Last Demure Pop Star Taylor Swift photoblogged from her all-girl beach vacation with her backing band/dancers in Charleston, SC.

Chicago Tribune Jim's Driveway Column.

Chicago Tribune (Chicago, IL) August 29, 2004 Byline: Jim Mateja Aug. 29--2004:

--Acura TL: Base price: $32,650; Engine: 3.2-liter, 270-h.p., 24-valve V-6; Fuel economy: 20 m.p.g. city/30 m.p.g. highway. Remake for '04 with new sheetmetal and slightly shorter, but wider dimensions. Boost of 54 h.p. and 13 foot-pounds of torque noticeable at takeoff. Choice of new 6-speed manual for 2004 or a 5-speed automatic with manual mode option. The 6-speed a tad notchy. Smooth ride, effortless handling, and standard vehicle stability assist prevents wandering. New amenities include DVD audio system, hands-free phone, and satellite radio.

--Audi S4 Avant Quattro MT6: Base price: $46,650; Engine: 4.2-liter, 340-h.p. V-8; Fuel economy: 15 m.p.g. city/21 m.p.g. highway. How fast do you need to get to the grocery store, dry cleaners or lumberyard? The return of a high performance version in the compact lineup with a most potent V-8 (and a $1,700 guzzler tax) and road-hugging all-wheel-drive that provides added security in rain or snow. But you probably would prefer the sedan or convertible versions for looks if no other reason. Nice touch: retractable lower thigh supports for long distance traveling comfort.

--BMW 530i: Base price: $44,300; Engine: 3-liter, 225-h.p., 24-valve, inline 6-cylinder; Fuel economy: 20 m.p.g. city/30 highway. The next generation sedan with a more fashionable design than its bigger 7-Series stablemate. Like the 7, it has the iDrive electronics system, but this is a dumbed down, easier to use and less maddening version that will do everything from heating the seats to warning that the oil needs changing. Larger dimensions for increased cabin room and even better road manners. Host of sensor based systems such as stability/traction/roll stabilization controls to keep you planted on the road and moving in the intended direction without slip-sliding away. website 2004 acura tl

--Chrysler Crossfire: Base price: $34,695; Engine: 3.2-liter, 215-h.p., 18-valve V-6; Fuel economy: 21 m.p.g. city/27 highway. A two-seater, rear-wheel-drive sports coupe as refined as Dodge Viper is crude. Powered by the same 3.2-liter V-6 in the Mercedes SLK. Sufficient pep moving from the light while rated at 21 m.p.g. city/27 highway. Nimble in reacting to pedal input though expect a few more horses in the future, probably from Performance Vehicle Operations group. Stiff body and rigid chassis eliminate squeaks, rattles and vibration, and ensure precise handling. Sits flat in and out of corners. The 18-inch front and 19-inch rear speed-rated Michelin radial tires are designed to deliver optimum handling. All-season radials optional for Snow Belt. Anti-lock brakes with all-speed traction control and electronic stability control are standard. Gripes: rear vision, long distance seat comfort, cruise control stalk on steering column.

--Hyundai XG350L: Base price: $25,599; Engine: 3.5-liter, 194-h.p., 24-valve V-6; Fuel economy: 17 m.p.g. city/26 highway. Will never outsell the Honda Accord or the Toyota Camry, but this midsize sedan offers a low-cost alternative to those top-selling nameplates. Doesn't have the quality, reliability or durability reputation of Accord or Camry, but has proven to be a rather good car in its short time on the market. Basic transportation that looks good, acts good and comes with just about all the amenities as those higher-priced cars for a little less money. Upgrades include new grille, head and tail lamps; heated leather seats; and Infinity sound system. Gripe: mileage.

--Lexus ES330: Base price: $31,725; Engine: 3.3-liter, 225-h.p., 24-valve V-6; Fuel economy: 20 m.p.g. city/29 m.p.g. highway. An engine update and therefore a name update as well for '04. The 3.3-liter delivers ample dose of any-time-it's-needed muscle and a wide torque curve for quick response at any speed. Smooth, quiet acceleration, and very good mileage. Larger side-impact air bags and side air-bag curtains added front and rear. A sensor deploys driver's side front air bag in an "extra low stage" when it detects a short driver. Vehicle stability control with traction control a recommended $650 option. Clever safety feature: water-repellent front door glass.

--Lexus LS430: Base price: $55,125; Engine: 4.3-liter, 290-h.p., 32-valve V-8; Fuel economy: 18 m.p.g. city/25 m.p.g. highway. Power front and rear seats, heated and cooled front and rear seats, side and rear window sunshades, front and rear-seat air conditioning, headlamp washers/wipers, adjustable suspension, a glass coating to repel rain, and a camera in back that uses the navigation screen to show you what's going on behind when you back up. But most of those goodies require an $11,520 luxury package, or for most people, the cost of a car. All this and a minor cosmetic freshening for '04.

--Mercedes-Benz ML350: Base price: $37,300; Engine: 3.7-liter, 232-h.p. V-6; Fuel economy: 15 m.p.g. city/18 m.p.g. highway. Electronic stability control, four-wheel traction control, and full time all-wheel-drive standard. Nice touches include Tele Aid emergency satellite communication system to summon medical or mechanical help, side air-bag curtains front and rear, first-aid kit, power plugs front and rear, and second-row seat that moves forward or backward for more room. Ample power from V-6, but mileage disappointing. Factory installed navigation system a new option for '04. The oldest SUV in the luxury segment without major change is showing its age. Remake coming for '06.

