Search

The Review Garage

Rating the best and worst in cars, SUVs, trucks, motorcycles, tools and accessories.

Author

Jason Fogelson

Automotive journalist and author. Managing Editor for Ride.tech, powered by Kelley Blue Book.

Twelfth Time’s the Charm: Driving the 2020 Toyota Corolla

by Jason Fogelson

I’ve never owned a Toyota Corolla. I don’t know how I have avoided it, because I have owned at least five of the other top 10 best-selling vehicles of all time. Corolla has been manufactured over 12 generations since 1966, and has sold over 46 million examples worldwide to date, making it the number one best-seller in history. I made space for a 2020 Toyota Corolla XSE in my driveway for a week recently, and I was pleasantly surprised.

Profile Right Action

The Corolla sedan is all-new for 2020, following closely on the heels of the revised Corolla Hatchback, which arrived last year. It rides on the TNGA (Toyota New Global Architecture) platform, which underlies the current Toyota Prius, C-HR and Camry, along with the Lexus IS and a few other vehicles in the Toyota/Lexus family. The platform has proven to be versatile and adaptable. It is stiff, and allows for a low center of gravity that enhances stability and handling.

Profile Left

In the past, Corolla could be criticized for bland exterior design. In some generations, it looked like a generic car – or maybe it just felt that way, because there are so many of them on the road. The new Corolla is bolder, more futuristic, with a face that echoes the Camry’s. The XSE model even wears standard 18-inch wheels, the biggest ever for a Corolla. Like any bold design choice, this Corolla may be polarizing, but I like it.

Front 3q Left

My test vehicle was a top-of-the-line XSE model with a base price of $25,450. The XSE trim level and SE models come with a new engine, a naturally aspirated (non-turbo) 2.0-liter four-cylinder that uses direct and port injection to produce 169 hp and 151 lb-ft of torque. Base models (L, LE and XLE) come with a 1.8-liter port-injection engine that puts out 139 hp and 126 lb-ft of torque. The 30-hp advantage for XSE is significant, delivering livelier, more engaging performance.

Dash Beige

XSE models also get a new transmission, a continuously variable automatic (CVT) with a physical first gear. The CVT, which Toyota calls “Dynamic Shift CVT,” uses its first gear to launch the Corolla, then shifts to the variable ratios once the car is underway. The effect mitigates one of the things that plagues CVT performance, yet still allows Corolla to achieve good fuel economy – 31 mpg city/38 mpg highway/34 mpg combined – better, actually, than the base L model’s 30/38/33-mpg rating with its smaller, less powerful engine.

JBL Tweeter

Inside the Corolla, things are extremely tidy and simple, with a minimum of buttons, knobs and clutter. An eight-inch touchscreen is prominent at the top-center of the dash, flanked by neat rectangular buttons and a rotary volume control and rotary tuner knob. Just below is a clean HVAC control setup. A seven-inch driver information display is housed in the instrument panel, nestled beside analog gauges. The steering wheel houses cruise control, volume, mode and driver info buttons. The dash is layered, crisp, and clean, and so is the rest of the cabin.

Cabin

My test XSE model came with a $1,715 package that included premium audio and navigation and infotainment. The JBL audio system included eight speakers and a subwoofer, along with wireless smartphone charging, Apple CarPlay, Bluetooth hands-free and audio streaming, Siri Eyes-Free, a six-month trial of Verizon Wi-Fi, a three-month trial of SiriusXM, six months of Destination Connect, three years of Toyota Safety Connect and Service Connect, and more – in other words, a ton of technology for a bargain price. My car also included optional Adaptive Front Lighting ($450), Carpeted Floor Mat Package ($249, not such a bargain), and a $930 Delivery Processing and Handling Fee, resulting in an as-tested price of $28,794.

Second Row seats

Safety is one area that has greatly improved over the life of Corolla. Not only does the new Corolla come with standard four-wheel disc brakes, every Corolla comes with Star Safety (Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management, Vehicle Stability Control, Traction Control, ABS, Electronic Brake-Force Distribution, Brake Assist and Smart Stop Technology), they also get eight airbags, an electric parking brake, and Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 (Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection, Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist, Auto High Beams and Dynamic Radar Cruise Control). XSE models also include Full-Speed Range Dynamic Radar Cruise Control with Road Sign Assist and Lane Tracing Assist. This level of advanced driver assistance technology is quite remarkable in an economy car.

Front

I guess that Corolla has made grown up a bit since 1966, leaving the entry-level slot open for Yaris to handle on its own. The competition in this class is stiff, with the Honda Civic, Mazda3, Nissan Sentra, Hyundai Elantra and Kia Forte all representing good alternatives, with the Chevrolet Cruze and Ford Focus fading away.

Rear 3q Right

Not only is the 2020 Toyota Corolla all-new for the model year, it is the best version of Corolla that Toyota has produced to date. And that’s saying something, with 46 million Corolla vehicles in its wake.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

Rear

Photos (c) Toyota

Hoopla for the Supra

by Jason Fogelson

Ever since the Supra made its debut at the 2019 North American International Auto Show in Detroit this January, I’ve been itching to get a drive. I waited (sort of) patiently, bugging my local Toyota reps every few weeks for my chance. Finally, to get me to stop calling, I think, Toyota delivered a Renaissance Red 2.0 2020 Toyota GR Supra Launch Edition to my house for a week of fun. The Launch Edition is a special, limited trim level that carries a list price of $55,250. My test car came with an optional ($1,195) Driver Assist Package, a Delivery, Preparation and Handling Fee of $930 for an as-tested price of $57,375.

