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Brandon Seiler's Blog on Cars

Archive for November 2012

Big news from Dodge @ the Seattle Auto Show

Dodge’s Ram trucks are still huge and meaty just the way you like em’.  In my opinion no other American pickup has a beefier front end that perpetually appears to be trying to eat something.  It was a difficult pill to swallow when Ram’s spokesperson claimed that when equipped with a Hemi V8 and their new eight-speed transmission the 2013 Ram 1500 will be more fuel-efficient than other V6 powered pickup rivals. The verdict will be out on that one until the EPA gets a chance to test a Ram with the 8speed V8 combo.

What’s obvious is that Dodge is on a warpath of fuel efficiency with the new 1500.  Using Chrysler’s Pentastar 3.6-liter V-6 and the magical 8spd automatic transmission fuel economy is up to an EPA-estimated 17mpg city/25 mpg highway.  That’s a whopping twenty percent improvement over last year’s 3.7-liter V-6. 

If that weren’t alluring enough when equipped with the 306hp Pentastar the 1500 can tow up to 6500 pounds.  It begs the question why anyone would opt for the carryover 310hp 4.7L V8 that makes nearly identical fuel economy numbers as the massive 5.7L Hemi V8.

Besides the high-five worthy efficiency jump the biggest news of the 2013 Ram 1500 is optional air suspension. That might not sound like a big deal on your computer screen but no other full-size pickup has anything like it. 

The system has five modes controlled by a switch on the center stack.  Without human intervention the truck will automatically lower its stance just over an inch at highway speeds (60mph) to improve aerodynamics and fuel efficiency.  The truck will also kneel subserviently to make entering and exiting the cabin easier, as well as loading and unloading the bed.

For off-roading the ride height can be increased up to 2 inches, at which point Chrysler claims the 1500 has best in class ground clearance, break over angle and departure angle.   

Keep an eye on the sorts of technological advances being made by the Ram 1500.  Pickups are pretty much the only vehicles on the road that need to make gobs of power for practical purposes.  That puts them directly in the crosshairs of increasingly stringent government fuel economy requirements.   

The advancements Chrysler and their competition are developing to keep adequate grunt in their trucks while making them vastly more efficient is going to showcase how they’ll achieve the best of both worlds in vehicles across their lineups. 

That might be the biggest story of the 2012 Seattle Show.  From the press tour at least it looks like we might be able to have our cake and eat it too. 

News from Ford, Fisker, Buick, Toyota

Big news from Fisker @ the Seattle Auto Show

The first thing that struck me about Fisker’s display was that it appeared to have been left there untouched from last year’s show.  It was in the exact same place on the showroom floor with the same single car in attendance:  The $100,000 plugin-hybrid Karma.  

At first sight the Karma was pretty enough to make me forget about the larger story at play – it really is that striking in person.

In reality it’s no secret there’s a fair amount of trouble behind Fisker’s curtain.  Last month 320 Fisker Karmas were destroyed at a New Jersey port during hurricane Sandy.  The damage toll for Fisker topped out at $32million.  Although the cars were insured the disaster was a kick in Fisker’s shin during a time when their financial woes have churned into a crap-storm of their own formidability.

Fisker took a $529million government loan in 2007 to fund the development of advanced technology in cars. While running for president this year Mitt Romney did his best to insult the loan and others made by the Obama administration to fund green car technology as money wasted on “losers”.

Making matters worse Fisker’s battery supplier A123 has gone bankrupt.  Production of Fisker’s second car to be, the more affordable $55,000 Atlantic has been pushed back to 2014 or 2015.

So what’s going right with Fisker?  The Karma makes the argument that cutting-edge hybrid technology has a place in performance cars.  The Atlantic wants to take that sentiment and package it in a car that’s relatively affordable.

Fisker deserves a shot at bringing these vehicles to market at a reasonable price point.  Let’s be honest; if someone doesn’t hurry up and figure out how to make a hybrid that’s attractive and fun to drive we could all wind up driving Prius’ when the oil runs out.  That’s no future worth living in. 

