Archive for the ‘night vision’ Category

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The Corvette: Speed, Grace, and Rolling Nostalgia

September 3, 2012

By Roger Witherspoon

I pushed the starter button and the car shook as a roar emerged from underneath the chassis and burst in a series of rapid fire explosions out the rear, as if a string of heavy duty firecrackers were celebrating behind me.

And that was when the Corvette was sitting still.

Clearly this was a sports car better suited to the driving bass-line of Eminem’s Lose Yourself  than any dulcet jazz solos from Keiko Matsui or ‘Trane. I unlatched the roof and put it on the designated tracks in the long, shallow trunk. Then slid a USB drive into the designated slot under the armrest and lined up a few hundred favorites to blare from the nine Bose speakers. I drove slowly to the entrance of an isolated stretch of  Connecticut interstate highway, where it stretches for about two miles through the marsh grass flanking the Long Island Sound, and waited till the roadway was empty.

And then, I popped the clutch and floored it.

The rumble under the car turned into a roar as the Corvette shot down the highway, going through the six gears in a matter of seconds till I held the speedometer level at 140. I did not have to take my eyes off the road: the Vette has a hologram of the speedometer and key gauges – including the entertainment system – floating over the left side of the hood between the 18-inch left wheel and the center air scoop.  It was hard to hear what Eminem was rapping over the throbbing of the engine and the roar of the wind – but the driving bass line was audible enough and seemed to mesh with the pounding of the 436-horsepower V-8.

The Corvette rides low to the ground, and the adjacent scenery was little more than a blur as I approached a long curve. I dropped down to 105 and sailed through the middle of the curve and then accelerated back up to 140 as I hit the straightaway. At that point, the highway was leaving the coast and it was time to slow back to the speed limit. There isn’t a lot of room on the crowded roads of the nation’s northeast to really appreciate what a sports car like this can do. You need a lot of space and a relatively straight road to enjoy a sports car roaring at nearly 190 miles per hour on the highway instead of splattered all over it.

But for a few minutes, and two miles of sunbaked, Connecticut highway, there was a glimpse of the joy of the wide open, western highways and the feel of a legendary machine.

This is the 60th anniversary of the introduction of the Chevrolet Corvette (  http://bcove.me/4ybhxikj  ),  the star of multiple series of hot rod adventure books of the ‘50s and ‘60s. Corvette, the first of a storied group of American muscle cars, first hit the roads in 1953. And while the 2013 Corvette has little in common with the original – except for a long, low silhouette and a reputation for speed – at 60 years of age it is the oldest Chevrolet nameplate on a passenger car. The title of the oldest Chevy nameplate still in use is the 77-year-old, truck-based, Chevy Suburban, which was introduced in 1936 and is still rumbling along.

The deliberate effort to bring back the feel – and sound – of the Corvette of the ‘50s partially explains the rapid-fire explosion of sound accompanying acceleration and deceleration in the current edition.

According to Chevrolet spokesman Monte Duran, the 2013 Corvette has a “dual mode exhaust” – two sets of twin chrome tailpipes. “The interior pipes,” explained Duran “have butterfly valves.  Those are closed at most speeds, and when you are cruising it sends the exhaust through the mufflers.

“But when you stand on the accelerator, at full throttle, the Corvette has an algorithm that you are driving in a more spirited fashion, and it opens the valves. The exhaust them bypasses the mufflers and it is a straight pipe going out the back. When those valves are open you could run a golf ball straight down into the catalytic converter. We did that for people who want the noise and crackle and pop of the after-market exhaust. So it is to give you the best of both worlds.”

In addition, while the Corvette has the same basic engine as the Camaro SS, Duran added that “the Corvette is a drop-top with less sound-proof shielding. So you get more engine noise coming through the roof.  That’s where the extra sound is.”

The noise actually takes some getting used to. You can listen to a soft flute solo at 100 miles per hour in a little Ford Fiesta or a sporty Camaro and appreciate the quality of sound-proofing in modern American-made cars.  With the Corvette, however, you can take soft jazz and all classical music pretty much off your playlist unless, of course, you use headphones.

But one doesn’t buy a Corvette for the pretty music.

This is a speed machine, the sixth edition of a classic breed designed to get you to your destination comfortably and fast. In that regard, it is successful. The test car, the Grand Sport Coupe, has a fiberglass hard top which you can manually unlock and then store on clips set into the flat trunk area.  That pretty much limits cargo to items which are small and relatively flat, such as a computer carrier or luggage bag. With the hard top on the trunk area – a wide, flat expanse about a foot deep – is large enough to carry a couple of suitcases, though you’d have to have Federal Express deliver any athletic gear to your vacation destination.

The 6.2-liter power plant in the Grand Sport zips from 0 – 60 miles per hour in 3.9 seconds, passes a quarter mile in 12.9 seconds at 13 miles per hour, and tops out at 188 MPH. If that isn’t enough, there is the Corvette ZR-1 with a 6.2-liter supercharged engine producing 638 horsepower and topping out at 205 MPH – a speed at which the State Police simply photograph the passing license plate and mail a license suspension notice to your home. Or the 505-horsepower Corvette Z-06, which chugs along at just 198 miles per hour.

