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New York 2014: The 2015 Camry and Our Giant Grille Epidemic

Giant grilles. They started with luxury and performance cars, and for good reason. After all, a big engine requires a lot of air. But as mainstream carmakers have latched onto the big-grille look, the grille has become more about ornamentation and styling rather than performance. Engines are getting smaller and more efficient, so they actually need less airflow to cool the radiator than ever before.

Now, with the 2015 Toyota Camry, it’s official: giant grilles have jumped the shark.

For 2015, Camry dramatically overhauled its perennial favorite to increase interior quality, make handling a bit sportier, and give the car a more exciting look. On the exterior, the only carryover panel is the roof. Everything else is new. Including that giant, unnecessary, soon-to-feel dated grille.

Underneath, Toyota strengthened the chassis and revised the suspension to increase responsiveness. It also tuned the electrically assisted power steering for better handling. The Camry will have the same engine and transmission options as before, but now there will also be two new models: the performance-oriented XSE and the Hybrid SE.

The new Camry also features a host of tech upgrades, including a wireless charging station in the center stack, a 4.2-inch center digital information display in the gauge cluster, and new safety systems, such as lane lane-departure alert and adaptive cruise control.

The Camry is the best-selling car in America. Has been for the past 12 years. So not only is it a big deal when Toyota redesigns its most important car, but it’s also an indication of what our roads are about to look like. In other words, get ready for the big-grille invasion.

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Self-Driving Cars: Are the Safety Features Worth It?

Self-Driving Cars: Are the Safety Features Worth It?

by Gerri Willis

You’ve been hearing about it for a long time now – the advent of the self-driving car – and while it seems like science fiction, the reality is, that we are getting darn close to vehicles that can do all the heavy lifting for you. They call it “Intelligent Drive” at Mercedes Benz, a number of bundled driver-assist features that allow the car to drive itself. There are cameras to augment sensors on the car, steering-assist and even brake assist. Take your hands off the wheel and the car literally drives itself. I recently went to Consumer Reports test track to drive a Mercedes S550 to find out exactly what it’s like to be behind the wheel of a car that drives itself. And, the answer is this: It’s not easy to give up control!

For example, when we tested the brake assist feature, rolling up to a barrier at 20 miles per hour, I found it too irresistible to punch the brake before the car did itself. To me, it’s just a little creepy giving up that much control over to a machine. On the other hand, if I were nodding off at the wheel on a dark and stormy night, I might be glad to have such a feature. There’s also a warning when you stray out of your lane and a park assist feature. The package on this particular model costs $2,800, but you can find other vehicles with some of these features integrated into the overall cost of the vehicle. The 2014 Jeep Cherokee can parallel park you, although I found the experience uncomfortable since it makes the move super quickly and, in my case, would have ended up on the curb had one existed. However, the Jeep’s blind spot monitoring was terrific.

I am not sure I would pay for all these features – not now anyway – but there are two features that all of these cars seemed to have that I would love to see as standard features. One is a back-up camera. I own a crossover and I find the ability to see behind my car is constrained. A rear-view camera would be welcome. The blind spot detection was also a bonus. Bottom line: I’m not sure I’m ready for all this technology yet, but some of it is much appreciated. 


Don’t miss The Willis Report 5pmET on FOX Business

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2016 Mercedes-AMG GT Lacks Benz Name, Has Neat Interior [2014 New York …

2016 Mercedes-AMG GT interior

2016 Mercedes-AMG GT interior

That AMG’s forthcoming sports car would be called GT wasn’t one of the industry’s better-kept secrets. But there was one piece of information about the car that was unexpected: Its official name is Mercedes-AMG GT, which is in contrast to the outgoing SLS, whose full name is Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG. The new nomenclature signifies the status of Daimler’s performance division as a sub-brand in its own right; the name of company co-founder Carl Benz vanishes.

