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Ford announced that they are including a new safety feature on the 2017 Ford Fusion. It’s called “Return to Park” and as the names implies, it will put the car in Park if you forget. See video below. The primary benefit of this is to prevent rollaways. According to a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study published in August, 360 people were killed in accidents involving unattended vehicles with no driver control between 2012 and 2014. In an average year, about 2,000 people are injured in similar incidents.

So, how does this work? If the car detects the driver’s intent to exit the car, it will automatically shift the transmission into Park. You might ask, “How does the car detect my intent?” Here’s how:

  • You turn the vehicle off
  • You open the driver’s door with your safety belt unlatched and the vehicle is stationary
  • Your safety belt is unlatched with the driver’s door open and the vehicle is stationary

This and other recent electronic safety innovations are a mixed blessing. On one hand, anything that makes cars safer is a good thing. On the other, each of these “improvements” takes the actual operation of the car out of our hands (in some cases, literally), and causes us to be worse in the actual skill of driving. They give, potentially, a false sense of security. Consider, for example, rear cameras, which are mandated on all cars and light trucks by May, 2018. There is a strong inclination to depend on what you see on the screen as you back up, without the “old” way of actually looking around. The camera is not designed to work alone; it is a supplement to the mirrors and your actual eyes. Depending on it as the sole source of what’s going on around the car is dangerous and could, ironically, increase injuries.

The point is that these innovations are great, as long as they are used to supplement the existing features the car has and the driving skills we have.

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2015 Detroit Auto Show

18th January 2015

Welcome to the 2015 Detroit Auto Show, where we once again have a mayor who’s actually in charge (it’s the little things…). Here’s a rundown of the major introductions and other cars & trucks to make sure you don’t miss.

Chevrolet

2016 Volt: 50 miles on a charge, up from 38. New styling inside and out. Looks great, but also like a Honda Civic.

Bolt Concept: pure electric concept car. Said to have range of 200 miles and a price of under $30K. Since when do concepts have a price? That’s just stupid. To imagine what it looks like, imagine the offspring of a Chevy Sonic (for size), any random Honda (for styling) and a Ram ProMaster (for headlight placement). Now that’s a 3-way!

Buick

Cascada: a premium 4-passenger convertible, which Buick obviously stole from Opel (just look at the grille), the Cascada is powered (if you can call it that) by a 1.6L turbo with 200HP. Speaking of 3-ways, this one gets VW’s lamps/front end, the Opel grille and the overall look and backend of a Chrysler Sebring/200.

Avenir: this is a stunner. It borrows a little from the Porsche Panamera in the rear, but mostly it’s a clean-sheet styling exercise that really works. It’s a big 2+2 configuration with beautiful lines. I hope that build it.

Nissan

2016 Titan: all-new pickup. The current Titan has never caught on in the US, at least partly due to the lack of customization options which pickup buyers want. Nissan addresses this with 3 available engines (including its first V6 and a 5.0L V8 Cummins Diesel option), the 3 normal cab configurations (regular, extended, crew) and 3 bed lengths (5.5 feet, 6.5 feet and 8 feet). It will be the largest Diesel in a light-duty truck. Nissan claims the Titan XD bridges a gap between light-duty pickups and heavy-duty pickups. XD means “eXtra Duty” and includes a beefed up frame and suspension. It will be available with the Diesel or V8 gas engine. The base Titan will be available with either gas engine. The new Titan certainly looks the part. Time will tell if US buyers will take the bait. On sale late 2015.

Alfa Romeo

4C Spider: the topless version of the 4C. Stunning good looks, great power. Like a “cheap” Ferrari. If by cheap you mean $70K (Slandy estimate). Has a turbo 1.75L engine with 237HP. Doesn’t sound like much until you realize that those horsies are only pushing around less than 2500 lbs. Sweet!

Ford

GT: the return of the iconic sports car from last decade. This new iteration is dramatically more extroverted. Powered by a V6 EcoBoost engine making more than 600HP. Extensive use of lightweight materials, including carbon fiber, will give the GT “one of the best power-to-weight ratios of any production car.” Goes into production in 2016…we have to wait a year for this? Ford, you’re such a tease. Optional equipment will include drool cups and bibs.

Mustang Shelby GT350R: the most track-ready Mustang ever. A new 5.2L V8 with a flat-plane crankshaft, which allows the engine the breathe better at high speeds, produces “more than 500HP” making it the most powerful naturally-aspirated production engine ever from Ford. To go with the track intentions, it has aggressive aerodynamics and liberal use of carbon fiber. To further reduce weight, Ford removed the air conditioner, stereo, rear seats, among others. This is a serious track package, not a Hertz special.

2017 F-150 SVT Raptor: the off-road special adopts the new aluminum body of the regular F-150, drops the 6.2L V8 for a 3.5L EcoBoost and picks up a 10-speed transmission (you read that right). This is 1 badass truck! Not on sale until Fall, 2016. L

Edge: not yet available, but already introduced. The new Edge borrows some styling from the Fusion and has a new powertrain lineup. It has a new 2.0L EcoBoost (not to be confused with the old 2.0L EcoBoost), a 3.5L V6 which carries over from the current Edge and a new 2.7L V6 EcoBoost, which it shares with the F-150 and Lincoln MKX.

