Posts by Steve Siler

  • Driving the 2015 Ram Promaster, the city van with a plan

    Steve Siler at Motoramic 9 days ago

    A new breed of vehicle is appearing on American roads, and, well, it’s surprisingly straightforward: it’s a minivan that’s an actual mini van . Not the Honda Odyssey or the Toyota Sienna or any of those other bloated family-haulers that may technically be “vans” but are hardly mini, but rather old-fashioned boxes on wheels—low on amenities, high on utility. And as we’ve come to find out, they’re not that bad to drive either.

    That’s certainly the case with the 2015 Ram Promaster City, which joins the Ford Transit Connect and the Nissan NV200/Chevrolet City Express twins in the Tiny Van Tousle of 2015. Essentially a slightly warmed over Fiat Doblo utility van that’s sold overseas, the Promaster City arrives in Ram dealerships now, both in cargo and five-passenger form, and we recently got our first chance to drive it on a media program in Austin, Texas.

  • 2016 Acura RDX SUV punches up for BMW and Audi shoppers

    Steve Siler at Motoramic 15 days ago

    Acura’s product line is steadily improving these days, from the nicely-packaged mid-size TLX replacing the slightly-off TSX and TL last year, the ILX becoming a sweet-driving machine in refreshed form for 2016, and now, the emergence of another refreshed model, the popular two-row RDX crossover, making its debut at the 2015 Chicago auto show.

    Whereas the freshened 2016 ILX effectively underwent through a heart transplant with a new engine and transmission, the RDX’ story is one of more subtle refinements intended to add substance and prestige. Styling changes effectively turn it into a mini-MDX, starting the Acura’s new “jewel-eye” LED-based headlamps containing a horizontal row of five LEDs underscored by a strip of LED running lamps.

    The engine remains connected to a six-speed automatic with manual shift paddles. Some changes were made to rear differential of the all-wheel drive system in models so equipped to make the rear wheels quicker to engage when the front wheels slip. Acura also made changes to the steering and suspension mounts to improve “driving refinement.”

  • Renault Alpine Vision Gran Turismo concept slides onto your PS3

    Steve Siler at Motoramic 29 days ago

    French sports car brand Alpine is turning 60 this year, and to kick off its celebratory activities, the company has introduced the Alpine Vision Gran Turismo race car, the latest in the downloadable game cars for the Sony PS3 video game. This particular car is cool, not just because hails from an historic brand that’s been relatively dormant for the last 20 years, but because its design gave the rear end priority, since, according to its makers, that’s the view one gets most often while playing the game.

    And what a rear view it serves: outrigger-style fenders flank a boat-like fuselage with a right-side barchetta-style cabin, all wrapped in planar bodywork that wraps down the body sides yet doesn’t meet in the middle of the car. Suspension bits poke through the panels, and taillamps line the inner fenders, too. But nothing is as radical as the outboard air brakes—complete with brake lights!—that should be amazing to see in action, at least until they’re shorn off when rubbing fenders with other players. Up front are whimsical round headlamps that recall those of Alpine’s historic A110, while three liveries are available: white/blue, matte black, or blue and orange.

  • Driving the 2015 Jeep Renegade, a small SUV with a big Jeep's heart

    Steve Siler at Motoramic 1 mth ago

    The 2015 Jeep Renegade has been a puzzle ever since it was revealed — a subcompact crossover, built in Europe, yet wearing the Jeep name and traditional grille, like an Italian schoolboy holding Captain America's shield.

    While Jeep traditionalists will reflexively cast aspersions toward any Jeep without a ladder frame, folding windshield, and removable doors — let alone a wee SUV that’s built in a Fiat plant in Italy — the square-jawed Grand Cherokee has shown us that the company can do crossovers pretty Jeep-ly, too. Still, we and many other insiders were skeptical about the Renegade, primarily for two reasons, and their names are Compass and Patriot. These unconvincing compact crossovers suggested that Jeep-ness may not be scalable this far down the food chain.

    But after a thorough test through the California hills, we can say the Renegade is a wholeheartedly better vehicle in every conceivable respect. Especially Jeep-ness.

  • Driving the Toyota Mirai, the most futuristic car you can buy

    Steve Siler at Motoramic 1 mth ago

    Go ahead. Call it ugly. Toyota doesn’t care.

    People called the Prius ugly, too, when it was first launched (still do, actually), and it went on to become one of America’s best-selling cars. With the Prius, Toyota knew it had a game-changing technology on its hands, and to make it noticeable to its customers — who didn’t tend to pay much attention to cars, even when 50 mpg fuel economy was on the spec chart — Toyota had to make it noticeable- looking. People noticed. Next thing we knew, the Prius’ doorstop-chic styling became a point of pride. Toyota took a risk on ugly, and it paid off.

    At this point, not many people know how fuel cells work, and since there aren’t many moving parts — no cylinders, pistons, crankshafts, etc. — understanding the process seems like a chemistry test. But in a nutshell, here’s how it works:

    To reduce costs, Toyota had to make the fuel-cell compatible with its existing hybrid system and the Prius’ nickel-metal hydride battery, so Toyota fitted a four-phase boost converter, bringing voltage to 650V. As with the Prius, this is used primarily to assist during acceleration and capture regenerative braking energy.

