Saturday, 30 April 2011

Racers from Germany and Spain announced for Pixar’s CARS 2

Pixar has released more goodies this week about its upcoming sequel, CARS 2, due to hit theaters in the U.S. on June 24. What we have for you today are the cars representing Germany and Spain in the movie’s championship race, the World Grand Prix.

First up is Max Schnell, who not only represents Deutschland, but also appears to be carrying the torch for all DTM racers in CARS 2. His last name, Schnell, is also a nice touch, being the German word for ‘fast’. He hails from Stuttgart, which is the home of both Porsche and Mercedes-Benz, but we think his design is actually inspired by the Audi A4, hence him wearing the #4. He’s also won more races at the Motorheimring (Pixar-speak for Nürburgring, and also German for Motorhome-ring) than any other car in the World Torque Champion League (Pixar-speak again for World Touring Car Championship).

Miguel Camino in Pixar's CARS 2Next up, representing the country of Spain, is Miguel Camino, who hails from Pamplona. Miguel gained fame in his homeland by participating in the famous Running of the Bulldozers and competing as a toreador in the dozer ring. He now races as car #5 in the Grand Touring Sport circuit. If we had to venture a guess at who Miguel is modeled after, we’d say Spanish F1 champ Fernando Alonso. Why? The shape of his headlights suggest a Ferrari influence, and Spain’s real greatest racer drives for Ferrari in Formula One.

Max Schnell

Max Schnell started as a humble production sedan from Stuttgart, Germany. An avid amateur racer, Max would practice alone in the back roads of the dense Black Forest-a trek that eventually caught the eye of a racing team owner. Soon Max was on a professional circuit, bearing the #4, and as his horsepower increased, he converted himself to carbon fiber, dropping his weight and getting into prime racing shape. He’s won more races at Motorheimring than any other World Torque Champion League car in history. A naturally brilliant engineer, he used logic and analytics to refine his build, and plans to approach the World Grand Prix in the same perfectly calculated manner.

Miguel Camino

Spain’s most renowned, admired and captivating car is Pamplona’s Miguel Camino. He first caught his home country’s attention by participating in the infamous Running of the Bulldozers. His flair, style and speed as a toreador in the dozer ring has inspired a generation of young bulldozer fighters, and soon that same speed and verve turned headlights of fans and competitors alike on the Grand Touring Sport racing circuit. Bearing the #5 and the fiery colors of the Spanish flag, Miguel Camino is hoping to race his way into more hearts at the World Grand Prix.

Audi Q3 sketches released ahead of Shanghai debut

Audi has confirmed that its 2012 Q3 small crossover will receive its worldwide unveiling at the Shanghai Motor Show later this month. Before the Q3 debuts in the metal, Audi has released a series of sketches hinting what we can expect in a few weeks time.

When the production Q3 debuts it will sit on Volkswagen Tiguan underpinnings, but will be considerably more shapely than its less costly cousin. If these sketches are to be believed, the Q3 owes a little somethin’ somethin’ to Audi’s Cross Coupe Quattro concept shown in Shanghai back in 2007.

The Tiguan’s engines and transmissions should carryover into the Q3, which means a turbo four producing around 200 horsepower with a diesel option for Europe.

[Source: Audi]

Review: 2011 Chevrolet Volt

There’s something to be said for being at the right place at the right time. Had our primordial ancestors evolved legs and lungs while the entire globe was still awash in warm sea water, they would have gone belly up and we might have never made it to the top of the food chain. At this point in history, our entire species can thank generations of ancestors for not being squished, drowned, beaten, eaten or stabbed before cranking out offspring that would further the human race. One misstep to the left could have been all it took to eradicate entire lines of Homo sapiens progress.

Those same laws of luck and fortune dictate which automotive traits will survive into the future and which will be left to be bookmarks of curiosity in the mechanical fossil record. General Motors knows this all too well. The company infamously birthed the EV1 in the mid-’90s only to find that its high costs of development meant the short-range electric couldn’t keep its head above water in a sea of relatively cheap fuel prices. At the time, there just wasn’t any land in sight for the electric movement.

What a difference 15 years make. Thanks to the trailblazing efforts of the hybrid fleet, more and more Americans now associate efficiency with electric power, and General Motors has given rise to what could possibly be the perfect evolutionary species to bridge the gap between hybrid and full-electric motivation – the 2011 Chevrolet Volt.

It’s been four years since General Motors first pulled back the sheets on the original Chevrolet Volt Concept. As you likely recall, that vehicle was a stylized dream that wore a vertical nose, high belt-line, chopped roof and massive wheels for a look that was, in a word, awesome. The concept was downright muscular and served as an excellent counterpoint to the econo-blob styling of the Toyota Prius at the time. Unfortunately, nearly all of the brawny build of the Volt Concept never quite made it to the production world.

Instead, the designers at GM were confined by the laws of aerodynamics, which means that the production Volt wears a shape that’s very similar to what Toyota came up with for its battery-assisted wonder child. At 177.1-inches long, the Volt is around four inches shorter than its platform mate, the compact Chevrolet Cruze, and 1.5 inches longer than the current generation Prius. The front fascia is appropriately swept into the hood and fenders with wrapped projector headlamps and a shield grille help to give the electrified four-door one of the lowest drag coefficients of any vehicle GM has ever produced. Only the low-slung Corvette rivals the 0.287 Cd of the Volt.

2011 Chevrolet Volt side view2011 Chevrolet Volt front view2011 Chevrolet Volt rear view

Even with all of its slippery concessions, the Volt is an attractive enough vehicle. Our tester came with 17-inch chrome-clad wheels that added a splash of style to the judicious use of chrome and piano-black plastic along the window line. The vehicle’s tall, abrupt Kamm tail rear takes some getting used to, especially with its slit brake lamps and somewhat awkward spoiler, but the design does have the effect of differentiating the Volt from the rest of North America’s roadgoing hardware.

