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

2010 Chevrolet Camaro

Friday, July 16, 2010
The good: Head-turning looks mark the 2010 Chevrolet Camaro LT, while the engine strikes a good balance between economy and power. A well-designed suspension keeps it under control in the curves. iPod and Bluetooth cell phone integration are available.
The bad: OnStar is the only navigation option. Audio quality is mediocre from the stock sound system. The shifter buttons are poorly placed, and the six-speed automatic only delivers satisfying performance in sport mode.
The bottom line: The 2010 Chevrolet Camaro LT is largely about style, although it isn't bad on the performance side. For cabin tech, only a few essentials are available.
2010 Chevrolet Camaro
2010 Chevrolet Camaro
2010 Chevrolet Camaro
2010 Chevrolet Camaro

Ford Mustang, Dodge Challenger, and now the 2010 Chevrolet Camaro: this holy trinity of retro muscle cars is now complete. Each car, being iconic in its own way, will have its own set of fanatical adherents regardless of how well it drives or what tech is available. But the new Camaro may have the biggest fan base; during our week with the car people stared, took pictures, came over to chat when we parked, and nearly hit us as they swerved over lanes to get a closer look.With its bulging hood and broad rear fenders, the Camaro certainly makes an impression. Our test car was also equipped with the RS appearance package, giving it meaty 20-inch wheels and a rear spoiler. We didn't think much of the fake wheel vents in the rear fenders, mere impressions in the sheet metal, as they have no practical purpose. But that's a small concern when the Camaro's bodywork makes it look like such a badass.

The new Camaro does an excellent job of bringing back and modernizing the style of the first-generation model.
In the cabin, we were pleasantly surprised by its interior design. Sure, the materials, hard plastics, and a cloth strip look a bit cheap. But Chevrolet managed to blend everything together well, which at least makes the build quality look good. For example, the stereo head unit is nicely contoured, with smooth, simple surfaces around it. The big letdown was the squarish plastic surrounds on the instruments, which would look much better in metal.
OnStar navigation
There's no LCD in this dashboard, and no onboard navigation system available. Instead, the Camaro offers route guidance through OnStar, which we regard as an inferior solution. First, instead of simply entering a destination into a navigation system, you have to talk to an OnStar operator. Chevrolet did a good job of building route guidance into the car--once the operator sends the route, turn-by-turn directions are shown on the instrument cluster display and on the radio display, along with voice guidance. But if you get off-route, the system doesn't automatically recalculate, instead requiring a couple of button pushes to have a new route sent down from OnStar.

Turn-by-turn directions, downloaded from OnStar, show up on the instrument cluster.
If you are out of range of the OnStar network, you don't have navigation. And if you are out of data range, the OnStar operator will read out the list of turns, which is saved as a recording that you can access as you go. Certainly OnStar requires less hardware than a navigation system, and has other useful features, but there are too many situations in which it just doesn't work, and when you might need it most.
OnStar can also cover hands-free calling, but Chevrolet makes a Bluetooth hands-free system available in the Camaro, so you can use your own phone. We paired an iPhone up to the system and got basic connectivity--the voice command interface let us dial by number, but it didn't download our phone's contact list.The Bluetooth phone system comes as part of a reasonably priced, at $655, Convenience and Connectivity package, which also includes audio controls on the steering wheel, remote start capability, and a USB port for the audio system, the latter useful for iPod integration and playing MP3 tracks off a thumb drive. In May, a Microsoft engineer published photos of the Camaro's stereo integrating with a Zune MP3 player, but when we plugged a Zune into the USB port it wasn't supported.

