Posted by hpayne on March 8, 2014
Take a trip with me to a different age in a Hyundai time machine. January, 2000, to be exact. My first Detroit Auto Show.
After shedding two coats, four sweaters, three scarves, a hat, ear muffs, and galoshes - we native Virginians don't adapt well to coooooold Detroit winters — I led my little family through Cobo's cozy toy store of automotive delights. Over here Corvettes with wicked torque. Over there Ferraris surrounded by half-dressed supermodels. Over here Ford Expeditions the size of Bill Gate's yacht. And last and certainly least. . . the Hyundais, cheapest cars in show.
No torque. No supermodels. No room. Just simple affordability. We marveled at the affordable throwbacks, a generation behind everything else on the floor. The tinny doors of the Accent. The no-frills dash of the Sonata. The nerdy, four-eyed Tiburan coupe.
Fast forward to 2014 and the Hyundai duckling has become a swan. Looking back, the seeds of this transformation were there 14 years ago with the newborn 2001 Hyundai Santa Fe. The fledgling SUV was the first Hyundai recipe cooked up with American tastes in mind — a harbinger of the enormous investment that the Korean maker would make in the world's most competitive market: California design center and proving grounds, a Michigan test facility, full-blown assembly plant in Georgia. . . the works."This (product's) directive was to come up with a design that had originated in North America as opposed to having either a European or Korean concept of what North Americans would like," CEO Finbarr O'Neill of Hyundai USA told Car & Driver then. And credit him with not insisting that the car be badged with another nerdy name like, um, the Finbarr.
The car had more than a good American moniker. Resisting the cheap temptation of building SUVs on a truck platform, the Santa Fe took its skeleton from the Sonata sedan, spearheading a trend towards more nimble, crossover SUVs. "From the cowl forward, the Santa Fe is more sports sedan than sport-ute, with a snouty grille and bubble fenders that give it a snarly look," raved the boys at C&D.
Santa Fe inspired a generation. The Elantra and Sonata sedans have not only matured mechanically, but they have taken well-received risks with swoopy, segment-challenging designs. The nerds became hip.
Now a 2014 AWD Limited edition Hyundai Santa Fe has landed in my driveway in the midst of another 3-scarves winter in Detroit - and has raised the bar again. This baby is loaded with goodies. Call it Santa Claus Fe.
"The (exterior) invokes the impression of irrepressible motion through a new design concept called Storm Edge, which captures the strong and dynamic images created by nature during the formation of a storm," hyperventilates Hyundai's literature. Whatever. Let's just say it's doggone attractive.
In fact, the $41,000 Santa Fe (base is $29,000) arrived for testing at the same time I had a $57,400 Acura MDX in my driveway. From its three-bar hexagonal grille to its rising beltline to its wraparound taillights you would have thought the Santa Fe was the luxury-class entry. Where you once bought Hyundais because you couldn't afford anything else, now you buy them because they make you look high class.
"It's hard to justify buying the MDX based on the differential in price," says Consumer Reports Director of Auto Testing Jake Fisher. "The Santa Fe’s comfortable, roomy, drives nice, and has an excellent infotainment system."
A word on that roominess. With its third row seat, the 4,300 pound, AWD Hyundai can haul seven while dicing snow like a ginsu knife. That's a soccer mom's best friend. Heck, with its second row heated seats and heated steering wheel, you can’t get my wife out of this thing in the winter.
This attention to Yankee wants inside and out came from Hyundai's commitment to the U.S. market. "They followed the Japanese example that you build 'em where sell 'em," says auto analyst Michelle Krebs. "That helps you see better what's going on locally." With the Sonata, Elantra, and Santa Fe all made in the southern U.S., over 60 percent of Hyundai U.S. sales are American-made. The Sante Fe was designed in California, power-train tested in Ypsilanti, assembled in Georgia.Its 290 horsepower V6 is muscular and fuel efficient. Its AWD system uses sophisticated torque monitoring like the Subaru STI cruise missile that I destroyed at Laguna Seca Raceway with last month. Its 146.6 cubic feet in interior room is easy on the elbows. And it's Consumer Reports quality rating? An impressive 83, besting other star students in its class including the best-selling Ford Explorer (63).
Roomy, fast, durable, and high tech. Hyundai's All-American specs have made it appealing to all Yanks. Not just those on a budget.
2014 Hyundai Santa Fe
Vehicle type: Front-engine, all-wheel-drive, seven-passenger sport utility Price: $35,450 base ($41,290 as tested) Power plant: 3.3-liter direct-injection, dual-overhead-cam, V6 engine Power: 290 horsepower, 252 pound-feet of torque Transmission: Six-speed automatic Performance: 0-60 mpg, 7.9 seconds (Car & Driver); 128 mph top speed Weight: 4,297 pounds Fuel economy: EPA 18 mpg city/24 mpg highway/21 mpg combined Highs: Knockout looks; third-row seats Lows: City mpg lower than advertized (but then, what isn’t?); cramped third-row seats Overall:★★★★
Posted by hpayne on March 6, 2014Toyota's midsize Camry is the reigning segment leader but the Chevy Malibu has had an extreme makeover for 2014. (Toyota and GM)
When I think midsize sedans, I think fast-food hamburgers.
The burger is America’s meal. From state to state, the humble patty is never flashy, always decent. It comes in different styles – McDonald’s round, Wendy’s square, Burger King’s flame-broiled, Hardee’s jumbo — and it’s always cooked, tasty and safe. Get it wrong — remember Jack in the Box’s undercooked patties E. coli crisis in the 1990s — and your brand will fall faster than January temps in Escanaba. The same holds for America’s midsize car market.
More sedans are sold in this segment than any other, and every major automaker wants a piece.
Cost of entry: All must deliver a reliable, no-fuss product. Busy Mrs. Soccer Mom is in no mood for surprises. Ford lost my wife in the 1990s after two Taurus models and too many repair shop visits. Toyota’s midsize Camry burger is the reigning segment leader — call it McCamry — delivering a product that satisfies most tastes with less hassle. Toyota (with Asian brethren, Honda and Nissan) stole the segment’s top spot after years of unreliability from Detroit manufacturers.
Now, the Detroit Three are on the comeback trial, with Ford’s flavorful Fusion winning raves and Chrysler tickling taste buds with this year’s much-anticipated 200. But the car most like the Camry is Chevy’s Malibu. If the Fusion aims for a richer taste — think char-grilled beef — the Chevy competes with the Toyota with the same, nothing-fancy formula.
How is the GM product doing? I conducted a taste test: McCamry vs. McMalibu.
Reliability is the coin of the midsize realm.
Back in the Dark Ages — circa 1990 to 2000 A.D. — Detroit automakers could compete with the Japanese only by undercutting them in price. Quality was that bad. At century’s turn, the Chevy Malibu tallied a distant 65 score (on a scale of 1-100) in Consumer Reports’ testcompared to Camry’s 78 and Honda Accord’s 79. That it outscored sibling class clowns Impala (39) and Saturn (38), and the slothful Ford Taurus (51), was small consolation.
So GM hit the books and the results have been dramatic.
“The 2014 Malibu is catching up quickly,” says Jake Fisher, director of auto testing for Consumer Reports, after it scored an 84 compared to Toyota’s 88 (the Honda Accord still wins class brain at 90).
Like Cadillac — which earned my Car of the Year vote for its more-German-than-the-Germans, third-generation CTS — Chevy has committed to putting in the long hours to catch up. When its mid-cycle 2013 refresh failed to impress customers, Malibu went back to the plastic surgeon, emerging with a face-lift just months after launch.
“The turning point for Malibu came when they didn’t have to sell cars at tens of thousands less than their Japanese competition. That has changed,” Fisher says.Indeed, the $29,900 Malibu 2LT I drove is more expensive than a similarly equipped $28,000 Camry SE.
“Malibu is right there at this point,” Fisher adds. “There are just a couple of things holding them back.” Those couple of things are significant for the much-improved Chevy — after all, you have to knock out the champion to get noticed, not just extend him to the 15th round.
Beauty has never been a strong suit in the Chevy family, but in a segment where average looks have been the norm that never seemed important. Times have changed.
Cars such as the Ford Fusion, Mazda6 and Hyundai Sonata have raised the bar, and the homely Camry and Malibu look dated. When you’re blessed with the Camry’s quality reputation, you can afford to be complacent. Not so the Malibu.
No. 2 must try harder. Give Chevy credit for the 2014 model’s Extreme Makeover. But the Chevy SS-esque face is hardly a head turner. I blame the brand’s split-grille theme which looks bold on big pickups and aggressive on wee Sparks. But on well-proportioned four-doors like Cruze and Malibu sedans it looks odd. Two grille openings is one too many — like your six-year-old put too many mouths on Mr. Potatohead.
Why should the Chevy Impala get all the good looks in the family? Give ’Bu big brother’s handsome smile to match its new, family-themed tail lamps (courtesy of sexy siblings Camaro and ’Vette).
Then buyers might slip inside where Chevy has the details right.
Open the Camry and Malibu doors, and it’s hard to distinguish between the two. Both are handsomely wrapped in dark plastic with premium trim, and the interiors are comfortably equipped. Everything is market tested: Comfy seats, good backseat legroom, clear instrumentation, cup holders, and USB ports where you need them. Feels like home.
Get comfortable, however, and Chevy’s details win you over. Begin with the center console, one of the best in the business. Organized on one sloped plane, the flush buttons and large knobs are intuitive, complementing the MyLink touch screen. “Knobs still matter,” says Mark Meyer, Malibu group leader. That’s a telling comment from an engineer whose colleagues at Cadillac have ditched knobs in their CUE system much to the confusion of customers.
The Malibu’s shifter beats McCamry’s clunky gates and its interior is library quiet, the product of body panel insulation and double-laminated windows. In an age when federal mpg nannies are forcing manufacturers to adopt inherently rougher 4-cylinder engines, such measures are welcome.
But my favorite Malibu detail is the windshield washers.
In most cars, including McCamry, nozzles dump their fluid in puddles in the middle of the screen and then expect the wipers to distribute the cleaner via multiple sweeps. Not the Malibu. Toggle the steering stalk (did I mention the stalks are crisp as an Audi? Another nice detail) and the washer team spits a fine mist across the entire windshield, necessitating just one wipe (maybe two) from the blades to finish the job. That’s teamwork. And much appreciated in a Detroit winter in which I’ve gone through gallons of fluid to stave off a muck assault from platoons of interstate-plying semis.
Malibu handling — though shy of the Mazda-Ford segment leaders — bests the Camry. Give particular credit to the Chevy’s mature stability control in icy conditions. Both vehicles come with peppy, fuel-efficient 2.5 liter engines. This is where the Malibu’s attention to detail again pays dividends. With engine stop-start technology standard, the heavier and more powerful Malibu still bested the Camry in EPA mpg rating, 29 to 28.
Safety systems in both cars are superb. Example: Leaving downtown on a hazy, darkened Lodge one night, a tail-lightless car limped along in the center lane. Without the Malibu’s collision alert system – FWEEEE! went the flashing red light on my dash – I might have rammed it.
In sum, objects in Toyota’s rear view mirror are closer than they appear. Chevy has caught up. Score some outright wins in the looks and quality — best-in-class windshield wipers aren’t enough — and McMalibu can be the new standard.