Jump inside and it’s even clearer that you aren’t driving a run-of-the-mill internal-combustion mule. The center stack is awash in capacitive-touch controls that are simple to navigate if not difficult to read during daylight hours. At night, excellent back-lighting makes the small text labels somewhat easier to translate. A large LCD touchscreen handles everything from climate, navigation and audio information to data on the vehicle’s state of charge and efficiency, and the interface is perfectly intuitive.

Unfortunately, in what must have been a quest to skimp on weight and cost, GM built the cabin of the Volt with materials that would be more at home on a humble Cobalt. Hard, dark plastics abound as far as the eye can see, and while they’re nicely grained, they do little to make drivers feel any better about the vehicle’s lofty price tag.

2011 Chevrolet Volt interior

We do have to give GM praise for the location of the vehicle’s start button, though. Mounted just north and to the left of the shifter, the button is at perfect thumb level. There’s no fumbling around or craning your neck in an attempt to find switchgear stashed behind the steering wheel. Here’s hoping that little trick begins finding its way to other products soon.

GM has also opted for a complete LCD gauge cluster in place of any standard dials. Those nostalgic for the old kit can give it up. The screen organizes and displays a wealth of information clearly and accurately, with vehicle speed represented in large, easy to read numerals above all else. We have to imagine that even if the Volt drivetrain doesn’t spread to the rest of the GM fleet, elements of its instrument cluster surely will.

2011 Chevrolet Volt start button2011 Chevrolet Volt gauge cluster

We were treated to optional leather seating in our time with the Volt, and the light cream-colored thrones did much to brighten the otherwise dark interior. GM hasn’t skimped on details with the Volt, and the double-stitched seats include one line of electric blue thread that’s a particularly nice touch. Rear passengers will find somewhat cramped leg room and no comfortable place to put their inboard elbows, but there’s enough space up top to keep even the cast of Jersey Shore from scraping their hair on the headliner.

Interestingly enough, GM has opted to build the Volt as a hatchback. The rear cargo area offers around 10.6 cubic feet of room, which is plenty for stashing groceries and the like. Our only real issue with the design is that the hatch weighs a ton. Even with gas struts to assist in lifting and lowering the piece, it’s difficult to keep from slamming the door without using both hands. Additionally, with no partition to separate the cabin from the aft area, tire noise is especially prominent at highway speeds.

2011 Chevrolet Volt front seats2011 Chevrolet Volt rear cargo area

Under the hood, GM has stashed a tangle of technological wizardry. At its heart, the Volt uses a three powerplant system to get down the road. With a fully charged battery, the vehicle gets its gusto from an 111kw traction motor. Additionally, a 55kw electric generator is also onboard. Clutched to a 84-horsepower 1.4-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine, the generator can jump in to provide power to both the battery and the traction motor at the same time should conditions warrant an extra push of power. Should the batteries drop to a certain predetermined state of charge, the internal combustion mill will jump in to generate electricity to power the front wheels.

GM has graced the Volt with a lithium-ion battery system that the company claims has no memory. That means that it doesn’t have to be fully drained in order to receive the most efficient charge possible. The tech also allows for rapid energy release – something that’s essential for all-electric power at highway speeds. The Volt can be charged using either a 120v plug or a 240v outlet. We were only able to dabble with the first option, and as such, we saw complete-drain charge times of around 10 hours through a standard household outlet. That’s a long time, especially considering that you’re only rewarded about 36 miles of all-electric range for your patience. The good news is that the 240v option will top off the cells in right around four hours. If you’re going to be parking a Volt in your garage with any frequency, make sure there’s a 240v plug nearby.

2011 Chevrolet Volt engine

For all of the bellyaching that we could work up over how long it takes to fully charge the Volt, GM has done an amazing job of building an EV that drives just like any other vehicle on the road. Acceleration isn’t exactly neck-snapping by any means, but if you get frisky with the accelerator, you will be rewarded with a few quick spins of the low-rolling resistance Goodyear Assurance tires. The jump to 60 miles per hour takes around 8.53 seconds in the optional Sport mode, but plan for a little more time in the Normal drive configuration.

We were pleasantly surprised to see that should you need an extra shot of power for a quick pass on the interstate, the Volt will happily oblige. Torque from the 111 kw motor is always at the ready, and while acceleration seems to level off quickly, there’s enough on hand to get you out of trouble. Likewise, the engineers at GM did an excellent job working up the brakes to feel just as linear and progressive as anything you’d find on a standard vehicle. Despite being regenerative, the stoppers never felt grabby or clunky in anyway. Pedal feel is always firm and confidence-inspiring, which is great considering that the Volt tips the scales at a portly 3,781 pounds.

2011 Chevrolet Volt charging port2011 Chevrolet Volt charging converter

That’s plenty of mass to carry around, and combined with the fling-averse tires, it’s clear that the Volt is never going to be mixing it up on the dance floor with any sports sedans. Get too froggy with the wheel and you’ll quickly be reminded of just how much this vehicle weighs.

But that’s clearly not what the Volt is all about. Under a full-head of electric steam, the Volt is beautifully quiet in city driving up to around 40 mph. Once the speedometer ticks past 50 mph, there’s a noticeable amount of tire and wind noise, though the vehicle never feels taxed or uncomfortable. Again, it’s a level of refinement typically associated with the compact segment, not vehicles with an MSRP north of $40,000 like the Volt, but with the drone of an internal combustion powertrain absent in EV mode, outside factors like air and road noise can’t help but become more prominent.

2011 Chevrolet Volt headlight2011 Chevrolet Volt badge2011 Chevrolet Volt wheel2011 Chevrolet Volt taillight

GM has aced the logic behind the range estimation for all-electric power. If the screen says you have 36 miles before the internal combustion engine kicks in, you can feel safe betting your first born that you won’t run of juice before then – a small detail that builds big confidence in the viability of getting where you’re going.

