Category Archives: Automotive

Rubicon Recon Edition for Fun

As four-wheel drives have taken a turn for the luxurious, the Jeep Wranglerstands tall as a capable, old fashioned off-roader. The regular Rubicon will already go anywhere, but some hardcore enthusiasts want more than just regular – they want to know no road, rock or rut will be able to stop them. The new Wrangler Rubicon Recon aims to cater for these people.

Most of the major changes come under the skin of the Recon, where Jeep has spent its time taking a tough underbody and making it properly bombproof. The front axle has been upgraded with strengthened tubes and heavy-duty end forgings, while the differentials at both ends have been covered with cast heavy-duty covers. Gone are the standard rock rails and in their place is a shorter set, designed to leave room for the gigantic off-road tires.

Although it’s fitted with the same part-time four-wheel drive as the regular Rubicon, the Recon runs with a 4.10 ratio on both axles, while Tru-Lok locking differentials are standard as well. Fitted with the six-speed manual gearbox, the car has a crawl ratio of 73.1:1 for easy rock-crawling.

As is standard for its special editions, Jeep has given the Recon Edition some unique exterior touches and a fresh interior trim. The car sits on a half-inch lift kit, and the new 17-inch aluminum wheels are wrapped in 32-inch BF Goodrich rubber. Gone is the standard front bumper, and in its place is a winch-ready unit with removable end caps. There are also exposed red tow hooks, just in case the off-road upgrades can’t keep you from getting stuck. While these touches will be obvious to those who frequent the Jeep Easter Safari, they’re unlikely to make the Recon an instantly recognizable hit among the masses.

Inside, the Recon is fitted with leather seats, an eight-speaker audio system, black leather seats and contrast stitching. Red accents on the doors, seatbelts and door pockets, are also standard, but keen off-roaders will be more interested in the new electronic gauge cluster which can be customized to give information about coolant temperatures, speed or individual tire pressures – all of which are useful when you’re crawling over rocks, deep in the wilderness. Less useful is the dashboard plaque, which gives a brief rundown of the upgrades fitted to the car.

The Insignia into a slick SUV fighter

Just a week after BMW unveiled a new 5 Series Touring, Opel has turned the Insignia Grand Sport into a slick four-wheel drive fighter. The Insignia Sports Tourer might be blessed with the same good looks and luxurious interior as the sedan launched last year, but there’s even more space for kids, pets and luggage down back. Could it convince you to join the wagon club?

As is the case with the sedan, Opel has trimmed back the fat for a fitter, more engaging Sports Tourer. Depending on trim, the new car is up to 200 kg (441 lb) lighter than its predecessor, which will benefit everything from handling to efficiency. In spite of the impressive weight reduction, the wagon has actually grown in every direction, and now has an extra 100 liters (3.5 cubic feet) of luggage space with the rear seats folded.

Luggage isn’t the only thing with more space, as passengers have also been treated to a more capacious rear seat. There’s an extra 25 mm (0.98 in) of shoulder room, 27 mm (1.06 in) more hip room and 31 mm (1.22 in) more headroom back there, and the optional panoramic sunroof should help make it feel lighter and more spacious as well. Up front, the driver benefits from a new cockpit design that ditches the outgoing button-heavy center console for a clean new layout. The console is tilted towards the hot seat too, just like it is in an old BMW.

Also featured is the GKN Twinster all-wheel drive system from the Ford Focus RS, which is fitted as standard to all Sport Tourers. Although it’s able to send all of the torque to one individual wheel, just like it can in the Focus RS, Opel hasn’t mentioned whether a Drift Mode will be available on the faster VXR Insignia – but the setup’s bag of torque-vectoring, power-shuffling tricks bode well nonetheless.

Corvettes cabin into new AeroWagen

Callaway Cars previewed its AeroWagen Corvette shooting brake way back in 2013 before the C7 Corvette had even hit the market. It took a little longer to launch than originally planned, but now the AeroWagen is here and ready to give Corvette drivers a bit of extra luggage space.

