By John Gilbert
Hyundai faced a pretty tall order when it revised its Genesis sedan for its second generation in the U.S. sports-luxury sedan class. After all, when the first Genesis hit these shores as a 2009 model, it won North American Car of the Year honors, and its engine was named to the Ward’s Top Ten engine list.
It was a bit sporty, but mostly a venture by the South Korean manufacturer to prove it could enter the luxury segment with a stately, if conservative, vehicle, coming out after the breakthrough midsize Sonata had startled the auto world by being distinctly not conservative.
The new Genesis, coming out as a 2015 model, is a stunning over-achiever in both technology and appearance and it seems that Hyundai decided to make its upscale sedan the company’s new icon — safely below the super-luxury Equus but a large stride ahead of the current Sonata. As an intriguing footnote, Hyundai came right back to introduce an all-new Sonata, which is also much refined, and resembles the new Genesis more than the current Sonata. Maybe Hyundai intends to have two halo cars.
If looks matter most in luring customers away from the Mercedes-BMW-Audi German trio and Japan’s Lexus, the Genesis moves boldly from functional to flashy by comparison. In first examination, I couldn’t forget that when Hyundai affiliate Kia hired Peter Schreyer away from Audi to coordinate some fantastic designs, such as the last Kia Optima, parent Hyundai suggested that Schreyer take over as design chief for the whole operation, meaning both brands. If that makes it less of a coincidence than Hyundai might suggest, the Genesis grille is a stylish new shape, sort of a wide shield that bears a resemblance to the front-dominating grille on every Audi sedan.
The difference is enough, of course, but it wears well on the Genesis, tapering up from the bottom to catch the contour that comes off the headlights in a stylish juncture that makes the entire front end seem wide and impressive. From the side, the Genesis sweeps back along an upper character line that runs just under the window sills and incorporates the door handles.
The roofline tapers down and then kinks forward, not unlike the BMW luxury sedans, and at the rear, well, it’s back to resembling the Audi sedans the way the horizontal taillights catch that character line and send it across under an integrated spoiler.
“We pulled the cabin rearward,” said John Krsteski, design manager of the Genesis. “The car is wider, too, and has a striking character feature. The grille is shaped like a winged hexagon.”
A hexagon, of course, has six sides, and if you count the gentle curve at the top of either side of the grille as two, then it could transform itself from a winged four-sided opening to a winged six-sided thing. “I can’t tell you how many sketches we did on the rear end,” Krsteski added. “We pulled the rear corners back and we did hundreds of different sketches on the taillights.”
Back when the new Genesis was introduced at The Sanctuary in Phoenix, it was made clear that Hyundai proved it could build comfortable and smooth luxury sedans with the first Genesis and the Equus, but Hyundai officials also acknowledged that the company still had what it calls a “perception gap” that separates it from BMW, Mercedes or Audi. As for Lexus, Hyundai’s luxury sedans started being sold cheaper than Toyota’s prize upscale sedans. The new models will sell for about the same price as the comparable Lexus cars, and is aimed at closing the perception gap as quickly as possible by offering more value for the money. It may take longer for the Equus to close the premium gap on the BMW 7-Series, Mercedes S-Class and Audi A8, so Hyundai is aiming to do it with the Genesis, aimed at the BMW 5-Series, Mercedes E-Class, and Audi A6.
Hyundai officials stress that it isn’t something that can simply be achieved, but must be engineered into the new car. With that, the new Genesis bristles with technology and refinement when compared to the award-winning current car. It rides on a new platform, nade significantly more rigid for handling and crash-performance with some aluminum and an increased amount of over 51 percent high-grade steel. At that, the body is only 0.2-inches longer overall at 196.5 inches, on a wheelbase that measures 3 inches longer at 118.5. At 74.4 inches wide and 58.3 inches tall, it is both wider and lower. That means shortening the overhangs front and rear by pushing the four wheels out closer to the extremities and stretching that sleek sheetmetal to cover it.
Inside, all the goodies now expected of luxury sedans abound, such as lane-departure warning, lane assist to keep you inside those lines, Google connectivity, and an impressive all-wheel-drive system called HTRAC. There are also all sorts of settings for sport, eco, snow, and normal — virtually any situation a driver can encounter. Improved seats and attention to detail on all the soft-touch dashboard and door panel material.
Engines are the revised 3.8-liter V6 Lambda, or the upgraded 5.0-liter Tau V8, which is enlarged as the replacement for the award-winning 4.6. The Tau V8 has 420 horsepower through its driven rear axle, while the Lambda V6 delivers 311 horsepower and can run the AWD system.
