2018 Toyota Highlander – In-Depth Review

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2018 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack Review: The Good Sort of Crunchy


Overview: The Volkswagen Golf has long been one of our favorite cars, blending practicality with effortless athleticism and grace. What started in the mid-1970s as a single hatchback has grown into a lineup with more variations than are offered by some entire car companies. And with each new member of the family, we find ourselves newly impressed. The all-wheel-drive, wagonoid Alltrack, which first hit streets in the United States as a 2017 model, is no exception. Essentially a lifted Golf SportWagen with beefier plastic exterior trim, the Alltrack very slightly expands the family and takes aim squarely between Subaru’s Crosstrek and Outback. Subaru’s faithful could teach Catholics a thing or two about devotion, but for those who can be convinced to look further afield, the Alltrack is an excellent alternative—a new flavor of granola, if you will. READ MORE ››

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2018 Volkswagen Golf Sportwagen Alltrack – Quick Take

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How to Negotiate Your Next New-Car Lease Like a Pro

Car Sales

Car salespeople will tell you that most people who end up leasing a new vehicle don’t walk through the door thinking of themselves as lease customers. Rather, like proposals on New Year’s Eve, leasing often just kind of happens, and the person has to live with the consequences of a spontaneous decision. The information here is intended to help you make good decisions as you negotiate a lease, so you can live happily ever after with your new vehicle.

We’ll avoid debating the overall desirability of leasing versus buying in this article, instead assuming that a two- or three-year lease term is a given and focusing on getting on a lease that is as financially advantageous as it can be.

Indeed, a rational, step-by-step approach to vehicle leasing is fairly rare in the typical dealership, but talking with veteran car dealers proved that it’s even rarer than we thought. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a thing in a dealership,” said Donald Fuller, a former car salesperson who has provided sales training to thousands of new-car dealerships. “I’ve seen a customer and a sales manager roll dice to settle a deal, but I’ve never seen a lease customer make a step-by-step effort to negotiate a lease.”

With that in mind, here are the steps you should follow to get the best deal on a lease.

Find and Examine a Deal

First, you should determine if there is a special lease offer on the vehicle you want. This shouldn’t take CSI-style detective work, because car manufacturers, dealer associations, and individual dealers usually scream such lease deals from the rooftops. Ads for such deals will most often feature an eye-poppingly low monthly payment in large type and are intended to get you excited about stepping into a vehicle you didn’t think you could afford.

But before you take the next step, examine the deal with these questions in mind:

  • Does the vehicle that qualifies for the special deal have the equipment you want?
  • Do the terms of the deal offer you sufficient miles per year to meet your needs?
  • Is there an upfront payment required, and, if so, how large is it?

If for whatever reason you didn’t find the special deal to be all that special, you should see about negotiating one that is. During negotiations, focus on the price of the vehicle, the price of the financing (yes, leasing is “financing”), and the overall mileage limit.

Price of Vehicle

In the arcane patois that surrounds leasing, the price of the vehicle is called the capitalized cost, often shortened to “cap cost.” It stands to reason that if you negotiate the price of the vehicle down, the monthly payment and the overall cost of the vehicle lease should also go down. The trouble is, as Fuller told us,  “Most consumers are payment shoppers, so they only look at the monthly payment.” Rather than agree to a lower purchase price, the dealership typically lengthens the payment period to bring down the monthly payment, which is how a 36-month lease can become a 39- or even 48-month lease.

But you can negotiate the cap cost downward, and it is to your benefit to do so, because that is what the financial institution acquiring the vehicle from the dealership will pay for the car. Negotiating this price downward is valuable because it narrows the gap between the purchase price and the residual value—the amount the vehicle will be worth when the lease ends. Since that period of usage is the portion of the car you are buying—day one through the day the lease term ends—that’s what you pay for when you lease.  A lower cap cost should lead to a lower monthly payment, all other things being equal.

