Wednesday, March 26, 2014

2015 Most Anticipated Road Debuts

There is a certain excitement when you first see that leaked photo or an auto show debut of a brand new model online. It's also exciting when you first see a debut live at an auto show before it hits the road. Nothing compares though to the first you time you spot a brand new car on the road. Here are the top three 2015 models I can't wait to see on the road.

2015 Mercedes-Benz C-Class

All the hype around the CLA has done little to  make me comfortable with its design. I am jut not as excited about it as seemingly everyone else. The S-Class on the other hand is a home run and is fantastic, the C-class promises a sportier version of the S-class for the masses. The only potential downfall is around the C-pillar area that might be too compact to properly develop. Still, all the photos promise a best in class design in the hotly contested entry luxury category.

2015 Ford Mustang

Redesigning a retro inspired design is a supremely difficult task. Ford did a good job with the current generation Mustang but the changes were relatively minor. The 2015 version pushes the boundary much further with a more modern look. Yet it still has enough of that retro look to keep the recent lineage alive.

2015 Ford F-150

The big story here is of course the aluminum, the tech and the F-150's continued quest to remain the best selling vehicle in America. The current F-150 has more than adequate styling for a pickup but the 2015 version looks to dethrone the Ram as the best styled pickup on the market today.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Bentley Teases Its SUV

Ever since the Bentley EXP 9 F made its debut at the 2012 Geneva Motor Show to scathing critical reception there have been rumors that Bentley would do a redo at another auto show before going into production. Many major auto shows and two years later it appears that whatever changes Bentley has made will likely be kept under wraps until production and the final product will be revealed through a series of teasers. Even though it won't go on sale until 2016 Bentley has gone ahead and given us a glimpse of the front of its SUV, perhaps the most heavily criticized area of the concept. The teaser shows Continental GT like headlight arrangement with the bigger lamp being the one by the grille. The mini mesh slot between the grille and the headlights is eliminated as is the jet engine air intake. Usually it's a disappointment when concept car elements are removed for the production version but in this case everything looks much better. Of course, there are other areas of the concept that could be cleaned up but it's too early to tell how far Bentley is going with its changes. Bentley is promising the most powerful SUV of all time, which all but guarantees an updated version of the twin turbo W12. The current W12 lacks the latest engine technology but there is an updated 6.3 liter W12 version sans turbos in the latest A8 that's good for 500 naturally aspirated horsepower. It's unknown if the 6.3 W12 will gain turbos or the displacement will remain at 6.0, either way Bentley is probably shooting for 650 horsepower on tap.

Some Unkind Words Were Used to Describe the EXP 9F Front Details

Simplified and Butified

Monday, March 17, 2014

Lessons In Smartphone Photography at the Track

Having caught a glimpse of this past weekend's Sebring 12 Hour race it was only natural to reminisce about my own impressions of an endurance racing weekend. Going into the WEC/ALMS sports car weekend last year the expectations were extremely high. A chance to catch two premier sports car races in one weekend on America's own F1 track. A world class track with left and right turns. A chance to finally see and hear my favorite race team in action in many years, I saw the original R8 over a decade ago. Since I have followed the R18, R15 and R10 before that, through more than a few all-nighters at Le Mans on my couch. I argued and debated my fair share of ACO restrictor equivalency charts online but here was my chance to witness it. All in all, the weekend went even better than expected as thunderstorms turned into sunshine and cooler than average temperatures, the Camry rental turned into a Mustang convertible, oh and the racing was exciting. The larger ALMS grid provided nice action throughout on Saturday and the GT category was fantastic. The Audi and Toyota battle went the distance Sunday and the R18 of course delivered with a win to cap off the weekend. Wishing to document the sight I flipped out my new smartphone as soon as the R18 hit the track but this is when my hope of getting some print worthy shots ended. Even shooting at top of the hill as the race cars slowed down to one of the slowest turns at the track (1) the R18 and the prototypes were still too fast to get a perfectly composed hero shot.

My photography adventures started out pretty well as the stands at turn one provided an excellent view of the front strait. A simple photo of the front strait looked pretty good but that's as good at things got as all of my attempts at getting the perfect R18 shot had a poor angle and a catch fence in the way. Everything else about the weekend was perfect.

Hey Not a Bad Photo

Here comes the R18 if only that pole wasn't in the way

And it's gone

Hero Shot!

