Monthly Archives: April 2013

Tesla offers loaner cars, valet service

Tesla will use its Model S Performance cars as loaners.

(Credit: Wayne Cunningham/CNET)

Tesla announced today that it would offer its high-end Model S Performance edition, with an 85 kilowatt-hour battery pack, and the Roadster as loaner cars for when owners’ cars are being serviced. As Tesla sells cars directly to owners, the company, rather than a dealer, handles all service and loaner-car issues.

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No matter what Model S version is in for service, owners will have their choice of the Model S Performance edition, which retails for $ 87,400, or one of the older Roadster models as a loaner car. Further, Tesla said it will let owners who would like to upgrade purchase the loaner car, with a depreciation rate of 1 percent per month of age and $ 1 dollar per mile on the odometer.

Tesla will deliver the loa… [Read more]


Car Tech: An automotive blog from CNET

Future headlights turn rain invisible, we explain how in video

Rain — the scourge of the night driver! Too many times have distracting droplets proved an annoyance for those traveling roads after dark.

New technology co-developed by Intel and Carnegie Mellon University could one day change all that. I’ve spoken to Intel about the new tech, so hit play on the video above to find out how it works.

Instead of relying on a bog-standard bulb to beam light out over a darkened road, the futuristic setup would use something more akin to a projector.

Meanwhile a camera sits nestled beneath that projector, keeping an eye on drops of rain as they enter the headlights’ beams. Information from that camera is sent to a processing unit, which identifies raindrops and makes a guess as to where each droplet is headed.

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The projector then blots out the bits of its projection where the rain drops are. The result is a light that shines out from the front of a car in the dark, but doesn’t highlight any rain…. [Read more]


Car Tech: An automotive blog from CNET

Kia gives the Sportage SUV a turbo boost

Car-focused movies, such as the “Fast and Furious” series, show high-speed chases where the hero hits a nitrous button, causing his car to rear up, the front axle leaving the ground. The 2013 Kia Sportage SX felt a bit like that when I mashed the gas pedal. And it was a front-wheel-drive crossover.

The SX version of the Sportage gets near-uncontrollable power from a turbocharger.

The Sportage, Kia’s answer to the Honda CR-V and Ford Escape, checks in as a plump-looking crossover. Cargo area with the rear seat up measures 26.1 cubic feet, enough for a good stock of groceries or luggage for two on an extended road trip. The rear seats don’t fold quite flat, but doing so still more than doubles the cargo area.

Kia offers the Sportage in base, LX, EX, and SX trims, with all but the latter powered by a 2.4-liter four cylinder engine. Each trim can be had with front-wheel-drive, and all-wheel-drive is optional on the LX, EX, and SX.

A turbocharged direct injection 2-liter engine sets the SX apart in the line-up. This motor sits dwarfed by the engine compartment, which looks big enough for a V-8. Yet that little engine also generates 260 horsepower and 269 pound-feet of torque.

The SX boasts 84 more horsepower than the other Sportage trims.

[Read more]

Car Tech: An automotive blog from CNET

Coolest Earth Day ride: The Sora electric superbike

(Credit: Lito Green Motion)

If you wanted to impress on Earth Day, you could do worse than this all-electric motorcycle from Canada.

The Sora superbike from Quebec-based Lito Green Motion is finally hitting the streets after years of development and promos. The Canadian Ministry of Transport recently certified the firm as a motorcycle manufacturer, and the $ 41,000 bike is getting lots of attention.

The Sora, which means “sky” in Japanese, has a 12 kWh lithium polymer battery and a range of 185 miles on a single charge, which takes 8 hours, or 90 minutes with a quick charger. It can be recharged anywhere using a conventional plug.

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Its top speed is 120 mph and it can do 0 to 60 mph in about four seconds. Lito is emphasizing that the Sora is designed to satisfy on a performance basis.

Quiet a… [Read more]


Car Tech: An automotive blog from CNET

2013 Toyota Matrix First Drive

It’s been over a decade since the initial debut of the Toyota Matrix.  Through iterative production and design cycles, the Matrix has proven itself to be a sporty and reliable 4 door hatchback backed by Toyota’s trademark reliability.  There is no doubt the 2013 Matrix still bonds tight with its treasured qualities, but other competitors have caught on and improved on the trend.

