The Truth About Cars http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Sat, 18 Apr 2015 19:36:57 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0.1 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 editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (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 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com Automatic Door Locks Simply Shouldn’t Exist http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/automatic-door-locks-simply-shouldnt-exist/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/automatic-door-locks-simply-shouldnt-exist/#comments Sat, 18 Apr 2015 14:19:15 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1046778 I would like to raise a complaint here with an automotive feature that we’ve all had to live with now for some time: automatic door locks. Usually, when it comes to cars, the word “automatic” is a good thing. Not the transmission, of course. But automatic climate control, for example, is dramatically better than those […]

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I would like to raise a complaint here with an automotive feature that we’ve all had to live with now for some time: automatic door locks.

Usually, when it comes to cars, the word “automatic” is a good thing. Not the transmission, of course. But automatic climate control, for example, is dramatically better than those manual levers that you’re always twisting and turning and arguing with your passenger about. (“NO HONEY, WE NEED MORE RED!”)

And I think most of us would agree that automatic windows are way better than crank windows. Same with automatic mirrors, and automatic locks, and automatic lights, and an automatic tailgate, and a wide variety of automatic stuff that has replaced our need to really do anything except drive, change the stereo, and speak to our passengers. And if we could get an automatic passenger interaction system, I would probably be pretty excited about that.

But what I absolutely can’t stand is automatic door locks.

Allow me to explain how automatic door locks work. You’re cruising along in your automobile, and you reach a certain speed, and then your doors lock, usually without you noticing it. This is all fine and acceptable, until you go to pick up someone, and they try the handle, and you realize that they’re locked out. Then you have to press the damn button and let them in, when you never really wanted them locked out in the first place.

Here’s an even worse application of automatic locks: my uncle once had a fairly modern vehicle that touted, as a “feature,” an automatic locking system that would lock the doors after the car was turned on for approximately two minutes, regardless of speed. So one time he parked at the dry cleaner, and left the car running in the service drive outside, and went in to drop off his dry cleaning.

Well, after a few minutes, he’s talking to the dry cleaner, he’s standing in line, he’s giving instructions, whatever, and he comes out to his automobile to discover that the doors are locked and the engine is running. The man had locked himself out of a running automobile.

Now, if this sounds like something that absolutely shouldn’t happen, you’re right. And that’s why automatic locks should be abolished in their entirety.

Here’s the thing: if I want my doors to be locked, I personally will lock them myself. I will get in my car, reach over, and press the “lock” button on the door panel. This is a simple action, and I am more than capable, as a human being and a consumer of automobiles, of carrying it out in its entirety.

What I don’t want to happen is the doors start locking and unlocking at random intervals without my knowledge. I don’t want to end up locked out of the car. I don’t want my passengers to end up locked out of the car. I would almost rather have the windows go down at random levels, causing me to quickly react and send them back up like an automotive whack-a-mole game, than have to deal with this crap from the door locks.

This is especially annoying when you’re driving press cars. Allow me to illustrate the situation: you find a nice open spot to take a lovely picture of the latest press car you’ve been given. You pull over. You get out to grab a great image; a lovely shot that will make all the readers excited to learn about your press vehicle du jour. And then you stop. You think. Does this thing have auto locks?

So what you do is, you either leave it running with a window down, or you turn it of off and bring the keys with you. And not once: Every. Single. Time. Because you’re that worried about the potential of the doors automatically locking and blocking you out from returning from your vehicle. You’re that worried about having to call the local PR guy for whatever automaker you’re dealing with, and announcing: “I’ve locked myself out of your press car, and also I’m parked in front of a decaying urban structure that I thought would make a good photo background.”

So I have a piece of advice here for automakers: We like the other automatic features. We like the automatic seats, and the automatic trunk, and the automatic brake lights that pulse really fast when you’re slamming on the brakes. But automatic locking has no business in any of today’s automobiles. Please. Spare us.

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Chart Of The Day: The Rise Of Commercial Van Sales In America – 2015 Q1 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/chart-day-rise-commercial-van-sales-america-2015-q1/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/chart-day-rise-commercial-van-sales-america-2015-q1/#comments Sat, 18 Apr 2015 13:13:41 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1046402 Commercial van sales are on the rise in the United States. But of greater interest than the improvements – total sales jumped 14% to 356,814 units in 2014 and are up 26% to 87,866 year-to-date – is the constant change in the category. The best-selling commercial van in America in each of the last five […]

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USA commercial van sales chart March 2015Commercial van sales are on the rise in the United States. But of greater interest than the improvements – total sales jumped 14% to 356,814 units in 2014 and are up 26% to 87,866 year-to-date – is the constant change in the category.

The best-selling commercial van in America in each of the last five months was the Ford Transit, a Euro-style van that’s replacing the Ford E-Series. Together, the Transit and similar-looking products from Mercedes-Benz (the established Sprinter) and Ram (the Fiat Ducato-based ProMaster), account for 39% of the commercial van market so far this year and 50.4% of the full-size category.

The small van sector, meanwhile, is growing rapidly. Sales are up 76% in early 2015. The quintet, led by the Ford Transit Connect and joined most recently by the Ram ProMaster City, generated 23% market share in 2015’s first-quarter, up from 17% a year ago. Click the chart for a larger view. Specific figures in the column are explained by the descriptions below with, for example, the Transit generating 22,881 first-quarter sales, the Sprinter 5,559, and the ProMaster 5,549.

Timothy Cain is the founder of GoodCarBadCar.net, which obsesses over the free and frequent publication of U.S. and Canadian auto sales figures.

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A Nine Year Quest, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying about Looking Cool and Love the Van http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/nine-year-quest-learned-stop-worrying-looking-cool-love-van/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/nine-year-quest-learned-stop-worrying-looking-cool-love-van/#comments Sat, 18 Apr 2015 13:00:25 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1047201 (If you have some time this weekend, this contribution, from our reader Robert, will be worth that time — JB) “I will NEVER drive a minivan.” Thus ended the first hostile negotiation serious discussion with my wife about our next vehicle purchase. The story so far: It was the summer of 2005. Our family truckster […]

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(If you have some time this weekend, this contribution, from our reader Robert, will be worth that time — JB)

“I will NEVER drive a minivan.” Thus ended the first hostile negotiation serious discussion with my wife about our next vehicle purchase.

The story so far: It was the summer of 2005. Our family truckster (a 1995 Toyota 4Runner SR5) was doing a fine job hauling mom and the first born around town during the week, plus me, the dog, and the cubic yard of gear required to travel with a one year old child on our frequent weekend trips to the Texas hill country. Anything I wanted to bring had to survive on the roof.

The 4Runner had been a masterpiece of engineering, form, and function to us. But even with Toyota’s legendary reliability, after 10 years and 135k on the clock, her many trouble-free miles were running out. A starter here, a radiator there, and stranding my wife and infant son on the side of the road with electrical gremlins made its replacement eminent. Contemplating the addition of another child with our already tight space requirements made it a matter of practicality. Her preference for large SUVs and my deep seated frugality made it, um, interesting.

“A Sequoia or Armada will work.”

Gas had just hit an all time high of $2.50 a gallon. (Heh.) With her staying home to raise our son, the rising cost of gas, the nontrivial price premium big SUVs command over minivans, and our already meager budget – there was no way we could swing that. Round 1 was a draw.

One peaceful (read: not discussing the car situation) Saturday afternoon we were watching broadcast TV at home. (Cable? Those frills cost money! Nor caller ID, call waiting or smartphones. I had the neighbors convinced that “Suburban Amish” was a thing). This ad came on:

“Hm. If I ever did drive a minivan, it would have to be that one.” Did she just say that in her outside voice?

Truth be told I didn’t want to drive a minivan either, but the Quest really did seem to be something different, daring even with the swept back look and unconventional styling. Every other van out there just looked like a box; at least they were trying. I was already a Nissan fan, having put enough miles on 3 Hardbody trucks to make it all the way to the moon and most of the trip back. Finding out it shared much DNA with the Maxima, my top pick for “what would I drive if I didn’t need a truck” made it almost, dare I say it, kind of cool.

August 22, 2005: I’m rushing to get to work, but she stops me at the door and hands me an odd looking book with a frilly cloth cover, tied with a satin sash. I stare at it, dumbfounded. “Its a new baby book. We’re going to need it.” OH! SQUEEEEEEE!! We hold each other tightly in wordless celebration. I break the silence – “Thats great news! We’re buying a van today.” She looks at the ground and offers one last muted protest. “Sequoia?” “Baby, the Quest is the best.”

A quick search on AutoTrader found a used base model with the right miles for the right price. The only drawback – it was 90 minutes away in Angleton. I called the dealer to make sure they still had it and we hit the road. In keeping with the long standing tradition of auto dealers everywhere, of course the van wasn’t there. They assured me they had a similar one that I would like, they just needed to get it from their other store across town. Well, we did come all this way…

We grab lunch to kill time and return to find the other van really does exist. She approaches to inspect it… I watch from a safe distance. It’s actually much nicer than the one we originally came for, a well optioned 2005 grey on grey SL with heated leather seats, panoramic sunroof, 6 CD changer with Bose sound, and a power sliding door. It was fresh off a one year lease with all of 4,722 miles. She briefly looks around the driver’s seat, glances at the second row, up at all the sunroofs (there are 5), then looking not quite at the van but not quite at me either she gives half a nod to no one in particular. The signal. It’s a done deal. A few hours later we bid the 4Runner farewell and start the long drive home, full of optimism about our growing family and the adventures we will have in our new chariot.

Delivering the goods

This van is big. Vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big compared to the 4Runner. The greenhouse is enormous; visibility is almost completely unobstructed.

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Almost…The D pillars are pretty big, but the rear window is so wide you hardly notice they’re there. The third row headrests are visible in the rearview mirror but adjusting them all the way down helps a lot. The side mirrors are large which is a good thing; you’re going to need them when cutting through rush hour traffic. There is no trace of the vehicle visible out the front glass, which takes some getting used to if you’re accustomed to seeing the hood of your truck at all times.

The second row seats have more legroom than the front. The third row seats have almost as much as the second row, and you can walk right to them between the captain’s chairs. Seven Texas-sized adults can ride in comfort. Fold the third row down and you have an enormous cargo area that will swallow two 50” flatscreens in one bite, or a sheet of plywood if you don’t mind some of it hanging out the back. The second row seats move forward a few inches to make even more room.

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With the third row up there is a huge well in the floor behind the seat backs.

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Nissan’s ubiquitous 3.5L VQ engine delivers MAD MAXIMA POWAH! It’s just silly how strong it is off the line. Per Wikipedia, the engine is good for 240 hp and 242 lb-ft of torque that will get you to 60 mph in 8.8 seconds. Practical application: if you need to cross ALL the lanes of FM1488 to get to the Whataburger thats only 100 feet up the road from the stoplight because somebody forgot to pee before you left the Renaissance Festival, you can do that with authority and a satisfying roar from the engine. Of course it helps if nobody else at the light knows they are racing. Stomp the throttle from a roll below 10 mph and the tires spin. 80 mph is effortless, and you’ll get there without even noticing if you’re not careful. Fortunately my unassuming mom mobile has been invisible to law enforcement; I hoon it around with impunity. EPA estimated mileage is 18-24 MPG, but I always got 19 in mixed driving.

