Autofield Blog

The Volt Recharged

By: Gary S. Vasilash 30. March 2015

“Gen 1 or better!”

That, says Andrew Farah, vehicle chief engineer for the 2016 Chevrolet Volt, was the motto he and his team lived by as they developed the second-generation car.

2016 Chevrolet Volt

Realize that when they were developing the first generation—which appeared as a model year 2011 car—not only was this a period during which General Motors was undergoing some significant modifications and changes at all levels, but the team was creating an extended-range electric vehicle, something that was not exactly status quo technology at the time.

While the sales of the Volt have been modest (e.g., in 2014, 18,805 were delivered), Farrar and his colleagues have discovered that Volt owners are a special breed in that whereas ordinary compact sedans generally don’t have committed fans, that is certainly the case with the Volt. Consequently, they were able to get a significant amount of input regarding where the owners thought there could be better.

Volt 2

One of the things that was asked for was an increase in electric range. For the 2015 MY Volt, the battery capacity was improved from 16.5 kWh to 17.1 kWh. For the 2016 Volt, there is an all-new battery, which has a capacity of 18.4 kWh.

The previous-generation Volts have had an all-electric range of 38 miles. The 2016 Volt will have a 50-mile all-electric range.

It is not just the battery, of course, that makes the difference. Overall, they reduced the mass of the vehicle by more than 200 lb. (3,543 vs. 3,786 lb.)

They added the Regen on Demand feature (using paddles mounted on the rear of the steering wheel to activate regenerative braking), something that had been previously only available on the Cadillac ELR.

Overall, Farrar says on this week’s edition of “Autoline After Hours,” they fundamentally changed everything. And he explains much of what they did to make this new Volt a better Volt, one, he says, is likely to have more mainstream appeal (which he acknowledges owes a lot to the new design of the car).

Farrar talks with host John McElroy, Frank Marcus of Motor Trend and me on what is a fascinating discussion of EV technology.

In addition to which, the panel, after Farrar leaves the set, talks about a number of other things, including the BBC’s dismissal of Top Gear host Jeremy Clarkson for exceedingly bad behavior, annoyances in cars, and several others subjects.

All of which you can see right here:

McLaren/Carbon Fiber

By: Gary S. Vasilash 27. March 2015

As the industry is in the midst of what can only be described as a “Materials Revolution,” the concentration is mainly on advanced high-strength steel and aluminum, with some making consideration of carbon fiber composites, although this is still an outlier.

Except at McLaren Automotive.


Yes, that’s bona-fide carbon fiber on the McLaren 570S Coupe, which  is being introduced next week

The company first used carbon fiber into a racing chassis in 1981. The car was the McLaren MP4/1. It used the material for the chassis in a production car in 1993.

And it hasn’t built a car—racing or road—without a carbon fiber chassis since.

Next week McLaren will be introducing a new vehicle to its lineup, unveiling it at the New York Auto Show.

It is the 570S Coupe, a two-seat sports car. It is powered by a 562-hp V8. (The nomenclature actually contains that power rating: 570 is the metric horsepower rating.)

Yes, of course, the 570S Coupe has a carbon fiber chassis. And as that image shows, other elements made with the material, as well.


2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA250 4MATIC

By: Gary S. Vasilash 26. March 2015

While it is still early going, at this point in 2015 I have to say that of all of the vehicles that I have had the opportunity to drive, the Mercedes GLA250 4MATIC is quite simply the most enjoyable of all.

It is a compact SUV. Or so they say.

MY2015 GLA45 AMG

The GLA250 is one of those cars that looks better in sheet metal than in photography.  It is hard to get the sense of how this vehicle is not a small five-door but is actually raised higher, thus providing a whisper of an SUV

Rather, it is, in my estimation, a sedan with sort-of off-road proportions. It is a sedan that rides a bit high. There is nothing visibly SUV about it, in that SUVs tend to be boxy objects, and the GLA has a lot of design character.

You know it is a Mercedes, but not like any Mercedes that you’ve seen before.

While it is probably not the comparison that anyone at the Daimler Design Office would like to see, but the vehicle that comes closest to the GLA in terms of the way it sits on the road would be the Nissan Juke.

However, whereas the Juke styling, particularly the front end, may be considered to be outré, the GLA is more refined and stylish while still looking like it is ready for business, with the business being that of getting from A to B with confidence: That’s what the slightly higher ride height conveys to me.

Remember how Mercedes introduced the CLA with the “Sympathy for the Devil” ad run during the 2013 Super Bowl? That car was created to appeal to a younger demographic. The CLA is pretty much a scaled-down, straight-up Mercedes sedan. The point of that ad was pretty much that you could get a real Mercedes for money that wouldn’t require selling your soul to Satan.

But the GLA is undoubtedly the sort of vehicle that would be even more appealing to people who are looking for something that’s out of the mainstream and affordable.

