The Truth About Cars » Diesel http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Wed, 23 Apr 2014 16:58:35 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.1 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 » Diesel http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com Volkswagen Delivers The Holy Grail With Golf SportWagen 4Motion TDI http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/volkswagen-delivers-the-holy-grail-with-golf-sportwagen-4motion-tdi/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/volkswagen-delivers-the-holy-grail-with-golf-sportwagen-4motion-tdi/#comments Fri, 11 Apr 2014 19:00:58 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=793858 2015-Volkswagen-Golf-Sportwagen

 

This is Volkswagen’s Golf SportWagen concept, which the automaker will be bringing to New York’s Auto Show. The “concept” shown here is what we can expect when the car goes on sale in early 2015, save for two key details.

The upcoming Golf SportWagen is confirmed for the corporate 1.8T gasoline four-cylinder engine. This concept has a 2.0L TDI engine and all-wheel drive, satisfying the wishes of the Internet Product Planning Brigade by saving them from the horrific ignominy of having a front-drive, diesel wagon. And yes, it will have a manual gearbox and a DSG option.

Both the 1.8T and a front-drive TDI SportWagen seem like done deals. The prospect of an AWD version has been a long-standing rumor, with VW apparently looking at it as an alternative to the Subaru Outback.

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Ford, King Ranch “Brownout” the Houston Rodeo http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/ford-king-ranch-add-extra-brown-to-the-houston-rodeo/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/ford-king-ranch-add-extra-brown-to-the-houston-rodeo/#comments Tue, 25 Mar 2014 12:03:07 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=779481

Perhaps you haven’t lived in a flyover state where brown leather gear dominates your town during Rodeo season.  While the Ford+King Ranch press release celebrating the 15th Anniversary of those famous brown leather pickups reached the autoblogosphere, only a local writer with an internationally known knack for automotive snark both finds the sweet mochalicious lede and refuses to bury it in the dirt.

And what does that mean?  You gotta click to find out.

I’ve been blacklisted (brownlisted?) from Ford PR events as long as I remember, but I attended this shindig via the King Ranch side of the Ford+King Ranch love fest.  So I donned my cheap cowhide boots, my thrift store boot cut jeans and herded the Duratec Ranger’s 150-ish horses to the Rodeo…pardner.

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As the massive complex–housing the once amazing Astrodome—filled up, I noticed how this Rodeo’s grown in the last 10-20 years.  Ford’s booth hawked their latest wares much like any auto show, complete with a “media only” area for us bloggers, social media influencers and local autojournos. There was the new aluminum F-150, the new-ish Expedition and the current Super Duty…all in King Ranch guise, ‘natch.

And yes, the King Ranch is actually a famous Ranch, much like Bill Blass was a name on Lincolns attached to an actual person. They sold cowboy grade stuff nearby at their Saddle Shop at the Rodeo, too. But I digress…

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So what does a native Houstonian think of the aluminum cage’d F150? Pretty cool inside and out, as their design/engineering embodies continuous improvement, even if the rig is far too big for its own good. The doors close with less vault-like heft of the last-gen steel body, but it still feels great. And even the door card is all kinds of broughamy from the days of Ford LTDs with covered headlights and Ghia-clad Granadas.

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Now, even more than before, Ford’s take on the American Workhorse is the unquestioned Audi of Pickups.

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The new Expedition is a modest evolution, lacking the “WTF” face of the Tahoe’s buzz saw headlights. Its refined snout is a pleasurable throwback to the beard trimming grille of the UR-Fusion.

The hallmark all-wheel independent suspension and the massive fold flat 3rd row seat still bowl me over: shame on GM for not following suit.  But the interior feels distinctly cheap compared to the F-150. But every Ford product takes an R&D back seat to the almighty F-series, right? #pantherlove

 

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The Super Duty (ever present on the Rodeo’s dirt floor) has a new oil-burnin’ motor for 2015, but the stuff you can touch looks about the same.  The new-ish center stack loaded with SYNC looks functional enough, but again, the interior lacks the refinement of the F150.  Ditto the exterior.  But the King Ranch trimming in all three models drove home the fact that this is the brownest lineup in the car biz. Or at least the truck biz…and it’s been that way for 15 years now?

And, as a founding member of the Brown Car Appreciation Society on Facebook, a tail-wags-the-dog group that made brown as “important” as diesels and manual transmissions to auto journos and to the PR flacks that do anything to get their attention, it’s nice to believe our mission adds to the King Ranch’s reach. Because brown makes the King Ranch a cut above, even if the leather isn’t as buttery soft as before: hopefully the lack of tenderness means it’ll hold up better than older models.

Ford also had a brief presentation, after most guests Frank Bacon-ized themselves with free food/booze in the luxury suite.  Succumbing to the urge I felt in 2011 when buying my Ranger, I asked the Ford F-series rep why Dearborn talked me out of an F-150 by making it impossible to configure what I wanted: a regular cab, XLT, short bed, 4×4, limited slip differential with the 6.2L Hurricane-Boss V8.  You know, a Ford Tremor without the poseur trim, the tacky console and a half-ton of big block V8 instead of that funny soundin’ EcoBoost motor.

The rep went into some detail about the cost-benefit of offering everything under the sun (a fair point for any corporation, to some extent) and then threw me a bone:

“You definitely know what you want, maybe we can accommodate you in the future.”

So if the BOSS V8 ever shows up in some twisted FoMoCo homage to the GMC Syclone…well…YOU ARE WELCOME, SON. For now, enjoy these chocolatey photos showing a time when Ford, King Ranch and a lot of brown joined forces to impress rodeo-going pistonheads.

 

 

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Hammer Time: The Third Set http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/hammer-time-the-third-set/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/hammer-time-the-third-set/#comments Wed, 19 Mar 2014 17:16:43 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=772345 shoot1

“Gimme Carter!!! Gimme Carter!!!”

“You can have him!” My brother Lewis, a lifelong conservative was watching me, a hyperactive  six year old, pointing eagerly at our home’s only TV.

“I’m voting for Reagan.”

“Pa-tau!!1 Pa-tau! To a 1st grader’s ear, the word Reagan sounded just like “Ray gun”. And for all I knew, Carter and Reagan were locked in some Star Wars parallel universe fighting each other for control of the presidency.

Lord knows that 34 years later, I would need every single ounce of that youthful imagination to get through a day long movie shoot.

My wife and I always try to spend one day out of the month together. No kids. No work responsibilities. Just the privacy and solitude that comes with two people who are well-matched in what has become a picky, picky world.

She wants to get back into the film and video world, part-time, and so I took it upon myself to get two vehicles that would be a good fit for that elusive older car that looks neither brand new nor decrepit.

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The 1980 Cadillac Seville that I mentioned last week was the optimal fit for this journey.  Black on black. Perfect leather seats. A little bit of wear. But not enough to make it look like anything more than a five year old car for the one to two seconds it would wind up on film.  After I put in a new master cylinder and properly bled out the brakes, it was good to go.

The second car was a more interesting case. I had sold a 1983 Mercedes 300D Turbodiesel to a fellow that I thought was a hardcore Mercedes enthusiast for all of $1700. I only made about $400 out of the deal. But I always take personal pride in making sure older cars are given to true enthusiasts. Instead of chucking it to someone looking to donate a car to the human hurricane within their family.

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I got a great deal on that old Benz and in turn, left nothing to chance. New filters, fluids, brakes, two new tires. I spent about $300 prepping it for sale in parts and sold it to a guy who I thought would do a good job keeping it.

The good news is he didn’t abuse it. The bad news was that I couldn’t find out whether he took the lease amount of effort of changing the oil.

He said he did it recently. But a quart low already? The alignment is off? And that inner-tie rod end needs to be replaced? Mother of pearl!

A friend of mine who works for Porsches and Maseratis decided to give me the full-report on it while I handled the Cadillac.  The Cadillac was flawless. The Mercedes? Still tight. Just minor stuff…

“You’re getting picky-picky with this one Steve! Damn things old enough to be a Grandma in Alabama.”

“My wife wants to drive it out to a movie shoot. She hates big cars. So I’m gonna be drivin’ out the Caddy.”

“Get her an Impala or a Malibu instead Steve. I hate the smell of this diesel…$^^%$!!!”

My wife came by with her 1st gen Prius, and after I spent over ninety-five dollars filling the two vehicles up, we headed straight for Conyers, Georgia. A small town located somewhere between civilization and Deliverance.

Click here to view the embedded video.

The drive was the usual homicidal freakshow that is Atlanta traffic.  Folks don’t use their turn signals. Cell phones are surgically attached to most commuters, and two people driving 65 mph are justifiably banished to the right side of the freeway where they belong.

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The Cadillac was just majestic. GM ‘s styling may have been a bit off the mark for this generation of Seville. But the 6.0 Liter Cadillac 368 engine was just perfectly matched to this particular generation, and it’s a shame that GM decided to off it after only one year for their diesel and 8/6/4 abominations. As for steering and handling,  you can do the same exact one finger cruising with this car that you can do for nearly any good Lincoln or Cadillac of days gone by… and it’s easier to drive than the Mercedes.

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The Mercedes was meh. A 300D is expected to be infinitely higher in decibels than an old school Caddy and, even for the time, it wasn’t quite a luxury car.

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I will admit that the material quality alone is easily a parallel universe beyond the Cadillac.  All the fake wood and cheaper vinyl of the Cadillac pales to the glory that is the W123′s design and engineering excellence.

That difference though is eliminated once you turn the key.

For the experience that is daily driving through a busy metropolitan area, I preferred the Cadillac. It has enough luxury to keep you isolated from the rampant vehicular stupidity that surrounds, you while allowing the driver to hear the smoothness of a big Detroit 6.0 Liter V8 over the 3.0 Liter clackety-clack-clack of the Mercedes. This noise difference is especially noticeable during the interminable traffic jams that happened on the ride back.

We didn’t hit anything other than air molecules for this first 35 miles journey. We arrived early. Just in time for the most important event for movie extras between the waiting and the shooting.

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The eating. Lunch for a successful TV program is a true wonder to behold, and since there were only a few extras for this show which we’ll assume is called, “Go And Throw Ice At The Devil!”. Since there were only two of us at the time, we were spared of the usual culinary segregation and got to eat with the cast and crew.

I saw a familiar face as soon as I got out of the Seville. “Steve! I miss that old yellow pickup truck!”

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“It’s down the street from me. The guy is using it for his lawnmower repair business.”

“He’s not restoring it? Damn! I wanted that thing.”

“I’ve been to his house. The family doesn’t believe in anything after 1984. He spent an hour going through the truck and it’s now the ugliest good running truck in town. ”

Brando and I caught up on life, and my wife caught up on crossword puzzles. At least until the opening shoot.

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It was supposed to easy. The main character leaves his driveway in some Grizwold 1970′s woody wagon. My wife’s car goes straight past. The Caddy turns right, a Ford truck turns left, and a Triumph TR6 idles away at a stop sign.

Sounds easy enough? Not when you don’t have enough walky-talkies.

We did the shot 16 times. 16 TIMES! And every time I did the shoot, I got an unwelcome surprise.

The police officer blocking off the road I turned into decided to change his cruiser’s parking position after each shoot. Why? I have no idea. His vehicle wasn’t even in the camera shot. But sure enough, every single time I made that turn, I found myself performing another new and exciting three point turn with a 34 year old Cadillac.

“Ka-thunk! Ka-thunk!” Asthamtic sounding acceleration back to position. Then wait….

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I also discovered something else. Black on black plus even a 70 degree time will equal about 90 degrees inside one of these things. The A/C worked, thanks to the prior owner who converted it into R134. Unfortunately the director wanted the vehicles to idle at all times. So we likely wasted about $30 worth of gas in the shooting process.

None of the cars broke down or even overheated. However the Triumph had more blue smoke than anything I had ever seen that didn’t already have a two stroke engine in it. I’m willing to bet that the thing was dirtier than any old scooter you can find… but it ran. That vehicle was a bit rough around the edges. But this gorgeous Riviera helped smooth out the line-up that day.

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After the shoot, we had dinner and then… a holding cell. No joke. The extras had to stay four abreast in a 2 foot by 10 foot room with no nuttin’ for two hours.

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Conversation, yes. Smartphone? Wonderful! A TV? Surely, you’re joking Mr. Feynman.

Once the clock struck exactly 8:48 P.M. we were out on parole. No overtime this time. Brando signed us out and we quickly made a 37 mile skedaddle towards the north Georgia woodlands we call home.

Will we do it again? Probably. However, Georgia weather is rather nasty and brutish during the summer time. A Malibu with light colored cloth and a snow white exterior may be the perfect match for the next set.

 

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Review: 2014 Opel Astra Manual Diesel Wagon http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/review-2014-opel-astra-manual-diesel-wagon/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/review-2014-opel-astra-manual-diesel-wagon/#comments Mon, 10 Mar 2014 12:00:16 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=761313

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Recently, Mark Reuss told media that he would like GM to have an American wagon. If this happens, the prime candidate is the Chevy Cruze Wagon, which already exists – and is also offered with diesel engine and manual transmission. But what if GM wanted something more upscale? What if Reuss’ dream wagon is meant to be a Buick?

Several cars in the Buick line are siblings to European Opels (or Vauxhalls, in Great Britain). Two of them are also available as wagons – the Insignia Sports Tourer is basically Buick Regal Estate Wagon, and the Opel Astra Sports Tourer would make, with some re-badging, a nice Buick Verano Estate Wagon. The Astra/Verano is probably the better candidate for the American wagon, since it’s almost as roomy inside as Regal/Insignia (with seats folded flat, it actually has more cargo space), and is significantly cheaper.

Why not go all the way, and make it a sporty diesel, manual wagon. Last year, the Astra’s engine line-up was enhanced by addition of the 190hp 2.0 CDTI Biturbo version. Actually, it’s more than just an engine option – Biturbo comes as  a separate equipment level, somewhere half-way between ordinary Astras and the full-on sporty OPC version. It doesn’t have the same clever Hi-Per strut front suspension the OPC and GTC (that’s the three door hatch coupe version), but it’s been lowered, fitted with stylish 18” wheels and dual exhaust tips, special seats and a trick front spoiler.

The core of the Biturbo package is the engine. Two-liter diesel plant with common-rail direct injection offers some 190 horsepower and 235 lb-ft (320 Nm) sent to the front wheels through the six-speed manual gearbox. That puts the Astra Biturbo right on the border of the diesel hot hatch/hot wagon territory – but the Biturbo is not nearly so ostentatious. In fact, seeing that it’s not called the “OPC diesel”, it seems that Opel really wanted it to be more of a fast GT than a realy sports wagon.

The Biturbo’s exterior is quite restrained – no wings or flares or vivid paint to tell everyone you bought “the fast one”. Thanks to the slightly different front bumper, large (and really pretty) wheels and lowered ride height, the Biturbo looks more handsome than “ordinary” Astras, but unless parked beside one, most people will never notice why it even looks different. They’ll just like it a bit more than they usually like Astras. It makes for a wonderful sleeper.

Once you open the door, things change. The seats with red highlights and a silly “tire tread” motif seem incongruous with the discreet exterior. And I suspect that older people will have slight problem getting out of the front ones, since they’re really heavily sculpted.

But as the driver, you will probably love them. They offer lots of support, and even the base version is widely adjustable (you can add more adjustment as an option). I would really like to have an adjustable headrest, as it was too much forward, but overall, the seats are nice. And it gets even better once you reach for the wheel. The fact that it’s adjustable both in rake and reach is pretty much normal these days, but most cars are lacking in the range of adjustment. If you like to sit in the “proper” position, with the steering wheel high and close to your chest, and the backrest as vertical as you can bear, you run into all sorts of problems – usually with not enough range. In the Astra, it took me just a few moments to find a nearly perfect driving position. And the steering wheel’s thickness and diameter was spot-on as well, although the shape was not. I have never understood what was wrong about steering wheels being round… this ain’t no racecar, dudes!

