Category Archives: Technology

Mazda’s Rotary Engine Could Return As Range Extender Option

When the Mazda RX-8 ceased production several years ago, its departure represented not only the end of an era for Mazda, but also seemingly sealed the fate of the rotary engine, which was once seen as a novel solution for higher fuel economy by automakers back in the 1970s. However, recent comments by a high ranking Mazda executive appear to suggest that the rotary could be making a return to production automobiles, albeit in an unexpected role.

In a recent interview with the folks at Automotive News, Mitsuo Hitomi chief of Mazda’s powertrain division revealed that there could be a very good chance that the next iteration of the rotary engine could appear as a range extender for electric automobiles. While this would be a dramatic change in role for an engine that once defined the pinnacle of Mazda performance, its potential shift in function could help the novel powerplant fulfill its original green intentions, especially when one looks at prior efforts at this idea by Mazda.

Back in 2013 Mazda was already working on a rotary engine equipped extended range EV, with this early effort materializing in the Mazda2 RE Range Extender concept car. The tiny concept had a 250 mile driving range with half of it coming from its battery, while the other half was supplied by a 330 cc rotary engine which was hooked up to a 2.6 liter fuel tank. More recently, the RX-Vision concept also teased a rotary powered performance vehicle that could also add electrification to its list of tricks if it ever makes its way into formal production.

With all that said, its important to look at the finer details into how such an idea is possible. While the rotary engine has never been known for its efficiency (a key trait that made automakers such as GM and AMC abandon the idea for their lineups,) it is a very smooth running engine, and is also reasonably compact when compared to a conventional engine. Modern technology could allow Mazda engineers to make the engines even smaller than before, which will not only improve overall fuel economy, but also improve space and weight savings for the vehicle at the same time. These latter two traits would allow Mazda to add more batteries, or simply keep the car lightweight, and use this newfound lightness to retain the spirited handling that Mazda models have been long known for.

While this news might not be encouraging to rotary die-hards eagerly awaiting an RX-8 successor, Hitomi also revealed that a bigger rotary engine is also in development with the engine being tuned towards formal sports car applications. However, like many good things in life, the engine is reportedly being stonewalled by management that want a better business case for offering such a model in the first place. If we were in the board room, we would highlight the lack of a formal halo entry in Mazda’s lineup, which would help create a halo effect for other Mazda models including its growing CUV lineup. Either way, it looks like the humble rotary has a strong chance at catering to a new era of buyers if all the cards are right.

 

2018 Volvo XC40 Goes Small, Introduces New Purchasing Tools

Volvo has big plans for the 2018 XC40 CUV, and it intends to not only take another slice of the broader CUV sales pie, but also redefine the ownership experience as a whole in a unique bid to rewrite the way the CUV segment is entered by customers.

The exterior styling of the XC40 mirrors many of the styling elements that also define its larger 60 and 90 series siblings. This is a good thing considering the high levels of demand that both the XC60 and XC90 have experienced since their respective launches. Volvo also hopes to lure younger buyers to the marque with the XC40’s customization factor. A key example of this is the 17 different color combinations buyers can choose for the body as well as contrasting hues for the roof. This distinctly MINI-esque move should help the XC40 standout in crowded parking lots and out on city streets.

The interior aims to further build on the elegant design language of its larger kin, and is a welcome blend of youthful sophistication. Like the exterior, the cabin has several distinct themes to choose from, and aims to outshine its rivals by offering a healthy list of standard equipment. Notable items on that list include a nine-inch touchscreen, wireless phone charging capability, dual zone climate control, and 18-inch alloy wheels. This focus on quality and value is welcome in the compact CUV segment where it seems many entries have compromises and don’t deliver a balanced package.

Performance hardware reflects the XC40’s place in the compact segment, and buyers will initially have two engines to choose from. The D4 AWD model will feature a 188 horsepower four cylinder diesel, while the gasoline driven T5 AWD has a turbocharged four banger that produces a healthy 244 horsepower. Both variants come equipped with Volvo’s buttery smooth eight speed Geartronic automatic, and will offer stylish Momentum and R-Design trim levels when they eventually make their appearance in Volvo showrooms.

