The Truth About Cars » Car Reviews The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Mon, 14 Jul 2014 16:00:14 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Car Reviews European Review: Ram 1500 Ecodiesel Mon, 14 Jul 2014 13:27:41 +0000 IMG_6968

With the new Ecodiesel engine, the 2014 Ram 1500 adds a bit of a European flavor to the most American vehicle of them all – the fullsize pick-up truck. So, how does one look from the view of an European?

Here, I must admit to not being a typical European, when it comes to American cars. As you may already know, I drive a Panther now, and I daily drove a GM B-body for several years. I even paid (little) money to own a Ford Tempo (don’t ask),. but I still live in Europe and drive lots of European cars, so I still have a good idea of what an average European will think about this truck.

First of all, it’s interesting to note that pickup trucks are one of the most common American vehicles here in Czech Republic – and probably even in surrounding countries like Germany or Austria. When you discount for the officially imported stuff – mostly diesel Jeeps, diesel Chrysler minivans and diesel Chrysler 300Cs, the most popular American cars are the pony cars trio, Corvettes, and then the fullsize trucks and luxury SUVs, like Escalade or Navigator. You will never see a Dodge Dart here, and probably not even fullsize sedans like Taurus or Impala. Even the typical US crossovers are extremely rare here – and if something gets imported, it’s usually the “butch” stuff. A Charger. A Durango. But no Equinox or Explorer.


So large American trucks are not exactly unheard of here. They’re definitely not common, but odds are at least two or three Rams (most popular), F-150s, Silverados or Sierras will be running at any larger town (like mine, with 100,000 people). And in the capital, you’ll probably see one or two every day.

Most of these trucks are highly optioned, shiny V8 ones, never used for any serious work. Most of them probably tow a trailer from time to time, but hardly any will ever get its bed dirty. Quite a big portion of them get converted to LPG, but there are many owners who consider it a “disgrace” to American V8 and insist on pouring loads of gas into their truck. These same people usually frown upon diesel engines, and are probably not the ones who will buy the new Ecodiesel, as it burns the wrong fuel and doesn’t produce the right sound.


So, to succeed in the European market, the Ram 1500 Ecodiesel needs to cater to several types of customers. It has to persuade the US car crowd that even with the Italian diesel, it’s still American enough and represents a way to finally get into truck ownership without rigging the car with high pressure LPG tanks. And it also has to impress the typical pickup/SUV owner that it is European enough in its frugality, sophistication and road manners.

As you can see from my recent Suburban review, it’s not easy for an American truck to impress an European driver – even one who is rather fond of American automobiles. Suggest buying something like the Ram 1500 to the typical customer in Europe, and you will quite certainly hear something about “primitive technology”, “agricultural suspension” or “ugly, cheap interior”. Not to mention terrible fuel consumption.

But if you follow the suggestion by forcing said person to sit in a Ram 1500 Laramie for a while, the whining will probably quickly stop. While it’s still no Audi when it comes to interior quality, the materials, the craftsmanship and ergonomics are leaps above what an average guy in Europe would expect from American truck. And quite on par with what Europe offers at this price point – a loaded Laramie Ecodiesel costs about $80k incl. VAT, which is about 20% more than a four-cylinder VW Amarok, or about the same as similarly equipped Touareg V6 TDI. And it’s definitely comparable.



Above: My 6′ 6″ boss in the front, and then in the back…

The Ram rids itself of the typical problems of older American automobiles – one that is still noticeable in the last generation of Suburban – that they are smaller on the inside than on the outside. The space inside is stunning. I’ve seen my boss, who is about  6′ 6” sit “behind himself” in the Ram, without having any problems with head or leg room.

With the air suspension and the new coil-sprung four link rear suspension, the Ram even drives well enough for European customers to be satisfied. Above all, the ride is supremely comfortable, and even the handling isn’t half bad, considering the sheer size and weight of the thing. Of course, there can be no talk about steering feel, balance and so on, but the Ram feels stable enough even in mildly swift driving (say, 60-70mph on a backroad). The steering wheel feels much more car-like than truck-like, with just enough assistance and the right size.

But, even without driving the other big US pickups, I can guess that the competition will be on the same level as the Ram. And yet it’s not very likely that F-150s and Silverados start appearing on European roads en masse. The real difference, which can make or break the US pickup on the European roads, is the Ecodiesel engine.


I have already experienced it (albeit shortly) in Lancia Thema, and I did quite like it, although it certainly wasn’t at the top of its league. Here, the story is a bit different. The Ecodiesel is still not the best V6 diesel out there – and it certainly can’t hold a candle to the likes of BMW 35d or VW/Audi 3.0 TDI biturbo. But in a fullsize pickup truck, it has no direct competition.

This means that even though it’s a little less sophisticated than some of the competitors, it’s still much quieter than any other truck diesel engine. And while it’s not as powerful or as frugal as other V6 diesels, it’s still much more torquey than the V6 Pentastar, much more frugal than the 5.7 Hemi, and still powerful enough to make the Ram lively enough. The ZF eight-speed gearbox is quite smooth and doesn’t seem to shuffle around for gears, like the six-speeder in the last-gen Suburban does.


If the Ecodiesel fulfills its promise – and everything looks like it will – of being able to run on less than 10 liters per 100km on the highway, it will be the first American fullsize pickup to really make sense in Europe, at least in the last 70 years or so. Its combination of utility and comfort may be enticing for certain European buyers, and the fuel consumption shouldn’t scare them away this time. Yes, the Ram 1500 is still ungodly big, and will be a royal pain to park and drive in countries like UK or France. But here in Central Europe, it’s fairly livable, and, even with taxes and customs added, quite cheap – the top-of-the-line Laramie still costs about the same as a poverty-spec Touareg. The bad thing, though, is that you have to make do with the short bed – the bigger one makes the 1500 truck under EU regulations, increasing the custom duty from 10% to 20%. But it would be too long to park, anyway.

So, will the Europe be flooded by diesel American trucks in the near future? I don’t think so. But I’m willing to bet money that Rams will become much more common (less uncommon) here. And I would venture to say that of the current FCA portfolio, the Ram 1500 would be one of the more successful vehicles on European market. Certainly they would sell more of them than Lancia Themas. And likely even more than Lancia Deltas (I have seen about two of those in the wild, ever).


And if the VM Motori power plant doesn’t turn out to be a turd, like the 1990s four-cylinder in the Jeeps and Chryslers was, I may be buying one in a few years, to replace the Town Car.

@VojtaDobes is motoring journalist from Czech Republic, who previously worked for local editions of Autocar and TopGear magazines. Today, he runs his own website, and serves as editor-in-chief at After a failed adventure with importing classic American cars to Europe, he is utterly broke, so he drives a borrowed Lincoln Town Car. His previous cars included a 1988 Caprice in NYC Taxi livery, a hot-rodded Opel Diplomat, two Dodge Coronets, a Simca, a Fiat 600 and Austin Maestro. He has never owned a diesel, manual wagon.

JD8_9249 JD8_9193 JD8_9188 JD8_9183 JD8_9178 JD8_9171 JD8_9152 JD8_9150 JD8_9140 JD8_9082 JD7_2319 IMG_7111 IMG_7052 IMG_7048 IMG_7044 IMG_7217 IMG_7226 IMG_7123 IMG_7334 IMG_7326 IMG_7057 IMG_7053 IMG_7050 IMG_6996 IMG_7033 IMG_7040 IMG_7008 IMG_7009 IMG_7011 IMG_6974 IMG_7318 IMG_7248 $$ IMG_7333 IMG_7134 IMG_6968 ]]> 31
Japan Three, Others Meet With President Over Supplier Aid Pledge Mon, 14 Jul 2014 13:00:56 +0000 Barack Obama playing pool

A number of U.S. and multinational corporations met with President Barack Obama Friday to shine a light upon their pledge to pay their suppliers within 15 days as part of an initiative to help small businesses expand and bring on more employees.

Automotive News reports representatives for Nissan, Toyota and Honda, including Honda North America executive vice president Rick Schostek, were in attendance for the 90-minute meeting about the pledge, based upon a similar program with government contractors, whereupon the federal government promises to quickly pay its contractors if the latter does the same for the smaller suppliers that help them.

