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. Wed, 23 Jul 2014 16:29:19 +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 Rental Review: Cadillac ATS 2.0T AWD Wed, 23 Jul 2014 13:58:05 +0000 photo (40)

11 years ago, Cadillac told us that they were “The Standard of the World”, in a blast of Zeppelin-backed TV spots and aggressively geometric styling. The 2003 CTS wasn’t even the standard for North American luxury cars, but hey, it took Audi another 30 years to even come close to making that claim. Cadillac seems to be moving at a much quicker pace.

Despite Cadillac’s confidence in their excellence, they are reticent to lend any press vehicles to TTAC. The timing of a recent trip required a one day rental, and the local Avis counter advertised a special on the “Cadillac CTS” for just $80 a day with unlimited mileage. It turns out that Avis does indeed rent out the CTS, but our particularly branch did not. Instead, we were assigned a silver ATS4 (all-wheel drive) with the 2.0T engine and 6-speed automatic. Remember kids, if it seems to good to be true…

It would be incorrect to say that I was disappointed, but I had hoped for the CTS precisely because a) the relentless hype had me curious about its overall competence b) we are lacking in reviews of the car and c) every ATS I have driven thus far has been a letdown. Around the time of its launch, I briefly sampled a rear-drive 3.6L with all of the bells and whistles, and found it underwhelming. A second drive, in a 2.0T with the 6-speed manual, did nothing to dispel my skepticism. The 6-speed manual was unequivocally one of the worst gearboxes I’ve ever sampled, and the engine’s NVH characteristics were shockingly coarse for a luxury sedan. I could not, for the life of me, understand the praise being heaped upon this car.

After a solid day’s drive, I have a better picture in my head of why the ATS is so highly regarded. Part of it comes down to the fact that the team of engineers, product planners, designers and marketers have managed to great a truly worthy sports sedan. The other half of that equation is that the competition has miraculously managed to recede in overall competence to the point where the ATS is the class leader by default.

The ATS can reasonably lay claim to “The Standard of the World” title by virtue of its 2.0T engine, which is, well, the new standard of the world for virtually every mid-size car that would normally have used a V6 engine, thanks to a combination of regulations and economies of scale. The 2.0T in the ATS isn’t particularly charming or refined, but it does bring 272 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque at just 1700 rpm. Like most of these new turbo four-bangers, the torque builds down low and stays fairly robust throughout the rev range that you’d use in any realistic situation, including spirited back road driving.

Acceleration, passing on two-lane roads and any other task that relies on forward thrust is accomplished with minimal fuss, and it’s hard to see why anyone would bother with the V6 when the power on tap here is so usable in everyday situations. The 6-speed automatic transmission is the superior choice versus the manual, but it doesn’t feel terribly responsive or sophisticated. However, this gearbox will likely be replaced by either the 8L90 GM 8-speed automatic, or the Aisin 8-speed from the Cadillac CTS, so dwelling on its shortcomings is a bit of a moot point.

The most compelling part of the ATS is the chassis, which stands out as a credit to GM’s engineering team. It’s hard to think of a car that is able to so expertly balance ride and handling, delivering a smooth, composed ride no matter what the road surface, while also delivering on the “sport” part of the equation. Befitting its rental car specs, our ATS had a smaller wheel and tire combo than what I normally see on the road, and that may have contributed to the ATS being a bit more sedate. But through twisty stretches of road, the ATS still delivered in a big way, with flat cornering, eager turn-in and communicative, if not particularly weighty steering.

A spirited drive makes it plain why the ATS was met with such a chorus of approval when it debuted. GM has finally made a proper sports sedan that is better to drive than the current BMW 3-Series. Part of this has to do with the fact that current F30 has lost its way in such a severe manner that the ATS assumes this mantle by default: I have not driven the Lexus IS350, our EIC’s favorite sports sedan, and I know that an E90 328i is superior in every way, but right now, the ATS is without a doubt the best handling luxury sports sedan on the market.

Unfortunately, it has two glaring flaws.

  1. The back seat is tiny. Cadillac stole a lot of good things from the BMW playbook. One of them seems to be the size of the E36′s rear seat area. My two passengers, at 5’8″ and 6’2″, were initially enthusiastic about my rental car selection. By the end of it, they were cursing the Caddy.
  2. CUE is unequivocally the worst infotainment system on the planet. By comparison, the early renditions of MyFord Touch look like something running iOS. The haptic controls never quite worked the way they were meant to and even the slightest bump or pothole in the road can send your finger veering off to the tab or menu item that you didn’t intend to touch, leaving you to navigate through a confusing menu system that only leads to distracted driving.

With more time, a more thorough evaluation of the ATS, but for now, I can only determine that somewhere within the bowels of the RenCen, there are a talented group of engineers that are capable of making something that truly is “The Standard of the World”. Their electronics division is another matter…


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Galhotra Takes The Reins As Lincoln’s New President Wed, 23 Jul 2014 12:00:04 +0000 ashwani-kumar-galhotra.img.1375822969106

As one of his first major moves since becoming CEO, Ford’s Mark Fields named vice president of engineering Kumar Galhotra as president of Lincoln, effective September 1.

Automotive News reports Galhotra, who will report directly to the new CEO, will be the premium brand’s first president since Al Giombetti left the post in 2007. The move will also reduce executive vice president of global sales, service and marketing Jim Farley’s role with Lincoln, which will be focused on marketing the brand once Galhotra takes over.

The new president — an engineer and product executive who has worked with Lincoln, Ford and Mazda in the past — will bring his marketing experience to the table as Lincoln prepares to launch in China later in 2014; he headed Ford’s Asia Pacific division from 2009 to 2013, and helped bring about the new Ranger pickup to market.

Speaking of the division, engineering director Jim Holland will move from there to replace Galhotra as Ford’s vice president of engineering, reporting to global product development chief Raj Nair.

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Tata To Enter Global Passenger Market With Help Of Jaguar Land Rover Wed, 23 Jul 2014 10:00:44 +0000 Tata-Xenon-11

Having done well with Jaguar Land Rover in its portfolio, Tata Motors is now turning to its premium subsidiary for its own foray into passenger cars and SUVs. reports the parent company is using the technical and design know-how JLR to begin growing its passenger vehicle line in Australia and beyond, though Darren Bowler, managing director of importer Fusion Automotive, assures that no badge engineering would occur between the two brands.

What would be shared, according to Bowler, would be platforms and engines, such as the global platform underpinning the upcoming Nexon SUV that could “be used as an Evoque… a Tata, [or] a Jaguar,” as well as the Ingenium family of four-cylinder engines that will soon turn up under the bonnet of many a JLR product.

In the meantime, Tata Australia plans to tackle the medium- and heavy-duty markets with the Ultra and Prima, both joining the light-duty Xenon.

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Track Analysis: Challenger V6 Track Pack, HEMI Scat Pack, SRT Hellcat Tue, 22 Jul 2014 19:45:01 +0000

Getting decent conclusions from very limited data is the sort of thing of which Nobel Prizes are made. What you’re about to read won’t be Nobel-worthy; however, I believe it will help you understand how fast the Hellcat and how it compares to both the other Challengers and the external competition.

I got a total of six flying laps at PIR, a place to which I’d never been, in three different cars. I had traffic in my face for all but two of those laps, and I had no truly clear laps in the Hellcat. But let’s start with the basics. I drove these three cars in this order:

Challenger R/T 6.4L Scat Pack 6MT: lap time of 1:38.9 with a top speed of 122mph on the back straight.
Challenger V6 Super Track Pack 8AT: lap time of 1:38.3 with a top speed of 112.5mph on the back straight.
Challenger SRT Hellcat 6MT: lap time of 1:33.7 with a top speed of 136mph on the back straight.

So let’s start by eliminating some of the variables. The only clean lap I got in the Scat Pack was my first-ever lap of PIR. There’s no way I was going to turn a brilliant lap time first time out. Analysis shows I was 6mph slower going into the turn before the long straight than I was in the average of the other cars. My line in the V6 which I drove afterwards was better. After looking at the data and assuming that the Scat Pack can turn about as well as the V6, I’ve guesstimated a 1:36 at 127mph for the Scat Pack.

How did other people do: This video shows SRT’s Vehicle Dynamics Engineer Marco Diniz de Oliveira running a 1:33.0 with the same spec car that I drove. Compared to my videotaped 1:33.7 lap you can see that he didn’t have to lift for a frightened journo like I did on the front straight, and he also didn’t goatfuck the chicane the way I did. (My excuse: I was so annoyed at being balked that I held throttle too long.) I’m reasonably confident that I got about as much out of the Hellcat as I was going to in two laps. Given ten more laps, I think a 1:31.5 was well within reach. Keeping pinned on the straight is worth half a second, doing the chicane right is worth a second and a half, and I could have shortened the braking zone in back.

