The Truth About Cars » FWD The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Sun, 27 Jul 2014 14:03:49 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » FWD Piston Slap: New CV Boots? A Split Decision! Mon, 07 Jul 2014 12:53:28 +0000 TTAC Commentator Detroit Iron writes:

Long time no talk (I sound like a native American an Indian).  (Yeah, not so much. – SM)

I have an 09 Outback with ~65k miles.  I had noticed a bit of a burning smell after running it for a while and it was pretty strong after a recent trip.  I thought it smelled like a belt slipping but when I popped the hood the two belts looked fine.  After looking around for a minute I realized that the passenger side CV boot had torn and was dripping grease on to the cat.  Checking the other side revealed that the driver’s side boot was also torn.  Apparently this is a pretty common failure for scoobies.  The Internet says I should be concerned if I hear a “popping” sound or the clunk associated with failing bearings.  Luckily I am hearing neither.  The dealer had a set price of $370 per boot for replacing the boots that the service manager somewhat disconcertingly blurted out almost before I finished describing the problem.  The independent shop thought they could do both for less than $500 if the axles weren’t bad, but if they were bad then it would be another $450 per.

My question is this:  Can I just get split boots from JC Whitney and pack them with grease or do I really need to have the pros fix it?

Sajeev answers:

The split boots are probably a great idea, Dorman makes good stuff for old cars when the OEMs can or will not. That said, I’ve never used split boots on my rides as I roll RWD only.  But here’s the real problem: armchair analysis.

  • Do you think road dirt/debris lodged inside the boot will eventually eat the axle bearings?
  • Do you have any doubts to that question?
  • Is that your final answer?

Only you can answer that and decide what’s worth your time/money.  The $20-something for split boots is a cheap fix that’ll probably work, as you mentioned the axles are neither clunking nor popping: now try it from a standstill with the steering wheel turned at full lock (i.e. full left AND full right) and listen for the clunk.

If that test works out, well, go ahead and use the split boots.  They will probably extend the life of the axle long enough to justify their expense.

Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.







]]> 77
Review: 2014 Ford Focus ST (With Video) Thu, 09 Jan 2014 14:00:42 +0000 2014 Ford Focus ST Exterior

Hot hatches are all the rage in Europe but represent a fairly small segment of American consumption. The formula is fairly simple, you take a compact hatchback, insert a turbocharged engine, stiffen the springs and add an anti-roll bar that can lift the inner rear wheel in corners if you really push it. The result is the polar opposite of a pony car.


Click here to view the embedded video.


For 2014, the American hot hatch shopper is spoiled for choice. There are a whopping two options: the 2014 Ford Focus ST and the 2014 Volkswagen GTI. If you’re patient enough, VW plans on releasing a new GTI for the 2015 model year and the Mazda rumor mill is rife with 2015 Mazdaspeed3 assumptions. I must therefore rule the Focus ST the most attractive hot hatch in America and put the comparatively boring GTI in last place, or second. However you want to look at it. For performance duty Ford takes the already handsome Focus, lowers it by nearly half an inch and swaps in some new wheels, a front bumper, tweaked spoiler, rear valance and exhaust tips. If you haven’t noticed by now, there is no sedan variant of the Focus ST. Sorry America.

Although the parts list is short, I found the transformation impressive. I haven’t warmed to the Euro nose that the current generation Focus wears while the ST’s more conventional single grille look manages to be both more grown up and more aggressive when compared to the donor car. (Don’t worry, you can get your Focus in colors other than “Tangerine Scream”.) The ST shares hoods with the lesser Focuses (Foci?) there is an oddly large gap between the hood and front bumper that is so uniform (and is on every ST model I have seen) that it must be intentional, however distracting. The reason is that the regular model’s hood doesn’t mate directly with anything as it is styled to be the upper part of the front grille. I have a feeling that if and when the Mazdaspeed3 lands, it will take the crown as I find the Mazda3 the most attractive entry in the compact hatchback segment.

2014 Ford Focus ST Interior-005


Like the Volkswagen GTI, the first thing you will notice about the Focus when you hop inside will be the very European color palate. In other words, black. The soft injection moulded dashboard combines with the black headliner, black carpets and predominantly black upholstery to create a very Germanic interior. All Focus models sport a double-bump style dashboard with the infotainment positioned in a prominent position and the ST trim tops off the binnacle with standard gauges for oil temperature, oil pressure and turbo boost.  This is the same cabin that European shoppers get with one exception: the Recaro seats aren’t standard on our side of the pond. Neither is that 8-inch touchscreen.

Although the ST starts at $23,625 my realistic base price jumps to $25,845 by adding the “ST2″ package which I consider essential. This package adds the 8-inch screen, automatic climate control and the Recaro seats that you see in all the photos and reviews of the Focus ST. The base seats lack the aggressive bolstering or the exceptional comfort of the half-leather Recaro thrones. ST2 shoppers can opt for two-tone seats (as seen in our tester) in blue, yellow or black-on-black. Checking the ST3 box brings the ST up to $28,000 and adds completely leather faced seats (black only), seat heaters, HID headlamps, LED daytime running lamps and standard navigation software.

2014 Ford Focus ST Interior-004

During my week with the ST I put over 1,100 miles on the Tangerine Scream including a 650 mile road trip. The Recaro thrones proved to be supportive, comfortable and superior to the GTI’s seats for long road trips. Unfortunately the rear passengers weren’t as happy since the Focus has a fairly cramped rear seat. Adding the Recaro seats to the Focus seems to drop the rear seat room by a hair as well making the Focus a great deal tighter than the GTI despite the Focus being the longer car by six inches. Where do those inches go? Some of them are consumed by the Ford’s longer nose, but plenty can be found in the ST’s 50% larger cargo hold.

Since I mentioned the Mustang earlier, that tight rear seat is one of the main reasons you’d select a Focus ST over a V6 ‘Stang. Despite being smaller than a GTI, the ST offers two extra doors, three more inches of leg room and a 5th seat belt. In addition to the added passenger room the Focus also boasts 10 more cubic feet of widget storage in the back.

2014 Ford Focus ST Interior-002


Base ST shoppers get basic entertainment to go with their basic seating. All STs come standard with a 6-speaker audio system sporting a 4.2-inch color LCD, SYNC voice commands and a sea of buttons. The unit is housed in the same binnacle as the 8-inch system so there’s plenty of blank space to remind you that you didn’t pony up for the MyFord Touch system. The ST3 package that is my realistic base for the ST solves this by removing the button bank and inserting the screen you see above. Bundled with the resistive touchscreen is an upgraded 10-speaker Sony speaker system with a subwoofer and a center channel. Sound quality in the 6-speaker system was disappointing while the Sony system impressed. One thing to know if that the Sony system tends to have exaggerated treble and bass tuning by default but it is adjustable.

This is about the time when I usually comment on MyFord Touch being somewhat sluggish and suggest that the competition has an acceptable alternative. The alternative however is Volkswagen’s ancient infotainment lineup. All GTIs share the same 8-speaker sound system that slots between Ford’s base and up-level system in both speaker count and sound quality but everything else pales in comparison. The GTI has no SYNC-like voice command system in any model and the base GTI doesn’t even get a color LCD in the cabin. The Driver’s Edition GTI gets VW’s low-cost navigation unit which, when compared to MyFord Touch, is like taking a Palm Pilot to an iPad fight. Hopefully VW will up their game for 2015, but more than likely Ford’s only real infotainment competition will come from Mazda’s slick MazdaConnect system.

2014 Ford Focus ST Engine-002


The last Focus ST was powered by Volvo, a logical choice since Volvo’s S40 and Ford’s Focus were cousins to begin with. This generation Focus is 100% Ford. Instead of the oddly-alluring 2.5L five-cylinder, we get a 252 horsepower tune of Ford’s 2.0L EcoBoost engine cranking out 270 lb-ft of torque. (There is a bit of confusion on the HP numbers, in the video I mention Ford’s initial numbers of 247 HP and 266 lb-ft which was later updated to 252/270. Apparently running 87 octane gasoline in your ST will yield 247 while 93 will get you 252.) This is the same four-cylinder turbo used in the Ford Edge and Taurus except that the boost has been cranked up and it is mated to a 6-speed manual transmission. (As far as we can tell this is no longer the Volvo M66 transmission manufactured by Getrag.)


Compared to the VW, the Focus is 52 ponies more powerful and serves up 63 more lb-ft while the Mustang V6 beats the Focus by 48 horsepower and 10 lb-ft. As you would assume with numbers like that, the Mustang is faster t0 60, but thanks to the turbocharger on the Focus the difference in our testing was just 1/10th of a second and is more down to driver skill and traction than vehicle output. The VW on the other hand can’t makeup for the power deficit by being 100lbs lighter and was 3/10ths slower.

2014 Ford Focus ST Exterior-006

The big difference between a Mustang and a hot hatch is of course which wheels are getting the power. Because the ST funnels all its power through the front wheels, torque steer is a genuine concern. Rather than limit engine power in 1st and 2nd like Mazda did with the old Mazdaspeed3, or use a limited slip differential like Honda uses on occasion, Ford decided to program the electric power steering to compensate. Coupled with the EPAS system is a stability control system programmed to torque vector power across the front using the car’s large front brakes. The system works passably well but not as well as the Ford’s “Revo Kunckle” which they use on their larger cars. Due mostly to the greater output, torque steer in the ST is more pronounced than in the GTI, but much less noticeable than in the old Mazda. I’ve always found mild torque steer in a fast front-driver an entertaining phenomenon so it never bothered me.

Helping the steering tendencies is a variable ratio steering rack that uses a quick 1.8 turns lock to lock vs 2.1 in the GTI, 2.8 in the standard Focus and 3.1 in the V6 ‘Stang. Thanks to the ratio the ST feels very nimble and eager to change direction. Unless you need to U-turn of course which is when you will discover that this tiny hatch has a nearly 40-foot turning radius.

2014 Ford Focus ST Exterior-009

Thanks to a light 3,200 pound curb weight (100lbs heavier than the VW but 300lbs lighter than a V6 Mustang), 235-width Eagle F1 Asymmetric tires and a well tuned suspension, the Focus ST sticks to the road like glue. TTAC doesn’t have access to a skidpad to confirm or deny the Mustang trouncing Gs the plucky hatch can pull, but after a week making passengers sick on winging mountain roads I’m a believer. What makes the Focus more impressive is how neutral the car feels despite being a front-heavy front-driver. It’s more lively, less civilized but more rewarding to drive than the GTI. The V6 ‘Stang does give you rear-wheel- drive dynamics and more shove in a straight line, but I’d be willing to bet I’d be faster around a track in the Focus ST.

What surprised me about the Focus the most however was how livable it is. The suspension is firm but never harsh and my spine didn’t revolt on a 5 hour drive to Los Angeles. Cabin noise was high at 76 dB but that’s not far from the last Golf I measured and average for the economy car segment. Thanks to an active noise generator that opens a valve to pipe sound into the cabin from when at full throttle, normal driving happens without the incessant droning of a Fiat Abarth. While the Tangerine Scream paint job and yellow trimmed seats scream “boy racer”, the truth is the Focus is quite the grown up. With a starting price some $1,300 less than a GTI the Focus delivers a solid value proposition. Fully loaded the difference narrows to less than a grand in cash but more than $3,000 when you factor in the Ford’s greater feature content. While I’m sure that 2015 will bring a VW GTI with more refinement and an improved interior, VW has confirmed the ST will still be the horsepower champion and likely the value leader as well. Compared to that RWD Ford on the lot, the pony car is less expensive but less practical as well. For the cost difference between the Mustang and the ST, you could buy all manner of performance mods for your pony to compete with the ST, but I have a feeling I’d still buy the Focus. For 2014 Ford’s hot hatch is without a doubt the hottest hatch on sale in America, but with Volkswagen planning on sending their 290HP Golf R to the USA and Ford’s own high-power Focus RS rumored, things are just starting to warm up.

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

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.3

0-60: 5.95

1/4 Mile: 14.36 Seconds @ 98.5 MPH

Average Observed Fuel Economy: 25.7 MPG over 1210 Miles

Sound Level at 50 MPH: 76.4 dB


2014 Ford Focus ST Engine 2014 Ford Focus ST Engine-001 2014 Ford Focus ST Engine-002 2014 Ford Focus ST Exterior 2014 Ford Focus ST Exterior-001 2014 Ford Focus ST Exterior-002 2014 Ford Focus ST Exterior-003 2014 Ford Focus ST Exterior-004 2014 Ford Focus ST Exterior-005 2014 Ford Focus ST Exterior-006 2014 Ford Focus ST Exterior-007 2014 Ford Focus ST Exterior-008 2014 Ford Focus ST Exterior-009 2014 Ford Focus ST Exterior-010 2014 Ford Focus ST Interior 2014 Ford Focus ST Interior-001 2014 Ford Focus ST Interior-002 2014 Ford Focus ST Interior-003 2014 Ford Focus ST Interior-004 2014 Ford Focus ST Interior-005 2014 Ford Focus ST Interior-006 2014 Ford Focus ST Interior-007 2014 Ford Focus ST Interior-008 ]]> 142
BMW to Turn FWD Up to Eleven With UKL1 Chassis Fri, 06 Dec 2013 15:31:19 +0000 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.

