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2014 SRT Viper TA: Ralph’s Revenge

When Motor Trend tested the Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 and the SRT Viper GTS some months back, the results didn’t sit too well with SRT boss Ralph Giles.

Determined to gain back a measure of revenge, SRT decided to expedite the build of the car it deemed as capable of wasting away the ZR1’s glory. And so, at the New York Auto Show, SRT will be bringing the latest Viper incarnation, the Viper TA.

The “TA” stands for Time-Attack, which shows you the reason why SRT decided to build the car in the first place. It comes with a host of new improvements to the suspension and handling, critical areas where the SRT GTS fell short of in its throw-down with the ZR1.

But the question is, does it all matter, or does the ZR1 just have the Viper’s number?
Not a lot of exterior changes were done to the Viper TA from the standard model. It does come with a new Crusher Orange paint, which looks pretty awesome on the sports car. Plus, a number of 2D TA logos can be found just behind both front wheels with a black Stryker logo on the front fascia and a new set of matte black, ultra-lightweight Sidewinder II wheels.

The Viper TA does come with an advanced exterior aerodynamics package, featuring carbon-fiber components that include front splitters, a rear spoiler and a carbon-fiber rear applique that not only adds accentuates the rear width proportions of the sports car, but also provides performance improvements as well.
Interior

The interior package for the Viper TA isn’t extensive, but it’s also not something you can just sneeze at. It also comes with the same premium ballistic fabric racing seats from Sabelt that the standard Viper has, as well as options to accommodate either a 3- or 6-point harness for the racing belts.

Meanwhile, the Crusher Orange color applied to the body of the Viper TA can also be found on the interior in the form of accent stitching on the cloth seats, instrument panel center stack, console, pull brake, shifter boot, shifter head, steering wheel and upper doors.
Performance
The engine powering the Viper TA isn’t different, too. It comes powered with an 8.4-liter V-10 overhead-valve engine that produces 640 horsepower and 600 pound-feet of torque. The latter, in particular, is very impressive because that’s the highest level of torque any naturally aspirated sports-car engine in the world produces.

Performance numbers have yet to be released but Motor Trend did some testing and found out that it’s the fastest Viper on the block, capable of hitting 60 mph in 3.3 seconds with a quarter-mile ET of 11.3 seconds at 129.3 mph. As for top speed, we expect it to also be north of the 206 mph mark set by the standard model, possibly even hitting 210 mph.
Suspension and Handling
The biggest difference between the standard Viper and the Viper TA lies in the suspension, as the latter comes with one that has been uniquely tuned and upgraded specifically for on-track use.

The installation of a two-mode Bilstein Damptronic suspension system may not be a sexy addition, but with firmer levels of damping and a smaller spread between modes than what you can find on the current Viper models, that difference makes for improved handling for the Viper TA model.

A host of other suspension components have been retuned for the specific purpose of improving the sports car’s on-track credentials. Shock dampers, springs and road-racing-derived stabilizer bars were all given the ’ol bump in class, while the standard aluminum structural X-brace was taken out in favor of a lighter carbon-fiber brace that ties the four corners of the engine compartment together. Again, not exactly standard fare, but the 50-percent improvement in torsional rigidity and stiffness ensures that this baby can handle the rigors of some of the meanest race tracks in the world.

Finally, the car’s brakes were also improved, thanks to a tie-up with Brembo and the co-development of a system that increases thermal capacity and optimizes heat dissipation providing improved extreme use.
Pricing

No word on pricing yet but we expect the Viper TA to retail north of the $120,000 price tag of the Viper GTS. What we do know is that only 33 units will be made which makes it all that more exclusive.
Competition

It’s no secret that Viper built the TA model as a response to Chevrolet’s Corvette ZR1, especially after the latter spanked the Viper GTS at Laguna Seca, drawing the ire of SRT boss Ralph Giles.

Well, Giles now has an opportunity to redeem SRT with the Viper TA and if you want to see how this track-focused Viper did against the Corvette ZR1, we invite you to watch this Ignition episode from Motor Trend to see whether the Viper TA does strike back against its nemesis.
Conclusion

Well, the Viper TA did it. Professional driver Randy Pobst managed to clock a time attack lap time of 1:33.62 at Laguna Seca, besting the ZR1’s then record time of 1:33.69.

Ultimately, that’s all Giles probably cared about and if you’re in the same line of thinking as he is, that’s probably all that matters too.