Another journalist whom I won’t name was kind enough to let me “run data” with them in the V6 Challenger that I drove. He turned a 1:58.3 with a top speed of 105.5mph on the back straight. That two-minute-ish lap time is approximately representative of what most people were doing out there and it’s why I kept running into traffic.

So those are the caveats. Now let’s look at some stats.

First off, acceleration. The corner before the back straight shows the Hellcat with a low speed of 43.5mph against 41.7mph for the V6. That’s the extra tire you get with the Hellcat which is only partially canceled out by the weight of the engine. As we pass the access road on the back straight, the V6 has accelerated to 87mph and the ScatPack to a corrected 93mph. How fast is the Hellcat going? Survey says: 102mph. That is brutal acceleration. More impressively, the gap widens as speeds increase. Supercharged cars often feel breathless at the top of the rev range because they are optimized to push air at low speeds and unlike turbo-supercharged (to use the old phrase) cars there’s no compound effect as the exhaust gases push the turbo faster. As an example, when I drove the GT500 at VIR I found myself dueling a Porsche GT2 on the back straight. The Shelby had legs on the GT500 in the first half of VIR’s long stretch but the GT2 picked up as speeds increased and it wasn’t all due to frontal area.

Now for braking. A similar push of the brake pedal produced a .78g retarding force in the V6, a .86g one in the four-piston Brembo Scat Pack, and .98g in the Hellcat. These numbers have to be understood in context, not as absolutes, because of the way my phone was mounted in the car and the general issues with Android accelerometers. Only the V6 ever felt underbraked in these short lap situations; it doesn’t have enough thermal capacity as supplied for two hard laps. The others were fine, with the Hellcat having a considerable edge in feel and response. My experience with the Z/28 at Thermal Club for last month’s Road&Track showed me that it’s possible to put enough brake on a ponycar, but you have to be willing to spend a LOT of money on it. As expensive as the Brembo system on the Hellcat must be, it ain’t carbon ceramic and when you’re slowing two tons down from a considerable velocity it’s worth getting the right material for the job.


This is the V6 lap.


This is the Hellcat lap.

Cornering isn’t exactly an open and shut case, which is why the V6 might be a satisfying track car if you could upgrade the brakes a bit via pads and fluid. Data for all three cars shows that they are capable of about the same max cornering g and speed, with a slight edge going to the Hellcat in pretty much all the corners. What the data can’t show you is that the Hellcat feels like it’s from a different class with regards to body roll control and suspension dynamics. Given enough time on a racetrack, you’d feel comfortable pushing the Hellcat harder in quick transitions and in long high-g turns. There’s a superiority of feedback that is no doubt due to better tires and higher-quality suspension. With that said, however, this is primarily a laws-of-physics thing. Big heavy cars are never eager to change direction. Unsurprisingly, the V6 is best in transitions and the Scat Pack has the lowest cornering speeds.

As I stated earlier today, you really do get your money’s worth with the Hellcat’s engine and brake upgrades. It’s also a solid handler for its size and class. Let’s do some subjective rankings as far as track-fitness goes, based on things I’ve driven recently:

Viper ACR (previous gen)
Viper TA (current gen)
Mercedes AMG SLS Black Series
C7 Corvette Z51
C6 Corvette Z06
C6 Corvette Z51
Camaro Z/28
Boss 302-LS
Boss 302
Jack’s raggedy old 2004 Boxster S with 48,000 miles
GT500 (not counting the brakes)
The old SRT8 392
Camaro SS
Mustang 5.0 Track Pack
Challenger R/T 6.4L Scat Pack
Mustang V6 Track Pack
Challenger V6 Track Pack
Challenger R/T 5.7 Track Pack

The higher you go up that list, the more comfortable the car feels on track, but at a cost.

I wish I’d had time to drive the standard SRT8, which has 485hp now and offers the big brakes as an option. I believe that car would feel most “balanced” since you wouldn’t be arriving at corners as quickly and therefore the brakes would hold up even better and it would be easier to select the absolutely perfect corner speed — but I’d choose to spend my own money on the Hellcat, plain and simple. There are no downsides. You can pretty much instantly turn it into an SRT8 6.4L just by laying off the throttle a bit on the long straights.

At this point I normally like to talk about what the cars do when they are “out of shape” on track. The truth is that with this little time on an unfamiliar course I didn’t spend too much effort getting the Challengers past their envelope of tire grip. I can say that the Hellcat and Scat Pack can be reliably turned on the throttle and that no Challenger has ever had bad habits on track with regards to overly quick responses in extreme handling situations. If you’re good to the Challenger, it will be good to you. If you’re bad to it, you will still have plenty of time to get things right.

Ponycars are about compromise. They’re about what you’re willing to give up in order to have the admittedly minimal but occasionally mandatory backseat. With the Hellcat, the answer is simple: you’re giving up Mustang-style direction changes but gaining more power at each trim and spec level than the not-so-small Ford can offer. It would be frankly absurd to buy a Hellcat if you primarily planned on using it at the track. But for the low percentage of owners who will try it there, their experience will be positive — even if their tire bills won’t.

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Review: 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT “Hellcat” 6MT Tue, 22 Jul 2014 12:21:47 +0000 IMG_7883

To some degree, it’s about the number, right? Seven hundred and seven. The Dodge people certainly made the point again and again about how the Hellcat stacks up to everything from the Z06 to the Murcielago. Mine’s bigger than yours. And that other number — 10.9 seconds with drag radials and 11.2 without. That actually isn’t such a big deal; there are people out there who have put stock C6 Z06es with draggies into the tens. Still, they closed the freaking road course after just ninety minutes so the journalists could line up and try their hand at quarter-miles. I didn’t bother to do that. Nor did I get any street time in the Hellcat. What I got was this: four laps, none of them unimpeded. When you come back in the afternoon, I’ll tell you what my TrackMaster data showed about the Hellcat vis-a-vis the 6.4L. But for now let’s talk about what the Hellcat is and what it does.

2015 Dodge Challenger SRT with the HEMI® Hellcat engine

Here’s how you make a Hellcat: Start with the 2015 Challenger and it’s improved interior. Add Hellcat-specific visual cues, most of them related to increasing the amount of air coming through the nose. Then drop the bore size a bit, redo the motor with “91 percent new” engineering and parts, and supercharge the hell out of the cat.

Here’s the press release, there’s no sense in rewriting it:

The 2,380cc/rev blower features integral charge coolers and an integrated electronic bypass valve to
regulate boost pressure to a maximum of 80 kPa (11.6 psi). Its twin-screw rotors are specially coated

• a proprietary formula of polyimide and other resins
• nanometer-sized, wear-resistant particles
• solid lubricants, such as PTFE (Teflon)

The coating accommodates tighter tolerances between the rotors. This reduces internal air leakage and
helps deliver improved compressor performance and higher efficiencies. The coating not only can
withstand the temperatures generated by compression, it provides a superior corrosion resistance.
The new supercharged V-8, sealed for life with premium synthetic oil, boasts a drive ratio of 2.36:1 and
a maximum speed of 14,600 rpm. The drive system’s one-way clutch de-coupler improves refinement,
while allowing for precisely the kind of auditory feedback SRT customers find alluring.
The supercharger gulps air through an Air Catcher inlet port, which replaces the driver’s-side inboard
marker light and connects to a patented twin-inlet, eight-liter air box. The blower further benefits from a
92-mm throttle body – the largest ever used in a Chrysler Group vehicle.
The fuel system keeps pace with an in-tank pump that accommodates variable pressures, half-inch fuel
lines and eight injectors each capable of delivering a flow rate of 600cc/min – enough to drain the fuel
tank in approximately 13 minutes at full power.

The transmissions were re-engineered; the eight-speed automatic has bigger clutches and more gear surface throughout, allowing it to bang out 120-millisecond shifts that, on the drag strip, sound close to dual-clutch. The Tremec TR6060 has a bigger clutch, a relatively light flywheel, and stronger gears. I believe, although I cannot say for sure, that this transmission, like the Hellcat’s HEMI, is made in Mexico.

To stop the car, there’s a 15.4-inch rotor Brembo brake package with 20×9.5 inch wheels. It would appear that there are now three Brembo brake packages on these cars: the four-piston setup on the Scat Pack 6.4L with Super Track Pack, the six-piston SRT8 14.2-inch package, and this high-power six-piston setup which is optional on the SRT8 and standard on the Hellcat.

