STYLE AND SUBSTANCE
- OLDSMOBILE IMPORT BUSTER. Oldsmobile's Alero joins the Intrigue and Aurora in an import-busting lineup with its distinctly non-domestic appearance. Gone are the ribbed cladding and power bulges--the "in-your-face" look--of the Pontiac Grand Am, its sister car. Instead, Alero designers employed smooth, clean lines, a refined face, and a subtle blister on the hood that provides the "less-is-more" look import buyers crave.
- FORD DEBUTS POWER ADJUSTABLE PEDALS. Ford claims to be the world's first automaker to introduce power-adjustable pedals in a sport utility vehicle. Standard on the 1999 Lincoln Navigator and optional on Ford Expedition, system offers up to 3 inches of linear travel adjustment, while maintaining constant spacing between pedals and a constant distance between the pedals and the vehicle's floor. An illuminated instrument-panel-mounted switch operates a small 12V dc motor on the brake and accelerator pedals to move them up or down. Height-challenged drivers can now sit farther from the steering wheel while maintaining good contact with the pedals. Ford's adjustable-pedal system accommodates 95% of the American male and female population. The power adjustable pedals benefit all drivers with increased seating distance from the steering wheel, increased knee bolster legroom, more comfortable arm positions, better access to console features, and more headroom.
- ODYSSEY GETS POWER DOORS. Honda's Odyssey EX has dual power-sliding rear doors that drivers can actuate in three ways: the outside handle, a master switch on the instrument panel, or a remote-control key fob. Safety features cause the door to reverse if it meets resistance. The left door won't open if the fuel-filler door is ajar, and neither door will open when the vehicle is in motion.
- HONDA'S HIDDEN SPARE. To maximize cargo space and allow the rear seat to fold flat, Honda engineers moved the Odyssey's spare tire to a compartment under the floor, just behind the front seats in previously unused space. A compact double-wishbone rear suspension fits under the flat floor, completing the package.
- A MIATA WITH MORE. More what, you say? More everything. For '99, engineers at Mazda redesigned the company's most recognizable model, the Miata, to have a more muscular body, more horsepower, more trunk space, and a stiffer structure. Smooth curves, slight wheel flares, and slim oval headlights maintain the appearance of its predecessor while cutting the coefficient of drag a few ticks to 0.36 (with the top up). The 1.8(liter) DOHC four-cylinder engine now produces 140 hp thanks to cylinder head changes, a higher 9.5:1 compression ratio, and a variable-intake control system. By some act of magic, engineers increased trunk space 42%, even though the overall car is essentially the same size. And extensive finite element analysis improved the chassis' bending and torsional rigidity without adding appreciable weight.
ENGINES THAT CAN AND WILL
- GM'S SHORTSTAR. Spun off from Cadillac's line of Northstar engines, GM's 3.5(liter) twin-cam V6 debuts in the 1999 Intrigue. For drivers of GM's V6 engines, many of which still employ the push rod 3800, this engine is a major change. It employs a 24-valve design with a chain-driven camshaft and a "limp-home" mode that allows it to continue running in the event of sudden coolant loss. A wide power band develops 230 lb-ft of torque at 4,400 rpm and 215 hp at 5,500 rpm.
- NEW ENGINE FOR GRAND AM. The re-designed Pontiac Grand Am now uses GM's 3400 V6. The 3400 cranks out 170 hp at 5,200 rpm and 195 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm. Its high torque at low engine speed provides a more powerful launch, which the 3400 accomplishes with the same fuel economy as the 3.1(liter) engine it replaces.
- MORE HORSES FOR SIERRA. The re-designed GMC Sierra offers three new higher power, more efficient, cleaner Vortec engines. The engines build on Vortec's cam-in-block design by incorporating a new deep-skirt, cast-iron engine block. They also feature deep-thread bolts, larger crankshafts and camshafts, and re-designed valve trains and cylinder heads. The engines include Vortec 4800, 5300, and 6000 models. The 6000, the most powerful of the three, kicks out 300 hp and 355 lb-ft of torque.
