Sunday, August 27, 2006

Azera is Hyundai's Best Effort Yet

Speed is a relative term. Indy cars turn laps at an average of just under 230 mph. Funny cars exceed 300 mph in the quarter mile. Fast, yes, but nothing compared to the Mach 2+ capability of the F22 Raptor.

Then there is South Korean automaker Hyundai, which has gone from joke to Azera about as quickly as it is possible to do in the auto industry. Remember those bargain-basement Excels? The only thing the Azera shares with those cars is the Hyundai label.

To put it most succinctly, the Azera is a handsome mid-size near-luxury sedan that combines outstanding performance, a roomy, comfortable interior and an abundance of standard comfort, safety and convenience packages at an extremely affordable price. Hyundai ought to sell every Azera it can build.

Here’s why: First, take the performance produced by the 3.8 liter, 263 horsepower version of Hyundai’s familiar Lambda V-6. This responsive, smooth-revving powerplant is mated with a manumatic five-speed automatic transmission. Punch the go pedal and the Azera will scoot from zero to 60 mph in 6.39 seconds.

More important, the engine eagerly flings the Azera forward in mainly mid-range romps, yet provides quiet and economical power for around-town driving and daily commuting. Assuming it proves to be reliable over the long-term, this V-6 could rival those from Nissan and Honda for top-ranking.

The Azera’s passenger cabin is generous in providing room for five adults. There is perhaps not quite as much headroom as taller occupants would likely seek, but space in other directions is excellent. The instrument panel is simple and straight-forward, with electro-luminescent gauges that could be taken straight out of a Lexus.

The climate and entertainment controls are in the center of the instrument panel and are located high enough to be easily seen and reached. The standard stereo is a 315 watt unit that produces high-quality sound.

Speaking of sound, the Azera sounds and feels extremely tight on the road and suggests the same kind of quiet, confident quality one encounters in much more expensive vehicles. On the intangible “feel” scale, this Hyundai tops the chart.

The standard safety equipment list is lengthy, including eight air bags, traction control, electronic stability control, active head restraints and anti-lock brakes. And there is that 100,000 mile Hyundai powertrain warranty. All for $28,415.Toyota, Honda – you’ve been warned.

Honda Fits the Times With New Sub-Compact

Most of us have known the guy or gal who always seemed to be the lucky one. You know the type - always in the right place at the right time to get the promotion, the best deal on a new car and free tickets on the 50-yard-line for the Skins-Cowboys game.

There are car companies like that, too. If you doubt me, just take a look at the 2007 Honda Fit, which the Japanese automaker introduced just a few months before gas zoomed to its current $3+ price. In the auto business, having the right car at the right time is always a good thing.

And the Honda Fit is a good thing. Other than exterior styling that constantly reminded me of the Suzuki Swift, the Fit is instantly recognizable as a Honda product.

Take the interior, which features a typical Honda instrument panel that looks great and makes ergonomic sense. The materials seem high quality and everything falls readily to hand.

Even better, that Swift-like exterior on the Fit hatchback allows for maximum cargo and lots of room for four or sometimes five passengers, helped along by Honda’s ingenious seating design.

Fold the rear seat cushions up and you get 50 inches of space between the floor and the ceiling. Need a completely flat cargo area behind the front seats? That’s no problem, either, and the Fit provides a space nearly eight feet in length in which to haul stuff.

On the road, the Fit is clearly a Honda product as well. You get the light feel and nimble handling, plus the revvy little motor and a slick-shifting five-speed stick shift. The 1.9 liter SOHC four-cylinder is good for 105 horsepower and flings the Fit from 0-60 mph in 9.25 seconds.

The Fit exacts no fuel economy penalty in return for the driving fun. The EPA says 33 mpg in the city and 38 mpg on the road. My silver tester showed a 35 mpg average for a week of commutes that included lots of stop-and-go misery and a fair share of freeway cruising.