The Mercedes-AMG GT is the second car developed in Affalterbach, and, in fact, it draws heavily on its predecessor, the SLS. Positioned below the outgoing supercar, the GT will directly target the Porsche 911. It will be powered by a twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V-8 and come exclusively with an automatic transmission.

2016 Mercedes-AMG GT interior

2016 Mercedes-AMG GT interior

While Mercedes didn’t provide any photos of the car’s exterior, the GT has been spied many times, and we have a fairly accurate idea of what it will look like once it is fully unveiled. What we haven’t seen yet is the interior, and today, Daimler released the first official images. Executed in classic red and black leather, it features an impressive layout and array of buttons. The center stack is reminiscent of a NACA duct, and the knobs and buttons surrounding it are arranged to resemble the cylinders of a V-8. Aluminum pedals and carbon-fiber decor underscore the GT’s sporty demeanor.

The Mercedes-AMG GT will be officially shown this fall, before going on sale next year as a 2016 model. Prices will be announced closer to launch, but we expect it to command well over $100,000.

2014 New York auto show2014 New York auto show

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How to stop your child escaping their car seat

Here’s a bit of excitement to add into your life: drive down the highway at 70 mph, glance at your rearview mirror and watch helplessly as your child squirms free of their car seat.

That’s the kind of situation one mother has been experiencing with her son. She turned to Facebook for suggestions: “Anyone else have Maxi Cosi Tobi car seat issues? My boy can escape. My husband’s suggestion of tying his hands together might actually be the only way!”

What followed was a lengthy response from many parents worried about their own little Houdini. Maxi Cosi frequented the comments, but other manufacturers also appeared.

She asked Maxi Cosi for advice, but their suggestion was that “I teach my child not to do it; that it is my responsibility as a parent to ensure my child’s safety and my responsibility to teach him not to.” She didn’t find that helpful – and given what we know of toddlers, I’m not surprised. A further suggestion that she read up on tips online didn’t help either. I also contacted Maxi Cosi, but they didn’t not respond.

So what can you do? Here’s some advice from BabyCenter parents and experts:

1. Make staying buckled fun, suggests Marjorie Leathers, manager of the injury prevention program at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Pediatric Hospital. “You can offer rewards, such as ‘If you stay buckled, when we get home we can play your favorite game.’”

2. You can also turn the belt buckle around so it’s more difficult for your child to undo, says Leathers.

3. Stick some Velcro — the stiffer side — on the button part of the buckle, says Jennifer, mom of two. Your child’s baby-soft fingers probably won’t be able to stand pushing hard enough on the prickly button to undo the buckle.

4. Your child’s favorite characters can work, too. “Whenever my daughter unlatches her chest harness, I say, ‘What does Dora the Explorer say? Seat belts, so we can be safe!’ and she relatches it immediately,” says Holly, mom to 3-year-old Kristen.

5. Finally, pull over and refuse to drive again until she’s buckled safely, says Ann, mom of three. “Give one warning and don’t say anything else until your child complies. Bring a book, and be okay with running late for the week or two it’ll take for your child to learn the lesson.”

There are car seat attachments that can be purchased to help stop your escape artist. But, some of these products may minimize the effectiveness of the car seat itself by making the straps less tight against your child’s body, so test it out first.

What suggestions do you have to stop a child escaping?

You can read more from Stacie at Mama Lewis and the Amazing Adventures of the Half-Brained Baby and follow her on Twitter @MamaLewisBlog or via her Mama Lewis newsletter. Photo credits: Flickr/Paul Kobayashi 

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Back to Black: Bugatti Veyron Grand Sport Vitesse “Black Bess” Debuts [2014 …

Back to Black: Bugatti Veyron Grand Sport Vitesse “Black Bess” Debuts [2014 Beijing Auto Show]Back to Black: Bugatti Veyron Grand Sport Vitesse “Black Bess” Debuts [2014 Beijing Auto Show]

Bugatti brings “Black Bess” back from the abyss for Beijing (say that 10 times fast). Who’s Black Bess? A 100-year-old Bugatti Type 18 roadster—one of seven built—owned by French aviator Roland Garros and powered by a 100-PS inline four-cylinder said to be capable of achieving speeds of over 100 mph, which was unheard of at the time. It is also the inspiration for Bugatti’s latest, and perhaps tackiest, Veyron 16:4 Grand Sport Vitesse–based “Les Légendes de Bugatti” creation: the Black Bess, which Bugatti is showing for the first time at the 2014 Beijing auto show.