When we published a look at the AeroWagen sneak preview, sentiments were somewhat polarized but leaned more toward “put it in my driveway now,” with only a hint of “not a chance in hell” sprinkled in. Most commenters seemed to dig its combination of sportiness and added practicality. And now those folks that dig it enough finally have the chance to own it.

While the AeroWagen’s stretched cabin is a dramatic visual departure, Callaway’s package is fairly simple. It doesn’t make any changes to the chassis or interior and even keeps the targa roof intact and operational.

The package is a part-for-part replacement for the original equipment rear hatch and relies on the same hinge, latch and seal hardware. The tempered safety rear window glass includes defogging hardware, and since the kit is essentially plug and play, the owner can choose to reinstall the standard factory hatch should the shooting brake life not work out so well.

Needless to say, the conversion doesn’t put any additional seats under that heightened rear cabin. Callaway says the frame and running gear hinder that possibility, so it’s a two-seater with extra cargo space in back.

The AeroWagen package is available for the full range of Corvette coupes, everything from your stock C7 to Callaway’s own offerings, which include the 627-hp SC627 Stingray and Grand Sport models and the 757-hp SC757 Z06.

Callaway is still working out what the AeroWagen package means in terms of specific numbers: amount of additional cargo space, performance, etc. It does mention that there’ll be a small expected drop in drag, but it has not specifically quantified that yet, either.

The Citroen C Aircross Concept

Citroen has found its feet again in recent years, returning to its roots with comfy, quirky cars for people who think a bit differently. Along with the funky C4 Cactus, the C3 hatch runs with a unique look, and we’re not even going to start talking about the brand’s range of minivans. If the C-Aircross Concept is anything to go by, that range will soon be growing to include a (handsome) compact four-wheel drive.

There are a lot of words you could use to describe the current Citroen design language (depending on who you are, they’ll range from interesting to ugly), but the focus on circular detailing and contrast colors means those words certainly don’t include tough. The C-Aircross aims to change that, with its pumped-up ride height and plastic cladding. Although it’s only 4.15 meters (13.6 ft) long, 1.74 meters (5.7 ft) wide and 1.63 meters (5.3 ft) tall, the designers have done a good job of making the car look big and imposing, while the 18-inch wheels add a touch of flair.

As well as being a bit more butch than your average compact four-wheel drive, the concept is also a bit smarter. Citroen has a long history of experimenting with aero in its concepts and the C-Aircross is no different, with a set of clever “air breather” vents built into the front flanks helping reduce drag in tandem with the rear diffuser.

Like any good Citroen, the C-Aircross Concept also puts a real focus on comfort, with seats modelled on a comfortable, springy sofa. Finished in quilted leather, they look like the automotive equivalent of a hug from grandma – unlike the medieval torture devices fitted to most concept cars. Also unique among concept cars is the focus on making the cabin light and airy, with tall side windows and a full-length panoramic glazed roof. According to the design team, this makes the cabin feel more spacious and improves the wellbeing of everyone inside.

CNG trucks can go the distance

elivery trucking is a dirty business, but the companies that rely on it are working to clean things up. Along with the push toward electric trucks and vans, compressed natural gas (CNG) is emerging as a useful alternative to our reliance on diesel power. In the UK, Scania has created a fleet of biomethane fueled trucks for Waitrose, which is looking to reap the rewards with lower running costs and less emissions.

To make sure the trucks can stand up to the rigours of delivery driving, Scania has collaborated with American firm Agility Fuel Solutions. The fuelling system relies on two 26-inch carbon fiber tanks, which store enough gas to cover between 300 and 500 miles (483 and 805 km) without refuelling. The biomethane – which is up to 40 percent cheaper than diesel and emits 70 percent less C02 – is stored at 250 bar of pressure, 25 percent higher than conventional CNG vehicles like the Audi A3 g-tron.

