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Ford premieres refreshed 2018 Mustang

Posted by hpayne on January 22, 2017

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Correction: The 2018 Ford Mustang is dropping the V-6 engine as an option for the first time since 1994. An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the time frame.

Detroit – In a three-city simulcast anchored by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Ford introduced an updated 2018 Mustang on Tuesday that gains performance and more advanced technology – but loses the option for a V-6 engine.

The pony car gets standard LED lights and new front and rear fascias, accentuating its aggressive looks with a lower, vented hood. Inside, the Mustang adds a gorgeous 12-inch digital instrument display that can be customized to the driver’s preference.

A mid-cycle refresh, the ’18 model makes no changes to the Mustang’s chassis that was all-new for the 2015 model year.

The Mustang was unveiled on Ford’s stand in the middle of public days at the Detroit Auto Show – and in New York City’s Hudson Mercantile and the Original Farmers Market in Los Angeles. The three press conferences simulcast a pre-recorded video featuring Johnson who surprised Purple Heart recipient Marlene Rodriguez with a 2018 Mustang and tickets to the premiere of his new “Baywatch” movie. Rodriguez, an Iraq War veteran and Johnson fan, was visibly overwhelmed.

Like the 2018 Ford F-150 pickup unveiled during the media preview at the North American International Auto Show last week, the Mustang’s engine lineup will now be mated to a quick-shifting, 10-speed automatic transmission. A 6-speed manual with twin-disc clutch is also available. For the first time since the 1994 model year, the coupe will not be offered with a V-6 engine option.

“I think a few people will miss the V-6,” says Mustang Engineering Manager Tom Barnes. “But the Ecoboost made the car quicker with better fuel economy, so there weren’t many advantages left in the V-6.”

The 310-horsepower, turbocharged Ecoboost 2.3-liter inline-4 — introduced in 2015 — now makes up 40 percent of Mustang’s global sales and will replace the outgoing 3.7-liter V-6 as the base engine. Ford says the V-6 has been the choice of 15-20 percent of customers. To help wean V-6 fans, the turbo-4’s sound will be electronically enhanced. The muscle car’s signature 5.0-liter V-8 will also be offered, its prehistoric growl enhanced by an active exhaust option.

Ford took the wraps off its refreshed Mustang with the help of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.

Mustang invented the pony car segment in 1965 and underwent major design and drivetrain upgrades to celebrate its 50th anniversary three years ago. The 2015 edition got an independent rear suspension, turbocharged engine option and underwent extreme plastic surgery to bring it in line with the Ford family’s car design theme.

The new pony flew out of showrooms, outselling its muscle-car rivals — Chevrolet Camaro and Dodge Challenger — by wide margins the last two years. With the 2018 car, Ford hopes to sustain the momentum.

“People loved the new car, but they wanted it louder. So we amped it up,” says Barnes. “They would say we want it to be more modern, more connected. So that’s where we did the digital cluster. We’re in the muscle-car segment but our customers are still changing.”

The 2018 model also gets digital novelties like auto high beams, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone connectivity, and pre-collision assist. While the base Mustang still features the traditional 4.2-inch analog instrument gauge, the available 12-inch digital cluster (shared with the Lincoln Continental) can be configured in NORMAL, SPORT or TRACK modes.

The high-tech cluster is part of a flurry of appearance upgrades that include smokier chrome finishes in the cockpit, new carbon-fiber trims, 10 new wheel choices and three new skin colors.

“Design is the No. 1 reason our customers purchase Mustang,” says exterior designer Melvin Betancourt.

But the oily bits get plenty of attention, too. The 10-speed transmission, co-developed with GM and capable of Porsche 911-like 300-millisecond shifts, will enhance performance as well as fuel economy.

Mating it to the 435-horse V-8 required updated half shafts in the rear. The big V-8 also pairs port fuel injection with direct injection for better efficiency. And the beast can ride on optional magnetic shocks for a smoother gallop.

“We always aim for a daily driver with the right balance,” says Barnes. “The looks have got to be great, the sounds have got to be great, the go has got to be great. It has to attainable, but it’s not one-dimensional.”

Mustang now carries the Ford flag to 146 countries with 40 percent of its buyers millennials. Ford says the turbo-4 has helped reach a new, younger generation of buyers — but the muscle-car attraction is the same as previous years.

“We’ve done a lot of market research in China, Austria and Europe. In essence, we see the common themes everywhere,” says Barnes. “Our customers want to have an emotional reaction when they are driving. A lot of people like the Ecoboost — it’s a fast car but it’s not a gas pig. They can have their cake and eat it, too.”

With sultry styling and drivetrain capabilities found in BMW and Audi coupes priced thousands of dollars higher, Ford has positioned the Mustang as an international athlete.

“The new Mustang is one of the iconic sports car in America, and now the world,” says Joe Hinrichs, Ford president of the Americas. The 2018 will go on sale this fall.

 

Henry Payne’s 10 best from the Detroit auto show

Posted by hpayne on January 13, 2017

I am tempted to name Lightning McQueen of “Cars 3” a Top 10 pick. One of the most-watched auto shows on the planet, Detroit tempts more than just car companies. Below Cobo’s show floor are 100 businesses showing off the next era of mobility, for example. And there’s IndyCar, displaying a next-gen racer to debut on Belle Isle in 2018. Or life-size Lightning flogging the latest installment in one of my favorite animation franchises, “Cars 3.” Ka-chow! But for all his Owen Wilson-infused personality, Lightning can’t hold a candle to other toys on the floor.

From the sleek Kia Stinger to the Ford F-150 skyscraper, the 2017 show is a delicious buffet. Here are my Top 10:

Kia Stinger

2018 Kia Stinger

Good timing, Stinger. Big Three muscle mostly sat out this year’s show, giving the Nurburgring-tested, five-door Kia coupe the performance spotlight. First shown as the stunning Kia GT concept in Europe in 2011, the Stinger makes a statement of Kia’s intentions to be more than a builder of mainstream appliances. “This is a Kia brand that surprises and challenges,” says design boss Peter Schreyer. The same length as its doppelganger — the $70,000 Audi A7 — Kia says the Stinger will be targeted at the $40,000 BMW 3-series, Audi A4 and Mercedes C-class.

Audi Q8

Audi Q8 concept

Speaking of Audis, VW’s luxury brand unveiled the Q8 crossover as a sleek, two-row coupe version of its SUV flagship, the Q7. That’s a niche market, but the stylish Q8 previews the bold, six-lace rework of Audi’s famous large grille. Inside is the next-generation, best-in-luxury Virtual Cockpit instrument display — but more significant is the expanded heads-up display that accurately overlays information on the road ahead (an arrow indicating exact road turn-in, for example). Look for it in 2018.

Volvo V90

The V90 will be available with both T5 FWD and T6 AWD

SUVs like the Audi Q8 have rendered station wagons all but extinct in the U.S. The gorgeous V90 wagon urges us to reconsider. The V90 provides plenty of utility with all-wheel drive and a roomy interior. That interior also shares “Thor’s hammer” headlights, posh materials and tablet console screen with the award-winning XC90 Volvo SUV. Just to be safe in ute-crazed USA, however, Volvo jacks up the V90 2.5 inches and badges it the V90 Cross Country.

Honda Odyssey

2018 Honda Odyssey

OK, enough about exteriors. Let’s talk interior innovation. The 2018 Utility of the Year Chrysler Pacifica sets a high bar with its Stow ’n’ Go middle seats and a dresser-drawer of console storage. But Honda thinks customers want better second-row communication. So the Magic Slide middle seat allows you to glide a car seat-bound child within reach — and a microphone system lets you talk directly to third-row occupants. As for the exterior, well … how about hiring a Volvo designer?

Volkswagen Tiguan

The VW Tiguan has a longer wheelbase and three rows

Rocked by Dieselgate, Volkswagen is eager to get back to the business of building vehicles. The new Tiguan aims for the meat of the U.S. market and checks all the boxes: longer wheelbase (by 10.4 inches), 57 percent bigger trunk, three rows of seats (very unusual for a compact ute), Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity.

GMC Terrain

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You had me at the C-clamp headlights. I protested bigger brother Acadia’s extreme makeover at last year’s show as too vanilla. The Terrain does it right in the dog-eat-ute compact segment (see the Tiguan above). The front peepers and Nissan Murano-like floating roof are elegant (though creating a blind spot bigger than Rhode Island). Shedding nearly 500 pounds, the turbo-4 powered Terrain should ride as good as it looks.

Ford F-150

Ford F-150

The king of trucks just gets better. The grille ditches Ford’s signature three-bar for a wider, “double I-beam” take. Nice, except the base models get grille “nostrils.” Ugh. I’d jump straight to the handsome Lariat trim. Under the aluminum hood, Ford’s smorgasbord of engine choices gets the first diesel in the light duty’s long history. The hits keep on coming: Wi-Fi hot spot, pre-collision assist, smartphone connectivity, new wheels and … I could go on all day.

Toyota Camry

The eighth-generation sedan has gone through a total

“Sexy and really sexy,” said Toyota Chairman Akio Toyoda, introducing the all-new Camry’s base and sport versions. A hilarious chairman? A sexy Camry? Together they stole the media show, and that was appropriate. Toyoda has pushed his designers hard to make their appliances more appealing. The racier sheet metal also telegraphs a more capable chassis as the Camry gets lower and stiffer. To emphasize the point, Toyoda also introduced the new NASCAR Camry. Va-vroom.

Nissan Vmotion concept

Nissan Vmotion 2.0

Vmotion echoes the Chrysler Portal concept in its roomy approach to ride-sharing autonomy. So why the saucy exterior? Because the Vmotion also explores future design for its family sedans. Carve these racy lines into an Altima and it’ll make the Camry look vanilla again.

Dodge Challenger GT

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Dodge quietly sneaked its first all-wheel drive pony-car coupe into Cobo for its first show. Quietly, because the GT is not endowed with an earth-shaking V-8. The AWD system comes mated only to a 305-horsepower V-6, but that’ll do for motorheads pining to power-drift their Challengers through snow drifts. Finally, an all-season Woodward dragster.

Auto show consumer guide: Feast for all auto appetites

Posted by hpayne on January 13, 2017

Welcome to Times Square, Detroit-style.

Cobo Center this January has been transformed into a mind-blowing wonderland of jumbo LED screens, floor-to-ceiling videos and consumer goods stores. This being Motown, of course, all the stores contain cars. Here, you can find everything from pint-sized Smart ForTwo cars to ginormous Ford F-150 pickups. Heck, like Times Square, there’s even a Disney presence with a life-sized replica of Lightning McQueen, the star of “Cars 3.”

But for all the glitz, this year’s new reveals are for the bread-and-butter shopper.

The auto market is going through a major shift from sedans to trucks and every manufacturer is remaking its portfolio to accommodate the trend. In doing so, they need to balance the conflicting visions of a federal government that wants smaller, fuel-sipping cars and consumers who want more utility. Midsize utes and sedans are the core moneymakers that allow automakers to make fun toys like Camaros and M2s — so they got to get them right.