The original initiative affected 172,000 small businesses, bringing $1 billion for workforce investment since its launch in 2011. Friday’s meeting was to reaffirm the pledge, as well as to introduce the program to the public sector.

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Nissan’s D-Step Tweaks CVTs To Act More Like Traditional Automatics Mon, 14 Jul 2014 12:00:46 +0000 2015-nissan-versa-sl-photo-590018-s-1280x782

CVTs aren’t the most popular of transmission options around despite its improvements to fuel efficiency and ride on a vehicle so equipped. Nissan hopes an upcoming software tweak will change a few minds, however.

Automotive News reports Nissan will introduce its D-Step Shift logic CVT software to more vehicles for the 2015 model year, including the Versa, Versa Note and Pathfinder. The software, already in the 2014 Rogue and 2013 Altima four-pot, helps the CVT act more like a traditional automatic when it comes to shifting, emphasis on “act.”

On board vehicles like the new Versa, the D-Step will prompt the CVT to jump ahead a gear around 4,000 rpm, creating a brief drop in driving power while lending a sense of gears changing, all to ease Nissan owners’ concerns that their vehicle’s transmission is somehow broken due to the lack of a notable gear change. More models will receive D-Step in 2016.

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BMW’s Southern Strategy Pays Off For All Involved Mon, 14 Jul 2014 11:00:30 +0000 BMW Spartanburg

Twenty years ago, BMW began building vehicles at its first North American factory in Spartanburg, S.C., a move that has paid off well for the German automaker, both against its rivals Mercedes and Audi, and as an example for the industry as a whole.

Bloomberg reports the factory is the largest exporter of U.S.-made vehicles to global markets outside of North America, besting the Detroit Three and the state of Michigan’s collective automotive production efforts as its capacity prepares to jump 50 percent to 450,000 annually as the latest member of the X Series, the full-size seven-passenger X7, comes into production.

The success of the Spartanburg facility is built upon lower labor costs — U.S. labor is 47 percent cheaper than German labor — its work flexibility, and its access to the port of Charleston, I-85 and GSP International Airport. An additional inland port in Greer, S.C., new production techniques — such as using robots and humans on the same assembly step — and massive export increases as the result of an upcoming free-trade agreement between the United States and the European Union will likely add more fuel to the plant’s continued success.

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BMW 3, 4 Series To Get New Designations With New Engines Fri, 11 Jul 2014 13:00:52 +0000 3series_f30_1025x475_exterior_11

A handful of BMW 3 and 4 series models will receive new designations to go with their new engines when they arrive in U.S. showrooms beginning in 2016.

An ongoing forum post on Bimmerpost reports the following for the F3x models:

  • 4-cylinder B58 will have the 330i/430i designation, instead of 328i/428i
  • 6-cylinder B58 will use the 340i/440i designation, instead of 335i/435i
  • F30 PHEV will be dubbed the 330e, instead of 328e

The list continues to update, and has info only on U.S.-bound models.

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Mazda2 RE May Appear Soon, But Only In Select Markets Fri, 11 Jul 2014 11:00:16 +0000 Mazda-2-Range-Extender1

The oft-rumored Mazda2 RE PHEV, powered by a range-extending rotary engine, may soon become reality, appearing sometime after the next-gen hatch debuts in showrooms between October and the new year. reports the PHEV won’t be making its global debut with the rest of the new Mazda2 family in August, nor will it likely appear in showrooms where government support is lacking, according to Mazda Australia Managing Director Martin Benders:

The only markets in which you can justify bringing something like that out, to get at least a reasonable amount of volume to justify setting it up as a saleable model, are ones where there’s government support for those types of models.

Benders adds that the current crop of Skyactiv engines do a better job of reducing CO2 emissions and boosting fuel economy than the more expensive PHEV technology, with subsidies and sales quotas hindering the case for hybrids in countries where the support isn’t there. However, Benders doesn’t believe government money should be used to promote the technology, preferring the market to decide what lives and what dies.

As for the new-gen Mazda2, which will take its cue from the Kodo design language found in vehicles like the Mazda3 and Mazda6, power will be supplied by a 1.5-liter naturally aspirated gasoline engine and a matching turbo diesel; the latter will likely not make it to the United States when the new compact arrives next year.

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Jaguar Land Rover Experiment With Augmented-Reality HUDs Fri, 11 Jul 2014 10:00:58 +0000 Jaguar HUD

Jaguar Land Rover is bringing a duo of augmented-reality HUDs to its respective brands, each with a different take on the technology.

Autoblog reports the Land Rover’s setup will have what they dub a Smart Assistant handling nearly every function and task so as to allow the driver to focus on driving to their destinations. The assistant connects with a driver’s smartphone to do everything from reminding you to drop off the children at school, to playing those morning jams Jalopnik likes to recommend. Meanwhile, the technology is also at work on-board, noting how many passengers are with the driver, knowing how the driver drives, even adjusting the air suspension to make exiting the vehicle easier.

Jaguar, on the other hand, is taking the video game approach with the Jaguar Virtual Windscreen, turning a day at the track into a scene from Forza or Gran Turismo. The race-oriented HUD offers lap times, virtual racing lines and ghost competitors among other data selections. There will also be gesture controls and configuration options, as well.

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Reader Review: 2014 Mazda6 Thu, 10 Jul 2014 15:46:16 +0000 20140707_201014

TTAC reader Steve submits his review of his 2014 Mazda6 Touring – with a manual!

I drove home in my new Liquid Silver Mazda 6 (Touring with 6MT) in January of this year – at just over $23,000, this is the cheapest new car I’ve bought, and also the most enjoyable.

Having previously owned a 2006 Mazdaspeed6 and more recently a 2011 Nissan Maxima, I had serious reservations about shedding so many ponies from my stable by opting for Mazda’s obligatory 4 banger. However, after a few years of the Maxima’s CVT, my left leg had atrophied to the point where I was bound and determined to buy another manual transmission, despite the power downgrade and the lack of entrants in the midsize sedan segment with an optional third pedal.

My first choice was a Cadillac ATS 2.0 RWD 6MT, but at the time I was shopping, I was not finding any deals. The tiny back seat and my three growing kids didn’t make things easier. The prospect of Detroit winters in a rear-drive car, my own lead foot (turbo engines tend to be thirsty with my driving habits) and the upward creep of the MSRP, I decided to pass.


Although I looked at the Accord and Fusion, the sexy curves, long hood, imposing grille and general seductiveness of the Mazda6 drove me right into the waiting arms of my Mazda dealer. I opted for the Touring trim level without too much debate as it had the optional 6MT and the Sport was only available with cloth interior and could not be had with the considerably more aesthetically pleasing 19” rims. I considered the auto-only Grand Touring simply because it had quite a few extras not available on the Touring, like a moon roof, navigation, HID headlights, real leather seats and LED running lights to name a few. Had the Grand Touring been offered with a manual, I would probably have one in my driveway. But the Touring trim is really the sweet spot in terms of value; shaving at least $6,000 off of the price compared to a Grand Touring, probably more depending on equipment levels.

2014-07-08 12.03.11

The interior of the Touring trim is no penalty box. Upscale is not a word I would use to describe it, but it is tasteful and competitive with others in the class in terms of material quality. The dash is composed of primarily soft touch materials where it matters in addition to faux carbon and aluminum accents. There are hard textured plastics on surfaces where your hands are unlikely to wander. The seats are “leatherette” trimmed. It is a somewhat convincing leather substitute which is likely to fool those who don’t know better. I find that it is no better or worse than real leather in terms of comfort.

The base sound system is actually quite good; I have been very pleased with it. The Bluetooth audio works very well, as does the streaming Pandora function. HD radio is also nice feature to those who actually still listen to AM/FM. Fire up the car and my Google Music library starts playing where it left off in a matter of seconds; I assume it would do the same for an iPhone. There has been lots of criticism of the infotainment system which I find really unwarranted. It may not be the best, most intuitive system with the largest screen and fastest processor on the market, but I have managed just fine. It makes me wonder just how subjective the love/hate reviews of various infotainment systems must be.Open the manual and learn how to use it people!

