• Ralph Nader: Self-driving cars to worsen distracted driving

    November 30, 2015
    Ralph Nader has issued a gloomy forecast for the automotive industry’s autonomous future.

    Proponents have hailed self-driving technology as the next revolution in vehicle safety, potentially with bigger implications than seatbelts and airbags, however Nader predicts that such features will actually exacerbate problems caused by drivers who are not paying attention to the road.

    “It’s leading to the emerging great hazard on the highway, which is distracted driving,” the safety advocate told Automotive News.

    Nader argues that automakers are trying to turn cars into “entertainment arenas” and “mobile offices,” promoting technology that is not yet good enough to deal with all potential emergency situations. The limitations of current autonomous prototypes are well known, though Nader goes further in arguing that removing a person from the responsibility of driving will effectively reduce the driver’s experience and ability to deal with emergency situations.

    “The driver is losing control to the software, and the more the driver loses control to the software, the less the driver is going to be able to control the car down the road,” he said.

    The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has pushed for more vehicles to integrate automatic emergency braking and other semi-autonomous features. The agency has stopped short of implementing widespread rules for fully self-driving vehicles, however, citing the need to resolve “technological issues as well as human performance issues” before moving forward.

    Many advocates of autonomous technology would disagree with Nader’s assessment, likely arguing that collision-avoidance systems already save lives and a fully self-driving car would be much safer than the average human-piloted vehicle. Some view the technology as the next revolution in automotive safety, switching from an accident-survival mindset to a focus on avoiding accidents altogether.

    Nader’s commentary coincides with the 50th anniversary of his pioneering work, Unsafe at Any Speed: The Designed-In Dangers of the American Automobile. The book is credited with pressuring automakers to prioritize safety over styling in vehicles. Legislators soon passed legislation to make seatbelts a standard feature, setting the stage for the NHTSA’s formation just a few years later.

    The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety several years ago released a video (embedded below) of a 1959 Chevrolet Bel Air head-on collision against a 2009 Malibu, highlighting 50 years of safety improvements.

  • BMW debates stretched i3 vs sedan for next i-Series model

    November 30, 2015
    BMW is reportedly still debating wether to develop a stretched i3 or switch to a sedan bodystyle for the next i-Series model, expected to be labeled the i5.

    Recent rumors suggest the lengthened adaptation of the i3 would ride on the same all-aluminum platform but with over four inches of additional rear legroom and more cargo space. It would presumably ditch suicide doors in favor of a traditional entryway behind a B-pillar.

    Other reports have pointed to a midsize sedan with a coupe-like profile, similar in size to the 3-Series sedan, or a high-roof five-door hatchback likened to the Toyota Prius v.

    “You will see more i products, and we are in the final stages of deciding what the next car will be and when you’ll see it,” said BMW sales and marketing chief Ian Robertson, according to an Autocar report.

    In either case, the next i-Series model is expected to carry forward the i3′s powertrain with a choice between a pure electric vehicle or a range-extended hybrid. It could get a larger battery than the i3, potentially bumping electric range up to 200 miles for the EV variant.

    BMW has hinted at an unveiling next spring, coinciding with the company’s 100th birthday. Rumors suggest production will begin later in the year, with a price tag somewhere around $60,000 or more.

  • Bugatti Chiron front end spied

    November 30, 2015
    Our spies across the pond caught Bugatti’s new hypercar almost completely undisguised Monday, showing off the front end of the car that we now know will officially be called the Chiron.

    The Chiron will adopt many of the design cues we saw on Bugatti’s Vision Gran Turismo concept. Some features set to carryover include an open rear-end design, central exhaust outlets and a circular side-blade treatment.

    The fully exposed front end reveals narrow, sinister headlamps flanking Bugatti’s signature upright-oval grille. Stacked side grilles and ducts dominate the lower fascia and lead into the massive aero features on the Chiron’s flanks.

    Under hood we’re expecting a hopped-up version of the Veyron’s quad-turbocharged W16. Thanks to the addition of direct-injection and electric turbos, the Chiron should produce 1,500 horsepower and 1,106 lb-ft of torque. Sending power to all-four wheels, the Chiron will be capable of accelerating from 0-60 in about 2 seconds. Top speed is runored at 288mph.

    Perhaps even more eye-popping than those figures, the Chiron will reportedly sell for $2.4 million, or roughly $1 million more than the Veyron’s original asking price.

    Bugatti will begin limited sales of the Chiron (just 500 units are tipped for production) shortly after the car’s Geneva debut.

    Photo by Brian Williams.

  • VW knew of fuel-efficiency discrepancies last year, report claims

    November 30, 2015
    Volkswagen executives allegedly became aware last year that some vehicles may have overestimated fuel efficiency figures.

