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Meet Sparky, Nissan's Leaf-based, Frontier-bedded EV parts hauler [w/video]

Posted Sep 18th 2014 12:44PM

Nissan Leaf Frontier

For many enthusiasts, the concept of the ute – a car with a pickup bed – is somehow irresistibly appealing. On paper, it promises the marriage of a truck's utility and a car's superior driving dynamics, and for that reason alone, we'd love to see more of them. Yet while other parts of the world get them in good numbers, North America doesn't ever see them – at least not for long. Based on what we've seen of late, though, that's not due to a lack of motivation on the part of engineers.

BMW wowed us several years ago with an M3 ute, and earlier this year, some interns converted a Mini Paceman into the pickup-bodied Paceman Adventure. Loathe to let their rivals in Munich and Oxford have all the fun, Nissan has built its very own car-based pickup. Meet Sparky, the world's first Leaf Frontier.

Like the M3, this all-electric ute is used as a parts hauler for Nissan's engineering teams at its sprawling Stanfield, AZ tech center and proving grounds.

"We tried to keep it a secret and be exciting for everybody. But we have visitors and they come and they see that truck and they go straight to 'What is it?' and they start looking at it, and it makes great conversation," Nissan's Roland Schellenberg said in a statement.

Schellenberg completed the months-long team-building project alongside fellow engineer Arnold Moulinet.

"After [Schellenberg] told us it was going to be the Leaf that we would redo, I went home and stayed up til like four in the morning making all kinds of designs for what would work. We basically got the stock Leaf, and after reviewing a bunch of designs of pickup trucks that we have here at Nissan, we decided to go with a Frontier bed," Moulinet said in a statement. "My main job here is working on rough-road vehicles, rough-road testing. I'm pretty good at taking cars completely apart to the bare frame and putting them back together again to resume testing."

Take a look below for the video on the impetus behind Sparky, the build process and to see the final result in action.

News Source: Nissan Newsroom via YouTube

2014 Kia Cee'd GT

Reasonably Priced Car Goes a Little More Top Gear

Posted Sep 18th 2014 11:57AM

Kia Cee'd GT

Kia may be an automaker with a lot going for it these days, but it's not yet one that takes pains to appeal to performance enthusiasts. Aside from its Pirelli World Challenge team, it doesn't support any major racing programs to speak of. And despite having showcased such concepts as the GT4 Stinger and the Provo, it doesn't really offer much in the way of performance models.

That is, at least not in North America. But at the Geneva Motor Show last year, Kia got itself into the Euro hot hatch game with the launch of the Cee'd GT (and its three-door compatriot, the Pro_Cee'd GT). It's based on the Korean automaker's European-market Volkswagen Golf rival that's now in its second generation and which, in its previous base iteration, served as the Reasonably Priced Car that celebrity guests drove on Top Gear before it was replaced by a Vauxhall Astra. Now with a GT moniker attached, the Cee'd has warmed up to the point that it'd potentially be better suited towards a proper romp down twisting B-roads than serving as a celebrity punching bag.

Since Kia's first genuine performance model (like the model upon which it's based) isn't offered Stateside, we jumped at the opportunity to drive it while on a recent trip to the UK. Read on to see what we found.

