• Lotus secures $17M grant from British government

    November 30, 2013
    Troubled Lotus has secured a £10.44 million (roughly $17 million) grant from the British government’s Regional Growth Fund, a program designed to create jobs in the United Kingdom. Former COO Dany Bahar applied for the grant earlier this year before being ousted from the company.

    The automaker has previously announced it is not planning on launching new models in the immediate future for a slew of financial reasons, so it will use a big chunk of the grant to improve its existing Exige, Evora and Elise sports cars and launch new variations such as the track-only Elise S Cup R.

    Long dependent on the United States and its home country, Lotus is eager to expand its operations to lucrative markets in Asia and in the Middle East. It sees improving the build quality, handling and performance of its lineup as the best way to return to lure new buyers into showrooms and generate high profit margins.

    “This grant is part of a wider strategy for Lotus created to ensure we thrive and grow. We are responding to increased global demand for our cars and engineering consultancy services and this grant will help to position Lotus at the forefront of global automotive innovation,” explained Lotus CEO Aslam Farikullah. “We’re in a position to create new jobs and to significantly contribute to Britain’s automotive industry,” he added.

    Earlier this year, Lotus owner DRB-HICOM injected £100 million (about $163 million) into the automaker to help it hire 45 specialist engineers, 40 manufacturing operatives and 18 college graduates. The new recruits have been put to work on Lotus’ sports car programs and engineering projects for other companies.

  • Review: 2014 Volkswagen Passat SEL Premium

    November 30, 2013

    Decades after the last original Beetle was sold in the United States, Volkswagen is aiming to live up to its “people’s car” name once again. To do so, the company’s efforts now stem around building high-volume cars for the masses – like its midsize sedan, the Passat.

    If you’re an automotive historian, you’ll know that Passats of yore have often been likable, if distinctly European-feeling sedans slightly out of touch with needs, wants and demands of American buyers. To rectify this, the latest Passat has been engineered for us – and it’s even built here at a brand new plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

    Not content with letting the Passat stay unchanged, VW has introduced for 2014 an all-new turbocharged engine that nets vastly improved fuel economy. That’s the kind of thing Americans truly need, want and demand.

    What is it?
    Introduced for the 2012 model year, the Passat was designed specifically for buyers in the United States and in China. Despite our differences, we demand much the same out of our midsize cars.

    To that end, it emphasizes interior volume rather than feeling genuinely premium like Passats of years gone by. Initially, Passat launched with a dated and thirsty five-cylinder engine, but 2014 sees the gradual phasing out of that motor in favor of an all-new 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder.

    Unrelated to the VW Group’s 1.8T of a decade or so ago, this new engine puts out the same 170 horsepower as its five-cylinder predecessor, but torque is up 7 lb-ft. to 184 lb-ft. Moreover, the new 1.8T offers a vastly wider torque band, which means that it feels – and truly is – much faster.

    The engine is mated to either a five-speed manual or a six-speed automatic, the former of which will only be available on low-spec, low-volume models. VW also offers the Passat with a 40 mpg-plus turbodiesel and a 280-horsepower gasoline V6. As much as we like the turbodiesel, we don’t doubt that the 1.8T tested here will be the highest-volume model.

    Speaking of volume, our SEL grade tester tops the range at just shy of $32,000; go easier on the options and you can find a Passat for under $22,000.

    What’s it up against?
    Without a doubt the toughest segment, the midsize sedan market includes such stalwarts as the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Ford Fusion and Nissan Altima. We’re also partial to the high-mpg Mazda Mazda6, the stylish Kia Optima and the all-wheel-drive Subaru Legacy.

    What does it look like?
    Conservative and distinctly Teutonic, the Passat’s taut design wastes no sheetmetal on extraneous curves or scallops. To some, the low-frill, trend-free look is a little boring, but it’s also highly inoffensive even when loaded up like our SEL tester with its 18-inch alloy wheels, LED running lamps and subtle chrome accents.

    The Passat won’t stop you in your tracks like the Fusion or the Mazda6, but it will also undoubtedly age well. Plus, there’s something to be said about motoring along under the radar. In a silver Passat like our test car, that’s an easy task.