    The company recently acknowledged ‘irregularities’ with its reported CO2 output levels for some models, including gasoline- and diesel-powered vehicles. Mostly affecting Euro-spec cars, the misreported CO2 numbers consequently allowed fuel-efficiency ratings to be inflated.

    The additional issues were claimed to be discovered “under the ongoing review of all processes and workflows” connected to the diesel-emissions scandal, however a unnamed sources have told German newspaper Bild am Sonntag that executives already knew of problems in 2014.

    In one case, the Polo TDI BlueMotion was burning diesel at rates 18 percent higher than VW’s promised mpg figures. Then-CEO Martin Winterkorn allegedly responded by pulling the car from the market this spring, rather than publicly acknowledging the discrepancy.

    If true, the report potentially hints at more legal trouble for the disgraced automaker. Prosecutors are still investigating criminal wrongdoing, either against the company as a whole or individual workers and executives.

    “The offering of the Blue Motion TDI Polo was suspended in all markets due to subdued demand,” the company said in a statement published by Reuters. “We are currently testing all models built from 2012 for differences in CO2 levels from the listed values.”

  • Subaru breaks all-time U.S. sales record

    November 30, 2015
    Subaru announced ahead of its November reporting on Monday that it has broken its all-time U.S. single-year sales record, with nearly a full month left in the year.

    As of the end of the Black Friday shopping weekend, Subaru has beat its previous best single-year total of 513,693 vehicles sold, which was set at the end of 2014.

    Subaru says the backbone of their sales is formed by the Forester, Outback and Crosstrek, which alone have accounted for more than 350,000 units sold so far this year.

    At the end of October, Subaru was up nearly 15% over 2014 with 480,331 total units sold YTD. Analysts are not expecting November to be as strong as October, when the automaker moved more than 50,000 cars, but a strong finish is expected, and with another month to go, it’s not inconceivable that Subaru could finish the year close to the 600,000 mark.

    Stay tuned to Leftlane for the November sales rundown.

  • Bulgarian company builds Toyota Hilux six-wheeler

    November 29, 2015
    A Bulgarian tuner named Vromos has just built a wild, six-wheeled version of the last-generation Toyota Hilux.

    Vromos started with a stock double cab Hilux and added a few extra feet to the frame, an extra axle, and custom-built cargo bed. Not content with merely stretching the truck, the company also gave it a generous lift kit, a snorkel, huge fender flares, as well as all-terrain tires. A winch and beefy skid plates help enhance the truck’s off-road prowess.

    While the exterior and the mechanical components are all business, the cabin was built with an unabashed focus on luxury. Another Bulgarian firm called Overdrive has masked the Hilux’s utilitarian roots by fitting wall-to-wall leather upholstery, Alcantara accents, and front seats out borrowed from the Land Cruiser.

    While Vromos hasn’t published technical specifications, the fact that the truck is equipped with an automatic transmission suggest it’s powered by a 3.0-liter four-cylinder turbodiesel engine that makes 171 horsepower at 3,600 rpm and 265 lb-ft. of torque from 1,400 to 3,200 rpm. The less powerful 2.4-liter oil-burner that the Euro-spec Hilux is offered with is exclusively offered with a manual transmission.

    Vromos hasn’t revealed whether the six-wheeled Hilux is a preview of a limited-edition model or simply a one-off. Regardless, it’s unlikely to ever touch down in the United States.

  • Mercedes-AMG to launch SLR successor in 2018?

    November 29, 2015
    A new report coming out of Germany finds the on-again, off-again successor to the Mercedes-Benz SLR (pictured) has been given the green light for production once and for all.

    The yet-unnamed model will feature a strikingly aerodynamic interpretation of the current Mercedes-Benz design language. It will be markedly bigger than the 911-fighting AMG GT, but it will be built largely out of lightweight materials such as aluminum and carbon fiber in order to keep weight in check.

    While the SLR used a front-mid-mounted V8 engine, German magazine Auto Bild speculates its successor will be powered by a gasoline-electric hybrid drivetrain made up of a rear-mid-mounted supercharged V8 mill and two electric motors mounted over the front axle. The three power sources will send over 1,000 horsepower to all four wheels via an automatic transmission. Alternatively, the car will be capable of traveling on electricity alone for short distances.

    If the rumor turns out to be true, Mercedes-AMG’s first gas-electric supercar will go on sale in 2018 with a base price of over €1 million. Production will be strictly limited to anywhere between 500 and 750 examples worldwide, meaning the model — which is expected to land as a coupe — will play in the same league as the sold out Porsche 918 Spyder, McLaren P1, and Ferrari LaFerrari.

