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Top tuner cars

May 5, 2009 by  
Filed under Auto – Chris Nagy

 Revealed to the masses through the Fast and the Furious movie franchises, the tuner culture parallels the hot-rod/street-rod gangs who were prevalent during the ’50s. Technology and performancephilosophies may differ, but the goal remains the same:  juice up humdrum passenger cars to become the best on the street. The tuner market in the U.S. is a $5 billion industry — in performance and appearance accessories — so, it only makes sense that automakers want a piece of this trendy action.

Originally, the sport compact tuner market sprouted due to auto manufacturer’s neglect for the small-car segment in the ’90s. Now, manufacturers push their cars through blatant marketing strategies that target the young tuners and produce cars that are ideal for tuner upgrades. While it is possible to upgrade and change any vehicle — given you have the time, money and talent — only a handful of vehicles, listed below, are considered the top tuner cars on the market right now.

Number 10
Scion Tc2008 Scion Tc


Following a U.S. debut with a pair of micro-compact sport wagons, Scion’s Tc sport coupe invoked a more obvious claim for the performance-driven youth movement. Advertised like Mr. Potato Head for young adult auto buyers, the Scion brand is a line of vehicles designed specifically to entice the sport compact tuner crowd. Both Scion and Toyota Racing Development (TRD) are attempting to turn tuner cars into a one-stop shopping trip for buyers. Though purest may find this prospect humiliating — the process of finding, purchasing and installing your own parts is part and parcel when it comes to tuning — remember, a TRD supercharger can humiliate your friends, spinning 200 horsepower into the 2.4-liter engine.

 Number 9
Subaru Impreza WRX

Once renowned simply as the company that built the quirky Brat and Justy, Subarumade a commitment to the World Rally Car (WRC) scene — which featured their Impreza — to beat the likes of Toyota and Mitsubishi. This feat did not go unnoticed by the tuner crowd. In 2002, Subaru brought over, from Japan, a 227-horsepower, turbocharged Impreza called the WRX. Utilizing the same boxer engine configuration found in a Porsche 911, the Impreza WRX’s lower center of gravity improves the effectiveness of Subaru’s all-wheel-drive handling — power and stability. What more could you ask for? 

Number 8

Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec-V

First appearing in 2002, the Nissan Sentra‘s Spec-V package used jazzed-up colors along with Nissan Skyline-derived design touches, such as six-spoke wheels and a racy front bumper cover. Restyled for 2007, the Sentra SE-R Spec-V’s new grille feeds air to the spiced-up 200 horsepower, 4-cylinder powerhouse. Armed with a close-shift six-speed gearbox, the new Sentra SE-R Spec-V needs only 6.7 seconds to storm from 0 to 60 mph. Add the performance-tuned suspension system and large-diameter 12.6-inch front disc brakes to a list of enhancements for a new vehicle that maintains a low, compact-sedan price while still performing like a sports car.
Number 7
Mitsubishi Lancer

One of the more popular sedans in the sport compact tuner arena has to be the Mitsubishi Lancer. The affordable and fun Lancer’s popularity alone could be accredited to nearly doubling Mitsubishi’s attractiveness to tuners. While the base model of the Lancer is treated to a slew of after-market dress-up accessories, it is the performance flagship Evolution, or EVO as it’s more commonly know, that is the more desirable four-door slammer. The last U.S. model, EVO IX, produced an impressive 286 horsepower from a turbocharged and intercooled 2.0-liter engine. Look out for the brand new EVO X in 2008.

Number 6
Acura RSX

The Acura RSX has big shoes to fill; those of the the Acura Integra. Introduced in 2002, the RSX received mixed reviews at first but was then embraced by the same tuner crowd who had loved the Integra so much. Wrenches found immediate euphoria tuning the new 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder i-VTEC engine that produces 200 horsepower and is available in the tradionally Acura Type-S trim. Sport-tuned suspension and a 6-speed manual transmission have also been added to the Type-S package. Unfortunately, the love of the RSX wasn’t as great as that of the Integra and the RSX was retired in 2006 without a known replacement.

Number 5
Acura Integra

A sister car to the Honda Civic, the two-door Acura Integra’s arrived in 1987 taking the shape and persona of a sportier hatchback than the affable Hondas. However, for the vehicle’s second generation, the Acura Integra would do more than just pose like a sport compact; it became the champion for Honda’s VTEC (variable valve timing and life electronic control) system. Producing 160 horsepower initially, the VTEC effort stirred the interests of the performance after-market crowd. That stir became a tidal wave when Acura brought out a Type-R version of the coupe. While raising the ponies to 195, the removal of soundproofing material and air-conditioning allowed a 0 to 60 mph time in a stout 7.0 seconds.

