The Truth About Cars » Future Vehicles http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Thu, 24 Apr 2014 23:59:34 +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 » Future Vehicles http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com BMW to Turn FWD Up to Eleven With UKL1 Chassis http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/bmw-to-turn-fwd-up-to-eleven-with-ukl1-chassis/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/bmw-to-turn-fwd-up-to-eleven-with-ukl1-chassis/#comments Fri, 06 Dec 2013 15:31:19 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=672834 BMW Active Tourer Concept

If thought of a front-driven ultimate driving machine seems like either the best thing ever or a nightmare, then BMW Sales and Marketing board member Ian Robertson has some good/bad news for you: 11 BMWs and MINIs will soon arrive in the showroom, all underpinned by the UKL1 FWD/AWD chassis.

Though the UKL1 already made its debut last month as the next iteration of the MINI, Robertson confirmed that the first BMW to wear the chassis — the Active Tourer, to be exact — will bow sometime early in 2014. He says that not only will the production version of the mini-crossover be the Bavarian’s first-ever front-driver, the Active Tourer will also sport their first-ever three-pot behind the famous kidney grill.

Regarding the 11 UKL1-based models overall (cut down from a proposed 20), eight MINI variants are expected to come down the ramp, including a Mazda MX-5 fighter and a saloon tailored for the Chinese market, as well five- and seven-seat versions of the BMW 2 Series Active Tourer, an SUV slotted underneath the X1, and supermini aimed at Audi’s A1.

The BMW Group as a whole has enjoyed a record year in sales, with 1.6 million total units through October 2013 heading out to the motorways of Europe. Robertson adds that his employer moves 300,000 MINIs and 200,000 1 Series annually, and is confident that the UKL1 will do just as well.

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Automotive supplier prognosticator predicts demise of the steering wheel by 2025 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/automotive-supplier-prognosticator-predicts-demise-of-the-steering-wheel-by-2025/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/automotive-supplier-prognosticator-predicts-demise-of-the-steering-wheel-by-2025/#comments Thu, 17 Oct 2013 11:00:50 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=625897 The end of the steering wheel

Be afraid. Be very afraid. If the aspirations of one automotive supplier come to pass, your child’s first car will not have a steering wheel come 2025, rendering her or him nothing more than a mere passenger inside a tiny commuter pod.

In this frightening article from The Detroit News, Han Hendricks (no relation to Christina Hendricks), vice president of advanced product development for the Milwaukee, Wis.-based supplier Johnson Controls in their automotive electronics and interiors wing suggests that as auto manufacturers race to develop, and then improve upon, autonomous cars, the driver will figure less and less into the overall scheme of things (something that has been evolving as of late, with parking and lane-keeping technologies as two examples), leading to the deletion of the steering wheel around 2025. To quote:

After 2025, the steering wheel will play a less dominant role in the interior. With fully autonomous vehicles, you don’t have to be forward looking as a driver, you don’t need to have an instrument panel. Then you can really just think of a car as a box that you enter.

All just as well, since by then everything your child will think, do or say will be in the pill they took that day anyway.

To hammer the point home, Hendricks goes on to mention that Johnson Controls is planning to speak with automakers in China, Europe and North America in November about this brave new world, as well as the usual industry experts and visionaries who deal in such things as the transition from driver autonomy to robot car autonomy, all in order to refine their dream of the automated superhighway of tomorrow.

If you’re a driver, however, don’t expect Hendricks to ask you whether or not this is desirable:

It’ll help our vision become more robust. It’s not as if we’re going to go out and ask consumers, because people just don’t think about it.

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Pre-Production Review: 2014 Toyota Tundra (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/09/pre-production-review-2014-toyota-tundra-with-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/09/pre-production-review-2014-toyota-tundra-with-video/#comments Wed, 11 Sep 2013 20:02:31 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=514913 2014 Toyota Tundra Exterior-002

We don’t just love pickup trucks in America, we practically worship them. The half ton pickup truck is an American icon embedded into our music, our entertainment and almost the core of our culture. If you haven’t owned or wanted to own a pickup truck, you’re probably a communist infiltrating American society and should be stopped. Despite inroads from the Japanese competition, the full-size truck market is a solidly American segment that isn’t just led by the big three, it’s dominated by them. In August, RAM took third place with 33,009 pickups sold in the US of A, more than three times the number four player: this week’s Toyota Tundra. Why is this gap so large when Toyota crushes the big three in so many other segments? Let’s explore that while we look at Toyota’s refreshed 2014 Tundra.

Click here to view the embedded video.

When it comes to trucks, we’re talking half-ton cargo haulers, not the compact truck market where Toyota arguably leads. The full-size truck market is about image and brand as much as it is about capability. Aside from men’s razors, no other product in America is marketed in such a completely-divorced-from-reality fashion. We buy trucks both because they haul and because they make us look cool. (Come on, you can admit it.) Truck advertising tells us that real Americans buy trucks, have cattle ranches, sing in country groups and get all the blonde babes. Real Americans also go muddin’, drink Bud and (most importantly) buy American. It is therefore no surprise that Toyota’s biggest market is California. (Make of that what you will.) It’s also no surprise the folks at the launch event were trying hard to sell the Tie-o-ter as the most American pickup on the market. With the highest percentage of American content, plus assembly in San Antonio, there is some truth to their assertions.

Exterior

I think that part of Toyota’s tuck sales problem was the old T100 from 1993-1998. That truck was a half-step between the American mid-size and full-size trucks leading people to consider the T100 more of a mid-size competitor. Then came the 1999-2006 Tundra which grew but failed to keep up with the Americans in terms of styling and dimensions. In 2007 we got the all-new Tundra which yet again grew a half size and was finally competitive with the big three featuring two V8 engines and part-time 4WD. Sales were less than stellar. Why? Toyota believes styling was to blame and I’m inclined to agree. The “bubbly” theme of the old Tundra was fairly emasculating when you parked next to the “rugged” F-150 or RAM 1500.

2014 Toyota Tundra Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

For 2014 Toyota has addressed this problem with an enormous new grille that comes in three flavors (you can see two of them in the gallery) and features a prominent Toyota logo and very upright styling. It’s so upright the front bumper hardly protrudes from the grille at all. The larger and “chromier” grill is flanked by new headlamps that pay homage to the daring big-rig style of the 1994 RAM. The new nose makes the Tundra look bigger and meaner even though the dimensions have barely changed at all. Mainstream looks? Check.

2014 maintains the Tundra’s three cab, two bed, two wheelbase product mix. Things start out with the three-seat, two-door SR and stretch up to the six-seat four-door SR5. In a nod to the large number of truck shoppers that buy for image, not payload, Toyota offers three premium trim levels: Limited, Platinum and 1794. 1794 is named after the ranch that used to operate on the property the Tundra factory was built on. Mainstream product portfolio? Check.

2014 Toyota Tundra Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Interior

Truck makers have finally read the memo that truck shoppers expect passenger car quality interiors. Toyota listened in 2007 but didn’t catch the all important detail “car quality interiors” not “car-like interiors.” Thankfully the 2014 refresh banishes the awkward Camry-esque of the old model for a more masculine design language. Like the competition there is plenty of hard plastic in this cabin, more fake tree than a 1970s suburban tri-level and plenty of bling. I can finally say with a straight face that the Tundra’s interior looks like a truck.

Unfortunately for Toyota, 2014 also brings a raft of refreshed, redesigned and tweaked trucks from the big boys. Compared back to back with the 2014 Silverado and the 2013 RAM, the Tundra’s interior looks a little too “try hard” with shapes that are discordant and not harmonious and parts quality that is a notch below the pack. The F-150 is getting a little old with a 2015 redesign widely expected, but I still find the Ford’s interior to be a better place to spend my time than the Tundra. Mainstream interior? Check.

2014 Toyota Tundra Interior, entune, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Infotainment

2014 brings a few changes to the Tundra’s infotainment head unit. The major change is that all Tundra models will come with Toyota’s 6.1-inch Entune system only. The 7-inch system that ran the high-end software shared with the Lexus brand is not available in any model of Tundra. Consider me pleased. Toyota’s low-end system still seems to suffer from a dim LCD but the software itself is slick, speedy and easy to use. As before navigation is optional as is smartphone app integration. If you want the detailed look, check out the video. Mainstream tunes? Check.

2014 Tundra 5.7L V8, Picture Courtesy of Toyota

Powertrain

Delivering a new truck with an old drivetrain isn’t new, Ford’s been doing that for years. Unfortunately Ford is known for refreshing the under-hood-bits the next year while Toyota is known for  maintaining the status quo until a redesign. Unless Toyota breaks from tradition, this puts the Tundra at a serious competitive disadvantage. The base engine is ye olde 4.0L V6 mated to Toyota’s tried-and-true (but also tired and behind the times) 5-speed automatic. The rated 270 ponies and 278 twists are competitive with RAM’s 3.6L V6 and Ford’s 3.7L V6 on paper where torque is more important than horsepower for towing, but in the real world Ford’s 6-speed automatic makes better use of the power and 2014 brings ZF’s 8-speed to the RAM 1500 giving Chrysler’s 3.6L engine three more 60% more gears to play with. Toyota claims the V6 exists for a low entry price and as a result doesn’t even list a rated towing capacity for the V6 SR model. (Toyota says it’s 4,400 lbs.) I think that’s a serious mistake when we take two things into account. First, many truck buyers, especially those in California where Toyota is making headway, have no idea what a trailer even looks like. Second, Detroit is changing their tune on the V6 models changing them from entry engines to fuel efficient options that can haul some serious loads. RAM’s 2014 V6 model will tow 7,450lbs. Toyota was quick to say that they are the only ones with SAE verified towing numbers but I’m here to tell you the Chrysler 3.6L V6 and ZF 8-speed transmission are a weekend warrior’s towing wet dream.

Because the V6 is the milquetoast discount engine, Toyota offers two different V8s to fill out the product portfolio. Because Toyota only offers the V6 on the base SR model with the regular cab, most buyers will have a V8 under the hood. Both V8s are closely related to the engines found in modern Lexus models and as such are buttery smooth with a rich V8 burble and a torque curve that’s higher and “peakier” than the American competition. The 4.6L V8 is good for 310 horsepower and 327 lb-ft of torque, only slightly higher than GM’s 4.3L V6 and well behind Ford’s fire-breathing Ecoboost 3.5L V6. Still, this is not going to be the most popular engine because most Tundras will have Toyota’s 381HP 5.7L V8 capable of cranking out 401 lb-ft. Both V8s are mated to a mode modern 6-speed automatic which is on par with GM and Ford but notably shy of the RAM’s new ZF 8-speed for 2014. If you need more power TRD will be selling the same supercharger kit as before (as a TRD accessory it is covered by the Toyota factory warranty) which bumps the 5.7 to a class blowing 504HP and 550 lb-ft.

2014 Toyota Tundra Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Driving and hauling

If you are one of the few that tow with their pickup truck, you may be happy to know that Toyota is the only company that follows the SAE standard completely when determining tow ratings.  Or, like me, you may look at the situation more skeptically and say “OK, so Dodge, Ford and Chrysler fiddle with their numbers” but does that matter? Not to me. The big three’s 1500 series trucks all slot in around 10,000 lbs with Chevy currently claiming king of the hill. Big deal. How the vehicles behave while towing is more important to me than the numbers and with that in mind there is one clear winner: the 2014 Ram 1500. Why? It’s all about ZF’s 8-speed automatic. The octo-swapper is two gears ahead of the competition and as a result can better keep the engine in its respective power band. Towing with Chrysler’s 3.6L V6 and 8-speed automatic is an eye opening experience and even though Chrysler’s 5.7L V8 lacks the power of the larger GM and Ford V8s the extra gears make a huge difference. Still, most half ton truck owners in suburbia have a truck because they bought a Ski-Doo and can’t imagine towing a 500-pound jetski behind a crossover with a meager 5,000 pound tow rating. (Seriously, I know some of these people.) With that in mind we can just say everyone in this segment can tow more than you need.

Out on the road the Tundra drives just like a pickup truck. If you had hoped that Toyota’s badge on the nose would turn the full-size cargo hauler into a FR-S on stilts you will be disappointed. The Tundra tips/dives and leans just like a Chevy, RAM or Ford and like the competition the horizontal grip varies depending on the cab, bed and rubber you choose. Steering is accurate but numb amd cabin noise is well controlled for a pickup truck.

2014 Toyota Tundra Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

With limited time behind the wheel of the pre-production models I must draw my V6 experience from a dealer provided 2013 model. The V6 is slow and thirsty, with the 5-speed automatic always a step behind what’s required. The 4.7L V8 is thirstier than the V6 but doesn’t drink anymore than the competition. Power delivery is smooth and  the 6-speed automatic shifts firmly with a relative eagerness to downshift when towing. The 5.7L V8 drinks like a college co-ed on spring break and has a somewhat high (3,600 RPM) torque peak which makes it feel out of sorts when towing compared to GM’s 6.2L monster.

After a day tossing the Tundra around Washington state and towing trailers with unknown weights inside (seriously, nobody seemed to know how much weight was in the demo trailer) I came to the conclusion that the Tundra is finally a solid middle of the pack contender. With the exception of ye olde 5-speed on the V6, there’s nothing about the Tundra that’s smaller, weaker, less masculine or less capable than the popular configurations of the Detroit trucks.

Everything about the Tundra is quintessentially middle of the pack, but does that make it the Goldilocks of the 1/2 ton truck market? Yes and no. In the pursuit of mainstream, Toyota has abandoned the attempt to be class leading. As a result, there is nothing extraordinary about the Tundra in a positive or negative way except, possibly, Toyota’s reputation for reliability. In a segment where brand is practically more important than payload and towing (just ask the Chevy vs Ford guys), that’s a problem for Toyota as it gives shoppers little reason to try something new. The 2014 Tundra is the best pickup truck Toyota has ever made and it’s a solid alternative to any of the American pickup trucks.  But, unless Toyota breaks out of their shell and does something radical, the Tundra isn’t likely to sway many shoppers in the heartland.

