The Subject: 2004 Nissan Quest.
The Judge: Dave Marek, Chief Designer, Honda R&D Americas
The problem with minivans is that they tend to look a lot like minivans. That's why we were so excited when we saw Nissan's Quest concept at the 2002 Detroit show. For the first time, someone had something different -- daring, even. One year later, the production version has watered down the original striking shape. The concept's defiant beltline kick has now been softened to a limp upward swell, the narrow and aggressive headlamp treatment has gained a sad-dog look, and the still-pretty dash that had been a model of simplicity and elegance is now festooned with the usual panoply of buttons.
And they're getting smarter.
This fall, more than a third of new cars must, by federal mandate, be able to sense the difference between an adult occupant, a child and an empty seat. Airbags would then only inflate as much as needed. Weight and tension sensors under seats and in seatbelts are the first step, but Siemens, TRW and Motorola are developing lasers, 3-D cameras and electrical fields that can determine occupants' position as well as their size.
We test 4 vehicles to see how well they keep their distance.
Adaptive cruise control may be the future, but it's not that future. You know the one: The fantasy future of highways that control traffic electronically while drivers kick back like limo passengers. Try that with one of these cars and you'll wrap yourself around a tree.
Import tuners, once kid brothers to small-block chevys, have grown up.
Donate the Deuce Coupe to an auto museum and put the GTO up for sale: The hippest, hottest hot rod in America is now an Asian import with front-wheel drive and a turbocharged four-banger. Humble Honda Civics with stock unibodies and custom everything else have clocked sub-9-second quarter-mile passes, with top speeds approaching 170 mph, and it's not uncommon to find street-legal econorockets fast enough to humiliate a Corvette Z06. Note to outraged Detroit iron loyalists: Deal with it.
If a new hydrogen fuel cell idea takes off, you might be pumping your SUV full of sugar water.
Imagine pulling up to a Texaco station and pumping your SUV full of sugar water. If a new hydrogen fuel cell idea takes off, someday you might be doing just that.
The idea could solve a fundamental fuel cell problem: To travel any useful distance, a fuel cell car would need to carry hydrogen gas under pressure, requiring a heavy, bulky fuel tank. Some experimental autos solve the problem by carrying liquid fuel and extracting hydrogen from it on the run-a method called onboard reforming.
1O vehicles that have innovative technology not available stateside.
British chauffeur Richard Lewis recently led a caravan of Range Rovers and Jaguars
through the back roads of Warwickshire to the Butchers Arms pub in the wee
town of Priors Hardwick. A mere 20-minute drive it was, but when Lewis got
the assignment he frantically keyed the destination into every vehicle's sat-nav system and still, once under way, monitored the caravan's
progress by cellphone.
Concepts in aviation: Latest air-car design tactic aims at commercial applications.
In the race to build a so-called personal flying machine, few developers have got much past the tethered-hop stage, with promises of one in every garage sometime soon. Generations of hopeful flyers have died waiting. But Israel's Urban Aeronautics at least addresses a key point: A machine like the X-Hawk concept shown here (which the company recently released, saying it's the design they'll build) has less chance of serving your average frustrated commuter's needs than of playing a utility role in commercial and government transport. Projected uses include urban rescue, repair and patrol.
The Spinner could turn tank combat upside-down.
Heads up: Civic at 3 O'clock
Carmakers can learn a lot from designers of cutting-edge aircraft cockpits. It's all about human factors: keeping hands on the wheel, eyes on the road. Managing and monitoring too many systems places both pilot and mission at risk.
First look at the guts of GM's fuel cell Autonomy car
When General Motors rolled out its "skateboard" vision for a fuel cell car at the 2002 Detroit auto show in January, there was buzz, and there was a big question. The skateboard concept, called Auto-nomy, was the product of GM's Design and Technology Fusion Group, and it radically reordered automobile physiology: Fuel cells, hydrogen, motor, and brakes were all crammed into a 15-foot-long, 6-inch-thick chassis onto which modular car bodies could be snapped. Drive-by-wire controls would plug into the skateboard's computer brain through a docking port.
Web links: See Hermes soar
Visit at the Umea Institute of Design's website to watch an 80-second QuickTime movie featuring the Hermes in action.
On the set of TLC's "Junkyard Wars," teams try to build a working car that fits into some Samsonites.
Spend any time on the set of The Learning Channel's "Junkyard Wars," and the confidence builds: Perhaps I too have the ingenuity to fashion a submarine from a scrap Chevy V6 or a monster truck from tractor wheels. I don't, of course; nor do most viewers. But by striking the core of your inner MacGyver, the Emmy-nominated show has become a mainstream hit, drawing roughly 1.4 million viewers a week.
Inside stuff: A hidden feature launches the M3, but faster in Europe.
There's a cheat code in the software running the BMW M3's sequential manual gearbox (SMG): Press the right buttons in the right order and the car will launch you from a stop after revving the engine to 5,000 rpm. But don't look for a how-to in the owners' manual—this feature is undocumented, an inside joke of sorts.
Mechanically tuned and tweaked top fuel dragsters go like the devil's own wind-up toy. Here's a breakdown from amber lights to chute deployment.
T minus 2 minutes: Racers back up into the waterbox, a wet section of asphalt behind the starting line, and hit the gas. The burnout heats and cleans the tires for better grip.
-0.4 seconds Drivers hit the gas when they see the amber light, sending the engine to 8,000 rpm.
0.0 The clutch, activated by a hydraulic timer, starts to transmit power to the wheels. The tires wrinkle from the torque.
0.1 Front wheels lift slightly off racetrack.
Old tech & new materials intricately combined for insane speed: the ingenuity of the top fuel dragster.
The violence of the launch was astonishing. Vibration short-circuited my senses, and the acceleration clouted my helmet back against the car's roll cage. For 200 feet, I couldn't tell where I was. I'm not used to feeling fear while in a carI've cornered 185-mph Ferraris at top speedbut this dragster scared me. After a couple of runs, they told me, I'd get used to it: The car would go straight for 200 feet until I could see.