Chevrolet makes this three-line display useful for browsing iPod contents.
The iPod integration works well, although the Camaro's radio display only shows three lines, which would make music browsing tedious except for the interface tricks the system employs. Pushing the right-hand dial activates a menu function, which lets you drill down through artist and album lists. Turning it quickly begins scrolling through letters, making for an alphabetical search, a good trick for digging through extensive listings. The stereo also has satellite radio and an in-dash single CD player that can read MP3s. Browsing MP3 CDs and USB drives merely shows music by folder.
With six speakers, the base audio system in the Camaro is mediocre. The sound quality is generally muddy, and sometimes it highlights odd frequencies. While testing with one track, the system highlighted a particular percussion instrument so much that it overwhelmed all the other instruments. Fortunately, you can upgrade to a Boston Acoustics system with nine speakers and a 245-watt amp, which would have to be an improvement over the stock system.
Cadillac power train
When the Camaro was delivered to our garage, we were disappointed to see it equipped with the optional six-speed automatic transmission. Earlier we had driven a 2010 Camaro with a similar power train around the track at Laguna Seca, and were underwhelmed. In automatic mode, the transmission downshifted late, killing power coming out of the corners. But spending a week with the Camaro gave us time to figure out the ins and outs of this transmission.
The Camaro LT uses the same power train as the Cadillac CTS, a 3.6-liter direct injected V-6 with the optional Hydra-Matic 6L50 automatic transmission, with a six-speed manual standard. The automatic transmission has a manual mode, but we didn't find that gear shifts were particularly quick.

The optional six-speed automatic is the same as used in the Cadillac CTS, and has sport and manual modes.

Manual mode really suffers from the ergonomics of the shifter buttons. Paddles peek up over the tops of the steering wheel spokes, but they are fixed, merely showing which side upshifts and which side downshifts. Buttons on the backs of the spokes are used for shifting, and they are very poorly placed, impossible to touch with a finger with hands at 10 and 2 on the wheel.Moving the console shifter into the manual mode position, without touching the shift buttons, puts the transmission into sport mode, which is a bit more satisfying. In this mode, it will aggressively downshift, but only if you are really pounding it. We braked to about 30 mph before entering a curve, and the transmission stayed in fourth gear. On subsequent turns, we braked harder, bringing the car's speed down substantially, and the transmission downshifted to a good power gear, and held it until we got the tachometer close to redline on a straightaway. It can be a good transmission if you learn to modulate it, but the manual mode is virtually unusable.
The Camaro's engine puts out a more than adequate 304 horsepower at 6,400rpm and 273 pound-feet of torque at 5,200rpm, while getting an EPA fuel economy of 18 mpg city and 29 mpg highway. We never hit that highway rating, instead averaging 23.6 mpg, not bad considering the available power. The 2010 Camaro can also be had in SS trim with a 6.2-liter V-8 LS3 engine, the same as used in the base model Corvette. That engine makes 420 horsepower, for some serious drag strip bragging rights.
In the past, muscle cars weren't noted for their handling, yet the 2010 Camaro, with its standard sport-tuned independent suspension and stabilizer bars front and rear, keeps very steady in the corners. It leans just a bit when inertial forces are pulling at it in a corner, but that suspension keeps it from getting out of control. Its fairly short wheelbase also helps it pivot in a turn. With a weight distribution of 52 percent to the front and 48 percent to the back, the Camaro isn't perfectly balanced. During one emergency braking maneuver, the back end started to come out, but the car's traction control systems reigned it back in.
In sum
The 2010 Chevrolet Camaro LT earns its highest points for design, showing an excellent modern take on an older body style that excites onlookers. That design extends into the cabin, which, despite some cheap materials, still looks good. Chevrolet also managed to fit complex music management into a small screen. The placement of the shifter buttons is the only notably bad thing about the design. For cabin tech, we have to dock it for no onboard navigation system, as OnStar isn't quite as good as a full-fledged GPS device. And in general the car scores about average for cabin tech. Bluetooth and iPod integration are very useful features, but it doesn't reach beyond those basics. On the performance side, we weren't big fans of the automatic gearbox, but fortunately that is only an option. The 3.6-liter engine seems a good choice for this car, providing plenty of power, yet offering decent fuel economy at the same time.
Spec box

Model 2010 Chevrolet Camaro
Trim 1LT
Powertrain 3.6-liter direct injection V-6
EPA fuel economy 18 mpg city/29 mpg highway
Observed fuel economy 23.6 mpg
Navigation Turn-by-turn guidance from OnStar
Bluetooth phone support Optional
Disc player Single CD, MP3 compatible
MP3 player support iPod integration
Other digital audio Satellite radio, USB drive
Audio system Standard 6 speaker; available Boston Acoustic 9 speaker with 225-watt amp
Driver aids None
Base price $23,880
Price as tested $29,400