  • Honda plans all-electric models, plug-in hybrids by 2018

    Steve Siler at Motoramic 1 mth ago

    Starting late this year, the first of Honda’s new VTEC turbocharged four-cylinder engines will start rolling off the line at Honda’s Anna, Ohio, engine plant. Honda did not reveal the displacement of said engines, which models they might propel, or howmuch power and torque they are expected to produce. But they will come—soon—and when the details emerge, we will broadcast them to the world. After all, the 2.0-liter turbo in the new Civic Type R that Honda is selling in Europe this year will produce “at least” 276 hp, and even if we don’t get the Civic Type R here, an engine like that would be mighty nice to have in an Accord or a CR-V.

    Honda also revealed its plans to introduce two all-new models that can be charged from a wall socket: one plug-in hybrid and one battery electric vehicle. As with the turbo engine announcement, Honda was mum on any further details about vehicle size, shape, style or electric range of the new models, except that they both will be introduced “by 2018.” And in the car world, that’s right around the corner

  • Chinese automaker GAC brings ambitions – and a fish-tank armrest — to Detroit

    Steve Siler at Motoramic 1 mth ago

    There’s a car with a fish tank at the Detroit auto show. No, it’s not from this hemisphere. No, it’s not for sale. It will never be for sale. But there’s a damn fish tank, in a car, at the Detroit auto show, and we wanted to show it to you, so here it is.

    Of course, it’s not a real car, but rather an autonomous concept car called the Witstar made by ambitious Chinese automaker Guangzhou Automotive Group, Co (GAC). GAC is using the fishbowl car as bait (now there’s some irony) to lure show-goers to its modest display in the hallway at Cobo Hall. GAC’s real reason to be here is to shop for a corporate suitor with which it can partner to bring its production specimens to U.S. customers, hopefully by 2017.

    We learned little else about the GS4 other than what we could tell by poking around it, but should GAC get lucky and find a viable distribution partner to put a ring on it within the next two years, the fact that the GS4 seems, well, not terrible is mildly reassuring.

  • 2016 Toyota Tacoma gets a much-delayed upgrade

    Steve Siler at Motoramic 1 mth ago

    Toyota is the brand to beat in many automobile segments — reliable family sedans, fuel-sipping hybrids, luxury crossovers, etc. — but in no segment has Toyota ruled so supremely as compact pickups. Some seven million compact/mid-size Toyota trucks have been sold in the U.S. since 1964, and for the last two decades, all of them have been named Tacoma, or “Taco,” by its legions of enthusiasts.

    In recent years, thanks in part to Toyota’s hegemony as well as the dwindling number of mini-truck competitors as the Big Three focused on full-sizers, the Tacoma has only galvanized its lead in the small truck arena. So why change anything?

    Well, because no car or truck can remain fresh after more than a decade on the market, no matter what its competitive landscape looks like. And not insignificantly, the Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon reappeared for 2015, looking and driving better than ever. Suddenly, with its cranky old engines and four- and five-speed transmissions, the Tacoma has become a dinosaur.

  • Pair of upgraded Jeep Renegade concepts scoot into Detroit

    Steve Siler at Motoramic 1 mth ago

    Despite all its many marks of off-road machismo like big round lights, a vertical, seven-bar grille, and squared-off fenders, the 2015 Jeep Renegade is, well, adorable. For its part, Mopar seems hell-bent on showing that it’s possible to make its whimsical crossover into a manly ride, starting this week at the 2015 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, where it is showing two different takes on the Renegade, one for the city, one for the jungle, each containing a mix of concept and production pieces.

    Based on the Renegade Trailhawk, the not-so-cleverly named “Off-Road Mopar-equipped Jeep Renegade” is rendered in a glossy “Commando” production green paint with a cool matte black roof trim that meets the window pillars to create a targa-like appearance. Also making an appearance is a concept Mopar roof basket, as well as full matte black and neutral gray lower body cladding and a quartet of matte black concept wheels. The interior is gussied up with concept-only green, gray and satin black accents, while the seats are covered in Katzkin-leather production Mopar seats.

  • Driving the 2015 Chrysler 300, where every day is Father's Day

    Steve Siler at Yahoo Autos 2 mths ago

    Chrysler’s full-size, rear-wheel-drive 300 is America’s last true “dad car.” With its strong hood, broad shoulders and paternal gaze, the 300 sedan is bold, confident and unmistakably American. It’s been a successful car for Chrysler, too — sales are up 48% in the four years since its last redesign — and for its 2015 update, Chrysler seems bent on not messing with success when the updated 300 starts arriving in dealerships in the first quarter of 2015.

    Compared to the massively reworked 2015 Dodge Charger (which, to continue the metaphor, would be your fun uncle's car), this is as safe as a refresh gets, involving only new front and rear bumpers, grilles, wheels, and all-LED taillamps. Sport-flavored 300S models also now get blackout window trim to go with darkened headlamp bezels and gorgeous new 20-inch Y-spoke wheels; if there’s a Hemi V-8 under the hood, the 300S also gets standard sill extensions and big lip spoiler. But at the end of the day, the 300 looks more or less the same.