Once you do drain the battery cells, the 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine kicks in to generate more electricity. While the small four-cylinder isn’t crude by any means, there’s little insulating driver and occupants from its vibration once it gets going. We’ve never noticed just how harsh an internal combustion engine can be until we’d been romanced by the smoothness of 36 miles of EV driving. We almost felt embarrassed every time the engine came on, like someone had just pointed out a lengthy piece of toilet paper glued to the bottom of our shoes.

We drove the Volt over the course of four days and put around 165 miles on the clock in mixed driving. During that time, we purposefully drained the battery a few times in order to give the 1.4-liter engine a workout, but also kept the vehicle on the charger and in a climate-controlled garage when not in use. At the end of our stint, we burnt a whopping 2.064 gallons of premium fuel for a final average of 79.94 mpg. Of course, we’ll have to wait for our next power bill to know exactly how much that stellar fuel economy cost us.

2011 Chevrolet Volt battery info

When GM first showed off the Volt Concept, it lurked on stage with a sexy white cord coiled daintily beside the front wheel indicating just how easy it would be to charge your car instead of filling up its tank. While the Volt is about as easy to charge as your cell phone, there is some aggravation involved. For starters, the vehicle requires a clunky adapter that roughly resembles Officer URL – the glowing face of law and order from Futurama. Coiling and uncoiling the meaty orange cord from the converter requires some coordination, especially if you happen to be juggling a bag of groceries at the same time. What you’re left with is a long cord strewn in front of the driver’s door just waiting to ensnare the clumsy or calamitous.

Still, it’s easy to tell when the vehicle is charging thanks to a series of lights and honks from the vehicle itself. The good news is that we never had any issues charging the Volt during our time with the vehicle. Simply plug in the converter, click it into the car and go on your merry way.

We won’t completely dive into the EV debate here. That’s an argument best left to the well-educated pages of AutoblogGreen. While we have our reservations about digging up massive quantities of lithium and coal simply to serve our transportation needs, the Volt is nothing less than an amazing piece of engineering. Quite simply, GM has pulled off something worthy of all the accolades heaped on this vehicle’s hood. Nearly 80 mpg is nothing to scoff at, and we’re guessing that the figure would likely climb if we were simply using the Volt to dart back and forth from work instead of running weekend errands all over creation.

2011 Chevrolet Volt rear 3/4 view

Ecological concerns aside, the only hitch in this giddyup is the price tag that the Volt carries. With optional equipment like leather, 17-inch wheels, rear-view camera and the sultry Crystal Red Metallic paint of our tester, final coin for this machine sits at $44,180 with destination. That’s a fat stack of cash, especially considering that the much larger Toyota Camry Hybrid starts at $27,435 with destination and promises 33.5 mpg combined. Likewise, Hyundai only asks $26,545 with destination for its 37.5 mpg-capable Sonata Hybrid. It doesn’t take any advanced mathematics to realize that the nearly $13,000 premium it takes to score a Volt over a Camry Hybrid would buy a lot of gasoline, even at Road Warrior prices.

That said, Uncle Sam really wants you to buy vehicles like the Volt, which is eligible for a $7,500 federal tax rebate, as well additional state and local rebates depending on where you live. Some residents of Lansing, Michigan, for instance, are eligible for up to $15,000 worth of rebates on the Volt. GM also plans to cut the Volt’s price when production ramps up and the technology spreads to other platforms.

So where does the Volt fit in the evolutionary spectrum of personal transportation? Though it’s priced for early adopters, the vehicle demands few concessions from owners coming directly from hybrid or internal combustion vehicles. We’ve heard word that GM is planning to up production of the vehicle to 12,000 units by 2012, which means that the automaker is anticipating steeper demand connected to ever loftier fuel prices. Though the Volt seems to be serving as the missing link between our transportation right now and full electrification, the price will have to drop before we see them wheeling around every corner.

[Source: autoblog]

Monday, 25 April 2011

Subaru shows us a side of the 2012 Impreza

Subaru rolled out an impressive Impreza concept vehicle at the 2011 Los Angeles Auto Show. That design was aggressive, good-looking and one of the better reveals of the entire auto show. Will the impending production version be as exciting as the concept? We’ll see. Subaru has plans to reveal the next Impreza at the fast-approaching New York Auto Show. Ahead of that, the automaker has released a profile shot of the 2012 Impreza.

We don’t have much in the way of actual information to offer just yet, but Subaru is offering fuel efficiency estimates of 36 miles per gallon on the highway, and we’re told that both the sedan and wagon are scheduled to appear at the 2011 NYIAS. As far as the styling goes, we’re going to hold off final judgment until we see it in the flesh, or at least until we can show you more than just this side profile. Until that time, you can find us hanging out in our angry dome.

[Source: Subaru]


Subaru of America today announced the world debut of the all-new Subaru Impreza 4-door and 5-door models at the 2011 New York International Auto Show. The new Impreza will deliver 36 MPG highway, the highest fuel economy* of any all-wheel drive car on sale in the United States. The new designs will provide a roomier interior and improved levels of comfort and refinement.

*Manufacturer’s estimate.

Review: 2011 Honda Pilot 4WD Touring

The family Crossover Utility Vehicle segment is, to put it mildly, crowded. Every major automaker has at least one option from which to choose. Ford has four choices, while Toyota makes due with three options. Some models feature two rows of seating, while others boast room for up to eight. Then there are the more off-road capable options to contrast with the docile soft-roaders.