2010 GMC Terrain

The good: A new generation of hard-drive-based navigation with traffic makes up the centerpiece of the 2010 GMC Terrain's cabin tech, and music sources include the navigation hard drive and full iPod integration. Active noise cancellation keeps the cabin insulated from the road. A direct injection engine sends plenty of power to the wheels.
The bad: The Bluetooth phone system lacks a phone book. The six-speed automatic is a little clunky.
The bottom line: Despite its strongly SUV-styled body, the construction, power plant, and cabin tech of the 2010 GMC Terrain are thoroughly modern, equal to or surpassing much of the competition.
2010 GMC Terrain
2010 GMC Terrain
2010 GMC Terrain
2010 GMC Terrain

When GM rolled out the Terrain at the last New York auto show, it seemed the company hadn't learned a thing from recently plummeting SUV sales. Not to mention that the Terrain seemed an unnecessary addition to an already full SUV lineup. But then we got a 2010 GMC Terrain into our garage, and found the most modern SUV we've seen. If this is GMC's future, it's a good one.
Despite its big, square fenders and typical five-passenger, high-riding style, inside the Terrain is a new generation of cabin tech for GM, with a hard-drive-based navigation system showing traffic and weather, along with a full-featured audio system. Under the hood is a new direct injection 3-liter V-6, giving the Terrain reasonable power and decent fuel economy.
Urban pioneer
Unlike truck-based SUVs of the recent past, the Terrain uses a fully independent suspension, leading to a more car-like ride and handling. Our vehicle was a front-wheel-drive model, although all-wheel drive is available. Further putting our tester in the on-road category were the optional chrome 19-inch wheels. Those, coupled with the heavy bass from the 8-inch Pioneer subwoofer, suggested GM expects the Terrain to fit into the urban environment more than rugged back country.

Big, square headlight casings accentuate the tough look of the Terrain.
Although the bass was powerful, delivering a good kick with the right kind of music, it didn't overwhelm more delicate highs from the layered electronic music we fed this Pioneer-sourced system. It may not have been the best audio system we've heard in a car, but it certainly equaled those in much more expensive BMW and Mercedes-Benz models.This Pioneer audio system also takes part in the Terrain's active noise cancellation feature, which works by using microphones in the front and rear of the cabin to sample engine and road noise, then transmitting opposing frequencies from the speakers. As this system is always operating, we couldn't tell exactly how effective it was, but the cabin of the Terrain did seem well-insulated from the road, at least until we gave it a substantial squirt with the gas pedal.

GM uses direct injection technology in the Terrain to maximize engine efficiency.
Our Terrain was impelled by a 3-liter direct injection V-6, a new generation of engine from GM that works much more efficiently than previous port injection engines. But this V-6 is actually on the option sheet for the Terrain. Rather than including the engine at the trim level, as most automakers do, GM lets you replace the stock engine, a direct injection 2.4-liter inline four, with this more powerful V-6 at the same time you're deciding on color and wheels.
We can't speak to the base inline four cylinder, but the V-6, putting out 264 horsepower and 222 pound-feet of torque, delivers solid acceleration, motivating the Terrain forward fast enough to get a chirp from the front tires if you're not careful. At least, it delivers that kind of power when the six-speed automatic transmission wants to cooperate.We don't have a problem with spontaneity, but a little more consistency from the transmission would have been nice. Normally it kept the engine speed low, with typical fuel-saving programming, showing some sluggishness to downshift when we mashed the pedal. Occasionally the transmission would read our inputs and other road conditions and deliver a jarring downshift when it didn't seem called for. And at other times, mostly while already at speed, we got a thoroughly satisfying push from the transmission quickly engaging a low gear for passing power.

The shifter has a rocker switch set into it for selecting gears in manual mode.
GM includes a manual mode on this transmission, designed for engine braking. To activate it, you have to move the shifter into the M position. Selecting gears involves hitting a rocker switch on the side of the shifter with your thumb. This system gives more flexibility and control over a transmission with a low range or two.
Beyond the odd behavior of the transmission, its sixth gear and the engine's direct injection help the Terrain get good EPA mileage numbers of 17 mpg city and 25 mpg highway. Our driving was biased toward the city, but also included trips at high speeds on the freeway and up winding mountain roads, from which we saw an average of 18.1 mpg, and never really coming close to 20 mpg, according to the trip computer. If we didn't have the V-6 option, EPA mileage would have been 22 mpg city and 32 mpg highway.
GM made some smart moves with the Terrain's cabin, using quality materials on high-touch areas, such as the stitched leather wrapping on the steering wheel. As our vehicle had the optional V-6, it also used a hydraulic power steering unit; Terrains with the base inline four get an electric power steering unit, a somewhat bizarre detail probably made necessary by an engineer's calculation of available power, fuel economy gains, and the luminosity of the moon.