Mercedes-Benz

F 015 Research Vehicle: really pushes the styling envelope. As its name implies, this vehicle is not intended for sale. It is meant to explore autonomous driving, and Mercedes-Benz’s vision of autonomous driving is more than merely transport. It’s a mobile living space, and that’s reflected in the dramatically radical interior. Check it out. It’s not like anything you’ve seen before.

GLE-class: this new model will replace the M-Class in Mercedes’ lineup. It’s the same body type as the BMW X6, Toyota Venza and the Honda Crosstour. In other words, I hate it. This body-style can trace its roots to the much-maligned Pontiac Aztec (may it rest in peace). It’s not quite a car, not quite an SUV. It’s a shape in search of a segment, and it failed.

Volkswagen

Cross Coupe GTE Concept: though a “concept” this is a preview of the new 3-row crossover that is in VW’s near future. It’s quite good looking, in that typical VW way. Looks solid, tight. Not overly expressive, nor bland. It walks the line in the middle. Nobody will be offended or bored by it. The overall shape and the rear (tail lamps in particular) seem to be channeling the Jeep Grand Cherokee a bit. OK, maybe a lot.

BMW

New 2016 6-series (coupe, convertible, Gran Coupe): a mild facelift for the 3 flavors of the BMW 6. It was already a great-looking car, so they got out the comb, Fonzie-style, and decided that they already looked so good – why bother changing anything?

Porsche

911 Targa GTS: the Targa introduced last year, with more power. Because they can, that’s why.

Cayenne Turbo S: ditto

Acura

NSX: it’s finally here (yawn). Acura has teased us so much over the past decade that the actual intro doesn’t seem so exciting (Ed: it’s only been 4 years. Really? Seems longer.). And that’s a shame, because this is a really cool car, with great styling and great power. Also working against it is the unfortunate timing of the intro: 2½ hours AFTER Ford introduced its GT. Oops. Somebody got their thunder stolen.

Audi

2016 Q7: Audi’s flagship SUV gets a total makeover. More wagon-like stance and revised front end, and with an aluminum-intensive structure, Audi claims the Q7 has lost over 700 pounds. This will translate into improved fuel econ and better performance. Powering the Q7 are 2 3.0L engines: a supercharged gas V6 (333HP) and a turbo Diesel V6 (272HP). Later, the Q7 will add a plug-in Diesel hybrid (373HP), which Audi claims will achieve 138MPG and go 38 miles on a charge. The Q7 was also awarded “Best Designed Interior” by EyesOn Design at the show.

Q3: is finally coming to the US market, refreshed and ready to go. In this market, it will only include the 2.0L gas engine. Like all Audis, this is a really good-looking car. Front wheel drive is standard, but Quattro is optional, of course. Prices start at $32,500.

Toyota

2016 Tacoma: all new truck, but you wouldn’t really know it by looking at it. The engines include a 4 cyl and a V6. The 3.5L V6 has both direct and port injection, which is rare. The V6 can also be had with either a 6-speed manual (yeah!) or 6-speed auto. Has a really nice interior. New for 2016 is a TRD off-road version.

Mirai: this is a fuel cell vehicle, coming late this year. If you don’t know what a fuel cell is, you’re not alone. Most people don’t. It’s an electric car, but the electricity is not stored in a battery, like electrics you can buy today. It uses hydrogen gas and air to generate the electricity. The only exhaust is water. Many automakers are working on these. Mirai price is $57,500, but you’ll be able to lease it for $499/month with $3649 down – but only in California to California residents who live near a hydrogen fueling station. So, like 3 people. It has 153 HP/247 torques, gets up to 300 miles on a fill. It only takes 5 minutes to fill with hydrogen (take THAT Nissan Leaf & Tesla). Also qualifies for the HOV lanes in California and is zero emission. So, how does it look? Maybe a little quirky, but pretty nice.

MINI

John Cooper Works: the most extroverted of the MINI family of extroverts is back. I love the idea and the powertrain is hot, but the styling is something only a 15 year old could love.

Superleggera: this concept is striking in its combination of the MINI personality with an Italian roadster. The Union Jack tail lamps are a great touch.

Bentley

The SUV has a name, and it is…Bentayga. “Fastest, most luxurious, most exclusive SUV in the world. In other words, it’s going to be the Bentley of SUVs.” On sale in 2016. Get your home equity line of credit pre-approval now! Oh, and it’s not at the show. The name was all there was.

Hyundai

Santa Cruz Concept truck: an interesting concept, it’s a unibody pickup truck. Think Subaru Brat or (for you old-timers) Chevy El Camino.

Sonata plug-in hybrid: 22 electric miles, combined 93 MPG. Nothing new to look at though.

Volvo

S60 Inscription: the Inscription is an upscale version of the S60 sedan with premium materials and increased rear seat legroom (Volvo claims best-in-class legroom).