]]> 41
Piston Slap: Say “Audi 5000″ to your Tow Vehicle! Mon, 16 Sep 2013 12:17:44 +0000

TTAC commentator Trend-Shifter writes:

I have a 1984 Audi 5000S Avant that is used as the wife’s car and our traveling/towing vehicle. Here is my dilemma…

  1. The air conditioning works as designed in 1984 (still using R12) but it is not to the standards of a modern “Merican” car. It is only comfortable at freeway speeds and without too much sunlight in that expansive greenhouse. The wife complains loudly all summer!
  2. The engine is only 110 horsepower. So when the air is turned on it dramatically impacts drivability. If I pull any kind of grade I need to turn the air off as not to impact drivers behind me.
  3. Right now I tow my jet ski with the car. It pulls it great at any speed as long as the air condition is off. (Refer to item 2, Wifey is not happy when the air is off!)
  4. I also have an 18 ft boat that I will need to tow in 2~3 years as my Grandsons get of age.

So based on the fact that the Audi 5000 Avant will not pull the boat, I think my best plan is to replace the Audi 5000 Avant in the next two years to fix all the problems I identified rather than modify the air conditioning or the engine.

I have looked at various SUV’s for towing. I want just real RWD, not some wannabe FWD disguised as AWD. The big ole freighter SUV’s are really expensive, not good at high speeds, and suck a lot of fuel. So I started to lean towards a 2006~2009 Cadillac SRX with the Northstar V8. (engine issues resolved in 2005) I think a 2000~2010 low mileage (under 40,000 miles) Lincoln Town Car is the best choice for all my problems. (Can’t handle the Grand Marquis & Crown Vic styling)

The Lincoln Town Car is RWD, has a V8, sits lower, cuts the wind, is very reliable, and gets decent mileage compared to other RWD frame SUVs. A set of plus wheels, Michelin Pilot Sports, and a transmission cooler should complete the package.

Does this sound crazy –OR- crazy as a fox (I mean Panther). If you agree, what years are the best?

Audi 5000 pair

BTW… My other car is also an Audi 5000. It is an 1987 Audi Quattro. (I drive it 110 miles round trip everyday to work on the Deeeetroit freeways) So the RWD Lincoln can sit in the garage on those snowy days.

Sajeev answers:

I’m impressed with your Audi 5000 collection (sorry I couldn’t do a Vellum Venom remotely) but I had no clue der avant was a tow vehicle! Good to hear this rig is saying Audi 5000 to THAT job! And your wife has the patience of a Saint to put up with situations that inhospitable for 110 horsepower. But I digress…

“The Lincoln Town Car is RWD, has a V8, sits lower, cuts the wind, is very reliable, and gets decent mileage compared to other RWD frame SUVs.”

I found this quote interesting, as I should also find it appealing. So you need a tow vehicle for bulky things, but you want one with a design aesthetic as your 5000. Longer, lower and wider than an ordinary truck?  More fuel-efficient too, right? So why not?

This is a fool’s errand. You WANT a bigger and taller nose/face when towing to punch a bigger hole in the air for your trailer! A Panther can do the job adequately, but it will struggle more because the boat will make it its bitch. I’d recommend a full-sized conversion van to maximize the size of the hole punched for that 18ft boat.

Not that you NEED a conversion van to punch an adequate hole for a boat that small, but why the hell not?  SUVs and real pick-em-up trucks lack the aero of a van, are overpriced, and vans are so frickin’ great for road trips. Keep the 5000 Avant for your wife’s normal commute, buy a nicely depreciated custom van for towing.

A 1994-2003 Dodge Ram Van, 1996-present Chevy Express Van and the 1992-present Ford Econoline are the proper successors to your Audi 5000 tow vehicle.  Find one with a towing package and the options you’d like.  I’d go with a mid-90s Econoline for it’s most Bauhausian Styling to appeal to your Audi-conscious style, get it with the torquey (but thrifty!) 4.9L big six, modernize/upgrade the brakes/wheels/transmission cooler for light towing duty and lose the conversion van paint job for a stark, Germanic gun metal gray. Yummy.

A perfect machine for one’s Piston Slap pragmatism and one’s Audi 5000-worthy Vellum Venom demands.

And for you Best and Brightest peeps who thought I’d take the Panther Love bait: I never did, son!


Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.





]]> 122
Alphabet Soup: 4×4 vs 4WD vs AWD Where’s the Differential? Mon, 17 Jun 2013 23:09:25 +0000 2012 Jeep Patriot Latitude, Exterior, trail rated badge, Photography by Alex L. Dykes

Four wheel drive, all wheel drive, 4WD, AWD, full-time, part-time, 4Hi, 4Lo, 4×4. There are many names and just as many ways of motivating every wheel a vehicle has on the ground. What’s the difference between four-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive? In one word: Marketing. Want to know more? Click past the jump as we dive in the most controversial topic since “Dodge vs Chevy.”

Motivating four wheels in a car isn’t new, we’ve been doing it for over 110 years. If you thought this was a recent affectation, you’re not crazy. Over the last 30 years there has been an explosion in the number of vehicles powering a quartet of tires. There has also been a similar explosion in the number of ways we power four wheels. At the same time the way systems are designed, marketed and used have converged and with them the terms AWD and 4WD have have practically merged. Of course, the SAE does have a definition “an all-wheel-drive vehicle is one that has an on-demand feature that occasionally sends power to the non-primary powered wheels.” But what that means has changed a great deal over time.

The Good Old Days

Let’s set the way-back-machine to 1970. Trucks and “Jeeps” had 4WD aka 4×4 systems. The system had to be engaged manually once you were on a loose surface because they “locked” the inputs of the front and rear differentials together making turning difficult on high traction surfaces. Engaging AWD on pavement could result in damage to the systems, or at the very least strange road manners. These systems were found on vehicles that would otherwise be RWD like trucks and truck-based “things.” Frequently the transfer case featured a reduction gear for more severe situations. 1970 Land Rover Range Rover, picture courtesy of Land Rover

Then came the 1970 Land Rover Range Rover (above), the self-proclaimed “first mass-produced vehicle with full-time AWD.” (Note they didn’t call it 4WD until later.) The system used a lockable center differential that allowed the front and rear axles to spin at different rates on pavement allowing the system to be engaged at all times. The system was designed with off-roading in mind, so the transfer case had a low range like like the rugged truck based systems at the time in addition to the full-lock feature.

Then came the AMC Eagle. AMC jammed a new NP119 transfer case made by New Process Gear behind a Chrysler transmission. The unit featured a viscus coupling to the front axle that would allow power to flow to both axles simultaneously while still allowing them to turn at different rates. But this AMC wasn’t a truck, didn’t have a low-range and had an independent front suspension. Not knowing what to call it, AMC called it 4×4. So much for standards.

16 - 1989 Dodge Colt 4WD Down On The Junkyard - Picture Courtesy of Murilee Martin

Then Audi released the Quattro in 1980, but despite featuring a manually lockable center differential, Audi chose to call it “all-wheel-drive” or AWD. (Later Quattros were automatic.) The AWD vs 4WD differentiation was born. Soon everyone was getting into the four-wheel-motivation game but nobody agreed what to call the systems. In 1982 Fiat introduced the world to the first four-wheel-motivated vehicle with a transverse engine layout and a transaxle (the Fiat Panda 4×4). It was the start of a revolution. Some car companies followed Audi’s suit and referred to car systems as AWD while the  Toyota Tercel, Dodge Colt and others sported 4WD or 4×4 labels. This was the start of the “that’s not four-wheel-drive, that’s all-wheel-drive” argument.

By the ’90s SUVs started to roam the land. The box-on-frame creatures borrowed their drivetrains from  truck parts bins and brought with them 4×4 and 4WD monikers. (And a bevy of full-time and part-time systems.) Meanwhile, the proliferation of AWD systems exploded and we soon started seeing them in everything from Chrysler minivans to the Porsche 993. Despite the proliferation, the industry had more-or-less settled on calling longitudinal “truck” systems 4WD/4×4 and “car” systems (especially transverse systems) AWD.

2012 MINI Countryman, Exterior, rear, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

The 21st Century

Crossovers happened. In truth the crossover was born in the 20th century, but the era of the “modern crossover” dawned within the last 15 years. In 1995, crossovers were a microscopic segment composed of jacked-up station wagons. By 2005 the non-truck utility vehicles accounted for more than 50% of the segment. At the dawn of the 2014 model year there are few “traditional” SUVs left, especially in the volume mid-sized segment. Those that remain account for a minority of sales.

Back to the marketing. Now, more than ever, the lines between truck and car are being blurred by marketing speak. Ford calls their Explorer AWD while Nissan is claiming the Pathfinder had 4WD and Chrysler says the Jeep Patriot is a 4×4. The truth is all three drivetrains operate on the same general design as that 1982 Fiat Panda: the transverse AWD system. The system Fiat called “4×4″ in the 1980s is now thought of as “AWD” by Fiat in this decade. What gives?

2012 Volvo S60 T6 AWD R-Design, Exterior, Photography Courtesy of Alex L Dykes

The Current State of Affairs

This brings us to the present. Now that we know the AWD vs 4WD vs 4×4 battle is a war of marketing speak, and we have a bit of history under our belts. Let’s talk about how AWD systems work. Why? Because it’s more important to know how the systems work than what they are called. Let’s go over them one by one. Since I’m not a graphic artist I’ll toss in a rough power-flow diagram to show how each system works.

Part time locking AWD System, Drawing Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Part time locking systems with a longitudinal layout

In the picture above we have a traditional “truck” system, the one that some people will call a “real 4×4.” There is no center differential so the system shouldn’t be used on-pavement because the front and rear axles cannot spin at different speeds. The system has to be engaged by the user in some manner, either with a lever or a button. Most systems use a chain drive to connect the front and rear axles so power flow is (in theory) locked 50/50 front/rear. If one rear wheel is freely spinning, the front wheels will still have grip. If one front wheel and one rear wheel freely spin, the vehicle won’t move. To solve that problem the systems usually include some form of locking or limited slip differential in the rear or both rear and front axles. The systems are typically very rugged and if the system employs fully-locking axles on the front and rear power is exactly 25/25/25/25 percent wheel to wheel and if three wheels lost traction the remaining wheel can consume all 100% of available power. Some systems integrate a low-ratio reduction gear into the transfer case.

Full time locking RWD based AWD System, Drawing Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Full time systems with a longitudinal layout

Based on the part-time systems we just talked about, Land Rover was the first company to use an existing idea to improve their new luxury off-roader and added a center differential after the reduction gear. This system became all the rage after AMC brought it to the mainstream in 1979 for the 1980 Eagle. These systems can take a variety of different forms. The “center differential” can be a simple open unit, a limited slip, a Torsen that apportions power unequally (i.e. 75% rear, 25% front unless slip occurs) or a simple viscous coupling which isn’t technically a differential at all. Each type of stem has benefits and drawbacks depending on your application. Open diffs apportion power equally, but if the front or rear wheels loose traction the car can’t send power to the other axle. Limited slip systems (including manual or auto-locking units) can connect the front and rear together, thus operating like a part-time system when the unit is fully engaged. If the system engaged on pavement however you can get a “binding” feel in tight turns. Torsen units are primarily used in performance oriented systems like high-performance variants of SUVs where you want added traction but a decidedly RWD bias.

You’ll find full-time systems of some description in the current Audi Q7, Jeep Grand Cherokee/Wrangler, Mercedes ML/GL/GLK/G, BMW X1/X3/X5/X6, GM’s full-size SUVs, Dodge Durango, Infiniti EX/FX, Land Rover LR4/Range Rover/Range Rover Sport, Lexus GX/LX, Nissan Armada, Porsche Cayenne, Volkswagen Touareg, Subaru Forester/Tribeca/Outback/XV, Toyota FJ/Land Cruiser/4 Runner/Sequoia.

Is that a long list? Yes. However that a complete list (insofar as I know) of SUVs currently sold on our shores with this type of a system. Why did I bother to list them all? Because it shows how few of this type of system there really are in the utility vehicle segment. Just a few years ago this number was higher and the market share of this system was higher still.

Subaru AWD Comparison, Courtesy of Subaru

Subaru and Audi you ask? Yes indeed. Audi’s longitudinal systems and Subaru’s AWD systems claim to be different or superior to the competition, but in reality the only difference is that they merge the center and front differentials into the transmission housing resulting in a space savings, but not necessarily a weight savings. (Mercedes claims 4Matic will take a scant 150lb toll in 2014, 50lbs lighter than Quattro.) This also means that the Subaru systems share design elements with traditional rugged body-on-frame SUVs, something that Subaru owners seem to rarely know but might want to brag about.