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Remember everything you heard about the modern diesels being so refined you hardly even know that you’re not running on gas? This is not the case, even though the Astra uses a very sophisticated common-rail system. The Biturbo two-liter may sound more refined than the old N/A plants from W123 or W124 Benzes, but it isn’t that much quieter.

Shifting into first brings much more positive thoughts. The shifter action is light and quite precise. Maybe not the best in the business, but certainly pleasant to use. Leaving the parking lot, you notice the first difference between the Biturbo and ordinary Astra, in the form of loud scratching sound when the front splitter hits the ground for the first of many times. In the beginning, you drive slow and carefully to prevent this from happening. Then, you realize it’s pointless exercise and just wonder when you’ll rip it off (as I found out later, Opel employees bolted the splitter to the bumper to prevent journos from losing it somewhere).

From a European perspective, the Astra feels massive inside. Compared competitors like the Ford Focus or Renault Mégane, it seems to be just so much bigger – which gives you a feeling of safety, but also makes parking quite tricky. If you’re buying one, don’t forget to add both front and rear parking sensors, or, better yet, a back-up camera.

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I may have criticized the Tesla Model S for having no tactile controls, but the Astra is at the other end of the spectrum. There’s incomprehensible sea of buttons, captioned with confusing acronyms. If you’re new to the car, you will be hopelessly lost. I did find myself acclimating to this layout as I drove it, but I’d be worried if that didn’t happen.

Quibbles aside, the Astra is a nice car to drive. Even with the Biturbo’s stiffer suspension and on large 18” wheels, it’s reasonably supple. Hit the sport button and you’re treated to less steering assistance, quicker accelerator response and the red glow of the instruments – of, and the adjustable dampers firm up, making the ride a bit more brittle. Luckily, you can disable any of these. I really hated the red instruments.

While most of the diesel hot hatches seem stuck on getting the best Nurburgring lap time – and suffering for it in the real world- the Astra feels more grown-up, more comfortable . On our drive into the twisties, with sport mode on and the radio turned down, the Astra delivered a competent, but not exactly exhilirating performance. Handling was fairly neutral, even with the heavy diesel engine up front. Like most modern racks, the steering has a bit of a dead-zone on-center, but it’s well weighted. The clutch and gear change are all nicely done.

But American wagon enthusiasts need to temper their expectations. This is not a fiesty hot hatch like the Focus ST. It feels much more like a GT, at home on highways rather than back roads, and all its heft – perceived or real (it weighs about 3700 lbs) makes it feel like it was meant to be a Buick from the beginning.

The only trouble is that once you get to cruising speed and the engine noise fades into background, it’s replaced by even more unpleasant road and aerodynamic noise. At typical A-road speed of 50-70mph, it’s a bit annoying, but not terrible. At highway speeds of 80 or 90mph, it starts to bother you. And if you’re in the hurry and try to keep the Astra at 110-120mph, it’s hard to even listen to the radio.

Fuel economy is one area that doesn’t disappoint. At a typical relaxed pace (55-60mph on major roads), the Astra can get over 40 mpg. And only when driven really hard in the twisties, with the pedal to the metal on each and every straight and the speedo needle sometimes nudging 100mph, it barely gets under 20mpg. High-speed, cruising with speeds in the triple digits brought similar numbers.

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 But, would the diesel Verano (GSD, maybe?) be a good car for America? I’m not sure. First of all, the economics for a diesel passenger car rare make sense with fuel prices so low (yes, I know, resale and all that matters too). And as much as North Americans may fetishize the idea of a diesel performance wagon, I’m not sold on the tradeoffs in refinement that the Biturbo Astra requires. In Europe, this car costs as much as a Ford Focus ST wagon, which is much faster, much more fun and not much worse on fuel when cruising on the highway.

But if you’re really hell bent on getting a diesel, manual wagon, this would be a nice choice.

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

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Geneva 2014: Ford Focus ST Gets Diesel Variant http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/geneva-2014-ford-focus-st-gets-diesel-variant/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/geneva-2014-ford-focus-st-gets-diesel-variant/#comments Wed, 05 Mar 2014 15:48:18 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=765465 450x278x2014-Ford-Focus-ST-Exterior-450x278.jpg.pagespeed.ic.bgHJlXRdKP

With the Ford Focus ST due for a mid-cycle refresh in Europe, Ford apparently announced a diesel version of their hot hatch at a dinner after Day 1 of the Geneva Auto Show.

AutoExpress reports that the oil-burner will be powered by a

a 2.0 TDCi engine, the diesel ST will have 182bhp (1bhp more than the GTD) and cover 0-62mph in eight seconds – 0.5 seconds slower than the Golf. CO2 emission will be 114g/km, while the chassis will get the same suspension and steering tune as the petrol-powered Focus ST. A ‘heavily revised steering mount to reduce wheel hop and eliminate steering thump’ has been added, along with new wheels and tyres and further tweaks to improve steering feel. 

Photos of the new ST have not been released yet.

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Geneva 2014: Jeep Renegade Live Shots http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/geneva-2014-jeep-renegade-live-shots/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/geneva-2014-jeep-renegade-live-shots/#comments Tue, 04 Mar 2014 15:29:11 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=763121 Jeep-Renegade-23

 

Our photographers bring you live shots of the Jeep Renegade on the floor at Geneva. They even took snapshots of a Diesel Trailhawk, the best combination that we won’t get in North America. Gallery after the jump.

 

 

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Next Generation 2016 Toyota Tundra To Share 5.0L Cummins Turbodiesel with Nissan http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/next-generation-2016-toyota-tundra-to-share-5-0l-cummins-turbodiesel-with-nissan/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/next-generation-2016-toyota-tundra-to-share-5-0l-cummins-turbodiesel-with-nissan/#comments Thu, 13 Feb 2014 14:02:16 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=740673 983587_10151548891138579_994498399_n
WardsAuto reports that the next generation 2016 Toyota Tundra pickup will receive the Cummins 5.0L V8 turbodiesel for 2016, the same engine that will be powering the next Nissan Titan pickup, due for 2015. While Toyota had been working on a diesel engine with Hino, Toyota’s heavy-truck division, the economic crash of 2008 shelved the plans. With new found interest in light diesels and the new Ram EcoDiesel leading the way with favorable reviews and excellent fuel economy, Toyota looks to jump quickly into the light diesel truck market.

The new Cummins 5.0L V8 turbodiesel is confirmed to produce 300 hp and 500 ft lb of torque in the Titan, so we can expect similar numbers for the Toyota. Not only does this engine produce more torque than any gas motor in a light duty pickup, but even tops the Ram EcoDiesel’s 420 ft lb, making it the most powerful torquiest engine offered in any light duty pickup. This is a a strong move for Toyota and Nissan, possibly helping to bridge the gap between their half-ton pickups and Ford, GM and Ram’s heavier duty 3/4-ton pickups; an area where neither manufacturer currently offer a product.

Both Toyota and Nissan would like a larger chunk of the U.S. light truck market, which last year moved over six million trucks through dealer lots. For 2025, CAFE standards push for a fleet target of 54.5 MPG, making a fuel efficient diesel a necessity for Toyota. The Cummins is thought to a stop-gap for Toyota, as they reconsider their in-house diesel engine produced by their heavy-truck arm, Hino Trucks.

The 2008 economic crash was truly a game changer for light duty diesel engines, and we are just now beginning to see the effects.

Toyota had been working with Hino Trucks to produce a diesel engine for the Tundra, and had shown concepts of a 1-ton dually version of their then-new Tundra at the 2007 SEMA show. Plans for a heavy duty Tundra, along with the in-house diesel engine were shelved after the 2008 crash.

Ironically enough, the Cummins 5.0L V8 turbodiesel was originally destined for the Dodge Ram, and this will be the first time a Cummins motor has been sold in a pickup outside of the Ram. The engine was developed while Dodge and Nissan were planning to share a full-size truck chassis, but the ’09 bankruptcy sunk those plans, and Dodge was unhappy with the estimated fuel economy of the 5.0L Cummins. Nissan made the move to keep the engine.

Through Fiat ownership, who also owns VM Motori, the Ram 1500 received the 3.0L V6 turbodiesel  instead of the Cummins 5.0L V8 turbodiesel. The VM Motori 3.0L V6 turbodiesel was also destined for another home, GM. The 3.0L V6 turbodiesel was originally planned for use in the European Cadillac CTS, though GM also shelved its light diesel plans during its ’09 bankruptcy. Fiat and GM were 50/50 partners on VM Motori until September 2013, when Fiat announced GM would sell the remaining 50%.

And that wasn’t the only diesel GM shelved. Some may remember the Duramax 4.5L V8 turbodiesel GM had been brewing for its light trucks. GM was an early proponent for a modern light duty diesel, but it too was a victim of the ’09 bankruptcy. With new pressure from Ram, Toyota, and Nissan, it’s thought GM may dust off the Duramax 4.5L turbodiesel and bring it to market.

Sources say Ford is working on a light duty diesel as well, planning for a 2018 arrival. With new pressure from its competitors, it will be interesting to see if Ford can join the crowd in time.

2015 looks to be an interesting year in light duty pickups. We will see how the new 3.0L EcoDiesel fairs in light truck use, and both Toyota and Nissan should be rolling out their examples. We can only hope the pressure puts GM and Ford to work getting their light diesels ready.

As long as the price on the diesel option remains reasonable, light diesels should do well in half-ton pickups. Diesels offer superior fuel economy to their gas counterparts in nearly all conditions, especially under load. The Ram EcoDiesel is showing incredible (for a pickup) real world fuel economy numbers, with our own Alex Dykes seeing 29 mpg highway, and 24.2 mpg average in his review of the 2013 Ram Ecodiesel. This, along with superior torque figures to their gas counterparts, would give the average buyer a very decent towing option for those who aren’t ready to step up to the heavy duty trucks, with higher prices and substantially noisier heavy duty diesels.

Here’s a little anecdotal story about the Tundra in the lead photo. It is owned by my friend, and is built to be a mobile work shop for a variety of traveling work: From disaster insurance adjustment, to contracted construction work, to race-support at Pikes Peak and other events. It’s a work truck, through and through, with tool storage and 110v power to run electric power tools off of. One of the major reasons he didn’t go with a heavier duty diesel truck is simply because of the noise, “Man, this thing has to idle all the time while I work. Nobody likes to listen to the CLACKCLACKCLACK of a diesel truck. I just needed something quiet, dependable, and with a long bed. I don’t need a big diesel.” And it works admirably, I spent about 2,000 miles in it during our 2013 run at Pikes Peak with Rally Ready Motorsports. The only real fault with the truck was its horrific fuel economy with the 4.7L V8: with the bed cap and a fair payload it returned less than 13.5 mpg on the highway with speeds averaging 70 mph.

Had a light duty option been offered earlier, it would have fit this role perfect. The light duty work truck deserves a good diesel option.

 

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Chicago 2014: Nissan Displays Diesel Frontier http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/chicago-2014-nissan-displays-diesel-frontier/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/chicago-2014-nissan-displays-diesel-frontier/#comments Thu, 06 Feb 2014 16:51:16 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=735113 frontier-diesel-runner

 

What you’re looking at is a diesel powered Nissan Frontier. For now, it is not a production model, but Nissan is apparently studying it for production. Like its big brother, the next-gen Nissan Titan, there is a Cummins diesel, but it’s a 4-cylinder, not a V8. Displacing 2.8L and putting down an estimated 200 horsepower and 350 lb-ft, the Frontier uses a ZF 8-speed automatic to put power to the ground.

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Chicago 2014: Deep Dive with the 2015 Chevrolet Colorado http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/chicago-2014-deep-dive-with-the-2015-chevrolet-colorado/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/chicago-2014-deep-dive-with-the-2015-chevrolet-colorado/#comments Thu, 06 Feb 2014 10:54:11 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=734601 2015 Chevy Colorado | Gas 2

A few short hours ago, I was in McCormick Place with a handful of auto journalists and GM’s 2015 Chevy Colorado team. It was a lucky break- a last-minute invitation to meet with some GM brass before the hectic onslaught of the 2014 Chicago Auto Show’s press days and ask them the questions that my fellow alt-fuel/cleantech gear heads wanted answers to.

So, here it is: the 2015 Chevy Colorado, in the 72 dpi digitized flesh and packed with some seriously trick goodies. Will this (and its GMC Canyon twin) be enough to reclaim the compact truck throne, however? You’d better believe it- the Colorado is that good!

 

2015 Chevy Colorado: the Look


Make no mistake, this is one seriously good-looking trucklet. Chevy’s 2015 Colorado is a true mid-sizer, but the look is more F-150-fighter than Nissan Frontier. Size-wise, more than one of my fellow deep-divers commented that “it’s the perfect size”, and I think it’s just short enough to make a reasonable case for having one in Chicago.

Chevy Colorado Z71

Chevy Colorado Z71

Chevy Colorado Z71

As you take a look at the photos of the Z71 off-roader version of the Colorado, look at the soft, velvety look of the black plastics and the crisp inner workings of the headlight. This is a far cry from the old S-10 EXtreme and its “generic level 2″ plastics.

Chevy Colorado Z71

Chevy Colorado Z71

 

2015 Chevy Colorado: the Cockpit


Inside, the truck’s 2015 MyLink infotainment system is decidedly more Chevy Sonic than Chevy Cruze, and that is a very good thing. All the buttons were logically labeled, there didn’t seem to be any of the convoluted “touch screen + button + more screen-touching” command sequences that made me loathe the Cruze’s MyLink. It had another neat trick, as well: a fully-functional Pandora app.

Is that game-changer? I’m much more excited about my Pandora stations than I am about XM/Sirius, so- yes? Just pretend you can already hear my blasting Shakira and Ke$ha as loud as the Chevy Colorado’s speakers will let me.

Chevy Colorado Interior

Chevy Colorado Interior

Chevy Colorado Interior

Chevy Colorado Interior

 

2015 Chevy Colorado: Seating


The biggest complaint anyone ever had about a compact pickup (think old Chevy S-10, 90s-00s Ford Ranger, etc.) wasn’t that they weren’t capable enough, it’s that getting in and out of the things was always a pain. It was a pain when I was 23, and it would be a bigger pain today, more than a decade later. I’d never climb over a front seat to get into a side-facing jumper again, and- in a truck that’s the size of the new 2015 Chevy Colorado, I won’t have to.

Ingress and egress seems straight-forward enough. You just open the solidly-mounted, triple-sealed doors, climb into the quality-feeling vinyl/cloth seats, and shut the door with a satisfying, Mercedes C-Class level “whooomp”. Actually, open the door and slam it shut a few more times. It is a hugely satisfying feeling that was totally absent in my 1991 GMC Jimmy, even with the rose-colored lenses of nostalgia firmly in place.

Colorado-DeepDive_25

Colorado-DeepDive_26

Colorado-DeepDive_15

Colorado-DeepDive_08

Colorado-DeepDive_12

The 2015 Chevy Colorado has a cleverly adjustable seatbelt that adjusts at the shoulder AND at the hip. More comfortable belts are more likely to be worn, so this is a huge step towards 100% adoption of belts- especially out in rural ‘Murica where the Big Gulp comes in more than one size of early-onset diabetes.

Colorado-DeepDive_13

 

2015 Chevy Colorado: the Tough Questions


I hate to tell you this, guys- but I didn’t get the scoop on the 2015 Chevy Colorado’s EPA fuel economy. I can’t tell you what the EPA numbers on the 2016 diesel will be, either. I also couldn’t tell you if the truck is E15 or E20 compatible, because the GM engineer on hand (a lovely, polite woman who I mistook for another journalist, despite the Riot Grrl leanings of my youth) didn’t know. I also couldn’t tell you if GM plans to include the Colorado in its CNG fleet plans, but I was told, wink-wink, nudge-nudge style, to expect a bi-fuel announcement from GM soon.

