Monday, 16 January 2017

The VLF Automotive X-Series is a reminder that some people just don’t know when to quit

At what point during the long process of modifying a vehicle do you come to the realization that enough is enough? It’s a murky line that many people pass straight through, realizing far too late that the beast they’ve created is really just a big and blocky mess of metal, plastic, and scraps stolen from far better vehicles. Apparently, VLF Automotive hasn’t quite woken up from the exhaust-fume-induced daydream that is their latest creation, the X-Series.

Through the cheddar cheese paint, the faux Hummer grille, and the Brodozer wheels you can make out that this used to be a Chevrolet Colorado. In fact, if you look through the rear windows, you can see that the Colorado’s sliding rear glass is still in place. That means this isn’t really an SUV but a pickup so loaded with composite bodywork that it sits somewhere between truck and Hot Wheels toy come to life.

You see, VLF has a history of ruining perfectly fine vehicles. They managed to accomplish something I didn’t think was possible: making the Dodge Viper ugly. For all of its many, many flaws, the one thing that didn’t need improving was the Viper’s design. Their partnership with Galpin Ford in California produced a less offensive but equally brutalized Rocket V8 out of a Ford Mustang. VLF’s third offering makes the most sense. The Destino V8 is the most reasonable vehicle the automaker sells. The looks are only slightly modified from the Fisker Karma from which it comes, while the LS9 V8 from the C6 Corvette ZR1 replaces what was a middling hybrid powertrain.

But the X-Series really is something awful. Even in VLF’s eye scorching booth, the big block of cheese really stands out. Aside from the grille and the wheels, you can see that VLF’s artisans took their time carving and sculpting something that looks like the bastard offspring of the Hummer H3 and the old Lamborghini LM002. The whole thing is simultaneously militaristic and fragile looking, likely because it’s a one-off concept.

There are functional bits like the winch in the bumper and the big fender flares that cover the oversized wheels. Those are offset by the odd looking rear door, the inexplicable spoiler on the roof, the quad exhaust tips, and the upright C7 Corvette taillights. The suspension has been slightly upgraded, with improved shocks and an increased ride height. We didn’t get a good look at the interior, but if VLF’s other vehicles are any indication, expect the most mild of refreshes.

Because it was at some point a Colorado, customers (of which VLF expects about 250 a year) can have either a 3.6-liter V6 or a 2.8-liter diesel inline-four. Both engines are fine, though it’s unclear how much extra weight the pair may be forced to move around. According to VLF, some mild tuning is available for the V6.

If everything I’ve written here has done nothing to dissuade you and your desire to own one of these, I only have two things to say: first, I don’t think we can be friends; second, you’ll need to pony up the estimated $70,000 for one. That may be the most surprising part of the whole vehicle. Usually these horrendous, kustom trucks cost well into the six-figure range. By comparison, the X-Series is downright reasonable.

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40 new apprentices being hired by Nissan

Nissan is hiring up to 40 new apprentices to tackle the shortage of skilled labour in Ireland that has been created by the rapid development of technology driving the demand for connected, autonomous and electric cars.

Applications are now open online and successful candidates will be employed by local Nissan dealerships across Ireland before the end of the year and mentored and trained over four years to become qualified automotive technicians.

The top scoring graduate will receive a scholarship to pursue a degree in automotive engineering at a third-level institute of their choice as well as a brand new, taxed and insured Nissan to drive for a year.

The ‘Nissan Generation Next Apprentice Academy’ has been specially developed by Nissan to support the next generation of master technicians and industry leaders who are ambitious and focused on developing a career within the Irish motor industry.

Read more: http://www.irishexaminer.com/motors/motors-features/40-new-apprentices-being-hired-by-nissan-429109.html

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Saturday, 14 January 2017

Navasota: Keep junk cars out of sight

Those who have an inoperable car to tinker on in Navasota may want to consider where the vehicle is being stored.

The city soon will be addressing “junk vehicles,” a process that ultimately could end in the forced removal and scrapping of unregistered vehicles from private property.

