Archive | Wheels

Battery, Engine: Hybrid

Posted on 01 October 2009 by .

WHILE THE WORLD CATCHES UP, TOYOTA QUIETLY GETS ON WITH ITS THIRD GENERATION ECO SAVIOR- AND THIS TIME PROMISES FUN

When a good old dose of electricity has been used to power things, our world and the things in it have been transformed: lightbulbs, telephones, life support machines and ‘kitchen toys’ were never so inanimate or useless again after being connected to a current.

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But with car motors, the use of a watt or two to power it has generally had a diminishing effect. Less rampant rabbit, more asthmatic aardvark. The problems of harnessing the low-emission benefits of electric are huge when it comes to vehicles, principally because storing or generating enough power to do more than out-sprint a milk float requires whacking great batteries.Lots of them. And that means space, and weight, and cost.

And of course, the batteries tend to run out, fast. Unlike a hybrid, where you can switch to dear old fossil power and carry on, the only method of propulsion once the batteries have given up the ghost is gravity, or a hefty shoulder to the C-pillar. And once at a place where the current can flow back into them again, you’d better have a box set of The Sopranos to plough through while you wait for the needle to hit full.

It’s a worry, especially for the motorist new to electric avenue, and there’s even a name for this psychological condition: range anxiety.

To avoid this physiological condition, I turned my head to 2009 North American International Auto Show, held in a city which has not slashed its CO2 emissions per person by at least 20% since the beginning of the century and nor it will be the American Green capital; and in 2050 the government officials will not be chasing fossil fuels past the city walls, banishing them for eternity. Detroit, then, is not as good a place to launch the new Prius, the third in over a decade’s worth of petrol-electric hybrid cars from Toyota.

After shocking the world with its home-market introduction in 1997, the Prius continues to represent the standard by which all other hybrids are measured. Under the car’s hood is a more powerful 1.8-liter Atkinson-cycle inline-4. Despite being bigger, Toyota claims that this engine actually achieves better fuel economy than the old one because it makes more torque, allowing lower rpm on the highway.

The stats are promising: 3.8 L/100km, 89g/km, 134hp. That’s up by 22hp and down by 15g/km over the last-gen Prius, and easily outshines the Honda insight and VW Jetta TDI.

Promising, too, is Toyota’s talk that it’s made the Prius a genuine mainstream contender, a car whose green credentials are just part of the appeal, not most of it. Performance is up, emissions down, practicality and safety increased, refinement and aerodynamics improved. It’s even getting a bit German in the press conference with talk of ‘increased driving pleasure’.

The restyle in bang on the money – instantly recognizable second-gen DNA given extra athleticism with an aggressively creased shoulder line and more rakish headlights. Inside too, it’s spot on Toyota judging perfectly the balance between futuristic concept car feel and real-world usability. And while the so-called ‘ecological plastics’ (‘the world’s first injected molded material derived from plants,’ says the press material, which came from well-managed forests and other controlled sources, thanks heavens) might sound a bit cheap when you bang on them, they look good and the leafy grain is nice to stroke too.

As a hybrid, of course, the engine’s also boosted by an electric motor stowed beneath the trunk, and a nickel-metal hydride battery. Both are lighter, smaller and significantly more powerful than before.

This Prius, though, isn’t just a one-trick urban pony. Fully charged, the Prius can slip around on battery power alone at up to 50 km/h for as long as 2km if you press the EV button.In fact, the petrol engine will regularly shut down at speeds of up to 70km/h meaning the Prius now makes more sense for out-of-towners than its predecessor did. And, on the open road, the extra power doled out by the new 1.8-liter engine comes into its own. The power is fed to the front wheels via a continuously variable transmission (CVT). The engine’s extra muscle means you don’t need to work it as hard as the Honda insight, while extra attention to noise reduction means you notice less what noise there is.

So what, then, of those dynamic improvements? According to Toyota, there’s increased torsional stiffness, better steering feel and improved stability, but don’t go expecting a BMW-rivaling drive. The Prius is perfectly acceptable for the person who just wants to get from A to B, even if A is Ajax and B is Brampton. The Prius is also notably better than – here it comes again – the Insight. The steering has none of the vagueness around the dead-ahead and is just a little quicker too; the handling is a lot less vague at higher speeds; and ride is in a different league. You may be tempted by the $3600 savings the Insight waves under your nose but, seriously, the improved ride quality is almost worth the premium on its own, and when you factor in the Toyota’s improved performance, refinement, interior quality and better tech, well, you’d be slightly mad to hand your cash to the competition.

All in, the Prius impresses as mush as Toyota claims. But I am yet to establish how close it comes to delivering 3.8 L/100km in real-world driving over a more representative period of time. Rest assured, we’ll find that out soon enough.

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Author: Sohaib Zahid

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Audi: A Secret History

Posted on 25 September 2009 by .

1) Audi or Horch?
August Horch was an automotive pioneer, working for Karl Benz in the 1890s just a few years after the first three-wheeled chuggabug had been invented. He started up his own car company in 1899, and the only reason he’s not as famous as Benz is because his name hasn’t survived on a modern car – well sort of !
Horch, pronounced ‘hork’, launched his first car in 1901. But in August 1909 he was booted out by his own board. Legal wranglings stopped him starting another company called Horch, so his business partner’s son – doing his Latin homework – said: ‘Why not call it Audi, papa?’
Now, I’d have said ‘do your bloody homework, I’m trying to talk to Mr Horch!’ But he didn’t. Because the German word ‘horch’ is related to the English word ‘hark’, meaning ‘listen’ – and the Latin translation is ‘audi’. Clever little bastard.

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2)Dress to the left Sir….
In the days when people rode horses to get about, they kept to the left so they could keep the reins in their left and free their right hand to wave or chop a head off with a sword. Later, coachmen kept left and sat on the right. That’s why the first cars were right-hand drive too.
English never questioned this convention, but some countries were a little hazy about it; in Germany, drivers generally kept right, even though their first cars were right-handed too. All of Audi’s cars were right-hand drive unitil 1921, when the Audi Type K became the first car in Germany to be sold as a Left-hander. Visitors to the Berlin motor show stood and stared. ‘Who’d believe it, Ingrid?’ This simple idea took years to catch on – Germany didn’t legislate for left-hand drive until 1938 ……

 

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3)Untangling the four Rings
The Audi badge comes from four separate German car companies, who all got in to financial trouble during the Great Depression and decided to merge in 1932. There was Horch and Audi, plus Wanderer and DKW, and they formed what became known as the Auto Union. The individual makes petered out during the build-up to World War Two, all except DKW, which enjoyed a resurgence in the post-war austerity years. in the 1960s a fifth company, NSU, was added; however, they couldn’t add a fifth ring to the badge, because that logo was already taken by a large sporting event.
Amazingly, the company name Audi-NSU-Auto-Union AG was only dropped in favor of the snappier ‘Audi AG’ as late as 1985.

 

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Author: Sohaib Zahid

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