The handling is surprisingly good for something this large and heavy (204.1 inches long, 77.6 inches wide, 70 inches tall, 5,732 lbs). My driving style varies from spirited to aggressive, but I’ve never been able to unsettle it more than just getting the back end to step out a few degrees on hard corner exits, and even that takes a lot of effort. The steering has very little play; small inputs are faithfully translated into minor course adjustments. On the highway it tracks straight with very little effort needed to keep it between the ditches. The disc brakes front and back have always felt adequate for normal driving; the whoa matches the go.

It’s certainly the most luxurious vehicle we’ve owned so far. The leather seats are comfortable on long road trips, although at 6’ I wish they would go back another inch. The heated front seats provide welcome relief for my chronic back pain; I run them year round. My only complaint is the two heater settings are “is this thing on?” and “the seat is melting”, forcing me to toggle between high and off to maintain a comfortable temperature. The multi panel sunroof cheers up the otherwise drab greyness of the interior. Kids love the airplane-style overhead lights and vents.

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The Details

In addition to the pleasing big ticket items above, the van is endowed with some extremely well conceived and executed features that are a joy to use.

There is a strip of grocery bag hangers on the back of the third row seats. This is a killer feature. There are other knobs that things can hang on or be tied to.

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There is a map holder molded into the steering column. This is extremely handy if you still use old school written directions like me.

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There is a large hook within the driver’s reach on the passenger seat base. Our salesman said it was a purse hanger. Well, It’s a handy place to anchor a grocery bag or really anything else you don’t want sliding around on the floor. And slide it will; there is no center console separating the driver and passenger footwells.

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The Bose speakers sounded great then, and they still sound great 9 years later. I feed it a steady diet of ’80s heavy metal turned up to 11 when it’s just the boys and I.

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Rounding out the family friendly bona fides, there are little storage bins and compartments everywhere. I keep them full of band aids, water bottles, gummy worms, kids’ allergy medicine, and Red Bull (for me of course).

Things that make you go hmmm

It also has some things that are just different for the sake of being different and make no damn sense at all.

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The speedometer sits in the middle of the dash above the center stack instead of directly in front of the driver. What. The. Hell? This foolishness easily doubles the amount of time it takes to glance down and across at the speedometer and back at the road. Backseat drivers love it. This conversation, in perpetuity: “You’re speeding.” (low grumble) “I like the way I’m driving better than the way you’re not.” Nissan abandoned this foolishness before the end of the model run, so make sure you get a 2007 or later if you like your road speed like you like your browser history – private.

The front cup holders feel like an afterthought. They’re too low to comfortably reach while driving; your beverage is sitting nearly on the floor. I have to bend a little to the side to reach them. They’re also fragile and easily stepped on by children. Mine haven’t closed properly for years.

Finally, the third row seat stowing procedure is complicated, strenuous, and a little dangerous:

Remove the third row headrests and store them in a bag that hangs in the back corner.
Remove the bag and put it…somewhere.
Fold the seat forward and down to the flat position.
Reach as far forward as you possibly can and pull with all your might on a nylon strap to lift the seat all the way back up and over until it drops into the well with enough force to crush a small child. I’m 6′, 245 lbs and I struggle with this. I can’t imagine the target demographic Quest driver has an easy time with this.
Hang the stupid bag back up.

Most of the time I just leave the headrests and bag at home and reinstall them when I have passengers. If I like them.

Heading out to the highway

Beauty is skin deep, but cheap parts and assembly are to the bone.

For our first 5 years of Questdom, the van was used as a light commuter for my wife and as our weekend road trip hauler. During that time it accumulated squeaks, leaks, and rattles in much the same way that Toyotas don’t. That must be what the SL badge on the back stands for, or possibly, Sticky Leather.

There are several plastic splash shields under the engine compartment. I can’t tell you how many because I’ve never seen them all at the same time, but I’ve counted at least four that pushed their eject button somewhere out on the Texas highways. I know the scraping sound they make so well that I can hear a Quest coming from blocks away. Sometimes they drop onto a tire and make a terrific burning smell as they melt and splatter molten plastic all over the brake rotor. The van sits very low, especially the nose, and the suspension bottoms easily which I’m sure exacerbates the problem. I used to replace them, but the van just drops them like a bad habit so I don’t bother anymore. It seems to get along just fine without them.

The liftgate button also likes to disappear – into the body moulding. The first several times I dutifully fished it back out and reinstalled, only to have it happen again after a few more pushes. Closing it manually is a safer bet anyway, because every time you use the button there is a good chance the liftgate will stop a few inches before closing and open right back up, beeping a warning like you did something wrong. It likes to pull the opposite trick too, raising a few inches, beeping, and then suddenly closing. When it does you will be tempted to grab the handle and try to pull it back up. Don’t, because when you miss the handle and instead rip the painted plastic cover off it is expensive to put it back on.

“Daddy, it’s raining on me.” The multi panel moonroofs leak during anything harder than a sprinkle. When I finally felt like doing something about it, the roof was already rusted through in places around the glass. Oops. The power sunroof is a chronic leaker as well, dripping water right onto my lap while driving. This can be temporarily remedied by standing up through the sunroof and cleaning the drain lines with a pipe cleaner; I keep a pair in the glove box at all times. The moisture gives the electronics a sense of adventure and mischief, opening the sunroof unbidden when you least expect it and then closing just as mysteriously a few minutes later. I keep waiting for this to happen inside a car wash. To round out the wet weather fun, the left sliding door rattles and squeaks constantly when it rains, but not when it’s dry, and never the right side. Figure that one out.

The moonroof panels have a nifty pull-out shade for when you want protection from the sun. In Houston we call that “daytime.” One day the shade went slack and we heard something round and heavy roll across the roof and down into the side of the body. It never retracted again. Dropping the roof just to estimate the real repair cost is north of $500 at the dealer.

Despite all the little issues, the core strengths of hauling lots of people and lots of stuff (sometimes both!) still shine through. Shortly after buying the Quest I got promoted, which meant I could afford TWICE THE DEBT!! Recently retired from motocross, I no longer needed a truck. I traded my beloved but ailing T100 4×4 on a gently used G35 sedan. The following weekend we realized a backyard playset would make the perfect gift for the first born’s second birthday. I had my doubts about the Quest’s ability to haul several hundred pounds of “some assembly required” backyard fun, but it didn’t break a sweat. Over the years it served quite well as a light truck and cargo hauler. We added a trailer hitch and took the in-laws on vacation with us to South Padre Island, hauling 4 adults, 2 children, and a 4×8 trailer with ease. Life with the van is good!

Victim of changes

August 12, 2012: I’m driving the van back to Houston from Angleton once again. All the hope and optimism from before is gone. Leaving the Brazoria County courthouse, I’m struck by the irony of the judge’s parting words. “I’m glad the two of you worked this out.” I assume he meant to show his gratitude for us settling outside of a trial. This is obviously some strange use of the phrase “worked this out” that I wasn’t previously aware of.

The children, and the Quest, are now my sole responsibility and mode of transportation.

Survival mode

Adapting to life as a single dad while maintaining a demanding career and preparing to move out of a rundown house, the Quest proved itself to be a welcome shelter from the world when I needed one.

I spent a lot of the first year completely exhausted. Fortunately, the Quest is easy to sleep in. The third row is wide enough to curl up on for a quick nap. Need some legroom? Lean the third row back, fold a second row seat down and put your feet up. Want to lay all the way down? Fold the third row and move the second row all the way up and stretch out. Missed a meal? A small Lunchable fits perfectly in the coin tray.

The Bose sound system has plenty of punch if you need a sustained cathartic blast of Iron Maiden or Judas Priest. Still need more stress relief? Flog the mighty 3.5L V6 with reckless abandon on your commute, and stuff it into a freeway turnaround so hard that the back end starts to kick out when you exit at twice the posted speed; even drivers of full sized domestic pickup trucks will give you wide berth.

The Quest continued serving light truck duty while preparing our old house for sale, which suffered from years of deferred maintenance. Tile, paint, fence boards, landscaping, no job was too big. The play set it had hauled home for us new in a box, it hauled once more to the dump after I methodically cut it down with a circular saw. Little pieces of my my sons’ childhood and innocence tumbled down into the landfill with it.

Alas, operating the van during this transitional period wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. Days before its inspection was due the check engine light came on. The code indicated catalytic converter replacement, a several thousand dollar repair. I did not have two extra nickels to rub together, so I dumped the biggest bottle of fuel system cleaner I could find into a tank of super unleaded and whipped it like a rented mule for 300 miles. I reset the CEL, and it never came back on.

In the year that followed, I replaced the rear wheel bearings, one CV joint, and the odometer/fuel gauge. One unlucky morning I was attempting my Tokyo Drift freeway turnaround maneuver. At the point of the corner exit where I was expecting an upshift, the transmission slipped instead and the engine soared way past the redline. Before I could back off the throttle, it lost all power with a loud bang. CRAP! I pondered the very expensive options while I limped it to the nearest shop at its new top speed of 20 mph, the engine shaking like a wet dog. Slipped timing chain and bent valves? Did a catalytic converter finally collapse? I was relieved to find it had only popped off a vacuum line downwind from the mass air flow meter; a mercifully cheap fix. Still, there was no denying the van was getting expensive to operate and that I had kept it well past its expiration date.

New beginnings

In June 2013, the Quest brought the boys to see their new home for the first time where we would restart our life in Sugar Land. After years of chronic back pain I did not want my children riding dirt bikes, but my brother had other plans. Waiting for us in the garage was the 1991 Yamaha PW50 that all 3 of his boys learned to ride on, restored and ready for mine. How can I say no to that? We quickly outgrew the little Pee Wee, and got tired of sharing it. Fortunately the Quest is a damn good mini bike hauler.

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Dont try this with your RX 350! That’s a Honda CRF50 and CRF70, with the second row seats in place, and the liftgate will still close. You can even use the second row seat brackets to anchor tiedowns, and there’s room for plenty of gear and a ramp down the middle.

Like any addict, part of my mind is constantly whispering to me “Go ahead, Robert. You can ride just a little bit, it won’t hurt you.” Come to think of it, I do need something to follow the boys around on so I can coach them on proper riding techniques.

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450 KTM FTW!
A trailer with 3 dirt bikes and gear starts to stress the van a bit. Fuel economy drops to about 15 MPG. The low ground clearance makes hauling a trailer over rough ground a dangerous proposition; I’ve bottomed out the hitch several times. The modest grade of my driveway grinds metal into concrete every single time I back in or pull out, leaving glacial striations for future archaeologists to ponder. This is not the best application for the van, but you can get by with it.

Conclusion

I’ve gotten years of use and enjoyment out of this van, albeit tempered by the frustrations of the chronic problem areas and rapidly increasing operating costs. It was the right vehicle at the right time; it’s been the right vehicle for a long time now. I’m a proud member of the He-Man Minivan Lovers Club. I still stand by my decision to buy it, and given the same set of circumstances I’d buy it again. But circumstances change, and I will never be back at that place in my life. As good as it has been to own it, nothing lasts forever. Any day now it could need something that costs more than I could sell it for. If I loved it, I could afford repairs that make no financial sense, but I don’t love it. I respect it, it has been a faithful and dependable part of my life for 9 years now, but in my mind it will always be her car. I’m reminded of her every time I sit down and turn the key, and I’ve grown weary of that.