A few things I did find out? The upcoming V6 version of the 2015 Chevy Colorado- which uses the same 3.6 liter VVT V6 engine used in Cadillacs and Buicks …

Colorado-DeepDive_24

colorado_engine

… and that, in truck duty, the V6 is expected to be able to haul up to 6700 lbs (!?). That’s more than enough to safely haul any number of RVs, fishing boats, and (dare I say it?) race cars- and the Colorados will be available with fully integrated receiver hitches and easy-to-access wiring for 4 and 7 pin connectors.

So, that’s something- no? What do you guys think? Am I right in thinking Chevy’s hit a home run with this new 2015 Colorado, or do you think Nissan and Dodge will out-Darwin it with their 28 MPG full-size diesel half-tons? Let us know what you think in the comments, below. Enjoy!

 

Originally posted to Jo’s other site, Gas 2.

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About Motoring Journalists And Luxury Diesels http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/about-motoring-journalists-and-luxury-diesels/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/about-motoring-journalists-and-luxury-diesels/#comments Mon, 20 Jan 2014 12:00:14 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=702922

rr-ab-black-studio-281013-03-1

 

Recently, I spent some of my procrastinating time in Facebook discussion with a colleague, motoring journalist here in Czech Republic. He was driving a new Range Rover at the time, and he was raving about how great car it was. But there was one flaw, he said. The car came with the most common engine on our market – the TDV6 diesel. And while it didn’t really lack power and was reasonable refined, even for the luxury car it is, there was one thing it just lacked. A V8. Preferably, of the gasoline-burning kind.

Which naturally led to crucial question: Why do things like a six cylinder, diesel-powered Range Rover even exist. And why are so many people buying them? You may say that it’s a natural response to the fact that a Range Rover 5.0 V8, or the more appropriate 5.0 Supercharged, is gulping the gas in horrendous quantities, and gas is expensive in Europe. So it’s better to have the more frugal car.

But my reply will be: So what?

Let me elaborate on this a little. Imagine that you are really in the shoes of someone who can afford the Range Rover. Someone, who is either so succesful and affluent, or so fiscally careless, that he can treat himself with one of the most luxurious, most prestigious and of course also most expensive mass produced cars.

Someone who is content with the idea that his shiny, brand new Range, which cost him about the price of a small house (at least here in the Czech Republic) will be worth about a third of the price, maybe even less, when he will be selling it in some 3 years.

You buy a new Range diesel for some 130 thousand Euros, or $170k. You drive it for three years and decide that you want a new one. So you sell it, or trade it in, and get another shiny new one. A nice example of a 2010 Range Rover with some 40k miles (typical mileage of a normal European driver in three years) will fetch something like €40-45k (about $60k). And that’s a V8 one, because a V6 diesel wasn’t available then.

This means the thing cost you about 90 thousand Euros, or 120 thousand dollars, in those three years/40k miles. With simple math, we arrive to a rather staggering cost of THREE DOLLARS PER MILE. Or, put another way, a 109 dollars per day, even if the sucker is parked. Which is, even at European prices, about half a tank of gas.

And it’s the same story for other luxury SUVs, as well as posh sedans. The value drop may be a little less harsh for a sporty coupe, like a 911 or a Jag XK, or some supercar. But any “normal” luxury car will cost you dearly.

Let’s put this into some perspective. If we look at the actual fuel mileage of the current generation of Range Rovers (using great fuel economy tracking site www.SpritMonitor.de), we see that a TDV6 Rangie will need roughly 11 liters of diesel fuel for every 100 kilometers (or 62 miles) travelled. This translates to roughly 22mpg. The monstrous, ineffective gas hog that is the 5.0 Supercharged will gulp a horrendous amount of 15 liters of gasoline for the same distance. Which is about 15mpg.

So, time for more math. Gasoline is just a tiny bit more expensive in some part of Europe, while in many countries (like my homeland), it costs the same. But let’s say that a liter of gas costs a €1.50, while a liter of diesel costs €1.40. This translates in €15.40 ($20) per 100km (62 miles) for the diesel and €22.50 ($30) for the Supercharged. Which means that each mile will cost you €0.24 ($0.32) and €0.36 ($0.48) for the big one.

This makes the difference in fuel costs between the two cars a whopping DIME AND A HALF. For a vehicle which costs about three dollars a mile in depreciation costs alone, plus some more for servicing costs, tires and other stuff. Which will, in the end, make one mile worth about four dollars.

Buying a diesel car, which, however nice the modern diesels may be, is still slower and less refined than the “proper” one, will thus save you about 2.5 percent of the TCO. To me, this seems a bit like drinking Dom Perignon out of a plastic cup to save on glassware.

Of course, there are cases where diesel engines make sense for expensive cars. An A8 or a S420CDI, used for frequent business trips across Europe may easily rack those 40 thousand miles in a single year, and may well be kept around for 4 or 5 years, making the depreciation costs less significant, and the fuel costs much more important. And the same goes for hotel limos and other heavily driven cars.

But people are still buying diesels even when they don’t drive that much. Look at some European car classifieds site, like Mobile.de, and you will find surprisingly many low-mileage luxurious diesels.

Why are people doing that? Is it that the rich tend to be savvy and look at every penny? Or is it just a habit from the times when they weren’t so rich and the lower running costs of a VW TDI actually mattered? Or is it that they just hate gas stations and rather live with the worse engine, just so they don’t have to fill up so often?

My theory is different. I think that motoring journalists may be at fault.

As you probably know (especially if you read TTAC a lot), motoring hacks typically aren’t exactly rich. To make a living from driving brand new cars, travelling around the world and writing about it is so enticing a prospect in itself that it’s not necessary to pay people big bucks for doing it.

So, most of us will only experience the Range Rover or S-klasse through the relatively short, usually a week-long test. Some of us may actually buy those cars – in 10 or 20 years, when someone else already swallowed all the depreciation costs. The Range Rover costs about the same money as our apartment, and likely more than we actually make in three years. And the only expense we actually get to feel, is the price of fuel.

I’m not sure about other countries, but here in CZ, the journos usually pay for their gas. You get the obligatory full tank at the beginning of the week, some more generous magazines may provide you with fuel for photoshoots and so on, but after that, you have to fill up for your own money.

And, since average European motoring journo usually spends most of the time behind the wheel of diesel hatchbacks, diesel MPVs and other slow, unglamorous and in fact rather boring stuff, he tends to make the most of his week with an expensive car. He shows off, gives friends rides, shows what the big V8 can do. So, he racks up awful lot of miles, and since the rare experience with the powerful car has to be lived to the fullest, has a lead foot. So the Range won’t get 15mpg, like it does in the hand of someone who is accustomed to the power of the V8, but barely reaches 10. Which makes filling the 100 liter fuel tank inevitable and very, very painful.

I actually remember that one time, I voluntarily decided to exchange press Audi S5 Sportback for a lowly Skoda Fabia mid-week, solely on the grounds of the fact that in my rather “spirited” driving, the Audi got about 10mpg on average (and something like four or five when tearing the backroads – the supercharged V6 is only better than the 4.2 V8 on paper) and cost me $150 in the first two days. While the Fabia got 40 mpg and, more importantly, a tank full of gas I didn’t have to pay for.

For most journos, such experience is enough to write something along the lines of “the 5.0 Supercharged is a remarkably refined and powerful, but it will bankrupt you with fuel costs, so the six-cylinder diesel is the more prudent choice”.

But it isn’t. If you do some real job and are so succesful and affluent that you can afford a new Range Rover or A8, fuel costs will not bankrupt you. Actually, in the total cost of running such car, you won’t even feel it. And if you’re worried about the polar bears – think of all the people who won’t breathe soot from another diesel truck instead.

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

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Mazda Delays Diesel Again http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/mazda-delays-diesel-again/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/mazda-delays-diesel-again/#comments Thu, 09 Jan 2014 17:18:06 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=695841 skyactiv-d_main_ttl_ovr

Mazda is delaying the launch of the North American-spec SKYACTIV-D diesel engine, as engineers grapple with getting the engine to meet both emissions and performance benchmarks in North American spec.

A report by Automotive News suggests that Mazda is struggling with getting the diesel mill to where they want it without the inclusion of an exhaust after-treatment system. AN‘s Ryan Beene spoke with Mazda PR head Jeremy Barnes, who offered an explanation for the series of delays

“There are challenges with meeting the emissions standards without after-treatment systems,” Barnes said. “We believed our Skyactiv technology can meet it — and it can — but the challenge is engineering a car that delivers the kind of performance that a Mazda needs to have and we’re unable to do that given where we are right now.”

AN reports that in addition to forgoing an after-treatment system, Mazda is investigating alternatives including a urea based after-treatment, or a special catalyst to reduce nitrous oxide emissions.

Mazda has also had other issues with the SKYACTIV-D motor, involving diesel fuel leaking into the oil sump which could lead to a clogged Diesel Particulate Filter. The only real fix for the issue so far has been a modified dipstick and a request for owners to vigilantly monitor oil consumption. In America, where diesel engines are a rather unknown quantity in passenger cars and deferred maintenance is the order of the day for many motorists, this would likely be an unacceptable solution.

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Review: 2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/review-2014-volkswagen-passat-tdi-with-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/review-2014-volkswagen-passat-tdi-with-video/#comments Fri, 20 Dec 2013 14:00:17 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=679274 2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI

Once of the most frequent car advice emails I get is from consumers looking to cut down their fuel bills while still hanging on to a family sedan. Until recently, this question narrowed the field down to a few hybrid sedans and the Volkswagen Passat TDI. Today, there are more hybrid options than ever and soon Mazda’s diesel powered Mazda6 will enter the fray. While we wait for the Mazda’s new SkyActiv diesel to ship, I picked up a Volkswagen Passat TDI to find out if a little diesel could bring some cost reduction to my commute.

 

Click here to view the embedded video.

First off we have to dispense with the fallacy that buying a new commuter car will save you money. Of course we all know that is rarely true, especially if you are simply replacing one family sedan with another. (This disclaimer is just for the readers that may object to the forthcoming cost savings comparisons.) Second you must think about what kind of driving you do before you start looking at technologies to reduce your gas bill. If your commute is highway heavy, then a diesel or amvery efficient conventional vehicle may be the better choice for you. If your commute is balanced between highway and city or city heavy, then many hybrid technologies may be the winner.

Exterior

While other VWs get expressive fascias, VW’s sedan line is pure conservative German design. We have a three-slat horizontal grille up front, a flat character line and little detaining on the side and nothing terribly expressive out back. The adjectives that came to my mind were simple, elegant, and unemotional. No matter how you park it, the Passat never strikes a pose that would offend a conservative mid-size shopper.If you want Euro flair, VW would be happy to sell you a CC which sports more aggressive bumpers, more chrome and sexier tail lamps. However the Passat TDI is competing with the hybrid versions of the Fusion, Camry, Accord, Optima and Sonata, as well as the “we hope its not a mirage” Mazda6 diesel. While some in the press have called the Passat boring, I would posit the sedate lines will help the Passat age more gracefully than some of the competition, most notably the Sonata and Camry, however I think the Fusion and Mazda6 are more attractive and dramatic.

2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI-012

Interior
Mid-size shoppers demand expansive rather than expensive cabins, and VW took note when they redesigned the sedan for the 2012 model year. Our Euro friends may notice that this doesn’t look quite like the Passat you know in Europe, and that’s because the American Passat isn’t the same car as the Euro Passat anymore. Although both Passats are related, the NMS Passat gets a 4-inch body stretch and a 3.7-inch wheelbase stretch, the beneficiary being the rear seat which goes from cozy in the Euro model to ginormous in the American model. Although the numbers would indicate that the Fusion and Passat’s rear legroom are similar, the devil is in the details of how car makers measure and the Passat is the clear winner here.

Sadly Camcord shoppers place fuel economy, electronic doodads and rear-seat leg room higher on their list than squishy dash bits and VW was happy to oblige. As a result the Passat’s plastics are attractive to look at but just as mainstream to feel as the competition slotting in below the new Accord and well ahead of the aging Korean competition. Speaking of attractive, I find the traditional “single bump” dashboard layout to be a refreshing change from the massive dashboards that are creeping into every mis-sized sedan lately. Front seat comfort proved excellent for long car trips, tying with the Accord and Fusion while the rear seats, although large, weren’t as comfortable as Honda’s sedan.

2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI-015

Infotainment

Because there is no “S” trim Passat TDI, base diesel lovers get a slight feature bump compared in the infotainment department. The base 6.5-inch touchscreen system is joined by 8-speakers, HD Radio and standard Bluetooth for a decent base package. The systems iDevice and USB integration offers no voice commands like you find in most of the competition, but it is reliable and intuitive. VW offers two different navigation systems depending on how far up the trim ladder you want to walk. SE models with the sunroof can get the “RNS-315″ which uses a 5-inch touchscreen and very basic navigation software.

Jumping up to the SEL model adds a Fender branded speaker package and a 6.5-inch high resolution navigation system with satellite radio and Sirius Travel Link live traffic and information services.  While most of the information is superfluous, the fuel pricing and locations proved handy as locating a diesel station can be tricky. The traffic and Travel Link features require a Sirius subscription and VW tosses in a 6-month trial for free. Sadly VW’s navigation systems predate the 2012 Passat refresh by a decent window and are among the oldest and least feature rich in the mid-size sedan segment barely scoring a win over the ancient system in the Chrysler 200. You won’t find smartphone apps, slick graphics and VW has even reduced the number of voice commands the system can recognize because the hardware was unable to handle it with reasonable performance. With Toyota and Honda recently launching their new infotainment systems and Ford’s MyFordTouch system getting a much needed refresh, this puts VW in next to last place, just in front of the dreadful navigation system lurking in the Mazda6. 

Passat TDI  engine, Picture Courtesy of Volkswagen

Drivetrain & Pricing

Powering the Passat is the same 2.0L turbodiesel found under the hood of every diesel VW in America except the Touareg. The small diesel engine features twin cams, 16 valves, aluminum head, iron block and a variable geometry turbocharger to deliver 140 horsepower and 236 lb-ft of torque. Funneling the power to the front wheels via a 6-speed dual-clutch automatic, the Passat doesn’t feel as slow as 140 ponies might suggest. The gasoline electric hybrids on the market are peppier, with the Camry delivering 200 ponies, with the Optima and Sonata nearly tying at 199, while we get 188 from the Fusion and 166 from the Accord. Normally, the high torque is a bonus when you compare a TDI to a small gasoline engine. However, modern hybrids deliver diesel-like torque with flat torque curves thanks to their electrification. The Koreans serve up 235 lb-ft and the Accord cranks out 226 with both curves being more advantageous than the TDI. Ford and Toyota do not release official torque numbers, but I suspect they are both in the 220-230 lb-ft range.

Because of tightening emissions regulations in California, the Passat now comes with a urea injection system also known as “diesel exhaust fluid” or DEF to reduce NOx emissions. This is a significant difference from Mazda’s new SkyActiv diesel engine which they claim does not require this additive to achieve the same emissions compliance. This is significant not only because owners won’t have to buy DEF every few thousand miles, but also because VW decided to put the DEF filler port in the trunk rather than by the fuel filler on the side of the car (like other manufacturers do.) The result is an inconvenience on the VW side and, according to Mazda, a power bump on the SkyActiv diesel which they expect to come in around 170 ponies (if we get the high-output version) and 300 lb-ft of torque which should put the Mazda neck-and-neck with the hybrids.

