Posted by mickung
Ginji Amano and Ban Mido of GetBackersGetBackers is a manga series written by Yuya Aoki and illustrated by Rando Ayamine. The manga was adapted into an animated television series in 2002. The series tells the story of Ginji Amano and Ban Mido, a pair of super powered individuals known as the GetBackers. The duo operates a freelance repossession service, their job is to recover any lost or stolen item for a client with an “almost 100% success rate” for certain amount fee. The plot mostly revolves around their adventures, often complicated by the pair's convoluted, individual pasts and a mysterious place known as the Infinity Fortress.

Ban possesses two special powers, the “Snake Bite” (his hands have a gripping power of 200kg) and the “Evil Eye” (anyone who looks into his eyes will be locked into a powerful and nightmarish hallucination). Ginji, on the other hand, has the ability to generate thousands of volts of electricity from his body. He was once the fearsome “Lightning Emperor” and the leader of a gang called The VOLTS in the Infinity Fortress. He received the title “Raitei” (literally, Lightning Emperor or Thunder Emperor) because of his ability.

Hevn, Natsumi, Paul, Ginji Amano and Ban Mido of GetBackers

They have some colleague like Hevn, she is the negotiator for the Getbackers, providing them with new, often dangerous, jobs. Even more ironic is that with the GetBacker’s money luck, they often end up getting no pay for any of Hevn’s dangerous jobs. And Natsumi, she was the GetBacker’s first client in the series and because of that Paul was introduced. He is the owner of the Honky Tonk, which is where the GetBackers often loiter and build up their tab. These people share good bonding to Ban and Ginji in their adventures and fights. Also adds happiness and excitement in the story.

Dr. Jackal and Himiko aka Lady Poison, the transporters, of GetBackersBan and Ginji claim a 100 percent success rate in returning lost or stolen property to its original owner. Their claims are put to the test in the series' first five episodes, as a high-school girl hires them to reclaim her precious handmade stuffed cat; a homeless man requests they rescue his daughter, who’s fallen into yakuza hands; and a wealthy businessman sends them to retrieve a stolen strongbox. The story became more intense when they encounter and fight against some equally talented freelance “transporters” who have been hired to defend the lockbox from the likes of Ginji and Ban. Among their enemies are “Dr. Jackal”, a quick-moving sadist who can manifest razor-sharp weapons out of his bare hands, and “Lady Poison”, a girl with phenomenal chemical weapons and a secret connection with Ban.

Then the next episode would then mainly revolve around the Mugenjou (Infinite Castle) and the battles that Ginji and Ban went through inside it, trying to solve its puzzle and mystery while at the same time saving the friends Ginji had there. A lot of philosophy about existence would surface later.

The GetBackersGetBackers is a lively, colorful series, with a lot of intense, graphic action and nicely animated motion, but the clear sense is that Ginji and Ban are both deeply tragic figures with a great deal of history. Ginji was once a feared gang leader, which leads to oblique flashbacks in which shadowy figures describe him as an “invincible being” and “the emperor of this limitless fortress”. Ban’s connection to Lady Poison, aka Himiko, spawned a complicated grudge that seems to stem from an even more complicated promise. Even the first meeting between Ginji and Ban is briefly hinted at in an explosive-looking scene that sets the stage for intense drama to come.

This anime is a composition of action, drama, romance and comedy. Also it shows good moral value and the importance of friendship. The story has lots of twist and turn that add to its spice.


2009 Alfa Romeo MiTo

Posted by mickung

The MiTo is a brand-new, two-door hatchback minicar (only 4.06 meters, or 13.3 feet, long) that Alfa Romeo is aiming at young people in an attempt to reconnect the brand to a new generation of buyers. Alfa hopes that the MiTo's evocative Italian styling, its full range of electronic equipment, and its economical but sporty powertrains will set the car apart from the crowded minicar field in Europe and other major world markets where Alfa Romeos are sold. As the first new Alfa Romeo designed and built after the 8C Competizione (a limited-edition supercoupe of which only a few examples will trickle into the United States), the MiTo is a good look at where Alfa Romeo is heading in terms of future products. It is also a car that, in some future iteration, could herald the brand's return to the United States, although Alfa officials continue to be cagey about that matter, as they have been for years. However, Alfa's parent company, Fiat, just announced that it is entering into an agreement with BMW wherein the German company might help market and sell cars for Alfa in the United States. Under such a scenario, the next-generation MiTo could come here.

And as for the name, MiTo? It represents the historic connection between the city where Alfa Romeo was founded, Milan, and the city where Alfas have been designed and manufactured for decades, Torino (Turin).