To help the mission’s financing and possibly spread positive media attention in the process Fisker won over Leonardo Dicaprio as an investor recently.  That counts as good news.

Good luck, Fisker. 

News from Dodge. Ford, Toyota, Buick

Big news from Toyota @ the Seattle Auto Show

Toyota Avalon… Give it a moment.  Did you picture a sixty five year old man driving a sofa?  Toyota is tired of the Avalon being regarded as the Buick of their lineup.  That’s a serious gripe when even Buick is tired of being Buick.  Toyota’s goal is to lower the average buying age of the Avalon from 65 to 55 and they want to triple production in the process.

Toyota’s representative gave a presentation based solely on the completely redesigned 2013 Avalon.  It appears Toyota’s “Kinetic Energy” exterior design was influenced by the likes of Hyundai, Lexus, Infiniti and Cadillac to name a few.  It’s no coincidence these are brands that have healthy images with consumers who don’t yet have safety seats installed in their showers.

The Avalon’s new interior is the most obvious accomplishment of its redesign.  Every Avalon now comes with leather seats and a vinyl-wrapped dashboard that pulls off the appearance of genuine animal hide. 

The revamped dash area should appeal to a younger crowd and potentially confuse and/or frighten the elderly.  It now boasts a multidimensional infotainment system with electroluminescent dials and Smart phone connectivity.  Ambient lighting at the base of the dash illuminates the cabin at night.

To liven up the driving experience the Avalon now features paddle shifters and three driving modes:  Sport, Eco and Normal.  These aren’t serious performance upgrades nor should we expect them from the Avalon, but they should help to give the car more character behind the wheel.  

The Avalon’s standard engine is the same optional 3.5L V6 offered on the Camry.  In the Avalon it’s good for 21mpg city, 31mpg highway. The bigger story for Avalon engine options is a hybrid system also borrowed from the Camry. With the hybrid setup the Avalon is good for an estimated 40mpg city and 39mpg highway.  Forgot the old fogey jokes; those are very impressive fuel efficiency numbers for a full-size car.  

News from Fisker.  Ford, Dodge

Big news from Buick @ the Seattle Auto Show

Buick is trying hard to not to be your Chinese grandfather’s car. They appear to be headed in the right direction.  Sales in China accounted for about 77 percent of the brand’s global total last year.  Five years ago the average age of its buyers was 64. This year Buick is planning to introduce four new or refreshed models for the U.S. market in the next 12 months.  The average age of their buyers has already dropped to 57.  

Buick’s marketing manager for crossovers spoke at the show in front of a refreshed 2013 Enclave - the company’s relatively new flagship vehicle.  He was full of good news about the company’s healthy sales and the new, younger direction of their brand. This year’s updates to the Enclave backed up his spiel with visible proof Buick is using it as a platform to attract buyers with longer life expectancies.

Most noticeably the Enclave’s headlight design is sleeker with standard HIDs and LED daytime running lights. The high-intensity light scheme combined with a much larger grill gives the new Enclave an increasingly modern appeal, one that should appeal to buyers who want a little sexy from their family hauler.

Inside Buick didn’t try jump the shark by stuffing the Enclave with cutting edge millennial technology.   They did make encouraging advancements with a larger touch screen and an Intellilink infotainment system that is now standard. Making further use of the LED mojo, a thin strip of Ice Blue LED lighting now adorns the door panels and dash to illuminate the cabin with a pleasant glow at night.

These are all smart moves by Buick that should continue to pay off across their lineup.  

News from Toyota, Ford, Fisker, Dodge

Big news @ the Seattle Auto Show

Scoring a press pass to the Seattle Auto Show is kind of like finding a golden ticket in a Wonka Bar.  Only the press pass doesn't come with the risk of being saddled with CEO duties to an ailing chocolate factory. It does come with the responsibility to attend the Seattle Auto Show’s press day before the doors open to the general public. The experience isn’t unlike touring the Wonka factory except the stops on the candy land map are replaced by ten minute presentations from automaker’s public relations departments.