The Passat TDI starts at $26,295 for the SE trim and tops out at $32,995 for the loaded SE. This price walk essentially mirrors the Passat V6 and feature for feature is substantially similar to the Camry, Optima, Sonata and Fusion hybrid sedans meaning the TDI doesn’t have a price advantage initially compared to the gas-electric competition. Honda’s Accord Hybrid starts at $29,155 making it the highest base price in this bunch, but the top-level Accord at $34,905 seems reasonable compared to a fully-loaded Fusion Titanium Hybrid at $38,870.

Because the mid-size sedan segment is so competitive, when you calculate the value of standard feature content, most of the pack ends up within a few hundred bucks of one another except for the Optima which undercuts the pack by nearly a grand. The higher top-end pricing on the hybrid competition is largely due to the availability of more features like radar cruise control, self parking, lane departure prevention that you won’t find on the Passat.

2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI-007Drive

The Americanization of the Passat has had an effect on the way VW’s large sedan drives. The difference is most obvious if you drive the VW CC and the Passat back-to-back. The CC has a more solid and connected feel and the handling limits are higher. That’s not to say the Passat will let down the VW faithful with Camry-levels of grip, but in the pursuit of higher fuel economy narrower tires we required. In the pursuit of rear leg room, the wheelbase and chassis had to get longer making the American sedan drive larger than the European model. The result is a Passat that slots below the Mazda6, Accord Sport and some levels of Fusion in terms of handling, but notably above the Camry and Korean competition  which have less refined suspension manners.

Diesels have never been known for spirited performance despite the modern crop of torque-strong turbocharged designs. Our TDI tester clocked 60 MPH in just over 8 seconds which is on the long end of the green pack with most of the hybrid competition in the low to mid 7 second range. Diesels have a dedicated following largely due to their high fuel economy, high torque numbers and the plateau like horsepower and torque curves. Today’s hybrids however deliver much the same experience thanks to electric motors that deliver their maximum torque at low speeds without the turbo lag experienced in turbo Diesel engines. This negates many of the claims popular in the TDI forums.

2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI-011

Once upon a time when Toyota’s unique planetary gearset power-splitting hybrid system was the only game in town, many shoppers and reviewers disliked CVT-like feel of the Hybrid Synergy Drive system. Despite the fact that CVTs are more efficient, I’ll admit that there’s something about gear changes that I find satisfying. If that describes you, then there are now hybrid options, like the Sonata and Optima, that combine electric motors with traditional automatics for a more “normal” feel.

This now brings us to fuel economy. During a week and 732 miles, I averaged 36.5 MPG, slightly higher than the EPA number and on a one-way level highway journey I managed 47 MPG on  a 50 mile trip with the cruise control set to 68 and the AC on. The more time you spend in stop and go traffic or on city streets, the lower your number will be. That’s a sharp contrast to most hybrids that excel in city and heavy traffic because they can keep the engine off for most low speed maneuvers. This segment is the poster child of “your mileage may vary.” If your commute is characterized by long highway stretches cruising at 70MPH, the Passat will be the mileage winner. If however you drive in moderate to heavy traffic or find yourself running around town on the city streets, a gasoline hybrid is going to be the mileage champ.

2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI-009

A few short years ago the Passat TDI was the clear choice for high mileage cruisers that didn’t want a softly sprung Camry hybrid. Unfortunately today’s Passat has some serious competition from the handsome Fusion hybrid which posted similar economy numbers while being faster and costing less to operate. We also have the new Accord hybrid. The Accord may cost $2,850 more than the Passat TDI, but it delivers more feature content in the base model and an incredible (and personally verified) 50 MPG in the city with a combined 47 MPG score and road manners that equal or exceed the Passat. When you factor in the higher cost of diesel and the diesel exhaust fluid the VW requires, the Accord “breaks even” vs the TDI at 60,000 miles. Perhaps the biggest problem for the Passat TDI’s proposition as a thrifty commuter is the Kia Optima delivered the same mileage while drinking cheaper fuel, is less expensive to purchase and has a longer warranty. My experience with the Passat TDI left me wondering if I should really be as excited about the Mazda6 diesel as I am, or should I instead be hoping VW jams the Jetta’s hybrid system into the Passat? The Passat TDI isn’t without its charms, but after a week burning the midnight oil, my heart and my pocket book were dreaming gasoline hybrid dreams.

 

Volkswagen provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for the review.

Specifications as tested

0-30: 3.0 Seconds

0-60: 8.01 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 16.4 Seconds @84 MPH

Average observed fuel economy: 36.5 MPG over 721 miles

Sound level at 50 MPH: 71 dB

 

2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI-021 2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI-020 2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI-019 2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI-018 2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI-009 2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI-010 2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI-001 2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI 2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI-002 2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI-011 2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI-012 2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI-003 2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI-004 2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI-013 2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI-014 2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI-005 2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI-006 2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI-015 2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI-016 2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI-007 2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI-008 2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI-017 ]]>
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Junkyard Find: 1984 Chevrolet Chevette CS Diesel http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/junkyard-find-1984-chevrolet-chevette-cs-diesel/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/junkyard-find-1984-chevrolet-chevette-cs-diesel/#comments Thu, 19 Dec 2013 14:00:44 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=683722 15 - 1984 Chevrolet Chevette Diesel Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinDid you know that the Chevrolet Chevette was manufactured in the United States through the 1987 model year? It’s true! Serious fans of Chevette trivia also know that American car shoppers could buy a new Chevette with an Isuzu diesel engine; Chevette Diesel owners could eke out tremendous range in their oil-stinking, cramped, rear-drive econoboxes, and isn’t that really what car ownership was all about in the middle 1980s? I see the occasional Chevette in my travels (not to mention on the race track), but this California find is the first diesel Chevette in this series.
07 - 1984 Chevrolet Chevette Diesel Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinWith all the San Francisco Bay Area veggie-oil-diesel freaks snapping up Peugeot 504 and Mercedes-Benz W123 diesels for conversion to never-to-be-finished french-fry-grease-burners to take to Nevada, you’d think that this Chevette would have been worth enough to evade The Crusher. Guess not.
10 - 1984 Chevrolet Chevette Diesel Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinAt least it has a manual transmission, so the 51-horse engine would have been just miserable instead of completely intolerable.
01 - 1984 Chevrolet Chevette Diesel Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinDon’t use starting fluid!
02 - 1984 Chevrolet Chevette Diesel Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThe Isuzu engine in these things was a very reliable, if gutless, powerplant.
11 - 1984 Chevrolet Chevette Diesel Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinHow many GM products got this exact HVAC-control panel?
20-Chevette-1The most famous Chevette Diesel in the world is, of course, the Zero Budget Racing car, which has done very well in 24 Hours of LeMons racing.

OK, let’s watch some Chevette ads from around the world! Here’s Brazil.

The Chevette Amigo was just the car for picking up streetwalkers in Venezuela.

The Daewoo Maepsy was the Korean Chevette.

In Canada, they ice-race Chevettes aka Pontiac Acadians.

Canadian Chevettes were badged as Chevrolets, too.

To get a sense of the incredible slowness of the Chevette Diesel, here’s some rear-facing video from the Zero Budget Chevette Diesel at Gingerman earlier this year.

01 - 1984 Chevrolet Chevette Diesel Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 02 - 1984 Chevrolet Chevette Diesel Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 03 - 1984 Chevrolet Chevette Diesel Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 04 - 1984 Chevrolet Chevette Diesel Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 05 - 1984 Chevrolet Chevette Diesel Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 06 - 1984 Chevrolet Chevette Diesel Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 07 - 1984 Chevrolet Chevette Diesel Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 08 - 1984 Chevrolet Chevette Diesel Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 09 - 1984 Chevrolet Chevette Diesel Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 10 - 1984 Chevrolet Chevette Diesel Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 11 - 1984 Chevrolet Chevette Diesel Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 12 - 1984 Chevrolet Chevette Diesel Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 13 - 1984 Chevrolet Chevette Diesel Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 14 - 1984 Chevrolet Chevette Diesel Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 15 - 1984 Chevrolet Chevette Diesel Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 16 - 1984 Chevrolet Chevette Diesel Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 17 - 1984 Chevrolet Chevette Diesel Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin ]]>
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Review: 2014 Audi A7 Quattro TDI http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/review-2014-audi-a7-quattro-tdi/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/review-2014-audi-a7-quattro-tdi/#comments Mon, 16 Dec 2013 15:33:58 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=665050 IMG_0062

If horsepower is the charismatic star running back, torque is the less heralded offensive lineman. Horsepower gets most of the attention while torque goes about doing the grunt work. Heck, most people don’t even know whether it’s measured in foot-pounds or pound feet. It does, however, get the grunt work done. You wouldn’t imagine a car that weighs over two tons and has but 240 horsepower as the Audi A7 S Line Quattro TDI does to be able to achieve a 0-60 time of 5.5 seconds. That’s because the 3 liter turbo diesel V6 also has 428 lb-ft of torque, most of it available in just about every driving situation. 

 

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The base 2014 A7 TDI quattro is almost $67,000 and this car had about 15K worth of toys added. As the owner of a Chevy Volt once told me, nobody who is buying a $40,000 car is looking to save money on fuel. That literally goes more than double for a car that stickers out to be just shy of $82,000. The TDI A7 is not about great fuel mileage, though the figures are better than respectable, I recorded 26.7 mpg over 490 miles of mostly suburban and urban driving, and 32.3 on a 40 mile jaunt on the Interstate with cruise control set to 79-80 mph. Considering that it’s a big, heavy car, the fuel economy is remarkable.

If people aren’t going to buy the A7 TDI for fuel economy, then why are they going to buy it? In a word, range. As a recent coast-to-coast “record” drive showed, you can make great time on the road if you don’t have to stop to refuel. While I don’t think that most A7 TDI buyers will care that their car has annual fuel costs within spitting distance of those of the Dodge Dart I drove a couple of months ago, they will be interested in another figure on the A7 TDI’s Monroney sheet: 38 mpg highway. The A7 TDI’s fuel tank holds 19.2 gallons of low sulfur diesel fuel,  so that means that with a theoretical range of almost 730 miles, while you aren’t going to challenge any of Louie Mattar’s records, you will be able to make many trips non-stop. That’s enough range to drive from Los Angeles to Las Vegas and back without having to stop for fuel, and still have plenty of surplus fuel to tool around Vegas while you’re there.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Not having to stop as often for fuel and the minor inconvenience of finding a gas station with a diesel pump (2 of the 5 filling stations within a mile of my house have diesel fuel) are the primary reminders that you’re driving with a compression ignited engine. Sure, if you’re a gearhead, you can tell that the engine has a distinctive diesel clatter, and the tachometer redlines at 4,800 rpm (when warm, when cold it’s 4,200), but for the most part it drives completely normally. Normally, that is, for a car with that much torque.

There is another reminder that you’re driving a diesel, the A7′s stop-start system. Any stop-start system is going to be noticeable. Combustion engines shake when started and stopped, but diesels shake a little more, so when the stop-start system is activated and its algorithms call for shutting the engine off (it’s a complicated algorithm and I was never really sure when it would decide to shut off the motor) you get reminded that the A7 has a TDI under the hood. My guess is that the people who buy the A7 TDI want a little bit of a reminder that they’re driving a diesel so they won’t find that shake and rattle objectionable when they’re getting ready to roll.

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Once in motion, all of that torque brings to mind words like effortless. You can accelerate from just about any prudent speed and even some imprudent ones (at least on public roads) as well. There’s no noticeable turbo lag, the longest you have to wait to go faster is when the ECU and eight speed Tiptronic transmission decide you need more leverage. The gearbox drops a cog or two and at that point the word evoked is locomotive.

Click here to view the embedded video.

The test car is an all-wheel-drive Quattro version in S Line trim. At first I thought the steering was a bit too easy driving around town but then I found the dynamic settings in the MMI infotainment system. You can select comfort, automatic, dynamic i.e. sport mode, and custom settings. Most of the time I drove in dynamic mode. The ride was stiffer than the Jaguar XF and XJ that I’ve tested, but not uncomfortably so. It handles well, though it’s a bit too large to say that it’s tossable. I generally didn’t drive anywhere near the limit, but while the steering is precise, and while it does have AWD, it’s still an FWD based Audi and it typically understeers a bit. When you do try to hang the back end out a bit, or enter a turn a little hot, the nannies are there to keep things on an even keel.

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The was one flaw with the A7 TDI’s driving manners. It is sensitive to road grooves and expansion strips between lanes. The way the front tires grabbed expansion strips was so noticeable that I checked the tire pressures and they were indeed about 6 psi low on both fronts. Pumping them up to sticker specs made a big difference, but the A7 still danced a little on grooved pavement. I discussed this with our reviews editor, Alex Dykes, since he drives many more cars than I do every year, and Alex says that it’s something one finds with some European cars and that he’s seen the phenomenon come and go depending on the brand and model of tires used. The A7 TDI as tested was shod with 265/35 R20 Dunlop SP Winter Sport tires. I can’t tell you how sticky they are in snow or how well the Quattro system works in slippery conditions because though it was pretty cold out on Belle Isle taking the photos, we didn’t get any snow in Detroit till after they picked up the car.

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Visibility was outstanding, helped by small triangular glass lights in the rear sail panels. Forward visibility was good and at night it was outstanding. Audi has been using lighting as a distinguishing feature both in terms of brand identifying LED layouts as well as technology. They’re currently trying to get approval for an intelligent lighting system that reacts to road and traffic conditions. In the meantime, the all-LED headlights on the A7 are the best I’ve ever used. Not only do they do an exceptionally good job lighting the path ahead when the road is straight, the combination of cornering lights and main headlamps that actively steer means that when the road curves, it will be well lit as well.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Other electronic gizmos worked just fine. The car has a collision avoidance system that also works with the adaptive cruise control so if you have the cruise activated, you simply cannot rear end someone. I tested it a couple of times, with my foot hovering over the brake pedal of course. I’m still undecided about autonomous automobiles, but the last collision I was in was my fault, rear ending someone while looking for an building address and I suppose it’s nice to know that the car will pay attention when you don’t. Still, it’s kind of eerie. The same braking effect is applied if you put the cruise into coast mode for longer than just a few seconds so out on the highway you practically won’t ever have to touch any pedals with your feet.

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The MMI system, which uses a pop-up non-touch screen for a display and actual buttons and wheels to navigate, is intuitive enough that I didn’t have to RTFM even once to figure things out. Speaking of the pop-up display, since Jaguar came out with  shifter knobs that rise and HVAC vents that spin open upon power up, other luxury automakers have appreciated the need for a little theater, so not only does the A7′s infotaiment screen popup (it can be retracted if you want a smooth dashboard while driving), but also the tweeters for the Bang & Olufsen branded audio system rise up below the A pillars.

Click here to view the embedded video.

One thing that I didn’t like about the MMI system was that every time you shut off the car, it would default back to automatic ride mode. Also, and this is true about the Chrysler 300 S I drove not long ago, if you’re paying for the S badge on the side, I think you sort of expect an S button on the console, not have to use the infotainment settings. Another feature that I don’t like is how addresses are entered into the navigation system. You use the MMI knob to rotate through the alphabet and then select letters. It’s a bit awkward, like using a vintage Dymo labelmaker to enter data.

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The way the MMI knob and buttons work on the infotainment system is a bit more intuitive. The audio system it controls is another feature of the car that is outstanding. Since Audi still offers a CD drive in addition to memory card slots and other audio sources, I popped in one of the discs in Frank Zappa’s Shut Up ‘n Play Yer Guitar box set and the closely mic’d percussion on Stucco Homes sounded great. It’s quite possibly the best car audio system that I’ve sampled, but then for the $5,900 it costs, you can buy some very nice home audio gear, so it should sound good. Surprisingly, considering all the inputs, it was disappointing that I couldn’t find a standard 1/8″ stereo jack or a USB power tap. My Android phone’s audio easily hooked up with the car, though the phone side of things was more iffy and sometimes it could not initialize the phone.

