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Thread: 2008 cars and trucks: What's here, what's coming - what's hot (Part 1)

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    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    2008 cars and trucks: What's here, what's coming - what's hot (Part 1)

    2008 may still be a few months away yet, but the automakers are already gearing up for the new model year. Here's a look at some of the coming year's standouts:

    Compact/economy cars

    * 2008 Smart Fortwo (base MSRP $11,995)

    Formerly a Europe-only deal, the ultra-compact, two-seat Smart Fortwo is designed mainly for stop-and-go, city/suburban driving - with its chief virtue being its ability to return hybrid-like fuel economy (50-ish mpg in the city; 40 mpg "combined") at about half the purchase price of a hybrid like the Toyota Prius.

    Its micro-sized exterior makes it ideal for darting through heavy downtown traffic - and it can be parked almost anywhere a motorcycle would fit.

    The Smart Fortwo will be sold through select Mercedes-Benz dealerships and will be available in both hatchback coupe and convertible body styles. Base models come equipped with keyless entry, leather-wrapped wheel and 15-inch rims - as well as standard traction and stability control, ABS and side-impact air bags. Top-of-the-line Passion versions include air conditioning, power windows, a CD-playing stereo and an all-glass Panorama sunroof.

    Cabrio models have a manually operated canvass roof.

    The standard engine in both models is an equally tiny 1.0 liter, three-cylinder mated to a five-speed automatic with manual/automatic shift function. Just 71 horsepower is all that's on tap, Cap'n - but in a car that only weighs about 1,600 pounds soaking wet, acceleration is much better than the ultra-economy cars of the past. The Smart can scoot itself to 60 mph in about 13 seconds, making it roughly twice as quick as an old VW Beetle. That may not be speedy, but it's good enough to make the car perfectly viable for city/suburban driving - and even for limited sprints on the highway. For extended road trips, though, you'd probably want to drive something else; the Smart's "I'm givin' her all she's got!" top speed is not much more than 80 mph. Downhill, pedal to the metal and wind at your back. The slipstream of passing semis can backhand it into the next lane.

    Also: Despite what you may have read (or thought because of its tiny size), the Smart's not a deathtrap. It features a clever Tridion safety cage made of high-strength steel that wraps around the passenger compartment like the roll cage in a race car. This provides occupant protection comparable to significantly larger cars.

    Granted, an impact with a large SUV would still not be pretty. But the Smart's reinforced (and enclosed) cabin offers a lot more protection than a motorcycle, as well as a refuge against the elements - and room for a passenger, too.

    For knocking around town, it's hard to knock - especially at 40-50 mpg.

    * 2008 Scion xB (base MSRP $15,650)

    In many ways, Toyota has become the Japanese Buick - a bread and butter brand specializing in comfortably blue chip but bland transportation modules like the Corolla and Camry. For the younger crowd, there's Scion - Toyota's new small car division - and high-personality vehicles like the xB "paddy wagon."

    For 2008, the xB's completely redone - skin job, uprated engine and all-new interior. But it's still as unique and custom-looking as the original '04 model.

    Power-wise, there's now a 2.4 liter, 158 horsepower engine (borrowed from the Camry) under the xB's hood - almost a full liter's increase in displacement and 50-plus horses stronger than the former 1.5 liter, 108 horsepower mill. Though the '08 xB's several hundred pounds heavier than last year's xB, the much bigger engine provides the scoot that was lacking before - and without killing the mileage. You'll tickle 30 on the highway; around 22 in town - which is ok for a vehicle that despite its compact exterior dimensions can carry five people very comfortably - and six (although maybe not so comfortably) if you absolutely have to.

    There's a 60/40 split/fold-flat second row seat and about 22 cubic feet of additional cargo capacity behind that.

    Though still low to the ground and defined by its signature "chopped" roofline and bulldog squat, the '08 xB is nearly a foot longer overall and about three inches wider than before. The wheelbase has also grown by about four inches - which improves ride quality while also opening up the interior dimensions, increasing leg room for all passengers.

    The dash panel's off to the right and contains a recessed oblong pod housing orange backlit tachometer, digital speedometer, fuel and temperature gauges. It's retro-futurist in a "Blade Runner" kind of way. It's not designed for speed, but it's plenty fun for cruising/commuting - whatever you need it to do.

    As before, the xB's doors are extra large compared with the rest of the vehicle; this design feature is a central component of the "looks small, but check how big it is" magic trick. Unlike most compact-sized vehicles - which may make for great commuters but just won't cut it as a family-mobile - the xB can handle both jobs and looks cool doing it, too.

    Family sedans

    * 2008 Ford Taurus (Base MSRP $23,245)

    Back in the mid-1980s, the best selling family car in America was a Ford - the Taurus sedan. But Ford allowed the Taurus to slide into rental car oblivion and eventually dropped it entirely.

    Today, the best selling family car in America is Japanese - the Toyota Camry. But Ford hopes to recapture that slot - and the buyers it lost - with a brand-new Taurus that one-ups the best-selling Camry in several key categories.

    First, there's a standard 3.5 liter V-6 in every '08 Taurus - vs. an overmatched four in the Camry. The Taurus' new V-6 produces a very healthy 263 horsepower, almost exactly the same output as the Camry's optional 268 horsepower 3.5 liter V-6 - and 105 horsepower more than the Camry's standard 2.4 liter, four-cylinder engine.

    Someone just got punked!

    The new Taurus also costs less than the V-6 Camry - which starts at $23,640 - and offers all-wheel-drive, a feature you can't get in a new Camry at any price.