S60 Cross Country: Volvo brings its Cross Country capability and stance to the S60 sedan. Volvo says it’s the sole contender in the luxury crossover sedan segment. I guess if you can’t compete in your segment, make up a new one.

Local Motors

3D printed car: you totally have to check out the car being “printed”. It’s really cool.

Infiniti

Q60 Coupe concept: explores where the Q60 coupe could go in the future, giving it a sleeker, more menacing look. Very nice – if they actually make it.

Lexus

GS F: not to be confused with the GS F-Sport, this is a true sport edition of the GS. 5.0L V8 with 467HP (but only 389 torques), this GS certainly looks the part. Its looks, however, are spoiled by an overly dramatic version of Lexus’ spindle grille. On other cars, it’s not quite so bad, but on this (and the RC F as well), it’s fugly. Being bold, dramatic and different is sometimes good, but not always.

Ram

Ram Rebel: this is Ram’s answer to Ford’s Raptor. Bold, expressive styling; big, meaty tires; increased ride height (thanks to the air suspension already optional on the Ram 1500); and unique interior accents (including Rebel stitching on the seats, red accents throughout the interior and a tire-tread pattern on the front seats). Like the Raptor, this is one badass truck!

Cadillac

CTS-V: supercharged 6.2L V8 making 640HP/630 torques, top speed of 200MPH, 0-60 in 3.7 seconds. Really, what else is there to say? MPG? If you have to ask, this car isn’t for you. The negative is that the only tranny is an 8-speed auto. On sale late summer.

ATS-V: already introduced in LA last fall, the ATS-V makes its first appearance in Detroit. Take the already superb ATS chassis and add a 3.6L twin-turbo V6 (455HP/445 torques), you get a 0-60 time in 3.9 seconds and a top speed of 185+ MPH. You can have either the 6-speed manual with Active Rev Match, no-lift shifting and launch control or an 8-speed auto with paddle shift, launch control and Performance Algorithm Shift (whatever that means). Pricing isn’t available yet, but you’ll have to get behind me to buy it anyway.

Lincoln

MKX: this is a gorgeous car, make no mistake. That said, it looks WAY too much like the smaller, recently introduced MKC. Under the hood, things get different. The standard engine is the 3.7L V6. No change there. The optional engine is a 2.7L twin-turbo EcoBoost V6 (330+HP/ 370+torques). It also has 2 new Black Label editions to really dress things up and Ford’s new adaptive steering system, which changes the steering ratio depending on speed. On sale this fall.

Honda

HR-V: already introduced in L.A., the HR-V enters the growing compact SUV market. Like the NSX, the HR-V has been shown several times in various concept forms. This time, it’s for real. Power comes from a 1.8L engine with 138HP and 127 torques. Comes with either a CVT or a 6-speed manual (2WD models only for the stick). Nice-looking and exactly what you might expect from Honda in this segment.

The 2015 Slandy Awards®

Slandy Best in Show: Ford GT (duh)

SBIS Honorable Mention: Jaguar F-Type (not new, but now with 50% more pedals!), Cadillac CTS-V, Toyota Mirai, Mazda Miata, Buick Avenir

WATT*: Acura NSX announcement. They teased us for YEARS, only to lose the spotlight completely to the Ford GT.

Best feature you never heard of: instead of detents to stop the car door at certain spots, the BMW 750 has hydraulic door actuators that replace the normal part with the detents. The hydraulic part allows the door to stop in its tracks at any point along the travel of the door. This is especially useful when you have limited space, and the next detent will cause your door to hit something (a wall or another car). It may sound trivial, but this is a very impressive piece of engineering. I’ve never seen this on another vehicle (though maybe somebody else has it). I’m very impressed.

Brand Identity Crisis: Bentley. It occurred to me as I was sitting in the purple Continental GT Speed that this brand thinks of itself as a mix/combination of Rolls Royce and MINI. It really wants to be taken seriously as a high-end luxury brand, but then it wants to be a “fun” brand. I think they’re making it work, but it’s slightly schizophrenic.

*In case you’ve never read The Slandy Report and you’re not familiar with this award – what the heck is wrong with you? Read The Slandy Report! It’s awesome! Anyway, WATT is the What Are They Thinking award.

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Chevrolet (don’t call us Chevy) announced today a new program that will allow buyers of Corvette Z06 and ZR1 models to build the engine for their car! OK, they get to “help” build it, under heavy supervision. But still, how cool is it to have the opportunity to do this? I can tell you exactly how cool it is – $5800 cool. That’s how much Chevrolet charges for the PBC (“Corvette Engine Build Experience”) option on the Z06 and ZR1. PBC stands for Performance Build Center, which is the name of the facility in Wixom, Michigan that hand-builds the engines in those versions of the Corvette, as well as the Grand Sport’s.

Lest you cynically think that this is a way to avoid warranty coverage, GM says, “Like all engines assembled at the PBC, Engine Build Experience engines are covered by Chevy’s (sorry, I’ll try to use the more grown up word next time) five year / 100,000-mile transferable powertrain warranty.”