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The surroundings for that good sound and theater are luxurious, if not sumptuous. The dashboard and door panels are a symphony of textures and a subtle use of color: leather grain (both real and polymer based), brushed aluminum, dark grey plastic, and wood with exposed grain. You want to run your hand across it all. The upholstery is black leather, so the light colored headliner brightens up what might otherwise be a dark cabin. Fit and finish was perfect, but this A7 was part of a group of TDI powered cars that Audi designated for the press fleet, all of them white, with large “Clean Diesel TDI” decals on the flanks, so while the fleet management company folks told me they weren’t doing anything special, it’s possible that the A7 had received some special detailing. The seats were very comfortable, no complaints from my bad back. In back there’s plenty of leg room, but with the “four door coupe” roofline, anyone over 5’9″ tall will probably get to know that headliner well. That sexy rear end comes at a price.

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Speaking of which, while I’m loathe to use the term “four door coupe” that automakers seem to love, there is a term that Audi seems to be reluctant to use: hatchback. Yes, that sexy rear end is a hatch. A very large and heavy hatch. Not surprisingly, Audi stashed a power lift/close button inside the jamb. The struts needed to hold up the large hatch are so stiff that if you try to close it manually, you’ll end up using much of your weight.

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As mentioned, the ride is comfortable, though windnoise from the back part of the car was noticeable to both myself and a passenger. I kept checking to see if I’d left the glass moonroof open.

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I also thought that I once left the hatch open, but it turns out I was just confused by the pictogram to activate the rear decklid spoiler. Normally it works automatically and will pop up at higher highway speeds (on a brief burst on an onramp I saw it in the rear view mirror somewhere north of 85 mph), but I confess to some automotive douchebaggery once I figured out how to raise it manually, but only when I was in front of Mercedes-Benzes and BMWs.

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Everything was so good on the A7 TDI that I was left looking for things to criticize and you’ll note that most of the negative comments are for minor things like how tThe trip computer that displays in the middle of the gauge package could have more information. The instrument panel, by the way, is very nicely laid out, with that computer display flanked by round tachometer and speedometers, which are cleverly angled towards the driver.

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At the top of this post I said that the A7 TDI is almost too perfect. I don’t know if it’s confirmation bias from knowing that it is a German car, but there was almost a clinical way in which is does everything so, so well. The latest version of the Forza racing video game/sim avoids the so-called “uncanny valley” effect in a lot of digital art and animation in part by ensuring that surfaces are not perfect, just as real surfaces in the real world have imperfections. I suppose that it’s a good thing that we live in an age where cars can be so good that you almost miss the endearing imperfections of earlier ages.

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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New Mustang May Eventually Offer Diesel, Hybrid and Even Electric Powertrains http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/new-mustang-may-eventually-offer-diesel-hybrid-and-even-electric-powertrains/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/new-mustang-may-eventually-offer-diesel-hybrid-and-even-electric-powertrains/#comments Mon, 09 Dec 2013 13:00:54 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=675474 2015-Ford-Mustang-Low-Angle-2

Traditionalists put off by Ford’s decision to offer the next generation Mustang with a four cylinder engine may have their heads spin by other powertrain choices Ford is considering for the new car as it tries to make it a global brand. According to global powertrain chief Bob Fascetti, speaking to GoAuto at the Sydney, Australia part of the simultaneous worldwide reveal of the latest Mustang, Ford is weighing producing diesel, hybrid and electric versions. It won’t happen anytime soon, but the door has been left open.

“We’re not looking at diesel at the moment, but given where we need to go with fuel consumption we are looking at all our options,” he revealed. “And diesel is one of those options, along with hybrids and electric.”

Fascetti wouldn’t get into specifics about engines, but he did say that while the 2015 Mustang will launch with a paddle shifted six speed automatic transmission, the car may later get one of the nine or ten speed gearboxes being developed in conjunction with General Motors.

Asked if the automaker had any reservations about offering what is perceived as a muscle car with a four cylinder engine, Fascetti said Ford’s EcoBoost system makes all the difference needed. “Not turbocharged like this,” Fascetti said, expecting Mustang buyers will embrace it the way that F-150 pickup buyers have pushed the 3.5 liter V6 EcoBoost engine to 40% of production. “The success of the F-150 EcoBoost even surprised us. When we put the 3.5-litre EcoBoost in that truck we had the same conversation, and it has ended up with a 40 per cent mix. And because it is fun to drive and the torque is there straight away, we anticipate that the Mustang customer will really like it. It’s fun to drive.”

Not only didn’t they have any reservations about offering a four in the new Mustang, there was also no thought given to discontinuing V8 power. “There was never a debate about not using the 5.0-litre,” Fascetti said. “So clearly we always wanted to keep the 5.0-litre in the Mustang because it’s always been tremendous for us, and it is really part of the brand. We can meet emissions with the 5.0 – that’s not an issue. As long as we can meet the demands of what every new Mustang requires, the V8 will be around for a while. We never thought we’d be getting the numbers we’re getting out of this engine now, even three years ago, so we think the 5.0 still has some life in it yet.”

Fascetti did confirm that the Mustang’s 2.3 liter EcoBoost will also find its way into transversely mounted applications. “There will be a front-drive version of the 2.3, east-west applications,” Mr Fascetti said. “The one beauty with [the Mustang] from my point of view is that it is rear-wheel drive, and this provides so many degrees of freedom as to what we can offer, because the engines are so much narrower relative to the rest of the car when they go north-south.”

“But (RWD) really opens up these other options for global markets, so we are really pleased to be able to offer the 2.3-litre EcoBoost, for example, where fuel is much more expensive than it is in the US. And we think that option for a car like this is important… it is a better answer for some global markets (than the V6 available in the United States). We are turning the Mustang into a global product now so all of our options are open now… we have great diesels in Europe, we have an EcoBoost line-up in North America… so we can do almost anything. For us it’s a case of designing the right drivetrain for the car.”

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Review: 2014 Ram 1500 Eco Diesel (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/review-2014-ram-1500-eco-diesel-with-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/review-2014-ram-1500-eco-diesel-with-video/#comments Mon, 02 Dec 2013 15:00:28 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=664570 2014 RAM 1500 Eco Diesel Exterior-005

There’s just something about a diesel pickup truck that makes grown men regress into Tonka-loving children. Even my Prius-driving environmentalist friends in Berkeley admit they secretly want a diesel pickup. The problem of course is that diesel pickups are expensive (the cheapest diesel Ram 2500 is $36,975 and it doesn’t have an automatic transmission, the cheapest oil-burning F-250 is $38,250) and, for the majority of us, the high payload and towing capacities are overkill. While economical in a specific sense, the large diesel trucks aren’t “fuel-efficient” either. Until now. Mark your calendars folks, The 2014 Ram 1500 Eco Diesel is the half-ton truck in America sporting a small diesel engine.

 

Click here to view the embedded video.

Exterior

Although new in 2010 and refreshed for the 2013, the 1500 is undeniably a Ram. That’s because Chrysler prefers evolutionary rather than revolutionary styling when it comes to their volume truck. That’s not a bad thing, since the 1994 style cues that have lived on were sexy back then, and still attractive today. The big-rig  front end still captures my attention, but despite my family’s Ram addiction, I find the 2014 Silverado’s nose to be the better looker. As with most redesigns, the front end got bigger, brasher and has more chrome than ever before.

As you’d expect from Chrysler’s best-selling vehicle, you can get your Ram in a bevy of configurations. There are 9 trim levels, three cabs and three bed sizes available. Mix and match them and you can drive for miles without seeing an identical Ram. Of course two of those 9 trim levels cannot be injected with some diesel love. Thankfully however the trims are excluded are the Sport and Express, meaning the base Tradesman trim is diesel eligible, bringing the diesel pickup entry point down to $28,465, $8,150 less than the cheapest diesel truck in 2013. Interestingly, nothing outside calls attention to the engine under the hood aside from the EcoDiesel badging on the front quarter panels. Out back, we get twin chrome exhaust tips, just like the V8 model and the engine idles so quietly most people assumed a gasoline V6 was under the hood. More on that later.

2014 RAM 1500 Eco Diesel Laramie Interior-002

Interior

As I said in my Silverado review last week, I was surprised that GM didn’t delay the Silverado launch to spend some time polishing up the interior. Despite the re-tweaked 2013 Ram being on the market a year before GM’s truck launched (and the basis for that interior landing in 2010) the Ram still has the best interior in the segment. Your level of interior refinement varies by trim level with the entry-level Tradesman model using plenty of hard plastics while the top-end Ram coats in the interior in stitched leather and real wood trim. In an interesting move, SLT and Laramie models can be optioned to have the same two-ton dash as the top-end Long Horn edition although the real wood and a few other niceties are skipped. Regardless of the trim, controls are conveniently located and easy to operate. While certain models keep a traditional column shifter, most Ram 1500s will be equipped with Dodge and Ram’s Jaguar-like rotary-knob shifter. While I agree that it saves console space vs a console mounted unit, it strikes me as “gimmickier”. I found it tricky to use at first but did become used to it after a week.

Front seat comfort in the Ram is excellent, but a hair behind the Silverado. That’s thanks largely to someone at Chrysler’s ergonomics department that has a concave posterior. All of Chrysler’s latest seat designs have a pronounced (and firm) bottom cushion that feels like you’re sitting on an exercise ball. Although less of a problem in the Ram than in the Chrysler 200, the problem is still present. Despite this I had no issues driving the Ram for 2 hours at a time and I still found it a better place to spend my time than an F-150. Rear seats are lower to the floor than in Chevy’s new truck and slightly less comfortable as well.

2014 RAM 1500 Eco Diesel Laramie Interior-005

Infotainment

Things start off with uConnect 3.0 which is a basic head unit with a 4-line monochromatic display. Similar to Ford’s basic SYNC system, uConnect 3.0 offers full MP3/iDevice integration for media without the fancy graphics. Next we have uConnect 5.0. While this middle tier system may look like the uConnect system we have seen before, it’s actually unrelated. Running on a Microsoft embedded OS and not QNX (a UNIX variant), the unit is more sluggish than the 8.4-inch system but offers many of the same features excluding navigation. While other Chrysler and Fiat models will have the option to add TomTom navigation later, that doesn’t appear to apply to the Ram.

Our Laramie model was equipped with the second generation uConnect 8.4 system. The second generation system adds smartphone app integration, emergency crash notification and 911 assist (along the lines of OnStar). The big deal here is the inclusion of a dedicated Sprint cellular modem integrated into the system. This allows the head unit to function similarly to OnStar in that you don’t have to have a paired Bluetooth cell phone to get emergency services (like you do with Ford’s MyFord Touch). uConnect can also act as a 3G WiFi hot spot if you pay for the right subscription. Software updates can be downloaded over the air and the user can buy/download apps via the integrated app store, just like a smartphone. The standard 6-speaker sound system is not much to write home about, but the seven or nine speaker Alipne system that comes standard with the 8.4-inch touchscreen on most models has a balanced and natural sound.

2014 RAM 1500 Eco Diesel 3.0L V6 Turbo Diesel Engine-001Drivetrain

Base models still have a 305 horsepower 3.6L V6 borrowed from Chrysler’s passenger cars, good for 269 lb-ft of torque. That’s about the same as Ford’s 3.7L V6 but well below GM’s truck-only 4.3L engine. Shoppers can still get some HEMI-love by checking the box for the second generation 5.7L V8 making 395 ponies and a healthy 410 lb-ft of torque. But gasoline engines aren’t what’s new, it’s the diesel burning 3.0L V6 that we’re all here to talk about. But first we need to walk back in time.

In 2007 GM purchased 50% of the Italian engine maker VM Motori. The logic was that GM needed a smooth Euro compliant diesel engine for the Cadillac CTS (and other models) in order to compete with the Germans. Sadly, GM declared bankruptcy between the engine being designed and the engine actually being used so it sat on a shelf. In 2011 Fiat bought the other half of VM Motori and found the engine gathering dust. Fiat had some quick tweaks done to the engine to make it more suitable for their use and the EcoDiesel V6 was born. While there was much talk about GM getting their hands on this same engine for Silverado duty, Fiat recently snapped up the other half of VM Motri making this a Fiat/Chrysler engine in every way that matters.

2014 RAM 1500 Eco Diesel 3.0L V6 Turbo Diesel Engine

The high revving single turbo aluminum-block V6 engine produces 240 horsepower and a stout 420 lb-ft of torque. If those numbers sound impressive, consider this. The first 5.9L Cummins engine Chrysler used in the 2500 and 3500 series RAM trucks produced 94 fewer ponies and 20 fewer twists. In the biggest statement of progress I have seen in a while, that Cummins also delivered its power via five fewer gears.

Like the rest of the Ram 1500 lineup (except for one model with a 5.7L HEMI), all 1/2 ton Rams now use ZF’s 8-speed automatic transmission. If you’re worried it’s just a passenger car transmission that’s not up to the task, ZF’s 8-speed transmissions are also found behind the insane twin-turbo V12s that the Germans love so much.

2014 RAM 1500 Eco Diesel Exterior

Towing & Payload

The 2014 Silverado’s 1,875 to 2,100 pound payload easily bests the Ram’s 1,340-1,620 pound range and even the F-150′s 1,510-2,090 is superior depending on how you align the trim level comparisons. (Ford still offers a “Heavy Duty” package on the F-150 which gives it a stronger frame comparable to the F-250 but Ram and GM have killed similar packages on their models.) Likewise the Ram Eco Diesel’s 9,200lb tow rating pales in comparison with the Silverado’s 12,000lb towing rating. Until you actually tow or haul that is.

Drive

Unless you need those extra pounds of payload capacity (a valid point to be sure), most shoppers will be better off with the Ram. Why? Because of how it tows and hauls. Let’s start with the 8-speed automatic. Even if you don’t choose the diesel engine, the 8-speed automatic’s greater ratio spread and faster gear changes more than bridge the 30-36 lb-ft divide between the Silverado and the Ram V6 and V8. That ratio spread and the high 4,800 RPM redline of the small diesel engine combine to make the Ram drive more like a gasoline V8 truck around town. With my 7,500lb trailer (loaded) attached, the 1500 Eco Diesel pulled effortlessly up steep grades with the transmission cranking out shifts like a Gatling gun. The small diesel and tall final gear allowed the 5,800lb pickup truck to average an impressive 24.2 MPG during my week with the truck which included out towing, hauling and 0-60 tests. On the open highway it had no trouble averaging 29 MPG at 70 MPH.

This is going to sound nuts to some, but I’m actually disappointed with the way the engine sounds. Chrysler fitted an ultra quiet exhaust system and more foam padding than a teenager’s bra to the 3.0L V6. This means that aside from a glow-plug icon on the dash that flashes for a millisecond, you’d be hard pressed to know a diesel is under the hood. After the engine has been started you get a brief moment of diesel clatter before it settles down to a quiet idle. When pressed, the engine clatters a hair more but it never sounds like a 3/4 ton diesel. Pity.

2014 RAM 1500 Eco Diesel Exterior-010

Ram raised eyebrows when they announced that their half ton truck would use coil rather than leaf springs in the rear suspension. The change has been lauded by some and vilified by the folks with Calvin-peeing-on-Ram stickers on their trucks. The truth is of course somewhere in the middle. Coil springs are more complicated to design because the spring doesn’t locate the rear axle, making trailing arms and other links necessary. Coils also handle overloading poorly when compared to a more traditional leaf setup. On the flip side, coils weigh less, provide a better ride, greater articulation and help in reducing wheel hop when the bed is empty. The simple truth is that the vast majority of pickup trucks spend their time with an empty bed. The spring rate chosen is an obvious trade off to deliver the RAM’s class leading road manners but it does result in payload capacity being about 400lbs lower than the Silverado at a maximum. Thankfully Chrysler’s 5-link suspension design, adapted from the previous generations of Grand Cherokee, maintains its poise when fully loaded (unlike GM’s 1960s attempt at coils.)