Rendered in black paint with gold stripes on the front fenders and 24-carat gold plating on the horseshoe grille, rear EB logo, and elsewhere, the Black Bess edition is striking to behold, yet only four gold wheels away from looking like the most expensive Pontiac Trans Am in history. The interior of the 1200-hp, 255-mph hypercar features beige and crimson leather—nice enough—but the hand-painted, cartoonish “motifs” of the original Black Bess racehorse on the inside door panels and the rear storage compartment cover make us wonder if there might have been a 1978 Dodge van named Black Bess they were channeling instead of the centenarian Bug. And of course, there’s more gilded trim sprinkled about.

Black Bess is the fifth of the six-part Legends Grand Sport Vitesse series, which also includes the prettier Jean Pierre Wimille, and the slick Jean Bugatti edition. Bugatti proudly states that all 12 of the previous Legends cars have already been sold, and we expect that, however tacky this one may be, it’s possible that three wealthy Beijing show goers could plop down the equivalent of € 2.15 million, or $3.19 million to get their very own, perhaps before the show closes its doors.

Bugatti Veyron Black Bess Legends EditionBugatti Veyron Black Bess Legends Edition


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Old Buckenham Village Hall and car parking

Old Buckenham is a small lively village of about a thousand people in south Norfolk.

It has a thriving village newsletter that is published every month. This blog features extracts from past, current and future editions.

We welcome contributions from everyone. Please feel free to leave your comments in the spaces provided, wherever in the world you may be.

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2015 Lexus NX Crossover Twerks for the Camera [2014 Beijing Auto Show]

2015 Lexus NX crossover

2015 Lexus NX crossover

Yes, we know, this is a familiar story: Photo of a highly anticipated auto-show debut leaks onto the internet days before its official reveal—yeah, real original. And so it goes for the 2015 Lexus NX crossover, which was set to be revealed at the Beijing auto show next week, but has instead unceremoniously appeared on Twitter via @AutoFerrière.

This crossover will slot in beneath the RX lineup in size and price, and was previewed by the aggressively styled LF-NX concept. Look for turbocharged four-cylinder and hybrid—that’s the model pictured here with “NX300h” badging—powertrains and all-wheel drive surely is part of the mix. The styling is a big relief, in that it isn’t as overdone as the LF-NX concept’s high-interest bodywork. We’ll bring you full information from the show floor next week, so keep your eyes peeled to this space.

2014 Beijing auto show2014 Beijing auto show

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2015 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 Convertible

2015 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 Convertible

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Expanding the nameplate’s appeal logically and without compromise.

You had to see this coming. You just had to: Chevrolet scalped its hardest-core Corvette model ever, the 2015 Z06. The automaker is debuting the topless heathen at the 2014 New York auto show. “But the C7.R race car isn’t a convertible,” we can already hear you muttering under your breath, followed by, “droptops are for conceited extroverts who don’t care about driving.” Except the 2015 Corvette Z06 convertible isn’t an affront to Z06dom or the track-car universe, where the structural rigidity afforded by coupe bodies is traditionally favored over supposedly floppy, style-conscious ragtops.

