Monday, January 26, 2015

Honda's Recipe For Success With The Ridgeline

It can be said that Honda has the Midas golden touch in America. Its core products are nearly always perennial sales leaders in their respective classes yet they are also often named as the choice for the enthusiast on a budget. The brand rarely strikes out on a product with the Insight and the CR-Z as the only lackluster products unbecoming of the brand's portfolio. Honda immediately fixed up its latest Civic when it arrived to a poor critical reception. For all of its success Honda however is a stubborn brand often unwilling to join the masses and preferring to go its own way infamously eschewing V8s and body-on-frame trucks. The Ridgeline's lackluster sales can certainly be attributed to its unique unibody design and Honda's complete reluctance to update the model. There is some method to Honda's madness with the Ridgeline as it is probably harder for an "import" brand to succeed in the pickup segment than it is for a domestic brand in the compact and midsize sedan segments*. In both cases the factors at play go far beyond just the quality of the product. Honda found out the hard way what it is like to lure full size and lifestyle buyers with a mid size sized unibody truck with full size ambitions. Nevertheless Honda isn't giving up as it is all but ready to unveil its long overdue second generation Ridgeline at the Chicago autoshow. Here is a recipe that Honda must follow to make the second generation worthwhile.


  • Aesthetics: From its silhouette teaser it looks like Honda is giving the Ridgeline conventional pickup styling and bed albeit with a car like hood. The Ridgeline's unique design was quite off-putting to many as Honda tried to hard to give it character. Pickups are supposed to be bold but in this case Honda is probably better off sticking to convention.
  • Towing: Honda has to give the Ridgeline a respectable towing number. Towing one-upmanship is where the battle is fought for ultimate bragging rights. The Ridgeline's 5,000 pound towing figure is pathetic. A unibody setup is not ideal for towing but it's a myth that it can't as SUV's such as the Mercedes GL, Porsche Cayenne and Volkswagen Touareg are all rated to tow 7,500 pounds or more. Matching that number will still place the Ridgeline behind full size pickups but ahead of most mid size competition.
  • Power: Likewise Honda has to give the Ridgeline some horsepower to play with. In a world where the Chevy Colorado offers 305 horsepower and 269 lb-ft of torque, the current 250/253 Pilot setup won't cut it. A turbo V6 setup would be ideal but it's wishful thinking at this point as Honda is just discovering what turbos are. Reaching into Acura's past and bringing back the old MDX 3.7 liter V6 would be a wise decision good for 300 horsepower and 270 lb-ft of torque. In reality the 3.5 Earthdreams V6 will likely be the powerplant of choice with not much more than 270 horsepower and 250 lb-ft of torque placing the Ridgeline in a hole to start out. A six speed auto is a given but the competition is moving on up to 8 and beyond.
  • Fuel Economy: Gas is cheap once again but pickup fuel economy has become a bragging rights arena over the past few years. The Ridgeline will absolutely need to match or exceed the rear wheel drive benchmark numbers from the full size category. Sure it will have standard all wheel drive but no one is buying a front wheel drive pickup and you can't explain in a 30 second ad that the numbers Ford, Chevy and Ram are bragging about aren't quite comparable. EPA figures of 18/26 are a must to hit for Honda and are quite achievable given that the Ridgeline shouldn't be too far off behind the Pilot. In turn there is no reason why the Pilot should do any worse than MDX's impressive 18/27 rating and perhaps better it with more development and a simpler all wheel drive system. 

*Toyota is continuing to compete directly with its Tundra but Nissan is acknowledging it can't compete directly. Enter the Titan XD, a unique pickup that is almost in between half tons and HD models with a standard diesel V8. Call it the 200/2000 model to give it a chance against the established makes.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Can Tesla Model X Be The Quickest People Mover Ever?

Bentley is about to do it, Rolls-Royce is thinking about it, Mercedes has all but confirmed it with a Maybach, Porsche reinvented itself with one and Range Rover is ready to match any newcomers. Lamborghini has concepted it and Ferrari is experimenting on a smaller scale with the FF. All of a sudden the ultra luxury and performance SUV is no longer an oxymoron but a reality and the hottest new six figure segment. Not to be left out Tesla is on pace to join, after a few delays, as a more performance oriented rather than pure luxury entry. With a unique powertrain and falcon doors as its calling card. As the Model S P85D has shown there is potential for a special level of performance with the Model X that could be described as exotic, so let's virtually run the numbers on the Model X as with the P85D and Model 3 before. Given that the Model X figures to be more of a BMW 5GT type rather than a traditionally SUV design, it should not end up more than 500 pounds heavier than the S. The base Model S all wheel drive dual motor setup should give the X enough power to keep up with forced induction six cylinder competition, figure a 0-60 in a little under 6 seconds with  the1/4 mile in about 14.5 @ 95. It is the P85D setup that will make things truly interesting and place the Model X in the aforementioned realm. A combination of 691 horsepower, all wheel drive grip coupled with instantaneous torque should pull the X P85D ahead of any current hyper SUV to 60 in a sprint just a blade's edge short of 3.5 seconds. As things stand right now the Model X should keep its edge all the way through a barely over 12 second quarter mile at a little over 110 miles per hour. The latest X5M and subsequent future generation of the Cayenne Turbo and Mercedes GLE 63 AMG will get closer but still trail off the line and just begin to catch the Model X at the quarter mile. They will pull ahead then but it's rare to find enough room to push that far. Bentley's forthcoming Bentayga will fall short by over a second unless it too approaches the 700 horsepower plateau, but so far it looks like 650 horsepower will be its limit. Only a relatively light Lamborghini Urus* will stand a chance to match or edge the X in the mile a minute sprint but should proceed to put a gap at the quarter mile accounting a perfect launch. As seen recently that's not as easy as it seems at times and Lamborghini has been quiet on the Urus front lately. When it hits the streets the Tesla Model X P85D will very likely take the tittle of the quickest three row people mover around and even that of the quickest utility.


 *The powertrain choice for the Urus is intriguing as the Huracan's V10 seems a bit out of character for an SUV while the Aventador's V12 will have more than enough power but likewise out of character somewhat for an SUV and harder to fit upfront. A 4 liter twin turbo V8 makes the most sense but that engine would need to be turned up a little to over 650 horsepower to get closer to 3.5 seconds to 60 and a 11.5 second 1/4 mile pass at almost 125. That would be quite the crossover though with 675 or so horsepower.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Predicting What The Tesla Model 3 Will Do

While the Detroit Auto Show was beaming with high power debuts, Chevy took the show as an opportunity to go beyond its second generation Volt and present its Bolt concept with the promise of 200 miles of all electric range for only thirty (gov. assisted) thousand dollars. This works out to be about four times the range of the second generation Volt for the same money. While impressive, Elon Musk made a promise of his own that the eventual Tesla Model 3 will be even cheaper than the Bolt with a starting price of 35,000 before any incentives. With Chevy throwing down the gauntlet and following  and previous forecasting fun, let's see what an eventual Tesla Model 3 might bring to the table power and performance wise. Range is king for EVs and with Chevy hoping for hoping for 200 miles of range and Nissan mentioning 240 for its next Leaf there is no way that Tesla will go under 200 as the Model S is EPA rated at 208 in its base form. To hit that number and keep the 35,000 starting price Tesla would most likely use one of the Model S D's motors, either 188 or 221 horsepower should be the minimum for the base Model 3. Given a few more years of development and that number might climb closer to around 250, in the ballpark for entry level engines in premium models from Audi, BMW, Mercedes and others. A dual motor high performance Model 3 D with a pair of motors in the front and in the back seems all but guaranteed, giving it around 400-450 horsepower, again in the ballpark of RS5, M3 and C63 AMG. Given the price point the smaller Model 3 will likely use less exotic materials and construction than the Model S but will come with a smaller battery back too (figure 40-50 kWh) so its weight could be as little as 3,800 pounds to start if it's not all steel. With just a single electric motor of the stronger variety the Model 3 would likely get to 60 in about 6.5 seconds with a 1/4 mile in the low 15 second mark at just a little over 90 mph. About as good as any non-Tesla EV on the market today. Doubling the power with a dual motor set up upfront or using a more powerful Model S motor at the back should push a potential Model 3 P to 60 in the high 3 second range (say 3.7) and clear the quarter mile in about 12 seconds at around 111 mph. Once again in the ballpark of performance Audi, BMW, Cadillac, Lexus and Mercedes models. We are years away from seeing official Model 3 specs and pricing and eventual performance validation, but it's all but guaranteed that it will end up a significantly more aesthetically pleasing design than Chevy's eventual Bolt*. Stay tuned for Model X performance preview later this week!

A little BMW i3, a little old Mercedes A Class, a little Renault, Tesla Can Do Better
*This is based on the thought that the Model 3 will be to the Model S what the A5 Sportback and 4 series Gran Coupe are to the A7 and 6 Gran Coupe. Musk mentioned that the Model 3 will be 20% smaller than the Model S making it BMW i3 sized at which point styling gets difficult and a performance version silly. It's hard to see it be quite that small but rather 20 inches shorter in length based on the brand's design scheme and positioning.


Monday, January 12, 2015

Ford Steals An Eventful Detroit Auto Show

In a world where it is becoming next to impossible to keep a good secret, most brands have given up trying and often reveal their auto show gems as early as a month ahead of schedule. With that in mind the power of a true surprise has grown exponentially, especially if that surprise is a poster worthy supercar. The Acura NSX was supposed to be the supercar star of the NAIAS but then the Ford GT concept happened. There have been rumors of a GT resurgence and but nothing could quite prepare for a supercar more than worthy of an exotic badge. It's the Asterion that Lamborghini wished it could have debuted in Paris. The fact that the first shots of the GT came directly from the floor made this reveal that more exciting. Aside from the simple Lotus Evoraesque interior and a poor take on a racing steering wheel, the GT looks to challenge the very best much like the original GT40 did in the 1960s and a decade ago. Bucking most trends again Ford quotes as on sale date of 2016. The GT also gives credence that Chevy will finally make a mid engine "Corvette" after all those years. Following the no teaser route Ford rounded out its tremendous Monday with a worthy second generation Ford Raptor powered by a preview of the GT's EcoBoost and topped it all of with a track special Mustang GT350R complete with carbon fiber wheels from the factory. Likely a first for a car you can pronounce or hope to see. The only demerit was Ford's lack of actual horsepower numbers but others (Acura, Toyota) are just as guilty.

 

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Running The Numbers On The Acura NSX

The Acura NSX was likely going to be the most anticipated debut at the quickly approaching North American International Auto Show and with the cat out of the bag on the Cadillac CTS-V and the Audi Q7, Detroit is Acura's playground. We are only a few weeks away from seeing the final product and hearing the specs for the first time but many months away from actual performance tests making now as good a time as any to run some numbers on Acura's upcoming supercar contender, virtually. Going from a front mounted V10 concept nearly a decade ago, the second generation returns with a more authentic mid engine layout but with twin-turbos for the V6 and electric motors giving all wheel drive capability. The brand new, and seemingly unrelated to any current Honda V6, twin-turbo V6 is rumored to be around 3.7 liters in displacement. Similar sized powertrains make anything from 500 to a shade over 600 horsepower in various performance applications. Given Honda's history with turbo engines and a potential desire to reach some MPG targets with the hybrid powertrain it is hard to see a heavily boosted engine so something around 525 horsepower out of the V6 is a good basis. Nothing wrong with getting more than less here though. The RLX hybrid setup is good for an additional 67 horsepower towards peak output so when all is said and done a number of 600 combined horsepower seems very logical. Seeing the inherent weight penalty on the RLX hybrid with this setup it is hard to see the NSX dipping much below 3,750 pounds. Given the all wheel drive grip and the electric motor torque the NSX should be as quick as anything not purely exotic off the line to 60. Figure a time of 3.2 seconds or even slightly better to 60 and anything over 3.5 seconds would be a pretty big disappointment. The NSX should lose some momentum as speeds pick up going through the 1/4 mile in around 11.5 seconds with a trap speed of about 125 miles per hour placing it right in the middle of some very established competition. Competition due for replacement or thorough updates around the same time frame. It is game on for Acura and only time will tell if the newest NSX can ultimately deliver what promises to be 458 Italia performance for Audi R8 price and how it will play with the Z06, GT-R and 911s of the world.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Good Luck Redesigning These Five Cars

As the saying goes, success breads success more often than not in life. In the automotive world an aesthetically pleasing design can go a long way towards becoming a sales success. On the flip side, a great automotive design will also create headaches come redesign time. Just like a team coming of a championship winning season the expectations are sky high for successful designs. The following five designs aren't necessarily the most beautiful cars on the road today nor are they the top five designs on the market but they are all extremely successful for their brands and their respective segments and will prove to be difficult to maintain the successful aesthetics.

Jeep Grand Cherokee

Jeep got the latest Grand Cherokee styling so spot on that it is the definition of how a modern SUV should look like. Strong and muscular and just the right size as not to be too bulky it's a breath of fresh air in a segment populated by bulbous looking crossovers. It's rugged enough that you would think it's riding on a ladder frame but has enough design elements to keep it modern. Perhaps the only downside to the current Grand Cherokee is the SRT8 model that's not as sporty as the last one, nothing a Hellcat V8 can't fix though.


Sunday, December 14, 2014

Audi As The Most Conservative Brand

It is tough to watch your favorite team have an excellent season, defeat its greatest nemesis on its way to the big game and then deliver nothing when it counts most. Broncos fans everywhere still haven't recovered from last year's Super Bowl. As much as you try to stay objective you will always have a brand or two that you will be partial to and as with sports it is hard to see one of your favorite brands deliver a disappointing product.

After years of development Audi has released its second generation Q7 to the world brimming with technology and stuff to shame any Chevy marketing guy. Unfortunately all that technology is wrapped in a design that for the majority of the buying public is far too conservative, especially for an SUV. As with many Audis, a subsequent look reveals design aesthetics hidden at first and it's almost guaranteed that the Q7 will end up looking quite alright once you see it on the road. Park it next to the first gen and the differences will become obvious. Still, first impressions are extremely powerful and the second gen Q7 is too reminiscent of its predecessor and that of an A6 Avant that's been going to the gym too much. The conservative design makes you think what could have been given all the rumors of a super aggressive initial design scrapped by new Audi leadership. Given all the technology, the Q7 deserves a little more pizzazz on the outside. At first glance it's a supreme pizza engineering effort that someone stole all the toppings leaving just a cheese design. And in a competitive segment a cheese pizza might not cut it.