Category Archives: Chevrolet

2007 Chevrolet Avalanche LT 4-WD (616)

Overview:
This week we’re looking at the new for 2007 Chevrolet Avalanche LT 4-WD dual purpose crew cab pick up truck with that SUV feel all in one. I say SUV because it has a substantial and secure locking cargo area, and not just an open pickup bed.

In spite of the poor fuel economy people appear to have a bent toward comfort and utility and are willing to pay the extra cost of having that. Go figure.  

The real story is that GM has led the way in innovation and this Avalanche really has no competition. It is simply a very unique combination of truck / SUV capability. If you haven’t ever looked at one, and you need a truck and car, here’s you chance to have both. For the out of doors adventuresome driver this is a perfect vehicle. I love the large storage compartments above the rear tires with lining and drains that can be used as coolers, when packed with ice, to keep fish, beer, soft drinks, etc. for the trip up and back.

Many will appreciate the newly added E85 (85% Ethenol) flexible fuel capability.

General Info:

Parts – US

Assembly – Silao , Mexico

Class:  – Special Purpose

Cars: – Astro, Avalanche, Aveo, Aveo5, Cavalier, Cobalt, Colorado, Corvette, Equinox,     Express, Express Cargo Van, HHR, Impala, Malibu, Malibu Maxx, Monte Carlo,     Silverado 1500, 2500, 3500 and hybrid, SSR, Suburban, Tahoe, Trail Blazer and    Uplander.

Handling & Performance:

Versatile is the watchword here and power is the name of the game along with great comfort and towing capacity beyond what most will ever need. Really impressive.

Styling:

Unique conversion feature makes this SUV-like vehicle into a full size long bed pickup truck in a few minutes. Several years ago I joined GM in Portland , Oregon for the initial roll out and learned how easy it is to do the conversion. And Bonnie and Clyde will appreciate the running boards.

Fit and Finish:

For a big substantial vehicle this puppy is well put together and GM is to be applauded for the improvements in construction that is no longer second to German and Japanese attention to detail.

Cost:

You’ll pay a bit more for the uniqueness of the Avalanche, but it is still competitive with standard equipment. It gets a bit pricey for the optionally equipped versions that include such things as Navigation system, sunroof, rear camera system, rain sensing wipers, leather, 12 power driver seat settings, 6-indash CD / Bose sound system upgrade, side curtain air bags, XM satellite radio, power folding mirrors and auto air system. That will cost nearly $11,000 for a total of over $46,000. That puts you way at the top end of the competition but the fluff may not excite you anyway.

Conveniences and comfort:

It doesn’t get much better and American ingenuity is not outdone.

Consumer Recommendation:

There is no way to explain, in the face of fuel price rises ($2.95 avg. 87 octane), why people will agree to continue to buy gas guzzlers. But they do and it appears there is a want as well as a need. We’re a society (globally) who want to travel, tow boats and trailers and do so in comfort for the entire family. That is a noble thing and since family and people are the most important of experiences it is appropriate that we give up other things to pay for the cost to have big cars and trucks. Surely it fits the adventuresome out of doors, anti-couch potato guy or gal so the cost is cheap if it will get that slug off the couch to spend more time with the family and less watching football. The creative guys will tape the game and watch it from the back seat while mom does the driving.

Recognized Competition:

Chevrolet Avalanche $32-42,000, GMC Sierra $16-39,000, Ford F 150 $19-37,000, Toyota Tundra $16-34,000, Dodge Ram 1500 $21-52,000, Nissan Titan $23-36,000, Cadillac Escalade EXT $53,705, Honda Ridgeline $28-35,000, Lincoln Mark LT $38-41,000.

Good News:

One of a kind unique design that gives you two vehicles for the price of one, solid comfortable ride, improved fuel performance, power to spare and flex fuel capable for E85/gasoline combo.

Bad News:

Fuel hog, a little pricey.

Standard Equipment:

5.3 liter 320 horsepower V8 engine with flex fuel capability, 4 speed auto transmission with tow haul mode, dual frontal airbags, passenger sensing system, OnStar service included for 1 year, 4-wheel anti lock disc brakes, theft deterrent system, stability control, rear child door locks, power windows and locks, driver lockout prevention system, remote keyless entry, tire pressure monitor, daytime running lights, smooth ride suspension, autotrac transfer case, driver computer, front cloth bucket seats, second row 60/40 clothe bench seat, 6-way driver power seat, dual zone manual air conditioning, audio with CD and MP3, with rear audio controls, cruise control, inside mirror with auto dimming, compass and temp, lighted visors, convert-a-cab feature, running boards, trailering equipment, 17” aluminum wheels, power locking tailgate, three piece rigid cargo cover, lockable top box storage, underbody mounted spare tire, fog lights, auto headlights and power heated mirrors.

Gas Stats:

15 City and 20 Highway MPG

Pricing:

MSRP $35,295.

2006 Corvette Z06 (593)

Overview:
This week we’re looking at the 2006 Corvette Z06. Paul says he feels the real story for this car is the engine that “IS” the Z06. In a world where race engines cost $50-100,000 this has to be the best performance “Production” sports car anywhere in the world.

It is also the best looking Corvette ever. It attracts attention and draws a crowd wherever it is seen. But you know what; it is actually affordable. And that is apparent by the lively sales activity at dealers and I’m told it sells for well over the sticker price.  

How could you not fall in love with this car? The only concern I see is there is nowhere to drive the way it should be driven. So much for “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” A couple of exceptions might be mountain road driving and the autobahn in Germany .

I have driven Brother John’s Ferrari 365 GTB and Daytona but as impressive as Ferrari is this Z is “as good as it gets”, Jack.  The horsepower and torque combined with its lightweight makes it the thorough bred it is.

But then there is always the voice of reason or contrary opinion when I feel so bullish about a car. My engineer friend Merkel filled me in on some car facts. But I feel too good to listen to the facts. But listen I must. Ok, lay it on me Merkel. “Well it is a terrible engine. It develops only 72 hp per liter. Every other car worth its salt gets 100 plus hp per liter. GM refuses to drop old push rod technology while the rest of the world is moving on to better technology”. Merkel points out that Honda, Toyota and other European production (non-high performance) cars get the same or better engine efficiency. Further he explains the cylinder head design – specifically the combustion chamber is flawed and won’t ever allow for the best performance of the engine. Ok Merkel, will you agree it is beautifully styled? “Yes, prettier than most other Corvettes, but I liked the older designs even better.”

