• GM patches OnStar hacking vulnerability

    July 30, 2015
    General Motors has quickly patched a security vulnerability that could have allowed hackers to breach the company’s OnStar RemoteLink system.

    The vulnerability was demonstrated by security researcher Samy Kamkar in a YouTube video. He claims to have found a way to locate, unlock and remote-start any vehicle with RemoteLink, after intercepting the communication between the mobile app and GM’s OnStar servers.

    “More technicals details to come at Defcon and in a future video,” the video notes.

    Before releasing full details, Kamkar reportedly worked with GM as the automaker developed a patch to prevent attacks using the method. The company has already implemented the fix, which apparently required server-side changes rather than new software installed to the vehicle itself.

    “GM product cybersecurity representatives have reviewed the potential vulnerability recently identified by Mr. Kamkar, and a fix has already been implemented to address this concern,” GM said in a statement to The Detroit News. “No additional action is required by our customers.”

    The issue has surfaced a week after Fiat Chrysler Automobiles dealt with a similar situation involving its Uconnect infotainment systems. A team of researchers had developed an exploit that allowed them to remotely control a Jeep Cherokee‘s brakes and steering. The company initially handled the problem quietly, crafting a software update to protect the infotainment systems, however the fix was later elevated to a formal safety recall affecting 1.4 million vehicles.

    Security researchers have become increasingly vocal in warning of the potential vulnerabilities in modern vehicles. Integrated cellular connections, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth all serve as potential avenues for attack, and security patches can be difficult to distribute across an entire fleet if owners must bring their vehicle to a dealer for a software update.

    “Cyber security is a global issue facing virtually every industry today, and a lot of work continues to been done at GM in this space,” GM said. “Our customers’ safety and security is paramount and we are taking a multi-faceted approach to secure in-vehicle and connected vehicle systems, monitor and detect cyber security threats, and design vehicle systems that can be updated with enhanced security as these potential threats arise.”

  • Lamborghini to show new ultra-exclusive model at Pebble Beach

    July 30, 2015
    Lamborghini is reportedly preparing to privately show a new ultra-exclusive model to a select group of collectors at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.

    Details remain scant, but an unnamed source has told Motor Trend the hypercar will likely see an extremely limited production run of 20 coupes and 10 roadsters. If production volume is any hint, the mystery model will follow in the footsteps of Lamborghini’s Reventon and Veneno (pictured).

    Sold in coupe and convertible form, the Veneno represents one of the Raging Bull’s most extravagant creations. Its 6.5-liter V12 engine, borrowed from the Aventador, was tuned to deliver 755 horsepower to all four wheels. Several years have passed since the company sold all 13 examples, each fetching more than $4 million, and the new mystery model will presumably be aimed at the same customers.

    The latest report speculates that the company will attempt to find a middle ground between the Reventon and Veneno, suggesting pricing will be set around $2 million. It is expected to be based on the Aventador, with output bumped up to around 800 horsepower. The model could shed some weight and will presumably bring a distinct body styling.

    The company is not expected to show the model publicly at Pebble Beach, though it could be formally unveiled in Frankfurt.

  • FCA profits up by 69 percent in Q2 as Jeep continues to soar

    July 30, 2015
    Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is celebrating a solid second quarter, with net profits jumping by 69 percent to 333 million euros (~$363 million USD).

    Adjusted earnings (before interest and taxes) rose by 58 percent to 557 million euros (~$607 million USD) during the three-month period ending in June, while net revenues increased by 25 percent to 29.2 billion euros (~$31.8 billion USD).

    The automaker’s overall performance continues to benefit from the Jeep brand, which experienced a 27-percent surge in global deliveries compared to the same quarter last year.

    Deliveries across all brands in North America rose by eight percent, helping offset a 32-percent decline in Latin America. The company posted an adjusted loss of 144 million euros (~$157 million USD) in the latter region, mostly due to economic weakness and declining market share in Brazil, though the numbers also reflect costs associated with opening a factory in Pernambuco.

