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2015 Mercedes-Benz S63 AMG Coupe

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  • Porsche 911 GT3 Cup ANDIAL Edition
  • North American Honda Civic to get Type R engine

Chris Paukert

How GM's OnStar is building a better Check Engine Light

Posted Nov 22nd 2014 1:00PM

Cars Will Warn Of Failures Before They Happen

A display alerts the driver that the engine power has been reduced in an OnStar equipted vehicle in San Mateo, Calif., on Monday

Soon, OnStar will be used to mine your car's systems and compare its findings against vast pools of data in the cloud.

We've all become accustomed to our cars' dashboards warning us of an impending calamity, be it low fuel, low tire pressure or even the dreaded nonspecific "check engine" light. But what if your car could tell you specifically that your alternator is going, or that your water pump is about to fail? That technology is coming, says General Motors' executive vice president of global product development, Mark Reuss. In a Thursday media luncheon, Reuss confirmed to us that GM is working on the technology using cars equipped with its OnStar communications network. According to Reuss:

"Being able to predict about when that [a failure] is going to happen prevents walk homes. If there's a problem with a brake rotor, if there's a problem with a brake system or a steering system – being able to predict that [failure] and inform the driver that they need to go to a dealer and have that service performed before it happens, that's really good R&D."

Today, OnStar is best known for its subscription services that help drivers deal with inconveniences and problems, from turn-by-turn navigation to automatic emergency services notifications in the event of an accident. But soon, OnStar will be used to mine your car's systems and compare its findings against vast pools of data in the cloud. If it finds variations in the performance of your vehicle's systems that are indicative of impending failures, OnStar will then be able to automatically notify you of the potential problem utilizing in-car screens, either via the infotainment system or gauge cluster display. OnStar presently has the ability to notify owners of vehicle maintenance intervals using email, so conceivably notifications could be delivered in this way, too.

So, will this be yet another subscription-based service for GM? Not necessarily. Reuss says:

"We're figuring out the business model right now. But theoretically, we'd like to offer that to all of our customers. We already give away a ton of money on that equipment of OnStar in the car that nobody really pays for. So we're going to use it."

So, is this pie-in-the-sky technology? No, Reuss says. "We're testing the system now with our employees," he says, which suggests it's coming soon.

Now, how long will it be before OnStar checks to make sure your preferred dealer has the required replacement part in stock and reserves a service appointment for you?

Image Credit: ZUMA Press, Inc. / Alamy

2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata is a knight in white satin

Posted Nov 20th 2014 7:59AM

2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata

We're not going to lie to you. The reason you're seeing the fourth-generation Mazda MX-5 Miata on these pages again is solely because this is the first time we're seeing the roadster displayed in a colour other than the ruby red shade it was first shown in.

Okay, okay, so this is the first time the Miata is being displayed at a North American auto show other than SEMA, and we'd say that this is the first time Mazda is showing a North American-spec model, but clearly this is a right-hand-drive car. Either way, there's still not much to it yet, especially since Mazda is still withholding power and performance figures.

As expected, the ND Miata, as it is already known among the cognoscenti, will receive a 2.0-litre Skyactiv four-cylinder and the buyer's choice of a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic here in North America. The 1.5-litre model engine that had been linked to the car back in the rumourmill stage will not make it to our showrooms.

Preliminary specifications still show the Miata measuring just 154.1 inches in length overall, with an increased track width to 68.1 inches and a low, low overall height of 49.0 inches. Despite the larger-displacement engine and its presumably heavier weight, Mazda is still claiming ideal 50:50 weight distribution and a weight loss of over 100 kilograms or 220 pounds versus today's NC generation. All of which sounds like the Miata has the right ingredients to make good on its promised Jinba Ittai ("rider and horse as one") driving experience.

It might be just plain ol' white paint, but you can colour us excited.

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2016 Jaguar F-Type debuts available manual transmission, AWD

Posted Nov 19th 2014 9:29AM

New Features Make Car More Attractive To Purists And Everyday Buyers

2016 Jaguar F-Type S Convertible - front three-quarter view

2016 Jaguar F-Type S Convertible - interior view showing manual transmissionIf you're like us, you fell in the deepest, darkest sort of love with Jaguar's F-Type the moment its voluptuous form first surfaced. The car's full-bodied engine specs only furthered our ardor, and the droptop Jag sealed the deal before we even turned a wheel – all it took was hearing its engine bark to life.

