Suzuki Flix: A Drive-in in the Driveway

It’s not all that unusual for well-to-do movie buffs to have their own home theater for the ultimate in comfortable movie-viewing. But do you know anyone who has a private theater parked in their driveway?

You just may, if the Suzuki Flix concept car ever hits the market. Based on the new generation of the XL7, the Flix incorporates transportation and entertainment into one clever little crossover.

You have to see the photos to believe it: a 40-inch movie screen materializes from the open shell of the roof. Then all four bucket seats swivel to face it for the feature—but if you plan to watch more than trailers you might want to book ahead with your chiropractor.

Of course, if there’s more than four of you in the audience (don’t worry–this car is certain to attract a crowd), you can assure that everyone can see the feature, since the Flix is not just any old player—it’s also a projector.

Yes, a projector! That means that the world is your movie screen, as anything from the side of a barn to a huge snowbank can be the location for your night’s entertainment. Better make some extra popcorn.

Life is good at American Suzuki Motor Corporation, thanks to a highly successful 2006—their best year ever. Sales are up, and the designers there are apparently in a playful mood. The Flix is one of a quartet of concepts in their LIVE series (LIfe VEhicles) of modified SX4s and XL7s built to accommodate various interests. While the Flix obviously caters to movie fans, its XL7 counterpart the BaseCamp is for outdoors enthusiasts, and the SXBox SX4 is for gamers while the Zuk SX4 is aimed toward motorcycle enthusiasts.

The Flix concept is enhanced by efforts to give the car’s interior the look and feel of a contemporary theater–albeit with much more comfortable seating. The deal is sealed with red strip-lighting running along the floor and doors, mimicking the foot-lighting found at the movies.

The hi-def DVD system comes complete with a full speaker system, including pivoting back window speakers, and a hard drive for storing all of the family’s favorite flicks. And you thought you were spoiling your kids back when you opted for that rear-seat DVD player in the minivan.

So the Flix surely is unique, but is it useful? For one thing, the car must be parked for the system to be used, so it still won’t keep the kids quiet on that long drive to Grandma’s. But that’s precisely why it’s a concept car, right? And it has done its part as far as Suzuki is concerned: it brought the company a bit of attention at the North American Auto Show, and who could complain about that?

Stepping It Up: The 2007 Chevy Volt

Hybrids are quickly becoming a dime-a-dozen, and it was just a matter of time before one of the major car companies had to step up and redefine the new direction of vehicular transport. Chevy could well be that company. They haven’t just produced another hybrid; they have created the concept for a plug-in electric car, the 2007 Volt. If everything goes according to the plan Chevy has at this point, the Volt will get 150 miles per gallon (I’ll explain the gallon part). Right now, the Volt only exists as a concept, but Chevy hopes to go ahead with production within the next few years.

The Volt is driven by battery power, a battery that can be recharged by plugging the Volt in. The battery lasts up to about 40 miles, but after that, though, you don’t sputter to a halt, don’t worry. That’s where the gallons come in. A 3-cylinder engine is there to charge the batter again. The engine cannot power the driveshaft, it only recharges the battery when it gets below 30%, shutting off again when the battery reaches 80%. While the engine is running, the Volt should get around 50 miles per gallon.

The 2007 Chevy Volt is designed for people who have a reasonably short commute to work. If your daily travel is under 40 miles, then there should be no reason for you to use any gasoline at all. Even if you do have to go more than 40 miles, the savings on gas would be extraordinary. But Chevy wasn’t simply satisfied with using gasoline. The Chevy Volt is also designed to run on E85, though it could conceivably have just about any power source installed to recharge the battery. In concept, the Chevy Volt is the perfect environmental, fuel efficient vehicle.

Unfortunately, there are some problems. First of all, the 400lb lithium battery that would be used to power the Volt doesn’t exist yet. Chevy designers are betting that within the next 5-10 years, batteries will have reached a point where the Volt can be made. However, it should also be substantially more expensive than other hybrids, perhaps as much as $12,000 more than a comparable regular gasoline car. The idea is the important part, however, and Chevy has come up with a potentially revolutionary concept. I’ll be on the lookout for a production model over the next few years.

