It’s been more than eight years since I first drove one of BMW’s MINI E electric prototypes around downtown Los Angeles. One of the first characteristics I noticed about that car was the extremely aggressive regenerative braking that enabled driving virtually without touching the brake pedal. While BMW has persisted with that strategy as the only control mode on the production i3, other automakers have provided similar abilities only when shifting the transmission to Low mode. After driving the new Chevrolet Bolt EV from Tesla’s Silicon Valley backyard into the heart of San Francisco, I think all Bolt drivers should consider driving this way all the time.
In case you missed it, Dan Roth and I have launched a new podcast called Wheel Bearings where we talk about the cars we’re driving and the news and topics that we think are important in the world of transportation and mobility. We’ll have guests and interviews with experts and interesting people too. You can find the show at http://wheelbearings.media/
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Sometimes being ahead your time can kill a business because there aren’t enough customers that understand to sustain you. On the other hand, if you can round up enough true believers you might just hang in there until the world begins to see things your way. Fortunately for Subaru, the latter seems to have been the case and the 2016 Legacy sedan is a perfect case in point.
Five years after launching its first hybrid electric vehicle, Hyundai is at it again with the second-generation Sonata hybrid. Hyundai went its own way with the powertrain architecture it developed in-house. Unlike the two-motor power-split systems used by Toyota, Ford and GM when it debuted in 2010, the Sonata had a single-motor system with a fairly conventional six-speed automatic. Hyundai priced the Sonata hybrid aggressively and it sold well but it wasn’t considered as refined as some of the competition. I spent a week with the 2016 Sonata Hybrid Limited to see how it compares.
The new era of Volvo picked up some steam today with the reveal of the all-new S90 sedan which finally replaces the long-in-the-tooth S80. Based on the same scalable platform architecture as the big XC90 crossover that debuted earlier this year, the S90 adopts a similar design language with a broad-shouldered look and the “Thor’s Hammer” signature lighting in the headlamp clusters.
Of course the S90 wouldn’t be a real Volvo without lots of safety technology and the sedan builds on what already debuted in the XC90 including Pilot Assist. The first version of the semi-autonomous Pilot Assist combined lane centering functionality with automatic speed control for driving in stop and go traffic at speeds up to 30 mph. The XC90 would automatically track the vehicle ahead using the same radar sensor used for adaptive cruise control while a camera monitored the lane markings.
For the second-generation Pilot Assist, the maximum speed has been increased to about 80 mph and there no longer needs to be another vehicle to follow. That means the S90 can more or less drive itself on the highway although the driver must keep a hand on the wheel or the system will disengage. Hopefully, the camera system for detecting lane markings is more robust now, because it definitely had a hard time with detection on the XC90.
Another new feature to the S90 is large animal detection which uses the combination of radar and camera to detect creatures like moose and deer crossing in front of the car. If an animal is detected, the driver is alerted and brake pressure is boosted when the driver applies the pedal.
Under the hood, the S90 will offer three powertrain options all based around the company’s new 2.0-liter four cylinder engine that debuted in the XC90. The base T5 engine gets a turbocharger while the T6 uses an exhaust-driven turbo plus a mechanically driven supercharger to generate 316-horsepower. The top-end T8 Twin Engine adds electric drive and a lithium ion battery for a plug-in hybrid powertrain with more than 400 hp.
The new Volvo S90 will get its first public showing next month at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
In my recent review of the Pioneer AVH-4100NEX car audio receiver with Apple Carplay and Android Auto, I lamented the fact that Pioneer was only offer the smartphone interfaces in its more high-end receivers. At $700, the 4100NEX is the most affordable receiver with this capability and includes a DVD drive and motorized face plate. It also has a tiny row of controls along the bottom edge for volume and mode selection.
I suggested that for people that want to use a smartphone interface, they are less likely to actually use disks or other media and Pioneer should offer a more basic unit with a fixed screen (not to mention a better display than the 4100NEX) and no disk drive.
It turns out they make just such a receiver. It even has a rotary volume knob! The problem is that consumers can’t actually buy this receiver. It’s found in the Scion FR-S that I’m driving this week. Of course Toyota isn’t yet supporting Android or Carplay so this unit doesn’t have that capability. However, if Pioneer would sell this head unit as a standalone with Android and Carplay for $200-250 I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it and I’d even buy one myself.
There are more than two billion smartphones in active use globally now with the vast majority of them running either Google’s Android or Apple’s iOS. People have access to all of the world’s information and entertainment almost anywhere they go and they’ve come to expect to be able to use it anytime they want, including in the car. Thus, 2014 brought the announcements of Apple Carplay and Android Auto.
When you stop to consider how complex the task of driving a vehicle actually is, it’s rather surprising that there aren’t a lot more accidents and fatalities than we already have. Despite this, we keep adding more things for the driver to do on the road and designers have struggled to find a way to integrate everything into the human machine interface (HMI). Having watched the struggles of automotive designers to develop a usable in-vehicle HMI, technology giants Apple and Google have now stepped into the breach with their own solutions to the problem in the form of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
When Alan Mulally took the reins as CEO of Ford Motor Company in 2006, a key element of his strategy to revive the struggling century-old automaker was to dispense with any brands under the corporate umbrella that didn’t carry the founder’s name. During his tenure he found buyers for all of the European luxury brands that his predecessors had acquired including Aston Martin, Jaguar, Land Rover and Volvo. Volvo was the last to go, with China’s Geely Group finally closing the deal in August 2010. While production was never interrupted, the brand’s rebirth really only began this year with the launch of its first all-new product, the second-generation XC90.
The week of January 7, 2007 was a hugely important preview of the future of cars and how we would interact them. In the span of three days, there were three major product announcements in three cities that all seemed distinct at the time but the convergence is now becoming clearer every day. The week kicked off with General Motors vice chairman Bob Lutz revealing the original Chevrolet Volt concept at the Detroit Auto Show. Later that same day, then future Ford CEO Mark Fields joined Microsoft CEO Bill Gates on stage at CES in Las Vegas to announce the SYNC connectivity system. Finally, two days later Apple CEO Steve Jobs showed the world the iPhone at Macworld Expo in San Francisco.
Each of those three products has evolved significantly in the last eight years and with each passing day we get closer to the fusion of them all, potentially in an Apple car. While that latter product is still likely years away from being announced, touchscreen smartphones are now ubiquitous with more than two billion in use around the world. They are so prevalent that we now expect to be able to use them anywhere and everywhere including behind the wheel. While plug-in vehicles currently represent only a tiny fraction of the world’s vehicle parc, they too will likely one day dominate and with the addition of autonomous capability our vehicles may well become nothing more than a place to consume content while being moved around.