Automotive News

As you know, we at AutoAcademics love car shows and the season for exploring new products from auto manufacturers around the world is well under way!  Check out the latest from AutoAcademics’ friends at Automotive Rhythms:

What’s headed down the road at the 2016 Washington Auto Show? Well, Kimatni Rawlins, Leeann Brzozowski and Automotive Rhythms invite you behind the scenes to witness the latest technologies, luxuries and necessities shaping your new ride. We hope you are looking forward to next month when the best of international engineering convenes in the nation’s capital. So gear up and rev your emotions for the auto show in D.C. January 22nd via the 31st.



Kimatni D. Rawlins: Pres. & Pub.

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I finally got the opportunity to attend my first banquet for the Mazda MX-5 race series winners.  While standing on a podium and accepting a trophy for 1st place at Road Atlanta has been a dream of mine, that’s not exactly how this dinner event played out.

Marking the culmination of another year of competitive racing, the 2015 Battery Tender MX-5 Cup / Skip Barber Mazdaspeed Pro Challenge Banquet acknowledges and awards skilled drivers, comprised of both women and men who this year ranged in age from 16 to 42, for their consistency and improvement during the 2015 season.  Over the years, the race series has trained and propelled aspiring racers from “zero to hero” status, with many proving successful in top-tiered professional motorsports, such as NASCAR, Indycar, NHRA, and even Formula 1.

During the award ceremony, the mood was lighthearted and joyous, as attendees cheered for those who, just hours earlier, were considered tough competitors during the months of March through October, but who now have become “family,” a term that was used often, yet purposefully, during the evening’s speeches.  Two of the top competitors this season were John Dean, who won the 2015 SCCA Pro Racing Battery Tender Mazda MX-5 Cup Presented by BFGoodrich Tires title (pictured, right) and Robby Foley (left), winner of the Skip Barber MAZDASPEED Pro Challenge.

John Dean / Robby Foley

2015 Mazda MX-5 Cup Winners

While, in my eyes, the accomplishments of Dean and Foley are nothing short of impressive, I am also amazed by the accessibility of the Mazdaspeed Motorsports Development program.  From engineers and body shops to amateurs and pro racers – all are welcomed to take part in one capacity or another.  It is truly a grassroots program that is supportive, yet challenging enough to prepare participants for the next level.  Teams are even offered discounted stock (OE) Mazda parts and competition parts, as well as technical support.

For those of you considering a foray in the world of racing, and requiring only a ride for each weekend, Mazda has just announced its 2016 Global MX-5 Cup race car pricing.  For a very reasonable (for racing) introductory price of $53,000, racers can go to and order a turnkey, ready-to-race car.  Each identically-built race car is based on the all-new 2016 ND chassis street car, with motorsports specific modifications and safety equipment engineered and installed by Mazda.  Deliveries are expected to begin by late 2015.

And in case you are worried about the lack of corporate sponsorship for your racing dreams in 2016, Mazda states that privateers in the Cup Series can expect to spend about $7000 per weekend, assuming you already have a tow vehicle, trailer, and the aforementioned race car.  Brown-bagging it and sleeping in your rig can knock off a little extra from that bottom line.

Feel your racing skills are a little past their prime?  Or maybe your self-preservation kicks in a little sooner than it used to?  Well, I also had the opportunity to speak with Christian Tetzlaff, Motorsports Vehicle Technology Instructor and Program Coordinator at Lanier Technical College that evening.

“There is a need for skilled technicians that work on race cars,” he said.

To put it plainly, the older guys are retiring, moving on and need to be replaced.  Tetzlaff is also a professional race car driver in the2015 Mazda MX-5 Cup Tropies SCCA Pro MX-5 Cup, allowing him to see, first hand, the needs and trends on the track and in the pits.  Lanier Tech’s partnership with Skip Barber race school also affords students not only classroom training, but hands-on, trackside experiences, too.

