The Truth About Cars » mercedes The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Fri, 25 Jul 2014 13:00:57 +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 » mercedes Mercedes Will Expand Alabama Factory With ML-Coupe Production Fri, 20 Jun 2014 10:00:12 +0000 450x298xmercedes-concept-coupe-suv_web-450x298.jpg.pagespeed.ic.MiR3pxGn9V

Good news for the people of Alabama: Mercedes-Benz is hiring. Bad news for car enthusiast. This abomination is going into production.

Mercedes will expand capacity at their Alabama plant, from about 185,000 cars, to an undisclosed level. Automotive News Europe reports that BMW is expanding American production to 450,000 units, though there’s no indication if Mercedes-Benz will follow suit, though the expansion will apparently be a “significant number” above current levels. With the addition of the C-Class and the new ML Coupe (shown in concept form above), Mercedes will likely expand in a big way, since these models offer the potential for big volume and big profit. Mercedes once built the R-Class in Alabama, but the new models should have no trouble absorbing that capacity.

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Piston Slap: The I’s Have it? Tue, 27 May 2014 12:00:14 +0000

TTAC Commentator bpscarguy writes:

I need some advice – I am struggling with a decision on what to do with our daily driver. It’s a 2002 Infiniti I35. 140,000 largely trouble-free, easy, no fuss miles. It does everything we want, has some creature comforts, is in very good, clean condition.

The problem is, last month I put on new front brakes to the tune of $245.00. At that time my mechanic told me of some looming items that will likely need addressing in the next month:

  • Leaking head gasket – $535.00
  • Front axle boots – $385.00
  • Front wheel bearing – $620.00 ( I did the other one last year)

This car has been the most trouble-free I have owned, but I also understand that it is getting on in age and will likely start needing more and more attention. I am very tempted to sell it and get something newer (not new) with less miles on it. Likely another Infiniti or possibly an A4 or older E class Mercedes.

Or should I repair it and just chalk this up to bad timing that all of this is happening at once, and therefore making it seem worse than it is?

Thoughts? Many thanks!

Sajeev answers:

Isn’t it funny how one decision can cause a chain reaction? Or-if you choose wisely-not?

Here’s the deal: if you buy a used A4 or E-class (lacking a handy CPO warranty) you’ll regret not dumping a pile of cash on I35 reconditioning.  The I is certainly an older car needing constant frequent attention, but it’s not a money/time sucking Pit of Disappointment. With those nasty German parts costs and labor rates, that perhaps you aren’t considering.

Perhaps one day we can say a 4-10 year old vehicle from this part of the world is a fair proposition for people living in the USA: perhaps time will tell.

A newer Infiniti is the smarter choice: it keeps you in the premium luxo-sedan game and is less likely to punish your wallet than the German alternatives. But newer Infinitis lack the I35′s inbreeding advantages with the Nissan Maxima. With that in mind, dare I suggest a Camry-bred Lexus ES?

Generalizations are all fine and dandy-it’s at the core of the Internet in general and Piston Slap in particular-but what does it boil down to?

It’s about your time value of money.

Is the I35 gonna leave you stranded more often than a newer car?  Likely. Will it be cheaper to fix those unexpected surprises and the normal wear items? Most definitely.  So will you miss the I35 if it goes bye-bye?

If you replace it with an out-of-warranty Benz/Audi, I can almost guarantee it.


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.

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Junkyard Find: 1977 Mercedes-Benz 450SLC Thu, 08 May 2014 13:00:11 +0000 10 - 1977 Mercedes-Benz 450 SLC Down On The Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThe value of a Mercedes-Benz R107/C107 goes down to a hair’s-breadth over scrap price once it becomes non-perfect, and so it’s no surprise that these things have been quite common in American self-serve wrecking yards for the last couple of decades. We’ve seen this ’80 450SL, this ’74 450SL, and this ’78 450SLC so far in this series, and here’s a ’77 450SLC that I spotted in the San Francisco Bay Area last year. Such luxury, such status! It almost makes me want to pick up a cheap SLC for myself.
01 - 1977 Mercedes-Benz 450 SLC Down On The Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinIf you were a fairly successful cocaine dealer in Los Angeles, circa 1977, this was the car made for you. About the only competition was the new BMW E24.
05 - 1977 Mercedes-Benz 450 SLC Down On The Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThis car racked up a mere 182,138 miles during its 36 years on the street. The body is completely rust-free and the interior probably wasn’t bad before junkyard customers started prying parts off it.
06 - 1977 Mercedes-Benz 450 SLC Down On The Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinNobody ever buys these OHC V8s at junkyards. Poor unloved old Mercedes.

01 - 1977 Mercedes-Benz 450 SLC Down On The Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 02 - 1977 Mercedes-Benz 450 SLC Down On The Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 03 - 1977 Mercedes-Benz 450 SLC Down On The Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 04 - 1977 Mercedes-Benz 450 SLC Down On The Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 05 - 1977 Mercedes-Benz 450 SLC Down On The Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 06 - 1977 Mercedes-Benz 450 SLC Down On The Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 07 - 1977 Mercedes-Benz 450 SLC Down On The Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 08 - 1977 Mercedes-Benz 450 SLC Down On The Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 09 - 1977 Mercedes-Benz 450 SLC Down On The Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 10 - 1977 Mercedes-Benz 450 SLC Down On The Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 11 - 1977 Mercedes-Benz 450 SLC Down On The Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin ]]> 47
Piston Slap: Fear No Polar Vortex! Wed, 02 Apr 2014 11:47:59 +0000 Click here to view the embedded video.

Joel writes:

My family is a Volvo family. Volvos are from Sweden and they take winter very seriously. There are a number of ‘winter’ climate options that were, at least at one time, available on Volvo’s cars. For instance:

  • Parking Heater
    Sometimes known as a ‘Fuel Driven Heater’ or after one of the popular brands Webasto, Espar, Eberspacher.
    This is essentially a tiny gasoline or diesel (from the car’s fuel tank) furnace, mounted under the hood, that is plumbed into the car’s cooling system and hooked up to the climate controls. You start the heater remotely, and it heats the coolant and pumps it through the system, heating the engine and supplying heat to the cabin heat exchanger. Some can even use the car’s climate systems to turn on the blower fan and fully heat the cabin.
  • Pause Heater
    Sometimes known as a ‘Residual Heater’ or “Rest Heater’ on BMWs. This is an electric coolant pump, plumbed in with the cabin heat exchanger. When you turn the car off there is a lot of heat stored in the coolant, but only a tiny amount of it is left in the cabin heat exchanger. You press the ‘Rest’ button and the electric pump moves the coolant around so you can run the cabin heater for about 10 minutes after the engine is turned off.
  • Electric Cabin Heater
    This is an electric space heater that you place inside the cabin. Of course it’s got over-temp and tip-over systems so it won’t catch anything on fire.

Are any of these options available on ANY car sold in North America now?

Sajeev answers:

Questions like these remind me why I am so fond of the comments from the Best and Brightest in this series.  Because my knowledge of this topic is weaker than most, and PR folks aren’t lining up fancy new press cars in my driveway. But I got a plan, son. I got me some Google and we got the Best and Brightest, baby!

So anyway:

  1. Parking Heater: Well, Volvo’s still got it! But it’s a dealer installed accessory, if that matters.
  2. Webasto still makes one, fitting many a VAG product in Europe. I’d be shocked if manufacturers in North America follow suit, even if the concept’s proven itself in American RVs and 18-wheelers. No matter, Webasto’s own video implies it’s somewhat universal:

    Click here to view the embedded video.

  3. Pause Heater:  The BMW Rest system is/was a neat hallmark of the brand, but there’s conflicting info on the ‘net about whether it still exists in this age of i-Drive, start-stop equipped BMWs.  Perhaps a trip to your local dealership to question the i-Drive skills of a sales expert is in order!
  4. Electric Cabin Heater:  These are standard fare in every Nissan Leaf and Tesla Model S, as they have no internal combustion to feed you hot air!  Cuz hot air is the job of their greenwashing-marketing departments! I kid, I kid!
  5. Even the darling of the Hybrid world, the Toyota Prius has an electric heater. It’s entirely possible that super-uber luxury cars use this electric helper and a conventional heater core from the cooling system.  But, but, BUT…many cars sport seat heaters, steering wheel heaters and (drum roll please) the new S-class has armrest heaters!

Considering the electrical load of trying to heat an entire cabin, don’t be surprised if heating your ass, your back, your hands and your elbows does the same thing but far more efficiently.  Get into those warm items and soon enough the conventional heater will have your back. And everything else. Literally.

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.

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Review: 2014 Dodge Durango Limited V8 (with Video) Thu, 16 Jan 2014 15:00:23 +0000 2014 Dodge Durango Exterior-002

Car shopping used to be so simple: you could buy a truck or a car. Then came the wagon, minivan, sport utility and the latest craze: the crossover. There’s just one problem with the crossover for me however: it’s not a crossover. With a name like that you’d assume that a modern crossover blended the lines between a truck/SUV with a car/minivan. The reality of course is that the modern three-row crossover is just a front-driving minivan that doesn’t handle as well or haul as much stuff. In this sea of transverse minivans in SUV clothing lies just one mass-market vehicle that I can honestly call a three-row crossover: the Dodge Durango. Instead of a car that’s been turned into an AWD minivan with a longer hood, the Dodge uses drivetrains out of the RAM 1500 combined with a car-like unibody. While rumors swirled that the Durango would be canceled in favor of a 7-seat Jeep, Dodge was working a substantial makeover for 2014.

Click here to view the embedded video.

So what is the Durango? Is it an SUV? Is it a crossover? In my mind, both. If a Grand Cherokee can be a unibody SUV and not a crossover, the Durango must be an SUV. But if a crossover is a hybrid between a car and a truck, then the Durango is one as well. While the first and second generation Durangos were body-on-frame SUVs based on the Dakota pickup, this Durango is a three-row Grand Cherokee, which is a two-row Jeep version of the three-row Mercedes ML which is quasi related to the Mercedes E-Class, which is quasi related to the Chrysler 300. Lost yet?


2014 brings few changes to the outside of the Durango. The design first released in 2011 still looks fresh to my eye but that could be because I don’t see many on the road. Up front we get a tweaked corporate grille and new lamps while out back we get “race track” inspired light pipes circling the rump. Aside from a lowered right height on certain models and new wheels, little has changed for the Durango’s slab-sided profile, which I think is one of the Dodge’s best features. No, I’m not talking about the plain-Jane acres of sheet metal, I’m talking about RWD proportions. Bucking the trend, this three-row sports a long (and tall) hood, blunt nose, short front overhang and high belt-line.

To create the Durango from the Grand Cherokee, Chrysler stretched the Jeep’s wheelbase by 5-inches to 119.8 inches and added three inches to the body. The result is four-inches longer than an Explorer but two inches shorter than the Traverse, Acadia and Enclave triplets. Thanks to the Durango’s short front overhand, the Dodge has the longest wheelbase by a long way, beating even the full-size Chevy Tahoe. Speaking of the body-on-frame competition, the Durango may have been a size too small in the past, but this generation is just 8/10ths of an inch shorter than that Tahoe.