MiTo styling: very Italian, very modern, but with a definite nod to the past.

he MiTo oozes Italian style and has a prominent shield grille that is instantly identifiable to any Alfa Romeo fan. During our test drive into the Lakes Region north of Milan, our bright red MiTo turned lots of Italian heads. Alfa designers like to point out the MiTo's styling similarities to the 8C, such as the side window profile and the three-lobed motif of the grille, the front bumper, the headlights, and the LED taillights. The MiTo makes the rest of Alfa's mainstream lineup - handsome, well-admired cars all - look a bit staid. But one wonders if the MiTo is overstyled. MiTo buyers can customize their cars endlessly, choosing among ten shades of paint, fourteen finishes for the headlight and taillight surrounds (shiny or satin chrome, opaque black and titanium gray, plus the ten body shades), and five styles of sixteen-inch to eighteen-inch wheels. Two versions of red paint are available: the traditional nonmetallic Alfa Red and a lighter Giulietta red, yet another reminder of Alfa Romeo's past.

MiTo cabin: This is no econocar interior.

ike its exterior, the MiTo's interior is a repository of modern Italian style as expressed through a bewildering array of possible color and trim combinations. Two trim packages, Progression and Distinctive, are offered, and those two styling themes also can be modified with available Sport and Premium packages. The Progression specification provides what Alfa calls a "Sprint" instrument panel finished either in black or red, while the Distinctive trim, which our test car was outfitted with, comes with a "Competizione" fabric with a faux-carbon-fiber weave. It is expertly fitted over the main instrument binnacle surround, around the circular center vents, the dash, and the door inserts. Aluminum, quality black plastics, and high-quality black leather complete the interior trim. Seating comfort in front is excellent, with good lateral support, and the rear seats have surprisingly generous foot-, hip-, and headroom. Seats for four are standard, but a middle seat in the rear, as on our test car, is optional. All seating positions have adjustable head restraints.

The MiTo keeps you connected.

he MiTo offers every conceivable electronic device that the car's young target audience might desire. Blue&Me is an optional telematics system similar to Ford's Sync; like that system, it was developed in conjunction with Microsoft and allows easy use of the BlueTooth and text-messaging capabilities of mobile phones, MP3 players, and the like. Blue&Me Map is a portable navigation system that mounts into a bracket on top of the dash; you can easily pop off the entire unit and carry it with you when you leave the car. If you've ever tried to navigate the narrow, confusingly laid-out streets of an old European city center by foot, you'll understand just how useful the portable nav system could be if you're a 22-year-old trying to find Rome's hottest new nightclub.


It seems that an awareness of global warming and the degradation in the quality of the environment have inspired carmakers in manufacturing their cars and encouraged them to make a green automotive innovation. Ideally, the presence of new cars will no longer worsen pollution, particularly air pollution.

Next is a common problem in cities. High mobility forces people to own private cars to support their activities. As a result, motorized vehicles have become very great in number and traffic jams can be found everywhere. In fact, this situation can be addressed by safe and adequate public transportation.

Another factor that has prompted the manufacturing of ideal automobiles is the increasing price of crude oil. It is undeniable that an increase in the price of crude oil is unavoidable. Oil resources are limited while the demand continues to soar.

The three factors above have forced carmakers to rack their brains to produce a car of a compact size that is both fuel-efficient and green. A compact size is needed to ensure that the roads can accommodate more cars with ease. A small-sized body also means high mobility as it allows the car to move between larger automobiles. Another advantage of owning a compact car is that it will be easy for you to find a parking space.

The engine used for this compact car is not large, ranging between 900 and 1500 cc. A particular technology is employed to maximize combustion. The cc of the engine also makes sure that the car can be easily driven. In addition, this car will also be more fuel-efficient and environmentally friendly. A few years ago, we learned of the Suzuki Karimun as a successful city car. A short while later, compact cars of other makes were introduced such as the Hyundai Atoz, the Kia Picanto, the Honda Jazz, the Toyota Yaris and the Chevrolet Sparks, which is taken from the Daewoo Matiz.

The only trouble with this car is perhaps the size is too small to allow you to take your entire family or travel long distances. To this end, we need a car larger than just a city car. Luckily, these cars are now available in Indonesia. They use a diesel engine but are still limited in their types. Examples of these cars are the Isuzu Panther and the Toyota Kijang or the Peugeot 307 HDI in the sedan class. These larger cars can take in more passengers. Although the engines are nearly the same in their cc class, they are more fuel-efficient and more environmentally friendly.

In terms of fuel efficiency, a diesel car is slightly different to a car using gasoline engine. Engine efficiency comes from the combustion process, which uses an air compression system and fuel. Here the power to drive the car is bigger than in a car with a gasoline engine. Fuel efficiency can be seen from the fact that the gas exhaust emission contains less CO and CO2 because the combustion is perfect. In addition, the market price of diesel oil is now lower than that of gasoline.

Aside from a diesel engine, carmakers have come up with a new solution, namely the hybrid engine. Toyota uses this hybrid engine in several of its products. Its first car with a hybrid engine is the Toyota Prius and in 2008 it uses this engine in the Toyota Fortuner and the Camry. Meanwhile, this year Honda has its Civic Hybrid, in addition to the Honda Insight, which is the first generation of Honda automobiles with a hybrid engine.

