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Friday
Mar012013

March 2013

March 29, 2013: The auto show circus stopped in New York this week. Plenty of new sheetmetal, new tech and new ideas mixed with enough facelifts, refreshes and updates to keep journalists on their toes. Even Hyundai, which showed off its revised Equus luxury sedan, got into the act with a reveal that combined lounge and trendy eatery on the show floor, and made company President and CEO John Krafcik look as though he was trying out for Leno’s slot on The Tonight Show. You can read about the more interesting models in our New York coverage. Under the Driver’s Seat heading you’ll also find a comparison of Toyota’s Camry and Ford’s latest Fusion. The best-selling Camry had a higher trim level than the Ford, but that didn’t hold Dearborn’s mid-size sedan back. It came out swinging. See if it landed a knockout or got its clock cleaned. On the lighter side, though the folks from Consumer Reports probably didn’t intend it that way, is a report on motorcycle reliability. It’s an eye-opener for reasons other than the obvious. And Al Vinikour tells tales of car salesmen and their tricks.

 

March 22, 2013: The weather in The Soo, as it’s called, was great, and so were the technologies shown by Continental Automotive Systems. You can read about them here. Speaking of technology, it’s a big week for new tech at The Virtual Driver. Xtrac shows off a hybridized automated manual gearbox for supercars that cuts emissions, increases efficiency, improves shift quality and costs less than a DCT. Not to be outdone, the folks from CVT maker Torotrak have taken a financial interest in Flybrid, makers of flywheel-powered hybrid units. McLaren Automotive, meanwhile, put out a video to celebrate the Stateside arrival of the MP4-12C Spider, and shot it on a cold and snowy pass in Colorado. Speaking of marketing, why is Chrysler doing better than Lincoln despite spending far less money? We have an opinion. Saab’s creditors are auctioning off the last 78 vehicles in their possession, including a few rare treats. Detroit Electric rises from the ashes with two ex-Lotus types at the helm, and promises a new electric sports car that’s built in Detroit with the help of a “global manufacturer.” Meanwhile, Hyundai teases its next-generation Genesis Coupe with a concept to be shown at the South Korean Motor Show. And Al Vinikour goes off on a tirade about gas caps and the people who ignore them.

 

March 14, 2013: We’re a little early this week as the staff is heading for beautiful Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan to drive vehicles with new technologies from the folks from Continental Automotive. Given that this Upper Peninsula paradise just got seven inches of new snow, it might be a great place for the Ford Explorer Sport we just tested. The Terrain Management System and all-wheel drive would be a big help, but its relative thirst and sporty pretensions might not. Another non-starter in the snow sweepstakes would be Harley-Davidson’s new bike, the Breakout. The chopped fenders and fat rear tires are best left for sunny weather. Speaking of vacations, how about renting a supercar the next time you travel to Europe? Hertz Supercars has a lineup you won’t want to miss. However, if low-volume exotic that doesn’t need constant care is more your style, check out Infiniti’s QX60 Hybrid. It’s powered by a combination of a supercharged four-cylinder engine and electric motor. Speaking of force-fed small displacement motors, the rumor mill is full of talk that McLaren will dump Mercedes power for Honda in 2015. And our own Al Vinikour spouts off about manually shifted automatic and automatically shifted manual transmissions. He’s not happy, though that’s nothing new.

 

March 8, 2013: The Geneva Motor Show was this week, and saw the introduction of a number of new cars. Perhaps the most interesting, as much for its technology as its name, was the Ferrari LaFerrari. (You read that right.) This hypercar brings F1 technology to the street, and is a direct competitor for the McLaren P1. Speaking of the LaFerrari, Ferrari President Luca di Montezemolo’s statement about who the car is for is perhaps one of the most cynical utterances ever, and raises the question about the need for such machines. You can read our take, here. At the show, Rolls Royce pulled the wraps off its gargantuan Wraith Coupe. And Toyota and Buick (through Opel/Vauxhall) showed a pair of convertibles destined for these shores. Back in the real world, we test a Mazda MX-5 Miata in the snow, and like it. Ditto the Mercedes C300 Al Vinikour piloted, though with the bonus of 4Matic all-wheel drive. Al also takes to task the “geniuses” who measure out parking lot slots.

 

March 1, 2013: We spend time with Jon Bereisa, spiritual father of the Chevy Volt and all-around smart guy to talk about EVs, hybrids, Tesla and more. Bereisa pulls no punches, lays out the plusses and minuses of our current trip down the road to vehicle electrification, and gives a fascinating look into what the cars of 2040 might be like. Closer to this decade, Al Vinikour drives the 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee, and disses a girly-man who gets in his way. Chris Sawyer takes a first look at the 2014 Kia Forte. But does this handsome compact sedan promise more than it delivers? Finally, Al gets a truck delivered to his home, and finds technologies he forgot existed inside.