Price of Financing

Another item worthy of negotiation is the price of the financing, which typically boils down to an interest rate on the lease. In a purchase, the interest rate is expressed as a simple percentage such as 4.5 percent. But in the alternate universe of leasing, it is usually embedded in the “lease factor,” otherwise known as the “money factor.” The money factor is expressed as a number such as .00225 or, even more confusingly, by moving the decimal point between the third and fourth digits, so 2.25. You might think this means the interest rate is 2.25 percent, but it isn’t. To convert the money factor to an equivalent annual interest percentage rate (APR), the decimal is always multiplied by 2400. In the example where the money factor is .00225, the math indicates the APR is 5.4 percent. You’ll probably need to get your salesperson to tell you what the factor is, as it is not required to be disclosed on the lease worksheet.

Now you can do quick research on finance websites to see where interest rates currently sit. Having a working knowledge of market interest rates will enable you to determine if the money factor/interest rate you are being offered is competitive or completely out of line.

Mileage Limit

The third item open for negotiation is the mileage limit. This is the maximum number of miles you can put on the vehicle before you begin paying a penalty. It makes sense to specify a mileage limit, because the lessor (the financial institution funding the lease) needs to have a good idea of the value of the vehicle when the lease is over. That value is the “residual value,” literally the value that is left, and it is often called just “the residual.” If you opt for a low-mileage lease—say 10,000 miles per year—the residual value will be higher than if you opt to include 15,000 miles per year, so the monthly payment should be lower. But if you underestimate the miles you will drive, you will end up in a situation where you will pay a per-mile penalty on the total over the agreed-upon limit.

“Customers typically overlook the mileage limit,” Fuller told us. “They sign up for 10,000 miles a year or 12,000 miles a year without ever thinking about how many miles they will actually drive.” That can prove to be a major mistake, as the penalty per mile can add up quickly.

Checklist

With the above in mind, here’s a quick checklist:

  1. If there exists a special deal on a car you want with the equipment you want that has an appropriate mileage limit and either no lease acquisition cost or a manageable one, you may want to proceed. You have won the lease equivalent of the lottery.
  2. If that is not the case, negotiate on the purchase price—the cap cost—as if you were going to buy the car for cash.
  3. Negotiate the interest rate (money factor) on the lease to a level appropriate to current market interest rates. During the negotiation process, be sure the calculations are always using one lease term—36 months, for example—so that you are comparing apples to apples. Compare interest rates and then examine the commensurate monthly payments.
  4. Make certain the mileage limit is a number you can comfortably live within even if your life changes. Give yourself some leeway without grossly overestimating the number of miles you will drive.
  5. Understand what the residual value of the vehicle has been set at in the lease contract. You don’t have much wiggle room on negotiating this number because it is established by experts in predicting residuals, but knowing it will help you understand the entirety of the deal. Also, when the lease ends you typically have the right to buy the car at the residual value.

While this is certainly more complicated than signing a vehicle lease on a car you instead intended to buy, simply because the payments were lower, it’s a proven, smart strategy. Not only might you catch the salesperson and dealership sales manager by surprise, but you’ll undoubtedly save yourself some money.

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Behind the Scenes at the 2018 Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona

Bill France opened the Daytona International Speedway, a banked monument to stock-car racing just inland from the beach where the cars had formerly run, in 1959. The three-hour Daytona Continental endurance race, a precursor to the 24, was first won by the late Dan Gurney in 1962. In 1966 that race expanded to a 24-hour format, and although it has been known variously as the 24 Hour Pepsi Challenge, the SunBank 24 at Daytona, and currently the Rolex 24 at Daytona, among sports-car-racing aficionados it’s simply Daytona. - -This year’s event saw a Cadillac once again take overall victory, setting a new record for distance completed in the process. Action Express Cadillac DPi-V.Rs took home the top two overall spots, while Ford’s GTs added a 1-2 GTLM class notch to their belts and Lamborghini took home its first notable competition victory in the brand’s long history with first and third in the GTD class. We were there for the entire, grueling 24 hours of it all, too, snapping photos to bring you into the action. Click through for a peek:Lexus NexusLux InteriorHenn PartyThe PoopBell SystemItalian CarIt’s Not Exactly Spain, But Florida’s Flat Like a PlainNomex BuddyScreen GemsAd Hoc Parts StorageSwiss MadeSticker GuyExplosions in the SkyMorning DewSour KrauthNose JobNothing to See HereDeflategateBOP GunPit MoshThunder ExpressOne Hubcap ‘Cause Three Got StolenAngels(?) in the InfieldAlso Good fer Axe-Murderin’I Wanna Be Sedated