Naturally, the Volvo badge means high levels of safety equipment, and the XC40 does not skimp on that crucial category. Volvo’s usual assortment of safety equipment and technology is present and accounted for, but the Swedish car giant also made its City Safety package standard on the urban focused XC40. This special suite of equipment features detection and emergency auto braking if the XC40 detects pedestrians, vehicles, cyclists, and large animals. Other goodies include a 360 degree camera, Cross Traffic alert with brake support, as well as Pilot Assist.

As mentioned earlier, the 2018 XC40 also aims to spearhead Volvo’s recent push into new business models that are tailored to give customers new options when it comes to purchasing a Volvo product. One of these includes an all new “Care by Volvo” all inclusive subscription package that is based on a national flat-rate fee. This is an interesting alternative to a traditional lease, and could help Volvo lure in budget conscious XC40 buyers that might not otherwise consider the brand. Another interesting idea is an all new cellphone app that would allow owners to share their vehicle with friends and family in a nod to the recent trend towards specialized ride sharing and vehicle rental services.

Look for more information regarding these subscription plans to be revealed later this year at the Los Angeles Auto Show. Pricing for the 2018 XC40 is expected to start around $35,000 with fully loaded examples surpassing $45,000.

 

 

Mercedes Teases Project ONE Hypercar

The trail of teasers and statements surrounding the much hyped Project ONE hypercar are nearing the home stretch. With the Frankfurt Auto Show fast approaching, Mercedes-Benz has upped the ante by releasing a shadowy teaser image.

The lone image does not reveal very much, but the few elements that do stick out of the darkness offer compelling clues to the car’s wild capabilities. Mercedes claims that the Project ONE is “a two-seater supersports showcar” and it serves as the current pinnacle of the German auto giants engineering capabilities.

However, its also safe to call the Project ONE a road going Le Mans prototype with a Formula 1 engine. In fact, Project ONE evokes memories of the fabled CLK-GTR supercar. Unlike that model though, the Project ONE will be a visually innovative look into the future, especially with its performance hardware. This includes the Formula 1 grade engine and hybrid system, as well as the electronic systems.

The roof mounted scoop also hints at the aerodynamic tweaks that are in store for this car with much of the inspiration coming from Le Mans spec race cars. Look for the interior to invoke function over form with many racing elements and materials being used instead of the usual assortment of leather, wood, and other luxuries that define typical Benz models.

Performance for the Project ONE comes from a 1.6 liter turbocharged V6 that incorporates hybrid assistance technology and is largely based on the setup that sees duty in the 2015 Mercedes-AMG W06 Formula 1 hybrid car. Naturally, the engine will be reworked for road use with Mercedes claiming that it can last for 31,000 miles between rebuilds. This is impressive considering that the engine has a rev limit of over 10,000 rpm and packs “over 1000 horsepower.” This is achieved with the help of four electric motors with two mounted on the engine, and the remaining pair on the front axle.

When the Project ONE makes its debut in Frankfurt, it will appear as a near production prototype with the first deliveries expected to take place in 2019. Don’t bother pre-ordering through your local dealer unless you have done so already. Mercedes-Benz is only making 275 copies, with all of them being pre-sold for a cool $2.6 million each.

2018 Mustang

2018 Ford Mustang To Bring 460 Horsepower, Other Tweaks To Buyers

The 2018 Ford Mustang already has shaken the muscle car world thanks to its slew of updates which aim to refine the car even further. While more style and comfort are welcome features, Ford’s performance updates are causing quite the stir.

The tweaked 5.0 liter V8 now produces 460 horsepower and 420 lb-ft of torque which is a notable upgrade over the old engine. The engine benefits from an all new “Drag Strip” mode which helps trim the 0 to 60 time to a swift four seconds flat. This is mainly due to the drag mode tweaking the shifting and power delivery from the 10-speed automatic transmission, which reduces excess wheel slip.

“Typically when you shift gears you give up time” stated Mustang chief engineer Carl Widmann. “In drag mode, the engine’s torque doesn’t drop when you shift.” To illustrate this point, Widmann claimed that drag mode made the Mustang faster off the line than the $94,000 Porsche 911 Carrera (an impressive claim indeed.)