The Fit competes with the Scion and Yaris lines from Toyota, Chevy’s Aveo version of the latter, and the Versa coming from Nissan. High gas prices are here to stay and other automakers are scrambling to get their entries in this new segment.

Only the xC coupe of the Scion line really impressed me and the Yaris sedan is an attractive entry. I haven’t driven the Aveo or Versa as yet. For now, the Fit looks to me like the best fit in the market.

Friday, August 25, 2006

CARNIVAL OF CARS: A Drive Around the Auto Blog Block for Friday, August 25, 2006

Carnival of Cars is back! Repairs have been completed on the old Cyber Buggy and we are ready to roar on down the road, so let's get this show moving, shall we!

By the way, I kept all submissions received after the last Carnival on July 21 and am including here all that still seem sufficiently timely or otherwise of interest.

From the July submissions:

Brian at looks at the Busch Series and sees "Cup Lites." That's not good for either the Busch Series or the Nextel Cup, according to Brian, who explains why in detail.

From across the pond comes new Carnival of Cars entrant David at AutoFuture. David is perplexed at the recent success of the Ford Focus II in displacing the VW Golf as Europe's top-selling compact. David, I am sure there are some folks over here who agree with you on that score. And welcome to the Carnival of Cars!

OK, Porsche gearheads (is there such a thing?), the 911 was introduced in 1964, right? Well didja know there was actually a 1963 model as well? Or that Porsche only made 82 of them and actually registered them as 901s? Want to know more? Check out Garageblog for the full report. It's a nice family deal, too, which makes it even better.

If you are a New York City rapper, you know all about the elaborate paint schemes many of your fellow, uh, artists are applying to their SUVs. Good buddy Shouting Thomas at Harleys, Cars, Guitars and Girls ran into an Expedition the other day that you won't believe. Actually, you probably will but ....

Low interest or rebate? Rebate or low interest? Decisions, decisions, decisions. Chuck at Car Buying Tips has the low-down on making that decision. Looks like you might be doing Chuck a little financial favor by clicking on the Capital One ad, too.

Folks have been predicting the oil would run out literally almost since the day after that Col Drake fellow got a modest little gusher up in Pennsylvania. More recently, the theory takes the form of the Peak Oil concept. Joe Kissel at Interesting Thing of the Day lays out the theory in sufficiently plain english that even a journalist like me can understand it.

Jody DeVere of AskPatty was in San Jose for BlogHer06 and the Champcar weekend. Sounds like she had a rather good time, thanks in great part to GM, which sponsored BlogHer06 and did a solid job of taking advantage of the marketing opportunities created thereby.

August submissions to date:

Is George Soros putting the screws to the UAW by investing $200 million in the Chinese Chery export operation? Here's what they have to say about that at DebtBlog:

"They plan to thank the UAW for all their Democratic votes throughout the years by ensuring the U.S. auto companies have to contend with yet another foreign competitor. To make it just that much more challenging, this time the competition's cars will be built in state-sponsored factories, with infinitesimal labor costs."

That pretty much says it all.

If you are really, REALLY into yard sales, you already know about "The World's Longest Yard Sale." It covers three states and was started 19 years ago. For the rest of us out here in the real world who usually drive to much shorter yard sales, Kay Bell with Don't Mess With Taxes offers lots of useful insight and advice.

Kay, by the way, is an absolute jewel of a woman. I know, without ever having met her in person, because she offered to help with Carnival of Cars during the recent unplanned "vacation." There's just something about Texas folks that make them special, you know!

The Auto Prophet was just driving along minding his own business a few weeks back when he happened upon both a Lincoln Navigator and a Cadillac Escalade. Being a true car guy, he of course had to start comparing them. You might be surprised by his conclusion. Remember, he's an engineer in Detroit.

And no, I don't know which car company he works for! But I like the way he thinks.

9D Blog of Development says the secret of Honda's success is the Japanese firm's superior powerplant engineering. I agree. Hey, that's why James Garner won the F1 championship!