The clever tanks are already in use in America, but the fleet of Waitrose lorries is the first to make use of them in Europe. They’ve been adapted and certified for European roads, and save a claimed 500 kg (1,102 lb) in weight compared to the eight steel tanks used in most CNG trucks at the moment. They also hold more gas than a conventional setup, which makes for greater range.

Each truck is around 50 percent more expensive than a regular diesel truck, but Waitrose is expecting to save between £15,000 and £20,000 (US$18,800 and $25,100) on diesel each year, meaning the extra cost should have been recuperated within three years. The trucks are expected to run for around eight years, which means the supermarket is expecting to save £75,000 to £100,000 ($94,100 to $125,400) over their life. Compared to a diesel, each truck will help save more than 100 tonnes of C02 every year.

“High pressure carbon-fibre fuel tanks demolish the ‘range anxiety’ concerns that have made many hauliers reluctant to move away from diesel to CNG,” says Philip Fjeld, CEO of CNG Fuels. “Renewable biomethane is far cheaper and cleaner than diesel, and, with a range of up to 500 miles, it is a game-changer for road transport operators.”

Durango SRT is a muscle car in SUV clothing

Once wild animals full of wanderlust, SUVs have long been domesticated into quiet, loyal family haulers used for bringing home groceries and shuttling sports and spectator gear to the field. Dodge believes that there’s still some feral nature left in these still-formidable beasts and it’s drawing it out in a big way with the all-new Durango SRT. Dubbed the “Dodge Charger of the full-size SUV segment,” the new Durango packs power and performance previously unimaginable for a factory Durango.

We’ll have to wait until the New York Auto Show in April to see the all-new Challenger SRT Demon, the “ultimate performance halo” Dodge has been teasing for weeks in a series of videos. But Dodge won’t be limping into this week’s Chicago Auto Show without an exciting muscle car debut. Only this muscle car is an SUV, a three-row SUV Dodge calls the fastest, most powerful and most capable out there.

The first Durango SRT ever becomes the larger brother of the ever-exhilarating Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT. Like the Jeep, it’s powered by a 6.4-liter HEMI V8. That engine makes 475 hp at 6,000 rpm and 470 lb-ft (637 Nm) of torque at 4,300 rpm.

With help from a launch control system, specially calibrated TorqueFlight eight-speed automatic transmission and performance-tuned AWD system, the SRT V8 inspires some brilliant performance, starting with a 0 to 60 mph (96.5 km/h) in just 4.4 seconds and 12.9-second quarter-mile.

In case you momentarily forgot while looking at those times, that’s a bulky, 200-in-long (5.1-m-long) Dodge Durango we’re talking about.

To assist with cornering at high speeds, Dodge and SRT have stiffened up the front and rear springs and rear sway bar. Bilstein adaptive damping is integrated into the short- and long-arm independent front suspension and the specially tuned multi-link system at the rear.

Dodge touts benchmark braking, saying the combination of Brembo high-performance six-piston front/four-piston rear calipers and vented rotors will bring the Pirelli 295/45ZR20 Scorpion Verde all-season tires and 20-in “Goliath” five-spoke wheels to a crisp stop from 60 mph (96.5 km/h) within an estimated 115 ft (35 m).

Of course, not every drive in a full-size SUV is going to be a full-speed hurl, and Dodge has worked to ensure a ride balanced enough for everyday life. The SRT seven-mode drive system lets the driver quickly tweak settings like shift points, front/rear torque splits and active damping. Among those seven modes are a relaxed Auto setting for basic, everyday driving, an aggressive Track setting for the highest levels of performance on smooth, dry surfaces, a traction-enhancing Snow setting, a fuel economy-boosting Eco setting, and a Tow setting for best putting the Durango’s 8,600-lb (3,900-kg) towing capabilities to work.

the next family Expedition smarter and lighter

They might have a reputation for being thirsty old dinosaurs, but big family four-wheel drives are getting smarter with every generation. The new Ford Expedition has grown in every direction, but an aluminum-intensive body and smarter powertrain options mean it uses less fuel, tows more weight and handles better than before.

