Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Demise of the Ford Taurus and the Maryland Attorney General Race



Bet you didn't know - n0, wait, I am absolutely certain you had no freakin' idea - that the there is any link whatsoever between the official end of production for the Ford Taurus and the campaign to be the next Maryland Attorney General.

But there is and Tapscotts Behind the Wheel is glad to link its faithful readers to this post by Pillage Idiot, which explains everything. You simply must read this.

Monday, October 30, 2006

An Excellent Question and a Modest Proposal ...

...from Just-Auto.com's Dave Leggett, who wonders who ought to get more attention from policy-makers, the guy who only occasionally drives his big gas hog SUV or the fella in the little import who commutes daily and never takes public transportation.

As for the modest proposal part of the headline, Leggett wants somebody to convene a panel of genuine experts to look at the options - a five-percent E85 mix, more diesels, etc. - figure out the most reasonable and then let the rest of us know the results. No politicians allowed on the panel, either.

I say here-here to that!

Friday, October 27, 2006

FAST FORWARD: Luvin' the RX-8 Despite Trying Not To

OVERVIEW:

Have you ever found yourself liking a car despite your best intentions to hate it? Perhaps hate it too strong a word. The poor RX-8 has a number of major strikes against it. First, I’ve never been a big fan of its body styling.

Second, I don’t like the way a rotary motor sounds. Finally, my wife and every other woman I’ve talked to described it as “cute”. Cute? As a man’s man, I cannot enjoy something described as cute. Still, the more time I spent behind the wheel of the Mazda, the more impressed with it I became.

PERFORMANCE:

As I said before, I’ve never been a fan of the rotary motor. It sounds like a blender on wheels. Compared with a small block V-8 screaming at wide-open throttle, the rotary motor just doesn’t compare.

That being said, the little rotary makes an impressive amount of power above 6,000 rpm. It redlines at 9000 rpm. Making 232 horsepower, the little 1.3-liter is remarkably efficient. While there is quite a bit of powerband to cover before the oomph really kicks in, the six-speed manual transmission makes it relatively easy to keep the car in its wheelhouse.

HANDLING:

This is undoubtedly the area where I was most impressed. The RX-8 is a superbly handling car. It is so neutral and manageable under heavy cornering, it really inspires confidence. Further, I had the opportunity to drive in the rain. One has to have a terminal case of “the stupids” to get this car out of control. I will go as far as to say this is one of the best handling rear-wheel-drive cars I’ve ever driven in the rain.

STYLING:

Love it or hate it. That is the most apt description of the RX-8’s styling inside and out. To be fair, my tester had the optional two-tone red and black leather interior. So, that is largely responsible for the interior getting this description. Like so much of the styling on this car, I began to like it the more time I spent behind the wheel. Further, it had surprising appeal with friends and family at a wedding I attended during my week with the RX-8.

JUDGEMENT:

This is an affordable and enjoyable sports car. It would be great if it had more low-end grunt. Perhaps something in the way of turbos like those of the now-extinct RX-7, would be nice. -- Marcus MacFarland

Awesome is the Right Word for the Muscled-Up Mercedes Benz E550

Take Mercedes Benz’ sterling E-class lineup of luxury sedans, drop the 5.5 liter DOHC 382 horsepower V-8 from the S-class under the E’s hood and the result is quite simply an awesome automobile.

All of the E-class models get a thorough revision for 2007 with new front and rear end looks, lots of safety, performance and engineering improvements under the skin and the upgraded engine that bumps last year’s E500 to the E550 designation.

But way more than mere designations get bumped up in the process. The E-550 weighs two tons and is thus no lightweight, but with all those ponies, plus the 391 pound-feet of torque that accompany them, you get the kind of acceleration that is normally associated only with explicitly high performance models.