Wow, just when I thought I’d found the perfect mate Merkel has to tell me she’s flawed.

General Info:

Parts – n/a

Assembly – USA

Class:  – Sport Car

Cars: – Astro, Avalanche, Aveo, Blazer, Cavalier, Cobalt, Colorado, Corvette, Eqinox, Express,     HHR, Impala, Malibu, Monte Carlo, Silverado, SSR, Suburban, Tahoe, Trailblazer,                Uplander and Venture.

Handling & Performance:

One test drive will just blow you away. Awesome doesn’t adequately describe it. It is an unbelievable driving experience. And it is rumored a higher output power plant is in our future. Like 505 horsepower isn’t scary enough.

I toured the production plant where the Titanium intake valves are made for all Z’s and the company also is a prime manufacturer of valves and other parts for most race car engines. Paul explained Newton ‘s second law, Force=Mass times Acceleration. And one gram of weight equals 200 rpm. And since race engines can operate at 10,000 rpm the use of Titanium for the intake valves can add significant force in the engines output. The Z06 engine is hand assembled in Canada using Titanium valves and other special race engine components from the world over to make it unique in the production car world.

Bruno, who has driven Formula one race cars, drove the Z and was very impressed. He lives in the south of France and travels the world often, working in the race car industry. He predicts this Z06 will be hot in Europe . But I doubt they can make enough for the US demand in the first place.

Cowboys know there are some horses that love to run. And if you have ridden a spirited horse multiply that by 505 horses in the Z06 and you get a better picture of what it’s like to ride such a willing horse.

When you test drive the car slowly, it forces you to shift from 1st to 4th gear. The torque is so good you don’t need to go through the gears. I found when around town I would shift from first to third to fifth without the need for lower gears.

Styling:

Most everyone I interviewed agrees this is the most beautifully designed Vette ever.

Fit and Finish:

I believe Vette devotees will say this is the best ever design and assembly of any Corvette in the brands long history that began in 1953.

Cost:

Dollar for dollar this has to be the best value of any high performance sports car.

Conveniences:

I wrestled with the need for the keyless operation feature. I felt it was more of a gimmick than a practical application. I’ve used it in the Cadillac XLR and most recently the Infiniti M45. But I really began to appreciate this feature driving the Corvette. I literally didn’t take the key fob out of my pocket for a week. I have concluded a car key may not be needed at all in the near future. You approach the car and it unlocks, enter the cockpit and push a button on the dash and wa-la – you’re off and running. When you stop and walk away from the car it locks the doors. Too coooool.

Another feature I really like is the “Heads Up” display of the tachometer and speed on the windshield. Very nice. I missed that when driving other test vehicles.

Consumer Recommendation:

Honestly I don’t think I would buy one. Why you say? It is simply too fast. It is “Scary” fast. It takes on a life of its own as the most impressive machine on the highway all things considered. It is almost impossible to drive slowly. I don’t take drugs but this is as natural a high you’ll ever feel. But if I lived in Germany I think I’d put my name on the list to buy one.

Recognized Competition:

Corvette Z06 $44-65,000, 2005 Lotus Elise $42,990, 2005 Acura NSX $89,000, Cadillac XLR $76-97,000, Pontiac GTO $31,290, Ford Mustang $19-31,000, Dodge Viper $82-83,000, BMW M3 $49-57,000, Nissan 350Z $28-40,000, Honda S2000 $34,050, Porsche Boxster $45-55,000, Mazda RX-8 $26,435.

Good News:

Among the most memorable high performance sports cars I’ve driven and the only one without a “Gas Guzzler” tax because it gets such good mileage. And before you say they simply put it in 6th gear and stretch out the mileage. It doesn’t work that way. The EPA test requires a prescribed testing procedure so everyone’s on the same playing field.

Bad News:

Too fast for the street where the Highway Patrol is not as impressed as the driver is.

Standard Equipment:

7 liter 505 hp V8 engine, 6-speed manual trans (automatic not available), air conditioning, power windows and locks, power leather heated seats, XM radio with 6 in-dash CD player, front and side air bags, 4-wheel ABS disc brakes, traction control and Stability control.

Gas Stats:

16 City and 26 Highway MPG

Pricing:

MSRP $67,900.

2006 Chevrolet TrailBlazer SS 2WD (582)

Overview:
This week we’re looking at the 2006 Chevrolet TrailBlazer SS 2WD 5-passenger midsize SUV. The first midsize SUV was the S-10 Blazer in 1983 and in 1995 it was redesigned and simply named Blazer. The third-generation for 2002, adopted the name TrailBlazer.

In Chevrolet’s words: “…the 2006 TrailBlazer adds the SS powered by a 395-horsepower 6.0-liter V8 engine with 20-inch wheels, sport-tuned suspension, unique exterior styling, specific interior appointments and available with all-wheel drive. StabiliTrak is standard on all TrailBlazer trim levels and the LT receives new front and rear fascias, grille, headlights, rocker panels and side moldings”.  

Well, unique exterior styling is a stretch, but it is a likeable effort. In fact there isn’t much to dislike except the plain wrap styling. This is a fast and fun car to drive and 0-60 speed at under 5 seconds is very impressive. And 60-100 mpg is a sizzeling scant few seconds more. Wow!

General Info:

Parts – U.S./Canadian 85%

Assembly – Moraine , Ohio , USA

Class:  – Special Purpose

Cars: Astro, Avalanche, Aveo, Blazer, Cavalier, Cobalt, Colorado, Corvette, Equinox, Express,  HHR, Impala, Malibu, Monte Carlo, Silverado, SSR, Suburban, Tahoe, TrailBlazer,  Uplander and Venture.

Handling & Performance:

As for me, the 6.0-liter V8 translates into “Rocket Ship” speed. This is the smoothest Blazer I have ever driven. I owned one of the last generation Blazers and it was great hauling a boat etc. and great for those all to infrequent hunting and camping trips. But you can’t help but be impressed with the effortless acceleration at any speed within its range. Freeway speeds are eclipsed by the quick response to your need to pass and so often I found myself well over the limit. It simply is a good feeling knowing you have all the muscle you need to get the job done.

