Sunday, May 20, 2007 

2007 Lexus ES 350

By Mike Hanley

Why do luxury-car companies offer entry-level models? It's in part to give new buyers a good first impression of their brand. Lexus' new ES 350 entry-level luxury sedan is remarkably successful in this way because it has all the things buyers in this segment expect: capable performance, a serene ride, advanced safety features and a nicely appointed cabin. It's the sheet-metal equivalent of a firm handshake.

Exterior & Styling
The front-wheel-drive ES 350 has sharper angles and more defined body panel creases than the 2006 ES 330. With its rear-set cabin and short decklid, the new ES looks a lot like the company's GS sport sedan; it's a classy, conservative design.

Standard alloy wheels measure 17 inches in diameter. The rear doors are especially long and might prove difficult to open if you're in a tight parking space.

Ride & Handling
The ES 350 is one of those cars that can play tricks with your senses; it's incredibly easy to find yourself driving much faster than you think you are. As is common of Lexus passenger cars, it's very quiet on the highway, with just a whisper of wind noise.

The four-wheel independent suspension delivers a comfortable cruising experience. The ride is reminiscent of Lexus' flagship LS 430 sedan, which has also been redesigned for 2007 and is now dubbed the LS 460. Though manhole covers can deliver a hard hit, the suspension filters most road imperfections before they can disturb the cabin. With the smooth ride comes moderate body roll, and the car also tends to bob up and down a few times after traveling over a big dip in the road.

Steering the ES 350 is a low-effort affair. There's not a hint of friction in the wheel — it's as if every component is made of Teflon. Though the system is engine-speed sensitive, steering effort isn't measurably greater at highway speeds. Perhaps this is because the V-6 is only turning at around 2,100 rpm when cruising on the highway. At any rate, greater effort would be appreciated at higher speeds.

Going & Stopping
The ES 350 has a 272-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 that makes 54 hp more than the 3.3-liter V-6 in the outgoing ES 330. The former five-speed automatic transmission has been replaced with a six-speed automatic that has a clutchless-manual mode. With EPA estimates of 21/30 mpg (city/highway), the ES 350 gets slightly better gas mileage than its predecessor.

Though some competitors, like the Buick Lucerne and Chrysler 300, offer an optional V-8, ES 350 buyers aren't likely to find the V-6 wanting for power. It provides strong acceleration and teams with a smooth-shifting automatic; during my test, the transmission never made a harsh shift. I averaged 30 mpg during a stretch of highway driving, the same as the EPA's figure.

Like the steering system, brake pedal effort is light. The pedal has a soft feel, and it's difficult at times to modulate the touchy brakes in order to stop smoothly.

The Inside
The five-person cabin has a flowing dashboard design that's also found in other newer Lexus cars. The cabin looks a bit plain when finished in black, but the controls — especially the intuitive touch-screen display that manages the navigation, audio and climate systems — are easy to learn. (When not equipped with the optional navigation system, conventional buttons for the climate and audio systems occupy the space where the display would go.) I wish Lexus would ditch the digital clock for a more luxurious timepiece — it's too similar to a Corolla's.

Standard luxury features include real wood trim on the doors and center console, a power tilt/telescoping steering wheel, keyless access and start, and chic LED lighting. The dashboard features some interesting angles, but in certain light the material has a noticeable shine to it. Direct sunlight through the rear window can also wash out the image on the touch-screen display. Other than a larger than normal gap near the bottom of the center stack, trim pieces fit together tightly.

Cloth seat upholstery is standard; my test car had the optional leather. The front seats have 10-way power adjustment, and the driver's backrest is soft and comfy, but I was sore after driving for a few hours because the bottom cushion doesn't provide enough support. A power-extendable driver's seat cushion is optional.

Rear headroom, legroom and shoulder room are similar to the previous-generation ES 330, but rear hip room has been reduced by a few inches. The outer spots of the rear bench seat are comfortable enough for adults, but don't expect any extra legroom or headroom. As might be expected, the center spot has less usable headroom and legroom and the seat isn't as comfortable, but at least there's not a bump in the floor taking up foot space.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety awarded the ES 350 its highest rating, Good, in its frontal-offset and side-impact crash tests.

An electronic stability system, tire pressure monitoring system and all-disc antilock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist are standard. Side-impact airbags for the front seats, front and rear side curtain airbags, and driver and front passenger knee airbags are standard. Rear-seat side-impact airbags are included with the optional Ultra-Luxury Package.

