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  • Aug 8

    Now that the hybrid vehicle market is maturing, some previously unreadable trends are coming slowly into focus. Barring the Toyota Prius – the vehicle credited with starting the current hybrid fever – no other offering has been a commercial success. The line of hybrids that now litter history’s garage or linger for months on dealer lots – the Saturn Aura/Chevrolet Malibu, Dodge Durango/Chrysler Aspen, Honda Accord, Honda Insight, Chevrolet Tahoe/GMC Yukon, Nissan Altima – gets longer each year. Even Toyota’s other hybrid offerings – like the Camry and Highlander, and Lexus HS, RX, GS and LS – strain to match even one tenth of the sales of the gasoline-powered models.

    FAST FACTS
    1. The S400 Hybrid is the new entry-level S-Class and is priced from $87,950.

    2. Power is rated at 295-hp and 284 ft-lbs of torque, with a 0-60 mph time of 7.3 seconds.

    3. Fuel economy is 19/26 mpg (city/hwy) vs. the S550’s 14/21 mpg rating.

    4. The S400 Hybrid is a mild hybrid so it can’t run on electric power alone, but it is the first production car to use a lithium-ion battery.

    5. In Europe an S350 model makes almost as much power and gets roughly the same fuel economy as the S400 Hybrid.

    Now that the large German manufacturers’ investments in hybrid technology are hitting the market, there’s a real sense of lost opportunities. The ActiveHybrid X6 is simply BMW’s public write-off of that expensive partnership with GM and Chrysler, while Audi, Volkswagen and Porsche all claim to have some sort of battery equipped model arriving in the next year or two. The money spent – and potentially wasted – on the general public’s environmental whims is staggering.

    Mercedes-Benz is not innocent in this trend either – the luxury giant is offering two new-for-2010 models that use some sort of hybrid technology, but it’s the S400 Hybrid that’s the most promising and relevant.

    HIGH-TECH LITHIUM-ION BATERY, LOW TECH SINGLE-MODE HYBRID

    The S400 Hybrid uses a 3.5-liter V6 paired with a small electric motor that combines to deliver 295-hp and 284 ft-lbs of torque, which are relatively small gains over the company’s regular version. Because it’s a ‘mild’ hybrid, the Benz doesn’t drive on the battery power alone – it’s simply there to add some extra grunt, allow for stop-start operation, regenerate power through braking and run the electrically driven accessories.


    However, unlike other hybrids that stash big panels of heavy batteries somewhere in the body, Mercedes-Benz jumped into advanced battery technology headfirst by being the first ‘real’ automaker to adopt lithium-ion batteries. (The electric Tesla roadster uses them, but its total production amounts to less than a day’s worth of S-Class production.)

    The use of a lithium-ion unit allows the company to stash the S400 Hybrid’s battery in the same spot under the hood, which means no wacky packaging restrictions or uncomfortable rear seats.

    Otherwise, the hybrid shares the rest of its mechanicals with the rest of the revised S-Class lineup, which means power goes to the rear wheels through the corporate seven-speed automatic transmission. The company’s 4MATIC all-wheel drive is not an option.

    MUCH IMPROVED FUEL ECONOMY, BUT WHY NOT JUST A V6?

    Mercedes claims that the Hybrid is 26 percent more efficient than the S550 (19/26 mpg vs. 14/21 mpg) but the V8-powered Benz is significantly faster, besting the S400 by nearly two seconds in the 0-60 mph sprint (5.4 sec. vs. 7.2 sec.). Besides, in Europe Mercedes sells an S350 with 268-hp and a 0-60 mph time of 7.3 seconds. Now we don’t have any U.S. mpg numbers, but taking the European test cycle numbers, the S350 gets 22/37 mpg, vs. the S400 Hybrid’s European 24/32 mpg rating. In other words, not much of a difference.

