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Autofield Blog

The Kids Are All Mobile

By: Gary S. Vasilash 1. April 2015

When the Renault Twizy* was introduced a few years back, one of the points that Renault stressed is that the urban electric vehicle is “safer than a two- or three-wheeler.” Which would be a bike or a trike.

The Twizy has four wheels and a roof, an airbag for the driver, disc brakes, and optional doors. Yes, safer than hanging it out there on a bike or a trike.


It is a compact two-seater, measuring just 7.7-feet long and 4-feet wide. It weighs 992 pounds. It is powered by a 13-kW motor.

According to Renault, approximately 15,000 Twizys are on the road in Europe.

And there is likely to be considerably more, thanks to a move in France to adopt the European Union’s regulation regarding those who are permitted to drive “light quadracycles.”

The legislation has it that a 14-year-old with a BSR safety certificate can legally drive a light quadracycle. Previously, the permissible age was 16.

Just think: packs of 8th and 9th graders can now be on the roll down the Champs de Elysee in Twizys.

*About that name. Apparently it is derived from a vehicle for two—TWIn—that’s simple to drive—eaSY. (Yes, the name has a z not an s. Must be a French thing.)

The Kids Aren’t All Right

31. March 2015

One of the features offered on the forthcoming 2016 Chevy Malibu is called “Teen Driver.”

The system is being positioned as something that “provides parents with a tool to help encourage safe driving habits for their kids, even when they are not in the car with them.”

Or put more plainly: It keeps an eye on the kid behind the wheel.

Teen Driver, available on the all-new 2016 Chevrolet Malibu

Essentially, the parent, after pairing the teen’s key fob with the system via the Chevy MyLink system (in cars so equipped), can set the top speed of the car (from 40 to 75 mph). If exceeded, a visual and audible warning kicks in.

But what is more to the point of this system is that it generates a report that includes metrics like distance driven, maximum speed traveled, over-speed warnings issued, stability control events, and antilock brake events.

In other words, should said teen not drive in a “responsible” manner, even though the parental unit may not be with the teen, a virtual monitor is in place, taking note of the driving behavior.

While one might think this is a bit on the Big Brother side, the essential nature of things like this can be extrapolated from a study on teen drivers recently conducted by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

The study was conducted by capturing some 1,700 videos of teen drivers in action behind the wheel.

Turns out that they’re generally doing more than paying attention to the task at hand (a.k.a., driving).

And as a result, they are distracted. Distraction, the study finds, was a factor in 58% of the crashes studied that involved teens. Of that number, 89% of the road-departure crashes and 76% of the rear-end crashes had being otherwise occupied as a causal factor.

Apparently, this is a finding that is rather different than the one from NHTSA, which reckoned that distraction was a factor in only 14% of all teen crashes.

That’s a fairly substantial delta.

While cell phone use is a nontrivial contributor to the number of crashes (12%), there are other, non-tech-related causes, as well. That is, “interacting with one or more passengers” accounted for 15%, looking at something in the vehicle 10%, and looking at something outside the vehicle 9%.

Singing and bustin’ a move behind the wheel accounted for 8%.

This last one brings us back to the Chevy Teen Driver. Another of the features mutes the audio (including anything brought in and linked to the audio system) if the driver or front seat passenger isn’t buckled in.

So at least there is a measure of safety vis-à-vis that 8%.

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

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