Body-on-frame SUVs have a practicality problem when it comes to space efficiency. Because the frame sits between the body and the road, they tend to be taller than unibody crossovers despite having less interior volume. Like the rest of the crossover crowd, this allows the Durango to have a spacious interior with a comparatively low entry height. 2014 brings a raft of much-needed interior updates to the cabin including a new soft touch dashboard, Chrysler’s latest corporate steering wheel with shift paddles, revised climate controls, Chrysler’s latest uConnect 2 infotainment system and a standard 7-inch LCD instrument cluster. Like the other Chrysler products with this LCD, the screen is flanked by a traditional tachometer, fuel and temperature gauge. Oddly enough, the standard infotainment screen is a smallish (in comparison) 5-inches.

Front seat comfort proves excellent in the Durango which was something of a relief, as the last few Chrysler products I have driven had form and oddly shaped seat bottom cushions that make me feel as if I was “sitting on and not in the seat.” As with all three-row vehicles, the accommodations get less comfortable as you move toward the back. By default all Durango trims are 7-passenger vehicles with a three-across second row. For $895 Dodge will delete the middle seat and insert a pair of more comfortable captain’s chairs and a center console with cup holders and a storage compartment. The third row is a strictly two-person affair and, like most crossovers, is best left to children and your mother in law. Those who do find themselves in “the way back” will be comforted by above average headroom and soft touch plastic arm rests. With large exterior proportions you’d expect a big cargo hold like in the cavernous Traverse, alas the RWD layout that makes the Durango so unique renders the interior less practical. With more of the body used up for “hood,” we get just 17 cubes of space behind the third row. That’s three less than an Explorer, seven less than GM’s Lambda triplets and about the same as a Honda Pilot. On the bright side this is more than you will find in a Highlander or Sorento and shockingly enough, more than in the Tahoe as well.



uConnect 2 is the first major update to Chrysler’s 8.4-inch touchscreen system that launched in 2011 and the first version of this system the Durango has ever had. Based on a QNX UNIX operating system, the system features well polished graphics, snappy screen changes and a large, bright display. For the second edition of uConnect, Chrysler smoothed out the few rough edges in the first generation of this system and added a boat-load of trendy tech features you may or may not care about. In addition to improved voice commands for USB/iDevice control, uConnect 2 offers smartphone integration allowing you to stream audio from Pandora, iHeart Radio or Slacker Radio. You can have text messages read to you and dictate replies (if your phone supports it) and search for restaurants and businesses via Yelp. In addition to all the smartphone-tied features, uConnect 2 integrates a CDMA modem on the Sprint network into the unit for over-the-air software updates and access to the new “App Store” where you will be able to buy apps for your car. Since there’s a cell modem onboard, uConnect can be configured to act as a WiFi hot spot for your tablets and game devices as well. Keep in mind speeds are 3G, not Sprint’s WiMAX or LTE network.

Completing the information assault is SiriusXM’s assortment of satellite data services which include traffic, movie times, sports scores, fuel prices and weather reports. As with uConnect data services, there’s a fee associated after the first few months so keep that in mind. 2014 also brings uConnect Access which is Chrysler’s answer to GM’s OnStar providing 911 assistance, crash notification and vehicle health reports. Garmin’s navigation software is still available as a $500 add-on (standard on Summit) and it still looks like someone cut a hole in the screen and stuck a hand-held Garmin unit in the dash. The interface is easy to use but notably less snazzy than the rest of the system’s graphics. If the bevy of USB ports has you confused, you can rock your Cat Stevens CD by paying $190 for a single-slot disc player jammed into the center armrest.

2014 Dodge Durango 5.7L HEMI V8 Engine-001Drivetrain

Dodge shoppers will find two of the Grand Cherokee’s four engines under the hood. First up we have a 290HP/260lb-ft 3.6L V6 (295HP in certain trims) standard in all trims except the R/T. R/T models get a standard 360HP/390lb-ft 5.7L HEMI V8 which can be added to the other trims for $2,795. 2014 brings a beefed up cooling system and a number of minor tweaks in the name of fuel economy. Sadly Chrysler has decided to keep the V6 EcoDiesel engine and 6.4L SRT V8 Grand Cherokee only options, so if you hoped to sip diesel or burn rubber in your three row crossover, you’ll need to look elsewhere.

Both engines are mated to a ZF-designed 8-speed automatic. V6 models use the low torque variety made by Chrysler while V8 models use a heavy-duty 8HP70 made in a ZF factory. If you’re up to date on Euro inbreeding, you know this is the same transmission used by BMW, Audi, Jaguar, Land Rover and Rolls Royce. To say this is a step up from the vilified Mercedes 5-speed or the Chrysler 6 speed (the 65RFE featured some of the strangest ratio spacing ever) is putting it mildly. Fuel economy jumps 9% in the V6, 10% in the V8. No small feat in a 4,835lb SUV (as tested). All Durangos start out as rear wheel drive vehicles but you can add a two-speed four-wheel-drive system for $2,400. Although Dodge bills this as AWD, it is the same transfer case that Jeep calls 4×4 in Selec-Trac II equipped Grand Cherokees. Thanks to the heavy-duty drivetrain towing rings in at 6,200lbs for the V6 and 7,400lbs for the V8. Like the Jeeps the Durango has moved to more car-like 5-lug wheels which should widen after-market selection.

2014 Dodge Durango Exterior


The engineers took the refresh opportunity to tweak the Durango toward the sportier side of the segment with stiffer springs and beefier sway bars. While far from a night-and-day transformation, the difference is noticeable and appreciated out on the roads. While never harsh, it is obvious the Durango is tuned towards the firm side of this segment. Thanks to the long wheelbase the Durango feels well composed on the highway or on broken pavement.

With a nearly 50/50 weight balance, wide 265-width tires, and a lower center of gravity than a “traditional SUV”, the Durango is easily the handling and road feeling champion. That’s not to say the Durango is some sort of sports car in disguise, but when you compare a well balanced 360 horsepower rear wheel drive elephant to a slightly lighter but much less balanced front driving elephant on skinny rubber, it’s easy to see which is more exciting. Thanks to the Mercedes roots there’s even a whiff of feedback in the steering, more than you can say for the average crossover. Despite the long wheelbase and wide tires, the Durango still cuts a fairly respectable 37-foot turning circle.

Those statement may have you scratching your head if you recall what I said about Jeep on which the Durango is based, I must admit I scratched my head as well. Although the Dodge and the Jeep share suspension design elements and a limited number of components, the tuning is quite different. The Grand Cherokee Summit rides 3.1-inchs higher and was equipped with the off-road oriented air suspension.

2014 Dodge Durango Exterior-005

When it comes to performance, the new 8-speed automatic makes a night and day difference shaving a whopping 1.4 seconds off the 0-60 time versus the last V8 Durango we tested. The reason is all in the gear ratios. While the 545RFE and 65RFE transmissions suffered from some truly odd ratios, the ZF unit’s ratios are more evenly spread and dig deeper in the low gears. The result is a 6.0 second sprint to highway speeds which finally nips on the tails of the Explorer Sport which we’re told will do the same in 5.9-6.0 (TTAC hasn’t tested one yet). This proves what extra gears can do for you because the Explorer is 200lbs lighter and has a far more advantageous torque curve thanks to the twin turbos.

You can also thank the ZF transmission for the Durango’s robust towing numbers. V6 models are now rated for 6,200lbs while the V8 can haul up to 7,400lbs when properly equipped. That’s nearly 50% more than you can tow in any of the crossover competition and just 1,000 lbs shy of the average full-size body-on-frame hauler.

The transmission is also responsible for a whopping 20% increase in fuel economy. The last V8 Durango I tested eked out a combined 14.8 MPG over a week while the 2014 managed 18.0 MPG. While 18 MPG isn’t impressive in wider terms, it is 1/2 an MPG better than GM’s Lambda crossovers or the Ford Explorer on my commute cycle. The V6 yields improved fuel economy at the expense of thrust, but you should know that although the acceleration provided by the V6 is competitive with the V6 three-row competition, the 20 MPG average falls short of the new Highlander, Pathfinder and the rest of the FWD eco-minded competition.

After a week with the Durango I was no closer to answering the biggest question car buffs have: is this Dodge a crossover or an SUV? One thing is sure however, the Durango is likely the most fun you can have with 6 of your friends for under $50,000.


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

Specifications as tested:

0-30: 2.4

0-60: 6.0

1/4 Mile: 14.6 Seconds @ 96 MPH

Cabin noise at 50 MPH: 69dB @ 50 MPH

Average observed fuel economy: 18 MPG over 811 miles


2014 Dodge Durango Exterior-014 2014 Dodge Durango Exterior-013 2014 Dodge Durango Exterior-009 2014 Dodge Durango Exterior-004 2014 Dodge Durango 5.7L HEMI V8 Engine-002 2014 Dodge Durango 5.7L HEMI V8 Engine-001 2014 Dodge Durango 5.7L HEMI V8 Engine 2014 Dodge Durango Exterior-003 2014 Dodge Durango Exterior-002 2014 Dodge Durango Exterior-001 2014 Dodge Durango Exterior 2014 Dodge Durango Exterior-005 2014 Dodge Durango Exterior-006 2014 Dodge Durango Exterior-007 2014 Dodge Durango Exterior-008 2014 Dodge Durango Exterior-012 2014 Dodge Durango Exterior-011 2014 Dodge Durango Exterior-010 DG014_058DU DG014_057DU DG014_051DU DG014_043DU DG014_030DU ]]> 60
Review: 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T (With Video) Fri, 27 Dec 2013 14:00:48 +0000 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Exterior-001

It’s been decades since Cadillac produced the “Cadillac” of anything. However, when car buffs dismiss the only American luxury brand left, they fail to see Cadillac’s march forward. 2002 brought the first RWD Cadillac since the Fleetwoood. A year later the XLR roadster hit, followed in 2004 by Cadillac’s first 5-Series fighter, the STS. Not everything was rosy. The original CTS drove like a BMW but lacked charm and luxury fittings. The XLR was based on a Corvette, which made for excellent road manners, but the Northstar engine didn’t have the oomph. The STS sounded like a good idea, but the half-step CTS wasn’t much smaller and ultimately shoppers weren’t interested in a bargain option. That brings us to the new ATS and CTS. Ditching the “more car for less money” mantra, the ATS has been created to fight the C/3/IS leaving the CTS free to battle the E/5/GS head-on. Can Caddy’s sensible new strategy deliver the one-two punch fans have hoped for? I snagged a CTS 2.0T for a week to find out.


Click here to view the embedded video.