The cynic in me is shocked that the General would actually allow any moron with the money to enter their plant, let alone build an engine that will still have a warranty – even under the heavy supervision. GM’s legal staff must be pulling out what is left of their hair over this one. Remember, these are the same legal eagles that killed the Corvette ad that showed a kid dreaming about driving a Corvette, because it was irresponsible to have a kid driving. They also tried to kill a Chevy (really…I’m trying) ad that showed Chevrolet (ha! did it!) cars and trucks driving onto a car carrier already driving at highway speed.

Still, this is way cool, and if I had $5800 (on top of the $75,235 MSRP for a Z06 or $109,130 MSRP for a ZR1), I would sure do it. As Jim Campbell, VP of Chevrolet (twice in a row!) said, “Simply put, no other sports car manufacturer can match the level of personal customer involvement that Corvette offers. The Corvette Engine Build Experience takes this personal involvement to an unprecedented level.”

That’s what I (and Jim) think. How about you? Please leave your comments below.

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First, Ford announced the new V6 for the 2011 Mustang with its 305 horsepower and 30 MPG. Then came the announcement of the new GT, with 412 horsepower and 25 MPG. Now Ford announces the upgrades to the Shelby GT500, the big kahuna of the Mustang lineup. The 2010 Shelby made due with only 540 horsepower; the ’11 bumps that up to 550. Torque stays at 510 lb.-ft. The engine is now made of an aluminum block instead of the iron block, and this contributes to a 102 pound weight reduction for the engine. The weight reduction helps the ’11 Shelby improve fuel economy from 14 city/22 highway to 15/23. This might not sound like much, but the 1 MPG improvement results in the first Shelby not subject to the dreaded gas guzzler tax.

New for 2011 is an SVT Performance Package for those who want even more performance out of their Shelby GT500 for racetrack-ready driving dynamics. Complete with all-new Goodyear Eagle F1 SuperCar G:2 tires that SVT engineers worked directly with Goodyear to develop, the car is ready to race. The tires offer superb dry traction and precise handling, complete with a race-inspired high-performance tread compound.

The optional package also offers unique styling, lighter wheels, a higher rear axle ratio and stiffer springs, and it is available on both the convertible and coupe. Ford’s data show the 2011 coupe with the SVT Performance Package is 3.0 seconds faster per lap than the 2010 Shelby GT500 on a 2.3-mile test track.

For 2011, Shelby GT500 also benefits from NVH (noise, vibration and harshness) improvements. Ford improved road noise by 20 percent versus the 2010 Shelby by adding sound-deadening material on either side of the instrument panel, sound absorption behind interior trim panels, and a rear wheel arch liner to reduce noise on gravel or wet surfaces – all resulting in the driver hearing more exhaust and engine sound and less road and air noise.

The Shelby GT500 convertible model features enhanced structural rigidity, with lateral stiffness improved by 12 percent versus the 2010 model. The structural improvements to the convertible gave SVT the opportunity to be more sport-oriented in the chassis tuning, without trading comfort. Along with the chassis and structural improvements, the 2011 model also will get standard 19-inch aluminum wheels.

One of the biggest changes for this Shelby is that the convertible acts and feels like a coupe,” said Jamal Hameedi, SVT chief nameplate engineer. “Before, they had a very different character, and the convertible is taking a big step in the sportiness and handling precision area, without degrading the ride.”

GT500 gets a new exhaust for 2011, roaring with an even more aggressive sound than the 2010 model. The 2.75-inch exhaust with all-new tuning helped to deliver the additional 10 horsepower.

Thus completes the powertrain upgrades for the 2011 Mustang. With a lineup that starts at 300HP and goes up to 550, the Mustang has the best engine lineup in the segment, perhaps the industry. Hopefully, I will be able to test drive this demonic engine, or at least one of its tamer brothers, sometime soon.

That’s what I think – how about you? Please leave your comments below.

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Ford Fusion Hybrid

7th February 2010

Ford Fusion Hybrid in Atlantis Green

Ford Fusion Hybrid in Atlantis Green

The Ford Fusion has been around since the 2006 model year, and has always been considered a very good, nice looking car that is fun to drive. For the 2010 model year, introduced last year, the styling was updated to be more aggressive, and also given upgraded engines and a new interior. As mid-cycle freshenings go, this was fairly extensive and well-received. So well, in fact, that it was named the 2010 Motor Trend Car of the Year®.

The Fusion also added a hybrid model, which received the latest generation of Ford’s hybrid system, previously available on the Escape and Mariner SUVs. The new version is smaller, lighter and costs less than its predecessor. The main (maybe only) reason people buy a hybrid is to save fuel. There are different reasons to save fuel (lessen reliance on foreign oil/national security, to save $, curb global warming, other environmental concerns), but everybody is looking to save fuel. So how does the Fusion Hybrid stack up? As you can see in the table, the EPA rates the hybrid at 39 MPG combined, compared to 25 in the regular 4-cylinder Fusion. As the EPA calculates it, that will save you about $575/year (assumes 15,000 miles and $2.66/gallon). Not bad, but at that rate, it would take you 6¼ years to get your money back. This is based on a $3600 MSRP premium for the hybrid system, after adjusting for major equipment differences. As noted above, there are other reasons than simply dollars and cents that go into purchasing a hybrid, but if you are looking at it in only those terms, the investment doesn’t really work well.

