Monthly Archives: April 2016

New Report Reveals Roof Racks Blunt Efficiency Gains

With fuel efficiency and maximum aerodynamics becoming more of a priority these days. It’s easy to forget that in addition to the usual suspects, other efficiency robbing culprits also come into play behind the scenes.
One of these is the humble roof rack, a staple  accessory for many automobiles.

While roof racks have been around for virtually all of automotive history and look innocent, they actually play a key role in wasting gas. This is according to a new study that reveals that roof racks are responsible for nearly one percent of all fuel that is consumed by light duty vehicles in the U.S. That translates to roughly 100 million gallons of gasoline last year that was used solely for the purpose of moving roof racks through the air. This is mainly due to the high levels of drag that the rack generates, with certain configurations hurting fuel economy by as much as 25 percent.

These figures are surprisingly lofty, and they are about to get worse in the near future. Yuche Chen from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Alan Meier from the Berkley Lab revealed in their study (published in Energy Policy) that the use of roof racks is expected to jump by 200 percent before 2040. Their negative impact even hits green vehicles with roof racks (both loaded and unloaded) being responsible for fuel cell vehicles using six times the amount of energy that they are expected to save. Meanwhile EVs have to give up 40 percent of their gas savings to accommodate them.

So what can be done to help reduce their impact? Chen and Meier offered their thoughts on the subject stating “These results suggest that some fuel saving policies should focus on reducing the number of vehicles that are driving with empty roof racks.” While manufacturers can design more aerodynamic racks, requiring energy labels on roof racks could effect more change.

A good short term solution is to make them easier to remove and store when not in use (two obstacles that define current racks). While the pair admitted that having the government mandate rules on usage of empty roof racks would be “extreme,” they say that these rules (along with design changes) can help drivers save 1.2 billion gallons of gasoline between now and 2040.

In addition to these savings the EPA estimates that it would also help cleave almost 11.8 billion tons of CO2 emissions from the atmosphere which is a lofty amount. But are these savings worth increased government intervention that would come as a result?

Ford Debuts EcoBlue Engine Family

With the recent Volkswagen emissions scandal putting diesel engines and vehicle fuel mileage under the microscope, Ford has unveiled an all new diesel engine that it promises will be clean while also offering a clean sheet design as well.

Known as the EcoBlue engine, this Europe only 2.0 liter powertrain replaces the venerable but aging 2.2 liter Duratorq engine which was first introduced in 2005. During that long period of time, the Duratorq proved to be a very flexible unit and not only saw duty in older Transit models, but also the Jaguar X-Type and the Land Rover Defender.

The EcoBlue engine aims to maintain this high level of flexibility with the engine initially making its appearance in commercial offerings like the Transit before trickling down to passenger cars. A 1.5 liter variant is also rumored to be in the pipeline for smaller vehicles including the urban oriented Transit Connect.

Ford says that the new engine was designed to reduce internal friction with features such as an offset crankshaft as well as modular camshafts. These improvements along with a belt-in-oil system help increase overall fuel economy by 13 percent, and are a noticeable upgrade over the old engine. Ford also claims that the new turbocharger uses “rocket engine materials” for heat resistance. In this case, the space age tech is found in the turbine wheel which is crafted from Inconel (a type of aerospace aluminum.) When compared to the older 2.2 liter, the EcoBlue also has a notable advantage in low range torque with its 1,250 rpm rating boasting an increase of 20 percent. This should not only make city driving much easier, but also help make the engine a viable choice for towing applications.

The big deal here however is its compliance with strict Euro 6 emissions standards which are expected to kick in this fall. The new law requires engines to make 55 percent less NOx then what was allowed under the old Euro 5 standards. This is equally impressive considering the scrutiny that has come to hang over diesel engines in recent years.

When the new engine makes its production debut, it will initially be only avaliable in three different tunes ranging from 105 horsepower to 170 hp in commercial vehicles. More powerful versions will arrive later for passenger cars with figures ranging from 200 to 240 horsepower.

Ford also revealed that the EcoBlue family meets global commercial vehicle durability standards meaning that the European penned engine could easily make a trek across the pond to the U.S. market.

Volkswagen Cancels R400 Hot Hatch

Following a strong debut at the 2014 Beijing Motor Show, the prospect of a 400 horsepower Golf seemed bright and on track for production. However, insiders within Volkswagen revealed that the model has been cancelled due to the aftermath of the ongoing diesel emissions scandal.