I found the outgoing CTS a little discordant, but 2014 brings an elegant more aggressive refresh. GM’s Art and Science theme has matured from “cubism gone wrong” to shapes that flow and jibe with a larger grille and softer creases. The 5-Series continues to go for elegant and restrained, I find the XF and A6′s design a mixture of plain-Jane and snazzy headlamps while the Infiniti Q5o and Lexus GS are going for flowing elegance.

The demur side profile continues with a simple character line to draw your eye from front to rear. One thing you’ll notice during that eye-movement is the distinct RWD proportions that separate the CTS, E, 5, GS, XF and Q50 from the long-nosed Audi A6 and near-luxury FWD options. Out back the CTS’ rump is a bit less exciting but employs all the latest luxury cues from hidden exhaust tops to light piped tail lamps. I was hoping Caddy’s fins would be further resurrected,  but the “proto fins” on the XTS are absent. Pity. Obvious from every angle is an attention to build quality absent from earlier generations with perfect panel gaps and seams.

Structurally, the CTS has jumped ship to a stretched version of the Alpha platform the smaller ATS rides on. Thanks to the automotive taffy-pull, the CTS is now 2.3 inches longer than a BMW 5-series. However, because of the Alpha roots, the CTS has actually shrunk for 2014 by 3 inches in length while getting 2 inches wider and a 2 inch roof height reduction.

2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Interior-006


GM has proven they are able to create a car that drives competitively and looks sexy on the outside, but interiors have always been a mixed bag. The last gen CTS felt as if it was built with a mixture of custom parts and Chevy hand-me downs. No more. Like the ATS, the Caddy shares little with the rest of GM’s mass market-rabble. It is hard to find fault in the CTS’s dashboard’s combination of injection molded soft touch plastics, leather, faux suede, real wood, carbon fiber and contrasting stitching. Cadillac continues their dedication to shiny touch buttons on the dash and no luxury sedan would be complete without a little gimmicky drama. The CTS’s motorized cupholder lid ties with the XF’s automated air vents for the feature most clearly designed to brag about. I’m not sure how long that little motor will crank away, but it can’t be any less reliable than Jaguar’s theatrical air vents.

Because of the way Cadillac chose to stretch the CTS’ donor platform, cargo and interior space aren’t the primary beneficiaries. This means that rear legroom actually shrinks for 2014 to the smallest entry in this segment by a hair. Trunk volume also drops from a competitive 13.6 cubes to 10.5 which is a 20% reduction compared to the Lexus and BMW and 30% smaller than the Mercedes. The CTS makes up for some of this with comfortable thrones all the way around and when equipped with the optional 20-way front seats the CTS ranks #2 in the segment just behind BMW’s optional 24-way sport seats in comfort. Taller drivers and passengers beware, dropping the CTS’ roof height made the profile sexier but cuts headroom to the lowest in the segment.

2013 Cadillac ATS Instrument Cluster

2013 Cadillac ATS Instrument Cluster

There is one glaring flaw. The decidedly dowdy base instrument cluster is shared with the ATS (pictured above) and the XTS. Our Facebook followers were so put-off by Caddy’s base dials, the fervor spawned a Vellum Venom Vignette. While the ATS is saddled with the four-dial layout, the CTS and XTS have a savior: the most attractive LCD disco dash available. (My tester was so equipped.) Perhaps it is this dichotomy that is so vexing about the base CTS models. If you don’t fork over enough cash, you’ll constantly be reminded that you couldn’t afford the Cadillac of displays.

The 12.3-inch cluster offers the driver more customization than you fill find in any other full-LCD cluster. Unlike the Jaguar and Land Rover screens that simply replicate analogue gauges, you can select from several different views depending on whether you feel like analogue dials or digital information and the amount of information overload you prefer. (Check out the gallery.) My preferred layout contained a high res navigation map, digital speedo, fuel status, range to empty, average fuel economy, audio system information with album art and track information and the speed-limit on the road I was traveling on.

2014 Cadillac CUE - CTS 2.0T-001


I have been critical of Cadillac’s CUE system but 2014 brings some important software fixes resolving the random system crashes and demon possessed touch controls I experienced in the ATS and XTS. After driving the CTS for 852 miles, the CUE system proved rock solid in terms of reliability. Unfortunately, little has been done to address the sluggish response to inputs, unintuitive menus and old-school nav graphics. Despite the still flaws, I have to stick by my words when MyFord Touch landed: I’d rather have slow infotainment than none at all. BMW’s iDrive still ranks 1st for me because the interface is intuitive, attractive, responsive and elegant. BMW continues to add new features to their system and, unlike other systems, the new features in general operate as smoothly as the rest of the iDrive interface. You may be surprised to know that CUE ranks second for me.

CUE’s graphics are more pleasing to my eye than MMI, COMAND, Sensus, MyLincon Touch, Enform or AcuraLink. COMAND’s software should have been sent out to pasture long ago. The graphics are ancient and trying to load any of the smartphone apps is an exercise in frustration. Instead of reinventing their software, Lexus reinvented the input method taking their system from most intuitive to least in a single move. Senus isn’t half bad but Volvo’s screens are small and the software lacks the smartphone integration found in the competition. MyLincoln Touch is well featured but lacks CUE’s more modern look and the glass touchscreen.

2014 Cadillac CUE - CTS 2.0T-006

The scratch resistant glass touchscreen and proximity sensors used by Cadillac are part of what give the system a clean modern look. Most systems use resistive touchscreens which are pressure sensitive and require that the surface of the screen actually move to sense your touch. This means they need to be made of a ductile plastic which is several layers thick. The consumer comparison is to think of your iPhone or Android phone vs a color Palm Pilot from years past. Cadillac uses the screen to allow intuitive finger-sliding gestures and the proximity sensor to reduce visual clutter when your finger is away from the screen. Move you hand closet to the screen and the less critical interface buttons reappear.

Cadillac continues their relationship with Bose, giving the base model an 11-speaker sound system that brings everything but navigation to the party. Our model was equipped with the up-level 13-speaker Bose sound system, navigation software and the optional single-slot CD player hiding in the glove box. Compared with BMW’s premium audio offerings, the Bose systems sing slightly flatter and lack the volume capable in the German options. However compared to Lexus’ standard and optional systems the Cadillac holds its own.

Ecotec 2.0L I-4 VVT DI Turbo (LTG)


Thanks to the new GM Alpha platform, all three engines sit behind the front axle which is ideal for weight balance. Base shoppers get the 2.0L direct-injection turbocharged four-cylinder worth 272 ponies and 295 lb-ft of torque, besting BMW’s 2.0L by 32 HP and 35 lb-ft. On “Luxury” trim and above you can opt for GM’s ubiquitous 3.6L V6 (321HP/275 lb-ft) for $2,700, but I’d probably stick to the 2.0L turbo if I were you. Aside from being lighter, the turbo delivers more torque at lower RPMs and has a more advantageous power delivery which make it a hair faster to 60.

Shoppers looking for more shove and willing to part with $59,995 can opt for a 420 horsepower twin-turbo V6 in the CTS V-Sport that cranks out 430 lb-ft. Despite sharing thee 3.6L displacement of the middle engine, GM tells us that only 10% of the engine components are shared. Sending power to the pavement in the 2.0T and 3.6 models is essentially the same GM 6-speed automatic transmission BMW used to use in certain models of the 3-series until recently. Optional in the 3.6L and standard on the twin-turbo V6 is an Aisin 8-speed automatic that is essentially shared with the Lexus LS.

2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Exterior-014


Unfortunately, the first thing you’ll notice out on the road is the coarse sound from under the hood. GM’s 2.0L engine is no less refined than BMW or Mercedes’ four-bangers, but the difference is you can hear the engine in the CTS. In fact, based on the overall quietness of the cabin (a competitive 67 dB at 50 MPH), I can only conclude that Cadillac designed the engine to be heard. I don’t mind hearing the 3.6L V6, but most luxury shoppers would prefer not to be reminded they chose the rational engine every time they get on the freeway. On the bright side, because GM does not offer start/stop tech, shoppers are spared the inelegant starts and stops that characterize 528i city driving.

While I’m picking nits, the 6-speed found in the 2.0T and most 3.6 models lacks the ratio spread and shift smoothness of the ZF 8-speed automatic found in most of the competition. While I prefer GMs 6-speed to the somewhat lazy 7-speed automatic in the Mercedes E-Class, the rumored 8-speed can’t come soon enough. The 8-speed used in the V-Sport (optional on the 3.6L) solves the ratio and marketing issue, but the Aisin unit feels just as up-shift happy and down-shift reluctant as it does in the Lexus LS 460. As a result when you use the shift paddles, your actions feel more like suggestions than commands.

2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Exterior-013

The reason I label those flaws as mere nits is because of how the CTS accomplishes every other task on the road. Acceleration to 60 happens a 4/10ths faster than an E350, a half-second faster than the 528i,  a full second faster than a GS350, and practically years ahead of the A6 2.0T. Part of this has to do with the engine’s superior torque curve and higher horsepower numbers, but plenty has to do with curb weight. At 3,616 lbs, the CTS 2.oT is 200lbs lighter than the BMW or Lexus, 400lbs lighter than an E350. The comparable Audi A6 would be the front-wheel-drive 2.0T model with the CVT at 3,726. If you think that’s an unfair comparison, the 2.0T with Quattro is 3,900lbs and does little to correct the A6′s front-heavy weight balance.

As a result of the CTS’s near perfect 50.3/49.7 % weight balance and the light curb weight, the CTS feels more agile and responsive on winding mountain roads, especially when you compare it to the V6 competitors. The steering is as numb as anything on the market thanks to electric power steering, but you can get faint whiffs of feedback now and then and the steering weight is moderate rather than strangely firm in the 528i. Admittedly we’re splitting hairs here when it comes to steering feel, as there is precious little difference between the CTS, GS and 528i. Even the hydraulic system retained in BMW’s 550i doesn’t feel as crisp on the road. Helping out the handling is a standard moderately firm spring suspension or an optional MagneRide active suspension as our tester was equipped. The adaptive dampers feel more refined than in previous versions, despite them not changing the vehicle’s personality much from regular to sport mode. The CTS never felt out of sorts on rough or uneven terrain and despite being moderately firm, never felt punishing. This places the CTS right in line with the modern Germans. Toss in standard Brembo brakes and the CTS is far more willing to hike up its skirt and dance than the establishment competition.

2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Exterior-007

For 2014, Cadillac added $6,035 to the MSRP and put “value” on the back burner. At $45,100, the CTS starts $4,400 less than the 528i and $2,600 less than the GS350. Of course the Caddy’s base model has fewer features, so an apples-to-apples comparison brings the delta up to around $1,500 less than the BMW. That’s a much smaller window than there used to be, and it’s not surprising when you consider the CTS’ interior is finally equal to or better than the Germans. The pricing deltas get more interesting as you go up the ladder. The CTS 3.6 is a few grand less than a BMW 535i. In that mash-up, the BMW provides superior thrust but when the road gets winding the CTS is more enjoyable. Then we get to the CTS V-Sport. The V-Sport brings a twin-turbo V6 to a twin-turbo V8 fight. At 420 HP and 430 lb-ft the numbers are stout to be sure, but trail the 443 HP and 479 lb-ft from BMW’s 4.4L V8 and most importantly, the V8 delivers a far superior torque curve delivering all of its torque 1,500 RPM earlier. Still, the Cadillac is 325 lbs lighter, handles better, is $4,830 cheaper and by the numbers gives up little in terms of straight line performance.