Driving Notes
  • With a 1.6-liter turbo four cranking out 201 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque, the Cee'd GT falls somewhere in between warm and piping hot. Far adrift of performance leaders like the VW Golf R and Ford Focus ST in terms of output, the Cee'd GT comes in just under the Volkswagen GTI and within spitting distance of the new Peugeot 308 GT. Driven to the front wheels through a proper six-speed manual, that's enough poke to send the Cee'd GT to 60 miles per hour in a quoted 7.4 seconds and on to a top speed of 143 mph. That's right on pace with the Peugeot, but a good second behind the incrementally more potent GTI. In short, Kia's hot hatch is no slouch, but it's hardly on the cutting edge.
  • The Cee'd GT certainly feels more oriented towards performance driving than the standard Cee'd we sampled a few weeks afterwards (which, incidentally, struck us as a solid econo hatch from the few days we spent with it) but would run short of steam trying to keep pace with the leaders of the hot-hatch class. It's worth noting, however, that the Kia offers a more attractive price: in the UK, our tester came in at £23,000 ($37,700 US at the never-directly-comparable current exchange rate) – a good £3,000 less ($4,900) than a base GTI – and that's in top-spec Tech trim, complete with seven-inch sat-nav touchscreen, heated seats, Xenon headlamps and such.
  • Kia's done a good job of differentiating the GT visually from the standard version (which is similarly offered in three- and five-door hatchback forms, but also as a wagon). The brand's signature tabbed grille shape is filled with glossy honeycomb, as is the larger air dam beneath it with its bright red lower lip – similar to VW's treatment on the GTI, but lower down. The "ice cube" daytime LEDs may be a matter of taste, but they are distinctive, and while the gloss-black trim stands out nicely on, say, a white model, it naturally got lost on our black tester. Things look plenty sporty around back, as well, with twin ovoid tailpipes and a rear roof spoiler, while graphite-finish 18-inch alloys fill the wheel wells. We particularly dig the slick GT badge Kia's cooked up for this model, too. In short, the Cee'd GT looks the part – whether it plays it all the way or not.
  • Inside, Kia has checked all the right boxes as well, with a thick-rimmed steering wheel, nice round shifter, gloss black trim, leather and faux-suede microfiber upholstery, red contrast stitching and aluminum pedals. The Recaro buckets up front are much more heavily bolstered than those you'd find in a standard Cee'd, of course, although we didn't find them quite as supportive as those in some of the French hot hatches we sampled on the same trip.
  • Underneath all that trim, the Cee'd GT packs a fully independent suspension with MacPherson struts and coil springs up front and a multi-link and trailing arm setup at the back, with anti-roll bars at each end. Given that the softer base Cee'd already feels fairly well planted on the road, the GT version feels all the more so. It follows the usual hot hatch formula to further reduce body roll, shrug off speed, hug the road through the corners and effectively communicate what's going on beneath through the steering – albeit not quite as convincingly as some of the more experienced and established players it's going after. It all adds up to a good ride – particularly from an automaker delving into unfamiliar territory – but not a great one.
In the end, the Cee'd GT is the most overtly performance-oriented model in the Kia lineup... certainly more so than the base Cee'd, the Soul and the Sportage we drove in the weeks following, solid though they may be. That may not be enough to bring the fight to the established hot-hatch players the way Kia has in the mass market, and in the end, it left us somewhat uninspired and wanting for more. Call it a decent starting point, then, for what we hope will be more performance-oriented models to come – ones we could actually get in America.

Vital Stats

Engine:
Turbo 1.6L I4
Power:
201 HP / 195 LB-FT
Transmission:
6-Speed Manual
Base Price:
20,500 pounds
As-Tested Price:
23,000 pounds

Image Credit: Copyright 2014 Noah Joseph / AOL

Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat gets 22 mpg

Posted Sep 18th 2014 11:33AM

2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat

With its crazy 707 horsepower on tap and roughly $60,000 starting price, the 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat has been one of the most talked about cars of the summer, maybe even the year. However, there's always been one lingering question about the behemoth that Dodge has waited to answer until now – its fuel economy. The EPA ratings for the muscle car are finally out, and the numbers are actually pretty impressive for a vehicle with this much power.

A 2015 Challenger Hellcat with the eight-speed automatic is rated at 22 miles per gallon highway, 13 mpg city and 16 mpg combined. Opting for the six-speed manual drops those figures to 21 mpg highway, 13 mpg city and 16 mpg combined.

"As the fastest muscle car ever, the Challenger Hellcat can run 10-second ETs [elapsed times] at the track, and then get 22 miles per gallon on the drive home. With a starting price of $59,995, there's nothing else that even comes close," said Dodge and SRT President Tim Kuniskis in the company's release.

When comparing the Hellcat to other cars in its power class, its fuel economy numbers could almost be called frugal. Take a Lamborghini Aventador coupe for example. With 700 hp, the Lambo is rated at 18 mpg highway and 11 mpg city by the EPA, but it costs significantly more than the Challenger. Even the Dodge Viper, the muscle car's sibling rival, is slightly lower at 21 mpg highway and 12 mpg city, while making less power and torque. Scroll down to read Dodge's full fuel economy announcement about the supercharged V8.

News Source: Dodge

Image Credit: Copyright 2014 Seyth Miersma / AOL

Volvo XC90 R-Design adds a dash of sport

Posted Sep 18th 2014 11:01AM

Volvo XC90

The 2015 Volvo XC90 is a huge leap forward for the Swedish automaker as its first all-new model since leaving Ford ownership. There's a lot riding on the crossover's success, too, because its platform is supposed to underpin Volvo vehicles for years to come. The latest move for the new CUV is adding a little aggressiveness to the look with the R-Design trim for buyers desiring a sportier-looking Swede.

The R-Design joins the already announced Momentum and Inscription trims. Mechanically it doesn't change anything, but ticking the box for the R-Design adds a slightly different grille with horizontal slats, a redesigned lower air dam, new window trim, matte silver side-mirror covers and rectangular exhaust nestled in an altered lower rear bumper. The sportier XC90 comes standard with 20-inch wheels, but a 22-inch design is optional, as well.

