The 2018 Ford F-150 gets updated looks and engines, plus that diesel you wanted

If you’re into trucks, you’ve been following all of the intel surrounding the 2018 Ford F-150. You’d have seen the spy shots of the refresh and know that there would be an optional light-duty diesel engine to go behind the grille. What we didn’t know was that almost every engine offering would be new or updated, or that there would be seven new grilles from which to choose. Spy photos and video can only tell you so much.

The 2018 F-150 is Ford’s big news for the 2017 Detroit show. We’ll start with the grilles, since that’s what you’re most likely to notice. Most of the new designs feature a two-bar appearance that stretches across the truck’s front end to give it a wider appearance. There are also some with a mostly open layout and one, on the top Limited trim, that fills in the space with chrome latticework. The grilles are supposed to create more visual differentiation between the various models and appearance packages, and from what we’ve seen they do just that.

All of the grilles are flanked by new headlight units in two versions, one for the low-end trims and one filled with LEDs for the more expensive models. The lights are reshaped, with their ends reaching farther toward the center of the truck. The grilles also dip down lower into a new bumper, with a filler piece separating bumper from lights and grille. Six new wheel designs range in size from 17 to 22 inches in diameter. The truck is a lot more refined looking in person, with a cleaner overall appearance than the version that debuted for 2015.

In the rear, the 2018 F-150 also gets new lighting elements, but the changes are more subtle – there is now a split between the upper and lower portion of the element, whereas before it looked to be all one piece. What’s more noticeable is the restyled tailgate, which comes in two varieties. The lower trim levels will get a creased trapezoid look with F-150 embossed across the lower portion (it seems the badges weren’t big enough for some people to notice). On King Ranch, Platinum, and Limited trucks, the embossing goes away and a fancy appliqué covers most of the upper portion of the tailgate. The decision to omit the embossing on those trucks apparently came late in the game, as a rendering we saw at Ford HQ had them both. The F-150’s chief designer said the combination of the stamped name and shiny trim looked too busy. We agree.

The long-awaited light-duty turbodiesel V6 arrives for 2018, but buyers will still have to wait a little longer for it. This 3.0-liter Ford-developed diesel won’t be available until summer of 2018, while the rest of the revamped F-150s will go on sale in the fall of this year. Ford is providing precious few details on the F-150’s Power Stroke, which is a version of the Lion diesel it builds for PSA and Jaguar Land Rover products, but we can get an idea of the kind of output it will offer from other applications – in Range Rovers, the 3.0-liter twin-turbo diesel makes 254 horsepower and 440 pound-feet of torque, so figure at least that much for the F-150’s version.

We do know that the diesel will come with the 10-speed automatic transmission, and Ford claims the 2018 truck will have the best tow ratings of any F-150 yet. We have a hunch they’ll be achieved with the Power Stroke. The Power Stroke F-150 should be the most efficient in the lineup, beating the current 2.7 EcoBoost’s maximum 26-mpg highway number. The new diesel is the F-150’s first and will compete directly with the Ram 1500’s EcoDiesel V6, which makes 240 hp and 420 lb-ft of torque and maxes out at 29 mpg highway.

Ford is also touching every other F-150 powertrain offering in some way for 2018, with the exception of the 3.5-liter EcoBoost, which was updated for 2017 with more power and a 10-speed automatic to go along with it. The base truck’s naturally aspirated 3.5-liter V6 is being replaced by a 3.3-liter V6 with port and direct fuel injection that will make as much power as the outgoing 3.5 – meaning at least 282 hp and 253 lb-ft of torque. It will be paired with a six-speed automatic, just like the 3.5 is today.

Next up is the 2.7-liter EcoBoost V6, which gets updates to produce more power and will also see a fuel economy improvement, likely owing mostly to the 10-speed automatic it’s being paired with. Ford will announce those numbers later. And then there’s the 5.0-liter V8, which is switching to spray-bore cylinder liners like those used on the Mustang’s 5.0-liter; that will reduce weight and along with other efficiency improvements and the 10-speed automatic will lead to undisclosed power and efficiency improvements.

Ford is also updating the F-150’s techie features for 2018. The available adaptive cruise control is upgraded to stop-and-go status, meaning it can bring the truck to a complete stop and pick up where it left off again in heavy traffic instead of shutting off cruise when it slows down. Pre-collision assist with pedestrian detection is also newly available, as is a 4G cellular radio with wifi hotspot capability. A B&O Play (as in Bang & Olufsen) sound system will be optional as well.

