Porsche 911 releases 620 horses

Friday, September 3, 2010
The thing to keep in mind about Porsche is that the company basically makes road-legal race cars; hence the Porsche 911 GT2 RS. This new model, limited to a production run of 500, wrings 620 horsepower out of its 3.6-liter flat six-cylinder engine. Of course, that kind of power wouldn't be possible without twin turbos and clever tuning.
That horsepower finds its real world expression in 3.4 seconds to 60 mph, a top speed of 205 mph, and a lap of the Nürburgring Nordschleife in just 7 minutes and 18 seconds.

Porsche 911 releases 620 horses
Porsche 911 releases 620 horses
Porsche 911 releases 620 horses
Porsche 911 releases 620 horses

The 911 GT2 RS was developed with a very weight conscious attitude. Porsche engineers stripped 154 pounds from it, compared with the previous 911 GT2. As one example of weight-loss engineering, Porsche used cloth straps instead of traditional interior door handles.
Likewise, Porsche used a simple six-speed manual gearbox instead of its new Doppelkupplung dual-clutch transmission. Alcantara covers the emergency brake lever and gear shifter, which probably shaved a few milligrams over other materials. We don't expect the 911 GT2 RS has much in the way of cabin tech, as you don't need a nav system on most racetracks.
Keeping the rear-wheel-drive 911 GT2 RS on the road is Porsche Adaptive Suspension Management, a system that the Porsche engineers decided was worth the extra weight. Porsche also retuned its stability management system for the car, and boasts that the driver can selectively switch off stability and traction control.
Besides the limited production run, another reason you are unlikely to see this car in the shopping mall parking lot is its $245,000 price tag.

2011 Volkswagen Jetta

Sunday, August 29, 2010
The good: The cabin tech interface in the 2011 Volkswagen Jetta SEL looks good and is easy to use. The Bluetooth phone system offers dial by name through voice command. Fuel economy comes in at the high 20s.
The bad: The manual transmission only has five gears, and the engine feels short of the claimed 170 horsepower. The navigation system lacks advanced features.
The bottom line: The 2011 Volkswagen Jetta SEL makes for decent, if unexciting, transportation and includes a good suite of cabin electronics.
2011 Volkswagen Jetta
2011 Volkswagen Jetta
2011 Volkswagen Jetta
2011 Volkswagen Jetta

Volkswagen previously priced itself above its intended market, but wants to regain the title of peoples' car with the all-new Jetta. At its very base S trim, the 2011 Volkswagen Jetta can be had for $15,995. But forget any tech features at that level--for the good stuff you need to move up to the SEL trim, a little pricier at $21,395.
Our Jetta SEL review car looked like a very good value, even at that price. For one, its navigation and Bluetooth phone systems are standard. It also gets a bigger engine than in the lower trim, but still gets mileage in the high 20s.
No matter what trim it comes in, the new Jetta isn't much to look at. Although it features a very modern design, with smoothed metal and de-emphasized ornamentation, it is nearly the Platonic ideal of a sedan. The roof shows a pleasant amount of curvature while allowing ample interior headroom, the hood tapers down to keep the grille from being too prominent, and the back flows evenly into the bumper.
Many people like nondescript cars, so in that sense the body style works for Volkswagen, but good luck finding it in a parking lot. On a practical note, the trunk is amazingly large. It actually seemed about equal to that of the Audi A8 we tested recently.
One engine among many
On paper, the 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine sounds quite powerful. With 170 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque, we expected to do front-wheel burn-outs. But the sensation was on the anemic side, with power quickly falling off as we accelerated. Knowing what we could get out of this engine, we learned to plan our passing and merging maneuvers very carefully.

The SEL comes with this five-cylinder engine, but three other engine options are available.
Although it uses double overhead cams and four valves per cylinder, this engine stops short of some of the efficiency advances Volkswagen has in its toolbox. But there will soon be a 2011 Jetta with a 2-liter direct injection turbocharged engine, Volkswagen's TSI, along with a diesel, TDI version. Another engine option currently available is the 2-liter four-cylinder in the base model, which only makes 115 horsepower.
The Jetta SEL's engine didn't feel particularly strong, but we wrung what we could out of it with the standard manual transmission. This manual showed good action through its gate, easily and comfortably shifting from gear to gear without confusion, but it is only a five speed, which seems a little behind the times. An automatic is also available for the Jetta, and the DSG can be had in the upcoming turbo and diesel versions of the car.
Even lacking direct injection, the fuel economy was very good. The EPA ratings for the Jetta SEL are 23 mpg city and 33 mpg highway. While cruising along freeways at speeds around 75 mph, we maintained 30 mpg, and turned in a final average of 28.3 mpg. It took a long time for the graphic fuel gauge to drop bars.

