Tuesday, January 22, 2013

2013 BMW 740Li : Review

When a car is considered a company's flagship model, as the 7 Series is with BMW, there's quite a bit said car has to live up to. And while some do, some clearly don't; thankfully (and not shockingly) the 2013 BMW 740Li lives up to the flagship hype with ease.Built with a purpose: luxury sedan cruiser, the 2013 BMW 740Li does nothing less than live up to that. With a base price a touch over the $100k mark.

 Individual vanity mirrors for each passenger, privacy/sun visors in each rear window and a middle armrest complete with storage and cupholders ensure the most powerful of businessmen will find comfort in the 2013 BMW 740Li.And it turns out, so will young children. While installing a rear-facing BRITAX car seat in the 2013 BMW 740Li proved difficult (thanks to the recessed seat hooks and angled seat), once in place the large seat barely took up any room at all, and the front passenger seat wasn't affected at all. Brilliant.

 The oh-so-smooth TwinPower turbocharged I6 powers the 2013 BMW 740Li, supplying the driver with 315 hp and 332 lb-ft of torque. For such a large, heavy car (nearly 2,000kg) it's just the right amount of power to keep the driver happy (and on all four wheels at all times thanks to xDrive) without upsetting the passenger in the back. Coupled with BMW's 8-speed automatic transmission, the 740Li is a comfortable cruiser with a need for speed (when asked).

 Signature BMW headlights adorn the elongated, shapely nose. And the Armani-suit-like look continues straight through to the rear where symmetrical chrome bars offset BMW's L-shaped taillights perfectly above the rectangular dual exhaust housed in the masculine rear bumper.

All the prerequisite BMW bells and whistles are present: iDrive, lane-departure warning, front-crash warning, laser-guided cruise control, head-up display; as well as a few 7 Series specific touches such as the soft-close doors (which I absolutely adore) and the privacy shields all around.

Monday, January 21, 2013

2013: Acura ILX Dynamic (Review)

Utilizing the highly popular Civic as the basis for an entry-level sedan in their upscale lineup is rather savvy of Acura. The strategy allows buyers to bask in the cachet of an Acura for relatively little more cash than that needed to follow the more plebian Honda route.As part of the Acura family, these buyers may be coaxed into other Acura products as their automotive needs change and their wallets fatten.

The availability of three powerplants and several trim levels broadens the prospective 2013 Acura ILX market to include those seeking a mild-mannered luxury sedan, those yearning for something a little hotter, and those in need of Mother Nature’s approval. My Dynamic tester was the 2.4L bad boy of the three.The base 2013 Acura ILX 2.0L I-4 engine develops 150 horsepower, which is sent to the front wheels through the administration of a 5-speed automatic transmission featuring paddle-shifters. In addition to powering the base ILX, this mill propels the ILX Premium and Tech trim levels as well.

Handling dynamics are secure and composed. I enjoyed throwing the 2013 Acura ILX Dynamic into a corner without scrubbing off excessive speed. The car exhibits a touch of body lean, but grips tenaciously as the cornering radius tightens then releases, encouraging careful throttle input. Steering resistance is on the light side though, and not particularly communicative.The 8-way power-adjustable front seats in my tester were notably comfortable and accommodating, yet there was no lumbar adjustability and fairly limited side bolstering. Still, I never felt fatigued or antsy during long stints behind the wheel.

Except for the pronounced exhaust melody, the 2013 Acura ILX Dynamic is a quiet automobile that feels tight, firmly assembled and structurally sound. Its ride quality is taut but forgiving, which is fair given the car’s performance orientation and handling characteristics.

2013 Chevrolet Volt- Review

It's an electric vehicle (or EV), and here's why: The electric motor drives the wheels which is why they can classify it as an EV, despite the gas tank. This combination of battery and gas make up the Voltec Electric Drive Unit which uses two electric motors, three clutches and a planetary gear set.With a long-life 16 kWh lithium-ion battery, the 2013 Chevrolet Volt can run in pure electric mode for 40-80 km. If and when that charge runs out, the 1.4L ECOTEC gas-powered generator keeps you on the road by backing up the batteries that are powering your wheels -- in essence, acting as an electric power generator.