Though most automakers have gone crossover crazy, Honda has made due with a simple two-CUV lineup. The perennially top-selling CR-V takes care of those who desire a smaller footprint, smaller price tag and higher fuel economy, while the larger Pilot takes on the three-row crowd. The Pilot has been mostly successful during its nine-year production run, with high marks for safety (the 2011 model has an overall score of four stars from the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration) and reliability (Consumer Reports gave it the organization’s coveted Recommended rating). Dancing on the fringes of the CUV segment and selling in low numbers, Honda also offers the nearly gone Element and Accord Crosstour, but it’s still the boxier CR-V and Pilot doing the heavy lifting for the brand. Honda made enough changes to the Pilot to keep it competitive with stiff competition like the Toyota Highlander and Chevrolet Traverse? We spent a week with a well-appointed 4X4 Touring model to find out.

When the Pilot first hit the market in 2003, Honda’s CUV was competing mainly with quickly aging body-on-frame Sport Utility Vehicles like the previous Ford Explorer and Chevrolet Trailblazer. That first-generation Pilot’s 240-horsepower, 3.5-liter V6 and relatively nimble chassis made those SUVs look outdated in comparison, and buyers took notice. The Pilot later received a touch-up in 2006 and a fuller refresh in 2009, but other than a boxier, more macho design and an interior that some say actually regressed, the formula really hasn’t changed all that much. That’s not as damning a statement as one might think, considering how far ahead of the competition the Pilot once was, and it helps that repeat buyers know exactly what to expect from their big Honda: safety, reliability and unshakable resale value.

One appealing aspect of buying a Honda Pilot is the simplicity of its available options. For example, our $41,175 4WD Touring model came equipped with Bluetooth, a navigation system, leather seats, rear-seat DVD and a power liftgate. An impressive list of features for sure, except that this big Honda is without a single option box checked. The above is all standard on this highest trim level that starts at $40,395, and yet there are plenty of accessories to pick from, including some exorbitantly priced 18-inch wheels that retail for $3,093. Most utility vehicles in this price range start with 18-inch wheels standard and offer optional 20-inch or bigger wheels, which makes the extra three grand that Honda’s asking for one-inch larger diameter wheels than standard 17s even tougher to swallow.

2011 Honda Pilot 4WD Touring side view2011 Honda Pilot 4WD Touring front view2011 Honda Pilot 4WD Touring rear view

If the goal of offering standard 17-inch wheels even on the top-of-the-line Touring model is to make the Pilot look even more massive than it actually is, then… mission accomplished. From the side the Pilot looks every bit as large as the GMC Acadia, even though GM’s crossover is about a foot longer. The big and bold theme is accentuated with a Lego block design theme throughout, as the Pilot reminds us of a super-sized Ford Escape. Up front, it features a squared, in-your-face double polygon chrome grille framed by a pair of headlamps that appear to have missed the trend towards more stylized peepers. The same storyline unfolds out back, with more boxiness and a similar absence of flair.

The Pilot’s exterior screams “utility vehicle,” and that theme carries over inside this crossover’s large cabin. We mentioned earlier that some feel the interior of the latest Pilot was actually downgraded when the vehicle was redesigned in 2009. You’ll get no arguments from us on that point, as the current model’s massive center stack and hard plastic materials are outdone by the first generation model’s more appropriately sized center console and more appealing materials. And although our tester didn’t feature this accessory, the Pilot’s dash can be made more attractive by dropping $393 for light wood accents that break up the expanses of dark plastics. Speaking of the center console, we have no idea why Honda designers chose such a massive canvas to place so many tiny and difficult-to-find buttons. We counted 62 buttons total, though don’t hold us to that figure, as our eyes began to fail sometime after reaching 40.

2011 Honda Pilot 4WD Touring interior2011 Honda Pilot 4WD Touring front seats2011 Honda Pilot 4WD Touring gauges2011 Honda Pilot 4WD Touring rear cargo area

We usually require a day or so to adjust to our new surroundings when testing a vehicle, but we never got comfortable enough with the Pilot’s multitude of controls to come anywhere close to mastery. We even found ourselves repeatedly looking away from the road for three to five seconds at a time as we hunted for the proper radio or climate control settings. Despite being called “Pilot,” there’s no reason this crossover’s interior should mimic the cockpit of a 747. And then there is the oddly placed shifter, which blocks passage the driver’s reach to the mass of buttons and switches on the other side.

That’s a lot of hostility aimed at the Pilot’s cabin, but there are some areas where the boxy Honda shines. First and foremost is comfort. We love the Pilot’s front-row seats (the second row is a bit low to the ground). They’re big, comfy and upholstered with high-quality leather. The steering wheel, too, feels very posh. And then there is the Pilot’s cargo-hauling capability, which easily bests that of the Toyota Highlander. The Pilot is also the widest vehicle in its class, beating the Chevy Traverse by all of .1 inches. But hey, a win is a win, and the Pilot uses its span to swallow up more cargo than its middle-of-the-pack 87 cubic-feet of cargo carrying capacity would suggest. The Pilot also wins when it comes to handy storage space throughout the cabin, with our favorite cubby located under the load floor behind the third row. The six-inch deep storage space helps keep your cargo from pinballing around the cabin.

With great size comes great weight, and the Pilot tips the scales at over 4,600 pounds, or nearly 200 lbs. more than the Highlander. Yet in spite of the Pilot’s size, Honda has done little to increase power over the years. The crossover’s 3.5-liter V6 churns out 250 horsepower at 5,700 rpm and 253 pound-feet of torque at 4,800 revolutions. Those numbers would have been impressive about five years ago, but in 2011 the Pilot lags behind the Traverse by 38 horsepower. Even the much smaller Toyota RAV4 can out-grunt the Pilot by 19 horsepower with its optional V6.