 

Tundra flew me to Seattle to sample the Tundra refresh.

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Better Brighter Future Delayed: Commercial Airliners Vulnerable To Hacks Via Android http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/04/better-brighter-future-delayed-commercial-airliners-vulnerable-to-hacks-via-android/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/04/better-brighter-future-delayed-commercial-airliners-vulnerable-to-hacks-via-android/#comments Fri, 12 Apr 2013 15:22:09 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=484348

As the technology that will one day network cars together and reorganize the roads in the name of safety and efficiency continues to rush towards us, word comes that the computerized systems used to control commercial aircraft in flight are now vulnerable to hackers via android devices. Net-Security.org is reporting on an April 10th presentation at the “Hack in the Box Conference” by German security consultant Hugo Teso during which he demonstrates how a wireless device can be used to transmit malicious code into an aircraft’s computer through at least two different systems currently used to exchange information between aircraft and ground stations. Those of you who are already afraid to fly will want to read all of the excruciating details here: http://www.net-security.org

Like many people, I believe that the highways of the future will be heavily automated. The possibilities of computerized roads are enormous and the technology could change the way our society functions by combining the benefits of cheap, efficient public transportation with the convenience enjoyed by car owners today. Imagine a world where a car will arrive at your doorstep moments before you leave for work, carry you in comfort and privacy on a trip that will meet with no traffic jams, stop at no lights, and during which you will be free to watch TV, browse the internet, catch a nap or just look out the window. Upon dropping you off, the car will then head off to its next customer or, if you are one of the Neanderthals who insist on owning your own vehicle, head off to a designated parking facility until you summon it again.

That future is heavily dependent upon the seamless integration of a number of networks and like modern aircraft, cars of the future will need to exchange a great deal of data to coordinate even the simplest of trips. Within that coordination lies the opportunity for mayhem and our lives will hang in the balance. While I look forward to that better, brighter future, for the time being I will keep my feet firmly on the ground and my hands wrapped around the steering wheel.

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Swedish Nose Job Mania (aka the 2014 Volvos have leaked) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/02/swedish-nose-job-mania-aka-the-2014-volvos-have-leaked/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/02/swedish-nose-job-mania-aka-the-2014-volvos-have-leaked/#comments Tue, 19 Feb 2013 18:35:27 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=478161

Nose jobs are half price in Sweden and Volvo is doubling down on 2014 rhinoplasty. The Swedish auto news site Teknikens Värld has posted  high-res leaked photos of Volvo’s 2014 lineup and every model except the dead-to-America C30 and ancient XC90 is getting a refresh inside and out.

For more pictures, click on over to Teknikens Värld’s gallery, for the translation of the details, stay put.

2014 Volvo S60

The S60 gets a new nose for 2014 dropping the LED light bars on either side of the grille for a larger maw, slightly larger headlamps and revised air intakes since fog lights haven’t been an option for a while. LED lovers fear not, there are still LED daytime running lamps, but they are now bars  in the area formerly used for fog lights. There are of course new wheels, and a new bumper out back with integrated exhaust tips ala the Lexus LS. Inside the changes are largely limited to the instrument cluster which has been snagged from the Euro-only V40 wagon and features a large LCD divided into sections and the addition of long-awaited shift paddles on the steering wheel. No word yet on whether the “active” high beams and cornering lamps will find it to our shores. Volvo is also updating their Sensus system in Europe to include internet connectivity, and a new touchscreen with infrared sensing to allow gloved users to stab to their heart’s content. Giving Volvo’s track record, don’t expect that to make it to America and there’s also no word about the touted low-speed autonomous highway driving mode either.

2014 Volvo XC60

The XC60 gets essentially the same treatment as the S60 with the new corporate schnozz grafted onto the existing CUV sheetmetal. It appears that Volvo has taken some of the style criticism to heart and made their offset radar sensor blend into the new horizontal grille. You’ll find integrated bumper-integrated exhaust tips out back, the same disco dash cluster as the S60 and if you live in Europe some tweaked engine options. As with the S60 there will be shift paddles available on the new steering column but there’s no word yet on whether the “active” high beams and cornering lamps will find it to our shores.

2014 Volvo S80 and 2014 Volvo XC70

Changes to Volvo’s larger and older sedan and crossover wagon seem largely limited to small tweaks to the grille. Since the S80′s cooling opening has always been wider than the other models there is less of a visual impact with this change. It would seem that the S80 will also be getting the new instrument cluster although the XC70 appears to be left in the cold. Rounding out the mild refresh is more chrome bling on the outside and the same gadget upgrade as the S60 and XC60.

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Review: 2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid (Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/12/review-2013-ford-c-max-hybrid-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/12/review-2013-ford-c-max-hybrid-video/#comments Fri, 14 Dec 2012 15:55:44 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=467787

Up till now there hasn’t been a “real” Prius alternative on the market. Sure Honda has the Civic and Insight, but their real-world MPGs can’t hold a candle to the green-car poster child and Honda’s IMA hybrid system is far from smooth and refined. The Volt is more of a novelty with its lofty price tag and the last time we tested one we revealed a lowly 32MPG average when running gasoline only. This brings us to the blue oval. Despite Ford using essentially the same technology as Toyota for their hybrid systems, Ford resisted creating a dedicated hybrid model. Until now. Meet the 47MPG 2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid. Of course we’ve all heard the news that the C-MAX doesn’t hit 47MPG, so click-through the jump to find out what we averaged and whether or not that should matter to you.

 

Click here to view the embedded video.

Exterior

What Ford didn’t do was create a futuristic wedge-shaped car on a dedicated platform crafted from light-weight ultra-eco-friendly materials in an attempt to create the most efficient car in America. Disappointed? Don’t be, because the benefits may just outweigh the drawbacks. Instead Ford took the existing (since 2011) Focus-based C-Max from Europe, stuffed Ford’s most powerful hybrid drivetrain under the Euro sheetmetal and slapped some wide (for a hybrid) tires on what might just be the first hybrid hot hatch.

Speaking of that sheetmetal, the C-MAX strikes an interesting pose on American roads looking like the product of crossbreeding a Focus and a Windstar. The resulting hatchback has a tall greenhouse, tall roof-line and some crossover styling cues no doubt to confuse entice the suburban set. Measuring in at 173 inches long, the C-MAX is 2 inches longer than the Focus hatchback on which it is based, but 3 inches shorter than a Prius and 8 inches shorter than a Prius V.

Of course none of this really explains the strange “C-MAX” name. Yes, that’s what it’s called in Europe, but why? Still, it’s no stranger than “Prius” and whatever you think of its name, the C-MAX is considerably more attractive than Toyota’s bulbous hybrid wagon.

Interior

The C-MAX doesn’t just look like a wannabe crossover on the outside, it does on the inside as well. There’s a reason for this. Instead of sharing heavily with the Focus hatch as you might assume, the C-MAX shares parts and interior styling with the 2013 Escape. The only major style change to the dash is a unique instrument cluster similar with twin 4.2-inch LCDs like the Fusion hybrid. Unlike the Prius, you won’t find any thin, hard, weight saving plastics in the cabin. There are no blue-tinted transparent button arrays, no shifter joystick and no center-mounted disco dash either. Instead you will find a premium cabin that would pass muster in any $30,000 vehicle and looks notably more premium than the Lexus CT 200h. The Prius on the other hand is full of plastics and fabrics more at home in a $16,000 econo-box.

The C-MAX seats can be had in your choice of charcoal or a “greyish” tan fabric or leather but regardless of your choice, the majority of the interior is black-on-black. The overly black theme is both very European (in a good way) and a bit cold (in a bad way) for my tastes. Front seat comfort is good thanks to a relatively upright seating position, wide seat cushions and a good range of motion when you get the power driver’s seat. The tilt/telescopic steering wheel made finding a comfortable driving position quick and easy. The upright seating is what allows the C-MAX to have Prius matching rear leg room, an improvement of three inches over the Focus hatchback’s more reclined thrones.

The rear seats are a bit close to the floor for adult passengers but are the right height for most children and young teens. Despite looking tall and narrow, the C-MAX is more than three inches wider than the Prius and this allows three to sit abreast in the rear in greater comfort. The rear seat backs fold completely flat with the 24.5 cubic foot cargo area. Because the C-MAX wasn’t designed as a hybrid from the start, the battery pack occupies all the spare tire space in the C-MAX as well as a few inches on the cargo area floor. The reduced cargo space is a few cubes larger than the Prius liftback but smaller than the Prius V. Despite the cargo hauling reduction vs the European gasoline-only model, the C-MAX easily swallowed four roller bags with room to spare.

Infotainment

Like the Android vs iPhone debate, “infotainment systems” spark fierce debate. No system other than iDrive has received as much bad press, fan-boy rave reviews and healthy imitation as the strangely named “MyFord Touch.” (Really, what was wrong with SYNC?) The system (optional on SE, standard on SEL trim) combines your climate, entertainment, telephone and navigation chores into one integrated system that looks snazzy and responds via voice commands to your every whim. When it landed in 2010 it became obvious the software was rushed to market complete with more bugs than a bag of 5-year-old flour. Still, the system is still unique in the market for allowing you to voice command just about everything from your destination to your temperature and what Madonna track you want to listen to from your iPod.

The C-MAX benefits from a major software update released in March of 2012 (for all Ford products) to make the system more responsive. While the system never had a melt-down during my testing (a first for MFT), the slowness the system is known for persists. Like most MFT equipped vehicles, the C-MAX teams a snazzy in-dash touchscreen with twin 4.2-inch LCDs on either side of the speedometer. Perhaps a first for a hybrid vehicle, you won’t find a single screen on the main MFT screen that displays hybrid system information. No animated screen with a battery/motor/engine scree, no wacky driving hints, no fuel economy charts. Aside from the efficiency leaves that replace the climate option on the right-side 4.2-inch LCD and the intuitive kW gauge on the left LCD, there is nothing to identify the C-MAX as a trendy gasoline/electric people mover, and I think I like the move. Despite the system’s obviously flaws, MFT is far slicker and user-friendly than the Prius or Volt’s infotainment options.

Is Ford’s transmission a Toyota transmission?

The short answer is no. Long before Ford produced a hybrid vehicle, Ford and Toyota put out plenty of prototypes and concept cars. Both companies recognized the similarities of their competing hybrid designs and geared up for lawsuits. (Both designed shared plenty of cues from a TRW system from the 1960s.) Ford and Toyota did something rare in our litigious society, they settled and cross-licensed each-others technologies but (and most importantly) NOT their specific designs. Ford continued developing the Escape Hybrid solo and Toyota went on their way with Hybrid Synergy Drive. Some confusion was caused by Ford choosing Aisin build their hybrid transaxle for the Escape and Fusion hybrids because they didn’t have the capacity or expertise internally. Fast forward to 2012. Ford decided that in order to reduce costs and drive hybrid sales (for some CAFE credits of course) they had to take the design and manufacturing of hybrid systems in-house.  This means that Ford’s hybrid system’s level of vertical integration is vastly similar to Toyota.

Drivetrain

Under the stubby hood of the C-MAX you’ll find Ford’s completely redesigned hybrid system with a downsized 2.0L Atkinson cycle four-cylinder engine good for 141HP and 129lb-ft of twist. This is down slightly from the old 155HP 2.5L engine in the old Fusion and Escape hybrids, but considerably higher than the Prius’s 98HP mill. In order to achieve the 188 system horsepower (11 more than the old Ford system and 54 more than the Prius) and a TTAC estimated 200-220lb-ft of twist, Ford put a hefty 118HP motor/generator into their in-house designed HF35 hybrid transaxle. If you want to know more about how the Ford and Toyota Hybrid systems work, click here.

Beneath the cargo area in the C-MAX sits a 1.6kWh lithium-ion battery pack. The lithium battery chemistry allows the hybrid system to charge and discharge the pack at rates higher than the old nickle based battery pack (used in the Escape and the Prius). This new battery allows the C-MAX to drive electric only up to 62MPH vs the 34MPH of the Prius. In addition, the C-MAX doesn’t need you to be as gentle on the throttle as the Prius or the older Ford hybrids.

Oh that fuel economy

Fuel economy is a tricky business because your driving style and topography are the biggest factors involved. I would caution readers to never compare my numbers with other publications because the driving conditions and styles are different. The 2012 Prius, when driven gently on my commute, (120 miles round trip with a 2,200ft mountain pass) averaged 46-47MPG which is fairly close to its 51/48/50 EPA rating (City/Highway/Combined). The C-MAX on the other hand averaged 41.5 during our 568 miles of testing and the lowest one-way figure on my daily commute was 39MPG. Sound good so far? There’s a problem, even on a level freeway at 65MPH the C-MAX struggled to get better than 45MPG in 60 degree weather. The Prius in the same situation averaged 50MPG. The Prius V suffered a similar shortfall in my week of testing coming in four MPG below its EPA combined 42MPG rating. We need to put these numbers in perspective. Driving 15,0000 miles a year with gas at $4 a gallon the C-MAX would cost $144 a year more to operate than a Prius and $148 less than a Prius V.

On the road

There are a few reasons the C-MAX fails to meet Ford’s fuel economy claims. The first is the portly 3,600lb curb weight, the second is the wide 225/50R17 tires which have a 23% larger contact patch than the Prius’ 195/65R15 rubber. On the flip side, the wide low-profile rubber pays real dividends when the road bends and the heavy curb weight helps the C-MAX to feel lass “crashy” than a Prius over broken pavement. Coupled with a Focus derived suspension, the tires help the C-MAX set a new benchmark for hybrid handling easily besting the CT 200h. While the electric power steering robs the hybrid hatch of 99% of its road feel, it still manages to be more engaging than a Prius. Admittedly not a hard thing to do.