Best Non Exotic Exhaust Notes

You are walking down the street and all of a sudden someone turns the corner and gives it some gas and you hear a glorious sound that makes you turn around to see if you can guess correctly what it is. Every so often you turn around and see an exotic that surprises you but more often than not it's something a little more ordinary. Below are some of the best exhaust notes from cars that you can spot on a regular basis.

Mercedes-Benz C63

The AMG 6.2 liter V8 that powers 63 series AMG models is on its last legs as it is replaced by smaller turbocharged V8 engines. Lauded for its excellent power the naturally aspirated V8 is one of the best sounding engines this side of super cars and exotics. The AMG V8 has the perfect balance between a low rumble of an American V8 and that of a higher revving European V8 which makes it a hard combination to beat.

Mustang V8

The Mustang has always had a fantastic V8 sound even when the 4.6 liter V8 was barely stronger than some V6s at the time. Nevertheless, Mustang V8s almost always deliver a fantastic rumble that while not as high revving as the AMG V8 does rev a little higher than your traditional American V8 giving you more glorious sound through the rev range. While the latest 5.0 cammer sounds fantastic one of my favorites is the 2003-2004 SVT Cobra that is always one of the louder street legal cars that you will spot as most are usually modified.

Audi V8

The now nearly retired Audi 4.2 V8 is another fantastic sounding V8. Most often found in the last generation S4 and the pre face lift S5 the 4.2 also has some additional revs to play with as well for a throaty sound across the entire rev range. The 4.2 also sounds pretty good in the Q7 but is far too quite in the A6 and A8 versions. Much like the AMG V8 the naturally aspirated V8 is being replaced in all but its high power version by the smaller supercharged V6 that delivers more power but lacks the sound.

To balance out all of the amazing exhaust notes one can hear on a daily basis there is always one sound that drives me insane, the various versions of the Infiniti 3.7 V6. The VQ's pitch just doesn't sound right to me especially at lower RPM and the worst offender is the FX version that always produces a loud drone even when accelerating at an extremely pedestrian pace.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Lincoln MKZ: A Design Dilemma

Thanks to some Friday afternoon traffic I ended up following a brand new Lincoln MKZ for quite some time giving a perfect opportunity to study its design. When the Lincoln MKZ first debuted I was intrigued by its unique design, especially at the back. A couple of years later the MKZ is still one of the most unique designs for under 40k. Considering that the MKZ hasn't had a serious sales breakout perhaps unique really means polarizing instead. The sharp edges and strong surfacing around the rear fender and trunk area are still amazing design elements. A thin single tail light spans the entire width and hidden tail pipes round out a rear view that has a lot going on. The thick C pillar as well gives the MKZ a strong if slightly heavy look. Up front the design is simpler with a restrained Lincoln grille that does little to hint at the design at the back. Overall, the MKZ is an incredibly interesting design that each time I see I struggle to make up my mind if it's a winner or a loser. The rear end design is so strong but there isn't much design flow from the front to the back. It's a car that I would like to see more often on the road but not necessarily a car that I would want to drive on my own and it appears that I am not the only one with such an impression.

One of the most unique looks

The side profile is the weakest view

The simpler front end clashes with the rear

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Modern Super Cars That Can Outrun Their Legendary Predecessors

Progress, the desire to always be better, faster and stronger is a brilliant thing. It gives us better cars every single generation and family sedans running to 60 under 6 seconds. Progress is particularly amazing when it comes to halo cars as the latest crop from Ferrari, McLaren, Mercedes and Porsche are ready to blow our minds. However a more telling sign of progress is how each brand's "regular" super cars are now just as quick as their legends of yesterday.

Mercedes SLS AMG vs. Mercedes SLR McLaren

The SLR has a supercharger and more power than the SLS (617 vs. 516) but the SLS responds with two extra gears and double clutches. The end result is a tie through the quarter mile with both completing the sprint in 11.6 seconds @ 125. At less than half the price (200K vs. 455k) the SLS is a relative bargain. The only caveat is if you give the SLR a break because it was more of a GT than an all out super car but the identical acceleration is telling sign of progress. The halo SLS Black Series improves things further with an 11.1 @ 130 quarter mile.

