Friday, June 30, 2017

Crashing the SEAT Ibiza Launch Party



Sometimes you’re just in the right place at the right time. While flying to Europe last night I, unfortunately, got re-routed with a five-hour layover in Dublin, Ireland. Normally that would basically suck, but a friend who works for the VW Group contacted me to extend an invitation for coffee and donuts in the city center, which instantly made the situation much better.
Then, while walking through the streets of Dublin, I was able to gatecrash the national launch event for the new SEAT Ibiza, before the press and social media movers and shakers were able to enter for their first viewing of the car. Now, I can already hear you saying, “Oh good, another supermini/subcompact/whatever segment car that we’ll never see in the USA.” Well, stay with me..
The all-new Ibiza is significant because it’s the first VW Group car to ride on the MQB A0 platform, which means it’s got some significant shared DNA with most of the other VW range. The Ibiza is being released several months ahead of the massive selling Polo, which shares the exact same platform, so this is the first chance to see the new teeny MQBs in the wild (I was told that this one is the first simply because the existing Ibiza was due a redesign sooner). So is this redesign significant for a potential US release in the future? I honestly have no idea, but it sure won’t hurt its chances. The New Scirocco is built on the old non-MQB platform so I can guarantee that it’s not coming to the USA just based on that fact alone, while at least the Polo/Ibiza stands a chance in theory
Size-wise, just like the previous generation, it’s rather Mk2 Golf feeling, both in terms of general leg and arm space, but also in trunk size. And that’s no bad thing. Although the road test cars were set up and ready to go at the launch, sadly I couldn’t risk missing my flight so had to skip a chance to drive it. I have had significant road time with the previous generation in Europe, and they always drove exactly as you will expect from a well mannered and well balanced new vehicle wearing a SEAT or VW badge. I have to assume that barring any disasters, this new car will be the previous gen’s equal or better.
While the SEAT brand is often seen as one rung lower than it’s VW siblings in term of creature comforts, the Elegance package offers a plethora of features. Things that ten years ago were seen only in the luxury segment have trickled down, and this package comes loaded with keyless entry and start/stop, a big flush mounted infotainment system and practically everything you’d hope to see in a well equipped daily driver.
The “sportier” FR model skips some of those fancy features, and for about the same price of its sibling Elegance model, is likely targeting a younger, hipper demographic. They lose keyless entry and switch to having the nice radio as an available option, but those hip kids do get dual outlet exhaust tips, a bigger honeycomb design grille, split-5 spoke alloys, and red stitching on just about anything in the interior that you could stitch red.
And so with that, I have to jump onto the airport shuttle bus back and continue on to the Netherlands, where I will be driving a US-registered New Beetle throughout the lowland countries. Which doesn’t seem any more strange than stopping in Dublin for donuts and Ibizas.
Thanks to Paul D for the donuts, and Neil D for the exclusive first look.


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Thursday, June 29, 2017

Audi R&D Chief Says Batteries Cost More than $100/kWh


By: Sebastien Bell
Audi’s newly minted head of R&D, Peter Mertens says that price of making EVs is still too high to make volume offerings possible.
At €100/kWh ($112), the money spent on batteries is still high enough, Mertens tells Germany’s Auto Motor und Sport, that Audi believes high-end models are currently the best way to turn a profit on battery powered vehicles.
“We opted for a top-down strategy because most buyers will be found there today in this segment,” said Mertens. “Currently, a kilowatt-hour costs about 100 euros depending on the model.”
That, unsurprisingly, means that next year’s e-Tron, an electric SUV that uses a 95 kWh battery, will be a premium offering for customers willing to shell out some cash.
With parent company VW working on bringing the cost of batteries down, and other manufacturers getting in on the fun, too, prices are likely to drop quickly. Still, Mertens thinks the price will have to drop substantially before an electric A3 equivalent can be made.
“Only when we come well below that price, will E-mobility in volume segments be interesting,” says Mertens.
For now, though, he says that the e-Tron will turn a profit, but that it won’t be as big as the profit from traditionally powered cars.
Mertens also added that the e-Tron will have some autonomous functions, but not level 5 (full autonomy) yet.