The two sweet spots for the CTS are a nearly loaded 2.0T with the LCD disco dash and a moderately well equipped V-Sport. The 2.0T offers the best road manners of its direct competition at a reasonable value. The V-Sport on the other hand offers BMW shoppers an interesting alternative. At an $1,800 up-sell over a comparably equipped 535i and $4,800 less than a 550i, the V-Sport is probably the best value in the luxury segment for 2014. After a week with the middle child Cadillac, GM seems to finally be on the right path with their luxury brand. As long as the XTS is replaced with a large rear driver sedan soon I might even say that the American luxury brand is on a roll. While I can think of a few reasons to buy a BMW 5-Series over a CTS (the base CTS instrument cluster is a good reason), shoppers have no reason to dismiss the CTS as they might have done in the past. Although the CTS is still 20lbs of sound deadening and an 8-speed automatic away from being the Cadillac of mid-size sedans, it is a truly solid competitor.


 GM provides the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.3 Seconds

0-60: 5.9 Seconds

1/mile: 14.36 Seconds @ 97.5 MPH

Average observed fuel economy: 24.8 MPG over 852 Miles

Sound level at 50 MPH: 67 dB

2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Exterior 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Exterior-001 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Exterior-002 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Exterior-003 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Exterior-004 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Exterior-005 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Exterior-006 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Exterior-007 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Exterior-008 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Exterior-009 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Exterior-010 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Exterior-011 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Exterior-012 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Exterior-013 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Exterior-014 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Exterior-015 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Interior 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Interior-001 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Interior-002 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Interior-003 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Interior-004 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Interior-005 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Interior-006 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Interior-007 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Interior-008 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Interior-009 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Interior-010 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Interior-011 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Interior-012 2014 Cadillac CUE - CTS 2.0T 2014 Cadillac CUE - CTS 2.0T-001 2014 Cadillac CUE - CTS 2.0T-002 2014 Cadillac CUE - CTS 2.0T-003 2014 Cadillac CUE - CTS 2.0T-004 2014 Cadillac CUE - CTS 2.0T-005 2014 Cadillac CUE - CTS 2.0T-006 ]]> 150
Correction: Not All A-Class Diesels Are French Sun, 06 Oct 2013 23:45:14 +0000

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

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


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

How about the trunk?

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Review: 2014 Lexus LS 600hL (With Video) Wed, 25 Sep 2013 11:00:30 +0000 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

The LS 600hL is the pinnacle of Toyota and Lexus engineering. It is the largest Lexus sedan, the brand’s most expensive model, the most expensive hybrid in the world and, with the death of BMW’s V8 ActiveHybrid system, it is once again the most powerful hybrid on sale. Yet the LS 600hL hasn’t had an easy time of things. The large luxury sedan has been lambasted for being the antithesis of green thanks to its EPA combined 20 MPG score. Critics also question whether the 600hL’s enormous premium over the LS 460L can ever be “justified.” I too questioned the logic behind the 600hL at first, but then I spoke with someone who changed my mind. Before we dive in, let’s talk about the elephant in the room. The 600hL starts at $119,910. With all the options checked, you land at $134,875. Without destination. Put your eye balls back in their sockets and click past the jump as we dive into an alternate universe.

Click here to view the embedded video.


I don’t live in a world filled with chauffeurs, champagne and caviar. Heck, I don’t even live in a world with indoor plumbing. (Seriously, my house doesn’t have an indoor shower, but that’s a story for a different time.) This meant I needed help in order to view the 600hL through the right lens. Fortunately I have a family connection with a guy in Atherton who is exactly the kind of guy I was looking for: one with deep pockets. Being the private jet/vacation mansion owning guy I was looking for, I expected him to be put off by the LS 600hL’s simple lines and unmistakably “discount” $71,990 LS 460 roots. Instead he had an opinion I hadn’t considered.

In a town where the money is piled high and deep, but paradoxically being flashy is considered tasteless, the LS 600hL strikes the right balance. Or so I am told. By looking like a lesser LS, it doesn’t scream “I spent twice your salary on my car,” but at the same time your neighbors will know your trust fund is still returning 15% a year. While he agreed that a similarly expensive 2014 S-Class was far more attractive and exciting, he felt it was too “nouveau riche.” From the mouth of babes…

2014 Lexus LS 600hL Interior, Rear Seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. DykesInterior
$119,910 doesn’t buy you a leather-clad dashboard standard, if you want that you have to add a few options to your spendy hybrid. No matter what package you add, the age of the LS platform shows in the front seats. Sharing the same mechanisms with the pre-refresh 2012 LS, the seat fails to contort in the same variety of directions as the Germans, or even the cheaper Lexus GS which has more modern seat frames. Still, 600hL buyers are likely to only experience the front seats when Jeevs has a day off.

Because 2013 is more of an extensive refresh than a clean-sheet design, the LS 600hL doesn’t get a fancy LCD instrument cluster, opting instead for a four-dial arrangement with a “wine glass” shaped multi-function display in the center. A full-disco-dash arrangement isn’t a requirement for me as there are plenty of traditional gauges in this segment but I had hoped for more from a luxury car designed in a country obsessed with electronic gadgets. The same thing can be said for the large 12-inch display in the middle of the dash. The display is bright and crisp but the software hasn’t been significantly re-worked for some time making it feel dated.

2014 Lexus LS 600hL Interior-009

Gadgets & Infotainment

No 600hL would be complete without the $7,555 Executive Package. For the cost of a used compact car Lexus adds an Alcantara headliner, deletes the middle rear seat for a fixed console, covers the dash in leather, wires up a 120V inverter, and installs the best rear seat available in America.

That seat is the 600hL’s raison d’être. It is also so mind-blowingly insane, I have decided it will hence forth be known as the “Lexus throne”. The 600hL’s throne contorts in 10 ways via controls in the substantial center console and boasts manual butterfly headrests. If that isn’t enough it will also vibrate and massage your royal personage while you put your feet up on the power ottoman. The massaging function isn’t like the systems employed by the German competition in the front seat. Those systems use a series of air bladders that inflate/deflate in a pattern to initiate a massage. The result feels more like a rodent trapped between the foam and the upholstery. The Lexus system uses a system more similar to the pneumatic rollers you find in airport “massage station chairs.” Only classier. And without the stench of the peasantry.

Activating the massage is easy once you get the hang of the 17-button remote control nestled next to the 26-button infotainment remote inside the 45-button console. If you rank your rides by button count, we have a winner. Lexus tosses in a blue-ray DVD player, wireless headphones and a single LCD that drops down from the ceiling. Although the Lexus Remote Touch joystick lives on up front, those being coddled in the rear can forget about the clunky controller and can control many of the car’s functions via the button bank. On the one hand this is less integrated than BMW’s iDrive for rear passengers that allow them top play with the nav system, but it does shield the owner of the LS 600hL from dealing with the evil that is Remote Touch.

2014 Lexus LS 600hL Engine, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes


The wealthy are frequently in a hurry and have the resources to pay Texas-sized speeding tickets. Unfortunately for them, Lexus hasn’t updated the 600hL’s hybrid system for the new model. While I still think of the 600hL’s setup as one of the most advanced hybrid systems in the world, I just can’t call it “powerful” anymore. Rated at 438 system horsepower, it is outclassed by a wide variety of V8s in everything from a Dodge Super Bee to the German’s base V8 options. That’s even before we talk about the V12 luxury barges Lexus is attempting to target. The “old” S65 AMG cranked out 631 horses and enough torque to cause the earth to rotate in the other direction. What will 2014 bring? You can bet the answer will be: more.

Operating much like a Prius hybrid system on steroids, a 385 horsepower 5.0L V8 engine is mated directly to a planetary gearset employing two motor/generator units. The larger motor is capable of 221HP on its own, but the battery pack in the trunk of the LS can only supply 53 HP at a time limiting the EV mode to around 30 MPH. The engine and motors work together to provide seamless and linear acceleration unlike anything on the market save a Tesla Model S. This design is quite different from the pancake motor sandwiched between the engine and transmission that you find in the German hybrids. Lexus won’t comment on how much torque the combined unit is good for, but my gut tells me it is around 450 lb0-ft combined.

Lexus continues to use a 288V Ni-MH battery pack that is similar to the one used in the Lexus RX hybrid. The 1.6kWh battery pack isn’t as space efficient as the more modern Lithium based batteries but had a proven track record and allows high current discharges with a smaller number of cells. Unfortunately it’s not as slim as the trendier cells and occupies a large portion of the trunk. Combined with the plumbing for the four zone climate control and the massaging throne, they slice trunk capacity from 18 cubes to 13 making it difficult to fit large luggage in the rear.

2014 Lexus LS 600hL Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes


With 5,500 pounds of luxury sedan riding (yes, you read that number correctly) on an air suspension, you can cross corner carving off your list. I suspect that such activities are frowned upon when the help is driving you anyway, but the weight and relatively narrow 245/45R19 tires mean stopping distances are long as well. Dynamically the LS has always been an excellent vehicle with a well controlled chassis, nearly perfect weight balance and a solid feel. When scaled up to the 600hL, you can tell those traits are still there but they are masked by the weight and the standard adaptive air suspension.

If I might digress for a moment, the LS platform is the perfect vehicle to experience an air suspension in on a test drive. There aren’t many cars that have a standard steel-coil suspension and an air suspension available in the same car and the LS is one. Air suspensions have an entirely different feel to them so when you compare an S-Class with Airmatic with a 7-Series that had only a partial rear air suspension it’s difficult to compare unless you’ve experienced what the air bags do to the feel of the car. I encourage anyone looking in this segment to give the LS a spin with and without the air suspension so you can really be familiar with the changes these systems make to the feel of a car.

Back on topic, let’s talk thrust. At the stoplight races the LS 600hL accelerates faster if the engine is already on. This is fairly logical since some of the motor’s twist would be consumed by starting the engine. Our numbers were taken with the engine “stopped” by the hybrid system which is the normal state of affairs. Thanks to the massive torque from the electric motor and the 5.0L V8, we hit 30 MPH after a scant 2.36 seconds. After this point the heavy curb weight comes into play with 60 MPH happening after 5.44 seconds followed by a 13.96 second quarter-mile. A BMW 750 and Mercedes S550 scoot to 60 about a half second faster while the V12 BMW 760 is a full second quicker. On the flip side even the new 8-speed ZF transmission feels like a farm tractor compared to the Lexus Hybrid Drive system. Acceleration in the 600hL is extraordinarily linear, unbelievably smooth and eerily silent. Comparisons to the Tesla Model S in terms of acceleration linearity and feel are entirely appropriate. All of a sudden the hybrid drivetrain combined with the throne in the back make sense: if I’m being driven, I want a smooth experience. Forget about the driver having fun, it’s all about the party in the back.

