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Lexus Transforms the Crossover


By: Gary S. Vasilash 10. April 2014

This is the Lexus LF-NX concept vehicle that the company debuted at the 2013 Frankfurt Motor Show:

Lexus LF NX

That somewhat scary-looking vehicle is a compact crossover, powered by a hybrid.

The spindle grille design, which has been implemented on all Lexus vehicles of late, is taken to an extreme, but then again, concepts often have extreme characteristics. Come to think of it, as the number of concepts overall is diminishing, as they are being replaced by designs that are just this side of being production-ready, the overall aggressiveness of the LF-NX is actually a good thing.

The September premiere of the LF-NX was followed in November’s unveiling of the LF-NX Turbo concept at the Tokyo Motor Show:

Lexus LF NX tokyo 

While its predecessor has a hybrid, this version has a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder turbocharged engine. This is the first turbocharged engine under the hood of a Lexus. But it seems as though given the development of the cylinder head integrated exhaust manifold and twins-scroll turbocharger, this could be conceptually real.

And there is a size given to the LF-NX Turbo: 182.7-in. long, 73.6-in. wide, 63.8-in. high, and with a 106.3-in. wheelbase. Compare those numbers with the real Lexus RX: length, 187.8 in.; width, 74.2 in.; height, 66.3 in.; wheelbase, 107.9 in.

The diamond shapes, sharp cutlines, and angles are all there in geometric abundance.

Later this month at the 2014 Beijing International Automotive Exhibition, Lexus will unveil the real NX on April 20. At this point, all they’ve revealed is this:

Lexus NX Here’s guessing that while the spindle grille will remain with a capacious maw, the press-brake angularity will give way to some crisp creases but not the Lego Mindstorms overall approach.


Built Ford Tough


By: Gary S. Vasilash 9. April 2014

One of the concerns that some people have expressed about the forthcoming Ford F-150 pickup is that whether it is the same type of material used for some military vehicles or not, the fact that aluminum is being used for the body might mean that it isn’t up to the sort of abuse that light trucks generally get.

So Ford engineers went to town on testing the vehicle. As Pete Reyes, F-150 chief engineer put it, “We challenged the team to torture the truck harder than any F-150 before it.”

They built a special test rig that twists and turns (up, down, side-to-side, and length-wise) the truck in seven directions. Five days on that was equal to the abuse of 225,000 miles.

2015 Ford F-150 Platinum

They took it out to their proving grounds in Romeo, Michigan, where it suffered abuse like the Silver Creek durability course, that has one section with 15 types of potholes and another section made with broken pieces of concrete. Driving 500 miles on that is equivalent to 20,000 miles on real roads. They ran it up grades. They ran it over twist ditches. They ran it over gravel. They ran it through salt baths and even used an acidified spray.

But the test that really put the aluminum to the test is that they dropped 55-gallon drums into the bed of the truck on an angle so the rim of the drum would impact the bed. Adjustments to the bed were made as required so that the truck can deal with the kind of things that it is likely to encounter in real-world situations (which will no dobut include everything from gravel loads to 55-gallon drums), probably within a few hours of someone's new 2015 F-150 rolling off the lot.


2014 Audi A6 TDI quattro Tiptronic


By: Gary S. Vasilash 9. April 2014

The Audi A6 had emblazoned on its front doors in a font that myopics could read: “TDI Clean Diesel.” Which, for a number of reasons, is a good thing. For one, anyone who’d look at this handsome sedan would probably never imagine that it would be powered by a diesel engine, as diesels, at least in the minds of many Americans, are still those clattering, noisy, smelly things that contractors have in pickup trucks (the big rig implementation goes without saying). In Germany, you’d be hard pressed to find a car like the A6 that doesn’t come with a diesel. Perhaps things will change in the U.S., at least to the extent that the German OEMs continue to offer compression ignition options for their cars, not just trucks. (Quick: name the U.S. domestic car that’s available with a diesel? Chevy Cruze. That’s it. And if you want to buy a light-duty truck with a diesel, again the choice is singular: Ram 1500. Utility? Jeep Grand Cherokee. That leaves two more fingers to count on. Clearly, U.S. OEMs are not sold on diesels. And the Japan-based brands are pretty much hybrid-centric when it comes to their powertrain alternatives, as you can buy a Lexus, Acura or Infiniti with a hybrid, no problem.)

A6 1

The second reason why that labeling (which, by the way, you’re not going to see offered in the Audi spec sheet as an optional graphic—thankfully) was helpful is because it reminded me that it was a diesel. There was no other cue. No clattering of the high-pressure injectors. No smell of diesel exhaust. Nothing. One might argue that the performance, as in good low-end torque, should have been a cue, but I figured that it was a German sedan built for the Autobahn, so performance low, medium and high should be notable across the board. One might argue that the general miles per gallon in the high 20s range should have been a giveaway, but again I figured that with contemporary spark-ignition engines being as good as they are, that was nothing of real particular note.

There was one giveaway, however, which is that on the gauge cluster in the top left-hand corner, there was a range estimation. When I first got in the car, it read “560 miles.” Here’s the thing: yes, diesels are more expensive, both to buy straight up and to refuel (diesel fuel, at least around southeastern Michigan, tends to have a hefty premium on the price of premium). But the amount of refueling that you’ll do with a diesel is going to be significantly less than if the car was powered by gasoline, so saving yourself time visiting your local gas station is probably a benefit that is sometimes overlooked.

