• James May quits Top Gear

    April 23, 2015
    Top Gear co-host James May has effectively quit the show following Jeremy Clarkson’s controversial departure.

    “Me and Hammond with a surrogate Jeremy is a non-starter, it just wouldn’t work,” May told The Guardian. “It has to be the three of us.”

    He expects to continue working on other projects for the BBC, but just not Top Gear in the immediate future. The presenter suggests all three original hosts could return in the future after a hiatus.

    “In the future when all this has blown over there might be an opportunity for three of us to get back together on the BBC to do Top Gear or a car show of some sort,” he added.

    Clarkson earlier this week promised to do another car show, and rumors have pointed to Netflix as a potential partner. The presenters could be limited by non-compete clauses, however, potentially blocking immediate production of a Top Gear-style show on other networks.

    May leaves open the possibility of returning to Top Gear if Clarkson follows the same path, as the BBC has not actually fire anyone, but rather merely declined to renew his contract.

    “It’s a subtle difference but an important one,” he said.

  • VW leadership dispute far from settled, reports claim

    April 23, 2015
    Volkswagen Group’s apparent leadership dispute is reportedly continuing to escalate behind closed doors.
    Chairman Ferdinand Piech has allegedly begun quietly rallying against chief executive Martin Winterkorn, meeting with other members of the Piech and Porsche families to erode support for the executive, unnamed sources told German broadcaster NDR.

    The chairman two weeks ago made public comments suggesting he had lost confidence in Winterkorn, however an executive committee — which included Piech and a handful of other board members — later made a formal announcement of support for the embattled chief executive and promised to recommend a contract renewal.

    The latest report suggests Piech has stepped up his campaign in secret, attempting to convince other board members and large shareholders that the automaker should hand the reins to Porsche chief Matthias Mueller or Skoda CEO Winfried Vahland.

    Piech has not publicly detailed his reasoning for making the first disparaging comments, but lackluster sales in key markets — VW brand shipments in the US, in particular — are viewed as a potential factor in the dispute. VW’s cost-cutting strategy has also progressed slowly, with profit falling 14 percent in 2014 and operating margins reduced to just 2.5 percent — well below the company’s peers.

    The dispute has been credited with driving down VW’s share price, which has fallen by nearly 10 percent since Piech’s first comments were published. The company’s shareholder meeting is scheduled for May 5.

  • Review: 2015 Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat

    April 23, 2015

    The Chrysler LX platform has been around since 2005. It was born under Daimler, soldiered through the Cerberus malaise, and like many projects, has thrived under the Fiat regime.

    For years, Chrysler was the only game in town when it came to large, American, rear-wheel drive machines outside the premium space, easily eclipsing Ford’s ancient (and now deceased) Panther cars and GM’s brief flirtation with mainstream Holden-based sedans.

    And while the pre-Fiat years may have been dominated by cost-cutting and quality control issues, Chrysler engineers did the most with what they had, delivering unmistakably, unabashedly American cars whose character and charisma made up for their other shortcomings.

    What is it?
    The Charger Hellcat is not just the pinnacle of LX performance; it’s the most powerful mainstream production sedan on Earth. The 6.2L, supercharged Hemi V8 makes 707 horsepower at 6,000 RPM and 650 lb-ft of torque at 4,800 RPM–not bad for an iron-block, pushrod boat anchor with a blower on top. Power goes to the ground by way of Chrysler’s new flagship, eight-speed “Torqueflite” automatic transmission. While the smaller, sportier Challenger is available with a six-speed manual, no such option exists here.

    Given the LX platform’s age and size (and aforementioned iron-block V8), it should come as no surprise that the Hellcat is a bit hefty, but in a world of lightweighting and downsizing, its 4,575lb curb weight is borderline-alarming.

    Aside from the go-fast bits, the Hellcat is a conventional, five-seat sedan. Sporting a large trunk and a respectable 22 mpg EPA highway rating, the Hellcat is surprisingly well-suited to long highway cruises and even your around-town chores. Resisting the urge to drop the hammer on unsuspecting fellow grocery shoppers may be a bit of a challenge, but with the suspension and transmission in street mode, the Hellcat can actually fill the role of daily driver admirably, even in the rain. The Hellcat’s available all-season, narrow section-width tires will actually promote everyday competency. More on that later.

    What’s the competition?
    There isn’t any. There are plenty of large, powerful sedans in the world, to be sure, but the only machines on the road that can trade spec sheets with the Charger SRT Hellcat are German and British luxury cars with Germany and British luxury price tags. It’s possible to buy cars that will lap a track faster for the money, sure, but that’s not the Hellcat’s game. The Charger is unique… uniquely powerful, uniquely fast, uniquely affordable and uniquely American.

    How does it look?
    The Hellcat takes the redesigned Charger’s love-it-or-hate-it, Coke-bottle look and adds just a bit more subtle attitude. Hellcat badges adorn the front fenders and you’ll find SRT badging front and rear. The brakes are big, red Brembos–six-piston in the front and four in the rear, clamping 15.4″ and 13.8″ discs, respectively–that are shared with the run-of-the-mill Charger SRT. It takes a careful eye to spot the differences, making the Hellcat fairly discreet, all things considered.

    Until you fire it up, that is.

    The LX cars long suffered from subpar interiors, but with the 2011 refresh, Chrysler started to rectify that. With the 2015 model year, more improvements came, and the Charger’s interior now makes a compelling case for itself. The center stack is fitted around a multifunction touchscreen that sits above redundant audio and HVAC controls, making for easy access to all vehicle functions.