Is my quest, and my Quest, finally coming to an end? I think… yes, and soon.

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Long-term Tester Update: Fiesta ST on the Free-Love Freeway http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/long-term-tester-update-fiesta-st-free-love-freeway/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/long-term-tester-update-fiesta-st-free-love-freeway/#comments Fri, 17 Apr 2015 16:18:09 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1046394 “Whoa, hold on. A car hauler is actively trying to run me off the road.” Yesterday, I was talking to my older brother via Bluetooth while driving home from Louisville when, for the third time in approximately ninety miles of highway driving, a trucker was moving over on me in a way that clearly indicated […]

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“Whoa, hold on. A car hauler is actively trying to run me off the road.”

Yesterday, I was talking to my older brother via Bluetooth while driving home from Louisville when, for the third time in approximately ninety miles of highway driving, a trucker was moving over on me in a way that clearly indicated that he hadn’t seen me. Not in the passive aggressive way that truckers normally do, when they put on a blinker and start moving slowly in expectation that you’ll just get out of their way—no, this was a straight-up swing out into what he perceived to be an empty lane. I quickly checked my mirrors and accelerated into the adjacent lane.

“You in the FiST?” my brother asked.

“But of course!” I replied.

Such is the danger of driving a B segment car on the highways of the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

In the weeks since I last updated you on my leasership of my 2015 Fiesta ST, I’ve had the opportunity to put some serious highway miles on it. After its first month of living with me, when I racked up a whopping 500 miles or so as the snow and ice pummeled the Midwest, I’ve since put an additional 1800 miles on the clock for a total of 2300. For those of you keeping track at home, that’s 2300 miles that didn’t go on my Boss 302 (come on, equity building!), but equally important is that I did 2300 miles at a combined 30 MPG as opposed to a combined 18 MPG.

Although the Fiesta ST doesn’t necessarily require premium fuel, it’s much happier drinking 93 octane than 87—I’ve noticed about 33 MPG highway on 87 versus 35 MPG on 93. There is also a noticeable torque difference. In theory, the ECU can tell the difference when you use regular versus premium and adjusts the ignition timing accordingly. In practice, the car feels better on 93. For highway cruising, though, it doesn’t matter much.

As good as the Fiesta is on back roads, for long stretches of highway miles, it can leave a little to be desired. The stiffly sprung suspension does not care for potholes at all, and the long, cold winter of Kentucky, Ohio, and Indiana seems to have created more than I can remember in years past. There’s no such thing as mindless driving behind the wheel of the ST—one divot in the middle of a lane can ruin your day, or in my case, your alignment. A particularly nasty bump on I-64 in Kentucky seems to have knocked my alignment off ever so slightly, to the point where the steering wheel is listing a bit to the right. I’ll have to get that looked at this week.

As I mentioned at the beginning, the Fiesta ST is invisible to truckers. Not only that, it also appears to be invisible to Tahoes and F-250s. I am typically forced into evasive action about once a day if there’s even a bit of traffic around me.

Visibility out of the rear windshield is a bit limited (especially with track decals), and the truck-style side mirrors take a bit of getting used to.

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There are pluses, however. It’s surprisingly quiet on the freeway. Tire and wind noise are minimal, even at speeds approaching triple digits. The Bluetooth works flawlessly, and it’s even suitable for taking a conference call—nobody will know that you’re in the car. I don’t have the Recaro seat option in my car, and I’m actually pretty glad about that when it comes to highway driving. Although I fit in them just fine, one doesn’t always want to be gripped like a glove when driving 250 miles at a time. The standard seats have lumbar support, but I like it best without it.

I’ve had exactly zero issues with MyFordTouch so far. The navigation system is excellent for daily usage—easily the best I’ve used in a car. Mrs. Bark used it to navigate her way out of a closed highway situation last weekend, saving her over an hour. While I have no plans to extend my Sirius trial, I have to admit that it’s useful for traveling longer distances, or for driving through areas where my phone can’t easily stream Spotify.

Okay, so this bit doesn’t have anything to do with freeway driving, but I wanted to include it anyway. There’s this little button on the center console. I pressed it a few times during the day, but nothing seemed to happen.

015

But at night, it’s a different story. Observe:

Click here to view the embedded video.

I know, it’s a little dorky, but I dig it.

In the next month, I’ll be taking the ST to its first autocross (where I expect to be stoned by angry jorts-wearers) as well as its first track day. I look forward to sharing those experiences with you, as well.

Questions? Comments? Concerns? Rude Remarks? GO!

 

 

 

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Question Of The Day: What Car Offends You The Most? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/question-day-car-offends/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/question-day-car-offends/#comments Fri, 17 Apr 2015 15:27:14 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1046985 So I recently purchased this Hummer, which is a tremendously offensive automobile in the sense that it looks like the military has invaded our cities and is currently driving around getting the same fuel economy as a tugboat. I figured, with my Hummer, that people would really hate me. What I thought would happen was, […]

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Hummer- drive - Picture courtesy AM General

So I recently purchased this Hummer, which is a tremendously offensive automobile in the sense that it looks like the military has invaded our cities and is currently driving around getting the same fuel economy as a tugboat.

I figured, with my Hummer, that people would really hate me. What I thought would happen was, people would roll down their Prius window in traffic, and motion for me to roll down mine, and then berate me for several minutes about how I am a seal-killing gas guzzler, and a baby-destroying Republican, and an environment-ruining asshole, none of which I could hear because my engine is too loud. Then we would start up and drive away and they would win any drag race, because my Hummer is slower than a grandfather who’s learning how to downhill ski.

But that isn’t what happens. What happens is, people give me thumbs-ups. They wave. They smile. They tell me “Cool truck!” The other day some guy in a Chevy Avalanche offered to buy it, though I suspect he would’ve balked at the fact that this giant old piece of crap costs more than thirty grand.

In other words: people actually seem to like this thing.

I think part of it is the fact that I live in Philadelphia. Ultimately, this is something of a working-class city, and people kind of like cool trucks, and cool SUVs, and cool pickups, and they can tell this thing is a little older and a little different. A older, different truck that gets the same fuel economy as a tugboat.

I suspect it would be different if I were driving an H2. It’s very obvious to me that people can quickly spot the size and design differences between the original Hummer and the H2, because people are always saying things like: Look man! There’s an original Hummer! Or: Nice Hummer man, that’s the real deal! Whereas people look at an H2 and they assume it’s some guy who’s behind on his alimony payments.

As I result, I think people would probably be a lot more offended if I were driving around in an H2. I don’t think they’d necessarily say anything, of course, because this isn’t Northern California where people in plug-in vehicles feel that it’s their right to verbally harass people in gas guzzlers. But I would notice them glaring at me, disapprovingly, as I took up two lanes at traffic lights.

So today I’m asking you: what vehicle offends you the most? Is it the Hummer H2? Or is there some even more offensive vehicle that you just can’t help but slow down as you drive past in order to see what kind of idiot would buy it?

For me, the answer is twofold. Number one, any previous-generation Chrysler 200 or Dodge Avenger with a dealer plate frame or a bumper sticker. When there’s no plate frame and no bumper stickers, you can sort of assume it’s a rental car, and so you can’t really be too offended at the idea that someone might turn down the Camry, the Accord, a used Hyundai, an old Taurus, a bus pass, etc., in order to buy one of these things. But when there’s evidence that someone actually purchased this vehicle, you have to sit there and, as a car guy, take a little offense that someone would stoop to such a poor automotive decision.

Here’s another thing that pisses me off: every time I see a heavy-duty pickup in a big city.

A couple of months ago I was driving around Manhattan and I got up behind a guy in a fairly recent Chevrolet Silverado Dually; the kind of truck that’s so wide they have to put those little orange lights above the windshield to remind everyone that it may actually be a city bus.

Driving this thing in Manhattan must’ve been an absolutely nightmare, but here this guy was: cruising down Park Avenue dodging taxis and bicyclists as if he was just another old guy in a Saab 900.

So I used the Carfax app to run the guy’s plate number, and sure enough: this behemoth of an automobile was registered in New York, New York. In other words: this wasn’t some weekender down from the Catskills, taking a break from his usual job of hauling stuff and looking manly. This guy actually possessed this vehicle in New York City. Admittedly, he could’ve lived in Staten Island, but I think that would’ve only been a little less offensive.

So, what say you? Is there any car that makes your jaw drop with disgust when you see it on the street? Is there any car where you really want to walk over, tap on the window, and say: what the hell were you thinking?

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Volkswagen Jetta GLI: Reviewed! http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/volkswagen-jetta-gli-reviewed/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/volkswagen-jetta-gli-reviewed/#comments Fri, 17 Apr 2015 14:30:37 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1045378 This is not a GTI. This is not a GTI. This is not a GTI. Cross your tees and line your elles, this is not that darling of the #millennial boot-scoot generation: the My First Big Boy Car Volkswagen GTI. It’s not a GTI with a trunk, either, despite everything you might think. The GLI certainly […]

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VW Jetta GLI front

This is not a GTI. This is not a GTI. This is not a GTI. Cross your tees and line your elles, this is not that darling of the #millennial boot-scoot generation: the My First Big Boy Car Volkswagen GTI.

It’s not a GTI with a trunk, either, despite everything you might think.

Nice Touch Alert: the red line framing the grille extends into the headlights. Clever!

Nice Touch Alert: the red line framing the grille extends into the headlights. Clever!

The GLI certainly makes a good first impression. Split-spoke wheels with just the right-sized tires, too much sidewall, a hint of red from the front grille—there’s a nice touch, Volkswagen, how the red line continues into the headlight housings. Subtle, sophisticated: a very Grown Up Car. Junior pulls into the office park on his first day of his post-college job and he knows his bosses, safely ensconced in their corner offices, are watching. Just to see what kind of young upstart they hired. Let’s get lunch—PF Chang’s? Great. We can take my car!

DSC03813

Nice wheels. Nice new grille. Open the door and imagine four plaid seats, just like the GTI—how cool would that look? Instead, the GLI only receives V-Tex Leatherette, patterned in carbon-look and framed in red piping, for a look resembling Darth Vader’s softball uniform. I appreciate the honesty inherent in a cloth interior, but we have believed for decades that even faux leather looks expensive. Even when this doesn’t.

DSC03818

Darth Vader’s softball team would be called “The Empire Strikes Out.”

And yet, the illusion is over by that first turn out of the parking lot. Because that exhaust note is the GLI’s most characterful asset, carrying an unmistakable presence: it growls and rips and sounds edgy, exuberant. Coupled with the turbo pssht! when shifting through the DSG transmission, and it’s the GLI again with the first impressions, especially the impression that there’s a serious performance car lurking underneath all that sophistication.

Even when there isn’t.

VW Jetta GLI rear

Angeles Crest Highway looks pretty good in the mornings.

The GLI shares its 2.0-liter TSI turbocharged engine with its hatchbacked brother, producing 210 horsepower, with the full brunt of its 207 lb-ft of torque ready to go at a mere 1,700 RPM. Below that, it positively bogs when coming off a stop. Then it’s wait, wait, wait, hold on, whoosh!

