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

2010 Toyota Prius

Tuesday, July 13, 2010
The good: Getting around 50 mpg on average, the 2010 Toyota Prius is a stellar car for fuel economy, and you can choose accelerator sensitivity. Traffic reports are integrated with the navigation system.
The bad: The Prius isn't designed for handling. There isn't full iPod or USB drive integration for the stereo. The DVD-based navigation system reacts slowly.
The bottom line: The 2010 Toyota Prius is a better car than its predecessor, although there are some areas, especially in the cabin, where we would have liked to see more improvement.
2010 Toyota Prius
2010 Toyota Prius
2010 Toyota Prius
2010 Toyota Prius

After the success of its predecessor, the advent of the 2010 Toyota Prius created a lot of expectations. But instead of incorporating sought-after features such as a lithium ion battery pack or plug-in capability, Toyota opted for incremental changes, tweaking the power train to get more power and better fuel economy.On the cabin tech side, we expected big advances, as competitors have stepped up the game with such options as external data sources, which provide useful location information, and better compatibility with electronic devices. In this area, the 2010 Prius takes a few steps forward, but not as many as we hoped.
The new Prius model can be had in four trim levels, which Toyota dubs II, III, IV, and V, apparently preferring simple Roman numerals to arcane combinations of S, E, and L. Our test model was the Prius IV, which included navigation, upgraded JBL audio system, Bluetooth phone system, a back-up camera, and, most interestingly, the solar-roof option.

A horizontal crease in its rear gives the Prius a spoiler and lends a unique look to the taillights.

From the outside, the 2010 Prius shows some subtle, but smart, body changes. When spotting the new Prius in the wild, you will want to look for the notched back, a horizontal rear crease that lets the hatchback lip stretch out a little, creating a spoiler effect. Less obvious will be the roofline change, which moves the peak back a few inches for better aero efficiency and to add a little headroom for rear passengers.
Looking inside, Toyota adopted the floating console that Volvo started using a few years ago, creating an airy feeling in the cabin and a little storage space. Strangely, Toyota chose to put the Prius' seat heater controls in that open space, so you'll have to reach down in cold weather. Otherwise, the dashboard is still bare of analog gauges, retaining the monochrome digital strip just below the windshield. The steering wheel has a slightly flattened bottom, something more commonly seen on sports cars.
Hybrid driving
As with the previous version, the 2010 Prius starts out under electric power, creeping forward silently at low speeds and with light acceleration. And light acceleration is all you get with even half throttle applied--the Prius doesn't feel like it wants to move at all, which is one way to save gas. It takes almost full pressure on the accelerator to feel some pull from the front wheel drive, but that also takes the Prius out of electric drive. We found a constant tension while driving the 2010 Prius between playing the maximum mileage game and actually trying to get to a destination.
Initial acceleration may be unsatisfying, but Toyota gave Prius drivers options with the 2010 model in the form of three buttons labeled EV, Eco, and Power. While driving city streets, we tried the EV button, a program designed to maximize the use of the electric drive. The first time, a message on the car's display said our speed, 27 mph, was too high. The second time we tried it, a similar message gave the excuse that the battery was too low. We wondered if the car would cite a headache as the next excuse.

The buttons control programs that remap the accelerator, changing its sensitivity.