Chevy brand customers want more room so the all-new three-row Traverse SUV grows bigger, even as its chassis sheds weight for better fuel economy. Its more upscale sister brand, GMC, on the other hand, is downsizing its Terrain crossover to be more nimble in the compact SUV segment. Compact SUVs are fast replacing the midsize sedan as the dominant family vehicle.

Even the BMW stand is looking like ute-ville. The German maker graced Detroit with the global reveal of its 5-series sedan, but it’s the BMW X2 coupe concept crossover – which will be the sixth SUV in the performance brand’s lineup — that steals the show. Finally, a sexy SUV from Bimmer.

Grab your grocery bag and let’s go shopping. These are my show highlights:

Bread-and-butter giants

The best-selling car (Toyota Camry) and truck (Ford F-150) both debuted new looks at this year’s show. The Camry is the more dramatic.

The sedan is still the top dog in sedan sales (388,618 sold in 2016) but sales were down 10 percent. As families flee to SUVs like Toyota’s RAV4, customer priorities for sedans shift to style, performance and fuel economy. The new Camry offers all three. Determined to show the world that it’s shedding its vanilla image for more Chunky Monkey Double Chocolate Oreo swirl (well, at least chocolate), Toyota threw the kitchen sink at the new Camry.

Auto show compact, midsize sedans: Cars grab spotlight

Posted by hpayne on January 13, 2017

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These days sedans make more headlines for irritating President-elect Donald Trump than for their sales numbers. With U.S. regulations and labor costs choking profits, sedans have been forced to low-cost Mexico. But in a crossover-crazed world, small sedans remain relevant as they attract young buyers to brands that can ultimately sell them higher-margin, family-size SUVs. Midsize sedans have it tougher as they compete more directly with red hot utes. Which is why the vanilla Toyota Camry is getting some fudge nut swirl.

Dodge Challenger GT

What it is: The muscle car coupe gets AWD. Buy the 305-horse Pentastar V-6 and you can get your Challenger with the same all-wheel-drive system found in the Charger sedan. While practical for all-season driving, the GT doesn’t ignore sportiness with 19-inch, Hyper Black aluminum wheels and a rear deck spoiler. The GT only comes with the V-6 engine option (sorry, Hellcat V-8 fans) but is loaded with all the goodies inside, including Nappa leather heated seats, heated steering wheel, and best-in-the business 8.4-inch Uconnect display with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity.

Payne’s take: For performance enthusiasts who have shied from RWD muscle cars as fair weather rides only, the GT is a real Detroit alternative to AWD hot hatches like the Subaru STI and Golf R. For less than an STI — and slightly more than a RWD ’Stang GT, the posh $35K AWD Challenger is an all-season star.

Smart ForTwo Electric

What it is: Almost ignored at this year’s electric-heavy show is the tiny Smart, now in full EV form. It’s no Chevy Bolt EV, but with a range of 70-100 miles at 10 grand less, the Smart is an affordable city EV that can park (literally) anywhere. Front or sideways at the curb. Between cars. Heck, you can probably take it up the elevator with you. With a roomier cabin than in the past and clever paint job, Smart is an EV with attitude.

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Payne’s take: For city slickers only. Be sure you have a 240-volt outlet available. Try to charge the Smart on a standard, 120-volt outlet and you’re looking at (cough) 22 hours before full charge.

Subaru WRX and WRX STI

What it is: Subaru’s rockin,’ sockin’ all-wheel-drive performance twins get a mid-cycle cosmetic update. What they don’t get is a new chassis based on the Subaru Global Platform like the Impreza. The twins get new grilles, air intakes, LED headlights and 19-inch wheels for the STI. A quieter interior (thanks to door seals and thicker side glass) gets a raft of new toys, including Subaru’s EyeSight safety-assist features and bigger infotainment screens.

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Payne’s take: The plastic surgery is nice, but fans of these rally-racing inspired hoon-mobiles will have to wait another couple years to the get the chassis upgrades promised by the Impreza’s stiffer chassis that has been received with raves from the auto press. That’s a shame since the WRX and STI are under attack from AWD competitors like the Golf R and Ford Focus RS that offer state-of-the-art everything.

Toyota Camry

What it is:America’s best-selling appliance gets a long-awaited overhaul. The result is a Camry that will actually get your heart racing. Are those quad tailpipes on the V-6 powered model? The interior is even more dramatic with a chrome S-curve running through the middle of the console. Of equal importance to the cosmetic changes is an all-new TNGA platform that tightens up the Camry’s somnolent chassis dynamics. The car has a lower roofline and center of gravity.

toyota_camry

Payne’s take: Camry gone wild. In an effort to keep sedans relevant in a SUV world, the best-selling sedan gets dramatic. Heavily sculpted hood. Available red seats. A black body trim package. For all the drama, the Camry’s engine choices remain familiar, including a V-6. “Because our customers like V-6s,” says a spokesman.

Auto show big SUVs, trucks: Market keeps on truckin’

Posted by hpayne on January 13, 2017

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The pickup market just keeps on truckin’ with Nissan joining the Big Three titans: F-series, Silverado/Sierra, and Ram, with its own Titan. Meanwhile, the midsize segment is exploding with Chevy, GMC, Toyota, Honda and even (aged) Nissan gaining sales. Ford was a one-company news storm during the auto show as it unveiled a refreshed F-150 and announced that two icons — the Ranger and Bronco — would be returning to the small pickup fray in short order.

Ford F-150

What it is: Ford’s landmark, all-aluminum pickup gets a mid-cycle refresh with a new fascia and even more engine options. The three-bar grille goes away, replaced by the “double I-beam” found on big brother F-250 Super Duty. Around back, the big pickup gets “F-150” tattooed on its arse. A diesel engine is available for the first time — as well as a new 3.3-liter base engine. Rounding out the lineup is a 2.7-liter turbo, 3.5-liter turbo, and honkin’ 5.0-liter V-8. All but the 3.3-liter are powered by Ford’s new 10-speed tranny.

Payne’s take: After selling more pickups than any other automaker for the 40th straight year in 2016, Ford rubs it in with a refreshed F-truck. The wider, two-bar grille spells the end of Ford’s 10-year, three-bar signature grille that started with the 2006 Ford Fusion. Tough outside, the F-150 is a rolling living room inside (in fact, I think it’s bigger than most living rooms).

GMC Terrain

What it is: Following in the footsteps of its bigger sibling, the GMC Acadia, the Terrain gets an extreme makeover for 2018. Ditching its chunky pickup looks for sleeker styling (check out that floating roof and C-clamp headlight signature), the Terrain sheds almost 500 pounds. With available diesel, 1-5-liter turbo and 2.0-liter turbo engines, the Terrain aims to translate its diet into increased fuel efficiency and driveability.

gmc_terrain

Payne’s take: Previously big for a compact ute, the Terrain right-sizes to go after the Honda CR-V and Ford Escape in the industry’s best-selling segment. With its good looks and nine-speed transmission, the GMC will be the more premium GM choice compared to its Chevy Equinox sibling.

Chevrolet Traverse

What it is: Chevy’s big midsize Traverse goes on a 350-pound diet without compromising its dimensions. Indeed, Chevy claims the three-row SUV gets more rear headroom and legroom. The Traverse gets a new fascia and new boxier sheet metal to match is sizable ambitions. A 3.6-liter V-6 is the volume engine and a 2.0-liter four-banger motivates the Traverse’s sportier, front-wheel drive RS trim. A premium High Country will also be offered for the first time to compete with the Ford Explorer Platinum.

chevy_traverse

Payne’s take: Size matters. While sister GMC Acadia downsized in this segment last year, the Chevy boasts more room than its Honda Pilot and Explorer competitors. The Traverse, which shares its AWD skeleton with the Cadillac XT5 and Acadia, promises surprisingly nimble handling for something so big.

Volkswagen Tiguan

What it is: VW’s compact ute gets a major redo, gaining over 10 inches in length and adding a third-row seat, rare in this class. Powered by a peppy 184-horse turbo-4, the Tiggy offers AWD and a suite of tech toys, including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone connectivity (U.S. market must-haves that many European manufacturers have been slow to adopt).

vw_tiguan

Payne’s take: The Tiguan is key to VW’s reboot in the U.S. market, where it has missed the SUV mark. If priced competitively, the Tiguan’s size, solid chassis and third-row seat option should get it noticed.

Auto show minivans, SUVs: Form beyond function

Posted by hpayne on January 13, 2017

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Sport utility vehicles dominate the U.S. market, making up 60 percent of market share (together with trucks) for 2016. That’s up from 47 percent just six years ago. Driven by customer preference for better visibility and cargo space, utes now parallel sedans, available in every segment of the market. With the development of turbo engines and global platforms, SUVs are making giant strides in fuel efficiency and handling.

Audi Q8

What it is: Just say no to the box. Like the BMW X6 and Mercedes GLC Coupe, the Q8 is a crossover with curves — a coupe version of Audi’s biggest three-row crossover. Based on the same bones as the well-received three-row Q7, the Q8 will have only two rows of seats — so as not to give passengers neck cramps. With a grille larger than a locomotive and 443 horses from its hybrid powertrain, this SUV will fill up your rear-view mirror in a hurry.

Payne’s take: More proof that crossovers are threatening every corner of the car market. The Q8 concept is a near-market-ready concept that should hit dealer lots later this year. The grille and monobrow rear taillight are unique to the Q8 and, hopefully, will make the transition to the production vehicle. Gotta have it in Bombay Blue.

Honda Odyssey

What it is: The best-selling minivan in America remade to keep up with the new, innovative Pacifica and its Stow n’ Go second-row seats. Unlike the Pacifica, the Odyssey doesn’t break ground in styling (it refines its “lightning bolt” design theme), saving the changes for inside. Honda has addressed customer concerns for rug rats in the rear seats — introducing a middle-seat solution called Magic Slide. The seats can be moved laterally so the driver can reach back from the driver’s seat and keep tabs on a young ’un. By sliding the seats inboard, the Odyssey also allows easier third-row access.

honda_odyssey

Payne’s take: The Odyssey is a tech tour de force — or Big Brother depending on your point of view. In addition to Magic Slide, parents can monitor backseat occupants with CabinWatch, an infrared camera in the ceiling. The image is projected on the front console screen. Need to ask what the heck is going on back there? CabinTalk allows front seat-to-rear communication via speakers or headset.

Infiniti QX50

What it is: Billed as a concept, there’s no Q-uestion that this midsize SUV is heading for production. The QX50’s styling is attractive if not as cutting edge as its junior sibling QX30. The 50 saves the innovation for under the hood, where it debuts Infiniti’s variable compression 2.0-liter engine; it provides more power — 268 ponies — and up to 27 percent fuel economy. For you geeks out there, this is accomplished by varying the piston stroke and thus, the car’s compression depending on need.

infiniti_qx50_2

Payne’s take: The current QX50 is older than the Pyramids but was Infiniti’s hottest-selling model in 2016, a testament to Americans’ thrust for family utes. Performance brand Infiniti made the current Q with rear-wheel drive, but look for the revamp to be a front-wheeler.