    Adjusted EBIT for FCA’s Ferrari division was up by 18 percent to 124 million euros (~$135 million USD) as the company edges closer to the luxury sports-car marque’s initial public offering. FCA chief Sergio Marchionne has said that he expects the spinoff to be worth more than 10 billion euros (~$10.9 billion USD).

    FCA expects global shipments to reach 4.8 million units for the full year, with net revenues surpassing 110 billion euros (~$120 billion USD).

  • Review: 2015 Honda Odyssey Touring Elite

    July 30, 2015

    With a face that a cleaning-obsessed Soccer Mom could love, the vacuum cleaner-equipped 2015 Honda Odyssey Minivan sucks. But that could be just what parents of an active brood of kids are looking for when it comes time to shop for a family van.

    But not just for parents anymore, the Odyssey uses simple conveniences to help push the envelope in minivan design and style. The end-result is a vehicle that would fit in, whether the owner’s primary goal was to deliver flowers or the family, with the bonus of being able to quickly clean up any mishaps that may have occurred along the way.

    What is it?
    Having the ability to carry as many as eight passengers puts the Honda Odyssey near the top of the class when it comes to abilities. Powered by a 3.5-liter iVTEC V6 engine that makes 248 horsepower and 250 lb-ft of torque, it’s definitely not a slug. Well, not quite a slug. The multi-point fuel-injected engine is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission to drive the front wheels.

    This newer-gen V6 includes Honda’s variable cylinder management (VCM) system, which allows it to use all six, three, or four cylinders, depending on the engine’s workload. For example, while hard acceleration will have all six cylinders firing, highway cruising may shut off two or three cylinders to minimize engine wear and fuel consumption.

    The unibody structure of the Odyssey, which borrows bits from the Honda Accord and Pilot, plus an Acura crossover or two, rides on a MacPherson strut front suspension and multilink double wishbone rear kit that makes this probably the most car-like driving minivan in the segment.

    The 2015 Honda Odyssey is available in five trim levels ranging from base LX, EX, EX-L, Touring, and our high-zoot Touring Elite version. All are well equipped, some just a little more well-equipped than others. For example, the base LX is only available in a seven-passenger configuration. As such, stepping up to the higher trim levels, like our Touring Elite model, includes such features as a 16-inch widescreen video display for the rear seats, a cool box at the base of the dashboard to add some chill to canned or bottled drinks, and a two – three – three seating configuration for a maximum amount of utility. And that’s before we even discussed the HondaVAC vacuum cleaner.

    Though not ground-breaking, the Odyssey includes thoughtful items that will help drivers who might otherwise become distracted while carrying a full load of mulch from the home improvement store or a full team of little leaguers to their pizza parlor awards dinner at the end of the season. They include an expanded view driver’s mirror, Honda LaneWatch, and Collision Alert, as well as an 80-degree view of the passenger side roadway, and a multi-angle rearview camera for normal and top-down views all around the vehicle. The aforementioned HondaVAC boasts of more power than a typical handheld vacuum and includes a hose that can reach to the far hinterlands of the Odyssey’s interior.

    What’s it up against?
    Competitors to the Odyssey include the Chrysler Town & Country, a newly refreshed Toyota Sienna with optional all-wheel-drive, the Nissan Quest, and Kia Sedona. Word on the street says there may be a redesigned Odyssey for model year 2017.

    How does it look?
    Redesigned in 2011 and receiving various refreshes since that time, the Odyssey appears slightly futuristic, even with side panels that don’t quite look like they flow from one to the next. In fact it looks like the rear third of this Honda came from a totally different vehicle. Still, it manages to impress in its looks and utility.

    Totally functional, our Odyssey featured useful fitments including driver and passenger-side rear sliding doors, as well as an automatic functioning liftgate. All can be opened using the remote control key fob.

