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Thursday
Jun142012

May 2012

May 25, 2012: We’re Porsche heavy this week, but not in the way you might think. First we take a look at the Porsche 918 Spyder, of which Porsche has released official “spy photos”. Next, we — or more accurately, Claude Dudouit — blow the doors off the legendary Porsche 917, and for $1,600 you can hang one of the doors on your wall. Keeping to the German theme, we look at a concept bicycle — you read that right — built by the folks at Audi. It even helps you do a wheelie safely, though there’s no quattro model. Nissan introduced its 2013 Altima to the press, and The Editor went to Nashville to take a look. He came back impressed. Finally, Al takes issue with those folks who drive old cop cars and the people who can’t work up the courage to pass them.

 

May 18, 2012: Al recounts time spent with automotive legend Carroll Shelby, and stories you won’t read   anywhere else. Johnson Controls uses a manufacturing process designed for wood-backed interior panels, and creates a new way to make affordable carbon fiber exterior pieces. Old Spice goes retro-chic with a sand castle DeLorean. Mini’s Countryman stays for a week, redefines the term “crossover” and proves once again that experience and dedication are key to memorable cars. And Al tells all those @#&*! drivers with no manners or concern for anyone but themselves just what #$@*&^ they are, and what he’d like to do with them.

 

May 11, 2012: With the explosive growth in smartphones and personal electronics, streaming data directly to the car eventually would happen. And now it has with the creation of Clarion’s Smart Access service. The company also launched Next GATE, an in-car controller for Apple’s iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S that works with the Smart Access system. If that isn’t high-tech enough, read about the aerospace engineers who modified a Triumph Speed Triple in order to test components of their suborbital rocket’s propellant pump. It brings a whole new meaning to “Virtual Rider”. Back here on earth, we visited TechShop’s Detroit branch. It’s hands-on heaven, and a great place to work on a project or take a new idea from design to delivery. Next, The Editor — after finally calming down enough to write a cogent, coherent piece free of expletives — sat down to reply to a recent appearance by Bob Lutz on local talk radio. Read the Editor’s reply, and feel free to comment on Lutz’s proposal. Finally, Al is at it again. This time, he wants everyone to ditch the old dial-and-pointer speedometer for a digital version, but some may think that reason for a single-finger salute. See where you come down on the “Digit vs. Digits” debate.

 

May 4, 2012: Al’s been traveling for the past few weeks, and the fruits of his labor are very apparent this week. He starts off with a look at the 2013 Dodge Dart. Is it a game changer for Chrysler (and the industry) or just a warmed-over Alfa Romeo? Next, Al takes a spin in the new Mercedes-Benz SL550. Chock full of technology, it was good enough to make Al thinks he’s more handsome than Brad Pitt when he’s behind the wheel. Finally, Al wishes the worst possible on drivers who think you should get out of their way. And we do mean worst. Just to make sure it wasn’t all Al all the time, The Editor wrote a review of the Mazda3 i Grand Touring he drove recently. The first vehicle to showcase Skyactive Technology, it is a target on many fronts for every other automaker in the compact segment to try and hit.

Thursday
Jun142012

April 2012

April 27, 2012: The Editor had a tough time with this one. After a week or so of what can only be described as insanity, the word leaked out that DRB-Hicom, which got Lotus when it purchased Malaysian car maker Proton, denied it had made any plans to sell the seminal British sports car maker. Yet KPMG reportedly was retained to find a Chinese buyer for the company. After many late hours scouring the Internet, speaking with friends and former colleagues, tracking down leads and working with the folks at AROnline, he wrote a lengthy piece synopsizing the current situation. You won’t want to miss it. (NOTE: The fluidity of the situation at Lotus has required addendums as things change and become more clear. Please keep returning to this story for updates.) On a brighter note, Jaguar introduced two new boosted engines at China Auto 2012 in Beijing. These modular designs — which include a four-cylinder — produce plenty of horsepower, offer greater fuel efficiency, and — joy of joys — supplement the current 5.0-liter V8. Hyundai’s Accent may be the entry-level vehicle in the Hyundai brand, but is it also the one closest to the heart and soul of the Korean automaker? It just might be. Read what we have to say about the littlest Hyundai sold in America. When you’re finished with that, see what our Al Vinikour has to say about the 2013 Ford Escape. Is it a significant step forward, and will traditional buyers like its new Focus-like styling? You be the judge, but don’t forget to follow along to the Hokey Pokey… really. Speaking of judging, Al takes a walk down memory lane, reminiscing about some of the nameplates that have gone to car heaven. See if you agree with his choices.