Other optional safety features include radar-based adaptive cruise control and adaptive headlights that turn left or right with the steering wheel to better illuminate curves in the road. The adaptive cruise control system is included with Lexus' Pre-Collision System, which will tighten the front seat belts and ready brake assist if the system determines a collision is likely. PCS can also brake the car without driver intervention if needed.

Cargo & Towing
Measuring 14.7 cubic feet, the ES 350's trunk is about 1 cubic foot smaller than the Lincoln MKZ's trunk, and its rear seats don't fold to expand the cargo area; there is a trunk pass-thru that's suitable for skis or other long, skinny items. The trunk has four tie-down rings, and a standard temporary spare tire or optional full-size spare on an alloy wheel resides under the trunk floor. Maximum towing capacity is 1,000 pounds when properly equipped.

Noteworthy options include a panorama glass roof, heated and ventilated front seats, a power rear sunshade, and front and rear parking sensors. Models with the voice-activated navigation system have a rearview camera that makes judging the distance between the ES 350's back bumper and another car or object a breeze. A Mark Levinson surround sound system can be bundled with the navigation system; when the car is in Park, DVDs can be viewed on the navigation system's 7-inch screen.

ES 350 in the Market
After spending a week with the ES 350, there's no reason to suspect it won't retain its title as Lexus' best-selling passenger car and remain a popular choice in the entry-level luxury segment. For a modest premium over the outgoing model, the ES 350 adds more standard features, more power and a more distinctive appearance. Though there are sportier alternatives, like the Acura TL or Infiniti G35, the ES 350 should keep current ES owners coming back while also appealing to shoppers who might not have considered the previous ES. And that's not an easily accomplished feat.
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Saturday, May 19, 2007 

2007 Nissan Maxima Review

Future historians will record that, in the summer of 2006, astronomers revoked Pluto's status as a planet, and Nissan reeled in the spacey styling of the Maxima, bringing it down a little closer to Earth-car standard. Those same historians will also render a verdict whether either decision was a good one. Right now we're might be too close to these events to tell, but we're thinking the styling changes to the 2007 Nissan Maxima are a good thing. And we still like to think of Pluto as a planet. In both cases, call us old fashioned.
Gone is the beaver-toothed, studded grille from the '58 Buick, replaced by a more conservative, more elegant grille more in keeping with the Nissan Altima. In fact, all of the body work has been restyled. The 2007 Maxima gets new headlamps, new taillamps, and redesigned fenders, rocker panels, rear spoiler, and hood. The cabin gets a new instrument cluster and center dash for 2007, making for easier, more intuitive operation.

Underneath, a continuously variable transmission, or CVT, replaces the more traditional five-speed automatic for smoother, more efficient operation. Nissan excels in this technology and we found the Maxima's transmission responsive.

The Nissan Maxima fills a niche for aficionados who appreciate something different. Straddling the line between mid-size family hauler and a near-luxury sport sedan, it offers drivers an interesting alternative to mid-size sedans such as the Nissan Altima, Toyota Camry, and Honda Accord. The Maxima is more focused on personal luxury and performance. And the 2007 model is just a little less quirky than last year's model.

Buyers choose between the more responsive SE and the more plush SL. Either way, cruising on the highway is effortless with Nissan's wonderful 255-hp V6 engine. For 2007, both the Maxima SE and SL come standard with a continuously variable automatic transmission, which translates to smooth, efficient power. Gone is the available six-speed manual, which is fine because we didn't care for it.

Both the Maxima SL and SE models abound with luxury features. The re-styled 2007 cabin is innovative and comfortable with supportive, luxurious seats. Surviving the 2007 revision is Maxima's daring Skyview roof, a narrow glass panel running lengthwise over the front and rear seats. It's the sort of feature associated with futuristic concept cars. Also interesting are the available rear bucket seats, a feature seen primarily on show cars or as an option on high-end luxury models.

Together, the rear bucket seats and Skyview roof make back-seat riders feel more like first-class passengers and less like coach-class cattle. The Maxima is not as family-friendly as the Altima, particularly with the optional four-bucket-seat interior. Instead, it's designed for people who don't have children or maybe just one and want a more interesting, more luxurious sports sedan. (A traditional rear bench seat comes standard for owners who may want to put three people in back.)

In short, the 2007 Nissan Maxima is an enjoyable and interesting sports sedan.