The bigger benefit of using a four-corner coil suspension is that it was relatively easy for Chrysler to adapt the Grand Cherokee’s height-adjustable air suspension system to the 1/2 ton truck. The $1,695 system is available on all quad cab and crew cab models, in all trims and in every driveline and engine configuration. In my opinion, the air suspension and $230 integrated trailer brake controller are worth every penny. Yes, the suspension allows you to vary the RAM’s ride height from 6.7 inches to 10.7 inches, but the real reason I’d pay money for it is that it also load levels. Keeping the suspension at the middle of its travel results in a better ride and more effective damping whether your truck is loaded or not.

2014 RAM 1500 Eco Diesel Exterior-009

The Eco Diesel is listed as a $4,000 option over the V6, but there are a few “hidden” costs. The only model that can’t get the 3.0L wonder is the short bed, short cab Tradesman meaning you’ll have to pay $385 for the 8-foot bed to be eligible. You’ll also have to pay $500 extra for the heavy-duty version of the 8-speed automatic bringing the total up to $28,465. That means the true premium is $4,885 at the Tradesman level. Versus the 5.7L HEMI, you’ll pay $3,350 more. When you run the numbers, the diesel won’t save you much over the 3.6L V6 but the V8 is a different matter. Even at the high fuel costs in California (and considering the cost of urea) the diesel would save nearly $750 a year in fuel resulting in a possible payback in under 5 years at 15,000 miles a year.

Even without the Eco Diesel, the Ram is the first choice in the half ton market unless you needed the maximum towing or payload capacities delivered by the 2014 Silverado. It doesn’t hurt that the Ram is slightly cheaper than the Ford or Chevy when comparably equipped. Toss in the first small diesel, the only 8-speed automatic, a load leveling air suspension system and you have quite simply the best tow vehicle in the half-ton segment. Considering that the Ram Eco Diesel is only $2,720 more than a V8 F-150 and $2,560 more than a V8 Silverado, your pay back window is even shorter than compared to Ram’s own HEMI. Or for folks like my dad who are looking to replace their 15 year old RAM 2500 Cummins but are suffering from modern 3/4 ton sticker shock, the 1500 diesel makes an interesting proposition. Compared to that generation of Ram 2500, this Ram 1500 is more capable in nearly every way. Thanks to GM needing a European market diesel Caddy and Chrysler’s bankruptcy and resurrection by Fiat, we have quite simply the most exciting vehicle I have driven this year.

 

Chrysler provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of diesel for this review

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.38 Seconds

0-60: 7.75 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 16.03 Seconds @ 84 MPH

Cabin noise at 50 MPH: 67 dB

Average Observed Fuel Economy: 24.2 MPG over 765 miles

 

2014 RAM 1500 Eco Diesel 3.0L V6 Turbo Diesel Engine 2014 RAM 1500 Eco Diesel 3.0L V6 Turbo Diesel Engine-001 2014 RAM 1500 Eco Diesel 3.0L V6 Turbo Diesel Engine-002 2014 RAM 1500 Eco Diesel Exterior 2014 RAM 1500 Eco Diesel Exterior-001 2014 RAM 1500 Eco Diesel Exterior-002 2014 RAM 1500 Eco Diesel Exterior-003 2014 RAM 1500 Eco Diesel Exterior-004 2014 RAM 1500 Eco Diesel Exterior-005 2014 RAM 1500 Eco Diesel Exterior-006 2014 RAM 1500 Eco Diesel Exterior-007 2014 RAM 1500 Eco Diesel Exterior-008 2014 RAM 1500 Eco Diesel Exterior-009 2014 RAM 1500 Eco Diesel Exterior-010 2014 RAM 1500 Eco Diesel Exterior-011 2014 RAM 1500 Eco Diesel Exterior-012 2014 RAM 1500 Eco Diesel Laramie Interior 2014 RAM 1500 Eco Diesel Laramie Interior-001 2014 RAM 1500 Eco Diesel Laramie Interior-002 2014 RAM 1500 Eco Diesel Laramie Interior-003 2014 RAM 1500 Eco Diesel Laramie Interior-004 2014 RAM 1500 Eco Diesel Laramie Interior-005 2014 RAM 1500 Eco Diesel Laramie Interior-006 2014 RAM 1500 Eco Diesel Laramie Interior-007 2014 RAM 1500 Eco Diesel Laramie Interior-008 2014 RAM 1500 Eco Diesel Laramie Interior-009 2014 RAM 1500 Eco Diesel Laramie Interior-010 2014 RAM 1500 Eco Diesel Laramie Interior-011 2014 RAM 1500 Eco Diesel Laramie Interior-012 2014 RAM 1500 Eco Diesel LCD Instrument Cluster ]]>
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BMW Drops the Top in LA With 4 Series Convertible Coupe http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/11/bmw-drops-the-top-in-la-with-4-series-convertible-coupe/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/11/bmw-drops-the-top-in-la-with-4-series-convertible-coupe/#comments Wed, 20 Nov 2013 20:17:06 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=657746 2014 BMW 4 Series Convertible 01
BMW may have given the world a fair glimpse at the 4 Series convertible coupe last month, but the Germans have opted to make the LA Auto Show the perfect stage for the ultimate sunning machine’s public debut.

The 4 Series convertible coupe, replacing the 3 Series by moving up one number — in line with BMW’s new naming scheme of coupes bearing even numbers, sedans odd — along with gains in width, track and wheelbase, comes with a three-piece retractable hardtop that will welcome the sun in 20 seconds. As for the times when the rain, sleet or snow turn up, interior lighting in the roof along with a soundproof headliner will keep all cozy.

Under the hood, expect to find either a 2-liter turbo-4 pumping out 240 horses and 255 lb-ft of torque (428i), a 3-liter turbocharged I6 with 300 horsepower and torque to match (435i), or a diesel channeling 184 horsepower and 281 lb-ft of torque (420d).

Sending the power to the back is accomplished via either a six-speed manual standard on all versions of the convertible, or a choice of eight-speed automatics ranging from fully automated to paddle-shifted; all transmissions come with BMW’s start-stop technology standard.

Finally, for those who prefer the power to go through all four corners, BMW will introduce the xDrive system as an option for the 428i variant in the spring of 2014.

2014 BMW 4 Series Convertible 01 2014 BMW 4 Series Convertible 02 2014 BMW 4 Series Convertible 03 2014 BMW 4 Series Convertible 04 ]]>
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2013 Tokyo Motor Show: Mazda Goes Forward With CNG, Hybrids, Diesels http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/11/2013-tokyo-motor-show-mazda-goes-forward-with-cng-hybrids-diesels/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/11/2013-tokyo-motor-show-mazda-goes-forward-with-cng-hybrids-diesels/#comments Wed, 20 Nov 2013 00:24:39 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=656506 Mazda3 Skyactiv-CNG Concept

Mazda3 Skyactiv-CNG Concept

Last week,  Mazda CEO Masamichi Kogai said that the company had no plans for a production Wankel rotary anytime in the near future, though the company most identified with the engine that goes “hmmmm” will continue to do research on rotaries. Now, at the Tokyo Motor Show, Mazda is showing that its future powertrain plans include diesel, natural gas and hybrid drives.

The Mazda3 SKYACTIV-CNG Concept is a dual fuel vehicle that has tanks for both gasoline and compressed natural gas. It used a modified version of Mazda’s 2.0 liter four that’s currently available in the Mazda3. The Mazda3 is sold as the Axela in Japan and the company is also introducing the Axela SKYACTIV-HYBRID. The 2.0 L four cylinder hand has had the compression ration increased to a whopping 14.0:1 and it and a 84 HP electric motor drive the front wheels through an electronically controled CVT.

Like the Toyota Prius it used NiMH batteries and like the Prius it has a total of 134 HP. Fuel efficiency based on Japan’s JC08 standard is rated at 72.4 MPG. Finally, Mazda is announcing that the SKYACTIV-D 2.2 clean diesel engine, soon to be available in the U.S. in the Mazda, will be offered in Japanese domestic market versions of the CX-5 and the Mazda3. It will be interesting to see what kind of torque-steer the Mazda3 can develop with 310 lb-ft of twist.

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Never Say Never: Hydrogen, Diesel En Vogue Again http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/11/never-say-never-hydrogen-diesel-en-vogue-again/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/11/never-say-never-hydrogen-diesel-en-vogue-again/#comments Mon, 18 Nov 2013 14:44:19 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=654082 Honda FCX Clarity

Remember this piece from the Honda Summer 2008 Hydrogen Collection? It was supposed to point the way to future of green fuel technology before the Tesla brought plug-in sex appeal down the ramp with their Roadster and, later on, the S, as well as the trend of compliance EVs from Chevrolet, Volkswagen and Kia.

But with sales of plug-in hybrids advancing far slower than originally expected regulators are taking another look at alternative ZEV powertrains.

Back in 2009, U.S. President Barack Obama set a goal for 1 million EVs on the road by 2015, going so far as to place a $5 billion bet on Tesla and Fisker among other automakers. Since then, only 95,000 units have managed to leave the showroom for the open road, with sales of over 500,000 predicted for 2015 by West Bloomfield, Mich.-based Baum & Associates analyst Alan Baum. With the current administration downplaying their role in the EV market, President Obama is awarding $4 million to aid in the development of fuel cell technology and storage for hydrogen-powered vehicles.

Leading the charge toward the hydrogen future is California. Aside from passing a measure to provide 100 hydrogen fueling stations as part of their clean technology vision, the state’s legislature has fine-tuned the Zero-Emission Credit formula to better benefit hydrogen vehicle producers — such as Honda and General Motors, who announced a partnership to develop their respective technologies back in July — while drawing down power from Tesla to as much as 40 percent by 2015 for each S sold.

Back in D.C., Audi is putting the pressure on the Environmental Protection Agency to change their mileage formula for the showroom window sticker, and to level the playing field in taxation between diesel and gasoline. The reasoning, according to Audi of American president Scott Keogh, is that the current formula favors gasoline power on the assumption that most driving is done in the city; diesel it at its most efficient on the highway, and is one-third more efficient than gasoline in otherwise equal conveyances according to the U.S. Department of Energy. The diesels used today are cleaner as a result of the advent of ultra-low sulfur fuel and tailpipe exhaust treatment.

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Fiat Buys VM Motori From GM http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/fiat-buys-vm-motori-from-gm/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/fiat-buys-vm-motori-from-gm/#comments Tue, 29 Oct 2013 12:30:07 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=636817 V6-diesel-426x350

Fiat is now the proud owner of VM Motori after acquiring the remaining 50 percent of the diesel engine maker from General Motors for $47.1 million.

The first half of VM Motori was purchased by Fiat in 2010, with GM exercising a put option to purchase the remaining half. VM Motori now supplies diesel engines for the forthcoming Jeep Grand Cherokee and Ram 1500 EcoDiesel – an engine originally developed for the European Cadillac CTS.

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Review: 2013 & 2014 RAM 3500 Diesel (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/review-2013-2014-ram-3500-diesel-with-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/review-2013-2014-ram-3500-diesel-with-video/#comments Tue, 08 Oct 2013 12:00:59 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=532417 2013 RAM 3500 Exterior, Side, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Nothing is more American than the pickup truck. If the stars and stripes thing ever gets old, they will probably get replaced by a RAM / GM / Ford montage.  The other thing that’s quintessentially American is an arms race. No, I’m not talking military hardware, I’m talking about the eternal RAM vs Chevy/GMC vs Ford tuck wars. Who has the best frame? Who has the best engine? Who can haul the most? Be prepared to draw your weapons and click past the jump. Chrysler sent me a 2013 RAM 3500 for a week and then invited me to taste test the refreshed 2014 model for a day.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Exterior

What can we say about the exterior? It’s pickup truck shaped. Aside from that revelation, the RAM can be had with three different cabs and two different bed sizes. Regardless of the options you choose, the RAM “big rig” styling that rocked the pickup world in 1994 is still with us although it’s been softened slightly. 2013 brings new headlamps and more chrome but keeps the seriously large grille which is raked slightly forward. Fear not, there is ample room to install a set of horns on the front.

2013 RAM 3500 Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. DykesInterior

I was initially a little perturbed, I had asked for a Tradesman trim of the RAM 3500 because I have a thing for the stripper commercial vehicles. Instead I ended up with a top-of-the-line Laramie Long Horn Edition in the driveway. If I’m honest the interior is a little over the top in my book, but I’m much more of a minimalist when it comes to interior design. Regardless of how you feel about the bedazzled instrument cluster, the RAM exudes quality. I’ll say that again, the RAM exudes quality. How exactly Chrysler went from crafting the cheapest feeling interiors to some of the best on the market is anyone’s guess but the result are stunning and boil down to one decision: stitched leather.

I breezed by my local RAM dealer to checkout the Tradesman, and the difference is marked. The Tradesman has an attractive interior design, but the Long Horn takes it up several notches with an injection molded dash that features real stitching, real wood trim that isn’t heavily lacquered and genuine cow hide on the doors and seat backs. The front seats are large and supportive in all versions of the RAM but don’t offer much lateral bolstering.

Rear seat comfort has been a new focus for pickup trucks owing to their increased use as family haulers and daily drivers. The RAM’s rear seats are higher off the ground than in the Ford pickups which I found more comfortable, but those with short legs may complain. Although the seats in the back don’t recline and they are slightly more upright than any other vehicle type, they proved comfortable for an hour trip. Instead of folding down, the seat bottom cushions flip up revealing storage compartments and, in our Longhorn Edition, a subwoofer. In addition to the swanky interior trappings, the RAM 3500′s cabin is almost luxury sedan quiet at 71 db at 50 MPH.

2013 RAM 3500 Interior, uConnect 8.4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Infotainment

uConnect 2 is the first major update to Chrysler’s 8.4-inch touchscreen system that launched in 2011 and the first version found in the RAM 1500. Based on a QNX Unix operating system, the system features well polished graphics, snappy screen changes and a large, bright display. In addition to extensive voice commands for USB/iDevice control, uConnect 2 offers smartphone integration allowing you to stream audio from Pandora, iHeart Radio or Slacker Radio. You can have text messages read to you and dictate replies (if your phone supports it) and search for restaurants and businesses via Yelp. In addition to all the smartphone-tied features, uConnect 2 integrates a CDMA modem on the Sprint network into the unit for over-the-air software updates and access to the new “App Store” where you will be able to buy apps for your car. Since there’s a cell modem on-board, uConnect can be configured to act as a WiFi hot spot for your tablets and game devices as well.

Completing the information assault is SiriusXM’s assortment of satellite data services which include traffic, movie times, sports scores, fuel prices and weather reports. As with uConnect data services, there’s a fee associated after the first few months so keep that in mind. 2014 also brings uConnect Access which is Chrysler’s answer to GM’s OnStar providing 911 assistance, crash notification and vehicle health reports. Garmin’s navigation software is still available as a $500 add-on and it still looks like someone cut a hole in the screen and stuck a hand-held Garmin unit in the dash. The interface is easy to use but notably less snazzy than the rest of the system’s graphics. If this bevy of techo-wizardry hasn’t convinced you that Ram is now in the 21st century, consider this: our tester didn’t have a CD player. If the bevy of USB ports has you confused, you can rock your John Denver CD by paying $395 for a single-slot disc player jammed into the center armrest.