- CHRYSLER LUXURY LINE DEBUTS REDESIGNED 3.5(liter) V6. Among the design changes in the 3.5(liter) engines that will be introduced in the 1999 LHS and 300M: a 26% increase in crankshaft stiffness from optimizing the distance between the main bearings and rod bearings, the size of the main bearings and rod bearings, and the diameter of the cylinder bores. Additionally, engineers achieved a 28% increase in engine-block stiffness by incorporating a structural, die-cast oil pan, increasing the number of fasteners holding the main bearing caps in place from two to six, and incorporating a structural beam that ties all the main bearing caps together. They also increased the transmission-case stiffness by 14% and powertrain stiffness by 41%. Premium seals and gaskets prevent fluid leakage, and cast-iron cylinder liners improve durability. Oil-drain passages cast right into the engine block speed oil return, even under high-speed conditions. Heat-treating the aluminum block makes it stronger than gray iron, and using forged steel instead of nodular iron increases crankshaft strength.
- JEEP GRAND CHEROKEE GETS THREE NEW ENGINES. One of two newly designed engines debuting in the 1999 Jeep Grand Cherokee is the 4.7(liter) V8 engine. Key design objectives included improved performance, efficiency, smoothness, durability, and lower emissions. The engine puts out 230 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque--5% more power at roughly 10% less displacement than the 5.2(liter) V8 it replaces. Moreover, the engine delivers 7% better fuel economy and gives off 30% fewer emissions. The engine has a cast-iron block, two cast-aluminum cylinder heads, a single overhead camshaft per bank, and two valves per cylinder. A tuned-length runner intake manifold, free-flowing intake and exhaust ports, and fast-burn combustion chambers optimize "breathing" and combustion efficiency. Displacing 4,701 cm(super 3) (287 cu. inches), the engine sports a relatively small 3.66-inch (93 mm) bore and a 3.4-inch stroke (86.5 mm) to help it fit into the Grand Cherokee's compact engine bay. Aluminum cylinder heads, a hollow camshaft with sintered-steel lobes, magnesium valve covers, and a molded composite intake manifold contribute to an overall weight reduction of 54 lbs (24 kg) compared to the previous 5.2(liter) engine.
A new five-cylinder 3.1(liter) turbo-diesel engine is available in Cherokees assembled in Graz, Austria, for sale in markets outside the U.S. Built by VM Motori in Cento, Italy, the engine provides approximately 20% more power and torque than the 2.5(liter) diesel engine it replaces. This additional power gives the Jeep up to 12.5% faster acceleration, a higher top speed, and more load-carrying and towing capacity. The 3,125-cm(super 3) (191-cu.-inch) in-line turbo-diesel with intercooler has a 3.62-inch (92-mm) bore and a 3.7-inch (94-mm) stroke. It has a cast-iron block and individual cast-iron cylinder heads with two valves per cylinder. Electronically controlled diesel injection provides smooth operation and low emissions. An electronic accelerator, also known as "drive by wire," guarantees fast and precise response to driver input.
The third engine choice for the Grand Cherokee is the re-engineered 4.0(liter) 6-cylinder in-line engine, which is reportedly quieter, more powerful, and cleaner than the previous design while delivering comparable torque at 225 lb-ft. Power output is 195 bhp when meeting Tier 1 U.S. emission standards--which apply in most U.S. states--or the European stage II emission standards. That compares with ratings of 185 bhp for the previous-generation engine. The engine has a cast-iron block and head with two valves per cylinder. The 3.88-inch (98.4-mm) bore and 3.41-inch (86.7-mm) stroke give a total displacement of 3,958 cm(super 3) (242 cu. inches). A new slitter-vane water pump is 50% more efficient than its predecessor, contributing 2 hp to the power gain. An elastomer-coated steel intake manifold gasket, two-piece silicon-molybendum alloy cast-iron exhaust manifold, and multi-layer steel exhaust gasket have double the expected life of the previous components. Separation of the exhaust manifold into two pieces reduces internal stress, contributing to the extended life. An automated belt tensioner and coil-on-plug ignition improve the durability and serviceability of the engine. The new intake and exhaust manifolds enhance the sound quality of the engine and produce the lower, "throaty" sound preferred by customers.
- MERCEDES-BENZ SUPERCHARGES ENGINE. For 1999, Mercedes-Benz offers the only supercharged engine in the sports-car category: a 185-hp, 2.3(liter) DOHC in-line V4. Powering the SLK 230 Kompressor, the engine produces 200 lb-ft of maximum torque--equivalent to many larger six-cylinder engines but with less weight. Peak torque, moreover, is actually a plateau available from 2,500 to 4,800 rpm.
