2008 Model Roundup
The pages of the 2007 calendar can't disappear fast enough for auto lovers, because the 2008 model year ushers in a bumper crop of fascinating redesigns and an unusually large number of first-time models.
What follows, in no particular order, is a short list of some of the more interesting offerings that'll soon be materializing in showrooms near you:
2008 Mercedes Benz C350
The folks at Daimler like to pretend the redesigned C Class got most of its styling DNA from Mercedes' flagship S Class. Who are they trying to kid? Sure, if your eyes sweep over the new C Class sedan, you'll see a linkage to its stylish big brother. But it's equally clear that Mercedes' designers taped pictures of BMW's 3 Series to their computer terminals as they went about concocting the C Class's exterior.
With the exception of the car's front grill fascia, the C350's aggressive, angular new sheetmetal is evocative of nothing if not the 3 Series. There's a clear-cut need for an automotive paternity test when it comes to determining the C Class's lineage.
From a driving standpoint, the C350's genes are all Mercedes. Which is to say the little Mercedes handles quite well, but doesn't deliver the taut steering and suspension feedback the 3 Series is renowned for. That's not a knock, because few cars do.
The new C Class' 270-horsepower V6 accelerates strongly, and is rated at 18 mpg in the city, 23 mpg highway. The redesigned Mercedes, which starts at $37,400, is much handsomer than its predecessor -- even if we're not sure who the daddy is!
2008 Scion xD
The term 'econobox' once evoked images of laughably bad fit and finish, air conditioning invariably being an option, and powerplants featuring a squirrel on an exercise wheel. So it's a revelation to drive the new Scion xD and discover $14,550 buys you Toyota-level quality, a peppy 1.8-liter, double overhead cam four-banger, and keyless remote entry, power windows, air conditioning and an iPod connector on the standard-equipment list.
Not only that, but you and your friends needn't be contortionists to travel in the Scion xD, as was the case when the Yugo and its brethren inhabited the econobox niche. Not only does the xD comfortably seat four, but the rear seat can recline, or slide forward six inches.
Understand that purchasing a Scion xD won't make you the envy of your block, nor will you be king of the road with 128 horsepower at your disposal. However, if you have a thing for well-built, reliable, cheap vehicles that burn gasoline like it's an expensive, non-renewable fossil fuel, you owe it to yourself to check out Scion xD.
2008 BMW 1 Series Coupe
If you're a car enthusiast, you've been itching to get your mitts on this vehicle. Not to mention your right foot.
The 1 Series Coupe is based on the iconic BMW 2002, which was built during the 1960s and is still considered the "ultimate driving machine" by old school Bimmer aficionados. Propelled by its rear wheels, the base model 128i Coupe has a normally aspirated 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder powerplant that pumps out 230 horsepower.
Not too shabby on a diminutive car weighing 2,900 pounds, but the coup de grace is the 135i Coupe, which is equipped with a twin-turbo 3.5-liter inline six generating 300 horsepower and 300 lb.-ft. of torque.
Zero to 62 mph rolls around in 5.3 seconds on the 135i, and top speed has been electronically limited to 155 mph.
Looking like a shrunken 3 Series, on paper the 1 Series sounds like serious fun. There's also a sedan iteration that's vaguely reminiscent of an old generation M Coupe when viewed head-on and from the side, but from the rear looks like an uninspiring European econobox hatchback. BMW has wisely decided not to import the sedan to the United States, while the Coupe's rollout is slated for spring 2008.
2008 Volvo C30
To see one of the more innovative Web sites ever created to complement a new car launch, go to Volvo's C30 site.
The manufacturer is clearly after younger, fun-loving, intelligent car buyers with an offbeat home page representing the funky-looking two-door C30. The littlest Volvo is destined to stand out in a crowd, with its huge blacked-out hatchback rear window, stylish wheels, a bold, flowing overall design and a base cost of $22,700.