Although it shares an EcoBoost badge with the current car, the new Expedition drops the old twin-turbo V6 for the smarter second-generation EcoBoost V6 found in F-Series trucks. It makes 375 hp (280 kW) and 637 Nm (470 lb.ft) of torque in that application, but given the different roles of the two cars, you can expect those figures to change slightly when Ford unveils the full spec. The new engine is hooked up to a 10-speed automaticgearbox, which is more capable with a load on the back thanks to short bottom ratios, but more efficient on the highway thanks to its three overdrive gears.

Efficiency benefits aside, the new powertrain should also be more capable off-road when it’s hooked up to the optional electronic limited-slip differential and smart four-wheel drive system. Drivers are able to choose the type of terrain they’re on using a console-mounted rotary controller, and the car will automatically set itself up to tackle it, shuffling power to where it’s most needed in just a fraction of a second. According to Ford, more than half of all Expedition owners value towing, and 15 percent tow weekly or monthly, so adding the new Pro Trailer Backup Assist system was also a logical step. Then again if you’re towing that often, maybe it’s worth learning how to reverse a trailer?

Bugatti lifts curtain on Chiron production line

Building and testing any production car is a fiendishly complex undertaking, but some cars require more time and attention than others – Bugatti’s new supercar, for example. Production of the Bugatti Chiron has officially started in Molsheim, and the company has peeled back the curtain to show the world how 1,800 individual parts come together to make someone’s dream a very, very expensive reality.

The production process starts, as you’d expect, with the customer nailing down the final specification of their car. Potential owners sit down with a consultant from Bugatti and run through the full range of options, choosing from a huge palette of standard paints and eight different carbon fiber weaves for the exterior before moving to the interior.

Here’s a hot tip: if you’re not good at making decisions, don’t try and configure the cabin of a Chiron. As if choosing between 31 different types of leather and eight shades of suede wasn’t enough, you can select a dizzying array of carpet, seatbelt and stitching options. And if that still isn’t enough, the team at Le Maison Pur Sang is able to make an owner’s most intricate fancies come to life with custom paint finishes, interior trims and option packs.

Once the customer has signed off on their final configuration, a production slot is assigned to the car and parts are ordered, starting a process generally spanning nine months. Before all the additional parts arrive, the naked bodyshell is assembled and sent to the paint shop, where it’s lavished with up to eight coats of paint. Each layer is done by hand, sanded back and polished before the next is applied – while cars with naked carbon fiber on the outside go through a separate, equally time consuming process.

Paris collectible car auctions

The Paris round of collector car auctions begins later this week, and in close to a perfect setting, the three tier 1 auctions are just some of Retromobile’s many highlights. The auctions run February 8 (RM-Sothebys), February 9 (Bonhams) and February 10 (Artcurial) and though the auction world record price won’t be under threat this year as it was last, some very important and wonderfully storied automobiles will grace the auction block this week.


1 – Nuvolari’s Scuderia Ferrari Alfa Romeo Tipo B P3

Estimate: €3.8 to €5.0 million (US$4.1 to $5.4 million) | Auction Link

Look closely at this rare 1934 Alfa Romeo and on the bonnet you’ll see the Prancing Horse logo made famous by Ferrari Scuderia. More than a decade before Enzo Ferrari started making cars under his own name, he ran his own race team and became the pseudo Alfa Romeo works team. The car is an Alfa Romeo Tipo B P3, one of just seven built, the first single seater in Grand Prix racing, briefly dominant in it’s time, and the first to appear at auction for a decade.The car is even more significant when you realize it was campaigned by Scuderia Ferrari, and driven by Tazio Nuvolari, the pre-war equivalent of Juan Manuel Fangio and a contender for the best driver of all time. That’s Nuvolari below, with Enzo Ferrari seated on the pit apron. Understanding the celebrity status enjoyed by Nuvolari during the 1930s is difficult today, but in Europe he was a household name spoken with great reverence for his regular extraordinary feats of bravery and win-at-all-costs madness.