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Carbon Fiber from Plants Instead of Oil: Not Just Greener but Cheaper

McLaren carbon fiber monocellCarbon fiber is glamorous. It helps shed precious pounds from performance-focused cars like those from McLaren (its carbon Monocell is pictured above) as well as upmarket eco-warriors like the BMW i3, and it is increasingly applied as merit-badge splashes of decor on sporty trims of myriad other vehicles. But it also has a dark side in that it’s by no means an eco-conscious material to produce.

Carbon fiber’s large ecological footprint centers around the way in which acrylonitrile, the base material for commercial carbon fiber, is currently made: from petroleum, using a process that uses quite a bit of energy, requires an expensive catalyst, and yields hydrogen cyanide, a toxic byproduct. This also helps explain carbon fiber’s high price, as just the acrylonitrile itself—two pounds of which are required for each pound of finished product—accounts for more than half of the production cost of carbon fiber.

Fortunately, this issue is at the center of biomass research that aims to make significant cuts to costs and eventually to wean carbon-fiber production off oil entirely. Researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) last month announced that they have created a new catalytic process that is both compatible with renewable feedstocks and has a far better yield than the existing process—98 percent versus 80 to 83 percent. The research team estimates that, using cellulosic biomass (from wood, grasses, or even paper pulp) or starch-based sugars, it could lower the cost of making the base material to below $1 per pound.

Growing (Not Pumping) the Materials

That cost target has been among the goals of the Renewable Carbon Fiber Consortium, a research effort with a budget of about $8 million funded mostly by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), along with other financial partners that include Ford. Transitioning to variable feedstocks should also make the price itself more stable, as the way it’s produced today leaves it open to fluctuations in typically volatile oil prices. Meanwhile, the demand for carbon fiber is projected to increase by up to 18 percent annually.

The DOE project, which is scheduled to last at least until the end of 2018, is focusing its research on uses for automotive lightweighting. But aircraft could benefit eventually, too.

BMW carbon fiber - Moses Lake, WA

Carbon fiber lasts a long time, yet it’s very difficult to recycle. In part, that is because reprocessing it often involves breaking the carbon-fiber material away from the polymer it has been bonded to—usually a carbon-fiber composite (CFP) or carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic (CFRP)—shredding the fiber, and then trying to realign the recycled fiber into a new material, which inevitably has less strength. One of the few exceptions would be the forged carbon-fiber composites that Lamborghini has developed and is beginning to use in its latest cars.

Researchers have tried other plant-derived feedstocks in the past, including lignin, pitch, and rayon, but the results haven’t been favorable. The next phase of the DOE research is to scale the process up to 110 pounds of production material and test a carbon-fiber component made with it. If these researchers have cracked the code for making carbon fiber to the same strength as the current stuff, the material could become even more widespread—and save a lot of oil to boot.

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Hyundai Plans Gigabit Ethernet for Some In-Car Networks, but What Does That Mean?

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As automated and connected cars roll into dealerships over the next decade, they’ll need high-bandwidth networks to support these critical, data-hungry functions. Korean automaker Hyundai says it is committing to faster ethernet connectivity to power the core of its next-gen vehicles.

The Korean automaker has announced that it will “accelerate innovation, provide ‘over the air updates,’ and shorten the life cycle in bringing new capabilities to market” by using ethernet at up to 1 gigabit per second (Gbps). A collaboration with Cisco will see primarily ethernet-driven Hyundais hit the market starting in 2019.