That’s because it not only gets the hardtop’s full complement of road-burning hardware, but also features a chassis every bit as stiff as the Z06 coupe’s sans its removable targa roof panel. The coupe and convertible’s shared aluminum chassis is a claimed 20 percent stiffer than the that of the outgoing, fixed-roof Z06’—60 percent more rigid with the coupe’s roof panel in place—and Chevrolet claims the topless car weighs nearly the same as the coupe. Need we even bring up other great rides like the Miata or the Boxster?

So, there shouldn’t be a single non-aesthetic reason why the Z06 convertible can’t share track time—or the Z06 name—with the coupe. Besides, Chevy came close with 2013’s 427 droptop, and it sold one Z06 racing package–equipped Corvette convertible way back in 1963, so the seal has been broken. (Never mind that the automaker hasn’t offered a topless Z06 of any kind since, and the other estimated 198 ’63 Z06s were coupes.) We say that if you want your Z06 cake and want wind to whip your face while you eat it, too, that’s your business.

Damn, That Corvette Sure Is Z06-y

As far as appearances go, the Corvette Z06 convertible is crushingly predictable: It looks exactly like the coupe, minus the roof. This is more than okay, however, given how ridiculously awesome the car looks top-down; with the lined and padded cloth top raised, the Z06 looks slightly less fantastic, thanks to the roof’s helmet-like appearance. That top has a glass rear window and can motor itself up or down at speeds up to 30 mph, and can be operated via the key fob from outside the car. This is one area where the coupe really succeeds, thanks to its sweeping, steeply raked roofline. Otherwise, the convertible gets the coupe’s plethora of body addenda, scoops, vents, spoilers, and more.

Similar to the regular, non-Z06 Corvette convertible, the top mechanism requires the transmission and differential cooling ducts to be moved from the tops of each rear fender to underneath the Z06 droptop. Alfresco-seeking buyers can opt for one of the same three aerodynamic packages—ranging from wild to pure, adjustable bad-assery—found on the hardtop, as well as the optional Z07 group. The latter option brings 15.5-inch front and 15.3-inch rear Brembo carbon-ceramic brake rotors (0.9 inch larger in diameter than the base Z06’s two-piece cast-iron units), as well as Michelin Pilot Sport Cup tires and the most extreme of the three aerodynamic packages. Lightweight 19-inch front and 20-inch rear spin-cast aluminum wheels are standard.

The only thing wrong with two cars sharing GM’s jaw-dropping new supercharged, 6.2-liter LT4 V-8 engine is that three cars aren’t sharing the mill. Final output figures are forthcoming—as they are for the coupe—but Chevrolet says to expect numbers on the fun side of 625 horsepower and 635 lb-ft of torque. A seven-speed manual transmission is standard, and the new 8L90 eight-speed automatic with manual shift control is optional. Power is transferred from the engine to the rear transaxle via a carbon-fiber torque tube—again, the same as in the coupe—and the hardtop’s efficiency-boosting direct fuel injection, Active Fuel Management, and continuously variable valve timing carry over as well.

Chevrolet will offer buyers the choice of four top colors, five interior colors, and we assume the brand’s trick GPS- and camera-based Performance Data Recorder will live on the options list, too. With the Z06 convertible, Chevrolet joins Porsche, Jaguar, Audi, BMW, McLaren, and other automakers hawking high-performance sports cars in topless form. We can’t imagine a better way to enjoy the Z06’s sure-to-be-mean exhaust note (we got a brief preview of the aural insanity when Chevy idled the coupe on stage at the 2014 Detroit auto show) than in a Z06 without a rear hatch or roof section. And to all those who remain unconvinced, how can you argue with a Z06 model that’s sure to garner the nameplate even more appeal? If we do say so ourselves, that’s a reason to love the Z06 convertible that’s nearly as stiff and unyielding as the car’s chassis.

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Smart car tipping isn’t a thing, unless it is

To say Smart car tipping is an “epidemic” is a stretch. For God’s sake, it was four cars on one San Francisco evening.

