View Full Version : 2009 Preview: Hot wheels ahead (part I)

Valentine One Radar Detector

01-04-2008, 09:12 AM
2009 may be a full year away, but several '09 cars and trucks are going to arrive at dealerships long before New Year's Day.

Here's a look at what's on deck for spring, summer and fall 2008:

* 2009 Honda FCX Clarity (Base price: $600/month lease; Available: Summer '08)

Honda gets the nod for being the first automaker to offer a vehicle powered by hydrogen to the general public. The FXC Clarity sedan is propelled by a 134 horsepower electric motor and lithium-ion battery pack fed juice created by a 148 pound,100 kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell stack - no gasoline (or internal combustion of any kind) is involved.

The upside? Hydrogen is harmless - at least, in terms of producing exhaust emissions that contribute to either air pollution or (if you accept the theory) human-caused global warming. The FCX is a zero emissions vehicle, just like a pure electric car - only it does not require hours' long recharge sessions. Just top off the tank - and motor on.

Hydrogen has the additional perk of not being concentrated under the deserts of politically unstable OPEC sheikdoms that don't especially like the United States.
And the FCX outperforms all current gas-electric hybrids on the economy front, too - delivering the equivalent of 68 miles per gallon, with a maximum range on a full tank of about 270 miles. The FCX is also manufactured using as many "green" and organic materials as possible - including interior panels made of plant fiber.


Initially, the FCX will be available only in the Southern California region - mainly because there are only a handful of hydrogen refueling facilities open to the public, all of them in/around LA. Also, the FCX will be a lease-only deal.

It's likely going to take several years to get the technology (and refueling infrastructure) to the point where hydrogen cars can be sold nationally - and for keeps, instead of for rent. But the fact that the FCX is available at all is strong evidence that the hydrogen economy may be a lot closer than the 20 years away predicted by skeptics.

* 2009 Chevy Corvette ZR1 (Base Price: $100,00 - est. Available Oct. 2008)

There's a limit to everything; a highest point beyond which further travel is possible - or at least, feasible. This special edition, limited production Corvette may be the Everest of American high-performance. It is certainly (and by far) the most powerful, quickest and all-out fastest Corvette ever produced by General Motors - packing a 620 horsepower supercharged 6.2 liter V-8 capable of pushing the car to more than 200 mph and to 60 mph (in first gear) in about 3.4 seconds.

"ZR-1" is not a new Corvette sub-type; there have been former examples - notably, the 1990-'95 models. But they were armed with an almost grandmotherly 375 horsepower - produced by a complex (and costly) DOHC V-8 built jointly by GM and Lotus. One of the many amazing things about the '09 ZR-1 is that it offers close to twice the power of the old ZR-1's engine - and does it with "ancient technology" overhead cam/pushrod/two-valve design - instead of the four overhead cams and four-valves per cylinder used in the Lotus-sourced engine. It's a testament to GM's engineering - and the basic goodness of the Corvette's LS-series small block V-8 engine.

In addition to eye-popping performance, expect wallet-draining price gouging at dealers. The ZR-1's six-figure MSRP will likely balloon by 50-75 percent or more, at least during the first few months the car's available.

But as the saying goes: Speed's just a question of money. How fast do you want to go?

* 2009 VW Microbus (Base Price: $22,000 - est. Available: Fall 2008)

A legend returns! VW has decided the times are once again ripe for a reasonably sized, good on gas family-friendly and road-trip-ready icon.

While the cosmetics and overall theme harken back to the Hippie-era Microbus, one thing the modern Microbus won't have in common with the original is a bad case of the slows. The old Microbus was infamous for being lethally underpowered, having to rely on the same basic air-cooled horizontally-opposed four that propelled the Beetle - but weighing considerably more and being far less aerodynamic. The classic-era Hippie Wagon often had trouble maintaining highway speeds - and took as long as 30-45 seconds to heave itself to 60 mph.

