Technology is fueling changes in the automotive industry like never before. Automakers are increasingly challenged to keep pace with today’s connected consumers who are tethered to their mobile devices and expecting advanced safety features to be more commonplace. In response, automakers are now partnering with some of the most prominent names in data, mobile and processor technologies to create seamless solutions so consumers can continually access information, without taking their hands off the wheel. Technology is about helping transform not only the way consumers think about transportation, but also how these advancements are helping mitigate the issues of distracted driving through hands-free voice commands and vehicle controls as well as autonomous safety measures.
Whether it is Intel technology enabling seamless access to mobile devices or calculating automated ways for vehicles to avoid traffic jams, Qualcomm Technologies Inc.’s cutting-edge embedded modems powering alerts for roadside emergency services, or even a way to find the cheapest gas based on a driver’s location thanks to Scout by Telenav, today’s solutions are road-tested and ready. In-vehicle entertainment is also part of this evolution, with solutions such as Livio Connect enabling entertainment on a global scale by giving drivers access to apps like TuneIn, or Sprint’s unique component integration solutions that make dashboards more like smartphones and tablets.
Consumer demand is driving integration of the car into our digital lives. The move is fueling the emergence of the connected car and the promise of more enjoyable, productive, intuitive and safe experiences for drivers and passengers alike. Imagine running late for an appointment during peak traffic, automatically the car recommends a new route to guide you away from your usual—but now congested—route. Intel’s technology also allows interaction between smartphones and vehicles in more useful ways. By using in-car connectivity, along with the cameras and sensors already in your car, the car can notify you via smartphone if it has been hit in a parking lot. Additionally, near-field communications or a barcode can be used to securely pair a smartphone with your car, enabling your smartphone to become a virtual key for remote keyless entry to your car.
To make these new driving experiences possible, Intel is utilizing its expertise in personal computing, software, security and cloud computing, as well as making significant investments in research and product development. Intel is also working with leading automakers including BMW, Hyundai, Kia, Nissan and Toyota to enhance the in-vehicle experience and bring advanced in-vehicle technologies to market.
Qualcomm Technologies Inc., a global leader in advanced 3G and 4G/LTE wireless modems that are combined with high performance mobile application processors, and a large supplier of wireless modem chipsets to the auto industry, is helping to enable high-speed data access in vehicles resulting in a rich media experience. Qualcomm Technologies’ unique combination of high speed connectivity and processing performance is enabling movies to be streamed to the kids in the rear seat, a world’s worth of audio and internet radio programming, and automated telematics that assist drivers in ways ranging from sending an automated request for roadside emergency service in the case of a crash to receiving a reminder for scheduled maintenance.
With more than a decade of experience in the automotive industry, Qualcomm Technologies continues to provide the underlying wireless and application processor technology that allows automakers and their strategic partners to create new, breakthrough communications enabled applications and services.
Sprint, a Tier 1 communications company and a leader in machine-to-machine (M2M) connectivity in telematics solutions for transportation announced in August that the Chrysler Group selected Sprint as a strategic partner to enable its Uconnect Access in-vehicle communications system.
In addition to component integration and ecosystem management, Sprint aims to help automakers become more effective providers of consumer communications. Sprint’s objective is to make dashboard technology as simple, intuitive and appealing as smartphones and tablets.
With Scout it is about the destination as well as the journey along the way. Scout, available on both iOS and Android, includes voice-guided GPS navigation, speech recognition, traffic rerouting, personalized My Dashboard with commute times, offline navigation and more. In addition, Scout is the first (and only) app that works across the web, phone and in-car systems–offering users an easy and consistent discovery and navigation experience no matter where they are.
With the recent introduction of Scout for AppLink, which integrates the popular smartphone navigation app with voice and vehicle controls through the Ford SYNC AppLink platform, drivers now have access to the app’s full suite of features in a safe, responsible manner. For example, directions are audible through the vehicle’s speakers and turn-by-turn prompts are displayed on the radio display. The road-worthy functions, available to drivers when their smartphone is paired to AppLink, includes access to features such as location-based searches for the lowest gas prices and other points of interest such as restaurants, saving and sharing favorites, and getting live traffic updates for a safe and smart commute. Scout for AppLink will be on display in a 2013 Ford Mustang, so attendees can experience for themselves how the app integrates with the vehicle.
