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CNET On Cars: Highest rated tech cars of 2013 (CNET On Cars, Episode 32)

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CNET On Cars: Highest rated tech cars of 2013 (CNET On Cars, Episode 32)

24:28 /

Revisiting the Veyron, clamping down on DUIs with technology and the best-rated high tech cars of 2013.

-Sync. Veyron in the vineyard. I don't even know what to do with a car like this. Booze on your breath. You gotta do something that basically only a human can do. And top tech cars of the year. It's our year-end wrap-up show 2013. Time to check the tech. We see cars differently. Nice. We love them on the road and under the hood, but also check the tech and are known for telling it like it is. Ugly is included at no extra cost. The good, the bad, the bottom line. This is CNET on Cars. Welcome to CNET on Cars. I'm Brian Cooley. This is the show all about high-tech cars and modern driving. It's our year-end episode. We're gonna do things a little differently this time. I'm gonna bring you some of the favorite videos you had this year with some of my back story comments that maybe you didn't know the first time around. Starting off, with our video from back in May of the Bugatti Veyron. Now, Bugatti brought us this car not on the track, but in the little twisty lanes of California's Wine Country, perhaps the worst possible place to try and get a full taste of the world's fastest car. We didn't find one stretch where we're able to really crack the thing open. You'll see that in the video. Other than that, I made the best of the situation to take attack at how this car is like to live with in the real world. When you make about the only car in the world that can impress people in Monaco around breakfast time and do the same thing in St. Moritz at lunch on the same day, what do you do for an encore? You take the top off. In fact, this is the halo car of halo cars. Back in 1998, Volkswagen bought up the rights to the Bugatti auto brand name about all that was left of a storied French carmaker that by then was better known for making aircraft landing gear, probably holding up the last jet you flew. But with this move, VW set out to prove it's about more than just jaunty Jettas and failed Phaetons. And by 2001, they unveiled the Veyron. This is its latest iteration. Now, I've got the Bugatti staff 10 yards away from me and I'll still tell you this car is not exactly conventionally pretty to my eye, but such is the tyranny of aerodynamics. If you wanna do 250 plus and stay on the surface of the earth, you shape the car exactly as the wind tells you to and do it with a smile. What's interesting is those who've taken this thing to the limit on the track with the top off always remark how still it remains in the cabin. The body is basically all-carbon fiber. You can even order the car finished in a clear coat, so everybody knows it. It seats two in front of its massive mid-mounted engine and offers virtually no rear visibility. You handle blind spots by driving away from them. Now, when you build a car like this, nothing about its routine, it's kind of like one big rolling book of bar trivia. Just at this one corner, I could tell you stories for an hour. These tires, for example, they're made to order because no other car uses them and they're about $25,000 a set. And when you replace those every third time, you're advised to replace the wheels as well, pushing about 40 grand a set. Even these valve stems are unique. Extra strong springs in them because at 3,000 or so RPM on the wheel when you're at full tilt, conventional valve stems and springs would open up and bleed out the tire, not good at 200 plus. When you do get a tune-up, most of this outside bodywork has to come off to get to the spark plugs. On those months, your mortgage drops to number two in the budget. Now, the specs of this car and particularly its engine have been breathlessly over-covered by every blog in car magazine on earth. So, I'm not gonna kill you with that, except to talk about the architecture of this guy. This is an 8-liter, quad-turbo, W16. The W16 part throws a lot of people. Here's what it means. It's basically two kind of V8s that are both siamesed together, sharing one crank. I say kind of V8 because each of these two banks of eight cylinders are sitting in a nested format. That means they take up less longitudinal room when those two eight-cylinder banks are put together on one crank and that means much better packaging. This engine would be substantially longer and more unwieldy and throw off the balance of this car if it was a traditional architecture. The result: 1,200 horsepower and 1,106 foot-pounds of torque. Yes, both four figures. I have never seen that in a car we've reviewed before. That means, this roughly 4,400-pound vehicle is quite dense, gets up to 60 in a mere 2.6 seconds. All of that, thanks to a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission that's been beefed up quite a bit for the additional power of this Vitesse going out to all-wheel drive. There's no other way you could distribute that power, otherwise. MPG, if you care, is about 815. You don't care. Now, inside this guy, it's frankly CNET's nightmare. We don't have every tech option. You can get navigation. They don't make a big deal about it. I think you can imagine why. Instead, it's a simple set of climate controls, some basic radio and CD controls. Good ole analog gauges that are real crisp and nicely placed. There is an iPod connector that's relatively new for the Veyrons and a cool little retracting spool reel here. Why don't other carmakers do that? So, here we are in a stop-and-go traffic in California's Wine Country, and believe it or