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Friday
Dec082017

December 2017

December 8, 2017:  The JL Wrangler made its debut at the Los Angeles Auto Show, and proved to be a well thought out update of the Wrangler formula. Crisply styled and deftly detailed, the JL looks more comfortable and capable than ever, but isn’t quite the materials laboratory early reports suggested. Another L.A. debutant, Subaru’s three-row Ascent SUV is conservative and conventional, but that’s a good thing.  It’s predecessor, the Tribeca, was both undersized and polarizing, while the Ascent would make Ward and June Cleaver proud. Next up is the Lincoln Nautilus, an MKX refresh that swaps its dual-wing grille for the new corporate face. We like the look and the new name, but have to wonder why the similarly upgraded MKC still has letters and not a name. Nissan, on the other hand, did more than change the name of its smallest crossover. It replaced it completely, dropping the uniquely styled Juke for the more conventional Kicks. Unfortunately, it also got rid of those things that made the Juke such a, er, kick to drive. If you absolutely must have aggressive styling and turbocharged performance in your SUV, there’s always the Lamborghini Urus. More purposeful than beautiful, it combines luxury with on- and off-road capability, but in a way only a maker of high-end sports cars could.  Morgan, meanwhile, teased its Aero GT, a run-out model of its Aero 8 line. Powered by a now out of production BMW V8, the Aero GT brings lessons learned from Morgan’s racing program to the road. Renault’s Alpine A110, on the other hand, resurrects the French sporting brand with an all-aluminum two-seater that evokes Alpine’s most famous creation. It’s a thoroughly up-to-date sports car with retro looks and, unfortunately for Americans, no chance for importation. On the more mundane side, Ford has updated the Transit Connect in Europe, and at least some of the upgrades will be coming here in 2018. The small commercial hauler/minivan may not be the most exciting vehicle around, but remains a strong seller. The same can’t be said of our other people haulers. They represent the apex of 1960s counterculture style, and now are sought after icons. Which makes them perfect additions to our Virtual Collection.

Friday
Nov102017

November 2017

November 24, 2017: Aston Martin’s new Vantage is a nearly $150,000 two-seater aimed directly at Porsche’s 911. Powered by a twin-turbo AMG-Mercedes V8 and boasting styling borrowed from James Bond’s DB10, the Vantage is a departure for the British sports car maker, especially stylistically. Less of a stylistic surprise is the 2019 Lincoln MKC. As the last Lincoln out the door with the old grille design, it gets a mid-cycle refresh that adds the new corporate nose, and a few other updates. Ford’s new plug-in hybrid police car is not pursuit rated, but is designed to lower operating costs by minimizing fuel use. It should appeal to municipalities as Ford expects it to make it through most shifts on electric power alone. The Seat Cristobal, on the other hand, is meant to get young drivers through sticky situations safely. Named for the patron saint of travel, it has 19 safety technologies that can work separately or together. Donald Healey might have benefited from St. Christopher’s intervention, surviving a number of major accidents, and living to tell the tale. His brushes with eternity also set him on course to create a number of sporting automobiles, including the latest addition to our Virtual Collection. Kia’s Forte S, on the other hand, hopes to be less saint and more sinner with its sport trim level. Unfortunately, the difference between saying a trim level is sporty and it being sporty can be quite large. We take a look at Design Museum London’s exhibition celebrating Ferrari’s 70th anniversary. With many artifacts rarely ever seen outside of Maranello, it traces the road from rags to riches for this iconic marque. Finally, RM Sotheby’s is having an auction of iconic automobiles at its Manhattan offices. It includes everything from a Marmon Sixteen Convertible Coupe, to the first C-Type Jaguar ever to win a race in the U.S., to a Ferrari that went straight from the factory to Le Mans where it finished fifth overall and third in class.

