Chris Theodore, Ford's former head of North American product development and the man who brought us the Ford GT, stopped by this morning to chat with editor-in-chief Jean Jennings and to tell us more about one of his current projects as vice chairman and chief technical officer of Saleen.

That would be the mid-engine Saleen S5S Raptor supercar concept that debuted at this year's New York auto show.

Saleen and its partner company, ASC, Theodore reminded us, are "the largest independent design facility in the world." The product guru elaborates: "We did the S5S partly to showcase our design capability. It was done right here in Michigan, in Warren, by one of our young designers, David Byron. We had an in-house design competition among half a dozen designers, and it came down to two finalists. We had a Betty Crocker bake-off, and David's design won.

"Yes, the car has the potential for reality. We are well aware that the sweet spot in supercars is between about $150K and $200K." [Where Bentley has done so well with the Continental GT.] "We also wanted to showcase our new 5.0-liter, 620-hp motor, which is already available in our Extreme Mustang. We decided, let's float the idea of an E85-dedicated vehicle, and bump hp to 650.

"We designed the car around a feasible business model. And the next thing was to see the market reaction. The response at New York was phenomenal. We got 10 million hits on our Web site, and thousands of articles of one form or another were published.

"Now the car is on tour with some of our 200 Saleen dealers. The S5S Raptor is clearly a magnet for the Saleen brand.

"We have not yet decided whether to build the car. It will be difficult to find the right partner, and there are lots of technical and manufacturing obstacles. If we do decide to build it, though, I could have a prototype S5S Raptor up and running in six months, and it would take a couple of years to bring it to market.

"If we decide to do it, sometime in 2009 we'd have a running prototype."

Build it, Chris. America should not cede this profitable, image-building slice of the car market to the Italians, the Brits, and the Germans. (And the Japanese. The Lexus LF-A might play in this price league, as well.) The new Corvette ZR1 and the Dodge Viper ACR are cresting the $100K mark, but with the demise of the Ford GT, there's nothing else coming out of Detroit to take on the Ferrari F430, the Lamborghini Gallardo, the Aston Martin V8 Vantage, and the Porsche 911 GT2. The slow-selling, outrageously expensive, practically undriveable Saleen S7 supercar, really just a racing car with street clothes, was too much of a stretch for the Saleen brand. But the S5S Raptor is exotic, hot, and uniquely American. Build it!


2008 Ford Fusion SEL

Posted by mickung

Although it's a credible entry in the mid-size family sedan segment, the Fusion has never attained the exalted status that this magazine and many other parties have bestowed on the Mazda 6. The 6, after all, shares its underpinnings with the Fusion and other FoMoCo products.

In an attempt to capture some of the Mazda's good vibes, both four- and six-cylinder front-wheel-drive Fusions are newly available for 2008 with an $895 sport package that includes eighteen-inch wheels, red seat inserts and stitching, and a sport-tuned suspension. These mild tweaks hardly create an SVT Fusion, but our four-cylinder test car with a five-speed manual was reasonably satisfying to drive. While not as refined as the Chevy Malibu, it's miles ahead of the Chrysler Sebring. The Fusion's damping was decently firm and its shifter was pleasant, but short gearing makes for a lot of revs on the highway. The steering, alas, was overboosted.

Still, the Fusion reminds us that the basic versions of most family sedans are underappreciated, and no one need feel terribly deprived for passing up a V-6.

A new Mazda 6 arrives later this year, and one hopes that its platform will eventually imbue the next-generation Fusion with a bit more of that Mazda magic.


2009 Dodge Journey

Posted by mickung

Sometimes, it seems that carmakers invent names for their products solely so they can insert corny lines into media-presentation speeches. Take the recent launch of the Dodge Journey: "The Journey," the attending media were told, "is always more than the sum of its parts." Heady stuff, especially when you consider that Dodge's new crossover is built on the same platform that underpins the decidedly mediocre Chrysler Sebring.

Regardless, the pitch makes sense: Dodge is aiming the Journey at people in transition (new families and recent empty nesters are the two primary targets) in the hope that it will be seen as something more than just another parts-bin-built crossover. As such, the Auburn Hills company decided to emphasize people-carrying ability over power and budget-oriented practical touches over frippery.

Predictably, then, seating capacity and clever available features are the Journey's strong points. As many as seven passengers can be crammed into the Dodge's interior if you choose the optional third-row seat, and the list of standard equipment includes such positives as stability control; a six-disc, MP3-compatible CD changer; electronic brake assist; myriad storage spaces (see sidebar); and side-curtain air bags for all three rows of seats. Hands-free Bluetooth connectivity, rear air-conditioning, a backup camera, and a 368-watt Infinity sound system, among other goodies, are all optional.

