Tag Archives: Mercedes Benz

Mercedes-Benz SLK

The SLK is famous for its roof – the automatic retractable hardtop transforms it from coupe to roadster in 30 seconds. While the SLK is a two-seat open-air automobile, it’s not a performance or handling maniac like some of its roadster competitors. But SLK moves in that direction for 1999 with the new availability of five-speed manual transmission and optional AMG-designed Sport Package.

In addition to cosmetic enhancements (side sills, and new front and rear facias), the Sport Package adds handling muscle via a bigger version of its staggered wheel and tire set up (225/45ZR17 front, 245/40ZR17 rear). Motivation remains the duty of supercharged 2.3-litre “four” which cranks out 185 hp, and 200 lb. ft. of torque anywhere between 2,500 and 4,800 rpm. Also carried over is the driver-adaptive 5-speed automatic.

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The Infiniti

There may be five different nameplates in Infiniti’s current lineup but, for all intents and purposes, Infiniti is a three-vehicle brand, as the EX and FX crossovers as well as the different variants of the G provide the bulk of Nissan’s luxury division’s sales. With the new and completely redesigned 2011 model year M luxury sedan, Infiniti is once again hoping to compete with the established segment leaders and to steal some of Germany’s thunder, a feat it never managed with the previous-generation M as well as the now very much forgotten larger Q sedan.

While the previous-generation M was an able performer performer from a driving dynamics standpoint, it suffered from bland and uninspired styling, a core issue that the new model confronts head-on. Borrowing cues from the softer-edged G, the new M is all about styling that is almost organic in nature with flowing and curved lines that allow the new car to stand out and be noticed.

Getting behind the wheel for an initial test drive, I found the same story applies inside the cabin. Whereas the previous-generation car was outfitted with a largely black plastic interior that did not accurately reflect the brand’s luxury credentials, the new one offers tasteful genuine ash as well as aluminum trim on its dashboard and console. While BMW, Audi and Mercedes-Benz have developed single-controller setups (iDrive, MMI, Comand) to access their car’s various systems, Infiniti has gone old school by way of a myriad of single buttons as an interface. Getting aquainted with the location of the various controls was relatively straightforward with the exception of a most puzzling feature, which is called the Forest Air climate control system and its breeze mode, designed to emulate a natural breeze by randomly varying the air flow through the cabin – it proved to be more annoying than refreshing.

The new M comes as the 37 or M56, depending on the choice of engines, and the all-wheel-drive system is available on both models. While the 5.6-litre, V8 delivers major power in the form of 420 horsepower and 417 pound-feet of torque, the 3.7L V6 proves to be more than adequate with its 330 h.p. and 270 lb-ft of torque. Indeed, the car of choice for most buyers will be the V6 engine matched with the all-wheel-drive system.


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The Highlander

Even if you are ill-informed about new cars, getting into the Highlander is a subliminal lesson on how to masterfully design a car-driver interface that works with intuitive ease.

The Highlander’s interior is a good example of how Toyota has become an undisputed powerhouse in the automobile industry. Behind the wheel, all it takes is one quick glance at the instrument cluster, radio, HVAC and other ancillary controls, and the driver feels right at home.

The clean centre stack is home to a set of large dials and switches for the sound system and HVAC – a godsend not only for bifocalled baby boomers, but for any driver new to the Highlander.

In addition to the typical steering wheel controls – radio, cruise and Bluetooth – Toyota has added another unusual but convenient feature – temperature and Off/Auto controls. The only irritants in the otherwise superb cabin of our test Highlander are the front-seat heater controls – two thin-post, spring-loaded rheostat controls that are frustratingly finicky to operate with heavy gloves. Otherwise, the interior is a comfortable and welcoming space.

Our demo vehicle (4WD V-6 with sport package) was equipped with a long list of features such as leather interior, heated front seats, three-zone climate control panoramic moon roof, power liftgate, 19-inch, five-spoke alloy wheels, third-row seating, voice-activated navigation and back-up camera. Driving the full-time all-wheel drive V-6 Highlander on snow-packed streets during a -20 C December cold snap demonstrated how good the Highlander is when the road are slick.

Fitted with Bridgestone Blizzak winter tires, the Highlander is confident. Further enhancing the winter driving capabilities of this mid-size crossover SUV is a Snow switch, mounted on the centre console, which when activated, minimizes tire slip by forcing the vehicle to start in second gear. (Other manufacturers, such as Mercedes-Benz and Volvo, offer similar automatic transmission-control traction aids.)

The Highlander’s permanent all-wheel drive system works seamlessly with its electronic traction control and vehicle stability control, and it takes a very sharp stab at the throttle and a jerk on the steering wheel (neither of which is recommended) in an icy corner to cause the Highlander to slip from its intended course.

Real-world testing on ice- and packed-snow covered streets reveals the Highlander’s well-tuned suspension, which soaks up winter ruts and potholes commendably. Appropriate for a family hauler, the suspension is tuned for comfort, and highway performance is very good as well. Unlike many vehicles we’ve tested recently, the Toyota insulates its occupants nicely from suspension thumps when hitting pavement expansion joints, and the cabin is quiet on the highway.

While overall handling is best described as solid and secure, the Highlander doesn’t qualify as a sport SUV by any stretch of the imagination. For starters, the electric power steering feels numb, and that blessedly refined suspension is too soft to tolerate sportscar antics.

Complementing the Highlander’s excellent packaging, fit and finish is Toyota’s excellent 3.5-litre DOHC V-6 engine mated to a smooth-shifting five-speed transmission. With 270 horsepower, this powertrain moves the Highlander effortlessly and its quite fuel-efficient, rated at a very good 12.6 L/100 km in the city and 8.7 on the highway. But this engine is no longer the class leader. Jeep’s new-for-2011 3.7-litre V-6 Pentastar engine is rated at 290 horsepower and achieves comparable fuel mileage.

Overall, it’s easy to understand why the Toyota Highlander is such a strong seller. It’s loaded with all the features that make it a stellar family hauler: It’s right-sized, neither too big nor too small, build quality, fit and finish are excellent, instrumentation and interior controls are intuitive and ergonomically correct, and it feels safe, secure and easy to drive.

With seating for seven (yes, the third row is tight and better suited for kids, but its there) and the carrying flexibility afforded by a completely flat cargo floor, its easy to recommend the 2011 Toyota Highlander 4WD V-6 as one of the top picks in the mid-size SUV class.


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