Posts by Neal Pollack
- Motoramic6 days ago
This week marked the passing of a car that could have been a contender, as Honda announced that it would halt production on the Insight Hybrid. Though the Insight debuted in the U.S. in 1999, months ahead of the Toyota Prius, Honda sold fewer than 300,000 in the intervening 14 years, nearly half of those in Japan. For most of its existence, the Insight was a speck in the rearview mirror of the Prius, which has sold to more than 3 million owners in the same time.
The Insight was the only car on the market that seriously tried to challenge the Prius on its own turf, a hybrid designed as such. All the other manufacturers have futzed out, putting a hybrid drivetrain into an existing gasoline-powered model. The results have been unwieldy and mostly unpopular; the sole exception, Ford’s C-Max Hybrid, came to market a decade too late and is inferior to the Prius in every way that counts.
- Neal Pollack at Motoramic23 days ago
The future arrived in my driveway last week in the form of a Cadillac ELR, but the present wasn’t quite ready to accept it. With a design based on Caddy’s wild Converj concept vehicle, a drive train and underpinning directly lifted from the Chevy Volt, and a price tag that could buy an entire Detroit city block, the ELR needed to be ready to fly. In my modest surroundings, it barely crawled.
Like the Volt, the ELR has a 37-mile electric-only range before the gas engine kicks in for another 300 miles. The guys dropped it off with a full tank of gas. They popped the trunk. There sat the charging cable.
“You driven the Volt?” one of them said.
“Yes,” I said.
“It works like that. You plug it in.”
If only I’d actually been an ELR buyer. At the end of January, Cadillac announced that it would be including a complimentary 240-volt charging station, plus installation, with the purchase of every $75,000-plus ELR. "Professional installation of the fastest home-charging unit is a natural way to mark the introduction of ELR to the luxury market,” said the brand in its release.
- neal_pollack at Motoramic2 mths ago
The last time my family made the long, parched drive from Phoenix to Austin on I-10, we were in our 1998 Nissan Sentra, with its gummy floormats and cracked windshield, driver’s-side window that no longer works and its built-in casette player, a sad car for sad times. We were fleeing California and a recession that had ruined us. We went slowly--the Sentra had no other mode--feeling depressed and anxious, towards an uncertain future.
This year, we did the drive in an 2014 Audi RS7.
It wasn’t ours. None of these cars we test are. It’s all a sick illusion. Still, we had a $125,000, 560-hp sports machine to drive across the desert and back in our 2,000 mile family adventure. “Wouldn’t you have preferred a nice diesel?” a colleague asked. That would have made sense for a family road trip. So would a Honda Odyssey with a built-in vacuum. But instead they offered us a car that wouldn’t be out of place in Forza 5. My wife, my 11-year-old son, and our ancient Boston Terrier would feel the burn.
- neal_pollack at Motoramic4 mths ago
A rotund glasses-wearing man, proudly employed by the new i division of BMW, stood on a platform in front of a large photograph of some indeterminate European skyline. He looked quite self-satisfied, if a little nervous. For 15 minutes, he’d been moving around the room from one platform to another, like an actor in an awkward college staging of a Bertolt Brecht play.
“BMW i,” the man said, “heralds the dawn of a new age of electromobility.”
If history has taught us anything, it’s to be wary of Germans proclaiming “the dawn of a new age.” That said, the BMW i3, which enjoyed its international cotillion last week in Amsterdam, represents a substantial reimagining of how a car should drive, how we interact with our vehicles, and what, in general, a car should be. It’s a significant development in automotive history, and a remarkably nimble one given the size and pedigree of the company.
- neal_pollack at Motoramic4 mths ago
You’d assume by now, more than a decade into the hybrid era, that Honda would have done something significant in the space after launching the Insight in 1999, the first hybrid sold in the United States. But as the years passed, Honda has suffered diminishing returns; the hybrid Civic was once successful, but Honda's hybrid lines have been overtaken by Ford, Hyundai and even Kia. Honda did some cool stuff with fuel cells and natural-gas powered cars, but it appeared to lose interest in hybrids, the preferred alternative-energy method in the American market.
