Autofield Blog

Bye-bye xB

By: Gary S. Vasilash 2. October 2015

It doesn’t seem that long ago, but you have to roll back the clock to 2003 to get to the first generation Scion xB. Who imagined (the people at Toyota I’ve talked with over the years about it certainly didn’t) that the boxy vehicle based on the Japan-market Toyota bB would become a success for the youth-focused brand?


While many Scions have come and gone over the years (xA, xD), the xB has been quite the stalwart.

But now it’s time to say goodbye. . .

Yes, the run of the xB is about to close.

So rather than go out by slipping behind the curtains, hoping no one will notice, Scion has had 686, a snowboard technical apparel company, to come up with what will be the final special edition model xB.

xB 1

The xB 686 Parklan edition, which was announced on Monday, will have limited production: just 686 will be produced (clever number choice, eh?).

The vehicle features seats that have the quilted patterning and cubist camo design of 686 wear, and like a jacket, there’s a zippered pocket on the driver’s side. The floor mats are all-weather, presumably for the melted snow from a day spent on the slopes. There are 686 logos on the 16-inch gloss-black alloy wheels. The car is painted Cocoa Bean Metallic with red accent lines, again glossing 686.

xB 3

“The xB has been part of Scion from the very beginning, and we wanted to give it a meaningful sendoff,” said Scion vp Andrew Gilleland.

Gilleland, incidentally, was named head of Scion last week.

xB 2

The Vehicular Art of. . .LEGO

By: Gary S. Vasilash 1. October 2015

A couple years ago I took my elementary-school-aged nephew from Hawaii to The Henry Ford Museum. As his father had grown up in Detroit, I figured that he’d be exceedingly interested (well, as much as someone his age could be) in the remarkable display of cars through the ages that are on display: Roper, Duryea, Holsman, Oldsmobile, LaSalle, Essex, Willys-Overland. . . .

1909 and 1906 Fords

Photo: The Henry Ford

Or at least keen on the car that pretty much started it all in all 50 states and beyond, the Ford Model T.


He saw a sign that said there was a LEGO exhibit. And he made a bee-line across the museum to where there was a LEGO-built city.

That was the highlight of his visit.

(Seconded only by the Oscar Meyer Wienermobile.)

Lego is not only of interest to10-year-old kids. It is a phenomenon that has people of all ages doing things that are, in a word, remarkable.

And for those of us who are interested in automotive design, a new book, The Art of LEGO Scale Modeling by Dennis Glaasker and Dennis Bosman (No Starch Press), is nothing short of incredible.


The cover shows a Kenworth K100E with a Miller Industries Century 1140 Rotator (yes, they get that detailed). It was constructed by one of the authors (Bosman). It is more than 2.6-feet long. He had to build a secondary frame to support the rotator body. And the rotator crane has a working three-stage boom and two winches.

There are a variety of other vehicles that have been built by LEGO enthusiasts from Jordan, The Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Great Britain, Poland, Italy, Latvia, Spain, and the U.S. These range from the Lida L-1300 TC combine (a piece of agricultural equipment from a Belarus manufacturer) to a Caterham Super 7.

For anyone interested in vehicle design, this whimsical book is worth far more than its $29.95 sticker price.

The publisher, No Starch Press, says it publishes “the finest in geek entertainment,” and if you’re an automotive geek, not only does The Art of LEGO Scale Modeling provide wonderful images of vehicles made of LEGO, but a chapter on how you, too, can build your own.

(Of course, when my nephew asks my brother for 6,500 LEGO blocks. . . .)


2015 Hyundai Sonata Sport 2.0T

By: Gary S. Vasilash 30. September 2015

When the 2011 Hyundai Sonata was revealed, it was greeted with gasps. It was hard to imagine that any company would come out with a vehicle with lines that were so exaggerated, so expressive, so baroque. Especially Hyundai, which had been putting out cars that appeared as though they had been designed by several committees, each of which was given a section of the car to execute, none of whom communicated with one another.

