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BMW Z4 Review

Written By Tony Tran on Tuesday, January 11, 2011 | 10:33 AM

2008 BMW Z4 3.0si Convertible Shown

The BMW Z4 is one of the more intriguing sports cars currently available. It's known for its engaging handling and steering, thrilling inline six-cylinder engine and distinctive styling. Although its stated horsepower ratings are equaled or surpassed by those of some less expensive machinery, the Z4 counters with a lighter curb weight and, in most cases, a more rewarding driving experience. Recent improvements have made the latest Z4 the best yet, and older models are still a very viable choice for a used sports car.

The BMW Z4 is built at the company's Spartanburg, South Carolina, facility, and has been in production since the 2003 model year. It's a successor to the original Z3 and is the company's only two-seat sports car. It features traditional characteristics such as a front-engine/rear-drive layout, a hunkered-down stance, a long hood and rearward positioning of driver and passenger. Another notable element is the car's chiseled exterior design, which BMW says is used to add tension to the car's shape.

The BMW Z4 is available as a roadster with a convertible top or a fixed-roof coupe. For the roadster, there are two trim levels: 3.0i and 3.0si. The Z4 3.0i comes with features such as 17-inch wheels, stability control, antilock brakes, power mirrors and windows, manually operated seats and vinyl upholstery. A 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder engine rated at 215 horsepower is standard, as is a six-speed manual transmission. A six-speed automatic is optional.

The Z4 3.0si features 18-inch wheels, a few upgraded interior features and a 255-hp 3.0-liter inline six. A few options are also available for both trim levels, including a Premium package with a power-operated top and a Sport package designed to improve the vehicle's handling capabilities. The Z4 Coupe is offered in the 3.0si trim only.

Even without the Sport package, the Z4 rewards drivers with an engaging driving experience. In reviews of the BMW Z4, editors have praised the car's sharp reflexes and quick acceleration. The Coupe possesses a slight advantage in terms of handling due to its added body rigidity. For shoppers desiring even more performance, there's also an M-powered version of the Z4.

Because of a major update for 2006, Z4 models from this year and onwards are a better choice than earlier models, if price is no object. This update included the mid-year release of the coupe body style, the 215-hp and 255-hp engines, and the six-speed automatic. Other changes to the BMW sports car included a retuned standard suspension for better ride quality, a higher final-drive ratio for improved acceleration, new wheel designs, additional braking functionality for the stability control system, updated front and rear styling and minor interior trim updates.

From 2003-'05, BMW Z4 models were identified as either 2.5i or 3.0i. The 2.5i has a 2.5-liter, inline six-cylinder engine that makes 184 hp, while the 3.0i uses a 3.0-liter straight six that generates 225 hp. For transmissions, there is a five-speed manual (standard on the 2.5), a six-speed manual (standard on the 3.0), a five-speed automatic or, as on the M3, a six-speed Sequential Manual Gearbox (SMG). There were a few minor changes made during this period in terms of feature content, but none of them were significant enough to make one model year more desirable than another.
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Chevrolet Monte Carlo Review

2007 Chevrolet Monte Carlo LT Coupe

The Chevrolet Monte Carlo traces its roots back several decades to the height of the muscle car era, when Chevy sought to entice customers with a sporty, upscale rear-drive V8 coupe that provided a balance of performance and comfort in a stylish package. From those early years -- which included big-block SS (Super Sport) editions -- the Monte Carlo evolved toward a more luxury-oriented persona, saw significant downsizing (to optimize fuel efficiency) and soldiered on as a popular rear-drive sport coupe until 1988, when it was replaced by the Lumina coupe.

Following a lengthy hiatus, the Chevy Monte Carlo emerged once again in 1995. However, by then it had been softened and saddled with a carryover front-wheel-drive platform and V6 engines that barely hinted at the performance of years gone by. It was, in essence, a Lumina coupe.

The current-generation Chevrolet Monte Carlo coupe debuted in 2000 with more distinctive styling and updated underpinnings from the Impala sedan to better meet the needs of today's buyers. Significant changes in 2006 have helped the Monte Carlo come nearly full circle back to its original mission with sportier chassis tuning, improved driving dynamics and more power in SS models, while freshened interior and exterior styling offer a sculpted and pleasing contemporary appearance.

Although much improved in the past few years -- including a return to available V8 power in SS trim -- we feel that other performance sport coupe competitors like the Mustang offer a more satisfying choice as long as you don't mind giving up some interior room. In reviews, our editors say the Monte Carlo is primarily a comfortable cruiser that's more at home in the fast lane than on twisty mountain roads. If the latter is your preferred driving environment, you may want to consider other brighter, more focused alternatives.