2013 RAM 3500 6.7L Cummins-001

Drivetrain

The standard engine for both 2013 and 2014 is Chrysler’s ubiquitous 5.7L “Hemi”  V8 tuned to 383 horsepower and 400 lb-ft of torque. Unlike the refreshed 1500, the 2500 and 3500 don’t get the Chrysler/ZF 8-speed automatic instead relying on the Chrysler 66RFE 6-speed to put the power to the ground.

Our tester had the optional 6.7L Cummins turbo Diesel engine we at TTAC have come to know and love. The 6-cylinder oil burner comes in three flavors depending on the transmission you select. The 6-speed manual (a class exclusive) gets the lowest tune at 360 ponies and 660 lb-ft. Checking the box for the Chrysler 68RFE 6-speed transmission bumps power to 370 HP and torque to 800 lb-ft. If that’s not enough a new Aisin AS69RC 6-speed automatic can be selected which gets you 385 HP and a whopping 850 lb-ft. The new Aisin transmission is capable of handling a PTO, should you need it.

2014 brings a new truck version of Chrysler’s SRT 6.4L V8. RAM was quick to say the engine isn’t just an SRT transplant and a high percentage of parts are unique. The “big gas” as RAM is calling it is good for 410HP and 429 lb-ft which may not sound like a huge increase over the 5.7 but looking at the torque curve the larger engine has considerably more grunt. The 6.4 is an alternative to the expensive Cummins for most applications and it can be paired with the 66RFE automatic or the Aisin 6-speed if you need a PTO.

If you’re buying a 4×4 pickup and fuel economy is a factor, the 2014 RAM models include a front axle disconnect system. By essentially decoupling the front right wheel and front left wheel from one another, parasitic losses inside the front differential are greatly reduced. This is similar to the rear axle disconnect system employed on the new Jeep Cherokee.

2013 RAM 3500 Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Payload and Trailering

Thanks to the revised drivetrain and that new Aisin 6-speed automatic, the RAM reaches new (and insane) heights in towing with a 30,000lb tow rating when properly equipped. This isn’t just a slight increase in towing ability, this is a whopping 6,800 more than GM’s 2014 trucks and 8,800 more than Ford’s F-350. True to RAM’s commercial heart, the maximum tow rating can be had in all trim levels of the 3500, including the stripper Tradesman. All you have to do is select the Cummins and Aisin combo and be willing to spend $38,895.

What’s it like to tow that kind of weight? I wish I knew. It’s illegal in California (and many states) to tow more than a 10,000lb trailer without a class C license so I hooked up my 7,500lb trailer at home with the 2014 and RAM provided a 9,999lb trailer with the 2014 model for testing. Shoppers should know that the 66RFE and 68RFE transmissions are related to the 65RFE that I have frequently complained about. However, the reason for my complaint had to do with the 65RFE’s gear ratio spread, this is not a problem in the 66RFE or 68RFE as they use a different set of ratios. Even so, the Aisin transmission is the transmission of choice for towing and hauling as it has a notably lower first and second gear and is capable of torque converter lockup in first. As you would expect, 7,500 lbs of trailer is no match for 850 lb-ft of torque and the Cummins felt like it wasn’t even trying as I climbed up a 2,200ft mountain pass.

2013 RAM 3500 Interior, 4WD controls, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. DykesIf you’re the kind of guy who does serious towing or hauls heavy payloads, forget the 2013 RAM and tell your Ford and GM friends to join you at the RAM dealer for the 2014 3500 with a rear air suspension. This is not the same system used on the RAM 1500 which is a four-corner height adjustable  system, the 2500 and 3500 are rear load leveling only. 2500 trucks get a new 5-link coil suspension standard with available air suspension while the 3500 gets a beefier multi-plate leaf spring standard and optionally a single leaf with a set of air bags. Aside from being totally cool, leveling suspensions improve ride as well as suspension dynamics by keeping the suspension in the middle of its travel so that jounce and rebound (check?) are optimized. The air suspension also allows the maximum payload to creep up to 7,320 lbs in the 3500 for 2014 and the truck will perform better while under load.

In addition to the new rear air suspension, 2500 models get an entirely new frame and a new front suspension setup based on the 3500′s multi-link front suspension. I was worried this would decrease the 2500′s ride quality but impressively the opposite was true.
2013 RAM 3500 Interior-020

Drive

The 5.7L V8 isn’t a bad engine by any stretch, but the RAM isn’t a light weight hauler. Our Cummins model rang in at 6,799lbs ad the V8 isn’t that much lighter. Put a few thousand pounds of concrete in the bed and you’re in for a slow slog up the hill. If you can’t bring yourself to pay for the diesel, my suggestion is to drive the RAM 1500, 2500 and 3500 back to back and seriously ask yourself what your towing and hauling needs are. The 1500 isn’t just 1,800lbs lighter, it has that new 8-speed automatic which makes towing a breeze. If however you’re a serious hauler, then nothing but the 6.7L turbo diesel will do.

As much as I love manuals, and as happy I am that the Cummins can still be mated to one, the automatic is the transmission you want. Not only does it make trailering easier, you get 140 lb-ft more twist for your $500 as well. Anyone serious about towing (and anyone with a class C license) will want to step up to that Aisin transmission. Aside from getting an extra 50 lb-ft, you get higher torque rated internals, more evenly spaced gear ratios and a lower first gear.

If you notice, I haven’t spoken to the way the RAM drives yet. That’s because driving manners are secondary to the mission in a heavy-duty pickup truck. Even so 2013 brings a notable improvement to the RAM and opting for the air suspension in 2014 takes things up to the next notch. If you’re upgrading from a half-ton truck, keep in mind that 2500 and 3500 trucks will have a rougher ride in general thanks to the heavy-duty suspension components.

2013 RAM 3500 Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

RAM was the first to market with an exhaust brake in 3/4 and 1 ton trucks and they continue to lead with one of the best on the market. This system shouldn’t be confused with the “Jake Brakes” found in Cummins’ big-rig engines, the system Cummins employs here is sometimes called a “potato brake” because it operates by closing the vanes of the variable geometry turbo charger to increase back pressure and thereby increasing engine braking. This type of engine brake is rate in horsepower for some reason and the 6.7L diesel now brakes to the tune of 225 ponies which has a big impact on brake pad life if you tow in mountainous terrain.

When it comes to pickup trucks, especially heavy-duty trucks, shoppers are extremely brand conscious and extremely brand loyal. Think about it, how many people do you know that rotate around pickup brands with every purchase? As a result it would be easy to say the RAM 3500 is a great truck for RAM loyalists and the other trucks are all lovely too. However, the 2014 RAM might be the first truck since 1994 to sway hearts and minds. Not only does the RAM deliver the best interior and infotainment system in the segment, but it also delivers 30,000lbs of bragging rights, a stellar Cummins engine and a rear air suspension that is nothing short of revolutionary for the heavy-duty pickup market. If you’re looking at an F-350 or eagerly waiting that new Silverado 3500, swallow your pride and give the RAM a test drive. You’ll thank me later.

Chrysler provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of diesel for this review.

Specifications as tested

0-30: 3.39 Seconds

0-60: 8.72 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 16.76 Seconds at 85.7 MPH

Sound Level: 71 db @ 50 MPH

2013 RAM 3500 Interior, 4WD controls, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 RAM 3500 Interior-021 2013 RAM 3500 Interior-013 2013 RAM 3500 Interior-004 2013 RAM 3500 Exterior-006 2013 RAM 3500 6.7L Cummins 2013 RAM 3500 Exterior-005 2013 RAM 3500 Exterior, Side, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 RAM 3500 Interior, uConnect 8.4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 RAM 3500 Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 RAM 3500 Interior-012 2013 RAM 3500 Interior-011 2013 RAM 3500 Interior-020 2013 RAM 3500 Interior-019 2013 RAM 3500 Interior-010 2013 RAM 3500 Interior-001 2013 RAM 3500 Exterior-003 2013 RAM 3500 Exterior-002 2013 RAM 3500 Interior 2013 RAM 3500 Interior-018 2013 RAM 3500 Interior-009 2013 RAM 3500 Exterior-001 2013 RAM 3500 Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 RAM 3500 Interior-008 2013 RAM 3500 Interior-017 2013 RAM 3500 Interior-016 2013 RAM 3500 Interior-007 2013 RAM 3500 Exterior-009 2013 RAM 3500 Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 RAM 3500 6.7L Cummins-002 2013 RAM 3500 6.7L Cummins-001 2013 RAM 3500 Exterior-007 2013 RAM 3500 Exterior-008 2013 RAM 3500 Interior-006 2013 RAM 3500 Interior-005 2013 RAM 3500 Interior-014 2013 RAM 3500 Interior-015 ]]>
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Correction: Not All A-Class Diesels Are French http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/correction-not-all-a-class-diesels-are-french/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/correction-not-all-a-class-diesels-are-french/#comments Sun, 06 Oct 2013 23:45:14 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=611337

They don’t call you guys the Best&Brightest for nothing, I tell ya.

When I complained that Mercedes-Benz was using Renault-sourced diesel engines in its small cars, one of our Deutschland-based readers disagreed with my “facts”. Which is fair, because I got my facts from a variety of US-based auto media, and he’s getting his from, well, Germany.

diesels

The “OM651″ referred to in that image is the new-ish family of four-cylinder Benz diesels, which appears in at least three different variants across the A-class range. The “OM640″ diesel is the Renault one, available in the A180 hatchback as a relatively low-output one-and-a-half-liter. Alright, so it turns out that you can still rock in America get a Mercedes diesel in the cheap Mercedes sedan. Where things get a little strange, however, is with this fact: the E250 diesel that’s arriving on our shores now packs a 2.1-liter OM651 and is fully EPA-compliant. So this isn’t even a matter of figuring out how to make the engine work over here; it’s simply a matter of adding a urea tank somewhere in the CLA.

How about the trunk?

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Capsule Review: Ram 1500 EcoDiesel http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/capsule-review-ram-1500-diesel/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/capsule-review-ram-1500-diesel/#comments Thu, 03 Oct 2013 18:49:00 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=594393  

2014-Ram-1500-diesel-grille

The most important year for the American pickup truck might have been 1996. Although the tenth generation Ford F-Series would debut that same year, the biggest development for the segment had nothing to do with trucks. It was the death of the General Motors B-Body sedan.

A perennial best-seller in America through the 1970s, the B-Body’s demise left American consumers with only one choice for a traditional full-size sedan, the Ford Panther cars. Conventional wisdom states that SUVs subsequently picked up the slack as America’s family hauler of choice, but there’s a case to be made that it was the half-ton crew cab pickup truck that truly replaced the large sedan as America’s family hauler. From 2002 onward, domestic full-size SUV sales began to trend downward, as pick-up sales, well, picked up.

The crew cab era began in earnest right around that time, with the Ford F-150 SuperCrew and a subsequent GM crew cab trucks debuting in 2002. Over a decade later, and both GM and Chrysler have replaced the rear-hinged doors on their extended cab models with a shorter crew cab model, supplemented with even bigger crew cab models that feature massive rear doors.

Shortly before we were invited to test out the Ram 1500 EcoDiesel CrewCab (the bigger of the two 4-doors in Ram nomenclature, with QuadCab being smaller) shown above, TTAC was loaned another Ram 1500 CrewCab – a Pentastar V6 Outdoorsman model, which featured the 8.4″ UConnect system, the lockable Ram Box storage system and a rather spartan interior with drab hard plastics and cloth upholstery (appropriate given the nature of the truck, but a little surprising given the $46,000 pricetag).

The timing of the Outdoorsman test coincided with a reunion for the summer camp I attended as a youth. Located roughly 200 miles from Toronto, the route to the camp is largely composed of rural two-lane highways with some decent grades and winding roads – a good place to put the Pentastar V6 and the new 8-speed automatic to the test.

With its enormous interior space, the CrewCab Ram acquitted itself well with my passengers, all of whom were over 6’2″. No sedan could possibly give them this much space to stretch out, not even the legendary Town Car Signature L. The air suspension provided an effortlessly smooth ride along the less-than-perfect stretches of pavement we traversed. But the Pentastar V6, as refined as it may have been, was a little lacking in power, especially when passing on two-lane highways. Some leeway has to be granted, on account of the Ram hauling a combined weight of 840 pounds of human cargo, plus the associated detritus, but the Pentastar’s power delivery wasn’t quite effortless. Last time we traversed these roads, we had used a friend’s Sierra 2500HD with a 6.6L Duramax diesel, and I found myself wishing for that kind of turbocharged torque that one can find in a diesel or an Ecoboost Ford.

2014-Ram-1500-diese-logo

Two months and 2547 miles later and I’m staring face to face with Mopar’s answer for how to get some real grunt without sacrificing n the green front. The Ram EcoDiesel is indistinguishable from the regular Ram, save for the fender mounted emblem shown above. Under the hood is a 3.0L V6 made by VM Motori. Originally planned for the Cadillac CTS, the diesel engine puts out 240 horsepower (43 less than the Pentastar V6) and 430 lb-ft (20 more than the 5.7L Hemi V8). Drawing comparisons to a Cadillac might be a bit of a stretch, but the V6 oil burner is incredibly refined. There is very little clatter at start-up or at idle, and the traditional diesel noises are largely kept in check. One noteworthy change is the addition of a Diesel Exhaust Fluid gauge in the cabin. DEF is used as part of the emissions control package, and the fluid is meant to be replenished at 10,000 miles (the same interval as the engine’s oil). However, regulations require that the engine must be disabled when the DEF supply is exhausted, so keeping an eye on its levels is essential.

Most of the seat time in the diesel Ram came in the form of various stop-and-go scenarios as part of the city driving loops, with the diesel returning a very impressive 24 mpg according to the vehicle’s trip computer. While the Pentastar V6 is said to add about a second and a half compared to the Pentastar Ram’s 7.5 second 0-60 time, the diesel felt much stronger, with plenty of torque available throughout the rev range. Merging and passing was a cinch, with the feel resembling that of a boosted gasoline engine. In a blind taste test, nobody would confuse the Pentastar, the Hemi or the diesel, but the oil-burner’s overall feel is closer to that of the Ford EcoBoost V6 than a traditional heavy-duty diesel engine. Although towing wasn’t a part of my drive, Ram claims that the diesel can haul up to 9,200 lbs with the right equipment.

The biggest sticking point for the diesel is likely the amount of time it will take to break even on the $4,500 premium the diesel commands. Based on a national average prices of $3.62 for gasoline and $3.97 for diesel, the payback over the Pentastar V6 will take decades. When the diesel is put up against the Hemi, the proposition makes more sense, taking about 5 years to pay off.

Nevertheless, rationality doesn’t always play in to these kind of purchasing decisions, as evidenced by the legions of buyers who frequently opt for fuel-efficient vehicles that in reality take lots of time to provide any kind of ROI. The notion of a diesel half-ton pickup will likely prove alluring for many in terms of curb appeal, and the powertrain’s combination of brawn and refinement will win buyers over on the dealer test drive. Otherwise, there’s very little to distinguish the diesel from gasoline powered Ram 1500s. And that’s hardly a bad thing.

Ironically, Ram wasn’t even supposed to be the first one to market with a diesel. At the end of the last decade, Ford reportedly shelved a 4.8L twin-turbo diesel V8, fearing that it would steal sales away from the Super Duty trucks.  They won’t be the second one either, since Nissan will release a half-ton diesel Titan within the next year or two. It appears that in this marketplace, the Super Duty trucks are gravitating towards the traditional heavy-duty users, while half-ton trucks are creeping upmarket, serving as replacements for all manner of large cars. Features like four full-size doors, better ride characteristics and lots of passenger space helped spur this trend – and the increasing push towards better fuel economy will only keep it going.