Think of 0-60 mph in 5.37 seconds and you’re into Corvette/Pontiac GTO/Mustang Cobra territory, right? That’s the time my silver E-550 Sport turned in over and over again. And with a seven-speed automatic transmission to boot! I kept looking in the trunk, behind the rear seats and under the floor mats for the AMG signs that some Benz flak obviously removed just before delivering my tester!

Tragically, I didn’t get to spend any time in the E-550 at the race track to sample its triple-digit velocity capabilities but the neck-stiffening surge from 55 mph to 100+ was more than sufficient to convince me this Benz would have no trouble pacing all but the swiftest of the Autobahn’s swift.

What can you do with such a vehicle if you have to drive it every day? Well, you could be delighted beyond any sane serious driver’s most exotic automotive dreams for one thing because the E-550 is extraordinarily fast and comfortable at the same time. Ride quality in around-town driving is never bothersome and the passenger cabin combines an unexpectedly plush atmosphere with the usual Teutonic emphasis on efficiency and complexity.

Five full-size adults can be transported in bountiful accommodations by the E-550 and they will all be cosseted by such niceties as heated and cooled seats. The four-spoke steering wheel and chromed shift knob may look familiar to some because they are borrowed from the SL550 (which curiously didn’t seem as stupendously fast as the sedan).

Being a Benz, the E-550 doesn’t come cheap. Expect to go well beyond the $59,000 base price.

CARNIVAL OF CARS: A Drive Around The Auto Blog Block for Friday, October 27, 2006

Geez, can things get any worse for Detroit? GM lost $115 million for the third quarter, but would have made a profit if you subtract costs associated with downsizing. Chrysler's losses hit the $1.5 billion mark for the third quarter, down 37 percent. And Ford slumped to a $5.8 billion quarterly loss.

Maybe the market is trying to tell Detroit something?

While they try to figure it out, let's hit the road for this week's Carnival of Cars drive around the auto blogs block where there isn't a loser to be found, right?

WELCOME INSTAPUNDIT VISITORS! We also do car reviews. Like this. And this. And we do car news and analysis, too. Like this. And this. Hope you make Tapscotts Behind the Wheel a regular stop.

Remember the way it was with Route 66? If not, Shouting Thomas at Harleys, Cars, Girls and Guitars is in the Wayback Machine to a trip he and his wife took years ago in their little red Mustang from Illinois to Sunny Caleeforneeyah. He's even singing about with his trio. How can you resist?

Four Wheeler has news of the next must-have tool for off-roaders, Warn's Powerplant. Amazing how they pulled that one off.

Could Toyota's Prius be the "secretaries car" of the early 21st century? That's not how AskPatty's Jody DeVere describes the greenest Toyota, but she does note a bunch of ways in which women exhibit a distinct preference for the Prius.

James Raia at Car Buying Tips thinks Mitsubishi's Eclipse rag top has a lot going for it. And Chuck at the same site can tell you all about a Certified Unit used car program.

You think America's expanding waistline is only reflected in people? Wrong! Edward Sanchez at The Car Blog makes the point that American cars are also getting fat. Bet you hadn't seen the connection there before, right?

Wouldn't you love to have your very own seat belt? One that you could take with anywhere, including on to the bus or subway? Automotive.com says it's a cinch to appear on the market soon from Charles and Anne Schewe, with much assistance from a bunch of University of Massachusetts students.

Thinking about going road racing? You can make a small fortune in racing .... if you start out with a big one. Preston Lerner at Automobile mag's blog knows all about it, including the unfortunate fact that every hour of seat time requires maybe a dozen in prep time. Lots of wisdom here.

Lynn St. James and Janet Guthrie will be among the special guests Nov. 2-5 at the Hilton Head Concours D'Elegance and Motoring Festival, according to the Motor Trend online folks. One of my favorite memories is of St. James showing me the very fast way around Road Atlanta. She was absolutely phenomenal down the hill heading to turn five. With the right equipment, she would have been Indy's first female drinking the milk.

