Monthly Archives: December 2016

Durango SRT is a muscle car in SUV clothing

Once wild animals full of wanderlust, SUVs have long been domesticated into quiet, loyal family haulers used for bringing home groceries and shuttling sports and spectator gear to the field. Dodge believes that there’s still some feral nature left in these still-formidable beasts and it’s drawing it out in a big way with the all-new Durango SRT. Dubbed the “Dodge Charger of the full-size SUV segment,” the new Durango packs power and performance previously unimaginable for a factory Durango.

We’ll have to wait until the New York Auto Show in April to see the all-new Challenger SRT Demon, the “ultimate performance halo” Dodge has been teasing for weeks in a series of videos. But Dodge won’t be limping into this week’s Chicago Auto Show without an exciting muscle car debut. Only this muscle car is an SUV, a three-row SUV Dodge calls the fastest, most powerful and most capable out there.

The first Durango SRT ever becomes the larger brother of the ever-exhilarating Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT. Like the Jeep, it’s powered by a 6.4-liter HEMI V8. That engine makes 475 hp at 6,000 rpm and 470 lb-ft (637 Nm) of torque at 4,300 rpm.

With help from a launch control system, specially calibrated TorqueFlight eight-speed automatic transmission and performance-tuned AWD system, the SRT V8 inspires some brilliant performance, starting with a 0 to 60 mph (96.5 km/h) in just 4.4 seconds and 12.9-second quarter-mile.

In case you momentarily forgot while looking at those times, that’s a bulky, 200-in-long (5.1-m-long) Dodge Durango we’re talking about.

To assist with cornering at high speeds, Dodge and SRT have stiffened up the front and rear springs and rear sway bar. Bilstein adaptive damping is integrated into the short- and long-arm independent front suspension and the specially tuned multi-link system at the rear.

Dodge touts benchmark braking, saying the combination of Brembo high-performance six-piston front/four-piston rear calipers and vented rotors will bring the Pirelli 295/45ZR20 Scorpion Verde all-season tires and 20-in “Goliath” five-spoke wheels to a crisp stop from 60 mph (96.5 km/h) within an estimated 115 ft (35 m).

Of course, not every drive in a full-size SUV is going to be a full-speed hurl, and Dodge has worked to ensure a ride balanced enough for everyday life. The SRT seven-mode drive system lets the driver quickly tweak settings like shift points, front/rear torque splits and active damping. Among those seven modes are a relaxed Auto setting for basic, everyday driving, an aggressive Track setting for the highest levels of performance on smooth, dry surfaces, a traction-enhancing Snow setting, a fuel economy-boosting Eco setting, and a Tow setting for best putting the Durango’s 8,600-lb (3,900-kg) towing capabilities to work.

Honda team up for cheaper electric motors

As electric cars become more common, manufacturers are battling to find new ways to improve their hardware and lower costs. Over at Honda, the desire to improve its battery-powered cars has led to a new partnership with Hitachi, which has a long history of building motors for electric vehicles.

Given the global push toward tighter emissions standards and the growing popularity of electric vehicles, both Honda and Hitachi are looking to lower the cost of mass producing motors. Should they be successful, the partnership could lead to cheaper electric cars for the masses – a situation where everyone wins. To make it happen, the two companies have signed a memorandum of understanding to generate a “technological synergy” between supplier and manufacturer designed to “strengthen their competitive advantage and business foundation for the motors at the core of an electric vehicle.”

Although the project will initially be based in Japan, there are plans to expand the joint venture with manufacturing and sales operations in North America and China. The two companies will be working in tandem, but they won’t be exclusive – Hitachi will keep working with other manufacturers, and Honda will continue to use motors it builds in-house in Japan in some of its cars.

All up, the joint venture will be worth ¥5 billion (US$44,750,000) with Hitachi shouldering 51 percent of the load. The new (unnamed) joint venture company will be formally be signed into action at the end of March 2017, with work set to begin in June.

This isn’t the first time Honda has joined arms with another manufacturer or supplier for cheaper, more advanced alternative powertrains. Earlier this year, the Japanese giant and GM teamed up to develop lower-cost hydrogen fuel cells, although that US$85 million deal represents a more significant investment than the Hitachi tie-up.

