TIME Autos

Watch People Freak Out Over Tesla’s New ‘Insane Mode’

The new Tesla's crazy acceleration elicits stomach dropouts, flying iPhones and screams

Tesla’s all-wheel drive Model S P85D was designed as a sports car for the electric age. To convince car buyers that electric vehicles could be quick and powerful, Tesla designed the P85D to accelerate from zero to 60 miles per hour in 3.2 seconds and reach top speeds of 155 mph.

If Tesla founder Elon Musk’s goal was to wow people, he seems to have succeeded. In a video uploaded by Dragtimes, riders experience the car’s rapid acceleration for the first time. It elicits screams, curses, shock, and facial expressions that might be better suited to one of Musk’s SpaceX rocket takeoffs.

The car, which sells new for $104,500, has 691 horsepower (221 hp front, 470 hp in the rear) and features an autopilot mode that uses cameras and ultrasonic sensors to read speed limits, monitor other cars on the road and park automatically.

In the video, driver Brooks Weisblat refers to an “insane” mode button on the car’s display—that’s the name of the option drivers have for a super acceleration. It’s that, or a decelerated “sport” mode. Both sound pretty good.

TIME Autos

5 Ways to Transform Your Aging Ride Into an Internet-Connected Smart Car

Smart Car
Detail of legendary car Kitt from the series Knight Rider is seen on July 03, 2014 in Bratislava, Slovak Republic. isifa—Getty Images

You don’t have to buy new wheels to get smart. In fact, these solutions make it wiser to stick with what you’ve got.

Over the past couple weeks, both CES and the Detroit Auto Show have given gear heads and commuters alike some eye-popping peeks into the future of the road. But don’t look towards your driveway in shame: We’re years out from self-driving cars, and your late-model lemon still has what it takes to rule the mean streets.

Still, if you want it smarten it up a bit, who can blame you? Here are five ways to inject some Internet-connected intelligence into your automobile:

Dial In to Your Radio

Cracking open your dash is not unheard of in the realm of in-car upgrades, but it’s also not something the DIY set (or the faint of heart) might want to try on their own. But if you’ve got an Android or iOS handset, putting in a new, app-connected stereo is a great way to stay up to speed with the newest auto models.

Android users will like Parrot Asteroid, a $600 head unit that brings Google’s operating system to the forefront of the car, with apps like Waze and Spotify available at a touch of the 6.2-inch screen. Meanwhile, iPhone users will want to upgrade to aftermarket Carplay radios like the $600 Pioneer AppRadio4. This Apple-approved car audio solution pulls data directly from the iPhone, letting drivers use specially-skinned versions of popular apps like Pandora while they drive. And despite the Pioneer’s a 6.2-inch screen, which is great for viewing Apple Maps’ driving directions, it also integrates Siri Eyes-free controls, letting you open apps or play music with voice commands.

Crack Your Onboard Computer

Every modern vehicle has an onboard computer — it’s just not something you’ve ever accessed before. But with a data port right by the driver’s left knee, it’s begging to get hacked into, letting cars reach their full potential.

Automatic, a $99 smartphone app and sensor, plugs into this port giving you rich driving information even when you’re behind the wheel. (Note: Of course you shouldn’t text and drive, and you definitely shouldn’t crunch data while operating a vehicle.) The system analyzes your driving style, and will give you subtle audio tips on how to drive more efficiently, compiling weekly driving scored and keeping track of your mileage. It also keeps track of those unintelligible dashboard warning lights, telling you in plain English what’s wrong with your whip when one pops up.

Drive Heads-Up

Looking back and forth at your phone (or your car’s in-dash display, for that matter) isn’t a very safe way to drive. Actually, this kind of distracted driving is a sure-fire way to get in an accident. But heads-up displays, or HUDs, can help you keep your eye on the road while quickly glancing over at directions and other bits of driving data.

The Garmin HUD has been around for a couple of years and pulls road information from the company’s GPS apps. But if the $149 solution is too rich of an experiment, you can give the free HUDWay iOS app a spin. Panned by drivers for not being as clear as the Garmin, it still throws some decent information onto your windshield — just be sure you have an anti-skid mat to hold your iPhone in place when you try it.