 

April 20, 2012: Late April is the perfect time for Spring cleaning, and what better time to take a look at improving your automotive lifestyle? For example, if your furniture is getting old, why not replace it withSwitchCars.com photo chairs, tables, sofas, etc. designed by Mercedes-Benz, and built by an Italian luxury furniture maker? Or maybe you have a strong hankering for a hot rod and an E-Type Jaguar, but can’t afford both. What do you do? Check out our Lifestyle page for a restomod Series I E-Type that fits the bill. On a more serious note, we speak with the folks from interior supplier Johnson Controls to get an inside look at what changes you can expect in in-car interactivity, and how this is tied to consumer electronics and the technical savvy of the car buyer. Which brings us to a new touch pad device from TRW that brings this technology into more cars, with more functionality. And Al? He takes a look at the new naming convention that replaces vehicle names with letters. Confusing? Yes, but he also thinks it borders on criminally stupid. We wouldn’t expect anything less from Mr. Vinikour.

 

April 13, 2012: For all you enjoying the warm Spring weather, but wondering which two-wheeler should adorn your garage, we welcome back Scott Bowles, The Virtual Rider, to review the Harley-Davidson Switchback. Read his review for the answer to whether a Harley can be considered “practical”. Impracticality is part of the sport coupe ownership experience, but Hyundai’s Veloster marries edgy styling and a tight package with the practicality of three doors and a hatch. And while this sounds like the title for a British comedy starring Hugh Grant, is it enough to make the Veloster more practical without losing any sportiness? Finally, two from Al Vinikour. First his review of Bryce Hoffman’s book on Ford and how it came through the industry meltdown relatively unscathed. This is followed by his Tirade on seat belt design, and the difficulties poorly designed latches can bring. But there’s a surprise: TRW has just introduced a modification to the standard latch unit that could make Al a happy man… Oh what am I thinking. He’ll never be happy!


April 6, 2012: We're taking the week off to celebrate the Easter holiday. Enjoy the time off, and we'll see you back here Friday the 13th!

Thursday
Jun142012

March 2012

March 30, 2012: In Michigan, March has come in like a lamb, but is leaving like a schizophrenic, never certain what temperature it should be. Monday was balmy and perfect for a run down to Detroit’s Hard Rock Café for the announcement of Dodge’s participation in the Global RallyCross Championship. It will run the new Dart, driven by motocross and Supercross legend, Travis Pastrana. Chris Sawyer spent a little time with Pastrana, and says he’s not as crazy as you might think. On Tuesday, it was off to Auburn Hills to see what Jeep has cooked up for this year’s Easter Safari in Moab. The clear but crisp (c-o-l-d) weather provided the perfect backdrop for concepts both real and fanciful. Wednesday warmed up again, just in time for Ford to announce the Explorer Sport. Powered by a 350-hp EcoBoost V6, it promises lots of go to go with the show (or is that SHO?). The Rumor Mill returns this week, and asks what’s behind Jost Capito’s fast exit from Ford for VW, who is responsible for the Toyota GT 86/Scion FRS’ handling, whether or not Toyota is watching Lotus’s death march and waiting to strike, and what the Lexus LF-A and Hyundai have in common. Chris Sawyer, meanwhile, sits down with friend and former colleague John Clor to discuss oil prices, and asks what can be done to stop this insanity. (A lot, as it turns out.) And Al takes umbrage with drivers who don’t accelerate with alacrity when the light turns green — even the dead ones.

