The world’s best bush plane is destroyed on take off in Reno

Mike Patey, the Utah entrepreneur who transformed his Polish-built Wilga 2000 short takeoff and landing (STOL) aircraft into a million-dollar “ultimate bush plane” called DRACO, crashed on takeoff leaving the Reno National Championship Air Races on Monday.

Patey was attempting to depart Reno (where DRACO had been featured in a static display) the day after the races were over, seeking to beat a fast-moving weather front. With him aboard DRACO were his wife and best friend. All three escaped the crash without injury.

The incident

The crash occurred at about 10:12 pm local time. According to the Meteorological Aerodrome Report (METAR), the winds at Stead Airport were out of the southwest, blowing steady at 24 knots (28mph, or about 45km/h) and gusting to 38 knots (44mph, or about 71km/h). Patey was taking off on runway 26 with a crosswind from his left.

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Source: Ars Technica

This is what it’s like driving a Bugatti Chiron at 305mph

FRANKFURT, GERMANY—As the twin forces of efficiency and safety change the vehicles around us to meet the needs of the 21st century, there’s not much day-to-day relevancy in how fast a car can go on a straight and flat enough road. Just about any new car sold today will happily cruise 20-30mph (30-65km/h) faster than even the most permissive speed limits outside a few stretches of German Autobahn. Even on the derestricted stretches, you might struggle to find yourself traffic-free long enough to exercise a supercar up to 200mph, and anything beyond that has always been more of an academic exercise than anything else. Unless your name is Andy Wallace, that is.

The British racing driver’s initial big result came at Le Mans in 1988, the first of many in a success-filled career racing sports prototypes. That first win was back when the Mulsanne Straight really was flat-out for 3.7 miles (6km), which meant going a little faster than 247mph (398km/h) for most of the 394 laps it took to win that year. So it shouldn’t be surprising that Wallace has gotten the call when someone needed a production car tested at that kind of velocity. He was behind the wheel of the record-setting McLaren F1 at Ehra-Lessien in 1998 and then again with an even faster Bugatti in 2007. That association continues to this day, most recently experiencing the 305mph (495km/h) Vmax of the Bugatti Chiron Super Sport 300+.

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Source: Ars Technica

Dear Honda, this adorable electric car needs to come to the US

FRANKFURT, GERMANY—Two years ago, Honda arguably stole the Frankfurt auto show with its Urban EV concept car. That delightful little electric car was reminiscent of Hondas past, like the N600 and S800, but updated for a carbon-free future. At the 2019 Frankfurt show, it went one better, revealing the production version called the Honda e (which starts at about €30,000 including incentives). And while others were swooning over the new Land Rover, this little battery electric car completely and utterly won my heart. And I think it’s a crying shame it won’t go on sale here in the US.

It’s not for everyone

Let’s be clear about this to stem pages of complaints: I realize the Honda e is not a “one car does it all” solution. At just 153 inches (3,894mm) long, it’s a very small car by US standards. Its lithium-ion battery pack is just 35.5kWh and provides a WLTP-calculated range of 138 miles (220km), so stop reading here if your commute to work is more than 50 miles each way. It’s not even particularly fast, although it is rear-wheel drive, with either 100kW (134hp) or 113kW (151hp) motors as options and a 0-62mph (100km/h) time of eight seconds. And there are definitely no promises that it will go out at night and earn you money while you sleep.

No, this is a battery electric vehicle with a definite niche, for people who live in cities where journeys are measured in time rather than distance. A niche with BMW has tapped into nicely with the i3. And like the i3, I’m pretty sure that charming—some might say quirky—styling will go a long way in moving metal off forecourts.

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Source: Ars Technica

The fight over fuel economy rules is getting messy

The fight over fuel economy rules is getting messy

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images)

Legal wrangling among the federal government, the state of California, and four automakers who—oddly—are asking for more stringent regulations got even more knotty this month, when the Department of Justice reportedly launched an antitrust probe into companies that struck a deal with California climate regulators.

Now some members of Congress are urging an independent investigation of the investigation, amid suspicions that the probe is an attempt to punish the automakers—and California—for parting ways with federal policy on fuel economy.