And yet, even after driving the original convertible and the subsequent coupe, we've never quite shaken the notion that Jaguar erred a bit too heavily on the Grand Touring side of the equation for a proper sports car. That's partially because even the base model comes with a boatload of weight-adding luxury features. But perhaps more importantly, it's because the F-Type has only been available with an automatic transmission. Admittedly, the gearbox in question is a damned good paddle-shifted eight-speed ZF unit, but it's always chafed a bit that Jaguar wasn't committed to offering purists a manual – even if such a model would never be a high-volume proposition.

Apparently we weren't the only ones bothered by three-pedal omission. According to Russ Varney, F-Type Vehicle Program Director,

"These things [transmissions] don't come cheap, but if you want to establish a credible car, then there are certain things that you have to go and execute. In the sports car world, you have to have performance, and, frankly, you have to have a manual transmission."

For 2016, our chafing has ended. That's because Jaguar has just introduced a new six-speed ZF manual for V6-equipped rear-wheel-drive models. We mention that last bit because for the new model year, the F-Type will also be available with all-wheel drive, a move that ought to move the car up on shoppers' consideration lists in Northern climates. Critically, the AWD system's default torque split is 100-per cent to the rear axle to preserve the F-Type's balance and feel, but 50 per cent can be directed to the front when called upon.

Badging aside, you'll be able to spot an AWD F on the street thanks to its slightly higher ride height (0.2-inches), reprofiled hood complete with new vents, and body-colour side sills. Unfortunately, the new AWD system is heavy – we're told it adds roughly 80 kilos in curb weight – that's 176 pounds.

Image Credit: Jaguar

2015 Chrysler 300 looks to recapture its mojo in LA

Posted Nov 19th 2014 8:00AM

Revised Attitude, Standard 8-Speed And EPAS Headline Changes

2015 Chrysler 300S - front three-quarter view with trees

Chrysler's 300 sedan has never been a shrinking violet, but it arguably lost a bit of swagger when its second-generation model bowed. There was no way that an evolutionary design could ever upend the automotive establishment the way the original 2005 model did, but even so, something was clearly left on the table when the 2011 model bowed.

You don't have take our word for it – Chrysler knows it, too. Reflecting back upon the second-generation model's styling today, Ralph Gilles, Chrysler's senior vice president of design is refreshingly candid, telling Autoblog, "Our previous generation of leaders didn't understand the car very well, and kind of forced this front end on us." For 2015, Gilles and Co. have worked to recapture some of the 2005 design's lightning in a bottle. In Gilles' words, the brief for the refreshed 2015 model was to "give the car the attitude it deserves... up the attitude, up the presence."

Visually, the new 300 initially appears very similar to the current car, but closer inspection and side-by-side comparisons reveal countless changes, the most noticeable being a much larger front grille (by about 30 per cent), redone light fixtures and a 'Mobius-strip' lower fascia that picks up where the new 200 left off. The cabin has been upgraded, too, with a standard seven-inch display in the gauge cluster, the latest UConnect infotainment system and improved material choices.

The 300's well-liked 3.6-litre V6 and 5.7-litre Hemi V8 engines carry over largely unchanged, so the big news mechanically is the institution of Chrysler's eight-speed Torqueflite automatic across the line. (Previously, V8 models were equipped with six-speed units). Thankfully, the 2014 model's recalcitrant electronic gearshift lever has been axed, replaced by the rotary selector found in the 200 and other Pentastar-family products. Chrysler says drivers can expect both quicker acceleration and up to a six-per cent improvement in fuel economy on V8 models.

Also aiding in the quest for improved efficiency are new cast aluminum axles and an electric power steering unit that has been fitted to all trims. A revised sport mode takes advantage of EPAS by varying the steering weight in addition to things like throttle mapping, transmission shift schedule and so on.

As you'd expect of a luxury sedan these days, there's also a newly expanded suite of available active safety technologies, including improved adaptive cruise control with full stop capability, lane-departure warning, forward collision warning, and so on.