    IT’S GOOD, BECAUSE IT’S AN S-CLASS

    Mercedes-Benz’ dipped toe in the hybrid pool comes enclosed in some impressive packaging, though. The mild updates to every 2010 S-Class also migrate to the Hybrid, which means tweaked front fascia, now with LED driving lights, unique 18-inch wheels, and some minor changes in the cabin. Despite its age, the S-Class is still the go-to luxury sedan for those who want to be seen – and that includes the 400 Hybrid.

    Interior highlights include a new steering wheel, and a whole raft of new entertainment technology. The coolest has to be the SplitView front display screen, which can show two different images to the driver and front passenger, allowing those riding shotgun to watch a movie on the DVD player without distracting anyone behind the wheel. The famous 14-way adjustable air-bladder seats are the best in the business at massaging, heating and cooling butts. Rear-seat space is generous, but don’t expect the same level of adjustability back there than you can get with the Russian-mob favorite S600.

    Dynamically, the S400 Hybrid is a big, cushy couch, which is refreshing given that the new BMW 7-Series tries so hard to be a road rocket. Mercedes-Benz still does the waft thing very well, and this new version doesn’t miss in that regard.

    The S400 Hybrid is the new entry-level model in the United States, and starts at $87,950 vs. $91,600 for the rear-wheel drive V8-powered S550, but it doesn’t skimp on equipment. Most of the standard stuff is similar between the two, and like any Benz, you can easily add tens of thousands of dollars with the options list.

    THE VERDICT

    While we applaud Merc’s efforts to deliver a lower priced and more environmentally friendly S-Class, this hybrid model might have entered the scene prematurely as a V6 model might have worked just as well. After all, BMW just announced a more powerful (although less fuel-efficient) 740i for 2011, priced at over $15,000 less than the Mercedes. Still, it’s expected to get just around 16/24 mpg, compared to the S400’s 19/26 rating.

    Ultimately, the S400 Hybrid works solely because of how good the S-Class is, rather than by how groundbreaking its hybrid technology is or is not. And given Mercedes-Benz’ smart positioning in the lineup, it certainly won’t fail to sell a bundle.

  • Aug 8

    On Wednesday, July 28, Porsche announced that the 918 Spyder plug-in hybrid concept will go to a production model and that a field test program is being developed for three battery-powered versions of the popular Boxster.

    While citing "overwhelming response from the public and customers," a company spokesman, Gary Fong, hastened to clarify that the car may not actually be built, but that a production-intent, in-house program will move forward.

    According to a report by Bloomberg News that cited only "people familiar with the matter," if the 918 Spyder plug-in were to be built, it could well sell for a staggering $640,000. When asked about the projected price, Fong termed it "pure speculation."

    Porsche showed off the 918 Spyder at the 2010 Geneva Auto Show and again at Auto China in Bejing. It has a combined 500-hp V8 and twin electric 160kw electric motors for a total 718 hp. The concept touts a top speed of 198 mph, makes zero to 60 in 3.2 seconds, and gets 78 mpg.

    The three electric Boxsters are test cars only. Porsche president and CEO Michael Macht said of that program, "We will definitely be offering an electric sports car in future. But such a concept only makes sense if it offers product qualities typical of a Porsche." An electric Boxster would be a direct competitor for the Tesla Roadster.

  • Aug 8

    Driving a convertible is one of the greatest pleasures in motoring. To feel the rush of the air and the warm sunshine makes me feel more alive and in touch with my surroundings. In fact the only transportation experience I enjoy more is riding my motorcycle. But there are many times when the fun of two-wheeled locomotion has to give way to practicality. Often times one needs to arrive at one’s destination in clothing that is not conducive to riding a motorcycle, or one needs to carry some luggage or packages that can’t be strapped to the back of a bike. A convertible is much better if you’ll be taking a passenger along with you, and wish to be able to chat comfortably with that person, or if the weather forecast is iffy and the possibility of rain is in the picture.