As we expect, Eco mode makes that slow acceleration even worse. But Power mode is tolerable. These modes are merely throttle programs, so a light touch on the accelerator when in Power mode can still produce good mileage. Although we enjoy getting the Prius moving under electric power, in the real world, we found it necessary to stab the accelerator to get moving from a stoplight, engaging both gas engine and electric motor and working toward the peak hybrid system's 134 horsepower. Once up to speed, easing back on the accelerator lets the Prius cruise at speeds of 25 to 30 mph under electric power.
Traffic conditions
Before getting on the freeway, the navigation system shows us the traffic conditions, a new feature for the 2010 Prius. But this unit is still DVD-based, and searching through the points-of-interest database to find a destination takes some lengthy pauses to retrieve information. New, nice-looking graphics indicate the different means of destination entry through the touch-screen LCD, but most of these are locked out while under way.
However, the voice command system does an excellent job of recognizing our inputs, and offers feedback on the LCD showing which commands are available at each step. With route guidance active, the navigation system shows familiar graphics mapping out upcoming turns and which lanes to be in for freeway junctions. We also discover another new feature for the Prius' navigation: it does text-to-speech, reading out the names of streets.
While driving on city streets, we noticed the new Prius still had the wobbly feeling in turns from which its predecessor suffered. On the freeway, the Prius wanders in its lane as wind buffets it around. The steering feels solid, making it easy to control, but it doesn't have that stable road feeling offered by similar midsize cars.
At freeway speeds, we fight to keep the instantaneous fuel economy gauge above 50 mpg while maintaining reasonable freeway speeds of 65 to 70 mph. Toyota has migrated its various power and fuel economy displays to the monochrome instrument screen, from their former placement on the LCD. Although not as graphically rich, it's safer. We find ourselves settling on the Eco screen, which uses a horizontal bar to show how much throttle we are applying.
The Eco screen shows our average fuel economy, but doesn't show range to empty. We have to dig through a few other screens to find that information. You can't get average fuel economy and range to empty on the same screen--an annoyance. These screens are informative, and let you maximize mileage, but they are a far cry from the hybrid instrument display Ford uses in the Mercury Milan Hybrid.
Tech tricks
Another instrument display feature in the new Prius is a graphic that mimics the steering wheel buttons when you press them; the idea being that you don't have to look down at the wheel when you press a button, keeping your eyes closer to a front view. In concept it's pretty cool, but in practice we find it unnecessary. After a few minutes of driving, we remember the button positioning, and don't bother to look at the instrument display feedback.

These graphics activate when you touch a steering wheel button, offering visual feedback.

The freeway is a good spot to listen to the stereo characteristics. We were disappointed on getting into the 2010 Prius to find no iPod port, but Toyota built in stereo Bluetooth support for MP3 players. And, as luck would have it, the new OS for the iPhone includes stereo Bluetooth. We paired an iPhone to the car's Bluetooth phone system when we first got in, and were happy to see the car ingested the phone's contact list as well.
But using the iPhone as a music player meant we had to pair it again, this time to the stereo. You can't use the iPhone for music and phone at the same time with the 2010 Prius. We thought this lack of integration would be a real problem, but switching from Bluetooth music player to Bluetooth phone proves fairly easy, merely requiring a touch on the car's onscreen connect button. Still, if you were to get a call while using the phone as a music player, it wouldn't switch to the car's hands-free system. Also, the Bluetooth audio source screen in the car doesn't show what music is playing and offers no music browsing capability. You only get a play and a pause button. Toyota really should have put in true iPod support.
With the navigation option in our car, the disc changer goes from six slots to four, and is hidden behind the LCD. This arrangement is the same as is in the previous Prius model, and we would have expected some improvement here. That disc changer can, of course, read MP3 CDs. There is also satellite radio and a simple auxiliary input.
Our car includes the upgraded, eight-speaker JBL audio system, which sounds surprisingly good, especially considering what we are used to hearing in Toyota cars. Although lacking a subwoofer, this system puts out bass strong enough to feel, yet still retains well-modulated highs and mids. Instrument definition is good, making the different layers in a recording distinct. This is an above-average audio system.
Proceeding along our route, the navigation system pipes up, warning of slow traffic ahead. It doesn't offer a detour, but looking at the map, we see the freeway marked in yellow, indicating speeds of 20 to 40 mph. This navigation system is supposed to find a route around any red sections, which would mean traffic moving under 20 mph.
The art of braking
As in the previous model, using the brakes is an art in the 2010 Prius. Hit them too hard, and you use the actual pads and calipers. The trick is to anticipate stops and slowdowns and lightly apply the brakes well in advance, which uses the car's regenerative braking system only, thereby feeding the battery and saving wear and tear on the pads.
We employ this braking technique as we get off the freeway and approach our destination. Leaving the car in a parking lot on a hot day, we get to experience one of the more unique features of the Prius: the optional solar roof, which on our car powers a fan in the cabin, so when we get back to the car it's a little cooler than it would be otherwise. We also had a rearview camera on our car, but Toyota implemented a back-up beeping, similar to what you find on big trucks. This gets kind of annoying, although it's probably a pedestrian safety feature, as the Prius will usually be running under quiet electric power when it reverses.

