Posted by & filed under Resources.

By MALCOLM GUNN, www.wheelbasemedia.com

To be a mid-sized sedan in this day and age means that you actually have to be a lot more than just a mid-sized sedan.

You have to have a super-attractive entry price. You also have to show that you like clean air, trees and fluffy rabbits romping in fields. And, you also have to be sporty enough for moms and dads who gave up their two-door cars when the stork came calling.

But, since you can’t really put all of that together in one car, the Malibu – and others in this class – have a separate models to take care of very broad buyer base.

Once considered somewhat plain and uninspiring in a rental-fleet sort of way, the Malibu regained its groove for the 2008 model year with sharp styling, thoughtfully designed interior appointments and competent road manners. The reviews bordered on gushing, sales spiked and the mid-size Chevy was once more walking proud.

The new 2013 Malibu has been repurposed for new challenges and increased sedan-class competitiveness. From top to bottom it’s a completely different automobile, starting with a more rigid platform based on the Opel Insignia (Opel is part of General Motors’ European division).

Exterior dimensions are closely aligned with the outgoing Malibu, except for 4.5 inches of shrinkage between the front and rear wheels. Despite this deficit, most key passenger- and cargo-area measurements except legroom have actually increased. Cabin styling, which was the previous Malibu’s strong suit, hasn’t veered off course for 2013. The dual cockpit-style seating arrangement, with its wrap-around dashboard and center stack, returns in roughly the same format, but the controls and switches are laid out in a more straightforward fashion. A neat trick here is a storage area hidden behind the flip-up radio faceplate that’s suitable for phones, wallets or other small items.

The speedometer and tachometer gauge pods are located in what are clearly Chevrolet Camaro-inspired housings. As with other recently launched GM sedans, the Malibu comes with 10 standard airbags, including a set of front-knee inflatables.

On the outside, the Malibu’s athletic lines reveal a more prominent grille and Camaro-influenced taillights at the opposite end. The range-topping LTZ is upgraded with brighter high-intensity discharge (HID) headlights and faster-acting light-emitting diode (LED) taillights.

For 2013, the Malibu is available in three strengths for three kinds of buyers. The priceleader base model has a 197-horsepower 2.5-liter four-cylinder, which replaces the 169-horsepower 2.4-liter four-cylinder.

For added performance, you can select a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder that puts out 259 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. The turbo replaces the 252-horsepower V6 option. Those values are roughly comparable, however the turbo’s 21-mpg city/30 highway fuel consumption is hands-down better than the V6′s 17/26. By the way, Chevy rates the turbo’s zero-to-60-mph time at 6.3 seconds.

For buyers with a green streak, the Malibu Eco features a 182-horse 2.4-liter four-cylinder and a special 15-horsepower electric motor/generator that adds “eAssist” via a belt to the engine during acceleration and passing.

Called a “mild hybrid” because the Malibu Eco cannot run on electric power alone like the Toyota Camry Hybrid or Ford Fusion Hybrid, it’s rated at 25 mpg city and 37 highway, compared the base 2.5-liter four-cylinder’s 22/34 numbers.

The lithium-ion battery location robs the Malibu of some trunk space, but not a whole lot. The eAssist’s regenerative braking system feeds energy to the batteries when the binders are applied. A system shuts off the engine when stationary and restarts it once the gas pedal is depressed.

All powerplants operate through six-speed automatic transmissions, with the turbo version’s receiving manual controls located atop the shifter.

At an all-in starting price of $23,150, the Malibu S comes with not much more than the essentials. The next-level 1LT’s more complete package adds a seven-inch color touch-screen with voice recognition that operates the audio and communications side. Picking the eAssist will require about $3,000 extra, but it does include dual-zone climate control plus some other niceties. The LT trim can be ordered with the turbo engine, but for the full effect you should step up the LTZ with its added luxury content and richer-sounding twin exhaust pipes. Turbo pricing is not yet known.

The 2013 Malibu actually does a decent job of not necessarily being all things to all people, but by providing enough of a variety models to a diverse group buyers. Welcome to the modern mid-size sedan.

What you should know: 2013 Chevrolet Malibu

Type: Four-door, front-wheel-drive mid-size sedan

Engines (hp): 2.5-liter DOHC I4 (197); 2.0-liter DOHC I4 (259); 2,4-liter DOHC I4 with 15-kilowatt motor (182, net).

Transmission: Six-speed automatic

Market position: Malibu is one of a number of new 2013 mid-size sedans and it faces some tough competition from domestic-and import-base models. In this class, offering a variety of powertrains, including hybrids, is almost mandatory.

Points: More tautly styled body improves Malibu’s looks; Base four-cylinder engine provides good thrust; turbo option adds sporting attitude; “Mild” eAssist hybrid’s fuel consumption numbers nowhere near “full” hybrid competitors; No V6 option, but it likely won’t be missed; 10 airbags sets the safety bar high in this class.

Safety: Front airbags; front/rear side-impact airbags; side-curtain airbags; front knee airbags, anti-lock brakes; traction control; stability control.

MPG (city/hwy) 22/34 (2.5)

Base price (incl. destination) $23,150

By comparison

Ford Fusion

Base price: $21,500

V6 option is gone,two hybrid choices join three four-cylinder gas engines.

Nissan Altima

Base price: $21,900

All-new 2013 version comes with fuel-sipping I4 and upgraded CVT.

Mazda6

Base price: $22,000 (est.)

Out-next-year 2014 odel shows what Malibu’s competition is up to.

 

Posted by & filed under News.

