For 1996: an Emphasis on VALUE

The 1995 cars were better than ever--but the 96s, as you'll see on the
next few pages--take quality and reliability to new heights.. The watchword
guiding automakers in this viciously competitive global economy is value.
Automakers have made enormous strides in performance, safety, and dependability.
And, they are providing more features for less cost. There is a proliferation of
more powerful, more fuel-efficient engines, smarter transmissions, better
suspensions, quieter bodies, and safer interiors. As for optional and standard
features: They've broadened to include such items as improved seats, stereos,
and even anti-theft systems.

All of this places more pressure on design engineers, as they wrestle with stricter regulations and shorter development cycles. "Today, we have to design a car on a tight budget and maximize what the consumer gets," notes Francois Castaing, vice president of vehicle engineering for Chrysler. "The old idea that you can add feature after feature for higher and higher prices--that just doesn't work anymore."

To find out what automakers are planning for their product line, we sent Design News regional editors on the road to interview the engineers in charge. You'll read what they learned in detail on the following pages, but here is a sneak preview:

Senior Technical Editor Charles J. Murray reports that Chrysler, expanding internationally at a rate of about 20% a year, will roll out the new Sebring convertible, more powerful minivans, and the Plymouth Breeze, a compact sedan. In addition to a stunning new re-design for the Taurus, Ford will unveil a new 4.6-l DOHC engine for the Mustang and Mustang Cobra.

The company is investing heavily in the future in other ways too. In August, Chrysler announced plans to spend $1 billion to build a new plant for making truck transmissions. Additionally, the company committed $1.3 billion over the next decade for a series of new engines.

Northeast Technical Editor Terrence Lynch says General Motors is using government requirements for on-board diagnostics as a springboard for simplifying whole-car diagnostics and improving the interplay of components for improved performance. For example, he says, the CAN-based Class II data bus allows the engine control module to anticipate air-conditioning loads and compensates by adjusting engine and transmission output. On several models, power locks won't operate if they're told that the key is in the ignition and the door is open. Other examples abound, from low-cost traction control, to coordination of radio volume with cellular-phone activation, and automatic unlocking of doors after airbag deployment. Grinning GM engineers say that their cars' emerging self-awareness is only the beginning.

Finally, GM announced in late August plans to cut development costs 25% by shortening the design cycle to an average of 38 months from the current 46.

For European carmakers, the 1996 model year represents a significant rebound from the dark days of '93, when U.S. sales bottomed out at slightly better than 2% of the market, reports Senior Editor David Bak. Tough times forced several of Europe's big names--Fiat, Renault, and Peugeot among them--from the country.

Those that stayed, most of them luxury car builders, focused on two things: increasing performance and decreasing price. Porsche's 1996 911 Carrera 4 Turbo is a good example. The luxury sports car features all-wheel-drive and more power than its predecessor, yet costs the same.

Mercedes, Audi, and BMW tell similar stories. The result? A comeback for European car sales. Figures for the first six months of 1995 are almost 15% higher than those for the same period last year. Market share, moreover, has climbed above 3% for the first time since 1990.

For Asian automakers, "sport utility vehicle" seems to be the buzz-phrase for 1996, reports Western Technical Editor Mark Gottschalk. Everybody has a new one and the category is undergoing constant redefinition. Additionally, Asian manufacturers show increased interest in keeping down costs by sharing drivetrain and chassis components across models and even across makes, much as Detroit has done for years.

Several Nissan and Infiniti models use versions of the company's patented Multi-Link Beam suspension, and the I30 and Maxima share engines, as does the Odyssey minivan and the Accord.

Here is our detailed report on the engineering achievements of the industry for 1996:

ENGINES THAT COULD--AND WILL

  • HIGH PERFORMANCE FOR THE BULL. The country's best selling car, the Taurus, will get its first V-8 at mid-year, when Ford introduces the Taurus SHO sports sedan. The new V-8 will sport a 3.4-l 60-degree design rated at 240 hp at 6,500 rpm and 225 lb-ft torque at 4,800 rpm. A cooperative development of Ford and Yamaha Motor Corp. of Japan, the engine uses a crankshaft-driven, counter-rotating balance shaft to counteract vibrations created by an uneven firing order. It features an overhead camshaft and four-valve-per-cylinder breathing advantages. Said to have one of the smallest displacements of any V-8 engine in production, the SHO V-8 shares the same bore, stroke, and bore spacing of Ford's modular V-6 engine.