You think John-Pierre Sarti knew he was going to buy it at Monza? For sure, Scott Stoddard bore an uncanny resemblance to Jimmy Clark.

Chuck is pretty impressed with RoadLoans. It's worth a click over to Car Buying Tips. He isn't so enthusiastic about the new Pontiac G5, which is another typical GM knockoff Chevy with the Indian's labels. And if you are thinking about buying a used vehicle, Chuck has 10 tips for you.

I love Lyn St. James. She would have won Indy if she had ever gotten in a Penske car. But that's a debate for another day. For now, The Driving Woman offers a full report from the recent annual banquet of the Lyn St. James Foundation's Women in the Winners' Circle gathering.

And moving right along the women in cars meme, AskPatty is getting a flood of questions from women with problems with their cars. She's high on a women's mechanics seminar being offered once a month by Motor City Sales in Dee-troit.

Another new Carnival of Cars entry from across the pond is that of Sally at Odd Thoughts and Other Matters. Sally is focused on the new shopping trolleys from Vauxhall. There's a photo of such a vehicle on Sally's blog, but even with that shot I am not sure exactly what a shopping trolley is.

Even so, welcome to Carnival of Cars, Sally!

Westpundit's Kevin Connors turned on his boob tube recently, eagerly anticipating a drag racing history lesson from "The Alcohol Years (2000)" on the Sundance Channel. Boy, he wuz wrong!

Kevin (see above) is an road racer, so NASCAR's turn-left-only ovals never did much for him. But he took in the NASCAR event at Watkins Glen and was fairly impressed. Having raced on the Glen's grand prix course, I can attest to the fun the NASCAR guys miss by running that dinky little thing they carve out of the Blue Tube.

That Happy Meal with a Hummer promo a couple weeks back? It was one big, evil part of Corporate Amerika helping out another ailing chunk of the Greed Brigade, at least according to a startling biased piece in The New York Times. Alex Nunez at Auto Blog takes it apart in fine fashion.

And by the way, I'm definitely not a "What's good for GM is good for America" type and I still don't understand why GM bought Hummer in the first place. I just don't care for environmental extremism being dressed up as real journalism. Alex, "agenda-driven killjoys" is exactly right.

Are we there yet? No, and if you ask that one more time, I'm gonna ....

Uh, Mad Kane has a problem with red cars. Really, she does. Come on, go check it out, it'll give you a chuckle.

Occidentality is another new Carnival of Cars entrant and right off the bat offers yet another reason why Detroit needs to get out of the fleet sales business ASAP.

Love that word. Welcome to the Carnival of Cars, anonymous person behind Occidentality!

And finally, Shouting Thomas tells you all about Dottie, who dropped dead a year or so ago, Pete, her software engineer hubby of many years, and the Vixen in the back yard. No, this does not refer to an "ill-tempered or quarrelsome woman," but to a four-wheel vehicle powered by a a Bimmer turbodiesel straight six. I promise, it's a post worth reading.

And now that we are back home, it's great to be back on schedule with the Carnival of Cars.

Don't forget!

Submit your blog article to the next edition of carnival of cars using our carnival submission form.

Past posts and future hosts can be found on our blog carnival index page.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

What's Up With Carnival of Cars?

Some folks have emailed wondering if I fell off the face of the earth, had my probation revoked or just simply decided to skip town. The truth is much more prosaic. A family member needed help last week, so Claudia and I were out of town Thursday through late Monday.

Now I'm trying to dig my way out of 300+ emails and a newspaper editorial section that must be fed, so Carnival of Cars has had to take a temporary back seat. A long-scheduled and much needed motorcycle weekend starts this Friday, so it will be next week before I get the Carnival going again.

In the meantime, keep the submissions coming, your efforts will not be for naught. And thanks for the expressions of concern and promises of prayers. All are most appreciated.

Oh and one more thing - the "probation revoked" remark was a joke. No, really, it was! :-)