Sunday, August 31, 2014

Quick Take: 2014 Kia Optima Hybrid


If you were to ask me what I thought of Kia, I’d have said that Kias were the “Target” versions of Audis and BMWs. I’d have said that the Kia Stinger concept is a Target-brand version of the Audi Sport Quattro concept from the year before, for example, and that the brand aspired to be little more than a cheaper, more obtainable alternative to those “aspirational” German offerings. After a week behind the wheel of a 2014 Kia Optima Hybrid, however, I came away with a new-found respect for the brand- and a real appreciation for what the Kia Optima Hybrid is, rather than what it wants to be.
Which is good, because this car desperately wants to be an Audi or BMW, and has fallen well short of those marks in the ways that stereotypical gear head/auto journalists think matters. The thing is, though, that the 2014 Kia Optima Hybrid has, arguably, done a much better job than either Audi or BMW in ways that matter to, you know, ACTUAL car buyers. That’s my story, anyway – follow along, below, and see if you agree.

2014 Kia Optima Hybrid | Outside


“Does it go as good as it looks?” asked my next-door neighbor, Frank, as I parked the Kia next to his van.
“Too soon to tell,” I answered. The car had only just been delivered a few minutes earlier, and I’d driven it around the block to adjust seats, mirrors, and (because it’s 2014) pair my phone and try out the sound system. “But, maybe.”
That would be a big ask, because this car is really, really good-looking- especially in the metallic, shimmery “Aluminum Silver” color that my tester came in. In a bid to “go as good as it looks”, Kia gave its latest Optima Hybrid 199 (combined) HP and some 235 lb-ft of torque. More than enough power, in other words, to get out of its own way while easily delivering on its 36/40 MPG EPA ratings, thanks to an EV mode that’s all you need in downtown Chicago traffic.
All the same, the Kia Optima Hybrid could have an extra 100 HP and 2 or 3 MPG thrown into the mix and the driving experience still might not equal the car’s looks. To give you an example of what I mean, all the photos you see here were taken in the late afternoon in a CarMax parking lot alongside I-290 with an older iPhone, and the car still looks fantastic.

2014 Kia Optima Hybrid | Inside


The interior styling of the new Kia Optima is where you can really see the brand’s sporting ambitions. The two-tone interior looks like a million bucks, and- on looks- could easily be installed in a sporty luxo-go-fast coupe without raising any eyebrows. The car’s stylists did an excellent job, here, and everything worked. Controls were well-placed, functioned intuitively, and felt decent enough to operate. There is, though, the small matter of the material choices.
“This car is giving me cancer,” said my wife. “If I get cancer later in life, it’s because I sat in this car.”
What Dr. Maggie was referring to in that hyperbolic (?) diatribe was the fact that whatever chemical cocktail of fish oil, formaldehyde, and Armor All worked to keep the Kia Optima’s leather, vinyl, and rubber interior bits from cracking and drying out had a distinct odor to it. A “stink”, if you will, that drew attention to the fact that the “piano black” plastics were really just cheap and shiny. To me, the stink was forgivable (it will dissipate over the course of the car’s ownership, surely), especially considering that the Optima Hybrid’s tech-heavy interior looked a step above the BMW 328 I also drove that week … and the BMW’s price tag was some $20,000 higher than the fully-loaded Kia’s.

2014 Kia Optima Hybrid | Final Thoughts


Earlier in this post, I mentioned that Kia had ticked all the boxes that mattered to people who buy new cars? I feel like, with the Optima’s low-ish price, solid performance, outstanding fuel economy, and 10 year, 100,000 warranty, it would be hard to call it anything but a solid buy. Besides that, it looks like a million bucks, and no one I shared the car’s $35,000 price tag with balked (although, it must be said, that the most common response was, “What do you think it leases for?”).
Still that reasonable price comes with a few drawbacks, in addition to the stink, that may not be so reasonable. The trunk, for one example, displays some of the old “afterthought” engineering that early hybrids displayed. It was forgivable, maybe, in my 2009 Chevy Malibu Hybrid, but in 2014 it probably shouldn’t be. For another example, the Kia’s key fob kept falling off the key – something that happened enough times over the course of the week that, by the end, I’d begun to check my pockets in a panicked state several times an hour.
That’s not good.
All that said, though, I’d definitely recommend a car like the Kia Optima Hybrid to anyone looking for a sharp-looking commuter car. It is, maybe, ever so slightly putting style over substance in a lot of ways, but I know a more than a few people that do that every day, and I get the sense that the Kia Optima Hybrid would suit them quite well.