Sometimes the results were odd. Sometimes the results were innocuous.

Never were the results what the 2011 Sonata achieved.

It was a wonder.

2011 Hyundai Sonata

2011 Hyundai Sonata

When the seventh-generation, 2015 Sonata was revealed, it was greeted with, comparatively speaking, yawns.

It was as though there were underlying expectations that things would get even more formed, more extreme, more outré.

Look at it this way: there are few available places to go when you’ve got this going:


“I Ran (So Far Away)”

In my estimation, the 2015 Sonata design is more confident, more grown-up. They don’t have to prove that they’ve got the chops in the design studio by going to some exotic antipodes of geometry.

This isn’t exactly a suit-and-tie. But it doesn’t have to stretch for its style.

2015 Sonata 2.0T

2015 Hyundai Sonata

Arguably, one of the places that Hyundai went over the top was on the development of the ride and handling system. First know that this is an exceedingly stiff platform, made with more than 50% advanced high-strength steel. (Hyundai owns a steel company, so they know more than the average company about steel grades.)

Bottom line is that this Sonata has 41% better torsional rigidity and 35% greater bending strength than its predecessor.

2015 Sonata 2.0T

Then they revised the multilink rear suspension, and not in a minor way: for example, there are dual lower suspension arms in place of the single-arm design that had been there. There are front sub-frame bushings that are 17% stiffer than those they replace, which improves the steering. That’s for all trim levels. The Sport 2.0T, which I had, features a sport-tuned suspension, 12.6-inch front brakes (the other models are 12.0-inch), and a rack-mounted, dual-pinion electric power steering system (the other models have a column-mounted system).

As for the over-achievement: Yes, they tested the car at its facilities in Namyang, Korea. Yes, they ran it at their proving grounds in Mojave, California. But they also ran it at a test center at the Nurburgring. Seriously?

Yes, the Sport 2.0T has a D-cut steering wheel and paddle shifters. Yes, there is a 2.0-liter, turbocharged gas direct-injected four cylinder engine. Yes, there are quad exhaust tips coming out of the edition-only rear fascia and 18-inch alloy wheels.

2015 Sonata 2.0T

But this is a four-door sedan. The sort of thing that you commute in on car-choked highways, not on twisty, turny two-lane roads through the mountain passes. This is a car that goes up against the Camry, Accord, Altima, Fusion, Malibu, and Passat in the showroom, not a ZR1. This is a car that offers a sizable 16.3-cu. ft. of cargo volume, which means plenty of groceries. It has 106.1-cu. ft. of passenger volume, which means that the kids have space that doesn’t mean they’re on top of each other in the back seat.

Presumably, if you have a place at the Nurburgring, you use it.

For a family sedan, the Sport 2.0T looks sporty. For a family sedan, the Sport 2.0T has a bit of the proverbial pep to its step.

But at the end of the day (as well as at the start and in the middle), it is a family sedan.

A solid sensible choice. That happens to be somewhat sporty, to boot.

Selected specs

Engine: 2.0-liter, Turbo I4

Material: Aluminum block and head

Horsepower: 245 @ 6,000 rpm

Torque: 260 lb-ft @ 1,350-4,000 rpm

Transmission: Six-speed automatic

Steering: Electrically assisted rack-and-pinion

Wheelbase: 110.4 in.

Length: 191.1 in.

Width 73.4 in.

Height: 58.1 in.

EPA passenger volume: 106.1-cu. ft.

EPA fuel economy: city/highway/combined: 23/32/26 mpg

Seen in Frankfurt: Mazda KOERU Concept

By: Gary S. Vasilash 29. September 2015

One more item from the Frankfurt Motor Show is worth noting (as last week we noted five other vehicles) because without a doubt, this is the best vehicle that I saw on display: the Mazda KOERU concept.

KOERU sketch

KOERU Concept sketch

The word koeru means exceed or go beyond in Japanese.