The potency of the aluminum V8, with direct injection and dual variable valve-timing and those 420 horses, will be the favorite of the power-hungry or the rear-drive traditionalists. And it is an impressive package, with its homebuilt 8-speed automatic transmission, at $51,509. It rises to $55,700 by adding the Ultimate package, which gives you a premium navigation system with a 9.2-inch high-def display, a 17-speaker Lexicon audio, continuously adjusting damping control, heads-up display, and dual vent control with CO2 sensors, plus a power trunk lid.
Now, the power trunk lid is something I need to test more. Ford brought out the idea on the 2014 Escape, where someone carrying arms-ful of groceries can, with the key fob still in pocket or purse, can sweep a foot under the rear bumper and the tailgate magically opens. On the new Genesis, you merely have to be standing by the rear end of the car with the fob in your pocket and the trunklid pops open. I suggested that might be a problem if someone was merely hanging out back there and the trunk kept opening.
For significantly less money, starting under $40,000, the Genesis with the V6 and all-wheel drive will be the clear choice for those living in the winter-driving belt. It also runs through the 8-speed automatic, and its HTRAC was demonstrated graphically out in the desert, where it was placed on a portable set of rollers under three of the tires, meaning traction could only get through to the fourth.
The system, we’re told, uses electro-mechanical control of its actuator, a worm-shaft with its own clutch to control torque. The system monitors all four wheels, of course, and for the purpose of our demonstration, on startup the right front, and both rears, might have spun merrily on their rollers, but with HTRAC, the torque is sent to the left front, the only wheel with traction, and the Genesis launches straight ahead.
The HTRAC directs a 40/60 front/rear split in normal circumstances, but can adjust for up to a 90/10 split in slippery conditions, or switch 100 percent of the power to the rear wheels during Eco highway cruising. The Intelligent Drive system on Normal sets the throttle and shift schedule for decent response and efficiency for average driving. In Sport, the system adjusts to sportier response and shift points. In Snow, throttle response is reduced to lessen the risk of wheelspin on starting up.
The sophisticated safety system includes emergency braking aids that apply full braking force if a crash is detected as imminent from 5-50 mph. From 50-112, you get a collision warning and partial braking force. It’s the same in revers for smart cruise, which paces the car ahead and will even make a complete stop if the car ahead stops in your path — then it will start up again when the car ahead starts, and regain your interval and pace.
Hyundai is calling the new design of the Genesis “Fluidic Sculpture 2.0” and indicates it will establish guidelines for future Hyundai vehicles. With the Sonata following the look, that plan is evident. On the Sonata, it may look more conservative, but on the Genesis, it is luxury with a flair, turning a nice, conservative design into something far more dynamic.
By John Gilbert
If you can’t tell by the “Sublime” paint job that is close to glow-in-the-dark green, then the little Superbee medallion on both flanks of the 2015 Dodge Challenger should put you on full alert: The Ponycar War just escalated.
The big news in the hot, fun, halo performance-car segment is that the new Mustang will be thoroughly restyled for 2015 with independent rear suspension and a high-tech EcoBoost engine option, plus a Shelby GT500 model with 500 horsepower, while Chevrolet is countering by blessing the new Camaro with a Corvette engine option with 505 horsepower as the $75,000 Z-28. What could Dodge do with its 2015 Challenger to avoid being left behind — literally and figuratively?
Plenty, as it turns out. Faced with higher stakes in the three-ponycar battle, which began back around 1970 when they were the stalwart performers in the Trans-Am road-racing series, the rejuvenated Chrysler group dedicated Dodge as its high-performance weapon, and Dodge engineers came through with bone-jarring power combined with clever technology to send the new Challenger off to battle well-armed. Speaking of the small group called “standard specialty segment,” and which I call future-retro ponycars, many might think it consists only of expensive toys, with rear-wheel drive that negates a lot of winter-driving use.
But consider that the segment sold 430,000 units last year, which is 10 percent more than in 2009, and it is projected to grow 42 percent in the next five years. The Challenger was reintroduced five years ago, and while its sales doubled from 2009-2013, it set a sales record last year, when it should have been fading as a fifth year vehicle. The new car should render all current records obsolete.
To the uninitiated, the new Challenger won’t look all that different from the current Challenger. But to the discerning eye, the revised grille and other subtle touches are remindful of the 1971 Challenger, but even at the height of muscle cars, no ponycar — and no hot sedan, for that matter — has had what lurks under the hood of the new Challenger. For openers, the Challenger starts with the very competent 3.6-liter V6, and steps up to the 5.7-liter Hemi V8, which takes the V6‘s 305 horsepower up to 375, coupled with 410 foot-pounds of torque in a stick-shift R/T version.
