Will 2008 Be the Year of the Diesel?

For decades, the diesel engine has played the role of ugly stepsister in the internal combustion engine’s Cinderella story. But all that just may change in 2008, when the diesel engine will take center stage as auto manufacturers, anxious to deliver fuel-efficient vehicles for a car-buying public weary of high gasoline prices, will unveil existing diesel models with cleaner engines, as well as new models equipped with efficient diesels.

Volkswagen, which has been delivering cars with diesel engines for years, announced in early January that it will introduce next year a “Clean TDI” diesel engine, which will be dropped under the hood of the 2008 Jetta. The primary goal of the new TDI (turbo direct injection) diesel will be to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions, which it will achieve thanks to a reservoir catalytic converter. According to VW, the Clean TDI will produce 90 percent less nitrogen oxide emissions that present vehicles. The 2.0-liter, four-cylinder diesel engine will meet California emissions standards, which are the most stringent worldwide, VW notes. The car will be sold in early 2008 in all 50 states.

But the 2008 Jetta TDI will be just one of several new diesel-powered vehicles in showrooms next year. Atcoording to reports on the Internet, BMW will be equipping its X5 SUV with a 245-horsepower, direct-injection diesel engine, which will be available in mid-2008 and will get over 30 miles to the gallon on the highway. And reports are that Subaru will be equipping some of its European models with diesel engines, though there’s no definite word whether a diesel-powered Subaru vehicle will be available in North American anytime soon. But given the current trend, we speculate that it’s not a question of if, but when.

Kia takes its Kue

Kia Kue concept

You’ve probably seen the commercials for the recent Kia clearance sale where the sales reps do a little dance and sing “So Long, Farewell” as their vehicles roll out of the dealership. The same song may apply to Kia’s budget-conscious reputation if you suspend your disbelief after seeing the Kue crossover concept at the Detroit Auto Show.

The Korean carmaker certainly turned some heads with the Kue’s streamlined design and 4.6 L, 400 hp V8 engine with 5 speed automatic transmission that you can switch to manual. The 2 door hatchback seats 4 and measures 186 inches from grille to tail. In addition, the hatch in the back has 2 hinged doors that open outward for easy access to storage.

The interior features gray and red trim on the seats with LCD displays on the back of each front seat headrest. Touch pads and motion sensors help passengers control the climate and settings.

Expect the Kue to come out in some form sometime next year. Until then, Kia will need to figure out how to bridge the gap in its automotive evolution.

To learn more about the Kue, check the following links:



– Posted by Taeho Lim

Jaguar Ready For Revolution…Almost


The 2008 XF could represent the most significant departure from previous styling in Jaguar’s history. The question is: is that a good thing? Maybe its time for a fresh start, considering how Jaguar has been plagued by reliability and build quality issues for decades. When Ford Motors bought Jaguar, it was assumed that this acquisition would solve some of those nagging problems. While Ford’s oversight may have eliminated mishaps like wheels falling off and doors not opening for no apparent reason, many feel that their impedance on Jaguar styling has only brought about a new set of nightmares. The Ford design concepts for Jag virtually terrorized the XJ series, as the American automaker tried to retain classic Jaguar touches while building the new cars on what appeared to be Ford Taurus platforms.

However, it is unfair to categorize all Jaguar design problems as products of Ford interference. The British luxury auto manufacturer has always attempted to carry over old styling cues to new models, tightly gripping their illustrious Mark VII past. With the upcoming exit of the S-type, Jaguar has been faced with a tough question: can the old truly be left behind?

The answer? Almost. Jaguar’s design team, led by Ian Callum of DB7 fame, has assembled a very generalized list of the (positive) attributes that makes a Jaguar so special, and cleverly applied them to this unique looking new concept. If you’ve ever seen a Jaguar sedan, you can probably list a few: sleekness, elegance, grace, athleticism, and style. Obviously, the heavily sculpted hood and cat-eye headlight shape will be included. So despite the XF’s very modern look, Jaguar has managed to sneak in some retro touches.

The XF will go to production in 2008, with a slightly more conservative appearance than this exaggerated concept car. Wheels will be an inch smaller, windows will be deeper, and door handles will probably have to be added. Designers plan to use wood trim sparingly for the interior, in favor of a more modern look. The power supply is expected to come from a supercharged 4.2 liter V-8, which generates 420 horsepower and 368 pound-feet of torque. The engine will be mated with a six speed automatic transmission, and all XFs will be rear wheel drive.

The Opel Vectra: An Automotive Automaton

The modern plague of laziness has really gotten out of control. Get this: General Motors is getting set to release a car that drives itself.