The SLK's crankshaft-driven supercharger features twin three-lobed rotors that turn at up to 12,000 rpm, compressing incoming air. An intercooler cools the pressurized air to create a denser intake charge, boosting power further. To increase component durability and conserve fuel, the belt-driven supercharger disengages at idle via a magnetic clutch. Mercedes-Benz offers two SLK 230 Kompressor models: one with a five-speed manual transmission, and the other with a driver-adaptive five-speed automatic. Both are capable of 0-60 mph in 7.2 seconds.
- VARIABLE CAMSHAFT CONTROL FOR BEEMERS. Six-cylinder engines power both the 1999 BMW 328i and 323i. Each boasts one of the most advanced valve-timing systems ever: Double VANOS (Variable Nockenwellen Stenerung, German for "variable camshaft control."). To give optimum timing for virtually every driving situation, the double VANOS system varies intake and exhaust timing independently and steplessly. As a result, the new engines develop more torque over a wide band of usable engine speeds than their predecessors.
- SAAB's ASYMMETRIC TURBO. Saab's 9-5 is reportedly the first car in the world equipped with an asymmetric turbocharging system. The new engine uses the Saab 3.0(liter) V6 engine equipped with one turbocharger mounted on the front cylinder bank, driven by exhaust gases from only those three cylinders.
The single Garrett GT17 turbocharger delivers compressed air to all six cylinders in both cylinder banks. Combined with a boost pressure that reaches only 3.6 psi, the technology enables a patented boost-control system via the throttle control--eliminating the need for a waste gate. For even greater efficiencies, the turbocharger housing integrates into the exhaust manifold instead of installing as a separate casting.
The asymmetric turbosystem increases peak torque by 15%--to 229 lb-ft at 2,100 rpm--improving useful performance and reducing passing times. The higher torque also allows longer gearing, which improves fuel economy and reduces emissions.
- MORE TORQUE AT LOWER RPM FOR SAAB. Saab's new 2.3(liter) four-cylinder engine shares few parts with the engine it replaces. Although it develops the same horsepower rating of 170, it does so at a lower engine speed of 5,500 rpm and produces significantly more torque--207 lb-ft at 1,800 rpm. The engine uses a cast-iron block with a 90-mm bore, 90-mm stroke, and five main bearings. Block weight is about 11 lbs lighter than the previous version. Coolant volume is 20 oz less for faster warm-up from cold starts.
For higher torque at low engine speeds, the engine's Light Pressure Turbocharger uses relatively low boost pressures to deliver boost quickly. The power curve peaks at 5,510 rpm, and the torque curves follow an optimized shape--a completely straight line from 1,800 to 3,500 rpm.
Finally, a package of friction-reducing improvements further improves the engine's operating efficiency. These features include lighter pistons, slimmer piston rings, longer connecting rods, an improved oil system with a higher efficiency pump, and a 30% reduction in valve mass. The package improves fuel efficiency by 5%.
- VOLVO'S TRANSVERSE V6. Two new engines power Volvo's front-drive S80--the replacement for the company's rear-wheel-drive 960 Series. One is a 2.9(liter) , 204-bhp, normally aspirated in-line six. The other is a 2.8(liter) , 272-bhp, six-cylinder twin turbo T6. Both feature a transverse mounting configuration.
Parallel turbocharging--two small turbochargers, one per three cylinders--brings the engine to full torque quicker than one large turbo. The transversely mounted engines not only afford the S80 more interior room, they allow added energy-absorbing crumple zones in the engine bay for improved safety.
The Volvo S80 will also be available with five different five-cylinder engines. And the company says an S80 powered by natural gas or petrol will be available within a year.
- HONDA'S COMPACT SIX CYLINDER. To hold down the size of the Odyssey's 3.5(liter) V6 engine, engineers designed an aluminum alloy engine block having a relatively short deck height (98 mm) and close bore spacing. In addition, the forged-steel connecting rods measure just 19 mm wide and use light, small-diameter, nutless connecting rod bolt. Despite the bolts' small size, they have the same strength margins as larger threaded bolt and nut fasteners. Reason: They can be torqued to the higher clamping force of the bolts' plastic deformation region instead of their elastic region.
- SUBARU LOSES A CAM. Subaru introduced its DOHC, four-cylinder, 2.5(liter) horizontally opposed engine in 1996. For 1999, the company unveils a single-overhead-cam version of the same engine. It not only produces the same horsepower as the DOHC engine--165 hp at the same 5,600 rpm--it also generates 4 lb-ft more torque, now 166 lb-ft at 4,000 rpm.
