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Autoblog editors come clean about their controversial automotive beliefs

08/01/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: Etc., Dodge, Mazda, SMART, Subaru, Toyota, Electric, Diesel

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We all have controversial opinions. Be it whether you think the Nissan Juke is actually pretty attractive, manual transmissions aren't always better, or you honestly didn't hate the Pontiac Aztek, we all harbor some persuasion, be it big or small, for which we catch copious flak upon expression.

In recognizing that all of us here at Autoblog harbor at least one viewpoint that stubbornly goes against the grain of popular opinion among auto enthusiasts, we've decided to come clean with them right here, proudly speaking our minds in a mature, structured manner - a striking contrast to how these things tend to come up while debated in the office.

We'd also like to invite you to share your unpopular and controversial opinions with us and the Autoblog faithful down in Comments. Don't be ashamed - this is a safe place.

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What you missed on 7.30.14

07/31/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: Time Warp, Coupes, Hybrids/Alternative, Sedans/Saloons, Sports/GTs, Trucks/Pickups, Auctions, Chevrolet, Nissan, Rumormill, Electric, Diesel

Daily U-Turn

Nissan Frontier diesel muleNissan lets us sample a diesel Frontier prototype

Hey. You. Yeah, you. Do you think Nissan should build a midsize pickup truck with a diesel engine? Yeah, so do we. And we just got the chance to drive just such a beast, though it's anything but a production model at this point. This particular example is fitted with a 2.8-liter four-cylinder from Cummins, and it puts out 200 hp and 350 lb-ft of torque, enabling it to tow as much as 7,000 pounds.

2016 Chevy Volt spy shot2016 Chevy Volt coming soon to an auto show near you... probably

There sure is a lot we don't know about the next generation of Chevy's extended-range electric vehicle. What we do know, though, is that it ought to be making its auto show debut sometime soon. How soon? Likely either Los Angeles later this year or else Detroit, Chicago or New York in early 2015, according to an anonymous source.

Blood muscle auctionBlood Muscle auction? Sounds terrible, looks awesome

It's nicknamed the Blood Muscle auction because the cars, which will be sold each to the highest bidders on September 12, were attained by the president of a blood-testing company who is now incarcerated for alleged bribery. There's a Boss Mustang, a trio of Yenko Chevrolets and our personal favorite, a Plymouth Superbird, among others, up for bidding.

Top Stories

  • Parents of terminally ill child sue after son dies following make-a-wish-style ride
  • Jaguar shows the face of its upcoming XE S sports sedan
  • New drifting world record set in Toyota GT86
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2014 Nissan Frontier Diesel Mule [w/poll]

07/30/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: Trucks/Pickups, Nissan, Diesel, Off-Road, Quick Spin

2014 Nissan Frontier mule with Cummins diesel engine - front three-quarter view

Last August, Nissan shook the truck world when it officially announced plans to source a diesel option from Cummins for its long-overdue Titan replacement, its full-size pickup that's slated to drop this January at the Detroit Auto Show. The 5.0-liter V8 turbodiesel is expected to make somewhere around 300 horsepower and north of 500 pound-feet of torque. This combination of an all-new truck with this new powerplant promises to dramatically change the competitive landscape, splitting the difference between the heavy-duty goliaths from the Detroit Three and the Ram 1500 Ecodiesel. And the intrigue moved a step further when the Frontier Diesel Runner Concept showed up at February's Chicago Auto Show, as it displayed a growing relationship between Nissan and Cummins in a very interesting potential future product.