When I picked up the Atlantis Green (a beautiful very dark green) Hybrid with 8915 miles on it, the first thing you notice is that it has what Ford calls the “Silent Start” system. As you can figure out on your own, this means that there is no “cranking” of the starter or “turning over” of the engine like in conventional cars. Instead, you twist the key (key? that’s so 20th century, Ford), and you take it on faith that the car has actually started. The only way I really knew it was ready to go is I put it in gear and it went.

The next thing you notice is the video game-like graphics populating the various infotainment screens –

SmartGauge with EcoGuide

SmartGauge with EcoGuide

one on either side of the central speedo (Dual LCD SmartGauge™ Cluster with EcoGuide) and the larger navigation screen on the center stack. The screen on the left side of the speedo contains various combinations of information that indicate how the engine and battery are working together. You can choose from 4 levels of information called Inform, Enlighten, Engage or Empower.

Inform is the most basic, and it only shows you the battery charge level. Next up is Enlighten, which adds a tach and an indication of the battery power being used. Engage adds the engine power being used to go with the battery, so you can try to maximize the battery usage vs. the engine. Empower offers the highest level of information. It shows you how much power you are using for the accessories (radio, climate control, lights, etc.) and also shows you how close you are to the gas engine on/off threshold vs. total power demand. This can help you to feather the accelerator to stay in the battery-powered area as long as possible if you are looking to maximize fuel economy. when you are in electric-only mode, you get rewarded with a green section at the bottom of the screen that says “EV”. At all levels except Inform, arrows on the battery charge graph show if the battery is being used or charged at any given time. It also shows green circular arrows when the regenerative brakes are active.

At this point, I should point out that the regenerative brakes are a bit of a problem. All 17,600 units built before 10/17/2009 have a software glitch that can result in a perceived loss of braking power as it shifts unnecessarily from regenerative brakes to regular. There is no actual loss of power, but the driver will have to apply extra force to obtain the necessary braking. No injuries have been reported. I experienced no brake issues of any kind.

The right side of the display shows instant fuel economy and either “efficiency leaves” or the recent efficiency as a bar graph. The leaves grow and produce more leaves as you drive efficiently, and loses them when you don’t. It’s fun to try to grow as many leaves as possible. I think that’s the point. It also shows you a trip summary every time you turn off the car, including trip fuel economy, distance traveled, gallons used and long-term fuel economy.

So how does it drive? For the most part, just like a “regular” Fusion. Which is to say, very well. The combined 191 horsepower is plenty for normal, even spirited, driving. It isn’t going win you any pinks at Thunder Road, though. But if that’s what you want, you can opt for one of the 2 different V6s (3.0L or 3.5L) that are available on the petrol Fusion. It also handles very well in the curves and the brakes, especially with the regenerative system (which uses the braking energy usually lost as heat to recharge the battery) are very good.

The Fusion Hybrid can drive up to 47 MPH in electric-only mode. I was “only” able to achieve 42 MPH. For comparison, a Toyota Prius can go 25 MPH on the battery alone. When I turned off the fan and the radio, the Fusion was so quiet in EV mode that when it came to a stop, you could clearly hear the various fluids sloshing around in their respective receptacles. It’s a bit like drinking a big glass of water and then doing jumping jacks. I never heard that in a car before.

Issues? A few. The EV mode doesn’t seem to be available when you first start driving. This is unfortunate, because emissions and fuel economy are both much worse when the engine is cold. If the battery could be utilized (assuming it is charged enough) to power the car and heat up the engine at start, both fuel economy and emissions would improve. By not having battery power available until the engine is heated completely, you also don’t get much help from the battery on a very short trip. Because my test was done in Michigan in February, the cold weather is at least partially responsible for this. Batteries simply don’t function as well in the cold.

Usually, as the computer shifts between gas, battery power and both, you do not notice it at all. As I found out testing the car, this is because you are normally applying the throttle at the time (when it shifts from battery to gas), or maybe not at all (when it shifts from gas back to battery). However, if you are attempting to maximize your economy by using the accelerator very lightly, the car shutters noticeably when shifting from EV to gas. It isn’t a violent shutter, but it is noticeable.

One other nit. As shown in the table, the hybrid gives up almost 30% of its trunk space, due to the hybrid systems. I guess this is to be expected; the battery has to go someplace, but it comes at a price.

In a variety of driving – stop & go city, highway, very gentle to full throttle, I came away very impressed with the Ford Fusion Hybrid. Overall, this is a solid performer. It gets better fuel economy than the Toyota Camry Hybrid (41/36/39 vs. 33/34/34), and the Fusion overall is more reliable than the Camry, according to Consumer Reports.

