Monday, November 22, 2010

Twin-Turbo Truck? (Part II)

Once again, David Mullings provides a guest review on the 2011 F-150 EcoBoost pickup truck. Not only does this review spotlight the advanced design of Ford's pickups, but just how far pickups have a come on a whole.

Pickup trucks have never been my thing because the few that I have driven have felt like trucks. I much prefer vehicles that handle better and take less effort to drive. Climbing into one of the new Ford F-150's at the test drive event in Orlando has completely changed my opinion of pickup trucks. As usual, I decided to drive the competitor vehicle first, a Chevrolet Silverado. It was a short drive with some turns and then I lined up for a drag race against an F-150 with EcoBoost (twin-turbo). The Ford chaperone pointed out that if I have a better reaction time I would be able to beat the lady in the Silverado beside me but if we launched at the same time, she would win.

I reacted faster and won but that wasn't important (it was fun though). The drive to the line and back to the staging area was the important part; How did the truck handle? How easy was it to turn the steering wheel? It definitely did not drive like a car and I wouldn't want to deal with that extra effort on a daily basis but it seemed normal for SUVs and Pickups I have drive before.

Then I climbed into the F-150 EcoBoost.

EcoBoost V6

The difference in the ease of driving was instantly obvious and I had to ask the Ford representative how comes it drove like that. He smiled and said that this model had an electric power-assist. This did not drive like a truck at all and I have to give Ford credit for that because it made me feel far more comfortable driving this vehicle.

Electric Power Steering Unit

The interior was extremely spacious and well appointed. Most importantly though was the performance. A twin-turbo F-150 is interesting and I did line up against a Silverado and beat it. The engine delivers 365hp at 5000rpm and 420 lb-ft. of torque at 2500rpm, quite impressive. Out of the three engines they showed me that were available, the EcoBoost engine was MORE fuel efficient than the smaller engine but could haul just as much tonnage as the larger engine.


F-150 Harley Davidson Edition

I test drove other models and the Harley-Davidson really has some nice extras but without electric power-assist, too much like a truck for my tastes. The base model F-150 was good enough for what it needs to do but with no EcoBoost, it did not have the same pep that could come in handy when overtaking or hauling.

Dyno Test

The last two things I did was check out a live dyno that compared the EcoBoost model to a number of competitors along with a video of uphill passing while towing (the F-150 did better than competitors each time of course) and then I went on the actual road while towing a trailer. I have never been trailering before and I was extremely concerned about taking corners too tight, switching lanes and also having the trailer roll over.

I was informed that the F-150 has a feature to reduce the likelihood of rollover of the trailer, the mirror designs made it extremely easy to see blind spots and especially see the curb when making a turn. It turned out to be so easy that I did not even feel like a trailer was attached, I had to keep looking back to check that it was still hitched!

The EcoBoost is clearly the winner and it is going to sell extremely well. Seeing American car companies finally learn from the Japanese that bigger is not always better and that turbochargers are just as good if matched properly with the engine is welcome. The extra touches like the available retracting running boards that pop down when you open the door and then go back into hiding under the truck when you get in are welcome as well.

2011 Ford F-150

Ford clearly has extended their lead in the pickup truck market. Trust me, you need to testdrive an F-150 EcoBoost even if you don't plan to buy a pickup. It will change your impression of pickups.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

2011 Hyundai Equus: First Impressions

2011 Hyundai Equus

Hyundai competing against the established players in the ulra-luxury sedan market, namely BMW 7 Series, Mercedes S-Class, Lexus LS. Sounds far fetched doesn't it?

Well, prepare for a reality check.

Unless you're living under a huge boulder you'd hear about how Hyundai, the carmaker previously known for cheap runabouts that sold more on price rather than quality (understandably so given such "outstanding" examples as the SCoupe), has been on somewhat of a rise within the last decade. One need only look at a current issue of Consumer Reports (or even just Google it) to see the raft of substantially new and higher quality vehicles Hyundai has been cranking out. The just released Sonata has risen to become the visual standard by which all mid-sized sedans are now judged, while offering the most powerful duo of engines in the segment AND being the most fuel efficient in the class. Pretty substantial stuff.