That concept would melt its clear acrylic hood if the engine ran too long, but this month, we got a chance to test drive a production mule, an otherwise normal Frontier with a Cummins 2.8-liter diesel four-pot under the hood and a ZF eight-speed automatic changing gears. The powertrain figures to be a direct competitor to the 2.8-liter Duramax promised for General Motors' Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon twins, but will Nissan build it? All signs point to probably. Officially, Nissan is taking no position on the future of this program, but a concept followed by putting journalists into a test mule suggests the company is considering the option very seriously. Here's what we gleaned from a brief drive around the posh suburbs of Nashville:

  • Before we get too deep into this Quick Spin, realize this Frontier is absolutely a mule, not a prototype. More or less cobbled together with duct tape and baling wire, it's not meant to be representative of a finished product, or even a started product. The transmission and shifter is straight out of a Chrysler 300 and the shifter surround is cut out of a panel of plastic. The "Low Sulfur Diesel Only" sticker is, well, just stuck on. We're looking at a "What if?" mockup.
  • The engine is essentially a tweaked version of a Chinese-built, gray-iron 2.8-liter four cylinder. With 16 valves, the obligatory turbocharger and common-rail injection, this Cummins engine is already used for on- and off-highway applications. In things like generators, small earth-moving machines and large turf-management equipment (giant lawnmowers) it carries the "QSF" label, and for cabover trucks in Asia and other on-road applications, it's dubbed ISF. Some tunes offer as few as 49 hp, but it'll run until the sun explodes.
  • This truck gets an intercooler up front wedged behind the grille, and combined with the base software, it develops 200 horses and a stout 350 lb-ft of torque, but this is not yet the smooth, quiet modern diesel we've come to expect. She's a rough character, albeit with a caveat: There has been zero software tuning done for the Frontier mule. Smoothness in a diesel comes from precisely controlling combustion, and while the engine is capable of eight fuel-injection events per cycle, there are only two with this software. Clatter, clatter, clatter, clatter.
  • It may be loud at idle and under acceleration, but this dog offers bite to match its bark. Tons of torque and eager throttle response at times overwhelms the ZF gearbox (which also hasn't really been tuned) and a "ka-chunk!" shift squawks the rear tires. Midway through full-throttle acceleration, the turbo's wastegate locks closed and the engine really takes off, revving ahead quicker than the bottom of the range.
  • At cruising speed, though, this is a surprisingly smooth and easygoing engine, almost quiet even. That shouldn't really be a surprise since tugging the weight of a truck and passengers is akin to a quarter horse pulling a little red wagon.
  • Although nobody ever confirmed the product plan before Nissan's PR team put the clamps on its engineering staff, we were able to gather a few juicy tidbits about the program. One unnamed official let slip that engineers are targeting 2019 diesel emissions and particulate requirements for the rig, which may indicate potential production timing. Another interesting item is Cummins would consider shifting to a compacted graphite iron block with an aluminum head to cut down on weight and improve performance. Finally, Cummins prefers to build where it sells, so US domestic production for the engine would be seriously considered if a Frontier Diesel gets a green light.
Keep an eye on this space. A modernized Cummins ISF in the next-gen Frontier would offer buyers good power and fuel economy without needing a step stool to reach the seats. It all comes down to price.

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Audi readying diesel PHEV models for US and Europe

07/30/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: Hybrids/Alternative, Tech, Crossovers/CUVs, Audi, Electric, Diesel

Audi Q7: Spy Shots

With the racing pedigree provided by the Audi R18 E-Tron Quattro, you'd be forgiven for thinking that the German king of Le Mans is capitalizing on the connection between its road cars and race cars at every opportunity. Maybe there's an entire range of Le Mans Editions for the automakers diesel-hybrid offerings, with perhaps Tom Kristensen acting as the brand's spokesperson for the technology in Europe. You'd be wrong, though, because despite the R18's overwhelming successes in endurance racing, Audi the road-car manufacturer doesn't offer a single diesel-hybrid production car.

This factoid will hopefully be as short lived as it is disappointing, though, as a diesel-electric is around the corner, according to the brand's tech boss, Ulrich Hackenberg. In fact, it gets better than a mere diesel-hybrid; it will be a plug-in diesel-hybrid, only the second to hit the market, alongside the European-market Volvo V60.

