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Ford Mustang Review

Written By Tony Tran on Friday, March 11, 2011 | 9:43 AM

As household a name as Folgers, Marlboro or Kraft Mac 'n Cheese, the Ford Mustang is the longest surviving of the affordable breed of classic American muscle cars. Sold always in coupe and most times in convertible and 2+2 fastback forms as well since its 1964 introduction, the Ford Mustang is the only one of the original pony cars to enjoy an uninterrupted production run. It hasn't been easy, either, as oil crises, tightening emissions standards and corporate budget cuts have put the Mustang's future in doubt on more than one occasion. Ultimately, though, its iconic status within the Ford lineup and popularity with consumers has seen it through.

2008 Ford Mustang GT Convertible Shown

There have been many great Mustangs over the decades: Most revered as collector cars are the 1965-'70 Shelby Mustangs and the '69 and '70 Boss 302 and 429, while the '69 and '70 Mach 1, 1984-'86 turbocharged SVOs, 2000 Cobra R and '03 and '04 supercharged SVT Cobra are also coveted. Most Mustangs have had far more pedestrian credentials, of course, but with at least one V8 in the lineup for virtually all of the car's lifespan, the Mustang has long been the choice of consumers seeking power and style in a rear-wheel-drive coupe, fastback or convertible. The current-generation Ford Mustang is easily the best ever from the standpoints of performance, refinement and day-to-day livability.

Completely redesigned for 2005, the Mustang moved to an all-new chassis after a 25-year run on the late-'70s-era Fox-body platform. Ford's pony car still uses rear-wheel drive and a fairly basic solid-axle rear suspension, but ride quality and handling are more precisely controlled than on any previous Mustang.

Most noticeable is the car's styling, which pays homage to the famed Mustangs of the 1960s: With its big grille, round headlights, high-mounted foglights and fastback roof line, the current Mustang GT coupe is a throwback to the muscle car heyday. The classic motif continues inside where an old-school dash, steering wheel and instrumentation are integrated into a modern, ergonomically friendly design. Some materials are low in quality, however, as Ford sought to keep the price tag low as well.

Indeed, value remains one of the Ford Mustang's strengths. For about $20,000, you can get into a Mustang coupe with a healthy, 4.0-liter V6 good for 210 horsepower. For about five grand more, you can get a convertible or opt for the GT coupe, which packs a 300-hp, 4.6-liter V8 complete with burbling exhaust note. Fully loaded Mustang GT convertibles top out in the mid-$30K range.

For those who find the GT too tame, an elite Mustang called the Shelby GT500 debuted in coupe and convertible form for 2007. It's much pricier than regular Mustangs, but the payoff is a supercharged 5.4-liter V8 good for 500 hp, and a thoroughly reworked chassis.

There have been eight previous generations of the Ford Mustang, and given the car's sustained popularity over the years, older models are relatively easy to find on the used market. Still, most specimens you're likely to find will be from the eighth generation, sold from 1999-2004. This is the best of the Fox-body Mustangs, and like the current car, it offered a good blend of performance, fun and affordability. Downsides included rather crude handling characteristics (a consequence of the aged platform) and a cheap interior with an awkward driving position.

If you're shopping for an eighth-gen Mustang, our pick would be a GT from any year, as it offered a healthy 260-hp V8. If you're seeking something faster and rarer, consider the limited-edition Mach 1 (305-hp V8) or supercharged SVT Cobra (390-hp V8), which were sold in 2003 and 2004. The Cobra is the only Ford Mustang ever fitted with an independent rear suspension; it was also sold in '99 and 2000 but wasn't supercharged. Even rarer is the 2000 Cobra R, a race-ready, 385-hp Mustang coupe stripped of its rear seats and air-conditioning.

You'll also encounter plenty of seventh-generation Mustang coupes and convertibles, sold from 1994-'98. This car is very similar mechanically to the eighth-gen Mustang; the main difference is exterior styling. If you're thinking of buying one, 1996-'98 GT and SVT Cobra models might be preferable, as the '96 model year brought a new 4.6-liter, SOHC V8 that was much smoother than the outgoing 5.0-liter V8. Although horsepower held steady in the GT, the Cobra jumped from 240 to 305. The most collectible Mustang of this period is the '95 Cobra R, a 300-hp coupe without a backseat.
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Infiniti G37 Review

When Infiniti's first G35 coupe stormed onto the scene in 2002, it proved a worthy alternative to BMW's 3 Series — the best you could get for $35,000 at that time. Now, as the new 3 Series reassumes control of the segment with a rip-snorting 300 horsepower in the 335i, it seems time for Infiniti to hatch the latest G.

That the redesigned G35 sedan already provided a compelling alternative to the 3 Series didn't matter. Infiniti decided against matching that car's 306-hp, 3.5-liter V-6, instead building a 3.7-liter engine for the appropriately named G37 coupe. The larger V-6 sends an estimated 330 hp to the rear wheels through a five-speed automatic or six-speed manual transmission.

Three trim levels are available: base, Journey and Sport 6MT, which is sold exclusively with the manual. Infiniti G37s hit dealerships in August 2007.

The G37 looks much like you'd expect for a two-door offshoot of the new G35. The curvaceous body integrates large — but fairly subtle — fenders, while the bumper boasts one of the more sinister interpretations of the familiar air dam and side portals you see on many cars. Twin L-shaped headlights flank the slatted grille. The taillights aren't all that different from those on the previous G35 coupe.

Adding the Sport package to a G37 Journey gets you a sport-tuned suspension, exterior ground effects and massive 14-inch front disc brakes — the same size as those on a Corvette Z06. The Sport package also swaps the G37's standard 18-inch alloy wheels for 19-inchers. The G37 Sport 6MT includes all the enhancements standard.

Infiniti's 4-Wheel Active Steer system is optional on the Journey and 6MT. It turns the rear wheels as well as the front ones, which purportedly improves high-speed handling and makes it easier to turn at parking-lot speeds.

At 183.1 inches long and 71.8 inches wide, the G37 is nominally bigger than the 335i coupe. It's even a bit wider than the G35 sedan.

Apart from having a smaller backseat with room for two instead of three, the G37's cabin is not much different from that of the G35 sedan. The coupe's interior is a vast improvement over the first-generation G35, and now features such novelties as aluminum trim modeled after Japanese Washi paper.

Standard features include power front seats, automatic climate control, a six-speaker CD stereo and leather upholstery. Heated seats with power side bolsters, a moonroof and a navigation system with real-time traffic monitoring are optional.

Under the Hood
Sporting an elaborate air induction system similar to (no surprise) BMW's Valvetronic, the 3.7-liter V-6 makes an estimated 330 hp and 270 pounds-feet of torque. It teams with a five-speed automatic transmission in the G37 base and Journey, while the Sport 6MT gets a six-speed manual. Cars with the Sport package include a limited-slip differential for better traction while cornering.

Infiniti estimates that the G37's engine actually delivers around 1 mpg better gas mileage than the 3.5-liter V-6 in the G35. With the EPA's revised fuel economy ratings for 2008, that should translate into roughly 21 mpg in combined city and highway driving for a manual-equipped G37.

All G37s come standard with six airbags, including side-impact airbags for the front seats and side curtain airbags for both rows. Active head restraints, four-wheel-disc antilock brakes, traction control and an electronic stability system are also standard.

Infiniti's Intelligent Cruise Control, which can match highway speeds with the car ahead, is optional. It includes a Preview Braking function that preloads the brakes for faster response if the car in front slams on its brakes. Also optional are pre-crash seat belts that can tighten in response to emergency braking, as well as adaptive headlights that can swivel several degrees to better illuminate corners.
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Jaguar XK-Series Review

The Jaguar E-Type or XKE is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful, iconic cars of all time. Introduced in 1961, it has been lusted after ever since, appearing on teenage boys' bedroom walls, grown men's garages and in movies like the "Austin Powers" series, where it served as the international man of mystery's Shaguar. More than three decades since the XKE went to cat heaven, its spirit lives on in a new breed of sleek Jaguar coupes and convertibles. The latest Jaguar XK-Series maintains classic design cues like the oval grille, but adds a thoroughly modern all-aluminum body and high-tech features designed to better defend Britain against German competition.

2008 Jaguar XK-Series XK Convertible

After 22 years of the unloved Jaguar XJS, the XK name and spirit were revived in the late '90s with the stunning XK8 coupe and convertible. Powered by an all-new 290-horsepower V8, it was quick and capable of keeping up with the best of the sub-$100,000 luxury coupe rivals of the time. As its 10-year life wore on, however, the competition predictably began to surpass the XK8 and the high-performance XKR in terms of refinement and comfort.

For 2007, the Jaguar XK ditched the "8" in its name and dusted off several layers of old-school Jaguar heritage to reveal an all-new, more modern coupe and convertible. Sharing components with the XJ sedan's aluminum structure, the XK is lighter and more rigid -- actually 50 percent stiffer -- than the old XK8, Jag says. Its interior is a drastic departure from the typical Jaguar look, with a modern dashboard design featuring a more intuitive control layout. The biggest interior change is the availability of alloy trim in lieu of wood – although some may argue that a Jag without wood is like Tom Selleck without the mustache.