White Front 3q Left

In case you’ve missed the hoopla, Supra is a two-seater GT-style sportscar that was developed in a cooperative venture between Toyota and BMW, and which shares many powertrain and technology features with the new BMW Z4. Not that you’ll find many mentions of that in Toyota’s press materials, or BMW’s for that matter. Toyota is proud to crow about its in-house engineering and on-track development with GAZOO Racing (the “GR” part of the new car’s name). Akio Toyoda himself was hands-on with the performance tuning of the new Supra, and was visibly proud and excited when he unveiled the car in Detroit.

Red Front 3q Left

The Supra nameplate was used on Toyota models in the United States for four generations from 1978 to 1998, and returns here for the first time in 20 years. Supra was one of the first Toyota models to receive serious attention and respect for its handling and performance on the race track and on the road, and probably hit its pinnacle when it was featured in the 2001 film “The Fast and the Furious.”

White Front

I really love the exterior design of the new Supra. It has a long hood, a very expressive face with piercing headlamps, big air intakes at the bottom, and a tasteful Toyota logo on its nose. Big 19-inch forged aluminum heels tuck under the front fenders, with wider 19-inch wheels under more muscular fenders in the rear. The roof is distinctive, with bubbles over the driver and passenger’s heads, and a slight depression running down the middle. The short cabin ends in a fast slope, with a tastefully upturned tail that is said to suppress lift. There’s a little bit of retro feel to the car – if you squint, you can see influences from the cool 2000 GT, one of Toyota’s sports cars from the 1960s.

White Profile

Inside, the design is crisp and clean. I especially like the horizontal slot that houses the HVAC outlets, and the tastefully minimal array of knobs and buttons on the center stack. Befitting a modern car, there’s a big 8.8-inch diagonal touchscreen prominently placed at the top of the center stack, home to Toyota’s infotainment setup. All of the expected technology is aboard, plus the pleasant appearance of Apple CarPlay, which is just starting to populate the Toyota ecosphere. A color head-up display is standard.

Dashboard

The Supra seats are race-inspired, very supportive and comfortable, and roomy enough for my American form. The leather seats in the Launch Edition are nicely finished, as is all of the trim throughout the cabin. Special carbon fiber trim is used tastefully, and adds a high-tech feel.

Center Console

What’s it like to drive? I thought you’d never ask. Under the hood lurks a turbocharged 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder engine that’s tuned to produce 335 hp and 365 lb-ft of torque. An eight-speed automatic transmission with an active differential and paddle shifters sends power to the rear wheel. MacPherson strut front suspension and a multi-link rear use adaptive dampers. Toyota estimates that the 3,300-lb Supra can scoot from 0 – 60 mph in 4.1 seconds, and will be electronically limited to a top speed of 155 mph. It certainly feels fast, thanks to assertive shifting by the transmission and a low, low seating position. The car is beautifully balanced, and hugs the curves like a champ. In true GT fashion, it is a serene cruiser, too, eating up highway miles with ease. The cabin is small, but outward visibility is quite good, so there’s no feeling of claustrophobia in traffic. I just wanted to drive and drive during my week with the Supra – and I did. I think I passed every mile with a smile pasted across my face.

Seats

I guess I’m a little bit old-fashioned, because while I appreciated the smooth shifting of the automatic transmission, my one disappointment with the Supra was the absence of a manual transmission option. The paddle shifters gave me the chance to interact with the engine, but I found myself wishing for a little more visceral engagement.

Engine

The 2020 Toyota GR Supra is not cheap, but I feel like it’s a good value for the money. The base 3.0 model starts at $49,990, and the 3.0 Premium starts at $53,990. I’d compare the Supra to the BMW Z4, Porsche Cayman, Audi TT, Lexus RC F, Jaguar F-Type – some pretty heady company, which should tell you how much I liked the Supra.

Blue Rear 3q Right Static

Welcome back, Supra.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

Grouping

Photos (c) Toyota

Gaining Elevation in the 2020 Kia Telluride SX V6 AWD

by Jason Fogelson

The last time Kia launched a midsize three-row SUV, the 2009 Kia Borrego, the company’s timing couldn’t have been less fortunate. Arriving in late 2008, the body-on-frame Borrego was available with a V8 engine. With base prices from $26,245 to $37,995, the Borrego was a well-equipped, attractive SUV, designed to compete with the Ford Explorer, Nissan Pathfinder, Toyota 4Runner and other popular SUVs. And it flopped. While Kia was launching the Borrego, fuel prices were spiking, reaching over $5 per gallon in some parts of the country. The US banking system was headed toward collapse, taking the auto industry with it and leading to bailouts and a prolonged recession. “Right SUV, wrong time” was the refrain in Borrego reviews, and the big SUV disappeared from Kia lineup after just one year.

A decade-plus later, and Kia’s ready to try the mid-size three-row SUV class again. This time, it’s the 2020 Kia Telluride, and the timing is much better – and the vehicle is very different.

2020 TellurideEven the name gives a hint toward Kia’s status in the automotive industry and toward its aspirations for the new vehicle. “Borrego” was inspired by the Anza-Borrego Desert, a region in Southern California near San Diego, best-known for the ecological disaster area, Salton Sea, which sits at an elevation of 15 feet above sea level. Telluride is a playground for the rich and famous in Colorado, perched at a lofty 8,750 feet above sea level.

