Automotive News


2013 GL63 AMG

photo courtesy Mercedes-Benz

Here we go again.  Now, Mercedes-Benz is the brand that’s making plans to change the names of its crossover and SUV lineup.  This is not a new practice, as manufacturers change their minds on a nameplate time and time again.  Ford’s Taurus changed to Five Hundred in 2005, then back to Taurus again in 2008.  Lincoln’s revived for 2006 Zephyr kept its name the entire year, until it was changed to MKZ in 2007.

These were not that much of an issue, as we only had to remember the name change of a sole vehicle at a time, and in the Zephyr’s case, we knew what the “Z” in MKZ represented.  In 2014, however, Nissan’s premium brand, Infiniti, decided that they were going to change the names of all their crossovers and SUVs to match their existing cars.  This would not have been an issue, had the new nomenclature related to something; no make that anything that dealt with each of the vehicles, themselves.  Confusingly, they do not and 8 months later, consumers (and automotive journalists, alike) are still referring to many of the vehicles by their previous names, for lack of better recollection.

To paint a clearer picture, all of the sedans are called “Q-something,” possibly in homage to the wonderful Q45 that retained the brand’s halo status from 1989 until it was discontinued in 2006.  All crossovers and SUVS are called “QX-something.”  We assume the “X” represents crossover, and has been used for all of the brand’s previous sport utilities.  Anyway, none of this would be that much of an issue if the “-something” that followed each Q or X was somehow related to the vehicle.  Frustratingly, it does not.  There’s no engine size reference, nor a readily recognizable class or size reference.  The namesake appears to be random, and thus hard to remember.  The compact EX35 is now called the QX50.  The 7-passenger JX35 is now the QX60.  The midsize FX35/45/50 became the QX70.  And most puzzling of all, the large QX56 is now the QX80!

The sedans aren’t much better, as the M35 is now the Q70, the G37 coupe/convertible is now known as the Q60

2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA45 AMG

2015 M-B GLA45 AMG

coupe/convertible, and the G37 sedan has been revamped into the Q50.  Yet, the previous- (or is it still current?) gen G37 is still

being sold new on the lot next to the Q50.  Confused yet?

But this news update isn’t about Ford or Lincoln or Infiniti.  It’s about Mercedes-Benz and its upcoming new vehicle names.  Beginning as early as 2015, all Benz SUVs and crossovers will be referred to by different names.  Wisely, however, the luxury brand aims to lessen the strain on our simple minds by including some similarity of class structure between its cars and trucks.

The small crossover GLK will, from 2015 forward, be known as the GLC (for C-Class, get it?).  The M-class changes to GLE (E-Class) and the large GL becomes the GLS (by now you should get the point or you’re worse than us).  The all-new smaller than compact GLA was appropriately named from the beginning, and we’re pretty sure the cult-classic G-Class (G-Wagon, for the cool kids) won’t be changing its name, because heck, it hasn’t changed its body in 35 years, though officially there has been no word from M-B about it.

Happy Shopping!  And as always, contact www.autoacademics.net for more info or to schedule a test drive near you.

2013 G63 AMG

photo courtesy Mercedes Benz

Ferrari 458 Italia

So, you’re shopping for a new high performance sports car, but you’re not sure where to begin?  Well, first and foremost, if you’re reading this, you know that AutoAcademics.net is the perfect first stop.  But then, after discussing some of the many vehicular choices available to you, we very well might direct you to Adventure Supercars.  So what exactly is Adventure Supercars?

Adventure Supercars is an experience that allows you to drive an exotic supercar of your choice; and not just for a leisurely cruise around town.  The entire experience takes place where many exotic supercars are designed to be driven – on a racetrack.

The process is simple.  On Adventure Supercar’s website (www.adventuresupercars.com), you choose a participating race track near you and reserve the car or cars of your choice – including the Ferrari 458 Italia, McLaren MP4-12C, Lamborghini LP550 Mercedes SLS AMGBalboni, Audi R8, Nissan GTR and many more.  Finally choose your date and time and you’re ready to go!  While most reservations are completed online, if you are feeling lucky, arrive early enough to an event and you just might be able to register on-site without too much of a wait.  It’s as simple as that.

