Category Archives: Automotive

Take the dashboard with you

As cars become more connected, a range of clever apps to interact with them has popped up. BMW offers up a clever personal assistant, and Volvowill let you lock your car, check the fuel level and activate the heating using an Apple Watch. Now, Volkswagen will let you keep track of all servicing using the (inventively named) My Volkswagen app.

At its core, the My Volkswagen app is all about keeping a handle on what’s happening in your car. Families with multiple VW cars in their garage are able to see all their vehicles in the one place, and even track cars that haven’t arrived as they progress from the factory to the dealer and, eventually, their driveway.

The real benefit of a system like this comes when it’s time to get the car serviced. Rather than having to consult the service book to work out when it’s time for a service, the app is able to keep a detailed log of all services and government checks carried out on the car in its history. Buyers can also use the app to book services, and receive warnings about when the car might need a check up based on mileage driven.

Once the car has been booked in, owners are able to see the car making its way through the workshop, and can approve work on any problems found during the service or, if they’re feeling a little stingy, tell the dealer to put it off until next time.

Of course, all of this benefits Volkswagen as well: the service department is a great money spinner for dealerships, and making it easier for people to book and visit authorised local service departments makes them less likely to get work done at the little garage around the corner.

Highlights from the 2017 Chicago Auto Show

The annual Chicago Auto Show is the most consumer-driven of the automotive spectacles that happen in the United States. Always fun to visit, the CAS also has more floor space and ride-and-drive events included than any other show. This year, along with blacked-out trim packages, famous race cars and new reveals, there was also something for Star Wars and Lego fans.

The 2017 Chicago Auto Show officially opened to the general public on Saturday, February 11. Here’s what you can look forward to if you attend CAS this year.

The Chicago show isn’t well-known as a big showcase for manufacturer’s new wares or concepts. Those are usually left for the Detroit and New Yorkshows and, more and more, the Consumer Electronics Show. Tucked in between these shows, CAS tends towards the consumer rather than the “wow!” Yet there are still some surprises in store.

Notably this year, Nissan unveiled its latest (and last) version of the Titan XD pickup truck that’s been trickling out over the past year or so. This one is a king cab configuration, ready for the jobsite or the driveway. With the expected suicide door configuration popular in this cab style, the king cab finishes the gamut of cab options for the Titan, which now span the regular (single), king, and crew (four-door) options. Nissan has finally made the Titan into a complete offering in the full-sized truck market.

Also unveiled were some special Mopar editions of the Dodge Challenger sports coupe. The Challenger is now Dodge’s premier sports car and is also the most-modified car by Mopar, the company’s tuning arm. Celebrating 80 years of muscle, the special edition Mopar Challenger is a big deal to Dodge.

Mercedes-Benz hit the Chicago Auto Show in force, covering the floor with work vans of all types. Unveiled at the show was a new Metris Mastersolutions Toolbox, a Mercedes van kitted out to look like a giant toolbox for kids. We fully expect to see scale versions of these on a toy store shelf soon.

the next family Expedition smarter and lighter

They might have a reputation for being thirsty old dinosaurs, but big family four-wheel drives are getting smarter with every generation. The new Ford Expedition has grown in every direction, but an aluminum-intensive body and smarter powertrain options mean it uses less fuel, tows more weight and handles better than before.

Although it shares an EcoBoost badge with the current car, the new Expedition drops the old twin-turbo V6 for the smarter second-generation EcoBoost V6 found in F-Series trucks. It makes 375 hp (280 kW) and 637 Nm (470 lb.ft) of torque in that application, but given the different roles of the two cars, you can expect those figures to change slightly when Ford unveils the full spec. The new engine is hooked up to a 10-speed automaticgearbox, which is more capable with a load on the back thanks to short bottom ratios, but more efficient on the highway thanks to its three overdrive gears.

Efficiency benefits aside, the new powertrain should also be more capable off-road when it’s hooked up to the optional electronic limited-slip differential and smart four-wheel drive system. Drivers are able to choose the type of terrain they’re on using a console-mounted rotary controller, and the car will automatically set itself up to tackle it, shuffling power to where it’s most needed in just a fraction of a second. According to Ford, more than half of all Expedition owners value towing, and 15 percent tow weekly or monthly, so adding the new Pro Trailer Backup Assist system was also a logical step. Then again if you’re towing that often, maybe it’s worth learning how to reverse a trailer?