Many critics continue to complain that automakers “just don’t get it”. They continue to produce muscle cars with horrible fuel economy. Either consumers are brain dead or assume carmakers know what they’re doing. Critics say NO, they don’t have a clue and appear to be ignoring the $3.00 plus / gallon of gas in the US and up to $9.00 per gallon in Europe .

Styling:

This and the Isuzu and Saab share the same platform and are all “today” designs and in the hunt for positions in this exceptionally desired class of gas guzzling vehicles. Well, I guess if it looks good, feels good and is flat fun then it must be a good thing. That’s the American way, right? Full speed ahead! Who, me worry?

Fit and Finish:

Very good.

Cost:

The LS package is priced at $26,700 and you’ll add $4,895 for the SS package option. But the real cost comes when you visit the pump all too often. I seriously doubt the EPA numbers on fuel consumption at 15/19 mpg. I don’t thinnkkkk so.

Conveniences:

OnStar – the more I use this feature the better I like it. I would opt for it on my own car because I have had several instances where it was life saving. No, not a heart attack, but it has helped in several other ways where either fuel was very low or in one case we were lost in a very remote desert area with only cactus for company. Another time it was in the wee hours of the morning and finding a station open was a real challenge. In another situation I found myself in a neighborhood where I shouldn’t be at that time of day (or any time of day really) and I needed to find my way to safe ground without stopping to ask for directions. Not stopping because of the macho thing, but well you know what I mean). With OnStar you feel you have a friend wherever you are in the world by pressing that blue button. A must in my opinion in today’s world. A close second is XM radio. Love it.

Consumer Recommendation:

Damn I wish I could have my cake and eat it too. Power and performance and fuel economy too. Those concepts, however, are diametrically opposed of course, and it appears the carmakers are just giving consumers what they want or think they need. That’s the American way. Otherwise it is Socialism. We have the option to have what we want and we clearly want more – more – more and power is one of the more’s. We haven’t lost our need for speed and bigger is a good thing too. So we vote with our dollars. If you want the best in class and performance this SS is really a great feeling and fun to drive.

Recognized Competition:

Chevrolet TrailBlazer $24-30,000, Isuzu Ascender $26-36,000, Buick Rainier $31-33,000, Land Rover LR3 $38-53,000, Toyota 4Runner $28-38,000, Ford Explorer $27-36,000, GMC Envoy $26-38,000, Mercury Mountaineer $29-36,000, Jeep Grand Cherokee $27-42,000, Honda Pilot $27-35,000, Nissan Pathfinder $25-36,000, Dodge Durango $28-37,000, Lexus GX470 $46,535, Mitsubishi Montero $36,000, Acura MDX $37-44,000.

Good News:

Powerful, smooth, comfy and fun to drive with great tuned road handling.

Bad News:

Expensive to operate – relatively speaking, vanity mirrors without covers – distracting!

Standard Equipment:

4.2-liter inline 6 cyl. engine, 4-speed auto trans, ft and rr stabilizer bars, special tuned shocks and springs, dual air bags, OnStar service including 1 year service, Stabilitrak stability control, 4-wheel ABS brakes, theft deterrent, rear child security locks, auto door locks, 16 inch aluminum wheels, solar ray glass, air conditioning, stereo with CD player, front bucket seats and console, folding 2nd row seat and cruise control. Then if you want the ultimate SS Option package: 6.0 liter 395 hp V8 engine, HD 4-speed auto trans, 20 inch by 8 inch 6 spoke polished wheels, tire pressure monitor, Road Course tuned suspension, fog lights, leather wrapped steering wheel, 8-way power driver seat ($4,895).

And if you opt for the LS Preferred group: power mirrors, rear widow defogger, tinted glass, trailer wiring connector, remote keyless entry and theft deterrent ($995). XM satellite radio (3 months included) ($325).

Gas Stats:

15 City and 19 Highway MPG – yea, bet me!

Pricing:

MSRP $26,700 standard, and the test vehicle SS including destination charge is $33,625.

2006 Chevrolet Impala LTZ 4-door Sedan (573)

Overview:
This week I test-drove the Chevrolet Impala LTZ sedan. It is especially nice to have the roominess of a full size sedan after driving a small sports car like the Mazda Miata MX-5 last week.

If I had wanted to play golf with a friend, my friend better have a big car because the Miata would not even carry ONE set of clubs. In the Impala I could easily stow my clubs in a travel bag. Few cars have trunks as long or deep as this Impala. I can’t imagine how I would have toted them to the airport – and Richard’s too. We’re not off to see the Wizard but the yellow brick road leads to Pinehurst, North Carolina. There I will test the Nissan Armada and be humbled by 4 golf courses where the Open is played earlier each year.  

Well, aside from being big enough to carry Richard’s and my clubs and other travel bags this is a great family car, company car or FBI fleet car. But it’s not boring and not all that plain as you’d expect for a stealth FBI car.

Public Service: When driving, keep your head down and follow through. Driving is much better that way. Trouble is I can’t walk and chew gum at the same time so how can I be expected to ever be a consistent golfer?

General Info:

Parts – n/a

Assembly – Oshawa, Ontario, Canada

Class:  – Large

Cars:  Astro, Avalanche, Aveo, Blazer, Cavalier, Cobalt, Colorado, Corvette, Equinox, Express,   HHR, Impala, Malibu, Monte Carlo, Silverado, SSR, Suburban, Tahoe, Trail Blazer,          Uplander and Venture.

Handling & Performance:

Generally this LTZ is more powerful than any of the competition. And if you want even more, a V8 is available (since 2000 but not prior models back to 1996). There is plenty of power and the ride is silky smooth. There is a hint of road noise but I found the silence quite refreshing after driving small tinny cars. From starting to stopping you’ll feel in control and comfy-cozy. Acceleration is quick and smooth. Braking is also smooth and quiet too.

Something you begin to see, (as with this Impala), is Variable Valve Timing equipped engines on more and more American cars. Such technology has been available on many Japanese cars for quite some time but just being adopted by American carmakers.