This manual transmission let us wring a little bit of fun out of the car.
No sports car, the Jetta's steering is tuned with the same sort of comfortable slack as the shifter. There is a little bit of initial play in the wheel, but it never feels loose. This built-in slack keeps the handling from being twitchy, in line with the widespread appeal Volkswagen intends for the car. The ride quality is about what we would expect, firm but not uncomfortable.
Nav and Bluetooth, standard
Surprising is Volkswagen's decision to mostly do away with options and make cabin tech dependent on trim level. The SEL trim car comes standard with navigation, Bluetooth phone system, and digital audio sources. Volkswagen's new navigation system is a huge improvement over previous versions we've used in terms of performance, but it also lacks many features. This flash-memory-based system reacts quickly, whether processing user inputs or recalculating routes. It also offers both 3D and 2D maps, and shows the speed limit of the current road, something few factory navigation units do.
But the LCD is on the small side, and the system does not integrate external data, such as traffic or weather information. Nor does it read out street names or show detailed graphics describing upcoming turns. One particularly surprising omission is the ability to select destinations from the map, something most navigation systems can handle.

The new cabin tech interface is visually appealing and works very well.

We very much like the new interface for accessing the cabin tech features. The LCD is a touch screen, and all inputs can also be made with a knob and two buttons below the screen. The onscreen menus use a semicircular pattern with an attractive design. We found it easiest to use the knob and buttons for some operations, such as scrolling through a list, then hitting the touch screen when inputting letters or numbers.
This interface takes a cue from Audi's cabin tech, using different colors for different applications, with navigation in blue, audio in red, and the phone system in green.
And similar to Audi, the new Jetta gets one of the most advanced Bluetooth phone systems in the business. After an unnecessarily long pairing process, the system imported our iPhone's contact list. We were able to access the contacts on the car's screen, of course, and were also able to use the voice command system to dial by name.

These buttons on the steering wheel control the stereo and activate the voice command system.
The audio menus use separate screens for broadcast, which includes satellite radio, and fixed media, with the same semicircular menu treatment. We were pleased to find that the media sources not only had iPod integration, but also Bluetooth stereo streaming. There is also an SD card slot next to the screen.
The iPod cable, inconveniently placed in the glove compartment, uses the same proprietary port originally used by Audi. This port allows for a variety of cables, with connectors for iPods, full-size and Mini-USB, and a simple 1/8th-inch auxiliary input.
As for browsing an iPod library, the interface makes it easy to look through music based on artist, album, or genre. A slight annoyance: the system always defaulted to showing the full list of songs every time we connected an iPod, forcing us to back up a few menus to look by artist or album.

The iPod menu lets you choose music by artist, album, or genre.
The audio quality from the car's six-speaker system was nothing special, but a step above what would come from the lesser-trim Jetta's four-speaker system. Bass and treble response were both reasonable, but the system tended to bury a lot of the detail from music we played through it. Turning up the volume on tracks with heavier bass, we heard the inevitable panel rattle we would expect from a cheap system.
Volkswagen does not make use of the Jetta's LCD for a backup camera, although the car is not in dire need of that feature. Other driver assistance features, such as blind-spot detection, are also not available.In sum
In many ways, the 2011 Volkswagen Jetta SEL is a very average car. The engine and transmission move the car reasonably well and turn in good fuel economy, but they don't exploit the latest efficiency technologies, which might result in more satisfying power. Impressive in the SEL is the inclusion of the entire cabin tech suite as standard. Although the navigation system is very basic, it is a solid performer. The Bluetooth phone system is the most stand-out application in the electronics.
We mentioned the mundane design of the Jetta, but otherwise we do like its modern styling. It also earns points for the design of its cabin tech interface, which is particularly good.
Spec box
Model 2011 Volkswagen Jetta
Trim SEL
Power train 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine; five-speed manual transmission
EPA fuel economy 23 mpg city/33 mpg highway
Observed fuel economy 28.3 mpg
Navigation Standard flash memory based
Bluetooth phone supportStandard
Disc player MP3-compatible single CD
MP3 player support iPod integration
Other digital audio Bluetooth streaming, USB drive, auxiliary input, satellite radio
Audio system Six-speaker stereo
Driver aids None
Base price $21,395
Price as tested $22,295