 

 

Friday
Feb082013

February 2013

February 23, 2013: After we sent the issue live, Chrysler revealed official photos of the new Jeep Cherokee. Rather than wait until next week, we thought we’d being them to you now. Click the link to go straight to the story.

 

February 22, 2013: It’s a big truck issue this week. First we look at the speculation surrounding the next Ford F-150. Will it be the Atlas Concept in aluminum, or will Ford supplement it with a unit-body F-100? Maybe… not. Check out what we hear Ford might have up its sleeve. Speaking of pickups, Al Vinikour takes a spin in the 2013 Chevy Avalanche, a SUV/pickup combination that started fast, but faded quickly. Chris Sawyer, meanwhile, tests the Ford Flex. Part minivan, part SUV, it’s a unique market entry that isn’t quite what the Fairlane Concept promised. Also, we take a first look at Toyota’s new RAV4. It’s a huge improvement over its predecessor, and enough to make folks in Korea nervous. We also review actor James Garner’s memoir, and discover what Steve McQueen really thought about Garner replacing him in the movie Grand Prix. And we round out the week with another Tirade by Al Vinikour. This time he harkens to those days of yesteryear when your car’s interior was as dangerous to your health as a gun-toting maniac.

 

February 14, 2013: There’s a lot in the Driver’s Seat this week, starting with the new Ram ProMaster. A modified Fiat Ducato, this front-drive cargo van replaces the Dodge Sprinter, and competes head-on with Ford’s new Transit. Continuing with Fiat, the production-ready Alfa Romeo 4C makes its debut at the Geneva Auto Show next month, and we have the details of the carbon-chassis sports car to be built by Maserati. Yes, Maserati. Speaking of carbon fiber, McLaren has released pictures of the P1 supercar’s interior, which is a textile weaver’s dream. Next up is an American diesel… from GM. It’s taken decades to overcome the Oldsmobile V8 diesel debacle, but GM’s finally ready to offer a diesel in an American car. The Cruze Diesel looks ready to take on VW’s Jetta TDI, and exorcise some old demons. Even more shocking (sorry) are the new electric police/security bikes from Zero Motorcycles. Available in Street and Dual Sport versions, they are aimed at the global police, security and military markets. Finally, Al Vinikour writes an open letter to municipalities suffering from the economic downturn. You might not like his ideas, until you realize he says nothing about speeding…

 

 February 8, 2013: Al and Chris are back from Scottsdale where they drove the 2014 Kia Sorento. It my not look different, but nearly everything is new under the skin, including new engines and drivetrains. Al does something unusual this week — a technology piece! He talks to the folks at Energy Power Systems about the “new” technology of lead-acid batteries for hybrids and EVs. Speaking of technology, Chris discovers a new safety system that, in essence, taps the driver on the shoulder to get his attention. Finally, Mercedes-Benz furthers the cause of keeping the public informed about its history by selling a comic book about company founder Carl Benz.

 

 

Thursday
Jan032013

January 2013

January 30, 2013: The next three weeks are crazy busy, starting with a trip out to Arizona to driver the new Kia Forte. That’s the reason for the early issue this week, and the abbreviated content. Next week it’s off to Chicago for the auto show, and the following week it’s back to Arizona for a drive of Toyota’s new RAV4. In the interim, Al Vinikour weighs in on winter driving, specifically the careless louts who drive off without adequately cleaning snow from their vehicles. And Chris Sawyer comments on the mad dash to increase the ethanol content in our fuel and the damage it might do to your car. Who wins in this battle? Certainly not the consumer.

 

January 25, 2013: After the rush and bother of the Detroit auto show, this week’s issue is quieter and more eclectic. First up is a look at the technology used by Mercedes to set an on-road speed record in 1938, and the Porsche-designed vehicle they built in hopes of bringing the land speed record to Nazi Germany. Meanwhile, automotive analysts are singing the praises of Tata’s Jaguar Land Rover unit, but Chris Sawyer wonders if they have missed the point; can it sustain its current pace and pay the price to do so? Finally, we have the third episode of Cars In Context Television, co-hosted by John Clor and Editor Sawyer. Make sure to pay close attention as barbs fly early and often. And, just to show he’s a nice guy, Sawyer has given Al Vinikour the week off. (He's not fooling anybody, especially Al.)

