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June 2013

June 28, 2013: The rumor says the Dodge brand will soon be dead, but is that really such a bad thing? Maybe not. Porsche builds a pedal car for those 5 and under, but you can bet Mommy and Daddy will have to take out a loan to feed Junior’s obsession. Renault releases the first details of its 2014 F1 engine, and it’s a hybrid. No, really. Toyota may be famous for the Prius hybrid, but its Tacoma pickup eschews batteries for tons of personality, capability and charm. Mazda, meanwhile, pulls the wraps off the 2014 Mazda3, and produces a more mature, sophisticated compact car. Ford, on the other hand, goes in search of fuel economy, but finds the makings of a performance full-size pickup. Speaking of speed, Al Vinikour vents about unreasonable speed limits Michigan drivers, and O.J. Simpson.



June 14, 2013: Mercedes recently pulled the covers off the new S-Class. No longer hemmed in at the top by the Maybach, the S-Class can become the car it was always meant to be: the top of the line. The question is whether sybaritic luxury touches and tons of tech are enough to take on Rolls and Bentley. Speaking of Rolls-Royce, Silver Ghost enthusiasts leave today on a recreation of the 2013 Alpine Rally. Using period cars and traveling the same route, it will be interesting to see how participants fare on this centenary event. Operation 2015, on the other hand, is a charitable program designed to keep the only airworthy RAF Avro Vulcan in the air through 2015. We have the details. Meanwhile, Toyota showed a fresh concept at the Tokyo Toy Show aimed at bringing families together. It’s a car you build with your kids, and both of you can drive. Speaking of Toyota, the company recently introduced a new Corolla. Best known for its appliance-like durability and personality, the new version injects a bit of styling into the mix. Is it enough to counter the attack of more stylish and lively cars from the competition? The other side of that coin is represented by the Hyundai Sonata 2.0T. It wowed buyers with its long list of standard features, reasonable price and breakout styling, but how is this recipe faring four years on? Ever wonder what Le Mans was like in 1956 from the driver’s seat of a D-Type Jaguar? Thanks to a regular reader, we have the video. Lastly, Al Vinikour speaks out about what should be done for inattentive and incapable drivers, and what he thinks buyers of driverless cars should do. The answer is the same for both.


May 2013

May 31, 2013: Porsche’s long-awaited 918 Spyder finally breaks cover, and it’s the technical tour de force everyone expected. Faster than the Carrera GT that preceded it, the 918 Spyder does more with fewer cylinders while adding a hint of green. Speaking of technology, Audi relates how it has used advanced engineering to run up an enviable record at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Make sure you click on the photo to see for yourself just how tightly packed these sports racers really are. On the other side of the earth, so to speak, Al Vinikour and Chris Sawyer look at two offerings from Mitsubishi, a car company that is at the top of the list (next to Volvo) of car companies analysts are betting will leave the U.S. market. Owners of MGBs, Midgets and Austin Minis may be interested in news that British Motor Heritage has replacement shells for their vehicles. The latest run of MGB shells is done, but you can get an order in for the October batch — and alloy closure panels — if you act quickly.  Once you get the MG done, you may want to show it off to your friends in the city, but balk at the idea because parking can be a real pain. Fear not. Streetline has introduced a parking app for smartphones that helps users find open parking slots. BMW just unveiled its Concept Ninety, a modern interpretation of the iconic R 90 S. Done in concert with California’s Roland Sands Design, the Concept Ninety captures the spirit and essence of the original. Next, Al Vinikour goes off about people who walk unlit on darkened side roads, and the people who run into them.  It’s an eye-opening read. Keeping with the theme of accidents waiting to happen, we give you Episode 6 of Cars in Context Television. Host John Clor and TVD editor Chris Sawyer discuss the future of performance cars in a rapidly changing world.



May 17, 2013: Sir Torquil Norman (that’s his real name and title) has underwritten the design of a car made specifically for rural Africa. The aptly named OX promises rugged reliable transport for areas that have no regular transportation or hope of rising from grinding poverty, and follows in the footsteps of the late, lamented Africar. Not quite as entry-level or as rudimentary, Kia’s Soul and Rio SX promise a lot and deliver on much of it, but fall short in some important ways. Similarly, the 2014 Lexus IS hopes to eradicate its predecessors’ shortcomings, and ignite a passion previously foreign to Lexus. Can it do it? Rolls Royce, meanwhile, turns to its Bespoke division for a special run of Celebration Edition cars. This group of craftsmen is a growing force inside the company, and produce a high percentage of special vehicles for the automaker. Worried that you might end up on the wrong side of the law in an accident? Genius has an affordable dash cam for you. Speaking of affordable, gear-head artist Sabrina Chun’s company Blackprint Design has created a line of modern automotive art that is suitable for framing, and reasonably priced. Elsewhere, the folks at Phoneshield have created a protective carrying case for iPhone 5 users that lets them mount it on a motorcycle or other vehicle, and use it to provide GPS, music, etc. BMW has introduced a new member of its F 800 GS line, the Adventure, ready made for Phoneshield buyers. The mid-size enduro/touring bike is a bit more focused on rough terrain, but is designed for those road trips that follow pavement or trail. Come to think of it, clomping around off road might be just the thing for Al Vinikour this week as the mud and dirt would hide the sin of black alloy wheels.



