Category Archives: Automotive

Take the dashboard with you

As cars become more connected, a range of clever apps to interact with them has popped up. BMW offers up a clever personal assistant, and Volvowill let you lock your car, check the fuel level and activate the heating using an Apple Watch. Now, Volkswagen will let you keep track of all servicing using the (inventively named) My Volkswagen app.

At its core, the My Volkswagen app is all about keeping a handle on what’s happening in your car. Families with multiple VW cars in their garage are able to see all their vehicles in the one place, and even track cars that haven’t arrived as they progress from the factory to the dealer and, eventually, their driveway.

The real benefit of a system like this comes when it’s time to get the car serviced. Rather than having to consult the service book to work out when it’s time for a service, the app is able to keep a detailed log of all services and government checks carried out on the car in its history. Buyers can also use the app to book services, and receive warnings about when the car might need a check up based on mileage driven.

Once the car has been booked in, owners are able to see the car making its way through the workshop, and can approve work on any problems found during the service or, if they’re feeling a little stingy, tell the dealer to put it off until next time.

Of course, all of this benefits Volkswagen as well: the service department is a great money spinner for dealerships, and making it easier for people to book and visit authorised local service departments makes them less likely to get work done at the little garage around the corner.

GT Sport is a hot i30 by any other name

Hyundai has used the Chicago Auto Show to unveil its newest play at American hatchback supremacy. Europeans might know it as the i30 but Hyundai likes to do things differently in the US, launching the warmed-over Elantra GT Sport with a 200 hp (149 kW) engine and purist-pleasing six-speed manual gearbox. The Golf GTI won’t be losing any sleep, but the good-looking warm hatch bodes well for the incoming i30N.

When it came time for the team at Hyundai America to turn the regular European i30 into the hotter Elantra GT Sport, the formula was relatively simple. Rather than running with the range-topping 138 hp (103 kW) 1.4-liter turbo on offer elsewhere, the GT Sport is fitted with a 1.6-liter turbo punching out 201 hp (150 kW) of power and 265 Nm of torque. Sure, they’re not full “hot hatch” numbers, but they make the car a more practical hatchback alternative to the VW Jetta GLI or Hyundai’s own Elantra Sport.

Power is put to the road through a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox, but purists (and those with restless left legs) will want the six-speed manual.

Of course, for the Elantra GT Sport to be considered a true member of the warm hatch club, it will need to know how to handle a set of corners. It certainly seems like Hyundai has done everything it can to make that happen – gone is the torsion beam rear end from standard cars, and in its place is a fully-independent multilink setup. Combined with the stiffer, lighter new body and bigger brakes, the Sport should be able to get up and dance when the driver demands it.

The Metris van into a rolling toolbox

Mercedes-Benz had a tough road to the 2017 Chicago Auto Show. How to outdo last year’s mean, green Sprinter Extreme? We’re not sure it’s done it, but it’s definitely made quite an effort with a Metris van all dressed up like a toolbox on wheels, complete with carry handle. This Metris is ready to roll up its sleeves and get serious work done, everywhere work needs gettin’ done.


Once again, Mercedes worked with Renntech in designing a flamboyant Chicago show van. This time around, it went a little bit smaller but every bit as bold to showcase the Mercedes-Benz Vans MasterSolutions program it launched last summer. MasterSolutions is a turn-key professional upfitting service that can outfit any Mercedes or Freightliner van for virtually any type of work environment, adding shelves, organizational equipment, refrigeration, shuttle seating and more.

Mercedes didn’t hold back the upfitting with the Metris MasterSolutions Toolbox show van. Beyond its eye-grabbing wrapped exterior, complete with toolbox-style latches and carry handle, the concept van features an interior with removable grip-tile floor and shelves, cabinets and removable cases from Mercedes MasterSolutions partner companies. The swing-up side hatch provides access to the indoor/outdoor worktop and side storage. A clear plastic partition wall divides the workshop from the driver’s cab while letting occupants keep an eye on things in back.

In addition to the classic trades, we could see a MasterSolutions Toolbox-style van being useful for some more modern businesses. For instance, a mobile bicycle or consumer electronics repair service could roll itself to the demand without the overhead of a permanent shop.

The Metris Toolbox is based on the Metris Worker Cargo van and driven by a 208-hp 2.0-liter turbo four with 258 lb.ft (350 Nm). It offers 2,500 lb (1,134-kg) of payload and double that in towing capacity. The base van offers an EPA-estimated 21 mpg city, 24 mpg highway. It starts at $25,995, and just so there’s no possible confusion, that price is for the basic van, no interior storage systems or workspace, blue-and-silver wheels, toolbox hinges or carry handle.