Could the silly season be any sillier already? A.J. is headed to NASCAR and Buddy is going to Champ Car? Brian at Racedriven.com wasn't expecting that turn of events, but you know he's got something to say about it.

Are there better days ahead for Petty Racing? That's Racin' links to a Mike Harris/AP piece that makes the case and the blog also offers a gallery of recent images of the Cheerios car in action.

The Garage Blog is really pleased with a new video on the Canadian Rally and not just because it includes significant screen time for a certain favorite Suzuki.

And moving right along ...

Isn't torque wonderful! Rene Noel at Top Speed is simply enthralled with the Jaguar S-Type R and the abundance of twisting power is among the main reasons why.

Speaking of the S-Type, The Car Connection has spy photos of the 08 model. Haven't we seen that front end somewhere before? Like on an Aston Martin?

Joe Sherlock at The View Through the Windshield leaves legions of fans waiting as he takes a Halloween sojourn away from the blogging business. Say it ain't so, Joe!

The polls are open at The Truth About Cars as readers from around the world and right in your very neighborhood choose The 10 Worst Cars Ever. Where else do you get to vote for the "Creme de la Crap" of the automotive universe?

Over at The Driving Woman, Joanne is rather impressed with the thoroughness and usefulness of Carnival of Cars regular contributor Kay Bell's recent contribution to BankRate.com - an explanation of the complexities of federal tax credits for recognized hybrids.

Kay blogs at Don't Mess With Taxes and if you click on over, you'll get the scoop on a telephone that has a huge bill before you make your first call.

Which reminds me! Those Longhorns did indeed pound on the Oklahoma "Best Team of Texans Money Can Buy" Sooners, 28-10. Sorry, Kay, when the 'Horns play my OSU Pokes, it'll be the only game of the year that you won't hear me yellin' "Hook'em Horns!"

Hey, folks gotta drive to those football games, right? So it does have something, vaguely, to do with the topic of this blog. Besides, it's my blog and I can write about what I want, OK?

Back to business.

Ed Welburn at GM's Fastlane Blog says the General is listening. And hearing. And changing.

And finally, it's MT Car of the Year award time and you know what that means! Peter DeLorenzo at Auto Extremist is all over it and the new Chevy Silverado spots. Just keep scrolling, as Glenn Reynolds would say.

And on that happy note, we seem to have reached the end of this week's spin around the auto blog block. Back next week. And remember, slow in/fast out is always faster.

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.







Saturday, October 21, 2006

CARNIVAL OF CARS: A Drive Around the Auto Blog Block for Friday, October 20, 2006


You know it's a strange week in the auto world when the Pope takes delivery of a brand new special-built VW Phaeton, the Ford Taurus bites the dust forever and Kia announces it will be exporting vehicles from the U.S.

But lots of interesting stuff for the Carnival of Cars came in over the transom this week, too, so let's hit the road, shall we?

And then there was part three. Part Three of Carsopia's five-parter on how to buy a used car, that is. This week's installment covers the all-important telephone interview with the seller.

Got a teen daughter? Listen up cauz AskPatty interviewed Stephanie Esterline. And she is, you ask? She's one sharp 17-year-old who has written a book for other teen females on taking care of a vehicle.

AskPatty's contributors drive a diverse bunch of vehicles, ranging from an 88 Toyota pickup with more than two trips around the odometer, a couple of Acuras, some Audis, a Hummer and a 98 Benz SUV. Oh yes, Jody DeVere, the energizer bunny behind AskPatty, rides a Harley. Shouting Thomas, are you listening?

You can listen to Shouting Thomas and see him, too, as he's done his first videolog post at Harleys, Cars, Girls and Guitars.

Me? Claudia has a VW Cabriolet with a lot of miles on it, I have a 96 Dakota that serves as the family's backup vehicle and we have an 01 Dodge Grand Caravan. Also an 06 Kawasaki Concours that Claudia and I use for weekend rides.

And you?

