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CNET On Cars: Episode 16, Subaru BRZ: Underpowered, under-tech, but overwhelmingly fun.

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CNET On Cars: Episode 16, Subaru BRZ: Underpowered, under-tech, but overwhelmingly fun.

20:08 /

Experience a real sports car, get blinded by what's next in headlight tech and meet 5 cool, connected cars you can actually afford.

-We'll hammer the kind of car Subaru hasn't built in, well, forever. Get blinded by what's next in headlight tech, and find you a cool connected car you can actually afford. It's time to check the tech. We see cars differently. We love them on the road under the hood but also check the tech and are known for telling it like it is. The good, the bad, the bottom line. This is CNET On Cars. -I'm Brian Cooley and welcome to CNET On Cars, the show all about high tech cars and modern driving. In this slot of the show, we've featured Lamborghinis; we've had a Bentley; a Hindi car, a Tesla Model S, and a few others for whom the sales tax would pay for the car we're going to feature this time. But seldom have I had more email asking for any vehicle so here you go. Let's take a run in the Subaru BRZ, and check the tech. Now, the story goes that Subaru almost bailed on Toyota in their partnership to make this car. Apparently, Subi thought it was kinda not them to make anything that's front engine and rear-wheel drive, been a long time for them. Luckily, they thought about it and thought better because the result is one of the great, affordable, honest sports car in the last 45 years. Let's drive the 2013 Subaru BRZ. Check the tech. Toyota 2000GT, Datsun 240Z, Mazda Miata-- the pantheon of cars of this ilk is pretty small but pretty well-loved. But the last time Subaru made anything front engine and rear-drive was 1954, something called the 1500. It's not in anybody's pantheon except perhaps Mr. Magoo's. Now, the BRZ is basically built on a revised version of the Impreza platform so you could say it shares some DNA with the WRX, but the familial relationship is a bit distant as you can see. Weight saving is a big part of the story, though. That hood is always aluminum. That roof never has glass in it. And, that back end is always a trunk, not a hatch. Now, under the BRZ's featherweight aluminum hood, you're gonna find a two-liter flat-4 engine, classic Subaru boxer stuff-- four cylinders horizontally opposed, two per each side, kinda lives right over the front axle line, neither 4 or aft. It has both port and direct injection which is sort of the new fashion these days. Two liters of displacement gets you 200 horsepower. A rather tap at 151-foot pounds of torque, however. We're going to encounter than on the road in a minute. Zero to sixty though happens in a happy enough 6.7 seconds for a car that weighs a little under 2800 pounds. That's pretty stilt by today's standards. You're gonna 2230 MPG with the 60 or a much better 2534 if you get the automatic, but don't. All these cars go up to the 6-speed manual as a base configuration-- it's more for that auto-- and the they all to the rear wheels through a limited slip differential. Subaru put that money in the right place. Now, this head unit with navigation is standard so I applaud Subaru for throwing that in basically. But it's not much to [unk] about. The interface is just okay. There's also voice command but-- They also squandered the opportunity to give this car a rear camera. Here's the screen but a rear cam is not even available. Overall, the navigation system's entirely functional but it's not a pretty interface. On the audio side, AM and FM both have HD radio ability. There's satellite radio as you can see, Bluetooth streaming. They've also got a USB and [unk] down here on the console and it will also handle SMS text. Now, the first thing you notice about the BRZ is it's got this little flat spot which we've seen before in some of the Edmunds charts on the dyno. And it doesn't have a lot of torque to begin with as I pointed out, 150-something foot pounds is not per digits but it loves to rev the way a Honda S2000 used to, and the balance is nice. You can pick the rear end out easily. If you look down here, I've got this stability control sport profile. It keeps you a little bit out of trouble but it lets you hang the button rather flashily when you really want to. I like to kill it all the way which I can't do but it's a lot of fun anyway. You need to keep this guy on cam more or less 4000 and above, keeps you in the power bands, the way it feels to me. Very light car, not just in the numbers but it's really light in the way it feels. Not every light car feels light, this one does. And it's quite responsive when you wanna get a snap like here, we're doing the triple 8 on our track and you can kick this thing around and around and it pretty much won't bite you in the ass, unless you get real stupid, which I've been known to do. The rigidity of this car is one of the things that sets it apart from some of the other vehicles of this type that are open tops. There's just no two ways about having a car that's got a good top on it to keep things really firm and rigid. And I'm not a huge fan of the note of Subaru Motors usually but this one sounds great, and it revs real freely and it's a happy little engine. Hello, [unk]. Now pricing the BRZ CNET style is an exercise in simplicity. You start with the base car, $25,495 delivered, then add the limited package. That's $2,000 more. That's gonna give you fog lights, high intensity discharge headlights, leather trim, a spoiler on the back and automatic temperature control. There's an $1100 option for an automatic but you're not gonna do that. By the way, you can find our full review on the BRZ over at CNET Car Tech. That's cars.cnet.com. Now, we spent the vast majority of our time with the BRZ going forward and quite happily as you noticed, but going backwards is turning into rather a high-tech pursuit these days partly because the law is demanding it, and that's a great interest of the smarter driver. The backup camera, the bird's eye view to