Monthly Archives: February 2017

A week with the monstrous 2017 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat

There are three things to know about the Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat: it’s fast, it’s loud, and you’re going to have to budget for speeding tickets. These attributes also mean the Challenger SRT Hellcat is extreme fun and wherever you go, heads will turn to look. Those were the lessons we learned after a week in this truly American muscle car.

The 2017 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat is big, wide, heavy, low, mean, and insanely muscular. Packing 707 horsepower (527 kW) under its hood, it can take the rubber off of its rear tires in just seconds. Yet it remains family-friendly, or at least family-friendly enough that it might (almost) provide an excuse for buying one.

The Challenger on the whole is a beautiful piece of nostalgic engineering with a throwback look that maintains a modern, and somewhat sinister, edge. Every Challenger model, including the V6-powered lower-priced options, has performance as its main driving force. As witnessed in our week with the Challenger GT.

It’s when Dodge gives the Challenger to its SRT performance house that things get a bit crazy. For the Hellcat model, SRT added a lot of air movement goodies to the car, including the immediately-noticeable extra air intakes on the hood flanked by vents to push it back out. A more aggressive front air spoiler sits below the bumper at about curb height and some 20-inch wheel options (common on most V8-powered Challenger models) become exclusive to the SRT Hellcat. Brembo braking and an aggressively-tuned sport suspension are also standard equipment on the Hellcat, along with quad exhaust tips to let the big engine exhale.

And exhale it does. The deafening sound that the powerful 6.2-liter V8 puts out as the supercharger pumps to 707 horses and 650 pound-feet (881 Nm) of torque is beautiful. Those maximum outputs come at 6,200 and 4,800 rpm respectively. They can be had through either a six-speed manual transmission (standard) or an eight-speed automatic transmission.

We drove the latter and would, if given the choice again, stick with it. Enthusiasts might scream at that, but the automatic is both smoother and faster than the manual and it takes a lot of weight off of the driver’s attention, enhancing safety. Something that’s important when you have a street-legal hotrod that can accelerate faster than a plane on takeoff.

Dodge says that the SRT Hellcat Challenger can go from 0-60 mph (0-92 km/h) in 3.6 seconds with that automatic (3.9 with the manual). In our real-world, public road, amateur tests we were averaging 4.5 seconds with the auto.

The semi autonomous systems

Semi-autonomous safety and convenience features have emerged as a new battleground in the world of high-end luxury cars. BMW, Audi and Mercedes have all used their flagships to debut new suites of driver assistance technology aimed at making the commute safer and easier. So, which has the most sophisticated semi-autonomous setup: the Audi A8, BMW 7 Series or Mercedes S-Class? And how do they stack up against the Tesla Model S?

Audi launched the new A8 at a lavish event in Barcelona yesterday, revealing a car that is absolutely loaded with clever tech, from road-reading suspension to a fully digitized cockpit. But the headline feature is the incredibly sophisticated Audi AI semi-autonomous driver assist.

The company is billing Audi AI as the first autonomous driving system to reach Level 3 capability, also known as Conditional Automation. That essentially means when the system is active, drivers (and we use that word advisedly) can flip through a magazine or compose an email, but they still need to be ready to retake control in case the car is flummoxed by particularly tricky road conditions.

At the moment, the Level 3 AI Traffic Jam Pilot operates in stop/start traffic up to 60 km/h (37 mph). It can only be turned on when the car is on freeways with a barrier separating traffic heading in the other direction, and handles the throttle, braking and steering. The problem with all of this? Unless you’re in Germany, it probably isn’t legal.

Rules vary from state-to-state in America, while Australia has no legislative framework for such a system. It’s the same story in China. As a result, the technology simply won’t be on offer in those places. What’s more, it can’t be retrofitted – which means early adopters in some places won’t be able to make use of its most impressive feature.

Raptor F 150 grows wings at auction

The Ford F-150 Raptor is one of the most impressive pickup trucks out there, but it’s not the most impressive piece of modern machinery wearing the “Raptor” name. The Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor is quite clearly the superior technological tour de force. We’re sure Ford wouldn’t argue, and it’s even dedicated an all-new F-150 Raptor to the fighter with shared name. The one-of-a-kind pickup will be auctioned off at the EAA AirVenture Oshkosh later this month.

Back in 2008, Ford designed an F-22 Raptor-inspired Mustang to auction in support of the EAA’s youth programs. The car sold for US$500,000 and began the tradition of Ford building annual one-off EAA auction Mustangs, which have raised a total of more than US$3 million.

For its 10th vehicle in the series, Ford breaks with tradition. It’s circled back to the F-22, but with a very different design that traded the Mustang base for the Raptor super truck.

We think the F-22 Raptor F-150’s one-of-a-kind, aeronautical-inspired styling would be enough to pull in a nice figure at auction, but Ford hasn’t stopped with just some silver and gray paint and a graphics package. The Ford Performance Team has reworked the mechanicals to create an even more insane, off-road-dominating ride.

And where else could you start such a tune but with the EcoBoost engine that largely defines the newest Raptor? Ford pulls nearly 100 extra horsepower out of the Raptor’s 3.5-liter V6, sending a total of 545 horses galloping out to the custom wheels and tires. A set of upgraded brakes with bright-red calipers brings those wheels to a stop.

In a fleet of Ford pickups, it’s always easy to pick out the Raptor thanks to the “FORD”-stamped grille. The F-22 Raptor F-150 builds on this defining feature, keeping the general shape and mesh styling of the grille, but trading out the Ford lettering for a head-on depiction of the F-22 jet. The work is subtle enough that it looks like a logo or simple design from a distance, but reveals itself as the F-22 when you get a closer look.

Guinness World Record at VNL heavy truck launch

Volvo Trucks unveiled the new VNL heavy truck for over-the-road operations by boxing it up like a toy and letting a three year old boy open it up for a Guinness World Record. The unboxing may have been a slick publicity stunt, but the tech under the hood of this big machine is no gimmick.

In a promotional video (below) for the unveiling of the new VNL series of commercial heavy-duty semi-trucks, Volvo let three-year-old truck fanatic Joel Jovine unbox the tractor-trailer. This set a new Guinness World Record for the largest item ever unboxed, as witnessed by Guinness World Records adjudicator Michael Empric.

Under the hood of the the new Volvo VNL is a new piston technology that improves fuel burn and thus power delivery and efficiency in a simple, novel way. This is called a “wave piston” and is a simple change to the piston head in order to improve fuel-air mixing within the combustion chamber.

In normal diesel engine design, fuel and air injectors are located at or near the top of the cylinder. Fuel is sprayed towards the sides of the piston as air is compressed during the piston’s upward travel. The pressure ignites the fuel and the resulting flames swirl along the combustion chamber walls at up to 50 meters per second.

As flames spread along the piston bowl (top of the piston), they collide with one another at an angle of about 180 degrees. Those colliding flames compete for oxygen, pulling it from around the chamber’s walls, under-utilizing the oxygen at the center of the cylinder.

With Volvo’s new “wave piston” design, the cylinder’s bowl-shaped head is changed to include “waves” along the edge that disrupt the usual travel of the flames, stirring them so that the oxygen at the center of the chamber is more utilized, improving burn efficiency. This translates to better power output on each stroke for the same amount of fuel and air, meaning greater efficiency overall. The video below illustrates how this new wave piston head works.