• Mercedes unveils all-new 2015 C-Class

    December 16, 2013

    Mercedes-Benz has lifted the veil off of the all-new 2015 C-Class sedan ahead of its scheduled public debut at next month’s Detroit Motor Show.

    The fourth-gen C-Class is 3.7 inches longer and 1.5 inches wider than the outgoing model, a modification that Mercedes says is necessary because the average height of passengers is growing each year.

    As before, the sedan is available with two front end treatments called Luxury and Sport, respectively. Heavily inspired by the S-Class flagship, the Luxury model wears an elegant three-slat grille with a small Mercedes three-pointed star protruding from the hood. The Sport variant falls in line with the front-wheel drive CLA-Class thanks to a more aggressive two-slat grille adorned by an oversized emblem. Both variants are fitted with specific bumpers on both ends.

    Mercedes has managed to trim 221 pounds off of the C thanks to a new body structure made up of aluminum, high-strength steel and composite materials. Increased rigidity and improved safety are some of the other by-products of the new architecture.

    Upmarket interior
    Mercedes is moving the C upmarket in order to differentiate it from the entry-level CLA-Class. The next C’s dashboard is more evocative than before and the cockpit is packed with numerous high-tech features borrowed directly from the S-Class. The big standouts include a 7-inch screen on the dash, a smartphone-esque surface on the center console and a control knob that lets the passengers operate the various functions of the infotainment system. An electric parking brake and electromechanical power steering are standard on all models.

    The added length provides more space for both front and rear passengers, and trunk space checks in at 16.9 cubic feet, a noticeable increase over the current model’s 12.4 cubic feet.

    Interestingly, a GPS-sensitive climate control unit can detect tunnels and switch to air recirculation model in order to prevent fumes from entering the cabin. Additionally, an AIR-BALANCE system discreetly dispenses perfume to dispel unwanted odors.

    Buyers can customize their car’s interior thanks to three design and equipment lines, and the list of options includes a class-first air suspension on both axles, a heads-up display and upgraded the 7-inch screen to a 8.4-inch unit that runs Mercedes’ COMAND Online, a navigation and multimedia system that also provides an internet hotspot

    On the safety front, the C comes standard with numerous airbags and a host of high-tech driving aids including Attention Assist and Collision Prevention Assist Plus. Extra cost items include Distronic Plus, which can take control of the car during a traffic jam, Brake Assist System Plus, a 360-degree camera and Adaptive High Beams Assist Plus.

    Powertrain lineup
    In Europe, the C will launch with two gasoline-burning four-cylinder engines and a lone oil-burner. The entry-level mill is a 1.6-liter four-cylinder rated at 156 horsepower and 184 lb-ft. of torque, enough to propel the car from zero to 62 mph in 8.2 seconds while returning 47 mpg in a mixed European cycle. The second gas-burning engine is a 2.0-liter unit that churns out 184 ponies and 221 lb-ft. of twist. With it, the C reaches 60 mph from a stop in 7.5 seconds and returns 44 mpg in the aforementioned cycle.

    The diesel-burning model uses a 2.1-liter turbo four that generates 170 horsepower and a generous 295 lb-ft. of torque. The sprint from zero to 62 mph is achieved in 8.1 seconds, and gas mileage lies in the vicinity of 58 mpg.

    Both manual and automatic transmissions will be offered on the old continent, and buyers will be able to pick between rear- and all-wheel drive. Technical details for U.S.-spec models will be published later today.

    A gasoline-electric hybrid will join the lineup later in the production run, and Mercedes is busily developing a plug-in hybrid variant whose launch is still several years away.

    The Alabama-built 2015 C-Class will arrive in showrooms several months after its debut in Detroit. A convertible, a coupe, and a BMW 3-Series GT-fighting hatchback will expected to debut later in 2014, while buyers in Europe will have access to a station wagon.

  • Details emerge on Jeep’s sub-Cherokee crossover

    December 16, 2013

    A report coming out of Australia indicates the compact Jeep crossover that will replace both the Compass and the Patriot will revive the storied Jeepster nameplate when it is introduced at next March’s Geneva Motor Show.

    Riding on a modified Fiat 500L platform, the Jeepster will borrow design cues from the iconic Willy’s that was used widely in World War II. Pictures are not available yet but rumors indicate the crossover will get round headlights and bold version of Jeep’s trademarked seven-slat grille that will be taller than the one found on the newly-introduced Cherokee.

    The Jeepster will share its unibody platform with a Fiat crossover tentatively called 500X. While the Fiat will be offered with both front- and four-wheel drive, the Jeep version will likely boast improved off-road capabilities and an earlier report suggests that it will be exclusively available with four-wheel drive. A two-speed transfer case like Jeep’s more dirt-oriented models has not been confirmed yet.

    The Fiat’s entry-level engine will be a turbocharged 0.9-liter two-cylinder dubbed TwinAir but the Jeep will gain a 160-horsepower 1.4-liter gas-burning four-cylinder. A 1.3-liter turbodiesel four-banger rated at 105 horsepower and 236 lb-ft. of torque will be offered to buyers Europe, and Jeep might sell it in the United States if oil-burner sales continue to rise.