2014 Lexus LS 600hL Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

After a week with the LS 600hL I still have problems looking at the expensive cruiser in the “right” way, but I am closer to understanding the point. That point is less about fuel economy (which was 21.8 MPG over all by the way) and more about silently and smoothly cruising below the radar. If that’s your mission, then mission accomplished. The LS 600hL is also the least expensive vehicle that I know of designed with the chauffeured set in mind. Except that makes the LS 600hL the oddest duck I’ve met. Being obviously designed for owners with drivers it makes a value proposition that logically shouldn’t matter to the intended audience. If you’re being driven, the smallest part of the expense structure over the life of a vehicle is the price of the vehicle. Your driver and his benefits are likely to eat the bulk of your budget. My sounding board in this process is still trying to convince me that looking at the LS 600hL in this light is missing the point. Perhaps, but it does explain why the LS 600hL sells in such small numbers. It also explains why he still has a 2010 XJ8.


Hit it or Quit It?

Hit it

  • Best. Back. Seat. Ever.
  • Avatar on Blue Ray never sounded so good.

Quit it

  • Everyone will wonder why you didn’t buy an S-Class.
  • 438 ponies is hardly class-topping in 2013.
  • Despite being told otherwise, 21.8 MPG still seems to be missing the point.


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

0-30: 2.36

0-60: 5.44

1/4 Mile: 13.96 @ 105 MPH

Average Observed Fuel Economy: 21.8 MPG over 623 miles

2014 Lexus LS 600hL Engine 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Engine, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Exterior 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Exterior-002 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Exterior-003 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Exterior-004 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Exterior-005 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Exterior-006 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Exterior-007 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Exterior-008 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Exterior-010 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Interior 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Interior-001 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Interior-002 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Interior-003 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Interior-004 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Interior-006 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Interior-007 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Interior-008 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Interior-009 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Interior-010 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Interior-011 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Interior, Rear Seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Interior-013 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Interior-014 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Interior-015 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Interior-016 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Interior-018 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Interior-019 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Interior-020



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Junkyard Find: 1973 Mercedes-Benz 220 Wed, 11 Sep 2013 13:00:42 +0000 09 - 1973 Mercedes-Benz 220 Down On The Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinMost of the time, I don’t photograph junkyard-dwelling Mercedes-Benzes unless they’re coupes, SLs, or really old, but today’s W115 sedan was just so complete that I had to shoot it.
02 - 1973 Mercedes-Benz 220 Down On The Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinA car like this just isn’t worth enough to warrant restoration, especially when the interior smells like a genetically-engineered mildew experiment gone terribly awry (it takes a serious strain of mildew to thrive in Denver’s single-digit humidity).
16 - 1973 Mercedes-Benz 220 Down On The Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinIt’s not very rusty, although the wheelwells probably have a bit of an oxidation party going on.
05 - 1973 Mercedes-Benz 220 Down On The Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinWith just 103 horses from the 2.2-liter four-cylinder, this fairly substantial car wasn’t going to be quick.
06 - 1973 Mercedes-Benz 220 Down On The Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinEspecially once the York air conditioning kicked in.
08 - 1973 Mercedes-Benz 220 Down On The Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinStill, these cars were built when Mercedes-Benz obliterated all comers in the build-quality competition, and they deserve our respect.

01 - 1973 Mercedes-Benz 220 Down On The Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 02 - 1973 Mercedes-Benz 220 Down On The Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 03 - 1973 Mercedes-Benz 220 Down On The Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 04 - 1973 Mercedes-Benz 220 Down On The Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 05 - 1973 Mercedes-Benz 220 Down On The Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 06 - 1973 Mercedes-Benz 220 Down On The Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 07 - 1973 Mercedes-Benz 220 Down On The Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 08 - 1973 Mercedes-Benz 220 Down On The Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 09 - 1973 Mercedes-Benz 220 Down On The Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 10 - 1973 Mercedes-Benz 220 Down On The Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 11 - 1973 Mercedes-Benz 220 Down On The Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 12 - 1973 Mercedes-Benz 220 Down On The Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 13 - 1973 Mercedes-Benz 220 Down On The Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 14 - 1973 Mercedes-Benz 220 Down On The Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 15 - 1973 Mercedes-Benz 220 Down On The Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 16 - 1973 Mercedes-Benz 220 Down On The Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 17 - 1973 Mercedes-Benz 220 Down On The Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin ]]> 55
Piston Slap: Affalterbach’s A-faltering Headlight! Thu, 01 Aug 2013 12:00:40 +0000 SLK32AMG_front1

Martin writes:

Hi Sajeev,

I’m writing you because I’ve searched and asked model-specific forums, and mechanics, to no avail. I have the last of the 1st Gen SLK AMGs. I love this car, and I’ve loved it since the first non-AMG launched in the late 90s. Overall, it’s well maintained – a trend which I continue – and I’ve had it for a few years. I have one major issue.

The Xenon headlights will blink out randomly – the issue is solved by flicking the lights completely off, and then back on…it almost always happens on my passenger side headlight, but I’ve seen it happen on the driver’s side as well though this is rare. It usually happens on a bump, or on impact of some kind, like a speed bump, braking, or closing the hood, and can occur every few minutes (usually in wet weather – thought doesn’t ALWAYS happen in wet weather) or not at all for several months (usually dry weather).

Mechanics have diagnosed it as anything ranging from a bad ballast (doesn’t make sense to me as ballasts either work or the don’t) to a faulty bulb. One mechanic put some kind of lubrication on the contacts with the bulb and the problem went away for several months – even in wet weather, but I’m not sure if this was a solution or coincidence. Due to two factors – higher incidence of occurrence in wet weather – and the presence of condensation in the passenger’s side bulb (the worst offender) – I think there’s a short somewhere. I’ve checked the wiring and it seems ok. No one can give me a convincing reason as to why I should just replace the whole headlight assembly (an expensive proposal) – and although I realize AMG cars are pricier to maintain and I don’t mind spending, I also don’t want to do it unnecessarily just to discover that it’s a short in some kind of control module or peripheral piece.

Have you ever heard of this? Looking forward to your input.

Sajeev answers:

Not an easy question, but luckily you want what’s best for the car. Which isn’t cheap for a German car of this era. I still have nightmares about attempting to fix anything on my Father’s former 1996 BMW 750iL…beautiful, glorious nightmares I tell you!

Proper Mercedes-Benz shop manuals for this car are a must…but first…give this a shot:

A problem this intermittent, normally happening on one side means there’s an easy diagnostic route: switch headlights (first) and ballasts (second, assuming there are two, so RTFM) between left and right headlights and see if the flickering pattern changes.  If so great…you probably found your offender.

If not…well…

I am somewhat confident that voltage irregularities in failing ballasts can cause this, but the bulbs themselves aren’t free from guilt.  I worry because you flick’d them off/on: hot re-strikes on many older HID bulbs is a big no-no.  BIIIIIG no-no, as I learned when converting the horrible headlights on my 1995 Mark VIII to the HIDs of the 1996 model: this shortens HID lifespan significantly.

If the HID bulbs are original, perhaps they need replacement after the hot re-striking and from age. Or maybe the ballasts are no longer up to par internally, perhaps a lighting specialist can load test them to verify. I doubt you have wiring problems, but who knows…I haven’t checked myself!

Who really knows how to arm-chair this query? What say you, Best and Brightest?


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


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Überholprestige: BMW Makes Audi And Mercedes Eat Dust Mon, 08 Jul 2013 13:25:28 +0000

Members of the media are still speculating why Audi’s R&D chief Wolfgang Dürheimer was sacked and replaced by Volkswagen’s engineering rock star Urlich Hackenberg. Today, the market delivered the reason:  With BMW in the passing lane in China and America, global sales of the roundel brand keep rising faster than those of Audi and Mercedes.

Sales at BMW’s core brand were up 9.4 percent in June to 153,000 units, while sales at Mercedes rose 8.3 percent and Audi slowed down to 5.5 percent r growth, Reuters says.

For the half year of 2013, global sales of BMW are up 7.7 percent to 804,000 units, with Audi up 6.4 percent to 780,500 units , and Mercedes also up and 6.4 percent to 694,000 autos.

Envied by other European carmakers Germany’s three leading premium manufacturers are maintaining production in July and August to meet soaring export demand, while the rest of Europe is going on – often extended – summer vacations.

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Super Piston Slap: New Tricks For an Old Car Phone? Fri, 21 Jun 2013 11:00:39 +0000

It started innocently enough: Derek Kreindler posted the above photo on Facebook for nothing more than a few social media lulz. Which triggered a memory on my end of Al Gore’s Internet: of a cellular phone residing in the console of my Lincoln Mark VIII. Even worse, it reminded me of the way-cool hack to make it work in the digital age. The conversation went downhill from there, and the boss man suggested I blog all about it. Won’t you join me in the cellular madness?

Before I start: my Mark VIII never came with a cell phone.  But I, the upwardly “mobile” (tee-hee, get it?) junkyard dog that I am, grabbed most of the functional bits from a crusher bound Mark VIII: phone-handset, the plastic cradle, and a voice activated A-pillar speaker/button assembly for about $20.  It plugs and plays, if I grabbed the module from the trunk.  Provided that black box was actually worth something. It is not, especially if you upgraded to an aftermarket stereo.

So I, much like The Esteemed Mr. Kreindler, just did it to show off. Or look stupid. Either way, this system commands attention. Especially if someone looks at the A-pillar.

The result is some sort of highbrow-historical respect: last year a friend borrowed the Mark. Upon noticing the brick inside the center console she busted out the Android, expressing glee from her first encounter with a gen-u-wine cellular car phone. Smartphone texting about an analog phone: now ain’t that some shit?

Imagine a fantabulous world where you could re-use this impressive (looking) system in today’s fully digital society! Queue the obligatory Panther Love:

Click here to view the embedded video.

Without getting into the nitty-gritty, this video shows how cell phones from the Golden (Dark?) Age of In-Car communication need not go gentle into that good night.  The obscenely talented and/or tragically bored among us can convert the analog system to digital…and still run the factory’s “hands free operation” gadgets. Like, awesome.

Which begs the question: would you make the change, teach an old dog new tricks, if you could? And would it be less annoying/obnoxious than many newer in-car entertainment systems?

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.

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Labor Unrest In South Africa Sat, 25 May 2013 08:37:04 +0000 Rubber bullets South Africa - Picture courtesy

South Africa’s main auto union threatened to “halt production” at a Volkswagen after union members were fired, Reuters says.

