When testing winter tires you usually assume that it would be done outside in the harsh condition, but this time it isn’t so.
Being headquartered in Michigan, where winters are usually gray, very often snowy, and bitterly cold, we’re major proponents of winter tires. Indeed, if you’ve ever driven a car on winter tires and experience the kind of additional stopping power they provide when ice, snow, and slush cover the roadways, you no doubt feel the same way. Of course, driving or testing winter tires in appropriate conditions is difficult in all but the coldest portions of the year, which is why Hankook invited us to Ivalo, Finland, some 186 miles north of the Arctic Circle, where we sampled its winter tires at an indoor facility called Test World.
Test World sits just a short distance east of the 4000-person city of Ivalo in the Lapland region. Lapland is about the size of Indiana, with the total population of Worcester, Massachusetts, but the only thing Lapland and “Wooster” have in common is funky pronunciations to us Midwesterners. Given that there are few signs in English, you need GPS to navigate—without it, you’ll likely end up in Russia, Norway, or Sweden.
You might think that indoor winter testing is commonplace. Tire Rack does a lot of testing on ice rinks as well as outdoor venues, but Test World is different than most manmade winter facilities in that the staff stockpiles natural snow in early spring and fills its two buildings with about 60 cm (24 inches) of packed white stuff. It’s worth noting that you can’t just dump a ton of snow in at once. Five-millimeter (0.2-inch) layers are applied and then given time to settle to make the resulting packed testing surface as natural as possible. Carefully controlled humidity and temperature keep snow loss, or evaporation, to a minimum. The painstaking process ensures consistent testing conditions, which is critical to tire development.
Hankook showed us its worldwide catalog of winter offerings including a newly updated Winter i*cept Evo2, a performance winter tire available in the United States. For those less familiar with winter tires, they can be grouped into roughly three categories. (There are more, but these three cover all the basics.) First are the studded winter tires that are fairly self-explanatory; metal studs inserted in the tread provide maximum grip on ice. Then there are studless snow-and-ice tires, which are our favorites because you get the most traction possible without noisy studs humming in your ear (not to mention studded tires are illegal in many places). Then, there are the aforementioned performance winter tires. These tires are generally rated for higher speeds—the Evo2, for example, is rated for 168 mph in some sizes—they come in lower-profile sizes, and they are usually constructed with an asymmetrical tread pattern. Performance winters give up traction on packed snow and ice in favor of improved performance in mixed conditions, or in the cold, wet, slushy mess that is common in metropolitan areas.
While automakers are spending billions of dollars loading up their vehicles with technologies of all kinds, many owners are not using them and would rather use their smartphones instead, according to the first-ever J.D. Power 2015 Driver Interactive Vehicle Experience (DrIVE) Report.
The market research firm found that at least 20 percent of new vehicle owners have never used 16 of the 33 technology features that DrIVE measured. For the consumer, this means they are paying for something they are not using, said Kristin Kolodge, executive director of driver interaction & HMI research at J.D. Power.
The report looked at driver experiences with in-vehicle technology features during the first 90 days of ownership and was based on responses from more than 4,200 owners and lessees of 2015-model-year vehicles.
Features that owners did not use
43 percent—In-vehicle concierge feature such as OnStar.
38 percent—Mobile connectivity, such as a factory installed Wi-Fi hot spot.
35 percent—Automatic parking system, which aids in either parallel or perpendicular parking with limited interaction by the driver.
33 percent—Head-up display.
32 percent—Built-in apps such as Pandora.
“Tired and impatient, car buyers just want to get out of the dealership, often without becoming fully oriented with all of their new car’s features,” says Tom Mutchler, Consumer Reports’ automotive human factors engineer. “But many high-tech features aren’t immediately obvious or intuitive, especially when trying to decipher their use for the first time when driving.”
Every family is different and has different needs when it comes to their vehicles. If you and yours are the outdoorsy types, an SUV may be the best way to go. Urbanites might benefit from a minivan or sedan. Those in between, well, that’s what crossover SUVs are for. The good news is that the days when station wagons were the only choice for families are long gone. The market has responded to these different circumstances with a plethora of shapes and styles to suit virtually any need. Of course, determining the best of these choices is what we do, so we gathered together 23 of the latest and greatest different vehicles from a variety of manufacturers to determine which made the cut. We started with last year’s finalists, and culled those that were either due for imminent replacement, or which had been clearly surpassed by newer vehicles in the segment. To that, we added new vehicles that had come out since last year — including a couple of redesigns — voted on candidates, narrowed the field, carried the one, and ultimately landed on the vehicles you see here.
