Monday, September 1, 2014

How Mercedes Perfected Audi's Recipe

Don't look now but Mercedes has perfected what was once a unique Audi recipe of turbocharging, engine downsizing and all wheel drive. As Mercedes is about to launch its latest C-class on American roads the entry model is powered by a turbocharged four cylinder while the performance model is a turbo V6. Both models are for the time being are only available with all wheel drive, you will have to wait until next Spring for a rear wheel drive option. The powertrain combination of a small displacement turbo and all wheel drive that dates back to the 1997 A4 is now Benz's preferred method of doing business. At the bottom of its range Mercedes will sell you a front wheel drive turbo dual clutch CLA with an all wheel drive option from AMG much like Audi did with the A3. At AMG likewise all wheel drive is available on most models and is standard on the newest releases. When the current A6 debuted a few years back Audi cut out the V8 for all but the S6. This upcoming year the E-Class drops the V8 and replaces it with a turbo V6. Mercedes has actually leapfrogged Audi in regards to engine downsizing to a certain degree as it will equip its ML SUV with a 4 cylinder turbo diesel.

Arguably Mercedes has not only followed Audi's recipe but has improved upon the idea as it waited until technology has progressed sufficiently powerful and smooth before pairing smaller turbocharged engines and all wheel drive creating a smooth transition from Mercedes of old. It's no longer classical Mercedes powertrain underneath and combined with flowing styling Mercedes is doing better than ever.

The Antithesis of Clean Design

Cadillac went for a streamlined look with its latest Escalade, the head lights flow into a side profile with subtle fenders and devoid of any unnecessary fender vents. The design works as intended until you get to the second row window that is bisected by dividers and plastic space fillers. On a spotless profile the window sticks out as out of place. Engineering logistics certainly dictate what designers can do with the window but the last generation Escalade was able to keep the glass completely clear of any obstructions. On the other hand, Cadillac's competitor Land Rover was able to do an excellent job cleaning up the side profile on its latest Range Rover Sport model. Gone was the unsightly divider of the first generation replaced with just a small plastic space filler at the bottom. It's a small change but it helps greatly in keeping the continuity of the Range Rover Sport design.


Thursday, August 28, 2014

Seriously Dramatic In Generation Powertrain Changes

Almost every brand these days has mastered the mid-cycle facelift. A quick update or two a little more than half way in to the product's lifespan to keep the model fresh and the newer competition at bay. Often this yields little more than some new lights, bumpers and other easily changeable pieces. It's rare to see significant powertrain changes for the mid-cycle facelift but occasionally automakers will have a strong urge to yank out the old and put in something completely different. At times patience runs out even before the scheduled facelift. Here are a few of the most dramatic "in generation" powertrain changes with some surprising and amazing results.

Mercedes Benz E55 to E63 AMG

It's especially rare to see an engine change for a high performance version considering the limited volume at play but that is exactly what Mercedes did when it went from a supercharged 5.4 liter V8 to a sweet sounding naturally aspirated 6.3 liter V8 for the last generation E Class AMG.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Three 1990s Designs That Still Matter Today

The 1990s seems like a long time ago and technology has progressed leaps and bounds between then and now. The smartphone in your pocket has more pixels than the finest TV of the decade and more computing power and memory than the desktops of the day to boot. Likewise, the automotive industry has progressed significantly with minivans that have more power than sport scars of the day and automatic gearboxes with triple the gear count. Yet not all is lost from the decade as the following three designs have each left a lasting legacy that is visible in many vehicles on the market today.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Why Going Downmarket Doesn't Hurt

With the ability to get into a new Audi, BMW or Mercedes for less than the average new car on the market there has been a lot of chatter of the German 3 dropping down. Whether through underboosted engines or through physically smaller models the cost of entry is under 30,000 for two of them and the other gives you a 5,000 discount. With such a seemingly low price point many have wondered if the brands are diluting themselves and their heritage and if their top of the line models are still special. While some of the media has called out the brands the consumer has paid little attention. Neither the recently introduced A3 sedan nor the earlier debut of the CLA has hurt either brand's sales of its top of the line models. The people that are buying the flagship Mercedes and Audi models costing over 100,000 aren't concerned that someone else can buy a Mercedes or an Audi for only 30,000. As long as they are getting a product with power, design and technology commensurate with the price of admission the existence of an entry level model won't bother them. Even for the few status conscious that do want to show off how much their car is worth there is little to worry as it isn't hard to see that an S class or an A8 retail for a quite a bit more than 30,000.

As with everything there are practical limits and thresholds that shouldn't be breached but so far both Audi and Mercedes have introduced a new model at the lower end of their spectrum without missing a beat at the top. The second round is coming right up as both are introducing the crossover version shortly.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Five Most Influential Cars of the Past Decade

A lot can happen in a decade in the world of sports, politics, art, technology and life in general. The same can also be said about the auto industry. Aside from the Volvo XC90, every surviving model has gone through at least one complete generation and some are on their third. With that in mind let's take a look at five models over the past decade that have had the greatest impact on the industry through their design or technology. The list is in chronological order to avoid picking favorites.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Hardest Working Powertrains In the Business

As with sports teams, smartphones and cars in general, not all horsepower ratings are created equal. The more instrumented tests you see the clearer it becomes that 200 horsepower from one brand does not necessarily result in the same performance as 200 horsepower from another. There are certainly some serious underachievers in the industry but for now let's keep it positive and take a look at three of the hardest working powertrain combinations (in alphabetical order) that make a mockery of physics and their competition.