Rating: 8½ out of 10. Excellent, but not perfect.

Fusion Hybrid

Fusion I4 SEL

Base Price (MSRP)

$28,675

$25,380

Engine

2.5L I4 w/HEV

2.5L I4

Horsepower

191

175

Torque

136

172

Transmission

CVT Automatic

6-speed automatic

EPA Fuel Economy (city/hwy/combined)

41/36/39

22/31/25

Curb Weight (lbs.)

3725

3342

Fuel Tank Capacity (gallons)

17

17.5

Range (city/hwy/combined)

697/612/663

385/542/437

Trunk Capacity (cubic feet)

11.8

16.5

Major Equipment Differences:

Reverse Sensing System

Standard

Optional

110-volt Power Point

Standard

NA

Ambient Lighting

Standard

NA

Dual LCD SmartGauge™ Cluster with EcoGuide

Standard

NA

6CD Changer instead of Single CD

Standard

NA

Fold down Split Rear Seat

NA

Standard

Eco-Friendly Cloth Seating

Standard

NA

Leather-trimmed and Heated Seats

Optional

Standard

Dual Exhaust

Standard

NA

Regenerative Braking System

Standard

NA

Driver’s Knee Airbag

Standard

NA

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Ford has the Magic Touch

19th January 2010

For the 3rd year in a row, Ford took advanatge of the platform given by the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las vegas to announce a major new product.  Ford is announcing major enhancements to its in-car electronics.  SYNC was the first major electronic feature, and now Ford is taking it another giant leap further.  Called MyTouch, or MyFord Touch in Ford vehicles and MyLincoln Touch in the Lincolns. What this amounts to is a major redesign of the vehicle interior, and a complete redesign of the way information is presented to the driver and how he/she interacts with the vehicle.

MyFord includes an 8″ display in the center stack area that can be customized in three ways, reflecting that some customers are less techno-savvy than others and would be confused by all of the choices. “Quiet” is the setting that has the least information, which is nested in the 4 corners of the display. The majority of the display is devoted to a driver-selected “wallpaper” image. “Smart Corners” has a set of predetermined buttons with the most popular top-level functions. The “Shortcuts” display is fully customized by the customer.

The interface also includes dual 4″ LCD displays on either side of the speedometer which show various vehicle personalization options. The displays are controlled by a 5-way button located on either side of the steering wheel.

Left Side MyFord display

Left Side MyFord display

The left side display shows driver assist settings (on/off choices for traction control, front or rear park assist, etc.), vehicle settings (autolamp delay in seconds, door lock settings, remote start climate control settings, fuel economy, distance to empty, etc.), English/metric settings, and gauge settings (tachometer, tach/fuel, or tach/fuel/water temp).

The right side display contains infotainment information, including audio settings, climate control, phone communications and navigation menus.

MyFord Touch and MyLincoln Touch also include an array of touch-sensitive switches for those that might get freaked out by the touch screens. They are not true switches, but touch-sensitive “areas” that confirm that you’ve activated it by a beep or a light. One of these is the “MyTemp” function, which automatically sets the temperature to your pre-programmed favorite temperature. This is a bit of a gimmick, but would be useful if somebody else has borrowed your car and changed it.

You might be wondering if you can use all of this cool electronics with a glove on your hand. I asked the

MyLincoln Touch

MyLincoln Touch

Ford engineer and yes, you can use a glove, just not a real thick one. More on this after I get a chance for a full review.

Along with the personalization, MyFord and My Lincoln also afford portability to all of your settings. Selected user settings can be programmed to individual vehicle keys – this part isn’t new or unique. However, the settings can also be downloaded to a USB drive and exported to another MyFord-equipped vehicle, instantly transferring the driver’s preferences. This also might be a bit of a gimmick, but think if you were to rent a car and can instantly tell the car what temperature you like, and all of the other settings discussed above.

Another advantage of this system is it allows navigation to be an inexpensive upgrade, because the large touchscreen is already in the car. The upgrade is in the form of an SD card with the maps and software on it. Just plug it in and go!

The MyTouch innovation has the potential to really elevate Ford’s reputation – and sales. This is true innovation. Time will tell if the customers agree and appreciate it. I think it is a game-changer, and will likely be copied by other manufacturers as soon as they can.

That’s what I think – how about you? Please leave your comments below.

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Chevy and OnStar announced today the availability of an app for the upcoming Chevy Volt extended-range electric vehicle (EREV).  Called OnStar Experience, the app will allow consumers to view and control certain aspects of the Volt’s unique functions.