By JOE KNYCHA, www.wheelbasemedia.com


It’s widely known that hybrid vehicles shine brightest in high-density stop-and-go traffic, achieving in the process low fuel consumption and ultra-low greenhouse-gas emissions. That’s because the built-in electric motor helps the gas engine get the car rolling.
But how are they on the open road? More to the point, how do they fare in wide-ranging road traffic? Can they cover great distances in comfort yet deliver a decent ride without working their little hybrid hearts into a state of mechanical coronary?
In an attempt to answer the bigger questions of the universe, Honda surrendered a new-generation Insight hybrid for an outing through the rugged Precambrian shield running alongside Lake Superior, which borders Michigan. The average speed was about 60 mph over 10 hours with frequent scenic stops along the way; the road climbs and drops majestically, all the while snaking along Superior’s craggy shores.
Spirited driving isn’t the point of the Insight and so, responsibly, we steadfastly minded speed limits and drove in as smooth a manner as possible with lightly applied throttle inputs to probe its higher-speed fuel economy. The gasoline/electric drive system, though able to deliver near-brisk performance if required, is in its element when the driver strives for economy and smoothness.
The Insight actually assists in this effort through in-dash displays that show: fuel consumption; when it’s running on gas, electric or both; and when the on-board batteries are being re-charged, capturing the Insight’s rolling (kinetic) energy through “regenerative” braking, and when decelerating.
Another readout displays a five-branch tree that rates the green-ness of the drive: the branches disappear or come back based on how aggressively the throttle is used. Push a little harder and the light that bathes the instrument panel blends to blue from green, returning to green when pressure eases. It’s subtle and quietly keeps one mindful.
The 1.3-liter (that’s just 79.3 cubic inches) four-cylinder gas engine has a single overhead camshaft, two valves per cylinder and variable valve timing. Driving the front wheels, it’s small by conventional reckoning, but mated to Honda’s fifth-generation Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) hybrid system, it carries the freight, operating quietly, seamlessly and effortlessly.
Burning regular gas, the engine rates at 88 horsepower at 5,800 rpm, with torque at 123 pound-feet at 4,500 rpm. When engaged, the IMA adds up to 13 more horses at 1,500 rpm and a further 58 pound-feet of torque to the mix. Unlike the Toyota Prius – the Insight’s primary cross-shopping nemesis – the Insight cannot run on electric power alone. When accelerating, the gas engine is always running, given a boost by the IMA.
Sitting silently at the stoplights with the gas engine automatically shut down, you wouldn’t think the Insight would win any drag races, but it does acquit itself well against other vehicles in its class. Acceleration can approach brisk when the throttle is pressed deep into the pile carpet mats, useful for passing maneuvers and when accelerating onto fast-moving freeways, but not so much for extending fuel economy.
Weight is typically the enemy of fuel economy, so it’s with some irony that the IMA adds almost 50 pounds over a comparably equipped Civic, yet gives superior fuel economy, which speaks well of the system’s efficiency. Throughout the drive, fuel economy hovered mostly around the 48-mpg mark. After a while, it becomes almost obsessive to see how low you can drive the consumption, and for how long at a time.
The interior accommodates four average-sized adults. The front bucket seats are firm and began to feel that way after several hours. The dash and controls are well placed and functional though overhead glare on the spade-shaped cover at the top of the instrument panel was visible several times throughout the drive. The thick rear pillars that taper back to the tidy aerodynamic rear end make backing up an exercise in neck-craning, and the view through the rear-view mirror is restricted.
With the back seats folded flat, the seemingly small hatchback swallows a surprising amount of cargo, an essential quality for out-of-city driving. With the rear doors open and the hatch lid raised, loading large and bulky items is easy.
When the first-generation Insight beat all other hybrid-powered vehicles to market more than a decade ago, it launched a terrific idea, but in a body style that while looking sleek and futuristic, didn’t exactly set the world ablaze. As two-seater coupe, it had limited cargo space and didn’t fit many lifestyles.
Starting at $19,300, the 2013 Insight offers all the functionality and then some of a compact sedan and depending on the view, in a somewhat futuristic design. The front disc/rear drum brakes are also unlike the original Insight’s in that they have excellent pedal feel and are very easily modulated.
And to answer the obvious question many will ask: over the entire 500 miles, not once did a string of cars pile up behind us waiting to pass.
Malcolm Gunn is Wheelbase Media’s managing editor. You can message him using the contact form at www.wheelbasemedia.com. Wheelbase Media is a worldwide provider of automotive news and features stories.

Posted by & filed under Popular.

BY TOM AND RAY MAGLIOZZI

Dear Tom and Ray:

I am about to buy a car. I’ve been advised to buy a new or newer car so as to avoid breakdowns, but I’m running into one big problem: Everything on the market is computerized. I’d like to be able to look under my hood and actually know what is going on. With only one auto-shop class, I’m hardly an expert, but I’d like to learn. Are there any new or newer cars out there that are simple — cars that I could actually work on myself? I couldn’t care less about GPS, power windows, automatic transmission, Blackberry and all the tacky gadgets they put on cars these days. I just want to drive something that I can understand. – Malia

TOM: YOU’D like to look under the hood and actually know what’s going on? So would WE!

RAY: I don’t know how old you are, Malia, but I remember when televisions were pretty simple. And when something went wrong that wouldn’t respond to a fist on the side of the box, you could take the back off the TV, remove the tubes, take them down to the repair shop and put them in a “tube tester.”

TOM: If one of the tubes was bad, you’d buy a new one for a few bucks, put them all back in, turn on the TV and voila! You’d be watching “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” again in no time.