  • MORE POTENT IN-LINE FOUR. Chrysler's minivans replace the stand-by 2.5-l four-cylinder with a more powerful 2.4-l similar to the engine used in the Dodge Stratus. Compared to the old 2.5-l, the new engine has far more horsepower and torque. Using a 16-valve DOHC cylinder head, a tuned aluminum intake manifold, and a tuned low restriction air induction system, the new in-line four produces 150 hp at 4,800 rpm and 167 lb-ft torque at 4,000 rpm. Despite better performance, the new engine maintains the same fuel economy as its predecessor.

  • A FASTER VIPER. As if Viper's 8.0-l V-10 engine didn't produce enough power, Dodge engineers have added more. By moving the Viper's legendary side exhaust to the rear, they've reduced flow restrictions and backpressure, resulting in improved performance and a throatier sound. The car's exhaust pipe routing turns inboard forward of the rear wheels, then passes over the rear suspension and enters a tandem muffler with dual outlets on the centerline of the car. Result: Horsepower increases to 415 hp at 5,200 rpm and torque goes to an extraordinary 488 lb-ft at 3,600 rpm.

  • MORE HORSES FOR THE PONY. Ford's new modular V-8 engine includes an SOHC version for the Mustang GT and a DOHC for the Mustang Cobra. The new engines provide increased power with reduced displacement, reduced emissions, and improved NVH. The DOHC version produces the highest power output in its class--305 hp at 5,800 rpm and 300 lb-ft of torque at 4,800 rpm. Both versions are built on the same short-block main assembly line; the DOHC version is then moved to a separate "niche" line, where it is fully assembled by special two-person teams. The 4.6-l V-8 is part of a program begun by Ford in 1987 that has produced a family of modular engines.

  • LUXURY CNG VEHICLE. Ford introduces the first mass-produced, dedicated natural-gas-powered passenger car in the new Crown Victoria NGV. Aimed at municipal, law enforcement, and commercial fleet customers, the new vehicle burns natural gas pressurized to 3,000 psi. A specially designed fuel system delivers the natural gas to an enhanced 4.6-l SOHC V-8 engine. Fuel is stored in four steel, glass-hoop wrapped tanks in the vehicle's gas tank and trunk area. Approximately 5,000 units will be introduced to U.S. and Canadian markets.

  • NO 'SON OF QUAD FOUR.' With 200 of 390 parts new, don't call GM's 2.4-l sequentially fuel-injected I4 engine "son of Quad 4." Throaty, not buzzy, at redline, the engine is a real improvement. Changes to reduce buzziness include dual counter-rotating balance shafts, direct-drive power steering pump, and a 500-Hz tuned Helmholtz resonator at the intake duct. Direct-mounted generator and A/C compressor designs were changed to increase their natural frequency to eliminate resonance. In addition to the new smoothness, the engine boasts increased low-end torque, delivering 150 hp @ 6,000 rpm and 150 lb-ft of torque at 4,400 rpm. It's an option on Chevy Cavalier and Pontiac Sunfire, standard on Pontiac Grand Am, Olds Achieva, and Buick Skylark.

  • TRUCK ENGINE REDUX. GM's gasoline-powered truck engines get a major overhaul for '96, including a new name--Vortec. The Vortec 7400 gains 50 hp and 25 lb-ft of torque, delivering 250 hp @ 4,600 rpm and 335 lb-ft @ 2,800 rpm. That big boost in low-end torque comes in handy in working trucks. Engineers estimate it translates into a 1/10 mile increase in passing safety when pulling a 10,000-lb load. To do it, compression goes from 7.9:1 last year to 9:1 in '96. The engine receives sequential port fuel injection, a metal and composite intake manifold, and 20-inch-long equal-length intake runners. Similar boosts in power and pleasability occur on the Vortec 5000 and 4300, which get central-port fuel injection and an innovative truncated-cone-shaped throttle plate. The plate makes the intake opening a linear function with throttle position for a more tailored acceleration response.

