Articles

Cadillac is back with Daytona racing entry

Posted by hpayne on December 2, 2016

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For the first time since its LeMans effort in 2002, Cadillac will field a purpose-built race car in an endurance series. The Cadillac DPi-V.R will compete in the 2017 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Daytona Prototype International series and will make its debut at the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona on Jan. 28-29.

“Cadillac is proud to return to the pinnacle of prototype racing in North America after a 14-year absence,” said Cadillac President Johan de Nysschen in a statement. “The Cadillac DPi-V.R further strengthens our V-Performance portfolio, placing Cadillac into the highest series of sports car racing in North America.”

The V-performance brand – including high-octane beasts like the ATS-V and CTS-V – are a key part of Cadillac’s efforts to compete as a performance luxury brand against the Teutonic trio of BMW, Audi and Mercedes. None of those marques have announced an entry in the Daytona Prototype class next year.

Cadillac’s Northstar LMP prototype racing had disappointing results in its three years competing in the American LeMans Series and against Audi at the 24 Hours of LeMans, France from 2000-2002. Audi dominated the 2002 race with Cadillac finishing ninth.

The Daytona Prototype class will be the fastest cars in the Weathertech Series – lightweight thoroughbreds motivated by 600 horsepower. GM will continue to field its production-based Corvette C7-R in the GTLM class, which Corvette won in 2016.

Detroit automakers like Ford and GM have historically used racing as a performance halo to sell its productions vehicles. Ford celebrated the 50th anniversary of its 1966 LeMans win this year by entering – and winning – the GT class with its Ford GT racer.

Cadillac will compete in IMSA against manufacturer entries from Mazda and Nissan as well as private teams using approved chassis from Riley/Multimatic, Ligier, ORECA and Dallara, powered by single-specification Gibson V8 engines.

The Mazda effort was revealed at the Los Angeles Auto Show last month.

The 2,050-pound Caddy prototype will be managed by the Wayne Taylor Racing Team but was designed in-house. Based on the Dallara chassis but with unique Cadillac bodywork, the Dpi-V.R incorporates familiar brand design elements like a vertical lighting signature, chiseled features – even the rear-camera mirror first introduced on the full-size CT6 sedan. It will be powered by a 600-horsepower version of GM’s familiar, push-rod 6.2-liter V-8 engine found in everything from the CTS-V sedan to Corvette.

Toyota to reveal new Camry at Detroit auto show

Posted by hpayne on December 2, 2016

CamryTeaser

Detroit – The North American International Auto Show is still a month away, but Toyota is already teasing news of one of the show’s most anticipated products: the all-new, 2018 Toyota Camry sedan.

The midsize Camry has been the best-selling car in the U.S. market for 14 years running and is on course to be No. 1 in 2016 as well. But with sedan sales under assault from crossovers – including Toyota’s own RAV4 and Highlander – the eighth-generation Camry will be particularly important as one of the Japanese company’s franchise cars.

“This car has had a dominant image of quality, dependability, and reliability, but our styling has been conservative – some would call it boring,” said Toyota North America Chief Bob Carter in announcing the new Camry Thursday in Detroit. “So we’ve really been focusing on passionate emotional design and making it more fun-to-drive. This will car will be the most significant vehicle we have brought out in a long time.”

Toyota put out a teaser image of the new Camry’s rear quarter-panel. Sharper body lines and a long, thin vertical taillight graphic suggest the car continues styling cues from the newly released Toyota Prius and Prius Hybrid. The sharp body lines also echo Toyota’s Lexus luxury brand which has forged a more polarizing design direction in recent years.

Toyota announced no further details on powertrain or interior.

“That segment is under pressure from changing consumer taste, so this car really needs to make an emotional statement,” said IHS Automotive senior auto analyst Stephanie Brinley. “It’s unlikely it will change current trends, but does need to make sure the segment is solid. Exterior and interior design – and technology – are the keys to that.”

The Camry is made in Georgetown, Kentucky, alongside the Avalon and Lexus ES where it is manufactured for domestic consumption and export. The plant produces over 550,000 units a year total.

“This car is very significant for us in North America so we want to use Detroit as the platform to announce that we’re bringing to market,” said Carter.

Payne review: Chevy Bolt, the electric hot-hatch

Posted by hpayne on December 2, 2016

The Chevy Bolt is not your average green machine. With

I’ve been trying to figure out who would buy the 2017 Chevrolet Bolt electric vehicle.

Greenies? Well, yes, except that priced at $37,495 before the $7,500 federal EV tax credit (which may run out as early as 2018) that’s a lotta dough compared with a $25,000 hybrid Prius.

Families? Sure, the cab-forward Volt is roomy for a subcompact because it has no engine up front — but it’s a shoebox next to a similarly priced Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid.

Empty nesters? No, either one of the much cheaper Chevy Cruze hatchback or Buick Encore small crossover makes more economic sense

And then it hit me: The kind of folks who’ll buy a Bolt are car enthusiasts like me.

Strip away the Green Car of the Year mumbo jumbo and Save the Polar Bear politics and the Bolt is a hot hatch. I looove hot hatchbacks. As my patient readers have been reminded ad infinitum, I think the V-dub Golf hot-hatch twins (GTI and Golf R) are, pound for pound, the best cars on the planet. They are practical commuters during the week, speedy autocrossers on the weekend.

Who would throw $40,000 at a hot hatch? Guilty as charged. After all, I put $1,000 down on the Bolt’s main competitor, the promised 5-door Tesla Model 3, sight unseen. And I would happily part with $40,000 to buy a Golf R even if it’s nearly double the price of a base Golf. We enthusiasts are crazy that way.

Now that I’ve figured out the target demographic is staring me in the mirror, how does the Bolt stack up to a Golf R, Ford Focus RS and Model 3?

I’ve driven the Bolt three times and on each occasion I couldn’t wait to stomp it out of a stop light. As proof of the Bolt’s hot hatch bona fides, Chief Engineer Josh Tavel is a hot shoe (in SCCA’s Spec Racer Ford class, a cousin of the Sports 2000 racing I do) and developed the Bolt with performance in mind. On my torrid test drive with Tavel outside Chevy’s Orion Assembly plant this summer, Tavel and I talked speed.

My latest spin came in Los Angeles, where my co-driver and I — Gary Witzenberg, another crazed, oil-blooded club racer — couldn’t wait to get out of town to flog the hatch through the seriously twisted canyon roads north of LA.

Our drive route alone tells you Bolt isn’t your average green machine. With a game-changing, 238-mile range (the 200-mile-plus Model 3 won’t be here for a couple of years), range anxiety wasn’t an issue. That’s peace of mind that you used to have to lay out $80,000 to experience in a Tesla Model S.

While you could call the Bolt “Tesla Jr.,” it does have charging issues (more on that later), but range isn’t a problem. On my 96-mile route, I had juice to spare.

Charging up (pun intended) up the canyon road, pedal to the metal, the Bolt squirted from turn to turn. The Chevy is nearly two seconds slower to 60 mpg (4.7 vs. 6.5 for Bolt) that the Golf R, but its monorail-quiet torque makes it feel faster. Regenerative braking prolongs battery life but the brakes are never mushy, always firm. With its short, 102.4-inch wheelbase, the Bolt feels nimble like any compact car, rotating quickly in tight switchbacks.

Over half-a-foot taller, the crossover-like Chevy has more roll than a Golf. But the gigantic 60kWh battery underneath lowers the center of gravity. That helps weight distribution, too, lessening the front-driver’s natural instinct to plow in corners (though the Bolt lacks the sensational, AWD torque-vectoring of the Golf R and Focus RS).

Its athleticism is compromised, however, by low-rolling resistance, eco-Michelin tires specially developed for the Bolt to swallow sharp objects. Run over road shrapnel and the rubber will stretch so as not to puncture. My tester didn’t ingest any nails, but the narrow tires squalled constantly through curves as if in pain. Enthusiasts will want to switch to something grippier.

If the Bolt can’t keep up with the V-dub in raw speed, it has a few performance tricks of its own. Snap the upscale monostable shifter (also found in a Buick Lacrosse and Caddy XT5) from drive to low and you can drive the Bolt for miles without touching the brake. Just let the regen brakes do the work.

On a long downhill grade back into LA, I gained 14 miles of range using low. Try that in a gas-powered car. Back in town, I used low to cruise into a stoplight without using any brake at all. Mistime the stop? Use the regenerative button on back of the steering wheel to assist.

Despite flogging the Bolt mercilessly for miles — including two hard acceleration runs to confirm the Bolt’s 93 mph top speed — my onboard computer still predicted a range of 207 miles. So I’d have plenty of juice left for the next day’s commute. This, however, is where Bolt EV gets complicated. Most of my hot-hatch friends are apartment dwellers without access to the 240-volt, Stage 2 plus equipment needed to recharge the Bolt in an estimated 9 hours (a 110-volt socket requires a lengthy 51 hours). This is also why Bolts seem an unlikely buy for Uber drivers — convenient and quick charging is a challenge.

For all its cabin space, the Bolt’s biggest liability next to its competitive hatch set is its interior decor. Outfitted in full leather with carbon fiber and chrome accents, my preferred manual Golf R funbox lists for $36K. The Bolt doesn’t wear leather until the top $42K Premium trim level, and the dash is marred by plastic-ey white trim that looks like it was designed by a toilet bowl company.

The down-market look takes away from a roomy interior and classy digital displays that offer my favorite Apple Carplay/Android Auto app — just like the Golf. Chevy’s interior will also dissuade Tesla Model S buyers, who will expect a more luxurious interior for their $40K. That’s what’s tricky about putting Chevy in a compact space inhabited by upscale brands such as Tesla and VW.

I like the sporty exterior much better (check out the cool, wavy LED taillights) except for the black plastic nose which, fortunately, can be remedied. In true enthusiast fashion I would outfit my Volt in Mosaic Black Metallic which comes with a silvery beak — giving the car a more menacing appearance.

Menacing. Now that’s a proper hot hatch.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.