The “what’ is confusing; the “why,” less so. If the average global temperature rises by 4°C by the end of the century, as it may be on track to do, scientists say a whole bunch of bad things would likely happen: higher sea levels, more extreme weather. In the US, transportation is responsible for 29% of greenhouse gas emissions, and nearly 60% of those come from light-duty vehicles like passenger cars.

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Source: Ars Technica

Volkswagen’s bold plan to create a new car operating system

Volkswagen’s bold plan to create a new car operating system

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson)

FRANKFURT, GERMANY—The cars we drive are increasingly defined as much by the software they run as their engines or chassis. It started slowly. Discrete electronic control units started to appear under the hood, controlling fuel management or anti-lock brakes. New functions required new code, run on new little black boxes, metastasizing to the point where today, a new car might have up to 70 different modules, with software from as many as 200 different vendors. If that sounds like a recipe for disaster, it can be. Which is why Volkswagen Group—parent company to brands like VW, Audi, and Porsche—is saying “enough!”

Internal competition versus economies of scale

“Software is extremely complex nowadays. Each function is connected with everything—in the car, in the cloud, with the dealers—and we see that too many projects are in too much trouble. The process chain is not stable anymore; there’s so much inefficiency to this process,” explained Christian Senger, who is responsible for VW Group’s Digital Car and Services division. The problem is partly one by design; Ferdinand Piech specifically wanted Audi, Porsche, and Volkswagen to each develop software independently, the idea being that internal competition could improve the breed.

But it has led to balkanization. “Today, we build more than 10 million cars a year. But they are running on roughly eight different electronic architectures. In mechanical engineering, I would call us a platform champion,” Senger said, referring to VW Group’s strength in using a small number of common architectures—MQB for transverse-engined vehicles, MLB Evo for premium models, and now MEB for smaller electric vehicles—across multiple brands. “We defined how global industrialization of brands and markets really works. In software, there is no reason for having eight different architectures,” he said, contrasting VW Group’s current situation with the Android OS, where the same software runs on $60 smartphones as well as $1,000 smartphones.

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Source: Ars Technica

Tesla touts raceway record with 3-motor powertrain prototype

Driver's perspective of a Tesla on a racetrack.

Enlarge / A shot from Tesla’s video at the Laguna Seca racetrack. (credit: Tesla)

Tesla is working on a new three-motor powertrain for the Model S that will accelerate even faster than Tesla’s current “Ludicrous Mode,” the company said on Wednesday. In a nod to Spaceballs, Tesla CEO Elon Musk has dubbed the new system “Plaid.”

“Plaid powertrain is about a year away from production,” Musk tweeted. He said it would be available for the Model S, Model X, and the new Roadster—but not the lower-end Model 3 and Model Y. He said that the new design will “cost more than our current offerings, but less than competitors.”

On Wednesday, Tesla tested a prototype of this souped-up Model S at the Laguna Seca raceway. The vehicle achieved a lap time of 1:36.555, which Tesla says is a new record for a four-door sedan. You can watch a video of the record-setting lap here.

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Source: Ars Technica

California passes bill that threatens Uber and Lyft’s business model

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Source: Ars Technica

The 2020 Land Rover Defender is a 21st century take on a 4×4 icon

FRANKFURT, GERMANY—The original Land Rover didn’t invent the 4×4—that honor surely belongs to the WWII Jeep—but it is almost synonymous with the term. Inspired by the Jeep, the first Land Rovers went on sale in 1948, being (very) slowly updated over the years thorough Series I-III, then as the Land Rover 90 and 110, then as the Defender, which finally went out of production in January 2016. Along the way, despite its agricultural roots and barest nod towards things like driver comfort or ergonomics, the Defender gained a reputation for being able to go just about anywhere, which helps explain why used examples are now so ludicrously expensive here in the US. Land Rover is obviously not unaware of this fact, because it’s gone and designed a brand new Defender, which made its public debut at this year’s Frankfurt auto show.

