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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. 

The 2005 Toyota Avalon, like many other cars, offers drivers the option of using cruise control. Is it safer not to use it? (Josh Armstrong/The Christian Science Monitor/File)

Is cruise control dangerous?

By Richard ReadContributor / 08.12.13

For decades, cruise control has been a common feature on automobiles. It's beloved by many road-trippers, who say that it reduces fatigue and boosts fuel economy.

But others aren't so sold on the technology. When it debuted, for example, older drivers worried about their ability to deactivate it. That's not much of a concern nowadays, but a new study from the VINCI Autoroutes Foundation suggests that cruise control poses other dangers. 

The study employed 90 subjects, who were put into a driving simulator and challenged with four different scenarios: approaching a toll booth, encountering an 18-wheeler accident in the passing lane, encountering construction in the driving lane, and entering an area in which their speed was tracked by radar. 

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Subjects went through each scenario three times -- once using cruise control (which sets a car's minimum speed), once using a speed-limiter (which sets a car's maximum speed and is uncommon in the U.S.), and once using neither device.

Researchers identified a number of problems among those using cruise control and speed-limiters: ( Continue… )

The Mazda logo on a sign at the 2013 Pittsburgh Auto Show in Pittsburgh. A group of engineering students at Clemson University have designed a concept car for Mazda aimed at the wants and needs of young adult drivers. (Gene J. Puskar/AP/File)

Can Millennials build a car that Millennials will actually buy?

By Richard ReadGuest blogger / 08.10.13

We've spilled a lot of virtual ink discussing Generation Y (aka Millennials) and their love/hate relationship with cars. Among the findings in recent years:

Understandably, these doom-and-gloom predictions have automakers worried . Some are planning for a future filled with alternative mobility options. Others insist that, no, the kids are all right, just give them time and they'll come around. The latter have occasionally attempted to create cars just for Millennials, with mixed results.

And so, the younguns have taken matters into their own hands. According to Auto News, a team of grad-student engineers at Clemson University recently pulled the wraps off a long-awaited new car, built as a concept for Mazda.

Dubbed "Deep Orange 3", the vehicle looks like many other concepts at auto shows, right down to the itsy-bitsy, would-never-get-approved side-view mirrors and the lack of door handles. But there is something fairly unique about the car: it's a six-seater.

Apparently, Millennial drivers want to carry around exactly six people -- not five, like you could fit in a sedan, and not seven, which would require an SUV or minivan. They want seats for six. (Related prediction: triple-dating will be a thing in the future.) ( Continue… )

A 2013 Honda Civic is shown in Detroit, Ill. in 2012. The Honda Civic was rated one of the best small cars available, according to Ingram. (Paul Sancya/AP/File)

Which small cars are the best in the market?

By Antony IngramContributor / 08.09.13

It's not hard to see why small cars have increased in popularity over the last decade or so.

Always popular among some buyers for their gas-saving abilities, today's small cars are also now quicker, more comfortable, better-equipped and safer than ever before.

IIHS has been discovering just how safe in its latest wave of testing, and it's good and bad news for models in the small car market.

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The best news is reserved for Honda, whose Civic and Civic coupe earned the maximum Good rating in IIHS's strict small offset frontal crash tests. The small offset test puts the impact's maximum force through just a small area of a car's structure, and really separates the safest cars from those that need more work.

The 2013 Kia Soul and 2014 Kia Forte received 'Poor' ratings in this offset test, with body and dashboard intrusion and a worrying tendency for the driver's head to slide off the airbag and impact upon the car's structure. ( Continue… )

Tesla Motors Inc. demonstrates its new battery swapping program in Hawthorne, Calif. in June 2013. The 2013 Tesla Model S offers a panoramic roof, XM Satellite radio, and a tech package for drivers looking to add special features to their car — but you'll have to pay for it, Ingram says. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters/File)

2013 Tesla Model S: New options, packages, and prices

By Antony IngramContributor / 08.07.13

It's still fairly early days for the Tesla Model S, and while the car is finding fans across the globe, it's still seeing various updates and option packages that early buyers didn't have access to.

Tesla Motors [NSDQ:TSLA] has recently announced a new line of option packages and pricing for various items.

The good news is that Model S buyers can now enjoy even more kit. The bad news, at least for those still deciding whether they want a Model S, is that some of the new packages add significant cost to the price of the car.

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Where previously the panoramic roof option cost $1,500, it's now $1,000 more expensive. XM Satellite radio used to cost $950; now it's available only as part of the Ultra High Fidelity Sound package for $2,500.

A tech package, with seven years of maps and navigation, LED daytime running and cornering lights, keyless entry, memory seats and more costs $3,500. Smart Air Suspension is $2,250, but only if you've forked out for the tech package, while leather trim is $2,500 and an Alcantara headliner $1,500. Upgraded 19" tires are $1,000 with the 60 kWh model, standard with 85 kWh cars. ( Continue… )

The 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek made its debut last year at the New York International Auto Show. Its successor, the 2014 Subaru XV Crosstrek, will come in a hybrid version for the first time this year. (Subaru of America, Inc./PRNewsFoto/File)

2014 Subaru XV Crosstrek: Surefooted but loud

By John VoelckerContributor / 08.06.13

In its second year on the market, the 2014 Subaru XV Crosstrek continues as a bona fide success for the small Japanese maker of all-wheel-drive cars. The high-riding hatchback compact crossover seems to appeal to a lot of buyers who don't want the bulk of "compact" crossover wagons that get ever larger.

For the rest of this story, click here.