From the curb, the Journey looks a lot bigger than it is, and therein lies the rub: at sixteen feet long, five and a half feet tall, and six feet wide, Dodge's not-quite-a-minivan, not-quite-a-car doesn't have a lot of interior space into which to cram its many features. The Journey's third-row seats are all but useless unless you're a half-pint quadruple amputee, and its second-row seats offer little legroom and a claustrophobic atmosphere akin to sitting at the bottom of an oil drum.

Nevertheless, that "sum of its parts" line wasn't just hype. Oddly, the 3800-pound base Journey is far more satisfying to drive than its 3300-pound Sebring sibling. Unlike in the Sebring, road noise and annoying engine thrum are kept to a minimum. The Journey's rocker panels and key sections of its unibody are filled with closed-cell expanding foam, which helps to make the Journey one of the quietest sub-$30,000 vehicles we've driven. The standard 173-hp, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine is unobtrusive and well-behaved, and the optional 235-hp, 3.5-liter V-6 provides a decent amount of off-the-line thrust. As you'd expect, the Journey's chassis suffers from some of the same maladies that the Sebring's does - chiefly, underdamped body motions and a lack of steering feel - but it still handles predictably, and the rear suspension offers up none of the impact noise found in the Sebring.

What impressed us most, however, was the Journey's interior, which exudes a quality not usually found in Chrysler products, with soft-touch plastics and tight panel fits. This upgrade reportedly came - late in the Journey's development cycle and at great cost - at the behest of Chrysler's parent firm, Cerberus Capital Management, and it's a welcome instance of corporate meddling.

The Journey is a decent, if not earthshaking, effort. Packaging disappointments and other complaints are partially offset by a low base price - four-cylinder models start at just $19,985 - and although the competition is often more entertaining to drive, few competitors offer as much bang for the buck. Or, to be more succinct, the Journey - also known as getting there - might not be half the fun, but at least it's cheap.


Now that the air-cooled Volkswagen Beetle and its siblings rest in peace, only Porsche and Subaru stand by the boxer-engine principle. In a worldwide first, the Japanese have now taught the horizontally opposed piston engine to feed on diesel fuel. The layout? A 2.0-liter, aluminum-block, four-cam four-cylinder.

We tried the promising fuel miser in the Legacy sedan and the Outback wagon, and we came away impressed. Like all horizontally opposed engines, Subaru's new diesel eliminates second-order shaking forces. The end result is a smoothness - and a lack of noise - not usually associated with an oil burner. The 148-hp four-cylinder revs to a 4400-rpm redline, and although it's not ridiculously quick (60 mph arrives in 8.5 seconds, according to Subaru), prompt accelerator-pedal response and a wide, middle-of-the-tach sweet spot go a long way. Fuel economy is expected to average about 40 mpg in Legacy-based applications, and top speed will likely approach 130 mph.

Subaru's diesel hits Europe this month, but happily, its stateside arrival isn't far off - American Subaru dealers are due to see it in 2010. Subaru of America has not yet decided which vehicles it will offer with the diesel, but the Legacy, the Outback, and the Forester seem like obvious candidates. As one would expect, the usual modern diesel equipment will be present, including common-rail, high-pressure fuel injection; four valves per cylinder; a particulate filter; and a variable-vane turbocharger.

If 148 hp doesn't seem like much, fear not: an output bump is reportedly in the works, along with a six-cylinder variant sporting up to 300 hp for certain markets. Incidentally, Subaru is also working on combustion tweaks and a more sophisticated catalyst that will allow its diesels to meet emissions regulations without using urea injection. The mood in-house is nothing if not ambitious. "We think we're on the right track," states a senior Subaru engineer. "In a few years, 30 percent of all Subarus will be diesel-powered." That's a hefty goal, especially since it remains to be seen if diesel cars will really catch on in America. For now, however, Subaru has made a commendable first step.


2009 Honda Pilot

Posted by mickung

Like it or not, minivans offer the best cargo/passenger-hauling versatility. But they're just not cool. In 2003, Honda addressed this dilemma by recycling a few Odyssey minivan parts to create the Pilot, which lost the minivan's nerdiness but kept all of the benefits of its unibody, front-wheel-drive platform: a stiff structure, seating for eight, and better handling than its body-on-frame peers.