The ZR1 threw down the gauntlet and the Viper TA picked it up and run away with it.

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Aston Martin DBS

Base Price: $282,000-$306,000*
Body Type: Coupe, conv What’s New: The 2013 DBS soldiers on unchanged as Aston Martin readies the new Vanquish, which will supplant the DBS as its flagship coupe. Last year, the DBS’ stability control was revised to help put all 510 of the V-12’s horses to the pavement, and the Volante convertible returned packing a 13-speaker Bang &Olufsen audio system. Aston’s top GT can be ordered as a two-seater or a 2+2 and with a 6M or 6A.

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2014 Acura RLX

Show Floor Update: According to Jeff Conrad, VP and general manager of Acura sales, the 2014 Acura RLX that just hit the Acura stand at the 2012 L.A. auto show, “looks good from any angle.” While we’re sure there will be folks out there who would beg to differ, there’s no doubt the new Acura flagship is a dramatic step up in the styling department from blandmobile RL it’s replacing. The RLX’s fancy LED “Jewel-Eye” headlights look much better in person, and the floating design reminds us of the trick headlights found on the NSX concept.

Before reading the rest of this, stop and ask yourself this question: “When was the last time I saw an Acura RL?” You’ll probably be thinking about it for a while. The RL has never been a big seller for Acura, and in its twilight years it has only sold in the hundreds. That’s not a good place for a brand’s flagship to be, which is why Honda is throwing almost everything it has into making the RL’s replacement, the 2014 Acura RLX, far less anonymous. Visually, the production RLX isn’t all that different from the “concept” shown in April at the 2012 New York auto show. In fact, all that seems to have changed are the wheels and fascia. The once-controversial power plenum grille remains, but it is far more elegantly executed than the initial versions. Surrounding it on either side are fancy LED headlights. Dubbed Jewel-Eye by Acura, these not only provide a unique (possibly insectile) look to the RLX, but also are said to improve illumination. The most visible features at the rear are its Accord-esque taillights and hidden exhausts, allowing Acura to give the fascia a clean look.

As was the case with the RL, power for the RLX comes exclusively from a six-cylinder engine — fortunately for Acura, the recent move away from V-8s has made the lack of one a non-issue. The RLX is powered by a version of Honda’s 3.5-liter V-6 fitted with direct injection and cylinder deactivation technology (Variable Cylinder Management in Acura-speak) good for 310 horsepower and 272 lb-ft of torque. Though those are improvements of just 10 hp and 5 lb-ft over the RL’s 3.7-liter V-6, the RLX’s engine is said to make 90 percent of its torque from 2000 to 6000 rpm. More important, the Acura expects the RLX to be rated at 20/31 mpg city/highway — a considerable improvement over the RL’s 17/24 city/highway numbers. The engine is mated to an updated version of the RL’s Sequential Sportshift six-speed automatic. The RLX’s version gets revised gearing, a new shifter, steering wheel-mounted paddles, and a Sport mode that Acura says makes for more aggressive shifts. Curiously, however, the RLX is not fitted with any sort of all-wheel drive. Instead, Acura uses a new system called Precision All-Wheel Steer (yes, there’s an acronym: P-AWS) that independently controls the toe angles of the rear wheels. Those looking for all-wheel drive will have to wait for the arrival of the 370-hp RLX Hybrid.

Beyond the four-wheel steering is a considerable list of active safety technologies. It starts with a new version of the AcuraLink connectivity system that now includes traffic information for surface streets as well as freeways; continues into the existing lane departure and collision warning systems (Lane Keeping Assist System and Forward Collision Warning, in case you want to keep up with the marketers); and finishes with adaptive cruise control with a special low-speed following setting, which presumably allows the RLX to close the gap more tightly when in traffic. Acura also mentions an Agile Handling Assist dynamic braking system, something we’ll have to look into when we get our hands on the car.

Size-wise, the RLX doesn’t deviate much from the RL. At 196.1 inches in length, the RLX is just 0.3 inch longer than its predecessor, but rides on a wheelbase Acura says is 2 inches longer, without providing specifics. Mathematically, that would mean 112.2 inches for the RLX versus 110.2 inches for the RL. The practical result of the stretched wheelbase is a spacious rear seat that offers a whopping 38.8 inches of rear legroom. One dimension that is smaller on the RLX than on the RL is curb weight. Acura was able to cut the fat through extensive use of aluminum, reducing heft to around 3950 pounds — roughly an 100-pound drop — despite the addition of all the extra technology.