not, this is not wasted footage because I've driven a lot of so-called supercars that have a very un-super gearbox. Very cantankerous sometimes at this level. This car has impressed me with its ability to be docile and drive like a slushbox when you want it to, and then, of course, transfer all that out at other times when you want it to. That's a pretty good trick. It makes the most amazing sounds. There's whirring. There's growling. There are these sounds like a medium-caliber handgun going off. Those are the boost valves on the turbos, releasing excess pressure. Now, all these cars have been clocked at 254 miles an hour with the top off. It's actually only going to go there if you have a special mode on, a high-speed mode that limits the top speed to a mere 233. I know that you're all asking, "Hey, Cooley, is it really that fast?" Well, let me tell you. There's no way you can flex this car on public road with any degree of responsibility, really we need to view reality. Neither it's 0 to 60 nor top speed or any other metric have much relevance on the street. About the only icon of its prowess is that the windows automatically raise at 95 miles an hour. At which point, you are still in second gear and wondering where that stretch of road went. And in some strange sense, there's almost nothing you can do with this car on a public road you couldn't do in a $70,000 Audi except this. Pulling up in a Veyron creates an event. In the space of 20 minutes, I had one person offer rather seriously to trade me their child for it. Several begged to be allowed to sit on it. Dozens took their picture just near it. And a few resentfully and clearly purposely ignored it. People react because, until that moment, it was a myth and because of the price. Okay, now the fun part. Let's put a price tag on our little orange friend. Base is around $2.25 million or roughly 45 years of the US median income. On top of that, there's a $51,000 destination charge because they airfreight these things around via DHL. Not kidding. $6,400 dollar gas-guzzler tax, you don't care, and about a 2.6 percent customs duty. I bet you've never seen that on a car bill of sale before. In the end, this car is phenomenally expensive. And you would look at its German engineering, French manufacturer, and Italian heritage and see a bar joke coming, but this car most certainly is not one. For its big company sophistication, brutal yet controlled performance and cheeky open-top design, it really is a class of one. Another fun story about that Veyron, when we got done shooting, we wanted to get some footage of just making the folks reacting to it. That's kind of part of what you get a car like that. So, the perfect spot was at Gott's drive-in in Saint Helena and it just happened to be ideal to put it in the disabled parking spot for a few moments right by where folks line up to place their order. So, we suggested that to the Bugatti rep who gave us a staring look and said, "No, we don't wanna portray Bugatti owners as being that dickish." That could also describe drunk drivers, right? So, a lot of you were fascinated by a piece we did back in March about drunk driving interlock technology. Alcohol breath detectors in the vehicle, makes for a smarter driver. We're at San Francisco Auto Repair Center where they are one of the few licensed installers and maintainers of the current state of the art of alcohol detection ignition interlocks. Okay, here's today's technology. Here's the SmartStart system installed in this vehicle and this is sort of a handset of a head unit with a display and a place where you blow in. It connects through this big ole coily cord to a logger box, a brain box basically, which is up on to the dash. Here's how it works. I turn the key to on 'cause I wanna go drive somewhere. Of course, the system has to okay that. And you just see it initializes for a moment. It says wait. Now, it says blow. Here I go. It's analyzing me now and I got a pass. I had to blow and then, when it gave me a tone signal, I had to make a humming sound while still blowing. Now, why is that? So that you haven't hooked up a balloon or a tank of air to this thing. You gotta do something that basically only a human can do. As I drive, it's gonna keep prompting me for random retests. There is a vision in the future of having alcohol detection in every vehicle from new. It's part of something called DADSS, the Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety, partly backed by the Federal Government. Now, for alcohol detection to be in every car and be acceptable to the car-buying public, it has to meet three criteria as I see it. First of all, it's gotta be nearly imperceptible. Most of us would never do this every time we drive no matter what the safety benefits for society. Second of all, it's gotta work quickly. This is a bit of a timely process. And third, it has to be fool-proof, but it also has to have a little leeway for real world living. One envision technology is a touchpad on the steering wheel perhaps that shines infrared light on the surface of your skin reflecting from just deep enough to show blood alcohol concentration in your body. Another technology is breath-based like we've seen today, but not with the device you blow into. Rather, the car would automatically sample the area around the driver in the car testing for exhaled indicators of alcohol impairment. Now, those two technologies as amazing as they seem are actually being demonstrated right now in the labs. They are real. The bigger hurdles come in three other areas. First, preventing the passenger or another person from sitting in for a drunk driver to start the car, facial recognition tech could help there. Second, calibrating whatever technology