The goal, say engineers, was to improve torque in the low to middle rpm range. And although peak torque improved just 4 lb-ft, they say the torque of the SOHC engine bests that of the DOHC engine across the power band, improving real world performance.
Specific ways that the SOHC engine differs from the DOHC version include: a single camshaft for each cylinder bank with higher lift, Twin rocker shafts that turn on roller bearings instead of bushings, and increased valve angle to 43 degrees which allows a straighter intake port.
- SUZUKI DEBUTS V6. Suzuki introduces its first V6 on the new Grand Vitara SUV. The compact 2.5(liter), 24-valve, DOHC engine produces 155 hp at 6,500 rpm and 160 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm. It also features a Suzuki-unique two-stage, self-adjusting timing chain that the company says is more durable than rubber belts and requires no maintenance. The double-roller technology is derived from motorcycle racing and allows for quiet high-revving capability. In addition, a direct-drive valvetrain (DDV) reduces mechanical losses with the cams operating directly on the hydraulic valve lifters.
- VARIABLE VALVE TIMING FOR '99 LEXUS. The '99 Lexus ES 300 and RX 300 feature a new V6 engine that, counter to rumors, they do not share with the Toyota Camry. The V6 features a unique variation of the variable-valve-timing system (VVT-I) of the V8 engines used in the LS 400, GS 400, LX 470, and SC 400. Output is 210 hp with 220 lb-ft of torque. Thanks to VVT-I, 80% of peak torque is available at 1,600 rpm.
The VVT-I system in the V8 engines uses a helical spline that is driven axially by engine oil pressure to vary the valve timing. In the V6, an identical result is obtained with a system that uses a three-vaned rotor. Oil pressure is fed to each side of the vanes to turn the rotor either clockwise or counter clockwise and vary the camshaft timing. Engineers developed the new system to fit the more restricted confines of smaller cars' engine compartments.
- LOW-VIBE ODYSSEY ENGINE MOUNTS. Honda's Odyssey uses a subframe and engine-mounting system to reduce vibration. The subframe is mounted to the mainframe rails with rubber insulators. The engine mounting brackets and dynamic-damper brackets that attach the engine to the subframe are made of cast aluminum, which is more resistant to vibration than stamped-steel brackets.
Further boosting vibration damping are two rubber bushing mounts, a passive fluid-filled engine mount, and an electronically controlled fluid-filled rear mount. The rear mount is designed to damp low-frequency, high-load vibrations such as those that occur when the engine is idling and the air conditioning is on. The mount contains two fluid chambers separated by a barrel-type valve. At low engine speed, the valve is open so the full volume of both chambers can damp the vibration. As engine rpm increases, an electronic control unit commands a vacuum actuator to close the valve, taking one of the chambers out of the system and making the mount firmer.
- NISSAN'S MORE POWERFUL SIX. Standard on Nissan's all-new Quest and optional on the '99 Frontier pickup is a larger V6 engine. The 3.3(liter) SOHC power plant is based on the Pathfinder's engine. It puts out 170 hp at 4,800 rpm and 200 lb-ft of torque at 2,800 rpm. The company's SOFIS (sophisticated optimized fuel-injection system) senses and corrects fuel-flow delays inside the intake ports and adjusts both fuel flow and the air/fuel mixture as needed, boosting both performance and economy.
TRANSMISSIONS GET MOVING
- NEW TRANS FOR GM. GM's first-ever electronic transmission, the 4T60-E, gives way on selected vehicles to its descendant, the 4T65-E. No, it probably isn't a big difference, but the 4T65-E electronically controlled four-speed transmission includes enhanced structural features and a 10% increase in torque capacity over its predecessor. It also offers improved input, reaction, and final gear sets. The 4T65-E debuts on the 1999 Grand Am.
- FORD'S CONTROL TRAC 4x4. Available on 1999 Ford Expedition and Lincoln Navigator, Control Trac 4x4 uses a computer to transmit power in the appropriate proportions to front and rear wheels, giving better traction on the road and more flexibility in off-road driving. Control Trac's normal driving mode is Auto, a setting that provides interactive all-wheel drive that constantly monitors and adjusts torque to the front wheels to minimize slippage. Under extreme conditions, more torque is transferred to wheels that need it. The 4x4 High mode electronically locks the transfer-case clutch in high gear, providing constant 50/50 torque split between the front and rear wheels. This mode is primarily for off-road driving or extreme weather. The 4x4 Low mode is for heavy off-roading and engine braking
- ENVOY'S TRANSFER CASE GETS SMART. GMC's new AutoTrac two-speed active transfer case lets drivers select between full-time all-wheel drive or shift-on-the-fly four-wheel drive for added traction. Pressing the AWD button puts the vehicle in full-time all-wheel-drive mode and in automatic standby for four-wheel drive. The new transfer case also lets a truck tow the Envoy without having to disconnect its propshaft.