2011 Honda Pilot 4WD Touring engine

And while the Pilot’s engine, which is mated to a tried-and-true five-speed automatic transmission, is smooth as glass, the power deficit is all too obvious. And less horsepower doesn’t translate to a decreased reliance on fossil fuels, as the Pilot lags behind both the Traverse and Highlander on the fuel economy front. When equipped with all-wheel drive, the Pilot earns 22 miles per gallon on the highway and 16 mpg in the city according to the Environmental Protection Agency. We managed a meager 18 mpg in mixed driving, which is still better than most eight-passenger crossovers, albeit nothing to brag about to your hybrid-driving neighbor. We were expecting better fuel economy what with the Pilot featuring Honda’s Variable Cylinder Management technology that shuts down two or three cylinders when conditions permit, but alas, we never found it.

The Pilot makes up for its lack of power and so-so fuel economy with a rock-solid chassis that tackles bumps and other imperfections with little fuss. Its rack and pinion steering is linear and nicely weighted as well, though there’s not much that can make this big ‘ute feel sprightly when turning into a curve. It snowed on the last day we had with the Pilot, which gave us the opportunity to test the Pilot’s all-wheel-drive setup. The system can transfer up to 70 percent of the engine’s power to the rear wheels when the need arises. We experienced next to zero slip with all-wheel drive engaged, which translated into a lot of confidence when we needed it most. We can’t say the same for the Pilot’s brakes, though. While the pedal felt firm, we noticed that the positive vibe didn’t translate into increased stopping power. On more than one occasion, we found ourselves tapping on the brake at first, then pressing more firmly when we realized the vehicle wasn’t stopping as quickly as we thought it would.

2011 Honda Pilot 4WD Touring rear 3/4 view

After a week with the Pilot, we can see why many customers love their big Honda. It’s roomy, smooth, reliable and safe, which hits many of the attributes near and dear to the American car buyer. And who cares if the Pilot is a bit south of stylish? The crossover segment isn’t this industry’s canvas of choice to display cutting-edge design, and neither has Honda ever been accused of being an artist. Buyers know this going in.

While we can see why the Honda faithful are perfectly happy with their Pilot, there are a lot more seven- and eight-passenger fish in this sea of crossovers. The aforementioned Highlander and Traverse consistently beat the Pilot in terms of power, fuel economy and style, and there are very few areas where the Pilot takes them both out. Sales, however, is the most concrete harbinger of a vehicle’s success or failure, and by that score, the Pilot continues to do well. Even so, we’re looking forward to the next iteration of Honda’s big family hauler.

[Source: autoblog]

Dodge offers sneak peek at 2011 Mopar Charger

The 2010 Mopar Challenger arrived last summer to a hero’s welcome. Chrysler only offered 500 copies of the special edition Mopar model, which carried a base sticker price of $38,000. With the all-new 2011 Charger now trolling Dodge dealer parking lots all around the country, you can probably guess which vehicle is next to feature a Mopar makeover.

Fortunately, Chrysler doesn’t plan to disappoint, as the automaker has released the first sketch of its forthcoming special edition model. The rendering reveals a black and blue color scheme similar to that of the Challenger, though the side stripes have been replaced with a stripe that stretches across the hood, roof and trunk. As an added bonus, the Mopar team appears to have gotten rid of the bulbous and unnecessary hood scoop for the 2011 Charger; a move we support 1,000 percent.

Some 2010 Mopar Challenger owners may have been disappointed that Chrysler’s mod team opted for the 5.7 liter V8 as the engine of choice instead of the more powerful 6.1 liter V8. Team Pentastar hasn’t yet announced which engine the Mopar Charger will receive, though the automaker did promise that engineers have “added even more performance.” We’re hoping that “more performance” translates into the new 470-horsepower, 6.4 liter V8, but we’ll have to wait until later this month when Chrysler officially reveals the hot new sedan at an as-yet undisclosed event (New York Auto Show?).

[Source: Chrysler]


Auburn Hills, Mich. - Today, Chrysler Group LLC issued a sketch of its new Mopar® ‘11 Charger. The company will release details of the vehicle later this month.

“After the success of our Mopar ‘10 Challenger, we moved on to the iconic Dodge Charger and added even more performance,” said Pietro Gorlier, President and CEO of Mopar, Chrysler Group’s service, parts and customer-care brand. “As a new company, we will continue to leverage the heritage of the Mopar brand at every turn.”

Review: 2011 Lexus IS 250 AWD

Your available options in the entry-level luxury sedan segment rival the variety found at your local Baskin-Robbins. Interested in all-wheel drive, rear-wheel drive or front-wheel drive? Nearly every automaker has you covered. Want to row your own gears, or sit back and let the silicon chippery do the work? The car of your dreams awaits. There’s an option for all of us, and if you prefer a good vanilla to rocky road, then you’re going to love the 2011 Lexus IS250 AWD.

The Lexus IS 250 is instantly familiar, yet ever-so-slightly different for 2011. The reason is that little has changed on the exterior, with a few minor exceptions. Some updates are hard to find, while others are immediately clear. The front bumper and grille have received slight tweaks, while subtle changes have been made to the foglight area and lower fascia opening, which benefit from sharper cutouts. In back, the IS 250 wears new taillamp lenses and redone exhaust tips.

By far, the most noticeable change has occurred out front, where a pair of bright LED eyelids have taken up residence under the swept-back headlamps. All of these changes give the 2011 Lexus IS 250 a smattering of sprinkles on an otherwise rather bland landscape of sheetmetal. The overall theme is conservative, but the new LED running lamps imbue Lexus’ most affordable sedan with a bright flash of modern style, displayed brilliantly against our tester’s Tungsten Pearl paintwork.

2011 Lexus IS 250 AWD side view2011 Lexus IS 250 AWD front view2011 Lexus IS 250 AWD rear view

That subdued exterior style continues on the inside, as clean lines perform in concert with the surprisingly airy interior cabin. The pleasing to the eye Light Gray color scheme hangs in the background like a briefly foggy coastal morning. Against the sea of gray sits a set of bright white-faced gauges, which are easy-to-read and rather sharp, with a thin blue line underlining the ambitious 160-mile-per-hour display.