In the time it takes to bake a tray of cookies representatives from each company do their best to regale the local auto press with their brands’ most important stories.  Here’s what made it to my notepad from the adventure this year:

FORD

Ford decided to focus their presentation on the five year anniversary of their partnership with Microsoft to produce the Ford Sync connectivity system (Ha!).  As of this year Ford has produced five million sync-equipped vehicles that allow consumers to integrate the technology of the ever expanding smart phone craze with Ford vehicles.

A representative from Ford and Microsoft led the presentation in front the new Ford Escape, which since its recent exterior makeover is looking much sleeker and less boxy. 

Is it a small SUV?  Multi-Purpose-Vehicle (MPV)?  Crossover-Utility-Vehicle (CUV)?   

These confusing acronyms are mattering less and less.  The Escape is helping to pioneer a future where more vehicles will be celebrated as Renaissance men of many disciplines, like a tight end in the NFL that can block as well as author a successful motivational book.

Other big players on the blue oval floor included the roided-out 650hp, 200mph 2013 Mustang GT500 and Prius intimidator C-Max.  These polar opposites are glowing examples of the healthy range in Ford’s lineup.

Further proof was supported by a black 2013 Focus ST, the first performance Focus available stateside since 2004. In ST trim the Focus pumps out 252hp.  That makes it a serious contender to the Volkswagen GTI in Fast and Furious-style street races for pink slips and floosy girlfriends. On the commuter end of the spectrum the Focus SE is good for 28city/40highway.

That’s the best kind of automotive progress; the kind that doesn’t kill fun.

News from Buick, Toyota, Fisker, Dodge

Dodge ‘Adult Toys’ of the 1970’s - The Little Red Express

Chrysler’s Little Red Express pickup truck was designed to dance through a loophole in late 1970’s emissions regulations. It worked so well the Express turned out to be the fastest American production vehicle of 1979 and the original muscle truck.

Unlike its immediate predecessor in Chrysler’s Adult Toys lineup, the Dodge Warlock, the Little Red Express was much more than a show truck catering to the trick truck crowd. MOPAR powertrain engineer, Tom Hoover wanted to make a factory-customized truck that actually had the power to back up its image.

This was no easy task for the day.  Emissions regulations had reduced muscle cars from the 60’s to detuned, smog-regulated embarrassments of their former selves. Automakers had resorted to customization packages, such as the Warlock pickup that did their best to look cool but had no real performance under the hood. 

These were the darkest of times for American muscle. Hungry for another taste of MOPAR’s glory days, Hoover did his research and discovered there were major loopholes to work around the EPA’s vehicle-emission regulations.

Specifically light trucks were exempt from having to use catalytic converters if their Gross Vehicle Weight rating was above 6,000 pounds. The real kicker was that once an engine family was certified by the EPA as emission regulations compliant about 6-9 small modifications were permitted without having to be run through extensive testing again.

As if destined to work the system, Dodge’s smallest D-Series pickup, the D-150 step side had a GVW rating of 6050 pounds.  Hoover came up with the brilliant idea to take Chrysler’s emissions compliant 360ci V8 Police Interceptor engine and drop it into what would become the Little Red Express.

Chrysler started with a standard 360ci V8 truck engine and began modifying it up to Police Interceptor status and beyond. Upgrades included:

  • Camshaft from the 1968 340 4-bbl.
  • Red stripe valve springs with damper from the 1968 340 4-bbl.
  • Standard valve retainers (replacing rotators)
  • Large Thermo-Quad from Police 360
  • Intake manifold from the 1978 Police 360
  • Windage tray from Police 360
  • Roller timing chain and sprockets from Police 360
  • Dual-snorkel air cleaner with fresh air ducts
  • Chrome valve covers and air cleaner lid
  • Street-Hemi style mufflers (2.5inch dual semi-stacks)

The Express put 225hp and 290lb-ft torque to the ground through a beefed up 727 transmission.  She was good for a top speed of 128mph and a quarter mile time of about 15 seconds. Those might not seem like muscle car numbers by modern standards, but in 1979 the Little Red Express was faster than any American production car on the road.   