2017 Chevrolet Bolt

specifications

VEHICLE TYPE BATTERY-POWERED, FRONT-WHEEL DRIVE, FIVE-PASSENGER HATCHBACK
Power plant Single AC, continuous magnetic-drive motor powered by 60kWh lithium-ion battery
Transmission 1-speed direct drive
Weight 3,563 pounds
Price $37,495 ($43,710 Premiere as tested)
Power 200 horsepower, 266 pound-feet torque
Performance Zero-60: 6.5 seconds (Car and Driver); top speed: 93 mph
Fuel economy EPA 110 city/128 highway/119 combined MPGe; 238-mile range on full charge

report card

HIGHS BEGONE RANGE ANXIETY; FUN TO DRIVE
Lows How long to recharge?; toilet bowl interior trim

Overall:★★★

 

Payne: Pacifica Hybrid is the coolest minivan in town

Posted by hpayne on November 28, 2016

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My favorite minivan story comes from the Chrysler Pacifica’s launch last year in Los Angeles. I took the stylish, 3.6-liter, V-6-powered seven-seater to my 6-year-old nephew’s elementary school. No one appreciates minivans more than kids, and I looked forward to Henry’s friends (Henrys are everywhere in my family) enjoying Chrysler’s latest tricks. But one first-grader was resistant.

“Mr. Payne, my father has a Model S,” he said confidently, as if there was nothing that could impress him after the Tesla experience.

I agreed the electric Model S is one of the seven wonders of the auto world, but that he wouldn’t be disappointed by the Pacifica. After a half-hour roaming the Chrysler’s interior — making seats magically disappear into the floor, exploring backseat theater screens, running the vacuum cleaner, sliding doors with a wave of the foot — the kids were impressed. Even my early skeptic.

“Mr. Payne, this car is better than my dad’s Model S!” he exclaimed.

Don’t look now, Tesla, but the coolest ride in town just got cooler. The Pacifica is now available as a plug-in hybrid.

When Chrysler invented minivans three decades ago, it birthed one of the most innovative vehicles on the planet — the Swiss Army knife of the auto industry. But their boxy, dowdy shape branded them as mom-mobiles, and women fled the segment for SUVs. With Pacifica, Chrysler has gone a long way to erasing that stigma.

The hybrid EV is the coup de grace.

First, a disclaimer. I am a hybrid skeptic. Equipping a big, family vehicle with a second power source (gas engine plus battery) comes at a huge variable cost (back-of-the-envelope math with Chrysler developers puts the hybrid cost at $5,000 to $7,000 north of a comparably equipped gas-fired minivan) that takes years to make up in gas savings. But government mandates to build zero-emission vehicles put automakers in an awkward position: How to sell vehicles few want?

Chrysler’s minivan turns this into a positive. In reinventing the minivan, engineers built the Pacifica from the ground up to have a plug-in option. What could be cooler than a minivan that doesn’t use gas?

Pacifica was designed with a best-in-class 0.30 drag-coefficient. Increased torsional rigidity to take a big battery. A battery big enough to haul its girth around town for 30 miles on electrons — but also qualify for Uncle Sugar’s full $7,500 tax credit. $7,500! I didn’t pay that much for my first car.

Bottom line: Buy a nicely equipped, $42,000 Pacifica Hybrid Premium, subtract the tax credit, and you’ve got a cheaper ride than the regular, gas-powered Touring — and it will save hundreds of dollars at the pump. Who says there’s no free lunch?

Chrysler prefers the term “hybrid” to deflect range-anxiety concerns that come with the word “plug-in,” but this 4,900-pound bowling ball works just like a plug-in Chevy Volt.

Plug it in overnight and it’ll go 30 miles (the Volt will do 58) on nothing but battery. On our drive around the rolling hills of north Los Angeles, most media drivers were getting 36 miles. No way, you say. Payne, you’re snorting the Kool-Aid.

Well, you’d have a point, because the physics of the U.S.S. Pacifica means that — unlike the little Volt skiff — it does have to call on the V-6 gas engine for the heavy lifting. Like hard stoplight acceleration. Or going up hills. Or cruising at more than 75 on the highway.

But these are momentary asks in a daily commute, so for the most part Pacifica comes by its 30-mile EV range honestly. More importantly, its combined 538-mile battery-gasoline range (the Volt gets 420) means fewer visits to gas stations. I averaged a compact car-like 31.5 mpg over 122 miles.

Buyers will want to spend a little extra to maximize the plug-in experience. For example, $2,500 gets you a 240-volt home charge system so you can replenish the battery in just two hours (versus 14 hours on a standard 110-volt plug).

That $7,500 subsidy will run out after 200,000 sales, but if Pacifica reaches that number it may have a hit on its hands.

Even without the subsidy, the $40,000-something yacht makes a $50,000 Audi Q7 look plain.

The supersized Pacifica starts out well-proportioned and gorgeous. Its “candy-knotted” chrome lower grill is art. Its swept flanks are elegant. Its hidden C-pillar is stylish. And the hybrid takes it up a notch.

Its ribbed grille, teal highlights, and silver teal pearl paint make it look like an iMac on wheels. Pinwheel rims complete the tech-y look. Pacifica Hybrid doesn’t telegraph minivan mom at all.

What Pacifica most resembles is the old Mercedes R-Class wagon. Pacifica interior designer Chris Benjamin nods at this analogy — because he was the R-Class’ interior designer. “I agree there is a resemblance,” he says, “and, to be honest, the Chrysler blows the R-Class away in utility.”

This isn’t just Benjamin’s pride talking. Despite losing Chrysler’s famed, unique “stow ’n’ go” capability to the 16 kWh battery, the Pacifica still wows in its interior dexterity. Let me count the ways:

1. It’s a pickup bed with a roof: In seconds, I removed the middle buckets, stowed the third row and opened enough acreage to swallow a grandfather clock, chest of drawers or ATV.

2. It’s a home entertainment center: In their middle-row captain’s chairs, kids can play checkers and other games on the rear-seat infotainment system for hours.

3. It’s a road office: I sat in the third-row seat with my laptop, folded the middle throne into an ottoman and connected via in-car WiFi.

When it comes to luxury autos, it’s “all about the badge,” a friend of mine likes to say. The Chrysler minivan may not be a luxury name, but with its elegant looks, exclusive teal colors and e-Hybrid logo, it has the badge. Yes, the Pacifica Hybrid is as cool as a Tesla.

And for $35,000, it’s a steal at half the price.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.

2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

specifications

VEHICLE TYPE FRONT-ENGINE, FRONT-WHEEL DRIVE, SEVEN-PASSENGER MINIVAN
Power plant AC motor powered by 16 kWh battery and 3.6-liter Atkinson cycle V-6 engine
Transmission Electrically variable transmission (EVT)
Weight 4,934 pounds
Price Two trims available: $43,090 Premium; $46,090 (Platinum as tested)
Power 260 total system horsepower
Performance 0-60: 8.2 seconds (Car and Driver); top speed: 110 mph
Fuel economy EPA figures TBA; 80 MPGe (mfr. est., combined gas and electric modes), 25 city/33 highway (Car & Driver)

report card

HIGHS UPSCALE STYLING; NICELY PRICED, AND A STEAL WITH TAX CREDIT
Lows Lose middle seat stow ’n’ go capability; add $2,500 for Level 2 charger for charging convenience

All-new Honda CR-V rolls out at versatile Ohio plant

Posted by hpayne on November 23, 2016

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East Liberty, Ohio — After a major expansion of its auto assembly plant here northwest of Columbus, Honda rolled out the first copies of its all-new, 2017 CR-V on Monday night. The best-selling crossover in crossover-crazy America, the CR-V sold a record 345,647 units in 2015.

The launch marks the first time that Honda’s U.S. plant has been the lead in CR-V global production — and continues Honda’s trend to delegate more responsibility to its operations here. Global design development for the Acura NSX hybrid supercar and popular compact Civic were both directed — not from Japan — but out of Honda’s Metro Columbus research and development center.

“For Honda, the CR-V is a critical product and we have the responsibility to provide the first set of hard-tooled parts and complete body unit builds for the nine other CR-V plants around the world to follow and replicate,” said Ken Sheridan, CR-V engineering chief for the East Liberty plant.

Together with the nearby Marysville assembly plant, Performance Manufacturing Center and Ana engine plant — the biggest Honda engine facility in the world — Honda’s central Ohio footprint has evolved into one of the epicenters of American car manufacturing.

“The parts and manufacturing processes must be perfected by the East Liberty team,” added Sheridan. “It’s a huge responsibility. All eyes are on the East Liberty Auto Plant.”

The CR-V will also be built in North America in Greensburg, Indiana, and Alliston, Ontario. It hits dealer showrooms this winter.

But East Liberty’s 200,000-square-foot welding shop remake guarantees much more than CR-Vs. The sprawling plant, discretely located next to wood-lined farm fields off U.S. Route 33, is now one of the most flexible in North America. It allows Honda to produce everything from compact sedans to luxury SUVs. In addition to the CR-V, the Civic and Acura compact RDX and mid-size MDX crossovers can all be made here. The three-row MDX, currently produced only in Alabama, will begin production in East Liberty next year.

With the CR-V and its sister vehicles in full production, East Liberty can produce a staggering 240,000 vehicles a year.

“It’s apparent Honda is enhancing its flexibility in order to adapt to U.S. market demand,” said auto analyst and Society of Automotive Engineers Editorial Director Bill Visnic at the CR-V’s launch. “They are essentially saying they can build almost any Honda model in this plant if they need to do so.”

The Tokyo-based company has always designed its manufacturing for better flexibility, says Visnic, and it is bringing that trademark to the heart of the American market.

The 2017 CR-V itself was redesigned both as a better vehicle — and with more efficient manufacturing in mind. The SUV’s frame is lighter for better fuel efficiency with a longer wheelbase to better accommodate rear seat passengers — and its front grill and bumper are now a signal, modular piece for more efficient assembly.

The modular front end, produced by a supplier outside the East Liberty plant, allows for plant space savings and easier access to the engine bay for plant associates. Without the bumper and radiator in the way, plant workers can now work faster inside the engine bay – only attaching the front module at the end of the assembly process.

The CR-V’s modular design and East Liberty’s flexibility are a harbinger for other facilities.

The new weld shop’s expansion includes 200 new robots, more energy-efficient LED lighting and polyurethane panels to better deflect sparks from robot welding. The massive space was under construction for three years.

The 2.8 million square-foot East Liberty facility employs 2,350 workers in two shifts, producing 950 vehicles a day. Its last major redo was in 2006 when the Civic move to new production digs in Indiana and the CR-V was brought in. East Liberty now exports CR-Vs to multiple countries including Saudi Arabia, Korea and Russia.

Just one exit away on Route 33, Honda’s 4 million-square foot Marysville plant churns out the Honda Accord — America’s best-selling retail sedan — and the Acura ILX and TLX, the luxury brand’s top-selling sedan. In its shadow is the smaller Performance Manufacturing Center, opened this spring, where the $160,000 NSX is made.

