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A Second Look at the 2012 Ford Focus

Staying in focus.

by on Oct.10, 2011

In a break with the past, two-thirds of the Ford Focus models sold in the U.S. are now hatchbacks.

Let’s see if we can get through this review without too many references to Ford focusing on its new 2012 Focus, or how the focus is on compact cars these days, or how the Focus focuses on fuel economy. You get the idea.

What Ford would prefer you to focus on (sorry) is the new Focus’ European pedigree, its on road prowess, and its 40 mpg promise. Let’s not forget the available MyFordTouch infotainment suite.

The last Focus was an unloved compact full of panel gaps, and what it lacked in performance it made up for in lack of styling. All the while, auto journos and compact-car freaks were clamoring for Ford’s European Focus.

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Well, it’s here. Available in either hatchback or sedan configurations, the new Focus is a stylish entry in a class that is suddenly filled with fashionable entrées, such as the Hyundai Elantra, Hyundai Veloster, Subaru Impreza, and even the Chevrolet Cruze, which may not have the haute couture duds, but does have a plenty strong package.

Ford’s Fiesta was the Blue Oval’s first volley in the small-car war, and the Focus follows in its footsteps, albeit wearing bigger shoes. Available in four trims—S, SE, SEL, and Titanium—the Focus has a 2.0-liter gasoline direct-injection four-cylinder that makes 160 horsepower and matches to either a five-speed manual transmission or a six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.


First Drive: 2012 Subaru Impreza

Subaru aims for the mainstream.

by on Oct.03, 2011

Subaru brings an all-new version of the Impreza to market for 2012.

When one thinks of compact cars, the name Impreza probably doesn’t leap to the top of the mental list, unless the one doing the thinking is a Subaru loyalist. The small Japanese maker is looking to change that with the updated 2012 Impreza, which is restyled inside and out and features an all-new powerplant.

First things first: Only the relatively mainstream Impreza is changing—the sportier WRX and STi spin-offs aren’t going under the knife just yet. Nor are they going anywhere, they’ll carry on in current form for a while until replacements are ready. So breathe easy, Subaru/rally fan boys and girls.

Now, to the Impreza itself. The new model is definitely more attractive, both inside and out, with a more refined interior package.  But the biggest news besides the new design is the all-new 2.0-liter horizontally-opposed “boxer” engine that makes 148 horsepower.   Other significant changes include the deletion of the Outback Sport model, and news Subaru will now be able to tout an increase in fuel economy to a maximum of 36 mpg.

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The Impreza is going head-to-head with other compacts like the Ford Focus, Honda Civic, and Volkswagen Golf. So not only does Subaru have to compete with those models, but it will have to live up to its reputation for sporty all-wheel-drive performance if it hopes Impreza can become a better-selling model in the company’s portfolio.


First Look: Ford Evos Concept

Ford puts on a new face.

by on Aug.31, 2011

Ford will introduce the new Evos Concept at the Frankfurt Motor Show.

Automotive journalists may hate the phrase “design language” due to its prevalence in the industry, but there’s a reason so many designers, executives, and PR people use it. Most automakers are looking to create a unified theme throughout their brand, hence the use of “design” as a “language.” Ford is no different – and the new Evos Concept shows that the maker is switching dialects.

Take a peek at Ford’s consumer Web site and look at all the similarities between the company’s vehicles, particularly those introduced or redesigned in the past few years. Or think for a second about the company’s “One Ford” mission, which aims to streamline product variation across global markets, thus reducing costs.

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The Evos Concept will introduce Ford’s newest design language at the upcoming Frankfurt Motor Show. The name, the maker confirms, suggests this is an evolutionary, rather than revolutionary shift.  But the impact, if the show car is any indication, will still be significant.

The Evos concept looks like a two-door sports coupe but offers four gull-wing doors. While those doors and other high-zoot concept features likely won’t see production (more on that in a bit), and it’s unclear if the Evos itself will ever roll down an assembly line, the takeaway here is that the concept reveals the basic design cues that most Ford vehicles across the globe will share in the coming years.


