Sabtu, 07 Juni 2008



By William C Montgomery

To evaluate the all-new 2008 Toyota Sequoia, I spent some quality time with comparable full-size SUVs from GM and FoMoCo. In back-to-back-to-back tests on the highways and byways of Denton County, Texas, I pitted the new Sequoia Platinum against the 2008 Ford Expedition King Ranch Edition and the 2008 Chevrolet Tahoe LTZ "White Diamond" edition. Let's not beat around the Texan brush: the Tahoe outshines its competitors as the best all-around full-sized SUV. Here's why…

The Tahoe is a happy, jumbo-sized appliance. Its massive prow encapsulates the truck's clean, modern design. Although endlessly, relentlesly generic, the big Chevy's sheetmetal is handsome enough from any angle– without getting within two counties of ostentatious (or unpredictable). The $2,365 White Diamond treatment adds pearlescent sparkle to the Tahoe's paint job; the chrome grillwork shines through like a gleaming chain mail vest.

The Tahoe LTZ's cabin strikes the middle ground between Ford's sleek yet sumptuous King Ranch Edition leather cabin and Toyota's plasticized Hell. Okay, the Tahoe also puts its occupants in plasticized Hell. But the Chevy's dashboard is far less cluttered than ToMoCo's big rig, so the Tahoe seems significantly less cheap.

Speaking of not-so-divine retribution, adults condemned to the Tahoe's way back sit with their knees pressed into their chest and their feet wedged between the seats. Every time the Tahoe hits a bump, the seatbelt tensioner ratchets ever tighter, compressing the occupant's shoulder towards the short seatback. After twenty minutes in the third row, anyone who's not a pint-sized passenger will be calling Amnesty International.

In defense of the Tahoe's class-trailing interior packaging (or SUV packaging in general), try towing 8400 lbs. in a minivan. And while the Tahoe's heavy third row seats must be manhandled and removed to create a suitably cavernous load space, the four wheel-drive SUV can thusly carry a large, heavy load AND tow a boat AND retain plenty of off-road capability.

Back up a second. When doing so, the Tahoe's Rearview Camera displays the image on the dash-mounted sat nav screen. At the same time, the Ultrasonic Rear Parking Assist's yellow and red LED lights– mounted on the interior right-rear D-pillar– light-up and beep. Yes but– a driver watching the backup camera can't see the LED lights. And a driver looking at the warning lights over his shoulder (or, God forbid the rear-view mirror) isn't looking at the backup camera view. D'oh!

Fast forward. GM's 5.3-liter Vortec V8 doesn't deliver the same knockout punch as Toyota's ridiculously lusty 5.7-liter mill. Still, with 320hp and 340 ft. lbs. underfoot, accelerative Tahoe drivers won't be left lingering for long. Not that I'd recommend it, but the 5840 lbs. truck will mountain-move from rest to sixty miles per hour in an entirely reasonable 8.7 seconds. More importantly, the Tahoe's four-speed automatic shifts crisply and predictably; a welcome change from the manic six-speeds found in the Toyota Sequoia and Ford Expedition.

At the GMT900 Tahoe's pre-Katrina launch, GM Car Czar Bob Lutz infamously pronounced that "rich people don't care about gas prices." Since then, GM's added Active Fuel Management cylinder deactivation system to their still profitable but no longer so very popular SUV. The non-hybrid 4×4 Tahoe delivers the best fuel efficiency of the troika tested: 14/19mpg. In combined driving, that's a 14 percent improvement over either the 4×2 Expedition or 4×4 Sequoia.

On combined surfaces– neglected highways, pock-marked local roads, gravel, dirt, wherever– the Tahoe LTZ' Autoride makes Chevy drivers feel the most serene of all full-size SUV pilots. The Tahoe's trick suspension system reacts to body and wheel sensor input, triggering bi-state (nothing kinky, just two positions) variable air-assisted shock dampening. It delivers an outstandingly smooth, even luxurious ride.

Combined with a stiff, fully-boxed frame and a multi-link coil spring rear-end, Autoride also helps makes the White Diamond Tahoe the best handling truck of the bunch. As one of our writers pointed out previously, that's a bit like saying it's the world most flame retardant paper hat. But if you're going to drive a full-size SUV on a daily basis, you want the beast to handle safely and predictably, and stop with confidence and poise. That the Tahoe does.

At the end of this test, we're left with three vehicles with three separate strengths. The Toyota Sequoia's engine is a gas (it is what it eats). In the King Ranch Edition Ford Expedition, Kubla Khan a stately pleasure dome did decree. The White Diamond Chevy Tahoe LTZ offers the best mpgs, a business-like (if not class) cabin and the best day-to-day ride and handling. GM wins my Lone Star comparo.

While cratering SUV sales make this something of a booby prize, there's no denying that GM makes the best big rigs. If it could build competitively-priced cars with as much judgment and care, the company would end its time in the wilderness. We watch and hope.


