Category Archives: Auto, Cars, Trucks, SUVs, Car Gadgets

Microsoft Cortana may be headed to your car

Cortana wants to be the voice behind your connected car.
CNET

Watch out Siri. Microsoft Cortana is looking for a piece of the driver’s seat.

Microsoft has developed a prototype of a connected car that recognizes commands from the Cortana voice assistant, an exec with the Microsoft Asia-Pacific Research and Development Group reportedly said at the company’s TechDays conference on Tuesday. Based on the prototype, Cortana would display itself on the windshield of the car, helping drivers see nearby locations or perform such tasks as making restaurant reservations, said Samuel Shen, according the Tapai Times.

Microsoft has already dabbled in the connected car arena, providing in-car technology to such automakers as Ford, BMW, and Fiat. But the company faces competition from Apple’s CarPlay and Google’s Android Auto, both of which offer navigation, traffic information, music playback, phone calls, text messaging and other in-car features. At its 2014 Build conference, Microsoft announced a “Windows in the Car” initiative that would offer apps for maps, radio, music and traffic updates. But the company was mum on how you’d actually control your in-car system. Cortana may be the answer.

Microsoft has been expanding the reach of its voice assistant. Initially a fixture just on Windows Phone devices, Cortana is now a key part of Windows 10 for PCs and tablets where it can answer your questions, provide you with information and alert you to upcoming appointments. With connected car technology becoming more prevalent, the automobile seems like the next logical step for Cortana.

Apple uses Siri for its CarPlay system, while Google uses Google Now, both of which allow drivers to issue voice commands and receive responses, whether they’re trying to navigate the road, listen to music or send an email or text message.

Cortana isn’t ready to pop into your car just yet. The technology remains in the prototype stage. Now Microsoft is aiming to work with Taiwanese partners in an effort to develop connected cars that can respond to your voice commands. But the cost of creating the technology seems to be a limiting factor.

“We have not launched similar products due to the high cost, but we hope to have further discussions with Taiwanese partners to jointly explore future possibilities,” Shen said at the TechDays conference.

Shen didn’t reveal the names of any specific partners, according to the Tapei Times. And no timetable or deadline was announced. So although Microsoft’s Cortana in-car technology sounds promising, it may take a while before it drives its way to the average car owner, especially since officially Microsoft had nothing to say about the project.

“We will always look at ways to bring high-value experiences, like Cortana, to consumers in a variety of ways,” a Microsoft spokesperson said. “We have nothing to announce at this time.”

(Via The Verge)

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2017 Porsche 911 brings more torque to the track with twin turbos

In the 50-odd year history of the Porsche 911, the formula for that iconic car has largely stayed the same: engine at the back, round headlights at the front, room for four somewhere in the middle. However, the variables in that equation have changed a little with each subsequent generation, and in 2016 we’ll see one of the biggest adjustments yet: turbochargers across the range.

Turbocharging means more power, more torque and greater efficiency for the base 911 Carrera, but it also means a very different driving dynamic. Rather than a high-strung flat-six engine begging to be pushed to the rev limit, the new motor makes peak torque at just 1,700 rpm. How does it feel on the road, and at the track? That’s what I went to Germany to find out.

Beneath the skin lurks a new, 3.0-liter, twin-turbocharged motor.
Tim Stevens/CNET

The changes

The motor is by far the biggest of the new features in the 2017 911 (code-name 991 II, if you were wondering), so let’s get that out of the way first. It’s a new, 3.0-liter six-cylinder engine in the typical flat, horizontally opposed configuration. This is down from the 3.4- or 3.8-liter engines in the outgoing 911. Porsche calls insists this isn’t downsizing, instead calling it “right-sizing,” but even ignoring the semantics, you can’t argue with the numbers. The base 911 Carrera now makes a healthy 365 horsepower, up from 345 in the outgoing model.

