• Former Toyota exec avoids drug-trafficking charges

    July 7, 2015
    Former Toyota executive Julie Hamp has reportedly avoided drug-trafficking charges for allegedly trafficking prescription drugs into Japan.
    Authorities had accused Hamp, a US citizen, of hiding oxycodone pills in a shipment labeled “necklaces,” in violation of Japan’s strict narcotics regulations. The pills are said to have been scattered throughout the package of accessories, rather than placed in a traditional prescription bottle.

    After resigning from her post as head of corporate communications, Hamp no longer faces the threat of a formal indictment, according to Kyodo News. Unnamed sources suggest prosecutors lacked enough evidence to move forward with formal charges.

    Officials are said to have considered her action “not malicious” and took into consideration her resignation from the Japanese automaker. She was subsequently released from detention, more than two weeks after her initial arrest.

    Toyota has said it intends to “learn from this incident,” suggesting other expats may now be less likely to make the same mistakes. Japan is said to have relatively strict regulations surrounding importation of narcotic prescriptions, even when visitors have a prescription in their home country.

  • VW recalls new Passat to tighten brake lines

    July 7, 2015
    Volkswagen has issued a recall for the 2015 Passat, some of which left the factory with brake lines that weren’t properly secured.
    Workers in late May discovered a problem with a torque wrench during a routine inspection. Failing internally, the tool did not apply the specified torque and incorrectly recorded a proper torque setting.

    Luckily the brake-line wrench is checked daily, limiting the scope of the recall to just 62 units.

    Affected vehicles may experience brake-fluid seepage at the rear left wheel. The line could eventually loosen, reducing braking performance and extending stopping distance.

    “If a customer notices a wet spot under the vehicle after parking in the area of the left (driver’s side) rear wheel, it may mean that the affected fitting is leaking brake fluid,” the recall documents note.

    Technicians will inspect the fittings and tighten the connectors to the proper torque setting.

  • Spied: 2016 Toyota Prius

    July 7, 2015

    Toyota’s next-generation Prius hybrid has been spotted for the first time while undergoing shakedown testing in Southern California. Already delayed by about six months, the new Prius, which will be designated as a 2016 model, is slated to be unveiled later this year.
    The 2016 Prius will usher in a new modular platform that will underpin a number of future Toyota cars and crossovers. The new platform was designed with mid-size vehicles in mind, so expect the next Prius to grow slightly in overall size.

    The Prius’ 2016 redesign will also include all-new sheet metal. Although the Prius’ signature silhouette will remain, it looks like the hatchback treatment has been toned down for this new model. The 2016 Prius is expected to lift some of it’s design cues from the Mirai fuel-cell vehicle, which isn’t necessarily a good thing.

    Powering the 2016 Prius will be an updated version of Toyota’s Synergy hybrid system. Although many competitors have switched to lithium-ion power, Toyota will stick with its tried and true nickel metal hydride batteries. Despite its old school approach, Toyota is targeting a 10 percent improvement in overall economy, which would net a 55mpg combined rating.

    It’s also believed that Toyota will offer the Prius with some form of electric all-wheel drive. That approach should help the Prius’ chances in regions prone to snow. A plug-in version of the new Prius is also being developed, but that model won’t bow until some time in 2016.

    Look for the 2016 Toyota Prius to greet the public for the first time at the Los Angeles auto show later this year.

  • Review: 2015 Alfa Romeo 4C

    July 7, 2015

    Before there was Ferrari, Alfa Romeo used to terrorize the racetrack. One Enzo Ferrari even drove for the team. He went independent in 1939, with his Scuderia Ferrari racing team, and has thrived ever since.
    Unfortunately the same could not be said for Alfa Romeo, at least in the North American market. Through a series of fits and starts, with interim ownership by the Italian government and later by Fiat, the brand struggled financially. With Fiat’s buyback of Maserati from Ferrari, the idea was to leverage the best from both brands to include engines, platforms and dealerships. That included a merger with Chrysler, which eventually became the FCA group, and a resurgence of the Alfa Romeo brand. The 2015 Alfa Romeo 4C is the first of the new generation to land in the new world. Gently squeeze in as we find out more about this handsome Italian.

