Month: April 2017

To V or Not to V? We Attend Cadillac’s V-Performance Academy ""

Cadillac V-Performance Academy

The rubber industry owes a debt of gratitude to Cadillac. More than a decade and a half after the Escalade helped usher in an era of plus-size wheels and tires to mass-market consumers, the American luxury brand now actively encourages owners of its ATS-V and CTS-V to burn through tires at the racetrack. The brand’s V-Performance Academy is a two-day high-performance driving school that comes standard with the purchase or lease of a new 2017 Cadillac ATS-V or CTS-V.

Lessons are conducted at Spring Mountain Motor Resort and Country Club in Pahrump, Nevada, an automotive playground located approximately 53 miles west of McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas. Enrollment in the academy includes two nights’ lodging at Spring Mountain’s onsite condos, a Cadillac courtesy vehicle, transportation to and from the airport, and breakfast and lunch as well as one dinner. Airfare, though, is not included, and 2017 ATS-V and CTS-V customers have one year after delivery of the vehicle to take advantage of the offer before it expires.

Cadillac V-Performance Academy

Cadillac’s hope is that ATS-V and CTS-V customers will learn to better understand and make use of the immense performance potential built into their cars by attending the school, which is designed to teach enrollees proper high-performance driving techniques as well as educate them about their vehicle’s specific technology features. While the brand wouldn’t share with us how many 2017 ATS-V and CTS-V consumers have taken Cadillac up on its offer to attend the V-Performance Academy free of charge, a Cadillac spokesperson stated that the Academy’s popularity has resulted in more classes being added to Spring Mountain’s calendar. Enrollees need not be owners of a 2017 ATS-V or CTS-V, either; non-owners may attend the V-Performance Academy at a starting price of $2470 per customer.

While these paying customers can choose whether their time at the school is spent behind the wheel of an ATS-V or a CTS-V, owners enrolled on Cadillac’s dime are given seat time in a car that mirrors their own personal purchases. All of the Cadillacs used by the instructors and students of the V-Performance Academy wear the same grippy, street-legal Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires offered on ATS-V and CTS-V models sold at Cadillac dealerships, without special track preparations. The Graphite Gray Metallic CTS-V we were placed in included comfortable 20-way heated and ventilated power seats, tri-zone automatic air conditioning, and a massive panoramic sunroof. Nor has Spring Mountain touched the cars’ mechanicals: ATS-Vs at the track are motivated by a stock 464-hp twin-turbocharged 3.6-liter V-6 engine mated to either a six-speed manual or eight-speed automatic transmission, while CTS-Vs maintain their raucous 640-hp supercharged 6.2-liter V-8 paired to an eight-speed automatic.

Spring Mountain, with its sprawling six-plus miles of tarmac, offers up to 18 different track configurations ranging from the 1.0-mile South course to the 6.1-mile SM Long course. Cadillac’s V-Performance Academy uses the tight and twisty 1.5-mile West course. Before letting students ever put a tire on the tarmac, the Academy’s instructors first engage in a brief safety talk and vehicle introduction. It’s at this point that instructors begin etching into students’ minds the importance of looking toward the next turn rather than at the turn ahead. They also begin familiarizing drivers with the cars’ traction and stability control setups, as well as proper seating position. Only then do students take the wheel, first completing a slalom, then braking at full force in both wet and dry conditions, and snaking through a serpentine, low-speed course dotted with a handful of strategically placed cones that serve as turning points. Success in the serpentine is determined by looking through the turn and not at the turn ahead. To drive this point home, Academy instructors place a sun visor on the windshield of each student’s vehicle and ask him or her to complete the serpentine without any ability to look at the nearest turn.

Cadillac V-Performance Academy

Academy instructors aren’t done, though, as students are then ferried off to another area of Spring Mountain that features two small courses: a wet figure eight and a dry oval. The former course lets students put the lessons they learned weaving in and out of the serpentine to the test—only now with much less traction. The latter allows the driver to perfect his or her ability to turn on an apex. Both activities also test each student’s ability to control oversteer and understeer. Once all of these activities have been completed, students are allowed onto the entire 10-turn West course.

While Day One ends with a quick run around the West course, all of Day Two’s driving activities are done while lapping the curvy course in lead-follow sessions. Between driving sessions, instructors go over the cars’ technology features, including the standard Performance Traction Management (PTM) system and the $1600 Performance Data Recorder (PDR).

PTM provides five track-ready settings under the Track driving mode (there are also Tour and Sport driving modes): Wet, Dry, Sport 1, Sport 2, and Race. Progressing from Sport 1 to Sport 2 to Race mode loosens the reins of the vehicle’s traction and stability control systems, allowing the driver to operate with more slip and less electronic intervention. Instructors direct students to drive the course in Sport 1. While we’d likely have had more fun with our CTS-V’s nannies set to Sport 2 or Race, the cantankerous Caddy proved a mighty handful even in Sport 1 thanks to the West course’s short straightaways and tight turns.

Cadillac V-Performance Academy

If PTM is an on-track tool, then PDR is an off-track one. The system contains a windshield-mounted camera that’s able to record drives onto a removable memory card housed in the glovebox. In theory, PDR is little more than a factory-mounted dashboard camera; however, ATS-V and CTS-V models equipped with the system are also able to overlay performance information such as vehicle speed, engine speed, lateral g-forces, and steering angle. Videos can be viewed on the cars’ center-stack touchscreen or on a computer. Frankly, the PTM and PDR portions of the academy will feel like a time-share presentation to students who don’t own an ATS-V or a CTS-V. Nevertheless, ATS-V and CTS-V owners attending the school will likely appreciate the in-depth analysis given toward their vehicles’ available features and functions.

