• Daimler voices optimism in China despite economic trouble

    August 24, 2015
    Daimler has remained upbeat about its prospects in China, despite more looming economic trouble in the world’s largest automotive market.

    Another sharp drop in the Shanghai Composite Index today has sent ripples across global markets. The event has raised more questions regarding China’s broader economic prospects in the near term.

    “I am still positive subject to some stabilization of the stock market,” said Daimler China head Hubertus Troska, as quoted by Bloomberg.

    Overall auto sales in China hit a 17-month low July, before the stock market took an even steeper dive, but Daimler forecasts sustained growth for its luxury vehicles in the country. Troska is confident that the German automaker can handily beat its goal of 300,000 units for the year.

    Strong demand in the first half of the year may have given Mercedes-Benz a buffer, as collective deliveries through July are up by 22 percent compared to the same period in 2014. The Bloomberg report also suggests Mercedes-Benz is handling the downturn better than rivals Audi and BMW.

    Image by Ronan Glon.

  • Review: 2015 Ford F-150 SuperCrew Cab 4×4 Platinum

    August 24, 2015

    10-million miles. That’s certainly a long row to hoe. Even if those miles were lab-simulated, it still makes up for quite a distance. Toss in a running of the World-famous Baja 1000 off-road race in Mexico for good measure, and soon you’re facing quite a torture test. According to the folks at Ford Motor Company, and their new aluminum 2015 Ford F-150 Platinum, it’s just another day at the office.

    As for the Baja 1000 race truck, it was a case of hiding in plain sight as Ford stamped out aluminum body parts in the shape of the previous years’ 2014 Ford F-150 to test for rigidity and durability in this most treacherous of off-road races. Read on to find out how that sort of torture translates to daily on-the-road use.

    What is it?
    The Ford F-150 SuperCrew FX4 Platinum is the largest version of the country’s best-selling full-sized pickup truck. With seating for five (or possibly six) passengers in its aluminum-paneled body, it is the next big thing in big trucks. Powered by Ford’s 3.5-liter EcoBoost twin turbocharged and direct injected V6 engine, it produces 365 horsepower and 420 lb-ft of torque. This engine is matched to a six-speed automatic Selectshift transmission with sport and tow/haul capabilities. Using a tap-to-shift switch on the side of the gear selector lever, the driver can toggle his or her way up or down the gear range.

    Our Platinum was also ordered with the available four-wheel-drive system that offered 2-H, 4-H, 4-L and 4-Automatic from its transfer case.

    This F-150 rode on a fully-boxed steel frame. The suspension was comprised of coil-on-shocks with double wishbones in front, while a leaf spring kit with outboard shocks brought up the rear. Steering was handled by an electric power-assisted rack and pinion system, which offered surprisingly tactile road feel.

    Having gone on a diet to the tune of 700-pounds, thanks to its aluminum clad-body, Ford claims the F-150 to be more capable than the previous generation and its competition. Which, in the grand scheme of things, is good for a trailer carrying up to 12,200-pounds of payload, not to mention cargo bed contents weighing up to 3,180-pounds. When mentioning the trailering, we can’t forget the rear-view camera tow hitch assist, which lines the driver properly with the trailer tongue for quick and easy hitching.

    Other extras included the trailer tow package are an available 3.31 axle ratio and 7,000-pound GVWR package. An FX4 kit supplied skid plates and other off-road features, including an electronic locking rear axle, along with foldable pickup bed extenders. Ford’s innovative box side steps, and BoxLink attachment system, as well as a spray-in bed liner, helped to make the 5.5-foot cargo box more functional.

    While our sampler included the top shelf 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6, it can also be ordered with a 5.0-liter 385-horsepower V8. Lesser F-150 models can be had with a base 3.5-liter 282-horsepower naturally aspirated V6 and a 2.7-liter 325-horsepower EcoBoost V6.

    What’s it up against?
    The 2015 F-150 goes up against the other stars of the segment, which include the Ram 1500, GMC Sierra, Chevrolet Silverado 1500, and the Toyota Tundra. While all are similarly styled, some have more capabilities than others.

    How does it look?
    Versatility is built into every F-150, and if you cannot find a version to suit your needs, then you’re not trying hard enough. Remodeled for 2015 with various subtleties including redesigned headlamps and a bolder front grill, Ford’s bread and butter truck can be ordered in Regular, SuperCab (extended) and SuperCrew cab (four-door) configurations. But it doesn’t end there. Three sizes of boxes are available including 5.5-, 6.5- and 8.0-foot lengths.

    And if that’s not exhausting enough, the F150 is available in five trim levels ranging from base XL, XLT, Lariat, King Ranch and our Platinum edition. Speaking of the Platinum edition, it featured virtually every option offered by the Blue Oval, including automatically stowing running boards, chrome-capped rearview mirrors, a bolder mesh-inlaid grill, chromed tow hooks and 20-inch polished alloy wheels, not to mention the blinged-out look of a polished Platinum tailgate.

    Incidentally, similar features adorn the King Ranch model, which features a more rustic (and Gamier) vibe than the city slicker feel found in the Platinum edition. Ford will further extend the luxury reach of the F-150 for the 2016 model year with the addition of the flagship Limited trim.

    And the inside?
    Owing to the importance that owners place on the interior capabilities of their trucks, Ford’s designers made sure that no stone was unturned in an effort to make the F-150′s interior as functional as possible. There are the two eight-inch configurable displays, one behind the steering wheel, while the other resides in the center console. And the adjustable pedals, working in concert with the tilt and telescoping steering wheel, assure that drivers of all sizes will find a comfortable driving position. And we can’t forget Ford’s Sync with MyFord Touch and the premium Sony audio system, either. Check, check and check, again. But moving further, they have included 110-V household outlets so an operator can plug his or her laptop or charge up their phone using “regular” electricity.