Other fun features: an available flat-black hood, a removable lower grille for track use, (“Seven screws,” we were told, “it will take owners five minutes”) deliberately plain “SRT” badging, and a track key/valet key setup that also features a user-selectable “valet PIN” to limit the car to 4000rpm. A sunroof is optional, as are a couple of different color-coordinated seat packages.

It’s good value for money; the Scat Pack with a few options runs $46k so this Hellcat at $59,995 feels like a screaming bargain. And you’re almost certain to get your money back when you go to sell, assuming you don’t take too much of a beating at the hands of your dealer.

Okay. It’s late at night and you want to know how it drives. I’ll put video up later on today, but the short version is this: It is to the GT500 as the old SRT8 was to the Boss 302. The clutch is low effort, as is the shifting. The thrust is plainly massive but there’s enough tire under it to make it controllable on a racetrack. It’s very quick, but it doesn’t feel noticeably quicker than a GT500. There’s a certain viciousness you get with a ZR1 or GT500 that is blunted by the Chally’s weight here. Big motor, pushing a big car, and as a result things feel under control. It never occurred to me not to give it full throttle in a straight line on an eighty-degree Portland day. Change this to a Kentucky backroad with accumulated oil and grit, and drop the temperature to fifty, and we’ll talk about it again.

All the Challenger SRT8 virtues survive intact to the Hellcat. It really is just an SRT8 plus power. That’s what you really need to know about it. It’s not compromised or changed in any significant manner. It’s just faster, and unlike the naturally aspirated 6.4L it’s hellaciously strong everywhere, not just when the tach sweeps past four. At 1200rpm it has as much torque as the old SRT8 did at peak. So yeah — fast, effortlessly so, like a literbike.

But it also feels long-legged through the gears in a way that the GT500 doesn’t. My impression, which I’d need to check through a bunch of a documentation to confirm, is that it’s geared longer than the Shelby or the Boss or the Z/28. There’s more room to run in each gear, which given the fact that the Ford 5.4L revs higher than this 6.2L means that it’s geared higher.

On the track, the brakes and tires proved sufficient to the task, as I’ll explain later today with numbers. Unlike the Shelby, it’s far from underbraked, for a ponycar. Don’t expect Corvette-level braking performance here. There ain’t a disc brake big enough for that unless it’s on a triple-seven Boeing. This is a big car with good solid damping and big brakes, but it’s not a Corvette.

Neither is it a Z/28, not that you expected it. The Z/28 has better brakes and a lot more tire compound and it’s a bit smaller. I wouldn’t expect the Hellcat to see the nose of a Z/28 on a track, unless you’re on Road America and it’s the first lap.

I realize it’s a disappointment to say that the Hellcat is merely a faster SRT8, but that’s a hell of an accomplishment. Power like this has never been this accessible and the fact that it’s delivered in this big, comfy package is a technical knockout. You literally give up nothing by taking the high-power option, except perhaps your home equity. The Hellcat has no drawbacks except fuel economy and price. It is fully, thoroughly, completely recommended to anyone who wants a faster Challenger. Drivers who want the on-track aplomb of a Mustang or Camaro need not apply.

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Tesla Idles Plant For Two Weeks For Model X-Related Production Upgrades Tue, 22 Jul 2014 12:00:38 +0000 tesla-model-x

Those who just ordered their Tesla Model S may need to wait a bit, as the premium EV automaker has idled its California factory in order to tool up for the upcoming Model X SUV.

Bloomberg reports the reconfiguration — including 25 new robots on the floor and other modifications — began June 20, and will conclude in two weeks to the tune of $100 million and a 25 percent increase in production.

Tesla has given its assembly workers the option of reporting for maintenance and training shifts during their time off, as well as using that time for vacation.

Once completed, the newly upgraded floor should pump out some 1,000 units of the Model S per week, as well as allow for both the S and the X to be screwed together next to each other. Pricing for the EV-SUV has yet to be announced.

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Mercedes Debuts B-Class Electric Drive To US Market Tue, 22 Jul 2014 11:00:23 +0000 2014-b-class-electric-drive-2

If the upcoming Smart ForTwo isn’t quite to your liking, yet you do want something about as small with a tri-pointed star on its nose, Mercedes has brought over its B-Class Electric Drive.

Autoblog Green reports the EV compact made its world showroom debut in the United States last week, appearing in 10 coastal states at first before heading inward toward the heartland down the road. Price of admission begins at $41,150, which will net the driver an 87-mile single-charge range and 84 MPGe, about the same as the Nissan Leaf and BMW i3.

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2014 Chevrolet SS To Pace 20th Running Of Brickyard 400 Tue, 22 Jul 2014 10:00:46 +0000 Actor Chris Pratt To Drive Chevrolet SS Pace Car At Brickyard

Monday, we alerted you that the 2015 Chevrolet SS will come with a manual transmission and Magnetic Ride. Today, the current SS has thrown on some red and silver pace-car clothing to lead its tube-frame brethren over the strip of bricks at Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the 20th running of the Brickyard 400.

Autoblog reports the driver behind the wheel of this SS will be none other than actor Chris Pratt, whose latest film, Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy,” will be in theaters August 1. Pratt said it was “a dream come true to drive the pace car” for the Brickyard 400, renamed the John Wayne Walding 400 by sponsor Crown Royal in honor of the Army veteran who lost part of his right leg during the Battle of Shok Valley in 2008.

The silhouette Sprint Cup version of the SS is doing well for itself since the start of its racing career in 2013, winning 16 out of 36 races in the previous season, and claiming nine of the first 10 events in 2014. Meanwhile, the Camaro and Corvette will take up pacing duties for the support events around the Brickyard 400.

Actor Chris Pratt To Drive Chevrolet SS Pace Car At Brickyard Actor Chris Pratt To Drive Chevrolet SS Pace Car At Brickyard Actor Chris Pratt To Drive Chevrolet SS Pace Car At Brickyard Actor Chris Pratt To Drive Chevrolet SS Pace Car At Brickyard ]]> 7
Challenger Week: Here’s A Few We Did Earlier Mon, 21 Jul 2014 20:30:44 +0000 MURILEEEEEEE

A Challenger on the front page of TTAC is like a blonde on the cover of Maxim: it gets all the nerdy dudes excited. Self included. So here are some of our most exciting Challenger reviews from years past!

Derek got his hands on a HEMI R/T Shaker and kind of liked it. Kind of.

Murilee Martin checked out the 392 SRT8 and was ironically impressed.

TTAC reader favorite Alex Dykes also reviewed the 392.

Automotive Traveler’s Richard Truesdell went to Willow Springs and ignored his mirrors for a very long time while I swerved and honked behind him. Thus, the one lap review of the 392.

Ed Niedermeyer was in fine Farago-wannabe form when he blasted the pre-Pentastar V6 model.

Last but not least, here’s the five-year-old review from when I took a Challenger R/T to Summit Point. I raced it against a Miata — and won.

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Reader Review: 2014 Challenger R/T 100th Anniversary Edition Mon, 21 Jul 2014 19:55:12 +0000 2014-06-29 07.58.35

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines muscle cars as “any group of American-made 2-door sports coupes with powerful engines designed for high-performance driving.” Wikipedia goes further, and says that “a large engine is fitted in a 2-door, rear wheel drive, family-style mid-size of full-size car designed for 4 or more passengers. Sold at an affordable price, muscle cars are intended mainly for street use and occasional drag racing, and are distinct from two-seat sports cars.”

I am here to report that my 2014 Dodge Challenger R/T hits those definitions very squarely on the head.

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In fact, you could forget the words and just insert a photo of the Challenger. While other modern pony cars start with the intention of being a sports car and then throw in varying dashes of retro muscle car to ensure Boomer appeal, the Challenger starts out as a muscle car and throws in a heaping handful of American-style GT coupe. Those qualities are precisely why I chose to buy this car, and why I’ve enjoyed it so much in my 3 months and 3000+ miles of ownership to date.

Let’s start with what I bought: Here we have a 2014 Challenger R/T equipped with the 5.7 liter HEMI V8, Tremec TR-6060 6 speed manual transmission, and the 100th Anniversary Edition package. This package was developed to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Dodge brand, and includes unique exterior colors and trim, special 20 inch wheels, “cloud print” Napa leather seating, a couple small special edition badges, and a number of other trim pieces and accessories. My car is also equipped with a power sunroof and the Super Track Pack, which for only $595 includes Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar summer tires, a variable displacement power steering pump, heavier-duty brakes, and a “track tuned” suspension with Bilstein shocks.