And sometime this year Navdy is due to make its debut. Pairing with iPhones and Android handsets, this HUD, which is $299 on pre-order, will not only provide driving directions, but also provide voice and gesture-based controls, letting you answer calls with a thumbs-up or share your location just by saying the word.

Display Your Music

If you stream music from your iPhone — and these days, who doesn’t? — you’re likely at a loss for a good, safe-while-driving interface. iHeartRadio for Auto does its darnedest to put Internet radio at the tip of your finger, with big buttons and large typefaces to make it easy to use. Likewise, TuneIn has a car mode, but so too does your car’s stock radio — why not just use the dials and buttons?

Apps like CarMusic on iOS and Car Tunes on Android bring gesture and even voice functionality to the digital audio experience. But more than anything, these half-baked solutions just point out the deficiencies of other, more popular apps like Spotify and Stitcher. Hopefully they’re reading this.

Empower Your Drive With Apps

It would be easy to point to GPS apps to supercharge your commute, but by now you’ve probably got your favorite of the seemingly thousands of options available — after all, these apps pretty much killed the dedicated on-dash GPS market. But there are a couple of newer location-aware apps that are worth adding to your home screen.

Scout, available for both Android and iOS, puts a social spin on maps and meeting up, letting friends pick the time and the place for a rendezvous and keep track of where everyone else is on the map. Commute, by the brains behind Mapquest (they live!), keeps track of your regular commute and sends you personalized traffic details 15 minutes before you’re scheduled to hit the road. If there’s traffic ahead, you’ll have plenty of time to go around it, or call ahead and say that you’ll be home late for dinner.

MONEY Advertising

5 Ways This Year’s Super Bowl Ads Will Be Like No Other

Victoria's Secret Angels Superbowl ad
Victoria’s Secret Angels Super Bowl Commercial Michael Seto

This year, a Super Bowl ad costs roughly $4.5 million for 30 seconds of air time, up $500,000 from 2014. Price isn't the only way this year's ads will be different.

In a few ways, come Sunday, February 1, Super Bowl viewers can expect some of the same-old, same-old during breaks in the game. Unsurprisingly, there will be ads selling beer and tearjerkers featuring lost puppies (one does both at the same time), and there will be at least one commercial flashing a nearly naked woman walking in public, thanks to perennial provocateur Carl’s Jr. Still, in a few interesting ways this year’s Super Bowl commercials make a break from the past.

There won’t be many car ads.
Auto brands are usually big players in the Super Bowl ad games. Not so much this year. As the Detroit News pointed out, 11 automakers aired commercials during the 2014 Super Bowl. This year, only a handful will be paying up for Super Bowl ad time, with Ford, Lincoln, Hyundai, Honda, Acura, General Motors, and Volkswagen among the regular Super Bowl advertisers who aren’t bothering this year.

The latter is known for some of the best and most shared Super Bowl ads ever (everybody remembers the kid Darth Vader from 2011), yet the automaker released a statement explaining, “For 2015, we have opted to not participate due to other priorities and initiatives across all platforms. We hope to rejoin the Super Bowl when we feel it is appropriate for our brand.”

Analysts have also theorized that automakers are skipping Super Bowl ads this year because the timing doesn’t match up with new vehicle launches, and simply because they’ve blown so much money on these commercials in the past. Over the last decade, automakers have dropped $514.6 million on Super Bowl commercials, nearly 25% of the grand total.

Some other big advertisers are passing too.
Like Dannon, which isn’t advertising even though it’s the Official Yogurt Sponsor of the NFL, and even though it’s developed a reputation for memorable Super Bowl ads like last year’s “Full House” reunion spot. Even for brands that seek close ties with the NFL, the thinking can be that advertising in the Super Bowl simply costs too much, and might not provide enough bang for the buck over the long haul.

“The Super Bowl has a huge audience—but with a huge price tag,” Dannon senior director of public relations Michael Neuwirth said in an interview. “We looked at the most efficient way to build awareness and interest in the product across a longer period of time.”