Unlike a conventional engine, a hybrid engine uses two types of engines that work alternately. The gasoline engine is used when we drive the cars as usual. It is also useful to charge the battery cells for the engine. When we are trapped in a traffic jam or when we drive the car very slowly, the engine will be driven by the battery cells. The vendor claims that this car can save fuel by up to 200 percent compared with an ordinary car. If this claim is true, we can considerably cut our fuel costs.

Not only a gasoline engine but also a diesel engine can be hybridized with an electronic driver. One example is the Peugeot 308 X5 Hdi, which, according to, will be launched in 2010. This new car has a turbo diesel engine of 1.6 L capacity with torque of 80 kW and 240 Nm. According to, its fuel consumption is 4.9 L/100 km or about one liter of diesel oil to 20.4 km. John and Helen Taylor of Australia have even successfully covered a distance of 14,580 km using only 60 L of fuel.

Air pollution, traffic congestion and increasing fuel oil prices have prompted people to think about new options for existing motorized vehicles. A car of a compact size, a green technology and a low price will become the characteristics of an ideal car for daily purposes. Technology is not the solution to all these demands. Good behavior and a good intention are more than enough to respond to this challenge, particularly in terms of using a motorized vehicle. People, for example, should use public transportation more than their private cars for daily purposes. They can plan their trips carefully and carry out the plan with a high level of discipline so that they will not speed on the roads just because they are pressed for time.


Does your hairstyle fit?

Posted by mickung
We go to the store and try on clothes to make sure they fit and look good on us. Why shouldn't you do the same for your hair?

I remember when I was young that I wanted to cut bangs at one point. So, I would take my hair and pin most of it up, leaving the ends across my forehead so I could see what bangs would look like. I used to do the same for trying out shorter hair.

Now there is a very easy way to try on different hair styles and you don't even have to be near a mirror. It is called hair imaging software and it has come a long way over the last few years to make it very easy and quick to find and try on hair styles.

Most programs let you upload a recent picture of yourself. Then you can browse through the extensive galleries and experiment with literally hundreds of different hair styles. Thinking of changing your hair color? No problem, there are many different color options for you to try out.

So what are you waiting for, come and check out these free demos on trying on your hairstyle to make sure it fits. Hairstyles demo

What Hairstyles do you like?

Posted by mickung
Have you been styling your hair pretty much the same way for years? It seems like I search for a brand new hairstyle every so often and comb many online sites and magazines for ideas. I come out with a photo of a hairstyle that I absolutely love.

Then when I take this hairstyles photo I love to the stylist to get it cut, I find out that the style is pretty much exactly the same way me hair is right now with a few minor additions or changes.

Maybe I will add a wispy bang, full bang or even choppy bangs. Maybe layers around the face is the change this time. But all the styles look the same.

Sometimes it is really hard to break out of the same hairstyle rut. Drastic measures may be necessary, such as going from a long hair style to a medium or short one. Or adding some highlights or even changing your color completely.

The best advice for breaking out of the hairstyles rut is to do everything gradually. If you want to go with the cute short bob hairstyles that all the celebrities are wearing, take it slow. Try out the long bob first, then go to medium length before making the plunge to very short hair.

A great way to try out new looks, without having to go near a pair of scissors is to try them on. Check out some of these Free Hair Demos for great hairstyles ideas.

2008 Ferrari F430 Scuderia

Posted by mickung

The Ferrari F430 Scuderia, a lightweight version of the F430 coupe, goes on sale next spring.

The F430 Scuderia, which joins the F430 Coupe and Spyder already on the market, is powered by a 510-hp, 9000-rpm, 4.3-liter V8 engine that makes almost 30 horsepower more than the standard F430 engine. Ferrari says it can go from a dead stop to 62 mph in a mere 3.7 seconds. The engine uses a carbon-fiber intake manifold and a sophisticated spark plug ionization-monitoring ignition system. A paddle-shifted six-speed semiautomatic transmission is standard on the car.

The Scuderia model is a lightweight version of the existing F430 coupe, with a few extra grilles and vents on the body for cooling, and a pair of pointed stripes running over the body from nose to tail. Ferrari says it is completely street legal in the United States, but the car has only the bare minimum of creature comforts for the weekend racer who wants the fastest version available.

Some of the exotic extra-cost features on the Scuderia version include the latest version of the F1 Superfast2 software, which reduces gearshift time down to 60 milliseconds. A new traction control system incorporates F1-Trac traction and stability control with an E-Diff2 electronically controlled clutch-pack differential. Ferrari says the Scuderia version marks the first time all three systems have been combined in a single black box control system. Carbon ceramic brakes are standard equipment.

The 550 is much more contemporary-looking than its larger sibling.

Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp. (SAIC) acquired the tooling to the Rover 75 and has been building the car as the Roewe 750, renamed because BMW had sold the rights to the Rover name to Ford, which was looking to protect its investment in Land Rover.

