Rivian Busy With Three Electric Vehicle Launches, Big Future Plans

Motortrend News Feed - Fri, 02/26/2021 - 12:00

Rivian is validating early builds of three key electric vehicles launching in the second half of this year, even as CEO RJ Scaringe works on an expanded portfolio. The electric vehicle startup showed how serious it was about mass production when it bought an assembly plant in Normal, Illinois, from Mitsubishi in 2017, and under Scaringe, Rivian didn’t just retool the 2.6-million-square-foot plant, but expanded it by a further 800,000 square feet. Even that might not be enough to handle his future plans.

First Up: Rivian R1T Electric Pickup in June

Pilot versions of the 2021 R1T five-passenger full-size electric pickup are being built for validation and testing in the real world in preparation for a June launch of vehicles earmarked for customers. It is a slight delay from pre-COVID plans to start production in December 2020.

The launch of the R1S three-row electric SUV will follow in August. The vehicles had impressive benchmarks: the Porsche Cayenne for on-road dynamics, Jeep Wrangler and Land Rovers for off-road capability, and Audi for quality. The R1S is nicely loaded with driver-assist technology as well as connectivity for robust health diagnostics to assess and prevent problems and hopefully fix any with over-the-air updates.

Already Rivian has a backlog of orders to fill. A configurator went live in November. Launch Editions sold out quickly. Scaringe doesn’t want to say how many orders have been taken, but he says its’s enough that some customers will have to wait for production to catch up to demand.

Launch Green Popular Color for Rivians

Scaringe does share some interesting tidbits on how consumers are configuring vehicles. The Launch Green exterior color is proving popular. White and silver are chosen often for both the truck and SUV, but there are differences when it comes to brighter colors like Rivian Blue (Scaringe’s favorite) and Compass Yellow. “Trucks tend to be a little bit wilder on the colors,” he says. SUV customers are a bit more conservative.

While Rivian is busy with three vehicles (the R1T, R1S, and Rivian Amazon Prime van) launching within a six-month span, Scaringe is also focused on the bigger picture.

“I started Rivian to have impact, and to have impact we need a broad portfolio of vehicles,” he said in an interview with MotorTrend. “What we will be building over the next five years extends well beyond what we are looking at today.”

Rivian R1 Family to Be Followed by R2, R3

The R1 family of vehicles comprises the halo products, but lower-priced models are being planned. Scaringe says there’s a whole slew of products to follow and the naming convention will continue, which means next up would be an R2 series of at least two smaller electric vehicles to coincide with the smaller platform they will ride on, then another platform for R3.

Rivian has not shown any of the future products, but the company is oriented to adventure-type trucks and SUVs. Executing means additional production capacity, different form factors, and different price points and markets, Scaringe says. It is reasonable to assume similar body styles but in different sizes.

Rivian’s Electric Delivery Van for Amazon Prime

Rivian has also been working with Amazon to build large electric delivery vans for Prime. Developed specifically for Amazon, a small fleet of Prime vans is on the road now, testing deliveries to customers and gathering feedback. In late fall, it will mushroom to a large fleet as Rivian ramps up volume.

The range of 150 miles is tailored to Amazon’s use cycle to optimize the size, weight, and cost of the commercial vehicle. Rivian has three sizes of batteries, but Amazon is starting with just one of them.

Rivian Workforce Keeps Growing

Rivian has more than 3,600 employees now and is adding about 100 per week. Many are at the Normal plant, which continues to set up equipment and run pre-production vehicles. Some parts of the plant work around the clock. The plan is to start with one shift making production vehicles and quickly add a second shift.

The layout of the plant has separate lines for the Rivian consumer vehicles and the Amazon commercial vehicles.

Two Assembly Plants in One

Each assembly line handles a different platform or structural skateboard. “It’s like two plants in one,” Scaringe said. “There is a consumer vehicle line where we are building the structural skateboard, assembling the battery, chassis, drivetrain into that skateboard for our consumer vehicles, initially just the trucks, the R1T and R1S.”

There is a separate line for commercial vehicles starting with the large Prime van. Again, Rivian builds the structure for the skateboard (which is steel rather than the R1’s aluminum), then assembles the battery pack, chassis, drivetrain, and suspension, and then they head down their own assembly line.

All vehicles share a common stamping plant with six large presses and a common paint shop and giant tanks for the e-coating process that dips vehicle bodies to prevent corrosion. It’s an amazing sight to see large vans somersault through it; Rivian had to dig a deep pit to fit the 30-foot vans.

Aggressive Amazon Prime Van Rollout

The Prime van is in a sprint to full-scale production to place vehicles in 15 major markets this year, says Ross Rachey, director of Amazon’s global fleet and products, who worked with Rivian. The goal in 2022 is to have electric vans everywhere Amazon has gas vehicles.

The deal with Rivian is different from electric vehicles Amazon has used in the past, in that the new van is capable of covering Amazon’s entire route.

“Rivian is our big dance partner when it comes to electric vans,” Rachey said. Amazon has placed an order for 100,000 vans, and Rachey says success is crucial given the size of the contract. The goal is to get at least 10,000 units on the road in 2022 and push to get the rest out as fast as possible. Amazon has been building charging stations on its properties in preparation.

Rivian Welcomes Competition

In the commercial space, there’s growing competition from GM’s BrightDrop EV600 van, Ford’s 2022 E-Transit, and the Cruise Origin self-driving van, as well as vehicles like electric pickups from GM, Ford, and some startups.

“We want to see competition,” Rachey  said. Scaringe agrees, saying, “From my kids’, kids’, kids’ perspective, we as a planet need to electrify as fast as possible. It’s important the entire industry start to make this shift. We need to replace 100 million cars a year, about 1.5 billion on the plant, as quickly as possible. it’s good to see others coming in. The size of the pie is enormous.”