Leaping above the R/T is the R/T Plus, with a 6.4-liter Scat Pack model, which has 485 horsepower and 475 foot-pounds of torque through a six-speed manual or eight-speed automatic. That’s the one with the Superbee festooned to the sides, that cartoon symbol of Dodge and Plymouth power from over 40 years ago. Ah, but that’s not all. Remember, the new Mustang’s Shelby version is rumored to be about 500 horsepower, and Motor Trend did a cover story on the Z-28 Camaro, claiming 505 horsepower and 481 foot-pounds of torque. Dodge’s SRT — for Street and Racing Technology — high-performance team had a loftier objective: 700 horsepower.
They made it, with some to spare. They came up with a 6.2-liter Hemi V8, reinforced every component, and chose not to use direct injection, because forced injection was determined to be better for this project. They fitted a twin-screw supercharger on top to blast an air-fuel mixture into the cylinders and ultimately achieveed an incredible 707 horsepower, with 650 foot-pounds of torque. That engine comes in the top-performing package, which will be called the Hellcat, and we can expect it to rip off 0-60 times of around 4 seconds. Read more
By John Gilbert
As the continuing rise of electronic gadgetry and driving controls engulfs the automobile world, I had the occasion to interview a bright young fellow who had left a prominent auto company to go to work for am aftermarket company that makes the electronic gadgets that are aiding and abetting our ability to drive, steer, control, stop, and park our contemporary cars.
I asked him of all the cars he has dealt with in his new job, which one is the most sophisticated from the standpoint of electronic connectivity. He first said the Tesla, which is an all-electric marvel but far from being a mainstream car. Of all the mainstream, readily available cars?
“The Audi A3,” he said, promptly. That is impressive, because I had just driven the first 2015 A3 at Audi’s introduction of the line, and while it is an unobtrusive car, I had noted during the introductory session and test drive, its high-level technology also made it a very sophisticated performer. The car automatically becomes Audi’s entry-level vehicle, starting at $29,900, and if you can resist the option bin you still get an impressive vehicle.
The A3 comes as a 4-door sedan first off, but that is only the leadoff hitter for a lineup of various models that will be part of a full-line segment of Audi’s impressive dossier. The well-loved 2.0-liter 4-cylinder turbocharged engine returns, upgraded to handle the quattro models with Audi’s patented all-wheel-drive system, and it will be joined by a new 1.8-liter turbo that turns the front-wheel-drive A3 into a truly sporty performer with exceptional fuel economy.
On a trip to Germany a few years ago, I first saw the Audi A3, as a smooth, sleek, compact 3-door hatchback. There were some 5-door hatches too, and they seemed to be all over. Anytime you go to Europe, you have to be impressed how European car-owners pack themselves comfortably and easily into efficiently smaller cars, even while U.S. consumers and manufacturers seemed to insist that bigger was better. A year later, when Audi brought the A3 into the U.S. market, I was anxiously awaiting the car, slightly smaller than the stellar A4 sedan, to see both the 4-door and 2-door versions rewrite some of the rules for U.S. entry-level hatchbacks.
I was mostly looking forward to the 3-door, the 2-door hatch, which was about the same size as the Volkswagen Golf. But it showed up in the U.S. market only as the 5-door, the 4-door hatch. My assumption was that Volkswagen, which is Audi’s parent, didn’t want any small hatchback to compete with the Golf, but I’ve never stopped hoping for the 3-door in the U.S.
Times have changed, although the U.S. remains a peculiar market. We seem bound by tradition, and tradition says we don’t buy hatchbacks, so we don’t. In the Volkswagen line, the Jetta 4-door sedan outsells the world-dominant 3-door Golf substantially. Not sure why, but it might have been parent Volkswagen’s decision to not bring in the A3’s 3-door hatch to protect the Golf. Regardless, sales of the 5-door A3 were disappointing, but then, that also is a hatchback.
Audi is setting its sights on changing all that for 2015 when the new generation of the A3 lands in the U.S. Leading off is the 4-door sedan, which we first were shown at the media introduction in San Francisco. No longer a blunt little 5-door subcompact hatchback, the new A3 sedan will be followed by a convertible, with an array of powerplants that starts with the 1.8-liter turbocharged 4, the 2.0 turbo upgrade, with a hotter 2.0 version coming in a soon-to-appear S3, and then a 2.0 turbodiesel model. A 1.4-liter 4 combined with an electric motor system in a hybrid will show up early next year, only in the 5-door hatch. Read more
By John Gilbert
Other than the engine, transmission, suspension, steering, safety technology, platform, exterior body panels, interior room and design, and latest safety and connectivity technology, there isn’t really that much that’s new about the 2015 Honda Fit.