By Mark Morrison

The Chevrolet Corvette is the exception that proves the rule. It’s the one GM car that has never, ever been boring. Sure, there’ve been times when the ‘Vette lost the plot– when comparing its dynamic capabilities to a similarly priced foreign sports car was like pitting Cheese Whiz against Normandie brie. But the ‘Vette was never po-faced about it. Besides, those days are gone. As I sampled a 2008 convertible automatic with a few new upgrades, I wondered: what could GM learn from the Chevrolet Corvette?

The latest Corvette’s "sheetmetal" remains exuberantly faithful to the model’s phallic traditions– despite Pokemon-eyes set within a vaguely feminine, Viper-esque nose. (Not to mention poorly integrated quad exhausts that seem to hoik the car’s derriere into the air in the great Gallic tradition.) Top down, the ‘Vette’s profile is breathtaking; the strakes and intakes are as flawlessly sculpted as the sinews in the arms of Michelangelo’s David.

The ‘Vette’s cabin is strictly as case of ‘nothing to see here folks; move along.” While the new Malibu gets sexy snickery and touch-friendly materials, the ‘Vette’s plastic controls would be right at home in an ‘80’s Subaru, and the materials are about as luxurious as a Day’s Inn suite. The new Custom Leather-Wrapped Interior Package only makes matters worse, drawing MORE attention to the Corvette’s piss-poor polymers. Oh, and the Chevy Cobalt called; it wants its steering wheel back.

Fuhgeddaboutit. Fire-up the Corvette’s LS3 small block V8, and you will. Even (or especially) at idle, you can sense those 430 horses kicking the starting gate. Give the fillies their head, and, well, the Vette ‘vert weighs-in at 3246 lbs. What do YOU think happens GMNext? Whatever your opinion, think fast; the Corvette chop top teleports its occupants from zero to sixty in 4.3 seconds. The only thing more dramatic than the Corvette’s ability to get its driver to scream a religious blessing on excrement: the NASCAR roar drowning out any and all expletives.

Once you’re out of quarter-mile challenge mode– which will take some time and may never occur– the LS3’s bottom end is surprisingly weak for a 6.2-liter engine. But the mid-range swell makes up for it. Oh yes it does. Got revs? Got power. Enough power to humiliate all but the most exotic of supercars in terms of hyperspace button in-gear oomph. God bless the V8 engine! Oh wait; He already has.

Unfortunately, our tester was equipped with an automatic gearbox– rather than the new short-throw self-shifter. The Corvette’s six speed slushbox is a bit dim-witted. Prod it hard and the mighty motor pauses slightly as the requisite greasy bits slip down a gear (or two) to find the requisite shove. On the positive side, under what some call “normal conditions,” the Corvette’s cog swapper swaps cogs so seamlessly you’ll find yourself going a lot faster than you thought (honest officer).

The steering is similarly effortless; which may or may not be a good thing depending on your testosterone levels. If you’ve got the balls, the Corvette’s balance, low center of gravity and wide gumballs (18’s up front, 19’s in the back, and no all-season mishegos) will see you through the most tortuous of twisties, at the most hair-raising of speeds. But you’ll need your wits as well; the drop top’s scuttle shake adds unwelcome lateral complexity.

Thankfully, the Corvette’s hugely powerful and tireless brakes (at least off-track) solve the most vexing Vette side effects. And you get an amazingly compliant ride for no extra charge. Less sporting drivers (a.k.a. most convertible owners) should leave the $1995 Magnetic Ride Control box unticked, wait for the straights to let slip the dogs of war and waft in peace. Although most Corvette convertibles are destined to wear a garage queen’s ermine robes (i.e. a soft car cover), this Corvette rivals Stuttgart’s finest in the “everyday” part of the everyday supercar olympics.

Speaking of which, perhaps the single most remarkable thing about Chevy’s uber-drop top is its $60k asking price. If you’re measuring sheer bang for the buck, you can’t beat it with a stick; although, again, the manual transmission is highly recommended. And it must be said that's one Hell of a lot of money for a Chevy.

So what have we learned from the Corvette Convertible? That constant, incremental evolution keeps a car competitive between significant re-thinks? We knew that. That sex sells? Duh. That a clear unique selling point (horsepower) is the key to sales success? Double duh. That GM should have upped the model’s price and fixed the interior, eliminating the last reason NOT to buy the Corvette Convertible. True dat.

The most important lesson that the ‘Vette can teach GM: whatever the Corvette product development and management team is doing is EXACTLY what ALL their product teams should be doing. Inside GM, common sense is not so common.


By Adrian Imonti

There is no truth so inconvenient that it can’t be fixed with clever marketing. With an eco-parade of automakers making promises both daring and dubious in their race to join the green gravy train, some skepticism is in order. But now I’ve been to the fuel cell mountaintop and have prayed to the hydrogen altar in an Equinox FCEV. Say Hallelujah! I’m ready to fall to my knees as a true believer in the New Gas. Well, almost.

Following in Bob Dylan’s footsteps, this Chevy has gone electric. A 98-horsepower electric motor sits at its midsection, mated to a 93-kilowatt fuel cell stack that converts hydrogen into electricity. Energy created from regenerative braking is stored in a NiMH battery that assists the fuel cell. Tanks located aft store 4.2 kilos of hydrogen. You can drop that garden hose and extension cord– the Equinox cannot extract hydrogen from water, nor can it run on battery power alone. Unlike the aging folk-rocker, the Equinox emits only heat and water vapor.