There will be a bunch of brands you never heard of.
Chances are you’ve never heard of Wix.com (a website building company), Loctite (super glue), or Mophie (smartphone cases), and if you are familiar with the likes of Buzzfeed and The Verge, you probably don’t think of them as Super Bowl advertisers. Nonetheless, all of the above have commercials airing during the Super Bowl, the latter two with regional rather than national ads, but impressive and expensive nonetheless.

When a commercial featuring a fairly obscure brand is shown during the most expensive, most watched TV event of the year, it’s going to cause some puzzlement on the behalf of viewers. And that’s why this strategy might be effective and help a brand make an extra big splash.

In a Wall Street Journal article about the roughly 15 companies advertising for the first time in the Super Bowl this year, Chris Lawrence, director of account management at Fallon, the agency that created the Loctite Super Bowl ad, said, “The fact that there is scrutiny and people paying attention is exactly the point … It’s a chance to make a lot of friends very quickly.”

On the other hand, it’s also a chance to alienate and anger millions of viewers. See the ill-conceived effort by first-time Super Bowl advertiser Groupon in 2011, when the coupon site thought it would be funny to mock environmental and political tragedies around the globe.

The ads won’t only be limited to TV screens.
Five years ago, Pepsi skipped the Super Bowl even though ad time started then at $2.5 million—cheap compared with the $4+ million a 30-second slot runs this year. And the reason Pepsi gave in 2010 for not advertising was a decision to focus instead on a social media campaign.

Was the campaign successful? Well, let’s just say that Pepsi is not only advertising in the 2015 Super Bowl, it’s the official sponsor of the halftime show featuring Katy Perry and Lenny Kravitz.

Nonetheless, big brands commit so much time and energy to social media during the game that it’s tantamount to its own parallel category of Super Bowl advertising. Remember Oreo’s memorable Tweet during the 2013 Super Bowl at the New Orleans Super Dome, when the masses were reminded, “You can still dunk in the dark”? That extremely timely and effective message kicked up social media efforts to the next level.

This year, the off-TV battle for eyeballs includes a special live-streamed halftime show on YouTube, in addition to YouTube hosting Ad Blitz, where people can view and vote for their favorite ads that actually did air during the Super Bowl. (Last year’s Ad Blitz resulted in 379 million views on YouTube, according to Businessweek.)

Then there’s Facebook, which is “trying to get Super Bowl money even without the Super Bowl,” Horizon Media vice president Brad Adgate said to AdAge, by selling ads to companies that would be shown to Facebook users who post game-related material. “I think it’s part of their strategy to siphon off as many dollars from television as possible.”

Oh, and the network broadcasting the game on TV, NBC, is also allowing everyone to stream the entire Super Bowl online for free, which will perhaps keep some web surfers away from YouTube and Facebook.

Women will (mostly) keep their clothes on.
Super Bowl commercials have a long history of offending women and being declared downright sexist. And yes, the planned Carl’s Jr. ad featuring a seemingly naked Charlotte McKinney is perhaps one of the raciest and most juvenile Super Bowl ads ever.

But the Carl’s Jr. “all natural” commercial, which will only air in the western U.S. during the Super Bowl, is already getting bashed in certain circles. “It’s like porn meets American Pastime,” branding consultant Erika Napoletano said to USA Today. “It makes NFL cheerleaders—underpaid and underclothed—look like nuns in comparison.”

What’s more, in light of nearly half of Super Bowl viewers being women, it seems to be growing more apparent that advertisers should try to appeal to (rather than offend) the ladies. That’s part of why we’ll see ads featuring Mindy Kaling and paralympian Amy Purdy during the game. Heck, even in the Victoria’s Secret Super Bowl commercial encouraging men to buy lingerie for Valentine’s Day, the models are fully clothed (in football uniforms) rather than showing off skin in bikinis or underwear. Have a look here:


New Acura TLX Won’t Get Your Heart Racing

This car in Honda's luxury line is long on comfort and room, but short on vroom.

The Acura TLX is a very nice car. The ride is nice, the sound system is nice, the seats are nice. All very nice.