  • BIGGER POWERPLANTS. Both Saab and BMW offer new powerplants for '96. Saab's 5-door, 900 SE Turbo debuts with a 185-hp, 2.0-l engine that initially paired with the automaker's 5-speed manual transmission. Still available in the coupe, the turbo produces 194 lb-ft torque @ 2,100 rpm. The company says an electrically controlled, 4-speed automatic, based on the previous 170 hp V-6, will be available as an option later in the model year. BMW, meanwhile, is beefing up across the board. All 318i models feature an enlarged 1.9-l engine. The company is changing the name of its 325i model line to 328i, to reflect the larger engine in that series. The new 5-series also carries the 2.8-l, 190 hp engine, allowing a 15% increase in torque. As for the 740iL and the 840iC, displacement of their V-8 engines will increase from 4.0- to 4.5-l for greater torque and low-end performance.

  • DIRECT-INJECTION DIESEL. New for Volkswagen's 1996 Jetta, Passat, Passat Wagon, and Golf: an advanced turbo direct-injection diesel engine that performs on par with a comparable gasoline engine. Instead of a mechanically controlled injection system, TDI employs an electronic control system that manages fuel injection timing and amount, turbocharging boost pressure, exhaust gas recirculation, and glow plug time. Two-stage injection directly into the engine's cylinder gives a 20% greater fuel efficiency over traditional swirl chamber designs, reaching 48 mpg in Europe. Installed in the Golf, the 1.9-l, 90 hp TDI reaches a top speed of 111 mph, and features a flat torque curve which peaks at 149 lb-ft at just 1,900 rpm.

  • TWIN TURBOS. The 1996 Porsche 911 Turbo features the same concepts that made the 959 famous: a twin turbo-charged engine coupled to an all-wheel drive system. The result is 400 horsepower and 400 lb-ft. of torque--the most powerful production Porsche ever offered for sale in America.

Use of two relatively small turbochargers allows low moments of inertia. This produces significant improvement in throttle response when compared to a single turbo-charger system with the same power output. The exhaust system's symmetrical configuration--one system for each cylinder bank--and reduced manufacturing tolerances for turbocharger components, ensures synchronized turbocharger performance.

A Bosche Mortronic M5.2 system, implemented on a bi-turbo engine for the first time, controls air flow via a boost pressure control valve integrated into each turbocharger. The system compares air flow, measured by a hot-film sensor, with the required value stored in a performance curve to determine control valve position.

MORE GO, LESS GAS. Engineers squeezed more power and 5% better fuel economy from the 1.6-l engine found in Nissan's 200 SX and Sentra. Providing 40 mpg highway and 30 mpg city, the engine has a higher compression ratio (9.9:1 versus 9.5:1), microfinished crankshaft journals to cut friction, and just two compression rings per cylinder, down from three. Horsepower climbs to 115 at 6,000 rpm (up from 110). The engine retains Nissan Variable Timing Control (NVTC), but the system now operates over a wider range of conditions.

  • COMPACT V-6. For the engine in the new I30, Infiniti engineers started fresh, creating what they claim is one of the most compact, efficient, and lightweight 3.0-l V-6 engines in the world. It's more than 100 lbs lighter and four inches narrower than any comparable design. A two-way cooling system provides separate coolant flow for the block and head. This increases the cooling system's efficiency, reduces the amount of water needed (a weight saver), provides for faster warm-up (which cuts emissions), and improves fuel economy. With direct ignition and four valves per cylinder, the engine produces 190 hp at 5,600 rpm and 205 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm.

  • CLEAN-BURNING FOUR. The 1.6-l, engine found in Honda's Civic CX, DX and LX models is the first to meet California's LEV (Low-Emission Vehicle) standard. Producing a respectable 106 hp, the four-cylinder engine features tumble-flow intake porting that engineers designed with the help of CFD analysis on a supercomputer. The resulting improved combustion turbulence contributes to more complete burning, increased economy, and--of course--lower emissions.

  • ULTRA-CLEAN-BURNING FOUR. Engineers at Honda have developed the first production based gasoline engine to meet year 2000 Ultra Low Emission Vehicle (ULEV) exhaust levels. Based on the 2.2-l four found in the current Accord EX, the engine reduces emissions by about 90% from today's standards. Improvements include a fast warm-up catalytic converter and more precise computer control of the fuel-air mixture. A higher, 9.4:1 compression ratio keeps horsepower and torque within about 6.5% of the current production engine.