The current-generation Chevrolet Monte Carlo, which received a major update for the 2006 model year, is a midsize two-door coupe that comes in three trim levels: the base but reasonably well-equipped LS, the more upscale LT and the performance-oriented SS. Under the hood of LS and LT models is a 3.5-liter V6 with 211 horsepower, while the SS boasts a responsive 5.3-liter V8 with 303 hp. Impressive numbers, yes. But we'd like them even better if they powered the rear wheels like Monte Carlos of years ago, especially in the case of the SS. A front-engine/rear-drive layout is typically preferable for optimum weight distribution and balanced handling, especially when that engine is a heavy V8.

Overall, this Chevy Monte Carlo is a spacious sport coupe that offers buyers a reasonably good comfort/performance trade-off for a relatively low sticker price. The V8-equipped Monte Carlo SS suffers from a nose-heavy feel, however. If quick reflexes are on your wish list instead and you don't mind tighter quarters, we suggest you consider one of its smaller but more nimble sport coupe competitors.

Used-car shoppers interested in a late-model Monte Carlo will likely encounter the previous-generation model, which was available from the 2000-'05 model years. Based on the then-new Impala platform and wearing distinctive, fresh sheet metal with heritage styling cues, the Chevrolet Monte Carlo was originally offered as an LS with a 3.4-liter V6 engine making 180 hp, or an SS with a 200-hp 3.8-liter V6. A driver-side airbag -- as well as traction control and OnStar on SS models -- was added as standard safety equipment in 2001, and all models received four-wheel disc brakes, traction control and remote keyless entry in 2003. In a bid to boost its performance image, Chevrolet added a 240-hp supercharged engine option for the SS in 2004.

Previous to this model, there was the Lumina-based Monte Carlo, which became available for the 1995 model year in LS or Z34 sport trim levels. Those wishing to hit the fast lane are advised to stick with the 210-hp 3.4-liter twincam V6 in the Z34. Detail improvements carried the Chevrolet Monte Carlo through the next several years, though only the most eagle-eyed used-car shoppers are likely to appreciate the differences.
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Ford Focus Review

The Ford Focus has been Ford's entry-level car since the start of the new millennium. This front-wheel-drive model is far from luxurious but nonetheless displays a surprising amount of character from behind the wheel. Its affordable price, expressive styling and availability in multiple body styles have all contributed to making this one of Ford's most popular cars worldwide.

2008 Ford Focus SE Coupe Shown

Introduced for the 2000 model year, the Ford Focus was designed to be a "world car," meaning it has been sold around the world in the same basic form as the car sold in the United States. In order to appeal to European buyers, the Focus was tuned to provide responsive handling and communicative steering.

Since that time, Ford has gone on to introduce a second-generation Focus for European markets. America's Focus, however, has continued on without a full redesign. As such, it hasn't been a top-tier choice for an economy car in recent years. Ford did perform a significant refresh for the current 2008 model, however, and it's been effective enough to keep the Focus a still-viable choice for a new economy car, particularly for shoppers focused mainly on value. As a used vehicle, the Focus represents a solid pick, especially since its lower resale value compared to import-brand competitors typically translates to lower purchase prices.

Current Ford Focus

Compared to models sold for 2007 and earlier, the current Ford Focus is more up-to-date thanks to a significant refresh. Changes include revised interior and exterior styling, altered engine and body-style lineups and additional safety equipment.

The Focus is currently available as a coupe and as a sedan, and both body styles come in three trims: base S, midgrade SE and sporty SES. All Focus models are powered by a 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder that offers 140 horsepower. Cars sold in California-level emission states have a cleaner version of this engine that is PZEV-certified; it's good for 130 hp. A five-speed manual transmission is standard, with a four-speed automatic offered as an option.

Within its cabin, the Focus offers a reasonably attractive environment. Still, the Focus' interior doesn't measure up to the cabins offered by some of its competitors, both in terms of materials quality and design aesthetic. One unique feature sets the car apart: Ford's Sync system. Developed in conjunction with Microsoft, this system functions much like Bluetooth, but is simpler to operate.

Though its handling isn't as finely honed as that of the segment's performance leaders, theFord Focus offers a reasonably engaging driving experience; additionally, fuel economy is excellent. Factor in its amenable price, and it becomes clear that the current Focus has much to offer in the area of value, if not refinement.