Regardless, the V-Performance Academy is an impressively thorough two-day performance driving school that provides valuable experience to ATS-V and CTS-V owners and non-owners alike. We believe a longer track configuration would allow CTS-V owners to take greater advantage of that car’s immense power, while an opportunity to take a few laps without an instructor car leading the way (an option not offered) would also be a welcome addition.

Still, the instructors are happy to go toe to toe with each student’s capability. As we continued to push our CTS-V’s limits around the little loop, we found that by the end of the second day our car’s Michelin tires were becoming increasingly greasy with each and every lap. While the tires never became so slick as to shake our confidence, the four contact patches felt just loose enough to let us know that our $94,075 supersedan would need its rubber replaced soon, ensuring Cadillac’s continued contribution to the health of the tire industry.




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2018 Volvo XC60 T6 First Ride: No Swedish Fishiness Here, Only Goodness ""

Surströmming, as those who’ve walked on the wild side in Sweden know, is fermented herring. Typically canned, the local delicacy produces indelicately pungent aromas when its packaging is opened. In one way, Volvo’s XC90 SUV, S90 sedan, and V90 wagon were like cans of surströmming: When yanked from captivity and thrust under the noses of the public, they made a strong impression. But in the case of the Volvos, the impressions were largely good.

The one-size-smaller XC60 is Volvo’s global top seller, and the Swedes are about to launch an all-new, much more stylish 2018 model into the compact luxury SUV/crossover segment, one of autodom’s hottest. Volvo needs it to have a similar splashy impact to the 2015 arrival of the XC90. After a brief ride in the 2018 XC60 at Volvo’s Hällered test track in Sweden, we found little reason to doubt that it has the potential to do exactly that.

No Red Herring Here

Dimensionally, the new XC60’s 112.8-inch wheelbase is 4.7 inches shorter than the XC90’s but 3.6 inches longer than that that of the old model, directly benefiting rear-seat space. With no driving duties, we had plenty of time to evaluate the passenger spaces. The previously tight aft quarters now nicely accommodate two people; there is plenty of legroom, knee room, and headroom, plus the front seats are mounted high, leaving toe space galore. Externally, the XC60 just plain looks bigger than its predecessor, with a long hood, a more upright greenhouse, and clipped front and rear overhangs.

The 2018 XC60 is more handsome thanks to Volvo’s new design language, which incorporates the Thor’s Hammer sideways T-shaped LED headlight garnishes, gently undulating fender bulges, and intricate taillights. We think it is one of the most attractive entries in the segment, easily in the hunt with the Jaguar F-Pace. And the Volvo’s interior is as stylish as they come. Its overall design mimics that of the larger XC90, with the same vertically oriented touchscreen bisecting a horizontal scallop that includes the gauge cluster and all four front-seat HVAC vents. Up close, the dashboard detailing isn’t as elaborate as that in the XC90, although the materials are upscale and lend the cabin a generally luxurious air. The front seats we did experience—we sampled the available massaging, 10-way power adjustable chairs—are very comfortable, while the rears feature a nice cushion height and optional heating elements, although they have no recline adjustment.

Under the attractive Scandinavian clothing is Volvo’s Scalable Product Architecture (SPA), the same platform that underpins the XC90, S90, and V90. The suspension layout is atypical for the class, with control arms up front and a multilink rear arrangement. Coil springs and conventional dampers are standard fare for the front axle, while the rear also sits on normal dampers but gets a composite transverse leaf spring similar to the XC90’s. Air springs and electronically adjustable dampers for all four corners are optional, and the XC60s we rode in had this equipment.

Entering the Swedish Thunderdome

The new and improved XC60 comes together pretty well in motion, given that the baseline—the old XC60—was eight years old by the time Volvo switched its production line to start churning out the new one. At the Hällered facility, Volvo stuck us in the passenger seat of an XC60 with an employee at the wheel and sent us out to play on a high-speed oval, an off-road section, a tight road course, and various road surfaces mimicking everything from L.A.’s 405 freeway to an English country road.

We should specify that we rode only in an XC60 T6 Inscription, which, decoded, means the top-of-the-line trim level with the second most powerful engine, a 316-hp turbocharged and supercharged 2.0-liter inline-four. A base Momentum also is offered, as well as a sporty-looking R-Design; all three trims can be combined with the entry-level 250-hp T5 powertrain (a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder), the aforementioned T6, or the T8 plug-in hybrid, which marries the T6’s engine with an electric motor and a lithium-ion battery for a combined 400 horsepower. At least initially, every XC60 will have all-wheel drive as standard; the only transmission choice is an Aisin eight-speed automatic.

During our ride, we looked for signs of improvement in the XC60’s ride quality, which before could be most charitably described as “firm.” Despite riding on 20-inch wheels, the air-sprung 2018 XC60 was notably more comfortable, without a hint of floppiness or squish. The suspension tuning, even in the default Comfort mode (in addition to Dynamic, Off Road, and Eco settings) returns tighter body control and more measured wheel control over bumps and ruts than the XC90’s similar setup, despite having an overall firmer feel. We’re told that advancements learned in tuning the XC60 eventually will make their way back into the XC90.

At speed, the XC60’s cabin is quiet but not quite Lexus quiet. Our driver even took the XC60 up to an indicated 147 mph on Volvo’s high-speed oval, during which wind rush became the dominant noise generator. The air springs automatically deflate between 0.4 and 0.8 inch at speed for greater stability and improved aerodynamics; that can become the full-time level by selecting the Dynamic drive mode. Alternatively, the suspension can raise itself 1.5 inches in Off Road mode; doing so allowed our driver to tackle some boulder-strewn trails in Hällered and to descend the brutal set of “stairs” on which Volvo famously debuted the original XC90’s capabilities back in 2003. We figure this is about as much off-roading as any new-generation XC60 will ever undertake. What this means for Joe or Jane Customer is that the Volvo can handle pretty much anything they might never ask of it.