This monochrome power animation shows when the engine and motor are driving the wheels.

Other tech options available at the V trim level include adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, and an automatic parking system. We had the opportunity to try these features in a different Prius earlier. The cruise control and lane departure work well, similar to what we've seen in much more expensive cars. The parking system is hit or miss: it does an excellent job of guiding you into well-marked parking spaces, but requires too much adjustment for others.
Driving in the city and on the freeway, we see our average fuel economy range between 48 and 52 mpg, in keeping with the EPA's rating for the 2010 Prius of 51 mpg city and 48 mpg highway. Where the previous model had a 1.5-liter engine, Toyota bumped the displacement up to 1.8 in the 2010 Prius, and also made some refinements in the electric drive system. Toyota claims the larger engine actually gets better fuel economy in some circumstances than the smaller one.
In sum
We can't say that we really enjoy driving the 2010 Toyota Prius, but as an economical means of transportation, it's hard to beat. Fuel economy is its major virtue, and we give it a high performance rating for showing an average of around 50 mpg. For cabin tech, Toyota has made a few improvements, but the lack of good MP3 player support is an oversight. Live traffic reports and the JBL audio system are worthwhile improvements. It gets a high score for design, partly because of its body style, which makes it stand out in the crowd while giving it an extremely low drag coefficient. Design also benefits from the nice graphic treatment for the navigation system.
Spec box

Model 2010 Toyota Prius
Trim IV
Power train 1.8-liter inline 4-cylinder with hybrid system
EPA fuel economy 51 mpg city/48 mpg highway
Observed fuel economy 50 mpg
Navigation Optional DVD-based with live traffic
Bluetooth phone support Standard
Disc player Four-disc CD changer, MP3 CD support
MP3 player support Bluetooth streaming, auxiliary input
Other digital audio Satellite radio
Audio systemStandard JBL, eight speakers
Driver aids Rearview camera
Base price $25,800
Price as tested $30,709

2010 Honda Civic EX-L

Sunday, July 4, 2010
An absolute stalwart in the Honda line-up, the Civic maintains its popularity as a practical and quality economy car even after almost 40 years on the market. But, as the latest 2010 Honda Civic shows, popularity comes at a price. Offensive to none, the Civic is a perfectly average little car to which only the most particular person would turn up their nose.The Civic received its last major update for the 2006 model year, acquiring smooth sides and hovercraft like overhangs. Honda did get a little radical with the instrument cluster, using a bilevel arrangement with the tachometer in the usual place, and a digital speedometer just below the windshield.
2010 Honda Civic EX-L
2010 Honda Civic EX-L
2010 Honda Civic EX-L
2010 Honda Civic EX-L

Nav needs update
Minor updates for the Civic EX-L model with navigation that we reviewed include the addition of a Bluetooth cell phone system and iPod integration. But the navigation system in particular highlights the aching need for Honda's next generation Civic, due to arrive as a 2012 model. Not only are the maps low resolution, with jaggy graphics, but the route guidance is poor and response time is slow.

The navigation system maps show jagged street names and graphics.