Now SAIC has added to the Roewe range with the 550, a slightly smaller sedan powered by a turbocharged 1.8-liter gasoline-powered inline-4. The 550 rides on a 106.4-in. wheelbase and measures 182.0 in. in overall length. This front-drive sedan was first thought to be based on the old short-wheelbase platform of the Rover 75 (the Roewe 750 is based on the long-wheelbase version), but apparently SAIC has developed an all-new platform for this entry to go along with the new sheet metal. The 550 is much more contemporary-looking than its larger sibling, with clean body sides, fluted headlamps and a compact horizontal grille as opposed to the larger vertical grille found on the 750.

Exploring what a future LaCrosse midsize sedan might look like.

This collaboration between GM design in Detroit and Shanghai explores what a future LaCrosse midsize sedan might look like. Riding on a 114.5-in. wheelbase, the Invicta concept is powered by a turbocharged direct-injected 2.0-liter four making 250 bhp and 220 lb.-ft. of torque. It is mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission.

The design language on the Invicta is pure Buick, from its large, shield-shaped waterfall grille to the ventiports, which have been moved from the fenders onto the hood. The 4-door sedan has sharp, yet flowing character lines, including one that describes the classic Buick sweep spear cue on the car's flanks. The high beltline and low greenhouse give the Invicta a muscular stance.

The exterior's flowing lines are carried over to the interior, where the door panels, dashboard and center console are melded in a seamless wraparound design that gives the front seating area a dual-cockpit look. The cabin has an upscale feel thanks to wood and aluminum accents and LED ambient lighting.

The 5-passenger Invicta measures 194.2 in. in overall length, rides on 20-in. wheels and tires and has a fully independent suspension with 4-wheel disc brakes. The Invicta name was originally introduced by Buick in 1959 and used until the 1962 model year.

Meet the German automaker's first compact SUV designed primarily for the American market.

Slated for a January launch in the U.S. as a 2010 model, the Mercedes-Benz GLK is the German automaker's first compact SUV designed primarily for the American market. The GLK is powered by a 3.5-liter V-6 making 268 bhp and will come in either rear - or 4Matic all wheel-drive. Riding on a 108.5-in. wheelbase, the GLK has angular lines that give it the look of a traditional truck-based SUV inspired by the larger G-Class Gelaendewagen.

Measuring 178.3 in. in overall length, the GLK stands 66.9 in. tall and is 72.4 inches wide. Mercedes has loaded the vehicle with many amenities found in its luxury cars, including dual-zone climate control, adjustable steering, power seats, front and side airbags and a 5-in. in-dash LCD display. A rear-seat entertainment system with two 8-in. headrest-mounted screens is available as an option.

When equipped with 4Matic all-wheel drive, the GLK splits torque 45/55 front to rear under normal conditions, while the multidisc clutch in the center differential will send traction to the wheels with the most traction under icy conditions. Weighing 4036 lb., the GLK is capable of 0–60-mph acceleration of 6.5 seconds, according to factory numbers, while delivering 23 mpg on the EPA highway cycle.


Beijing Unveiled: 2009 Audi Q5

Posted by mickung

This global debut underscores the importance German automakers place on the growing Chinese market.

The global debut of the 2009 Audi Q5 crossover, a model developed primarily with the U.S. market in mind, underscores the importance German automakers place on the growing Chinese market.

Although Audi says the Q5 has sedanlike styling, its looks are clearly inspired by the much larger Q7, with its signature single -frame grille opening and strong character lines. Thinner pillars and a slightly lower beltline, however, make the Q5 look a bit more like a station wagon than an SUV. It looks like a slightly beefier version of the Allroad Quattro, the vehicle it replaces in Audi's lineup.

The all-wheel-drive Q5 was introduced with a choice of a V-6 or two 4-cylinder engines. The V-6 is a 3.0-liter turbodiesel, while the fours include gasoline 2.0-liter turbo and supercharged engines, or a 2.0-liter direct-injection diesel. When the Q5 bows later this year in the U.S, we can expect a 3.2-liter V-6 making 265 bhp. It will be equipped with a 6-speed automatic gearbox and the front/rear torque split will be 40/60 percent. European models will offer a 2.0-liter direct-injection gas engine and a diesel. Slightly larger than the VW Tiguan, the Q5 shares no components with the VW but instead is based on Audi's new A4/A5 architecture that includes a longitudinally mounted engine. With prices starting in the $30,000–$40,000 range, the 5-passenger Q5 is expected to compete with other upscale crossovers like the Acura RDX, Infiniti EX and BMW X3.


Looking to flex its muscle at its home show, Geely brought no fewer than 23 concepts to the Beijing show. But the headliner for this bevy of dream cars was the GT, which stands for Geely Tiger — the putative successor to the current Leopard coupe in the company's lineup. This large 2-door coupe features swoopy styling that Geely hopes will set it apart from its Chinese rivals.