Many decades of his own team’s Grand Prix success, Enzo Ferrari still regarded Nuvolari as one of the best ever, proffering the names Tazio Nuvolari and Sterling Moss as the best he had seen. Ferdinand Porsche called Nuvolari “the greatest driver of the past, the present, and the future” and he was once described by leading Grand Prix driver Achille Varzi as “the boldest, most skilful madman of all.” There is no record of when Varzi made that famous quote, but as an off-track friend, sometimes team-mate and eternal on-track rival of Nuvolari, he bore witness to many of the legendary Nuvolari exploits.

F1-for-the-fans tells the story of the 1930 Mille Miglia, where Nuvolari led the race on time but was behind Varzi on the road: “In the dark of night Nuvolari tailed Varzi for tens of kilometres, at speeds up to 150 km/h (93 mph) with his headlights off, thereby being invisible in Varzi’s rear-view mirrors; ultimately switching on his headlights just before overtaking ‘the shocked’ Varzi near the finish at Brescia and scoring the event’s first win at over 100 km/h (62 mph).”

My favourite story about Nuvolari involves his rise through the ranks as a motorcycle racer where he was also a tearaway. In a high speed practice accident for the Monza Grand Prix, Nuvolari broke both legs, and awoke on Saturday night to find himself strapped like a mummy. The next morning, he had the doctor restrap him in the crouched position he required so he could ride a motorcycle, and he was allowed to start the main race from the back of the grid, as the bike needed to be held upright by his pit crew until the race was underway. Sure enough, Nuvolari rode through the field and won the race. What’s amazing is that there are countless stories like this about Nuvolari to choose from. He regularly broke bones, and seemed to bounce right back to his death-defying best immediately.


2 – 1965 Ferrari Dino Berlinetta Prototype by Pininfarina

This is the original prototype vehicle for the mid-engined Dino, later to become the Ferrari Dino, and will be sold 52 years after it first rocked the world in it’s debut at the Paris Motor Show in 1965. Since 1967, the car has been on display in the Musee de l’Automobile at Le Mans, and is now being sold. The full story of the history of this game-changing car is told well in the auction description. It isn’t just the first Dino prototype, but the first mid-engined Ferrari. Could blow through the estimate very easily. Worth watching.

Pop top camper bus with accessorized Atlas

The Chicago Auto Show starts on Thursday, and Volkswagen will brighten up midwinter in the Windy City with a taste of summer road-tripping. The Weekend Edition concept adds some strategic accessories to the new Atlas SUV, transforming it into a shuttle set for family recreation and adventure with room to pack the kids, gear, suitcases and even the family dog up for a long weekend on the road.

Revealed last October, the new Atlas will hit US roads this spring. Volkswagen is marketing it as an active lifestyle vehicle that it hopes inspires people to “live a life as big as their imaginations,” and the Weekend Edition better illustrates what it means, for those that might not have the biggest imaginations.

The Weekend Edition designation recalls the “Weekender” packages once offered on classic Vanagon and Eurovan pop-up campers. Unfortunately, the Atlas package doesn’t get a true pop-up roof or overnighting amenities of its own, but it does get a distinctive roof box that Volkswagen imagines as a modern version of the pop-up roof.

The Urban Loader cargo box looks like a hard-shell roof-top tent, but it only provides space for resting gear and cargo, not resting campers. The box expands to offer up to 17.7 cu ft (501 L) of storage for whatever bits and pieces are required for the trip.

If VW really wanted to pay tribute to its classic pop-tops, it might have opted for a modern roof-top tent-cum-cargo box, such as the Tepui White Lightning or Roost, offering flexible space for sleeping campers and hauling recreational gear. But we guess such a tent wouldn’t provide enough sleeping space for the full Atlas-load of passengers, so it was probably right in just sticking with a pure cargo box.

The Urban Loader cargo box can also be removed, and the crossbars used to carry skis, kayaks, bikes and other large gear. Side steps help occupants access whatever’s riding up top.