The connected car means many things, including the ability to bring advanced entertainment solutions into vehicles. Thanks to the integration of 3G/4G mobile networks, a driver’s access to rich media ranging from movies for the rear seat to multiple streaming music services is almost limitless. Some of the most exciting applications are radio and music apps, which provide drivers greater listening choices. Livio is a new and important mover in this space, underscored by the recent announcement that GM will incorporate the company’s technology in a solution that will allow Chevy Spark and the Chevy Sonic RS owners to enjoy the popular TuneIn music smartphone app in vehicles equipped with GM’s MyLink Radio. Essentially, the Livio Connect middleware software enables hardware such as the Spark’s installed head unit and radio to connect with smartphone apps like TuneIn and interact with one another. This integration also allows drivers to control the app in a hands-free manner, only using voice and vehicle controls. In the application on display at the Show, the Livio Connect technology will be installed in a Chevy Spark equipped with MyLink Radio to demonstrate how drivers can enjoy any of the 70,000 stations from around the world featured on the mobile TuneIn app.
With so many systems and manufacturers in the mix bringing the connected car and its multiple features into reality, it’s hugely important that a standard be created so all parties involved are on the same page. No real advancement could happen without it. Smartphones from various manufacturers need to be able to integrate with center console displays from others, while automakers have to ensure that all these devices embed efficiently in their vehicles. To that end, members of the Car Connectivity Consortium (CCC) have created MirrorLink™, a technology standard for controlling a nearby smartphone via steering wheel and dashboard buttons and screens. The organization has proven to be a success with membership including more than 80 percent of the world’s automakers and more than 70 percent of the world’s smartphone vendors, as well as related hardware manufacturers such as the makers of display technologies. The list reads like a who’s who of these industries and includes companies such as GM, Toyota, Volkswagen, LG, Nokia, Panasonic and Alpine. Pursuing its goal of ensuring a safe driving environment where driver distraction is eliminated and entertainment and functionality maximized, the Consortium has already garnered the cooperation of these global brands to create MirrorLink version 1.0 and its requisite authorized test labs ensuring the success and growth of the connected car.
The pace of change in society accelerates every year, with breakthrough technologies and rapidly developing countries constantly rewriting the rules in a global economy. How this translates into life on the road for the general public is open to interpretation, but for law enforcement, it is a mission-critical assignment. To better patrol our roads and effectively “protect and serve,” the future highway patrol vehicle will have to be designed with an entirely new set of considerations, including advanced powertrains, alternative fuels, telemetrics and new sizes to effectively navigate dynamic urban environments.
In this the ninth annual Los Angeles Auto Show Design Challenge asks a highly competitive field of major auto manufacturer design studios, from the U.S., Germany and Japan, to solve this puzzle and create the ultimate law enforcement Highway Patrol vehicle for the year 2025. So far, design studios from BMW, General Motors, Honda (both NA and Japan), Mercedes-Benz and Subaru have accepted the challenge to use their innovation and insight to explore creative solutions as they contend for this annual design honor.
BMW Group DesignworksUSA - The BMW Group DesignworksUSA team chose Los Angeles as the region to create a 2025 scenario for the E-Patrol (Human-Drone Pursuit Vehicle). Their research predicted that Los Angeles would have more traffic, faster vehicles and vehicles with alternative fuel sources. The design centered on a modular structure and drone technology that enhanced both teamwork and accessibility. The main structure can deploy three drones. In the case of a pursuit during heavy traffic areas, the patrol officer sitting in the two passenger main structure can deploy either the flying drone or one of the single wheel drones to chase the suspect and report back data to the main structure.
General Motors Advanced Design California - General Motors has created a new electric vehicle system, the Volt Squad, to meet the challenge of a highway system now brimming with cutting edge technologies. The Volt Squad is a three vehicle fleet, designed around the concept of OBSERVE, PURSUE and ENGAGE. Each vehicle has a clearly defined situational role; delivering superior flexibility, presence and capability for the CHP. At the core of the vehicle’s architecture is the VOLT advanced, electronic, propulsion system.
Honda R&D Americas, Inc., Advanced Design Studio, California - Honda Advanced Design has created the CHP Drone Squad, a vehicle-based-system for 2025 designed to work efficiently and seamlessly in the harsh environment of California highways without the need for new infrastructure. The Drone Squad is comprised of a 2 vehicle system. The Auto-Drone operates as a manned or un-manned mission control vehicle which deploys Moto-Drones and can do so on the move. Moto-Drones are un-manned motorcycles capable of being rigged for multiple response or rescue missions.
Honda R&D Company, Ltd., Advanced Design Studio, Tokyo - Honda R&D Japan’s “CHiPs” 2025 Traffic Crawler offers key features that the central office of the California Highway Patrol needs as they adjust to changes in the traffic environment in 2025 where, in addition to conventional traffic problems, vehicles freed from environmental constraints are getting bigger. Despite the transition period to safe automatic driving, the traffic environment is again becoming confusing and challenging as California resumes its once flourishing car culture. In response to the need for strict traffic enforcement, Honda designed a new patrol vehicle that offers sporty mobility with the toughness to respond in severe traffic situations.