It doesn’t matter where you go; this car simply cannot be ignored. It has grabbed the attention of countless small children, a gang of giggling Catholic high school girls, large groups of Harley guys, even larger groups of bikers (there is a difference), Sweaty Betty-clad young mothers running behind strollers, South Dakota farm boys, spiky-haired hipster girls, construction workers, elderly people, Cope-spitting cowboys, and every cop I’ve ever encountered. The car-crazy teenager down the block stares jealously as I roll through the alley. It has a presence.

The first factor in that presence is its styling, which to my eyes is as good as or better than the Mustang at presenting a modern car with throwback appeal. It straight up murders GM’s offering in this space, making the hokey, overdone, Camaro look like a cartoon. If you prefer the heritage look, you can get your R/T with more variations of racing and hockey stripes than you can handle. But my car, finished in the unique “High Octane Red Pearl” color with no stripes, sitting on big polished wheels comes across as clean, muscular, and decidedly grounded in 2014.

The more I’ve looked at my car, the more I love the little details. I didn’t always feel this way about the Challenger, and further consideration leads me to conclude that the car’s lines look best in darker colors. The domed hood with two “nostrils” calls back to the original 440 Magnum cars. The aggressive tumblehome recalls the full-sized “Fuselage” Chryslers of yore, and the distinctive swooping cutline is pure retro Challenger. The frameless front windows are big and provide an almost hardtop-like feel when rolled down. The B pillar is well disguised visually and the roofline somehow both flows into the trunk and adds a muscular squareness to the greenhouse. There’s no fussy chrome detailing to distract the eyes, and there are precisely two badges that identify it as a Challenger R/T, both small and applied stealthily on the grill.
2014-06-27 16.05.11
The second factor in the Challenger’s presence is its size. As Derek pointed out in his capsule review, this is not a small car. It looks big and it IS big. It dwarfs my wife’s Volvo S80 visually and dimensionally, and makes my beloved 1994 Camaro Z28 look (and feel) like a toy. The cowl is high, and the front bumper is waaaaay out there past the long hood. Care must be taken when navigating tight garages and parking lots, and the rear proximity sensors are essential when parallel parking. If you’re considering a lower-spec V6 car make sure you get them.

Thankfully, that big exterior does not hide a cramped, compromised cabin. I have many happy memories riding in big, two door American cars growing up and the Challenger’s roominess and interior comfort was one of it’s key selling points for me. This car is wide and airy inside with all-day comfortable seats, and the fact that they are not heavily bolstered suits my 50L frame just fine. There’s a wide range of adjustment offered by the seat and tilting/telescoping wheel and I immediately found an ideal position for my long-legged, short-armed size. The windshield is broad and the though the sills are high you’ll feel none of the bathtub-like claustrophobia that you find in a Camaro. The back seats are perfectly comfortable for even generously proportioned adults, and though their leg room may be a bit tight they won’t be kinking their necks or bumping their heads due to the high roofline. While lift over height is high, the trunk is absolutely huge and the back seats fold down for extra space if needed.
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While the room inside is great, the materials and styling in my 2014 are showing their age and their origins back in the bad, old penny-crushing days of Cerberus-owned Chrysler. The blocky styling, gauges, and monochrome LCD displays are far behind current Chrysler Group standards. Though plastics were upgraded by Fiat to soft-touch materials over the years, there are still some cheap touches here and there that could only have been driven by cost. My car has the older touchscreen UConnect system that includes satellite radio but not navigation, but it sounds great and pairs flawlessly with my MotoX.

In truth I’m picking at details, and aside from the gauges you’re left with an impression of quality and design that is similar to that of the outgoing Mustang. Everything in my car is nicely finished and works well, and overall it’s a very comfortable place to spend time. I knew what I was getting into and I am happy, but the upgrades for 2015 will make the experience even better. My only complaint so far is a recurring rattle somewhere in the driver’s seat. It seems to be a common problem for many Challenger owners, and may be related to the headrest, seat frame, or hinge. I plan on having it addressed by my dealer at the first (4000 mile) service.

The Hemi V8 in my Challenger puts out 375 hp according to Dodge, and it does so with a quality that is all its own. It doesn’t have the classic small block feel of an LS engine, nor does it have the frenetic, electric feeling of the Mustang’s Coyote Five-Point-Oh. It pushes the car around effortlessly with a nicely balanced chorus of hushed mechanical noises, induction sound, and exhaust bass. It’s more than fast enough for me, and it springs away from a stop with an authoritative shove of torque. Tire-shredding burnouts are hilariously easy – just switch off the traction control, dump the clutch, and watch the smoke roll. The clutch is light and easy to modulate, and the shifter has short throws with a smooth, satisfying mechanical engagement in each gear. Subjectively, I think my car has loosened up a bit; it seems both stronger and quicker to rev towards redline than when new. The only potential complaint here is the exhaust note. It’s very subdued, almost too much so. I have not done anything with my car, but if you want the total muscle car experience you’ll want to spring for a Mopar or Magnaflow system to freak out all your neighborhood squares.

Before I get into the driving experience, let’s go back to the defined intent of a muscle car – “muscle cars are intended mainly for street use and occasional drag racing, and are distinct from two-seat sports cars”. I’d tweak that a bit – my Challenger is a car for the road. I’ve owned a number of alleged “road cars” over the years, but this car eats up mileage like nothing I’ve ever driven. It’s comfortable and quiet, and with Chrysler’s excellent automatic climate control and the wide selection of music available on satellite radio you can drive all day, stopping only for gas and bathroom breaks. In cruise mode you can even stretch those breaks out, as it’s possible to average 25-27 mpg in 6th gear at reasonable highway speeds.

The GT part of the equation becomes evident when you exit the Interstate and find yourself on a curvy two lane road. When hustled down the excellent selection of such routes in Eastern Minnesota and Western Wisconsin, the car seems to shrink around you and drive smaller than it actually is. It likes being driven hard, and controls its size and weight very nicely. For a big girl this car can really move with flat, neutral cornering at illegal (but reasonable) road speeds, huge waves of torque available anywhere on the tach to carry you through the straight sections, and confident braking when a roller or Sunday driver appears. Push harder and you’ll induce gentle understeer; harder still and the stability control (which I have no desire to try to totally defeat) will step in and keep things sane. I’ve never gone further than six or seven tenths on the road, but I’m looking forward to making some progress towards the ultimate limits during an October track day at Brainerd International Raceway. I’ll post an update after that experience.

Compared to the immediate competition, I believe the Challenger provides a unique proposition. It feels like a more complete and less compromised car than the Camaro, with more room for passengers and cargo and styling that is both more cohesive and more mature. It’s more of a GT than the Mustang, which feels like a harder-edged sports car in every way. When it came down to it, the decision was easy for me and I would make it again in a heartbeat. The Challenger was the right car at the right time for me, and my only real regret is that I waited so long to add a modern muscle car to my garage. If you don’t drive one you really don’t know what you’re missing, and we are lucky to live in an era where each of the Detroit 3 offers a unique and compelling choice.

So what’s next? More miles, more experiences, and more fun. For the first time I have a “fun car” that my wife has absolutely no objections to riding and road-ripping in. And though I will freely admit that I’m still in the honeymoon period, my Challenger can make even my short drive to work feel fun and special. No matter how you define the phrase, this particular muscle car has found a very happy place in my life.
2014-06-27 19.00.57-1

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2015 Chevrolet SS Order Guide Confirms Manual Transmission, Magnetic Ride Mon, 21 Jul 2014 13:00:24 +0000 Chevrolet SS

Those who were waiting for the Chevrolet SS to have a manual transmission to go with its Australian power, they can now breathe: The order guide confirms the 2015 model will that, as well as the Magnetic Ride suspension.

Jalopnik reports one of their commentariat had looked through General Motors’ online Fleet Order guide when they came upon the revelations. In addition, more of the commentariat pointed out a number of new colors 2015 SS owners could drool over, including Regal Peacock Green and Alchemy Purple; Dodge and SRT may have to dust off a few oldies to keep up.

2015 Chevy SS Form A 2015 Chevy SS Form B ]]> 95
Chrysler Group Asks For Hitch Production Boost Amid NHTSA Inquiry Mon, 21 Jul 2014 12:00:22 +0000 2002-2004_Jeep_Liberty_Sport

A day after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration asked what was taking so long for a supplier to make enough hitches to cover 2.5 million recalled vehicles, Chrysler Group ordered its supplier to boost production.

Automotive News reports the inquiry, sent July 2, noted that it would take five years for Chrysler to repair all 2.5 million 1993 – 1998 Jeep Grand Cherokees and 2002 – 2007 Libertys with trailer hitches meant to minimize the potential for fuel tank ruptures and fires in low-speed rear-end accidents. In turn, Chrysler told supplier Northern Stamping Inc. to raise its daily production rate from 2,205 to 3,511 hitches.

