• Fisker changes name to Karma Automotive

    October 1, 2015
    Fisker Automotive has officially changed its company name to Karma Automotive.

    Now under the wing of China’s Wanxiang Group, the automaker appears to have completely dropped the Fisker branding. The company had been founder Henrik Fisker’s namesake, however the famed designer resigned in 2013 amid bankruptcy proceedings.

    “Why Karma? It’s in our DNA. It’s a name that respects our past, while simultaneously reinventing our future,” the new website says. “We will deliver a unique combination of advanced-technology with timeless design … We don’t have to do things as anyone has done them before.”

    Despite the promise of a fresh start, the company’s hybrid car, also known as the Karma, will likely keep the same exterior design as it had when entering the market four years ago. Its powertrain will be updated, however, with a driving range of 350 miles on a single tank of gasoline and an all-electric range of 50 miles, according to Bloomberg.

    The company is said to be run by 300 employees as it attempts to restart production. The workers are based in California, where the headquarters and production facilities are both located.

    A time-frame for market arrival is unclear, though previous reports suggest Karma Automotive is aiming for a 2016 launch.

  • Mitsubishi Lancer gets new look, better value for 2016

    October 1, 2015

    Mitsubishi’s Lancer has received a facelift and revised option packages for the 2016 model year.

    The sedan features a new front fascia with LED daytime running light strips placed in the reshaped foglight surrounds. The bumper has a slightly more angular shape, while the lower grille has been tweaked with less chrome than the 2015 model.

    The base price has been increased by a modest $200 to $17,595, however Mitsubishi claims the entry-level Lancer now ships with a much longer list of standard features. The ES trim adds a voice-recognition system, automatic climate control, fog lights, alloy wheels and the new LED DRLs.

    Buyers looking for all-wheel drive can step up to the SE trim, while the SEL package adds leather seats, rain-sensing wipers and an auto-dimming mirror, among other features.

    The GT variant is the sportiest of the standard Lancers, featuring sport-tuned suspension, larger brakes, 18-inch two-tone alloy wheels, sunroof, spoiler and a choice between a five-speed manual gearbox or a new-generation continuously variable transmission.

    Other changes for 2016 include new seat fabrics, a revamped center console with integrated USB, and Diamond White Pearl and Alloy Silver in the exterior color palette.

    The company has not yet announced a specific launch date for the facelifted Lancer.

  • Ford issues six recalls ranging from new F-150 to old Windstar

    October 1, 2015
    Ford has detailed six new recalls, addressing five safety defects and one non-compliance issue.

    Starting with the newest vehicles, the 2016 Fusion and Lincoln MKZ have been outfitted with fuel tanks that are prone to crack in a crash. Only 708 North American vehicles are affected by the problem, which violates federal safety regulations.

    The company is also recalling the 2016 F-53 and F-59 stripped chassis vehicles for potential issues with the shift control bracket. The component may not have been manufactured properly, allowing the transmission to shift into reverse without first applying the brakes.

    Another small-batch recall, affecting just a few hundred units, focuses on the fuel-tank attachment bolts in the 2015 Taurus and Lincoln MKS and 2016 Explorer. The bolts may not have been tightened properly, allowing the tank to separate from the vehicle and leak fuel.

    Approximately 37,000 F-150 pickups from the 2015 model year will receive a software reflash to fix a glitch with the adaptive cruise control software. The problem causes automatic braking when passing a large, highly reflective truck, misinterpreting the truck as being in the F-150′s lane of travel. At least one accident has been blamed on the glitch.

    Going further back in time, the 2001-2008 Escape and Mercury Mariner with remanufactured transmissions may have been equipped with a loose shift-lever control bolt. The problem can eventually cause the shift lever to disengage from the transmission.

    A “small number of accidents” have been blamed on another defect that affects approximately 340,000 Windstar minivans. Corrosion can eventually cause the rear axle to crack and completely fracture. The problem had already been addressed via an earlier campaign, which added a bracket to reduce the safety risk, however some of the brackets may not have been installed properly.

    All six campaigns affect a total of approximately 380,000 vehicles.