Beyond their shared seating capacity and SUV category, Telluride and Borrego share few common characteristics. Where Borrego rode on a body-on-frame platform with a rear-wheel drive/four-wheel drive powertrain, Telluride is a unibody (frameless) crossover SUV with a front-wheel drive/all-wheel drive powertrain. Borrego came with a choice of 3.6-liter V6 or 4.6-liter V8 engines and 6-speed automatic transmissions, and was rated to achieve 17 – 18 mpg combined. Telluride uses a 3.8-liter gasoline direct injection engine with an 8-speed automatic transmission, and gets EPA fuel economy ratings of 20 mpg city/26 mpg highway/23 mpg combined (FWD), 19 mpg city/24 mpg highway/21 mpg combined (AWD). Borrego’s V6 produced 276 hp and 267 lb-ft of torque, while Telluride’s V6 is tuned to put out 291 hp and 262 lb-ft of torque. Borrego weighed in at 4,248 – 4,621 lbs (depending on configuration), while Telluride weighs between 4,112 lbs and 4,482 lbs.

Enough with the Borrego comparisons.

2020 TellurideI spent a week driving a 2020 Kia Telluride SX V6 AWD, a top-of-the-line model that carried a base price of $43,490. My test vehicle had additional installed equipment, including Snow White Pearl Paint ($395), SX Prestige Package ($2,000 for Head-Up Display, 110-volt inverter, Nappa leather seat trim, premium cloth headliner and sun visors, heated and ventilated second-row seats, and rain sensing front windshield wipers), carpeted floor mats ($210), carpeted cargo mat with seat back protection ($115), interior lighting ($450), a tow hitch ($395) plus freight and handling ($1,045) for an as-tested price of $48,100.

Telluride is a good-looking SUV with great presence, and an outstanding face. It has a big SUV attitude, and an air of premium elegance. Black 20-inch alloy wheels give an aggressive, sporty look. Inside, the SX trim level Telluride approaches luxury levels of fit and finish, and a great array of standard technology and convenience features. Each row of seating is comfortable and surrounded by smart storage.

2020 TellurideDriving the Telluride is a pleasure equal to admiring its design. It handles well, and accelerates briskly for a vehicle its size. It is not a rocket ship like some of the premium SUVs, but it never wants for power in normal (sane) operation. The smooth-shifting 8-speed automatic transmission keeps Telluride in its power band without allowing the V6 to get thrashy or noisy.

There have been big changes in the midsize SUV landscape since 2009, and a whole new set of competitors has emerged. The Ford Explorer has moved from body-on-frame to crossover, and is newly revised for 2020. Nissan Pathfinder made the same move, though it is due for a makeover soon. The Honda Pilot remains a stiff competitor, along with GM’s trio of Buick Enclave/Chevrolet Traverse/GMC Acadia. The Volkswagen Atlas and Subaru Ascent are new midsize three-row SUVs worth considering, and Kia’s cousin Hyundai has produced the Palisade on the same platform as Telluride. Of the old body-on-frame competition, only the Toyota 4Runner remains in the game as a class of one, and it too has lost its V8 option.

2020 TellurideUnless outside forces like spiking gas prices or another economic crisis intervene, the 2020 Kia Telluride is likely to succeed in the marketplace in ways that its ill-fated predecessor never did. It is hitting dealerships at a time when the three-row crossover SUV is more popular than ever, a hot market segment with an appetite for well-equipped, stylish family SUVs. And Telluride is a very good option.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

2020 TelluridePhotos (c) Kia

Automatic for the People: The 2020 Polaris Slingshot

by Jason Fogelson

Ever since its launch in 2015, the Polaris Slingshot has been about attracting riders to a unique form of transportation. Slingshot is neither car nor motorcycle; it is a three-wheeled offspring of both. Call it an “autocycle,” as Polaris sometimes calls it. No matter what you call it, the second-generation Slingshot is set to arrive as a 2020 model with big ambition and a very clear mission: to attract a whole new crop of buyers.

2020-Slingshot-R-Stealth-Black-01At first glance, the 2020 Slingshot isn’t radically different from the outgoing 2019 model. Each features two wheels in front/one wheel in the rear and an open cockpit with side-by-side bucket seating for two. There are no doors or side windows – just a 7.5-inch tall windscreen, and polymer body panels give an angular, futuristic look that is almost worthy of an exotic supercar.  A new front end with a more assertive look, front accent lighting and LED headlights and taillights, new wheel designs and bold color choices (Red Pearl, Blue Steel for SL models; Stealth Black and Miami Blue for R models) assure that you’re not going to go unnoticed at the gas pump. Introverts might want to avoid piloting a Slingshot – even though over 30,000 examples have been sold since launch, the three-wheeler is still an eye-catching anomaly.

2020-Slingshot-R-Stealth-Black-18Slingshot’s interior has been revamped for 2020, significantly upgrading the materials, finishes and build quality. There’s been great attention paid to touchpoints – places where your body has to come into contact with the vehicle. Switchgear is better, more precise. LED interior lighting is a welcome addition. The challenge with an open cockpit like this is balancing durability and weather resistance with comfort and styling. Slingshot walks the line between modern and stark. There’s not a whole lot of covered storage in the cockpit – a glove compartment, center armrest, and two lockable bins behind the seats – but it’s a little smarter and easier to access than before, and there are several places to stash a cellphone or wallet. Standard keyless ignition cleans up more clutter, and gives you a cool “Start/Stop” button in the deal. The steering wheel is now multi-function, and a racy flat-bottomed model. Despite the upgrades and classier look, Slingshot’s cockpit can still be rinsed out with a hose and drained by pulling a plug in the floorboard.

