CNET On Cars: Episode 14, EPA Mileage Ratings Explained
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CNET On Cars: Episode 14, EPA Mileage Ratings Explained

20:45 /

A look inside the EPA's mileage ratings, we check the tech in the 2013 Audi S7 and lay out the Top 5 reasons for self-driving cars.

-A look inside the EPA's contentious mileage ratings. Driving the 2013 Audi S7 all saucy and sublime. And we'll spell out the top 5 reasons for self-driving cars. It's time to check the tech. We see cars differently. We love 'em on the road and under the hood, but also check the tech, and are known for telling 'em like it is. The good, the bad, the bottom line. This is CNET on Cars. I'm Brian Cooley. Welcome to CNET on Cars. The show all about high-tech cars and modern driving. A little later on this episode, we're gonna make the case for self-driving cars. But first, one of the best reasons to keep doing it yourself: the 2013 Audi S7. It was CNET's tech car of the year when it first came out. Automobile Magazine named it their Favorite Car of the Year, so did Esquire Magazine for Christ's sake. What is it we all love so much about the Audi 7? Let's try this 2013 Audi S7. Find out when we check the tech. Now, what Audi really did with the 7 is combine high heeled pumps with sensible shoes. I mean, this car is gorgeous and spacious. Tough trick. And when and if they ever dramatically restyle it, I think it's gonna be a sad day. Spot an S versus a standard A7 by its unique grill and face. Quite different on the front as are the wheels. Look for lower body moldings that are body colored and also the satin finish mirrors. Now, the cabin of the S7 is particularly macho if you will. You've got this sort of vintage racer tufted diamond pleat on the seat. Here's our popup screen that gives us the G-Wiz of this thing coming out and also the G-Wiz of what it presents. Audi's navigation system is one of the best out there. I like the way it presents almost everything. In terms of operating, still the same MMI interface. 4 zones here. Map to 4 buttons down here around the controller. Notice on this car we've got the Google Earth services built-in. So, it's got Google Earth satellite imagery. Once you get out to, let's say, this level here, a three-quarter mile view, along with that Google Earth imagery, you've got local search to find destinations and all that's done through this little SIM card connection right here. You don't need to pair your smartphone to this guy to get connected. Now, let's talk media system on this car. Lots of choices. They start back here under the sneaky door. Alongside the SIM, you've got 2 SD card slots. I don't find that tremendously interesting. More interesting, your Bluetooth streaming for which on my android phone I'm getting good meta tag information. That's quite a win on android. Now, the one that's great out here, that would be your Audi media interface. It's live here on the console. The reason it's not connected is because, as you can see here, we've got the old-style 30-pin dock connector. Now, getting some infotainment, the cabin tech really takes off with drive assistance tech in this car. First of all, we have adaptive cruise control, which is where you set the speed and the followed distance. But on top of that, it's got stop and go technology. If you get into stop and go traffic, the car will come to a stop. And then when traffic starts again, it will automatically resume after the radar in the front sees that happen. And the camera up here behind the mirror scans for pedestrians. First, lane assist technology on this car is active. It's the same camera which can read not just lines, but colors of lines; detects that you're drifting and your signal is not on that direction. It uses the electrohydraulic steering rack to steer you back and also give you a stick shake on the wheel if you set it at that way. That same camera also looks out there for speed limit signs and can read them and puts those on the interface of the car to let you know what the speed limit is here. Now, I'm really sad our car doesn't have the night vision with pedestrian detection and head-up display. That is something I wanna check out in the real world on these Audis. And finally, we have parking assist technology. We've seen this in a lot other cars that cost a lot less than this one example, but it will get you into a parallel parking spot as long as it is at least 31 inches longer than the car. That's actually a pretty tight spot. Now, a big part of the story on an S versus an A7 is here in the engine bay. Completely different power plant. Your standard A7 was a 3-liter supercharged V6. This guy has a 4-liter twin turbocharged V8 night and day. 420 horsepower versus 310. 406 foot pounds of torque versus 325. 0 to 60 is almost a second different. 