When it arrives in spring 2013, the 2014 Acura RLX will be offered in five flavors: base, Navigation, Technology, Krell, and Advance. The first two come with 18-inch wheels, and, as its name implies, the RLX with Navigation comes with an 8-inch navigation screen. The other three come with 19-inch wheels and increasing levels of equipment, most notably the high-end Krell audio system in the top two trims. Full feature details will be announced closer to the launch date, along with pricing information. Expect a price slightly north of $50,000 for the base RLX and one around $60,000 for the RLX with Advance Package. It remains to be seen whether X will mark the spot for Acura when it comes to the competitive $50,000-plus market that’s home to sharks like the new Lexus GS, Mercedes-Benz E-Class, BMW 5 Series, and Audi A6, but the RLX is certainly a better-aimed shot than the RL ever was.

2014 Acura RLX
BASE PRICE $50,000 (est)
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, FWD, 5-pass, 4-door sedan
ENGINE ENGINES 3.5L/310-hp/272-lb-ft SOHC 24-valve- V-6
TRANSMISSION TRANSMISSIONS 6-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT 3950 lb (mfr)
WHEELBASE 112.2 in (est)
LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT 196.1 x 74.7 x 57.2 in (est)
EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON 20/31 mpg (est)
ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY 169/109 kW-hrs/100 miles (est)
CO2 EMISSIONS 0.82 lb/mile (est)
ON SALE IN U.S. Spring 2013

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2014 BMW 3 Series Gran Turismo

Fast Facts:

Longer, taller and roomier than a 3 Series Wagon
4-passenger seating with 5-door body style
328i and 335i models offered
Active rear spoiler is a BMW first
On sale in late summer of 2013

Introduction
The 2014 BMW 3 Series Gran Turismo is a 5-door hatchback model with seating for four people. It is offered as a 328i Gran Turismo and a 335i Gran Turismo, each with standard specification or one of four trim lines: Sport, M Sport, Luxury, and Modern. The new 2014 3 Series Gran Turismo goes on sale at the end of the summer of 2013.

Exterior Features
BMW characterizes the new 2014 3 Series GT as a premium midsize vehicle with a “coupe-like” profile. To get a sense of the 3 Series Gran Turismo’s size, it is 7.9 inches longer and 3.2 inches taller than a 3 Series Wagon, and rides on a 4.3-inch longer wheelbase than the 3 Series Wagon.

Frameless side glass and LED running lights and taillights are standard for the 3 Series Gran Turismo, and BMW says the car has a 0.29 coefficient of drag. An active rear spoiler, a first for a BMW, automatically extends at 68 mph, and the automaker claims that it reduces rear axle lift by 35%. The spoiler automatically retracts when the 3 Series Gran Turismo’s speed drops below 43 mph. Signature xenon headlights with corona-ring running lights are optional for this model.

Interior Features
Compared with a 3 Series Sedan, the new 2014 BMW 3 Series Gran Turismo features seating positions that are 2.3 inches higher, easing passenger entry and exit.

A power tailgate is standard for all 3 Series Gran Turismo models, providing access to an 18.3-cubic foot trunk that is larger than the cargo area in the 3 Series Wagon. Tie-down hooks, concealed underfloor storage, and a 12-volt power point are included. Fold the 40/20/40-split rear seat down, and maximum cargo capacity measures 56.5 cubic feet. An optional Smart Opener system is included with Comfort Access, and opens the tailgate when a person’s foot is waved under the bumper and the Comfort Access key is present.

Optional Features
In addition to the standard level of specification, the 2014 BMW 3 Series Gran Turismo is offered in Sport, M Sport, Luxury, and Modern trim lines.

The 3 Series Gran Turismo Sport Line model offers gloss black and body-color exterior trim, optional 18-inch or 19-inch double-spoke aluminum wheel designs, black and red interior accents, front sport seats, and an M Sport suspension. This vehicle is also equipped with a sport-tuned version of the standard automatic transmission that includes paddle shifters and Normal/Sport shift modes.