OnStar’s Mobile Application allows drivers to communicate with their Volt from Droid by Motorola, Apple iPhone and Blackberry Storm smartphones. It uses a real-time data connection to perform tasks from setting the charge time to unlocking the doors.  The application:

  • displays charge status – plugged in or not, and voltage (120V or 240V)
  • provides flexibility to “Charge Now” or schedule charge timing
  • displays percentage of battery charge level, electric and total ranges
  • allows owner to manually set grid-friendly charge mode for off-peak times when electricity rates are lowest
  • sends text or email notifications for charge reminders, interruptions and full charge
  • displays miles per gallon, electric only miles, and odometer readings
  • shows miles per gallon, EV miles and miles driven for last trip and lifetime
  • remotely start the vehicle to pre-condition the interior temperature, but only when plugged in
  • enables traditional OnStar features, such as locking/unlocking and remote horn and lights – which have typically been accessible only through a call into the OnStar call center – will now be available via the application
  • The mobile application will be available for the Apple iPhone, Blackberry Storm and Motorola Droid smartphones.  Volt’s OnStar mobile application will also be available on a mobile browser for other internet-capable phones. Volt drivers will also be able to view and manage vehicle systems and commands from the vehicle, the internet or through a monthly OnStar Vehicle Diagnostics e-mail.

    Early Volt buyers will be those known to marketers as “early adopters,” so providing this surprise cool feature will certainly appeal to those buyers.  Volt buyers will want to show off their smart purchase and being able to show friends their charge status, etc. will only make them feel even more special for having forked over the expected 40 large for the Volt.  Announcing this new feature also keeps the Volt in the consumers’ minds, which Chevrolet will have to keep up until late this year, when deliveries are expected to begin.  By then, it will have been almost 4 years since Chevrolet introduced the Volt to the public.

    What Chevy/GM/OnStar need to do now is develop an app that will work with all of their other cars & trucks.  Let me start the car (if equipped with remorte start), check my tire pressure, schedule service with my local dealer, and all of the other vehicle diagnostics that OnStar provides on a monthly basis with a subscription.  The cat’s out of the bag, GM!  Now I want all of this when I want it – immediately.  I don’t want to wait a month for OnStar to send me an e-mail!

    That’s what I think – how about you?  Please leave your comments below.

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    GMC Acadia Remote Start Key Fob - the start button is on top

    GMC Acadia Remote Start Key Fob - the start button is on top

    Ford announced last week that it will begin offering a factory-installed remote start system to its vehicles, beginning with the 2011 Super Duty pickup when it launches next spring.  Ford says it will “quickly be offered across the entire Ford, Lincoln and Mercury lineup.”  Ford’s remote start system, when combined with automatic climate control, will gauge the temperature and quickly achieve a comfortable cabin environment. Heating, heated seats and defrost activate on colder days; air conditioning and cooled seats kick in when the weather is warm.

    Later that same day, Chevrolet put out a press release that served as a reminder that they have offered remote start since 2003.  Funny that it took a competitor’s announcement of a similar feature to make Chevrolet/General Motors to tout a great feature about which they have been all but silent.  Launched in 2003 as a 2004 model year feature, GM’s factory-installed remote start was the first of its kind to be factory-installed.  Previously, this feature was only available as an aftermarket add-on.  This gave GM an advantage over all of their competitors, but they never seemed to advertise it or make it prominent in their press releases or brochures.

    When I first heard of it while working for Ford as the minivan pricing manager, your humble reporter pleaded with the product development community to look into offering this feature, especially on minivans.  I saw it as a family-friendly feature, especially on a vehicle like a minivan where the driver might be carrying an infant into a cold vehicle in the winter or a hot one in the summer.  Alas, they did not listen to me.  I was told that none other than Chairman Bill Ford (and CEO at the time) had decided that it did not fit with the environmentally-friendly image he wanted for the company.  Remote start would waste gas, he apparently said.  Now, they are not only offering it, they are saying, “Ford engineers calculate that using a remote start system could help reduce hydrocarbon, CO and nitrogen oxides emissions by up to 75 percent, since it preheats the catalyst on cold starts (where up to 95 percent of emissions typically occur), prior to those first few accelerations.”  Hmmm, I guess actual facts won the day, huh?

    If Ford gets any true traction from this after GM has had it for 6+ years, then they will only have themselves to blame.  Themselves…and their advertising agencies.

    That’s what I think – how about you?  Please leave your comments below.

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    Chrysler Offers Live TV

    29th October 2009

    Chrysler announced today that by the end of the year, they will offer live TV in select vehicles as a dealer-installed option.  It will also be offered as a retrofit on some vehicles.

    The service, from FLO TV, seems to overcome some of the other limitations of other systems presently available – high price, need for a satellite dish on the roof or very limited channel selection.  The system will be priced at $629, plus installation.  The price includes 1 year of service. The normal price for a subscription is $119 a year or $299 for three years.

    The system has a capacity to offer up to 20 channels.  Chrysler has announced that it will include CBS Mobile, CNBC, Comedy Central, FOX News, MSNBC, MTV, NBC 2Go, Nickelodeon and others not yet announced.  Up to 20 channels will be available in late December when the feature is available for dealer installation. By the end of 2009, the FLO TV service should be available in more than 100 major markets and many interstate driving corridors. The FLO TV service is not available in some rural areas.