With all of that being said, probably the best take-away from the evening, for me, was realizing the fact that my own racing dreams may not be over, as car racing is a great equalizer, no matter your gender, physical stature, or in my case – age.  So who’s with me?  Now if I can only convince my banquet +1 (i.e.- my wife) that this is as good an idea as I’ll envision tonight while I’m asleep.

Check out more of AutoAcademics’ Mazda coverage here – 2016 Mazda6 Grand Touring Review.

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2017 Ford GT rear

AutoAcademics may have officially crossed over to the technology side of journalism.  Not because we’re techies (even though some of us are), but because of cars, themselves.  What many fail to realize, is that automakers are arguably as invested in software and technology as companies such as Apple and Microsoft when it comes to the products that they create.  Everything from bio-metrics and entertainment to remote control and autonomous capabilities are being developed.  Ford wanted to share some of its new discoveries with us, so it flew AutoAcademics out to sunny, at least during our visit, San Francisco, CA, where we were given the opportunity to experience some of the company’s latest technology.

Raj Nair, Group Vice President, Global Product Development and Chief Technical Officer for Ford, shared some of the technical highlights that might be available in future Ford vehicles.  Among other things, his presentation included Enhanced Active Park Assist, Pro Trailer Backup Assist, and Remote Parking Assist.  All of these are active vehicular technologies and each was on display for us to experience and test out for ourselves.  See video below for a more in-depth look.

Ford wearable tech integrationWhile some of the technologies, such as the remote parking, are still just tech demos used to show the direction that Ford is heading toward, others are very close to implementation on production vehicles.  As for the present or at least very near future, Ford has been developing apps for wearable tech, such as your smartwatches, that allow you to monitor and interact with the driving range, charge management and parking location of your plug-in hybrid or electric vehicles.  There is also a new version of SYNC, called SYNC 3, that was recently launched in the 2016 Escape and will be coming soon to a Fiesta, F150, Mustang, and Transit near you.  See SYNC 3 demonstration video below.

Ford also shared some of its behind the scenes technology that assist in bringing new vehicles to the market.  Renewable Ford Renewable Materialsmaterials have been used for a number of years now, as Ford has been experimenting with rice hulls, soy beans, wheat straw, cellulose, and natural rubber to make everything from seat cushions, head restraints, and headliners in the Mustang to consoles in the Lincoln MKX to electrical harness brackets in the F150.  Not only do these renewable materials reduce waste, but they are also lighter than conventional plastics and metals – saving weight, which ultimately reduces fuel consumption while simultaneously improving performance.

Virtual reality is used to integrate or swap out parts, both inside and outside of Ford’s vehicles, in real time.  Then those components can be created using a groundbreaking 3D printing technology that prints 25x-100x faster then conventional 3D printing.  This allows engineers to experiment with and develop new parts faster and more efficiently.

Finally, Ford’s Smart Mobility program has shifted from strictly research to the implementation stage, meaning that the company is working to make the sensing and computing tech feasible for production while they continue to tweak the processes necessary to make it all work.

Ford MoDe:Pro eBike

Ford is obviously not the sole automaker pushing the envelope of automotive technology, yet it is one of the few willing (and courageous enough) to share it with us.  Such an experience sheds a new light on the direction of the company and has us looking forward to the next vehicles coming off the assembly line.  And who knows?  Maybe next we’ll get a call with an offer to test the latest from Google.  They are making cars, you know.

2015 Honda Fit EX-L w/Navi

One of the primary concerns when purchasing a vehicle, new or used, is finding a good one that truly fits in your personal budget.  While AutoAcademics assists many prospective buyers with such tasks, there are still others who face this challenge alone every day., a personal finance site, researched and identified 36 new vehicles, available as of April 1, 2015, for finance at the very respectable amount of $300 a month (or less!).  Now, there are some requirements that must be met, but nothing out of the ordinary.  Potential buyers must provide an estimated 20% down payment, and the numbers are based on an interest rate of 3.44% for 60 months.  If all of this sounds good, and you have excellent credit, one of these vehicles could end up in your driveway at a very reasonable cost.

Contact for more information.

