Monthly Archives: July 2013

Smart undercuts all others in electric car pricing

The Smart Fortwo Electric Drive works well as a city car, providing adequate range and very economical operation.

(Credit: Wayne Cunningham/CNET)

Tooling around San Francisco in a convertible, taking in sights such as the Golden Gate Bridge, is a real treat. Doing it in an electric convertible car fits the city’s compact dimensions and progressive, high-tech culture even better.

And the only car for this mission is the 2013 Smart Fortwo Electric Drive, mostly because it is the only electrically driven convertible on the market.

Smart brought a selection of its Fortwo Electric Drive vehicles to San Francisco for a press event, and I grabbed the Cabrio, in Rally Red. The Fortwo Cabrio is sort of a half-convertible. The cloth roof rolls back, bunching up at the rear of the car, but leaving the rear pillars and roof rails up. You can also remove the roof rails and toss them in back, which I did, to open up the cabin a little more.

And like the standard Smart Fortwo, the Fortwo Electric Drive is only a two-seater, with a tiny bit of cargo room in back. Smart points out that over 100 million people commute to work by themselves every day. In addition, 80 percent of these commuters drive less than 40 miles round-trip to work.

That means a huge potential market for the Fortwo Electric Drive, if we Americans can ever get over the idea that we need a commute vehicle with room for f… [Read more]


Car Tech: An automotive blog from CNET

How does the new BMW i3 compare with our favorite EVs?

This morning, BMW finally pulled the wraps off of the 2014 BMW i3 electric car, laying clear the last details surrounding this car for the cities of the future.

The car arrives in the second quarter of 2014, so it will be a while before most of you will be able to take one for a spin. In the meanwhile, we’ve got a lot of specs on our hands, so let’s compare the i3′s numbers with those of competing small EV models.

(Credit: Wayne Cunningham/CNET)

2014 BMW i3 I’d wager that BMW placed a high emphasis on driving dynamics with the i3, because its little EV’s 125 kw, 170 horsepower motor is the most powerful in this roundup. Depending on how close its carbon fiber chassis gets to the estimated 2,700 pound curb weight, it could also end up being the lightest. High power and low weight are two of the main ingredients when baking a deliciously fun ride.

The BWM also boasts the fastest estimated 240V Level 2 charging time, beating the 4 hour standard by a full hour thanks possibly to its more powerful on-board charger. Finally, the Bimmer’s optional range extender grants it nearly unlimited cruising range, making it the most flexible. However, the addition of that gasoline engine option adds complexity and tailpipe emissions to this zero-emissions roundup and could potentially confuse less well-informed buyers.

[Read more]


Car Tech: An automotive blog from CNET

BMW’s short, innovative road to the i3 electric car

This sketch, released in 2010, was our first look at BMW's ideas around the i3 electric vehicle.

(Credit: BMW)

Back in 2010, BMW began talking up what it called a Megacity Vehicle, a new electric car it would develop for the cities of the future. Not taking any half-measures, the company would run a test fleet of converted electric vehicles, come up with new carbon fiber manufacturing processes, launch a whole new brand, and design a car from a clean sheet.

The result of this intensive effort, the production version of the i3 electric car, will be unveiled Monday in New York, London, and Beijing.

Although BMW likely began plans for what would become the i3 electric car before 2010, the amount of time between concepts and prototype testing to the production release on Monday represents lightning speed for a new model launch in the automotive industry. Other automakers have shown relatively quick electric drivetrain development, but BMW also had to come up with a new design, innovate manufacturing processes, and ink deals for new carbon fiber factories along the way.

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‘Digital carjackers’ are the worst sort of backseat drivers

(Credit: Forbes)

As our vehicles become more like consumer electronics — more like mobile computers on wheels, a pair of “digital carjackers” demonstrate what happens when all of the tech beneath the sheet metal falls into mischievous hands.

More and more components of modern vehicles have begun to fall under the control of computers. And we’re not just talking about infotainment and dashboard apps. Think about it: a modern vehicle’s engine, brakes, electronic power steering, active safety systems, and sometimes even the throttle are ultimately controlled by little electronic brains somewhere behind the dashboard.

In the video below, a pair of automotive hackers, Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek, demonstrate to a Forbes staff reporter how they’re able to spoof fuel levels and vehicle speeds to display incorrect data on the dashboard, trigger pre-collision system, take limited control of the electronic power steering system, honk the horn, tug at the driver with the seatbelts, and even deactivate the brakes. Scary stuff.

To be fair, hacking the Prius in the video wasn’t as simple as plugging into the dashboard USB port. Cars are traditionally closed systems, so the hacked vehicle’s dashboard had to be almost completely disassembled in order for the demonstra… [Read more]


Car Tech: An automotive blog from CNET

PanaVise 15509 holds your phone far, far away

The 15509 Portagrip has a long, extendable arm, making it suitable for mounting phones in big vehicles.

(Credit: Josh Miller/CNET)

Editor’s note: Portions of this review were copied from the PanaVise 15508 Portagrip review.

Constructed of metal and tough plastics, the PanaVise line of Portagrip smartphone mounts are as durable as they come. But the 15509 Portagrip also shows they can accommodate some extreme applications. This particular phone mount, intended to suction cup to a windshield, incorporates a very long, extendable arm, making it suitable for cars with very wide dashboards, recreational vehicles, or construction equipment.