Based on the trusted Corolla platform, the Toyota Matrix offers a roomy interior cabin space with the added bonus of front flat-folding seats.  In addition, the overall acceleration is sharp and peppy in low speeds.  Consumers also have the option to configure the power-train with Toyota’s AWD sysem.  In terms of engine size, the Matrix is available with a 1.8 liter engine four cylinder engine, or the more powerful 2.4 liter engine available in the ‘S’ model.

The Matrix was a major hit during its golden years, but with its stale design platform inherent to its architecture has forced Toyota into a cat and mouse game with stiff competition.  For example, the new Ford Focus hatchback with its European inspired design has caught major attention.  Even the Mazda 3 hatchback is capable of delivering smoother acceleration and sharper handling, something the Matrix prides itself in.

Despite the dated design, there is no  real inherent flaw with the Matrix.  It’s still a great car for its intended purpose.

Trim Levels and Purchase Options

Some vehicle models have an overwhelming list of purchase options that can drive consumers crazy.  Fortunately, the Toyota Matrix trim level and purchase options are as basic as it gets.  The Toyota Matrix can be purchased in the Standard model, or the upgraded S model.

The basic Standard model comes standard with 16-inch steel wheels, heated mirrors, air-conditioning, cloth upholstery, a fold-flat front passenger seat, cruise control, full power accessories, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, Bluetooth phone and streaming audio connectivity and a six-speaker sound system with a CD player, satellite radio, an auxiliary audio jack and iPod/USB interface.

The upscale S model  level includes foglights, higher quality cloth upholstery, a 60/40-split-folding rear seats, metallic interior trim and a premium audio system with a 6.1-inch touchscreen infotainment system.

The L series can be upgraded with a  sports package that includes front and rear spoilers and foglights. An S Sport package bundles the spoilers with 17-inch alloy wheels. A sunroof is also available as an option.

Powertrain and Performance

Consumers have the option to purchase the Toyota Matrix in front wheel or all wheel drive.  The standard base model comes with a 1.8 liter four cylinder engine producing 132 horse power, and 128 ft-lbs of torque.  Consumers have the option to purcahse this package with either a standard 5-speed transmission, or an automatic 4 speed gearbox.  EPA fuel economy scores the 2013 Toyota matrix with a 25 mpg in the city and 32 mpg on the highway and 28 mpg combined with the automatic transmission. The manual transmission bumps up these numbers slightly with 26/32/29.

The higher S model equipped engine comes in the form of a 2.4 liter four cylinder engine producing 158 horsepower and 162 ft-lbs of torque.  The front wheel drive option offers both flavors of either manual or automatic transmission while the AWD system (only available in the S model) only comes in a 4-speed automatic transmission.  The front wheel drive system in the the Matrix S scores an EPA-estimated 21/29/24 with the automatic transmission and 21/28/24 with the manual transmission. With the all-wheel drive system, these numbers fall slightly to 20/26/22.

Considering the fuel economy of other hatch-backs such as the Ford Focus, Mazda 3, these numbers are fall short of expectation.  As a matter of fact, it is worth mentioning that these numbers are equivalent to some larger cross-over 7-seater SUV’s such as the Mazda CX-9.

Interior Cabin Space and Design Features

The overall cabin space of the Toyota Matrix is homogeneous throughout.  Although not the most comfortable, the interior space provides adequate room but the ergonomics can be improved.  The seat-belts are over-sensitive, often ratcheting too soon when pulled and the clothe material feel cheap.

Taller individuals will enjoy the front seats thanks to its deep foot wells, but the back seats may be cramped for some.  The rear seats can be folded down easily yielding 49 cubic feet space.  The overall interior space can be expanded thanks to its conveniently flat fold front seats.

Driving Impressions

Having only test-driven the the S model equipped with AWD, our overall impressions are positive.  The acceleration is surprisingly responsive, and the handling is descent.  However, at just medium speeds, acceleration begins to saturate.  That said, the acceleration lacks the refinement and smoothness compared to other competitors.

Six aftermarket car stereos for app addicts (roundup)

Look in the comments below any portable GPS navigation device review or news story on CNET and chances are that you’ll find a large number of readers saying something akin to “Why would I buy this when I’ve got an app that’s is better?” You people can’t seem to get enough of your smartphones and your apps!

But while a suction cup mount and an aux-audio cable may be enough for some users, many users could benefit from a phone/app integration solution that makes accessing their smartphone’s navigation and audio streaming apps a bit more solid and a lot less distracting. With that in mind, I’ve rounded up some of my favorite car stereos that help you to (safely) get your app fix on the go.