    FAST FACTS
    1. The Eos is offered exclusively with VW’s excellent 200hp, turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine that is both peppy and good on gas.

    2. Pricing starts at $31,615.

    3. The Eos is a hard-top convertible that also features a built-in moonroof.

    Unfortunately, there are precious few autos being made today that allow for the unique enjoyment of top down driving, and for the most part, you have to be in the position to spend some big bucks for the privilege. Not so for the Volkswagen Eos, which is one of the more affordable convertibles on the market, and is one that offers a nice blend of performance, handling and hard-top weather protection.

    POWER COURTESY VW’S EXCELLENT 2.0 TFSI ENGINE

    The Eos is powered by a 200 horsepower 2-liter turbocharged engine with enough power and torque (207 ft-lbs) to go from 0 to 60 miles per hour in just under 7 seconds. That’s more than enough zip to satisfy most drivers, and more than enough to be able to enjoy attacking you favorite ribbon of twisties. Gone for 2009 is the larger optional V6 motor that had been available, but that V6 offered only marginally more power, and the price difference made it an unpopular option. And the 2.0-liter turbo offers good gas mileage with 22 mpg city, 29 mpg highway, with a combined average of 25 miles per gallon.

    The standard transmission is a 6-speed manual, but my test car had the $1100 optional 6-speed Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG), which I found to shift faster than most other tiptronics I’ve tested.

    SPORTY DRIVE AIDED BY OPTIONAL WHEELS AND TIRES

    The compact dimensions of the Eos, with its 101-inch wheelbase and 173-inch overall length, makes it easy to dart in and out of traffic as needed. The steering is quick and light, the optional 17-inch wheels shod with all-season 235/45 tires provide good grip. The Eos also has standard traction and stability control to keep things safe and secure. There is little body lean, so hard cornering won’t upset the driver, although when pushed to the limit, the front wheel drive car will exhibit some understeer to be reckoned with.

    The ABS brakes are up to the task, and will haul the Eos down from speed safely and securely, although the brake pedal tends to feel a bit spongy in the process.

    HARD-TOP CONVERTIBLE BENEFITS AND DRAWBACKS

    The ride comfort is generally very good, even on broken pavement. The body structure is outstanding, with very little cowl shake when going over rough railroad crossings or sharp bumps or potholes when the top is down, although at times you can hear the top rattling in the trunk.

    When the top is up, the Eos is quiet, and feels as solid as a bank vault. It is far superior to almost any convertible I’ve driven and much better than the soft-top BMW 128i Convertible I recently tested.


    Hard-top convertibles are a good news – bad news affair. The good news is that the solid top is much more weather protective than a rag top, it’s quieter, provides better vision out of the rear window with smaller blind spots, and allows for a stiffer body structure when the top is up. The bad news is that it’s heavy, takes most of the trunk space when the top is down and the mechanism intrudes upon the shoulder room for the back seat passengers. In the case of the Eos, there is enough room in the trunk when the top is up to fit a medium sized golf bag, or enough luggage for two people traveling for a week on the road. With the top down, there is only enough room for two rather flat soft luggage pieces, so you must be prepared to use the back seat for storage if you want to drop the top for that week-long getaway.

    But what tips the scales in favor of the Eos’ hard-top versus all others is the fact that the roof panel is a large, fully retractable glass moonroof. So with the top up, you still have a nice bright airy cabin atmosphere and plenty of ventilation with the roof slid open if you don’t want the full top down experience.

    Putting down the top is fully automatic, including unlatching it from the windshield frame, and it takes only 27 seconds to accomplish that feat. And it still stops onlookers in their tracks watching it go up and down.

    QUALITY, WELL-APPOINTED INTERIOR

    The Eos interior is a model of efficient and tasteful design and the look and feel of quality. The leather seats are comfortable and well bolstered. The driver’s seat is a 12-way electrically adjustable unit that includes an inflatable lumbar support. Unfortunately, you’ll need to step up to the Lux package to get heated seats, which is always a nice feature on chilly days or evenings when you’d still like the open sky above your head.