Mercedes GLA

What it is: The Mercedes GLA — which shares its platform with the Japanese automaker Infiniti — gets a mid-cycle refresh after burning up the sales charts. The GLA is more hot hatch than SUV, with a roofline that looks like it was squashed in a panini maker. Merc fans will know the 2018 model by its new front grille, rear fascia and wheels.

mercedes_gla250_4matic

Payne’s take: Plop down another 17 grand and you can have the AMG version of the GLA which comes with a monster, 375-horse mill and a 155-mph top speed. Own this rocket ute and you can go out and pick on Dodge Chargers on Woodward.

Nissan Rogue Sport

What it is: Honey, I shrunk the Rogue. The Rogue Sport is a junior version of the compact Rogue marketed to the subcompact ute segment occupied by the Honda HR-V, Fiat 500X, Mazda, CX-3 and so on. The Sport gets a smaller four-banger than big brother but is otherwise outfitted in familiar trims. Available in FWD and Detroit winter-friendly AWD.

nissan_rogue_sport

Payne’s take: Like Ford (Ecosport) and Honda (HR-V), the Rogue Sport shares looks with the rest of the family. Unlike those competitors, however, the Rogue Sport does not get its own name. Badged the “Qashqai” in other markets, it would have been fun to see that name here.

 

Auto show sports cars: Market diversity rules stage

Posted by hpayne on January 13, 2017

kia_stinger

The sports car market today is wonderfully diverse, from affordable $20K-something Miatas and Subaru BRZs to $160K Acura NSX supercars. The Detroit show was quiet in new reveals this year, but the band is (almost) all here. Dodge Viper, Corvette Grand Sport, Audi R8 and Acura’s race-prepared NSX are ready to do battle in endurance racing. And speaking of, don’t miss the 2016 LeMans-winning Ford GT supercar — its skin still caked with 24-hours of grit — in the middle of the Ford stand.

Kia Stinger

What it is: Waaay back in 2011, the Kia GT concept drew the screams of adoring media in Frankfurt. Finally, Kia is putting it into production. Gone are the dashing, intake-bisected headlights in favor of more conventional peepers, but the Kia retains its defining Audi A7-like shape. Two engines are available with the 365-horse turbo V-6 the most mouthwatering.

Payne’s take: Not technically a sports car, the Stinger nevertheless was tested extensively at the Nurburgring race track. It sports a sophisticated multi-link suspension and a top-drawer, torque vectoring all-wheel-drive system. With its fast-back coupe styling, torquey turbo and rear-wheel drive platform, this is a performance car in sheep’s clothing.

Lightning McQueen

What it is: The star of Pixar’s “Cars 3” is a muscled, life-size cartoon brought to life in red and yellow sheet metal. Voice by Owen Wilson. Top speed: 200 mph. Chief competitor: Jack Storm. Rated: G.

lightning_mcqueen

Payne’s take: A Hollywood star on the Detroit auto set. Southern drawl and strong shoulders make all the SUV girls swoon.

Mercedes-AMG GT C Coupe

What it is: Flanked at the show by its GT and GT S sisters, the AMG GT C coupe looks like it was penned by Marvel comics as a Merc superhero. A front hood that reaches to the horizon. An angry, “Panamericana” grille. Huge front intakes. Muscular fast back. And under the hood, a 4.0-liter, twin-turbo V-8 with a gazillion horsepower. While the world whizzes by in 3.6 second zero-60 bursts, you can lounge inside in quilted leather seats.

mercedes-amg_gt_c_coupe

Payne’s take: The AMG GT C (which also comes in a drop top) is actually not the most powerful of the six — count ’em, six — GT variants. The mighty AMG GT R version boasts 27 more ponies (577) and is capable of leaping tall buildings in a single bound. Look for it in late summer.

Auto show luxury cars: Eye candy sweet, less plentiful

Posted by hpayne on January 13, 2017

audi_s5_cabriolet

A lot of money can be made in luxury goods, so it’s no wonder more automakers are parking in the premium space. Genesis, Alfa Romeo and Tesla (not in Detroit this year) have all come to market recently, and now Kia is exploring luxe territory with its pretty Stinger sedan coupe. European luxury makers, however, have been scarce at the Detroit show in recent years, as the bulk of their customers are on the coasts. This year Porsche, Jaguar, Land Rover, Ferrari, Maserati, Bentley, Rolls-Royce and Lotus are no-shows. Still, showgoers will find plenty of eye candy with BMW and Audi unveiling world premieres at Cobo. None of the Detroit luxe-makers showed a new car this year, but the 30-way seat Lincoln Continental and the gorgeous Caddy Escala concept are worth second looks.

Audi A5/S5 Cabriolet

What it is: Audi’s lovely A5 coupe drops its top. With the pull of a button, the top will fold away in just 15 seconds at speeds up to 31 mph. With its bonnet in boot, the Cab still promises 13 cubic feet for storage. The A5 comes with a 255-horse turbo A5 for pleasant cruising. Or you can upgrade to an S5 convertible and set the hills on fire with a 364 horse-369 torques blown V-6.

Payne’s take: The A5 is a head turner, beautifully sculpted from stem to stern. Opt for the available Virtual Cockpit display, and you’ll be showing off the interior as much as the exterior. VC uses Google Earth to put your route right in the full color display before you. It’s tech-tastic.

BMW 5-series

What it is: Bimmer’s seventh-gen 5-series gets its debut in Detroit with the 540i. The new gen sports a lighter chassis using magnesium, aluminum and unobtranium (kidding about that last one) that saves 137 pounds. The AWD-base car gets a 3.0-liter, 335-horse inline-6; a BMW M550i xDrive runs on a V-8 belting out 456 horsepower and a hybrid-electric BMW 530e iPerformance delivers up to 15 miles in pure electric mode. Gesture control, voice recognition, self-parking and other toys are available.

bmw_5_series_2

Payne’s take: The 5-series has long set the standard for midsize luxe style. Now, with a hybrid and M-trims, it satisfies every customer’s demand for drive-line capability.

BMW M760i Xdrive

What it is: No, this isn’t the long-awaited M7, but with a V-12 under the hood, it’s hard to imagine better performance than this. The Bavarian maker has been using the M trim to give its cars a sporty vibe while stopping short of going full-moon, werewolf track animal. But with the 601-horse, twin-turbo V-12 driving all four wheels, the AWD M760i is one special thoroughbred. Climb into the M-highlighted interior, bark a destination at the excellent voice recognition system and the road is yours.

bmw_760i

Payne’s take: Apparently the Alpina B7’s 600-horse, twin-turbo V-8 just isn’t enough. Plunk down 155-grand and the V-12 is the best aural symphony this side of a mighty Wurlitzer in the back seat. The M760i does beg the question of what will power the ultimate M7. A solid-fuel rocket perhaps?

Lexus LS

What it is: The fifth-generation Lexus flagship gets leaner, wider and lower. The chassis — shared with its sibling LC 500 sport coupe — sheds 200 pounds while the 386-horsepower V-8 boat anchor up front gets mothballed for a more powerful, blown 415-horse V-6 mated to a new 10-speed tranny.

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Payne’s take: Back in 1989, the Lexus brand debuted with the LS in Motown and the rest is history. It has since taken its place among the best-selling luxury brands in America, but the success of SUV sales (the RX is Lexus’ most popular model now) has pressured the LS to be more daring. With its Darth Vader-like grille and racy lines, Lexus is no vanilla wallflower.

Mercedes E-Class Coupe

What it is: The coupe is a reminder that the once conservative German brand is the sexiest stylist in luxury today. And with a 4.4-inch-longer wheelbase and more power under the hood, the pretty lady has even more to brag about. The coupe eschews the E-class sedan’s base 4-cylinder for a 329-horse, twin-turbo six. The two-door is offered in AWD and will ultimately get a V-8 option with its fire-breathing AMG performance trim..

mercedesEclass

Payne’s take: In addition to its more youthful styling, the E-class coupe is a showcase for the latest in tech, too. A 12.3-inch COMMAND instrument screen headlines interior features that include Apple Carplay and Android Auto connectivity and an inductive pad for smartphone charging. This isn’t your granddad’s Merc.

Volvo V90

What it is: Volvo continues its China-financed product renewal with the elegant V90 wagon. Like the XC90 ute and S90 sedan before it, the V90 gets a signature interior of Scandinavian wood trim, large tablet-like infotainment screen, 4-cylinder engine option (including a powerful turbo-and-supercharged variant) and those distinctive “Thor’s hammer” headlights.

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Payne’s take: The V90 is the most gorgeous wagon I’ve ever laid eyes on, but U.S. dealers will get only the raised (by 2.5 inches) Cross Country version. That’s in deference to Americans’ preference for riding high. If you covet the lower-slung wagon, you’ll need to special order it.

Auto show concept cars: Geekmobiles generate buzz

Posted by hpayne on January 13, 2017

The futuristic concepts are back — but this time as Jetsons-like geekmobiles promising an autonomous future. Some old-school designs are still on the floor — notably the sultry Cadillac Escala — but mobility is this show’s buzzword. And since SUVs are America’s vehicles of choice, there are plenty of concept utes floating around as well.

BMW X2

What it is: Determined to fill every niche of the popular luxury crossover market, the X2 slots between the front-wheel-drive X1 and rear-wheel-drive X3 as a coupe model. Unlike BMW’s X6 crossover coupe, however, the X2 will likely be a front-drive chassis based on the same architecture that frames the X1 and Mini Countryman (a BMW property).

Payne’s take: With its sleek greenhouse and aggressive snout, the X2 brings to mind sexy small utes like Merc’s GLA and the Infiniti QX30 — not the boxier shape that has defined the X3 and X1. And like the AMG GLA and (coming) BMW M X3, this sporty crossover could get a performance variant when it eventually comes to market.

Chrysler Portal

What it is: The Portal is, well, a portal into Chrysler’s thinking about autonomous cars. Designed as a Level 3 autonomous car, the Portal has a steering wheel so a driver can take control when desired (Level 4 autonomous vehicles lack a steering wheel). Based on the Chrysler Pacifica platform, the Portal has doors that slide open, removable seats, and a 100 kWh battery in the floor.

chrysler_portal

Payne’s take: Early autonomous vehicles will likely inhabit fleets and the Portal‘s roomy design is optimal for people-moving. Ride-sharing companies can save billions by removing the driver and insurance overhead. “We haven’t been shy to say that we see the Portal as what we view as the future of family transportation,” Chrysler boss Tim Kuniskis said at the auto show. “People ask me, ‘Is it a minivan? Is it a crossover? Is it a UV (utility vehicle)?’ We just say it’s the fifth generation of cars.”