The dropped front snout of the car features a split grille that has holes rather than traditional slats or mesh. The headlamps are nestled in fenders defined by sharp character lines that sweep upward and then back down into the doors. The rear haunches have a similar curve to them with large taillamps that come to a point just above the center line of the rear wheels. The greenhouse features two small rear quarter windows for the rear passengers in this 2+2 coupe.

The rear-drive Tiger GT is powered by a 3.5-liter V-6 producing some 225 bhp and 340 lb.-ft. of torque. Geely says the car is equipped with a multilink suspension and that it rides on 19-in. wheels and tires.


As one of the fastest-growing carmakers on the planet, the Chinese automotive industry has taken an unusual approach to staging international auto shows. Like Geneva and Detroit, it has a major exhibition every year, but like the biennial events in places like Frankfurt, Paris and Tokyo, China alternates its big one between Shanghai and Beijing. This year it's Beijing's turn.

The show is a chance for not only the local makers to strut their stuff, but for other global players on hand to show both production and concept cars for both China and international markets.

The most talked about concept at Beijing is the Geely Tiger, which is also known as the Geely GT. This 2-door show car was shown without the Geely badge, leading to some speculation that the automaker has an eye to creating an upscale brand similar to Lexus or Infiniti and that the Tiger would be its flagship model. In any event, this V-6-powered 2+2 is evidence that the Chinese are catching up quickly to the rest of the world and may be a formidable player even in luxury segments.

Relying heavily on its Shanghai design studio, General Motors developed the Buick Invicta show car, which not only hints at what a future LaCrosse midsize sedan might look like, but it also underscores the importance of the Chinese market. Buick actually sells more cars there than it does in the United States. The Invicta brings back an old Buick name from the 1950s and puts it on the flanks of an ultramodern 5-passenger sedan.

Crossovers are the hottest segment in the industry today, and the Audi Q5 made its world debut at Beijing, which shows the universal appeal of these types of vehicles. While the Q5 shares some styling cues with the larger Q7, it has a healthy dollop of station wagon styling, thanks to its thinner pillars and large glass area. The Q5 is intended as a replacement for the Allroad Quattro in Audi's lineup.

Audi wasn't alone with a world debut of a production model. Its Stuttgart-based rival introduced the Mercedes-Benz GLK. This answer to the Q5 in the compact crossover segment has a more truck-oriented design theme. It is boxier, with sharp edges and offers V-6 power in both 2- and all-wheel-drive versions.

Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp. (SAIC) is a multifaceted concern with ties to GM. It also owns the tooling to the Rover 75, which it continues to build today as the Roewe 750. But like Geely, SAIC hopes to expand beyond the Chinese mainland. The new Roewe 550 is a handsome, midsize family sedan that may be the answer to those hopes. Built on a new platform, the 550 is powered by a turbocharged 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine, which provides good performance and fuel economy.


Chevrolet's Volt plug-in hybrid won't be arriving in showrooms for at least another two years, but a careful eye may spot one of the many development mules testing its hybrid powertrain on public roads.

Our spies did just that, snapping some pictures of the Malibu-bodied test vehicle as GM engineers took it for a spin outside of the automaker's proving grounds. Although the vehicle's body is radically different from the slippery shape the production car will wear, we're told the mechanicals beneath the skin are all Volt-specific and stem not from the Malibu, but from the next-generation Delta small-car platform.

That means we're expecting a small-displacement gasoline motor (possibly a three- or four-cylinder) underhood, partnered with electric drive motors. We'd also expect the car to sport some form of a lithium-ion battery pack, as both Continental and A123 Systems - GM's partners in developing the Volt's batteries - have reportedly delivered prototype packs to GM engineers.

Those batteries are reportedly a large headache in pushing the Volt into production. GM hopes to begin mass production of the car in 2010, but development delays threaten to push that date back by nearly two years. When Volts do arrive in showrooms, the added costs of the lithium-ion batteries may push its price tag to $40,000 - nearly $10,000 more than GM originally suggested.


2009 Mitsubishi Lancer GTS

Posted by mickung

We love the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution. The all-wheel-drive turbocharged rally car for the street grips, steers, and tackles a bumpy road better than many cars costing twice as much. The last-generation Evo--known in Mitsu parlance as Evolutions VII and IX--impressed us with the fact that Mitsubishi had turned the ho-hum base Lancer into such a performance icon. The newest Evo may have lost a little of its raw character, but it's still clearly an automobile engineered by hardcore enthusiasts for hardcore enthusiasts.

That said, like its predecessors, the newest Lancer Evolution had to evolve from something. That something is the new front-wheel-drive, $14,890 Mitsubishi Lancer. We recently spent some time in the top-spec, non-Evo Lancer, known as the Lancer GTS, to see what relationship it had to its manic sibling.

After a scan of the specification list, you can't help but be impressed by the little Mitsubishi. Our CVT-equipped model came in at $23,340, and its window sticker boasted such features as a navigation system, a sunroof, Bluetooth, keyless entry and starting, auto climate control, and eighteen-inch wheels. Not too shabby. The only glaring omission is electronic stability control; this safety feature isn't available, even as an option. We also wish that Mitsubishi had added rake adjustment to the steering wheel and that the navigation unit featured a more intuitive interface.