Stomp on the C-MAX’s accelerator pedal and something surprising (for a hybrid) happens: acceleration. If the road surface is right you’ll even get some one-wheel-peel. Despite weighing a whopping 600lbs more than a Prius, the C-MAX sprints to 60MPH 2 seconds faster posting a solid 7 second run to highway speeds. I’d like to compare it to the Prius V and  Lexus CT 200h, but I gave up after 9.5 seconds. This makes the C-MAX as fast as the Focus ST and faster than a Volkswagen GTI.

In addition to being more powerful, the C-MAX’s hybrid system is capable of operating in EV mode at higher speeds and in a broader range of conditions than the Prius. While it doesn’t seem to help the C-MAX hit its advertised 47/47/47 MPG (City/Highway/Combined) it is a novelty that entertained drivers and passengers alike. Thanks to a more powerful motor, faster discharging battery, and aggressive software, it’s possible to accelerate up to40 MPH in EV mode without pissing off the cars behind you. Doing so brings the C-MAX’s other selling point to light: Ford’s sound deadening measures are extensive and make the C-MAX the quietest hybrid this side of the insane LS 600hL.

Ford has wisely priced the C-MAX aggressively starting at $25,200 and there’s already a Ford $1,000 cash back offer dropping the price to the same as the 2013 Prius’ MSRP and $2,450 cheaper than a Prius V. The up-level SEL model which comes standard with leather, heated seats, rain sensing wipers, backup sensors, ambient lighting, keyless entry/go for $28,200. Should you desire some plug-in love, the Energi model will set you back $32,950. The deal gets even better when you consider the C-MAX has more standard equipment and features and options unavailable in the Prius at any price.

The week after Ford lent me the C-MAX hybrid Consumer Reports’ “bombshell” about the C-MAX’s fuel economy numbers dropped. But does it matter? Is a 41MPG C-MAX a failure? No, and here’s why. The only measurable way the Prius is better than the C-MAX is real world fuel economy where the Prius will save you a few Grants a year. In every other way the C-MAX is superior to the Prius and even the Lexus CT 200h. Does this compensate for the “lackluster” fuel economy? It does in my book. If you’re willing to spend $144 a year in higher fuel costs for a more entertaining ride, this Ford’s for you. The C-Max isn’t just a shot across Toyota’s bow, it’s the first honest-to-goodness competitor on the market. Better yet, it’s not a me-too Prius, it’s a unique and compelling alternative.

Ford provided the vehicle, one tank of gas and insurance for this review

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.9 Seconds

0-60: 7.05 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 15.55 Seconds @ 92 MPH

Average Fuel Economy: 41.5MPG over 625 Miles

 

2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid, Exterior, side, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid, Exterior, Rear 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid, Exterior, Front, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid, Exterior, front, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid, Exterior, Rear, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid, Exterior, Rear 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid, Exterior, hybrid logo, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid, Exterior, side 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid, Exterior, front, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid, Exterior, wheel, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid, interior, cargo area, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid, Interior, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid, interior, dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid, interior, dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid, interior, front seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid, interior, front seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid, interior, rear seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid, interior, rear seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid, Interior, Gauges, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid, interior, instrument cluster, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid, interior, instrument cluster, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid, interior, instrument cluster, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid, Infotainment, MyFord Touch, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid, Infotainment, MyFord Touch, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid, Picture Coutesy of Ford Motor Company 2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid Transmission Diagram, Picture Coutesy of Ford Motor Company 2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid Transmission Diagram, Picture Coutesy of Ford Motor Company Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]>
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Pre Production Review: 2013 Lexus LS 460 and LS 600hL http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/08/pre-production-review-2013-lexus-ls-460-and-ls-600hl/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/08/pre-production-review-2013-lexus-ls-460-and-ls-600hl/#comments Fri, 10 Aug 2012 15:50:12 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=455800

The LS and I have had a long relationship. Back in 1993 I was an impressionable teenager nearing that holy-grail of ages: 16. This meant I dreamt of driving constantly. My parents were Oldsmobile and Chrysler folks, so my choices were a 1980 Custom Cruiser, a 1985 Cutlass Ciera, or a 1988 Grand Voyager. The Oldsmobiles were diesel. Need I say more? One day my best friend’s dad pulled up in a brand-new 1993 Lexus LS 400 for the school run. I had no idea cars could be assembled with that kind of precision and my world was changed forever. Needless to say, when the Lexus invited me to the unveiling of the fifth-generation LS, my expectations were set high.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Exterior

The first thing to know about the all-new fifth-generation LS is it’s not all-new. 2013 brings a major refresh to the “FX40″ LS sedan where some 3,000 parts were changed compared to the 2006-2012 model (which was face-lifted in 2009). Being a major refresh, there are sheetmetal changes and only the doors, roof and rear quarter panels remain the same. Lexus fitted a very aggressive interpretation of their new “spindle” finally giving the LS similar “rear-view mirror” presence as the German competition.

Interior

Lexus has a reputation for interior perfection. Even though we were in a pre-production car (which normally means there’s going to be something wrong), there wasn’t so much as a seam out of place. That’s not to say that the LS is class leading in interior parts. The LS 460 still uses a molded dash and pleather door panels while Mercedes and BMW have been doubling down on stitched leather goodness.

While the LS’ seats are among the most comfortable I’ve ever sat in, the GS’ 18-way seats offer a wider range of motion and customization. Should you be lucky enough to be buying an LS to be driven in rather than to drive, the 10-way power rear seats have no equal. Oh, and the right rear seat shiatsu massages. Like Mercedes and BMW, Lexus offers a short and long wheelbase version of the LS. Due to the age of the LS’s basic dimensions however, the LS 460L’s interior is noticeably shorter than BMW’s stretched 7 series.

Aside from the opulence of the rear seat in the stretched LS, the gadget list is a reminder of two things. One: the 2013 LS is a refresh. Two: historically Lexus has been a company that perfects rather re-invents. To that end you won’t find a snazzy LCD gauge cluster or any whiz-bang-I-gotta-have-it tech. Lexus has even quietly removed their complicated self-parking option. Instead, Lexus has doubled-down on what their target market has demanded: perfect leather, perfect seams, the quietest ride you have ever experienced and quantities of wood that would make Jaguar blush.

Infotainment/ Gadgets

In the center of the new dashboard is a standard 12.3-inch infotainment/navigation screen. This latest generation of Lexus “Enform” is essentially the same software as last year’s model, adjusted for a wider screen. The screen is bright and easily readable, unfortunately Lexus’s awkward joystick came along for the ride. If you think iDrive is a pain to use, Lexus’ pointer device may take you to an all-new level of frustration. As with the system in the current GS, the graphics and interface are step behind iDrive, MMI and Volvo’s Sensus.

The optional 19-speaker Mark Levinson audio system is as close to audiophile perfection as you will find in a factory-installed audio system. While the 450-watts on tap places this system behind the Bowers & Wilkins and Bang & Olufsen systems used in the competition, its unlikely to be a problem for most buyers. USB, iDevice and smartphone app integration are the same as in the rest of the Lexus line up delivering a solid and stable interface without voice commands ala Ford’s SYNC and even Toyota’s Entune.

Drivetrain

With all the changes inside and only 50% of the parts being new, it’s obvious what hasn’t changed; the drivetrain. The same 4.6L engine and 8-speed transmission that were ground-breaking in 2006 remain with only minor software tweaks that bump the engine by 6HP to 386HP total, or 360HP when equipped with the optional AWD system. Should you feel particularly spendy, Lexus will continue to offer the LS 600h L delivering 438HP and seemingly unlimited torque through all-four wheels (and consuming large amounts of gasoline in the process). The observant in the crowd will notice these numbers pale in comparison to the twin-turbo V8s from the Germans, but remember that the LS stickers for considerably less.

Drive

When the rubber hits the road, you don’t hear much if you’re piloting an LS. Lexus always been known for  serene rides, but the LS takes things to an all-new level. Even at triple digit speeds, it’s still possible to carry on whispered conversations with rear-seat passengers. The LS is so quiet the new LS F-Sport LS uses a sound tube to duct engine noise from the engine’s intake into the cabin. Aside from this duct, the F-Sport receives no engine modifications making it a suspension and appearance package. Despite this, the F-Sort is more engaging on the winding roads in Northern California than the Mercedes S-Class thanks to low-profile summer tires, but the BMW feels more poised.

Back in the “regular” LS 460, the ride is tuned to the softer side of luxury , especially when the LS is equipped with the air suspension system. It’s not the LS’ spring rates that define the handling however, the curb weight of 4,277-4,794lbs has the biggest impact on what the LS does when you enter a corner. Before you’re ready to dismiss the LS as a land-yacht, keep in mind the V8 S-Class and 7-Series are several hundred pounds heavier than the LS and have a very similar weight balance. The result is a very precise, albeit numb, vehicle.

Our short time with the LS included a hands-on demonstration of Lexus’ new driver assistance systems. First up is Lexus’ first all-speed radar cruise control which, like Volvo and Mercedes’ systems (the best on the market right now) will finally handle stop-and-go traffic. During a 20 mile trip in heavy Bay Area traffic, the system proved itself to be an equal of the benchmark systems.

2013 also brings Lexus’ interpretation of Volvo’s City Safety system. Instead of a single camera and laser scanner, as Volvo’s standard system uses, Lexus uses a stereo camera with IR illumination setup. The Lexus system is active to 24MPH vs 19MPH on the 2010-2012 Volvos and 31MPH on the 2013 Volvo models. In 2011, the IIHS released their first study on City Safety in which they reported the XC60 (the first model with the tech standard) had 27% fewer liability claims, 51% fewer injury liability claims, and 22% fewer collision claims compared to other midsize luxury SUVs. A logical person would conclude that LS models with this tech would reap similar statistics.

My personal history with the LS had set my expectations high and I was honestly somewhat disappointed. But should I have been? After all, Lexus as a brand is steeped in perfection, not necessarily innovation. This fifth generation improves significantly upon the previous generation LS. Compared to the German competition, Lexus has done little to correct the LS’ infotainment deficiencies despite the new wide-screen interface, but the precision with which it is assembled is unequaled. The LS is not without its charm, Lexus continues to deliver the most serene ride on the road this side of a Rolls Royce with large, cushy seats that will coddle your bottom for cross-country road trips. Lexus’ impeccable reliability reputation, coupled with a price that is likely to undercut the competition makes the LS a vehicle that has a place on your short list.

 

 The Lexus event was held locally so no flight was required. Dinner, a hotel room, and all-you-can-drink Coke were provided.

2013 Lexus LS 460 and LS 600hL, Interior, Dashboard, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus LS 460 and LS 600hL, Interior, Dashboard, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus LS 460 and LS 600hL, Interior, Steering Wheel, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus LS 460 and LS 600hL, Interior, Infotainment controls, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus LS 460 and LS 600hL, Exterior, side, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus LS 460 and LS 600hL, Exterior, side, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus LS 460 and LS 600hL, Exterior, F Sport wheels, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus LS 460 and LS 600hL, Exterior, side, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus LS 460 and LS 600hL, Exterior, F Sport front 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus LS 460 and LS 600hL, Exterior, front, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus LS 460 and LS 600hL, Exterior, rear, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus LS 460 and LS 600hL, Exterior, rear, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus LS 460 and LS 600hL, Exterior, rear, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus LS 460 and LS 600hL, Exterior, F Sport logo, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus LS 460 and LS 600hL, Exterior, F Sport grille, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus LS 460 and LS 600hL, Exterior, headlamps, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus LS 460 and LS 600hL, Exterior, headlamps, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus LS 460 and LS 600hL, Interior, rear seats, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus LS 460 and LS 600hL, Interior, Steering Wheel, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus LS 460 and LS 600hL, Interior, Steering Wheel, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus LS 460 and LS 600hL, Interior, Steering Wheel, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus LS 460 and LS 600hL, Interior, dashboard, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus LS 460 and LS 600hL, Interior, center console, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus LS 460 and LS 600hL, Interior, Dashboard, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus LS 460 and LS 600hL, Interior, rear door, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus LS 460 and LS 600hL, Interior, instrument cluster, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus LS 460 and LS 600hL, Interior, instrument cluster, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus LS 460 and LS 600hL, Interior, instrument cluster, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus LS 460 and LS 600hL, Interior, front door, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus LS 460 and LS 600hL, Interior, switch gear, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus LS 460 and LS 600hL, Interior, start button, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus LS 460 and LS 600hL, Interior, Infotainment, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus LS 460 and LS 600hL, Interior, analog clock, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus LS 460 and LS 600hL, Interior, Dashboard analog clock, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus LS 460 and LS 600hL, Interior, rear seats, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus LS 460 and LS 600hL, Interior, front seat controls, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus LS 460 and LS 600hL, Interior, rear seats, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus LS 460 and LS 600hL, Interior, Steering Wheel, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus LS 460 and LS 600hL, Interior, cargo area, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus LS 460 and LS 600hL, Interior, cargo area, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus LS 460 and LS 600hL, Engine, 4.6L V8, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus LS 460 and LS 600hL, Exterior, headlamps, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]>
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Pre-Production Review: 2013 Toyota RAV4 EV http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/08/pre-production-review-2013-toyota-rav4-ev/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/08/pre-production-review-2013-toyota-rav4-ev/#comments Fri, 03 Aug 2012 15:04:05 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=455124  

With California’s Zero Emissions Vehicle mandate looming it is only a matter of time till we see an EV from each of the major players in the California market. Nissan has the Leaf, BMW has the Active E, GM has the Volt and Honda electrified a Fit and Ford has electrified everything that isn’t nailed down. That brings us to the elephant in the room: Toyota. To give us some insight into Toyota’s CARB (California Air Resources Board) compliance plans and to see the fruits of the unlikely Toyota/Tesla marriage, Toyota flew us to sunny Southern California to sample the 2013 RAV4 EV.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Toyota tells us the RAV4 was selected for the same reason they electrified the old RAV4 back in 1997, the platform was able to handle the weight of the drivetrain without much modification. Essentially what we have on the outside of the RAV4EV then is the body of a RAV4 V6 with different bumper covers, headlamps and a new rear spoiler. The overall look is simple, clean and perfectly normal compared to the Nissan LEAF’s bubbly sheetmetal. During our time with the RAV4 EV no heads turned, nobody pointed and smiled. This truly is the sleeper EV.

