2017 Ford Transit 350 Cargo Van EcoBoost: Hauling Cargo, Quickly


Like a black-and-white cookie, the full-size van market is clearly divided. On one side sits a trio of old-school body-on-frame vans from Chevrolet, GMC, and Nissan; on the other rests a triad of modern unibody haulers. Leading this progressive pack is the 2017 Ford Transit, a model that beat out its two compatriots, the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter and the Ram ProMaster, in our most recent comparison test of big vans. READ MORE ››

Simu-Stick: How the “Manual” Transmission Could Be Saved

Simu-Stick: How the "Manual" Transmission Could Be Saved

Diminishing take rates haven’t curbed our enthusiasm for stick-shift automobiles. The fact is, our latest brainstorm could invigorate our Save the Manuals! agenda.

Carmakers no longer have the luxury of designing, engineering, manufacturing, and certifying two totally different transmissions to serve every customer whim, especially when they know their stick-shift sales will be modest. So our idea is to assign a conventional dual-clutch automatic transmission to the dark reaches of every vehicle. To provide a choice between stick and automatic shifting, the cockpit would be outfitted with what looks, feels, and acts like manual or automatic controls.

It’s a snap for the automatic half of the equation. Provide the usual console lever along with paddles near the steering wheel to offer the driver fully automatic operation when that’s preferred, with the option of going crazy with their own gear selections when traffic-free mountain passes are the venue. This is the new SOP for any car or crossover with sporting intentions.

Imitating a manual transmission demands creativity. As noted above, the box of clutches, gears, shafts, and servos living under the floor is, for all intents, identical to the automatic edition. The difference is mainly control-strategy software plus a fresh approach for the clutch-pedal and stick-shift mechanisms.

The third pedal becomes a clutch-by-wire device. When it’s activated by the driver’s left foot during launch and while shifting, an electrical message is dispatched to the dual-clutch transmission’s controller in lieu of a mechanical or hydraulic signal. That’s trivial. The challenge is contriving a means of providing driver feedback replicating a conventional clutch. This can be done with a computer-controlled servomotor, but tuning such a device is an engineering project.

Porsche 7-speed Manual and 7-speed PDK Automatic Transmissions

When they launched in the 2012 Porsche 911, the seven-speed manual and PDK automatic transmissions shared a basic case design and several internal components. Our idea takes this a step further.

Now turn your attention to the shifter. This also becomes a by-wire mechanism linked electrically, not mechanically, to the transmission controller. Imagine a metal box mounted securely to the center tunnel and covered by a familiar H-pattern plate with a shift lever sprouting out the top. The cool stuff lives inside the box. Electrical contacts note which gear position has been selected, info that is sent by wire to the transmission controller. To give the shift lever a convincing feel, it moves through the H pattern exactly as if it were attached to a manual gearbox. Springs and the ball detents found inside conventional manual transmissions would be fitted and tuned to accurately mimic stick-shift sensations. The stick itself could be toggle-switch tiny or as long as the one your great-grandpa used in his ’39 Ford, depending on the manufacturer’s motives.

Our concept does have some historical precedents. Porsche’s Sportomatic transmissions, available from 1968 through 1980, combined a four-speed manual transmission with a torque converter and a conventional clutch to provide one-hand operation with no clutch pedal or foot action required. Touching the shift lever cued a servo-controlled clutch. Several other European brands shared this approach to semi-automatic transmissions. Tiptronic, Porsche’s better idea that arrived in 1990, used thumb switches (later superseded by paddles) to manually control an otherwise conventional four-speed torque-converter automatic, with manual and automatic modes available at the console lever. The PDK dual-clutch automatic and seven-speed manual transmissions currently available in Porsche 911s share a basic case design and several internal components.

Instead of applying for a patent covering this “technology,” we hereby bestow our Simu-Stick idea to any and all carmakers interested in pursuing its use. From our point of view, every manual saved is a manual earned, even electronic ones.