Now, we at AutoAcademics are not new to exciting and fun experiences like this.  So when we received our invitation to spend a morning with Adventure Supercars, it didn’t take long to decide if a representative was going.  The hardest part was rescheduling prior commitments in the name of “research” for our clients.  Our local event was being held at the fairly technical Atlanta Motorsports Park in Dawsonville, GA.  (You may remember our first experience at the then new AMP for the 2013 Cadillac ATS launch.)

After registering, I had the opportunity to talk with Tom Charvat and Aleks Djuric, two of the owners.  Upon asking what makes Adventure Supercars different from some of the other exotic car experiences, Charvat, a racecar driver and Czech Republic native who has lived in the States for the better part of a decade, emphatically stated, “We all love cars!”  That was a fair enough answer for me.  He then proceeded to inform me that whereas others in the business are all about the bottom line, Charvat first and foremost wants customers to have a fun and safe experience.

To elaborate on the latter, after every weekend, full service maintenance is conducted on each of the vehicles usMcLaren MP4-12Ced, including the changing of tires, fluids, and brakes, as opposed to only performing maintenance when required.  Charvat wants the cars in his fleet to perform at their best for every customer, not just those who drive after a recently completed service.  And of course, when these high-powered supercars are performing at their best, they should arguably be at their safest, too.

Now addressing the former is rather obvious, at least for car nuts like us.  If seeing and listening in person to 500+ horsepower cars is not fun enough, let’s not forget that Adventure Supercars allows you to drive them on a racetrack, as well.  And for those attendees who are a little more reserved, a ride along in their race prepped BMW M3 is also an option.  Pictures and video are available, as well, and will help to make your stories of piloting a McLaren down the straightaway at almost 300 mph more believable.  Yeah, right!

So maybe you’d like to test out that supercar prior to buying it or have an item that you’ve been dying to scratch off your bucket list.  Maybe you’ve seen supercars in magazines or discussed them at the water cooler and would love to experience the thrill and performance on a real race track.  Well, before you spend upwards of $1,000 to rent an exotic car for a day, only to drive it at 55 or 65 mph on public roads, you have another option to consider.  Adventure Supercars can give you an automotive experience that you’ll remember for years.  And if you happen to run into Tom or Aleks while they’re checking to make sure everyone is having a good time, be sure to tell them Chris from AutoAcademics said “hi.”

Adventure Supercars Transport

2014 Forest Mist Acura MDX AWD

When it comes to family activities, typically the more, the merrier is the rule of thumb.  Maybe you have a family of four, and the in-laws or cousins want to come along.  You’d rather not take two cars, so that’s where 7-passenger vehicles show their value.  But as you might be aware, all 7-passenger vehicles are not created equally.

Our test vehicle this time around is a 2014 Forest Mist Acura MDX all-wheel drive with Advance and Entertainment packages.  Now, just as its description fills your mouth, encompassed in these suites are loads of technology and safety features, bringing our tester’s total price to $57,400.00.

Under the hood is a 3.5L direct injected VTEC V6 engine that makes 290-hp and 267 lb-ft torque.  The engine is mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters that powers all four wheels via Acura’s Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD).  Maximum towing capacity is 5000 lbs. on properly equipped all-wheel drive models.

2014 Acura MDX Jewel Eye LED headlightsFuel economy is rated at 18 mpg city / 27 mpg highway, with a combined rating of 21 mpg.  AutoAcademics saw an average of 18.5 mpg during testing.

The 2014 MDX has some notable changes that were made to its exterior, when compared to the outgoing model. Its grille maintains a less pronounced aves-class design, yet more prominently displayed are the Jewel Eye LED headlights, which are reportedly whiter, brighter, more efficient, and longer lasting than HID or halogen headlights.

On the opposite end of the vehicle, the dual exhaust outlets from last year’s model have been tucked underneath of the rear valence and stylish reflectors trimmed in chrome now reside nearby at each corner.

Opening the power liftgate provides access to 14.8 cu-ft. of cargo space behind the 3rd row.  Fold that row down and you increase 2014 Acura MDX cargousable space to 38.4 cu-ft.  With all of the rear seats stowed, 68.4 cu-ft. of maximum cargo space is available.  There is also extra cubby storage, and power points are present, too.