    And on the inside?
    Just as clothes can make the man, features can make the minivan. In the case of the Odyssey, all the little bits add up to quite a lot. Items like active noise cancellation, and a standard rearview camera, offer welcomed driver assists, while the below-console cooler with room for six water bottles or conversely a dozen juice boxes. The Wideview display screen will enthrall and in some instances, quiet the younger charges that may occupy the rear seating area.

    About those rear seats: Our Odyssey included a configurable middle seat that can be used to separate kids who are in the “Mom, he won’t stop touching me,” phase. Additionally, they offer side or middle aisle access to the third row. By the numbers, the Odyssey offers 38.4 cubic feet behind the third row, 93.1 cubic feet behind the second, and 148.5 cubic feet behind the front row seating. That’s just about right for hauling the 60-inch flatscreen back home to the man cave.

    But does it go?
    Hauling a nearly full load of seven passengers and their things really showed the Odyssey’s capabilities. Granted, this is not the most powerful engine in Honda’s product portfolio, that title going to Honda Performance Division’s Indy Racing mill. Still, the iVTEC V6 still manages to show its polished performance in all tasks that are asked of it.

    But sometimes more than just a smooth operator is needed, especially when carrying around a curb weight of 4,613-pounds, in addition to seven passengers. We found it sometimes necessary to jab at the accelerator to cause a downshift, which created more revs for quicker entry and passing into rapidly moving expressway traffic.

    Still, the Odyssey never once balked or offered any undue feedback, instead choosing to do its job quietly. Credit the active noise cancellation for allowing us to use our inside voices when conversing.

    From a handling point of view, the Odyssey impressed with its low, hunkered down feel that translated into secure cornering with lack of body roll on winding roads. Steering was well modulated, without the sloppiness or numbness on center that is sometimes found in other minivans, not to mention cars in the mid-sized sedan segment.

    Leftlane’s bottom line
    Thanks to ongoing improvements to interior fitment and utility, not to mention a quiet ride, the Honda Odyssey remains the class of the field. Between the underdash coolbox and the 16-inch big screen display, why would you ever want to leave?

    2015 Honda Odyssey Touring Elite base price, $44,600. As tested, $45,430. Destination fee, $830.

    Photos by Mark Elias.

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  • IIHS: Ford F-150′s aluminum body costs more to repair

    July 30, 2015

    Stepping out of its traditional focus on safety tests, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has crashed the new aluminum-bodied Ford F-150 to gauge repair costs.

    The institute ran crash tests at 10 mph with the new F-150 crew cab and its steel-bodied predecessor from the 2014 model year. Engineers started by crashing the front left corner of the aluminum pickup into the rear right corner of the steel pickup, then flipped the test and ran the steel pickup into the rear of the aluminum model.

    The aluminum pickup experienced “more extensive damage” in both scenarios, resulting in total repair costs 26 percent higher. The premium was associated with additional labor to fix the front end, and higher parts costs for the rear-end damage.

    “From a simple bolt-on parts replacement to a more-involved removal and installation of entire body panels, fixing the aluminum F-150 is more expensive than repairing a steel-body F-150,” said IIHS research chief David Zuby.

    IIHS took a particularly close look at the new F-150, which represents the first mass-market vehicle with an all-aluminum body. The crew-cab package earned Top Safety Pick Honors, but the extended-cab model received a ‘marginal’ rating in the small-overlap test.

  • Ford Focus RS to fetch $35,730?

    July 29, 2015

    Pricing details for Ford’s flagship Focus RS hatchback may have leaked ahead of schedule.

    The company’s website briefly listed the RS with a starting price of $35,730. The incomplete configurator was spotted by Jalopnik and subsequently pulled from the website.

    If the accidental leak is accurate, buyers will have options for a navigation system, sunroof, Michelin Cup tires and special 19-inch alloy wheels. Picking every upgrade option is said to bring the price up to $42,275.