Number 4
Toyota Supra

You may remember an orange Toyota Supra costarring with Vin Dieseland Paul Walker in the first Fast and the Furious movie. Originally marketed as a premium option over the Toyota Celica, the Supra eventually grew into a high-performance, stand-alone supercar. The last and greatest incarnation of the Supra is based on a 1993 redesign making room for, at that time, one of Toyota’s most powerful production engines. Being force-fed by twin-turbochargers, the 3.0-liter, 300-horsepower engine was originally designed for Japanesesports car racing. Despite the model being discontinued in 2002, motorsport blood continues filling the soul of the Supra, particularly in import drag racing competitions. And rumor has it, a brand new version of the Supra may be headed to the U.S. in the near future.

Number 3
Nissan Skyline GT-R


The Skyline existed as forbidden fruit to the North American auto market with the exception of gray market imports that became extremely popular during the late ’90s. The most popular R32, R33, and R34 generations (built between 1989 and 2002) are famed for their twin-turbo, 2.6-liter engines purposely underrated by Nissan at 280 horsepower. In the hands of custom tuners, these Skyline GT-R engines can generate up to 600 horsepower. Whether juiced up or standard, engine power translates surefooted traction into high performance with Nissan’s all-wheel drive system controlled through an electronic torque splitter system known as ATTESA. We might have a hard time seeing a high-speed Skyline if they weren’t adorning every tuner magazine in the U.S. right now.

Number 2
Nissan Silvia

Unlike its highly popular brother, the Nissan Skyline, the Nissan Silvia is exclusively a two-door, compact sports car. Although North Americans may not be completely familiar with the name Silvia, names such as 200SX and 240SX were sports cars sold stateside built on the Silvia’s vehicle platform. However, the Nissan Silvia is unique for its lightweight construction and for how easy it is to modify the 247-horsepower engine. The Silvia is less envied than the Skyline for its four-wheel drive system that served as an option from 1988 to 2002 models. No longer in production, the Nissan is currently well-utilized in competitive drifting.

Number 1
Honda Civic

A cheap and oh-so-popular import car, the Honda Civic is a venerable leader in the tuner world, just as the ’30s Fords were energized by passionate hot rodders. Between 1988 and 2000, the Honda Civic model was one of the most popular cars sold in the U.S. and the tuner aftermarket was practically born from the desire to customize the Civic’s looks and beef up the VTEC engines. By the time performance-craved youths declared the Honda Civic a tuner icon, Honda alienated the sport compact market starting with the 2001 Civic. Intending to improve their showroom specs, the Honda Civic abandoned their customizable double wishbone front suspension and are continually updating the facade of their vehicles, not to mention what lies under the hood. The Honda Civic SiR is testimony to Honda’s sport compact passion.

The extra costs of hybrids

May 5, 2009 by  
Filed under Auto


DriverSense – Kevin Fleming

Hybrids may save you money in the short term, but if you plan to hang onto your hybrid, the hidden costs involved may turn some off.

There is no doubt that hybrid vehicles help many to save money in terms of gas costs.  Plus, there is no doubt that they help reduce carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere.  Depending on where you reside, you may also receive a tax break for buying a hybrid.  What is not to like about those three elements combined?  But what many dealers and manufacturers will not tell you is that there are additional costs involved when you buy a hybrid.  The costs may not be of any concern to the average driver now, but down the road your wallet may suffer.

Battery Costs

Besides the standard maintenance costs, the one major complaint that I have heard involves the extra cost to replace a battery.  Hybrid car batteries usually fail for reasons akin to a standard battery in a gas or diesel powered car.  After a while, a battery is simply unable to hold a charge due to being charged and discharged one too many times.  On top of that, hybrid batteries are built with multiple cells.  If one cell were to fail by way of corrosion or a faulty component, chances are that you may have to replace the entire battery.  Granted, some dealerships or local mechanics may be trained to repair an issue with a single cell, but those are few and far between.
I can’t stress enough how important it is to buy a warranty when you purchase a hybrid vehicle.  The warranties offered by hybrid manufacturers can extend as much as ten years or 100,000 miles.  Even though battery costs have decreased considerably since the introduction of hybrid vehicles, they are still costly for the average individual.  Right now a brand new battery will run you somewhere in the neighbourhood of $3,000 if a problem were to arise.  As you will see below, there are other ways to obtain a battery in used condition, but they are becoming a rarity as more and more people join the hybrid movement.

Not All Cars Are The Same

We also have to look at the other side of the story for clarity’s sake.  Just like a standard gasoline powered vehicle, a hybrid is not immune to how a driver treats it or minor defects.  As with any vehicle, you should attempt to follow the maintenance schedule included in the owner’s manual to a ‘t.’  It may be an inconvenience for some, but it is quite necessary, especially in regard to hybrids.  It may cost even more than a standard vehicle to keep it up, but it is a necessary evil.  For some, it may not cost much at all.  If you have purchased an extended warranty with your hybrid, you should be covered for all major problems, including battery issues.