Front Wheel Drive Biased Transverse AWD System, Drawing Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Transverse engine based systems

British Motor Corporation popularized transverse engine front-wheel-drive systems in 1959 with the launch of the original Mini. The drivetrain layout has been so popular that the same basic design is used by 16 of the top 20 best-selling vehicles in America. (Everything but the full-size pickups on the top-20 list.) This drivetrain layout represented a challenge to AWD development, so it wasn’t until 1982 that Steyr-Daimler-Puch produced a four-wheel motivation system based on a transaxle. (For that Fiat Panda.)

What’s a transaxle? Excellent question. A transaxle is a transmission that integrates a front differential into its casing. That’s an important thing to keep in mind because the transaxle is why FWD layouts are preferred for fuel economy. In a transverse transaxle the power doesn’t have to “turn” 90 degrees to spin the front wheels. HOWEVER, in a transverse transaxle based AWD system, the power has to make two 90 degree turns on its way to the rear wheels. First power leaves the transmission, then heads to an angle gear which sends it to the back. Then power flows to the rear differential which turns power 90 degrees to the wheels. This is part of the reason that transverse full-time systems that always send power to the rear are [in general] just as efficient as longitudinal “RWD based” AWD systems. (This is why most of them disconnect the rear wheels whenever possible.)


While there are exceptions to this rule, 99% of transverse FWD systems have a fundamental difference from longitudinal systems because of the integrated front differential. Instead of creating a purpose built AWD transaxle, what car makers do is just extend the power output of the transmission (before the differential) out of the transmission case and into the angle gear that sends power to the back. (See the diagram above.) This means that the input to the front and rear differentials are tied, just like a part-time locking system that we discussed above. To keep the system from binding and improve fuel economy a clutch pack or a viscus coupling is placed between the angle gear and the rear differential. This allows the rear wheels to be uncoupled, but does nothing about the front wheels. Systems like this are incapable of sending more than 50% of the power to the rear unless the front wheels have zero traction. Acura’s SH-AWD system takes things one step further and uses an “acceleration device” aft of the clutch pack to make the rear wheels spin faster than the front wheels thereby giving the vehicle a slight rear “bias” even when the front wheels have traction.

Transverse systems come in many different flavors so it’s important to know what you’re buying before you sign on the line. Some systems on the market are “slip-and-grip” systems like the Honda CR-V which won’t lock the center clutch pack unless front wheel slip occurs. Then we have systems like the Ford Explorer which usually sends some power to the rear, locks the coupling during hard acceleration and varies it depending on vehicle dynamics. The Honda Ridgeline allows the center coupling to be locked in first gear while Jeep’s Patriot allows the center coupling to be almost fully locked at all speeds.

Jeeo Cherokee Front Wheel Drive Biased AWD System, Drawing Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

2014 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk

Perhaps the ultimate hybrid and head scratcher will be the 2014 Jeep Cherokee. Chrysler has yet to release complete details about the system, but what we can glean from the spec sheets and interviews is a system that meets all the criteria of a “traditional” 4×4/4WD system but has a functional layout similar to the systems “real” off-roaders would laugh and point at. We have a 9-speed automatic, nothing unusual there, but next we get something new for a transverse vehicle: a 56:1 (I4) or 47:1 (V6) reduction gear positioned after the transmission but infront of the differentials. (That’s lower than the Grand Cherokee and not too far off the 71:1 in the Wrangler.) Like the other systems, inputs for the front and rear diffs are mechanically tied and a clutch pack is used to connect or disconnect the rear axle from the transmission. Unlike many of the systems however, the 2014 Cherokee can fully lock the center coupling and Jeep tossed in an electronic locking rear differential.

I’ll close by posing a question: If my 2001 GMC Envoy (GMT360 SUV) with its two-speed transfer case and locking center differential can be considered a 4WD/4×4 vehicle. What is the Cherokee? AWD or 4WD? With 4-Low range and a locking rear differential it meets all the traditional requirements, but under the hood you’ll find a four-cylinder or V6 engine sitting sideways. This author’s humble opinion is that the name doesn’t matter if the vehicle does what you expect of it. That Cherokee? We’ll have to wait and see but I suspect it will be as capable as a Grand Cherokee mostly thanks to a substantially lighter curb weight.

]]> 138
Read between the lines: Volvo’s 8-speed automatic Wed, 10 Apr 2013 19:40:20 +0000

What do the Volvo XC60 and Lexus RX F-Sport have in common? Not much. Yet. Today’s vehicles aren’t just built on “modular” platforms, sharing parts with other vehicles from the same manufacturer, they are also “parts bin creations.” You’ll find the same power mirror switch in a Chevy, Jeep, Peugeot, Citroën, Lancia, Lincon and many more. That’s because car parts are like Lego pieces, made by a handful of car parts companies and designed to be everything for everyone. It’s cheaper for everyone to design one switch, one control module, one key fob and just alter some of the plastics and a connector to suit your new car design.

Parts sharing isn’t new of course, it’s been going on ever since “badge engineering” was invented in 1917, but this is different. Instead of one company buying parts from another, or GM tossing a new logo on an Oldsmobile to create a Buick, these parts are made by a third party, available for sale to anyone with the cash. Ever wonder how Fiskar and Tesla can create a unique vehicle so quickly? The universal parts bin is how.

Most car companies dive into the same interior parts bins time after time, rarely seeking new foraging grounds. This is why the Big Three seem to frequently share things like those window switches, seat controls, etc. Meanwhile the Europeans and Japanese tend to have their own circle of parts suppliers. It’s also why the Coda sedan looks so odd to Americans; Coda raided a Chinese market parts bin. When it comes to powertrains, geographic divisions drop because engines and transmissions are expensive to develop resulting in a smaller global pond to fish from.

The big boys in passenger car automatic transmission design are: ZF, GM, Aisin, Mercedes, Jatco and Hyundai. Why am I not including Chrysler and Honda? Chrysler is easy: they have chosen to license/tweak transmissions from ZF rather than developing their own. Ford can’t make up their mind co-developing a 6-speed transaxle with GM, then licensing ZF’s 6-speed RWD swapper. All indications seem to point to Ford licensing the 8-speed RWD box from ZF while splitting development costs with GM on new xx-speed transaxles for smaller cars. Honda doesn’t tend to sell its in-house transmissions to other companies and if the rumor mill is correct, Honda will be buying ZF’s 9-speed transaxle while they shift R&D dollars to CVT development.

What does that mean to you as a consumer? And why are we talking Volvo and Lexus? Because companies tend to stick with a transmission maker for the long haul. BMW has a history of buying GM and ZF. Luxury car companies (and now Ford and Chrysler) typically use ZF cog-swappers. Ford Europe and Renault are in bed with Jatco. Chrysler likes Hyundai’s FWD transaxles. Toyota, Lexus, Volvo, MINI, VW, Mitsubishi and Porsche order from Aisin’s transmission catalog. Consequently when a new Euro sedan comes out with ZF’s latest widget, you know that sooner-or-later every ZF customer have it. (There is usually a delay because companies will pay extra to have a period of exclusive access to new technology.)

When the 2013 Lexus RX 350 F-Sport dropped quietly last year at a Lexus event, I was excited and intrigued. Not by the refreshed RX, but by what;s under the hood: the first production 8-speed automatic transaxle. Since the RX is a Lexus, we know that the transmission was made by Aisin (Toyota doesn’t use anyone else). Logically it was only a matter of time until this tranny landed on the Aisin general catalog and today appears to be that day. As a footnote in Volvo’s press release about their new four-cylinder engine family is buried one line “Volvo will also introduce a new 8-speed automatic gearbox that contributes to a refined drive and excellent fuel economy.” I’ll bet dollars to doughnuts the new slushbox is the same 8-speed unit that’s in the RX F-Sport I’m driving this week. Next stop: 8-speed Mazda 6, VW Jetta, MINI Cooper.

If you’ve ever wondered why it took so long for the four speed automatic to be developed, while 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 speed units have happened so rapidly, part of the answer is in this shift to communal parts-bin technology. While this means technology can develop more rapidly with more resources being applied to the same development project, it also means cars lack the uniqueness they once had. No longer can we sit around the card table drinking beer and arguing the eternal question: TorqueFlite vs Cruise-O-Matic vs Hydra-Matic.


]]> 96
New or Used: Seatown, not Snowtown! Tue, 16 Oct 2012 14:00:13 +0000

TTAC Commentator Horseflesh writes:

Hey Sajeev and Steve,

Winter is coming. Like any true Seattle suburbanite, I dread the debut of the white stuff. We’re so scared of snow up here that the local insurance company even aired commercials teasing us about it.

I have to admit, the truth hurts, and I am a big snow-baby, choosing to stay off the roads as much as possible. But sometimes, you have to drive. And here’s the question: I need a hand from the Best & Brightest on selecting a snowy steed, because I just don’t have enough experience to know which of our vehicles is best suited to the job.

Option One: 2010 Mini Cooper Clubman, with manual transmission and Michelin Ice-X snow tires. This car is front wheel drive, obviously, including an automagical “dynamic stability control.” Sometimes the DSC light on the dash comes on under hard cornering, so you can be sure that something is happening… but how helpful is the system behind the dashboard light? I have no idea.

Option Two: 2000 Impreza RS, with manual transmission and all-season tires. This is a normally aspirated sedan, with AWD 50/50 power split and a limited slip rear differential. It has no form of electronic stability control. Surprisingly, the Scooby only weighs about 100 lbs more than the Mini. Lastly, if it makes the difference in the Snow Day Showdown, I’ll put on snow tires.

Option Three: 2003 E350 cargo van, with automatic transmission and all-season tires. Weighing more than the other 2 cars put together, and featuring the refinement of a coal train, I cannot see this being a good choice. Also, it is glacier white. The inevitable wreck would therefore be well-hidden from first responders.

What say the B&B? Does a FWD car with stability control and snow tires beat an AWD car without either? If the AWD car gets snow tires, does that change the outcome? There is likely at least one long, snowy drive ahead of me this winter, so I very much appreciate any input.


Steve answers:

It’s a good thing you’re thinking about it. As a former resident of upstate New York, let me clue you in on a few things.

First off, both the Mini and the Impreza will be perfectly fine in the snow. Although I would favor the Mini due to the snow tires and the electronic stability control. All wheel drive will not save your bacon if you don’t have any traction for the wheels. Snow tires make that difference in real world driving.

Front wheel drive is fine for most regions (which is where by the way?).. Snow tires are even better. Electronic stability control is one more strong plus.

The Impreza would offer a bit more ground clearance if you have to commute in an area where the snowfall is near Buffalo levels and the public services are near Detroit levels. All things being equal, I would stick with the Mini. If you really want to improve your snow driving prowess I would encourage you to strike up a few local conversations and watch some Youtube videos.

Sajeev answers:

Aside from LSX-FTW, tires have the most impact to a car’s performance: various sizes, inflation pressures, tread designs and rubber compounds are in play.  The Econoline might be okay with a ton of ballast in the rear, but it’s the worst choice. The best is the rig with the snow tires.  Plus, it’s front wheel drive!

The MINI is the only choice, total no brainer. Unless you sell it and get a Panther with the aforementioned ton of ballast in the trunk.  I only say this because my first car (1965 Ford Galaxie, automatic, open differential) lived in Palouse most of its life, with snow tires and a couple of sandbags in the trunk for ballast. And if my relatives could tough it out (as if) in a Galaxie for decades, why not treat yourself to a Panther?

I’m just sayin’…who else could make this question all about Panthers???

]]> 81
Piston Slap: 38,000 Impala Police Cars Recalled, Chevrolet Claims Victory? Tue, 14 Aug 2012 18:44:39 +0000


TTAC commentator Sinistermisterman writes:

Why isn’t Sajeev all over this one like a rash? GM recalls 38,000 cop cars.



Sajeev answers:

Well, I do have a job outside of TTAC!  But you have a good point. To wit: OMG SON PANTHER LOVE FTW!

The obvious “niche” rant about the need for a proper American sedan with a proper frame aside, there could be a bad batch of parts and not a failure of the entire platform.  Cop-spec Impalas have unique control arms, since the civilian version is just fine.  But this shows the value (or lack thereof) in a wrong-wheel drive, fleet specific application.  Time is money, and the Impala just wasted a lot of time for fleet managers around the country. But the Impala is history, there’s no more FWD in GM’s cop car coffers.

So who is the real loser?  Ford.  The Crown Vic killers are the only folks offering a wrong-wheel drive cop car, so the writing is on the wall:  spindles, ball joints, half-shafts and control arms in a FWD platform are a big threat to Law Enforcement.  No matter how you beef ‘em up!

