Kia Stinger GT AWD

By Jon Rosner

Kia originally positioned it’s cars as a value proposition. Handsome, but not daring, sporty, but not at the extreme, loaded with features and at a lower price to entice consideration.  At 4,000 pounds this is not a light car, but the responsiveness of the wheel and the ability of the suspension to handle potholes midway through off-angle switchback corners shows that the AWD Stinger is a nicely balanced canyon carver.  Taut handling with a reasonably supple ride are the signs of time and money well spent in suspension development.  The car felt rock solid when pushed to 7/10ths on the backroads. Very nice helpings of torque allowed the driver to power out of corners and position it for the next challenging turn.

The 3.3 liter twin-turbo V-6 engine was only turning 1,250 RPM in 8th gear at 55 MPH allowing the car to simply loaf along on highway sections, probably doing a nice job of sipping fuel. Per the fuel gauge we were seeing 17.5 MPG, but keep in mind that was the return with a bunch of eager journalists pounding  the snot out of it and wringing it out on every twisty section. Nice that Kia has the confidence in their product to offers a 10 year/100,000 mile powertrain warranty to go with the 5 yr/60,000 mile standard warranty.  With 365 horses and 376 pound-feet of torque zero to 60 for the Stinger AWD comes up in 4.7 seconds. The standard Stinger starts at just under $35,000 delivered, with the AWD coming at a bit over $41,000 MSRP.

With the Stinger Kia has grown up, offering a real sports car with a nicely sculpted shape and a very satisfying exhaust growl. This is a very long way from the tepid econoboxes that were the first Kias to hit American shores. But then again, the first Hondas and Toyotas were pretty much considered penalty boxes when they arrived. And Kia has also figured out something that has escaped a few too many of the current market offerings. Kia has developed a way  to make interiors of appealing soft-touch materials that match in color, fit together nicely, look balanced and house usable controls.

The Kia Stinger AWD is a very appealing package that has been thoroughly developed and well screwed together.  It is also a delight to drive.



Byton M-Byte Media Day Test Drive

The Byton Electric Car is coming,
or is it?

By Jon RosnerAt the 2019 Western  Automotive Journalists Meeting in Carmel CA we were treated to a presentation by Andrew Hussy of Byton supported by Dave Buchko and Jose Gurrero, all highly respected in the automobile industry for their accomplishments.

We heard about “non-traditional manufacturing.” How “Byton wants to drive the change in mobility,” “think about it (the car) as a smart device.” $45,000 price, better interface, “turn your commute downtime to useful uptime.”

All very appealing, the ideas look brilliant. It should be a fabulous car. That said, the American public has been ignoring pure electric cars by the droves. There are several brilliant hybrid electrics in the $130,000 range, aimed at the pretty narrow market, that being the price point where it is anticipated that these concepts will be viable. Costly, sales expected in small numbers.  But even the “that’s more like it” Prius is also suffering in the sales game as are the other well-developed hybrids. Leaving out the fact that the new Prius looks like some sort of pre-historic , and now deceased, sea creature probably doesn’t help the Prius on the sales front.  But even the simple and more appealing styles offered by its competitors don’t seem to be helping the cause very much.  US market share for plug-in electric vehicles hit .86% in 2017, 1.3% in 2017 and 2.1% in 2018 Hybrids, battery with an onboard internal combustion engine, hit 2.13% in 2017, down from over 3% in 2013, dropping back to around 2% for 2018 and 2019. There are now over 1 million electric cars on the road in the US today. And trend leader California has seen a large number of new designs hit the market and seeing a combined sales of all alternative vehicles, hydrogen, hybrid, battery electric hit a whopping 7.8% market share. Good long-term trend for the manufacturers spending billions in research, not so good for short-term sales though.

Aside from the Mustang, Ford is departing the car business in favor of selling trucks and SUVs, going so far as to propose the expansion of the Mustang brand to an upcoming SUV. Chrysler has some marvelous sports cars on offer to go with their hot selling Ram truck line.  In 1970 a Mustang with a small V-8 might get 9 to 15 MPG and few trucks sold by any of the big US based manufacturers could do better than 12 MPG without being tossed off a cliff. Sprint forward to 2019 and the United States is now one of the lowest cost producers and top world exporters of oil. Yes, we have seen our ups and downs, but essentially gasoline is still cheap and plentiful.  Global warming is on everyone’s lips except for out commander-in-chief, but in the meantime all but the most radical cars on the road are capable of over 20 MPG and many can easily return in the high 30’s and better. Trucks have also dramatically improved in fuel consumption. And both cars and trucks pollute at levels not even 1/20th what they were back in the day. Meanwhile aircraft and sea transport have had a fairly free ride in terms of pollution and global warming, as well as construction equipment, farming equipment and a host of other heavy users of petroleum distillates.