As in other recent Volvos, some growl from the Drive-E four-cylinder engine can penetrate the cabin under moderate acceleration. In general, however, noise sources are balanced, with the tires, wind, road, and engine contributing equally to what little cabin din there is. In case we haven’t said so enough, we weren’t able to drive the XC60 ourselves. Still, we can say that in a straight line the crossover feels fleeter of foot than its XC90 sibling, mostly because it has the same powertrains with the same outputs as that larger, heavier SUV. The 400-hp T8 plug-in, in particular, promises to be quite quick.

We’ll be able to speak more definitively to the efficacy of the XC60’s redesign when we actually drive one and can directly evaluate its handling, acceleration, and more. We also weren’t able to try any of the XC60’s new-to-Volvo active-safety features, including a steering-assist function that nudges the crossover back into its lane if oncoming traffic is detected or when a driver tries to change lanes into an occupied space. For now, we can say that we left Sweden with an appreciation for the XC60’s improved ride quality, gorgeous interior, and seat comfort—and this time without having opened a can of surströmming.

2018 McLaren 720S Dissected: Chassis, Powertrain, Styling, and More! ""

From the May 2017 issue

McLaren marches to a speedy techno drumbeat. It’s been only six years since the company’s supercar-making Automotive division launched its first product, the MP4-12C. McLaren gave that car what was essentially a heavy facelift—and a far less clunky name—just three years later, rechristening it the 650S. Now the mostly new 720S is here, based around a substantially advanced version of the 650S’s carbon-fiber tub and a turned-up-to-11 twin-turbocharged V-8 mounted amidships. McLaren, a brand we don’t associate with hyperbole, claims on-track performance will make that of the 650S feel almost leisurely. Certainly looks that way.


McLaren has stuck with commendable adhesion to the plan it announced when it launched its road-car division back in 2010. That is, to use the same core architecture to create a family of models graded thusly: entry-level “Sports,” mid-ranking “Super,” and extreme “Ultimate” series. The 720S coupe is the first of the second-generation Super Series cars, and as such brings forth a new iteration of the company’s carbon-fiber tub. The so-called Monocage II is more robust than the MonoCell of the 650S, incorporating an upper structure that integrates the windshield framework, the roof spar, B-pillar hoop, and buttresses. The upper A-pillars’ moldings are sufficiently well finished that they don’t need interior cladding. The roof spar includes attachments for the new wider-opening dihedral doors. The tub weighs 39 pounds less than the old MonoCell, with the car’s overall weight falling to a claimed 2829 pounds.

Monocage II

Likewise, the suspension is evolved rather than reinvented. There are new control arms and knuckles, but the 720S keeps McLaren’s hydraulically linked suspension that uses hydropneumatic units to control roll. The spring rates increase by 10 percent in the front and 20 percent in the rear, with harshness mitigated by a “Proactive Chassis Control II” system that uses 21 sensors to tune ride and handling according to road conditions and the dynamic mode the car is in: comfort, sport, or track. The stability control now features a variable-drift function to turn even modestly talented owners into full-oppo driving gods.


The power figure isn’t quite as impressive as the 720S’s name would have you believe, as it refers to metric horsepower, which is only 98.6 percent as strong as the ’Merican kind. In the U.S., we’ll call the 720S’s output a still-heady 710 horsepower, accompanied by 568 pound-feet of peak torque. That comes from a concerted development of McLaren’s twin-turbocharged V-8, with an increase in displacement to 4.0 liters. New turbos, cylinder heads, and pistons plus a new crankshaft enable the company to claim—with characteristic exactitude—that the engine is 41 percent new. The ­seven-speed dual-clutch transmission gets revised software to shift even quicker.

That’s no photographic trick. Red lights that illuminate the engine bay when the 720S is unlocked are standard equipment.

At lower speeds, the acceleration numbers aren’t much better than those for the 650S, which was already operating at the outer edge of the traction envelope. McLaren claims a 2.8-second 60-mph time for the 720S, just a tenth quicker than its claim for the 650S. But as speed builds, so do the differences, with the 720S hitting 124 mph (200 km/h) in 7.8 seconds—0.6 second quicker—and 186 mph (300 km/h) in just 21.4 seconds, a whopping four seconds sooner. The claimed top speed is 212 mph.


The 720S looks stunning, but it also looks different—not just from the McLaren road cars that have preceded it, but also from pretty much every other mid-­engined supercar. Here’s why: There’s no obvious intake behind the door. “As soon as we set the aerodynamic targets for this car, we realized we could not use an intake there,” says Haydn Baker, vehicle line director. “That was the challenge from day one.”

The Monocage II shares its shaved doorsills with the 570S. They’re shaped for easier ingress than the 650S’s.

The solution, as crafted by a team led by Robert Melville, McLaren’s chief designer, is a particularly elegant one. Air flows to the engine and the radiators through a barely visible channel between the body side and the rear side glass. Other clever aero features include door-mounted blades to route air leaving the front diffuser, and small intakes underneath the headlamps for the heat exchangers in the car’s nose. At the tail is a full-width wing that can deploy in just half a second. McLaren claims the 720S delivers 50 percent more downforce than the 650S, but with less drag when the wing is retracted and a significant 15 ­percent improvement in cooling efficiency.

The lack of a side intake serves to make the 720S look longer than its predecessor, but it barely is. At 178.9 inches, it stretches just 1.3 inches more than the 650S. The two cars’ wheelbases, at 105.1 inches, are identical.

The instrument panel’s track mode suggests that McLaren isn’t worried about coolant or oil temps. And it must expect that your rib cage will wear out faster than the fuel tank will run dry.


The cabin feels more spacious than the 650S’s, thanks in large part to how much easier it is to enter. As noted, the top-hinged doors open wider than the old car’s dihedral doors and the sills are narrower. Once you’re inside, the slimmer carbon A-pillars ­dramatically improve forward visibility. Design details include a TFT instrument cluster that tucks down into the dashboard to reduce driver distraction when the car is in track mode, displaying only the speed, the selected gear, and a minimalist tach.