Despite the equipment upgrades and improved materials, Chrysler is holding the line on the 2015 300's base MSRP, with the range starting at $34,595 as before. That's not the whole pricing story, though, as Chrysler has pulled the 300 another rung up the latter with the introduction of a new 300C Platinum model, which includes things like Poltrona Frau leather covering the dashboard, hand-sanded wood and platinum-chrome exterior trim. There's also an updated 300S Sport model (shown) featuring revised damping and quicker paddle shifts (250 milliseconds, a 150-millisecond improvement), but the high-performance SRT model is dead, at least in North America.

Corvette's Performance Data Recorder headed to other cars, will Cadillac ATS-V be first?

Posted Nov 17th 2014 3:00PM

2016 Cadillac ATS-V - front three-quarter view

Corvette's Performance Data Recorder - on-screen viewFor 2015, the Chevrolet Corvette Stingray gained a novel piece of high-performance technology: The Performance Data Recorder. This trick system combines video from a front-mounted camera with in-car data and GPS information to help drivers record and study their lap times, complete with data overlays. While it's a clever tool for track days, it's also finding popularity as a built-in dash cam of sorts. To this point, the technology has been a Corvette exclusive, but General Motors' executive vice president of global product development, Mark Reuss, has confirmed to Autoblog that it will soon be available in other vehicles.

At a media luncheon on Thursday, we asked whether GM was keen to expand usage of the technology to other models, and if we could expect to see something soon. Reuss coyly replied, "What's soon?" When we suggested the 2016 Cadillac ATS-V (which is scheduled to debut at next week's LA Auto Show), he replied, "There will be other uses, and it won't be that far away. How's that?"

Certainly not an outright confirmation, but we wouldn't be at all surprised to see the next high-po Cadillac roll under the klieg lights at the Los Angeles Convention Center next Wednesday brandishing more than just 450 horsepower.

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France launches its own Top Gear franchise [w/video]

Posted Nov 11th 2014 2:00PM

Top Gear France reveals its hosts - Yann Larret, Philippe Lellouche and Bruce Jouanny

No hard feelings, eh, France?

The Gallic nation that's long been the butt of Jeremy Clarkson and Company's jokes is getting its own Top Gear franchise. According to the Belfast Telegraph, the popular BBC car program is getting yet another global offshoot, this time in France.

The new series will once again be anchored by three hosts with diverse backgrounds: men's magazine editor Yann Larret-Menzeno – a.k.a. Le Tone (shown at left), actor/comedian Philippe Lellouche (middle) and Le Mans veteran Bruce Jouanny (right). Naturally, the show will also get its own incarnation of The Stig.

The new French Top Gear will be broadcast alongside its British equivalent on France's RMC Decouverte channel beginning in the first quarter of next year.

Top Gear UK hosts Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May have a long history with France and its people, including Clarkson and Hammond finding themselves on the wrong end of a three-month ban for speeding within its borders while filming a special last year. France has also routinely figured into the hosts' playful barbs – see the video below for an example – as has indeed pretty much every other culture the series has ever visited or discussed.

Top Gear has already franchised its highly successful formula to other nations, including the US and South Korea. Some iterations have gone on to be modest hits in their own right, while others, like Top Gear Russia and Australia have sputtered and folded.

News Source: Belfast Telegraph, axavier3664 via YouTube

Image Credit: Visual Press

Audi wiring cars with cameras to see how ferret-like creatures tear them apart

Posted Nov 6th 2014 3:30PM

Stone Marten under hood of Audi A3 Cabriolet

In this German-language video, we see a batch of Audi engineers wiring up an A3 Cabriolet with a network of small cameras. The goal? To help identify where and how stone martens – small, ferret-like animals – attack cars. The idea is to observe the animals' behavior around the vehicles, see where they go, what they chew on, and work to develop solutions.

So why go to all this trouble? Cars and trucks are easily the single-most complex consumer good, and they're subject to the widest variety of conditions, regulations and usage cases that one could possibly imagine. They also come with very high consumer expectations for reliability. Thus, it's up to automakers to vet their vehicles for just about every possible scenario and threat – including weasels. And if that means Audi has to go hire Walter Simbeck, animal trainer to the stars, and string up a bunch of GoPros on an A3, well, they're game.

