Category: Drive Time Written by Marcus Amick
For a lot of automobiles that make a grand entrance into the marketplace, the novelty of being new begins to wear off some after you start seeing more of the vehicles on the road.
Some of the very high-end luxury or super exotic cars seem to keep us gawking well beyond their introduction, often more out of the idea of what it cost than the design.
When it comes to a lot of new automobiles the idea of accessibility often taints the appeal of a car, especially in the luxury segment.
Not the case with the new Audi A7.
Nearly a year after the vehicle was first launched in the U.S., the sedan is still turning heads — and with good reason.
Positioned in between the A6 and the Audi’s flagship A8, the A7 encompasses many of Audi’s design elements in a new form distinguishing it from just about every other vehicle on the road.
Designed with a coupe-like silhouette, the A7 is distinguished by its low roofline and integrated rear doors with frameless door windows and side mirrors mounted on the doors.
Other key design elements include the sharp tornado line which begins at the headlights, extends across the fenders, over the doors and terminates in a gentle slope toward the tail lights, paying homage to the 1969 Audi 100 Coupé S.
The face of the A7 features Audi’s signature single frame grille is contoured at the leading with a chrome surround framing high-gloss black lattices with chrome accents.
The signature LED daytime running lights are standard and the tail lamps are fitted with LED lamps as well.
An integrated spoiler automatically extends at 80 mph and then retracts at 50 mph. It can also be deployed and retracted manually via the push of a button. The rear of the A7 is also distinguished by two large, round chrome tailpipes that extend from the dual-branch exhaust system.
Simply put, even in a sea of luxury vehicles the A7 is hard to miss from any view.
Then there’s the A7’s V6, which at 310 hp and 325 lb-ft. of torque gives you a nice sense of power when behind the wheel.
Inside, the A7 features what’s called a “wraparound” design which incorporates a horizontal line encircling the driver and front passenger that starts above the instrument panel and ends in the passenger-side door.
The center console is oriented toward the driver to further enhance the driver focus of the interior. Other key exterior design elements include chrome bezels frame the air vents, while aluminum-look trim accents the optional layered wood veneers and bezels.
Technology features include the latest version of Audi MMI Plus with an eight-inch display that rises from the dashboard when the ignition is switched on enabling the driver to operate audio, navigation and telephone functions with the stroke of a finger. The transition from dash to display is so quiet and seamless that if you’re not watching you’ll miss it.
Even more impressive is that the Audi A7 has a base price of under $60,000, which is much less than what you’d expect to pay considering how much car you get for the money.
In fact, maybe that’s what makes the A7 most appealing.
Last Updated on Monday, 09 April 2012 02:07
Category: Drive Time Written by Marcus Amick
I know, when you think Fiat the idea of “wicked” doesn’t necessarily come to mind.
A car this small hardly conjures up thoughts associated with say the thrill of a 300 or so drop on a rollercoaster, or that feeling you get in your gut when the coaster starts making those final clicks up the hill before the descent.
Question: Is it just me, or at that point right before that drop, do you ever wonder why you’re even up there?
Call me a wimp if you want, but I ask myself that just about every time I get on one of those wild amusement park rides, always amazed of the rush afterwards and a little eager to try it again.
My recent test drive of the new Fiat 500 Abarth (pronounced AH-BART) on a racetrack in Nevada left me with a similar look of surprise considering that I just never expect a Fiat 500 to be able do what it does on some pretty wild twists and turns.
The goal for the Abarth model, says the Fiat team, was to add a vehicle to the lineup that would appeal to more performance enthusiasts — and that it does.
Of course, for those who are more familiar with the history of Abarth, the thrill of driving the car probably comes as little surprise.
Founded by Karl Abarth more than 60 years ago, in 1949, the Abarth marque is synonymous with performance, raking up more than 10,000 individual race victories, 10 world records and 133 international titles. Abarth and the Fiat brand have a history of collaboration going back 45 years and resulting in six international records and nearly 900 individual race victories.
To stay true to the legacy of Abarth, Fiat considered every element of the Fiat 500 to figure out what needed to be done to develop a higher performance model.
About the only similarity between the Abarth, which uses the scorpion symbol as a distinguishing mark, and the standard Fiat is the overall body design. Everything else has been completely modified to give the car more performance capabilities.
BUILDING ON THE BRAND
The Fiat Abarth features the debut of the new 1.4-liter MultiAir Turbo engine that delivers 160 horsepower and 170 lb.-ft. of torque, and a heavy-duty five-speed manual transmission with an estimated MPG of 28 city/34 highway. The addition of a turbocharger coupled with the MultiAir technology delivers 73 percent increase in torque, 58 percent increase in power over the base 1.4-liter Fiat 500 engine.
For improved handling, the front- wheel-drive Fiat 500 Abarth features a unique MacPherson suspension design with a 40 percent stiffer spring rate and 0.6-inch (15 mm) lower ride height compared to the front-suspension design of the Fiat 500 Sport model.
