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New cars for the summer season
by James T. Hurst

After one of the roughest, coldest, and generally nastiest winters on record, who isn’t ready to throw off our seasonal-affective-disorder blues and just go? In order to maximize said forward motion, OutSmart once again provides a glimpse of the latest trends and designs capable of satisfying your every automotive craving.

Chevrolet Volt
The 2011 Chevrolet Volt is Chevy’s much-anticipated four-door “series-parallel plug-in hybrid” hatchback with a lithium-ion battery pack that can power the car’s 149-horsepower (111-kilowatt) electric motor by itself for an estimated 40 miles in the city. Beyond that, the gasoline-powered inline-4 engine primarily supplies electricity to the motor for as many as 300 additional miles on one tank of gas. This advanced hybrid’s fuel economy will depend on how and where you drive. If you stick to a 20-mile round-trip commute and come home every night to plug your Volt into the charger for three hours, you will never need to use the gasoline engine. On the other hand, if you commute more than 40 miles per day, the gas engine will assist the electric motor and thus require visits to the gas station. According to Edmunds.com, a Volt with its battery depleted achieved 31.4 mpg in mixed highway/city driving.

The Volt base price is $33,500 (after a federal tax credit of $7,500), plus the cost of a home-charging station that is mandatory for a plug-in hybrid. The battery can only be completely recharged through either a 120- or 240-volt outlet, but regenerative braking and the gas engine generator can replenish it slightly. The Volt has the ability to keep going when the battery power has been depleted, which cannot be said of all the new plug-in hybrids in the marketplace. This added benefit and security should appeal to buyers.
The Volt’s interior quality is high, with materials that seem to be the best yet from Chevrolet. The hatchback offers convenient cargo loading, but capacity is limited to 10.6 cubic feet with the backseats up. Space is limited, and the backseat lacks headroom and legroom. Standard features include 17-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights, heated mirrors, keyless ignition, remote ignition, automatic climate control, cruise control, auto-dimming rearview mirror, six-way manual front seats, tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, cloth upholstery, Bluetooth, OnStar, a navigation system with a touchscreen, voice controls and real-time traffic alerts, and a six-speaker Bose stereo with a CD/DVD player, auxiliary audio jack, iPod/USB interface, and 30GB of digital music storage. Overall, Chevrolet has produced an electric vehicle which is high-tech, responsive, fuel efficient, and should continue to improve as plug-in hybrid competition heats up.

Audi Q5 Crossover SUV
The Audi Q5 offers a new base engine for 2011—a turbocharged 2.0L four-cylinder that delivers fuel economy of 20 mpg city and 27 mpg highway. This compact luxury crossover offers confident handling, decent cargo room, generous passenger space, and lots of German engineering. The Q5 is available in four engine and trim configurations: 2.0L Turbo, 2.0L Turbo Premium Plus, 3.2L Prestige, and 3.2L Prestige Plus. The Q5 delivers family-friendly award-winning safety, abundant technology, and a classy interior with 57 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seats folded down.

Mini Countryman
This year, Mini introduces us to a larger four-door version of the original Mini Cooper. This latest Mini Countryman can be described as a compact crossover SUV that is 5.5 inches longer than the Cooper Clubman. It easily seats five with a three-piece bench seat that can be adjusted and reclined to open up 41 cubic feet of space. The Countryman is offered with two engine choices: a standard front-wheel-drive 1.6L four-cylinder with 121 hp, or a turbocharged 181-hp variant in the all-wheel-drive Mini Cooper S Countryman. Manual or automatic transmissions drive the 6-speed gearbox. Mini offers the trademark selection of customizing options including panoramic sunroof, John Cooper Works performance, wheel upgrades, and telephone interfaces. This latest version will undoubtedly be fun to drive if history is any lesson.

BMW 5 Series
According to Edmunds.com, the redesigned 2011 5 Series returns the BMW to a more conservative appearance. It mirrors the styling and much of the underpinnings of the larger 7 Series. In this sixth-generation Series 5, BMW gives us a sexy new shape that combines sportiness with luxury and size. The handsomely redesigned interior offers a new level of comfort. The base 528i, with a 3.0L straight-6 engine, is up by 10 hp to 240 hp. The 535i turbocharged 3.0L straight-6 remains at 300 hp, but with improved low-end torque and fuel economy. The forever-sexy 550i boasts a 400-hp 4.4L Turbo V8. BMW has also introduced a new eight-speed transmission to boost fuel economy and acceleration. BMW continues to improve its iDrive system by offering an automated parallel parking feature, heads-up display, and top- and side-view cameras with blind-spot monitoring.

