Friday, May 21, 2010

2011 Volvo C30 T5 R-Design

Sweden’s tumultuous auto industry dutifully and consistently cranks out modestly conservative, refined sedans – but occasionally a wicked little something sneaks through the cracks and reminds us that those Nordic dwellers like a little spice in their lives. Enter the refreshed 2011 Volvo C30 T5 R-Design.

Over the last decade or so, the Saab camp offered up the hot-rod 9000 Aero, the sprightly, torque steer-plagued 9-3 Viggen hatchback and the voluptuous Aero X concept car, but it is Volvo that is really known for uncharacteristic spurts of emotion sliced in between “respectable” family haulers.

“It’s not your Uncle Olaf’s Volvo,” touted ads for the then-revolutionary turbocharged 850 sedan more than 15 years ago. Volvo tossed its stodgy image aside and started to build outlandish bright yellow turbocharged wagons with Alcantara-covered seats and a Porsche-massaged five-banger. Ever since, the “I Roll” brand has, between building modestly luxurious sedans, wagons and SUVs, proven that it can rock, too.

What is it?
Slotted below the S40 sedan and V50 wagon, the C30 takes its general flair from Volvo’s iconic P1800 ES three-door wagons that debuted back in 1972. Those shapely wagonbacks only lasted for two model years, but their legacy has made them cult collector’s items.

The C30 was first introduced to the United States as a 2008 model (small car-friendly Canada got it a few months earlier as a 2007). Quirky and unique from the tail end, the C30 was virtually identical to the much more sedate S40 up front. To rectify this stylistic confusion, Volvo gave the C30 a far more daring front fascia for 2011.

Our test C30 featured the sport-oriented R-Design trim level, which adds a full body kit, partial-leather seats, a sporty steering wheel, a sport suspension, a few additional upgrades and $2,350 to the base C30 T5. All C30s in the United States come with Volvo’s ubiquitous 2.5-liter turbo five-cylinder (which means T5 in Volvo-speak) and either a six-speed stick or (as tested) a five-speed automatic.

Not cheap at nearly $33,000 as-tested, the C30 still smarts from historically challenging Euro-to-dollar exchange rates.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

2011 Jaguar XJ

Poised to pounce and newly transformed, the Jaguar XJ four-door sport sedan screamed out some power chords as we throttled it around Rock and Roll-ish West Hollywood, California. Jaguar chose the heart of the LA music scene to show the company has gone back to its sporting roots: Think of Austin Powers and the Mod ’60s on steroids.

Penned by Jaguar Director of Design, Ian Callum and his team of designers in Coventry, England, the new XJ draws visual cues from a wide variety of sources. Glance at the big sedan from some angles and you’ll see teardrops, sibling automobiles and its namesake animal, the Jaguar itself. Squint a bit while looking at the vehicle in profile, and you’ll imagine a shape slightly reminiscent of “the leaper,” the Jaguar leaping across the rear flank of the trunk, er, boot – the same cat that once resided as a hood ornament.

Jaguar Cars managing director Mike O’Driscoll, explained the company’s recent return to the sporting style and culture: “We lost touch with our soul. We have returned with the XK, the XF and now the XJ to the proper sporting cars that we were known for.”

Man walks into a saloon the other day…
For forty years, the XJ has served as the quintessential Jaguar. The large saloon, as it is known across the pond, has served a variety of uses ranging from executive transport to professional car (hearse and limousine custom builds) to family sedan for the ever-so-well-heeled. If the outgoing XJ had a North American counterpart, perhaps it would be the Lincoln Town Car. That’s hardly what we call sporty, but neither was the outgoing XJ.

Monday, May 17, 2010

2011 Ford Fiesta

In Spanish, una Fiesta is often literally a multi-day celebration, which could encompass a carnival, holiday, celebration or party. With Ford’s North American-bound Fiesta, the company is hoping for all of the above when the Dearborn, Michigan, automaker releases the Fiesta four-door sedan or five-door hatch this summer as a sub-Focus, Euro-bred offering aimed squarely at trendsetters.