The 6 has a touch screen infotainment system with a display that is roughly 5.5 inches, almost the exact same size as my Galaxy Note3. This also raises the question as to the value of these infotainment systems. Armed with a tablet, a giant phone and a laptop, what the hell do I need a fancy in-car infotainment system for? If you cannot manage to launch Google maps on the fly via voice command on your phone for turn by turn directions you probably cannot operate an in-car infotainment system properly either. My point being, these systems, particularly navigation systems, are largely redundant in my opinion. If you are so inclined though, you can use the touch screen or the command dial mounted between the gearshift and cup holders to operate the audio or customize a variety of functions such as the duration of your audible turn signal clicks, the time the exterior and interior lights remain on after the vehicle is turned off and various other functions. Climate control is easy to operate and has proven extremely effective for AC or heat. I have found that all the buttons are fairly well placed and reasonably intuitive to operate.

The back seat is spacious enough to accommodate my three children, two of whom still require booster seats sitting outboard and my five foot tall 8-year-old sitting in the center, but it is admittedly tight with the boosters. There is enough leg room for a 6 foot tall adult to sit in relative comfort behind a 6 foot tall driver.

2014-07-08 12.03.11


It’s true that ingress and egress to the rear passenger compartment is complicated by the sloping roofline but the situation is easily remedied by opening your eyes and not smashing your head into the door frame. If you find the process too daunting, you are probably lucky Darwin hasn’t yet come to claim you as an evolutionary failure in some sort of freak strangulation accident at the hands of some easily escapable contrivance. The front seats are comfortable on longer trips and sufficiently bolstered. The car has a push button start, but curiously, not advanced keyless entry. Only the driver’s window is express auto up/down and the key fob unfortunately cannot roll down any of the windows on a hot day. Headlights are auto off, but not auto on. It has a standard backup camera with cross traffic alert and blind spot monitor. The driver has a power adjustable seat. The rear seats split 60/40 to allow trunk pass through of bulky items. The trunk is sufficiently large for a few golf bags or at least one dead body.

On the road, the 6 feels downright nimble, especially compared to my old Maxima (a 4DSC it was not). The 6’s body stays planted while cornering even on imperfect surfaces where my old Maxima would have lost composure due to suspension rebound. Steering is fairly boosted at low speeds but has nice weight and feel once on the road. The 6 handles the patchy moonscape of Michigan roads rather well, even with the big rims and low profile tires. It is a firm ride, but never feels like it crashes over bumps; gracefully handling road conditions that would have shaken trim pieces off of my old Mazdaspeed6.

The car is not fast, but the 184hp and 185 torques produced by the Skyactiv 4-cylinder are a good match for the chassis and transmission. The powerplant is more than adequate for a 3200 pound car. Redline comes rather quick at just over 6k rpm and more brisk acceleration requires you to stay above 3000 rpm, shifts are relatively smooth and clutch operation is easy with a good engagement point not too far from the floor in the clutch pedal travel.

Cruising around 80 mph on the highway puts the car at about 3000 rpm, and there is what I would consider a moderate amount of engine, wind and road noise. In the last few months I have been consistently getting about 31 mpg is mostly city driving. The small amount of highway travel I have done so far has netted about 38 mpg. Fuel economy was a little lower in the frigid winter months, averaging 28-29 mpg, but I am very pleased with the fuel consumption since spring.

I have clocked over 7000 trouble free miles since I bought my 6 with no regrets, wishing only for a few goodies and options to be available with the manual transmission beyond the Touring trim standard features. But, like my father always said, “wish in one hand and sh*t in the other and see which hand fills up first”. It took me a long time to figure out what that means, and I think this crude pearl of wisdom is well suited to the compromises we all make when purchasing a vehicle. A perfect car with everything you want may not exist, but there is a vehicle that has what you need and is perfect for you.

I may be turning into my father - or perhaps finally letting go of my youth and embracing the horror of being a balding, 30 something father of three children who appreciates sensible, worry-free, reasonably priced transportation. With the new Mazda6, I get all that in addition to a nice dose of exterior styling, a chassis, suspension, transmission and engine that can bring a smile to my face and some joy to my commute. I know there are plenty of cars that can best the Mazda6 in every test that involves moving, I haven’t seen any ladies flocking to me as I pull up to the club and it is not luxurious by any stretch. But, what you get for the price of admission adds up to more than the sum of its parts and I believe the Mazda6 in general and the Touring trim in particular is a true bargain in a beautiful and fun to drive package.

20140708_115649 20140707_201014 2014-07-08 12.03.11 20140707_200616 (1)

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Capsule Review: 2014 Ford Fiesta SE 1.0 liter EcoBoost Wed, 09 Jul 2014 12:30:50 +0000 2015 ford fiesta se ecoboost front 34

Enthusiasts, rejoice! Ford has what you have been asking for – a low-priced economical vehicle with a proper manual transmission (it’s the only choice!) and turbo power. Those two important features are in a car that is not completely stripped down, either! Yes, you can stream music from your fancy phone and open the windows by pressing buttons. But does this combination make the 3-cylinder Fiesta a game changer?

2015 ford fiesta se ecoboost engine

For an extra $995 over the regular 1.6-liter 4-cylinder, the Fiesta SE gives you a 1.0-liter 3-cylinder EcoBoost (marketing term for a direct-injection and turbo/intercooler) engine. That engine produces three more horsepower and 13 more torques for a total 123hp and 125 lb-ft. Not surprisingly, the fuel economy increases to 31mpg in the city and 43mpg on the highway. While those are good numbers, they are certainly not changing any games. For comparison 2015 Honda Fit gets 31/41mpg, Toyota Yaris 30/37, Nissan Versa Note 31/40, and the Mitsubishi Mirage 37/44.

Even with the improved fuel economy, it is unlikely that the additional cost of the engine would make sense to most casual buyers. Furthermore, the lack of an available automatic transmission is likely to keep most buyers away, which leaves two kinds of potential buyers: cheapskates and enthusiasts. Cheapskates are out, they’ll just buy the Fiesta S. That leaves you, the enthusiasts who are reading this.

2015 ford fiesta se ecoboost details

This is a slow car, yet the engine begs to be red-lined in every gear. You can drive it like a total hooligan and not get into an ounce of trouble. While this may have an adverse effect on the fuel economy, it is fun and perfect for those who treat the accelerator like an on/off switch. The shifter is smooth and the clutch pedal is light – if you stall out in this car you should just quit saving the manuals.

That said, the Romanian-built cast iron motor in this Mexican-built car is very slow reving, as if someone intentionally bolted up a heavy flywheel to it. Get caught in the wrong gear, especially around slow city turns where downshifts into first gear may be required, and you’ll be inching along with your foot to the floor. On the highway it is surprisingly frisky, but still requiring a lot of shifting.

Common sense would dictate that a vehicle designed with the enthusiast in mind would come with perhaps a sport tuned suspension, but that is not the case here. While the engine is not overpowering the chassis, there is nothing sporty about this car’s handling. Further confusing the potential enthusiast buyer is the fact that this engine cannot be combined with the upscale versions of SYNC (Aux and USB audio inputs are there), aluminum wheels, or an upgraded interior trim which is available on the four-banger SE. This should have you scratching your head.

2015 ford fiesta se ecoboost interior dash

The interior, even without the mentioned features, is surprisingly nice. All materials are pleasing to the eyes and to touch, the seats are well padded and generally very comfortable. There is plenty of room in the front but those over six feet tall will, not surprisingly, complain when seated in the back seat. The rear seats folds down, 60:40 split, but the opening to the trunk is rather small so only flat parcels will fit. There are some typical Ford-esque ergonomic issues with the Euro-flavored dash, specifically the tiny diamond-shaped radio buttons. The center radio display and its controls seem pretty dated, too.

The SE sedan starts at $15,580. This test vehicle had the SE EcoBoost engine for $995, comfort package (heated seats, mirrors, clime control) for $290, special Green Envy paint job at $595, and a destination charge of $825. The total comes to $18,285 but at the time of this writing Ford was offering a $750 incentive which brought the total price to $17,535.

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After spending a few days with this car, I could not figure out who this car was for. If I was a cheapskate I would buy the entry-level model. If I was someone who just wanted an appliance I would get the four cylinder. A true enthusiast would spend a little more and get the superb Fiesta ST for only three grand more. And that car, my friends, is a game changer.

