Ok, let’s immediately deal with the elephant in the room. The Toyota Prius Prime is not an attractive vehicle. In fact, to my eyes, it’s quite homely. Now that we have that out of the way, I’ll leave the aesthetic judgements to your own tastes and move on to how Toyota’s sophomore effort at a plug-in version of its icon works. While the first-generation Prius PHV was a bit of a swing and a miss, the functionality this time is in most respects a home run.
One of the longest running jokes in the tech industry is that Google’s customer support system is nothing more than a python script (for those that aren’t techies, python is a programming language widely used by Google). Getting actual human help for problems with Google problems was long thought impossible. However, Google really came through for me recently.
Back in 2010, when Google launched it’s first smartphone, the Nexus One, it was seen as a commercial failure in part because Google had no real infrastructure for providing sales and technical support. While Google still has issues on the sales side with trying to purchase their most popular phones the tech side has dramatically improved.
In January 2016, I bought a Nexus 6P as a replacement for the last in a long series of Motorola phones going back to an original 2009 Droid. I’ve really liked the 6P in the time I’ve owned it, especially the camera. When we took a family vacation to Puerto Rico last year, for the first time, I didn’t take a big SLR with me, relying only on phones and while there are some shots I would have liked to get with a longer lens, I wasn’t disappointed with the image quality.
In recent months however, the battery life has severely degraded and running the AccuBattery app it estimated that the battery had less than half its original capacity. Since like most modern phones, the battery is sealed into the case, I decided to reach out to Google to see if they had a battery replacement program like the one offered by Apple.
If you happen to follow any Android news feeds, you may have seen a bunch of stories in recent days about Google replacing defective Nexus 6P smartphones with newer Pixel XLs. I actually contacted Google before these stories started appearing and was fully prepared to pay for a battery replacement.
Google store support actually offers several ways to contact them, email, live chat or by phone (you enter your number and they will call back in a few minutes). I opted for the chat and after explaining the diagnostics I had gone through including a factory reset, I was informed that they would replace my phone, free of charge. Since the Nexus 6P has been out of production for some time, they didn’t have any stock left for replacements.
Instead Google offered to send me a new Pixel XL. The 6P was offered in 32, 64 and 128 GB sizes but the Pixel is only available in 32 and 128 GBs so Google is actually giving the larger 128 GB for customers that have 64 GB 6Ps. I received an email with a link to order my replacement and two days later I had a brand new phone! I didn’t even have to sit around an Apple store for a couple of hours for a genius bar appointment.
For a time from late in the last decade through the first half of this one, it seemed like a second generation Acura NSX would become the automotive equivalent of Duke Nukem Forever. Starting in 2003, every few years Honda would reveal a new concept that seemed to preview a new supercar but for some reason or other, the project just never came to fruition. At least not until the spring of 2016 when Honda’s newly christened Performance Manufacturing Center in Marysville, Ohio started turning out a handful of cars per day.
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.