As we all know, the guy next door may own the same vehicle as you, but for some strange reason, your vehicle seems to be having more issues than his.  Again, this harkens back to how you treat your vehicle, but it also has something to do with luck.  I have heard reports of individuals driving a hybrid around for 200,000 miles with no issue what so ever, including the battery.  Then again, there are stories around that claim some hybrids barely make it over 100,000 miles before the battery fails and needs to be replaced.  One solution for this may be to try to get your hands on a salvaged battery if at all possible and have it installed at a dealership.  But as we have seen above, the cost either way may not be practical for some.

Think Before You Buy

Right now gas prices are down considerably compared to last year.  But like any product sold and traded on the free market, prices have the tendency to fluctuate between highs and lows.  Surely we will see a rise in gas prices at some point in the future, which will send the masses out to purchase hybrids.  Please note, I find nothing wrong with hybrids, nor am I biased against them, but if you go out to buy a hybrid, keep in mind that four or five years down the road, you may have to purchase a new battery at a considerable cost.

Best convertibles of 2009

May 5, 2009 by  
Filed under Auto

ca_autos-744428349-1241185874 – Hannah Elliott

Record-high temperatures last weekend gave New Yorkers a glimpse of the summer ahead–and, very likely, thoughts of how nice it’d be to drive a car with no roof.

Convertibles account for only about 2 per cent of the domestic auto market, but they tend to command much of the auto industry’ s attention in the spring, when their sales peak. The highest figures generally come in April, May and June–in normal years, at least.
In Depth: Best Convertibles of 2009 

Last month gave no indication that U.S. sales of convertibles will follow past trends. The Chrysler Sebring convertible, for example, sold 71.6 per cent fewer units over March 2008; the Volkswagen Eos, 62.9 per cent fewer; and the Volkswagen New Beetle Convertible, 67 per cent fewer.

MINI, down 46.8 per cent for the Cooper convertible last month, launched its updated Cooper and John Cooper Works convertibles March 28, moving forward with the carefree image convertibles conjure. MINI execs say they expect the cars to sell well despite an expected 5 million- to 7 million-unit drop in total U.S. auto sales this year.

‘It’s a good time of year to launch it,’ says Vincent Kung, product manager for MINI. ‘This is convertible weather.’

Those who can sympathize–and who are in the market to splurge–should remember that the trick isn’t simply finding the hottest convertible; it’s finding the one that best suits a particular lifestyle.

If you want the most expensive, the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren Roadster (0-60 miles per hour in 3.8 seconds) can satisfy with its $589,000 sticker price. If it’s legroom you need, go for the roomy Jaguar XKR (four doors and 45.1 inches of front legroom). If you require value, consider the $51,050 Saab 9-3.

Whatever your needs (or wallet size), this year’s crop of open-top rides offers a bit of everything. 

Behind the Numbers

To compile our list of the best convertibles of 2009, we separated the field–there are roughly 70 convertible models available in the U.S.–into categories, such as the most expensive, the fastest, the most powerful and the most fuel-efficient, and then examined their specifics. The winners of each of our 10 groups made the list.

The result is a mixed bag of mid-range models like the $33,943 Chrysler Sebring, the best-selling convertible last year, and high-end stars like the $112,434 Jaguar XKR, which has the most legroom of the group. (If it’s a toss-up between the two, legroom will cost a pretty penny.)

The SLR McLaren Roadster won in multiple categories, but the runners-up–the Mercedes-Benz SL65 AMG Roadster and Dodge Viper, in the most-powerful and fastest categories, respectively–are equally impressive. They also cost significantly less. While neither exactly belongs in the bargain basement, at $232,792 and $108,574 they are cheaper alternatives when considered against the McLaren.

More Practicality

While the base prices and styles of the cars on the list vary, all of them have one thing in common: They’re much more practical than the cramped, loud, raggedy-topped convertibles of yesteryear. Whatever your price bracket, there’s a convertible that’s likely to satisfy.

Dave Engelman, a spokesman for Porsche, says design features like the mid-engines in the Porsche Boxster and Cayman convertibles allow trunk space in the front and back of the vehicle, making way for groceries, luggage or golf clubs.

‘Even though it’s a two-seater, you can live with the car, whereas there are other cars and roadsters out there that you just–if you have a briefcase with you and somebody else, now somebody’s holding a briefcase in their lap,’ Engelman says.

Noise is another concern. The rag-top convertibles of the ’80s and ’90s rattled in the wind on any highway excursion–an annoyance that, along with the necessity to pull over to raise the top (which took an excruciatingly long time), has been largely done away with.

The Sebring offers a hard-top that will lower at the push of a button from 35 feet away. And the Mazda MX-5 Miata, the most dependable car on our list, drops its optional hardtop in just 12 seconds after one latch is released.

