Science Behind the Magic

Cargazing
By Derek Price

Before I go too far down a nerdy path, let’s cover the one thing you need to know about the Mazda3.
This car ought to be at the top of your list if you live on a budget and care about handling. It nails the connection between driver and machine like no other car in its price class, starting around $18,000 for the sedan and $19,000 for the hatchback.
There. That’s what you need to know if you read nothing else about this car.
Some of the black magic behind its sparkling handling, though, is where things start to get geeky.
And I find it absolutely fascinating.
For 2017, the Mazda3 adds a new technology called G-Vectoring Control (GVC) that’s unlike anything I’ve seen in a car before. I’m particularly surprised that it’s standard on the entry-level trim of an affordable, mass-market car, not on some exotic, race-bred supercar.
At first, I figured GVC was simply Mazda’s term for torque vectoring, that newfangled but increasingly common way some of today’s most sophisticated cars send power to individual wheels when they start to slip — say, on wet or icy roads.

The Mazda3 gets some styling changes for 2017, but the most innovative update is to the computer code that controls its engine.

GVC is nothing like that.
What it does is apply more of the car’s weight to the front wheels when it’s needed, usually when changing direction. It has less to do with power distribution and more to do with weight or pressure distribution as the car moves.
It makes perfect sense. When the front wheels of your front-wheel-drive car start to slip in a corner, you can give yourself a bit more traction by tapping the brakes to put more weight on them. The car’s mass shifts over the front axle, the front tires regain their grip, and with any luck you keep yourself from careening into a tree.
Mazda’s engineers initially planned to do just that: subtly apply the car’s brakes to automatically send more weight over the front axle when it’s needed. They say that was too slow and awkward feeling, though (not to mention already being done by some Nissan cars, hence fewer bragging rights at those thrilling engineer cocktail parties).
Instead of using the brakes, Mazda decided to reduce the ignition spark so the engine does the braking. It’s faster. It’s smoother. It’s so subtle that most drivers will never notice it. And it’s effective, helping to add around eight pounds of weight to the front end and increasing the size of the Mazda3’s front tire contact patch at the instant it’s required.
Better yet, it’s done entirely through the car’s software, not creating any added weight or complex parts, Mazda claims.

Better materials, more sound insulation and a new design give the Mazda3’s cabin a more upscale feel this year.

Beyond its geeky but impressive science-project computer code, the Mazda3 adds some predictable changes for a refreshed car. There’s a new design for the side mirror, front fascia and bumpers, two new colors, repackaged trim levels and a snazzy new look for its 18-inch wheels.
The biggest change is on the inside, where a mild but broad-reaching overhaul makes it feel like a more premium product. Mazda added sound insulation, improved the materials, and gave it bigger storage spaces and a fresh appearance to deliver a more upscale experience overall.
Radar cruise control, lane keep assist and a well-designed navigation system gave my sample car even more of that high-end feel, with an as-tested price just under $28,000.

At A Glance

What was tested?
2017 Mazda3 5-Door Grand Touring ($23,895). Options: Cargo mat ($75), rear bumper guard ($100), door sill trim plates ($125), premium equipment package ($1,600), i-ACTVS safety package ($1,100). Price as tested (including $835 destination charge): $27,730
Wheelbase: 106.3 in.
Length: 175.6 in.
Width: 70.7 in.
Height: 57.3 in.
Engine: 2.5-liter four cylinder (184 hp, 185 ft.-lbs. torque)
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Fuel economy: 25 city, 33 highway

RATINGS

Style: 9
Performance: 7
Price: 9
Handling: 10
Ride: 7
Comfort: 6
Quality: 7
Overall: 8

Why buy it?
If you want to feel connected to a machine, no other car does as good a job as the Mazda3 at this price. It’s great at delivering precise, enjoyable feedback to the driver.