2014 Chevy Malibu
Vehicle type: Front-engine, front-wheel-drive, five-passenger sedan Price: $25,215 base ($29,900 as tested) Power plant: Ecotec 2.5-liter direct-injection four-cylinder engine Power: 196 horsepower, 186 pound-feet of torque Transmission: Six-speed automatic Performance: 0-60 mpg, 7.9 seconds (Car & Driver); 128 mph top speed Weight: 3,532 pounds Fuel economy: EPA 25 mpg city/36 mpg highway/29 mpg combined Highs: Intuitive interior controls; love those wiper jets Lows: Still playing catch-up in quality; Plain Jane styling Overall:★★★
2014 Toyota CamryVehicle type: Front-engine, front-wheel-drive, five-passenger sedan Price: $24,550 base ($28,038 with options) Power plant: 2.5-liter twin-cam four-cylinder engine Power: 178 horsepower, 170 pound-feet of torque Transmission: Six-speed automatic Performance: 0-60 mpg, 8.1 seconds (Motor Trend); 117 mph top speed Weight: 3,275 pounds Fuel economy: EPA 25 mpg city/35 mpg highway/28 mpg combined Highs: Runs like clockwork; spacious interior Lows: Plain Jane styling; Clunky shifter Overall:★★★
Posted by hpayne on March 5, 2014In President Obama’s Year of Action, the EPA levied another unilateral tax on America’s struggling economy Monday with expensive new sulfur standards. The new mandates will cost the energy industry an estimated $10 billion, impact small refineries most, and goose gas prices by 6 to 9 cents per gallon. And all for no benefit to human health. “The benefits far outweigh the costs,” claimed EPA administrator Gina McCarthy. “These standards will reduce pollution, they’ll clean the air we breathe and protect the health of American families.” There’s no evidence to support that statement. “It’s made up science,” says Steve Milloy, a regulatory scholar with the Competitive Enterprise Institute and publisher of JunkScience.com, of the restriction on gasoline’s sulfur content — part of EPA’s so-called Tier 3 rules. EPA administrators justify the reduction of smog-inducing PM2.5 particulates to 12 micrograms (from 15 mcg) because they say there is no safe level of PM2.5 exposure. That is absurd. In fact, the EPA routinely funds lab tests that expose humans to diesel fumes containing PM2.5 particulates. The air Americans breath today is clean. Our worst metropolitan areas rarely exceed 15 mcg a day — as compared with the estimated 10,000-40,000 mcg that a smoker inhales from a single cigarette, says Milloy. “Saying that there is no safe exposure gives EPA carte blanche to regulate whatever they want,” says Milloy. That regulation inflicts real pain. Higher gas prices hurt low-income Americans most. And EPA regs have made the U.S. refinery business a regulatory thicket — resulting in the closure of over 100 refineries in the last 40 years — mostly small businesses that can’t afford the regulatory costs. So much for White House claims that it backs the little guy. The EPA’s rule pitted refineries against Big Auto, which had lobbied hard for the costs to be borne by the energy sector to help autos meet their own stringent government mandates. “This rule’s biggest impact is to increase the cost of delivering energy to Americans,” protested Bob Greco of the American Petroleum Institute. “But it will provide negligible, if any, environmental benefits.” “This rule is all pain and no gain,” says House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R., Mich.). An apt summary of the Obama presidency.
Posted by hpayne on March 4, 2014Businessman-politicians often pretend that they are above politics, but they do so at their peril.Take the fine budget mess Michigan Republican governor Rick Snyder has gotten himself into. In an otherwise impressive first term, Snyder’s refusal to compromise on tax reform in 2011 has come back to haunt him. Flush with a landslide victory in 2010 that also blessed the former Gateway Computer CEO with a Republican-controlled senate and house, Snyder introduced a sweeping reform of Michigan’s broken tax code that flattened the business rate to 6 percent and closed special-interest loopholes, including a tax exemption for pension income (which existed in only two states). But by freezing the individual income tax at 4.25 percent — rather than allowing it to drop to 3.9 percent as previously negotiated by Senate Republicans (in a rare victory over taxaholic Democratic governor Jennifer Granholm) — Snyder needlessly exposed himself to charges that he was handing out tax breaks to his business pals while balancing the budget on granny’s back. Typical of his style, Snyder’s strategy was to please both Republicans and Democrats by balancing tax hikes (the income-tax surrender) with spending cuts (to the pensions jealously guarded by powerful public-employee unions). But cooperation with Democrats in Michigan — as in Scott Walker’s Wisconsin — is a pipe dream, and he got little in return for meeting unions halfway. By sacrificing boldness for the center, Snyder marooned himself without allies. Pleased with his economic math, accountant-turned-pol Snyder ignored his own party’s appeals for political sanity. Republicans ultimately capitulated to their honeymooning GOP governor’s plan, but political insiders warned of the consequences. “By asking lawmakers to impose new taxes on voters’ pensions while minimizing the inevitable confrontation with public-employee unions,” wrote Leon Drolet, head of the Michigan Taxpayers Alliance, in the Michigan View, “our new governor has invested too much of his political capital into the impossible — and not enough into confronting reality.” Three years later, Snyder is getting a cold bath of reality: Democrats have made his “granny tax” to pay for “Big Business tax cuts” a centerpiece of their longshot campaign against his reelection. (Snyder holds an eight-point lead over opponent Mark Schauer, a former Democratic congressman, in recent polls.) It doesn’t have to be this way. Snyder’s adept management of the state’s budget has left a nearly $1 billion budget surplus — unthinkable just four years ago under Granholm’s fiscal chaos. But instead of further reducing tax rates or using the money to repair the state’s crumbling roads, Snyder is stuck fighting the tax-reform battle of three years ago. Having made a hash of politics and running scared of the Democrats’ “candidate of the rich” label, he’s had to offer a strained olive branch to those making less than $60,000 a year, a new tax loophole called the homestead property-tax credit. Huh? The proposal, which restores a tax-refund loophole that Snyder had trimmed in his 2011 tax reform, has been mocked by Democrats as too little, too late while alienating Republicans, who are still smarting from the broken promise to reduce the individual rate to 3.9 percent. “I understand it,” GOP senator Jack Brandenburg says of Snyder’s proposed tax credit. “But go knock on a guy’s door and try to explain it.” Snyder the Simplifier has become Governor Loophole. He could have trusted taxpayers with their own money. He could have lowered the tax rate for individuals as he did for business. He could have listened to his party’s conservatives in the first place.
Posted by hpayne on March 1, 2014
The #0 DeltaWing Racing Cars DeltaWing DWC13 driven by Andy Meyrick, Katherine Legge, Alexander Rossi and Gabby Chaves races during practice for the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway on Jan. 23, 2014, in Daytona Beach, Fla. (Jerry Markland/Getty Images) From The Detroit News: http://www.detroitnews.com/article/20140301/AUTO03/303010019#ixzz2ukH0f1LzAsk driving ace Katherine Legge her favorite racing memory and she’ll tell you her first start at the Indy 500 ... and her massive crash at Wisconsin’s Road America in 2006. Come again?“My rear wing came off at and I instantly lost 1,000 pounds of down force on my car. I hit the wall at 180 mph,” she says about an incident immortalized on YouTube. “I still feel lucky to have walked away from that crash.”
Legge is one tough cookie.
A rare lioness among the lions of professional auto racing, the British-born Legge is one of America’s Big 3 female drivers along with NASCAR’s Danica Patrick and IndyCar veteran Simona De Silvestro. “As a woman you develop a very thick skin,” she told a room full of high school students at the girls-only Detroit International Academy this week, part of the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix’s promotional tour before the May 30-June 1 race weekend. Unlike many jockeys in the expensive world of motorsport, she rose from modest roots.
Her resume includes top drives in Europe, but America — where she got her first big break in ChampCar in 2006 — is her professional home. This year, the Indianapolis-based racer is behind the wheel of the radically-designed DeltaWing prototype car in the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship (which will be part of the Belle Isle race weekend). She sat down with me to talk about Danica, DeltaWing, and Detroit pickups.
HP: What do you like about the Detroit Grand Prix?
Legge: I like the atmosphere. It’s obviously very special to the fans. It’s definitely one of the bumpiest tracks.
HP: How is the Delta Wing different to drive?
Legge: To look at it’s very unusual, very futuristic, and ground-breaking. But to drive? It drives like any other race car, which is very strange. Before I got in it I called Andy Meyrick, my co-driver, and said: How do I drive this thing? Because you look at it with its little tires and you think, how is it going to turn?
HP: There are so few women drivers. You, Danica Patrick, and DiSimone De Silvestra are the best known female drivers in U.S. racing. Is there a sorority there? Are you in competition with each other?
Legge: No, there’s no competition. We get on fine, but we don’t stick together really because we’re all trying to forge our own careers. Maybe if we were in the same racing circuit we’d hang out more. But we’re not, so we don’t. It’s circumstances. We were in different series. Danica was in IndyCar while I was in ChampCar so it was a rival series. We’ve maybe said hi to each other three times in my life.
HP: When you were in Europe you raced an Audi A4 sedan ...
Legge: It’s not really an Audi A4. It’s based on the Audi A4 but (European Touring Series cars are) the most phenomenal type of race car in terms of how much technology and resources go into it. It’s second only to Formula One in terms of how much money they spend. The amount of money is eye-opening how much Audi — and BMW and Mercedes — put into it. It’s the European version of NASCAR.
HP: What do you drive on the street?
Legge: I drive a truuuuck (effecting an American southern drawl). I’m an English redneck. I can get everything in my pickup truck, I just love it. I listen to country music sometimes, I have embraced the American way of living 110 percent.
HP: You came up through English racing, but you got your big break here in the U.S. How is America different as a racing culture?
Legge: It’s very different. When I came over here 10 years ago, European racing just wasn’t as open to having a woman driving as over here. Things have changed now. But I got my opportunity here because of people like Lynn St. James., Janet Guthrie, Sarah Fisher who had opened the door. It’s always been very different. But you think that Formula One races in places like the Far East where women aren’t even allowed to drive, so a lot of their money comes from those places as well, so it’s difficult politically for them even though they now have token female drivers. The world is not as developed as it is in America. You’ve got a lot more female CEOs and business owners, etc. and that doesn’t happen to any extent in some countries.From The Detroit News: http://www.detroitnews.com/article/20140301/AUTO03/303010019#ixzz2ukGeCoEL
Posted by hpayne on February 27, 2014
You know the Subarus. The sensible Japanese clan of safe, reliable, all-wheel-drive vehicles like the Forester and Impreza that nature lovers drive through burbling streams for picturesque views of Lake Michigan. But like many perfectly stable families, Subaru has a wild child. Chrysler fathered the Viper. Chevy the Corvette. VW the Golf R. Subaru has the WRX STI.
This turbocharged, turf-gnawing, all-wheel-drive hellion with flashy wing bling is the terror of the weekend track crowd. I for one am sick of seeing STIs in the mirror of my dynamite, 330 horsepower, 8,000-rpm, straight-six E46 BMW M3 at Pontiac’s Waterford race track on public track days. They eat me alive. So when Subaru offered a new 2015 STI carnivore for a test-drive at California’s famed Laguna Seca racetrack, I jumped at the chance.
First, a briefing on Subaru’s family tree. Late last century, Subaru’s marketing team decided its granola brand needed some performance cred. The idea sprang from their heads like a pair of devil’s horns. Subie tackled the World Rally Championship, the most demanding sedan test in all racedom — and one that perfectly suited the brand’s AWD architecture. To win the WRC, the WRX was born.
Based on Subaru’s popular compact $19,000 Impreza AWD sedan, the base $27,000 WRX is plenty of sport sedan. Subie engineers outfitted the Impreza’s reliable four-cylinder, 148 horsepower BOXER engine with a turbo, turning up the wick to 268 horsepower. But for another 5 grand, the 2.5-liter STI is the real deal.
Fans from everywhere
This 305-horsepower band saw is the Tasmanian devil of sports sedans. Its flanks bulge with wheel flares. Its hood scoop gulps air for the hungry turbo intercooler within. Its huge functional rear wing dominates the rear end like a scorpion’s tail. The STI screams rally racer. It practically reeks with musk.
And it attracts motorheads from miles around.
At the staging lot for our California testing, STI-philes appeared from nowhere. “These test STIs have the short-throw gearboxes, don’t they?” said one fan swarming our vehicle. How did he know that?
The STI gains its cult status honestly. This car is epic.
It begins with the AWD system that vaulted the STI to three straight World Rally Championships from 1995-98 and first-in-class in the 2011-12 Nurburgring 24-hour. Subaru calls it Multi-Mode Vehicle Dynamics Control stability and traction control system. You can just call it serious grip. With electronic sensors constantly adjusting steering angle, throttle position, rpm, lateral-g, yaw, ABS and wheel speed, the STI corners on rails. No wonder my mere rear-wheel-drive M3 is on its lunch menu.
For the 2015 model, Subaru’s engineers have added Active Torque Vectoring, which applies brake pressure to the inside front wheel to facilitate more neutral cornering, thus erasing the inherent cornering push of AWD systems. The result is .98 g skid pad cornering that nearly matches the ferocious Porsche 911’s 1.0 g. With concentrated use of high-strength steel and structural reinforcement at the A pillars, the 2015 STI boasts a 40 percent increase in torsional rigidity over the last generation. That translates into less body roll than M3s and Porsche Caymans that cost $20,000 more.
On track, I could rotate the 3,444-pound sedan into Laguna Seca’s fast roller-coaster turns with nary a hint of front-end push. Only in the track’s slowest corner, the hairpin Turn 11, would the car push, a condition soon remedied by my size-15 right foot feeding all four wheels more power.
The best-in-class 305 horsepower (class? Only the VW Golf R is a worthy competitor) comes without compromise — look ma, no turbo lag — so that you can mash the pedal with abandon. Even turbocharged four-bangers lack low-end torque, however, so I navigated the track using only gears 2-4 in order to maximize rpms between 3,000 and the 6,700 redline. The STI was as happy as a puppy in a Purina bag. Only the aforementioned short-throw shifter disappointed as it often felt vague and rubbery, particularly in second-to-third gear shifts.