Check out the press release below:

 36 Cars You Can Finance for Under $300 a Month in 2015

LOS ANGELES, April 6, 2015 /PRNewswire/ — Americans are borrowing record amounts for their new cars, with the average monthly auto loan payment today coming in at more than $4801. To help car buyers find affordable, high-quality vehicles, leading personal finance site GOBankingRates uncovered 36 cars on sale today — from the Jeep Renegade to the Honda Civic — that can be financed for less than $300 a month.

GOBankingRates investigated dozens of affordable makes and models, consulting with car experts at,, and more to compile the list. The report also includes tips on which cars offer the best fuel economy and warranties, which will incur the lowest maintenance costs, and what kind of safety features drivers can expect.

See the prices, features and financing breakdown of each car here:

“The truth is, you don’t have to choose between a gigantic monthly payment and a junker when buying a new car,” said Casey Bond, managing editor of GOBankingRates. “Our research shows that some of the most popular cars this year can also be some of the most affordable — as long as you keep your credit high and choose a loan term length that works well with your budget.”

36 Vehicles With Car Payments Under $300 a Month:

2016 Hyundai Elantra GT 2015 Hyundai Veloster
2015 Volkswagen Jetta 2015 Hyundai Elantra
2015 Toyota Yaris 2015 Hyundai Accent
2015 Toyota Prius c 2015 Honda Fit
2015 Toyota Corolla 2015 Honda Civic
2015 Smart Fortwo 2015 Ford Focus
2015 Nissan Versa Note 2015 Ford Fiesta
2015 Nissan Versa 2015 Fiat 500
2015 Nissan Sentra 2015 Dodge Dart
2015 Nissan Frontier 2015 Chevrolet Spark
2015 Mitsubishi Mirage 2015 Chevrolet Sonic
2015 Kia Soul 2015 Chevrolet Cruze
2015 Kia Rio 2014 Scion xB
2015 Kia Forte5 2014 Scion iQ
2015 Kia Forte Koup 2014 Nissan Cube
2015 Kia Forte 2014 Mazda Mazda2
2015 Jeep Renegade 2014 Hyundai Elantra Coupe
2015 Jeep Patriot 2014 Honda Insight

Additional details:

  • Jeep: According to Kelley Blue Book, the 2015 Jeep Patriot is the most affordable small utility vehicle on the road this year — a five-year loan will cost you $242 a month.
  • Ford: Experts at TrueCar say the 2015 Ford Focus is now built on the European-based platform, making it one of the sportiest cars on the list. The 2015 model year also offers segment-leading technology and safety features. You can buy one for about $249 a month with a five-year loan.
  • Toyota: The 2015 Toyota Corolla will run you about $246 a month on a five-year loan. According to CarsDirect, the car is reliable even at higher mileages, meaning it will better hold its value and be worth more at trade-in.


Auto payments were calculated using the starting MSRP as provided by the car manufacturer, assuming a 20 percent down payment, a five-year term length and an interest rate of 3.44%. This rate is the daily national average on five-year new auto loans for consumers with excellent credit scores (740 to 850); it was pulled from Informa Research Services’ database on April 1, 2015.

About GOBankingRates: is a leading portal for personal finance news and features, offering visitors the latest information on everything from interest rates to strategies on saving money, managing a budget and getting out of debt. Its editors are regularly featured on top-tier media outlets, including U.S. News, Business Insider, Daily Finance, Huffington Post and more. It also specializes in connecting consumers with the best financial institutions and interest rates nationwide.

  1. USA Today: “Car Buyers Borrow Most Ever, Make Record Payments,” March 4, 2015

Scion iM

Scion is using the glitz and glamour of the L.A. Auto Show on Wednesday, November 19 at 3:40 p.m. to reveal its new iM Concept car.  Although very little is known about the iM, there arguably is no better venue to announce the company’s new star than this.

