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First Drive: 2015 Volkswagen Golf R

Taking things to the next level.

by on Feb.27, 2015

The 2015 Golf R adds another strong entry to the expanding Golf hatchback family.

What do you do when you’ve nabbed some of the industry’s top honors? How do you one-up yourself after being named both North American Car of the Year, as well as Motor Trend Car of the Year.  If you’re Volkswagen, you take things to the next level with the launch of the new Golf R.

With its turbocharged, 292-horsepower inline-four, a pavement grabbing all-wheel-drive system and an electronic differential lock designed to keep you always pointed in the right direction, the 2015 Volkswagen Golf R is more than just the sportiest member of the fast-growing Golf “family.” It’s also the sort of product the German maker needs to kick-start a brand that has been unable to take advantage of the overall recovery of the U.S. car market.

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If you think this is just a slightly upgraded version of the GTI, well, you need to spend a little time behind the wheel of the new Golf R. Preferably on some fast roads with plenty of aggressive corners. We were lucky enough to be handed a set of keys and a route map that took us into the winding mountain passes east of San Diego – with, of course, a stop for some pie in Julian, a pleasant little mountain town that time has virtually passed by.

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Aston Martin Takes to the Track with New Vulcan

Fire-breathing racer expected to make 800 hp.

by on Feb.27, 2015

Aston Martin's new Vulcan supercar puts out 800 horsepower and will cost about $2.3 million.

In Roman mythology, Vulcan was the god of armor and fire, his forge sending flames out from Mount Aetna. In the hands of British automaker Aston Martin, Vulcan is still shooting flames – but in this case, out of its side-exit exhaust pipes.

The Aston Martin Vulcan is the name the maker has given to its new limited-edition, track-only supercar. Making a promised 800 horsepower, it’s the sort of four-wheeled rocket superspy James Bond might relish. But even he might have a hard time getting one, as Aston plans to build just 24 of them.

Power!

This is about as extreme a machine as Aston has ever developed, perhaps other than the One-77 ultracar of a few years back, “a sports car for true sports car lovers,” says CEO Andy Palmer, who promises Vulcan “sets a whole new standard in the ultra-high luxury supercar class.” (more…)

Congressman Pushes Nationwide Traffic Camera Ban

U.S. lawmaker joins growing opposition; questions grow about both fairness and effectiveness.

by on Feb.27, 2015

Opposition to traffic cameras keeps growing.

A U.S. Congressman has joined the growing chorus of opponents who want to see the end of automated cameras used to enforce traffic laws across the country.

Rep. Ed Perlmutter, a Colorado Democrat, has proposed a nationwide ban on the technology – which he contends is used primarily for generating revenue for cash-strapped communities. Congressman Perlmutter isn’t alone. Lawmakers from both sides of the political aisle have joined forces to call for a traffic camera ban in Tennessee, while a judge in Ft. Lauderdale this week ruled the technology violates Florida law.

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But the bill proposed by the Colorado representative, the “Prohibit Automated Enforcement Act of 2015,” is the first attempt to block the use of cameras at a national level.

“Automated traffic technology should be used for improving public-safety purposes rather than local governments relying on these devices to generate revenue,” Perlmutter said in a written statement.

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Mercedes Reveals Track-Ready AMG GT3

"Credible proof of our ambition to lead."

by on Feb.26, 2015

The Mercedes-AMG GT3 will start racing in 2016.

Expect to see some serious track-ready sheet metal make an appearance at the Geneva Motor Show next week, including a track-only offering from Aston Martin, and a dual street and track Cayman GT4 from Porsche.

So, how could Mercedes-Benz be left out of that high-performance pack? It can’t…or won’t, it turns out. Look for the Teutonic maker to bring its own track model to Geneva’s PALExpo convention center in the form of the AMG GT3.

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“We are entering a hard-fought and hotly competitive environment with the new Mercedes-AMG GT3,” declares Tobias Moers, the performance brand’s chairman. “You can only give credible proof of your ambition to lead if you’re beating the very best in the game.

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Toyota Putting its Quirky i-Road into Tokyo Carsharing Program

Users can rent it for 2.5 hours at a time.

by on Feb.26, 2015

Toyota is using its i-Road EV as part of a carsharing project in Japan and France.

It looks like the illegitimate offspring of a motorcycle and a Smart microcar, and was initially laughed off as one of the endless stream of quirky concept vehicles Japanese makers have historically rolled out.

But the Toyota i-Road didn’t disappear like most of those concept cars after making its debut at the 2013 Geneva Motor Show. The pint-sized three-wheeler is about to be offered for public use as part of a carsharing program in Tokyo. It’s also part of a public transport plan being developed by the French city of Grenoble.