And who is the winner?  Chevy.  But not the Caprice, the Tahoe. When the dust settles on Panther Love in the next 2-3 years, there will be another clear winner in Cop Car land: a durable, versatile, comfortable and fuel-efficient body-on-frame Chevrolet Tahoe.

Don’t buy the fuel efficiency comment?  I suspect many fleets are used to budgeting for 4-speed automatic Panther levels of gas suckage, so a lateral move to the 6-speed Tahoe won’t raise eyebrows in their communities.

And if they do? Well, have a look at the alternative’s lack of control (arm). Off to you, Best and Brightest!


]]> 70
Rental Car Review: 2012 Chevrolet Captiva Sport Sat, 14 Jul 2012 13:00:37 +0000  

If you’re shopping for a compact American crossover, Chevy’s Equinox is likely on your list. If however you’re looking to rent a small crossover, the Chevrolet Captiva Sport is probably what you’ll get for $29.95 a day from Hertz. While you’re bound to see them on the streets, you can’t buy them new unless you’re a fleet customer. That’s because the Captiva is designed to do two things: keep fleet sales of GM’s other CUVs low and continue to amortize the cost of Americanizing the Opel Antara. Yep, that’s right, under the bow tie, the Captiva Sport is none-other than the 2008-2010 Saturn VUE, aka the Opel Antata, Holden Captiva and Dawewoo Winstorm MaXX. We spent a week in a Hertz rental to find out if Chevy’s rental soft-roader should be on your used CUV shopping list.

Click here to view the embedded video.


The exterior of the Captiva is simple, clean, and completely unremarkable. Saturn called the design theme “Opel look share” which roughly translates to “Americanized Opel built-in Mexico.” Because the Captiva was “created” for fleet duty the plain-Jane looks are completely appropriate (and the slab-sides make covering the CUV with vinyl wraps or magnetic signs an easy process.) On the downside, the Captiva looks nothing like the rest of the Chevrolet product lineup. Of course, this probably isn’t a bad idea since fleet use tends to create high depreciation. Despite the rental-fleet target demographic, alloy wheels and side curtain airbags are standard on all Captiva models. If only Ford could have figure this out and kept the Panther afloat for fleet duty (and Sajeev.)


The Captiva’s interior is a study in grey plastic, but the look is both simple and tasteful. Cabin materials are higher than you might expect with plenty of soft touch plastics. Durability is always an issue with rentals. Our tester has over 18,000 miles on it and looked like a herd of feral animals had migrated in one window and out the other, however a pre-photo shoot wipe-down revealed that the interior plastics took the beating in stride, showing little wear, but questionable fit and finish. Most Captivas for rent (and therefore available on the used market) have the “2LS” package which includes a power driver’s seat, lumbar support, leather-wrapped steering wheel, single-zone climate control, fog lights and Bluetooth phone integration. The standard cloth seats are firm and supportive up front, but fairly hard and low to the ground in the rear. Luggage space in the Captiva rings in at 29 cubic feet behind the rear seats, and 54 cubes with the rear seats folded. This is higher than the $19.95-a-day Malibu, but about 30% less than the CR-V and RAV4.


Unlike most GM fleet vehicles, the Captiva can’t be stripped to the bone for volume buyers. This means you can expect all rental and off-rental Captivas out there to have side-curtain airbags, air conditioning, cruise control and a silver-tone version of GM’s corporate AM/FM/CD/MP3/iPod/USB head unit. While GM does offer the option to remove OnStar and XM Satellite Radio from the Captiva, doing so is an “option” that only reduces the sticker by $85 so it doesn’t seem common. GM has had a long history of phone integration since OnStar came on the scene in 1995 and this translates into excellent Bluetooth phone call quality. The head unit’s iDevice and USB integration worked well with my iPod nano, iPhone 4S and iPad 3 as well as a variety of USB flash drives but navigating a large collection of songs is tedious on the small display.


Under the short hood of the Captiva lurks “some engine.” As a fleet or rental car, this section is fairly unimportant and could understandably skipped if GM hadn’t made some important improvements. Back in 2008 the VUE had less-than-refined engine and transmission choices. Rather than maintaining the status quo, GM dropped in a new 2.4L direct-injection four-cylinder engine good for 182HP and 172lb-ft of torque and bolted it to a 6-speed automatic. The power boost over the old four is welcome, but the transmission is the bigger change. The GM/Ford developed 6-speed delivers smooth shifts with surprisingly little hunting and most importantly: improved fuel economy. There is still a V6 option, but the old 3.6L engine has been ditched in favor of a more powerful 3.0L direct injection V6 putting out 264HP and 222lb-ft. As with the old Saturn VUE, AWD can only be added with the V6.


The Captiva’s Opel roots are obvious out on the road and I’m not talking about the odd-looking steering wheel stalks. The Captiva handles twisty roads acceptably with a well controlled chassis, average steering feedback and a surprisingly quiet ride. Stabbing the throttle in the four-cylinder model produced very little torque steer despite the respectable 182HP on tap.

Unlike many of GM’s four-cylinder engines, the 2.4L direct injection engine is surprisingly quiet, smooth and thankfully free of the diesel-like clatter from BMW and Ford’s turbo fours. This level of engine refinement is important, because 182HP pitted against 3,900lbs means the engine spends plenty of time at higher RPMs.

The EPA rates the four-cylinder Captiva at 20/28MPG (city/highway), an improvement of 1/6MPG over the Saturn VUE thanks to the extra gears and the DI treatment. The FWD V6 Captiva matches the V6 FWD VUE at 17/24MPG despite the increase in power while the AWD Captiva takes a 1MPG hit on the highway. The 6-speed automatic manages to make the 400lb heavier Captiva competitive with the 4-speed RAV4 and only 3MPG behind the 5-speed CR-V.

GM’s fleet website prices the Captiva Sport between $23,435 and $32,860 depending on your trim and options. Given that GM fleet purchases typically see rebates from $500 to $3,000 depending on the number of vehicles purchased, the true starting cost is lower. A quick used car search revealed nearly a hundred used 2012 Captivas within 500 miles of my location compared with four 2012 RAV4s, and 15 2012 CR-Vs. This comparative plenty helps translate to the advertised $18,000 prices for low mileage (under 12,000 miles) base models and $26,000 for fully loaded AWD Captivas with leather. Adjusting for content, a used RAV4 has a resale value some $2,000-$3,000 higher and a quick conversation with the Hertz sales guy proved there was plenty of room to negotiate on the Chevy. Since late-model used car purchases are all about the bang-for-the-buck, if you’re shopping for a bargain used crossover, the 2012 Chevrolet Captiva Sport should be on your short list.


Neither Chevrolet nor Hertz provided anything for this review. Our total bill was $360 after tax and insurance for a 5-day rental.

Specifications as tested

0-60: 9.5 Seconds (2.4L FWD)

Average Fuel Economy: 20.1 MPG over 623 miles


2012 Chevrolet Captiva Sport, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Chevrolet Captiva Sport, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Chevrolet Captiva Sport, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Chevrolet Captiva Sport, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Chevrolet Captiva Sport, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Chevrolet Captiva Sport, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Chevrolet Captiva Sport, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Chevrolet Captiva Sport, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Chevrolet Captiva Sport, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Chevrolet Captiva Sport, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Chevrolet Captiva Sport, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Chevrolet Captiva Sport, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Chevrolet Captiva Sport, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Chevrolet Captiva Sport, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Chevrolet Captiva Sport, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Chevrolet Captiva Sport, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Chevrolet Captiva Sport, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Chevrolet Captiva Sport, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Chevrolet Captiva Sport, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Chevrolet Captiva Sport, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Chevrolet Captiva Sport, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]> 52
Review: 2012 Ford Edge Limited EcoBoost Fri, 06 Jul 2012 17:35:59 +0000  

Once upon a time, in a country known as America, SUVs roamed the land with large-displacement inline 6s, optional V8s, and locking axles. Nobody had heard of a “cute ute.” Of course, gasoline was also under a buck a gallon. Today the landscape is different. While the last energy crisis caused entire vehicles to downsize, the response to the latest energy “crisis” (and government pressure) has been to downsize engines while leaving the rest of the vehicle intact. Case in point? The Ford Edge EcoBoost. No, this isn’t the 3.5L fire-breathing twin-turbo you’ve heard about before, this is the all-new 2.0L engine that puts the Eco in EcoBoost.

Click here to view the embedded video.


In 2007 Ford sold over 130,000 Edge CUVs, but sales slid slowly as the financial meltdown and high gasoline costs put shopper on notice. In order to keep things fresh, Ford face-lifted the Edge for 2011. While the proportions remain the same—a wide stance, slab sides, stubby schnozz and a raked windshield—Ford seems to have ditched their attempt at styling the Edge to look smaller. To that end, the formerly demure three-bar “Gillette” grill has been replaced with an Audi-esque billy-the-big-mouth-bass affair covered in all the chrome bling you could wish for. While some were offended by the large expanses of chrome-effect plastic, I think a bold front end is exactly what Ford needs to differentiate the Edge from the plethora of me-too CUVs on the road. That being said, the Jeep Grand Cherokee is still more visually exciting.


Our Edge tester was a “Limited” trim model. Starting at $34,940 and bringing standard goodies like dual-zone climate control, leather, 10-way power seats, an up-level Sony audio system and Ford’s MyFord Touch infotainment system, the  Limited sits at the top of the Edge food chain. If these goodies don’t piqué your interest, the Edge SEL crosses the infotainment upgrades off the equipment list for $31,400 and the base Edge SE EcoBoost starts at $28,845 with cloth seats and manual HVAC knobs. Regardless of trim level, the Edge’s parts quality and fit-and-finish are easily the best in its class. Even the Limited’s faux-wood trim is plausible in terms of realistic texture and tasteful distribution. The Edge seems to represent Ford’s continuing march toward premium interiors at premium price points. While this is no doubt a good direction for the brand, if you’re looking for a cheap, rough-and-tumble CUV replacement for your old Bronco II, this isn’t it. Strangely, the only real problem I have with the Edge’s interior is that it’s nice enough that I see little reason (aside from some real-wood) to upgrade to the Lincoln MKX. Thanks to the generous, corn-fed proportions, the cargo capacity of the Edge is a large 32 cubic feet expanding to 69 cubic feet with the rear seats folded.


Like the Android vs iPhone debate, infotainment systems spark fierce controversy. No system since iDrive has received as much bad press mixed with forum fan-boy rave reviews as MyFord Touch. Let’s cut to the chase. The 2012 Edge benefits from major software update designed to make the system more responsive and easier to use. During a previous week with the 2011 system, we experienced frequent freezing, random crashes, periodic reboots and the ever-so-popular “blue screen of death.” The 2012 version performed reliably. That’s not to say MyFord Touch is now perfect. The system is still dreadfully slow when compared to iDrive, UConnect 8.4 and Cadillac’s new CUE system. If slow interfaces bother you, just buy an Edge SEL, select every option except the Ford MyTouch system and you’ll essentially have a Limited without MyFord Touch. By doing so you can still get the backup camera and the voice activated SYNC system which work flawlessly. The downside? You won’t get the snazzy 4.2-inch LCDs on either side of the speedometer. Despite the sloth, my opinion is that MyFord Touch is one of the best systems on the market (after iDrive) in terms of functionality, aesthetics and ease of use. Yes the system is painfully slow at times, but I’d rather have a sluggish system that did everything MyFord Touch does than a snappy system that only covered the basics.


Ah, the section you’ve all be waiting for. Aside from the revised MyFord Touch system, the reason we’re looking at the Edge is the new EcoBoost engine. No, this isn’t the fire-breathing 3.5L twin-turbo monster that Ford is jamming under as many hoods as possible, this is the engine that puts the “eco” in EcoBoost. Ford started out with a 2.0L four cylinder aluminum block, added twin cams with independent variable valve timing, bolted on a Borg Warner (KKK) K03 turbocharger and lathered on the direct-injection sauce. The K03 is good for 16psi of boost which yields 240HP, 270lb-ft of torque and a “claimed” 30MPG on the highway.The observant in the crowd will note that while this is a 45HP decrease from the 3.5L V6, there is an extra 17lb-ft of torque-on tap. Speaking of torque, all 270lb-ft come to the boil at 1750RPM and stay strong to 4,500RPM while the 3.5L V6 peaks at 4,000. As long as the turbos are spooled up, the engine produces more torque at a given RPM than the V6. It’s this broad torque curve that allows the EcooBoost Edge to scoot to 60 only 0.4 seconds slower than the 3.5L V6 despite the drop in HP and the slight delay in off-the-line acceleration. The cost for this gem? $995. Power is sent to the front wheels via Ford’s 6-speed automatic transmission. Why there is no AWD option for this engine is anyone’s guess. The EcoBoost engine idles as smoothly as BMW’s 2.0L DI turbo – in other words, it sounds like a quiet diesel engine.


