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Gaining Traction: Mercedes Expands 4Matic Line-Up

AWD system to be available on 21 different models.

by on Mar.05, 2012

The Mercedes C350 Coupe is one of 21 models getting the maker's newest 4Matic system.

Mercedes-Benz proudly claims to building the industry’s very first all-wheel-drive vehicle almost 100 years ago, a giant touring car used for hunting parties in Africa.

It started building four-wheel-drive systems for modern passenger cars in 1985, and has used the 4MATIC moniker on each succeeding generation.

Until recently, a luxury buyer looking for a Mercedes with traction going to all four wheels had a fairly limited option set. But that’s about to change – the German maker soon to make an all-new version of the technology available on 21 of its different products.

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The smaller, lighter, more compact fourth-generation 4MATIC system will debut shortly in the S 350 BlueTec diesel sedan ($93,425), the CLS 550 four-door coupe ($74,675), the new E 350 coupe ($53,175), and the new C 350 coupe  ($45,245), adding about $2000 to the price of  the rear-drive versions of each model.


New Radar Detector Taps Into Social Network

Sometime you need a little help from your "friends."

by on Feb.27, 2012

Escort's new SmartCord Live lets a motorist tap into a social network that tracks the location of police speed traps.

We thought we’d seen just about everything in radar detection when we heard the news about Escort’s new SmartCord Live system that links your Escort or Beltronics radar detector, your Apple iPhone, and other Escort users into a national network of radar, laser, police car, red light camera and speed camera detection.

The SmartCord Live adapter replaces the standard 12-volt power cord on an Escort radar detector with a power cable that also includes its own USB and computer/camera ports.  That’s the first part of the equation.  The second part of the equation is the free Escort Live iPhone app available from the Apple website.  Part three is the Bluetooth connection between the iPhone, the app, and the radar detector.

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When the Bluetooth circuit between the radar detector and the iPhone is active and the app is turned on, the screen of the iPhone turns into a GPS-based speedometer, radar detection indicator, and/or a GPS and traffic congestion map.  The display can be set to tell you visually and aurally every time you exceed the posted speed limit, show you what the current speed limit is, where you are, and what kinds of threats are operating in the area, including K, Ka, X, POP, and laser, as well as the new traffic monitoring systems, denoted on the unit by a “TSR” warning.


Student Designers Look to the Future

Michelin Challenge Design winners focus on Mexico City’s problems.

by on Dec.06, 2011

Students were asked to come up with a design that would help make the automobile viable in mid-century.

Is there a place in tomorrow’s world for the automobile? Perhaps no place is the answer more uncertain than crowded, smog-choked Mexico City, which is precisely the challenge faced by student designers participating in the 2011 Michelin Challenge Design competition.

The project asked the students to come up with vehicular solutions that could make it possible for the automobile to be part of the solution, rather than the problem.

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“Through this competition, we can explore the vision these future designers have of the industry and where mobility solutions are going. Today we join the CCS faculty and our panel of judges to celebrate the work, ideas and vision demonstrated by this talented group of designers,” John Moloney, vice president of original equipment marketing, Michelin North and South America, as the winners of the program were announced.


First Drive: 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist

Getting a (battery) boost.

by on Jul.01, 2011

Buick makes the eAssist system standard on the 2012 LaCrosse sedan.

We’ve come to think of hybrids as an expensive option – requiring a buyer to pay an often stiff premium in exchange for higher mileage.  But Buick has something different in mind.

Starting in August, the General Motors division will offer its LaCrosse sedan in two new ways, with an improved 3.6-lirer V-6 engine that adds 26 more horsepower, or with a 2.4-liter Ecotec four-cylinder engine with its new eAssist mild hybrid system, which will be standard equipment, not an option.

Buick says the combination of the gasoline engine and the power booster will improve fuel mileage to an EPA 25 city, 36 highway, best in class, without the cost, weight and complexity of a full hybrid system.