Like its Suzuki XL7 platform mate, this conservatively styled crossover won’t set the world ablaze, but the profile is clean and functional. Differences that distinguish the FCEV from its dino-powered sibling are modest. A modified front grille aids cooling of the fuel cells and regenerative system. The quad “exhaust” setup, including four distillers in the tail that emit water vapor, is aggressively styled to earn pistonhead approval, and wins my vote. And let’s not forget– not that we could– the advertorial paint job, adorned with water molecules and “FUEL CELL” logos visible from the next county.

The interior is equally familiar, taken straight from the standard Equinox playbook. The traditional rev counter is replaced by a power gauge that displays kilowatt output from the motor and brakes. This New Age tach makes for great car-geek entertainment, especially when it dips into the green zone as the regenerative system kicks in. A NAV graphic depicts a real-time rendering of the high-tech wizardry at work, including a reminder of how much Old Gas you haven’t burned. However, the monitor’s excessively low position on the center console leaves that amusement strictly to the passengers.

[This evaluation was limited to a short, controlled course, with no high-speed runs possible. Results of this first drive suggest that this FCEV will operate much like an ordinary CUV, albeit one that tips the scales at 4,300+ pounds.]

Startup is a non-event. A bit of pump and fan whirr substitute for engine idle; a dash light provides a useful reminder that the system is operating. Mash the “gas” pedal and power spools-up smoothly. There’s a slight lag in take-up, likely due to the need to pull the fuel cell setup’s several hundred pound weight penalty.

The General claims a top speed of 100 mph and zero to 60 times of about 12 seconds. The surge in the seat satisfies more than those figures suggest, thanks to the 236 ft.-lbs. of torque available throughout the rev range. Interior noise at speed is minimal. Although brake pedal feel suffers slightly from the regenerative braking, stopping power appears unaffected.

GM’s “Project Driveway” will distribute 110 FCEV’s for public testing, gratis. Most approved individuals will receive a three-month test, while fleets get a trial of up to three years. With hydrogen refueling stations as common as the Holy Grail, volunteers must reside in the LA, New York or Washington metro areas, and can’t stray too far from home.

A vehicle that can cart the kids to soccer practice and hit triple-digit speeds while leaving only a harmless vapor trail in its wake is tempting to greenies and gearheads alike. Nonetheless, there are challenges that stymie real-world functionality.

The FCEV’s most obvious liability is range. When refueled at 10,000 psi, the Chevy can travel about 150 miles. Yet many hydrogen pumps dispense gas at half that pressure, so range will frequently be reduced by roughly that amount. The fuel cell system’s substantial bulk– particularly when shoehorned into vehicles not specifically designed around it– shortens an already too-tight leash.

But wait, there’s more. Chemical reactions in the fuel cells create corrosion that contribute to their early demise. After 50k miles, they’re kaput. The New Gas is inefficient to transport and difficult to store, so net energy savings are debatable. Most US hydrogen production is either sourced from natural gas or generated with electricity produced from coal, oil or gas. So most, if not all, roads lead back to hydrocarbons.

Still, a guy can dream, and I’m dreaming. A bit of seat time in the Equinox makes me cross my fingers and toes, hoping this leads to something beyond vaporware. Despite obvious hurdles, to dismiss hydrogen fuel cell-powered cars now would be an exercise in premature pontification. Now, feel free to pass the Kool-Aid; mine’s in the cupholder near the handbrake.


By Michael Karesh

We’ve all heard GM’s party line too many times: “Sure, we’re not doing so well with our current products. But we’ve redesigned the [insert model name]. It’s going to bring new car buyers flooding back to [insert brand name].” Each time, the new product has fallen short. Each time, GM has surrendered market share, especially in the midsize sedan segment it once dominated. Does the latest object of GM’s hype, the redesigned 2008 Chevrolet Malibu, continue this downwards trend?

Let’s face it: only die-hard loyalists listen to/believe anything GM says these days. So the only way a new GM product is going to get noticed outside the fold is if it looks 1) like nothing else and 2) damn good. Despite sharing sub-skin bits with the Pontiac G6 and Saturn Aura and cribbing from the Acura TL, the new Malibu actually delivers on both counts. People who haven’t considered a Chevrolet in eons may become interested after seeing the car.

As a Chevrolet, the Malibu is theoretically at the bottom of GM’s totem pole. For once, GM isn’t aesthetically hobbling a Chevrolet to make room for other divisions’ models. The Malibu’s artfully curved bodysides, formal C-pillar and Lexus-like brightwork provide a more upscale appearance than the equivalent Pontiac or Saturn. The prow might prove controversial, but it makes a strong, distinctive statement without the use of a gaping grille or sci-fi aesthetics. Trim alignment could be better, though.

Inside, we’ve got two tones, retro curves and cut lines galore— the sort of multivarious approach GM’s interior designers have long favored. In the past, after the bean counters and manufacturing engineers had their wicked way, the result has been a tacky mess. This time GM stayed true to the concept.