It sounds best in second gear. Of course, Angeles Crest Highway, where these photos were taken, is a third gear kind of road…and once you lift off the throttle, anywhere below 4,000 RPM, the GLI is as quiet as ever. The dual-clutch DSG snaps off shifts with near-imperceptible quickness, fast as ever. Volkswagen claims “upgraded brakes” on the GLI, but at least the calipers are painted red. They work powerfully.

VW Jetta GLI wheels

Red calipers add BRAKE horsepower. Get it?

And here’s the shocker of the century: the whole chassis tends toward understeer. The XDS Cross Differential is an electronic system, available across the Golf lineup, and applies the brakes to inside wheels—VW-speak for torque vectoring, and without it the GLI might feel even sloppier. But as it stands now, it lacks precision. The ride is relatively well composed, with little body roll, but there’s a lot of road noise. The steering is weighty, not as sharp, not particularly involving— not much to feel, no resistance to bear, heavy as hell at a crawl, but numb and inconsistent when on the move. Compare this to the GTI, whose steering is consistent at any speed—probably why it feels so gratifying as a result.

At least you can get it with a manual. The esteemed Mr. Kreindler and I both recommended that you do.

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Our Jetta GLI SEL rang in a hair over $30,000, reigning at the top of the Jetta food chain. And yet, it still comes with the built-to-cost sensibility the motoring world griped when it came out: harsh door panels, hard-knock plastics, a bouncy trunklid, a tiny screen the size of a pack of Orbit.

But for the same price, there’s a four-door GTI. And that’s the full package: the MQB platform is new, the interior is new, the touchscreen is new, the suspension is newer, certainly. I think this is what sums it up about the GLI: go to Volkswagen’s website and look at their models. Go past the lease deals on a stripper Jetta or Passat (with manuals!). Look past the Beetle, the Eos (they still make those?), the Golf. Take a look: the GTI is its own standalone model, now, proof of serious intent from Volkswagen. On some college campuses, the GTI is so popular that your average incoming freshman can walk from one side of campus to another, entirely on the roofs of GTIs, without ever touching ground.

If you’re a sporting gentleman, get that. If you’re practical, get that. If you “drive tastefully,” get that with the plaid seats. Because America’s cheapest sports sedan—the GLI SE starts at $26,920 with a manual—is more cheap than sport.

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There’s A Reason Why the New Lincoln Continental Concept Looked Familiar to Me http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/theres-reason-new-lincoln-continental-concept-looked-familiar/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/theres-reason-new-lincoln-continental-concept-looked-familiar/#comments Fri, 17 Apr 2015 14:00:33 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1041569 I was at the press conference in Chicago a few years back when Lincoln  announced that they had decided to jettison billions of dollars worth of brand equity and go with alphanumeric model names (well, the announcement didn’t quite go like that, but that’s a pretty close approximation of what it meant). Around that time Ford […]

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Full gallery here

Full gallery here

I was at the press conference in Chicago a few years back when Lincoln  announced that they had decided to jettison billions of dollars worth of brand equity and go with alphanumeric model names (well, the announcement didn’t quite go like that, but that’s a pretty close approximation of what it meant). Around that time Ford was still trying to sell luxury F-150 pickups under the Lincoln brand, first the Lincoln Blackwood and then the Mark LT, before they realized the margins were greater on Platinum F-150s. When the sedan model now known as the MKS was introduced as a concept, the press kit referred to it as the Mark S, with Mk S badging, just like Mk IIIs and Mk IVs of yore – alphanumeric badging but the model name was spoken as “Mark x”.  By the time it reached production, though, the new large Lincoln was simply the MKS. I asked a Lincoln rep what happened to “Mark” and was told that customers associated the name with old fashioned land yachts, not contemporary cars. With the new Lincoln Continental concept it’s clear that Ford Motor Company’s luxury brand has decided to embrace their inner land yacht.

Some of the brightwork includes taillights that look like chrome when unlit.

Some of the brightwork includes taillights that look like chrome when unlit. Full gallery here.

The throwback name is one indicator, and so is the rhetoric, “elegant, effortlessly powerful and serene”.  Lincoln even chose a signature color from the Continental nameplate’s history, what they are today calling Rhapsody Blue, a not quite dark blue that has a lot of warmth and richness. Of course the modern version has some pearl in the finish, but it’s clearly a nod to the brand’s history. Another way the Conti concept embraces its heritage is with the lavish use of chrome. For a long time, car designers have avoided lots of brightwork, a reaction to the prior use of chromium plated trim. What worked in the 1950s and 1960s started looking dated and gaudy in the 1970s as designers struggled to make good looking cars in the new regulatory era of 5 mph bumpers. Today we have fascias, not chrome plated bumpers, and trim is more likely to be body colored or some shade of grey than chrome. A lot of metal and metal looking trim these days has a brushed or satin look. Glossy, shiny chrome just has been out of fashion for a while.

While contemplating the Continental concept, taking in the long expanses of blue paint and all that shiny chrome, particularly the broad chrome strip that circles the car at rocker panel level, I was reminded of another blue Continental, one of the two 1956 Continental Mark II convertibles made for Ford Motor Company to test the feasibility of a Mk II ragtop. I guess you could call it a Mk II convertible concept. We ran a post on TTAC about that specific car, which is owned by Barry Wolk, a Detroit area car enthusiast and restorer (disclaimer: Barry’s wife is my mother’s cousin).

David Woodhouse, Lincoln’s head of styling, happened to be on the stand while I was thinking about all that chrome and rich blue paint, so I walked over and told him that the color and the chrome reminded me of a 1956 Continental Mark II convertible that I’d photographed. Woodhouse replied, “Barry’s car? It was in the studio as an inspiration while we worked on this.” Besides the color and the chrome, it appears to me that the rear fender line of the new concept echoes the way the fender line of the Mark II dips near the door.

In introducing the new Continental, Lincoln Motor president Kumar Galhotra, who not quite coincidentally was wearing a blue suit that matched the concept car, said that the project really took off once they told the design team that Lincoln was going to call the project they were working on a Continental. Normally I might be skeptical of the just-so nature of that story, but the fact that they had at least one classic Continental on hand to give the stylists a sense of what the brand has meant, makes me believe that working on such a historic nameplate had to have jazzed up the designers.

Can you count the Lincoln logos in the front end. Though the retail Continental will be close to the concept, Lincoln has given two different reasons why the lighted Lincoln star in the grille won't make it to production: it's not compliant with some government regulations and that the technology isn't production ready. I hope they figure out how to do it, it would be an even better nighttime brand identifier than Audi's LED eyebrows.

Can you count the Lincoln logos in the front end (check the headlamps too). Though the retail Continental will be close to the concept, Lincoln has given two different reasons why the lighted Lincoln star in the grille won’t make it to production: it’s not compliant with some government regulations and the technology isn’t production ready. I hope they figure out how to do it, it would be an even better nighttime brand identifier than Audi’s LED eyebrows.

To be honest, I feel a little vindicated since I’ve said more than once that what Lincoln had to do was sit their design team down with a 1940 Continental, a 1956 Mk II, a suicide door Conti from the early 1960s and then an early 1970s Mk IV (before the battering ram bumpers ruined its lines) so they could get a sense of Lincoln’s true brand identity. Even cooler than vindication, though, was finding out that there was a good reason why the new Continental concept reminded me of an older Continental concept.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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Hillary Clinton Throws Support Behind Ethanol While In Iowa http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/hillary-clinton-throws-support-behind-ethanol-iowa/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/hillary-clinton-throws-support-behind-ethanol-iowa/#comments Fri, 17 Apr 2015 14:00:28 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1046370 During a campaign tour stop in Iowa, Democrat hopeful Hillary Clinton threw her support behind corn ethanol. Autoblog reports Clinton met with a number of Democrats at a private affair in Marshalltown, Iowa Thursday, including America’s Renewable Future co-chair Patty Judge and Iowa Corn Growers board member Bruce Rohwer. Judge stated via a press release […]

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Hillary Clinton Boarding Chevrolet Scooby Van In New York

During a campaign tour stop in Iowa, Democrat hopeful Hillary Clinton threw her support behind corn ethanol.

Autoblog reports Clinton met with a number of Democrats at a private affair in Marshalltown, Iowa Thursday, including America’s Renewable Future co-chair Patty Judge and Iowa Corn Growers board member Bruce Rohwer. Judge stated via a press release that Clinton “was extremely receptive” about ethanol, and felt encouraged “by by her comments about the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).” Rohwer added that he was able to thank Clinton for her support, and believed future conversations on the topic would be “just as positive.”

Clinton has supported RFS since at least 2007, when she first made a go for the presidency, though The Daily Beast found that in a 2002 joint letter with Sens. Charles Schumer of New York, Dianne Feinstein of California and Barbara Boxer of California, then-Senator Clinton described legislation that would bring ethanol into the United States gasoline supply as being “the equivalent of a new gasoline tax” forced upon consumers; she would vote against ethanol 17 times during her time in the U.S. Senate.

Clinton’s re-enforcement of her current stance follows support of ethanol by most Republican hopefuls, as noted during a GOP candidate gathering during last month’s Iowa Ag Summit.

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Tesla To Offer $25 Average Hourly Wage To Gigafactory Employees http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/tesla-offer-25-average-hourly-wage-gigafactory-employees/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/tesla-offer-25-average-hourly-wage-gigafactory-employees/#comments Fri, 17 Apr 2015 13:00:20 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1046338 Tesla is set to offer an average of $25/hour for future employees at its Gigafactory battery-pack production facility in Nevada. Valuewalk reports the figure comes from Economic Development Authority for Western Nevada chief Mike Kazmierski, who adds that the average wage — set to exceed those given to new employees of other automakers, suppliers, and […]

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gigafactory-aerial-1

Tesla is set to offer an average of $25/hour for future employees at its Gigafactory battery-pack production facility in Nevada.

Valuewalk reports the figure comes from Economic Development Authority for Western Nevada chief Mike Kazmierski, who adds that the average wage — set to exceed those given to new employees of other automakers, suppliers, and Tesla’s own workers on the factory floor in California — is helping to push the state’s minimum wage from between $10 and $12 in 2012, to $12 and $15 now.

The breakdown of the average is as follows:

  • $22.79: the minimum for 4,250 Gigafactory workers on the factory floor
  • $27.88: the minimum for 820 technicians tasked with managing equipment and quality
  • $41.83: the minimum for engineering and senior staff

Though Tesla says it never claimed it would pay Gigafactory employees $25/hour via a statement to AutoblogGreen — noting that its projected wages “were informed by regional wage trends” — University of California professor and labor economist Harley Shaikin said the automaker was doing this not only “to attract the best and brightest,” but to keep unions at bay through higher compensation.