Ambitions aside, we had no desire to press that speedo into serious use. Why? Because the seats were just too darn comfortable for us to care. The perforated semi-aniline leather front thrones of our tester offered both heating and cooling features, thanks to the $2,195 Luxury Package Value Edition. It may be a bit crass to call this option grouping a “value” when it costs over $2,000, but the package does include wood trim, the aforementioned LED running lights, power everything (that wasn’t already), a rear sunshade and rain-sensing wipers.

2011 Lexus IS 250 AWD interior2011 Lexus IS 250 AWD front seats2011 Lexus IS 250 AWD speedometer2011 Lexus IS 250 AWD paddle shifter

Should you require the use of those intelligent water removers, fret not, because this particular IS 250 is equipped with all-wheel drive. Though the AWD gubbins add nearly 200 pounds to the curb weight (3,651 pounds), the IS 250’s small, 2.5-liter V6 remains surprisingly entertaining. We expected a droning bore of an engine coerced into working far harder than it wanted. What we found was a mill that pushed the whole works up to speed more quickly than we anticipated.

The engine produces 204 horsepower at 6,400 rpm and 185 pound-feet of torque at 4,800 rpm. Those numbers sound low in a world filled with 400-horsepower daily drivers (including the brand’s own high-performance IS F model) yet the IS 250 AWD simply rears back and moves at a pace capable of holding our interest. Push it above 3,500 rpm and it even begins to clear its throat something approaching a sense of authority.

2011 Lexus IS 250 AWD engine

The 2.5-liter is paired with a six-speed automatic transmission, which features steering-wheel mounted paddles for manual shifting. This may be Lexus’ entry-level car, but the shifts could be a few degrees smoother – even if the IS represents the brand’s sportier side. While we were hoping for less I-just-got-my-license and more of a Sade-like smooth operator, the setup didn’t oblige. The paddles only serve to nudge the drivetrain back into sporty, slightly roughneck territory, but unfortunately they don’t respond quickly enough to make the leap entirely.

This baby Lex comes across as confused in a few other areas as well. A bipolar effort, the IS 250 suffers from overboosted steering and mushy brakes. When driving, those factors make us think the IS 250 is pining to be a true luxury sedan, yet the ride, while smooth, is stiffer than we’d expected it to be. Vigorously bouncing over a rough section of Southern California tarmac makes one think the IS has changed its mind, suddenly wanting to be a sports car. It’s a little confused, and so are we.

2011 Lexus IS 250 AWD rear 3/4 view2011 Lexus IS 250 AWD headlight2011 Lexus IS 250 AWD wheel2011 Lexus IS 250 AWD taillight

At the end of the day, the slight redesign for 2011 doesn’t help a conflicted vanilla offering stand out in a display-case full of capable entry-level luxury sedans. The Lexus IS 250 AWD’s $35,775 base price is on par with its classmates, but fails to stack up as well in other areas. The Infiniti G25x is less costly ($34,900) and offers a more engaging driving experience, though its interior falls short. For $34,500, you might find yourself in a 2011 Audi A4 Quattro, with its top-shelf all-wheel-drive system, 7 more horsepower, 73 more pound-feet of torque available and better fuel economy ratings (21/31 miles per gallon versus the Lexus’ 20/27 mpg). The 2011 Mercedes-Benz C300 4Matic starts at $37,900 and makes more power, but is only rated at 17/24 (an updated 2012 model is just around the corner). We could add the Lincoln MKZ, BMW 328i xDrive, Cadillac CTS and Acura TL SH-AWD to the list of competitors to further muddy the waters.

The entry-level luxury sedan category is chock full of viable options and the 2011 Lexus IS 250 AWD is a perfectly acceptable (if run-of-the-mill) choice. The styling is conservative, the driving dynamics are a mixed bag of sport and luxury, but the engine is better than we anticipated. It’s priced exactly where it should be and, were you shopping in this segment, you wouldn’t be embarrassed to put one in your driveway. And yet… while we’ll happily concede that vanilla ice cream is enjoyable from time to time, we can’t help but think that Audi, BMW, Infiniti and Cadillac buyers are paying about the same to enjoy all 31 flavors every single day.

[Source: autoblog]

Kia Naimo EV concept ready for Seoul Motor Show debut

The name Naimo is Korean for “square,” and the new Kia EV concept certainly fits its name. But we’re not talking about a total box, as you can see from the photo above. The B-segment vehicle, which will debut this week at the Seoul Motor Show, looks primed to take on all comers in the emerging small car segment, with interesting lines, plenty of LEDs all around and a touch of Korean heritage. The Naimo has no B-pillars, and the rear doors open up clamshell-style, an auto show staple that almost never makes it to production. The concept also features massive 20-inch wheels, which almost look comical on such a small vehicle, and the square-themed wheels are wrapped in low rolling resistance rubber.

On the inside, Kia designers were looking for a tranquil feel, with Korean oak covering the concept’s floor and adorning the trim. A transparent organic LED display instrument panel and full connectivity gives the Naimo that futuristic concept interior look without going too Buck Rogers.

And since the Naimo is a 21st century concept, an electric powertrain is a near must. The permanent magnet synchronous motor provides a maximum output of 80 kW (107 horsepower). Battery power comes from a 27 kWh lithium ion polymer twin battery pack, giving the little concept a range of 124 miles on a charge. Speaking of charges, Kia says the Naimo features a special rapid charge mode that enables the driver to charge the battery to 80 percent capacity in a scant 25 minutes. A full charge will reportedly take five and a half hours.

[Source: Kia]


* Striking all-electric concept car makes world debut at Seoul Motor Show
* Naimo expresses sophistication through simplicity of design
* B-segment electric utility vehicle combines Korean heritage with high-tech innovations

Making its world premiere at the Seoul Motor Show today (Thursday), the Kia Naimo electric concept car combines Korean heritage with innovative modern features.