The Malibu cabin’s lines flow the way the original designers intended, the workmanship is first-rate and the materials vie for best in segment. Sure, the door pulls and some close-at-hand panels are hard plastic, but so are the same bits in the competition. There’s more of the soft-touch stuff than you’ll find in an Accord or Camry.

The Malibu’s driving position falls close to class average– not too low or too high. Legroom is plentiful in both the front and rear seats. The moderately firm seats provide proper support. And au courant ambient lighting is a welcome and unexpected standard feature in this class.

If there’s one place the interior falls down, it’s shoulder room. Time was American cars were much beamier than their competitors. But the Epsilon platform that underpins the new Malibu was developed with European markets in mind, so you’ll actually find a couple inches more shoulder room in a Toyota Camry or in the newly supersized Honda Accord. A relatively tight cabin lends the Malibu a sportier feel, but isn’t good if you want to scrunch three adults into the back seat.

So the new Malibu’s exterior and interior styling could bring people back into a Chevrolet showroom for the first time in decades. The test drive could still disappoint.

Chevy offers two engines: a 169-horse four and a 252-horse V6. The four, like those in competing sedans, provides merely adequate acceleration. The V6 is literally overwhelming. Mash the go-pedal at low speeds and the steering wheel jiggles this way and that as the Eagle LSs fight for traction. Either transmission shifts smoothly, but the V6’s paddle shifters are about as useful as mammaries on a mule. The six-speed slushbox doesn’t react promptly to manual inputs, preferring a prod from your right foot.

Toss the new Malibu through some turns and you’ll find excellent composure and well-checked body lean– but not the sharpness of a hardcore sport sedan. The base 16-inch tires look dinky and provide little grip; the V6’s 18-inch treads hang on considerably better, and mutter quietly as their limits are approached.

Weighting feels more natural with the V6’s hydraulic steering than with the electric rack in the four, but neither system provides much feedback. The feel through the wheel is solid and steady rather than quick and sharp. Enthusiasts should opt for the LT2, where faux suede center panels usefully augment the seat’s side bolsters.

The Malibu’s chassis excels in one key area: providing a smooth, quiet ride. Even over nasty stretches of pavement you’d better keep an eye on the speedometer to avoid flashing lights in the rearview. For the typical midsize car buyer, the ride-handling balance is outstanding. The Bu serves-up less wallow than the vanilla Camry, and it’s smoother than the Accord or Camry SE.

The bottom line: the new Chevrolet Malibu backs up its upscale looks with an upscale feel. Potential customers [theoretically] drawn to Chevrolet showrooms by the Malibu’s sheetmetal won’t be disappointed by the rest of the car. GM has finally built it. But will they come?


By Michael Martineck

For once, the brochures are right: nobody in their right mind buys a small truck for motoring pleasure. A small pickup is a way to get to and from outside activities, like kayaking, rock climbing, schlepping a DLP TV, fencing in the back forty, running a few bales of marijuana across the Mexican border (closed course, professional driver), etc. While full-size pickups mollycoddle their drivers in the hopes of luring owners who don’t actually need them, their smaller siblings have stayed true to the genre’s hair-shirt-on-leaf-springs roots. But even at the low end, there is a hierarchy….

Aside from the imminently breakable, fake chrome plastic decoration across the front (begging for aftermarket machismo) and the resulting insectoid bisected headlights, the Colorado is a decent looking truck. There’s no deference to the wind tunnels, and isn’t trying to Dodge pickup protocol with a sheetmetal ode to eighteen-wheelers. The Colorado’s squared-off, almost military lines are kinda cool, in an old school hardware store sort of way.

The interior is exactly what you'd expect: basic, functional, plastic. Our test truck was a four-wheel-drive crew cab (four door). If you called shotgun too late, this is the version you want. While most small pickup’s rear seats are best suited to small boxes of inanimate objects, the Colorado crew cab’s back chairs are spacious enough for two six-foot humans.

The Colorado’s double-walled bed is as unadorned as the obelisk in 2001. Tie downs? We don’t need no stinkin’ tie downs! (Unless, of course, you do.) In any case, our crew cab provided a 5’1” bed. If hauling is your thing, the standard-issue Colorado's bed extends a foot further, delivering deeper storage and higher overall payload than its rivals. Both beds offer two-tier cargo loading and tailgates that are both lockable and removable– but not at the same time.

The base Colorado holsters a 185-horse 2.9-liter DOHC four-cylinder engine hooked-up to a five speed manual (yay!). Our 4WD Crew Cab came with a 242-horse, 3.7-liter inline five-cylinder mill mated to a four-speed Hydra-Matic slushbox (boo!). The Crew’s odd-cylindered powertrain stumps-up plenty of stump-pulling power, but those 242 ft.-lbs. of twist arrive with all the alacrity of Santa Claus to a two-year-old.