Bugatti lifts curtain on Chiron production line

Building and testing any production car is a fiendishly complex undertaking, but some cars require more time and attention than others – Bugatti’s new supercar, for example. Production of the Bugatti Chiron has officially started in Molsheim, and the company has peeled back the curtain to show the world how 1,800 individual parts come together to make someone’s dream a very, very expensive reality.

The production process starts, as you’d expect, with the customer nailing down the final specification of their car. Potential owners sit down with a consultant from Bugatti and run through the full range of options, choosing from a huge palette of standard paints and eight different carbon fiber weaves for the exterior before moving to the interior.

Here’s a hot tip: if you’re not good at making decisions, don’t try and configure the cabin of a Chiron. As if choosing between 31 different types of leather and eight shades of suede wasn’t enough, you can select a dizzying array of carpet, seatbelt and stitching options. And if that still isn’t enough, the team at Le Maison Pur Sang is able to make an owner’s most intricate fancies come to life with custom paint finishes, interior trims and option packs.

Once the customer has signed off on their final configuration, a production slot is assigned to the car and parts are ordered, starting a process generally spanning nine months. Before all the additional parts arrive, the naked bodyshell is assembled and sent to the paint shop, where it’s lavished with up to eight coats of paint. Each layer is done by hand, sanded back and polished before the next is applied – while cars with naked carbon fiber on the outside go through a separate, equally time consuming process.

Unlike most car factories, Bugatti’s facility in Molsheim isn’t fitted with conveyer belts or robots. The entire production process is carried out by hand across 12 individual stations, each of which is responsible for a small part of the overall construction of the car. The first station takes the quad-turbo W16, which comes pre-assembled from VW in Salzgitter, and prepares it for insertion into the chassis, before the second stop actually installs it.

Given its remarkable 1,500 hp (1,119 kW) of power and 1,600 Nm of torque, the engine can’t simply be dropped into the rear of the Chiron and bolted into place like most cars. The whole rear end is actually built around the engine, while the base monocoque and front end are connected and the wiring looms linked. Around the same time as all of this, the pipes connecting the engine with its front radiators are hooked up.

Having married the rear end with the monocoque, a feat which requires just 14 titanium bolts, the four wheels are bolted on and the car rolls forward to its next station, where all the fluids are put into the car, and the engine is fired up for the first time.

The pop top camper bus with accessorized Atlas

The Chicago Auto Show starts on Thursday, and Volkswagen will brighten up midwinter in the Windy City with a taste of summer road-tripping. The Weekend Edition concept adds some strategic accessories to the new Atlas SUV, transforming it into a shuttle set for family recreation and adventure with room to pack the kids, gear, suitcases and even the family dog up for a long weekend on the road.

Revealed last October, the new Atlas will hit US roads this spring. Volkswagen is marketing it as an active lifestyle vehicle that it hopes inspires people to “live a life as big as their imaginations,” and the Weekend Edition better illustrates what it means, for those that might not have the biggest imaginations.

The Weekend Edition designation recalls the “Weekender” packages once offered on classic Vanagon and Eurovan pop-up campers. Unfortunately, the Atlas package doesn’t get a true pop-up roof or overnighting amenities of its own, but it does get a distinctive roof box that Volkswagen imagines as a modern version of the pop-up roof.

The Urban Loader cargo box looks like a hard-shell roof-top tent, but it only provides space for resting gear and cargo, not resting campers. The box expands to offer up to 17.7 cu ft (501 L) of storage for whatever bits and pieces are required for the trip.

If VW really wanted to pay tribute to its classic pop-tops, it might have opted for a modern roof-top tent-cum-cargo box, such as the Tepui White Lightning or Roost, offering flexible space for sleeping campers and hauling recreational gear. But we guess such a tent wouldn’t provide enough sleeping space for the full Atlas-load of passengers, so it was probably right in just sticking with a pure cargo box.

The Urban Loader cargo box can also be removed, and the crossbars used to carry skis, kayaks, bikes and other large gear. Side steps help occupants access whatever’s riding up top.