GAC Trumpchi GS7

What it is: The GS7 debuted at the Detroit show alongside two other GAC concepts in the latest signal that Chinese automakers are inching closer to entering the U.S. market. The GS7 appears as a serious design exercise with a 198-horse turbo-4 and liveable interior. It’s sized to the compact SUV class — the most popular in the USA.

GAC GS7

Payne’s take: With a design that trails the times and fit-and-finish judged Grade C by industry insiders, the GS7 shows China has a ways to go to be competitive here. But with a main floor display at the auto show, the GS7 craves attention.

Nissan Vmotion Concept

What it is: The dramatic Vmotion 2.0 Concept shows sculpted lines, cabinet doors and B-pillarless design as Nissan imagines a driverless world. But the Vmotion’s intentions are more immediate than just autonomy. The car debuts Nissan’s ProPilot automated driving system, which will appear on the next-gen Leaf EV and allow the car to take over accelerator, brakes and steering wheel at highway speeds. Engaging ProPilot causes the car’s grille and rear diffuser to glow, letting others on the road know that the car is driving, you are texting.

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Payne’s take: The Vmotion’s proportions also telegraph the design direction of the Altima sedan. Given the Altima’s forgettable looks, that’s a good thing. I particularly like the deep-cut grille.

Volkswagen I.D. Buzz

What it is: If Chrysler has the Portal, then VW has the Buzz. But the I.D. is meant to be driven as well as self-driven. A monster 111 kWh hour battery sits in the floor, which promises not only 300-mile plus range and lots of interior room, but 369 neck-snapping horsepower. That translates to — not a ’60s retro-hippie mobile — but a 5-second zero-60.

vw_id_buzz

Payne’s take: VW uses its warm-and-fuzzy microbus to announce its future as an electric (ahem, not diesel) carmaker. The Buzz is built on V-dub’s Modular Electric Drive Kit platform, which will be the bones of all its EVs in the near future.

All-new Toyota Camry aims to shed vanilla label

Posted by hpayne on January 10, 2017

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The auto market’s best-selling vanilla car is adding a little fudge ripple swirl.

Toyota introduced its 2018 Toyota Camry at the Detroit auto show Monday — made fresh with a new chassis, lower center of gravity and edgy look. The best-selling car in America for the last 15 years (the Ford F-series pickup is the best-selling vehicle), the Camry has won over generations of buyers with its bullet-proof reliability and IHS Top Safety pick status. But its design has grown tired in a segment that is losing ground to bigger, more utilitarian crossovers.

Under direction from President Akio Toyoda to make all its products more fun to drive, Toyota’s ol’ reliable Camry tried to stretch the envelope with cosmetic changes for the 2015 model year. But the 2018 car is remade from the ground up on the Toyota New Global Architecture, which first underpinned the (much sportier) Prius hybrid last year.

With a lower-by-an-inch driver seating position and roof, the Camry gains a more dynamic chassis stance.

Job One, however, was making the Camry more interesting to look at. To that end, Toyota has tailored its “Keen Look” design philosophy to lower the hood by almost two inches, while incorporating a “thin and thick” two-grille treatment.

“In order to create something that stirs people’s soul, we’ve laid out the concept of a new sedan that provides fun and excitement behind the wheel,” said Camry Chief Engineer Masato Katsumata in a statement. “In developing the next-generation Toyota Camry, we were able to start with a clean slate, which allowed us to create a true driver’s car.”

With buyers flocking to high-seating position SUVs, the Camry aims at more performance-minded driver who accepts a lowered seating position for better handling.

Work up through the Camry’s familiar four trims — LE, XLE, SE and XSE — and the mid-size sedan gets even more dramatic in appearance. The SE and XSE grades wear a noticeably different body style highlighted by a sculpted rocker panel, 19-inch black wheels, rear spoiler lip and diffuser, and aggressive front bumper.

Engine options – a 2.5-liter, inline 4-cylinder, 3.5-liter V6, and 2.5-liter hybrid with battery assist – do not change from the current generation. But Toyota says all three drivetrains have been reworked to provide more horsepower and torque. The base 4-banger is projected to get best-in-class fuel economy. The gas engine swill be mated to an all-new, 8-speed automatic (up from the current 6-speed) while the hybrid will get a familiar, continuously variable tranny.

Toyota also projects best-in-class fuel efficiency for the hybrid, a crown it had given up to the Ford Fusion after innovating hybrids in the mid-size segment.

Sitting on a two-inch longer wheelbase, the Camry promises an increase in interior room that was already near the top in class – and outward interior visibility thanks to better placement of the side mirrors relative to the A-pillar. The Camry features premium, soft interior materials and a new, more futuristic dash design with a character line extending from the instrument panel and bisecting the “waterfall” console. A heads-up-display unit – innovated years ago by Cadillac – is also available.

The console is run by a new, Entune 3.0 system that offers upgraded navigation and vehicle WiFi for up to five devices. Toyota has not yet adopted Apple Car Play and Android Auto connectivity apps popular in other vehicles in class. The Camry will have available a full suite of driver assist features that once separated mainstream from luxury cars. No more. Camry features include pre-collision assist with pedestrian detection and automatic high beams.

“The all-new 2018 Camry is, without a doubt, the most captivating mid-size sedan we’ve ever produced,” said Bob Carter, Toyota senior vice president of automotive operations, in a statement. “It delivers on everything Camry owners have come to expect from America’s best-selling car, and adds to it, jaw-dropping design, more advanced technology, cutting-edge safety systems, and stirring performance that raises it to an unparalleled level of excitement.”

Made in Georgetown, Kentucky, the 2018 Camry is scheduled to go on sale in late summer 2017.

Payne: How I went 3-for-3 on Car of the Year

Posted by hpayne on January 10, 2017

Predictably, the charming, retro-musical “La La Land” (that, and it’s got heartthrob Ryan Gosling) swept the Golden Globes this weekend — the first of an expected dominance of the awards circuit.

The Chevy Bolt electric vehicle is the “La La Land” of automobiles.

Bolt EV added to its bulging trophy case Monday morning by taking home North American Car of the Year to open the Detroit auto show. Judged by a flock of independent auto journalists from across the U.S. and Canada, the prestigious NACTOY is given to car, utility and truck of the year. I am one of those car-crazy judges, and like my colleagues I voted for the Bolt as car of the year. I don’t know a juror who didn’t.

The Bolt, the first battery-powered car to get over a 200-mile range for under $40,000, is that good. It beat out worthy competitors that would have won in any other year. The Genesis G90 is the flagship of Hyundai’s new luxury brand. I like everything about it. Its chiseled body cut from a block of marble. Its spacious interior. Its Saturn-like, simple pricing strategy. Third finalist Volvo S90 is a stunning sedan (though its sister XC90 SUV took away last year’s truck trophy so it seemed familiar).

But how do you say no to a mini-Tesla Model S?

With a similar 60 kWh battery as the base Tesla, the Bolt EV is a mini hot hatch. At our NACTOY test of the nominees in October, I flogged the stuffing out of the little beastie over Hell, Michigan’s twisties. Squalling tires, instant torque, regenerative paddle for braking. It was (almost) as much fun as my favorite, $40K VW Golf R hot hatch. And it will comfortably sit four.

“We set out to make, not only a great EV, but a great car,” said GM electrics guru Pam Fletcher. Mission accomplished.

The other categories were more competitive, though I thought both had obvious standouts.

For the first time, we separated utes because, well, they are the dominant vehicle sold. That and it was getting silly lumping small SUVs with ginormous trucks. Last year the subcompact Mazda CX3 crossover was matched against the Nissan Titan. We couldn’t let that happen again.

With the herds properly separated, the Chrysler Pacifica stood out as best utility (and got my vote). Chrysler may be struggling as a brand, but it still sets the bar in a minivan segment it created. Replacing the Town & Country, the Pacifica redefines the boxy segment with a sleek design any soccer mom (or dad) can embrace. Innovation abounds from the kick-open sliding doors to the 30-mile-on-one-charge hybrid variant. Inside, the Pacifica is a rolling IKEA store with Stow ‘n’ Go seats and drawers (yes, drawers) for front storage.

My vote wasn’t unanimous, however, as I gave points to Mazda’s CX-9. The Japanese maker’s largest SUV, it is more beautiful than anything made by a luxury manufacturer. Even the Jaguar F-Pace, the other ute finalist.

As for truck, it’s hard to vote against the Ford F-series pickup, and the Dearborn maker brought out its Super Duty F-250 to stomp the competition this year. It’s a better truck than the very good Nissan Titan entry, but the big boys were beaten out by a smaller fish.

I concur with my colleagues that the Honda Ridgeline, the only pickup built on a unibody chassis, breaks ground for pickup riding comfort. Let me grab a garbage can top as you Ford fans pelt me with rocks. Pickups should be able to pull ocean liners, you say. Pickups should be able to wade the English Channel. Yes, but smaller, midsize trucks appeal to a more urban customer, more concerned with drivability than payloads (for which the Ridgeline is still plenty capable).

The Honda may be the first of other unibody-based pickups as manufacturers save costs by consolidating platforms. Will the next Chevy Colorado be on the new Traverse SUV platform? Might a future Ford pickup share Escape architecture? Everyone’s keeping an eye on the Honda’s success.

In the meantime, I’m looking forward to the Chevy Bolt EV’s reception in the marketplace. Will America embrace a $40K electric hatchback? Or will it only appeal to Hollywood greens in La La land.

Kia Stinger shows sultry sedan coupe

Posted by hpayne on January 10, 2017

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Like the publication of the annual Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition in the dead of winter, Kia Motors warmed up the frigid Detroit auto show Sunday with the introduction of a gorgeous, four-door sedan coupe called the Stinger.

Realizing the promise of Kia’s acclaimed GT concept first shown in Geneva in 2011, the Stinger’s long wheelbase and fast back is modeled after $80,000 sedan coupes like the Audi A7 and Porsche Panamera – but priced much closer to the $40,000 Audi A4 compact sedan.

The sleek Stinger marks another bold move by the Korean automaker to expand beyond its mainstream, affordable roots to compete in the world of performance luxury. While sister automaker Hyundai has created a separate luxury automaker called Genesis, Kia is exploring luxury under its same nameplate – first with the K900 large luxury sedan and now with the Stinger coupe.

Not uncoincidentally, the Stinger’s design comes at the hand of Kia design chief Peter Schreyer, a former Audi draftsman. While Kia says that the Stinger aims to “redefine a segment currently populated by European automakers” – like the Audi A4, Infiniti Q50 and BMW 4 Gran Coupe – the car’s 114.4-inch long wheelbase is considerably bigger than those compact sedans. It’s similar to the midsize Audi A7 and Panamera.

The Kia takes its performance cues from those bigger sedans, sporting a rear-wheel architecture that underwent athletic training at the world-renowned Nurburgring race track in Germany. But performance does not come at the expense of comfort.