    And on the inside?
    We could use the same accolades to describe the Passat’s interior. Distinctly Volkswagen in its ergonomic simplicity, it manages to feel a little more upmarket when swathed in black leather and synthetic suede.

    Dark wood-like accents and an aspirational analog clock give the Passat’s dashboard an old world feel that we don’t necessarily mind. In some ways, it’s like a downmarket Audi, only without the flair.

    On a functional level, the Passat continues to score. Passenger room is top notch, especially for outboard rear seat passengers. The middle seat is a little more cramped given that the Passat’s interior is slightly narrower than some rivals, but only big passengers will find reason to complain.

    What the dashboard lacks in trendy style it more than makes up for in usability. Every control is easy to reach and see; even the Passat’s navigation system is a breeze to operate, although we found its voice controls had a tough time recognizing some inputs. On the other hand, the Fender-branded audio system included with the SEL Premium trim level is among the best in its class.

    As good as the Passat looks inside, it comes up a little short in terms of material selection. Hard plastics are mostly well hidden, but some cost cutting is evident. Where rivals put padded vinyl on the door panels, the Passat uses plastic. A bevy of switch blanks surrounds the gear lever reminding you of what you didn’t buy – even though this is a loaded Passat. Exposed metal on the trunk lid is something we rarely see in economy cars, let alone those costing $30,000-plus. And the plastic parcel shelf behind the rear seats not only looks cheap, it reflects light onto the rear window in sunny climates.

    But does it go?
    Forget any complaint we ever made about the Passat’s underwhelming old five-cylinder. This new engine is a winner. Buttery smooth at idle, it emits only a faint and refined growl when pushed hard. Stomp on the skinny pedal and you’re rewarded with a rush of power, so much so that we question whether the Passat’s specifications sheet is really under-rated. From any speed, a mountain of torque provides effortless passing and acceleration.

    Only with a full complement of passengers and their luggage aboard did we find that the Passat felt slightly burdened, but we still feel safe in saying that this is the fastest-feeling four-cylinder midsize sedan currently on the market. Moreover, its six-speed automatic gearbox provides rocket-fast shifts, although sport-minded drivers might appreciate a set of paddle shifters.

    That’s not the only place where hotshoes will feel the Passat is lacking, however. While its ride quality is supple, it hardly encourages fast driving. So too the steering, which is nicely-weighted but slow and devoid of feel. If you’re looking to get your sporty car kicks, the Mazda6, Accord and Fusion all deliver a more sensory driving experience.

    But if it’s simply comfortable driving you’re after, the Passat comes up strong. Relaxing on the highway, it benefits from limited wind and road noise and arrow-straight stability. Moreover, we netted 36 mpg on a road trip – a little above the 34 mpg the EPA suggests. In the city, we found ourselves more in line with the EPA’s 24 mpg rating.

    Those are decent numbers given the Passat’s sprightly feel, but they come up short against the nearly-as-fast-on-paper 38 mpg-plus of the Mazda6 and Altima.

    Leftlane’s bottom line
    There has always been a lot to like about the Passat. The addition of a vastly more drivable and more fuel efficient engine for 2014 only makes this sedan more appealing.

    Light on character and sportiness, the Passat is nonetheless a midsize sedan worthy of serious consideration for its ability to satisfy on so many levels. Just not any emotional ones.

    2014 Volkswagen Passat SEL Premium base price, $30,895. As tested, $31,715.
    Destination, $820.

    Photos by Andrew Ganz.

  • Saab to resume 9-3 production next week

    November 30, 2013
    Saab parent company National Electric Vehicles Sweden (NEVS) has announced it will resume production of the 9-3 sedan in Trollhättan, Sweden, next Monday after a two and a half-year long hiatus.

    The 9-3 has been modestly updated inside and out in order to stand out from the pre-bankruptcy model but the two cars will share an undeniable family resemblance. NEVS has confirmed the new 9-3 will be powered by a transversally-mounted, gasoline-burning turbocharged four-cylinder engine borrowed from the parts bin of another automaker. Front-wheel drive will be standard, and all-wheel drive might be offered as an option.

