Sunday, February 18, 2007

Automakers Zoom Back In On Thriftier Cars

There is perhaps no other time in automotive history as exciting and adventurous as these. The convergence of technology, entertainment and design is producing some of the most equipped and comfortable cars ever made.
What’s more is that consumers can find luxury, power, efficiency and value on all levels. Take your pick of sedan, wagon, hatchback or coupe and there’s likely more on those four wheels in 2007 than in previous incarnations.
As if simultaneously struck by an aha! moment, automakers are collectively more focused on the car than they have been in over a decade. Yes, after years of riding in the back of the lineup behind SUV’s and trucks, the car has returned to prominence.
Much of the renewed attention on cars is being driven by fuel economy. Pound for pound, cars typically go further on a gallon of gasoline than their 4-wheel drive SUV or truck counterparts. And better mileage is what more car buyers now want.
Manufacturers are responding with hybrid, variable displacement and variable valve timing technologies that are stretching miles out of a tank of gasoline.
Flex-fuel vehicles are getting a lot more attention, too, as the industry gears up for greater availability and use of E85 fuel, a combination of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline.
Case in point is the all-new Chrysler Sebring. Redesigned from top to bottom, inside and out, the Sebring offers a 2.7 liter engine in the Touring and Limited editions that is flex-fuel compatible and delivers 200 horsepower.
But that’s not all. Clearly aiming at the technology savvy younger market, Chrysler has outfitted the Sebring with an abundance of electronics including the multi-function Harman/Kardon information, entertainment, navigation safety system.
Jay Hiller, general manager of Hiller Co. Chrysler Dodge in Marion pointed out that the Sebring brings a true competitor to the Chrysler lineup to go head to head with the Toyota Camry and the Honda Accord.
“Chrysler hasn’t really had a car in that segment that has sold well,” he said. “The Sebring is priced well under them and it drives similar to them.”
Base price for the Touring edition is $20,195. Customers driven by price alone can opt for the 4 cylinder version which comes in at $18, 995.
Toyota certainly has not missed the parade toward better fuel economy. They have lead the way, keeping themselves one step ahead of the competition with leading edge hybrid technology.
Hybrid automobile systems combine a highly efficient gasoline engine with an electric motor and a battery storage array to boost mileage (particularly in city driving) to levels no gasoline engine alone can match.
For 2007, Toyota has added a hybrid version of the Camry to its lineup. Priced at $26,200, this hybrid can squeeze 40 miles out of a gallon of gas in the city.
All models in this sixth generation of the Camry design show improvements in power and style. A non-hybrid, 4-cylinder CE version of the Camry with a 5 speed automatic transmission is available at $19,520. Even here Toyota has not skimped on standard power and safety equipment including power windows and locks and ABS brakes. There’s a 160 watt sound system, too.
Nissan has run the Altima through a complete redesign that boosts power to both the base 4 cylinder and the 3.5 liter V6 models. Plus, now there’s a gas/electric hybrid version using Toyota technology.
All versions of the Altima, now coupled with a standard CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission), show mileage improvements. The suspension has gotten a reworking, too, for improved handling. Pricing for the base S series model starts at $19,800. The hybrid starts at $24,400.
The Mazda lineup is seeing only a few tweaks here and there but significant to note is that the Mazda 6 for 2007 has bolstered the standard equipped safety package in all versions with ABS, traction control and side airbags with side curtain airbags. Priced from $19,725 for the entry level 4-cylinder model.
The Mazda MX-5 Miata gets a new fully automatic power retractable hardtop as an available option. No more getting out to raise or lower the soft top. Plus the new top doesn’t eat up any of the coupe’s trunk space. Priced from $21,030.
At Mitsubishi, the Gallant has seen the most improvements in the line for 2007 with stylish interior upgrades and changes to the look up front. Plus V6 versions see mechanical improvements with a 5-speed sport automatic transmission that adjusts automatically to an operator’s driving habits and can be quickly put into manual mode with the flick of a lever.
The Mitsubishi Lancer missed 2007 but is due this spring with an early 2008 release. It will be a bigger version of the model with an optional CVT transmission.
Alan Hollis, sales manager at Executive Mitsubishi in New Bedford pointed out that because of the missed year, savvy shoppers can take advantage of hefty closeout deals on 2006 Lancer models in advance of the 2008’s release. Availability is good, too.
Pay close attention the next time you see Miss New Bedford in a local parade and you’ll see her sitting up in the back of a Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder, the official Miss New Bedford parade car noted Executive Mitsubishi owner, Bob Burgess. For 2007, the sporty coupe has added a fully automatic, button operated clothtop to the lineup. With a 5 speed automatic, the Eclipse Spyder is priced from $25, 389.
Ford has trimmed the lineup for both the Crown Victoria and the Five Hundred but has significantly broadened the choices for the Focus. This scaling down the high end and scaling up the low end should shed light on the ample merits of the economical Focus.
Capable of up to 37 mpg on the highway, the Focus comes as either a sedan, wagon or hatchback. Gas sipping is best achieved with the 2.0 liter, 136 hp 4-cylinder engine. Pricing starts at $14,130.
A popular step-up in the Ford line is the Fusion. Major changes were not expected for the model since its introduction last year but safety has been raised a notch with front-seat side airbags and side-curtain airbags being made standard equipment. Pricing starts at $17,995. There talk of a hybrid version for 2008.
At Chevrolet, the Malibu is the car with the most important upgrades for 2007. Of those, variable valve timing introduced in the 3.5 liter V6 engines of the LTZ and Maxx LT versions deserves special note.
It’s not often one can purchase the power of a V6 and almost get the same fuel economy of a much smaller 2.2 liter four cylinder engine. That’s what Chevrolet has accomplished with variable valve timing in the Malibu.
The LTZ with the V6 is capable of delivering an impressive 32 mpg on the highway. Pricing for this model starts at $24,265. An entry level Malibu LS with a 144hp, 2.2 liter 4 cylinder engine is priced at $17,805.
The Malibu is also improved this year with head-curtain side-impact airbags for front and rear passengers.
Volkswagen has returned the Rabbit namesake to its lineup for 2007 with 2 and 4-door versions of the hatchback. Standard in both is a 150 hp, 2.5 liter 4 cylinder engine that’s capable of 30 mpg on the highway. Priced from $14,990.
A super version of the Rabbit called the R32 is equipped with a 250 hp, V6 and all wheel drive.
Also, new at VW is the Eos. Named for the Greek goddess of the dawn, this four-seater convertible can capture plenty of sunlight while providing lots of creature comfort, too. Loaded with premium features from electronic stabilization to cruise control, the Eos is the only fully retractable hardtop that also has a fully functioning sunroof. Options include 12-way power seats, multi-function leather-wrapped steering wheel and a premium sound system. Pricing starts at $27,990.
The Saturn Aura is all-new in the lineup for this GM moniker and is based on the platform used in the Chevrolet Malibu and the Pontiac G6. But the Aura captured the prestigious North American Car Of The Year Award for 2007 for its all around performance, comfort, safety and features. Pricing starts at $20,995 for the 4 speed automatic with a 3.5 liter engine or $24,995 for the 6-speed automatic and a slightly larger and more powerful 3.6 liter engine.
The 3.6 liter, V6 in the Aura delivers 252 hp while maximizing fuel economy with variable valve timing. EPA estimates are up to 30 mpg on the highway for that engine.
With the Aura, GM plans to soon introduce its first ever hybrid sedan.

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