45 versus 54. And that's in spite of the S7 weighing about 300 pounds more. MPG almost identical. 17.27 for the S. 18.28 for a standard 7. And completely different transmission on the S. This guy has a 7-speed dual-clutch automated manual only. The A7 has an 8-speed Tiptronic automatic, though both cars are Quattro all-wheel drive of course. Lots of ingredients in this cake. Let's see how it comes out. Now, the first thing I love about this S7 is even though it is only available with a dual-clutch automated manual, it drives almost exactly like a well-tuned automatic and that's a good thing for everyday livability. I think the blind-spot tech in this car. Big bright lights in the mirror housings that actually get my attention. They get even brighter and more frantic if I signal into someone who's on that side. And of course, you've got many ways to shift this guy to change the personality of the vehicle if you go over here to the gate and then you get on the paddles and you start to shift this thing or change the mode to one of the aggressive modes. You can really lighten this car up or put it in comfort mode and it really becomes a boat to be honest. It got almost wallowy, which is nice when you're just floating down the highway. And when you put this car into its most aggressive personality through that Audi Drive Select, everything changes. The steering, the suspension, the way the transmission deals with the engine, the way the engine holds RMPs, and even the way the exhaust sound. This is perhaps the most widely configureable car we've ever driven. All that said, I will give you, who are shopping Audi against BMW, one last thing to think about. The BMW comparable model always feels much gutsier. This car feels more elegant, more finessed. This car is Roger Moore. BMW is Sean Connery. I don't mean that as a diss. I know some people aren't digging Moore, but he did his thing his way with much more of an elegance. Connery was much more kind of a gutsy guy. That's a pretty good analogy. Let's price this technical wonder that has hot sauce splashed all over it. S7 is gonna start at 79,700. Let's call it 80 grand. Then you want the innovation package to go CNET style with 1 checkbox. 5,600 bucks brings in the lane departure technology, the blind spot tech, the night vision with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise with stop and go. You also get the cornering cameras. Self park is in there. There's all kinds of goodies for what I think is kind of a steal of a price. By the way, you can find our full review of that Audi S7 over at cars.cnet.com. I'm guessing if I mentioned auto insurance premiums you don't exactly think tech, do you? But there's a coming revolution between the mobile technology that connects to your car and the way they price auto insurance that is gonna make it a tech story. And that's a big interest to the smarter as well as the stingier driver. The idea is to share information about your actual driving behavior with your insurance company. This is just typically done electronically. If that information shows that you're a lower risk than your policy assumed, you would be in for a monthly premium discount. Now, I've got your attention. Okay. So, where does this data come from? Well, in today's modern cars, there's a thing down under the dash here called an OBD tube port. Cars since 1996 all have one of these and that has a wealth of data come in from the vehicle's various sensors all the time about how you drive, how much you drive, and the kind of inputs you give your vehicle. Now, a few years ago, some insurance companies began to tap into that data, offering customers the ability to plug in a custom hardware dandle into that port that would gather in report information about their driving back in the insurance company. But you see, insurance companies don't really want to be in the hardware business. That's not what they do. Now, more recently, insurance companies have begun to take advantage of the fact that first of all, most of us who are carrying a smartphone now, which has the ability to run an app, to process data, to connect to the internet do all the things that are behind usage-based insurance data reporting. Secondly, there's telematics in many cars now; these various sort of concierge and assistance systems that are wirelessly connected and managed by a telematics firm. Think OnStar or Lexus Enform. For example, State Farm is one of the insurers that have already launched a usage-based discount program that can save customers on their premium based on their driving mileage and/or some other behaviors. Now, by whatever technology, this information gets back into your insurance company. And by the way, it's always voluntary. It can reflect a lot of parameters of how you use your car. What time of day do you drive? A lot real late at night when