2008 Chevy Tahoe Breaks New Ground

Let me say right at the top that I applaud the American automakers for the way they’ve scrambled over the past year or so to turn around lagging sales and deliver cars that buyers want. Just a few short years ago GM, Ford and to a lesser degree Chrysler were sitting on top of the world, turning out gas-guzzling behemoths with big profit margins. But then the fuel crunch kicked in and all of a sudden buyers saw the light. Good-bye, huge SUVs — hello, sensible fuel-efficient sedans, crossovers and boxy little specialty cars like the Scion and Element.

But then again, this is still America, and many Americans still like their cars big. (There’s a side question here — can a big vehicle truly be efficient and eco-friendly? But we’ll set that aside for the moment.) So it makes perfect sense that Detroit would figure out a way to design fuel-efficient SUVs. Case in point: The Chevy Tahoe Hybrid, which goes on sale later this year as a 2008 model.

There’s no doubt that the Tahoe Hybrid is a big vehicle, but it manages to achieve a 25 percent improvement in fuel economy, when compared to the standard Tahoe, thanks to a two-mode full hybrid propulsion system, which GM designed in collaboration with BMW and DaimlerChrysler. As the engine’s description indicates, the Tahoe Hybrid can operate in two modes. The first mode is low speed, at which the Tahoe can operate with an electric motor only or in a combination of the electric motor and a Vortec V8 gas-powered engine. For the second mode, at highway speeds or when towing, passing or climbing a hill, the SUV switches to a primarily gas-engine operation. The second mode adds Active Fuel Management and other systems to further improve fuel efficiency. A controller shifts between the two modes depending on driving conditions.

The electric motor operates on a 300-volt battery pack, which is somewhat larger than a traditional battery. The battery pack is charged by the Tahoe’s gas engine, so there’s no need to plug it in.

The Tahoe achieves additional fuel effiency thanks to its aerodynamic styling and the fact that it’s lowered 10 millimeters, as well as its aero-efficient wheels (and no, we’re not making any of this up). Special badging will clearly identify the Tahoe as a hybrid. No pricing has been set yet.

Welcome back, Dodge! The 2008 Dodge Viper

In my overview of the 2006 Dodge Viper SRT10, I asked the question “Is there no limit to the amount of horsepower that Dodge can cram into the Viper?” And after taking a year off from the Viper to go take a look at the drawing board see what they could erase, rethink, and redesign, Dodge gave me an answer. “No!” Viper enthusiasts have always demanded more power from their vehicular idol. Dodge has always delivered, this time by adding a staggering 90 horsepower to the Viper’s now 8.4-liter V-10 engine, for a total of 600. This throws the gauntlet back at Chevy, whose Corvette (which the Viper has been competing with for years), only has a measly 505hp.

Having that many horses galloping under one hood produces a lot of residual heat, and the hood was redesigned with larger scoops to remove this excess heat. Quite a bit in the Viper changed to make the engine more efficient, while improving the performance. The 2008 Dodge Viper SRT actually meets California’s Low Emission Vehicle Standards, a huge step for those of us who are environmentally minded. Introduced to the Viper line is a twin-disc clutch, replacing the older single disc, which makes the clutch actually easier to use and feel. The new TR6060 transmission also brings more torque to the Viper, and creates less shifter movement, again, making driving this monster easier.

So what exactly does 600hp give you? Well, I think it is rather obvious to say that the 0-60mph time is a ways under 4 seconds, perhaps even in the mid-3s. The 0-100-0mph is under 12 seconds and (I like this one), the 60-0mph stop distance is under 100 feet. A top speed doesn’t seem to have been released, but honestly, can close to 200mph really be improved on that much by an internal combustion engine?

Scheduled for release in the summer of this year (2007), the 2008 Dodge Viper SRT10 will be available both as the Coupe and as the Roadster Convertible. The Coupe, because of its more rigid body, will function better at the high speeds were not allowed to reach on the road in the new (or any) Viper. It also has a little more than 6 cubic feet more trunk space than the Roadster (for a grand total of 14.65), a nice bonus, though in the grand scheme of the Viper, probably not high on a priority list for a potential buyer. Which I am not, both because I couldn’t afford the hefty price tag (hey, I write for a living) and because I am quite certain that 600hp is too much car for me to handle. As Dodge keeps making this beast more and more powerful, they should seriously start thinking about classes for future owners, to learn how to control 600hp.