 

March 23, 2012: Curious about the silver scrap in the picture? It’s the remains of a crushed Mercedes 300 SL replica. One whose makers didn’t have Mercedes' permission to build. Read about what happened when German Customs seized the car as it was heading out of Germany. Had the people responsible for the bogus Mercedes been smart, they could have used OnStar’s new aftermarket FMV unit to report the car stolen, called for roadside assistance, called their lawyers or asked about traffic and weather in the vicinity of the local jail. But their loss may be your gain if your vehicle is compatible with the unit. Read what we have to say about the OnStar FMV, and whether or not it’s right for you. Speaking of technology plusses and minuses, Al gives his opinion about steering wheel controls. Good? Bad? Exasperating? Yes, he says, and more. Finally, you can catch up on your Formula 1 reading in time for this weekend’s Malaysian Grand Prix. Though Peter Wright’s book is now 11 years old, it explains a lot about the technology and work necessary to create a competitive challenger, and why – for many — Formula 1 is no longer fun.

 

March 16, 2012: This week the Driver’s Seat is getting a workout. First up, Al goes to Vegas to drive the Fiat 500 Abarth. Though diminutive and cute, the Abarth proved to be a hoot to drive, and one of Al’s recent favorites. If that isn’t enough, the on-the-go “Angriest Man in Automotive Journalism” spent time in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. There he evaluated Mercedes’ 4Matic all-wheel-drive system. And, while he was at it, Al contemplated why a place that gets as much as 700 inches of snow each year can have smooth, well-maintained roads when his beloved Michigan can’t. Speaking of questions for the ages, Chrhis Sawyer took time out to evaluate Ford’s F-150 EcoBoost. Ford says it has the power of a V8, but the economy of a V6. Find out if this indeed the case, and whether or not this ability has any drawbacks that might kill the deal. The big deal this week was the announcement that Nissan would be the technical partner for the DeltaWing Le Mans project. This begs the question: Why didn’t any American automakers step up to support this wild, innovative program? Finally, we take a look under the hood of the new battery powered Mercedes AMG SLS E-Cell. It’s a supercar that runs on batteries, but is it the answer to a question nobody asked?

 

March 9, 2012: Switzerland is a country of amazing beauty, delicious chocolate, numbered bank accounts and one hell of a motor show. The latter is surprising since the Swiss don’t like speed… or noise. It’s just not proper. Yet Geneva is a proper motor show, and the first major European show of the season. It’s a great place for automakers to launch new cars early in the new year, or to tease the public with concepts. We put on our walking shoes and take a look at some of the more interesting vehicles on display in the Swiss capital. The words “interesting” and “Switzerland” conjure up another image: a reimagined Jaguar E-Type. Swiss designer Robert Palm is bringing his 2011 Growler concept to life as the Lyonheart K. Engineered and built in England, it is based on Jaguar XKR mechanicals, built from “genuine” materials, and costs more than anyone at TVD will make in a lifetime. We celebrate the birthday of one of the world’s most famous and desire race/road cars: the Mercedes-Benz 300 SL. Launched just seven years after the end of World War II, the 300 SL helped reestablish Mercedes’ sporting credentials, and boosted interest in the German car maker. Despite all this talk of the world’s timepiece capital, Al finds himself perplexed by the very act of setting the time in the cars he drives. With the explosion of buttons and in-dash technologies, it has gotten much more difficult to perform this simple task. Read how Al deals with this problem, and you’ll understand why his iPad often defaults to German.

 

March 2, 2012: It’s been a busy week here at TVD. Al is back from driving the new Hyundai Azera, a car the Editor once described as “the best Oldsmobile 98 ever made.” With Olds dead and its customers scattered to the four winds, is that a target worth shooting at, or has Hyundai refocused its sights on a new target? Speaking of new targets, the 1.0-liter EcoBoost from Ford isn’t just for the European Focus and Fiesta. It’s going global. What makes this engine special? Read all about the first three-cylinder engine in Ford history to find out. Not strange enough for you? Then how about a small coupe-like SUV that is also a convertible and pickup? It will debut in Geneva later this month. If rumor is more your style, take a look at a new feature we have called The Rumor Mill. It looks at what’s being said behind the scenes, and gives you a clue as to what’s happening in the industry today. It will appear whenever the gossip gets juicy. After bending two wheels on a monster Michigan pothole, Chris Sawyer vented his spleen, and Al took up the cause. Read his tirade on these asphalt aggravations, and then take a listen to a recent podcast Al and Editor Sawyer did with the folks from RoundAbout.