According to Hackenberg, the new tech will be the result of a marriage between the brand's well-received 3.0-liter, TDI V6 with an electric motor. The next-generation Audi Q7 (shown above) will be the initial recipient, confirming previous reports that claimed a PHEV TDI could come to the next-gen CUV. Its MLB architecture, meanwhile, would allow the plug-in-hybrid-diesel powertrain to be fitted easily enough to the A8 luxury sedan. While the new Q7 should hit the market at some point in 2015, it's unclear when the PHEV TDI model could see the light of day.

Still, it's a combination that Hackenberg seems bullish on, and based on his comments, it's a virtual certainty that it'll arrive in some capacity in the US market.

"The hybrid will be another argument to go for diesel in the US," Hackenberg told Automotive News Europe. "We have the combination of low CO2 emissions, necessary to meet market demand and regulations, and we have the diesel which gives a lot torque, which is very necessary for driveability."

"In the USA if you look to sportiness it is very important to be quick away from the traffic lights. In combination with the electric engine, a diesel hybrid delivers very good torque from the start," he added. We'd wholeheartedly agree.

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2015 BMW M3 squares off against Alpina D3 in gas vs. diesel throwdown

07/27/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: Sedans/Saloons, Sports/GTs, Videos, BMW, Diesel, Luxury

BMW M3 versus Alpina D3

There was a time when diesel meant one of two things: This vehicle's owner either wants to save some money at the pump or needs to haul massive loads. It definitely did not mean that the owner of said machine wanted to drive fast, but that perception has slowly but surely been changing over the last several years, with automakers from Volkswagen and Ford to Audi and BMW offering spiced-up versions of their high-compression, turbocharged diesels.

It's that last automaker we mentioned that's the subject of the video you'll see down below. One bright-blue BMW M3 was procured by the Brits at Autocar, and it was lined up against a deep-black Alpina D3 (which we sadly can't buy in the US) in a spate of tests, including acceleration, stopping, sound and lap times on a closed circuit. The results, which we won't spoil for you, were enlightening, and were followed up by personal impressions from the man behind the wheel.

We know you're curious. All it takes to find out which of these 3.0-liter, twin-turbo-powered 3 Series variants came out on top is to scroll down below and watch. You know what to do.

Continue reading 2015 BMW M3 squares off against Alpina D3 in gas vs. diesel throwdown

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Coal-rolling Ram dually does tandem beer-shooting burnout with ATV in bed

07/26/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: Trucks/Pickups, Videos, Dodge, Diesel

A Coal-Rolling tandem ATV burnout

Sometimes a video comes around that just makes you shake your head in disbelief. Take for example these guys from Nebraska in their dually diesel flatbed Ram, doing a smoky burnout. Lighting up the tires is nothing new, but these folks take things a step further by having another guy on an ATV in bed that is also smoking the tires. Finally, people are sitting on a couch in the bed taking the whole show in, as beer cans shoot out of the stacks.

There have been several stories recently about the scourge of rolling coal, i.e., diesel trucks modified to lay down a thick, black smoke screen, sometimes for vaguely political reasons. Whatever your opinion is on it, breathing in this much nasty stuff isn't exactly great for your health. Of course, it turns out that burning rubber is pretty awful, too. Both diesel and tire emissions contain cancer-causing Group 1 carcinogens. Combine them with the cigarette smoking here, and these guys are an oncologist's nightmare. Scroll down to take it all in for yourself. Warning, there is a little explicit language.

Continue reading Coal-rolling Ram dually does tandem beer-shooting burnout with ATV in bed

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US diesel vehicle sales are up 25% this year

07/19/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: Diesel, MPG, USA

Going against popular perception, diesel vehicles are showing some pretty good pickup. The context, of course, is US sales of oil-burners. And those sales are on the rise as more Americans look to cut refueling costs via more fuel-efficient vehicles.

