Q. Have Americans lost their love for big cars? I don’t mean trucks or crossover vehicles, but just cars. – R.G., Skokie, Ill.

A. Not at all, although most of today’s full-size cars are far smaller than large autos from the late 1950s to the early 1970s. For instance, the popular large Ford Taurus and Buick Lucerne sedans are as roomy—if not roomier—than older, larger sedans because they benefit from new materials, advanced electronics, better interior designs and new engine technologies. For instance, the Ford Taurus SHO has a 3.5-liter V-6 with 365 horsepower. A 3.5 V-6 would have been a small, gutless engine in an older, heavier large car, but the SHO V-6 generates 365 horsepower and sizzling acceleration in the SHO, thanks to such things as twin turbochargers. Moreover, today’s large cars have a smooth ride and get far better fuel economy than old autos. It  remains to be seen how older Americans will take to smaller cars unless gasoline prices soar again.

Q. What do you think of members of Congress who have held hearings on auto safety and such? – D.W., Western Springs, Ill.

A. If they’re not automotive dunces, they sure act like they are.

Q. I see that a large number of buyers of the new Chevrolet Camaro and Ford Mustang are choosing V-6 engines, instead of V-8s. I thought those sporty cars almost demanded a V-8. – E.H., Indianapolis, Ind.

A. The new Camaro has a V-6 with 304 horsepower, and the new Mustang has a much higher output V-6 with 305 horsepower. It used to be that only V-8s generated 300 or more horsepower. The Camaro and Mustang V-6 models cost less than those with a more powerful V-8 and get much better fuel economy, while providing strong acceleration. Looking back, many early Mustangs and Camaros were sold with six-cylinder engines to older and/or more cost-conscious folks who liked sporty styling but cared little for fast acceleration.

Q. I love my car’s special chromed wheels, but hate trying to keep them free of dirt, brake dust and road grime. Any solution? – J.Z., Dallas, Texas.

A. Many wheel cleaner products exist because custom wheels have become very popular. But such wheels have been especially hard to keep clean since the arrival of disc brakes and the dust such brakes generate. One of the latest such products is from Armor All, which makes car care products. It’s introducing Armor All Wheel Protectant, which is the first Armor All product specifically designed to protect wheels. It uses a silica-based formula to, in effect, create an invisible shield on wheels that helps prevent dirt, brake dust and grime from staying on them. I haven’t tried this spray-on product, but it’s said to keep wheels clean for up to one month when applied to clean, dry wheels. All Wheel Protectant is also said to make cleaning wheels easier by preventing grime from sticking to them. So Armor All says that it’s no longer necessary to scrub brake dust and road grime to clean wheels. I’d like to hear reader reaction to this product.

Q. Why are so many cars being ordered with automatic, rather than manual, transmissions? I feel that a manual makes a car more fun, gives a driver more control and delivers better fuel economy. – F.K., Berwyn, Ill.

A. Would it surprise you that most Ferraris are ordered with an automatic transmission (although it has a manual shift feature)? Ward’s Communications says that in 1985 some 22.4 percent of all vehicles sold in the United States had a manual transmission, but that the number dropped to 7.7 percent by 2007. The number reportedly has fallen to 5.5 percent. Why? For one thing, driver’s education classes aren’t teaching students how to drive with a manual because it’s easier to learn with an automatic--although high-performance driving schools say many younger students want to learn to effectively use a manual. Also, automatic transmissions have become so good that cars with them can match, or nearly match, the fuel economy of manual-transmission autos, which must be shifted correctly for the best economy. And an increasing number of cars have an automatic with a manual-shift feature that doesn’t require a driver to push a clutch pedal.

Q. I see that South Korea’s Kia and Hyundai are really cleaning up in America. What makes them so special? – J.M., Los Angeles, Calif.

A. For one thing, they have the latest high-tech plants. For instance, Kia recently celebrated the opening of a $1 billion first-ever U.S. auto manufacturing plant in West Point, Georgia, about an hour from Atlanta. I was impressed while taking a tour of that  state-of-the-art 2.2 million-square-foot plant facility late last year. Its first product is the 2011 Kia Sorento crossover vehicle, which has high construction quality.

Q. I once owned an Alfa Romeo sports car, which reminded me of a Ferrari because both came from Italy and had styling by Pininfarina and high-revving overhead-camshaft engines. I hear Alfa may be returning to America, after leaving in 1995 because of low sales here. – B.E., Peoria, Ill.

A. Alfa Romeo was a legendary racing car in Europe in the 1920s and 1930s. But it’s best known by the general U.S. public because an Alfa Romeo Duetto Spider sports car was featured in the popular late-1960s Dustin Hoffman film “The Graduate.”  However, American foreign sports car lovers had bought a fair number of Alfas since 1955. I owned and enjoyed an Alfa Giulia Spider convertible sports car in 1965. Alfa is controlled by Italy’s giant Fiat outfit, which also makes Ferraris and Maseratis. Fiat is contemplating a return of Alfa to the U.S., possibly in 2012, as part of aggressive Fiat Chief Executive Officer Sergio Marchionne’s plan to make Alfa vehicles in combination with the Chrysler Group, a Fiat partner. Fiat owns 20 percent of Chrysler and Marchionne runs both Alfa and Chrysler.

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