As required by its title the truck was only available in bright red with a gold tape stripe package and gold decals on the doors and tailgate. For some reason gold accents was a big thing back then. Personally I blame disco.

The body side and tailgate body trim were made of real oak with chrome-headed bolts. But of course, the true source of the Express’ cosmetic appeal came from the dual semi-stack exhaust pipes; as if to mock the EPA for being foolish enough to assume a muscle-head engineer wouldn’t eventually work a massive exception through their smog regulations. 

From 1978 to 1979 nearly 7,400 Little Red Express's rolled off Chrysler’s assembly lines in bold defiance of the times.  It was short lived victory. When the gas crisis hit in 1979 production was cancelled in 1980.

The Little Red Express holds several important places in automotive history few people are aware of. For starters it was the pinnacle of Dogde's all but forgotten Adult Toys lineup. More importantly it represents a glorious albeit brief time in muscle car culture during a decade when American performance cars were close to dead. 

Keeping that in mind the semi-stack exhaust looks tasteful, appropriate even. 

Dodge ‘Adult Toys’ of the 1970’s - Dodge Street Van

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In 1976 Chrysler was taking part in a shameless product line few people are aware of today dubbed ‘Adult Toys’. The toys were a series of factory-issued utility vehicles that rolled off the assembly line outlandishly customized in what would become a staple of late 70’s automotive culture. In 1976 the inevitable happened and Dodge birthed from its shag-carpeted doors the Street Van.

Based off the B100 or B200 Dodge Van, the Street Van was an obvious attempt to attract buyers already interested in the custom van craze of the time; people who did things behind bubble windows they preferred not be seen by outsiders. 

Robert H. Kline, Chrysler Corporation's manager of truck sales explained the reasoning behind Chrysler’s entry to the customized van world of the 70’s.

“This model, the first of its type offered by a major manufacturer, has a special appeal to the motorist who wants to convert a unit to his individual tastes, needs, and life style,” he said.  “Our special Street Van provides a custom interior and exterior while leaving a great deal of latitude for plain or fancy conversion of the area between the seats and the rear door.”

Translation: “What happens between the seats and rear doors will not be judged. Just buy this weird van, hippie.”

The 1978 Street Van came straight from the dealership with a custom interior designed to wow van folk.  Standard interior features included high-back bucket seats, carpeting in the forward compartment, fancy wood-grain insert on the instrument panel, bright trim around the gauges, door panels and horn bar. 

Exterior mods included raised white letter tires, five slot chrome or painted spoke road wheels, bright front and rear bumpers, special moldings around the grille, windshield, tail lamps and side view mirrors.  A Street Van nameplate was an available option to alert passersby who weren’t already tipped off by the rest of the package that the cabin was most likely hot-boxed with nefarious stank.

Despite the rich host of custom options the Street Van rolled off the line with Chrysler’s true intention was for it to serve as an enticing platform for even nastier customization. To get buyers headed in the right direction every Street Van came with a customization kit that included detailed instructions and plans to further the debauchery.   

“Everything in the kit will make it easier for the do-it-yourselfer to finish the van in an expert, professional manner,” Kline said.

Notable alterations the kit advised on with step by step guidance included the installation of port holes, sun roofs and roof vents. These modification suggestions imply improved ventilation was regarded as a high priority for the van crowd. Van stank is real thing that shouldn't be accepted as normal. 

The kit also encouraged setting the mood inside the van with full-size templates for cutting side panels, headliners and floor coverings.  Shag would be the cliché material of choice here, but it would be naive to assume leather and sound-deadening materials didn’t play significant roles in the design process as well. 