There’s always room for speculation, and since there’s just a little less than a month remaining until the reveal… why not?  We may be going out on a limb here, but there are some signs that the iM, if and when it becomes a production model, will focus on technology.  For starters, the name iM just oozes the idea that this will be a car that highlights connected technology.  For example, many people didn’t even realize smartphones existed until Cupertino’s i-Device hit the market.  And since then, that lowercase vowel has been an overused prefix for anything even hinting at being associated with tech.  Not to mention, the term “IM” or “instant message” was originally coined for the predecessor of the now widely used text message.

Another reason we think this car will showcase technology is more obvious – its demographic.  According to Toyota’s recent press release, the iM Concept “reflects the evolution of Scion as the needs and desires of its youthful customers also evolve.  Young adults turn into older young adults with jobs.  The current generation of older young adults tends to be engrossed with the freedom that technology allows, even more so than the car, itself, used to for those of previous generations.  Because of this, there will probably be integration of all sorts of media and communication tech, some of which might even be ground-breaking, or at least so we think.

Now obviously, this is all just hyperbole (that is, unless it proves true) and AutoAcademics will have our eyes trained on what Scion has planned for the world in November, too.  What we do know from the teaser photo above is that the iM Concept adopts the new Toyota family grille, as well as projector-beam (Zenon?) headlights and aggressive air dams in the lower front fascia.  And although the iM Concept showcases some performance-focused hardware, such as cross-drilled front disc brakes, the production version will probably be more along the lines of the FR-S or even the tC, if it makes it to production at all.

Contact for more info.


Check out the official press release below.


Scion’s iM Concept Car Prepares for World Premiere at L.A. Auto Show
October 22, 2014
Torrance, Calif., Oct. 22, 2014 – Like any new star about to step out on the world stage in Los Angeles, Scion’s new iM Concept car is taking some test shots. The photos, also debuting on Instagram, reveal the distinctively sporty front end of the car as it gets ready for the spotlight. The iM Concept car reflects the evolution of Scion as the needs and desires of its youthful customers also evolve. Fans are encouraged to join the conversation at #iMDriven.

Scion’s Los Angeles Auto Show press conference will be held Wednesday, November 19, at 3:40 p.m. in the South Hall.

About Scion
Scion continues to be the test laboratory division for Toyota Motor Sales (TMS), U.S.A., Inc. From its start in 2003, Scion’s goal was to offer products and processes that stand apart from the crowd. With a model line-up that includes the iconic xB urban utility vehicle, the tC sports coupe, the FR-S rear-wheel drive sports car, the premium micro-subcompact iQ and the xD urban subcompact 5-door, Scion offers distinctive vehicles that reflect owners’ passions and aspirations. Scion also appeals to a youthful audience by offering a simple, no haggle buying experience and by engaging with potential customers in meaningful and creative ways. For more information, visit

2014 Lexus LS 460 F SPORT

In the high-end category of cars, builders (and buyers) become specialists.  The larger the check that is given and received, the more specialized the appointments.  If luxury is what you want, then componentry covered in Alcantara and dermatologist-approved mammal hides may be on the list.  If power reigns supreme, then triple-digit numbers achieved via the use of space-age materials should appear on the spec sheet.

As mentioned in AutoAcademics’ video review of the 2013 Lexus LS 460 F SPORT last year, this version of the F SPORT aims to offer the best of both worlds – luxury and power.  And AutoAcademics was tasked at finding out whether or not it succeeded.

This time around, we had the opportunity to test the 2014 model.  Although virtually nothing has changed from the previous year, we’ll share with you the details that make the F SPORT different from the standard LS.  19” forged-alloy wheels and summer tires, specially tuned and lowered Adaptive Variable Air Suspension, 14.8-in Brembo brakes with six-piston calipers, and a limited-slip rear differential cover performance.  F SPORT specific front bumper, grille inserts, and L.E.D. foglamps represent the aesthetic.

Inside, our Obsidian black tester has a flaxen leather trimmed interior with perforations, bolstered front seats with embossed headrests, black Alcantara headliner, and aluminum pedals 2014 Lexus LS 460 F SPORT engineand dash trim.