But that isn't all. Hyundai has now set it sights on moving its products upscale and it started this march with the released-for-2008 Hyundai Genesis. Starting in the mid-$30k range, the Genesis is a large rear wheel drive sedan that offers many standard luxury items that would be options on such vehicles as the BMW 5 Series. All of this for about $30k less than what you'd normally pay for had you gone to the Lexus dealership across the street. The Genesis looks the part, offers power parity with a duo of engines to choose from (a 290hp 3.8 V6 or a 385hp 4.6 V8) and comes with Hyundai's outstanding 10 year, 100k mile warranty. But if you thought they'd stop there, you obviously don't know Hyundai. No worries, neither did I.

Lights On

It wasn't enough that Hyundai targeted the luxury midsize segment with the Genesis. Now they've gone for the top player with the new for 2011 Hyundai Equus. Starting at just under $50k, the Equus plays the same game as the Genesis, offering quality, features and roomy, luxurious accommodations on par with the best of the name brands at a price that even mere mortals can afford.

I was invited to a local Hyundai Dealership (thanks to Christopher Hayek and Brian Owens) to get an up close look at the Equus and ask the questions that you, the consumer, might have regarding both the car and Hyundai itself (sorry, wasn't allowed a test drive due to this particular Equus being the only one available). On first glance, the Equus is huge vehicle, a few inches longer than a base LS460 and about equal to the Mercedes S550. Width is about the same and is very roomy inside. The Equus is available in two trims: Signature is the base model (although gazing inside, 'base' wouldn't be an appropriate word to use here) and provides seating for five, while the Ultimate trim is geared towards customers who would rather be chauffeured around and provides executive seating for two in the rear. In this trim, the rear seat directly behind the front passenger is fitted like a recliner with a foot rest, although despite the Equus' long wheelbase, the recliner is only suitable for kids (or as Brian put it, Koreans). In all fairness, Brian did explain that the Equus was not originally engineered for the North American market (i.e. tall, fat people) so the cramped conditions with the recliner are to be expected. However, he goes on, enough of a business case was made to bring the Equus to North America, in part, because of the stellar success of the Genesis. Well, I certainly won't question that.

Equus Signature

Equus Ultimate

The Ultimate also provides a center console (where the center passenger would normally sit) equipped with controls for the DVD entertainment system, consisting of a flip up screen located between the two front seats. The center console also integrates control for the navigation, excellent sound system and also climate control. There is also a refrigerated compartment that cools bottles of bubbly for your executive passengers (or soda for your kids), plus another storage compartment where the ski-pass through would be. Both rear seats are also heated/cooled.

Front Cockpit

Up front, a BMW iDrive-like mouse controls everything from vehicle suspension setup, to climate control and navigation. All the Equus' controls are logically laid out and thanks to the almost infinite adjustments for the seats, it's easy to find a comfortable driving position. Powering the initial batch of Equus sedans is the same Tau 4.6 liter V8 producing 385hp and 335lb-ft of torque routed through a six speed automatic transmission. An upcoming 5.0 liter variant is in development that will provide "in excess of 400hp" as well as an eight speed automatic for customers who think 385hp is a paltry figure (considering the recent strides of the competition, it just might be).

Hyundai Equus

Exterior styling is a mixed bag. The Equus certainly has an elegant yet solid and upscale look to it, even if certain design cues were pilfered (or borrowed depending on your view) from other sedans. There's a hint of Lexus in the face, a bit of S-Class in the rump, perhaps a touch BMW in the side profile. Whatever the case may be, there's no denying the car definitely has presence.

I've always maintained that both the Genesis and Equus are for buyers who care nothing for badges. All they want is a luxurious, comfortable sedan that caters to their upscale needs...without costing a fortune. The Genesis and Equus add up to just the sort of sedans that will appeal to this set of the buying public. As a matter of fact, several people who were in attendance with me instantly placed deposits to have there very own. This proves that even the well-heeled know a good deal when they see it.