Current Jaguar XK-Series

The new Jaguar XK and supercharged XKR are available as a two-door coupe and convertible. The standard XK comes with a 4.2-liter V8 churning out 300 hp and 310 pound-feet of torque, while the XKR's supercharged version of the same engine pumps out 420 hp and 418 lb-ft of torque. Both models come standard with a six-speed automatic with steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters for automanual control. Jaguar's old "J-gate" shifter has finally been replaced with a new design that could perhaps be called a Backwards L Gate or Upside-Down 7 Gate.

The XKR adds sportier interior trim, 19-inch wheels (versus 18s), a firmer suspension, retuned steering, larger front brakes and exterior modifications like an aluminum mesh grille. The XK's standard stability control program is reprogrammed for the XKR to allow the driver more leeway and the option of shutting it off completely.

In road tests and reviews, we've found the regular Jaguar XK to be a little disappointing in terms of acceleration; the coupe's 0-60-mph time of 6.4 seconds is about a second slower than some competitors' times. Both XKR models are expectedly much quicker, going from zero to 60 mph in 4.9 seconds. When driving calls for something other than a straight line, both XKs display impressive composure through high-speed sweeping turns. On tighter roads, though, they lack a nimble feel. One final aspect to consider before a purchase would be reliability. In the three XKs we drove, we discovered electrical gremlins involving the touchscreen interface that operates navigation, stereo and climate functions.

Past Jaguar XK models

They say cats have nine lives and quite appropriately, it takes a long time for Jaguar coupes and roadsters to die. The XKE survived from 1961-'74 before being replaced by the very different XJS, which languished in mediocrity for 22 years before being mercifully put out of its misery. By comparison, the 10-year-old XK8 was practically a kitten when it was replaced by today's XK.

The 1997 Jaguar XK8 debuted in coupe and convertible body styles, with the XKR arriving in 2000. The standard 290-hp 4.0-liter engine was Jaguar's first-ever V8 and only the fourth all-new engine in its history. We were impressed with its low-end torque and found that it accelerated from zero to 60 mph in 6.7 seconds. We also thought it was "a hoot to drive" with effortless acceleration, precise steering and a supple suspension.

Inside, the XK8 featured a classic Jaguar look with lots of Connolly leather and walnut trim. Although it began to look antiquated later in life with unintuitive controls and subpar materials, in the retro-crazed late '90s, it was certifiably chic. The car's cramped interior dimensions and small trunk were never in style, however.

In 2003, the Jaguar XK-Series engine was upgraded to 294 hp and 303 lb-ft of torque (from 284 lb-ft), sending the coupe from zero to 60 in 6.1 seconds – which is better than the current model. That year also saw a new six-speed automatic and more than 900 other mostly minor changes, none of which touched the still-attractive sheet metal. After that, the XK8 prowled about through 2006 without any significant updates.

The high-performance XKR featured a supercharged version of the 4.0-liter V8, making 370 hp and 387 lb-ft of torque. Zero to 60 mph in the coupe was accomplished in 5.1 seconds. The 2003 revisions also applied to the XKR, including a power boost to 390 hp and 399 lb-ft of torque.

Prior to the XK8, Jaguar offered the XJS coupe and convertible. The latter appeared in 1989, replacing the odd "Cabriolet" model, which featured a Jeep Wrangler-esque retractable roof that maintained the window frames. By 1990, a 262-hp 5.3-liter V12 was the standard engine. It was briefly replaced in 1993 by a 4.0-liter inline-6 making only 219 hp, but a new 278-hp, 6.0-liter V12 emerged in 1994 to complement the standard six-cylinder. A four-speed automatic replaced the ancient GM TH400 three-speed auto in 1993. In 1992, a new head- and taillight design debuted.

The XJS was actually heavier than today's XK, making it all the more slow, ponderous to drive and generally undesirable. Also, with its 1970s-era interior and Jaguar's notoriously poor reliability from this era, used-car shoppers should avoid the XJS as if it were a rabid cat in heat.
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Lamborghini Gallardo Review

Although it's probably difficult for most people to think of a nearly $200,000 automobile as "affordable," that's the position the Lamborghini Gallardo coupe and spyder convertible find themselves in within the Lambo product lineup. But no matter -- sports cars with exotic looks and the performance to match have a built-in ownership audience.

2007 Lamborghini Gallardo Coupe Shown

Since its introduction, the mission for this "baby Lamborghini" has been to maintain the style and attitude of Lamborghini's 12-cylinder cars but be more livable in everyday use. It's been a successful strategy, as there's been no shortage of takers who rightly lust after such a usable and alluring sports car. In fact, the Gallardo has become this Italian automaker's best-selling model ever.

In terms of layout and design, the Lamborghini Gallardo is a true exotic. There's a mid-mounted V10 engine, all-wheel drive and the availability of an F1-style transmission. To keep weight down, the chassis is a composite blend of alloy stampings, extrusions and castings. And except for the traditionally opening steel doors (no scissors), the exterior is constructed of thermoplastic-formed panels.

Inside, the Gallardo's handsome furnishings sublimely marry form with function and offer a surprising level of comfort for a vehicle of this type. Credit is certainly due to the influence of parent company Audi, whose expertise with interior design has been of no small benefit since the Volkswagen Group purchased Lamborghini in the late 1990s.

Without too much difficultly, one can claim that the Gallardo is Lamborghini's best sports car ever. If there's anything lacking, it's the outrageous spirit and flair so often associated with the company's more expensive or legendary offerings. But the trade-off of a little spirit for a lot of functionality has been a good one, and there's no doubt that the Gallardo is a true, world-class exotic.

Current Lamborghini Gallardo

The exotic Lamborghini Gallardo is currently available as a coupe or spyder convertible, with the coupe available in two trim levels: base and SE. Standard equipment includes 19-inch alloy wheels, xenon headlights, fully powered accessories and a CD audio system. A winter package adds heated mirrors and seats along with winter tires and specific wheels. A sport suspension, navigation system, carbon-ceramic brakes and rear back-up camera are also available. In keeping with its pedigree, the Gallardo's trim and paint can be further customized, too. The limited-production SE is similar to the base coupe mechanically, but has a specific two-tone color treatment and includes as standard equipment some of the base car's optional features.

A new addition for 2007 is the Gallardo Superleggera. This coupe-only model has been modified for even better performance. It features 10 additional horsepower, slightly different suspension settings and an approximate 150-pound-lighter curb weight thanks to extensive use of carbon fiber and reduced feature content.

For optimum dynamic balance, the 5.0-liter V10 engine is positioned just aft of the driver. It develops 512 horsepower (522 for the Superleggera) and 376 pound-feet of torque. Power is sent to all four wheels through a six-speed manual transmission. An automated, sequential-shifting manual "e-gear" transmission is also available, which can be placed in an automatic mode or shifted via steering-wheel-mounted paddles. Antilock brakes, traction control and stability control are standard safety fare, as are head-protecting side curtain airbags.

Audi's influence is obvious inside the Lamborghini Gallardo, with plenty of precisely fitting leather and soft-touch materials. Despite the fact that this is an exotic sports car, seating is comfortable enough to accommodate the occasional road trip. Though not as flamboyant as its extroverted exterior, the interior styling still befits a vehicle in this price range. Storage space is tight, though, with a minimal amount of room available behind the seats and in the nose-mounted trunk.

But once behind the wheel, you'll gladly leave everything behind in exchange for the sweet, sonorous symphony of its V10 at full throttle. With more than 500 horses at your command, the Gallardo is capable of spine-compressing speed in any gear. The big V10 and all-wheel-drive system do add quite a bit of mass, so it doesn't deliver the razor's-edge responsiveness of some of its rivals. And the powerful brakes can feel a bit inconsistent at the limit. But there's still plenty to like about the Gallardo. Its gearing practically begs you to rev the V10 for all it's worth, and its AWD system certainly gives it a clear advantage for safely wringing out maximum performance when the road ahead is slick and unfamiliar.

Past Lamborghini Gallardo Models

The Gallardo coupe debuted in 2004. An expanded lineup arrived in 2006 featuring the addition of the spyder convertible with an automatic folding soft top and the SE model featuring two-tone color treatments and a host of mechanical updates that ultimately extended to the regular Gallardo as well.
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Mazda MAZDA6 Review

There may be no segment of the market more competitive than that of the midsize car. With two or three well-established Japanese-brand vehicles dominating the segment, and dozens of likable competitors trying to unseat them, it's tough for any particular vehicle to stand out.

2008 Mazda MAZDA6 s Sport Hatchback Shown

However, the handsome Mazda 6 has something most others midsize cars do not: charisma. Launched for the 2003 model year, the Mazda 6 has received rave reviews for its edgy, handsome design and stylish interior. Even more impressive are its communicative steering, responsive suspension and lively 4-cylinder and V6 engines. Available with a sport-oriented automatic transmission or an enthusiast-pleasing manual, the Mazda 6 is a veritable dance teacher in a class full of wallflowers.