As a final enticement the Street Van came with a complimentary membership to the National Street Van Association (Van Clan) which included a subscription to the NSVA’s publication on the custom van community.  

Until it was discontinued in the early 1980’s the Street Van reigned as the purest representation of Dodge’s Adult Toys lineup; it was by far the most ‘70s of the bunch. 

Nasty as it was the Street Van wasn’t the crowning achievement of the toys line.  That title belongs to a Dodge pickup that can also lay claim to being the original muscle truck. :

The Little Red Express

Dodge ‘Adult Toys’ of the 1970’s - Dodge Warlock

Soon after venturing into the trick truck crowd with the Dodge Dude the marketing wizards at Chrysler sensed the public was hungry for more. Enter the 1976 Dodge Warlock; a production show truck for urban cowboys that wanted to look even more like Burt Reynolds. 

The Warlock represented a landmark in Dodge’s new customized breed of vehicles dubbed ‘Adult Toys’. In the late 1970’s the toys packages were aimed at cashing in on healthy utilitarian vehicle sales by lavishing them with enough aftermarket performance imagery to make up for their complete lack of horsepower. 

Smog regulations of the day made it nearly impossible to develop a powerful production vehicle of any genre. Robert H. Kline, manager of truck sales for Chrysler Corporation described the mojo behind the decision to look towards work vehicles as platforms for the enthusiast crowd to play with:

“We were seeing an upswing in the number of people who want a light duty pickup instead of a second car,” he said. “We also were aware that more and more people were customizing and personalizing pickups, particularly the short wheelbase models.”

“The 'trick truck' concept allows the customer to drive away from the dealership with a fully customized vehicle that has a personality of its own.”     

To test the waters in the customization crowd Dodge released the Warlock in the mid 70’s as a show vehicle. It featured tinted windows, fat tires, bucket seats, oak-lined bed, oak sideboards above the box with gold accents and chrome plated running boards. The exterior was accented with gold pin striping that outlined the wheel wells and body lines.

Mood rings throughout the trick truck crowd turned a lusty hue for the Warlock. Dodge noticed the swelling of adoration and quickly released the Warlock as a limited production vehicle in late 1976. 

In the following months droves of mustachioed men slid aviator sunglasses down their noses to ogle the Warlock in Chrysler dealerships. It wasn’t uncommon for these characters to drop 1-3 button levels on their polyester shirts to let passion vent from the dense shrubbery of their chest hair.

In 1977 Chrysler made the Warlock a regular production model.     

 “Warlock” was emblazoned in gold on the tailgate.  The truck could be done up in Dark Green Metallic or Bright Red paint schemes. But the most preferable color was a dangerous Black accented by gold pin stripping. The dark scheme made the Warlock resemble the 1977 Pontiac Trans Am Burt Reynolds was fast becoming synonymous with in the classic beer-smuggling movie, Smokey and the Bandit.

Inside the Warlock the bandit theme was standard. Every Warlock came with a black interior accented by more gold tape on the dash and doors.

Despite the outlaw image there were few if any performance upgrades to the wheezy engine options carried over from the standard D100 pickup:  Slant six, 318 with two or four barrel carburetor, 360 four barrel, 400 V8 and 440 V8. 

Thanks to smog regulations, for all the 70’s curb appeal the Warlock pioneered as a production trick truck its most important achievement was to serve as a platform for a pickup that could back up the image with real performance. 

The crowning achievement of Dodge’s Adult Toys lineup exploited a loop hole in emissions regulations that had been overlooked in the Warlock. When it rolled off the assembly line in 1978 it was the fastest production car in America.  Few people knew of it then and fewer know today that it was the original muscle truck.

Dodge called it The Little Red Express.

Dodge ‘Adult Toys’ of the 1970’s

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Remember the 1970’s?  They were nasty. Imagine a decade where you could buy a hot-rod Dodge pickup truck with semi-stack dual exhaust straight from the factory. That actually happened. Dodge called it the Little Red Express. It ran a high-performance Police Interceptor 360ci V8 and was designed to dance through loopholes in emissions regulations. 