Inside, the Corvette is intended to provide the comforts one would expect from a car with a price tag north of $70,000. There is an easy to use navigation system controlled by voice, fingertip controls on the leather steering wheel, or the eight-inch, color touch screen. The deep, leather seats have power adjustments and lumbar controls, and can be heated. The entertainment system has satellite radio as well as iPod and USB connections, a CD player and Bluetooth phone and audio. Sound pours through nine Bose speakers strong enough to carry a heavy beat even with the roof off. And, as with all GM cars, the Corvette has OnStar, which has its own satellite phone and turn-by-turn navigation system.

The 2013 family of Corvettes are the last of this edition, which first rolled out of the Bowling Green, Ky plant a decade ago. GM’s design chief, Ed Welburn, is not talking about the parameters for the next generation. The only hint that something very different is coming in 2014 is the announcement that the plant, which receives more than 50,000 visitors annually, is ending all tours September 14 until further notice.  That is to prevent anyone from getting clues from the retooling which will commence shortly thereafter.

But that’s for the future. For now, the 2013 ‘Vette shows a lot of life for a senior citizen.


2013 Chevrolet Corvette

            Grand Sport Coupe

 

MSRP:                                                                        $70,785

EPA Mileage:                        16 MPG City                          26 MPG Highway

 

Performance / Safety:

Top speed                               188 MPH

0-60                                         3.9 Seconds

1/4 mile                                   12.3 Seconds at 117 MPH

 

6.2-Liter, cast aluminum, V-8 engine producing 436 horsepower and 428 pound-feet of torque; 6-speed manual transmission; power Rack & Pinion steering; double wishbone front and rear suspension; 18-inch diameter, 9.5-inch wide, painted aluminum front wheels; 19-inch diameter, 1-foot wide, painted aluminum rear wheels; traction control, 4-wheel antilock brake system; run-flat tires; fog lamps, Xenon, high density headlights; heads-up holographic display; front and side impact airbags.

Interior / Comfort:

 

AM/FM/XM satellite radio; CD player; iPod and USB ports; Bluetooth phone and audio; OnStar; tilt and telescope, leather wrapped steering wheel with fingertip audio and adaptive cruise controls; power adjusted, heated, leather bucket seats; Bose sound system with 9 speakers; navigation system with 8-inch touch screen; removable roof;

 

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Two for the Road:The Hybrid and the Sports Sedan

May 9, 2010

 

 

By Roger Witherspoon

 

            There are some songs which seem made for road trips.

            The sun was high, the road was dry and, at 120 miles per hour, the Connecticut landscape was a kaleidoscope of spring floral prints which seemed to throb in time with the bass line of the Temptations’ Runaway Child pounding from the 15 speakers in the Harmon-Kardon sound system.

            It was warm enough to have the windows down and the panoramic sunroof fully open, yet the air flow around the sleek silhouette of the Mercedes S-550 kept enough of the wind noise out of the car that I could pretend I was a teenager again and sing loudly off key along with the storied Motown group.

            Back in the mid-60s, of course, I was driving a Nash Rambler with red bucket seats. Forty-five years later I could hardly fit into trim seats like that and, fortunately, I didn’t have to. The 2010 S-550 has the ultimate in adjustable seating. Drivers and front passenger have a choice of massage settings, heating or cooling, seat lengths, lumbar supports, and side supports, all at the touch of door-mounted buttons. In addition, every time the car goes into a turn, the side of the chair opposite the turn inflates to keep you firmly in your seat like a parent cradling a child. It is surprising at first, as if there is an unseen presence in the car reaching out to you. But you get used to it really fast.

            The passengers in the back seats don’t have all those bells and whistles. But their seats can be heated or air cooled and recline. And to make up for the lack of personal massagers, each rear passenger has a personal DVD screen built into the back of the front seats and wireless headsets and controls for personal viewing. And if it’s a really sunny day the driver, at the push of a button, rolls a sunscreen across the back windshield. Each of the rear passengers controls their own window screen.

            The S-550 is near the top of the Mercedes luxury line, offering modest speed – it tops out at 130 miles per hour – with its trademark sleek styling and handling. It looks and feels like a car costing $120,000.

            It’s propelled by a V-8 engine cranking out a respectable 382 horsepower, and is mated to a seven-speed transmission which shifts seamlessly in automatic mode or manual utilizing the paddle shifts behind the steering wheel. As you might expect, a car like this comes with a $1,000 gas guzzler tax. The EPA estimates the car gets just 14 miles per gallon in city driving and 21 MPG on the highway. The test car had a mixed average of 15 MPG – which means in mostly city driving the sedan was hanging close to single digits.

            If you want the same car with better mileage and no sacrifice in amenities or performance, Mercedes has the S-400H, its first luxury hybrid.  According to the EPA, the S-400H gets 19 city, and 26 highway miles per gallon – which is respectable for a large sedan. In addition, the hybrid costs $10,000 less than the standard model, the S-550. That is an unusual price switch which earned the S-400H plaudits from the Union of Concerned Scientists.