The changes made to the RAV4 for EV duty are all “additive” meaning it runs on the same production line as the V6 and simply has additional things bolted on like extra reinforcements, mounting bars for the EV drivetrain, etc. These minimal changes seem logical when you consider that Toyota is hedging their bet in the EV game by working with Tesla to get the RAV4 EV to market in around 20 months while at the same time developing the iQ EV completely in-house.

Interior

The inside of the RAV4 EV is pure mid-market CUV, right from the hard plastic dash to the chunky leather steering wheel and the well placed Big-Gulp holders. To make EV owners feel special, Toyota changed the seating surfaces to SofTex (a faux-leather) with a honeycomb weave fabric insert, borrowed the Prius’ electronic shifter, extended the size of the seat heating zones and installed an all-new gauge cluster and infotainment system. Because the batteries are located completely under the RAV4 EV, the seating positions are unchanged and the rear seats retain their reclining feature as well as their fold-flat ability. With the seats duly folded cargo room grows from a standard 37 cubes to an impressive 73 cubes. Should that not be enough storage for you, the under-floor cargo “cubbies” haven’t been converted to batteries. As you would expect, Toyota ditched the power driver’s seat due to weight considerations so be sure you’re happy with the seat height before you buy.

Toyota chose the RAV4 EV as a sort of production “test bed” for technologies that will eventually trickle down to other products if they aren’t vilified by the press if the public takes to them. The first change is a new climate control interface that ditches the majority of the physical buttons for a (nearly) seamless touch sensitive panel. I’m not sure if I like the lack of haptic feedback on these systems, but Toyota tempers this with a snazzy high-res LCD for climate information.

Infotainment

Toyota seems to be in a “button minimalism” binge lately and nowhere is that more obvious than on the new 8-inch Entune radio in the photo above. Want to guess how you adjust the volume or change tracks? We needed Toyota engineer to show us as well. Thankfully the intuitive steering wheel controls remain unchanged.

The new 8-inch system is very responsive and builds on Toyota’s last generation of Entune products. In addition to the larger screen, the graphics and touch screen have been improved, allowing you to drag the map and volume slider and not “clicking” it. In terms of size, the 8-inch screen puts Toyota just behind Chrysler’s 8.4 inch UConnect system. In terms of functionality, this generation Entune system comes a close second to Ford’s MyFordTouch system now that Toyota has integrated voice command of your USB/iDevice music player.

Drivetrain

Under the hood of the RAV4 EV you will find the reason we hopped on a 45 minute flight: the motor from a Tesla Model S. Say what? Yep, the development timeline on the RAV4 EV was able to be so short partly because Toyota worked on the car in parallel with Tesla working on the drivetrain, but also because the RAV4 is using “off the shelf” Tesla parts under the hood.  Wait! The Model S produces 362HP and 325 lb-ft and the RAV4EV is rated for 154HP and 273 lb-ft. What gives? The simple answer is of course: would you want 362HP in a FWD SUV? No, I didn’t think so.

The more complex answer is that while the motor could put out more power, the battery pack and DC/DC converter in the RAV4 isn’t designed to provide that kind of sustained output. In addition to the motor sharing, the RAV4′s charger and DC conversion circuitry are essentially the same unit as the Model S but adapted to the RAV4. Likewise the single speed transmission is very similar but the gearset was redesigned for a front mounted, FWD arrangement. As it is, the system has to keep the torque controlled when starting, so you don’t peel out every time, to that end torque is normally restricted to 218  lb-ft unless you select the Sport mode that allows access to all 273 (and raised the top speed limiter to 100MPH.)

Part of the reason the RAV4 was selected was the popularity of CUVs, the other reason was the ground clearance and chassis design of the RAV4 made fitting the 41.8kWh battery pack (slightly larger than the base Model S) a “bolt-on” affair. While the pack is not the same one used in a Tesla model, as with the other systems the D-cell sized batteries that make up the pack are produced by Panasonic.

Drive

Out on the road, the RAV4 EV drives like a quiet RAV4 V6 with a CVT, thanks to the constantly available torque. Don’t let the horsepower deficit deceive you, 0-60 happens in 6.8 seconds in Sport mode and about a second longer in the torque-reducing normal mode. This is essentially the same as the 269HP RAV4 V6, and quite fast for an EV of any description.

With this kind of forward thrust, FWD and low rolling resistance rubber, torque steer is present, fairly well controlled and strangely entertaining. Front-drive hoons will weep, sadly Toyota seems to have done an excellent job with the traction control system limiting one-wheel-peel to full-throttle turns only.

The big news for the RAV4 EV is: there’s not much to say. While most EVs drive like underpowered vehicles with strangely little off-the-line thrust, plenty of motor whine, grabby regenerative braking and peculiar throttle mapping, the RAV4 EV just drives like a fairly powerful mid-market CUV.

Charging

Like all EVs, charging is the biggest limiting factor for most owners rather than absolute range. Depending on how you drive the RAV4 and whether you are using the heater or the A/C, you can expect between 65 and 120 miles out of your electric crossover before you have to plug it in. With a 41.8kWh battey and a 10kW charger on board, charging your EV is more complicated than with the Nissan LEAF. Why’s that? Let’s dig in.

When the Nissan LEAF and Chevrolet Volt came on the scene two years ago there was a veritable renaissance in the public EV charging network. Prior to these two volume players (and prior to the J1772 standard) EV charging stations were few, far-between and an odd mishmash of 120V plugs, Avcon connectors and various incompatible inductive paddles.

Two years later and California has been united with one plug to rule them all, except that the majority of these charging stations seem to be designed to support a maximum charge rate of 6.6kWh with a fairly large share of 3.3kWh chargers. As a result, plugging your RAV4 EV’s 9.6kW charger into one of these stations would result in charging times that are much longer than the quoted 5-6 hours. Toyota tells us charging time brakes down like this: a full charge at 9.6kW takes 5-6 hours from empty, 7.2kW 8 hours, 6.6kW 9 hours, 3.8kW 15 hrs and should you only have your 120V “emergency cord” handy, the 1.4kW charge will take 52 hours. Ouch.

Like most EVs, don’t even think about buying a RAV4 EV unless you’re also buying a home charging station to plug it in. Toyota’s partner Leviton will sell and install one for $1,500 (not including permits), but you might want to explore that further before you buy an EV, especially if you live in an older home. Be sure to also check with your utility company to see if you qualify for lower “EV rates” or you may see your electric bill rise much higher than you’d think due to those pesky “baseline” charges in California.

If you’re thinking about upgrading from your LEAF to a RAV4 EV, just remember that in addition to your home charging likely being undersized and needing to be replaced, Toyota decided not to support the CHAdeMO DC fast charging standard. Two years ago when the RAV4 started development there was no national standard and there were no CHAdeMO stations in the country so the engineers decided to skip DC charge support until there was a standard. Since there are now (finally) several stations in the Bay Area and a number sprouting up in Southern California, SAE standards aside, it would seem the DC charging standard has been decided but this generation of RAV4 decided to skip the party. Charge convenience aside, you should know that DC quick charging is hard on a battery so if you want your RAV4 to last, then this isn’t really an issue.

Price

If you are between 45 and 65, married, a two car family and have plenty of expendable income, then this RAV’s for you. If you’re outside this demographic, the $49,800 MSRP will cause some serious sticker shock. Since the RAV4 EV comes only one way (fully loaded) and there are only 2,600 going to be built over three years, you’re not only paying for the extremely expensive drivetrain, but for the scarcity of the vehicle. While Toyota would not comment officially or unofficially on the cost of the drivetrain, I detected a “spot on” glance from one of our minders when I surmised that the EV components, excluding R&D costs was somewhere uncomfortably close to the entire $49,800 sticker price of the RAV4 EV. If you choose to think you’re getting a deal, good for you. For the rest of you: lease the EV so you don’t have to worry about little things like battery degradation. Yes there is a California rebate of $2,500 available and a $7,500 tax credit, but depending on your tax situation the IRS may not give you much back. One possible justification for spending about $25,000 more on the EV than the four-cylinder RAV4 is California’s “permanent” carpool access stickers. On my daily commute using the carpool lane solo saved me 30 minutes a day. How much is that worth to you? Your answer needs to be: more than $25,000.

Who is it for?

Excellent question dear reader. As we said, Toyota is targeting a married, affluent demographic in California. To me, this makes some sort of sense. There is just one problem, it seems to me that Toyota and Tesla are fishing in the same, very small, pond with the Model S at $57,400 and the RAV4 EV at $49,800. Either way, if you want some Tesla love on the cheap, the RAV4 EV is the cheaper option.

Why should I care? I’m not buying an EV.

Toyota is using the RAV4 EV as publicly available test vehicle in some ways. How well does this relationship with Tesla go? How does Tesla handle the supply, assembly and warranty side of the RAV4 EV? How do people like the new Entune system? What do real-world EV owners think of the product? All these questions are why the RAV4 EV exists. BUT, CARB’s ZEV mandate is the reason Toyota is willing to lose plenty of cash to answer them. The RAV4 is a large step in the right direction for the EV niche as it is a perfectly practical, perfectly normal feeling CUV. While 99.9% of readers will never end up with one, you’ll likely benefit from what is learned in this process.

Toyota flew me to Newport Beach, fed me a snazzy dinner and a meat-free continental breakfast for this review. Not a fan of our Facebook page? Too bad, if you liked us on FaceBook you’d know what we have on the front burner. Get on, get social and tell us what you want to see. Subscribe to our YouTube channel while you’re at it.

 

2013 Toyota RAV4 EV, Exterior, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Toyota RAV4 EV, Exterior, front grille, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Toyota RAV4 EV, Exterior, headlamps, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Toyota RAV4 EV, coolant reservoirs, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Toyota RAV4 EV, under the hood, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Toyota RAV4 EV, EV motor, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Toyota RAV4 EV, EV drivetrain, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Toyota RAV4 EV, Exterior, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Toyota RAV4 EV, Exterior, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Toyota RAV4 EV, Exterior, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Toyota RAV4 EV, Interior, door switches, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Toyota RAV4 EV, Interior, switches, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Toyota RAV4 EV, Interior, gauges, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Toyota RAV4 EV, Interior, gauges sport mode, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Toyota RAV4 EV, Interior, gauges, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Toyota RAV4 EV, Interior, gauges, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Toyota RAV4 EV, Interior, Entune infotainment, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Toyota RAV4 EV, Interior, Entune infotainment, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Toyota RAV4 EV, Interior, Entune infotainment, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Toyota RAV4 EV, Interior, Entune infotainment, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Toyota RAV4 EV, Interior, Entune infotainment, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Toyota RAV4 EV, Interior, Entune infotainment, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Toyota RAV4 EV, Interior, Entune infotainment, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Toyota RAV4 EV, Interior, Entune infotainment, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Toyota RAV4 EV, Interior, Entune infotainment, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Toyota RAV4 EV, Interior, Entune infotainment, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Toyota RAV4 EV, Interior, Entune infotainment, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Toyota RAV4 EV, Interior, Entune infotainment, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Toyota RAV4 EV, Interior, Entune infotainment, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Toyota RAV4 EV, Interior, buttons, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Toyota RAV4 EV, Interior, shifter, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Toyota RAV4 EV, Interior, dash drivers side, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Toyota RAV4 EV, Interior, dash, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Toyota RAV4 EV, Interior, center console, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Toyota RAV4 EV, Interior, dashboard, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Toyota RAV4 EV, Interior, driver's side, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Toyota RAV4 EV, Interior, steering wheel, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Toyota RAV4 EV, Interior, seats , Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Toyota RAV4 EV, Interior,  rear seats , Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Toyota RAV4 EV, Interior, cargo area rear seats folded, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Toyota RAV4 EV, Interior,  rear seats , Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Toyota RAV4 EV, Interior, cargo area rear seats folded, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Toyota RAV4 EV, charging cable, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Toyota RAV4 EV, Interior, cargo area, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Toyota RAV4 EV, Interior, cargo area, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Toyota RAV4 EV, Interior, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Toyota RAV4 EV, Charging connector, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Toyota RAV4 EV, Interior, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Toyota RAV4 EV, Interior, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Toyota RAV4 EV, Exterior, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Toyota RAV4 EV, Exterior, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Toyota RAV4 EV, Exterior, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Toyota RAV4 EV, Exterior, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Toyota RAV4 EV, Exterior, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Toyota RAV4 EV, Exterior, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Toyota RAV4 EV, Exterior, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Toyota RAV4 EV, Exterior, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Toyota RAV4 EV, EnTune Infotainment System, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]>
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Review: 2012 BMW 328i Luxury Take Two http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/08/review-2012-bmw-328i-luxury-take-two/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/08/review-2012-bmw-328i-luxury-take-two/#comments Wed, 01 Aug 2012 13:00:43 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=453998  

The 3 series has been the benchmark to which all manner of vehicles are measured. The comparisons go beyond the likes of the A4, C-Class and S60 and include things like M3 vs Camaro, 328i vs Prius. There’s a problem with your largest volume product being put on this kind of pedestal: how do you redesign it? Carefully, mildly, infrequently and only when absolutely required. With increased competition from the Audi A4, a redesigned S60 and Caddy’s new ATS, can BMW afford the same formula again? Michael Karesh got his hands on a 328i back in March, while I spent a week testing the 328i in its natural habitat: the California freeway. (Oh, and we spent some time on Lagua Seca as well.)

Click here to view the embedded video.

