Month: July 2017

2018 Dodge Durango SRT Tested: Better at VIR Than on the Rubicon Trail ""

2018-Dodge-Durango-SRT-PLACEMENT

Anyone who thinks hot-rod SUVs are just big-engined and aggressively styled versions of their civilian counterparts should have a chat with the folks at SRT. They strive to make complete packages. Case in point: While developing the Dodge Durango SRT, engineers ran the SUV around Virginia International Raceway (yup, the same one we visit annually) with and without an intake in the lower left corner of the front fascia. The difference was 1.2 seconds per lap in hot conditions, so the production model has the intake. READ MORE ››

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2018 Dodge Durango SRT – Instrumented Test ""

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Latest Spy Pics of Mid-Engined 2019 C8 Corvette: Best View Yet of Cabin and Overall Proportions ""

2019 Chevrolet Corvette (spy photo)

Chevrolet engineers are hard at work testing the upcoming mid-engined C8 Chevrolet Corvette, which provides opportunities for industrious spy photographers—and further delicious teasing for the rest of us. The latest images captured of the mid-engined Vette give us our best view yet of the passenger compartment and the homegrown exotic’s overall shape.

These snaps captured the C8 in a moment when the camouflage had peeled away from its roof, revealing the tall, dramatically curved windshield and the tapered roofline. Chevrolet is tipped to offer a choice of a solid roof, a lift-off top as on today’s C7, or a glass roof. Through the camouflage, we can discern the outline of the large rear glass under which sits the small-block V-8. The view of the open doors confirms that they’ll operate conventionally. We also get a good sense of the long wheelbase, the short rear overhang, the defined front fender tops, and the rounded tail.

We expect the mid-mounted small-block to send as much as 500 horsepower to the rear wheels, distilled via a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission supplied by Tremec. A hybrid variant, expected to use the trademarked name Corvette E-Ray, likely will follow later. The C8’s regular powertrain will get an upgrade, in the form of a four-cam 32-valve V-8, approximately a year after its debut.

The C8 Corvette, code-named ZERV, is expected to finally shed its camo in January with a debut at the 2018 Detroit auto show. Production begins later next year or very early 2019. Meantime, we’ll keep mulling over these spy photos, because January is a long way away.

2019-Chevrolet-Corvette-spy-photo-REEL

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Sweet W116: We Take a Spin in the First-Gen Mercedes-Benz S-class ""

Mercedes W116

On the occasion of our first drive of the revised 2018 Mercedes-Benz S-class, we also were afforded the opportunity to drive an example of the first Mercedes to use that model designation, a W116 version, and the contrast was marked. A shiny, well-sorted car from the factory’s Classic Center in Stuttgart, the W116 our hosts rolled out was an 350SE from 1979, a car from late in the production run that in its home market stretched from 1972 until 1980. Looking dapper in understated dark-blue metallic with generous chrome accents and MB’s classic color-matched wheel covers, the 350SE also sported a matching dark-blue interior with houndstooth-checked cloth upholstery.

In many ways, the W116 represented a leap into the modern era, with pull-type exterior door handles, bucket seats bisected by a center console, the familiar gated floor shifter for the automatic transmission, power windows, and—most welcome on a blistering hot summer day—working factory air conditioning. The huge steering-wheel rim of wrinkly black vinyl was a Benz mainstay for years; its extra-large diameter was designed to provide the driver additional leverage should the power assist fail.

The 350SE indicates a 3.5-liter engine in this example, this being from the days when the model designation still related to engine displacement. Under the hood was a V-8, smooth-running although with a rather lazy idle—it spun so slowly that it seemed almost on the verge of stalling, yet it never did.

Mercedes W116

When stirred, however, the engine could get this stately sedan up and moving. The three-pointed star at the end of the hood would rise in response to a determined prod of the accelerator. Body roll is generous, but even after nearly four decades, the big Benz exudes a hewn-from-metal solidity that many of its contemporaries lacked. We would have driven it happily all the way to Bonn, perhaps to take a meeting with German chancellor Helmut Schmidt—were he still around.

