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

2014 Mazda MX-5 Miata Grand Touring PRHT (CNET On Cars, Episode 49)

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    Lexus GX’s update is only skin-deep

    It’s hard to talk about the 2014 Lexus GX 460 without drawing comparisons between it and its stablemate, the LX 570. The large, block-shaped SUVs appear similar in pictures, so its easy to assume that Lexus is overlapping itself.

    However, the GX 460 Luxury model that I tested feels like a better fit for the road. Its slightly smaller footprint, better fuel economy, and lower initial and operating costs may make it a better choice. If you’re looking to spend significant time off-road, it may be beneficial to look upmarket to the LX, but for the vast majority of luxury SUV drivers who occasionally need to haul or tow things and only need light, trail off-road capability, the GX is worth a look.

    This 2014 model gets an update that stretches the brand’s trademark spindle grille over its boxy front end. The result is more handsome than I expected it to be, printing better in person than it does in my photographs. However, the changes for 2014 are largely skin deep; underneath, it still uses a similar powertrain to the one this generation debuted with in 2009 and a slightly older version of the Enform tech than its contemporaries in the Lexus lineup.

    2014-lexus-gx-460-14.jpg
    The 4.6-liter V-8 is a low tech, but hopefully reliable engine.
    Antuan Goodwin/CNET

    4.6-liter V-8 engine

    Under the hood is Lexus’ 4.6-liter V-8 engine — a workhorse, but not necessarily an impressive engine. The 4.6 lacks direct injection, cylinder deactivation tech, and stop-start anti-idling tech; it’s about as simple as V-8s come these days. As a result, the EPA estimated 15 city mpg, 20 highway mpg, and 17 combined mpg isn’t much to brag about.

    I finished my week-long and highway-heavy testing cycle at an average of 16.8 mpg, so at the very least Lexus’ estimates are fairly spot on with what you can expect in the real world.

    Fuel goes in, power comes out, and the 2014 GX 460 outputs a stated 301 horsepower and 329 pound-feet of torque, which again isn’t as impressive as it sounds when you consider that BMW and Acura state similar outputs with their smaller, more efficient V-6 engines. However, there’s more to an engine than just the numbers, so we’ll come back to this point shortly.

    That engine is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission — the only gearbox available — and ultimately Lexus’ full-time four-wheel drive system. The transmission features a standard, economy tuned program, but also sport and manual shift programs accessible by sliding the shift lever left from the “D” position.

    2014-lexus-gx-460-01.jpg
    The six-speed automatic transmission is the only gearbox available.
    Antuan Goodwin/CNET

    In the standard drive mode, the GX’s 4.6-liter V-6 feels like it’s actively restraining itself. I expect a bit of lag in throttle responsiveness from large SUVs with large V-8s, but the GX felt particularly hesitant to change speeds when its throttle pedal was nudged. In the pros column, the standard program’s tendency to short shift each gear keeps the revs low, which keeps the engine running quite quietly. Meanwhile, the V-8’s plentiful torque and the heavy chassis’ high inertia makes the GX an effortless highway cruiser.

    Slapping the shifter into Sport mode doesn’t magically transform the GX into a sports car, but it does noticeably enliven V-8’s performance. This mode allows the transmission to hold each gear longer, which allows the engine to rev higher into its range and put more power and responsiveness at the driver’s toe-tip. The GX accelerates much more readily, the hesitation of the standard drive program somewhat loosened.

    Zero to 60 mph happens in a reasonable 7.8 seconds when the GX’s driver is really trying hard, but the trade-off is a loud, vacuum-cleaner-like engine note when accelerating (it’s fairly unpleasant) and reduced fuel economy.

    Adaptive suspension with rear height control

    The GX’s performance is dictated as much by its suspension as it is by the V-8. Our GX 460 “Luxury” model features an adaptive suspension with three different damper control modes and three different ride height settings.

    The driver can select between the suspension’s Comfort, Normal, and Sport settings by flipping a toggle on the center console, just starboard of the shift lever. Comfort is the softest suspension setting, Normal is the default, and Sport, naturally, provides the firmest ride.

    2014-lexus-gx-460-20.jpg
    At the flip of a switch, active dampers give the driver the choice between Normal, Sport, and Comfort ride quality.
    Antuan Goodwin/CNET

    However, in practice, the three modes don’t feel THAT much different when driven at regular speeds in a straight line. The SUV’s truck-like ladder frame and high center of gravity mean that its passengers get bounced around over the poorly maintained roads. The Sport mode makes undulating highway expansion joints feel just a hair more pronounced, where the Comfort mode seems to float boatlike over them.