Kamil Kaluski is the east coast editor for Read his ramblings on eastern European cars, $500 racers, and other miscellaneous car stuff can be found there. 

Ford provided the vehicle for this review.

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2016 Cadillac SRX May See Local Production In China Wed, 09 Jul 2014 12:00:29 +0000 01-2013-cadillac-srx-ny

On the strength of rising SUV sales in China, General Motors will likely add production of its next-generation Cadillac SRX in the emerging market in order to better capitalize on said sales.

The Wall Street Journal reports Cadillac as a whole is doing well in China, sales rising 72 percent from January through May 2014 to 33,760 units with the SRX making up the bulk of those sales at 14,496 units, a rise of 23 percent for the crossover in the same five-month period compared to 2013. The current model goes for ¥420,000 ($67,770 USD), and has been on sale in China since 2009.

The new SRX would likely arrive as a 2016 model, with the hope Chinese production would help the automaker avoid tariffs on imported models; the crossover is only assembled in Mexico at the present. GM itself has big plans for its premium brand, including a $1.3 billion plant in Shanghai, and a goal of 300,000 units sold/10 percent share of China’s premium market by 2020.

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Mitsubishi: U.S.-Bound 2016 Outlander PHEV “Will Be Completely Different” Wed, 09 Jul 2014 11:00:36 +0000 03-2014-mitsubishi-outlander-fd

Perhaps as a result of what Mitsubishi had learned thus far since the introduction of the Outlander PHEV in Europe, Japan and Australia — as well as a MY 2016 redesign — the United States-bound PHEV “will be completely different,” according to both Mitsubishi Motors North America Executive Vice President Don Swearingen and U.S. PR boss Alex Fedorak.

Autoblog reports the SUV — now set to arrive in November 2015 — will have an interior with materials that look and feel “less value-oriented,” while its battery monitor can look each cell along with the overall pack. It will also likely take its styling cues from the GC-PHEV and XR-PHEV concepts, both debuting at the 2013 Tokyo Auto Show last November.

Meanwhile, the 2015 Outlander Sport may soon possess a 2.4-liter I4 to go with its 2-liter variant as Fedorak and his employer’s dealer network discuss what needs to be done to make the bigger engine a better sell; early results point to stronger highway overtaking ability.

Finally, although Mitsubishi’s long-term goal is to evolve into “an SUV/crossover-type company,” cars will still have a role in the near-term, especially the Mirage compact. Despite most publications giving the Mirage a good thrashing — though our rising superstar managing editor had a different sort of thrashing in mind — Fedorak claims the compact is outselling both the Mazda2 and Toyota Yaris; the latter is ahead of the Mitsubishi by 265 units through the end of June.

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Porsche Developing Ferrari-Hunter With 600HP Flat-Eight Wed, 09 Jul 2014 10:00:16 +0000 Porsche-988-rumors

Feeling outgunned by the Ferrari V8 family, Porsche is working on a suitable hunter that will be armed not with its long-standing flat-six, but with a new flat-eight.

Autocar reports the new vehicle — dubbed the 988 within Stuttgart — is part of a new quartet of Porsches in development, including a turbo-four version of the Boxster and Cayman, and an all-new 911. The 988 is expected to arrive in 2017, and may likely take after the 918 in looks with a long rear deck covering the mid-mounted flat-eight; all four new models will be in place by 2019.

Powering the quartet is a new family of boxers, ranging from the aforementioned 2-liter turbo-four — capable of 280 horsepower — to the 988′s 4-liter quad-turbo-eight, delivering 600 horses and ~400 lb-ft of 458 Italia-killing torque in testing.

Underpinning the quartets will be an all-new architecture that will use different backsides depending on the position of the boxer, shared front structures, and three front axles with optional hybrid/electric AWD such as the system powering the 918.

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Capsule Review: 2015 Subaru WRX Tue, 08 Jul 2014 15:00:32 +0000 2015-subaru-wrx-010

As the snow swirled in front of my headlamps, the radio crackled with a forecast of 18-22 inches for an early March Nor’Easter. Most people hate this weather. They huddle in their homes, presumably consuming the massive quantities of milk and bread they bought in a panic earlier that day. A public whipped into frenzy by The Weather Channel and local news stations with nothing better to do has been a predictable pattern for decades. Lately, I’ve noticed a new phenomenon.  When it snows, the Subarus come out. My neighborhood was ringing with the thumping song of the flat four.

Scores of bug-eyed WRXs were frolicking in the storm. I was behind the wheel of a 2015 WRX, and I was part of that club.


Mrs. Braithwaite took one look at the new WRX and declared “that looks like a piece of shit.” She’s entitled to her opinion, of course, and it’d be harder to argue if this were just an Impreza. In the past, I might have even agreed, but the 2015 Subaru WRX is really a gem.

Subaru wants you to think of the STI as its performance star with the brightest gleam. That may be true on a track, but the WRX is not only a better deal, it’s a better car. With the 2015 Subaru WRX, you get the latest evolution of the turbocharged flat-four. It’s a whooshing fire-breather of a 2.0 liter, and it’s strong. While the STI has more power, 305 hp, from its older 2.5 liter EJ engine, the WRX isn’t far behind with 268 hp. What’s more, the new 2.0 liter is is flexible and friendly, with good response “under the curve,” where you’d expect a highly-boosted four cylinder with modest displacement to fall on its face.


Look at the torque curve for the full story, and you’ll find it maxing out at 258 lb-ft by 2,000 rpm and sticking around to 5,200 rpm. If you didn’t know it was a 2.0 liter, you’d guess that it’s at least 500 cc larger than it is. Thank the direct injection, beefy 10.6:1 compression ratio and fancy-pants valve control and twin-scroll turbocharger. Those press-release talking points behind us, all you need to keep in mind is that the STI powertrain is less satisfying in contrast to the Johnny-on-the-spot nature of the new WRX generating station.

This time around, the WRX is available with a CVT. It could be worse; it’s just a transmission, and CVTs do well with torquey engines. The last WRX I drove with an automatic had a four-speeder and a tragically-turned-down wick. The CVT erases those compromises. Still, you want the manual. It’s a new six-speed, and it made me happy to be fully engaged in the act of driving for a week. It’s more exercise than I’ve gotten in a while, getting all the extremities involved. Areas where other manuals disappoint, clutch takeup, shifter action and electronic throttle response are all worked out here.


The WRX has always been an eager meager car. The dopamine hit powered by the exciteable engine made the underwhelming structural rigidity, not-good interior and “why’d they bother?” infotainment all completely non-issues, until you had to get your boot out of the power. The interior materials are better, with more soft touch plastics, a harman/kardon nav/stereo unit that’s not like listening to an Emerson transistor radio from the ‘80s, and a flat-bottomed steering wheel that’s supposed to feel racy. Not being overly-fancy does the WRX a favor in the ergonomics department. The controls for the ventilation system are clear, easy to find without looking, and don’t require stabbing your finger at some touchscreen. All cars should be like this, right down to the knobs that are injection molded to look and feel like they’re kurled. There’s even more practicality in the new WRX because the longer wheelbase makes the back seat more accommodating, so your friends will be more comfortable when you say crap like “check this out.”

The WRX handles better now, too, so that phrase doesn’t have to be a precursor to the inevitable. This car is a precision tool in traffic. The chassis is balanced, the feedback is clear enough to let you know when you’re being a true idiot. The highly-enriched engine is the keystone, too, enabling you to basically place the WRX wherever the hell you want it. Key to that is the responsive new engine that removes the planning you used to have to do. So, because the car lets you mainline your aggression, I spent a week being a complete jerk behind the wheel, loving every second. Oh, is that not what the WRX is for? I mean, I occasionally used the quick-on-its-feet powertrain to facilitate effectively quick merges.


The body structure of the WRX is beefed up with more high-strength steel, too, and that’s the most noticeable improvement other than the engine. The stronger structure allows the suspension to be more deftly tuned, and so the 2015 WRX manages to be supple and controlled where in the past it was brash and crashy. Because I was driving in the Polar Vortex, the WRX was wearing winter tires on its 17” wheels. That, plus the 50:50 AWD system makes the 2015 WRX a damn zippy snowmobile. Power-steering is electric, and could use more feedback, but weight, ratio and control are great.