CNG trucks can go the distance

elivery trucking is a dirty business, but the companies that rely on it are working to clean things up. Along with the push toward electric trucks and vans, compressed natural gas (CNG) is emerging as a useful alternative to our reliance on diesel power. In the UK, Scania has created a fleet of biomethane fueled trucks for Waitrose, which is looking to reap the rewards with lower running costs and less emissions.

To make sure the trucks can stand up to the rigours of delivery driving, Scania has collaborated with American firm Agility Fuel Solutions. The fuelling system relies on two 26-inch carbon fiber tanks, which store enough gas to cover between 300 and 500 miles (483 and 805 km) without refuelling. The biomethane – which is up to 40 percent cheaper than diesel and emits 70 percent less C02 – is stored at 250 bar of pressure, 25 percent higher than conventional CNG vehicles like the Audi A3 g-tron.

The clever tanks are already in use in America, but the fleet of Waitrose lorries is the first to make use of them in Europe. They’ve been adapted and certified for European roads, and save a claimed 500 kg (1,102 lb) in weight compared to the eight steel tanks used in most CNG trucks at the moment. They also hold more gas than a conventional setup, which makes for greater range.

Each truck is around 50 percent more expensive than a regular diesel truck, but Waitrose is expecting to save between £15,000 and £20,000 (US$18,800 and $25,100) on diesel each year, meaning the extra cost should have been recuperated within three years. The trucks are expected to run for around eight years, which means the supermarket is expecting to save £75,000 to £100,000 ($94,100 to $125,400) over their life. Compared to a diesel, each truck will help save more than 100 tonnes of C02 every year.

“High pressure carbon-fibre fuel tanks demolish the ‘range anxiety’ concerns that have made many hauliers reluctant to move away from diesel to CNG,” says Philip Fjeld, CEO of CNG Fuels. “Renewable biomethane is far cheaper and cleaner than diesel, and, with a range of up to 500 miles, it is a game-changer for road transport operators.”

Pop top camper bus with accessorized Atlas

The Chicago Auto Show starts on Thursday, and Volkswagen will brighten up midwinter in the Windy City with a taste of summer road-tripping. The Weekend Edition concept adds some strategic accessories to the new Atlas SUV, transforming it into a shuttle set for family recreation and adventure with room to pack the kids, gear, suitcases and even the family dog up for a long weekend on the road.

Revealed last October, the new Atlas will hit US roads this spring. Volkswagen is marketing it as an active lifestyle vehicle that it hopes inspires people to “live a life as big as their imaginations,” and the Weekend Edition better illustrates what it means, for those that might not have the biggest imaginations.

The Weekend Edition designation recalls the “Weekender” packages once offered on classic Vanagon and Eurovan pop-up campers. Unfortunately, the Atlas package doesn’t get a true pop-up roof or overnighting amenities of its own, but it does get a distinctive roof box that Volkswagen imagines as a modern version of the pop-up roof.

The Urban Loader cargo box looks like a hard-shell roof-top tent, but it only provides space for resting gear and cargo, not resting campers. The box expands to offer up to 17.7 cu ft (501 L) of storage for whatever bits and pieces are required for the trip.

If VW really wanted to pay tribute to its classic pop-tops, it might have opted for a modern roof-top tent-cum-cargo box, such as the Tepui White Lightning or Roost, offering flexible space for sleeping campers and hauling recreational gear. But we guess such a tent wouldn’t provide enough sleeping space for the full Atlas-load of passengers, so it was probably right in just sticking with a pure cargo box.

The Urban Loader cargo box can also be removed, and the crossbars used to carry skis, kayaks, bikes and other large gear. Side steps help occupants access whatever’s riding up top.

GT Sport is a hot i30 by any other name

Hyundai has used the Chicago Auto Show to unveil its newest play at American hatchback supremacy. Europeans might know it as the i30 but Hyundai likes to do things differently in the US, launching the warmed-over Elantra GT Sport with a 200 hp (149 kW) engine and purist-pleasing six-speed manual gearbox. The Golf GTI won’t be losing any sleep, but the good-looking warm hatch bodes well for the incoming i30N.

When it came time for the team at Hyundai America to turn the regular European i30 into the hotter Elantra GT Sport, the formula was relatively simple. Rather than running with the range-topping 138 hp (103 kW) 1.4-liter turbo on offer elsewhere, the GT Sport is fitted with a 1.6-liter turbo punching out 201 hp (150 kW) of power and 265 Nm of torque. Sure, they’re not full “hot hatch” numbers, but they make the car a more practical hatchback alternative to the VW Jetta GLI or Hyundai’s own Elantra Sport.

Power is put to the road through a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox, but purists (and those with restless left legs) will want the six-speed manual.