The F-150’s aluminum body and box remain the same, but there are likely some other changes that Ford hasn’t shared yet. We’re told there’s an update to the way the trailer hitch receiver mounts to the frame, which sounds as though the F-150 will adopt the stronger setup from the 2017 Super Duty. That version also includes nested sleeves to accommodate different hitch classes. The F-150 will once again be available in XL, STX, XLT, Lariat, King Ranch, Platinum, and Limited trims, and of course the insane Raptor is still in the mix as well. We’ll have more information to share before they go on sale later this year.

Anything but subtle | 2017 Lamborghini Aventador S First Drive

It’s just past dawn and I’m running on a thin supply of caffeine and adrenaline, but the 2017 Lamborghini Aventador S I’m chasing around Circuit Ricardo Tormo just made me crack a grin: faint blue flames are simmering deep within the leader’s three exhaust pipes, pulsing almost imperceptibly as it whips around the track.

Few things about the Lamborghini Aventador LP700-4 (including its alphanumeric name) were subtle, but the boys in Sant’Agata Bolognese have gone full-bore at refining the famously unwieldy flagship enough to make it drive as capably as it looks. This updated version has been rechristened with an S at the end of its name, and yes, in the twisted microcosm of earthbound fighter jets, flames coming out of hindquarters qualify as subtle. Of course the Aventador S produces more power – to the tune of 729 horsepower, a 38-hp climb from before, with torque only increasing by one, to 509 pound-feet – and the extra grunt affects neither its 0-to-62-mph time of 2.9 seconds nor its terminal velocity of 217 mph. But version 2.0’s most notable improvements apply to the big Lamborghini’s chassis, which now uses a four-wheel-steering system to countersteer the rear wheels below around 75 mph, and turn them in phase with the fronts for stability at higher speeds. The system responds in 5 milliseconds, and has the virtual effect of shortening the wheelbase by up to 20 inches or lengthening it by 27 inches. In case you’re keeping tabs, the extra 13 pounds of the steering hardware are offset by a new titanium exhaust system, essentially rendering the curb weight unchanged.

If you’ve ever tried to toss a boomerang through a maze, you’ve got a basic idea of what it took to carry an original Aventador through a high-speed corner. The act required some patience to allow the front wheels to dig in and take hold, and even more resolve to wait for the perfect moment to squeeze the right pedal and power out of the apex. Accelerate too early, and you’d suffer terminal understeer until you allowed the weight to shift, likely triggering traction control as you goosed the throttle on the way out. At the Spanish track, the new Aventador manages something the first one couldn’t: though it still retains some understeer, it also dances and turns more willingly, snaking its way through each corner with a gratifying combination of weight transfer and grip. Oh happy, fire-breathing day.

There’s more than four-wheel steering at play helping the Aventador S grapple with the corners. On top of revised suspension kinematics and geometry as well as new upper and lower arms and wheel carriers, the pushrod suspension now uses adaptive magnetorheological shocks like those on the Aventador SV. The stability control and Haldex all-wheel-drive systems have been revised so power doesn’t dump to the front wheels during off-throttle maneuvers, making it easier to steer the beast with the right pedal and power out of corners. Revised aerodynamics boost downforce and decrease drag, depending on the three-setting spoiler’s position. The new EGO system offers customizable drive modes, separating steering, suspension, and drivetrain settings for a total of 24 combinations. Last, and certainly not least, the notoriously herky-jerky seven-speed automated manual gearbox has been re-tuned for (slightly) more smoothness.

To highlight the improvements, Lamborghini provided a back-to-back slalom drive between an Aventador LP700-4 and the new S model. The sum of the changes are dramatic: where the old model feels bulky and reluctant to turn, the new one seems hinged at the middle, negotiating surefootedly through the tight course of pylons. The Aventador S feels smaller, nimbler, and livelier, its four-wheel-steer system responding imperceptibly to driver inputs.

After the slalom exercise, I return to the 2.5-mile circuit determined to push the supercar harder. Though new rainfall begs for caution, the screaming V12 tickles the devil on my shoulder and against the advice of event organizers (kids, don’t try this at home), I switch off the electronic aids. As expected, with my right foot acting as traction control, the combination of a relatively light flywheel effect, low surface friction, and obscene power makes the Aventador S’s tail snap out of line dramatically when instigated. But unlike the LP700-4, the S feels more composed as it drifts at speed, responding to stabs of the throttle and brake with the appropriate weight transfer and yaw rotation. It may not deliver the ultimate precision or control, but it’s a palpable improvement over the previous car.