The 3 Series Gran Turismo M Sport Line model includes the front sport seats, M Sport suspension and sport-tuned automatic transmission from the Sport Line model, and adds an exterior Aerodynamic package, BMW Individual high-gloss Shadowline trim, 18-inch or 19-inch M-Design aluminum wheels, M steering wheel, M doorsill finishers, and an M driver’s footrest. The M Sport Line is also the only 3 Series GT variant offered in Estoril Blue paint.

The 3 Series Gran Turismo Luxury Line model features high-gloss chrome exterior and interior trim, high-gloss wood trim for the cabin, seats with distinctive stitching, and 18-inch or 19-inch multi-spoke wheel designs

The 3 Series Gran Turismo Modern Line model is distinguished by pearl-effect chrome exterior and interior trim, light-color dashboard, special steering wheel color, oyster or black leather, three different interior trim panel selections, and 18-inch or 19-inch turbine-style aluminum wheels.

Under the Hood
The 2014 BMW 328i Gran Turismo is equipped with a direct-injection, turbocharged, 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine delivering 240 horsepower at 5,000 rpm and 255 lb.-ft. of torque between 1,250 rpm and 4,800 rpm. The 2014 BMW 335i Gran Turismo gets a direct-injection, turbocharged, 3.0-liter inline 6-cylinder engine rated to deliver 300 horsepower at 5,000 rpm and 300 lb.-ft. of torque between 1,200 rpm and 5,000 rpm.

An 8-speed automatic transmission is standard with both engines, delivering power to the rear wheels. BMW has not yet announced whether its xDrive all-wheel-drive system will be offered for the new 3 Series Gran Turismo. Both powertrains also include fuel-saving automatic start/stop technology, and a Driving Experience Control switch offers Eco Pro, Comfort, Sport, and Sport+ driving modes.

BMW says the 3 Series GT is equipped with a 50:50 front-to-rear weight distribution. A limited-slip rear differential and electric steering are standard, and buyers can opt for a Variable Sports Steering system and an adaptive suspension.

Safety
The 2014 BMW 3 Series Gran Turismo is equipped with a start-off assistant, traction control, stability control, and a 4-wheel-disc anti-lock braking system equipped with Dynamic Brake Control, Cornering Brake Control, and brake drying. The new 3 Series GT is also offered with a reversing camera, rear park-assist sensors, and BMW Assist telematics with eCall and an Automatic Collision Notification system.

The 3 Series Gran Turismo Modern Line model is distinguished by pearl-effect chrome exterior and interior trim, light-color dashboard, special steering wheel color, oyster or black leather, three different interior trim panel selections, and 18-inch or 19-inch turbine-style aluminum wheels.

Under the Hood
The 2014 BMW 328i Gran Turismo is equipped with a direct-injection, turbocharged, 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine delivering 240 horsepower at 5,000 rpm and 255 lb.-ft. of torque between 1,250 rpm and 4,800 rpm. The 2014 BMW 335i Gran Turismo gets a direct-injection, turbocharged, 3.0-liter inline 6-cylinder engine rated to deliver 300 horsepower at 5,000 rpm and 300 lb.-ft. of torque between 1,200 rpm and 5,000 rpm.

An 8-speed automatic transmission is standard with both engines, delivering power to the rear wheels. BMW has not yet announced whether its xDrive all-wheel-drive system will be offered for the new 3 Series Gran Turismo. Both powertrains also include fuel-saving automatic start/stop technology, and a Driving Experience Control switch offers Eco Pro, Comfort, Sport, and Sport+ driving modes.

BMW says the 3 Series GT is equipped with a 50:50 front-to-rear weight distribution. A limited-slip rear differential and electric steering are standard, and buyers can opt for a Variable Sports Steering system and an adaptive suspension.

Safety
The 2014 BMW 3 Series Gran Turismo is equipped with a start-off assistant, traction control, stability control, and a 4-wheel-disc anti-lock braking system equipped with Dynamic Brake Control, Cornering Brake Control, and brake drying. The new 3 Series GT is also offered with a reversing camera, rear park-assist sensors, and BMW Assist telematics with eCall and an Automatic Collision Notification system.

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2014 Cadillac ELR

SHOW FLOOR UPDATE: While official pricing for the 2014 Cadillac ELR won’t be announced for some time, buzz on the show floor suggested our earlier hopeful estimate of $55-60K was perhaps $10K low. Needless to say, the calculator-obsessed among you needn’t bother attempting to justify the ELR’s purchase price on fuel cost savings relative to other tiny lux coupes. But might ultra-hi-luxe trim, raffish good looks, and a substantial fig leaf of environmentalism lure you (or your similarly well-heeled Chinese and European counterparts) into purchasing this Cadillac in greater numbers than have bought its Chevy Volt cousin to date?