Trucks cut costs and emissions at Skoda

Hot on the heels of supermarket chain Waitrose unveiling a fleet of compressed natural gas delivery lorries in the UK, Skoda has whipped the covers off four CNG-powered trucks for its factory in Mlada Boleslav. The lorries will be used to ferry parts around the factory site, promising to cut costs and carbon emissions in the process.

Having subjected the trucks to a two-month trial, three of the compressed natural gas lorries have been put into full-time service at Skoda HQ in the Czech Republic, while another completes a 120-km (75-mi) journey from the factory to Stráž nad Nisou 12 times per week. According to the company, this helps save 16 tonnes (17.6 tons) of CO2 compared to a standard diesel truck running the same route.

The 25-m (82-ft) lorries are able to carry 150 m3 (5,297 cu.ft) of goods, 50 percent more than a regular truck. That allows the drivers to make 18 fewer trips along their 292-km (181-mi) route every week, which equates to 250,000 fewer km (155,343 mi) driven over the course of 12 months – emitting 200 tonnes (220 tons) less CO2 in the process.

Not only do they emit significantly less CO2 than diesels, but the switch to CNG Gigaliners has also led to an 80-90 percent drop in nitric oxide (NOx) emissions and a 90 percent cut in carbon monoxide. The trucks use less than 50 kg (110 lb) of CNG per 100 km (62 mi) for around 95 percent less harmful particulate emissions than diesels, too.

Along with its shiny new fleet of CNG trucks, Skoda is also making a push toward battery-powered transporters at its factory. To try and make them more energy-efficient, a tractor towing two trailers full of solar panels is being put to the test on its 70-km (43-mi) route. By harvesting solar energy on its daily errands, Skoda expects it to lower its energy usage by around 10 percent annually. Should the trial be successful, the full fleet of battery-powered tractors at the factory will be kitted out with the solar chargers.

Although the fleet of CNG lorries is only made up of four trucks for now, Skoda is expecting most of the suppliers near its factory to make their deliveries using alternative energy sources.

Highlights from the 2017 Chicago Auto Show

The annual Chicago Auto Show is the most consumer-driven of the automotive spectacles that happen in the United States. Always fun to visit, the CAS also has more floor space and ride-and-drive events included than any other show. This year, along with blacked-out trim packages, famous race cars and new reveals, there was also something for Star Wars and Lego fans.

The 2017 Chicago Auto Show officially opened to the general public on Saturday, February 11. Here’s what you can look forward to if you attend CAS this year.

The Chicago show isn’t well-known as a big showcase for manufacturer’s new wares or concepts. Those are usually left for the Detroit and New Yorkshows and, more and more, the Consumer Electronics Show. Tucked in between these shows, CAS tends towards the consumer rather than the “wow!” Yet there are still some surprises in store.

Notably this year, Nissan unveiled its latest (and last) version of the Titan XD pickup truck that’s been trickling out over the past year or so. This one is a king cab configuration, ready for the jobsite or the driveway. With the expected suicide door configuration popular in this cab style, the king cab finishes the gamut of cab options for the Titan, which now span the regular (single), king, and crew (four-door) options. Nissan has finally made the Titan into a complete offering in the full-sized truck market.

Also unveiled were some special Mopar editions of the Dodge Challenger sports coupe. The Challenger is now Dodge’s premier sports car and is also the most-modified car by Mopar, the company’s tuning arm. Celebrating 80 years of muscle, the special edition Mopar Challenger is a big deal to Dodge.

Mercedes-Benz hit the Chicago Auto Show in force, covering the floor with work vans of all types. Unveiled at the show was a new Metris Mastersolutions Toolbox, a Mercedes van kitted out to look like a giant toolbox for kids. We fully expect to see scale versions of these on a toy store shelf soon.

Challenger lights the birthday candles for Mopar

The Chicago Auto Show might not have produced the same stack of big-ticket reveals as Detroit, but that doesn’t mean McCormick Place was completely devoid of cool new cars. Along with the Hyundai Elantra GT Sport and Toyota RAV4 Adventure, the show played host to the Dodge Challenger Mopar, a two-tone special designed to celebrate 80 years worth of big wings, hood scoops and antifreeze from Mopar.

