Posts Tagged ‘BMW’

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Electric Flash: Green Cars are Getting Stylish

April 3, 2015
BMW i8

BMW i8 – Style and Eco-friendly

 By Roger Witherspoon

            A car doesn’t have to be dull and plodding to be green.

One wouldn’t know that from the proficient, but uninspiring plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles that crawled off the drawing boards of the major auto companies. But that seems about to change.

“We call ourselves the ultimate driving machine,” said Matt Russell of BMW North America. “Preserving that driving experience is everything to us. We sell to those who really love driving, and we needed a way to build a sports car that was also energy efficient.

“We needed a sports car that can go from 0-60 miles per hour in 3.6 seconds, top out at 155 miles an hour and has a fuel efficiency rating of 72 miles per gallon. And that’s the BMW i8.”

The i8, unveiled at the New York International Auto Show, is a stealth fighter of a car built to flow through the air rather than punch through it. There are grooves in the body designed to channel onrushing air through a narrow opening in the rear, not unlike the combustion chamber of the average jet. The result, at high speed, is you ride on a cushion of air and hear nothing from the world outside.

Porsche Cayenne Plug-in: Fast and family friendly

Porsche Cayenne Plug-in: Fast and family friendly

Not to be outdone Porsche has taken its Cayenne, the 150-miles per hour SUV, and retooled a plug-in hybrid version as a family-friendly companion to its hybrid Panamera sports car.

“It’s our feeling that electric motors are the wave of the future,” said Porsche spokesman Thomas Hagg. “But the technology isn’t quite there yet and the infrastructure and market aren’t ready for completely electric vehicles. But we feel it is certainly coming, so we have begun moving in that direction with the plug-in hybrid.  The Panamera proved that we can have an electric hybrid that meets the quality demands of Porsche in terms of performance and handling.

“But to really move our brand into the electric future we needed to develop a plug-in hybrid for the Cayenne, which is our best-selling model.”

The combined Porsche power plant was on display at the New York exhibit, which lasts till April 12, but is definitely not just for show. The Cayenne has a 95 horsepower electric motor combined with a 333 horsepower, three-liter V6 engine. One can drive the Cayenne about 20 miles on purely electric power – which is ample for many commutes – and the combined power plant gets about 50 miles per gallon.

While BMW and Porsche may have had the plug-in hybrid showstoppers, they were certainly not alone among auto makers who see an increasingly electric future. Ford’s popular Fusion has a plug-in electric model and Mitsubishi, which introduced a newly designed Outlander SUV, is also bringing out a part-electric hybrid version.

Mitsubishi iMiEV:

Mitsubishi iMiEV

The company tentatively entered the all-electric market with its iMiEV, an awkwardly named vehicle that most resembled an ostrich egg on wheels. It was comfortable and efficient. But cars are a form of sculpture defined by how they make a person stop, look, and feel when standing close and then sitting inside. For many families, it is the largest form of kinetic art they will buy. As art works, the iMiEV or BMW’s i3 would never draw a crowd.

Hence the change. “The Outlander plug-in hybrid,” said Mitsubishi Executive Vice President Don Swearingen, “is a bigger vehicle and clearly one that will appeal to more consumers than the fully electric ones with their more limited range.

“We actually developed it a few years ago and started selling it in Japan and then in Europe. The demand was so high that the plant that makes our batteries is at full capacity. We still are offering all electric cars, but our growth opportunity is in the plug-in space. I drive a fully electric car, but I live 40 miles from work. As long as I can charge each night and again at the office it works fine.  But if I want to make a longer trip, a decision has to be made as to what car to use.

Outlander Plug-in Hybrid

Outlander Plug-in Hybrid

“With the plug-in hybrid, all those considerations go away. We felt it important to offer a plug-in, five-passenger vehicle, which has 4-wheel drive capabilities and is a great opportunity for families. Since we were redesigning the Outlander, it made sense to design a version for the electric motor and batteries.”

While the regular Outlander is a seven passenger SUV, the hybrid version will seat five people, and the added space will be taken up by the battery pack. The Outlander will have two 60-horsepower electric motors – one assigned to each axle – as well as a 121-horsepower, 4-cylinder gasoline engine. The combination delivers about 44 miles per gallon.

Electric cars dominated American roadways for the first 20 years of the 20th Century, but quickly lost out to gasoline-powered vehicles which could go a lot further without worrying about a dead battery.