We’ll have to wait until closer to the June on-sale date to confirm pricing, but the buzz from inside McLaren is that the 720S will cost around $285,000 in the unoptioned state that nobody is likely to buy it in. A Spider version will follow by 2019 and is certain to be the more popular choice. (More than a whopping 80 percent of 650S sales in the U.S. were of the open-topper.) An even faster LT variant is also a certainty. Don’t expect to wait long for that one, either, as McLaren’s techno pulse throbs on.


Compared with its counterpart on the 650S, the 720S’s deployable rear wing is a win-win-win. When extended, it contributes to a doubling of downforce over the 650S. Stowed, it reduces drag. But our favorite feature is the fact that the wing—and, indeed, the whole car—appears to have been styled by someone with a sense of aesthetics.

Haulin’ Juice: This Company Wants to Take the Tesla Approach Large Scale with Electric Semi-Trucks ""

Haulin' Juice: This Company Wants To Take the Tesla Approach Large-Scale with Electric Semi Trucks

From the May 2017 issue

Trevor Milton wants to do Elon Musk one better in the field of zero-emission transportation. With his Nikola EV semi-tractors, he hopes to disrupt the market for the largest commercial trucks on our roads, just as Tesla did for luxury sedans. His business model even borrows the inventor Tesla’s first name.

But Milton, who made his fortune developing heavy-duty natural-gas powertrains, is embracing hydrogen for his Class 8 long-haul trucks. “People are taking a lot of intermediate steps, and I think that’s the wrong way to do it,” he said of the slow crawl toward a hydrogen infrastructure. He plans to develop a network of refueling stations along the nation’s major shipping corridors concurrently with the introduction of his trucks.

Tractor Dream

The One isn’t all-wheel drive, because only one rear axle is powered. But there are two electric motors on both its front (1) and forwardmost rear (2) axles, which also enables torque vectoring. Those axles feature independent suspension, promising a smoother ride than most big rigs. The hydrogen tanks (3) sit aft of the cab, while the fuel cell (4) and the battery pack (5)—all 32,000 cells—are beneath the floor.

Tractor Dream

Tractor Dream

Milton’s Nikola One is the supercar of sleeper cabs. Four 800-volt electric motors fed by a 320-kWh lithium-ion battery, which is itself powered by a hydrogen fuel cell mounted below the frame rails, combine to shove 1000 horsepower and 2000 pound-feet of torque through a two-speed automatic transmission. With the 5000-psi hydrogen tank filled to capacity, the Nikola One can travel between 800 and 1200 miles, depending on how close the payload is to its 65,000-pound capacity. A typical diesel tractor-trailer gets between 5 and 7 mpg. Nikola claims the equivalent of 13 to 15.

All of these specs exceed industry benchmarks, as does the price. At $450,000 to $500,000, the One would cost four times as much as the average sleeper. But that includes maintenance for seven years plus hydrogen for a million miles (a 7-mpg Peterbilt would burn nearly $360,000 in ­diesel fuel over that distance at today’s prices). Testing starts next year, and while there’s only one working prototype, Milton says he has about 8000 orders and production booked for five years starting in 2020.

Haulin' Juice: This Company Wants To Take the Tesla Approach Large-Scale with Electric Semi Trucks

Tougher EPA requirements through 2027 essentially require truck manufacturers to embrace electrification. But diesel prices—not Milton’s lack of billions or his strategy to produce boundless quantities of hydrogen from solar arrays—may stop Nikola. Diesel costs about $2.50 per gallon at this writing. Even if it rises to $3.50—the threshold at which most large fleets would buy more efficient trucks, according to a recent University of Michigan survey—truck operators prefer more affordable upgrades such as improved aerodynamics, idle-reduction measures, and speed limiters.

There is some hope, however, in the same survey, which found that 30 percent of all operators said they would consider hydrogen and electric powertrains in the next two years. But those people might not stick around to buy once they see the Nikola’s price.

Space Truckin’

Who’d ever have thought that driving could be faster than the internet? With enough data, it is. Amazon’s Snowmobile is a 45-foot-long, 68,000-pound hard drive in a tractor-trailer. (The name is a riff on Snowball, Amazon’s large-scale data-transfer service.) For up to half a million bucks per month, Amazon will bring a trailer to you and transfer up to 100 petabytes (100 million gigabytes) to it, then physically drive the data to Amazon’s nearest cloud server. Total upload speed: less than a month by truck versus a few years over even a high-speed internet connection.

Haulin' Juice: This Company Wants To Take the Tesla Approach Large-Scale with Electric Semi Trucks



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Pennywiser: 2017 Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid Tested! ""

From the May 2017 issue

Hyundai doesn’t just want to be Toyota, it wants to break Toyota, in part by relentlessly copying the Big T’s jiujitsu. To­yota created the mass-market hybrid, and it’s pretty much had the corner on it, as others chipped futilely at Fortress Prius with unworthy competitors, including the failed Honda Insight, or shied away from hybrids altogether.

Yet, even as soft fuel prices have partially deflated the eco-car business over the past year, Hyundai sees opportunity, both in newfangled ride-sharing fleets where the break-even point on a hybrid is easily reached, and in up-and-coming millennials. They will represent 40 percent of new-car buy-ers by 2020. And as long as these young’uns stay the course with their values as they age (just like the baby boomers, cough), including a preference for urban living and smaller electrified vehicles, a parade of bearded and plaid-­wearing buyers could march right into Hyundai’s open arms.

The Ioniq is the quicker, better-looking Prius for buyers who don’t want to be seen driving around in a car out of some designer’s anime fantasy world.