The affected vehicles will be able to be equipped with the hitches beginning August 1, with the last ones to receive theirs by March of 2015.

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From Czech Republic to Normandy in a Chevy Suburban Mon, 21 Jul 2014 11:30:43 +0000 IMG_3227_8_9_tonemapped

My Czech employer sent me to cover the 70th D-Day Anniversary celebrations in Normandy. And since I had to take three more guys with me, as well as massive pile of camera equipment, we decided I need a big vehicle. And the biggest thing we could find was my boss’ 2010 Suburban Z71. Which is obviously an excellent choice for rural roads in France. Here’s how it went.

As you probably noticed from my previous articles, I’m a sucker for large, rear-wheel-drive, body-on-frame boats with massive V8s under the hood. Unlike average European, I consider such a vehicle to be the norm and the ideal for the daily transportation. And it made me extremely sad to see the BOF sedan being wiped out from the American automotive landscape with the end of Panther production in 2011.

So, naturally, when I got the chance to spend a few thousand miles behind the wheel of the spiritual successor of the body-on-frame sedan/wagon. I was extremely interested in finding out how’s the Suburban in real life. I hoped that it would be close enough to a “modern day Caprice STW” for me to serve as a family car in the near future, when I’ll start caring about child seats, safety and space to put a stroller in.

Before we set off to Normandy, I had already driven the Suburban for a couple hundred miles to serve as a camera car for some motorcycle video shoots, so I had a general idea about how the thing drives, and how it works on (relatively) tight Czech roads.

My feelings about it were a bit mixed. The positive part was that the Suburban still retains the incredible maneuverability of the wagons of yore – with a narrow, longitudinally mounted engine, the front wheels can turn in an improbable angle, giving the truck a really excellent turning radius. Couple this with a squared-off body with easy to see extremities, and you can turn around or park in spaces that would present a severe problem for many European MPVs, SUVs or even larger wagons (imagine something like a Passat Variant).


But there was also the negative. With all the “SUVs are the new wagons” talk, I kind of imagined that the Suburban, with all the improvements of the last two decades, will drive much like somewhat higher, more modern Caprice. But it doesn’t. Not in the slightest.

Those of you living in America will probably find it amusing, but I was quite surprised that Suburban drives like what it essentially is. A truck. Yes, you can think that I’m just stupid European, who’s used to driving our tiny little wagons, and thus I’m naturally flabbergasted by the sheer size of this Chevy. But remember that I consider a Town Car to be a perfect, ahem, town car, so I was a bit surprised that something not even a foot longer, using similar suspension and drivetrain, drives so much different.

I’m not even sure what exactly causes the difference. Maybe it’s the height of your seating position, looking eye-to-eye with bus drivers and truckers. Maybe it’s the heavy controls, which make you feel that you really have to manhandle a great deal of weight. And maybe the Z-71 off-road package did its part, making the car quite stiff. While the old Caprice or Cadillac did have its unique way of getting around, with ultra-assisted steering and huge wheel lock working together to make it extremely easy to fling the car around, the Suburban feels much more unwieldy than it really is.


Packing up for the Normandy trip, we also saw the better side of the Suburban. If you need to carry four people and still keep enough cargo space for all the stuff you need for a six days of video shooting, the Suburban is one of the very few cars that will fit the bill. With third row seats removed, the trunk is absolutely bloody cavernous. With our remote controlled drone, cameras, tripods, more cameras, personal luggage of four people and many other things, we would be totally screwed if we used any European SUV. Touareg, Disco or X5 may look big in European traffic, but compared to this monster, they are like tiny little toy cars. The biggest problem of the Suburban was that if you put anything anywhere deep in the trunk, you have to climb inside to retrieve it – which, frankly, gets old very fast, but it’s a small price to pay for being able to haul so much stuff.

The huge cargo capacity also made up, at least partially, for the biggest practical drawback of the Suburban in Europe. After years of reading about wonderful fuel economy of the 5.3 Vortec, I was maybe a bit too optimistic about the amount of fuel needed for the 950 mile trip from my hometown of Pardubice to Merville in Normandy. I kind of expected that with all the developments in aerodynamics and engine technology made in the last two decades, the huge SUV can return numbers comparable to the old Caprices I have been used to driving.

But I was wrong. Very wrong. On the way to France, I tried to drive as gently as possible, keeping the cruise set at 70mph and hoping for something like the 20 mpg my old Caprice would get at similar speeds. The reality was 17 mph, which is not that terrible, knowing that an European SUV with gasoline V6 or large diesel engine would be just marginally better. But still, seeing the fuel needle falling with astonishing speed through the gauge was a bit shocking, as were several fuel stops on the way there, each costing about $200-250. As with the dimensions and maneuverability, I’m used to large American cars – but even compared to my Town Car, this was brutal.

On the other hand, if you don’t pay for fuel (which I didn’t), the cruising experience with the Suburban is pretty nice. Even on the stiff Z-71 suspension, it’s comfortable enough, and I imagine that some more comfort-oriented version would really soothe its driver with plushness.

Being used to the nearly silent 4.6 Modular under the hood of the Lincoln, I was a bit surprised by the levels of noise made by the Vortec. Not that I had anything against it – it’s still one of the best sounding engines available, and with its suprising (for OHV plant) hunger for revs, it was really fun to drive, especially in towns or on smaller roads. Power was more than adequate, even for a vehicle that, fully laden, must have weighed 6000 lbs.

When we got to Normandy, we were faced with a lot of driving on tiny, medieval roads, and I soon understood why so many people say that American cars do not fit European roads. In Czech Republic or Germany, most roads are plenty wide enough for fullsize American cars, and 5er BMWs, Ford Mondeos about the size of a Ford Fusion), VW Passats etc. are considered fairly normal cars. In France? Bark was right. Mini Coopers, DS3s, Peugeot 208s and other tiny cars everywhere. Most BMWs were 1 series, Audis were usually A3s etc.


Even so, it was reasonably easy to drive. The same factors that help with parking in the Czech Republic helped in driving on narrow French lanes. I just had to drive really slow, if I wanted to avoid rolling over, or melting the brakes (which are, to be honest, awful). A less welcome surprise was the four-wheel drive, which I had to use when driving on Omaha and Utah beaches for the purpose of filming. In the sand, it worked well.

But when I forgot to switch of the “4Hi” mode and was greeted by terrible screeching noise in the first corner, I was a bit surprised. I doubt that typical Suburban owners anywhere will venture in any kind of off-roading terrain, but I’m pretty sure that lots of them will encounter icy roads, wet roads and other adverse conditions, which would make full-time 4×4 pretty useful. I know that Escalade has full-time four-wheel drive, and I guess that Suburban has it available as an option, butthis configuration makes it basically a huge rear-wheel-drive wagon with terrible fuel economy and center of gravity somewhere in the ionosphere.

All of this would be pretty much excusable, as the Suburban offers unbeatable space inside, making it perfect for long trips with lots of people and things. But the return trip, for which I finally relegated the driving duties to someone else and went to sleep in the second row of seats, revealed one last, and for me hardly believable downside of the huge SUV.

That there is no damned space on the second row seats. Maybe there’s some way to move the second row further rearward, but I haven’t found it and my boss, the owner of the truck, insists such thing is not possible with this configuration. Which means that the rear (second row) legroom is severely lacking for me (about 5′ 11”) to sit “behind myself”. Which would be excusable in a compact SUV, based on a B-segment car. Or in a large coupe. Or in many other things, but definitely not in a nearly 6-meter long behemoth of an SUV.


So, what’s the verdict? I really wanted to like the Suburban. I wanted it to be a worthy Caprice STW replacement. I even wanted it to be my next family vehicle in a few years. But I don’t, anymore. The Suburban is, above all, the perfect illustration of why CAFE sucks. Had it not been for stupid regulations, America could’ve still produced large, practical wagons with reasonable fuel economy, reasonable handling and brakes good enough to stop the car more than once without overheating.

Instead, you got this. It’s not a bad truck per se. In fact, it’s pretty good at what it’s designed to do – haul or tow loads of stuff, look and sound imposing, and keep doing it for long time without breaking down. But as a family vehicle? It sucks ungodly amounts of gas, it doesn’t handle, it doesn’t brake and it makes you feel like a trucker.

Maybe it will be cool in 10 or 20 years, in the same way finned monsters from 50s or absurdly huge personal luxury coupes from 1960s and 1970s are cool now. But now? Nope.

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Clean-Diesel Sales Up 25 Percent In The US For 2014 Mon, 21 Jul 2014 11:00:18 +0000 2015-Volkswagen-Jetta-13

Though hardly any of the offerings can be found in a brown wagon with a six-speed manual pushing power to the back, U.S. sales of clean-diesel vehicles have climbed up 25 percent this year.