Remember when Lexus first started out as a Japanese alternative to the German status quo? The original LS sedan offered much of, if not all, of what the German sedans offered at a substantial bargain. The Hyundai Equus offers that same value proposition today while at the same time firing a shot across the bow of the established players in the segment. For some, the styling might not be as formative and the interior too generic, but for most the Equus is exactly the kind of vehicle that suits their needs.

Hyundai is also changing the buying experience. Every customer gets a free Apple iPad that serves as both the car's user manual as well as providing an app that schedules services when such are needed. A technician will pick up an owner's Equus where ever it may be and leaves a loaner (either a Genesis or another Equus) in its place. The car can either be dropped off when the servicing is complete or, if the owner chooses, he can pick it up at the dealership. Hyundai also offers what they are tentatively calling 'The 14 Day Rotation". After the initial introduction and delivery, an Equus specialist will meet with the owner 14 days after (again, at the owner's home, work etc.) to go over the features of the car or simply listen to any queries the owner might have to ensure he/she is getting and enjoying the full Equus experience.

Hyundai has come a long way. If they've succeeded in making the regular guys (Honda, Toyota) take notice, then with the Genesis/Equus duo they've succeeded in at least making the high rollers take a glance over their shoulders.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Scissors, Gas Struts and Props

So this past Sunday I was engaged in washing cars (which turned into a full blown maintenance project but that's another story) and I happened to take note of the designs of trunks (or boots as the English say). I have to hand it to Mazda, those scissor-shaped hinges with the gas strut assist really pays dividends in not intruding on the trunk's total usable space. It used to be not so long ago that this was a luxury item on cars costing far more than your run-of-the-mill family sedan but kudos to Mazda for engineering such a nifty system for the 6 sedan (mine's an '06 model but this generation has been around since early 2003).

My Mazda6 trunk

Very nifty

Now this is in stark contrast to the cheap goose neck hinges that so many other manufacturers install as a cost effective measure (lookin' at you General Motors). At least now they're starting to cover up the hinges in their own special sheaths, covered in the same material as the trunk liner, but before you'd have to be careful about loading up the trunk, lest those same hinges crush any vital cargo they come into contact with when the lid is closed. Well, you can imagine my surprise (or realization really) to discover a Toyota of all vehicles carrying these cheap hinges, a [2002] Camry no less. Give Toyota some credit however, the trunk is vast (quite a bit bigger than my Mazda 6) but I believe the Mazda trumps it in usable space. It's those same lined sheaths for the gooseneck hinges that makes the space a bit weird to use. Better watch out and pack softer cargo at the top. Sadly, Toyota continues this trend with their latest Camry.

2002 Toyota Camry trunk

Cheap hinges

They do try

So you think I'm bashing Toyota for this indescribable offense? Not so fast. Even though not many owners are likely to look under the bonnet to do engine checks (I mean really, with the latest model cars presently on the road, all you're likely to see is a sea of black plastic covering the engine anyway)the Camry (circa 2002) redeems itself by offering a gas strut assist to lift and hold the bonnet up and out of the way. The Mazda 6 on the other hand, has to make do with a do-it-yourself lift-and-insert-here prop. It's probably not a big deal to most people but the Camry's gas strut does prevent your hands from being unnecessarily dirty if all you're doing is a visual inspection.

Under the 6's bonnet

Insert here

I like to get my hands dirty so the bonnet prop isn't a big deal to me, but for someone who does very little (if any) maintenance, the Camry's bonnet gas strut is a pretty nifty. Bonnet notwithstanding, the scissor hinges on my Mazda are just one of many details I absolutely adore about it. The trunk might not be as vast as the Toyota's but best believe every inch is usable.

(I'll upload a pic of the Camry's more 'sophisticated' engine bonnet prop soon)