  • Mercedes-AMG introduces limited-edition A45 Champion Edition

    November 28, 2015
    Mercedes-AMG is celebrating its latest Formula 1 championship title with a limited-edition version of the A45 called Champion Edition.

    The Champion Edition echoes the winning F1 car with a silver, black, and green paint job. It also gains an edition-specific front bumper with a splitter and downforce-enhancing fins, a huge roof-mounted spoiler, and 19-inch alloys inspired by the wheels that the winning F1 car rides on.

    The cabin is spruced up with bucket seats for the front passengers, a sport steering wheel, and green contrast stitching on the seat belts, the dashboard, and the center console. All Champion Editions come loaded to the gills with equipment such as the AMG Dynamic Plus Package, which bundles a mechanical locking differential on the front axle, and an adjustable sport suspension with a race mode.

    The modifications stop in the engine bay. The Champion Edition is powered by a stock, A45-sourced 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that uses a turbocharger to produce 381 horsepower and 350 lb-ft. of torque. Bolted to a seven-speed automatic transmission that spins all four wheels, the turbo four sends the A45 from zero to 62 mph in 4.2 seconds and on to a top speed that’s electronically limited to 155 mph.

    The Mercedes-AMG A45 Champion Edition will go on sale in Germany next January with a base price of €65,402, a sum that converts to nearly $70,000. Buyers who want one need to act quick, because AMG will only take orders until the following May.

  • German tuner introduces 550d-powered BMW 1 Series hatchback

    November 28, 2015
    A German tuner named AC Schnitzer has introduced a heavily-modified BMW 1 Series hatchback dubbed 150d at the annual Essen Motor Show that’s taking place in Germany.

    The bulk of the upgrades are found under the hood, where AC Schnitzer has installed a triple-turbocharged 3.0-liter diesel-burning straight-six borrowed from the much bigger BMW 550d. The six was tuned to generate 400 horsepower and 591 lb-ft. of torque, an increase of about 20 ponies and 45 lb-ft over the stock 550d. As a result, the 150d reaches 62 mph from a stop in a brisk 4.5 seconds.

    The extra power is complemented by a comprehensively redesigned suspension, new bumper with three large air dams tasked with keeping things cool in the engine bay, side skirts, carbon fiber mirror caps, and a roof-mounted spoiler. The 150d rides on massive 20-inch alloy wheels, though buyers looking to keep a low profile can order smaller 18- or 19-inch units.

    Pictures of the cabin haven’t been published yet, but AC Schnitzer promises it has added a custom shift knob, an aluminum cover for the iDrive controller knob, special floor mats, and aluminum pedals.

    The 150d isn’t a one-off design study built for the auto show circuit. Customers interested in owning a 5 Series-powered 1 Series are invited to contact AC Schnitzer for additional information such as pricing and information. It goes without saying that the 150d isn’t street-legal in the United States.

  • First drive: 2016 Chevrolet Camaro SS

    November 27, 2015

    In a world of automated this and self-driving that, it’s rare to find a car with bona fide attitude. The 2016 Camaro SS, friends, is a middle finger on four wheels.

    While it seems that every new vehicle generation gets bigger, softer and more user-friendly, the 2016 Camaro takes a decidedly different approach. Chevy engineers apparently took all of the complaints about the last Camaro’s lack of space and poor visibility and stuffed them in a drawer somewhere, and then threw away the drawer.

    What they focused on instead was all the stuff car people care about — handling, acceleration and braking. And boy did they nail it.

    Light and lean
    Before we get into the driving details, let’s cover the basics.

    The 2016 Chevy Camaro rides on a new Alpha platform borrowed from the Cadillac ATS. Like before the Camaro is rear wheel drive with four-wheel independent suspension, but its footprint has shrunk slightly — overall length has been clipped by about 2-inches while width is down by an inch. The new Camaro is also an inch lower than the last iteration of the car.

    While those tighter proportions obviously lend to a sportier look, the biggest takeaway from the new Alpha platform is weight, or rather lack thereof. In an apples-to-apples comparison, the 2016 Camaro SS is 223 pounds lighter than last year’s model. The result of that weight shedding is a much more nimble car with improved economy.

    Buyers will eventually be able to pick from three different powertrains — a 2.0L turbo-four, a 3.6L V6 and a 6.2L V8. The former is obviously new to the Camaro lineup, but the latter engines are also fresh for 2016. Both naturally aspirated mills now feature direct-injection and variable valve timing, bringing power up to 335 horsepower and 284 lb-ft of torque in the case of the V6 and 455 horsepower and an equal amount of torque in the V8. The I4, which will be available early next year, is no slouch either, with 275 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque on tap.

    All three engines can be hooked to a six-speed manual or a new eight-speed automatic with steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters.