For the higher-spec Carrera S, power raises to 414 horsepower from 395, while torque climbs to 369lb-ft from 325 before. Unlike years past, all the internals on the Carrera S are the same as the base Carrera. Now it’s the turbochargers that change, the pair of compressors on the Carrera S growing by 2mm to deliver a suitable increase in boost. Exhaust changes as well, stepping up to a model with a duct that opens for easier breathing — and louder howling — at full-song. (A separate, even throatier Sport exhaust is available as an upgrade.)

Given the nature of modern tuning on turbocharged cars, it’s easy to imagine owners of the base 911 achieving similar power levels with just a visit to their local ECU hacking guru, but only time will tell for sure on that front.

The new car rides 10mm lower than before. Sport brakes, or ceramic brakes, are optional.
Tim Stevens/CNET

The new active PASM suspension settles the car 10mm lower than the outgoing 911, while the optional PASM Sport drops you another 10mm. If you’re worried about what this means to the sanctity of the car’s nose, an optional front lift system is available, providing an additional 40mm of on-demand front clearance for speed bumps, entrance ramps or frightened woodland creatures. Rear wheels are now a half-inch wider, to help put that extra torque down, and for the first time, rear wheel steering is available. This improves stability at high speeds and agility at lower ones. This, too, is an option, but Porsche says the 2 degrees of active control over the rear wheels alone is worth two seconds around the mighty Nurburgring race track.

All that added together, plus a reconfigured gearbox with a new clutch and myriad other tweaks and fiddlings, help make the car an impressive eight seconds faster around the ‘Ring than the outgoing 911. That’s despite being roughly 20kg heavier, and offering an estimated 14 percent boost in fuel efficiency.

Yes, it’s always a shame to see a sportscar getting heavier, but it could have been much worse. The twin turbochargers, plus the intercoolers and other required pipes and bits, actually added 35kg to the car. Porsche clawed most of that back with dozens of little tweaks, like replacing more steel components with aluminum and switching from an aluminum oil pan to one made of plastic. (A Porsche engineer verified its durability, saying they tested the thing by dropping an entire engine assembly from a height of three feet. It survived.)

Interior advancements

A new 7-inch infotainment system brings Apple’s CarPlay to the 911 for the first time.
Tim Stevens/CNET

Thankfully it isn’t just the engine that’s receiving some extra horsepower. The in-dash infotainment system receives a significant upgrade, a fourth generation of the Porsche Communication Management system. A 7-inch, capacitive, multi-touch display is the main interface, and it is relatively snappy, supporting gestures like pinch-zooming on maps.

Those maps now look considerably better, thanks to Google Earth integration. If your car has an active data connection, either with an integrated SIM or by tethering to your phone, the nav system will pull down satellite information, along with other niceties like 360-degree Street View images and real-time traffic updates. (No word yet on US carrier options, nor data plan costs.)

The other big boost comes from the integration of Apple’s CarPlay. This means you can plug in an iPhone and let it take over infotainment duties. Android Auto is not officially part of the plan, but here’s hoping it’ll be coming soon.

On the track

More torque means more go out of the turns on the track.

A switch to turbocharging means potentially massive changes to the character of the car. Turbos can slow down throttle response, which is bad, and can mute the glorious sound of internal combustion, which for some is even worse.

Sadly, I was not allowed to drive the new 911 yet, as the only cars available today are very early pre-production models, but a short ride on the track certainly assuaged my fears. You can’t really evaluate throttle response from the passenger seat, but the car is plenty urgent, even during a 20kmph roll-on in third gear. You’d probably grab a lower gear or two on the road, or let the dual-clutch PDK transmission do that for you, but Porsche engineers did say there’s some engine management trickery going on here to keep those turbos spinning. Specifically, the intake is left slightly open, even when your foot is off the accelerator. This ensures enough of a breeze is cascading through the system to keep the impellers spinning, ready for you to get back on the throttle.