Cadillac’s Converj concept, a darling of the 2009 NAIAS, is finally ready for prime-time. Rebadged ELR, the coupe has made the leap from concept to production remarkably unchanged. Cadillac design director Mark Adams says it’s 90 percent the same, with the steeply raked greenhouse, the big 20-inch tires, and the car’s general stance and proportion unchanged. And of course, it’s still powered by the Chevy Volt’s EREV drivetrain, mildly souped up, for Cadillac duty. Perhaps surprisingly, the slinky coupe’s drag coefficient slips from the Volt’s 0.280 to 0.305, while the 1.6-inch wider track and tires contribute to a slightly larger frontal area. The 1.4-liter engine and 16-kWhr battery are identical, but the electric motors now combine to produce 154 hp and 295 lb-ft, up from the Volt’s 149 and 273. This drops projected 0-60-mph acceleration times to around 8 seconds (from about 9 in our experience). Amazingly, all this extra oomph, a curb-weight gain of almost 300 pounds, and the fatter tires only drop the Volt’s 38-mile full-electric range by 3 miles. That’s because Cadillac is using a bit more of the ELR’s battery — maybe as much as 70 percent of it, compared to the Volt’s (recently increased) 60 percent. Based on 193 million miles of on-the-road EREV experience, this change was deemed to present no risk to the car’s 8-year 100,000-mile battery warranty, given the ELR’s expected duty cycle and limited volume. (Don’t necessarily expect the Volt to immediately adopt this depth of battery charge.)

Many other major improvements have been made to ensure Cadillac customers don’t feel they’re driving a tinseled Chevy (remember Cimarron?). Europe’s Opel Astra GTC donates its HiPer strut front corners, which help smooth road shake and allow for more caster angle and the enhanced self-centering steering feel that brings (they also reduce the perception of torque steer, but that’s not as big a problem here). Further improving steering feel is a new cross-car brace connecting the lower control arms. This is unique to ELR. In the rear, the “compound-crank” trailing arm and twist-beam setup is augmented with a Watts link, like the one on the Cruze. Brake rotors are upsized from 11.8/11.5-inches front/rear to 12.6/12.0. Continuous Damping Control tweaks the shock settings every 2 milliseconds and allows the driver to choose between Tour and Sport settings that also tailor the steering assist and throttle mapping. Another enthusiasts’ touch: a pair of shift paddles serve up even more regenerative braking than you’d get with the shifter in “low” range — but only for as long as you tug on either paddle, as when braking for a big corner.

The ELR is noticeably smaller than the Volt inside. That 0.7-inch lower roof exacts a headroom penalty of 0.9 inch in front, 1.3 in back. Rear shoulder room is 4.0 inches tighter. The interior is trimmed as opulently as any other Cadillac, however. Soleil Keisel leather 16-way seats are standard, with Opus semi-aniline full-leather 20-way seats optional (adding side bolster and cushion length adjustment). Sueded microfiber accents the door panels, dash, steering wheel, A-pillar and headlining. Depending on your color scheme (three are offered), you either get olive-ash and real carbon-fiber or a lighter open-pore wood and genuine piano-black trim (real wood painted and lacquered like a piano), separated in either case by a strip of “dark satin trivalent dusk chrome.” The dash pad and door panels are covered in leather-like material that is cut and sewn. The instrument cluster incorporates an 8-inch TFT display that presents essentially the same information as the Volt’s but with unique Cadillac graphics in four different display configurations. Adaptive cruise control and a 10-speaker Bose audio system are unique ELR options, and the latter includes active noise cancellation to mask the 1.4-liter engine’s note. The standard CUE system can read and reply to text messages via voice. The piece de resistance: a motorized cover for the cup holders.