RAY: I wouldn’t even consider taking the back off my TV now. And I guess that’s a loss for humanity. But you know what? TVs are 1,000 times better today than they were 50 years ago. They almost never break now, they download movies, they display things in 3-D. Their pictures are brighter, sharper and more realistic, yet the sets are more energy-efficient. And most importantly, you don’t need to adjust the vertical hold every 15 minutes to keep from seeing Walter Cronkite’s forehead at the bottom of the screen and his chest at the top.

TOM: And the same is true of cars. They’re 1,000 times more complex, but they’re also 1,000 times better and more reliable than they used to be.

RAY: And much of that is attributable to the complicated technology that you and I can’t even begin to fix anymore. So it’s a trade-off, but it’s a trade-off that most of us are happy to make.

TOM: Because now our cars pollute a fraction as much, they’re more powerful, some of them go much farther on a gallon of gasoline (or a kilowatt of lithium-ion battery power), they’re safer, more comfortable, they last longer and, perhaps most importantly, they start pretty much every day. A lot of people forget what it was like to turn the key and pray whenever it was cold and rainy out.

RAY: And cars now routinely go 100,000 miles without needing any major repairs. In the old days, if you nursed a car to 100,000 miles, it was a cause for a party.

TOM: So, in order to get something that you can look under the hood of and easily tinker with yourself, you have to be willing to drive an unsafe, unreliable, pollution-belching rust bucket.

RAY: Which is what my brother drives. In fact, you can go car shopping on his front lawn, Malia. You’ll have a bunch of heaps that won’t start to choose from.

TOM: You really have to go back to the 1970s or earlier to go “pre-computer.” If you get a car of that vintage, you’ll be able to open the hood and recognize all the parts. That’s one thing I really like about my old cars.

RAY: Of course, the reason you’ll recognize all those parts is because you just replaced them a month ago! Don’t do it, Malia. Accept that the world changes. Embrace the change. Cars that start in the rain are a giant step for mankind.

* * *

Which is cheaper, buying or leasing? Should you keep a car forever or dump it after three years, before trouble starts? Find out in Tom and Ray’s pamphlet “Should I Buy, Lease, or Steal My Next Car?” Send $4.75 (check or money order) to Next Car, P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475.

***

Get more Click and Clack in their new book, “Ask Click and Clack: Answers from Car Talk.” Got a question about cars? Write to Click and Clack in care of this newspaper, or email them by visiting the Car Talk website at www.cartalk.com.

Posted by & filed under Featured.

By AARON COLE, Syndicated Columnist

It starts, fascinatingly enough, in a parking lot.

It would start in a parking lot. It’s a car. Lots of cars start in lots of lots.

There’s no hum from a motor, or whisper of exhaust from a rear-facing pipe. No timbre of a V8, no whine of a strained four. Headers? Catalytic converters? For gosh sakes, what about the fuel injectors? Is anyone thinking of the fuel injectors?

The Nissan Leaf has absolutely none of the above. It needs all that plumbing like Bar Refaeli needs makeup.

In case you haven’t heard, the Leaf is the first mass production electric vehicle that hasn’t been wholly inconvenient or wholly pulled from owners’ driveways by General Motors in 1999. It’s not often you get to drive genesis. But right now, we’re in the parking lot and genesis stuff doesn’t actually matter. Getting home actually does.

To start, the Leaf requires a hard-wire reset of the way we think about driving.

First, the Leaf presupposes that President Eisenhower and his nationwide system of interstates didn’t exist.

The Leaf’s range is 80-100 miles, which according to Nissan, covers about 92 percent of our daily drives. (For the record, I made it 75 miles on my charge.)

Charging the battery on the same outlet as your iPhone would take around one day (more than 20 hours), and installing a 240-volt plug cuts that time down to around 8 hours (after you’ve shelled out around $1,500 for the kit and installation.)

There is, I hear, a third, quick-charge option that exists in places where unicorn and sasquatch run free, that will charge the Leaf in 30 minutes. Considering that I live in the Intermountain West, I’m guessing those places must be California and New York, because none appear to be anywhere around me.

Nonetheless, to maintain battery integrity, Nissan recommends that you use the grail of all charging stations only twice a day at most, so your road trips would need to be fewer than 200 miles away to make it in one day. Is Disneyland in Wyoming?

But let’s be honest, if you’re thinking of cutting a check for one of these, you’ve already accepted that you’re not packing up the familial tribe for Splash Mountain this summer, Gam-Gam’s got to find better things to do for Thanksgiving, and you’re winning the carbon-neutral footrace — even if you have to walk.

Fair enough. If you’re willing to make those trades, then I believe you have a future in the car of the future.

Like it or not, I believe the Leaf represents the future of the automotive universe. As oil and fossil fuels are becoming less findable and faux pas with younger crowds, the trillions in asphalt and concrete infrastructure will get used one way or another — and I’m guessing bicycles ain’t it.

But I need the concrete and asphalt to get home right now. And I’ll take the Leaf to get there.

Climbing inside the Leaf is unremarkable, which is the point, I think. The Leaf has four doors — in all the places you’d expect them to be — driver’s side on the left, gas pedal on the right. Everything, for the most part, is normal.

Owners of hybrids will instantly recognize that nothing happens when you turn the car on. A beep lets you know that the Leaf is powered up; you can dance if you want to.

There are some interesting visuals that accompany the boot process. First, the usual soothing tone and navigation screen effect bathe you in a reassuring new wave processes that confirm you have, indeed, purchased a manatee-approved motor vehicle. I think.

An instrument display in front of the driver shows battery range and status, along with a battery temp and tachometer-cum-power meter. A smaller display above, near the windshield, shows speed and digital tree that grows as you drive conservatively.