Well, finally, with the 2014 AccordHybrid, Honda has decided to come to the party, late. But they’re showing up like someone on New Year’s Eve carrying a crate of high-end champagne: They waited until they had something good.
- neal_pollack at Motoramic5 mths ago
I was driving a nail polish-red 2014 Jeep Cherokee out of Topanga Canyon early on a Saturday morning, with another Cherokee a pace behind me. We loped down the hill together, two weak-looking CUVs chasing after the ghost of a more muscular Jeep forebear.
Behind us, an Audi A5 was giving the rear car a rough time. When I next checked the mirror, the driver had somehow squirted between us, and he was practically scooting under my bumper.
“That Audi is on my ass,” I said to my drive partner. He looked back.
“I wouldn’t worry about it,” he said. “It has an S-Line badge, which means he got the S package but without the engine. He got duped at the dealership.”
Only a professional automotive journalist could make an observation like that. So I kept moving down the canyon while the undercharged, overpriced Audi revved behind me. Finally,at the bottom the road split; the Audi moved to my left and ripped around me like he had important places to go. Either that, or he’d put too much Viagra in his Captain Crunch.
- neal_pollack at Motoramic7 mths ago
I spent two very weird, chilly days in June at the Autostadt, a fake German village that combines factory life, Legoland, and the set of Woody Allen’s "Sleeper," all embossed with the Volkswagen logo. As recently as 15 years ago, the Autostadt was a massive slag heap cowering in the shadow of four enormous red-brick smokestacks, which towered above the scene like Mount Doom. Now, it’s all shire-like mounds of grass and flowers and spaceship pavillions celebrating the various brands of the Volkswagen empire. It’s a great place to spend 15 minutes if you happen to be passing through Wolfsburg on the way to anywhere else.
At the center of the Autostadt sits a 20-story glass cylinder full of cars, which constantly spins as robots move the vehicles to awaiting customers. This is where Germans come to pick up their new transport, or, as a somewhat creepy tour guide told us, “to celebrate the unique joys of family life.” There’s a weird car museum that doesn’t, to VW’s credit, contain all company products, and a Lamborghini that emerges from a smoky cage every hour on the hour. In many ways, you could imagine this landscape functioning, even thriving, without humans.
Since the dawn of the combustion age, true car nuts have disdained gas mileage as the obsession of the weak-minded and unskilled; there’s no bigger punchline in the business than the Toyota Prius. The success of the Tesla Model S has begun to change the culture, but when it comes to supercars, faster and more powerful roughly equals better, while efficiency gets dismissed with prejudice.
Well, the Volkswagen XL1 may be the transformative alternative-energy vehicle, the one that finally arouses the car fiend from his gas-hungry stupor. The XL1 is a different conception of a car, a German engineer’s dream of hyper-miling. It contains no driving joy or spirit, just lots of cool, stripped-down design details, an anschulss of movement and MPG that gets an average of 262 mpg. This is ze car we’ve been waiting for.
After a long recession where it seemed like no one wanted to drive anything but used Priuses, rich people are starting to throw money at luxury cars again. In fact, the luxury segment has never been better, or more luxurious. In the month of April alone I test-drove two separate cars with built-in refrigerators, one with adjustable rear-seat lumbar massagers, and a half-dozen with heated and cooled front and rear leather seats. Luxury cars now all have shipboard computers that would power the Space Shuttle and about twice as many horsepower as they require. It’s an extremely competitive marketplace for customers who have seemingly bottomless income. Manufacturers have been offering everything short of an actual butler to cater to customer whims.
But now Infiniti does offer a butler.
There’s a corporate phrase that gets thrown around at Toyota and Toyota-derived launches: kaizen , meaning “continuous improvement.” That’s certainly more true with some products than others, but the phrase really applies to the new Lexus IS, leagues better than the old version, which seemed a bit stale and imitative even when it was released in 2007, and hasn’t been much redeemed by the occasional refresh. It was always the definition of a middle-of-the-pack vehicle. But now the IS appears ready to move forward in line.