 

November 10, 2017: The SEMA show never disappoints with its over the top celebration of everything aftermarket. With no ceiling on the imagination, nothing is over the top. We feature two new crate motors, one from Honda and one from Chrysler, and include a gallery of a few of the more interesting vehicles seen in Las Vegas. Almost as wild is Lamborghini’s electric supercar concept for the Third Millennium. Under development with help from the boffins at MIT, the Terzo Millennio is a placeholder for the day when Lamborghini’s ultimate supercar has in-wheel electric motors and self-healing carbon fiber panels that store energy for the car’s supercapacitors. Closer to home, and reality, VW outlined the various updates made to the 2018 Golf lineup. From upgraded safety and infotainment systems to mild exterior updates, not only has each model has been improved, North America no longer has to suffer from Wolfsburg’s benign neglect. On a much smaller scale, Acura facelifted the RLX sedan, adding equipment and — in one instance — significantly cutting the price. Whether this will be enough to kindle interest in the model is anyone’s guess. BMW unveiled the limited edition M3 CS, a more focused and potent version of its bellwether sport sedan. Anything but subtle, the potent performer promises near supercar performance in a small-ish four-door. The latest addition to our Virtual Collection is one of the prettiest, lightest and most aerodynamic sports coupes ever created. A product of Colin Chapman’s fertile mind, it pushed technology to the breaking point, and is still considered advanced sixty years after its debut. And, jut in time for the Christmas shopping season, we review two new books for the gearhead in your group. From an insider’s perspective at the dawn of Shelby American to an introduction to Formula 1, each is a worthy addition to an enthusiast’s library.

Friday
Oct132017

October 2017

October 27, 2017: The Tokyo Motor Show is a sensory overload. This year, automakers ran with the concept of mobility, creating everything from autonomous vehicles to personal mobility units. Not surprisingly, this focus also included electrification and Artificial Intelligence (the new industry buzzword), but did not totally crowd out the conventionally unconventional. We take a look at some of the key concepts from Nissan, Yamaha, Honda and more to see what might be on the horizon. Not everything took place in Tokyo. Audi introduced its new A7 Sportback, a car that didn’t need to be on show in Tokyo to use the AI buzzword.  With the right equipment, it can autonomously maneuver in and out of a garage or parking spot, and connect with similarly equipped Audis to create “swarm intelligence.” Less bee-like is BMW’s new X2, a coupe version of the small X1 SUV. Both share their UKL platform with the new generation of Minis, but the X2 does it with more swagger and style. However, it can’t match Aston Martin’s new DB11 Volante when it comes to those attributes. The four-seat convertible gets turbocharged Mercedes V8 power, an eight-layer insulated roof, and an eye-watering price tag. The financial pain should be less with Volvo’s Polestar 1 coupe, as you never actually own the 600 hp high-performance hybrid.  Customers sign up for a subscription service that charges a flat monthly fee for the use of the car, and provides insurance and other amenities as well. No more than 500 Polestar 1s will be built each year. Also entering the low-volume vehicle production business is Gordon Murray. The mastermind of the McLaren F1 is readying a modern interpretation of the iconic supercar using his patented iStream production process. We can’t wait to see what he creates. Creativity is a given in racing, and the latest Virtual Collection looks at Bob Tullius  and the Triumph TR8 with which he laid waste to the competition in the SCCA’s Trans-Am Championship. Filled with the visual aggression the production car lacked, Group 44’s racing wedge has both presence and style. It’s well worth the imaginary cash we spent adding it to the collection. We spent time with the folks from German door latch manufacturer Kiekert a while ago, and examined their  latest technology. Never ones to stand still, the company has bundled three new entry technologies to create what it likes to call “autonomous” doors. It may sound strange, but we’re pretty sure the inventors of central locking and power door systems has something future luxury vehicle buyers will demand.

 

October 13, 2017: American Expedition Vehicles is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. From its first long-wheelbase TJ Wrangler in 1997 to the latest JK Wrangler Brute Double Cab pickup, AEV has been a hotbed of off-road innovation. Ensconced in a modern assembly facility in Wixom, Michigan, the specialty manufacturer has branched out to build uprated Rams, but stills hews close to the rules founder Dave Harriton created in Missoula, Montana. We tour the facility, drive a modified Wrangler, and see what it takes to build a factory quality specialty vehicle. Ever wonder what the difference is between McLaren’s carbon fiber Monocell and Monocage chassis? We did. So we rang the folks in Woking, and asked to talk to their production chassis expert. From the boarding area of an Italian airport, Adam Thomson explained what defines a Monocell and Monocage, and outlines the technology that goes into making the chassis for one of the world’s preeminent supercar brands. Eager to change things up a bit, contributing editor and Virtual Collection creator Bill Sawyer searched for an addition to our simulated museum that hit all of the hot buttons: sex, power, and a fall from grace. He found it in a wooden boat Henry Ford had built for and named after his mistress, Evangeline Cote Dahlinger. It’s a gripping story about lust, betrayal, and restoration in the early years of the auto industry. The only thing missing from this tale is a happy ending.