Exterior

If you’re not a BMW fan, you might mistake the 2012 3-Series for its predecessor, or at the least assume this is just a different trim level of the same. Despite practically nothing being shared with the outgoing model, the exterior looks like a simple facelift with new front and rear bumpers. According to BMW, that’s just how the target demographic likes it. Since the sheetmetal is pleasing to the eye, who am I to disagree?  If you compare side profiles, you’ll find the 3-Series’ wheelbase has been extended two inches while the entire car has been stretched by four inches. The cabin-stretching results in a more balanced and elegant look than before. If you’re into BMW trivia, because of the 3-Series’ perpetual growth, the 328i is just one inch shorter than a 1998 5-Series. Aficionados will bemoan the loss of LED turn signal lamps. Why BMW chose to move one step backwards we don’t know, but their loss won’t bother many shoppers.

In an attempt to create multiple personalities for the 3-Series, the same basic sedan can be had in five different style packages: Modern, Luxury, Sport, M-Sport, and the base model. Exterior differences boil down to different bumper covers, wheels, a sport suspension upgrade on the Sport trims and different answers to the eternal question: to chrome or not to chrome?

Interior

I never cared for BMW’s “double-bump” dash look that put the infotainment screen in a binnacle of its own. Apparently it didn’t do anything for the BMW’s engineers either. For 2012, your choice of standard 6.5-inch or 8.8-inch iDrive displays is permanently fixed to the center of the dash, sans “hood.” The look is reminiscent of the last generation of pop-up Volvo Nav system, sans-pop and is far more pleasing to my eye. The new screen and the Jaguar-like volume of real-tree are clues to the baby Bimmer’s refocused mission: luxury and technology.

2012 brings more wood, metal and plastic trim options than ever before. Also on offer are several finishes for the portions of the interior you see above in matte chrome. Base models continue to come with BMW’s “leatherette” seating surfaces in two shades, while real-cow surfaces are offered in 7 shades with available piping and contrasting stitching. The front seats in our “Luxury line” tester were extremely supportive during a 4 hour road trip and selecting the “sport” seats allows a range of seat contour adjustment that is class leading. Thanks to the wheelbase stretching, rear leg room is up by a quoted 3/4 inch but the adjusted seating positions (slightly more upright) and the shape of the front seat-backs makes the rear larger. Trunk space has grown more considerably to 17 cubic feet, notably larger than even the American-sized trunk in the Lincoln MKZ, despite the considerable intrusion from the trunk hinges.

Infotainment & Gadgets

The 2012 3-Series gets the latest generation of BMW’s iDrive. The system builds upon the previous versions in small, but important ways. Keeping up with the times, BMW has swapped the CD button for a “Media” button which makes accessing your USB and iDevices easier than in the past. You’ll also find an additional USB port in the glove compartment enabling you to have two USB/iDevices plugged in at the same time with an additional device plugged into BMW’s “dock” in the center armrest.

BMW has also taken the next logical step and integrated the infotainment system with the optional heads-up display. While some may look at this as an all-new distraction, if you’re going to be browsing your playlist, you might as well do it while looking at the road. The full-color image is projected onto the windshield from an in-dash LCD that makes the electrofluorescent HUDs used by GM and Toyota look like a 1980′s flash back.

 

Our 328i tester had the “BMW Apps” package, a $250 option on-top of the $2,150 navigation system and $650 “enhanced USB” and BMW Assist (both of which are required to “app” yourself.) If you’re not a gadget freak like I am, app integration won’t matter much to you. If you like the idea of being able to download an app to enhance your infotainment system years after you buy your car, then apps are for you. The current app suite allows you to Facebook, Tweet and stream internet radio from your iPhone to the car’s radio. The twist for 2012 is an all-new Wikipedia app (that can be used on previous generation BMW vehicles with the app option as well). While this may sound silly, the Wiki app integrates with your GPS to find Wiki articles about nearby points of interest. Once a POI is selected, iDrive will download the Wiki article and using text-to-speech, it will read it to you as you roll. While Ford MyTouch has vastly superior voice command options, iDrive’s tasteful high-res graphics, fast interface and superior phone integration make this the system to beat.

If these gadgets float your boat, they can be combined into one package for $3,100 and includes 4 years of the basic BMW Assist (BMW’s version of OnStar). Before you get too excited by the advertisements however keep in mind you have to pay an extra $199 a year for the “convenience” features of BMW Assist like Google send-to-car and the BMW concierge service.

No new European car would be complete without a bevy of luxury and convenience features, especially not the new 3-Series with its new luxury direction. The extensive list includes: blind spot monitoring, top-view camera, heated steering wheel, heated rear seats, lane departure warning, collision warning, radar cruise control, speed limit help, keyless-go, variable steering, adaptive suspension and automatic high-beams. The 328i may start at $36,500, but its easy to option your entry-level 3-Series up to its $57,000 max if you’re nor careful.

Drivetrain

BMW has long been known for their silky-smooth inline sixes, but you won’t find one under the hood of the 328i. Instead, you’ll find the latest fruit of BMW’s direct-injection-turbocharged love affair: the N20. On the surface there is nothing special about BMW’s all-new, all-aluminum 2.0L turbo engine. After all, everyone from Audi to Volvo has a new 2.0L turbo four-banger, so what’s the big deal? Aside from the shock of finding an engine with 33% fewer cylinders under the hood of a 3-Series, not much, and that’s the big deal. Producing 240HP from 5,000 to 6,000RPM and 255 lb-ft of twist from 1,250 to 4,800RPM, this engine is significantly more powerful than the old 3.0L N52 six cylinder, all while being 20% more fuel-efficient and better in just about every way. Due to the nature of a gasoline direct-injection system, the N20 sounds like a quiet diesel at idle. Thankfully, inside the cabin you’d never know since BMW balanced the N20 extremely well and installed so much sound deadening material that you can’t hear the engine in normal driving.

Drive

You may not be able to hear the N20, but you can sure feel it. The Kansas-flat torque curve that drops precipitously after 6,000 RPM is a stark contrast from the old 3.0L engine that loved to sing at high RPMs. While some may miss the power delivery style of the old naturally aspirated six, the N20′s curve is a better match for the ZF 8-speed and average drivers.

The N20 isn’t just 33% shorter than the old N52, it is also 50lbs lighter and sits behind the front axle instead of above it. The effect of the weight reduction and nose-lightening is obvious out on the track where the 328i felt much more nimble than the 335i when driven back to back. The difference was far more pronounced than I had anticipated. In my book, the increased nimbleness is worth the reduction in thrust. While I’m sure my 335i laps were faster, the 328i was more fun. It’s easy to forget how hose heavy the 335i is until you have an identical car with a few pounds removed from the front.

In the 328i’s natural habitat, the urban jungle, you may find the new Start/Stop feature something of a mixed bag. As you would expect, the system turns the engine off while the transmission is in Drive, is stopped and the driver’s foot is on the brake. As you would expect this results in real improvements in city mileage, but there us a problem. The system is far from smooth.

At the heart of the BMW Start/Stop system is a beefier starter and a “glass-mat” 12-volt battery designed to handle the frequent starting. When the engine is warm and the cabin heating/cooling demands are in the right range, stopping at a light will be followed by a less than graceful shudder as the engine turns off. Next, the car turns the HVAC blower down to a gentle breeze to keep the electrical draw low. (Without a hybrid style battery, capacity is fairly low.) The car will automatically start the engine when you release the brake (or when the car decides the engine needs to run for cabin cooling.) Engine restarts are far from seamless with engine cranking, a shudder and a delay to forward progress while the ZF 8-speed’s hydraulics re-pressurize. Passengers used to smooth start/stop cycles in hybrid cars found the start/stop cycles “abrupt” and “jarring.” I found the fuel savings worth the commotion, but if your tastes differ, BMW offers an “off” button. If you live in a hot climate like Phoenix, don’t expect the system to start/stop too often.

After handing the keys for the BMW back something dawned on me. I’d miss the 328i. That’s not a statement I make lightly, or often. Previous 3-Series sedans just didn’t press the right buttons for me, but somehow the this one managed to poke just about all of them. The combination of handsome looks, good fuel economy, nimble handling and gadgets galore is a siren call for gadget geeks in their 30s. The problem? Is the 328i worth the premium? Or should you just buy a Volvo S60 or Audi A4? Unless you’re the kind of shopper willing to put down 5-Series money for a loaded 328i, then the A4 and S60 will deliver 95% of the experience for less and throw in AWD for your troubles. If however you value driving enjoyment, a slick nav and a gorgeous HUD, then the 3-Series is for you. The 3-Series’ benchmark status? Completely safe. For now.

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

Specifications as tested:

0-30: 1.65 Seconds

0-60: 5.72 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 14.25 Seconds @ 100.6 MPH

Average fuel economy: 32.8 MPG over 1,124 miles

 

 

2012 BMW 328i, Exterior, side 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 BMW 328i, Exterior, side, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 BMW 328i, Exterior, wheels, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 BMW 328i, Exterior, front, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 BMW 328i, Exterior, front, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 BMW 328i, Exterior, front 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 BMW 328i, Exterior, BMW Logo, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 BMW 328i, Exterior, headlamp, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 BMW 328i, Exterior, rear, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 BMW 328i, Exterior, rear 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 BMW 328i, Exterior, rear, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 BMW 328i, Exterior, rear 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 BMW 328i, Exterior, 328i badge, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 BMW 328i, Engine, 2.0L TwinPower Turbo, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 BMW 328i, Engine, 2.0L TwinPower Turbo, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 BMW 328i, Interior, Dashboard, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 BMW 328i, Interior, Dashboard, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 BMW 328i, Interior, steering wheel, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 BMW 328i, Interior, Dashboard, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 BMW 328i, Interior, center console, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 BMW 328i, Interior, shifter and iDrive, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 BMW 328i, Interior, rear seats, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 BMW 328i, Interior, rear seats, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 BMW 328i, Interior, rear seats, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 BMW 328i, Interior, gauges, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 BMW 328i, Interior, iDrive, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 BMW 328i, Interior, iDrive, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 BMW 328i, Interior, iDrive, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 BMW 328i, Interior, iDrive, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 BMW 328i, Interior, iDrive, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 BMW 328i, Interior, heads-up display, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 BMW 328i, Interior, heads-up display, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 BMW 328i Monroney Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]>
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Pre-Production Review: 2013 Honda Fit EV http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/pre-production-review-2013-honda-fit-ev/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/pre-production-review-2013-honda-fit-ev/#comments Tue, 03 Jul 2012 13:19:32 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=450721

Despite accounting for an incredibly small percentage of new car sales in America, the EV is all the rage in California. Rather than starting from scratch and designing an all-new car from the ground up (like Nissan), Honda chose the more economical route and electrified the second-generation Honda Fit. On the surface, the recipe sounds like a slam dunk, since the Fit is one of Honda’s most attractive and most fun to drive models now on sale. To prove to the masses that Honda has what it takes to go green, they flew me out to Pasadena to sample the all-new, all-blue Fit EV.

Before we begin, we should talk about the elephant in the room: California Air Resources Board (CARB) compliance. Some years ago California decided that by 2025 15.4% of all new cars sold in California would have to meet the “Zero Emissions Vehicle” (ZEV) standard. Like any government program, the loopholes, credits and credit trading allowed in the convoluted legislation allow OEMs to sell only a small number of the “required” EVs over the next decade. Strangely the legislation doesn’t require that the vehicle be actually “sold” to the consumer either. Enter the lease-only 2013 Honda Fit EV.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Because the Fit EV was designed to be an incredibly low volume vehicle (only 1,100 will be made for the 2013 and 2014 model years combined), you can get your electric Fit in any color you want, as long as you want blue. Aside from the single shade of “EV blue”, a tweaked front grille and some EV stickers, nothing about the Fit screams “electric vehicle” the way the Leaf’s unique sheetmetal does. Some may want the world to know they are saving the planet, but I prefer Honda’s discreet approach. While the Fit EV may look just its gasoline cousin, the Fit EV has different bumpers, side sills, an increased ride height and a totally different floorpan to accommodate the batteries and improve aerodynamics.

Say what you will about the logic and politics involved with making a “compliance” EV, the 2013 Fit EV has one of Honda’s best economy car interiors. The EV’s interior is dominated by various shades of light beige plastic, a soft leather steering wheel and comfortable fabrics. Compared to the 2012 Civic, the interior is luxurious. Pitted against the gasoline Fit, the interior has been tweaked enough that Honda isn’t kidding when they say the Fit EV is the “perfect Fit.” To help conserve power, a single-zine climate control system and heated seats have been adapted to the Fit in addition to the usual bevy of EV-specific gauges. While this may seem counter-intuitive, climate control allows more efficient control over fan speed and A/C compressor usage while heated seats make the cabin feel warmer than it really is on cold days. All Fit EVs come with Honda’s usual touch-screen navigation system with EV-specific software to find charging stations and graphically display your battery range. We were not able to test the feature during our time with the Fit EV, but all models will be equipped with their new voice command system á la Ford’s SYNC.

In addition to being 14mm higher than the gasoline Fit, the addition of the battery pack required changes to the shape of the Fit’s body. This in turn means the rear seats are unique to the Fit EV riding 1.4 inches higher, 3.3 inches further back and reclined just over 4 degrees more than the regular gasoline Fit. While the extra legroom is welcome and the headroom is still sufficient for all but the tallest passengers, I found the seat back angle to be uncomfortably reclined. Fortunately the front seats remain excellent, providing decent bolstering and above average lumbar support. If you are a shorter driver, be sure to check out the seating position before you lease, as the driver’s seat is not adjustable for height.