It’s the damnedest thing. You put the Colorado in drive, mash the gas and go nowhere. Seriously: the engine revs up and truck stays put. The delay lasts [the better part of] a second, but it’s enough time to wonder whether you’ve done something wrong; placed the transmission between N and D or brushed a hidden switch that takes the Colorado from four to no wheel-drive.

When the drivetrain finally pulls out of the station it performs adequately, in terms of moving the truck. But the Colorado’s fuel efficiency is like my fantasy golf game: sub par. The Crew Cab Colorado’s EPA-rated at 15/20 mpg. Hello? The Silverado’s 315hp, 5.3-liter Vortec V8 clocks in at 16/20 mpg. Although the Colorado's fuel efficiency is class average, and you can always opt for the more frugal four, you'd kinda hope for better. Or a V6.

Anyway, in normal driving, acceleration is more-than-merely adequate. BUT… in passing situations, the transmission steps down, then steps down again, in an entirely disconcerting way. There is a big ole gap in the tranny’s understanding of your desire to get past that New Beetle and the amount of time available for the job.

The Colorado’s handling is surprisingly good, especially in Z71 trim (Insta-Trac on-the-fly 4X4 command buttons, front underbody shielding, gas-charged monotube shocks, jagged tires and stickers). The wee beastie corners evenly, without drama. And the Colorado’s independent front suspension and front torsion bars deliver a ride that ain’t half bad– for a truck. It appeared off-road worthy, though we didn’t get a chance to play scrabble for purchase.

The Colorado is what I call a Gap truck. The pickup’s seats have ample space between your bottom and the floor. The gaps in the wheel-wells leave room for meatier tires and plenty of turning radius. It’s remarkably easy to twist the Colorado through a gap in between Prii at Target. And then there’s that lovely gap between its price and the sticker whacked on its full-sized brethren.

But then there is that other gap; the one between the Colorado and its competition. While the small[er] Chevy has antilock brakes, tire pressure monitoring and air bags aplenty, other small trucks are similarly appointed AND they respond better all the way around. Their center consoles click when you close them. Their gear selectors need only half the distance to effect a change. And they go when you want them to.

At the right price you could ignore the Colorado’s Crew Cab’s thirst and mechanical laziness. But anyone who does so rewards incompetence, and pays the price at the pump.


By Samir Syed

Fair disclosure: I wanted to love the Chevrolet Cobalt SS Supercharged (SS-S). My first car was America's Beetle: the Chevette. Watching the transplants take over the U.S. compact car market, I've always hoped The Big 2.8 would raise their game and kick some serious small car butt. To their credit, The General really swung for the fences with the SS-S. Unfortunately, it's game over; the Cobalt SS-S can't meet 2008 emissions regulations. As GM sends the Cobalt SS-S to the big dugout in the sky, is it love's labor lost or no big deal?

One look tells you the Cobalt SS-S wasn't made for grown-ups. Its 18' alloys, voluminous body skirt, whale-tail spoiler, Corvette-esque taillights and seven-speaker sound system (with trunk space sacrificed to the woofer Gods) are thirty-something anti-matter. With a color palette that includes fluorescent lemon meringue and laser red explosion, the SS is baby bling made metal.

GM certainly needs a car to reach this market segment; those krazy kids turn into button-down Camcord buyers one day. If kitsch is the key, the Cobalt SS-S driver is a Malibu pilot in the making. No other car sold in the U.S. comes equipped with so much factory rice. In that respect, the supercharged Chevy's styling is no bush league effort; it's a clear case of mission accomplished.

On the inside, The General did its best to stay on message. GM's blingmeisters fitted the good ship Cobalt SS-S with a boost gage on the A-pillar, a slick, short-throw shifter and a small bottle of NOS in the glove box (just kidding, although I forgot to check). And… that's about it. The SS-S' instrument panel is much the same as the base Cobalt's; although the SS-S' dash sports a pair of chrome-lined circles showing you what you'd expect them to.

It's all down market from there. The silver-painted plastics on the SS-S' dash and door-sills seem carefully designed to repel human flesh. Close examination of an '05 Cobalt SS indicates that it's only a matter of time before the gloss will disappear, exposing the ugly black plastic underneath. Otherwise, the seats are bearable, the driving position tolerable and the rear sightlines horrible, thanks to a wing that would give a dolphin a serious case of fluke envy.

The Cobalt SS-S holsters a 2.0-liter supercharged and intercooled inline four good for 205 horses and 200 ft.-lbs. of torque. The SS-S' force-fed powerplant is the antithesis of smooth, but it pulls like a wannabe Subaru Impreza turbo, minus the turbo-lag. The American coupe accelerates with genuine conviction all the way from 1500 rpm to the 6500 rpm redline. Or not. I couldn't stand the trashy thrashy sound long enough to find out.

Nor do I have the biceps to replicate the SS-S' startling (if claimed) zero to 60mph sprint time of 6.1 seconds. Floor the front wheel-drive Cobalt SS-S and the tires scrabble for purchase like a mountain goat on roller skates. Mashing the gas in the bends is only marginally less frightening than caning the car in a straight line- unless you find understeering towards the scenery a relaxing way to spend an afternoon.