The company didn’t leave EcoBoost buyers out to dry with these updates, and has transferred some of the GT’s magic to the four cylinder version of the Mustang. Power is up to 310 horsepower, with torque increasing by 30 lb-ft to a revised 350 lb-ft. When equipped with the 10-speed and the forementioned drag mode, the four cylinder can make the sprint to 60 mph in five seconds.

Ford is opening up ordering for the 2018 Ford Mustang this week, with the first units arriving at Ford showrooms shortly after.

Audi Showcases 2018 A8 Model Family

Audi’s venerable A8 flagship has always served as a compelling glimpse into the current state of the luxury car market. However, when it came time to unveil the 2018 A8, Audi instead chose to use the model to showcase the future, and if all goes according to plan, the future could indeed be a very different battleground for luxury car brands.

 

The exterior styling of the 2018 A8 then can be viewed as the perfect camouflage, with a look that does not stray too far away from the current generation A8. It’s a little bigger in appearance, and Audi designers will have 12 different color choices for buyers to ogle over, but its conservative suit of clothes, as well as the subdued approach it takes to styling will no doubt please the Audi faithful. A key change can be found at the front fascia which features an all new Singleframe grille, as well as equally futuristic HD Matrix LED headlights that feature lasers.

While the lasers are still a step or two behind from replicating your favorite sci-fi battle scene, they do help double the visible range of the high beams at speeds above 43 mph. It is currently unknown if the system will formally make its way to the U.S. due to our country’s strict safety regulations, but look for Audi to possibly make tweaks to the system to help it comply with U.S. regulators and give buyers across the pond something to look forward to.

 

 

The nifty lasers are cool, but it is the cabin where the A8’s leap into the future becomes more apparent. The flagship model gets an all new iteration of Audi’s Virtual Cockpit system with a digital instrument cluster that now displays various readouts in crystal clear HD quality. The 10.5 inch dash mounted infotainment system is virtually flush with the dashboard itself, and arrives with fewer buttons than the old car. This is due to the Multi Media Infotainment system utilizing more touch and voice commands to access various features. Audi lists a lofty 400 commands for the system, but thankfully, they were kind enough to leave the steering wheel controls intact as well as various oral and tactile feedback cues to let occupants know a task has been executed.

As expected from a car befitting of its status, the 2018 A8 offers a whole host of amenities to its occupants. These include 3D sound for the rear passengers, a host of climate and electronic amenities, and so much more. Our favorite feature is the all new “relaxation seat.” Only available on the passenger side rear seat of the A8L, this enviable throne offers the usual assortment of heating/cooling and massage functions as well as a trick foot rest that comes equipped with massage capability. This novel feature would also be the first time that a massaging foot rest has ever appeared in a factory vehicle, and look for it to be replicated by rivals such as the Mercedes S-Class, as well as the BMW 7-Series in the near future.

 

 

Meanwhile on the mechanical front, Audi engineers left their mark on the forward thinking 2018 Audi A8 in a number of ways. Big news here is that every A8 model is now a hybrid. The 2018 A8 will initially launch with a pair of turbocharged V6 engines – a petrol powered 3.o liter turbocharged TFSI V6 good for 340 horsepower, as well as a 3.0 liter TDI engine that produces a slightly lower 286 horsepower. Each engine is paired with a mild hybrid system that allows the beefy A8 to coast for up to 40 seconds without the engine being activated at speeds between 34 to 99 mph. The novel system also allows for slow speed operation as well as start -stop capability.

After those engines launch, Audi will be bringing out a pair of 4.0 liter V8 engines for both gas and diesel buyers, as well as the return of the silky smooth W12 engine, and the green e-tron plug-in hybrid model. All 2018 A8 variants will send their power to all four wheels through an eight speed automatic transmission, as well as the latest iteration of the company’s Quattro all-wheel drive system. The suspension also gains new moves, and aims to help improve the A8’s composure in corners. Audi dubs the system “AI Suspension,” and the new system incorporates and electric motor, as well as separate components for each wheel. According to the company,  the end result is a two toned experience with the 2018 A8 having the comfort oriented compliance of a luxury car, while also having the agile stance of a sports car at the same time.