    At the top of each front seatback, there is an electric push button to move the seat forward and aft for easy ingress and egress for back seat passengers, as well as a convenient latch to tilt just the seatback forward. Rear seat room is tight at the shoulders because of the hard-top’s mechanism as mentioned earlier, and the front seats can’t be pushed all the way back and still leave leg room for adults. But it is no worse than the BMW 1-series, or a Mustang Convertible or Pontiac G6 in that regard.

    The dash, steering wheel and brake handle are covered in leather and the center stack contains the dual zone heat/AC controls, and in-dash 6-CD changer and radio controls (there is a built-in jack for an MP3 player). Both are easy to use and straightforward. Cruise control and redundant stereo control buttons are located on the steering wheel, and the column tilts and telescopes for comfort. The center AC vents are shaped much like the dual front grills of a BMW and ad a little style to the cockpit.

    All the windows and locks are power operated, and other amenities include cruise control, power heated outside mirrors, heated windshield washer nozzles, a tire pressure monitoring system, and a multi-function trip computer with compass. There is a center pass through from the trunk with a lockable storage compartment. The Eos also supplies a windblocker that is designed to keep the cabin quiet and free from backdraft when the top is down. I didn’t find that to be necessary, as the cabin was fairly quiet and relaxed, even at highway speeds, without it. I found it was easy to carry on a conversation without having to shout when driving down the road with a passenger.

    The center console lid adjusts fore and aft and for height, which is a nice feature. Unfortunately there is very little storage space in the console and in the door pockets. The glove box, however, is fairly large.

    STYISH GOOD LOOKS

    Top up or top down the Eos is a stylish looking car. The roofline sweeps nicely onto the rear deck lid for a sleek look. The aerodynamic front fascia, with its horizontal split grills and wrap around headlamps and integrated fog lights is distinctive and aggressive looking. Fit and finish is top drawer.

    THE VERDICT

    The base Eos Komfort starts at $31,615. My test car added a Technology Package for $1,100 which included bi-xenon headlamps and Park Distance Control (back-up sensors that beep when you get close to objects behind you). The 6-Speed automatic transmission cost $1,100, and for $450 you get the upgraded 17” allow wheels, and the iPod adaptor goes for $199. Including the destination charge of $700 brings the sticker price up to $35,164, which is still thousand less than a 1-Series BMW, which offers a rag top only, instead of the hard-top. The Volkswagen Eos is an excellent choice for fun open air driving.

  • Aug 8

    Over the past few years Mitsubishi’s presence in the North American marketplace has been shrinking, due mostly to outdated models that no longer appeal to consumers in a rapidly changing marketplace. That being said, we feel the need to introduce this latest model from the Japanese automaker. In case you’re not familiar with it, it’s the 2011 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport, a vehicle that’s designed to help the company regain marketshare by launching into the hot compact crossover segment dominated by vehicles like the RAV4, CR-V, Escape and Equinox.

    FAST FACTS
    1. The Outlander Sport comes exclusively with a 2.4L 4-cyl with 148-hp and 145 ft-lbs of torque and either a 5-speed manual or CVT automatic.

    2. Fuel economy is rated at 25/31-mpg for 2WD models and 24/29-mpg for 4WD models.

    3. Cargo room is 21.7 cu.-ft. (without the subwoofer) and a total of 49.5 cu.-ft. with the rear seats folded flat.

    4. Models start at $18,495 with 4WD versions priced from $22,995.

    5. Mitsubishi continues to offer the Outlander, which is larger, offers 3 rows of seating, a V6 engine option and starts at $22,775.