The meaner look is carried inside with sport seats covered in Nubuck and Nappa leather, a perforated leather steering wheel and R-Design trim for the gearshift, pedals, floor mats and illuminated tread plates. The touchscreen infotainment system also gets an R-Design theme.

According to Volvo, the XC90 R-Design is all about giving buyers a chance to personalize their crossover. With the Momentum as the base and the Inscription trim representing more luxury with high-end finishes, the new addition goes after one more niche. Scroll down to read the official announcement of this slightly meaner looking XC90.
Related Gallery2015 Volvo XC90 R-Design
2015 Volvo XC90 R-Design2015 Volvo XC90 R-Design2015 Volvo XC90 R-Design2015 Volvo XC90 R-Design2015 Volvo XC90 R-Design2015 Volvo XC90 R-Design2015 Volvo XC90 R-Design2015 Volvo XC90 R-Design

News Source: Volvo

Forza Horizon 2 opening sequence drops

Posted Sep 18th 2014 10:14AM

Forza Horizon 2 Opening Sequence

This week marked the launch of the Forza Horizon 2 demo on the Xbox One (go play it, it's darn entertaining as demos go). This partial version of the game doesn't allow you to explore the entire playing area, and you're limited to a paltry trio of vehicles, but it does come with a big-ticket item: the full, live-action video that introduces the open-world racer.

The roughly two-minute "countdown" is big on the two big, central themes of FH2. That means there's plenty of epic sheetmetal, including its flagship vehicle, the new Lamborghini Huracán, as well as the ability to go just about anywhere on the huge open-world map. The video leads into the traditional opening race which, like the original Forza Horizon, sees you hurtling through the countryside towards the Horizon Festival.

Take a look at the video and keep your eyes open for our review of Forza Horizon 2, ahead of its September 30 on-sale date.

News Source: Shaunessy Chapman via YouTube

Mini Rocketman back on the table, might go aluminum

Posted Sep 18th 2014 9:28AM

Mini Rocketman Concept

Mini just doesn't want its Rocketman concept to die. It unveiled the truly mini model at the 2011 Geneva Motor Show, and since then, there have been countless on-again, off-again rumors about the possibility of it going into production. If the latest talk proves true, a smaller vehicle like the Rocketman might make it into the automaker's lineup after all, as competitor to other stylish city cars like the Smart ForTwo.

According to the company's head of design, Anders Warming, speaking to Auto Express, Mini likes the idea of having a smaller model in its lineup, but it has to figure out a way of actually making it work. Warming is clear that the next iteration of the Rocketman concept (or whatever it's called then) won't be seen until a design is ready.

There are still plenty of challenges keeping a production Rocketman off of the city streets of the world, and chief among them continues to be finding a platform. But Mini is at least considering it. "At the moment, we don't have the right tech solutions, but we are working on it. We don't yet have a final solution, you could say," said Warming to Auto Express. He also thinks the final version would drop the concept's carbon fiber in favor of more aluminum components.

The other key is getting the interior just right, and Warming's plan is to keep things simple. "Driving in the city is stressful enough, so we need a reduction in the number of elements," he said to Auto Express.

If Mini can jump these hurdles, then a city car like the Rocketman might make sense in the lineup. After all, the standard Mini Cooper is growing with every new generation. But with no platform or design ready, it might be a few years before we see a production version, if at all.

DS models to lose Citroen badging

Posted Sep 18th 2014 8:42AM

Citroen Divine DS Concept

The Citroën Divine DS Concept won't be the only model in the newly separated DS sub-brand to ditch its Chevrons. In fact, the entire DS line will go without the iconic badge, according to PSA Chairman Carlos Tavares.

The goal, Tavares told Autocar, was to continue to distance the DS line from the main Citroën brand and in turn, craft the group's offerings into premium challengers for Audi.

"From 2015 DS will be disconnected from Citroen. We don't need to have separate platforms, or even separate dealers, but we will have separate manufacturing and engineering standards," Tavares told Autocar. "DS can be an Audi rival by 2020. The products in the pipeline are extremely exciting but we are not just going into premium as we're not going to be fighting the Germans with the same weapons."

"We want to convey a French sophistication, trendiness and the French way of life. The Germans can't do this and we'll see some concept cars that will back this up," Tavares added.

