Acura gets Emotional
Acura wants the company's future product to be guided by emotion, and the not-so-creatively-named Sports Car Concept is supposed to represent that thinking. (You can get Automobile Magazine's take on it here, too.) With a front-engine and all-wheel-drive it could be argued that this concept isn't as "creative" as its mid-engine predecessor (the NSX).
However, using this design gives the concept car a greater shot at reality, as a front-engine, AWD platform would much easier to use for other, non-sports-car, models (such as a large luxury sedan). The NSX could have only ever been a sports car, but this basic structure could underpin multiple Acuras.
My biggest complaint? It looks too much like a 1970s Corvette, at least in the front end. But the proportions are right on, and Acura does need a shot of both performance (love that V10 under the hood) and emotion in their line-up.
I'll take mine in emotional red, thank you.
Audi's 500-hp diesel SUV
It's a little difficult to stay focused on the subject matter of a press conference when an international pop star swans his way onto the stage. At its Detroit unveiling, Audi dropped Seal (yes, that Seal, and no, he didn't bring wife Heidi Klum with him) onto the dais, ostensibly because A) their products are getting "a little bit crazy," and B) Seal himself uses an Audi Q7 as his personal car. Personally, we stopped staring at the Audis and started staring at the dude getting a little too familiar with the microphone stand while singing his lungs out. But then, you probably would have too.
It's not as if the cars on Audi's stand weren't worth the attention; they were.
A 200-mph racing car, a nondescript family truckster, and a 500-hp sport-utility wearing absurdly large chrome wheels were stretched across almost fifty yards of glossy white floor tile.
The interesting part? They were all diesels.
Yes, that's right: 500 hp from a diesel engine - and it's bolted into an Audi Q7. (photos from automobilemag.com) Two hundred miles per hour from a 650-hp diesel racing car, and it's quiet enough that, while cornering, all you hear is the odd tire chirp. And an ordinary sport-utility that burns diesel fuel without being slow, smelly, or boring to drive.
Audi's diesels represent a newfound focus for the brand, but it's one that backs up their long-spouted "Vorsprung durch Technik" (progress through technology) slogan. 2006 was a record year for Audi in terms of sales -- over 905,000 Audis were sold worldwide, a 9% increase from last year -- and it's the eleventh such year in a row for the Ingolstadt brand.
Success breeds branching out, and for Audi, "branching out" means "diesels." Audi's diesels are widely sold in the rest of the world (they account for 50% of all Audi sales), and are the epitome of modern diesel technology: quiet, fast, and fun. (They also offer twenty to twenty-five percent better fuel economy than their gasoline-engined counterparts.)
Audi's first diesel toe into U.S. waters will be the Q7 Bluetec TDI, powered by a 3.0-liter V-6. It generates 369 lb-ft of torque at a superlow 1750 rpm, and pumps out 233 bhp. The "Bluetec" bit -- a brand name for clean-burn diesel technology that's shared with some Mercedes-Benz vehicles -- will help ensure that the diesel Q7 will meet emissions requirements in all fifty U.S. states.
The 500-hp Q7 V-12 TDI concept? Although it's not earmarked for production, the concept features the world's first 2,000-bar Bosch Common Rail fuel injection system, hits 62 mph in just 5.5 seconds, and conforms to the Euro 5 emissions class that comes into effect in 2010. Fuel consumption is 20 mpg.
Chrysler vans: How about some excitement?
I cannot help but be intrigued by the sales prospects for DaimlerChrysler's new Town and Country and Caravan minivans. I respect their decision to create a very advanced interior. After all, we spend a vast majority of our time interfacing with the inside of our vehicle and if we are ever let down by the practicality, utility, or quality inside, the entire relationship is quick to sour.
To borrow Bobby Flay's recipe analogy from this morning's introduction, DCX has included several new ingredients inside their new vans such as the all-new "Swivel n' Go" seating option (similar to that found in many custom fullsize vans), dual source DVD screens, one-touch power down Stow-and-Go rear seats, and sexy ambient lighting options. All good and very compelling purchase incentives.
But if we fail to fall in love with the outside of our vehicle, especially at that famous "first glance", that relationship my never get off the ground.or in this case, leave the dealership. And here is where DCX may have slipped. Not only did Chrysler invent the segment 23 years ago, but they popularized it by making it look like something special. Today's new Dodge and Chrysler vans look fine, but is `fine' good enough in this hyper-competitive (and shrinking) segment? Tough to believe that, to my eye, the latest Hyundai and Kia minivan clones have an edge in style.never mind the aging Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna.
Mercedes chills out
Though the weather outside Detroit's Cobo Hall was relatively balmy, the theme at Mercedes-Benz was decidedly cool.