Another ace up the Mazda 6's sleeve is its choice of three body styles. While most competitors offer only a sedan body for their midsize model, the Mazda 6 is also available as a versatile four-door hatchback or a stylish wagon. Thus combining the Mazda 6's inherent goodness with cavernous cargo areas, both the hatchback and wagon represent fun-to-drive, sensible alternatives not just to sedans, but to larger, heavier SUVs.

Although its passenger space and interior quality still lag behind those of the segment leaders, and the V6 could benefit from some extra horsepower, the Mazda 6 remains a good match for midsize car shoppers in search of something a bit zestier than basic transportation.

The Mazda 6 (officially called the MAZDA6) is available as a midsize sedan, four-door hatchback or wagon. For each, there are two trim levels: i and s. The Mazda 6 i is powered by a reasonably gutsy 160-horsepower 4-cylinder engine mated to either a 5-speed manual or 5-speed automatic transmission. The performance potential is stepped up considerably with the s, thanks to its 215-hp V6. The s is available with the manual or a 6-speed automatic.

Both Mazda 6 i and Mazda 6 s models come in base form, or with one of three option packages: Sport, Grand Touring or Grand Sport. With power accessories, keyless entry, cruise control and nice cloth upholstery, even base models are reasonably well equipped. Sport models add exterior accessories such as a rear spoiler and foglights and a few interior items, while Grand Touring and Grand Sport models add wheel/tire upgrades and several luxury extras.

An edgy factory-tuned, high-performance version of the sedan, called the MazdaSpeed 6, is powered by a high-strung, 278-hp turbocharged 4-cylinder engine that's coupled to all-wheel drive. The MazdaSpeed 6 is available only in Grand Touring and Grand Sport trims, and comes only with a 6-speed manual transmission.

On the safety front, the Mazda 6 offers standard traction control and antilock brakes. Front-seat side airbags and head-protecting side curtain airbags are standard on all but i base models. Stability control is standard on the MazdaSpeed 6, but unavailable on any other models.

In Mazda 6 reviews, the car has received praise for its precise steering, responsive handling and well-appointed interior. In comparison to some other popular midsize cars, however, the 6 is let down by its less roomy backseat and rather average output from its V6 engine.

These qualities also hold true for used Mazda 6s. There have been only a few updates to the car since its debut. The most significant have been the change from a 5-speed to 6-speed automatic in 2005 for V6 cars, and a change from a 4-speed to 5-speed automatic in 2006 for 4-cylinder models. Mazda also made interior and exterior updates in '06, and added extra standard features.

The Mazda 6 replaced the forgettable 626. This model, particularly in its last two generations, 1993-'97 and 1998-2002, sorely lacked distinction. Ironically, like the Mazda 6, early 626 models were celebrated for their European styling and emphasis on performance, but in later years, they slipped into midsize sedan oblivion as Mazda took the car mainstream with too-conservative styling and a sedan-only body style.
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2007 Mazda MAZDASPEED MAZDA6 Sedan

Since its launch, the Mazda 6 has been a favorite among those looking for a midsize sedan with a little more verve. Characterized by its edgy good looks and sporty handling, the 6 also provides the requisite amounts of comfort and features expected in the class. It has been criticized, though, for not offering enough power from its optional 3.0-liter V6. To compensate, Mazda introduced the high-performance Mazdaspeed 6 in 2006.

Beyond the regular 6, the Mazdaspeed version features a turbocharged four-cylinder engine, all-wheel drive, a limited-slip rear differential, larger brakes, a sport-tuned suspension and subtle body modifications. The result is a performance-tuned sedan well-suited for driving enthusiasts who need a usable backseat but can't (or won't) pay for more expensive sport sedans.

Current Mazda Mazdaspeed 6

Compared to boy racer mods made to cars like the Subaru WRX STI or Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution, the styling tweaks made to the Mazdaspeed 6 are subtle. There are no hood scoops or rear wings the size of mom's ironing board. In fact, its trunk lid spoiler is noticeably smaller than the regular Mazda 6's wing. The most noticeable transformations were made to the front fascia to accommodate a bigger airdam and a taller hood needed for the turbo's intercooler. Fifteen-spoke 18-inch wheels and larger dual tailpipes round out the visual spice.

The biggest changes are found under the hood, where a turbocharged and direct-injected version of Mazda's 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine pumps out an impressive 274 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque. Zero to 60 mph goes by in 6.1 seconds, with the quarter-mile achieved in 14.3 seconds. Though the regular 6 is front-wheel drive, the Mazdaspeed version gets an exclusive all-wheel-drive system to prevent torque steer and improve handling. It automatically varies the power split between 100 percent to the front wheels and a 50/50 front/rear ratio, depending on factors such as traction, steering angle and yaw. The driver can also select Normal, Sports and Snow modes for optimized traction. A limited-slip rear differential borrowed from the Mazda RX-8 rounds out the handling modifications.

The Mazdaspeed 6 is available in Sport and Grand Touring models. Inside, there are few differences from the standard Mazda 6 cabin, which is perfectly acceptable due to its good build quality, classy patterned plastics and stylish red lighting. The front seats are sporty and comfortable, though the rear hiproom and shoulder room are tight compared to other midsize family sedans. Both trims come equipped with xenon headlamps, automatic climate control, a Bose stereo with six-CD changer and a tilt/telescoping steering wheel with audio controls. The Grand Touring adds leather, an eight-way power driver seat, heated front seats and keyless ignition. Navigation, satellite radio, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and a moonroof are options on the Grand Touring.

In reviews, we were impressed with the Mazdaspeed 6's combination of performance, practicality and value. Its handling and mostly lag-free turbocharged acceleration impressed, as did its roomy interior and subtle exterior that allows for discreet performance. There are drawbacks, however, and most have to do with its everyday use. The steering and clutch are heavy, making this 6 an iffy choice for five-day stop-and-go traffic. There's also no automatic transmission offered.

Past Mazda Mazdaspeed 6 models

The Mazda Mazdaspeed 6 sedan was all-new for the 2006 model year and has not been changed.
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Mazda MX-5 Miata Review

When the Mazda MX-5 Miata roadster debuted in 1989, this snazzy little convertible was an instant hit. Marking a revival of the affordable roadster format that was once dominated by British automakers, the Mazda Miata introduced a modern approach to reliability and engineering. Buyers lined up outside Mazda dealerships and gladly paid sticker price-plus-some for the fetching new Miata.

Though the initial mania has long since faded, the Mazda Miata continues to be a very popular convertible. Over the years, Mazda's little roadster has gotten bigger and heftier due to the addition of comfort and safety equipment. But it's also gotten more powerful and capable. The first major redesign came in 1999. Our editors found that Mazda improved the second-generation Miata with a larger interior, a stiffened chassis, exposed headlamps and more aggressive styling, without bumping up the price or diluting its perky personality.

The third-generation car continues the trend. It still changes direction like a go-kart, communicates clearly to the driver and accelerates with an inspiring inline-4 growl. If you're in the market for an affordable car that provides plenty of top-down, open-road thrills, we highly recommend putting a new or used Mazda Miata on your list.

The current MX-5 Miata has gone upscale with the inclusion of an available power hardtop on Grand Touring, Touring and Sport models, with regular power soft tops standard in these models, as well as a value-filled Base version. This somewhat simplified new lineup replaces the six multiple personalities -- Club Spec, Base, Touring, Sport, Grand Touring and Limited -- previously offered since the third-generation redesign in 2006.

All Mazda Miatas are powered by a 2.0-liter, inline four-cylinder engine good for 170 horsepower -- nearly as much as previous turbocharged Mazdaspeed high-performance models. Depending on trim levels you'll find this power routed to the rear wheels through a five- or six-speed manual transmission, or an available six-speed automatic for shiftless types -- though with the automatic, horsepower drops to 166.

In terms of options, luxurious items like leather seats and a seven-speaker Bose audio system are available. But with the Mazda MX-5 Miata, we feel "less" may actually be "more." If you're piling a ton of extras on this little sports car, you're missing the point: The essence of this Mazda roadster is about simplicity in design and operation, and about having fun and feeling unencumbered behind the wheel on a warm summer night.

If you're such a purist (or a racing enthusiast) and shopping for a used Mazda Miata, we suggest you save a few bucks and shop for a non-special edition or Club Spec model with just the basics like a five-speed manual, tilt wheel, CD player and power windows/mirrors -- or a simple Base model, which adds air-conditioning and a leather-wrapped steering wheel to the mix.

To meet the ever-increasing demand for comfort and safety equipment, the MX-5 Miata was carefully redesigned in 1999 and improved over the original in almost every way. The following year, a streamlined model lineup included the Miata and Miata LS with three simplified option packages available. In 2001, horsepower was bumped again to 155 and a six-speed manual was optional on the Miata LS. The MX-5 received a Mazdaspeed makeover and newfound life in 2004, featuring a 178-hp turbocharged engine, high-performance suspension and exterior styling enhancements.