    Tuck the GX into a bend and the differences between the programs becomes more pronounced. Between Sport and Comfort, there is a marked reduction in lean when rounding a back road bend and just a hair less squat and dive when accelerating and decelerating. Again, you’re not going to flip a switch and transform the SUV, but there is an effect.

    There’s less of an effect from the ride height control system, which has three settings accessible via another toggle on the center console. For starters, the air suspension of the GX only affects the height of the rear suspension, as opposed to the LX’s system, which raises or lowers all four corners. As a result, the GX’s suspension doesn’t really have much influence over the GX’s approach or departure angles for steep inclines.

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    Lincoln explores new territory with MKC SUV

    Lincoln suffered more than most from the brand-engineering era, when most of its cars bore too close a resemblance to the Ford models on which they were based, but the 2015 MKC may finally break Lincoln free from that stigma. Although based on the same platform as the Ford Escape, the MKC does a credible job standing on its own through an attractive design, fine cabin appointments, and an impressively powerful Ecoboost engine.

    The MKC is an all-new model for Lincoln, a small, premium SUV offered with two engine choices, front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, and three trim levels: Premiere, Select, and Reserve. The base model goes for $33,995, but I was testing a fully loaded Select trim, lacking only the panoramic sunroof of the top trim, with a price tag running to $46,660.

    Stylish new MKC small SUV refreshes Lincoln brand (pictures)
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    2015 Lincoln MKC

    2015 Lincoln MKC

    2015 Lincoln MKC

    2015 Lincoln MKC

    Although Ford is a global brand, UK and Australian readers won’t find a local Lincoln dealer, as the brand has very limited regional distribution.

    Unique styling

    Looking at the silvery wingspread of the MKC’s grille, I half-expected I would be taking passengers to the airport, as most Lincolns I see are in the livery business. Frosted LED parking strips in the headlight casings give the MKC a slick nighttime appearance. Looking around the body for traces of the Ford Escape, I was pleased to see unique and attractive styling from hood to tailgate. Front fenders follow the high hood line, giving the MKC a strong presence, while the roofline trails back to raked rear-end, adding elegance to the design.

    2015 Lincoln MKC
    Although built on the same platform as Ford Escape, the MKC stakes out its own ground..
    Wayne Cunningham/CNET

    Matte-finish wood trim nicely accented the cabin styling, and soft-touch materials over dash and doors lent a cozy feeling. The leather seats proved very comfortable in the way they cocooned my sides. This car benefited from a smart-key system, so I could unlock the doors by touching their handles and start the engine with the push of a button. In fact, Lincoln seems particularly keen on buttons, using them for the transmission and so eliminating the need for a traditional shifter.

    The base MKC comes with a direct-injection turbocharged 2-liter four-cylinder engine, but this one had an optional 2.3-liter engine, featuring the same technologies as the base engine, with output at 285 horsepower and 305 pound-feet of torque. That engine was mated to a six-speed automatic transmission offering sport and manual modes and, in this example, putting power to all four wheels. Also present was Lincoln’s adaptive suspension system, offering modes for Comfort, Normal, and Sport.

    284 horsepower from a four-cylinder engine is an impressive number, but better yet, the MKC truly delivered on the acceleration. I was blown away by the throttle response, delighting in how quickly I could get this car up to speed, and felt no turbo lag. The all-wheel-drive system and traction control worked to prevent engine torque from tearing up the rubber wrapped around the 19-inch wheels, but didn’t lessen the feeling of power. I assume the 240 horsepower from the base 2-liter engine would move the MKC well, but the 2.3-liter felt exceptional.

    2015 Lincoln MKC
    The MKC’s available 2.3-liter EcoBoost engine delivers an extraordinary amount of power with excellent response.
    Josh Miller/CNET

    The six-speed transmission was, at times, intrusive, shifting a little too abruptly for a premium-segment car, but most of the time it operated smoothly in the background. At freeway speeds, its overdrive gears let the engine speed hold below 2,000rpm.

