Autofield Blog

Seen in Frankfurt: Opel Astra

By: Gary S. Vasilash 22. September 2015

Opel launched the 11th-generation of its compact car, the Astra, in Frankfurt. The line goes back to 1936, when the company produced its first Kadett. The 11th-gen car is direct heir to that first one, as Opel effectively dropped the Kadett name in 1991, replacing it with Astra.

Astra 1

Astra through the ages.

That said, this car (which those of us in the U.S. can only hope comes to the U.S. in some form, possibly Buick, which currently has the Buick Regal that’s based on the Opel Insignia) is a clean-sheet approach, which is based on an all-new architecture that’s smaller, roomier and lighter than its 10th-gen predecessor.

Smaller: The car is 4.37 meters long. That’s about 50 mm shorter than its predecessor. It is 1.81 meters wide, which is down 5 mm, and its height, 1.48 meters, is 25 mm lower than the 10th-gen car.

Astra 2

Smaller and sleeker.

Roomier: Those exterior dimension shrinkages notwithstanding, the car offers the rear passengers 35 mm additional legroom and the driver 22 mm of more headroom.

Lighter: The lineup is as much as 200 kg lighter than their previous-gen analogues and at least 120 kg lighter. This is predicated on the new underlying architecture, which makes extensive use of ultra-high strength steels. Consider the exterior body. It weighs 20%--or 77 kg—less than the previous model. And they looked at wherever else weight could be excised, so the chassis is 50 kg lighter.

Astra 4

The new seats were tested and certified by the Campaign for Healthier Backs (AGR) for their ergonomic characteristics. Heating, cooling and massaging functions are available.

The design approach is to have a vehicle that is more dynamic and leaner than the previous car. (The overall Opel design philosophy: “Sculptural Artistry meets German Precision.” Ja.) So not only is the car lean from the mass standpoint, but also from the point of view of its drag coefficient: depending on the model, it is at least 0.30, and at its most aero, 0.285, which is 0.040 lower than the previously most slippery.

Astra 5

Note how the C-pillar is blacked out, forming the “floating roofline,” which is a growing trend in automotive design.

From the standpoint of the powertrain, the word here is extensive (or umfangreich). That is there are engines ranging in output from 95 hp to 200 hp. The is a three-cylinder engine. There are fours. There are gasoline-powered engines. There are turbodiesels. There are five- and six-speed manuals. There is an “automated manual transmission” (“Easytronic 3.0). There is a six-speed automatic.

Astra 3

This is the IntellixLux LED matrix light headlamp that consists of eight LEDs. A camera sensor detects light sources from either on-coming or preceding vehicles, then shuts off LEDs as needed so that the other drivers aren’t blinded by the light. This is a functionality that’s not legal in the U.S.—yet.

And while we hope that the car comes over to the U.S. there is something in the 11th-generation Astra that has gone from the U.S. east across the Atlantic: the Astra is the first Opel available with OnStar, a technology available in the U.S. since 1996.

Seen in Frankfurt: SsangYong Crossovers

By: Gary S. Vasilash 21. September 2015

SsangYong Motor Company is a Korean vehicle manufacturer that’s actually owned by an Indian company, Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd.

Those of us in the U.S. think “Hyundai” and “Kia” when it comes to Korean OEMs, and draw a blank when it comes to Indian OEMs, with the exception of Tata, but one doesn’t see any of them around these parts.


XLV-Air: Check out the red grille surround that’s. . .

Anyway, SsangYong introduced a new compact CUV in Korea and Europe earlier this year, and it has prepped another vehicle, the XLV-Air, which is to launch in 2016, and the XAV-Adventure, a concept.

The XLV-Air’s prime benefit seems to be that it has plenty of cargo room (720 liters, or 25.43-cu. ft.). Also, there is a new material, Geonic, that SsangYong developed with another Korean company, Kolon Glotech, which produces not only fabrics for auto use, but everything from carpets to artificial turf.

XLV back

. . .echoed here on the rear fascia.

All of which is to say that these are elements of utility for the CUV.

When launched the vehicle will be offered with a 1.6-liter engine—gasoline or diesel. An Aisin six-speed automatic or a manual will also be offered.

Then there’s the concept, the XAV-Adventure, which the company itself describes as having “chunky proportions.” Perhaps that adjective isn’t the right one in English, s the company goes on to say that it looks “strong, traditional no-nonsense,” which it certainly does.