Since Honda’s press event was boiled down to a 4 hour event, our time behind the wheel was limited to a collective 3 hours and some 80 miles. While the added weight of the battery pack and the low rolling resistance tires limit grip compared to the gasoline Fit, the battery positioning means the center of gravity is very low. The low-mounted mass and a unique independent rear suspension make the Fit EV more fun on the twisties than I expected. Honda had a collection of 2012 Nissan Leafs on hand for comparison and the back-to-back is less than shocking: the Fit handles well and the Leaf handles like a large, heavy hatchback on skinny low-rolling resistance tires. Much like the Leaf, the Fit EV’s top speed  is limited by the combination of the redline on the motor and the single-speed transaxle.

The Fit EV shares its 92kW (123HP) electric motor with the Honda FCX Clarity hydrogen fuel cell car, but the single-speed transaxle is unique to the Fit. The unique gearbox seems to indicate that although the Fit EV is destined to be rarer than a Rolls Royce, Honda is willing to invest in new EV technology. In order to extend the range, the Fit provides three driving modes: Sport, Normal and Eco. Sport provides accelerator pedal mapping and motor output similar to a regular gasoline hatchback. Normal reduces engine power to around 75kW (101HP) under all but full-throttle situations and Eco reduced power further to 47kW (64HP). While some described the Eco mode as “aggravating,” the goal of an efficient city-car style EV isn’t to jet around at top speed. According to Honda, the combination of the most efficient EV drivetrain on the market, a 6.6kWh on-board charger and an 82-mile range makes the Fit EV the best electric vehicle in its class. In reality, it’s the way the Fit EV drives that makes it the best. While the steering is as numb as anything on the market with electro-mechanical power steering, the handling is light-years ahead of the Leaf in terms of both road feel and grip. It was faster too, hitting 60 MPH a full second before the Nissan Leaf (7.91 seconds).

The eternal problem with an EV is charging time. While a car with an 82 mile range would be livable for every driving occasion as long as fill-ups took only a few minutes, charging times for EVs is rated in hours. For reasons that were never officially explained, Honda decided not to equip the Fit EV with the “CHΛdeMO” DC quick-charge connector Nissan has put their weight behind. This means that while your neighbor’s Leaf may take twice as long (7 hours) to charge on your 220V home charger, they can get an 80% charge in half an hour by visiting a quick charge station.

While I’m unsure that California’s ZEV mandate is good politics, it’s obvious we can thank CARB for the existence of the Fit EV. Yet it’s the very nature of the way the Fit EV came into being that makes it both the perfect Fit and the most frustrating. For many Americans looking for a commuter car, $389 a month for the most economical car on the market including collision insurance is a fantastic deal. The flip side of course is that only 1,100 people will get to experience the low operating costs of what may be the best EV in America.

 

Not a fan of our Facebook page? Too bad, if you liked us on FaceBook you’d have been able to ask the Honda engineers and minders your burning questions about the Fit EV.

Honda paid for a Southwest flight, one night’s stay in a hotel, a buffet lunch and all the electrons the Fit could consume.

Specifications as tested

0-30: 3.24 Seconds

0-60: 7.91 Seconds

 

2011 Honda Fit EV, Exterior with Nissan Leaf, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2011 Honda Fit EV, Exterior with Nissan Leaf, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2011 Honda Fit EV, Exterior with Nissan Leaf, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2011 Honda Fit EV, Exterior with Nissan Leaf, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2011 Honda Fit EV, Exterior with Nissan Leaf, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2011 Honda Fit EV, Exterior, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2011 Honda Fit EV, Exterior, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2011 Honda Fit EV, Exterior, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2011 Honda Fit EV, Exterior, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2011 Honda Fit EV, Exterior, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2011 Honda Fit EV, Exterior, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2011 Honda Fit EV, Exterior, wheel, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2011 Honda Fit EV, Exterior, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2011 Honda Fit EV, Exterior, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2011 Honda Fit EV, Interior, cargo area, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2011 Honda Fit EV, Interior, rear seats, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2011 Honda Fit EV, Interior, dashboard, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2011 Honda Fit EV, Interior, dashboard, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2011 Honda Fit EV, Interior, dashboard, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2011 Honda Fit EV, Interior, dashboard, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2011 Honda Fit EV, Interior, infotainment, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2011 Honda Fit EV, Interior, cargo area, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2011 Honda Fit EV, Motor, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2011 Honda Fit EV, Motor, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2011 Honda Fit EV, Motor, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]>
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What’s Wrong With This Picture: Where’s The Tailpipe? Edition http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/05/whats-wrong-with-this-picture-wheres-the-tailpipe-edition/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/05/whats-wrong-with-this-picture-wheres-the-tailpipe-edition/#comments Tue, 22 May 2012 19:42:37 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=445591

I should go on vacation more often. No, really. Last time I took some time off, I accidentally caught a parade of BMW prototypes descending the Sellajoch in Italy’s Dolomite Alps. Then, just weeks ago when I was in Los Angeles with Bertel, I was driving along towards Venice when I caught a glimpse of the tell-tale camouflage that makes every auto enthusiast’s heart skip a beat. And then I noticed that it had no tailpipe…

Of course, the vehicle I caught wasn’t anything earth-shattering, just a prototype of Toyota’s first-ever EV for the American market. And here in California, where electric RAV4s have been running around since 1997, this prototype didn’t exactly bring traffic to a halt. Still, it’s a reminder that even EV skeptics like Toyota are already dipping a toe in the battery-powered market… if only as a “compliance exercise.” Plus, it’s more evidence that my employers should give me more time to get away from the computer and drive around unfamiliar places. Obviously these prototypes want me to find them…
IMG_0838 IMG_0839 IMG_0840 IMG_0841

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Generation Why: Free Product Advice For GM (Or Anyone Else) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/04/generation-why-free-product-advice-for-gm-or-anyone-else/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/04/generation-why-free-product-advice-for-gm-or-anyone-else/#comments Thu, 12 Apr 2012 13:07:29 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=439555

General Motors has often been the focus of criticism at Generation Why – despite what some of the B&B suggest, it’s merely a function of the fact that they put themselves out there the most when it comes to publicizing their youth marketing efforts. But it’s time to reward their efforts with some free, unsolicited advice from a know-it-all keyboard jockey.

The above car isn’t anything Chevy is going to put into production. Instead, it’s a photoshop concocted by my friend Jover according to what I think about be a suitable “halo car” for Generation Why. With Chevrolet’s portfolio full of sensible, fuel-efficient cars like the Spark and Sonic, I figured something a bit flashier and more upscale would be something that young, image-conscious people would actually want to buy, invoking their emotions and desires rather than appealing to largely rational factors like price, fuel efficiency or practicality. If you would be so kind as to indulge me, the output of my thought exercise is below.

The above car would use the Cruze’s Delta architecture. think of this as a re-imagining of the slightly gawky Tru 140S concept, because Chevy got the Code 130R (which would be rear-drive and presumably be based on the Alpha architecture) fairly correct from the start. That means that yes, it’s front wheel drive. Big deal. Most consumers don’t care. If they do, they are going to buy a Camaro or a Scion FR-S.  Front-drive would also allow for better packaging; believe it or not, carting around your friends and throwing “lifestyle accessories” matters more than 50/50 weight distribution.

The base engine would be the 1.4T 4-cylinder engine, with the same 6-speed manual and automatic gearboxes as the Cruze. Hopefully, a power bump could be engineered – acceleration in a Cruze is adequate, but any car with sporting pretensions has to have forward thrust that goes beyond “acceptable”. There could also be an Eco model that employs the active aero shutters and low rolling-resistance tires like the Cruze Eco. Higher trim levels could use the 2.0L LHU turbochagred 4-cylinder from the Buick Regal. With 220 and 270 horsepower trims available, there’s room for a mid-grade and a high-performance version that would echo the Cobalt SS.

Unlike the Cobalt SS, the above concept wouldn’t be a factory tuner special. The whole car is supposed to look upscale and mature, like an Audi A5/S5 for people who don’t make the Audi’s MSRP as their yearly salary. While cars like the Hyundai Veloster and Chevrolet Sonic are literally going after those with youthful sensibilities, this would be a car for young people (or anyone, really) that is looking for something more mature, something that wouldn’t be embarrassing to take clients out to lunch in (or take someone out on a date in). The character lines at the rear may look particularly S5-ish, but they’re actually borrowed from the new Malibu. The goal is to keep Chevrolet design cues while still compelling people to ask “what is that?” if they saw it on the street.

The interior would be the place where a grand bargain would have to be made; to touchscreen, or not to touchscreen? Having not had the chance to use the MyLink touchscreen system in the new Malibu or Spark, I can’t endorse it in good faith. I do know that the conventional buttons-and-knobs layout in the Cruze, Orlando and other vehicles is intuitive and easy to use. That can be standard, along with Bluetooth, a USB port and yes, an auxiliary input jack. Those three, more than any kind of touchscreen, or streaming music app, are the must-have features for a new car today. Base versions could come with cloth seats and monochrome surfaces, but higher grade versions could get leather and the earth-tone leather and dash surfaces seen on the 2013 Malibu and other vehicles.

With a Cruze starting at $16,800 and a Camaro starting at $23,280 (not to mention, the Scion FR-S at $24,930 and the Genesis at $25,125), an appropriate price point for this car becomes tough to nail down. A base version, at $18,995, is still accessible to a fair amount of younger buyers without being too bargain basement. More powerful versions (especially a 270 horsepower version loaded to the gills) could push deeper into Genesis Coupe territory. Even if it didn’t quite have the performance cred, the upscale styling and premium interior would help draw in a buyer more concerned about making the 7:15 movie screening than running a 7:15 on the Nurburgring. That’s not to say that this car has to be a compromised, sloppy-handling poseur-mobile, but think of it as, well, an Audi A5, whereas the Scion FR-S is more focused and driver oriented like a BMW 3-Series. There’s no use in trying to beat Toyota and Subaru at their own game. Instead, this car would focus on a different set of criteria, sacrificing some outright driving engagement for more upscale look and feel. A future vehicle based on the Alpha platform can do that, and be positioned at a higher price point if need be.

The only thing missing is a name.

Thanks to Jover for his Photoshop wizardry

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Pre-Production Review: 2012 Toyota Prius c http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/02/pre-production-review-2012-toyota-prius-c/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/02/pre-production-review-2012-toyota-prius-c/#comments Sat, 11 Feb 2012 21:45:52 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=430367 A few years ago I was let in on a secret: Toyota’s dreams of world domination hinged on capturing hip young buyers interested in green tech and high fuel economy. Of course, Toyota’s hybrid plans have been the worst kept secret since In-N-Out’s “secret menu” and as a result, the green Gen Y boys and girls I know in Berkeley have been excited for years about a “baby Prius”. Well kids, the blue spaceship landed in La Jolla and Toyota invited us down to take a drive. Does a hybrid Yaris with more MPGs than you can shake a stick at have what it takes help Prius become Toyota’s best-selling nameplate? Let’s find out.

When I suggested that the Prius c was a Yaris hybrid, my Toyota hosts tried to steer me back on the path of “small Prius.”  The Prius c uses a highly modified 5-door Yaris platform, modified enough that almost no Yaris content remains. The Prius c shares no sheetmetal, drivetrain, or interior components that we could find, and I’m told almost nothing of the Yaris suspension remains. Strangely, other than the steering wheel, very little of the liftback Prius was imported either. What was the point of using the Yaris as a start? It was cheaper than shrinking the Prius unibody. The “c” is more than 19 inches shorter, 2 inches narrower and 500 pounds lighter than the full-size Prius slotting it firmly in the subcompact class. Due to the true hatchback design, the “c” loses only 1.2 inches of legroom up front and 1 inch in the rear when compared to the Prius. Compared to its Yaris donor car, the “c” has a stretched wheelbase which improves legroom over the entry level Toyota by two inches (though it’s 200 lbs heavier overall).

Under the hood sits a revised 1.5L Atkinson cycle four-cylinder engine, essentially the same 73HP mill used in the first generation Prius with some key modifications. To improve efficiency, Toyota removed all belt driven accessories. Even the water-pump is electric on the diminutive four banger. Because the Prius liftback is wider than a Yaris, Toyota created a new Hybrid Synergy Drive CVT transmission that is smaller and lighter. In addition to the new transmission, the c also uses a new 144V battery pack and inverter that are smaller and lighter than the regular Prius. Total system output is 99HP (about 35 less than the 1.8L in the Prius), but quite similar to the Yaris 5-door’s 106HP. The light weight and revised drivetrain conspire to make the Prius c the most efficient non-plug-in vehicle sold in North America at 53/43 MPG (City/Highway) with a lofty 50MPG on the combined scale. Much like the liftback, acceleration is accompanied by the engine revving to stratospheric RPMs and hanging out there until you release the go-pedal. While many rags bash the “drone” of the drivetrain, I consider it a fair trade for high fuel economy. Your mileage may vary.

The Prius c’s interior shares essentially nothing with the Yaris save a preference for low rent headliners. The Prius c pulls its flat-bottomed steering wheel from the regular Prius, but little else is shared with the dashboard, sporting hard but nicely textured plastics and a standard high-resolution 3.5 inch full-color LCD. A wide variety of fairly dubious in-car apps relating to “Eco” driving are also present. The front seats felt fairly supportive during our hour long drive, but buyers should beware that the base trim level has a driver’s seat that isn’t as adjustable as the other models.

Like the Prius, the c comes in numbered packages. “One” is obviously the price leader at $18,950, achieved by “decontetning” niceties like cruise control, cargo area lights, adjustable front headrests, the center armrest and tonneau cover. Toyota did take a note from their Korean competitors and included Bluetooth and iPod integration standard on the base model. The $19,900 “Two” adds a 6-speaker audio system, variable intermittent wipers, 60/40 folding rear seat, cruise control, center armrest and an engine immobilizer-style key. “Three” lists for $21,635 and adds Toyota’s Entune Navigation radio with 6.1-inch touchscreen , XM and HD radio, and “Entune App” capability (Pandora, Bing, etc). Also included on “Three” is Toyota’s keyless entry and keyless go, a telescoping steering wheel and the option to add $390 alloy wheels and a $850 sunroof. The top-of-the-line “Four” brings 15 inch 8-spoke alloys to the party, “Softex” seats, heated front seats, fog lamps and turn signals in the side mirrors for $23,230. The “Four” can also be equipped with the $850 moonroof and an optional 16-inch alloy wheel and sport steering package for $300 (or $1150 when combined with the sunroof) topping the Prius c out at $24,380, just a few hundred over a base Prius liftback. The bigger wheels bring with them wider rubber (195 vs 175 width),  and a different steering ratio that drops the lock-to-lock turns from 3.02 to 2.28. Unfortunately, the turning circle grows ridiculously from a tight 31.4 to a Buick-like 37.4 feet while causing a reduction in ride quality.