- FIRST 45RFE TRANSMISSION FOR GRAND CHEROKEE. The electronically controlled 45RFE automatic transmission debuts in the 1999 Grand Cherokee in combination with a 4.7(liter) V8 engine. Chrysler says the transmission a 3:1 first gear gives the driver better initial acceleration. Real-time driver-adaptive shifting fine-tunes the shift pattern; an alternate second-gear ratio gives the driver five forward ratios. During acceleration, second gear has a ratio of 1.67. Depending on speed and throttle position, both this gear and an alternate 1.50 second-gear ratio are available for kick-down operation, making downshifting smoother. The transmission's reverse-gear ratio is equal to the first-gear ratio. Three planetary gear sets combine the widest range of gear ratios available in any transmission in its class.
Also new for the Cherokee is the Quadra-Drive(TM) four-wheel-drive system, which is a combination of the second-generation Quadra-Trac II transfer case and Vari-Lok(TM) progressive front- and rear-axle differentials. With Vari-Lok, the 1999 Grand Cherokee reportedly is the U.S. industry's first vehicle with a speed-sensing torque-transfer front axle. Without any driver involvement, the Quadra-Drive system keeps the vehicle moving even if only one wheel has minimal traction. Under normal driving conditions, the Quadra-Trac II transfer case transfers most of the power and torque to the rear wheels. The moment a wheel loses traction, a speed variation between the front and rear axle occurs and a gerotor pump applies pressure to a multi-disc clutch pack. This bridges the coupling, minimizes speed difference, and sends power to the front axle.
- VOLVO GEARBOX MOUNTS TRANSVERSELY. Not only does Volvo's S80 feature the company's first transversely mounted six-cylinder engine, it marks the first time an in-line six cylinder with a side-mounted gearbox has been installed transversely in a production car. The compact manual gearbox, based on multi-shaft technology, is reportedly the world's shortest manual gearbox for a car--just 297 mm long.
An entirely new four-speed, electronically controlled automatic transmission, manufactured to Volvo criteria by General Motors, is also available for S80 six-cylinder engines. This gearbox has a lock-up function for fuel economy, torque-controlled pressure regulation for smooth gear-change quality, and a "Winter" mode for safer starting and driving on slippery surfaces. The transmission senses the driver's style of driving and adapts gear changes to match, using an "adaptive" gear-change program.
A "Geartronic" version of this gearbox is available on the T6 model. By moving the gear-selector lever to the left and locking it in the gate, the transmission operates like a manual gearbox but without a clutch.
- SMOOTHER SUBARU 4-SPEED. Suburu's 4EAT four-speed automatic transmission has been extensively modified for '99 to reduce friction and work more closely with the engine-management system. It's also lighter and 33 mm shorter than its predecessor.
Electronic solenoids replace many of the hydraulic valves and one-way clutches, letting the electronic transmission-control unit (TCU) secure better control over the transmission to improve efficiency and shift quality. To cut friction, all friction surfaces (except for the transfer clutch) use a new Kevlar-based clutch material, improving high-temperature operation. TCU software changes include: more accurate speed input from a new turbine shaft speed sensor, improved shift timing logic, and altered torque converter control to reduce low-rpm noise.
- TOYOTA HYBRID PREVUE. Toyota introduced in Japan the world's first production hybrid vehicle: the Prius. The hybrid uses a 1.5(liter) gasoline engine, nickel metal hydride batteries, electric motor, and electric generator to achieve nearly double the fuel efficiency of conventional internal-combustion vehicles, says the company. Emissions reportedly have been reduced from 50% to 90% below Japanese regulations.
Key to the system is a power-splitting device in the transmission that sends engine power directly to the wheels, the electric generator controlling the electric motor, or the batteries. The device uses a planetary gear to constantly vary the amount of power supplied to the wheels or the generator. It functions, says the company, much like a continuously variable transmission, smoothly adjusting the speed of the gasoline engine, electric generator, and electric motor to account for acceleration and deceleration. This technique enables the engine to sustain a more narrow power band for high efficiency.
