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The way to a man’s heart ...

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The way to a man’s heart ...

A Beetle cruising along the coast.

Photo contributed/


POSTED January 9, 2013 5:24 p.m.

Pilar Lastra is almost the car-girl next door — except that she was a Playboy Playmate and represents the Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup Series. She loves fast driving, has shot the corkscrew at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, and she’s friendly with Mario Andretti.

She also wrote the type of relationship manual that most men wish came in the glove box of every female they date — “Treat Me Like Your Car: A man’s guide to how to treat a lady.”

Go figure, even Playmates have troubles with boyfriends.

Lastra, not married, has found clever ways to communicate with the opposite sex through simple terms, to which any male car enthusiast can relate. Even old married guys can benefit from the book, too. It is published by iUniverse.com, $13.95, 136 pages.

Brits Testing in the Big Chill

Jaguar Land Rover officially opened a new winter test facility in International Falls, Minn. The region is well known for extreme weather and cold temps — to minus-55 degrees. It is an inviting test spot to torture new models. The facility includes cold-testing chambers, snow-covered test surfaces, a (frozen) lake and a concrete test track.

Up to 25 engineers will be on site during peak season when the facility will be used from November to March.

The British carmaker, now owned by India-based Tata Motors, already has a range of business facilities in nine U.S. states, including a hot-weather test center in Phoenix. The new Range Rover earned its cool there.

“The United States is one of our largest global markets, and investing in a world class winter testing facility here is imperative to the success of Jaguar Land Rover in North America,” said Engineering Director Martyn Hollingsworth.

The recently introduced Jaguar Instinctive all-wheel-drive system was developed primarily for the North American market, he said.

2013 Beetle Convertible Starts at $26,000

The Beetle convertible is back and is rolling into dealerships now — December 2012 — goes on sale this month with starting prices that range from about $26,000 to $33,000, including the $795 freight charge from Puebla, Mexico.

The four-seater has the classic Beetle convertible silhouette, including some bustle of the folded soft-top. The top opens in 9.5 seconds and can be lowered or raised at speeds up to 31 mph.

There will be three engine options and three transmission pairings: 2.5-liter five-cylinder, 2.0-liter TDI diesel and 200-horsepower 2.0-liter direct-injection turbo. A six-speed automatic is standard on the 2.5, and the diesel and Turbo have a standard six-speed manual or optional six-speed dual-clutch automatic.

There also are special edition models from three decades in American cultural history: the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. The ‘50s edition is black with a tan interior, starting at $26,890. The ‘60s edition has groovy two-tone seats and denim blue paint, $33,190, includes the turbocharged engine. And the ‘70s edition has a toffee brown exterior and chrome-look disc wheels ($29,390).

Shapely new Avalon

The shapely new 2013 Toyota Avalon sedan, having just gone on sale, will offer late availability of an optional wireless charging pad on the top-line limited model.

The Avalon has a nifty “eBin” in the lower console of the instrument panel to hold and charge electronic devices. The clever cubby has a sliding cover, and inside are two 12-volt plugs and iPod/USB ports.

The wireless charging can be engaged by a switch beneath the lid. Slide the cover closed and your phone can rest on the high-friction lid. The option will be available by late March in the technology package, $1,950, which also includes automatic high beams, dynamic radar cruise control and pre-collision system.

The system uses Qi wireless charging, which is now integrated in 34 smartphone models, Toyota says, including the latest LG Google Nexus 4, Nokia Lumia 920 and the HTC Windows Phone 8X.

Chrysler LLC also offers a wireless charging pad in its new Dart compact sedan. The Mopar accessory is $275.

Other Qi (pronounced “chee”) products include gaming controllers, smartphone docking speakers and battery packs.

2014 Chevy Impala Starts at $27,535

Chevrolet’s redesigned and re-engineered large midsize sedan will go on sale next spring with a starting price of $27,535, including the $810 destination charge. Three direct-injection engines will be available, including a 3.6-liter V-6 and a new 2.5-liter four-cylinder. The 2.4-liter four-cylinder with eAssist fuel-saving technology is expected to get highway mileage of 35 mpg.

All engines are matched to a six-speed automatic transmission. New features include crash-avoidance technologies, such as rear cross traffic alert and side blind zone alert. The latest version of MyLink radio will feature “natural” voice recognition — a first for Chevy.

2013 Toyota Prius c Gets Modest Changes

The 2013 Prius c goes on sale in early January with starting prices that range from $19,875 to $24,155, including the $795 freight charge. Pricing is up by $130.

Interior upgrades include a standard SofTex-trimmed steering wheel on the Prius c Four and a black SofTex dash panel on Prius c Two and Three models.

The 99-horsepower hybrid operating system is similar to that of the standard Prius, except that the gasoline engine is of smaller displacement, 1.5 liters compared to 1.8 liters. Fuel economy on the highway is EPA estimated at around 46 mpg.

The Prius c is 19 inches shorter than the Prius hatchback, but it also has a surprising 35 inches of rear legroom and a backbench with one of the longest seat bottoms I’ve seen in a subcompact.

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