The exterior styling of the new 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth was also designed with a specific focus on improving the car’s performance capabilities with features like the signature “Abarth” shield floats that serve as an additional air intake; the twin “nostrils” are precisely positioned on the front fascia to maximize airflow in and out of the two engine intercoolers; and a rear spoiler.
Inside, the Fiat Abarth features a race-inspired interior with features like Abarth inspired steering wheel with perforated leather and a flat bottom increased roominess during “at-the-limit driving” (nice touch).
Behind the steering wheel, the Fiat 500 Abarth features a large instrument cluster wrapped in Nero leather with Rosso accent stitching that displays its 160-mph speedometer (I saw it at 95) and a tachometer and trip computer. The Abarth also features race inspired seats and an available Bose audio system, although you tend to be more tuned in to the car’s exhaust note when driving.
IS IT ENOUGH?
Considering what else you can get for the money, however, pricing seems a bit steep once you start moving up from the $22,000 base model and start adding on a lot of those extras, which I imagine most in the US would want if buying a vehicle in this segment. That is, unless you’re the type who prefers buying a vehicle bare bone and doing a lot of the customizing yourself.
Still, convincing consumers that the Fiat Abarth is worth considering if they’re in the market for a small sporty car won’t come easy – especially for those thrill seekers who are inclined to be drawn to more familiar brands even if the Abarth does cost less than, say, a high-performance Mini Cooper.
But if you’re willing to take a chance, the Fiat Abarth promises to be one surprising ride.
n Sticker: $22,000 (base)
n Unique exterior features
n 0 to 60 mph in 7.2 seconds
n Race-inspired interior
n Optional Bose Audio System
Last Updated on Wednesday, 14 March 2012 16:31
Category: Drive Time Written by Michigan Chronicle
If there was ever any doubt about Cadillac’s ability to be a top player in the world of luxury automobiles, it was all put to rest with the new Ciel concept unveiled at Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.
The Ciel – pronounced “C-L,” the French translation for sky – is a four-seat convertible pushing the brand’s Art & Science philosophy to a new level as a new expression of Cadillac’s historical grandeur, as well as a celebration of open-air motoring.
“Large, expressive luxury is innate to Cadillac and the Ciel recalls that heritage, while suggesting where the brand can go in the future,” said Clay Dean, global design director for Cadillac. “Authentic luxury is driven by experiences, not just products, and Ciel is about the experience of the journey.”
A fitting unveiling for the annual Pebble Beach automotive event, considered the most prestigious of its kind in the world.
Inspired by the idea of driving California’s Highway 1 in an open car while the sun sets, from Big Sur north to Monterey, the Ciel is powered by a twin-turbocharged version of the 3.6-liter Direct Injection V-6 engine, paired with a hybrid system using lithium-ion battery technology.
“The Ciel is about the romance of the drive,” said Dean. “It emulates the great touring cars seen on the greens at Pebble Beach, but with a modern flair that projects Cadillac’s vision for the future.”
Developed at GM Design’s North Hollywood Design Center, the four-door Ciel’s exterior design elements include French-style doors, with the rear doorshinged at the rear, distinguishing fender lines run from nose to tail, and nickel-plated bright work accents the body lines.
The interior is accented with sweeping nickel-plated trim that divides the body-color upper sections from the car’s complementing beige lower color. Other interior design elements include Italian Olive wood and machined aluminum and hand-tipped leather. How’s that for detail?
“There is authentic craftsmanship in the way the exterior and interior elements meld, much like a vintage wooden boat,” said Gael Buzyn, interior design manager. “It is romantic, not only in its form, but the materials – nothing smells as good as real wood and leather. It blends together for a rewarding feeling of uncompromising luxury.”
Additional exterior cues include a shield grille and vertical lighting elements -- pure Cadillac. The car rides on wheels that feature brushed nickel plating over milled billet aluminum, matching the materials and appearance of other trim. The Ciel’s carbon ceramic brake rotors are visible behind the 22-inch rims, and the headlamps and taillamps feature LED lighting elements – including a unique daytime running light graphic on the front of the vehicle that is generated with gradated LED lighting.
Now, if we can only convince Cadillac to build it.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 07 September 2011 16:58
Category: Drive Time Written by Marcus Amick
For the 2012 Chevrolet Sonic, the idea of being more environmentally friendly isn’t just about the car’s EPAestimated 40 mpg on the highway.
The subcompact features a unique water-based “three-wet” paint process applied in a new eco-friendly paint shop with less environmental impact.
The process, in which General Motors is the first automaker to use in the US, eliminates the need for a primer bake oven, normally used between the primer and color-coating layers. The Orion Assembly Center (where the Sonic is built) allows three layers of paint to be applied one after another while still wet before a single trip though the oven.
This process reduces the paint shop footprint by 10 percent, providing additional floor space and reducing the energy needed to heat and cool these areas, notes GM officials.
No worries though, the “three wet” paint process doesn’t affect the car’s glossy sheen and durability long term.
