Monthly Archives: May 2013

Tesla’s path to the upgradable car

Tesla designed its Model S from the ground up to allow software updates after it leaves the factory.

(Credit: Wayne Cunningham/CNET)

At Tesla’s sunny headquarters in Palo Alto, I asked CTO JB Straubel when to expect the next model upgrade for the Model S. He quickly dismissed the automaker cliche of updates based on model years, saying that Tesla would release new features for the Model S as his team finished creating them.

One of the Model S’ great strengths, beyond its zero emissions, minimal running costs, excellent driving character, and luxury appointments, is that Tesla can deliver over-the-air updates to its cabin electronics.

And those updates can be very extensive, as the Model S features few hard controls. Its instrument cluster is entirely digital and almost all cabin controls live on the 17 inch touchscreen dominating the center stack. Behind the scenes, two Nvidia Visual Computing Modules, hosting Tegra 3 chips, perform all the processing for navigation, media, handsfree phone system, and instrument cluster display.

Nvidia's VCM measures about 3 inches per side and hosts a Tegra 3 chip.

(Credit: Wayne Cunningham/CNET)

New trip planner As one example, Straubel said Tesla would soon be releasing a n… [Read more]


Car Tech: An automotive blog from CNET

Tesla stock revs up after first profitable quarter

Tesla celebrating the production of the 1,000th Model S car in October 2012.

(Credit: Tesla)

Tesla’s stock is on a roll following the electric car company’s blockbuster first quarter.

As of about 9:15 a.m. PT Thursday, shares had already risen almost 25 percent in trading, reaching close to $ 70 apiece.

Investors were clearly geared up by Tesla’s first-quarter results, in which the company reported a profit of $ 11 million, its first time in the black since it launched 10 years ago. The company also witnessed an 83 percent jump in revenue, which hit $ 562 million.

Some Apple talk may also have aroused investor interest.

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2013 Toyota Avalon Review

When you’re one of the largest automotive manufacturers in the world, it’s easy to lose sight of building cars that are both appealing and satisfying to drive.  Until recently, the completely re-designed Camry and the debuted FT-86 was one of the first signs that Toyota went back to the drawing boards to come up with something new.  The 2013 Toyota Avalon is another well attempt to spark interest in the family sedan segment.

Like the Toyota Camry, the Avalon is front wheel drive, but provides more interior cabin space thanks to its longer wheel base.  The overall structure is also strengthened thanks to its reinforced bracing.  The suspensions have also been revised, providing a smoother ride quality and more aggressive handling.  Like many say, if something works well, why change it?  The 3.5 liter 6 cylinder engine on the Toyota Avalon remains unchanged.  Regardless of the stale design, it is still capable of producing an ample 268 horsepower with an estimated 25 mpg (combined city and highway) EPA rating.

At a first glimpse, the overall styling of the 2013 Toyota Avalon gives off a bold and modern impression.  Its front grill shows off its massive grill vent and a pleasing chrome plated trim seemingly wraps around the Toyota emblem.  The side panels have quite a deep contour, helping the Toyota Avalon give off an aggressive and modern look.  When we spoke to the representatives at the auto show, they were keen to emphasize that the Avalon was designed and built in America.  This makes the Avalon quite a refreshed car which breaks its trend from the homogeneous Toyota fleet back in Japan and introducing something new to the mass market in the north American continent.

You don’t need to improvise neck-snapping acceleration when stomping on the throttle with this one.  The Avalon’s V6 engine produces 268 horsepower and 248 foot pounds of torque.  This produces quite a bit of juice especially when running the engine at its peak 6200 RPM range.  The Avalon’s beefy engine is coupled to Toyota’s 6 speed automatic transmission.  Although it falls short in the refinement of 8 gears equipped on the Hyundai Genesis, and Chrysler 3000, it still performs and shifts very smoothly throughout all six gears.

It seems that Toyota’s design intentions were to keep the relished goods of the Avalon and revamped its outer shell.  Although Toyota’s power-train is dated, there is nothing really wrong with it.  It’s performance is still tolerable in today’s strict customer standards and provides excellent drive quality.  Instead, Toyota focused on revamping the exterior styling with a modern and refreshed looks and slapped on some innovation such as Toyota’s Entue infotainment system that provides phone connectivity, Pandora, and even live fuel pricing, stocks, traffic and even the weather as an infotainment upgrade option.  At a base price of 30,099 MSRP, it’s a pretty sweet deal.  You get quality and proven performance coupled with modern styling, innovation and comfort all in a single package.

2013 Toyota Avalon

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8 features that a 5-star GPS navigator should have

When the Garmin Nuvi 200 (my first GPS device) was new, we expected so much less of our portable navigators.