The Ioniq and its sister, the Kia Niro crossover, are just volleys one and two in a seven-vehicle broadside over the next year intended to bust the Prius’s lock on the average person’s mental image of a hybrid. Hyundai’s plan is to fight hard on pricing. The base $23,035 Ioniq Blue comes in $2535 under the base Prius Two, though you’ll have to compare the respective features lists closely to see which car has the stuff that matters to you. Would you rather have heated mirrors (Prius) or dual-zone climate control (Ioniq)? As you go up the Ioniq’s trim levels, from Blue to SEL to Limited, the Hyundai’s price advantage narrows but remains.

Hyundai plans to employ the same basic component set to yield not only the hybrid Ioniq, which in its most stripped-down Blue trim lays claim to a 58-mpg EPA average, but a plug-in hybrid and a full EV as well. It is also Hyundai’s first platform designed with autonomy in mind, the car said to be ready to add all-seeing, all-knowing hardware to its portfolio of optional driver’s aids when the tech becomes available.

There is opportunity here. If Toyota can be faulted for something besides refusing to make anything more than modest improvements to the Prius’s handling, it’s for not expanding the Prius subbrand into body styles such as crossovers, which are the preferred choice of today’s buyers. Not everyone willing to pay extra for electrification wants a potato, and Hyundai doesn’t plan on making that same mistake.

However, first we get a Hyundai potato that looks a lot like a Toyota potato, and indeed like the Idaho russet that was the Honda Insight. And that’s not really anyone’s fault. If Mother Nature had simply taken a few classes at Art Center, we’d all be driving around in Ferrari 330 P4s. But her wind tunnel rewards a somewhat zaftig form with small wheels and a tall, billboard butt. To­yota wrestled with this conundrum on the current Prius by assigning the front and rear styling to Wavy Gravy. But Hyundai has decided to be practical and adorn the Ioniq with a more conventional suite of corporate brand motifs that meld into a pleasing expression of cultured grace.

If the Ioniq looks like an Elantra with a hatchback, that’s because it more or less is. The Ioniq’s 106.3-inch wheelbase is ­identical to the Elantra’s, and its strut front and multilink rear suspensions, while having more aluminum, owe much to Hyundai’s popular compact. Any driver of the current Elantra won’t even need to spend much time with the Ioniq’s owner’s manual, as the control placement, the classy “piano key” buttons, the technically grained plastics that effectively disguise the cheap bits, and the functions of the central touchscreen are so familiar. Both cars have great, Uber-iffic rear-seat room. Perhaps the best reason to choose the Ioniq over an Elantra is the healthy cargo capacity. Spreading the rear dampers far apart helped create a cavernous barn in back, especially once the rear seats are folded. And the hatch hole is wide and accommodating for large items.

The Ioniq’s other main engineering accomplishments include a relentless thrifting of the internal-combustion engine and incorporating a 12-volt lithium-ion battery into the same pack as the hybrid’s 240-volt, 1.6-kWh lithium-ion battery. Until now, non–plug-in hybrids have typically followed a more con­ventional route with cheaper, less power-­dense (but less tempestuous) nickel-metal-­hydride batteries and separate lead-acid 12-volt batteries. In the Ioniq, both the 12- and 240-volt batteries get crammed into a single box compact enough to fit under the rear bench with only a small ventilation grille to give it away. Hyundai also offers the industry’s first lifetime battery warranty, removing one fear that causes potential buyers to reject electrified cars.

Like the Prius, the Ioniq is built for and thrives in the kind of stop-go-stop commuting that helps keep Xanax in short supply. Hyundai sets no benchmarks with the steering feel, which is fairly lifeless, but it does spec expensive Michelin Primacy MXM4 tires with a 65,000-mile warranty on the optional 17-inch wheels (the base 15-inch wheels are shod with Michelin Energy Saver tires). And the Ioniq’s suspension, while a little on the firm side—especially with the tires inflated to the recommended 36 psi, a somewhat high number for a 3173-pound car—does a fine job keeping the rubber facedown, the body fairly upright in corners, and the driver feeling in control. It produced 0.86 g on the skidpad against 0.82 turned in by a 2016 test of the mid-level Prius Three.

The Ioniq runs in a somewhat lethargic eco mode unless you slide the shifter left, which drops it into sport mode and perks up the throttle considerably and can also activate a manual-shift mode if you push or pull the shifter and take control of the six-speed dual-clutch automatic. Sport mode also conjures up a tachometer in the digitized instrument cluster to reveal that, even at full tilt, the Ioniq’s gearbox routinely shifts before 5700 rpm, where the 1.6-liter inline-four makes its claimed peak 104 horsepower. Hyundai chose this transmission for its efficiency over a conventional automatic with a torque converter and plan­etary gearsets—and because it has no two-motor CVT akin to a Prius’s (and because only Honda has ever been allowed by the World Police to build a manual-transmission hybrid). Fully nailed, our Ioniq returned an 8.9-second trot to 60 mph, another drubbing of the 10.5-second Prius, which weighed only 3113 pounds.

Always driving in sport mode defeats the Ioniq’s purpose as a mileage stretcher, though eco mode produces only the faintest responses from the gas pedal. This is particularly apparent on the freeway if you’re trying to scurry around someone, especially on a grade. You really have to put the spurs to the Ioniq to tap its modest giddyup, and the rote engine thrum lets you know that this is not a machine built for thrills.

For this evaluation, we drove like a normal person might. Were it our car, we would leave it in sport mode.

The powertrain switches from electric to gas to combined thrust mostly transparently, though the occasional driveline jerk slips through as the electric motor/generator and six-speed seem to fall out of sync. The car also takes its time shifting between drive and reverse, and unless you hold the brake, it may even roll downhill a bit while its computers do the math and move the levers. The regenerative braking is fairly mild and there’s no max-regen mode as in the plug-in Ioniq or Prius or Chevy Volt, probably because the Ioniq hybrid’s battery capacity is too small to really benefit from it. Thus, you can’t “one-pedal” the Ioniq.