Past Ford Focus Models

The Ford Focus is still in its first generation, but it's seen a few changes since it first appeared on showroom floors. Focus models sold from 2000-'03 were available as a two-door hatchback sedan or wagon, and came with either an anemic SOHC 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder engine rated for 110 horsepower or a preferable DOHC 2.0-liter engine called the Zetec that was good for 130 hp. In 2004, Ford added a 2.3-liter inline-4 to the lineup that offered 145 hp and cleaner emissions. The 2.3-liter was optional on all 2004 Focus models, except in California, New York, Maine, Massachusetts and Vermont, where it was standard across the line.

A 170-hp four-cylinder engine and a six-speed transmission were featured in the short-lived and rare Focus SVT hatchback. Coveted by young enthusiasts, the SVT Focus was offered as a two-door hatchback in 2002, and as a two-door and a four-door hatch in '03 and '04.

In 2005, the Focus got a modest refresh that provided cosmetic changes on the outside, a revised control layout inside and a new engine lineup: a 2.3-liter, four-cylinder engine that produced 151 hp, and a 136-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder. A five-speed manual transmission was standard across the line and a four-speed automatic was optional on most models. By this point, a five-door hatchback had been added to the body-style lineup; it was discontinued after 2007, as were the wagon and two-door hatch.

Our editors were quite fond of the Ford Focus in its earlier years, and the car earned Editors' Most Wanted Award designations from 2000-'03. Although we consider it a good buy on the used market, the car's reliability record hasn't been perfect, particularly the 2000 models, which were plagued by recalls. We'd advise a thorough mechanical inspection before you buy. Additionally, shoppers looking at the SVT Focus should pay special attention to the quantity and quality of any aftermarket modifications the previous owner may have made.
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Ford Shelby GT500 Review

If you're a driving enthusiast, you owe a huge debt of gratitude to the Ford Mustang. Once that pony car hit the market in 1964, affordable and stylish performance was finally in reach for the average American. Even though early versions weren't exceptionally fast, it didn't take long for Ford to pump the car up with some real muscle. Shortly after the first 'Stang hit the streets, Ford teamed up with racing legend Carroll Shelby to produce the high-performance GT350. Two years later, the fierce Ford Shelby GT500 showed up, equipped with a 428-cubic-inch big-block V8.

2008 Ford Shelby GT500 Convertible

Only a few thousand of the original Ford Shelby GT500s were built from 1965-'70, and they've remained very popular with Mustang enthusiasts and collectors. (Although it was disfigured with a modern body kit, one of the more visible vintage GT500s was the silver replica Nicolas Cage drove in the remake of Gone in Sixty Seconds.) Hoping to build on this heritage, Ford recently introduced a new Shelby GT500. It's based on the ninth-generation Mustang and is the most capable production version ever built.

Current Ford Shelby GT500

The new Ford Shelby GT500 debuted for the 2007 model year. Under its hood is a supercharged 5.4-liter, iron block, aluminum-head V8 that makes 500 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 480 pound-feet of torque at 4,500 rpm. A Tremec six-speed manual gearbox routes all that through a limited-slip solid rear axle. No automatic transmission is available. At the test track, we recorded a 4.6-second 0-60 run and a quarter-mile time of just 12.8 seconds.

If there's a downside to this drivetrain, it's poundage. The Ford Shelby GT500 weighs close to 2 tons, which is about 400 pounds more than a Mustang GT. Much of that bulk comes from the drivetrain. This also means the weight gain is largely on the front half of the car, suggesting front-end flabbiness compared to the base Mustang's nimble character. In testing, however, we've found that Ford's engineers have done a good job of keeping the car reasonably nimble. Changes to the GT500 include a stiffened suspension and chassis, as well as more powerful brakes.

There's one trim level only, but coupe and convertible bodies are offered. Standard equipment includes 18-inch alloy wheels with Goodyear F1 tires, a domed hood with functional heat extractors, a front air splitter and a ducktail-style rear spoiler. Both the coupe and convertible have a "GT500" stripe on the lower part of each side just like the original Mustang GT, and coupes add two large stripes down the middle -- an option on early GTs.

Inside, standard equipment includes air-conditioning, leather-upholstered sport bucket seats with Cobra logos, six-way power adjustments for the driver, a 500-watt stereo with an in-dash CD changer, cruise control and full power accessories. A choice of all black or black and red interior is available.
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Honda Accord Review

Few vehicles over the past three decades have garnered as much respect in America as the Honda Accord. It hasn't achieved this by being sporty, glamorous or sexy. Instead, it has, for every year, offered what most Americans want out of their daily transportation. Take an Accord for a test-drive, and you'll find it comfortable, roomy, intelligently engineered and easy to drive. Research it, and you'll find it backed by a solid reputation for reliability, a strong resale value and an emphasis on safety.