Meanwhile, the styling of the Divine DS, which we'll be seeing in person at next month's Paris Motor Show, shows the way ahead for that sophistication and trendiness. Look for more on Citroën and the Divine DS in early October.
Related GalleryCitroen Divine DS Concept
Citroen Divine DS ConceptCitroen Divine DS ConceptCitroen Divine DS ConceptCitroen Divine DS ConceptCitroen Divine DS ConceptCitroen Divine DS ConceptCitroen Divine DS ConceptCitroen Divine DS Concept

News Source: Autocar

Take a spin in a street-legal Lancia Group B rally car

Posted Sep 17th 2014 8:03PM

Petrolicious Lancia 037

Lancia's death is sad for many, many reasons, chief among which is the end of its wonderful, wild rally heritage. While the brand might best be known for the Stratos and the Delta HF Integrale, there was another big name model, called the 037, that did its best to live up to the family name.

The last of a dying breed, the 037 debuted as a rear-driver at the dawn of all-wheel-drive dominance. Despite its disadvantage, though, it still captured a WRC championship in 1983, and managed to finish second to Audi in 1984 and Peugeot in 1986. It remains the last rear-drive car to win the WRC title.

As per Group B regulations, Lancia built a limited run of homolgation specials. The street version, the 037 Stradale, sports a 2.0-liter, supercharged Abarth engine – detuned from the rally cars, of course – while this particular example benefits from a rortier exhaust, meaning it produces somewhere around 240 horsepower, according to Toledano.

It's a truly stunning piece, and one worthy of coverage by the team at Petrolicious. Take a look at the video.

News Source: Petrolicious via YouTube

What you missed on 9.17.14

Posted Sep 17th 2014 7:29PM

Daily U-Turn

First Drive: 2015 Kia Sedona

If today's minivan sales are any indication, young parents with newly expanding families just aren't willing to submit to the practical charms of the box-like minivan, if it means looking like their parents in the process. Yet, here is Kia launching an all-new Sedona into an increasingly slim market segment. Does the bling-tastic new sled have what it takes to turn the heads of crossover shoppers?




Detroit, This Is Your New Batmobile

We're not sure if they wear capes, but based on the remarkable images they're able to gather, we think our spy photographers are every-day super heroes. How else can you explain this stunning set of on-the-move images of the Batmobile from the upcoming Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice movie? We've caught a glimpse of the car before, but nothing like this full set of pictures, showing the car on the streets of Detroit, and in painstaking detail.




Will the Apple Watch get you busted?

Apple's new wrist gizmo is not the only smartwatch, it's not the first smartwatch, heck, it's not even on sale yet. But it is the product with enough juice to start getting attention from the regulators. A new study out of the UK suggests that use of an Apple Watch while driving could be even more distracting than texting, and will carry the same penalties, too. Will that mindset, and those prohibitions, make their way to your state soon?




Top Stories

Ford to offer Police Interceptor surveillance tech to competitors [w/video]

Posted Sep 17th 2014 7:02PM

Ford Police Interceptors

Ford unveiled its surveillance mode technology last year as an option for 2014 Ford Police Interceptor Sedan and Utility models, and it has been a huge success. Now, the automaker and its partner InterMotive Inc. have decided to license the patent-pending system, including possibly to competitors and the military.

The surveillance mode technology is all about improving officers' situational awareness when their vehicle is stationary, and they aren't paying total attention to their surroundings; when filling out paperwork, for example. When an officer activates the system, the rear radar begins monitoring what's happening behind the cruiser. If it detects someone coming up on the vehicle, then the rear camera turns on, the driver's side window closes and the doors lock. Of course, in busy environments with people constantly walking around, the police can also just keep surveillance mode turned off.

The whole setup is meant to give a cop a few extra seconds to ascertain whether a person getting close to their car means them harm. It even recently won the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executive's Award for the technology's ability to improve officer safety.

"We want to assist with and improve the security of all police officers – whether they are using a Ford Police Interceptor or a competitive vehicle," said Randy Freiburger, who supervises Ford's police and ambulance engineering in its relase. Companies that license the tech pay the Blue Oval a fee, and the deals mean expanded proliferation of the automaker's safety systems. Scroll down to see a video of surveillance mode in action and read the full announcement.

News Source: Ford, Fordvideo1 via YouTube

Ferrari 458 Speciale Spider will make Paris debut

Posted Sep 17th 2014 6:31PM

Ferrari 458 Speciale

The news out of Ferrari is coming nearly as fast as its wonderful sports cars, as of late, with CEO Luca di Montezemolo stepping down and a special model for America upcoming. Now, it's looking increasingly likely that the 458 Speciale Spider is making its world debut at the 2014 Paris Motor Show in early October, confirming earlier rumors.