    What is it?
    A product of Maserati’s Modena works, the Alfa Romeo 4C is an homage to Italian racers past, and a fully up-to-date and functional personal sports coupe that thinks it’s a supercar, but on a smaller scale.

    A transverse-mounted, mid-engine, rear-wheel-drive sportscar made with a carbon fiber and aluminum monocoque chassis, it is covered by a high-strength composite bodyshell. The 4C gets its oomph from a 1742cc displacement turbocharged and intercooled four-cylinder engine that includes direct-injection, as well as a sequential multiport injection system. The net result is 237 horsepower at 6,000 rpm, and 258 lb-feet of torque between 2,200 and 4,250 rpm.

    The EPA estimates you will see mileage ratings of 24 city/34 highway, and 28 combined.

    This potent four-pot system sends the power to the pavement through Alfa’s twin-clutch transmission with sequential paddle shift levers, which also includes an auto/manual mode settings. If a car’s cool factor were judged by the quirkiness that comes with it, the Alfa would finish in P-1. There is no P-for-park setting on the gearbox. Instead, a driver will pull into a garage spot, select the “N for Neutral” setting and then activate the lever-actuated emergency/parking brake.

    The 4C rides on a suspension that is made up of double wishbone high-strength steel tubular control arms with aluminum knuckle parts and a tubular anti-roll bar in front, and a MacPherson rear strut shock absorber system with hollow piston rod and side load springs again with high-strength steel control arms and aluminum knuckles. Stopping power at all four corners is through a Brembo performance braking system.

    To get a driver’s Popeye arms in shape, the Alfa is without power steering. Instead it is equipped with a totally manual rack and pinion set up which seemed a little disconcerting at first but quickly became familiar. Requiring strong effort while the car is stationary, it quickly became a non-issue once at speed.

    What’s it up against?
    Competition for the Alfa Romeo 4C is rather sparse, but it’s out there. Direct competitors include the Porsche Cayman and Boxster, which are both mid-engined, rear-wheel-drive sportscars. Others to consider include the new C7 Corvette Stingray, and the BMW M4.

    How does it look?
    Evoking the spirit of the 1967 Alfa Romeo 33 Stradale, and its contemporary, the Dino Ferrari, there is no mistaking the 4C’s Italian Alfa Romeo roots and heritage. It even bears a passing similarity to the Lotus Exige and Evora. Using supercar and aircraft technologies, Alfa has designed the 4C to incorporate carbon fiber, aluminum and composite materials to make the coupe that is seen here, or the removable top Spider version, which will be available shortly. All in, there will be 1,200 copies earmarked for U.S. delivery.

    The classic Alfa Romeo seal on the nose flares out to receive broad shoulders and wide hips on this absolutely race-come road car. Open the driver’s side door for access to the engine cover latch that reveals the 1.75-liter engine and you’ll also find the small (3.7-cubic feet) storage area in back, which looks as though it’s about the size of a Rubbermaid brand Roughneck container. Pack lightly and you’ll be ok; this is storage that will barely accommodate enough clothing for a three-hour tour. Think Gilligan’s Island. You’ve heard of it, right?

    At the end of the day, though, we come to the realization that there is nothing here that screams boy-racer. No “Because racecar” style intakes or fake portholes and such. If it’s on this car, there is a reason for its being.

    And the inside?
    Getting into the 4C is an exercise in finesse. From the driver’s position, step over the wide carbon fiber doorsill to secure your footing. Then gently lower yourself into the seat. And in one cool move, not to embarrass yourself, twist your torso inward and lift your left leg over the sill to join the other one in the foot box. Wasn’t that graceful?

    Once inside, most drivers will find a rather accommodating cockpit with generous legroom for both the driver and the passenger. The two leather and microfiber-covered sport seats don’t offer much in the way of recline, although they do run back and forth on a track to get closer or further away from the pedals. Since our tester featured the $2,750 leather package, it was covered in bovine material from left to right and front to rear. Luckily, it didn’t do much to drown out the high-pitched rasp that was emitted from the available racing exhaust package.