(Credit: CNET)

Pioneer AppRadio 2 (SPH-DA100) Pioneer’s AppRadio and AppRadio 2 are the first receivers that spring to mind when I think about aftermarket app integration done right. The flagship AppRadio 2 boasts a massive color touchscreen and compatibility with dozens of apps for iPhone and Android devices. It’s not a perfect solution — getting the unit to work with a supported Android phone requires the installation of a hardware module and about 2-3 helper apps — b… [Read more]


Car Tech: An automotive blog from CNET

Magellan’s Web-connected SmartGPS is a triple threat

The Magellan SmartGPS is a portable navigation device, but it’s also part of a larger system that, at the time of publication, has parts that give users multiple ways to navigate, search for destination, and manage their favorite places. At the core of this system is the SmartGPS hardware, which can be used as a standalone navigation device. However, the hardware works best when used in tandem with Magellan’s smartphone apps for iPhone and Android devices and a cloud syncing service called MiCloud that is accessible via any Web browser.

Design The SmartGPS hardware looks about like you’d expect a portable navigation device to look. It’s a plastic slab with a touch screen on one side that gets suction cupped to your windshield.

The device measures about 6.75 inches from corner to corner, but has a diagonal screen size of only 5 inches. There’s a lot of glossy black bezel around that screen, which seems like a lot of wasted space — particularly on the horizontal — for those of us used to seeing smartphones, tablets, and even other portable navigation devices push their screens closer and closer to being edgeless. Imagine a device that’s about the size of a small tablet with a screen the size of an average Android phone and you’ll have an idea of the potential for extra display real estate. To be fair, 5 inches is a respectable screen size for a navigator, but when you consider the amount of information that Magellan tries to cram onto the SmartGPS’ screen,… [Read more]


Car Tech: An automotive blog from CNET

Mitsubishi Lancer SE offers four-wheel-drive on the cheap

I figured it would be a slow week when Mitsubishi delivered to the CNET garage a 2013 Lancer that lacked either Evo or Ralliart badges. The rally star Lancer Evo is a glorious little street-fighter, while the Ralliart version is almost as good.

But this 2013 Lancer SE showed me a couple of tricks that ultimately made for some fun driving adventures.

Bargain four-wheel-drive Among Mitsubishi’s limited line of vehicles, the Lancer is the stalwart — an economy car offered in multiple trims, and with some tech options. The Lancer SE delivered to CNET was a midtrim model, above the DE and ES models, on par with the GT, but below the Ralliart and Evo.

The main feature setting the SE apart from the DE, ES, and GT Lancers is four-wheel drive, in the form of Mitsubishi’s All-Wheel-Control (AWC) system. The SE includes a rocker switch on the console that allows the driver to select front-wheel-drive, all-wheel-drive, or differential lock mode, which maintains power at all four wheels.

At a base price of $ 20,295, the Lancer SE is not the cheapest all-wheel-drive car you can get, as the Subaru Impreza undercuts it. But nothing else in t… [Read more]


Car Tech: An automotive blog from CNET

Kia punches way above its weight with the 2014 Cadenza

Driving the 2014 Kia Cadenza, I contemplated the older model Mercedes-Benz E320 sitting in front of me, and realized that the Kia had a much better cabin.

The thought of comparing Kia favorably with Mercedes-Benz was unheard of 10 years ago.

Issues of used versus new aside, this Cadenza’s leather-wrapped steering wheel felt excellent in my hands, while wood trim around the cabin had the substantial look of furniture. And I don’t usually like glossy wood trim. Soft-touch materials covered the dashboard, and the plastic parts had a nice finish that was decidedly un-plasticky.

If you thought Kia was punching above its weight with the new Optima, the Cadenza takes the brand into an even higher class.

Kia Cadenza goes upwardly mobile (pictures)

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First Drive: 2013 Lexus ES350

Ever had one of those weird dreams that made absolutely no sense?  I get those once in a while, but recently, this one was special – it mapped to a recent encounter in real life.  While mentally submerged, I was writing an exam and had to come up with three words that started with the letter ‘s’, due to the three horizontal strokes in the letter ‘E’.  Anyways, the three letters that I wrote down were “soft”, “silk” and “smooth”.

I had a hard time trying to make any sense out of such obscurity.  It was only until I bid my farewells to the press vehicle I so deeply adored and that was when this dream all made sense…  They were describing my impressions of the Lexus ES350!  Surely, if I hadn’t been woken up by my alarm, I’m quite certain I would’ve received an A+ on that exam.