Source: Kia

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Volvo Will Build 3 Cylinder Turbo Engine

Volvo Drive-E Engine

Not content to let its former-owners at Ford get all the 3 cyl. turbo glory with its tiny Ecoboost Fiesta models, Volvo is developing an all-new, 1.5 liter turbocharged 3 cylinder gasoline engine of its own! The new engine will be used in future versions of its small and medium size cars (think S40/S60) as well as mid range SUVs (XC60). That’s the word from Derek Crabb, Volvo’s global power train boss, who adds that – while the engine will have enough horsepower for Volvo’s larger cars – it lacks the necessary torque characteristics.
Why is Volvo downsizing its new power plants? It’s all about emissions.
“I see it being possible in S60 but not higher. It’s not planned for the higher XC cars at the moment. It’s not the power. It’s more to do with the torque,” Mr. Crabb told AutoCar. The current Volvo CO2 average across the range is 120 g/km in Europe. “By 2020, we have to get down to 95 g/km but in Australia we have to get down to 75 g/km in the same timeframe. If you really get your engineering right, you can get through 95 g/km (over 55 MPG) without electrification.”
Don’t think that Volvo has forgotten performance, however. The company believes that its diesel and gasoline and diesel powered 4 cylinder engines are well suited to the task of turning V8s into “dinosaurs”, and are slated for modest power increases every two years. In addition, Volvo’s flagship XC90 crossover will be available with a version of Volvo’s 300 HP turbocharged AND supercharged “Drive E” gasoline engine, coupled to an 80 HP hybird-electric motor, yielding a total of 400 HP and 470 Lb-ft of torque.

SourcesAutocar, via AutoEvolution.

Volkswagen Plans A Four-Door XL1


Now that the super efficient Volkswagen XL1 is in limited production, the company is prepared to tackle a new challenge by giving it two more seats and adding a pair of rear doors, reports AutoCar.
The XL1′s mission is to go 100 kilometers on 1 liter of fuel, though it’s actual gas mileage rating is 256 MPG. Naturally adding two doors and two seats will require a slightly more powerful engine and battery, as well as a completely new carbon fiber central tub. Those changes will  add about 150 kg to the current car, which tips the scales at 795 kg, or about 1,750 lbs. VW engineers hope the longer body will be somewhat more aerodynamic than the present car, allowing the new model to maintain its high MPG rating despite the increase in weight.
VW has its eye on the competition. The Toyota super-aerodynamic Mirai promises to offer outstanding fuel economy, albeit using hydrogen rather than diesel fuel, and is due to go on sale in 2015.
Rumors suggest the new 4 door car will be called the XL2, and the four seats will be staggered to keep the width of the car as narrow as possible for good aerodynamics so vital to maximum fuel economy. The rear doors are said to be hinged at the rear, as are the rear doors on the BMW i3. No word on price, but the XL1 sells for $169,000. Expect the four-passenger version to cost more than that.
Volkswagen may be facing the law of diminishing returns here. It own up! city car weighs just 926 kg and seats four, and while it only manages 52 mpg, it sells for one tenth what an XL1 costs. A person would have to drive about a million miles before the higher cost of the XL1 could be offset by fuel savings.
So what are the XL1 and XL2? Basically, rolling laboratories for Volkswagen to test out new manufacturing ideas before applying the lessons learned to its production cars. At present, the XL1 is only available in Germany and the XL2 will likely be limited to German roads as well. Look for it in about two years time.