- GM SENDS STIFFNESS TO THE RESCUE. A few years ago, engineers at General Motors Tech Center learned a critical lesson: Body stiffness is key to world-class ride and handling. As a result, two GM vehicles--Pontiac Grand Am and Oldsmobile Alero--offer 25-Hz frequencies in longitudinal bending. GM engineers enhanced the stiffness through careful finite element analysis and intelligent use of mass. Result: They've minimized the amount of bending in the body, which eliminates squeaks and rattles and improves handling.
- PRECISE FIT AND INFINITI FINISH. The '99 Infiniti G20 gains rigidity and improved assembly tolerances through Nissan's patented Intelligent Body Assembly System (IBAS). The process joins the major body pieces--floor, side, and main panels--into a computerized locating and welding fixture that delivers a fit accuracy of Ī1.0 mm.
- FORD ADDS REVERSE SENSING SYSTEM. Available on the 1999 Ford Explorer, Windstar, and Mercury Mountaineer, the Reverse Sensing System helps alert drivers to objects behind a vehicle. This short-range collision-warning system uses four ultrasonic transducers in the rear bumper to detect obstacles such as other vehicles or pedestrians up to six feet away. An electronic control unit monitors sensor output, and commands a series of beeps from a speaker to warn the driver. The beeps increase in frequency as the vehicle moves closer to the object until the obstacle is less than 10 inches from the rear bumper. Then, the system sounds a continuous warning tone.
- GRAND CHEROKEE ADDS ELECTRONIC BRAKE DISTRIBUTION. The new integrated antilock braking system with electronic brake distribution is lighter and less complex than previous systems, yet provides quieter operation, less pedal pulsation, reduced fade, and improved front/rear balance, according to Chrysler.
- FORD ADDS SIDE AIRBAGS. Available on the 1999 Lincoln Continental and Town Car and Mercury Mountaineer--and optional on Ford Explorer and Windstar--side airbags help protect front-seat occupants from head and chest injury in side-impact collisions. Fitted in the door trim panel, the molding above the door, or the outside edge of the seat back, side airbags inflate after the vehicle detects a side-impact collision.
- MERCEDES-BENZ RETRACTS ROLLBAR. To protect occupants of the CLK Cabriolet, Mercedes-Benz incorporates a retractable rollbar. The module resembles a bulkhead and, in fact, adds lateral reinforcement to the car. Two steel loops covered by polyurethane-foam head restraints form the rollbar's left and right sections. At the bottom of the sections are powerful, tensioned springs. When triggered, the springs push the rollover structure into maximum extension in three-tenths of a second. Dampers ensure even extension; lockpins prevent compression. Hydraulic lines permit manual operation.
- IT'S CURTAINS FOR MERCEDES AIRBAGS. The 1999 E-Class sedans from Mercedes-Benz will introduce the German automaker's new curtain-like side airbags. Spanning the entire passenger compartment, and working in conjunction with existing door-mounted side airbags, the additional air-filled cushions prevent both front and rear occupants from hitting their heads on the side window or roof pillars in the event of a severe side collision.
Measuring 6 ft long, 14 inches high, and 2 inches thick, each curtain bag deploys from the ceiling directly above the side windows. Both the curtain and side airbags activate simultaneously. An electronic control unit monitors lateral and longitudinal car decelerations and also activates the driver and passenger airbags in a frontal impact.
- SAAB'S NEW TAKE ON SIDE AIRBAGS. Saab's new 9-3 and 9-5 cars offer a different take on side airbags. The head and chest protective bags divide into upper and lower sections and inflate in two stages. The lower section fills first to protect the rib cage; the top then inflates to protect the head which, at the moment of impact, is further away from the side structure and thus reacts to crash forces with a certain time delay.
- AIRBAGS OFFER DUAL THRESHOLDS FOR BMW OCCUPANTS. All BMW models for 1999 deploy airbags and safety belt tensioners according to impact severity, whether or not the occupant is belted, and whether or not the front passenger seat is occupied. In a relatively mild frontal impact, for instance, a belted occupant's safety belt could be tensioned, but the front-impact airbag not deployed. If the occupant were not belted, however, the airbag would deploy.