    Unique to SRT and SRT Hellcat models is a full suite of vehicle dynamics controls allowing customized throttle, suspension, transmission and traction/stability control modes. A power toggle will even let you open up the waste gate on the Hellcat’s supercharger and limit the engine output to a meager 500 horsepower (using the Hellcat’s black key rather than its red key accomplishes the same thing). The display is mirrored in the gauge cluster, where the SRT apps will track your 0-60 and quarter mile times too.

    “SRT” badging is prominent in the interior, found on the wheel, seats, drive mode button and several other locations both obvious and not. The seats are comfortable, but not too aggressively bolstered. They’re unsuited to prolonged hot-lapping sessions, but it’s unlikely that too many owners will be taking the 2 ¼-ton Hellcat out on road courses. The slimmer and more athletic Challenger? Maybe, but you’ll want a harness to keep you planted.

    Does it go?
    It all comes down to tires. When the Charger SRT Hellcat hooks up, it accelerates in a way that should erode the bedrock of simple physics. When it doesn’t, it sheds more rubber than an entire fleet of 18-wheelers. Under the rear fenders, you’ll find Pirelli P Zero “Three-Season” performance tires in 275/40ZR20. Those keeping score at home will note the same compound and size is found on the rear axle of the 435-horsepower, 3,700lb Mustang GT equipped with the performance package. The Hellcat’s size and power are just too much for those poor Pirellis.

    A reasonable argument can be made that the Hellcat benefits from being under-tired in the same way the Scion FR-S and Subaru BRZ do. The lower limits may prevent drivers from fully exploiting the Hellcat’s power and track-ready suspension on the street, but on the flip side, they allow for a lot of ridiculous fun. Accelerate away from a stop with any steering angle and the Hellcat is a hair’s breadth of throttle travel away from a tail-out tire roast.

    The absence of grip means the Hellcat transitions seamlessly up and down either side of its slip-angle curve. There’s no razor’s edge, but rather a progressive, predictable fall-off in traction as you push the tires beyond their capabilities.

    And despite its weight, the Charger SRT Hellcat takes to twisties rather well. Put the suspension in “sport” or “track” mode and the Hellcat hunkers down and tucks in. On an open track, the throttle can be used to help control the Hellcat’s line, but that’s an iffy proposition on a narrow back road. The Charger is a lot of car, and you don’t want its tail swinging out of a lane that is barely wide enough to hold it to begin with.

    Leftlane’s bottom line

    The Charger Hellcat is a magnificent, boisterous, charismatic, unnecessary and thoroughly unapologetic example of American automotive engineering. The LX platform may be showing its age, but it still makes for an appealing package. We’ll take two.

    2015 Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat, base price, $62,295; Harman Kardon Audio Group, $1,995; Power Sunroof, $1,195; Uconnect, $695; Summer Tires, $195; Gas Guzzler Tax, $1,700; Destination, $995.

    • Aesthetics


    • Technology


    • Green


    • Drive


    • Value


    • Score


  • Rolls-Royce shows Phantom ‘Limelight Collection’

    April 23, 2015
    Rolls-Royce has revealed a new family of personalized Phantoms, known as the Limelight Collection, that have been crafted by its Bespoke design team.
    Presented as siblings of the Phantom Serenity that was revealed last month in Geneva, the personalized Limelight builds are said to have been conceived for people “who spend their lives in the public eye and on the world stage.”

    The company points out that the limelight effect is a British invention, discovered in the 1820s by Sir Goldsworthy Gurney to help illuminate leading actors on theater stages in London’s Covent Garden.

    “In creating the Rolls-Royce Phantom Limelight Collection, our designers have delivered authentic luxury by thinking deeply about the lifestyles of the powerful people who operate in the public eye and move swiftly from engagement to engagement as part of their daily life,” said Rolls-Royce chief executive Torsten Müller–tvös.

    The series includes just a few dozen examples, each featuring a “Phantom Suite” with personalized rear door panniers optimized either for ladies or gentlemen. The former brings a fragrance holder, while the latter instead offers a watch holder.

    The company worked with engineers and ergonomists to create a new seating configuration that maximizes relaxation while underway. The back reclines by 27 degrees, while a new calf rest raises by 68 degrees and a foot rest raises the feet by up to 30 degrees.

    Buyers can choose from light or dark color schemes, each featuring Seashell and Navy Blue contrasting leather with tone-on-tone stitching. The collection also features a two-veneer wood finish with Piano Seashell on the doors and Smoked Chestnut in other locations.

    The company is already taking orders for the Limelight Collection, with availability capped at 25 units.

  • 2015 F-150 gets five-star crash rating across the board

    April 23, 2015
    Ford’s entire range of 2015 F-150 pickup trucks has earned a five-star safety rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
    Following Ford’s announcement last week that the SuperCrew version of the 2015 F-150 had earned a five-star overall rating, the NHTSA has now given its top rating to SuperCab and Regular Cab versions of the popular pickup. All models tested earned a five-star rating in both frontal and side impact crashes, as well as a four-star rating in rollover resistance.

    Billed as the safest F-150 ever, Ford engineers created 31 safety-related innovations specifically for the new version of the company’s best-selling pickup truck. Some of those innovations included new structures, materials and joining methods.

    Ford also credits the F-150′s new aluminum body structure and high-strength steel frame for the truck’s stellar crash ratings.

    The 2015 F-150 has yet to face the more rigorous crash testing of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.