When lined up against "pure" EVs like the Nissan LEAF and Ford Focus Electric (as we did for our EV Comparison Test), the 2013 Chevrolet Volt clearly offered something different. While the Ford's regenerative braking was choppy and rough, and the LEAF's acceleration so smooth it was like greased butter, the Volt fell somewhere in between.Somehow driving the Volt just feels... different. Acceleration is linear, but stunted, like it's holding itself back. Braking feels soft at first, then stiffens up under harsher use. Again, like it wants to be normal, then remembers it's an EV. When the gas motor turns on, it's not extremely audible, but there is a noticeable vibration in the throttle and the steering wheel.

Speaking of the steering, piloting the 2013 Chevrolet Volt is actually quite enjoyable. Small and compact it's a breeze to park and drive in a crowded downtown core. Be warned: Pedestrians will not hear you coming in full EV mode.Visibility in the 2013 Chevrolet Volt could be good, if it wasn't for the ridiculously small rear window. Thankfully, my tester was kitted out to the nines (which also meant its price brushed the $50k mark) and had a backup camera.

Technology aside, the 2013 Chevrolet Volt is a good looking car. From the outside, it's different enough to grab attention without being so over the top (read: i-MiEV) that people stare. It's sophisticated, in a black tie (or bowtie, as the case may be) kind of way.Besides that, the 2013 Chevrolet Volt's onboard system tracks fuel mileage, battery use, regenerative braking, and countless other things. And all of this can be conveyed to you via an iPhone App called RemoteLink.

2013: Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 (Review)

Owning a 2013 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 is sort of like owning a bazooka. Both use combustion to propel metal quickly through the air, and can be dangerous to operate. Neither are useful, but, man oh man, if you had a bazooka, you just know some cool stuff would happen.

It’s easygoing on board, too. Terrible outward visibility and cheap trim aside, there’s decent at-hand storage in the 2013 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, a very modern touchscreen radio, a great stereo, and fairly logical control layout.The big, comfortable seats are superb, even for very large folks. You can relax in here, even if you’re north of 300 and afraid of celery. The ZL1 even rides nicely, thanks to a fantastically tuned Magnetic Ride Control suspension system borrowed from the Corvette.

The 2013 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 fires up with a nearly distasteful belch. You can hear the gears engaging and the rear differential whining. Ditto for the pebbles and sand as it's flung from gummy-bear-sticky tires against the wheel wells. Should a bump in the road cause a sudden poke on the throttle, the Camaro ZL1 leaps forward as if it’s been rear-ended by a rhinoceros.

The 2013 Camaro ZL1, like the even more powerful and license-threatening new Mustang Shelby GT500, demands massive respect. And forget that the Chevrolet doesn’t smash the 600-horsepower mark, because anything beyond about 500 ponies on the road is way too much, anyhow. For both Chevrolet and Ford, the power alone is going to sell a lot of units.

Accept the invitation by hammering down in first on some bare, warm pavement, and it lurches ahead in a startlingly way as if it’s had a cattle prod shoved into its backside. Usually, there’s no squirming or sliding, just traction, grip, a massive increase in speed, and NASCAR sound effects pumped thickly into the cabin.Get to banging some gears in the 2013 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, and mere seconds separate you from “step out of the car please” territory should you wind up on the wrong end of a radar gun.

2013 Chevrolet Spark 2LT: (Review)

The 2013 Chevrolet Spark is equipped with a 16-valve, 1.2L four that develops 84 hp and 83 lb-ft of torque. Those numbers sound rather low these days, and they are; only the smart fortwo is less powerful -- and if you count EVs, so is the i-MiEV.With a 0-100 km/h time of 14.1 seconds, the Spark isn’t exactly rapid. However, it doesn’t feel that slow under normal driving; not once during the test did I complain or swear about the car’s lack of grunt, especially with the car’s mission as a city dweller.

Usually, minicars are cramped inside, but not the 2013 Chevrolet Spark. Despite rear-seat occupants rubbing their knees a little on the front seatbacks, four adults will sit comfortably. The i-MiEV is almost asroomy as the Spark, while the iQ and Fiat only sport two doors and a miniscule rear-seat area.