The new Entune system is a step in the right direction for Toyota’s infotainment systems. Entune integrated well with my iPhone 4 and my iPod Nano as well as the Android 2.3 phone that Toyota had in the car. In order to use the Entune data services like Bing, OpenTable, Pandora and iHeartRadio, you will need a smart phone with a data plan (tethering plans are not required) and after the first three years, you’ll also have to pay Toyota a yearly subscription fee. Sadly, Entune still does not provide for voice command of your iPod or MP3 data device ala Ford’s SYNC.

Click here to view the embedded video.

We had a fairly limited time with the baby Prius so I’ll save the majority of drive opinions for a longer affair with the small hybrid. Interested parties should just avoid the “One” unless that’s all you can afford. The content level is not as bad as most economy cars but the lack of cruise control and the center armrest are worth the upgrade price. Similarly steer clear of the “Four”, the faux-leather upholstery looks good in photos and is likely easier to clean, but the price of admission is steep and the non-breathable leather seats made our backsides sticky after only an hour. If you really must go for the “Four”, upgrade your wheels aftermarket. The lower profile rubber and ginormous turning circle that come with the upgraded package by Toyota make this a non-starter for me.

During our 140 miles with the Prius c (split between all four models of the Prius c) on city streets, windy mountain roads and 70MPH highway runs, we were unable to get the Prius c to drop below 50MPG and averaged a very respectable 53MPG overall with the A/C in constant use. That puts the c easily ahead of the regular Prius’ real-world MPG and more than 20MPG ahead of the 2012 Toyota Yaris 5-door’s combined score. Here we come full-circle to the Yaris hybrid concept. If you’re shopping the Yaris as an economical vehicle, the “Prius c Two” makes a compelling argument. While the Prius is $3,640 more expensive than the similarly equipped Yaris LE, it delivers 60% better fuel economy, an improved interior with more room, and no real sacrifices aside from a steeper price. If you drive 15,000 miles a year it would take only 5 years (or 75,000 miles) to break even when compared with the Yaris (or most other compact hatchbacks) based on California’s high gas prices. While I’m unconvinced that the Prius c will provide much excitement for the urban Gen Y buyer, I have little doubt it will prove an extremely economical vehicle to own in the long run and is worth serious consideration by anyone shopping for a subcompact hatch and in the process Toyota might just dominate the world.

Toyota flew us to San Diego, put us up for the night and provided a gaggle of pre-production Prius c models for our amusement.

 

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Weekend Weird Crush: “The Small God For The Big Future” http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/01/weekend-weird-crush-the-small-god-for-the-big-future/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/01/weekend-weird-crush-the-small-god-for-the-big-future/#comments Sun, 08 Jan 2012 19:36:01 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=424799

Maruti Suzuki’s big news at the Delhi Auto Show was the debut of its production compact MPV, the Ertiga. But it wasn’t all staid family-carriers at the Suzuki stand, as the Japanese-Indian automaker also debuted its XA Alpha concept, described in this dramatically-narrated (to put it mildly) video as “The Small God For The Big Future.” Remember the Suzuki Samurai (our global readers will certainly remember the Jimny)? It’s getting ready for its 21st Century makeover…

Suzuki says that the styling of this subcompact SUV, aimed at Ford’s new Ecosport and GM’s forthcoming Mokka, was inspired by traditional Indian wrestlers. Which may well be the case, but there’s no deny that there’s at least a little Range Rover Evoque in the look.

But what’s more enticing than the styling itself, is the question of whether or not a vehicle like this could bolster Suzuki’s muddled US product line. Suzuki has already established itself as the go-to option for low-cost AWD vehicles in the US with its SX4… but one can’t help wondering how many sales that model leaves on the table due to its small-hatchback design. With a more rugged, more-SUV-looking model on similar underpinnings, Suzuki might just be able to build a rugged-entry-AWD image in this market as Subaru moves inexorably upmarket towards an “Audi Junior” positioning.

In any case, the B-SUV market is starting to get some real attention globally, as the global giants update their aged entrants in the segment for ever-more-demanding developing markets. And as a fan of this genre, with its small, funky, affordable and surprisingly utilitarian mini-utes, I certainly hope someone decides to test the US waters with something like this.

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NAIAS Preview: Ford Serves Up Some Global Fusion http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/01/naias-preview-new-ford-fusion-global/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/01/naias-preview-new-ford-fusion-global/#comments Sun, 08 Jan 2012 18:50:23 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=424773

Ever since the ill-fated Contour experiment, Ford has maintained a strict separation in its global midsized offerings: Fusion for the Americas and Mondeo for Europe (let’s ignore, for the moment, Australia’s Falcon as the doomed atavism it is). But under the global “One Ford” strategy, a fusion (ahem) of The Blue Oval’s midsized offerings was inevitable, and Ford has signaled for some time that the Fusion and Mondeo are on the verge of becoming one. And here, courtesy of the autoforum.cz, is the first leaked image of Ford’s unified, world-wide midsized contender: though the Fusion and Mondeo names will continue to be used in their respective markets, this car will carry both badges. But are we looking at a revolution in the oft-troubled “world car” game, or a repeat of the Contour’s compromises? Only time will tell…

Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail newmondeo1 Hungry for some global fusion? (courtesy:autoforum.cz) Ford serves up some global Fusion... (courtesy: Autocar.co.uk) ]]>
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What’s Wrong With This Picture: I Believe I Asked For A Small Mokka Edition http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/12/whats-wrong-with-this-picture-i-believe-i-asked-for-a-small-mokka-edition/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/12/whats-wrong-with-this-picture-i-believe-i-asked-for-a-small-mokka-edition/#comments Thu, 22 Dec 2011 14:22:05 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=423282

Editor’s Note: The image above is from Autobild (and is posted elsewhere in the German media), and is not labeled as a rendering, a spy shot or an official image. An anonymous tipster who has seen the upcoming Buick “Encore” (which GM has shown to select fans and journos under embargo for years now) says the vehicle shown here is “basically the same design” as the Encore. 

At first glance, it’s fairly obvious that there’s something not quite right with this picture. Better than most photoshops or renderings, but not quite convincing as a real picture, this car seems trapped in the Uncanny Valley, as if it were photographed undergoing winter testing on the set of the film The Polar Express. In any case, this little Corsa-based CUV (allegedly to be named “Mokka”) will debut at the Geneva Auto Show, and will take on such B-segment crossovers as the Nissan Juke, Suzuki SX4 and Ford’s forthcoming new Ecosport.

Meanwhile, GM’s American-market interpretation of a B-segment CUV is likely to be quite different from these little rough-and-ready softroaders [Ed: Or, not]. Buick is slow-strip-teasing its forthcoming Encore on Facebook, and it’s already looking like the Baby Enclave rumors were well-founded in terms of its exterior design. On the other hand, this isn’t a wildly detailed photo, so who knows? Either way, both the Mokka and the Encore are based on a jacked-up version of the Gamma II subcompact platform, and based on a video of what appears to be some relatively early chassis testing, the short-wheelbase and tall suspension took a little taming. Hit the jump to see for yourself…

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TTAC’s Accidental Erlkönig: BMW Test Mules Spotted In The Italian Alps http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/12/ttac-accidental-erlkonig/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/12/ttac-accidental-erlkonig/#comments Wed, 14 Dec 2011 00:17:55 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=422295 There I was, at the top of the Sella pass, enjoying a sandwich while taking in the breathtaking view of Italy’s Dolomite Alps. I was a week-and-a-half deep into a much-needed vacation from the rewarding but demanding challenges of running TTAC, and work was the last thing on my mind (besides gathering my thoughts on the vehicle I had just nursed up the snowy pass). Then, all of a sudden, I looked up from my ham-and-cheese and caught a glimpse of the notorious psychedelic swirls used by automakers to hide their forthcoming vehicles from, well, people like me.

In an instant, my sandwich went flying as I lunged for my DSLR and hopped out of the car. Being a writer, not a photographer, I fumbled with the lens cap, losing valuable seconds, and the element of surprise. The sharp-eyed test drivers saw my camera just as I started snapping, and like a flock of startled birds, the three cars sped off down the road. Not even knowing what I had just seen, I heard the blood roaring in my ears, as a great bucketload of adrenalin hit my system. I had just gone from lunching tourist to erlkönigjaeger in a matter of seconds. And like any hunter, I was flush with the thrill of the hunt.

In sober retrospect, I must confess to being a little bit disappointed with both my accidental find and my response to it. First of all, I should have recognized at least one clue that a test convoy was coming: just as I had started eating my sandwich, a brand-new BMW 6-series whipped around a corner, kicking up a rooster tail of snow as it hung out its tail out to an extent that mere mortals would never attempt on such a challenging, snow-covered road. Then, after it reached the summit where I was stuffing my face in my parked car, it turned around and headed back down the eastern side. No normal human being buys a brand-new 6er in order to expertly whip it around a snowy, switchback-laden mountain pass on a Tuesday afternoon… this was a trained driver, scouting the route for the coming erlkönig convoy. At the moment, however, I was simply impressed with the skill of the driver, and didn’t think twice before returning my attention to my sandwich.

When I did finally notice the convoy that had stopped directly in front of me, I struggled at first to identify the cars. Over the past ten days or so of plying European roads, I’ve noticed a few new BMW 1 Series Sportwagons (F20), but I wasn’t able to instantly recognize the two camo-clad vehicles as such. In fact, I also lost valuable seconds staring at what I thought was a Vauxhall or Holden badge, trying to piece together what version of the Astra might be plying these remote alpine roads. Then, after taking the pictures posted here, I attempted to decipher what I had seen through my camera’s display, and my initial though upon seeing the photo at the top of this post was that I had just seen an un-camouflaged four-door sedan version of the Einser sandwiched between the two mules. Which, in a way, I had… what this photo proves, as much as anything else, is how similar BMW’s 3 Series and 1 Series really are. Looking at the photos on my laptop now, I see that the only real discovery I made was that the forthcoming 128i (likely the highest-performing version of the F20, in the absence of an M version) will have twin exhausts.

So, perhaps my discovery wasn’t ground-breaking. Perhaps these photos won’t provide a profound insight into any future BMW models, most especially any BMWs bound for American shores. But the thrill of my accidental erlkönigjagd was enough to make my day… and perhaps our eagle-eyed Best and Brightest will spot something I haven’t. In any case, here are all the pictures I managed to snap.

Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail What have we here? (All photos courtesy E.W. Niedermeyer/TTAC) DSC_0254 DSC_0253 DSC_0252 DSC_0251 DSC_0250 DSC_0249 DSC_0247

 

 

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The Engine Empire Strikes Back: Honda Battles For Engine Technology Relevance http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/12/the-engine-empire-strikes-back-honda-battles-for-engine-technology-relevance/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/12/the-engine-empire-strikes-back-honda-battles-for-engine-technology-relevance/#comments Thu, 01 Dec 2011 20:17:13 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=420983

It’s been a few years since we last detected much of a pulse from Honda [Ed: in fact, Paul Niedermeyer declared Hyundai the "new Honda" in terms of engine technology leadership way back in 2009]. But just when we were wondering if all hope was lost, and that it might be time to pull the plug…signs of life. In Japan, for the Tokyo auto show, Honda has unveiled ambitious new powertrain plans [via Automotive News [sub]].

The highlights:

A new “Earth Dreams” family of four-cylinder engines, all with DOHC and (after just about everyone else) direct injection [Ed: another shift from Honda's 2009 position, which was that direct injection wasn't worth the investment compared to hybrids]. With the shift to DOHC, Honda seems to have accepted the conventional wisdom that using a complex valvetrain to operate four valves per cylinder with a single cam entails too many compromises. One strong possibility with DOHC: more complex and nuanced variable intake AND exhaust valve timing.

The 2.4-liter four or the next Accord will kick out 181 horsepower, while the Civic’s 1.8 will make 148 and the Fit’s 1.5, for the largest and most needed bump, 127. All more competitive, but nothing earth-shattering. And the final production numbers will likely be a little higher. It’s possible that fuel economy was a higher priority, with an increase here of at least ten percent.

A new 3.5-liter V6 remains SOHC, but gains 30 horsepower, to 310.

A 1.6-liter diesel that’s as powerful as the current 2.2, but with much better fuel economy. I wouldn’t count on this one coming to North America.

For us: four- and six-cylinder “two-mode” hybrids. “Two-mode” in this case likely refers to the engines’ employment of VTEC to switch between the Atkinson and traditional Otto cycles, not a complicated transmission like that employed by GM in its large SUVs. At least the V6 hybrid will pair with a seven-speed dual clutch automated manual. In case that isn’t enough novelty for one powertrain, in a potential all-wheel-drive variant an electric motor will shunt power to the outside wheel in turns, curbing understeer. Combining a hybrid engine that can switch between two cycles with a dual-clutch transmission and a new approach to SH-AWD? This is the sort of out-of-the-box combo we used to be able to expect from Honda, but which we haven’t seen in a while. (No, the Acura ZDX doesn’t count.)

And the transmissions for the new conventional four-cylinders? Apparently Honda has decided to triple down on CVTs, developing three of them. Given Honda’s history with new transmissions, and the history of CVTs in general, these will warrant a close watch in TrueDelta’s Car Reliability Survey. Performance-oriented engines will continue to be paired with manuals and conventional automatics.

