On The Road To Sin City
Last year, Chris Angelini and I decided to spice up our trip to CES a little, making it more exciting. Instead of Chris driving to Vegas by himself and me hopping on a direct flight to Vegas, I flew into Los Angeles to pick up a press car and then drove to Bakersfield. Chris hopped in and we made our way to Sin City together. I wrote about our vehicle of choice in 2013 Nissan GT-R Black Edition: The Gran Turismo Car.
We wanted something more comfortable and luxurious this year. It's a pretty long drive, after all. Style and comfort were necessities. So, we gave our friends at Bentley a call to see if we could borrow a Continental GT V8 for the week-long excursion. Along the way, I even picked up our new editor-in-chief, Fritz Nelson.
Armed with 500 hp, double-pane windows, and all-wheel drive, we set off to Vegas. It was a great way to start a show that featured more automotive technology than years past. Naturally, I spent a lot of time in the Las Vegas Convention Center's North Hall with companies like QNX, Qualcomm, and Nvidia. Join us as we explore the latest automotive technologies that caught our attention during CES 2014.
Audi Smart Display
Rear-seat entertainment systems are typically behind the curve when it comes to technology. Heck, it wasn’t until the last year or two that manufacturers started offering Blu-ray playback and HDMI input back there. But in the age of streaming Internet media and $200 Google Nexus 7 tablets that are more capable, we may be facing the death of factory-installed systems that can cost thousands of dollars and only be purchased with pricey option packages.
Audi’s solution is a tablet called the Smart Display. The 10.2-inch device packs a Tegra 4 SoC and naturally runs Android. The car maker touts extreme temperature (-40 to 80 °C) and crash resistance, making it a more ideal permanent interior fixture than off-the-shelf alternatives. Of course, you're not looking at a pure Android environment; it's skinned to resemble Audi’s Multi Media Interface, though it operates like a standard Android-based tablet, too. The dockable Smart Display connects to the vehicle via in-car Wi-Fi and lets passengers access the infotainment system.
We didn’t get to spend a lot of time with Audi's tablet concept because the company's booth was absolutely packed. But if the Smart Display emerges with the same functionality as Audi's existing rear-seat system, sending navigation directions to the driver, navigating through Google Earth overlays, and so on, the addition of Android's operating environment should give passengers a truly unique experience.
Next-Gen Audi TT Interior Preview
After many years of Audi and Nvidia talking about their work together, we'll finally see an Audi vehicle with Tegra inside when the next-gen A3 and S3 start shipping. But the platform will only employ Tegra 2! We were understandably interested to get a preview of Audi's upcoming TT, slated for 2015, sporting a quad-core Tegra 3 SoC.
The interior we were shown completely eliminates Audi's MMI in the center stack, moving all infotainment functionality to the gauge cluster, which now consists solely of an LCD display. We have to reserve judgement until we get behind the wheel and decide if the relocation improves ease of use. But our early look suggests that this gauge cluster trumps most of the LCD-based designs we've seen so far.
Audi Laser Headlights
Audi upgraded its Sport Quattro Concept with a set of laser headlights. We’re already big fans of Audi's LED headlights; they’re extremely bright and easily light up the road at night. This evolved configuration leverages that LED array for low beams, but kicks on laser diodes when you engage the high beams. According to Audi, its laser headlights throw light 1640 feet out, or three times as far as LED-based high beams. And apparently, these will be applied to production vehicles.
As cool as lighting technology is, I was actually more excited by the Sport Quattro Concept itself, which draws from Audi's rally heritage (specifically, the Quattro and Sport Quattro from the 80s). But unlike the original Quattro, the Sport Quattro Concept does away with Audi's iconic turbocharged inline-five and five-speed manual transmission, replacing them with a twin-turbo 4.0 L V8 with additional electric motors and a ZF eight-speed automatic. The powerplant generates a total of 700 hp.
BMW had its upcoming i8 Coupe on display at the Aria Hotel. The i8 is the sportiest offering in BMW's portfolio of eco-friendly vehicles. The hybrid combines a 1.5 L turbocharged three-cylinder engine with an electric motor to produce 357 hp and 420 lb-ft of torque.