Autoblog Green reports clean-diesels are set to double their current 3 percent of total vehicles sold in the U.S. by 2018, according to Diesel Technology Forum. The group also noted the 25 percent jump is besting overall sales thus far in 2014, having only seen a boost of 4.2 percent in comparison.

As for the cause of the leap into oil-burning, consumers seeking better fuel economy find a 30 percent gain when the engine quietly purrs, especially when 27 of the 46 available clean-diesel models for the U.S. market are cars and SUVs. Winners include Audi and Chevrolet, both moving 8,100 and 3,000 units through the first half of 2014. Meanwhile, Volkswagen, lost 8 percent in sales during the same period, though still lead the way with 42,000 vehicles leaving the lot.

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Review: 2014 Mitsubishi Mirage ES Sat, 19 Jul 2014 14:55:52 +0000  

Press Cars: just a Mirage? (all photos courtesy Sajeev Mehta)

Press Cars: just a Mirage? (all photos courtesy Sajeev Mehta)

Mitsubishi’s website claims the Mirage is a “small car for a big life.” Possible: while I haven’t done a TTAC review in over a year, know that even the rare automotive sampling of a ball of flaming garbage in a catapult possesses a modicum of engineering /styling/marketing prowess. Good cars exist everywhere, which is worthy of someone’s “big life.”

And contrary to the rash of negative press, the Mirage is an honest machine worthy of a closer look.

DSCN5986The Made in Thailand DNA is unmistakable: the Mirage feels like an aspirational vehicle for a growing middle class in an emerging market. Living outside of the American design bubble has its perks: peep that demure, wind cheating nose bearing no pretense to corporate branding (cough, Aston Martin grilles) for starters. The low-ish DLO provides excellent visibility without resorting to the artificially large/dorky greenhouses of yesteryear’s subcompacts. The top-line ES sports cheerful 14” alloys while color-keyed fog lights add modest flair to the base model’s surprisingly subtle and cool rear spoiler. You know, for a 5-door econobox.

DSCN5990So pop inside the Mirage’s surprisingly inviting cabin: headroom galore, not uncomfortable bucket seats, dressy black lacquer center stack sporting Rothko-worthy HVAC vents, leather(ish) wrapped wheel, power everything, keyless ignition (on the left like a 911) and admirable ergonomics encased in richly grained, tightly constructed plastics that look more expensive than their fossilized demeanor suggests. That infamous road test mentioned airbag flash casting, which my test Mirage had instead on the E-brake handle. To see such cheapness on a new car under 13 grand ($15,195 as-tested) was horrifying I tell you!

DSCN6006Genuine gripes for a car this cheap? No center armrest, and the small cargo area means the (comfortable) rear seats must fold down for modest amounts of luggage. No biggie, except getting them back up without snagging the shoulder belts in the latch mechanism is a challenge. But the inability to stream audio (SoundCloud) from an iPhone 4 via the glovebox’s USB plug got on my nerves. It defaulted to iTunes, which I rarely use. And forget music when Google Maps’ turn-by-turn navigation is on: since I was denied the best Mirage-related song on the face of the earth, here it is.

Click here to view the embedded video.

DSCN6017And while bright colors add necessary excitement to a bottom rung hatchback, my Radioactive Blue Mirage fought its purple-flecked seat fabrics to no end. Cheap cars rightly show their exterior paint around interior window frames, a colorblind seat fabric is necessary. Feng Shui aside, color coding on the (power) door locks wouldn’t hurt: the lever needs a red decal to warn of threats from potential carjackers from an unlocked portal.

DSCN5997Fire up the Mirage and a pleasant (if you appreciate any mechanical sound) bellow from the three-banger mill makes it clear: this is an honest machine from another era. Even with electronics behind the 7 airbags, ABS, electric steering and active handling nanny in tow, the Mirage provides an unhindered driving joy coming from a suspension managing a mere 2051 lbs. Driving dynamics occasionally delight with its flat powerband, even with the CVT in lieu of a proper 5-speed. Bargain basement fun was a simple trick away. Check it:

Dial into the 1-ton Mirage’s occasionally communicative steering and toss it a corner (off-throttle) and the low-rolling resistance, tall profile rubber holds on with modest body roll. Now mash the throttle a good 2 seconds before hitting your intended apex. Do it right and you’ll fling out the corner with all 74 horses’ howling in passionate protest. Try to stop smiling as traffic becomes a dot in the rear-view.

DSCN5984And on the remote chance you built enough steam for a rapid stop, the vented disc/drum combination is more than adequate for the street. Even the twist-beam axle plays well on bumpy roads, further testament to the joy of a lightweight car.

DSCN6007Forcing the Mirage’s CVT into submission is moderately more infuriating than today’s auto-erratic transaxles. Yet, considering the efficiency boost, the autobox is done: the EPA’s 37/44MPG were matched and quickly surpassed. Light traffic (40-50mph) rewarded with a stunning 50.2 MPG from my house to the local Tesla gallery. And that’s with this featherweight’s (surprisingly robust and standard) automatic temperature control HVAC cranked!

As the 3-pot Mirage burbled buzzed idled next to the Tesla, I pondered if these radical electronic wonders are $85,000-ish better than a 50+ MPG hatchback. Is anything really that much better?

10372084_10152226017973269_3590992957388189892_nQuirky shit-can vibe aside, the Mirage cruises like a larger car, spanking the Smart ForTwo in both speed and stability. While acceleration is never rapid, the CVT keeps the Mirage in its powerband, hovering around 5000 revs. Mash the throttle around 70mph and the CVT revs to 6000, netting acceleration no slower than lower speeds. (In Houston, near sea level.) It’s still molasses slow with a loud engine, but with insane aerodynamics (small frontal area, 0.28 cd) it works. Witness this Easter Egg in the owner’s manual: a Highway Patrol speed warning for another journalist.

10452467_10152230027413269_1482059042706384612_nAnd upon the realization that running the Mirage at 10/10ths is a fool’s errand, one’s rewarded with a ride that soaks up both huge potholes and small pavement imperfections with precision. Impact harshness, so prevalent in modern cars with 18+ inch wheels, is literally smothered by Low Carb Panther Love.

Should you buy the Mirage over its sub-15k competition, or any “superior” used car? Maybe, but given the combo of a low asking price, $1000 rebate with 1.9% APR (this month), robust 10-year warranty and new car smell unavailable in used cars, you’d be forgiven for heading straight to a Mitsubishi dealer, using the extra monthly cash for food, gas, shelter, children, baby momma/daddy drama, medical bills, credit card debt, college debt…see where I’m going with this?

The similarly priced Chevy Spark could excel, depending on incentives. A larger, safer used car gives a fighting chance against wayward SUVs threatening a harsh lesson in the Laws of Physics. But Mitsubishi claims the Mirage meets their (modest) sales goals for good reason: it’s kinda fun and gets the job done with mad respect for your wallet.  And I appreciate that.

DSCN5995Your opinion of our society’s demand for easy credit and “need” for new car smell aside, the Mirage is a valid transportation opportunity for many Americans. If a Mitsubishi dealer is within easy reach, a cost-benefit analysis is certainly on the table.

(Mitsubishi provided the test vehicle, insurance and a full tank of gas for this review.)


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Forty Land Rovers Seized By Homeland Security In Ongoing Investigation Fri, 18 Jul 2014 13:00:30 +0000 Defender90

Hide your kids, hide your wives and hide your Land Rovers, because the federal government is rounding up a handful due to questionable importation paperwork.

Jalopnik reports 40 Land Rover 90s, 110s and Defenders were rounded-up by the Department of Homeland Security Tuesday as evidence in a federal investigation over illegal importation of the iconic SUVs into the United States. Owners of the 40 dispute the agency’s claims, one owner stating his 110 was a 1983 model — citing the vehicle’s VIN — despite police claiming it to be 2000 model.

The seizures may be a part of an ongoing investigation into an importer in North Carolina who brought in Defenders younger than 25 years into the U.S., though none of the parties involved can comment. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement representative Vince Picard says the 40 owners “will have an opportunity to seek restitution for their losses.”

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Capsule Review: 2014 Jeep Wrangler Sport S Fri, 18 Jul 2014 12:30:27 +0000  


A common complaint among the Best & Brightest is that certain consumer oriented publications don’t get the Jeep Wrangler. America’s sports car, as Enzo Ferrari once labeled it, is unfairly docked for performing poorly on-road, without taking into account that its mission is to excel off-roadEven though I’ve driven off-road precisely twice in my life, I decided to get to the heart of the matter.

