Some naysayers are already preparing their eulogies for the electric car. They say that have failed. They say that consumers don’t want them. They say the market’s not ready for them. Our view? To date, they’ve been a tough sell, but there’s some real progress being made. We’re not ready to start cuing Mozart’s Requiem just yet.
Consider if you will the new Fiat 500e, the Italian brand’s new entry into the electric car segment. It’s great to look at. It’s fun to drive. It’s quick. It’s well equipped with lots of features. And the whole package incorporates some very convincing and innovative motivators to consider one.
From our point of view, there are two major reasons why electric cars haven’t taken off yet. One is price. Electric cars cost far more than their gasoline powered counterparts. The other is range anxiety. Consumers are (rightly) concerned that electric cars won’t get them where they need to go and that they could be left stranded, with no backup in sight.
In the January, 2013 issue of Automobile Magazine, Wolfgang Egger, Design Chief of Audi is quoted when discussing the Crosslane concept shown at the Paris Auto Show in September, “The new headlights are certainly more subdued than the very bright dot-style LEDs we had to work with in the past. But the era when daytime running lights were shaped like waves, loops of swooshes is definitely over. Instead, we have developed inoffensive and geometric light graphics consisting of distinct vertical and horizontal elements. This trademark light pattern will be unique to Audi and we will eventually see it on all models”
Audi A8 Headlight Graphics - Dramatic
Audi A8 Running Lights - Instantly Identifiable
Well… this qualifies for a “What Are They Thinking” category!
New Audi Headlamp Cues Shown on Crosslane Concept
The Crosslane running light graphics are shown in the image above. As can be seen, this is a much more linear interpretation than the swoopy design Audi is using today. Is this as distinctive? Is this as head-turning? Is this a design that can immediately identified when you glance at the car behind you in the rear view mirror?
I guess time will tell, but it appears that Audi is taking a more conservative and possibly less expensive direction with their signature headlamp theme.
A large sedan with a 4.0L 520-horsepower twin turbocharged V8, the Audi S8 provides a compelling package for a quick blast from Orange County to Laughlin, Nevada swapping Interstates for surface roads and Route 66 – the “Main Street of America”. Think of this as a familiarization trip to get fully acquainted with the interactive technologies of the S8. Most of it has to do with the multi-media interface (MMI) with navigation, audio, phone and even seat adjustments shown on the center screen. Audi’s NAV system includes a Google Earth view that lost its terrain view data over the desert, but that was not Audi’s fault, just that the Google folks have not gotten around to mapping uninhabited terrain much. BTW, the S8 is rated at 15-mpg in the City and 26-mpg on the highway. Returning from Laughlin resulted in 24-mpg. Not bad at 75-mph cruising speeds.
Adaptive Cruise Control with Stop and Go Really Works Spending more time on Interstates on the return, the S8’s adaptive cruise control system really came into its own. Even in very heavy traffic descending the Cajon Pass in San Bernardino County the cruise maintained speed and distance. The spacing was a bit long and a few times someone would slip into the space causing the Audi to brake to adjust the distance again. When traffic slowed to a stop, so did the S8. This trip made me a believer in these advanced cruise control systems.
Two-Laners a Snap Admittedly, Route 66 is pretty deserted these days, even on a Saturday, but there are usually double yellow lines preventing passing. When passing is allowed, inevitably there is a car approaching too soon. Or is it? A car with 520-horsepower gives you the confidence to punch it and go. In the auto industry, there is a measurement called TED – Time Exposed to Danger. This is usually the time to accelerate from 50-mph to 70-mph. Well in the Audi, TED is very short almost feeling instantaneous from 50-mph to 80-mph. Going to full throttle in the S8 generates an outstanding grumble from the exhaust. I bet the cars passed by the S8 at full throttle were impressed when it flashed by. Yeehaw!
Comfort Seats are the Ticket If you read the VehicleVoice reviews of the S7 written last week, you’ll remember that we were not particularly impressed with the sport seats in the car and noted that comfort seats were available as a $1,950 option. Well, they are standard in the S8 and come with 22-way adjustment. With these seats you can back off the bolsters to provide more spacious seating and get a massage at the same time. When you are adjusting either front seat from the side-of-the-seat controls, a graphic appears on the center display showing you what adjustments you are making. Nice.
Ride Quality Suffers With Aggressive Tires The S8, being the performance package for the S8, is set up for spirited driving with very aggressive 21-inch 35 aspect ratio Continental summer tires. Even selecting the “Comfort” (rather than “Auto” or “Dynamic”) setting on the vehicle dynamics system resulted in a busy choppy ride at low speeds. At higher speeds – lets admit to ten or fifteen mph over the speed limit at times – the car felt much more at home absorbing irregularities with ease.