Source: Volkswagen

Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV Van For UK

Outlander PHEV

If you live in the UK, the government will give you up to $8,300 if you buy a plug-in hybrid vehicle for personal use. But if you buy a PHEV for business use, it will send as much $13,300 your way. And if you drive it exclusively for business purposes, it will rebate 20% of the sales tax you paid.
Governments set the rules and the rest of us play along, and to take advantage of the UK government’s generosity, Mitsubishi has decided to make its hot selling Outlander PHEV into a commercial vehicle. How? Strip out the rear seats, replace the rear windows with sheet metal and fit the rear with a heavy duty load bed. Voila, it’s a van!
Mitsubishi calls its repurposed van the Outlander PHEV 4Work. The fact that it gets great gas mileage, has tremendous range, and comes with an advance all-wheel drive system makes buying one a no-brainer for British business owners.
Turning passenger cars into commercial vehicles is a time honored tradition around the world. Here in the US, Chrysler has converted lots of Caravans into beasts of burden for the post office and other folks who need to haul stuff around for business purposes. It’s possible the Outlander PHEV 4Work will be available in the US as soon as 2016 as well, though the regular passenger model has yet to launch.

Friday, August 29, 2014

A Tale of Two Golfs: 2015 VW e-Golf First Drive

“Is it on?” That’s the first question everyone seems to ask when they first step into an electric car. I’ve had the privilege of driving more than a few EVs so far, but many of my colleagues at the Volkswagen e-Golf launch and drive event hadn’t yet, and so “Is it on?” became the common call as people rushed to get their tester on the road.
My driving partner, thankfully, was a legitimate gearhead who knew his way around all sorts of cars, and he had dibs on the first leg of our drive in the e-Golf. So when I heard him ask “Is it on?” I was mystified…until he repeated the startup procedure twice, with the gauges lit up but the steering wheel still locked. The hell was going on here?
“You have to hold the start button down longer,” a nearby Volkswagen rep explained. My co-driver held the button, and this time the gauges lit up and jumped up without much noise or fanfare save for a single electronic chime. So it was that we stealthily exited the parking lot at the Salamander Resort, as the same scene played out behind us with the other drivers.
We were warned that Virginia’s cops are notorious sticklers for speeding, and a recent Jalopnik story shed light on just how heavy-handed Virginia law can be when it comes to excessive acceleration. Still, we both thought that it would be easy to keep the e-Golf below the posted speed limit, which ranged from 25 to 50 MPH.
Turns out we were both wrong.

Make no mistake, the Volkswagen e-Golf is no GTI, taking about 10 seconds to arrive at 60 MPH despite a healthy serving of 199 lb-ft of torque. And yet as soon as you step on the accelerator pedal, the e-Golf leaps forward with a kind of hungry eagerness to please. No, you won’t win any races unless the guy next to you is in a Toyota Prius, but the e-Golf will put you back in your seat for the first couple of seconds after you stomp it, and with little more than the whine of its little electric motor.
Priced at $35,475, the e-Golf also isn’t cheap, though it does come fully loaded in the only available top trim level with leather seats, a large infotainment screen, backup camera, premium sound system, so on and so forth. It’s got all the Golf goodies you’d want, minus the combustion engine and traditional transmission. Volkswagen also went to great lengths to ensure that cargo space wasn’t compromised when it installed the 24.2 kWh battery pack, and save for a few aerodynamic body enhancements and the lack of a tailpipe, it looks like any other VW Golf on the road.
That’s a good thing, because it seems consumers aren’t interested in advertising that they’re driving electric cars. Rather, many people would prefer to quietly scoot along in cars that look like every other car, rather than a vehicle that screams “LOOK AT ME, I’M ELECTRIC!” When parked next to the rest of the Volkswagen test fleet (which comprised mostly Jettas and Passats), it looks like it belongs there.
Volkswagen is playing coy with an official rating range, quoting a range of between “70 and 90 miles” per charge, which is a huge spread for a car with such limited range. When we first go in the e-Golf for our test drive, the range meter (placed on the infotainment screen, oddly enough) showed a full charge and an estimated 68 miles of driving. 16 miles later we arrived at our destination, Great Country Farms, and the e-Golf still showed a driving range of 67 miles.
After a brief tour of the peach orchard, we were back on the road, this time with me at the wheel, and I began to play with the various features, including the driving modes and regenerative braking. The e-Golf offers “Normal”, “Eco”, and “Eco+” modes, with the two Eco modes offering less power but more driving range. I didn’t stay in either mode too long, though I did use the regenerative braking in place of the brake pedal, gaining approximately a mile of range while coasting to a stop off of an exit ramp. The regenerative braking is too aggressive for just regular driving though, and I felt much more comfortable with the regenerative braking off, coasting along to the sound of wind and SiriusXM radio.