Schumacher is running his last F1 race this weekend, so Preston Lerner at the Automobile Magazine blog decided it's time he started rooting for the retiring multi-time World Champion. I still think Jimmy Clark was better. Foyt in his prime, too.

Speaking of parts, Automotive.com has more on the Orange County Auto Show. And here.

Down Under they call it the Holden Thunder Ute. Bring it here, says Sport Truck's Ed Sanchez, it would make a fine retro El Camino SS. check it out below.

Truckin's Auto-Mo says don't get too bent out of shape if the police stop you when your custom truck's mods appear to be gang-related, or exudes some other potentially unsavory characteristics.

Brian at Racedriven.com has thoughts at the half-way point of the Nextel Cup Chase and more thoughts on the approaching debut of NASCAR's COT. That's "Car of Tomorrow," as in the ultimate silhouette racer, not a crude sleeping device.

Tell me this isn't true, Mr. Duntov! Gary at The Garage Blog is hearing persistent rumors that a V-6 Corvette coupe is in the offing at GM. If true, the operative term is "offing," cauz such a Vette makes no more sense than did a Probe-based Mustang.

Gas prices are plummeting and Edmunds' Karl Brauer wonders what that might mean for all those Prius waiting lists. Lots of common sense in this observation from Karl, too:

"Bottom line: we've once again confirmed the obvious - the price of gasoline is quite volatile. While extremely 'low' and extremely 'high' prices can and will occur, it's unlikely either end of the price spectrum will sustain itself for more than a year."

Smart guy, that Brauer!

This is a big problem for the corn lobby. The Auto Prophet explains why.

Unexpected things can happen on the way to Halloween parties. Just ask AskPatty's Breanne Boyle.

And moving right along ....

Say a prayer for Peter DeLorenzo and his family. They lost Jo, his mother, last week. Then go to Auto Extremist and read Peter's recollection of growing up with Tony and Jo DeLorenzo. It was indeed a different time, a different era. It's not merely the passage of time that makes that era look better and better, Peter.

Have you checked out BlogNetBiz.com/Autos yet? Better get clickin'!

What's a Lambo doing at a police chiefs convention? Car Pundit explains. Speaking of police chiefs, what are they doing in Beantown? Car Pundit explains that, too.

Got an extra $20K just lying around? VW will swap that for a V-10 diesel Toureg. Cars! Cars! Cars! wonders why anybody would do that.

Those who haven't yet seen the Casino Royale promo that includes a bunch of shots of the 07 Ford Mondeo need only click here to be taken to CARSCOOP.

Who said this:

"These new propulsion technologies, in turn, are driving the need for new and better electrical and electronic systems, controls, and connected vehicle technologies, which together will revolutionize how our vehicles operate, how we interact with them, and how they communicate with each other and the outside world."

It's GM's Larry Burns. Read the rest at FastLane Blog.

They've made movies about talking cars, but a HumanCar? Jalopnik has a video clip and more.

Joanne at The Driving Woman says some more doors are being opened to women in Detroit and elsewhere in the auto industry. This is good news.

And finally Frank Williams at The Truth About Cars offers a lengthy post concerning The Ten Worst Automobiles Today award nominees, including these observations:

"TTAC's list of 10 most nominated TWATs seems to have reached an equilibrium point. Keeping up with the number of nominations and the vehicles nominated has been a challenge and privilege (in a perverse sort of way). However, it'll soon be time to put those numbers away and begin the second round of the process. "

Next week we should know more about the outcome. See ya then.

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.







Friday, October 13, 2006

CARNIVAL OF CARS: A Drive Around The Auto Blog Block for Friday, October 13, 2006

It's Friday the 13th! But we aren't driving a Yugo for this week's cruise around the autoblog block, so expect no nightmares on this ride. In fact, since we're starting with a blonde babe, it looks like this could one of the best drives ever, so let's hit the road.