Other options on our tester included a Mark Levinson 19-speaker stereo, F Sport steering wheel with paddle shifters, and blind spot monitor with rear cross traffic alert.  The Comfort Package includes climate-controlled front seats, power rear sunshade, and power trunk open and close.  Finally, the Accessory Package includes trunk mat, cargo net, and wheel locks.   In all, there was over $12,000 in options added to this car for a grand total of $85,390.

Under the hood, the 2014 Lexus LS 460 F SPORT has the same 4.6L V8 engine that makes 386-hp and 367 lb.-ft. of torque as the previous year.  This engine is mated to an 8-speed sequential shift automatic transmission that powers the rear wheels.

0-60 mph is achieved in 5.4 seconds with a top speed of 130 mph.  Estimated fuel economy is 16 city/24 highway with a combined average of 19 mpg on premium fuel.  AutoAcademics saw an average fuel economy of 20.3 mpg during testing.

Outside, the blacked out spindle-shaped grille immediately catches your attention, as do the rear diffuser and integrated dual exhaust.  The 19” wheels add style and there’s just enough “F SPORT” badging to let on that something is special about this car.  Although L.E.D. headlamps are optional, our tester made due with the high intensity discharge bi-xenon 2014 Lexus LS 460 F SPORT DRLstandards, which look coolest of all when they are off because this Lexus has some of the best L.E.D. daytime running lamps this side of Audi (or maybe even BMW’s halo rings).

Now, while the outside is impressive, inside is where owners will spend most of their time.  And this is exactly what we attempted to do.

From a technology standpoint, our LS had everything from active safety technology, to a myriad of airbags, to the very nice sounding 19-speaker Mark Levinson Surround Sound system.

A 12.3-in high resolution screen with remote touch interface can show any combination of navigation, climate or media in a split configuration or just show one specific feature across the entire screen.  The remote touch interface (i.e.- mouse) requires some fine motor skill practice, but works decent enough.  Thankfully, there are redundant physical buttons to carry out some of the more basic, but necessary commands.

The rear seats are wide, comfortable and supportive; exactly what you would expect from a sporty version of the LS.  Tons of leg- and shoulder room make this a pleasantly functional environment for rear passengers, both in and out of car seats.  But no matter how comfortable the rear section of the LS’s cabin may be, this car is not intended for livery duties.  Owners want to drive it.

Power delivery is smooth and to the point, with a gentle throttle tip-in that crescendos with the extension of your toes, similar to a philharmonic orchestra at the raise of its conductor’s baton.

2014 Lexus LS 460 F SPORT dash

The paddle shifters behind the F SPORT steering wheel allow greater control over the 8-speed sequential shift transmission and gear changes are never BANG BANG harsh as in some other popular sport sedans.  This car is still a Lexus.

Obviously, the LS is no featherweight, yet proper componentry has been used to embolden athleticism in this 2-1/2 ton vehicle.  First, there are 14.8-in, six-piston front Brembo brakes and 13.1-in, two-piston rear brakes to retard momentum rapidly.  The initial bite is rather strong, requiring more attention than our caveman inputs allowed.  Once engaged, however, modulation is less of a chore.2014 Lexus LS 460 F SPORT rear

The other notable component is the suspension.  It is F SPORT-tuned and lowered in comparison to the standard LS and has air springs and electronically controlled shock absorbers at each corner.  Three driver controlled settings adjust from Comfort to Normal to Sport+, with each incrementally increasing in firmness.  Comfort is perfect for the Lexus-like ride, yet AutoAcademics’ favorite, Sport+, never punishes you for choosing it.

Overall, we still feel the same way about the 2014 Lexus LS 460 F SPORT as we did the 2013 model.  It continues to renew our confidence in the brand and its current sporting direction.  Make no mistake, this is not a hardcore sport sedan by today’s definition, but it offers plenty of style and driving enjoyment, without losing any of its Lexus appeal.

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

Check out AutoAcademics’ video review of the 2013 Lexus LS 460 F SPORT below.

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 for more info or to schedule a test drive near you.

2013 G63 AMG

photo courtesy Mercedes Benz

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