Styling:

Ok, so it isn’t an FBI car and it does have nice lines. The interior is dressed up with some nice wood accents on the dash that gives a more elegant feeling than I expected. Impala was so popular in the decade of the 1960s it topped the sales charts in the first half of the 1960s with over three quarters of a million units sold each year. Sales in 1969 topped 800,000 units sold. Then the Japanese took a huge share of the market stealing the success of Impala and knocking it from sales leader with Toyota’s Camry. 2004 saw sales of Impala reach less than 300,000 units sold.

Fit and Finish:

Quite good.

Cost:

All of the competition is very close in pricing. You’ll have to make the distinction of what is the best car for the money on some basis other than cost. As for me I like to support cars made in the US and help the troubled GM and Ford companies who are losing money. I supported the Japanese in the 1960’s because American carmakers were getting too big for their own, and the consumers good. Unions were pushing wages through the roof and made American cars too expensive and unable to compete with foreign products. Simply put the industry shot themselves in the foot – both feet really.

Conveniences:

This is a roomy sedan – classified “Large” – it has the best front legroom of almost all the competition. In the large sedans I have been testing recently I’ve become accustomed to the great feature of sensors built into the bumpers for obstacle detection. It is not needed on small cars but on the larger ones it is nice to have to assist when backing up. Unfortunately rear sensors are NOT available on the Impala.

Consumer Recommendation:

Boy this is the toughest competition grouping I’ve seen in a long time. Generally I can find a couple of cars that stand out. But this is really close. I love ‘em all. Camry has been the leader for a long time with so many people and for good reason – the Japanese came to play. They are fiercely competitive and capable – no formidable adversaries.

The Competition:

Chevrolet Impala LTZ $21-27,000, Mercury Montego $24-29,000, Pontiac Grand Prix $23-29,000, Saturn L300 $21,000, Mitsubishi Galant $19-26,000, Dodge Charger $22-35,000, Hyundai Sonata $18-23,000, Buick LaCrosse $23-28,000, Ford Five Hundred $22-28,000, Toyota Camry $18-26,000, Mazda 6 $19-28,000, Honda Accord $18-29,000, Nissan Altima $18-30,000.

Good News:

Decent mileage for the power, it is quiet, it is smooth riding, it has a huge trunk and it has great styling.

Bad News:

No rear obstacle sensors available.

Standard Equipment:

3.9 liter variable valve timing V6 240 horsepower engine, 4-speed electronic transmission, (optional V8 is 303 horsepower), front wheel drive, 4-wheel independent suspension, stainless steel exhaust, OnStar service one year, 4-wheel ABS disc brakes, traction control, tire pressure monitor, dual front and head curtain airbags, auto headlights, programmable auto door locks, theft deterrent system, child seat latch and door security systems, power heated mirrors, fog lights, rear spoiler, tilt steering wheel with wheel mounted cruise and audio controls, 8-way driver and 6-way passenger seats, remote vehicle starting system, XM Satellite radio, Bose audio system with CD and MP3 players and rear flip and fold flat seat.

Gas Stats:

19 City and 27 Highway MPG

Pricing:

MSRP $26,870.

2005 Chevrolet Malibu LS Maxx (554)

Overview:
Ok, back to my past and a car I owned when the model was new. Mine was a 1967 Yellow with a Black top. Two door hardtop. It’s nice to see that 2005 finds the Chevrolet Malibu still on the scene with the new LS Maxx.

My neighbor friend Carol said she wanted her mom to buy a Malibu. Husband Richard has been a Chevy kind of cowboy and owned a Malibu in his younger days too. Well Carol’s mom ended up buying a Fooooooord. You can tell parents, but you can’t tell them much. 

I have had so much good fortune with the many Chevrolets I’ve owned since my very first car – a 1934 Chevrolet coupe with a rumble seat. Wow, $50 and I worked it off painting with my dad. Thanks dad. I can still feel the busted knuckles changing the gears in the transmission that I broke learning to shift. But for you who have owned classic cars that are original you are acutely aware there was a time when Syncro-mesh transmissions weren’t invented yet. By the way, “These” (2000 and beyond) are the good old days when it comes to cars. Today the interval for a tune up is 100,000 miles – back then you were lucky to get 100 miles before the engine needed attention. We’ve come a long way baby. GM probably had more to do with the growth in automotive technology than any other company in the world.

General Info:

Parts 

Assembly – Kansas City, Kansas USA

Class:  – Large

Cars: Astro, Avalanche, Aveo, Blazer, Cavalier, Cobalt, Colorado, Corvette, Equinox, Express,  Express Cargo Van, Impala, Malibu, Malibu Maxx, Monte Carlo, Silverado  1500,2500,3500 and Hybrid, SSR, Suburban, Tahoe, Trail Blazer, Uplander and Venture.

Do you think GM can squeeze in a few more models? Just kidding of course. Do you think too many models may be a part of the reason they are experiencing sales problems in the beginning of the 21st century.

Suggestion: Cut some of the models and do better on the remaining models. On the other hand I was disappointed when GM decided to dump the Oldsmobile line.

Handling & Performance:

This is a no nonsense car that does it all pretty well. It is powerful – 200 hp – and yet it does it while achieving 30 highway miles per gallon. Pretty good for a 5-seat sedan.

Styling:

Well, I like the styling and the research I did on consumers seems to agree. It looks like a lot more expensive sedan and finds itself classed with smaller, less expensive cars.

Fit and Finish:

Very good even when compared to the company it keeps.

Cost:

Well priced until you consider the Nissan Sentra and the Honda Civic which are priced less. This is real tough competition.

Conveniences:

The fold flat seats are a bit unusual for a family sedan, but they are a nice touch. Although it comes standard with a nice complement of features, you can fork out another $3,200 to add side air bags and head curtain side air bags, rear audio controls with headphones, 6-way power driver seat, “Remote Vehicle Starter system”, DVD entertainment system, XM Satellite radio with over 130 channels and AM/FM with 6-disc CD player to replace standard radio.

For those who live or travel to places with extreme weather conditions (cold or hot) the Remote starter system is pretty cool. From the comfort of your house you can start the car remotely so it will be nice and toasty or cooled when you’re ready to leave.

