• GMC adds magnetic ride control to Sierra Denali for 2015

    June 23, 2014
    General Motors is adding its advanced magnetic ride control (MRC) suspension system to its GMC Sierra Denali lineup for the 2015 model year. The 2015 GMC Sierra Denali will be the first-ever full-size pickup truck to use the electronically controlled damping system.

    Similar to the suspension system already used in the Chevrolet Corvette and Cadillac CTS Vsport, the MRC destined for the 2015 Sierra Denali works by using fluid-filled shocks that can change their viscosity based on magnetic charge. Those changes are dictated by sensors that read the road surface every millisecond.

    “With magnetic ride control, the 2015 Sierra Denali delivers a smoother, more confident driving experience without sacrificing the capabilities customers expect from a GMC truck,” said Jeff Luke, executive chief engineer. “The responsiveness of the system makes this full-size truck feel and drive like a luxury vehicle – and one that’s more comfortable on long trips, especially when trailering.”

    Magnetic ride control will be standard on all half-ton 2015 Sierra Denali models. The GMC Sierra 1500 was all-new for the 2014 model year.

  • Ford to reveal new Focus ST at Goodwood [Video]

    June 23, 2014
    Ford has announced that its new Focus ST will make its global debut this week at the Goodwood Festival of Speed.

    The company’s flagship hatchback will be included in the ‘First Glance’ category, piloted by Ben Collins — formerly The Stig for Top Gear — as it makes several runs on the hill climb.

    Attendees will also get a chance to beat the Ford’s pro drivers’ times in a “virtual vs real” race on the Hill. Both the real car and one virtual competitor, via Gran Turismo 6, will simultaneously race up the Hill.

    The company has not revealed full details surrounding the new ST, though a diesel-powered variant has received official confirmation. Rumors suggest the diesel burner may produce 182 horsepower, though a torque figure has not been leaked.

    The current ST is outfitted with a turbocharged 2.0-liter mill that produces 252 ponies and 270 lb-ft of twist. It is unclear if the gasoline engine will be upgraded or replaced for the 2015 model year.

    Ford is set to formally unveil the new Focus ST on June 27.

  • VW likely to build new crossover in Tennessee, despite union debacle

    June 23, 2014
    Volkswagen is reportedly set to finalize its decision to build a new crossover in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

    The company had been working to determine if the new model should be built in the US or further south at a Mexico facility. Executives appeared to lean toward Tennessee in 2012, however the recent unionization campaign and consequent conflict with state legislators called into question the initial report.

    Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam was accused of threatening to withdraw a $300-million incentive package if the United Auto Workers’ unionization attempt was not rejected. Workers narrowly voted against the union, though VW’s ongoing support of a union-backed works council has been viewed as potential deal breaker.

    State officials allegedly followed through with their commitment to provide $300 in incentives, despite the public threats and rumors, helping seal a preference over Puebla, Mexico, unnamed company officials told German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, as reported by Reuters.

    The company has not yet unveiled the new crossover, which is expected to be aimed at the North American market with seven-passenger seating. It is believed to be on track for a 2016 launch.

  • Review: 2014 Toyota Corolla S

    June 23, 2014

    Not everyone has enthusiast leanings. It is for that reason that a company like Toyota builds a car that may fail to stir the soul, but will still get its driver from point A to point B in a safe and reliable fashion. In fact, there may even be an element of fashion involved. Such is the case with one of their best sellers, the 2014 Toyota Corolla S.

    We have been down these roads before. And truth be told, during a recent go-round with an ultra-basic version of the same, we decided to follow nearly every mother’s admonition that if you don’t have anything nice to say about someone (or thing) don’t say anything at all. Sage advice indeed.

    Which brings us to the anything but basic Corolla S.

    What is it?