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Volkswagen Crosses Its Tiguan http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/11/volkswagen-crosses-its-tiguan/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/11/volkswagen-crosses-its-tiguan/#comments Wed, 30 Nov 2011 18:15:46 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=420788 If there’s a word to describe VW’s future plans in the US, it’s “big.” There is still no specific plan to bring subcompact Polos to the US, and likely only an EV version of the new Up! city car. Even Audi is shying away from bringing more small products to the US, nixing the A1 and only supporting exports of the A2 in EV form. And according to Automotive News [sub] the next big thing for VW’s US portfolio could be a midsized CUV, built at its new Chattanooga plant and slotting between the Tiguan and Touareg. But this concept is not that CUV. According to VW, this CrossCoupe Concept is an exploration of alternative bodystyles for the compact CUV platform, more akin to a Range Rover Evoque than a mass market model… think “Tiguan CC” and you’ll be getting the idea. So, will it be built? VW sources tell Automotive News [sub] that

We won’t rule out the possibility of adding a sportier SUV to the Volkswagen lineup at some time. But the main message with the Cross Coupe is its styling, which stands for the future of SUV design at Volkswagen

You can see the evolution of VW’s new three-slat grille, further integrating the new cue into the headlights for a more cohesive fascia design. But does it work? We’ll let you be the judge of that…

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Wild-Ass Rumor Of The Day: “CadiVolt” ELR To Be Rear-Wheel Drive? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/11/wild-ass-rumor-of-the-day-cadivolt-elr-to-be-rear-wheel-drive/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/11/wild-ass-rumor-of-the-day-cadivolt-elr-to-be-rear-wheel-drive/#comments Tue, 29 Nov 2011 18:22:26 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=420652

TTAC has long held that GM should have initially sold the Volt as a Cadillac, putting its newest, most high-tech drivetrain in a luxury car that could support its high list price. Of course the bailout made a CadiVolt a touch too elitist, which led to GM canceling production plans for its Converj Concept coupe. But with plans back on to sell a Converj-inspired ELR coupe, a new question arises: can Cadillac really charge significantly more than the Volt’s $40k-ish MSRP without doing more than simply rebodying the Volt in Cadillac’s Art & Science styling? Automotive News [sub]‘s Rick Kranz reckons Cadillac could do more, and thinks that the ELR could end up with rear-wheel drive.

Kranz writes:

GM has a new rwd platform that will be shared by the Cadillac ATS, a compact sedan that goes on sale next year. That could be the game changer for the ELR.

But there’s a potential packaging issue with a rwd platform: Can the battery pack be modified so the driveshaft can be positioned below it? I don’t know. The Volt’s T-shaped battery pack is below the rear seats and center console.

Certainly the battery pack could be raised, eating up some space in the passenger compartment. The trade-off would be rear seat comfort, especially headroom, aggravated by the slope of the roof as it approaches the rear of the vehicle.

I find it interesting that the ELR is being touted as a 2+2 instead of a true four-passenger sedan. A 2+2 generally limits rear-seat space to kiddies and grocery bags. There’s no room for adults.

Maybe that’s a signal that the battery pack will be eating up some of the rear-passenger space so the ELR can be offered as a rear-drive coupe.

Kranz is right about one thing: with the Volt as expensive as it is, a CadiVolt needs to be distinctive to sell. But if the battery pack needs to be raised to fit a driveshaft underneath it, the ELR’s handling will certainly be compromised. The Volt is a surprisingly fine-handling car, largely because its huge weight is kept low and central in the body. Raising that huge weight upwards could ruin any handling benefits obtained by rear-drive, making the distinction between the two cars largely academic.

On the other hand, a DOE EV stimulus from 2009 allocated $105m for

Construction of U.S. manufacturing capabilities to produce the second-generation GM global rear-wheel electric drive system.

At the time, that expenditure was something of a mystery, and we still don’t know what it means. But if GM has developed a rear-drive EV platform, that could underpin a rear-drive ELR without the downsides of using the ATS platform. But that’s one Wild-Ass Rumor to be sure…

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What’s Wrong With This Picture: The Ultimate Driving… Van? Edition http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/11/whats-wrong-with-this-picture-the-ultimate-driving-van-edition/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/11/whats-wrong-with-this-picture-the-ultimate-driving-van-edition/#comments Sun, 27 Nov 2011 16:23:28 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=420104 Which European automaker is working on this compact, front-drive MPV? It might look like a VW or Opel, but in fact it’s coming from the Roundel itself. BMW will release this five-seat, start-stop-equipped van sometime in 2014, giving its Euro-market customers an alternative to Mercedes’s B-Class van. But because this is still a BMW, a two liter turbo engine option will be offered, giving this otherwise humble little MPV a 245 HP kick. Still, this will be the most prosaic offering from a firm built around rear drive and six-cylinder engines. And though Mercedes is bringing at least one front-drive model to the US market, expect BMW to maintain its premium positioning here by keeping this MPV in the European market, where such efficient vehicles are not seen as being incompatible with a luxury brand.

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Next-Gen M3 Kicks Up Its Heels, Cackles http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/11/next-gen-m3-kicks-up-its-heels-cackles/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/11/next-gen-m3-kicks-up-its-heels-cackles/#comments Tue, 22 Nov 2011 18:50:32 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=419606

With engine management technologies creating ever-more refined, well-behaved engines, the snap-crackle-pop overrun at the beginning of this video is an increasingly rare throwback to the time when men were men and engines could blow up at any second. Sure, such playfulness will probably be managed out of existence by the time the F30 M3 hits dealerships, but it seems like a good omen for the M3′s return to six-cylinder power. In fact, it might even be possible that the backfire heard here has something to do with the electric turbocharger that’s rumored to give the new M3 lag-free turbo performance… but then you’d probably be a better judge of that than I.

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Volkswagen Goes Postal, Develops The Electric “Fridolin” Of The Future http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/11/volkswagen-goes-postal-develops-the-electric-fridolin-of-the-future/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/11/volkswagen-goes-postal-develops-the-electric-fridolin-of-the-future/#comments Fri, 18 Nov 2011 18:28:36 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=419184 Are you familiar with the Fridolin? If so, hit the jump. If not, here’s the brief version of its history. Unhappy with its adorable but inadequate, two-cylinder Goggomobil Transporters, the German Postal Service approached Volkswagen and Westfalia in the early 60s, looking for a new interpretation of what it was looking for, namely “arbeitspsychologisch optimaler Ausstattung zu einem günstigen Anschaffungspreis.” This is a tough phrase to translate, but essentially it means “equipment optimized for the workplace psychology, at an affordable price,” and in 1963 that’s what the VW-Westalia team delivered. A mixture of Type 1 (Beetle), Type 2 (Bus) and Type 3 (Fastback/Squareback), the Type 147 was first shown to the German Post in 1963, and was quickly nicknamed “Fridolin” (an uncommon German boy’s name) apparently because workers said “it looks like a Fridolin.” Only 6,126 were built between 1964 and 1973, and they continue to enjoy a strong collector’s cachet (primarily as slammed campers, apparently). And now, Volkswagen wants to re-create the classic… for the future. 

Based on a subcompact Polo-sized platform, VW’s eT Concept manages to offer nearly 144 cubic feet of storage. And because it’s aimed at the green-conscious postman of tomorrow (not to mention stop-start driving on fixed routes), it’s a purely electric concept with a 60-mile range and a 70 MPH top speed. Think of the performance as “optimized for the workplace psychology.” Speaking of which, one of the coolest features of the new concept is that it can actually be driven at speeds up to 6 km/h from the passenger seat, using something called the “drive stick.” The thing can even back itself up by remote control, using bumper-mounted sensors to avoid obstacles or stop itself. There’s no word on how soon this research vehicle will make its way into production, but because it was developed in partnership with the German Postal Service, some of its gizmology should filter into German postal vehicles. And with a very similar VW “Bulli” coming to market in 2015, not only could this actual vehicle be made, there may even be a civilian sliding-door version as well.

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What The Foxtrot Is a Doking? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/11/what-the-foxtrot-is-a-doking/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/11/what-the-foxtrot-is-a-doking/#comments Thu, 17 Nov 2011 19:53:31 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=418809

Our LA Auto Show correspondents filed very little information on this bizarre little car, beyond noting that it is

Made in Croatia, no comment on plans to make available for sale in the US.

But a little research reveals that it is an EV prototype from the automotive branch of a Croatian unmanned vehicle manufacturing concern. Dok-ing usually builds robotized vehicles for mine-clearing, fire fighting, and mining, but apparently it’s branching out into electric cars as well. Fast little electric cars at that: a four-motor, AWD version of this XD will hit 100 km/h (60 MPH) in 4.2 seconds, according to the company website. For the record, that’s one second slower than the Mclaren F1, which seems to have inspired the XD’s three-seat layout. Unfortunately, by the time you hit 120 km, you’ll only have just over 100 km of range. But then, it’s all hypothetical anyway, as Doking’s only market right now is Croatia, where these exotic little EVs are selling (or, more likely, not) for six-figure pricetags. On the other hand,

a company rep tells FoxNews.com that it is looking for investors to help federalize the car and set up a manufacturing facility for it in the United States. If successful, it says that it could produce up to 30,000 cars at a price of around $40,000 each.

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Anwyl: Should We Be Preparing For The Next Gas Price… Collapse? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/11/anwyl-should-we-be-preparing-for-the-next-gas-price-collapse/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/11/anwyl-should-we-be-preparing-for-the-next-gas-price-collapse/#comments Tue, 15 Nov 2011 18:47:59 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=418312  

The big news around here yesterday came from Bertel’s interview with Toyota’s Chief Engineer, in which it became clear that Toyota takes the developing world’s growing demand for oil very seriously. With global demand already outstripping supply, the giant automaker’s embrace of a petroleum-constrained business model seems to make it clear that gas prices will play a significant role in the future. But markets are, by their natures, both difficult to predict, and shaped by predictions. And Edmunds CEO Jeremy Anwyl reckons that, although gas prices are high and could well go up in the short term, fears of a runaway gap between supply and demand may not materialize over the longer term. He writes:

Here’s the twist: As I said, the consensus belief (or story) on future oil prices is that they will be higher. And short term, this may be the case if and/or when the global economy recovers and/or demand grows in emerging markets.

But there is a longer-term story as well. This story suggests that peak oil may be nigh and the future holds shortages and sharply higher prices. Buying into this story, companies, acting individually, will see profit in expanding exploration, developing sophisticated new extraction technologies, etc.

The aggregate result of all these individual activities is that the future supply of oil will improve and prices will actually drop.

In fact, we have seen this paradox play out before. Through the Seventies, we were first shocked by rapid price increases and then conditioned to believe they would continue. And, of course, oil prices collapsed in the Eighties.

Anwyl butresses his argument by pointing to an NYT story on exploration of promising new reserves of hydrocarbons, arguing that new finds could stave off the kind of undersupply that has Toyota and others so worried.

From the high Arctic waters north of Norway to a shale field in Argentine Patagonia, from the oil sands of western Canada to deepwater oil prospects off the shores of Angola, giant new oil and gas fields are being mined, steamed and drilled with new technologies. Some of the reserves have been known to exist for decades but were inaccessible either economically or technologically.

Put together, these fuels should bring hundreds of billions of barrels of recoverable reserves to market in coming decades and shift geopolitical and economic calculations around the world. The new drilling boom is expected to diversify global sources away from the Middle East, just as the growth in consumption of fuels shifts from the United States and Europe to China, India and the rest of the developing world.

“Use whatever hackneyed phrase you want, like tectonic shift or game-changer,” said Edward L. Morse, global head of commodity research at Citigroup. “These sources will dramatically change the energy supply outlook, and there is little debate about that.”

The major complaint with these new “unconventional” hydrocarbon sources is that they are more carbon intensive than oil, an argument that some will find more convincing or troubling than others. But the reliance on this critique shows that unconventional hydrocarbon sources hold the potential to undermine the major impetus for the “new peak oil,” which is based solely on the economics of growing emerging-market demand outstripping global capacity increases. If these hydrocarbons prove economically viable at a price point that holds off a challenge from battery technology, we could well see the industry slow-rolling parts of its high-efficiency toolbox. After all, the last few years have proven that American consumers respond to sharp upward changes in oil prices more than the actual price. If these new reserves can keep oil closer to $100/barrel than $200/barrel, we’ll see the market evolve slowly, with efficiency improvements driven more by CAFE regulation than market demand.

On the other hand, it’s not clear how much oil prices constrain development in the fastest-growing economies around the world. If gas prices soften on the strength of these new discoveries, there’s little reason to believe that these young but strong economies won’t turn up the wick on growth, eating up new gains in production. Furthermore, “game changing” automotive technology is worth developing simply because energy markets still rely on a semblance of order in chaotic parts of the world. With chaos always one suicide bomb away and global pressure on oil supply mounting, the short-term possibilities of a dramatic spike in gas prices makes rapidly-deployable, high-efficiency technology (for example, Nissan’s unmatched investment in global Leaf EV capacity, or Toyota’s ability to hybridize most of its vehicles) a worthwhile investment policy. Even if Nissan gets a few years of panic-fueled bumper EV sales before new “unconventional” reserves (generally from friendlier, more stable regions) come online, it will have made a huge leap over unprepared competitors. And after such an event, the EV market will not go away (as the hybrid market has not completely gone away since the Summer of 2008).

Of course nobody has a crystal ball, and if anyone knew for sure what was going to happen with oil prices over the short, medium and long terms, they wouldn’t tell anyone (or, more likely, they wouldn’t be believed by anyone). But there definitely seems to be more angst about energy prices among auto industry types than we’ve seen in several years. And with billion of dollars riding on every market fluctuation, that’s the only thing about this discussion that isn’t at least a little surprising.

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