    The under-elbow armrest opens and has a large enough capacity to store that same laptop computer or hang file folders during a busy workweek.

    But just to make sure this F-150 Platinum SuperCrew cab is nobody’s lunchmeat, Ford has made it a place to hang out in as well. Heated and ventilated front seats add comfort for the long haul, and while rear seat passengers may not be so lucky in warmer climates, they can still flick their seat heaters while in the throws of winter. No rear seat passengers you say? Then flip up the seat bottom for added interior cargo hauling capacity.

    But does it go?
    A luxury car that doesn’t realize that it’s really a pickup truck, the F-150 4×4 Platinum SuperCrew cab is one of the most durable pickups on the road today. Well turned out, and powered by the extremely capable 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6, it is powerful but still presents a quiet environment inside.

    Acceleration from the boosted V6 was very stout. The full 420 lb-ft of torque appeared as low as 2,500 rpm, and carried on skyward from there. The problem being that traffic was so heavy that we got nowhere fast. But under heavy acceleration, to the tune of 0-60 in just under six-seconds, very little in the way of extraneous outside noise managed to work its way in, except for the audio system-enhanced growl. Still, it’s quite a feat considering the large sideview trailering mirrors.

    Excellent steering from the EPAS system supplied great road feel that was boosted at slow speeds but firmed up as velocity increased. The suspension glossed over any road imperfections that would have normally disrupted more mortal rides.

    We liked the bird’s eye view camera that offered 360-degree coverage by “stitching” together images from camera lenses located on the grill, tailgate, and under each of the sideview mirrors.

    At 5,570-pounds, this half-tonner is no lightweight. The EPA says 17-city / 23-highway, 19 average. We say 16 mpg was the average we maintained, especially under a heavily-footed throttle.

    Leftlane’s bottom line
    Not content to leave well enough alone, but walking a tight rope to make sure that they don’t screw things up, Ford pushes the envelope on their most important vehicle ever. In this case, they have succeeded in both regards, by making the F150 SuperCrew Cab the most capable half-ton pickup truck in their history. If you can’t find a suitable truck in this lineup, chances are it does not exist.

    2015 Ford F-150 SuperCrew Cab 4×4 Platinum base price, $54,385. As tested, $62,220.
    Equipment Group 701A with Platinum Series, Technology package, Adaptive Cruise Control, Tailgate Step, $2,540; Ruby Red Clearcoat, $395; 3.5-liter Ecoboost V6 engine, $400; 3.31 Electronic lock Rear Axle, N/C; Twin-panel Moonroof, $1,295; Trailer Tow Package, $495; FX4 Off-road package, $770; Foldable pickup bed extender, $250; Box Side Steps, $325; 36-gallon Extended Range Fuel Tank, $195; Spray in Bed Liner, $475; Destination and Delivery, $1,195; Platinum Luxury Discount, -$500.

    Photos by Mark Elias.

  • GM recalls Chevrolet Cobalt to fix airbag wiring

    August 24, 2015
    General Motors has issued another airbag-related recall, now for the 2010 Chevrolet Cobalt.

    The company suggests an airbag-sensor wiring harness may have been improperly routed during assembly. The wires can then contact the window regulator and eventually cause an electrical short, potentially preventing the side-curtain airbag from properly deploying.

    “A disabled driver side roof-rail air bag will not deploy in the event of a crash necessitating deployment of that air bag, increasing the risk of injury to the driver,” the recall documents note.

    The company first opened an investigation in January after reviewing warranty data associated with the side-curtain airbag wiring. The problem was traced to a six-month manufacturing period.

    Service technicians will inspect the vehicle and install new wiring components if the routing is incorrect.

  • Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive to get double range?

    August 24, 2015

    Mercedes-Benz is reportedly preparing a significant upgrade for its B-Class Electric Drive.

    The company is developing a new powertrain that will more than double the EV’s electric range, potentially jumping to around 500 km (311 miles), unnamed sources have told Auto Motor und Sport.

    The figure appears to be based on the European range estimate, suggesting an EPA-derived number would be lower. Extrapolating the range jump compared to the current model’s 87-mile EPA estimate points to a distance of around 218 miles.

    The company sources the B-Class EV’s battery, motor and power-delivery components from Tesla Motors, however the latest report suggests the new drivetrain will be designed in-house and the batteries will come from a new supplier.

    Daimler in 2013 voiced interest in expanding its collaborative partnership with the California-based startup, sparking rumors of a plug-in hybrid C-Class outfitted with Tesla batteries. The rumors have not yet come to fruition, and the German automaker eventually sold its 4.3-percent stake in Tesla.

  • Jaguar working on family of SUVs, including Audi Q1 rival

    August 24, 2015
    Jaguar is reportedly working on a family of SUVs to follow the F-Pace onto the market in the coming years.

    The company is said to see more financial opportunity in a small SUV rather than developing a smaller car. Corroborating previous reports, the range is expected to include a small model with approximately the same dimensions as Audi’s Q1, according to an Autocar report.

    Contradicting earlier rumors, the latest sources claim Jaguar backed away from plans to build a three-row SUV larger than the F-Pace. The British automaker is said to be instead focusing on sportiness for the whole family, potentially inspiring more than one coupe-like variant with a streamlined profile.

    Naturally, the company’s Special Vehicle Operations division is said to be planning high-performance packages that will carry R and SVR badges. An all-electric SUV is also believed to be int he works, eventually serving as a direct competitor to the Tesla Model X.

    Previous reports suggest two of the new crossovers will arrive on the market before the end of the decade.