    Maybe you’ve heard of the Outlander Sport before? North of the border it’s called the RVR, while down under (Australia) it’s called the ASX. Why so many different names for the same vehicle, making for some difficult branding, not to mention product confusion among consumers with Mitsubishi already selling a model called the Outlander? We haven’t got a clue. But after spending a week with one, we can tell you what it's like to live with and if it’s any good to drive.

    EVO-STYLED SPORT-CROSS OFFERS COMPELLING GOOD LOOKS

    One thing becomes clear as soon as you approach this vehicle; this new Outlander Sport is a good looking little utility vehicle. It has the familiar Mitsubishi face combined with some unique styling features of its own, and the end result is attractive. We were surprised how many people gave us compliments about this vehicle. It is nice to be admired.

    If you like the exterior, chances are you’ll like its interior also. The cockpit is nicely styled while not being over dramatic and you get plenty of features too, including a panoramic roof. It’s not a sunroof, since it doesn’t open, but it is a giant window (4-feet in length, 3.2-feet across) for star gazing. If it’s a rather dull night with not many stars in the sky, fret not because the Outlander Sport can bring its own along. For what must be an industry first, it has LED accent lighting that runs the length of the roof. It is quite a sight to see at nighttime and will certainly wow your passengers.

    The roof has another plus point as well. While many vehicles nowadays are offering some sort of panoramic roof, most have manual covers to block the sunlight or they have flimsy, fabric curtains that don’t cover you against a blazing sun very effectively. The Outlander Sport, however, has a power, hard cover, which neatly gets tucked away in the rear roof section of the vehicle at the touch of a button. So you can go from having a proper hard roof to a sun lounge in a matter of seconds. We’re glad Mitsubishi had their thinking cap on when they designed this feature, because most companies don’t.

    Mitsubishi also got the equipment list right. So if you want, you can get a built-in navigation system, a reversing camera, a 710-watt Rockford Fosgate sound system featuring nine speakers, hands-free phone, a Fast Key system (which means the key can stay in your pocket and you can not only enter the vehicle, but start and stop it without fiddling with keys), and heated seats that can really toast your backside.

    But enough about backsides, how about the back seat? There you will find decent room for three passengers, and while shoulder room is not the greatest, there is more legroom than you might expect. Trunk space is adequate if not very generous (fold down its rear seats for extra space if needed) and you do have to lift items quite high to get them in there, so those of shorter stature will complain. Regardless of ones size, we’re sure everyone will appreciate safety features like seven standard airbags.

    SPORTY HANDLING WITHOUT THE STIFF RIDE

    The Outlander Sport’s ride quality is also to be appreciated. Most small crossover feel over-damped, which gives them a poor, bouncy ride quality, in an effort to deliver a car-like drive with minimal body roll. The Outlander Sport, however, manages to do just that while retaining a smoothness to it. It handles like a car too, thanks in some part to its 18-inch alloy wheels wearing 225/55 tires, a communicative electric power steering system and a chassis taken from its Lancer sibling, which as you may know is also the basis for the wonderful EVO X sports sedan.

    4-CYLINDER THE ONLY ENGINE OPTION

    Its mechanical bits are fine, but could have been better. The only engine on offer at the moment is a 2.0-liter, inline-four cylinder, which features variable-valve timing that the automaker refers to as MIVEC. It produces 148-hp and a 145 ft-lbs of torque, which is a little on the weak side when compared to its competition.

    When pared with the CVT automatic transmission, it sounds quite noisy under acceleration, but does smooth things out when cruising. If you want to have a bit of fun on a twisty road, you can slot the gear lever into manual mode and can then play with its steering wheel mounted pedal shifters. Being a CVT gearbox, those ‘gear’ changes are quick and smooth. Keener drivers can even choose to have a five-speed manual gearbox, which comes as standard equipment on the base model.

    Like its competitors you get to choose between front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive models. Our tester came with all-wheel drive, and we quite liked the fact you can switch between two-wheel drive and all-wheel drive on the fly by just twisting a knob on the center console. It even comes with a differential lock, so this little sport-cross can actually do some off-roading.