Available with a single choice of engine and two choices each for body style and transmission, Ford is hoping that the Fiesta is the next big (small) thing in automotive style among drivers, young and old.

From a base SE trim level, to SES Sport and SEL high line trim levels, there is clearly something for everyone – as Leftlane’s Mark Kleis learned early on as a Fiesta Agent by participating in Ford’s unique social marketing experiment.

Expressing yourself
Like Kia is doing with its Soul, Ford is hoping to conquest young and in-the-know customers that suddenly don’t find Toyota’s Scion division hip anymore. Words like “expressive,” “flowing,” and “sculptured” are words rarely uttered from the lips of Ford officials. Not so with this entry. Designed to compete against the natural predators in the segment, including the Honda Fit, Toyota Yaris and Nissan Versa, it manages to hold its own both in terms of performance and in its ample feature content.

The Fiesta features Ford’s now-common kinetic design language to give the car the appearance of movement while standing still. Sporting the typical Blue Oval-adorned grille opening, the Fiesta sedan shows the now-familiar trapezoidal shaped intake seen on the Fusion and Taurus. Order the four door and, not surprisingly, you get a traditional three-box body with a trunk.

On the other hand, click the order box for the five-door hatch and you get the European-model front fascia with a body-colored grille and a floating blue oval logo. Headlamps lend “eyes” to the situation and show interesting lenses to spread the light pattern where it’s needed.

Scalloped side panels show body creases that add interest to the vehicle—as well as add strength to the overall vehicle. At the rear, a chamfered rear window is offered shade from a hatch-mounted rear spoiler. Overall aero is good to a drag coefficient of 0.33 Cd.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Ford Focus RS500

Ford’s most iconic badge is back with a vengeance! First seen on the Sierra Cosworth that dominated saloon car racing back in the Eighties, the RS500 name has been resurrected – and this time it marks out the meanest-looking and most powerful Focus RS to date.

Made to mark the end of the standard RS’s production run, power from the already savage 2.5-litre turbocharged engine been cranked up from 300bhp to a colossal 345bhp. As the badge suggests only 500 examples will be sold, split between 20 countries, with just 101 cars allocated to the UK.

If the standard car’s swollen arches and feast of slashes and vents were a slap in the face, the RS500’s matt black bodywork and matching 19-inch alloys are a knockout punch. All 500 cars are painted in metallic Panther Black, before being wrapped in a stealth-like coating – which doubles up as protection against stone chips and scratches.

On the inside unique trim on the centre console, embossed with the RS logo, and a plaque registering your car’s place in the production run give a sense of occasion to what’s essentially a standard Focus interior. But as any Fast Ford fan will tell you, it’s what lies underneath that counts.

A larger intercooler, wider air filter and a freer flowing exhaust pipe, as well as an uprated fuel pump and an ECU tweak are all that’s required to liberate an extra 15 per cent horsepower, and trim the 0-62mph sprint from 5.9 to 5.6 seconds.

At low revs it feels just as smooth and flexible as the standard RS, but once the counter sweeps past 2.5000rpm the engine really hits its stride. The induction and exhaust noise engulf the cabin, while it pops and bangs like a firework when you lift off the throttle.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Gordon Murray T25

Gordon Murray Design has unveiled the T25 prototype, a car that the company's founder, Gordon Murray, has long talked about as the vehicle that will revolutionize the automotive industry.

At just 2400mm long, 1300mm wide and 1600mm high, the T25 occupies a greatly reduced footprint in comparison to a Smart ForTwo or Toyota iQ. The T25 seats three, with a central driver flanked by two rearward passengers, in a formation reminiscent of Murray's most famous work to date – the McLaren F1. The car's size, combined with its front-hinged one-piece door canopy means that three T25s can be parked in the same space as a conventional vehicle.

However, the physical design of the T25 is only half the story. This vehicle is more than simply a stand-alone design, acting as a proof of concept for Murray's radical iStream® manufacturing technology. This streamlined assembly method means a 20 percent reduction in factory size and – Murray claims – reduces capital investment by 80 percent, as well as having a significant impact on material use, and lifecycle CO2 emissions for vehicles built using the system.