  • BIGGER BOXER. Subaru's Legacy and Legacy Outback can be ordered with an optional 2.5-l, horizontally opposed (boxer) engine. It's the largest four-cylinder engine ever offered by Subaru, and the first DOHC design available in the U.S. Boasting 155 hp at 5,600 rpm and 155 lb-ft of torque at 2,800 rpm, the new engine is 14.8% more powerful than the standard 2.2-l motor.

  • MORE POWER FOR TACOMA. Engineers at Toyota designed three new engines for the sixth-generation compact pickup truck, the Tacoma. A 2.4-l four-cylinder engine powers the base 2WD model, while a 2.7-l four drives the 4 x 4. The big news, however, is the adoption of the 3.4-l V-6 which is also appearing in the T100. An increased-displacement version of Toyota's 3.0-l motor, the new engine puts out 190 hp at 4,800 rpm and 220 lb-ft of torque at 3,600 rpm, 40 more horsepower and foot-pounds than the smaller V-6.

  • QUIET INTAKE SYSTEM. The additional hood height of the Honda Odyssey (compared to a sedan) let engineers design a quieter intake system. Although the 2.2-l engine is the same as in the Accord, the intake system includes a one-liter larger resonant chamber. Two side branches attenuate resonance at 265 hz and 320-475 hz, and total inlet noise is reduced 3 dB.

  • SMART ENGINE MOUNTS. A dual-mode hydraulic engine mount dampens both the low- and high-speed vibrations of the inline five-cylinder engine found in Acura's 2.5 TL. It consists of an exterior control valve and two chambers filled with fluid. Two sets of orifices--one large and one small--join the chambers. At idle, the large orifice tunes the mount to dampen the engine's primary vibrations. Above idle, the control valve engages the smaller orifice, stiffens the mount, and reduces the engine's high speed resonance.

TRANSMISSIONS AND DRIVE TRAINS--FOR ALL SITUATIONS

  • ADVANCED TRANSAXLE. Ford's new AX4N automatic transaxle is said to be the most advanced passenger car transaxle in company history. It accommodates the higher performance numbers of Taurus/Sable's improved V-6 engine and incorporates non-synchronous shifting. The non-synchronous shifting feature results in significant improvement in torque demand and coasting downshifts in urban driving situations. Controlled by Ford Electronics' new EEC-V fifth generation electronic control system, the AX4N is electronically interfaced with optional ABS, enabling it to maintain excellent, braking, steering, upshifting, and downshifting during emergency maneuvers.

  • MANUAL + AUTOMATIC = AUTOSTICK. Aggressive drivers who want to blend the performance of a manual shift with the smoothness of an automatic now have an alternative. Chrysler this year introduces a feature that allows drivers to take control of an automatic transmission. Called Autostick, the new system includes a special shift console that lets drivers shift from automatic to manual and back again. Essentially, it allows drivers to override the transmission's computerized logic when they want high-end performance. Unlike conventional automatics, which don't necessarily stay in the gear the driver selects, Autostick remains in the selected gear unless it senses potential engine or transmission damage. It's available on the 1996 Jeep Eagle Vision.

  • LOW-COST TRACTION CONTROL. Smaller GM cars equipped with the 4T40-E electronically controlled 4-speed automatic transmission receive Enhanced Traction Control as a bonus for '96. When activated, the system's integrated chassis module monitors drive-wheel spin and alerts the engine control module when slip occurs. The ECM retards spark and the transmission shifts up to reduce torque output in response. Drivers may turn the system off manually when desired.

  • ALL-WHEEL-DRIVE. Three components contribute to the all-wheel-drive system of the Porsche 911 Turbo. A maintenance-free viscous center clutch controls power distribution between the front and rear wheels. Running in silicone fluid, it responds to power, rpm, and temperature differences to vary the amount of slip between front and rear axles. An Automatic Brake Differential (ABD) and rear locking differential complete the system. Should one rear wheel begin to spin, the locking differential transmits power to the wheel which has traction. If this is not sufficient, the ABD--using input from the anti-lock brake sensors--applies braking power to the slipping wheel to help initiate traction. These functions operate at speeds up to 43 mph. At 111 lbs, the new viscous clutch-based system is half the weight of the previous Carrera 4 AWD system, and is 33% more efficient in operation.