Mercedes-Benz Research & Development North America, Inc.: Advanced Design Center California - By 2025, law enforcement officers will need to adapt to even more crowded roads with electronically monitored and controlled traffic, a much larger population, and changes in human behavior. As the most environmentally friendly SUV, the “Mercedes-Benz Ener-G-Force” meets these requirements and helps police and crews around the world. In terms of design, the Ener-G-Force is based on the G-Class; the off-road icon that has been in production since the 1970s, and continues to shape the future as a structurally and technologically advanced SUV.
Subaru Research and Development, Inc. - With the grand opening of Hawaii’s sparkling new inter-island Paradise Highway, Subaru debuts the cutting-edge SHARC (Subaru Highway Automated Response Concept). SHARC highway patrol vehicles will provide an innovative, affordable and environmentally conscious solution for 24-hour highway monitoring, protection and rapid emergency response. Meeting Hawaii’s strict UltraGreen carbon-neutral environmental regulations and reflecting a trend for reduced highway patrol budgets worldwide, zero-emission SHARC vehicles are powered by renewable energy and operate autonomously, eliminating the need for a large full-time highway patrol staff.
Judging criteria was based upon various factors including: consideration of future needs for advanced technology, speed and agility on future freeway systems; creativity of the solution; meeting a specific region’s emission standards; and environmental sensitivity, including maintenance and recyclability.
Entries were judged by Tom Matano, executive director, School of Industrial Design at San Francisco’s Academy of Art University; Imre Molnar, provost and chief academic officer at Detroit’s College for Creative Studies; and Stewart Reed, chair of Transportation Design at Pasadena’s Art Center College of Design. This year’s guest judge, Bruce Meyer, is a board member of the California Highway Patrol 11-99 Foundation, which provides emergency benefits to CHP employees and the members of their families in times of crisis. Mr. Meyer is perhaps better known as a high-profile collector, former racer and past chairman of the Petersen Automotive Museum.
Audi’s incomparable A8 flagship sedan has become synonymous with the V-8 engine — at least on this side of the pond. Big luxury and big engines go together. That was then and this is now — throw synonymous out the window for 2013.
For the first time ever in North America, Audi has inserted a V-6 engine into its flagship sedan. Residing under the hood of the new A8 and A8L is a 3.0-liter supercharged V-6 making 333 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque.
It’s understandable to assume that removing the V-8 and 39 horsepower from a big luxury sedan is a mistake, but that assumption is wrong, backed up by the performance of the 2013 model which is just as quick as the outgoing V-8. It’s doubtful anyone will miss the naturally aspired 4.2-liter engine, but owners should be impressed with the increased gas mileage that comes with the downsizing.
Timed tests show the new V-6 mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission can rocket the A8 from 0 to 60 in 5.4 seconds and complete a quarter mile in 13.9 seconds at 103 miles per hour.
After a week behind the wheel we can attest to those numbers — the new 3.0 model is indeed luxury-car fast. And it proved an amiable companion during an afternoon stint on our favorite stretch of twisting and turning back roads even with the extra 5.1 inches of wheelbase and 5.2 inches of length in the long-wheelbase version.
This luxury performance brings exemplary gas mileage for the segment measured at 17 mpg city and 28 mpg highway for a combined 21 mpg. Remarkable numbers for a 4,409-pound sedan — with no gas guzzler tax. Perhaps some of this mileage can be attributed to a new stop-start feature that shuts the engine down when the car is stopped. Unlike start-stop examples we have driven in BMW and Jaguar models, it’s nearly seamless.
Aside from the new engine, the fourth-generation A8 — introduced as an all-new model in 2011 — remains one of the top luxury sedans in the world with a rich mix of modern styling, luxury appointments, cutting-edge technology and outstanding performance. It’s certainly no stretch for us to say the new 2013 A8 is among the best of the best.
From a styling standpoint, the A8 conveys a sleek profile, flowing gracefully from front to back, imparting a rich, luxury appearance. We realize design is subjective and it’s up to the individual to determine if the big-mouth grille, which is becoming a staple in the industry, is a turn-off or an attractive standout feature.
Perhaps more important to the average A8 owner is the interior execution. The polished walnut wood-trimmed horizontal dash layout, with touches of brushed aluminum, is conservative and handsome. The main gauges are widely spaced allowing for a large information screen in between.
We had one small problem with the switchgear — the A8 retains the old-style stalk cruise control and it makes using the adaptive cruise settings awkward. Steering wheel cruise controls as found on many cars would be a better option.
