Cooley On Cars
First drive in the BMW i3 (CNET On Cars, Episode 31)BMW i3 gives the Nissan Leaf a German accent, understanding Hemi engines, and Top 5 fuel economy myths.
-BMW i3: a savvy step to the future or just not a BMW? Hemi engines, what were they? What are they? And top five fuel economy myths. 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 and this is the show all about high-tech cars and modern driving. Now, for only the second time in the history of our show, we're gonna lead off with a cover story on a pure electric car -- the BMW i3. It's either reading the room brilliantly or tone deaf to its own brand. Let's take a look. Welcome to a new BMW. This is the first of the "i" cars. The i3 what they call a Mega City Vehicle, a clean sheet, all electric, that if it weren't for the badge on the nose, you probably wouldn't know it's a BMW at all. This will either go down as a seminal visionary change in the company's direction or just a little bit too much for the brand to bear. History will write that story, but in the meantime, we're here to see what it's all about today. All right, now, nobody accuses the i3 as being the prettiest BMW, especially from the back. It's kind of sporty from the front and I'll let you decide what you think about the side. But the structure is interesting. This car is TARDIS-like. It's bigger inside than on the outside. Check it out. You've got a very spacious conventional front door, but then, you've got what they call, nowadays, a coach door because no one likes the term suicide doors anymore. Notice when you look in there, you got a flat floor. That's because there's no need for a drive shaft or exhaust pipes to run up and down the car. I mean, all those videos I've done showing you the new thing in seat design, well, here it is. Look at this guy. This is a thin shell seat design. It's not this big ole block that's like 5 or 6 inches thick of padding and leather and frame. It's really a couple inches of thickness plus some curvature. It's part of the way that you make more room in a small car and, say it with me, save weight. When you get the weight down, everything sorts itself out. The car handles better, accelerates better, does that with a less heavy smaller battery in many cases. It's just win, win, win. Now, this guy, as you can see all around me, is made up of what looks like carbon fiber but not quite. This is carbon fiber-reinforced plastic. It's kind of a middle ground that gives you more of a real world price base. Carbon fiber is very expensive and very slow to work with, but this is a hybrid of that and a much more pliable, usable plastic that is a middle ground. It's gonna make this car more real-world priced and faster to manufacture while still getting really light and really tough. Okay. Now, motive power is interesting story here, Tale of Two Cities if you will. We're seeing right here the inverter and the electric motor that all i3s will have. 173 horsepower, 184-foot pounds of torque, 2,700-pound curb weight, small numbers on all counts, but the torque to weight ratio is 22 percent better than a 320i and just 10 percent shy of a 328i. With this configuration, you've got 80 to 100 miles of typical range on a full charge, maybe up to 118 if you really drive it Eco in a steady state. But look at this hole over here. That's there for a reason. You can option this car as a range extender. They would put a 650-cc basically BMW motorcycle engine here, running a generator to add another, let's say, 70 miles or so of electric range to the battery. Now, that may sound like a Chevy Volt killer, but not exactly. A Chevy Volt can use its range-extender generator to run continuously. As long as you have gas, it's running on electric. This one is more of an additional big boost of range, but it does not keep you running continuously. Now, the battery in this car is actually kind of uninteresting and that is interesting. If you look at that thing, you see it's a very simple, rectangular, flat square package. That's because they started this car with a clean-sheet design all around it. They didn't need to mold a battery to fit an existing car platform that has a place for a drive shaft and things like that. That makes this very simple, potentially modular in the future. I don't know if that's on their plans or not, and it's also lithium-ion technology, not lithium polymer which you typically use to make batteries of irregular shapes. You get that 80 to 100ish miles on your i3 with a three-hour charge from nearly flat. That's pretty short by industry standards these days. Now, beyond charging, what I find interesting is BMW's got this kind of I theology about the whole ecosystem of getting around. Here's one called ParkNow. This program is gonna allow you to use their resources to find a place to park like for your daily work parking and also have your charging waiting for you there as well. DriveNow, they're already doing this in San Francisco by our office where BMW electric cars are in a car share program. And then, there's this Alternative Mobility Program where when you need to go on a long drive, they will loan you out a gas-engine BMW that has no range issues. And what they also like to see is all of these programs combining in a way that also interfaces with mass transit and even bicycle usage. That's really a European thing. Americans just don't do that. Okay, first thing I notice when I get into the i3 is how spacious this guy is. I'm a tall guy. I've