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Posts Tagged ‘BMW’

An EcoBoost Ego Boost

October 13th, 2009 Comments off

If you keep up with what’s happening on the auto-scene, you’ve no doubt heard of Ford‘s EcoBoost effort by now.  EcoBoost is essentially Ford’s moniker for adding forced induction (i.e., turbochargers) to high-compression engines to produce power equivalent to that of a V8 (or a V6) with fuel economy comparable to a V6 (or a 4-cylinder).  Automakers have been doing this for a number of years now, but Ford is making it a core part of their strategy to boost their brands’ fuel economy, spreading the technology through virtually all of their models.

2010 Lincoln MKS

2010 Lincoln MKS

I just finished watching the 6 vs 8 – Showdown at Loveland Pass episode of Speed Test Drive on Speed Channel, in which the Lincoln (Ford’s luxury brand) MKS (with a twin-turbo EcoBoost 3.5L V6 making 355 hp and 350 lb-ft of torque) was pitted against a Mercedes E550 (with a 382 hp 5.5L V8), BMW 550i (360 hp 4.6L V8), Maserati Quattroporte (400 hp, 4.3L V8), and Jaguar XF (385 hp, 5.0L V8).  The challenge was to see if the 6-cylinder Lincoln could keep up with the V8-powered European luxury/performance brands in a 3.7-mile hill climb up Loveland Pass in Colorado, with the finish-line nearly 12,000 feet above sea-level.  Expert rally / hill-climb champion racer Rod Millen was given the honor of piloting each of the vehicles.

The result?  The Lincoln came in second, with a time of 172.7 seconds – a couple of seconds (and about 0.8 mph) slower than the BMW, and several seconds ahead of the Mercedes, Jaguar, and Maserati that came in 3rd, 4th, and 5th respectively.  More striking is the fact that the Lincoln actually reached the highest top-speed on the course (109 mph), demonstrating that it was the handling, not the engine, that caused it to fall just short of the BMW’s pace.

I’ve never driven Loveland Pass.  I have driven over Independence Pass – 100 feet higher than Loveland Pass – and realize what a challenge this test actually is.  I also know how anemic normally-aspirated cars can be at extreme elevations – a fact that certainly played to the boosted Lincoln’s strengths.  And if you’re wondering why the car with the least power appears to be the fastest, note that it’s not the peak horsepower that matters – it’s the area under the torque curve, and the Lincoln’s is wide and flat.

I’m impressed.  That the Lincoln can run with, and even outshine, Europe’s best in any test has got to be an ego-boost for Ford.  But I’m even more impressed with Ford’s efforts to bring the technology to all of their vehicles.  The EcoBoost engine in the new Ford Flex (reviewed here by Autoblog) makes nearly 100 hp more than the normally aspirated V6 Flex, with the same fuel economy.  (I’d like to see them replace that old Duratec V6 with an EcoBoost 4-cylinder.)  The same engine is used in the high-performance Taurus SHO.  And there are even plans to use a version of it in Ford’s light-duty trucks.

I grew up in a Chevy family.  (Growing up the rural south in the ’70s, you were either a Chevy family, a Ford family, or a Chrysler family.)  And though my preferences have shifted to a few German marques, I’ve got to give Ford credit.  While the other American manufacturers have gone through bankruptcy and major reorgs in the last year, Ford has not only managed to survive, but they’ve introduced interesting new technology, all while manufacturing some of the better hybrids on the market.  And that, more than anything, should boost their ego.

ecoboost logo

Tesla v. Fisker

July 25th, 2009 Comments off
Fisker Karma Front

Fisker Karma

Fisker Karma

No, this isn’t another post about the legal battles between Tesla and Henrik Fisker, who had a shot at designing Tesla’s all-electric sedan before starting a car company on his own.  (You can find those on countless other websites.)  This is my subjective opinion, a comparison of the Tesla Model S and the Fisker Karma – two high-end, electrified automobiles intended to excite the car-guy as much as the environmentalist.  These two vehicles will be natural competitors once they’re available in 2010/2011.

Let’s start with the Karma, since Fisker intends to start delivering it in mid-2010, about a year and a half ahead of Tesla’s Model S.  The Karma is a plug-in hybrid of the serial variety (meaning its gasoline-powered GM-sourced 4-cylinder engine merely serves to recharge its lithium-ion battery once its electric range of 50 miles has been reached).  Fisker promises acceleration to 60 mph in under 6 seconds, and a top speed of 125 mph.  While the top-speed is slow compared to most sports cars, it’s well above any legal speed here in the U.S., and is a limitation of the electric drivetrain when used with a transmission with a single forward gear.  And while the acceleration is on par with other sports sedans, the Karma doesn’t look like other sports sedans.  It looks exotic, in the vein of Aston Martin or Maserati.  Only something’s not quite right.  It’s hood is a little too long (think Jaguar E-type, only not beautiful).  It looks like it’s wearing braces.  The diamond shaped reverse-lights mimic the diamond shaped vents in the front fascia, and neither is stylistically correct.  And My God, have you seen that interior?  …The Karma wants to be an Aston Martin V8 Vantage – a stunning automobile also designed by Henrik Fisker.  But it comes across as a not-quite-final sketch that should have ended up in the wastebasket.  In any case, it can be yours for just shy of $90,000 (excluding federal tax credits).  We’ll finally get to see one in motion in mid-August.