Consumer Recommendation:

Although this is a standout among the competition as a small looking but big and roomy sedan, I would look hard at the Honda Civic. Smaller but it will impress you for the money. I believe the Accord is a closer competitor than the Civic, however.

The Competition:

Chevrolet Malibu Maxx $21-25,000, Pontiac Grand Am $23-24,000, Toyota Corolla $14-18,000, Dodge Stratus $19-23,000, Hyundai Elantra $13-15,000, Honda Civic $13-22,000, Nissan Sentra $13-18,000, VW Jetta $18-24,000.

Good News:

Roomy family sedan, good fuel economy.

Bad News:

I didn’t sense any problems.

Standard Equipment:

3.5 liter 200 hp V6 engine, 4-speed auto trans, dual front air bags, 4-wheel ABS brakes w/traction control, theft deterrent immobilizer, auto headlights, battery rundown protection, power outside mirrors, air conditioning, power windows and locks, power steering with tilt and telescopic wheel, cruise control, stereo with CD player, power driver seat, fold flat passenger seat, power pedal adjustment and driver information system.

Gas Stats:

22 City and 30 Highway MPG

Pricing:

MSRP $21,465.

2005 Chevrolet SSR Super Sport Roadster (537)

Overview:
This week I tested the 2005 Chevrolet SSR Super Sport Roadster. Now this is Retro! As I mentioned this is a series on pickup trucks and technically this is a pickup.

If you are into hauling fur coats or other soft things it won’t scratch the beautiful fine polished wood runners in a bed of plush carpet. Ok, so it’s a hot rod, retro back to the mid 1940s through early 1950s and reminds me of my 1946 Chevy half-ton pickup.  

It is therefore near and dear to my heart because it made delivering the Los Angeles Times to 420 homes in the Monterey Hills above South Pasadena, CA every morning in my teen years a joy. Old timers would tell me the torque of that 6-cylinder would pull a house. I never tried it, but it had no trouble in the hills. Anyway, this SSR brought back fond memories of rising early, tying papers and tossing them to a thankful bunch of folks. They must have been thankful, because I never had a complain, even when the paper I launched from my little red truck became a missile that found its way through a window or milk bottle on the porch. Wow, that dates me, eh? Ok, so that was a long time ago when Ador Farms still delivered bottled milk in the late 1950s.

I can’t remember now what the mileage was on that straight 6 engine, but I’m sure someone out there will tell me. My guess is that it was about 15 mpg. After I rebuilt it, it probably did worse. Remember those older cars. That was when you could actually turn a screw to change the idle or fuel mixture on the carburetor. Today gas is metered out to the cylinders with fuel injectors and carburetors are archaic. But for all its simplicity the old technology worked nearly as well as today’s modern electronic ignition and fuel injection. Perhaps we shouldn’t expect gigantic leaps in mileage numbers in only 60 years. Or should we? Shouldn’t consumers demand more from a society who put a man on the moon in 8 years. Thanks JFK.

General Info:

Parts – USA

Assembly – United States

Class:  – Pickup

Cars:  – Astro, Avalanche, Aveo, Blazer, Cavalier, Cobalt, Colorado, Corvette, Equinox,                 Express, Impala, Malibu, Monte Carlo, Silverado, SSR, Suburban, Tahoe, Trail Blazer,      Uplander and Venture.

Handling & Performance:

A dream to drive. Comfy and cozy and faaaast as 390 horses push this pickup down the highway.

Styling:

Retro says a lot and of course a picture is worth a 1,000 words. And one would never guess you’d buy a pickup truck that magically becomes a convertible at the touch of one button. And the designers have done a marvelous job is moving from the old look to a modern, sleek rendition of the past. They have struck a chord or two with lots of people as I learned from those who stopped me to talk about the truck that transforms the past to the future. At Home Depot in Palmdale, a retro couple visited and reminisced and I felt good about this one of a kind bold statement from Chevrolet. Thanks GM.

Fit and Finish:

Excellent.

Cost:

Big price tag. But then, if you rebuilt a ’46 to ’53 Chevy pickup, it would cost more. And even if you could design in a convertible hard top the cost would be outrageous. Chevy has done it all for you and far cheaper than you could ever do it. So if that is true, $50,000 would be a bargain. I’ll take two.

Conveniences:

Very nice. And the convertible top is a touch of genius.

Consumer Recommendation:

If you want “Different” and can afford fifty grand for a Sunday driver I recommend this radical retro truck. It takes you back in time and then launches you into the future as you watch the hard top magically disappear.

The Competition:

There are no competitors in my opinion. This is a unique remake of the 1940s and 1950s Chevrolet pick up trucks. You’d have to go to a Custom Rod show to see the likes of this truck. It is alone in the production market. I suspect when I saw it as a concept vehicle in 2000 I didn’t expect it would ever become a production vehicle. Thanks to Chevy huevos it has. Bravvvv-O!

Good News:

It’s a magical trip down memory lane for the older, and simply a lovely work of art to all who love an adventure in driving something different. It is fast and very fun to drive. The plush bed is elegantly covered in a hard tonneau cover that is flawless. This is one of the special vehicles that inspire an automotive love affair.

Bad News:

A little pricey and hard to justify if it is a truck you need, low fuel economy.

Standard Equipment:

6.0 liter 390 hp V8 engine, 4-speed auto trans, limited slip differential, independent front suspension, 16:1 power steering, stabilizer bars, tuned shocks, trailer provisions, 19” front and 20” rear aluminum wheels, dual air bags with off switch for passenger, side air bags, 4-wheel ABS disc brakes, remote keyless entry with theft deterrent system, retractable hardtop, power heated mirrors, removable hard cargo cover, stereo with CD/MP3 player, air conditioning, power locks for doors and cargo cover, power windows, cruise control, tilt steering wheel, leather seating and 6 way driver and 2 way passenger power seats. Options: the version I drove upgraded the MSRP by $4,460 for memory seats, homelink, heated seats, in-dash 6 CD Bose sound system, cargo area trim with wood, 6-speed manual transmission (I recommend this), auxiliary gauge package, special paint (beautiful aqua blur metallic) and GVW rating at 6,050 lbs.

Gas Stats:

13 City and 20 Highway MPG.

Pricing:

MSRP $42,430.