Porsche 911 Turbo S vs. Porsche Carrera GT

Here we have Porsche's last generation halo car geared for track duty versus a turbo 911 with backseats and all. Thanks to all wheel drive, a twin clutch gearbox and turbo torque the 911 Turbo S is nearly a second quicker in the hole shot to 60, quicker to 100 and even through the quarter mile even if the better power to weight of the Carrera GT gives it a higher trap speed. The final tally, 10.8 @ 129 for the Turbo S (not even the latest generation) vs. an 11.2 @ 132 for the Carrera GT all for barely a third of the price.

Ferrari F12 vs. Ferrari Enzo Ferrari

Perhaps the ultimate comparison considering that both feature the familiar Ferrari V12. The F12 benefits from engine development to deliver more horsepower per liter and more power overall with 731 horsepower to Enzo's only 650. This time the F12 is the GT in the pairing and it shows with its 4,000 pound curb is 750 pounds on the Enzo. The extra weight holds back the F12 but it nearly matches the Enzo through the quarter with an 11.3 @ 132 pass vs. 11.2 @ 136 for the Enzo.

McLaren MP4-12C vs, McLaren F1

It's a given that twenty years later the McLaren P1 would shatter the F1's performance benchmarks but it's amazing how close to the famed F1 the MP4-12C gets. As with the 911 Turbo S, the MP4-12C's turbos and super quick gearbox lets it outgun the F1 through 60 and even up to 100 mph. The F1 nearly catches up at the quarter mile and pulls ahead as speed climbs. The final tally is a 10.7 @ 134 quarter mile for the MP4-12C to F1's 11.1 @ 138.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Acura Aims to Atone For Past Missteps with the TLX

With the news that Honda is letting Acura run its business more or less on its own, the soon-to-debut TLX is tasked to lead a brand resurgence. The 2004-2008 TL was Acura's most successful product since the Legend thanks to its well proportioned, clean yet purposeful styling. Looking to solidify the TL as a luxury product Acura gave it more tech, more size and more styling features. Unfortunately that's where everything fell apart for the TL. Lauded for its trick super handling all wheel drive system the TL was mechanically a superior machine but its heavy and overdone styling doomed it from the start. A subsequent refresh and a tone down of the "beak" front end was too little and too late to make much of an impact. As with the RLX, Acura is hoping that a new name will give the model a fresh start along with a design that ditches the awkwardness of the current version and brings back some of the sporty styling of the previous generation. The TLX has recently been spotted sans camo and the final product has stayed remarkably true to its Detroit concept. Almost by default the TLX will be Acura's best designed sedan even if there is a little bit too much ILX in the profile. For a brand that has done so well with its crossovers recently, the TLX will be a pivotal product for Acura to reestablish its footing with the rest of its lineup considering it will be pulling double duty replacing both the TL and TSX.

The TLX Concept looks great, the production version is close

Monday, March 10, 2014

The Shoe Created by Audi: Adidas The Kobe

It is not unusual for designers in other industries to look to the automotive world for inspiration when creating new products. Sometimes the inspiration goes even deeper and turns into a collaboration, one of the most intriguing was between Adidas and Audi that resulted in The Kobe basketball shoe worn by you guessed it, Kobe Bryant at the start of the first Lakers three peat. The shoe was designed and inspired by the original Audi TT.

The similarities of Audi Design language and The Kobe are easily identifiable. At a glance, the TT Roadster has three main features: a continuous line, a clean surface body side, and a bullet-nosed front. These elements also reflected The Kobe. adidas' long-standing grooved shell-toe, from the Superstar, Originals line, looks strikingly similar to an Audi front end grill. The main shoulder line continues around the arches and through the bottom of the shoe as the Audi TT's continuous loop runs from the side of the vehicle around the wheel arches and under the car.

The end result was an iconic basketball shoe that looked unlike any other shoe on the market at the time and even now. The follow up to The Kobe, The Kobe II, featured an even stronger automotive based design but this time around the results were disastrous resulting in a shoe considered by many to be one of the worst. The failure of Kobe II ended any hopes for more sneaker auto crossovers and Kobe left for Nike shortly after.