The system, currently in development in Russelsheim, Germany, is called Traffic Assist, and its first intended target is the 2008 Opel Vectra, a new family sedan based on the Epsilon 2 (Opel is GM’s largest European subsidiary). The word is that more models on the Epsilon platform, including the Saturn Aura and the Saab 9-3, will be equipped with Traffic Assist within a year or two of the Opel’s release.

The name implies that the system is helping the driver and not doing all of his work, and that’s more or less accurate. It doesn’t literally drive itself, as in without a fanny in the driver’s seat, but it becomes a source of safety by translating what it “sees” through its video processors and an army of computers. And the really fun Autobahn-like stuff will require an attentive pilot, as the system works only below 60 mph.

Lasers, cameras, and of course computers work together to become the driver’s eyes, hands, and feet. It can even “read” road signs and assess painted lane markings on the road and other necessary indicators. The computers work together to signal controls on the throttle, brakes, and steering.

Some cars – newer Volvos, for example – use blind-spot-monitoring camera systems to alert the driver when a vehicle enters the unseen zone. And active cruise control technology is already in use in other cars, such as BMWs, but that system only controls the speed to maintain a safe distance from other cars – it cannot steer the car, as Traffic Assist can. Honda is another carmaker that is developing self-driving technology, although it’s thought not to be as involved as Traffic Assist.

But perhaps it’s not the lazy who will go for this car. Maybe it’s just the typical, harried multitasker we all know well (and probably are ourselves). Imagine being able read the paper in a traffic jam, or apply mascara, or shave, whichever your pre-work routine calls for, in the midst of your highway commute. Too many people do that now in their old-fashioned, human-piloted cars these days anyhow.

The question is begged, though: Will the litigation-laden United States ever approve such technology? I mean, aren’t computers machines, and don’t machines break down? What will make Traffic Assist so trustworthy in this regard? And one more question: If a driverless car is caught speeding, who pays the ticket? Or can the system read speed-limit signs?

Besides, I know that Americans really love their cars, and my thought is that actually driving them is part of the equation. But maybe not. We’ll see if and when Traffic Assist ever makes it to this side of the Atlantic.

Will Chicago’s Big Story Be the BMW Hydrogen 7?

BMW Hydrogen 7

The Volt, Chevrolet’s dual-fuel concept car, was by far the biggest story of the Detroit Auto Show – and it isn’t even scheduled for production for at least two years. With that in mind, it seems likely that the BMW Hydrogen 7 is going to be one of the most buzzworthy exhibits at next month’s Chicago Auto Show.

Built on the Series 7 platform, the Hydrogen 7 has dual fuel tanks, enabling the driver to switch from liquid hydrogen power to ordinary gasoline. Somewhere in between a concept car and a production model, the Hydrogen 7 is being released in a beta-testing limited edition of 100 during the 2007 model year. Yep, that’s 100 total, to be distributed among North America, Europe, and Japan. If you’re not a celebrity or an industry insider, the closest you’re going to come to one of these for a while is at an auto show.

So expect big crowds around the Hydrogen 7 in Chicago. Finding alternatives to good old gasoline is becoming America’s latest obsession; the folks in Regensburg, though, have been working on the hydrogen idea for a while as part of their Clean Energy initiative. Critics point out that, at the moment, the environmental and financial costs of producing the liquid hydrogen fuel outweigh its potential “green advantage”; BMW counters with a visionary (and perhaps a bit high-flown) evocation of “the dream of sustainable mobility,” with forecasts of hydrogen fuel being produced by wind and water power, and the Hydrogen 7 being almost part of the natural cycle.

It’s a lovely thought. And certainly, the BMW Hydrogen 7 puts paid to the notion that a hydrogen-fueled car can’t be produced in the current manufacturing environment. Like the Chevrolet Volt, it offers both an alternative-fuel and conventional-fuel power source, which neatly addresses the “out of juice and out of town” problem faced by the drivers of the last generation of electric cars. The Hydrogen 7 driver who’s far away from a liquid hydrogen fuel source can just keep filling the gas tank as long as necessary, which makes it seem like a more realistic option in our petroleum-junkie world.

But is the Hydrogen 7 really ready for prime time? A Wired magazine road test confirmed that the Hydrogen 7 drives, looks, and feels like a gas-powered car (which is a huge leap forward), but also flagged some fundamental impracticalities of the new vehicle.

Not only is the liquid hydrogen fuel expensive, hard to find, and not really very environmentally friendly or energy-efficient to produce (at the moment, at least), it apparently boils out of the fuel tank at air temperature. This is, of course, because hydrogen is a gas at temperatures above minus 423 degrees Fahrenheit, and even the engineering wizards at BMW can’t design a fuel tank that’s insulated enough to keep the fuel cold enough for more than 17 days.