Of course, for the Elantra GT Sport to be considered a true member of the warm hatch club, it will need to know how to handle a set of corners. It certainly seems like Hyundai has done everything it can to make that happen – gone is the torsion beam rear end from standard cars, and in its place is a fully-independent multilink setup. Combined with the stiffer, lighter new body and bigger brakes, the Sport should be able to get up and dance when the driver demands it.

Paris collectible car auctions

The Paris round of collector car auctions begins later this week, and in close to a perfect setting, the three tier 1 auctions are just some of Retromobile’s many highlights. The auctions run February 8 (RM-Sothebys), February 9 (Bonhams) and February 10 (Artcurial) and though the auction world record price won’t be under threat this year as it was last, some very important and wonderfully storied automobiles will grace the auction block this week.


1 – Nuvolari’s Scuderia Ferrari Alfa Romeo Tipo B P3

Estimate: €3.8 to €5.0 million (US$4.1 to $5.4 million) | Auction Link

Look closely at this rare 1934 Alfa Romeo and on the bonnet you’ll see the Prancing Horse logo made famous by Ferrari Scuderia. More than a decade before Enzo Ferrari started making cars under his own name, he ran his own race team and became the pseudo Alfa Romeo works team. The car is an Alfa Romeo Tipo B P3, one of just seven built, the first single seater in Grand Prix racing, briefly dominant in it’s time, and the first to appear at auction for a decade.The car is even more significant when you realize it was campaigned by Scuderia Ferrari, and driven by Tazio Nuvolari, the pre-war equivalent of Juan Manuel Fangio and a contender for the best driver of all time. That’s Nuvolari below, with Enzo Ferrari seated on the pit apron. Understanding the celebrity status enjoyed by Nuvolari during the 1930s is difficult today, but in Europe he was a household name spoken with great reverence for his regular extraordinary feats of bravery and win-at-all-costs madness.

Many decades of his own team’s Grand Prix success, Enzo Ferrari still regarded Nuvolari as one of the best ever, proffering the names Tazio Nuvolari and Sterling Moss as the best he had seen. Ferdinand Porsche called Nuvolari “the greatest driver of the past, the present, and the future” and he was once described by leading Grand Prix driver Achille Varzi as “the boldest, most skilful madman of all.” There is no record of when Varzi made that famous quote, but as an off-track friend, sometimes team-mate and eternal on-track rival of Nuvolari, he bore witness to many of the legendary Nuvolari exploits.

F1-for-the-fans tells the story of the 1930 Mille Miglia, where Nuvolari led the race on time but was behind Varzi on the road: “In the dark of night Nuvolari tailed Varzi for tens of kilometres, at speeds up to 150 km/h (93 mph) with his headlights off, thereby being invisible in Varzi’s rear-view mirrors; ultimately switching on his headlights just before overtaking ‘the shocked’ Varzi near the finish at Brescia and scoring the event’s first win at over 100 km/h (62 mph).”

My favourite story about Nuvolari involves his rise through the ranks as a motorcycle racer where he was also a tearaway. In a high speed practice accident for the Monza Grand Prix, Nuvolari broke both legs, and awoke on Saturday night to find himself strapped like a mummy. The next morning, he had the doctor restrap him in the crouched position he required so he could ride a motorcycle, and he was allowed to start the main race from the back of the grid, as the bike needed to be held upright by his pit crew until the race was underway. Sure enough, Nuvolari rode through the field and won the race. What’s amazing is that there are countless stories like this about Nuvolari to choose from. He regularly broke bones, and seemed to bounce right back to his death-defying best immediately.


2 – 1965 Ferrari Dino Berlinetta Prototype by Pininfarina

This is the original prototype vehicle for the mid-engined Dino, later to become the Ferrari Dino, and will be sold 52 years after it first rocked the world in it’s debut at the Paris Motor Show in 1965. Since 1967, the car has been on display in the Musee de l’Automobile at Le Mans, and is now being sold. The full story of the history of this game-changing car is told well in the auction description. It isn’t just the first Dino prototype, but the first mid-engined Ferrari. Could blow through the estimate very easily. Worth watching.

Bugatti Type 52

Ettore Bugatti’s engines set world speed records for cars, boats, trains and airplanes and his Bugatti Type 35 became the most successful racing car in history, propelling the Bugatti name to revered public recognition. Now his cars are doing it all over again on the auction block and the baby of the fleet is performing beyond expectations.

In the years between WW1 and WW2, Ettore Bugatti became one of the lions of France, showcasing world’s best practice in everything he did. Bugatti’s cars were not just for racers. They were also the most outrageously proportioned and sumptuous for the rich and famous.