This navigation system was introduced with the 2006 model, so don't expect external data sources with traffic and weather information, even though the car comes with satellite radio. The maps show in 2D only, on a touch-screen that also displays audio information.We had no difficulty entering addresses into this navigation system, although there was a slight delay after each button push. Trying to follow its route guidance through dense urban streets proved frustrating, with insufficient graphics and voice prompts that seem to come only at every fifth turn.Honda includes its excellent voice command system in the car, but its response time was also slow. Further, with the addition of the voice-operated Bluetooth phone system, the car gets two sets of voice command buttons, something we have previously complained about in models from Acura before the cabin tech was streamlined.
Using the Bluetooth phone system with a paired iPhone, the only feedback on the car's LCD is an informational graphic showing the location of the voice command buttons. You have to use voice command to enter digits, and the system does not import a phone's contact list.Bluetooth was one add-on to this generation of Civic, as was iPod integration, which relies on a pigtail USB port in the console. Again, the system showed quite a bit of sluggishness as we selected albums or artists from the iPod library menu. The USB port will also work with USB mass storage devices.

To access the CD slot, you need to open up the LCD.

As with the 2006 model, the only way to access the CD slot is to open up the LCD screen, which motors down. That single CD player also handles MP3 CDs. A more esoteric option sits near the CD slot in the form of a PC Card slot. With either a flash memory PC Card or an adaptor for an SD card you can play MP3s through the stereo.
Bolstering the Civic's average nature, the EX-L trim version gets a six-speaker audio system. Not particularly loud, this system reproduced music well enough that we didn't mind listening to it, but neither did we look forward to cruising around in the car listening to music. Sprightly engine
For power, the Civic EX-L uses a sprightly little 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine, mated to either a five-speed manual or automatic, as in our car. We liked the way the Civic felt ready to leap forward as soon as we put it in drive. That eagerness almost made it difficult to control as we maneuvered our way out of a crowded parking lot.

The Civic can be had with a manual or automatic transmission--five gears with each choice.

Honda squeezes 140 horsepower and 128 pound-feet of torque out of this engine using its i-VTEC variable-valve-timing technology. Techwise, the power train is far from cutting edge, another average component of the Civic. Other automakers are trotting out turbocharged and direct injection engines, whereas five speeds on the gearbox seems primitive.
The Civic drives well enough; it is easy to shoot around town and reasonably comfortable at speed on the freeway. When we mashed the gas pedal for passing power, the transmission dropped down a gear and the engine made a tortured grinding sound as the revs climbed. The Civic is one of those cars with good acceleration up to about 30 mph, but it quickly loses wind.Its handling is responsive, but not particularly sporty. Honda offers the Civic Si for that. The Civic displays the kind of understeer we would expect, and the body is prone to leaning in turns when pushed, despite the firm suspension.

The Civic acquired this bilevel instrument cluster in its last update.

The EPA puts the Civic fuel economy at 25 mpg city and 36 mpg highway. By contrast, we easily got over 40 mpg with the Honda Insight hybrid, which, similarly equipped, can be had for about $2,000 less than the Civic. Going by the numbers, the Insight seems a no-brainer compared with the Civic. In sum
Reiterating the point, the 2010 Honda Civic EX-L is a fine but purely average car. It has some of the cabin tech features we look for in cars, but the performance is not all that good, and the aesthetics are definitely lacking. The Civic also faces very tough competition in its segment from cars such as the new Kia Forte, which offers a better Bluetooth phone system and iPod integration, although not navigation.The Civic's 1.8-liter four-cylinder and five-speed automatic is also pretty average in the current car market. Fuel economy is good, but not great, with the company's own Insight hybrid besting it without sacrificing much in the way of power.
Spec box

Model 2010 Honda Civic
Trim EX-L with navigation
Powertrain 1.8-liter four cylinder engine
EPA fuel economy 25 mpg city/36 mpg highway
Observed fuel economy Not recorded
Navigation DVD-based
Bluetooth phone support Standard
Disc player MP3 compatible single CD
MP3 player support iPod integration
Other digital audio USB drive, PC Card, satellite radio
Audio system 160 watt six speaker system
Driver aids None
Base price $23,805
Price as tested $24,555