Porsche Panamera S Hybrid
Porsche debuted the Panamera S Hybrid at the 2011 Geneva Auto Show. Its supercharged direct-injection 3.0L V-6 uses the assistance of a 47-hp electric motor to achieve a total of 380 horsepower. Porsche claims a zero-to-60 time of 5.7 seconds and a top speed of 168 mph, although this may be a conservative estimate of performance. The Hybrid Panamera reportedly gets 21 mpg city and 25 mpg highway, but official figures have not been calibrated. This model competes with world-class automobiles such as the 455-hp BMW ActiveHybrid 750Li, the 438-hp Lexus LS600hL, and the 295-hp Mercedes S400 hybrid. Porsche currently claims that the Panamera Hybrid is the most fuel-efficient hybrid sedan, but diesel technology may usurp that claim. It can accelerate to 50 mph on electricity alone. Once the car achieves higher speeds and you lift your foot off the accelerator, the gas engine will shut off and become declutched from the drive train. Porsche calls this “sailing”—better known as coasting. This function is active at speeds up to 103 mph and should be limited to long stretches of highway in West Texas. The Panamera S Hybrid starts at $95,975 with such standard amenities as adaptive air suspension and speed-sensitive steering. All in all, this hybrid is as politically correct as you can get with German engineering.

Volkswagen Jetta GLI
Volkswagen has once again raised the bar by introducing a new Jetta GLI. This fun performance sedan’s heritage dates back to 1984 and is packed with both comfort and performance in an all-new package. The new model is significantly lighter than in previous years, and introduces new DSG technology. These twin electronically controlled drive shafts manage gear selection by always anticipating your next shift. The benefits are fast, smooth gear changes, unbroken acceleration, and improved fuel economy compared to a conventional automatic. The DSG transmission gives you a choice of two driving modes—normal and sport—or you can take over the shifting by using the DSG transmission manually. Surprisingly, the base Jetta starts at just $15,995, the Jetta GLI starts at $23,495, and the Jetta Autobahn goes for $25,545. You can choose a 2.5L, 170-hp inline five-cylinder; a 2.0L, 200-hp turbocharged four-cylinder; or a 2.0L, 140-hp four-cylinder using clean diesel fuel.

Ford Explorer
The all-new 2011 Ford Explorer is America’s most fuel-efficient full-size SUV, offering EPA ratings of 17 mpg city and 25 mpg highway with the standard transmission. Ford set out to change our mindset of what an SUV should be. SUVs traditionally offer plenty of muscle, but at the expense of fuel efficiency. The 2011 Explorer offers 290-hp and 255 pound-feet of torque that can now tow up to 5,000 pounds when properly equipped. Ford uses high-tech materials and advanced forming technology to build the strongest, yet lightest, Explorer ever built. There is an available “intelligent” four-wheel drive option, a class-exclusive Terrain Management System, and even Curve Control—an enhancement of Ford’s AdvanceTrac that controls roll stability during sharp turns. The interior offers room for seven passengers or 80.7 cubic feet of cargo space with the seats folded down.

Acura TSX Sport Wagon
This second-generation TSX offers back-road adventure with a body that is slightly bigger and heavier than past models. Acura’s dramatic styling is accompanied by sports-sedan fuel efficiency (22 mpg city and 30 mpg highway). This new TSX comes standard with a 2.4L, 201-hp in-line four-cylinder engine mated to a Sequential Sport Shift automatic transmission. A V-6 engine is also available. This sport wagon offers rack and pinion steering, good looks, and guaranteed fun driving. The TSX is built low to the ground, offers plenty of power and agility, and has 60.5 cubic feet of cargo space. The Sport Wagon starts at $30,960 and tops off at $35,470 fully loaded.

Cadillac CTS-V
Cadillac has a proven design for 2011 in the CTS-V Sport Sedan. This high-performance model is offered in a single well-equipped trim level. Inside you will find a 556-hp supercharged 6.2L V8 (a slightly de-tuned Corvette engine) with 551 pound-feet of torque, beefed-up suspension, 19-inch alloy wheels, Brembo brakes, leather interior, and a multitude of other options. This Sport Sedan is built to compete with the BMW M5 and Mercedes Benz C63 AMG, with straight-off-the-line acceleration. Fuel economy ratings are 14 mpg city/19 mpg highway with the manual transmission, or 12 mpg city/18 mpg highway with the automatic transmission. Either way, the CTS-V will be noticed and provide guaranteed exhilarating performance.

 

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James T. Hurst

James Hurst is a regular contributor to OutSmart Magazine.

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