I also learned that cranking the air conditioning full blast costs about 4 or 5 miles of driving range, and it takes a minute or two longer than usual to really start blowing the kind Arctic cold one expects from a new car. Or at least that’s how it felt, despite it being a relatively pleasant summer day in Virginia. The sound system certainly delivered the kind of boom and bass my generation expects though, and Volkswagen claims that from a Level 3 DC charger can deliver an 80% charge in just 20 minutes. VW reps also said that thanks to a joint effort with Bosch, Volkswagen e-Golf buyers will have access to affordable home charging stations. Just how affordable, Volkswagen wasn’t ready to say just how much those charging stations would cost.
Another interesting caveat is that, like Nissan, Volkswagen has opted for an air-cooled battery, rather than a liquid-cooled battery. However, Volkswagen that a unique “Battery Management Unit” can keep the e-Golf cool even under extreme temperatures, though how that pans out in the real world remains to be seen.
At the end of my all-too-brief time with the e-Golf, I was left with the impression that Volkswagen has made a sincere effort to produce a good and viable electric vehicle. On the other hand, it also seems like perhaps Volkswagen hasn’t paid close enough attention to the wants and needs of electric car buyers. Both Nissan and GM are following in Tesla’s footsteps and plan to offer multiple battery pack sizes, while the e-Golf is limited to just the 24.2 kWh battery. Also, the lack of a liquid-cooling system could come back to bite Volkswagen in the fender, and by only offering the e-Golf as a fully-loaded model, it will remain outside the price bracket of many would-be EV buyers, who are instead left to choose between the Nissan LEAF and…well, that’s it.
There are those who would argue that for these reasons, the Volkswagen e-Golf is more compliance car than serious EV contender, but Volkswagen insists it is anything but a placeholder.
So, where can you buy an e-Golf when it goes on sale this November? Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, Oregon, Vermont, and of course California are the only states the e-Golf will go on sale now, though Volkswagen reps said they could expand to other states (or even nationwide) depending on customer reaction. It’s no breakthrough or gamechanger, but it’s certainly worth a look if you’re in the market for an electric car.
A big thanks to Volkswagen for paying for my flight, food, and hotel accommodations at the awesome and eco-friendly Salamander Resort. Also, whiskey chocolate pudding is amazing.


Source: VW.