Most press vehicles are fully-loaded, top trim examples with abnormally high sticker prices and all the bells and whistles that one can possibly order. Not this baby.


The Wrangler Sport seen here has – get ready for it – manual locks, crank windows, no touch screen and an honest-to-god manual transmission. In any other car, this level of equipment would bear the odious stench of poverty and poor credit. In a Jeep, it’s somewhat charming. The UConnect 130 is an old-school head unit unlike the rest of the range, with knobs and buttons replacing touch screens and QNX software. There’s an auxiliary port and a hidden USB port – you’re better off using the former if you want to play your music off of an iPod.



As refreshing as it may be to see an honest Wrangler on paved roads, rather than a top-spec Mickey Thompson-shod Unlimited Rubicon, there’s still the unavoidable fact that no Wrangler is particularly pleasant to drive on the street. It’s simply not made for it, in the same way that a McLaren 650S, with its carbon fiber bodywork, shouldn’t be driven on a dirt road pockmarked with rocks and divots.


Unfortunately, the majority of our infrastructure does consist of paved roads, and depending on their condition, the Wrangler’s ride quality ranges from “oscillating” to “back of the school bus”, in terms of how severely it crashes and bounds over bumps, ripples and potholes.


Is it my own damn fault that I’m driving the Wrangler in an environment that is totally unsuitable for the car? Yes, but, I’d venture to say that the majority of these vehicles are driven in urban and suburban areas, and buyers hardly seem to care – or they put up with the Wrangler’s dynamic drawbacks because of its aesthetic appeal and rugged image.


That’s not to say it’s all negative: with its small footprint and ultra-high driving position, you get a good view of the road, even if the Wrangler isn’t the most nimble-footed beast. Parking is a cinch relative to a lot of other SUVs, and the rear can be used for either human or material cargo in a pinch – but not necessarily both. That distinctive shape may give it tough-guy “Defender-lite” looks, but it also has the aerodynamics of a garden shed, and fuel economy in town was dismal, around 15 mpg.

The sole glaring drawback is with the removable soft top, which is needlessly complex to operate and poorly explained in the instruction manual. I will cop to being a bit dense when it comes to manual tasks that require pattern recognition, and the multiple latches, zippers, tabs and closures required to raise and lower the roof are my own idea of hell. Perhaps I was under the mistaken impression that should one get caught in a rain storm, one could simply pull over by the side of the road, hop out and raise the top, like you can in a Miata. I was wrong, and my passenger and I got a 55 mph baptismal thanks to my ineptitude. At the very least, Jeep should look into a new technical writer for their owner’s manual.


Despite the myriad flaws and unsuitability for my own driving conditions, I kept coming back to the Wrangler with an overriding sense of affection. Car enthusiasts talk about the purity of the XJ Cherokee and the Mazda Miata as if they are two sides of the same enthusiast vehicle proposition, and always seem to skip over the one that started it all. But here we have an honest-to-god basic vehicle, made in America, for $25,295 (if you don’t need A/C, a base model sport is just $22,395) that has charm and authenticity in spades. The Wrangler is not for everyone – and certainly not for me. But Jeep manages to sell every example they make, and consumers seem utterly unaffected by these negative reports.



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Ghosn Presents 2020 Autonomous Drive Roadmap Fri, 18 Jul 2014 12:00:37 +0000 Carlos-Ghosn-5112012-10

Before the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan Thursday, Renault-Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn issued a roadmap outlining the automaker’s path toward the first autonomous vehicles in 2020.

The Wall Street Journal reports the following steps Renault-Nissan will take towards its 2020 Autonomous Drive target:

  • 2016: The automaker will introduce a traffic jam pilot and fully automated parking systems, the former of which would allow vehicles to safely drive their passengers through rush hour and other congestion scenarios.
  • 2018: Vehicles will use multiple lane controls to safely negotiate road hazards and lane changes.
  • 2020: Vehicles will use intersection autonomy to delivery their passengers safely through intersections without the need for driver intervention.

Ghosn emphasized the difference between his company’s approach to autonomy over those like Google, who are pursuing vehicles that drive themselves:

Autonomous Drive is about relieving motorists of everyday tasks, particularly in congested or long-distance situations. The driver remains in control, at the wheel, of a car that is capable of doing more things automatically. Self-driving cars, by comparison, don’t require any human intervention — and remain a long-way from commercial reality. They are suitable only for tightly-controlled road-environments, at slow speeds, and face a regulatory minefield

He concluded that the 2020 roadmap was only the beginning, with further advancements to come on the momentum generated by the plan.

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Capsule Review: 2014 Ram 1500 Ecodiesel Thu, 17 Jul 2014 19:10:43 +0000 TTAC-2014_Ram-EcoDiesel-front (1)

Although diesel and pickups go together smoothly in our minds, this is the first light-duty diesel-powered pickup truck available in our market since before I was born.

I wasn’t born yesterday.


The Ram to which I’ve been granted the keys over the last number of days features the enticing new 3.0L turbocharged diesel engine, but it’s also a four-wheel-drive, Laramie-trimmed, crew cab-bodied pickup with a vast array of options.

It isn’t just a pickup. It’s a luxury limo, a work truck, a fuel miser, an all-weather traveller, a style statement, a secure vault, and a family car.

You don’t need your Ram EcoDiesel to be a $70,090 (CDN) Laramie model like the one Chrysler Canada sent me. A Quad Cab will perhaps suffice for those without rear-facing child seats. The V6 diesel is available in trims other than Ram’s high-end Laramie model. You won’t be required to tick off all the checkboxes on the options sheet. And though the new engine can take over a review, the Ram 1500 is good enough that the diesel isn’t the only positive part of the experience.

The 240-horsepower V6 diesel generates 420 lb-ft of torque at just 2000 rpm. Not at all unlike other diesels, there’s still a moment of hesitation when the throttle is first applied, during which the owner of a Hemi-engined Ram will say to himself, “I ain’t sure she’s got enough pies in the oven.” Thankfully that moment is brief, and the swell of torque enjoyed when overtaking on a rural two-lane is something Pentastar Ram owners ought to try at least once.

The diesel doesn’t deserve full credit. It works in conjunction with an excellent 8-speed automatic. You’re always in the right gear, and the next gear is only a blink away. Together, they make for a tremendously refined powertrain. There’s a hint of dieselly clatter when manouevring in tight spots, back and forth in a nine-point turn. (Thank-you to the Elantra and Civic drivers in Herring Cove, Nova Scotia, who boxed me in. I needed my father’s help to direct me out, which wasn’t embarrassing at all in front of my wife and mother.) But overall, this diesel has been forcefully silenced with enough sound deadening to hush a crowd of guffawing fishermen.

Better yet, the Ram diesel doesn’t use very much fuel, not by pickup truck or even large crossover standards. In the real world, where I can fill the tank, measure the distance travelled, and then calculate consumption by re-filling the tank, the Ram used 13% more fuel than its onboard computer led me to believe. Yet at 20.1 mpg, in mostly urban driving, we used 9% less fuel than we did in a 5.3L V8-engined GMC Sierra tester last fall, and that Sierra was driven mostly on the highway. (We also used 16% less fuel in this diesel Ram than we did in the Pentastar V6 Ram last summer.)

Then again, for American customers, the EcoDiesel is a $2850 option on this Laramie model, over and above the Hemi V8 and $4000 more than the 3.6L V6.

The premium might not matter as much once you start driving the EcoDiesel, once you see how slowly the fuel gauge needle falls, once you solidify your long-held belief that Truck = Diesel. With our family of three in the cabin, a cooler full of sandwiches and chips and pop in the bed, and Ramboxes full of hoodies and blankets, we picked up my parents for a picnic on a hill high atop the ocean outside the city. But we were hardly consuming any fuel, relative to other pickup trucks, so without a moment’s thought we extended our journey from York Redoubt to three different coves and one little harbour.

That’s the kind of freedom that, once paid for on transaction day, diesel owners enjoy throughout the rest of their ownership period. You don’t convince yourself of the long-term financial benefits of a sunroof, and you shouldn’t need to establish the economic advantages of this diesel, either.
Regardless of the engine under the hood, Ram’s crew cab body, like the full-fledged four-doors from Ford and GM and Toyota, is huge inside. Stretch-out-your-legs huge. The bed is shortened, but the available leg room and under-seat storage is truly luxurious whether the seats are leather-clad or sheathed in cloth. It won’t be long until the feature count of a high-priced premium vehicle of today will underwhelm, but space will always equal luxury.