Image result for scrap cars

Navasota officials define a junk vehicle as “any vehicle viewable from a public right-of-way which has an expired registration sticker attached, is wrecked, dismantled or inoperable.”

Kris Gruver, community outreach specialist for the city, said he doesn’t want to upset those with junk vehicles and force them to lose their collections or repair projects. However, over the past few months, officials have received phone calls from concerned home owners about unsightly junked cars in their neighbors’ yards. The city has tried to work with junk car owners in coming to a resolution but haven’t had much citizen cooperation.

“It’s probably something that happens in every town, but we’ve gotten a lot of complaints,” Gruver said. “A lot of people keep [these vehicles] thinking they’re going to work on them at some point, but they keep deteriorating.”

It’s standard procedure in Texas for code enforcement staff to proceed with abatement, citing offenders and eventually hauling off junk cars for scrap by force, 10 days after an official notice has been given to the offenders. Gruver said notices would be presented to the vehicle’s lienholder or owner, as well as the owner of the property. Those held responsible for the vehicle would have those 10 days to relocate it to a spot where it is not visible from a public road, or contest the citation with a judge.

“We’re not going to do it by the book, though,” Gruver said, “because we’re going to give people extra notice about the vehicle before that ’10-day letter.'”

On Jan. 17, city officials will begin their sweep of the city. The city limits will be divided into four sections, and one section will be tackled each week. Gruver and staff will be looking for junk vehicles and will issue warning notices by the end of the month. Official citations will be issued Feb. 10, though Gruver said he wants to give citizens an extended period to amend their situation or speak with a county judge, so automobiles will not be hauled off until March.

“Hopefully I won’t have to [haul vehicles],” Gruver said. “That ordinance was written very harshly, and I didn’t want to have to do it that way.”

Over the past year, Gruver and staff have performed several clean-up efforts for the city, doing “junk sweeps” for items left in front yards, as well as two sweeps for tall weeds and grass.

Gruver said he and his staff would like to help any Navasota citizens who are having trouble relocating their vehicles, as he’s helped people push their vehicles out of sight, in a backyard or other area away from public sight.

“All people need to do is contact City Hall,” he said.

Bryan and College Station have similar rules for dealing with junked vehicles. In College Station, code enforcement officers regularly monitor neighborhoods and commercial properties for any code violations. Owners of junk vehicles are contacted with a 10-day notice left on their door.

Julie Caler, code enforcement supervisor for the city, noted that College Station city staff and officers are understanding that many vehicles are costly to repair, and the city is willing to cooperate with owners by offering a reasonable amount of time before action is taken and a court summons or citation is issued.

In 2016, College Station staff did not have to forcefully abate and scrap any vehicles. Two vehicles were abated by the city, but with the blessing of their owners. The city dealt with 68 junk vehicle cases in 2016, and in all those cases citizens were compliant in resolving the issue.

Bryan officials also operate on a 10-day notice system of abatement.

“A lot of people are not familiar with the state law, and they’re probably wondering what’s going on,” Gruver said. “It’s never really been enforced here, or in many other towns, for that matter.”

Read more: http://www.theeagle.com/news/local/navasota-keep-junk-cars-out-of-sight/article_366a2889-9aa8-56d2-9410-946e448fd874.html

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BMW and Intel plan driverless car

BMW is teaming up with chipmaker Intel and camera-software company Mobileye to bring self-driving cars to the road by 2021, becoming the first major automaker to set a specific date to produce a fully autonomous vehicle.

The technology will be used in the iNext, set to supplant the 7-Series sedan as BMW’s flagship model, the company has said.

The iNext will be a basis for “fleets of fully autonomous vehicles” to cruise highways and also be available as robo-taxis in cities, BMW said.

The partnership is “the next core building block to bring fully automated driving technology to the street”, BMW chief executive officer Harald Krueger said.

The biggest luxury carmaker setting a date for its self-driving debut will put pressure on rivals, including Tesla Motors and Mercedes-Benz, as manufacturers strive to fend off competition, not only within the industry but also from the likes of Uber Technologies and Google.