Posted in Mazda

Value Over History

Cargazing
By Derek Price

A few weeks ago I reviewed the Genesis G90, the flagship car for Hyundai’s brand-new luxury marque.
This week I’m driving its little sister, the G80, a car that will introduce the Genesis brand to a bigger audience thanks to its more attainable starting price of $41,400.
The differences between the two models are striking, but I’m more impressed with the similarities. While the smaller G80 has a sportier, livelier and more engaging feel over the road, it does nearly as good a job as the G90 at pampering you.
It’s a car without any weak points to be found, a compliment I’ve often applied to Lexus but rarely to cars from Korean brands — although that’s been changing in recent years.
In fact, if this car has a weakness, it’s not in the product itself. It’s in your head. It just doesn’t carry the same panache as brands that have been building and marketing luxury cars for decades.
For now, “I drive a Genesis” doesn’t carry the same weight or have the same ring as “I drive a Mercedes-Benz.” It’s says you prefer logic over emotion instead, which is the more appealing message for people who don’t want to appear snobbish anyway.

The G80 is the smaller of two cars Genesis is selling in its inaugural year as a standalone brand. It’s designed to compete with mid-size luxury cars including the Mercedes-Benz E-Class, BMW 5-Series, Lexus GS and Cadillac CTS.

The G80 is the smaller of two cars Genesis is selling in its inaugural year as a standalone brand. It’s designed to compete with mid-size luxury cars including the Mercedes-Benz E-Class, BMW 5-Series, Lexus GS and Cadillac CTS.

If Genesis keeps building products like this, though, that could change. It’s a car that, purely from the driving perspective, anyone should take pride in owning.
The G80 is refined, powerful, rewarding and tastefully beautiful. That makes it is as competent a luxury car as any from the long tenured brands.
It also checks all the right boxes every contemporary, sporty luxury car should.
It comes standard with active safety features such as lane keep assist, blind spot detection and automatic emergency braking. A sensor to automatically open your trunk, a heads-up display for the driver and a beautifully executed touchscreen interface exemplify what Genesis calls “human-centered innovation.” And its 900-watt Lexicon audio system with 64 GB of multimedia storage should satisfy both audiophiles and technophiles.
Performance from the 311-horsepower, 3.8-liter V6 in my test car was impressive, and I’m sure the 5.0-liter V8 would be even more so. With a suspension tuned about halfway between supple and engaging, it’s a good mix of feeling connected to the road without being overly harsh.
Still, I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a great sports sedan in the vein of BMW. The 2018 G80 Sport may come closer to filling that role when it hits the market soon with a suite of performance-oriented tweaks.

First-rate materials and a focus on “human-centered innovation” make the Genesis G80 feel as sumptuous as cars from the established luxury brands.

First-rate materials and a focus on “human-centered innovation” make the Genesis G80 feel as sumptuous as cars from the established luxury brands.

The G80 also comes with the “Genesis Experience” concierge service like the pricier G90, letting you get valet service appointments at no extra charge. Not having to see the inside of a service center is one of the best perks of buying this car, in my view, as a driver will pick it up and drop it off for you for three years or 36,000 miles.
As for pricing, the G80 undercuts most of its competitors. It starts about $10 grand less than the BMW 5-Series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class, and a few thousand less than the Cadillac CTS, Audi A6 and Lexus GS.
For people who want to pay for the product itself, not cachet or history, it’s a real bargain.

At A Glance

What was tested?
2017 Genesis G80 RWD 3.8 ($41,400). Options: Premium package ($4,750), ultimate package ($4,200). Price as tested (including $950 destination charge): $51,300
Wheelbase: 118.5 in.
Length: 196.5 in.
Width: 74.4 in.
Height: 58.3 in.
Engine: 3.8-liter V6 (311 hp, 293 ft.-lbs. torque)
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 18 city, 28 highway

RATINGS

Style: 8
Performance: 9
Price: 10
Handling: 9
Ride: 8
Comfort: 7
Quality: 8
Overall: 9

Why buy it?
It looks, drives and feels as refined as well-established luxury sedans but comes from a fresh brand. It’s got a very appealing price for this class of car.

Posted in Hyundai

Angering Oil Barons

Cargazing
By Derek Price

If you want to peek inside an alternate universe to see what everyone would be driving if gas prices weren’t so cheap right now, take a look at this car: the Toyota Prius Prime.
It’s OPEC’s worst nightmare.
This is the car that could see America go through an oil embargo relatively unscathed, assuming Toyota could ramp up production in time. For now, though — in a period when sustained affordable gas prices make huge pickup trucks, crossovers and SUVs sell like caffeine-soaked hotcakes — the Prius Prime draws interest from a relatively small niche of eco-conscious buyers.
Why is it so special? Because it makes gasoline completely unnecessary for around-town trips and very inexpensive for long ones.
A 25-mile range under battery power means the Prius Prime won’t burn a drop of fuel for most people’s daily errands. And after that 25-mile range is used up, you’ve still got a gasoline engine that gets 55 mpg in the city and 53 on the highway, according to EPA ratings.