2020-Slingshot-R-Stealth-Black-25Slingshot’s frame is made from tubular steel, visible in some places on the vehicle between the bodywork. The suspension geometry and components have been enhanced for improved performance – more on that later.

Which brings us to the really big changes for 2020.

First of all, Slingshot gets an all-new engine, a naturally aspirated (non-turbo) 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder multiport injected gasoline engine that is tuned to produce 180 hp/120 lb-ft of torque in SL models and 203 hp/144 lb-ft of torque in R models. The old engine, which was a GM Ecotec 2.4-liter, peaked at 173 hp and 166 lb-ft of torque.

2020-Slingshot-ProStar-Engine-05The new engine has a very different character than the outgoing one. It has a higher rev limit (8,500 rpm vs 7,200 rpm), and puts out its top horsepower near the limit, at 8,500 rpm, while the GM engine spiked at 6,200 rpm. That means that there’s a reason to let this new engine, which Polaris has named “Prostar,” run through the rev range – which gives it a really exciting personality and sound, which honestly fits Slingshot’s look better than the Ecotec did. Of course, switching from a proven workhorse engine from GM to a purpose-built new powerplant has its risks, but it also makes Slingshot into more of a complete, holistic vehicle, rather than a kit project. As Mike Dougherty, Polaris’ Slingshot President reminded me, “Polaris designs and builds a lot of engines.”

All of these updates and improvements are great, but they’re not even the big news.

The big news is, for the first time, Slingshot will be available with an automatic transmission. Up until now, the only choice was a manual five-speed. Now, a new “AutoDrive” five-speed automatic (or “automated manual”) synchromesh transmission is fitted in all SL AutoDrive and R AutoDrive models. A conventional five-speed manual is still available in the R Manual model.

2020-Slingshot-R-Stealth-Black-32Why is this big news? Because beyond enthusiasts, manual transmissions have fallen from favor, nearly to the point of extinction in the automotive world. New drivers aren’t interested in shifting their own gears, and have few opportunities to learn the skill in the first place. Polaris polled potential customers, and discovered that an automatic would make Slingshot even more attractive to a wider audience. I know that they’re right – even if it makes me a little sad.

Time to drive (or ride, depending on how you define the terms).

highres-4702Getting into Slingshot takes a little bit of practice, but is nowhere near as awkward for me at six feet two inches than getting into an exotic Italian supercar, and is actually more comfortable and cozy once in place. I choose to gear up for a ride in Slingshot like I would for a motorcycle ride, with a padded jacket, gloves, and a helmet with eye and ear protection. For my first ride in the new three-wheeler, I also wore motorcycle pants and boots – mostly for weather protection, because the forecast promised intermittent showers (which never materialized, thankfully). On a nice day, I’d feel just as safe in jeans and driving shoes or sneakers. A helmet is optional in some states – check your local regulations – but I’d recommend wearing one anyway. Not only will it be handy in the unlikely event of an accident, a full-face helmet will help protect you from flying debris, wind and noise. Slingshot’s windscreen sends most of the blast over your head, but you’re sitting so low to the pavement that other vehicles can easily send a rock or tire tread your way. Find a quality helmet that fits well and that you like, and wear it on every ride.

highres-5436I had the chance to drive all three Slingshot models on the road and on a closed-course racetrack, and even took a few laps in the 2019 model for comparison. The new Slingshot is faster and more maneuverable than the outgoing model. Polaris says the 2020 Slingshot can go from 0 – 60 mph in under five seconds, and that it can pull up to 1.02 g in lateral grip. With its two wheels up front and a beefy wheel in the rear, Slingshot is stable, nimble and fun to drive. I don’t think I’d spend much time seeking out racetracks for a Slingshot – it’s not that kind of vehicle, though it does perfectly well in that environment. But the real fun of a Slingshot is riding along the road, seeking out the challenging curves, and zipping around in a cool vehicle. The ground rushes past you, increasing the sensation of speed, and the sound of the engine and throaty exhaust sends tingles up your spine. Modern electronics, including Polaris’ Ride Command system with navigation and Rockford Fosgate audio (standard on R, available on SL) provide creature comforts and convenience, though using a Bluetooth helmet audio system might make actually hearing the music easier at speed.

The new AutoDrive transmission is good on the street, though I still preferred the manual transmission on the track. I suspect that Polaris will continue to tweak AutoDrive as production units get into owners hands. The good news is the new transmission makes Slingshot accessible to exactly the customers Polaris seeks. If you can drive a car with an automatic transmission, you can drive a Slingshot. And you’ll have a lot of fun doing it.

239A6857Slingshot starts at $26,499 for the SL AutoDrive. R Manual starts at $30,999, and R AutoDrive starts at $32,699. Polaris has developed an extensive line of accessories and modifications for Slingshot (Slingshot Engineered Accessories), including the Slingshade roof system (which I consider essential).

It’s tough to come up with a direct competitor for Slingshot. If you’re not a motorcyclist, it’s one of the easiest ways to get out in the wind and experience the road. A Mazda MX-5 Miata can deliver some of the thrills and more practicality, but it’s a different animal. Three-wheelers from Can-Am, the Spyder and Ryker, offer a unique experience, but lack the ease of operation and polish of Slingshot. The Morgan three-wheeler and Vanderhall vehicles take the three-wheeler equation to a different level of luxury and price points far beyond Slingshot.