    Standard equipment includes a six-speed automatic transmission, 17-inch wheels, power driver's seat, air conditioning, leather and wood trim, power windows, door locks and a full array of safety equipment (side-impact air bags, curtain air bags, ABS, traction control, stability control). Some of these Taurus standards (like the six-speed automatic) still cost extra in the Camry - or force you to buy a more expensive trim to get them - further widening the real-world price gap.

    In addition to GPS, a premium audio rig with MP3 capability and satellite radio, the '08 Taurus also offers power-adjustable pedals to accommodate drivers of different statures, rear Park Assist, set heaters and a rear-seat DVD entertainment system to keep the kids occupied.

    The Ford's family-friendly and handsomely fitted-out interior is further complemented by an absolutely enormous 21 cubic foot trunk that's actually bigger than the trunk in the "full-size" Crown Victoria.

    Camry's trunk is just 15 cubic feet.

    Like Sylvester Stallone in "Rocky III" - it took a serious beating to get Ford back on track. But the '08 Taurus looks like it has the heart to get back in the ring - and might even recapture the title of America's best-selling family car from the current automotive version of Clubber Lang - Toyota's dauntingly successful Camry sedan.

    * 2008 Chevy Malibu hybrid (Base price $24,000 - estimated)

    These past few years, if you wanted a hybrid car, you pretty much had to buy a Japanese car. Honda Accord or Civic. Toyota Camry. Prius. That was about it.

    Now there are domestic options - the latest of which is the hybrid version of Chevy's popular Malibu mid-sized sedan.

    Like many of the newest-generation hybrids, the '08 Malibu hybrid will offer power and performance comparable to a conventional V-6 powertrain with the economy of a four-cylinder. GM says the hybrid Malibu should be good for about 32 mpg on the highway - which is actually better economy (by about 2 mpg) than mileage of the non-hybrid, four-cylinder version of the '08 Malibu - and comparable to much smaller vehicles such as the Chevy Cobalt compact sedan.

    In addition to its onboard electric motor and battery pack, the hybrid Malibu will boast efficiency-enhancing technology such as electric-assist power steering, low-rolling-resistance tires and regenerative braking to recapture energy that would otherwise be lost during deceleration and use it to recharge the car's batteries.

    A special eight-year, 100,000 mile warranty on the hybrid components will supplement the Malibu's standard five-year, 60,000 mile bpowertrain coverage.

    Production of the '08 Malibu hybrid is slated to begin this fall.

    * 2008 Honda Accord (Base price $18,700 - estimated)

    The genius of the mid-sized Honda Accord is that it's long been a true everyman (and woman's) car. Available in sedan or coupe forms, with both four and six-cylinder engines and manual or automatic transmissions, it can be economical, family-oriented, sporty or luxurious. This explains why it has been so consistently popular with so many different types of buyers for so many years now.

    For 2008, the Accord gets a complete makeover, inside and outside and under the hood, too. It's bigger than before, for openers. The sedan is roughly three inches longer overall, rides on a longer wheelbase and offers substantially more legroom (37.2 inches) for backseat passengers - almost exactly as much space as backseat passengers get in the much larger (on the outside) Honda Pilot SUV. Width goes up by more than 1.5 inches, too - increasing elbow and shoulder room and allowing for a wider center console with larger storage cubbies.

    Coupes are more aggressively styled and shorter by about 3.2 inches overall compared to the sedan - but like their four-door brethren, the wheelbase has been increased to allow for more spacious interior accommodations than the outgoing '07 model.

    Also up-sized are the Accord's powerplants. The standard 2.4 liter four produces 177 horsepower in base LX sedans; a 190 horsepower version of this engine is used in mid-trim EX models and is the standard engine in all '08 Accord coupes. At the top of the range, a new 3.5 liter, 268 horsepower V-6 with Variable Cylinder Management that can shut down three of the engine's six cylinders under light-load conditions for improved fuel economy is optional in both the sedan and the coupe. Notably, both engines are "regular unleaded" engines - no $3.50 per gallon premium required - even for the high-powered V-6.

    The four may be ordered with a five-speed manual or five-speed automatic. V-6 sedans come with the a five-speed automatic while V-6 coupes may be ordered with a six-speed manual exclusive to this model.

    Accords equipped with GPS get a new 8-inch LCD display with voice recognition, Bluetooth wireless, hands-free cell hook-up and built-in Zagat Survey guide for top-rated restaurants, hotels and other attractions. All audio systems have MP3/WMA playback capability and RDS (which displays station call letters and programming information). XM Satellite radio will be standard on all EX-L models.

    The hybrid Accord has been dropped from the '08 lineup. But it may return in updated form later in 2008 or sometime in early '09.

    (See Part II for the rest)

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    Re: 2008 cars and trucks: What's here, what's coming - what's hot (Part 1)

    Where is my RWD diesel powered sedan costing $20,000? Guess I won't hold my breath for the automakers to build that one, eh?

  3. #3
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Re: 2008 cars and trucks: What's here, what's coming - what's hot (Part 1)

    Quote Originally Posted by swamprat
    Where is my RWD diesel powered sedan costing $20,000? Guess I won't hold my breath for the automakers to build that one, eh?
    Unfortunately...

    I agree with you on this completely. It's ridiculous....

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    Senior Member misterdecibel's Avatar
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    Re: 2008 cars and trucks: What's here, what's coming - what's hot (Part 1)

    Quote Originally Posted by swamprat
    Where is my RWD diesel powered sedan costing $20,000?
    Near the back of the Mercedes-Benz used car lot...

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