Future Plans With Ford Unknown

At one time Rivian was going to make an electric luxury SUV for Lincoln, but Ford changed course and is making the SUV itself.

The relationship between Ford and Rivian hasn’t ended, but there have been no announcements of future products coming. Scaringe isn’t divulging any secrets about what his company will do with Ford in the future. “We have a very good relationship with Ford, but we have not yet announced anything together.”

Losing production of the Lincoln did not hurt Rivian, which expects to need additional capacity in the future. “The breadth of product portfolio we are going to be building over the next five years will require a lot of production capacity,” Scaringe said. “When I say breadth, that is not just in terms of volume, but also the number of different kinds of vehicles. Normal has been an outstanding platform for us; it is what we will launch with for R1 and the Amazon program, but that serves purely as a foundation for future production lines and future production.”

Rivian Direct Sales and Charging Network

Rivian will follow the Tesla model of direct sales to customers, which most states allow. Rivian is lobbying to change policies in states where franchise laws prohibit direct sales to protect the dealership model. Even in those states, there are ways to get vehicles to customers. You still see Teslas in Michigan and Texas, Scaringe says. It is just less efficient to get vehicles to customers.

The other area of growth is charging stations. Rivian wants to develop the Rivian Adventure Network of chargers to connect every dot on the map. Building a network of that size will take time, so Rivian is concentrating on the highest traffic corridors first. Exact locations will become public in the coming months. Hundreds are planned over time.

The post Rivian Busy With Three Electric Vehicle Launches, Big Future Plans appeared first on MotorTrend.

Categories: Property

Brewdog cheers first English hotel

Property Week News Feed - Fri, 02/26/2021 - 10:40
BrewDog’s first hotel in England has been given the go ahead by Manchester City Council.
Categories: Property

Retailer OOPS! shows appetite for more space

Property Week News Feed - Fri, 02/26/2021 - 10:38
Frozen food retailer OOPS! is searching for 30 new sites this year as part of an expansion drive.
Categories: Property

Target raises £60m to fund asset deals

Property Week News Feed - Fri, 02/26/2021 - 07:51
Target Healthcare has raised £60m via an oversubscribed share issue after raising the placing due to demand.
Categories: Property

Taylor Wessing hires Michael Goldberg and team

Property Week News Feed - Fri, 02/26/2021 - 06:00
Taylor Wessing has expanded its real estate group with the appointment of a team from Greenberg Traurig.
Categories: Property

Bruntwood SciTech completes science park acquisition

Property Week News Feed - Fri, 02/26/2021 - 05:05
Bruntwood SciTech is drawing up plans for new developments at Melbourn Science Park in Cambridge after completing the acquisition of the scheme for £46.2m.
Categories: Property

One in five councils fail to publish IFS

Property Week News Feed - Fri, 02/26/2021 - 00:00
One in five local authorities have still not disclosed the community infrastructure levy (CIL) and Section 106 payments they have received from developers and how much they have spent, as required by law by the end of 2020.
Categories: Property

Qatari Diar unveils its plans for embassy site

Property Week News Feed - Fri, 02/26/2021 - 00:00
The former US embassy is to be converted into a luxury 139-bed Rosewood hotel.
Categories: Property

Bailey criticises cladding fund and PDR extension

Property Week News Feed - Fri, 02/26/2021 - 00:00
The Conservative candidate for London mayor has taken aim at the government’s response to the cladding crisis.
Categories: Property

Boom in demand expected to drive Manchester office take-up

Property Week News Feed - Fri, 02/26/2021 - 00:00
Hopes are high for Manchester’s office market this year despite the ongoing challenges posed by the Covid pandemic.
Categories: Property

2020 McLaren 620R First Test: A Fantastic Experience Like Few Others

Motortrend News Feed - Thu, 02/25/2021 - 21:00

Just look at it: The limited-edition 2020 McLaren 620R has a race car livery, a giant, manually adjustable carbon-fiber rear wing that sits 12.5 inches off of its tail, real diffusers out back, a carbon-fiber roof with an air-intake snorkel, carbon-fiber side scoops, dive planes on the front fenders, and a carbon-fiber hood with twin flow-through “nostrils” to reduce lift on the front of the car. You can even order it with race-number decals. You’re forgiven if you think this is a race car, and you aren’t entirely wrong, either.

What Is the 2020 McLaren 620R?

Put simply, McLaren has homologated for street use its race-winning GT4-class 570S GT4 factory race car. Without the typical engine-output regulations of a race series, the 620R’s twin-turbo 3.8-liter flat-plane crank V-8 pumps out 612 horsepower (620 metric hp, hence the name) and 457 lb-ft of torque. In its standard specification, the 620R’s single-piece carbon-fiber Monocell II chassis doesn’t come with air conditioning, touch-screen navigation, or an audio system. Our test car had those put back, the first two at no cost.

This test car also did away with the standard “GT4’s two-way manually adjustable coil-over motorsport dampers, which feature 32 clicks of adjustment per corner for compression and rebound rates.” Those were replaced with the Sport series cabin-adjustable adaptive dampers with the anti-driveway-scraping nose-lift feature. These additions, of course, add weight, with this McLaren 620R tipping the scales at a still tidy 3,203 pounds, or about 100 pounds more than the slightly less powerful McLaren 600LT we tested a couple of years ago. Interestingly, these two cars offer the same weight-to-power power ratios, having to move just 5.2 pounds per horsepower.

How Quick is the 2020 McLaren 620R?