When track time ends without incident, it’s time to drive home on public roads and highways, an act of automotive shock and awe that leaves a trail of incredulity and wonder with the locals. To see an Aventador rumble down Rodeo Drive is one thing, but entirely another when it’s passing through a modest European country that’s unaccustomed to exotics that cost more than a suburban home. Though we don’t come close to exploiting the car’s limits through mountain passes, the Lambo feels more composed and better connected with the tarmac that passes beneath it. The transmission still pauses and lurches, but less abruptly. Engineering changes aside, the Aventador’s human factor is, as before, absolutely off the charts: the low-slung Italian wedge has a way of making women stare, men cheer, and children break out into visible hysterics. It’s the stuff of classic Lamborghini, packing the sort of visual wallop that inspires teens to hang posters on their walls and middle-aged men to deplete their IRAs.

 

For all of its mechanical excesses, the Lamborghini Aventador S still doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to level-headed high-end car shoppers. If you want a more logical Lambo that happens to be a better driver’s car, consider the Huracán: it’s lighter, more tossable, and considerably better behaved thanks to its seamless dual-clutch and revvy V10. Or better yet, hold out for the Huracán Performante, which should be even swifter than the current (sold out) king of the hill, the Aventador SV.

But, if nothing less than the most dramatic, in-your-face snorting bull will do, there is no replacement for the almighty Aventador S, an unapologetic flagship that easily makes other supercars look commonplace. Though not without its quirks, Lamborghini’s top dog proudly remains the last naturally aspirated, carbon-bodied, mid-engine V12 car in serial production. That automotive peerlessness not only makes it easy to forgive its clear and present flaws, it makes the $421,350 MSRP seem well worth every penny.

A MUST FOR ANY DRIVER

ESCORT MAX 360: A MUST FOR ANY DRIVER

Late December, I was contacted by Escort, the makers of the popular radar detectors like the Passport Max and Passport Max 2, to test out their latest addition to the lineup, the Escort Max 360. You can see my First Look on this new radar detector here and my in-depth review of the device here.

Since then, I have had the detector in my vehicle for almost five months, and based on my experience, I can easily say that every gear head and casual driver alike must have this device.

In both my First Look and review articles, I was completely delighted and satisfied with how flawlessly the Escort Max 360 lived up to everything the manufacturer promised. With its 360 degree directional alert arrows, the detector pointed out the police in their hiding spots along the interstate before they appeared in my view, thus giving me enough time to slow down.

Unlike some of the competitors, the Escort Max 360 is a lot easier to use and understand. The button layout is very simple and all the vital information is clearly displayed on the screen, which is ideally placed in the center of the driver’s vision.

Building on the platform of the Passport Max and Passport Max 2, the Max 360 ups the game by including features like the aforementioned 360 degree Directional Arrows, Dual Antenna front + rear detection, GPS-powered AutoLearn Technology, and Digital Signal Processing. The latter provides extreme range and quick response, while the GPS-powered AutoLearn Technology tells you the difference between real radar and false alarms.

Escort Live uses a Bluetooth connection to warn you of upcoming alerts reported by other users in the area. Through this feature, you also have access to local speed limits which reduces your likelihood for being pulled over. The Escort Live app gives drivers further protection against things like speed cameras.

 

China’s BYD Qin PHEV Sells 50,000th Unit As Quickly As Did The Chevy Volt

The Chinese electrified car manufacturer that counts Warren Buffet as a key investor, and which led Tesla in sales last year, delivered its 50,000th Qin plug-in hybrid as quickly as it took the Chevy Volt.

This was accomplished last month for the PHEV that was launched a couple years after the Volt, but whose first two-and-a-half years’ of global sales have about matched those of General Motors’ Chevrolet and Holden Volt, and Volt-based Opel/Vauxhall Ampera.

The Qin is rated in its home market to have a Volt-competitive 43 miles electric range, and was the first of the Chinese automaker’s “super-electric” vehicles. While the range estimate may be optimistic for its 13-kWh battery if scrutinized under U.S. regulatory tests, the car boasts also a 0-60 time of less than 5.9 seconds. According to the Chinese test cycle, the Qin gets “147 mpg” or 1.6 liters per 100 kilometer.