Airbags can deploy from every conceivable nook and cranny, as you might expect of a Volvo. The list of safety features also includes a whiplash protection system that cradles occupants in the event of an accident.
You'd guess four cylinders might be under the C30's hood, but actually a turbocharged five-cylinder engine resides there, supplying the Volvo with a more than ample 227 horsepower. As a result, it takes 6.6 seconds to move the speedometer from 0 to 62 mph, according to Volvo.
The head-turning C30 is slated to be available in summer 2008.
2008 Honda Accord
What does it take, exactly, to improve upon a legend? Every time Honda endeavors a Honda Accord redesign, the task is akin to breaking out oil paints in a bid to gussy up the Mona Lisa.
Suffice it to say the September debut of Honda's new and improved eighth-generation 2008 flagship was one of the more eagerly anticipated unveilings in the auto biz. And as initial driving impressions start to drift in, automotive journalists seem to feel Honda's rolling work of art has moved from wonderful to sublime.
Even though the 2008 Accord is in the $20,000 to $30,000 range, comparisons to Acura and Mercedes are bandied about. Acura influences can clearly be seen in photographs of the rakish-looking Honda coupe, while the somewhat more conservatively styled sedan looks vaguely Hyundai-like.
Engine options include a 2.4-liter, 177-horsepower four-cylinder and a 3.5-liter, 268-horsepower V6 incorporating Honda's high-revving VTEC technology.
The new Accord offers more passenger room, thanks to being three inches longer, an inch wider and an inch taller, leading to dimensions that have given it large car status from the EPA. Wheelbase has also increased, 2.3 inches on the sedan, while the coupe went up 2.8 inches. The Accord legend is growing literally and figuratively.
2008 Nissan Rogue
Outwardly, the all-new 2008 Nissan Rogue SUV hardly looks like a scoundrel or a renegade, two ways of defining "rogue." The variant Nissan must have had in mind is "a playful, mischievous person," because the little, all-wheel drive Rogue is more likely to be characterized as cute than menacing or intimidating.
With a starting price of $19,250 and weighing only 3,267 pounds, the Rogue is Nissan's starter SUV, going head-to-head with Honda's CR-V. Dressed in fairly nondescript sheetmetal, the Rogue comes in two models: the baseline Rogue S and the $20,670 Rogue SL, which offers additional goodies such as larger wheels, steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters and xenon headlights.
If all-wheel drive isn't your thing, the Rogue also comes in front-wheel drive. Both drivetrain choices will be powered by a 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine producing 170 horsepower.
Cargo capacity is 28.9 cubic feet with the rear seats up, and 57.9 cubic feet with the rear row of seats folded.
Time will tell if Nissan's fourth and smallest SUV is capable of making roguish inroads into Honda CR-V sales.
2009 Nissan GT-R
This car is a bit special, so we made room for it on our list, even though we don't expect it as a 2008 Model Year release.
When a super high-performance car is made available overseas, but not here, it automatically becomes the stuff of automotive mythology. So it is with the mighty Nissan Skyline GT-R, which has been terrorizing boulevards in Japan since the late 1960s. Now this mega-horsepower, all-wheel-drive Godzilla is finally about to be unleashed on the United States. If you don't think gearheads are amped over the GT-R's impending arrival, check out some of the breathless banter posted on online forums dedicated to the car.
Information about the Nissan GT-R is more tightly guarded than the Manhattan Project. According to Nissan, it goes on sale in Japan in December for 7.8 million yen, which is roughly equivalent to $67,700.
U.S. journalists have snapped spy photos of the Nissan GT-R being put through its paces at Laguna Seca raceway in California, where it lapped the road course faster than a Porsche 911 Turbo in a head-to-head comparison.
Look for the new Nissan to have a turbocharged V6 generating around 450 horsepower, and one of the auto world's most distinctive front-end treatments when the 2009 GT-R is unveiled at the Tokyo Auto Show on October 24, 2007.
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