All told, Honda’s northwest Columbus empire employs 8,100 people over 8,000 acres, pumping out 680,000 vehicles a year. Another 3,900 work at the nearby engine plant in Anna and the transmission facilities in Russells Point.

Best of the best from the LA Auto Show

Posted by hpayne on November 21, 2016

Los Angeles – The City of Angels is home to greenies, wealthy moguls, sports enthusiasts and some of the most beautiful people on earth. So it’s only fitting that this year’s Los Angeles Auto Show debuted cars that would fit every archetype. From the all-electric, if-you-gotta-ask-you-can’t afford-it Jaguar I-PACE to the beastly Chevy Colorado ZR2 to the jaw-dropping Cadillac Escala, this show has it all.

Here’s my best of the best.

Alfa Romeo Stelvio -- Take the fire-breathing Giulia

Alfa Romeo Stelvio

Take the fire-breathing Giulia sedan. Jack it up six inches. Add AWD and throw on a fifth door and you have the Alfa Stelvio SUV. Named after Italy’s Stelvio pass — one of Europe’s greatest driver roads — this Italian promises to be a driver’s ute to rival the Porsche Macan and Jaguar F-Pace. The Stelvio Quadrifoglio gets the same 505-horse, twin-turbo 2.9-liter V-6 engine that powered the Giulia Quad to a Nurburgring sedan lap record.

Jeep® Compass Limited

Jeep Compass

Wedged between the subcompact Renegade and the compact Cherokee, the Compass completes Jeep’s unmatched array of small SUV offerings. Are you an off-roader? Buy the Wrangler. Feeling young? The cute Renegade is your toy. Like a car-like SUV? Cherokee is your drug. The Compass (which replaces the Patriot as well as the last-gen Compass) is the conservative choice — a sort of Grand Cherokee Jr.

VW Atlas 2

Volkswagen Atlas

It’s a V-dub with a Tennessee accent. The Chattanooga-built, mid-sized Atlas is key to VW’s future in the U.S. market after the embarrassment of Dieselgate — and the failure to recognize Americans’ demand for all things ute. The masculine-looking SUV offers easy access, three-row seating, copious legroom and German engineering.

Porsche 911 RSR

Porsche 911 RSR

Many manufacturers use race cars — Jaguar’s Formula E racer, Mazda’s IMSA prototype — as competition halos for their sedans and SUVs. But Porsche racers are extension of the street cars. The 911-based RSR moves its rear-mounted engine to midships (heresy!) to better compete against the mid-engine Ferrari 488, Acura NSX and Ford GT for world sports car hegemony.

Jaguar I-PACE

Jaguar I-PACE

The electric I-PACE is a Tesla Model X fighter. But without the gull wings. The I-PACE bears Jag’s signature design cues, but its sleek, cabin-forward design is unique to the five-passenger EV as it opens up acres of interior space thanks to the lack of engine under the bonnet. With 90 kWh of battery in the basement, the I-PACE promise 0-60 in just 4 seconds.

Chevrolet Colorado ZR2

Chevrolet Colorado ZR2

This tree-chewing, wall-climbing animal is just the ticket for the back country. While the ZR2 is no steroid-fed Ford Raptor (it keeps the same diesel and gas drivetrain as the stock Colorado), it comes with fortified rocker panels, an extreme 30-degree approach angle and 31-inch tires to conquer Mother Nature’s worst.

2016-Cadillac-Escala-Concept-Exterior-001

Cadillac Escala

I know, the Escala debuted at the Pebble Beach Concourse this summer — but this is its first contact with the unwashed masses and, boy, is this land yacht a stunner. With a wheelbase stretching from here to San Diego, the high-tech V-8-powered Caddy hints at a future flagship.

Mazda CX-5

Mazda CX-5

Who needs luxury SUVs? The Mazda CX-5 (and big brother CX-9) are the prettiest utes on the planet. Draped in red satin, the CX-5 is a sculpted, mid-size masterpiece. Under the skin, Mazda will offer a diesel engine — as do the Chevy ZR2 and Cruze show offerings, a sign that efficient diesels may not be dead in the U.S. yet.

Toyota C-HR

Toyota C-HR

Insane design? Nurburgring tested? Driver-centric cockpit? No, this isn’t a Lamborghini, this is a Toyota. Wow. The directive from CEO Akio Toyoda to wake up the company’s styling was clearly heard as the C-HV is the wildest looking thing to hit subcompact utes since the Kia Soul. While major manufacturers like Chevy (Trax) and Ford (Ecosport) have debuted familiar brand designs in the hot new segment, Toyota follows Mazda’s CX-3 in designing a sport hatch on stilts.

Honda Civic Si

Honda Civic Si

The Civic’s performance variant seemed frozen in time since its high-revving, 100-horsepower-per-liter 2.0-liter debuted back in ’05. With this Extreme Makeover, Si is back. Available as a coupe or sedan, the wicked-looking Si features a front splitter, rear wing and center-mounted rectangular exhaust to blat out a naughty tune from its new 1.5-liter turbocharged powerplant.

Subaru goes XXL with big SUV concept

Posted by hpayne on November 21, 2016

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Los Angeles — To get bigger, Subaru is going bigger.

Determined to expand sales by 30 percent by 2020, the Japanese maker of affordable, all-wheel drive vehicles is introducing a spacious, three-row sport utility vehicle into its lineup. The VIZIV-7 SUV concept previews a full production model that will be shown next year and hit showroom floors in early 2018.

True to Subaru’s iconic “love” ad campaign, Americans have embraced everything Subaru has thrown at them — except a large SUV. Subaru’s first attempt at the three-row segment, the Tribeca, went out of production in 2013. This time, Subaru promises to get it right.

“The Tribeca was too small, too underpowered for its class,” said Tom Doll, Subaru’s president and CFO for North America, on the Los Angeles Auto Show floor. “This is sized perfectly with seven- to eight-passenger seating. It will compete against the Toyota Highlander and Ford Explorer.”

Indeed, the concept telegraphs the production ute’s proportions with huge 21-inch wheels and an expansive, 117-inch wheelbase — 5 inches longer than the Explorer. The concept brings the ritual concept bling like sky-blue lighting tinsel. But overall it conforms to Subaru’s new design language — split-wing logo in grille and c-clamp headlight signature — wrapped in a package that dwarfs the little Impreza compact and Legacy sedan that made Subaru’s mark in this market.

No details on drivetrain or interior were released, but look for the production version at another car show soon.

Green Car of the Year: Chevy Bolt

Posted by hpayne on November 17, 2016

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Los Angeles — There were no surprise upsets in this year’s race for Green Car of the Year award. The 2017 Chevy Bolt won in a landslide.

The five-door hatchback — the first production car under $40,000 to achieve more than 200-mile range on a single charge — cruised to victory over a five-car field that included the BMW 330e, Chevrolet Bolt, Chrysler Pacifica, Kia Optima and Toyota Prius Prime.

The winner of the 12th annual award was announced at the Los Angeles Auto Show by Green Car Journal and GreenCarJournal.com.

MORE LOS ANGELES AUTO SHOW ARTICLES IN THE “ARTICLES SECTION”

Bolt breakthrough? A tale of two electric cars

Posted by hpayne on November 17, 2016

Josh Tavel, chief engineer for the Bolt EV,   talks

Los Angeles — Chevy Volt, Fiat 500e, Ford C-Max Energi, Nissan Leaf, Volkswagen E-Golf, BMW i3 … the Los Angeles Auto Show is Ground Zero for showing off electrified vehicles. California’s green culture and the state-mandated EV quotas make it a natural for all things battery-powered.

But unless your name is Tesla — America’s best-selling large sedan — electric vehicles have failed to interest U.S. consumers. EVs make up less than 1 percent of vehicle sales despite a $7,500 federal subsidy plus additional perks in several states including California. One of the most notable disappointments has come from one of the world’s most recognized brands, Mercedes. Its $42,000 battery-powered subcompact B-Classcame to market in 2014 — yet is selling just 50 per month on average this year.

This week at the Los Angeles Auto Show, the Chevy Bolt EV took home the Green Car of the Year award. The Bolt is the same size as the Mercedes, boasts similar sub-7-second acceleration, and starts at the same price when comparably equipped.

Yet, Chevrolet is bullish that the Bolt is the answer.

Much of that confidence lies in the Bolt’s breakthrough 238-mile range on a single charge — the first car to achieve that figure under $40,000. The Chevy’s base LT trim will start at $37,495. But the better apples-to-apples comparison to the leather-appointed $42,000 Mercedes is the Bolt’s Premiere trim — also with leather appointments — which will start at just above $41,000.

Though the Mercedes interior design is a class above the Bolt hatchback in materials and presentation, the five-door B-Class manages just 85 miles on a full charge.

“The Bolt lies in a quadrant where nobody else plays,” Chevy Marketing guru Steve Majoros said in an interview next to the Bolt, the centerpiece of Chevrolet’s show stand in LA. “There’s low cost and low range, and there’s high cost and high range — and in the sweet spot there’s low cost and high range, and that’s where we are.”

“We feel confident in the value equation being solved here,” he continued. “This is a solution that consumers have been telling us they are craving. People are very clear — it’s better have a ‘two’ in front of it.” As in 200 miles.

Mercedes concedes that the B-Class has been a learning experience. Notably, it was not present on the Mercedes show stand in Los Angeles.

“Into the future, we have learned that we need to build up the range,” said Matthias Lührs, vice president of Mercedes sales functions. “Over 200 miles is a number customers expect.”

Luhrs says Mercedes is now committed to a new strategy that will produce a separate line of EV vehicles under the “EQ” badge. The plan is similar to BMW’s i-brand that sells the i3 and i8 cars.

“EQ is more than just putting an electric vehicle in the market,” says Luhrs. “That’s one of our key learnings after two or three years of the B-Class. We are going to expand EQ to seven to 10 vehicles beginning with the EQC (a compact crossover) in 2019.”

No coincidence, Luhrs says the EQC is targeted to get a Bolt-like 267 miles of range.

Chevrolet’s Majoros says GM’s commitment to an EV strategy years ago is bearing fruit. “The commitment we made to Bolt EV wouldn’t have happened if we didn’t commit to Volt Gen 1 in 2010,” he says. “And Volt Gen 2. And Malibu hybrid. This has been a progression. It has been a slow, steady march to where we are today.”

But even with its Tesla-like range, the Bolt EV faces an uphill battle in consumer acceptance, say industry analysts.