In the two years it was produced the Express earned a little-known place in automotive history as the original muscle truck. It also stands as the crowning achievement of Dodge’s ‘Adult Toys’ lineup.

Yes, Adult Toys were also a thing Dodge did back then.  The debauchery started in 1970 with the Dodge Dude.

Dodge Dude (1970-1971)

Although it’s debatable whether or not the Dude is officially part of what would become the Adult Toys lineup in the late 70’s it was an obvious precursor to the dirty movement.

First introduced in August 1969, the Dodge Dude was a sport trim package available on the standard D100 (1/2 ton) Dodge pickup. The package consisted mainly of paint and tape upgrades versus performance goodies. Regardless, the Dude was a groundbreaking example of a production truck pushing its boundaries into muscle car territory, even if only to capture the image.

The dude package consisted of a black or white body-side ‘C’ stripe decal, a Dodge Dude decal on the box at the rear tail lights, tail light bezel trim and dog dish hub caps with colored rings. The roof color options were matched to that of the body stripe and were available in a textured paint option Dodge advertised as vinyl.

To complement the faux Landau top routine dude pickups could be ordered with Chrysler’s “High-Impact” paint color schemes. Eye-popping options previously reserved for the muscle car crowd included “Medium Burnt Orange,” “Sub-Lime Lime,” “Bright Yellow,” “Plum Crazy Purple,” “Bright Red,” and “Bright Turquoise.”

The Dude package also came with interior upgrades that were hot stuff for the day and even hotter for a pickup truck, such as air conditioning and bucket seats with center console.  Engine options were standard carryovers from the regular D100 pickup; 225 slant 6, 318 small block V8 and the big block 338 V8. 

While adequate for light duty truck duties the Farmer Joe engines were proof the Dude package was more about blurring utilitarian practicality with performance image than burning up drag strips.  That isn’t to say there was much to keep Farmer Joe from sauntering into a MOPAR retailer and outfitting his Dude package D100 with enough aftermarket performance parts to make his cows’ milk curdle.

Of the roughly 73,000 ½ ton trucks Dodge built from 1970-1971 its estimated only 1,500 to 2,000 were sold as Dude models. The rarest of the Dude breed was rumored to be a Canadian variant known as the “The Fargo Top-Hat Special”, which unfortunately turned out to not exist at all.

However the origin of the legend is based in some semblance of truth.  During the time the Dude was in production there were only two ways to buy a Chrysler truck in Canada. They were sold either by Chrysler-Plymouth as Fargo Trucks or Dodge trucks by Dodge-Desoto dealers.  Canadian Chrysler-Plymouth dealerships did in fact sell extremely rare Fargo trucks equipped with the Dude package; Canadian Dudes if you will.   

Adding to the mystique of their obscurity Dodge D100’s equipped with the Dude trim package were odd ducks even in the production truck scene of the day, proof that Chrysler was interested in seeing if the aftermarket hot-rodder image of the muscle car era might translate to trucks.

Chrysler was on to something. The Dude set the basis for what would soon evolve into the company’s Adult Toys truck and van packages of the late 1970’s, a time when emission regulations were doing their best to kill all that was fun in mainstream American motoring.

While it lasted the Adult Toys vision produced sought after and little known rarities of the post-muscle car washout, such as the Dodge Warlock pickup, Street Van and the crowning performance achievement of the movement: The Little Red Express.

Read on and get educated.  These rigs were nasty in the best way:

Dodge Warlock

Dodge Street Van

2014 Forester nabs turbo BRZ engine

Subaru fans that lean towards the hippie end of the spectrum should get ready to flip their hemp wigs in the wind.  I'm talking about Forester folk, the Northwesterny sort who admire the off road sport wagon charm of the first generation Outback.

