Archive for August, 2012

Lake Michigan boat ride, car ferry, SS Badger

Entry to the SS Badger car ferry is via a hatch at the rear of the ship.

This past Saturday, I did something I’ve been dying to do for several years now: take a car ferry across Lake Michigan.

The boat that caught my fancy, the SS Badger, has been ferrying vehicles, and people, since 1992. Before that, the ship was a train-car ferry, and the rails those cars rode on into the boat are still visible on the cargo hold’s floor. At 410 feet in length, the Badger isn’t an especially large ship; still, the hold has space for up to 140 vehicles.




We're anxious to see how the coupe compares to the the Rolls-Royce Ghost sedan (pictured).

It’s no secret that Rolls-Royce has been working up a coupe version of its smaller sedan, the Ghost, and Britain’s Autocar magazine has now given us a good idea of what’s in store. For starters, the new 2-door will bow at the March 2013 Geneva Auto Salon in Switzerland, ahead of a summertime production start at the R-R facility in Goodwood, England. First deliveries are slated for late fall, presumably for European customers. No word yet on U.S. timing, but we’d guess the car will be available before New Year’s Day 2014, which means it could arrive here with a 2015 designation.

U.S. pricing is also unclear at this point, but Autocar thinks the U.K.-market minimum will be some $323,500-$363,000 at current exchange rates. That’s midway between the standard- and long-wheelbase Ghost sedans and assumes roughly the same pricing strategy used for the company’s larger, flagship Phantom models.


If you’re an auto manufacturer and want to be more popular, here’s how to do it: Build. Fast. Cars.

In our scan of Facebook pages, we found that the seven most-popular automakers all specialized in speed. In contrast, Buick, long associated with the early-dinner crowd, finished 31st.

Below is the number of Facebook “likes” (as of August 22, 2012) for car companies that sell vehicles in the United States.

Facebook “Likes” by Automaker

  1. BMW, 11,017,259
  2. Ferrari, 9,215,159
  3. Mercedes-Benz, 8,151,254
  4. Audi, 5,664,175
  5. Porsche, 4,444,784
  6. Lamborghini, 3,876,705
  7. Mini, 3,150,198
  8. Jeep, 2,776,952
  9. Honda, 2,204,437
  10. Kia, 2,039,078
  11. Aston Martin, 1,792,979
  12. Jaguar, 1,390,530
  13. Lexus, 1,378,993
  14. Dodge, 1,371,649
  15. Chevrolet, 1,307,160
  16. Volkswagen USA, 1,262,607
  17. Cadillac, 1,213,677
  18. Toyota USA, 1,134,551
  19. Nissan, 1,020,500
  20. Subaru, 828,272
  21. GMC, 705,394
  22. Mazda, 679,593
  23. Ford Trucks, 655,056
  24. Infiniti, 534,988
  25. Fiat, 524,050
  26. Rolls-Royce, 494,049
  27. Land Rover, 478,873
  28. Volvo, 458,175
  29. Maserati, 457,119
  30. Hyundai, 432,293
  31. Buick, 424,231
  32. Mitsubishi, 402,859
  33. Chrysler, 378,515
  34. Ram, 375,546
  35. Bentley, 355,203
  36. Suzuki, 215,471
  37. Lincoln, 164,741
  38. Scion, 128,321
  39. Acura, 92,148
Google Street View

Google Street View car

Google Maps Street View is, undeniably, a very useful tool. Need to find a local business that you’ve never been to before? Check out a picture of the place before you go there so you know what to watch for. Planning a vacation? Scope out the hotel before you get there and make sure it’s as great as the website says it is. Wanna check out the Eiffel Tower in Paris or roam the streets of New York City while on your lunch break? Yep, you can do that too.


2012 Honda Civic EX-L Sedan

Honda has received a lot of flak from the press and its fan base about the 2012 Civic. Some of it might be justified, but in all honesty, this is still a really good compact car.

The company called the 2012 Civic—available in coupe, sedan, gas/electric hybrid, and compressed natural gas-powered form—new, but its changes were more evolutionary in nature. The styling wasn’t all that different than its 2006-2011 predecessor. Even the unusual two-tier dashboard layout received only minor tweaks.

Under the hood of most Civics was the same 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine and available manual or automatic transmission combination from the previous car. The high-performance Si’s drivetrain received a substantial update, moving to the Acura TSX’s 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine from the old models’ 2.0-liter unit.

While I will concede that the new Si was, overall, a step backward for the franchise, the other, more pedestrian 2012 Civics largely continued in the tradition set by the old CVCC.

I base this impression on the many hours I’ve spent behind the wheel of our long-term 2012 Civic EX-L. Let’s get the gripes out of the way. This is one of the loudest cars in the segment. Further, Civic’s interior materials are not up to the standards that the domestic automakers have set with their new compact cars (Chevrolet Cruze, Dodge Dart, Ford Focus).


2013 Ford Mustang Shelby GT 500

Well . . . no. But considering that accessibility to its 662 horsepower (!) is just a pedal press away, our test 2013 Ford Mustang Shelby GT 500 proved that power and economy are no longer mutually exclusive.