In a word: very. With its standard easy-access and highly effective launch control, a rapid-fire seven-speed twin-clutch automated manual transmission—featuring what McLaren calls “inertia push” that uses the flywheel’s mechanical inertia as a torque boost between upshifts—the 2020 McLaren 620R rockets from a standstill to 30 mph in only 1.4 seconds, or the same time as the 600LT.

By 60 mph, however, the 620R’s “nostrils” and dive planes begin to add 143 pounds of aerodynamic downforce and, were the rear wing in its most aggressive position, up to 408 pounds at the rear. These racy aerodynamics begin to exact a toll on the car’s acceleration: At 60 mph, the 600LT gains a tenth of a second on the 620R and never looks back. By the end of the quarter mile, the 600LT enjoys a 0.4-second, 6-mph lead over the 2020 McLaren 620R. Still, a sub-11-second quarter mile at more than 130 mph is an impressive rarity for a rear-wheel drive sports car.

How Does the 2020 McLaren 620R Drive?

Racy. Despite the dihedral doors, there’s no graceful way of getting into or out of the car. You must sit first, then swing your legs in; reverse the order to get out. Note the red door-pull straps. Had our test car been fitted with the available six-point racing harnesses, these straps would be the only way to lower the door yourself.

The single-piece, lightweight carbon-fiber racing seats are pretty unforgiving. Our test 620R was fitted with the wider-than-normal “Touring” seats, which were problematic when circulating our figure-eight test course. These extra-wide fixed carbon-fiber seats held me firmly while cornering at more than 1 g, but the shift from side to side was pretty violent and unnerving.

From my test-day notebook: “Man, life comes at you fast in this car. It’s a bit soft on corner exit due to turbo lag, but then it explodes! What a sound the V-8 makes, and you can hear the whoosh of air-intake behind your head.”

I had supreme confidence in the carbon-ceramic brakes, and the ever-firm pedal, but when I was travelling at 85 mph across the middle of the course, I had to back up the braking point. That’s because I shot off into the rubber tire marbles on the first lap and had a moment.

Indeed, there isn’t a lot of tire here (proprietary Pirelli P Zero Trofeo R MC, 225 mm wide in front, 285 mm in the rear), but they seem to work their magic. The 2020 McLaren 620R delivers sharp turn-in, there’s very little initial understeer, and the car is generally well balanced on the skidpad. The electro-hydraulic steering is magical, with the right amount of feel and precision you rarely find anymore.

Is the 2020 McLaren 620R Worth It?

Starting at $278,300—our test car was optioned to more than $300,000—the 2020 McLaren 620R is priced on the high end of cars like this. The 2021 Lamborghini Huracán Evo RWD, the least expensive Lambo, starts at $214,866. The 991-series Porsche 911 GT3 RS, when you could still buy one new in 2019, offered a similar driving experience and performance for a starting price of $188,750.

For those who intend to track their 2020 McLaren 620R, I’d recommend it – especially those who are into setting the car’s manually adjustable rear wing and dampers for track conditions. It’s a competition-proven car, having claimed more race wins and podium finishes than any other McLaren GT race car to date. Get one while you can, as 255 of the 350 total examples are allotted for the U.S.

Yes, the paint scheme is too over the top for our taste, and the less brutal, more comfortable, MotorTrend 2016 Best Driver’s Car winner, the McLaren 570S, is the McLaren for everyday driving. Its price starts at $195,000, and you can get it in the classic McLaren papaya orange. But if you’re a performance car and racing enthusiast, the 2020 McLaren 620R is for you.

2020 McLaren 620R Highlights:
  • Track-ready aerodynamics
  • Competition-style looks
  • Exceptional handling
  • 612-horsepower twin-turbo V-8 engine
  • Starting price of $278,300
2020 McLaren 620R Coupe BASE PRICE $278,300 PRICE AS TESTED $311,080 VEHICLE LAYOUT Mid-engine, RWD, 2-pass, 2-door coupe ENGINE 3.8L/612-hp/457-lb-ft twin-turbo DOHC 32-valve V-8 TRANSMISSION 7-speed twin-clutch auto CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 3,203 lb (41/59%) WHEELBASE 105.1 in LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 179.4 x 76.6 x 47.0 in 0-60 MPH 3.0 sec QUARTER MILE 10.9 sec @ 131.1 mph BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 97 ft LATERAL ACCELERATION 1.05 g (avg) MT FIGURE EIGHT 23.5 sec @ 0.87 g (avg) EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON 15/22/18 mpg ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY 225/153 kWh/100 miles CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB 1.11 lb/mile


The post 2020 McLaren 620R First Test: A Fantastic Experience Like Few Others appeared first on MotorTrend.

Categories: Property

2021 Chrysler Pacifica

The Car Connection News Feed - Thu, 02/25/2021 - 21:00
Like a slab of grilled chicken with a side of kale, the 2021 Chrysler Pacifica minivan is the people-hauler most families ought to be selecting rather than our preferred red meat crossovers and fried chicken SUVs. The 2021 Pacifica becomes an even better choice over SUVs with available all-wheel drive. We like the Pacifica—so much so it's...
Categories: Property

2021 Toyota Highlander XSE First Test: A Sheep in Sporty Clothing

Motortrend News Feed - Thu, 02/25/2021 - 20:00

Three-row SUVs are becoming so popular, automakers are adding new flavors to satisfy customer’s wants. The 2021 Toyota Highlander XSE is one such example, its XSE spec offering buyers the sportiest-looking version of Toyota’s three-row SUV. And while the XSE shares the same V-6 engine as the rest of the Highlander lineup, Toyota says it tunes the suspension and steering to deliver a sportier and more dynamic drive.