a dangerous place. Out here, some 300 people a year killed in back over accidents, another 18000 or so are injured. You don't have eyes in the back of your head but it sure helps to have one at the back of your car. Our partners at State Farm point out the tragic reality that 44 percent of back over fatalities involve kids under five who can be impossible to see by other car's mirrors or even looking out the back. And people over 70 are at the next greatest risk, accounting for a full third of back over fatalities. That's why Federal authorities are moving to soon require a basic backup camera in every car over a multi-year phased in period. And since you're watching this show, I know you're interested in what the technologies are that are available both in the car you buy from the factory or the camera you add to the car you have already. All but the most basic backup cams today display both trajectory line and distance lines. They may also combine with sonar sensors to give you an audible or even visual indication of proximity. We've seen more cars come with variable view rear cams since about the 2012 model year. They let you magnify or change the angle of view of the backup camera. If you want more than a rearview, there are front camera pairs mounted on the front bumper corners and they let you nose out of a tight spot for example. And there are bird's eye view camera systems that use front, rear, and side mirror cams to give you a look at the car' perimeter. Night vision cameras are still quite exotic but found in some high-end cars. They display what's out there base on infrared technology and some will even call out what appears to be a pedestrian or animal based on its heat signature. With so many cars coming from the factory with an LCD screen on the dash, displaying the view may be no issue. And what if you got an older car? You drive a 2000 Sentra, how do you get rear-view camera into this guy? There's not even a screen here, just vents. Well, a couple of ways. You can get an aftermarket camera kit that will give you the rear view in a portion of the rearview mirror. Hook that up to a camera you can add to the back. Or that same camera you added in the back can feed a screen that pops here, a motorized one, out of a single din aftermarket stereo. It's a little slower to invoke if it's not already up but it gets you there. I'd like to tell you these cameras are a perfect solution but in my experience, the key is to not really on them too much. They show you a lot but they also edit out much and they can really distort the distance and rate at which you're approaching an object. By the way, here's a favorite low-tech tip for high-tech cars which are almost sound proof these days, drop the window as well as the radio when you're backing up. It might just buy you the reaction time between whoa and crunch. Coming up, we shed light on the single most visible and maybe annoying car tech innovation of the last decade as CNET On Cars continues. I'm Brian Cooley, welcome back to CNET On Cars. From behind the wheel, you'll love them. From the opposite lane, oncoming, you probably hate them. I'm talking about today's high-tech headlights, those eyeball-searing wonders of the last ten years or so. And you ain't seen nothing yet. Wait 'till I clue you in to what the law may allow next. So all of this is our Car Tech 101. First, a sad little history lesson. The United States has always been dead last in new headlight technology, not 'cause we're stupid but because how our regulations have been. U.S. vehicle regulations forever didn't allow designers to use new light sources, new ways of shaping the light, didn't even allow them to use covered [unk] headlights long after Asian and European manufacturers were allowed to do so. We've always been in the dark ages here. What we had were these, sealed beam headlights; basically flashlight bulbs, if you ask me. You either had a pair of 7's or 4, 5's and that was it. Things have changed. Okay. First off, HID or high-intensity discharge, this is kind of a general term for lights that use as a source of illumination, an arc instead of a burning filament, the way sealed beam headlights did. Frankly, those old sealed beams aren't a whole lot different than burning a candle. They're more specifically HIDs are usually xenon headlights. That means they have a xenon gas-filled capsule which the gas is being excited by a couple of nodes, electrical nodes passing very high voltage across the gap. You'll see a sticker off under the hood showing you a high-voltage warning. By xenon, simply means that xenon arc technology is used for both low and high beams. LED is the newest headlight tech in production though only on a few cars still. LED offers strong though not the highest light output, but combine that with the lowest power consumption and the greatest flexibility in design. You can style them into almost any surface on a car. But LED light output is quite sensitive to swings in temperature. That's a problem on the road so this helps make them complicated to engineer and part of why LED headlights remain pricey. They're $1600 extra on an Audi A8, for example. Laser headlights are coming if you believe BMW. I'm pleased to report this will not be like mounting a couple of huge laser cat toys on the front of your car. Instead, the lasers actually point back at a set of tiny mirrors on the housing that then reflect that laser light out on the road. The benefits here are incredible precision and flexibility of brightness and beam shape, and reportedly even lower power consumption than LED. And yes, like the lasers at a 70's rock concert, these can project shapes in the air, like a warning triangle near your car when it's the same. The first big change in beam shaping happened in the 80's with lenses. Both sealed beams used faceted lenses on the front to the shape the beam. New technologies began to rely on the faceted reflector behind the ball. You can spot the difference right away by a clear lens on the front that basically just keeps dirt and the water out. Headlight leveling because common soon after and it can