483A2357With all of the new features and engineering, the 2020 Polaris Slingshot really delivers. I still hope that you’ll learn how to operate a manual transmission for a fuller experience, but AutoDrive opens up the Slingshot experience for everyone.

Disclaimer: This test drive was conducted at a manufacturer-sponsored press event. The manufacturer provided travel, accommodations, vehicles, meals and fuel.

highres-3092Photos (c) Polaris

All About Electric Motorcycles

by Jason Fogelson

Electric motorcycles are here, and soon they’ll make sense for many riders. In order to understand the latest crop of electric motorcycles, I think you have to look backward to the development of batteries, electric motors, the bicycle, and the motorcycle itself, which takes us back to the 19thcentury (and even earlier).

A battery is a device that generates and stores electrical energy through a chemical reaction. The first wet cell battery was created in 1800. In 1859, Gustave Plante invented the rechargeable lead-acid wet cell battery that was used in just about every motorcycle until the 2000s. Dry cell batteries were invented by Carl Gassner in 1886, and are used in flashlights, portable electric tools, and now in electric motorcycles. 

Michael Faraday image (c) Wikimedia Commons

Michael Faraday described the theory of electrons and magnets creating motion in 1821, which led to the development of the first electric motor by Thomas Davenport in 1834.

Gustave Trouvé’s 1881 Electric Tricycle

The pedal bicycle was put into commercial production in 1868, and bicycles took the world by storm. Of course, innovators wanted to up the ante, and immediately began to explore the idea of adding an electric motor to a bicycle. Louis-Guillame Perreaux filed the first patent for a motorcycle in 1868. The first functional motorcycles were steam-powered. In 1869 patents were filed for electric motorcycles, though batteries and motors were not well-suited to two-wheelers. Gustave Trouve demonstrated the first working electric vehicle in 1881, a tricycle with rechargeable batteries and an electric motor. 

Butler Petrol Cycle of 1888

Most sources say that the first commercial design for a self-propelled bicycle was the Butler Petrol Cycle of 1888, a three-wheeler. The first production two-wheeler to be called a motorcycle was 1894’s Hildebrand & Wolfmüller. The first production motorcycle in the United States was the Orient-Aster, built in Waltham, Massachusetts beginning in 1898. Indian Motocycle (sic) followed in 1901, and Harley-Davidson began production in 1903. 

1894 Hildenbrand & Wolfmüller image (c) Mecum

Electric motorcycle development receded into a niche as petrol bikes took off. The big challenge has always been the power source, as wet-cell batteries are bulky and difficult to integrate into a two-wheeled motorcycle. Fuel-cell bikes were developed and built as prototypes, beginning in 1967, and various low-powered, short-range production vehicles began to emerge in the last decades of the 20thCentury.

The 21stCentury has seen a rapid expansion in the production of electric motorcycles. Harley-Davidson has announced production plans for the LiveWire, an all-electric motorcycle, and has teased us with further electric plans. Polaris, Indian’s parent company, bought an electric brand, Brammo, and has hinted at the eventual arrival of electric bikes. Zero Motorcycles currently produces and sells a lineup of five models. Many more brands are working on products to follow.

Harley-Davidson LiveWire image (c) H-D

Why electric? 

There are several very good reasons to go electric. First of all, electric bikes use no gasoline (obviously), and are cheap to operate. The maintenance on an electric bike is minimal – there’s no oil, no transmission, no radiator. It’s a breeze to keep an electric bike running. Just keep the battery charged. 

An electric motorcycle is nearly silent, which makes it somewhat less offensive to non-riders. This silent operation is good for ear health, and good for situational awareness. You can hear more of what’s going on around you on an electric bike.

MotoE image (c) Ego Electric

Electric motors excel at delivering torque, the twisting force that bikes use to accelerate. Peak torque is available as soon as you open the throttle and continues to be delivered throughout the rev range. On a gasoline-powered bike, you have to wait as torque builds with RPM, and then shift to the next gear as torque tails off, and begin the climb again. One of the bigger challenges with an electric bike is modulating torque so that it doesn’t overcome available traction. Manufacturers accomplish this with electronic intervention, and it gets better and better all the time.

Like any good thing, there are downsides.

2017 Zero S image (c) Zero Motorcycles

The big concern with an electric motorcycle is range. Even the best production electric motorcycles right now are rated for range under 130 miles per full charge. That doesn’t seem so bad, until you factor in charge time, which can extend to 10 hours or more using 120-volt household current. Level 2 (240-volt) chargers can cut that down significantly, and some Fast-Charge-capable bikes can be returned to a full charge from “empty” in 45 minutes or less. But even the fastest charges available take much longer than a gas-station fill-up, and charger availability varies greatly, depending on where you’re riding.

CSC City Slicker image (c) CSC Motorcycles

While I see silent operation as an advantage, many riders are concerned that without sound, they’re invisible to other traffic and pedestrians. While I don’t agree with the “Loud Pipes Save Lives” crowd, there is some legitimate concern that an extremely quiet bike might not get noticed on the road. 

The biggest barrier to widespread adoption of electric motorcycles today is cost. The least-expensive worthy examples at present start at about $9,000. Harley-Davidson’s LiveWire has been announced with a starting price of $29,995, and there are many bikes in between. New gasoline-powered motorcycles of similar capability and range can start as low as $4,000, and used bikes can be even cheaper than that. 