The 2015 Subaru WRX has the driving thing down. This is a car that reminds you of vehicles twice its price. When Subaru says it benchmarked top-handling sports cars and braced the chassis, it’s believable.


And then there’s the looks. Flares and cranky headlights, extra windshield rake, LED headlights and carbon-fiber look trim strike a balance between badass and boy-racer. It works, and there’s always the STI if you want that stupid-ass wing. The most surprising thing to me was the fuel economy I managed to eke out of the 2015 WRX. It was frigid, I drove it like an animal, and yet, it still coughed up 25 mpg.

Welcome to being a grown-up, WRX. I’m glad you made it.


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Bark’s Bites: Two Years with the Boss Tue, 08 Jul 2014 13:00:19 +0000 image_2

My first contribution to TTAC was the purchase story of my 2013 Ford Boss 302 Mustang. To be honest, it could have easily ended up being a Corvette Grand Sport or something else entirely; I wasn’t a “Mustang collector” in the traditional sense. You know: when the Boss was announced by Ford, shouts were heard far and wide across the internet about the collectors who would end up purchasing the cars and that they would “stay in the garages forever” or something like that. Those guys. The ones who still have 2,000-mile Mystichrome Terminators or green ’93 Cobras with plastic on the seats.

I had a different plan. Mine was going to be a daily driver, and not only that, it was going to be a daily driver for a guy who had been averaging about 25K miles a year on his outgoing vehicle. Not only that, but it was going to be daily driven in Lexington, KY, where, despite being considered “the South” by much of the country, there are about 15-20 days of serious snowfall a year. Not only THAT, I also have two young children in car seats who were going to have to be taken to school, soccer, ballet, etc. And, of course, I bought it for sporting purposes, too, hoping to participate in the occasional autocross or track day. Seems like pure folly, no?

Well, thanks to the marvelous app Timehop, I was reminded recently that over two years have now passed since that glorious day when I said goodbye to my Pontiac G8 GT (at what has proven to be a stupid, ridiculously low price—G8s are still fetching more than that on the open market two years later) and drove home my Boss. How has it fared in all the categories in which I needed it to be excellent? Well, there’s no shortage of track reviews for the Boss, most of which contain superfluous superlatives. But as a DD? Let’s judge for ourselves and see if you, too, can daily drive a pony.

Luckily, my day job changed from one where there was a considerable amount of driving to one where there was a considerable amount of flying, which means that the number of miles on the Boss after 25 months of so is just south of 27K. In mixed driving, I average right around 20 MPG, and on long highway trips, I have been able to get over 23 MPG. Of course, the Boss requires 91+ octane, so fuel costs are significantly higher than they were with the G8, which averaged right around 25 MPG on 87 octane. However, it’s not BAD—we’re not talking Range Rover numbers here. If I didn’t enjoy the occasional take off from red lights or hard charges through the hills of Appalachia, I’m sure it would be higher—but that’s not really the point of this car, is it? Bottom line, I drive it the way I like to drive it and it doesn’t murder me at the pumps.


Nor has it been particularly tough on tires. I’m still on my original set of OEM Pirelli P-Zeroes (with the exception of one that was replaced at about 2K miles due to an uncompromising nail), and there’s a few thousand miles of treadwear remaining. I will likely NOT replace them with Pirellis, however—there are better performing BF-Goodrich and/or Hankooks to be had that don’t cost $500-600 each. DO NOT drive the Boss 302 in the snow, or at least not on the OEM tires—apparently stupid summer tire driving choices (All-seasons! — JB) run in the family, as my excursion in the snow one day led to a miraculous save from a ditch that scraped my right rear rim significantly. I’m sure the car would be acceptable on snow tires, but I chose to buy a used Subaru for less than a set of wheels and tires would run.


The trunk has proven to be large enough for just about anything. I can easily fit a 27” suitcase, a duffle carry on, and a tenor saxophone case in it with a little bit of room to spare. A week’s worth of groceries for a family of four presents no challenge to the Boss, as it will easily accommodate the cargo in the trunk. However, a weeklong vacation for the family requires us to take our Flex, as two adults and two children plus luggage is just too much.

As far as the actual daily driving dynamics? Purely delightful. The Boss’ adjustable shocks with five different settings can take the car from harsh and uncompromising on the track to tolerable comfort levels on the street. I’ve never set the shocks to anything other than full soft (street) or full stiff (track/autocross), nor have I felt the need to. The steering rack has three speeds, from Comfort to Sport, and I have found that Comfort is more than enough agility for even spirited street driving, whereas Sport transforms it into an AP1 S2000-like rack. It can get you into trouble pretty quickly, but it can also get you out of it.

The Getrag transmission is the part of the car that probably gets the most flak on the intarwebz, but I’ve never found it to be a problem. If you want a car that’s easy to drive, the Boss just isn’t for you, anyway. I fully admit that I opt not to drive it when there are more mundane tasks to be done—I find my Flex to be a much more mindless drive. The Boss requires engagement of all the senses. If the government really wanted to stop texting and driving, they’d just give everyone a Boss 302—I’m not saying it can’t be done, but you really wouldn’t want to. It doesn’t like being cruised around the neighborhood in first gear. The clutch is still incredibly light and sensitive after two years, and the tires will still easily chirp in third gear. Our noted and prolific commentator, BigTruckSeriesReview, will be either pleased or saddened to know that virtually nothing non-exotic will beat the Boss off the line, especially with Trackey Launch Control— even after 27K miles, 4 seconds flat from 0-60 is a cakewalk. This is a car that demands to be driven, not simply pointed and steered.

The Recaro seats are not the most comfortable things in the world for longer commutes, especially for those who have the misfortune of being in the passenger seat. As the driver, I find them to be tolerable, but all who have endured more than an hour in the passenger’s chair complain of back pain and stiffness. There’s also not really a comfortable position for your passenger to take a nap or relax, as the Recaros are designed for total engagement. But who cares when you’re romping down I-40 from Tennessee into North Carolina, handling curves at breakneck speeds? You and your passenger will be thankful for the lateral support.

The back seats? Quite good for youngsters, and sufficient for short distances for adults. My six-year-old son and three-year-old daughter fit entirely comfortably in their forward-facing child seats, and the seats are surprisingly easy to remove and install, provided that you’re able to climb in and out of the back yourself. Not too hard for me at 5’9”, 175, but for somebody over 6’, it might be a challenge. Also, if either the passenger’s or driver’s seats are being occupied by somebody over 5’9”, then legroom begins to be somewhat compromised. Again, not a problem for me (my most frequent passenger is about 5’5”), but it could be for others.

The interior shows no wear or tear at all—everything still looks brand new when I take the time to vacuum out the cracker crumbs and pick up the toys. Ford put their best people on this one. While it may not have the refinement of a German or Japanese interior, it has been every bit as durable.

On that note—it probably has fewer interior bells and whistles than any $30K car on the market…heck, maybe even any $20K car on the market, but you know that going in. If you want a big navigation screen, leather seats, and a powerful stereo, Ford will happily sell you a Mustang GT for less money (or a Shelby GT500 for much, much more), and you’ll be happier. However, if you want the snarl and handling of the Boss, you’re likely not that interested. Bluetooth and SYNC work perfectly well, although the Bluetooth handsfree phone usage is totally useless once you decide to open up the side exhaust—nobody will be able to understand a word you say. Spotify streams delightfully well through SYNC. Although the stereo won’t inspire any audiophiles, it is more or less sufficient…but who would want to drown out that Coyote engine noise (not that you could)?

Which leads me to this—the Boss is loud, and when you remove the restrictors from the side exhaust and put in the Trackey, it’s LOUD. The rumble under acceleration is heavenly, and the lopey tone at idle is intentionally reminiscent of the original Boss 302. Don’t drive this car unless you like being noticed—everywhere I’ve driven it, whether it’s Chicago, Charlotte, or Charleston, people look at the car (yes, I know—you live in an incredibly wealthy city where nobody would look twice at a Boss 302). I wouldn’t recommend trying to commit any crimes in it. It’s a brash, bold car, both visually and aurally. I suppose that my School Bus Yellow color choice doesn’t help there, either, but none of the Boss colors are particularly bland. Even the Performance White stands out due to the black striping.