    The entertainment package will be available as a dealer-installed option on the following 2008-2010 model year vehicles with factory DVD entertainment systems: Chrysler Town & Country, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Jeep Commander, Dodge Grand Caravan, Dodge Journey, Dodge Nitro, Ram 1500 and Ram 2500/3500.

    The service also can be added to select 2008-2010 model-year vehicles when new Mopar headrest or seat-top DVD entertainment systems are purchased.

    Chrysler deserves a lot of credit for offering this innovation.  Like Sync on Ford products before it, this has the potential to change the way customers view their vehicles.  No longer an appliance to get from A to B, your car can now read your text messages, play your music based on voice command and let you watch your favorite programs.  This may, in fact, be the answer to the credit/housing crisis gripping the nation for the last 1-2 years.  Maybe your vehicle will become your home.  Just needs a refrigerator (which you can get on the Ford Flex) and a microwave.

    That’s what I think – how about you?  Please leave your comments below.

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    OnStar, the telematics service of General Motors, announced the addition of Remote Ignition Block to its services.  The new service will prevent a stolen vehicle from starting, if it is confirmed by police.  This service joins Stolen Vehicle Slowdown, which will progressively slow a vehicle until it stops – aiding law enforcement in retrieving the vehicle.

    Some conspiracy-types have already claimed that this is just one more step on the road to complete government control of where we go and when.  Like this comment posted on a car magazine website, “You think this is great? For years, many have worried about the Big Brother aspects of OnStar. Now that GM is in government hands, so is OnStar. So now, if our caring and benevolent government decides that you are to [sic] irresponsible to drive your Corvette ZR1, they have a way to stop you.”  Another complained that the service is shut down if you don’t renew the subscription after the free trial period, calling the company “OffStar.”  Does he really think they will provide all of these services for free, just because they are related to safety and criminal activity?

    I think this is another useful tool to help reduce crime, and if people are willing to pay for it, they will reap the benefits, if they ever need them.  It’s like an insurance policy.  Sure, there is the possibility that somebody will abuse the power, but there is that possibility with many things.  That’s why we have laws and courts to protect us.

    PRESS RELEASE
    OnStar Launches Industry-Exclusive Technology to Help with Safe and Quick Recovery of Stolen Vehicles

    DETROIT (July 21, 2009) – OnStar is expanding on its Stolen Vehicle Assistance services with the announcement of a new technology that will give law enforcement another critical tool to help safely and quickly recover subscribers stolen vehicles.

    This new technology is called Remote Ignition Block and will allow an OnStar Advisor to send a remote signal to a subscriber’s stolen vehicle to prevent the vehicle from restarting once the ignition is turned off. This capability will not only help authorities recover stolen vehicles, but can also prevent dangerous high speed pursuits from starting.

    “Remote Ignition Block is a prime example of the rapid pace of technological innovation underway at OnStar. We are developing services desired by our subscribers that deliver important societal benefits as well,” said Chet Huber, OnStar president.

    Remote Ignition Block builds on OnStar’s growing suite of Stolen Vehicle Assistance services which includes GPS technology that pinpoints a stolen vehicle’s exact location and Stolen Vehicle Slowdown® which can remotely slow a stolen vehicle to idle speed.

    OnStar will make Remote Ignition Block available on select over 2M GM 2009 and 2010 model year vehicles in the U.S. and Canada.

    The process for deployment:
    An OnStar subscriber reports their vehicle stolen to authorities and requests stolen vehicle assistance from OnStar.

    Law enforcement provides confirmation to the OnStar Advisor that the vehicle is in fact stolen.
    The OnStar Advisor pinpoints the vehicle’s exact GPS location and sends a remote signal to prevent stolen vehicle from starting the next time someone attempts to start it.

    On select models, authorities can also request Stolen Vehicle Slowdown if they have a clear line of sight of the stolen vehicle and confirm that conditions are safe to slow down the vehicle.

    “Technology like Stolen Vehicle Slowdown and now Remote Ignition Block will improve the chances of apprehending suspected car thieves and are great assets to the law enforcement community” said Oakland County (Mich) Sheriff Mike Bouchard. “Removing an instrument of harm from the hands of criminals improves the safety of our officers, our highways and our citizens” said Bouchard.

    For more than 13 years, OnStar has helped authorities in locating tens of thousands of stolen vehicles in order to assist with their safe and quick recovery. OnStar receives approximately 600 Stolen Vehicle Assistance requests from subscribers each month and has helped in over 28,000 requests over the past decade.

    According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) Uniform Crime Reports, there were 1,095,769 vehicles stolen in the U.S. in 2007, equating to one motor vehicle stolen every 28.8 seconds. Stolen vehicle incidents can turn into dangerous high speed pursuits; at least 300 people die as a result of the more than 30,000 high speed police chases that happen every year. With capabilities such as Stolen Vehicle Slowdown and now Remote Ignition Block, OnStar subscribers have the added peace of mind knowing their vehicle can be prevented from being used as an instrument of harm. In fact, 97% of OnStar subscribers surveyed said they would like Remote Ignition Block capability on their vehicles.

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