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Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Watch: VW’s Water-Cooled Exhaust Explained



By: Sebastien Bell 
For a company that went all-in on air cooling early on, Volkswagen has taken to water cooling with gusto.
The company’s latest trick, available on the new Golf Alltrack, is integrating the exhaust manifold into the engine block. That allows the cooling system to work on the exhaust gasses before they go into the turbocharger.
Engineering Explained’s Jason Fenske, in the above video, goes through the advantages and disadvantages of this system and may not come as a surprise to you that the host of “Engineering Explained” is pretty excited about this new engineering development.

To be fair, though, it is pretty neat. With the exhaust manifold contained in the engine block, Fenske explains that the third gen 1.8-liter EA888 engine benefits from faster warm ups, which leads to less engine wear; a cooler catalytic converter, which leads to a leaner air/fuel ratio, which in turn leads to better fuel economy (up to 20% better on the highway according to VW), and more.
The new tech does mean that tunability is affected, though the aftermarket has always kind of been about finding workarounds, so that’s nothing new. The cooling load on the engine is greater and, of course, if there’s a problem with the manifold, it would likely be harder to fix.
Nothing’s perfect, but it is still fun to see how engineers are still coming up with creative ways to squeeze more and more out of every drop of fuel.


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Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Lamborghini Will Race at Le Mans When the Urus is Ubiquitous


By:  Michael Accardi
Lamborghini is potentially evaluating a full factory return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans within the next few years.
However, CEO Stefano Domenicali stresses the company isn’t in a hurry to jump from its current GT3 customer program into a full-blown factory-backed GTE team, where it would compete with the likes of Ferrari, Aston Martin, BMWPorsche, Corvette and Ford.
It’s believed Lamborghini is considering a GTE version of the Huracan as a possible platform for entries in both the FIA World Endurance Championship and IMSA’s WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.
At the earliest, Lamborghini could join the IMSA paddock in 2019, before fielding a WEC team the following year; but nothing has been confirmed.
“We have to balance with the risk of doing something more versus the investment that is needed,” Domenicali said in an interview. “So for sure there are ideas to improve, but no rush because, honestly, we need to see where we are going.”
For Domenicali, launching Lamborghini’s new 650-horsepower Urus super-SUV is the top priority; only when and if Bologna’s third model is successful will the company start thinking about spending more money on motorsports.
“As you know, from Lamborghini’s perspective today, the biggest priority is to invest in the new Super SUV launch,” the CEO quipped. “This is for us our priority and therefore so far this is really the platform.
“For sure we want to invest in the platform of today [GT3] because it’s very strong and as you see the number of customers, the number of teams, that are part of our family is increasing. So this is very positive on us.”
“But to think of a first step [toward GTE] is too early to say.”


