The Virtual Driver

Making pickups lighter without aluminum

By Christopher A. Sawyer
The Virtual Driver

(June 17, 2018) The 2013 unveiling of the Ford Atlas concept in Detroit sent shivers down the spine of the competition. It meant that, two years later, a 700-pound lighter, aluminum-bodied F-150 would be hitting the market. Early planning for the next generation Silverado and Ram was just starting, and Ford had thrown the competition’s engineering teams an unexpected curve. Lightweighting was already part of the agenda, but the coming F-150 made it the main focus.

BMW’s fourth-generation X5 gets grilled

By Christopher A. Sawyer
The Virtual Driver

(June 13, 2018) As hard as it may be to believe, BMW’s X5 is 20 years old and about to enter its fourth generation. Built exclusively in BMW’s Spartanburg, S.C., assembly plant, more than 2.2 million units of the sport utility have been sold globally in that period, with more than 720,000 of those sales in the U.S. It was BMW’s first SUV, and has since been joined in Spartanburg by the X3, X5, and X6. A range-topping X7 will join the party soon.

Audi A4 provides insight into the frustrations of advanced systems

By Christoper A. Sawyer
The Virtual Driver

(June 3, 2018) Allow me to set the scene. It’s midday. The sun is shining and the roads are dry. Temperature is in the mid 60s. I am driving in one of Detroit’s many suburbs, having just turned left to travel east down another two-lane road. There are houses on either side of the street, with a single story school administration building just ahead on the right.

A most unusual Honda Civic Type R

By Christoper A Sawyer
The Virtual Driver

(May 30, 2018) This is a pickup. It was built by a team from Product Engineering at Honda’s U.K. assembly plant in Swindon using a pre-production model Honda Civic Type R. It is likely to be one of the fastest pickup trucks in use on British roads.
Known as “Project P,” it is identical to a production Civic Type R from the B-pillars forward, and retains its engine, gearbox and suspension.

2018 Volkswagen Tiguan hits the target, but misses the bullseye

By Christopher A. Sawyer
The Virtual Driver

(May 27, 2018) After the plus-size Atlas, the 2018 Tiguan felt like a station wagon in comparison. It’s not as tall, not as wide, not as long, nor is it as boxy as its bigger brother. It’s also, it should be noted, nowhere near as small — tiny really — as the first generation Tiguan. That vehicle felt like a Golf GTI, and had about as much interior room, making it an anomaly in the crossover market. It was close in size to today’s subcompact SUVs, but more expensive.

Living large, Rolls-Royce style

By Christopher A. Sawyer
The Virtual Driver

(May 20, 2018) When Rolls-Royce introduced the Cullinan, it referred to the luxury off-roader as “an all-terrain high-bodied car” and as the “first ‘three-box’ car in the SUV sector.” This makes it an SUV, but not an SUV at the same time; especially as there is a partition that separates the passenger and cargo compartments. Powered by a 6.75-liter V12 and built from aluminum, the all-wheel drive and all-wheel steer luxury off-road vehicle is named for the largest diamond ever discovered, and sold with the tag line: “Effortless, Everywhere.”

Atlas, sans the shrug

By Christopher A. Sawyer
The Virtual Driver

(May 17, 2018) Years ago, I was interviewing Karl Ludvigsen for a story about the supercars set to arrive in the early 1990s. After discussing the technology, performance, and handling one might expect from this batch, Ludvigsen synopsized the deep-seated reason behind why most people would buy one of these machines. He said: “The message the driver is sending is, ‘I have the money and power to pass you any time I want.’ It’s all ego and intimidation.”

Ford's future seems to be fading fast

By Christopher A. Sawyer
The Virtual Driver

(March 12, 2018) Will history repeat itself? Ford declared the small pickup market dead, and kept the so-called Global Ranger out of the U.S. until it discovered the vibrant market GM was already serving with its Colorado and Canyon. Now that it has declared sedan is dead, will it once again be surprised when competitors stick with it and reap the rewards?

Waiting for the crossover craze to wane

By Christopher A. Sawyer
The Virtual Driver

(May 7, 2018) Despite the continuing decline in sedan sales, Toyota is launching a fifth generation Avalon, the flagship of the Toyota line in the U.S. And while Toyota executives expect this decline to continue for about three more years — averaging about three to five percent per year — they also expect it to level off as the SUV craze begins to cool, and sedans are rediscovered by a younger generation.

Lexus takes the road to Avalon

By Christopher A. Sawyer
The Virtual Driver

(May 1, 2018) For most of its six generations, the ES was the Wally Cox of the Lexus lineup; a milquetoast Camry-based sedan filled with leather and luxury appointments, and about as exciting as a competitive quilting bee. The real question isn’t whether adding an F Sport model to the line is a cynical attempt to add sportiness to a car not known to possess it, but whether it has what it takes to rise above the Camry underneath.