How capable is this heat-seeking missile? Pro instructors throw Laguna’s 1,400-pound Skip Barber Formula racers around Laguna in 1 minute, 41 seconds. Veteran sports car pro — and Subaru test jockey — Bob Bowman ticked off a 1.45 with the STI. After just a half-hour of driving, your club-racer scribe got down to a 1.48. That’s serious swag from a sedan.
I dwell on Laguna specs because you shouldn’t buy a car this capable unless you plan to explore its limits on track ... after you’ve terrorized the neighborhood first, of course.
Rule Woodward’s stoplights with 5.1-second, 0-60 mph launches. Mock Detroit roads with a quick 13:1 turning ratio that transforms potholed asphalt into Olympic slaloms. Laugh at Old Man Winter with snow-shredding AWD and ice-defying ABS-tuned Brembo brakes.
'A raptor's stare'
Inside the STI’s office is the familiar Impreza layout with handy console control knobs and a dash-mounted cowl featuring — not a clock — but a STI-specific turbo-boost monitor. Wild thing, I think I love you. “The money goes into the oily bits,” says Subie communications chief Dominick Infante, explaining why the interior differs little from its much-cheaper sedan sibling.
The STI’s red leather trimmed Alcantara-fabric seats, however, are worth special notice — for what you don’t notice. In a car this violent I emerged from a day on the track — and subsequent 55-mile assault on twisty Carmel Valley Road — with no back or hip discomfort. Even fellow drivers who complained of loose dental fillings after riding the bronco’s stiffened springs complimented the seats.
Further enhancing driving comfort, the STI Limited package comes with a Harman Kardon stereo system, so you can crank up Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” as you mercilessly descend on your prey. And the ’Ru entices unsuspecting rear seat passengers by expanding the rear door opening by 6 inches and interior leg room by 2 inches. Rear seat barf bags not included.
Ultimately, though, the STI is about its exterior.
I drove the STI “launch edition” — painted signature STI blue with gold-BBS wheels. Even without this garish wardrobe, the Subie’s Red Baron rear airfoil, hood scoop and narrow headlights — “designed to evoke a raptor’s stare,” to quote STI press materials — advertise the ’Ru as trouble. This is not a subtle car. No quiet, M3-like hood bulges. No artfully flared, Mercedes AMG-like nostrils. The STI comes in full war paint ready for battle.
If that’s your style, the STI is your car. On sale this spring, the Subaru family’s bad seed has accomplished its purpose by winning races — and winning over some of the most demanding car buyers in the business.
2015 Subaru WRX STI
Vehicle type: Front-engine, all-wheel-drive, five-passenger sedan Price: $34,495 base ($38,495 as tested, limited edition) Power plant: Turbocharged, dual-overhead cam, 2.5-liter four-cylinder BOXER engine Power: 305 horsepower, 290 pound-feet of torque Transmission: Six-speed manual Performance: 0-60 mpg, 5.1 seconds (manufacturer); 157 mph top speed Weight: 3,444 pounds Fuel economy: EPA 17 mpg city/23 mpg highway/19 mpg combined Report card: ★★★★ Highs: AWD grip; comfortable, bolstered seats Lows: Conservative exhaust note; styling screams “Ticket me!” to cops
Posted by hpayne on February 25, 2014Detroit — At the height of his powers as chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee in October 1991, Representative John Dingell (D., Mich.) was feted by 800 Washington lobbyists — representing Morgan Stanley, AT&T, Merck, and more — who laid out $600,000 to honor the ruthless congressman nicknamed “Torquemada.” I was a young journalist in D.C., and the glitzy Washington Hyatt Regency event was called a “Tribute to John Dingell.” Any other town might have called it a shakedown. On Monday the 88-year-old Dingell announced his retirement. His media and political allies celebrate him as a populist man of the middle, but the reality of who he is couldn’t be more different. Over his record 57 years in Congress, Dingell has been one of the key architects of centralizing regulatory power in Washington to the benefit of big-business lobbyists — and to the detriment of the little guy. If you’re one of the thousands of coal miners who lost their jobs to EPA emissions edicts in recent years, or if you are one of the millions of Americans who have lost their health insurance because of Obamacare, John Dingell deserves some of the thanks. His 1990 Clean Air Act, passed in defiance of Congress’s own environmental findings, laid the groundwork for today’s job-killing EPA power grabs. A longtime advocate of socialized medicine who introduced a nationalized-health-care bill every term that he was in Congress, Dingell was at Barack Obama’s left hand when the president signed the 2009 Affordable Care Act, the darling of Big Hospital and Big Pharma. The ACA has ripped through Americans’ health coverage like a tornado. A decade after my first encounter with Dingell, I landed at the Detroit News and since then have frequently crossed his path. Also nicknamed “Big John” for his once-imposing 6′3″ frame (he has become stooped in later years, relying on a cane for support), he is a soft-spoken, engaging man with a quick wit. When it comes to federal power, however, he has been a single-minded bully. From emissions mandates to the mother of all regulations, Obamacare, Washington’s powerbrokers now rule vast swaths of America’s economy thought unimaginable when Dingell took office in 1955. In 1990 he led revision of the federal Clean Act At, which brought new controls over coal-burning utilities in the name of reducing acid rain. The legislation defied the scientific conclusions of Congress’s own ten-year National Acid Precipitation Assessment Program (NAPAP) study, which found that claims of lake acidification were overblown and that the proposed regulations to reduce it were excessive. Ignored by Dingell’s committee and his champions in the press corps, the study was shelved, and the expensive regulations passed anyway. Ironically, Dingell has lately lamented the EPA’s use of the same Clean Air Act to unilaterally regulate carbon dioxide, a measure that comes at enormous expense to his backyard auto industry. But the seeds were planted by Dingell himself, as were the roots of today’s massive lobbying apparatus. Many of those lobbyists come from Dingell’s own staff, part of the permanent government of influence peddlers who then return to influence him. Dingell’s legend was that he regulated “anything that moves, burns, or is sold.” And so, at the Dingell tribute in 1991, Merck bought a table for $7,500 because few could do more than Big John to destroy Big Pharma. “The pashas of the Ottoman Empire protected their subjects in return for the right to claim all that they owned,” wrote Paul Gigot in the Wall Street Journal in 1991. “A true congressional pasha doesn’t need to enrich himself, since he never faces a competitive election. Instead he has his favorite charities. Mr. Dingell’s ‘tribute’ was a fund-raising benefit for the Center for National Policy,” a Democratic think tank. Washington power and gerrymandered districts have given rise to congressional dynasties. Dingell succeeded his father and will likely be succeeded by his wife, Debbie, whom Dingell met when she was, yes, a GM lobbyist. There is no better example of Washington’s centralization of power than the Affordable Care Act, perhaps Dingell’s most enduring legacy. President Obama honored the socialized-health-care advocate with a prominent role in his Oval Office signing of Obamacare, a bill written by the health industry’s biggest players. The ACA has wreaked havoc in Dingell’s home state, costing thousands of jobs at Stryker, a medical-device maker, forcing a move toward part-time workforces in venues as diverse as fast food and city governments, and forcing the cancellation of tens of thousands of insurance policies. “It’s affordable, quality health insurance made available to everyone,” Dingell wrote in a recent constituent e-mail even as the non-partisan Office of the Chief Actuary at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has concluded that premiums will increase for two-thirds of American small businesses. A credulous Detroit Free Press reported this week that Dingell was stepping down because of his frustration with Washington partisanship. “The words ‘compromise’ and ‘conciliation’ should not be considered dirty words in Washington,” Dingell says. Yet his precious Obamacare was rammed through on a straight partisan vote. It’s a fitting Washington legacy for a self-declared populist dealmaker who has overseen a Washington that is more partisan and more tilted to special interests than ever.
Posted by hpayne on February 22, 2014Chevrolet unveiled the 2014 Chevrolet SS on Thursday that will pace the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Daytona 500 on Sunday at the Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Harold Hinson / Chevy Racing)
This Sunday, a Chevy SS pace car will lead an all-Chevy SS front row to the green flag for the start of the 56th running of the Daytona 500.
The Chevy what?
If the Corvette was the 2014 North American Car of the Year then the four-door SS was the Stealth Car of the Year. This mild-styled wild child of Chevy’s product lineup hides its true nature with a typically understated Chevrolet grille. But behind that inscrutable face are jaws of steel — the same 6.2-liter stump-puller that powered the previous generation, C6 Corvette.
Ummmm, Dad, can I have the keys to the family sedan?
Eager to publicize its muscle-bound sport sedan, Chevy has made the SS its NASCAR brand (replacing the Impala). It’s a good fit. Despite general outward appearances — well, the grille designs are similar — NASCARs share little with the production cars on which they are based. Not body panels. Not engines. Not steering wheels. Heck, even the headlights aren’t real. They’re decals (sorry to break it to you, kids. And Santa Claus isn’t real either). NASCAR is a strict spec series with standardized V8 engines and body templates.
But at least the Chevy SS and NASCAR SS share the same basic architecture. Both are rear-wheel drive. Both use push-rod engines technology. Both engines are based on a Chevy small block engine. The same can’t be said for the NASCAR Ford and Toyota entries. Ever seen a rear-wheel drive Camry V8?
When front-row qualifiers Mark Truex, Jr. and pole-sitter Austin Dillon finish their 500 miles around Daytona’s tri-oval Sunday, their SS steeds will go right into the trailer. But that SS pace car? She’s street legal and good for another 350 miles on a full tank of gas.
Or less, depending on how heavy your right foot is. Don’t let the wrapping fool you. This milk carton is spiked with moonshine.
Idling at the curb, the 2014 Chevy SS I test drove recently wouldn’t turn a head. Unlike the last Impala-based SS that Chevy produced in 1996, the 2014 model gets its own look. Pity the designers didn’t do more with the opportunity. Developed by GM’s Australian brand, Holden — the same mad geniuses that brought us the late, great Pontiac G8 sedan — the car’s lines are unremarkable and might be mistaken for a Malibu. Only the shark gills behind the car’s front fenders — and the chrome tipped dual exhaust — hint at the beast within.
Maybe that’s the way Chevy wants it. Stealthy. A ’Vette in sheep’s clothing.
Turn the key, and the car’s cover is blown. The snarl will raise goosebumps on your back. Hair will sprout from your forearms. Your eyes will glow red. This family carriage is pulled by 415 crazed horses capable of 415 pound feet of torque.
Nail the throttle and you’ll wake the dead. Zero-60 goes by in a just 4.5 seconds. The car’s Brobdingnagian Brembo brakes — concealed behind forged, 19-inch aluminum wheels — will bring the rocket back to earth before the local fuzz can figure out where that thunderclap came from.
What, is there a sports car behind the big sedan?
The stealthiness extends to the SS’s quiet, leather interior where you can listen to Beethoven’s Concerto No. 5 even as you trail sonic booms. GM’s capable MyLink system is voice-activated so you can call your business associate and tell him you’ll pick him up at the airport in the four-door sedan ... um, the Malibu-like car ... the — aw, heck: he’ll know it when you rev the engine.
Muscle-car shoppers will note the Dodge Charger SRT8 comes with a bigger, 6.4-liter, 470 horsepower power plant. But the SS sacrifices brute power for surprising nimbleness. It eases effortlessly through back-road switchbacks, its power always on tap. Like its Corvette cousin, it benefits from perfect 50-50 weight balance and its 3,900-pound girth is a full 400 pounds lighter than the Charger. The result? The SS’s eye-popping .95 lateral G’s in a Car & Driver road test blows away not just the Charger but also the Audi A6 and BMW M5.
All this performance comes wrapped in a $45,770 base price — one more pleasant SS surprise. No leather markups. No thousand-dollar, accessory add-ons. Projecting SS sales of 3,000 units a year, GM hopes the halo super sedan brings spectators to Chevy showrooms after the SS race car brings shock and awe to the track.
2014 Chevy SS
Vehicle type: Front-engine, rear-wheel drive, five-passenger sedan Price: $45,770 (base), $46,670 (as tested with sunroof option) Power plant: 6.2-liter, V-8 Power: 415 horsepower, 415 pound-feet of torque Transmission: 6-speed automatic Performance: 0-60 mph, 4.5 sec. (Car & Driver). Top sepeed: 160 mpg (governor limited) Weight: 3,931 pounds Fuel economy: EPA 14 city/21 highway Highs: Bode Miller-like athletic handling; Corvette power Lows: Vanilla styling; Your pals might mistake it for a Malibu Overall:★★★ Grading scale Excellent <z_sym_star> Good <z_sym_star><z_sym_star><z_sym_star> Fair
Posted by hpayne on February 20, 2014The 2015 Chevrolet Silverado LT 2500HD with Z71. Detroit dominates the full size pickup truck market, and the new Silverado and its GMC Sierra HD cousin lead the pack. (General Motors)
Cave Creek, Ariz.