It’s nice to have the eco ego stroking in the Leaf — I actually like it. In fact, if I could have AC/DC drill power chords when I fire up a GT-R, I’d like that too.

The Leaf’s seats are comfortable in front, and actually spacious in back. It’s not hard to imagine four grown adults in the Leaf and considering that you’re physically incapable of traveling that far, it wouldn’t be an uncomfortable ride for long.

The space is complemented by the ride because at 3,200 lbs. the Leaf smoothed out the bumps just fine. The chassis feels solid despite the car’s weight for its size. The bulk of that heft comes from the electric motor produces 107 horsepower and 207 lb.-ft. of torque, which is on par for a four-cylinder car of its size.

The biggest difference between driving a gasoline and an electric motor is the instant torque available. Although the Leaf powers from 0-60 mph in around 10 seconds, it feels much faster because the power band is drawn at a right angle.

In standard express, the Leaf behaves like every other car on the road. Four wheels on the road, one steering wheel in your hand. Point in your general direction and go.

The sticker price has been a sticking point for some, and there’s no easy way to put this: it’ll cost $35,200 to get started. Our tester, a Leaf SL was fitted with just about everything including a small solar panel to power accessories, heated seats and steering wheel, navigation and floor mats (an optional $170 from the manufacturer) and ran up the tab to $38,270. Up to $7,500 of that can be credited from the Feds come tax day, and depending on your state, there may be more money available too.

That makes the Leaf a high $20s car when it’s all said and done, and that’s a good thing. The Leaf needs to be cheap because it won’t take the place of any car yet. It’s not practical unless you meet a certain set of criteria: Is your daily commute to work fewer than 20 miles? Do you have access to a charger at home? Are you willing to be “range anxious” in exchange for a greener life? Will you exchange emissions and Exxon for Edison and electrons?

These are all questions that need to be answered before the Leaf and you ever set out of this parking lot that I’m currently standing in.

Fascinating.

Aaron Cole is a syndicated auto columnist. He knows he’s wrong, he just wants to hear you say it. Reach him at aaron.m.cole@gmail.com

Posted by & filed under Resources.

By Andy Stonehouse, for Utah Rides

There are two kinds of people in this world, I’ve discovered: People who actually enjoy driving, even in crummy traffic, and those who see cars and trucks as an appliance, like a dishwasher: a means to an end, a way to get from place to place, and nothing more.

That said, what I’m about to reveal about the slightly ominous and Big Brother-ish future of automobiles will probably be of less appeal to you car fans and of more appeal to those who hate driving. I apologize, thusly.

Two of the most futuristic-looking, new-school, light-duty SUV/crossovers on the market appeared to me in rapid succession, and while they ended up being priced about the same, they couldn’t be more different. Except for that whole Orwellian accident-prevention angle, which they both share.

A brand new creation, Infiniti’s JX35 occupies an unusual middle-ground position between two of the Nissan luxury line’s different concepts.

It’s nearly the same length and offers the same seven-passenger capacity as the twice-as-tall, utterly behemoth QX56, but it looks more like a stretched and modified FX crossover.

The 2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK350 is a smaller, more rugged-looking crossover that’s been on the market for a few years and has been given more power and some minor overall tweaks, but is strictly a two-row-only deal.

Both have base prices close to $40,000 but once the bells and whistles start piling on, the Infiniti I drove – front-wheel drive and featuring a continuously variable transmission – was sneaking past $55K, while the all-wheel drive GLK, with more output from its 3.5-liter V6 than the bigger Infiniti, finished off at about $54K.

That’s a lot of coin for a couple of substantial but not Suburban/Expedition-sized family haulers and light offroaders, so what’s the big deal, besides space-age looks and two of the nicest interiors you’ll find in the industry?

Both, I think, might be aimed at the “I don’t really like to drive, but I do at least like a nice-looking car” market. Also, the “I don’t believe that shoulder-checking is necessary” demographic.

For the JX boasts an optional technology package that’s evidently got the most distracted drivers on the planet firmly in mind. The blend of rear, side and front cameras, radar and other sensors work together to create a virtual force field that surrounds the vehicle (even the button controlling this on the steering wheel you gives that idea). And that force field will intercede on your behalf, which the more “I really do like to drive my own car, by myself” folks may find a little freaky.

To the rear, Infiniti has taken the rear-traffic warnings first found on Chrysler minivans and refined it as Back-Up Collision Intervention, which will spot cars or kids coming from the side in a parking lot and quite actively poke the brakes for you, if you do not.

Up front, the Forward Collision Warning system sends out radar feelers and, when activated, will also not-so-subtly stomp on the brakes when you get too close to other vehicles in traffic, even at freeway speeds. And not just in cruise control mode. I mean, really stomps on the brakes.

I thought this was all a little much for my liking, but then I drove the Mercedes, with its own $2,950 Driver Assistance Package, and it took things even further.

Both cars have active blind spot (the blinky lights in the mirrors we’ve come to find on nearly every mid-level vehicle on the planet) and lane assist systems; when activated, both cars will now slightly brake for you if you cross over the painted lines on the highway to veer you back into the proper position.

This wasn’t quite as big an issue on the Infiniti, but on the smaller Mercedes, it was positively jarring when it happened – lights, a colored display on the instrument panel, audio warnings and then a big ol’ jolt on the brakes. Mercedes’ system also scans the road ahead but its Pre-Safe Brake system wasn’t quite as obvious as that.

The upshot is the most obvious safety aids that I’ve ever experienced. Among the tired, the distracted and the disinterested crowds, maybe it’s not such a bad thing.