The cheeky Spark is so small you can park like a douchebag and still keep it between the lines of a normal parking space. In addition, its pip-squeak size is a clear advantage for parallel parking on crowded city streets. Despite rather fat A-pillars, outward visibility is pretty good.

You get 15” alloys; fog lamps; ten airbags; roof rails; power windows; A/C; heated front seats; leatherette upholstery; Bluetooth phone and streaming audio; a 6-speaker sound system with 7” touchscreen and a USB port; cruise control, and keyless entry. Still, 20 grand is a lot of dough for a minicar. Although that doesn’t seem to stop the Fiat 500 from selling like hotcakes.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

2011 Ferrari 458 Italia Track Test

Ferrari has a story – and what a story it is – that will be told over and over again for decades and centuries to come. Much like you, as a car-friend I've read bits and pieces of Enzo's life and legacy, and have always been fascinated by how he reluctantly ended up making and selling cars in order to support his Scuderia Ferrari. Now, 64 years later, his name is associated with some of the outright best cars in the world.

Now, more about the car. Actually, you're probably well aware that this gorgeous-to-behold piece of Italian art sports a mid-mounted, 570-hp, 4.5L V8. And yes, this output is all motor, no juice. In fact, the 458's 127 hp-per-litre represents one of the highest output ratings per litre of any normally aspirated car in the world.

Power is nothing without control, so would say Pirelli who happen to supply rubber for this fantastic car. The 458 is all about control. I've never experienced a transmission that so positively strong-armed an engine like the F1, 7-speed, dual-clutch gearbox in this car does. Even at WOT, the box swaps cogs with mind-boggling smoothness, speed and efficiency. Never is power cut or lost unlike the vicious E-Gear found in the Lambo. Beyond that, regardless of the position of the manettino, the E-Diff maintains and distributes the perfect amount of torque to the rear wheels.

All this electronic wizardry makes the driver feel as though they are Michael Schumacher – really. This super supercar is so trackable that only the most novice idiot could make a mistake; that is, if all the safety nets remain on.The rush of power from the V8 is instantaneous, despite max torque showing up at 6,000 rpm. I found that much of the car's 398 pounds of torque do come on as low as 4,000 rpm, and therefore up- or downshifting madly is not necessary. It is, however, a highly desirable action. All 570 hp are on tap at 9,000 rpm and tugging on the paddles anywhere in the 6,000 to 9,000 rpm range is met with intoxicating bursts of speed

Through corners and switchbacks, the 458 stays flat, poised and thanks to the trick E-Diff and high-performance ABS brakes, the car makes the driver feel constantly in control. Grip going in and coming out of the “S” turns is phenomenal and unwavering. This allows the pilot to get on the go pedal sooner, allowing for quicker exit speeds and higher trap velocities. A few more laps at the wheel of the Italia and I'm certain I could have hit 240+ km/h on the other side of the Hump by perfecting my line through corner 8.

Audi: A1 e-tron With New Dual-Mode

Germany, Audi is now moving onto the next stage of its electrified vehicle research with the announcement today of a new trial using an updated version of the A1 e-tron. The latest version does away with the previous rotary engine range-extender and adopts a more conventional three-cylinder engine.

For the new car, which Audi calls a Dual-Mode Hybrid, the layout of the drive system essentially comprises a combustion engine, two electric motors and a single-speed transmission.The combustion engine is a specially developed three-cylinder engine displacing 1.5 liters and developing a healthy 130 horsepower thanks to turbocharging and direct injection technology. It is connected directly to a 68-horsepower electric motor that functions as a starter and alternator-generator. Importantly, this electric motor doesn’t actually drive the wheels.

The second electric motor, which is rated at 116 horsepower, is used for driving the wheels, either exclusively or together with the gas engine. A special single-speed transmission enables the combustion engine, including the alternator-generator, to be engaged or disengaged as required from the rest of the drivetrain by means of a claw clutch.

In this way, Audi’s Dual-Mode Hybrid setup can allow various operating modes. The vehicle can either drive on electric power alone, its 17.4 kWh lithium-ion battery giving it a range of about 55 miles, or it can drive in extended-range mode where the combustion engine is used to top up the batteries while on the move, or it can drive in parallel hybrid model where both the combustion engine and an electric motor send power to the wheels.