The original Mazda Miata roadster of 1990 offered one engine, one transmission and three colors: red, white and blue. Detail improvements saw the Miata through its first several years, with revised option packages, more power and a stunning M-edition with Merlot Mica paint, tan top and matching leather interior and 15-inch BBS wheels available in 1995. Competition-minded individuals might want to focus on R-Package-equipped Miatas introduced in 1994, which turned the Miata into a race-ready street machine with drivetrain and suspension modifications. The final year for this model was 1997, and there was no 1998 model.
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Mazda RX-8 Review

Most people know that Mazda builds sporty cars. But for driving enthusiasts, it's the company's history of building sport coupes with lightweight rotary engines that sets it apart from the competition. The Mazda RX-8 is the latest of these coupes, and it's the only one with a four-door configuration.

2008 Mazda RX-8 Grand Touring Coupe Shown

The heart of the Mazda RX-8 is its high-revving, 1.3-liter rotary engine called the Renesis. It's a made-up word: The "R" and the "e" stand for "Rotary engine," while "nesis" comes from the word "genesis." Odd name aside, the Renesis engine is an impressive bit of engineering: Unlike its forbears, it locates the exhaust ports on the side of each of the combustion chambers, rather than on the outer edge of the rotary housing. Sounds simple, but this one change allows for more power, higher fuel economy and lower emissions.

Because of the engine's compact size, engineers were able to mount it further back in the RX-8's chassis, giving the car a coveted 50/50 front/rear weight distribution. This, along with balanced suspension tuning, sharp steering and a svelte 3,000-pound curb weight, makes the rear-wheel-drive RX-8 one of the best-handling cars on the market. It's certainly among the best sports cars available for less than $30,000, and deserving of any consideration you give it.

Introduced for 2004, the Mazda RX-8 heralded the return of the rotary-powered sports car to the U.S. after a near decade-long hiatus. It also gave Mazda an image car with greater stature and performance credentials than the fun-loving Miata. Although the RX-8 hasn't been a runaway sales success, most people would agree it's been good for the company's reputation.

Although Mazda sells its sport coupe with either a manual or automatic transmission, the six-speed manual version is really the only way to experience an RX-8. It's not just the closer connection you feel to the car when moving the short-throw shifter among the neatly defined gates. It's the fact that manual-shift RX-8s get a more powerful version of the 1.3-liter rotary engine.

In a manual-equipped Mazda RX-8, horsepower crests at 238 at 8,500 rpm, with redline hitting at an amazing 9,000. Low-end torque has never been a strong suit of rotary engines, and with a mere 159 pound-feet coming together at 5,500 rpm, the RX-8 doesn't really feel potent below 4,000. Fortunately, the rotary engine loves to rev and is very smooth when doing it.

Inside Line testers have timed the RX-8 at 6.6 seconds to 60 mph and 15.1 seconds through the quarter-mile -- respectable numbers but not enough to win many straight-line acceleration crowns in this class. However, Mazda's rotary coupe quickly makes up ground when the road turns curvy.

Automatic RX-8s are tamer, redlining at just 7,500 rpm. If you're going to buy one, 2006 and newer models are your best bet, as they come with a more advanced six-speed automatic transmission with steering column-mounted paddle shifters. They also provide 212 hp at 7,500 rpm, compared to 197 in the '04 and '05 models, which came with a four-speed automatic.

In spite of its capability, the Mazda RX-8 rides comfortably enough to serve as a daily commuter, though with fuel economy typically hovering in the high teens, it's not the most economical choice. The rear seats are roomy enough to seat adults on short trips, and reverse-hinged rear doors allow the loading of bulky car seats.

RX-8s come standard with all the essential amenities, though manual versions come with a firmer suspension and 18-inch wheels, which are optional on the automatic. Further suspension upgrades are available via the Shinka special-edition package. You can also add luxuries like leather upholstery and a navigation system.

Although it has an extra set of doors, the Mazda RX-8 is a descendant of the two-door RX-7 sport coupe sold in three generations from 1979-'95. The RX-7 was yanked from the U.S. market due to poor sales and difficulty in meeting emissions standards, but lived on in the Japanese market through 2002. At the time of its U.S. demise, the third-gen RX-7 was a much more expensive car than today's RX-8, with a base price of $32,500 in 1995 dollars.

That's not to say it wasn't worth the extra money. Sold from 1993-'95, this model was turbocharged and capable of 255 hp at 6,500 rpm and 217 lb-ft of torque at 5,000 rpm. Zero to 60 took just 5.5 seconds, with the quarter-mile mark coming in 14 seconds flat. Not only was it fast, it was a superb handler, often inspiring comparisons to Formula cars. Harsh ride quality was the big downside. This car fetches high prices on the used market, though potential buyers should be attentive to excessive wear and tear and aftermarket modifications made by the previous owner.
8:22 AM | 0 Comments : | Read More

Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren Review

South Africa might seem a strange place to launch a 200-mph exotic sports-GT car that will find owners mainly in the U.S. and western Europe. More so when you consider that the most significant achievement by an SLR model was in Italy, at the Mille Miglia event of 1955. But Mercedes-Benz
has conducted operations in South Africa for more than 45 years, including complete vehicle assembly. More important, the weather in mid-November is fabulous.

Piloting these left-drive-only coupes in a right-hand-drive market took only a short adjustment, leaving us free to enjoy the SLR’s addictive power against the spectacularly scenic backdrop of the Cape mountains. The audio soundtrack wasn’t bad, either, with a muted but shrill scream of a twin-screw Lysholm blower accompanying a distinctly staccato roar from the 617-hp V-8’s side pipes every time the driver stabbed the pedal.

Each of the engine’s cylinder banks enjoys a stream of condensed intake air from separate intercoolers, together producing a torque curve quite similar to the profile of Cape Town’s Table Mountain. There is already 440 pound-feet of torque by 1500 rpm, and well over 500 pound-feet between 3000 and 5000 rpm. This lends mind-boggling elasticity to the SLR, with passing performance that has to be felt to be appreciated.

We’ve become fairly accustomed to huge output from AMG-built engines, but most of those are housed in conventional steel models weighing quite a bit more than the 3800-pound, carbon-fiber-bodied SLR. This isn’t exactly svelte when one considers that carbon fiber weighs half as much as steel. Mercedes claims 3.8 seconds for the 0-to-60-mph scramble, and we think that might be a conservative estimate.

The carbon-fiber structure, produced in an all-new facility in Woking, England, is the real story of the SLR, and it celebrates the relationship between Mercedes-Benz
and McLaren in the Formula 1 circus. Under McLaren’s management, this new plant conducts the high-tech assembly procedures that will give birth to 3500 examples of the SLR over the next seven years.

This carbon-fiber road car exploits that material’s amazing strength and feathery weight for high performance and safety. The entire body is a composite molding, with beautiful front and rear aluminum subframes bolted and bonded to the tub to mount the engine and undercarriage. Below the tub is a completely flat underbody.

When you flip open the long clamshell hood, it’s a surprise to see how little of the exposed interior is filled by the engine. For optimal weight distribution (the percentage, front to rear, is 51/49), the engine protrudes only two or so feet forward of the base of the windshield. Ahead of that is a monstrous snorkel reaching for cool air rushing in around the three-pointed star.

Other neat features visible under the hood are the forged-aluminum double control arms, along with an anti-roll bar mounted above the suspension and torqued by a Formula 1–style rocker assembly.

At each end of the car are conical crash members made of 25,000 carbon-fiber filaments wound from 48 reels using techniques developed by the textile industry. As exhibits from crash tests proved, these crash members provide remarkable absorption and resistance to impact damage.

The composite body is palpably stiff to the car’s occupants, never emitting a squeak or groan on the worst surfaces, despite a suspension on the firm side. Those A-pillar-mounted gullwing doors—opening to 107 degrees and attracting hordes of onlookers—would undoubtedly betray deficiencies in the structure if there were any.

The inside of the SLR is as exotic as the Batmobile exterior, with carbon-fiber seat shells covered in fine leather and a cockpit built of contrasting colors and textures. To start the SLR, you turn the stubby key, flip a cover at the top of the gear selector, and thumb the button that hides there to bring the 5.4-liter V-8 rumbling to life.

Mercedes’ strongest five-speed automatic (with manual override) still required internal reinforcements to handle the enormous horsepower of the SLR. It offers three levels of transmission performance—comfort, sport, and manual. In manual mode, the box shifts only in response to the wheel-mounted buttons or a side swipe at the selector, and it has an additional three levels of response and shift speeds set by yet another rotary knob.

We like that this manumatic can be made fully responsive to the driver, turning the automatic box into something very like the paddle-shift system in Ferraris and allowing you to hold gears for corner entries and such. We like the electronic braking system less. There’s an initial dead zone in the pedal travel, and one instinctively feels for the usual hydraulic takeup point, whereupon the giant eight-piston front calipers take a firmer bite on the 14.6-inch ceramic discs than you’d planned.

Other than that, the SLR is largely devoid of the syrupy control feel that coats most Mercedes cars. Its steering is deliberate and linear, the power delivery smooth but somehow raw, the ride firm and immediate. There’s quite a bit of grip from the made-to-order Michelin Pilot Sport tires, abetted by a McLaren-tuned chassis and Mercedes-Benz’s electronic stability program, which—for once—has a pretty high threshold. A pity it still steps in so intrusively, but with so much potential and so much value in the car, maybe that’s a good thing.

There were mixed reactions to the SLR’s styling at its first appearance, but the positive response by potential buyers now suggests that every example will find a home.
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Mercedes-Benz C-Class Review

2008 Mercedes-Benz C-Class C300 Luxury Sedan

The Mercedes-Benz C-Class, or the "Baby Benz" as it is affectionately known, has been a favorite of entry-level luxury/sport sedan buyers for years. More than just a small sedan with a few three-pointed stars thrown on it, the C-Class provides the core strengths of the brand, such as cutting-edge safety features, lively performance and a feeling of security. Fans of ultra-high performance have been thrilled by the AMG versions, which boast blistering performance and tenacious handling along with unique, yet tasteful styling accents.

Style plays into the equation of the small Benz's appeal as well, with the C-Class drawing inspiration from bigger Benzes. The crouching stance with its arcing belt line, the elliptical front lights and the triangular taillights are instantly recognizable throughout most of the Mercedes family. In the past, the cabin of the Mercedes-Benz C-Class has been criticized for some lapses in fit and finish, though current models show this issue has been addressed.

Invariably, the C-Class is cross-shopped with its countryman rivals, the Audi A4 and BMW 3 Series. While the 3 Series is the most sporting of the trio and the A4 the more luxury-themed, the Benz offers a little of both personalities, along with more prestige for those concerned about such things.

The Mercedes-Benz C-Class first debuted in 2001 and is currently available as a sedan only. There are essentially four trim levels: C230 Sport, C280 Luxury, C350 Sport and C350 Luxury. Enthusiasts will want to consider the C230 and C350 Sport sedans, both of which have firmly tuned suspensions with 17-inch wheels, manual transmissions and more aggressively bolstered sport seats. The chief difference between these two is what's under the hood -- the C230 Sport has a 2.5-liter V6 (201 horsepower) while the C350 Sport has a 3.5-liter V6 (268 hp).

The Luxury C-Class models, which come only with automatic gearboxes, include the C280 (3.0-liter V6, 228 hp) and C350 and come with coddling features such as softer suspension calibrations, leather upholstery, real wood trim and power seats. Options include HID headlights, a 12-speaker Harmon Kardon audio system, satellite radio and a navigation system. Most C-Class models are rear-wheel drive, but Mercedes offers all-wheel-drive versions (called "4Matic") of the C280 Luxury and C350 Luxury.

In-house tuning firm AMG offers serious sport sedans for those with deep pockets and an equally deep-seated desire for high performance. The Mercedes-Benz C55 AMG features a 5.5-liter 362-hp V8 engine and a massaged five-speed automatic. This sedan can blast to 60 mph in fewer than five seconds. More than a one-trick pony, the C55 is as adept at unraveling a twisty road as it is burning up the highway. It can also make for a fine daily driver thanks to supportive seats and a measured ride quality.

Those considering the standard Mercedes-Benz C-Class probably wouldn't regret their purchase, as there should be more than enough performance and luxury to satisfy them. However, savvy shoppers should know that other automakers, particularly those from Japan, offer roomier, less costly alternatives that equal or better the C-Class in performance and features, if not status. The AMG version has just a few rivals, and although any entry in this rarefied class will provide stupendous performance, only the C55 does it with a healthy dose of Mercedes-Benz style.

Shoppers interested in a used C-Class from this generation should take note of a variety of changes Mercedes has made since the car's debut. The most significant changes occurred in 2006, at which point Mercedes introduced new engines and transmissions and discontinued some additional body styles. Those extra body styles were an affordable two-door hatchback and a four-door wagon. Mercedes has also altered the AMG model during this generation; previous to 2005, it was known as the C32 AMG and had a 3.2-liter supercharged V6 capable of 349 hp.

The previous Mercedes-Benz C-Class debuted in 1994 as a replacement for the small 190-Class sedan. With more room, a more luxurious cabin and styling that mimicked the larger E-Class, the first C-Class could be had with four-cylinder (C220) or six-cylinder (C280) power, with output ranging from 148 to 194 horsepower. There was no wagon offered at all during this generation's run (1994-2000). Safety has always been a priority with Mercedes, and as such the C-Class benefited from the early adoption of such technologies as stability control, emergency brake assist and side airbags. Performance of the base C rose through the years, as the 2.2-liter four gave way to a 2.3-liter, which was then replaced by a 2.3-liter supercharged unit.

The hot-rod AMG versions started in 1995 with the C36 that featured a 268-hp inline six. Serious firepower arrived in 1998 with the debut of the C43, whose 4.3-liter V8 pumped out 302 horsepower. Diehard enthusiasts should know that only automatic transmissions came with the AMGs, though this hardly hurt the performance of these fast little sedans.

Either way, used-car shoppers should know that the Mercedes C-Class historically scores high in crash tests, and ownership satisfaction is generally quite high, with consumers praising handling, ride and reliability. However, maintenance is typically costly.
8:08 AM | 1 Comments : | Read More

Mercedes-Benz CLK-Class Review

2008 Mercedes-Benz CLK-Class CLK350 Convertible

Throughout most of the 1980s and '90s, Mercedes seemed to focus strictly on the business side of the luxury spectrum by producing sedans, sedans and, well, more sedans. With the exception of one stratospherically priced roadster, style seemed to be a secondary concern, and there was nary a two-door to be found.

The Mercedes-Benz CLK-Class put an end to that. Born as a coupe first and a cabriolet (convertible) second, the CLK combined a curvy, low-slung body with four-seat practicality at a price digestible to the moderately wealthy masses. To no one's surprise, it was a hit.

Like its competitors, the Mercedes-Benz CLK traces the majority of its mechanicals to an existing sedan -- in this case, the compact C-Class. However, Mercedes has always tried to position the CLK as a higher entity than its entry-luxury source material. To that end, the company has offered the CLK with engines and transmissions from the more upscale E-Class, and the first-generation CLK even went so far as to crib its front styling from the E-Class of the time. Unfortunately, Mercedes has also felt that this higher pedigree deserved higher pricing, too.

But the sum of the CLK's parts has mostly gone over well with us. Both CLK generations offer refined road manners, a sufficient amount of sportiness and the expected levels of Mercedes-Benz luxury, safety and prestige. And while the CLK's interior control layout might be too complicated for its own good, this coupe and convertible pair does a passable job of seating four adults -- and remains the only two-door Benz besides the ultra-expensive CL-Class that can make such a claim.

Most Recent Mercedes-Benz CLK-Class

While the design of this current (second-generation) Mercedes-Benz CLK only dates back a few years, engine changes have altered the names of every family member during the model cycle. Currently, both the coupe and convertible come as a CLK350 powered by a 3.5-liter V6 with 268 horsepower and a CLK550 powered by a 5.4-liter V8 with 382 hp. A seven-speed automatic transmission drives the rear wheels of all CLKs.

For buyers needing still more, Mercedes' AMG in-house performance division offers a CLK63 AMG coupe and convertible. The CLK63 convertible is the more mainstream of the two -- that is, if you can call a car with a 475-hp 6.2-liter V8 mainstream. The AMG coupe, known as the CLK63 AMG Black Series, is an altogether different animal. In addition to getting an even 500 hp from its 6.2-liter, this special car incorporates a fully adjustable, track-tuned suspension and numerous weight-saving measures (including the removal of the backseat). Both AMG cars use modified versions of the seven-speed automatic.

Major standard equipment on the CLK350 includes 17-inch alloy wheels, leather upholstery, power seats, dual-zone climate control and a power tilt-telescoping steering wheel. Interior accommodations are airy in CLK coupes, thanks to their B-pillarless design; CLK convertibles have a quick-acting power-operated cloth top. In addition to their extra power, CLK550 models add a body kit, different-colored interior pieces and paddle shifters for the automatic transmission.

The Mercedes-Benz CLK63 convertible adds a sport-tuned suspension, performance exhaust, laterally bolstered front seats, seat heaters, two-tone leather, aluminum trim and an upgraded stereo. Compared to the CLK63 convertible, the Black Series coupe features harder-edged running gear including larger brakes, lightweight wheels and stickier tires. Inside, it's outfitted more like a racecar, dispensing with the typical myriad of power seat adjustments in favor of true sport seats with manual fore/aft adjustment. It also does without side airbags, but otherwise has all the safety equipment of other CLKs, including stability control.

We've generally been pleased with the driving character of the current Mercedes-Benz CLK-Class, although in non-AMG form, it's definitely more of a grand touring car than a sport coupe. The steering is slower than we'd like, but it's more precise than that of the previous model, and overall, the CLK350 and CLK550 handle fairly nimbly while riding comfortably. They're plenty quick, too.

As you'd expect, the faster CLK63s are firmer-riding on the expressway, but there's a payoff in balance and grip through the corners. The CLK63 AMG Black Series coupe is a particularly impressive machine in this environment and that's no surprise considering its origins: It's basically a street-legal version of the Formula One pace car and is, without a doubt, Mercedes' most serious performance car besides the SLR McLaren. A limited run of 700 cars worldwide should ensure instant collectible status.

Black Series aside, there's a lot to like in the Mercedes-Benz CLK-Class, though there are two major caveats for would-be buyers. First is its high price tag, which leaves the CLK thousands of dollars out of whack from its closest competitor, the BMW 3 Series, but still unable to equal the more elite 6 Series in either performance or prestige. The second issue is that despite the CLK's formidable power, it simply isn't as engaging to drive as either of these Bimmers.

If you're interested in purchasing a used, second-generation CLK, there are a few changes to be aware of. This line of CLK originated in 2003. First came the coupes, which at the time were a CLK320 with a 215-hp 3.2-liter V6, a CLK500 with a 302-hp 5.0-liter V8 and a CLK55 AMG with a 362-hp 5.4-liter V8. Convertible equivalents to all three joined for 2004.

In 2005, the CLK500 switched from a five-speed automatic to the current seven-speed automatic transmission. This was also the last year the CLK55 AMG was available in coupe form, and the year the navigation system switched from a CD-based to a DVD-based unit.

The following year, the CLK320 became the CLK350 (and also adapted the seven-speed), while 2007 was when the CLK500 and CLK55 converted to the current CLK550 and CLK63 AMG, respectively. During the transition, the CLK63 convertible adopted a sport-tuned version of the seven-speed transmission. An AMG coupe also returned for '07, albeit only in limited-edition Black Series form with a six-figure price tag.

Past Mercedes-Benz CLK-Class Models

The first-generation Mercedes-Benz CLK was produced for the 1998-2002 model years in coupe form. The convertible was available from 1999-2003. Each debuted as a CLK320 powered by a 215-hp 3.2-liter V6. The CLK430 variant, motivated by a 275-hp 4.3-liter V8, arrived a year later. The high-performance CLK55 AMG coupe and its 342-hp 5.4-liter V8 joined the line in 2001. Its convertible equivalent followed in 2002, and both went away at year's end.

All models had standard leather, dual-zone automatic climate control, SmartKey keyless entry, a Bose cassette stereo, power seats with memory, front seat side airbags and antilock brakes. CLK430 models added 17-inch wheels, aero enhancements and different-colored interior items. CLK55 AMGs went further with a stiffer suspension, performance exhaust, xenon headlights, a sunroof, rain-sensing wipers, multicontour front seats, front seat heaters and a rear sunshade.

The first changes came for 1999, when stability control became standard on the CLK430 and optional on the CLK320. In 2000 this safety feature became standard across the board, as did Mercedes' new TeleAid emergency communications system. Also, the five-speed automatic transmission on all models gained a manual mode.

The original Mercedes-Benz CLK-Class didn't drive as nicely as the current one. Power wasn't the issue, as all CLKs of this generation were fine performers. In reviews at the time, we took issue with the transmission, which often second-guessed the driver's intentions and delivered badly timed shifts. In addition, the brake pedal was on the spongy side, and the CLK's old-fashioned recirculating-ball steering setup was numb and heavy. On the highway, the car always felt solid and composed, however. Actual braking distances were excellent, too. Besides that, the CLK55 AMG coupe was then the quickest production Benz in history, hitting 60 mph in 5 seconds flat.

Our gripes on the inside concerned the lack of a tilt steering wheel, limited rear-seat headroom and the complexity of many of the controls. CLK Cabriolets suffered from cramped rear legroom, mediocre rear visibility and a power top that wasn't fully automatic (all of which were improved on the second-generation CLK).

In general, we still think the BMW 3 Series coupes and convertibles of the time were more rewarding cars to drive, not to mention less expensive. Still, if we were buying a CLK, our choice would be either the CLK320 or the CLK430. The Mercedes-Benz CLK55 AMG, as fast as it was, didn't offer a big enough performance enhancement to justify its price hike.
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Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class Review

2008 Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class CLS550 Sedan

When it comes to shaking up the luxury car world, no amount of power, technological sophistication or supple leather in the cabin can top an alluring design. More stunning in person than even the most flattering photography might suggest, the coupelike Mercedes CLS-Class has a visual presence that few other luxury sedans can match. And that is something that's not likely to change for some time to come.

The Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class offers a level of athleticism and sumptuousness that in the past has been difficult to find in one car. Although it makes use of a number of unique pieces throughout, a lot of the underlying structure and hardware comes from the well-regarded E-Class. The engines in the CLS550 and CLS63 AMG, for example, are shared with its brethren and are connected to Mercedes' excellent seven-speed automatic transmission with manual-shift capability.

While its rakish visage does wonders for the CLS' image, it also reduces interior dimensions in several key areas. Up front, the effects are minimal as the CLS feels every bit as accommodating as Mercedes' full-size luxury flagship. But in back, its dimensions are tighter in nearly every direction when compared to more mainstream sedans. Additionally, the small rear windows can make occupants feel closed in.

But these are pretty minor complaints. The Mercedes-Benz
CLS-Class isn't really a case of form over function; rather, it's a rare combination of the two that makes them satisfyingly complementary. For the luxury car buyer who desires distinctive styling, strong performance and a sumptuous interior, the CLS is easy to recommend.

Current Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class

The Mercedes-Benz CLS is available as the CLS550 or the CLS63 AMG. For both models, expect all the typical powered controls and luxury accoutrements. Mercedes' Airmatic suspension system comes standard, too, giving the CLS enough adjustability to suit every type of driver. Left in its standard comfort mode, it responds with typical luxury car motions -- soft when it needs to be and stiff enough to maintain sufficient control at all times. Additional settings programmed for more aggressive driving are available should you desire more precisely controlled handling.

As the rear-wheel-drive CLS is meant to be a relatively exclusive and upscale car, Mercedes hasn't bothered to offer a V6-powered model. Rather, the lineup starts with the CLS550. It's equipped with a 5.5-liter V8 developing 382 horsepower and 391 pound-feet of torque. The CLS63 AMG has a 6.2-liter V8 that makes 507 hp and 465 lb-ft. A seven-speed automatic with Sportronic manual-shift capability is the sole gearbox for both trims. Paddle shifters are standard on the CLS63 and optional on the CLS550.

With so many gears at its disposal, the CLS is never far from its sweet spot -- making the sizable luxury sedan feel just as quick as its horsepower number might suggest. Response from the advanced, world-class transmission is satisfyingly quick. Mercedes says the CLS63 AMG needs only 4.5 seconds to hit 60 mph.

Inside the cockpit, sweeping wood panels, chrome trim surrounds, premium materials and beautiful detailing set the CLS apart. However, the car's coupelike roof line and tighter door openings can make getting in and out of the rear seats more difficult. Once in place, the aft quarters are surprisingly accommodating. Six-footers might brush their heads, but plenty of leg and shoulder room keep it otherwise comfortable. The short windows make it feel less airy than a typical sedan, but compared to a traditional two-door coupe, the Mercedes-Benz CLS is legitimately comfortable in back rather than merely tolerable.

Although it's about 5 inches longer than its midsize stablemate, the CLS550 weighs only a few pounds more. Transitioning from one curve to the next makes it obvious that this is no full-size land yacht. Unlike its larger sibling that reminds you of its size when pushed, the CLS550 invites spirited driving at every turn thanks to its quicker steering and reduced body roll. The CLS63 AMG, meanwhile, pushes the envelope even further thanks to its sport-tuned suspension, more powerful brakes, and bigger wheels and tires.

Past Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class models

Mercedes-Benz introduced the stunning, performance-oriented CLS500 sedan in 2006. As the CLS500's name suggests, it came with a 5.0-liter V8 rated at 306 hp. In that first year, Mercedes also offered the 469-hp CLS55 AMG. These models were superseded by the CLS550 and CLS63 AMG for 2007.
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Mercedes-Benz S-Class Review

2008 Mercedes-Benz S-Class S550 Sedan

The Mercedes-Benz
S-Class is as synonymous with state-of-the-art luxury and safety features as it is with country club prestige. As Mercedes' largest sedan, the S-Class offers the most room for rear-seat passengers, making it a favorite of wealthy dads and heads of state alike.

Mercedes has used its flagship sedan to pioneer many modern technologies, such as airbags, antilock brakes and stability control. And though the most popular versions like the S430, S500 and S550 have been powered by V8s, some of the earlier cars could be had with six-cylinder and diesel engines as well. Since the '90s, Mercedes has also offered the V12-powered S600.

A choice of standard or long-wheelbase has been a longstanding tradition, though more recent years have seen just the longer ones imported to the North American market. Even AMG, Mercedes' in-house tuning division, has imbued the S-Class with its magic, giving this substantial luxury sedan performance equal to that of a sports car.

Before the 1990s, the S-Class' chief competition was the BMW 7 Series sedan, which like the Benz could be had with six- or eight-cylinder power and also offered standard and long-wheelbase variants. Now the big Mercedes faces rivals from Audi, Jaguar and Lexus as well, all of whom offer powerful, long-wheelbase flagships stocked with every conceivable luxury feature known to mankind. In spite of the pressure from these worthy opponents, the finely engineered and crafted Mercedes-Benz
S-Class still stands as a solid choice is this lofty segment.