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New generation of coupes is launched


The BMW 3 Series coupes have been completely redesigned for 2007. These all-new, fifth-generation coupes follow on the heels the new BMW 3 Series sedans that were introduced last year.
With sleeker styling and carrying less weight than a four-door sedan, the two-door or coupe version of BMW 3 Series model has special appeal for drivers who demand sporty driving dynamics but need a back seat and a decent sized trunk.

If you think of a coupe as merely a sedan with two less doors, you need to change your thinking as it applies to BMW. The coupe is nearly two inches longer, more than an inch trimmer and has a roofline that is more than two inches lower than the sedan's. In fact, the only exterior component the coupe shares with the 3 Series sedan is door handles, and the coupe needs only two of them, so right there, one segment of component weight is cut in half.

Handling is sharp, responsive, precise, yet the ride isn't harsh, in spite of the fact that a sport suspension comes as standard equipment.

The 2007 BMW 335i coupe features a new twin-turbocharged engine that puts out 300 horsepower, which makes for the ultimate driving machine. We found it to be an extremely responsive and pleasing car, with none of the turbo lag associated with turbochargers. Meanwhile, the 328xi features all-wheel drive, which enhances traction in wet or snowy weather. A new convertible with a retracting hardtop and the next ultra-high-performance M3 are anticipated for launch in calendar year 2007.

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Wednesday, June 28, 2006 

AUDI Q7 Review

2006 Audi Q7
by Carey Russ

Aren't SUVs supposed to be dead? With the introduction of the 2007 Audi Q7, the company's first SUV, Audi is betting that they're not. Even if SUV sales have flattened out, they still represent a significant portion of the American automotive market, and the Q7 was designed with American sales first in mind. As Audi CEO Johan de Nysschen said during the recent Q7 press launch in San Diego, California, it is "the most important new model launch in the history of Audi in North America."
Audi considers the Q7 to be a third-generation performance-luxury SUV, with truck-based models making up the first generation and car-based crossovers the second. Contrary to expectations, it is not merely a stretched version of the Volkswagen Touareg. Parts commonality is 15 percent, mostly in suspension pieces. The Q7 is longer and considerably more spacious inside, with standard seating for seven in three rows. Power for all initial examples comes from the latest version of Audi's 4.2-liter V-8, with a model featuring a new 3.6-liter V-6 to debut later in the year. They will also use the latest version of Audi's Quattro all-wheel-drive system.

The Q7's unibody structure is made from high- and ultra-high-strength steel, with aluminum panels for its fenders, hood, and tailgate. An optional air suspension with adjustable ride height improves both on-road comfort and off-road clearance and ability. The ESP electronic stabilization system has an off-road mode that allows more slip at low speeds, common on loose surfaces such as dirt or snow.

Audi Side Assist uses intelligent radar technology to monitor the Q7's rear-quarter blind spots and alerts the driver by lighting LEDs in the appropriate outside rearview mirror if a potentially unseen vehicle is detected. The rearview camera and parking system overlay the rearview image with colored lines that show the Q7's path, allowing the driver to detect potential obstacles. It also shows the rear bumper and tow hitch so that it's easier to attach a trailer.

A new radar-based adaptive cruise-control system is available. It operates at speeds from 0 to 90mph and automatically brings the Q7 to a near stop in traffic. Integrated with the main vehicle network, it communicates with the engine, transmission, and braking computers.

A DVD and GPS navigation system and Sirius satellite radio are also on the options list. Later in the model year, Audi will offer a rear-seat DVD entertainment system that features removable DVD player units that dock to the front headrests.

Pricing is $49,900 for the base Audi Q7 and $59,900 for the Premium model; the latter comes with an upgraded interior and features that are optional on the base model.

Upside: The Q7's interior ambience and vehicle dynamics are pure Audi; you won't find a truck anywhere in its genealogy. All examples at the press launch were equipped with air suspension, the panorama sunroof, Side Assist, and the rearview system.

Its interior design is based on the Audi A6's, with first-rate seat comfort for the front two rows and more space than expected for the third. Access is relatively painless. The panorama roof is positioned to give all occupants--even those in front--a great view of the sky.

As in other Audis, the MMI control system is the interface to nearly every vehicle function. Its LCD screen serves multiple needs for both the navigation system and the backup system. It is bright and well protected from glare, and the directional overlay lines for the rearview are a major help when backing into tight spaces.

Side Assist is an interesting feature and one that is a very good idea in a large vehicle, even though the Q7 has smaller blind spots than some other SUVs we've driven. Since the warning LEDs are in the outside mirrors, the driver must at least look toward the mirrors.