The point? The Byton looks very interesting. Ford, GM, Toyota, and Volkswagen have put tens of billions in investments into electric vehicle technologies that could revolutionize the market, but who is going to buy them? We Americans love our freedom to explore, to feel physically unlimited, ready to see the great untamed at the drop of a hat is weaved into our cultural identity. Just look at the revered Jeep, it is an icon because of the sense of freedom it represents.  Battery electric vehicles can now travel up to 300 miles a pop. But in the back of my head is the nagging thought. What if I get on the wrong road and run out of fuel? If I am driving a gasoline, diesel or some sort of hybrid AAA can bring me a gallon or two of gas and I am on my way. “Hey, AAA I am stuck on this backroad, can you being me a gallon of electrons?” It may happen, but we are not there yet.  

2018 Silicon Valley Reinvents the Wheel Recap

2018 Recap
A Review by Steve Schaefer

On Monday, October 1, the Western Automotive Journalists and the Autotech Council met at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California for their annual high-tech automotive event. The all-day program featured more than a dozen interesting speakers, the Autotech Council Science Fair, and some outdoor displays during the tasty lunch. Continue reading

2017 Silicon Valley Reinvents the Wheel Recap

The seventh annual Silicon Valley Reinvents the Wheel presented by Western Automotive Journalists and The Autotech Council was held at the Computer History Museum on Monday October 9th, 2017.

Since its inception the program has shape-shifted location, directions, format and style, improving with each year, but the focus has remained on illuminating the intersection of the auto industry and Silicon Valley’s technology. Continue reading

The 25th Annual 2017 WAJ Media Days Recap

From the Beach to Valley to Track
The 25th Annual Media Days was a hit for all participants.
By Brian Douglas
We’ve come quite a distance from our organization’s modest beginnings. Back in 1992, the models of new vehicles outnumbered journalists, a third of whom were full-time media employees reporting on the automotive industry. Our fledgling event was one full day at Sears Point (now Sonoma) Raceway. Media Day became Days in ’94 when a day of driving in the Marin countryside was added. Some things never change- a big hit on the track in 1992 was Acura’s new NSX. History repeated itself this year with the all-new NSX winding around Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Continue reading

Mazda: All Racing News Is Local

Word went out in late December that Dean Case of Mazda Motorsports would be hosting a Media Lunch at the Silicon Valley Auto Show in San Jose on Thursday January 5th to present the idea that there is a “local story” everywhere Mazda owners race their cars. The Auto Show features two Bay Area Mazda Racers that reinforce that premise. Mark Drennan, “the guy you don’t want to see in your rear view mirror” and Telo Stewart, Owner, World Speed Motorsports. The Sonoma-based World Speed team is known for putting Mazda drivetrains in just about anything and making them competitive.

As Barry Toepke, Maestro of the Monterey Reunion and Brad Littlefield new public relations Manager for Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca were expected to be in attendance, there was a chance that we might learn the latest status in the ongoing challenge for the operation of Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.

Dean Case, started the introductions by letting his audience of about two dozen journalists know that Mazda owners race their cars in 46 of the 50 states and, with his usual wry smile, that he was interested in seeing what could be done about the missing four. With a miniscule 2% market share on the road, 55% of ALL Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) entries are either Spec Mazda or Mazda-powered, with the Mazda Teen Challenge being one of the most fiercely competitive classes in racing. Dean admitted that Mazda sold millions in racing parts in 2016 and that Mazda had poured $1 million into payouts for club racing level prize money.

It was really interesting to learn that the engine in the World Speed Mazda Formula Cars were standard MZR production engines with zero internal changes. Only a changed ECU, exhaust and intake yield maximum performance with maximum longevity for a dependable 200 horsepower in the sealed engines assembled by famed builder Hasselgren Engineering of Berkeley. These engines typically go 3,000 miles compared to the significantly more costly Formula Atlantic engines that are anticipated to go 2,000 miles between rebuilds. One MRZ, Dean said, had still not been cracked open with 11,000 racing miles clocked on it.

Dean added a funny story about some consternation concerning a scion of the famed Brabham family being sent out in a car, winning eight races and a championship, only to be informed after the fact that he had been given a car with a used engine! Speaking of the Teen Mazda Challenge Dean stated: “We want the series that we support to be affordable. We encourage our drivers to put advertisements for non-profits on their cars.” He suggested Mazda racers race with passion and support their passions. Dean talked about Mazda support of the SPCA for Monterey County, Project Yellow Light, and mentioned that Mazda racer Sarah Montgomery was working with Lemons of Love.

We heard from Telo about Mazda-powered Formula Cars, the Mazda Challenge Race and the Mazda Road to Indy, setting up farm teams and several levels of competition to create a feeder series for American race car drivers who dream of Indy.

Barry Toepke introduced Brad Littlefield, the new PR Manager for Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, and spoke about the 60th Anniversary/Diamond Jubilee of Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca (which was opened in 1957). We also got to meet Mark Drennan a 50-year-old rookie who lead six races and won two in 2016. We also met Marissa Borjon, the new Mazda Western Regional PR person.

Dean kept us on schedule with a light-hearted touch and gave us a tour and walk-around of the Mazda booth and two race vehicles on display after the lunch. It was a great event, well-attended and what is probably the first of what might turn into a Mazda roadshow that will criss-cross the country shining a bright light on Mazda’s amazing footprint in the American racing scene.