The headlamps, the signature vertical blade daytime-running lamps and tail lamps–indeed every light source inside and out — is by LED. The side-repeater lamp on the driver’s side-view mirror serves as the ELR’s charge indicator, flashing green while charging. The doors seem excessively long, extending well aft of the actual door opening, but this was necessary to drop the window glass. The extreme fastback also results in a mail-slot trunk opening, and the deck-lid’s big goose-neck hinges consume some of the trunk’s 9 cubic feet (only 1.6 less than the Volt). Employing a hatchback like the Volt’s would place hinges right where the rear-seat occupants’ heads go, further compromising comfort. A 110-volt charge cord stows in a compartment in the trunk floor, and the rear seatbacks can be released electrically via buttons on the decklid to accommodate longer skis or golf clubs, but the middle 20-percent of the seatback area is fixed. ELR production will begin alongside the Volt in Hamtramck Michigan in late 2013 with sales starting in early 2014 in North America, eventually expanding to Europe, China and other global markets (the Volt sells in 21 countries.Pricing has not been announced yet, but with the Volt topping out at $45,640, you should probably start saving up at least $55-60,000 (less applicable tax credits).

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2014 Mazda Mazda6

 

Diving headlong into the deep end, where no carmaker in its right mind would consider going, Mazda unveiled the all-new 2014 Mazda6 mid-size sedan at the L.A. auto show. That end of the pool is infested with mid-size sharks like the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord and Hyundai Sonata, plus up-and-comers like the Kia Optima and new Ford Fusion. The midsize sedan segment is where the money is, and it’s where the biggest bunch of buyers is paying attention.

To call attention to itself in this 4-door warzone, Mazda will continue to play the sport-sedan card with the Mazda6, while adding — as we learned at Mazda’s L.A. show press conference — the diesel card.

Looking like fun on an auto show stand is no problem, but since we’ve seen the Mazda6 out on the road, we can assure you that its spit-curl front fender shaping and sinister face give it an amiable public persona. The Mazda6 interior is sporty in that it is enveloping rather than cavernous. The final equipment list has yet to be determined, but Mazda promises a high-tech interior environment offering lots of almost-cutting-edge connectivity — i.e. Pandora and audio texting — and in-dash Tom-Tom navigation.

The U.S. version of the new Mazda6 is deliciously close to the talented European-spec model we drove through France in October, where we found it to be a bright new competitor in the midsize sporty-sedan arena. We’ve not yet driven the diesel, but our faith in the intelligence behind Mazda’s Skyactiv initiative give us hope that VW may have to share some of the clean diesel props being heaped upon it.

For the first six months of 2013, the Mazda6 will be offered with a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder Skyactiv gasoline-powered engine — notable for high-compression, liquid-smooth performance (184 horsepower) and significant fuel-economy benefits (as yet unstated, but Mazda’s shooting for #1 in class). During the second half of the year, a 2.2-liter Skyactiv-D diesel 4-cylinder will join the gasoline engine, offering get-outta-my-way diesel torque and braggable miles per gallon. Two 6-speed transmission choices — one manual, one automatic, both Skyactiv-enhanced for resistance-free shifting — are available.

Further stacking the Mazda6’s deck in favor of fuel savings — a 5-percent improvement according to the proud Mazda folks — is an energy storage and discharge technology called “i-ELOOP.” The i-ELOOP system retrieves and stores energy created when you hit the brakes and uses it to help power the Mazda6’s electrical systems, like the radio and air conditioning. The 2014 Mazda6 is the first application of i-ELOOP.

Another interesting techno-first for Mazda (this time with a slightly more triumphant moniker) is the available “Smart City Brake Support” which uses a laser sensor at the front of the car to detect when a low-speed collision with an object — be it a car, a post, or a pedestrian — is about to occur. When the system senses that a collision is possible, it preps the brakes for engagement. If it predicts that the collision is inevitable, it engages the Mazda6’s automatic braking function.

Even though the launch of the 2014 Mazda6 is just over a month away, Mazda still isn’t saying what it’ll cost. We’d like to take that as a sign that Mazda has one more marketing trick up its sleeve: value.

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2014 Acura RLX

Making its world debut in Los Angeles, the 2014 Acura RLX is the most ambitious offering to date from Honda’s luxury division. Intended to take on premium rivals from around the world, the striking luxury-performance sedan moves well beyond the existing RL by introducing an entirely new level of design and execution along with a host of new technologies to the Acura fold.

The RLX experience will be available in five different grades of goodness when it goes on sale early next year, and all share the same outstanding dynamic experience and elegant ambiance. According to the Jeff Conrad, the division’s vice president and general manager of sales, every RLX will provide anyone behind the wheel with “a feeling of connection to the product, to the road, and to the world from the very moment they enter the vehicle.”