got no problem with headroom. It doesn't feel terribly narrow. Legroom is great. You get this guy going by rocking this unusual drive control here. Kick forward for drive and then back for neutral and reverse. Press the top for park. So, I kick that there. Now, we're in drive mode, off we go. Plenty of torque of course. I've got ways to adjust the motor of the powertrain down here with Comfort, Eco, Pro, and Eco Pro Plus. You notice it doesn't go up to Sport. It goes down into different levels of Eco. BMW argues that this car doesn't need a Sport mode because it's so light and because electric is so torquey, it's sporty by its nature. Why is that instrument panel just a slit? You see that little module stick up there? That is your instrument panel. There are no gauges in this car understandably, but it's all bezel. It does bother me for some reason. When the other big LCD, the iDrive panel to the right, it's gorgeous. It floats in midair. It's, what, about a 10, 10.5-inch ultra-wide screen. Beyond that, it's standard iDrive stuff which is good. We do have here something new. We have the touchpad controller for iDrive. I believe they call this iDrive 4.2. It'll let me do navigation by scrolling on the top of the thing or writing characters. Let's face it, Audi had that a little while ago, but BMW's got it on a new bigger controller now. It's perhaps the quietest electric car I've driven yet. They all tend to be pretty quiet, but some of them have a certain amount of electric gear whine, you know, the reduction gear. This one seems to have ISO that out the best so far. Optional self-driving tech on the i3 will handle steering, braking, and acceleration at up to 25 miles an hour, braking but not steering at up to about 40, and adaptive cruise control on the freeway. And the self-parking tech in this car will move the ball forward as well, handling not just steering but also the accelerator and the brake. So, torquey, quiet, pointable, not radically different from a Leaf or a Focus EV, which I also like, but I'm starting to think that, with electric vehicles, we're just dealing with a kind of car that has less distinctive personality in its driving manners. But here's the real shocker, the only one I've discovered in this vehicle is they have deleted coast. As soon as you get off the accelerator, this car goes into heavy rigid. It's as if I'm crammed on the brakes, but I'm never touching them. Now, the i3 arrives Q2 of 2014. Pricing will be about 42 grand before credits and rebates and then about another 4 grand if you wanna get the range-extender option to add that roughly 70 miles on top of the 100 or so it does in its all-electric configuration. What's interesting about this car is I would have written it off at arm's length as a compliance car, a play made just to meet Federal CAFE and California zero emission standards, so they can keep selling their other cars. But there's too much ambition going on in this guy to just pawn it off that way. This is a big deal for this company. Whether it's a successful big deal remains to be seen. Now, of course, the BMW i3 has a very different-looking sister -- the i8, the plug-in hybrid sports car. When we get our hands on that will of course bring you an early deep dive into its technology, but it doesn't really matter because when it arrives mid-2014, its first production run is already sold out. Now, every time I drive by my local highway patrol office here in Northern California, I always see somebody out front with an officer learning how to install child seats for their kid. So, we thought we dive into one that is perhaps the least understood -- the booster seat. It's of interest to the smarter driver. Oh, yes, car seats. So many you'll go through as a parent. When I was a kid, car seating safety for little ones consisted of dad saying, "Hang on when you locked up the drum brakes." Today, of course, you've got three major phases. Your kids are gonna start off in a rear-facing little guy seat, then they're gonna graduate to a front-facing fully harnessed seat, and then the one we're talking about today, the booster, which is often misunderstood by folks. This is the one that interfaces them to the car's seating and they eventually graduate from this to sitting in the car like everybody else. Now, when you're gonna use any of these in your kid's development is gonna vary by your state's laws and regulations. Here in California, it goes like this. A newborn to one year or to 20 pounds uses a rear-facing seat. Over one year and 20 pounds, a forward-facing child seat with full harnesses and tethers to the car's seating. Then, under eight years old or 4-foot 9 is a booster seat and make that a high back one if the car seating doesn't come to the child's ears. Then, over eight years or 4-foot 9, seat belts, as long as the kid fits in the seat properly. Basically, a booster seat is kind of a filler panel to get your kid up, so their body lines up with the shoulder and lap portions of the belt in a safe way. They're basically using the vehicle's seating now but with a little bit of a bump up in height. And while you would think any company making this kind of product would get it right, sometimes, they don't. That's where IIHS ratings come in handy. At their labs, four geometries are measured that result in four kinds of ratings, different than the stars you may see for other kinds of vehicle's safety. There are Best Bets. Those are seats that provide good belt fit