Though final specifications were not available at the time of this writing, expect the '09 Microbus to be at least as quick as other modern seven passenger vans - and (hopefully) available with a diesel engine. (VW will be returning diesel engines to its lineup in several other models, including the Passat and Jetta sedans.) A diesel Microbus would offer much better fuel economy potential than any gas-powered van on the market - and be very much in tune with the Earth Mother, eco-friendly vibe of the original Microbus.

Also look for possible retro-inspired accessories such as on-board min-kitchens with sink/water and fridge.

Maybe a camper top will make a reappearance, too!

* 2009 Toyota Corolla (Base Price: $16,000 - est. Available: Spring 2008)

The Corolla has long been a linchpin of Toyota's success - its low price/high value drawing new buyers into the fold; its legendary reliability and durability earning their loyalty. More than 30 million have been sold to date - more than the Ford Model T.

But the entry-level subcompact economy car segment is now white hot with competition - and to keep ahead of the pack, Toyota has upped the ante considerably for '09.

The '09 Corolla begins with a sleek new body that marks a fairly radical departure from the conservatively styled, obvious econo-boxes of previous years. This is good news for younger buyers who will probably be happy with the sporty flavor - but it's arguably risky for Toyota in terms of the over-30 crowd, who may prefer something milder.

We shall see.

Other updates include a new standard engine - 1.8 liters, 126 hp - along with an optionally available 2.4 liter, 158 hp four (borrowed from the Camry sedan). Either engine will be offered with 5-speed manual or automatic transmission. A performance-themed XRS version will be available that adds a lowered and sport-tuned suspension, along with 18-inch rims, performance tires and a ground effects body kit.

Unfortunately, the all-wheel-drive system that's going to be available in the Corolla's cousin, the Matrix hatchback wagon, will not be a Corolla option. As before, the Corolla will be pulled along by its front wheels.

This is a shame - and a potential missed opportunity for Toyota. An AWD Corolla would be almost unique in its price/class - and given Subaru (the only other automakers with low-cost AWD cars) cause to sweat a little bit.

* 2009 Hyundai Genesis (Base price $21,000 - est. Available: Fall 2008? )

Rear wheel drive sport coupes have long been one of two things - American muscle cars like the Ford Mustang - or expensive imports like the Nissan 350Z. Not much in the middle of the field for buyers who want rear-wheel-drive handling and balance - but can't afford the pushing $30k (and up) price of something like the Nissan Z-car - and who aren't into domestic-brand pony cars.

That will change in late '08 (or early '90) when Hyundai becomes the first import brand to offer a low-cost RWD sport coupe that will go snout to snout against domestic RWD coupes like the Mustang, as well as the soon-to-be-here Dodge Challenger and Chevy Camaro - while undercutting RWD imports such as the 350Z on price.

In addition to its rear-wheel-drive layout, the Genesis will also have a fully-independent rear suspension - another high-end feature for a low-priced car. Ford's comparably priced Mustang - including the top-of-the-line GT - still has an old-school solid rear axle. This is fine for performance/handling - but also makes it hard to tune out road imperfections that can lead to a bouncy, rough ride on anything but really smooth pavement. IRS, in contrast, allows each rear wheel to move independently with road irregularities; if the right rear hits a pothole, the shock is isolated to that corner and doesn't unsettle the entire back end of the car.

Two powerplants will be available - a turbocharged 2.0 liter DOHC four that should be good for at least 200 hp - and an optional V-6 that Hyundai hints will offer at least 300 hp, which would be as much or more than the current Mustang GT's 4.6 liter V-8 engine. Expect a six-speed manual gearbox and a performance automatic as optional equipment.

The really big news, however, may come a year after this car's introduction - when it's rumored Hyundai will put a V-8 on the options list. That would make the Genesis the first import muscle car - and erase forever any lingering memories of '80s era embarrassments like the first batch of Excels.

01-04-2008, 01:51 PM
I doubt that the Corolla will make Subaru sweat. That car has the personality of Chinese made toaster.

01-04-2008, 01:58 PM
I doubt that the Corolla will make Subaru sweat. That car has the personality of Chinese made toaster.

No question; but Toyota sells a gazillion of them. They're like cockroaches... constantly underfoot!

Disco Man
01-05-2008, 01:37 AM
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