--Nissan Maxima 3.5 SE: Base price: $26,950; Engine: 3.5-liter, 265-h.p., 24-valve V-6; Fuel economy: 20 m.p.g. city/28 highway. Now built off the same longer, wider platform as Altima. SL and SE versions, with SL leaning toward luxury, SE toward sportiness. Larger dimensions make for roomier sedan. Also reshaped and now sports hatchback look. Skyview, a narrow sheet of glass that runs fore to aft down the center of the roof to provide an open-air feeling in the cabin, is standard. Power-open sunroof optional. Powered by the same V-6 from Altima, but tweaked to 265 h.p. Light pedal pressure brings swift, lively response. SE suspension tuned for optimum handling, but you sacrifice some ride quality. Aggressive drivers should opt for $900 vehicle dynamic control that uses torque management and anti-lock brakes to ensure stability and control, especially in lateral moves. Biggest gripe: variety of option packages confusing and costly. site 2004 acura tl

--Toyota Camry Solara SLE convertible: Base price: $29,450; Engine: 3.3-liter, 24-valve, 225-h.p. V-6; Fuel economy: 20 m.p.g. city/29 m.p.g. highway. Major design and engineering remake for '04 with styling resembling the Lexus SC430. Design will bring mixed reactions, but there will be unanimous agreement the new model performs much better with its beefed up V-6, borrowed from the Camry, that delivers quicker movement from the light. Suspension has been sport tuned to control body roll and pitch. Top up or down in 10 seconds. No body squeaks or rattles or floppy top when up. But top wraps so far around and rear window so small that side and rear vision suffer.

--Volkswagen Phaeton V-8: Base price: $64,600; Engine: 4.2-liter, 335-h.p. V-8; Fuel economy: 15 m.p.g. city/22 m.p.g. highway. A $64,000 sedan to elevate the brand image. Lots of electronic innovation. Excellent performance from the 4.2-liter V-8. Tap the pedal and go. Unfortunately, mileage rating earns it a $1,334 gas-guzzler tax. Quick yet stable with 4Motion full-time all-wheel-drive plus stability control as standard to ensure the 18-inch all-season radials grip the pavement whether straight or twisting, dry or dusted with snow. No-hassle ride and very precise handling. Neat feature: heated/cooled/massaging seats.

--Volkswagen Touareg: Base price: $34,900; Engine: 3.2-liter, 220-h.p. V-6; Fuel economy: 15 m.p.g. city/20 highway. Really dumb name, but really nice vehicle, an excellent package of good looks, ample room, above average performance, and a host of safety and security features. Officially a sport-ute, but most will call it an SUV/sedan/wagon crossover. Full-time all-wheel-drive for all-season motoring with option for AWD low setting for off-roading. Anti-lock brakes, traction control, and systems that prevent roll-back when going up hills and too-fast descent when going down hills are all standard. Lots of storage and cargo space. Shortcomings -- only two rows of seats and fuel economy. A big fuel tank helps offset the low mileage rating -- until it's time to pay at the pump. Options are pricey.

--Volvo S80 2.5T AWD: Base price: $37,200; Engine: 2.5-liter, 208-h.p. 5-cylinder; Fuel economy: 20 m.p.g. city/27 highway. To prove its cars no longer need be boring, a turbocharged AWD rendition is added to the lineup. While AWD provides added security when the roads are wet or covered with snow, it also provides added grip when the pavement--straight or twisting--is dry. Dynamic Stability Control with traction control detects wheel spin and brings it under control. A nimble, agile sedan with excellent road manners, pleasant design, above-average handling, smooth ride, comfortable cabin, decent luggage room and excellent fuel economy and all the safety hardware.


--Cadillac STS: Base price: $40,300 with V-6; $46,800 with V-8; Engine: 4.6-liter, 320-h.p. V-8; 3.6-liter, 255-h.p. V-6; Fuel economy: 17 m.p.g. city/24 m.p.g. highway with V-6; 17/26 with V-8; 16/22 with V-8 and AWD, which adds a $1,000 gas-guzzler tax. New rear-wheel-drive replacement for Seville aimed at competing with the BMW 5- and even 7-Series. Five inches shorter than Seville, but 6 inches longer than CTS with which it shares platforms. All-wheel-drive an option, but only on V-8 for '05. Caution: AWD and V-8 brings a $1,000 gas guzzler tax. Stability control with traction control standard in all cars. AWD with optional Magnetic Ride Control offers optimum handling package. Neat feature: remote start that not only starts the car while you sit in the house, it activates heated or cooled seats plus front- and rear-window defrosters.

--Chrysler 300C: Base price: $32,370; Engine: 5.7-liter, 340-h.p., Hemi V-8; Fuel economy: 17 m.p.g. city/25 m.p.g. highway. The rear-wheel-drive replacement for the front-drive 300M, with one other new twist, a potent 340-h.p. Hemi V-8 under the hood. And another twist comes this fall when all-wheel-drive is added as an option. Hemi comes with multiple displacement system, which means when you don't need all the power, 4 cylinders shut off to provide better mileage. This RWD sedan comes with stability control and all-speed traction control to eliminate the slip and slide tendency of RWD cars in the snow. Ride and handling benefit from 18-inch touring radials. Excellent cabin room.

--Mercedes-Benz E320 CDI: Base price: $49,075; Engine: 3.2-liter, 201-h.p. turbocharged diesel inline 6-cylinder; Fuel economy: 27 m.p.g. city/37 m.p.g. highway. Mercedes-Benz has brought a diesel back, first one since 1999. But this one has little or no diesel smell, almost no diesel ping and commotion, and rather than chug along in traffic, this turbocharged model has the zip of a sports sedan and actually accelerates quicker than the gas-engine version. And the mileage rating is as good, if not better than some compact economy cars. Federal mandate for cleaner burning diesel fuel in '06 should create even more interest in the future.