    So it seems that this new Outlander Sport is a pretty nice little SUV. With prices starting at $18,495 it’s quite affordable too. It’s also inexpensive to run – the up-side to lower-than-average performance figures. How those numbers work out depends on if it’s a 2WD or 4WD model with front-driver’s rated at 25/31-mpg (city/highway), while 4WD models come in at 24/29-mpg.

    THE VERDICT

    Over the years, Mitsubishi has had some less than impressive vehicles in their line-up – particularly as of late. Looking to compete in the North American marketplace and grow into a more prominent and mainstream automaker, the company is in need of competitive, mainstream products that offer a compelling alternative to traditional offerings. The Outlander Sport is just such vehicle.

  • Aug 7

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  • a front view of the Cadillac XTS concept.

    Cadillac will put the XTS sedan into production for the 2012 model year but is also working on a larger, rear-drive car to be its flagship.

    By: Chrissie Thompson, Automotive News on 8/10/2010

    Related Articles

  • Future products: Buick sees 6 to 7 models in its lineup for 2011-13
  • Future products: Styling, fuel economy top the agenda at Chevrolet
  • The Cadillac XTS Platinum concept may have screamed "flagship" at this year's Detroit auto show. But Cadillac already is looking at a more luxurious car--authorized by the boss himself.

    This year General Motors Co. CEO Ed Whitacre authorized the brand to create a big, rear-wheel-drive flagship. The project still lacks a firm target date, sources say.

    Here's what to expect in Cadillac's 2011-13 model years.

    ATS: Cadillac probably will launch its compact car in the 2013 or 2014 model year. The line, based on the new rwd Alpha platform, will have a two-door coupe and four-door sedan at launch

  • Future products: Buick sees 6 to 7 models in its lineup for 2011-13
  • Future products: Styling, fuel economy top the agenda at Chevrolet
  • The Cadillac XTS Platinum concept may have screamed "flagship" at this year's Detroit auto show. But Cadillac already is looking at a more luxurious car--authorized by the boss himself.

    This year General Motors Co. CEO Ed Whitacre authorized the brand to create a big, rear-wheel-drive flagship. The project still lacks a firm target date, sources say.

    Here's what to expect in Cadillac's 2011-13 model years.

    ATS: Cadillac probably will launch its compact car in the 2013 or 2014 model year. The line, based on the new rwd Alpha platform, will have a two-door coupe and four-door sedan at launch, and a convertible is possible nine months later.

    The ATS will launch with a 3.0-liter V6 and will have an available 3.6-liter V6. All-wheel drive will be an option. A four-cylinder is probable.

    CTS: Dealers got the coupe in July. A redesign will be for the 2014 model year at the earliest, when the CTS will move to the rwd Alpha platform from the current Sigma. The next-generation CTS will be shorter.

    DTS: This sedan dies after the 2011 model year.

    STS: Production ends next year.

    XTS: The sedan, larger and more luxurious than the CTS, will debut in the 2012 model year on the front-wheel-drive platform shared with the Buick LaCrosse.

    The XTS will launch with a 3.0-liter V6, but GM may choose to debut its twin-turbocharged V6 as an option.

    Rear-drive flagship: This sedan, aimed at the Mercedes-Benz S class, Audi A8 and BMW 7 series, probably would have available awd. If built, the car could use some parts from the Sigma platform. The earliest the new flagship would debut would be the 2014 model year, one source says.

    SRX: The crossover gets freshened for the 2013 model year, with an updated grille and the 3.6-liter, direct-injection V6 engine currently used by the Chevrolet Camaro.

    Large crossover: Cadillac may get a Lambda-based crossover the size of the Chevrolet Traverse or GMC Acadia for the 2013 model year.

    Escalade: Cadillac's SUV is due for a redesign in 2013. The next generation will be a 2014 model.

    Rick Kranz contributed to this report