Make no mistake, this is no Ford Explorer ST fighter. And don’t even consider lining the Toyota up against the 475-hp Dodge Durango SRT (let alone the 710-hp Durango SRT Hellcat). The ST and Durango SRT models are true performance SUVs, while the 2021 Toyota Highlander XSE simply changes its styling, steering, and suspension tuning without losing its comfortable ride.

The XSE is priced between the luxury focused XLE and Limited in the Highlander’s lineup. Despite Toyota offering a hybrid engine in other XSE models (like the smaller RAV4 Prime), the Highlander XSE is only available with the 3.5-liter V-6. Front-wheel drive is standard, while all-wheel drive is optional.

We spent a few days driving the updated Highlander XSE, and we even took it to the track to compare its performance.

The XSE Is In It for the Looks

This is the first time in its 20-year history the Highlander has worn an XSE badge or even tried for a sporty vibe. Starting with the face, the XSE gets a unique fascia, grille, and lower spoiler, and combined with the black air intakes integrated into the bumper and the front spoiler, you can quickly tell this Highlander is different. As always, some people will likely be huge fans of the design changes, while others will not.

Our Celestial Silver Metallic test model highlighted the changes, including the blackened headlights. From the profile view, the 2021 Toyota Highlander XSE gets 20-inch wheels with black accents that deliver a more athletic stance, and they match with the black mirror caps and black window frames. The sporty treatment continues in the rear with the first-ever dual exhaust tips on a Highlander. The black roof rails come standard, but the cargo cross bars that our model featured cost an extra $350.

All in all, the Highlander XSE looks more aggressive, and effectively ditches the softly upscale design of the rest of the Highlander lineup.

2021 Toyota Highlander XSE: The Cabin

Inside, the aesthetic changes are not as dramatic. The Highlander we tested came with black leatherette seats, but buyers can also choose red leather seats at no extra cost, which give the cabin an arguably hipper vibe. The only other change in the cabin is the addition of faux carbon-fiber trim that surrounds the 8.0-inch touchscreen. This design feature starts at the front passenger’s air vent near the A-pillar and continues all the way to the center of the dash, where it encompasses the entire area of the infotainment screen, center air vents, and climate controls.

While top Limited and Platinum models get a 12.0-inch screen, the XSE makes do with an 8.0-inch touchscreen. They’re all compatible with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Amazon Alexa, and the smaller screen is easy to use and quick to master, thanks to the side buttons.

Every other design feature in the Highlander’s cabin stays in the XSE. We like the spacious and useable trays on the center stack and along the bottom of the dashboard, but we’re not huge fans of the center-console storage, which uses the wireless charger as a second lid that must be lifted in order to access the deep-ish compartment.

Like the Limited and Platinum trims, the 2021 Highlander XSE is only available as a seven-passenger SUV, which means buyers can’t get a bench seat for the second row. The captain’s chairs found there are comfortable, and there’s tons of legroom and headroom, but those travelling in the third row won’t have the same luck. Getting all the way into the back is a difficult task; whether you’re trying to squeeze in between the captain’s chairs or move the second-row seats forward, it’s a complicated process. And once you’re sitting in the third row, legroom is tight-tight-tight. As a guy who stands 6-foot 1, there’s no way I could travel in the third row except during an emergency; children will be more comfortable.

In terms of technology, the Highlander XSE comes with five USB ports and a wireless charger. The bad news is, none of those USB ports live near the third-row passengers; two of said ports are in the second row, while the other three are in the front center console; way-back passengers should bring along a long cord. We also wish the second-row ports were located higher and closer to the seats, as they’re near the floor on the center console. These issues are not exclusive to the XSE, and it’s something we’ve complained about in the past. While it’s understandable Toyota wasn’t going to make changes after one model year, we hope the expected mid-cycle refresh brings a better solution.

Does the Highlander XSE’s Sporty Setup Match the Sporty Looks?

Although things remain the same under the hood as in the rest of the Highlander lineup, 2021 XSE models get unique suspension and steering setups. Some of the changes Toyota engineers made to the suspension include expanding the anti-roll bar’s diameter by 1 mm, to 20 mm, and stiffening the spring rates by 18 percent.

During our drive on the freeway and city streets, it was hard to notice any big differences between the XSE and XLE. The last time we drove a Highlander was back in August during our SUV of the Year program, and we hope to soon get the XSE and an XLE at the same time for a back-to-back comparison.

But on its own, we have mixed feelings about the 2021 Toyota Highlander XSE. The 295 horsepower and 263 lb-ft of torque from the 3.5-liter V-6 engine feel adequate for an SUV of this size, and the eight-speed automatic transmission plays a bit with the gears to maximize fuel efficiency, but shifts are smooth. To our surprise, the XSE was a tad quicker on the skidpad and dragstrip than the XLE or Platinum trims. It took 6.8 seconds for the XSE to reach 60 mph (compared to 7.2 and 7.4 seconds for the XLE and Platinum, respectively) and 26.8 seconds at 0.64 g in the figure-eight test (in comparison to 27.4 at 0.63 g, and 27.7 seconds at 0.61 g). The XSE and XLE use the same model tires, except the XSE comes with 20-inch rims instead of 18s.

On the road, the suspension dissipates impacts quickly, but it falls short of delivering a sporty or spirited feeling. We know the Highlander is no Supra, and Toyota still wants the XSE to deliver a comfortable ride overall—and it does—but it lacks the spicy feeling we hoped to experience. Sport mode makes the steering and throttle mapping a bit more energetic, but—again—it was hard to notice any differences compared to the regular Highlander.

In our handling tests, road test editor Chris Walton noted dive and roll during braking and cornering.

So, Is the Toyota Highlander XSE Worth It?