Two-tone paint, heated leather seating up front, dual-zone climate control, and Chrysler’s big 8.4-inch UConnect are key Laramie features. It also says Laramie three times inside and once outside. (This Laramie badging tags along with four “Ram” mentions outside and eight inside, the Ram logo which appears twice outside and once inside, and just two exterior “EcoDiesel” badges, both of which the truck-loving teens on our street felt were the exact opposite of truckish toughness.)
Our test truck, optioned quite nicely by Chrysler Canada’s PR department, included numerous expensive options, which in U.S. speak would cost $1295 (RamBoxes, which we used on a couple occasions for big grocery loads), $1695 (air suspension, which with 5 modes can be rather useful), $995 (power sunroof), $500 (leather buckets), $600 (side steps), and then more than $4000 in smaller options. Plus the diesel powerplant.

The seats won’t massage, the sunroof isn’t panoramic, there’s no blind spot monitoring or adaptive cruise or even a soft-opening tailgate. By the standards of $70,000 luxury cars, this is under-equipped. But it’s still luxury living, particularly when one considers the flexibility of the package.
I remain convinced that by a small margin, Ram offers the best-handling pickup truck lineup. This is most noticeable when encountering the expansion joints of an overpass mid-corner, where the Ram will feel perfectly normal and other trucks skitter, even if only a little. Yet by an equally small margin, the structure of GM’s new trucks feel stronger and more solid, and the overall sensation is of the superior work truck. (This sensation was clarified during back-to-back drives on an off-road course at an event sponsored by, yes, GM.)

We’re hair-splitting now though, and it would surprise me if the new F-150 isn’t the superior truck in most aspects. At least until the Ford’s competitors receive their own updates. And so the cycle goes.

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I prefer the Sierra/Silverado’s rear seat design; the wider availability of F-150 configurations locally available to me; the simplicity of Ram’s UConnect; the exterior design of the Ram; the silence of a Sierra’s cabin; a column shifter rather than the Ram’s rotary dial; the upcoming Ford’s freshness. The Ram’s touch screen needs to be canted more toward the driver, the fuel gauge should be larger, the dual glove compartments aren’t that large, there’s no built-in helper to enable jumps into the bed.

But it’s easy to see why Ram is picking up market share. The aluminum-intensive 2015 F-150 aside, Chrysler has brought Ram to the forefront of truck awareness by offering us things other truck makers aren’t providing, most notably in the form of the 8-speed automatic and this light duty V6 diesel.

With Ram offering the power we require and the fuel efficiency we dreamed of, do we really need to measure the trivial interior quality differences, the slight towing capacity disparities, and the narrow pricing discrepancies?

A diesel engine might just negate arguments that aren’t typically settled in the Ram’s favour. Especially since, where I live, diesel costs 20 cents less per gallon.

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Ram Truck Lineup Adopts SAE Towing Standard From 2015 Forward Thu, 17 Jul 2014 13:00:55 +0000 2014-ram-3500-laramie-longhorn-front-three-quarter-03

The Society of Automotive Engineers recently introduced a new designation standardizing maximum towing ratings, with the aim of sorting out the mess automakers have made with their internal measurements of towing capacity. Called J2807, the new system’s first champion is none other than Ram, who have gone all-in with the standard.

Autoblog reports all 2015 light- and heavy-duty Ram pickups will use J2807. The new ratings are as follows:

  • Ram 1500 with 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 – 7,600 pounds
  • Ram 1500 with 3.0-liter EcoDiesel V6 – 9,200 pounds
  • Ram 1500 with 5.7-liter Hemi V8– 10,650 pounds
  • Ram 2500 with 6.4-liter Hemi V8 – 16,300 pounds
  • Ram 2500 with 6.7-liter Cummins inline-six diesel – 17,970 pounds
  • Ram 3500 with 6.4-liter Hemi V8 – 16,420 pounds
  • Ram 3500 with 6.7-liter Cummins inline-six diesel – 30,000 pounds

Automakers wanting to use the SAE towing standard must put their offerings through a battery of tests, ranging from handling checks, to being able to climb a grade without slipping below a designated speed. No word on when other manufacturers will adopt J2807.

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Low-Cost Tesla EV To Be Dubbed Model 3 Thu, 17 Jul 2014 12:00:21 +0000 10352722_h15508358

Tesla announced the name of its low-cost EV due to arrive around 2017: Model 3.

Autoblog reports the name was announced on its Facebook page Tuesday, after Ford rebuffed CEO Elon Musk’s desire to call the $35,000 EV the Model E earlier this year. Musk adds the name will be written as a Roman numeral, and would occupy the space between the S and the X as far as now-vague sexual references go.

Beyond the new name, not much has been revealed aside from a 20-percent size reduction over the Model S, the increased use of steel in its construction, and that the 3 would go up against the BMW 3 Series.

Roadster owners, meanwhile, will receive an update that would swap the current battery pack for an improved model delivering 400 miles per charge over the former’s 245 miles.

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Corvette Stingray Bests Viper, 911 In Sales Through First-Half Of 2014 Thu, 17 Jul 2014 10:00:28 +0000 2014-chevrolet-corvette-stingray-convertible-red-front-end-in-motion-05

The current Corvette is doing well for itself as of late, not only moving off the lot at a greater clip between January and June of this year than last, but also besting the SRT Viper and Porsche 911.

GM Authority reports 17,744 Corvette Stingrays made it to the highway during the aforementioned sales period, over three times what was sold during the first six months of 2013. Meanwhile, only 354 Vipers managed to do the same — thanks to its high price and the velvet rope surrounding the one or two models available in most showrooms — as well as 5,169 of Stuttgart’s finest during those months. Nissan’s 370Z, priced much lower than the Stingray, also fared poorly against the Kentucky-built thoroughbred, 4,114 sold this year thus far.

Within the Chevy dealership, 2,723 convertibles and coupes left the lot in June, down from 3,328 in May. National Automobile Dealers Association forecasts the Corvette Stingray is on pace to hit 35,000 sold by the end of 2014, aided by the improved 2015 model and the introduction of the Z06.

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Hyundai, Tesla In Spat Over Funding Of Supercharger Network Wed, 16 Jul 2014 13:00:27 +0000 Tesla Supercharger Night Party

Hyundai’s head of U.S. product planning Michael O’Brien may have written a check his mouth can’t cash when he claimed Tesla’s Supercharger network was paid with taxpayer dollars.

Green Car Reports says during a discussion of his employer’s view on hydrogen fueling infrastructure, O’Brien stated that Hyundai has not received any funding from the federal government for its hydrogen vehicles, while Tesla’s Supercharger network was paid with “grants and loans from the government.”

In turn, this assertion infuriated Tesla’s vice president of business development Diarmuld O’Connell:

Those sites have been paid for entirely by Tesla Motors — which continues to spend money in expanding the network. This stands in stark contrast to certain foreign carmakers, including Hyundai, who have no manufacturing presence in California but expect the state’s taxpayers to spend up to $200 million to set up hydrogen stations.

For his part, O’Brien did acknowledge hydrogen would only take off “when other states start investing in infrastructure.”

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Daimler, BMW Collaborate On Wireless Charging Wed, 16 Jul 2014 11:00:35 +0000 Mercedes S 500 PHEV

Daimler and BMW just announced a collaboration to help speed up development for wireless charging of both EVs and PHEVs, with the former’s Mercedes S500 PHEV as the test subject.

Autoblog Green reports the system in question will use coils in both the vehicle and charging platform, the latter installed in a garage floor or other stationary point. The system will charge an EV or PHEV at a rate of 3.6 kW, with an efficiency rating of 90 percent.

As for the guinea pig, the S500 PHEV will come with 436 horsepower and around 480 lb-ft of torque between its twin-turbo V6 and hybrid powertrain. In turn, the sedan can travel up to 20 miles on electric-only power, and net the chauffeur 84 mpg on the way to and from his employer’s private resort. The S500 PHEV is due in showrooms this September.

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Fourth-Gen Toyota Prius To Receive AWD, New Battery Packs Tue, 15 Jul 2014 12:00:20 +0000 2014 Toyota Prius

Though it may be a while before the fourth-generation Toyota Prius leaves the assembly line, it may be worth the wait as far as batteries and drivetrains are concerned.

Automotive News reports the new hybrid will have two choices for battery power. According to senior managing officer of powertrain development Koei Saga, both a low-cost nickel-metal hydride unit and a larger-capacity lithium ion pack — for longer electric-only range — will help provide power. Though Saga was cagey regarding economy numbers, he claimed that the new packs’ economy would “surprise everyone.”

Meanwhile, the power won’t be directed toward just the front wheels. Saga says there’s a possibility that AWD could be in the cards for the new Prius, which will be underpinned by the company’s Toyota New Global Architecture.

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