• Subaru teases Forester STI tS concept

    October 28, 2014
    Subaru has released several official teaser images showing the Forester STI tS concept that quietly appeared last month at Suzuka Circuit.
    The latest shots fully reveal the sportier front fascia with vertical LED strips and obligatory red STI accents on the grille. Other images confirm brake and wheel upgrades, along with a lowered ride height.

    Previous reports suggest the offering may be limited to aesthetic and suspension upgrades, rather than bringing any powertrain tweaks. The BRZ STI tS initially fueled speculation of a turbocharged edition, but hopes of a forced-induction package were doused when the production model arrived with the same powerplant as the basic BRZ.

    The standard Forester can be purchased with a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine with 250 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque, while the WRX STI squeezes 305 ponies and 290 lb-ft of twist out of a 2.5-liter mill.

    The images appeared on Subaru’s Japanese STI website, suggesting it may not be bound for the US market, however the company has not yet confirmed any launch details or specs.

  • October sales seen up 5.4 percent

    October 28, 2014
    October is typically a slower month for new vehicle sales, but Kelley Blue Book is calling for sales to climb by a healthy 5.4 percent this month.

    With just a few more selling days left in the month, KBB is predicting that new car sales will climb 5.4 percent to 1.27 million units in October. That total would net a seasonally adjusted annual rate (SAAR) of about 16.3 million units, or the same level seen in September 2014.

    Those results would be positive for the industry as a whole as October is typically one of the weakest selling months of the year, trailing on January in average sales volume. However, it appears as though mounting incentives could be fueling those higher sales, which could be bad for the industry over the longer term.

    “One cause for concern is the rising levels of incentive spend in the industry, which in recent months has drifted close to an average of $3,000 per vehicle,” said Alec Gutierrez, senior analyst for Kelley Blue Book. “The ratio of incentive spend to average transaction prices is at its highest since 2010, but remains below pre-recession levels. Since inventory levels have remained consistent, this isn’t a red flag quite yet, but it does underline that the natural industry growth we’ve had in recent years is slowing.”

    KBB expects most of the major automakers to post sales gains during the month of October, although Ford is penciled in for a 3.3 percent drop in volume. The compact SUV/Crossover segment will remain the hottest segment during the month, with October sales predicted to grow 13.6 percent to 159,000 units.

  • Toyota, Lexus maintain lead in Consumer Reports quality survey

    October 28, 2014
    Toyota and its luxury brand Lexus have maintained the lead in Consumer Reports‘ latest quality survey.
    The magazine credits Toyota’s habit of avoiding complete redesigns as a contributing factor, allowing new vehicles to provide “good reliability out of the box.” The most reliable new car is said to be the Scion xB, while the Tundra topped the pickup-truck quality list, however both models are said to be behind their segment rivals in terms of fuel efficiency, design and other features.

    Notably, General Motors is now the most reliable domestic car company for the second year in a row. The Cadillac CTS, Chevrolet Corvette and Impala have all earned high scores in their first year.

    “Buick is the top domestic brand, with every one of their models being reliable,” the report notes.

    Ford also wins praise for working out design bugs in many of its core products. Revisions to the MyFord Touch infotainment system also provided a significant boost to the latest quality ratings.

    Chrysler brands hold the bottom positions on the list, with the Jeep Cherokee four-cylinder representing the least-reliable SUV. The Fiat 500L is said to be the least-reliable new car, and the smaller 500 is not much better.

    Acura and Infiniti both received lower scores for the latest survey, mostly due to trouble with infotainment systems. The Mercedes-Benz CLA and S-Class also received relatively low scores in their respective segments.

    “Just as a brain surgeon isn’t the best person to do a heart transplant, it turns out automakers aren’t the ideal source for sophisticated, cutting-edge infotainment electronics,” CR concluded. “As evidence, these systems remain the leading source of trouble among new cars, especially if it is a brand-new design.”

  • Chrysler faces two more NHTSA recall investigations

    October 28, 2014
    The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has opened two separate investigations into Chrysler recalls.
    One broad inquiry is focused on “slow execution” of recall campaigns and “poor communication” with the agency. The company allegedly ran into trouble supplying parts to fix a 2011 recall over tie-rod failure in Ram trucks, then mislead the government after the agency began receiving complaints from angry owners.