The sensation of driving—or even that of being in a moving vehicle—is so much greater here than it is in today’s car. The latest S-class, its vast, pillowy cabin suffused with computer screens and colorful mood lighting, is nearly capable of driving itself. It feels as if the model is taking another historic turn, one in which autonomy and isolation rise to the forefront. The W116 S-class was all about making the best-driving luxury car; the new S-class seeks to be the best possible luxury conveyance for an era in which driving is perceived more as a chore than a joy.

Mercedes-W116-REEL

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Electro Retro: Bollinger Motors Shows Its Super-Boxy All-Electric SUV ""

Bollinger B1_mtns

Anyone who ever played with Tonka trucks and radio-controlled off-road toys, or really wanted a Mercedes-Benz G-class, a Land Rover Defender, or an International Scout—which, it seems, could include nearly every American—might find something oddly compelling about the Bollinger Motors B1.

Although Bollinger will have to clear many hurdles before it can bring this all-electric SUV to market, it’s refreshingly different from the luxurious Tesla Model X crossover or even the Workhorse W-15, an all-electric pickup that’s also in the works. Put on your camo pants, head off into the woods, and forget about the price of oil, and you just might find the spirit of the Bollinger B1.

“This is the culmination of what has been a 40-year-long boyhood dream of mine,” founder and CEO Robert Bollinger confirmed in a press release. That dream consists of a very rugged, off-roadable, back-to-basics sport-utility truck with an all-electric powertrain.

Bollinger B1_2x4

It’s compact and quite short—attributes that aid maneuverability and add off-road ability—with an approach angle of 56 degrees, a departure angle of 53 degrees, and a break-over angle of 33 degrees. The B1 is just 150 inches long, or about a foot shorter than either the current two-door Jeep Wrangler or the two-door Land Rover Defender that was sold in the United States in the 1990s and some international markets even today. Given the length, the truck’s width of 76.5 inches and height of 73.5 inches help counter the relatively short 105.0-inch wheelbase (about the same as a Toyota FJ Cruiser) and give it that blocky, grounded stance.

Tread Lightly—and Silently

Despite its base ground clearance of 15.5 inches (adjustable from 10 to 20 inches, and with anti-roll bars that can be disconnected), the truck’s center of gravity is low, Bollinger claims, thanks to the packaging: The B1’s battery pack, front and rear motors, and power-management systems are all packed under the floor and between the chassis rails. The B1 utilizes lots of aluminum in its underpinnings, reserving steel for its rollover protection. Bollinger claims to have designed the hydraulic-assist steering in-house, while high-offset aluminum wheels are mounted with mud-terrain tires.

The four-passenger interior is refreshingly simple and retro styled. It was designed with the rugged outdoors adventurer in mind, according to the company, carrying through some of the look of the brash Gunhouse Grey color scheme. The interior design is upright and very mid-20th century in theme, with details including circular gauges, a three-spoke steering wheel, and a column-mounted shifter marked out for PRNDL operation. The interior can be hosed down, and the floor is coated with polyurethane. Like Teslas (and Porsche sports cars and some other mid- or rear-engined sports cars), there’s a “frunk” under what looks like a traditional engine hood, but this one’s big enough for up to 24 two-by-four boards. With a pass-through essentially the full length of the vehicle, you can fit boards up to 12 feet long with the liftgate closed, Bollinger says, which sounds to us like a pretty neat trick for a vehicle that’s 12.5 feet long overall.

Bollinger B1_interior

As is the case for Tesla models, the B1 will be offered in versions differentiated by their battery capacity. A base version with a 60-kWh battery will provide a 120-mile range, and one with a 100-kWh battery shoots for a 200-mile range. Charging rates haven’t been disclosed, but the B1 will have CHAdeMO Level 3 fast charging that should allow an 80 percent charge in roughly an hour. Dual 110-volt AC power outlets are good for power tools or camping equipment, and while Bollinger hasn’t yet confirmed it, you can bet the company is looking into a power takeoff that could truly harness the battery’s capacity for help in natural disasters (or powering that off-the-grid cabin).