2011 Ford Fiesta

Friday, July 30, 2010
The good: Sync remains one of Ford's best cabin technologies, giving the 2011 Fiesta MP3 player and Bluetooth phone compatibility, and the audio quality from the stereo stands out. The dual-clutch transmission is a neat bit of performance tech. The exterior design of this new Fiesta gives it a fun and unique style.
The bad: Sync TDI is not a great substitute for an onboard navigation system. The transmission could not always keep up with driving situations.
The bottom line: A sporty-looking car, the 2011 Ford Fiesta's small size makes it good for urban areas, and it boasts excellent compatibility with personal electronics.
2011 Ford Fiesta
2011 Ford Fiesta
2011 Ford Fiesta

The conventional wisdom used to be that Ford should sell its European models in the U.S. The 2011 Ford Fiesta, designed in Europe, puts that notion to the test. Besides a couple of power train issues, the Fiesta proves that conventional wisdom still has worth.
The Fiesta is a new entrant in the burgeoning small-car class, competing with the likes of the Honda Fit, Toyota Yaris, Kia Forte, and the upcoming Chevy Cruze. Car companies don't make the margins on small cars that they made on SUVs, but current and predicted future market demands suggest small will be big.
We were initially disappointed to get the sedan version of the Fiesta, as the hatchback is quite a good-looking car. But the sedan grew on us quickly, especially when compared with the run of boring cars on the roads these days. The Fiesta comes on strong with ridged headlight casings providing contour to the front fenders and angular chrome inserts bookending the lower fascia.

Strong contour lines mark the sides of the Fiesta.
Strong contour lines down the sides accentuate the side graphics, which end in a sly little upturn at the C pillar. The only element of the design we don't care for are the flat fender surrounds around the wheel wells, which has become pretty common on cars these days.
Onboard music, offboard nav
As the Fiesta is a Ford, we knew it would come with Sync, letting us connect MP3 players and Bluetooth cell phones, with voice command for dialing contacts and requesting specific music. This system worked every bit as well in the Fiesta as it had in previous Ford models we've tested, recognizing even fairly obscure and complex new artist names.
But Sync has plenty of competition now, as just about every new car with a Bluetooth phone system offers dial by name through the voice command system. Likewise, some cars are starting to offer voice command over connected MP3 players.

The Sync voice command button is mounted on the turn signal stalk rather than on the steering wheel.
Ford is trying to stay ahead of the pack by offering Traffic, Directions, and Information (TDI), a set of offboard services accessed through a connected Bluetooth phone. We tried it out by hitting the Sync button in the car and saying "services." This command causes the system to dial out to a server, which put us in a server side voice command tree. As suggested by the feature's name, you can request turn-by-turn directions to any destination, traffic conditions, and a variety of other information sources. We were endlessly amused selecting horoscopes from the information menu, but more useful was the traffic report, which read off a list of nearby incidents.Though we had no problem using Sync's onboard voice command for music and phone calls, the server side TDI voice command was not nearly as good. Frequently when asked to confirm a selection, we had to repeat "yes" multiple times before the server understood. On the other hand, it did a good job recognizing addresses as we spoke them. It generally proved much easier to use TDI's voice command when we were stopped, rather than driving, when road noise was greater.
Ford justifies not offering onboard navigation because of TDI, but we prefer an onboard system because Sync TDI only works when you have a cell phone connection. Navigation can be crucial in areas where you can't reach anyone on the phone.

Sync can read incoming text messages out loud on some phones.
The Fiesta displays audio and phone information on a large monochrome display in the center of the dashboard, a European touch that provides ample real estate for browsing a list of cell phone contacts or an MP3 player's music library. We were initially fooled by the knoblike controller below the screen, attempting to twist it to scroll down a list of artists. But this controller is actually a joystick, requiring us to push it down to scroll down a list. Pushing it multiple times to work down a list was tedious, but we quickly found we could hold it down and race through entries.
With its six speakers, the audio system looked pretty average, and we didn't expect much. But we were in for a surprise, as the system played music in excellent detail. It managed to bring out instruments and layers in songs that would be buried by lesser systems. From that perspective, we liked the listening experience quite a bit, but the 80-watt amp and lack of a subwoofer means the bass is a shadow of what it could be.
Visceral driving
The quality from this audio system proved a boon during the long miles we covered in the Fiesta. With an EPA fuel economy rating of 30 mpg city and 40 mpg highway, it could theoretically run a long time on its 12-gallon tank. However, in our driving we only turned in an average of 29.2 mpg. Although mileage climbed steadily on the freeway, stop-and-go traffic in the dense urban jungle took its toll.
We were also a little enthusiastic with the gas pedal when traffic lights turned green, behavior we blame on the car. The Fiesta uses a very unique power train among small cars: a dual-clutch automated manual transmission mated to a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine.