So, like the Chevy Volt, the Hydrogen 7 is an example of engineering technology that’s a few years ahead of manufacturing capabilities – not to mention economic and commercial infrastructure. It’s a noble experiment nonetheless, and one that will be getting a lot of press over the next several months. If you get to Chicago, check out the Hydrogen 7 and do a little dreaming; maybe reality will be catching up with you soon!

2008 Mercedes-Benz C-Class Debuts

Car lovers worldwide got their first real look at the 2008 Mercedes-Benz C-Class when the car was officially unveiled at a ceremony in Stuttgart, Germany on January 18. Scheduled to go on sale in the U.S. this summer, the C-Class will be offered in two models — a Sport Sedan and a Luxury Sedan. The two models are distinguished by their front grilles, with the Sport Sedan getting the Mercedes star positioned centrally in the grille and the Luxury Sedan receiving the traditional grille treatment, with the Mercedes star mounted on the front of the hood. In addition, the front end of the new C-Class has an accentuated wedge shape that is designed to emphasize the car’s agility and aggressive nature.

The new C-Class will be larger than its predecessor, with more legroom in the rear seats and more hip and shoulder room in the front and back seats. Among its improvements will be a new suspension system called Agility Control, which will automatically control the firmness of the shock absorbers according to driving conditions. Also new will be Agility Control steering and an Agility Control gearshift, which will enable precise shifts. And an Adaptive Brake system borrowed from the S-Class will assist drivers when braking on hills and in wet conditions.

Safety upgrades will also be part of the new C-Class. The car will be equipped with seven airbags, including dual front and side airbags as well as windowbags. In addition, the car’s body shell has been strengthened and the front end has four independently acting impact zones to distribute the force of any impacts around the passenger cell.

Inside, the gauges have been given a sportier look with black dial faces, white markings, orange needles, and silver bezels. The two-tone dashboard and center console have been cast from a single mold. A new multifunction steering wheel provides access to climate and audio controls, and a standard Bluetooth interface enables a mobile phone to be linked wirelessly to the hands-free system. A 6-CD changer and COMAND APS system with DVD navigation and a music server are among the options.

Mercedes sold more than 1.4 million units of the previous C-Class since its redesign in 2000, and there’s no doubt that the venerable German automaker expects to have similar success with the new C-Class when it hits showrooms later this year.

Aston Martin’s Rapide Functionally Elegant

Some cars are loud and boxy. Some are meek and small. But so rarely are they a true work of art. The Aston Martin Rapide, rumored to be ready for release in late 2007 to go head to head with, among others, the Porsche Panamera, absolutely is a piece of art. There is no question in my mind that the Rapide is a much better looking car than the images I’ve seen of the Panamera. Long and sleek, the Rapide looks less like an aerodynamic machine and more like a piece of the wind.

Powered by a 480-bhp V12, the same engine that is in the Aston Martin D89, only upgraded to handle the extra weight, the Rapide should have a top speed of around 180 mph and a 0-60 in the low fives or so, certainly not the fastest car on the market, but it’s not trying to be. What it is trying to be is fast and practical. This is a car for the speed junkie with a family. The four doors give access to the sedan-sized backseat, and a hatchback trunk opens into a massive cargo hold. Lay the back seats down, and you’ve got a space that anyone 6 feet or under could lie down in.

Five meters long, the Aston Martin is all about functionality within the scope of beauty. The doors open up at a 12-degree angle, allowing for easier access to the interior. The rear doors extend a bit over the rear wheels, again providing a bigger opening for ease of access. Access to an interior that coddles and awes. With a mix of wood, aluminum, leather, glass and light all working together to both maximize space and enhance spaciousness, the Rapide’s hand-crafted interior leaves little question as to why Aston Martins are one of the preferred vehicles of one James Bond.

With a pricetag comparable to that of a decent house, the Rapide is certainly not a car for the everyday Joe. But it does acknowledge that even the fabulously wealthy have a need for practicality as well. Their practicality is just hand-made, that’s all.

A Dream Deferred: The Audi Q7 V12 TDI

Audi Q7 V12

Tony Montana once said that “in this country, you gotta make the money first. Then when you get the money, you get the power.” This insight applies perfectly to the Audi Q7 V12 TDI (turbo direct injection) diesel SUV concept, which made its U.S. debut at the 2007 Detroit Auto Show. Expect a hefty price tag for a vehicle that wields unprecedented power in the form of the V12 engine.

This new model has 5 doors, seats 7, and packs 500 horses under the hood while operating with 6 speed automatic transmission. Top speed comes out to 155 mph with fuel consumption maxing out at around 20 mpg. The piezo fuel injectors and turbo direct injection technology reduce emissions, minimize engine noise, and maximize performance.