On the road, the Audi Q7 feels like what it is: a thoroughly modern luxury-sport crossover. Despite 8.1 inches of static ground clearance, it takes corners like an Audi should. Large wheels shod with low-profile tires are lighter than high-profile truck tires, for less unsprung weight and better suspension control than in a typical SUV.

On a section of steep dirt road, the Audi Q7 did commendably well, with no loss of traction even in axle-deep mud. The air suspension can be raised for up to 9.5 inches of clearance. It also automatically lowers the vehicle at speed on the highway, for improved handling and aerodynamics.

With 350 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque from the 4.2-liter direct-injection V-8, power was never a problem. Acceleration to 60mph is around 7 seconds, not bad at all for a 5,500-pound vehicle. Towing capacity is 5,500 pounds in standard trim or 6,600 pounds with the towing package.

Downside: A heavy vehicle plus a V-8 engine does not bode well for fuel economy, which is typical for a large SUV with EPA ratings of 14mpg (city) and 19mpg (highway). We saw 14mpg in a mixture of highway, secondary road, and dirt road driving.

Outlook: There are two markets for the 2007 Audi Q7. One is existing Audi owners who want an SUV. They'll be an easy sell, as the Q7 is undoubtedly exactly what's first on their wish list. The other--and potentially larger--market is conquest sales: people who want to upgrade from a Ford Explorer or a Chevy Tahoe and who may be considering many other vehicles. There are enough strong points to the Audi Q7 for it to be attractive to enough of those people for success, but industry trends and high fuel prices could pose problems for Audi.

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Friday, April 07, 2006 

2006 Honda Civic

You can feel high-minded and green — and nobody has to know you're having fun, too.
by Michael Frank

Originally published 01/09/2006

Why do you want a hybrid?

Probably because:

You're alarmed by how much you have to spend on gas.

You're equally alarmed by America's dependence on foreign oil.

Somewhere on your list of priorities is cleaner air for your kids and, in the future, their kids.

These are indisputably pure motives, at least in the opinion of this reviewer. And fortunately, hybrids just keep getting more refined. Exhibit A is the all-new, $21,850, 2006 Civic Hybrid from Honda Motor. It drives more like a "normal" sedan than the Prius from Toyota Motor. But that's not the end of the story. For instance, the Prius is roomier and has a smoother ride. And you ought to compare each of these cars to other high-mileage nonhybrid vehicles. Why do that? Because hybrids, for all the hype, don't get the mileage claimed on the window sticker. And this isn't the fault of the manufacturer. Blame the Feds, who haven't revised their system for gauging fuel economy for decades.

You read right. Your tax dollars at work.

See, the government doesn't actually drive new models to determine fuel economy. Rather, lab technicians measure carbon emissions from a car while running it on a dynamometer — like a treadmill for cars — at a simulated "city" cycle, where speeds average 20 mph, and then on a simulated highway cycle, where speeds average slightly under 50 mph. These speeds seem too high for the typical city cycle — where stop-and-go congestion is a lot worse than it was back in the late 1960s, when this system was devised. But that's not all — the interstate speeds aren't nearly fleet enough to reflect the 65 mph-plus pace of a lot of current American highway travel.

A few decades ago, the EPA realized that their system was flawed, but rather than fix it, they "adjusted" their test to simply lop off some 10% from their city cycle results, and 22% from their highway cycle.

Still awake?

Good, because the reason this matters if you're in the market for a hybrid — or any car — is that most cars still don't get the same results the Feds get. There are many reasons for this, including use of the A/C, which sucks more gas. Also, if it's cold outside, your car has to work harder because cold air is denser, creating more wind resistance.

The EPA doesn't consider these factors. Nor do they adjust their math when they test carbon emitted from a hybrid car versus one with only an internal combustion engine. Hybrids have electric motors that can work in tandem — or, at times, all by themselves — with their gas motors. That's going to throw off the EPA's math for computing fuel economy, because so little carbon comes out of the tailpipes of hybrids.

The larger problem is that miles per gallon doesn't readily paint a picture of how much more fuel-efficient one car is than another. If it did, it might become a matter of national shame to drive a gas guzzler.

Here's why.

The very worst rating the EPA issued last year was for the Dodge Ram 1500; 9 city/12 highway for the V-10 model. That sounds bad, but the full picture is bleaker. If you use the EPA's numbers, the Dodge Ram swills 5.5 gallons of gas to go 50 miles in the city. The Civic? It gets a 48 city mpg rating, so it burns a mere 1.04 gallons of gas in the same 50 miles. Put another way, five Civics could make the same trip for every one of those Dodge pickups.