“A true gran turismo, a car for spirited long-distance driving, is not about outright power, hard-edged dynamics and brutal styling, all at the expense of luxury, comfort and grace,” said Gregory Guillaume, the European designer who penned the Stinger from the company’s Frankfurt studio.  “The Stinger has nothing to do with being the first to arrive at the destination – this car is all about the journey. It’s about passion.”

That passion is evident in the Stinger’s dramatic styling, from Kia’s signature “Tiger Nose” grille to the front fender gills to the swept roofline to the dual exhaust pipes. The Stinger’s silhouette mimics the Audi A7 but features a unique, ovoid rear fascia.

The Stinger’s long wheelbase offers roomy interior quarters despite its low, swept roofline. The car comes loaded with the latest safety technology, including a driver alert system to combat drowsy driving, forward collision assistance, a heads-up display, rear-cross traffic alert, and so on. State-of-the-art audio systems are also available, including a Harmon/Kardon music hall with 15 speakers.

True to its performance DNA, bolstered Nappa leather seats with air-cell bladders are available along with a TFT screen between the instrument gauges that displays performance data such as cornering G-forces, oil temperature and even lap times for the truly adventurous.

Under the long front hood, engine choices are more in line with the compact luxury segment with 2.0-liter four and twin-turbo, 3.3-liter V-6 offerings. Both mules, however, will provide plenty of kick – most notably, the V-6 which puts out 365 horsepower; more than the six-cylinder engines in the BMW 4-series GT, Audi A7, or Porsche Panamera.

The engines will be mated to an eight-speed automatic familiar to drivers of the K900 sedan as well as Genesis luxury models like the G90. The Stinger will be offered with a sophisticated, torque-vectoring all-wheel drive system for wintry climates like Michigan. According to Kia’s press release, the system “automatically applies power and braking force to the appropriate wheels to maintain course in adverse conditions.”

The Stinger rides on 18- or 19-inch tires with 10 inches of rubber in the rear to accommodate the aggressive engine and chassis. With 55-percent, high-strength steel and MacPherson front and multi-link rear suspension, the sleek Kia is ready to rumble when the thermometer climbs above freezing.

For complete coverage of the Detroit auto show go to detroitnews.com/autos/auto-show

Bolt, Pacifica, Ridgeline win top NACTOY honors

Posted by hpayne on January 10, 2017

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The envelopes, please. The winners for North American Car, Utility Vehicle and Truck of the Year are, respectively, the Chevy Bolt EV, Chrysler Pacifica and Honda Ridgeline.

The trio was announced this morning on the Cobo Center Atrium Stage before a packed house of auto executives and journalists to kick off press preview days at the Detroit auto show. The 23rd annual NACTOY award is one of the post prestigious in the auto industry.

The Chevy Bolt is the first electric vehicle under $40,000 to travel more than 200 miles on a single charge. The Bolt has dominated the auto awards season, taking Motor Trend Car of the Year and being named to Car and Driver’s Top Ten list. With its large 60 kWh of battery (the same size as a base Tesla Model S) in the floor of the vehicle, the Bolt EV gains interior room as well as a low center of gravity. The result is clever packaging that makes the Bolt EV both roomy for a compact car, yet still nimble in the corners.

“We set out to make, not only a great electric vehicle, but a great car,” said Bolt EV Chief Engineer Pam Fletcher, accepting the award.

Added Mark Reuss, GM’s head of global product development: “General Motors is committed to leading in mass-produced, attainable high-value and exciting vehicles. This is…our springboard into the future.”

Other car nominees were the Genesis G90, the flagship for Hyundai’s new Genesis luxury line, and the Volvo S90, which hoped to follow in the footsteps of its sibling XC90 which won 2016 truck of the year.

The utility prize made its NACTOY debut this year. The Pacifica, which reinvented the minivan with its sleek, multi-functional features, was the popular choice for the award. In addition to the V-6-powered van, Pacifica debuted the first-ever hybrid-electric minivan with a range of up to 30 miles on battery power alone.

“This is the perfect family car,” said Chrysler boss Tim Kuniskis, as he took the NACTOY trophy designed by ex-GM design chief Ed Welburn.

Other utes in the running were Jaguar’s F-Pace, which turned heads with the British marque’s first entry in the SUV space, and Mazda’s three-row CX-9 SUV, one of the prettiest utility in the land.

In the Big Three’s Detroit backyard any truck winner other than a F-series, Silverado, or RAM is a surprise. But the mid-size Honda Ridgeline is unique in the midsize truck class with its unibody chassis structure.

“The Ridgeline is re-imagining the pickup truck,” said John Mendel, Honda executive vice president for North America, to cheers from his Honda team.

The car-like structure gives the Ridgeline the best road manners in class. Truck finalists included the 2017 F-250 Super Duty, the latest, largest version of the F-series’ revolutionary, all-aluminum body construction. The Nissan Titan  followed big brother XD  — a finalist for 2016 truck — in trying to put a dent in Detroit Three dominance of the trucking arena.

The three finalists in each category 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.

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.

Ford takes wraps off updated F-150

Posted by hpayne on January 10, 2017

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How do you celebrate 40 years of Ford F-series dominance with an enviable 820,000 pickups sold in 2016 alone? Roll out a new F-150.

To kick off the Detroit auto show this morning, Ford announced the first update to its ground-breaking, aluminum-body truck since it wowed the auto show as a 2015 model in 2014. With the 2018 pickup, the headlines just keep coming.

The new truck ditches the three-bar grille that has been Ford’s signature design for over a decade, and brings a diesel engine to the light-duty truck lineup (previously offered only in heavy duty) for the first time in its nearly 70-year history. Ford, the official truck of the NFL, will preview the F-150 on the Fox NFL Wildcard Pregame Show at 4 p.m. Sunday, and then unveil it at Ford’s news conference at the North American International Auto Show on Monday morning.

Ford crested the 800,000 sales bar for the first time since 2005, leading truck market sales with the F-150 and its new for 2016 F-250 Super Duty brother. The Ford beat out its biggest competitor — the Chevy Silverado by over 250,000 units sold, and it beat General Motors’ Silverado/GMC Sierra twins by about 24,000.

“It’s the best-selling truck since disco,” said Todd Eckert, Ford truck group marketing manager.

The 2017 Super Duty broke from the F-150 with a fresh, two-bar grille — dubbed “double I-beam” by Ford. Embraced by buyers, the F-250 grille style — with seven variations — is migrating to the F-150 along with a new bumper and headlamps. Changes to the rear fascia include new taillights and the letters “F150” tattooed on the tailgate.

The three-bar retires after a 14-year run that began with the Ford 427 Concept sedan that was rolled out at the 2003 Detroit Auto Show. The 427 inspired a “bolder, more American” design style that first graced the 2006 Ford Fusion sedan and was the echoed throughout the lineup from the Ford Focus compact to the Ford Edge. The F-150 fascia went three-bar in 2009.

“We took the grille and really stretched it to give it more width,” said Gordon Platto, F-series designer. “The Super Duty was liked so well with the double I-beam, we felt an obligation to create harmony between big brother and little brother.”

The 3.0-liter turbo-diesel leads a revamped engine lineup that includes a turbocharged Ecoboost 2.7-liter engine; twin-turbo V-6. 5.0-liter V-8; and a new base-model 3.3-liter V-6. Innovative port and direct fuel-injection systems increase fuel efficiency and durability.

“Direction injection engines have improved fuel efficiency, but the problem is they have come with carbon buildup,” says Dave Sullivan, manager of product analysis for research firm AutoPacific. “Adding port injection will solve that problem and increase engine longevity. Other manufacturers like Toyota are also moving toward this solution.”

The 2018 F-150 is due in showrooms in the fall 2017, but the diesel version won’t be available until the summer 2018. Built in England by Ford, the diesel will deliver impressive towing ability and is the same oil-burner found in Land Rover’s SUVs.

All engines but the 3.3-liter will be mated to a new 10-speed automatic transmission — co-developed with GM — that was first introduced on the 2017 Ford Raptor muscle pickup. The 3.3-liter V-6 (downsized from the current 3.5-liter) will be married to a 6-speed automatic. The F-150 will come standard with stop-start technology, which turns off the engine at stoplights to save fuel.

The F-150 will be the first light-duty truck to get pre-collision assist with pedestrian detection as well as adaptive cruise control which can come to a complete stop – then accelerate again. The 2018 model will also have an available Wi-Fi hot spot that can accommodate up to 10 devices. The F-150 will come with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone compatibility.

In addition to the seven new grille choices, the 2018 F-150 will sport six new wheel options (from 17- to-22 inch) and more interior color and material choices. All these options across five model trims – XL, XLT, Lariat, King Ranch and Platinum – make for hundreds of potential pick configurations.

“We like to offer our customers as much customization as possible,” says Platto.

While 2018 F-150 pricing won’t be released until later this year, it won’t differ much from the current model which starts at $28,025 for a base XL and tops out at over $64,000 in Platinum trim with all the goodies. The F-150 is built in Dearborn, Louisville, Kentucky, and Kansas City, Missouri.

For complete coverage of the Detroit auto show go to detroitnews.com/autos/auto-show

New models ready for their close-up at auto show

Posted by hpayne on January 6, 2017

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The Detroit auto show rolls into town Sunday for a two-week stay that promises something for everyone: futuristic self-driving cars, Detroit classics, the latest sport utilities, state-of-the-art sports cars … even a life-size version of “Cars 3” star Lightning McQueen.

The McQueen racer will be a lighthearted kickoff to the high-tech AutoMobili-D — a showcase for speakers and startups on the cutting edge of autonomous and ride-sharing technologies, AutoMobili-D will commence Sunday on Cobo Center’s Atrium Stage.

Some 5,000 journalists from around the world will attend over 40 new-car reveals on Sunday and Monday. On Jan. 13, the show will roll out the red carpet for the glitzy Charity Preview ball, which has raised over $41 million for children’s charities in the last decade. While party-goers sleep off hangovers on Jan. 14, the show opens its doors to the general public until Jan. 22. Last year, the Detroit Show recorded its biggest gate since 2003 with 815,575 attendees.

Now in its 28th year, the North American International Auto Show has weathered industry cycles — including the devastating recession of 2008 — to remain one of three premier auto shows on the planet along with Geneva and Frankfurt/Paris.

“Because of the number of press here, this is a great show to launch things,” says Sam Slaughter, NAIAS chairman and CEO of Sellers Subaru and Sellers Buick and GMC dealerships in the metro area.

Now, as the industry faces an “inflection point” (in the words of AutoMobili-D speaker John Krafcik, CEO of Google autonomous car spinoff Waymo), Slaughter says NAIAS organizers recognized the need to make the show a display case for the technologies that are transforming the industry. Automakers this year have used the CES technology show in Las Vegas to introduce high-tech vehicles like Chrysler’s self-driving Portal EV concept and Toyota artificial-intelligence driven Concept-i. Those vehicles — and the creative talent behind them — will also be in Detroit.