in almost any car, minivan or SUV. Good Bets provide acceptable belt fit in most cars. Not recommended, those seats don't provide the kind of fit you need and should be avoided. And Check fit applies to booster seats the institute has tested, but have found varied results depending on the child's size and the model of car. Bottom-line, there are two things to eyeball carefully to get it right with any booster seat you use with your kid. Shoulder belt should not slide off the shoulder on one side or put force across the child's neck on the other direction. Lap belt, not too high, so it's distributing force across the top of the thighs and not the vulnerable abdomen area. Two things about a booster seat that pays to double check. Coming up, Hemi engines and their aura explained when CNET on Cars rolls on. -This is the brand-spanking new Audi RS 6. An Audi with RS on its rump means that it's the fastest best handling car that Audi can make of its type. RS cars look at the likes of BMW's M cars and Merc's AMG models in the same way a cat looks at its owner. I really can't express just how much traction this thing really has. It's just brilliant. -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 Northern California. Have you ever asked yourself what exactly is a Hemi? Well, it's both an engine combustion technology, a very lucrative trade name, and something of an anachronism today, makes for a useful and interesting car tech 101. Four little letters, one big burly word synonymous with high-power engines in Mopar vehicles for decades and resurgently lately, but what does that mean? Hemi is short for hemispherical. Okay. Why that's a big deal to an engine makes for an interesting story. What better place to tell the story of the Hemi than the most famous place that ever builds them up, Keith Black Racing Engines here in LA. All right, Ken, so here we are, legendary Keith Black Racing Engines. How long has this place been here? -Since 1966. -Keith Black, Ken's father, began building hot engines for his and his friend's race boat in the late '50s. Chrysler came calling in 1965, asking Keith to work over their 426 Hemis for dragsters, funny cars, and boats. Soon, the Hemi engine was almost a household word. By the late '60s and early '70s, Dodge Hemi Chargers and Plymouth Hemi Cudas were becoming among the most fabled American muscle cars, and today, among the most valuable. What do these engines do that almost nothing else can do? -I'll say it's the amount of power you can obtain from them because of the design of the hemispherical combustion chamber. -And Hemi comes from what? What does it refer to? -For hemispherical, would be the terminology. -So, what are we looking at here? This is what kind of a head? -This is a wedge head. This is basically a conventional wedge-type design head. -Notice how the intake and exhaust valves line up, but side by side across the airflow in the combustion chamber. -In the Hemi head, they're opposite each other, and you can actually get larger valve sizes in there. The advantage of this is the cross-flow of the intake to the exhaust puts a better swirl on the mixture, and with the spark plug being in the center, it fires off in the center of the mixture, which is right over the top of the piston, that gives it a better push down in the cylinder board. -Yeah. So, disadvantage? -Well, the downside, looking from a manufacturer's viewpoint, is it takes a lot more to produce a Hemi head and make it work than it would a wedge head. This is the layout for the valve setup. Your intake valves across here and exhaust valves across here.-Okay. -And because they are opposing each other this way, you have to now be able to open and close the valves. So, now, to accomplish that, it has been pretty tough to have one shaft in here. So, what they have, and Chrysler did all this stuff and they engineered it all, is they have a rocker stand setup. -And all that apparatus makes for a wide head design and a wider engine at a time when every millimeter under the hood is valuable real estate. -Is it an efficient-- a fuel efficient design or is it more of a power design? -It's-- Boy. If you talk about, you know, solenoids and everything else, I think it'd probably be, in my opinion, more of a power deal, you know, efficiency. -This is making power the old way, right? -Yeah, yeah. -The old school. -Pretty much, yeah. -And they don't use the same kind of pistons that other engines do? -No, they're unique to their own application because of the hemispherical design of the chamber. For a high-compression 12.5:1, you need a piston that has more of a dome on it to be able to compress it and will also form in the shape of the chamber along with that. -There's a little downside to a domed piston, right? -Yes. They're a little bit heavier, quite a bit heavier. -Yeah. Let me see this guy. It's a big chunk amount. -It's big. Yeah. -Yeah. And the problem being, when you have that, if you're trying to make a high-revving engine, you've got to pull the same back. Every time it comes to the top of the stroke, it's gotta be pulled back down by the rod again. And there's a lot of way to keep pulling back. -So, for the modern engine maker who's trying to do a high RPM, small, narrow light engine,-- -Right. -there are a number of things about a traditional Hemi that doesn't really go there. -There's not a desirable feature. You want a lighter weight piston. You do wanna rev them a lot higher-- -Yeah. -smaller board, and