    “The agency has received hundreds of complaints from owners reporting frustrations with obtaining service appointments and having their vehicles remedied under the safety recall,” the NHTSA wrote in a notice. “Many owners have complained of dealers informing them it would be many months before the dealership could secure a replacement part for their vehicle.”

    Chrysler earlier this year faced similar criticism over its handling of a Jeep recall over fuel-tank fires. In both instances, the company only agreed to recall the vehicles after fighting with the NHTSA over the proposed remedies. After coming to a mutually agreeable solution, the automaker then secured only enough parts supply to fix a fraction of the recalled vehicles in a single year.

    Under pressure from safety advocacy groups, the NHTSA is considering a second investigation into allegations of a power-module defect in nearly five million Chrysler vehicles spanning seven model years. The company last month issued a recall for 188,000 Jeep Grand Cherokee and Dodge Durango SUVs over the same problem, but critics point to hundreds of similar complaints — alleging stalling or no-start conditions — in a much broader range of vehicles that use a similar totally-integrated power module (TIPM).

    “Consumers report frequent vehicle shutdowns with no restart capability on the highway, airbag non-deployment, random horn, headlight, taillight, door lock, instrument panel and windshield wiper activity, power windows going up and down on their own, failure of fuel pump shutoff resulting in unintended acceleration, and fires,” the Center for Auto Safety wrote in its August petition to the NHTSA. “The TIPM is in millions of 2007-2014 Chrysler vehicles and fails at such a high frequency that Chrysler has run out of replacement parts.”

    Chrysler has been given a month to respond to the TIPM inquiry before the NHTSA makes a formal decision to move forward with a deeper investigation.

  • First drive: 2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA45 AMG [Review]

    October 28, 2014
    The 2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA45 AMG 4Matic is the answer to the prayers uttered by those who were impressed by the brand’s foray into compact SUVs, but disappointed by the output of the standard GLA250.

    Still powered by a turbocharged four-cylinder engine, this time built by the Mercedes-AMG tuning wizards in Affalterbach, it increases the AMG high-performance sport utility portfolio to four vehicles ranging from the GLA45 AMG, the ML63 AMG, the GL63 AMG and the big, brutish bruiser-boxed G63 AMG. With something for virtually every level of luxury goods buyer (providing you have the price of admittance) it’s an embarrassment of riches.

    A lowered suspension and lots more to raise expectations

    Riding 4.5-inches off the pavement doesn’t put this five-door hatchback in the running for the compact off-road vehicle of the year. Give that spot to the more pedestrian, but higher-riding GLA250, with its eight-inches of ground clearance over rocks and other rough terrain.

    But this is clearly a case of less being more. What the GLA45 AMG lacks in clearance, it makes up in power and performance.

    The GLA45 is powered by a 2.0-liter twin-scroll turbocharged and direct-injected four-cylinder engine that produces 355-horsepower at 6,000 rpm, and 332 lb-ft of torque between 2,250 and 5,000 rpm. M-B claims it to be “the most powerful series-production” four-pot engine in the business. All GLA45s are available solely as 4Matic all-wheel-drive models and are mated to AMG’s Speedshift DCT seven-speed dual-clutch sports transmission. Power is sent to the rear wheels via a power take off unit with two piece propshaft (for safety) that can send up to fifty-percent of the power rearward, in an imperceptible fashion. An electrohydraulic multi-disc clutch resides in the rear differential that is able to detect front wheel slippage. It’s at this point that the clutch is pressed together, sending power to the rear.

    Equipped with Race Start functionality, Daimler says it can launch the GLA45 to 60 mph in 4.8 seconds, but that’s not to say it samples its petrol in Super Big Gulp fashion, like its G63 big brother. Au contraire, this 3,428-pounder drinks to the tune of a preliminary 23 city / 29 highway with a 25 mpg average. (Assisted by an ECO Start/Stop function.)

    An AMG sports exhaust system is included with a variable vane in the rear muffler. And if it’s not intoxicating enough, those with a thirst for extra aural excitement can order the available AMG Performance Exhaust system. More, more, more.