Inside, the layout is attractive, with soft plastics, woodgrain and real metal trim throughout.  The driver’s seat is 10-way power adjustable, 8-way for the front passenger, and both are covered in perforated leather with heating and cooling options.

Information is provided via dual screens in the center; with the lower having touch capabilities and the top providing other pertinent information, such as navigation, vehicle and entertainment functions.

In back, the rear seats are heated with integrated cupholders in the center armrests, and entry to the 3rd row is accessed via a push-button release.  While we were technically able to sit back there, we’d recommend limiting the 3rd row to smaller children if the drive is longer than a short commute.

While thinking about comfort levels in the rear-most passenger section, there are no air conditioning vents specifically for those seats.  The second row HVAC unit, however, was one of the best we’ve experienced and it blows cold air strong enough to eventually reach those passengers in the very back.

On the amusement side of things, the Entertainment package doesn’t just answer the age-old question “Are we there yet.”  It essentially eliminates it. Incorporated in the overhead console is a 16.2” widescreen dvd player with HDMI inputs, wireless headphone connections, and a 115V AC receptacle.  The screen can show wide-ratio movies or accommodate two separate video sources side-by-side.  Unfortunately, when in conjunction with a full-size booster seat, such features do affect rear visibility when driving, but I guess sometimes that’s a cross we all must bear.

On a positive note, the 2014 MDX is equipped with a 3 mode backup camera that shows various angles behind the vehicle.  The resolution is impressively clear both during the day and at night.

2014 Acura MDX rear

With the kids entertained, parents up front will be able to experience a sound possibly never before heard when travelling on a family vacation – the sound of quietness.  But this experience is not due solely to the first season of Sofia the First.

When you enter the cabin, you will notice the extra effort required to close the doors as they create a seal that no doubt aids in cabin isolation, blocking out most exterior noises.  This quietness extends itself, even while driving down the highway and this is an impressive feat considering the MDX’s standard 19” alloy wheel and all-weather tire configuration.

Driving the 2014 MDX was a pleasant affair and we feel as though that is where Acura (or Honda) focused much of its attention.2014 Acura MDX 19" wheel  The suspension is just firm enough for this 4300 lbs. vehicle to exhibit good handling without wearing you out at the end of the day.

The V6 engine is smooth and barely audible inside the cabin, unless you request more of its 290 horsepower, at which point you will hear more of a growl from up front.  And if you are really in the sporting mood, you can change the Integrated Dynamics System (IDS) to “Sport” to increase steering feel and quicken throttle response.  And if that is not enough, engaging the transmission into “Sport” initiates even more aggressive behaviors, allowing for higher engine revs before the transmission shifts into the next gear.

Fortunately, with all of this newfound peace and enjoyment, Acura includes active safety technologies in its Advance package to help cover drivers who may accidentally slip into a Zen-like mode.  In conjunction with blind-spot alerts and backup sensors, Lane Keeping Assist System (LKAS) will alert drivers when they drift out of their lane and even help steer them back if their turn signal was not in use.  Collision Mitigation Braking System (CMBS) uses radar to identify the closing speed of an object, sounding an alarm while tightening the seatbelts and eventually fully braking if a frontal collision is imminent.  It’s nice to know that this driver-oriented crossover is ready to assist in case you forget you were driving.

 

There are a lot of viable 7-passenger vehicles on the market today.  Many, of which, are in the premium segment with the MDX.  But all are not created equal and the style, driving characteristics, and technology of the 2014 Acura MDX don’t make it any fairer.

2014 Ford Fiesta ST

Onlookers must be careful not to mistake our Performance Blue 2014 Ford Fiesta ST tester for just any subcompact vehicle with red badging on it.  Cutting right to the chase, the 2014 Fiesta ST is as legit as they come.  Class-leading power, agile handling, and respectable fuel economy can all be checked off your list, as this car covers those and much more.  Dare we say it’s even kind of cool?

By comparison, the standard Fiesta is a fine car, ready and willing to assume commuter duty, day in and day out.  But the ST is capable of that and so much more.  And that’s what we aim to convey in this review.