Di Montezemolo had already confirmed that the Prancing Horse would unveil a new car in Paris, but exactly which model it would be had been a mystery. However, an unnamed Ferrari insider has recently confirmed to 4WheelNews that it would be the droptop Speciale.

As the name suggests, the special model takes the sonorous 4.5-liter V8 engine from the 458 Speciale with 597 horsepower and 398 pound-feet of torque and drops it into the convertible hardtop from the Spider. According to the source, the special Ferrari is also getting new wheels, stripes and seats, but the folding top might mean losing the coupe's transparent engine cover.

There's the possibility that Ferrari could build even more Speciale Spiders than originally thought. Earlier rumors indicated that it might be limited to just 458 units worldwide. However, wealthy buyers reportedly already reserved many of them during private showings. With Sergio Marchionne reportedly scrapping di Montezemolo's 7,000-units-per-year production limit, more of these Prancing Horses could hit the road. Regardless of how many the company makes, we hope this high performance convertible actually shows its face in Paris in a few weeks.

GM dealers have ordered 30k Colorado and Canyon pickups, 3rd shift added

Posted Sep 17th 2014 5:44PM

2015 GMC Canyon

General Motors has an early success on its hands in the form of the initial rollout of the Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon midsize pickup trucks. According to the automaker, dealers have ordered nearly 30,000 of the trucks thus far, a number that far exceeded GM's early expectations.

This high demand for the Colorado and Canyon twins has prompted GM to add a third shift to its Wentzville Assembly plant where the trucks are built, starting early next year. An extra shift will add an additional 750 jobs at the location to the 1,315 that were already employed there, according to the press release that you're welcome to read down below.

Such positive sales projections for the Canyon and Colorado may portend good things for the midsize pickup segment, which was once hugely popular but has more recently contracted, with the Nissan Frontier and Toyota Tacoma standing firm as the market leaders. Now that GM's entries are the most up-to-date, and with the segment's first diesel engine on the way, it will be interesting to see how the trucks continue to sell and if their hopeful success leads more automakers back onto the playing field.
Related Gallery2015 GMC Canyon
2015 GMC Canyon2015 GMC Canyon2015 GMC Canyon2015 GMC Canyon2015 GMC Canyon2015 GMC Canyon2015 GMC Canyon2015 GMC Canyon

News Source: General Motors

Nissan ZEOD RC on track and from behind the wheel

Posted Sep 17th 2014 5:01PM

Nissan Zeod RC takes on the Top Gear test track

The Nissan ZEOD RC hybrid racecar has had mixed success in its competition life. It was invented to do a completely electric, high-speed lap at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, which it was able to do in practice. However, when the big event actually came, the car lasted less than an hour before it had to bow out with transmission issues. Nissan hasn't completely given up on its experiment, though. The experience (and possibly some of the tech) is going to help with the GT-R LM racer next year, and now the ZEOD is getting its chance to see how it handles the Top Gear test track.

Unfortunately, it's not The Stig piloting the ZEOD; instead, the magazine's motoring editor Ollie Marriage is the lucky man for the job. The car's sharp shape seems to be a good metaphor for how it handles because it just seems to dart around the track. Its tiny, turbocharged 1.5-liter engine with 400 horsepower and two electric motors put out a claimed 750 horsepower, and that seems like plenty for the relatively short Top Gear course.

As usual of Top Gear, the cinematography here is fantastic, and a second video shows off a single lap of the course from around the car. It's amazing to watch, especially with its big screen constantly showing the camera view out of the rear. Scroll down to see both.

News Source: Top Gear via YouTube [1], [2]

Honda Jazz looks like a good fit for Paris

Posted Sep 17th 2014 4:28PM

Honda Jazz

The quirky, utilitarian little hatchback that we know as the Honda Fit in the US carries the more melodious Jazz name in Europe. And while the newest Fit is already on sale in our market, folks are still waiting for it across the pond. Honda is unveiling its new Jazz Prototype to the 2014 Paris Motor Show in October, and it's nearly identical to what is currently on sale in North America. In fact, it's hard to image Honda changing much from this "prototype" before launching it for Europeans.

The Jazz's design is exactly what you would expect after even a glance at the current North American Fit. Except for a different wing at the rear, a shark fin antenna and a new set of wheels, this Jazz plays the same tune we've heard before.

The one thing keeping the Fit and Jazz from truly being identical siblings is that the European model packs Honda's new 1.3-liter i-VTEC Earth Dreams engine under the hood, rather than the 1.5-liter used in North America. But just like our Fit, the Jazz will be available with a six-speed manual or CVT. The Japanese automaker says that the Jazz goes on sale in the summer of 2015. Scroll down to read the company's announcement for its upcoming hatch.

News Source: Honda

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