Tesla Model S

Tesla Model S

Now on to the Tesla Model S.  I have to admit, I was blown away when the Model S was revealed in mid-March.  Like Tesla’s Roadster, the Model S is motivated by an all-electric powertrain, going 0-60 mph in 5.6 seconds with a top-speed of 120 mph – specs which are almost identical to the Karma’s.  The base version will cost just shy of $60,000 (exluding tax credits) and have a 160-mile range (with optional upgrades to 230 or 300 miles).  The lack of an internal combustion engine allows for more space for occupants as well – the Model S claims it can carry 5 adults PLUS two children.  And it looks good.  Damn good.  It’s not quite as exotic as the Karma; instead, it looks like something you might see on the street.  It looks like what the Porsche Panamera should’ve looked like.  It aims to compete with the BMW 5-series, or perhaps the Mercedes S-class, or maybe the Panamera.  And it does it well.  It’s Achilles-heel is the fact that production likely won’t begin until the end of 2011 (despite the fact that we’ve already seen the prototype going out for a test drive).  And for more Model S design eye-candy, check out this video.

I wish both Fisker and Tesla immense success.  But if I had $90k burning a hole in my pocket, I believe I’d wait the extra 18 months and drive home in a Model S (with the 300-mile battery-pack, thank you).

Lose Some Weight, Will Ya?

July 15th, 2009 Comments off

An article in the current issue of SAE‘s Automotive Engineering International (“Everything but the Engine”) discusses the effect that components other than the engine have on vehicle fuel efficiency.  Among the items discussed are transmissions and the benefits of DCTs (which I previously talked about here) and tire rolling resistance (which I previously talked about here).  (…Wow, I’m very timely, aren’t I?)  Other efficiency mechanisms discussed are reducing vehicle size, using advanced lightweight materials, improving aerodynamics, and reducing the weight of all the accessories that are packed into what have essentially become condominiums on wheels.

Buick Enclave Rear Suspension

Buick Enclave Rear Suspension

Let’s talk about weight.  Our cars need to go on a diet.  I remember last year reading a Road & Track article about the new BMW 1-series (finally, a small BMW to replace the formerly-small 3-series!), and my jaw hit the floor when I saw how much it weighs – 3373 lbs for a manual 135i?!  This is small car?  …At the other extreme, my wife’s Buick Enclave has a curb-weight just shy of 5000 lbs, despite the use of aluminum in some of the body panels and suspension components.  (The Enclave’s aluminum rear control arms are a thing of beauty, though.  GM did do a few things right.  …Am I the only one for whom control arm material is a criteria for purchasing a vehicle?)

More extensive use of light-weight materials such as aluminum, magnesium, high-strength steel, and carbon fiber can reduce weight, but it seems like automakers are more focused on making cars more bloated while using these materials to offset a portion of the weight-gain that would otherwise occur.  (They add 100 lbs of features, but only 75 lbs of weight!)  On the other hand, my race car weighs a scant 2500 lbs, and that’s with an old-school steel tub, a heavy steel cage, and 70 lbs of ballast in the floorboard.  And in its day it would carry 2 adults and 2 children (sans cage) plus their luggage.  Granted, it lacks all the amenities that consumers demand today.

Lightweighting is a good thing, with compounding benefits.  Reducing the weight of the vehicle means a reduction in the size of the engine needed to move it around, smaller brakes to stop it, and lighter suspension components with which to control it, all of which lead to further reduced weight!  At the same time, handling is improved and stopping distances are reduced.  So, why haven’t we seen this in our cars?  One answer is that many of the advanced materials are still too expensive to be cost-effective.  Secondly, consumers demand more and more comforts such as DVD players, Ipod adaptors, Bluetooth connectivity, Big Gulp holders, and hip room.  Finally, some argue that smaller and lighter-weight vehicles are less safe, backing it up with statistics showing increased fatalities for occupants of such vehicles.  And while it is true that today’s small vehicles won’t fare as well in a crash with a Ford Excursion as the Excursion will, this does not take into account the effect that smarter design and the use of advanced materials have on occupant safety.  Cars aren’t like billiard balls – there are many more dynamic forces at play, and heavier doesn’t necessarily mean safer.

Automakers need to build small, lightweight cars – not small versions of what they already build.