Oddly, the BMW i8 has two transmissions, a six-speed automatic for the engine and a two-stage automatic for the electric motor.
Quick Drive With BMW's i3
BMW showed up at CES with a fleet of i3s (not to be confused with Intel's Core i3) that it let show attendees take for a loop around the convention center parking lot. We snuck into one and took the extended press route.
I'll be honest; the i3 isn’t very pretty. It reminds me of something out of Total Recall. But futuristic looks aside, the car drives well. An electric powertrain offers plenty of torque, propelling the i3 up to 60 MPH quickly. I did find the regenerative braking very aggressive; taking a foot off of the gas slows the vehicle down quickly.
BMW adorns its cabin with sustainable and recycled materials. I'm personally not a fan. The leather pieces inside look great, but are then mated to a eucalyptus wood trim that could have come from an IKEA store.
BMW i3 Carbon Fiber Chassis
BMW keeps the i3's weight under 2700 lbs. Obviously, that's extremely light, especially since the car packs enough battery power for 80 to 100 miles of range on the electric motor.
The secret is extensive use of carbon fiber. Most of the internal structure is a carbon fiber-reinforced plastic that makes it very strong and very light. BMW proudly displayed the chassis in its CES tent.
Corvette Performance Data Recorder, By Cosworth
One of the coolest introductions was the Performance Data Recorder for the Corvette Stingray, made by Cosworth. Yes, that's the same Cosworth behind motors for iconic vehicles like Mercedes' 190E EVO and many European Fords.
The Performance Data Recorder employs a video camera on the windshield, below the rear-view mirror, and taps into the Stingray's CAN bus to record information, including throttle and brake input, engine RPM, steering telemetry, and g-forces. It combines that information with the 720p footage to let you review your race and compare lap times, presumably so you can improve.
Ford C-MAX Solar Energi
Ford’s approach to the plug-in hybrid targets city dwellers who live 10 to 20 miles away from work. After all, the C-MAX Energi should give you about 20 miles of pure electric range. When the battery is depleted, it operates like a more conventional hybrid.
The C-MAX Solar Energi concept seeks to get rid of the plug-in charger completely by integrating a solar panel on the roof. What makes the panel unique is a concentrator with a Fresnel lens that boosts the impact of sunlight hitting the solar cells by a claimed factor of eight. Ford says that one day of sunlight should be enough to charge the battery pack. So, in theory, if your commute is 10 miles, you can drive to work, leave the C-MAX Solar Energi outside, and allow it to charge back up, free from the grid.
While this concept is a smart step for Ford, the C-MAX Solar Energi is still a hybrid at heart. We're hoping the company finds a way to add solar charging to purely electric vehicles like the Focus EV, reducing or even eliminating the range anxiety that haunts the owners of those cars.
2015 Hyundai Genesis Sedan
Hyundai trotted out its next-generation 2015 Genesis sedan at the Pepcom showcase during CES 2014. Although the car already launched in its home market, Hyundai technically introduced it in North America at the Detroit Auto Show the week after CES. Because Pepcom came before that, the company wrapped its demo in vinyl to try camouflaging it. I actually liked the way it looked; can we get a matte black version of the Genesis sedan?
Expect the 2015 Hyundai Genesis sedan to hit dealerships later this year with V6 and V8 engine options. All-wheel-drive will be an offered as a new feature as well.
Hyundai Next-Gen Infotainment
New to the 2015 Genesis sedan is a Linux-based infotainment system. While Hyundai is part of the new Google Open Automotive Alliance (OAA), this platform does not employ Android. We spent a couple of minutes with the exclusively touchscreen version and found the user interface to be quite nice, putting navigation and music information side-by-side. There is even a customizable My Menu folder for quick access to your most-used applications and features.
If you dislike touchscreen-based interfaces, Hyundai offers an upgraded option on the 2015 Genesis sedan with a control knob and buttons, similar to what you get from the German vendors. The new navigation system also supports Siri Eyes-Free, if you're using an iOS-based device.