The final field included three minivans, four compact SUVs, four midsize SUVs, two full-size SUVs, two full-size sedans, and three midsize sedans, the kinds of vehicles that usually come to mind when thinking about family cars. However, this year we also included cars from other categories. First were two full-size pickup trucks, unconventional choices to be sure, but roomy, comfortable, and with seemingly endless cargo space, they were definitely worthy of consideration. On the other end of the spectrum were three compact cars, often the first choice of anybody on a budget.
It came as no surprise that two minivans — the 2015 Honda Odyssey and the 2015 Toyota Sienna — made the family car final cut. The 2015 Nissan Pathfinder and new 2015 Toyota Highlander midsize SUVs also appear on our list of finalists. The Honda CR-V was joined by the new Subaru Outback on our list of small SUVs, and all three midsize sedan candidates — the 2015 Honda Accord, 2015 Hyundai Sonata, and 2015 Toyota Camry — made the cut. The 2015 Chevrolet Impala full-size sedan makes its second appearance, too. In the realm of small cars, both the 2015 Honda Civic and surprisingly flexible 2015 Kia Soul won out. On the other end of the size spectrum, both the 2015 Ram 1500 and new 2015 Ford F-150 full-size trucks we tested were deemed worthy of family duty. Finally, the 2015 Chevrolet Tahoe made the list.
“Vehicle weight and price have a positive relationship with vehicle safety,” says Dietrich Jehle, MD, professor of emergency medicine in the UB School of Medicine and Biomedical Science. He recently did a study to determine whether or not bigger vehicles are actually safer than smaller ones.
Cars that you think are safe – regardless of their safety rating by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety –may not really be all that safe, if the findings of Jehle’s study are accurate.
“Neither media advertising nor the five-star safety ratings accurately reflect the level of danger or lack of danger in vehicles,” he adds. Why, you ask?
“When smaller cars hit a larger, moving vehicle, that change in velocity can force the smaller car to go into reverse, resulting in far more serious injuries to driver and passenger.” In this case, smaller vehicles would include any number of popular compact sedans, such as the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla.
So, which vehicles are the safest?
Summer is here which means road trip season is in full effect. Regardless of whether you’re hitting the road with friends or family, planning ahead is essential.
Road trips—where you take a long car ride and hit many stops on the way—present a unique set of challenges (and opportunities). Here are a few things you should keep in mind as you plan.
Plan your route and stops in advance
You know your destination, but deciding on your route and stops can really depend on your travel style. HowStuffWorks suggests you make sure everyone is on the same page before you leave to avoid being stuck in a car with unhappy passengers for 8 hours a day. If you have to travel with someone who’s style doesn’t mesh with yours, consider planning a shorter trip.
You’ll save yourself a lot of time and stress if you map out how you’re getting to your destination before you leave (obviously). These two services can help you plan.
There are a lot of other apps you can use too, but these are two of the best. If you’re interested in some non-road-trip-specific travel planning apps, you can see what else we think is the best.
Whether you’re making a trip to visit relatives across the country or enjoying a road trip with friends, long car rides can become uncomfortable. Simple attributes of your car will make the journey more enjoyable for all.
When I was 13, Cox and I had a heated discussion about the features and engineering that optimize a car for long-distance travel. Cox, a friend of my dad’s who had logged about a million highway miles, argued that the best machine for a long road trip was a silent, smooth-riding car like his Buick.
I scoffed. Buicks were bourgeois luxury barges that no real driver would be caught dead in. Although I had yet to drive a single highway mile, I declared that the ultimate car for a long trip was the Ford GT, a machine that had won the 24 Hours of Lemans. Never mind that the GT’s engine wailed away just millimeters from the driver’s skull, or that the interior was the size of a Guantanamo confinement box – this was a true driver’s machine that would be ideal for a major trip.
Or so I believed.
In the decades that have passed since that argument, I have learned a lot about what makes a great highway car – and I have also learned that the Colonel was smarter than I realized.
A few weeks ago, my wife and I did a 3,000-kilometre road trip to Georgia and back. We’ve done this trip in many different cars. In some, the trip was effortless. In others, it felt like a four-wheeled version of the Bataan Death March.
This got me thinking about the essence of the long-distance machine. What are the automotive qualities that make distance disappear?
Toyota Motor Corp. is getting closer to autonomous cars. The company will begin to release a range of advanced active-safety systems to the masses next year.