2008 Honda Accord EX-L V6 Coupe Shown

It is true that competing sedans or coupes hold certain advantages over the Accord. Some are faster, others are more prestigious or less expensive. What's special about the Honda Accord, though, is its completeness. It scores well in all of the categories that people expect a family-oriented sedan or coupe to cover, not just a few. When examined from a holistic standpoint, it's easy to see why this Honda car has become an automotive icon and one of our editors' top recommendations.

Current Honda Accord

The Accord has been fully redesigned for the 2008 model year. This model is bigger than previous Accord models and boasts better engine performance without any loss of fuel efficiency. It's available as a midsize coupe or sedan and a variety of trim levels to suit almost any buyer's needs. Entry-level LX models have the basic necessities while top-line EX-L models feature items like leather upholstery and an optional navigation system. All models come with a fully array of safety equipment, including side curtain airbags and stability control.

As has been the case with the past few generations of the Accord, the newest eighth-generation model comes with either a four-cylinder or V6 engine. The base 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine makes 177 horsepower; an upgraded version of this engine makes 190 hp. For more power, a 268-hp, 3.5-liter V6 is available. The four-cylinder engine has a five-speed manual transmission as standard and a five-speed automatic as optional. The V6 typically comes with a five-speed automatic, though V6-equipped coupes are available with a six-speed manual.

In reviews, we've found the latest Honda Accord continues to excel as a family sedan or midsize coupe. The interior is very roomy and high in quality, though some might take issue with the car's multitude of buttons on the dash. As a response to some Accords of the past, the latest model is a bit sportier to drive. We wouldn't call the Accord a sport sedan exactly, but this newfound agility is a desirable addition to the usual Accord strengths of safety, reliability and comfort.

Past Honda Accords

Unlike most things from the '70s -- disco, green shag carpeting, ugly pants -- the Honda Accord has not succumbed to being kitsch retro. It debuted in 1976 and multiple generations of success have followed since. Shoppers interested in a used Accord will likely find many seventh-generation models on dealer lots.

This Accord was sold for the 2003 to 2007 model years. As with the current model, it was available as a midsize coupe or sedan. Selecting a used Accord from this generation should be rather straightforward. Initially, there were three trim levels: DX, LX and EX. The DX was pretty frugal with features, so the better choice will be the LX or EX. Side and side-curtain airbags were typically optional on all trim levels.

Under the hood was a 160-hp 2.4-liter inline-4 or a 240-hp, 3.0-liter V6 engine. Four-cylinder engines could be had with either a five-speed manual or five-speed automatic transmission. A six-speed manual was available on the V6-powered EX Coupe.

In 2005, Honda introduced the Accord Hybrid. This model's V6 gasoline/electric powertrain produced 255 hp and, in theory, the best fuel economy of the lineup. In real-world use, however, the car's fuel economy was disappointing and people balked at its higher price. Very few Accord Hybrids were sold.

The most significant changes of this generation occurred in 2006 when the Accord received freshened exterior styling and more power for both engines. Stability control also debuted this year, as did minor modifications to trim level organization. In reviews at the time, we praised the car for its roomy and stylish interior, tight build quality, smooth ride and good crash test scores. Downsides included tepid handling and mediocre brakes. All said, however, this Accord was an excellent choice for a family sedan or midsize coupe.

The sixth-generation Honda Accord is also very popular in the used car market. Available from 1998-2002, this model came in coupe or sedan body styles and had either four-cylinder or V6 power. In a nine-car comparison test conducted by our editors, this car finished in 2nd place. We noted that the car was not exactly entertaining to drive but was very user-friendly and competent in all areas. Buyers should feel relatively free to look at models throughout this generation as Honda didn't make any drastic changes, though cars built after 2000 have expanded safety features.

Accords built from 1994 to 1997 should make for a smart choice for those on a budget. This model boasted the typical Accord attributes and, as a used car, should provide better than average reliability, assuming it's been properly maintained by previous owners. This generation marked the first time that Honda used its VTEC variable valve timing system. A VTEC-equipped four-cylinder engine came with the EX trim level. Accord models from 1995 and upward also had a V6 available. This generation was also the last for the rare Accord wagon.

Consumers interested in an Honda Accord but limited to a smaller budget could also check out the fourth-generation Accord, which was available starting in 1990. As there is little price difference between these cars at this point, 1992 or '93 EX or SE models are probably your best choices.
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Honda Civic Review

Since its launch in 1972, the Honda Civic has been one of the most popular compact cars sold in America. Its success can be attributed to its consistently high level of fit and finish and an impressive reputation for reliability, especially for an economy car.