Check out some of these links:

A video from Motortrend Magazine about the 2008 Dodge Viper at the 2007 Detroit Auto Show

A press release from Dodge about the 2008 Dodge Viper SRT10

Hyundai Raises Hellion

Hyundai Hellion

No one denies that South Korea has Seoul. But does Hyundai have the drive to build on its reputation as an international industry leader? After making an impressive debut at the 2006 L.A. Auto Show, the Hellion sport utility crossover concept car provides some insight into just how far the Korean automaker will go to maintain its momentum heading into the next decade.

Hyundai has come a long way since the days when David Letterman poked fun at the defective Excel on the Late Show. The Hellion displays an unconventional frame design that most observers describe as a thick golden skin stretched over three prominent ribs. Other features include tail lights that stick out like aerodynamic fins, a removable camouflage top, and built-in reservoirs to hold drinking water. The drop down LCD monitor and wireless Internet access provide more modern alternatives to simply scoping the scenery outside your window. When you want to step outside and explore, grab a detachable in-seat backpack and make like Magellan.

As for performance, the Hellion uses a 3.0 L, 236 hp V6 common rail diesel engine with 6 speed automatic transmission and 4 wheel drive.

Overall, the Hellion’s unconventional design and unique extras have left some observers scratching their heads. Others appreciate that an established company can get progressive in ways no one could have imagined. In any event, look for many of these elements to make their way into a Hyundai sometime soon.

For more info, check out the following links:

– Posted by Taeho Lim

Chevrolet Volt Plugs Into the Zeitgeist

Chevy Volt Concept 2007

So far, there’s one superstar of this year’s Detroit Auto Show. The press and industry previews of the high-profile exposition (whose organizers actually want you to call it “The North American International Auto Show”) are drawing to an end tomorrow, and the doors will open to the general public starting on Saturday. There are a lot of shiny new launches and fascinating concept cars–some of them written up here, and some we’ll be talking about in the weeks to come. But there’s one big headline: PLUG-IN CAR!

GM has done something very right here. The Volt concept is classy-looking and a little futuristic with its high roofline and expanses of glass. In contrast to the pointy, angular origami of so many of the concept cars we’ve been seeing this year, the Volt is sleek, curvilinear, aerodynamic-looking. It looks like it’s whooshing along a highway even when it’s standing still. Based on a platform similar to the Cobalt’s, the Volt is low-slung and sporty and yet somehow comfortably solid-looking.

It’s not the look of the Volt concept that’s making it the buzz of Detroit, though–it’s what’s under the hood. Or, rather, it’s what’s going to be under the hood. The fundamental idea is something GM calls the “E-Flex System”: basically, it’s a variety of different alternative powerplant systems that can go into the same models. To quote GM’s press release: Jon Lauckner, GM vice president of Global Program Management, said the Volt is uniquely built to accommodate a number of advanced technology propulsion solutions that can give GM a competitive advantage.

“Today’s vehicles were designed around mechanical propulsion systems that use petroleum as their primary source of fuel.” Lauckner said. Tomorrow’s vehicles need to be developed around a new propulsion architecture with electricity in mind. The Volt is the first vehicle designed around GM’s E-flex System.

That’s why we are also showing a variant of the Chevrolet Volt with a hydrogen-powered fuel cell, instead of a gasoline engine EV range-extender, said Lauckner. Or, you might have a diesel engine driving the generator to create electricity, using bio-diesel. Finally, an engine using 100-percent ethanol might be factored into the mix. The point is, all of these alternatives are possible with the E-Flex System.

This is all fine and good, but what was drawing crowds in Detroit was the concept Volt that was on display–one designed to have a plug-in lithium ion battery supplemented by a 1.0 liter, 3-cylinder turbocharged engine that runs on an 85% ethanol, 15% gasoline fuel blend. According to GM, the Volt could go 150 miles on just one six-hour charge and gallon of fuel; uncharged, the Volt would get 50 miles per gallon as it ran in hybrid mode.