“The reality is, we’re still looking at less than one percent of the market for EVs and that number has been there for years,” said Rebecca Lindland, an analyst with Kelley Blue Book. “And it doesn’t matter as we bring out more and more. Consumers are still saying, ‘I’m not familiar with it, I don’t trust it, my neighbor doesn’t have one. What happens ‘if’?’”

She says the challenges of range anxiety and charging time are formidable — challenges only upscale Tesla buyers have accepted.

“People are buying into the Tesla dream. They are not necessarily buying an EV,” says Lindland. “They are excited it’s an EV because it plays into the whole Tesla vision of saving the world. But it’s going to be difficult for any brand to replicate the Cult of Tesla.”

She says the Bolt’s range and price are attractive — but that price has not been a barrier to battery-powered cars.

“You’ve been able to get a Chevy Volt for $199-a-month lease for years,” says Lindland, referring to the Volt’s flat, 20,000-a-year sales since 2012. “It’s not a pricing issue.”

Whatever the future holds for electric cars, automakers will continue to run up the EV hill because it’s not just about customer acceptance. Government rules demand them.

“There are two issues,” says Mercedes’ Luhrs. “One is customer demand, the second one is regulatory circumstances like federal fuel standards in the U.S.”

Payne: Alpina B7, the Bimmer Hellcat

Posted by hpayne on November 17, 2016

bmw-hellcat_fr3-4

I’m a Dodge Hellcat fan. Especially the Charger SRT Hellcat, the biggest, baddest, meanest sedan on the planet. With its 204 mph, 6.2-liter Hemi ground-thumper and spacious rear seat, it’s the anti-minivan — the family car that picks up the kiddies at school then lays rubber past the school bus line.

But built on an aging Chrysler chassis from the Flintstone era, it’s also a raw, one-trick pony. A Woodward hand grenade one minute — a twisty-road handful the next.

What if someone mated its Herculean, V-8 drivetrain to a more sophisticated chassis? Swept Eliza Doolittle off the muscle-car streets and into the halls of luxury? What if someone built something like a Thurston Hellcat III?

Well, let me introduce you to a truly twisted gentleman: The 205 mph, 600 horsepower, all-wheel-drive, twin-sunroof, twin-turbo V8-powered 2017 BMW Alpina B7.

Alpina, of course, is the legendary German performance brand closely associated with BMW. Think Roush and Ford. Like, Roush, Alpina gained its reputation on the track, fighting for the prestigious European Touring Car championship in the 1970s with ferocious BMW racers that graced teen motorheads’ walls (mine, for instance) with rear fenders wider than Michael Phelps’ shoulders.

Like Roush Mustangs, BMW Alpinas are sold and serviced at BMW dealerships. Yet Alpina goes one step further to integrate its Frankenstein monsters into BMW production lines. Exhibit A: The B7, which is made in Dingolfing, Germany, alongside the Bavarian maker’s flagship 740i.

With its race history in the rear-view mirror, (Alpina stopped racing in 1983), the carmaker has evolved alongside BMW’s own, in-house M performance brand as BMW’s more refined hot-rod badge. Hard-core performance enthusiasts prefer Ms and their high-revving engines and washboard-stiff rides. Alpina’s trademark is low-end torque and posh interiors.

The B7 is of particular renown because — unlike its 2,3,5 and 6 series models — Bimmer does not bother with an M-badged 7-series. Rumor is it’s coming — complete with a howling V12 that will make grown men weak in the legs. I’m feeling a little jelly-kneed myself, actually.

But for now, the world must live with the more refined Alpina. You won’t be disappointed. This beast is the kraken in a coat and tie. A Bimmer Hellcat.

And pure car porn. An unattainable sexpot outfitted with every essential and nonessential accessory known to autodom. Gold plate it and The Donald would put it in his living room. Out of reach of most mortals, it nevertheless is a rolling representation of what’s possible in luxury sedan performance.

At its heart is the 740i’s twin-turbo V-8 bulked up to 600 horses and 591 pound-feet of torque. That’s more than 100 horses shy of the Hellcat. But mated to a quick-shifting, automatic eight-speed tranny and torque-vectoring AWD system, the Bimmer lays down power better than the tire-smoking, tail-wagging Dodge to achieve similar eyeball-flattening acceleration times. Zero-60 goes by in just 3.5 seconds; the quarter mile tape broken in sub-12.

Bearing Alpina’s signature, multi-spoke wheels and lowered menacingly to the ground (its front spoiler dragging out of my driveway like a Corvette Z06), the B7 has presence. Drop the hammer out of a Woodward stoplight and the B7 launches like a nuclear missile. Inside the yacht-like cabin the 4.4-liter V8 sounds a football field away, but acceleration is immediate.

I took the Alpina to Pontiac on M1 Concourse’s Championship Raceway (official track school car: Hellcat) where it was astonishingly quick. With stamina. A heat-challenged, electric Tesla wouldn’t make it a lap. Even the BMW X5M I flogged at Autobahn Raceway went into limp mode after five hot laps. The Alpina pounded around all day long.

Where the Hellcat’s old chassis and rear-wheel-drive system slides luridly through corners, the B7 is planted, the X-Drive system distributing torque for explosive corner exits. On Championship’s back straight, I hit 118 mph — just 6 mph shy of what a Dodge Viper ACR has recorded there. Happily, the B7 is outfitted with 15.5-inch front brakes — the same size as a Z06 — so I could haul its girth back to earth. Loaded with more upholstery and electronics than a luxury hotel suite, the 4,800-pound Alpina actually weighs 300 pounds more than the porky Charger Hellcat.

But where the B7 really shines is on the open road, where its sophisticated chassis tuning makes for a surreal experience. With a long, 127-inch wheelbase and luxury’s largest backseat, the Bimmer feels huge, yet corners with a scalpel’s precision thanks, in part, to all-wheel steering.

On high-speed four-lanes in Hell, Michigan, I matched a Nissan GT-R — Godzilla vs. Destroyah! — move for move. On I-75, the B7 gulped traffic like a whale swallowing plankton.

When not annihilating asphalt outside, I lounged in the BMW’s palatial, wood-and-leather-trimmed apartment inside.

Alpina distinguishes the interior with its own digital instrument display that changes color depending on which of three drive modes you choose — COMFORT, REGULAR and SPORT (my preference, the seat bolsters tightening around your ribs as you press the button). The rotary dial is the best in the business, as is the monostable shifter. A heads-up display means never having to take your eye off the landscape rushing by. Night-vision infrared radar warns of deer at night.

And voice recognition is as good as my Samsung smart phone — a first in my experience. Just say where — “Navigate to M1 Concourse” — and you’re there (which means you only need spend $100K-plus on a car for nav as good as your $500 phone).

You also get frivolous toys. Like gesture control. Do an air circle with your finger and the radio volume goes up or down. And useless autonomous features. Set lane keep and adaptive cruise, then retire to the reclining rear seats to get some work down, right? Wrong. Take your hands off the wheel — and the car will throw a fit telling you to be hands-on.

Wrapped in Amsterdam blue, my B7 was striking yet stealthy. No Hellcat hood scoops. No demonic badges. Roll up quietly next to a Corvette at a stoplight — then match it stride for stride coming out. The Alpina is the most refined, most powerful, most excessive sports sedan BMW can make for just $153,895. That’s the price of two, $70,000 Dodge Charger Hellcats.

But your knuckles won’t be white when you hit 200 mph.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.

2017 BMW Alpina B7

specifications

VEHICLE TYPE FRONT-ENGINE, ALL-WHEEL DRIVE FIVE-PASSENGER LUXURY SEDAN
Power plant 4.4-liter, twin-turbocharged V-8
Transmission 8-speed automatic
Weight 4,800 pounds
Price $153,895
Power 600 horsepower, 591 pound-feet torque
Performance Zero-60: 3.5 seconds (Car and Driver); top speed: 205 mph
Fuel economy EPA 16 city/24 highway/18 combined

report card

HIGHS SUPERB INTERIOR CONTROLS; DRIVETRAIN HEAVEN
Lows If ya gotta ask, you can’t afford it; over-indulgent tech toys like gesture control

Overall:★★★★

Porsche unveils latest race car and a new Panamera

Posted by hpayne on November 17, 2016

high_911_rsr_991_2017_model_2016_porsche_ag (1)

Los Angeles — Porsche rocked the Los Angeles Auto Show on Wednesday with the introduction of its new mid-engine Porsche 911 RSR racing car that will do battle against the Corvette C7.R, Ford GT and Ferrari 488 in 2017 in the IMSA Weathertech racing series at tracks like Belle Isle.

Yes, mid-engine.

The iconic 911 is moving its famously rear-mounted engine to the middle in order to better compete in the world GT arms race. The mid-engine Ford GT and Ferrari dominated LeMans last year and the Corvette is reportedly developing its own mid-engine machine.

“Applying all freedoms of the regulations has allowed us to place the engine closer to the middle,” said Porsche sales and marketing executive Detlev Von Platen.

Mid-engine architecture is inherently better-balanced than rear and gives developers more options to add aerodynamic and drivetrain options at the front and rear of the car. In the case of the RSR, Porsche has developed a bigger defuser aft of the engine that helps suck the car to the ground.

The RSR’s debut overshadowed the world premiere of the new Porsche Panamera and its new, turbocharged V-6 engine in L.A. But it’s fitting the RSR stole the show since the marque’s race cars give performance cred to Porsche’s highly profitable line of sedans and SUVs.

“We may not have invented the sedan, but we have made a Porsche out of it,” grinned Porsche Global CEO Oliver Blume.

The base Panamera is the second generation of the four-door sedan — and the first to sport a base, turbocharged six-cylinder. With 330 horsepower, the Panamera gains 20 ponies on the previous generation’s normally aspirated six. The Panamera continues Porsche’s transition to all-turbo engines in order to increase performance and meet increasingly stringent government emissions mandates.

Ridiculed for its awkward, bulbous rear end — critics remarked the sedan looked like a stretched-limo version of the 911 coupe — the Panamera’s new design has a racier, fastback appearance.

Panamera Turbo Executive

The base Panamera is actually not the first sighting of the car: the performance S (440 horses) and Turbo (550 horsepower) models were introduced in Europe earlier this year. The base car was joined onstage in L.A. by the debut of the most opulent Panamera variants: the Executive models.

With six more inches of wheelbase (the base Panamera is already longer than a Ford Explorer), the all-wheel drive Executive models come in Panamera 4 Executive, Panamera 4S Executive, Panamera Turbo Executive and Panamera 4 E-Hybrid Executive (with 32 miles of all-electric range).