In the Mopar Challenger, power comes from the same 392 HEMI V8 you’ll find in a base Challenger R/T 392 with the Scat Pack, which means it makes 485 hp (362 kW) and 644 Nm of torque. The motor is fitted with the Shaker Hood package which adds that gorgeous retro bonnet and badging to the nose. Dodge also says the pack provides “performance gains” compared to cars without it, but there’s no mention of any extra power or torque on the spec sheet, so we’re a little skeptical of just how much extra performance you get.

Although the Challenger isn’t really known as a sharp handler – in the muscle car world, it’s a good old fashioned straight line bruiser compared to the (relatively) light-footed Mustang and Camaro – Dodge has still tried to sharpen the Challenger Mopar. We aren’t sure if the strut tower brace and four-piston Brembo brakes will provide a meaningful improvement over stock, but it’s nice to see that Dodge has tried.

Beyond the mild performance improvements, the special edition Challenger is all about looks, with a special two-tone paint finish. Two versions will be available, one with the lower half of the car finished in Contusion Blue, the other in Billet Silver. The top half of both cars is finished in the Mopar Custom Shop for a deeper, darker look. Both versions have been treated to a hand-painted 392 logo on the flanks, and there are also 20-inch aluminum wheels fitted.

Inside, there are performance seats finished with embroidered logos and contrast stitching, while the dashboard and door panels are also finished in the same way. Not earth-shattering changes, but owners will be more interested in the special package that comes with the car. Along with the special badging and build plates fitted under the hood, owners will be given a welcome letter from Mopar, a sheet with all the build information about their specific car, and some special trinkets to commemorate the brand’s 80th anniversary.

The autonomous future will cause major disruption

At BMW Australia’s range day last Friday, members of the motoring press were gathered to drive the full fleet of BMW, Mini and BMW Motorrad products, and spend some time with BMW Australia CEO Mark Werner. Werner had some thoughts on BMW’s future in a self-driving world, and a strong message to send to the Australian government on its lack of support for hybrid and electric low-emission vehicles. Here’s a partial transcript.

Where are you at with autonomous driving, and where does a prestige brand like BMW fit in a future self-driving world?

That’s a very interesting subject. As you might have seen, we’ve recently announced a joint venture with Intel and MobilEye. Mobileye will provide the necessary camera systems for our vehicles, and Intel brings the necessary processors on the software and the hardware side in order to further boost the autonomous driving technology in our vehicles.

The interesting thing is, those cars already exist. We’re not talking about five or 10 or 15 years down the road, those cars already exist, and as we speak they’re already doing some extensive test driving – mainly in Europe, in Germany close to our R&D centers – but those cars exist, and it’s a matter of time as far as legislation is concerned, and in particular insurance policy, when these cars can actually be launched.

But we’re working very hard towards a goal with the rollout of the BMW i-next model, as we call it, to launch autonomous driving by the beginning of the next decade. So it’s all happening. And it’s quite exciting, I have to say.

We believe that the industry model is going to change substantially, and that’s why our vision is to become the premium mobility provider. And that basically means we’ll provide a mobility solution for our customer. You don’t necessarily have to own a car in the future any more, but when you have a mobility need, you’ll be able to call a vehicle and a car will pick you up.

So the autonomous technology will enable that, and that’s quite exciting, going forward. We’re talking about probably five years from now.

Will sales reduce? Not necessarily, but the ownership model will change. It’s not necessary that you will have to own or buy a vehicle, you’ll be a position to pick up a phone and call a mobile service provider, and a car will arrive. We will definitely see a substantial change in the ownership model, and what that will look like, the future will tell us, and the customers will tell us.

Maybach G650 Landaulet

When it came time for Mercedes to create its latest ultra-luxurious Maybach model, it had a few options. Having transformed the S600 Pullman and S650 Cabriolet, it would have made sense to move onto the S-Class Coupeor maybe even the E-Class, but sometimes the world just doesn’t make sense. Need proof? Just take a look at the Maybach G650 Landaulet.

On the surface, the G-Class isn’t the most logical base for an ultra-luxurious special edition. The current version has been in production since 1979 and, although it’s been treated to a few choice improvements since, very little has changed. That means the car is still built on a ladder frame chassis, still has the aerodynamics of a brick, and handles like a baby giraffe on stilts.

Measuring up at 5,345 mm (17.5 ft) long and 2,235 mm (7.3 ft) tall, with ground clearance just under half a meter, the G650 doesn’t really fit into any existing class of car. It doesn’t get any easier to pigeonhole when you take the funky roof into account, either – rather than a full convertible top, Maybach has fitted a soft top that uncovers the two rear seats, while the driver (chauffeur) and passenger remain under a hard roof up front. Furthering the separation of driver and passengers, the front cabin can be separated from the rear with a sliding glass screen that transitions from clear to opaque at the push of a button.