XAV-Adventure: Looks tough enough.

What isn’t immediately evident from the exterior of the XAV-Adventure is that it is a hybrid that deploys two electric motors in the back to provide 4WD capability. And on the off-road subject, there is electronic air suspension system that automatically makes adjustments based on road conditions.

XAV back

XAV Adventure: The carbon-black top has a canvas section for open-air adventuring.

And what can’t be seen in this image is the canvas roof inset that provides the ability to provide an open top for the vehicle.

Given the global popularity of compact crossovers, it’s not unimaginable that these vehicles could get some share in the U.S. market.


2015 Toyota Avalon XLE Touring

By: Gary S. Vasilash 18. September 2015

During a presentation at the 2015 CAR Management Briefing Seminars, Jeff Bracken, group vice president and general manager, Lexus Division, talked about the importance of attracting younger people to the brand. It’s not that they’re disinterested in the Baby Boomers that essentially helped create the successful marque that Lexus is in the U.S. market, but a recognition that they need to pay attention to more than that aging cadre.

Bracken said, for example, “Our ‘F’ brand and other performance efforts are helping to change the perception of Lexus, attracting a new generation of younger buyers to the brand who may not have considered us before.” And, “So. . .we’ve expanded our line-up and processes to cross a more broad spectrum of appeal, from Baby Boomer like myself to Gen X and Millennials.”

Avalon a

Without question, the older generation is important. There are a lot of them--~74.9-million—and they have non-trivial wealth.

However, the number of Millennials is passing the Boomers this year--~75.3-million—and their number will grow (not because there will be more of them born, but through immigration). What’s more, this year there are ~66-million Gen Xers, so if you add even a portion of the Millennials to the Xers. . . well, let’s just say they’re really important.

For Lexus, there are cars like the LS and the GS which are Boomer oriented (I was recently in a GS 350 sport sedan, and while the vehicle is sporty—it has a 306-hp 3.5-liter V8 and all-wheel-drive; it has more power and performance than anyone is likely to use in daily existence, but which is the sort of thing that people would like to know they have beneath that right pedal—it is the more sedate sedan side—10-way adjustable power front seats draped in leather, premium audio system, moon roof, etc.—that is undoubtedly of more appeal and relevance to the Boomer buyer), but there are also the IS and the NX are for the younger generations, probably in that order (IS for Gen X, NX for Millennials).

One might argue that Toyota Motor Corp., the parent of Lexus, also has Scion in its stable, and the reason for being of Scion is to attract younger buyers into the entire Toyota corporate franchise. But you can get into a Scion (iA) for an MSRP of about $16.5K, and the least-expensive Lexus is the CT, at $31,250. Clearly, there are different economic brackets being addressed by these brands.

Avalon 1

But then there is the Mothership, the Toyota lineup, which is all things to all people, whether it is someone who is looking for a subcompact Yaris, a hybrid crossover like the Highlander, a full-size Tundra pickup, or practically anything else—with the exception, at least for now, of anything that would get into the performance segment of the market.

Lexus now offers not only the IS and GS sport sedans, but the RC coupe, which is a stunning car. And in the Scion lineup, in addition to the sporty(ish) tC, there is the no-apologies FR-S.

All of which leads me to the Toyota Avalon.

The 2015 Avalon is a handsome car. Handsome like, say, George Clooney. Yes, Clooney is a Boomer.

It is striking, not flashy. It is comfortable without being sofa-like. It is upscale without being haughty or unobtainable. It is roomy and well equipped. It is appropriately powered. It is fuel efficient for its size.

It is where, perhaps, the Lexus ES was.

Arguably, if it wasn’t that Lexus sold so many, they might cede that type of vehicle to the Avalon.

Avalon 3

The Avalon XLE Touring has an MSRP of $36,080. That’s before the $825 for delivery. And in the vehicle I was in there was one option, $225 for mats.

Yet it would be hard for me to discern what it might be that someone would really want to add. There is leather for the seats and steering wheel and shifter. Premium audio and a seven-inch touchscreen. Pushbutton start. Homelink. Quadrabeam headlights in the front, dual chrome-tipped exhaust pipes in the back. A blind-spot monitor and rear cross-traffic alert.