Robo-taxis will make up 40% of automotive profits by 2030, more than selling vehicles to individuals, according to consulting company Roland Berger.

BMW’s partnership comes as a fatal accident in the US involving a Tesla sedan driving on the car’s so-called Autopilot fuels the debate over whether self-driving cars are ready for the real world.

US regulators are investigating the crash, which killed a 40-year-old Ohio man when his 2015 Model S drove under the trailer of an 18-wheeler.

Tesla uses Mobileye’s technology in its autopilot, which it started to introduce in October as a step toward autonomous cars.

In the fatal crash, the company said, neither the system nor the driver saw the white side of the tractor trailer against a brightly lit sky.

The equipment in the Tesla that crashed is designed to prevent rear-end collisions, not avoid vehicles crossing laterally, the company said in a statement. Mobileye systems will be able to see and react to lateral traffic beginning in 2018, it said.

Autopilot is one of a range of technologies meant to be stepping-stones toward completely autonomous vehicles.

BMW already offers a self-parking feature, while Daimler’s Mercedes E-Class can steer itself on the highway — though the driver is supposed to keep his or her hands on the wheel.

Enabling vehicles to navigate without human input through complex settings such as city centres requires them to see and understand situations more like humans do.

BMW’s deal with Intel and Mobileye brings together companies with expertise in cameras that can model the driving surroundings and computing capabilities to power artificial intelligence.

Read more: http://www.irishexaminer.com/business/bmw-and-intel-plan-driverless-car-408159.html

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Friday, 13 January 2017

Peugeot roars back to life with 308 GTi

Any of you petrolheads out there with any bit of rose-tinting in your spectacles will undoubtedly have fond memories of one of the greatest hot hatchbacks of all time — the Peugeot 205 GTi and particularly the cracking 1.9 litre version of same, writes Declan Colley

The Peugeot 308 GTi has a 1.6lt turbocharged engine that is a hoot to drive.

I do have very fond memories of the car and indeed once owned one — well the wife owned it, actually, but she let me have a go in it every now and then. Mind you, if I had told her about some of the antics I got up to, she might not have been so keen to hand over the keys.

Like the time I was driving to work one quiet Sunday afternoon from what was then home in Blackrock and I was giving the Pug a bit of welly as I came along Monaghan Road on the way into the city. Giving it a bit too much welly, as it transpired.

As I got to the junction where you turn off for Centre Park Road, I had a quick, confidence-boosting, lift off the throttle before, as I thought, getting back on the loud pedal at the apex of that curve. The car never gave me the chance.

Just as I lifted my foot off accelerator, the back end stepped out and no end of opposite lock was going to get it back. It spun through a complete 360 degrees and by some miracle I was eventually left facing the way I had been heading.

I was terribly lucky on two counts: first, that there was nothing coming the other way; and, second, that my underpants were still clean.

That was the thing about the 205 GTi — it was wickedly fast and absolutely brilliant to drive, but it had one or two little mercurial traits which, if you were not sharp enough or wise enough, would bite you badly. I suppose that was part of the visceral appeal of the thing — try as much as you would to master the car, it never truly allowed you complete control.

This characteristic was not so much of a worry, but just enough to plant a seed of doubt in your mind to prevent you taking too many liberties with it.

It was every bit the car you had to respect, or it could do terrible damage to the aforementioned under-garments.

The thing was this was a classic Peugeot and the French outfit were rather good at making such things back in the day; and the 205 was not the only one they made.

There was such as the 106 Rallye and the 306 GTi-6 and the outfit that made them, Peugeot Sport, was a serious purveyor of bite-your-ass motor cars.

Established by the legendary Jean Todt (now president of the FIA), Peugeot Sport was not just a tin shed out the back of the main plant with a few Gauloise-smoking engineers kicking ideas around the place. No, those guys engineered everything from rally specials to Le Mans winners and a half-decent F1 engine as well.