  • AUTOMATIC QUATTRO. For the first time in this vehicle class, Audi's A4 offers an automatic transmission option with its Quattro system. The new 5-speed automatic employs Audi's advanced Dynamic Shift Program (DSP), which monitors all driving variables and automatically selects a suitable shifting strategy from over 200 pre-programmed selections. The broad operating scope of the DSP system complements the wider selection of gear ratios offered by a five-speed transmission. Results are better off-the-line starting, smoother gear changes throughout, and improved highway fuel consumption.

  • DRIVER-DETERMINED SHIFT POINTS. As in Formula One racing, two thumb-controlled rocker switches on the steering wheel let the driver of the Porsche 911 Turbo shift with both hands firmly in control. The system is based on the Tiptronic-S, a clutchless, manually-operated four-speed that lets the driver determine shift points.

  • PRODUCTION CVT. Honda's Civic HX Coupe introduces the first mass-produced continuously variable transmission (CVT) for a high-output engine. It's based on a drive belt developed by Van Doorne Transmissie in the Netherlands. Called Multi Matic, the transmission consists of two V-shaped pulleys and a belt made from a pair of steel bands and hundreds of small steel plates. Hydraulic pressure controls the position of the side plates of the two pulleys. Varying the spacing between the plates changes the position of the belt on the pulleys, providing seamless, continuously variable gear ratios from 2.446:1 to 0.449:1. Unique aspects of Honda's design include: a wet multiple-disk start clutch on the driven shaft, a dual-mass flywheel (eliminating the torque converter), and a new high-efficiency hydraulic pump. Performance and economy of the Civic HX is said to equal that of a stick shift with the simplicity of an automatic.

  • LIGHTWEIGHT FIVE-SPEED. Lexus' GS 300 receives the company's first 5-speed automatic transmission, the A350E. Just 2 kg heavier than last year's 4-speed (A340E), it's claimed to be the lightest and most compact in the world. Engineers achieved this not by physically adding a gear, but rather by activating the A340E's overdrive between first and second gear. At 1.978:1, the new ratio lies neatly between the previous first two gears (2.804:1 and 1.531:1). Combined with a new differential (4.272:1 versus 4.083:1), the A350E boosts the GS 300's low-end acceleration and passing ability.

  • HOLD THAT GEAR. The four-speed automatic transmission in Kia's Sephia includes a "hold" feature which allows the driver to pull away from a full stop in second gear. Its purpose is to reduce the likelihood of spinning the front wheels on ice or snow. "Hold" provides the advantage of specific low-gear selections or a modified shift sequence while in drive ("D"). It also prevents undesired upshifts that can drop the engine out of its power band.

SAFETY SURPRISES

  • GLOBAL SECURITY. Personal security takes a giant step forward in 1996 with the introduction of the Remote Emergency Satellite Cellular Unit (RESCU) on the new Lincoln Continental. The system consists of a pair of buttons mounted in the overhead console area, a Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) receiver mounted in the trunk, and a cellular telephone. One button, marked by a tow truck symbol, will summon roadside assistance. The second button, marked by an ambulance icon, uses the telephone and GPS receiver to contact an emergency response center. Used in conjunction with the United States' system of 24 geosynchronous satellites, it can determine a vehicle's position within 100 feet.

  • POWERFUL PARKING BRAKE. For Chrysler minivans, a new linkage makes it possible to move the parking brake pedal to a less obtrusive position and offer a more powerful static holding ability. Use of a patented new ratchet-and-pawl mechanism also reduces pedal travel by 50% and allows for lighter, less costly cables.

  • DAYTIME RUNNING LIGHTS. Citing improved safety statistics from Europe and Canada, GM will inaugurate daytime running lights on all its '96 vehicles. The headlights will come on with the engine but operate at reduced voltage. Switching on the lights manually brings the headlights to full intensity and turns on the taillights as well. How funeral corteges will identify themselves remains to be determined, but GM engineers say there may be fewer of them.