There, I just damned the TLX with faint praise. This is a perfect entry-level luxury car for people who don’t really get excited about luxury cars, or perhaps cars in general. If you want a well-made piece of machinery that will cushion you, protect you, that will smooth out the bumps on the road and not ask much of you, then you are an Acura type.

By the same token, don’t ask that much of the car. For instance, the standard model comes with 2.4 liter, 4-cylinder, 206-horsepower engine. Perfectly adequate, for sure, with thrifty 28-miles-per-gallon efficiency, but this is not the kind of power plant to get your heart racing, never mind your TLX. And let’s not blame the four cylinders either; there are plenty of small, brutish 4-pot engines out there. But Honda, Acura’s owner, has chosen the same engine for the TLX, which starts at $32,000, that it uses for the Accord, which rings in at about $10,000 less. Taking the bigger engine offered with the TLX — a V-6, nine-speed automatic that generates 290 h.p. — will add about $4,000 to the price.

That’s why having a choice of four driving modes on the TLX seems like a bit of a tease. Yes, it has a dual-clutch, eight-speed transmission with a torque converter, which suggests seamless shifting as the car accelerates. But that doesn’t help much in Normal, Economy, or even Sport mode, because the Acura is hardly a burner. Actually, the TLX is one of the few cars I’ve driven that benefits from using the paddle shifters in Sport+ mode. The response is noticeably better. Yet it’s hard to believe that many TLX drivers would opt for this paddle mode.

Our TLX came with the Tech package that pushed the sticker to $35,000. The Tech trim includes a nifty three-way rear-view camera that allows you to look down to see if there’s anything directly under the car as well as giving you narrow and wide angles. But there were some quirks, too, including blind-spot warning lights that weren’t located in the mirrors but off to the side. The navigation system seemed confused and at one point had us driving east into the East River when we were heading north. The stacked, twin screens on the dashboard didn’t help the situation, nor did the fact that for some operations you pushed a button on the dash while others required a touchscreen, or a combination. Operating the seat heater, for instance, required the touch of a button and then the touchscreen. Annoying.

Still, you take what the Acura gives you, which is not to be sniffed at. There’s that ride, for one. The TLX can make New York City’s axle-breaking, shock-shaking streets feel a little more like suburban pavement. On the highway, it is a rolling library, quiet enough for you to converse at a whisper. The Acura has two steering and handling features: one called Motion-Adaptive Electronic Power Steering, the other called Precision All-Wheel Steer, or P-AWS in Acura-speak. The first, tuned electronic steering, isn’t unique to Acura. But it is a benefit, and uses feedback sensors to tune the steering wheel to your driving, taking conditions into account. The P-AWS part is interesting: It angles the rear wheels 1.8 degrees to improve handling and stability through turns. That proved helpful in some slick spots.

You aren’t ever going to confuse the TLX with a BMW in the way it feels or rides, and maybe that’s the point. The Acura substitutes roomy for vroomy and adds comfort in both the front and the back. It’s what you’d call a true passenger car, and I mean that in the nicest way.


So About That Goal of 1 Million Electric Cars by 2015 …

A Tesla Motors Inc. Model S connected to a charger at the Short Hills Mall in Short Hills, New Jersey
A Tesla Motors Inc. Model S connected to a charger at the Short Hills Mall in Short Hills, New Jersey Emile Wamsteker—Bloomberg via Getty Images

In the 2011 State of the Union, President Obama called for 1 million electric plug-in cars to be on American roads by 2015. Well, it's 2015, and we're less than one-third of the way there. What happened?

In Tuesday night’s State of the Union Address, President Obama discussed how “America is number one in oil and gas,” and said that “thanks to lower gas prices and higher fuel standards, the typical family this year should save $750 at the pump.” There was no mention, however, of an automobile-related goal set in the SOTU four years ago, when the president pushed for 1 million electric plug-in vehicles to be purchased by consumers by 2015.