The seating is plush and comfortable for long rides. Rear-seat space is adequate in the short-wheelbase version (starting at $73,092) and limo-like in the long-wheelbase format such as our test car (beginning at $79,395). The starting prices are another reason to applaud the new V-6 engine — they are $5,833 and $5,480 LESS respectively than the previous V-8 base models.
While passenger space is good, trunk space is sorely lacking. At a paltry 13.2 cubic feet, cargo capacity is far below that of its competitors and not adequate to accommodate luggage for four adults.
When we drove the A8 in 2011 it was outfitted with an outstanding 1,400-watt Bang & Olufsen sound system at an option price of $6,300. We recommended it, and still do for those who want their music at its unbelievable best. But the good news that we discovered with our 2013 test car is that the standard Bose Surround System with 650 watts and 14 speakers is exceptional. No need for an extra cash outlay.
There are numerous tempting options. If we were to pick one it would be the $3,000 Driver Assistance Package that includes adaptive cruise, a blind spot monitoring system, a lane-departure warning system (the steering wheel vibrates when you touch or cross a painted line), and Audi Pre-Sense Plus, which monitors traffic and alerts the driver if a potential collision is detected.
Our test car with several options carried a bottom line of $85,045. If there is such a thing as a bargain in the luxury sedan ranks this could be it.
By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman
By Ted Biederman
Highlights of the 2012 version of the Los Angeles Auto Show reflect once again the importance of being green. BEV’s, plug-in hybrids, plug-ins, hybrids, diesels, hydrogen fuel cells, and maybe a compressed air machine are all the topics of conversation at major international auto events, and Los Angeles is no exception; in fact the L.A. show has been and continues to be the single most important venue for alternative fuel vehicles among the major auto shows.
While green and alternative fuel technologies, such as hybrids and all-electric vehicles, will be featured in several world debuts at the show, there also will be an increasing number of high-mileage internal combustion vehicles, including clean diesel, on display.
It is clear that automakers have invested significantly to deliver vehicles consumers want, featuring an unprecedented number of technological advancements, improved performance and designs that are dramatically changing the modern driving experience, all while decreasing carbon emissions.
More than 40 world and North American auto premiers make their debut in this the car-crazy capital of the world.
Auto show organizers say the debut lineup this year also promises a compelling mix of the hottest trends and cutting-edge innovations driving today’s resurgent automotive industry, including world firsts from European automakers such as BMW, Fiat and Volkswagen. You will also see global unveilings of new designs from Asian brands, including models from Acura, Hyundai, Kia, Nissan and Toyota. And there is plenty to see from our home grown brands such as Chevrolet, Ford, Chrysler and their siblings.
Sharing the spotlight is a well-represented line-up of luxury and performance models underscoring the LA region’s status as the largest market for these segments in the country. Of the 40 debuts slated, at least a dozen will come from these two categories, including unveilings from the likes of Acura, Bentley, BMW, Jaguar, Land Rover and Porsche.
There is a lot to see at the LA Auto Show and the world wants to know what we think. The world knows that the people of L.A. set the pattern for design, technology and change; and for this reason this car capital makes the other car capitals of the world sit up and take notice; after all we are the focus group that counts.
Infiniti has made a 180 degree turn with its SUV lineup electing to sell for the first time in its quarter-century history a front-wheel drive sport utility vehicle. But that’s not the biggest news. The all-new 2013 JX is not only driven by its front wheels, it’s motivated by a continuously variable transmission (CVT), usually reserved in the luxury ranks for hybrid vehicles.
When we first heard that startling news shortly before the JX was unveiled last fall at the Los Angeles Auto Show we were predisposed not to like Infiniti’s newest crossover. But considering that Infiniti is the luxury arm of Nissan, the company that has staked its future on the CVT, it was inevitable that a vehicle wearing the Infiniti badge would eventually join the gear-less ranks.
After living with the seven-passenger JX35 for a week, we came to like the way it looked and, more importantly, the way it performed and handled. By the time we turned the keys back to Infiniti we had gained an admiration for the JX. The fact it’s front-wheel driven (it can be purchased with all-wheel drive) and does not have a conventional automatic transmission made very little difference.
While the styling is somewhat less futuristic, it’s attractive and modern, fitting in nicely with its cadre of competition. The interior layout is handsome, perhaps better described as elegant, with quality materials befitting its price tag, which starts at $41,640 including destination charge.
The unibody platform JX plugs a big hole in the Infiniti brand. Infiniti needed a family crossover to do battle with such competitors as the Buick Enclave, Lexus RX 350, Lincoln MKT and Acura MDX.