    Fuel economy with the 2.3-liter engine and all-wheel drive comes in at 18 mpg city and 26 mpg highway, while the 2-liter engine boosts the city figure by only 1 mpg. My average came in at 20.8 mpg. These aren’t great numbers for a new model, and I would like to see Lincoln adopt an idle-stop feature as a means of saving some fuel, or even offer a hybrid version of the MKC, possibly using a similar drivetrain to the Ford C-Max.

    Ride modes

    The seating and cabin appointments added to the perception of comfort in the MKC, but I wasn’t taken with the ride quality. Here Lincoln needs to do some work to compete in the premium segment. In Normal mode, the adaptive suspension conveys too many bumps and too much body movement to the cabin. Putting it in Comfort mode through a somewhat hidden setting on the instrument panel, the ride became noticeably smoother, riding over the bumps more cleanly. However, the dampers had a tendency to oscillate, making the MKC bounce up and down.

    I think Lincoln is on the right track with this technology, which uses sensors to monitor road conditions and continually adjust the damper response, but needs to soften the tuning further.

    2015 Lincoln MKC
    Lincoln favors buttons for drive modes instead of a traditional shifter.
    Josh Miller/CNET

    On the flip side, pushing the S button on the dashboard not only engaged the transmission’s sport program, but also made the throttle more responsive and tightened the suspension. I don’t think anyone would expect a Lincoln driver to need a sport mode, but the brand might be trying to change its reputation. Giving it a whirl, I enjoyed the feeling of more power on tap, which increased my appreciation of this engine. However, the transmission’s sport program isn’t terribly aggressive. Using the paddle shifters mounted on the wheel, shifts showed typical torque converter lag.

    The suspension didn’t feel very different from its Normal mode, and the MKC didn’t suddenly turn into a hunkered down turn-straightener. Understeer and the high center of gravity never gave me much confidence for hard cornering.

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    Google’s self-driving cars will need steering wheels, at least for now

    screen-shot-2014-08-22-at-10-46-29-am.png

    Google

    Google has been hard at work developing self-driving cars, but it looks like the company will need to wait before software is truly in the driver’s seat.

    The California Department of Motor Vehicles has issued rules that say a driver must be capable of “immediate physical control” of a vehicle. So, the search giant’s prototype cars for now will include steering wheels and a brake-pedal system.

    Google in May unveiled its own built-from-scratch car model — a tiny two-seater with a front exterior that resembles a cartoon smiley face. The vehicle was notably missing the physical controls for the driver, in favor of buttons that controlled the software.

    The company said it would comply with the state’s regulations, which will go into effect in mid-September. “During our testing we are equipping the vehicles with manual controls such as a steering wheel, brake pedal, and accelerator pedal,” said a Google spokesperson. “With these additions, our safety drivers can test the self-driving features while having the ability to take control of the vehicle if necessary.”

    Testing on private roads will begin next month, in prototypes that will include a steering wheel and pedals. The California DMV is expected to issue another regulation later this year that will let manufacturers apply for permits to operate driverless cars — without steering wheels, brakes or accelerators — on public roads.

    Google’s self-driving car initiative is just one of the company’s more out-there projects, which Google likes to call “moon shots.” Other projects coming from the company’s experimental division, called Google X, include the head-mounted device Google Glass, and a project called Loon, which aims to bring Wi-Fi to unconnected regions via high-altitude balloons. The company has publicly been working on its self-driving cars since 2010.

    When Google co-founder Sergey Brin unveiled the prototypes in May, he said the goal of the project is for self-driving cars to be “significantly” safer than human-driven cars in a few years. The cars operate only at speeds of 25 miles per hour. Brin said at the time that the vehicle hadn’t crashed at all during testing.

    According to the Journal, the California DMV also set other rules for driverless vehicles. Ron Medford, director of safety for Google’s car project, asked the department about testing other types of vehicles, like motorcycles and trucks. The department declined, saying it wanted to first take “baby steps” with the technology.

    Update and correction, 4:48 p.m. PT: Adds more detail. An earlier version of this article also misstated that Google will be testing its prototype cars on public roads. The cars will be tested on private roads.

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    Start your Tesla engines…with your iPhone, report says

    Is your phone battery always at 4 percent?

    These battery packs will give your device the extra juice to power through all of those texts and phone calls.

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    Smarter driver: Are older cars more dangerous?

    CNET On Cars: Smarter driver: Are older cars more dangerous?

    2:48 /
    August 19, 2014

    Brian Cooley tells you why the age of your car can be a risk factor in staying safe on the road.

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