Friday
Sep152017

September 2017

September 29, 2017: The Virtual Collection tops the chart this week, with a story about a hand-built luxury car that originated in Dayton, Ohio. Built as the Wright Brothers were taking flight, the Stoddard Dayton brought anal retentiveness to a new level, which doomed the fledgling car maker, and led it in a roundabout way to become a cornerstone of Chrysler. Jaguar Classic is building nine continuation models of the XKSS racer turned street car. They will take the place of the cars lost when the Browns Lane factory caught fire in 1957. With the skills necessary to faithfully recreate the body and chassis in short supply, Jaguar has turned to an outside firm for help. On a more modern note, a number of new cars recently were announced. Kia’s Stinger is the first up, a rear-drive BMW 3 Series-size rear- and all-wheel drive sport sedan. It carries both a competitive price tag and a seductive spec. sheet. It’s joined by the Genesis G70, a mechanical clone that combines sport and luxury, and is sold by Hyundai’s upmarket brand. Toyota’s Lexus division, meanwhile, launched its fifth generation LS sedan. Built on a new platform shared with the LC 500 coupe, the new range topper adds a dollop of excitement to what, in the past, has been an extremely high quality but boring vehicle. Volvo also revealed the production XC40 small SUV. Built on a new modular architecture it will share with Geely, the XC40 is a bit funkier than your typical Volvo. Funky is a word that also describes the Kia Soul. Though often miscast as a small crossover, the Soul gets turbo power and a more responsive chassis, but is it enough? Finally, Hyundai used the Orange County, California auto show to debut the new Accent sedan. Though more refined and better equipped, is it the right vehicle for a market rapidly shifting to SUVs?

 

September 15, 2017: Every other year, the automotive world flocks to the Frankfurt Motor Show’s 10 halls to see what’s what on the Continent. Geneva starts the year with typically Swiss neutrality,and a non-denominational look at what car makers have to offer. Frankfurt, on the other hand, is dominated by the home team and its concerns. If only one word could be used to describe those anxieties it would be: electric. From supercar to luxury lounge on wheels, battery power was the common denominator. Did the automakers allay fears, or create new ones? Ducati may have worries of its own, as in who will be its new master should Audi be forced to remove the Italian motorcycle maker from its stable, but electric power isn’t one of them. The company pulled the covers off its race-bred street V4 Desmosedici engine. Surprisingly close in concept and execution to its Moto GP V4, the street version doesn’t rev quite as high, meets Euro 4 emission standards, and it’s gorgeous to look at. This week’s Virtual Collection isn’t as technically advanced as Ducati’s V4, but it’s no less easy on the eyes. Contributing Editor William G. Sawyer traveled to Norcross, Georgia ahead of Hurricane Irma to attend the Atlanta British Car Fayre, and came away with history and a history lesson. Finally, we end this issue where we started, back in Frankfurt, but this time looking at products and concepts that didn’t draw the same level of attention as the cars. First up are a pair of tire concepts that seem tailor-made for the autonomous future. Continental’s ContiSense tire can monitor the temperature, tread depth and friction available, and relay this to the driver or the vehicle’s autonomous system. Meanwhile, the ContiAdapt concept can adapt its footprint to the conditions by altering tire pressure as needed. Combining Michelin’s Acorus Technology with Maxion’s Flexible Wheel doesn’t use sensors or electronics to do its magic. Rather, it combines flexible flanges with a unique wheel design to produce a system that improves ride quality and comfort while nearly eliminating punctures from potholes. And if that's not enough, Frankfurt was the scene for a reveal never before seen in its many halls. Land Rover and iCandy teamed up to produce a limited edition stroller for the adventurous parent. It may carry an all-terrain designation, but its real purpose is to make your social circle sit up and take notice.