The blonde babe is Barbie and Ask Patty has a neat mediation on all things Barbie this week. Did you know, for example, that Barbie has at various times owned an RV, a VW van and a limo? There was even a Formula Vee racer adorned in Barbie-esque livery a couple of years back.

And if you want to find out for real how good a parallel parker you are, check out the link AskPatty found to a Peugot game that will test even the best parkers among us. It's a blast just seeing how many fenders you can crumple in 60 seconds!

Juan Montoya finished third in his first roundy-round fender banger race last week. How'd I miss that interesting piece of news? Brian at Racedriven.com didn't miss it and he's got a comprehensive roundup of the status of who and what for the silly season, including RCR's new sponsorship deal (see the shot below of Kevin Harvick et. al.) and the inside dope on Mark Martin's departure from Roush Racing.

All the silliness makes me wonder if maybe Mark Martin knows something about Ford's future that the rest of us don't?

New Carnival of Cars entrant Marc at Full Throttle found a disturbing observation in Awesome Bill's new book. It's not likely to win Beeall any fans in NASCAR's corporate headquarters. Welcome to the carnival, Marc. That's a great looking blog you've got there!

If anybody in Detroit has any doubt that fleet sales should be banished from the joint, Karl Brauer at Edmonds' Inside Line makes the case about as precisely as it can be made. Just think about the economic incentive fleet sales injects into the design process. Amen, Karl!

Normally, culinary topics would have no place on this blog - it being about wheels and all - but I have this thing about great tamales, you see, and AskPatty went looking for tips on tailgating and found this incredible tamale pie recipe.

I can't believe I just included that item in the Carnival of Cars but then I'd drive a thousand miles for a great tamale ...

Southern California is where car culture was born, right? So the doings at the recent Orange County Auto Show should be of interest and Automotive.com's Joel Arellano has lots of shots and some thoughts, too. Welcome to the Carnival of Cars, Joel!

The American Inventor folks had some eyes at the OC show, too, and spotted the Suzuki Hip Hop Grand Vitara.

Welcome to the auto blogs, Brandy! Motor Trend's Brandy Schaffels took the plunge recently and is editing MT's blog. Says she got the journalism bug with her high school newspaper. Me, too, Brandy. And welcome to the Carnival of Cars as well.

Automobile Magazine has a blog, too, and Jason Cammisa takes a look at the long-running VW vs Honda rivalry. Frankly, I am impressed by any two-liter four cylinder that gets you 200+ horses, but VW and Honda are always schweeeet.

Then there's Street Rodders Blog. How'd I miss that one, Joel? But thanks for pointing it out, man! Joel Arellano is one helpful dude.

And the Sport Truck blog. And the Truckin' blog, which asks the all-important question of how big is too big.

Amazing, there's Four-Wheeler blog and it tells me the transfer case is a dying breed.

I don't believe it, there's even a Diesel Power blog. Unbelievable. It's like I've discovered a whole new corner of the galaxy!

Tapscott, get a grip ... OK, I feel better now.

Well, this post from Joe Kissel Interesting Thing of the Day just blows me away, so to speak.

Who said this? "Hype and BS cannot compete with competence, product quality, manufacturing flexibility and the forward march of technology."

Joe Sherlock at The View Through the Windshield and you should definitely read the rest of a seriously perceptive post.

As promised some years ago, Mazda has now delivered a hydrogen powered car, an RX-8, and The Garage Blog is on top of it.

And on that high note, we've reached the end of this week's 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.









Tuesday, October 10, 2006

FOR SALE: Brand New 1957 Plymouth Belvedere Sport Coupe

Such a classified may well appear sometime next year after officials in Tulsa, Oklahoma, unnearth the Plymouth their predecessors buried on the city courthouse lawn June 15, 1957. My Buddy Dale Baker at Okie on the Lam has the details and a link to the Tulsarama video of the original event.