The backup camera includes trajectory lines, useful for many parking situations.
That hydraulic steering unit is reasonably tuned, delivering decent road feedback while moving the wheels with ease. And in crowded San Francisco, the turning radius wasn't untenable, conforming further with this car's urban comfort. To help with reversing, GM includes a rearview camera complete with trajectory lines showing where the car will go depending on how the wheels are turned. The Terrain may be the least expensive car we've seen using this type of advanced rearview camera.
Next generation nav
The rest of the cabin tech is equally modern. Below the LCD at the top of the stack falls a cascade of buttons and knobs. For selecting audio, using the Bluetooth phone system, or entering destinations, there is a round multidirectional button front and center. But as the LCD is also a touch screen, for most actions you get top choose which you want to use. The LCD is a little bit of a reach, so most people will go for the multidirectional button, although that can be little tedious, especially when entering letters from the onscreen keyboard.

The nav system's maps are bright and clear.
The touch screen displays the navigation system's maps with very good resolution, using bright, well-defined colors that are easy to read. In 3D mode, it shows a few landmark buildings, but doesn't offer the ridiculous detail of maps found in Audi's latest nav system. The Terrain's navigation system incorporates traffic information, showing incidents and popping up alerts about traffic jams on the road ahead. These alerts include an option to calculate a detour, always a useful feature. But unlike other systems that restrain how lengthy of a detour to calculate, this one seems to have no limits. We were amused when, having been alerted to a traffic jam on a bridge, the system calculated a 46-mile detour. Our destination was just a little over a mile away.
With route guidance active, upcoming turns are displayed with easily comprehended graphics on the screen while voice prompts use text-to-speech, reading out the street names. A monochrome LED on the instrument cluster also shows turn instructions, so the driver doesn't have to constantly glance at the LCD. Most destination entry options are disabled while under way, and we didn't find the voice command system particularly capable. However, as the Terrain is a GM vehicle, it incorporates OnStar. When subscribed to its navigation service, you can have an OnStar operator look up a destination then send it to the car's navigation system.

Along with traffic, the navigation system shows weather.
The navigation system stores its maps on a hard drive, which means quick calculation and map refresh, along with onboard music storage. In fact, we were impressed that it rips CDs and copies music from MP3 sources, making it easy to quickly transfer a sizeable music library to the car. The stereo parses the MP3 tags, allowing music selection by artist, album, and genre. This stereo also offers iPod integration with a similar interface, through a USB port in the console. That port will also handle USB drives. We like how the CD slot, almost an anachronism in a car with a USB port, sits low on the stack, unmarked and barely calling attention to itself.
Rounding out the cabin tech is a very basic Bluetooth phone system. GM has been slow to adopt this technology, as OnStar offers a hands-free-calling service. Features are woefully limited for Bluetooth, as there is no in-car phone book. The only option for placing calls is to dial the number by voice or with the touch screen. In sum
Given that, even optioned up as our vehicle was, the price stays in the low 30s, the 2010 GMC Terrain looks like an indication that GM is getting back to what made it one of the biggest automakers in the world. The Terrain feels like a quality vehicle and can be well-equipped for a very reasonable price. We like the modern, direct injected engine tech, although would like to see better mileage squeezed out of the V-6. The transmission could use some refinement, but it's not a deal-breaker.We may not be crazy about the SUV style of the Terrain, but many will appreciate the tough-looking squared-off fenders. The cabin styling is particularly nice, a big step up from past efforts, although the ergonomics of the navigation and stereo interface could use improvement. This new generation of cabin tech from GM is nice to see, as it incorporates modern features that keep the company competitive with the rest of the world. The Bluetooth phone system is the weakest link.
Spec box