Otherwise, both vehicles are rather sterling examples of the evolving automotive experience, though neither gets spectacular gas mileage in the process.

JX rides comfortably and confidently, not as overbearingly as its larger cousin, though the one standard engine choice makes 265 not-exactly tire-smoking horsepower, and the continuously variable transmission (the powertrain is shared with the new Pathfinder) does have some genuine moments of slackness during more aggressive acceleration.

The JX is indeed still a substantial vehicle, though not overly tall, which makes it easy to simply open the door and sit comfortably in the leathery seats, versus climbing up on a ladder to mount the car. Second- and even third-row seating is large and comfortable (no half-sized kiddie seats) and slide-ahead access makes it pretty easy to get in and out; the whole shebang can also be largely flattened for larger objects. There are two sunroofs, a larger one in the back for all those rear passengers.

JX’s design features the same broad chrome grille and wide nose as fellow Infiniti products, and a much longer, chrome-edged set of side windows that finishes with a Zorro-inspired curve at the back of the cabin. And the floor line features aerodynamic plastic trim that juts out like it does on a Range Rover Sport.

Finishings are totally up to Infiniti standards, with polished hardwood, sumptuous leather, intricate but ultimately easy-to-use instruments and knobs and buttons. There’s a full suite of new dial-up concierge services, plus Infiniti Connection with Google Calendar and Zagat restaurant ratings on the navigation system.

The GLK hasn’t changed remarkably; a more aggressive front grille mimics the looks of those hyper-powered AMG models, and on the inside, the large, circular jet-engine styled air vents on the console do modify the look.

The Mercedes’ 3.5-liter V6 has been bumped up to 302 horsepower and is matched with a whisper-smooth seven-speed transmission. Wheel-mounted paddles can help you drop a gear or three to slow you down during a big downhill descent; some drivers will be absolutely flummoxed by the odd, German-styled automatic gear selector stalk, but you’ll get used to it.

As a minor concession to the 21 combined MPG it generates, the GLK is also equipped with the ECO Stop/Start system, which kills the engine at a full traffic stop and then restarts it when you let off the brake.

2013 Infiniti JX35 AWD

MSRP: $41,550: As tested: $55,170
Powertrain: 265-HP 3.5-liter V6 engine, continuously variable transmission

EPA figures: 20 combined MPG: 18 city, 23 highway

2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK350 4Matic

MSRP: $39,090: As tested: $53,545
Powertrain: 302-HP 3.5-liter V6 engine, 7-speed automatic transmission

EPA figures: 21 combined MPG: 19 city, 24 highway

Posted by & filed under Popular.

BY TOM AND RAY MAGLIOZZI

Dear Tom and Ray:

I’m an authentic Chinese citizen writing to you guys from China. Did you imagine you would ever have faithful listeners and readers across the Pacific? Well, you have at least one! I studied and worked in the U.S. for 10 years before moving my family back to China. Now I commute about 50 miles a day by car. Your “Car Talk” radio-show podcast has made this routine journey bearable, and even joyful sometimes. Thank you!

My question: Last week, a huge storm hit Beijing, causing serious flooding inside the city. One man reportedly drove his SUV under an underpass, and got trapped under 10 feet of water. Realizing that his car windows and doors were all stuck (or locked), he desperately tried to crack a window to escape. Meanwhile, he called his wife, asking her to come and rescue him with a hammer. Sadly, after spending about 40 minutes inside the car, he still could not break the window. When his wife arrived, it was too late. Of course, shame on the government’s infrastructure system. But I wonder what advice you would offer to anyone who finds himself in this sort of situation. You may think it is an uncommon scenario, but who can exclude the possibility that a disgruntled husband, like myself, desperately annoyed by his wife, may want to terminate his life by driving his car into a lake? And when he is already in the water, he realizes he forgot to turn off the rice cooker, and suddenly needs to get out? Thanks! –

Yang

TOM: That’s why we always say make sure you double-check the rice cooker before leaving the house, Yang.

RAY: Actually, this kind of accident, where a car ends up under — or largely under — water can happen anywhere. So here’s what you need to know in case it happens to you.

TOM: First, the window is a better option than the door. There’s a huge amount of pressure against the outside of the door from the surrounding water, so it’s very, very hard to push open a door.

RAY: Second, on many cars, power windows will continue to work for at least a short time after a car has been submerged. So Step 1 is to take a deep breath and try to open your window immediately. If you have passengers, make sure they’re all conscious and free of their seatbelts before letting water flood in.

TOM: In case the power windows do not work, then you should keep a tool in the glove box that you can use to break a window. Car windows are hard to break. Manufacturers don’t want them to break easily, or they’d be breaking all the time when they get hit by road debris.

RAY: Car glass also is tempered, which means it’s been specially manufactured to be harder to break. And when it does break, it’s supposed to shatter into small, non-sharp pieces. That’s so that in the event of an accident, there are no shards or dangerous glass spears that can injure the car’s occupants.

TOM: The way you break tempered glass is with a sharp, pointed object. A hammer, along with something like an awl or nail set will suffice. Or there are special small, pointy hammers made just for breaking car windows in an emergency. So it’s a good idea to keep something like that in your glove box.

RAY: If you find yourself stuck without such a tool, your best bet probably is using your feet and trying to push out the windshield or rear window. Neither of those is set in tracks, like the side windows, and they may be easier to dislodge than the windows in the your car’s doors.

