• Toyota Supra successor rumored for Detroit

    December 6, 2013

    Toyota could be bringing a Supra successor to the Detroit Auto Show. The sports car concept would point at a design direction for a closer-to-production version to follow, positioning itself as a halo enthusiast’s vehicle for Toyota’s core brand.

    According to Autoblog, key executives at Toyota are hinting in not-so-secret terms that a sports car concept in the vein of the much-beloved Supra is coming to the North American International Auto Show in January.

    The Supra name, revered amongst Toyota enthusiasts, last appeared in the US market in 1998, ending a run of rear-wheel-drive six-cylinder sports GTs that began in 1979. The final iteration in particular, a 320-horse twin-turbo with 6-speed transmission and outlandish styling, provided supercar performance for half the price. It was a darling of the enthusiast community and starred in the first of six Fast and Furious movies.

    In 2007 Toyota revealed the sporty FT-HS Concept at the Detroit Motor Show, but following the global financial downturn in 2008 any plans to build it were scuttled.

    However, at the recent Tokyo Motor Show Toyota revealed the Lexus RC300h, a two-door grand tourer whose rear-wheel-drive platform could underpin a car like the Supra. Previous Supras have always shared a platform with the Japanese-market Toyota Soarer (sold in its third generation as the Lexus SC in the US) anyways.

    Since the FT-HS was shown Toyota has installed a new president, self-avowed car enthusiast and sometimes race car driver Akio Toyoda, who has promised to reinvigorate the company with its sporting history. Toyoda’s brining of the Scion FR-S and Lexus LFA projects to fruition have bookended the revival, this concept would fill the void in between.

  • U.S. to assist China in curbing vehicle emissions

    December 6, 2013

    The United States has pledged to help China, the world’s No. 1 emitter of greenhouse gasses, to develop and implement its future vehicle emission standards.

    According to a White House fact sheet, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Energy Department will help with the modeling, testing and other technical research needed for China to develop its sixth round of emissions standards, which will require that cars be fitted with filters that trap particulate matter that contributes to heavy smog.

    At present, China is working to effect its fourth-stage emission standard, known as China IV, which will lower the allowed sulfur content from 350 to 50 parts per million. China V, expected to be implemented countrywide by 2017, will lower sulfur content to 10 parts per million.

    The United States and the European Union currently cap sulfur content at 15 and 10 parts per million, respectively.

    It represents a significant development that the U.S. will assist in creating China’s sixth stage of standards while the fifth stage is still in progress, one U.S. official believes.

    “The United States is interested in moving to China to six as soon as possible,” the official told Reuters. “It is a clear signal that China wants to move forward in an accelerated way that will have far reaching impacts on air quality and public health.”

    The new standards come as China is experiencing unprecedented growth in passenger car ownership, which reached 120 million at the end of 2012 and could exceed 200 million by 2020.

    Photo by Ronan Glon.

  • Chrysler recalls Dodge Dart sedans over airbag issue

    December 6, 2013

    Chrysler is calling back certain Dodge Dart models to fix a problem that may prevent the front seat-mounted side airbags from deploying properly.

    Affected vehicles include 374 Darts built from May 10, 2013 through August 24, 2013 and fitted with the Mopar 13 trim package.

    According to Chrysler documents filed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the cause of the recall is improper installation of the front seat-mounted side airbags due to “operator noncompliance with work instructions.” In the event of a crash, the faulty installation may prevent the airbags from deploying properly and protecting occupants as designed.

    Chrysler says it is unaware of any injuries stemming from the issue.

    The automaker will begin notifying owners later this month, at which time dealers will inspect the affected airbags and re-install them as necessary, free of charge.

    The campaign represents the second recall for the Dart. Back in June, a cold-weather stalling issue prompted Chrysler to recall 14,800 examples of the compact sedan.

  • Spied: 2015 Chevrolet Corvette Z06

    December 6, 2013

    Our spy photographers have managed to capture the 2015 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 undergoing last-minute testing ahead of its debut at next month’s North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

    A number of elements signal the redesigned Z06′s increased performance potential, including a new front fascia optimized for maximum cooling and aerodynamic efficiency, air intakes ahead of the rear wheels and enormous cross-drilled brake rotors that could potentially be carbon ceramic.

    The prototype wears the same sinister dark-finish wheels seen in a teaser image (see gallery above) GM released earlier this week, which also revealed carbon fiber side skirts and fender flare extensions.

    Though obscured by camouflage, it appears that a more pronounced hood bulge, possibly with extra venting, may be implemented.

    Precious few official details about the next-generation Z06 are available, but GM says the car will be “the most track-capable Corvette ever, designed to deliver supercar levels of performance through unique powertrain, chassis and aerodynamic features.”

    GM has confirmed that the sports car will retain its current badging, rather than adopting the Z07 nameplate as some reports had hinted.

    At this point, the new Z06′s powerplant very much remains shrouded in mystery. Rumors have suggested that a supercharged or twin turbocharged variant of the standard Corvette Stingray’s LT1 V8 – sized at 6.2-liters, or potentially with a smaller displacement – could be utilized. Regardless of what ends up in the engine bay, look for at least 600 horsepower to be on tap.

    Following its unveiling in Detroit, the 2015 Z06 will enter into production in late 2014.