Maintenance has been worry-free, with the exception that 5W-50 oil is not easy to find, so you can’t just go to Jiffy Lube or Valvoline for oil changes (not that you’d want to, anyway). Either do it yourself or take it to a dealership, and even they will likely have to run to O’Reilly (as mine does every time). I do have an annoying fan sound coming from the passenger vent, so I’ll likely have to take it in for that when I just can’t tolerate it anymore. Boss 302 forums are totally devoid of “known issues,” and I certainly haven’t experienced anything problematic.

I really want to be “objective” and write some bad things about the car…but I just can’t. It’s been damned near perfect. I have never regretted the decision to buy it once, not even when I write my monthly payment check for it. If you never intend to drive it on the track or autocross, then a GT Premium probably makes more sense, or perhaps a SRT-8 Challenger…but neither of those say BOSS 302 on the side. Used Boss 302s are still commanding near-new money on the used market, but I am guessing that they will start to slide a bit when the new Mustang hits showrooms, and probably further when the GT 350 arrives. Snatch one up, and I guarantee you’ll love yours just as much as I love mine.

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Mercedes: Maybach Trim To Potentially Grace GL-Class Tue, 08 Jul 2014 10:00:30 +0000 2013-Mercedes-Benz-GL450-4MATIC-main_rdax_646x396

Not content with only the S-Class receiving the Maybach treatment for a potential shout-out in Lorde’s next jam, Mercedes-Benz wants to take the Maybach trim line to the next level: The GL-Class. reports the automaker wants to give a super-luxury makeover to the seven-passenger premium SUV as it seeks to make Maybach to luxury what AMG is to performance. Should this indeed follow the upcoming S-Class by Maybach — based upon the two-row W222 sedan over the three-row pullman at the top of the class — the GL will retain its architecture while receiving styling tweaks and S-Class technology, such as semi-active suspension with body-roll control.

Mercedes board member in charge of research and development, Dr. Thomas Weber, sees potential in the growing super-luxury SUV segment — led by the likes of Bentley, Rolls-Royce and Lamborghini — for his employer to mount its own offensive, opining that it’s only a matter of “how fast and how parallel” Mercedes can bring the GL-Class by Maybach into production.

As for where the new SUV would turn up, the Middle East, Russia and the United States are among the key markets up for consideration.

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2015 Ford Escort Goes Sunbathing Months Before Showroom Debut Mon, 07 Jul 2014 13:00:13 +0000 ford-escort-china-1

The last time the Chinese-market Ford Escort was seen, it had made its world debut during the 2014 Beijing Auto Show. Over the weekend, however, new official photos had surfaced.

CarNewsChina reports the Escort, originally due in showrooms Q4 2014, will instead arrive in January 2015. The new compact will retail between ¥90,000 and ¥120,000 ($14,510 – $19,347 USD), and will come with a 1.5-liter I4 driving 110 horsepower and 81 ft-lb of torque to the front through either a five-speed manual or six-speed automatic.

The Escort is underpinned by the current China-made Focus Classic, which in turn is based upon the second-gen Focus riding on the C1 platform. It will replace the Focus Classic, and slot under the current third-gen Focus.

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Capsule Review: 2014 Scion FR-S Mon, 07 Jul 2014 12:00:31 +0000 2014-scion-frs-001

If you purchase a Scion FR-S with an automatic transmission, I hope you’re deeply ashamed. There might be a legitimate reason. I’d accept a condition that prevents you from working a clutch and shifter. You know, something like losing a tussle with gangrene as a child or an advanced Type-II Diabetes induced foot-ectomy.

Harsh, inconsiderate statements, but why the hell would you want this car with an automatic?


I was deeply disappointed by this 2014 Scion FR-S, and I was disappointed by a 2013 FR-S before that. Both were afflicted with automatic transmissions. When it shifts on its own, it’s only half as good. Instead of working in harmony with the excellent chassis, the dopey automatic slams and locks the door on driver engagement.

There are still brilliant elements. The styling is handsome, restrained and timeless. If it only lasts a single generation, the FT-86 is going to be a classic the instant it’s no longer available. The long hood, short deck, stubby little trunklid, and fenders arching over the front wheels make up a great-looking car.

Greasy Prius tires, the story goes, were chosen to bring the limits down and make the car more fun on every drive. It works. The FR-S doesn’t need a race track to make you smile. Other ToyoBaru legend-making will include threadbare references to the old AE-86 Corolla. I contend that we’re looking back too fondly. The FR-S isn’t cheap speed, either, racking up a $28,711 price tag configured as I drove it. Options were limited to the rear bumper applique, fog lights, rear spoiler, and the BeSpoke premium audio package, which at $1,198 makes up the bulk of the increase over the $25,800 base MSRP.


For 2014, Scion added some leather-like padded vinyl to cover what had been areas of cheap plastic. It’s an effective trick that premiums up the place. The BeSpoke infotainment system includes navigation, voice control, and Bluetooth connectivity, but it will make you work for it. The unit is fiddly to use, the screen is small, and the Bluetooth sound quality will annoy the people you’re calling. Still, it’s refreshing to get a cabin that’s more of a business office. The important controls are located well and easy to use, and that discourages getting distracted by the electronics. After all, we’re here to drive.

The FR-S is a swell trainer. All of the attitudes and responses of a performance car are available to you without the need to plunge past 100 mph. Much like a Miata is a great performance driving starter kit, the FR-S is an accurate-handling car with well-weighted steering, an alert ride, and responsive turn-in. There’s a Torsen limited slip differential standard, and 17″ wheels with 215/45 tires are small these days, but about all you need with the modest curb weight. The FR-S is certainly equipped as a serious driver’s car, ain’t it a bitch that it’s got no lungs to match the legs?


If only the FR-S had about 100 more horsepower. Actually, I wish for about 75 lb-ft more torque, no need to be greedy. The 2.0 liter Subaru boxer is tweaked up with the Toyota D-4S dual fuel-injection rig that uses its direct injectors all the time and supplements with port injection under certain conditions. Scion touts the 100 hp per liter, and it is good for a naturally-aspirated engine. Thank the high 12.5:1 compression ratio for the 200 hp the engine delivers, but torque is a paltry 151 lb-ft to move 2,800 lbs. That’s something not even a 4.10:1 final drive can make up for.

Wimpy engines are more palatable with manual transmissions. While the automatic may help with off-the-line torque multiplication, I hated the mushy flat spot in the middle of the rpm range. Flatten the pedal, nothing much is going on until you clear 4,500 rpm. That’s a long wait. Dyno tests of the FR-S have shown a deep drop-off in torque from 3-4,000 rpm, and boy howdy do you feel it behind the wheel.


Despite the sharp handling, the FR-S is a chore to drive with the auto. It’s less involving than it could be, it doesn’t have enough power to be responsive, and even with a sport mode and paddle shifters, the entertainment is marginal. I’m not a fan of automatics masquerading as race-bred automated gearboxes, and this six-speed in the FR-S is no exception. Up or down, shifts happen too slowly, and that’s something no amount of gimmicky rev-matching can fix. By the time the transmission gets around to delivering what you’ve asked for, the moment has passed, the apex you were clipping is in the mirror, and that’s that. Yawn city instead of yee-haw.

The aftermarket can help, just like it’s been supporting Miata buyers in search of increased wattage for years. Superchargers are a start, V8 swaps have happened. “You’ll mess up the balance!” they’ll cry. Yes, some, but the FR-S could use a little irresponsible imbalance. Trading some increased understeer and a slightly higher center of gravity for a deeper, more flexible well of whoop-ass would be a worthwhile transaction.

The official line is that the wonderful new turbo version of this engine in the WRX won’t fit. There’s also nothing in the Toyota or Subaru dugout that’s packaged like a pushrod small-block, so dreams of a dry-sumped aluminum OHV V8 snuggled against the firewall are just that. Subaru and Toyota are telling the truth. Automakers have to make stuff fit, meet crash standards, avoid setting things on fire, and be reliable for tens of thousands of miles. That’s hard and expensive, and it’s why we can’t have nice things.