TOM: But our best advice is to be very careful around water. It’s hard to know how deep a puddle is before driving into it. So if you do encounter a puddle of unknown depth, proceed very, very slowly, and stop if necessary. Or even better, wait until some other knucklehead goes through it and see if he makes it first. Good luck, Yang!

* * *

Keep your car on the road and out of the repair shop by ordering Tom and Ray’s pamphlet “Ten Ways You May Be Ruining Your Car Without Even Knowing It!” Send $4.75 (check or money order) to Ruin, P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475.

***

Get more Click and Clack in their new book, “Ask Click and Clack: Answers from Car Talk.” Got a question about cars? Write to Click and Clack in care of this newspaper, or email them by visiting the Car Talk website at www.cartalk.com.

Posted by & filed under News.

By BILL MCLAUCHLAN
www.wheelbasemedia.com
The common belief is that something won’t last very long unless it’s created in a lab. That might be always be the case, but the source material for such parts is quite literally in a liquid state.Cars with bodies and parts made from seaweed and powered by biofuel derived from algae and saltwater could be the wave of the future if a couple of companies have anything to say about it.
Toyota has an ultralight, super-efficient plug-in hybrid vehicle featuring a bioplastic body made from seaweed. According to the company, it could be available inside of 15 years.Automakers are looking for ways to increase the amount of plastic parts in cars as a means to reduce weight and production emissions. Today, steel is still thought to be the best material to crank out cars, but the use of plastic is quickly gaining ground.Even luxury automakers such as BMW and Mercedes-Benz use more plastic in their vehicles ever before . . . and that trend looks like continuing. Demand for bioplastics is expected to hit $100-billion within a couple of years, according to a 2009 USA Today story.One snag, however, is that most plastics today still trace their roots to petroleum.
Conventional petroleum-based plastic products don’t do much to alleviate North America’s dependence on oil, not to mention the associated economic, environmental and geo-political problems that come along for the ride.
That’s some of the thinking behind Toyota’s green vision for the future and the 1/X Concept, so named because its “carbon footprint” is claimed to be a fraction of that of other cars.While not totally new – the 1/X Concept made its public debut at the 2007 Tokyo Motor Show – this “environmentally considerate” hybrid is an interesting spinoff on the original concept.About the same general size as Toyota’s current Prius gas-electric hybrid, the revised 1/X still combines a home-rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack with a 0.5-liter flexible-fuel engine in a drive system that’s about 25 percent of the Prius’s powertrain.A very strong carbon fiber-reinforced plastic (CFRP) frame contributes to the car’s light 926-pound curb weight, less than one-third of the Prius.But the 1/X Concept’s most noteworthy attribute can be seen in bioplastic body panels derived from seaweed. “We used lightweight carbon fiber in the frame for its superior collision safety,” project manager Tetsuya Kaida said of the 1/X. “But that material is made from oil. In the future, I’m sure we will have access to new and better materials such as those made from plants, something natural.”In fact, I want to create such a vehicle from seaweed because Japan is surrounded by the sea.”Kaida added that the 1/X Concept “points the way toward a much more sustainable relationship between humans and the environment. It’s also a direction for a future Prius, two or three generations ahead of the current car.”
Florida-based Algenol Biofuels, working in partnership with Dow Chemicals, has big plans to power such future cars with its proprietary algae-to-ethanol biofuel.Typical corn-based ethanol has been criticized for straining the world’s food supply, contributing to global warming by encouraging the plowing of grasslands and consuming a substantial amounts the annual U.S. corn crop.The Algenol approach solves those problems by producing its ethanol fuel without occupying arable land or consuming feedstocks needed for human or animal consumption, a conflict that has been in the news many times this summer due to drought-ravaged crop yields.All it needs for production is seawater, sunlight and algae.Algenol has launched a demonstration facility at the chemical company’s Freeport, Tex., site where 3,100 algae “bioreactors,” through photosynthesis, convert carbon dioxide and seawater into ethanol (a hydrocarbon), oxygen and fresh water.The bioreactors are 50-foot-long by five-feet-wide troughs covered with flexible plastic (provided by Dow) and filled with about 1,000 gallons of saltwater. The water is then saturated with carbon dioxide to encourage algae growth.Unlike some existing processes that require growing algae and killing it to extract the oil – a time-consuming and expensive business – in the Algenol method the algae aren’t destroyed, so they keep yielding ethanol continuously, holding down costs.Algenol touts 6,000 gallons of ethanol per year per acre at a cost of less than $1 per gallon. By comparison, corn produces about 370 gallons per year per acre while sugar cane accounts for about 890 gallons per acre.With 139 million square miles of ocean covering the earth’s surface, and containing a volume of some 329 million cubic miles, there looks to be no shortage of future fuels from this promising process.


Bill McLauchlin is a veteran feature writer with Wheelbase Media. He can be reached on the Web at www.shiftweekly.com by using the contact link. Wheelbase supplies automotive news and features to newspapers across North America.