Before it was cancelled, the model recieved strong internal support within Volkswagen and was backed by former chief of research and design Heinz-Jakob Neusser. The model even recieved approval for U.S. showrooms a year after it debuted in Beijing (a rare feat for a new concept.) Unfortunately the emissions scandal took hold, and Neusser was one of the first casualties of the scandal, with the exec submitting his resignation earlier this year. After he resigned, the company put the model on the shelf and pursued no further development on it.

A seperate report that was released by Automotive News claims that while the R400 in its current form has been axed, Volkswagen is still committed to a higher performance Golf variant, albeit in a completely rethought form. Volkswagen is still working on a production version of the concept’s 2.0 liter turbocharged four cylinder engine that could indeed surpass 400 horsepower. But instead of debuting in the Golf, it would make its apperance in future Audi performance models like the next generation RS3.

That said, it is rumored that Volkswagen engineers will put their focus on cutting weight, and incorporating more lightweight materials into the next generation Golf R. While the engine will still see a modest bump in horsepower over the current model, the weight savings would allow the upcoming Golf R to be lighter than the current generation GTI and have a better power to weight ratio as a result. In addition, the car would also boasts better braking hardware, and a more refined all-wheel drive system to cope with the extra performance.

Audi Unveils Updated TT RS Coupe And Roadster

Audi has big ambitions for its newest crop of RS models, and has given the world a compelling taste of this future with the unveiling of the newly updated 2017 TT RS Coupe and Roadster.

The exterior styling of both models doesn’t stray too far from the standard TT, but Audi designers have given the car a much needed dose of aggression. This is thanks to a Audi TT RS Roadsterredesigned front fascia that features bigger lower air intakes and a slightly modified front grille, while the rear fascia incorporates all new OLED tailights. These new lights incorporate a 3D design, and will be making there production debut on the TT RS.

The driver-centric interior of the TT RS has also seen its fair share of updates with many cues being lifted from the brand’s racing program. This is especially true with the button happy steering wheel that incorporates satellite controls for the car’s handling settings as well as a race inspired start/stop button borrowed Audi TT RS Coupéfrom the R8 supercar.  The RS also features aluminum or carbon fiber accents as well as a special RS screen that allows drivers to access key information such as tire pressure, torque, and the amount of g-forces being exerted on the car.

Performance for the 2017 RS comes from an all new turbocharged 2.5 liter five cylinder engine that now pumps out a solid 400 horsepower and an equally stout 354 lb-ft of torque. This is sixty more horsepower than the old car, and Audi TT RS Coupéshould allow the RS to hold its own against rivals such as the CLA45 AMG, and even the BMW M2. All of this powered is channeled to all four wheels through a seven speed S tronic automatic which allows the RS Coupe to make the sprint to 60 mph in 3.7 seconds with the roadster posting a slightly higher 3.9 seconds time. Braking comes from ventilated and drilled discs up front and solid discs at the rear but Audi will offer carbon fiber ceramic disc brakes as above option. Handling has also been enhanced with Audi engineers equipping the car with electronically controlled adaptive dampers and several chassis tweaks to help eliminate body roll.

Look for the 2017 TT RS to make its way to European showrooms this fall with the coupe starting at 66,400 Euros and the roadster featuring a 69,200 euro price. It’s unclear if Audi will offer the model here in the U.S. but if it does look for it to cross the pond sometime next year.

Buick Announces Envision U.S Pricing, Starts At $43k

Buick has formally unveiled U.S. pricing for the 2016 Buick Envision while also revealing that an entry level Envision is in the pipeline for budget oriented luxury buyers. This entry level variant will be a welcome addition, since early adopters will be forced to turn over $42,995 for a Premium I grade model which will be the lone model available at launch.

This high price point also makes the Envision much more expensive than its key rivals the BMW X3, Mercedes GLK, and the Acura RDX which start below $40,000.  According to Car and Driver, the base model will slash the cost of entry by $8,000 for a new MSRP of $34,990, but look for it to be equipped accordingly with a noticeably less decadent interior than its higher priced siblings. Performance for the base Envision will come from a naturally aspirated 2.5 liter engine which is good for 197 horsepower and 192 lb-ft of torque. However it is a noticeable decline over the 252 horsepower 2.0 liter turbocharged four cylinder found in the uplevel Premium trim.

All wheel drive would also be available on select 2.5 liter packages. But they will not have the trick torque vectoring technology that is borrowed from the Cadillac XT5, and is exclusive to the turbo model. Look for this omission to generally not be noticed by buyers with the exception of the scant few who take their vehicles through more extreme weather conditions. The 2016 Buick Envision is expected to arrive in dealerships by the end of June with the 2017 model arriving four months later. When it does, the Envision will help fill a notable void in Buick’s crossover lineup, and give the brand a true contender in the mid-size CUV segment.