If you were expecting a traditional body-on-frame design, think again. This Defender, like its Range Rover cousins, is now an aluminum monocoque chassis, something that Land Rover says is three times stiffer than anything else the brand has built until now. Like the old, antediluvian 4×4 it replaces, the new one comes in two sizes; the 90 and 110, numbers which used to refer to the number of inches in the wheelbase. (In fact the 90 has a 102-inch/2,588mm wheelbase, and the 110 has 119-inch/3,026mm wheelbase.) If you want a 90 you’re limited to a single engine—a mild hybrid 395hp (295kW) turbocharged 3.0L inline six—but the bigger Defender can also be optioned with a 296hp (220kW) 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder engine. Both engines are gasoline-powered; there’s no diesel planned but next year a plug-in hybrid will join the range.

The drivetrain options will also be a little unfamiliar to fans of the venerable and ancient Landy. Forget about a simple manual gearbox; all new Defenders will use ZF’s excellent 8HP eight-speed automatic transmission. But it does have permanent four-wheel drive, a twin-speed transfer case, and can be specced with locking center and rear differentials as well as Land Rover’s latest Terrain Response electronic off-road driver aid.

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Source: Ars Technica

Review: 2020 Range Rover Evoque goes big on luxury, price tag

There’s a certain amount of predictability that comes with a Range Rover. The vehicle is smartly designed, the interior is nicely appointed, there are some very clever bits, it’s going to offer a smooth ride—and there’s going to be some lack of attention to detail that nags at you every now and again. The 2020 Range Rover Evoque is no exception.

The second generation of Range Rover’s subcompact SUV made its US debut in February at this year’s Chicago Auto Show. Jaguar Land Rover hasn’t made massive changes, instead going for smaller tweaks to what has become its best-selling model worldwide. From the outside, the 2020 Evoque looks very similar to the pint-size SUV that debuted in 2010. Most of the changes are in the interior or under the hood. The 2020 Evoque gets the latest version of JLR’s InControl Touch Pro infotainment system, complete with optional CarPlay and Android Auto support. TouchPro is a dual-display setup, with the usual infotainment functions on top and climate and seat controls on the bottom. It’s very well-thought-out, but implementation is bumpy—a combination of small targets, noticeable lag between touch and response, and lack of tactile feedback leads to occasional frustration. It also takes too long to boot up after turning on the ignition.

JLR has equipped the 2020 Evoque with its mild hybrid EV powertrain. A 246hp (181kW) turbocharged 2.0L four-cylinder gasoline engine is paired with a small electric motor that generates up to 103lb-ft (140Nm) of torque to assist with acceleration and smooth over turbo lag when you hit the gas. Combined, the MHEV powertrain churns out 296hp (218kW) and 269lb-ft (364Nm) of torque. The 48V battery lives under the passenger compartment and regenerates itself when the driver brakes or lets off the gas. While JLR claims the MHEV Evoque is 6 percent more efficient than its ICE-only predecessor, this hybrid system is intended to make for a more responsive and consistent driving experience.

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Source: Ars Technica

Audi responds to demand, will bring its fiery RS6 wagon to America

FRANKFURT, GERMANY—Although the station wagon is not quite extinct, there is no denying that it belongs on an endangered species list. People just don’t buy them anymore—especially in the US, where buyers have voted with their wallets for the higher seating position and compromised dynamic ability of the crossover. Which makes Audi’s decision to finally bring its spicy RS6 Avant wagon to the US all the more remarkable. Truth be told, the news that one of the fastest wagons was US-bound actually slipped out of Audi HQ a little under a month ago, and since the model was on display at this year’s Frankfurt auto show, it seemed wise to go take a closer look.

The RS6 is a product of Audi Sport, the company’s racing arm. Audi Sport takes the company’s track-honed knowledge and also applies it to variants of the brand’s more mundane models. More often than not, this results in some truly sublime automobiles which defy Audi’s traditional reputation for building attractive cars that just aren’t fun to drive; compare a TT to a TT-RS, for vivid proof of this. And for 25 years, the RS6 has been the tip of Audi Sport’s spear when it comes to transporting four people and a lot of their luggage (or two people and even more stuff) as fast as possible across Europe, regardless of the weather.

Here in the US we’ve had to settle for the RS6’s closely related sibling, the RS7—if one can describe my all-time favorite Audi model as something one must “settle for.” Now, though, well-heeled Audi customers will have a dilemma on their hands: starting next year, they’re going to have the option to buy either one.

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Source: Ars Technica

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