Current Mercedes-Benz

Debuting in 2007, the current Mercedes-Benz
S-Class heralded a new styling direction for the company, meaning aggressive wheelwell flares and a wedgelike profile that's emphasized with a rising character line. The cabin now has a multifunction controller (similar to but easier to use than BMW's iDrive setup) mounted between the seats, which reduces the number of buttons on the dash. There are five trim levels: S550 (382-horsepower V8), S550 4Matic (S550 with all-wheel-drive), S600 (510-hp twin-turbo V12), S63 AMG (518-hp V8) and S65 AMG (604-hp twin turbo V12). All S-Class trims are equipped with an automatic transmission (seven speeds in all but the V12 versions, which have a five-speed unit).

Luxury feature highlights include a navigation system, hands-free cell phone communication, a Harman Kardon audio system and of course, rich leather and wood trim. The AMG versions add 20-inch alloy wheels, an active suspension, larger brakes, sport seats and specific interior and exterior styling tweaks. Optional features for the V8 models, such as a keyless entry and start system, adaptive cruise control and an infrared night vision system, are almost all standard on the V12 models.

With even the "entry-level" model having nearly 400 hp, the S-Class provides stunning performance. Zero-to-60-mph times range from the low-4-second to low-6-second range -- seriously quick by any standard, let alone when one is referring to a large luxury sedan. Handling and ride dynamics are impressive as well, as the S-Class' athleticism on a twisty road makes it feel much lighter than its 2-tons-plus mass would suggest.

Past Mercedes-Benz
S-Class models

The fourth generation of the S-Class ran from 2000-'06 and was lighter and sleeker than the massive version that preceded it, making it more preferable for driving enthusiasts. Two versions were offered initially, both V8s: the S430 (275 hp) and the S500 (302 hp). The V12-powered S600 (362 hp) debuted a year later, as did the AMG version, the S55 (354 hp). A midcycle refresh in '03 brought lightly revised light clusters, the availability of all-wheel drive (called 4Matic) and a big boost in power for the S55 and S600 (both rated at 493 hp). A seven-speed automatic came on line in '04. Hitting both ends of the spectrum for '06, the S350 brought back six-cylinder power (241 hp) while the S65 AMG offered no less than 604 hp.

With many of these cars available as "certified pre-owned" (meaning a pristine, lower-mileage example with all maintenance up to date and an extended warranty), this generation represents the best choice for a consumer looking to get into an S-Class Benz that should serve them for a long time without having to spend a small fortune. In reviews of the time, our editors were impressed by the car's spacious interior and state-of-the-art safety features. Downsides to this generation included a complicated control interface (the COMAND system) and some interior materials that seemed too low in quality for Mercedes' flagship.

Running from 1992-'99, the third generation of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class represented a big step in the ultra-luxury direction. Fitted with dual-pane windows and the availability of V12 power for the first time, this S-Class gained nearly 600 pounds compared to the previous car. Four trims were offered, ranging from the S320 (228-hp inline-6) and S420 (275-hp V8) to the S500 (315-hp V8) and S600 (389-hp V12). If you are considering the purchase of one of these, be forewarned that (as with any complex, high-end luxury vehicle) a clean Carfax report and an impeccable maintenance record are musts.

The S-Class cars of the second generation (1981-'91) were offered in turbodiesel (300SD, 350SD/SDL), inline-6 (300SE/SEL) and V8 (380 SE/SEL, 420 SEL, 560 SEL) versions. This is the generation that introduced cutting-edge safety technology such as airbags and antilock brakes as standard equipment. Perhaps the least desirable of the lot are the 380 series, which made just 155 hp and were prone to timing chain failures. Chances are good that if you find a used 380-series, it will have been retrofitted with a double timing chain. Diesel versions are known for their incredible longevity and it's not unusual to find an example with mileage approaching 300,000 on its original powertrain.
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Mercedes-Benz SL-Class Review

2008 Mercedes-Benz SL-Class SL65 AMG Convertible Shown

Easily one of the most recognizable automotive icons of the last half century, the Mercedes-Benz SL-Class has long epitomized elegance and performance in the grand touring coupe/roadster segments. From the early 300SL models of the 1950s to the present-day retractable hardtops, this two-seater has never wavered from offering the best that Mercedes-Benz could offer.

Initially powered solely by various six-cylinder engines, the Mercedes-Benz SL-Class switched to V8 power in the '70s, and in the early '90s began to offer inline-6 and V12 engines as well. That latter time period also marked when the company adopted AMG, a tuning firm that had offered engine and suspension upgrades for various Mercedes-Benz models since the early 1970s. As testament to the power of this union, the current Mercedes-Benz SL65 AMG makes an incredible 604 horsepower, making it one of the most powerful cars on the planet.

Regardless of what year SL you may consider, you can be certain that it will have cutting-edge technology and a comfortable cockpit. The downside to packing in all those safety and luxury features is that the SL typically weighs 2 tons or more. So even though it boasts strong performance and handling, a Benz SL isn't going to feel nimble in the vein of a pure, elemental sports car. Nor does all of this excellence come cheap. But for most shoppers, particularly those looking at the current generation, the SL is hard to beat.

Current Mercedes-Benz SL-Class

Debuting in 2003, the current Mercedes-Benz SL-Class luxury roadster has been one of our editors' favorite vehicles of any sort. In fact, it has been a winner or runner-up for our Editors' Most WantedSM> award every year since its debut. With its retractable hardtop that requires just the touch of a button to raise or lower, the latest SL offers the fun of an open roadster along with the security and quiet comfort of a closed coupe.

All current Mercedes-Benz SL-Class models are rear-drive and offer a wide variety of engines that are all teamed with automatic transmissions (a five- or seven-speed unit, depending on trim level). Even the least potent SL, the SL550, sports a 5.5-liter V8 with 382 horsepower. Next up is the SL55 AMG, which features a supercharged 5.4-liter V8 making 510 hp. A 5.5-liter, twin-turbocharged V12 in the SL600 also makes 510 hp, but puts out 612 pound-feet of torque, nearly 100 more than the SL55. Should those be inadequate, there is the SL65 AMG, whose 604 hp and 738 lb-ft allow it to hit 60 mph in just 3.9 seconds. The SL65's top speed (as with all high-performance Benzes) is electronically limited to 155 mph.

Handling is also a strong point, with Active Body Control (optional on some trims) keeping the SL eerily flat when ripping through a set of S turns. This athleticism doesn't come at the expense of ride comfort either, as the SL absorbs nasty bumps in the road without drama or excess body motion.

With its effortless performance, adaptive suspension, fast-retracting hardtop and wealth of luxury and safety features, we've found it easy to fall in love with the latest SL. Our complaints are few, centering chiefly on the multifunction COMAND interface that requires a fair amount of reading and time to master.

Upon the current generation's release for '03, the SL lineup consisted of just the SL500 (5.0-liter V8 with 302 hp), but it was joined by the SL55 (493 hp) a few months later. The SL600 (also making 493 hp) debuted in 2004, as did a seven-speed automatic for the SL500 and Keyless Go (which allowed the car to be entered and started without using a key). The following year the SL65 bowed, while 2007 saw more power not only for the entry-level SL (hence the name change to SL550) but also for the SL55 and SL600.

Past Mercedes-Benz SL-Class models

The chief differences between the current car and the long-running 1990-2002 generation are styling, a soft top (versus a retractable hardtop in the current car) and ultimate performance.

The 1990-2002 Mercedes-Benz SL-Class offered six-, eight- and 12-cylinder engine choices. Prior to 1994, the cars were named slightly differently, as the numbers came before the letters. Six-cylinder cars (300SL and SL320) made 228 hp, the 500SL/SL500 offered 322 or 302 hp (depending on the year) and the 600SL/SL600 made 389 hp. The sixes could be matched to either a five-speed manual or five-speed automatic, while the V8 and V12 versions initially came with a four-speed automatic only. (They were upgraded to a five-speed unit in 1996.) Apart from a navigation system, these cars could be had with most any luxury and safety feature, such as dual-zone climate control, integrated cell phone, HID headlights and stability control.

Although this generation of the Mercedes SL offered spirited performance, decent handling and plenty of luxury, the driving dynamics proved disappointing to our staff. The culprits were steering that felt somewhat loose on center, a platform that lacked this marque's typically solid feel (giving rise to interior squeaks) and brakes that, although strong in panic situations, felt mushy in normal use. At the time, we also felt the Benz SL was overpriced compared to other competing luxury roadsters, though depreciation has largely negated this potential drawback.