The new 2018 Audi A8 will make its initial appearance in German showrooms this fall, and will command a hefty price tag for its futuristic take on motoring. The V6 model leads the charge with a base MSRP of €90,600 while the A8L wields a slightly higher €94,100. These figures roughly translate to $103,000 and $107,000 U.S. dollars with various options and other equipment potentially pushing the price as high as $120,000 a far cry from the current model and its $82,500 base price.

V90 Cross Country

Volvo To Produce Only EV and Hybrid Models By 2019

When Volvo first announced that it intended to seriously pursue electrification a few years ago, the world wondered what it would entail for the Swedish brand, and its lineup of vehicles. In a new announcement released earlier today, the car giant further detailed its ambitious plans while perhaps signaling a broader shift for the industry.

A key item of note here is that every new Volvo offering will be either a full EV or hybrid vehicle starting in 2019. Volvo also promises to include at least one electric motor in each of its new offerings.

“This is about the customer. People increasingly demand electrified cars, and we want to respond to our customers’ current and future needs. You can now pick and choose which electrified Volvo you wish” explained Volvo CEO Hakan Samuelsson.

However this sudden embrace of electrified powerplants doesn’t mean that Volvo’s iconic internal combustion engines will get the figurative pink slip anytime soon. Buyers will be asked to choose from either mild hybrid, plug-in hybrid, or full electric technology for their Volvo purchase, which will help retain customer flexibility and loyalty.

Volvo also plans to release a 48 volt hybrid system before the end of the decade, and to also roll out five all new battery electric models. Three of them will join the main Volvo lineup, but the other two will be performance tinged Polestar entries. Look for all five models to roll out between 2019 and 2021 with information being released possibly in late 2018.

 

Apple

Tim Cook Confirms Apple’s Stance On Autonomus Vehicles

Apple has had a shroud of secrecy over its autonomous vehicle efforts for the past several years. While the tech giant’s Project Titan in-house vehicle program is largely dead when it comes to building a vehicle from the ground up, Apple revealed that t is still exploring other projects in this burgeoning segment of the automotive world.

In a recent interview with Bloomberg, Apple CEO Tim Cook revealed that Apple is officially exploring self-driving technology that could potentially make its appearance in production automobiles .

“We’re focusing on autonomous systems” said Cook. It’s a core technology that we view as very important.” Cook claimed that the technology is “the mother of all AI projects,” and that it’s “probably one of the most difficult AI projects to work on.”

This news follows on a previous statement by Apple’s Director of Product Integrity Steve Kenner. At the time, Kenner laid out a vision for developing and testing autonomus vehicles on public roads as part of a letter that he wrote to the NHTSA. The letter stated that Apple “is heavily investing in the study of machine learning and automation, and is excited about the potential of automated systems in many areas, including transportation.

 

 

Honda Showcases Clarity Electric and Plug-in Hybrid

The Clarity fuel cell was a big achievement for Honda when the Japanese auto giant first unveiled it several years ago. However, the fuel Cell represented only a small portion of the Clarity’s full potential, and Honda has unveiled the final two members of the Clarity family under the bright lights of the New York International Auto Show, the Clarity Electric and the Clarity Plug-in Hybrid.

The Clarity PHEV is equipped with an ultra efficient 1.5 liter Atkinson cycle engine to generate electricity and directly power the front wheels in certain driving conditions. The engine is capable of delivering 181 horsepower and is paired with a lithium ion battery pack. Honda claims that the PHEV can be driven on all electric power up to 42 miles and achieve up to 42 mpg when the gasoline engine is running.

Meanwhile the Clarity Electric is solely powered by an electric motor that delivers 161 horsepower, and its battery can be fully charged in three hours or up to 80 percent in less than 30 minutes. Honda claims that the Clarity Electric is capable of achieving up to 111 MPGe but curiously its 25.5 kilowatt-hour battery pack is not that much bigger than the plug-in hybrid. This particular figure contributes to the Clarity Electric’s rather modest 80 mile driving range which is one of the lowest in the market and falls short of the Chevrolet Bolt and the Volkswagen e-Golf.