The Kobe II Look More Auto Inspired, Too Auto Inspired

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Design Analysis: An Emerging Roof Design Trend

The Nissan GT-R, Kia Soul, Range Rover Evoque, Mini Paceman. A super car, a compact, a CUV and an even smaller CUV, in other words four cars with seemingly nothing in common. However, a case can be made that all four feature particularly striking design. Further observation reveals that all four share one particular design element that plays a vital role in setting up their look, the way the roof slopes right after the A-Pillar. The GT-R was one of the first cars to start the trend of having the highest point of the car being right at the A-pillar and then having the roof drop down towards the rear in a straight line. While some might criticize it for giving the GT-R a bulky appearance it certainly works to create a menacing design that is the GT-R. The design element works even better when applied to a wagon shape creating a sportier than typical profile. The Soul was a breakout star for Kia, easily outselling the second generation Scion xB and the Nissan Cube. Aside from its pricing and practicality the Soul's fresh design certainly set it apart from the boxy competition that feature a level roof design. Deciding to not mess with success the second generation Soul features a very similar general profile. Struggling to make a big impact with the traditionally shaped Freelander and LR2, Land Rover went with a more daring design for the Evoque creating a highly desirable product. Once again, the sharply sloped roof gives the Evoque sporty proportions missing from the Freelander and LR2 and sets it apart from its competition as well.. The Mini Paceman as well uses a similar roof design to convert the already fairly well designed Countryman into a stylish coupe CUV. Expect to see more wagons adopting this roof design in the near future, perhaps even filtering down to other segments. The short lived Saab 9-5 actually applied this design element to a four door sedan shape to create a very unique look that unfortunately never had a chance to make an impact as the brand closed shop.

New York 2014: Hyundai Sonata Preview

Lost in all of the hubbub from Geneva, Hyundai quietly showed a very revealing teaser of its next Sonata set to debut at the New York auto show. The current Sonata was a breakthrough vehicle for Hyundai as it was leaps and bounds ahead of the previous generation and put Hyundai on the map as a brand that's more than just a 10 year warranty. It set the trend for future Hyundais to apply the brand's fluidic design. In fact, Sonata started the trend of better designed mid size sedans followed by the Optima, Fusion and the Mazda 6. This time around the Sonata does not usher in a new wave of Hyundai style but rather borrows heavily from the recently released Genesis. Using flatter and more restrained surfaces than the current model, the teaser shows an upscale look to the new Sonata. Hyundai is poised to continue to deliver above average style in the mid size category and put pressure on design departments at Honda, Toyota, Volkswagen, Nissan and Chevy.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Best of Geneva 2014: Concepts

Picking the top three Geneva production debuts was easy. Picking the top three concepts is just slightly more difficult as there are many fantastic looking concepts, more than a few concepts with their brand's futures on the line and even a few concepts that rock purely as concepts.

Volvo Estate Concept

Before the show, the Volvo Estate Concept was intriguing as it looked poised to bring back a bit of that traditional Volvo wagon shape that the brand is known for (and apparently wants you to forget). After additional consideration, the Estate concept prooved to not only be a great Volvo concept but also be the best concept at the show. The lines are crisp and everything about the wagon looks just right without trying too hard.

Quant E-Sportlimouisine

The Quant caught KWF's attention on the first day as a fantastically executed concept that is everything a concept should be. Sporty, unlike anything on the road today, yet nothing about it was so overdone as to be ridiculous. Did we mention a claimed 236 mph top speed? The Quant is certainly a concept that inspires imagination and isn't that what a concept is all about in the first place?

Skoda Vision C

Certainly most are putting the Maserati Alfieri concept as one of the top, if not the best concept of the show. It is definitely a great looking concept but it just doesn't scream Maserati in a way a concept should. A few elements like the lights, the wheels and the portholes just seem like Maserati is trying too hard to show something new. Overall the Alfieri is a looker and the dissapointment only comes from the fact that the expectations are really high for a new Maserati sports car. Instead, the supremely green Skoda Vision Concept rounds out the best Geneva concepts for its handsome clean looks and that paint that stands out in a sea of silver and light blue hues on every other concept. Part of the charm of the concept is hope that Skoda makes it a reality as the brand has dissapointed recently with its concepts not yielding great production counterparts. It would be really cool to see the brand given enough leeway in the Volkswagen empire to build something that perhaps is too good looking for the brand and its positioning.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Geneva 2014: Best Production Debuts

With tons of debuts in Geneva it turned out to be surprisingly easy to cut through the clutter and find the best in the production category. Concepts are another story though. Each of the three features striking design in its own right and certainly promises to back it up with performance and technology.