“We call on the Volkswagen South Africa oligarchy to immediately stop these dismissals of workers. If VWSA fails to adhere to this demand, we will be forced to halt production until this impasse is resolved,” the National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa told the wire.

Tensions in South Africa are high. On Tuesday, ten striking South African miners were hit by rubber bullets, as labor strife spread ahead of mid-year pay negotiations. A Mercedes-Benz plant in the country was shut for two days when workers walked out after they were asked to remove their overalls when going outside, and not to wear them when returning..

Metal workers in South Africa demand a 20 percent industry-wide salary hike.

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Monday Longevity Champion: Long Live The Leylands! Mon, 29 Apr 2013 17:28:53 +0000

Last week there was a 2003 Toyota Tacoma with 430,000 miles on it.

I thought to myself, “Well this isn’t news. The quartet of GM/Ford trucks, Honda Cars, and Toyota everything is still cleaning up the charts. I won’t write about it this time”. So I waited…

This week the mileage champion out of 6,945 vehicles was a 1999 Toyota 4Runner with 344,400 miles. The enthusiasts among us are probably a bit Toyonda Chevorded out at this point. So this time, let’s focus on longevity.

This 1975 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham was once owned by Kermit the Frog. It was later purchased by the guy who invented Nickelodeon’s world famous slime and has most recently been on the set of the Incredible Hulk movie. Sad to say, the scene where it was scheduled to be destroyed was cut due to a protest engineered by our own TTAC alum Paul Niedermeyer.

So now it sits with 32,973 miles.

Old Caddies are rarely a surprise at the auctions. What did surprise me this time?

Try two 1977 MGB Roadsters available at the same auction. The miles are 47,959 and 49,048 respectively. Two more garage queens. These happened to reside in Nashville, Tennessee, Elvis country, where the rust is minimal, and the classiness of car decor is often somewhere between decals that portray the act of urinating and world famous truck testicles.

These sheepskin covers aren’t so bad. In fact, I think they would be the perfect fit for the marque that finished fourth and fifth on the longevity list.


These were followed by two Mercedes diesels. The second of which was a daily driver that displayed an impressive 308,052 miles. This is doubly impressive since old Mercedes odometer clusters have a tendency to give out at a certain point. I wouldn’t be surprised if this daily driver had more mileage than the Toyota 4Runner.

Finally, we have another surprise. A 1982 Fiat spider. Just showing the picture of this model with 137,939 miles would not do it justice. So I have arranged for a Youtube video to accompany your Monday morning.

Click here to view the embedded video.

The seats for this model were protected in a more conventional way than the MG twins.

There you have it. The six elder statesmen out of 6,985 vehicles. All of them still run… or at least limp along the road with loose bladders.



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Boston Marathon Bomber’s Deadly Mistake: He Took A Mercedes Mon, 29 Apr 2013 13:00:13 +0000

Daimler is set to profit from theBoston Marathon bombing drama in a strange way. The car hijacked by Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was a 2013 ML350 with an active telematics subscription. Mercedes-Benz USA confirmed to Automotive News [sub] that “it was contacted April 19 during the hunt for Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Mercedes was asked to help find the vehicle using the Stolen Vehicle Location Assistance function on the crossover’s mbrace telematics system.“

Mercedes-Benz USA CEO Steve Cannon could tweet: “Just found out that our mbrace2 technology in the stolen Mercedes helped locate the Boston terrorists! Thanks to our amazing law enforcement.”

The Mercedes is owned by a 26-year-old Chinese entrepreneur, who told the harrowing story of his abduction and escape to the Boston Globe.

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Hammer Time: The First Set Thu, 18 Apr 2013 13:48:30 +0000

Coffee. Old magazines. Quiet murmurs of conversations. I am stuck in an old office with two dozen other people who are awaiting instructions from a young tattooed lady with a clipboard and a shrill nasal voice.

“Follow me!”, I hear six inches from my ear. It seems like the perfect moment to have a rendezvous with the doctor, the dentist, or the job interview. Or at least someone who doesn’t instantly give me an instant flashback to my New Jersey upbringing.

Not this time. I’m in…

Hollywood. Or at least the Atlanta version of it.

24 hours ago I posted an ad on Craigslist for a 1983 Mercedes 300D. Nothing special. Great interior. I had priced it for a quick sale in a business where well used early-80’s vehicles have limited demand.

Within ten minutes I received the following response.

“Hi, We are actually looking for a few additional cars for a scene we are filming tomorrow for a new pilot ‘Halt and Catch Fire’ for AMC.”

Now I have been selling on Craigslist for over 10 years now. So I am acutely aware of the scam side of this world. One that is typically loaded with aspiring Nigerian bankers who need your exclusive help with freeing up millions of Euros. Or my personal favorite. The listing for a car where the phone number is written like ( 5^7^3) 286 –  1 ^ 4 ^ 2 ^ 3).

This one was a bit different. A complete sentence. An unusual attention to grammar and punctuation. It was a boring Sunday afternoon, so I responded.

“I would be interested if I could bring a second vehicle along with my wife as well. Let me know if you are looking for a particular era of vehicles.

All the best!” 

The emails went back and forth and my wife, bless her film and video background, was able to confirm the rest. The listing was likely legitimate. A bit random. But metro-Atlanta often has anywhere from 5 to 10 movie shoots during the spring season and yes, they do need old cars.

This was to be a shoot for the year 1983. It just so happened that I had that Mercedes and a 74’ Chevy C10 pickup that would be the perfect background vehicles for a set that would try to recreate an office park in Dallas right after the famous early-80’s oil crash.

The clincher was that it was only 15 miles away and the Monday auto auctions are horrifically expensive this time of year. Cars that sold for only $6000 this time of year now sell for $7500 thanks to Uncle Sam redistributing refunds and unearned perks to millions of people who usually get a big wad of cash only once a year.

Tax season is an incredibly difficult time to buy cars on the cheap. This is why I will buy as many as twelve a day in the final quarter of the year and fewer than 12 a month from January through late May. It’s cheaper to buy a holding yard and replace a few batteries than it is to pay a four figured price premium on a per car basis.

The pay for 2 extras on the set comes out to $120 each for 10 hours; plus $35 for each of our two glorified clunkers. The family revenue would be $310 in total for a short drive and interminably long waiting periods in a long line of small offices.

Would it be worth my time?

Well… you live life once as the old saying goes and since this is a minimal hassle deal, we take it. 5 A.M. buzzer. My wife and I eat our fruits and pack our coffees. I get the keys to a 39 year old Chevy with the 350 V8, while the wife gets the screaming ‘Eeeeeee!!!’ buzzer of the Mercedes Turbodiesel.

20 minutes later. No traffic. We’re there. A parking lot that will soon look like the 70’s version of American Graffiti.

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Smaller, Cheaper Benzes Ante Portas Mon, 15 Apr 2013 12:44:24 +0000

Red alert for armchair marketing strategists: Daimler plans what surely will be branded as an inexcusable watering down of its brand equity: The Mercedes brand is working on a series of very small (under 4 meters) and affordably priced (17,000 to 20,000 Euro) cars.

According to Germany’s Focus magazine, the baby Benzes will be Daimler’s answer to BMW’s Mini. According to the story, the series will launch with a small SUV below the GLA, and a small van in 2015. A year later, a 3 door version will follow. The cars will be based on Daimler’s A-Class, but will be much shorter.

Daimler urgently needs to make its cars attractive and approachable for younger demographics as the bulk of its core customers is about to retire – at least as far as its home market is concerned.

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Monday Mileage Champion: On The Road Again Mon, 15 Apr 2013 12:00:46 +0000

Click here to view the embedded video.

The 420,000 mile Ford truck. The 420,000 mile Chevy truck. The 420,000 mile Camry. The 420,000 mile Accord.

I have covered all of these brands and models to the point now where I just hope, wish and dream of a different vehicle to highlight.

A few months ago I finally had a pair of Saturns make it to the top. A little before that there was a 90′s Altima that handily beat nearly 7000 other cars and trucks.  This week…

No such luck. Although there was one surprise.

This is how the Top 5 looked this time around out of 6863 trade-in contestants for the week.

1. 2003 Ford E-350 XLT:  426,776 miles

2. 2000 Honda Civic EX:  387,915 miles

3. 2001 Nissan Xterra SE: 377,966 miles

4. 2000 Ford Crown Vic:   353,951 miles (TAXI!)

5. 1999 Toyota Sienna LE: 341,630 miles


The Xterra was a welcome surprise from the usual Toyota, Honda, Ford, and Chevy domination.

A Manual. 4WD. The engine needed service but that won’t matter given that it will be fixed up and exported in short time. Almost every older, high mileage, Japanese SUV with four-wheel-drive and a handshaker winds up on the export side of the ledger.

Like many of the exported vehicles with gonzo mileage, I’m sure this one will also be given an ‘exempt’ recording of the mileage on the title and a nice healthy 200k mile rollback. They sell better that way.

So the big five here are more than likely highway oriented vehicles. Livery and transport companies usually favor domestics for their continuous travels, and we can argue the reasons why until Ford finally builds a suitable Panther replacement.

High mileage is fun to categorize, but let’s face it. There is bias. The fleet world is Ford and Chevy happy. So let’s look at the high mileage list from a more aged perspective.

What about vehicles that are at least 20 year old? What brands and models registered the highest mileage this time around?

Number one would be this 1992 Toyota Paseo with another handshaker and sun faded racing stripes on either side of the hood. Toyotas from the mid-80′s thru the mid-90′s have a notorious tendency to have their paint streaked and speckled at the points where the sun and debris hit em’ the most.

Still, even the worst Toyota paint jobs are far better than the wafer thin domestic paint-jobs of the time. But if I can offer one universal weakness to early-90′s Toyotas, it would be paint fade.

This 21 year old mileage champion was followed by a 1990 Lexus LS400 (290k), a 1990 Honda Accord (279k),  a 1993 Ford F150 (278k), and a 1992 Camry (277k).

So it seems like we’re stuck at the same point as before. Well, maybe not folks. I’ll throw in a few factoids given that today is tax day. .

After 64,049 vehicles tallied, the brands with the highest percentage of models with over 180k are…

1. Honda 

2. Toyota

3. Lexus

4. Acura

and a surprising 5th…

5. GMC

The first four have 20+% of their trade-ins with over 180k. GMC is at just over 17%.

Now for an even bigger shocker…

13% of Mitsubishis are now traded in with over 180k. I happen to finance an awful lot of them these days with a clear conscience. So this is no surprise from where I sit. 

Meanwhile, Mercedes tallies a mere 6.9%. BMW yields 5.9%. Audi barely hits the mileage pedal with only 4.5%, while VW does little better, even with dozens of TDI models, at 4.9%.

To further crown the European propensity for penurious plentitude when it comes to all things mileage related, the two absolute worst marques for mileage are Jaguar at 2.6% and Land Rover at 2.8%. Porsche is even worse at 0.52%. But since a Porsche daily driver is an exception rather than the rule, we gave it a bye.