    The baby G63 wanna-be rides on an AMG in-house-tuned sport suspension made up of a three-link anti-dive kit with coil springs and McPherson struts in front, along with a stabilizer bar. At the rear is a four-link anti-squat and dive suspension with coil springs and gas filled struts. Again, it is all tied together by a stabilizer bar. Steering is via an electrically-assisted and speed-dependent rack and pinion system.

    For those measuring out their garage space, the GLA45 AMG 4Matic has a wheelbase of 106.3 inches and an overall length of 174.9 inches. Including mirrors, it is 79.6 inches wide. Cross-shoppers looking for high performance in other brands might be a bit disappointed because at this point there is no M-model of BMW’s X1 or a Range Rover Evoque Sport, for that matter.


    Just as the GLA adopts many of its design cues, including the “dropping lines” contours from the sedan-based CLA, the GLA45 swipes a little bit of swagger from the CLA45. Front and center, a single lamella bisects the grill area, and is capped off with the three-pointed star. Hunkered down about 3.5-inches over the height of the standard GLA250, our AMG tester was outfitted with an aerodynamics package ($1,950) that was complete with a large front splitter, apron canard and rear deck lid spoiler. Available 20-inch AMG black spoke wheels were included and finished off with red Mercedes-Benz AMG brake calipers. We liked this choice as it filled up the wheel wells nicely.

    Interior decorating

    Upgrading from the standard (on GLA250) MB-Tex seat covers, we do get the real thing with the AMG standard interior package. But the French-stitched faux material makes a good choice for the dashboard covering as seen in our tester. Deep contour bucket seats held us nicely in place during corner cutting activities in Backroad, Vermont, where we tested this hotrod. A leather and Alcantara wrapped steering wheel felt to us like a pair of Sparco driving mittens. Oh, and then there were the bright red seatbelts, which look like they might have been swiped directly from the “Fast and Furious” prop room.

    Speaking of visual entertainment, our example was complete with Sirius XM satellite radio coming from a Harman/Kardon premium sound system and MB’s COMAND system with hard drive navigation and voice control, including 3-D mapping on a 7-inch high-resolution LCD screen. Pull over and you can watch DVD movies or let Gracenotes media database display titles, artists and album art of whatever you’re listening to now.

    Wheel time

    Great handling, with a satisfying soundtrack, was the order of the day behind the wheel of this pint-sized AMG. We were instantly smitten by the burbling exhaust note that swelled to a crescendo when smashing the throttle with our size twelves. Power came on suddenly, followed by the rapid rev-pause-pop that occurred every time the AMG Speedshift gearbox went to a steeper cog. Power was even more so with the use of the “momentary M mode,” which allowed us to grab the paddle shift levers to blip through the gears faster than the normal engine mapping would typically allow. Think of it like a blast of energy from one of the Mercedes AMG Formula1 car’s KERS unit.

    Exceptional control, with the ability to save you from yourself, was available thanks to the AMG Speed Sensitive sport steering. The suspension helps to grip the road with no wallow by stiffer mounting parts, which displayed increased stability and poise around the turns. Owing to the ESP Curve Dynamic Assist system, which appears as standard, the GLA45 used brake-based torque vectoring to effectively shorten the length of the car as it encountered sharp turns on our drive route. The net effect was that of driving a really big go-kart.

    The brakes offered exceptional grabiness, but not in a bad way. It just takes a few moments to acclimate with the potential that they are capable of. It was at that point that driver confidence is at an all-time high. The end game was a powertrain with fast shifts, rapid acceleration and stellar braking which is what you want from a semi-pocket rocket package like this.

    Leftlane’s bottom line

    Already an impressive package, Mercedes-Benz ups the ante by offering the GLA45 AMG 4Matic SUV. With a small, but potent, powerplant under the hood, the brand brings high performance to a segment not typically known for such. And it does come with a price, (See below) but oh how we want one.

    2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA45 AMG 4Matic base price, $48.300. As tested, $64,725.

    Black “red cut” leather interior, $1,500; Carbon Fiber trim, $950; Premium package, $2,300; Multimedia package, $2,480; Driver Assistance package, $2,500; AMG Night Styling package, $750; Aerodynamics package, $1,950; AMG Performance Exhaust, $450; Red brake calipers, $300; AMG Performance Steering Wheel, $500; Parktronic with park assist, $970; 20-inch AMG black alloy wheels, $850; destination fee, $925.

    Photos by Mark Elias.