    Since 1997, the Toyota Corolla has been the best selling nameplate in the world, tallying its 40 millionth sale last summer. Appearing since 1966 in various forms including a coupe, hatchback and wagon, it is now available in North America as a four-door, five-passenger sedan. The latest generation utilizes a high-strength steel unibody platform, which Toyota claims is substantially more rigid than the previous architecture.

    Power for the Corolla comes from two different 1.8-liter four-cylinders. Our S model featured the base 132-horsepower engine with variable valve timing with intelligence (VVT-i), which manages 128 lb-ft of torque at 4,400 rpm.

    In addition to the top-o-the-line S, the Corolla is also available in other trim levels including the base L, LE, and LE Eco, the last of which features new Valvetronic technology that improves fuel economy by five percent. By the numbers, the EPA says to expect 29 city/ 37 highway, with 32 combined from the standard engine. The LE Eco model is capable of 30 city/ 42 highway, with 35 mpg combined.

    Both engines are mated to Toyota’s continuously variable transmission with intelligence and shift (CVTi-S). With this as the first CVT transmission offered in the States by the brand, Toyota has managed to install a simulated series of shift points that attempt to approximate the tactile and aural feel of a seven-speed transmission, accessed through the shift gates or steering wheel-mounted paddle shift levers.

    One of the highlights of the Corolla S is how the CVT offers a sport mode, which delivers a “dynamic” response for a feeling of sportiness in an otherwise sedate family design. Admittedly not suitable for track or performance usage, it does more to instill a sense of excitement that will grow hair on the head of any driver. Okay, well since it’s artificial, let’s say it’s the toupé equivalent. It is complete with an M-gate that manages to operate in a manual-like mode where the driver can up- or downshift using the gear selector lever.

    Buyers not wishing for the CVT option can instead take advantage of a six-speed manual transmission or a more tradition four-speed automatic.

    The suspension is a sport version of the traditional MacPherson strut design in front with a rear torsion beam setup that features specially tuned coils, dampers and bushings for more spirited drive characteristics than the standard Corolla. An electric power steering system helps to point the way, while under tray panels perform double duty to help isolate road noise from the cabin and also clean up the Corolla’s aero profile for added fuel economy.

    Our Corolla was equipped with the full suite of Toyota safety features, which included Vehicle Stability Control (VSC), Traction Control (TRAC), Anti-lock Braking System (ABS), Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD) and Electronic Brake Assist (EBA).

    What’s it up against?

    It’s a rather crowded and stout playing field for the Corolla, with competition from Kia’s Forte, Honda’s Civic and Hyundai’s Elantra all weighing in. And that does not even begin to include the Dodge Dart, Ford Focus, or other players.

    How does it look?

    Appearing much like a stylized and miniaturized Camry, the 2014 Corolla features crisper sheetmetal that makes a thoroughly modern play for the buyer’s heart and wallet. Our sport version featured a larger under bumper intake in front with fog lamps and new, more aggressive LED low beam headlamps that lead into character lines that run the length of the car.

    While not exactly possessing what we would call a body kit or ground effects, it did feature a front and rear spoiler and 17-inch spider-design alloy wheels for a more aggressive, and yes, we’ll say it, more sporty look.

    And on the inside?

    Our Corolla S included a SofTex interior with nicely bolstered front sport seats. What’s a SofTex you ask? Not an out of shape Texan, it’s Toyota-speak for the high-quality vinyl seat covering used in the Corolla. Interior fit and finish was better than average, and offered five more inches of rear seat legroom over the previous model. The S-version was equipped with a 6.1-inch display-equipped navigation/audio system, which proved to be annoying while underway. We found after driving for an extended time period, that the system would freeze up for no apparent reason when we were tracking our way using the navigation system.

    After a while we would notice the vehicle position cursor would freeze, showing positions on the map that we had passed about ten miles previously. We ended up pulling over to the side of the road, shutting the car off, and then restarting, which would cause the unit to reset. In addition to the audio and navigation portion of the system failing, it would disable smartphone functionality. Needless to say a reset maneuver on the shoulder of an interstate highway like I-95 is nothing short of a major annoyance.