All in all, it was hard to notice any big differences with the XSE’s ride and steering, but it’s a comfortable three-row SUV that families will appreciate. For those who think the Highlander’s design is a bit conservative but still want the reliability, value, and safety the overall lineup provides, the 2021 Toyota Highlander XSE offers a great alternative.

Starting at $42,680 for the front-wheel-drive XSE (all-wheel drive is optional), the sporty-looking Highlander gives buyers good bang for their buck. And with the 2021 Highlander adding Toyota Safety Sense 2.5 (an involved suite of active safety features), drivers may feel less stressed about their surroundings.

We look forward to driving the Highlander XSE and XLE back-to-back in the coming weeks, so stay tuned.

2021 Toyota Highlander XSE Pros
  • Distinctive exterior styling
  • Standard captain’s chairs
  • Comfortable ride
2021 Toyota Highlander XSE Cons
  • Lack of sporty feel
  • Cramped third row
  • No USB ports for third row
2021 Toyota Highlander XSE AWD BASE PRICE $44,630 PRICE AS TESTED $47,551 VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, AWD, 7-pass, 4-door SUV ENGINE 3.5L/295-hp/263-lb-ft Atkinson-cycle DOHC 24-valve V-6 TRANSMISSION 8-speed automatic CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 4,398 lb (55/45%) WHEELBASE 112.2 in LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 197.4 x 76.0 x 68.1 in 0-60 MPH 6.8 sec QUARTER MILE 15.4 sec @ 92.3 mph BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 121 ft LATERAL ACCELERATION 0.84 g (avg) MT FIGURE EIGHT 26.8 sec @ 0.64 g (avg) EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON 20/27/23 mpg ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY 169/125 kWh/100 miles CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB 0.86 lb/mile

The post 2021 Toyota Highlander XSE First Test: A Sheep in Sporty Clothing appeared first on MotorTrend.

Categories: Property

2021 Lexus LS500 First Test: Weird in a Good Way

Motortrend News Feed - Thu, 02/25/2021 - 19:00

“Who is this car for?” That’s what my buddy Mike asked as he looked around the 2021 Lexus LS500. Mike was in from out of town, tasked with housesitting a hilltop pad in ritzy Bel Air—a locale where luxury automobiles like the LS blend in. He likes cars, so I brought the big Lexus over for him to check out. It impressed Mike, but left him confused. Later, I drove home along sweeping Sunset Boulevard. As soothed as I was by the seat massager, that question still bounced around my head. Who is this car for?

We had similar uncertainty when the fifth-generation LS arrived for the 2018 model year. It fit the mold of a luxury full-size sedan, but its stiff ride, harsh powertrain, and snug back seats were atypical of that category. Simultaneously, its sport-sedan-like agility made us wonder if the LS was suffering from an identity crisis. What’s more, the touchpad infotainment interface was endlessly frustrating.

For 2021, Lexus gives the LS a refresh aimed at making it a more compelling flagship. In a rare opportunity, Lexus provided us with pre- and post-refresh models so we could compare the changes back to back. After a week in each and a trip to the track, I’m still not sure if I can answer Mike’s question. But this much is clear: The updated LS500 feels different.

What’s New With the 2021 LS500

First, a recap of the relevant 2021 updates. Not much changes outside. The signature spindle grille, now coated in a darker finish, still dominates the front end. It’s flanked by vents with a more rectangular shape, and headlights that now integrate the LED accent strip. Around back, the taillights swap chrome detailing for black trim. Inside, the seats and armrests gain thicker, plusher foam cushioning, but more noteworthy is the addition of a 12.3-inch infotainment touchscreen—more on that later.

Under the sheetmetal, the spring and damper rates are retuned, different anti-roll bars are installed, and the liquid-filled bushings become larger. Both of our review cars rode on the optional air suspension, which raises and lowers more quickly in the 2021 model. As before, the twin-turbo 3.4-liter V-6 produces 416 hp and 442 lb-ft of torque, but the 10-speed automatic behind it gains new shift logic. Subtle as these changes may seem, they revealed themselves quite clearly.

How Quick Is the LS500?

Some may scoff knowing that the LS500 is equipped with a mere six-cylinder engine, but it delivers. Our rear-wheel-drive 2021 car’s zero-to-60-mph time fell to 5.0 seconds from the 5.3-second time we previously measured from a comparable model. Likewise, this LS did the quarter mile in 13.4 seconds at 106.0 mph, a blink ahead of the earlier 13.8-second, 102.8-mph sprint. (Side note: Acceleration was nearly identical in an all-wheel-drive LS500 we tested.) As engine output is unchanged, it’s possible that the gearbox revisions helped shave those tenths. Nevertheless, associate road test editor Erick Ayapana praised the powerplant, deeming it a “strong engine that launches hard.”

Indeed, on the road it gets the LS500 moving swiftly. Just off idle it doesn’t quite have the effortlessness of a V-8, but by 1,600 rpm full torque has arrived. Keep the pedal buried and the transmission’s new programming makes good use of the gearbox’s tightly spaced cogs. Where the 2020 LS hesitated to downshift, the 2021 readily drops gears and accentuates the engine’s power. Still, shifts aren’t invisible; the first-to-second upshift in particular can jerk slightly, especially when the drivetrain is cold.

Against the lively engine, the brakes feel tuned unapologetically for comfort. This being a luxury sedan that’s not necessarily an issue, but as before, the brake-by-wire system responds inconsistently. There isn’t great correlation between pedal pressure and actual stopping force. Nevertheless, stops are smooth. “Very smooth,” according to Ayapana (emphasis his). Its best 60-to-zero-mph braking result measured 118 feet, longer than the 110-foot stop we got in earlier testing. With no major changes made to the brakes in the refresh, the 2021 car’s different Bridgestone Turanza tires—now mud-and-snow-badged, and with a V speed rating instead of the faster Y—could be to blame for the discrepancy.