You get limited data about mileage perform­ance, including a percentage breakdown that classifies your driving as either “economical,” “normal,” or “aggressive.” When we calculated our 45-mpg test average, that display showed 49 percent, 42 percent, and 9 percent, respectively, a seemingly normal spread, lest you believe our usual lead feet are what caused the test average to fall well short of the 55-mpg EPA combined rating for our Limited-trim test car. We might have done better if the Ioniq rewarded its handlers for stingier driving through the display, as the Ford C-Max does with its ever-growing leafy vines. That kind of digital pellet-drop can get the mice working harder to excel in the ex­peri­ment, but the Ioniq offers no such rewards.

Actually, real-world fuel economy in the mid-40s is par for this class. The Prius delivered 42 mpg and 44 mpg on its 54-city/­50-highway rating in two separate tests. Hybrids in general shine especially brightly in the EPA’s tests, and the Ioniq appears to be no exception. Whether Hyundai’s hoped-for social changes mean it’ll shine in the showroom is another question, but ride-share drivers wanting only the lowest-priced and most efficient potato will surely come calling, and that’s a start.


Explained: The Finer Points of Gas-Engine Efficiency

Hybrid efficiency is far more complex than pairing an electric motor/generator with a gas engine. The Ioniq’s Atkinson-cycle 1.6-liter inline-four optimizes the miles from every gallon of gas thanks to efficiency-­boosting measures such as its water-cooled exhaust-gas-­recirculation system. With lower EGR temperatures, the Ioniq’s Kappa engine can fill each cylinder with as much as 20 percent exhaust gas during the intake stroke. The typical uncooled EGR system displaces only 10 percent of the fresh-air charge. Hyundai claims that this difference alone is good for a 3 percent fuel-economy benefit by reducing the engine’s pumping losses.

The engine cooling system uses a split-circuit design to modulate the temperatures of the head and block separately. The control logic opens the cylinder head thermostat at 190 degrees, while coolant starts flowing to the block at 221 degrees. The higher block temperature decreases the viscosity of the oil, reducing friction. Lower cylinder-­head temperatures help prevent knock, allowing Hyundai to use a high 13.0:1 compression ratio and more-advanced ignition timing. The engine’s Atkinson-cycle operation further reduces pumping losses with an expansion stroke effectively longer than its compression stroke. The net result is a claimed 40 percent thermal efficiency for the internal-combustion side of Hyundai’s gasoline-electric powertrain. —Eric Tingwall

Toyota Recalls 228,000 Tacoma Pickups for Leaky Axles ""

April 28, 2017 at 12:28 pm by Clifford Atiyeh | Photography by Michael Simari

2016 Toyota Tacoma Limited

2016 Toyota Tacoma Limited

Toyota is recalling about 228,000 Tacoma pickups in the U.S. with faulty rear axles, the automaker said this week.

Most 2016 and 2017 Tacomas have a rear axle that may leak oil from the differential cover. This can damage the axle, reduce vehicle power, and possibly seize the axle, which could lock the rear wheels while driving and send the truck out of control. Toyota has not reported any crashes or injuries. A filing with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration was not available.

Dealers will inspect the rear axles and tighten the fasteners if there are no leaks. For a leaking axle, technicians will replace the axle-carrier gasket and fasteners. If the axle is damaged, they’ll replace the whole assembly. Repairs will begin starting in mid-June.



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A Truck’s Tow Rating is Whatever You Decide It Is ""

From the May 2017 issue

Every so often, a friend of mine will solicit my opinion on heavy-duty pickup trucks, thus launching me into the type of sermon normally associated with people who wear sandwich boards and really want you to know that an alien named Xinpuu is stealing the fiber out of your breakfast cereal. Personally, I think most heavy-duty-truck buyers are needlessly flagellating themselves with a clumsy ride and barbaric fuel economy when their actual towing and hauling needs could be met by a minibike pulling a Radio Flyer. I understand that we all like to be prepared, but there haven’t been too many times a neighbor has knocked on my door and asked if I could help tow 30,000 pounds over the Continental Divide.

So I advocate for the lesser trucks, a philosophy that took root during my forma­tive years, when my father regularly towed a 4000-pound lobster boat with a woefully outmatched slant-six Dodge Ram 150. It would’ve had a hard time towing a lobster up a boat ramp, never mind a lobster boat. But with creative use of the clutch pedal and a healthy confidence in Lee Iacocca’s 7/70 warranty, my father proved that a tow rating is whatever you decide it is. If he’d bought a Ram with the 318 V-8, he probably would’ve taken freelance work pulling Arleigh Burke–class destroyers into dry dock at the Bath Iron Works.

Naturally, this leads me to the new Ford F-350 Super Duty diesel. With its 440 horsepower, an exhaust brake, and axles slightly thicker than the Doric columns of the Parthenon, I figured the Super Duty would prove my thesis that modern heavy-duty trucks have outgrown any practical application. Ford rates the fifth-wheel towing capacity of certain F-350s even higher than the 27,500 pounds the factory-option fifth-wheel hitch can handle. Case in point: I have a boat, and the F-350 could tow 10 of my boats at once.

Nonetheless, I decided to see what I could do to stress it. I rented a 3000-pound hydraulic dump trailer and filled it with 10,000 pounds of gravel. (Why do I need so much gravel? Mind your own business.) The tires on the trailer looked as if they might pop, but I didn’t even bother to put the F-350’s transmission in tow mode. When you’ve got 925 pound-feet of torque, every mode is tow mode. The F-350 was predictably unperturbed and, short of completing a course at Krazy Karl’s CDL Kollege, I didn’t see what else I could prove. But then I remembered the stump.

Whatever the F-350’s tow rating, its stump rating is exactly one.