It’s still got the same old name.
Of course, even there Honda has a winner, because Fit was the perfect name when the popular subcompact was first introduced and revised for a second generation. Starting under $20,000, the versatility of the Fit handled whatever you were doing, whether climbing aboard to drive or ride, stashing groceries under the hatchback, or folding the rear seats flat for extra storage, everything in the car…fit!
It’s risky to start redesigning an iconic car like the Fit, which is just as impressive among subcompacts as the Civic is among compacts or the Accord is among midsize cars. But in the case of the third-generation Fit for 2015, Honda has worked its magic to take a car that functioned so well in every way and improve it in every way.
My reservations about the first Fit, which made its debut in 2006, and the second-generation car as well, was that Honda seemed content to reach 30 miles per gallon with the car and its 1500 cc. engine. Honda, Toyota, Nissan, Mazda, Subaru and Mitsubishi, in my opinion, seemed to create a Japanese manufacturer’s united front that 30 mpg was good enough, so they stuck with it. German manufacturers, and then the South Korean breakthrough by Hyundai and partner Kia, proved “40 is the new 30,” and the Japanese were suddenly scrambling to catch up. Mazda was first, with the Skyactiv technology on its 2.0 and 2.5-liter engines. Honda followed by impressively redoing the 2.4-liter 4-cylinder for the Accord.
It was, therefore, with great anticipation that I attended the automotive media introduction of the 2015 Fit, in San Diego. We were stationed at the trendy Andaz Hotel, and our choreographed destination was to drive through the mountains to the Mount Woodson Castle.
The most recent Honda Fit I’d had for a week’s test remained fresh for comparison: At 70 mph, the little single-overhead-camshaft engine was turning 3,000 RPMs through fifth gear of its 5-speed transmission, a high rev reading that resulted in 31 mpg. That was OK, but just OK for a subcompact. I figured a lot of revs were being wasted in fifth, doing the comparatively simple task of maintaining cruising speed.
By John Gilbert
Every auto manufacturer wants to convince customers that its cars are fun, and exciting to drive. Then there are the Italians. Say no more. There is never a need for an Italian car-maker to suggest that his car is emotional, or exciting. It comes with the territory.
That’s the backdrop for the Alfa Romeo 4C, which Alfa Romeo plans to ride back into the U.S. auto market for 2015. We can call it a $55,000 thrill-making toy, and that’s not a rip. That’s basically what a Corvette Sting Ray is, or a Porsche Boxster S or Cayman S, or a Nissan GTR or 370Z. All are fun, and describe the genre, and all cost substantially more than $55,000. When you build a specialty sports car, you can charge a lot, but you’d better back it up with substance.
The 4C has, for substance: mid-engine balance, an extremely light (2,400-pound) mass that can be hurled 0-60 in the mid-4-second range, a top speed of 160 mph, an over-achieving aluminum 1,750 cc. turbocharged and direct-injected 4-cylinder, light and precise suspension and steering, and a high-tech body that owes its construction and heritage to contemporary Formula 1 technology.
The look and the performance rank in the exotic supercar class, but if that’s not enough, Alfa is going to build in an exclusivity. Only 1,000 Alfa Romeo 4C cars will be distributed to anxious U.S. buyers in its first year, through selected Fiat dealerships. One of the 4C models I drove listed for $58,295 with racing exhaust and bi-xenon headlights.
If you’re unconvinced that the 4C is emotional, and fun to drive, standing next to one is pretty good evidence of the former and starting the engine is convincing of the latter. The sound is exhilarating. It resembles the “sports-plus” settings for straight-through exhausts on Porsches or the new Corvette. The sound is part of the overall image, but it’s best experienced somewhere like the road-racing circuit at Sonoma, California, which used to be known as Sears Point.
Shift the twin-clutch direct-sequential gearbox into first and pull out of the pit lane. The steering feels just a bit heavy at first, but that’s because Alfa chose not to waste any energy on power steering. Once rolling, the light-front 4C steering is perfect, as is its precision. Build a little speed, as you exit the pits, and ease slightly up the slope toward Turn 1. Hammer it, and the sound gets better, and its reflexes seem to improve as well. The fantastic responses of the car react to every tiny steering, curving, braking or accelerating input you choose, and they conspire to create a sensory deadlock: It is impossible to calculate which is the best characteristic of just how emotional and exciting the Alfa 4C is. Read more