    Following its debut in Switzerland, the Jeepster will enter production in Fiat’s Melfi, Italy, factory next summer and land in showrooms across the country next fall as a 2015 model. The car will slot beneath the Cherokee and cost several thousand dollars less.

  • Ford to offer auto start-stop on 70 percent of lineup by 2017

    December 16, 2013

    Ford will equip 70 percent of its North American lineup with automatic start-stop by 2017. The low-cost technology is a key part of the company’s recent prioritization of greener and fuel-saving strategies.

    Ford estimates that automatic start-stop, which turns the engine off rather than keep it idling when the car is stopped, improves fuel economy numbers by about 3.5 percent in mixed driving and as much as 10 percent in heavy city driving. The 2014 Fiesta‘s 1.0-liter three-cylinder EcoBoost is the latest engine to be coupled with this technology, and even greater fuel savings are expected when it’s mated to larger engines.

    The commitment is just one step of a multi-layered blueprint that Ford has to make fuel economy a primary focus of its brand. In addition to rolling out EcoBoost technology across 90 percent models ranging from the Fiesta to the 2015 Mustang to the Lincoln MKC, the automaker is counting fuel economy improvements in by single digit percentages: Dynamic cruise control can save up to 10 percent; six-speed transmissions four to six percent; electric-assisted power steering three to five percent.

    Although an extra-cost option on some models, Ford estimates it will sell 500,000 cars globally equipped with auto start-stop.

  • Holden brand facing Chevy branding and all-FWD lineup

    December 16, 2013

    The fate of Holden may boil down to two scenarios, neither of which are particularly palatable to Australians. On the heels of GM’s announcement earlier this week that it will cease Australian manufacturing by 2017, Holden’s future will see major changes.

    Chevy Badge Engineering

    Holden head Mike Deveraux is quoted as saying, “We are committed to the brand for the long term. The brand is going to be a part of the fabric of this country for a very long time.” It would also cost an estimated $450,000 to $900,000 to switch branding at each of Holden’s 233 dealerships.

    However, with unique Aussie models like the Commodore facing extinction, News.com.au is shaking up rumors that the entire brand may be replaced with the bowtie badge. Since all GM cars sold in Australia beyond 2017 will be imported (and likely badged as Chevys already), the case for a separate marque is shrinking, despite GM’s stated commitment to the brand.

    A switch to Chevy would allow GM to take advantage of global marketing campaigns such as Chevy’s sponsorship of the Manchester United soccer team. It could also temper backlash to the Holden brand during the withdrawal.

    China Connection

    Another scenario is that the next generation of Holden sedans will be rebadged sedans built in China. According to News.com.au, a new sedan was slated to be built in both Australia and China. Now, with GM shuttering its Australian plants China will be the sole builder of the new four-cylinder, front-wheel-driver, likely badged as a Buick in China.

    Reports of this car being the next Commodore are unconfirmed, but the lack of a V6, rear-wheel-drive passenger car in the lineup will buck decades of tradition. Ford, for its part, announced that it would kill the Falcon when it withdraws.

    GM’s announcement sent shockwaves through the Australian auto industry, which may cease to exist in a few years. Ford has already announced a departure and Toyota, the only manufacturer building cars locally, is viewed as very likely to pull out by 2018 due to a shrinking supplier base and a recent court ruling preventing a union contract re-negotiation in light of these new developments.

  • Production Citroen DS3 Cabrio Racing forthcoming

    December 16, 2013

    France’s Citroën traveled across the English Channel to this year’s edition of the Goodwood Festival of Speed in order to display its latest concept. Dubbed DS3 Cabrio Racing, the car is essentially a topless version of the popular DS3 Racing hot hatch.

    The canvas-top version of the hot hatch could see production next month with a limited run of 400 units, according to Auto Express.

    The DS3 Cabrio Racing is powered by a 1.6-liter four-cylinder gasoline-burning engine developed jointly by parent company PSA and BMW. Also found under the hood of the MINI Cooper and the Peugeot RCZ R, the four-banger sends 202 horsepower to the front wheels via a six-speed manual transmission.

    Upgraded disc brakes on all four corners keep the extra ponies in check, and a stiffer suspension improves handling on and off the track.

    Outside, Citroën’s latest concept wears a flat black paint job with contrasting red stripes and black chrome trim on the door mirrors and the door handles. The convertible is fitted with a carbon fiber body kit that consists of a front splitter, side skirts and an air diffuser integrated into the rear bumper, and 19-inch two-tone alloy wheels finish off the look.

    Instead of being a full convertible, the Cabrio’s door pillars and rear side windows stay in place and only the roof panel retracts. Citroën says that the soft top adds merely 55 pounds to the DS3′s weight and that it can be electronically opened or closed at speeds of up to 75 mph. Alternatively, it can be set to three pre-programmed positions that range from a sunroof-sized opening to the full top stowed away above the trunk lid.

    With room for up to five passengers, the interior is upholstered in an attractive combination of leather and Alcantara that creates a premium ambiance. A color touch screen mounted in the middle of the center stack enables the passenger to control the car’s navigation, entertainment and climate control systems.

    Pricing information will be published closer to the car’s on-sale date.