When you really need to pass that car ahead of you right now, the steering wheel features a new Sport Response button. Push this and, for 20 seconds, the car immediately kicks into the optimal gear for your current speed, engages a sportier throttle mapping and builds pressure in the turbos. A counter on the digital dash counts down to zero, at which point the fun is over — though you can just use the new toggle wheel to engage the (now more enthusiastic) Sport Plus mode, and keep on driving like a loon.

The Carrera and Carrera S will have distinctive exhausts, and an optional Sport exhaust is even louder.
Tim Stevens/CNET

If your car is equipped with a suitable exhaust, selecting either the Sport or Sport Plus drive modes opens a flap that drastically increases the volume of the car on the outside. On the inside, it opens up what’s called a “sound symposer.” There are two of these small tubes that run from the engine’s intake, through the firewall and into the car, channeling a tunable amount of sound right into your ears. It’s a bit of a crude way to deliver extra shock and awe to the cabin, but it’s certainly preferable to playing fake engine noises through the speakers.

And it works. The 911 sounds rough and ready from inside the cockpit when revving the engine at a standstill, exhaust popping and crackling as has become the norm for high-end sportscars these days. But, get the thing in motion and the tone changes, offering the same sort of deep roar that you’ve come to expect from a Porsche flat-six engine. Sure, it’s a bit more muted now, and the subtle whistle of a wastegate venting on throttle lift is a constant reminder of what’s new, but the overall sound will surely get the hair standing up on the back of your neck.


Tim Stevens/CNET

Legacy, continued

It’s too early to make a formal conclusion, but after spending a day in and around the 2017 Porsche 911 in its native land, it’s easy to see this is still very much a car worth envying. And, while the visual refreshes are subtle to the extreme, spend a few minutes pondering the fenders on the new Carrera and you won’t be left wanting.

But, of course, such things in life don’t come cheap. The new 911 starts at $89,400 in coupe form, $101,700 for the drop-top Cabriolet. The Carrera S, meanwhile, is $103,400 with a metal roof, $115,700 without. (Pricing for the UK and Australia were not available at this juncture, but the US prices convert to about£57,950/AU$126,250 and £65,900/AU$143,600 for the 911 models, respectively, while the Carrera S configurations work out around to £67,000 /AU$146,000 and £75,000/AU$163,400.) As ever, options packages on these cars are incredibly comprehensive and it won’t take much to push those prices quite a bit higher, so do make sure you’re well-prepared before chipping away at that piggy bank.

CNET accepts multiday vehicle loans from manufacturers in order to provide scored editorial reviews. All scored vehicle reviews are completed on our turf and on our terms. However, for this feature, travel costs were covered by the manufacturer. This is common in the auto industry, as it’s far more economical to ship journalists to cars than to ship cars to journalists. The judgements and opinions of CNET’s editorial team are our own, and we do not accept paid content.

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One of our favorite luxury SUVs gets even better with added diesel punch

Range Rover Sport maintains a regal bearing.
Chris Paukert/CNET

Land Rover is just now getting around to offering diesels in its North American SUV lineup, and given that arch rivals Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche have all been players in this alt-fuel segment for years, you might think that the British auto maker would be concerned about being late to the party. It isn’t, and there are a number of good reasons for this.

First off, after years of costing significantly more than gasoline, diesel is finally about as cheap as regular 87-octane unleaded nationwide, which makes the fuel’s inherently superior economy that much more enticing a prospect — especially in a vehicle whose gas engines normally suck down costlier high-octane fuel.

Secondly, Land Rover’s new 3.0-liter turbocharged Td6 V-6 is a reasonably priced option — just $1,500 more than its standard gasoline V-6. (For comparison’s sake, Audi asks a further $5,100 for the soon-to-be-replaced Q7 TDI, and on the significantly less-expensive Jeep Grand Cherokee, the 3.0-liter EcoDiesel commands a $4,500 premium.)