Ford's small engine uses variable valve timing to enhance efficiency.
Although lacking direct injection, Ford fits this 1.6-liter with variable intake and exhaust timing, wringing 120 horsepower and 112 pound-feet of torque from it. This small engine goes a long way toward the fuel economy, but the automated manual helps. Unlike most dual-clutch transmissions, this six-speed isn't intended for sport driving, and lacks a manual mode, but using clutches instead of a torque converter means a more direct linkage between engine and wheels, helping improve fuel economy. Further, the car uses an electric power-steering unit, saving the engine from having to pump hydraulic fluid to boost the steering wheel.
The feel of this power train is very different from other cars, especially in this small-car segment. The rough chatter from the engine and the hard feel of the gear shifts might be a little much for people who aspire to Lexus levels of luxury, but we liked the visceral sensation we got from this car. That raw engine feel encouraged us to make frequent fast starts, hence our less-than-EPA fuel economy.
As a city car, the Fiesta proved very competent, its suspension well-tuned to handle the typical potholes and bumps of urban pavement. Responsive steering allowed quick maneuvers, such as diving into traffic gaps, and the Fiesta's small size made for easy parking. But as the hatchback version is more than a foot shorter than the sedan, it would be an even better city choice, opening up more parking possibilities.

Although it's a dual-clutch transmission, there is no manual shift mode.
We noticed that the dual-clutch transmission's programming wasn't always up to the task. With this type of transmission, a CPU needs to guess the likely next gear, relying on sensor data and a software algorithm, so it can preposition the nonengaged clutch. As one failure example, we accelerated down the street up to about 40 mph, but were forced to make a slowdown because of a car zipping across the street. As we tried to accelerate again, the car had no power, as the transmission had gone to a higher gear, our quick brakework catching it by surprise.
At high speeds on the freeway, the Fiesta tooled along quite comfortably, although it was afflicted with a little more road noise than we would have liked. The suspension reacted well to the speed, contributing to a nice ride, and the soft seats suggested we could spend days driving this car across country and not be left too worse for wear. The only drawback was that, at speeds around 70 or 80 mph, the tachometer ran close to 3,000rpm, the transmission's sixth gear not providing the headroom to let the engine run slower.We put this car through its paces on some twisty mountain roads, as well. The vaunted European-style handling made itself known with a wheel that felt connected to the road, its crucial feedback giving us a sense of grip in the turns. The suspension kept the car stable as we slewed around the corners, but the tiny engine doesn't allow for much extra power to pull the car through.Although it lacks a manual shift option, the transmission does have a low range and an engine braking mode. The low range is the more aggressive of the two, forcing the engine to run around 4,000rpm, getting close to peak horsepower. The braking mode, activated by a button on the side of the shifter, gave a little extra power without making the engine howl.In sum
With its kicky design, the 2011 Ford Fiesta stands out from the run of boring small cars on the road, something not easy to do when faced with the restrictions of a sedan body style. And the interior reflects the energy of the exterior design. Ford was willing to take a bold chance with the Fiesta. The cabin tech interface is also very usable, so we give it points for that, as well.
Ford touts the twin-valve timing on the engine, but this performance technology is mostly new to Ford. We do like this engine, but it isn't the most advanced on the market. The dual-clutch transmission boosts the overall tech of the power train, although it did not always work perfectly. The electric power steering is another point in the Fiesta's favor, especially as Ford tuned it well.
Surprisingly for a Ford, the cabin tech does not stand out as much as other features of the car. We loved the audio system and, as usual, Sync's ability to connect with cell phones and MP3 players. But that is about the extent of it, and other automakers are catching up. Although having access to offboard services with TDI can be convenient, it is restricted to areas with cell phone service.
Spec box
Model 2011 Ford Fiesta
Trim SEL Sedan
Power train 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine, six-speed dual-clutch transmission
EPA fuel economy 30 mpg city/40 mpg highway
Observed fuel economy 29.2 mpg
Navigation Offboard with Sync TDI
Bluetooth phone support Standard
Disc player MP3-compatible single-CD player
MP3 player support iPod, Zune, many others
Other digital audio USB drive, Bluetooth streaming, auxiliary input, satellite radio
Audio system 80-watt six-speaker system
Driver aids None
Base price $17,390
Price as tested $19,875