“These are the brains behind the behind the autonomous future,” says Slaughter. “We have an amazing story to tell with over 50 startups in Cobo.”

Those startups will join establishment pillars in presenting their visons of a new auto mobility. . The startups , meanwhile, will be among 100 companies to populate nearby Hall E — aka “Cobo’s basement” — that in years past has been outfitted for everything from tree-lined, electric-car demonstration courses to displays for Chinese automakers.

This year, a Chinese company will graduate to the show’s main floor as Guangzhou Automobile Group looks to follow Japanese and Korean companies as a successful, Pacific Rim export to the U.S.

All eyes will be on Japanese giant Toyota as it reveals an all-new Camry sedan, the best-selling car in America. For all the talk of self-aware EVs, the bread-and-butter of American manufacturers remains gas-powered cars and SUVs.

The Camry is promising an extreme makeover as it tries to remain relevant in a market that’s crossed over to crossovers. Camry sales, echoing all sedans, were down 10 percent in 2016. Since the recession, ute sales have exploded to 60 percent of the market and NAIAS offerings continue the trend. SUV reveals from automakers as diverse as Chevrolet (Traverse), Ford (Expedition), Audi (Q8), Infiniti (QX50 concept), and BMW (Concept X2) will debut on the menu.

“This will be a meat and potatoes show,” IHS Automotive analyst Stephanie Brinley says of the core offerings coming from automakers including a new version of Honda’s best-selling Odyssey minivan.

“Auto product is still the most important part of NAIAS,” shrugs Brinley in reference to the tech buzz in the air. “We went through a phase when every show had to be green. Now every show has to be high-tech. Soon tech will just be part of the auto landscape.”

Showgoers will feel, however, the absence of several brands on the show floor. Past exhibitors Porsche, Tesla, Mini Cooper, Jaguar, Land Rover, Bentley, Ferrari and Maserati are AWOL this year.

The reasons are many.

Exclusive brands prefer more intimate venues where wealthy customers can be wooed one-on-one — like The Gallery event at the MGM Grand Casino that officially opens the show on Saturday and where beautiful Ferraris and Lamborghinis will be on display for $500 a ticket. In a multi-media age some automakers also aren’t as dependent on auto shows for attention.

But even some major exhibitors are turning away from press conferences to show new wares — brands like Buick, Cadillac, Dodge, Mazda and Acura.

Brinley blames this dearth of glitz on automakers taking a breath from frantic new car development.

“What we’ve seen since the recession is a big increase in new offerings to meet new product directions,” says Brinley. “A little slowdown in product cadence is natural.”

Show attendees will still be dazzled by auto displays worthy of a place in Times Square — part of a $200 million upgrade last year in which 80 percent of manufacturers remade their displays. The high-def, pixel-pallooza of giant LED screens is a high-tech marvel itself — with more stage tweaks this year from GMC, Subaru and Nissan.

For all the 21stcentury tech, though, the Detroit Show will also honor its roots. Before the reveals, before the speeches, before the champagne … three vintage cars from the American Car Museum will complete a six-state, 12-day, 2,150-mile winter journey from Boston to Detroit. Friday morning, winter Dream Cruisers can join a 1957 Chevrolet Nomad, 1961 Chrysler 300G and 1966 Ford Mustang as they travel down Woodward to christen the show.

“This is the second annual ‘Drive Home’ and I hope it becomes a tradition,” says NAIAS chairman Slaughter. “With all that’s going on in the industry, it’s a great way to connect to our history.”

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

Detroit auto show

Friday: “The Drive Home II: The Heritage Run” – final leg of drive from Boston to Detroit by 1957 Chevy Nomad, ’61 Chrysler 300G and ’66 Ford Mustang

■9-10 a.m.: Cars & Coffee at Lincoln of Troy

■10-11:30 a.m.: Drive down Woodward Avenue

■Noon: Press conference, Cadillac Square

Saturday: The Gallery of ultra-luxury cars, MGM Grand Detroit. Tickets: $500.

Sunday-Thursday: Press days/AutoMobili-D

Wednesday-Thursday: Industry preview

Jan. 13: Charity preview, 6-9 p.m. Tickets: $400

Jan. 14-22: Public days, Cobo Center. 9 a.m.-10 p.m. daily (no admittance after 9 p.m.), except Jan. 22, when hours are 9 a.m.-7 p.m. (no admittance after 6 p.m.). Tickets: $13 adults, $7 age 65 and older, $7 age 7-12, free for ages 6 and under

Payne’s 2016 Detroit Show Top 10: Where are they now?

Posted by hpayne on January 5, 2017

Chrysler Pacifica: All that’s left of Chrysler’s lineup

It’s almost show time in Detroit once again, but visions of last year still dance in our heads. The 2016 North American International Auto Show unveiled a little of everything from sleek sedans to pickups; from the electric Chevy Bolt EV hatchback to the 745-horsepower, V-8-powered VLF Force 1 sports car. With auto sales revving to over 17 million unites, there was a toy for everyone.

So before the new acts roll out for 2017, here’s an update on my 2016 Detroit Show Top 10. Are they as good as promised? Have they even turned a key? Let’s find out …

Chrysler Pacifica

Everyone knows minivans are the best family haulers out there, but they’ve been typecast as boxy mom-mobiles (remember the devastating Mitsubishi SUV ad: “Whoever owns the tan minivan, your lights are on.”). The handsome Pacifica aims to change all that — including a plug-in version so you never need visit a gas station if your daily routine covers less than 30 miles. Pacifica’s sculptural design echoes Mercedes’ R-Class wagon, and doesn’t skimp on inside amenities with a dresser-drawer console and stowable, foldable, removable middle seats.

BMW M2: BMW delivered its 365-horsepower M2 – a $56K

BMW M2

BMW delivered its 365-horsepower M2 — a $56,000 gateway drug to BMW’s iconic performance badge that includes such highs as the $80,000 M4 and $115,000 X5 M SUV. A throwback to earlier, more compact generations of M-coupe — its dimensions the same as my own 2001 M3 — the ferocious M2 looks fast just parked at curbside. I found it more fun than any BMW I’ve driven — with a bottomless well of torque from its twin-turbo V-6. In a year that saw the sensational Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio challenge the M’s performance crown, the M2 is a reminder that the German brand is still the benchmark for style and speed.

Lincoln Continental: 
</div>If BMW’s M is all about performance,

Lincoln Continental

If BMW’s M is all about performance, the Lincoln brand is about interior comfort. The brand’s flagship Continental is a rolling couch. Check that, it’s way more comfortable than your couch. The 30-way front throne is tops in class — including an auto-headrest that cradles your head like a mother’s arm. From the posh rear seat you have full interior control from radio to moon-roof to front passenger seat positioning. No wonder that’s where Lincoln-spokesman Matthew McConaughey hangs out in his latest ads.

Honda Ridgeline: 
</div>Ridgeline 2.0 is back with the only

Honda Ridgeline

Ridgeline 2.0 is back with the only crossover-like, unibody chassis in the hot, small-pickup segment. Though the Honda gives up some towing and hauling capability to its more traditional, body-on-frame competitors from Chevy and Toyota, its ride is unparalleled on-road. Which is where most of its metropolitan owners will drive it. With its Acura-shared, torque-vectoring AWD system it’s fun to get dirty off-road, too.

Lexus LC500 Coupe: 
</div>I have yet to get my mitts on Lexus’

Lexus LC500 Coupe

I have yet to get my mitts on Lexus’ dramatic-looking, six-figure flagship, which is due in the States in the first quarter of 2017. The LC is a two-door sports car — but with its big, honking, front-mounted V-8 and porky 4,300 pounds, it’s aimed more at BMW 6-series customers than at the rubber-burning Porsche 911 crowd.

VLF Force 1: 
</div>Based on the now-defunct Dodge Viper

VLF Force 1

Based on the now-defunct Dodge Viper bones, the front-engine supercar is the second offering from VLF (the initials of partners Gilbert Villarreal, a successful manufacturer, ex-GM product guru “Maximum Bob” Lutz and legendary designer Henrik Fisker), a company that builds automotive Frankensteins for luxury customers. The first was the VLF Destino — a plug-in Fisker Karma retooled with a Corvette V-8 — which rolled out last year. In a nondescript building overlooking The Palace of Auburn Hills, the Force 1 is slowly taking shape. With a 513-cubic-inch Viper engine, you’ll feel the Hills shake when it’s ready.

Chevrolet Bolt: 
</div>For those living under a rock for

Chevrolet Bolt

For those living under a rock for the last year, the Bolt EV is the first electric car under $40,000 to go over 200 miles on a charge (238 miles to be exact). That range is real (though expect to subtract 25 percent in Michigan’s frigid winter temps), but this is no green snore-wagon. With the same-sized battery (60 kWh) as a base Tesla model S, low center of gravity and no range anxiety, the five-door hot hatch is a blast to drive hard.

Ford Fusion: 
</div>With Aston Martin-like good looks and

Ford Fusion

With Aston Martin-like good looks and the best-bod in class, the Fusion didn’t need to change much for its 2016 refresh. A nifty e-shifter here, sharpened grille there. The real changes came underneath where the mid-sizer adds Sport, battery-powered Energi, and luxe Platinum trims to its already diverse lineup. Powered by a throaty, 325-horsepower V-6, the Sport is a hot sedan with luxury performance at $20K less.

Acura Precision concept: 
</div>The Precision debuted as

Acura Precision concept

The Precision debuted as an old-school, head-turning design concept. The sedan’s purpose was to inspire Acura’s tired lineup and its effect is already being felt. The 2017 Acura MDX crossover sports the Precision-inspired “Diamond Pentagon” grille (ditching the much-maligned bottle opener). A near-production ready Acura Precision Cockpit concept followed at the LA Auto Show which points the way toward a new, touchpad-controlled infotainment interface.

Buick Avista: If you didn’t remember Acura’s concept,

Buick Avista

If you didn’t remember Acura’s concept, it’s probably because Buick’s concept blew everyone’s socks off at last year’s show. The stunning coupe — based on the same Alpha platform that under-girds the athletic Cadillac ATS and Camaro — inspired hope for a production version. Don’t hold your breath. Like the Precision, Avista is more likely to inspire next-generation sedans – like the stunning Lacrosse and coming Regal.

Payne: Jeep Wrangler, swamp thing

Posted by hpayne on December 29, 2016

Detroit News auto critic Henry Payne took the Jeep

My 2017 Jeep Wrangler is covered in mud. We’re marooned in a gulch. Up to the footboards in water. A three-foot step from the nearest mud bank. All four wheels spinning in place.

I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

The Mounds Off-road Vehicle Park is in the middle of a swamp 12 miles northwest of Flint. It’s 230 acres of bogs, hills, mud, sand and forest. A web of trails cuts through this forbidding landscape booby-trapped with roots, rock and moguls that challenge the fortitude of any off-roader. This is Wrangler country.