On the road, it's clear that Mitsubishi spent money on the Lancer's long equipment list rather than chassis development--the wonderful steering and handling found in the Lancer Evo clearly doesn't come from the base Lancer. The steering rack on the GTS is a hydraulically assisted unit, but it feels more like a poorly calibrated electric setup. And while the Lancer's overall ride quality and suspension damping is quite good at normal speeds, rough pavement tends to upset things, sending unwelcome kickback through the steering wheel.(The GTS's standard eighteen-inch wheels surely don't help.) At a quicker pace, understeer rears its ugly head far too early. On a whole, we wish the gang responsible for the Evolution could have sprinkled some of its magic on the base Lancer.

While you can't really expect Evo-like thrust from a $23,000 econobox, the front-drive Lancer's 2.4-liter four-cylinder does provide decent acceleration. Unfortunately, that powerplant is a bit too coarse and buzzy for our liking, a fact not helped by the optional CVT fitted to our test car. During maximum acceleration, the engine sits at a very busy 6000 RPM as the transmission constantly adjusts the drive ratio. Sure, there are magnesium paddles behind the steering wheel, allowing the choice of six different "gears," but you're still better off with the standard five-speed manual. Plus, the row-it-yourself option brings along a small increase in fuel economy. This is a notable plus, because the Lancer's thirst is somewhat surprising. Its 21/27 EPA rating loses out to a great many small cars, including the notoriously thirsty five-cylinder (automatic) Volkswagen Jetta.

While we knew that the Lancer GTS wouldn't be a hard-core driver's car, we do wish it carried a greater amount of the Evolution's DNA. Mitsubishi needs to concentrate on improving the steering feel and upping the refinement levels. (Available electronic stability control is a must, too.) With just a few changes, the Lancer could be a very competitive entry in its segment.


2009 Porsche 911

Posted by mickung

First of all, you should know that the changes to the 2009 Porsche 911 aren't just skin deep. In addition to the obvious changes (revised front and rear fascias and lighting), Porsche is debuting a brand-new family of engines, a first-ever dual-clutch transmission, updated brakes and suspension, and a new touch-screen infotainment system.

The face-lift consists of new wheels (eighteen-inch wheels are now standard for the base 911 Carrera, while the Carrera S gets nineteens), side mirrors, and fascias. The revised front bumper houses six-LED daytime running lights, and the headlights (now standard HID, or high-intensity discharge) swivel in corners. Each of the new, pointier taillights illuminates brightly thanks to the help of 60 LEDs and one standard filament bulb (for the reverse light). New, larger side-view mirrors conform to forthcoming regulations.

Inside the 2009 Porsche is the third generation of Porsche Communication Management, which combines audio and navigation functions. The enlarged screen now is touch-sensitive, and a revised menu structure vastly reduces the complexity of use. The system also features an auxiliary input jack, a USB input jack, and an iPod jack. The iPod integration works better than most, allowing quick searches through the familiar Artist, Album, or Track parameters.

Also available for the first time are seat coolers, which blow cool air through perforations in the leather seat covers. The system works almost immediately and cools far better than any other system we've tried - but it also makes more noise than any other. And in addition to the requisite heated seats (the 911 seems very concerned with the temperature of your butt), a heated steering wheel is also available.

But enough about the toys - the most important changes to the 911 are in the driveline. Base 911s receive, as before, a 3.6-liter flat-six. The all-new boxer is part of a new family of engines that is lighter and smaller than the old engines, with a lower center of gravity and featuring a host of changes to improve power and efficiency, chiefly direct injection. The 3.6-liter produces 20 hp more than last year's 3.6, for a total of 345 hp and 287 lb-ft of torque.

Carrera S models come with a 3.8-liter flat-six, also from the new engine family. It produces 30 more horsepower than last year's 3.8: 385 in total, with 310 lb-ft of torque. The 3.8-liter now surpasses the magic 100hp/liter mark, making it one of the highest specific-output normally aspirated engines on sale today.

Both engines now rev to 7500 (instead of their predecessors' 7300-rpm redline), and they weigh 12 pounds less. The compression ratio has been raised to 12.5:1.

Both engines are available with either a six-speed manual transmission or the all-new, seven-speed PDK. PDK stands for Porsche Doppelkupplungsgetriebe, or Porsche Double Clutch Transmission. Developed jointly with the German supplier ZF, the transmission replaces the ancient five-speed Tiptronic transmission, and boy does it ever. Combined with the additional power from the new engines, PDK-equipped cars will accelerate to 62 mph a full second faster than last year's Tiptronic-equipped models. And when you're talking about a drop from 5.3 seconds to 4.3 seconds (Carrera S with Sports Chrono Plus package), that's a huge difference.