accidents are more common? How's your average speed? Do you break in corner hard? Do you buckle up every time? All this data, by the way, is typically gathered already by your vehicle's black box. What's new here is sharing it with your insurance company and the new technologies that make that easy. Okay. So, you can save some bucks on your insurance. What's in it for your insurance company? First of all, this kind of program will tend to attract low-risk drivers. I mean, you'd be a fool to engage in more revelation of your driving behavior if you're a high-risk driver. Secondly, it gives the insurance company more data about their customers. There's no business out there that doesn't want that. And thirdly, I think it's an interesting path toward the insurance companies becoming providers of wireless services in the car. And it's not much of a reach to see them as providers of wireless services in the home after that. I mean, most insurance companies don't just insure cars. Okay. Now, reality check. Usage-based insurance is still really rare. Most folks have never heard of it. Most of those who have don't really understand it or the technology behind it. Secondly, there's a privacy issue here. I mean, most of us are not used to sharing data about our driving habits. We are used to sharing data about everything else interestingly enough, but driving still remains a different zone. And third, until very recently, the hardware to make this happen was clunky and proprietary, which kept it very limited. But if you look at the rise of connected cars, which are real already, and personal information sharing from Facebook to fitness bands, I think usage-based insurance is a matter of when, not if. Coming up: Those EPA mileage ratings, credible or a crock, when CNET on Cars continues. Welcome back to CNET on Cars. I'm Brian Cooley. You know, I honestly can't believe how much e-mail I've been getting from you lately on the subject of those EPA mileage estimates. So, a quick primer on how they do 'em is our Car Tech 101. I will never get over that. Do you recall when it was impossible to put $75 in your tank? Today, it's commonplace. And now, the worst part is, of that 75 bucks, maybe 10 to 20 it burned on actually moving your car. The rest of it goes [unk] and heat and exhaust, the innate inefficiency of combustion engines. That's why EPA MPG numbers, as imperfect as they are, are an obsession with motorist today and that's why there are Car Tech 101. Now, the dirty little secret about the numbers you see here on the window sticker that tell you the MPG, those are not done by the EPA. Not in most cases. Only about 15% of cars are actually gathered by the government and tested by the Environmental Protection Agency. The other 85%, they were tested by the carmaker themselves on an honor system. The EPA will pull in the other 15% on a random test basis to keep everybody honest or when there's been a lot of complaints by consumers like recently on Hyundai and Kia cars. And we've also heard quite a bit about Ford Fusion and C-Max Hybrids. When they heard about a big discrepancy, then they'll haul one in. And when they do that, they don't take cars that are on the road and drive them, the put them on a dynamometer and hook up to a computer, which does the driving on a treadmill basically. And they use one in several clearly specified cycles. There's the LA4 or City test. That stimulates and a 7.5 mile trip that's real choppy like stop and go traffic. It takes almost 23 minutes to complete, averaging 20 miles an hour; and there's a number of times when the vehicle idles. It's done with both a cold start and a hot start. And the MPG results are rounded down 10%. There's also a cold version of the city test, which is the exact same test, but it's done in an ambient temperature in the test room of 20 degrees Fahrenheit. Then there's the highway fuel economy test. That's 10 miles in duration, averaging 48 miles an hour, no stops, and takes about 13 minutes. The car is only started once at the beginning and the results are reduced 22% to be safe. Now, you may have heard of the new way that EPA is testing mileage. Two new tests were added in 2008. There's US06, what I call the jackrabbit test. It's high speed quick acceleration, 10 minutes long, covers 8 miles, averaging 48 like the highway test, but hits a top speed of 80 miles an hour. It has a number of hard starts at a rate of 8.5 miles per hour per second. That's similar to 0 to 60 in 7 seconds. By the way, the air conditioning is not on for this or most other tests, which brings us to SC03, another one of the new tests, but this one's done with the AC turned on like you often have it. It's done in an ambient temperature of 95 degrees. It's about 10 minutes long and very city like. 3.6 miles averaging 22 miles an hour, not freeway oriented. There