US clean-diesel sales through June have jumped 25 percent from a year earlier, outpacing the 4.2 percent increase of total vehicle sales, says Diesel Technology Forum, citing research from HybridCars.com and Baum & Associates. In fact, diesels, which account for about three percent of US vehicle sales now, may double that marketshare by 2018, as more Americans are attracted to a powertrain that on average delivers about 30 percent better fuel economy than similar gas-powered engines. In all, there are 46 diesel models in the US, including 27 cars and SUVs, so it's not just all about big torquey rumbling pickup trucks anymore.

Oddly, Volkswagen - a leader in the US clean diesel initiative - saw a sales decrease of about eight percent from a year earlier to about 42,000 units. That said, sister company Audi boosted diesel sales almost fourfold to more than 8,100 units. And the Chevrolet Cruze Diesel has moved almost 3,000 units through June. Check out the Diesel Technology Forum's press release, below.

Continue reading US diesel vehicle sales are up 25% this year

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Kia still said to be considering diesels in US

07/18/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: Diesel, Kia

Is Kia making diesel rumors a biennial thing? The South Korean automaker once again may take a closer look at making an oil-burner available for US consumption, JustAuto says. All in the name of fuel economy, of course.

Kia Motors America vice president Orth Hedrick tells JustAuto that the automaker may start selling diesels in the States during the next few years. Kia is getting ready to debut its Soul EV battery-electric in the US later this year, and with diesel powertrains gradually overcoming their perceptions of being slow and loud, the company may find a receptive audience in the US for these powerplants.

The problem has always been the inconsistent emissions standards between Europe and the US, but that may be resolved by 2018, says Hedrick. Kia's obviously encouraged by rising diesel sales from German automakers such as Volkswagen and Audi, as well as the fact that it just completed a record-breaking six-month sales period for the US. Kia spokesman Scott McKee, in an email to AutoblogGreen, would only say that "identifying new opportunities for growth is part of our long-term strategy" but reiterated that no announcements have been made.

Of course, there was a similar buzz during the spring of 2012, when reports surfaced that Kia would start making a diesel-powered Optima, which it provides to European customers.

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EPA wants actual road-test results to fix auto fuel economy estimates [w/poll]

07/18/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: Hybrids/Alternative, Government/Legal, Diesel

Summer Gasoline Prices

The agency thinks the new approach will result in more realistic ratings, especially for hybrids.

The Environmental Protection Agency is getting tired of discovering automakers overstating their vehicles' fuel economy figures, and it's apparently actually trying to do something about it. The government regulator has issued a new proposal that would force companies to conduct road tests to calculate their figures. The regulation isn't a guarantee yet, though, because it first has to go through a period of public comment.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the proposed rules come partially as a result of Ford, Hyundai and Kia re-stating the fuel economy results of select vehicles after finding their original ratings to be inaccurate. Under the regulation, automakers would be required to create their calculations for air resistance and rolling friction from real-world data gathered on a test track, rather than from computer models. Currently, EPA test procedures take place on dynamometers and involve professional drivers executing standardized tests designed to mimic typical city and highway drives.

The agency thinks that the new approach will result in more realistic ratings, especially for hybrids. "Some automakers already do this, but we are establishing a regulatory requirement for all automakers," said Chris Grundler, director of the EPA's Office of Transportation and Air Quality, to the WSJ.

Ford faced a very similar problem with bad data in June when it re-rated the fuel economy of several - predominately hybrid - models downward. The company was using a metric called Total Road Load Horsepower that was a measure of resistance on the dynamometer during testing. However, for these vehicles, the TRLH value proved inaccurate and threw off the mpg numbers.

The EPA wasn't happy about the change. "This issue highlights the need for continued strong oversight of the fuel economy labeling program," said a statement from Grundler after Ford's announcement. "Consumers need to trust that fuel economy window stickers are giving consumers reliable and fair estimates of real world fuel economy."

There may also be good news for the fuel economy ratings of diesel vehicles in the future. According to the WSJ, Grundler is also tasking engineers to find out why the EPA's tests tend to rate diesels lower than their real-world results.