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Monday, June 26, 2017

First Drive: The Mk2 Tiguan



Volkswagen has an America problem. One that stretches back years. Apart from this little community of enthusiasts and oddballs, the land hasn’t really understood what makes the automaker great for a long time. And, to be fair, the automaker hasn’t quite understood the land, either. Now VW is back, trying to show America why it belongs here with the Mk2 Tiguan, one of the most important vehicles this administration has put together.
While the Atlas was important for VW because it showed the scale the brand was capable of achieving, the Tiguan is arguably more important, because it slots into the highly competitive and lucrative compact SUV segment. With battle-hardened competitors like the Honda CR-V, the Ford Escape, and the Hyundai Tucson, the Mk2 Tiguan has its work cut out for it. As far as I can tell, it’s going into the fight with all the necessary tools to succeed.
ff-tig
Based on the MQB chassis, the Mk2 Tiguan, despite being new from the ground up, feels as familiar as a hug. You get in: Volkswagen. You press the start button: Volkswagen. You drive around: Pure Volkswagen. The Atlas proved that the platform was amazingly flexible, so it’s no surprise that it feels great under the smaller Tiguan, but with little body-roll, calm cornering, and autobahn stability the Mk2 is further proof of the platform’s excellence.
And thank Murgatroyd for that, too, because Volkswagen took us out to Denver to test drive the car. The mile high city, walled to the west by Rockies, is within spitting distance of some mighty fine mountain roads. All curves and topography, the Tiguan handles these roads joyfully. The tightly wound ribbons of tarmac that we drove—really, really tightly wound—were nothing but fun, thanks to the communicative, if light steering wheel, and the easily modulable brake pedal, that combine to allow you to smoothly roll down hills. Up hills, though, the Mk2 Tiguan is let down slightly by an adequate, but nothing more, 2.0-liter engine.
That 2.0 is brand new and benefits from the new Budak cycle that allows the valves to stay open longer when that’s useful. The result is that you get 221 lb-ft of torque when you need it and decent fuel economy (an easily achievable 21 mpg combined). It’ll get the nearly 4,000 lb Tiguan up to speed on an onramp, but it hollers and you have to bury your foot to generate any Gs. Not even its 8-speed transmission can help it feel like it’s in any real hurry and if you ever felt like VW’s transmissions spent most of their time searching for gears during spirited driving, it only adds another gear to look for. Pop it in “manual” when you’re in the twisties, though, and the problem goes away.
Once you’re on the highway, though, the Tiguan is VW’s first vehicle with active cruise control that can stop and go again in traffic. The system, simply put, is perfect. It slows down gently, but firmly when you come up on a car and accelerates naturally when the slowpoke ahead of you gets out of your lane. Also new, though not unique to the Tiguan, is the 8-inch infotainment screen. The new infotainment system is great, with knobs for volume and quick refresh rates on the touch screen. Its only downfall is that navigation is an option, though Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are not (they’re standard) so that pretty much makes up for it.
The other touchable stuff inside feels good, too. Simple geometric shapes abound made out of materials of reasonable quality. It’s not all leather and finery (though leather seats are available in the highest trim), but it’s everything and more you’d expect out an SUV with a $25,000 starting price. The design inside and out, admittedly, isn’t that exciting, but it does at least look and feel good. Space is ample, though you won’t be fitting any adults into the third row (standard for FWD, +$500 for AWD). The second row is perfectly acceptable and will doubtless fit kids well. And seven inches of backward and forwards travel means that it will continue to fit kids as they grow up. Really this is a 5 +2 seater, but it’s one of the few in the class, so the extra seats are only a bonus.
Another bonus is all the safety equipment available to you. According to the IIHS safety equipment is one of the most persuasive features a car can have, and boy does this thing have them. Its brakes will try to stop you from having an accident (optional Autonomous Emergency Braking with Pedestrian Monitoring), but if you’re really determined to have one, they’ll keep you from having another one after you’ve crashed (standard Automatic Post-Collision Braking). The Tiguan also tries to give you as much warning as possible about the dangers around you with (all optional) blind spot monitor, rear traffic alert with braking, lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control, high beam control, and more.
If you’re thinking of adventure, meanwhile, every Tiguan comes ready to tow—though an actual hitch will be a dealer option—up to 1,500 lbs. With 150 lbs of carrying capacity above and nearly 66 cubic feet of cargo capacity (with the third row stowed), it’ll carry a kitchen sink. That’s 58% more cargo capacity than the Mk1 Tiguan, which addresses the biggest concern people had with it. And with prices ranging between $25,345 and $37,550 the Tiguan fits right into its market, albeit on the high end.
Volkswagen has said time and again that it wants to be a volume player in the American market, and getting into the compact SUV market with a real volume seller is a wildly important part of that. The brand isn’t reinventing the wheel here, but it has made a good vehicle. When sales start at the end of July, we’ll see how well it does, but there’s no obvious reason why its sales shouldn’t be very similar to sales of cakes of the hot variety.


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