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March 16, 2007
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Volume 35
Issue 11
 
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Driven in Seattle
Driven in Seattle
by Jacob Clark - SGN Staff

Welcome to SGN's newest column! As the name Driven in Seattle implies, this space will be dedicated to test-driving new and distinctive pre-owned vehicles. I will also be including the latest news from Detroit, Tokyo, Berlin, Seoul and anywhere cars and trucks are designed and administered.

I tested out two vehicles this week. A hybrid SUV and a big new pick-up truck. Read on!

Renton Saturn hosted my test-drive of the new, revolutionary Vue Hybrid. If you love the fun and utility of an SUV, but are reluctant to buy because of the poor fuel efficiency, this is your new vehicle. Imagine a green-friendly SUV. Imagine it getting 28 mpg in the city and 32 mpg on the highway.

Imagine a vehicle small enough to make parallel parking a breeze, yet big enough to haul eight foot 2x4's or 2x8's for that matter. Imagine the fun of an SUV with the safety of front-wheel drive, advanced front and side air bags and a 5-Star crash rating.

Tired of the same old silver color that has dominated the market for the last ten years? Imagine 7 vibrant colors from polar white to chili pepper red and a deep blue that has to be seen to appreciate, as it is a true indigo.

Imagine durable tan or grey interior upholstery which doesn't show dirt like some SUV upholsteries, a consideration for a vehicle used for sport.

The test drive was full of pleasant surprises. First of all, the 2.4 liter 4-cylinder is very peppy. So many hybrids are slow to accelerate because the engine is switching from the idle battery power to the internal combustion power. Not so here. The Vue Hybrid doesn't hold back, but presses forward with the kind of pep you get from a 6 or 8 cylinder car or truck.

The sight lines are fabulous. There is a full 360 degree visibility which effectively eliminates the blind spots that plague the average SUVs. Also, the view of the speedometer isn't hampered by the steering wheel. This is a pet peeve of mine: why are so many cars designed with speedometer placement behind the silhouette of the steering wheel?

Here's some cool stats about the engine. Platinum tipped sparks are ideal for the fuel recommended for the vehicle. And they last a lot longer than non-platinum spark plugs. Another green touch: synthetic blended oil lubricates the engine. A steel timing chain means you'll never have to deal with a broken belt, one of the most common reasons for cars to break down. The battery is split into a forward battery and a rear battery. The rear battery is recessed so it doesn't weigh down the tires, a common cause of excessive wear and tear on the tires. Tires aren't cheap any more, and anything that reduces wear is a big bonus for the wallet.

Speaking of finances, GMAC is offering 0-percent 3-year financing for qualified buyers. And if you don't qualify for that benefit, the Seattle area Saturn dealers work with lenders of all types and specialties.

There are little details throughout the Vue that endeared the vehicle to me. How often do you stow your groceries in the back seat, hatchback or trunk of your car, only to have the bags fall over spilling the contents? The Vue has special pop-up boxes located in the rear of the vehicle that each hold a bag of groceries. The front passenger seat folds down flat, and the back of the seat is heavy duty plastic molded into a tray which can be used for a laptop or for the ubiquitous fast-food lunch on-the-go. There are three power sources, so you can plug in your laptop in one, recharge your cell phone in another, and do whatever (run a hair dryer?) in the third. Beneath the mid-car console is a deep compartment where a wallet can be stored. The driver and the passenger each have their own interior lights and separate climate control means no one has to ride too hot or too cold.

Don't you hate that "first dent" in a new car, usually left by some anonymous shopper in a parking lot? The body of the Vue is made from dent resistant polymer panels which are amazing. I watched in awe as the sales rep roughly punched the side of the passenger door, and the panel sprang back into its virgin shape every time.

The designers at Saturn have done it again with the Vue Hybrid. Like they have done in other classes of cars, they have re-imagined the SUV from the ground up. But don't leave the experience to your imagination; call any of the four Saturn area dealerships for a test drive. I highly recommend this vehicle as best in class. In fact, I think I've fallen in love with it.

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Calling all Bears! Toyota has revolutionized the large pickup truck market with the new Tundra. This is a true working truck, with a maximum payload capacity of 2065 lbs, in the heavy duty long bed model powered by the amazing 5.7 liter V8 engine. And for big boys with their boats, horse trailers and airstreams, it is a mighty fun truck.

I stopped by Lake City Toyota/Scion to test drive the Tundra. I was impressed by how short the trip is from Capitol Hill to the Lake City area. I made the trip in 20 minutes. Sylvester, a top sales person who is also Gay-friendly, showed me the truck.

The first thing that caught my eye was the front grill, which makes reference to the half-ton trucks of 20th century, but is entirely contemporary. It's very tough. And it's a tough truck. The engine is comprised of a cast-aluminum block to save weight. The cylinders are filled with steel sleeves for the sake of durability. The design of the exhaust manifold is notable. Made with stainless steel, it is made of a pair of 4 into 2 into 1 tubular headers. This helps the exhaust flow more freely, enhancing mid-range torque.

This truck is a workaholic! Tow capacity is 10,800 lbs! The hitch is cast with the rear supports, which makes it impossible to wear out. The frame strength of the vehicle throughout is impressive. Particularly the steel reinforced ceiling, which means falling objects at construction sites won't crash through the roof. The payload capacity is 2065 lbs!

The foundation of the Tundra is the innovative "Triple Tech" frame. It's the ideal platform for the rugged components that are standard issue in the Tundra. The three technologies are a triple-reinforced C-Channel, a fully boxed frame in the engine bay and an open C-Channel under the bed.

Contemporary truck owners use the cab for an office on wheels. There are innovative storage solutions in the cab so the office can be kept organized and tidy. The dials are large enough to let you operate them with your work gloves on. There are numerous eye-glass boxes. The center-console storage area can hold hanging folders, or be used to stow a laptop computer.

This mighty truck changes the level of engineering expected of a full-sized pickup, and it raises the standards on safety features, with supplemental restraint systems that include side curtain and front seat-mounted side airbags, and all the elements of Toyota's "Star Safety System."

You can run the truck in 2-wheel or 4-wheel drive. The 4-wheeling capacity is a must for Bears to take their camping and fishing trips into the wilderness, or even for playtime on the Russian river in Northern California's Sonoma County.

For more information and a test drive, call Sylvester Byrd at Toyota of Lake City: 888-418-7777.

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