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.