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The i-Road makes the Smart Fortwo looks positively huge. The diminutive vehicle can squeeze in two – just barely – seated tandem style. And it’s not designed to replace a conventional automobile. Toyota says it I meant to be used for “the last mile,” in conjunction with a mass transit system. (more…)

Car Sales Down, Auto Jobs Shift to Trucks

Ford adds jobs at Edge plant, GM trims back on car line.

by on Feb.26, 2015

Low gas prices are helping to drive sales of full-size pickups like the Ford F-150, which is forcing makers to add jobs.

The sharp slump in fuel prices has generally been good news for auto buyers and automakers alike. A growing number of buyers have been shifting from high-mileage cars to bigger pickups and utility vehicles in recent months.

For manufacturers, that has swelled the bottom line since those vehicles tend to deliver some of the industry’s largest profits. But not everyone is celebrating. While companies, like Ford and GM, have been responding by increasing production of their best-sellers, they’re also trimming back at under-utilized car plants.

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And that trend could continue going forward. Industry analysts anticipate that utility vehicles will outsell sedans for the first time ever in 2015, while pickups will report their best year since the economic slump began. (more…)

Porsche Pulling Covers Off Two New Models in Geneva

Cayman GT4 shows its stuff with blistering lap of Nurburgring.

by on Feb.26, 2015

The new Cayman GT4 seen lapping the Nurburgring.

The upcoming Geneva Motor Show is going to be one of the busiest ever, with automakers lining up to debut their latest products. And Porsche plans to use its time in the spotlight at Geneva’s PALExpo convention center to reveal two new high-performance models.

The pair includes the anticipated Porsche Cayman GT4, the maker’s first GT model based on a mid-engine coupe. The German sports carmaker has released some details about the new GT4, as well as a pair of shots grabbed while lapping the grueling Nurburgring track. But it’s keeping its second new offering a surprise to be revealed in Geneva.

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The new Cayman GT4 is enough to catch one’s attention. Porsche says it turned an extremely impressive seven minute 40 second lap on the ‘Ring’s North Loop. That’s in line with what the previous generation Porsche 911 GT3 was able to accomplish.

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Latest Audi Prologue Concept Hints at New Avant Model to Come

Show car also features a new virtual concept, and an all-knowing “butler.”

by on Feb.25, 2015

The Audi Prologue Avant concept debuting at the Geneva Motor Show is not quite a wagon or is it really a coupe.

When Audi revealed its show-stopping Prologue concept vehicle at the Los Angeles Auto Show last November, styling chief Marc Lichte suggested it was “a teaser for our next generation A6, A7 and A8” models.

Audi will be dropping still more hints of its future design direction next week when it pulls the wraps of the Prologue Avant concept during a news conference at the Geneva Motor Show. Not quite a wagon, clearly not a sedan, the distinctive five-door is intended to create a unique and dynamic new design form all its own.

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“The Audi prologue Avant is progressive, emotion-filled and versatile,” said Audi tech chief Ulrich Hackenberg, in a statement. “With our show car for Geneva, we now translate the design language of the Audi prologue into a new, dynamic and stretched form. We are merging it with a concept of high variability.” (more…)

VW Sketches Hint at New 4-Door Coupe

Concept version set to debut in Geneva; production model could follow by 2017.

by on Feb.25, 2015

Could this sketch be the updated Volkwagen CC? That's what some think after VW released this drawing.

With the Geneva Motor Show barely a week away, automakers are jockeying for position, offering up teasers of the products they plan to unveil in what’s expected to be a record number of debuts.

Volkswagen is saving the big news for a lavish event scheduled for the night before the official Geneva media preview, but the German maker is whetting our appetite with a pair of sketches showing a four-door coupe concept design that some are speculating will be the next-generation VW CC, the sportiest version of the big Passat sedan.

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With the current CC model approaching the end of its lifecycle, that could mean we’ll be seeing a production version reaching showrooms as early as 2017. How much different the street model might be remains to be seen. (more…)

Lexus Leads Industry In Vehicle Dependability, Finds New JD Power Study

But automakers, overall, face problems with balky, high-tech infotainment systems.

by on Feb.25, 2015

Lexus was the top-ranked brand, while the Lexus GX was tops in its Midsize Premium segment.

For the fourth consecutive year, Lexus leads the industry in terms of longer-term vehicle reliability, according to a new study by J.D. Power and Associates.

But Detroit brands, notably General Motors’ Buick, also managed to crack the industry’s Top 10 in Power’s 2015 Vehicle Dependability Study, or VDS. The downside is that automakers, on the whole, are facing increased problems with their Bluetooth, navigation and other high-tech systems – often because of designed-in issues.

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Manufacturers can win over buyers with the latest technology, but lose them when those systems don’t work, said Renee Stephens, Powers’ vice president of U.S. automotive research. “Owners,” she added, “view in-vehicle technology issues as significant problems, and they typically don’t go away after the ownership honeymoon period is over.”

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