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Junkyard Find: 1990 Chevrolet Cavalier Z24 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/junkyard-find-1990-chevrolet-cavalier-z24/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/junkyard-find-1990-chevrolet-cavalier-z24/#comments Fri, 17 Apr 2015 13:00:10 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1043970 The Chevy Cavalier sold in enormous quantities during its 23-year production run, and so most of them stay in the background for me at wrecking yards, much like Chrysler Sebrings and Ford Tempos. But the Cavalier Z24, on the other hand— that’s an interesting Junkyard Find! The Z24 got the DOHC Quad 4 engine later […]

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04 - 1990 Chevrolet Cavalier Z24 Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee MartinThe Chevy Cavalier sold in enormous quantities during its 23-year production run, and so most of them stay in the background for me at wrecking yards, much like Chrysler Sebrings and Ford Tempos. But the Cavalier Z24, on the other hand— that’s an interesting Junkyard Find!
07 - 1990 Chevrolet Cavalier Z24 Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee MartinThe Z24 got the DOHC Quad 4 engine later on (as we see in this ’98 Cavalier Z24 Junkyard Find), but in 1990 the most potent Z24 engine was the 135-horsepower 3.1 liter V6.
01 - 1990 Chevrolet Cavalier Z24 Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee MartinEven though cannabis is now legal in Colorado (where I found this car), decor like this tends to raise the suspicions of members of the law enforcement community.
13 - 1990 Chevrolet Cavalier Z24 Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee MartinThere are certain signs that let you know a car is on its final owner. Like, for example, these dashboard stickers.
10 - 1990 Chevrolet Cavalier Z24 Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee MartinThe ’90 Cavalier Z24 listed at $11,505 (the out-the-door price tended to be lower, of course). The Acura Integra RS hatchback was a mere $445 more, however, and GM cannibalized a few Z24 sales with the $11,650 Geo Storm GSi.

Check out the headlight covers in the Mexican version of the ’94 Z24!

01 - 1990 Chevrolet Cavalier Z24 Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 02 - 1990 Chevrolet Cavalier Z24 Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 03 - 1990 Chevrolet Cavalier Z24 Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 04 - 1990 Chevrolet Cavalier Z24 Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 05 - 1990 Chevrolet Cavalier Z24 Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 06 - 1990 Chevrolet Cavalier Z24 Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 07 - 1990 Chevrolet Cavalier Z24 Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 08 - 1990 Chevrolet Cavalier Z24 Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 09 - 1990 Chevrolet Cavalier Z24 Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 10 - 1990 Chevrolet Cavalier Z24 Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 11 - 1990 Chevrolet Cavalier Z24 Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 13 - 1990 Chevrolet Cavalier Z24 Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 14 - 1990 Chevrolet Cavalier Z24 Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 15 - 1990 Chevrolet Cavalier Z24 Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 16 - 1990 Chevrolet Cavalier Z24 Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 17 - 1990 Chevrolet Cavalier Z24 Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 18 - 1990 Chevrolet Cavalier Z24 Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 19 - 1990 Chevrolet Cavalier Z24 Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin

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The Mercedes-Benz GLA’s Arrival Isn’t Slowing Down The Mercedes-Benz CLA: U.S. 2015 Q1 Sales http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/mercedes-benz-glas-arrival-isnt-slowing-mercedes-benz-cla-u-s-2015-q1-sales/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/mercedes-benz-glas-arrival-isnt-slowing-mercedes-benz-cla-u-s-2015-q1-sales/#comments Fri, 17 Apr 2015 12:36:53 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1046474 As Mercedes-Benz USA levels off with slightly less than 2000 GLA SUV/crossover/hatchback/whatever-it-is sales per month, U.S. sales of the GLA’s sedan donor vehicle, the CLA, haven’t slowed at all. In other words, the GLA’s presence in Mercedes-Benz showrooms is not a deterrent to the CLA. Yes, America, buyers continue to flock to the sedan even though […]

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Mercedes-Benz CLA250As Mercedes-Benz USA levels off with slightly less than 2000 GLA SUV/crossover/hatchback/whatever-it-is sales per month, U.S. sales of the GLA’s sedan donor vehicle, the CLA, haven’t slowed at all.

In other words, the GLA’s presence in Mercedes-Benz showrooms is not a deterrent to the CLA.

Yes, America, buyers continue to flock to the sedan even though there’s a crossover version of that sedan available. Believe it.

Granted, the CLA isn’t selling like it did during its launch period. Anticipated and hyped, the CLA generated 8518 U.S. sales in its first full two months, October and November 2013.

But over the last five months, a period in which the GLA became readily available, CLA sales increased 13%, year-over-year.

March volume jumped 81% after a 16% gain through the first two months of 2015. In the eight months immediately preceding the GLA’s launch, Mercedes-Benz USA was selling fewer than 2000 CLAs per month, although the belief was that dealers could have sold more if they had greater inventory of the Hungary-built sedan.

Mercedes-Benz USA salesMercedes-Benz needed to supply more CLAs to North America, and they have, but one might have expected that the increase in CLA inventory would be timed with decreased CLA demand as the GLA launch period began. Instead, Mercedes-Benz has proved capable of selling more than 2800 CLAs per month alongside the GLA, 45% more monthly sales than they were doing in pre-GLA 2014.

The impact on the brand? Excluding Sprinter, 18% of the Mercedes-Benzes sold in the U.S. in the first-quarter of 2015 were entry-level CLAs and GLAs – 11% for the CLA alone – up from 8% in the first-quarter of 2014, before the GLA. Non-CLA/GLA Benz sales are down 3% in the early stages of 2015.

With the entry-level pairing intact, Mercedes-Benz’s U.S. volume was up 9% in March; 8% in the first-quarter.

Mercedes-Benz GLA 45 AMG (X 156) 2013Even so, only twice in the last six months has Mercedes-Benz topped the premium leaderboard. BMW, the brand which outperformed Mercedes-Benz USA in December, February, and March, adopted a markedly different entry-level strategy compared with Mercedes-Benz and Audi, with their front and all-wheel-drive sedans. The 2-Series is a performance coupe with nothing more than low-volume potential: March was the best 1-Series/2-Series sales month since August 2010, but with only 1249 units, it wasn’t a common car.

No, BMW’s true entry-level car is the 320i, simply a lesser version of the nation’s top-selling premium brand car. BMW doesn’t release specific monthly figures for engine variants, but if we use Cars.com’s inventory results as a guide, BMW likely sold around 4600 copies of the 320i in 2015’s first-quarter.

Timothy Cain is the founder of GoodCarBadCar.net, which obsesses over the free and frequent publication of U.S. and Canadian auto sales figures.

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Crapwagon Outtake: Squeeze My Lemon http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/crapwagon-outtake-squeeze-lemon/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/crapwagon-outtake-squeeze-lemon/#comments Fri, 17 Apr 2015 12:00:47 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1044594 Apologies to Messrs Johnson and, to a lesser extent, Plant for the title. We continue our journey through the wasteland of the automotive internet with another car that fills my imaginary garage–that fantasy world where there are no orthodontist’s bills. I distinctly remember when the Z32 started hitting the enthusiast magazines in 1989, around the […]

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Apologies to Messrs Johnson and, to a lesser extent, Plant for the title.

We continue our journey through the wasteland of the automotive internet with another car that fills my imaginary garage–that fantasy world where there are no orthodontist’s bills.

I distinctly remember when the Z32 started hitting the enthusiast magazines in 1989, around the same time as another iconic Japanese sports car was filling the same pages. It didn’t hurt that my dad was a long-time Z owner–and occasional president of the local Z club–and a regional Nissan marketing executive lived two blocks away. The 1990 300ZX was right up there in my preteen automotive poster dreamworld with the usual suspects from Maranello, Stuttgart, and Sant’Agata. Dad ended up with a non-turbo version, in middle-aged-guy-appropriate deep cherry red, that he ended up trading before the 60k timing belt service was due.

The 300hp twin-turbo was mind-blowing back then–of course, minivans had around 150hp rather than the 283 in my T&C. Corvette and 944 Turbo performance from the same place that serviced Mom’s Sentra? That’s why I can’t believe this yellow example on eBay has only fifteen thousand miles on the odometer. Who wouldn’t want to drive this halfway across the continent?

The color probably doesn’t help. But otherwise (save for the Nissan hamburger logo that shouldn’t be on the between-headlamp panel on a ’90) this looks just like the cars I drooled over in the local showroom as a kid. $29k might be a stretch, too. But there are so few left that are this clean that I can imagine someone will pull the trigger.

 

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Hyundai To Build Mexican Factory After Sales Exceed 50K Per Year http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/hyundai-build-mexican-factory-sales-exceed-50k-per-year/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/hyundai-build-mexican-factory-sales-exceed-50k-per-year/#comments Fri, 17 Apr 2015 12:00:34 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1046314 Hyundai is planning on building a factory in Mexico, but only after annual domestic sales in the country rise to appropriate levels. Bloomberg reports the automaker is waiting until annual sales exceed 50,000 before breaking ground on a factory for the Hyundai brand, per Hyundai Motor de Mexico managing director Pedro Albarran. He adds that […]

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Hyundai Grand i10 Receiving Service in Mexico

Hyundai is planning on building a factory in Mexico, but only after annual domestic sales in the country rise to appropriate levels.

Bloomberg reports the automaker is waiting until annual sales exceed 50,000 before breaking ground on a factory for the Hyundai brand, per Hyundai Motor de Mexico managing director Pedro Albarran. He adds that the target could come as soon as 2018; 2014 sales totalled 12,000.

As for where it could be built, Albarran says the state of Nuevo Leon — where Kia is investing $1 billion into building a new factory of its own — would be an ideal location, and that Kia’s move to build the factory made Mexico more desirable for Hyundai, thanks to the factory attracting suppliers.

When operational, the Hyundai factory would produce over 100,000 units per year, and would include subcompacts popular in the country.

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Cheech & Chong’s Great Car Movie Showing On the Big Screen In Denver, This 4/20 (Naturally) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/cheech-chongs-great-car-movie-showing-big-screen-denver-420-naturally/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/cheech-chongs-great-car-movie-showing-big-screen-denver-420-naturally/#comments Fri, 17 Apr 2015 12:00:19 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1045522 Some might tell you that Cheech & Chong’s 1978 movie, Up In Smoke, was about Malaise Era drug culture, or Los Angeles, or California punk rock, but in fact it is one of the greatest car movies in cinematic history. For this reason, I have used my Svengali-like powers to convince the management of the […]

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UIS-CroppedSome might tell you that Cheech & Chong’s 1978 movie, Up In Smoke, was about Malaise Era drug culture, or Los Angeles, or California punk rock, but in fact it is one of the greatest car movies in cinematic history. For this reason, I have used my Svengali-like powers to convince the management of the Denver Alamo Drafthouse theater to include this fine automotive film as part of the Murilee Martin Presents series. Yes, on Monday, which just happens to be April 20, we’ll roll Up In Smoke starting at 7:30 PM.
UIS-VW211-550pxIn addition to Cheech’s ’64 Impala SS coupe, Sergeant Stedenko’s ’73 AMC Matador, and the Fiberweed™ GMC Value Van, you’ll see more incredible cars than you can count, including the Busted Nuns’ Buick Sportwagon, the Mob Guys’ 1967 Lincoln Continental, and cameos by everything from a Volkswagen 411 to a Fiat 128 Sport Coupe.
Preshow_Party-550pxThe Alamo has food and drink service right at your theater seat (sorry, Sen Dog, there’ll be no smoking your four-footer— or anything else— inside the theater). The show starts at 7:30, but show up a bit early with your interesting hoopties and we’ll have a little impromptu car show in the parking lot beforehand (as we did before we watched Duel a couple weeks back).

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Michigan Diesel Shop Refuses To Serve Openly Gay Customers http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/michigan-diesel-shop-refuses-serve-openly-gay-customers/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/michigan-diesel-shop-refuses-serve-openly-gay-customers/#comments Fri, 17 Apr 2015 11:00:32 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1046290 What does a diesel shop in Michigan have in common with a Washingtonian florist and a Hoosier pizza hut? An owner who refuses to serve openly gay customers. WOOD-TV reports the owner of Grandville, Mich.-based Dieseltec, Brian Klawiter, posted a statement to his shop’s Facebook page Tuesday regarding his view that those with conservative, Christian […]

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Dieseltec Ram Diesel Burnout

What does a diesel shop in Michigan have in common with a Washingtonian florist and a Hoosier pizza hut? An owner who refuses to serve openly gay customers.

WOOD-TV reports the owner of Grandville, Mich.-based Dieseltec, Brian Klawiter, posted a statement to his shop’s Facebook page Tuesday regarding his view that those with conservative, Christian values are being drowned out by those who don’t hold those values. Said statement includes the following passage:

I am a Christian. My company will be run in a way that reflects that. Dishonesty, thievery, immoral behavior, etc. will not be welcomed at MY place of business. (I would not hesitate to refuse service to an openly gay person or persons. Homosexuality is wrong, period. If you want to argue this fact with me then I will put your vehicle together with all bolts and no nuts and you can see how that works.)

When interviewed by the NBC affiliate, Klawiter said that while he’d fix a vehicle in need of repair, he would not welcome a gay male couple openly displaying their affection in his shop, proclaiming he and his shop doesn’t believe in homosexuality. Klawiter adds that he isn’t going to ask customers about their sexuality, while also reaffirming his stance on PDAs by same-sex couples.

Asked to view his post from the eyes of a gay individual, he said he would find the statement of belief “enlightening,” and that he would cross off Dieseltec from his list of shops.

UPDATE: And just like the aforementioned theoretical gay customer — and myself, if I had diesel business in the first place — Cummins wants no part of Dieseltec. Per their Twitter to another consumer who noted the engine manufacturer’s support of the LGBT community:

Diversity = our core values. We have no affiliation with this business and are notifying them to stop using our logo.

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Virginia Set To Establish Strict Retention Limits On LPR Data http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/virginia-set-establish-strict-retention-limits-lpr-data/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/virginia-set-establish-strict-retention-limits-lpr-data/#comments Fri, 17 Apr 2015 10:00:29 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1046218 The Commonwealth of Virginia is ready to set strict limits on how long license plate reader data can be retained, said limits being on the order of days. Autoblog reports two bills hit Governor Terry McAuliffe’s desk Wednesday that would balance the citizens’ right to privacy with law enforcement’s need to investigate potential crimes. One […]

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Alexandria Virginia Police Dodge Charger With License Plate Readers

The Commonwealth of Virginia is ready to set strict limits on how long license plate reader data can be retained, said limits being on the order of days.

Autoblog reports two bills hit Governor Terry McAuliffe’s desk Wednesday that would balance the citizens’ right to privacy with law enforcement’s need to investigate potential crimes. One bill would limit data retention to just seven days, the other to 60 days.

McAuliffe would have 30 days to act on the bills before both go into effect without his signature, with the review process set to begin “in the coming days” according to representative Christina Nuckols. Either way, the new limit would be one of the shortest — if not the shortest overall — limits on data retention in the United States; Maine currently holds the record with its 21-day limit.

As for which bill privacy advocates would prefer, the American Civil Liberties Union is pushing McAuliffe to sign the seven-day limit into law, as the other limit also expands the scope of law enforcement’s ability to conduct surveillance.

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Please Visit Your Local Public Off-Road Park http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/please-visit-local-public-off-road-park/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/please-visit-local-public-off-road-park/#comments Thu, 16 Apr 2015 14:30:45 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1045306 Whenever you buy a performance car, there’s generally an intent to test its limits. There’s a winding country road by your house, but you likely will have to avoid cyclists, motorcyclists, residents mad about the broken speed limits and loud engine noise, as well as police officers ready to write a ticket. Highways are much […]

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Whenever you buy a performance car, there’s generally an intent to test its limits. There’s a winding country road by your house, but you likely will have to avoid cyclists, motorcyclists, residents mad about the broken speed limits and loud engine noise, as well as police officers ready to write a ticket. Highways are much rougher than they used to be (at least in California), so verifying the top speed of your Porsche down a freeway late at night might be a hairy proposition with the uneven road surfaces and random potholes. Consequently, your new performance car will be sitting in the garage most of the time, only taken out on days when the sun is shining and traffic is at a minimum. Eventually, a performance car owner will resolve to take his or her car to a track day and see what the car can do.

When you do attend a track day, there’s always a few procedures to go through, the first of which usually involves paying a third-party company hundreds of dollars for organizing the track day. Then, when the day to test your car’s limits comes, since the track is an hour away and the track instruction meeting is at 7:30 AM, you’ll have to wake up early. You might even have to spend two or three laps in a different car with a track instructor if it’s your first time at the track. There might be two or three track sessions during the day with a half-hour to an hour gap between them. You’ll have to be careful not to shatter the sound regulations (at Laguna Seca, it’s typically 92 dBa), which is shockingly easy to do in any V-8-powered Chrysler vehicle, or otherwise you’ll be forced to remove your car from the track.

Meanwhile across America, thousands of people have bought off-road ready vehicles with 4WD like the Land Cruiser, 4Runner, Xterra, LX570, GX460, G-Wagen, and any Land Rover vehicle which are capable of driving through some tough trails and tricky obstacles. Many of their owners probably bought them as prestige vehicles, or as a family, or for towing a boat or trailer. They’ll talk about the off-road prowess of their SUVs at parties, but their vehicles likely won’t see a dedicated off-road trail. Four-wheel-drive is most necessary to them for the winter skiing trips. Many of them are oblivious to the fact their state offers them the facilities to actually test out the capabilities of their 4WD vehicle.

And these parks with both off-road trails and off-road obstacles are very simple to access. There’s no dedicated classroom instruction. You can come into the park anytime you want, which means you can sleep in. The fee for entering the off-road park (in California) is $5. You’ll have photos on your phone to show what your “family vehicle” is capable of. There’s no such thing as a session where you can drive. The most instruction you’ll get around the park is following what the Jeep in front of you is doing and whatever off-roading tips are in the owners’ manual. Though there are sound ordinances at the SVRA, they’re not readily enforced. There is little to no supervision in the park. Most importantly, your 4×4 won’t be sitting in some shopping center’s parking lot during the weekend. You’ll be out having fun away from the sounds of cash registers and people complaining about Abercrombie and Fitch.

My experience with off-roading parks comes from California’s State Vehicular Recreation Areas where you can take your four-wheel-drive vehicles and “play” with them by driving on off-road trails and seeing if they can clear obstacles specifically built for those vehicles. The best part is all these activities are sanctioned by California, a state that has the most intense car emissions rules in the nation. Amazingly, California, a state where one has to go through a fairly comprehensive background check to buy a gun, thinks that anyone with a driver’s license is capable of climbing a 50 degree hill or driving through a pile of rocks in a four-wheel-drive vehicle with no ambulances or tow trucks in sight.

When I had a 4Runner TRD Pro as a test vehicle, taking it to my local SVRA would be one of the few ways I could test the truck’s capabilities. The park I took the 4Runner to, Hollister Hills, provided enough different obstacles that I could play with all the settings of the 4Runner’s Multi-Terrain Select and Crawl Control systems. I was able to go there on a weekday and a weekend without any problems. All the trails were clearly marked and contained their difficulty level. If I compare it to getting a Chevrolet SS as a test vehicle and taking it to Sonoma Raceway to test its capabilities, I have to take it strictly on a weekend through a third-party that has booked the track, and I will have to ensure I don’t break any local sound ordinances, which I know the SS is very much able to do.

At California SVRAs (though I’ve found it also corresponds to a few off-road parks in other states), the trail difficulty level more or less corresponds with ski slope difficulty level, with the green circle for easy trails, a blue square for more difficult trails, and a black diamond denoting the most difficult trails. Green trails can be traversed by most all-wheel-drive crossovers while blue trails can be driven on by any novice in a Jeep. Black diamonds are generally very steep and not much else. Hollister Hills had double and triple black diamond trails too, but those are strictly for dedicated off-road vehicles such as rock crawlers and very highly-modified Jeeps.

Though I’m most familiar with California, many other states have their own off-road vehicle parks. While some of them are privately-owned, their prices tend to be fairly reasonable (I’ve seen rates of $20 online), while many state parks have dedicated four-wheeling trails within them for whatever it costs to enter the park. Some parks may require a special sticker that allows a 4×4 into the park. Most of these states have similar policies to California’s off-road parks. Visiting and posting onto one of the many off-roading forums will give you an idea of the best local off-road parks to take your 4×4 to.

When it comes to safety at off-road parks, it helps to go with someone else who has a 4×4 so he or she can pull you out if you become stuck in an obstacle. If it’s your first time off-roading, check out your model-specific forum to see if any members are planning an off-road meetup. It also helps to have the number of a tow truck driver who can recover your vehicle from a trail if anything goes awry. As for speeds traveled around the park, unless the trail is fairly smooth and/or is a “green,” the highest speed you should go might be less than 15 mph. Since low range 4WD will likely be engaged, high speeds shouldn’t be an issue. Furthermore, since most modern SUVs come with hill descent control and some with hill ascent control, you should learn how to engage those systems and safely drive up or drive down some steep trails. Additionally, learn how and when to use the locking differentials if your vehicle comes with them. They can save you in slippery situations.

At the Hollister Hills SVRA, one aspect that astonished me was how few people there were with their four-wheel-drive vehicles on a Saturday. Though I went in February, it was just me, a small meetup of the local Nissan Xterra club, and a few people trying out their rock crawlers. Closer to the summer, there are generally more people, but somehow driving around the park is manageable and good etiquette between drivers actually exists. Compare this to a track day, where sometimes there’s that one car that won’t point you by, or the drivers who think they’re Ayrton Senna and attempt to pass you in the corners though they aren’t supposed to.

In the end, get anyone you possibly can to take advantage of where their taxes go, drive their 4×4 off-road, and explore multiple places across America where rental cars can’t go. Considering automakers are making and selling less 4×4 SUVs these days, with the Nissan Pathfinder and Ford Explorer becoming Honda Pilot competitors and the focus on fuel economy, there might not be as many vehicles in the future that can go off the beaten path in the Rockies or Death Valley. Going four-wheeling is incredibly cheap compared to a track day, while being much more memorable because of the vistas you’ll come across. And best of all, you’ll definitely know you pushed the limits of your vehicle.

Satish Kondapavulur is a writer for Clunkerture, where about a fifth of the articles are about old cars and where his one-time LeMons racing dreams came to an end once he realized it was impossible to run a Ferrari Mondial. He recently renewed his search for a P38 Range Rover in decent condition and currently feels Christopher Columbus probably had an easier time finding America.