People, Subaru is putting a turbocharged version of the 2.0L FA BRZ engine in the 2014 Forester. She’ll be good for 250hp, up from 224hp from the 2.5L inline four-cylinder of last year.  The 2014 Forester Turbo will only be offered with a CVT transmission with six and eight-speed manual modes.  Each will feature hill descent control.  A new manual six-speed will be available with the 2.5L.  

Although Subarau is now or soon will be offering the turbo FA engine in the WRX and BRZ, Forester does not appear to be moving away from its rugged heritage.  Ground clearance is only down a smidge at 8.7 inches from 8.9 inches on the tallest 2013 Foresters. 

Overall the 2014 Forester is getting bigger.  It’s now up to 180.9 inches long, 68.2 inches tall, 70.7 inches wide and has a wheelbase of 103.9 inches.  Thanks to the stretched dimensions rear passenger space and cargo space will be increased to make even more room for shaggy dogs, ironic sweaters and bags upon bags of granola.

Subaru describes exterior changes as contributing to a “bolder profile” that draws influence from the 2013 Impreza.  Considering Subaru’s recent design history blemishes the picture of the 2014 Forrester they’ve released so far should be counted as a step in the right direction by subie fans. The 2014 Forrester will be officially released at the 2012 Los Angeles Auto Show at the end of November.

But wait, there’s a sub subie story here.  Car nerds should be well aware that rumors of the turbocharged 2.0L BRZ engine soon to be available in the 2014 Forrester still hasn’t appeared in the BRZ itself.  Seems a little backwards doesn't it?

Read more about Subaru’s plans for a turbocharged BRZ and possible STI package here.

Turbo Lust - Subaru BRZ

Few new cars have made more people swoon this year than the $26,000 Subaru BRZ. By most everyone’s standards that’s had a chance to drive one it’s close to perfect for what it set out to be:  A purist’s rear-wheel drive sports car, the kind we just don’t make enough of.  

The next logical question in everyone’s mind was when Subaru would hurry up and turbocharge it. Currently the BRZ runs Subaru’s 2.0L FA engine, good for about 200hp.  It’s a great little engine but only good for 0-60mph in the low 7’s.  A healthy cheetah can reach 60mph faster than that if a tasty gazelle catches its eye.  

Seriously.  Google that. 

As if to bait the hook spy photos of a BRZ testing at the Nurburgring outfitted with STI trim surfaced October 31st last month on MotorAuthority. The car isn’t wearing camouflage, implying Subaru might want your lusty eyes ogle it. 

Proof a turbocharged version of the FA BRZ engine will soon exist in the U.S. came last month when Subaru announced a version of it good for 250hp would be offered in the 2014 Forrester.  Another version of the engine good for about 280hp and 250lb-ft toque will power the WRX – and yes, eventually find its way to the BRZ.   

Bust out the party horns.  It sure looks like a turbocharged STI BRZ is on the way.  It’s so nice when things go right in the world.  

Yikes? Technology to keep seniors driving longer

We’ve all seen the cliché elderly person in a powder blue Cadillac doing a righteous 48mph on the freeway with their turn signal on.  It’s annoying, dangerous and according to several new studies these active members of the greatest generation should be allowed to drive even longer with the help of technology. 

“For many older people, particularly those living alone or in rural areas, driving is essential for maintaining their independence, giving them the freedom to get out and about without having to rely on others,” said Professor Phil Blythe of Newcastle University.

“But we all have to accept that as we get older our reactions slow down and this often results in people avoiding any potentially challenging driving conditions and losing confidence in their driving skills. The result is that people stop driving before they really need to.”

“What we are doing is to look at ways of keeping people driving safely for longer, which in turn boosts independence and keeps us socially connected.”

As part of nearly $20million program under Blythe’s direction a team of Newcastle researchers converted an electric car into a ‘DriveLAB’ outfitted with tracking systems, eye trackers and bio-monitors to gather information on what contributes to senior drivers’ unique challenges.  The systems track things such as eye movement, speed, reaction, lane position, acceleration, braking and driving efficiency.