2017 Kia Soul in Depth: Find out How the Cool Minibus Handled Our Rigorous Testing


It’s the Kia Soul’s purity of mission that snagged it a 10Best Trucks and SUVs award for 2017. The boxy crossover best embodies what small SUV shoppers want most: a handy, spacious, well-made, high-riding trucklet that is fun to drive and efficient. That it comes wrapped in an expressively styled package is the cherry on top. Sure, some rivals are better at carrying cargo or pampering their occupants with luxuries, but the Soul offers plenty to love inside its quality cabin and more practicality than you’d get from a run-of-the-mill hatchback. READ MORE ››

2017 Honda Clarity Fuel Cell Tested: Twin-H Power!


It’s not pretty, but the Honda Clarity is a vision of the future. Its space-capsule shape serves as proof of a collective subconscious among forward-thinking car designers stretching as far back as Hudson. Like the Hudson Hornet, there’s even twin-H power under the hood, but in the case of the Clarity the twin H refers to hydrogen molecules. READ MORE ››

Volkswagen Sentenced for Conspiracy and Fraud; Penalties Total $4.3 Billion

2018 Volkswagen Atlas

Volkswagen was sentenced Friday in federal court after pleading guilty in January to multiple criminal charges and $4.3 billion in penalties surrounding its diesel emissions scandal.

The sentence, read by U.S. district judge Sean Cox in Detroit, formalizes the company’s plea to pay $2.8 billion for criminal charges including “conspiracy to defraud the United States” in violation of the Clean Air Act, obstruction of justice for “destroying documents related to the scheme,” and making false statements about emissions compliance on importing all 590,000 affected cars into the United States. VW must now pay an additional $1.45 billion to settle civil violations with the Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Lastly, VW will pay a $50 million civil fine for violation of the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery, and Enforcement Act for underwriting loans and leases for the affected cars. Larry D. Thompson, a former deputy U.S. attorney general under George W. Bush, will oversee VW as a corporate compliance monitor for the next three years. According to Automotive News, without the plea agreement VW might have faced a penalty of $17 billion to $34 billion.

“The laborer at VW is going to lose millions of euros in bonus money,” Cox was quoted as saying during the hearing. “The bonuses have shrunk and will shrink because of the billions of dollars VW has had to pay because of the fraud.”

Cox said he doesn’t think VW will end up in criminal court again after this.

“Hopefully, the other corporations involved in the manufacture and supply of automobiles will learn from this and think twice,” he said.

Electric Semis Won’t Just Be Cleaner, They’ll Be Quicker [Video]

Toyota hydrogen fuel cell-semi

When Tesla introduced its Ludicrous mode, that might have been the turning point for some to see electric cars in a new light. Soon, however, semi-trucks might become the greatest evangelists for the merits of electric powertrains, and for the same reason: because electric semis could be a heck of a lot quicker. 

Case in point: Toyota’s Project Portal heavy-duty semi-truck, revealed this week, leaves its diesel-drinking cousin in a cloud of . . . well, nothing except a little water vapor. And it makes a strong argument for electric powertrains in semis, whether fed by hydrogen fuel cells or battery packs.

As shown in the video below, the hydrogen-fuel-cell-powered electric semi, loaded with cargo to a gross vehicle weight of 35,000 pounds, took 8.9 seconds to go approximately 400 feet—that’s about a third of a quarter-mile, for those familiar with the drag strip—versus 14.6 seconds for an equivalent Class 8 diesel truck carrying the same load.

According to Takehito Yokoo, senior executive engineer with Toyota Motor Research & Development, there are two things that allow the fuel-cell truck to beat the diesel so soundly, especially at lower speeds. One of them is gearing. Diesel semis can have gearboxes with up to 18 speeds and need to be kept in a relatively narrow rev range—often 1300 to 1500 rpm—for best acceleration. The fuel-cell truck, on the other hand, is a fixie; its set reduction ratio of about 15.5:1 gives it good motor pull from a start and allows it to cruise at a normal U.S. highway speed.

Also key to the Toyota project’s strong (and almost silent) performance is a 12-kWh battery pack that behaves almost like a capacitor, recharging during lower load conditions and discharging rapidly to release an extra 200 kW at full throttle, for about a minute, adding to the two fuel-cell stacks’ combined 228 kW and contributing to the motor system’s 670 horsepower and 1325 lb-ft of torque.

Faster-moving semis could increase the efficiency of the rest of us, too, easing congestion on urban freeways, where merging semis can clog the right lane. Electrified heavy-duty hauling might not be ludicrous at all.