For starters, under the hood is a 1.6L inline 4-cylinder engine that is similar in size to what is found in the standard Fiesta.  The powerplant in the ST, however, was blessed with Ford’s EcoBoost technology, where a direct injected, turbocharged and intercooled variant resides.  The engine makes 197-hp and 202 lb-ft torque and is mated to a standard 6-speed manual transmission (no automatic is offered) that powers the front wheels.  That’s 77-hp more than the standard 4-cylinder and 90 2014 Ford Fiesta ST front driver's sidemore lb-ft torque.  This combination is good for a 0-60 time of 6.4 seconds.  Fuel economy is rated at 26 mpg city / 35 mpg highway, with a combined rating of 29 mpg.

Now, those specs are a nice teaser, but we still need to share a little about what makes the Fiesta ST a practical daily driver.

Inside is pretty much standard fare, allowing pedestrian Fiesta owners to readily recognize the layout.  The instrumentation is large on the dash, and MyFord Touch with navigation is present.  However, there are some features that only the ST has.

Two of those features stood out during our testing.  First was the 6-speed manual transmission.  Stick shifts can play a number of roles in a sporty vehicle.  They can provide you total control over the transmission’s shift points.  They offer tactile feedback to the machine that you are piloting.  And they can make you (and the vehicle) feel really cool while driving, when implemented correctly.

The manual transmission on the Fiesta ST was easy to change from one gear to the next, with a direct, yet fairly effortless operation.  And clutch take-up was gradual and precise, with just enough weight to engage without stalling or over-revving the engine.  Overall, it made driving the Fiesta ST a lot of fun.

The other notable feature was the optional (and arguably mandatory, if you ask us) Recaro seats.  As you’d expect, they were very supportive, comfortable, and looked really cool in their black leather covering with light gray microfiber inserts, prominent 2014 Ford Fiesta ST Recaro seats“RECARO” branding, and large “ST” badging stitched in red.

Note:  Those with keen linguistic talents no doubt have become aware of the numerous times we’ve used the adjective “cool” so far in this review.

As a practical side note, we feel it important to mention that although they aren’t officially branded, the rear seats are comfortable enough, and functional enough.

While driving, the Fiesta ST truly does make you feel cool, and that is a term that should not be thrown around loosely when talking about a sub-compact vehicle.  Practical?  Yes.  Efficient?  Exactly.  But, cool?  Well, if you don’t typically drive a sports anything (and my personal daddy mobile is a sports wagon), this car is pretty cool.

The suspension is rather firm, but this is a by-product of the great handling characteristics.  Though most front-wheel drive cars tend to understeer (keep going straight when you want to turn), the Fiesta ST goes where you tell it.  Part of this is likely due to the car’s light front end, and the rest would be its Torque Vectoring Control, which basically works like an electronic limited-slip differential, using the brakes to adjust the speed between the two front wheels, aiding in cornering capabilities.

One other highlight that we were not expecting to appreciate is the Engine Sound Symposer.  Although the name sounds like a button selection on a Casio keyboard, the feature actually transmits intake frequencies into the cabin, allowing you to hear more of the engine.  And it works great!  Modern cars are much more refined and quiet than in the past, so manufacturers must now artificially introduce engine sounds into the passenger compartment so that occupants can hear it.

2014 Ford Fiesta ST rear

One final cool attribute is the price.  A 2014 Ford Fiesta ST has a starting M.S.R.P. of $21,400 and ours with the optional ST Recaro package, moonroof, MyFord Touch with navigation, and 17” alloy wheels with red calipers stickered for around $23,000.  That is rather accessible to anyone shopping a performance vehicle.

So, to wrap things up, as well as in case you missed the message in our intro paragraph, we liked the 2014 Ford Fiesta….a lot.  And we believe that anyone who is shopping a performance-focused sub-compact vehicle should seriously consider it.  There are not many vehicles that offer legit performance in this class, but the Fiesta ST does.  Not to mention, it’s pretty cool, too!

Contact www.autoacademics.net for more info or to schedule a test drive near you.

Check out AutoAcademics’ video review of the 2014 Ford Fiesta ST below.

