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Brandon Seiler's Blog on Cars

Archive for October 2012

Electric Mercedes costs more than your house

Car companies love whipping out superlatives. Mercedes-Benz just dangled a big one at the Paris Auto Show with the SLS AMG electric: 740hp and 738lb-ft of torque. Mercedes says it’s the world’s most powerful series production car.

Another claim to fame is the “my car costs more than your house” price tag: $540,000 equivalent in Germany; the most expensive Mercedes-Benz road car to date.

The vast majority of us who will never be able to afford the electric SLS should still find plenty of reason to be intrigued by how the car manages to keep up with and outperform its V8-powered brother. This is automotive history in the making, people.

Get ready - we’re about to geek-out with technical details.

The SLS Electric Drive packs a total of four synchronous electric motors. Each is set at a corner of the car to drive a wheel, contributing to a permanent four-wheel drive system. The electric quartet combines to produce 177hp more and 259lb-ft more than the 6.2-liter V8 gasaholic engine in the SLS AMG.

In electric SLS land each motor draws from a 60kWh lithium-ion battery back. Power is charged back to the batteries during braking through a KERS (kinetic-energy-recovery system) and by energy produced during in-gear coasting.

Power is put to the ground through two separate gearboxes that work with a new AMG Torque Dynamics system that divvies out power between the wheels in search of maximum traction.

Mercedes says the SLS electric will sprint to 62mph in 3.9 seconds and is electronically limited to a top speed of 155mph. Compare those numbers to the V8 SLS:

62mph in 3.8 seconds and a top speed of 197mph.

Be impressed yet skeptical, keeping in mind electric horsepower ratings are only neat in relation to how fast the car sucks down battery juice, not to mention how long it takes to recharge.

The SLS electric has a range of 155 miles. A full charge on standard 230-volt European power takes 20 hours. Using an optional wall box producing a 22kW quick charge the time drops to three hours.

I sense someone typing: “That's great, it still costs half a million dollars”.  And yes, for now it's no secret the SLS electric caters to the Richie Rich’s of the world who will pay obscene amounts of money for a thrill behind the wheel, but it’s also solid evidence electric cars are entering the mainstream marketplace at nearly every level but entry level, primarily from the top down.

The fact that Mercedes is producing a half-million dollar electric car sends a clear message their company believes electric cars are going to play a major role in the future of automobiles, and that they are committed to pushing the technology forward.

Still, even among the wealthiest 1% market segment people still have many of the same reservations that face every day people who might eventually consider buying a Nissan Leaf or Ford Focus electric.

In the caviar and golden toilet crowd it seems Mercedes is particularly concerned with easing the culture shock the SLS could potentially inflict by not having the visceral delights the V8-powered variant provides.

To help ease the transition to battery-powered performance insanity Mercedes outfitted the SLS electric with a “power” button that plays the sound of a typical AMG V8 through 11 speakers around the cabin. The roar of the make-believe engine syncs with the amount of throttle being used.

That’s a dumb gimmick and one that's more noteworthy than the price tag of the car itself.

Still, it's exciting stuff to see a half-million dollar electric car being produced. People who might actually buy the SLS electric aren't pissing on the lower rungs of society, they're supporting a trickle on down effect of electric technology.  

Hopefully the system works this time around.  There are plenty of Average Joe driveways that are fed up with gas prices.  Getting on the juice could be a source of major relief if we give it a chance to become more affordable, even if being too expensive is a necessity for now.   

PICTURE: earthechling.com

The rebirth of Jaguar

Most people know what a Jaguar used to be. Fewer people have a solid idea of just what the Jaguar brand is now. At the moment Jaguar is on an eighteen city tour of the United States dubbed the Alive Driving Experience. 

Its goal is to put consumers behind the wheel of the “new” Jaguar. Aside from the obvious public relations value, the tour is a rolling example of Jaguar’s mission to re-establish and redefine their brand, not to mention secure a future that lives up to its heritage.

Before attending the Seattle leg of the tour I snooped around on the Internets and found that all of Jaguar’s current models use 5.0L V8s, the least powerful of which produces 385hp. The other two variants of the engine are supercharged. They’re good for 510 and 550 horsepower.

Wowsers. These engines are available in the XF, XJ and XK; they only three models Jaguar currently offers. A fourth, the F-Type will be released in 2013 and is being touted as the car that is intended to define the rebirth of Jaguar for coming generations.

That’s exciting stuff for a brand whose historic existence is now distilled down to a handful of cars designed to aggressively pursue the likes of BMW, Mercedes and Audi to keep its bloodline alive. Without any prodding, Tim Philippo, Product Manager for Jaguar told me exactly why consumers should by a Jaguar instead of the competition.

“German cars are cold, impersonal, and isolate the driver from the driving experience;” he said, “a Jaguar is a thing of beauty to behold, and a thing of joy to drive. If a consumer wants an appliance buy a German machine, but if they want an automobile buy a Jaguar.”

Those are fightin’ words. Jaguar’s three snarling amigos are:

XF

Jaguar’s most affordable model starts at $53,000 with a standard option list that makes certain German rivals look more like status symbols than luxury performance machines. 

Jaguar was friendly enough to loan me an XF Portfolio to review. Stay tuned for my respected opinions on just how this “new” Jaguar looks, feels and performs.

XJ

The flagship Jaguar - a swing for the fences that looks like it’s going to make it out of the park. Decked out in 510hp Super Sport trim, the XJ costs nearly $20,000 less than the BMW 760L, Mercedes S63 AMG and will keep up with if not outperform both.

In keeping with the “Alive” driving experience Jaguar infused the XJ with plenty of theater. 
The start button throbs red. A push of the finger brings the 5.0L V8 to a grumble, raises the gear shifter into the driver’s hand and spins a quartet of air vents into the ready position.

XK

The sports coupe of the bunch looks a bit like an Aston Martin Vanquish V12, only for about $82,000 less the 510hp XKR will reach 60mph in 4.6 seconds compared to the Vanquishes’ 4.2 seconds. You do the math on that one, James Bond. 

To drive the concept behind the XK home, the upcoming F-Type promises to far surpass the XK as the brand’s definitive performance machine.

Along with undercutting the competition’s price point Philippo said the Jaguar lineup represents a mission to “return to our core values of building the world's most desirable and beautiful automobiles, and a return to our rightful place as one of the world's most prestigious auto makers.”

So far the “new” Jaguar lineup is giving the competition a serious run for their MSRP and doesn’t appear to be giving up nearly enough in the way of performance to make the price point much less of a selling point.

Besides brand ambiguity the glaring obstacle Jaguar still needs to overcome in order to reclaim the stature of its glory days is to dispel the lingering memory of the brand’s most unflattering cliché, namely that Jags of the 1970’s were cars you should buy two of: One to drive and one for parts when the other broke down.

This year Jaguar tied for second in JD Power and Associates initial quality test, beating out BMW, Mercedes and Audi – yet another reason to give the ‘ol jungle cat a fighting chance at bringing glory back to its name.

Subscribe to read my review of the 2012 Jaguar XF Portfolio. We conquered a mountain together and still made it home in time to take friends out for frozen yogurt. That’s the kind of unique automotive commentary Jaguar is inspiring these days – they’ve created a story that lives in a new generation of cars, one that’s meant to inspire on an animalistic level and intends to be taken seriously.

Stay tuned.

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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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