            The UCS (www.UCS.org)  rates hybrids from the standpoint of their greenhouse gas reductions, and their value in terms of the amount of “forced features” they may have. Don Anair, the UCS engineer who maintains the Hybrid Center Scorecard (  http://www.hybridcenter.org/  ), explained that “when you purchase a hybrid, they often come with features which are otherwise options. The value score we created looked at the cost of the hybrid system vs. the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and determined how much you are paying for a percentage in reductions.

            “The Ford Escape’s base model has three trim levels. But you only get the hybrid at the mid trim level – you’re forced to buy the features which are optional on the standard Escape.  It can run to a lot of money: on the Lexus 600 the difference was about $20,000.”

            The UCS gave Mercedes high marks putting the same amenities in both the S-400H and the standard S-550, and the price is lower because the gasoline engine on the hybrid is a V-6 producing 275 horsepower – about 100 less than in the all gasoline version.

            But its ecological improvement was just marginal because the S-400H has what is called a “mild” rather than full hybrid. “You can’t drive on the electric motor alone,” Anair said. “You get a 14% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, but you benefit from the idle-off feature which shuts down the gasoline engine whenever you stop.

            “Mercedes has talked about developing a full hybrid, and we hope they move in that direction.  What you get with the S-400H is beneficial but not powerful enough to propel the vehicle.”

            The major cost difference between the S-550 and its hybrid sibling stems from the larger engine and a $6,000 facelift. The all gasoline model has a sleeker silhouette and 19-inch, five-spoke AMG sport wheels.

            Inside they are the same. Both vehicles feature six-disc CD players, XM satellite radio, Bluetooth cell phone interface and iPod and USB port connections. There is also a 40-gigabyte hard drive to store your own tunes or movies. Whatever your musical tastes, the 15-speaker Harman/Kardon LOGIC-7 system bathes you in smooth waves of sound without overwhelming and battering you with noise.

            If there is a downside to the technology in these luxury liners, it’s that the computerized command system is not user friendly and there is a steep learning curve for functions which should be intuitive, such as the radio or navigation system. One should not have to read a manual to locate the FM radio. But once learned, the technological innovations can be impressive.

            On the safety side the cars are equipped with a small camera on the dashboard facing the driver and connecting to the side radar used in monitoring lane control and the adaptive cruise command. During the first 20 minutes of driving above 35 miles per hour, the camera records eye motions and the safety system’s computer monitors how the driver responds to lane changes and sudden swerves and turns. Using that as a baseline, the system then monitors the driver’s attention span.

            If you are drifting outside your lane or the camera’s computer notices what appears to be inattention and your eyes closing, a warning sound is produced and a message pops up in the midst of the speedometer asking is it “time for a  rest?” accompanied by the image of a steaming coffee cup. It is not quite the computer system governing the automated, interactive Audi driven by Will Smith in I Robot – but it’s heading in that direction

            The driver monitoring system is augmented with an infrared night vision camera which pops a thermal image of the road ahead in the middle of the dash in place of the speedometer – which becomes a digital readout at the bottom of the screen. The infrared screen can see images 500 feet in front of the car and pedestrians are bracketed to make sure the driver notices them. The ability to detect body heat is a serious advantage in places like upstate New York, where Bambi and her cousins run into more than 1,200 cars each week. And while Mercedes doesn’t advertise this, the infrared beam can spot the heated engine of a police car waiting behind bushes with its lights out long before the car is in range of a radar gun.

            Slowing down, staying awake and avoiding tickets are very good things.

 

 

 

2010 Mercedes Benz S-550

MSRP:                                                                       $116,995

EPA Mileage:                        14 MPG City                          21 MPG Highway

As Tested Mileage:                                                   15 MPG Mixed

Performance / Safety:       

            0 – 60 MPH                                                    5.4 Seconds

            Top Speed:                                                     130 MPH

5.5-Liter, 32-valve, aluminum V-8 engine producing 382 horsepower and 391 pound-feet of torque; 7-speed transmission with automatic and  manual mode with paddle shift; all wheel drive; electronic traction control;  rack-and-pinion steering;  air suspension; internally ventilated disc brakes; 19-inch AMG 5-spoke wheels; dual chrome exhausts; active bi-xenon headlights and cornering lights; driver safety system; night vision;  dual stage front airbags;  front and rear side airbags; head curtain airbags.

Interior / Comfort:

AM/FM/XM satellite and HD radio; 6-disc CD player; iPod and USB port; 40-gigabyte hard drive; 15-speaker Harman/Kardon Logic-7 surround sound; power sunroof; power sunscreens; leather, adjustable seats with massager; wood trim; rear DVD players.

2010 Mercedes Benz S-400H

 MSRP:                                                                       $105,230

EPA Mileage:                        19 MPG City                          26 MPG Highway

As Tested Mileage:                                                   21 MPG Mixed

Performance / Safety: 

            0 – 60 MPH                                                    7.2 Seconds

            Top Speed:                                                     130 MPH

 3.5-Liter, 24-valve, aluminum V-6 gasoline engine producing 295 horsepower and 284 pound-feet of torque; 3-phase, mild hybrid, 120-volt electric motor producing 20 horsepower and 118 pound-feet of torque.

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