Perhaps the most eye-popping statistic comes in the acceleration: 0-62 mph in 5.5 seconds. While handling around tight corners may get dicey, top-notch braking helps to compensate. Then again, with the power trip you’ll get when you drive, you may never want to pull up at a red light or pull into your driveway ever again.

One quirky feature comes from the Bluetec system in the engine. This technology uses a special injection system that sprays urea in the exhaust to minimize nitrogen oxide emissions. It just goes to show that in today’s competitive marketplace, sometimes you need to get dirty to stay clean.

So when should we expect to test out the Q7 V12 for ourselves? Its designation as a “concept car” means that no one really knows. Some sources report that we may see a production version in about a year. Until then, Audi leaves us feening for the future.

To learn more, check out the following links:




-Posted by Taeho Lim

Can Lexus Shoehorn A 5.0 Liter V-8 Into the Compact IS?


Should they? Considering the performance capabilities of the current Lexus IS 350, the very idea of an IS 500 sounds a little dangerous. The 2007 Lexus IS 350 boasts 277 horsepower, and races from 0 to 60 mph in just over five seconds. The IS represents the entry level of the Lexus family, and these compact sport sedans could be described as smaller yet increasingly similar relatives of the high-performance Lexus GS series.

The IS 500 was recently spotted road testing in California’s Death Valley. A 500 badge indicates the addition of a V-8 engine that will displace five liters. This translates to a 3500 pound compact sedan powered by a larger engine than the 2006 LX 470 full size SUV. The LX’s 4.7 liter V-8 is currently the largest of any Lexus.

While it has been labeled the “500,” there has still been some dispute as to what the engine will be upon the 2008 release. The comparably enormous V-8 may be impractical for such a small sedan, as it would add considerable front end weight. This extra bulk might be difficult to counterbalance in the rear, and its nimble sport sedan handling would be compromised.

Another possibility may be the Lexus hybrid technology which can currently be found in the GS 450h sedan and RX 400h SUV. Lexus is about to utilize this power plant in the flagship LS series, and more cars are expected to follow. The GS 450h sports sedan is considerably more powerful that its gas-powered counterpart, the GS 430. The 450h has 50 additional horsepower. Thus, Lexus has demonstrated that hybrid drivers don’t have to tolerate frustrating performance.

If the next generation IS does offer a hybrid, it may use the GS 450h’s 3.5 liter V-6, which will then be boosted by an electric motor. Power delivery will be supported by a continuously variable transmission: a computer-controlled system which is freed from gear ratio limitations, allowing for smoother shifts. There is also some speculation that this engine will be paired with the LS’s new eight speed automatic transmission. The IS version will most likely include a paddle-shifter.

The GMC Acadia: A Crossover With Style to Spare

2007 GMC Acadia

One of the grassroots favorites of the Detroit Auto Show was General Motors’ GMC Acadia, one of its three new crossover SUVs built on the innovative Lambda platform. Along with the Buick Enclave and Saturn Outlook, the GMC Acadia combines a low-slung, responsive, unibody chassis with a roomy SUV interior. The Acadia seats up to 8 passengers, and its second and third seats fold down to provide 117 cubic feet of cargo space.

Acadia’s interior feels as spacious as a Chevy Tahoe’s, but it handles much more like a car than a truck. GMC took a significant gamble on the new platform, and the new models based on it: would drivers go for smaller, sleeker crossovers after the “bigger is better” SUV craze of the late 1990s and early 2000s? Based on the feedback from industry critics and Auto Show attendees, the answer is a resounding “Yes!”

It’s easy to give up a bit of size when you can see the savings at the gas pumps. The Acadia’s EPA mileage ratings are 17 mpg city, 24 mpg highway, which is something of a relief for the aching wallets of the fuel-thirsty Tahoe and Yukon owners. And it’s painless to go smaller when you’ve got just as much cabin space and almost as much cargo capacity on your nimble new platform.

And the Acadia apparently drives like a dream. In the words of the Detroit News‘s John McCormick, “…it is so compelling….for taut and responsive driving qualities uncommon in a vehicle of this class.” The buzz is that it has a great turning ratio, tight and solid cornering, and a stop-on-a-dime braking system.

GM was a bit late to the crossover SUV party in the first place, and the two-year engineering delays on the Lambda platform had a lot of industry-watchers apprehensive about whether the General Motors brands would be able to crack this growing market. The GMC Acadia, though, may well have been worth waiting for.

USA Today critic James Healey’s love letter to the Acadia is here. If you want to hear firsthand from Acadia owners, GM’s started a forum.