  • Porsche promotes production head Oliver Blume to serve as CEO

    October 1, 2015
    Porsche has appointed Dr. Oliver Blume to succeed Matthias Mueller as chief executive officer.

    Blume currently serves as a member of the executive board responsible for production and logistics, a role he took in 2013 after serving as the production-planning head for the Volkswagen brand. The executive has worked within the VW Group for more than 20 years, mostly as part of Audi’s production management team.

    Mueller left an open seat at Porsche after taking the reins at Volkswagen amid the emissions-cheating scandal, which led to the ouster of former chief executive Martin Winterkorn.

    Porsche also appointed chief financial officer Lutz Meschke to serve as Blume’s deputy, while the brand’s North America CEO, Detlev von Platen, will take a new role as sales and marketing chief.

    Further shakeups within VW Group’s executive ranks could be announced in the coming months as the company continues its internal investigation into the emissions crisis.

  • Review: 2015 Mercedes-Benz GL450 4MATIC

    October 1, 2015

    There has been a sudden race to the top in the luxury utility market. Within the last few months the like of Lamborghini, Bentley and even Rolls-Royce have announced plans to build SUVs for the world’s super wealthy.

    But it’s not exactly like well-heeled shoppers are hurting for options right now — if you’ve got nearly $100,000 burning a hole in your pocket, there are plenty of flagships SUVs available at one of your local dealerships, including the Mercedes-Benz GL450 you see here. So, should the Titans of Industry wait on the forthcoming crop of ultra luxury SUVs, or will today’s GL satisfy their sweet tooth for wood and leather? Come with is as we find out.

    What is it?
    Hailing as Mercedes-Benz’s flagship SUV, the GL is positioned as a utility alternative to the S-Class sedan. In fact, Mercedes will soon rename the GL as the GLS, better reflecting its top billing alongside the S-Class.

    Size is certainly an element of a flagship luxury vehicle and the GL doesn’t disappoint on that front. Comparable in size to other full-size SUVs like the Cadillac Escalade, the GL is an impressive sight to behold. That large footprint translates into a spacious cabin that can accommodate up to seven passengers in three rows.

    But unlike the Escalade, the GL rides on a unibody platform, giving it a ride that is more car-like than truck-like. The GL also makes use of advanced drivetrains like the twin-turbo 3.0L V6 and seven-speed automatic transmission seen in our tester. The GL can also be had with a 3.0L turbodiesel and a more powerful 4.7L twin-turbo V8. For those crazed individuals interested in frightening the entire family, a high-performance GL63 AMG with 550 horsepower on tap is also available.

    What’s it up against?
    The GL’s chief rivals include the Audi Q7, Lexus LX570, Infiniti QX80 and Land Rover Range Rover. Buyers are also likely to consider the three-row Range Rover Sport, the aforementioned Cadillac Escalade and BMW’s X5. Environmentally conscious shoppers might also take a peek at the Tesla Model X.

    How does it look?
    The GL is one of the older vehicles in the Mercedes fleet, and its exterior styling is starting to reflect that fact. The GL is still handsome, but it’s just not a sleek as some of Mercedes’ newer designs, like its latest GLC small utility vehicle. That shortcoming should be remedied with a pending redesign.

    But until the GLS arrives, the GL soldiers on with a front-end design that features a two-bar version of Mercedes’ grilled flanked by large headlights with LED accents at either side. The lower portion of the GL’s bumper incorporates a large center air inlet and two smaller intakes on the corners that house fog lights. A chrome lower strip smartens up the entire look.

    In silhouette the GL is a classic two-box design, but there are a pair of character lines running at the top and lower portions of the sides door that up the interest factor. We doubt many owners will use the GL’s roof rack, but we think it adds a nice dash of utility, even if it’s only mostly for show. We found the GL’s running boards more of a hindrance than a help. The rigid boards stick out too far, ensuring you’ll soil the bottom portion of your favorite trousers any time there is inclement weather.

    The rear of the GL is highlighted by over-sized taillights and a trio of chrome accents running widthwise on the power-operated hatch and bumper. Dual exhaust outlets are housed in the lower bumper.