Sounds like a dream, right? Well, there’s at least one catch. The kind of large lithium ion battery the Volt would need to work as designed doesn’t actually exist yet. GM’s confident, though, that the batteries will be out and in production by 2012 at the latest, and their goal is to ship Volts for the 2012 model year.

I love the idea of a “plug and play” approach to power plants, and I’m impressed by GM’s elegant solution to the dilemma ahead. I don’t know if we’ll actually ever see a Volt that we plug in and charge overnight like a cell phone or laptop, but it’s a great concept. And a smart PR move by GM in a year that’s seen too little good automotive news–especially from Detroit.

Down-to-Earth Subaru Unveils 2008 Outback, Legacy

This is a pretty exciting week for auto aficianodos, what with all the cool new concept vehicles being rolled out at the Detroit Auto Show (officially the North America International Auto Show). But in amongst all the futuristic, shoot-for-the-moon, run-on-anything-but-oil concept vehicles that are getting all the buzz and headlines this week are a great many real-world, down-to-earth vehicles that are being shown for the first time. And here’s the really interesting point — these are cars we’ll actually be able to drive. Case in point: The 2008 Subaru Outback and Legacy sedan, which debuted earlier this week in Detroit and which will be in showrooms this summer.

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The Chrysler Nassau Concept Car: A Beautiful Bird

Chrysler Nassau Concept Car

What would George Jetson choose to drive? Lack of hovering ability aside, could the Chrysler Nassau be futuristic enough for him?

DaimlerChrysler AG has just revealed this concept car at the 2007 Detroit Auto Show as a potential successor to the 300 sedan. (It’s worth noting that when the car now known as the 300 was in its concept stage it was also called the Nassau. Hmmm.) The 300 is due for a well-timed remaking in 2010; sales have been strong since its 2004 release but are now slightly declining.

You’d think a car with a 120-inch wheelbase would look big, but this one really doesn’t–at least not from the outside. Its body design limits overhang to keep up an illusion of compactness, but sit inside it and you’d feel how roomy it truly is. There’s ample legroom to accommodate your biggest moon-walking boots, and Jane Jetson would be able to fit her full week’s groceries in the hatched cargo area’s ample space.

Speaking of space, the interior of this thing is reportedly reminiscent of a rocket ship – not that I know anyone who reminisces about rocket ships, since I don’t know anyone who’s ever sat in one. Just humor me for a minute, though, and let your imagination take you there, too.

The elongated, oversized headlights and taillights catch the eye and help transport one to the future. Inside, stainless steel and aluminum interior accents add to the future-modern look. The instrument panel and controls reflect the designs of modern devices such as the cellphone and iPod, items that are ubiquitous accessories for the Nassau’s youthful target market. The instrument cluster intentionally calls to mind a pricey wristwatch, something the buyer of this car will probably own. What Chrysler designers seek to achieve is a seamless transition between the driver’s time spent in the car and the rest of his daily life. Even the vents are camouflaged (as I’m guessing they are in rocket ships), if only to keep the occupants from having to think about them, thus interrupting their busy lives.

Chrysler spokesmen have said that the car’s design was inspired by the works of a sculptor named Constantin Brancusi who worked in Paris in the early 20thcentury. His pieces shared a common theme of birds in flight, a concept that synchs well with Chrysler’s iconic wings. Now that they mention it, when you look at the Nassau head-on it’s not that hard to envision the hood as a raptor’s beak. And that field of pillar-free glass on either side, interrupted only by the subtle demarcation between front and rear windows, does call to mind a pair of wings held back flush. Show me a picture of the Nassau with its front doors open and I’ll let you know if I think it resembles a gliding avian.

As futuristic as the rest of the car may be, the grille is certainly familiar: the Nassau is a Chrysler, no doubt about it–although this fine-lined grille is more subtly rendered. Naturally, a car of the future will have modern-day features, as this one does. One of those amenities, the pair of video screens mounted in the backs of the front headrests for the backseat passengers (Judy and Elroy?), lends a clue that the car as it is would also be marketed to families of four–such as the Jetsons.

So then, what would Chrysler call it, a family sedan? They could, but it’s not really a sedan—it’s a hatchback. There’s also no room for Passenger #5, as the back consists of two bucket seats, to maximize comfort. Putting high priority on passenger comfort is one way in which the Nassau aims to be like an SUV, road-clearance and cargo-space differences aside.