Shelley Gallivan, right, talks on the phone next to a tipped over Smart car which belongs to her friend on the corner of Prospect and Coso avenues in San Francisco, Monday, April 7, 2014. Police in San Francisco are investigating why four Smart cars were flipped over during an apparent early morning vandalism spree. Officer Gordon Shyy, a police spokesman, says the first car was found flipped on its roof and a second was spotted on its side around 1 a.m. Monday in the Bernal Heights neighborhood. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Shelley Gallivan, right, talks on the phone next to a tipped over Smart car which belongs to her friend on the corner of Prospect and Coso avenues in San Francisco, Monday, April 7, 2014.  (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

If you want to see an epidemic, leave your backpack in the back seat of your parked car on a San Francisco street for five minutes. Car window break-ins? That’s an epidemic.

My guess on car tipping is that it is a case of TMB — Too Much Beer. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t look into the phenomenon. Some possible scenarios:

This is the knockout game of spring 2014: You saw the KO videos. Young men were roaming the streets of America preying on unsuspecting pedestrians. It was terrifying! They are punching people in the face! Totally at random! No one is safe! This is happening right now!

Except, of course, it wasn’t. The knockout game may exist in the minds of a few weird and violent people, but in general if the few instances of it hadn’t been recorded and then shipped to the internet, it would never have been mentioned. For the most part we can all walk the streets of our cities safely, more worried about stepping in something awful than getting lambasted in the face.

However, as SFGate’s Seung Lee points out, Smart car toppling goes all the way back to Canada in 2005. Lee offers several examples, and even includes a video showing a group of guys — they’re wearing hoodies so they must be scary hoodlums, right? — tipping over a Smart car. Lee’s done a great job, but it doesn’t look like an epidemic. It would, however,  suck to live in Holland and have your adorable little pregnant roller skate tipped into a canal.

Revenge against the nerds: Definitely the sexiest idea, this feeds into class warfare and the too-much-money culture. The thinking is that the techies are such irredeemable wonks that even though they have made buckets of money, their idea of a cool ride is a little loaf of bread on wheels.

The theory gets credence from the first episode of the HBO show “Silicon Valley,” where an eccentric venture capitalist makes a few counter-intuitive pronouncements and  then drives away in a car so freakishly small it makes a Smart car look like a Cadillac Escalade. Laughs ensue.

So maybe it’s a goof on the techies, the street version of a wedgie. They think they are so smart with their teeny, tiny cars, so let’s see them design an app to get their car back upright.

Possible, I guess. But a lot of the guys — and they seem to be mostly guys — I see driving Smart cars don’t look like 20-something techies. If anything they seem like older dudes. So how do you know your clever class warfare statement is reaching the right audience? If you want to make a statement, isn’t it simpler to blockade a Google bus?

Rage against the machine: This theory has it that people just don’t like the silly shoe boxes. We get the concept — small runabout for the city — but they took the idea too far.

Not that long ago the vehicle to hate was the Humvee. The big land yachts were gaudy, ostentatious and obnoxious. (They were also gas guzzlers, but the complaint was more about style.) There is a school of thought that says a Smart car is every bit as in your face as a Humvee. The driver is just flaunting his sense of cool. That’s right, he’s saying, I am so incredibly hip that I can drive this odd little smart phone on wheels and think it is trendy.

There may be some truth to that. Anyone who drives a Smart car must know that he’s going to be the center of attention at the stop light. Everybody looks in to see who that driver is. And, I have to say — and this is a total generalization, which is probably unfair — they generally look pretty smug.

So how smug are you now that your little rolling telephone booth is upside down?  Still it is a lot of effort. Why not just look the guy in the eye and shake your head? Or ask where the windup key is? Tipping the car over seems a little over the top — literally.

None of this is true: In this script a group of guys were careening home from a night out and somebody said, in that boozy 2 a.m. voice, “I hate these stupid things. I bet you could tip it right over.”

And his pals say to themselves, “That is a genius idea.”

A clear case of TMB.