is used to allow someone with, lets say, a 0.07 to drive, but not someone with a 0.08. That is giving tacit consent to drive after some degree of drinking, quite different from the sort of don't drink and drive mantra that we operate under today. And third, another issue will be the confluence of what DADSS Technologies learns and the automotive black boxes that are soon to be required in every car under Federal Regulation. Will the readings from the alcohol testing system be stored in the black box? And if so, for how long and who can see that? Our partners at State Farm are encouraged about what could be a potential breakthrough in drunk-driving technology by something like DADSS whatever technology is used. And they point to a frustrating number that makes it worth pursuing, some 10,000 people every year dying in drunk-driving accidents in the U.S. That number has been coming down, but not much below that level. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety thinks 7,000 of those deaths could be prevented by a technology like DADSS once it propagates in the market. Coming up, we explain one of the enduring confusions in car tech when CNET on Cars continues. -This is the Jaguar C-X75. There are only five in the world and that's all they'll ever be. I remember seeing the C-X75 concept on Jaguar stand at the 2010 Paris Motor Show. The concept had four electric motors and they got their electricity from jet. It had jets. All that remains of the dream, the ultimate Jaguar is five prototypes. Each works, each has a fully outfitted cabin, and each can release all of its near-900 brake horsepower potential. Before I was allowed behind the wheel, Jaguar's handling don, Mike Cross, showed me how it's done. -More love of cars at cnet.com/xcar. Welcome back to CNET on Cars. Coming to you from our home here at Cars Dawydiak, just north of the Golden Gate Bridge in Marin County, California. I don't think any of our Car Tech 101s in all of 2013 was more popular with you than horsepower versus torque, explaining this often misunderstood relationship about measuring the output of your engine. It also spawned quite a vigorous thread online about whether you measure torque in foot-pounds or pound-feet. Couple of engineers I consulted with assured me, for our purposes, they are interchangeable, though I'm sure some of you will still take me to task on that. Nonetheless, since we did that segment way back in February, a lot of you may have missed it. So, here they are again, horsepower versus torque, really understanding what's your engine puts out. Okay. Aside from emissions and heat, the two big outputs of any engine are horsepower and torque. You know all about the first one. You've heard about it since you were a little kid. It's in every automative advertisement. Everything the automakers ever talked has horsepower in there somewhere, but torque is far less well understood, though extremely important. Let's break them down and define them first. Horsepower is a measure of work. Its definition makes that obvious. One horsepower is equal to 33,000 foot-pounds per minute. Now, torque is also a measure of work, but it describes work as twisting force. It's kind of like horsepower in a circle and without the per minute factor. Torque is measured in foot-pounds, not a certain number of them, though. For example, it may take 27 foot-pounds of torque to loosen a particular bolt on this engine without regard for how long you have to apply that force. So, at the risk of oversimplifying, horsepower expresses how much work you can get done on a certain amount of time. Torque is about how hard you can twist something and that's key because how does a car move itself? The engine turns. It twists the gears in the transmission. They twist output or drive shafts and that moves the car. Torque really should be the star. Okay, seriously, let me show you on some charts how horsepower and torque work. I promise you won't fall asleep. Now, these are charts from cars that have been put on dynamometers, basically treadmills for cars. You've seen this. Our partners over at Edmund's do a lot of this kind of testing and gave us this data and it's very instructive. Here's the 2011 Ford Mustang. Here's how the chart works. On the left, you've got your vertical axis of either foot-pounds of torque or amount of horsepower. Down across the right is basically your tachometer. Its RPM is from 1 to 8,000 in this case. Now, look what happens, the torque line is this light blue one. You start building around 2,000 RPM and you got more and more torque as you increase the revs. You peaked right around here at about 4,200 with 365 foot-pounds. It's all that engine has and you stayed about that range until around 5,200 RPM. This is the sweet spot. This is where you've got peak torque that just keeps coming. After awhile, more RPMs, the torque begins to drop, horsepower keeps increasing. Let's look at another car. It's a very different engine in a McLaren MP4-12C supercar. Here's our torque line again, builds gradually, and then notice at about 4,200 all the way out to about 6,200, this guy stays flat and right about at the peak amount of torque, around 415 foot-pounds. This is a wider, what they call fatter torque band. You've got more RPMs where you have full torque from the engine. Mercedes Benz S63, instructive because this is a twin-turbo V8. Look what happens with turbos. This is the torque line. It's out of hand. It peaks really fast and it stays broad, chunky, and 611 foot-pounds of torque. That's a lot by the way for a very long time before it begins to degrade. And finally, a very different car, Scion FR-S, peaks here early at only 143 foot-pounds of torque, but then look what happens. You get