Regardless of battery pack, the motors produce 360 horsepower and 472 lb-ft of torque, making the 3900-pound B1 capable of a 4.5-second zero-to-60-mph time, Bollinger claims—which would be quicker than the 4.8 seconds C/D recorded in our last test of the Mercedes-AMG G63—and a 127-mph top speed.

Bollinger obviously has a lot yet to prove. While it’s relatively easy to present a one-off prototype, it’s much harder to bring a vehicle to any level of volume production. Bollinger confirmed that the B1 will be built in the United States, likely with the assistance of an established third-party manufacturer. With first deliveries targeted for early 2019, the company is looking to open retail outlets—both company-owned and franchised dealers—in major U.S. cities. It’s gathering info from hand-raisers now but won’t start accepting $1000 down payments until early 2018. We see many roles for the B1 to fit in with its quiet capability—for conservationists, hunters, bird-watchers, energy hawks and, well, people who crave an SUV that worships flat panels.

Bollinger-B1-REEL

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2017 Mercedes-Benz SL450 Tested: A Relic with Plenty of Charm ""

2017-Mercedes-Benz-SL450-PLACEMENT

Like a record player with a Bluetooth connection, the Mercedes-Benz SL is a relic from a bygone era with a modern twist. The SL has been part of the company’s lineup for more than 60 years with the same basic philosophy: a stylish, luxurious two-door with presence befitting its rich price tag. The current, sixth-generation SL was introduced in 2012 and received a facelift for the 2017 model year. READ MORE ››

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2017 Mercedes-Benz SL450 – Instrumented Test ""

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Prefab Parts Promise Faster Fix for Decrepit Bridges ""

(HR) ABOVE: Jeff Anderson, right, Program Manager for Colorado Department of Transportation Bridge Inspections, and Steven Pineiro, left, Engineer with the CDOT inspect underneath the viaduct. Some efflorescence is visible above them. Efflorescence appear

When a trio of homeless men allegedly lit a pile of construction materials ablaze beneath an I-85 overpass in Atlanta, Georgia, in late March, the conflagration destroyed a 100-foot section of the bridge, which plummeted to the ground and brought traffic to a halt. With a chunk missing from a major transportation artery in one of the world’s most congested cities, highway officials knew they had to act fast—that stretch of road carries about a quarter of a million vehicles every day.

Using not-so-new techniques formulated to address America’s long list of aging spans, the Georgia Department of Transportation rebuilt the collapsed overpass in a little less than two months, replacing 350 feet of roadway.

As infrastructure projects go, that’s a lightning-quick turnaround that could serve as a model elsewhere. The majority of America’s roadways received a D grade earlier this year in the quadrennial infrastructure report card issued by the American Society of Civil Engineers. Bridges fared somewhat better, earning a C+, and officials from ASCE attribute the better grade to a building technique known as Accelerated Bridge Construction, or ABC.

Major Freeway Bridge Collapses In Minneapolis During Rush Hour

There are more than 600,000 bridges in the United States, and nearly a quarter of a million are more than 50 years old. Since the White House has stated it would like to spend as much as $1 trillion on infrastructure—a detailed plan has yet to take shape—it’s possible transportation planners could get needed funds to restore these aging spans. ABC, which first emerged about 30 years ago, could play a big part in upgrading more than 56,000 bridges that ASCE deems structurally deficient.

“ABC is bridge construction that uses innovative planning, design, materials, and construction methods in a safe and cost-effective manner to reduce the on-site construction time that occurs when building new bridges or replacing and rehabilitating existing bridges,” according to the Federal Highway Administration. Basically, highway planners use more prefabricated materials so that work crews need not perform several labor-intensive, weather-dependent construction processes such as subframe placement, steel reinforcement installation, and concrete work on-site at the bridge.

NZEALAND-QUAKE

By bringing in finished footings, headers, decking, and other parts, fewer workers are needed on-site. As FHWA pointed out in the ABC manual it published in 2011, this bears a number of benefits—notably fewer, shorter-duration traffic disruptions and therefore less danger for both travelers and workers.

Benjamin Beerman, a civil engineer with the Federal Highway Administration, said the process also aims to limit traffic-related disruptions to essential services including police, fire, and ambulance vehicles, school busing, mail delivery, and garbage pickup. There are also environmental and safety improvements.

“From a national perspective, the industry is getting better at recognizing how these other aspects interrelate with one another and how innovations in planning, design, materials, and construction can be used to address the need to minimize on-site construction time,” he said. In the past, cost-reduction goals often led to slower completion, which in turn had impacts outside the construction zone.

“ABC is a balance between construction costs and customer service, the ability to recognize there’s more to bridge construction than the bridge itself, and the understanding of how quickly our industry can build.”

Construction work underway on a new NY Bridge to replace the deteriorating structure of the Tappan Z

In addition to using prefabricated bridge parts and reducing the number of workers standing mere inches from traffic, ABC also aims to minimize temporary roadway realignments, traffic detours, temporary bridges, and other common construction aids so that a span can be assembled much more quickly and traffic can continue apace.  Here’s a video that shows the basic concept.

When construction of the interstate highway system began in the 1950s, most workers were building structures in areas where nothing else existed. Today, the challenge faced by planners and construction crews is that America is built out, and they must work to replace and rebuild the aging structures amid packed traffic and population centers.

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Stand and Deliver: Elon Musk Hands Off First Tesla Model 3 Production Cars ""

Model 3 Profile Midnight Silver

Eleven years ago, Tesla CEO Elon Musk revealed the Secret Tesla Motors Master Plan. In it, Musk laid out the vision for his upstart electric car company: Build an electric sports car (the Tesla Roadster), use the profits “to build an affordable car” (which became Models S and X), and use that money to make “an even more affordable car.” Tonight, the first Tesla Model 3 sedans were delivered to owners at the company’s factory in Fremont, California. It’s the culmination of Tesla’s decade-long quest to build that more affordable electric car.

Model 3 Dashboard - Head on view

The company has taken more than 500,000 deposits for the Model 3, Musk said at a press conference early Friday, although he pleaded with reporters not to read too much into that number. “We did everything we could to unsell the car,” he said. “Don’t impugn demand from the reservation number.”

Tesla built a handful of Model 3 cars in July, and Musk claims production will slowly ramp up to 10,000 units per week by the end of 2018. That would be somewhere around 500,000 Model 3s per year, five times the number of Model S and X vehicles the company makes today and almost as many cars as Volvo sold in 2016.

Musk describes the Model 3 production ramp as an S curve: slow growth in the beginning, followed by a rapid rise and a plateau. As he has done in the past, Musk noted that vehicle production can move only as quickly as its slowest supplier can deliver parts. About 60 percent of the car comes from the U.S., with 30 percent coming from outside North America and 10 percent from Canada and Mexico.

“I know I’m sandbagging a lot,” Musk said. “But we inherit force majeure risk from everywhere else in the world: floods, fires, tornadoes, sinking ships—you name it. If there’s anything that interrupts the supply chain before we accumulate enough parts, that will interrupt the production ramp.”

Still, Tesla’s engineers and designers worked together to strip out unnecessary parts and to simplify production. Musk said a yearly production rate of 250,000 Model 3s can be built in the same factory square footage as can turn out 50,000 Model S sedans, and he promised further improvements over time. The Model 3 has a big horizontal central touchscreen instead of the giant vertical display plus a screen for the instrument cluster, as in the Model S and X. There are fewer buttons: Things such as the sideview mirrors and the steering wheel are adjusted through the center screen and via buttons on the steering wheel, meaning fewer parts and switches are required. The car is half steel and half aluminum—steel is easier to work with. The battery pack has three modules instead of the 16 present in the Model S.

“There’s nothing in the Model 3 that doesn’t need to be there,” Musk said, thinking back to the production difficulties Tesla had with the extremely complicated Model X. “Everything there has a compelling reason to be there.” Initially, all Model 3 production will be rear-wheel drive only and have the larger, longer-range battery installed.

“We’re trying to have as close to a single configuration as possible as we boot up the production line,” said Musk. “We’re going to do everything we can to make cars as fast as we possibly can.”