The JX is based on the Nissan Murano platform, but stretched longer (196 inches) and wider to accommodate three rows of passengers. The second row tilts and slides 5.5 inches fore and aft allowing passengers to enter and exit the third row with ease. And the third row offers enough headroom for average-sized adults, not always the case for so-called six-and-seven passenger crossovers.
The sliding second-row seats allow people of virtually all heights to gain just the leg room they need without asking any sacrifices from the front-row folks.
When hauling cargo is the order of the day, the JX can satisfy most needs with 15.8 cubic feet behind the third-row seats. For those who tow weekend toys, the JX has useable tow rating of 3,500 pounds.
Moving the JX, which weighs in at over two tons, is Nissan’s 3.5 liter V-6 making 265 horsepower and 248 pound-feet of torque; a venerable engine that still performs quite well and offers decent gas mileage for the segment.
A people hauler isn’t expected to be the quickest animal on the planet, and for its size and mission in life, the JX has good numbers measured at about 8 seconds from 0-to-60 and 16 seconds at 90 mph in a quarter mile. Gas mileage for the front-driven JX is 18 mpg city and 24 mpg highway. All-wheel drive is rated at 18/23.
The JX is loaded with the newest in safety technology, much of it optional, including the industry’s first back-up collision intervention system, which detects traffic coming from either side and automatically hits the brakes. This includes an Around View Monitor, which shows a virtual 360-degree image of the area around the vehicle and audibly warns the driver of moving objects within the displayed range.
Virtually all the safety technology now on the market is available including Lane Departure Warning, Lane Departure Prevention, Distance Control Assist (applies the brakes in slowing traffic ifyou don’t), Blind Spot Warning, Blind Spot Intervention, Forward Collision Warning, and intelligent cruise control. Our loaded test vehicle carried a bottom line price of $54,700, a whopping $13,060 over the JX base price. The safety package alone was $3,100.
The interior features a good mixture of leather, wood and aluminum. Switches and buttons are intuitive. We like the traditional number (one though six) radio pre-set buttons. Too many vehicles now force the driver to go to the touch screen simply to change the radio station. Likewise, the climate control system can be operated by dashboard buttons without the need for the screen access. When you do want to navigate the display screen — including setting up a destination in navigation — Infiniti’s controller knob makes the job easy.
We think Infiniti has adequately checked all the boxes with its newest SUV highlighted by one of the most passenger-friendly interiors in the segment, a comfortable driving demeanor and some of the most cutting-edge safety equipment in the industry. Early sales figures indicate the JX will be a huge success, and rightly so.
By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman
Nissan has huge plans for its all-new 2013 mid-sized Altima sedan. Nissan officials vow to overtake the Toyota Camry as the best-selling car in the United States. It helps that Altima begins its quest from the number two position, a spot recently earned by the 2012 Altima.
The fact that the Altima has moved to such a lofty position portends good things ahead because the new fifth-generation car is better in almost every way.
The Altima is completely redesigned and starts with best-in-segment fuel economy of 38 miles per gallon highway. It features handsome exterior styling with increased aerodynamics, premium interior materials, and a terrific balance of ride comfort, stability and fun-to-drive attributes not generally associated with a family sedan.
Handling is responsive and the ride composed. Those things are important especially when you factor in that the 2013 Altima gets better gas mileage, more refinement, and the latest in user-friendly electronic features.
The new Altima has a wider, more aggressive stance with a longer sloping roofline and a raised trunk that combine to create a more fluid silhouette. Overall the sedan is nearly the same size as the outgoing model, but body weight has been reduced on average about 80 pounds (our SV came in at a trim 3,121 pounds) via an aluminum hood and bumper reinforcements, and the expanded use of high-tensile steel.
Those are some of the reasons gas mileage has been improved from 23/32 with a combined 27 in 2012, to a segment-leading 27/38 with a combined 31 in 2013 with the 16-valve 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine.
The new Altima 4-cylinder offers the best of both worlds with an additional seven horsepower (now at 182); and 0-to-60 time measured in 7.7 seconds; and a nearly 15 percent improvement in fuel economy.
Unlike some brands that have dropped the V-6 in favor of a turbocharged four Nissan has carried over its 270-horsepower 3.5-liter V-6 (including standard column mounted paddle shifters) that can rocket the sedan from 0-to-60 in 6.2 seconds. The good news here is better gas mileage rated at 22 mpg city and 31 mpg highway. The same engine last year was rated at 20/27.
Both the 4-cylinder and V-6 are mounted to Nissan’s next-generation Xtronic CVT (continuously variable transmission). Nissan has historically had the best CVTs in the industry and as difficult as it is to believe, we found the new edition noticeably smoother.