Now, Honda has removed the last visible relic of the Pilot's minivan roots - the column-mounted shifter. The 2009 Pilot looks like a more muscular caricature of its predecessor, with enormous headlights, a menacing grille, and thick C-pillars. It's a bit bigger, too - overhangs are the same, but the wheelbase has been stretched by almost three inches, facilitating access to the nicely sized third-row seats.

All 2009 Pilots use a five-speed automatic transmission attached to a revised 3.5-liter V-6 that produces 250 hp and 253 lb-ft of torque. Thanks to Honda's newest version of VCM (variable cylinder management), the engine can run on either three, four, or all six cylinders, depending on how much power is needed. Active engine mounts and an eight-inch subwoofer cancel out any strange vibrations created when the engine isn't running on all cylinders.

What Honda hasn't been able to cancel out, though, is torque steer - even on models equipped with optional four-wheel drive. That's surprising, because Honda boasts that its VTM-4 all-wheel-drive system sends power to the rear wheels under acceleration. It must not dispatch enough grunt rearward, though, because it's not difficult to squeal the front tires off the line or light up the inside front wheel when accelerating out of low-speed corners.

Other front-wheel-drive crossovers, such as the Toyota Highlander, do a better job of mitigating torque steer and front wheel spin, but the new Pilot does almost everything else as well or better than its peers. It's ten inches shorter than a GMC Acadia but offers almost as much passenger space and feels like it's half the GMC's size from behind the wheel. It seems quieter inside than the Highlander, and its thick-rimmed steering wheel and supportive seats make the Toyota's cockpit feel cheap by comparison.

In fact, the interior is the biggest upgrade for the 2009 Pilot. The materials feel much more expensive and even better screwed together than before - which is saying a lot. The instrument cluster is especially cool, with black numbers floating on a transparent surface and orange needles below. Many of the gizmos you expect to find in a family hauler - navigation, Bluetooth, and a rear DVD entertainment system - are relegated to the top-of-the-range models, but all Pilots have huge, well-designed storage bins throughout the cabin.

We're not sure that consumers will continue to favor boxy SUV styling in the face of ever-increasing fuel prices. However, for families who are too self-conscious to be seen in an Odyssey, the Pilot does a good job of looking tough on the outside while coddling its passengers in comfort.


2010 Mercedes-Benz GLK350

Posted by mickung

Mercedes-Benz has yet to let outsiders drive its new GLK on pavement, but we have now piloted the Baby G through a day off-roading and found it to be a talented mud-crawler, a competent gravel kicker, and a fearless forder. Our location was a cordoned-off quarry where, after three consecutive days of rain, the terrain was soaked, the climbs were soapy, and the narrow descents felt more like polished toboggan runs.

We followed an instructor in an M-class who got stuck on the steepest section and slid back down with minimum control and maximum luck. The lighter and nimbler GLK - which is loosely based on the C-class 4Matic wagon-duly mastered the hill. Keep up the momentum and the all-season tires find enough grip, the chassis provides enough ground clearance, and the electronic helpers distribute enough oomph to make sure the 4034-pound all-roader pulls through. In terms of wheel travel, overall compliance, and response to extreme obstacles, the steel-sprung GLK is every bit as competent off-road as an ML equipped with the optional Airmatic system. Short overhangs, 7.9 inches of ground clearance, generous ramp angles (23 degrees in the front, 25 degrees in the back), and the commendably elastic suspension ensure that this Benz doesn't lose its composure when the going gets tough.

A conventional center differential divides torque in a 45:55 ratio between front and rear axles. Automatic brake applications curb spin at each wheel. When the going gets slippery, a multi-disc clutch is partially closed to alter the front-rear distribution, thereby maintaining forward momentum. Even with ESP electronic stability control switched off, you can always rely on a slight rear-wheel bias. If mud, snow, and sand are really your preferred terrain, you may be disappointed to learn that, in the United States, M-B won't offer the optional off-road package, which includes hill descent control, full underbelly protection, and the so-called G button, which causes the transmission to rearrange its shift points, the throttle pedal to respond with extra care, and ESP to permit more wheel slip to keep up the torque flow.

Mercedes' new baby doesn't exactly charm with its appearance. Its boxy body, with upright windows and heavy-handed sculptured side panels, looks unhandsome at best. The design is supposed to convey timeless G-wagen cues, but we think the GLK could have done with a fashion advisor. Inside, the blocky theme continues, and the materials aren't always first-rate. But the ergonomics are good and passenger space almost equals that of the M-class. Cargo volume measure 23.3 cubic feet behind the rear seats and 54.7 cubic feet with the back row folded.