Do you think real-world fuel economy road tests are a good idea, or will they just lead to more variation? Vote in our poll below, then have your say in Comments.

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Worse For Your Health: Rolling coal or burning rubber?

07/15/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: Etc., Safety, Diesel

A cursory Internet search reveals that both kinds of 'smoke' have some pretty scary ingredients.

With social, political and ecological concerns all wrapped up into one made-for-the-Internet phenomenon, there's no question that "rolling coal" has taken over the airwaves in the last few weeks. As many before me have pointed out, this practice isn't a new one, but renewed interest in (or horror at the exercise of) has flooded many of our feeds with terrifying photos, careening op-eds and viral videos.

If you're like me, one of the very first responses to said videos was probably along the lines of "that can't be good for you." Whether believing it an expression of personal freedoms, or with some notion of "sticking it to" those with opposing social mores, the so-called coal-rollers have got to know that they're exposing people to a serious health risk, right?

After consuming more than a few rolling-coal videos, I also began to wonder just where the practice stacked up, from a human heath perspective, versus a the more-common car enthusiast practice of laying a patch, smoking tires, lightin' 'em up, etc. In other words, is burning rubber any better for you than rolling coal?

A cursory Internet search reveals that both kinds of 'smoke' have some pretty scary ingredients. Diesel fumes consist of dangerous polyaromatic hydrocarbons, a lot of sulfuric acid and inorganic bits and pieces picked up from fuel and motor oil. Ignited rubber, meanwhile, discharges airborne latex along with traces of carbon black, oil, sulfur, steel and other metallic elements.

"Both are bad, very bad." - Dr. Scott McDonnell

Not having a clue what any of that actually means for air-sucking humans, I reached out to friend of Autoblog, Dr. Scott McDonnell, a cancer researcher and senior scientist at a large pharma company. Careful to point out that the question of "which is worse?" is a complicated one, McDonnell was able to shed a bit of light on the relative toxicity of burnt rubber and rolled coal.

"First off, " McDonnell told me, "both are bad, very bad."

Apparently the World Health Organization has listed both diesel exhaust and the whole rubber industry as "Group 1" carcinogens, meaning, "either specific components or the mixtures have been directly linked to causing cancer," says Scott. He goes on to point out that, "the science is settled on many of these," and "we even know the mechanism of action through which these components act to cause cancer."

The good doctor goes into a lot more detail, but the long and short of it is that both substances can hurt a person in one of two general ways: direct damage or mutation to your cells' DNA, and indirect damage by way of organic particles penetrating deep into one's lung tissues. The former can lead to a chain of events that directly causes cancer formation, while the latter can create a chronic inflammatory state that is "advantageous" for cancer growth, and serve as the jumping off point for asthma, chronic bronchitis and emphysema.

Both peeling out and blowing your stack can have a seriously deleterious effect on your neighboring homo sapiens.

So the truth is that both peeling out and blowing your stack can have a seriously deleterious effect on your neighboring homo sapiens, but the key to true danger lies in the concentration. McDonnell admits that exposure to both substances is difficult to avoid in industrialized parts of the world, but "most of us have very limited and diluted exposure to them." With that said, McDonnell - and anyone that has seen the YouTube videos I have - points out that rolling coal may up the exposure ante in a terrifying way.

"Practices such as 'rolling coal' intentionally expose people to very high concentrations of these dangerous substances," says McDonnell. "Unfortunately many of the health effects may not manifest until years later, providing a pretty poor deterrent."

So, at least in terms of automotive applications (i.e. you don't work next to a tire fire), the terrifying tradition of rolling coal onto a neighboring driver, cyclist, pedestrian (or in some cases your friend or yourself), is a lot more worrisome than the occasional patch laying. (Though, given what we've learned, it might be advisable for local drag-strip workers to get some protective gear.) As for coal rollers, consider the sickness you might be doling out the next time you think about blasting the Prius in the lane next to you - we're breathing over here.

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