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Smart Car Tipping Rouses Love and Hate for Diminutive Vehicles

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When vandals decided to flip four Smart cars in San Francisco this week, car owners in the City wondered who would pull such a prank, while some bloggers cheered for joy.

That the car has become a political symbol, however, is misdirected, according to Jason Cammisa, senior editor of Road Track.

“People are simply buying these cars,” he said, “because they fit in tight spots. They don’t sell outside big cities where parking is at a premium.”

The story of the tipped-over Smart cars — which get 36 mpg, cost about $13,000 and weigh nearly 1,000 pounds less than a Mini Cooper — quickly made headlines.

Many sites picked up the story, including the conservative Drudge Report. By day’s end, more than 400 people had left comments on NBC Bay Area’s article. Commenters seemed divided between those who love the environmentally friendly “micro cars” and those who deride the 106-inch long two-seaters — along with those who drive them.

The observation that one of the Smart cars tipped over in San Francisco had a faded “Obama Biden” sticker just fueled the retweets.

“I love it when the Left eats their own,” posted a man named Jack Dorso, who lists that he lives in Berkley, Michigan on his Facebook page.

“Blame the hippies,” wrote Brandon D. Clay of Fruit Heights, Utah.

“But, but, we’re good democrats (sic),” posted someone named William Poh from Forestdale, Mass, in a comment dripping with sarcasm. “We drive shoeboxes to save the environment. Without us global warming would bake us all. WHY, WHY?? We’re good democrats.Funny that you never see 6-8 kids turning over SUV’s. Live safe, buy bigger cars.”

And a Texas blogger for consrvativemom, who describes herself as an #exLefty, devoted an entire article toward her “hatred” for the Smart car, where she wondered where her “absolutely vicious and vitriolic hatred” comes from whenever she sees one.

Her answer came down to this: Liberals who drive them hold a holier-than-Thou attitude.

“‘Lookit Me. I’M not using very much fuel.’ Good,” the blog states in a mimicking tone. “That means there’s more for ME and my ten-year-old 14-mpg Dodge Grand Caravan eX.”

Cars and politics are nothing new.

The New York Times wrote an article “Your Car: Politics on Wheels” in 2005. And the marketing firm Strategic Vision found in a 2012 poll of 76,000 car owners that the type of car you buy is oft-dependant on political affiliation. A total of 54 percent of Republicans prefer full-size pickups to 24 percent of Democrats. Likewise, 36 percent of Democrats preferred small cars to their conservative counterparts.

And it seems like the animosity toward the tiny little car is growing.

On Wednesday, someone tipped over a smart car in Columbus, Ohio, leaving police to wonder whether this was a copycat case.

San Francisco police on Wednesday had no new updates on the six to eight suspects they were seeking in relation to the flipped over cars found Monday morning.

Meanwhile, those who vote blue stood up for the Smart cars, too – even if their voices were drowned out just a bit in the debate.

Rachel Nabors of Raleigh, North Carolina started a “Love my Smart Car” blog devoted to her “safe, affordable and efficient” car she names Roxi. (Though she recently posted she is selling her ride to be “car free” in Portland.)

Others simply note that the small cars are easier to park in a bustling city.

“I don’t think you understand how difficult it is to find parking in SF. I can see the appeal of a Smart Car,” wrote Crystal Witten of San Francisco.

Donna Bolan, spokeswoman for Mercedes Benz, which operates the Smart car division, told NBC Bay Area in an email that those who buy the “unique and innovative” car span all demographics.

But she did acknowledge that San Francisco is a strong market for the car with “eco minded” and “self-confident” customers who are open to adopting new trends before the rest of the nation catches on.

“I  don’t think there’s a lot of people who ‘hate’ it (at least not the way you might hate an oversize SUV that takes up two parking spaces),” Boan said. “Some people just tend to make fun of things that aren’t in their frame of reference. Naturally if you’re not that type of person, then you just don’t get it.”

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