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.


Monday, December 8, 2014

No Time For Half Measures

Mercedes and BMW have shown the world their visions for the future of electric mobility with the B-Class Electric Drive and the i3. That future however might be further out still. Both models have received generally positive reviews and a bit of market buzz but somewhat lukewarm sales. As Breaking Bad's Mike Erhmantraut famously said, half measures never work. In this case, both the upconverted B-Class and even the bespoke i3 are nothing more than half measures from Mercedes and BMW. Considering its pricing, the Model S took EV sales to a new continent when it hit Tesla stores two years ago. Perhaps a luxury touch was all that was needed, to ease some of the electric price premium. The truth is that no half measure, half hearted, effort will cut it if you want to duplicate Tesla's success, no matter your badge. After its own half measure effort with the Roadster, Tesla went full in with the model S matching the best of the luxury brands in design, engineering and performance and racking up sales equal to its top three competitors.

Nothing less than fully matching or exceeding Tesla's range and performance will cut it for any electrified model from the established luxury brands*.

The Tesla powered B-Class Electric Drive and the i3 are two of the more impressive (non Tesla) EVs on the market today but they still fall for all of the established EV shortcomings. The B-Class has a punchy electric powertrain and a tiny bit extra range but it's housed in Mercedes' least exciting model. One whose IC version was never good enough for the US. BMW went all in on i3's carbon fiber chassis to create a bespoke and very light model but then gave it styling more expressive than the Leaf's with no extra range. Both models are very reminiscent of how the brands handled hybrids previously. Late to the party and not truly representative of the storied brands' engineering prowess.

Much like Mercedes and BMW, Audi took a very cautious half hearted effort with its hybrids, see the Q5 hybrid. It really does exist! The A3 e-tron plugin looks to be more of the same. However, Audi's cautious approach to EVs might just be coming to an end in a big way. There are strong rumors about Audi creating a Model X fighter with 300 miles of range and a unique design of its own. The brand would be smart to take the long rumored Q8 in that direction. If true, Audi would be the first to assemble the ingredients needed for a legitimate Tesla competitor. An EV built from the start as an EV would be key as Audi isn't going to successfully make one out of an A model that matches an S for performance without costing more than the RS and still delivers Tesla's range. Nor is it going to come up with a conventionally styled sedan or coupe that will be more gorgeous and impactful than existing models without it becoming its flagship. And neither Audi, Bentley nor the market is quite ready for that yet. An EV only crossover coupe can stand on its own in the Audi lineup without really competing with its existing sedans, coupes or SUVs. Likewise, Mercedes will need to search for a segment that can take advantage of its latest gorgeous styling direction and not compete with an existing AMG model. BMW seems to be set up the strongest with its i sub brand, it's still far away as the i8 barely outruns the Model S and it takes a supercar profile and proportions to make the i styling work.

 

* The Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid is technically the closest Tesla competitor. In its plug in form the Panamera has about half the MPG and a tenth of the range of the Model S, isn't any quicker and is seriously aesthetically challenged in comparison at a significantly higher price.
 

Monday, December 1, 2014

Neatest Thing at the 2014 La Auto Show

With lights shinning on world debuts and hundreds of models around it is hard for any car in particular to stand out by the end of the night at a major international auto show. Lines are blurring between segments it's not unusual anymore to see more advanced technology in a 15,000 entry level model from a big box brand than what is available from "handcrafted" legendary brands. Materials and craftsmanship is harder to execute or fake but brands are getting better every day at making their interiors look expensive. Leather (like) covered dashes with French stitching on mainstream models create a marketplace where it takes a truly unique feature to stand out. Unique in this case means simple and elegant. Volvo XC90's frameless rear view mirror was by far the most memorable feature at the 2014 LA Auto Show. It's a fresh take on something that is in every car and one that makes a true design statement. Much like an edgeless flat screen, the mirror looks great and makes you wonder why no one else has done it sooner. Volvo is proud of the neat touches it has put in the long overdue XC90 but the all glass mirror is the one that works the best. It won't push anyone to buy the very nicely done XC90 but it is something the rest of its very strong competition does not have and that is a win for Volvo.




Thursday, November 6, 2014

A Teaser Done Right

With nearly every brand releasing one before every major auto show it's hard to get excited by a teaser these days. Audi does score a win with a video about its vital upcoming LA concept that is more about telling a story rather than just a visual tease. The video puts the spotlight squarely on Marc Lichte, Audi's new design chief. The concept is entirely his work and Audi appears to have given Marc significant freedom in shaping its future design. It's refreshing to see a supremely successful brand admit that it has erred and could do better with its design. Although its closest competitors have recently leaned more on the Audi design formula (clone and evolve) than their fans want to admit, it appears that the brand has extracted all that it could from it. The few glimpses of the concept promise the most powerful and impactful Audi design since the Walter de Silva designed A5. The future looks promising but Audi could have a mess to explain if the long overdue and delayed Q7 and the comparatively just slightly overdue A4 aren't true products of the new design direction. If the concept is as great as anticipated, good luck explaining to the public why your newest products don't match it. An awkward moment to have for a brand whose cars supposedly "all look alike". Of course this could all be a real tease and the change might not be nearly as drastic as promised.


Thursday, October 23, 2014

Escaping The Dead Zone

The dead zone between mainstream and entry level premium is the automotive equivalent of the friend zone, an area which no brand wants to occupy. You cars are generally nicer than those of regular mainstream brands and correspondingly priced a little higher than the popular competition. Your badge isn't worth much though and therefore your sales aren't that much better than some full price luxury brands. It isn't hard to see that this is not a great recipe for financial windfall for a brand as your profit per each car sold is on the low side and you aren't doing volume either. It's an area that most brands avoid and consequently there are only a few brands that find themselves trapped in this area. Over the past few years the three brands trapped in this area have all made efforts to escape and grow their sales, let's see how well they have done.