Chauffeur’s Delight

We’re not ones to complain when a car handles well. But the pre-refresh LS500’s reflexes and ride quality seemed incongruent with its luxurious mission. Although smooth, it rode with a pervasive coarseness, able to minimize but not erase road chatter. It struggled with larger imperfections, slamming loudly over drainage troughs and potholes. Odd, since it crossed speed bumps as if they were half as tall. For as accurate as its steering felt, it produced quite a bit of body roll. As I was constantly aware of the car’s length, rounding tight corners became a calculated exercise.

Not so in the 2021 model—this thing can boogie. Its slightly quicker turn-in and stronger resistance to lean yield improvements in confidence and control. The result? I can’t say it better than road test editor Chris Walton after his run on the figure-eight course: “Ha! I wasn’t expecting this to be so fun. Steering weight and precision is just right. I can dance it on the edge of over- and understeer and do a glorious controlled slide on corner exit. Whee!” Its result of 26.2 seconds at a 0.68-g average is close to the 26.3-second, 0.71-g average figure-eight lap we recorded from the pre-refresh LS500. Look, numbers don’t tell the whole story—from behind the wheel, the updated LS500 feels like a very different car. Expect the F Sport model to hone that edge further. One doesn’t typically think of the LS as a sport sedan, but now, if you drive it like one, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

What numbers also can’t communicate is that, despite the tighter handling, comfort is enhanced as well. The ride is calmer, and the cabin feels more insulated from impacts large or small. Fat cats in the back seat will enjoy near-zero gut jiggle and head toss. For the driver and passengers, the LS’s updated chassis is better all around.

Unusual, Awesome Interior

It feels like a smaller car, but the 2021 LS is the same size as before—which is to say, it could be a little bigger. Head- and legroom remain inexplicably tight for a car of this size, particularly in back. Heated, ventilated, reclining, and massaging rear seats aren’t as relaxing without space to sprawl. It’s better up front, as those thrones offer the same amenities and more adjustments. That new thicker cushioning is the first thing I noticed when I got inside. One plutocratic nitpick: The massage function switches off after 15 minutes. Lexus, my massage should end when I want it to, thank you very much.

Regardless of space or lack thereof, the interior décor is stunning. The layered trim and dramatic sculpting makes competitors’ cabins seem plain. How our test car’s gorgeous “Art Wood” veneer is produced is worth watching. Functional necessities are artfully crafted—check out the air vents integrated within the lines flowing across the dashboard, or the katana-shaped door handles. The upholstery below the gear selector might be the industry’s tiniest piece of leather. Wonderful details like these help the interior feel truly special.

High-Tech and Behind the Times

Less artful is the new infotainment setup, which at last adopts touchscreen functionality. At 12.3 inches, the display is no larger, but the experience is much improved compared to the previous touchpad-controlled system. No longer is it necessary to swipe endlessly to make a selection—just touch and go. However, its enclosure looks a bit tacked on, an adaptation needed to put it within reach. The trouble is the screen is so large its right side still requires a stretch to access. The touchpad remains, so at least there’s redundancy to work with. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are now standard.

Some of the LS’s tech reminds how far things have come in a few short years. The digital gauge display looks small compared to what’s found in some new economy cars, and offers less functionality. An available head-up display behind it provides more information, albeit arranged in a confusing jumble. The driver-assistance suite isn’t as refined as newer systems; its lane-keep assist ping-pongs between the lines. Our test car’s digital rearview mirror helped, but oddly magnified the view behind. And a CD player is standard—need I say more? All this aside, the optional 23-speaker audio system is magnificent, drenching the cabin in layers of rich, immersive sound.

How Much Is a LS500?

Prices for the 2021 LS500 start at $77,025, and the grand total for our option-rich refreshed test vehicle came to $101,790. A palatial sum—but against the competition, a potential bargain. The Audi A8 starts at $87,545, and the BMW 7 Series at $87,795. The new Mercedes-Benz S-Class commands—ready for this?—a whopping $110,850. With the Kia K900 now dead, only the $73,975 Genesis G90 is cheaper in the segment. Note that, besides the Benz, all of these vehicles are standard equipped with smaller, less-powerful six-cylinder engines than the LS500’s. If you’re willing to pay, though, they all do offer far more powerful engines, which the LS does not.

So, Who Is This Car For?

Sorry, Mike—I don’t have an answer for your question. Those who want a car to be driven in should try on something with more spacious rear seats. Others who seek a more involved driving experience have better options in the luxury midsize sedan category. The LS500 remains a quirky outlier stuck between those strata. But what I can tell you is this: Its 2021 refresh is a success. I came to liken the LS to a four-door gran turismo, a whimsical machine that’s a pleasure breezing down a motorway or winding through a scenic bypass. It’s not everything for everyone, but for a certain someone, it’s superb.