On the homefront, we have one other surprise. Cadillac is barely beating the bad old Kias of the 90′s and early 2000′s. 3.8% for the former Northstar division vs. 3.7% for a company that brought us shitboxes such as the Sephia and the early Kia Rios.

Do you have free time today? Or happen to work for an OEM? Click here and have fun.





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Avoidable Contact: An immodest proposal to solve the German nomenclatural nincompoopery. Wed, 03 Apr 2013 14:03:02 +0000

Why, why, why the hell is the new BMW 328d called the 328d? It’s a 3-Series, so that part’s legitimate, even if today’s 3er dwarfs the old Bavaria. It’s also a diesel, so the “d” seems appropriate, even if the absence of a “t” rankles a bit among those of us who remember the 524td. Not that “t” always meant “turbo” in BMW-land; sometimes it meant “touring” like fast, sometimes it meant “touring” like station wagon.

The problem is this: the “28″ in 328d suggests a 2.8-liter engine. Just like the 528e had. Well, actually, that was a 2.7-liter engine. The same engine appeared in the 325e, where it was also 2.7 liters. Still, those are relatively white decklid lies compared to the effrontery of putting a two-liter engine in a car and badging it as a 2.8, right? There has to be a rhyme and reason here somewhere, surely. And it there isn’t, then surely there’s a way to put some sense and sensibility back into the German-car game, right?

Good news: I, your humble author, have a solution.

Before I detail my easy-as-pie and completely reasonable idea, however, let’s consider just how BMW and Mercedes in particular got themselves into this mess. The idea of naming a car after its engine displacement isn’t a new one — in fact, it dates from very nearly the first automobiles — but since cars in Europe were often taxed on their displacement the importance of knowing said displacement right up front took on a rather outsized importance in that market. It never happened here, otherwise the fellow chasing the “hot rod Lincoln” would have bragged that “nothin’ will outrun my three-point-six-liter Ford.” Here in the United States, we named our cars after animals, cities, natural phenomena, and other fun stuff. Who would want a “Ford 4.7S” when you could have a Ford Mustang?

In the dour environment of postwar Germany, however, Mercedes-Benz chose to name their cars after their displacement, with only the addition of an “S” for “Super” executive sedans spoiling the purity of the naming scheme. Later on, more letters appeared after the numbers, but those numbers tended to be trustworthy. A “180″ probably was 1.8 liters. The “300SLR” really was a three-liter engine. It mostly made sense.

The first real cracks in the scheme appeared when Mercedes-Benz decided to boost the available power in the S-Class sedans. When the 6.3-liter V-8 was dropped into the 300SEL, somebody realized that calling it the 630SEL might give it more decklid authority on the Autobahn than the “600″ limo. (That should have been the “630″, come to think of it.) Something had to be done, and that something was to create a car called the “300SEL 6.3″. Other 300SELs arrived after that, including the 300SEL 3.5 and the 300SEL 4.5. The last one always amused me because presumably it was done to prevent the crass horror of calling a car the “450SEL”. Naturally, the next big Benz to appear was, in fact, called the 450SEL.

BMW had been struggling with a rather confusing displacement-based scheme of its own, where the 2002 was a two-door 2000 rather than a 2000 with two additional milliliters of bore. The sensible decision was made to create a universal naming scheme. To prevent the silliness of a 300SEL 4.5, the displacement was given second billing behind an arbitrary number meant to denote the size of sausage being sold. A 320i, therefore, was a 3-Series with a two-liter engine.

This scheme lasted all of ten minutes before BMW decided to fit a 1.8-liter engine into the US-market 320i without changing the badge. Presumably this was done because customers, who had already caught on to the general idea that a higher number was better, would balk at paying more for this year’s 318i then they had paid for the previous year’s 320i. The “318i” moniker didn’t appear until the E30 did. Note how quickly the number really started to matter. Fewer than five years after adopting a logical model designation system, BMW was already having to fudge it. Let’s not forget the 745i, of course, which was a turbocharged 730i. The “4.5″ was meant to represent the, ah, equivalent power potential or something like that.

By 1990 or thereabouts, the German model schemes were being honored more in the breach than the observance. The small Mercedes was called the 190E 2.3, or the 190E 2.5, or the 190E 2.6. You could buy a 190E 2.6 or a 260E. They were very different cars. BMW was selling the same engine in the 325 and 528. Mercedes blinked and created the ridiculous notion of C, E, and S-Class cars. This should have made it possible to honestly state the displacement, since the letter was there to denote prestige. Naturally, the minute the C230K went from a 2.3-liter to a 1.8-liter supercharged four-cylinder, the scheme was broken and we then had a C230 1.8. BMW, meanwhile, was selling a 3.0-liter six-cylinder in a car and calling it the 328i. In the 3-Series, the turbocharged 3.0-liter was called a 335i, but that same engine in a 7-Series made it a 740Li. This was odd, because once upon a time a 740Li was a 4.4-liter V-8.

This brings us to the present day, which looks like so:

320i — 2.0L
328i — 2.0L (four-doors)
328i — 3.0L (two-doors)
328d — 2.0L
335i — 3.0L

This won’t do, will it? Only one of the five configurations is even close to being named after its actual displacement. You can’t even rely on the engines being smaller than their listed displacement; the old carry-over coupe has a larger engine than the decklid suggests.

I find the whole situation thrilling because it’s yet another case of people “misusing” a technology or a language or a tool. Engineers and designers and marketroids love to sit around and determine exactly how somebody will use or buy or regard a product, but those plans never survive the first contact with the enemy. In Africa, smartphones are bank accounts. The World Wide Web mostly transmits content types that weren’t even suggested when the first HTML pages were written. Somebody goes through the trouble of making a nice pre-surgery drug like Rohypnol and the next thing you know, ugly guys in New York with the ability to lift and carry 150 pounds are getting lucky like you wouldn’t believe.

Whatever ideas BMW might have had for its naming system in 1974, the market has its own ideas, and those ideas run something like this: a bigger number is better. Well, duh. The 328d has to be a 2.8 “marketing displacement” engine because the 328i is a 2.8, and that is a 2.8 because it’s meant to have equivalent power to the old 2.8, which was really a 3.0 but which was downgraded to create more marketing space between it and the significantly more expensive 335i. BMW could just reset everything to actual displacement but customers would expect the price to drop. How could a 320ti cost as much as the old 328i? How could a 320d cost more than a 328i?

Let’s not even get into the 7-Series, where the fine old name 735i can’t be used because it sounds cheap compared to 740i, and 730ti absolutely positively cannot be used under any circumstances. How about those Mercedes-Benz E63 AMGs which don’t displace 6.3 liters any more and in fact never actually did?

The pressure is on the manufacturers to offer more number for the buck. Pretty soon, the 328i will have to be a 330i, perhaps. It’s easy to imagine a situation where a high-efficiency 1.5-liter “330i” exists. Two marketing liters for every real one! Not to mention the fact that a two-liter turbo will eventually power US-market 7-Series sedans and no way in hell are they going to be called “720Li”. Meanwhile, Mercedes is selling a 1.8-liter C250 and a 3.5-liter C300. It’s all getting cray-cray up in here.

The proper solution to all of this is blinding in its simplicity. For the majority of consumers, the number on a BMW or Mercedes is only relevant insofar as it provides an approximate estimate of price. The numbers are also judged against the competition, a fact which caused Audi to rename its new “300″ sedan to “Audi V-8″ at the last minute lo these many years ago, since the Audi “300″ would have cost a fair bit more than a Mercedes 300E and a hell of a lot more than a BMW 325. So why mess around with all this stupidity about equivalent turbocharged marketing displacement and whatnot?

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the newest BMW: the BMW 32,250. Formerly known as the 320i, it’s now named directly after its price. If you put options on it, the number will go higher. Or, you could choose a full-sized sedan like the BMW 73,550, formerly the “740i”. All the mystery is gone. The price is on the trunk. Show it to your neighbors, who just took delivery of a Mercedes-Benz 51,500 instead of the E350 they’d had their eyes on a year or so ago. From now on, you’ll know what everybody around you paid for their car. No more obscurity. Sure, we won’t know what size the engines are, but we don’t know that now. You can find that boring crap out right here on TTAC, while your girlfriend looks at your mid-engined Audi 114,200 and calculates what her engagement ring should cost.

In a single unilateral move, I’ve destroyed all nomenclatural confusion for all time. Until, that is, BMW starts offering rebates. Pretty soon, the BMW 89,400 will go out the door for $60k or less. Leased examples won’t say BMW 339/month, but maybe they should? What about used cars? Will they have their logos jumbled the way second-rate bodyshops often create S450 Benzos with heavy orange peel? It’s all too much to think about. Maybe some legislation should be introduced to give every car a name — but what if that name is Cutlass Calais Brougham?

]]> 112
Daimler Launches The Last Chance Saloon: Heaven Or Hell? Mon, 04 Mar 2013 16:33:36 +0000

Mercedes must expand into the smaller segments in a big hurry, never mind the protests from amateur marketing experts that doing so will water down the brand. That brand needs a lot of watering, lest it will shrivel and die. At home in Europe, Daimler’s core customer group on average is around 60 years old. Don’t poo-poo that demographic: There used to be a lot of growth and money in it. However, it is getting frail: The peak of this demographic is soon to retire. Daimler needs to get young stat. Its fountain of youth is a car Reuters dubbed “the last chance saloon” – the CLA.

The car is shown this week at the Geneva Motor Show, as, says Reuters, “a test of Daimler’s ability to shake off a stuffy brand image partly blamed for Mercedes’ failure to keep pace with its two main competitors.”

While the competition is busy and successful in the smaller segments, that growing part of the market has given Daimler nothing but grief. Says Reuters:

“Under Zetsche, who heads both the Daimler group and the Mercedes-Benz business, the company has struggled to rein in undisclosed losses in smaller cars, understood to have reached 500 million euros ($650 million) at the Smart division. The Mercedes A- and B-Class were barely breaking even prior to the smaller model’s relaunch last year on a new front-wheel drive platform known as MFA.”

If the last chance saloon won’t make it, Daimler will be on the way to hell.

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Explosive Refrigerant Threatens To Blow Up S-Class Launch Wed, 20 Feb 2013 14:50:27 +0000

Daimler is dead set against using the new refrigerant HFO-1234yf, even if it is forced down it throat. The EU makes it a must in all news cars, but Daimler says it can fry and kill you. Now, Daimler can get burned big-time. Without HFO-1234yf, its new S-Class will be illegal, but “using HFO-1234yf is out of the question,” a Daimler spokesman told Automobilwoche [sub].

The new S-Class will be launched this summer in Europe. Germany’s Kraftfahrtbundesamt has given type approval only with the EU-mandated HFO-1234yf. Without the explosive refrigerant, the car would be illegal anywhere in Europe.