Check out the Tulsarama web site, too, because it has lots of shots like the one at left of 57 Plymouths, as well as a list of the items that were buried with the Belvedere. I was only seven years old in 1957 but even then the car bug had bitten real hard and I was very much aware of the high-finned Belvedere.

Since we were a Chevy family, however, I didn't like the Plymouth, even though in retrospect, I have to say it epitomized in some respects the 50s' obsession with fins and rocketry in styling at least as much as the 59 Caddy that is more frequently cited. Chrysler's chief stylist Virgil Exner must have thoroughly enjoyed himself doing the 57 Plymouth.

Thanks to Dale for the tip on this.

Friday, October 06, 2006

CARNIVAL OF CARS: A Drive Around The Auto Blog Block for Friday, October 6, 2006


Did this week see another sign of approaching Armagaddeon in that the venerable London Taxi may soon be built in China or is that wholly unexpected announcement merely another indication of the emergence of a more rational world economy? Take your pick on that question, but in the meantime we've got a bunch of sights to see on this week's drive around the auto blog block. Let's hit the road!

Joe Sherlock at The View Through the Windshield is a man of his own mind. Here's what he says about buying a car based entirely on advertising: "I don't care how good the ad or television commercial is, if the car is a piece of dreck, I won't be motivated in the least to add
it to my shopping list."

And there are those car ads are so cheesy or stupid they make you want to ... VW, are you listening?

They must have some great marketing classes at the University of Maine. Or maybe Heather Conary's superb post at AskPatty on car-buying tips for women is just proof that she is one smart lass. Check it out, regardless of which side of the gender universe you occupy.

And in the same vein, Carsopia has posted part two of its five-parter on buying used, er, previously owned vehicles.

More on the Piaggi MP3 at the American Inventor Spot. Don't know what the MP3 is? Well, here's a couple of the three-wheelers in action:

Chuck at CarBuyingTips says now is the time to refinance your car and save some money. I don't know about this, but he invites people who try it to come back and post comments on their experience. Will be interesting to see if anybody does so.

Chuck is also pushing a product that claims to make your vehicle's license plate invisible to traffic cameras. I am skeptical of such claims. Anybody out there know the full skinny on these claims?

Chuck isn't just peddling stuff this week, though. He's also got some interesting info on how much car sales folks make in commissions.

Also at CarBuyingTips, Matt Keegan really likes the Nissan Maxima. Matt also opines at his own blog, The Auto Writer. He's not surprised that Rick and Carlos aren't sharing a ride to automotive glory.

This seems like an open-and-shut case - Garage Doors is a new Carnival of Cars contributor and thinks you ought to take a serious look at Classica 3000 garage doors because, among other things, they provide superb energy efficiency. Anybody have any experience with Classica, good or bad?

Dorrington Williams of If It's Got An Engine ... was at Road Atlanta for last weekend's season-ending Petit LeMans and was struck by the unexpected quiet of the Audi diesels. The R10 TDI won the Petit LeMans, as well as the 24 Hour in France.

Ever heard of the "Standard Presumptive Value" of a used car? Neither had anybody else until the Texas state legislature decided the Lone Star State's tax collectors were being cheated by private party used car sales that undervalue the transaction. Kay Bell at Don't Mess With Taxes has the details. Let's hope this doesn't spread to other states.

There they were luxuriating in the silence of the forest when Mad Kane and her husband Mark were suddenly assaulted by the shrill shreik of a car alarm. Go here to read the rest.

Brian at Racedriven.com is meditating on the question of which championship race is more exciting, Nextel Cup's The Chase, the Michael and Fernando show in F1 or the NHRA Funny Car contest. Seems to me NASCAR isn't getting the play out of The Chase this year that it received last time around.

The Garage Blog has posted the third installment in its five-part series on buying used.

So, moving right along ...

Eric Peters of CarConnection.com says the four-door sportscar is out, luxury is in with the 07 Maxima.


If you doubt Peters, check out the photo above of the center console of the new Maxima.

