SUV class. There's more than rumbling exhaust to suggest that Cayenne's V8 isn't the typical SUV engine. There's a ton of power here. The Cayenne S delivers more than ample torque. At any speed, the six-speed automatic kicks down quickly with a jab at the gas pedal and the Cayenne S accelerates like a jumbo jet approaching rotation speed. We're not sure why anyone needs more get-up in a big SUV than the Cayenne S offers, but those who do might try the Turbo or Turbo S. The Turbo generates a mighty 450 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 457 pound-feet of torque between 2250 and 4750 rpm, while the new Turbo S delivers a genuinely thrilling 520 horsepower at 5500 rpm and 530 pound-feet of torque between 2750 and 3750 rpm. Beyond sheer acceleration, there's engineering you don't see in Cayenne that gives it Porsche character. The standard Cayenne suspension uses coil-over struts with an extra set of conical springs to control lateral movement. That's not typical SUV fare. Even more sophisticated, the upgrade air suspension automatically adjusts ride height according to speed, with a range of nearly five inches. The air suspension also automatically (or manually) adjusts shock damping rates for the preferred balance of ride quality and body-roll control. The subtle things can make a difference. The Cayenne's steering rack, for example, is supplied by ZF, a company that also builds the steering components for the 911 sports car. Cayenne comes with Y-rated tires (certified for operation up to 186 mph). Its brakes are truly impressive: 13.5-inch discs, with six-piston calipers in front and four-piston rear. The brakes allow it to shed speed like a good sedan. Moreover, Porsche claims the Cayenne brakes were developed to meet the same rigid anti-fade standards as those on a 911. These components, with what we learned off-road about Cayenne's body stiffness, torque bias and skid-management programming, become part of that smooth, synchronous whole on the open road. On pavement, the Cayenne is smooth, fast, and big. It's not just acceleration or the reported 165-mph top speed that impressed us most, but the high speeds the Cayenne comfortably carries in most circumstances. The steering isn't as quick as that in 911, but its weight and response have a familiar feel. The Cayenne's air suspension keeps it on the stiff side, though it can be manually softened if the driver chooses. New programming introduced on the 2005 models softened the Comfort setting, reducing some of the chop in Cayenne's ride. Either way, this SUV is impressively precise and responsive. Its 2.5-ton mass is masked by impressive stability and agility. The Cayenne drives lighter than other big SUVs, including the X5 or M-Class, and speed creep is a constant issue. Almost without realizing it you can be traveling 120 on roads posted 65. Speeds we'd never even consider in a Chevy Tahoe or some equally hefty truck-based SUV, except in a carefully controlled experiment, feel mundane in the Cayenne. It can be unnerving, almost otherworldly, based on conventional SUV sensibilities. None of the Cayenne's performance comes at any particular cost, except perhaps in the size of the parking space it requires or its thirst for gasoline (14 mpg city, 18 highway for Cayenne S, 13/18 for the Turbo and Turbo S). As an SUV, the Cayenne is not subject to a gas-guzzler tax. Cayenne isn't the least bit finicky, or hard starting or rough. Nothing during our test runs suggested that you couldn't or wouldn't want to drive it every day, even for the most mundane chores. Speaking of chores, this hot-rod SUV is no pretender when it comes to towing capacity. All Cayennes, including the V6, can pull 7700 pounds.
The 2006 Porsche Cayenne model line spans five variants. All models come standard with full-time all-wheel drive with a high and low range. The Cayenne ($42,200) is powered by a V6 producing 250 horsepower and comes standard with a six-speed manual transmission or a six-speed automatic transmission with Tiptronic ($3,000). Leather seating with 12-way power adjustment comes standard, along with titanium interior trim; manually controlled climate control with charcoal and micro-particle cabin filtration; heated retractable exterior mirrors; multi-function trip computer; 12-speaker stereo with CD; air conditioned glove compartment; cruise control; insulated laminated privacy glass; Homelink; immobilizer anti-theft alarm; and an electronically latching tailgate. The Cayenne S ($57,200) comes with Porsche's 4.5-liter dohc V8 engine that delivers 340 horsepower and the Tiptronic automatic. The normally aspirated Cayenne S and adds automatic climate control with dual front-passenger settings and a 350-watt, 14-speaker Bose stereo. The Cayenne Turbo ($90,200) features a twin-turbocharged version of the V8 rated at 450 horsepower. The Turbo also adds adjustable air suspension with Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM), a variable damping system that uses five accelerometers and electronically controlled adjustable shocks to manage body weight transfer both on and off road. The Turbo includes upgrades such as heated front and rear seats, electric steering wheel adjustment and park-assist radar warning front and rear. It's equipped with Porsche Communications Management (PCM), a GPS navigation system with integrated telephone and audio controls. Finally, the Cayenne Turbo has bi-xenon headlights that turn with the steering wheel. The new Cayenne Turbo S ($111,600) pumps up the action with a 520-hp version of the twin-turbo V8 mated to the six-speed Tiptronic gearbox. It's equipped in similar fashion to the Turbo but has larger brakes, recalibrated suspension and engine management electronics and sports 20-inch wheels in place of the Turbo's 19-inchers. Most everything on the Turbo and Turbo S (except the twin turbos) is offered as options on Cayenne and Cayenne S. Among them: the air suspension with PASM ($2,990), wood trim packages of various hues ($1,385), front and rear park assist ($990), a trailer hitch and ball ($630) and 20-inch wheels. Seat upgrades and a full Smooth Leather package that covers everything from grab handles to the center console in hide ($3,040) are available. Porsche Entry and Drive ($995) allows a driver to unlock and start the Cayenne by pulling the door handle and touching the shift lever, while leaving the keys in his pocket or her purse. Cayenne offers factory installed satellite radio, with a choice between XM or Sirius systems, and there are also SportDesign and Black Monochrome Exterior packages. Porsche's factory customization program allows buyers to order a Cayenne however they want it, limited only by imagination. Safety features on all models include electronic stability control, traction control and the latest-generation antilock brakes. Six airbags come standard: dual-stage front (newest generation for 2006) and side-impact airbags for front passengers, and curtain-style head protection airbags on both sides of the cabin. All five seating positions have three-point belts with pretensioners to instantly tighten them and limit stretching on impact. The front belts also have automatic force limiters, reducing potential for belt-related injuries.
Impossible to imagine 10 years ago, but true: The Porsche Cayenne is a 150-mph-plus high-performance machine that will fit a family of five, haul a small washing machine, tow a large boat and get you carefully through the woods when there's no road. It's a 5000-pound speed-sled that can handle rugged trails. Do rapid acceleration, excellent brakes and the right sounds add up to a Porsche? If you can get beyond the idea that the company should build only sports cars, the answer is a resounding yes.