Standard Executive features include a panoramic roof, adaptive air suspension and a roll-up sunblind behind the rear headrests. The Panamera 4S Executive and Panamera Turbo Executive get even more tricks – like rear-axle steering and soft-close doors.

Perhaps more dramatic than its exterior improvement is an all-new center console with a more integrated screen and control buttons. “Our advanced cockpit is smartphone-like,” said Blume. The long-wheelbase Executive models prioritize rear-seat luxuery with optional, large rear center console equipped with two integrated folding tables. Also available are 10.1-inch entertainment displays integrated in the backrests of the front seats can be detached and used as tablets outside the vehicle.

And they are engorged with luxury features.

 

Jaguar I-PACE concept targets Tesla Model X

Posted by hpayne on November 17, 2016

Jaguar I-PACE Concept_020

Los Angeles — Look out Tesla Model X, your rear-view mirrors are filled with Jaguar.

On a new electric architecture that shares the suspension with the 2017 Jaguar F-PACE crossover, the all-electric I-PACE concept sport utility will be the first direct competition to Tesla’s gull-winged, six-figure-priced EV rocket. The I-PACE was introduced Monday night ahead of the Los Angeles Auto Show, but executives say it’s a close approximation of the production version due to hit shelves in late 2018.

The iconic British performance car manufacturer bills the I-PACE as a “five-seat sports car and a performance SUV in one.”

While the Jaguar bears the familiar design cues — large grille, slated headlights and muscular hips — of its carbon-fueled stablemates, the I-PACE cabin is moved well-forward because there is no engine up front.

Combined with a more open cabin design — courtesy of its huge, 90 kWh battery in the floor — the I-PACE promises big interior volume numbers to go with its big performance figures. Jaguar estimates its range at 220 miles on a single charge. With 400 horsepower and whopping 516 pound-feet of torque on tap, the vehicle is expected to zip from zero-60 in just four seconds.

Jaguar says its experience in the all-electric Formula E racing series has trickled down into the development of the I-PACE’s all-wheel-drive, electric-motor drivetrain. The brand also promises an innovative, “flightdeck” cockpit with gearshift buttons and three screens.

“The I-PACE concept represents the next generation of electric vehicle design,” Director of Design Ian Callum told a celebrity-sprinkled audience. “It’s a dramatic, future-facing cab-forward design with a beautiful interior — the product of authentic Jaguar DNA, electric technology and contemporary craftsmanship.”

Jaguar put on the glitz with a world-first, love cross-continent virtual reality reveal experience featuring actress Michelle Rodriguez, late night-talk show host James Corden, supermodel Miranda Kerr and Washington Nationals right fielder Bryce Harper.

Chevy Colorado ZR2 pickup: Off-road animal

Posted by hpayne on November 17, 2016

AP_16321071971891

Los Angeles — The midsize, off-road pickup wars are on.

Chevrolet on Tuesday introduced its Colorado ZR2, a scenery-eating, wall-climbing shot across the bow of the Toyota Tacoma. With its innovative, Multimatic shocks and class-exclusive, front-and-rear locking differentials, the ZR2 goes head on against the Tacoma TRD Pro, until now the undisputed champ of midsize truck terrors.

With the explosion of the midsize truck segment in recent years, the challenge was inevitable. Toyota had owned the midsize segment until the Colorado and GMC Canyon entered the market followed by the Honda Ridgeline this year. While the GM twins and Honda emphasized their pickups’ comfort and drivability, Tacoma continued as king of the Outback.

But with the ZR2, Colorado wants to change that.

“We assembled a dream team of GM truck enthusiasts in order to bring more off-road technology than any other truck in the class,” said GM North America President Alan Batey in introducing the ZR2 before the Los Angeles Auto Show.”

The ZR2 comes from Chevy’s performance division. Like the ferocious, 650-horsepower Camaro ZL1, which is impressive both on and off the race track, the ZR2 aims to be both an off-road warrior and an on-road dancer.

Chevy claims the key to its dexterity to be its exclusive spool-valve dampers. Developed by supplier Multimatic for Formula One racing, the so-called DSSV shocks were first used on the Camaro Z28 track monster.

“Chevy came to us to bring the wide range of capability that spool-valve technology affords to a truck,” said Michael Guttilla, vice president of Multimatic Sales. “All the technology that made the Z28 a successful track car lends itself to going off-road.”

The shocks — combined with a 3 1/2-inch wider track, 2-inch higher ground clearance, and Tacoma-equivalent, 30-degree front approach angle — transform the Colorado into an off-road animal. At the Los Angeles unveil, journalists were taken over a closed course of moguls, hills and terrain. Most impressive was the ZR2’s locking differentials which enabled the ZR2 to climb a steep, unpredictable grade.

The truck segment has seen off-road performance trucks before in the Tacoma and Ford’s full-size F-150 Raptor. Unlike the Raptor, Chevy does not offer a unique, high-output engine with the ZR2 — but the standard V-6 and diesel option available in other Colorado trucks. Instead of raw power, the ZR2 appeals to extreme off-roaders who want more maneuverability than the big Raptor. The ZR2 was tested extensively through the narrow ridges of the Rubicon and GM’s off-road test facility in Yuma, Arizona.

“It’s amazing what a difference a foot of width makes off-road,” said Mark Dickens, boss of Chevy performance vehicles. “The smaller size of the Colorado is a huge enabler for taking the ZR2 more places, and getting it through tighter spots than you could access with a full-size truck.”

The ZR2 is distinguished by its robust front skid plate, robust, steel-tube rocker panels, black hood bulge and huge, 31-inch tires. It will tow up 5,000 pounds and carry 1,100 lbs. of payload. It was developed by GM after positive response to its ZR2 concept introduced her in LA in 2014.

With the ZR2, “you can go rock crawling on Saturday, desert running on Sunday, and comfortably drive to work on Monday,” said Mark Reuss, executive vice president, Global Product Development in a statement. “This truck can do it all, and do it all well.”

Honda takes wraps off fastest Civic Si yet

Posted by hpayne on November 17, 2016

HondaCivicSI1

Los Angeles — Honda took the wraps off the Civic Si prototype, the quickest variant of its best-selling, tenth-generation compact car.

The Si previews what the production Si will look like in coupe and sedan form when it hits showrooms next year.

Baselined to the Audi A3, the all-new Civic sedan was launched last year and immediately won 2016 North American Car of the Year with its superior handling and sharp styling. The new Si will join a broad Civic lineup that includes the sedan, coupe and hatchback siblings.

Estimated to produce 220 to 230 horsepower, the Si won’t be the quickest Civic for long: Honda is expected to tease the radical, 300-horsepower Civic Type-R Prototype later this week at the Los Angeles Auto Show.

In addition to the Civic’s trademark bat-wing taillights and wrapped headlights, the Rallye Red Pearl Civic Si prototype showed off a full aero kit that includes front and rear splitters and rear spoiler. Dual center-mounted polygonal exhaust finishers and 19-inch forged aluminum alloy wheels are part of the package.

For the first time the Si will get a forced-induction engine, replacing the high-revving, 8,000 rpm 2.0-liter screamer of recent generations. The new turbocharged 1.5-liter, in-line 4-cylinder will be mated to a short-shifting 6-speed manual transmission.

Additional performance upgrades for the Si variants will include a new active damper system, active steering system, limited-slip differential and available high-performance tires.

“With the new Honda Civic Si, we’re injecting even more sporty goodness into our 10th-generation Civic lineup,” said Jeff Conrad, senior vice president and general manager of Honda. “This will be, hands down, the fastest, best-handling Si we’ve ever offered to our customers.”

The Civic Si Prototype interior closely previews the production model and features Si-exclusive front sport seats with red stitching, including stitched Si logos. The red sport stitching carries through to the doors, steering wheel and leather shift boot with aluminum shift knob.

The Si promises more tire-smoking, boy-toy handling for another generation of “Fast and Furious” movies.

NACTOY finalists a mix of new blood, old faves

Posted by hpayne on November 17, 2016

SuperDutyFILE

Los Angeles — A diverse mix of rookie and veteran nameplates lead the field of nominees for the 2017 North American Car, Truck and Utility Vehicle of the Year.

The Chevy Bolt, Genesis G90 and Volvo S90 will vie for best car. Best truck nominees are the Ford F-Series Super Duty, Honda Ridgeline and Nissan Titan. And either the Chrysler Pacifica, Jaguar F-Pace, or Mazda CX-9 will be crowned utility of the year — the first time that SUVs have been honored as a separate category.

The finalists were announced Tuesday morning at the Automobility LA conference, which kicks off the Los Angeles Auto Show. The 23rd annual NACTOY winners will be announced Jan. 9 at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. The three finalists were winnowed from a list of 44 semifinalists by some 60 automotive journalists who have tested, analyzed, and buggy-whipped the nominees over the past year.

The Bolt will be front-runner for car of the year as the first electric vehicle under $40,000 to travel more than 200 miles on a single charge. It will be challenged by two luxury badges that are also celebrating their freshman year in the market. The G90 is the flagship for Hyundai’s new Genesis luxury line, while the lovely S90 hopes to follow in the footsteps of its sibling XC90, which won 2016 truck of the year.

Speaking of trucks, the legendary Ford F-series pickup will try and add to its stuffed trophy case with the 2017 F-250 Super Duty, the latest, largest version of the F-series’ revolutionary, all-aluminum body construction. The pickup was previously honored as best truck in 1996, 2004, 2009, and 2015. Its competitors this year also are veterans of the pickup wars. The mid-size Honda Ridgeline is the second evolution of Honda’s unique, unibody chassis structure. And the Nissan Titan follows big brother XD — a finalist for 2016 truck — in trying to put a dent in Detroit Three dominance of the trucking arena.

In the utility space, Chrysler has reinvented the minivan with its sleek, multi-functional Pacifica. The Pacifica replaces the Town & Country — itself a trend-setter in the segment. The F-Pace is Jaguar’s entry in the hot luxury ute race with three engine choices and head-turning British style. But even England’s pride has to be impressed by Mazda’s three-row CX-9 SUV, perhaps the prettiest utility in the land.

Founded in 1994, NACTOY is the only independent auto award made up of journalists from a wide range of outlets. The award honors excellence in innovation, design, safety, performance, technology, driver satisfaction and value.

For more information, go to: http://northamericancaroftheyear.org/

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.