May 3, 2013: Last week was the first of many we will be taking off this summer. TVD is temporarily moving to a biweekly production schedule in the hopes that at least one classic car’s restoration, and a number of other more lucrative projects, are completed in a timely fashion. Nevertheless, there’s a lot in store for you this week. First up, Peugeot Sport prepares to attack Pikes Peak with endurance racing technology. Next, Volvo shows the KERS system it has been testing on the road, and is readying for production. Toyota facelifts the 4Runner, making it more comfortable, more aggressive, and surprisingly like a Mitsubishi Raider in at least one respect. Chris Sawyer tests the fantastic new Scion FR-S and comes away doubting Toyota claims about the car. He also looks at McLaren’s MP4 12C Can-Am Edition video, and reminisces about a “simply brilliant” program he put together for Lotus that never got off the ground. Then he questions the sanity of bureaucrats involved in America’s fuel economy and emissions testing. Finally, Al Vinikour takes aim at folks who turn their rides into a rolling beauty salon, and get ready for their day while rolling down the road.




April 2013

April 25, 2013: We're taking the week off here at TVD, but will be back next week with new features and reviews. In the interim, take the time to tour the site, see some things you might have missed, and leave comments for our staff.


April 19, 2013: The race engineers at Prodrive have gotten together with the production engineers and created a formula by which they can create an optimized race car for a reasonable amount of money. Though it sounds like heresy, they claim to have developed the idea while creating the Mini Countryman World Rally car, a vehicle that proved quite successful straight out of the box. Perhaps more bizarre are the chairs designed by Maserati and Mazda for Milan Design Week. The Maserati seat looks more comfortable, but it is Mazda’s Kodo Chair that has the sleekness you would expect from a maker of expensive Italian sports cars. At Shanghai’s motor show, Mercedes pulled the wraps off its Concept GLA. This small SUV has many over-the-top features you expect from a concept, but is very close in look and feel to the production GLA that launches next year. Shanghai also is the venue at which BMW launched its X4 concept. A bite-sized version of the X6 SUV coupe, the X4 seems like the answer to a question nobody asked. However, when you run the numbers, the idea behind these vehicles makes a lot of sense. Continuing with the BMW theme, the company’s heritage division teams up with transmission ZF to make a limited number of new transmissions for its 1930s 328 sports car to the original design, only better. Lastly, Al Vinikour questions whether or not anyone at the car companies is paying attention to the design of steering wheel controls, or whether they consider it enough just to have them.


April 12, 2013: Sunday April 7th was the 45th anniversary of one of the saddest days in motor racing. On that day in 1968, two-time F1 World Champion Jim Clark was killed while competing in a F2 race at Germany’s Hockenheim. A man of incredible talent, Clark was admired by fans and competitors alike, and his death shook the foundations of the sport. We have downloaded a documentary on the life and times of the Scottish champion that originally appeared on BBC Four. If you know nothing about the man, take this as an opportunity to learn about the quiet sheep farmer turned race driver. Conversely, if you are familiar with Clark, become reacquainted with his accomplishments and gentle nature. Speaking of Formula One and heroes, the new Ron Howard film, Rush, which chronicles the story of Niki Lauda’s near-fatal crash at the Nurburgring in 1976 and his battle for the F1 driver’s title against James Hunt, premiers later this year. Chris Sawyer looks back to that time, and recounts a chance encounter with an American hero who played a pivotal role in Lauda’s survival. On a completely different note, Yamaha introduces a product that bike owners, especially those who go off road, will appreciate. It’s not what you expect from the Japanese motorcycle manufacturer. Finally this week, our own Al Vinikour has a solution for interminable construction delays. It’s a simple common sense solution that could cut construction time in half, and drive everyone wed to the old ways crazy.


April 5, 2013: We were there for the launch of the Prius v, but now we’ve had the chance to spend a week behind the wheel. Is it a hybrid SUV alternative or just a glorified Prius wagon? And why is Mazda’s full-size CX-9 not one of the most popular crossovers in the market? Based on our time with the Japanese mild-roader, it should be at the top of shopping lists. Nissan released two videos this week. This first looks at digital versus analog design, and reminds us of time spent in Canada with a famous designer. The second shows the post-war ancestor of the all-electric Nissan Leaf, and an innovative answer to difficult times. Fancy a quick cup of espresso? How about one brewed in a V10 or V12 engine? However, if you really fancy the best of the best, you might want to consider buying the Ferrari F1 team, which gets plenty of perks from the FIA. Speaking of initials in place of names, Al Vinikour vents about the recent spate of alphanumeric car names.



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.