    The reported figures represent a near doubling of the current Focus Hatchback‘s entry price of $18,960 (excluding Ford’s $875 freight charge). The price is slightly higher than the $34,695 sticker on a Subaru WRX STI, but below the $36,595 MSRP for the Volkswagen Golf R.

    Ford recently confirmed that the Focus RS will deliver 345 horsepower and 324 lb-ft of torque, giving the hatchback a power advantage over both the STI and the Golf R. It will also be quicker to 60 mph, reaching the benchmark speed in 4.5 seconds — a half-second less than the rivals.

    The Focus RS should arrive in showrooms early next year.

    Live images by Ronan Glon.

  • Audi to show Matrix OLED lighting in Frankfurt

    July 29, 2015
    Audi has promised to reveal its latest Matrix OLED technology to Frankfurt.

    After working on OLED lighting for several years, Audi suggests the technology is now closer to becoming a production reality. Initial projects will focus on OLED taillights before moving to other lighting components.

    Audi suggests organic light-emitting diodes are superior to traditional LEDs because light is emitted from a flat layer rather than a crystal, with a higher level of homogeneity and continuously-variable dimming. The technology also eliminates the need for reflectors, light guides or other optical components.

    Current prototypes utilize glass layers to encase organic material, but production technology will use plastic sheets. Flexible substrate materials are prefect for three-dimensional forming, allowing designers to explore new ideas.

    “Progress in OLED technology is being made rapidly – in part due to the driving force of Audi,” the company boasts. “As soon as further increases in light density are realized, OLEDs will soon be able to generate turn signal and brake lights too.”

    The company has not yet outlined a time-frame for bringing OLED technology to production.

  • First drive: 2016 Mazda CX-3 [Review]

    July 29, 2015

    It’s no secret that the compact SUV space is on fire. Buyers want CUVs, and manufacturers are lining up left and right to give them options to suit any lifestyle. Mazda flew us to Los Angeles to experience their version of the industry’s new volume darling. Does it deliver on the “Driving Matters” formula?

    What is it?

    As is frequently the case when it comes to this segment, this question borders on the existential. Whereas the class directly above the CX-3 is largely based on midsize sedans, it, like most other compact CUVs, is based on a global subcompact platform–in this case, the Mazda2′s architecture. The CX-3, then, is a dimensional ‘tweener.

    You’ll find the most prominent evidence of these roots in its wheelbase (101.2″) and its rear suspension (a torsion bar, rather than the Mazda3′s larger, more sophisticated and heavier independent rear setup). As is typically the case in this segment, the CX-3 makes up in vertical space what it gives up in length. On paper, the CX-3′s interior room is lesser than that of a Mazda3 5-Door’s, but in the real world, it doesn’t feel that way.

    The CX-3′s subcompact DNA is apparent in its powertrain too. There’s only one engine option–a 2.0L SkyActiv four-cylinder making 146 horsepower at 6,000 RPM and 146 lb-ft of torque at 2,800 RPM–and, in the U.S. at least, only one transmission. Buyers have their choice of front- or all-wheel-drive across all three trims (Sport, Touring and Grand Touring) but power gets to the wheels by way of a six-speed automatic no matter what.

    One of Mazda’s primary goals for the CX-3 was best-in-class fuel economy. Front-wheel-drive models are good for 29 mpg in the city and 35 mpg highway; all-wheel-drive drops that to 27/32–edging out the Honda HR-V just slightly in FWD form and matching it with AWD.

    What’s it up against?

    The compact CUV segment seems to grow more crowded by the month. The CX-3′s competition includes the Chevrolet Trax, Jeep Renegade, Fiat 500X and Honda HR-V. All signs point to continued growth in this segment, and Mazda expects the CX-3 to become a core model for the brand right off the bat, adding yet more reliable volume to its current foundation of volume sellers (the Mazda3, Mazda6, CX-5 and CX-9).

    What does it look like?

    Mazda’s product planners insist that their goal was not to create a “small CX-5,” but brand DNA is brand DNA. Mazda’s signature headlight design flanks the corporate grille up front, giving the CX-3 that same “elephant without a trunk” face found on its big brother.