Taking its name from the Korean word “Ne-mo”, (pronounced ‘Neh-mo’, meaning ’square shape’), the Naimo electric crossover utility vehicle (CUV) was conceived by Kia’s international design team in Seoul, and is characterised principally by its simple lines and solid, muscular stance.

The simple overall design is accentuated by a number of striking key details, such as the wrap-around windscreen and asymmetric sunroof, and the front and rear dot-style LED head- and positioning-lamps. This mix of simple and complex is a common trait of many traditional Korean arts and crafts.

Kia’s design team also made use of innovative technology to give the car a premium feel and to ensure the car’s exterior remained uncluttered. For example, Naimo has no traditional wiper blade on the windscreen – instead it employs a high-intensity air jet at the base of the windscreen that performs an ‘air wiper’ function. Conventional door mirrors have also been replaced with miniature cameras installed in the A-pillars.

Naimo’s interior was designed to evoke a strong sense of tranquility and features hand-crafted materials throughout. Korean oak is used to trim the interior door panels and the entire interior floor, Korean “Han-ji” paper is used for the head lining. Alongside these traditional elements sit modern features such as a transparent organic light emitting diode display instrument panel and full connectivity.

“Naimo is a perfect balance of innovation, high-tech and Korean tradition. It was heavily inspired by the purity and grace of traditional Korean arts and crafts, but combines this with cutting edge technologies to deliver a truly premium experience,” commented Kia Motors’ Chief Design Officer, Peter Schreyer.

The third electric vehicle design to be unveiled by Kia Motors Corporation in a year, the 3.9-metre long Naimo concept explores the practicalities of introducing a zero-emissions, five-door, four-seater city car into a future niche market.

Measuring 3,890 mm in length, the Naimo’s generous wheelbase, width and height (2,647, 1,844 and 1,589 mm respectively) – plus the short overhangs which place a wheel at each corner – ensure that the cabin provides exceptional head, leg and shoulder room for the occupants.

The concept car has no B-pillars and features rear-hinged rear doors to maximise easy access to the cabin, and a three-way split opening boot-lid, allows versatile access to the load bay for varying luggage sizes.

Power comes from a Permanent Magnet Synchronous Motor with a maximum output of 80 kW (109 ps) and maximum torque of 280 Nm, enabling Naimo to reach a top speed of 150 kph (93 mph).

A twin-pack 27 kWh battery is located under the boot floor and uses innovative Lithium Ion Polymer technology that offers numerous advantages over other battery types. Equipped with this battery, Naimo provides a driving range of 200 km (124 miles) on a single charge. To enhance range, the showcar is fitted with special low-drag 20-inch diameter alloy wheels.

Under the quick recharging cycle (50 kW) the Naimo’s battery can be recharged to 80 percent of its capacity within 25 minutes. Under the normal cycle (3.3 kW), 100 percent power is attained after five and a half hours.

Naimo will join Kia’s growing test fleet of hybrid, electric and fuel-cell vehicles being extensively driven in widely varying conditions to develop future production models with zero or significantly reduced emissions.

Review: 2012 Ford Focus Titanium

Ironically named little car, the Ford Focus. While you could surely argue we’re drawing too literal a line between the car and its moniker, we have to chuckle a little when we recall just how far afield Ford drifted with its compact offering over the last several years. Suffice it to say that Ford lost its way somewhere after the original Focus was introduced as a so-called ‘world car’ back in 1999. At the time, the spunky Focus shared the same C170 platform no matter where in the world it was sold.

Sadly, such platform sharing diverged in 2005 as the United States made do with the aging C170 chassis in a reduced number of bodystyles while the rest of the world received a new model based on the brand spankin’ new C1 platform. That new architecture debuted to rave reviews from the international motoring press while the aging North American Focus doddered off to live among the also-rans. A few short years later, with the global economy in the doldrums and fuel mileage sitting atop many consumers’ automotive wishlists, it wasn’t long before the Blue Oval found itself standing flat-footed without a class-competitive compact in its home market. Many tears were shed in the form of lost dollar signs over the ensuing years, until Ford finally promised to make the Focus a truly global car for the 2012 model year.

And we’re happy to report that the 2012 Ford Focus is several orders of magnitude superior to the model it replaces. How so? Keep reading to find out.

We’ll start with its exterior appearance. Instead of telling you how the 2012 Focus was drawn up with smooth, flowing lines and more than a few traces of Ford’s Kinetic design language, we’ll instead share a little story.

After a few days of daily driving duties, our Tuxedo Black Focus sedan was sorely in need of a good washing. After finishing the deed and taking a few moments to admire the shiny metallic flecks in the bright Arizona sun, we noticed we weren’t alone… three burly-looking, bearded workers and their supervisor had stopped toiling away at whatever project they had been assigned and were talking amongst themselves about our car. Eye contact was made, so they gaggle of laborers decided to come take a closer look.

What transpired could best be described as a Focus Love Fest. A traditional walk-around was performed (several times, actually), doors were opened and shut and specifications were debated. Finally, a general consensus was reached: “That there is a nice car.”

2012 Ford Focus Titanium side view2012 Ford Focus Titanium front view2012 Ford Focus Titanium rear view

And so, the next logical question was asked: “How much?”

The window sticker was presented and summarily dissected. “Wow, that thing’s got a six-speed automatic? My wife’s Civic only has five.” It continued this way for several minutes. “Voice-activated navigation, nice. Leather, heated seats, sunroof… SYNC, what’s that mean?”

SYNC was then demonstrated. Push this button on the steering wheel, then say a command – “Sirius; ALT Nation.” (The stereo is now magically playing ALT Nation.) Impressive.