2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class

That is, the base MSRP for the GLA with a 208-hp 2.0-liter turbocharged I4, a seven-speed DCT transmission with steering-wheel mounted shift paddles, and all-wheel-drive is $33,330 (not including $925 for delivery). According to TrueCar, the average MSRP for a light vehicle in the U.S. is $34,537, so the GLA is not unattainable.

Now I must admit that the vehicle that I drove was optioned up well beyond the $33 1/3-K mark. It has $12,590 in stand-alone (e.g., $550 for blind spot assist) and packaged (e.g., $2,480 for the Multimedia Package (COMAND System with navigation, rearview camera, 7.0-in. LCD screen with 3D map views) enhanced voice control system, 10-GB music register, DVD player, Gracenote information, SD card slot, Sirius XM traffic and weather, navigation map update for three years)).

The GLA I drove was as well-equipped as any luxury car would likely be. (Admittedly, it doesn’t have the self-driving sensors and processors of, say, its giant brother S Class. But it doesn’t have that heated massage seat in the second row, either. Let’s face it: there are options and equipment, and then there are, well, options and equipment.)

MY2015 GLA45 AMG

Another interesting characteristic of the GLA is that this truly is a German car, which is something that can’t be said of more German cars than you might think, cars that are produced in places ranging from Hungary to Mexico. The GLA’s engine and transmission are made in Germany. The GLA is assembled in Rastatt, Germany. Yes, a German car.

It was still winter around here when I was driving the GLA, and its 4MATIC system proved to be surefooted. The car was quick enough for expressway driving. It is more than nimble enough for maneuvering in a crowded Costco parking lot and it has the capacity to swallow up a Costco cart full of stuff (the cargo volume with the rear seats folded is 42 cubic-feet).

There are many months to go in 2015. But I’ve got to say that the GLA250 is going to be one of, if not the, favorite of the year.

Selected specs

Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged I4

Material: Aluminum block and head

Horsepower: 208 @ 5,500 rpm

Torque: 258 lb-ft @ 1,200-4,000 rpm

Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch

Steering: Rack & pinion speed-dependent electric power assist

Wheelbase: 106.3 in.

Length: 173.9 in.

Width: 79.6 in.

Height: 60 in.

Ground clearance: 8 in.

EPA: mpg city/highway/combined: 24/32/27 mpg

Art of the Bike: Honda BULLDOG

By: Gary S. Vasilash 25. March 2015

One might think that a concept motorcycle named the “BULLDOG” would have had as its design theme something along the lines of “Tough and tenacious.”

Bulldog 1

Yet as is often the case with design programs, the development theme was rather, um, non-tough-and-tenacious.

It was: “Lovable Touring Partner.”

Well, yes.

The BULLDOG has a liquid-cooled DOHC inline two-cylinder 400-cc engine and a six-speed transmission.

Bulldog 2

The tires are just 15-inches in diameter and the seat height is a comparatively low 28.7 inches, so the bike has a low center of gravity.

The BULLDOG is fitted with a carrier for camping equipment, and there are storage areas on the sides of the gas tank for other outdoors gear.

Bentley in the Salon & On Ice

By: Gary S. Vasilash 24. March 2015

So at the Geneva show Bentley exhibited a concept, the EXP 10 Speed 6:

Bentley 1

Bentley 2

There is another relevant number to add to the 10 and the 6: it has two seats. Quilted sport seats. Seats that are separated by a slim center console that has at an end a 12-inch touch screen with a curved surface that’s housed in an aluminum frame.

Bentley Cockpit

And while on the subject of materials, there one throughout that’s not ordinarily found in cars outside of things like wiring harnesses: copper. There are copper accents throughout, and the material is paired with various others, like steel for the control knobs with the knurled outer diameters that are so characteristic of Bentley.

Bentley knob

The gear lever is finished in copper, aluminum and cherry wood.

The door trim has 3D “quilting” that’s milled into cherry wood. At the center of each “quilted” diamond there is a copper center. The headlamps are also “quilted.”

Bentley door

Bentley 3

And speaking of things with three-dimensions the EXP 10 Speed 6 designers and developers used 3D metal printing to create the grille mesh, exhausts, door handles, and side vents.

Bentley exhaust

Shortly after being in the sophisticated setting of Geneva, Bentley did what it does on an annual basis and headed from the temperate climes of Crewe and headed north to Finland. There, the “Power on Ice” charitable event took place, where people were given the opportunity to blast over the surface of a lake—which was frozen over with ice six-feet thick—in cars including the Mulsanne Speed, GT3-R and other Bentley models, all of which feature all-wheel-drive.

GT-R 3

The Bentley Continental GT3-R in Finland. Only 300 of these are manufactured in Crewe. It has a 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 that produces 572 hp and 518 ft-lb- of torque.

Clearly, this is a company on the move.

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