Even soft-tops are much improved. The MINI Cooper convertible, runner-up in the fuel-efficient category, has a function that allows the power-operated top to stretch out halfway overhead, acting like a sunroof.

Engineering the Open-Air Experience

If some of the more mainstream cars on the list still seem pricey, keep in mind that building a convertible isn’t as simple for automakers as leaving off the roof. Building a car without a top changes the flexibility and stability of the vehicle, which affects handling, braking and safety.

Martin Birkmann, a product manager and manager of motorsports for BMW, compares the adjustment to working with a shoe box: ‘If you twist with the lid on or the lid off, there’s a very different experience. Our total rigidity is much higher than a shoe box’s, so what the roof can provide needs to be provided elsewhere.’

Those engineers must be doing something right, considering how many shapes, sizes and styles convertibles now come in. It’s no longer a matter of whether or not a convertible suits your lifestyle, but of how many already do.

In Depth: Best Convertibles of 2009

Fastest cars under $60,000

May 5, 2009 by  
Filed under Auto


ca_autos-439218064-12410262691 – Hannah Elliott


The Mercedes-Benz SL550 will get to 60 miles per hour in 5.3 seconds, but that kind of speed will cost you–to the tune of $118,000 big ones.

If you can settle on a car that will get you to 60 mph just one-tenth of a second later, the savings can be significant. The Mercedes SLK350 costs only $50,950. It’s not the exact same car (the SL550 has one of the most luxurious, high-tech interiors of any vehicle), but it’s certainly close.
In Pictures: Fastest Cars Under $50,000 

Several other cars also deliver speed without the price of an F1 race car. They hail from all the usual suspects, such as Audi, BMW, Lexus and Porsche ( PSEPF.PK – news – people ), as well as American automakers Chevrolet, Ford and Saturn. There’s a reasonably priced speedster to suit just about any taste.

Behind the Numbers

For our list, we used Kelley Blue Book data to identify vehicles currently sold in the U.S. that cost less than $60,000 but have quick zero-to-60-mph times. We then pared down the list to the top 10 fastest under $60K.

The $46,325 Ford Mustang GT500 tops our list with a blistering zero-to-60 time of 4.3 seconds. Close behind, the $37,285 Chevrolet Camaro SS, hits 60 mph in 4.6 seconds. BMW’s $44,052 135i coupe comes in third. 

Martin Birkmann, BMW’s motorsport manager and manager of product and price planning, says fast cars must successfully balance weight, velocity and control. 

‘For us, speed is something that should have a sensory component for the driver,’ Birkmann says. ‘It should be something that can be experienced but also something that [the driver] feels being in control of.’

That control creates safety–a responsiveness that’s available when accelerating, cornering and stopping is not about achieving breakneck speed, but about preventing a crash.

Cars like Lexus’ $45,139 IS 350 are more expensive than their slower counterparts because it takes stronger, lighter and more durable components to give vehicles that extra control at high speeds. 

If engineers want to quicken a car like the $57,114 Porsche Boxster, they must add a bigger engine, bigger brakes, bigger wheels and bigger tires to compensate for the increase in speed. That can throw off the entire design. 

‘We just don’t put a bigger engine in something and say, ‘OK, now you go faster,” says Dave Engelman, a spokesman for Porsche. ‘It’s back to that balance thing. We really don’t compromise giving one thing up to get another. It all has to work together.’

Greener Speed

Certain kinds of engines provide a speed advantage, as well. Turbocharged engines, for example, force more air into an engine’s chambers than usual in order to push the pistons downward faster. This helps increase displacement while using less fuel. A turbo-boosted V6 engine uses less gas than–but achieves the same power as–a V8. 

The Ford Flex crossover, for instance, uses a twin-turbo 3.5-liter V6 engine that gets 355 horsepower and 350 ft.-lb. of torque. That configuration improves fuel economy by 10 per cent to 15 per cent over a V8 in the same class–with no sacrifice in speed.

Even with national average gas prices $1.74 lower than they were a year ago, fuel economy is as important as raw speed, says David Paja, the director of marketing for passenger vehicles at Honeywell ( HON – news – people ). The New Jersey-based company makes turboboosters for Ford, BMW and Jaguar.

‘Customers are more and more looking at turbocharging as the key technology … to meet some of the conflicting priorities over the next few years,’ Paja says. ‘They are trying to make affordable cars that meet lower fuel-consumption standards.’

At any rate, our list supports the notion that you don’t have to fork over your life savings, or even more than you can easily afford, to go fast. Options abound, even within our list: BMW’s 135i uses a 3.0-liter turbocharged 300-hp V6 engine and costs thousands less than the $55,943 BMW Z4–and it reaches 60 mph from a standstill half a second faster. 

Sometimes you can have your cake and eat it, too.


In Pictures: Fastest Cars Under $50,000

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