    Although the new 9-3 will initially launch as a four-door sedan, NEVS has not ruled out resuming production of the convertible and station wagon variants several months after the sedan’s launch. Both the sedan and the station wagon variants of the larger 9-5 model appear to be dead for good.

    Production will be initially low because the firm needs to make sure that there are no flaws in the production process, a tedious chain of events that includes everything from sourcing parts from suppliers, building the car and shipping it to dealers. The bulk of 2014 9-3s will go to countries across Europe and Swedish media outlets are reporting the Chinese city of Qingdao has recently placed a very large order, but Saab is unlikely to return to U.S. shores in the near future.

    A full set of details about the 2014 Saab 9-3 will emerge next Monday.

    Details are nearly non-existent, but NEVS says it is still on-track to launch a Saab-badged electric car next spring.

  • BMW debuts X6 M Design Edition

    November 30, 2013

    BMW has released official images and details for the X6 M Design Edition, which will send off the current generation of the German automaker’s controversial X6 Sports Activity Coupe.

    Limited to just 100 examples, the X6 M Design Edition is only available in Melbourne Red, Sapphire Black and Alpine White. It gains a host of visual upgrades including a front splitter crafted out of carbon fiber, blacked out kidney grilles and door mirrors and an air diffuser integrated into the rear bumper. Standard double-spoke 21-inch alloy wheels add a finishing touch to the sporty look.

    Inside, the Design Edition boasts full Merino black leather upholstery with contrasting red stitching on the seats, the dashboard and the door panels. Piano Black A metal plaque with the SUV’s serial number mounted on the passenger side of the dash helps set the limited-edition model apart from regular X6 models, as does a bi-color instrument panel rendered in Black and Mugello Red.

    No changes have been made in the engine bay, meaning the Design Edition is powered by the same 555-horsepower 4.4-liter turbocharged V8 that is found under the hood of the regular X6 M. Power is transferred to all four wheels via a six-speed automatic transmission, sending the 5,247-pound SUV from zero to 60 mph in just 4.7 seconds. Top speed is electronically limited to 155 mph.

    BMW says it hasn’t yet decided whether it will import any examples of the X6 M Design to the United States. Pricing for the limited-edition model has not been announced.

  • 2015 Volvo XC90 to launch with plug-in hybrid option

    November 30, 2013
    Volvo has announced the 2015 XC90 with be available with a gasoline-electric plug-in hybrid drivetrain when it goes on sale in about a year.

    Called Twin Engine, the drivetrain will consist of a turbocharged four-cylinder engine rated at about 300 horsepower and a small electric motor linked to a compact battery pack. Together, the two power sources will put out around 442 lb-ft. of torque, enough to rival V8 powerplants, while returning what Volvo promises will be “class-leading” fuel mileage.

    The second-gen XC90 will inaugurate Volvo’s new design language. Volvo is keeping the crossover under wraps, but a dark teaser image published at a press conference earlier this year confirms the next XC90′s front end will borrow design cues from the Concept Coupé that was presented at the Frankfurt Motor Show last September. Its front end will be defined by T-shaped LED daytime running lights, a floating grille with horizontal slats and a generally more angular appearance. Out back, the current model’s upright tail lamps will remain and adopt LED technology.

    Pictures of the interior are not available yet but a third teaser shot confirms the crossover will be equipped with a large iPad-like touch screen that will bundle the car’s connectivity, entertainment and navigation functions.

    The upcoming XC90 will be the first vehicle to use Volvo’s all-new Scalable Platform Architecture, or SPA in short. Similar in concept to Volkswagen’s MQB platform, SPA was designed to underpin many of Volvo’s upcoming models regardless of size or vehicle type. The S60, the S80 and the XC60 will all ride on the platform when they are renewed.

    Look for Volvo’s next crossover to greet the public for the first time at the Geneva Motor Show.

  • MINI mulling U.S.-bound diesel, confirms plug-in hybrid

    November 29, 2013
    BMW’s MINI division has confirmed it is considering selling a diesel-powered version of the recently-introduced third-gen Cooper hatchback in the United States.