The likely reason for leaving electric cars out of the president’s recent speech is obvious: America is nowhere near reaching that 1 million EV goal. As the Detroit News noted earlier this week, “sales [of electric cars] have been far slower than expected — about 280,000, including 120,000 in 2014,” and that “even with dramatic increases it could take at least four more years to hit the mark.”

It wasn’t supposed to turn out this way. A 2011 Department of Energy report declared the 1 million EV goal “ambitious” and yet “achievable” by 2015, with the help of some conditions:

While it appears that the goal is within reach in terms of production capacity, initial costs and lack of familiarity with the technology could be barriers. For that reason, President Obama has proposed steps to accelerate America’s leadership in electric vehicle deployment, including improvements to existing consumer tax credits, programs to help cities prepare for growing demand for electric vehicles and strong support for research and development.

The report estimated that starting in 2012, GM would be selling 120,000 Chevy Volts annually, and that by 2014, Nissan would be churning out 100,000 plug-in Leafs per year. Even though 2014 was seen as a decent year for the EV market, and quite a good year for the category-leading Leaf, only about 30,000 Leafs sold last year. That was an all-time high, but far short of the goal set a few years beforehand. Meanwhile, consumers bought only 1,490 gas-electric Chevy Volts in December 2014, and fewer than 20,000 in the year as a whole. The fact that Chevy was expected to debut a new Volt in early 2015 is only part of why sales have been anemic.

It’s no sudden surprise that America is coming up way short on the 2015 EV goal. By 2013, Obama and the Energy Department admitted that it wouldn’t happen, even as federal policies promoting EV adoption will run $7.9 billion through 2019, including but not limited to a $7,500 tax credit with each EV purchase.

Among the reasons often cited for lower-than-wished-for EV sales are their limited driving range in between charges and their still high initial costs even after tax credits, as well as vastly improved fuel efficiency in gas-powered cars (even SUVs) and, in recent months, exceptionally cheap gas prices. “The need to transition to electric cars is urgent,” Tesla CEO and EV visionary Elon Musk said in Detroit last week. Based on several years’ worth of sales data, however, consumers apparently aren’t feeling much sense of urgency on the matter.

The 2011 Energy Department report noted that “automobile consumers tend to be risk-averse, preferring well-proven technology,” and that “the performance and cost effectiveness of the early EVs in the market will be a major but unknowable factor in how many EVs are on the road by 2015.” Here we are in 2015, and it sure looks like, by and large, consumers haven’t bought into the cost-effectiveness pitch for EVs, either because they deem the vehicles too pricey, too impractical, or both.

This doesn’t mean that EVs won’t enjoy mainstream success down the road. Gas prices surely aren’t going to stay cheap forever. One former oil industry executive told USA Today that he sees $5 per gallon on the horizon in the near future. At the same time, EVs will keep getting cheaper and more practical for consumers, with the recent introduction of the $30K, 200-mile Chevy Bolt plug-in as a potential game changer in a couple of years. All of which changes the math on the potential purchase of an EV, and makes the prospect of owning one much more cost-effective.

So we’ll get to that 1 million EV goal at some point. It’s just a matter of when—and how much we’ll have to spend to get there.

TIME Autos

This Gorgeous Art Deco Bus May Sell for a Record Price

GM Futurliner
GM's Futurliner Winston Goodfellow

General Motors’ 1950 Futurliner could sell for upwards of $5 million at auction on Saturday

Every January, Barrett-Jackson ceo Craig Jackson brings together just about every type of mind-blowing collectible car for his annual Barrett-Jackson auctions in Scottsdale, AZ. This year there is one vehicle that easily trumps all the Ferraris, Shelbys, Packards and others that will cross the block: Lot #2501, the General Motors’ 1950 Futurliner.

Built at a time when GM was indeed King of the World, the Futurliner was its tourbus. Created for a traveling public relations road show called the Parade of Progress, the Futureliner is based on a 1940 design that is overflowing with fabulous Art Deco touches. The most obvious are the steel ribs that flow along the sides of the body; there’s similar, curved fluting on the upper body, just behind the windscreen. A distinctive, sharp crease runs down the center of the imposing front cabin, and it perfectly bisects the screaming gold-colored “G” and “M”—as if there was any doubt back then about the company responsible for such audacious glory.