At Hogs N’ Horses rodeo, they know tough. Every Friday evening, metro Phoenix’s fearless strap on chaps and lower themselves onto bucking broncos with names like “Satan’s Wish.” It’s a ride to hell and back, and the good ones last more than eight seconds before the possessed animal flings them to the dirt.
These ain’t armchair cowboys.
And when they dust themselves off and head home, they want a ride that’s reliable, rugged, yet comfortable. It’s no surprise then that the parking lot is stuffed with heavy-duty pickups, the behemoths that make up one in every four truck sales in America.
It’s a market that demands towing capability over 10,000 pounds. That demands diesel engines that could pull Excalibur from stone. That demands the solitude of an airport limousine.
It’s a market that the Big Three has dominated. So this is where General Motors brought a herd of auto writers this winter to show off its new, totally redesigned 2015 Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra HD pickup trucks.
Arizona has all the trappings of the Old West with its Stetsons, Saguaro cactus, and rocky landscape. But this is also the New West of high tech, immigrants ... and Asian and German-made vehicles. I walked through Cave Creek’s parking lots filled with Chevy, Ford, and Dodge pickups parked cheek to jowl with Honda, Toyota, and Hyundai sedans and SUVs. Dependability cuts both ways, and far from Motown, westerners decided long ago that foreign makes were more reliable.
GM truck engineers are well aware of this dichotomy. They know Detroit fell behind in the sedan market and they vow the same fate won’t befall their pickups.
“There’s a lot of lessons to be learned,” says Jeff Luke, GM honcho for full-size and midsize trucks.
Good thing. Full-size pickups are Motown’s primary breadwinners. GM sold 600,000 units last year with GMC alone selling more pickups than Porsche sold automobiles. Loyalty towards Chevy, GMC, Ford, and Ram trucks is fierce and no wonder. These bruisers are massive, purpose-built tools that quote engine torque and payload numbers like super sports cars boast 0-60 mph and Nurburgring lap times.
On our test runs through the Tonto National Forest north of Phoenix, we were routinely approached by pickup truck owners asking if that was the new Chevy HD were testing. “Yes,” we would say.
“I like it,” an F-250 driver would reply. “But I’m a Ford guy.”
Big 3 pickups are so close in performance that each new generation model leapfrogs the standard set by a competitor before. Chevy’s 2014 Silverado won North American Truck of the Year in 2013. The 2013 Dodge RAM was Motor Trend Truck of the Year in 2012 (and 2013), the 2010 F-150 won NACTOY in 2009, and so on. You can write the 2014 headline today: 2015 Ford F-150, Truck of the Year.
Detroit’s stranglehold on the U.S. market is best illustrated when comparing heavy duty trucks where performance is at a premium.
While Toyota’s Tundra and Nissan’s Titan battle Motown makers in the pickup segment, neither bothers to saddle up against the Big 3 HDs. Here, politics is less of a distraction. Recognizing that HDs must pull massive loads, Washington doesn’t mandate fuel economy rules that put U.S. cars at a disadvantage against foreign small-car makers in the 1980s. Turbo direct-injection diesel engines make up two-thirds of sales in the HD market — not because they get marginally better mpg but because customers covet their torque-on-demand. If the EPA doesn’t force HDs to meet arbitrary fuel efficiency targets, it does require that diesels go on an expensive emissions diet. There are no less than three devices in each GM pickup exhaust to scrub particulates – but owners still pay the $8,000 diesel premium.
I’m a witness. I tow my race car to the track each weekend behind a 2007 Ram 3500.
Weighing in at over 7000 pounds and capable of trailering up to 19,600 pounds, heavy duties are the offensive lineman of vehicles. They are the biggest things bodies on the field, but quickness and technique matter too. Like comparing a 325-pound linemen and a 290-pound lineman, the bigger number doesn’t always predict effectiveness.
Take the new Chevy Silverado 2500 HD. In a drag race between a Silverado, F250, and Ram — each towing 10,000 pounds — the 765 lb.-ft. torque Silverado (the Corvette “Big Nasty” Z06 has 625 lb-feet of torque? Weakling) won despite a nearly five percent torque deficit with its crosstown rivals.
I know what you’re thinking: Dude, you drag-raced pickups?
Being one of the planet’s biggest truck makers gains you some clout in pickup country, and GM made arrangements with highway patrol on Route 87 outside Payson (north of Phoenix) to allow our team of ink-slingers to test towing capability - side-by-side, dragster-style – on the four-lane’s uphill grades. Eat your heart out, John Force.
Boaters pulling Up North in Michigan take heart: These trucks have been tested against Up North Arizona’s most formidable grades.
From 35 mph, the Silverado HD gradually pulled away from both the F250 and RAM 2500 despite its lower torque numbers. Engineers attribute this to a number of factors, primarily the happy marriage between the big diesel and GM’s Allison transmission, available only with the oil-burning engine.
The diesel also shines on the other side of the mountain. Set cruise control and the diesel’s “exhaust braking” takes over, managing the heavy load downhill without pilot ever having to touch the pedals – or the dash for that matter. No more white knuckle rides through brake fade. No more dug in fingernail scratches on the interior.
And that interior is refiiiined.
If refined and heavy duty seem an oxymoron, you don’t know today’s pickups. Like their light-duty kin, HDs are as nice within as they are tough without. Sure, the Silverado’s chassis is all-new with more high strength steel and more reinforced cross-braces than a rodeo cowboy has bruises. Belying their bold, rectangular faces, the Chevys and GMCs have undergone extensive aero work to help their big engines breath – but also to quiet the cab. Together with inlaid doors and triple door seals, these monsters are remarkably quiet even when under load. After his harrying rodeo ride, our cowboy can ease his behind into full leather seats in the LTZ trim Crew Cab with five USB outlets and an 8-inch touchscreen in the center console alone. Where the previous generation Silverado was pooh-poohed for its cheap interior, the 2015 cab earns a blue ribbon.
After a tough night on Satan’s Wish, broncobusters have a decidedly friendlier hoss waiting in the parking lot. Call it heavy duty, but it has the demeanor of Buttercup.
2015 Chevy Silverado 2500 HD
Vehicle type: Front-engine, 4WD, five-passenger, heavy duty, four-door pickup truck Price: $48,230 (base), $61,465 (as tested) Power plant: Duramax 6.6-liter, V-8 turbo diesel Power: 397 horsepower, 765 pound-feet of torque Transmission: Allison 6-speed automatic Performance: Payload capacity, 2,628-3,501 pounds; towing capacity, 10,000 pounds Weight: 7,549 pounds Fuel economy: NA Report card Highs: Quiet interior, stump-pulling diesel power Lows: Not as good looking as GMC twin Overall:★★★★ Grading scale Excellent ★★★★ Good ★★★ Fair ★★ Poor ★
2015 GMC Sierra Denali 2500 HDVehicle type: Front-engine, 4WD, five-passenger, heavy duty, four-door pickup truck Price: $48,925 (base), $64,200 (as tested) Power plant: Duramax 6.6-liter, V-8 turbo diesel Power: 397 horsepower, 765 pound-feet of torque Transmission: Allison 6-speed automatic Performance: Payload capacity, 2,628-3,501 pounds; towing capacity, 10,000 pounds Weight: 7,549 pounds Fuel economy: NA Report card Highs: Quiet interior, better looking than Chevy kin Lows: With diesel costing $3.80 a gallon, gotta carry around a box-full of cash Overall:★★★★
Posted by hpayne on February 13, 2014America's biggest and smallest car companies have squared off in the luxury electric vehicle market. GM vs. Tesla. The Cadillac ELR vs. Model S. Old Money Detroit vs. New Money Silicon Valley. (Photo illustration by The Detroit News, Tesla and GM)
America’s biggest and smallest car companies have squared off in the luxury electric vehicle market. GM vs. Tesla. The Cadillac ELR vs. Model S. Old Money Detroit vs. New Money Silicon Valley. These chiseled competitors caused a sore neck epidemic at this year’s Detroit auto show. Displayed in neighboring stands, they turned heads left and right, faster than a Federer vs. Nadal Wimbledon final.
I ached to get them outside to strut their stuff. But it’s the dead of winter, you say. It’s too cold for batteries, you say. Shouldn’t we wait until springtime? Nawww. Not even the Polar Vortex can chill our lust for these hotties.
So bundle up, turn on the heated seats, and unleash the electrons.
The similarities between the companies and their cars are remarkably few. Both GM and Tesla took taxpayer loans and are branded with that Government Motors stigma. Both use lithium ion batteries. But the Caddy shares a compact platform and plug-in-electric powertrain with the Chevy Volt, while the Model S boasts an all-new midsize chassis running on batteries alone.
The silver four-seat Cadillac ELR — with an $82,135 price tag — is a slick vehicle, but the seven-seat (yes, seven) Model S ( $75,520) is jaw-dropping. Game-changing. Stone-cold awesome.
In the Establishment vs. Startup showdown, score one for American entrepreneurial ingenuity as Elon Musk’s first sedan is not just the best electric vehicle ever made but gives the elites of the luxury sport world — Porsche Panamera, Audi A7, Jaguar XF — serious competition for best in class. Subsidies aside (Elon, you had to raid the taxpayer cookie jar to finance this gem?), Musk deserves a place in the Auto Hall of Fame next to irascible pioneers like Henry Ford and Carroll Shelby.
The ELR and Model S are accessible only to platinum club members. But they are serious machines — not just show horses to gain federal fuel economy credits. But Musk’s second act, a 200-mile range Model E that will go head-to-head with the Volt, Nissan Leaf and Prius plug-in, will be more accessible to the masses with a price tag of about $40K and hitting the market in 2016.
EVs to date have worn their green status on their sleeves to attract the crunchy granola crowd. Not the ELR and Model S. No leafy badges. No green-tinted instrument panels. They sell themselves on passion, inside and out.
“Coolest car ever!” squealed the 20-something at Tesla’s Detroit display. “I’ve gotta have one,” said the 70-something father of my college roommate at Christmas dinner in California.
When a car attracts a demographic that broad, you know something’s different.
Begin with the Model S’s signature 17-inch touchscreen, which works like an iPad maxi. The navigation app is made by Google, the menu icons look like a Mac.
Finally, a car screen that is as intuitive as your smartphone. Better yet, the screen centralizes all controls. No more split-level consoles of competing analog and digital tools that require a tutorial to understand.
Get it? Like the breakthrough Macintosh computer of a generation ago, Tesla brings electronic style to the automobile. With its massive batteries buried in the floor and its one-speed gear-shift on the steering column, the front cabin is uncluttered. The sculpted dash arcs to meet curved, aluminum-trimmed door handles.
While the Model S establishes a unique interior experience, the ELR is determined to make you feel like you are in a Cadillac. Gone are the green-preaching instrument panels of the Volt. In their place are Caddy’s familiar, cool CUE system.
But by building on a midsize platform, the Model S takes EV luxury to another level. Wedged into a compact chassis, the T-shaped ELR battery pack intrudes on the cabin, limiting seating to four adults. The Tesla cabin comfortably seats five adults — and two more in rear-facing child seats just like the flexible cargo bay of my old 1992 Taurus station wagon.
The five-door, 196-inch long Tesla is easily mistaken for a Jaguar XF from behind. Yet with no engine to conceal, the low aerodynamic hood — creating a slippery .24 drag coefficient — makes the Tesla even more beautiful overall.This S looks like Kate Upton wrapped in a satin dress.
The ELR, on the other hand, is Caddy’s angular “Art & Design” language perfected. The design is virtually identical to the show-stopping Converj concept unveiled in 2009 with raked windshield and knife-like lines. Think Stealth fighter meets Honda Civic Coupe.
Caddy’s stylish nose could teach the Model S a thing or two about EV grilles, which are decorative since there is no large radiator to cool. The one flaw in Tesla’s otherwise gorgeous bod is its blunt plastic honker. Chief designer Franz von Holzhausen says the design was deliberately conservative for fear that an unconventional face would scare off buyers — but he plans to broaden his palette with future designs.
With all that battery weight in the belly, surely these EVs suffer in handling? On the contrary. The lower center of gravity (at 17.5 inches, the 4,650-pound Tesla’s CG is on par with super-sports cars) lends these cars noticeably better cornering stability over their gas-powered cousins.