Electronics in modern cars have become incredibly complex, but they’re slower—like, 10,000 times slower in data throughput—than a USB 3.1 port. Most cars connect their electronic control units (ECUs) via a controller area network, or CAN. Bosch introduced this standard in 1986 to reduce the weight and cost of heavy wiring harnesses, and it has proven to be a robust, reliable, and inexpensive network for in-car use. While initially meant for automobiles, CAN has moved into the marine, aerospace, and medical industries, where some hospital operating rooms rely on it. But CAN can’t manage adaptive suspensions and other drive-by-wire systems with precision. It also can’t process sensor data from radar, lidar, and visual cameras fast enough. For fully autonomous cars—or even for one pedestrian-detection alert—CAN just isn’t the answer.

As a serial interface, a CAN bus can only transmit or receive one bit of data at a time; compare this to the multiple packets of bits sent and received by your mobile phone. Speeds can top 1 megabit per second, which is essentially the gap between a 3G and 4G cellular network. CAN simply can’t keep up with sensors spewing out data greater than 100 times a second. Ethernet, by contrast, has a maximum data output that’s 1000 times faster than the fastest CAN interface.

But gigabit ethernet, despite how cheaply it can be embedded on computer motherboards, is expensive in a car. So far, it has been limited to infotainment systems like Jaguar Land Rover’s InControl Touch Pro and other similar uses; other leading in-car networks, such as FlexRay, have speeds of 10 megabits per second and can handle functions such as adaptive cruise control. Yet the fact remains that it’s neither simple nor cheap to make cars run as fast as our USB ports. Network security, electrical interference, cable length, and syncing dozens upon dozens of ECUs are things that keep automakers’ software developers and electrical engineers up all night.

Hyundai isn’t looking to replace CAN, nor is it suggesting the industry should. Many simple controls, such as for brake lights or window switches, will still be wired with CAN for many years to come. Until the R&D costs of ethernet (or another faster technology) come down, most cars will use a combination of CAN, FlexRay, and ethernet.

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2018 Mercedes-Maybach S560 4Matic Test: Better Than Benz

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The Mercedes-Maybach S560 4Matic ultra-luxury sedan is for the affluent buyer who prefers understated elegance to unadulterated ostentation. Whereas the Bentley Flying Spur and the Rolls-Royce Ghost are both equal parts opulent indulgences and style statements, the Maybach pairs its lavish innards with bodywork similar to that of the shorter and more demure Mercedes-Benz S-class. READ MORE ››

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2018 Mercedes-Maybach S560 4Matic – Instrumented Test

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Ford Ranger Raptor Rips toward International Debut in New Teaser Video

2019-Ford-Ranger-Placement

Although Ford officially unveiled the 2019 Ranger mid-size pickup at the Detroit auto show, it remained mum on any details regarding the highly anticipated Ranger Raptor. We know it’s real, and thanks to promotional video footage, we know it can ford small streams, jump ridges, and do off-road donuts. What remains a mystery, however, is whether it will be able to do any of those things in the United States at the hands of American consumers.

We first caught wind of a Ranger with beefed-up off-road capabilities earlier this year. Spy photographers spotted a wide-fendered, big-tired camo mule romping around with what appeared to be resculpted fenders and enhanced suspension bits. The familiar pieces, reminiscent of the F-150 Raptor we adore so much, pointed toward a mud-running Ranger, but a right-hand-drive setup tempered our excitement.

Ford South Africa confirmed the truck’s reality with a preview video last fall, and now, a second video from Ford Thailand builds on that hype with the confirmation that the Ranger Raptor will indeed make its debut at some point in 2018. But none of this information answers the most important question: Now that the tweaked production Ranger has returned to U.S. soil, will we get a Ranger Raptor?

Ford won’t comment on future products, but when asked if the Ranger Raptor would come to the United States, company reps responded by mentioning how much Ford loves the F-150 Raptor. That’s better than a “no,” and market trends indicate it could make sense from a business standpoint. The F-150 Raptor is a major brand-image booster and has sold well. The same is true of the Toyota Tacoma TRD.

The international-market Ranger Raptor is expected to bow in Thailand this February, as confirmed by Australia’s motoring.com, so more information should be available around that time.

2019-Ford-Ranger-Reel

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