2005 Chevrolet Cobalt 4-door Sedan (536)

Overview:
Ok, back to reality and responsibility after a series on pickup trucks. This 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt 4-door sedan isn’t the first in a series of economical cars to contrast with the gas guzzling trucks I just completed, but I will touch on a lot of fuel-efficient vehicles because the inevitable has happened.

Gas is pushing $3.00 per gallon and that ain’t good. Government says they will start exploring for new domestic fields. Helllllllooo, are they stupid or what? Is this gas shortage a surprise to these yokels or what? What do we pay our elected officials such high salaries for? Boy I don’t want to get my blood boiling but this is ridiculous. In fact it has been said we have 30 years of fuel in the Alaska reserve. I think it’s time George Bush et al, start the flow going to the pumps. By the time we start another war and need the oil we will have developed another energy source, like hydrogen or solar power. In any case it will be a good incentive to do JUST THAT. If we can put a man on the moon…  

In the meantime, until you write your congressman about freeing up some of the national oil reserves, the only immediate way to beat the cost to you personally is to downsize the cars you drive. Few, around the country, can take Metro rails and most of those folks are in New – York – City. The rest of the country has become dependent on personal transportation and that is never truer than in California.

In the 1940’s special interests, namely the oil and rubber companies, pushed mass transit right out of California because it was more profitable for them to encourage personal autos for transportation. Now cities encourage spending billions to rebuild mass transit because all of the freeways in California and other major metropolitan cities have developed into giant parking lots. What a mess Charlie Brown.

I have discussed fuel alternatives with engineers and you may have read about the European diesel approach to achieving better fuel economy. We discussed how American Car makers are opposed to that in principal. In fact Forbes Magazine recently ran a cover story about how GM is gambling big time on Hydrogen powered vehicles. I believe that will change, but the jury is still out. These guys could be smarter than I give them credit for.

In the meantime buying more fuel-efficient vehicles is the responsible thing to do. Voting with your purchasing dollars is the only way to fight back. Letters are circulating to boycott certain oil companies, but that is only a temporary fix at best and more likely an empty threat. The real problem is the rest of the world is beginning to demand increasing amounts of crude. China will be the major player in pushing fuel prices through the roof as we direct more production to that country.

Presently wages in China are $.60 to $.90 per hour so more production is bound to go there. That will push them and other underdeveloped countries to use more oil as their labor pool is utilized. That in turn will push the cost of gas in America up to world prices over $4.00 per gallon. You can take that to the bank Lucy, and while you are there, withdraw a lot of money to pay for the $100.00 fill ups at the pump for a tank of gas.

In contrast to opening my wallet wider I like the option of buying a Cobalt or one of its competitors that get over 30-highway mpg. That is double what you are probably getting from that SUV or Truck or other big V8 you are driving. With that one move, all at once you have cut your fuel cost in half. Secondly the trend will push manufacturers to produce more fuel-efficient vehicles or lose market share.

General Info:

Parts – USA

Assembly – USA

Class:  – Subcompact

Cars:  – Astro, Avalanche, Aveo, Blazer, Cavalier, Cobalt, Colorado, Corvette, Equinox,                 Express, Impala, Malibu, Monte Carlo, Silverado, SSR, Suburban, Tahoe, Trail Blazer,      Uplander and Venture.

Handling & Performance:

Performance is good for a 145 horsepower inline 4-cylinder engine. I remember well my 1963 VW Carman Ghia. We’d go from LA to Las Vegas and all the traffic would pass us going up hill and we’d pass them all going down hill. Well, that is not the case with this Cobalt, but it will struggle and work hard on the hills if you want to keep up with today’s traffic. Face it, they will run you over if you don’t get out of the way. “But ma, I’m doing 80 now…”

Styling:

Plain wrap and clean describes it well. Not a lot of frills on the exterior and the interior is clean and basic as well. That’s a good thing.

Fit and Finish:

Good and perhaps even Very Good for the money.

Cost:

Affordable comes to mind for this family sedan that seats 5. If you want power windows and locks and ABS brakes you can opt for the LS or the LT sedan where those features are standard. It will up the price by $2-5,000.

Conveniences:

When you consider “Affordable” one shouldn’t expect a lot of power stuff like seats, windows and auto air. This is a great transportation car that will get you and the family there in comfort if not elegantly. Face it, when you set the seat it is unlikely you will change it very often. I did miss not having power windows (not available on the Sedan), and door locks are optional. Guess I could live without those too.

Consumer Recommendation:

I was a happy camper with this basic transportation family, seats 5, sedan. Chevy has always been a reliable car and if you don’t require jack rabbit burn the rubber off the tires starts and won’t expect to tow the boat or trailer, this is a great economical family car that is truly affordable. I gotta tell you, I, and I’m sure you have friends with the money to buy any car they want, who are happy owning rather than being owned by their car.

Advertisers will try to convince you to spend 3 to 5 times the money to be a complete human being, but it just isn’t true.

The Competition:

Chevrolet Cobalt $13-21,000, Ford Focus $13-18,000, Suzuki Reno $13-17,000, Chevrolet Cavalier $10-18,000, Toyota Corolla $14-18,000, Pontiac Sunfire $11-15,000, Subaru Impreza $18-32,000, Dodge Neon $14-21,000, Scion tC $16,000, Hyundai Elantra $13-15,000, Honda Civic $13-21,000, Saturn ION $11-21,000, Nissan Sentra $13-18,000, Volkswagen Golf $16-20,000, Mitsubishi Lancer $14-35,000, Suzuki Aerio $13-17,000, Mazda 3 $14-19,000 and Kia Optima $16-20,000.

Good News:

There is a ton of competition in the field, great economy family vehicle, most of the basic needs without the frills that jack up the price.

Bad News:

Light on the horsepower and torque to tow, basic features to some people will be a turn off.

Standard Equipment:

2.2 liter 4 cylinder engine, 5-speed manual trans, power steering, power front disc and rear drum brakes, dual air bags, theft deterrent, battery rundown protection, child safety latch system and rear door locks, daytime running lights, air conditioning, stereo with CD player, reclining front bucket seats, 60/40 split rear folding seat, console, tilt steering wheel and remote trunk release.

Gas Stats:

24 City and 32 Highway MPG

Pricing:

MSRP $13,625.