 

Chrome Underground TV

by Stephen A. Lawrence

A car show is premiering on Discovery Channel tonight.  Sure, there are plenty of car shows on Discovery and several other cable stations, but this one is different. Really different. Like I-forgot-it-was-a-car-show-for-a-minute different. As a fan of both cars and thriller TV shows, I mean that in the best way possible.

On the surface, Chrome Underground may sound like your typical car restoration show: two guys travel around looking for cool cars to fix up and sell at a huge profit. But Yusuf Johnson and Antonio Brunet aren’t contacting original owners in Albuquerque or collectors in Rancho Cucamonga. They are tracking down extremely rare and expensive vehicles in Mexico and down into South America. And if the first episode is any indication, these cars aren’t found at all-inclusive resorts.

The premier follows Yusuf and Antonio from their Austin, TX classic car business to Mexico City as they attempt to track down a rare 1937 Type 57 Bugatti. Before you really get to know Yusuf and Antonio, their search takes an unexpected turn and the guysChrome Underground are forced into a backup plan. They decide they need to hire some muscle and a third player is introduced. Andrew McLaren (great name for a show about cars!) joins Yusuf and Antonio as a mercenary and apparently will travel with them in future episodes. “Why would anyone need a mercenary with them to buy a car?” you might ask. Because cars that cost as much as a house need to be protected. Whether or not that is a valid answer does not matter because it makes for good television.

Most of the episode plays out like an hour of Jack Bauer’s life. But things slow down about 15 minutes in when we leave Mexico City and find ourselves at Motoreum, Yusuf and Antonio’s classic car shop. The scene gives a glimpse into the normal day-to-day operation and even features rust, a much more common enemy to classic car collectors. However, as devastating as rust can be, rust never carries an automatic weapon. I’m sure the mechanic back at the shop was disgusted when he realized that the car he was working on was in really bad shape. Unfortunately, the transition from mercenaries and scammers to rusty floor pans is about as smooth as a crash test. On the plus side, the segment doesn’t last long at all and the action picks up immediately after.

Chrome Underground is a fun departure from the ever-expanding list of car-themed shows. It is fast-paced and exciting, yet informative and features some crazy cars. And there are thugs with automatic weapons (?!?). After one episode, I’m looking forward to more rare cars and dangerous scenarios. Hopefully the rest of the series will be as entertaining.

1951 General Motors Le Sabre XP-8

1951 General Motors Le Sabre XP-8

The High Museum in Atlanta, Georgia is offering a special opportunity to see creations from the likes of Harley J. Earl, Norman Timbs, Jean Bugatti, Pininfarina and more this spring and summer at a special exhibit appropriately called, Dream Cars.  I say appropriately, because, although “dream cars” was the term used for concept cars in the past, I personally remember staring at pictures and dreaming of a day when I might drive a car like the 1970 Pininfarina (Ferrari) Modulo or Lancia (Bertone) Stratos HF Zero as a young burgeoning car enthusiast.  And those cars were already a few years old by the time I was born.

1956 Buick Centurion XP-301

1956 Buick Centurion XP-301

More impressively, though, I recall conversations with elders about the futuristic “flying” turbine-engine cars that General Motors built, such as the 1953 Firebird XP-21 that was on display at the 1954 Motorama and the 1951 Le Sabre XP-8 that designer Harley Earl, himself, used as his personal car and featured rain sensors that would automatically close the power top, as well as electrically heated seats and 12-volt componentry.

These conversations from the past became present as AutoAcademics was invited to preview the exhibit where the previously mentioned cars, as well as others, are on display.  Truly a sight to see, as features that only became standard on modern vehicles a handful of years ago were conceptualized and implemented (to an extent) over 60 years prior.

And we mustn’t fail to mention the unrivaled design studies that each of these cars presented.  The panoramic views, wings and fins, and space-age materials used told of a not too distant future where commuters would be able to fly to work via their alternative-fueled turbine–powered engines or shuttle the extended family to a remote vacation spot while everyone aboard enjoys the comforts of home in a 1936 precursor to the modern minivan.