And thirdly, as a comprehensive on- and off-road drive in its 2016 Range Rover Sport Td6 has just proven to me, it’s also one heck of an engine.

The Sport’s slicked-back roofline doesn’t preclude a third-row seat option.
Chris Paukert/CNET

This Range Rover Sport is diesel aristocracy…
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By this time, the second-generation “L494” Range Rover Sport is a known quantity. It’s handsome to look at, beautifully appointed, and it’s so capable that it’ll darn near climb a redwood if you ask it to. The aluminum-bodied SUV is also surprisingly athletic on-road, although perhaps no more than today’s crop of do-anything luxury utes that includes the BMW X5, Mercedes-Benz ML-Class, and Porsche Cayenne, among others.

In any case, the Ford-derived Td6 brings with it a predictable bounty of torque — 440 pound-feet of the stuff from just 1,750rpm. By comparison, the identically sized supercharged gas engine delivers over 100 fewer pound-feet (332) at double the revolutions. Naturally, the horsepower edge remains in the gas engine’s camp, with the diesel mustering 254 hp versus the gas’ 332.

There’s not be much to look at, but the 3.0-liter Td6 is a peach in every dimension.
Chris Paukert/CNET

So what does all that mean?

In numerical terms, it means the 0-60 mph time of the Td6 lags ever-so-slightly behind that of the gas (7.1 seconds versus 6.9), but in practical terms, that’s close enough to be imperceptible from the driver’s seat. That’s because the far superior low-end torque of the Td6 pushes your bum into those leather-lined seatbacks from a stop with significantly more authority, so it feels every bit is as quick.

Whatever fractions of a second you give up in 0-60 mph acceleration, you’ll more than gain back by spending less time and money at the pump. The Range Rover Sport Td6 scores 22 mpg in the city and 28 mpg highway, which represents a 32% improvement over the petrol V-6’s 17/23 ratings. That puts it right in the thick of the luxury diesel SUV fray. For some additional perspective, that’s better efficiency than the altogether tinier Audi Q3 Quattro, which returns 20 mpg city and 28 highway from its 2.0-liter gas four cylinder. Better still, diesel models typically meet or exceed their EPA ratings in real-world usage quite easily, something that can’t often be said of their gas counterparts.

Distances between fill-ups increases to a bladder-perforating 658 miles, too. That’s nearly a 10 percent bump, and it likely would’ve been more, but engineers had to make space for the 4.76-gallon urea tank for the diesel exhaust fluid, which you’ll need to fill around every 10,000 miles. (The diesel’s fuel tank is 23.5 gallons, while the gas is 27.7.)

The Range Rover Sport manages to feel both luxurious and purposeful.
Chris Paukert/CNET

Of course, exactly none of that cost savings and load-lugging torque would be worth a lick if turned this oh-so-civilized Land Rover into a clattery, agrarian mess.

Before I got into my test vehicle and headed out into the Spanish countryside, I attended a press briefing, during which company officials boldly proclaimed that in customer clinics, not a single person who drove the Td6 ever detected it was a diesel. That sort of PR bluster certainly isn’t uncommon in this business, and after driving dozens of diesels over the years, picking an oil burner out of a crowd is pretty easy for me, whether from behind the wheel or standing next to one. Even I have to admit, though, that had I not known I was about to get behind the wheel of a Td6, I might never have second-guessed what type of fuel was combusting in the engine ahead of the windshield.

A small part of that is because many modern direct-injected gasoline engines have picked up annoying auditory ticks (blame their high-pressure fuel systems), but the main reason is that Land Rover has cultivated an incredibly refined diesel mill. This engine has been on sale for some time now in the UK in the £61,950 base RRS, but it’s been exhaustively tuned for US driving styles and fuel standards.