    Styling is also new, but not radically so; the 2016 version of Chevy’s muscle car should still be recognizable as a Camaro to anyone on the street. Although familiar, the 2016 Camaro is much more chiseled than before, with body work that looks like it was form fitted over the chassis. LED lights, both front and rear, and a deck lid spoiler complete the Camaro’s new look.

    The interior of the Camaro is also a case of evolution rather than revolution. That being said, there are plenty of new styling cues to be found, including a much improved gauge cluster. Now housed in a single unit rather than two separate binnacles, the 2016 Camaro uses twin analog gauges for engine and ground speed with an eight-inch, reconfigurable LCD screen nestled in-between for everything else. That readout can display things like navigation and performance information.

    A second eight-inch screen sits atop the center stack and runs Chevy’s latest version of MyLink infotainment. For those with an iOS device, the system can also run Apple’s CarPlay. At least for now, Android users are out of luck as far as Android Auto availability is concerned.

    The center screen offers good resolution and was quick to react to our inputs, but it’s angled downward, which can make it difficult to use and read. We suspect Chevrolet added the tilt to help reduce sun glare, but it also reduces visibility from the driver’s seat.

    A quirky new HVAC system sits just below and replaces the gauge pack that was used in the last Camaro. Large rings around the circular air vents act as temperature controls while a smattering of conventional buttons are present for other HVAC functions.

    Materials have improved across the board but, as mentioned before, visibility and space are still lacking in the 2016 Camaro. In fact, we’d say that visibility is actual worse in the new model. If you’re thinking about buying any 2016 Camaro, be prepared to spring for blind spot warning and rear traffic detection systems; they’re truly must-haves. But the view inside has improved thanks to LED mood lighting used throughout the cabin.

    The Camaro’s rear seats are virtually useless for normal-sized adults, but that’s OK because there is only space for two suitcases in the trunk. Fronts seats are, however, comfortable with good bolstering. We logged more than 650 miles over two days in a Camaro SS and our keister never felt fatigued.

    The important stuff
    The more we drove the new Camaro SS, the less we seemed to care about things like outward visibility and cup holder placement. That’s because the Camaro, at least in the case of the SS we sampled, is so damn good to drive. We’d even go as far as to call the Camaro SS a legitimate sports car, which is not a term that is thrown around much when it comes to Detroit iron.

    While a lighter and stiffer chassis is certainly a major component of the Camaro’s improved driving experienced, the SS’ optional magnetic ride control system can’t be overlooked. Previously the exclusive domain of the top dog Corvette, Chevrolet has made the suspension system — which is also used by the likes of Ferrari — available to Camaro buyers for the first time for the 2016 model year.

    By using metal filings suspended in solution, the MRC system can alter the Camaro’s ride from soft to sporty in a matter of milliseconds by applying different levels of magnetization. The result is a kind of Jekyll and Hyde effect, with the Camaro going from comfortable cruiser to backroad bruiser with the flip of a switch. The steering is also adjustable via the toggle switch located in the center console. Overall weighting is quite good no matter the setting, with the Camaro delivering solid road feel.

    But the star of the show in undoubtedly the Camaro SS’ new drivetrain. The 6.2L V8 under the hood of the Camaro SS is nothing short of sensational, offering gobs of power and an engine note that would make even an AMG product blush.

    We weren’t able to sample the Camaro’s six-speed manual, but we have nothing but praise for the new eight-speed auto. Shifts are lightning quick, ensuring the big V8 stays in perfect stride. Keep your foot buried and the V8-auto combo will deliver 0-60 times of just 4.0 seconds. Opt for the six-speed and you’ll be 0.3 seconds behind. Standard Brembo four-wheel disc brakes can scrub off speed just as quickly as the engine can pile it on.

    Although not the Camaro’s forte, our SS tester handled snowy conditions in northern Idaho with aplomb. Snow tires certainly helped, but the Snow/Ice setting in the Camaro’s Drive Mode selector did a good job of mitigating slippage during acceleration and braking.

    The 2016 Camaro SS automatic is rated at 17mpg in the city and 28mpg on the highway, besting the Ford Mustang GT and its smaller engine by 1 and 3mpg, respectively. We were somewhat heavy-footed but long stretches of highway driving netted us a 24.7mpg average, according to the onboard computer.

    Leftlane’s bottom line
    With a cramped interior, small trunk and poor outward visibility, the 2016 Camaro SS isn’t for everyone. But that lack of sensibility is precisely why we like the Camaro so much. In a world of safe and average, the Camaro refuses to be anything but.

    2016 Chevrolet Camaro 2SS base price, $41,300.

    Photos by Drew and Sarah Johnson. Follow Drew on Twitter.