A Tale of Two Golfs: 2015 VW Golf GTI First Drive

With the low gurgle of its dual tailpipes and the quiet whirl of its tiny turbocharger, the 2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI came to life. Unlike the e-Golf, which has taken a permanent vow of silence, the GTI is a car that lets your neighborhood know that you’ve arrived.
Under the hood is a turbocharged 2.0 liter four-cylinder that in base spec makes a healthy 210 horsepower. The optional Performance Pack, which our fully-loaded tester surely had, power rises to 220 ponies, and once you stab the throttle you can feel every galloping horse pulling you forward from 0 to 60 MPH in about 6.4 seconds, though the Golf GTI has always been about more than just forward acceleration.
Rather than outright speed, the Volkswagen GTI has been about a sense of speed relative to everything around you. Though the backroads Volkswagen marked out for our test drive rarely rose above 45 MPH, diving deep into sharp corners and coming out the other side with engine cresting 5,000 RPM is an insanely gratifying feeling. A big shoutout to the wide and well-bolstered leather seats, which kept me and my driving partner firmly planted in the seating position of our choice. These are seriously some of the best seats you’ll find in any sports car south of $50,000 (and the GTI starts at half that with a base MSRP of $25,815) and in my humble opinion, the driver’s seat is the single most important part of any new car. If you can’t get comfortable, how can you possibly enjoy the driving experience?
Thankfully Volkswagen’s seat engineers did a bang-up job on the seats, allowing me to focus my critical eye on other aspects of the GTI…including the odd dimpled six-speed shifter. The transmission itself responds with an eager, even keel, though the three pedals in our manual transmission car felt a bit wide apart for my liking. Then again, it made it far less likely that my wide feet would grace the brake pedal when I shifted, so I suppose it’s a matter of personal preference. Speaking of shifting and personal preference, I’m not sure I’m a fan of the golf ball shifter knob, though I imagine a few years down the line it will be remembered as one of those character-adding quirks of the 7th generation GTI.
One area VW engineers major breakthrough is an almost total lack of torque steer, which in older GTI models tended to turn the wheel one direction or another when you hammered the accelerator. Not so in the 2015 GTI, which for the most part stayed straight and true when I stopped in the middle of a Virginian country road for a hard launch. Unfortunately, because of the aforementioned stifling speed limits, and Virginia’s heavy-handed policies in regards to speeding kept me from really flexing the high-revving 2.0 liter turbo. Volkswagen mapped out a lovely and scenic drive, but I was really itching for just a few minutes of highway driving so i could get out of 4th gear. It didn’t happen though, and once I got one stretch of road on the route that offered a 50 MPH speed limit I found myself stuck behind a couple of white hairs driving a beat-up old Buick. Bah.
Beside being hindered by the elderly though, my time in the GTI did often feel like I was going faster than the 25 or 35 MPH posted speed limit, thanks to high-tensile steel content that comprises about 28% of the new Golf’s material content. Lightweight but exceptional strong, it gave me the confidence to really toss the Golf into some of the tighter back roads where it stuck to the paved cow paths with plenty of poise and no complaints. Braking was on point too, with the thick ready calipers grabbing the big brake rotors and holding on tight every time I needed them too.
According to the EPA, the 2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI with the six-speed manual is rated at 25 MPG in the city and 34 MPG on the highway for a combined rating of 28 MPG. Despite adding the extra weight of lunch from Magnolia at the Mill, aggressive launches from from 0 to the speed limit, and overall heavy footedness accelerating out of the corners, the GTI still returned 24 MPG on our drive. It’s hard to complain about that, and 34 MPG at highway speeds seems totally within the realm of possibility as well.
Also, a special shout out to the under-seat drawer, something I’ve not seen in any other modern car. A neat addition that could serve a multitude of purposes.
So what’s there to quibble about? Well, the exhaust note actually seemed pretty tame to me compared to other competitors in this field, like the Ford Focus ST. Also the lack of a boost gauge is a real disappointment; half the fun of a turbocharged car is making the needle dance around like a rented ballerina. Perhaps these features have been saved for the hotter Golf R, coming to the U.S. next spring with an estimated 290-ish horsepower and going from 0 to 60 MPH in about 5 seconds (depending on your choice of transmissions). It’s a silly oversight if you ask me, and even offering it as an option would be better than neglecting to offer one all together.
The 2015 Golf GTI also isn’t quite as powerful as competitors like the Focus ST with its 247 horsepower, and without the Performance pack it makes just 13 more horsepower than the cheaper Fiesta ST.Granted, the Golf is a larger and more practical car than the Fiesta, but if cheap thrills are the name of the game, there are other contenders for the crown.
One last complaint; the contoured driver’s side mirror. I hate it. Maybe I’m just a dumb American resistant to change, but a car as compact as the Volkswagen Golf doesn’t need contoured mirrors the way a tractor trailer, or even a heavy-duty pickup truck does. Just a regular sideview mirror would be fine here, and I don’t understand why Volkswagen departed from the pack with this move.
Those complaints aside, would I buy a 2015 Golf GTI? It’s a tempting proposition, though to have a fully-specced version like my tester, which included leather seats, a huge sunroof, a Fender 8-speaker sound system with subwoofer, and push-button start, you’d spend about $30,000. That’s a sizable sum and moves the GTI from the “affordable” price range and more in line with the average cost of a new car in the U.S.
Yet here I sit, wishing there were one in my driveway, if not owned, at least for another few days to really wring it out. The 2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI left me wanting more, just as the quieter and more mild-mannered Volkswagen e-Golf did. That’s got to be a good sign, right?
A big thanks to Volkswagen for paying for my flight, food, and hotel accommodations at the awesome and eco-friendly Salamander Resort. Also, whiskey chocolate pudding is amazing.