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The eAssist system is a combination of a 32-cell lithium-ion battery pack, a motor/generator unit, the control electronics, and a clever belt-drive system that adds torque directly to the engine’s crankshaft.  It’s an on-demand system designed to be used for startup acceleration, long uphill grades, and freeway on-ramps, adding about 15 horsepower to the engine’s 182 horsepower and 172 foot-pounds of torque.


Germans Invade France: Victory at Le Mans

Disaster turns into victory.

by on Jun.15, 2011

Germany's secret weapon: the Audi R18.

It started back in 2000 when the first Audi prototype showed up at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.  At a race where sports car manufacturer Porsche has won 16 times and Ferrari nine times, the upstarts from Ingolstadt came with a serious race car, the turbocharged gasoline-engined R8, and took first, second and third the first time out.

In the years since, the Audi R8, R10, the R15 diesel and now the new R18 diesel have won the race nine more times.  They took a year off in 2003 when, at the suggestion of management, the Audi race car was reconfigured into a Bentley coupe, and the Bentley took first and second using Audi engines.

In 2004, the R8 returned and took first, second, third and fifth.  The following year, the updated and heavily restricted R8 won again, with Danish driver Tom Kristensen winning his seventh Le Mans in a row.

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The world of sports car racing changed forever in 2006 when Audi showed up with its new R10 race cars, powered by 5.5-liter turbocharged diesel engines.  Diesels?  At Le Mans?  Yes.  Using specially distilled diesel race fuel, the Audis qualified first and second and beat the closest gasoline-powered car by four LAPS, owing to the diesel’s reliability, huge torque off the corners, and far fewer stops for fuel.  The winning Audi diesel covered 3164 miles in 24 hours, at an average speed of 131 mph.


Audi, Chevrolet, BMW and Even Ford Enhance Their Reputations at Le Mans

Despite two crashes, Audi overwhelms field with new R18 turbodiesel.

by on Jun.13, 2011

Though two of its three cars crashed, Audi's #2 R18 turbodiesel went on to win.

The 24 Hours of Le Mans, the greatest auto race on Earth, tests engineering skill, driving skill, mechanical skill and everyone’s patience.  This year’s race, the 79th running, showed once again what great racing companies like Audi, Chevrolet, Nissan, and BMW can do.

Audi brought three brand new, brutish-looking diesel-powered R18s to race in the top LMP1 class, with new V-6 turbodiesel engines replacing the older, heavier and less efficient V-10 turbodiesels.

Before 15 laps were done, their #3 car had crashed heavily, sending Scottish driver Allan McNish to the infield hospital.  Around 11:45 PM, the #1 car tangled with a Ferrari and lost, taking out a huge section of guardrail and sending German driver Mike Rockenfeller to the hospital, as well.

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It took more than two hours to fix the guardrail while the field of 56 cars idled around in the dark under a yellow flag.  But the remaining #2 car, with drivers Marcel Fassler, Benoit Treluyer, and Andre Lotterer, soldiered on and won the race, a close finish, with five diesel Peugeots trailing it home.  It was Audi’s tenth overall victory at Le Mans, now more than Ferrari.


Ford Unveils 40-MPG Gas Engine for 2012 Focus

Who needs hybrids?

by on Mar.24, 2011

So much from so little? The new Ford 2.0 I4.

The 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine has been a staple of automotive propulsion around the world for decades — in places like Asia and Europe and Australia and Africa, anyway, but not so much here in the States.  Americans have tended to shy away from little 122 cubic-inch engines, but with gasoline at $3.50 and rising, that reluctance is wearing away.

Or so Ford hopes.  With the introduction of the 2012 Ford Focus, there’s a new 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that promises 160 horsepower, 147 foot-pounds of torque, and, in the specially equipped Focus SFE model, with a 6-speed automatic transmission, 28 miles per gallon in city driving and 40 miles per gallon on the highway (the 5-speed manual transmission gets a rating of 28 city, 36 highway).

