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Fast Forward: 2010 GMC Terrain SLT Review

What’s the point of launching a new vehicle into a crowded segment if it doesn’t boast clear superlatives out of the gate? Manufacturers on the comfortable side of the perception gap can afford to launch anonyboxes. That doesn’t describe General Motors. GM must deliver premium vehicles at every price point to solidify their image, and the GMC Terrain is outfitted for the task. Ambient lighting in the center stack, high-contrast upholstery accents, a standard rearview camera and an optional height-adjustable power liftgate might’ve been enough to differentiate this crossover from its competition, but the Terrain pushes farther in two especially meaningful ways. As society begins to value the aesthetics of information, the advantages of a well-designed user interface become clear. GM’s corporate navitainment display splits radio and navigation data to give drivers the information they need at a glance, and hardware radio presets mean drivers can rely on haptic defaults instead of paging through screens. On the road, the Terrain’s high-efficiency gasoline direct injection engine and noticeably meticulous transmission calibration work together to deliver enviable highway fuel efficiency that trumps cross-continental rivals. These future-forward technologies enable the Terrain to compete on its true merits, rather than the cachet of its nameplate.

Fast Forward: 2009 Chevrolet Corvette and Pontiac G8 GXP Review

In my youth, when one-way buff books were the end-all auto media, the Chevrolet Corvette was a ubiquitous staple in any magazine’s “supercar shootout”. Today, in an era where spoiled enthusiasts yawn at engines under 300 horsepower, the Corvette has been demoted to a  “sports car” by those who won’t grant status to anything less than a Veyron. When did car guys become jaded to the Corvette’s timeless targa top, fighter-pilot-style Head-Up Display gauges, and a 186 MPH top speed? Does a pricetag under $50K reduce the Corvette’s credibility?

Nope. It sure as hell makes an auto writer smile, though.

Any “enthusiast” who writes off the Corvette’s 6.2-liter LS3 V8 because of its pushrod design simply hasn’t driven the car. In one application, General Motors proves every negative pushrod stereotype wrong. The LS3 revs freely. Its soundtrack is thick, melodic and technical. And, thanks to the ‘Vette’s light curb weight and an extra-tall sixth gear ratio, the LS3 is stunningly fuel efficient. If the heart of a supercar is its engine, the Corvette’s world-class LS3 is the only credential it needs.

Port the powertrain to an unexpected form factor, and its versatility shines. GM’s Australian subsidiary Holden has been perfecting the formula for years: mate a solid Euro-tinged chassis to a brash American powertrain, track the beast every weekend, and call the car home-grown. For a limited time, North America was able to sample Holden’s signature brew via the Pontiac G8 GXP. It’s a shame this relaxing rocketlounge was unceremoniously buried with the Pontiac arrowhead.

Both cars’ interior idiosyncracies will be easy fodder for critics who fancy themselves experts on shutlines and trim interfaces. Those that prefer stoic status-cars will likely be left dusted and bankrupt by badges that can’t deliver the LS3′s classic bang-for-the-buck.

Fast Forward: 2010 Ford F-150 SVT Raptor Preview

Faithful Ford truckers often fall into a dichotomy. Lightning enthusiasts crave quick rigs to gain cred at the track. Bronco fans miss muddy rockcrawlers meant for trails. Ford’s Special Vehicle Team could’ve easily built a truck for either purpose, but as guardians of automotive culture, it’s not their duty to take a safe route. SVT rethought “speed truck” ethic entirely. Instead of engineering a tire-shredder, SVT focused on sustaining high speed off-road in a way that no stock vehicle has before. The 2010 Ford SVT F-150 Raptor tackles both asphalt and desert sands so masterfully that it is instantly deserving of supercar status. The Raptor’s victories in design, safety, navitainment and ergonomics mean that it isn’t just a great truck — it’s a great vehicle.  Children will mount posters of this desert bandit on their walls. In an era of lowest-common-denominator commodity cars, that’s indicative praise indeed.

If you weren’t able to follow my Tweets from the introduction, this video preview of the 5.4-liter V8-equipped model should tide you over until this winter, when Ford will begin shipping faster Raptors equipped with a new 6.2-liter V8. You can expect a full review from Speed:Sport:Life then.

Behind Domed Doors: At GM, R&D means “Research and Design”.

The #GMTech hash tag started here.

I suggested the #GMTech hash tag to a friend, and it snowballed.

As the upfitted GMC TopKick blogger-hauler crossed through fortified gates into the forbidden General Motors Tech Center, I felt like a spy. A time traveler. A trusted friend, but a careful messenger. I was one of 100 “social media influencers” invited to the most holy automotive land to preview the General’s powertrain research and future design direction. My camera was taken, my cell phone was blinded by a serialized PicPatch, and photography was further prohibited by smiling security guards posted in every presentation room. However, at no point were my microblogging colleagues told not to reveal our observations through text.