Thanks to extensive sound insulation, the only way you would know the 2.0L turbo lurks under the hood is by the way the Edge drives and gulps gasoline. Unlike the fuel-efficient engine choices of the last century, I prefer the way the 2.0L turbo drives to V6. Why? It’s all in the way the power is delivered. With all that twist arriving at low RPMs, the fact that the transmission is programmed to be recalcitrant to shift (for fuel economy) is not only a non-issue, it makes maintaining speed on a mountain grade a smoother affair than the V6 Edge which constantly hunts for the right gear. As you would expect with 270lb-ft on tap, torque steer and one-wheel burnouts are a mere throttle stab away. If I hadn’t driven an EcoBoost and V6 Edge back-t0-back I would have thought the turbo was the faster vehicle to 60 which arrived in just under 7.6 seconds.

The suspension in the Edge is tuned toward the softer side of CUVs, delivering a ride that is compliant and composed over all the broken pavement we could throw at it. This is thanks to the tall 60-series tires standard on the Edge as well as the wide 65-inch track. While I wouldn’t ever call a two-ton crossover a “corner carver,” the Edge is in many ways a grossly overweight Mazda 6 and handles as such. Remind you of a CX-7? It should. On windy mountain roads it can pull up its support hose and feign some dance moves, but it is unlikely the average buyer will ever try.

If you’re shopping for a two wheel drive crossover and need the generous capacity the Edge offers, the EcoBoost model is hand-down Ford’s best offering. If however you’re looking for fuel efficiency in a 5-seat crossover the Edge EcoBoost becomes a less exciting proposition. During our 734-mile week with the Edge we averaged 24.2MPG with conservative driving and plenty of highway miles. While this does represent a nearly 5MPG improvement over the 3.5L V6 Edge on the same driving cycle and a break-even point of around 4 years for the $995 engine option, city dwellers and those with lead feet will find themselves averaging 19-20MPG. Despite the active shutters and a cool, A/C-free coastal California drive, the Edge struggled to average 29MPG with the cruise control set to 65MPH. Despite not living up to its EPA numbers, the EcoBoost delivered a superior driving experience and a true 20-25% improvement in fuel economy meaning. There is just one problem: the all-new Ford Escape. Despite being rated a very similar 22/30MPG, our short stint with the 2.0L EcoBoost Escape proves that its real world average is around 27MPG. While the Escape is smaller than the Edge, it’s also more nimble, handles better, lighter, faster, cheaper and AWD is an option.


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. 

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

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.73 Seconds

0-60: 7.59 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 15.95 Seconds @ 84.7 MPH

Average Fuel Economy: 24.2 MPG over 734 miles



2012 Ford Edge Limited Ecoboost 2012 Ford Edge Limited Ecoboost-001 2012 Ford Edge Limited Ecoboost-002 2012 Ford Edge Limited Ecoboost-003 2012 Ford Edge Limited Ecoboost-004 2012 Ford Edge Limited Ecoboost-005 2012 Ford Edge Limited Ecoboost-006 2012 Ford Edge Limited Ecoboost-007 2012 Ford Edge Limited Ecoboost-008 2012 Ford Edge Limited Ecoboost-009 2012 Ford Edge Limited Ecoboost-010 2012 Ford Edge Limited Ecoboost-011 2012 Ford Edge Limited Ecoboost, Interior, Dashboard, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Ford Edge Limited Ecoboost-013 2012 Ford Edge Limited Ecoboost-014 2012 Ford Edge Limited Ecoboost-015 2012 Ford Edge Limited Ecoboost-016 2012 Ford Edge Limited Ecoboost, Interior, Ford My Touch 2012, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Ford Edge Limited Ecoboost-018 2012 Ford Edge Limited Ecoboost-019 2012 Ford Edge Limited Ecoboost-020 2012 Ford Edge Limited Ecoboost-021 2012 Ford Edge Limited Ecoboost-022 2012 Ford Edge Limited Ecoboost-023 2012 Ford Edge Limited Ecoboost-024 2012 Ford Edge Limited Ecoboost-025 2012 Ford Edge Limited Ecoboost-026 2012 Ford Edge Limited Ecoboost-027 2012 Ford Edge Limited Ecoboost-028 2012 Ford Edge Limited Ecoboost, Engine, 2.0L Turbo, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Edge Ecoboost Monroney Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]> 113
Commercial Week Day Four Review: 2012 Ford Transit Connect Thu, 19 Apr 2012 13:49:49 +0000

Americans with well worn passports often amaze their less-traveled friends with miraculous tales of a land full of tiny, fuel-efficient vehicles, expensive gasoline and miniature cans of Coke. (Really, those Coke cans are awesome.) The story inevitably ends with, “I wish I could buy X here”.  Ford has so far been the most receptive to these cries, with the tasty Euro Focus, Fiesta (and soon the Fusion/Mondeo) to our shores. But what about some fuel-efficient love for the man-in-the-van? That’s where the Transit Connect fits in according to Ford. TTAC is no stranger to the Transit Connect with our own Sajeev Meta taking a spin in 2009. However in this review, we’ll attempt to compare the Connect to the other commercial options on the market while channeling our inner Joe-six-pack.

The Connect is off to a good start, with sales climbing from 8,834 in 2009 to 31,914 in 2011 proving there is a market for a mini-bread-van. The small hauler even accounted for 21.4% of Ford’s US van sales in 2011. Meanwhile, sales of the ancient and thirsty E-Series increased from 85,735 units to 116,874 from 2010 to 2011. By comparison, GM shifted just 89,211 vans in 2011. The reason behind the sales jump is obvious: high gas prices and no efficient cargo haulers to compete with it. But does that mean you should own one?

The overall look is awkward to the American eye with a tall box grafted onto a long car-like hood, but looks aren’t what this vehicle is about. Compared with the E-150, the full-sized van is 36 inches longer, 9 inches wider but only 3 inches taller on the outside. The inside is where things get interesting. The E-150 supports a cargo hold 120 x 73 x 52 (L x W x H in inches) while Connect provides 81 x 59 x 59, that’s actually 7-inches taller than the E-150. Getting bulky cargo inside the Connect is easy with a cargo hold opening that is 51.1 x 52.1 inches (W x H) compared to the E-Series 53.9 x 49.5. More importantly, the load floor that is 5.5 inches lower and the double doors open a full 255-degrees  magnetically latching to the side of the van. If you prefer to talk in cubes, the Connect will haul 107 fewer cubic feet of widgets (130) than the E-150. Sounding too good to be true? The light 1,600lb maximum payload (half what a base E-150 will haul) limits the Connect to lighter hauling than even a Chrysler minivan (1,800lbs) and should be kept in mind before you buy one for your metal recycling business.

Compared to the RAM C/V, the Transit Connect is 22-inches shorter, 8-inches narrower but 10.4 inches taller. While Chrysler was unable to provide us with a RAM C/V to test, there are a few problems with the blue-collar Caravan you should know about. The C/V retains the Caravan’s tailgate making access more difficult when being loaded by a forklift or tall employee. In addition, despite being nearly two feet longer than the Ford, the RAM’s cargo hold is only 17 inches deeper, and although it is 3 inches wider, it’s nearly a foot shorter. The RAM’s ability to carry 4×8 sheets of whatever is appealing, but the cargo opening is smaller at 45×40 inches vs the Connect’s 50×52 inch opening. Who cares? Pallet fans. All standard North American pallet sizes fit in the Connect while only the smallest of the sizes will fit in the RAM. Where does that leave us on cargo? The Connect’s light payload precludes the baby-Ford from being used in heavy-hauling activities like carpet cleaning where a cleaning unit and waste tank can easily reach 1,900lbs. However, general cargo hauling, palletitzed items, bakeries, dry-cleaners, pet businesses, cleaning services and electricians may find the fuel economy and maneuverability outweigh the payload capacity.

The cabin of the Transit Connect is turn-of-the-century Euro-Ford. From the air vents to the steering wheel and center-mount window switches it’s obvious this Turkish delight hails from the old world. Despite the Connect’s European origins, the seats are broad enough to accommodate even the most American-sized drivers, but the padding could be thicker for long journeys. Due to the proportions, taller drivers downsizing from the E-Series will be surprised by more headroom (an epic 51 inches), an inch more legroom and a footwell that’s considerably wider and taller than the full-sized van  (due to the engine being entirely under the hood half way into the cabin). If you have size 12 or larger feet, the difference is tremendous with the E-150 constantly making me feel as if I was trapped.

For 2012, Ford killed the awful Work Solutions in-dash computer (as pictured above) and replaced it with the optional ($395) SYNC system which is a considerable improvement over the former Euro headunit in terms of iPod and USB connectivity as well as sound quality. On the downside it means that a navigation system is no longer offered. Should you need to GPS track your fleet, Ford offers their Crew Chief solution from the factory for $925.  Aiding inner-city parking are optional parking sensors and a backup cam, available together for $470. For some reason Ford chose not to re-key the Connect for the American market retaining the unusual Tibbe key which is more common across the pond but on these shores are almost exclusively found on pre-2006 Jaguars. The Euro-novelty key can cost up to $200 if you lose it. Ouch.

Shuttling the baby-bread-van around is Ford’s ubiquitous 2.0L four-cylinder engine and four-speed automatic borrowed from the previous generation American Focus. With just 136HP at 7,000RPM and 128lb-ft at 4,750RPM on tap, the Connect is far from swift, but considering it weighs 1,900lbs less than the E-150, it’s just as quick as the 235HP full-sized Ford. The missed opportunity with the Connect is obviously the ancient four-speed automatic which seems to hunt for gears frequently when hill climbing and rarely finds what it’s after. Should you feel gaseous, the Connect is available with factory Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) prep for $315 which consists largely of hardened valve seats. To complete the CNG picture, you take your Transit to a conversion company and they remove the gas tank and install the gas cylinders. While there is usually a net loss in cargo space as a result of the conversion, California and a few other states will allow certified conversions to drive solo in HOV lanes which may offset the reduction in capacity for some.

In order to test the Transit Connect properly, I grabbed some friends, loaded it to the gills and went camping. This was possible because our tester was a 5-seat “wagon”, the result of an import tax dodge. Not wanting to bore readers with the details, all Connects are built in Turkey with seats and rear windows and cargo-style floor covering. When they get to Baltimore, those destined for cargo duty have the seats removed and windows replaced with steel inserts. If you want a 5-passenger van, Ford will just skip all the needless destruction. Back to the camping: with three 200lb adults and some 1,000lbs total of camping gear, a generator, 60 gallons of water and 1/8 cord of firewood, the Connect was riding low on the dirt roads of the “lost coast.” Thankfully the combination of FWD and high ground clearance (7.9 inches vs 5.6 on RAM C/V)  and fairly short wheelbase (114 inches) made easy work of the rutted terrain and proved the Connect would perform admirably on the imperfect surfaces of the average construction site. Out on the open road, the Connect doesn’t feel “car-like” despite its car-origins, this is thanks to the solid rear axle and other “heavy duty” suspension tweaks. While feeling more like a little truck than a minivan, the Connect is surprisingly nimble in the city with a 39′ turning radius. That may sound large to some of us, but in the world of commercial vehicles this is positively tiny, cutting a circle 8 feet smaller than the E-Series, 4 feet smaller than GM’s V6 van, 9 feet smaller than GM’s V8 van and a whopping 14-feet smaller than GM’s extended wheelbase wares.

Over 1,100 miles I helped my brother move, commuted in traffic, and spent 4 days driving and camping from San Jose to Eureka. Despite the hauling, commute traffic and sustained 76MPH highway speeds on our road trip (and the resulting 3,100RPMS thanks to ye olde 4-speed automatic), the Connect never dropped below 20 MPG, a significant improvement over the V8 E-Series on essentially the same journey. That 20MPG number is the reason that Jane-six-pack buys the Transit Connect for her trendy cupcake delivery service and it’s also the reason Joe-six-pack should seriously consider whether the space and hauling capacity of the E-Series is required. If not, the Connect makes a compelling case against the full-size work vehicles. Until Fiat/Chrysler bring over the Doblo vans as promised and Nissan brings the baby-NV to market for the commercial segment, the Transit Connect is your best choice for reducing the footprint of your fleet. Or is it? Visit TTAC tomorrow to find out.