be done either automatically or via a simple manual system with a spin wheel. Either way, it's meant to compensate for vehicle loading that tends to cast the headlights up into the sky. Adaptive or steerable front headlights maintain direction of the light where your steering wheel is pointed. This goes back to early [unk] and even the Tucker, though with limited success until modern technology got rid of the motors and linkages they used to use and dropped in more reliable modern actuators about 10 years ago. Another beam-shaping tech you can easily spot is a project lens, very prominent on a lot of accurate cars, for example. This place is a convex eyeball-looking lens in front of the light source to throw the light aided by a mechanical shield between the lens and the ball that moves up and down to change the cutoff between high and low-beam. And Audi is about to roll out matrix-beam headlights that would use addressable LED arrays to send high-beam light all over the road all the time except making carve outs in the beam when it detects oncoming traffic. So, no more separate low and high-beam at all. Europeans will get this $3000-option first; Americans may have to wait a while because of a decades-old law that says headlights of this country must have high and low-beam modes. And generally, there's a big discussion on the car business now about defaulting all cars to high-beam and using low-beam as the conditional mode instead of vice-versa, the way it is today. Okay. Bottom line. Now, I assume that the agonies of car tech these days, headlight technology is becoming more and more the domain of the car maker and less something you're gonna graft on later using after-market parts. One notable exception though are high-intensity discharge xenon kits. There are a ton of those out there you might try retrofitting to your car. Be careful on the install. They generate some weakened voltage. But in terms of things like steerable headlights, LED headlights, laser headlights, obviously, you're not gonna install those on your existing car. You're gonna get them on a car when you buy it. How to come out of a new car showroom CNET style not broke, when CNET On Cars rolls on. It's 1946 and the car phone becomes the next big thing. Also, just plain big, taking up most of the trunk. In the late 70's, Lincoln and Cadillac embraced in-car communications with [unk] CD radios nestled in their plaster wood dashboards. And by the mid-80's the in-car cellphone arrived, either bolted to the car or a bag phone comically large and heavy by modern standards. Today, of course, car phones are all but forgotten, subsumed by mobile phones that truly are and bringing much more to the car than just calling. Among the new ideas are Honda and GM among the first companies to build iPhone Siri into the car via a steering wheel button. And concept cars increasingly see a car phone as being part dashboard, ignition key, and even rolling body shop for a quick style change. Best of all, you get your trunk back. We started our show this time with the affordable canyon carver, the Subi BRZ. I think it makes sense to finish the show in a similar parsimonious fashion, with my Top 5 Cheap Connected Cars. Number five, the Scion FR-S. This is the priciest car in our list and actually has fairly limited app support. But far and away, it's the most capable road car, so factor that in. Now, if you get the be-spoke head unit upgrade, you can view Facebook timelines, update Facebook, post tweets, DM people on Twitter, and do other things that will make it a flat race to see who lives longer, you or your lease. Yelp is in there as well and done up CNET style, this guy is only about $26,100. Number four, the 2014 Kia Soul, the new one. It's the newest car on our list and one of the very few cars that uses Android to run the in-dash head unit. It will let you split that screen to have two apps vying for your attention at once. It's also got the Android web browser in there, though not while you're moving. All of this will either be hot or just a hot mess. I'm not sure so I'm gonna keep it down here at number four until the vehicle is out and I get my hands on one. I'm ball parking it around $21,000, CNET style. Number three, the 2013 Chevy Spark. Once spokes stop pointing at you, you'll get the last laugh. Properly configured, your little Spark can have Apple Siri integration-- that's a first-- BringGo connected navigation in the dash via a phone app, and tune in support so you can be among the first generation to have no idea what a car radio antenna is. There's also support for the OnStar app to remotely find your little car in case someone set a box in front of it or something. About $14,500 CNET style. Number two, the Prius C, the little Prius. We gave this guy a CNET Editor's Choice because it is one all-around fun-running, fuel-sipping, internet connecting son-of-a-gun. And it's our list's only hybrid. Now, when you option it with inTune, you get a handful of well-known apps all cloud-loaded by Toyota as a batch. No fiddling around, loading and tweaking each one; just get in there and use them. And it works with a slew of smartphones. About $23,400 CNET style. Now, my number one connected car on a budget is just on the number of apps alone, is the 2013 Ford Fiesta. Now, this car doesn't even offer my MyFord Touch. It uses good olf-fashioned sync and in the process rolls up this industry-crushing total of 39 apps and counting. You see, Ford just became the first car company, beating GM by a few hours, to open up its platform to developers so the Fiesta will remain His Connectedness for a long time. A Fiesta trimmed up CNET style with all 39 apps and a sun-roof won't even hit $19,000. I wanna put a shout out to two of our viewers, Dennis [unk] of Alhambra, California, also Brian Burnton. They both wrote in requesting that Car Tech 101 we did this time on high-tech headlights. All they did was email me on cars@cnet.com just like you can with your show ideas. Back episodes are at cnetoncars.com, feed links as well. We'll see you next time.
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