1936 Stout Scarab

1936 Stout Scarab

The vehicles in the Dream Cars exhibit are truly amazing, inspiring, and beautiful works of art.  And AutoAcademics recommends that if you have even the slightest interest in automobiles, be it a passion, hobby, or just plain mode of transportation, this exhibition is a rare experience that should not be missed.

Dream Cars will be on display at the High Museum in Atlanta, GA from May 21-September 7, 2014.  Tickets prices range from $12.00-$19.50.  Children under 6 are free.  Visit https://www.high.org/Art/Exhibitions/Dream-Cars.aspx for more info.

Watch an overview of the 1941 Chrysler Thunderbolt, as well as take a look at some of the other cars on exhibit in the video below.

 

 

2015 Lincoln MKC

Personalized luxury is how the 2015 Lincoln MKC aims to “Engage Your Senses.”  In collaboration with the Mandarin Oriental Atlanta Hotel and Spa, Lincoln displayed how customer service and luxury go hand-in-hand, no matter the product.

Identified as a reinvention for the company, The Lincoln Motor Company is using the launch of the 2015 MKC to continue its quest toward targeting younger, more diverse customers who are pursuing a more personal purchasing and ownership experience.

We, at AutoAcademics, say “Better late than never.”  Quite a few of Lincoln’s competitors began their rejuvenation a number of years ago and are now reaping the fruits of their labor.

According to Lincoln, “MKC gives Lincoln a compelling offering in the small premium utility vehicle segment, the fastest-growing part of the luxury market… The segment growth is being driven by new luxury buyers who are coming into affluence, as well as by current luxury owners who are moving from larger vehicles to smaller ones as their life desires change.”

2015 Lincoln MKC split-wing grilleThe 2015 Lincoln MKC definitely appears to be a good vehicle to accompany the updated in 2013 MKZ sedan in this movement.  Its exterior design is compact and athletic, with arguably a better proportioned split-wing grille, when compared to other Lincoln models, which is flanked by L.E.D. accent lighting on the front end.  Numerous wheel styles and sizes are available and creative convenience lighting anticipates your arrival, not unlike what staff members at the Mandarin Oriental do for their guests, by projecting Lincoln-logo “welcome mats” in front of the doors as you approach.  In back, the wrap-around liftgate accentuates the unique design of the 2015 MKC.

Inside, premium appointments, such as Bridge of Weir Deepsoft Leather, open-pore wood trim, and unique door-panel stitching offer luxurious levels of detail unforeseen in this class.

Under the hood, an all-new 2.3L 4-cylinder EcoBoost engine that makes a class-leading 285-hp / 304 lb.-ft. of torque is available alongside the standard 240-hp 2.0L EcoBoost that is currently in service in other Ford vehicles.  Both engines are mated to a 6-speed SelectShift automatic transmission with paddle shifting.

EPA estimated fuel economy is rated at 20 mpg city/29 mpg highway for the 2.0L FWD model, 19/26 for the 2.0L AWD version, and 18/26 for the 2.3L with AWD.

Other available features include Lincoln Drive Control, which is a continuously variable suspension, Enhanced THX II Certified Audio System, active noise control, adaptive cruise control and collision warning, lane-keeping system, cross-traffic alert, and SYNC with MyLincoln Touch.

A class-exclusive feature is the available park-out assist technology.  This feature takes the active park assist capabilities a step further by steering drivers out of tight parking spaces.

Finally, Lincoln has partnered with Les Clefs d’Or, the international association of professional hotel concierges, to provide 2015 Lincoln MKC interiorLincoln dealers with specialized personal-service training.  Dealers will also offer Lincoln Date Night, an extended test-drive that offers qualified buyers the opportunity to experience “ownership” of the vehicle for up to 48 hours, as well as Lincoln Concierge, an online-based assistant that guides visitors through the car-buying process.

At a starting price of $33,100 for the front-wheel drive 2.0L EcoBoost and $39,965 for the 2.3L EcoBoost with all-wheel drive, Lincoln anticipates that the 2015 MKC possesses the levels of personalized luxury and technology that might just pique enough buyers’ senses to help reinvent the brand.

 

Contact www.autoacademics.net for more info or to schedule a test drive near you.

Check out video of the 2015 Lincoln MKC below.

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