 

 

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While You Were Sleeping: April 16th, 2015 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/sleeping-april-16th-2015/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/sleeping-april-16th-2015/#comments Thu, 16 Apr 2015 14:04:33 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1045290 Mazda has managed to outsell Nissan in one major market. Any guesses? Mazda is on a roll in Germany, surpassing Nissan and other major brands. Honda’s all-new global platform for the Civic will allow for unprecedented manufacturing flexibility. Toyota will shift production of the Corolla from Canada to Mexico, and build larger vehicles in Canada […]

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mazda-2-sedan-005-1-450x164

Mazda has managed to outsell Nissan in one major market. Any guesses?

 

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General Motors Saved From Pre-Bankruptcy Ignition Lawsuits http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/general-motors-saved-pre-bankruptcy-ignition-lawsuits/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/general-motors-saved-pre-bankruptcy-ignition-lawsuits/#comments Thu, 16 Apr 2015 14:00:04 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1045274 Per a bankruptcy court ruling Wednesday, General Motors won’t be on the hook for pre-bankruptcy claims linked to the February 2014 ignition recall. Reuters reports U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Robert Gerber ruled that plaintiffs seeking damages from GM involving claims made prior to the automaker’s 2009 exit from bankruptcy would have to sue “Old GM” […]

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Recalled GM ignition switch

Per a bankruptcy court ruling Wednesday, General Motors won’t be on the hook for pre-bankruptcy claims linked to the February 2014 ignition recall.

Reuters reports U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Robert Gerber ruled that plaintiffs seeking damages from GM involving claims made prior to the automaker’s 2009 exit from bankruptcy would have to sue “Old GM” for said damages. Though the claims come to $32 billion, Old GM’s assets in October 2014 totaled around $9.25 billion, a recovery of 29 cents on the dollar.

Gerber added that economic-loss plaintiffs could bring their claims against “New GM” based on the automaker’s behavior since leaving bankruptcy, and would certify the case for direct review by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. He also said there were due process failures involved in GM’s exit, but that those failures weren’t enough to become violation-level issues due to lack of evidence by plaintiffs demonstrating that they were denied their day in court because they did not receive notice in time.

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Best-In-A-Decade March 2015 Ford Explorer Sales Cause Us To Remember Times Gone By http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/best-decade-march-2015-ford-explorer-sales-cause-us-remember-times-gone/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/best-decade-march-2015-ford-explorer-sales-cause-us-remember-times-gone/#comments Thu, 16 Apr 2015 13:18:00 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1044946 In the lead-up to the launch of a refreshed 2016 Ford Explorer, March 2015 sales of the current model rose to the highest March output since 2005 and the highest monthly level regardless of season since July 2005. Explorer volume jumped 19% to 23,058 in March 2015, a total made up of 2293 Police Interceptor […]

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Ford SUV sales chart March 2015In the lead-up to the launch of a refreshed 2016 Ford Explorer, March 2015 sales of the current model rose to the highest March output since 2005 and the highest monthly level regardless of season since July 2005.

Explorer volume jumped 19% to 23,058 in March 2015, a total made up of 2293 Police Interceptor Utilities (up 45%) and 20,765 civilian Explorers (up 17%).

In a month which saw particularly strong results from the Nissan Rogue and Chevrolet Equinox, the Explorer ranked sixth among America’s best-selling SUVs and crossovers. (With consistently strong performances from the CR-V, Escape, and RAV4, it’s not reasonable to think the Explorer could routinely stand on the podium.)

But those are all smaller CUVs. Among vehicles which come standard with a third row of seating, the Explorer outsold the next-best-selling three-row crossover, Toyota’s Highlander, by more than 10,019 units and the best-selling minivan, Toyota’s Sienna, by 10,203 sales.

2015 Ford ExplorerCombined, GM sold 24,197 copies of their Lambda-platform (Traverse, Acadia, Enclave) crossovers, a 2% year-over-year gain. But in the interest of full disclosure, Ford also sold 1848 copies of the Flex, which takes the Ford brand’s three-row CUV total up to a Lambda-besting 24,906 units.

That’s besides the point, however. The real story is the return to high-volume status for the Explorer. Last America’s top-selling SUV nine years ago, the Explorer has improved upon its 2006 total in each of the last two years. If the current rate of improvement holds through the next three-quarters, Ford will sell more than 260,000 Explorers in the U.S. this year, the highest total since 2004. March 2015 sales marked the first time since May of last year, which had marked the best month of Explorer sales since July 2005, that Ford had sold more than 20,000 Explorers in a single month. But Explorer sales have increased in 13 consecutive months.

Last month’s 23,058-unit tally was down 7% compared to the previous best March of 2005, but there’s a key difference between the two performances. In March 2005, sales tumbled 17%, a loss of 5000 units compared with March 2004. 2005 was to be the third consecutive year of decline in what would become a seven-year streak. March 2015, on the other hand, marked a 19%, 3700-unit improvement. 2015 is set to be the sixth consecutive year of improved Explorer sales.

Granted, the Explorer isn’t back to historic levels yet, nor is it likely to get back there. Ford averaged 405,000 annual Explorer sales in the U.S. during the decade between 1995 and 2004. The utility vehicle sector has broadened significantly since then, and the competition between nameplates, not to mention the changing tastes of consumers, hasn’t allowed a single SUV/CUV nameplate to come within 60,000 units of the 400K mark since Ford sold 373,000 Explorers twelve years ago.

Timothy Cain is the founder of GoodCarBadCar.net, which obsesses over the free and frequent publication of U.S. and Canadian auto sales figures.

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Review: 2015 Kia Soul EV (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/review-2015-kia-soul-ev-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/review-2015-kia-soul-ev-video/#comments Thu, 16 Apr 2015 13:00:49 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1042177   EV “conversions” make for strange bedfellows when it comes to competition. There is no gasoline Kia Soul that competed even slightly with Mercedes or BMW. Oddly enough however, when you electrify one of the least expensive cars in America, you end up with with a Kia on the same cross-shop list as the i3 […]

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EV “conversions” make for strange bedfellows when it comes to competition. There is no gasoline Kia Soul that competed even slightly with Mercedes or BMW. Oddly enough however, when you electrify one of the least expensive cars in America, you end up with with a Kia on the same cross-shop list as the i3 and B-Class Electric. Obviously a Kia Soul EV vs i3 vs B-Class comparison table is at the extreme end, but I am surprised how many folks wanted to hear that comparison. It isn’t just the luxury-cross shops that become possible however, comparisons normally considered to be “one-tier up” and “one-tier down” become more reasonable as well. For instance, the gasoline Soul isn’t a direct competitor to the Fiat 500 or the Ford Focus, but in EV form they are head to head.

Exterior

The Soul’s boxy profile causes shoppers to frequently overestimate its size. At 163 inches long, the Soul is 16-inches shorter than a Honda Civic and just three inches longer than a Honda Fit. The relative size and the low $15,190 starting price (in gasoline form) are the key to understanding the Soul in general terms. You must also keep that low starting price in mind when thinking of the Soul EV.

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Although the boxy Kia isn’t very long, it is fairly wide. At 70.9 inches wide, the Soul is three critical inches broader than a Honda Fit. This extra width helps keep the Soul from looking too upright (like the Honda Fit) and, from a practical standpoint, it gives rear passengers a wider bench seat than many compact vehicles on the market.

To set the EV apart, Kia crafted unique paint options which include the two-tone blue/white model we tested. Aside from the desire to differentiate the product, the white roof actually reduces heat loads in hotter climates. Kia is a brand known for cutting corners. Last century Kia famously cut all the wrong corners, but lately they started cutting all the right ones. In order to keep the EV’s price, low Kia skipped fancy LED or HID headlamps and used that cash to give upper level trims front and rear parking sensors and power folding mirrors. That’s a worthy trade in my book since many EVs end up being city commuter cars where parallel parking is a way of life.

I have to admit I find the Soul’s boxy form attractive. Maybe it’s my love of station wagons, but the practical profile made me smile. The tweaked front end which ditches a true grille due to reduced cooling requirements makes the Soul look more elegant than in base form as well. While I wouldn’t call it a luxury look, the Soul EV is certainly better looking than the Spark EV or LEAF and it’s a more traditional alternative to the BMW i3.

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Interior

I found the Soul’s interior to be more polarizing than the exterior, but style and not quality is where people were mixed in opinion. With the latest redesign, all Soul models get a soft-touch injection molded dashboard but the feel of the cabin does change from the base gasoline model to the top end trims. The difference seems to be that rather than swapping nicer bits into the higher end cabins, Kia designed a $25,000 cabin and then subtracted to create the base models. Things like the fabric headliner, stitched instrument cluster cover, sort touch door panels and leather wrapped wheel get swapped for lower rent parts in that base $15,190 model. The result is a high-end Soul interior that looks cohesive and a low end Soul interior where interior parts look out of place. Surprised? Then you haven’t driven mid-range or upper trim levels of the latest generation Soul. Kia brought the cheeky box notably up-market in this generation and all EV models use the nicer interior parts.

For EV duty the Soul is available in two trims with essentially no options to choose. The “Base” model is $33,700 (before tax incentives) and the “+” is $35,700. You should know that both trims actually fit into the Soul’s hierarchy between the gasoline + and ! models in terms of features. The $2,000 bump buys you leather seats that are heated/ventilated up front and heated in the rear, heated steering wheel, front and rear parking sensors, fog lamps, power folding mirrors, auto-dimming rear view mirror and leatherette inserts in the doors. The ventilated seats are unique in the EV segment and they are more practical than you might think. We have all heard that it consumes less power to heat the seats and steering wheel than heat the air, but the same goes in hot weather: ventilating the seat consumes less energy than cooling the cabin to a lower temperature. Having the Soul EV back to back with the VW e-Golf made this more obvious than I had expected. Although the Soul EV isn’t as aerodynamic as the e-Golf I was able to get similar highway economy figures by using the ventilated seats instead of the A/C.

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Speaking of air conditioning, Kia decided to use a more expensive heat pump in the Soul EV instead of a standard air conditioning and resistive heater setup that you find in most EVs. Heat pumps are becoming more and more common because they drastically reduce the energy consumed in heating the cabin. If you live in a colder climate, the reduction in energy consumption can potentially mean 5-10 miles more EV range.

The Soul’s front seats are upright and comfortable, but not as adjustable as the gasoline Soul ! which has a 10-way power seat and adjustable lumbar support. This is a shame because it would have made the Soul’s cabin more welcoming than any of the other EVs on the market save Tesla’s new seat design. Headroom and legroom are surprisingly generous thanks to the upright seats and tall roofline. With the front seats adjusted for a 6-foot 5-inch friend, I had no troubles sitting in the back seat. Because the Soul is wider than your average subcompact it has three snug seats in the rear, one more than you’ll find in the 500e, Spark EV or i3. Because most EVs are weight conscious (read: full of hard plastics), only the Mercedes and Tesla offer interiors that feel overtly higher rent. The i3’s interior is difficult to compare as parts are high quality, but the kneaf/plastic blended door and dash panels don’t feel particularly expensive

Infotainment

Perhaps the most attractive feature in the Soul, aside from the ventilated seats, is the 8-inch UVO infotainment and navigation system that is standard on both trims. Kia builds on their easy-to-use software with perhaps the most EV specific information available in a car this side of a Model S. In addition to the standard fare of range and nearby charging stations, the UVO software will let you see where your power is going, score your driving, tell you how much farther you could go if you turned off the AC, and give you charging time estimates. None of these features are unique to the Soul, but not every EV out there gives you ALL of this information in one unit. In addition Kia has a smartphone connected app that will do much of this from afar.