are 5 times when the vehicle stops and 20% of the time when it's idling. One more interesting caveat, the EPA does not change its MPG rating based on electrical load of the vehicle, and this can be important. Think about all those outlets you've got where you're plugging in things to charge or all your headlights on. Are they on high beams? Are they high intensity headlights? Or have you plugged in laptops or other things into those 110 outlets you'll find on SUVs. For every 200 watts of additional electric draw, you take roughly 1 MPG off your cars fuel economy. What's being discussed now by the EPA are new or amended cycles that better test the electrified vehicles especially plug-in hybrids and range extenders. And also doing so under very different ambient temperature conditions because there's a lot of concern that electric and highly electrified vehicles have much different performance in very cold weather. Oh, by the way, check out My MPG at the government's fueleconomy.gov website. It let's you look at real drivers' submitted MPG for all kinds of cars so you can take their word instead of the actual test. You can also add your data. They've also got a mobile web page that makes it easy to add your gasoline information each time you're sitting there filling up. When we come back, I know you like driving, but in the near future, you may do very little of it as CNET on Cars rolls on. Flipping up, sliding open, tilting up, or rotating forward. From the 36 Cord to the C5 Vette, hidden headlights were once about the coolest thing in auto design. Today, they are really hidden, basically gone. Not as is commonly thought because they were made illegal, but because a better idea was made legal. Aerodynamic headlights, flushed pit, part of a car's lines, less injurious to pedestrians, and with no motors or hinges to go bad. Wink bye-bye. 1926 when this STAR model R was made. Nobody could conceive self-driving cars. They were too busy trying to figure out what is this driving thing. Today, we can see self-driving cars just over the horizon and partly because it eliminates the most common defective part of modern vehicles. You and me. Here are my top 5 reasons why a new era is coming fast. Look, I like driving more than most people, but I know when the jig is up. Self-driving cars are inevitable. They eliminate the most common defective component in vehicles today. You and me. I'm Brian Cooley with the top 5 reasons for autonomous cars according to the ills they cure. #5, drunk driving. The autonomous car is the only designated driver who actually likes nursing a club soda all night metaphorically speaking. Unlike the new law enforcement model, self-driving cars could theoretically neutralize 100% of drunk driving, but I put this one down at #5 because most future visions still expect a licensed driver at the wheel responsible for the self-driving car and that doesn't mean you can be drunk. #4, productivity. You waste on average an hour of your life every weekday baby sitting a steering wheel and a set of pedals. What if you were productive during that ride to and from work? I mean, it's what the rich guys do. Maybe you could leave an hour earlier. Maybe now I have your attention. #3, traffic. Fewer cars or more roads. That's the age-old battle in the suburbs, right? How about neither? Autonomous cars can easily pack more cars on the same roads since they have way faster reactions than you and they know if the other cars around them are gonna do before they do it. Plus, being connected, autonomous cars can be assigned distributed routes at rush hour instead of all of us kind of dumbly jamming into the same few lanes at the same time. #2, fuel economy. As a component of fuel economy, you suck. Accelerating too hard , braking too late, and taking dumb routes to get places. Autonomous cars can modulate their dynamics based on traffic flow, signal prediction, terrain contour, wind conditions, optimal routing, and a bunch of things you've never thought of to optimize their own fuel economy and maybe even achieve that EPA number for a change. Okay. The #1 reason for self-driving cars is accidents or the lack thereof. Let's face it. Most driving is about as interesting as doing dishes. And a driver's license? That's about as hard to get as the common cold. It all adds up to millions of lousy drivers who aren't even doing that consistently. Autonomous cars take the wetware, you and me, out from in between the hardware and software, moving traffic accidents out of the daily fabric of our lives. And that's a big win. If you just discovered the show, welcome and thank you. Glad you're here. If you wanna find more episodes, go to cnetoncars.com. And if you wanna reach me, that's easy. Just e-mail oncars@cnet.com. I'll see you next time.
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