The German manufacturer's show stand had a large ice rink as its centerpiece. The chairs in the refreshment zone were covered in white fur and ice skaters circled around an S-class 4Matic. The press conference started with a dogsled riding out onto the ice, after which Mercedes-Benz chief (and DaimlerChrysler chairman) Dieter Zetsche informed the crowd that Mercedes was celebrating 100 years since the introduction of its first four-wheel-drive car, in 1907.Next, several Mercedes-Benz SUVs rolled onto the ice amid circling hockey players and music from Vanilla Ice, as Zetsche boasted of the brand's 48 different all-wheel-drive models.
Despite the ice theme, the bigger news was the GL420 Bluetec, a V-8 diesel with exhaust-cleansing Bluetec technology. (photos from automobilemag.com) The GL420 Bluetec makes 290 hp and 515 lb-ft of torque, yet still manages a combined city/highway fuel economy rating of 24 mpg.
Unfortunately, for now the GL420 Bluetec is only a concept; to see a diesel GL you can buy today, one instead had to look to the V-6 diesel GL320 CDI, which along with the R320 CDI and the ML320 CDI is currently available in 45 states.
Next came more figure skaters and then a red carpet rolled out over the ice as the star of the show arrived: the Ocean Drive concept.
This four-door convertible S-class was driven out by Mercedes-Benz design chief Peter Pfeiffer, with "Dancing with the Stars" winners Emmitt Smith and Cheryl Burke riding in back.
Based on the S600 and powered by a 517-hp, twin-turbocharged V-12, the Ocean Drive rolls on 36-spoke wheels. (photos from automobilemag.com) Up front are LED headlights and inside there is extensive use of real wood, including on the hard tonneau. The massive, power-operated soft top disappears under the trunk lid in 20 seconds.
The Ocean Drive itself will hang around a bit longer, but don't expect this fanciful creation to make production.
Acura Advanced Sports Car Concept
Honda's luxury division, Acura, unveiled yet another concept that points the way toward a new-generation NSX. The Advanced Sports Car Concept (photos from Automobilemag.com) is far more appealing (and realistic looking) than the HSC concept from the 2003 Tokyo Motor Show, but it's still not production-ready: note the lack of door handles, exterior mirrors, and other omissions typical of design studies.
This concept, though, is a very positive sign that Honda is actually going to build a new NSX: this was by no means a sure thing in recent years, as Honda insiders in both Japan and the United States struggled to define exactly what a new NSX should entail, both in terms of styling and configuration. The awkward HSC was one waypoint in that process.
But now Acura is setting the stage for the NSX's successor, confirming here at Cobo Hall that the car will stick to a conventional front-engine configuration, eschewing the mid-engine setup that was such an integral feature of the original NSX (and which reappeared in the HSC concept). And the cylinder count increases by four; the first NSX was powered by a V-6, but the new one will get a V-10, no doubt developed in large part by Honda's Formula 1 racing engineers. Acura is also developing a new, rear-wheel-biased version of its Super Handling all-wheel-drive system (previous iterations have been front-wheel-drive-based).
Acura likes to come up with silly names for its various initiatives and engineering systems, and so the company's designers and PR flacks are spouting off about "Keen Edge Dynamic" to describe the Sports Car Concept's styling.
"The design language has been around for a while," says Jon Ikeda, principal design manager for Acura's U.S. design studio. "If you look at the previous HSC show car, there is some hint of sheered surfaces. We've been known for some time for playing around with points and sharp lines. We're just taking it to the next level."
Acura will unveil the next iteration of the Advanced Sports Car Concept at the Tokyo Motor Show in October. If I had to guess, that car will be very close to production, and the actual production vehicle would likely follow sometime in 2008, just in time to do battle with the new Nissan Skyline GT-R (which will not actually use the Skyline name). The production version of that car also will debut in Tokyo. Add in the Toyota FT-SH hybrid sports concept that also appeared today here at Cobo and which points toward a new-generation Supra, and you're looking at an exciting new age of Japanese sports cars.
GM charges Toward an Electric Future
General Motors CEO Rick Wagoner just announced a new line of vehicles called E-Flex that will run on electrically driven propulsion systems. The Chevrolet Volt is the concept car that represents this development direction, and it looks promising from both a design and technology statement. The swooping roofline and four doors give it a sort of an American-ized Mercedes-Benz CLS appearance.
It travels 40 miles on pure electricity before the internal combustion engine kicks in to charge the batteries. (The engine never actually drives the wheels). The short range on pure electricity is designed to work for people who have a shorter commute. However, even with a 60-mile commute, the Volt would get the equivalent of 150 MPG, GM's product development chief Bob Lutz said.