Mercedes-Benz S-Class Coupe

The most recent CL has always been a very well designed car if perhaps slightly simplistic in its execution. In the Mercedes lineup it should theoretically sit at the top as the pinnacle of the brand but instead it got lost in the shuffle. The S-class coupe aims to solve any issues that the CL had with a striking design full of flowing lines of the sedan along with a sportier roofline and some edge at the front and rear. The design works so well that even the simple tail lights that almost look like a last second rush job end up working pretty well. The head lights as well fit so well that the now signature cut out next to the grille doesn't distract the way it does on every other new Mercedes. The S-class coupe looks so good in photos that there is a slight fear that it might be one of few cars that doesn't end up looking better in real life. The expectations are that high.

 Lamborghini Huracan

Remaining completely unapologetic in its design, the Huracan is the latest Lamborghini to be the picture perfect definition of super car. Adding a swoosh like shape to the lines and triangles design philosophy of the Aventador and the Gallardo, the Huracan keeps the wedge shape alive in contrast to more fluidic super cars from Ferrari and McLaren.

Audi TT

The biggest fear about the new TT was that it would be too hard to tell that it is a new generation and not a mid cycle facelift. A quick glance at the earliest press shots almost confirmed those fears for a moment but taking a better look at how the TT looks on the stand it is clear that the confusion should be minimal. If you outline the two you would end up with nearly a carbon copy, but it's what's between the lines that sets the third generation apart and gives it its own identity. The new TT appears to be just fine as if it accepts the fact that it won't shock and wow like the first generation did and every one should understand that. The biggest down side about the new TT is waiting a year before seeing one on the road.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

QUANT eSPORTLIMOUSINE: This is how you Concept

The Geneva Motor Show is like ampm, too much good stuff. This year is no exception with significant production debuts and awesome concept cars left and right. The Auto Salon also carries a strong tradition of intriguing concept cars from boutique European brands, design studios, engineering groups and colleges. The best of 2014 in this category is the QUANT eSPORTLIMOUSINE by nanoFLOWCELL. The heart of the concept is the nanoFLOWCELL that promises 920 horsepower from electric motors and over 350 miles of range. How is this all possible? nanoFLOWCELL. While the validity of these claims is yet to be determined there is no denying the awesome design of the QUANT. Imagine a Lotus Evora blown up to fit four adults and still remain proportionally sound, add a full length gullwing door per side and you have the perfect recipe for a concept car. The challenge is of course to stay away from full cartoon car mode and the QUANT does not disappoint as it has a concept car design yet manages to keep a small sense of plausibility. A job well done.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Audi TT: Little bit of new, a little bit of old

As expected, the third generation Audi TT does not throw away the now familiar TT silhouette but rather chisels the edges while bringing back a few elements from its past. Certainly the biggest changes are upfront with a more pronounced hexagonal grille and slim angry head lights inspired by the recent quattro concept that are a departure from either of the previous generations of the TT. From the profile, the more pronounced fender flairs are more MKI while the roofline appears just ever so slightly more upright but is very much MKII. A very sharp character or tornado line in Audi speak is one of many that crisp up the TT. The slight kink at the C pillar is a new, if perhaps superfluous design element. At the back, the regular TT has twin exhaust pipes moved closer together a la the original while the TTS has a more traditional wider stance. The hatch mimics the front with a hexagonal design element for the license plate area while the retractable spoiler juts out just a tiny bit when down as on the A6. This time around the TTS receives wider rocker panels and emphasizes the grille with bright work, setting it farther apart rom its base model. The current TTS is too easily mistaken for its regular brother. Overall, the first impression is remarkably familiar but a closer look reveals an advanced design. How well this translates to the real world is yet to be determined but the first few live shots give the TT more credit than the media shots. The current TT is still an attractive design so it's hard to fault Audi for not messing with the shape but rather working on the details even if you are left with wanting a little more.


Sunday, March 2, 2014

Observations from a non major autoshow

LA, Detroit, Chicago and New York comprise the major auto show circuit in the US that gets the coverage, but you can find an auto show in any major convention center. KWF set out to find out what kind of an automotive experience one can have at these other shows and see what we can observe. No world debuts to catch, no concept cars to see, is this even worthy of being called an auto show? While lacking all the flash and glamour of the big shows you still get an opportunity to see almost every make and model on the market today.  What follows are random observations after numerous hours of looking up and down from all angles, sitting in every back seat and stroking every dash.