They say turbo plumbing won’t fit, and as neat as it would be to drop the 3.6 liter flat six from the Outback in the nose of one of these things, that’s about as likely to happen as a turbine. A talented individual with money (lots of money), time (lots of time), and skill (lots of skill) can turn the FR-S into whatever he or she pleases, powered by whatever can be made to fit. It’s a great platform for the modern-day AC Cobra or Sunbeam Tiger. Box-stock, especially with an automatic, the usefulness of the Scion FR-S is limited.


The problem comes down to money. A Mustang GT is a squeak away at $31,210, less if you can find a dealer hot to move the now-finite S197 models to make room for the 2015 S550 platform Mustang. For a little bit more every month, or a slightly longer loan with a quarter or half point more on the interest rate, you’ll get a 420 hp V8 and a chassis that’s not anywhere near as disciplined as the FR-S, but good enough. A Mustang GT can make the FR-S a small speck in the mirror and keep it there, whether the road is straight or twisty. A Mustang V6 Premium is priced right on top of the FR-S and will whip it, good. Any multitude of ratty used performance cars are truly vehicular methamphetamine capable of deeply embarrassing the guy bringing his $30,000 Scion to track day.

It probably sounds like I don’t like the FR-S. That’s not true. The upgrades for 2014 dress up the interior. The BeSpoke infotainment option is a nice suite of tech where previously there was none. The chassis is still the standout feature, though I wish they’d get over the hybrid tires and put some real performance rubber on it. The entertainment-versus-efficiency tradeoff is good, delivering a lot of fun with a small appetite. The FR-S remains a nimble, good-looking car. It also still screams for some real power and the automatic could make a yogi have a tantrum. Just learn to shift.

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Next-Generation Jeep Wrangler To Take Fight To Soft-Roaders, Hold Rubicon Mon, 07 Jul 2014 12:00:13 +0000 5-2013-wrangler-rubicon-10th-anniversary-anvil

With more SUVs preferring the high street over muddy, rocky trails, Jeep boss Mike Manley plans for the next-generation Wrangler to better compete against these soft-roaders while still maintaining its Rubicon cred.

Automotive News reports Manley’s plan to include “continued improvements of the powertrain package,” which may mean being fitted with Chrysler’s eight-speed automatic and either a smaller gasoline engine than the current 3.6-liter V6 or a diesel like that found in Ram’s 1500 EcoDiesel.

Regarding weight, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles CEO Sergio Marchionne believes aluminium would be another key ingredient in not only bringing down weight, but improving fuel economy on top of the aforementioned powertrain upgrades.

As for the solid front and rear axles that give the Wrangler its off-road prowess to compensate for increased weight and rougher highway travel, Manley didn’t say whether or not they would stay for the next generation of the iconic vehicle — due sometime in 2017 at the earliest — though he vowed Jeep would not “dilute what Wrangler stands for,” citing his killing of the two-wheel-drive Wrangler upon taking the brand’s reins.

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2015 Audi A3 Sedan Sales Outpacing Supply, Stealing From Honda, Toyota Mon, 07 Jul 2014 11:00:31 +0000 Audi S3 Limousine

The 2015 Audi A3 Sedan is doing quite well for itself in the United States since its arrival back in April of this year, even if the hipster parties during the sedan’s U.S. unveiling more than likely just amused the automaker’s traditional clientele instead of attracting younger buyers as the party plan intended.

Autoblog reports Audi of America sold 2,452 A3 Sedans in June alone, with just over 25 percent of consumers under the age of 30. That particular group of young Audi drivers are new to the automaker, brand conquests over Honda and Toyota.

As for buying one right now, there may be a line ahead of you: Audi is still stocking its dealer network with the $30,795 sedan, with a wait as long as 30 days for those wanting specific features for their A3. The line may grow longer, however, when the automaker’s A3 E-tron arrives in Q2 2015, with every one of Audi’s U.S. dealerships being granted the opportunity to sell the PHEV.

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BMW: No M Badge For 4 Series Gran Coupe Mon, 07 Jul 2014 10:00:50 +0000 bmw-4-series-m-sport

Those who were looking forward to a smaller version of BMW’s M6 Gran Coupe can stop holding their breath: the automaker is declining to produce the M4 Gran Coupe. reports BMW’s M sales boss Jörg Bartels confirmed the decision not to proceed during the Australian launch of the new 3 and 4 series last week:

That is a negative. It was definitely considered, but there is no plan to build an M4 Gran Coupe. Part of the reason is expected production volume, but also the 4 Series Gran Coupe is built in a different factory to both the 3 Series (sedan) and 4 Series (coupe), so there is a lot of challenges there.

The M badge is set to grace both 3 and 4 series in their respective sedan and coupe configurations, as well as the M4 Convertible, while the 3 Series Gran Turismo — like the 5 Series version — will do without.

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Capsule Review: Jeep Grand Cherokee EcoDiesel Sat, 05 Jul 2014 16:00:36 +0000 2014-Jeep-Grand-Cherokee-EcoDiesel-4

To most North American consumers, diesel is an exotic powertrain option, full of promise when it comes to torque and efficiency. It rarely delivers on the promise.

Based on our impressions of the Ram 1500 EcoDiesel, the same 3.0L V6 fitted to the Jeep Grand Cherokee seemed to be extremely promising – especially now that gas prices have spiked to record highs. But something was lost in the transition from truck to SUV.

The most jarring difference is the lack of smoothness that won us over in the Ram. The same engine that is nearly silent and effortlessly smooth in the Ram seems to have a much more audible, agricultural note, with inferior NVH characteristics. Somehow, the leisure-oriented SUV ends up feeling more like the work vehicle.

Diesel die-hards may shrug this off as panty-waist behavior from someone not used to compression ignition engines, but convincing customers to spend the extra $4,500 is going to be a tough sell for anyone who didn’t buy a diesel Grand Cherokee last time around. Especially when they hit the remote start only to be greeted with a school-bus soundtrack on cold starts.

That’s not to say that there are only drawbacks with the diesel. There is prodigious torque on tap (420 lb-ft, and 240 horsepower), and all that power is a great match for the silky smooth 8-speed ZF gearbox. Even compared to the 5.7L Hemi, passing is effortless at speed, while highway cruising tends to downplay the drivetrain noise. Only the woosh of the turbo is heard when you summon the prodigious twist of the VM Motori V6.

The rest of the car, like all Grand Cherokees, is superb. The steering has more feel than many passenger cars, while the air suspension gives superb ride characteristics on any road. I am on record as being UConnect’s biggest fan, and I can think of no better car to cover long distances in. Except for a gasoline powered Grand Cherokee.

Even though the EcoDiesel returned about 27 mpg (and that’s cruising at 75 mph with the A/C on – the EPA rates it at 28 mpg highway), I would find it hard to justify buying anything beyond the Pentastar V6/8-speed combo, similar to what Jack’s father bought.

If you are doing serious towing, or covering enough miles to justify the added cost of the diesel engine (and the higher resale value of the diesel should also help), then perhaps it makes sense. For myself, and many other consumers, the V6, V8 – hell, even the SRT – models will make more sense, given how quickly the higher trim level Summit models with the EcoDiesel can breach the $60k barrier.

As far as I’m concerned, the Grand Cherokee is still the best SUV on sale at any price. It has just the right mix of luxury, performance and discretion to be appropriate in any environment. The driving experience is more in line with premium European offerings than anything built by America or Japan. And given all this, I had high hopes for the diesel, and it did deliver on the promise of V8-like power with much better fuel economy. But I’m not sure it’s the all-purpose solution that many people were expecting. For me, that would be a nicely equipped Laredo with the gasoline V6.

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Review: 2015 Golf TSI Auto Sat, 05 Jul 2014 12:00:36 +0000 IMG_6400

Who buys one of these things instead of the brilliant GTI? Sure, in Europe the Golf is a default-mode transportation device the way the Corolla is in the United States — but that doesn’t change the fact that anybody who buys a German(-branded) hatchback on this side of the Atlantic is trying to make a statement, the same way that anybody who eats “Pocky” in the United States is trying to make a statement.