As more people explore and buy electric motorcycles, the technology will continue to develop, and prices are bound to fall. The big question isn’t whyconsider an electric motorcycle – it’s whento consider an electric motorcycle. 

Fuell image (c) Fuell Motorcycles

Book Review: Restorations by Charles Strickler

by Jason Fogelson

A lot of car and motorcycle-related books cross my desk. Most are non-fiction, either historical accounts of significant events, biographies of major industry figures, memoirs of drivers, mechanics or restorers, detailed tributes to brands or models, or elogies to bygone marques. Occasionally, I’ll receive a novel set in and around the automotive world – and I eat those up.

The pitch for Restorations by Charles Strickler (March 20, 2019, Koehler Books) caught my interest. It was billed as “a fast-paced thriller that puts the pedal to the metal from page one,” centering around a 1928 Stutz Black Hawk Boattail Roadster. Okay – I’m in.

Stutz Blackhawk Boat Tail Speedster 071The story begins with a brief prologue detailing a failed 1930 bank robbery in Decatur, Illinois, and a criminal named Lefty Webber. Flash forward to Spring 2018 in Wachau, North Carolina to meet our main character, Miles West. He’s a man at the bottom of an emotional well. The recent death of his beloved wife, followed closely by the demise of his parents, has left him bereft. He’s left his high-powered Wall Street job and returned to the family farm in North Carolina to recover. A kind elderly neighbor coaxes Miles to attend a local estate auction, where he is stricken by two beauties: Auctioneer Bramley Ann Fairchild, and a 1928 Stutz barn find. He makes the winning $60,000 bid for the car, narrowly beating a phone bidder who claims to have had an equipment malfunction during the final call. Miles has the car transported to his farm to begin restoration, and Bramley volunteers to help research the car’s provenance.

That’s when the adventure begins. Turns out the phone bidder represented an aging New York City mob boss who has been searching for this specific Stutz for decades, because of secrets that it might conceal relating to the bank robber, Lefty Webber. Miles and Bramley become entangled in a high-stakes game of cat-and-mouse that leads across the Northeast and into New York City.

Stutz Blackhawk Boat Tail Speedster 103During the course of the chase, Miles proves to be incredibly brave and resourceful, and Bramley is a willing accomplice to his plans. Some of the plot machinations are difficult to swallow, as Miles takes incredible risks despite the involvement of the authorities. Certain late revelations and unlikely coincidences strain belief, but the fast pace of the action fit the genre.

Dialog is not Strickler’s strength, as the conversation between characters is a bit stilted and expositional. The main characters are reasonably well-drawn and likeable, if a little too pure and good to be believed, while the antagonists are suitably menacing, if somewhat two-dimensional.

As a car guy, I was a little disappointed that the Stutz is a MacGuffin in this shaggy dog story, just a plot device to set off the action. At least the car is accurately described, and suitably rare to serve its purpose.

The pitch I received said that Restorations would appeal to fans of Steve Berry, Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, and that may be true. I’d encourage Charles Strickler to shoot a little higher – those authors are all capable of churning out page-turners, for sure, but they all suffer from similar weaknesses in characterization, dialog and convenient plot twists. I’m looking for a little more literary merit in my thrillers, and a little more car involvement in my automotive-related stories. StricklerRestorationsBack_(1_of_1)

1928 Stutz Black Hawk Photos (c) Revs Institute

Book Cover (c) Köehlerbooks

Is a BEV in Your Future?

by Jason Fogelson

I recently reviewed the 2019 Nissan Leaf Plus for AutoTrader. It’s a fine vehicle in many respects. With an estimated 226 miles of range on a single charge, it can serve as an able commuter. It will require minimal maintenance over the course of its lifetime – just consumables like wiper blades and fluid, tires, brake pads and the like. No oil changes, transmission fluid, antifreeze, clutch adjustments – truly minimal routine maintenance. Perhaps best of all, it doesn’t use any gasoline, and can be charged in a reasonable amount of time on a 240-volt home outlet. But I still can’t recommend that you buy or lease a Nissan Leaf Plus, or any other current battery-electric vehicle (BEV), unless you are a committed early adopter.

That’s because some quick math has convinced me that the BEV equation still doesn’t work.

2019 Nissan LEAF e+

A Leaf Plus will start at around $37,000 – still a guess, until Nissan announces prices when it launches the vehicle to dealerships in March 2019, a few weeks from now. There’s still a Federal tax credit available (up to $7,500) and some states offer additional credits. So, let’s assume that Leaf Plus nets at about $30,000.

Compare that to a base 2019 Nissan Sentra, which starts at $18,480 with a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). That Sentra is rated by the EPA to achieve 32 mpg combined. If gasoline costs $2.50 per gallon (today’s average, according to the AAA, is $2.394), you’ll be able to buy 4,608 gallons of the stuff for the difference in price between a Sentra and a Leaf Plus – enough to travel up to 147,456 miles in a Sentra before you begin to recoup the difference in price between the Sentra and Leaf Plus. Of course, you’ll need to do some maintenance on the Sentra. Nissan recommends oil and filter changes every 5,000 miles/6 months. That’ll run about $60 a year at your local Jiffy Lube. You’ll need to replace the air filter every 30,000 miles/3 years for about $20 if you do it yourself. At 105,000 miles, you’ll need to replace all four spark plugs for about $7.50 each/$30.00 total. Let’s add in three batteries at $200 each, and a major service (timing belt, CVT fluid, radiator fluid, etc.) at the dealer every 50,000 miles, for about $500 a pop. We’ll ignore maintenance items that are common to the gasoline and battery vehicles, like tires, brakes, brake fluid and such.