 

January 18, 2013: It’s been one heck of a week. First, the annual North American International Auto Show took place in Detroit’s Cobo Hall. Not only did Chevy launch its latest Corvette, many automakers brought their best to the Motor City in an attempt to impress the natives, the press, and each other. This gathering of global automakers got our own Al Vinikour thinking about cars as teaching tools, and how their diverse places of origins could lead today’s youth to become interested in geography and geopolitics. (Editor’s note: Despite what Al wrote in his last sentence, we have a hard time imagining him on the couch grooving to Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In) or Itchycoo Park for that matter, nursing the munchies.) Finally, The Virtual Driver was contacted by representatives of TheStreet.com and asked if we might be interested in reprinting its coverage of the top car auction sales in 2012 in our Lifestyle section. They didn’t have to ask twice.

 

January 11, 2013: Next week, it’s the Detroit auto show. This week, the world’s automakers descended on Las Vegas for the Consumer Electronics Show. CES continues to grow in importance as car companies add more software, hardware and capability to their products. First up is Delphi, which introduced a plug-and-play connectivity solution that can do some of the things OnStar can, and some things it can’t. Next up is Hyundai. It showed its ideas for future on-board electronics, including connecting to Apple’s Siri and Nuance’s Dragon Drive. Finally, Ford gave notice that it plans to be an even bigger player in the automotive electronics field. On the lighter side, the folks at Laguna Seca have created a run of Corvette t-shirts to celebrate the marque’s 60th anniversary, and Mecum Auctions has a 1954 Corvette that has risen from the dead, so to speak. Al Vinikour spends a week with the Prius c and comes back smitten, despite its diminutive size. Finally, Al remembers those thrilling days of yesteryear when new tires would get you to the lake, and old ones would keep you afloat.

 

January 4, 2013: How many times have you perused the news section of your favorite magazine or blog, and read something that never came true? The many, many iterations of the mid-engined Corvette are a prime example; lots of coverage, but no vehicle. Chris Sawyer may have an answer as to why this phenomena keeps happening, and its stems from a conversation he had years ago with a former colleague. Speaking of ghosts, Sawyer was certain the last appearance he made on the In a Heartbeat TV would never get aired. Technical difficulties made it impossible to upload the show, but perseverance has paid off. You can see the show here. Al Vinikour returns from vacation with a story about driving the new Land Rover LR2 in snowy Montreal. Plus, he takes time out to take owners of rusted out vehicles to task, and question why vehicles built in the “quality years” rust so quickly.  

 

 

Thursday
Dec062012

December 2012

December 28, 2012: We’re off this week, and will be back in the New Year. However, we want to send a shout out to Jack Yan, publisher of the fashion magazine Lucire and the automotive encyclopedia Autocade, and Keith Adams, publisher/founder of AROnline. It seems Keith posted a comment on, and link to, Editor Sawyer’s Lincoln story on his Facebook page, and Mr. Yan decided to take a look. That resulted in this e-mail to The Virtual Driver: “I haven’t bookmarked an automotive site for some time. You’ve just broken the drought. Keep up the great work.” Talk about an unexpected Christmas present!

 

December 21, 2012: We’re just a few days short of Christmas, and a week off, but loaded for bear. First up, Chris Sawyer tests the 2013 Buick Regal GS, a vehicle that rekindles the relationship between Buick and Opel. Next, he gets the inside story on Ford’s Transit van. Al Vinikour drives the Toyota Venza, a high-top Camry with a unique style. Infiniti rethinks its naming strategy, comes up with—surprise!—letters and numbers, and announces a new model to be built in Britain. Speaking of the English, McLaren launches a line of clothing and accessories for MP4-12C owners, all in basic black. Chris Sawyer buys a book (!) about a different kind of horsepower, and reviews it. And Al Vinikour takes on people who hog parking spots.

 

December 14, 2012: It didn’t start out as a Mercedes week, but it sure turned into one. First, Chris Sawyer came across photographs of old Mercedes concepts and styling models on its media web site. He downloaded a few to share, with commentary. While he was there, he found Mercedes’ explanation of the new CLA-Class 4Matic system; a first for the company in that it is used on a transverse front-drive platform. Finally, there is the update of the E-Class for the 2014 model year. Still on the luxury car track, Sawyer shares his memories of his encounters with Lincoln. See why he isn’t filled with confidence in the Lincoln Motor Company. And while all that was happening, GM introduced its new light-duty pickups. Darwinian in their adherence to evolution, are they enough to stem the sales tide? Finally, Al Vinikour combines Talk Radio, infotainment systems and the Civil War in a single column.

 

December 7, 2012: Though this may be the 71st anniversary of the event behind FDR’s most famous speech, there’ll be no sneak attack in this week’s issue. First up is Al Vinikour’s First Run review of the 2013 VW Beetle Convertible. Al was pleased with the drop top, but not the weather he encountered on the trip. Next, Chris Sawyer drives the Chevy Sonic, and discovers that GM can build a decent small car. Speaking of surprises, he also finds a press release that is the automotive equivalent of junk food; worthless but oh-so tasty. Finally, Al Vinikour asks when a safety feature actually becomes a liability.