All that and much more makes the Futurliner one serious piece of rolling sculpture, unlike anything you are likely to see. This is the vehicle’s first public appearance since collector Ron Pratte bought it at Barrett-Jackson in 2006 for $4.3 million; now, the collector-car market is an entirely different animal, with price records being set at nearly every other auction.

That’s just the beginning though, for this machine is so out there, so far from the norm of everyday life, that to transport it from Chandler to Scottsdale where it will be auctioned this Saturday, its flatbed transporter had the type of police escort normally reserved for the highest ranking government officials and foreign dignitaries.

Not long after the Futurliner was offloaded outside the massive Barrett-Jackson tent (it’s nearly a mile long between its furthest points), I followed auction impresario Jackson up the stairs (not many vehicles you can say that about) into the cockpit. The expansive view out the windscreen was indeed something to see, but what really caught my attention was the seating arrangement. Near the center point of a curvaceous windscreen is the single driver’s seat. Flanked on each side behind it are the passenger seats.

Once Jackson fired up the 400 cu.–in. (6.6 liter) truck engine, which sounded like, well, a truck engine. He put the long-throw shifter into first, gave it some gas, waited for the clutch to grab, and off we went for several laps around the sprawling grounds. It was like an episode of the old “Outer Limits” television show come to life, one where earthlings who had visual contact with the ‘Liner were immediately frozen in place. People stopped mid-step, their faces radiating a sense of childhood glee and awe, completely captivated by the unique shape barreling towards and then by them.

While the Futurliner may not be the well-known, adrenalin-pumping barnburner like a Ferrari 250 GTO, let alone a Ram Air IV Pontiac GTO, it trumps them (and everything else) with its sheer presence. And unlike those “mere” cars, it bridges two disparate worlds of collectibles. Over the past few years a bright light has been placed on the upward-spiraling prices of the collector-car market, with the aforementioned Ferrari garnering the most attention. One sold at auction for $38.5 million last August, while another brought $50 million in a private transaction a few months earlier.

The ‘Liner isn’t in that category, and no reserve has been set on the sale, but the fare to get on this bus could reach $5 million. Pratte is donating the proceeds of the sale to Armed Forces Foundation.

TIME Autos

Check Out the Coolest Cars From the 2015 Detroit Auto Show

The 2015 North American International Auto Show is in full swing, with carmakers announcing some pretty sweet new rides. Check out the new Ford GT, the Acura NSX, the Toyota FT-1 and more.


New Mercedes-Benz Crossover Doesn’t Quite Bridge the Gap

The Mercedes-Benz GLA45 AMG is an awkward mix of sports car and family SUV.

What, exactly, is a Mercedes-Benz GLA45 AMG? It’s an edgy-looking thing for sure, at least from the front. And the Jupiter-red color in the model we tested looks dazzling. But then you walk around to the back and it’s, um, a small, luxury, crossover SUV thingy with a rear hatch, a place where you could park your groceries.

And yet, it’s a hatch with a you-gotta-be-kidding-me 355-horsepower, turbocharged power plant from the Benz racing division (that’s the AMG part). If getting to the supermarket in a really big hurry is your mission, this is your wagon. Call it a super crossover.

So why build a supercross in the first place? That question has already been answered by Porsche and its $50,000 Macan: because there’s a market niche for luxury-badged hatches. If somebody wants to pay two to five times the cost of the Honda Civic or a Volkswagen Golf, or even the Mercedes GLA 250 (the civilian version of the GLA45), then the industry will by all means accommodate them, as it should.

In that regard, the GLA45 is both an accommodation and an accomplishment, at least in part. Consider that the horsepower is being churned by a 2.0 liter, hand-assembled inline-4 turbocharged engine that muscles up 332-lb.-ft. of torque. The GLA45 can absolutely rip it up, going from zero to 60 miles per hour in 4.8 seconds; it has a factory-imposed maximum speed of 155 m.p.h. That puts it in the same range as, say, the much sexier BMW M3 sedan. Mercedes says that’s the most powerful regulation 4-pot on the planet, and it sure feels that way. By way of comparison, the GLA45 has 145 more horses running under it than the excellent 4-cylinder Golf GTI 4-door, although the VW lists for about half the price, and is actually quieter.