this dip here. If you ever hear me driving a car and say, "I feel like there's a flat spot in the torque curve," that's what I'm talking about. It's not flat at all. It's actually a dip where the car feels kind of gutless and then, up around 4,800 RPM, it kicks back in again and stays nice and flat all the way out to the mid-6,000. Now, you may have noticed in all these charts, torque tends to peter out as you get to the higher RPMs up near your red line. That's because the engine is less able to breathe efficiently there. Secondly, notice that horsepower keeps climbing even after torque drops off. Why is that? It seems like it's two engines doing different things. Well, even as torque drops off, the RPMs keep climbing and horsepower is largely a product of RPMs times torque. So, we can put those two together and keep that horsepower line moving up because torque is dropping, but only modestly as RPMs go up in a linear fashion. Okay. I hope you got a better understanding now of horsepower, torque, the relationship, and how they impact the driving experience of a car. Also, note, we do our car videos, I'll show you those two numbers and horsepower is usually the bigger. Torque is often the smaller, unless that car has a turbo or a supercharger, which artificially puts more in the engine and allows the torque to come higher or as high as the horsepower. That gives you another clue as to what that car is gonna be like to drive. Up next, the cars we rated best in 2013 when CNET on Cars rolls on. -I think the Aero Coupe is one of the most beautiful cars ever made. Its design harks back to a time when big sails, swooping rear latches, and boat-like rear ends were invoked. It's a car that people buy when they want to experience their drive and share that experience with others. It sounds like an old-school car should. It looks like an old-school car should. And that makes it really rather special. -More love of cars at cnet.com/xcar. Welcome back to CNET on Cars. I'm Brian Cooley. Across 2013, the CNET Car reviews team had about 100 cars coming and out of our garage and only a few of those rose to the highest level of really impressing us and often earning an editors' choice. And that's a pretty rarified honor. We don't just fall for every Bentley and Lamborghini that comes in. Those are often not the highest rated to be honest. Instead, here's my top five list of the really outstanding tech cars, milestones in the industry and more or less attainable. Number five, the Jeep Grand Cherokee, about $43,000 CNET style and this was an editors' choice back in May of 2013. Mature lines now that are more a Land Rover than Grizzly Adams, it's one of the easiest to use touchscreen interfaces in the whole car business, but with a lot of good modern tech behind it and the GC has real off-road ability, not just off-road in the sense of rolling over a shrub at the mall, makes this one of the best overall packages of the year and one you can actually afford, in fact the cheapest on our list. Number four, the BMW M6 Gran Coupe, pricey at about 130 grand CNET style. This guy scored editors' choice in November. It's the have it all car of the year in many ways. M power, adaptive suspension, track class handling combined with four doors, and perhaps, the most connected cabin in the world and also, I think, the best lines of any car on our list. The price is kind of unconscionable, so I'd head for a 650i, its sibling in a heartbeat, but if you have the money, this is your new hot ride. Number three, the 2014 Mercedes S550, all new design, 110 grand CNET style, editors' choice back in August. In one swoop, Mercedes scooped up the S Class and rescued it from what could have been a lardy fate at the hands of the country club valet. Space and pace still abound at this big barn burner, but so do connected LCDs everywhere inside and LEDs everywhere outside. Combined with much sleeker styling and a full suite of apps, it's suddenly feels much less like an old man's car. Number two, the Audi S6 and/or S7, $80,000 to $87,000, editors' choice back in March. I put this two together 'cause they're very similar. Now, everyone loves the four-door coupe, the 7, which is more than I can say for a lot of four-door coupes. It's got that inexplicably silky Audi S powertrain and drive select that transform it almost into three cars. Google Earth, handwriting recognition, and all of it actually works. Now, the S6 scored equally high, but in more of a sedan package and we started to almost get bored with Audi excellence this year. Number one has to go to the Tesla Model S, about 80 grand or so CNET style and it got the editors' choice technically in December of 2012, but I'm putting it on the 2013 list because it reverberated loudly throughout the year. This is the first really aspirational electric car from a company you can be pretty sure will be here tomorrow. I love the absurdly large 17-inch LCD center panel loaded with technology. And throughout the vehicle, clean sheet 21st century touches abound. As the only EV on our list, it's also the only car with any range anxiety and battery safety issues perhaps need monitoring. Still, this was the car everybody was asking me about in 2013 and it scored the highest of anything we drove all year. As we're wrapping our second year of CNET on Cars, I wanna thank you for being part of it and I mean more than just watching, you really are a part of it. So many of the segments we cover here are informed by the input we get from you about what to cover and how to cover it. So keep those e-mails coming. It's oncars@cnet.com. Thanks for watching. I'll see you next time we check the tech. Okay. I think we're good there.
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