    And the inside?
    The GL’s longevity in the Mercedes lineup is most noticeable when you slip inside. The GL still makes use of Mercedes’ old switchgear, meaning the center stack is flooded with small buttons. The overall design just feels dated.

    The GL’s MBrace infotainment system is also a step behind — it uses a knob instead of a touchpad and the display screen is much smaller than anything else you’ll find in Mercedes’ lineup. Lift the center armrest and you’ll find an Aux jack and an Apple connector that’s been obsolete since 2012.

    Materials also fall short in the GL. For example, the SUV uses chintzy plastic dials for its HVAC controls instead of the excellent metal toggle switches found in the cabin of the S-Class. Controls for the power front seats are also made out of cheap plastic.

    But those shortcomings aside, the GL’s interior is actually a nice place to spend time. The leather in the GL isn’t exactly up to Bentley specs, but the front seats offered good comfort and support, even during some of our longer drives. Second row passengers have plenty of space and the GL’s third row has enough room for actual adult humans, which is more than we can say for most other three-row utility vehicles on the market.

    Adding to the the GL’s luxury positioning, natural wood accents are used throughout the cabin. There are also heated and cooled front seats, but the GL lacks the massaging functions of its sedan counterpart. Shucks.

    Cargo room behind the third row is on the tight side, but luckily the way-back seats can be laid flat with the flick of an electrically-operated switch.

    But does it go?
    Although the GL certainly has plenty of room for improvements, it’s hard to fault the way the big SUV drives. Equipped with Mercedes’ AIRMATIC air suspension, the GL quite literally wafts down the road on a cushion of air. That air ride is supremely comfortable, capable of rolling over even large road imperfections without transmitting any hard jolts into the cabin. Despite being softly sprung, the GL never felt floaty to us.

    There is a Sport setting available for the AIRMATIC suspension, but it’s best left untouched. With a curb weight north of 5,300 pounds, the GL’s suspension isn’t exactly the limiting factor in its sportiness. During our use we found that the Sport setting only created a harsher ride.

    Steering is slightly over-boosted for our tastes, but the electronically-operated rack does make it easier to wrestle the behemoth at slower speeds. Also helping in agility is a turning radius that was tighter than we were expecting.

    The GL450 makes do with just six cylinders, but a pair of turbos ups horsepower to V8-like levels. The GL450 produces 362 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque, netting a very respectable 0-60 time of 6.6 seconds. During our week with the GL we were never left wanting for power, with the 3.0L V6 providing plenty of giddy-up-and go for highway merging.

    The GL’s seven-speed transmission works well in everyday driving, but the cogs can feel a little spread apart during certain driving situations. For example, during some overtaking maneuvers it felt like the gearbox should kick down a gear, but that downshift never came.

    With more than two-and-a-half tons to lug around the GL450 was never going to be a green machine, and that’s apparent by the EPA’s 17/21/19 mpg city/highway/combined ratings. We found those figures to be a bit optimistic, with our week-long stint behind the wheel netting an average of about 16 mpg.

    Leftlane’s bottom line
    It may be getting a little long in the tooth, but there’s no disputing the GL’s top-level comfort on the open road. Still, we’d probably hold off on Mercedes’ flagship SUV until the GLS arrives, which promises to remedy many of the GL’s shortcomings. For those with deep pockets and a flair for utility vehicles, there’s no better time than now.

    2015 Mercedes-Benz GL450 4MATIC base price, $65,200. As tested, $87,860.
    Cinnabar Red Metallic paint, $720; Almond Beige/Black Leather, $1,620; Open-Pore Brown Ash Wood Trim, $160; Heated/Ventilated Front Seats, $570; Panorama Sunroof, $1,090; Trailer Hitch, $575; Heated 2nd-row seats, $620; Premium Package, $4,410; Lighting Package, $1,390; Appearance Package, $1,340; ACTIVE CURVE SYSTEM, $3,700; 3-Zone Automatic Climate Control, $1,450; Parking Assist Package, $1,290; Driver Assistance Package, $2,800; Destination, $925.

    Photos by Drew Johnson.

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