We found the 4-cylinder in our SV mid-level trim test car lively with the ability to seamlessly push the engine revs through the CVT to near peak torque for the power needed to quickly pass or merge without a hint of drama. Altima’s stability is dictated by standard Active Understeer Control, front and rear stabilizer bars and a host of suspension, steering and braking technology.
There’s no letdown inside the Altima. It begins with Nissan’s NASA-inspired “Zero-Gravity” seats. In side-by-side comparisons with previous seating it’s especially noticeable. A long drive while sitting in the new seats proved it.
Premium materials, be they cloth or leather, further decrease driver fatigue. Depending on the model the driver’s seat is either six-way powered or eight-way powered and the front passenger seat is four-way adjustable. There’s plenty of standard and optional connectivity and navigation as well as several audio systems of various content.
Easily legible instrumentation contains the usual array of gauges, and between the large tachometer and speedometer is Nissan’s Advanced Drive-Assist with a four-inch LCD in-dash vehicle information display system with custom selectable settings, system warning information, and tire pressure readouts, audio and (available) navigation.
Rear-seat leg room is good, but head room is at a premium for taller folks. Trunk space is 15.4 cubic feet, about average for the segment.
The Altima comes in four 4-cylinder trim levels and in three V-6 trims. Base trim is the bare-bones 2.5 starting at bargain price of $22,280 including $780 destination charge. From there buyers can choose the S, SV and SLT with either engine. The top seller we think will be the well-equipped 2.5 SV starting at $24,880. The lowest priced V-6 model, the 3.5 S, starts at $26,140.
Our 2.5 SV test car with a few options including a convenience package and navigation package with seven-inch color display came in at $26,820.
There’s a lot of quality competition in the mid-sized family sedan segment and whether the new Altima can eventually move to the head of the pack remains to be seen. But regardless, the Altima convinced us it would be a smart choice when shopping for new transportation.
By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman
It’s a big box that defies the current styling fashion of form over function. The Ford Flex squeezes the most out of its size, one of the most family-friendly vehicles on the highway today. No sloping roof that steals head room and cargo space, just a lot of cubic feet for people and belongings.
But there’s more. There’s a fox lurking under this sheep’s clothing if you purchase the top-of-the-line Limited edition and check off the box for the optional twin-turbocharged EcoBoost V-6. The family hauler can be turned into a screaming stoplight juggernaut that can surprise an unwary motorist.
The EcoBoost comes with 355 horsepower — 10 more than in 2012 — and 350 pound-feet of torque, a 0-to-60 time in around 6 seconds and a towing capacity of 4,500 pounds. And the big engine is paired with all-wheel drive, a handy feature for a variety of reasons.
Perhaps more practical and certainly no slouch when it comes to performance and towing even with a full load of people and cargo is the standard 3.5-liter V-6 that makes 285 horsepower (up 23 from the 2012 model) and 255 pound-feet of torque, up seven.
When the boxy Flex entered the market four years ago it was hailed as the embodiment of the 21st Century station wagon. But the fly in the ointment was its polarizing styling. Ford hopes styling tweaks and upgrades in packaging will give the grand wagon a new lease on life for the 2013 model year.
Ford has done a creditable job in what it calls “modernizing the design” with more rounded edges, a revised grille that loses the Ford blue oval replaced by the Flex name in big boxy letters, dual exhausts, and an appearance package that includes 20-inch machined aluminum wheels with painted pockets, a two-tone roof, leather seating and unique door trim panels.
There is no denying the Flex is large. Even with its lower flat roof you can’t get past the image of its length. But open the door and slide in behind the wheel you’ll find a comfy space that reminds you of smaller vehicles. Flex may be big but it is easy to drive.
Ford has significantly upgraded the Flex’s standard and optional convenience and safety equipment for 2013. They include an upgraded, easier-to-use MyFord Touch system, ventilated front seats, adaptive cruise control, keyless ignition/entry, blind-spot monitoring, power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, and inflatable second-row seatbelts.
Flex accommodates seven people (the second-row captain’s chairs reduces the seating capacity to six but ups the comfort level) with relatively easy access to the third row thanks to a standard second-row one-touch tumble feature. It gives the owner minivan space without the minivan stigma.
The combination of towing capacity not found in a minivan and the cargo and passenger space of a minivan continues to make the Flex an attractive alternative, especially for families who have grown weary of the minivan look. It will accommodate as much as 83.3 cubic feet of cargo.
We found our test of the Flex EcoBoost on flat land delightfully fast, which also gives it a satisfying performance demeanor no matter how seriously you load it up. The newly horsepower-infused V-6 also impressed us on winding mountain roads and stretches of four-lane highway. Mated to a six-speed automatic, it matched up quite nicely with the 4,909-pound curb weight of our all-wheel drive test vehicle.