The price for all these bells and whistles? $26,925. Seems pretty pricey for a compact car, but then again, most compact cars don’t come equipped to the gills like our Focus Titanium sedan, either. We polled the workers. “Not bad… I’d have guessed more,” said the supervisor.

2012 Ford Focus Titanium headlight2012 Ford Focus Titanium grille2012 Ford Focus Titanium wheel detail2012 Ford Focus Titanium taillight

So, we’ve established that the 2012 Ford Focus is attractive enough to draw the attention of casual passers-by, its list of available equipment (in top-drawer Titanium trim, at least) is impressively thorough and that the normal sticker shock inevitably experienced when delving into the new car shopping experience isn’t all that, well… shocking.

Good so far, but how’s it drive?

Very well, it turns out. As our very own Zach Bowman found out during his First Drive of the car, Ford managed to bake quite a bit of handling goodness into the 2012 Focus. Our tester was equipped with the so-called Titanium Handling Package, and, aside from the clunky name, we were impressed. Turn-in was sharp, and the 2012 Focus holds its line through a curve in admirable fashion while responding shockingly well to attitude adjustments from the throttle.

2012 Ford Focus Titanium rear 3/4 view

There’s just one engine option for the 2012 Focus, so we’re happy to report that we have no qualms with its operation. The direct-injected 2.0-liter four cylinder powerplant puts out 160 horsepower at 6,500 rpm and 146 pound-feet of torque at 4,450 rpm. Those figures put the Focus near the the head of its class, which includes the Hyundai Elantra (148 horses and 131 lb-ft), Chevrolet Cruze (138 hp and 148 lb-ft), Honda Civic (the new 2012 model is rated at 140 horsepower, torque TBA) and Toyota Corolla (132 hp and 128 lb-ft). Among its primary rivals, the Ford is only bested by the Mazda3 s, which packs 167 hp and 168 lb-ft.

EPA fuel economy comes in at 27 miles per gallon city and 37 mpg highway when equipped with the six-speed automatic and the SelectShift option that allows the driver to manually change gears using a little rocker switch mounted on the console shifter. Nope, no paddles on the steering wheel, which is especially frustrating as this transmission is a dual-clutch unit that would seemingly lend itself rather well to the shift-for-yourself crowd. Same as the Fiesta. Why no paddle love, FoMoCo?

Fortunately, we found the automatic gearbox to be extremely well suited to this application. There’s enough power on hand that the transmission doesn’t hunt and peck for gears in daily driving and downshifts come right on schedule when called upon by either the driver’s right foot or by a steep grade. In all other situations, the tranny just goes about its duties without thought from the driver… and that’s exactly what you want from a two-pedal setup, no?

2012 Ford Focus Titanium engine

Despite its aforementioned handling prowess, the car’s ride was plenty smooth and controlled, without any undue noisiness echoing through the cabin. Speaking of which, the leather-clad interior, in two-tone Black and Tuscany Red that seemed more maroon to our eyes, is just as stylishly designed as the exterior. The hides covering the seats and door panels is soft to the touch and surprisingly grippy, meaning we didn’t find ourselves sliding to and fro when throwing the car into the bends. Heated seats with five levels of adjustment meant we could fine-tune the bum warmers to our liking, a boon since the last Ford Fiesta we tested offered just two settings: off and scorch.

There isn’t a ton of room in the rear seat when a six-foot driver gets comfy behind the wheel, and taller passengers in the front seat may find that their legroom is pinched a bit by the thick center stack and console. Similarly, trunk space in the sedan isn’t anything to write home about, and its 13.2 cubic feet of volume isn’t as easy to make use of as we’d like, mostly due to a distinct lack of depth. Taller items will need to be placed on the rear seat, which does fold in something like a 70/30 split. Frequent haulers might do better to consider the five-door hatch, which offers up to 44.8 cubic feet of storage space with the rear seats folded.

2012 Ford Focus Titanium interior2012 Ford Focus Titanium front seats2012 Ford Focus Titanium rear seats2012 Ford Focus Titanium trunk

Considering how much electro-gadgetry the 2012 Focus offers, the center stack is rather easy to navigate. Part of that overall look of cleanliness, though, is attributable to the steering wheel, which rivals that of a Formula One’s tiller for its sheer number of controls. Not counting the horn, there are six clusters of buttons that can be pressed – and no, we’re not making this up – 19 different ways. With controls for cruise control, Bluetooth connectivity, SYNC, the audio system and the in-dash computer (which has its own menu system directly between the speedometer and tachometer), we strongly suggest that any new drivers spend a few minutes acquainting themselves with the layout before heading out on the open road.

Note that we haven’t even mentioned the big LCD screen mounted high up in the center stack. It’s a touchscreen, and most anything the driver might want to do can be controlled at that location in lieu of the dedicated buttons. Plus, there’s SYNC, which allows the driver to press a single button and change any number of settings (audio, telephone, etc.) using voice commands. In other words, there’s almost always more than one way to make an adjustment.

That said, in practice we didn’t have any problems using all the technology packed into the Focus, and we appreciate the dedicated set of dials and buttons for the climate control system mounted below the LCD and Sony audio system.

We spent just one week with the 2012 Ford Focus, but that was plenty enough for us to realize that it’s a worthy contender in the hotly contested compact car segment. No other competitors offer the level of available equipment the Focus offers, but the basic goodness of the car’s platform should surely shine through on lesser trims, as well.

We went ahead and made use of Ford’s online configurator, and found that a very nice Focus SE sedan with the five-speed manual gearbox, 17-inch wheels, leather, sunroof and SYNC rings the register at around $22,000. Add about a grand for the six-speed automatic. Either way, you’ll end up with a highly desirable ride that does an equally fine job of catering to enthusiasts and commuters alike. Or even a grizzled quartet of hard-edged construction workers, apparently.

[Source: autoblog]