What if I told you you could buy a vehicle that had the capability to haul seven people, could hit at least 30 MPG on the highway, and had all of the creature comforts you would want, such as navigation and Bluetooth; would you buy it? What if there was a catch? Would sliding doors break the deal for you? Would riding in a jazzed up cargo van send shivers down your spine?
“I can’t underestimate how important the Fusion is to Ford,” — Mark Fields, Ford president of the Americas, to workers at Flat Rock, Michigan assembly plant.
The mid-size car segment is filled with able competitors and most are either new or recently updated. The oldest, Hyundai Sonata, is a 2011 model and each new model is being launched with a wider range of features than ever before. Honda Accord, Nissan Altima, Toyota Camry, Kia Optima, Volkswagen Passat, Chevrolet Malibu and next year’s Mazda6 represent the best collection of mid-size cars ever available in the United Sates.
What makes this competition interesting is the different approach that each manufacturer is taking. The Nissan Altima enters the race with a cost conscious four-cylinder engine with no turbo or direction injection. Despite this, the Altima has superior fuel economy and excellent power. Add in attractive styling cues from the Maxima, and you get a pretty compelling offering at a great price.
The Ford Fusion takes a different tack with six powertrains, including two hybrids. We got a chance to drive four of them in Santa Monica this week. Our impressions are positive, but we wonder a bit about the complexity of all these offerings.
2.5-liter inline four-cylinder with a 6-speed auto: This might be the best combination of price and attributes of the four we drove. While not as powerful as the EcoBoost options, it works well for a vehicle in a segment where dynamics are less important than price.
1.6-liter EcoBoost inline four-cylinder with a 6-speed manual: While Ford won’t sell a lot of manual transmission Fusions, this vehicle clearly has a European feel and would be our choice for fun. You clearly feel the small size of the 1.6, but pushing it hard and gliding through the gears with the smooth shifter makes this a fun ride.
2.0-liter EcoBoost inline four-cylinder with a 6-speed auto: More fun than the 2.5 liter four, but will buyers in this segment buy-in? Ours had the stand-alone start-stop feature, which worked better than other executions we’ve seen. It’s a good glimpse into the positive future of start-stop fuel saving technology.
2.0-liter Atkinson-cycle inline four-cylinder with an electric motor: As fun to drive as a hybrid! The hybrid version has received an EPA certified 47 miles per gallon for both city and highway driving, giving the vehicle the highest fuel-efficiency of any hybrid in its class. Toyota Motor Corp.’s Camry Hybrid LE gets 43 mpg in the city and 39 mpg on the highway, according to Toyota.
Building a hybrid can get you to about $38,000. A Titanium All Wheel Drive can get to you to $39,000. Start saving now.
Honda will add a plug-in hybrid version of the Accord for the 2014 model year with launch in the first quarter of 2013. As part of its Earth Dreams Technology initiative, the PHEV represents the toughest powertrain challenge for the Accord according to Plug-In Hybrid Large Project Leader Yasuyuki Sando. Later, a pure two-motor hybrid version will be added.
The all new 2013 Honda Accord is Honda’s most important vehicle EVER. That’s right, EVER! It comes after lackluster reviews of the latest cost-reduced mind-numbing Civic. It enters the mid-size car product segment where the oldest high volume competitor was launched as a 2011 model in early 2010 (Hyundai Sonata) and each new model is more impressive than the one that came before it… Toyota Camry, Kia Optima, Volkswagen Passat, Nissan Altima, the coming-soon Ford Fusion, Chevrolet Malibu and next year’s Mazda6. Each new mid-size entry is better, more finessed, more technologically capable and available with a wider range of features than ever before. The question is “Did Honda bring their ‘A Game’ to the 2013 Accord, or is it another misstep like the Civic?”
Bring their “A Game”? Wow, did they! This Accord is a take-no-prisoners attempt by Honda to reclaim leadership in the premium mid-size car class. With this car, Honda appears to have its MOJO back!
2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid
During a brief drive from Hollywood to Malibu and back through the Hollywood Hills to Sunset Boulevard, the 2013 Ford C-Max showed what a small hybrid-powered people mover could be. Ford, of course, touted the clear advantages of the C-Max over its designated competitor the Prius V. C-Max has 50 more horsepower. C-Max has 7-miles per gallon better fuel economy through its third generation hybrid powertrain. And, C-Max is priced $1,300 lower than the Prius V. While earlier Ford hybrids had used a similar hybrid system as Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive, Ford was clear to state that the C-Max lithium-ion batteries are an in-house development as is the all new CVT (continuously variable transmission).