2019 Sentra SR TurboHere’s a basic cost breakdown to keep the Sentra maintained for 147,456 miles, then:

Oil/Filters: 30 services @ $30 each: $900.00
Spark Plugs: 4 @ $7.50 each: $30.00
Battery Replacement: 3 @ $200 each: $600.00
Major Service: 3 @ $500 each: $1,500.00

Total: $3,030.00

Assuming that you drive somewhere near the national average of 15,000 miles, that’s just over $300 per year in maintenance for ten years of service.

2019 Nissan LEAF e+

Charging an electric car is not free. This is where my math gets really fuzzy and estimated, because electricity rates vary so widely based on a number of factors. Residential rates average about $0.12/kWh, but there are different rates for different levels of usage, times of day, and other factors. The best estimates that I’ve found assume that it costs about $2.50 to bring an average electric car (whatever that is) to a full charge from empty. Charging at commercial charging stations can be by kWh, by time, or flat rate, depending on the system. A Level 2 charge can be as little as $2.50, while a DC Quick Charge usually starts at about $10.00. To make the math really simple, let’s assume that the Nissan Leaf Plus can be charged for about $0.10 per mile. That’s probably a low estimate. So, over 147,456 miles, electricity will cost you at least $1,475.

2018 Nissan Sentra

There are other factors to consider. The Leaf Plus battery is going to degrade over the course of use. Nissan’s warranty covers it for eight years or 100,000 miles against defects and excessive capacity loss, so those last 47,456 miles will be uncharted territory. My assumption is that it will take more electricity to get the same distance over time – and higher electrical costs as a result.

You might have access to free charging at work, or at a public station in a liberal metropolis. But if BEV adoption rates increase at predicted rates, those resources will become harder to come by as competition for charging stations intensifies.

You may be considering the installation of solar panels, which would benefit both your general home electricity bill and your vehicle charging. I can’t even begin to do the math on that.

But the basic math between a Nissan Sentra and a Nissan Leaf Plus does not provide a definitive answer.

Here’s my basic breakdown for ten years/150,000 miles of ownership:

2018 Nissan Sentra

2019 Nissan Sentra:
$18,480.00 purchase price
$ 3,030.00 unique maintenance costs
$11,718.75 gasoline (150,000 miles @ 32 mpg X $2.50/gallon)
$33,228.75 Total

2019 Nissan LEAF e+

2019 Nissan Leaf Plus
$30,000.00 net purchase price
$ 0.00 unique maintenance costs
$ 1,500.00 electricity (150,000 miles @ $0.10 per mile)
$31,500.00 Total

This is back-of-the-envelope stuff, and not entirely scientific. The Leaf Plus would appear to pay off – but just barely. And there are tons of variable here. Gas prices could vary wildly over the next ten years. So could electricity prices. We don’t really know how well the Leaf Plus batteries will hold up over 10 years – Nissan warns that range will decrease with time and use, which means that costs will increase. We have a pretty good idea that a well-maintained Sentra is capable of 150,000 miles of trouble-free operation, though. According to Kelley Blue Book, a 2009 Nissan Sentra S with 150,000 miles on the clock lists at $4,799, while a 2011 Nissan Leaf (the first year of production) with 100,000 miles on the odometer lists at $5,290, so depreciation is also something to think about.

After reviewing my math, I still have a hard time recommending the purchase of a new Nissan Leaf Plus – for now. Stay tuned.

2019 Nissan LEAF e+

Photos (c) Nissan

Musings on the Detroit Auto Show

by Jason Fogelson

The 2019 North American International Auto Show press days are in the books. Some of my colleagues are calling it “The Last Detroit Auto Show,” because in 2020, NAIAS will move to June, avoiding the Michigan winter. The move promises to open up all kinds of new possibilities for ancillary events, like rides-and-drives, demos and other outdoor activities that are just not possible in January. Organizers claim Detroit’s downtown renaissance will support the timing, and it will be a big party. Or will it?

Rescheduling to June takes NAIAS out of the traditional auto show calendar, and indeed, out of the model year cadence. Will manufacturers see the show as a venue for early introductions of next year’s models? Or will they see the move as a return to the show’s roots as a regional event for the Detroit Auto Dealers Association to market cars to local consumers?

Looking at this year’s show, it was apparent that something had to be done. All of the European luxury brands, including Porsche, Mercedes-Benz, Audi, BMW, Land Rover, Jaguar, Aston Martin, Bentley, Rolls-Royce and others, were conspicuous in their absence. Only about a dozen new cars and concepts made their debuts at the show. As a journalist covering new cars, I only had to spend one day at NAIAS this year in order to catch all of the relevant press conferences and to see all of the unveilings. It wasn’t a dirge like 2009, but it was a definite down year.

Peering through the end-of-an-era cloud hanging over the Cobo Center, I saw signs of the future in the mist.