Frank Williams spent some time recently in a vehicle some consider the automotive penalty box - the Kia Rio - and offered this observation among many in a review at The Truth About Cars:

"The zero to sixty amble takes forever. The handling is… what are you nuts? It doesn’t fall over, and anyone who manages to generate enough speed to make the Rio’s tires squeal gets what they deserve. OK? Let’s stay focused here."

Yes, let's.

Paris always a good idea, they say, and Eric Riches of The Driving Woman was there last week for the Paris Auto Show. Among other things, she noted the Europeans approach seating in a minivan differently than we do here in the The Land of the Free.

Over at The Auto Prophet, folks are reading license tags. Must be slow these days.

The Pentagon wants a better Humvee and Bob at Straightline has the specs. You think GM will bid on this one? Wagoner certainly knows something about combat now. Maybe jut not the right kind.

If you follow the Beeb's Top Gear, you know Richard Hammond nearly died in a recent crash. Now Left Lane News says the Beeb is thinking of doing a documentary in which Hammond provides commentary. Strange.

Bob Lutz found things a little less than exciting in Paris last week. His thoughts are on Fastlane Blog, as always.

There may yet be life stirring at TVR, according to Autoblog.com.


That's the TVR at left. What is about the Brits that they somehow nurture these eccentric marques? I just wish the Jensen-Healey had somehow managed to survive.

The BS Detectors are on Full Strength at the Auto Extremist because Peter DeLorenzo is translating auto industryese - you know, stuff like "we listened to our customers and they told us to build an oval-obsessive Taurus." This is essential reading for anybody who takes seriously anything said by the marketing poobahs at any of the automakers, regardless of the continent on which they are located.

And on that jaunty note, it appears we have reached the end of this week's journey.

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.








Is Lucerne Good Enough to Save Buick?


These are tough times to be in the car business, especially if you work for a company with a highly problematic image like Buick – once known as just a step below Cadillac but in recent years more often associated with age and fade.

Now along comes the Lucerne, a thoroughly contemporary full-size near-luxury sedan that shares its basic platform and powerplant with none other than Cadillac. Contemporary the Lucerne is but is it sufficiently compelling to restore luster to Buick’s position in the automotive universe?

Initial sales look promising, with nearly 68,000 Lucernes sold during the first eight months of 2006, its first year on the market. That’s more than either the Toyota Avalon or Lexus GS series, two rivals Buick marketers suggest are Lucerne targets, but substantially less than Chrysler’s 300 and only a couple thousand more than the Ford Five Hundred.

Still, the front-wheel-drive Lucerne is a vast improvement over the LeSabre and Park Avenue models it replaced. The platform, which is shared with Caddy’s DTS, is stiff and tight, which contributes greatly to the Lucerne’s unexpectedly agile dynamics.

The steering provides good feedback, the brakes are powerful and the stiffened suspension in my top-of-the-lineup CSX tester kept things mostly flat and properly pointed when the driving got frisky.

The Lucerne’s most attractive features are its locomotive-like 4.6 liter Northstar V-8, which is good for 275 horsepower, and a rather pleasant passenger cabin. The Northstar propels the Lucerne to sub-seven second 0-60 mph times, while keeping fuel economy within a reasonable range so long as one doesn’t get overly aggressive with the gas pedal.

Inside the Lucerne, everything is in the right place, looks sharp and not at all plasticky. The seats are quite comfortable and Buick makes it possible to load a Lucerne with more than enough features like Onstar and satellite navigation to make you forget you aren’t behind the wheel of a Caddy.

The exterior styling is less successful, at least in my view. The ventiports are a Buick icon but I doubt anybody not in a retirement home cares anymore. The overall look is clean and fresh, but not overly striking.

Competent, comfortable and contemporary the Lucerne certainly is, but will it attract a new generation of loyalists to the Buick standard? Count me unconvinced. But open to persuasion.