2008 Honda Civic EX 2dr Coupe w/Navigation System Shown

Impressive fuel economy, environmental awareness and engaging performance have also played a large role in making the Honda Civic a top choice for many Americans. Through the development of advanced engine technologies such as variable valve timing (VTEC), Honda has been able to increase the engine performance of the Civic while also improving fuel economy. In the '90s, the Civic was one of the cornerstones of the burgeoning import tuning craze, as young enthusiasts found the car to be an affordable and easy car to modify for performance.

The current Civic is the best yet. It is the most powerful and the most fuel-efficient, and comes in a wide range of models, from the 197-horsepower Civic Si to the Civic Hybrid. It is also the most radically designed Civic to date, inside and out. For those looking for a used car, the Civic is again a smart choice, as its long production run and wide range of models make it easy to find what you want.

The current Honda Civic, which was introduced for the 2006 model year, is available in two body styles: coupe and four-door sedan. Both styles share four trim levels: a base DX, EX, LX and Si. The DX, EX and LX are powered by a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine, which makes 140 hp. A five-speed manual transmission is standard, and a five-speed automatic is optional. All trims get a broad range of safety features, such as antilock brakes, front-seat side airbags and full-length side-curtain airbags.

Those accustomed to the Honda Civic's conservative tradition will be surprised to find a dramatic-looking interior that features a new two-tier dashboard layout. A digital speedometer sits on top of the dash, while the tachometer is the lone instrument gauge behind the steering wheel. In terms of premium features, the DX is pretty limited, and you'll have to jump up to the EX and LX trims to get air-conditioning and powered accessories. The EX and LX also add upgraded stereo systems and sportier 16-inch wheels.

The sedan is also available in two special trims, GX and Hybrid. Powered by a 113-hp 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine, the Civic GX runs on clean-burning compressed natural gas. The Civic Hybrid features Honda's latest Integrated Motor Assist system, which consists of a 1.3-liter four-cylinder gas engine and a 20-hp electric motor. Total output is 110 hp. The Hybrid comes exclusively with a continuously variable transmission, and its EPA-estimated fuel economy is 49/51 mpg.

In reviews and road tests, our editors found the Honda Civic to be a well-rounded car. The 1.8-liter engine won't overwhelm anyone, but it provides enough power for comfortable city driving. Honda has tuned the coupe to feel sportier than the sedan. Both are fun to drive, with great steering feel and wonderful handling.

Driving enthusiasts might want to take a look at the Civic Si. Offered in both coupe and sedan body styles, the Si is powered by a high-revving 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, which pumps out 197 hp. It comes exclusively with a close-ratio six-speed manual transmission and a front limited-slip differential. The Si also features a sport-tuned suspension, 17-inch wheels and the kind of all-around performance that challenges cars costing thousands of dollars more.

Always known for its reliability, the Honda Civic has also earned a reputation for performance and fuel economy. Honda's VTEC technology first appeared in the fifth-generation Civic, which was sold from 1992-'95. The Civic VX featured a fuel-efficient 92-hp 1.5-liter four-cylinder with VTEC-E.

More powerful was the 128-hp 1.6-liter four-cylinder VTEC engine found in the Civic Si and EX sedan trims. First sold only in hatchback and sedan body styles, the fifth-gen Civic got two coupe trims in 1993, the DX and EX. The lower CX and DX trims each had a 70-hp 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine.

Sold from 1996-2000, the sixth-generation Civic was in many ways a refinement of the style and technology found on the outgoing model. A 106-hp 1.6-liter engine replaced the engine on the lower CX hatchback and all DX trims (available as a hatchback, coupe and sedan). The EX trim (coupe or sedan) got a 127-hp 1.6-liter engine with VTEC. Honda didn't release an Si trim until 1999. Based on the coupe body style, the Si was powered by a high-performance 1.6-liter engine that was tuned to put out 160 hp.

Although the seventh-generation Honda Civic, which was sold from 2001-'05, might have looked like an extension of the sixth generation in styling, there were many small tweaks to the Civic formula to reduce fuel consumption. Both the 115-hp base engine and the 127-hp engine in the EX were more fuel-efficient than the outgoing 1.6-liter engines. Even bigger news was the launch of the Civic Hybrid in 2003. Powered by Honda's early version of the Integrated Motor Assist system, the Hybrid mated an 85-hp 1.3-liter four-cylinder gas engine to a 13-hp electric motor for a combined 98 hp. The only hatchback available in the seventh generation was the European-designed Civic Si, which was powered by a 160-hp 1.8-liter four-cylinder.
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