(Credit: Antuan Goodwin/CNET)

There was a time when all that a GPS device needed to do was get you from point A to B — preferably alive and in one piece. Over time, we began to expect so much more. We wanted hands-free calling, synching of contacts, large databases of local destinations, and traffic data. The bar for what counted as a good GPS device had to be raised.

That bar is still rising, faster yet and higher than ever now that GPS navigators must compete with smartphones and tablets. Simply getting from point A to B isn’t enough when dozens of apps and competing hardware models all seem to do the same thing. A truly outstanding GPS navigator has to add value to the driving experience, make the driver’s life both easier, and increase the safety of each trip.

With that in mind, I’ve rounded up 8 features that would separate an outstanding modern GPS navigator from the masses of merely good.

Smarter destination search This is actually the feature (or rather, often lacking feature) that annoyed me enough to write this list. Most navigators that I’ve tested can search for a destination nearby, but there are better methods than a simple radius search. Destination search engines need to get smarter.

A good first step is searchin… [Read more]


Car Tech: An automotive blog from CNET

Why Facebook would buy Waze: To fight Google for mobile search

Waze in Facebook Home

(Credit: Facebook)

Rumors that Facebook is in late-stage talks to buy Waze for as much as $ 1 billion have many wondering if the social network’s next great ambition is to tackle the maps and navigation market. Maybe — but only because maps would be Facebook’s best way to route around Google and make money from mobile search.

Founded in 2007, Waze makes a navigation application for iPhone and Android used by roughly 45 million people. The app’s mapping service is powered by the people who use it. Waze ingests all types of location data as shared, either implicitly or explicitly, by drivers. The app also connects to Facebook and incorporates social-networking functions so drivers can see their friends’ whereabouts on the map, share their location, and even send private messages.

Should Facebook buy Waze, the social network will send a clear message to Google: “Watch out! We’re on your tail.”

Facebook would like to be a formidable force on mobile and not just capture attention, but ad dollars. If it has to get into the maps business to do so, so be it.

Waze Chief Executive Noam Bardin inadvertently said as much when he … [Read more]


Car Tech: An automotive blog from CNET

New Accord Coupe is an oasis of awesome in a desert of dull

Is it too early to say that Honda’s got its groove back? Maybe, but that doesn’t discount how much the 2013 Accord Coupe V-6 feels like a return to form for the Honda brand. It’s attractive. It’s design is thoughtful. Most importantly, it’s actually fun to drive.

Cabin tech We’ve seen Honda’s new dashboard interface before in the Accord sedan and in the new Acura RLX (albeit, highly modified and reskinned for the premium brand).

In our navigation-equipped Accord Coupe, the infotainment system actually consists of two color LCDs and two different control schemes that work together. The main screen is standard to all Accord models and is an 8-inch display that sits at the top of the dashboard outside of the driver’s reach. It’s not touch sensitive and is controlled by a large control knob located low on the center stack, which is an odd placement. It’s not as easily reachable as the center console placement that the German manufacturers have favored recently, not as visible as the high placement favored by Nissan/Infiniti, and requires a bit of reaching around the shift knob depending on the chosen gear.

The main screen is where the the majority of the driver’s interactions occur, its interface split into four modes (navigation, phone, audio, and info) each accessible via a hardware button located near the control knob. Honda’s interface is greatly improved in this generation; every function is easy to find and, with a few exceptions that I’ll nitpic… [Read more]


Car Tech: An automotive blog from CNET

When your airbag is your enemy (CNET On Cars, Episode 17)

Episode 17, When your airbag is your enemy


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Way back in May 2005, I did what I believe was our first car tech video: a look at the 2005 Acura RL. It was like this thing from Mars had dropped on the CNET building. Today, the RL is gone, the RLX takes its place, and its first job is to put Acura back on the map in terms of a high-tech flagship sedan that sells in greater numbers than you can count on two hands. We’ll show you if the technology in the car is… [Read more]


Car Tech: An automotive blog from CNET

2013 Mazda 5

The third generation Mazda 5 debuted at the 2010 Geneva Auto Show, and has been named the 2013 minivan of the year by Following a complete redesign in 2010, the 2013 Mazda 5 now sports an attractive and efficient compact design, a surprisingly spacious interior – with available seating for 7 and nearly 45 cubic feet of possible cargo space – and a sporty suspension and precise steering. With an eager 2.5 liter 4-cylinder engine that provides better-than-average fuel economy for a minivan, the Mazda 5 also offers an advantage many minivans cannot boast: It handles like a car, and with Mazda’s trademark zoom zoom, it’s fun to drive.