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By MALCOLM GUNN
www.wheelbasemedia.com

How do the high-performance Camaro ZL1 coupe and convertible square with General Motors’ greenification program of introducing fuel-sipping electrics, hybrids plus a couple of new ankle-biter sub-compacts?
Well, the eco trend is definitely here to stay, but at the opposite end of oil barrel, GM’s cornerstone division isn’t neglecting its involvement in the muscle/ponycar bracket. Although relatively small, the pedal-to-the-metal-gunfighter class remains unequivocal in its No Imports Allowed policy. And in this club the numero uno bylaw states that horsepower rules and absolute horsepower power rules absolutely, or at least until another club member ups the ante and overthrows the leader.
Until the ZL1 came along, the top Camaro was the 426-horsepower SS. It was no slouch, but it was outgunned against the refreshed Dodge Challenger SRT8 392 with a 470-horsepower 6.4-liter “Hemi”engine. And there was the Ford Mustang-based Shelby GT500 and its 550-horsepower 5.4-liter supercharged V8. With bragging rights on the line, you just had to know that Chevrolet would eventually retaliate.
The ZL1 response evokes memories of a highly revered name (an engine option order number, actually) from 1969 that Camaro followers have likely read about, although few have viewed up close. Chevrolet built a mere 69 copies, with many of those being employed by professional drag racers.
The original all-aluminum ZL1 racing engine reportedly produced in excess of 500 horsepower, which was an off-the-scale number back in 1969. The 2013 edition’s supercharged 6.2-liter V8 – a variation of the engines found in the Corvette ZR1 and Cadillac CTS-V –  is mated to a six-speed manual transmission or six-speed automatic, believe it or not, and dynos at 580 horsepower and 556 pound-feet of torque. This makes it the most powerful production Camaro ever built and, Chevrolet proclaims, will be the most powerful Chevy droptop ever.
The ZL1 constitutes much more than just unbridled horsepower, but represents a thoroughly sorted out performance platform where nearly every component has been beefed up or completely redesigned to handle the engine’s hefty output. Today it’s no longer now about straight-line drag racing (although sub-four-second runs to 60 mph are doable), but rather it’s about constructing a car that’s highly competent on the street as well as on road-racing courses where numerous owners will stretch the ZL1′s legs.
Both driver and their front passenger should have no problems stretching out inside the Camaro’s generously sized cabin with its power-adjustable heated leather seats with grippy suede-like inserts. They’ll also appreciate the sounds from either the Boston Acoustics audio system, or the dual-mode exhaust system that becomes freer flowing (and louder) when the driver opens the taps a bit.
The ZL1′s exterior displays a unique front air intake and a lightweight aluminum and carbon fiber hood. Its built-in extractors help direct airflow over the car for added road-hugging downforce. Other visuals include vertical fog-light pods that double as intakes to channel cool air to the massive Brembo-brand brakes. The package is only partially visible through the 20-inch forged-aluminum wheels supported by ZL1-specific Goodyear tires.
The specialized hardware extends to the suspension that uses GM’s Magnetic Ride Control, which uses special shock dampers that constantly vary the degree of firmness, according to road and driving conditions. There are also Tour (soft) and Sport (firmer) settings that the driver can dial in. Most of the remaining suspension components have either been strengthened or swapped out and that extends to the driveshaft, axles and the heavy-duty limited-slip differential.
With a base price of $54,350 plus destination charges, a ZL1 coupe will cost about $20,000 more than a Camaro SS. That might seem steep, but it’s similar to the cost of a Shelby GT500 and Dodge Challenger SRT8.
Of course, Ford has already responded by pushing the GT 500′s horespower to 662 – that’s up 112 from the previous model – while Dodge is left to contemplate whether it wants to join in.
Regardless of who has the horsepower bragging rights, the ZL1 is more car than most people will ever use in around-town driving, but it’s nice to know you “can” if you want to, isn’t it?
What you should know: 2012 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1
Type: Two-door, rear-wheel-drive coupe and convertible
Engine (hp): 6.2-liter OHV V8,supercharged (580)
Transmission: Six-speed manual; six-speed automatic (opt.)
Market position: A horsepower and sales war of sorts exists between the three main domestic protagonists for supremacy in the so-called “ponycar” category, with the new Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 firing the latest shot.
Points: A lot of power, yes, but living with a detuned Corvette engine is tough to swallow; No exotic Euro-style twin-clutch transmissions here, only six-speed manual gearbox; Spacious front-seat space; tight fit for adults in back; Convertible ZL1 should prove popular; Stop watching the gas gauge and just go out and have some fun; Question:how long will this kind of performance go on before it’s legislated out of existence?
Safety: Front airbags; side-impact airbags; side-curtain airbags (except convertible); anti-lock brakes; traction control; stability control.
MPG (city/hwy): 19 combined (est.); Base price (incl. destination): $56,550
By comparison
Mustang Shelby GT500
Base price: $49,600
Well turned-out high-performance coupe or convertible is ZL1′s main rival.
Dodge Challenger SRT8
Base price: $45,400
A Mopar fan favorite that’s no slouch in the power department.
Cadillac CTS-V coupe
Base price: $65,400
Great-looking, ultra-quick Caddy that shares its powerplant with the ZL1.

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By AARON COLE, for Utah Rides

2013 Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport
Icon like no other

Audrey Hepburn is an icon.

Ask anyone born before the Reagan administration and they’ll tell you as much. They’ll rattle off lines from “Sabrina,” mention “Roman Holiday,” and inevitably the conversation turns to “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”

The Chevrolet Corvette is an American icon.

Ask anyone born before the Reagan administration and they’ll rattle off the paint colors available on ‘Vettes from the sixties, the beautiful lines from the 50’s convertibles and the quarter-mile times of the 427s and Stingrays drag racing through their dreams at night.

But nostalgia has a way of distorting reality. The cache of history gets checked at the parking lot of car shows. After that, Holly Golightly better Holly Gofast or she’s not selling cars anymore.

It’s hard to believe that the 2013 Chevrolet Grand Sport is a car that would have been on a designer’s table around the same time the Backstreet Boys were still boys.