InControl Touch is better than it used to be, but still behind the curve.
Chris Paukert/CNET

Firing up my US-spec test vehicle, I observed absolutely no “wet dog shake” upon cold startup (admittedly “cold” is a relative term in late-summer Barcelona), and the only time I detected that the engines in our vehicles were diesels at all was first thing in the morning, when I was standing around as some of the other journalists at our press event began piling into their testers and driving away. Even then, I had to make a point of listening closely. Said another way, the idea that most people will never notice that they’re in the presence of a diesel is completely believable.

Credit goes not just to the diesel’s unique engine block, whose compacted-graphite construction is exceedingly stiff, but also to the model-specific engine mounts, generous sound deadening in the firewall, and the acoustically laminated glass.

On the open road, the engine is impressively quiet, as it doesn’t need many revs to maintain even high freeway speeds. There’s plenty of juice in reserve for passing on single-lane B-roads, too, and turbo lag is notable by its absence — there’s almost no gap between calling for more throttle and receiving more thrust. The only time you really detect there’s a diesel under hood is if you’re calling for high revs for some reason — like all diesels, it just doesn’t have them. Power taps out at around 4,000rpm, just shy of the 4,800rpm redline.

This being a Land Rover, off-road ability remains paramount (even if most owners never do much more than hop a curb or endure some muddy two-track road on a winery tour). With all that low-end torque available from just off idle, the Td6 is ideally suited to the rough stuff.

Like a vacuum’s carpet dial, Terrain Response 2 preps the RRS for any scenario.
Chris Paukert/CNET

To that end, Land Rover officials guided our group to Les Comes, about 90 minutes outside of Barcelona in the rugged Catalonian countryside. Land Rover keeps one of its Experience Centres here in the shadow of a 10th-century estate, and it was here where we picked our way down precipitous, rock-strewn descents and up shockingly vertical stone climbs that trained spotters had trouble clambering up and down on their hands and feet.

We used Land Rover’s new All-Terrain Progress Control feature on several occasions, and it’s a remarkable piece of technology that allows one to pick one’s speed and then just automatically “billy goat” one’s way up inclines, as if being pulled by some invisible tractor beam. If you’re familiar with the now-common Hill Descent Control feature for downward gradients, it functions similarly, albeit when going in the other direction.

(The whole vehicle is so overwhelmingly competent in such scenarios that if anything, off-roading proves to be almost too easy, somewhat dulling the sense of accomplishment I might’ve felt traversing the course in a lesser machine.)

Pro Tip: Lower the air suspension before loading unwieldy objects.
Chris Paukert/CNET

On the in-car technology front, the Range Rover Sport continues to be a midpack performer. The model has not yet received the company’s much-improved new InControl Touch Pro infotainment suite, and it lacks some of the high-end features of its rivals, including Google-Street-View-like destination imagery, a finger-swipe gesture recognition pad, and so on (never mind Apple CarPlay or Android Auto compatibility). On the other hand, the system is snappier and better-looking than earlier iterations, and the available Meridian audio systems sound fantastic.

LR has upped its game in recent years when it comes to advanced safety tech, and now the RRS can be had with adaptive cruise with emergency auto-brake, lane-departure warning, self-park (perpendicular and parallel), as well as a 360-degree camera system that is unexpectedly helpful in off-road situations, too.

Gauges are a mix of analog and digital, with good readability for both.
Chris Paukert/CNET

For many years now, there’s been a somewhat blind tendency among many American car reviewers to recommend diesels over their gasoline-powered equivalents. Yet even when I’ve really liked a diesel’s performance, the usual price premium for such an engine — as well as the historically higher cost of fuel — has often kept me from giving them the nod to friends. That’s absolutely not the case here. Not only is the Td6 far more efficient, it’s so refined that it’s at least as good to drive — if not better — than the gas V6, particularly when the extra low-end torque is factored in. Even if diesel fuel prices start to escalate somewhat, the $1,500 premium the Td6 costs will be worth it, especially since the residual value of diesel SUVs is often significantly higher than their gas counterparts come resale time.