But they somehow lost their mojo in recent times — something which was mirrored by the street car output of the main company — but in the last while, they’ve got it back again and this week’s tester is proof-positive that is the case.

The new Peugeot 308 GTi is not only a joy to behold visually, but it is the berries on the road too, oozing the sort of malevolence and jip that any GTi worthy of the name should have in spades.

As a worthy contender in a segment which boasts such as the Golf GTi and the Focus ST, the Peugeot needed to be a pretty classy machine to have any hope of competing — and it is.

It comes in two versions, both of which are powered by a 1.6 litre turbocharged petrol engine; the lesser version outputs some 250bhp, while the one we got to try had a 270bhp output and features all sorts of trickery in its armour.

 

Stuff like lightweight Mahle pistons and a twin scroll Borgwarner turbo, as well as increased pressure injection, the 270 brake version is heavy on technology — and big on thrills too. It also has a good few electronic tricks up its sleeve, what with a Torsen limited slip diff which liberally apportions power to the front wheel which needs it most.

Ford and VW have already demonstrated that it is now eminently possible to effectively control the massive understeer usually generated by a front driver with a very powerful engine by using a trick diff and Peugeot has obviously learned a lot from them because this thing handles like the racer it wants to be.

Lowered suspension (ride height 11mm down on the regular 308), retuned dampers, revised anti-rolls bars and massively stiffer springs may make for a firm ride, but boy can this thing take a corner.

Sure you will unnecessarily spin wheels if you’re heavy-footed, but more subtle interventions with the right boot will see you getting from A to B rather quicker than you imagined possible.

Brakes too have been upgraded for the 270bhp version and they are devastatingly effective.

The naked performance facts tell us the 308 GTi will complete the 0-100km/h dash in six seconds while top speed is limited to 250km/h.

And there is a ‘Sport’ button too which dramatically ratchets up the aural accompaniment as well as the throttle response, but given the quality of the standard settings, is a tad unnecessary in my view.

Peugeot’s i-cockpit is very minimalist and that means no button or switchgear clutter, although I must say that the touchscreen, which now contains most controls, is a bit distracting and difficult to use.

The bucket seats, though, are very comfortable and seriously supportive when things get sweaty and there is plenty of passenger and cargo space. It is worth remembering too that this only comes as a five-door and is therefore a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde beast, capable of family duties as well as its sporting obligations.

Although still capable of endangering your underpants when you get some lift-off understeer action going, the 308 GTi does respond well to a lighter touch and it truly is shatteringly fast. All of which makes it the sort of automotive equivalent of meeting an old friend who you haven’t seen for yonks.

Without doubt this is the best sporting Peugeot we’ve seen for quite a while, with, perhaps, the exception of the RCZ-R, and something which is a very credible opponent for some of the standard-bearers in the segment.

Read more: http://www.irishexaminer.com/motors/motors-reviews/peugeut/peugeot-roars-back-to-life-with-308-gti-434607.html

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Opel’s Karl is a small package with big appeal

WE’VE written extensively in these columns in recent times about the revival of the Opel brand and how, after an asphyxiating couple of years, the European arm of General Motors has had new life breathed into it and how cars such as the Corsa, Astra, Insignia, and Adam are now in the process of re-establishing the brand as a viable, serious automotive player once again, writes Declan Colley

The Karl is a sterling addition to the Opel range and is both enjoyable and economical to drive.

And now we come to the latest model from Opel, the Karl which is a new five-seat city car aimed at giving the manufacturer a sturdy, economic, roomy and practical contender in a segment it has not competed in for a while now. Even when it did, it was with cars which were effectively re-badged Suzukis.

The original Opel Agila was effectively a Suzuki Wagon R+ with the German carmaker’s branding on it, while the later version of the car was also marketed by Suzuki as the Splash. Both were fine little cars, but somewhat indicative of the general malaise which had befallen Opel’s once excellent reputation.

In the period immediately after the millennium the company’s American owners allowed the Opel brand to be rundown and trampled upon to the point where it was not far short of being a laughing stock.