    Radio foibles aside, the Corolla has 13 cubic feet of cargo storage space in the trunk and a 60:40 split rear seat if more space is needed.

    But does it go?

    Acceleration is not this car’s strong point. There, we got that out of the way. Able to get out of its own way with 132-horsepower, we found the S to be a decent performer, at least in the flatlands of Florida. While we can’t speak for trying to hoof it up a grade in the Appalachian mountain ranges, it offered typical go-power in around-town driving. Even though merging onto a rapidly moving interstate highway was child’s play to our Corolla, the drivetrain did offer a drone that let you know just how hard it was working to keep up.

    Once we reached cruising speed, the overall effect of the Corolla S while underway was still relatively quiet, although a squeeze of the skinny pedal would cause a major ruckus underhood. Under stress, it tends to squawk but not to the point that you’ll burst an eardrum or vibrate loose a tooth filling. The CVT transmission, with its pretend paddle shift levers, allows would-be Sebastian Vettels or Lewis Hamiltons to paddle their way to fame and fortune on the neighborhood Grand Prix circuits that stretch from elementary school to strip mall.

    Steering from the electric-assisted unit was boosted and predictably numb on center, but when put in context, offered exactly what its typical buyers would expect. The sport suspension of our S model offered a firmer feel when cornering, but at the end of the day, it hardly fooled us into thinking we were driving a pure, sporty car.

    We found the air conditioning motor to be plenty loud, too, but we quickly reminded ourselves we were not driving a Bentley. The included ECO gauge said we were able to get 38 miles to the gallon at approximately 70 mph. As is always the case, your mileage may and most definitely will vary.

    Leftlane’s bottom line:

    Even though it has a sporty look from its red metallic paint and aggressive rear spoiler, down to its spider-painted alloy wheels, the Corolla S is more show than go, which should suit its traditional buyers base just fine. In other words, the Corolla S is a car for people who rarely think about cars. They like them to look good, and maintain reliability, but beyond that, they are not passionate about such vehicles. For these folks, the Corolla ticks all the appropriate boxes off.

    That is unfortunate, because like Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda, we enjoy fun-to-drive cars, and think this Corolla could definitely stand an injection of passion potion.

    2014 Toyota Corolla S base price, $20,400. As tested, $23,520.

    Driver Convenience Package, $1,510; Includes: Smart Key, Pushbutton start, keyless entry, Entune Audio Suite with multimedia bundle / Navigation system including Bluetooth connectivity and streaming audio. Includes HD/Satellite radio and 6.1-inch touchscreen display. Tilt roof with window shade, $850; Destination, $760.

    Photos by Mark Elias.

    • Aesthetics


    • Technology


    • Green


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    • Score


  • Fiat begins outfitting 500 Abarth with six-speed automatic

    June 23, 2014
    Chrysler has announced that its Toluca, Mexico, facility has begun assembling the first 2015 Fiat 500 Abarth models outfitted with an automatic transmission.

    The optional six-speed automatic gearbox is designed to make the Abarth series appealing to a wider audience. The move is likely aimed at bolstering sales in the US market, where very few cars are offered without an automatic as standard equipment or an option.

    New for 2015, the Abarth automatic gearbox is said to have been reinforced with extra clutch plates and a more robust heat treatment to handle the 500 Abarth’s 1.4-liter turbocharged engine, which produces 157 horsepower and 183 lb-ft of torque.

    Drivers will be able to take advantage of a Sport mode, calibrated for an ‘engaged’ driving experience with fuel-cut upshifts, rev-matching downshifts, brake-assist downshifts, corner gear hold and fast-off gear hold.

    Fiat 500 Abarth sales increased more than 16 percent during this year, and we expect this sales success to continue with the launch of this new automatic transmission,” said Fiat’s brand head for North America, Jason Stoicevich.

    The auto option will be available for both the 500 Abarth and its convertible counterpart.