Now let’s get back to that rocket ship. The rear-wheel drive Nassau concept car reportedly rolls from 0 to 60 in 5 seconds on its 22-inch wheels, with a top speed of 165 miles per hour. OK, maybe that’s not quite space-travel territory, but who’s planning a trip outside of our atmosphere anyway? In any case, the secret weapon behind those stats is a 6.1-liter Hemi V8, and you couldn’t ask for more than that for travel here on good ol’ Earth.

So that’s how the Nassau shapes up: a package of power, style, space, and comfort. If it were to be released soon, there’s no telling how it would fare. For one thing, its Generation Y target market is currently stuck on the retro concept, not ultra-modern. But maybe that will have changed by the time the Chrysler Nassau – or whatever they’ll be calling it then – sees sunlight. Perhaps then I should be asking instead, What would young Elroy Jetson drive? Could be this is not his dad’s crossover after all.

VW Rocs the Boat: The 2009 Iroc

My high school physics teacher used to introduce the chapter on kinetic energy with stories about his Volkswagen Jetta. More specifically, he emphasized the slow crawl his little wagon made on its daily journey to and from school.

Unfair or not, he shaped my opinion of the Volkswagen brand: slow, plodding, and played-out. Probably the kind of car I would get after I’d gotten over my midlife crisis.

Volkswagen chairman Wolfgang Bernhard has made a bold move to make my generation reconsider our collective perspective with the 2009 Iroc Coupe. Originally dubbed the Scirocco in its initial incarnation 33 years ago, the new model brings the same viper green exterior and aggressive attitude as its celebrated predecessor. Industry experts agree that the Iroc should help Volkswagen reclaim its status as an innovative franchise that the youth can appreciate.

Early reports tell us that the Iroc should have 18″ wheels and 3 different options for engines: a 1.4 L, 210 hp 4 cylinder Twincharger, a 2.0 L, 240 hp 4 cylinder, and a 3.6 L, 280 hp V6. The new coupe will seat 4 and offer around 10.6 cubic feet of cargo space. As for the exterior, the Iroc will feature smoothly sloping angles, a prominent yet refined grille, and dark tinted glass spanning the roof and windshield.

Some hardliners may ultimately choose not to set aside their preconceived notions about Volkswagen’s pedestrian image. Others may discover that this new model constitutes an exciting introduction to an evolving lineup. We’ll have our chance to find out for ourselves when the Iroc hits North America in late 2008. In any event, VW has made this much clear about its latest project: this ain’t your physics teacher’s Jetta.

For more info, check the following links:

– Posted by Taeho Lim

Tantalizing! Sporty! Hatch-eriffic!

Opel Corsa OPC

Opel just announced its sporty new hatchback, the Opel Corsa OPC, and I am jealous. The high-powered hatch has a turbocharged 1.6 liter, four-cylinder engine that puts out 192 horsepower, and, according to Opel’s press release, can go from zero to 100 kph (that’s 62 mph American) in just 6.8 seconds. Its top speed is 225 kph/140 mph.

That’s a lot of power for a car that size. The design of the OPC is also influenced by Opel’s racing and performance car traditions: instead of a suburban econobox, the OPC looks pretty jazzy. Recaro sports seats with integrated side airbags provide both style and security; a super-cool cockpit design seems guaranteed to make every driver feel like Emma Peel or James Bond. The Corsa OPC will be sold in England as the Vauxhall Corsa VXR, and it is expected to do well there, as well as on the Continent.

So why can’t we Yanks get a powerful, high-performance, sporty little hatchback like this over here? I love my hatchback. My hatchback makes my life easier. Yet I wish I could have something that had a little more zing, a little more “just came from the racetrack” than “just came from the PTA meeting”. Has the cult of the SUV meant that the US carmakers don’t think anyone wants both performance and functionality? European sales figures suggest otherwise.

The new Opel Corsa OPC/Vauxhall Corsa VXR will be launched at the Geneva Motor Show in March. Perhaps it’s just as well that I won’t be there to see it; I wouldn’t want my new car-crush to get any further out of hand.