During Hurricane Matthew, a tree came down across my driveway. I’d hacked away at it with my Stihl, but the stump remained in the ground. And aren’t we always talking about torque in terms of stumps and the pulling thereof? Surely the excision of this remnant root would be a foregone conclusion, but I figured I should tackle it while I had Bigfoot Jr. at my disposal.

I wrapped the stump with a tow strap rated for 20,000 pounds, hooked up the F-350, and inched away in low-range four-wheel drive. The strap tightened, I eased onto the accelerator and . . . three and a half tons of Ford strained the tether but went nowhere. So I gave it more right pedal and promptly snapped the strap.

Sensing that this could get dangerous, I gave up and hired a professional arborist. Kidding! I doubled up the tow straps and started making running starts. But even with the rear diff locked, the F-350 would hit the end of its leash, lurch to a halt, and start digging holes with all four tires while the stump, evidently through-bolted to the Earth’s mantle, refused to budge. As a crowd of neighbors gathered, I fetched my chain saw and severed any remaining bit of aboveground root structure. Chain saw, forestry, diesel 4×4—this whole situation was so manly that I spontaneously grew a mustache and mentally canceled the luxuriant bubble bath I’d planned for later.

Last-ditch prep work done, I backed up bumper-to-stump and gave it one last shot. The big red truck once again ran out of slack, but this time a sharp crack issued from back at the stump and the F-350 clawed forward another six inches, then a foot, and then suddenly I was off, dragging a 300-pound hardwood carcass. Now, instead of an ugly stump on my property, there was a handsome bomb crater surrounded by a crosshatch of deep tire ruts.

I suppose some people appreciate the assurance of knowing that their vehicle is operating within its intended design parameters. Not me. I like to push the en­velope, skating the ragged edge of physics, metal fatigue, and common sense. It’s nice to know that there are still unwise challenges out there, even for the mighty F-350, which, come to think of it, could probably use a little more torque.

Mercedes-Benz Sprinter Jet Van: Slower Than a Jet, Fancier Than Most Vans ""


To most people, high-end business travel starts and ends with a first-class plane ticket, but apparently for the terrestrial-bound few, it means a large van outfitted like Mar-a-Lago. What else explains German tuner Brabus’s constant obsession with Mercedes-Benz vans slathered in leather, TV screens, and other frippery? Now there’s another choice in the high-end market for business-travel vans: the Jet Van, a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter done up real classy by Carlex Design.

The Jet Van comes outfitted with both 40-inch and 21-inch 3D displays as well as two touchscreens (one per bank of seats) that can manipulate the climate control, TV screens, external parking cameras, seat adjustments, lighting, and window shades. Everything is slathered in black or gray leather and faux suede, so it may be nice to touch, but even the splashes of “exotic wood” and 24-karat-gold plating on various bits fail to lighten the mood. Carlex, for its part, describes the space as “dark and elegant,” so we’ll leave final judgment on the ambiance to you.

Externally, the Sprinter-based creation wears gold-colored wheels, a predominantly black paint scheme, and a front bumper with gaping intakes similar to those on the Mercedes-AMG E63 sedan. There’s no word on the Jet Van’s powertrain or price, but you can bet the beast won’t be nearly as quick as an actual jet or as expensive, yet it’s still extravagant enough that it might cause an issue down in accounting.




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2017 Chevrolet SS Manual Final Test: Fanboys’ Last Chance! ""

  1. Last Caress

It’s a common phenomenon: Brand enthusiasts zero in on an overseas model and imagine that if it were appropriated for stateside consumption, it would not only upend the performance-per-dollar hierarchy, but also require dealerships to hire extra security to handle the teeming masses waving their checkbooks. “I’d be first in line!” they say. In this instance, the manufacturer is Chevrolet and the car is the Holden Commodore, but GM was planning to bring it stateside as the Chevrolet SS long before the keyboard tastemakers took notice.

Having previously experienced less-than-stellar results with the sadly misunderstood Pontiac GTO and later the Pontiac G8 sedan, two recent Australian-American V-8–powered products that failed to build much excitement at the cash register, GM knew to temper the plan with a dose of consumer reality. While GM initially had high production hopes for multiple times the initial capacity, its estimates were drastically revised once production began. Sales turned out to be consistent if not earth-shattering: GM sold 2479 units in 2014, 2895 in 2015, and 3013 in 2016. Ultimately, it was the company’s decision to shutter Holden production altogether, not weak sales, that sealed the SS’s fate. Ordering for the SS concluded at the end of February, with Chevrolet dealers now selling off any remaining stock. Interestingly, Chevrolet sold 1529 SSs in the first three months of 2017, with 1217 sold in March alone. Apparently, the news of the car’s impending demise helped stoke some fires; that and a recent fire sale advertising 20 percent off.

Last Caress

Before the SS forever disappears not so silently into a cloud of tire smoke, we wanted one last fling to load up the memory bank, so we snagged a 2017 SS with a six-speed manual. Little has changed in the car’s four-model-year run. Its centerpiece, the old-school two-valve-per-cylinder pushrod LS3 V-8, still sends 415 ponies and 415 lb-ft of torque to the rear tires. While the SS launched in 2014 with a six-speed automatic transmission as the sole cog-swapper, the manual came on board (as no-cost option) in 2015, as did Chevy’s excellent Magnetic Ride Control adaptive suspension, Brembo brakes in the rear to match the existing fronts, 4G LTE connectivity, and five additional exterior colors. Though its fascia was mildly updated and new 19-inch wheels arrived in 2016, some fans still found the exterior appearance too bland. We kind of dig its clandestine exterior for its authority-avoiding disappear-into-the-flow-of-traffic properties.

One of the SS’s more interesting traits is its high level of standard equipment. In addition to the hardware above, the base price of $48,620 includes a dual-mode exhaust, a limited-slip differential (3.70:1 final drive in the manual versus the automatic’s 3.27:1 ratio), proximity entry and remote start, heated and ventilated power front seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter, a head-up display, forward-collision warning, a rearview camera, rear cross-traffic alert, lane-departure warning, blind-spot monitoring, and more. With the SS, you won’t spend hours hemming and hawing over the options sheet. On our test car, the only items adding to the bottom line were the $395 Orange Blast paint, which was bright enough to negate the whole disappear-into-the-flow-of-traffic theory, and a sunroof for $900. The sticker also calls out the $1000 gas-guzzler tax (it’s $1300 with the automatic transmission). All in, the total came to $49,915. If we had the chance to order our own, we’d go with basic black.

While the SS performs well in virtually any driving environment that involves pavement, it excels out on the fringes of civilization, following the undulating and meandering rural lanes that weave between the lakes and farms near our Ann Arbor office. It’s these types of roads that had staffers talking resurrected BMW E39 M5. Balance is a word that rarely applied to big Chevrolet sedans in previous decades, but the SS has it. Push the Bridgestone Potenza RE050A summer tires (245/40R-19 front, 275/35R-19 rear) too hard and you feel a hint of understeer, which can be remedied with a gentle stab of the accelerator (stability control is fully defeatable.) Those familiar with the steering of the current Camaro will feel right at home with the electrically assisted setup in the SS—it’s direct and linear but a little devoid of feel and on-center weight. A few drivers complained about nonlinear clutch take-up, but most found it a mild inconvenience and easily trained their left leg accordingly.

In its performance, this SS fell right in line with the numbers posted by its 2015 six-speed predecessor. The zero-to-60-mph run took 4.5 seconds, shaving a tenth off the time of our 2015 example. The quarter-mile was a dead heat, with the 2017 model matching the 13.0 seconds and 111-mph trap speed of the earlier car. Of what used to be referred to as the Big Three, only Chrysler offers V-8–powered, rear-drive sedans that play in the same league as the SS. The Dodge Charger R/T equipped with the 5.7-liter V-8 and an eight-speed automatic couldn’t match the SS, requiring 5.1 seconds to reach 60 mph and 13.6 seconds for the quarter-mile. Add a 6.4-liter Hemi to the equation however, and the tables are turned: The Dodge Charger R/T Scat Pack sprinted to 60 mph in 4.1 seconds and through the quarter-mile in 12.4.

We’d be remiss if we didn’t point out that the price to pay for enjoying that glorious, naturally aspirated, 6000-rpm soundtrack on a regular basis is an observed fuel economy of 14 mpg. That falls short of the EPA combined number of 17, but on the brighter side, the SS returned 23 mpg in our 75-mph, steady-state highway test.

Neither of the Mopars, however, can match the SS’s sense of balance—yep, there’s that word again—or its general poise. Registering 0.96 g on the skidpad, the SS handily outgrips the Dodge boys (0.86 g for the R/T, 0.91 g for the R/T Scat Pack), but even more critical is that the Chevy goes about the task with more finesse. In addition, stopping from 70 mph required just 156 feet, right in line with previous model years. You don’t need to change much when you get it right the first time around.

But now that the SS’s days are numbered, the opinion farm is back to spreading manure: “It was too well-equipped,” they say. “I totally would have been a player if Chevy would’ve offered a stripper model without the infotainment and convenience features for around $30K.” Sure, you would. For those whose actions speak louder than their words, however, the chance to act is quickly vanishing.

2017 Nissan Titan XD, in Depth: The Tweener Tow Rig ""

C/D Overall Rating:

Nissan employed Goldilocks thinking for its new Titan XD pickup: it’s not a light-duty truck (too wimpy). It’s not a heavy-duty truck (too beefy). Instead, it’s midway between. This nontraditional mashup blends the best and worst of light- and heavy-duty pickup attributes, with mixed results. There’s the obligatory optional diesel powertrain and beefed-up chassis that are expected on HD rigs, but XDs can barely tow more than light-duty trucks, and they don’t ride as well. The XD can be configured like any of its rivals, with three cab sizes, two bed lengths, a peppy gas V-8, and a highly customizable cargo box. For buyers not sure of whether they want a light- or heavy-duty pickup, could the Titan XD be their “just-right” remedy? We’re not sure even Goldilocks could answer that one.

What’s New for 2017?

The Titan XD was all new in 2016; the only major updates this year are the addition of regular and extended (King) cabs to the XD lineup. Nissan also introduced five new option packages. The Heavy-Duty Front GAWR package provides stiffer front springs. The Leather package covers all seats in hide and adds front-passenger’s-seat power adjustments. The Chrome and Texas Titan Edition packages slather chrome on practically every available surface, including the 20-inch wheels; the Texas Titan Edition includes unique badging. The Platinum Reserve Bed Utility package bundles a rear-bumper step and a power-locking tailgate, and it integrates storage boxes into the bed.

Trims and Options We’d Choose

Since the Titan XD slots between light- and heavy-duty pickups, we’d keep costs in check by selecting the SV Crew Cab that starts at $41,395. The diesel powertrain isn’t worth the extra $5050, as it lacks refinement, and its towing and payload ratings versus the gas engine remain relatively unchanged. Adding four-wheel drive to any model costs about $3000, and we’d do so, because what good is a truck that can’t go everywhere you need it to go? Standard features on the SV include:

• Bed-mounted gooseneck hitch and Class IV trailer hitch
• Power-adjustable, heated tow mirrors
• Integrated trailer-brake controller

Upgrading to a leather interior ($860) requires the Utility package ($1120) that adds a spray-on bedliner, LED box lighting, and more rear-seat storage. The Comfort and Convenience package ($2590) is also required and adds 20-inch wheels, running boards, heated front seats, a 7.0-inch touchscreen, active-safety assists, and more. After all that, our Titan XD SV costs $48,945. Note: The vehicle we reviewed for this report was equipped with the diesel engine.

In Depth: 2017 Nissan Titan XD