That makes the Civic, the Prius and a slew of nonhybrid sedans that still get great mileage, much smarter forms of transportation than a lot of the truck-based iron currently lumbering down American roads.

So forget about being virtuous; the Civic is downright patriotic, even if the Fed's fuel economy figures might not completely reflect the real-world mileage of the car. Now here's the kicker: This car is a heck of a lot tauter-feeling and more fun to drive than the sometimes wobbly Prius.

This doesn't make it a slam-dunk victor over the Prius; the Honda has a lot less rear-seat knee room and, overall, is smaller inside than the Prius. And there are other wrinkles in this hybrid's story that are worth noting, too. Get all the dirt by clicking below.

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Sunday, March 26, 2006 

2006 Toyota Yaris Preview

by Justin Couture

In the automotive world, the Georgian College Auto Show isnt even on the radar, let alone a tiny blip. Despite celebrating its 20th anniversary, the Canadian event is small; some manufacturers were absent, while others were represented by local dealerships. But late last week, the town of Barrie, Ontario held what might be one of the most important positions this year out of any auto show in Canada. On September 16th, Toyota pulled the wraps off of its all-new Yaris subcompact, just days after its global premier at this years 2005 Frankfurt Motor Show in Germany, and I drove the distance to see it all take place.

While Toyota's name has been built up by earning high value-for-money ratings, consumer satisfaction with gold-star reliability, or the environmentally friendly Prius and Highlander Hybrids, subcompact cars have also long been the automakers strong hand. The late Echo, still available north of the 49th by the way, did a decent job of staving off rival subcompacts, such as the Hyundai Accent, Kia Rio and the GM-DAT-designed Chevy Aveo. Albeit, with the new Scion brand now available across the nation, the frumpy little Echo just didnt fit in anymore.

But despite its homely appearance, the car is a star in Canada, and the countrys response to both sedan and coupe models prompted Toyota Canada (TCI) to take the relatively small market (the entire country has a smaller population than California) very seriously. Therefore, it brought the Echo hatchback (Yaris/Vitz Mk.I) over exclusively for the Canadian market in 2004. The cars success, beating all competitors in sales, means that Canadians will be getting the special treatment once again; aside from Japan, where the new Yaris has been on sale as the Vitz since February, Canada will be the second market in the world to receive this new car. Yes, TCIs scheduled date of this October beats out Europe, Australia, Africa and even the United States, which will receive the three-door Yaris down the road as a supplement to the Scion range. As a matter of fact, Canadian dealers are taking orders currently. Thats got to choke up Toyota dealers in the U.S., who could use the funky little hatchback to pull in first time buyers.

When it finally arrives in American, the Yaris will be available in two body styles and three different trim levels. For the three-door and five-door hatchbacks, a well-equipped LE and sporty RS models are available. While specifications have not been engraved in stone, the RS features 15-inch alloy wheels, a 6-disc MP3/CD head unit, color-keyed mirrors, sports seats, tachometer, body kit and spoiler, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift-knob, plus fog lamps, while the LE, such as the metallic blue one shown at the Georgian auto show, which featured Package B, includes keyless entry, power windows and air conditioning. Unique to the three-door is the CE trim level which will act as the most basic, value-driven model. A notchback sedan or notchback coupe have not been announced for the new generation, however, the current versions will continue to be on sale until the end of the year. ED2, Toyotas European design studio played a critical role in the way the new Yaris looks. Its an evolution of the current model, with its own distinguishing Vibrant Clarity styling language currently employed in globally marketed products, but also in all future Toyotas heading for North America. Immediately recognizable not only as a Toyota but as the successor to the Echo, further details will be carried through, such as the Toyota logo which is prominently displayed atop the grille, with bulges that stretch from the front fascia, up through the hood. S-shaped doors give extra flair to the body, allowing vibrant new colors like copper orange and bayou blue mica to jump off the body. The end result is a vehicle that defies the stereotype that subcompacts must be boxy and plain, and its certainly not your Aunt Abigails beige Tercel.

Like its exterior, the Yaris interior theme is of a European nature, taking hints from many of Toyotas European designs such as the Corolla Verso and Avensis. Toyotas Loop Style Concept creates a wrap-around look from the door arm rests sweeping up through the pillars and headliner. The car maintains its unique centrally-mounted instrument pod; with Optitron electroluminescent gauges. Its position allows drivers to maintain a field of view of the road including the gauge pod. Similar to Mitsubishis European-market Colt, the Yaris adopts a narrow vertical spar for the climate control. After spending time inside the car, its safe to say that the build quality is excellent, even on this pre-production model, with tight and consistent panel gaps.