The SS Supercharged improves on the base on SS models' handling via a lower ride height (down a quarter inch), beefier anti-roll bars, stiffer springs, larger brakes and 18" alloys shod with 215/45 Pirellis. While the extra tuning and rubber turn a competent corner carver into an extremely competent corner carver, the SS-S is still a seven-tenths car. Respect the torque steer monster and the Cobalt's a willing dance partner. Push it any further and the mosh pit awaits.

The Cobalt SS-S' brakes are the kind of sharp, fade-free anchors that give sporting drivers the confidence they need to succeed. The SS-S' rack and pinion steering is its Achilles heel. While the tiller isn't as loose as a '67 Dodge Charger (nothing is), the Chevy's numb helm denies the sporting driver enough feedback to work around the rest of the cars dynamic shortcomings (i.e. have fun).

The Cobalt SS-S was a valiant effort. The General could have built the Cobalt SS and called it good. Uncharacteristically, they decided to rise to the challenge of the Dodge Neon SRT-4 and the Honda Civic Si with unapologetic styling and as much bang-for-the-buck as they could muster. Unfortunately, Chevrolet failed to realize that a true driver's car is more than the sum of its parts. Blazing straight line acceleration and tunerz-style flash may gain attention, but you need genuine finesse to win genuine respect.

As GM's recent application of the SS moniker to a bevy of heavy, front-driven Chevy's proves, enthusiasts looking to GM for some of that kind magic are looking in the wrong place. That's a shame. The Cobalt was so close to greatness it hurts.


By P.J. McCombs

Chevrolet’s Aveo has the makings of comic gold. It’s the cheapest car sold in America. It’s from GM, ever the stooge to straight men Honda and Toyota. And get this: despite being the first vehicle to feature in Chevy’s ubiquitous “An American Revolution” campaign, the Aveo is built in… wait for it… Bupyong, South Korea. Ba-dum ching!

From where else would the Aveo hail? Daewoo is responsible for its design, manufacture, and export (under such varied monikers as the Suzuki Swift+ and Holden Barina). Chevy’s sole Aveo contribution: the bow-tie badge. But let’s give The General some credit. While Ford and DCX have ignored the fast-growing subcompact segment, ol’ Number Two has been building Aveos since 2004. Well, sort of.

For 2007, Daew—er, Chevy has updated its punch line on wheels. That’s the good news. The bad news: this mid-cycle love applies only to the Aveo sedan; the Aveo5 hatchback stands pat until 2008. The bad news for GM: the half-revitalized Aveo line faces no fewer than five all-new rivals from Honda, Hyundai, Kia, Nissan and Toyota.

Yes, it’s survival of the Fittest in the increasingly cutthroat subcompact class, and the Chevrolet Aveo isn’t looking so good. Literally. Most of the ’07 refresh consists of styling tweaks, and none of them addresses the Aveo’s awkward-puppy proportions or tall-‘n’-tippy stance. The Chevywoo’s oversized, vaguely bovine new “face” is in keeping with current small-car fashion. The vintage-2002 “Altezza” taillights aren’t.

The Aveo’s redecorated interior is more impressive. Compared with the coal-bin cabins of previous Aveos (and the current hatch), the ’07 offers big-car digs. Perforated leatherette upholstery, chrome-ringed vents and switchgear, and not-horrendously-faux wood trim grace the range-topping ($13,450) LT. Plastics are of the low-gloss variety, done up in a soothing black-and-tan blend. The driver’s seat adjusts for height; an iPod jack adorns the radio.

While the veneer of quality is initially convincing, it’s only skin-deep. Carelessly-placed knees and elbows excite flexy crackles in the Aveo’s trim. The sun visors meet the headliner with a tinny “clang.” Moreover, the Aveo’s sit-up, legs-tucked driving position and fishbowl view out ensure that Aveo drivers feel as dorky as they look.

Which brings us to the act of driving the Aveo. Normally, I’m of the mindset that econocars deserve a break (not to say a free ride) in this department. Their raison d’etre is conservation, not titillation. But the Aveo’s gas mileage is, frankly, terrible for such a wee little beastie. On the ever-optimistic EPA scale, automatic Aveos score 26/34 mpg. That’s the same as the decidedly un-funny Mazda 3i and Honda Accord EX.

But hey, if the Aveo is the thirstiest of all subcompacts, at least it’s the slowest! No, there’s none of the threatening “zing” of a Honda or Toyota’s four banger here; just a labored groan as the Aveo’s 1.6-liter, 103-hp mill drudges its way up the tach. An oversensitive throttle does its best to mask this paucity of punch, and adds a certain kamikaze flair to stop-and-go freeway driving.

If you’re thinking that the Aveo’s standard five-speed manual transmission might help boost its pep and economy, you’d be kinda sorta correct. That version’s EPA estimates are 27/37 mpg, the same as a mildly funny Ford Focus’. Unfortunately, it’s also The Worst Manual Transmission Extant. The Aveo’s spindly shift lever moves with long, doughy, rubbery throws, hanging up easily in a wide H-pattern. Clutch feel is limp. Truck ‘boxes provide better feedback

There’s less to say about the Aveo’s handling, which is soft and secure in standard operating mode. Steering feel, however, remains a notable weakness. Daewoo responded to criticism of the original Aveo’s numb, vague, and darty helm by making the classic beancounter’s boo-boo of mistaking more effort for better feel. So, for ’07, we get steering that’s numb, vague, darty AND arthritically stiff in the turns.