2021 Lexus LS500 BASE PRICE $77,025 PRICE AS TESTED $101,790 VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, RWD, 5-pass, 4-door sedan ENGINE 3.4L/416-hp/442-lb-ft twin-turbo DOHC 24-valve V-6 TRANSMISSION 10-speed automatic CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 4,925 lb (52/48%) WHEELBASE 123.0 in LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 206.1 x 74.8 x 57.1 in 0-60 MPH 5.0 sec QUARTER MILE 13.4 sec @ 106.0 mph BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 118 ft LATERAL ACCELERATION 0.83 g (avg) MT FIGURE EIGHT 26.2 sec @ 0.68 g (avg) EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON 18/29/22 mpg ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY 187/116 kWh/100 miles CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB 0.89 lb/mile

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Categories: Property

2021 Nissan Altima SR VC-Turbo First Test: Impressive Engine, Underwhelming Execution

Motortrend News Feed - Thu, 02/25/2021 - 17:50

The age of truly bad cars is now a distant speck in our rear-view mirrors. With few exceptions, you’d be hard-pressed to find a new car that’s dangerously slow, prone to flipping, eager to spin, or waiting to catch fire. Even a vehicle we rank among the worst in a given segment is a perfectly serviceable transportation machine. Such is the case with the 2021 Nissan Altima, which lurks near the middle of our midsize sedan rankings but is hardly “bad.”

Wait, What’s a VC-Turbo?

The Altima’s greatest strength lies under its hood. Our test vehicle is fitted with the more powerful of two engine options—a 2.0-liter turbo-four developing 236 hp and 267 lb-ft of torque. Nissan labels the lump VC-Turbo for its novel variable compression ratio that promises the performance of a V-6 at low compression with the efficiency of a diesel-sipping four-cylinder at high compression.

Acceleration numbers read 0–60 in 5.8 seconds and the quarter mile in 14.3 at 99.0 mph. Compared to other upgrade-engine midsize sedans, the VC-Turbo Altima is quicker than the turbocharged Mazda 6 Grand Touring and Subaru Legacy XT; tied at 60 but quicker and slower in the quarter next to the V-6 Toyota Camry; and a few tenths behind the (also turbocharged) Honda Accord 2.0T, Hyundai Sonata N-Line, and Kia K5 GT. The Altima’s 26.5-second figure-eight lap is respectably upper mid-pack, too, and our testing driver was impressed with its “amazingly quick” turn-in and confident grip.

The industry-exclusive (well, exclusive to Nissan and its Infiniti luxury division) VC-Turbo tech is most apparent when you look at EPA fuel economy figures. At 25/34 mpg city/highway, the Altima delivers the highest city and highway mileage of any comparable sedan. Its closest competitor is the Hyundai Sonata N-Line, which is rated at 23/33 mpg.

Driving Impressions

For those who want an idea of what’s going on in the Altima’s clever powerplant, my favorite detail is a page in the 7.0-inch instrument cluster display with a digital boost gauge (which earns extra points for displaying positive boost and negative vacuum pressure) and a graphic illustrating how the compression ratio changes for performance or fuel economy. Unfortunately, the display is entirely illegible in direct sunlight, and the underhood actions it highlights leave something to be desired.

This Nissan feels as quick on the road as it does out on the test track—there’s more than enough torque to push you back in the seat—but the continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) it’s bolted to and the overall tuning ruin the experience. Power delivery is anything but linear; the same input to the gas pedal can result in any number of surging responses from the powertrain.

There’s noticeable lag as the car’s computers determine the ideal throttle opening, compression ratio, boost level, and transmission ratio for the task at hand, and the driving experience suffers for it. In this segment, tuning and response matter more than outright performance, and Nissan dropped the ball; we’ve noted similar rubber-band-like effects from the same engine in the Infiniti QX50 SUV.

The styling, at least, is relatively successful. Nissan’s Scarlet Ember Tintcoat ($395 fancy red) paint rivals Mazda’s Soul Red for depth and luster. This is one of the better executions of Nissan’s “V-Motion” front grille, too, and the squared-off rear end, optional $420 rear spoiler, and 19-inch wheels deliver a nearly convincing sport sedan aesthetic. A note on those wheels, though: Take note of what sort of roads you frequent before ordering them.

The Altima rides poorly. Sharper impacts send shudders resonating through the body structure and this suspension system finds lumps and bumps in a road that are imperceptible to a Honda Accord. That’s due in part to the big wheels and short-sidewall tires, which also likely contributed to the flat we experienced midway through our loan. The Altima SV rocks more forgiving 17s.

Interior Qualms

Inside, this author immediately noticed the elevated seating position. At 6-foot-1, my head was almost on the ceiling, but some drivers will tolerate the feeling of sitting on top of the car (rather than down in it) in exchange for slightly improved visibility. The seats are nicely padded but lacking in thigh support and lateral bolstering.

Other observations? The flat-bottom three-spoke steering wheel looks sporty and handsome. We dig the SR-specific floor mats. Apple CarPlay works just fine and the infotainment display is large and responsive enough, even if newer competitors have more to offer. Curiously, our Altima lacked dual-zone or even single-zone automatic climate control—a strange omission in the near–$33,000 sedan. Worse still, Nissan’s ProPilot Assist adaptive cruise control and lane keep assist system is not included or even available on the Altima SR. (For context, that feature content is standard on all trims of the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Subaru Legacy, Hyundai Sonata, and Mazda 6 to name a few.) Nissan claims sport-minded buyers who go for the SR don’t see as much value in semi-autonomous driver-assist tech.

To be fair, Nissan includes automatic emergency braking front and rear, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and automatic high beams on the SR, all of which work as advertised. Lacking options for the two most significant driver-assist features just reinforces the feeling that the Altima SR is decidedly behind its competition.

In Conclusion …

We’ve passed the age of bad car, and the Altima is not that. Its clever engine tech succeeds in providing stellar performance alongside segment-best fuel economy. Despite not including the driver-assist active safety tech we’ve come to expect in the segment, the Altima is still a safe vehicle; it even earns a 2021 IIHS Top Safety Pick+. It rides too stiff and the powertrain tuning needs improvement, but it’ll get you around just fine.