Audi has launched five models from its 2013 B8 platform – the A4, S4, A5, S5 and Allroad. The B8 is a mild mid-cycle freshening of Audi’s line of compact sport sedans. But first to the awards…
Audi A4 Wins AutoPacific 2012 Ideal Vehicle Award: Over one-third of new car and light truck buyers are influenced by awards their vehicle has won. Owner-based awards are more valuable than most. For the 2012 model year – the B7 platform – Audi swept AutoPacific’s Ideal Vehicle Awards for the Aspirational Luxury Car Category. Not only was the A4 the most ideal Aspirational Luxury Car as rated by its owners, the A5 was in second place and the next-step-up A6 was in third place in the category. These are significant achievements.
In AutoPacific’s IVA research, 25% of A4 owners want more power and acceleration. About 23% want more passenger room, 21% want easier ingress/ingress and 19% want more daring styling.
A4/S4/A5/S5 Evolve Very Nicely, Thank You: So, the question is whether or not the new 2013 cars have hit their target market as well as their recent predecessors, and do they offset the shortfalls mentioned above? After a drive of the cars in Colorado during fire season, we can safely say the 2013 versions are equal to or better than the class-winners they replace.
The basic dimensions of the 2013 cars are identical to the 2012 cars. The styling of the sedans and coupe is very evolutionary with minor styling changes. Think of the exterior styling change as a moderate “front six inches” with new grille shape, headlamps and front fascia. The grille has evolved with a more trapezoidal look. Audi took advantage of this freshening to re-design its LED-accented headlamps and taillamps. These cues have become a distinguishing Audi design feature. So, Audi did not push the styling envelope with this facelift but remained safe. (About 80% of A4 owners find the styling of the 2012 model ideal).
The interior of the cars remains an outstanding reason to buy. Great fit and finish combined with excellent materials selection. There is a new three-spoke steering wheel, revised instrument cluster and Audi connect with Audi’s controller-based MMI Navigation system is ordered.
Just a Brief Note on Touchscreens and Controllers: The auto industry is all over the place relative to touchscreen navigation systems or controller-based nav-systems. Audi (MMI), BMW (iDrive), and Mercedes (COMAND) have continued with controller-based systems as have others. Many mainstream brands continue with touchscreens or have moved to them after wrestling with controller logic. Oddly, Volkswagen and Porsche – VWAG family members – both use touchscreen systems now. Volkswagen used a touchscreen and Porsche has moved from a controller-based system to a touchscreen. Audi engineers say “you will never see a touchscreen in an Audi”. They don’t like the fingerprints. So, inside VWAG, the engineers have agreed to disagree.
New Allroad is the Big News: The big news for the B8 launch is the re-launch of the Audi Allroad. The previous Allroad (1999-2005) was based on the larger Audi A6 and looked more aggressively off-road capable than the 2013 version based on the smaller B8-platform A4. The Allroad replaces the slow selling Avant wagon in the American lineup with the body of the Avant tweaked to appear off-road capable. Its ride-height is increased by 1.5-inches. The expected wheel arch trim is there as are the front- and rear-skid plates. A roof rack completes the appearance package.
Powertrains Essentially Carryover and Still Outstanding: The B8s are powered by a 211HP 2.0L turbocharged direct-injection 4-cylinder engine. With Audi’s Quattro all wheel drive system, the 4-cylinder turbo is mated to either a 6-speed manual transmission or 8-speed automatic transmission. If you select a front wheel drive S4, you get a CVT. This 4-cylinder turbo engine has always been a delight to drive and is one of the world’s best-regarded engines.
If you want more oomph in the A4 and A5, move up to the V6-powered S4 and S5. With the S4 and S5 you get a 3.0L supercharged direct-injection V6 engine with 333-horsepower. Quattro is standard in the S4 and S5. While the A4 is no slouch on the road or in the mountains, The S-Cars provide effortless performance in any situation. This engine choice lets you think about a place in traffic you want to be and then without knowing it, you are miraculously there.
So, all in all, the Audi B8 experience is about what you would expect. Great cars with evolutionary styling, super finesse and outstanding powertrains.
Mercedes-Benz GL350 BlueTEC
Mercedes’ (@mbusa) top of the line SUV, the 7-passenger GL (#2013GL-Class), is new for 2013. As the top selling premium luxury sport utility vehicle, GL certainly is a healthy profit contributor to parent company Daimler AG. Built at Mercedes-Benz Tuscaloosa, Alabama assembly plant, 53% of GL production is sold in the United States. The 2013 GL is the second generation GL and continues to be derived from the platform that also underpins the 5-passenger ML. About 80% of the GL is all new for its second generation. We had a chance to drive several versions of the new GL at its global press preview in Santa Fe, New Mexico.