The new Flex presents a high level of competence with its performance, stability and feel of the road thanks to new and responsive electric-assist power steering, brake-based “torque vectoring,” Ford’s “curve control” program and tighter suspension tuning.
Curve control monitors corner entry speeds in such areas as freeway ramps. If the driver’s speed seems a bit fast, the program can reduce engine torque and increase brake pressure. The torque-vectoring function is basically an electronic limited-slip differential using selective front-wheel braking to the wheel with grip to keep the vehicle in line.
All-important gas mileage has been improved slightly over 2012 and is impressive when considering engine size and the vehicle’s weight. Our test vehicle with the EcoBoost engine and all-wheel drive had an EPA of 16 mpg in the city, 23 mpg on the highway and a combined 18 mpg.
The Flex is not inexpensive, but when its long list of standard comfort and convenience features is figured into the equation, it becomes more of a bargain. It comes in three trim levels — SE, SEL and Limited — starting at $31,710 including destination charge. The SEL begins at $34,050 and the Limited at $40,055. Our loaded Limited AWD test vehicle with the EcoBoost V-6 carried a bottom line of $49,960.
By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman
The 2013 Ford Mustang bears a strong resemblance to the 2012 model, but there’s a lot more to the ’13 than what immediately meets the eye. For instance the Mustang gets a new front and rear fascia, a more prominent grille and splitter, standard high-intensity headlamps, painted body-side rockers, and LED tail lamps.
Additionally the side mirrors come with projection lights that cast the image of Mustang’s famous pony emblem on the ground when the unlock button is activated, and a new wheel lineup — 12 to choose from to be exact. The new Mustang as usual is available as a coupe or convertible and with either a V-6 or GT V-8.
The Mustang with the 3.7-liter V-6 engine is one of the more pleasant surprises in the automotive world for 2013. The V-6 puts out a most-impressive 305 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque and redlines at close to 7,000 rpm — and here’s the really good part — running on regular unleaded gas (87 octane) rated at 19 mpg city/31 mpg highway with an automatic transmission. It drops slightly to 19/29 with a manual.
The new V-6 not only sounds like a V-8, it performs like one. We drove the short-throw six-speed manual in the mountains near Portland, Ore., earlier this year and it made us believers in the V-6 performance. We drove a six-speed automatic on home turf and found it an acceptable alternative.
The manual, by the way, comes equipped with Hill Start Assist that keeps the car from rolling backwards when the vehicle is stopped on a slope. Next time you are sitting at a stoplight on a sharp incline worried about rolling back into the guy who is on top of your bumper, you can thank Ford when the light turns green and you expertly pull away from the pushy person behind you.
The SelectShift automatic offers the driver the choice between fully automatic operation and manual control that’s activated with a selector button on the side of the shifter. Unlike similar transmissions from other manufacturers, Ford’s allows the driver to hold a gear right up to redline if desired; it doesn’t second guess the operator.
So just how does the Mustang V-6 stack up in the automotive world? Try these instrument-tested numbers on for size (courtesy of Car and Driver magazine) — 0-to-60 in 5.3 seconds and a quarter mile in 13.9 seconds at 102 mph. Only a handful of years ago those would have been good GT numbers.
A re-tuned suspension makes handling a delight and the new Mustang’s road manners combined with its roguish attributes brought smiles to our faces. And unlike harsh rides associated with pure performance vehicles, the 2013 Mustang gives the driver a solid feel of the road without jarring the teeth of its occupants.
The steering is selectable to the driver’s needs and offers three modes; sport, comfort and standard.
The interior of the new Mustang is equally terrific. Our test vehicle was not equipped with the optional Recaro seats, a $1,595 tab. And that was a good thing for us. As terrific as Recaro seats may be they still aren’t designed for people built like a former description of Lucky Strike cigarettes — so round, so firm and so fully packed.
The standard seats are extremely comfortable and offer a solid foundation, even when driving the vehicle aggressively. Available in cloth or leather, thestandard driver’s seat can be purchased with six-way power. There’s also plenty of room for those in front — 42.4 inches of legroom. Those in the rear seat…not so much, 29.8 inches.
When it comes to technology, there’s a new 4.2-inch color LCD productivity screen located in the instrument cluster between the speedometer and tachometer. It lists the basics like fuel economy, trip miles, oil temperature and air/fuel ratio and engine temperature.
As much as we like the new V-6, the GT is still the gold standard in the Mustang universe. The 5.0-liter V-8 now puts out a whopping 420 horsepower and 390 pound-feet of torque. It will tear up 0-to-60 in 4.6 seconds. Gas mileage is exemplary considering the horsepower, rated at 15 mpg city and 26 mpg highway.