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Tesla Model 3 Features, Pricing—and a First Drive! ""

Model 3 Blue Driving

The Tesla Model 3 is the most anticipated car of the year . . . and perhaps the latter half of the decade. Tesla fans have been waiting for this car since 2006, and it’s finally here—and we’ve driven it. We drove a production Model 3 (a red one owned by Tesla’s chief designer, Franz von Holzhausen) for 10 minutes around Tesla’s Fremont, California, factory, so take our limited impressions with a grain of salt.

Model 3 Interior Dash - Desert view

We’ve seen the Model 3’s exterior, but once you open the Aston Martin–esque door handles with a push-pull motion and slip behind the wheel, it’s clear the inside is where the real innovation lies. There are no visible vents: Just two minimalist stalks, a shifter on the right and turn signals/wiper controls on the left, sprout from the steering column, and a giant screen dominates the center of the cockpit. Behind the steering wheel is nothing but windshield. It’s disorienting for the first few minutes and then you never notice it again. Let your worries about the lack of an instrument cluster fade away.

Von Holzhausen’s team has continued its war on buttons that started in the Model S, only now there’s no stalk on the wheel to move the steering column up and down, nor are there dedicated buttons for the sideview mirrors. Instead, a button press on the 15-inch touchscreen brings up a controls menu, allowing the driver to adjust the mirrors and steering column from the scroll wheel and d-pad controls on the wheel. Each driver gets a profile, meaning you set it and forget it.

Model 3 Dashboard - Head on view

Also missing is a traditional key. Instead, the car connects to your cellphone via Bluetooth Low Energy and authenticates the driver that way. Walk up to the car, and it unlocks and turns itself on. If your phone dies (or you want to hand off the car to a valet), a credit-card-sized near-field-communication card unlocks the door with a tap on the B-pillar. It’s the future.

Driving on the streets around Tesla’s Fremont factory for 10 minutes is hardly a thorough road test, but the car feels plenty zippy and handles well. Plant your foot on the go pedal and the rear wheels chirp, then you’re off.

The best way to sum up the Model 3 is to call it a mini–Model S, and we mean that as high praise. The Model 3 is less powerful, smaller, more spartan, and—crucially—more affordable. The car starts at $35,000, delivering an EPA-estimated 220 miles of range with the standard battery, or 310 miles from the optional, $9000 long-range battery (which also allows for slightly faster charge speeds, both from Tesla’s Supercharger high-speed charging network as well as commercial and residential Level 2 chargers). The longer-range battery adds 265 pounds to the curb weight, so there’s no software upgrade to be had here.

Tesla is moving away from the battery-capacity-driven naming scheme that has graced the Model S and X since their launch. Gone are the 60/70/75/80/P100D nameplates, in favor of the “standard” 220-mile and “Long Range” 310-mile battery options. Tesla says the change away from kilowatt-hour measurements is to make things easier to understand for the mass-market Model 3.

The standard battery offers a claimed zero-to-60-mph time of 5.6 seconds and a top speed of 130 mph, while the Long Range version zips to 60 in 5.1 seconds, according to Tesla. Top speed with the bigger battery is 140 mph, although driving that fast is sure to drain the battery in a hurry.

The Model 3 is available in six colors (Solid Black, Midnight Silver Metallic, Deep Blue Metallic, Silver Metallic, Pearl White Multi-Coat, and Red Multi-Coat). However, Musk is channeling Henry Ford a bit, as picking any color aside from black results in a $1000 charge. Eighteen-inch wheels are standard, with 19-inchers available as a $1500 option.

A $5000 Premium package upgrades the interior with heated seats, open-pore wood trim, two rear USB ports, 12-way power front seats, a power-adjustable steering column and mirrors, an improved audio system, a tinted glass roof, and a slick center console with covered storage and a clever dock for two smartphones. Enhanced Autopilot is $5000, while what’s touted as Full Self-Driving Capability is another $3000. Of the latter, Tesla says: “In the future, Model 3 will be capable of conducting trips with no action required by the person in the driver’s seat. This feature is dependent upon extensive software validation and regulatory approval, which may vary by jurisdiction.”

Even without the self-driving capability, our first impressions are very positive. Assuming Tesla can build enough Model 3s and keep the build quality up—both big ifs—Elon Musk has a hit on his hands.

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