But, under new management and with completely renewed vigour on the design and engineering front as well as a half decent marketing budget, it’s comeback time for the Russelsheim outfit.

Now I have to say that while I’m a big fan of the city car genre, I’ve never really been lost in admiration for Opel’s contenders in the segment.

But, with the arrival of the Fiat 500- rivalling Adam and now the Karl, the company is certainly changing my mind considerably. I really liked the former — particularly in Rocks guise — and I have completely fallen for the latter.

Now the Karl is hardly top of the pile in the cute-as-a-button looks stakes being slightly slab-sided and ever so slightly tall that it looks like someone might have gone a bit mad with the modelling clay. A couple of crease lines on the flanks do break up the boxy look, but overall the car’s appearance is certainly not of knock-me-down-with-a-feather variety.

This means that without the benefit of drop-dead good looks, the car will have to have a lot of other virtues to make it the winner Opel hope it will be. And it does — very many of them, in fact.

It is remarkably spacious on the inside for a car in this class and has a genuine capacity to accommodate five adults, even though I would be loathe to try and take such a crew on a trip to Derry, or anything like that.

The space is enough to ferry five people on short trips, but for anything longer than about 20 km, one of them would be best advised to get the bus. Otherwise they could become mutinous fairly quickly.

In the milieu for which the car is intended, however, it is a much better prospect than many in the class and that will certainly appeal to many buyers. Boot space is, by necessity tight, but will still manage to swallow a couple of rucksacks, or some such, or all the weekly shopping.

And, sticking with the interior for a moment, it is also worth pointing out that the Karl has inherited the sort of quality materials and finish which we first saw Opel apply to the Corsa and that’s no bad thing. The result is something which is not only pleasing to the eye and the touch, but which also appears to be durable as well as smart.

We tried the upper level SE Titanium model which adds stuff like a leather steering wheel, trip computer, Bluetooth music streaming and mobile portal, electronic climate control and other bits and bobs without driving the price completely mad. Options such as an electric sunroof and rear parking sensors add further sophistication to the package.

Of course, certain things are de rigeur these days and the infotainment touchscreen is a must for the younger buyer. Unfortunately the tester was not equipped with one, but Opel says the Intellink multimedia system will be available shortly.

One thing that really riles me, however, is that Opel — amongst many other companies, it has to be said — only offer a space-saver tyre as an option. The standard Karl only has one of those completely useless emergency inflation kits which are absolutely worthless in Irish driving conditions and I think that charging an extra €150 for the bicycle tyre space-saver is an abomination.

Getting back to the good stuff though, the whole driving experience offered by the Karl is nothing short of brilliant. The combination of a wonderful one litre three cylinder engine, a stiff but light chassis and a decent suspension layout, makes for a great little car to drive.

The three pot engine is a cracker. Although only outputting some 55kW (75 bhp), it is a hearty free-revver and goes like stink. The 0-100 kph time is just 13.5 seconds and the top speed 170 kph, but while the former might seem slack and the latter decent enough, the fact is that this is a brisk little beast and while you might have to thrash it a little to extract the max. from it, you will thoroughly enjoy the experience.

Certainly you won’t do your fuel economy any favours by flogging the Karl, but if you are easy of foot, then you should be seeing well in excess of 50 mpg. The official figure is 4.5 l/100 km (62.2 mpg).

I am also pleased to report that Opel eschewed any ideas it might have had about building any artificial sportiness into the handling department and the result is that this is a car which will cope with pretty much anything without that awful crashiness which spoils so many cars with such false pretensions.

I had a little longer with the Karl than is normally the case with testers and that added time really did allow me appreciate the character and the merits of this excellent little car. The truth is though that even if I only had it for ten minutes, I would have loved it as much.

It is a sterling addition to the Opel range and at the cost — with a few minor reservations — it has placed the company in very good stead to make a big dent in the segment.

Read more: http://www.irishexaminer.com/motors/motors-reviews/opel/opels-karl-is-a-small-package-with-big-appeal-380287.html

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