Model 2010 GMC Terrain
Trim FWD SLE-2
Power train Optional direct injection 3-liter V-6
EPA fuel economy 17 mpg city/25 mpg highway
Observed fuel economy 18.1 mpg
Navigation Optional hard-drive-based with live traffic
Bluetooth phone support Standard
Disc player MP3 compatible single CD player
MP3 player support iPod integration
Other digital audio Satellite radio, USB drive, onboard hard drive, auxiliary input
Audio system Pioneer 8 speaker system
Driver aids Rearview camera
Base price $25,850
Price as tested $32,620

2010 Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG

The good: The transmission, engine, and suspension combine for excellent sport performance in the 2010 Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG. A good navigation and audio system is available.
The bad: Fuel economy is dismal, and the car lacks a relaxed driving mode for the daily commute.
The bottom line: The 2010 Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG is a powerful and very satisfying sport sedan, but not practical for daily driving because of poor fuel economy.
2010 Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG
2010 Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG
2010 Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG
2010 Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG

From the first throaty growl of the engine, we knew what the 2010 Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG was all about. Although based on the smallest of Mercedes-Benz's U.S. models, the C63 AMG hints at its aggressive nature with shark vents in the air dam and a bulging hood.In the driver's seat, the flat-bottom steering wheel signals that Mercedes-Benz meant the car to handle. And handle it does. Even maneuvering through a parking lot it feels taut. Turning the wheel reveals a strong connection to the wheels, with a firmness afforded by few other cars.The C63 AMG delivers a driving experience that makes us want to do very bad things. Blasting up the road, then downshifting behind slower traffic makes the engine burble in a way that sends other cars looking for friendlier lanes. Each black-topped turn engenders an evil grin as we hit the gas midcorner, making the back end slide out in a perfectly controlled manner.
An unequalled automatic
There is a reason why the C63 AMG is one of our favorite sports cars. Aficionados might scoff at the automatic transmission, insisting a real sports car has a clutch pedal. But this seven-speed automatic, tuned by Mercedes-Benz's AMG division, takes slush out of the equation.It uses a torque converter, but AMG engineers designed it to lock into gears with minimal shift time. The result is something that feels like a dual-clutch gearbox, delivering hard and quick shifts.

Mercedes-Benz's seven-speed automatic transmission eliminates slushy gear changes by locking in each gear.
A button on the console changes the transmission response between Comfort, Sport, and Manual modes, but in any mode we could sequentially choose gears by moving the shift from side to side or hitting the steering-wheel-mounted paddles. In Manual mode, the car doesn't interfere with driver shifting, even letting the engine speed run to redline, which sits at a high 7,200rpm.
As we crushed corners with the transmission in Sport mode, attempts at manual gear changes often resulted in double-shifts, the car's logic and our own following the same course. After hitting a few corners with the engine screaming close to redline, we let the Sport mode have its way, taking over manual shifting only with the transmission in Manual mode.
The Sport mode showed itself to be very capable, keeping the car in the power zone based on our brake and accelerator input. On the approach to a turn, we got onto the brakes, the AMG calipers--six pistons on front and four on the rears--allowing fine modulation. As the C63 AMG slowed, the transmission automatically downshifted, the engine barking as the revs went up.The handling from this car is exceptional. The traction control let the back end come out just enough to help us through the turns, flashing on before we got into a complete spinout. It took very little time to learn how much back-end slide the car allowed, and we approached each turn with it in mind.

Six-piston brakes in front allow easy modulation when approaching corners.
As good as this car proved in cornering, it apparently can be better. Mercedes-Benz did not include the limited slip differential, a $2,000 option, in our car. Nor did we get the P31 Development package, which brings in even better brakes and more power. The package might be a bit much for an everyday driver, but the limited slip differential would have been nice to try out.
Mercedes-Benz doesn't go particularly high tech with the C63 AMG's suspension, using conventional stabilizers, struts, and springs to keep the car settled in the turns. Though the result is good, it also means the car lacks settings for different driving conditions. Whether driving home after a long, hard day at work or surging down a switchbacked mountain road, the ride quality is pretty much the same.
Competitors, notably the BMW M3, maintain dual personalities. Turn off all the performance gear and the car meanders down the road, leaving no hint as to its competitive spirit. But push a few buttons and suddenly the car wants to devour racetracks. The C63 AMG may have a Comfort setting for its transmission, but we only felt a minor change to the car's driving feel.
The C63 AMG gets its thrust from a hand-built 6.2-liter V-8. Although tuned to an inch of its life, this engine lacks efficiency technologies such as direct injection or any kind of forced induction. Its big displacement outputs 451 horsepower and 443 pound-feet of torque, numbers that result in the rear wheels fighting the traction control at every launch.