With a run that lasted 18 model years, the 1972-'89 SL was much simpler, both in terms of the vehicle itself and trim levels, than the ones that followed. This SL was powered by various V8 engines, starting with a 4.5-liter (around 180-200 hp), changing to a 3.8-liter of just 155 hp and then adopting a stout 5.6-liter (227 hp) for the final years. The names of these SLs went from 350SL (only for 1972) to 450SL, 380SL and then 560SL. Although you may see a 500SL advertised, be warned that it's a gray-market car, a European version modified by some unknown shop to meet U.S. emissions and crash standards. For obvious reasons, we recommend you steer clear of a gray-market example.
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Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class Review

2008 Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class SLK280 Convertible

Introduced nearly a decade ago as an answer to its European rivals in the luxury small roadster segment, the Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class was the first vehicle to truly popularize the use of a power-retractable convertible top made out of steel panels rather than the more traditional fabric soft top.

Though more complex and bulky, a convertible hardtop design, with its coupelike profile and superior wind and weather protection, does provide significant advantages in the top-up position. Offering more security, as well as a quieter cabin than its competitors' soft tops, the SLK could convert from a closed coupe to an open convertible without leaving the driver seat.

Though suffering from uninspiring handling and questionable sporting credentials for hard-core driving enthusiasts, the original SLK230 and SLK320 were popular with consumers. Improvements over the years kept the first generation competitive, but after seven years on the market the Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class was ready for a redesign.

With a dramatic design inspired by Mercedes' Formula 1 racecars, the second-generation SLK is even more fetching than the original. It's also slightly larger and more powerful than its predecessor, yet still possesses the upscale roadster character that made it so likable over the years. Even better than the added space is the car's redesigned dashboard with its cleaner layout and higher-quality interior materials.

Though most SLK models are inexpensive by Mercedes standards, some potential buyers might flinch at the vehicle's above-average price — and others might prefer the sharper handling dynamics of its German rivals. But for a convertible that sacrifices little in performance and excels at luxury and prestige, we think a new or used Mercedes-Benz SLK is a very good choice.

Current Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class

The current-generation Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class luxury roadster has been available since the 2005 model year. It's a proper sporting roadster thanks to its stiff body structure, rear-wheel drive and available sport-tuned suspension and strong brakes. For power, Mercedes offers a choice of two V6s as well as a muscular V8 from AMG, Mercedes' in-house performance tuner.

The SLK280 features a 3.0-liter V6 that produces 228 horsepower while the SLK350's 3.5-liter V6 produces 268 hp. Either engine can be matched with a six-speed manual or a seven-speed automatic transmission. The Mercedes SLK55 AMG is the performance model. It comes with a 355-hp 5.4-liter V8 engine stuffed under its hood. A seven-speed automatic is the only transmission offered.

When retracted, the hardtop takes up space in the trunk, but there's still 6.5 cubic feet left for luggage. Inside, the cabin is attractive with soft-touch materials for most surfaces. Soft and supportive seats remain comfortable even after several hours of driving. Keep the windows up while the top is down and there's minimal wind buffeting.

If that's not enough, consider the optional Airscarf system that channels warm air to your neck and shoulders via dedicated registers in the headrests. It actually works quite well; and when combined with traditional seat heaters, the Mercedes-Benz SLK becomes one of the most useful all-weather convertibles on the market.

While the old SLK was more of a boulevard cruiser than a canyon carver, the new SLK delivers solid all-around performance in acceleration, braking and handling. Obviously, the AMG model offers the most performance of the group, and indeed it posts impressive numbers. Even the 280 and 350 models are fun to drive. The SLK's slightly less communicative steering and slower handling responses only become apparent when comparing them directly against this segment's more deliberate sports cars.

Past Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class models

The original Mercedes-Benz SLK debuted for the 1998 model year. Introduced as an answer to the BMW Z3 and Porsche Boxster in the premium small roadster segment, the SLK's most unique feature was its retractable hardtop roof, which offered more security as well as a quieter ride than its ragtop-roofed competitors. With the touch of a button, one could convert the SLK from a closed coupe to a cool convertible in less than 30 seconds without leaving the driver seat.

Initially, the SLK was available only with one drivetrain, a supercharged 2.3-liter inline-4 sending its 185 hp through a five-speed automatic transmission. But the SLK230's lack of a manual gearbox, along with its anemic exhaust note, made for little excitement among serious driving enthusiasts.

The SLK's second year brought a manual tranny as standard, moving the automatic to the options list. Ever conscious of its buyers' fashion leanings, Mercedes introduced Designo editions in 2000 that featured special colors (such as Copper and Electric Green) along with unique interior trim.

Those who liked the Mercedes-Benz SLK but wanted a more refined power plant had their wish granted for 2001, when the SLK320 bowed complete with a 215-horse 3.2-liter V6. Other good news that year included the replacement of the five-speed manual with a six-cog unit and more power for the 230's force-fed four, with output now rated at 192 ponies.

Perhaps in an effort to quash the SLK's reputation as a "boutique" roadster, Mercedes brought out the muscle-bound, AMG-tuned SLK32 for 2002. The SLK32 AMG brought 349 hp to the party by way of a supercharged 3.2-liter V6. Along with the power infusion, handsome double-spoke 17-inch wheels with performance tires were fitted, along with a massaged suspension, full ground effects and a discreet rear spoiler.

During the first SLK's run, we commented favorably about its distinctive retractable hardtop, its quiet composure on freeway drives and the impressive performance from the AMG variant. Noted downsides at the time included a lack of steering feel and the big blind spots with the top up.
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Mitsubishi Eclipse Review

2008 Mitsubishi Eclipse GS Hatchback

For more than a decade and a half, the Mitsubishi Eclipse has been one of America's more popular sport coupes. Its success can be attributed to several factors that have remained constant throughout its run, including sleek styling, powerful engines, a decent amount of comfort, and affordability.

Interestingly, these traits also describe the traditional domestic rear-drive sport coupe, and some have described the Mitsubishi Eclipse as the Japanese version of a pony car. They point out that the Eclipse has typically not been as nimble as other imported coupes, and has instead been best at straight-line performance. The Eclipse has also always been designed solely for the U.S. market and is a rarity in other parts of the world.

The original Eclipse was the result of a joint venture in the mid-'80s between Mitsubishi and Chrysler, known as Diamond Star Motors (DSM). For model-year 1990 at a plant in central Illinois, the partners started production of what was known as the Diamond Star triplets: similar versions of the same Mitsubishi-engineered car, including the Eclipse, the Eagle Talon and the Plymouth Laser. The DSM partnership no longer exists as it once did, and only the Eclipse remains in production.

In total, there have been four generations of the Eclipse. Measured in terms of all-around performance and design, the latest one can be considered the best yet. But earlier Eclipses, assuming they have been cared for properly, could become an affordable and enjoyable purchase for the budding sport coupe enthusiast.

The latest Mitsubishi Eclipse has been available since the 2006 model year. It has a hatchback body style and can seat up to four people. Mitsubishi builds it on the same platform used for its Galant sedan and Endeavor SUV. There are two trim levels: GS and GT. The Eclipse GS is reasonably well equipped and comes with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine good for 162 horsepower. The main draw of the Eclipse GT is its 263-hp, 3.8-liter V6.

Both versions are front-wheel drive. The GS can be equipped with either a five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic transmission with a sequential-shift Sportronic mode. The GT comes with a six-speed manual, with a five-speed Sportronic automatic optional. Popular options include a sunroof and a powerful Rockford Fosgate audio system.

In reviews, the Mitsubishi Eclipse has earned favorable commentary for its powerful V6 engine, comfortable front seating and stylish interior. Noted downsides include a hefty curb weight that dulls handling, sluggish acceleration on four-cylinder models and a large turning radius.

Most consumers shopping for a used Eclipse will encounter the third-generation model, which was sold from 2000-'05. Like the current model, it has a hatchback body style, front-wheel drive and four-cylinder or V6 power. It's smaller than the current model, however, and less refined. The RS and GS trims of this generation were powered by a 2.4-liter four-cylinder good for 154 hp. The GT had a 205-hp 3.0-liter V6. All could be had with either a five-speed manual transmission or four-speed automatic.

Although this Eclipse was fairly popular with consumers, it attracted little critical acclaim. In tests, editors noted that the Eclipse was not as sporting as previous versions and had a low-quality interior. Nor did the car change much during its run, though in 2003 Mitsubishi added a GTS trim that had a slightly more powerful V6 (210 hp) and more standard equipment.

When new, the first- and second-generation Eclipses were considered some of the best affordable sport coupes available. The original debuted in 1990. This Eclipse was also a hatchback, and these early models can be identified by their pop-up style of headlights. There were four different trim levels, each offering its own mix of powertrains. The top-of-the line model was the Eclipse GSX, which boasted a 195-hp turbocharged four-cylinder engine and all-wheel drive. In 1992, minor updates were made, including the addition of fixed headlights.

Compared to the foreshortened, almost stubby first Mitsubishi Eclipse, the second version (1995-'99) seemed long, sleek and gorgeous. It was a bit bigger than the earlier car and in many ways very similar mechanically. Normally aspirated or turbocharged engines were again offered, as was front-wheel or all-wheel drive.

With any of these early models, poor resale values have sunk purchase prices to very attractive levels. But reliability has never been a strong point for the Eclipse, and finding a well-maintained one (especially a turbocharged model) will be key for the smart shopper.
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