    We were disappointed by the rather rudimentary audio system that featured removable panels from the dashboard. Getting connected to the Bluetooth system was no easy task either, although this deck did allow for SD card input, lineout input, and Smartphone connectivity via a cable. Once we did connect our iPhone to the Bluetooth, we were able to live stream our Sirius XM app into the system. Our tester did not include a navigation option either, so once again, we relied on our smartphone and Google maps to find our way.

    But does it go?
    A rip-roaring ride in what feels like a baby Maserati or Ferrari, it is an absolute joy to drive, but it’s not without its flaws. The manual steering system and its suspension geometry have an up- and a downside. The up being the Alfa lets you know exactly what’s going on between you and the road surface, as if you were driving a Tony Kart shifter cart. The downside is that it shows schizophrenic behavior when it skitters about, on imperfect roads that have been grooved by big rig tractor-trailers. Additionally, the 18- and 19-inch P-Zero low-profile tires tend to drone on with their constant tales of road woe, despite their superior grippage. The net result is that some may only be able to take the Alfa 4C in small doses.

    Driving this redheaded Italian shows a car that rewards subtlety. Gentle inputs are appreciated and really give you the feeling and the confidence to drive it hard, whether accelerating briskly on a secondary road, or when pulling a downshift paddle lever to feel the rev matching that occurs before diving into a turn. And the note coming from the high performance exhaust system only adds to the overall effect. Acceleration from this 2,490-pound road rocket displayed amazing ability, going from 0 to 60 in 4.2 seconds and hitting the terminal speed of 160 mph, in which case the engine cuts off to protect it from itself.

    The dual clutch automatic/manual gearbox offered immediate shifting, which is followed by an upward whine of the engine and the brrrrap that accompanies the toss to the next cog. Remember to keep your eyes up the road, lest the curves of the front wings attract your attention just a little too much. Take care of this girl, and she’ll take care of you.

    Leftlane’s bottom line
    Ferrari is not the only Italian that looks good as a redhead. The Alfa Romeo 4C offers much in the way of good looks, relative power, handling and speed, all for a very reasonable starting price. Sure, there are more refined examples in this segment out there, but not many will have you seeing red like this one.

    2015 Alfa Romeo 4C base price, $53,900. As tested, $69,145.
    Convenience Package, $1,800; Track Package, $2,400; Leather Package, $2,750; Red Brake Calipers, $300; Bi-Xenon Headlamps, $1,000; Sport Seats with Microfiber, $1,500; Rosso Alfa Paint, $700; P-Zero tires, $1,200; 18 & 19-inch staggered wheel set, $1,800; Racing Exhaust, $500; Destination fee, $1,295.

    Photos by Mark Elias. Location courtesy of Naomi Baldino and VidaJets.

    • Aesthetics


    • Technology


    • Green


    • Drive


    • Value


    • Score


  • Red Bull, Aston Martin collaborating on new hyper car?

    July 7, 2015
    Red Bull is rumored to be collaborating with Aston Martin on a new hyper car that would rival the McLaren P1 GTR and Ferrari FXX K. The latest entrant into the high-performance car market could be ready as soon as 2018.
    According to Autocar, Adrian Newey, the chief technical officer of Red Bull Racing’s F1 team, is currently developing a new hyper car with significant input from Aston Martin’s engineering team. The project is reportedly well into the development stage, with styling of the car already being discussed.

    Although Newey is an employee of Red Bull Racing, the project is being undertaken by Red Bull Technologies, which is a separate entity from the company’s F1 efforts. However, the reported tie-up on the road car could indicate the two sides are close to inking a racing contract.

    Few details about the project are known, but the hyper car could borrow engines and electronics from Mercedes-Benz AMG division per a partnership between the German automaker and Aston Martin. It’s possible that the Red Bull car could be a track-only vehicle, but Newey is said to be leaning toward a road-legal machine to emulate Gordon Murray’s McLaren F1.

    “It’s something that Adrian is keen to do as a legacy project,” Red Bull Racing head Christian Horner told Autocar. “At the moment our focus is on being a Formula 1 constructor, but as we see more technology cross over with the road car market, it’s something that will organically grow.”

    If the project moves forward, the Red Bull car will share some components with the Aston Martin Vulcan (pictured), but the two sides are said to be eager to keep the two vehicles as separate as possible.

    Photos by Ronan Glon.