Source: Gas 2.

Nissan LEAF’s New Look Leaked

Rumors about the next-generation Nissan LEAF are heating up, and AutoExpress has what it claims is an exclusive first look at a more conventional-looking LEAF. With about double the range and a less polarizing look, Nissan is hoping to push the LEAF into the mainstream.
While AutoExpress quotes a driving range of about 186 miles, that’s on the more-generous Imperial testing cycle; here in America, the 2017 Nissan LEAF should be good for about 150 miles per charge. Another major component of the next Nissan EV will be a more prominent charging network. Nissan dealerships have begun installing free-to-use fast chargers, and Nissan executives met with their counterparts at Tesla Motors to discuss use of the Supercharger network. It’s too early to tell just how serious those discussions were, but the Tesla Model S has set the standard for what electric cars can, and should be.
Hopefully the next Nissan LEAF is riding on a purpose-built EV platform, which combined with a more conventional look could broaden its appeal to the car-buying public. With more driving range and access to more charging stations, range anxiety could become a thing of the past. Infiniti is also in line to get a luxury version of the LEAF, and multiple battery options have been rumored to be on the table too. However, it won’t hit dealerships until the second half of 2016, most likely as a 2017 model.
Head over to AutoExpress to see their fully-fleshed out teaser photo of the 2016 Nissan LEAF.

Source: AutoExpress.

2015 Ford F-150 Aerodynamic Improvements

2015 Ford F-150: Toughest and Most Aerodynamic

The 2015 Ford F-150 has been the focus of a lot of attention and scrutiny due to its new lightweight aluminum body, but engineers did a lot of work to improve the aerodynamics of America’s best-selling vehicle as well.
Traditionally, pickup trucks haven’t done a whole lot when it comes to wind tunnel testing and aerodynamic enhancements (performance trucks like the Ford Lightning being an exception, I should note). Designers were also tasked with keeping the F-150’s “bold” and “confident” squared-off edges that make it immediately identifiable as a Ford. “The truck’s sharp, boxy shape gives it a tough appearance, but actually the key to the design is aerodynamic efficiency – getting the most out of the shape,” said Brad Richards, Ford F-150 exterior design manager. “We made F-150 look tough and capable, while also reducing wind resistance.”
How’d they do it? The devil is in the details, like a flush-mounted windshield that eliminates the need for airflow-disturbing mouldings and and tailgate top designed to act more like a spoiler, smoothing out airflow as it leaves the back end. The cargo box has been designed to be narrower than the front cab, there’s an air channel beneath the front headlamps, and specially-tapered taillights that reduces rear turbulence.
Ford isn’t quoting specific drag coefficient or fuel economy numbers yet though, so it’s hard to guess just how much this smoothing-out of the 2015 F-150 really helped things. It certainly helps that Ford has shaved up to 700 pounds off of some F-150 models, but will it be enough to battle the other contenders for the truck MPG crown? It’s been said that the first automaker to build a genuine 30 MPG pickup will “win” the market for some time, and the Big Three are fast approaching those numbers.
Can Ford’s aerodynamic enhancements and aluminum body help it come out come out on top?

2015 Ford F-150: Toughest and Most Aerodynamic

Source: Gas 2.