  • First Drive: 2014 Chevrolet SS [Review]

    December 6, 2013

    Given how tepid demand was for the Pontiac G8 – at least until the brand was discontinued and enthusiasts snapped them up at deep discounts – you’d think General Motors would be done with its Australian-built, rear-wheel-drive V8-powered performance sedan experiment.

    But that’s the kind of thinking that GM used to do. Today, GM under North American-market chief Mark Reuss looks at things differently. The automaker has found a way to justify bringing about 4,000 2014 Chevrolet SS sedans onto our shores following almost exactly the same recipe of the G8.

    The difference? Instead of shooting for volume with three powertrains, the SS offers just one honkin’ 2013 Corvette-sourced 415-horsepower V8 mated exclusively to a six-speed automatic transmission. We’d like to see a stick shift, but GM is probably right in assuming that the take rate wouldn’t justify the effort needed to slot such a gearbox into the SS for Americans.

    After touring some of Southern California’s finest driving roads in the SS, we doubt GM will have a hard time finding around 350 SS buyers a month.

    The American super sedan, imported from Australia
    Like the G8, the SS is more or less the Australian-market Holden Commodore underneath. Heavily revised earlier this year, the Commodore and the SS continue to ride on GM’s rear-drive Zeta architecture (which also underpins the Camaro). The Chevrolet Caprice police cruiser uses a stretched version of the same platform, which helped GM reel in Econ 101′s “economies of scale” principles to help ensure the low volume SS isn’t a money loser for the bowtie brand.

    Changes were made to make the car’s structure both lighter and stronger by way of more advanced materials. In profile, the SS is nearly a dead-ringer for the G8. From any other angle, it’s a little bland. If you want to ride under the radar, it’s just the ticket (to avoid receiving a ticket, that is). We think the G8 was a lot more interesting to look at, however.

    Inside, the differences are far more notable. Compared to the G8, which used all sorts of switchgear foreign to GM devotees in the U.S., the SS is a hodge-podge of themes seen elsewhere in GM’s American portfolio. There’s a lot of Chevrolet Impala to the way the SS looks inside, although we contend that front-wheel-drive Impala generally coddles passengers with slightly nicer materials.

    Some hard plastics can be found on the SS, which helps keep its price point at a reasonable $44,470 (plus a less appealing mandatory $1,300 gas guzzler tax). Given the generous equipment – standard features include navigation, heated and ventilated leather/synthetic suede seats, a lane departure warning system, a heads up display and even sensors that help the SS park itself into either a parallel or a perpendicular spot – the SS is actually something of a bargain. The Impala, admittedly a likeable sedan designed to be about as sporty as a bowl of Cheerio’s, tops out about $3,000 less. And, just for comparison’s sake, the 2009-era G8 GXP listed for a hair over $38,000, but that was five years ago and it lacked many of the SS’ niceties.

    But nobody is likely to cross-shop the Impala and the SS for one simple reason: The SS is a performance sedan of the highest order.

    Chevrolet’s fourth-generation LS3 V8 sits underhood, cranking out 415 horsepower and 415 lb-ft. of torque, figures a little shy of the outgoing Corvette that donated this motor as well as its six-speed automatic with paddle shifters. A limited-slip rear differential sends power to the rear wheels and, notably, the stability and traction control systems can be switched off entirely if you’re in the mood to destroy rubber.

    Zero to 60 mph clicks off in a hair over 4.5 seconds, but perhaps the most impressive figure is the SS’ 118 foot 60-0 mph braking distance thanks to its 14-inch Brembo front brakes.

    Electric power steering makes the most of this sedan’s taut suspension and conventional shock absorbers (GM’s trick magnetic struts were a little too spendy).

    Stomp the throttle and the SS leaps forward, but not aggressively. Refined and relaxed, it is very clearly the next-generation G8. Not as big of a leap forward as the G8 was over any rear-wheel-drive GM sedan before it, the SS is a little more nimble, its steering responding more quickly to inputs. Communication from the road feels slightly less tactile in the SS, but the ride – compared to the G8 GXP, in particular – is firm without being punishing.

    The SS makes the most of its long wheelbase on the highway, where it is a solid straight line cruiser. Moreover, it’s even very quiet – especially considering its 19-inch alloy wheels are shoed with wide Bridgestone summer tires.

    But the SS isn’t really intended to be a highway cruiser. Certainly not when it sips fuel at a rate of 14/21 mpg (17 mpg combined), which earns it that aforementioned gas guzzler tax. Instead, it has been designed to be driven hard. And at this it excels, tromping its closest rivals – the SRT variants of the Dodge Charger and Chrysler 300 – at their own game. Those Mopars offer a more bellowing exhaust note, but they feel ponderous on winding roads.

    No, the SS isn’t as nimble as a MINI Cooper, but it is direct, accurate and highly entertaining. Its only curvy road hinderance is a hefty A-pillar design, which can (and did) block a Freightliner in a tight switchback on California’s glassy-smooth Highway 74.

    Still, it’s hard to imagine a more polished and genuinely enjoyable full-size performance sedan anywhere near this price point.

    Leftlane’s bottom line
    It may lack the styling punch of the soft Impala, but the new Chevrolet SS is a real winner for enthusiasts clamoring for what is essentially a four-door Camaro SS that’s a little lighter on swagger.

    All hail the new American muscle sedan.

    2014 Chevrolet SS base price, $44,470.

    Photos by Andrew Ganz.