Chrysler provided airfare, accommodations and meals for the event. Photos courtesy AutoGuide.com

 

 

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Review: 2014 RAM ProMaster Cargo Van (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/review-2014-ram-promaster-cargo-van-with-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/review-2014-ram-promaster-cargo-van-with-video/#comments Tue, 01 Oct 2013 16:00:44 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=524961 2014 RAM ProMaster Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

I have driven more cars than I can count this year but strangely enough, none of them excited me as much as the Fiat Ducato we had in July. Why? Well, my snazzy new retaining wall that arrived pallet-by-pallet in the Ducato certainly helped, but the real reason is: the Ducato serves as the basis for the 2014 RAM ProMaster. Yes, I know I have an odd place in my heart for commercial cargo haulers, but hear me out. The ProMaster quite simply the biggest thing to happen in the commercial world in my lifetime. The only thing that could have surpassed the intrigue of a front-wheel-drive cargo hauler would be a front-wheel-drive BMW M5. I know Europeans have had these things for a while, but let’s revel in the American novelty as we click past the jump.

Click here to view the embedded video.

First things first. The ProMaster isn’t a Ducato with a RAM stuck on the front. Instead, Fiat and Chrysler decided to do their most interesting joint venture project thus far: refresh/re-design the Ducato with the North American market in mind. Why bother? Because major changes needed to be made to meet US legislation so the team took the opportunity to tweak just about everything. If you’re a Ducato fan, keep reading because I suspect that many of the American market changes will trickle back to the EU over time.

Exterior

With cargo haulers, it’s important that form follow function. The “box-on-wheels” is eminently practical. Because of this not much has changed externally from the Euro version and shoppers still have three body choices: a cargo van with or without windows, a chassis cab or a cutaway. Up front we still have the utilitarian dark grey bumper covers in a three-piece arrangement. The logic is that if you’re in a minor scuff-up, you can replace just the portion of the bumper you need to instead of the whole thing. Since they are all the same color regardless of the color of the van, parts costs are kept low and you can afford to have one or two in inventory.

Breaking from American tradition, the rear bumper is thin and shallow. While this makes me wonder what kind of body damage happens when the van gets hit in the rear, it makes forklift loading easier and keeps the van’s dimensions down. When it comes to dimensions, the ProMaster breaks from the mold. Rather than having an identical bodies in 1500, 2500 and 3500 versions, RAM’s ”levels” dictate  which of the four bodies, three wheelbases and two roof heights you get. The 1500 is the only version available with a low roof in two different lengths. The 2500 and 3500 are high roof only and all that really changes is the wheelbase and body length. The shortest ProMaster is 29 inches shorter (body length) than a GM standard van while the longest is 26 inches longer than GM’s largest van. Regardless of body, you get 16-inch wheels wrapped in 225/75R16 rubber. The small tires and wheels are a result of the Euro roots and the contrast between the small wheels and enormous body make the ProMaster look a little like a pregnant roller skate.

2014 RAM ProMaster Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Cargo Hauling

The slab sides mean we get a large square rear opening almost as large as the van’s cross-section. This is significant change from GM and Ford’s existing vans where the rear portal is notably smaller than the cargo area. At 62 inches wide and 60 inches tall, the rear opening in the low-roof ProMaster is 5-inches wider and 13-inches taller than a GM/Ford van. Similar to Mercedes’ Sprinter, the ProMaster’s side doors swing 260 degrees and latch nearly parallel to the side of the van. The ProMaster’s sliding door rolls on an external stainless track for easy maintenance and thanks to the 49-inch wide, 60-inch tall (low roof) opening it reveals, you can insert one pallet in the side and one in the rear, something you can’t do in an E-Series or Savana. You can add a driver’s side sliding door for a reasonable $575 or $650 with glass, but if you prefer the side “barn doors” in your cargo hauler, look elsewhere. The RAM is sliding only.

Once you get beyond the unorthodox looks, you begin to realize how enormous the ProMaster is. At 283 cubic feet, smallest ProMaster (1500 short wheelbase) swallows one cubic foot less than GM’s biggest factory van. Need more? RAM’s positively ginormous ProMaster 3500 will haul 530 cubes, nearly twice the capacity of GM and Ford’s largest factory option. In fact when you look at the numbers, the ProMaster 3500 extended body extended wheelbase will schlep more than the average 12-foot box truck and nearly as much as the elusive 14-foot box truck.

A unique offering (so far) in the ProMaster is the factory installation of a steel bulkhead between the cargo and passenger compartment. GM and Ford offer a few dealer installed options but the total cost is higher than the ProMaster’s reasonable $495 for the partition with a window (about a hundred bucks less if you don’t want to look behind you.) Adding the partition not only improves safety but because of the factory fit and seal, it reduces cabin noise and improves air-conditioning performance. (An important consideration when you operate a black fleet in Phoenix.) 2014 Ram ProMaster 3.6 liter chassis with Pentastar V-6

Construction & Payload

Cargo volume without payload capacity is useless, and this is where the ProMaster’s Euro roots become obvious. The RAM doesn’t follow the American convention when it comes to payload scales. Not only can the 1500 haul as many widgets as an extended Ford or GM van, the payload capacity is just 111 lower than GM’s sturdiest cargo hauler and a full ton more than a Ford or GM 1500 series van. Scaling up to the 3500, payload increases to 5,290lbs. That is nearly 900lbs more than the highest payload Ford or GM. As a result it is more realistic to compare the base ProMaster to the GM 2500 series extended vans in terms of capability. Logically the ProMaster is also priced in this fashion starting about the same as that 2500 extended van.

How can a front wheel drive unibody cargo van haul that much stuff? Easy. It’s not really a unibody. Unibody haters can put down their pitchforks, the ProMaster is a hybrid, which explains how they can slice those enormous doors into the side of the van without it collapsing like a house of cards. Essentially bonded to the vehicle’s floor, is a heavy-duty rail system that stretches from bumper to bumper. For the US market this frame has been beefed up for higher payloads and rougher roads. You can see the FWD benefit in the picture above: by using a FWD drivetrain, the load floor doesn’t have to sit on-top of the transmission, driveshaft or differential allowing it to hug the ground. At 21 inches the ProMaster’s load floor is 7-inches lower than the closest competitor and even the forthcoming Ford T-Series won’t improve on this much because of the RWD layout.

2014 RAM ProMaster Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Interior

American cargo vans have never been known for modernity, creature comforts or leg room. The ProMaster, like the Nissan NV breaks the mold but the two vans do it in different ways. The Nissan puts the engine under a long hood while the ProMaster’s mill is transverse mounted freeing up leg room. The difference is night and day and my right leg remained un-cooked even after a 2 hour drive.  The first thing you’ll notice about the interior is how utilitarian it is. Easy to clean plastics span the interior (read: hard plastic), there’s a clip board integrated into the dash and instead of carpet you get a hard plastic floor with some textured grips. The second thing you’ll notice is how high off the ground you are. The passenger floor is 6-7 inches higher than the cargo load floor because everything that the ProMaster needs to move is located in front of or beneath the passenger compartment. This has two benefits, it allows the load floor to be lower to the ground and it also makes chassis cab and cut-away up-fitting easier. There are two access panels in the floor, one allows access to the battery (it’s the large one you can see in the picture above) and the other allows access to the fuel sending unit. Anyone who has a fleet of GM vans will tell you that replacing a fuel pump is a royal pain because you have to drain and drop the tank to get to it. In the ProMaster you just pop the cover off and have at it.

Chrysler decided to upgrade the headrests to a car-like fabric design instead of the rubbery Euro versions but the rest of the seat design is the same. This means we have a spring-loaded driver’s seat that adjusts for height, tilt, recline and fore/aft. Sadly the steering wheel is not as adjustable as it telescopes but does not tilt. In an interesting twist, the three-across seating option has made it across the pond for a very reasonable $225. This isn’t a bench seat, it’s a two-person seat that replaces the single passenger seat so the driver retains the more comfortable throne. While I think the Nissan NV’s thickly padded seats are the most comfortable commercial seats ever designed, the ProMaster takes an easy second place. If you want a splash of luxury, you can heat the seats for $170 a pop, adjustable lumbar support for $50, and a leather wrapped tiller for $145. If you hate your employees, vinyl seats can be had for $100.

 

2014 RAM ProMaster Interior, uConnect 5, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Infotainment

In Europe the Ducato doesn’t get much techno-love, but we Americans are a different lot so we get Chrysler’s 5-inch uConnect system as an option. While not radical by itself, the fact that there is the option of a well-integrated touchscreen navigation and entertainment system available in a commercial cargo van is practically earth shattering. The closest this segment comes is the Nissan NV which can be had with the Nissan Versa’s “Low Cost Navigation System” for $795, but only on certain models. The ProMaster on the other hand is very ”ala carte” allowing you to add just the $395 touchscreen system with a CD player, XM radio, iPod/USB integration and voice commands, or option all the way up to the navigation software for an additional $395.

The 5-inch uConnect system is the result of the Fiat/Chrysler/Microsoft relationship and while the software looks like the larger uConnect 8.4 system, it’s entirely different under the hood. Sadly the system isn’t as responsive ad uConnect 6.5 or 8.4 but it gets the job done better than most systems. Voice commands are logical and the system had no troubles with my music library commands. Sound quality was nothing to write home about, it is a commercial vehicle after all, but it won’t bring you to tears either. In preparation for any impending legislation, the ProMaster can be equipped with a backup cam for $230 and parking sensors for $250.

 

 

 

2014 Ram ProMaster 3.6 liter Pentastar V-6

Drivetrain

The looks, front wheel drive layout and hybrid unibody aren’t the only things that set this van apart. The engines ans transmissions are unique to cargo vans as well. First off, there is no V8. Things start out with Chrysler’s 3.6L V6 engine in every body style. Yes, even that enormous 3500 with 5,291lb in the back and a 5,100lb trailer attached. Sending the 280 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque to the ground is a Chrysler 68TE six-speed automatic transaxle. This compact slushbox is the same transmission found in the Chrysler minivans except they swap in a much lower final gear ratio for ProMaster duty along with seriously upgraded cooling hardware.

For $4,000 you can toss in an Iveco/Fiat 3.0L four-cylinder turbo diesel. Before you laugh, this is the same engine found in certain medium duty Mitsubishi Fuso trucks, so it’s a solid heavy-duty contender. The oil burner cranks out 180 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque, about the same amount of torque you get from GM’s 4.8L V8. This engine is mated to Fiat’s M40 transmission which is a 6-speed robotized manual transmission. Chrysler tell us that they have heavily revised the shift logic and control systems for the American market and as a result this will be a late availability option hitting around January of 2014. If you recall my review of the Ducato, my biggest complaint about the diesel drivetrain was the time it took to complete a 1-2 shift. Chrysler promises this has been corrected and they have also altered the torque pattern for American tastes.

The diesel has a few advantages over the gasoline V6. Oil change intervals stretch out to 18,000 miles, low-end torque is improved, first gear is lower (19:1 including final drive) to help you get off the line with heavy loads and the fuel economy is excellent (based on our Ducato experiences). Oddly enough, that M40 transmission is also a selling point. Because it doesn’t have a torque converter the fluid change intervals are lengthy and the cooling demands are reduced. Fiat tells us the single plate clutch kit for the Ducato is about $150 in Europe and I expect the parts to be about the same price on our shores. How easy is it to replace? That’s the wild card as I haven’t seen a repair manual yet.

2014 RAM ProMaster Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Drive

Thanks to the new low final drive, the RAM is surprisingly quick off the line. The V6 model we tested scooted to 6o in 9.05 seconds, notably faster than the diesel Ducato we tested before. We didn’t get the opportunity to load the ProMaster as fully as the Ducato, but I expect the diesel to be the better hauler when full thanks to the better torque numbers.

Although not normally a consideration with a cargo van, the ProMaster delivers the most civilized ride in this segment. It’s also the easiest to parallel park thanks to an incredibly small 36.3-foot turning diameter in the short wheelbase model, smaller than many mid-size sedans. Even the long wheelbase, long body ProMaster 3500 impresses at 46.8. I know that sounds enormous, but in perspective, a long wheelbase Express needs a whopping 54.6 feet to do the same while carrying 50% less stuff. That’s the difference between accomplishing a U-turn or being the dude blocking all lanes of traffic while sea-sawing a multi-point turn.

Chrysler spent a decent amount of time lauding the Brembo front brakes which they claim gives the ProMaster the best fade resistance in the segment. Admittedly that’s a low bar to jump, but our informal tests around Malibu seemed to bear the claim out. One thing to note however is that with only 225 width rubber making contact with the ground, stopping times are no better than the competition.

2014 RAM ProMaster Exterior-008

Will the ProMaster be a success? I think it’s too early to tell. Fleet buyers are notoriously loyal to specific models because they have so much invested in uniformity. This alone accounts for the Ford E-Series sales leadership, despite being the thirstiest, oldest, and least desirable cargo van going. The largest unknown in the mix is: how reliable will the ProMaster be? Durability and total cost of ownership are extremely important in this segment and that’s an open-ended question. How will the 62TE stand up to a GVWR of 10,000lbs? Will it be as good as GM’s new 6L80 transmission they are finally putting in their vans? Rebuilt units are comparable in pricing so it will all come down to longevity. Chrysler is putting their 5 year, 100,000 mile powertrain warranty on the ProMaster to help entice shoppers. The combination of that small diesel and a long powertrain warranty to calm customer nerves could make a difference. However, if you option the ProMaster up with the diesel and a few options and you’re in Mercedes Sprinter territory and that is a dangerous place to be with the new Sprinter’s 7-speed auto and smooth diesel engine. Chrysler fights back with lower cost of service and ownership claims and a longer warranty.

The ProMaster is a compelling alternative to the Ford and GM 3/4 ton and 1 ton vans. delivering higher payloads and greater cargo capacity with low load floors, a more maneuverable chassis, a small diesel and excellent fuel economy. However, GM’s aggressive pricing and insane fleet purchase rebate program mean the less capable Chevy Express 1500 will likely be $2,000 (or more) cheaper than the least expensive ProMaster. Will the ProMaster’s ergonomic selling points and Euro charm win over commercial America? Or will the forthcoming rear-wheel-drive Ford T-Series (American Transit) win America’s hearts with its 5-cylinder diesel and twin-turbo V6? Stay Tuned.

 

Chrysler provided the vehicle for our testing at a launch event in Southern California. The flight and meals were on Chrysler.

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Fiat To Buy GM’s 50% Share of Diesel Engine Maker VM Motori For Full Ownership http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/09/fiat-to-buy-gms-50-share-of-diesel-engine-maker-vm-motori-for-full-ownership/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/09/fiat-to-buy-gms-50-share-of-diesel-engine-maker-vm-motori-for-full-ownership/#comments Mon, 23 Sep 2013 16:29:17 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=526065 logo_vm_motori

Ownership of VM Motori, the Italian maker of the V6 diesel engines offered in the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Ram 1500, is currently split 50/50 between General Motors and Fiat. But according to Automotive News, Fiat is looking to buy the other 50 percent, completing its ownership stake.

GM bought half of the company in 2007 from Penske Corp. and Fiat bought the other half two years ago. Over the weekend, Fiat released a statement indicating that GM now wants to sell Fiat it’s share of the diesel manufacturer, ”GM’s notification to exercise its put option to sell to Fiat its 50 percent interest in VM Motori is in line with the contracts Fiat entered into when it acquired a 50 percent stake in VM in 2010.” Though GM is relinquishing their stake in VM Motori, it’s still possible that they may source diesel engines from the Cento, Italy company. Fiat controls Chrysler and the Detroit automakers have a recent history of collaboration, as in Ford and GM developing transmission together. The deal on VM Motori is expected to close by the end of the year.

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