    Oil-burning MINIs have been popular in Europe since the introduction of the first BMW-designed model in 2001, but U.S.-spec examples have always been powered by a gasoline-burning four-cylinder engine. Market trends have shifted over the past couple of years, and MINI stands ready to jump into the diesel fray if it make a favorable business case for it.

    “We hear [the demand for diesels] from our dealers and our customers,” explained Pat McKenna, MINI’s product chief, adding that a final decision has not been made yet.

    If given the green light for production, the U.S.-bound MINI Cooper D will likely be powered by a slightly modified version of the all-new 1.5-liter three-cylinder mill available on the Old Continent. Fed by a small turbocharger, the mill sends 116 horsepower and 199 lb-ft. of torque to the front wheels via either a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic transmission. While certainly not the fastest member of the MINI lineup, the D-badged MINI returns 67 mpg in a mixed European cycle.

    McKenna revealed that a plug-in hybrid drivetrain will join the MINI family before a diesel, indicating that it could be unveiled in the next couple of months. Although McKenna has not revealed what model will get the fuel-saving setup, expect official details to emerge in the near future.

  • Hyundai unveils 2015 Genesis sedan

    November 29, 2013
    Hyundai has fully unveiled the new 2015 Genesis sedan ahead of its scheduled debut at next January’s Detroit Motor Show.

    Previewed by the HCD-14 concept that bowed in Detroit earlier this year, the Genesis inaugurates a brand new design language called Fluidic Sculpture 2.0. Up front, it wears an elegant front end consisting of trapezoidal bi-Xenon headlights with soft angles, discreet chrome trim on the bumper and a six-slat floating grille loosely inspired by Peugeot’s recent design. Out back, the Genesis gains sharp LED tail lamps, a sculpted trunk lid and two chromed exhaust tips.

    The Genesis gains a conservative interior that falls in line with competing cars from Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Lexus. The latest generation of Hyundai’s touch screen-based infotainment system comes standard on most trim levels, but Hyundai has not developed the HCD-14′s futuristic hand-gesture-controlled software into a production unit.

    Hyundai put a big emphasis on technology, and the Genesis can be ordered with a host of computer-controlled safety features including Automatic Emergency Braking, Blind Spot Detection with a heads-up display, Lane Departure Warning System and Hyundai’s Advanced Smart Cruise Control. Additionally, the driver can select between four self-explanatory driving modes: Eco, Normal, Sport and Snow.

    Globally, Hyundai will offer the Genesis with four engines ranging from a 3.0-liter V8 rated at 257 horsepower and 224 lb-ft. of torque to a 5.0-liter V8 that generates 425 ponies and 383 lb-ft. of torque. All engines send power to the rear wheels, but Hyundai’s new two-mode HTRAC all-wheel drive system is available as an option. Precise specifications about the U.S.-spec Genesis will emerge in the weeks leading up to its on-sale date.

    Following its debut in Detroit next January, the 2015 Hyundai Genesis will go on sale in the United States, in the Middle East and in China before the end of the year. Hyundai has big goals for its flagship sedan, and it will introduce the nameplate in Europe and in Russia for the first time ever.

  • Honda unveils global market sub-Civic sedan

    November 29, 2013
    Honda has lifted the veil off of the fourth-generation City, a high-volume sub-compact sedan designed to slot under the Civic in a number of global markets all around the world.

    Stretching 173 inches long (six inches less than a Civic sedan), the new City keeps the outgoing model’s overall silhouette while gaining an updated front end consisting of angular headlights, a sculpted bumper and a single-slat grille inspired by Honda’s new Exciting H design language. The rear end borrows design cues such as its rounded bumper elongated tail lamps from the Civic.

    Honda has not published any pictures of the interior but it promises the City offers the same amount of interior space as many larger sedans. Well-equipped versions come with four power outlets, Bluetooth connectivity and a dash-mounted touch screen that bundles the car’s entertainment, connectivity, navigation (if equipped) and climate control functions into a single unit.

    Honda is hoping to shake the City’s no-frills economy car image by offering options such as heated seats, A/C, alloy wheels, leather upholstery, a multi-function steering wheel and a sunroof. Safety-conscious buyers can opt for ABS, electronic brake-force distribution (EBD) and electronic traction control.