Most program attendees’ passions lay in non-automotive areas. Therefore, most didn’t realize the deeper magnitude of many minuscule details revealed. @RaymondKing and I were an exception. One overexposing tweet could destroy my career. Thankfully, years of practice crafting oblique automotive prose helped to preserve my integrity while capturing followers’ interest. Until Automotive News and Autoblog pieced together most of what I was nervous about reporting, that is. Now that GM’s secrets have been told with varying degrees of accuracy, I’ve got a few blanks to fill in — while preserving a little mystery. And my career, of course.

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Fast Forward: 2010 Chevrolet Camaro 2SS Review

Sometimes, I wonder if “esteemed automotive journalists” are just “failed ad copywriters.” When every new vehicle launch is met with a cacophony of praise, the legitimacy of an automotive critic certainly fades. I personally preserve unabashedly glowing reviews for well-engineered vehicles that represent something more than a blacker bottom line — vehicles that “give back” to car culture. In hope that I’ll maintain your trust, I present my video review of the Chevy Camaro. Over the course of several months and 2500 miles of testing in five states, I’ve forged lifelong friendships and have the Facebook to prove it. The Camaro has changed my outlook on honking: now, when I hear a blast at a stoplight, I’m sure it’s just another ally eagerly hoping his thumbs-up is well-received. That’s moderately embarassing honesty. That’s not hyperbole.

S:S:L Event Coverage: 2009 Pikes Peak International Hill Climb

Photos by Robert Story

The Pikes Peak International Hill Climb is a relevant, engineering-driven, lightly commercialized race endangered by uncorralled fans’ lack of common sense, the commoditization of the car, waning manufacturer support, and the paving of the roadway.

If you didn’t go this year, you need to be there in 2010 — before inevitable filters change the event forever.

In wild western Colorado, both vehicles and footwear are earth-toned and traction-centric. For outdoorsy natives that may very well burst into a 20-mile hike or interstate whitewater trip at any moment, camping on the Peak is akin to a passport stamp. Camping is permitted only once a year, on the day before the race. It’s feasible, then, that a sizeable portion of the yearly attendees are drawn primarily by the prospect of personally taming the mountain, and stay for the race out of both casual curiosity and convenience. Staking a spot on the mountain entails a steep $100 charge per car. Proceeds benefit the US Forest Service, which cedes control of the mountain during practice sessions and on race day.

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Fast Forward: 2009 Dodge Journey SXT Review

I don’t know how we went from this to this, but I do know the Dodge Journey is Chrysler’s attempt to keep their promises of future.

Even after ‘inventing’ the first contemporarily packaged, attainable mainstream minivan in the 1980s, Chrysler continued to dream aloud through moonshot concept multi-purpose vehicles. The Dodge Epic, Plymouth Pronto, and Chrysler Citadel concepts employed emerging “Cab-Forward” architecture to maximize interior volume. Somewhere along the road to retail, cost-cutting and stagnance took their toll on ChryCo’s bottom line. Bankruptcy ensued. Here we are today.

In execution, the Dodge Journey feels like a Hyundai-built Ford Edge — like the first-generation Chevrolet Equinox, engineered before GM gained “product religion.” Ergonomics oddities abound, and its lagging powertrain fails to deliver power or fuel efficiency superlatives. However, hope hides in each cleverly concealed crevice. The Journey’s suite of storage crannies proves that Chrysler is still staffed with real moms and dads who understand what it means to take a family roadtrip. If these creative engineers are given the tools and support to radically redefine automotive interior packaging, Chrysler could one day be a multi-purpose vehicle leader. Otherwise, the company will wither.

Liveblog: Obama primes a post-industrial America.

Blame management, the unions, asymmetrical trade regulations or tough competition — because the blasé love to blame. But no matter where your armchair analysis pins responsibility, the fact is that America’s once-proud R&D and manufacturing powerhouse has been reduced to bankruptcy — a fate that almost no other government has allowed to befall their automakers.

The President is priming the country for a bankruptcy that will affect assembly workers, suppliers, dealerships, and an already economically battered Midwest. We’ll liveblog his comments after the jump.

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Liveblog: Pres. Obama on Chrysler Bankruptcy; ChryCo Response

In honesty, reassurances from the President won’t lessen the worries of Chrysler’s employees, suppliers, and competitors. Nobody in this industry will sleep better tonight because the President has a few feel-good words to share. Nonetheless, President Obama cannot let such an important bankruptcy occur without acknowledging the telling moment — we’re liveblogging his damage control, but don’t hold your breath for any announcements that could really help the industry, like legislation that narrows the international trade gap…

11:08 CDT: Obama opens with “Hey guys, I know you haven’t seen enough of me lately… ”

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Liveblog: GM, Segway Announce Personal Urban Mobility & Accessibility Concept

 

This morning, GM will reveal “a revolutionary vehicle to help people move through crowded cities and alleviate the significant issues of congestion, safety, parking, affordability, and energy concerns.” This vehicle may be the next evolution of the “Personal Urban Mobility & Accessibility” collaboration with Segway. We’re liveblogging the details as they surface.

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