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 If you think of the Focus as Ford’s VW Golf beater, you’re aiming too low.  Golf was just the low hanging fruit in Ford’s quest to redefine the sport compact sedan.  The real target was Audi’s A3, a loftier goal indeed.  Has Ford succeeded in outdoing the A3?  Not quite, but close enough to give Audi reason to be concerned.  If you want to build a better sport sedan than Audi, you’d best hire Germans to design it, and that’s just what Ford has done.  The Focus was conceived in Germany, and has been on sale across Europe for more than a year.  It has already established a successful track record in World Rallye competition as well as World Touring Car track contests.  While Focus may be new to the US, it is by no means an unproven entity abroad.

 Looking at this svelte sedan from outside, you are first struck by the clean-lined ethos of its design.  The snout sits low while the butt remains slightly elevated to impart a feline rake to the static posture.  Horizontal detailing around the front grill is handsome without being fussy.  The side view looks racy and succinct, with windshield A pillars so extravagantly flattened that the sedan version posts a stellar wind tunnel coefficient of 0.297.  Although the Cx of the five-door hatchback we drove is slightly higher than that, the hatch chassis is stiffer because the five door openings require added structural chassis reinforcement.  The solidity of the platform, which Focus shares with the European C-Max minivan, is indisputable.  Over the worst road irregularities, the Focus evinced no squeaks, groans or deflections.  The interior remains ethereally silent no matter what racket the road surface beneath promises to impart.

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 2011 LEXUS IS-F


 The “F” in the nomenclature of this Lexus stands for Fuji, Toyota’s home race track.  More specifically, the shape of the letter F replicates the first turn at Fuji, because turns at speed are what the IS-F is all about.  For 2011, this Lexus hot rod has undergone a truly remarkable transformation from tentative chrysalis stage to full adult incarnation. 

 The single most important factor in the improvement is the sea change revision to the computer program controlling handling and traction control.  Since its inception in 2008, the F has verged on performance greatness, but fallen short of the mark, handcuffed by the overly conservative traction and handling limitations of its Vehicle Dynamic Integrated Management (VDIM) system.  Whenever you started to drive the F the way such a rocket is meant to be driven, the VDIM system would beep incessantly at your antics while cutting power and applying brakes.  The original F was impossible to drive anywhere near its limits. 

 Cut to the 2011 model and the infuriating Nannyism of IS-F 1.0 is a thing of the past.  Read the rest of this entry »



 You’ll be reading reams of technical information about this car in the months to come, but what’s it really like to drive?  Based on a 100 mile round trip between Sausalito and Marshall, the Volt offers a workable solution to everyday transportation for 4 with the added bonus of 25-50 miles of gas-free operation daily.  Volt operates in 2 different modes.  There’s battery power, which is good for that gas-free 25-50 mile romp, plus gasoline power for an added range of about 350 miles.  If you drive short trips every day, it could be months before you need to refill the Volt’s 9.2 gallon gas tank. 

 Of course, you’ll need to recharge the batteries every night, a 10 hour job if you use 120V household current.  If you want a 3 hour home recharge at 220V, you’ll need to install a special battery charger which costs $600.  Chevy will do a free site survey to assess what the installation of this charger will entail.  Labor and parts can run the job as high as $2,000.

 The combined range estimate of 379 miles means you never have to worry about getting stuck with a dead battery, because Read the rest of this entry »


The newly introduced 2011 Jetta is larger, and more soft-edged than its predecessor.  By upsizing their bread and butter sedan, VW hopes to entice North American buyers into abandoning Camrys and Accords in favor of a more family-oriented Jetta.  But this move to the middle has left hard-core VW sports types wondering whether Germany has forsaken them.  Wonder no more, because the optional $2,350 Cup Edition of the Jetta Diesel will restore their faith in the sporting integrity of the brand.  For the past several years, VW has backed a racing series for beginners in the US called the TDI Cup.  They did so for two reasons.  The first was to focus American eyes on the performance (and sales) potential of clean Diesel powered sedans.  The second motive was to create a professional and affordable series for novice young racers to compete against one another.  By all measures, the TDI Cup has been a resounding success.  VW finally has acknowledged their brainchild by launching this Cup Edition of the Diesel Jetta.  While The TDI Cup may look like a racecar, it still performs like a family sedan.

Reskinned body parts distinguish the Candy White Jetta Cup from the mom ‘n pop SEL sedan.  An imposingly deep front airdam flows into ground effects sill extensions below the doors.  The tail receives a diffuser-like lower valance plus a full trunk-mounted wing spoiler.  Read the rest of this entry »

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