The Prius Prime’s futuristic style reflects the radical engineering beneath it. It’s an electric car with a 25-mile range, but it also has a highly efficient hybrid gasoline powertrain.

The Prius Prime’s futuristic style reflects the radical engineering beneath it. It’s an electric car with a 25-mile range, but it also has a highly efficient hybrid gasoline powertrain.

That means if King Salman decides to jack up our fuel prices, it’s no problem in the long term. We’ll all eventually buy Prius Primes and go about our lives in comfortable, if smaller, normalcy.
Yes, the comfort in this car was a pleasant surprise in my weeklong test. It’s comfortable from the driver’s standpoint, with strong, silent acceleration typical of the best electric cars so you never feel frightened on highway on-ramps. It’s also impressively quiet, smooth riding and reasonably roomy for passengers, even in the back seat.
One glaring downside, though, is the lack of a middle seat in back. The Prius Prime only has two seats back there, which is good for roominess but not very practical for some families who occasionally need to haul a fifth person around.
And while the styling is more stunning, I don’t think it drives quite as well as the new Chevrolet Volt, which has both a longer electric range and a more solid, substantial feel over the road.
The Toyota’s body, though, is much more appealing to me.
The Prius Prime and the Volt are both aiming to be “cars of the future,” but only one of them looks the part in my eyes. The Prius Prime, even more so than the ordinary Prius, has an exaggerated sense of futurism in its otherworldly lines.
I’m a particularly big fan of how the back end looks, too, with a dip in the middle of the tail that’s distinctive and unusual. I wish every car was designed so creatively.
Inside, it’s just as eye-popping.
Keeping with its futuristic theme, it’s packed with more digital real estate than most cars. It has acres of LCD screens on the inside, including a gigantic, vertical, iPad-style touchscreen that dominates the center stack.
While it’s certainly flashy, the digital interface doesn’t quite match the industry’s best work — currently a crown shared by Tesla and Volvo, in my view — but still may be the best I’ve seen at this price point. With pinch and zoom functionality, along with capacitive touch switches to the side, it’s instantly familiar to people who use tablets and smartphones.

The Prius Prime’s cabin is equally forward-looking, dominated by digital screens for information and entertainment.

The Prius Prime’s cabin is equally forward-looking, dominated by digital screens for information and entertainment.

As a whole, the Prius Prime is an incredible piece of engineering for people who want to burn less fuel and drive something futuristic. It looks and drives like a cutting-edge vehicle, because that’s exactly what it is.
I just feel sorry about Toyota’s unfortunate timing. If they had a crystal ball, they’d release a new Prius whenever gas prices are expensive and a new Tundra pickup when gas is cheap. With many years of lead time required and no way to reliably prophesy the direction of oil prices, it’s very possible Toyota will end up getting that order backward.
Pricing starts at $27,100 for the Prius Prime and ranges up to $33,100 for the more luxury-filled Advanced trim level.
Frustrating the Saudi royal family comes at no extra charge.

At A Glance

What was tested?
2017 Toyota Prius Prime Advanced ($33,100). Options: Paint protection film ($395), carpet floor mats ($224), aluminum door sills ($299), 15-inch alloy wheels ($899), universal tablet holder ($99), glass breakage sensor ($359), alloy wheel locks ($65). Price as tested (including $865 destination charge): $36,305
Wheelbase: 106.3 in.
Length: 182.9 in.
Width: 69.3 in.
Height: 57.9 in.
Engine: 1.8-liter four cylinder (121 net hybrid system horsepower)
Transmission: Continuously variable
Fuel economy: 55 city, 53 highway

RATINGS

Style: 8
Performance: 7
Price: 9
Handling: 5
Ride: 6
Comfort: 6
Quality: 8
Overall: 7

Why buy it?
It can operate as an electric car for 25 miles, then has a very efficient hybrid gasoline powertrain for extended range. It’s a showcase of fuel-saving technology and style.

Posted in Toyota

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