Jeep sells its rugged image to over a million customers a year. From the posh Grand Cherokee Summit to the cute, subcompact Renegade, Jeep’s familiar seven-slot grille is everywhere. It’s the outdoorsman’s automaker. The original sport utility vehicle has drive modes for SAND, MUD and OCEAN BOTTOM (OK, made that last one up). Even if most owners never take their comfy crossover anyplace more adventurous than a county road.

It’s an image built on the iconic Wrangler, a direct descendent of the Army’s World War II Jeep.

I’d never driven the famed Wrangler. Like a tough kid from the other side of the tracks, Wrangler’s first impressions can be, um, uncomfortable. The front hood is held down by straps. A tire on the back hatch makes access difficult. The exterior styling is retro-World War with big bumpers and an upright windshield. It gets more Spartan inside.

My Wrangler Sahara costs a whopping $45,000, but its technology is stuck in the Stone Age: There’s no keyless entry. It has nets for storage on the doors, and a hard plastic dash and door rests. At least it has power windows. You need the strength of Hercules to pull the drive mode shifter from 2WD to 4WD.

With the Wrangler’s brawny, 32-inch tires and 3.6-liter V-6 roaring, I communicated with Mrs. Payne in the seat next to me by megaphone.

But like my favorite, trunk-challenged, apex-carving Alfa Romeo 4C sports car, the Wrangler is built for play. What other vehicle is engineered for easy door removal? When I jumped into the tall Jeep, I hit my head. I turned to find a huge, 21/4-inch roll bar spanning the cockpit. Now we’re talking.

Don’t buy a Wrangler unless you plan to go off-road. Like the Mounds. In, say, December.

Late fall might be the most challenging time of year at the park.

After a week of torrential rains the swamp-like terrain was even swampier than normal. The park gatekeeper warned me to stay away from watery gulches. You know, like when Mom used to tell you to stay away from mud puddles on your way home. So naturally I ignored the advice and charged right in.

On asphalt the Wrangler’s body-on-frame chassis and big Bridgestone tires give it the manners of a crude pickup without the bed. Off asphalt, it’s a terrain-shredding animal. But my Wrangler met its match in a deep, water-filled rut. Like losing adhesion on a race track, you got to explore the edge of the envelope.

“You aren’t off-roading unless you get stuck,” said Kelly Boerner of Newport, Michigan, who brought his cavalry of veteran off-roaders to rescue me.

Kelly and his mates had done Bundy Hill and Silver Lake, but it was their first visit to The Mounds. They looked like one of those vehicle trains from the “Mad Max” movies. Vehicles big and small. Chevy Trailblazers, RAM 1500 … and lots of Wranglers. Half the vehicles I saw at The Mounds (not counting ATVs and dirt bikes) were of the Jeep variety — and many had already been stuck. Indeed, the swamp was littered with marooned carcasses like a sort of present day La Brea Tar Pits. Difference is, dinosaurs didn’t have trucks to pull them out.

Our savior was a Ram 1500 pickup with five-inch suspension rider addition, hemi V-8, 38-inch tires and tow gear. Owner D.J. Floreskul threw a line around my tow tongue (just like my Lola 90 sports racer, oddly enough) and yanked me out of the bog back to terra firma. Well, at least terra mud.

There were other limits on the vast Flint playground. I learned to stay away from the rock quarries. The Sahara’s more refined features include cool 18-inch wheels with Granite Chrystal painted pockets and dent-prone steel fenders.

To further explore the limits (if not the watery bogs), I’d suggest the Wrangler Rubicon with a lift kit, plastic fenders and electronically detachable front sway bar. The latter basically gives the vehicle knees — allowing the front wheels to move independently of each other to crawl over rocks.

You might guess Wranglers are boy toys (like sports racers), but you’d be wrong. The Mounds was littered with Jeep women. And everywhere I went in Oakland County, I found females flogging Wranglers. An empty-nester friend had traded in her Town & Country minivan for a Wrangler. A retiree bombs around Arizona in her Jeep. Heck, even Mrs. Payne confided to me that she coveted a Wrangler as her first car as a 16-year-old.

Wrangler fan Lauren Stuart (she has two) fell hard for the brand while on a Pink Jeep tour in Sedona, Arizona. I know the Pink Jeeps. They’re the tour guides through Arizona’s impossible canyon trials. This summer, Lauren drove cross country to Sedona in her Rubicon (license plate “BE FIT”) to tackle the Pink Jeep trails themselves.

She must have used her smartphone’s Google Maps to get there. True to the Jeep’s stuck-in-WWII technology, my Wrangler’s navigation system couldn’t get us to The Mounds. Not because it couldn’t find it, but because its directions lagged about 5 miles behind us. It’s a rare glitch in Jeep’s usually excellent UConnect system.

Wrangler’s proven, torquey Pentastar V-6 mill had no issues. Its 285 ponies can easily outrun any bee nests you might disrupt in the wilderness. The Wrangler is unique: Loud, rugged, with a face that looks like it’s been to Normandy and back. It was built to run through a brick wall.

Just beware of the depth of the watery gulch on the other side.

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

2017 Jeep Wrangler Sahara Unlimited

specifications

VEHICLE TYPE FRONT-ENGINE, FOUR-WHEEL DRIVE, FIVE-PASSENGER SUV
Power plant 3.6-liter V-6
Transmission 6-speed manual; 5-speed automatic (as tested)
Weight 3,976 pounds (automatic as tested)
Price $24,990 ($45,045 as tested)
Power 285 horsepower, 260 pound-feet torque
Performance Zero-60: 8.4 seconds (Car and Driver); towing: 3,500 pounds
Fuel economy EPA 16 city/21 highway/18 combined

report card

HIGHS FEARLESS OFF-ROADER; THAT WWII JEEP FACE
Lows Loud interior; over $40,000 in upper trims

Overall:★★★

Perfect Tens: Camaro, Raptor are transmission pioneers

Posted by hpayne on December 29, 2016

zl1_track_fr3-4

Los Angeles — Rocketing onto Willow Springs Raceway’s front straight at 100 mph in fourth gear, the 2017 Chevy Camaro ZL1 rifles off barely perceptible automatic upshifts — five-six-seven — at 100-millisecond intervals to reach 150 mph. Two hundred miles southeast in the Anza-Borrego desert, a Ford F-150 Raptor sport pickup goes airborne over a sand dune at 60 mph, its transmission holding the highest possible gear so its 35-inch tires maintain momentum when they hit the desert floor again.

The Camaro and Raptor may seem an odd couple. But they are the cutting edge of automotive technology: They represent the first application of automatic, 10-speed transmission technology in the industry.

Developed jointly by General Motors and Ford Motor Company, the 10-speed combines an unprecedented range of performance and fuel efficiency in one gearbox. They allow the ZL1 and Raptor to be on-course warriors one minute — and domesticated, on-road commuters the next. With government mandating increased fuel efficiency at the same time consumers expect increased performance, the 10-speed satisfies both goals.

“The 10-speed has a greater ratio spread, which enables fuel economy in the upper gears while providing more torque multiplication in the lower gears,” says Ford drivetrain engineer Seth Goslowski, who did extensive, extreme development on the Raptor in the formidable Borrego sands east of San Diego.

Ford was the lead engineering team on the rear-wheel-drive 10-speed, while GM leads development on a joint, 9-speed, front-wheel drive tranny.

The effect of an automotive 10-speed is not dissimilar in theory from an 18- or 27-speed bicycle, says Goslowski. Like a bike, multiple gears allow for better torque at low speeds, better cruising in high gear. For Raptor that translates to steep rock crawling where the big truck uses gears one-two. For the Camaro the closer low-end gear ratios enable it to better manage the pony car’s awesome 650 pound-feet of torque in order to go 0-60 in just 3.5 seconds.

But don’t expect 27-speed drivetrains from cars anytime soon.

“The 10-speed came about because its manufacturing complexity and weight makes sense,” says Goslowski. “A 12-speed does not have enough performance and fuel efficiency benefit to justify the added weight and complexity of adding more gears.”

Crucial to the joint program, dubbed 10-Speed Rear Drive (or 10R for short), was that the gearbox’s packaging would fit the same space as the base Camaro’s eight-speed transmission and the Ford F-150’s six-speed automatic.

“We spent a lot of time crafting a 10-speed that has minimum content— low losses, light weight, (economic) package — but also give us performance and efficiency improvements over our existing products,” says Chevy transmission engineer Jim Borgensen.

Camaro Chief Engineer Al Oppenhimer says the 10-speed was the perfect fit for the low-volume, high-performance ZL1. Tested on some off the world’s most challenging race tracks, the Camaro shares GM’s most capable V-8 — the 650-horsepower, 650-pound-feet LT4 — with the Corvette Z06.

“I wouldn’t say we did this match-up with the Camaro for (federal fuel-efficiency mandates),” says Oppenheiser. “We did it to match the powerband of the engine and track requirements because of the close-ratio of gear sets. It works perfectly with a 650-horsepower engine.”

The ZL1’s 100-millisecond upshifts put it in supercar territory; dual-clutch, $200,000 Porsche Turbo gearboxes shift in 500 milliseconds. Combined with turbo technology, the 10-speed allows the 5,518-pound Raptor to gain 16 percent fuel efficiency over the previous-generation six-speed gearbox.

Ford’s first application goes in its highest-volume vehicle: In addition to the Raptor, Ford has announced that all F-150’s with the Ecoboost V-6 engines will get the 10-speed. As a result, the automaker optimized the transmission for both power and gas mileage.

Although the F-150 and Camaro may appear to be an odd couple, Ford’s Goslowski says the performance benefits of the 10-speed to a nearly three-ton pickup and 3,944-pound sports coupe are similar.

“They both need to be sporty and aggressive in their shifting,” he says. “But towing at low speed in a truck and getting grip-torque off the line with a 6.2-liter V-8 also put similar demands on a transmission.”

Ford has not announced other applications beyond the F-150, but GM has said that it will put its so-called Hydra-matic 10R90 transmission in eight other GM products.

Ford and GM vehicles won’t be alone with 10-speed offerings in the market for long. Lexus is introducing a 10-speed in its LC 500 supercar due in May. Meanwhile, Honda has taken out a patent for an 11-speed box. Anyone for 12? Not yet in cars, but Volvo and Mercedes semi-trucks have been running 12-speed automatics for a few years now.

Whatever the speed, Goslowski thinks automatic transmissions will continue to be the technology of choice over performance-challenged single-speed CVT transmissions.

Jeff Troush was the lead calibrator on the ZL1’s transmission. He and his team of engineers programmed the box with “performance-shifting strategies” so that shifts adapt to lateral g-loads and pedal inputs by the driver.

Team Penske IndyCar racer Josef Newgarden took several hot laps in the Camaro at Willow Springs. He left it in automatic instead of using paddle shifters: “It was sensing what gear I wanted and at what moment.”