Smart packaging, such as space-saving torsion beam rear suspension and a choice to push the wheels to each corner makes for unrivaled interior room within the category, providing Corolla-levels of space and comfort within tiny dimensions. A flat rear floor allows three occupants to ride on board in back without feeling like sardines in a tin, while on the five-door RS model, the rear seats are moveable to further increase available legroom, or maximize cargo space. There are over a dozen well-placed cubbies and pockets for storing and reducing clutter in the cabin, including pockets on the center console and a twin glove box. The trunk holds several clever bins and hidden sub floors, ideal for carrying everything from wet or muddy boots to umbrellas or small loose parcels.

All versions of the Yaris are powered by a 1.5-liter inline-four that features Toyotas VVT-I variable valve timing system. While power and torque outputs remain the same at 106-horsepower and 103 lb-ft of torque, it has been tweaked to deliver power at lower revs, making it better suited for urban driving. The small-displacement engine not only sips fuel with expected ratings equal or less to the current car, but its ULEVII (Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle II rating is remarkably environmentally friendly. Its also reasonably quick, with only 2,320 pounds to haul around; 60 mph is reached in 8.4 seconds. Rumors have it that a performance model available off the showroom floor could pack 140-hp, which could mean a 1.8-liter motor or the addition of a TRD supercharger. Toyota is tight-lipped, of course, on confirming information. For the current range, buyers can opt for either a five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic.

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Friday, March 24, 2006 

2006 BMW M Roadster Review

Starting MSRP $51,300

Looks Fast, Goes Faster
The latest version of BMW's M Roadster gives this seductive ragtop racecar-like performance.
by Jim Gorzelany

Originally published 12/09/2005

BMW Roadster

BMW hasn't sold an M Roadster since the 2002 model year, when it was based on the former Z3 two-seat convertible. A new version, derived from the recently updated Z4, debuts in early 2006 as a midyear entry. Like every other BMW donning an M on the trunk lid, the M Roadster enhances performance and handling of the car on which it's based — already a quick, nimble and attractive little sports car. Both the Z4 and M Roadster are built at BMW's Spartanburg, S.C. plant.

While the latest M Roadster features a number of cosmetic tweaks that differentiate it from the Z4, including more aggressive front- and rear-end treatments, exclusive 18-inch wheels and four tailpipes, the most pronounced upgrade is under the long hood. Shared with the current M3 is a 3.2-liter V6 engine with dual overhead cams, variable valve timing and individual throttle controls for each cylinder, among other top-drawer technology. The engine generates 333 horsepower and is controlled with a Getrag six-speed manual transmission capable of taking the M Roadster from zero to 60 mph in just under five seconds. Top speed is electronically limited to a highly illegal 155 mph.

BMW's Servotronic electromechanical variable power-steering system and a speed-sensitive limited-slip differential lock improve the Z4's already stellar cornering abilities. Whether careening around a curve or traversing slippery pavement, the differential lock automatically transfers power to the rear wheel with the most traction. This system is designed to work with the latest version of BMW's Dynamic Stability Control system, in order to allow aggressive cornering without undue intervention while still preventing a loss of control in extreme handling situations.

For added safety and control, the M Roadster's heavy-duty compound braking system borrows an array of advancements from the current 3 Series sedan, including

• Brake Fade Compensation, which mitigates loss of braking power due to heat buildup during spirited driving;

• Brake Standby, which anticipates hard braking by automatically closing the brake pads against the brake rotors when the driver lifts off of the throttle;

• Brake Drying, which periodically brings the pads nearly in contact with the rotors, based on input from the car's rain-sensing windshield wipers, to keep the points of contact dry;

• Soft Stop, which is designed to help bring the car to a halt smoothly by automatically modulating brake force upon deceleration; and

• Startoff Assistant, which automatically keeps the car from rolling while in neutral and on an incline.

Interior flourishes unique to the M Roadster include a specific steering wheel, gearshift knob and door sills, as well as white-on-black illuminated instrumentation. The tachometer indicates the engine's current safe operating speed based on the engine-oil temperature; this recommended speed rises concurrently with the temperature of the oil (full throttle is indicated only when the oil is at the proper temperature).

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