  • SECURITY ON THE SIDE. With all 1996 E-Class and SL models, Mercedes-Benz introduces side impact airbags. Located in the front door panels above the armrests, the 1.5-l sidebags measure 11 x 17 x 3 inches. Mercedes engineers say the triggering sensors presented the biggest design challenge because the doors offer less crumple space than the front of the car. Inflation time, consequently, is 20 msec--half that of front airbags.

  • ELECTRONIC STABILITY. Developed as a next step beyond anti-lock braking and electronic traction control systems, the Mercedes-Benz Electronic Stability Program continually calculates if the car is moving exactly in the direction it is being steered. ESP increases brake pressure to the inside rear wheel when it senses understeer. With an oversteer tendency, it increases brake pressure to the outside front wheel. Input includes steering wheel angle and tire speed to calculate the path being steered, as well as lateral Gs and vehicle yaw to measure what the car is actually doing. The result of a joint project between Mercedes-Benz and Robert Bosch GmbH, ESP is standard equipment on the V-12 powered S and SL models, and optional for V-8 versions. It will also be an option for the E420.

  • ELECTRONIC BRAKE PROPORTIONING. Audi's 5th generation ABS system makes its appearance on the new A4. Unlike mechanical or hydraulic systems, ABS 5 allows completely progressive, electronic proportioning of the brake force to the rear wheels. This means the system can adapt brake pressure under all load situations and compensate for the varying dynamics involved in cornering situations. ABS 5 permits maximum stopping power, extending the limits beyond what is possible with conventional proportioning strategies. The A4's Electronic Differential Locking, moreover, gives ABS 5 low-speed traction enhancement when starting off on slippery surfaces.

  • LOAD-SENSING BRAKING SYSTEM. Minivans can experience an enormous range in loading, which, in turn, affects braking performance. On Honda's Odyssey, engineers included a Load Sensing Proportioning Valve (LSPV) that changes rear brake hydraulic pressure in response to load. It works by reading the vehicle height off a linkage attached to the rear stabilizer bar. The linkage moves an arm connected to a plunger within the LSPV. When the Odyssey is heavily loaded, the valve limits rear brake pressure, preventing lockup.

SOPHISTICATED SUSPENSIONS

  • CONTINUOUSLY VARIABLE SUSPENSION. The already-impressive Northstar system that coordinates powertrain, suspension, and braking performance has a new wrinkle--continuously-variable road-sensing suspension (CV-RSS). Covered by several patents, the system includes a new continuously variable pilot valve from AC Rochester that delivers a synthetic polyalphaolefic damping fluid at high pressures using less current than the previous step-function design. GM engineers developed a unique algorithm for determining wheel motion without the use of accelerometers. The synthetic damping fluid delivers minimal viscosity changes with temperature, further simplifying system-control computations. In operation, the system reads and responds to 3-axis sprung-mass velocity data for each wheel 1,000 times each second. One other note, the Northstar system can now be found on the Cadillac De Ville as well as the Concours, Eldorado, and Seville.

  • FOUR-LINK FRONT SUSPENSION. Audi's A4, the company's new midsize platform, features a new four-link front suspension. The design shifts the car's virtual steering axis--the theoretical line described by the front sus-pension's upper and lower pivot points--to within 10 mm of the tire's contact patch. Conventional designs offer single pivot points at the top and bottom of the wheel carrier. Consequently, the virtual steering axis intersects the ground at some distance from the center of the tire's contact patch. This distance acts as a lever arm through which steering disturbances, such as road irregularities or drive line torque, feed back to the driver. By reducing this offset, the 4-link design allows the wheels to be steered directly from their center points for better handling.

  • STABILITY IN THE REAR. A redesigned chassis enhances the stability, handling, and ride comfort on Porsche's '96 911 Turbo. Component changes on the front suspension--an evolution of the MacPherson-type strut, coil spring, and stabilizer bar unit from past 911s--reduces unsprung weight by 6.6 lbs. The bigger change is in back, where the semi-trailing arms and struts of previous 911s have been replaced by Porsche's new LSA (Lightweight-Stable-Agile) system. Four links in two horizontal planes, resembling upper and lower A-arms, provide precise wheel control. Laid out as push/pull arms, these links join the subframe and wheel hub. Advantages: Good camber stability under lateral loading, and control of toe-in behavior under longitudinal and lateral loading. The LSA package, in addition to the four links, includes dual-tube gas shock absorbers, coil springs, and a stabilizer bar mounted to the aluminum subframe.

