Luxury Production Vehicles: Mercedes-Benz GL350: Testing the GL350 to stand up to the rigors and specifics of shooting videoPosted in: mercedesbenz, roadtrip
Leading up to the New York International Auto Show Land Rover celebrated 25 years in the U.S. by staging an "Urban Jungle" in a parking lot beneath the High Line in Manhattan. Decorated with buried taxis and vintage Rovers, the course features hills, holes, mud and ruts that show off how well the current vehicle line-up can tackle extreme terrain.
When we visited Ford back in September 2011 for an exclusive preview of their new "Police Interceptors", we felt the story wasn't complete without getting behind the wheel, which we finally had the opportunity to do. The Sedan and the first pursuit-rated Utility available represent a thoughtful and considered approach to designing cars specifically for law enforcement use. We sat down at Ford's headquarters in Dearborn, MI with Lisa Teed, the Marketing Manager for the Police Interceptor line, and Mike Interian, the line's Vehicle Integration Engineer. We learned about the difficulty of designing a purpose-built machine to service one of the most specialized jobs on the market.
At first glance the Interceptor models bear a striking resemblance to the standard Ford Taurus and Explorer consumer market automobiles. Initially, we were really disappointed, having imagined a design similar to one you'd more likely find in a science fiction movie—but therein lies the amazing design story of these cars. They build off of existing car platforms, which cuts development and maintenance costs. Their design is functional rather than superficial, and nearly every component of the cars other than what you see right away is tuned and suited to the very different uses that these look-alikes perform. From their radiators and engines to their stiffer bodies, steel wheels and enormous breaks, not to mention the column shifter, equipment plates, special fabrics and wide door openings, nothing has escaped the team's (and their customers') considerations. Ford isn't new to the law enforcement space—its Crown Victoria Police Interceptor is a law enforcement standby that continues to dominate the market, but is being discontinued to make room for the Interceptors.
"Ford has been making police vehicles for 60 years," says Teed. "We usually took our products and then we morphed them to fit the needs of police. That was until the Crown Vic—and keep in mind the Crown Vic is on a 19-year-old platform. Our mission said the next generation must be equal to or better than the Crown Victoria Police Interceptor. Well, that's easy from a platform perspective—you can find a better platform. It's got to be safer. It's got to be equal in durability—now that's the hard one."
"Police don't treat the vehicle all that nice, honestly," Teed continues. "This is a vehicle that lives 24/7. One person gets off the shift and the other person comes on. The vehicle just takes a beating all day long. That's why the Crown Victoria has this great reputation. So we have to build vehicles that have the same durability in the life of police use. From a design perspective, the vehicles aren't about aesthetics, they're about function. But from an engineering perspective, it's all about good design because you've got to make this thing survive."
From custom interior fabrics for easy cleaning to skid plates on the undercarriage, Ford went to great lengths to ensure the durability of the new models. Door hinges are reinforced to double the lifespan of the components, a necessary measure on a car that is constantly exited and entered. The 18-inch wheels are bigger than those found on civilian models, and are built to meet the needs of the extra-large calipers and brake pads—both of which translate to jaw-dropping braking capabilities. Match that with an optional 3.5L EcoBoost V6 engine souped up with two turbochargers and a high-pressure direct-injection system, and you have a 365 horsepower vehicle that can jump to high speeds and slow to a crawl at the drop of a hat.
Due to the difference between civilian and police driving techniques, all of the driving dynamics like suspension and turning sensitivity have been tweaked to provide optimum performance. If you imagine that driving a police car is fun, you are right. I was able to drive both the Crown Victoria and the new Interceptors on identical courses, and the differences were instantly noticeable. The Crown Vic has the brazen power and handling that's a bit of a throwback. The Interceptors leverage AWD and every modern engineering tool to create a vehicle that handles and performs better, safer and more easily. I'm not going to lie, however—throwing a Vic around a corner is a helluva good time.
Most surprising, perhaps, was the way the Utility Interceptor drove, which didn't feel anything like its street version. It gripped and turned more like a car than an SUV, and its braking was particularly impressive. The cars also feature 20% better fuel economy than the competition, and considering how much it costs municipalities to keep fleets gassed up that really matters.
Another important element to consider was distraction while driving, which inhibits decision-making. "We tried to make it as easy to drive quickly as possible," says Interian. "A lot of the new technologies help us with that. The all-wheel drive, the stability controls—we tuned the suspension to that kind of driving."
While the interior looks much like that of an explorer or Taurus, subtle details are peppered throughout. "We took a lot of design effort in the seats," said Teed. "We took down the bolsters to the point where there was hardly any foam left so that the butt of the gun would fit. The seat has "anti-intrusion" plates—there's a nice big steel plate that runs through the back of the seat. Then you put a partition in there, which is generally common in most patrol vehicles, and all of a sudden it becomes a cell, a safety cell." Ford also pushed back the rear seats and widened the door, creating safer and easier entry and more legroom for all.
Ford worked with a team of officers from start to finish, making sure that every detail was purpose-designed for the line of duty. In some cases that included doing less with technology—fleets can either be ordered with standard keys that work in all models or individual fobs that are car-specific. While Ford included their iPod and USB-enabled info-center, the real innovation came in allowing "after-market" technologies to work in the automobile. They inserted unassigned control buttons on the wheel that can be wired to sirens and other police-specific electronics. Ford realized that older models are often rigged to accommodate police needs, so the new Interceptors are designed to be easily customized.
One of the unique quirks of law enforcement fleets is that electronics often outlast the automobiles. With Ford's malleable models, police forces can outfit the new cars with existing technology utilizing the customizable features. The trunk of the Sedan features interior lights and a custom-mounted gear box for installing technologies out of the way. On the Utility, a wide berth and mounting options make it easy for officers to include their own after-market storage.
In terms of safety, crumple zones have been specified to divert impact away from the cabin, a feature that is enhanced by (optional) ballistic door panels. Airbags are intelligent, and can distinguish the difference between the impact of a bullet round and that of a collision. Steel has been used throughout the car for its ability to diffuse heat. This, combined with the larger radiator and and auxiliary transmission oil cooler, help to counteract overheating from long running times.
The Interceptor Series, building off of a long history of police-specific automobiles, is a great example of how purpose-built design can turn standard-issue sedans and SUVs into a versatile tools of law enforcement.
All photos by Josh Rubin and Evan Orensten
This year's International Auto Show in Geneva brought about design innovations and curious concepts hitting all different market segments. From customizable supercars to cute cabriolets, the following themes prevailed at the show.
Customers shopping for the latest supercar have more options than ever on factory paint and interiors. But for the truly discerning and unique individual, more and more companies are offering a genuinely bespoke design service where customers can take part in every step of the process. Much like getting a suit made, this time intensive approach requires picking from an extensive selection of some of the most beautiful materials in the world.
Ferrari unveiled its personalization service, called Ferrari Tailor-Made, which actually draws its roots from the custom coachbuiding that occurred in Maranello in the 1950s. The lucky few that qualify will be teamed with an expert Ferrari designer who will guide them through each step of the process, much like a tailor might explain the various options for tuxedo lapels.
Aston Martin also debuted their version of this deep customization program in Geneva. Called "Q" (you'll forgive them the 007 references), the service offers to elevate customization beyond paint and leather selection, giving a customer the ability to alter the external and internal styling of the cars themselves. Since almost every car in Aston's lineup is based on a common underpinning, the ability to manufacture a one-off masterpiece to a customer's specification is within reach.
A predominant theme at the show came centered on the use of non-traditional paint finishes on new models. Once seen only in rap videos and aftermarket customization, matte and satin paint have hit the mainstream. From Aston Martin and Audi down to Hyundai, nearly every major manufacturer had a model on display done up in a dull finish. Of particular note were the Mercedes Benz SL63 AMG (having its world premiere at Geneva), the new Ferrari F12berlinetta in a stunning satin aluminum, and the Aston Martin Virage in a dark blue satin with yellow accents. Of course these finishes tend to work better in the showroom than in day-to-day practicality, but this was a show after all.
Last year at Geneva was the year of the hybrid, but with GM stalling production of the Volt due to slow sales, Tesla dealing with customer backlash from a technical issue gone viral, and general tepid interest across the industry in hybrids and electric cars, automakers were less enthusiastic this year. While the penchant for gas-free vehicles may have cooled in the general market, fuel efficiency is here to stay. Manufacturers from Mercedes to Ferrari were quick to point out their gas efficiency improvements and plans for even leaner engines to come, whether they be hybrid, diesel or just evolved gas technologies.
Geneva debuted several new convertible models, ranging from accessible to the "if you have to ask" variety. The first one to note is the VW GTI Cabriolet, a topless version of Volkswagen's excellent compact car, slated only for the European market. Other droptops include the Mercedes-Benz AMG SL63, a 1200 horsepower Bugatti Veyron Grand Sport Vitesse, and the one-off, completely insane Lamborghini Aventador J, which does away with a windshield as well.
The most unexpected topless rendition was the Range Rover Evoque, introduced as a concept to gauge customer interest. A convertible SUV may seem like a gamble—especially after the unfortunate Nissan Murano still fresh in memory—but luckily the Evoque maintains the character that makes it appealing as a coupe. The addition of a roll-bar on a production version would go a long way to balancing out the rugged looks with the top down.
Those looking to spend $100,000 on a car have many options—excellent performance, coddling comfort, strong styling and luxury hybrids. The Fisker Karma EVer appeals to those who seek all of those, but are willing to meet somewhere in the middle. It isn't the fastest or best performing in that price range, the most luxurious, or the hybrid with the best mileage. It is, however, a hugely impressive and attractive car from a new and interesting manufacturer that delivers enough of each of those components to make it a unique and obvious choice for many potential buyers. This new company seeks to increase the use of recycled materials and to decrease impact, wherever possible. Partners and suppliers are selected for their responsible business practices, and even its dealers need to get on the program—showrooms must be renovated, not built from scratch.
Building a car is an incredibly complex process that takes some of the world's best design and engineering talent years, leveraging well-established systems and manufacturing techniques, years to create. Starting a new automobile company from scratch outside of the very small-scale, niche market is something that is very rarely endeavored given the complexity and enormous cost involved.
Southern California-based Fisker was created in 2007 by two auto industry vets and longtime associates—Henrik Fisker (who led design of the Z8 at BMW, was president and CEO of BMW's DesignworksUSA, creative director at Ford's London design center, chief of design at Aston Martin, and director of Ford's Global Advanced Design Studio) and Bernhard Koehler (who similarly held senior positions at BMW as well as its DesignworksUSA division, Ford's London design center, and was director of operations and business at Ford's Global Advanced Design Studio). In 2008 they debuted the Fisker Karma concept, the world's first luxury plug-in hybrid car, inspired by technology created for the U.S. military.
Four years later, delivery of the production Karma has begun, and its first customers—European royals and Hollywood celebrities among them—can be spotted driving one of the most attention-getting cars on the road today. I had the opportunity to test the Karma in Los Angeles, meet many of the company's executives, and experience the car firsthand.
The Fisker Karma EVer (Electric Vehicle with extended range) is a $100,000, four-door, four-seat, luxury plug-in hybrid with a very strong presence. It can travel up to 50 miles on a full charge of its 180 kW, 20 KWh lithium-iron phosphate battery pack, meaning that most people commuting to work will never need the turbocharged 2.0 liter, four cylinder, 260-hp gas-powered engine (sourced from GM). If needed, the engine powers the generator, which in turn powers the two rear-mounted electric motors that drive the rear wheels, and the car can travel around 250 additional miles. This "series hybrid" design is unique to the Karma.
The motors generate around 400hp and 981 lb-ft of torque (the Ferrari 458 Italia, by comparison, generates around 400 lb-ft, and the Tesla Roadster Sport around 225 lb-ft). Electric engines are able to access all of that torque on demand, and that means the Karma is perky (though not fast), despite its 5,500-lb heft (as much as many large SUVs). The batteries, solar panel roof, engine, motors and generator create a heavy payload, one that some people believe impedes its performance and desirability. While true, those buyers are not the ones entranced by the Karma's styling, 22" Batmobile-like Circuit Blade wheels and Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar tires.
The inside of the car makes as much of a statement. Available in three interior trim packages, the base EcoStandard, the EcoSport and the EcoLux (which is what I drove). Each features only reclaimed wood from fallen trees from forest fires, and even from the bottom of Lake Michigan, where 300-year-old wood is retrieved from yesteryear's lumber mill scrap. Though limited in its use, the wood takes center stage in the cabin. The simple and natural finish—you won't find any glossy lacquer here—is unique, subtle and luxurious.
The EcoStandard features artificial leather, and the EcoSport Low Carbon Leather—Farm Animal Welfare-certified hides which are organically tanned with ecologically harvested bark extract by seventh-generation Scottish leather firm Bridge of Weir. The perfection you'd find in a Bentley's leather trim is traded for the natural beauty of the cow's hide. Around 85% of the hide is used (substantially more than usual), imperfections and all. Interior colorways are fresh and innovative, too. The firm's plant supplies its own steam-generated power and processes its waste water.
The EcoLux features a totally animal-free automobile interior along with an "EcoSuede" made entirely of recycled materials. All packages include soy-based foam in the seats and carpet made with recycled materials. Though the rear seats provide enough room for adults, they aren't very comfortable to sit in for long periods of time.
All packages share the same electronics, and here too Fisker has innovated with a 10" haptic touch screen to control all aspects of the car's entertainment and operational systems. In fact the Karma has only four buttons—one for the locks, one for the glove box, one for the hazard lights and one for power. The dash's lack of switches and buttons is not just a nod to electronics—Fisker intentionally sought to eliminate the loop involved in manufacturing, shipping, maintaining and ultimately disposing of landfill-destined plastic and wire components. The "Command Center" system, designed with Visteon, is user-friendly and well executed, though may take some getting used to by those who are less comfortable or familiar with digital interfaces. My phone paired quickly and easily, and the Bluetooth system supports audio. Key functions are easily accessed without painful menu layers, and it serves as a display when the car is in reverse. The car's sound system is acceptable but far from industry-leading. The car features low-voltage LED lighting wherever possible, further reducing demand on the car's electrical system.
Some of the power for the car's systems is created by its "retro-geometric"-patterned 120-watt solar roof panel (the largest and most powerful in any automobile), which both extends battery range and makes a clear design statement. Parked in the sun? The Karma leverages that electric power to ventilate the car's interior. Fisker estimates that around 200 miles of zero-emissions driving are created from the car's roof, making it "the only car with a sunroof for the 21st century."
The Karma performed as well in LA traffic as the twisting canyon roads of Malibu, providing a respectfully sticky ride that doesn't disappoint, especially for a a sedan of its size. Those big wheels feature Brembo monobloc caliper brakes, which easily bring the car to a quick standstill, and the regenerative braking system takes that energy and directs it to help power a generator where it can be reused.
The Karma fully charges in about 14 hours with a standard 100v plug, or around 6 hours with a 220v plug.
Designed and engineered in Anaheim, CA, the Karma is built by Valmet, the respectable Finnish producer, who until last year produced the Porsche Cayman and Boxter. Fisker has purchased an old GM plant in New Hampshire which it intends to renovate and use to build its next model, the Nina.
The Karma introduces to the sometimes predictable luxury auto market a truly innovative new option from a refreshingly young company, and certainly fulfills a need for the more thoughtful consumer with six figures to spend on an equally conscious car.
Photos by Evan Orensten
During a recent trip to England we were invited to tour Bentley's factory in Crewe and had the chance to get a behind-the-scenes look at how these luxury powerhouses are put together from start to finish. The hands-on plant offered a wildly different experience than other car manufacturing processes we have seen and, by relying on a level of manual precision machines can't always replicate, provided a fascinating example of the merge of technology and craftsmanship in creating truly luxurious custom automobiles.
Championing the glory of leisurely driving, Cadillac's stunning new open-air handcrafted concept car speaks to luxurious motoring while focusing on simplicity. There's no question that this car says that Cadillac can (after many years) once again define American luxury; it looks clearly toward the future though respectful of the brand's heritage.
Inspired by the California coast (the car was designed by GM's LA-based Advanced Design studio) the Ciel—"sky" in French— is designed to comfortably seat four adults, featuring elegant lines and an elongated proportion that is surprisingly just a foot longer than the American manufacturer's angular CTS Coupe. The Ciel sports a 3.6 liter V6 engine too, but it's complimented by a hybrid system that uses lithium-ion batteries.
We had the chance to speak with members of the car's design team during its debut at Pebble Beach: Clay Dean, the Executive Director GM Advanced Global Design and Cadillac Brand Director, Niki Smart, Exterior Design Manager, and Frank Saucedo, Director of the Advanced Global Design studio. The team spoke about wanting "to put some swagger back in Cadillac." The same team worked on last year's more angular and considerably smaller Urban Luxury Concept car, though the Ciel is more an exercise in restraint and simplicity and the traveler's journey. It's about going there as much as it is about arriving there. Smart adds "There are so many things graphically around the car, but when the science gets so good that it's invisible, that's truly art."Dean elaborates, "I think it shows a nice bandwidth in what we're thinking about at Cadillac right now and the versatility of the team."
Selecting the color was a long and heated debate, finally resolved by taking pictures of how it changes in different light. Named Cabernet, the car's color reflects various pigments of red, yellow and gold hues depending on how the light strikes it, like holding a glass of red wine up to the sun. The interior boasts an equally beautiful surface, with the inside of the suicide doors, the panel, console and front seatbacks made of solid wood from a singular fallen olive oil tree, recycled from a west coast olive oil producer. The designers took interest in making the interior as simple and clean as possible. The cabernet and sand leather interior features a laser-perforated design and wraps the entire interior space.
The team spoke at length about staying true to the original vision throughout the design process. Whenever they got stuck or felt they were veering too far from it they pulled out the original sketches, which we were fortunate to track down exclusively for our readers.
Dean says, "How many things can I take away that I don't need to be bothered by?" To that end, zippers keep the contents of the storage areas contained, and the rear LCD screens are cleverly hidden by a sliding leather panel. The climate system is piped through a channel that surrounds the car instead of traditional vents. The dashboard is simplified and features technology that more seamlessly integrates with your phone and your data.
The studio worked with local vendors, including Metalcrafters for the body work.
Invoking dreams of romantic cross-country excursions or drives up the coast, the Ciel comes equipped to fulfill these sentiments: The low console, which spans the length of the vehicle's interior, is kitted out with a humidor and cigars, a compartment stowing a cashmere blanket, drawers stocked with suntan lotion and sunglasses, and armrests with ambient lighting for nighttime drives. "Luxury is not something that you need. It's something that you want," explains Dean.
Physically manifesting the feeling of what it formerly meant to own—and drive—a Cadillac at the pinnacle of its reign, the Ciel, if manufactured, has the potential to be a future classic. Perhaps it will be known as the car that reestablished Cadillac's reputation as a benchmark of living the American dream.
Pebble Beach is to vintage automobiles what the Superbowl is to football and Art Basel is to art fairs. The group of events, anchored by the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance, include shows, auctions and races each presenting the most celebrated works of automotive design and engineering. Drawing collectors, racers and enthusiasts from all over the world, we felt it was about time to see what this weekend is all about.
Thousands of cars and tens of thousands of fans provide an incredible opportunity to see some of the most beautiful and most innovative examples of automobile design. Driving around town is a sensory overload, with whiplash-inducing head turns to see everything from an Ariel Atom 3 to a pristine 1957 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz convertible. It's also an increasingly important event for auto manufacturers, many of whom introduce new cars, offer test drives of new models, and premier concept cars. Many of the events differentiate the years by hosting specific makes, models or celebrating anniversaries, and this year was no exception. We covered many of the activities and captured more than 2,500 images. Here are some of our favorites.
The Quail, a Motorsports Gathering, celebrated the 50th Anniversary of the Jaguar E-Type, Ferrari's America and Superamerica models, Pre- and Post-War Racing Cars, Post-War Sports Cars, Super Cars, and Sports and Racing Motorcycles. The 1952 Glocker/Porsche Roadster was one of our favorites.
A highlight at The Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion at the Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca was seeing so many Jaguars on the track celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the E Type.
Getting up close with the beautiful cars at the auctions—from barnyard finds to impeccably restored rarities of all types—provides unlimited fantasies of ownership. Favorites from The RM and Gooding & Company auctions included a 1960 Ferrari 250 GT and a 1956 Volkswagen Karman-Ghia.
The Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance, which takes place on the celebrated 18th fairway of the Pebble Beach Golf Links, is arguably the world's most prestigious vintage automobile show. Each year 200 cars are selected to participate. This year's focus included Stutz, Jaguar E-Types, Ferrari GTO, early Rolls-Royce Silver Ghosts and Italian Motorcycles. We were there as the cars were driven onto the fairway at sunrise—an opportunity to not only see these vintage beauties actually drive, but also a chance to see the incredible pride, passion and focus of their owners.
All photos by Josh Rubin. More after the jump.
After making the trip to Maranello, Italy to check out Ferrari's new Jean Nouvel-designed production facility and restaurant a year ago, we were lucky enough to be invited back for this year's World Design Contest in July 2011.
This time we toured the amazing V8 production line again, but also had the rare privilege of seeing many of the standout cars in Ferrari's extensive vintage collection, as well as getting an exclusive glimpse inside the FXX, Forumula 1 Clienti, and Classiche garages.
The FXX garage houses and maintains a few dozen independently-owned Ferrari FXXs, the $1.8 million non-street-legal versions of the Enzo. These superior limited production cars are significantly modified specifically for racing. Storing your FXX here gives you access to Ferrari's private track—so private we weren't even allowed to photograph it.
Every year Ferrari produces between three and six Formula One race cars. At the end of the season, Ferrari keeps one, putting the rest up for sale to private clients. Like for owners of the FXX, with the Formula One Clienti garage you get storage, maintenance and access to the track—providing you have the funds of course.
For the classic car connoisseur, Ferrari also offers complete factory renovation and restoration assistance in their Classiche garage. Here the brilliant craftspeople will restore your vintage Ferrari to its former glory. Every little detail is remanufactured to its original specs in order to receive a proper Ferrari seal of authenticity.
For more exclusive images from our trip check out the gallery below.
All images by Evan Orensten