This is part four of a five-part series on commercial vehicles. Click the links below for the others in this series:

2012 Nissan NV

2012 Chevrolet Express / GMC Savana

2012 Ford E-350

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

Specifications as tested

0-60: 11.8 Seconds

Average fuel economy: 20.5MPG over 1,105 miles

2012 Ford Transit Connect, Exterior, front 3/4 view, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Ford Transit Connect, Exterior, front 3/4 view, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Ford Transit Connect, Exterior, rear 3/4 view, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Ford Transit Connect, Exterior, front 3/4 view, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Ford Transit Connect, Interior, gauges at 77MPH, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Ford Transit Connect, Interior, gauges at 77MPH, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Ford Transit Connect, Interior, gauges at 77MPH, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Ford Transit Connect, Interior, dashboard, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Ford Transit Connect, Interior, dashboard, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Ford Transit Connect, Interior, dashboard, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Ford Transit Connect, Interior, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Ford Transit Connect, Interior, cargo area, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Ford Transit Connect, Interior, cargo area, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Ford Transit Connect, Exterior, side, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Ford Transit Connect, Exterior, rear doors open, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Ford Transit Connect, Exterior, rear 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Ford Transit Connect, Exterior, side 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2010 Ford Transit Connect (North America), photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]> 57
Review: A Week In A 2012 Nissan Leaf Wed, 29 Feb 2012 14:30:54 +0000

Last May, the Nissan Leaf was the hottest thing on the green radar. Limited production and a long waiting list for the press meant that Nissan was lending out Leafs (Nissan tells us that is the correct way to pluralize a Leaf) 62-hours at a time. With my long commute and lengthy 120V charging times, this meant a review with only 217 miles under our belt (read our three-part review here: 1 2 3). Now that a few thousand Leafs have found homes in Northern California and I had practiced my “range anxiety” breathing techniques, I was eager to see if the ultimate green ride was also a decent car beyond the batteries.

2012 hasn’t brought any changes to the outside of the Leaf, – it’s still offered only as a hatchback.  While the style can easily be called polarizing, and one friend thought it looked like a miniature hearse, passengers seemed to be split 50/50 on the look. Nissan tells us there is a reason for the chihuahua-lamps; aerodynamics and noise. When you create a car with a nearly silent drivetrain, wind noise becomes more obvious.  The shape of the lamp modules is designed to cut down on this element while in motion. The big-tire crowd will complain about the stock 205-width tires and 16-inch rims, but I didn’t mind the look. The rear lights? They just look cool.

Up to this point, essentially all cars heat the cabin with “waste heat” from the engine. Since the Leaf doesn’t have an engine, and the electric motor generates very little heat, the Leaf uses a 5kW electric heater to heat the cabin (roughly equal to 5 conventional space heaters). 2012 has brought a few welcome changes to combat this power draw:  heated front and rear seats and a heated steering wheel are now standard. The “luxury” touch of a heated tiller may seem out-of-place, but it takes considerably less power to heat the surfaces you interact with than the air in the cabin. The solution worked well for me, and I didn’t mind turning the cabin heating down to 61 degrees with my seat and steering wheel heating my touch-points on a 35 degree morning. Last time I was in the Leaf, I sacrificed everything in the name of range, but this time I drove it like a normal car.  Should you decide to use the cabin heater, rear passengers will notice some ducting improvements to make it more comfortable in the rear. At 31 inches, rear seat legroom is behind the Camry or Prius (36/38 respectively), but generous headroom all the way around made it possible to comfortably fit six-foot tall humans all the way around. We were also able to squeeze in two rearward facing child seats with two average sized adults up front.

Under the Leaf’s small hood lies an 80kW synchronous AC motor. Throw out most of what you know about engines when it comes to electric cars because they behave quite differently. Because the Leaf has a single-speed transmission and the motor redlines at 10,390RPM, the top speed is 96MPH. This linear relationship is important when thinking about the Leaf’s performance. 107 horsepowers are delivered between 2,730 and 9,800 RPM (25-90 MPH) while peak torque of 207 lb-ft is available right off the line from 0-2730 RPM (0-25 MPH) where it tapers off slightly.

Thanks to the low-end grunt, the Leaf posts a very respectable 2.92 second 0-30MPH time while the 0-60 time stretches out to 8.96 seconds (a considerable improvement over the 10.2 seconds the pre-production Leaf achieved in May). As you would expect with a 1 speed transmission, acceleration is very linear right up to its top speed. Due to some earlier complaints about the battery not charging properly in cold temperatures, Nissan added some basic thermal management in 2012 for the battery pack to keep it from loosing a charge when it is not plugged in and sitting in extremely cold weather.

Unlike your cell phone, the Leaf’s charging circuitry is built-in, and the “charger” is just a smart plug that communicates with the car and supplies the power to the car’s charger. 2011 and 2012 Leafs support three charge modes called Level 1, Level 2 and Level 3 (Level 3 is optional on 2011 and 2012 SV models) via it’s internal 3.3kW charger. For those not in the know, Level 1 is 120V AC, Level 2 is 240V AC and Level 3 is 480V DC. Charging the 24kWh battery will take a little over 26 hours at Level 1 via the included “emergency charging cable,” just over 7 hours with a Level 2 charger (available in some public parking lots or installed in your garage at home), or just over 30 minutes if and when 480V quick charge stations become available on our side of the Pacific. Shoppers should note that Nissan confirmed the 2013 leaf will have a 6.6kW charger which would cut Level 2 charging times in half to just over 3.5 hours. The DC quick charge connector was a standalone option in 2011, but with Nissan pushing for DC quick charging infrastructure, they have made it standard on the Leaf’s SL trim for 2012 (still optional on SV). According to EPA tests, the Leaf’s range varies from 138 miles under perfect conditions to 47 miles in heavy stop-and-go traffic. The traffic test cycle was 8 hours long and the A/C was in use for the entire test. I had no problems getting 75 miles out of the Leaf driving it like I would any other vehicle we have tested, with the automatic climate control set to 68 during a mild Northern California winter and mixed driving. Like all battery-powered appliances, your run time will vary.

During our week with the Leaf we noticed considerably wider availability of charging stations than during our first all-electric fling back in May. Among the stations we visited was a “PlugShare” station at the home of Howard Page, who agreed to an interview with us. Expect a more detailed charging story later, but in essence Howard listed his home charging station on PlugShare (there’s a web site and an app) as available for use. To “fill-up”, you SMS message or call the PlugShare host and ask if you can charge. If the host is feeling altruistic, they say yes, give you their address and any instructions about charging at their home. Our Leaf spent 7 hours in Howard’s driveway one day saving me the $2 per hour at my local public parking garage with the Level 2 charger, as well as allowing me to make i home. The concept is novel to say the least; handing out free electrons to similarly minded early adopters hoping it all evens out in the end. At $5 a complete charge, I wonder how long this system will last without some mini-payment system? Sound off in the comment section below if you would share your charging station to those in need, and similarly, how is this different from a gasoline sharing program where you keep a gallon on your doorstep for passers-by?

Click here to view the embedded video.

Last time we had the Leaf, our range anxiety prevented us from really thrashing the Leaf on windy mountain roads, romping the go pedal from a stop and mashing the brake pedal as we would with a normal car. A full week in the electron powered hatch (and careful pre-planned Level 2 charging arrangements) allowed us to do just that. The handling limits of the Leaf are, as one would assume, defined mostly by the 3,400lb curb weight and low rolling resistance tires. With the “40 MPG car” being all the rage lately, more and more cars are being sold with low rolling resistance rubber, so while the Leaf’s handling is unspectacular, so is the competition. The Leaf’s electric power steering takes some getting used to, but since the target market is unlikely to carve corners, it’s probably a non-issue. Whizzing along above 75 MPH is surprisingly easy and eerily quiet thanks to a nearly silent motor. Our last flirtation with the Leaf was fleeting enough that our Leaf was never fully charged, but this time, things were different.

To help extend battery life, hybrid vehicles never fully charge nor discharge their batteries – a luxury an all-electric vehicle cannot afford. This deep-cycling, or even the micro-cycling caused by regenerative braking when the battery is nearly full can shorten the battery’s life. As a result, the Leaf does something interesting, if you’re fully charged; the car won’t employ regenerative braking until the battery is sufficiently discharged. Why is this important? Because the Leaf’s braking is nicely weighted and balanced when regenerative braking, but for those first few miles in the morning when the battery is 100% charged, the mushy brake pedal feel was surprising and disconcerting until I checked in with a Nissan dealer’s mechanic. Again this probably isn’t a problem for the Leaf’s target demographic, but it does perhaps indicate some of the challenges of going all-electric. The suspension is tuned for a moderate ride, neither floaty, nor stiff and the chassis remains composed over a variety of road surfaces from gravel to pot-holed-asphalt.

The Leaf uses a modified version of the infotainment system available in other Nissan and Infiniti vehicles and includes a standard navigation system. iPod and iPhone integration is standard Nissan issue with on-screen access to playlists, songs, etc but no voice command ability ala Ford’s SYNC product. Speaking of voice commands, the Leaf’s navigation system curiously omits the ability to enter a street address via voice command, the only voice “command-able” destinations are saved destinations and the Leaf’s pre-programmed home address. As you would expect, you won’t find a power-sucking high wattage amp in the Leaf. The standard 6-speaker sound system does however have a neutral balance and is fairly competitive with the standard sound systems in the average mid-sized sedan. For those of you who still remember CDs, there’s a single slot located behind the sliding touchscreen which can also be used to update your nav’s map database.

I’d like to talk competition, but let’s be honest, there isn’t any yet. The Volt vs Leaf war is misguided at best because the Volt is not a pure electric car, as much as GM would like to claim otherwise. Ditto the plug-in Prius. Tesla cars will cost a king’s ransom and the i-MiEV sports one less seat, a considerably smaller interior and shorter range. The only real competition will be the 2013 Ford Focus Electric, which (on paper) appears to have the Leaf squarely in its sights. According to Ford, the Focus Electric will trump the Leaf with more gadgetry, a snazzier sound system, a more powerful 130 HP motor and some undeniably gorgeous looks. Ford is touting shorter recharge times versus the Leaf, but don’t be so quick to believe it. Both have similarly sized batteries (the Ford’s is actually 1kWh smaller) and Nissan has confirmed the 2013 Leaf will have a 6.6kW charger just like the Focus, so 2013 charging times will be equal. On the downside, the Focus is heavier, so despite claiming to be more efficient than the Leaf, if hill climbing is in your repertoire, use caution. The Focus is also $3,500 more expensive than the base Leaf and lacks the DC quick-charge port our SL tester was equipped with. Speaking of pricing, the Leaf starts at $35,200 and the SL model rings in at $37,250 (due to the addition of the quick charger, backup camera, auto healamps, fog lights and a cargo cover). If this price blows your mind, you’re not the target shopper. You’ll also need to factor in $1,500 (installed) for a home charging station (Best Buy tells us they cost $500 less than last year.)

Never before has buying an alternative fuel car meant as much of a lifestyle change. Diesel, natural gas, liquid propane and hydrogen vehicles all fill at a rate that is more-or-less the same as the average gasoline vehicle and deliver similar driving ranges. An electric car on the other hand delivers only 1/3 of the fairly standard 300 mile range you’ll find in most vehicles and takes 42 times longer to “fill”. If these drawback don’t bother you, the Leaf is a solid (if expensive) choice in the green car segment, but I’d wait for the 2013 model with the faster charger and perhaps for our review on the Focus Electric whenever we get our hands on one.


Nissan provided the vehicle, insurance and one full charge for our review.

Specifications as tested

0-30 MPH: 2.92 Seconds

0-60 MPH: 8.96 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 16.96 Seconds at 78.2 MPH

Average economy: 3.7 Miles/kWh over 689 miles

2012 Nissan Leaf, Exterior, side 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Nissan Leaf, Exterior, side, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Nissan Leaf, Exterior, side 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Nissan Leaf, Exterior, front 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Nissan Leaf, Exterior, front, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Nissan Leaf, Exterior, wheel, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Nissan Leaf, Exterior, charging connector, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Nissan Leaf, Exterior, charging port, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes IMG_2012 Nissan Leaf, Exterior, logo, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Nissan Leaf, Exterior, headlamp, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Nissan Leaf, Exterior, headlight, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Nissan Leaf, Interior, heated rear seats, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Nissan Leaf, Interior, driver's side, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Nissan Leaf, Interior, driver's side, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Nissan Leaf, Interior, infotainment, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Nissan Leaf, Interior, shifter, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Nissan Leaf, Interior, infotainment, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Nissan Leaf, Interior, center console, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Nissan Leaf, Interior, steering wheel controls, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Nissan Leaf, Interior, steering wheel controls, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Nissan Leaf, Interior, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Nissan Leaf, Interior, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Nissan Leaf, Interior, rear seats, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Nissan Leaf, Interior, rear seats, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Nissan Leaf, Interior, trunk, cargo area, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Nissan Leaf, Interior, trunk, cargo area, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Nissan Leaf, Exterior, charging, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Nissan Leaf, Exterior, charging connector, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail


]]> 104
What’s Wrong With This Picture: The Ultimate Driving… Van? Edition Sun, 27 Nov 2011 16:23:28 +0000 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.

Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail bmwvan2 bmwvan Bayerische Motoren Van?


]]> 11
Piston Slap: It Ain’t Easy Being on the Front Left! Mon, 21 Nov 2011 15:49:02 +0000

Matt writes:


I own an 06′ Hyundai Elantra GLS hatchback and tire wear on the front left tire has been much worse than the other three, despite rotating the tires. The outside of the front left tire is worn down so that it is smooth and now I can see a secondary layer of rubber being exposed. At first I thought maybe there was something wrong with the alignment but I took it to three places, one wanted to charge me a $90 “diagnostic” fee so I walked and the other two couldn’t find anything wrong. One place mentioned that since I had directional tires I couldn’t really get a proper rotation and thats probably what’s causing the wear.