The current generation Corvette’s grand hips, grander tires and grander-still powerplant are stuff that engineers who are making cars a decade later still have a tough time figuring out. Consider this: The Grand Sport’s 6.2-liter pushrod V8 produces 430 horsepower — 436 with an optional exhaust like our tester — and 424 ft.-lbs. of torque from a block that’s almost 20 years old. (Never mind that the same engine canvas can paint a more violent version of horsepower in the Z06 Corvette that has horsepower figures reserved for exotics; 638 to be exact.)

Despite the C6’s — fanboy short code for “sixth-generation Corvette” — long-in-the-toothiniess, the 2013 Corvette can certainly hold its own on paper today. The Grand Sport we tested had vitals like 0-60 mph in about 4 seconds, skid pad adhesion around 1g — more from stickier rubber — and a nominal 51/49 weight distribution for when Grecian 5 hits turn five.

(That’s not to say all Corvette owners are old men, they just play that role really well.)

I’ve actually had the pleasure of taking the Grand Sport around a racetrack and I can affirm that the Grand Sport — a factory-fresh, nearly base model — has more than enough power. In fact, the only difference between the Corvette and Corvette Grand Sport models are some wider body parts, bigger tires, breaks and a taller spoiler — no under-the-hood mods whatsoever. Magnetorheological suspension even appears on both. Base-model blues don’t apply to Corvettes.

Thusly, the Grand Sport will in fact ruin one’s confidence that they would ever become a competent racecar driver. Mash on the fun pedal hard enough and the back end will move regardless of how many times you’ve watched “Days of Thunder.” Turn off traction control and it’s easier to splash its rear-end than if you did a cannonball off the 40-meter high dive. To recap:

The Corvette is a serious screamer — regardless of how many facelifts you’ve seen behind their steering wheels in the past. And the outside is a great place to be if you own a Corvette.

The low-slung stance, perfect shape and unmistakable rear end instantly earn more respect than if you had “Karate Champion” tattooed on your forehead.

At stoplights, the Corvette’s roar is audible in 12 time zones. (Even more so with the aforementioned exhaust package.)

Put simply, the Corvette looks like it goes and goes like it looks.

There are the obligatory numbers to mention of course. The base engine achieves gas mileage in the mid-20s, and the base model starts at $49,600 (or $78,485 as tested in Grand Sport Convertible configuration with every optional extra ticked on the price sheet.) I’m guessing both figures matter little to Corvette buyers as those shoppers are likely looking to own a piece of Americana without regard to cost while similarly burning natural resources with similar abandon.

So let’s tackle the beauty mark on this beast: the interior. While the Corvette is every bit the mean machine it looks, the passenger cabin is nearly as unsympathetic as the emotions the exterior sheet metal evoke.

There’s no mistaking that the premise of the Corvette is intact in the 2013 60th anniversary editions: two lawn chairs strapped to a weapon of mass destruction. Aside from stitching on the dash and headrests and aluminum plates on the doorsills, the Corvette shows age on the inside. The windshield heads-up display is an exception to the dated materials on the dash and armrest, and the navigation display in our model is in serious need of a refresh.

Which brings us back to Audrey Hepburn.

It’s hard to forget the classics that the Corvette and Hepburn have offered to audiences and no doubt those performances will inspire generations to follow.

But new faces can pay homage to the past, and the next-generation Corvette is likely be no different.

The 2013 Corvette Grand Sport is unmistakably fun, but it also certainly whets the appetite for new generations to take center stage.

Aaron Cole is a syndicated auto columnist. He knows he’s wrong, but he’d rather hear it from you. Reach him at aaron.m.cole@gmail.com

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ARAFuel costs

Whether it’s shopping for groceries or clothes at the mall, we’re always on the lookout for the best deal. Though it may be through more subtle means, you can apply the same money-saving principals toward other everyday expenses. The money you spend on gas is a perfect example.

By making a few adjustments like changing driving habits and shopping smart, you can make the most out of each gallon you pump into your tank. Here are five tips for getting real and consistent savings at the pump.

● Follow simple maintenance procedures. The most practical way to improve your fuel economy is making sure your tires are inflated properly.  You can find the correct tire pressure for your vehicle on the placard inside of your door, or in your car’s owner’s manual. Using the recommended grade of motor oil can also increase your fuel economy by 1 to 2 percent, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

● Use rewards programs to your advantage. As an example the new ExxonMobil Smart Card, a credit card issued by Citibank, N.A., saves users 6 cents/gallon on Exxon- or Mobil-branded gasoline and diesel fuel when they use the card to purchase at least 45 gallons in a billing cycle. Savings apply from the first gallon up to 100 gallons each qualifying billing cycle, and are reflected as a monthly statement credit. While a few cents may not seem like a lot, the dollars add up quickly over the course of time when you consistently use rewards programs. The ExxonMobil Smart Card can save you up to $72 in one year. You can apply for the ExxonMobil Smart Card at www.exxonmobilcard.com.

● Reduce weight and drag. You might not notice your carrying rack affecting the quality of your ride, but racks and other add-ons to your vehicle cause a lot of drag, taking a big bite out of your fuel efficiency. It pays to take them off when you aren’t using them. Removing extra weight, by cleaning out everything you don’t need that’s stashed in your trunk or car, can also help.

● Watch the way you drive. Most cars travel with highest fuel efficiency in the 50 mph range which begins to drop significantly the faster you go. Keeping your highway speed to the posted speed limit not only keeps you safer, but can greatly improve gas mileage. Aggressive starting and stopping also puts more stress on your engine, and uses more gasoline.

● Technology is your friend. Your mobile GPS unit can help you get where you need to go in the most efficient way possible.

Shopping smart at the pump may be easier than you thought. By putting a few of these simple fuel-saving tips into practice, you can get real and consistent savings.