“Electric cars were initially the best sellers,” said Bob Casey, curator of transportation at the Henry Ford Museum in Michigan. “The assumption was that if there is going to be any widespread use of horseless carriages, electricity has a lot of advantages. You could start it easily and you didn’t need to shift any gears because of the torque characteristics of electric motors.

“In the 1890s people were making electric cars and steam-powered cars and then there was a newcomer in the lot – a smoky, noisy, dirty, internal combustion engine.  In those early days, it wasn’t clear what these things were good for.  If you lived in a city, public transportation was very good and the cities were very walkable.

“If you had a car, you used it to drive into the country at what was then considered the astonishing speeds of 15 miles per hour. But you couldn’t go far into the country because the roads were bad and there was no electricity and no place to recharge. The gas cars were much better suited to that use. By 1909 the electric car and steam car were both sold at the margins, and the market was dominated by cars powered by the internal combustion engine.”

The second coming of electric cars hasn’t changed that equation much.

“Right now,” said Orth Hedrick, Kia’s vice president for product planning, “electric vehicles are just three to five percent of the market, and the driving range is the biggest factor holding them back.

“Most people are used to a gas tank with 250 to 300 miles of driving range. But you can’t use an EV to go take a trip to see Grandma.  A lot of people view driving EVs like leaving the driveway with the gas empty light on and wondering how far they can go before the car stops.”

The technical fix to that anxiety was the plug-in hybrid.

Chevy Volt

Chevy Volt

When Chevrolet came out with its 2011 Volt plug-in hybrid it stressed the fact that the compact could get more than 300 miles to a tank of gas. Having the electric motors directly on the axle provided instant torque, enabling the small car to take off like a turbocharged roadster.  The Volt definitively proved the concept of the plug-in hybrid, even if its looks didn’t wow the consumers.

Which is why Kia is banking on an all-electric version of its youth-oriented Soul, a car marketed with hip-hop hamsters to lure a younger generation to its environmentally friendly wheels.  Basketball star Lebron James may lure buyers into Kia showrooms to see their high-performing sports car, the K-900. But once they are in the showroom, Kia is banking on the Now Generation driving off in an urban-oriented Soul.

“We designed the electric and the gas versions at the same time, rather than take an existing car and modify it so you lose space to the batteries,” explained Hedrick. “The Soul will get 93 miles before you need to recharge, which is the best range in the electric car market except for the $80,000 Tesla, which costs three times as much.

“The Soul is our best-selling vehicle. It has a cool, funky design that is perfect for the urban buyer and it will be the cornerstone of our clean mobility program.”

And Kia’s hamsters will bounce merrily to the quieter beat.

Kia Soul : Electric Hip-Hop

Kia Soul : Electric Hip-Hop

 

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Really Regal Road Running in a Rolls Royce

December 26, 2010

 


By Roger Witherspoon

The empty New England highway was dry, the speedometer was in triple digits, the passing landscape was a dreamy, flowing, green kaleidoscope and the warm fall sun radiated off the brushed steel hood of the Rolls Royce as the miles flew by.

There may have been bumps in the road, but a Coupe with self-leveling air springs has the feel of riding a soft leather cushion on a fast moving cloud. There may have been a strain at 105 miles an hour when going around a wide turn. But since the edges of the leather seats sense gravitational forces and expand or contract to counter the pull you really don’t notice these, either.

The roof folded neatly into the back, between the trunk and the rear seat. Yet the aerodynamics of the car were sleek enough that it was easy to hear Miles Davis’ sax blowing from the CD player instead of the roar of the passing wind. And though, at three tons, this is a big, heavy vehicle, the convertible, two-door, Rolls Royce Phantom Drophead Coupe still jumps from 0 – 60 miles per hour in just 5.7 seconds and can cruise at a license-losing 150.

Rolls Royce, the ultimate upscale division of BMW, bills the half million dollar Drophead Coup as one of the finest touring cars – though nothing manmade is perfect. If there are drawbacks, it lies in the meld between the technologically oriented BMW and the traditionalist Rolls Royce.  In an effort to modernize the vehicle, BMW added the computerized control system updated from its high-end, 750 series of luxury cars. At the tap of a finger at the end of the console, a mahogany drawer folds out revealing a single round control knob which governs the entertainment, climate, navigation and communications systems. Some of that works well. Some it is cumbersome and none of it is intuitive.