“Cutting our greenhouse gas emissions and reducing our energy consumption were key to implementing our water-based ‘three-wet’ paint process,” said Mauricio Pincheira, paint manager at Orion. “We want to provide a durable paint that impresses our first-time Sonic customers and maintain the tough environmental standards we have across the company.” Orion’s new paint shop was engineered to minimize energy use while reducing solvent emissions. By using the three-wet process, a thin film pretreatment, and exceptionally lean design methods, Orion’s paint shop uses 50 percent less process energy per vehicle than the shop it replaced. It is also heated by natural and landfill gas, which results in less emissions than coal-fired boilers.
When full shift production is achieved, Orion’s new paint shop will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about 80,000 metric tons per year – equivalent to the annual emissions from 14,000 vehicles – and solvent emissions by about 108,000 pounds of solvent per year.
These paint process improvements also trimmed the manufacturing costs by about $40 per vehicle, making the Sonic a little friendlier on the pocket book as well considering every little bit helps.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 05 October 2011 16:51
Category: Drive Time Written by Marcus Amick
It’s kind of odd when you think about it.
No, actually it’s really odd.
That at 6’1 and 200 and something pounds (you’ll never get me to pen that number now (LOL), I’ve got a thing for the new 2012 Fiat 500. And by most accounts you’d actually think I’d hate driving it.
Okay, hate might be a bit extreme, but considering my physical stature, which is more suitable for larger vehicles, you just wouldn’t expect me to dig driving a car as small as the Fiat. Yeah, yeah I know – everywhere you turn it’s “small cars are in.” Still, initially selling anybody over 6 feet on a vehicle as small as this one is tough even if it does save you money on gas.
The idea immediately conjures up images from back in the day of me and three high school football teammates cramming into a friend’s two-door Civic after practice because he was the first one with a car.
Efficient I guess, but after three hours of beating each other up on the field and being crammed in that car, walking or
catching the bus home sometimes seemed like a better idea.
Not the case with the new Fiat 500. That’s why after initially requesting one of Chrysler’s new 300 sedans to drive from one of the carmaker’s events in San Diego to Los Angeles, I asked if I could take a Fiat 500 instead after test driving the car.
I’m sure my request even struck some of the event organizers as odd. But there’s just something cool about the Italian carmaker’s new entry into the U.S. car market under its partnership with Chrysler. Maybe it’s the look, which despite some comparisons to the Smart Car or Mini Cooper really has a style all its own.
Inspired by the original Fiat 500 (Cinquecento) dating back more than 50 years, key design elements of the car include the “shell-like” roof, and its signature “whiskers and logo” face with circular projector headlamps and lower park lamps.
The rear of the 500 is stylized with a signature chromed license plate brow, a motif from the original Cinquecento that was inspired by a bicycle saddle, rear taillamps set between the edges of the liftgate, and a rear window that spans the width of the liftgate.
Staying true to the car’s Italian heritage, the new 2012 Fiat 500 is available in 14 colors including Rosso (red), Bianco (white), Azzurro (blue), Grigio (gray), Argento (silver), Giallo (yellow), Mocha Latte, Verde Chiaro (light green), Nero (black), Rame (copper), Espresso, Verde Oliva (olive green), Rosso Brillante (tricoat pearl red) and Bianco Perla (pearl white).
Seeing all the Fiat 500s in different colors lined up is like rolling into a Baskin Robbins. It’s hard to pick which one you like more.
Of course, the true selling point on any small car is how comfortable you feel inside. And although the Fiat 500 (available in three models, Pop, Sport, Lounge) would by no means be my first pick for four full-size adults on a road trip, it’s a lot more comfortable than you’d expect.
Another auto journalist I rode with during my Fiat 500 test drive was actually taller than me and neither one of us really had an issue with space. The interior reflects much of the
car’s exterior styling with features like a circular-themed instrument cluster featuring the speedometer, tachometer and trip computer with color-matched exterior accents and vehicle buttons highlighted with chromed circular rings.
In addition to a fairly decent sized luggage compartment, the Fiat 500 also features built-in storage spaces including two in the instrument panel, map pockets in the door panels, another below the center console’s shifter bezel and one below the passenger seat.
Available with either leather or cloth seats, the only major downside of the 500’s interior is that you can’t adjust the height in the front passenger’s seat, which means you have to recline the seat back more than you really want.
It should be a quick and must-do fix for future models in the U.S. market where consumers tend to be bigger than in Europe.
The front-wheel-drive Fiat 500, which is available as either a manual or automatic, is powered by a 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine that provides 101 horsepower and 98 lb.-ft. of torque, which is hardly thrilling behind the wheel. But it’s not a boring
Safety features include seven standard air bags and reactive head restraints.
Fiat’s engineers have managed to pull off some cool convenience features in the new 500 with the availability of a TomTom navigation device with hands free communications capabilities that shows pictograms from a central LCD monitor in the instrument cluster and a space-saving Bose premium audio system.
There’s definitely a lot more to this car than you’d expect in a vehicle this size. Okay, it still probably wouldn’t have made those trips home from football practice with my teammates any more bearable. But I’m betting it would’ve made it easier to convince that cheerleader I had a crush on to go out to eat with me after a game.
At least I hope so.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 17 August 2011 13:08
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