The Bugatti Royale Berline de Voyager set a world record of US$6.5 million in 1986 and another Bugatti Royale (the Kellner Coupe) broke that record in 1987 with a sale of $9.9 million, then remarkably held the world record price for a car at auction from 1987 until 2010.

The Type 35 won the 1926 Grand Prix World Championship and the Targa Florio for five consecutive years (1925-1929). In the hands of racers across the world, the production Type 35 racing car averaged 14 race wins per week at its peak, eventually winning more than 1,000 races.

That’s Ettore’s first son, Jean Bugatti, above in a T35 and second son Roland in the baby Bugatti. The response to the tiny electric vehicle at the company headquarters in Molsheim was so overwhelmingly positive that the decision was made to sell the car to the public, with the Bugatti Bebe debuting at the 1927 Milan Automobile Show.

The Insignia into a slick SUV fighter

Just a week after BMW unveiled a new 5 Series Touring, Opel has turned the Insignia Grand Sport into a slick four-wheel drive fighter. The Insignia Sports Tourer might be blessed with the same good looks and luxurious interior as the sedan launched last year, but there’s even more space for kids, pets and luggage down back. Could it convince you to join the wagon club?

As is the case with the sedan, Opel has trimmed back the fat for a fitter, more engaging Sports Tourer. Depending on trim, the new car is up to 200 kg (441 lb) lighter than its predecessor, which will benefit everything from handling to efficiency. In spite of the impressive weight reduction, the wagon has actually grown in every direction, and now has an extra 100 liters (3.5 cubic feet) of luggage space with the rear seats folded.

Luggage isn’t the only thing with more space, as passengers have also been treated to a more capacious rear seat. There’s an extra 25 mm (0.98 in) of shoulder room, 27 mm (1.06 in) more hip room and 31 mm (1.22 in) more headroom back there, and the optional panoramic sunroof should help make it feel lighter and more spacious as well. Up front, the driver benefits from a new cockpit design that ditches the outgoing button-heavy center console for a clean new layout. The console is tilted towards the hot seat too, just like it is in an old BMW.

Also featured is the GKN Twinster all-wheel drive system from the Ford Focus RS, which is fitted as standard to all Sport Tourers. Although it’s able to send all of the torque to one individual wheel, just like it can in the Focus RS, Opel hasn’t mentioned whether a Drift Mode will be available on the faster VXR Insignia – but the setup’s bag of torque-vectoring, power-shuffling tricks bode well nonetheless.

Rubicon Recon Edition for Fun

As four-wheel drives have taken a turn for the luxurious, the Jeep Wranglerstands tall as a capable, old fashioned off-roader. The regular Rubicon will already go anywhere, but some hardcore enthusiasts want more than just regular – they want to know no road, rock or rut will be able to stop them. The new Wrangler Rubicon Recon aims to cater for these people.

Most of the major changes come under the skin of the Recon, where Jeep has spent its time taking a tough underbody and making it properly bombproof. The front axle has been upgraded with strengthened tubes and heavy-duty end forgings, while the differentials at both ends have been covered with cast heavy-duty covers. Gone are the standard rock rails and in their place is a shorter set, designed to leave room for the gigantic off-road tires.

Although it’s fitted with the same part-time four-wheel drive as the regular Rubicon, the Recon runs with a 4.10 ratio on both axles, while Tru-Lok locking differentials are standard as well. Fitted with the six-speed manual gearbox, the car has a crawl ratio of 73.1:1 for easy rock-crawling.

As is standard for its special editions, Jeep has given the Recon Edition some unique exterior touches and a fresh interior trim. The car sits on a half-inch lift kit, and the new 17-inch aluminum wheels are wrapped in 32-inch BF Goodrich rubber. Gone is the standard front bumper, and in its place is a winch-ready unit with removable end caps. There are also exposed red tow hooks, just in case the off-road upgrades can’t keep you from getting stuck. While these touches will be obvious to those who frequent the Jeep Easter Safari, they’re unlikely to make the Recon an instantly recognizable hit among the masses.

Inside, the Recon is fitted with leather seats, an eight-speaker audio system, black leather seats and contrast stitching. Red accents on the doors, seatbelts and door pockets, are also standard, but keen off-roaders will be more interested in the new electronic gauge cluster which can be customized to give information about coolant temperatures, speed or individual tire pressures – all of which are useful when you’re crawling over rocks, deep in the wilderness. Less useful is the dashboard plaque, which gives a brief rundown of the upgrades fitted to the car.