If you'll forgive me for invoking a hallowed piece of genre-defining cinema, there's a moment in The Brady Bunch Movie that always tends to stick in my head. Jan Brady, the middle of three sisters, has grown mildly psychotic, and she's begun talking to herself. Her sister, Marcia, always seems to have the upper hand:

Jan (to herself): "She has every right to be mad; they are her socks. But why does Marcia get all the socks? Why does Marcia get all the trophies? Why does Marcia get all the good drawers?"

Jan (out loud): "Yeah, why does Marcia get everything? Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!"

The poor kid then proceeds to go more than a little nuts. (The next Jan line that the Internet Movie Database shows in its list of Brady quotes is, "Watch my head spin! Kill! Kill! KILL!") For the most part, this is easy to understand. Older, prettier, luckier Marcia gets all the credit, gets all the guys, and generally lives the life of a privileged hottie. Jan, on the other hand, mostly wears glasses, walks into walls, and gets treated like a retarded elephant.

This, in turn, brings me to the Mitsubishi Lancer and the Subaru Impreza. Yep, you read that right: I said Lancer and Impreza with nary a hint of the words "Evolution" or "STI". These are the forgotten sisters, the base-model Jan Bradys of the hot-turbo-rally-clone world. They don't have turbochargers, fancy big-bolstered seats, or massive multi-piston brakes. They have no rally pedigree. These cars are almost perpetually ignored by the media and the public at large, cursed as they are with low horsepower numbers and a lack of drama. They do not, to coin a phrase, get all the good drawers.

This doesn't mean that they're bad cars. It's actually quite the opposite. The Lancer and Impreza are two of the best small, sporting econoboxes on the market, and both of them share a heck of a lot with their more expensive, better-known siblings. You can read our individual reviews of each car here and here, but it's worth taking a look at the two cars side by side.


2008 BMW 760Li

Posted by mickung


2009 Kia Borrego

Posted by mickung

Let's clear the air: we get that the sudden drop in large SUV sales casts the launch of the 2009 Kia Borrego in a questionable light. But when work began on the body-on-frame utility nearly four years back, truck sales in the U.S. totaled 9.6 million units and were predicted to increase each year until 2009. We can't blame Kia for wanting a piece of that pie.

That pie certainly is smaller today, but there are still consumers who want, if not need, to sidle up to an SUV. Commuters may not find solace in the truck-like capacities (and a voracious thirst for fuel), but there are buyers who actively tow, venture off the beaten path, and need to carry more than five passengers in comfort. For those folks, an SUV may still be the ideal vehicle - and Kia hopes the Borrego will be their ideal choice.

The Borrego isn't Kia's first venture into the world of body-on-frame sport utilities, but it is their biggest. The new truck towers over the mid-size, body-on-frame Sorento, although it's not what we'd call a true full-size SUV. Measuring in at 192" long and riding on a 114" wheelbase, the Borrego's stature is closer to that of a Dodge Durango or Ford Explorer than that of the Chevrolet Tahoe or Ford Expedition.

The new SUV, however, is Kia's first foray into V-8 engines. Although both EX and LX trim levels come standard with the 276-hp 3.8-liter V-6, a 4.6-liter DOHC V-8 is optional fare. Both engines are also found in near-identical forms within Hyundai's Genesis sedan, although the V-8 curiously produces less power in the Borrego. Kia rates the V-8 at 337 hp and 323 lb-ft of torque, down nearly 38 hp and 10 lb-ft of torque from its Genesis counterpart.

Drivers used to engines with gobs of low-end torque will need to adapt to Kia's V-8; the 4.6-liter begs to be revved, with peak torque kicking in at 3200 rpm. Sure enough, we can feel the engine really come alive somewhere between 3000 and 4000 rpm, and the Borrego - all 4900 lbs of our V-8 tester - suddenly sprints forward. This may prove to be an issue for those who intend to use all of the V-8 Borrego's 7900 lbs of towing capacity, but isn't worrisome for those who rarely mash on the throttle.

Our pre-production V-8 EX model came with a six-speed automatic transmission, standard on all models equipped with the 4.6-liter engine (six-cylinder models sport a five-speed auto). Power was split to all four wheels via a part-time transfer case, but we're told by Kia this won't make its way to customers. Instead, look for a full-time Torque-on-Demand four-wheel-drive system (similar to that in the Sorento) as standard equipment on 4x4 models. The combination is said to return 15 city/22 highway mpg; we averaged an indicated 17 mpg over a mixture of city and highway driving.

Mating the V-8 and six-speed leaves little to be desired; upshifts and downshifts occur smoothly and with little lag time. Although we didn't have a chance to trailer anything, in everyday driving, the transmission doesn't hunt around. We did notice a considerable amount of whine from the transmission during low-speed cruising, usually at around 35 mph in third or fourth gear. The noise seemed to go away once the Borrego hit 50 mph or so, but it was boisterous during brief jaunts around town.