    The CX-5′s contrast-colored fender outlines also carried over, and while they convey a rugged, off-road-ready look on the midsize CUV, they tend to make the CX-3 look more hunkered-down and aggressive. Rather than making the arches look bigger, they tend to flatter the wheels, both shrinking the CX-3′s external presence and giving it more of a wheels-at-the-corners look.

    Mazda took the swept and aggressive styling one step further by blacking out the C-to-D pillar section, giving the CX-3 a look similar to that of Nissan’s new “floating roof” design on the Murano and Maxima. Here, it again makes what would otherwise be a very upright design look longer and lower. It may be gimmicky, but it works. The CX-3 is handsome, wearing its proportions about as well as could be asked of a car in this size and price class.

    The CX-3′s list of exterior features isn’t extensive, but the base 16″ wheels can be upgraded to segment-topping 18″ alloys if customers are so inclined (16″ wheels are standard through the Touring trim; only GTs get the 18″ multi-spokes) and touches such as brightwork on the lower body cladding are also available at higher trims.

    And the inside?

    Mazda is no stranger to attractive exterior design (forget for a moment the Nagare era; in fact, Mazda would likely prefer that you did permanently) but impressive interiors are still new and interesting facets of Mazda’s product philosophy. Despite its lower-tier positioning within the lineup, Mazda didn’t skimp on the CX-3′s interior. In fact, in many ways, it may be one of the automaker’s most robust efforts.

    One of the most significant visual centerpieces of an automotive interior is the seating surfaces, and Mazda hit a home-run here. Regardless of trim (cloth on Sport, leatherette on Touring and leatherette + leather on Grand Touring), the seats have a premium look and feel. The bolsters are supportive but unobtrusive. Most importantly, the seats are comfortable on long trips. Even the more attractive seats in some of Mazda’s older products lacked the support and comfort most people want on long hauls, but the CX-3′s front buckets kept us comfortable and left us feeling fresh after hours of Southern California cruising.

    Mazda’s new, high-mounted, seven-inch touchscreen is featured prominently here as it is elsewhere in the lineup. It’s standard across all three trims, paving the way for one of Mazda’s “killer-app” features: any CX-3, regardless of trim or initial build options, can be upgraded with factory navigation at the dealer with the installation of a $400 module.

    Mazda Connect (Mazda’s name for the infotainment suite) is also compatible with Aha, Pandora and Sticher straight out of the box. The CX-3 is also compatible with Mazda’s new Mobile Start app, allowing drivers to remotely manipulate many features (including the ignition, as the name suggests) from their smartphones, however a subscription to the service is required.

    Other noteworthy standard features include a rear-view camera and keyless entry, with advanced (hands-free) keyless entry available on Touring and Grand Touring models. Mazda’s i-ActivSense safety suite is also available on Grand Touring models, bringing with it features such as lane departure warning and forward collision assist. Adaptive front lighting is also standard on the GT.

    Does it go?

    So is it a car, or a crossover? The seating position and powertrain options all point to the latter, but things get a bit murkier when you hit the open road.

    The formula for nimble handling is not too complicated: pair a short wheelbase with a low curb weight and a reasonable level of roll stiffness and you have the fundamentals of a chassis that can turn corners. Mazda knows this, and they exploited that knowledge here to great effect.

    How light is the CX-3? Very, for a CUV; reasonably, for a compact; not, for a subcompact. Context is king here. Comparing base models with automatic transmissions, the CX-3 is 500lbs lighter than the CX-5, 100lbs lighter than the Mazda3 and 400lbs heavier than the Scion iA. Why the iA? Simple, it’s a Mazda2 in a world where we don’t get the Mazda2.

    So, does it go? Yes, it does, at least as well as can be expected from a ~145-horsepower car that weighs at least 2,800lbs. Mazda gave us a drive loop that took us up and down the Mulholland Highway outside Malibu more times than we could count, and coaxing the CX-3 through tight switchbacks proved easier and more rewarding than its numbers may suggest.