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Ford just showed the guts of this new engine, designed for use in a range of small and smaller Ford products well into the future.  The maker is betting that powerplants like the new 2.0 I4 could provide a viable alternative for more costly hybrids and even the more sophisticated — but expensive — Ford EcoBoost for many customers.


Sebring Sees Nissan Return To Big-time Sports Car Racing

After 15 years, Japanese maker becomes engine supplier – and gets class pole and second-place first time out.

by on Mar.21, 2011

Nissan gets serious about motorsports with its new LMP2 racer making a Sebring debut.

Nissan has a long and rich history in sports car racing that dates back to 1966.  Here in America, they raced the little Datsun 510 sedan, the famous 240 Z and its successors, and a raft of Nissan-powered sports prototypes that competed in IMSA GTP prototype and Group C racing at the 24 Hours of  Le Mans.

Nissan came roaring back to prototype racing at the 2011 12 Hours of Sebring — where it won overall victories in 1989, 1990, 1991 and 1994 — as an engine supplier to the French Signatech team racing in the LMP2 class for prototypes will small engines.  Signatech’s campaign was led by French drivers Soheil Ayari and Franck Mailleux and 25-year-old newcomer Lucas Ordoñez, who got the seat by playing PlayStation 360 GT5 against all comers in the Nissan PlayStation GT Academy competition in 2008 — and training in real cars ever since.

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“Nissan is excited to see our new partnership with Signature kick off and we look forward to a very successful partnership with the team,” said Jon Brancheau, vice-president for marketing at Nissan. “I know our customers, fans and dealers will be following our progress at Sebring and will be anticipating our return to the Le Mans 24 hours.”

The Signatech Nissan racing team will contest the entire 2011 season of the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup (ILMC) series. The 7-race schedule includes Sebring, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the 1000 Km of Spa-Francorchamps and a return to U.S. soil for the Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta on Saturday, October 1, 2011, followed by the season-ending event in China.


First Drive: Nissan NV

Nissan jumps off deep end into commercial van segment.

by on Feb.03, 2011

Nissan enters the commercial cargo truck segment with the new NV line.

Nissan, which does 20% of its business worldwide in light, medium and heavy commercial vehicles, trucks and buses, has never offered a commercial van in the North American market.  Until now.  And the one they’ve finally introduced is the biggest one available.

Starting next month, at 250 carefully selected dealerships in the U.S., Nissan will offer a whole family of what it calls its NV vans, in 1500, 2500HD, and 3500HD conventional and 2500 and 3500 high-roof versions, all in a heavy-duty, body-on-frame construction.

Each participating dealership has committed to the installation of higher service-bay doors to accommodate the high-roof versions, plus at least one heavy-duty service lift, along with special training for mechanics and parts department personnel.


Ford EcoBoost Engine Teardown

Ford will tear it down in front of auto show crowd.

by on Jan.14, 2011

The EcoBoost engine that powered this 2011 Ford F-150 through the Baja 1000 desert endurance race will be pubicly torn down this weekend.

Late last year, Ford built a desert-racing truck around its new 3.5-liter twin-turbocharged EcoBoost V-6 engine and took it to the grueling Baja 1000, the toughest race in North America, for its racing debut.

On Saturday morning, in front of 500 or so witnesses, Ford mechanics and engineers will tear down the sealed race engine to its smallest component parts to check for any significant wear after the 1000-mile torture test.

The engine, which had run the equivalent of 160,000 customer miles, or 10 years of constant use, already, in dynamometer testing, was installed in a Ford F-150 pickup truck at the Ford Kansas City assembly plant.  The truck then hauled 55 tons of lumber and ran at full throttle for 24 hours straight while towing 11,300 pounds of cargo.

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If that wasn’t grueling enough, the truck was then prepped for the SCORE Tecate Baja 1000 event in Mexico, and completed the race without incident.