Volkswagen: Compact 62%, Midsize 22%, CUV 7% of Market Leader

Volkswagen is the world's best selling brand outside of America by a million or two (literally) and to jumpstart its US operations the brand recently went very mainstream with its core products, the Jetta and Passat. Closest to entry premium of the trio in their last generations there is no denying that both models were cheapened both figuratively and literally as Volkswagen moved down market, cut the price of admission at retail but also made obvious sacrifices to get there. The immediate payoff was fantastic for Volkswagen as the Jetta and Passat posted their best sales ever in a then still recovering marketplace. VW's progress has since stalled against fresh competition even with VW retreating back from most of the ruthless cost cutting. There is hope though as the USDM (and China) Passat is a better effort than the Jetta and its upcoming crossover looks promising to be an even better made for America product. Here's to hoping it arrives while crossovers are still a trend.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Subaru: The Most Baffling Brand In America

As a fan of excellent design this blog is an ardent supporter of the idea that if you make a great design they will come. A great design will usually yield benefits in sales for the brand and it doesn't even have to be beautiful, a properly boxy SUV or pickup can work just as well. With that in mind this blog was a pretty big fan of the fourth generation (2003-2009) Subaru Legacy and Outback. Featuring a crisp and sophisticated design far beyond your standard midsize, the Legacy could have passed as a near premium product. Its Subaru signature all wheel drive, decent interior and stronger than usual available engines let it play in a niche between mainstream and entry level luxury. Unfortunately for Subaru that generation had niche sales figures as well. A funny thing happened next, Subaru design deserted the brand but its sales have surged ever since. It's not hard to figure out the design direction of almost any brand as some lean towards bold, outrageous and swoopy. Others are clean, sharp and lean towards conservative while others still are boxy and purposeful. Subaru design direction on the other hand is impossible to read, its cars lack true beauty, clean lines nor do they make a bold statement. The brand has just enough awkwardness sprinkled throughout to separate itself from mainstream. The Subaru redesign philosophy seems to consist of blowing up its cars in every dimension and adding enough random jagged lines to meet a mandated quota. There are definitely some very redeeming qualities about Subaru that have certainly helped its surging sales over the past few years but it baffles this blog to see Subaru so hot with so little eye towards design*. Nevertheless it certainly looks like Subaru knows what it's doing in the US as it successfully escapes the sales dead zone between mainstream and luxury.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Can The Tesla Model S P85D Really Outperform the McLaren F1?

Having considered how legendary luxury brands can both be challenged and learn from Tesla and its continued drive for improvement let's take a closer look at what the dual motor P85D can do against its competition. And perhaps more importantly can it really outperform the legendary McLaren F1? Officially Tesla quotes the P85D and its combined  691 all wheel drive horsepower as  needing only 3.2 seconds to reach 60 mph and 11.8 for the quarter mile. Given the right conditions we can see someone dip under 3 seconds in the signature test, once though to be an almost unbreakable performance barrier.


This essentially puts the P85D slimly ahead of its closest competition, 3.2 seconds is coincidentally the best times recorded by the all wheel drive Audi RS7 and Mercedes CLS/E 63 AMG S models. Given that the P85D will do these numbers "mash and go" versus the launch control and brake torquing gives Tesla the advantage here. Things should stay close through the quarter mile as the RS7 and AMG S models have posted 1/4 times as quick as 11.5 seconds with most tests showing a tenth or two advantage to the Audi and Mercedes, still that's close enough to call it even with the driver's reaction time making the bigger difference. Looking at the trap speed things begin to change as the RS7 and AMG models have a trap speed of around 123. Tesla didn't provide a trap speed estimate but it should come in under 118. For reference the Tesla will be about half a second quicker to 60 than everyone's favorite 707 horsepower Dodge Challenger Hellcat and post an almost identical quarter mile time. The Hellcat does dominate with an unbelievable 126 trap speed. The gas powered cars should pull ahead past the quarter mile towards their higher eventual top speeds but you need an airfield to have that kind of fun. The AMG, M, and RS competition will trounce the Tesla around the track and not overheat after one lap, but the Model S wasn't really made for that.

In its marketing materials Tesla claims that the P85D's goal was to outperform the McLaren F1, one of the greatest supercars of all time according to Tesla. According to this test the P85D will in fact match the McLaren F1 to 60 as both do it in 3.2 seconds, the F1 though will obliterate it going forward making the comparison very short lived if technically true.




*Update: Motor Trend ran the numbers and 0-60 was in 3.1 seconds and 1/4 in 11.6. Kudos to Tesla for being spot on in its estimates. As predicted trap speed was below 118 @ 115.2 (115 was my internal thought all along!) which does mean that the quickest gas competition will pull ahead above 100. Still the dual motor upgrade would certainly qualify the P85D for a spot in our seriously dramatic in generation powertrain updates list.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Tesla As Foil To German Luxury Brands

The news that Mercedes sold a couple of thousand more cars than Audi in September wasn't particularly noteworthy in itself. It was however a great reminder at the total volume that the leading German luxury brands including BMW are doing worldwide putting them ahead of many "mainstream" brands. The brands all claim that sales aren't what they are chasing but sales are linked to profits and combined the two powers certainly impact the cars the brands produce. The other piece of news from last week, the Tesla D intro, actually serves as quite the foil for the Big 3 German luxury brands. Tesla's worldwide sales for all of 2014 will be about what Mercedes and BMW do in one month in the US alone, but it's the progression of improvement over at Tesla that makes it noteworthy. The D is set to match if not even surpass comparable AMG, M and RS models acceleration wise well up into big ticket range. The leap in performance and assistive technologies over the original Model S looks like an incredible commitment to the product and the vision of creating their version of the best possible car out there. It's the kind of product improvement that makes you question how true to words are the German brands to their famous taglines and what more that they could do if they were focused more on product rather than profit. Could they push even more performance today or make designs that much more daring and stunning? It will be intriguing to see over the next few years how the Big 3 change their products in response, if they do at all. Possibly completely uninfluenced, the Audi LA Auto Show concept is something to watch with Audi letting go of some of its design restraint. It's the kind of thinking that the established brands might need in the future.

 

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Biggest Technological Failure of This Decade

Each on their own the engineering teams of BMW, Chrysler, General Motor and Mercedes have produced some amazing products over the years. In a rare case of teamwork, cooperation and perhaps desperation the four diverse brands teamed up on the Dual Mode Hybrid System in a project called the Global Hybrid Partnership. The combined engineering synergy resulted in a much hyped hybrid powertrain too complex to explain yet one promising the world. As with many overhyped projects the Global Hybrid Partnership began to dissolve literally as soon as the first models hit dealerships and saw some of the brands sell fewer hybrids than Ferraris Enzos.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Most Memorable Cars on the Screen

Cars and movies have been around for about as many years and it didn't take long for the two to form an inseparable bond that would yield many classics over the years. From James Bond and the DB5 to Steve McQueen and the Mustang and Marty McFly and the DeLorean, cars have starred in movies just as much as the actors. Likewise Miami Vice, Magnum P.I., Knight Rider, and Dukes of Hazzard have made their corresponding cars famous on the TV screen. While these iconic collaborations have withstood the test of time here are a few recent ones.

Breaking Bad: Pontiac Aztek

Before Breaking Bad swept all the Emmys this past year and Walter White entered the empire business the Pontiac Aztek's only claim to fame was making essentially every ugliest car list there is. These days the first thought spotting an Aztek is to quickly scan the area to stay clear of any possible kingpin danger. The show came too late to help the Aztek or Pontiac but it does leave the Aztek with a slightly more respectable legacy.


Tuesday, September 30, 2014

We Will Buy What We Want To Buy

The power of a simple yet bold design is something that is hard to put in perspective at times. It may come as a surprise but the "Geländewagen " G class AMG is the best selling AMG model in the United States. The slowest, heaviest, worst handling AMG you can buy is the most popular one in the land. AMG is spending millions on its Formula 1 program but its most popular model relies on recirculating ball steering, live axles and aerodynamics of a box. The AMG model makes up over 60% of all Gs sold and sales worldwide are surging this past decade. Equipped with the same twin-turbo V8, the ML63 and even the larger GL63 AMG easily out accelerate the G class and slay it in every performance category. In fact even the Ford SVT Raptor and Ram Power Wagon on knobby tires demolish it on the skidpad, as does a 4 ton dually. This matters little to the G class as sometimes a design catches fire and the image it projects becomes everything. The G class enjoys tremendous popularity among image conscious celebrities many years after the Hummer lost its popularity even though the G is the thirstiest SUV on sale in America today. Brands will spend billions on developing new platforms and designs and then millions more advertising them but sometimes as the G proves one of your hottest products will be the one you don't spend any money on. It's hard to understand but people will buy what they want to buy! And all you can do is give them what they want.

The G Still Looks Great

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Outside Perspective Can Be Awesome

At times you think you know it all and you have considered all the angles to the story only to be rudely awakened when something new appears. The common perception is that the minivan segment is on a permanent decline never to be relevant again. Perhaps a Volkswagen hippie bus revival could make it exciting, but that ain't happening. Enter a little outside perspective from France that shows there is something still left to be done with the minivan shape. The Renault Espace has always had spacey styling and Renault even stuffed an 800 horsepower Formula 1 V10 into it before. Thus it's not unexpected that the newest Espace is the most stylish looking van you will ever find. About 10 inches shorter than American vans and lacking sliding doors the Espace nevertheless has an abundance of style that makes you believe that the van isn't quite dead, yet. Perhaps Nissan can take a gamble on it as you can almost pass it off as a crossover.


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Baby Designs That Rule

Shrinkage in general is never a good thing whether from the warehouse, your bank account or from your favorite sweater. It's also true in design as at best a shrunken-down design ends up being cute but rarely fierce or gorgeous. Fortunately there are exceptions as the following three recent "baby" designs prove that a tailored slim fit look can do wonders at times. Not only do all three do an excellent job of adapting the brand design to their smaller proportions but arguably end up with better and fresher designs than their more expensive brandmates.

Audi A3

The A3 sedan reminds many of the popular fan favorite "B5" Audi A4 based on its size and tidy design. The A3 sedan leans heavily on the current A4 but sharpens up every angle perfectly. It is one of the rare sedans developed out of hatchbacks that actually looks better than its five door counterpart and has a completely own identity. While both are stylish compacts the A3 works the Audi design theme better than its rival CLA does the Mercedes theme.

 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Future of The Auto Industry

Even among best sales figures in a decade there has been lots of chatter of the future of the auto industry, in particular in regards to its waning interest from young adults and teens. Many causes have been cited for America's disappearing love affair with the automobile from simple to complex. Unfortunately for the auto industry the biggest reason is also one that can't be changed simply because that's how the game works. This past week has seen the release of two different phones that perfectly illustrate the difference between the auto and phone industry and the excitement each generates. The Porsche design Blackberry retails for almost ten times the iPhone 6 yet features roughly the same hardware specifications as the iPhone. And unlike with cars there is only so much that you can do with the candy bar smartphone shape. The beauty and appeal of the smartphone game is that you can post an iPhone 6 release date selfie on Instagram just like your favorite celebrity. You won't get nearly as many likes but for all intents and purposes you can own the best smartphone on the market* just like your favorite millionaire or billionaire. This is certainly something the average person can get excited and feel good about as they certainly aren't driving the same car as their favorite celebrity. It's hard for the auto industry to compete on this level and generate the same buzz. Nevertheless it's not all lost as long as the industry continues to deliver well engineered and designed products, they might not catch as many headlines as in the past but the foundation will be solid. An important followup key is then to be able to explain the technology in meaningful and relatable ways.

* if you think Galaxy or HTC or LG makes the best phone there is no difference they are all priced the same.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Put Up or Shut Up Time for Audi

Audi is the best selling luxury brand outside of the United States but like everyone the brand is not without its faults. Known for creating elegant designs that very rarely have anything really wrong with them the biggest downside for Audi is that many find them cold, clinical and conservative. The flagship A8 is perhaps the biggest offender lacking the flair and in your face panache that many expect in its segment. Over the past few years Audi executives have promised a new Audi design direction throughout numerous interviews but so far there have been more changes of the aforementioned executives than actual change. Given the promises, Audi's upcoming A9 concept carries a heavy burden of expectations and responsibility to give people more of what they want. The four door coupe is an excellent starting point for a dramatic design and Audi should be smart enough to give the A9 plenty of length to work with to develop dramatic proportions. To differentiate the design Audi should give the A9 unique head and tail lights not seen on current Audis. To complement the design it would be great to see Audi throw away all reservations when it comes to the powertrain and turbo its W12 to over 650 horsepower though a hybrid 4.0T is much likelier for the concept. A great interior is a given from Audi and should be the cherry on top if everything else goes well. The promises have been made and it's now time for Audi to deliver, at least in concept form.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Toyota FCV Spy Shots With a View

Death Valley is usually the go to place for automakers to test their new vehicles to their limits in extreme conditions away from most prying eyes. Occasionally though, you can spot new cars testing in slightly more hospitable and picturesque places as a few weeks ago the Toyota FCV was undergoing some testing in some milder climates, perhaps to see if it could handle 75 degrees and a little sea breeze! Or the test driver just wanted to go to the beach. The FCV immediately sticks out as something new and intriguing thanks to its triangle shaped lights, especially the reflector in the bumper. Unfortunately for Toyota, the first impression is not entirely favorable for something meant to carry the fuel cell banner. It is definitely a vehicle that will be noticed and has an alternative look, but the overall vibe is that of a reboot of the first generation Prius and one that is a bit too tall and narrow. Toyota knows best though given its success with the design of the Prius in the past and a unique model makes more sense for a fuel cell push than say a Tuscon.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Cars & Coffee Symbolic Round Two Highlights

Symbolic hosted another Cars & Coffee (and Krispy Kremes) event this past weekend and as always there were certainly quite a few interesting cars to check out. Along with the usual collection of Audi, Bentley, BMW, Mercedes, Ferrari and various other exotics there were certainly a few standouts in the Carrera GT, Bugatti Veyron Vitesse and the brand new Lamborghini Huracan. Follow the link for more photos and impressions.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Concept Cars That Should Be Built Right Now

It's fun and easy to pretend play with someone else's money and there is nothing better than imaging how you would run a multi-billion dollar auto company. Fantasy sports are a close second though. It's particularly fun to greenlight awesome concepts that brands have deserted over the years. Usually this involves ignoring technological feasibility or market demands but there are concepts that seem to be guaranteed slam dunks if they were produced. Here are a few concepts from the past with awesome design and strong business cases that would need minimal updates to succeed today.

Volkswagen Microbus/Bulli

 The 2001 Volkswagen Microbus Concept is still one of the best concepts to never see the light of day. It's the one that got away. Certainly the minivan market is not strong enough today for Volkswagen to make a case for the Microbus anymore and the Routan experiment doesn't help one bit.
 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Why You Should Not Fear Ferrari Expansion

The recent board room shuffle at Ferrari has a lot of people worried that Ferrari is about to embark on a dark path that ends with the prancing horse on a grille of an SUV or even worse, a crossover. The image is a hard one to accept but there is a strong precedence that great things can happen when brands think outside the box. Many of our favorite products, services and entertainment options exist today thanks to iconic tech and Silicon Valley companies that expanded their portfolios by entering previously foreign to them markets. Apple was a computer company first with limited success in other areas before it entered the portable player and phone business, the rest is history. Netflix was a DVD rental company before it started streaming and creating its own shows. Likewise, Amazon mailed physical boxes before creating its own products and digital services. Google was simply a search engine that has since touched just about everything and is even flirting with the auto industry. Even the comparably conservative Microsoft has expanded past software to much fanfare.

If Lamborghini goes through with the Urus it should not be faulted for creating an SUV, it should only be judged if it does not create the sharpest looking and best performing SUV out there. Likewise, Bentley should only be criticized if it does not produce the most luxurious SUV experience out there. Having already ventured off-road Porsche shows that sports car brands can certainly deliver the best driving experience in their new respective segments. Though perhaps it's best not to force your iconic design so strongly. The financial stability generated by the Cayenne has allowed Porsche to invest in its sports cars and indulge in dream machines such as the Carrera GT and the 918 Spyder. If automotive history is any indication we should all be grateful that Porsche and Lamborghini were not afraid to branch out beyond their humble origins in air conditioners, tractors and bugs.



Tuesday, September 9, 2014

We Are Far Too Spoiled to Even Realize It

Considering that Jaguar has spent over 2.5 billion on the XE you might almost feel a little bad for the brand given the somewhat lukewarm meh reaction outside of the British media. Looking at the elements at play in the XE it's clear that the automotive industry has all of us just a little bit spoiled and it's becoming harder than ever to impress us. The forthcoming high performance variant of the XE will likely match the power output of the famed Jaguar XJ220 super car that was once the fastest car in the world. Much like the XJ220, the XE features plenty of aluminum and is poised to lead a growing group of aluminum intensive cars at increasingly more reasonable prices. While the design is not unexpected, the XE does take the best of the XF while skipping the strangeness of the XJ. Impressively it does so with an aerodynamic coefficient of just .26 without looking like a Prius or a jellybean. Not to mention it's light years ahead of the awkward turtle X-Type it replaces. The XE is an excellent start to take a look at the state of the auto industry in the Fall of 2014 and how we take it for granted at times.

Full size luxury sedans are breaking into the 3s to 60 all while delivering 30 mpg on the highway. As impressive as that go is, the stop might be even more so as there are 5,000+ pounds SUVs that will outbreak a Lamborghini Murcielago. And if you forget to brake on your own many new cars will do so for you. If all else fails though you are better off than ever, the IIHS had to invent a new test to keep itself relevant and not hand out a gold star to every model. The older models looked bad at first against a very solid barrier but it didn't take long for newer models designed with the test in mind to pass with flying colors. Sure it's an element of test beating but so is the entire US education system and there should be tangible real world benefits as well. While Dr. Evil might never get his wish of sharks with laser beams your car might soon if the government cooperates and lets through technology that allows you to see twice as far as before without blinding anyone on the other side of the road. If that isn't impressive enough there is also a brand out there on every other brand's radar offering a very stylish and very quick car with a very usable electric range. Sure, the auto industry feels slow compared to monthly app updates and yearly new phone releases but there is also no option for a restart at 85 in the fast lane.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Plug In Sports Cars Rated by the EPA

No long ago a hyper car's EPA fuel economy was nothing more than a specs footnote. These days however the owner and fan bragging rights might extend beyond acceleration and lap times and into EPA ratings. Earlier this year the Porsche 918 Spyder became the first plug in hyper car to be rated by the EPA to the tune of 20 mpg city and 24 mpg on the highway along with a gasoline equivalent of 67 mpg while operating solely on electricity. No longer is the 918 Spyder the only (almost) million dollar member of the plug in hybrid club as the McLaren P1 is now also officially rated by the EPA. The P1 is good for 16 mpg city and 20 highway and 17 in combined driving. It appears that while you can get up to 19 miles of plug in assisted driving from the battery, the benefits are so tiny that you will end up averaging only 1 mpg better driving as a plug in. For reference the McLaren 650S that uses a lower output version of the same 3.8 twin turbo V8 is good for 16 city and 22 highway, but of course the P1 blows it away performance wise. Thus the P1 does pretty well for greatly increasing performance while minimizing fuel economy loses. More impressive mpg wise, is the BMW i8 which is officially good for 28 mpg in the city and 29 on the highway as a hybrid and will deliver a combined gasoline and electricity usage rate of 76 mpg as a plug in in its first 15 miles. Of course the i8 is playing in the minor leagues performance wise compared to the 918 and the P1 but it's fun to compare regardless. It's unknown yet how well the last plug in hyper car, the Ferrari LaFerrari will do, but Ferrari has been able to harness the efficiency of the turbo to achieve an EPA rating of 16/23 for the California T. It's a decent improvement over the 14/19 rating of the original California.

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 year 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.

Volkswagen New Beetle

Introduced as a concept in 1994 and as a production car for the 1998 model year the New Beetle was a tremendous sales success for Volkswagen, particularly in the United States. The New Beetle would kickoff the retro themed design party that would last well through the next decade and into the current. Once the hottest trend in automotive design the PT Cruiser, Thunderbird, HHR, Mustang, Camaro and the Challenger would follow in the Beetle's footsteps. While not all proved to be successful in the long run and the retro theme in general appears to be losing steam, the New Beetle has certainly created a long lasting legacy perhaps only overshadowed by its famous rear engine predecessor.

 

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.

2004 Toyota Prius

It wasn't the first hybrid, it wasn't even the first Prius but the second generation Prius was the one that put hybrids on the map and eventually made nearly every automaker produce their own. Even the German brands. The second generation brought about 20% better city and 10% better highway fuel economy, at the time the Prius posted an unrealistic 60 mpg city and 51 highway labels*. Even more importantly the Prius brought a unique shape to the market in a usable size. The first generation Prius had an awkward sedan shape that didn't help its cause. Toyota would commit the same exact mistake a few years later with the Lexus HS hybrid that struggled to sell as well. The second generation Prius didn't make hybrids cool but it made them mainstream relevant. The latest million dollar halo cars from Ferrari, McLaren and Porsche are all... hybrids.


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.

Audi S6 4.0T V8

The current Audi S6 dropped a pair of cylinders and 1.2 liters of displacement between generations. It did gain a pair of turbos but on paper it lost 15 horsepower and gained only an irrelevant 8 lb-ft of torque. On paper the S6 represents a rare case of a new generation delivering less horsepower than before, something almost unheard of for a performance model. Thankfully, the S6 is an overachiever for the ages with magical turbos, all wheel drive grip and a dual clutch gearbox with launch control working in tandem to knock of nearly two seconds (3.7) from the sprint to 60 and add 11 mph (115) in the 1/4 mile trap speed versus the previous generation. It's one thing to compare models 6 years apart but let's see how the 4.0T compares to its contemporary competition. The Cadillac CTS Vsport brings the same 420 horsepower, more torque and less weight to the table yet it's almost a second slower to 60 and about 2.5 seconds to 130. The CTS Vsport is no slouch but it's hard to believe that the S6 is only packing 420 horsepower when it delivers performance on par with the 556 horsepower CTS-V.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Predicting Tesla Model X Sales

With the recent news that Americans purchased more crossovers than sedans for the first in history it's not hard to fathom why the luxury crossover is all the rage these days. The joke is that Audi is planning to put a Q in front of every number, BMW an X and Mercedes is already almost there. Nevertheless the reality is that for the luxury brands formal sedans still outsell their crossover counterparts by a significant margin, especially at BMW and Mercedes. The gap is smaller at Audi and Lexus was perhaps ahead of the trend altogether. Still everyone sees opportunity there for the taking with crossovers and a new entrant altogether is coming next year with Tesla. The biggest question is if the Model X will become the brand's best seller for the foreseeable future. Overall I would lean towards a yes as the Model S is certainly more a long the lines of a Mercedes CLS, BMW 6 Series and an Audi A7 and those models come up short sales wise to their crossover counterparts. Yet, the Model S will still be the "sedan" option it's not reasonable to expect the model X to outsell the S by margin that the Q7 does the A7 for example. As a further confirmation the Cayenne outsells the Panamera at Porsche which until recently had one option in each category much like Tesla will.

Based on the best estimates the Model S has done around 1,350 units a month this year and considering the newness factor of the Model X when it comes out compared to a well known commodity in the Model S, it's not unreasonable to predict at least 2,000 units a month for the Model X in its first year along with a slight drop off for the model S.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Double Edged Sword of Profit

Raking in the profit for an automaker seems like the ultimate accomplishment, and when you sell millions of cars around the world the final tally can reach satisfying levels. For example, the Volkswagen Group recorded an after tax profit of 11.7 billion, Euros, last year. However, even such healthy profits are often times not enough in the eyes of investors as Volkswagen has recently targeted 5 billion Euro a year of cuts that it sees necessary to shore up its margins. Certainly some of the cuts will come from the usual places that make the most sense, smarter purchasing, cutting factory costs and even eliminating some of the least profitable models. Yet, cuts will be done to R&D as well as VW has seen its R&D spending surge by 80% in the last four years. In general R&D spending should lead to better products and the latest Passat is a good example, a family sedan (at least in Europe) will come with up to 240 horsepower from a 2.0 TDI diesel or 280 from a 2.0 gas turbo. Numbers never before seen from diesels and only on high strung gas turbos are now mainstream. Certainly these engine developments don't come cheaply and future improvements could be stymied with the cuts.

The cost-benefit analysis of additional R&D certainly creates some interesting questions about what a car company could do if given the chance to focus on its product and let the finances sort themselves out. Say if  your stock was closer related to your product, its public perception and future potential of the brand. In other words the life of start up gone public. This model has certainly worked well for years in Silicon Valley in tech and web. Would cars built with this mindset tend to maximize their performance or broaden their design? All the evidence so far points to a yes as the answer in the auto industry as well. How much, if any, of an effect will this have on the rest of the industry is something interesting to track over the next few years.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Aston Martin Lagonda

As predicted earlier in testing, the new Aston Martin Lagonda sedan had the potential to be the best looking vehicle in the already gorgeous Aston Martin lineup. It looked ready to break up the stagnant Aston Martin design with something new and unique. Potential is a great thing but means nothing if it isn't translated into reality. In this case the Lagonda is not only as good as Aston Martin gets but is likely to take the tittle of most beautiful sedan in the world. The profile is sleek like other Astons but is punctuated by a strong C pillar that gives the sedan an elegant and powerful look. The presence is not unlike that of a Bentley Mulsanne or a Rolls-Royce Ghost but the Aston trades the formal look of both for one much sportier. Aston Martin has not released any other specifications about the new Lagonda but the rumors turned out to be true that exclusivity will be paramount, the Lagonda will only be available in the Middle East. Regardless, it's game, set, match, championship.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Evolution of Door Handles

Everybody knows about the evolution of dance, but the less well-known evolution of the door handle is nearly as impressive. In the ever more competitive automotive industry design is playing a bigger and bigger role even in previously mundane segments. Likewise, it's not enough anymore to simply to have a great profile to have a striking design, individual design elements such as head lights, tail lights, grilles and even door handles play a role. Even as one of the most functional and simple parts on a car, it is surprising to see the evolution of door handle design over the past couple decades and the way the industry quickly switches from one design to another as it gains popularity. Once just an afterthought, handles have become quite stylish in the last couple of years.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Validation Through Performance

When Porsche first introduced the idea of the 918 Spyder I struggled to get properly excited for what would be Porsche's pinnacle achievement. It looked too simplistic and almost ordinary for a supercar to me, not much more than an overgrown Boxster. The impressive technical specs failed to impress, it seemed to be more of an exercise in what can be done rather than what might be necessary. Then I saw one on the street well before it went on sale and it was immediately clear that it is a proper super car and then some. Yet, I still wasn't sold on the 918. The EPA fuel economy ratings of 20/24 were released and I applauded the Porsche engineering team for the numbers. The first instrumented tests followed and only then was I truly impressed. I finally saw the 918 as a performance machine that eclipses the Veyron and the entire package became that much more appealing. In photos, the 918 now looks clean and purposeful to me and something worthy of a reblog alongside Lamborghinis and Ferraris. The 918 now has my respect and adoration much like a phenomenal athlete that you liked to watch play before but now hold in a much higher regard once they have won a championship. The McLaren P1 is much the same way. At first I disregarded it as much too similar looking to the MP4 12C, but now that I know of its performance it is a true F1 successor in my book that McLaren meant it to be. Winning cures all for athletes and the numbers are what cements super cars as such.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Cars & Coffee: Symbolic Edition

Here are some visuals from this weekend's Cars & Coffee event from Symbolic. Symbolic is a Bentley, Bugatti, Lamborghini and Rolls-Royce dealership in La Jolla. Symbolic brought over a few examples from each of their brands and together with cars from private owners there was a good selection of cool cars to check out. The highlight of the show was definitely the Bugatti EB110 in its signature light blue paint. It's not very often that you get to see a Bugatti, even more so one that's not a Veyron. The event was also the first time that I saw a Rolls-Royce Wraith in real life and I was pleasantly surprised about its design after absolutely hating its roofline in all the photos I have seen. Likewise I liked the design of the brand new M3, the M specific design elements looked pretty good in black. You can tell that it has the M treatment but they are not overdone.



Thursday, June 19, 2014

A Trend That (Thankfully) Never Fully Materialized

Clear headlights are one of those things that make you scratch your head and wonder what took so long. Immediately a huge style improvement even with standard halogen bulbs, the advent of projector and now LED lighting elements have given us headlights as critical styling elements. While clear lenses have done wonders upfront they have made only a minor impact at the back. However there was a time when clear and chrome tail lights were all the rage and it seemed like they would spread to every make and model following the like of the Lexus RX, Nissan Altima and the Toyota Prius. Thankfully, the shock value soon wore off and only a few other manufacturers joined the clear and chrome party and the latest iterations of the RX, Altima and the Prius have toned down their designs and we are all better off.


Sunday, June 15, 2014

Audi Wins Wild 2014 24 Hour of Le Mans

The #2 Audi R18 of Marcel Fassler, Andre Lotterer, and Benoit Treluyer are your winners of the 2014 24 Hours of Le Mans, the 82nd running of the famous endurance race. This win gives Audi its 13th overall 24 Hours of Le Mans victory and fifth in a row. The #1 Audi placed second with the # 8 Toyota TS 040 rounding out the podium of a wild race that saw each of the three manufacturers take the lead at one point or another. Brand new rules for 2014 saw Porsche enter as the third major manufacturer, each one with their own take on a hybrid powertrain. None of the top teams were able to run a clean race with multiple mechanical and electrical gremlins along the way. In the end, Audi once again proved to be the best combination of speed, reliability, fixability and teamwork to add another trophy to its collection.



Toyota started with the lead and pulled ahead clearly showing more pace than the Audi and Porsche. Only a few hours into the race heavy rain created chaos on the track with a multi car accident forcing the #3 Audi out of the race and causing heavy damage to the #8 Toyota. Eventually the track dried and saw the #7 Toyota build up a nearly 3 minute lead over the #1 Audi thanks to quick running and a couple of safety cars. The #7 would go on to dominate the race until the 15 hour mark when it stopped on track during the nighttime darkness giving the lead to the rebuilt from scratch #1 Audi and a potential 10th career win at Le Mans for Tom Kristensen. However, that would not be the case as Tom found his #1 Audi stopped on track a few hours later. The #1 crawled back into the pits in need of a turbocharger change much like the #2 Audi needed a little earlier. This latest mechanical breakdown gave the #20 Porsche 919 the lead of almost two minutes with four hours to go but Andre Lotterer was flying taking huge chunks of time from the Porsche lead. A little more than an hour later had Andre taking over the lead as the #20 was showing a serious lack of pace even compared to its sister car. The slow laps continued for Mark Webber until the #20 slowed to a crawl on the track and crawled into the pits giving the rebuilt #8 Toyota the final podium spot. Only a few moments later the #14 Porsche came into the pits for a lengthy stop as well. The Zytek Nissan Jota Sport team took the win in P2 while the AF Course Ferrari 458 Italia took the GT Pro honors. Aston Martin took the win in the GT AM category.



Thursday, June 12, 2014

First Impressions With Cars

Everybody knows how vital first impressions are with people, but it is interesting to consider what they mean with vehicles. More than anything the context and location of where you first see a car for the first time can have an impact on how your perceive its design. Did you first see it against a beautiful backdrop, a crowded highway or a shopping center. Did you catch a quick glimpse as you were driving and preoccupied with traffic or did you get a good look as it rolled by slowly as you walked downtown. Did you see a fully loaded model with the sports package and a deep loud color or the cheap entry level option? With this in mind, I saw the brand new Porsche Macan last week stopped at a light not looking at much in particular and not paying much attention to the vehicles around. A Cayenne was making a left that looked slightly strange and not until I saw the tail lights did I realize that indeed the Cayenne was actually the Macan. I had decently high expectations for the Macan as it promised to bring the sportiest proportions to the luxury CUV category. However, my lack of attention might have not given the Macan a fair chance to present its design. Before I even get a good look at it I already feel like I have made up my mind that it's only a slightly updated and shrunk Cayenne. Here is to hoping that the Macan is able to convince me otherwise. In related news, the Macan is EPA rated a slightly unimpressive 17/23 with either the 3.0 or the 3.6 twin turbo V6.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Wishful Thought: Bring Back Three Door SUVs

The BMW X6, an idea that still baffles on paper but every time you see one on the road it has enough design presence to make it work. BMW has sold over 250,000 all over the world since its introduction, enough to warrant a second generation in the near future, an X4 sibling and a few competitors. The ZDX was an almost immediate response from Acura that never caught on, but Mercedes has the MLC almost ready and the rumors always persist about Audi following suite. With automakers willing to take some risks in the SUV category it seems more reasonable than ever to bring back the 1990s trend of three door SUVs. Back in the day it seemed like you can order your favorite SUV in a three door version starting with the "short bus" RAV4 all the way to the full size Tahoe. The three door SUV was the 1990s equivalent of the five door coupe of today. Take your best selling product and sacrifice some practicality and reason for some extra style. The Range Rover Evoque is currently the best example of how dropping a door per side can add to an SUV's design. Judging by purely anecdotal evidence the three door Evoque has single digit take rate, but with more and more automakers implementing modular platforms it should be more cost effective than ever to produce a unique three door SUV. Not saying it's a trend that is bound to happen but I wouldn't mind if it did.

The Range Rover Evoque offers a three door option
 
Even full size SUVs had the three door option

Everyone's favorite Audi Steppenwolf Concept

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Acura Follows Mitsubishi Off The Beaten Path

Mitsubishi is a brand so forgotten that no one will even notice that we practically swiped their commercial, this had to be the thinking in the ad agency war room that created Acura's "The Clear Path Commercial" for the MDX.  That or perhaps it's an incredible coincidence as there is a chance that the MDX commercial was created before the Outlander ad came out but released later. Or the same agency did both ads. Regardless, both ads feature a CUV stuck in traffic making a sharp 90 degree turn and escaping the ordinary life of bumper to bumper for a road much more open and scenic. Notice the way both ads focus on the steering wheel to symbolize the departure. Of course, there is a huge difference as the Outlander turns left and the MDX turns right. Aside from that both have the CUVs "finding your own lane" and "beating the beaten path" thanks to their advanced technology.






Monday, May 12, 2014

Unpractical But Very Awesome: Side Exit Exhaust

Practicality and cost consciousness is often a strong enemy of function and style. And more often than not practicality wins out. One of my favorite functional yet completely unpractical design and performance elements is the side exit exhaust. There is just something about sacrificing convention and standards in order to gain some performance. The unique sound is a bonus also. Seen only on a few models now it's a treat to see this exhaust combination every once in a while.



Sunday, May 11, 2014

Aston Martin Looks To Get Its Mojo Back

Aston Martin makes some of the most gorgeous automobiles in the world and has been doing so for ages. The brand has always been 007 cool but as of recent it has lost some of its mojo in the ultra luxury realm. Part of the issue is that sometimes too much of a good thing spoils everyone and Aston Martin has a lineup where every model is amazingly beautiful but they are all too much alike. Even for automotive aficionados it's a confusing lineup. The Vantage is the introductory model yet it's also available with the same V12 as all others, the Vanquish is a better newer looking DB9 yet the DB9 is still available for sale. The Rapide is the best executed four door coupe on the market yet one that is mostly forgotten. No matter how gorgeous your designs are you begin to lose an edge when you become too predictable. Audi, take notice. With that in mind enter the recently spied Aston Martin full size luxury sedan rumored to bring back the Lagonda name. It's unlike anything that Aston Martin has made since the last Lagonda and features more traditional yet very striking proportions. On it's own the design is promising enough if it was from any brand, but it's even more intriguing to see how the final product ends up looking when it has Aston's design reputation to uphold. Add the possibility of a much stronger powertrain courtesy of Mercedes and the new Lagonda shapes up to be a viable competitor to Bentley and Rolls-Royce. Just what Aston needs to jumpstart a historic brand getting a little stale.

The last Lagonda was very unique and some design cues look to transfer


Monday, May 5, 2014

Too Much of a Good Thing: When LED DRL Go Wrong

Though met with much skepticism at first there is no doubt that LED daytime running lights have become the most universally adopted styling element adopted by virtually every single brand on the market. A simple LED strip no longer cuts it in the competitive DRL market with every working to create a more distinctive and visually impressive design. Unfortunately, the one-upmanship has resulted in a few cases of DRLs that are simply overdone.

Cadillac CTS

Horizontal is the proffered DRL method for most brand and Cadillac would have already done well enough with a fairly simple vertical strip in each head light. In an effort to double the impact Cadillac literally added a second DRL strip integrated into the bumper right below the headlight to make a double decker effect that is two much of a good thing.


Land Rover Range Rover

The latest Range Rover is an evolution of a classic design with a seriously clean design that with almost no superfluous design elements. The only blemish on the clean sheet design are the head lights with DRLs that are too busy for their own good. As one the Cadillac the Range Rover would have done fairly well for itself if they kept things simple with just the outline of the headlight as the DRL but not content Land Rover added a loop that has no business being there.


 Audi A8

As the brand that invented the LED DRL, Audi continues to be one of the leaders in the head light design game, DRLs included. However, Audi misfired with the check mark shaped DRL pattern on the A8. Unlike the two previous offenders the A8 does not suffer from a design that is too complicated or too large but simply from a poor shape selection. The check mark looks good on paper but out of place on a car. The shape is distinctive and powerful in the rear view mirror but the overall impact isn't up to Audi's standard hence the pretty quick update to the A8 headlights with the refresh.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Ad Spot: Sports and Auto Crossovers

Sports and cars, if you like one there is a good chance you are a fan of the other as well. Take some fast cars and place them on a track and you that becomes a sport even if some will disagree. Either way the two often cross paths including in the ad world. Blake Griffin and Kia certainly come to mind recently. While Kia has certainly benefited from the association with Blake, a few other sports and auto world crossovers leave you deeply confused how the ad is supposed to make you want to buy the product. A couple of tire commercials really struggle to make a meaningful connection to the sports world.

Kumho: Official Tire of the NBA



The ad goes over all the things that you want in your tire that also happen to be things that you want from your favorite players. Still it's a stretch to see how Kumho tires play any role in the NBA and if Kumho tires are any better than other tires.


Bridgestone: Sports Balls Made by Bridgestone




Bridgestone has ran quite a few commercials featuring prominent athletes around a simple question, what if Bridgestone made balls too. In every case the end result is a scary looking ball that is too grippy for its own good and ruins the game much to the player's dismay. Sure the ad emphasizes just how grippy Bridgestone tires are but it does so in a ridiculous way that once again does little to convince that Bridgestone tires are better than the competition. Perhaps it's because I don't have Bridgestone tires but  I have never tore out the turf driving on grass.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Best Designed Model From Every Brand

Some brands have so many well designed models that picking the best is a difficult challenge. Some brands not so much, the challenge becomes picking the least offending design. More often then not though there are a couple of models in each brand that you could make a case for as being the company's best product. A few times an excellent and legendary design has gotten up there in age and has been upstaged by a newer model in the lineup. For the most part this list avoids halo cars as those are essentially default picks for every brand and are too easy of a selection and instead looks for design excellence in more mainstream products.


 

Monday, April 14, 2014

USCC Long Beach Thoughts

The Long Beach Grand Prix is the most well known and well attended street race in the US and 2014 was no different with multiple race series filling up a weekend of racing. Saturday in particular is a full day with IndyCar qualifying and the Tudor United Sport Car race. As a big fan of Le Mans style racing I attended the race last year and enjoyed the battles on a crowded street circuit. Even with the merger and the end of the ALMS I had high hopes for this year. Unfortunately this would not be the case as the action this year was exciting but not as good as last year. The 20 car combined prototype and GT field proved too small to fully fill up the entire street circuit which eliminated some of the craziness that multi class racing is best known for. Nevertheless it's always great to see and hear some amazing racing machines up close and you can't get much closer than at a street circuit.
  • The equivalence between the Daytona Prototypes and the P2 models might show just a few tenths between the two categories but the P2s were not in contention whatsoever.
  • The #3 Corvette checked out early and was in a class of its own miles ahead of the other GT models.
  • The C7 Corvette sounds just as fantastic as the C6 did before. The Daytona Prototype Corvettes might sound even angrier and louder though.
  • The Skyactiv diesel Mazdas actually sound a bit better than Audi's R18 diesels but are pathetically slow. They look like a quick prototype but couldn't even compete with the GTs. Based on the comments from the crowd the program is negative marketing for Mazda at this point. One managed to blow up within five minutes.
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Sunday, April 13, 2014

Porsche 918 Is Officially Rated by the EPA

The official EPA fuel economy numbers are in for the 2015 Porsche 918 Spyder and not unexpectedly it scores quite a bit lower than other plug-in hybrids like the Volt, ELR, Accord and Fusion. Of course  it's not competing with those models but the Ferrari LaFerrari, McLaren P1 and to a lesser degree the BMW i8 have not been rated yet so the comparison set is not perfect. The EPA predicts the 918 Spyder will be good for 12 miles on electricity and will consume it at a rate of 67 MPGe. This actually bests the 11 miles of the Prius Plug-in and just one short of the 13 of the Accord but all others have about double to triple the electric range. For what it's worth the four times I have seen the 918 around town it was always rolling silently on battery power. The 67 MPGe equivalent also trails all other plug-ins aside from Porsche's own Panamera and the Karama. Once the juice runs out the 918 is good for 20 MPG in the city and 24 on the highway as a hybrid, unimpressive for a hybrid until you consider that the gas engine is not a small 4 cylinder Atkinson cycle but rather a high revving 4.6 liter V8 good for 608 horsepower on its own. Still the hybrid numbers are better than the 20/21 that the Fisker managed. While somewhat arbitrary it will be fun to see what the P1 and the LaFerrari end up with if only to see which million dollar hypercar owner will have the most MPG bragging rights.




Monday, April 7, 2014

Ad Spot: Buick

Kentucky has caught up and there is a close if low scoring NCAA National Championship game. As one of the premier March Madness sponsors Buick gets to put its name on the official watch anywhere app and buy lots of commercials in the regular broadcast. Unfortunately, Buick is spending all that money on a brand commercial that isn't as good as it should be considering the cash outlay. For unexplained reasons half the people have absolutely zero idea that they are staring directly at a Buick right in front of them. Sure, Buick's lineup is recently refreshed but all of the models have been out for at least a few years with the same general shape and a few of them sell in significant numbers to be pretty common cars on the road. Of course everyone involved is highly impressed by the cars that they see and are shocked to learn that they are Buicks. Certainly the ad aims to get more people to consider a Buick for their next purchase and will get some people to do so but I struggle to see the audience getting really excited about a product that acknowledges its lack of popularity and brand heat. The ad works well enough as a standard primetime TV ad but when you are spending nearly Superbowl type money you would expect something more memorable so people can you know remember your brand.