But for an $80K car, you want grunt. That’s where the Tesla really shines.Bury your right foot and the big sled leaps forward, propelled by instant 317 pound-feet of electric torque. In the base, 60kwh Model S I tested — courtesy of Sean Maloney of Grosse Pointe — 0-60 mph shoots by in just 5.1 seconds. That’s over a half-second quicker than a base $81K Porsche Panamera. At 0-60 mph in 4.4 seconds, the 80 kwh Model S would blow the doors off an Aston Martin DB9.
Yet the Model S achieves these violent acceleration numbers in silence. In a V-8, such an outburst would get Mr. Maloney arrested in the Pointes for disturbing the peace.
But the Tesla allows him to explore his animal instincts without waking up every cop in Motown.
The S brings this razzle dazzle while delivering 150 miles on a charge — in January. Sure, that’s less than the 208 miles advertised (because Tesla advises recharges to ¾of battery capacity for long life), but still plenty of mileage to avoid range anxiety as Maloney travels across southeast Michigan.
The ELR — using the same 16.5 kwh battery/1.4-liter gas engine combo as the Volt — also explodes off the line then quickly plateaus, reaching 60 mph in 7.8 seconds (8.8 in pure EV mode). Many will find this unacceptable at this price — as well as its 30-miles-on-a-winter-charge before the four-banger takes over.
In short, the ELR comes up short in room and performance next to the multi-talented Model S prodigy.
Electrics died a century ago, victims of Henry Ford’s more affordable, more fuel-able Model T. At the dawn of the 21st century, they are back, thanks in part to the determination of another mad genius and his Model S.
2014 Cadillac ELR
Vehicle type: Front engine/battery propulsion, front-wheel-drive, four-passenger coupe Price: $75,000 base, $82,135 (as tested, $74,635 after federal tax credit) Power plant: Electric drive system with 16.5 kwh lithium ion battery pack, and 1.4-liter 4-cylinder, gas-powered generator engine Power: 217 horsepower (motor/engine combined power rating), 295 pound-feet of torque Transmission: Automatic, single-speed transmission Performance: 0-60 mpg, 7.8 seconds electric-with-engine assist mode; 8.8 seconds EV only (manufacturer), 107 mph top speed (governor limited) Weight: 4,050 pounds Fuel economy: EPA 82 mpg EV mode/33 mpg gas mode Report card: ★★ Highs: Retains show-stopping concept design; plush interior Lows: Retains pokey Volt drivetrain; sticker shock
2014 Tesla Model SVehicle type: Battery propulsion, rear-wheel-drive, five-passenger sedan Price: $69,900 base, $75,520 (as tested, $68,020 after federal tax credit) Power plant: Electric drive system with 60 kwh microprocessor lithium-ion battery pack Power: 302 horsepower, 317 pound-feet of torque Transmission: Automatic, single-speed transmission Performance: 0-60 mpg, 5.1 seconds (dragtimes.com); 134 mph top speed (governor limited) Weight: 4,647 pounds Fuel economy: EPA 88 mpg city/90 mpg highway Report card:★★★★ Highs: Supermodel body; goes like stink Lows: Plastic nose; good range limited by lack of charging infrastructure
Posted by hpayne on February 8, 2014The all-new 2014 Mazda6 will feature even more all-new groundbreaking technology. i-ELOOP, the world's first capacitor-based brake energy regeneration system to power all the vehicle's electrical systems, makes its global debut. The SKYACTIV-D 2.2-liter clean diesel engine and the front collision-detecting Smart City Brake Support (SCBS) system make their first appearance in North America. (Mazda)
“ZOOM ZOOM” reads the Mazda6 ad as I enter Laguna Seca racetrack — aka, the Mazda Raceway. Nothing shows the Japanese automaker’s commitment to selling sporty midsize sedans in the USA like its sponsorship of the legendary 11-turn roller coaster track on California’s’ Monterey Peninsula.
The 2014 Mazda6, as you may have heard, is the bomb.
It is Mazda’s new sleek, nimble-handling cure for the boring midsize sedan. It has us auto scribes in a swoon. We love it as much as the new sleek, nimble-handling cure for the boring compact car, the 2014 Mazda3. Indeed, as you descend into Mazda Raceway’s paddock what looks from a distance like rows of comely Mazda6 racing school cars are, in fact, rows of comely Mazda3 racing schools cars. The 3 and the 6 look uncannily similar until closer inspection reveals the 3’s shorter wheelbase and stubbier rear end.
“It’s the best handling small car I’ve driven,” says one Laguna Seca racing instructor. “It’s even better than the old 3.”
So why pay $21,000 for a base 6 over a $17,000 base 3? Or eight grand more for a loaded Mazda6 Grand Touring edition over a 3 Grand Touring? After all, compact cars have evolved. Compacts such as the 3s, Ford Focuses and Honda Civics are as big as 6s, Ford Tauruses and Honda Accords used to be. Which is why we now have subcompacts like Mazda 2s, Ford Fiestas, and Honda Fits. Roomy four-door compacts offer space, handling and fuel efficiency. And looks.
Which to buy? Let’s let the sibling rivals slug it out.
Mazda 3 GT (2.0 liter, $25,000)
The game is over before it’s begun, brother 6. They call you a 6, but you don’t offer a 6-cylinder engine like most midsize cars. So we’re both four-bangers. And your 2.5-liter four has only 30 more horses than my four. And I’m 400 pounds lighter in the butt. Do the math. I go 0-60 in 7.9 seconds — less than a second slower than your 7-flat. I handle better, I get better fuel economy. So why would a hard-working couple fork over $8,000 more for less than a second of acceleration time? Heck, they could buy a nice used 2008 Mazda6 for the money they save and have his and hers Mazdas in the garage.
Oh, I’m not done. Today’s compact is the new midsize. I’m as big as a 2003 Mazda6, can seat five and stow all the luggage for a road trip. And speaking of trips, I am loaded with features that make you think you’re in an Audi A4. I got an Audi-like rotary console nob that controls my touch screen, heated seats, keyless entry, dual climate control, leatherette seats (betcha can’t tell the difference), blind-spot monitoring, traction control, four-wheel disc brakes, rearview camera, and a kitchen sink (just kidding about that last one). And is that 30 horsepower really an issue? I’m optioned with the same 2.5-liter powerplant you have. Beat that.
Mazda6 GT (2.5 liter, $33,000)
Seriously? Just look at me. I’m beautiful. I’m the ultimate realization of Mazda’s Kodo design language. If Marilyn Monroe were a car, she’d be me. Sure, you’re not bad looking yourself, brother 3. The face, the flowing lines. Definitely a family resemblance. But that nose. It’s out of proportion to the rest of your body. You look like that Doberhuahua from the Super Bowl commercial. I’m gonna call you Big Nose.
Remember, little brother — size matters. You’re a C segment platform and I’m a D segment. I have more cubic feet of backseat space than you or a BMW 3-series. And I come loaded with all the electronics that you’ve got — plus luxury upgrades such as variable cruise control and rear cross traffic alert system found in a 3-series. But a Bimmer buyer won’t give you a second look, Big Nose, whereas he’ll fall in love with me. I’m prettier, roomier, e-outfitted, and equipped with real leather (yes, they can tell the difference) — all for 10 grand less than a BMW. I’m the affordable luxury buyer’s dream. You’re good, kid, but you’re coach class. With my looks, I scream First Class.
And by the way, don’t knock my fuel efficiency. My 40 mpg highway is almost your 41 — plus 30 horses.
Okay, okay, boys. Stand down. That’s good stuff. Let me just say it’s nice to hear you Mazda guys talking about good looks. After those last-generation Jack o’ Lantern faces of yours, I was worried you had lost your aesthetic perspective.
So there you have it, folks. Three plus six equals a wealth of choice. As for me? I choose 3 because I want to throw that short-wheel base through some Mazda Raceway corners.
Posted by hpayne on February 6, 2014
Another year, another gold star for the Lexus RX, the midsize luxury SUV sales valedictorian. Solid interior. Solid reliability. Solid performance. Ho hum. Enough about Goody Two-shoes.
Let’s talk about the brash wannabes.
The Cadillac SRX and Acura MDX — Nos. 2 and 3 with 56,000 and 53,000 in sales, respectively — are rungs below the RX’s staggering 100,000-plus sales score. But with their distinct looks, earth-pawing power, and loaded interiors, these two outsiders are turning heads.
The wannabes can be quirky, sure — especially in the navigation screen department — but Lexus has also veered from plain Jane fashion with its polarizing, inverted-trapezoid upper and lower grilles (now that’s a mouthful). It has not dissuaded buyers, but the pinched-cheek look is an opening for the far prettier faces of Caddy and Acura, especially if their performance features rival the teacher’s pet. And often, they do.
Those details can be game-changers. Take the Acura’s third-row, fold-into-the-floor seats, a crucial feature that moves the MDX to the top of my shopping list. It will attract family buyers accustomed to the roominess of bigger SUVs and minivans but who want the cachet and performance of a luxury brand. This is a game-changer for soccer moms like my wife who demand all-wheel-drive performance as she ferries our young hellions and their pals.
Geometry, art, gym. These superb vehicles excel in most subjects. The report card, please:
If adding a third-row seat pays dividends for the MDX as a sporty family hauler, the addition of a second center console screen does not.
A central 7-inch touch screen controls infotainment while a separate, 8-inch navigation screen hovers at the top of the dash. In theory, the two screens mean the driver can multi-task between navigation and media without having to change screens. In practice, the nav screen is mediocre with no-touch capability and a limited interface, which makes it hard to discern where traffic is snarled or what street you’re on. Acura’s excellent haptic-feedback touch screen should be enough — especially since thumb scrolls on the steering wheel allow drivers to navigate some options without their hands ever leaving the wheel.
Cadillac also pushes the console envelope with its CUE system. The Droid-like screen’s haptic feedback, movable icons and swipe-menu capability mimic today’s smartphones. But CUE, too, can be maddening as its haptic volume controls are inconsistent. Better to integrate them into a bigger touch screen (see the Tesla Model S) or make them redundant rotary controls as in the Acura.
Both the MDX and SRX get an A for effort, but a C in execution.
In terms of comfort and utility, however, both the MDX and SRX are at the head of the class. Both are wrapped in luscious leather. Their interior lines are pleasing with generous portions of wood trim. Lift gates float upward at a touch of the key fob, and control stalks execute turn signals and wiper commands with a crispness that screams luxury car.
Both vehicles feature adaptive cruise control, a self-driving system with real world safety applications. If you’re doing anything distracting — eating, cruising the radio, umpiring a child squabble — then set the cruise control and the vehicles’ radar will monitor traffic in front of you, braking when necessary. It’s remarkable. Acura’s collision avoidance system is also notable for locating its warnings on the A-pillars. They illuminate when a vehicle is in your blind spot (huge in all SUVs), instantly catching your eye since they are at the edge of your vision rather than outside on the mirrors (as in most luxury vehicles, Caddy included).
The Acura and Caddy have spent time in front of the mirror and it shows. Acura’s edgy styling has been a freak show in recent years with its sedans alternatively looking like bottle openers or sharp-beaked parrots. The popular MDX’s looks have always been less severe, but the SUV’s pointy corners have been softened to exude more elegance.
Most striking, however, is the Acura’s handsome use of horizontal cues to give the tall SUV a crouching appearance. At the vehicle’s business end, five LED main beams in each headlamp structure combine with symmetrical lower air vents to create a wide, athletic stance. It’s no Audi, but it’s more artful than most.
Not to be outdone, the SRX boasts its own headlight science project with adaptive lamps that turn in the direction of the front wheels. But if you’re looking for sculpted good looks, the SRX is your baby. Whereas most midsize SUVs are immediately identifiable by their height, the SRX’s sloped curves, low shovel grille, and huge headlights make the car’s pose look more cat-like than horse-like. “Seemingly sculpted from a solid block of steel” hypes Caddy’s press materials. But that steel comes with a price — the SRX is 100 pounds heavier than the MDX.
The vertical lights and sharp creases of Caddy’s “Art & Science” design language have always looked more natural on the taller, heftier SRX with this year’s CTS sedan just catching up to its prettier ute sibling.
Could you survive a Michigan winter without all-wheel drive? The MDX and SRX both come with snow-churning, road-gripping AWD systems. The MDX adds a base front-wheel-drive option in a bow to the federal mpg gods.
On its third generation, Acura divorced the MDX from its truck brethren and has built the SUV on its own unique, uni-body chassis. With a new multi-link suspension and generous use of lightweight materials like aluminum and magnesium, the result is a fun-to-drive SUV. With a nimbleness belying its high center-of-gravity, this ute tore through Detroit’s snowy landscape, taunting me to turn off the traction control and let the big dog drift through corners.