 

Self-driving firm moves fast: Waymo in talks with Honda

Posted by hpayne on December 22, 2016

Waymo_logo

Less than a week after Google’s self-driving technology company spun off as its own enterprise, Waymo is already in talks for a collaboration with a second major automaker. The Silicon Valley company’s latest proposed partnership — this time with Honda — suggests it is eager to press its advantage in autonomous technology and bring it to market, industry analysts say.

Honda Motor Co. announced Wednesday it is entering formal discussions with the Silicon Valley company to integrate Waymo’s self-driving technology with Honda vehicles. Honda R&D Co. Ltd. — the research and development subsidiary of Honda — will work directly with Waymo.

“The collaboration announced today between Honda researchers and Waymo’s self-driving technology team would allow both companies to learn about the integration of Waymo’s fully self-driving sensors, software and computing platform into Honda vehicles,” Honda said in a press release from its Tokyo headquarters.

The talks include discussion of Honda initially providing Waymo with vehicles modified to accommodate Waymo’s self-driving technology.

Fiat Chrysler Automobile NV’s announced Monday that it will test 100 Pacifica minivans outfitted with Waymo technology.

“Between Honda and Chrysler, Waymo is ready to aggressively integrate their technology in manufacturers’ cars,” says Kelley Blue Book auto analyst Karl Brauer. “Their self-driving technology is more refined than anyone else.”

Brauer notes that the Pacifica and the 2018 Honda Odyssey, which will be introduced at the Detroit auto show, are the most advanced minivans on the market.

“Because initial autonomous applications are likely to be business-to-business applications like campuses and public transportation,” says Brauer, “minivans are a great place to start because they haul the most people. If nothing else, Waymo seems to be looking for the most advanced minivans on the market. Then they could move on to other vehicles.”

Rebecca Lindland, also an analyst for KBB, says, “The dialogue between Waymo and Honda makes a lot of sense given that Honda is such a well-respected brand. It’s a tacit endorsement of the technology, and consumers won’t hesitate to buy a Honda. Honda is already well ahead of many automakers when it comes to artificial intelligence, evidenced by its ASIMO humanoid robot. With 100 of Chrysler’s minivans already outfitted with Waymo’s technology, it’s as if Waymo went to the dance with Chrysler, but they’re leaving with Honda.”

Honda’s vehicles could join Waymo’s fleet which includes the Pacifica minivans, 24 Lexus RX450h SUVs and 34 Google prototype cars. The vehicles combined have driven more than 2.3 million miles since 2009 across Mountain View, California; Austin, Texas; Kirkland, Washington; and Phoenix.

If both Honda and Waymo agree to enter into a formal partnership, Honda R&D engineers based in Silicon Valley and Japan would work closely with Waymo engineers in Novi and Mountain View, California.

Waymo and Fiat Chrysler co-located part of their engineering teams at a facility in Novi to accelerate the overall development process.

“It’s consistent with Waymo’s strategy that it would want to work with different manufacturers to make these vehicles,” says IHS Automotive auto analyst Stephanie Brinley. “And Honda wants to learn more about this technology, too. From their announcement, it feels like Honda may want to negotiate a deeper agreement.”

Honda previously announced its intention to put production vehicles with automated driving capabilities on highways around 2020 related to its goal of a collision-free society.

“We’re not in the business of making better cars, we’re in the business of making better drivers,” Waymo CEO John Krafcik, a former Hyundai exec, said in announcing the Waymo spinoff from Google parent Alphabet Inc. last week in San Francisco. “We’re a self-driving technology company — not a car company.”

Krafcik will speak Jan. 8 at the Detroit auto show about the future of autonomous mobility. Fiat Chrysler will show its specially outfitted Pacificas at that presentation.

Payne: Camaro ZL1, the four-seat ’Vette

Posted by hpayne on December 22, 2016

zl1_rocks_fr3-4

You’ve saved your pennies and now it’s time to buy yourself a Christmas present.

In particular, that track-eating Corvette Z06 you’ve eyed ever since it stomped the Porsche 911 GT3 (and everything else) at Car and Driver’s Lightning Lap competition around Virginia International Raceway. The one with 650 horsepower, magnetic shocks, T-Rex growl. The works.

But life is complicated. You’ve got a family, kids; a two-seat sports car seems so … selfish. Rear seats would be nice to ferry family — especially if you can find a sports coupe with similar, trackable dynamics.

Well, Merry Christmas. Chevy’s elves have a nice, red toy just for you.

With the same supercharged V-8 monster under the hood, magnetic dampers and Jurassic bellow, the 2017 Chevy Camaro ZL1 is a ’Vette with four seats.

Roaring down California’s Willow Springs front straightaway at 150 mph (is that sonic boom from the Camaro or Edwards Air Force base nearby?), I’m reminded of my first test of the Z06 last year at Spring Mountain Raceway in Nevada.

Like the ’Vette, the ’Maro’s lo-o-o-o-ong front hood seems to arrive at Turn One 10 seconds before I do. Enormous 15.35-inch front Brembo brakes (six-pot front, four rear like Z06) stop the 3,944-pound missile like a brick wall. Huge 11-inch front rubber claws the pavement. The car rotates effortlessly into the 90-degree left-hander, throttle flat across the apex, emerging with pavement to spare as I launch to Turn 2.

Like the Stingray, the ZL1 has more to give.

Josef Newgarden, one of “The Captain” Penske’s Indycar star drivers, finds more. Back in the pits, I join him, jumping in the passenger seat. He explores the ragged edge in Turn One, dancing the car from turn to turn. He obliterates my 1.33 second lap with his 1.28.5 — just seconds off the Z06 track best of 1.25. And it’s the first time either of us has been in the car.

The Camaro still has more.

To achieve this mind-melting performance, the ’Maro has more than any ZL1 before it.

Begin with the Alpha platform, the same bones that gird the sensational Cadillac ATS-V. As awesome as the new Mustang GT350R is on the track and as intimidating as the Dodge Hellcat is in a straight line, this Camaro is in its own league. This is a pony car with thoroughbred DNA.

Peer under the skin and the ZL1 gets the same bat-wing under-body brace and suspension bits as the ATS-V. Lighter than its predecessor by 237 pounds, the ZL1 weighs just 80 pounds more than ATS-V, despite its bigger wheelbase and V-8 boat anchor up front that requires 11 heat exchangers to keep cool. Alpha’s inherent goodness shines through as the ZL1 handles like a much smaller car.

GM’s 1st 10-speed gearbox

The Camaro even gets more than big brother Z06.

In a sign of just how serious the General is about making Camaro a premier sports coupe, the ZL1 is GM’s first application of the much-anticipated, lightning-quick 10-speed gearbox co-developed with Ford for rear-drive vehicles.

I imagine Camaro Chief Engineer Al Oppenheiser and Corvette Chief Engineer Tadge Juechter in a friendly arm wrestle to claim the rights to use the 10-speed. Oppenheiser, who has the torso of a grizzly bear, wins.

The 10-speed is a revelation, a single-clutch automatic that rivals — nay, surpasses — the sophisticated, more expensive, dual-clutch Porsche PDK transmission that GM used as a baseline. Nail the big V-8 out of a corner and shifts snap off in almost imperceptible, 300-milliseconds shots — quicker, GM, claims than a Porsche’s 500 milliseconds.

“I thought I was driving a PDK,” says Randy Pobst, Sports Car Club of America champ and a Motor Trend hot shoe who has driven everything from Porsches to McLarens around Willow.

Drew Cattell, a Camaro track jockey and ride and handling engineer for Chevy, says the 10-speed’s quickness gives it a slight advantage over the ZL1’s also available 6-speed manual (itself superior to the Corvette’s confusing, three-gate, 7-speed box). That efficiency helped propel ZL1 to a stunning, 7.26 lap across Nurburgring’s 14-mile course this year — that’s quicker than the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio.

Ready to perform

Want more? Cattell says the ZL1 should lap Willow in the 1.26-1.27 second range.

But the 10-speed’s benefits don’t have to be tracked to be realized. Chevy’s elves have been busy. This is a modern, computer-controlled box that sprinkles magic dust over the old automatic formula.

The transmission’s range of ratios allows the box to concentrate on gears 3-to-7 while on track (Cattell caught 8th gear at 180 mph on the ’Ring’s back straight), then rely on overdrive gears 8-10 on road to save fuel. Seized by the need for speed on a twisty road? Toggle to SPORT mode, hold the left paddle-shifter for one-Mississippi and the tranny will instantly downshift to the appropriate gear — no cycling required — for maximum torque. Cruising along in 10th gear when a Hellcat challenges you into a Hell, Michigan, corner? Hold. Bang! You’re in third gear, revs at 5 grand. Let’s play.

These electronic “Easter eggs” are found in PDKs as well and open a whole world of performance possibilities.

Speaking of Mustangs, the ZL1 adds a ’Stang-like, line-lock burnout feature to impress the crowds at Dream Cruise stoplights. It’s also in keeping with the ZL1’s history as the Camaro family’s dragster. The beast snaps off impressive 11.4- second quarter mile times with an easy-to-use launch control system.

But the supercharged ’Maro is wa-a-a-ay beyond its 1969 drag-racing origins when ZL1 was code for a secret batch of Camaro available to Pamona quarter-milers. Chevy correctly calls this car a triple threat: On dragstrip, on road, and on track.

Even before Camaro rolls out its track-king Z28, the athletic, 650-horse ZL1 joins the Mustang GT350 (still my pick for most fearsome fascia) as athletes that transcend their muscle roots and take on more exotic animals like the BMW M4 and Caddy ATS-V. With its thunderous V-8 and rock-hard abs, it’s a genuine competitor to these $70K cyborgs. But for 10-grand less.

That’s $30K south of a Z06, but admittedly a lot of coin. So, Camaro takes another page from ’Vette. Like the cheaper “Z06 Jr.” Grand Sport, the ZL1’s athleticism can be had in the 1LE package (sans 200 horsepower and 10-speed) for $49K. Still with a V-8. Still with room in back for the kiddies.

Merry Christmas.

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

2017 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1

specifications

VEHICLE TYPE FRONT-ENGINE, REAR-WHEEL DRIVE, FOUR-PASSENGER SPORTS COUPE
Power plant 6.2-liter, supercharged V-8
Transmission 10-speed automatic or 6-speed manual
Weight 3,887 pounds, manual (3,944 automatic as tested)
Price $63,435 ($65,030 as tested)
Power 650 horsepower, 650 pound-feet torque
Performance Zero-60: 3.5 seconds (automatic), 3.7 seconds (manual) manufacturer); top speed: NA
Fuel economy EPA 14 city/20 highway/16 combined (manual); automatic, NA

report card

POWER CORVETTE Z06 PERFORMANCE WITH FOUR SEATS; QUICK, 10-SPEED BOX
Lows Awkward interior storage; rear seats for wee folks

Overall:★★★★