Honda Sheds New Light On Clarity Electric, Clarity Plug-in Hybrid

Honda has revealed new information regarding its upcoming Clarity EV and the Clarity Plug-in Hybrid which will share the stage with the hydrogen fuel cell Clarity in select Honda showrooms when they make their respective appearances early next year.

Both the electric and plug in hybrid Clarity models will share the same basic platform as the fuel cell, and Honda was quick to point out that the Clarity is the only nameplate that offers buyers all three eco-friendly powertrain options. The PHEV variant  in particular promises to bring 40 miles of all electric driving range to buyers. This figure is noticeably higher than the Prius Plug-in’s 11 mile range, and the Fusion Energi’s 21 miles. However the Clarity falls short of the Chevrolet Volt and it’s 53 mile driving range.

Unlike the PHEV Clarity, Honda was less forthcoming with crucial details regarding the pure electric Clarity, but vaguely mentioned that it would be “the first affordable mid-size five passenger battery electric vehicle to offer premium content and features.” This statement also didn’t reveal whether it is targeting the Tesla Model 3 and it’s 200 miles driving range or other rivals such as the Ford Focus Electric and Nissan Leaf. However based on the Clarity’s size, its safe to assume that it will most likely have the Leaf and the Tesla in its crosshairs.

The Clarity FCV will be the first to arrive in dealer lots when it appears later this year, with the model focusing its attention on the California market. Honda plans to entice potential buyers with an “under $500 per month” payment plan to help the Clarity remain competitive against rivals in that state’s hotly contested green vehicle market. The EV and PHEV versions of the Clarity will arrive shortly after in 2017, with pricing for all three models being unveiled closer to their official launches.

BMW Unveils ‘Next 100 Years’ Edition 7 Series

As part of its ongoing 100th anniversary celebrations, BMW has unveiled a special edition 7-Series model to help add some exclusivity to the festivities.

Dubbed ‘The Next 100 Years’ this special centennial edition of the iconic 7-Series will be limited to only 100 buyers, and stand out thanks to model exclusive “Centennial Blue” paint, and unique 20-inch V-spoke alloy wheels. The rest P90215384of the styling remains largely unchanged from its standard cousin which should please BMW loyalists.

This special edition was designed to showcase the full potential of the 7-Serie’s premium features, and the interior embraces this theme with gutso. Supple Smoke White Merino leather P90215381accents are splashed throughout the cabin, while black accents provide welcome levels of contrast. Piano black accents are also present and are paired with matching wood trim elements to help create an elegant yet modern look.

BMW also took a page out of more bespoke automakers like Aston Martin, and has commissioned a unique fountain pen from Montblanc. The writing instrument like other P90215377Montblanc offerings uses premium materials in its design, but stands out thanks to sharing its basic design inspiration with the car, and special engraving that matches the stitching on the leather seats.

BMW claims that the Centennial Edition is scheduled to arrive in dealer lots by the end of the year. BMW also revealed that it will be offered in three diffrent engines packages, but only five will be sent to the U.S. with all five arriving in M760i Excellence trim. This trim features a retuned 6.0 liter V12 engine that’s good for a healthy 610 horsepower and a 3.6 second 0 to 60 time.

Faraday Future Changes Course On Production Target

The ongoing saga of Faraday Future has certainly been the topic of many water cooler discussions, especially after it unveiled the controversial FFZERO1 concept car earlier this year. However the company has dropped another bombshell, revealing that it is changing course on its four year production plan.

The original plan called for the first production Faraday model to arrive by 2018, but the new plan that was unveiled at the groundbreaking ceremony for its new factory in Nevada appears to push this target into the 2020’s with no definite target date being released. This follows up on the company claiming that it has secured at least $1 billion in funding, but Nevada officials have asked for more reassurances and more details on the company’s long term goals before issuing more bonds to cover infrastructure costs.

“We have said we’re taking a four year program and our goal is to do it in half the time,” revealed Faraday spokeswoman Stacy Morris in an interview with the Detroit News. “But we’re not releasing a specific date yet. This is a very complicated project and so we’re just trying to move as fast as we can while doing it right.”

The company has always been shrouded in a veil of mystery since its abrupt apperance with the firm’s initially making big claims without revealing the figures behind its central leadership. Subsequent investigations revealed that Chinese billionaire Jia Yueting is at the helm, and could possibly be the lead financial backer as well.

The company’s way of unveiling concept cars has not helped change its mysterious vibe either, with the firm unveiling its wild but non functioning FFZERO1 concept car at CES in January. This inaugural concept was blasted by critics due to its wild styling, as well as not being the production oriented car that many had anticipated. A mysterious sketch that was recently teased at a Formula E race in California appears to address this complaint by adopting a more production focused theme in its design.