Acura (and parent Honda) have spent a lot of time on the track and that experience shows. The big ute has run with the sports cars on Germany’s famed Nurburgring, with the new MDX besting the previous generous by a healthy eight seconds. The Caddy makes no such boasts, but it’s hardly a boat. What it lacks in handling, it makes up in typical American style — with brute force. Its 308-horsepower V-6 gulps highway fuel at 18 mpg. Turn you off? The Acura’s smooth 290-horsepower V-6 will get you Lexus-like 21 mpg fuel economy (speaking of Lexus, both of our wannabes leave the 270 horse RX in the dust).
Acura and Caddy buyers might gulp, however, when they see the bill for all this sophistication. My fully-loaded MDX and SRX sticker for $57,400 and $56,465, respectively — nearly 10 grand more than a similarly-equipped Lexus and on par with perennial class beauty queens BMW and Audi.
Are they worth it? Excellence comes in different packages. The jewel-eyed MDX and sculpted SRX are runners up and trying harder.
2014 Cadillac SRX
Vehicle type: Front-engine, AWD, five-passenger, five-door, sport utility vehicle Price: $37,505 (base), $56,465 (as tested) Power plant: 3.6-liter V-6 with direct-injection Power: 308 horsepower, 265 pound-feet of torque Transmission: 6-speed automatic Performance: 0-60 mpg, 7.1 seconds (manufacturer), 130 mph top speed (governor limited) Weight: 4,442 pounds Fuel economy: EPA 16 city/23 highway (18 mpg combined) Highs: Doesn’t look like an SUV; adaptive cruise control Lows: Opaque CUE system controls; no third-row seat Overall:★★★ Grading scale Excellent ★★★★ Good ★★★ Fair ★★ Poor ★
2014 Acura MDXVehicle type: Front-engine, AWD, seven-passenger, five-door, sport utility vehicle Price: $42,290 (base), $57,400 (as tested) Power plant: 3.5-liter V-6 with direct-injection Power: 290 horsepower, 267 pound-feet of torque Transmission: 6-speed automatic Performance: 0-60 mpg, 6.8 seconds (Autoweek), 123 mph top speed Weight: 4,332 pounds Fuel economy: EPA 18 city/27 highway (21 mpg combined) Highs: Top-drawer electronic safety controls; third-row seat Lows: Two center console screens are too much; pricey Overall:****
Posted by hpayne on February 1, 2014
You know that director Ron Howard's "Rush" – acclaimed as one of the best racing movies ever made - was nominated for a 2014 Golden Globe Award as Best Motion Picture. You know that it stars heart-throb Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Bruhl as Grand Prix rivals James Hunt and Niki Lauda. But you may not know that one person in the cast was playing himself – indeed, was the only non-actor in the movie.
Simon Taylor is one of the world’s most renowned auto journalists, and was the voice of Formula One in 1976 as BBC Radio commentator. Taylor recreated his role – and served as a film adviser – in “Rush.” Taylor is the former editor of Autosport magazine, author of numerous books, and a competitor on the vintage racing circuit. His latest book is “Motor Sport Greats in Conversation” (Haynes Publishing, 2013). I caught up with Simon on his recent visit to Detroit.
HP: Tell me about “Rush.”
Taylor: I only got involved because Ron Howard was doing everything he could to make the motor racing footage as historically accurate as possible. Of the very large cast, there is only one person who actually plays himself – that is me, because in 1976, I was in my first year as the BBC radio motor racing commentator and I was at that famous final race in Japan. It wasn’t covered on television — so the only way that the British audiences could hear what was happening at Mount Fuji was by listening to me. When they were casting the British commentator, somebody said: “Well, I think that old fart Simon Taylor was there all those years ago, so why don’t you ask him?” So I found myself doing four days on set.
HP: You lived that ’76 season. We motor heads are particular about these things. Is the movie authentic?
Taylor: I think it is absolutely brilliant. The point one has to make is that $50 million was being spent. Ron Howard was doing this not just to appeal to a few hundred thousand motor heads, but to a worldwide audience. There was one moment in this little editing suite and I had the temerity to say, “Ron, strictly speaking, I’m not sure that that is quite accurate.” He fixed me with a beady eye and said, “Simon, this movie has to work on a wet Tuesday afternoon in Des Moines, Iowa to an audience of housewives who’ve never heard of Formula One. Do I make myself clear?” I said, “You certainly do.”
HP: Some say the movie downplayed James Hunt’s drug use.
Taylor: No. I knew James pretty well, and to my knowledge, James never took drugs of any sort. He was very, very serious about his motor racing. He had this devil-may-care exterior; he loved pretty girls; he was a very charismatic. But this was a man passionate to win. (He) would be sick before getting into the car before the race.
HP: Did you meet both actors?
Taylor: I met Daniel Bruhl briefly. When Bruhl got the part of Niki Lauda, he rang Lauda up and he said: “I’ve been cast to play you in a movie.” And Niki — you know what Niki’s like — he said: “So?” Bruhl said: “Well, if you don’t mind, I’d like to come and spend some time with you so I can study you.” Niki said: “Well, if you come, you better only bring an overnight bag, because if I don’t like you, I’ll tell you to (expletive) off.” So, Bruhl went and, in fact, Niki liked him and Bruhl spent four nights in Niki’s house in Spain. He caught not only Niki’s voice, but also his very distinctive gestures. Niki is a most unusual man.
HP: Let me switch gears. You’re an Englishman who’s seen the world. What does the American car market look like today?
Taylor: I think that motor cars, all around the world, have become unromantic, sterile, dull. Because now we’re concerned with safety and pollution. The car has become as exciting as a washing machine. Having said that, there are interesting national characteristics. . . I think that American manufacturers have always understood that styling can sell a car, so American cars have always been more extroverted in their styling than perhaps a British or a French or a German car.
HP: In the States you see “statement cars” that you wouldn’t see in other continents?
Taylor: Yes, and I speak as a man who (owns) a 1969 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray. I love American cars. I came to America as a teenager in the early ‘60s, and I looked at Pontiac GTOs and early Mustangs and they were in your face and they made a strong statement. An American car is a guy standing up at the bar buying everybody a drink.
Posted by hpayne on January 30, 2014Detroit News auto reviewer Henry Payne spent a week in a 2014 Toyota Tundra CrewMax pickup. Here's the nicely-redesigned business end of the 2014 Toyota Tundra he test drove. (Henry Payne / The Detroit News)
How big is the Toyota Tundra CrewMax pickup? I’ve been picking Fiat 500s and Ford Fiestas out of its grille for the past week. I added a refrigerator and pool table in the backseat. I have to call a tugboat to help me navigate narrow fast-food drive-thru lanes.
I exaggerate, of course. I’m no stranger to big pickups (I tow my race cars to the track behind a big Dodge RAM 3500). They are the workhorse of American sportsmen, construction workers and landscapers. But as auto companies target pickups — like the upscale Tundra 1794 edition I tested — to urban cowboys (and cowgirls) as well as their traditional, more rural audience, drivers should understand the capabilities of the beast at the other end of their reins.
Like the enormously powerful and essentially street-legal race cars from Porsche, Corvette, SRT, et al, big pickups are a fish out of water in an urban environment. If you aren’t trained to handle the Corvette Z06’s 635 pound-feet of torque, you could wind up wrapped around a telephone pole in the blink of an eye. Fail to appreciate the footprint of a Tundra/Chevy Silverado/Ford F-150, and you’ll squash a Smart car like a watermelon.
In short, don’t assume that driver’s license you got at 16 prepares you for a 2 ½ ton, two-story tank with 380 horsepower under the hood. Respect it. Bond with it. Or it might bite you. Witness my neighborhood Popeye’s drive-thru where I nearly took off the side of the building with the Tundra’s supersized tail.
That said, the Tundra and its rivals are wonderfully capable animals. Pickups breed fierce loyalty among brands even as there is little to choose between them. The F-150, Silverado, RAM 1500 and Tundra all are about 140 inches in wheelbase, offer 10,000-pound towing capability and a variety of cab configurations.
Not surprisingly, Japanese trucks have labored in this most All-American of segments. While Ford, GM, and RAM dominate full-size pickup sales, the Tundra is a distant fourth.
Even as American brands have struggled against dependable Asian imports in the sedan segment (see Chrysler’s self-conscious “Imported from Detroit” ad line), Toyota has the opposite challenge with trucks. American pickups are as rock solid as Mount Rushmore, as dependable as Lassie, and as American as apple pie. So Toyota’s every move is a self-conscious attempt to fit in with the home boys.For example? Toyota chose Texas to build its Tundra. Everything’s bigger in the Longhorn State (Texas joke: What did the Texan say upon visiting Niagara Falls? “We could fix that leak in five minutes.”). Everyone’s more patriotic and everything is done in a pickup. Even the Tundra’s 1794 badge on my high-end Tundra is a claim to American authenticity.
“The new 1794 Edition is a tribute to the ranch, founded in the year 1794, on which the Tundra plant is located in San Antonio,” reads Toyota’s press release. Yeah, these guys are obsessed.
But Toyota competing against Big Three trucks is like a Northwestern vs. Michigan State football game. Sure, Northwestern’s got a Big Ten team, but have you seen the depth of that State squad? Similarly, the Tundra’s quite competent five-model Tundra line must compete against the likes of Ford, which offers 10 variations of the F-150, and 15 variations of its F-250, F-350, and F-450 Super Duty line.
And it ain’t getting’ any easier as the F-150 is investing in more fuel-efficient aluminum trucks and GM is coming after Toyota’s midsize Tacoma with the Chevy Colorado and GM Canyon.
One-on-one in the open field, however, the Tundra 1794 is a match for any truck in class.
My white 1794 features the Tundra’s tougher 2014 look with a bigger, squared-off grille using more chrome than a 1959 Cadillac Eldorado with the Biarritz trim package. The truck’s layout makes it a rolling Swiss Army knife. The roomy CrewMax interior offers leather luxury for the family with a back seat big enough to hold three Big Ten linemen (my 5-foot 5-inch wife needed the running board and side door handle and a painter’s ladder to get in). Yet the vehicle is still rugged as a mule on the outside with terrain-gobbling 20-inch tires and a 5’6” x 5’6” rear short box that has plenty of room for the dogs or a load of mulch. Hook it up and the 5,860-pound Tundra will tow the Space Shuttle. Really. Google it.
On the road, the 1794 rides surprisingly stiff. I could feel the concrete joints along the Lodge, for example. Rivals like the RAM 1500 have added air springs which help smooth out the ride, though as a veteran of stiffly-sprung sport sedans, I found the haptic ride reassuring in a vehicle two-stories off the ground.
If not for the ride, the $50,000 1794 edition’s (the base Tundra starts at $27K) stuffed-with-every-electronic-googaw cab feels like a luxury sedan with twice the acreage. Urban cowboys will appreciate the more fuel-efficient two-wheel drive option in addition to the truck staples of 4WD and 4WD off-road. But in Michigan’s Winter from Hell, I usually traveled in 4WD despite its thirsty 13 mpg.
After a few days of cramped commutes trying to navigate too-small parking places and crowded suburban shopping strips (what was that noise? Dang, I squashed another Smart!), the Tundra pined for tundra and so I took it out to the dirt roads of West Bloomfield’s lake country. I usually tip-toe through these rutted wagon trials in second gear in my compact family sedans, but the Tundra attacks them with relish.
Potholes covered with three inches of fresh snow? No problem. With tires out of the Brobdingnagian shopping catalog, the Tundra manhandled these roads. Turn a 90-degree corner with throttle and the 4WD drive-with-traction control bit hard, catching a power slide then leaping forward. Did I forget to mention that big, 381 horsepower V-8? Bury your right foot out of a stoplight and it sounds like a cattle stampede through a Texas gorge. Glorious.
You can take the pickup out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the pickup.
Posted by hpayne on January 23, 2014Hyundai redesigned their Equus luxury sedan for 2014 with enhancements to exterior and interior design, vehicle dynamics, material selection, driver technology displays and advanced safety features. (Hyundai)
My neighborhood loses power. A lot.So when our post-New Year’s Storm from Hell dropped a foot of snow and sub-zero temps on us, my wife and I checked out the back seat of the Hyundai Equus I was testing as a possible refuge if the lights went out. Yes, it’s that comfortable.