The navigation system is relatively rudimentary by the standards of a $30,000 ford Sync or $50,000 Lexus RX 350. It is lacking in detail, particularly the names of upcoming streets, for example, and does not list upcoming turns and their direction – features which are pretty standard these days. The entertainment system on the other hand, with 15, 420-watt, Logic-7 speakers, has excellent sound quality, but there is only a single in-dash CD instead of a six-disc changer. There are, however, modern connections for iPods and MP3 players. And the Drophead comes with XM satellite and HD radio, as well as an easy to use, Bluetooth cell phone connection.

But as a defining symbol of craftsmanship and luxury, the Rolls Royce still sets a standard for the high end, luxury line. The trim around the top of the doors and the rear is teak, the kind of wood one would find on the decks of private yachts. The wide teak deck behind the rear seats covers the storage space for the retractable roof.  The wood on the console and doors is polished mahogany offset by thick, cream colored leather interrupted by chrome dials. The grain in the mahogany panels is bookend matched, something you find in high end, hand-crafted furniture. The entire craft has the feel of a small, pricy, well maintained, hand-crafted yacht.

On the outside, there is the characteristic, distinct steel hood and the traditional, Flying Lady hood ornament which disappears under the hood when the engine is off. Underneath that brushed steel is a 6.75-liter, V-12 engine which cranks out 453 horsepower and delivers 531 pound/feet of torque through the six-speed, electronically controlled transmission. The high torque is what makes the Coupe so responsive. It also drinks a lot of gas. The EPA mileage estimates are just 18 miles per gallon in highway driving and 11 MPG in the city. The test car averaged just under 12 MPG in mixed driving. But then, this is not a car you buy to be eco-friendly: It comes with a $3,000 gas guzzler tax.

The most distinct feature from the Drophead Coup’s flowing side profile is the long, front-opening “suicide doors,” so-called because if you open one while driving the wind will instantly whip it back and pull you out of the car. But in normal use, the rear-hinged door provides easy access to the wide, comfortable back seats, which really are intended to be used and have enough leg room for folks living well north of six feet. The doors are long and heavy and are, therefore, power driven – they close at the touch of a button.

In the back, the Coupe has a double trunk: raising the floor board reveals bins which are capable of holding two small suit cases, leaving plenty of room for larger ones and golf bags in the main storage area. There are separate climate controls and air outlets for the front and back sections of the car which are so effective, you can actually have the heat and air conditioning going at the same time with little interference.

And when driving at night, there is soft, blue lighting under the seats, instruments and storage areas.

The Rolls Royce vehicles have long had an image of being designed for those who have money, like expensive, exquisite things, and don’t like to drive. The driving experience was reserved for the chauffeur.

But the modern Rolls Royce  fleet, under the auspices of BMW, was designed with the philosophy that if you pay a half million dollars for a car, you ought to enjoy the driving experience.     The Drophead Coupe, a beautiful, exquisite, detailed, powerful, high-performing, convertible sports sedan is at the top of their line.

 

2010 Rolls Royce Phantom Drophead Coupe

MSRP:                                                                       $471,500

Gas Guzzler Tax:                                                       $    3,000

EPA Mileage:                        11 MPG City                          18 MPG Highway

As Tested Mileage:                                                   11.9 MPG Mixed

Performance / Safety:

0 – 60 MPH                                                    5.7 Seconds

Top Speed                                                      149 MPH

6.75-Liter, aluminum alloy, 48-valve,V-12 engine producing 453 horsepower and 531 pound/feet of torque; 6-speed, electronically controlled automatic transmission; double wishbone front suspension; multi-link rear suspension with self-leveling air springs; run-flat high performance tires; power assisted, ventilated, 4-wheel anti-lock disc brakes; stability, traction, and cornering brake control; head-thorax airbag in each seat; spring-loaded, pop-up rollover protection; engine immobilizer; heated windshield; bi-xenon headlamps with auto-leveling and power washers; chrome 21-inch wheels.

 

Interior / Comfort:

 

AM/FM/XM satellite and HD radio; single disc CD player; MP3, USB-port, and iPod connection; 420-watt, 9-channel Logic-7 audio system with 15 speakers; navigation system with 6.5-inch monitor; front and rear cameras; Bluetooth cell phone connection; full leather interior – seats, dash, and sides; teak wood  rear deck and brushed steel hood; power closing doors; power tilt and telescope leather steering wheel; power retractable cashmere lined roof; lambs wool floor mats.

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