Each AMG car includes a plaque on the engine inscribed with the name of the builder.
We found no reason to doubt Mercedes-Benz's claim of 4.3 seconds to 60 mph, but achieving that capability comes at a price. The EPA fuel economy rating for the C63 AMG is 12 mpg city and 19 mpg highway. Forget about breaking the 20 mpg mark. We tempered our canyon carving with steady freeway travel, ultimately turning in 14.2 mpg. The car doesn't want to be away from a gas station for too long, and requires frequent fuel-gauge checking.
Because of its very poor mileage, the C63 AMG is subject to the gas guzzler tax. Mercedes-Benz could learn from Audi, which ekes out a compromise between high performance and fuel economy with its latest S4. Although it's not as fast as the C63 AMG, the S4 delivers a satisfying sport-driving experience and fuel economy in the 20s.
Standard cabin tech
The Leather package brought Mercedes-Benz's sport seats into the cabin, which at first felt too tight. Then we found the buttons on the side of the backrest that loosened the bolsters. After a little adjustment, we had the seats perfectly set to keep us planted in the seat during the hardest cornering.
Unlike the first C63 AMG model we reviewed, our 2010 model lacked the Multimedia package. That package includes a hard-drive-based navigation system with traffic, 6GB of internal storage for music, and a Logic7 Harman Kardon audio system. This cabin tech suite is very good, a must-have for the C63 AMG.
As it was, our test car's cabin tech was very similar to that in the Mercedes-Benz C350 we reviewed earlier this year. The car still gets the COMAND system, consisting of an LCD on the center dash and a knob interface controller on the console. COMAND controls the stereo and phone system.

We like the old-time look of this radio tuner.
The COMAND interface gives radio tuning a nice treatment, showing an old-time tuner on the LCD, but no HD tuner without the upgraded cabin tech. The car also comes with satellite radio. The single-CD slot in the dashboard reads MP3 CDs, and the interface made it easy to browse through folders.
iPod integration comes with the Multimedia package, but is not standard in the car. Mercedes-Benz included its a-la-carte iPod adaptor in our car, but this system is a hack. Rather than show the music library on the LCD, where the car shows all other audio information, it uses the speedometer display.The standard audio system uses eight speakers, but is inferior to the optional Harman Kardon system. Although better than an average six-speaker system, the sound was a bit hollow.A Bluetooth phone system is also standard in the car, but without the Multimedia package, it is not very robust. Rather than downloading a phone's contact list, it requires contacts to be pushed to the car, something not all phones do.
In sum
Although we love driving this car, in some ways it is very primitive. It is no surprise that a big engine leads to lots of power but poor fuel economy. We would like to see Mercedes-Benz use some of the efficiency technologies coming in vogue, such as direct injection, to keep the power up but also deliver more miles per gallon. The C63 AMG earns points for its seven-speed transmission, which shows technical brilliance.
Our car certainly wasn't equipped with the cabin tech we would prefer, but as Mercedes-Benz does make the Multimedia package available, and we have used it, we give the car credit for the option. We also like the distinct design of the car, which manages to stand out as a Mercedes-Benz despite the fact that it fits in the midsize sedan class, one of the more uninspired segments on the road.
Spec box
Model 2010 Mercedes-Benz C--class
Trim C63 AMG
Power train 6.3-liter V-8
EPA fuel economy 12 mpg city/19 mpg highway
Observed fuel economy 14.2 mpg
Navigation Optional hard-drive-based
Bluetooth phone support Standard
Disc player MP3-compatible single-CD
MP3 player support iPod integration
Other digital audio Onboard hard drive (with navigation option), USB port, satellite radio
Audio system 8-speaker standard, 5.1-channel Harmon Kardon optional
Driver aids Rearview camera
Base price $57,350
Price as tested $66,500