Introduced to the U.S. market in 2010, the Equus’ posh proportions had already established it as a popular, chauffeur-driven car for Korean businessmen. This is old-school luxury, complete with ashtrays. Airplane-like video screens installed in the back of the front seats provide in-flight — er, in-car — infotainment. A full control console folds down in the backseat allowing passengers to take over the car’s audio and navigation controls. There are fold-down, illuminated vanity mirrors for grooming, and a motorized rear window shade adds privacy.
This car got more appealing to my wife by the second. “Henry! Time to drive me to my meeting!” She was disappointed to learn, however, that the massaging rear-seats, standard on the first imports to the U.S., have been discontinued for the 2014 year model.
The price for this Carnival cruise liner with 5-liter V-8? Just $68,000.That’s 25 grand less than a similarly equipped BMW 750 or Mercedes S-Class, and $10,000 less than a Lexus LS460 (though the old-school Cadillac XTS hangs right with the Hyundai on price). A luxury bargain? Yes, if it was a $68,000 BMW Equus, or Mercedes Equus, or Caddy Equus. But it’s a $68K Hyundai, and therein lies the rub.
The badge matters in a segment in which brand is paramount. Luxury is image, and the German, Japanese and American brands speak volumes about their owners when they roll up to a five-star restaurant. Hyundai is not unaware of the image game. The Equus is for “the millionaire next door who wants to make the smart choice for a lot of car,” says Miles Johnson, product public relations manager. That’ll get you 3,500 sales a year in the U.S. — just 30 percent the number of its rivals.
Hyundai wants more and the Equus’ smaller sibling — the stunning 2015 Genesis introduced at this year’s Detroit auto show — promises the Korean automaker is poised for greater success. It’s all about the details.
Introduce yourself to the Equus and she looks a bit homely. A Hyundai Sonata has more sex appeal. The Equus’ front fascia is plain, devoid of BMW’s signature twin-kidneys or the sculpted grilles of the Audi and Caddy. The car is an echo of early Lexus cars, which themselves were echoes of Mercedes. Hyundai intends to address that in the next-generation model with its fresh “Fluidic Sculpture 2.0” design language. You can see it in the new Genesis’s inspired grille, slit headlights, and creased hips.
Back to the Equus.
Sensing the key in my pocket, Equus unlocks the doors and opens the side mirrors like sunflowers opening to the sun. A chime greets you as you enter the cabin. The interior is sumptuous with heated, ivory leather seats and real wood trim around the doors and dash. The digital instrument panel is reminiscent of Cadillac — its many options easily negotiated with a clever, right-thumb-operated dial on the steering wheel. A heads-up display hovers — hologram-like — above the hood, allowing you to monitor your speed without looking down at the dash. You reach for the 9.2-inch center-console screen, but it disappoints. Operated by a rotary dial, it’s not a touch screen as is standard in the class.
Equus is Latin for “horse” and this car has 429 of them. With that kind of power on tap, I found myself groping for steering wheel paddles to gain full control of the herd under the hood — but only the automatic shifter is offered. Never mind. Like a rhino pulling a stagecoach, the big Tau V-8 is more than enough power to motivate the two-ton Equus, though that smart, budget-conscious Equus buyer may blanch at the car’s 18 mpg (I managed just 14.7 on daily commutes). Still, put your boot in it and this big hoss can really stretch her legs ... until you encounter some twisty bits.
The big sedan feels more land yacht when cornering, its body less taut, its steering less precise compared to its German and Japanese competition. The rear-wheel-drive Hyundai is conspicuously missing an all-wheel-drive option in this option-loaded segment. I can see your arms crossing across your chest. Whaaaaat? Don’t RWD V-8s hibernate with the bears in winter time?
Nossir. This is 21st century. Indeed, there is no better illustration than the Equus of how electronics have utterly changed vehicle safety. I not only drove the Equus through the teeth of Old Man Winter’s January tantrum, I taunted him with it. Like a skier in fresh powder, I tackled southwest Detroit’s unplowed streets. I turned into corners hard. I stomped on it. I lived to tell the tale. In fact, I enjoyed it. The rear end would wag, but the Electronic Stability Control system would instantly bite, cutting throttle and wheel spin. No drama, no mess.
Even at full throttle, the electronics would virtually stall the engine, taming the beast. All hail the engineers.
'Elevate the brand'
In the late 1980s Toyota, Honda, and Nissan targeted the U.S. market with new name-brands — Lexus, Acura, and Infiniti — to sell luxury cars without the stigma of their more pedestrian parents. They made their mark, at huge marketing cost. By contrast, Hyundai has eschewed a high-cost strategy and launched its luxury models under the good ol’ Hyundai name. “We’re not pouring money into a establishing a new luxury channel,” says Hyundai’s Johnson. “We’re looking to elevate the brand.”
It’s a riskier strategy than Hyundai’s Japanese forebears, but the tactic is the same: Provide a quality luxury experience at an affordable price. Hyundai will deliver your Equus to your home. It’ll pick it up for maintenance. It’ll provide you a substitute while your car is being repaired. Heck, they may even bring you a massaging recliner if you ask. The result is that the Equus now out-Lexuses Lexus as the luxury bargain.
Can Hyundai become a top-selling luxury brand? Can Equus and Elantra both thrive under the same dealership roof? Time will tell. But one thing’s for sure: With Genesis styling and better attention to detail, the next Equus won’t take a backseat to anyone.
Posted by hpayne on January 22, 2014Electric cars are a sideshow. The real story is Ford's big bet on aluminum and other expensive design changes. By Henry Payne Jan. 22, 2014 7:19 p.m. ET Detroit At the dawn of 2014 the federal government has exited General Motors GM -0.19% and Chrysler. Both companies have repaid their auto-bailout loans and Fiat F.MI +1.97% is purchasing Chrysler outright. But federal carbon limits imposed on the auto industry in the depths of the Great Recession—when it was powerless to resist—will haunt manufacturers for years to come. The re-election of Barack Obama has cemented EPA fuel-efficiency regulations requiring that, by 2025, auto makers' products average 54.5 miles per gallon. On the floor of the 2014 Detroit Auto Show, which is open to the public until Jan. 26, there is ample evidence that the regulations are starting to bite. Detroit temperatures have hovered in the single digits after hitting a record low, minus-14 degrees, in the first week of January—temperatures consistent with a planet that hasn't warmed in more than a decade. Yet the gods of global warming must be satisfied, and the sacrifices to the EPA's climate ideology come with a big price. While auto makers are once again parading cars and trucks their customers want to own, company strategies are nevertheless being driven by government fuel-economy rules. Behind the glitzy displays, gorgeous vehicle introductions and relief that vehicle sales are almost back to 2007 prerecession levels, there is worry about the costs the fuel-efficiency rules impose. Take the radical, expensive redesign of the Ford F150 pickup, America's best-selling vehicle. The F150 is the talk of the show because it is the first truck—and the first large-volume vehicle—to have its body made entirely of aluminum to save weight and reduce fuel consumption. The driving force behind Ford's decision was the EPA standards that will force full-size trucks to get upward of 30 mpg in 10 years—up from 20 today. Ford had already made significant gains in efficiency by redesigning its powertrains to add less-thirsty turbo V-6s to its lineup, but the step to aluminum is an indication that the EPA rules will require much more than squeezing engines. The switch to costlier, lighter aluminum means a massive capital investment that involves the retooling of factories and the remaking of Ford's material supply stream as it shifts away from steel sheet for body panels. Ford won't disclose the investment, but it runs into the billions. Ford sells 700,000 F150 trucks a year, so industry experts say it could overnight become the second-biggest aluminum customer outside of the U.S. military. The change brings significant risk to a truck class where buyers put a premium on durability and toughness. While Ford is confident that its aluminum alloy will match steel for strength, its move is also a gamble given the higher cost of aluminum to repair and the subsequent insurance cost to customers. What is the hardest thing about launching a new car today? "The new government regulations—whether it be fuel economy, safety or whatever—are very difficult and pose a significant challenge to the development of any new vehicle," Ford Mustang engineer Dave Pericak tells Car & Driver. The mighty muscle car will offer a turbocharged four-cylinder engine for the first time in a bow to federal regulations. Ford's strategy is not to criticize the regulations, calculating that they are here to stay and it's a marketing nightmare to fight government and media campaigns for better fuel efficiency. So Ford is trying to turn the rules to its advantage, playing to its marketing strengths in selling vehicles like the Mustang and the best-selling F150 as the most innovative products in their segment. The F150, for example, will be 700 pounds lighter, 3-4 mpg more efficient, and therefore save customers—especially companies with truck fleets—millions in fuel costs. Aluminum's costs are significantly higher than steel, and Ford won't disclose how much the changeover will erode its profit margins. Those F150 margins are significant, with each truck sale adding $10,000 to the company's bottom line. In the highly competitive truck segment, however, Ford will likely swallow those costs to maintain a competitive sticker price and hope that increased sales will bring more cash. GM, by contrast, is banking on a different path that it thinks is less disruptive and less costly. Less costly is a relative term, of course. The company plans to introduce an entirely new vehicle for the midsize truck segment that Detroit auto makers had abandoned. GM hopes that the sales gains of the Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon will mitigate the costs of regulatory compliance—and fill its coffers so it can invest in any changes necessary (an aluminum body perhaps?) to keep the steel-skinned, full-size Chevy Silverado compliant with EPA rules. Chrysler, meanwhile, has invested heavily in nine-speed transmissions and diesel engines. Its RAM pickup diesel competes against the Ford F150 and gets an impressive 25 mpg. One of Ford's Great Recession advantages, reports Karl Henkel of the Detroit News, is that by avoiding bankruptcy it could invest in aluminum. GM insiders say the government penalties of not meeting the regulations are too steep not to make new product investments. Bob Lutz, former product guru of General Motors, once predicted that the 54.5-by-2025 EPA regulations would cost consumers an additional $5,000 per vehicle—essentially the cost of making every car a hybrid. Auto makers have spent billions on Washington lobbyists, as well as engineering research and development, to help carve loopholes in the EPA rules. Significantly, auto makers receive mpg credits for producing so-called zero-emission vehicles—that is, coal-burning electric cars. Barack Obama once predicted that there would be one million EVs on the road by 2015 in the quixotic hope that if auto makers just built electrics, buyers would come. This year's show is confirmation that battery-powered vehicles are a niche vehicle—like sports cars—not a mainstream choice. With a 3% market share, hybrids and EVs, like sports cars, are pricey, with Cadillac and Tesla showing new offerings beginning at $70,000 while BMW BMW.XE -1.87% is marketing its new i-Series of electric cars at anywhere from $40,000 to $105,000. These cars will be costly to taxpayers as well, as each of their well-heeled buyers will get a $7,500 government tax credit.
Posted by hpayne on January 17, 2014MIDSIZE SEDANS -- Chrysler 200: The only thing notable about the previous 200 was that Eminem introduced it in a Super Bowl ad. The sleek new 200 won't need a rapper to sell it. (Chrysler)
The Christmas holiday is over, but the shelves are full of automotive toys at Cobo Center for the 2014 North American International Auto Show. If November’s Los Angeles Auto Show is all about Hollywood green and April’s New York show bows to Park Avenue luxury, then Detroit honors corn-fed American swagger. It’s where the world’s automakers come to show off their trucks, performance cars, and family haulers.
Detroit has gone from zero-to-wow in four short years.
Reborn from the ashes of the Great Recession, American automakers are leading an extraordinary convergence of automotive hardware and electronic technology. The dashboard embraces iPad design. Horsepower joins chip power. The Industrial Revolution meets the Digital Revolution.
Where taxpayer-funding compelled companies to show half-baked green displays (who can forget GM’s push for ethanol power?) in lieu of their meat-and-potatoes products, automakers this year are bringing innovation on their own terms to pickups, sports cars and luxury vehicles. The Detroit show offers everything to every customer with displays of tech, power and connectivity in vehicles across every segment. Increasingly, all those things can be found in a single vehicle.
Take the new Ford F-150, which sports an all-aluminum skin (once found only in small-volume super-cars), all LED lights (once found only in luxury sedans) and a powerful, turbocharged V-6 engine (once found only in sports sedans). Or the luxurious, dual-climate control, 625-horsepower Corvette Z06. Or the loaded, rotary-dial shifting, roomy, sculpted Chrysler 200 ... That’s right, even the midsize grocery haulers are sexy. So grab the kids and get down to the Greatest Show on Earth. Here’s your program. Here are the highlights:
After ogling Cobo’s airy, Metro Airport-like makeover (you half expect a 747 to be parked at the south bay window), plunge into the show at the central Macomb Hall entrance.
Behold the most beautiful sedans on the planet.
Acura, Cadillac, Tesla, BMW, Audi, and BMW displays flank the carpeted aisle. It’s like you’ve died and gone to luxury heaven. Did I mention Bentley is wedged in there too? Its land yachts seem old school in such athletic company.