For the all new sixth generation, Lexus has made a complete cosmetic overhaul on the 2013 E350, giving it a more outgoing, and modern look.  In addition to its refreshed styling, the Lexus ES350 still retains all its amenities enjoyed by its predecessors including attractive pricing, generous warranty and customer service.

With such a sweet package deal, it is no surprise that the ES350 earns its entitlement as Lexus’s flagship vehicle, and the sales numbers reflect that.  Just last year, nearly 56, 000 Lexus ES350 vehicles found a new home.

Similar to how Toyota’s proven hybrid power-train design transferred directly over to the Lexus CT200h, the Lexus ES350 shares its platform design with the Toyota Camry.  It may sound demeaning to some, but it is highly apparent that the Lexus ES350 does receive a full white-room treatment though all its manufacturing stages before leaving the factory floor.

However, for the all new 2013 ES350, the Lexus engineering team decided to make a bold move to divorce its long acquainted relationship with the Toyota Camry and instead, lust for its sibling, the Toyota Avalon.  The wheel base of the Lexus ES350 is now extended by a marginal 1.8 inch.  This number sounds silly, but it actually improves the interior space significantly for both front and rear passenger leg and headroom as well.  In addition to the benefits of the larger Avalon platform, front passengers will now enjoy more foot and toe room thanks to its deeper foot well design.

The already refined 3.5 liter V6 engine remains mostly unchanged except for a few minor tweaks.  It produces a 268 hp and 248 foot-pounds of torque.  These numbers won’t wow the guy beside you revving his engine at a stop light, but it is a very generous amount of power for its class.  The final gear ratio has also been optimized for the 2013 model, upgrading its fuel economy to an honorable 21 mpg in the city and 31mpg on the highway.  The Lexus 3.5 liter V6 engine is also offered in a hybrid variant.

You know how experiencing something really good for the first time is always the best, and anything thereafter is just repetition?  We’ve had the pleasure to test-drive the latest and greatest Lexus ES350 for the first time, and it really is something special.  As a matter of fact, driving the ES350 can almost be described as a fairy tale beginning the story with opening the door handle, to driving the vehicle and getting out.

The Lexus equipped remote lock allows you to get in and drive without ever taking your keys out of your pocket.  Smart  touch sensors are conveniently mounted in the backside of all door handles and automatically detect when users with the remote lock is within close proximity.  Simply place your hand over the door handles, and the doors unlock.

The interior cabin space is very inviting.  When seated, you will immediately notice the elegance of all the intricate details bordering the door wells and center console with polished mahogany trim, and bolstered leather.  We couldn’t escape the idea of copying design efforts from Infiniti’s trademark analog clock placed on the center console, but nevertheless; it still adds a nice touch to the overall beauty of the interior cabin space.   Most automotive critics claim Lexus uses the best leather material and to most, this statement does hold true.  The upscale quality of the leather material used throughout the cabin space is noticeable with when compared to other luxury vehicles such as Infiniti, BMW and Audi.  The leather feels very soft to the touch and is slightly rubbery, which prevents you from slipping around.

We also enjoyed Lexus’s exclusive Mark Levinson audio system.  The surround sound system provides excellent sound isolation and provides very clean and crisp sound only unique to the Mark Levinson audio.

Lexus has always been renowned for delivery an ultra smooth driving experience.  the ES350 is no exception.  Adding to the trademark tradition, the ES350 can be selected in three different drive modes; Normal, Eco and Sport mode.  Each mode controls the throttle response to tranquilize acceleration in exchange for better fuel economy, or vice-versa.    The ES350 does handle fairly well, but by no means will it obey your track car instincts.  In addition to the inherent design of front wheel, hard acceleration does inevitably cause torque steer.

We’ve test driven many vehicles in the past, and it is easy to identify specific performance qualities that engrave their ideas in our conscience minds.  For example, Infiniti is notorious for sharp handling and monstrous acceleration while Ford embraces leading edge technology with its auto-park assist and advanced research in fuel consumption savings with its eco-boost engine.  Instead of winning over customers through performance numbers, Lexus took a step back and focused on delivering the most pleasant driving experience possible.  Given a generous serving of acceleration through its 3.5 liter v6 engine, a platter of high-end interior comfort and the eye candy of the refreshed and modern styling of the exterior, the 2013 Lexus ES350 remains faithful to the Luxury sedan segment.