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Sixteen-year-old Amarveer Brar drives home from high school with his friend Roger Gorog in 2002. Fewer teens are expressing interest in getting their driver's licenses, a new study says. (Robert Harbison/The Christian Science Monitor/File )

Are fewer teens interested in driving?

By Suzanne KaneContributor / 08.05.13

Less than half of all American teenagers get their first driver's license within a year of becoming eligible to drive, a new study from AAA says.

In stark contrast to 20 years ago, when more than two-thirds of teens got their driver’s license before they turned 18, only 44 percent of today's teens have their first licenses within 12 months of eligibility, according to a new study from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

The delay of the traditional rite of passage extends even further. The study suggests only 54 percent of teens are obtaining their license before their 18th birthday.

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The AAA finds this troubling, saying that teens are missing out on the intended benefits of state graduated licensing laws (GDLs).

In a press release announcing the findings, Peter Kissinger, President and CEO, AAA Foundation for Traffic Study said that one in three teens who delay getting their license until they turn 18 are foregoing opportunities to learn safeguards that GDL provides.

“For most, it’s about not having a car or having alternatives to getting around,” Kissinger said. ( Continue… )

The company logo of car manufacturer BMW is pictured on a car in Munich, Germany earlier this year. The 2014 BMW 328d, available in both sedan and wagon body styles, can take you from zero to 60 mph in just seven seconds. (Matthias Schrader/AP/File)

Drivers, can you have it all? Maybe, with the 2014 BMW 328d.

By Viknesh VijayenthiranContributor / 08.04.13

Buyers looking for performance, luxury and stellar fuel economy, your car has arrived. Yes, with the new 2014 BMW 328d, you really can have it all.

The complete 328d range, which includes sedan and wagon bodystyles, the latter offered exclusively with all-wheel drive, comes with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbodiesel engine that develops a stout 180 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque.

BMW says the engine should deliver 0-60 mph times of just over seven seconds when matched to a standard eight-speed automatic.

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This week, the EPA released its fuel economy figures for the range and the most frugal, as expected, is the rear-wheel-drive 328d sedan, which rates in at 32/45 mpg city/highway and 37 mpg combined. As the guys at Autoblog point out, that’s better than the smaller Volkswagen Jetta TDI’s 30/42 mpg.

It’s also significantly better than the former 335d, which rated only 23 mpg in the city, although its six-cylinder engine was more powerful than the four-cylinder unit in the latest 328d. ( Continue… )

Workers on the production lines of the Mercedes C-class at the Mercedes plant in Sindelfingen, Germany.The compact C-class is a favorite target for car thieves. (Bernd Weißbrod/dpa/AP/File)

Car thieves' 10 favorite luxury rides

By Richard ReadGuest blogger / 08.03.13

The Highway Loss Data Institute recently reported on the Ford F-250 pickup's popularity among car thieves. But as nice as the F-250 can be, the National Insurance Crime Bureau knows that some brand-conscious baddies have a taste for high-end marques. And so, it's published a list of the ten luxury rides that car thieves love.

To gather its data, the NICB looked at auto thefts reported over four calendar years: 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012. According to the organization, 4,384 luxury vehicles were stolen during that period.

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To add some nuance to its analysis, the NICB divided cars into three segments: compact luxury, mid-sized luxury, and premium luxury. Between 2009 and 2012, 2,150 compact luxury cars were stolen -- considerably more than the 1,734 mid-sized luxury cars and the 500 premium luxury cars that went missing. (Though the NICB doesn't say so, we'd guess that compacts were most popular with thieves because they're cheaper and thus, more numerous than mid-size and premium models.)

And so, the moment you've all been waiting for -- the 10 most-stolen luxury rides: ( Continue… )

Newly assembled Ford F150 pick-up trucks sit in a holding area before being transported to dealerships outside the Ford Rouge Center in Dearborn, Mich., last year. Automakers sold 15.7 million cars and light trucks in July, with trucks leading the way. (Rebecca Cook/Reuters/File)

Automakers ride wave of truck sales, near post-recession record

By Staff writer / 08.01.13

Detroit may be bankrupt, but Detroit’s automakers are on a roll.

General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler all announced double-digit year-over-year increases in sales for July. So did Honda, Toyota, and Nissan as the auto industry looks to achieve its best year in sales since 2007.

In July, the industry sold cars and light trucks at an annual rate of 15.7 million, slightly down from June’s figures. But industry analysts suggest that strong sales in the fall could push the industry to the 16 million mark – a post-recession high.

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The reason for the optimism? Trucks.

With sales already running strong during the first six months of the year, trucks notched another big month in July. That suggests the momentum will continue into the fall. ( Continue… )

A 2013 all-electric Nissan Leaf is displayed at the Washington Auto Show earlier this year. The 2014 Nissan Leaf has slightly better mileage, an updated EV-IT system, and a backup camera system for every grade. (Gary Cameron/Reuters/File)

Electric car sales: Nissan Leaf up, Chevy Volt down

By John VoelckerContributor / 08.01.13

Sales of plug-in electric cars continued at a relatively steady pace in July, keeping the sector on track for something near 100,000 sales by the end of the year.

While last month's half-year total wasn't quite enough to double the 2012 total of 53,000 electric cars, sales are now running at an average of more than 7,000 a month--with variations in each car from month to month.

Nissan sold 1,864 Leaf battery-electric cars--a record for July sales, though not an all-time monthly high.

That brings Leaf sales for the first seven months of 2013 to 11,703, which is more Leafs than the company sold in the U.S. during all of 2011 or 2012.

Sales of the Chevrolet Volt range-extended electric car, on the other hand, totaled 1,788 in July, fewer than the 1,849 sold in July of 2012. ( Continue… )

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