This is a five-passenger crossover that uses the Mazda KODO design language that we’ve looked at many times before.

KOERU real

The thing about the KOERU that’s so appealing is the fact that it looks as though this is a car that Mazda could put into production right now.

KOERU back

Below the greenhouse it resembles the production Mazda6, and above it there is a sleek greenhouse (though one could imagine that the backseat passengers would either need to be somewhat short and certainly not wear stovepipe hats).


Real Mazda6

In terms of the KOERU’s dimensions:

Length: 181.1 in.

Wheelbase: 106.3 in.

Width: 74.8 in.

Height: 59 in.

Which is different than the Mazda6:

Length: 192.7 in.

Wheelbase: 111.4 in.

Width: 72.4 in.

Height: 57.1 in.

Still, the resemblance is there, and given the abiding popularity of crossovers, it wouldn’t be entirely surprising to learn that the CX3 and the CX5 are getting a new stable mate.

Strength of the 2016 Pilot & the Unpleasantness at VW

By: Gary S. Vasilash 28. September 2015

The 2016 Honda Pilot is based on Honda’s new Global Light Truck Platform structure. And the “light” in that name also goes to the consequence of the development of the SUV, which is about 300-lb. lighter than the model it replaces.

2016 Honda Pilot Elite

Yes, it is lighter. But as Brian Bautsch, Lead Safety Engineer, Honda R & D, who worked on the Pilot explains on this edition of “Autoline After Hours,” the 2016 model is a vehicle that was designed from the very start—from the point when they were putting pixels on a screen and running simulations before the vehicle existed—to provide high levels of safety for occupants through design and materials engineering.

Consider, for example, the materials used. There are seven different grades of steel, all the way to 1500 MPa ultrahigh strength material. That represents 21.3% of the body structure. There are 1300 MPa door reinforcement beams and 1500-MPa, hot stamped front door outer stiffener rings. The ultra-high-strength steel components are laser welded.

Bautsch explains how the various types of materials—and even the joining methods used between parts—were carefully assessed with regard to how they would contribute to crash-energy management.


(For those who equate nonferrous materials with “advanced” automotive engineering, know that the hood and front bumper reinforcement beam are aluminum and there’s a cast-magnesium steering hanger beam. What’s more, there is even structural foam used in such places as the B-pillar stiffeners, inside a bracket connecting the left- and right-hand center frames under the front door and inside the tailgate openings to provide additional stiffness (and to contribute to better NVH). Bautsch, again, points out that material selection was predicated on use.)

In terms of structural engineering for safety, the 2016 Pilot features what they call a “3-Bone” structure under the floor that setup pathways for crash energy management. One path goes directly underneath the cabin while the other two go to either side.

And the 2016 Pilot uses the second generation Honda Advanced Compatibility (ACE) body structure that not only helps with crash energy management in the case of a frontal collision, even the small front overlap types. Additionally, the ACE body structure reduces the possibility that there would be an over- or under-ride with a vehicle with which it collides.

The Pilot received 2015 TOP SAFETY PICK+ rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) when equipped with optional front crash prevention, so clearly the team did their job exceedingly well.

Bautsch talks about all of this and more with host John McElroy, Detroit News auto critic Henry Payne and me on the show.

Then, because last week’s auto news was entirely dominated by the Volkswagen diesel engine scandal (people in Wolfsburg were probably thanking Gott the Pope was in the U.S., thereby providing some coverage minimization), McElroy, Payne and I, along with former powertrain engineer and former editor of Car and Driver Csaba Csere talk about the technical and managerial issues related to the “defeat device”—actually software—installed in 2.0-liter TDI “Clean Diesel” [sic] engines installed in various VWs (and the Audi A3) from 2009.


“What were they thinking?” sort of sums up the discussion.

But VW isn’t the first company to resort to such technical trickery. And—the potential of enormous fines and possible criminal prosecution notwithstanding—VW probably won’t be the last.

See it here.


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