Ford Adds 2.0-liter EcoBoost to Edge, Explorer

Fuel economy jumps as high as 30 mpg.

by on Aug.29, 2011

Ford adds the new 2.0-liter EcoBoost engine to the 2012 Explorer line-up.

Domestic makers often get slammed for the poor fuel economy of their sport-utility vehicles and crossovers, but Ford hopes to win kudos – and new buyers – as it expands the use of its new EcoBoost powertrains, a new 2.0-liter version of its high-mileage engine going under the hood of its most popular SUV and CUV offerings for 2012.

The promise of Ford’s EcoBoost system is that through the use of turbocharging, direct-injection, and other technologies, smaller-displacement engines with reduced cylinder counts can make as much power as their bigger counterparts while improving fuel-economy. Ford has already applied the EcoBoost concept across much of its lineup, and the latest application is in the 2012 Ford Edge and 2012 Ford Explorer.

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Both models are now available with a 2.0-liter EcoBoost turbocharged four-cylinder direct-injection engine that makes 240 horsepower and 270 lb-ft of torque. Available only in front-wheel drive models, the engine promises 28 highway mpg in the seven-seat Explorer and 30 mpg in the Edge – while still delivering 2,000 pounds of towing capability.

Ford says the Edge is 80 pounds lighter and the Explorer 50 pounds lighter with these engines under hood, but neither the Edge nor Explorer is known for being light on its feet. Still, during our brief drive of each vehicle, we could tell the difference from the larger V-6 (V-6s, with the Edge).


Woodward Dream Cruise a Car-Geek Heaven

Our out-of-town reporter experiences his first Dream Cruise.

by on Aug.20, 2011

Is this heaven? Flame on at the Woodward Dream Cruise. Photo: Alice Hudder.

There is such a thing as car-geek heaven, and it’s in southeast Michigan.

One can only imagine the conversation between a ghostly hot-rodder and the poor kid working the counter at the Coney dog stand.

Ghost: “Is this heaven?”

Kid: “No, it’s Oakland County.”

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OK, OK, Woodward Avenue between Pontiac, Mi. and Ferndale, Mi. isn’t crawling with old muscle cars and hopped-up rat rods year-round. But once a year, the Woodward Dream Cruise brings plenty of classic cars—as well as late-model and new cars that have a performance bent—to the Detroit area, where they cruise Woodward while locals camp out and look on as if they were sitting in the prime seats at the Tigers’ Comerica Park.

They start turning out on the balmy Detroit evenings all week, as if getting into some practice before the official Dream Cruise takes place on a Saturday.  Maybe, some tell, you, it’s better to come out early if you actually want to see those muscle cars move because, by Saturday morning, Woodward is nothing but a slow-moving parking lot/car show.


Opinion: How Ford Can Fix Lincoln

Can Ford revive a once-grand brand?

by on Aug.08, 2011

Despite high hopes, recent products like the MKS have done little to revive the ailing Lincoln brand.

Lincoln, Ford’s luxury brand, has been struggling of late, leading more than a few skeptics to wonder whether it’s time to abandon the once-grand marque, much as Ford recently dropped the long-suffering Mercury.  The Dearborn maker insists it remains committed to fixing Lincoln, with plans to introduce several new or redesigned models in the coming years, shuttering dealerships in over-saturated markets while renovating those that remain.

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While executives haven’t exactly been calling us for advice, we’re going to offer it anyway, because that’s what journalists do. If our plans for Lincoln succeed, we’ll expect our payment in a briefcase of $20 bills, thank you very much.

Just kidding—we give our advice for free. It’s up to the executives in Dearborn to take advantage. And Ford is taking the challenge seriously: The company has put together a 92-person task force to address Lincoln’s issues and hired designer Max Wolff away from Cadillac.


First Drive: 2011 Nissan Murano

A comfortable highway cruiser with nimble urban moves.

by on Jul.08, 2011

The Nissan Murano is one of the most distinctive offerings in the midsize CUV segment.

Nissan joined the crossover game with the Murano in 2002, and since then, the Murano has spawned smaller clones such as the Rogue and the Juke urban ute in Nissan’s lineup.