Missing from that car were lane-keeping assist and adaptive cruise control, but those are far from being deal breakers.

The Avalon has a 268-hp 3.5-liter V6 mated to a six-speed automatic. Yes, there are paddles on the sides of the steering wheel for those so inclined, but let’s face it: you don’t drive in a big sedan to satisfy that inclination.

The biggest problem that the Avalon has is that many people probably don’t know that it exists—or at least don’t know that it has gone beyond when it was a somewhat bland, bloated and pretty much innocuous barge meant to compete with Buick. (With the current Avalon, Buick probably wishes it had the car in its lineup.)

Boomers really ought to learn about this car.

Selected specs

Engine: 3.5-liter, DOHC VVT-I V6

Material: Aluminum block and heads

Horsepower: 268 @ 6,200 rpm

Torque: 248 lb-ft @ 4,700 rpm

Transmission: Six-speed automatic

Steering: Electrically assisted rack-and-pinion

Wheelbase: 111 in.

Length: 195.3 in.

Width 72.2 in.

Height: 57.5 in.

EPA passenger volume: 102.3-cu. ft. (w/ moonroof)

EPA fuel economy: city/highway/combined: 21/31/24 mpg

Sounds Like Teen Spirit

By: Gary S. Vasilash 17. September 2015

Fans of Big 80s music can undoubtedly picture the logo for Roland on the facing front of the synthesizer being played by their favorite performer.

While the Big 80s may now be the purview of aged MTV VJs on SiriusXM, Roland continues to produce synths, but some that are more auto related than just the music coming out of the speakers.

Roland sound kit

The company has developed what it calls (shades of the Big 80s) “SuperNATURAL” synthesizer technology for providing sound generation for vehicles. Turns out that the tech is predicated on the sound engine used for Roland’s flagship digital synthesizer.

Fundamentally, based on the driving conditions, the system generates the appropriate sounds. This is predicated on a network that monitors in real time such things as the cars speed and the pressure on the accelerator pressure.

Like a musical synthesizer, the particular type of sound can be selected by the driver.

Roland is working with Japanese electric car company GLM to provide a system for the ZZ electric sports car. One of the issues of an electric car of any type is that the sounds that come from the powertrain aren’t those that have any relation to anything one can think of vis-à-vis driving a car hard.

So with the SuperNATURAL system in place, ZZ drivers will be able to select all manner of sounds, including what Roland describes as “neo-futuristic options.”

The generated sounds, incidentally, are played through the car’s audio speakers, so at times Nina Blackwood’s voice may be obscured by a Roland synth—and not one being played by Howard Jones.

The Audi A8 L Security

By: Gary S. Vasilash 16. September 2015

One of the cars that is most likely to get overlooked in all of the hub-bub in Frankfurt this week comes from that company in Ingolstadt, Audi.

Audi A8 L Security

Sure, people are interested in the Bentley Bentayga SUV and the Rolls-Royce Dawn convertible, but there’s the Audi A8 L Security.

It is large. It is comfortable. It is fuel efficient (up to 21.6 mpg). It is class VR 9 ballistic protection certified.

Yes, the Audi A8 L Security is an armored vehicle. It is produced with materials including aramid fabric, special aluminum alloys (Audi doesn’t say “military-grade” of the aluminum, the way Ford did for the 2015 F-150), and hot-formed steel armor (yes, steel of the ultra-high-strength variety).

There is an armored communication box in the luggage compartment, an intercom for communication with the outside world (“Hey! Stop shooting at me!”), selective door unlocking, and options including a patented emergency exit system (probably more useful than the intercom), a fire extinguishing system and an emergency fresh air system (in fact, all three of these options sound pretty much necessary if you’re going to be getting an armored vehicle).

Oh, there is also a standard relaxation seat in the back: If people are trying to blow you up, changes are a bit of cossetting can’t hurt.

The all-wheel-drive (quattro) vehicle is available with a 435-hp, 4.0-liter, bi-turbo V8 or a naturally aspirated W12 that produces 500 hp). Given the requirements of the run-flat tires, the top speed of the car fitted with either engine is 130.5 mph.

This is sort of cool: the A8 L Security is first produced in the Audi plant in Neckarsulm, then sent to a “secure, top-secret factory.”

Can’t say that about any of the other cars introduced in Frankfurt.

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