stuff; so, that would not be conducive for what they're trying to do now. -Yeah. This remains a very specialized, red-blooded-- -Yup. -American engine. -Horse power. -Up next, top five gas saving fallacy when CNET on Cars rolls on. -Porsche unveiled a new type 991, 911 GT3 at the 2013 Geneva Motor Show. It's faster, more capable, and every way better than this -- the previous generation 997 GT3 -- but crucially, it won't be available with a manual gearbox and that's a shame. It's the last manual GT3 we'll probably ever have. So, it's quite not chic, but when you get it right, the car rewards you this brilliant feeling that, yes, you are driving this car correctly. -More love of cars at cnet.com/xcar. Welcome back to CNET on Cars. I'm Brian Cooley. Here's the part of the show we take some e-mails from you about recent segments we've done. And this one is about a segment we did recently about detailing your car. And this comes in from Meshari in Saudi Arabia who says, "You know, there is some protection you can buy from 3M that will cover particularly your front bumper in front of the car that protects the paint from scratches and dust," the same scratches that we spent a lot of time getting out in our detailing video. He's absolutely right. 3M Scotchgard Paint Protection Film is the product he's talking about and you may have seen this on some high-end cars on the street, maybe some that your friends own. You can just barely detect it when it's stuck on the paint, but it's not permanent and can be removed later, but it will last for several years. You typically will put this stuff on the front of the car, the backs of the side view mirrors that face forward, and also if you've got a car with very broad body work in the rear that kind of flares out, it's good to put some on the front of the wheel arches that face forward. All those areas are very vulnerable. Now, I've not worked with this stuff before, but to be honest, I would farm it out. It looks kind of-- kind of tricky like window tint, for example, and I think if you get it wrong, it's gonna look really wrong. Expect to pay a few hundred bucks to have, what I just described, done on the front of your car. And by the way, a lot of folks do this on their leased cars because that way, they have less likelihood of wear and tear they're gonna get charged for when they turn it back a few years later and the protection film should last that long. Now, there are plenty of myths around car technology in modern car engineering these days. We dispel a few of them here on the show, but none are quite as prevalent as what's coming up in our top five. My top five myths about saving gas. Number five, you need to warm your car up before you drive off, like anyone does this anymore. That's why I put it at the bottom. But today's materials, engine machining techniques, oils, lubrication channel design, and more mean you can drive off a second or two after you turn the key and not warm up your engine, wasting fuel. Ditto goes for idling at a stop light, by the way, hence the new prevalence of automatic start/stop tech in cars these days, which is generally considered to increase MPG 5 to 10 percent. Put another way? Idling your car can burn a quarter to a half a gallon of gas an hour going nowhere. Number four, a dirty air filter will harm your fuel economy. Not unless it's as clogged as a cork in a bottle. You see your car's electronic control unit will adjust the fuel mix to match whatever amount of air is actually getting in for the optimal blend. Now, you may get less power and torque with a badly clogged air filter, but probably not lower MPG. Number three, premium gas gets you better mileage. I never really understood this one, but I think it comes from the misconception that higher octane gas is more combustive, and therefore, gives you more go for a droplet of fuel. In fact, higher octane fuel is actually less likely to detonate, and therefore, it has no impact on MPG unless you've got a car that really specifically needs it. Number two, additives to increase fuel economy. No. Turn off the daytime TV folks, these additives and devices are basically all B.S. The EPA has been testing this stuff for decades, and if they deliver any improvement at all, it's tiny. I mean, seriously, if you think a $20 additive or gadget for which you get two if you pay separate shipping and handling can outdo 100 million dollars in engineering your carmaker did to invent your car? I can't help you. -You'll save gas, money, and the environment. -The number one myth I hear all the time in this area is manual transmissions delivering better fuel economy. It was the case, but that was awhile ago. Today, the automatic gearbox will almost always deliver better fuel economy and typically better acceleration. That's because an automatic can be lashed to the vehicle's electronic control units and managed for optimal shift points -- how long it holds RPMs and whether it locks up its torque converter. Let's face it, your modern car is a computerized transportation appliance, and typically, when you intervene with all your fuzzy logic, things just get worse. Hey, thanks for watching the show. Hope you enjoyed this one and keep those e-mails coming. A lot of those top fives like we just saw come from ideas that you send me. It's email@example.com, and on Twitter, I'm Brian Cooley. On Facebook, it's Facebook.com/askCNET. I'll see you next time we check the tech. Okay. I think we're good there.