So of course the Altima isn’t a bad car, it’s not even close. What’s frustrating is that Nissan’s more recent efforts—the new Sentra and redesigned Rogue come to mind—prove the automaker is capable of building genuinely competitive offerings. Those cars give us hope for the Altima’s future. As it sits, though, Nissan’s midsize sedan stays where we’ve ranked it: Midpack.

2021 Nissan Altima SR VC-Turbo BASE PRICE $31,575 PRICE AS TESTED $32,905 VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, FWD, 5-pass, 4-door sedan ENGINE 2.0L/236-hp/267-lb-ft* turbo DOHC 16-valve I-4 TRANSMISSION Cont variable auto CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 3,416 lb (61/39%) WHEELBASE 111.2 in LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 192.9 x 72.9 x 56.8 in 0-60 MPH 5.8 sec QUARTER MILE 14.3 sec @ 99.0 mph BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 115 ft LATERAL ACCELERATION 0.90 g (avg) MT FIGURE EIGHT 26.5 sec @ 0.67 g (avg) EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON 25/34/29 mpg ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY 135/99 kWh/100 miles CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB 0.68 lb/mile *Regular fuel ratings; 93 octane raises Nissan to 248 hp @ 5,600 rpm and 273 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm

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Categories: Property

Level Up: Electrify America’s HomeStation Is Your Personal Level 2 Charger

Motortrend News Feed - Thu, 02/25/2021 - 17:00

Stop us if you’ve heard this before: the biggest obstacle standing in the way of the electric vehicle isn’t range or battery tech, it’s the infrastructure that has to support it. The solution is obviously to add more fast chargers, but where? In malls? Maybe. At gas stations? Stranger things have happened. But what about right at home?

That makes perfect sense to us. And now Electrify America (a Volkswagen-owned subsidiary dedicated to all things EV) has just announced HomeStation, a brand new connected home charging station. Similar to Tesla’s Wall Connector home-charging station, HomeStation promises to bring Level 2 fast charging to your home.

HomeStation has a maximum current output of 40 amps, meaning that it can deliver charging speeds of up to 9.6 kW. Electrify America says this is nearly seven times faster than Level 1 charging (or, plugging your EV into a conventional 120-volt home outlet). Charging a depleted battery to full obviously depends on a number of factors, including your specific EV’s battery capacity. That said, in its most powerful configuration, HomeStation is said to add up to 33 miles of range per hour.

Let’s say you plug your EV and get a full night’s sleep. By the time you wake up, you’ll have added 264 miles of range to its battery pack—significantly more than the average American’s daily commute. HomeStation also comes with an app that allows you to view charge status, set times for scheduled charging, and start or stop charging remotely.

HomeStation starts at $649 and will be available this spring. If you’re interested, you’ll need to have someone certified in such things install it for you. Unless, of course, you are an electrician (or extremely handy) and can do it on your own.

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Categories: Property

Hybrid crossovers compared, Defender gets a V-8, Ioniq tops Model 3 in greenness: What's New @ The Car Connection

The Car Connection News Feed - Thu, 02/25/2021 - 16:47
2021 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid vs. 2021 Honda CR-V Hybrid: Compare Crossover SUVs Two top-selling arch rivals from Toyota and Honda are both at their best when in hybrid form. Look at the way they prioritize styling and space to see which one wins for you. 2021 Mitsubishi Outlander plug-in hybrid gets more power, same $37,490 price A new engine and a...
Categories: Property

IHG opens voco hotels in Scotland

Property Week News Feed - Thu, 02/25/2021 - 16:27
IHG Hotels & Resorts has announced the debut of its voco hotels product into the Scottish market, with openings in Glasgow and Edinburgh.
Categories: Property

Blackpool Central scheme launches phase one consultation

Property Week News Feed - Thu, 02/25/2021 - 16:24
Plans for a £300m leisure destination in Blackpool are set to move forward, with a consultation on the first phase due in the coming weeks.
Categories: Property

Audi Q5 and A7 Plug-In Hybrids Get Bigger Batteries, More Range

Motortrend News Feed - Thu, 02/25/2021 - 16:01

Bill Gates once famously said that, “If General Motors had kept up with the technology like the computer industry has, we would all be driving $25.00 cars that got 1,000 miles to the gallon.” He’s not wrong. The world of tech has usually moved at a rate that far outpaces that of the automobile. But as the age of the electrified car dawns, improvements in battery tech are coming faster than ever, and Audi has just announced upgrades to its Q5 and A7 plug-in hybrid electric vehicles.

The two PHEVs were launched less than two years ago (along with a gaggle of other Audi PHEVs we don’t get here in the states) and made it to the U.S. market only recently. Now, Audi is announcing upgrades to the battery packs in both cars that make them even more appealing options. While these upgrades are debuting on non-U.S. models, we understand they will come to the U.S.-market A7 and Q5 PHEVs for the 2022 model year.

The plug-in Q5 and A7 now carry 17.9-kWh battery packs on board, up from the previous 14.1-kWh units. The change doesn’t come as a part of a major model changeover or even a refresh–the batteries were just “repackaged,” an Audi spokesperson told us, adding capacity without taking up more space. Just goes to show you that battery tech is already more efficient than it was two years ago, and the result is more EV range for both the A7 and Q5.

Since the EPA hasn’t rated these cars yet, we don’t know how much extra range either gets. The A7 PHEV and Q5 PHEV get 24 and 19 miles of EPA-rated EV range with the now-obsolete battery pack, so whatever the final number is we’re sure it’ll be more than that. For context, the A6 PHEV that Audi doesn’t sell in the states gets an increase of more than 20 miles of range on the New European Driving Cycle. We’ll have to wait for the EPA numbers to see the sort of gains we should expect here.

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Categories: Property