Currently the company’s factory has 60 employees, but Faraday predicts that the facility will eventually have to have 4,500 workers to keep production moving at a brisk pace.

Aston Martin Unveils GT8 Vantage

Following the early release of a teaser sketch that was leaked back in March, Aston Martin has fully revealed the GT8 Vantage which serves as a sequel to the limited production GT12 model.

Like the GT12, the GT8 was designed to embody the company’s racing heritage, and it’s exterior styling shares many traits with its Le Mans racing counterpart. A new body kit Aston Martin Vantage GT8. April 2016Photo: Drew Gibsonhelps improve the car’s aerodynamics and features a bigger front splitter, revised side skirts, and a beefy rear spoiler that generates maximum downforce.

In addition to looking good, the new suit of clothes also helps shed weight thanks to new body panels that are made entirely out of carbon fiber. This allows the GT8 to not only be the lightest production Vantage ever built, but also the most powerful thanks to a tweaked 4.7 liter V8 that makes a healthy 446 horsepower.

All of this raw power is channeled to the rear wheels through either a standard six speed manual transmission or the optional seven Aston Martin Vantage GT8. April 2016Photo: Drew Gibsonspeed SportShift II single clutch automated manual. Buyers can also choose how extensive the weight savings are with the company offering an optional carbon roof and polycarbonate windows. However, the interior has not completely forgotten its luxurious side and can be equipped with a stereo and A/C to make the driving experience a bit more pleasurable.

The GT8 will also debut three optional “halo” color schemes – China Grey mixed with blue, Stratus white with green, and Stirling Green (pictured) with lime contrast details. Pricing is expected to start at £165,000 ($233,880) with production being limited to 150 copies. Annoyingly like the GT12, this model will remain a Europe only treat with no plans for a North American introduction. While emissions and safety regulations are the most likely reasons behind this move, the GT8 would have added some much needed energy to its U.S. lineup especially in terms of sales and overall momentum.



Lincoln Unveils 2017 Continental Pricing

With the 2017 Lincoln Continental receiving rave reviews following its debut at North American International Auto Show back in January. The luxury brand has quietly unveiled the pricing ladder for its flagship sedan, which should please well heeled buyers looking for a budget friendly ticket to pampered motoring.

The Continental will be offered in four distinct trim levels – Premier, Select, Reserve, and Black Label. The Premier starts at $45,485 while the Select boasts a slightly higher $48,440. Buyers that pick the Select can swap out the base 3.5 liter V6 for a more potent 2.7 liter EcoBoost engine which adds $2,050 to the base price for a revised total of $50,690. The Reserve lives up to its expectations, and brings more standard equipment to buyers (along with the standard 2.7 liter engine) but the price increases accordingly to $54,840. Lastly, the range topping Black Label model starts at $63,840 but both trims can be equipped with the optional 3.0 liter twin-turbocharged V6 that produces a healthy 400 horsepower, and makes the Continental a surprisingly capable performance car. All-wheel drive is avalible across the board, but only as a $2,000 option.

Like many luxury offerings, it is easy to balloon the sticker price up when the Conti is equipped with options. Lincoln is aware of that, and is offering five diffrent option packages that can be equipped to Select, Reserve, and Black Label models. The $1,255 Select Plus package features blind spot monitoring and Ford’s SYNC 3 infotainment system to the car, while the $695 climate pack adds automatic high beam headlights, heated steering wheel and heated front seats. Our favorite package however is the $3,105 Technology Pack. This gadget themed pack brings a 360-degree view camera, adaptive cruise control, enhanced active park and lane assist, as well as forward collision alert.

Other standalone options include Lincoln’s “Perfect Posistion” seats that features 30 way power adjustability and only costs $1,500. Audiophiles will love the potent $1,130 Revel sound system and the view from the $1,750 panoramic sunroof. Look for the bulk of these cars to arrive at showrooms with a mixture of options with fully equipped Continentals easily surpassing $82,000.

Lincoln reps claim that the Continental was designed to target the Audi A6 and naturally the big Lincoln does a good job matching its pricing ladder with the base A6 starting at $47,125 before topping out at $62,525. On the domestic side of things, the swanky four door also does a good job going head to head with the Cadillac CT6. The big Caddy starts at $54,490 and goes all the way up to $65,390 with the Lincoln undercutting the Cadillac by several thousand dollars in nearly all of its trims. The lone exception is the fully equipped Black Label model which costs more.

The all important question going forward is whether buyers will recognize these pricing advantages, and whether it can help Lincoln put a figurative exclamation mark on its recent revival strategy.