■ Chevrolet Bolt

■ Genesis G90

■■ Volvo S90

■■ Ford F-series Super Duty

■■ Honda Ridgeline

■■ Nissan Titan

■■ Chrysler Pacifica

■■ Jaguar F-Pace

■■ Mazda CX-9

2017 NACTOY finalists

Car

■ Chevrolet Bolt

■ Genesis G90

■■ Volvo S90

Truck

■■ Ford F-series Super Duty

■■ Honda Ridgeline

■■ Nissan Titan

Utility

■■ Chrysler Pacifica

■■ Jaguar F-Pace

■■ Mazda CX-9

Chevy Bolt’s charging challenge

Posted by hpayne on November 17, 2016

bolt_nactory-fr

If your smartphone is low on charge, relief is just a wall socket away. But what if your battery-powered car beeps that it’s low on juice halfway between Detroit and Lansing?

The 2017 Chevrolet Bolt five-door hatchback, the first electric vehicle under $40,000 to get 200-plus miles on a charge, is a milestone in addressing range anxiety.

“You could drive all week and never have to charge the Bolt,” Chevy’s Bolt communications chief Fred Ligouri said after a drive of the 238-mile-per-charge EV.

The Bolt, which GM is now building in Orion Township, will be in showrooms by the end of the year. The high-tech car is one of the clear favorites among 15 semi-finalists for the prestigious North American Car of the Year award. But tire-smoking acceleration and extended range don’t guarantee automatic success as Chevrolet seeks to transform electric vehicles from green curiosity to mass-market mainstay: Convenience and cost remain big reasons why EVs are currently below 1 percent of market sales.

“It’s going to need workplace charging, it’s going to need a home charging for sure that isn’t off a 110-volt outlet,” said Pasquale Romano, president and CEO of ChargePoint, which sells chargers for electric cars. “(That’s) because its battery is of a size – that depending on its state of charge when you get home – you’re going to want to plug that into a reasonable home charger to fill that battery back up again in the shortest time possible.”

EVs face daunting competition from more affordable, gasoline-powered cars that can gallop 400 to 600 miles on a tank of gas with just five minutes required for refueling. And gas doesn’t cost much above $2 a gallon.

Tesla has eased customer concerns by selling fast home-chargers for its all-electric Model S, a top-selling luxury sedan. The Silicon Valley-based startup is also building a proprietary, nationwide network of superchargers that its EVs can use to “top off” for long trips.

But such solutions are prohibitively expensive for more-affordable EVs like the Bolt.

The Tesla – with an average transaction price over $100,000 – packs an industry-leading 20 kilowatt, on-board charger. With such a large on-board charger, the Tesla Model S can hook up to a 240-volt Level 2 home charger (at a cost of about $2,500 with installation) to refuel its battery to 80 percent capacity in about three hours.

More mainstream electric cars like the $37,495 Bolt and $29,010 Nissan Leaf have 7.2-kW and 6.6-kW on-board recharging packs, respectively. As a result, it takes the Bolt 91/2 hours to recharge its 60 kilowatt-hour lithium ion battery (the same size as a base Model S) on a 240-volt station. A full charge on a standard 120-volt wall socket would take 51 hours, according to Chevy. If somebody is doing a daily commute of 40 to 50 miles, a regular wall-socket would take more than 10 hours to recharge the battery.

Charging networks

General Motors brings years of experience to the battery game. The automaker found that only 35 percent of plug-in hybrid Volt owners installed Level 2 chargers. They are apparently content to charge the 53-mile range compact on a conventional, 120-volt outlet which can take upward of 12 hours. But with a backup gasoline engine to sooth range anxiety, customers are not fully dependent on the Volt’s battery to get around.

Bolt EV customers, by contrast, will rely solely on battery power, and GM expects most drivers will invest in a Level 2 charger. ChargePoint, which is providing Bolt buyers with a charging welcome kit, sells Level 2 home chargers though Amazon that start at $499 and range up to $749. Installation prices vary, but you may qualify for federal tax credit to recoup some costs through Dec. 31. DTE Energy initiated a 2016 program that awards 2,500 customers with $2,500 toward the purchase and installation of a Level 2 charger.

Chevy’s Ligouri expects a majority of metro Bolt owners will upgrade their vehicles with fast-charging Level 3 capability as a $750 option. A Level 3 station provides 90 miles per half-hour charge.

Buyers will benefit from urban networks of Level 2 chargers and even-faster Level 3 chargers installed by companies like ChargePoint and EVgo in gas stations and store parking lots like Dunkin’ Donuts where EV owners can charge outside the home. Cost at metro-area EVgo Level 3 stations is $5.95 per session plus 20 cents a minute.

Beyond big cities, resources get scarce. For example, Mackinaw City – 289 miles from Detroit on Interstate 75 – doesn’t have a single charging station. The Obama White House is seeking to remedy that situation with a national program to create 48 electric recharging corridors – with chargers available every 50 miles – across 25,000 miles of U.S. interstate. One of those corridors is I-94 so that an EV driver could refuel on his way from, say, Detroit to Chicago.

Price will increase

The additional equipment costs associated with charging EVs like the Bolt exacerbate the biggest reason drivers have avoided EVs: sticker shock.

A Harris poll last year found that 67 percent of respondents said cost was the No. 1 barrier to buying a battery-powered vehicle. Determined to encourage the adoption of EVs in order to meet its strict carbon dioxide emissions laws, the federal government gives a $7,500 income tax credit toward purchase of EVs like the Volt. As a result, the Bolt’s base cost comes down from $37,495 to $29,995.

That is still well north of a larger $22,130 Chevrolet Cruze hatchback in LT trim. At current gas and electricity costs, the Bolt would make up that price premium in about 12 years, assuming 10,000 miles traveled a year.

However, under current law, the Bolt’s tax benefit may soon disappear. Federal law only allows 200,000 credits per manufacturer – and GM estimates it is already at about 110,000 when sales of its current Volt plug-in, Spark EV and (now defunct) Cadillac ELR are added up.

When the tax credit phases out, the Bolt’s sticker price would not only dwarf that of a Cruze hatchback, but would be comparable to a fully loaded Honda CR-V.

GM expects most Bolt sales will be on the West and East coasts, as well as urban areas like Metro Detroit. Montgomery says all Detroit-area dealers have committed to sell the car. When It will be available for lease as well as sale, though Chevy has not released pricing details.

 

Payne: Alfa Giulia, spawn of the 4C

Posted by hpayne on November 13, 2016

The 2017 Alfa Giulia Quadrifoglio Verde (QV for short)

Two years ago the carbon-fiber, 2,400-pound Alfa Romeo 4C exploded on the auto scene, an imperfect, flatulating, frunkless roller skate that was more fun than a seaside romp with Italian actress Monica Bellucci. That spicy Italian meatball whetted America’s appetite for a new menu of Alfa luxury sedans and sport utes based on the 4C’s unique recipe.

The follow-up course to the 4C finally has arrived. And it was worth the wait.

The Alfa Giulia is a head-turning, asphalt-gripping, laugh-out-loud, luxury … sedan. Yes, sedan. Those four-door things that dad drove to drop you off at school before he bought the five-door SUV. Sedans are the cars everyone wants to make self-driving because the commute is such a slog. Buy a Giulia and you’ll never want an autonomous car again.

This shot of Italian espresso puts the sport in “sports sedan.” Now dad can drop you at school, then take the curvy route to work arriving sideways with smoke pouring off the brake discs.

The United States first saw the Giulia at last year’s LA auto show — not in base trim — but as the weaponized, 505-horsepower Quadrifoglio Verde (QV for short). Its huge biceps and blood-red wardrobe were introduced by dry ice and models in racing suits. How very Italian — and LA. After all, I wouldn’t expect Beyonce to hit the stage in a robe and whisper. No, she comes at you in high-leather boots belting “Put a Ring on It.” Now that’s an entrance.

Shouldn’t all performance cars be the same? Imagine Mustang rolling out the blood-curdling, ear-shattering Shelby GT350 as its first model and you get the idea.

Twelve months later and the media’s first taste of the Giulia QV (you’ll know it by its lucky four-leaf clover badge) wasn’t on a nice urban trot through tree-lined suburbia. It was at California’s Sonoma Raceway. In the right seat. Next to Fabio Francia, the Italian record holder of the fastest lap in a sedan ever recorded at the epic Nurburgring in Germany. For you speed geeks, that’s a 7.32-minute lap. Faster than a Lamborghini Gallardo. Faster than the Porsche 911 GT3.

Fabio was right out of Hollywood central casting. After exchanging pleasantries in broken English on our way down the pit lane, Fabio stopped the conversation, pointed to the track, and said: “OK, we go now.”

At which point, he nailed the throttle up into Turn One and proceeded to destroy the formidable, 11-turn, 2-mile course in a neck-twisting, brake-stomping display of car control. I swear we broke Kyle Larson’s NASCAR lap record.

So that’s what sedans can do.

I spent the rest of the day — on and off-track through lovely Sonoma County — following Fabio’s example in multiple Giulias. The Quadrifoglio is a well-tuned athlete. Unlike its turbo-laggy, small-displacement little brother 4C, the QV’s 2.9-liter, twin-turbo V-6 reacts. Right. Now.

Aided by an eight-speed transmission that barks off millisecond upshifts like a Doberman charging an intruder, the engine gulps road at an alarming pace. With a perfectly-weighted, 50-50, rear-wheel-drive chassis and short ratio (2.3-turns-lock-to-lock) steering, corners are dispatched with a flick of the hands. No lurid power slides with arms crossed like pretzels.

Miles pass on country roads at illegal, addictive speeds. The QV demands to be pushed. Rotate the center dial to DYNAMIC. It growls louder. Rotate it to RACE and the growl turns to a guttural yawp that should be Cerberus’s ring tone.

The Quadrifoglio’s sensory magnificence masks more flaws than the Tower of Pisa. The boomerang-sized shift paddles look cool until your realize they have to be that big because they are fixed and can’t be reached when you turn the wheel. And like the 4C, there’s no manual option for America. The tiny back seats seemed to have been designed by Delta for use in Coach Class.

The voice recognition system was so poor, I might have been speaking Italian. Repeated requests to go to “Sonoma Raceway, Napa County” were returned with responses such as, “You want to go to Rhode Island, is that correct?” The nav system was so bleached, it looked like it had been left in the sun for days. And Apple Car Play and Android Auto — standard in Chevys, for goodness sakes — won’t come until later in the 2017 model year.

But all is forgiven because what the Quadrifoglio rock star also masks is an even better base car. Take off Superman’s cape — and he’s still a hunk.