Need another reason not to buy an Aveo? The mushy brake pedal may be an adept coffee slosher, but it’s less-skilled at the meaningful business of retardation.

Given the Aveo’s lowly station in life, this review may seem like a cheap shot at cheap wheels. It ain’t. This reviewer holds a firm respect for– and bizarre fascination with– basic, sensible, well-conceived, inexpensive transportation pods for John Q. Public. And subcompacts are no longer the domain of the desperate. Petrochemical paranoia is driving consumers who can afford big to think small. The threshold of acceptability is soaring.

It’s such a strong trend that Aveos sales are up despite the fact that the model doesn’t offer one competitive advantage over its rivals— not mileage, sportiness nor versatility. With better buzzboxes priced within a shifter’s throw of this Korean expatriate, there’s only one reason for anyone to buy a Chevrolet Aveo: to make other small car dealers and owners shake their heads in disbelief.


By Noah Scott

The Chevrolet Impala SS has made its debut at the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series. And of course with its launching is the unveiling of the GM Racing’s all-new R07 small-block V-8 racing engine which provides a glimpse to the new direction in technology that America’s most popular racing series is heading.

One of the most powerful element in GM Racing’s toolbox is what the automaker calls as the CFD or the Computational Fluid Dynamics which is a mathematical simulation of the airflow around a vehicle. This new CFD technology is influencing the design of both racing and production automobiles. CFD also played an important role in GM Racing’s analysis and development of a racing version of the Impala SS which is considered as the new generation NASCAR race car that will make its debut in a competition that will be held in Bristol, Tennessee scheduled on March 25, 2007.

The CFD technology was first developed for aerospace and defense usage however it migrated to the civilian sector as supercomputers which became available to manipulate complex programs. “The CFD software requires a supercomputer because the number of calculations is immense. Foe example, our aerodynamic models typically have more than 10 million discrete data points that are used to calculate the force. It really is rocket science,” explained Bayless.

Although the price that is involved in this type of technology is high but the benefits of CFD are worth it. The highly advanced software makes it possible to see the invisible movement of air over the vehicle’s body.

Aside from the Impala SS becoming the new NASCAR race car of today it will be Chevrolet’s high-profile entry in Nextel Cup competition. The CFD played an important role boosting the identity of Chevy’s new on-track representative.

The Impala SS is entirely different from the Monte Carlo SS in terms of aerodynamics but also similar in some ways like both are equipped with quality GM auto parts like the high quality GM spark plug wires which are responsible for converting fuel into energy that powers the vehicle. For the Impala SS GM engineers have employed CFD to better understand the effects of the new body shape, front splitter, and adjustable rear wing on aerodynamic performance. "NASCAR specifications require the Impala SS to be wider and taller than the Monte Carlo SS that it is replacing, so its frontal area is larger and its aerodynamic drag is approximately 10 percent greater. Initially the Impala SS will have about 15 percent less downforce than the Monte Carlo SS, which has been highly refined over the years. The change from a spoiler to an adjustable rear wing appears to reduce turbulence in the wake of the car, so when two cars are running nose-to-tail, the less turbulent air behind the first car should alleviate some of the aerodynamic push experienced by the trailing car," explained further by Bayless.

It is also important to note that although the CFD is a powerful engineering tool it is not designed to replace the conventional wind tunnels and track testing.


By John Bourne

The 2008 Chevrolet Avalanche gives the comfort of a sport- utility vehicle combined with updated exterior styling and new interior design made of quality materials. Some of its latest features include a crew cab body style with cargo bed and roomy rear seat. It also offers a versatile "midgate" design that improves its functionality.

The '08 Avalanche is a full-size crew cab pick-up with removable rear window and midgate that can be lowered into the cabin to provide more space. Its cabin is made of high-quality materials which offers respectable ergonomics and quality fit and finish. The Avalanche can accommodate a maximum of six occupants and can provide more storage opportunities.

Its two main trim levels include the LS and LT. The LS features a composite cargo bed, removable three-piece cargo cover, a front 40/20/40-split bench seat with center storage, a cloth trim, a power driver seat with manual lumbar control, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a single-CD player with auxiliary jack, a satellite radio, and an OnStar capability. However, the LT offers the same features except form its standard front bucket seats, rear audio controls and enhance OnStar with turn-by-turn navigation.

The 2008 Chevy Avalanche may come in rear-wheel drive or four-wheel drive. All rear-wheel drive models come standard with a 5.3-liter V8 with 320 Horsepower and 340 pound-feet of torque. Meanwhile, four-wheel drive Avalanches are E85-capable with 310 horsepower and 335 lb-ft of torque.

Standard safety features of the Avalanche includes antilock disc brakes, stability control, OnStar emergency communications system, and side curtain airbags with rollover sensor. It earned a five-star rating for protection of front occupants in head-on collisions in government crash tests.