The thing is the V-6 starts at $22,995 while the V-8 begins at $31,095. Our V-6 test car in Premium trim carried a base price of $26,995 and an as-tested price of $29,880 after options that included the automatic transmission.
As Mustang nears its 50th birthday the old adage of “You’re not getting older; you’re getting better” sure rings true. The 2013 versions — V-6 and GT — are the best Mustangs yet.
By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman
While luxury wagons are popular in Europe, they are hard to find in U.S. showrooms. There’s a reason for this paucity of cargo-capable sheetmetal — they simply aren’t on the shopping list of North America consumers.
Buyers want their upscale cargo hauler to fall into the sport utility crossover segment, the wagon moniker is verboten. For this reason Audi pulled the A6 Avant (Audi-speak for wagon) from showrooms after the 2011 model year and will discontinue the A4 Avant following the 2012 model year.
For 2013 Audi has launched an A4-sized hauler dressed up as an off-road crossover vehicle, designating it the Audi allroad. This is not the first iteration of the allroad, which lived in the U.S. from 2001 through 2005 riding on an A6 platform.
Audi admits the newest allroad is not intended for off-road use with no available low-range gearing, height-adjustable suspension or hill-descent control. But it appears to have more bad-road capable credentials than the standard A4 with larger tires, sitting 1.5-inches taller giving it 7.1 inches of ground clearance. Its underside is protected by stainless-steel skid plates. And of course it comes standard with Audi’s excellent all-wheel drive (‘quattro’) system.
The thing with the new allroad, as it is with all Audi products, is the delightful driving experience. Audi seems to have a leg up on its immediate rivals in terms of driving dynamics, ride quality and interior refinements. The allroad lives up to Audi’s new persona with a superbly outfitted and quiet cabin, excellent seating, and relatively intuitive gauges and switchgear.
Design-wise the new allroad returns with a vengeance. It sports an exclusive Single-frame grille with angled upper corners, new headlamp design with freshened LED lighting that’s available with xenon-plus, circular fog lamps, and enlarged side mirrors with an optional power folding feature. The allroad has a beautiful sculpted appearance that highlights every design nuance.
From the rear it has matte finished lower bumpers and wheel arches and stylistic wrap-around tail lamps (LED set is optional). Its twin-integrated circular dual exhausts aren’t just for decoration. They trumpet the power that flows through them via Audi’s powertrain.
It is Volkswagen/Audi’s highly respected and well-used 2.0-liter DOHC direct-injection I-4 engine (voted the world’s best engine in its class five times in a row by the UK’s “International Engine of the Year” committee) that features innovative thermal management to reduce fuel consumption and emissions. In the allroad iteration it puts out 211 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque.
The engine is mated to an eight-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission and Audi’s legendary quattro permanent all-wheel drive. We found flawless performance, even though at times we were at altitudes above 12,000 feet. Even limited opportunities to pass posed no angst. On home turf at altitudes measured near sea level, the allroad felt sprightly with 0 to 60 times at 6.5 seconds.
Gas mileage is measured at 20 mpg city, 27 highway and 23 combined.
Exclusive to Audi is its Drive Select system that provides advanced control of the vehicle’s adaptive suspension, transmission shifting, and power steering assist and engine response. In essence it allows drivers to configure their vehicle’s drive characteristics exactly to their liking with their choice of Comfort, Auto, Dynamic or Individual settings.
We don’t expect a crossover/wagon to exhibit road-carving credentials but we were pleasantly surprised at its athletic demeanor when compared to its SUV brethren. Steering feel is adequate through the electrically boosted system and we found the best all-around driving experience, including the ride, came in the Auto setting.
Interiors are what we have come to expect from Audi including standard leather seating surfaces, leather shift knob, fully automatic dual zone climate control, two cup holders in front and two in back (the rear seat has a fold down center armrest), a bottle holder in each door, deep-tinted two-panel panorama sunroof with power sunshade, plenty of room and an almost eerie cabin silence.
The allroad has 27 cubic feet of luggage space behind the seats and 50 cubic feet of cargo space with the seats folded down, average for its class.
Standard features abound for a base price of $40,495 (including destination) in the Premium trim including leather upholstery, a 10-speaker sound system with satellite radio, automatic climate control, panoramic sunroof, and eight-way power front seats with four-way power lumbar. The Allroad also comes in Premium Plus for $43,760 and Prestige for $49,660. Options pushed our Premium test vehicle to a bottom line of $47,870.
The 2013 allroad, a niche player in a limited segment, is definitely worth pursuing.
By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman