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In Gear

In Gear offers a fresh look at the world of cars – its technology, economics, and future – through the eyes of Monitor staffers and other automobile writers from around the world. 

This file photo shows the dashboard of a 2005 MINI Cooper S Convertable in Beacon Hill, Boston. Future cars could offer customizable upgrade options that can change from customer to customer. (Mary Knox Merrill/The Christian Science Monitor/File)

Will you rent the seat heater upgrade on your next vehicle?

By Richard ReadGuest blogger / 01.22.14

Computers have become integral parts of our everyday lives. Whether they're sitting on our desks, in our pockets, or on our wrists, we've become increasingly dependent on these devices to keep us connected and informed. (Heck, you're reading this article on a computer right now, aren't you?)

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Computers have also become integral to our cars. They keep us moving forward and entertain drivers and passengers alike as we zip down the road.

Admittedly, the computerization of the auto space has had a few downsides. For starters, it's made life much more difficult for shade-tree mechanics. Working on most modern vehicles without some sort of diagnostic system is daunting. In some cases, it's nearly impossible.

Then, too, although we've not reached the point at which all our cars are linked to the internet and interconnected, that day is coming -- and with it comes the real threat of hacking. (Not like the faux hacking scares we've heard about for the past couple of years.) ( Continue… )

A sign is painted on a parking space for electric cars inside a car park in Hong Kong. The 2014 Smart ForTwo is the smallest, shortest, and cheapest electric car sold in the US. (Tyrone Siu/Reuters/File)

Taking the cheapest electric car in the US for a test drive

By John VoelckerGuest blogger / 01.22.14

With minimal changes from the model launched last year as the least expensive electric car in the U.S., the 2014 Smart ForTwo Electric Drive remains the smallest and shortest plug-in electric car sold in the U.S.--as well as the only one offered as a convertible.

The two-seat electric Smart comes not only as a three-door hatchback but also as a Cabriolet model with a folding cloth roof that can be rolled back partway like a large sunroof, or dropped all the way down to sit in a pile at the rear of the car just behind the driver's shoulders.

It may be winter now, but if you're craving open-air motoring when the sun shines--and want to keep it all-electric--the Smart Electric Drive is your sole option. ( Continue… )

A Nissan Leaf tops off it's battery in Central Point, Ore., at one of the charging stations along Interstate 5. If you didn’t take advantage of a wide array of tax credits and deductions last year, it looks like you’ll be out of luck in 2014. Tax credits for certain electric cars though continue into 2014. (Jeff Barnard/AP/File)

Will electric cars kill utility grids? No, study says.

By Antony IngramGuest blogger / 01.21.14

One of the popular criticisms of electric cars is that, as more of them roam our roads and are charged in garages at night, electrical grids will struggle and fail under the pressure.

It's popular because it seems plausible--while we're all used to having electrical goods in our houses, few use quite so much power for quite so long as a charging electric car.

As is often the case, it turns out to be a misconception--electric cars are unlikely to trouble electric grids, even as far more of them hit the roads.

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Navigant Research suggests that part of the misconception comes from misunderstanding just how little energy electric cars use--and therefore require when charging.

According to the Energy Information Administration's Residential Energy Consumption Survey, the average U.S. household consumed 11,321 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity in 2009. ( Continue… )

A Nissan Leaf charges at an electric vehicle charging station in Portland, Ore. Nissan recently sold its 100,000th Leaf. (Rick Bowmer/AP/File)

Nissan Leaf sales hit the 100,000 mark

By Antony IngramGuest blogger / 01.20.14

There's a curious joy in watching your car's odometer tick over to some significant number. 11,111 miles perhaps, or a palindromic number. Or, of course, the big hundred-thousand.

Nissan is experiencing that very same joy with sales of its Leaf electric car, as it sells the 99,999th and 100,000th examples worldwide.

Number 99,999, a Glacier White example, has gone to Amy Eichenberger, a mother of two from Charlottesville, Virginia. Confirming the theory that getting butts in seats is the best way to sell electric cars, Amy bought hers after experiencing a colleague's Leaf.

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The Leaf's style and low running costs were most appealing, but ex-Mercedes driver Amy, with an eye for quality and performance, warmed to the Leaf immediately,

In the end, the Leaf beat out competition from Volkswagen's Jetta TDI, the Toyota Prius, the Honda CR-V and a couple of Subaru wagons--but with a ten-mile commute and few longer trips planned, the Leaf's 84-mile EPA-rated range is more than enough to meet Amy's needs.

It should be enough for Dr. Brett Garner too, owner of a dental practice in the UK and buyer of the 100,000th Leaf. ( Continue… )

Angie Vorhies plugs in the charging cord to her Nissan Leaf electric vehicle at a mall in San Diego last month. Many automakers are exploring electric cars as backup power sources for buildings. (Lenny Ignelzi/AP/File)

Five myths about green cars and gas mileage

By John VoelckerGuest blogger / 01.19.14

Every now and then we get a reader question that reminds us how many myths about green carsare out there.

In the interests of helping you actually save money by using less gasoline, here are five of our favorites--with explanations as to why they're myths.

(1) Boosting gas mileage from 33 to 50 mpg saves more gasoline than replacing a 10-mpg vehicle with one that does 20 mpg.

As we explained three years ago in an article that still circulates, that simply isn't true.

If you replace an old pickup that gets 10 mpg with a new one that gets 20 mpg, you cut your gasoline consumption every 100 miles from 10 gallons to 5--saving you 5 gallons.

But if you swap your old 33-mpg economy car for a new 2014 Toyota Prius (rated at 50 mpg), that only saves 1 single gallon over the same distance--down from 3 to 2 gallons.

Boosting the gas mileage of the lowest-efficiency vehicles displaces a lot more gas than taking a high-efficiency vehicle higher. We suggest you do both, of course. ( Continue… )

A 2014 Chevrolet Silverado 2500 HD pickup truck is displayed during the press preview day of the North American International Auto Show in Detroit this past week. Though other pickup trucks gained in sales in February, sales of GM's top-selling Chevy Silverado pickup truck fell 12 percent. (Rebecca Cook/Reuters/File)

Chevrolet Silverado, Corvette win truck and car of the year

By Viknesh VijayenthiranGuest blogger / 01.19.14

For the first time in history, Chevrolet has taken out both categories in the prestigious North American Car and Truck of the Year awards. Its 2014 Corvette Stingray sports car was picked by the judges for the car category while its 2014 Silverado 1500 pickup truck was picked for the truck/utility category in this year's event.

This was the second year in a row that a vehicle from General Motors has won the award, with the Cadillac ATS receiving top honors last year. And we came close to seeing another Cadillac go home with the top award this year; finalists in the car category included the 2014 Cadillac CTS and 2014 Mazda 3, while in the truck category the 2014 Acura MDX and 2014 Jeep Cherokee were among the top contenders.

A total of 49 automotive journalists from the U.S. and Canada vote to recognize the most outstanding vehicles of the year based on factors including innovation, design, safety, handling, driver satisfaction and value. Based on this criteria, they gave the Corvette Stingray 211 points; the Mazda 3 185 points and the Cadillac CTS 94 points. In the truck category, they gave the Silverado 1500 219 points; the Jeep Cherokee 174 points and the Acura MDX 97 points.

“Chevrolet is in the midst of the most aggressive product transformation in the brand’s more than 100-year history,” Chevrolet global boss Alan Batey said in a statement. “It is a distinct honor for the entire Chevrolet team to have both the Corvette and Silverado recognized with the prestigious North American Car and Truck of the Year awards.”

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Traffic stacks up on a highway in Dallas. Law enforcement officials in Frisco, Texas arrested a man for alerting oncoming motorists of the discreet enforcement via a 'police ahead' sign. (LM Otero/AP/File)

Can you get arrested for warning drivers of a speed trap? Yes.

By Bengt HalvorsonGuest blogger / 01.17.14

Is warning of a speed trap ahead—by holding a sign and standing in the median of a highway—a misdemeanor?

That's what Ron Martin was charged with when local law enforcement in Frisco, Texas, arrested him for alerting oncoming motorists of the discreet enforcement via a “police ahead” sign.

A law aims to curb those from holding business signs on public property, although Martin says that doesn't apply to him as he's not operating as a business or aiming to profit from the venture. 

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Curiously, the man also says that he's not opposed to the idea of speed traps, and says that his behavior had the same (theoretical) motivations—to get drivers to slow down.  ( Continue… )

The Toyota FT-1 concept is unveiled during media previews during the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Monday, Jan. 13, 2014. (Paul Sancya/AP)

Toyota FT-1 concept: a Supra replacement?

By Antony IngramGuest blogger / 01.14.14

Car enthusiasts have been clamoring for a replacement for Toyota's iconic Supra for years now, and the Toyota FT-1 concept unveiled at the 2014 Detroit Auto Show is our best look yet at just such a car. The work of America's own Calty Design Research, the FT-1 steps away from Toyota's more eco-friendly concepts of late and delivers something truly exciting--a powerful, agile sports car with sensuous curves and a focused interior layout. Gearhead Toyota boss Akio Toyoda gave designers a simple but important motive before they set to work on the car: Make it cool.

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Calty has a long and illustrious history of producing interesting designs--it's previously worked on the original 1978 Celica, the Lexus SC400, the Supra and the FT-HS concept--and the FT-1 concept is no different. The profile is long and low, the low nose leads into an extended hood, and the concept features powerful rear haunches for the traditional sports car stance. One of the designers' main goals was to create a form that looked sculpted by the wind and by speed, at once remaining functional--hence the large air intakes either side of the extended nose, and the deep side intakes aft of the doors.

While hard to tell from some angles, that black area on the hood isn't just paint, either. Like on many supercars, the FT-1 features a glass panel to allow a glimpse at the internal combustion engine below. There are large alloy wheels, a deep front spoiler and a pronounced kick to the rear end, not dissimilar from the aggressive, cab-back shape of American sports cars like the Corvette and Viper. For the car's glasshouse, there's more than a passing nod to one of Toyota's most celebrated models--the stunning 2000GT. ( Continue… )

Mercedes-Benz cars are displayed in a dealership of German car manufacturer Daimler in Munich, Germany, earlier this year. Mercedes showed off its newest S-Class, the S600, at the 2014 Detroit Auto Show. (Michaela Rehle/Reuters/File)

2015 Mercedes-Benz S600 brings power at Detroit Auto Show

By Nelson IresonGuest blogger / 01.14.14

Those in the market for the latest generation of Mercedes-Benz’s S-Class need not only opt for the 2015 S65 AMG if they’re after a V-12 under the hood. The German automaker has introduced an S600 model at the 2014 Detroit Auto Show this week, complete with a twin-turbocharged V-12 engine and some exclusive tech goodies.

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The latest S-Class has impressed us at every turn in V-8 guise, from the 2014 S550 to the 2014 S63 AMG, and the new V-12-powered S600 should offer just as much in the way of luxury, style, and competence along with the knowledge that there’s a brute of an engine waiting to be unleashed at every turn.

The engine isn’t simply a hand-me-down from the previous generation. The new unit displaces 6.0 liters instead of 5.5 liters this time around, and its output registers at 523 horsepower and 612 pound-feet of torque. That’s 13 more horsepower than before but the real story is the torque level, which peaks at just 1,900 rpm. The engine also features a fuel-saving stop-start system. Gear shifts are handled by the 7G-Tronic Plus seven-speed automatic. ( Continue… )

Ford unveils the new F-150 with a body built almost entirely out of aluminum. at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Monday, Jan. 13, 2014. (Carlos Osorio/File/AP)

2015 Ford F-150 makes its Detroit Auto Show debut (+video)

By Viknesh VijayenthiranGuest blogger / 01.13.14

The all-new 2015 Ford F-150 pickup truck, the latest version of America’s best-selling vehicle, has been revealed on the eve of the 2014 Detroit Auto Show. The new workhorse is radically different to anything we’ve seen before in the full-size pickup market, as it features a body that’s mostly aluminum and an available engine that displaces just 2.7 liters.

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In designing the backbone of the F-150, Ford Motor Company [NYSE:F] engineers improved the truck’s signature fully boxed ladder frame, which now incorporates high-strength steel to make it stronger and lighter. Aluminum, featuring a similar grade to that used in the military and aerospace industry, has been applied to the body, helping to save upwards of 700 pounds from the kerb weight. ( Continue… )

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