This setup isn’t unique to the G650 – Landaulet translates to small landau, and has been used to describe vehicles with a small folding hood over the rear seats since the days of horse-drawn carriages. The most recent car to run with the moniker was the Maybach 62 Landaulet, one of the last cars produced before Maybach became a badge applied to high-end versions of existing Mercedes models.

Given how loooong the car is, rear seat passengers should have an abundance of legroom in their individual reclining thrones. They’ve actually been borrowed from the S-Class, and include a full suite of massage programs, along with a swivelling calf rest. After all, nothing ruins the illusion of luxury like a set of unsupported calves. While they’re being massaged, rear-seat passengers are able to enjoy a heated or cooled drink from the central cupholders and, if they’re on a work trip, take care of business using the integrated folding tray tables. Naturally, the tables are topped with leather to stop tablets and notebooks from sliding around.

Should the lucky (crazy) rear passenger be travelling for pleasure instead of business, twin 10-inch displays mounted on the partition between front and rear can be called into action. If that’s not enough entertainment, fiddling with the intensity of the interior lighting could be a good way to pass the time and, should sir/madam tire of that, they could always lower the chauffeur partition and throw grapes at the driver.

Luxurious trimmings aside, the G650 Landaulet should also be a very capable off-roader. It runs with portal axles borrowed from the G500 4×4 Squared for a whopping 450 mm (17.7 in) of ground clearance, more than double what’s offered on the regular G500. Sitting on 22-inch wheels and 325/55 section tires with the usual off-road transfer case and fully locking differentials fitted, there are very few obstacles capable of stopping the Landaulet off-road.

Bugatti Type 52

Ettore Bugatti’s engines set world speed records for cars, boats, trains and airplanes and his Bugatti Type 35 became the most successful racing car in history, propelling the Bugatti name to revered public recognition. Now his cars are doing it all over again on the auction block and the baby of the fleet is performing beyond expectations.

In the years between WW1 and WW2, Ettore Bugatti became one of the lions of France, showcasing world’s best practice in everything he did. Bugatti’s cars were not just for racers. They were also the most outrageously proportioned and sumptuous for the rich and famous.

The Bugatti Royale Berline de Voyager set a world record of US$6.5 million in 1986 and another Bugatti Royale (the Kellner Coupe) broke that record in 1987 with a sale of $9.9 million, then remarkably held the world record price for a car at auction from 1987 until 2010.

The Type 35 won the 1926 Grand Prix World Championship and the Targa Florio for five consecutive years (1925-1929). In the hands of racers across the world, the production Type 35 racing car averaged 14 race wins per week at its peak, eventually winning more than 1,000 races.

That’s Ettore’s first son, Jean Bugatti, above in a T35 and second son Roland in the baby Bugatti. The response to the tiny electric vehicle at the company headquarters in Molsheim was so overwhelmingly positive that the decision was made to sell the car to the public, with the Bugatti Bebe debuting at the 1927 Milan Automobile Show.

Mobileye harness the swarm

Autonomous cars are being put through thousands of miles worth of testing every month, but specialised self-driving prototypes aren’t the only vehicles able to provide crucial information for the future of safer, smarter cars. Although we still need to drive them, sensors and cameras mounted around modern cars can still be used to further the self-driving breed. VW and Mobileye plan to do just that, creating a detailed map using cameras and sensors on new cars sold after 2018.

One of the biggest changes made to cars recently is the introduction of connected features. Now, rather than steering you straight into heavy traffic, some cars are able to gather live traffic data and work out the best possible route around it. You can also lock/unlock Jaguar, Volvo and BMW vehicles from an app, while the new Mercedes E-Class is able to warn other cars fitted with the same Car-to-X technology of accidents farther up the road.

There’s also a huge array of sensors fitted to most new cars, including cameras and radars for auto-emergency braking. Using its new Road Experience Management system, Mobileye plans to take the data being gathered by sensors to be installed on Volkswagens from 2018, including precise location information, lane marking and road conditions, and then feed it back to a central cloud.

This information will be used to create a high definition world map, something the two companies hope will become an industry standard. According to VW and Mobileye, the partnership is the first of its kind – although they aren’t alone in trying to map the roads of the world using the “swarm” of cars already out there. Tesla gathers data from all its cars running Autopilot software, helping it to work out where the self-driving system struggles and what needs improving.