A6 2

As the A6 is an Audi, and as Audi is to interior design what Apple is to consumer electronic design, it is well executed in terms of the quality of the materials deployed and the way that the edges come together thoughtfully and cleanly. Yes, the navigation system does have Google Earth, but frankly, after the novelty wore off, I found myself going back to a more ordinary navigation screen, as glancing at a map strikes me as being more informational than trying to suss out things on a screen (e.g., at some point you really don’t need to see trees and parking lots and what not in pictorial representation). And while on the subject of interfaces, it did seem to me that the guys in the Audi lab in Silicon Valley ought to spend a little more time working on the ergonomics of the system, as in some ways it seemed like this was essentially knob-and-button based tech wrapped in high-tech packaging: mind you, I am all for knobs and buttons, but it seems that there could be better graphic execution, even for doing simple things like setting presets for your favorite radio stations.

A6 3

Credit must be given to Audi for paying attention to the fact that when drivers are doing something like backing up, paying attention is an important thing for the driver to be doing: not only is there the rear camera with the relevant lines about where the car is maneuvering and an array of sensors, but the audio is muted. Nice touch that.

And overall, a nice car. Of course, it should be noted that nice in this case comes at a price, as the base is $57,500, there’s $895 for destination, and throw in a couple packages, and before you know it you’re above $66K. But this A6 seems like a car that will have plenty of years ahead of it.

Selected specs

Engine: 3.0-liter, DOHC, turbocharged V6 diesel

Horsepower: 240 @ 3,500 to 3,750 rpm

Torque: 428 lb-ft @ 1,750 to 2,250

Materials: Cast iron block, aluminum heads

Transmission: Eight-speed automatic, Tiptronic

Wheelbase: 114.7 in.

Length: 193.9 in.

Width: 73.8 in.

Height: 57.8 in.

Curb weight: 4,178 lb.

Trunk volume: 14.1 cu. ft.

EPA: mpg city/highway/combined: 24/38/29 mpg

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When the Rain Comes. . .


By: Gary S. Vasilash 8. April 2014

If past is prelude, then we can pretty much look forward to the Polar Vortex being replaced by the Tropical Monsoon or something along those lines, meaning April Showers 2.0.

Which leads to an explanation of how automatic windshield wipers work on the remarkably popular Buick Encore small crossover.

2014 Buick Encore with Rainsense GM’s rain sensor technology global design engineer Matt Piazza

One might wonder whether there is a sensor that detects moisture which leads to the activation of the wipers. And one would be wrong.

Actually, the rain sensor is actually a light sensor that’s located behind the rearview mirror, mounted on the windshield at a 25- to 30-degree angle.

The sensor, about the size of a wristwatch (or, about 2 in. in diameter, as wristwatches are rapidly giving way to smartphones and other non-wrist-based devices that offer time among other functions), actually uses infrared light beams to detect water droplets on the windshield. The sensor takes measurements at a rate of every 40 milliseconds.

Not only does the sensor detect the droplet, but size and frequency, as well, thereby providing data that is then used to trigger the wipers.

According to Matt Piazza, General Motors global design engineer for rain sensor technology, “Each vehicle is unique and there are a lot of factors like windshield pitch, rain intensity, vehicle speed, and light conditions that all have to be accounted for and validated.”

The “Rainsense” system for the Encore was engineered by GM with sensor supplier Hella Electronics.


Sales, Testimony & Telematics


By: Gary S. Vasilash 7. April 2014

If March is supposed to come in like a lion and go out like a lamb, it turns out that auto customers didn’t get the animals right, because auto sales for March roared out like a bull, as what was probably pent-up demand throughout large parts of the country caused by months of being kept inside due to unpleasant climatic conditions was released.

According to Autodata, total U.S. light vehicle deliveries in March were 1,537,288 vehicles, up 9.8% from March 2013. Which is certainly nothing to sniff at.

Not only were sales numbers released last week, but Mary Barra, GM CEO, probably had an opportunity that she’d never dreamed of when she was offered the job to head the automaker: A grilling on Capitol Hill by law makers who were intent on grandstanding finding out about the defective ignition switches on 2.6-million cars.

These topics, and others, are discussed by John McElroy of Autoline; Mike Austin, automotive editor of Popular Mechanics, and me on “Autoline After Hours.”

Blue Link

Then Barry Ratzlaff, executive director, Customer Connect and Service Business Development, Hyundai Motor America, joins the group to talk about Blue Link 2.0, the in-vehicle telematics platform that the company is launching in the 2015 Genesis. The new system includes such things as destination search through Google, remote start (there is embedded tech in the vehicles that allows not only remote start, but the ability to read diagnostic codes that is useful for advising the driver of necessary service requirements), and automatic collision notification and emergency assistance.

One of the things that’s interesting about Ratzlaff’s position is that his focus is on finding use for the customer, not on the wizardry of the technology in and of itself. What’s more, he emphasizes that Hyundai is a car company, not a telematics/infotainment firm, and so the company is focusing on working with partners who do a better job in that space that they are likely to (in addition to Google, they’re offering Apple Siri Eyes-Free integration with iOS devices and Hyundai has also announced its plans to integrate Apple CarPlay).

All of which is to say that Ratzlaff has a perspective on the subject that you don’t often hear, as OEMs seem to be hailing telematics as the best development for cars since tires, and he is saying that it is best to focus on actual needs and desires, and then work to implement it in as seamless a way as possible, even if this means that this isn’t a Hyundai-only development. And you can hear—and see it—here:

 




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