2005 Chevrolet TrailBlazer EXT 4WD (525)

Overview:
This week I tested the 2005 Chevrolet Trail Blazer EXT 4WD Special Purpose SUV. It occurs to me looking at the number of cars and trucks and SUV’s Chevrolet is responsible for on our roads, one must wonder if there are too many of the line. Why do they produce so many cars? Just an observation.

This Trail Blazer is on the cutting edge of technology and I’m thrilled to see GM take the lead in R&D to improve the cars we drive. I was impressed with the Hy-Wire fuel cell vehicle from GM a year or so ago which they feel will be available commercially in 10-20 years. Personal fuel cell vehicles will trail commercial by about 10 years. Well, it’s a long time, but at least they are forging ahead. In the meantime, they are doing the things they can do, with present development of technology, such as this Trail Blazer that is engineered with DOD, for Displacement on Demand.  

During a Press Conference at the LA Auto Show 2005, keynote speaker, Volkswagen AG Chairman Bernd Pischetsrieder made it clear they don’t really share the optimism for Hydrogen powered vehicles like the Hy-Wire I mention here. Basically he says for all around improvement for the environment and better fuel economy, diesel is the best solution. I have written about this issue in the past, and I believe he is right, and I agree that Bio-fuels will play a big roll in that progression away from fossil fuels until other sources, like hydrogen are more practical.

Back to the present…

General Info:

Parts – US

Assembly – Oklahoma City, OK. USA

Class:  – Special Purpose

Cars:  – Astro, Avalanche, Aveo, Blazer, Cavalier, Cobalt, Colorado, Corvette, Equinox,           Express, Express cargo van, Impala, Malibu, Malibu Maxx, Monte Carlo, Silverado           15,25 & 3500, SSR, Suburban, Tahoe, Trail Blazer, Uplander and Venture.

Handling & Performance:

One of the original in this class, Chevrolet remains one of the best performers. Displacement on Demand keeps GM up with current technology. DOD is a Cylinder deactivation technology that is intended to improve fuel economy without sacrificing performance. It does this by using only half the cylinders during low power demand and kicks in all 8 when power is needed. It shuts down every other cylinder in firing order during light load operation. The valves simply stay closed unless they are needed.

Styling:

I like it. Always have.

Fit and Finish:

Very good.

Cost:

All of the competition is similarly priced. Trail Blazer is certainly on the better end of the cost curve.

Conveniences:

Very good compliment for the money.

Consumer Recommendation:

In my opinion this is the best of the bunch. The price is right, the styling is “Today” and it must be in your list of those to test drive. However, that being said, and although they are not in this class for competition, “Crossovers” (cross of SUV and Mini Van) should be considered here. In a review to come I had the pleasure of testing the New Buick Terraza and in my opinion this breed is better than the SUV. It carries all the SUV look, eliminates the 4-wheel drive and thus improves on gas performance and includes sliding doors that are so much more convenient – and all for the same money or less.

The Competition:

Trail Blazer $28-34,000, Mercury Mountaineer $30-39,000, Ford Explorer $27-38,000, GMC Envoy $30-42,000, Dodge Durango $27-36,000, Toyota 4Runner $27-37,000, Honda Pilot $27-34,000, Infiniti FX $35-45,000, Mitsubishi Montero $35,800.

Good News:

Long history in this class.

Bad News:

Fuel economy is not as good as I would hope for.

Standard Equipment:

5.3 liter V8 engine, 4-speed electronic trans, power steering, power heated mirrors, daytime running lights, dual front air bags, 4-wheel ABS disc brakes, rear child safety door locks, battery rundown protection, theft deterrent system, remote keyless entry, air conditioning, rear heat and air, stereo with CD player, bucket seats with 8-way driver seat, folding 2nd and 3rd row seats, power rear glass vents and under floor rear storage.

Gas Stats:

14 City and 19 Highway MPG.

Pricing:

MSRP $34,270.

2004 Chevrolet Malibu LS Sedan (489)

Overview:
This week I drove the 2004 Chevrolet Malibu LS Sedan and I’m not one to complain, but the two ladies riding in the car on this lengthy journey complained about the seat comfort. I thought I didn’t have much rear body padding, and the seats were just fine to me.

Ok, so the Malibu is “Plain Jane” styling but this is a fine, practical car for today with good gas mileage numbers and plenty of room and a great value. Bravo GM.

General Info:

Parts –  n/a

Assembly – Kansas City, KS – USA

Class:  – Mid-size

Cars: – Astro, Avalanche, Aveo, Blazer, Cavalier, Colorado, Corvette, Equinox, Express,    Express Cargo Van, Impala, Malibu, Malibu Maxx, Monte Carlo, S-10, Silverado    1500,2500,3500, SSR, Suburban, Tahoe, Tracker, Trail Blazer and Venture.

Over the river and through the woods to Brother John’s house for a retreat. John is not a monk or priest, and even further from the city which affords a little solitude… so I made the journey in the Chevrolet Malibu.

Below is a shot of early morning snow that blanketed the area over night. By the end of the day it was nearly Spring again. And a  day later it would be Summer.

As they say, if you don’t like the weather, wait a minute.

Handling & Performance:

Hitting the road for a long trip is a great test of performance and comfort and Malibu passed the test easily. The V6 engine provides 200 hp that is all you need while providing very acceptable gas performance that is equally important. Gas prices have escalated by early 2004 to over $2.50 per gallon in the western US and 32-highway mpg was welcomed at the pump.

Styling:

Plain Jane styling can be taken wrong and that’s not how it is meant. The lines are simple and clean and that’s a good thing. One of my favorite cars that I’ve owned over the years was a Malibu. It was not too grandiose for the Big 8 CPA firm I joined out of college but it afforded our family a perfect car for the time and place. With a new baby we had to be economy minded but we also wanted a stylish car as well. Chevrolet had always been a favorite of mine and that Malibu didn’t disappoint us.

Fit and Finish:

As good as ever for Chevrolet, and considering the price level of this car it is very good indeed.

Conveniences:

All the bells and whistles you could expect for the money and more. It even included XM radio and the OnStar System.