Most of the components of the 15509 Portagrip are the same as those found on the 15508 model, except the 15509 adds an adjustable shaft, giving the unit an extension from approximately 12 to 18 inches. The metal two-part extension arm uses a plastic collar at its midpoint, with a lever for locking down the amount of extension you need. That collar makes for a very secure hold, so the mount’s adjustment is not likely to change under even very harsh conditions.

The 15509 Portagrip h… [Read more]


Car Tech: An automotive blog from CNET

2013 Ford CMAX Energi Plugin Hybrid

Hybrids are a big money saver and have been deemed the car of the future. With the huge success of the Hybrid Toyota Prius giving the driver the best fuel savings and reliability they are looking for in a car, it was time for Ford to put their money where their mouth was.  Their version of the Prius is the Ford CMAX Energi. The Prius has been a popular seller for those who want an energy efficient car, and the CMAX is able to hold its own against the Prius or any other hybrid car on the market.

Scout adds crowdsourced incident reporting to nav apps

(Credit: Scout)

Telenav’s Scout GPS Navigation & Traffic borrows a bit from Waze and Trapster’s books with the addition of crowdsourced incident reporting in the newest versions of its mobile apps.

On Scout’s map screen, there now appears a new “Report” button that, when tapped, presents four large buttons to report Traffic, Police, Hazards, or Accidents with a single tap. When you report these incidents, you’re sharing potential delays with other nearby Scout users and helping them to avoid congestion. For your trouble, you’ll benefit from the driving experiences of your fellow Scouters and Scout’s millions of users worldwide.

At time of publication, the iOS version of the app (version 1.11.x) has this new feature, but I didn’t see the Report button in the current version of the Android app (1.5.x), but it’s coming.

Additionally, both versions (iOS and Android) have been updated with new “Things to do” event listings. This can be found below the standard destination categories that help users find events, landmarks, nightlife, and things to do from the app.

Once a destination has been chosen, a new checkbox option on the Route Planning confirmation screen for Share ETA allows drivers … [Read more]


Car Tech: An automotive blog from CNET

Bosch self-driving car spotted in California

This Bosch-owned BMW was seen driving near the company's Palo Alto research center.

(Credit: Declan McCullagh/CNET)

Google’s fleet of autonomous cars, based on the Toyota Prius and Lexus RX, have become almost a common site in the high-tech environs of the San Francisco Bay Area, but CNET reporter Declan McCullagh caught a new entrant on the scene, an apparently Bosch-owned autonomous research car driving the roads around Palo Alto.

The car was a BMW 325d, a European diesel model not currently available in the U.S. As Bosch supplies the diesel components for the 325d engine, it is not surprising the company would use this model.

Related stories

Perched on top of the car sat a rack holding a sensor array, similar to that found on Google’s autonomous cars. The component sitting highest is likely a LIDAR sensor, which uses lasers to paint a 3D picture of the … [Read more]


Car Tech: An automotive blog from CNET

Kia Forte makes a strong tech showing

It’s got keyless entry and start, puddle lights and automatic folding side mirrors that illuminate and fold out as you approach. The driver’s seat is heated and ventilated with power adjustment and two-position memory; the cabin is bathed in dual-zone automatic climate control. It’s got two LCDs on the dash powered by a fantastic infotainment system.

No, this isn’t a luxury sedan. It is the 2014 Kia Forte EX and it’s come a long way, baby.

Inside and out, fit and finish are quite good all around the Forte. The small sedan manages to be sporty, but not gaudy. The dashboard sports carbon fiber look-alike trim that’s paradoxically fake and plastic, but also tastefully done. I’m still scratching my head about that one. You’ll find no LED speaker grilles, no chintzy fake metal or glossy black plastic in this Kia’s cabin. The Forte is doing its part to show the brand as grown-up.

However, there are places where the cost cutting is evident; where the economy car roots show through. For example, although both front buckets can be heated, only the driver’s seat is ventilated and chilled. Likewise, only the driver’s seat is power-adjustable with memory. And let’s not forget that although the dashboard’s plastic trim looks nice, it’s still just plastic. I get it; sacrifices must be made to keep the price below $ 25K.

Overall, though, my first impression of this 2014 Kia model was a good one.

Uvo eServices infotainment For the first time, you ca… [Read more]


Car Tech: An automotive blog from CNET

Nissan revives Datsun, but not in U.S.

Nissan built the Datsun Go for the Indian market.

(Credit: Nissan)

If you are old enough to have seen the Sex Pistols live, then Datsun cars will be familiar. From the classic Fairlady roadster to the original Z cars, Datsun made a name for itself as a maker of inexpensive and sporty cars. But the badge disappeared from automotive grilles in 1981, as parent brand Nissan asserted its identity.

Now Datsun is back, the brand relaunched by Nissan.

Datsun Go heralds brand revival (pictures)

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However, forget the Fairlady or Zs, or even the B210. The newest car to wear the Datsun badge is called the Go, and it is a tiny little economical hatchback. The front-wheel-drive Go gets a 1.2-liter engine, which probably can’t make more than 100 horsepower. Nissan fits it with a five-speed manual transmission, rather than the continuously variable automatics it favors in Nissan-brand… [Read more]


Car Tech: An automotive blog from CNET