- BMW DOOR ANCHORS INTERLOCK. As with the larger models, BMW's new 3-series sedans feature an interlocking door anchoring system. Each door incorporates a diagonal aluminum reinforcing beam. Hooks at either end of the beam grab into the fixed side structure in case of severe deformation. This arrangement helps tie the doors and main structure together for a high degree of structural resistance to side impacts.
- VOLVO PROTECTS AGAINST WHIPLASH. In 1997, Volvo completed its Whiplash Protection Study (WHIPS), an R&D project for producing a seat that would reduce the risk of whiplash injuries in rear-end collisions. Incorporated in the new S80 sedan, the WHIPS system presses the occupant's entire back against the seat backrest in a controlled manner. Here's how it works: When activated, the backrest of the seat and the occupant move backwards as one, reducing G forces. The angle of the backrest then folds back by up to 15 degrees, effectively catching the body to prevent a catapult effect. Six modified springs with limiters provide even support of the spine when pressed into the seat; the fixed head restraint minimizes head movement. Volvo tests indicate that WHIPS can reduce neck acceleration forces by as much as 50%.
- FORD TRUCKS ADD SPEED-SENSITIVE VOLUME. Constant fiddling with music volume may become a distraction of the past. Speed-sensitive volume--standard on Expedition and F-Series Lariat--makes automatic volume adjustments at higher speeds to compensate for the corresponding rise in road and wind noise. Optional on F-Series XLT, speed-sensitive volume comes with seven settings.
- INTEGRATED CADDY POWERTRAIN. Cadillac's Northstar chassis system ties five major systems of the car together in a single unit. Linking them is a Class 2 computer network that can exchange data at up to 10,400 bytes/sec. The computer integrates: the Northstar V8 engines, an electronic four-speed transaxle, the Performance Algorithm Shifting system, the Continuously Variable Road Sensing Suspension, Magnasteer variable-effort steering, and four-wheel ABS.
- SAAB TAKES THE BUS. Saab's new 9-3 comes with a databus system that transmits information between the car's various electronic control units (ECU) via a digital network. Rather than each control unit communicating with the others through separate cables, the CAN (Controller Area Network) bus employs only two cables. Information continuously streams to the network instead of every system having to gather information from its own dedicated sensors. ECUs interconnected in the digital network include the main instrument unit, automatic climate control, Saab information display, and the audio system. The CAN bus can transmit data at up to 1 Mbps; data updates at intervals between 0.01 and 1 second.
- VOLVO GAINS TRACTION. Stability and traction control (STC) is standard on all Volvo S80 models. Designed to counteract wheel spin at all speeds, STC improves start-up on slippery surfaces and ensures that the wheels retain their road grip while driving.
When the car pulls away from stationary, ABS sensors detect the rotation of each wheel and send a signal to the STC unit. If one of the driving wheels is rotating faster than the others, the ABS unit brakes the spinning wheel. This action transfers power to the other driving wheel, enabling the car to pull away.
When the car is moving, the STC system constantly monitors and compares the speed of all four wheels. If one or both of the driving wheels displays a tendency to lose its grip on the road--during aquaplaning, for example--the engine management unit immediately reduces engine torque by cutting back on the amount of injected fuel. This process occurs in stages until the vehicle recovers road grip. System reaction time is about 15 milliseconds.
- CAMRY SOLARA: BRIGHT LIGHT, DIM MIRROR. Toyota's new Camry Solara coupe is the first mid-size, mid-price vehicle to incorporate auto-dimming mirrors from Gentex Corp. (Zeeland, MI). The Night Vision Safety (NVS) mirrors automatically darken to reduce glare from the headlamps of vehicles approaching from the rear. The brighter the glare, the darker the mirrors.
The mirror uses solution-phase electrochromic technology in which a material can be reversibly darkened by applying electricity. Solution-phase mirrors feature two glass plates sandwiched together to contain the gel-like electrochromic materials. The inner surface of the plates is covered with a transparent electrically conductive coating, and the back glass plate has a reflective film on its outer surface. As dc voltage is applied to the transparent conductive coatings, the electrochromic material changes from clear to the desired darker state, spanning a reflectance-value range of 7 to 80%.
To detect rearward approaching lights, the mirror has two light sensors--one facing forward, the other facing back. When the forward-facing sensor detects a low ambient light level, electronic circuitry in the mirror causes the rearward-facing sensor to become active. Once the rearward-facing sensor is active, it detects when glare is present and how bright the glare is so that the mirror's circuitry can dim the mirror.