The new or re-engineered technologies, unveiled Wednesday in Tokyo, encompass more sophisticated precrash braking packages, a better auto-parking feature, a next-generation auto-adjust headlamp and a vehicle-to-infrastructure and vehicle-to-vehicle communication system.
Toyota will begin rolling out the technologies in early 2015, Chief Safety Technology Officer Moritaka Yoshida said.
Initial products, such as the auto-parking and vehicle-to-vehicle communication systems, will debut in Japan and later migrate to other markets, including the U.S. Others, including two precrash auto-braking packages, will be released in the U.S. as early as next year.
Toyota did not disclose pricing for the new systems, but the goal is to introduce affordable advanced safety technologies that can be deployed in mass-volume nameplates, Yoshida said.
Toyota is introducing the technologies in a push to burnish its safety credentials as automakers seek to differentiate themselves from rivals. The systems are also basic building-block technologies that will underpin future autonomous cars.
Yoshida said automakers have reached a point of diminishing returns from improvements in passive systems such as stronger body frames and seat belts. Faster gains will come from technologies that prevent crashes, he said.
“There is a limit to reducing the number of fatalities through passive safety,” he said. “We must also focus on active safety.”
2014 has been the year of the auto recall. It seems like every other day, news breaks about yet another recall on millions of cars that could prove deadly. There are steps consumers can take to ensure their safety.
As of October, automakers had issued recalls for an estimated all-time-high of 56 million vehicles in the U.S. “To put that in perspective, automakers have now recalled more than three times the number of new cars and trucks Americans will buy this year,” the Detroit Free Press noted.
Owners of Nearly 8 Million Cars Warned to Replace Airbags ImmediatelySupplier of Faulty Air Bags Sees Stock Plummet’There Will Be Critics’: Christie Defends Nurse’s Quarantine NBC NewsParty’s Over: Murders Prompt Ban of Popular Beach Bashes NBC NewsIt’s Not Over: Prosecutors to Appeal Pistorius Sentence NBC News
The flurry of recalls has come fast and furiously in 2014. This week, Toyota issued a recall on roughly 250,000 vehicles in the U.S. related to faulty airbags, on top of a global recall of 1.7 million Toyotas for a wide range of safety defects that circulated last week. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) lists 29 separate auto manufacturer recalls thus far in the month of October, and the agency released a special consumer advisory this week, alerting the owners of 7.8 million vehicles that they should take “immediate action” to replace dangerously defective airbags.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. General Motors recalled 2.7 million vehicles last May, less than one month after the automaker announced it had spent $1.3 billion to recall 7 million vehicles worldwide, including 2.6 million for faulty ignition switches linked to 13 deaths. Ford recalled 700,000 vehicles last spring because of concerns the airbags wouldn’t deploy quickly enough, while some 16 million vehicles from 10 automakers have been recalled because the airbags, made by the Japanese company Takata, could inflate with explosive force strong enough to hurt or even kill the riders the devices are designed to save in the case of an accident. And on and on.
The numbers are so big, and the recalls pop up with such frequency, that you might be inclined to tune them out—not unlike the hacks and data breaches that occur with astonishing regularity at major retailers. But then, you know … there’s death and catastrophic injury. The potential of anything so dire affecting you and your loved ones should make you snap to attention and take action.
Texting and driving is dangerous, it’s a fact. Distracted driving was cited as the cause of more than 3,300 deaths nationwide in 2012 and thousands more injuries. With new technology, our phones may actually help us stay focused behind the wheel.
Surveys show that drivers recognize the danger of distracted driving, and 43 states and the District of Columbia forbid texting while driving, yet large percentages of drivers — including roughly three-quarters of teens and other young drivers — continue to do it anyway. We have not managed to put down our devices long enough to get from point A to point B, even under threat of death or injury.
For all of us who know better, but can’t seem to police ourselves nor our driving-age children, a market has emerged for apps and other aids that limit distracted-driving for us.
Cellcontrol, of Baton Rouge, La., is one of a growing number of third-party suppliers of systems that let an administrator, likely a parent, to limit their child’s phone use while the car is in motion. Cellcontrol charges $119 to $129 for its device, which either plugs into the car’s diagnostic computer or adheres to the windshield in the form of a small black transponder.
The device determines when the vehicle is in motion and disables phone functions to the administrator’s preset customized levels, such as enabling only calls to emergency numbers or preventing texting. Hopefully a decrease in distracted driving thanks to apps means a decrease in fatal accidents.