Matching sweeping “aero-fused” exterior lines with elegant accents like new Jewel Eye LED headlamps and standard 18-inch or 19-inch alloy wheels, the RLX certainly doesn’t lack for curb appeal. There’s far more than just good looks here, though. The RLX body structure is 55 percent high-strength steel that greatly enhances its bending and torsional rigidity compared to the RL, while and the car’s front fenders and hood as well as many internal elements are made from weight-saving aluminum — collective changes that help reduce curb weight by 275 pounds.

Inside of its spacious passenger compartment, the RLX features loads of soft- touch surfaces set off with premium metal and wood-grain accenting. The extensive roster of standards in even the base Acura RLX includes things like a power tilt/telescoping steering column, dual central touch screens, tri-zone climate control, and a 10-speaker ELS audio system with HD radio, XM radio, a Pandora interface, USB/AUX connectivity, and Bluetooth. It also will introduce the next-gen AcuraLink Connectivity system.

The model hierarchy commences with an RLX with Navigation and RLX with Technology Package, while an RLX with Krell Audio package that brings an ultra-premium sound system and the RLX with Advance Package that adds features like a leather dash and available Milano leather seats fill out the upper end of the mix.
Standard engine in the 2014 RLX is an all-new 310-horsepower direct-injected 3.5-liter V6 with Variable Cylinder Management. Backed by a paddle-shiftable 6-speed sequential automatic transmission and capable of delivering over 90 percent of its 272 lb-ft of peak torque between 2,000-6,000 rpm, this efficiency expert should give the RLX impressive acceleration and help it deliver projected 20-mpg city/31- mpg highway numbers.

The RLX chassis is an equally impressive bit of work and introduces precision All-Wheel Steer — the first such technology allow individual control of each rear wheel – and Agile Handling Assist dynamic braking that are integrated into the Vehicle Stability Assist system. Other advanced elements in the Acura RLX tech portfolio include Adaptive Cruise Control with low-speed follow, Forward Collision Warning and Lane Departure Warning.

Late next year, the RLX lineup will be expanded with the arrival of a new gas/electric version that uses Acura’s new Sport Hybrid Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (Sport Hybrid SH-AWD) technology. Producing 370 horsepower, this meaner, greener variation is expected to earn 30-mpg EPA ratings on both city and highway cycles.

Pricing for the 2014 Acura RLX will be announced closer to its on-sale date.

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2013 Land Rover Range Rover

Making its world debut at the Paris Auto Show, the all-new 2013 Land Rover Range Rover heralds the beginning of a new era in the history of the world’s most-iconic luxury SUV. Bigger, bolder and stunningly lighter than the vehicle that it replaces, the latest Range Rover was designed to deliver unprecedented levels of luxury and dynamic capability, both on road and off.

While retaining its unmistakable visual DNA, the exterior of the new Range Rover reflects a more sophisticated take on the basic design language. Smoother and sleeker, the completely redone bodywork keeps classic cues intact while putting a cleaner, more contemporary spin on virtually every surface and tossing in a bit of Evoque-style detailing for good measure.

Visuals aside, the real design magic of this new Range Rover lies beneath its new and more aerodynamic envelope. A revolutionary all-aluminum monocoque structure replaces the steel core used previously. Created using technology pioneered by its corporate cousin, Jaguar, it provides an even stronger and more rigid alternative foundation that’s also 39 percent lighter. Matched with all-new, all-aluminum chassis elements, the comprehensive redesign trims up to 20 percent off of the curb weight of this new-gen Range Rover — 926 pounds in the best case scenario — and lightens the load of U.S.-spec versions by some 700 pounds.

Complementing this massive mass-reduction, the new Range Rover is fitted with a new adaptive air-suspension that improves ride comfort and control in all situations while curbing body roll and improving steering feel. Its bounty of vehicle dynamic systems also got an upgrade in the form of a new iteration of Land Rover’s superb Terrain Response system that uses on-board sensors to automatically select the best settings for any road or driving conditions.

Like the rest of the package, the cabin of the 2013 Range Rover benefits from a similar comprehensive remake that endows it with more contemporary flair and even better isolation thanks to the use of laminated glass and enhanced sound attenuation materials throughout. Matching supple leathers and premium wood veneers, this richly appointed inner sanctum maintains the requisite Rover-esque level of elegance but offers even more people space, including 4.7 inches of addition rear-seat legroom.