In 2012, the refrigerant ignited during a crash test at Daimler. Daimler recalled all B-Class and A-Class cars sold with the refrigerant, and converted the air conditioner.

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Vehicular Teasbian: Kate Upton Doesn’t Drive Fri, 15 Feb 2013 15:06:30 +0000

Kate Upton was hoped to be Michigan’s hottest export, but she sold her big-breasted soul to Mercedes. Turns out, she doesn’t like cars. She prefers a horse.

Kate’s career at Mercedes started at a car wash. Then she had a supporting role in a Mercedes CLA spot aired during the Superbowl. Both videos quickly dispelled worries by TTAC’s resident market analysts that the CLA might be the wrong car at the wrong price, and a death to the brand. The power of big chested blondes.

According to the Detroit News,  the “Super Bowl commercial and an online-only teaser video with Michigan model Kate Upton had boosted the luxury automaker’s appeal with younger consumers.”

Yet, however, but: Kate herself does not seem to be convinced by the car, or any cars for that matter. Kate is one of those iPhone toting city dwellers that don’t drive, as the Wall Street Journal found out:

“Like many New York dwellers she sees no reason to have car now, and didn’t bother with them much while growing up in Melbourne, Fla. ”I have never had a car,” she said during a press conference today. “I saved my money for horses,” the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue covergirl added. A longtime equestrian, the 20-year-old Upton has been riding competitively and for fun since childhood.”

TTAC is trying to get an interview with the horse, but text messages to the stable have not been returned.

P.S.: The carless vixen manages to confuse even WordPress’s vaunted spellchecker. No wonder we are making so many mistakes.

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New or Used? Help Me Find My Old Love Edition Thu, 14 Feb 2013 19:09:49 +0000 Dear Steve & Sajeev,

For 14 years I have owned a 1998 Ford Windstar Northwoods Edition with the indomitable 3.8 Liter engine. I love this van! It’s been so reliable. $38,000 and 4 transmissions later, and old rusty is still trucking. Only had to do 4 head gaskets.

AAA absolutely loves towing my vehicle. The tow truck operator and I are nearly best friends now. The autoparts store employees know my vehicle year/model immediately as soon as I walk in the door.

This Windstar is a known commodity in my town. When I turn right, everyone knows now to move out of my way before the vehicle stalls and I lose my power steering. My bottom is permanently embedded into the comfortable 1/4″ padded seat.

My question is, “Where can I find another car with such outstanding reliability?” Here are a few highlights of my Ol’ Reliable…

  • 4 transmissions.
  • 4 head gaskets.
  • 2 engine overhauls.
  • Umpteen O2 sensors.
  • Various engine sensors.
  • Cupholders are perfect!
  • Body panels are non-existent as of 5 years ago (rust).

So what should I get? As you can tell by the $38,000 I spent, I am more than happy to invest in the right vehicle. Thanks!

Steve Says:

Gosh, this answer is as easy as rebuilding a Northstar V8. A job that only takes about three days and a fervent level of prayer.

Come to think of it, I would focus specifically on the late 1990′s vehicles since you apparently have a soft spot for them.

The Cadillac Deville and Seville of that era would easily offer the same fuel economy and comparable mechanical longevity. Oh, before I forget. Ignore the Escalade and everything else with a 350. That engine is pure junk!

Then you have the game changing late-90′s Dodge Intrepid and Chrysler Concorde with the tough as nails 2.7 Liter engine. I once bought a 2002 model that was owned by the Salvation Army since day one and had the oil changed religiously every 3,000 miles. It lasted exactly 95,000 miles. Apparently they take to longevity the same way that Richard Simmons takes to pussy.

I think a 1998 model would be about as good as it gets. They rarely go for more than $600 at the auctions and you see them at every auction here in Georgia. A very popular vehicle and surprisingly affordable.

Perhaps you want a more sophisticated car. Maybe something a bit more rare and exotic. How about a Daewoo? I don’t see too many of them out and about anymore. I’m sure the lucky owners must be keeping them in the garage in the hopes that they become the next Barrett-Jackson collectible.

There was a beautiful white Daewoo Nubira wagon at an impound auction in my town a few years back with only 41k miles. The bidding was downright furious that day.  In the very last minute, the guy who started the bidding at $100 was outdone by yours truly. Thanks to an intimidating wink of an eye which raised the bidding to a stratospheric $110. I remember that I gave him a wry smile with a wink that showed no mercy. He never made eye contact with me again.

Anyhow, I went to try to find an engine for it and you know what? None of the junkyards will sell one to you! It’s that valuable! I think the guys hording those engines are the same ones that won’t let me find a transmission for my 5-cylinder 1993 VW Eurovan.

So if it were me, I would go for the 1999 Daewoo Nubira wagon. Make sure you get the automatic.

You’re welcome.

Sajeev answers:

Steve has this all wrong: how can someone that made me laugh hard enough to cry while typing in WordPress trade up from that sweet-ass Ford Windstar?

You need a BMW 7-series (E38), Mercedes S-class (W140 or W220) or Audi A8 (Type 4D) to really max out your “bang for the buck.” By “buck” I mean the money you give people in your community who thrive by fixing horrible vehicles, horribly.  And by “bang” I mean any of the popular component failures that make doing a motor swap on a 3.8L Ford look like child’s play.

The fully depreciated–yet top drawer–German Sedans have it all for you!

  • There’s the air of sophistication and class of a Northwoods Edition Ford product, but more of it!
  • The imminent failure of sensors and modules, at prices exponentially higher than O2 sensors!
  • A single engine/transmission wear item that leads to a rebuild or replacement: costing as much as a not-shitty, fully machined, replacement 3.8L long block from Jasper with enough money left over to replace the radiator and water pump.
  • I have no German counterpoint for FWD minivan transaxles. Any of them!  How sad for me!

But, ask yourself, what’s the icing on the cake I’m offering you?

The Windstar’s cupholders are fine, but it’s a safe bet these uber-lux sedans have non-functional beverage holders!

Now do us all a solid and make sure you buy one from the creepiest person on Craigslist and insist on a complete lack of service records too!  BAM SON, you done won at the Out-Windstar-My-Windstar game!

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Beijing Rumors: BAIC And Benz? Tue, 29 Jan 2013 16:09:13 +0000

There are rumors ricocheting around Beijing about a possible big tie-up between China’s BAIC and Daimler. BAIC is Daimler’s joint venture partner in China, where the joint venture handles Chinese production of the long version of the E-Class, the C-Class and the GLK.

According to the rumor, BAIC will take an interest in Daimler, whereupon Daimler will make a bigger investment into its Chinese JV. Two weeks ago, we reported that China’s sovereign wealth fund is zeroing in on buying a 4 to 10 percent  stake in Daimler.  The rumors say the deal might be bigger, but Chinese rumors are to be eaten with a big helping of salt MSG.

Daimler needs a new investment partner after Abu Dhabi’s sovereign wealth fund Aabar had sold its remaining 3.07 percent stake in Daimler. Mercedes could also use a lift of its fortunes in China.  Sales of the “Benzes” as they are called in China are dwarfed by the competition of Audi and BMW, which really hurts Stuttgart’s pride.

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Monday Mileage Champion: The Year In Review Mon, 31 Dec 2012 17:43:10 +0000

It’s time to make a confession to the good folks at TTAC.

The mileage game is rigged.

How so? Well, approximately two-thirds of the vehicles that reach the 300k+ mark  at an auction I attend will usually belong in one of four categories.

Ford truck or SUV.  Chevy truck or SUV. Honda car. Toyota everything.

There you have it. Nearly two thirds of the vehicles that I see with serious high mileage credentials will belong in one of those four categories.

Yes I do see the occasional V8, rear-wheel-drive Ford car. Nissan seems to do well with their mostly -90′s Altimas, 10+ year old Maximas,  and their wonderful small trucks. A few Jeeps and Cummins diesel trucks also fly into the high mileage radar.

But everyone else? Just little glimpses every now and then.

The old school German machinery will sometimes score a 300k+ model with a level of maintenance receipts that could do damage to your next door neighbor’s window.

VW does well with the TDI, the too slow 2.0, and nothing else. Audi, Jaguar, Land Rover, SAAB, and Volvo have become a big fuhgeddaboudit for our weekly mileage contest. Volvo would probably field a few 300k vehicles if the odometers on all their 1990′s models didn’t break with a near 100% level of consistency.

In my experiences, Subarus can get close to 300k, But they will often  have massive oil leaks and repair records that will rival the Germans.

Mitsubishi makes some decent cars as does Mazda. But the former are almost always eventually skirted away to the abuse oriented rental fleets and buy-here pay-here lots. While Mazda suffers from a nasty long era where many of their automatic transmissions simply did not hold up.

Then we have Chrysler. The 2.7 Liter engines rarely makes it past 120k miles and are virtually non-existent at the auto recycling centers. Even though they made millions of them, you may as well be asking the guy at the junkyard counter for a 20 year old Peugeot with a dancing unicorn on top of it.

The 3.7 Liter and 4.7 Liter engines are also becoming increasingly expensive due to sludge issues and the fact that they’re difficult to rebuild. Chrysler transmissions for their minivans are also becoming a rarer sight. Although they are far easier to rebuild.

Finally, it seems that Chrysler could never design certain basic parts that were worth a flip throughout the last two decades.

For a while at the auctions, I began to think that Chrysler engineered a whining noise into all the power steering pumps in their minivans and differentials in their luxury Jeeps. Chrysler wouldn’t even arbitrate certain Jeeps for differential noise back in the mid-2000′s.

However, a Dodge truck with a Cummins diesel remains a recipe for success, and the Hemi engine seems to be long lasting along with the old 5.2 Liter 318 engine and the 4.0 Liter inline-six.

Finally we are back at GM and Ford, again. I will give special kudos to the GM 3.8 Liter V6 and the Ford Vulcan V6. The former was a marvel for the time. While the later represents the ultimate in amortization costs and continuous improvement. Everything else ranges from above average (GM 2.2 Liter engines and early non-plastic intake 3.1 Liter engines), to problematic (Ford 3.8 Liter engines, GM 3.4 Liter V6 models, Northstar V8′s.)

Sometimes these issues had to do with the overuse of cheap plastic in the engine bay and coolants that gel up. While other times it has more to do with basic bad design (Saturn and Freestar CVT transmissions) and planned obsolescence (Aveos, Neons, PT Cruisers, last-gen Festivas, last-gen Metros).

I expect that the Koreans will likely join the fray of 300k+ in the coming years. But a lot of just plain bad Hyundais and Kias were made until recent times. I can’t recall a single model from either brand with a notably high mileage at the auctions.

As for the Honda Accord with 403,817 miles? It was followed by a Toyota Tacoma, an Acura TL, and a Ford Explorer. All with over 390,000 miles. The durability quartet took 8 of the top 10 spots and 22 of the first 30.

Not bad… and not unusual at all.


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