Engine specifications

The 2013 Mazda 5’s 4-cylinder engine produces 157 horsepower and a workable 163 pound feet of torque, and in performance testing, it accelerates from 0 to 60 mph in 9.5 seconds. The Mazda 5 comes standard with a 5-speed automatic transmission, which provides 22 mpg city/28 mpg highway. The available Sport trim, which comes standard with a 6-speed manual transmission, returns 21 mpg city and the same highway fuel rating as the automatic.


The 2013 Mazda 5 is a 7-passenger compact minivan, sporting an athletic-looking exterior design, three rows of seating, and a smaller size than most of today’s not-so-mini minivans. The 5’s smaller size gives it easier maneuverability in tight spaces, and the layout of the interior delivers versatility that is not found in sedans or hatchbacks. The front seats and second row captain’s chairs slide and recline, and there is even a convenient optional center table that can be snapped in between the second row seats and then easily removed for access to back row seating. The third row seating consists of 50/50 split folding seats, which can be folded down to provide a surprising 44.4 cubic feet of cargo space. All passenger seating is easily accessible via two convenient full-sized sliding rear doors.

From the driver’s perspective, the dash layout is sleek, easy to use, and modern, and gives the feel of driving a car rather than a van. Materials throughout the interior cabin space are high-quality and good looking, giving it a more comfortable feel than many utilitarian minivans offer.

Driving Impressions

The 2013 Mazda 5 drives like a tall sport wagon with additional cargo space. The 5 sets itself apart from other minivans by blending utility with urban maneuverability. Whether driving on narrow roads or in crowded parking lots, drivers will appreciate the Mazda 5’s agility, great visibility, and tight turning circle. The steering is precise and tactile, and the suspension provides a comfortable ride, reducing the effect of bumps and corners experienced by passengers in many larger minivans. Even without a lot of horsepower, engine responses are eager and Mazda’s zoom zoom acceleration is smooth and effortless.

The 2013 Mazda 5 minivan is a great choice as a large family vehicle or a multi-commuter vehicle. It blends the best attributes of a comfortable family sedan with the utility and cargo space of a van, and is a strong contender in the minivan market. Although there is space for 7 passengers, the Mazda 5 provides a driving experience more like that of some 5-passenger hatchback vehicles. A spacious, comfortable cabin and starting MSRP of $20,940 furthers the 2013 Mazda 5’s appeal. If you want an automobile with good fuel economy, enough seating for 7 passengers and cargo space to boot, and both urban maneuverability and a fun ride, the Mazda 5 has everything you are looking for.

Tesla alters financing following criticism

Tesla announced new financing terms for the Model S.

(Credit: Josh Miller/CNET)

Last month Tesla said a new financing arrangement would make the Model S cost a mere $ 500 a month. Following critique in the press of Tesla’s creative accounting, CEO Elon Musk announced revisions to the financing plan, now citing a net cost of $ 580 per month.

The two substantive changes to Tesla financing involve a revised resale value guarantee and longer term loans from partners Wells Fargo and US Bank.

With the longer term loans, Tesla says the per month cost of a Model S will be $ 580, taking into account the saving gained by running the car on electricity over an equivalent car running on gasoline. Tesla also says that those purchasing the Model S for a business can run the per month cost down to $ 350.

Previously, Tesla had said it would guarantee the resale value of a Model S as equivalent to that of a Mercedes-Benz S-class. That guarantee was revised in today’s announcement to a value higher than BMW, Audi, Mercedes, Lexus, or Jaguar.

The Tesla Motors site is currently down, but it will host a revised calculator and information on the financing plans,… [Read more]


Car Tech: An automotive blog from CNET

Panavise 15504 PortaGrip car mount keeps a fierce grip on phones

The Panavise 15504 PortaGrip holds smartphones to windshields with a strong grip.

(Credit: Josh Miller/CNET)

Standing out as the 800 pound gorilla among smartphone mounts for cars, the Panavise 15504 PortaGrip feels like it’s been spending evenings and weekends at the gym. The thick pieces of this mount look like they could support a whole car, let alone a smartphone. The screws and hinges move as if manufactured to military spec.

I had no fears that this mount would fall apart while cradling my precious smartphone.

This suction cup mount, designed to stick to a car’s windshield while keeping a smartphone visible to the driver, uses multiple pivot points on its arm and a ratcheting clamp to hold smartphones in place.

However, it lacks any sort of power pass-through, USB ports, or channels to run a phone charging cable down to a car’s 12 volt power point.

Suction with a twist The sucker end uses a twist switch to increase suction, rather than a lever like many other windshield mounts. Placing the suction cup against the windshield of a car, I twisted the switch and the suction locked it in place. In fact, it became so strongly locked that as I pulled on it to test its hold, the entire car rocked on its suspension.

I like this suction mechanism, as it feels solid, locks well, and Panavise includes helpful engravings in the plastic showing the lock and unlock positio… [Read more]


Car Tech: An automotive blog from CNET