    The Fit-based City is offered with two four-cylinder engines, a gasoline-burning 1.5-liter VTEC unit and a diesel-burning 1.5-liter mill that makes 100 horsepower. Both send power to the front wheels via either a manual or an automatic gearbox.

    A gasoline-electric hybrid drivetrain similar to the one found under the hood of the aforementioned Fit will be available later in select markets later in the production run.

  • Morgan updates iconic 3 Wheeler

    November 29, 2013
    England’s Morgan Motor Company has given its 3 Wheeler a host of updates in order to make it more comfortable to use on a daily basis.

    The most notable changes for 2014 are invisible to the naked eye. The chassis has been re-engineered to increase torsional rigidity and improve handling, the steering has been re-calibrated to improve high-speed stability and the entire drivetrain has been made smoother and quieter to operate.

    Morgan has not made any modifications to the 80-horsepower 2.0-liter V-Twin engine but it has fitted it with a new cooling pack that helps keep the temperature from rising in dense urban traffic. 80 ponies isn’t a lot on paper, but it’s enough to propel the 1,212-pound roadster from zero to 60 mph in a brisk 4.5 seconds.

    The 3 Wheeler’s retro-styled aluminum body stays roughly the same save for new air vents and a wider selection of exterior colors.

    Morgan says updating the 3 Wheeler is easier said than done because it is unique in the auto industry.

    “There is no benchmark for this car. If we were doing some development work on our Aero [sports car] platform chassis we could look at what is best practice and work from that, but with the 3 Wheeler there is no best practice. This is very much an intuitive process, we didn’t have the existing data to go from,” explained the company in an interview with England’s Autocar.

    The 2014 Morgan 3 Wheeler will go on sale early next year with a base price of £31,140 (roughly $50,000). In England, all 3 Wheelers come with a 30-month / 30,000-mile warranty.

    Morgan has not announced it if will officially distribute the 3 Wheeler in the United States, but several third-party importers have cropped up across the country over the past few years.

  • Mercedes SLS AMG GT Final Edition: Die letzten Flügeltürer

    November 29, 2013

    Der SLS AMG läuft aus. Deswegen legt Mercedes jetzt noch eine Final Edition der GT-Variante auf

    Auffällig: Der feststehende Carbon-Heckflügel

    Auch als Roadster gibt es den SLS AMG GT Final Edition. Motorhaube und Frontsplitter sind aus Carbon

    Affalterbach, 29. November 2013
    – Der Lamborghini Gallardo läuft aus, aber auch ein weiterer Sportler geht seinem Ende entgegen: der Mercedes SLS AMG. Der auf 350 Exemplare limitierte SLS AMG GT Final Edition ist die letzte Chance, den Flügeltürer zu bestellen. Messepremiere feiert die finale Serie zeitgleich auf der Los Angeles Autoshow und der Tokyo Motor Show (beide vom 20. November bis 1. Dezember 2013).

    Exklusive Motorhaube und Heckflügel in Sichtcarbon
    Optisch fällt der SLS AMG GT Final Edition durch sein spezielles Design auf. Dazu gehören eine Motorhaube in Sichtcarbon, ein Carbon-Frontsplitter an der Frontschürze und ein feststehender Carbon-Heckflügel im Look des SLS AMG Coupé Black Series. Die Motorhaube verfügt wie beim SLS AMG Coupé Black Series und beim SLS AMG GT3 über einen zentralen Luftauslass, der die Motorwärme abführt, den Abtrieb an der Vorderachse erhöht sowie den cw-Wert verbessert. Die AMG-Techniker nutzen dabei den Unterdruckeffekt, der die warme Luft aus dem Motorraum abführt und gleichzeitig kühlen Fahrtwind vom Unterboden ansaugt.