The 2008 Chevy Avalanche, though fast for its size, still guarantees a competent, easily controlled, comfortable ride for the whole family. With its roomy interior, refined handling characteristics, and great accessories, the Avalanche is an unmatched choice.


By Sajeev Mehta

Left Coast do-gooders? Take a hike. East Coast intellectuals? On your bike. The Chevy Silverado doesn’t give a damn about you and your fancy gas electric cars. GM’s new[ish] pickup is a rolling tribute to the working class people who form the backbone of our country– as defined by the musical stylings of John Cougar Mellencamp. More to the point, a good old Harvard boy named Rick Wagoner says his company’s turnaround depends on the Silverado. So are its flat-bedded shoulders strong enough to support the world’s America’s largest automaker?

The Silverado's clean-sheet sheetmetal starts with a front grille that forgoes the Dodge Boys’ Schwarzeneggerian schnoz and Ford’s forgettable face for something big, butch and bland. As for the rest of the rig, Chevy avoided radical change by deploying the plus-sized Colorado look. That's no bad thing. Even with badging the size of Texas road kill, the Silverado’s creased sheetmetal gives the truck a restrained toughness that harkens back to previous Bowtie classics. But if industrial-chic rules the day, Ford’s Sub-Zero on wheels wins.

Step inside and it’s obvious that Chevy’s clarion call to working stiffs is nothing more than media manipulation. The Silverado is the most car-like pickup truck ever made. Check out those tiny vents and buttons, the fussy knobs and the cowled binnacle sheltering gently glowing gauges. OK, you can’t blame The General for following the well-established trend towards civilized pickup interiors, or using generic GMT900 bits for both SUV and pickup. Well, actually, you can. While the base model has a functional (yet uninspiring) dashboard with all the right knobs and binnacles, the Buick-like dash in our tester is about as work friendly as union busters at a sweatshop. Why not make one perfectly truckish dashboard and call it a day?

When it comes to high dollar luxury, the leather hides on our $40k tester were unimpressive even by (admittedly low) truck standards. Still, Americans can rejoice in a pair of wide, comfortable buckets (up front) with a trick-folding split bench (out back). The crew-cab’s rear cabin accommodates the Corn-Fed and Yankee Doodle alike; ample seat cushions provide a terrific view over the low-rise Tahoe dashboard onto the road ahead. The BOSE stereo provided surprisingly responsive imaging with A-pillar mounted tweeters, a console-mount subwoofer and welcome goodies like XM radio and an MP3 hookup.

The Silverado’s underhood beat box sounds even better. The Corvette-based 5.3L V8 is the right mill for the job, stumping-up (literally) 338 ft.-lbs. of torque at 4400rpm. Want extra camshafts? Put ‘em in the bed; the Silverado puts out 315hp on its way to a buttery-smooth 5500rpm redline. Indeed, there’s enough grunt to tow Milwaukee and sufficient horsepower to, um, pass a Camry on the interstate. Thanks to a lightning-quick axle ratio, the four-speed automatic's quick trigger finger makes the lack of extra gears only mildly disappointing. More alarming, even with Active Fuel Management, the Silverado clocks-up an EPA optimistic 16/20mpg.

Handling is another issue. Push the Silverado hard in a corner and it’ll fight back like an over-eager stuntman at a Boar’s Nest bar fight. Steering feel is decent, with precise turn-in. But the off-road Z71 suspension tuning is hardly an on-road driving enthusiast's best friend. Winding country roads quickly unleash Titanic body roll and endless understeer. No matter. Driving enthusiasts have no business in a pickup truck, and anyone brave or stupid enough to push this rig hard in a corner will find the Silverado’s strong brakes and progressive pedal feel equal to the challenge of slowing the Hell down.

While the Silverado is library quiet at highway speeds, potholed roads still send shivers down the back half of the chassis. Such dynamically-challenged behavior was once standard fare for a pickup truck; today it’s a sign of an incomplete homework assignment. Even with plenty of time to match the F150’s well-established chassis benchmark, the Silverado is way off the mark. Chevy’s new[ish] rig simply can’t hang with the existing Ford F150’s disturbingly good steering, ride, handling and braking.

The bed is the business end of any good truck. In this the Silverado doesn't disappoint. Too bad it doesn't impress. Cumbersome tailgates went out of style after Ford boldly took the torsion bar where it’s never been before. Toyota’s Tacoma introduced an all-weather power port for stereos, electric tools and neon Budweiser signage (for the perfect tailgate party). Even if the aftermarket fills in the blanks, Chevy still failed to usher their core-competency to the head of its class.

What was needed here was a beefy-looking pickup with a work-oriented cabin, all the F150’s dynamic capabilities and strength, Chevy’s kick-ass powerplant and a proper, modern six-speed transmission. (Dodge? What Dodge?) All of which leaves Toyota– the benchmark company for benchmarking– plenty of room for advancement. Judging by the hardware in the upcoming Tundra and the not good enough vibes emanating from the Silverado and its wicked tailpipe, next year shall be one for the history books.