Yu-Jun-speech

The final vehicle reveal press conference of the first media day was held by GAC Motor (Guangzhou Automobile Group Motor Co., LTD), a Chinese company that is a subsidiary of GAC Group. GAC debuted its Entranze EV concept vehicle. The concept was the first public display of a product designed in GAC’s California-based design studio, which was established in 2018. The concept itself is fine, a futuristic minivan with sliding glass doors and 3+2+2 seating. It’s the kind of thing that will never get built, but may serve as a design inspiration.

img_1833The memorable aspect of the GAC presentation was not the concept or the products on display; it was the culturally tone-deaf presentation by GAC. Once the assembled press — about 200 – 300 participants, I’d estimate – settled in, a GAC spokesperson introduced a lineup of company executives and VIP guests, one by one. Each person stood and acknowledged the crowd’s polite applause. Then, the spokesperson introduced an officer of the Detroit Auto Dealers Association (DADA), who read a brief message from a script with the enthusiasm of a war hostage. The spokesperson then introduced Mr. Yu Jun, President of GAC Motor, who gave a transliterated speech in English that was as stilted as it was incomprehensible and self-congratulatory. Time to unveil the concept car – cue the modern dancers! A troupe of eight (four men, four women) dressed in chiffon and spandex, performed a two-minute dance to modern classical music, then whisked the silk off of the concept car to muted applause. Another executive from GAC stumbled through a speech with the details, and the press conference was mercifully concluded.

img_1846Audience members walked away with a gift bag containing a scale model of the company’s flagship SUV, the GS8, a fancy USB drive loaded with vehicle information, photos and GAC info, and two glossy brochures: one with vehicle photos, descriptions and features; and one entitled “The Road to Greatness: GAC Motor,” which is a 32-page photo essay/manifesto/propaganda piece extolling the virtues of the company. It opens with this poem:

The Road to Greatness

This is GAC Motor.

I say no to mediocracy,

and stay committed to my own path.

I never compromise of give in.

With fearless resolution,

I endeavor to make breakthroughs and strive forward,

To develop a brand that I take pride in.

GAC Motor believes greatness does not belong to the few.

Everyone has the potential to be great.

As long as you dare to dream, have courage and keep striving,

You are already on the path of greatness.

The Road to Greatness, GAC Motor.

Wow.

Now, this might have been a state-of-the-art presentation at the Shanghai Motor Show, but in Detroit in 2019, it was out of touch and a little sad. I have little doubt that Chinese vehicles will soon be sold in the United States under their own brand names, and the quality of the vehicles will rapidly improve to meet the marketplace standard. Look at how rapidly Hyundai and Kia vehicles have developed in the past decade as a model for assimilation.

img_1830Even better, look at Toyota Motor Company’s press conference this year as they revealed the 2020 Supra. No less an eminence than Akio Toyoda, TMC’s President, handled the presentation himself. In stark contrast to the GAC presentation, Toyoda was relaxed, joyous, poised and funny. His command of the English language isn’t a whole lot better than the Chinese executives, but it didn’t stand in the way of his passion and charm. Toyoda won the crowd over with his buoyant nature. It was a very American presentation, but still entirely appropriate to a Japanese product and executive.

GAC Motor can learn a lot from Toyota, Hyundai and other companies who have found the keys to conquering the United States. You don’t have to make the US bend to your will – you only have to slide into the openings that are always available, and make the most of the opportunities you find there.

Photos (c) Jason Fogelson, NAIAS, GAC Motor

Autoline

by Jason Fogelson

I’m always happy to share my opinions about cars and the car business. Every once in a while, someone invites me into their studio to do just that. This week, I was a guest panelist on Autoline After Hours (episode #413). Also on the panel was Mike Austin from Hagerty. You can watch the one-hour webcast or listen to it as a podcast here.

jmcelroy_bigJohn McElroy is the host of Autoline After Hours. Here’s an excerpt from his bio on the Autoline site: “John McElroy is an influential thought leader in the automotive industry. He is a journalist, lecturer, commentator and entrepreneur. He created “Autoline Daily,” the first industry webcast of industry news and analysis. He is also the host of the television program “Autoline This Week,” an Emmy Award-winning, weekly half-hour discussion program featuring top automotive executives and journalists. And he co-hosts “Autoline After Hours,” a weekly live webcast that focuses on new cars and technology… McElroy also broadcasts three radio segments daily on WWJ Newsradio 950, the CBS affiliate in Detroit. He writes a blog for Autoblog.com and a monthly op-ed article for Ward’s Auto World.”

The first part of the show this week was a conversation with Tim Clyde, the CEO of Katzkin Automotive Leather. Katzkin brought a 2018 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited outfitted with Katzkin leather seats — a great package that you can order from the MOPAR Accessories catalog when you buy a new Wrangler at the dealership. I have toured the Katzkin factory in California, and have a Katzkin interior in my wife’s 2012 Mazda3 — so I was able to participate in the conversation with some first-hand knowledge.

After the Katzkin discussion, Tim Clyde left the set, and McElroy, Austin and I had a free-form conversation about some of the automotive news of the day. All three of us had been to a Ford press conference earlier that day, and so we talked about the current state of the company and future plans. The conversation then ranged to the upcoming New York Auto Show, Fred Diaz’s appointment as CEO at Mitsubishi North America, and how potential tariffs might effect the US auto business.

I had a great time participating in the show. McElroy is an excellent host, directing the conversation with probing questions and (best of all) listening very well. Before I knew it, the hour was complete, and I had escaped without saying anything dumb.

Take a look at Autoline.tv if you’re interested in the latest automotive news. There’s a ton of content on the site, and it’s professionally produced and presented. I hope they ask me back again.

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