The 2016 Range Rover Sport Td6 arrives mid-fall carrying a US base price of $67,445 delivered, and it’s not posh enough for you, Land Rover will be happy to park a Range Rover Td6 in your driveway from $87,445.

Land Rover may be late to the American diesel party, but by no means will it be playing catch-up.

The Td6’s efficiency and civility helps take the $ting out of care and feeding.
Chris Paukert/CNET

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Industrial espionage, Nazis and air-cooled engines: The tale of Tatra

Industrial espionage, Nazis and air-cooled engines: The tale of Tatra

You may not have heard of Tatra but you almost certainly have heard of the car that borrowed more than a little of its design, the VW Beetle. Find out exactly these two cars came to look so alike


September 10, 2015

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Monitoring diabetes at 225 mph

Enlarge Image
Charlie Kimball is the first licensed driver to race with diabetes in IndyCar history.
LAT USA

Just before hitting a sharp turn at 190 miles per hour, IndyCar driver Charlie Kimball quickly checks his dashboard.

Engine: good.

Oil pressure gauge: steady.

Blood sugar levels: stable.

Yes, blood sugar.

Kimball — driver of the No. 83 NovoLog FlexPen Chevy for the Chip Ganassi Racing Team — has Type 1 diabetes, which means he has to constantly check his glucose levels.

Enlarge Image
Kimball now relies on a small, continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) sensor he attaches to his body before every practice and race.
Lynzy Stover

That can be a tough challenge in races that can last up to three hours as drivers reach top speeds of 225 miles per hour. But Kimball doesn’t let that slow him down. He relies on a continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) sensor to check his blood sugar levels while he’s behind the wheel. Kimball’s lead engineer tracks those numbers just as intently as he notes rpm and tire tread. The wearable attaches to Kimball’s body underneath his fire-resistant racing suit to monitor his glucose numbers during races.

The 30-year-old Kimball is the first licensed driver to race with diabetes in IndyCar history.

His father, Gordon Kimball — a longtime Formula One car designer — also created a special valve so his son can switch between containers filled with water and orange juice. The water keeps Kimball hydrated while the juice boosts his glucose level if it drops too low. Kimball’s principal racing sponsor, Danish pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk, provides the insulin he uses to control his diabetes.

“I thought I was bulletproof,” says Kimball, who was diagnosed while racing in the Formula Renault 3 series in Europe in 2007.

He may not be bulletproof, but he’s doing all right: Kimball finished 12th overall in the 2015 IndyCar season, including a third place finish in the Indianapolis 500.

Constant vigilance

About 1 in 10 Americans has diabetes, says Dr. Sarah Kim, a clinical endocrinology professor at the University of California at San Francisco. Diabetes occurs when your body doesn’t produce any insulin at all (Type 1) or enough of it (Type 2). Regardless of type, diabetes must be continuously monitored to prevent complications, including heart disease, nerve damage and vision problems.

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That’s why glucose-monitoring systems, like the one Kimball uses, are so important.

“Maintenance of my body reminds me a lot of what my mechanics do to my car,” says Kimball, now in his fifth IndyCar season. “You have to make sure the vehicle is full of fluids, the battery is charged and the bolts are tight.”

During practices and races, Kimball’s personal manager, Kim Jackson, becomes part of the pit crew helping him reach the checkered flag. Her head rarely rises from a screen displaying data streaming off his car and his body – lap by lap.

“His glucose levels actually burn off while he’s driving, so we try to make sure he maintains an even level,” Jackson says. “We want that consistency so he can just concentrate on racing.”

Lead engineer Brad Goldberg agrees. “Charlie’s no different than any other race car driver I’ve worked with,” he says. “We kind of live in a world of controlled chaos. We’re all out here to win.”

This story appears in the summer edition of CNET Magazine. For other magazine stories, go here.

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