Perhaps more refined was the Borrego's ride and handling. Albeit fairly smooth over most surfaces, there was no mistaking the Borrego for anything other than a body-on-frame truck. Dreams that the SUV will ride like a car are quickly broken on poor road surfaces, although many of the secondary vibrations typically found in similar SUVs are noticeably reduced - certainly thanks in part to the use of independent rear suspension. We were pleasantly surprised to see that, in spite of a fair amount of body roll, the Borrego handled corners quite well, displaying quick turn-in and well-weighted steering.


2009 Mercedes-Benz SLK350

Posted by mickung

Let me just say right off the bat that I love the new SLK350. Let me also say that I was not a huge fan of previous SLKs, and I downright didn't like the four-cylinder models. At this point I should also admit that my friends made fun of me while I was driving the SLK. But just a little.

See, now that Mercedes has made numerous changes to the SLK's mechanical bits and interior quality, its biggest problem is its image. My friend Sarah said the SLK looked like a car for lawyers' wives. My friend Scott, her boyfriend, said it made me look like the lawyer's boyfriend. Ouch.

Potential image issues aside, I put 200 miles on the SLK350 in a few days, and wound up not tiring of it. Which is more than I can say about some other cute little convertibles I've driven in the last few weeks (Mazda's MX-5 and Mini's Cooper S convertible, to name just two). And the best parts of the SLK were things that I never expected: the engine and the steering.

First of all, Mercedes has installed its Direct-Steer System on the SLK. The idea behind this system is that the steering ratio should be relatively slow on-center to reduce dartiness, but should quicken as you turn the wheel further. Rather than going the BMW Active Steering route, which uses a computer to control the constantly varying steering ratio, Mercedes chose the right route: the Porsche way. In place of complex actuators, pumps, and computers, the Mercedes system requires no additional parts - the rack is designed to change to a quicker ratio after a certain amount of lock.

Unlike in the BMW models with Active Steering, where you're always second-guessing what the result of your steering input will be, you don't even notice the Mercedes system. You just notice that the SLK has fantastic on-center steering feel, tracks dead straight ahead even at triple-digit speeds, and then turns in progressively and quickly when the road twists. The system gives the SLK a feel of sportiness that it's been missing since day one.

That second big fix is the engine. Turn the key, and the SLK350's 3.5-liter V-6 will surprise you with its throaty exhaust note. Stomp on the gas, and you'll be positively shocked. This is one of the best-sounding V-6 engines on sale today, if not the best. The new engine revs to 7200 rpm, and the seven-speed automatic bangs off quick shifts through closely spaced gears. I kept slowing down so I could floor it and hear the music again and again.

The new engine isn't just all bark and no bite: horsepower has been increased by 32 compared to last year's 3.5-liter. Producing an even 300 hp at 6500 rpm and 265 lb-ft at 4900, the SLK is seriously quick. Mercedes claims that it'll hit 60 mph in 5.3 seconds, which is only four tenths slower than the V-8-powered SLK55 AMG. The V-6's newfound thrust comes courtesy of a higher compression ratio (11.7:1), a new intake manifold, and modifications to the valvetrain. To sweeten the deal, the 350 actually gets better fuel economy than last year's engine.

If there is one fault with the SLK350, it's that it's not available with a manual transmission. The base SLK300 is, though it's considerably slower (228 hp, 221 lb-ft, 0-to-60 mph in 5.1 seconds), only revs to 6500 rpm, and doesn't sound nearly as good.

The rest of the driving experience in the SLK is just as pleasant as its exhaust note: the suspension is taut but gives a surprisingly smooth ride at highway speeds. Handling is fairly neutral, and grip is prodigious. Brake feel is excellent, and cross-drilled rotors stay quiet all the time. The chassis is remarkably solid and free of scuttle shake. The transmission is only occasionally slow to react to sudden throttle inputs, and I was disappointed that the non-AMG SLK models lack a full manual mode.

The interior is finished with materials that are a quantum leap from the first SLK's, and a medium-sized suitcase can fit in the trunk even with the top lowered. A simple mesh wind blocker stretches across the roll hoops, and combined with heated seats, a powerful heater, and the delectable Airscarf (which blows warm air on your neck), makes top-down Interstate-speed cruising comfortable even when it's cold. In fact, even at speeds up to 120 mph, airflow is remarkably well controlled in the cabin with the top down.

Mercedes' new, enhanced stereo system sounds fantastic, and the iPod integration works well. Unfortunately, the small screen on the dashboard appears to have the same resolution as a 1980s monochrome computer monitor. Thankfully, it can be switched off completely.

I wonder if some of the SLK's target customers (those lawyers' wives) will tire of the 350's exhaust note, but I certainly wouldn't. In fact, other than my friends' accusations that I was that lawyer's wife, I wouldn't tire of the SLK at all. Hats off to Mercedes for turning the SLK into a real sports car. If it were available with a manual transmission, it would even give the Porsche Boxster a run for its money, and that's high praise indeed.