- MERCEDES-BENZ FUEL FILTER. In-tank automotive fuel filters must be durable and maintenance free. Further, as automakers are competing in many geographical markets, filtration systems must be adaptable to changes in fuel composition.
To address these challenges, Mercedes-Benz has approved the first use of StrataPore GD(TM) for the in-tank fuel filter of its U.S.-produced sport utility vehicle. In-tank fuel filters made of the StrataPore material contain multiple layers of varying densities. This configuration permits contaminants to become trapped at different depths within the filter, dependent upon their size.
Developed by Kuss Filtration (Findlay, OH), StrataPore's progressive filtration provides a 22% higher dirt capacity with the same efficiency rating compared to other Kuss depth media. The filter will be supplied to Alfmeier Corp., maker of the Mercedes-Benz SUV fuel module, for assembly at its plant in Greenville, SC.
- COOLING SAABS. Optional electrically ventilated seats add to the Saab 9-5's comfort level. Two flat electric fans in each front seat--one in the seatback and one on the lower cushion--extract warm, humid air that is normally trapped between the occupant and seat upholstery. The fans function in three operator-set speed modes, drawing warm air through the perforated leather and venting underneath the seat.
Other comfort control features on the 1999 Saab 9-5 include a refrigerated glovebox and green-tinted, heat-absorbing glass. The latter blocks about half of the sun's radiant heat; a sensor on top of the dash measures remaining solar radiation. In combination with cabin air sensors, the system detects bright sunlight and adjusts air conditioning output automatically.
A duct from the Automatic Climate Control system feeds cold air into the glove compartment to keep soft drinks chilled. Fully open, the sliding vent can chill the glovebox to 42F.
- ASPHERIC MIRROR WIDENS SAAB VIEW. All of Saab's 9-5 and 9-3 models effectively increase the driver's right-side field of vision with the first U.S. installation of a passenger-side split wide-angle outside mirror. Combining a constant-radius curved area with a portion on the outside of the mirror that features a gradually increasing curvature increases the driver's field of view by 30% over a conventional convex mirror of the same size.
- GM MONITORS TIRE INFLATION. GM engineers make tire-pressure monitoring easy with a new system that employs almost no extra hardware. Using existing speed sensors and the ABS module, the system checks for a wheel that's spinning faster than the others. (Wheels that have lost pressure are smaller, therefore, rotate faster.) The system can detect pressure losses of 12 psi or more in about six minutes. Upon finding a pressure loss, the system alerts the driver with a chime and a dashboard light. It's available on selected Buicks and Oldsmobiles.
- OLDS VIDEO VAN. Oldsmobile appeals to videophiles in 1999 by installing a liquid-crystal video screen in its new Silhouette Premier minivan. The flip-down screen, which resembles the type found in new aircraft, works with a video cassette player mounted in the floor console, overhead controls for switching between video and audio, and headphones for middle- and rear-seat passengers.
- CADDY RELIEVES SORE BACKS. A few years ago, someone at Cadillac noticed that Caddy drivers were continually cycling the four-way power lumbar system to relieve muscle tension. Result: Four-way movable rollers that travel up and down or in and out to massage the driver's back. The system uses 20 rollers in all, located in a series of five sets, within the massage blanket. The rollers reportedly relax the muscles along the spinal column without applying direct pressure to the vertebrae.
- ADAPTIVE SEVILLE SEATING. Employing technology used in hospital burn units, the Cadillac Seville's adaptive seating automatically recognizes occupant position and adjusts the seat to support the individual. The technology uses a network of 10 air cells, located between the leather upholstery and foam in the seat cushion and back. Sensors attached to the air cells measure internal pressure, and supply that information to a control module, which compares the measurements to an optimal pattern stored in memory. If a discrepancy exists, pressure inside the air cells is adjusted.
- CHRYSLER ADDS ELECTRIC MINIVAN. Production of the EPIC (Electric Powered Intraurban Commuter) begins this month at Chrysler's Windsor Assembly Plant in Ontario, Canada. Manufactured on the same production line as gasoline-powered minivans, approximately 2,000 electric Caravans and Voyagers will be available for lease to California- and New York-based fleet owners for $450 per month over a three-year period. A nickel metal hydride battery pack, located under the minivan's floor, powers the ac traction motor that propels each EPIC to a top speed of 80 mph. Range on a full charge is projected to be between 80 and 90 miles in moderate conditions.