While the new Range Rover will be offered elsewhere with a choice of turbodiesel and gasoline engines, U.S-spec models will carry over the existing naturally-aspirated 5.0-liter/375-horsepower V8 and its more potent 510-horse supercharged variant. However, like their Euro alternatives, they’ll swap the existing 6-speed automatic transmission for a new, more efficient 8-speed ZF autoshifter. Range Rover has yet to release any projected EPA numbers, but the new gearbox coupled with the huge drop in weight are virtually certain to result in significantly better fuel economy and a commensurate reduction in CO2 emissions.

Production of the 2013 Land Rover Range Rover will start later this year at a new facility near the automaker’s home base in Solihull, England and it will be sold in 160 markets worldwide. While pricing has yet to be released, the first of these new Range Rovers is slated to reach showrooms here in December.

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Straight Official Shines 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee

As Chrysler’s second-best seller behind the Ram — and one of its most-recognizable offerings — the Jeep Grand Cherokee is a vehicle that doesn’t receive updates without anybody noticing, especially if they’re significant. And while the cosmetic changes made to the Grand Cherokee for 2014 are minor, the powertrain changes are anything but.

The big news is the updated fuel economy. Thanks to the addition of an eight-speed automatic as standard equipment, the Grand Cherokee’s 3.6-liter V-6’s fuel economy gets a bump to 17 mpg city and 25 mpg highway, an improvement of 1 mpg in the city for the 4×2 models, and a 2 mpg highway improvement for all models. The 5.7-liter V-8-powered model gets a 1 mpg bump in both city and highway fuel economy to 15 mpg city for 4×2 models and 14 mpg for 4×4 models, with highway fuel economy going up to 21 mpg combined. Fuel economy isn’t the only thing that improves. Maximum towing capacity on the V-6 model goes up to 6200 pounds, while the bad-boy SRT model goes from an unremarkable 5000 pounds to 7200.
More significant for the 2014 Grand Cherokee’s fuel economy is the arrival of the long-awaited diesel model. It’s powered by a 3.0-liter, turbodiesel V-6 sourced from Italy’s VM Motori that’s good for 240 hp and 420 lb-ft of torque, which comes at just 2000 rpm. Like the gasoline models, it’s mated to eight-speed automatic. The powertrain combination results in impressive fuel economy figures of 21/30 mpg city/highway for 4×2 models and 20/28 mpg city/highway for 4×4 models. It can also tow up to 7400 pounds. On the technical side, the engine features a 60-degree cylinder bank angle for optimum balance, a high-pressure 29,000 psi common-rail injection system, and a water-cooled turbocharger. It is B5 compliant. It also gets a fluid-based SCR catalyst system to make it Tier II, Bin 5 emissions-compliant, meaning that the diesel Grand Cherokee will for the first time be available in all 50 states. To optimize efficiency even further, the 2014 Grand Cherokee offers an available Eco Mode. On models equipped with the air suspension, it lowers ride height at speeds above 56 mph and optimizes the transmission’s shift schedule. On the Hemi model, it also engages cylinder deactivation more aggressively to save fuel.

hat air suspension system, dubbed Quadra-Lift, also gives the driver the choice of three ride-height settings. The normal setting gives the vehicle 8.7 inches of ground clearance. Off-Road 1 lifts the vehicle 1.3 inches for a total of 10 inches of clearance, and Off-Road 2 raises it another 1.3 inches for 11.3 inches of clearance. Aero mode lowers the vehicle 0.6 inches below normal ride height for optimal aerodynamics. The three four-wheel drive systems, Quadra-Drive I, Quadra-Drive II and Quadra-Trac II carry over from 2013, with Quadra-Trac II adding an electronic limited-slip rear differential. 
Cosmetically, changes are numerous enough to make the 2014 Grand Cherokee stand out as a new model. Up front, it gets thinner-profile front light clusters with bi-xenon HID headlights and LED driving light surrounds standard on the Overland and new Summit trim, and optional on the Limited trim level. The fog lights have been repositioned and get new surrounds for a more upscale look. In the back, all 2014 Grand Cherokees get LED taillights, and the Jeep logo on the tailgate is moved up and enlarged as a stand-alone detail. The Summit model adds additional exterior accents in the form of a mesh grille and unique exterior badging. The high-po SRT model gets a menacing blackout grille treatment to help it stand out from its non-performance-oriented siblings.

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