You’ll also impress your friends with a very unique, first of its kind, remote vehicle start system. Unnecessary you say. That’s what I thought too, but for those in colder climates it is a very nice addition. From the comfort of your home push one button on the remote key fob and start the car. It warms up before you get in. Daughter Jen just bought an Acura TL at nearly twice the money and other than the Navigator system, it did precious little more than this Malibu and it surely didn’t have the remote start feature.

Cost:

Outstanding value, in my humble opinion.

Consumer Recommendation:

Perhaps the most compelling reason to test-drive this car is the overwhelming value for such an “All Around” family sedan. It is the pick of the litter and a must see in your search for a good family automobile.

The Competition:

Chevrolet Malibu $19-23,000, Dodge Stratus $18-23,000, Subaru Impreza $20-31,000, Toyota Corolla $14-15,000, Pontiac Grand Am $17-23,000, Oldsmobile Alero $18-23,000, Honda Civic $13-21,000, Volkswagen Jetta $17-24,000.

Good News:

Very good gas performance, well priced, roomy and lots of conveniences for the money.

Bad News:

Questionably uncomfortable seats, but I’m not buying the complaint.

Standard Equipment:

3.5 liter V6 engine, 4-speed automatic trans, electric variable steering, dual front air bags, anti-lock brake system with traction control, theft deterrent system, auto headlights, rear child latch system, power mirrors, air conditioning, power windows and door locks, power trunk release, tilt and telescopic steering wheel, cruise control, AM/FM with CD player with 6 speakers, 6-way power driver seat, split folding rear seat, remote keyless entry with remote vehicle start system, power adjustable brake and accelerator pedals, driver info system, XM satellite radio upgrade with 100 channels.

Gas Stats:

23 City and 32 Highway MPG.

Pricing:

MSRP $22,990 as equipped.

2003 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 (452)

Overview:

This week I tested the awesome American as apple pie two-seater sports car Corvette. The Z06 is the cats meow and reminds me so much of brother John’s 1971 Daytona Ferrari in look and feel. But the amazing part is that Ferrari built their version over 30 years before.

But with a tune up on the Ferrari starting at about $3,000 it’s fair to say this Vette would be much more easy to own and operate. The mileage is good for a big 405hp V8 and the entry price is nearly half its closest competitors.

This Z06 only comes in fixed top and a manual six-speed transmission. “The body is composite polymer with a drag coefficient of 0.29. There is a lot of Aluminum to keep the car light. The engine is aluminum as well as the frame that cradles the engine and other mechanical components up front, plus the four control arms on the independent suspension are aluminum. Even the leaf springs are composite. The windshield is also mounted to an aluminum frame and that is part of the reason the car seems so rigid. I’m acutely aware of that because I bought a new 1991 Camaro convertible and it was the worst for creeks and groans at every twist and turn. For safety there is a steel roll bar built into the rear roof section.

General Info:

Parts – US

Assembly – Bowling Green, KY.

Class:  – Two Seater

Cars: – Astro, Avalanche, Blazer, Cavalier, Corvette, Express, Impala, Malibu, Monte Carlo, S10 Pickup, Silverado, SSR.

 

1971 Ferrari 365 GTB                  1971 Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Daytona Coupé

     

1990 Ferrari 365 GTB                                                        1971 Corvette

Handling & Performance:

Muscle cars have become American icons in the sights and sounds of the past half-century. The low rumbling roar of Corvette, Dodge Viper and Mustang to name a few speak volumes for young men everywhere.

Remember the good old days when performance cars like the Vette would get 7-10 miles per gallon? Well that has changed because this powerful Vette gets three times the mileage from a gallon of gas. But you’ll find it hard to do with the awesome 0-60 mph in a scant 3.9 seconds.  I gotta tell you, it is still exhilarating to feel those 405 horses apply the G- Force. It’s like a second honeymoon in my “Love Affair” with the automobile.

A little secret: As if 405 horsepower isn’t enough you can increase it 30 hp by changing the air cleaner. The Donaldson Black Wing eliminates GM’s governor. They cost about $250 and can be installed in an hour according to Chuck at Coast Corvette in Anaheim, CA. (714) 535-4000.

Styling:

By 1955 the Vette was a near bust and would have been abandoned if Ford hadn’t entered the Sports Car market with the Thunderbird. Sports cars were new to America and Corvettes 6-cylinder engine gave it a loser name. The addition of the V8 would finally power the Vette to success.

Fit and Finish:

Today’s Corvettes have improved so much since I was in Jr. High School. Those were impressionable years when cars were more important than girls. Come to think about it… well that’s another story.

Conveniences:

… or inconveniences – like the low-slung body that makes entry and exit impossible to negotiate without looking awkward. But once you’re in, the ergonomics are quite easy to love. Everything falls quickly to your fingertips, not hard to imagine considering the cozy confines of the interior. The gearshift is right there at the end of your arm; and you’ll love the way it shifts.

The cargo area loads from the top, but a large set of golf clubs fits perfectly so I won’t complain.

Cost:

The Corvette at $50,000 is well priced in its class, and doesn’t even give up much for that distinction. If memory serves me the Acura NSX first year pricing was in the $30,000 range and quickly escalated to $90,000 today. The 500 hp Viper is the most similar competition at nearly $80,000.

Consumer Recommendation:

If you are into the fast lane and love to show your stuff, this is the best buy of any foreign or domestic sports car. You simply can’t get more horsepower and performance for the money than the Corvette Z06.

The Competition:

Acura NSX $89,000, Dodge Viper $79,995, Ferrari 360 Modena $143,860, Lotus Esprit $90,825, Porsche 911 $69-182,000.

Good News:

Spectacular pricing for such a capable and beautifully presented sports car. Great gas performance and brakes that will stop on a dime and give you 91/2 cents change.

Bad News:

Awkward entry and exit, poor turning radius and rear visibility.

Standard Equipment:

5.7 liter 450 horsepower V8, 6-speed manual trans, traction control, 4-wheel ABS power disc brakes, power speed sensitive steering, remote keyless entry, theft deterrent system, power heated mirrors, stereo with CD, climate control, computer stats, cruise control, leather, tilt leather wrapped wheel, 6-way power seat, remote trunk and fuel door.

Gas Stats:

19 City and 28 Highway MPG.

Pricing:

MSRP $51,435.