We drove the GLK350, which is powered by the 268-hp, 3.5-liter V-6. It will be the sole model for the United States, at least for a while (a diesel could come later). Mercedes' claimed 0-to-60 mph time of 6.5 seconds undercuts that of the 260-hp BMW X3 3.0i, which needs 6.9 seconds for the manual and 7.1 for the automatic. Predictably, Mercedes doesn't offer a manual transmission here; instead, its seven-speed automatic is standard. Key extras are Comand with navigation, adaptive headlights, a rear-view camera, and a rear-seat DVD system with two screens.

Admittedly, 99 out of 100 owners won't ever take their GLK off-road. But we did, and we came away impressed. Although it's too early to tell exactly how the Baby G will fare on highways and byways, the compliant suspension, the communicative steering, and the convincing engine/gearbox combination suggest that this Mercedes will give the Audi Q5 and the BMW X3 a very good run for the money.


2008 Bentley Brooklands

Posted by mickung

There is no way around it: the Brooklands coupe, the new range-topper from Bentley, is a magnificent absurdity. Standing blunt and foursquare, the nearly three-ton four-seater from Crewe is as incongruous as the ballerina hippos in Disney's Fantasia. Like them, it is implausibly graceful and capable in motion. On the face of it, the fact that one of the most beautifully finished cars ever built is capable of running with ultimate two-seat sports cars from Italy and Germany on twisting roads is absurd. That this huge mass can go from rest to 60 mph in a mere five seconds, and that it can go on to 184 mph on its standard tires, is frankly incredible. But absolutely true.

Everything about the Brooklands is over the top, whether one is talking about the biggest brakes offered on any production car or the most completely leather-lined cabin available today (even the headliner is made with flaw-free leather from contented cows). This is a car of extremes, which is as it should be. There's no point in paying some $350,000 for a car unless it possesses qualities that lesser vehicles do not. This one does, in spades.

There is no magic in getting a lot of power - 530 hp at a mere 4000 rpm in this case - out of a big-capacity engine, especially with the aid of turbocharging and modern electronic controls. It's less easy to make the engine smooth as glass and quiet as a limousine, not to mention giving it, Bentley says, "the highest-ever torque output of any V-8 automotive engine in the world." To apply all that potential in a chassis conceived long ago - giving it excellent body control, a fluidly comfortable ride, and precise, almost perfectly weighted steering - is a feat of superior automotive engineering. To be able to achieve all this so that rear-seat passengers aren't subjected to uncomfortable side loads in tight curves denotes real mastery.

There are going to be only 550 Brooklands coupes, and 500 of them have already been spoken for. Two of the cars used for the press launch are earmarked for Martin Winterkorn and Franz-Josef Paefgen, head of the Volkswagen Group and of Bentley Motors, respectively, so the cars were well-equipped, including 16.5-inch carbon-ceramic brake rotors (an option that costs a bit more than a base Volkswagen Rabbit). We are convinced that most of the reason for the impressiveness of German cars - and Bentley is a German car now, like it or not - comes from the fact that their top executives drive their products and drive them hard.

The Brooklands is a variant of the Azure, with its steel roof panel brazed onto the existing reinforced convertible platform. It is heavy, yes, but it's also unyieldingly stiff and provides a base for precision control of the suspension systems. This is almost certainly the last iteration of the big cars that were initially created under Vickers ownership, but from conversations with Bentley staff, we have the impression that there will be new V-8-powered cars in the future. Those cars will have a more modern electronic architecture (the parking brake is still mechanical, unlike those of many European midrange family sedans) and much lighter and stronger body/chassis structures with better space arrangements.

The Brooklands' cabin is exceptionally comfortable, and all four seats are electrically adjustable. There's ample leg, head, and foot room for six-foot-plus people in the rear, even with the front seats fully aft and down. The comfort extends to the visual and the tactile. Every detail is a pleasure to the touch, and there are no jarring deviations from quality materials that might displease the most critical eye. All the interior brightwork is polished stainless steel, not plated metal. The ergonomics are nothing to get excited about, especially the extraneous starter button, but the whole ensemble is aesthetically satisfying in a sumptuously understated manner.

Indeed, the whole car is satisfying to contemplate. For a couple, this is really the perfect grand tourer. The trunk isn't huge, but it will hold enough luggage for two people. It's easy to imagine wafting from château-hotel to château-hotel, and then perhaps picking up another couple for a run to dinner at a fine restaurant. Ease, refinement, and exclusivity . . . what more could someone with at least a $5 million net worth (which Bentley considers the minimum standing for entry to the Brooklands club) require?