The Newcastle team tested older guinea pigs from the North East and Scotland in the DriveLAB as well as the University’s driving simulator to shed light on their driving habits, fears and ways to possibly mitigate them with technology.    

Dr. Amy Guo, the leading researcher on the study, explained: “…Most of us would expect older drivers always go slower than everyone else but surprisingly, we found that in 30mph zones they struggled to keep at a constant speed and so were more likely to break the speed limit and be at risk of getting fined.”

“We’re looking at the benefits of systems which control your speed as a way of preventing that.”

Other vehicle technologies the DriveLAB team is developing include night vision systems and a navigation tool dubbed the “granny nav.” 

Versus instructing drivers to follow directions by street names and distance cues the granny nav tells them to turn at landmarks that are easier to notice, such as a gas station, McDonalds, mailbox, etc.  

Hold on a second… I’m twenty seven years old and that sounds like a technology I would use.  According to an eye test I squinted through at the DMV when I was sixteen I don’t need glasses.  But that doesn’t keep me from cursing SAT NAV systems when I miss their verbal turn cues; street signs are hard to spot when navigating traffic.    

DriveLAB researcher Chris Emmerson, explained: “One thing that came out of the focus groups was that while the older generation is often keen to try new technologies it’s their lack of experience with, and confidence in, digital technologies which puts them off.  Also, they felt most were designed with younger people in mind.”

I wish the granny navy actually was designed for me – I would use it. 

I see a trend forming here. In September of this year The Harford and MIT AgeLab released a study listing their top technology recommendations for mature drivers: 

1. Smart headlights: adjust the range and intensity of light based on the distance of traffic and to reduce glare and improve night vision

2. Emergency response systems: offer quick assistance to drivers in the case of a medical emergency or collision, often allowing emergency personnel to get to the scene more quickly

3. Reverse monitoring systems: warn of objects to the rear of the vehicle to help drivers judge distances and back up safely, and helps drivers with reduced flexibility

4. Blind spot warning systems: warn drivers of objects in blind spots, especially while changing lanes and parking, and helps those with limited range of motion

5. Lane departure warning: monitors the vehicle's position and warns the driver if the vehicle deviates outside the lane, helping drivers stay in their lane

6. Vehicle stability control: helps to automatically bring the vehicle back in the intended line of travel, particularly in situations where the driver underestimates the angle of a curve or experiences weather effects, and reduces the likelihood of a crash

7. Assistive parking systems: enable vehicles to park on their own or indicates distance to objects, reducing driver stress, making parking easier, and increasing the places that a driver can park

8. Voice activated systems: allow drivers to access features by voice command so they can keep focused on the road

9. Crash mitigation systems: detect when the vehicle may be in danger of a collision and can help to minimize injuries to passengers

10. Drowsy driver alerts: monitor the degree to which a driver may be inattentive while on the road and helps alert drivers to the driving task

Just about every recommendation on the list is a safety option that’s becoming more standardized on upper-end cars.  Whether you’re a senior citizen who needs some help keeping up with younger motorists or just a crappy driver they’re designed to compensate for human error.

This list also spotlights the fact that with these new technologies cars are moving closer to being able to drive themselves.  That’s good news for seniors who can’t rely on Access buses or a caretaker to get them out of the house for every trip.   

Exactly when seniors become too old to drive is a matter of discretion that needs to be regulated more closely and researched further to do so.  For now let’s hope powder blue Cadillac’s of the future will come standard with a ‘senior’s technology package’.

SOURCES:

Newcastle University

The Hartford

AARP

Picture: Automedia.com

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About this blog

Brandon Seiler is a bonafide car guy, member of the Northwest Auto Press Association and proud Washingtonian. He covers the latest auto news, technology, and pretty much anything having to do with car culture. You don't have to like cars to read his blogs, you just have to be able to read.

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