The Murano was last redesigned in 2009, and for 2011 the big news is the addition of the CrossCabriolet convertible and the SV trim level.

The SV essentially slots between the base S and the mid-level SL, providing a touch of luxury without increasing the sticker price too much.

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Just a touch of luxury, though, since our SV all-wheel-drive tester still had cloth seats and did not offer a navigation system, which is only available on SL and LE models.

What the SV offers over the S is a moonroof, roof rails, fog lights, an 8-way power driver’s seat with power lumbar, a wireless cell phone link, an alarm system, a rearview camera, and satellite radio.


First Drive: 2012 VW Passat

Striking a balance between German engineering and American tastes.

by on Jun.14, 2011

The new, 2012 U.S. version of the Volkswagen Passat shown at the maker's new plant in Chattanooga.

Volkswagen is betting big on the United States, as evidenced by the construction of a brand-new plant just outside of Chattanooga, Tennessee.

That plant, which will build the North American version of the new 2012 Passat (Europeans will get a slightly different version), is set up to produce up to 150,000 units annually on two shifts.

That would mark a significant expansion for the German maker, which has long struggled to regain the foothold it had in the U.S. market in the ‘60s and ‘70s.  It would also help move VW ahead as it takes aim at rivals Toyota and General Motors in a big to become the world’s number one automaker by 2018.

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The redesigned Passat, following close upon last year’s updates of the Jetta and Touareg, is the next step in that plan. So is the production shift to the States.

The company is hoping to keep production and distribution costs low, so that the sticker price of the Passat can be brought down to a level that won’t send price-sensitive American motorists screaming in horror and heading to the nearest Hyundai showroom.


First Drive: 2011 Chevrolet Traverse

Competent but uninspiring.

by on Jun.03, 2011

Our reviewer calls the 2011 Chevrolet Traverse competent but uninspiring.

Competence may be a virtue, but not necessarily at the expense of personality.

This is the lesson of the 2011 Chevrolet Traverse, a perfectly capable crossover SUV that inspires nothing of note in those who look at it or drive it.

That’s not necessarily bad, there’s no soccer parent stigma associated with minivans, for example. The Traverse is a fine-looking vehicle, in the way that an Abercrombie & Fitch model looks good and generic.

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The only problem with the Traverse’s inoffensive styling is that the two domestic three-row crossovers sold by Chevy’s Detroit rivals—the redesigned Ford Explorer and the also redesigned Dodge Durango—stand out more in a crowd. Even one of the other GM Lambda-based crossovers that share this platform offers more styling verve—the Buick Enclave (while the similar GMC Acadia is also a bit plain-jane).

Of course, sartorial concerns are but one reason to purchase a vehicle in this class, and only the hippest parents on the block are really worried about what the Joneses will think. The rest are looking for utility, practicality, value, and fuel economy. If the driving dynamics happen to offer some personality, well, that’s a bonus.


First Drive: Infiniti G37xs

Changing perceptions, one car at a time.

by on May.31, 2011

Infiniti's G37xs takes on some tough competition.

When one thinks of sporty premium mid-size sedan, BMW’s 3-Series likely hops immediately to mind. Well, Infiniti has been trying to change that perception for years with the G35–now G37–and after a stint behind the wheel, one could make the case that Infiniti has succeeded.

See, the problem with the 3-Series is that while it offers almost near-perfection, it gets expensive with options. Not so our fairly loaded 2011 Infiniti G37 test car, which checked in at $44,875. Not exactly bargain basement, but a fair value in this class.

Our all-wheel drive G37xs Limited Edition sedan came with the 328-horsepower 3.7-liter V-6 mated to a seven-speed automatic transmission. It also boasted a lengthy list of options that could take up half a review on its own.

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That money buys you a pretty competent commuter that has some serious guts. Step on the gas and the G comes alive, launching forward in a manner that’s all business. The V-6 snarls a sinister tune as the G hunkers down, with the promise of swift returns on the investment made by your right foot. The only thing holding the car back is the weight of the all-wheel drive system. While AWD might be appreciated in the snow belt, the added weight does acceleration no favors, even if the additional traction helps keep the car planted.