From the centerline of the front wheels rearward, this is a truly beautiful, very slightly old-fashioned, and very British-looking machine. From the wheels forward, it is a bit coarse and carries a few too many sport and racing cues and not quite enough brightwork for anyone who reveres the early-1950s Continental R coupe. As noted, though, almost all of the 550 Brooklands coupes are spoken for. May the owners enjoy having them as much as we enjoyed our drive.


2009 Audi A4 Avant

Posted by mickung

Ibiza, the notorious party island off the coast of Spain, isn't exactly the first location that comes to mind for the drive of a new station wagon - it's more the kind of place where you step off the plane and they hand you a packet of crystal meth and a glow stick. But even without those, we managed to enjoy our time behind the wheel of the new Audi A4 Avant. Ibiza's narrow, winding roads were largely empty - we guessed it was because debauchery season hadn't yet begun, but evidently the island's inhabitants were just inside with curtains drawn, sleeping off their hangovers.

That meant fewer puttering, diesel Seats to zoom around, a task of which the Avant's 3.2-liter V-6 made quick work. So, too, did the spunky new 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder - which is unrelated to the outgoing car's 2.0-liter and which proffers an additional 11 hp and 51 lb-ft of torque. That engine was paired with a six-speed manual and front-wheel drive in the second car we sampled.

Unfortunately, neither of those powertrain combinations will be seen stateside, where the market for compact, luxury-brand wagons is small. (Mercedes-Benz no longer sells its C-class wagon in the States, although you can still get a BMW 3-series wagon.) So, Audi is trimming the A4 Avant lineup, and we'll get the new wagon with only one powertrain: 2.0T, Quattro, automatic - a combination that was not hand on our sunny Spanish island.

Still, we did learn a few things about the fifth generation of the A4, which is the most changed since the model made its debut in the mid-1990s. The car uses Audi's reconfigured transmission and torque converter (or, in stick-shift cars, transmission and clutch), first seen in the A5/S5. It allows the engine to move rearward in the chassis, meaning more of the powertrain's weight rides within the wheelbase and less hangs out ahead of the front axle. This is also the first A4 with a 60-percent rear-biased Quattro system. Together these changes help the car feel more balanced and less nose-heavy than before, although you still won't mistake it for a rear-wheel-drive car. Another new feature is Audi's Drive Select, which allows the driver to choose among sport, comfort, or automatic settings for the steering effort and quickness (the latter thanks to an actively variable ratio), throttle and automatic transmission mapping, and damper firmness.

The system ends up being a mixed bag: We liked the flatter cornering and slightly higher steering effort afforded by the sport mode, but compared with the standard steering, the active steering is less predictable and too twitchy and nervous in low-speed corners. Other new technologies include a blind spot warning system, intelligent cruise control, a rear-view camera, and a power tailgate. The new A4 is nearly five inches longer and is wider as well, which yields fractionally more interior space - six-footers can sit in back, although there's not much room to spare. The dramatically sloping roofline is bad news for anyone who wants to carry bulky items; apparently they're expected to switch over to the new Q5. The A4's interior is a close kin to the A6's, which is good company indeed.

Despite the behavior of some members of the U.S. press contingent in Ibiza - one of whom deposited some regurgitated Jack Daniel's on the tarmac before boarding our early-morning flight out - Americans evidently are considered rather staid where the new A4 Avant is concerned. Sure, we can groove to its curvy new shape and its general wagon hipness, but we're not racy enough to get the manual transmission or the most powerful engine. And if you're holding out hope for the new S4 Avant or the RS4, sorry to disappoint you, but word is that those party wagons are unlikely ever to touch down in America.


2008 BMW 1-series Convertible

Posted by mickung

BMW wants people to see its new 1-series as the reincarnation of its classic 2002, but in fact the 1-series coupe looks, feels, and drives like a 3-series that's shrunk in the wash. In convertible form, the 1 counters that shrink-wrapped feeling with the expansiveness of an open-air car, and it makes for a highly enjoyable combination.

As with the coupe, the 1-series convertible mirrors the 3-series mechanically. Both cars offer the same two 3.0-liter straight-six engines, available with or without turbos. Either engine can be controlled via a six-speed automatic (with available shift paddles) or a six-speed manual. The smaller car is about 300 pounds lighter, which shaves between 0.1 second and 0.3 second off the 0-to-60-mph time. BMW quotes 6.4/7.0 seconds for the 128i (manual/automatic) and 5.4/5.5 seconds for the 135i.