My best guess is between the directional design of the tire tread and the nature of my driving it has caused extreme wear on the outside of my front left tire. The other three tires look fine and seem like I could get at least another year out of them. Anyway, my question is should I just replace the front left with an inexpensive replacement and get the remaining life out of the other three or should I just replace all four with an asymetric set? Factors to consider are that I live in the Northeast so I do get snow but it is not a requirement that I be out on the roads when it is falling so snow tires are not important, just a decent set of all seasons. Also I am a student right now so the cheaper option is more appealing to me but not if it is a minimal one. I have about 35k on the tires right now and they are General Altimax HP’s.

Sajeev Answers

It has nothing to do with the tread pattern of your tires. Damn son, you don’t need to pass everyone around EVERY corner!

I’m serious! But it’s all good. Before balancing things out with proper rear anti-roll bars, my rear-wheel drive cars normally had more wear on the front than the rear. It magnified my desire to push my vehicles hard, but not hard enough to induce oversteer and raise the ire of my neighbors…and the local law enforcement. So perhaps I shouldn’t cast stones from within my glass house.

Front wheel drive vehicles are prone to extra front tire wear because those doughnuts have to both accelerate and steer the vehicle. It’ll abnormally wear out the best of rubber. Combined with your obvious lead foot and the Hyundai’s lack of a limited slip differential, the left front wheel takes more than its fair share of tire wear.

What to do? I would recommend more handbrake turns or lift-off oversteer, but that’s pretty terrible advice for a hoon like yourself. The short-term answer is to get one tire to replace the worn out one, as this isn’t an AWD vehicle that demands equal tire circumferences. That’s the easy part.

The hard part? Getting you to chill out when you’re behind the wheel.

Send your queries to . Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.

]]> 16
Review: 2011 Mazda3 Sport GT Take Two Wed, 07 Sep 2011 20:35:10 +0000

Here’s an open secret: the Mazda3 is the auto-journo’s cop-out. “Hey,” inquires the prospective punter, “I’m actually kinda/sorta in the market. What do you recommend?” Nine times out of ten, the sporty little ’3 is gonna get a plug. Tenth guy wants a truck.

Now around here, obviously that’s not the case. Ask the TTAC boys what you should buy and Jack Baruth is going to punch you in the face and sleep with your wife, Sajeev Mehta will get a far-away look in his eyes thinking of all the non-running personal-luxury-coupe crap-cans he could add to his stable for the price of a new car, Bertel Schmitt’s going to give you a fascinating but interminable lecture on the nuances of some improbable menage a trois between Nissan, Geely and Fisher-Price, and me? Well, I’m new around here. Again.

Which is why I’m going to extoll me a little Zoom-Zoom.

Traditionally, the bit after the jump is where we TTAC scribes dissect the styling of whatever whip we’ve managed to con out of the press guys. Except for Jack who’d be playing a blues riff and eating a baby or something.

However, I can’t be bothered. Look, the Mazda3 has a big goofy smiley face. Who cares. Too much ink has been already shed — unnecessarily — over the “Hai Guyz!” look that Nagare bestowed upon the Mazda3′s once-handsome visage. I’ll say no more than, “I liked the old one better,” and, “But it grows on you.”

Why don’t you take a seat over there? That’s where you’ll find out that the leather-clad seats in the Mazda3 are nicely-bolstered and comfy. You’ll also note that the doors are nicely upholstered and that you can perfectly rest your arm on the armrest and still reach the well-placed shifter. Rough spots? The silver-painted plastic was already chipped on one of the inner door-handles, but that might be just from rough-handling: this ’3 has had five thousand miles of press fleet duty.

The price gap between the base model ’3 and my tester is over ten grand. Granted, that’s only in Canadian monopoly money, but you’d better believe that this particular ’3 is loaded to the gills with more bells than Blitzen and more whistles than the Anachronistic Police Constable Supply Depot.

Normally, gizmos and whatsits confound and annoy me to apoplexy: I could easily compete at a national level in Laptop Frisbee. Taking one look at the eighteen buttons festooning the ’3′s wheel, I snapped my mental suspenders, hitched up the ol’ beltline and braced myself to issue a barrage of cranky cantankerousness.

But none proved necessary. Mazda’s interpretation of “driver” seems to be, “somebody who doesn’t take their eyes off the road.” Not only is the visibility out of the ’3 excellent, once you tweak the eight-way power seat to just the right spot, but the interior layout is highly functional. Changing temperature settings or fiddling with the radio were easily accomplished with no more than a sideways glance even during the initial drive. After a week’s familiarity, it was a no-look play.

Those tasks you do need to sneak a peak for are aided and abetted by the twin binnacle layout of the dash, which prominently features a rectangular radio/HVAC display, a smallish navigation screen and, most importantly, an enormous flap where the navi’s memory card goes. That’s annoying, but can be overlooked given how nicely everything else is laid-out. While there’s a cant towards the driver, it’s still a cinch for micro-managing side passengers to use.

Another thing: setting up the bluetooth streaming audio and phone connectivity was easy. What’s more, it was easy to me, and I still haven’t figured how to tweet the kids to get off my dang lawn. Y-chromosome owners will be happy to hear that at no point were instructions needed.

If I had to pick a gee-whiz feature that I absolutely adored, it was the adaptive front lighting system. The AFS on the ’3 acts like the car is peeking around the corner for you; it’s one of those things you never knew you needed until you’ve had it. On a dark country road it makes an enormous difference, but even in light-polluted areas it’s a great feature to find on a small car.

Space-wise, the Mazda3 Sport’s hatch makes me happy. I like big sedans as much as the next Dr. Mehta, but when you’re picking a do-all small car, I can’t understand people who buy small four-doors with trunks. Coupes? Sure, that’s a fashion statement, but the ’3 actually looks better as a hatchback and you basically double the practicality quotient. If you’re interested, you can fit four unmounted 225/45/17s, a folding deckchair, a golf umbrella and a kite shaped like an osprey back there and still have room for a moderately-sized heffalump. As tested.

Pootling around town, four adults (well, three adults and me, anyway) had plenty of room. The most common comment was, “Hey, this is pretty nice!” Sounds like faint praise, but that was out of the mouth of a 5-series owner.

Speaking of which, “pootling” is a relative term. Like the bimmer, the Mazda3 is a practical car that’s built by a company that might make the odd styling misstep, but knows a thing or two about vim and zip and verve and oh fine I’ll just say it: zoom-zoom.

With a torquey four-pot providing 167 horsepowers though a six-speed transmission, the ’3 is all too happy to giddy-up in city traffic. You think its grin looks stupid? Check yourself out in the rearview.

The 2.5L mill might not offer the max output of a Civic Si or Scion tC’s similarly-sized engine offerings, but it has a nice grunty quality down low, particularly in second gear. It’s happy to rev, and the twin-pipes out the back provide a decent soundtrack, but it’s also very easy to access the power from low rpms, making the stop-and-go cut-and-thrust.

Show the 3 some proper corners, and sure there’s a hint of the usual Fail-Wheel-Drive understeer, but it only shows up on slick wet pavement. In which case, slow down, you friggin’ maniac! In the dry, it’s a delight. Let’s pretend they made the 3-series in a four-cylinder front-driver. Yep, that good.

Back on the highway, that grunt makes for decent economy. Stick the nicely-weighted – but perhaps a jot too long-throw – shifter into the highest gear you can manage and watch the average MPG recover from backroads shenanigans. The old 2.3L was always a bit of a pig; a friend’s ’07 returns fuel economy levels not dissimilar from my godawfully thirsty WRX. The 2.5L is much better, averaging out to be solidly in the mid-twenties.

So this is it, my recommendation to you, the semi-drunken personage who buttonholes me at parties and slurs out, “Sssso whatchathink I should get?” A taxi. And a breathmint.

After that, the Mazda3. It’s practical, it’s fun to drive, it’s comfortable, it can be got with plenty of bells and whistles for such a small car, and while it’s usually more expensive than the industry average, they absolutely hold their value better than big-sister ’6. Mazda usually has Ford-ish sales promotions on too, so hey, it’s even almost-sorta cheap. What more do you want?

On the other hand, if you’re after more than just an off-the-cuff answer, if you want me to give your query my full attention and bring all my (in)considerable mental acuity to bear on the sticky problem of what the best car is going to be for you? Well then, that’s easy. Just go talk to Michael Karesh and buy whatever he says is good.

Mazda provided the vehicle and insurance for this review.

mazda3sgt4 mazda3sgt2-thumb mazda3sgt2 mazda3sgt14 mazda3sgt11 (Photos courtesy: Ronnie Schreiber, reviewed car not pictured) ]]> 60
Mercedes For The Masses, Or Fine Young Cannibal? Thu, 11 Aug 2011 15:44:16 +0000

The US won’t be receiving the hatchback version of the forthcoming, front-drive Mercedes A-series, but we will be getting this “CLC” four-door coupe based on the same platform. But, if American owners can’t tell the difference between front- and rear-drive, will this CLC cannibalize the C-Class? According to AutoBild, it will be only 2cm shorter than the C-Class sedan, and its wheelbase is only 6cm shorter. In Europe, they say the CLC will be bought by 45-50 year-olds with two kids and enough money to spend €5k more than the average A-Class buyer. But in the US, where this will form the Mercedes entry level, and where shoppers tend to be more value-oriented, couldn’t you see a cheaper, front-drive/AWD CLS lookalike stealing sales from the rather subdued C-Class?

]]> 8
What’s Wrong With This Picture: The First Front-Drive BMW Edition Thu, 02 Jun 2011 17:10:40 +0000

So… does this look like a BMW to you? Blame the camo if you must, but this forthcoming BMW-branded “0-Series” looks like it’s shaping up to appear as mundane as anything BMW has ever slapped a roundel on. Which makes sense, I suppose, given that it’s going to be the most mundane BMW-branded car yet built, constructed as it is on the next-gen MINI’s transverse, front-drive platform. Even BMW’s forthcoming i3 sports a freakier, funkier high-roof baby hatch look… and despite our initial fears, it’s apparently rear-drive as well. On the other hand, we’ve been here before with Mercedes… and they pulled a surprisingly sexy design out of a humble, front-drive mule. Here’s hoping BMW can pull off some equally adept styling magic, otherwise we’re looking at the BMW Cimmaron right here…

erlkonighatch erlkonighatch3 Hello, heretic! Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail erlkonighatch1 ]]> 11
Who’s Ready For An FWD Land Rover? Mon, 10 May 2010 23:55:10 +0000
From Ferrari’s manual-free pledge to BMW’s move to front-wheel-drive, the auto industry is breaking down formerly untouchable barriers left and right. The latest: longtime four-wheel-drive specialist Land Rover will build a front-drive version of its forthcoming compact “SUV Coupe” known as the LRX. The new model, which debuts at this fall’s Paris Auto Show, will generally be available with all-wheel-drive, but after launch a front-drive base version will become available. Though Landie had previously foresworn FWD models as being incompatible with the brand’s values, there’s been a change of heart and according to Autocar, the Tata Motors-owned marque

cannot ignore the growth of the two-wheel-drive SUV segment

There’s been no word thus far about the LRX’s availability in the US, but if it does arrive stateside don’t expect FWD versions to be imported. And don’t expect the LRX codename to grace its rear deck either: five names are said to be under consideration for the model, one of which is “Land Rover Compact” and none of which is “LRX.”

]]> 20
BMW: One Million FWD Cars By 2015 Tue, 23 Mar 2010 19:58:51 +0000

While the autoblogosphere frets bout whether BMW drivers can tell which wheels drive their cars, the real news in the BMW-goes-FWD storyline is the impact that the sea change in brand strategy is expected to have on volume. Automotive News [sub] reports that BMW is developing a new family of modular gas and diesel engines, which are intended “primarily for BMW’s new front-wheel-drive architecture, but the powerplants also will be used in the automaker’s rear-wheel-drive cars,” according to CEO Norbert Reithofer. And the volume at which this new family of three, four and six-cylinder engines will be produced is one of the early indications of where BMW is going with its FWD expansion. Today, BMW sells just under 1.3m vehicles worldwide. That’s fewer cars than will be powered by this new family of engines alone, which Reithofer says will motivate 1.5m vehicles worldwide. Considering BMW’s goal is to sell 2m vehicles of all its brands by 2020, it’s clear that much of that growth will be made possible by new FWD-inclusive drivetrain technology.