    It’s no MX-5, mind you, but the CX-3 handled sharp transitions with aplomb, willingly shaking its rear end loose with throttle-lift even with the stability control system fully enabled. Rapid upward changes in elevation required a lot of time in second gear, lest the small engine be caught well outside its powerband on corner exits, which made for buzzy driving. On a faster road where the CX-3 could maintain a little more momentum (say, Angeles Crest), this would have been less pronounced.

    We were also impressed by the CX-3′s i-Activ all-wheel-drive. Mazda claims it is “predictive,” and we had a hard time getting it to misbehave. It does not feature torque vectoring (a rarity in this segment outside of the Nissan Juke), but it synergized nicely with our driving style, allowing us to power out of tight corners enthusiastically after inducing rotation.

    Leftlane’s bottom line

    The CX-3 is an excellent compact CUV that is still quintessentially Mazda. It’s comfortable enough, quick enough and stylish enough to be right at home in any driveway (or on any curbside) where practicality and fun are appreciated in equal proportion.

    2016 Mazda CX-3 Sport, $19,960; Destination, $880
    2016 Mazda CX-3 Touring, $21,960; i-Active all-wheel drive, $1,250; Destination, $880 (As-tested price: $24,090)
    2016 Mazda CX-3 Grand Touring, $24,990; i-Active all-wheel drive, $1,250; i-ACTIVSENSE safety package, $1,920; Destination, $880 (As-tested price: $26,010)

    Exterior photos by Byron Hurd. Interior pictures courtesy of Mazda.

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  • Jaguar highlights F-Pace ‘extreme’ testing

    July 29, 2015
    Jaguar has highlighted the ‘extreme’ testing process for the upcoming F-Pace crossover.

    The company took pre-production prototypes to Dubai, exposing the crossover to ambient temperatures exceeding 122°F and interior temperatures rising as high as 158°F in direct sunlight.

    At the other end of the spectrum, Jaguar Land Rover’s test facility in Arjeplog, Northern Sweden, allowed engineers to test the F-Pace in extreme cold and refine its all-wheel-drive system in a variety of conditions. The site includes mountain climbs, inclines, split-friction straights and off-road areas.

    The cold- and hot-weather testing is typical for any new car. The F-Pace has presumably spent time at a few of JLR’s other international test facilities, such as the Nurburgring or in Phoenix or International Falls.

    “We developed the F-PACE to offer the ride, handling and refinement demanded from a Jaguar car, together with new levels of ability and composure on a variety of surfaces and weather conditions,” said F-Pace program director Andrew Whyman.

    Perhaps more importantly, the latest announcement was accompanied by images of a few lightly-camouflaged prototypes driving on the snow and cruising around desert roads.

    The F-Pace is set to make its formal debut during the Frankfurt show in September, ahead of market arrival sometime next year.

  • Average vehicle age in U.S. hits new high

    July 29, 2015
    Despite ever growing new car sales, the average age of all light vehicles in operation in the United States has crept up to an all-time high of 11.5 years.

    Using a snapshot of data taken from January 1 of this year, IHS Automotive discovered that the average vehicle age in the United States now stands at 11.5 years. That figure is the highest IHS has ever recorded.

    Registrations for vehicles in operation, or VIO, also hit a record high this year with 257,900,000 cars and trucks now on our roads. That’s up more than 2 percent, or roughly 5.3 million vehicles, from a year earlier.

    Not surprising given those figures, the average length of vehicle ownership is also up in the United States. New car buyers now hold on to their vehicles for 77.8 months while used car buyers retain their vehicles for 63 months on average. Those figures are up a whopping 26 months and 25 months, respectively, compared to the first quarter of 2006.

    IHS predicts that the average vehicle age will hit 11.6 years in 2016 before inching up to 11.7 years in 2018.