If you’ve not yet heard of it, that could be because BYD cars are not sold to consumers in the U.S., though without our market’s help, last year BYD sold almost 62,000 vehicles compared to Tesla’s almost 51,000, meaning it was the world’s largest electrified vehicle seller.

 BYD North America.

The Volt was launched Dec. 2010 in the U.S., sold its 50,000th in the U.S. 34 months later in Oct. 2013, and it’s estimated that globally its 50,000th came around the 29th or 30th month.

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In the cumulative total race, other plug-ins – most of them launched earlier – actually have topped 100,000 sales, meaning the Qin is a bit of a second-tier plug-in on that score.

Vehicles that have surpassed 100,000 include the Nissan Leaf (almost 220,000), Tesla Model S (about 120,000), Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV (102,00), and the aforementioned Volt family (over 110,000). The Toyota Prius PHV has sold more than 75,000 but its sales are slowed until the new 2017 Prius Prime is released.

To make the point of how quick it is, the automaker has prepped it for a professional rally race, and even staged drag races with nine well-known performance oriented cars. While it was not up to embarrassing the likes of a Nissan GT-R, it held its own among another fairly quick vehicles.

Old Driving Joy

A New Mazda MX-5, but Still the Old Driving Joy

MAZDA has produced nearly a million MX-5s since the car arrived on the market in 1989, making it the most popular roadster of all time (the MG MGB is a distant second at 386,961, according to Hemmings).

You don’t know what an MX-5 is? In the United States the car is known as the Miata, a name unique to our country and officially dropped by Mazda nearly 10 years ago. That is like trying to rename the Mustang. The Miata’s fans simply ignored the name change. Though the new fourth generation version wears only an MX-5 badge, Mazda often slips “Miata” into its American marketing.

Full disclosure: I bought a new original year Miata back in the day and still own that 1990 model. Cars have changed a lot in 26 years, but the MX-5 remains remarkably true to its original mission of maximum fun with minimum bloat.

The 2016 car is better in every way, though I would argue that the original has a cleaner and more elegant design.

Modern Miatas — I mean, MX-5s — have four airbags, traction and stability control, anti-lock brakes and a stout structure, stuff that owners of the first-generation Miata could only dream about. Powerful headlights are LED.

Mercedes Revives

With the S600, Mercedes Revives the Maybach

CHANCES are you have not heard of Maybach (pronounced “MY-Bahk”). The brand traces its luxury lineage to 1909, with Daimler-Benz buying the brand in 1960. It lay dormant until the 2004 model year, when two cars, the 57 and 62, made their debuts at an average of $420,000 each. Timed nearly perfectly with the recession, the resurrection sank like Lehman Brothers.

Maybach is now positioned as the ultraluxury subbrand of Mercedes-Benz, much as AMG is its performance label. More affordable now at $204,000 as tested, it is a bargain compared with the Rolls-Royce Ghost and the Bentley Mulsanne. Certainly, it will not be attracting Malibu and Santa Fe shoppers, unless you are talking real estate.

Basically, the regal 2016 Mercedes-Maybach S600 is an overachieving S-Class with a wheelbase stretched nearly eight inches to aid pampering in the rear. The back of my test vehicle had massaging seats that were warmed and chilled. Infinitely adjustable down to power leg rests, Maybach is the fastest and most luxurious La-Z-Boy on the planet.

Both rear positions get retractable tables akin to those in first-class air travel; you will half expect flight attendants to arrive with scotch and warm cashews. The rear seats have video screens, wireless headphones, climate control, window shades, vanity mirrors and cup holders that cool and heat. Of course, there’s a refrigerator to keep the Champagne chilled. Robbe & Berking silver-plated Champagne flutes have their own storage space.

Fingers on the center console grasp the vessel’s base to eliminate tipping when your driver is aggressive on the way to the board meeting.

That is entirely possible considering that the 6-liter biturbo V12 engine gracefully summons 523 horsepower and 612 pound-feet of torque. Imperceptible yet decisive shifts come from a 7-speed automatic transmission, with paddle shifters. The Maybach whispers from 0 to 60 miles an hour in about five seconds.

 

 

Mitsubishi Grabs a Shiny Sliver of the American Market

Last month, it acknowledged cheating for the last 25 years on gas-mileage tests for cars in Japan, embarrassing top executives and tarnishing a name that has been dented by scandal before.