Like the 3-series, the 1-series is one of the least tortured of BMW's current designs, although it suffers the Z4-style sow's-belly curve along the bottom of the front doors. Still, the 1 and the 3 both work well as convertibles, with fairly upright windshields that keep the A-pillars out of the driver's and front passenger's faces plus a near-horizontal beltline that preserves the view out for rear-seat riders.

Speaking of rear-seat riders, their accommodations are one area where there is an appreciable difference between the 1-series and the larger 3-series. In the smaller car, back-seat space is marginal - the seatback is very upright, legroom disappears if the front seats are pushed back too far, and limited shoulder room forces riders to cozy up to each other whether they want to or not.

The other major difference between the two is their folding tops. Whereas the 3-series has a retractable hard top, the 1-series uses a fabric roof. The cloth top makes for a serious rear-quarter blind spot and is also noisier, but the rushing wind doesn't really get boomy until near 90 mph. We think the fabric roof looks more handsome than the folding hard top (with its cutlines in the roof and along the rear flanks), and it also saves a good 150 pounds or so.

Slide behind the wheel, and you could easily believe you're in a 3-series. The cockpit is slightly narrower (like the 3-series of a dozen years ago), and the interior decor is equivalent, if not identical. This is not some obviously cheapened version, like the old 318ti hatchback. From the fat steering wheel to the gauges to the switchgear - including iDrive, but only if you order navigation - it's all familiar BMW fare.

The shift action and the clutch take-up are sublime, just as they are in so many BMWs. According to project leader Herbert Rauberger, the suspension tuning of the convertible is designed to mirror that of the coupe. In our test car (which was not equipped with the stiffer sport package), we found a pleasant combination of firmness and compliance. The 1-series has near 50/50 front-to-rear weight distribution, which keeps it from being nose-heavy. Handling is clearly biased in favor of grip rather than easy oversteer. It proved to be a highly satisfying setup on the winding roads carved into the edge of the hills north and west of Valencia.

The high-revving six, however, sometimes left us wanting just a bit more, and the good news is that we Americans will get it. Our test car was the European-market 125i, a version that is not coming to the States; its 218 hp is slightly less than our base 128i's 230 hp. Of course, for those who really want more, there's also the 300-hp 135i.

Our 125i also differed from U.S.-bound cars by being equipped with regenerative braking and a deep-cycle battery (which lessen the draw from the alternator) along with closing flaps behind the grille (to aid high-speed aerodynamics when less engine cooling is needed), all elements of BMW's Efficient Dynamics effort to lower fuel consumption. The car also featured electric power steering (as will our 128i), but as much as we're in favor of efficiency, that's one item we'd rather skip. This is one of the better electric-assist systems; it's precise and even provides a measure of steering feel, but it doesn't have the natural build-up of effort that helps make BMW's hydraulic-assist steering so superb. Happily, that system is standard on the 135i - and just as happily, BMW's weirdly nonlinear active steering is relegated to the options list.

Even with electric power steering, the 1-series convertible is easily the best drive in its segment. Provided you don't often carry rear-seat passengers and can live with a fabric roof, it does everything its bigger brother does at a price that's ten grand less. That's a package that fits us just fine.


2009 Mercedes CL550 4Matic

Posted by mickung

What athlete wouldn't appreciate a little more grace?

This summer, Mercedes-Benz will begin offering its 382-hp CL550 with standard 4Matic all-wheel drive - the first time any large Mercedes coupe will get such a feature.

Giving the CL greater traction - and therefore better low-grip handling - the coupe's permanent 4Matic all-wheel drive system helps the CL appeal to snow-belt drivers by splitting torque between the front and rear axles at a 45/55 ratio. The CL's center differential uses a twin-plate clutch to manage the torque distribution between the front and rear axles.

Integrated into Mercedes' seven-speed automatic transmission's case, the CL's updated 4Matic system debuted two years ago on the S-Class. Unlike the earlier 4Matic system, it doesn't require special suspension parts or a wider transmission tunnel. Additionally, the extra gears and shafts driving the CL's front wheels only add 154 pounds to the CL's weight, and improvements to the drivetrain ensure that fuel economy doesn't suffer.

And while clear Vienna skies didn't give us an opportunity to truly feel the CL's new 4Matic system, we can tell you it certainly doesn't hinder the Mercedes' ability to scramble up twisting country hillsides.