    AMG-Schmiederäder und neue Cupreifen
    Die Streben der Heckschürze sind in glänzendem Schwarz ausgeführt. Die mattschwarzen AMG-Schmiederäder im Kreuzspeichen-Design sind in zwei Farbvarianten erhältlich: glanzgedreht oder mit glanzgedrehtem Felgenhorn. Rote Bremssättel schaffen einen wirksamen Kontrast. Auf Wunsch sind neue Cupreifen in 265/35 R19 vorn und 295/30 R 20 hinten ohne Aufpreis erhältlich. Besonders sportlich sollen die Schmiederäder und die Carbon-Komponenten mit dem vom SLS AMG GT3 45th Anniversary her bekannten grauen Mattlack sein.

    6,3-Liter-V8 mit 591 PS
    Wie beim normalen SLS AMG arbeitet unter der Motorhaube ein 6,3-Liter-V8. Mit 591 PS bei 6.800 U/min und 650 Newtonmeter Drehmoment sorgt der Hochdrehzahlmotor für einen Normsprint in 3,7 Sekunden, Tempo 200 ist nach 11,2 Sekunden erreicht. Die Höchstgeschwindigkeit wird elektronisch auf 320 km/h begrenzt. Der Wagen hat ein Transaxle-Layout: Der Motor liegt vorne, das Getriebe hinten. Das Speedshift-Doppelkupplungsgetriebe mit sieben Gängen verfügt über vier Schaltprogramme, eine Race-Start- und eine Zwischengasfunktion. Das Fahrwerk besitzt variable, elektronisch geregelte Dämpfer.

    Interieur im Rauten-Design
    Innen gibt es Leder im Rauten-Design auf den Sitz- und Türmittelfeldern. Ziernähte in Silber und silberne Sicherheitsgurte kontrastieren mit schwarzen Lederpolstern und schwarzen Fußmatten. Hinzu kommen Zierteile in Carbon. Ein exklusives Detail ist die Plakette “AMG Final Edition – 1 of 350″ auf der in Carbon ausgeführten Mittelkonsole. Außerdem gibt es eine so genannte 3D-Naht, ein feiner Alcantara-Streifen auf dem Lederbezug der Instrumententafel. Das Alcantara-Lenkrad hat eine silberne Zwölf-Uhr-Markierung und eine schwarze Metallspange. Dazu passen die schwarz glänzenden Einfassungen der Belüftungsdüsen. Die Sportsitze verfügen über ein geprägtes AMG-Wappen in der Kopfstütze. Die Markteinführung beginnt im März 2014. Als Coupé kostet die Final Edition 225.505 Euro, der Roadster ist für 233.835 Euro erhältlich. Zum Vergleich: Die Serienmodelle GT Coupé und GT Roadster kosten 186.830 beziehungsweise 213.010 Euro.

    Nur vier Jahre
    Die nun auslaufende Baureihe SLS AMG gab es nicht einmal vier Jahre. Im September 2009 wurde das Coupé auf der Internationalen Automobil-Ausstellung (IAA) in Frankfurt vorgestellt, die Markteinführung erfolgte am 27. März 2010. Im Jahr darauf kamen der Roadster sowie der Kundensport-Rennwagen SLS AMG GT3 auf den Markt. Mit verschiedenen Titeln in internationalen Meisterschaften konnte die Rennversion ihre Performance unter Beweis stellen. Bereits seit Anfang 2010 sorgt der SLS AMG als offizielles F1-Safety-Car für Sicherheit in der Formel 1. Zum Grand Prix von Belgien im September 2012 folgte der Wechsel auf den SLS AMG GT mit 591 PS. Im Juni 2013 feierten die beiden stärksten Varianten ihre Markteinführung: das SLS AMG Coupé Black Series mit 631 PS und das elektrisch angetriebene SLS AMG Coupé Electric Drive mit 751 PS.

    Nachfolger steht in den Startlöchern
    Wer traurig über das Ende des AMG-Sportlers ist, mag sich trösten lassen: Der Nachfolger ist auf dem Weg. Er wird leichter als der 1,7 Tonnen schwere SLS AMG und auch etwas kleiner, denn der Mercedes GT AMG soll mit dem Porsche 911 und Jaguar F-Type konkurrieren. Als Antrieb ist ein Vierliter-Biturbo-V8 mit 500 PS im Gespräch. Der Preis soll rund 110.000 Euro betragen, deutlich weniger als bisher. Mit den Flügeltüren ist es dann aber vorbei.

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