Thursday
Jun142012

February 2012

February 24, 2012: Last week we were heavy on tech. This week it’s new vehicles. We start with Al’s review of the 2013 Hyundai Genesis Coupe. It’s had its own Lifestyle Lift, and some heart surgery. Is it a new vehicle or an old warhorse with a bad nip and tuck? Next, Al and Chris review the new Toyota Prius c. This is the smallest Prius ever, and perhaps the most intriguing. Chris takes a look at what makes the Prius c tick while Al (who was there for one of his other outlets — the cad!) tells what it’s like around the streets of Delray Beach, Florida. Speaking of swanky surroundings, Mini and Ilaria Fendi have gotten together to create men’s and women’s bags made from Mini Roadster leftovers. Chris Sawyer gets the “Timing Is Everything” award when he goes on TV (again!) to talk about winter driving just as a storm hits Michigan. Finally, Al vents his spleen on interior engineers and designers who make finding, and using, the gearshift a nightmare.

 

February 17, 2012: Technology is the word this week, from the sublime to the scary fast. First up is a new touchpad technology from TRW Automotive. It uses an affordable multi-graphic rear projection display that shows you more than the numbers that will unlock your car’s doors. Next are affordable Metal Matrix Composite brake rotors. NYU-Poly and REL, Inc. are working on this technology, and suggest it can remove 30 lb. of unsprung weight from the typical mid-size sedan, last the life of the car, and perform better than the cast iron rotors in production today. At TVD, we call that a bargain. Our last technology is a Lola LMP1 prototype outfitted with an electric drivetrain. If that isn’t enough, some of the electrical systems on the vehicle are powered by structural batteries; cells whose chemistry has been integrated into the composites making up the structure of the vehicle. It’s pretty trick stuff. Just don’t expect to see it running at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Back in the real world, Chris Sawyer takes the Mazda2 Touring out to see what it’s made of. Is it a sporting economy car or a fraternal twin to the Ford Fiesta that uses the same underpinnings? Finally, Al responds to a reader e-mail, and gives both barrels to drivers who slow down to a crawl before turning. Even more frightening is that Al’s satirical take on what should be done to these miscreants — disemboweling comes to mind — is one of his milder suggestion.

 

February 10, 2012: It’s a big week at The Virtual Driver. Al spent time in California driving the new 3 Series. Yes, we "hate" him, too. Judging from his words, the new 3 Series is a big step forward from its already excellent predecessor, no matter which engine you choose. This time, however, your choice of motors extends to a four-cylinder with a twin-scroll turbo and its bigger, six-cylinder brother. Next time, Al stays home… In a more serious vein, Al reviews Bill Vlasic’s latest book on the auto industry. This time around, Vlasic takes a look at the decline, fall and rise of Detroit’s automakers, and gives us fascinating insights into why these companies almost collapsed. Meanwhile, Sawyer looks into the situation at Suzuki, wondering if the company can survive in the U.S. market in its present state. (It can’t.) With that in mind, he looks at the Suzuki lineup and puts forward a plan for its revival. He also strips the Chicago Auto Show down to its basics, looking at the newest of the new vehicles and concepts shown in the Windy City. It’s a short, but interesting list. Finally, Al (he was busy this week) looks at into his crystal ball and discovers a time when, unlike his youth, the V8 Nazis keep you from buying a octo-cylindered vehicle.

 

February 3, 2012: Back from his bout with kidney stone removal Chris Sawyer takes us inside the world of VW’s new modular transverse technology. More than just a standardized structural base or set of powertrains, the MQB, as it is called, is a declaration of war by Volkswagen on the competition. It has the potential to slash per unit costs, increase the level of in-vehicle technology affordably, add immense flexibility to the VW Group’s production facilities, and allow it to build more vehicle variations based on a set of common components at a higher profit margin. It’s pretty amazing. While he was convalescing, Sawyer also finished a book on Edsel Ford, the only child of Ford Motor Company’s founder. The 1934 Model 40 Special Roadster Edsel created alongside Ford design chief Bob Gregorie (right) shows the depths of this man’s talents. Little is really known about Edsel, though author Henry Dominguez has done a wonderful job putting together a sympathetic portrait of this forgotten and misunderstood giant. Read the review to find out what a twisted and tragic existence he was forced to lead. Finally, Al gets out on the road to play space invaders, that game where the nicer the car you drive, the more likely it is that people will harm it. He has some sage advice for those who don’t want to play that game.