The volume seller for Giulia will be the Ti Sport trim with a turbocharged, 2.0-liter, 280-horse mill that will embarrass everything else in class. The Audi A4 I drove to Watkins Glen, New York, and back this fall is the best all-around car in class with its ingenious “Virtual Cockpit” display, AWD and perky 252 horsepower. After driving the Ti Sport, I still think so, but the Giulia is zippier than the Audi.

And it looks like Alyssa Milano next to Christoph Waltz.

On the Pacific Coast Highway north of Sonoma, a Porsche Cayenne owner stopped dead in his tracks when he saw my Alfa Ti Sport — not Quadrifoglio — parked by the road. Now that’s a sexy base car.

Dressed in white with the same smoky, phone dial wheels that are available on the Quadrifoglio, these Italians know how to get attention. With available AWD, it’ll be a sure-footed lynx in Michigan snow. Sticker prices won’t be firm until Giulia hits dealer shelves early next year, but Alfa estimates a low-$40,000 entry price bristling with standard equipment including leather, 16-way seats, first-in-class-electric “brake-by-wire,” a quick-revving, carbon-fiber driveshaft and plenty of console room.

Giulia Ti tells a story all its own. My Porsche friend wants one because he craves the Italian accent.

When it comes to the 191-mph, $70K-something Quadrifoglio, I still prefer German. The QV most closely resembles Cadillac’s excellent ATS-V for its nimble handling and better all-around driveability than a BMW M4 (or heavy Mercedes AMG). But BMW also makes the $56K M2, the best luxe hottie in the business. Though a coupe, its small backseat is no less a problem than Giulia — and its looks and scalpel-like handling are unparalleled.

But this is only Alfa’s first bite at the apple. The first sedan built on the company’s versatile Giorgio platform, there will be many more entertaining generations to come. Park it next to the 4C in your garage and you’ll have the best double date in town.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.

2017 Alfa Giulia

specifications

VEHICLE TYPE FRONT-ENGINE, REAR AND AND ALL-WHEEL DRIVE

FIVE-PASSENGER SPORTS SEDAN

Power plant 2.0-liter, turbocharged inline-4 cylinder; 2.9-liter,

twin-turbo V-6

Transmission 8-speed automatic
Weight 3,500 pounds (RWD Giulia Ti as tested, est.)
Price Low $40,000 base, est. ($70,000 est. for

Quadrifoglio Verde)

Power 280 horsepower, 306 pound-feet torque (turbo-4);

505 horsepower, 443 pound-feet torque

(twin-turbo V-6)

Performance Zero-60: 3.8 seconds; top speed: 191 mph

(twin-turbo V-6, mnfr.). Zero-60: 5.1 seconds;

top speed: 149 mph (turbo-4, mnfr.)

Fuel economy TBA

report card

HIGHS ITALIAN STANDOUT STYLING; DRIVER’S CAR
Lows Washed out nav screen; voice recognition language

barrier

Overall:★★★★

Payne: Lincoln Continental takes a back seat to none

Posted by hpayne on November 7, 2016

conti_fr

When presidents travel, they leave traffic nightmares in their wake, as any commuter can attest who’s been stuck in motorcade gridlock on Interstate 94 outside Detroit Metro. Over the last eight years, President Obama has descended on Los Angeles for fundraisers so many times that locals have dubbed his visits “Obamageddon.”

I arrived right smack in the middle of “Obamageddon: Part 30” last week. And endured it in the nicest possible place: the back of a 2017 Lincoln Continental.

To compete against Teutonic performance sedans, Ford’s luxury brand is resurrecting the Continental name to emphasize passenger comfort first — and Nurburgring lap times second. It begins with reinventing the backseat space. With one eye on the U.S. market and the other on China’s limo-loving nouveau riche, Lincoln has outfitted the back as if it were your living room Barcalounger.

I arrived at LAX airport at 3 p.m. and was hustled into the Continental’s rear suite for my 15-mile drive to the Hotel Bel Air, the appropriately luxurious backdrop for Lincoln’s luxurious media launch. The journey should have taken 45 minutes in afternoon traffic. It took us 2 hours, 30 minutes in Obamageddon.

Motorcade One shut down Sunset Boulevard, cutting West L.A. in half and sealing our doom. No matter. I was just getting comfortable. I’m 6-foot-5 and even a big luxury car’s back seat can cramp my giraffe legs with the passenger seat moved all the way back. But a thoughtful button at my right elbow allowed me to roll the front seat forward, opening acres of room. After flying five hours from Detroit in Delta torture — er, coach — class, my legs audibly sighed with relief.

And at my left elbow was the biggest center rest I’d ever seen: bin storage, twin cupholders, climate controls, audio dials, sunroof control. Heck, I may have missed the fridge.

By the time I made it to the hotel, I had checked email, made phone calls, riffed L.A.’s radio stations, opened the sunroof and generally made myself at home. Only a jumbo TV screen was missing.

What’s also missing from the $45,485-$80,000 Continental is electrification. Tesla’s battery-powered, $70,000 Model S is the best-selling big sedan in America. Yet, startup Tesla still can’t make money on it. How about a mature automaker?

Ford Chairman Bill Ford Jr. shares the same bomb shelter with Elon Musk, warning of global warming Armageddon. Yet he hasn’t followed Musk’s lead in electrifying his own land yacht, which tells me EV-luxury is unaffordable below 70 grand.

Tesla’s high-risk investor class may one day get its home run, but Ford pensioners expect a return right now. So the Continental is built from the most affordable tech on the market. That means a choice of three gas engines and a stretched version of the tried-and-true Ford Fusion CD4 platform.

The combination made for competent power and handling the next morning as I explored north L.A.’s highways and twisty canyon roads. Continental’s stylish comfort embodies the brand’s “quiet luxury” mantra, but put your boot into the car’s exclusive twin-turbo, 3.0-liter V-6 and you’re ready to rumble. Ford Motor Co., after all, has been defined since birth by performance (the legendary Sweepstakes and GT40 racers, for example). And the same engineering talent that has developed state-of-the-art mills for the Ford GT, Mustang GT350, and Ford Focus RS has stuffed Continental with its own 400-horse beast.

The 3-liter pulls the land yacht nicely. But the chassis’ 4,500 pounds is evident under braking and through corners, so Continental makes available the same torque-vectoring, all-wheel drive system that possess the Focus RS hellion. I didn’t try any 360-degree, Gymkhana acrobatics, but the AWD system rotates Conti nicely and gives needed AWD oomph come Michigan winter blahs.

With its full-sized value, the Lincoln is positioned to go head-to-head against the midsize BMW 5-series, Audi A6 and Mercedes E-Class in the $55K-$65K luxe market for owners who value more leg-room and less cornering G. So I’d opt for the turbo, 2.7-liter V-6 (which stars in the Ford Fusion Sport I recently flogged) with AWD — then dress it up in Black Label trim.

Offering the best Lincoln accessories, Black Label will get you the rear-seat package, “turbine wheels” (the coolest this side of a VW Golf GTI) and the “Perfect-position seat.”

As pleasant as the back may be, Lincoln’s 30-way (or 24, sans massage) front throne is its calling card. With 30 patents, Lincoln has gone where no seat-maker has gone before, separating the chair into zones that allow front occupants to adjust everything from head to thigh.

Take your giant scribe, who has cursed conventional headrests for their reach-around, thumb-adjusted, twin-rod inanity. The Conti’s headrest can be simply adjusted up-down-aft-and-fore by a button. Brilliant. As are the individual thigh bolsters to cradle my sciatica-prone left leg, while allowing my right leg independence with the throttle. These functions are all located on the car door — with further tweaking available in the center console screen.

Add these options up and you have a $70K luxo-barge that is much roomier than an E-Class and similar to the $72k Genesis G90 I recently tested, which is reading from the same value playbook. Indeed, the handsome Genesis was the class multi-way seat record-holder until Lincoln came along.

The Conti vs. Genesis slugfest is an interesting one. Both offer excellent interiors with tantalizing details. Score one for the Lincoln’s superior digital instrument display, while the G90’s horizontal dash is more modern. Genesis throws in a best-in-class 5 year/100,000 mile warranty; Lincoln’s got self-park and kick-the-bumper-to-open trunk.

The deciding factor may be which stylish exterior tempted you inside in the first place.

Lincoln has ditched its polarizing, winged fascia for a more old-school Jaguar grille and swept headlights (with delicious details like a grille mesh made of repeating Lincoln logos). From the headlights, a single line sweeps rearward along the beltline — over those big, irresistible turbine wheels — that anchors the mirrors and both fixed door handles.

To open the car you slip your fingers under the microprocessor-controlled E-latch like you’re holding hands with your mate. You’ll never want to yank on another door handle again.

Detroit luxury sedans are a rarity in L.A. Cadillacs? I saw only Escalade SUVs. Tesla, BMW and Mercedes dominated the four-door field. Conti hopes to reverse that trend. In a few decades I may be sitting in the back seat of an autonomous Lincoln. No driver. Controlling everything from the back seat. Waiting in Ivankageddon traffic.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.

2017 Lincoln Continental

specifications

VEHICLE TYPE FRONT-ENGINE, FRONT AND AND ALL-WHEEL

DRIVE FIVE-PASSENGER SEDAN

Power plant 3.7-liter V-6; 2.7-liter, turbocharged

V-6; 3.0-liter, twin-turbo V-6

Transmission 6-speed automatic
Weight 4,224 pounds (4,547 AWD 3.0L turbo

V-6 as tested)

Price $45,485 base ($78,510 AWD 3.0L turbo

V-6 Black Label as tested)

Power 305 horsepower, 280 pound-feet torque

(3.7L V-6); 335 horsepower, 380 pound-feet

torque (2.7L turbo V-6); 400 horsepower,

400 pound-feet torque (3.0L turbo V-6);

Performance Zero-60: 5.0 seconds (3.0-liter V-7, Car

and Driver est.); top speed: 130 mph

Fuel economy (All figures for AWD) EPA 16 mpg city/24

mpg highway/19 mpg combined (3.7L V-6);

EPA 17 mpg city/25 mpg highway

/20 mpg combined (2.7L turbo V-6);

EPA 16 mpg city/24 mpg highway

/19 mpg combined (3.0L turbo V-6);

report card

HIGHS VISUAL PRESENCE; 30-WAY FRONT THRONES
Lows Rear end loses character; signature

wheels/rear seat control only available

at premium

Overall:★★★★

Payne: FCA’s Alfa Giulia hits the table smokin’ hot

Posted by hpayne on October 28, 2016

Sonoma Valley, California — Fiat Chrysler’s Dodge Viper cruise missile owns the most North American race track lap records — 13 — of any production car. Now FCA has conquered Germany, as well.