Honda claims that the Clarity Electric compensates for that initial disadvantage by being more spacious and luxurious than any other non-Tesla offering out on the market. It will be interesting to see if this will be enough to win over electric car buyers, but both models feature Android Auto and Apple CarPlay capability as well as sustainable bio-fabric and plastic trim.

Honda revealed that both models are expected to start in the mid-$30,000 range before tax incentives but wheras the PHEV will roll out in all 50 states right out the gate, the Clarity Electric will initially only be available in California and Oregon before eventually rolling out in the remaining 48 states.

Genesis Previews Upcoming SUV Offering With GV80 FCV Concept

Genesis is making great strides in its emergence as a viable luxury brand especially with the G90 and G80 sedans. However, for the brand to truly blossom, Genesis will need CUV/SUV entries to prop up its reputation in the luxury car market.

While it is currently unknown what the production version will look like, Genesis previewed a glimpse at this future with the GV80 concept which showcases a new design language that aims to cement its styling language for years to come.

The two row four seat concept features a bold front fascia that is firmly anchored by the familiar Genesis grille, Unlike other applications of the Genesis grille, the application here has a bolder presence, which is mostly due to the larger real estate that is dedicated to it. This enhanced swagger is accentuated further by a second opening in the lower portion of the grille, which is reminiscent of recently Bentley offerings.

The grille is flanked by two tiered headlights that are made up of rows of separate LED strips. Below these stylish strips are two specially designed “air curtain inlets which flank the 23-inch wheels. The design of the inlets transitions into outlets behind the wheels, which are designed to help cool the hydrogen fuel cells. A pair of matching outlets also appears on the rear fascia.

Meanwhile the interior adopts a two tiered display with a large curved screen that serves as the infotainment and control hub. In addition, a second smaller cluster style display showcases vital driving information. The interior is a technological showcase, but our favorite feature has to be the trusses that Genesis designers used for the side pillars. These trusses are very stylish, and can also be viewed from inside and outside the vehicle.

With the high levels of luxury and technology that the GV80 possesses, we look forward to seeing what the production version will bring to buyers. While the hydrogen fuel cell power train will most likely not make the jump to production, look for the G90’s V6 engines to carryover to the GV80, as well as the eight speed transmission that helps regulate all that power.

How Toyota’s FT-4X Concept Could Revamp Future Of SUVs

Toyota’s FT-4X concept SUV certainly made waves when it was unveiled in New York yesterday, but the pint sized utility also hints at what could be in store for Toyota’s CUV lineup.

Currently Toyota has a very diverse lineup of CUVs, but a notable void exists in the compact CUV segment. Granted the C-HR is a commendable attempt at filling the gap, but its odd styling does detract from its overall mission somewhat.

This is where the FT-4X finds its niche, building on a rugged looking canvas that hints at crossing the beaten path. However, Toyota claims that the FT-4X’s suit of clothes actually highlight its “Rugged Charm” (whatever that means) and that it was designed to appeal to “casual core” consumers. The flat panel roof houses power outlets, which allows buyers to power campsite electronics directly from the exterior.

The interior was also designed to reflect the needs of city dwellers with Toyota claiming that it is a “rolling gearbox” with the cabin offering commendable levels of storage in a deceptively open layout. A key feature is the dual temperature controlled storage boxes in the tailgate that can keep food hot or cold while still moonlighting as a handy place to store your gear.

Curiously, Toyota chose to not add a formal infotainment system, and instead constructed a unit that allows occupants to mount their phone to it in a nod towards Generation Y’s varied uses for smartphones (including navigation.)

Toyota has not formally commented on whether the FT-4X will eventually spawn a production model or not. But buyers clamoring for a reborn FJ Cruiser will most likely be disappointed. Instead, the production version would most likely be a compact CUV that would give Toyota an entry against the Jeep Renegade as well as the Kia Soul and Honda HR-V.