On the downside, UVO still lacks voice command of your media library like you’ll find in most of the mass-market competition from Chrysler, GM, Toyota, Ford and to some extent Honda, but the is the only serious omission in this software. Again however the EV comparisons make even this contrast difficult since the EV’s from those companies don’t include this feature either. The UVO interface is snappy, supports scrolling/drag motions with your fingers, includes a built in cell modem for connectivity features and the voice recognition software is intuitive. The display is large and easy to read in strong daylight and the user interface is sleek and modern. BMW’s iDrive is still the most elegant entry, but only in top end trims as the base i3 gets a less elegant iDrive implementation. Mercedes COMAND is pretty, but lacks UVO’s feature set. Sadly EV owners cannot get Kia’s up-level Infiniti sound system with a center channel speaker, subwoofer and color-changing speaker grills that beat in time with the music. Rocking hamsters need not apply.

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Drivetrain

Powering the electrified Soul is a 109 horsepower AC electric motor capable of 210 lb-ft of torque.  The motor sends power to the front wheels via a single-speed automatic transaxle. (Many of you asked why we call it a “transmission” when it is little more than a reduction gear set with a differential. I don’t have a good answer for you, I call it a transmission because the company that made it calls it a transmission.) Although the curb weight of the Soul EV is a hair lower than the e-Golf (3,286 vs 3,391) and the motor isn’t really much more powerful, 0-60 performance was inexplicably better at 8.5 seconds vs 10.03 seconds. Perplexed by the fast sprint to highway speed? So was I. Many publications have simply quoted Kia’s vague 10-11 second range for the acceleration run, but we tested it several times with the same 20Hz GPS based accelerometer and got the same numbers. The difference is likely due to the gearing and hopefully we’ll be able to get some 0-60 comparisons on other models soon to confirm this, or not.

BMW’s i3 is one of the lightest EVs, tipping the scales 751lbs lighter than the Soul. However, not all the weight difference is explained in the ultra-modern carbon fiber and aluminum BMW construction, the Soul EV carries a battery that is a whopping 44% larger in usable capacity. At 27kWh the Soul’s battery is (at the moment) only outclassed by the B-Class and Model S. Sadly, the laws of physics don’t allow the Kia to have 44% more range than the i3 thanks to considerably wider tires, the heftier curb weight and less aerodynamic profile. For 2015 the EPA says the Soul will cover 93 miles depending on your driving style, about 12 more than the i3. BMW’s numbers were about right, getting around 83 milesin my tests but the Soul EV is rated conservatively (likely due to the brick-like aerodynamics) but I averaged 4.2 miles per kWh which translates to a 113 mile range on my daily commute. Not willing to push things, I did manage a 90 mile trip with about 16% of the battery left.

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Kia’s balancing act between features and keeping costs in check can be seen in the drivetrain as well. The trade-off for the hefty battery capacity is a standard 6.6kW charger which is not slow, but it is slower than the 7.2kW in the e-Golf, 7.4kW in the i3 and 10kW in the Mercedes. Thankfully all Soul models come standard with the CHAdeMO DC fast charge connector up front (the large connector on the right in the picture above). The new SAE (aka CCS) connector may be slimmer and newer, but CHAdeMO outnumbers the newer stations by more than 4:1 in the SF Bay Area and the charging rate is essentially the same. Charging at 120V will take you over 24 hours, at 6.6kW 240V that drops to 4 hours and the little blue box will race from 5% to 80% in under 30 minutes at a coffee shop with a CHAdeMO station.

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Drive

The Soul has never been a driver’s car. The prime reason is Kia’s decision to use a semi-independent suspension in the rear to improve cargo room and load capacity. This means the rear of the gasoline Soul gets upset over heavily broken pavement when driving in a straight line, and in corners rough pavement leaves it unsettled. By adding 500lbs to the vehicle and shifting the weight balance nearer to 50/50 to the rear, the Soul EV delivers improved feel without any major mechanical changes. Because the Soul’s wheelbase is still fairly short the ride can feel slightly choppy on freeway expansion joints, but the added weight brings added polish with it and actually helps settle the rear in corners.

There isn’t an EV out there that excels at handling (even Model S tests on the skidpad yields lower numbers than the gasoline competition) and the Soul is no different. The EV Soul has unquestionably better balance than the gasoline model, and that is obvious on winding roads, but the 205-width low rolling resistance tires and extra weight mean that handling comes in just above the base Soul model (which wears even skinnier tires.) I found the Kia more engaging than the Nissan Leaf, but less engaging than the Focus Electric and e-Golf. In sheer road holding numbersm the Soul and i3 are quite close according to independent metrics, but the the i3’s RWD layout makes it more fun. The Soul’s steering wheel gives precious little feedback but the effort level is adjustable in three levels and no EV’s steering is a “team player” anyway.

Driving dynamics aren’t the Soul’s Forte (see what I did there?) but then again, no EV on the market today does terribly well in this area either. Instead, the Soul EV checks all the practicality and usability boxes from a large and practical cargo area to energy saving features like the standard heat pump and available ventilated leather seats which you don’t find on even the i3 or B-Class. Making the Soul EV perhaps more compelling is Kia’s long standard warranty and the bottom line. If you qualify for the maximum in incentives, the Soul EV ends up being only $1,000 more than a comparable gasoline Soul while costing $800 less to operate on a yearly basis. It may be a low bar, but the Soul EV is easily the best all-around EV on the market today. The more surprising takeaway however is how well the Soul actually stacks up against the high-end competition despite being based on a $15,190 econo-box.

Kia provide the vehicle, insurance and one battery charge for this review. Nissan provided a free charge via one of the Nissan CHAdeMO charging stations in Redwood City.

Specifications as tested:

0-30: 3.3 Seconds

0-60: 8.5 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 16.8 Seconds @ 82 MPH

 

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Japan Hydrogen Ambitions Fall Short Of March 2016 Target http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/japan-hydrogen-ambitions-fall-short-march-2016-target/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/japan-hydrogen-ambitions-fall-short-march-2016-target/#comments Thu, 16 Apr 2015 13:00:05 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1045250 Japan’s ambition to have 100 hydrogen fueling stations by next March may fall short of reality now that the deadline to apply for subsidies has passed. Reuters reports only 76 such stations were approved for subsidies by the government, which had set aside ¥21.4 billion ($178.4 billion USD) over three years for the sole purpose […]

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Eneos Gas Station With Hydrogen Pumps

Japan’s ambition to have 100 hydrogen fueling stations by next March may fall short of reality now that the deadline to apply for subsidies has passed.

Reuters reports only 76 such stations were approved for subsidies by the government, which had set aside ¥21.4 billion ($178.4 billion USD) over three years for the sole purpose of helping would-be hydrogen-station operators build them; each station costs $5 million to build, with the government pitching in $2.5 million in aid.

Though a representative for the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry stated the government is considering increasing the amount given to encourage more infrastructure development, energy companies are asking for proof that building the stations are worth the investment in the first place. In turn, consumers may find the lack of said stations off-putting as far as considering an FCV like Toyota’s Mirai goes, while FCVs themselves need government incentives to attract said consumers.

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Study: Battery Pack Costs Fell 14 Percent Annually Over Seven Years http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/study-battery-pack-costs-fell-14-percent-annually-seven-years/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/study-battery-pack-costs-fell-14-percent-annually-seven-years/#comments Thu, 16 Apr 2015 12:00:54 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1045226 Though the most expensive part of an EV or PHEV is its battery pack, a new study shows those costs are falling at a hefty clip. According to Green Car Reports, a study by the Stockholm Environment Institute in Stockholm, Sweden found that the cost of a battery pack fell 14 percent per year between […]

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2016 Chevrolet Volt battery

Though the most expensive part of an EV or PHEV is its battery pack, a new study shows those costs are falling at a hefty clip.

According to Green Car Reports, a study by the Stockholm Environment Institute in Stockholm, Sweden found that the cost of a battery pack fell 14 percent per year between 2007 and 2014, coming down from over $1,000 USD per kWh, to around $410/kWh; market-leading EV makers saw their costs decline 8 percent annually to $300/kWh over the same period.

The study’s findings are the result of data from 85 cost estimates found in peer-reviewed academic journals, as well as reports from automakers, analysts and the media. However, the authors note that since battery producers and automakers almost never disclose the actual costs for those cells, the study is incomplete at best.

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Hyundai Patent Shows Cell-Phone Disabling Technology http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/hyundai-patent-shows-cell-phone-disabling-technology/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/hyundai-patent-shows-cell-phone-disabling-technology/#comments Thu, 16 Apr 2015 11:00:14 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1045106 Can’t put down the smartphone while driving? Hyundai has a patent for technology that can render it as dumb as a Motorola DynaTAC. Autoblog reports the patent shows technology that “limits or disables the use of some of mobile device features which could cause distraction to the user.” The system determines when and what to […]

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Hyundai Driver Cell Phone Blocking Patent

Can’t put down the smartphone while driving? Hyundai has a patent for technology that can render it as dumb as a Motorola DynaTAC.

Autoblog reports the patent shows technology that “limits or disables the use of some of mobile device features which could cause distraction to the user.” The system determines when and what to disable on a phone based on vehicle speed, time of day, importance of message, and other factors, and can do so either at the driver’s seat or the entire vehicle.

According to the patent, this is done with cellular-signal-monitoring antennas placed throughout the cabin. When an antenna detects a signal, the system performs the tasks needed to disable functions that would otherwise hinder a driver’s ability to maintain vigilance. However, the system requires the phone in question to have firmware that would accept the former’s commands.

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Shanghai 2015: Volvo S60L T6 Twin Engine Ready For The Spotlight http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/shanghai-2015-volvo-s60l-t6-twin-engine-ready-spotlight/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/shanghai-2015-volvo-s60l-t6-twin-engine-ready-spotlight/#comments Thu, 16 Apr 2015 10:00:54 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1045066 Debuting alongside the XC90 Excellence at the 2015 Shanghai Auto Show, the Volvo S60L T6 Twin Engine PHEV brings hybrid power to the Sino-Swede party. The S60L Twin Engine will arrive in Chinese showrooms from Volvo’s plant in Chengdu April 22, and is powered by a Drive-E 2-liter four up front with a 50-kW electric […]

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161399-s60l-t6-twin-engine-1

Debuting alongside the XC90 Excellence at the 2015 Shanghai Auto Show, the Volvo S60L T6 Twin Engine PHEV brings hybrid power to the Sino-Swede party.

The S60L Twin Engine will arrive in Chinese showrooms from Volvo’s plant in Chengdu April 22, and is powered by a Drive-E 2-liter four up front with a 50-kW electric motor on the rear axle; the latter is fed by “an energy-optimized” 11.2 kWH lithium-ion pack. Total output comes to 306 horses and 406 lb-ft of torque, and range tops out at 33 miles in electric-only travel.

Volvo says that the PHEV’s green credentials allows would-be owners to bypass the standard license-plate process — lotteries and auctions — in cities such as Shanghai, where the car “fulfills the relevant environmental regulations.”

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