In speaking with Autoblog, Mark Dahncke, senior product manager at Audi of America tells it best:

In Europe it is a common problem to have wild, ferret-like animals crawl into the engine bay of cars while parked and idle and bite through brake/power steering and other lines/hoses. Audi Deutschland's quality control is seeing where the ferrets go within the engine compartment, which lines they chew on. Based on the video, they will then look to use different materials that a ferret doesn't like biting into. Looks totally random, but it is an issue in Germany and Europe in general.

As it turns out, when engineers and owners refer to a car having gremlins, it's not always metaphorical. Check out the video, below.

Related Gallery2014 Audi A3 Cabriolet
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News Source: Audi Blog, Audi Deutschland via YouTube

2015 BMW i8 sets everyone's tongues wagging in Northern Michigan

Posted Oct 31st 2014 7:00PM

2015 BMW i8 in Northern Michigan's Tunnel of Trees

2015 BMW i8 parked in front of Good Hart General StoreLike few other cars we can remember, people want to talk about the 2015 BMW i8. Drive one, and you'll soon find out what we mean. They stop you at gas stations. They accost you in Walgreen's parking lots. They stream out of neighborhood bars, beers in hand.

At least, that was our experience this week during Autoblog's Technology of the Year testing. We had the pleasure of driving the plug-in hybrid BMW sports car up to and around Petoskey, MI, a resort town where seeing such exotics is rare enough, let alone in the off season. It made for some interesting conversations – so we began writing down some of the comments the butterfly-doored coupe inspired. Here's a sampling:
  • "Wanna race for pinks? I'll go easy on you." – Acne-covered teenage pizza delivery driver in a sad-looking Ford Taurus parked at a Valero gas station near Grayling (which incidentally didn't actually have gas).
  • The proprietor of the Good Hart General Store, a quaint food emporium/post office nestled into the area's famed M-119 'Tunnel of Trees' route, gestured toward me and then said to a woman in the store: "I've almost got him talked into $5,000 and my Jeep." Her laughing response: "Yeah, bullshit!"
  • "Is that a 'boy car' or a 'girl car'?" – Female cashier at Pond Hill Farm, a farm/pumpkin patch/trout pond/tasting room/pickler/pig race complex.
  • "Is that a Lamborghini, or is that a Ferrari?" – Father with son carrying pumpkins.
  • "Well, you must be quite pleased with yourself." *Pauses and again looks at i8* "Understandably." – 20-something woman carrying a tiny sweatered dog.
  • "That looks like you're driving the future." – Walgreen's clerk who followed us out to the parking lot after we stopped to buy some pens.
  • "I have to ask, with that gorgeous car, are ya'll lost?" – Friendly patrol officer who followed us for eight miles (13km) through the Tunnel of Trees, only to turn around and question us in front of the Legs Inn.
In short, this road-bound flying saucer attracts more attention than any exotic we've driven. We're just glad it's so good to drive, or all the impromptu conversations it inspired would've been a lot more awkward.

Image Credit: Copyright 2014 AOL

2015 Ford Focus 1.0L EcoBoost

Posted Oct 14th 2014 11:57AM

Is A 1.0L EcoBoost Enough For The Blue Oval's C-Segment Fighter?

2015 Ford Focus 1.0L EcoBoost

Sitting down at the pre-drive briefing with Ford engineers ahead of sampling the refreshed 2015 Focus, water bottles clinked as we wet our whistles before Q&A. While pouring a glass, we noticed something stamped on the bottle label: "1L." One liter. We were palming the exact displacement of the EcoBoost engine our group was about to drive. This was undoubtedly coincidence (such bottles litter every conference and dinner table in Europe) but it served to drive home just how small the total swept volume of Ford's wunderkind powerplant really is. It's tiny.

Of course, this isn't our first run-in with the little triple – we've sampled its turbocharged charms before in Ford's smaller Fiesta. At that time, we found it had plenty of poke for the subcompact, but the larger C-segment Focus carries around another 450 pounds (204 kilograms) or so and pushes a wider profile through the air. Would the three-cylinder have the stuffing to make the most of the Focus' athletic chassis, or would it be a letdown? Would it be the same as it was when we tested it in a Euro-spec Focus a couple of years ago? There was nothing left for it but to head out on the bucolic roads surrounding Versailles the day after the Paris Motor Show and find out for ourselves.

Image Credit: Copyright 2014 Chris Paukert / AOL