The stunning Caddy CTS was my 2013 Detroit News Car of the Year and it holds its own in this rare air. Indeed, Cadillac’s show introduction of its more modern logo complements the sedan’s cutting-edge styling. The logo adorns the grille of the new ATS coupe, but the two-door is a reminder of how much ground is still to be made on class-leader BMW and Audi. The German brands not only have coupe versions of their best-selling 3-series and A4 sedans, but that they have created whole new numerologies to market the coupes (4-series for BMW coupes, A5 for Audi) and their earth-pawing BMW M and Audi S sports versions. BMW chose Detroit to debut its new M3 and M4, stealing Caddy’s thunder.
The competition is also stiff for Cadillac’s sharp, new $75K ELR plug-in — call it a Volt in a tuxedo. Next door lurks the $70K Tesla Model S, the darling of the country club, and BMW’s electrified i-series. The 357-horsepower i8, Bimmer’s first super-car in 35 years, will bring grown men to their knees.
Hang a right at BMW and gold chains give way to beach balls. Literally. Volkswagen offers a Beetle Dune Concept, an update on VW-based dune buggies that kicked sand in the seventies. Next door, the Mini Cooper stand gives the Bug stiff cuteness competition — even its muscular John Copper Works concept is huggable. Not to be outdone, Kia sports the redesigned Soul — its diet-conscious hamsters never far away.
Kia’s got Soul, and much more. The nominal budget brand from Korea stole away Audi’s chief designer a few years back and the brand has been transformed into one of the hippest lineups on the floor.
The rear, west wall of the exhibit is dominated by the titans, Toyota and GM, which perennially vie for the title of biggest global automaker. Toyotaville’s avenue of Prius, Camrys, Scions, and SUVs gives way to miles of Chevys, Buicks, and GMCs. They should hand out Segways to explore them all. But notable in the acres of smart vehicles are two sports cars that burn with passion.
The Toyota FT1 concept is a ruby red roller-skate that will get speeding tickets standing still. Toyota calls it a concept, but its racy lines hint at the second-coming of the late-’90s Supra, the stallion that brought to the street Toyota’s years of racing experience. The Chevy Corvette Z06 is so closely aligned with the General’s racing program that it debuted alongside the Chevy C7.R race car that will take the green flag at the 24 Hours of Daytona later this month.
The 625-horsepower Z06 joins a lineup that already boasts a 455-horsepower base model and a convertible. You could buy all three for the price of a Lamborghini.
The exhibit space’s core features the smaller American and Japanese companies that try harder because they have to stay ahead of the titans galloping hooves. Nissan’s flowing Maxima concept and Mazda’s nimble 3 are the heart of these sporty brands while nearby Subaru’s AWD commitment has bred a cult of followers.
Detroit’s underdog, Chrysler, has rebounded from bankruptcy led by workhorses like the Grand Cherokee and SRT Viper GTS. This year, the company births a new entry into the midsize sedan segment. Want to see the child of an Italian-American marriage?
The Alfa Romeo-based Chrysler 200 is sleek, roomy, and loaded with tech — including a nifty rotary dial shifter that frees up the center console.
The engine boys
Anchoring the east wall of Cobo are Honda and Ford, a fitting couple. No two companies have been more innovative in bringing new drive-train technology to market. Both have storied racing histories. Both also bleed green. This year they add to their legends.
Honda shows the Honda Fit, a remarkably versatile tool for the compact car market with a cute face yet interior room that would make a minivan proud. Ford’s light-weight, turbocharged F-150 is the most talked about vehicle in town, a daring truck that refuses to sit on its laurels.
And then there’s the iconic Ford Mustang. The muscle car turns 50 this year with a plan to the conquer the world with more European styling and fuel economy while retaining its muscular attitude. Transformed, but still a pony car. Efficiency, but on Mustang’s terms.
That Detroit attitude is back.
Posted by hpayne on January 6, 2014
Posted by hpayne on January 4, 2014
The Payne family goes racing. From left: Sam Payne, Henry Payne Sr. (News auto critic), and Henry Jr. (Henry Payne / The Detroit News)
If the Honda Civic is America’s best-selling entry level sedan, then the Formula Skip Barber is our most popular entry-level race car.Every year, some 10,000 drivers with the need for speed sign up for Barber driving school programs to experience high-performance cars on major U.S. race tracks. Over 500 of them will belt themselves into Barber’s open-wheel, so-called formula cars for a 3-day, $4000 racing school that will teach them how to race a purpose-built race car. The school attracts a menagerie of motor heads from enthusiasts checking their bucket list to boy racers climbing the racing career ladder. All receive a race license qualifying them for entry in Barber’s own racing series. In last year’s Indy 500 field, 66 percent of the car jockeys got their start in one of Barber’s race mules.
This Christmas holiday, the Payne family got behind the wheel for a test on Mazda Raceway in picturesque Laguna Seca, California.Video: Henry Payne: Barber School The Barber car was originally manufactured in 1986 by Mondiale for the racing school but has since been made in-house. The current car – there are 90 in Barbers stables nationwide – was last modified in 2000 and is powered by the old, 2.0 liter Dodge Neon engine. The four-banger produces 132 horsepower and is the only thing the car shares with your average grocery-hauler.
The cockpit is all business. The single-seater has no navigation screen, no radio, no cup-holders. All you get are the essentials: a tachometer and dials for monitoring oil and water temperature. Cloth seats? Fuhgetaboutit. A hard plastic bucket is standard. Back problems? Shove in as many foam inserts as you like. If there is a convenience to formula cars it’s that the steering wheel is removable – in order to help giants like your 6’5” author to get his knees under the dash. The inconvenience is no eight-way adjustable seats. Zero-adjustable, in fact. Pedals too close? The mechanics will have to find you another car with deeper pedals.Where the 2.0-liter egg-beater originally resided in a 2,600 pound Neon with steel unibody and panels, the Barber car’s bullet-shaped, fiberglass body is mated to an aluminum tube frame weighing just 1,400 pounds. That makes for a nice 1:10.6 power-to-weight ratio - significantly better than the best compact pocket rocket today (the 247-horse Ford Focus ST’s ratio is 1:13) but well shy of an Indy racer at 1:2.5 (1,600 pound rocket ships lit with 650 hp).
Barber drivers can acclimate to a racing environment with enough power to thrill, but not enough to get them in serious trouble around Laguna’s legendary 2.2 mile, 11-turn roller coaster.
Our 16-man Barber school was a typically diverse lot ranging from a 15-year old karting ace to a 50-something who had never turned a wheel in anger to your racing-addicted scribe and his two sons. Track sessions over the three-day school are preceded by classroom instruction explaining everything from vehicle dynamics to course layout.
Suited up and safely secured in a five-point safety harness, you find a car surprisingly amenable for even those with little experience depressing a clutch pedal. The gearbox is a sturdy, 5-speed sequential that requires a pull for up-shifts and a push for downshifts. No mis-shift prone H-pattern to labor through, no double-clutching required for downshifts (though instructors urge a simultaneous blip of the accelerator with clutch depression to smooth downshifts under braking).
Press the starter button and the engine roars to life (burbles to life is more accurate - a can muffler swallows the end of the tailpipe, choking sound to preempt NIMBY nabobs from shutting down the track for disturbing the peace, destroying the planet, etc.). Row the gears on Laguna’s humped main straightaway and you’ll hit 120 mph before plunging into Turn 2, a daunting, 190-degree, second-gear, double-apex left hander. It is here that the race chassis really shines. The track demands driver precision and the car’s stiff frame and multi-link suspension takes you where you want to go with none of the drama of a sedan chassis (Barber offers a parallel school with race-prepared Mazda MX-5s and the formula cars run rings around the sports cars despite the Mazda’s 45 HP advantage). This predictability builds trust between driver and car — essential for the track’s signature, blind, downhill, corkscrew Turn 8 that would make a hardened Cedar Point roller coaster rider scream.
Armed with walkie talkies and strategically placed around the track, the school's Barber-graduate instructors supplement the track experience with immediate input. Early track sessions bring each car to a “stop box” after each lap to review a driver’s mistakes and improvements. The advice is offered with a mix of instruction and fun. “If you’re going somewhere you don’t want to go, don't go there faster,” quips one.
By Day Three, you and car are one. The final checker falls and the spell is broken. Back to real life. Back to work. Back to the Civic. Hmmm, how many Barber schools could I sell it for?
Posted by hpayne on December 29, 2013
Will Ferrell as 'Anchorman' Ron Burgundy pitches Chrysler's Durango. (AP)
It’s been a heckuva ride and we were there every click of the odometer. With 2013 in the rear-view mirror, The Detroit News’ expert auto team reflects on the most memorable developments of the last 12 months.
The Burgundy backfire
Auto reporterChrysler Group LLC kept it classy in 2013 by tapping Ron Burgundy to peddle its new 2014 Dodge Durango to the masses. Sales soared with the comedic clout of Will Ferrell. But Chrysler also learned why other automakers had not gone this way before when Burgundy bit the hand that fed him and lampooned the ute’s quality for an easy laugh on Conan O’Brien’s late night show.
Global domination is not as easy as it looks. Just ask the world-beaters from Wolfsburg, the Teutonic horde that would use its (maybe soon-to-be-union) assembly plant in Chattanooga to take the rich American market by storm. Instead, Volkswagen AG’s eponymous brand is on track to post a down year in a rising U.S. market, with sales off for each model in its lineup. VW’s North American boss, General Motors Co. refugee Jonathan Browning, is out to pursue other interests. VW’s Passat midsize sedan, dulled of overtly German cues to satisfy stereotypical American tastes, is falling short of expectations. And VW’s boast that it would be the next new-new thing in the States is proving hard to realize.
Turbos take over
Automakers sold some three million vehicles with turbocharged engines in 2013, up from 2.1 million in 2012. That number will almost certainly grow, especially since two major automakers plan to make turbocharged engines their standard option in future vehicles. A top Volkswagen AG executive said earlier this year that the automaker plans to replace its three remaining, conventional gas engines with a completely turbocharged lineup in “three, four years maximum.” Turbocharged engines are more powerful and efficient than naturally-aspirated engines because more air and fuel is forced into the combustion chamber. Ford Motor Co. Vice President of Powertrain Engineering Joe Bakaj says conventional engines could soon become extinct in Ford’s lineup.
The year of Tesla
For better and worse, 2013 was the Year of Tesla. The Palo Alto-based automaker proved that an auto startup could successfully launch in the highly regulated, capital-intensive industry while its luxury-electric compatriot Fisker sunk beneath the waves. Tesla’s mercurial CEO Elon Musk laid claim to becoming one of America’s great auto entrepreneurs even as he threw infantile temper tantrums when even friendly media (cue the New York Times) found flaws in his product. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration awarded the production Tesla S its highest safety rating, then announced the model was under investigation after two vehicles burned to the ground. And Tesla’s stock soared, then came back to earth when closer inspection revealed profits were based on fuzzy math like counting cash from leases and California global warming credits. Whatever the headline, Tesla demands to be watched.
From Government Motors to alternative motors
Washington bureau chief
Best: The year 2013 was when the U.S. Treasury finally exited General Motors Co., ending the historic five-year bailout and partial government ownership of the Detroit automaker. Both the government and GM were eager to see the partnership end — even if it meant that taxpayers lost $10.5 billion.
Worst: Lots of hype for alternative fuels and technologies that may be a long way away from use in significant numbers: Cellulosic ethanol, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, E15 ethanol, and self-driving cars.
Caddy in the fast lane
The new, midsize luxury Cadillac CTS truly made me want to drive fast. I test drove a model with the 2-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine under the hood and found it highly capable. But Cadillac designers also did a lovely job with the entire package, from interior features to outside styling. No wonder my colleague Henry Payne named it his 2014 Vehicle of the Year. Sadly, this sedan — starting at about $46,000 — is not in my price range.
Detroit News contributor
The most memorable moment of 2013 came at the Frankfurt Car Show when Dieter Zetsche, CEO of Daimler AG and Mercedes Cars, emerged from the rear of an S-class Mercedes limo which had driven on to the stage without no one at the wheel. Its computer had driven it there. Cynics who think the moon landings were filmed in New Mexico will look for signs of cheating, but I think this clever advance in technology will have huge ramifications. Accidents will be slashed, as will insurance premiums. Mothers Against Drunk Driving will disband. Infirm old people will be liberated. If you can move from your home to your destination in the back seat of your car, who’s going to take the train or plane? Highway speed limits will be raised when the new technology demonstrates it can eliminate accidents, cutting journey times.