Yes, that’s right, the Golf is quieter. But it’s also likely that buyers of the GLA45 are trying to escape a quiet ride, and perhaps their children; in this Benz you can do both at warp speed. You will, of course, appreciate the all-wheel drive, the ridiculous passing acceleration, and the superb handling.

The GLA45’s transmission, a 7-speed, dual clutch number with paddle shifters, is the most fun I’ve driven recently. The cleverly designed gear shifter features three driving modes — normal, sport and manual/paddle shift. Plus, there’s an Eco setting that shuts the engine off when you are stopped at lights. There’s even a launch mode, if you’d like to do some suburban drag racing. Better yet, this transmission absolutely rips through the gears, yielding a wonderfully crazy sound in the tuned exhaust. The GLA45’s song is one of a very large, very angry hornet: zzzz, ZZZZ, ZZZZAAAHHH! I’d almost pay the $48,300 sticker just for that.

Almost. There are other things to consider. The ride, for one, which is sports-car stiff, a sensation you might not appreciate with those groceries in the back as you jounce around on city streets. The dashboard brims with aluminum air vents but also has a control panel that seems way too complicated. Do we really need a keypad? The navigation system, like so many others, begs you to try to figure it out: touchscreen or the control knob on the center console?

Still, the interior is handsome and luxurious but a bit hard-edged at the same time. The performance seats, which add $2,250 to the price, are aluminum trimmed; if done in the optional black “red cut” leather ($1,500), the look is exquisite. Add the hand-stitched performance steering wheel ($500) and you are going places in considerable style.

This conflict between mission and model, sports car and family car, makes the GLA45 a bit of a puzzler. Sure, you love the driving dynamics and that powerful engine, but do you really need or want a dynamic hatchback? In truth, it’s really a hackback. It’s exactly what you’d expect to happen when you let boys and girls of the racing division redesign the family wagon without adult supervision.


Auto Show’s Most Talked-About Car Is One You Can’t Buy This Year

The Chevrolet Bolt EV concept vehicle
The Chevrolet Bolt EV concept vehicle makes its global debut Monday, January 12, 2015 at the Auto Show in Detroit, Michigan. Jose Juarez—Chevrolet

Probably the most-discussed vehicle at the Detroit Auto Show was the Chevy Bolt, an electric car that can be driven 200 miles on a charge and costs only $30,000. You can't buy one this year, though, or next year either.

The Auto Show kicked off this week with GM’s unveiling of the Chevrolet Bolt, which, despite its “concept car” label is expected to be a reality in the near future—on the market in 2017, most likely. The concept vehicle captured the imagination of many by (theoretically) solving the two big issues that have thus far stopped electric plug-in vehicles from being embraced by the mass market. Today’s plug-ins are either too impractical (driving ranges under 100 miles before the battery needs a charge) or too expensive ($70,000 and up for a Tesla Model S) for the typical household. With a 200-mile range and an asking price anticipated to be around $30,000 (after credits and incentives are factored in), the Bolt has been heralded as a potential mass-market breakthrough.

Here’s what people have been saying about the Bolt:

It’s a game-changer, likely to be a mainstream hit.
“The Bolt EV concept is a game-changing electric vehicle designed for attainability, not exclusivity,” GM CEO Mary Barra said during the model’s unveiling in Detroit this week. “For most people, [the Bolt] can be their everyday drive.”

Some less-biased, non-GM folk seemed to agree that the combination of affordability and expanded driving range before requiring a charge will make the Bolt appealing to the mainstream. “Getting to the 200-mile mark is when you start to see potentially a much wider base of mainstream consumers who aren’t just making short commutes, and don’t just want to be ‘green,'” Kelley Blue Book senior analyst Akshay Anand summed up to the Los Angeles Times. “You are looking at annual sales of 100,000 vehicles,” chimed in John Krafcik of TrueCar.com, a big leap up from the still-niche Nissan Leaf, which at 30,000 units sold in 2014 was America’s best-selling plug-in EV.