Ten commuting miles into what I knew would be a 300-mile weekend, the trip computer on the GT 500 said I was averaging 13.3 mpg. Gulp. My fear was that filling the tank at the end of my trip—with the required premium—would mean I’d be living on canned tuna for the rest of the month. (Okay, I pretty much live on canned tuna anyway, but I’d be forced to forgo the luxury of my usual ketchup topping.) But after hitting the highway, the mileage figure began to climb. At the end of my 307-mile trip, a fill of premium indicated I’d averaged 21.5 mpg, so this was not the gas hog one might expect.


2013 Cadillac ATS

This is the fourth in a series of articles comparing the redesigned 2012 BMW 3-Series sedan with the brand new 2013 Cadillac ATS. Also see Part One: DesignPart Two: Drivetrains, Part Three: Handling, and Part Five: Value.

Part Four: Interior Comfort

Room/Comfort Front
All things considered, the ATS and 3-Series are pretty evenly matched when it comes to space and comfort in the front seats. Given their sporty pretenses, both cars are very driver-centric in their approach.

The seats on both cars have fairly firm padding, and each vehicle is available with 10-way power adjustment. A manual tilt and telescopic steering wheel further helps dial in a comfortable driving position; power operation would be nice, but this feature is not available on either car.

As with pretty much every vehicle in its lineup, the BMW 3-Series offers a high level of customization, allowing buyers to build vehicles to their tastes. Cadillac’s list of packaged and standalone options is not as extensive, but one thing does stand out. A power sunroof is a separate option on all ATS models, even the top-of-the-line Premium. This feature is standard on the BMW 335i and optional on the 328i. It strikes me as somewhat odd that there are so many different packages and features offered on the 3-Series, but the sunroof is a must buy if you want the 335. It would be nice if BMW made it optional or offered buyers a credit to delete it if they wanted.




This is the current Continental Flying Spur sedan. Chris expects the new version to include a sleeker, less-formal look via new outer body panels.

Bentley is putting the final touches on a major update of its Continental Flying Spur sedans. According to Britain’s Autocar magazine, the revised versions will launch in late 2013 with fresh styling, a first-time V8 option, revamped interiors, and assorted technical changes.

This makeover follows a similar redo for the brand’s 2012-model Continental GT coupes and GTC convertibles. But where those 2-door cars received only modest appearance changes, the Flying Spur adopts a noticeably sleeker, less-formal look via new outer body panels—or so we deduce from Autocar’s photo of a late-stage prototype caught testing in Spain. Though wheelbase is reportedly unchanged and other external dimensions are little altered, the restyle apparently brings a lower roof line with more steeply angled front and rear glass, plus crisper lower-body lines, especially at each end. The prototype also hints at muscular new wheelarch bulges and a possible ride-height reduction of an inch or more. Inside, says Autocar, “the Spur will get a new [dashboard], shared with the [2012] GT coupe, featuring higher-grade minor switchgear . . . new materials and luxury carpet.”


2013 Fiat 500 Turbo

We love the 2012 Fiat 500, ranking it No. 1 on our list of the “10 Coolest Cars Under $18,000.” “The 500 makes its mark as a maneuverable, fun-to-drive, economical city runabout with a fistful of character,” we wrote. We were also impressed with the car’s base MSRP—just $15,500.

Our only problem with the 2012 500 is that it’s in desperate need of more power. Its normally aspirated 4-cylinder engine generates just 101 horsepower and 98 pound-feet of torque. The 500 Abarth arrived later. It’s well-equipped and powered by a 160-horsepower turbocharged 4-cylinder. But it’s a much-pricier $22,000.

Now, for model-year 2013, Fiat says it has hit the “sweet spot” with the Fiat 500 Turbo. Its power and price fall right between those of the base model and the Abarth. Its turbo four is rated at 135 horsepower, and it starts at $19,500—making it one of the most affordable turbo-powered vehicles in the U.S.

“We listened to our customers” said Tim Kuniskis, Head of FIAT Brand North America. “The new Fiat 500 Turbo is the answer to all the fans that loved the style of our Cinquecento but wanted more power and performance for their daily drive.”

2012 Buick Regal

2012 Buick Regal

Note: This report supplements Consumer Guide Automotive’s full report on the 2012 Buick Regal, a premium-midsize car that starts at $26,670. Also see our full report on the 2013 Buick Regal.

Test car came equipped with: 20-inch polished alloy wheels as the only option. Total MSRP with $885 destination charge = $36,420.

Readers should note that this test car is essentially a “2012½” model, as the automatic transmission became available during this model year. The GS debuted for 2011 with 6-speed manual as the only transmission.

Powertrain: 270-horsepower 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine, 6-speed automatic transmission, front-wheel drive.

Acceleration: The test car made Buick’s 6.7-second 0-60-mph claim feel a bit conservative. And indeed, I’ve seen published road tests citing 6.4-6.5 seconds with automatic. No matter. The GS is satisfyingly quick off the line, abetted by virtually no turbo lag, as the main report notes. It also has strong mid-range passing power, abetted by the generally quick-witted automatic transmission. The one downside is lack of ready power coming out of low-speed turns, a common problem with small turbo engines driving economy-biased automatics. In this case, the transmission seeks top gear at the earliest possible moment and takes a critical second or more to answer the throttle at low speeds, almost as if it’s “hanging up” in 2nd gear. You can get around this with the shifter’s manual gate. Steering-wheel paddles would be more convenient, but they’re not available.

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