Since then, its stock price has plunged, and it has had to halt production of the tiny models at the center of the scandal.

Although Mitsubishi is a bit player, it is increasing new-car sales faster than most other automakers and is expanding its sliver of the American market. Helping the surge are a few affordably priced models that can appeal to consumers on tight budgets, a group other car companies often ignore.

The company says the vehicles it sells in the United States — like the Outlander sport utility vehicle and the Lancer compact — are not affected by the fuel-economy deception that took place in Japan. American customers and dealers seem unfazed.

There are others like Mr. Harig. In April, while the gas-mileage scandal was making headlines in Japan, Mitsubishi’s sales in the United States rose 18 percent.

Its performance stands in contrast to that of Volkswagen, which has been mired in an emissions scandal of its own. Last month, Volkswagen sales fell 9 percent, continuing a steady decline since the disclosure in September.

 

Muscle Car Swagger

Video Review: A Sinewy Camaro, Still With Muscle Car Swagger

There’s no mistaking the new 2016 Chevrolet Camaro because, well, it has a strong resemblance to the departing car. Much like the Olsen twins, though, the two are similar but quite different. If you can discern Mary-Kate from Ashley at first glance, congratulations, you might peg the new Camaro quickly. Or maybe you’ve just watched too much TV.

But really, the big news about Generation 6 is that under the slightly smaller and sinewy silhouette, the Camaro now shares a platform with the Cadillac ATS, with 70 percent of the architectural components unique to Camaro.

Drawn like Jessica Rabbit, the Chevy’s intense American muscle-car lines might cause import worshipers to dismiss it. Pity. It’s bad in a good way — a rear-wheel-drive performance bargain.

General Motors is doing great things with chassis tuning, and the Camaro inherited the compelling goodness of the ATS that makes the car tons of fun to toss into a corner. Even without the available Brembo brakes, the car scrubs off speed securely.

It can’t hurt that the V6 models are nearly 300 pounds lighter now. Don’t be disappointed to learn that’s the model I’m focusing on. Not terribly long ago, V8s struggled to produce 335 horsepower and 284 pound-feet of torque. Camaro’s 3.6-liter V6 does it on standard grade gasoline.

Suzuki Reports Improper Fuel Economy Tests, but Denies Cheating

Suzuki Motor said on Wednesday that it had used improper methods to determine the fuel economy of 16 vehicles it sells in Japan, adding to the list of automakers that have come under scrutiny for how they perform in government tests.

Suzuki said that it had not sought to mislead customers, and that its testing had not exaggerated mileage ratings. It said it did not plan to restate any published ratings.

That scrutiny has hit Japan’s auto industry in recent weeks. On Wednesday, Mitsubishi Motors said that Tetsuro Aikawa, its president, would resign after the company’s disclosure that its engineers deliberately used unapproved test procedures that exaggerated fuel performance by as much as 15 percent on some models.

 

Still, the disclosure is likely to add to industrywide doubts over carmakers and the fuel-test results they report to governments around the world.

Suzuki shares fell more than 9 percent in Tokyo on Wednesday after news reports that it would report fuel-test discrepancies and become the latest Japanese automaker to come under scrutiny.

Osamu Suzuki, Suzuki’s chairman and chief executive, apologized to customers but said the company had retested its vehicles and found no significant differences between the results and their already-published ratings.

 

In Audi’s Virtual Cockpit, Technology Is Your Co-Pilot

It’s called the virtual cockpit and, starting with Audi, it will become a more common feature in cars in the not too distant future.

Gone are the traditional mechanical dials — the speedometer, the tachometer, the various gauges and pointers — and in their place is a 12.3-inch LCD screen that houses an animated instrument cluster.

The high-resolution screen, which lights up behind the steering wheel, directly in the driver’s line of sight, can be programmed to show several functions — for navigation, a cellphone, radio and media, Google Earth 3-D graphics, and traffic data.

That is in addition to the usual functions of showing speed, engine revolutions, outside temperature and the gas level.

By any standard, it’s an abundance of information, all on one screen. But it also has some drivers and experts asking: How much is too much, and will consumers understand it?

Paul A. Green, a research professor at the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute, expressed concern over displays.

“One of the principles here is that displays that people use while driving generally should not be dynamic,” said Mr. Green, who said that he had not spent any time auditioning the system. “It becomes like a movie that you’re watching, and anything that adds even a half a second or so is problematic.”