The company’s all-new, 2017 Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio Verde (or QV for short) clocked a blistering 7-minute, 32-second lap around the hallowed Nurburgring race track this fall to claim the fastest lap ever recorded by a four-door sedan.

Not bad for a car that doubles as a daily driver.

alfa2

The Alfa destroyed the lap record held by the Porsche Panamera by six seconds, and eclipsed the time laid down by formidable sports cars such as the Porsche 911 GT3 and Lamborghini Gallardo. The legendary, 13-mile, 154-turn Nurburgring is widely considered to be the most demanding racetrack in the world — and is a testing ground for every performance car manufacturer from Corvette to Porsche to BMW.

“The buzz for the Giulia has been truly phenomenal,” said Alfa CEO Reid Bigland at Sonoma Raceway in California this week as U.S. reporters got their first taste of a car that will hit dealerships this December. “We’ve had 16 million YouTube hits on videos for the Alfa Giulia and 4C.”

The 4C is a reference to the brand’s halo sports car that was introduced in the U.S. in limited volume in 2014. With a Formula One-like, carbon-fiber, lightweight chassis offering sensational handling, the 4C was the appetizer for Alfa’s launch as a full-course menu in the United States.

With premium, midsize sedans still the plurality of luxury sales at 23 percent of the segment, the Giulia is crucial to establishing brand credibility here. It will be immediately followed by a midsize SUV, the Stelvia, into luxury’s fastest-growing segment at next month’s Los Angeles Auto Show.

FCA’s launch of the Giulia has been highly unusual by debuting the badge’s most capable performance trim first. The twin-turbo, 2.9-liter, V6-powered Quadrifoglio is a snarling beast capable of hitting 60 mph in just 3.8 seconds and a top speed of 191 mph. Most manufacturers don’t introduce a sport variant until well into a model’s shelf life — but Alfa is determined to highlight its athleticism as a key differentiator in the ruthlessly competitive luxury space. The stylish, base Giulia is no slouch either, with a 2.0-liter, turbo-4 cylinder pumping out 280 horses that is also tops in its segment.

Journalists got their first experience with the Giulia QV from the passenger seat next to Fabio Francia, the ace Alfa test driver who blitzed the Nurburgring. Alfa flew him all the way from Italy to, apparently, set another lap record at Sonoma — while simultaneously turning journalists’ hair white.

Francia’s English was limited, but he let the car do the talking with its raw power and balanced, 50-50 handling. Behind the wheel on track and along California’s twisty, Pacific Coast Highway, I found the fetching sedan — in both 2.9-liter and 2.0-liter versions — on par with the BMW 3-series and Cadillac ATS as the best driver’s sedans today.

That was the intention all along. The Giulia is the product of a massive, multibillion dollar investment in an all-new product line. The Giulia’s so-called “Giorgio” platform will carry eight new models by 2020.

“The investment is unprecedented,” said Bigland. “This is a unique chassis with a unique set of engines. You lose credibility in this market as soon as you compromise on performance.” Some other large automakers, such as Ford and Toyota, share upgraded chassis from mainstream brands to make their luxury Lincoln and Lexus lines.

Richard Cox, director of Alfa North America, drove home the point.

“We started from scratch,” Cox said. “The intention is to make this car a benchmark for the segment.”

With the Giulia, Alfa has set new benchmarks in horsepower — and cutting-edge technology such as electronic, brake-by-wire — a first.

Having met the challenge of Nurburgring, Alfa now must build a credible dealer network in the U.S. despite weak, mainstream FCA brands to feed it (as Audi draws from Volkswagen customers, for example). The brand plans 250 showrooms here by the end of 2017 with a push to combine Fiat and Maserati products under the same roof

“No question that’s a challenge,” said Bigland. “We’re looking to conquest 100 percent. In order to do that you have to have a vehicle that is an alternative … and we think we have that from a driving and performance and styling standpoint.”

“We will lean on our marketing machine,” the FCA veteran continued. “Most of the dealer growth is going to come by creating duals with Maserati and Alfa.”

Payne: Nissan Z exudes old-school fun

Posted by hpayne on October 28, 2016

z_fr3-4_trees

All hail the letter Z. In an auto world gone made with X — NSX, XT5, QX30, X3, MKX, X-drive — Xperts Xpect every car badge to have an X in it within the neXt decade. But the Z is sacred. A special badge for special cars. The Camaro Z28. Corvette Z06.

And my guest ride this week, the 2017 Nissan Z Roadster.

The Z and I go way back. As a kid who spent the early 1970s at autocrosses racing go-karts — a boy among sports car-driving men — I coveted the first-generation Z. It’s long hood and plastic-covered, scalloped headlights reminded me of a Jaguar E-Type (the Raquel Welch of sports cars). One particularly quick driver had outfitted his red, 1972 Z with fat slicks swelling beyond the fenders. Beauty and the beast. He gave me an on-track ride one day that is still etched in my memory. As I held on for dear life, he’d fling us through a series of pyloned corners, the Z’s rear zigging and zagging behind us, the six-cylinder singing like a bird.

The 370Z doesn’t make my heart race like the ’72.

After the Z’s epic, third-gen, Motor Trend-car-of-the-year, 1990 redesign — hailed as one of sports car world’s greatest bods — the body has grown bulbous, aping the family lines of Nissan’s Murano and Maxima. The coupe’s elegant fastback helps smooth the lumps, but my convertible’s shortened roof accentuates the body’s bulbous proportions.

Honey, does this dress make me look fat? Ummm …

Dropping the top helps. But the process reminds you that the old Z is getting long in the tooth. Unlike competitive soft-tops from Camaro or Audi TT, the Nissan’s roof can’t be operated while moving. Feel rain drops? Pull over, toggle the console switch and the roof folds into place in 20 seconds. The procedure is jerky and loud, the tonneau cover thumping into place like a restaurant waiter piling up chairs at closing time.

Once executed, however, the topless Z is a basket of adorables. Its short, 100-inch wheelbase makes for easy visibility. Its well-engineered climate control system and heated seats make it a cozy cocoon even in Michigan’s cool fall weather. And the twin-exhaust, naturally-aspirated six-cylinder can be heard in full stereo.

In an increasingly-regulated world of turbo-charged four bangers (even my precious Porsche Boxster has gone to four-pot), the Z remains a throwback to the glorious days of naturally-aspirated, big displacement engines.

The 370Z plays second fiddle in Nissan’s lineup to the (also aging) twin-turbo, all-wheel-drive, “Godzilla” GT-R. But the old school Z feels more like a baby Corvette Z06.

Inside the cockpit, it shares the Stingray’s long, carved hood, strange chemical smell (what are Chevy and Nissan using to stick these things together? Airplane glue?), and a narrow slit of a windshield that seems half-filled by the rear-view mirror.

With 270 pound-feet of torque and 3,696-cc of piston hammering on the crankshaft, it’s a blast to take into a parking lot for roaring, smoky burnouts. It won’t spin like a top as the 6,162-cc Z06 does, but it’ll put a grin on your face. Like the ’Vette, pulling on the 7-speed automatic Z’s big, bat-wing, steering-wheel-mounted shifter paddles provokes a guttural burp — like King Kong digesting his lunch — on each downshift.

The chassis on the Z and Z06 feel loose, their frames bending over Metro Detroit’s punishing roads — but get them up to speed and they are eager road carvers.

Throw the Nissan through Hell, Michigan’s Z-shaped country roads and the stocky beast crouches to the pavement, springing from turn to turn, vectoring right where you point it. Only on exit did the Z feel out of its element as the automatic box was lazy to shift — almost giving the Z the feel of a small-displacement turbo. I could have had cup of milk and a doughnut while waiting for the gear to kick in. The lag became so annoying I found myself reaching for the bat paddles regularly to speed up the shifts. Bang bang. Down two shifts, flatten the pedal and the eager six would roar. Even on the highway, I preferred the quick paddle downshifts for passing spurts.

How I yearned for the 6-speed manual — which, thankfully, Nissan still offers.

I should be careful what I wish for, though. When the next-gen Z appears, it will surely have a double-clutch tranny like its close competitor Audi TT (and even small sedans like the Elantra Sport I just tested) but it will also likely get a turbo-4 banger. Gotta appreciate these naturally-aspirated sixes while we can.

My pricy $50,465 convertible-Z most closely compares to the $52K Audi TT Roadster I tested last year, which also is a ready companion through Hell. With 100 less horses, the TT still manages a similar 0-60 sprint than the brawnier Z, so maybe there’s hope for 4-bangers yet.

The TT’s advanced Virtual Cockpit shows how far interiors have advanced beyond the Z’s traditional, slow-infotainment display. Nissan is also slow to the game with Android Auto and Apple Car Play, but beyond these connectivity issues, I don’t think sports car enthusiasts will mind the Z’s unique, motorcycle-like instrument display. The cockpit is driver-focused and easy to use — a blizzard of buttons and gauges at your fingertips. Like Porsche, Nissan can pull this off with a Z heritage that spans generations of track nuts.

Different from the TT, though, a base Z can still be had for a bargain $30,795. In a market stuffed with incredible, $40,000 sports toys (Golf R, Focus RS, Camaro SS), the TT’s $43K entry price is its Achilles heel. True to its ’70s roots, the Nissan remains one of autodom’s best values at half the price of a Porsche Cayman and comparable to muscle car alternatives such as the Mustang and Camaro sixes. Entry-level performance cars are as American as apple pie.

Yet, a quick look at the standard technology in the Z shows how sports cars have evolved. Side-curtain safety bags, tire-pressure monitoring, anti-lock brakes, front-and-rear crush zones, and on and on. It’s a long way from my favorite, but raw, test rider of 50 years ago.

Long live the Z.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.

2017 Nissan 370Z Roadster

specifications

VEHICLE TYPE FRONT-ENGINE, REAR-WHEEL

DRIVE, TWO-PASSENGER SPORTS CAR

Power plant 3.7-liter V-6
Transmission 6-speed manual; 7-speed automatic
Weight 3,503 pounds (Touring Sport trim as tested)
Price $42,865 base ($50,465 as tested)
Power 332 horsepower, 270 pound-feet torque
Performance Zero-60: 5.5 seconds (Jalopnik);

top speed: 157 mph

Fuel economy EPA 17 mpg city/24 mpg highway

/21 mpg combined (automatic as tested)

report card

HIGHS SHORT WHEELBASE HANDLES LIKE A GEM; V-6 SIX-STRING
Lows Roadster sticker shock; clunky drop-top

Overall:★★★