The idea behind E-Flex is to utilize electricity as much as possible while still having an extended range via internal combustion when needed. As a bridge to pure electrical propulsion it could be a viable direction.
GM Sweeps 'Car of the Year'
If GM needed an exclamation point at the end of their recent statements about turning the company around, they got it at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. The world's largest automaker swept the awards, winning both the car and truck categories with the Saturn Aura and Chevrolet Silverado.
The Car and Truck of the Year Awards are voted on by a jury of 49 automotive journalists from around the United States and Canada.
There were three finalists for each award. The Aura won against the redesigned Toyota Camry and the all-new Honda Fit. The Silverado beat out the Ford Edge and Mazda CX-7 SUVs.
Both the Aura and Silverado represent key products in the GM portfolio, with the all-new Aura serving as Saturn's mainstream sedan entry and the Silverado an established to-seller in the highly lucrative truck market. Back in September we wrote that Saturn was ready to be a contender. This just proves my point.
This award should help validate both models in what have become highly competitive segments.
Motor Trend: New Viper
Dodge set the bar high when the original Viper SRT/10 hit the decks in 1992 packing 400 horses. Over the last decade-and-a-half, its displacement and power output have grown by ladder steps to the current car's 506 cubic inches and 510 horsepower.
Since then, however, Chevy's Corvette Z06 and Ford's supercharged Shelby GT500 -- each ripped with a minimum of 500 horsepower -- have arrived at the burnout contest.
The basis of the 2008 Viper (the 2006 model gets an extended run, and there is no 2007) is a powerplant that, short of its layout and basic architecture, is all new.
There were numerous reasons for this substantive overhaul. The first was to upgrade emissions compliance. Another was to quell the engine's rough and tumble nature at idle. The team also wanted to clean up the engine-bay packaging. And, of course, add more horsepower and torque.
It's still an overhead-valve, aluminum V-10 -- now at 8.4 liters by virtue of a 1mm bore increase -- yet no area of the engine's makeup or ancillary systems has gone untouched. And, most importantly, it now packs a 600 horsepower punch.
In keeping with the notion that form follows function, SRT focused most of its effort and product-development dollars into stuff that'll make the Viper go faster and run better. But a few pennies were spent on things that you can see.
The biggest visual clue to the power that lies beneath is a new louvered hood, which looks aggressive and increases engine bay airflow.
There's also a new optional wheel design called Razor and available colors are increased to eight; among the new ones are Shakespeare Green, Viper Violet, and Bright Orange. Body styles are unchanged from the current coupe and roadster configurations.
The Viper remains a halo car for Dodge; more about bragging rights and magazine covers than big volumes. Sales have loped along at an average of around 1,700 units a year for the last half-decade. One wonders how long the car will remain viable and in demand without a major reinvention. But SRT insists there's a business case to support it; hence, the substantive engineering investment made in the 2008 models.
Motor Trend: Ford's concepts
Thanks to the success of the Chrysler 300C, rear drive cars are back in fashion in
Why is rear drive suddenly hot? Because it allows more powerful engines, sportier handling, and better proportions than front drive. And it allows American automakers to build quintessentially American automobiles with V-8 engines and bold styling.
Ford is showing two rear-drive concept cars at
Both are built on a Mustang-based platform with independent rear suspension. But don't jump to conclusions -- when Ford axed smooth riding independent rear suspension (IRS) for the current Mustang to save money, it made enough changes to the platform to make it too expensive to put back in. That means if either car is to be built, Ford needs an affordable IRS rear-drive platform to build them on.
Ironically, it may find one in exactly the same place as GM found the Zeta architecture that will underpin its new Camaro --
The Falcon features an IRS system, and Ford
In styling terms, the Ford Interceptor reflects Ford's North American design chief Peter Horbury's take on the three-bar grille from the Ford 427 concept shown at Detroit a couple of years back, and mimics his '06 F-250 Super Chief show truck. The engine is an E85-friendly 5.0-liter overhead cam V-8 making 400 horsepower. The 2+2 low-back seats are fixed, headrests deploy from the roof and the four-point seat belts are inflatable in the rear.
Horbury, who made his reputation transforming the way Volvos look, has identified seven key design cues that have defined Lincolns over the years, and decreed that all future production Lincolns must have at least three of them. The Lincoln MKR's styling, including the '41 Continental-style grille, thin taillamps and powerful beltline, therefore signals the future design direction for Lincoln.
Under the hood is E85-capable 3.5-liter V-6 similar to that used by current production Fords such as the new Edge crossover. However, twin turbochargers and direct injection give this one a V-8-busting 415-horsepower.
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