Perhaps the Mk7 Golf TSI, particularly in the metallic blue exterior/cream interior variant we drove in San Francisco, makes the right kind of statement to the right kind of people. The one that says, “I’m not a GTI racer wannabe, I just want to drive exactly what someone in our perfectly enlightened and cultured and correct mother continent of Europe would drive.” Driving a GTI is kind of like eating a salad with a lot of dressing — there’s a suspicion that you might not be into the spirit of the thing. Driving the TSI, on the other hand, is much like telling everybody that you don’t own a television.


The real-word pricing on these 170hp/200lb-ft tq Golfs is between $19,800 and $28k. On all but the “S” trim, you can get the TDI for an extra grand or so. From a resale and longevity standpoint, it would be wise to do so. Everybody knows that diesel VWs have a very different retained-value profile from gas-powered ones, particularly as they approach their tenth birthday and beyond. As soon as I find my photos of the TDI I’ll do a review on that, but the gist of it will be this: there’s virtually no penalty for the diesel in daily use. In the meantime, let’s go driving this newest 1.8t.


The combination of light upholstery and the extremely convincing metal-look trim in the Golf is just so right for NorCal. It’s hip, fresh, airy, upscale-feeling, and not at all aggressive. The GTI isn’t classy like this; the GTI is try-hard with its piano-black sportlich dash and golf-ball shifter and extra GTI logos and whatnot. Imagine you were taking a user-interface designer for Facebook on a first date: do you want her to see you in a light-blue Golf or a bright-red GTI? Exactly.

Into “D” and the TSI is immediately impressive with plenty of low-end shove that doesn’t completely strangle a nice rush to the redline. This is a sporting motor in execution if not intent and it has a lot of the revvy friendly character that made the old five-valve 1.8t such an unexpected joy in the MkIV Golf GLS four-door. (Removing completely incorrect paragraph about the transmission, brought on by mis-reading my notes — JB)

This being the widest, most spacious, and most rigid Golf in history, it’s no surprise that the TSI is an exceptionally pleasant companion in traffic and on side roads. The space (up front, anyway) and the refinement are easily on par with the Camcord class above it. That’s reasonable, because when you equip it like a Camry SE it kind of costs Camry SE money. So what do you get in exchange for going down a segment at the same price?

Well, you get the exceptionally tasteful interior, although the temperature knobs wobble a bit too much for my taste and some of the plastics around the seat are very obviously hecho in Mexico. You get the “V-Tex” leatherette which is very good and likely to wear pretty well. (Side note: Calling it “V-Tex” is sort of like of me calling my occasional band “Uranium Zeppelin”. If you want to riff on the legends, you’d better come correct. I’m not sure VW has earned the name.) You get a turbo four and twin-clutch transmission that are more responsive than the big-inch one-bar four-bangers in the Camry and friends and considerably more enjoyable to push hard.

You also get a remarkably composed chassis. A run up a few canyon roads revealed that even without the stiff springs and thick swaybars of the GTI, this is an inherently enthusiastic automobile. It likes to turn, it can be steered with the throttle in the midcorner, it reliably swallows bumps on unfamiliar roads. The brakes seemed solid enough but at the top of one hill they exhaled plumes of smoke through the wheels so perhaps that was pushing them too hard. In deference to my predecessor in this E-I-C position, I should also say something about how the MQB chassis didn’t squeak or rustle (true) and how it’s going to take over the world in the next three minutes (not sure about that one). There is a difference between the old Golfs and the new ones; they felt solid but this one is halfway to a Phaeton in the way it refuses to flex under load. And remember: this is a hatchback. Having that big hole in back doesn’t help matters when it comes to stiffness.

Of course, the latest generation of Camcords is also pretty stiff and light and in the case of the Trope Namers they’re both pretty enthusiastic steers with the proper options selected. So not only is it difficult to make a case for the VW over our market defaults based on the numbers, it’s kind of tough to make it based on the intangibles of chassis stiffness or suspension tuning or back-road charisma. True, you need an “SE” or “Sport” version of a Camcord to keep up with this not-explicitly-sporting Golf, but you won’t have to look very hard to find them at your local dealer.

I wouldn’t buy this particular car. I’d buy a GTI, public image be damned. Or I’d buy the manual-transmission version of the TSI, which Volkswagen continues to offer. Or I’d buy a Camry SE, knowing that it’s just as quick and handles just as well and has more room and will last approximately forever and will be worth real money to any CarMax I can roll it down a hill to in ten years.

But I’m not the market for this car. I’m too old, too track-focused, too unhip, too flyover, too everything. The people who are buying these cars don’t care to acknowledge the existence of the Camry SE. They’ll buy this VW because it’s like a tie from Hickoree’s or having Sun Kill Moon on vinyl or using the word “Murica” ironically in conversation: it sends the right signals to the right people. In that respect, the sacrifices one makes to own a Golf over a Camry — in size, in likely durability, in having to endure the VW dealer body, in resale — are positive because they ensure that no stupid mother of two from Iowa is going to accidentally buy the same Golf TSI that you, the San Jose-based social media consultant, have just purchased.

Go ahead and buy one, then. It’s the right car for you. And more than ever, it’s also a pretty good car. Just know this: that distinct feeling of superiority you get when you see some prole in a Fusion… well, you should keep shaded, because it might not stand the light of day.


(Volkswagen provided travel and accommodations for this test.)

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Fiat Sets Date Of Shareholder Meeting For August 1 Fri, 04 Jul 2014 13:00:38 +0000 A new Fiat Chrysler Automobiles sign is pictured after being unveiled at Chrysler Group World Headquarters in Auburn Hills, Michigan

Own any shares in Fiat S.p.A.? The automaker just announced it will hold its next general assembly of all shareholders August 1, where the topic of discussion will be the approval of the merger of Fiat with Chrysler Group to become Fiat Chrysler Automobiles N.V.

Reuters reports shareholders will also be asked to approve the merger of Fiat with its wholly owned subsidiary Netherlands Fiat Investments N.V. prior to the FCA vote. The meeting would allow CEO Sergio Marchionne to list FCA on the New York Stock Exchange by October at the earliest.

Those who approve FCA’s existence will receive one FCA common share for every Fiat share they hold, while those against will have the right of withdrawal for the next 15 days, with the redemption price set to €7.727 ($10.51 USD) per Fiat share.

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Reuters: GM Ignition Woes Came As Early As 1997 Fri, 04 Jul 2014 12:00:29 +0000 GM RenCen Downtown Detroit

It may have taken nearly 14 years for one ignition switch issue to finally find attention, but General Motors’ ignition woes go as far back as 1997, when Chevrolet Malibu owners had their own switch problems.

Reuters reports one of the earliest complaints filed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration was in April of that year, when a New Jersey woman said she had been stuck on the road seven times with her new Malibu due to the switch’s inability to turn and the key stuck in place. The defective part was replaced twice, but to no avail. Other complaints include the key being easily removable while the power was still on, and power suddenly cutting out.

By 2001, when the 2000 Chevrolet Impala experienced its own ignition issues similar to those in the Malibu and, further on, the Cobalt and Saturn Ion, GM sent a pair of service bulletins to its dealership network, offering potential solutions to remedy the problems in both vehicles. However, no recall would be issued until Monday’s order of 8.4 million vehicles.

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BMW Brings New North American Plant To Mexico Fri, 04 Jul 2014 11:00:44 +0000 BMW Harald Kruger + Mexico President Enrique Peña Nieto

It’s official: BMW’s second North American assembly plant will be built in Mexico, with production to begin in 2019.

Autoblog reports the $1 billion USD plant will be located near San Luis Potosí, and will employ around 1,500 to produce up to 150,000 units per year, the majority of which will likely take auto trains north to the United States as noted by BMW Group board member Harald Krueger:

This decision underscores our commitment to the NAFTA region. We have been building BMW cars at our US plant in Spartanburg for the past 20 years. With a planned annual capacity of 150,000 units for the new plant in Mexico, the BMW Group will be even better positioned to take advantage of the growth potential in the entire region. The Americas are among the most important growth markets for the BMW Group. We are continuing our strategy of “production follows the market.”

As for what will be built, BMW remains silent on the subject. Early speculation points to 3 and 1 series production, as well as MINIs.

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