According to Reithofer, 700,000 to 1 million cars per year will be built on the firm’s new FWD platform by 2014 or 2015. By contrast, BMW currently sells about 400,000 small and compact cars annually, which includes the FWD MINI and the RWD 1 Series. Furthermore, it took eight years, between 2001 and June of 2009, to produce 1.5m MINI-branded vehicles. MINI’s best sales year was 2008, when it sold about 230,000 cars. BMW’s 1-series has performed similarly, selling 225,000 units in 2008 and 217,000 in 2009 [full BMW 2009 report in PDF format here]. Clearly BMW is going to need more than one new model to make serious inroads towards its hugely ambitious goal.

Currently, Reithofer is keeping his cards fairly close to his chest. A new MINI is due in 2014 and the “BMW 0 Series” FWD model will debut shortly thereafter, positioned under the RWD 1 Series. From there, it’s anyone’s guess. Or, as Reithofer puts it, BMW can’t spill the beans “because then [VW CEO Martin] Winterkorn knows it as well.” After all, the 3800mm to 4300mm size bracket for this new platform puts it squarely in Volkswagen Golf territory, and nobody wants to compete there with a single model. The Golf is based based on a modular platform, similar in concept to BMW’s, but between its many brands and bodystyles, Volkswagen plans to build no fewer than 60 variants of the MQB (Golf) platform.

In short, BMW is planning on running right into the buzzsaw that is the most competitive segment in Europe. Of course, there’s not much choice involved in the decision, because steep ramp-ups in European emissions standards will make BMW’s current business model largely impracticable. Meanwhile, faced with the same pressure, Mercedes will be launching a similar FWD volume-grab based on platforms and technology that will emerge from ongoing talks with Renault/Nissan. Audi has already moved to downsize with its new A1, and with sales and perception momentum as well as VW’s platform synergies behind it, Ingolstadt has already stolen the march on BMW. Which means the market for premium (or not) front-drive compact cars is going to be white-hot within the next few years.

BMW is increasingly an anomaly within the auto business: a privately-owned, independent manufacturer that is not quite a focused niche player and yet also isn’t prepared to compete in the scary world of true volume automaking. With emissions standards nipping at its heels, and with growth a necessary constant for industry success, BMW has little choice but to commit to a full-on, mass-market transformation. Whether BMW can perform this shift while keeping its all-important brand equity intact is a huge open question, and one that will be answered by the firm’s execution from here on out.

]]> 24
Do 80 Percent of BMW 1 Series Drivers Really Think Their Cars Is FWD? Tue, 23 Mar 2010 17:20:54 +0000

Debates over the relative values of front-, rear- and all-wheel-drive have raged for as long as automotive enthusiasm has existed, and after decades of argument, the only thing that anyone seems to agree on is that the the drive wheels matter. But do they? According to Automotive News Europe [sub]‘s Luca Ciferri,

More proof that customers don’t care about the difference between rwd and fwd came last week when BMW revealed that 80 percent of its 1-series owners believe the car is fwd

Ciferri wrote this in the “blog” section of the Automotive News [sub] website, and didn’t link to any sources to back his claim up. Meanwhile, a search of German news sources has failed to pull up stories that link to a source other than Ciferri’s blog post. Though Ciferri is a respected auto journalist, and we hesitate to accuse him of making this stuff up, there’s a definite chance that this study isn’t all that it seems. After all, Ciferri cites BMW’s research at a time when the Bavarians are developing the first ever FWD car to carry the famed BMW roundel. Though we don’t doubt that many BMW 1-series buyers might not know which wheels drive their cars, the 80 percent number seems suspiciously high. Furthermore, Ciferri doesn’t indicate whether that statistic reflects global customers, European buyers, or the American market. Combined with BMW’s obvious incentives to de-stigmatize front wheel drive, these problems leave us little choice but to take Ciferri’s statistics with a hefty grain of salt.

]]> 55
BMW Does The Unthinkable: They Go Forward Sat, 20 Mar 2010 20:09:17 +0000

The NYTimes reports that Norbert Reithofer, CEO of BMW AG, is thinking the unthinkable. Dr Reithofer said at a shareholders’ meeting in Munich: “We are exploring the possibility of developing a joint architecture for the front and four-wheel drive systems of these cars,” WHAT?! An FWD BMW? An act against nature. Say it isn’t so! He didn’t.

“In other words: There will be front wheel drive BMW’s in the smaller vehicle classes in the future.”

As if “Bangle-Butt” didn’t do enough damage to the BMW brand. Worried that this might have been a misquote, I snooped around for more information and it wasn’t a misquote. Nitrobahn confirms the comments. Quite what the reasoning behind this new development is, is a bit hazy, but Autoblog Green posits that the reason for BMW doing this is that the FWD chassis will make it easier for BMW to share platforms with other companies (very important when you consider that BMW is slowly turning into a minnow in a pond full of frogs) and also to reduce their fleet’s carbon emissions. I’ll keep my eyes open for stories in the papers of BMW fans beating greenies to death with the rear axle off a BMW M3.

]]> 56
What’s Wrong With This Picture: Keep On Truckleting Edition Thu, 11 Mar 2010 18:08:30 +0000

As our Brazilian friend Stingray pointed out in today’s Curbside Classic thread, the FWD trucklet isn’t dead… it’s on vacation in South America. And new models are arriving all the time. This May, the popular Brazilian-market models Stingray lists below will be joined by the Peugeot Hoggar Escapade, a 207-based compact truck with the best name to come out of PSA since Bipper Tepee. Fun fact: with a maximum engine displacement of 1.6 liters pulling a 1,650 lb max payload, it actually carries more weight per liter of displacement than the latest generation of the Silverado Heavy Duty (6,335 lbs with the 6.6 liter Duramax).

Chevy Montana

Ford Courier

Fiat Strada

VW Saveiro

]]> 24
Review: 2010 Honda Crosstour Wed, 16 Dec 2009 16:30:37 +0000 crosstour

There are guys at my gym that work out hard, three times a day, chiseling their chests and abs to perfection, compensating for the fact that God didn’t give them High School Musical faces. They are masterpieces of strength, structure – everything other than looks. From now on, I will secretly call them Crosstours.

crosstour2Honda’s newest addition to their Accord line is not ugly. Don’t let the pile-on from a Facebook crowd that was never in the market for this type of vehicle in the first place confuse you. In person, especially in white or silver, it’s not a half-bad car. Actually, it’s only about 23% bad car. From the grill to start of the rear glass, I like the sheet metal quite a bit. Most of this car is an aggressive take on the Accord. The designers gave up when they got to the rump. Still, at eye-level the car is fine. No lust, no revulsion.

There is a good deal of silliness, though. What I really dislike about the butt of this beast is the compromised utility. To what end the sloping rear end? I don’t get it. The Crosstour is akin to a decent – if unattainable in the US – Accord wagon with a space handicap. If there’s always going to be some of your spouse’s stuff in the back, why not just give us a proper station wagon? The people who want this car want storage room and can obviously deprecate the importance of style. This design provides 25.7 cu-ft. (seats up) and 51.3 cu-ft (seats down.) A more wagonesque design could give you numbers closer to the Toyota Venza (34.4 / 70.1) and, arguably, betters lines.

All of which is doubly disappointing because this is best Accord you can buy – you know, aside from the tragic ending. Crosstours come with Honda’s 271 hp 3.5-liter V6, putting out 254 lb-ft of torque. The engine itself is lovable. The consistent, energetic response is ready throughout the power band. This is, however, a 4,000 lb automobile. You can’t spend time in this car, with this engine, and not wish it would hit the gym. crosstour1

This six has cylinder-deactivation to bring the gas mileage up to 18/27 mpg city/highway (FWD) and 17/25 mpg (AWD). Which also partially explains the lack of engine choices. In the Accord sedans, the four-cylinder only bests the six by two miles per gallon, so I’ll assume similar results for this configuration. Yes, that means occasionally you’re driving two tons with a three-banger. To Honda’s credit, it’s pretty though to tell.

The Crosstour’s transmission du jour is a five-speed automatic with rev-matching downshifts. On its way up the cogs, the tranny stays well behaved. It tried not to leap up to the next gear before I was ready. On the way down, the rev-matching was quick . . . but almost too quick. Kind of jarring. Like you’re teaching someone else to drive a manual. Of course, by this point I was getting on the thing. Day to day, most Honda owners will be quite content.

The overall feel of the car – in all-wheel drive form – is more comfortable than its sedan siblings. I can’t decide if the added bulk counters the little bumps and holes of the road or Honda actually tuned this more for touring than carving. Probably a little of both. The car’s body roll is present, but way less than you’d expect. The vehicle dynamics are an improvement for the platform. The AWD gives you a slightly better weight distribution and, under load, it evens out the front-wheel drive tug. This is the most fun you can have in an Accord.

crosstour4Not that any of them were built for fun, per se. The four-wheel-disc antilock brakes are up to the challenge. Firm and predictable. The steering floats a little too much for my taste. The breeziness has a point, though, as the turning circle is just over 40 feet. Above illegal speeds you want a heavier feel. When parallel parking, you want all the help you can get.

Our test car stickered at $37,035. That gives you all the gizmos Honda has to offer, including a navigation system I didn’t bother with. It does not give you Honda’s top shelf, super-all-wheel-drive (SH-AWD). All Crosstours get a simple set up that sends power backwards when it feels like, rather than a four-way distribution system. I got to test the car in the wet and the traction is certainly better the FWD variants. There is no suction cup effect, a la Acura.

You do get an Acura interior. The basic Accord moldings dress up nicely. The extra pieces of leather and wood make the space more inviting. The brushed metal looks better than it feels. Living in a cold climate, I continue to appreciate Honda’s over-sized buttons. Gloves-on ergonomics are more than sufficient. crosstour3

The trunk area is smart. The side wells intrude some, but the bin in the floor is brilliant. It has handles. You can take the whole thing out and cart stuff around and wash it when you’re done. The lid flips, if you want to keep at least that part of the carpet clean.

The dealer that loaned me a Crosstour had already delivered its first four. Honda devotees bought them sight unseen, without a single turn of the wheel. That probably says more than I did in the previous 11 paragraphs. There is a car-buying public that can get past looks and handicaps to simply accept a car for what it really is . . . Whatever that is. I’m not sold on this whole fat five-door sub genre. Just because BMW does it doesn’t make it right. The Crosstour is good enough to make me wish for a pretty Accord wagon. Yes, I am that shallow.

]]> 90
Ask The Best And Brightest: MINI or BMW Zero-Series? Fri, 20 Nov 2009 21:28:23 +0000 Well, you get the picture... (courtesy: yahoo cars ireland

After the 1 series, BMW pretty much committed themselves to the smallest car, because it was the smallest number, they were going to make under the BMW marque. Or did they? You see, there is actually another number lower than 1 and BMW plan to release a series of cars based on that number. Now we’ve known this for some time, but put forward a very real scenario. Since the 0 series will be smaller than the 1 series, that means it will go head to head with BMW’s other marque, the Mini. Now, one could be optimistic and say that 2 cars under different brands could grab a bigger slice of the market or, one could be realistic and say that cannibalisation is afoot. BMW aren’t stupid, which brings forward the very real possibility that BMW could phase out the Mini brand. At top production rates, Mini produce 240000 vehicles a year. That’s niche levels. And who wouldn’t want a BMW badge instead of a Mini? Yes, there may be a few “Italian Job” fans upset and a couple of “Germans kill iconic brand” headlines in the UK gutter press, but when you think about it, it kind of makes sense. At least as long as a front-wheel drive BMW doesn’t strike you as too blasphemous (and BMW doesn’t seem to have a problem crossing that Rubicon). So now TTAC posits a question to the B&B: Does the world really need Mini? Are we hanging onto a brand which doesn’t fit viably in the today’s market?  Or is an FWD BMW the real mistake?

]]> 36
Lutz: Impala Will Be An Epsilon II Mon, 16 Nov 2009 16:32:08 +0000 Or not...

Enthusiasts have been adamant that GM’s decision to sell a police-only version of its RWD global Lumina platform (Holden Statesman) creates a fantastic opportunity for GM to return the Impala to its RWD roots. Such a decision would seem to make sense from a business perspective as well, adding civilian sales volume to what otherwise would be a fleet-only platform. No such luck though. Bob Lutz tells Inside Line that the forthcoming Impala replacement (due in 2014) will be based on GM’s global FWD midsized architecture (Epsilon II). The rationale for this decision appears to be fuel efficiency: Lutz mentions the need to compete with the Ford Taurus’s efficiency achievements as a factor in the decision. By going FWD, GM also hopes to be able to shoehorn the two-mode hybrid system from the discontinued Vueick CUV into a future Impala. In addition to forgoing an opportunity to leverage the Caprice police special architecture, this decision also adds to GM’s epic midsize FWD sedan bloat. From the Malibu to the Buick LaCrosse and Regal, from Impala to the Cadillac XTS “flagship,” GM’s default decision seems to be to base all of its sedans on a single platform, making pricing and content differentiation an ongoing challenge to its product strategy. Vive le sameness!

]]> 34