Others are more skeptical.
“You have to wonder what the market will be for super-efficient vehicles at a time when oil is around $50 a barrel,” auto industry consultant Jeremy Anwyl said to the Los Angeles Times. The assessment of Wall Street Journal columnist Holman W. Jenkins, Jr., was much rougher, writing that the Bolt is largely the product of automakers being forced by the government to meet fuel-economy mandates down the road, with the result being “cars the public doesn’t want and that can only be sold at a giant loss.”

It’s not very cool looking.
The $70K Tesla Model S became a favorite among auto enthusiasts not because it saves on gas—not only anyway—but because it’s a hot, stylish, high-performance car that’s incredibly fun to drive and show off. The cheaper and more practical Bolt, on the other hand, is expected to drive more like a golf cart, with looks to match. The Associated Press described the bubble-shaped Bolt as looking “like a cross between a Volkswagen Golf and BMW’s electric i3.” “There wasn’t much about it that was fanciful-looking in terms of features and styling,” a Motley Fool post noted.

Tesla doesn’t sound remotely concerned.
Despite headlines presenting the idea that the Bolt would be a “rival” and perhaps “upstage” Elon Musk’s hi-tech plug-in auto brand or even prove to be a “Tesla killer,” Tesla isn’t exactly shaking in its boots. In a released statement that’s the equivalent of a pat on the head of a cute, unthreatening puppy, Musk’s company announced, “Tesla is always supportive of other manufacturers who bring compelling electric vehicles to market … We applaud Chevrolet for introducing the Bolt and are excited to learn more about the product.”

Later, in an Auto Show press conference, Musk said flatly, “I don’t see it as a competitive threat.” The “it” in question is the Bolt, of course. “I’m pleased to see [GM CEO Mary Barra] and GM do it. It seems that [GM] will do something significant with the Bolt, and that’s great.”

Oh, and the name is terrible and might be changed.
Green Car Reports proclaimed that Bolt is a “really terrible name” for Chevy’s new EV. As evidence of the name’s terribleness, the site pointed to quips on social media noting that the name brings to mind the phrase “bucket of bolts,” the unloved old Dodge Colt, and even the 2008 cartoon movie dog named Bolt (voiced by John Travolta). The real problem, however, is that because the letters B and V sound alike when spoken aloud, “Bolt” will be easily confused with its gas-hybrid sister Chevy. “To say that there will be a great deal of confusion at dealerships between the Chevy Bolt and the Chevy Volt would be a gross understatement,” Green Car Reports explained.

The Detroit News reported that while GM likes the idea of linking the electrified Bolt and Volt with names that are alike, the automaker is not committed to keeping it. “The name by itself is very good, but when you put it with Volt you know — is it too confusing for someone? — we’ll find out,” said GM product chief Mark Reuss. “It’s a concept name. End of story.”

TIME Autos

Google Wants Automakers’ Help to Build Self-Driving Cars

Vehicle prototype photo of Google's self-driving car.
Prototype of Google's self-driving car. Google

And automakers are also interested in working with Google

It doesn’t look like Google is planning to go it alone in the world of cars. An executive for the search giant told Reuters Wednesday that the company plans to talk to traditional automakers like General Motors, Ford and Toyota as it aims to bring self-driving cars to the mainstream by 2020.

“For us to jump in and say that we can do this better, that’s arrogant,” Chris Urmson, Google’s lead on its self-driving car initiative, told Reuters. But the company still hasn’t yet decided whether it will build its own cars or offer software and parts for cars manufactured by others.

Jon Lauckner, GM’s chief technology officer, said earlier this week that his company would “be open to having a discussion” with Google about developing self-driving cars. Companies like GM, Audi and Mercedes-Benz are already well on their way to developing their own driverless systems.

As part of Google’s plans for the auto world, the company is reportedly developing a car-specific version of its next operating system, Android M, that will allow drivers to access the Internet and use Android apps without synching their smartphones to their vehicles.


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