  • SUPERIOR STIFFNESS. Leveraging the company's Cray supercomputer, engineers at Nissan increased the torsional rigidity of both the 200 SX and Sentra by 17% over their predecessors. Besides improving handling and NHV, a stiffer chassis allowed for smaller gaps between body panels.

  • COMPACT SUSPENSION. The patented rear suspension design introduced on the 1995 Maxima appears in the 200 SX and Sentra. Consisting of a torsion beam, a lateral link, and a control rod, the system takes the best qualities from both torsion-beam and multi-link suspensions. Firm yet compliant, it removes some of the load from the typically over-worked front-wheel-drive suspension without compromising ride quality. The secret is a unique bushing joining the lateral link to the torsion beam that is stiff vertically but pliant laterally. It's smooth over the bumps but better controls camber during cornering. With more load on the rear wheels, the front suspension can be tuned for a better ride, also without sacrificing performance. A bonus: the Multi-Link Beam(TM) is more compact, allowing greater rear seat room.

MATTERS OF STYLE

  • ANY COLOR YOU WANT. In a first among automotive finishes, the new Mustang Cobra will appear green, amber, gold, or purple, depending upon the light source, the viewing angle, the weather, and the surroundings. Called Mystic Paint, its new finish depends on the physics of light, rather than normal pigment. The Mystic Paint finish is made up of microscopically thin layers, each having a different index of refraction, which produces a specific color. Developed through a cooperative effort of Ford and BASF Corp., the new paint requires the manufacture of microscopically thin flakes to produce desired colors. Approximately 2,000 Mustang Cobras will feature Mystic Paint.

  • ROLL-OUT SEATS. Chrysler's minivans offer Easy-Out Roller Seats to simplify installation, removal, and re-positioning. When installed, the seats are latched to floor-mounted strikers. When unlatched, eight rollers lift each seat, allowing it to be rolled fore and aft. Tracks have locator depressions for rollers, thus enabling simple installation. Ergonomic levers at the seatbacks release the floor latches and raise the seats on the rollers in a single motion.

  • EASY-ACCESS EXTENDED CABS. Chevy and GMC compact and full-size trucks with extended cabs offer an optional "Easy Access Panel" to facilitate entry into the space behind the seats. Not a traditional door, the rearward-opening panel can only be unlocked from the inside once the main door is opened. On full-size models, the panel is on the right side, reflecting the fact that passengers often occupy the space in back. On compacts, the panel is on the left, since the smaller space is usually reserved for cargo.

  • TOUCH, UP. Power windows on the new Audi A4 feature one-touch up, as well as one-touch down. Also: "comfort closing" lets the driver close an open window or the sunroof by holding the key in the door-locking position. A pre-selected opening and closing system for the sunroof lets the driver dial in the amount of opening desired.

  • LOOK OUT, RANGE ROVER. In early 1996, Lexus will introduce its first high-end sport utility vehicle (SUV). Designated the LX 450, the 4 x 4 builds on the drivetrain found in Toyota's Land Cruiser. Though Lexus officials are officially mum, look for a big, 4.5-l twin-cam inline six-cylinder delivering 210+ hp and 275+ lb-ft of torque. Real wood and leather will abound, and suspension tuning will lean toward the soft side. Cost: $50,000 plus.

  • SPORTY 4 X 4. As with the Suzuki X-90, Toyota's RAV4 (Recreational Active Vehicle with 4WD) blurs the line between car and off-road vehicle. Due out in early 1996, it will appear in two- and four-door configurations, feature independent suspension at each corner and full-time four-wheel drive. Power comes from a 2.0-l 16-valve four-cylinder twin-cam engine producing an estimated 120 hp at 5,600 rpm and 123 lb-ft of torque at 4,400 rpm.

ELECTRONICS INSIDE

  • ON-BOARD DIAGNOSTICS. All '96 model cars sold in America have to meet government standards for emissions-system fault prediction known as on-board diagnostics II (OBD II). General Motors spent over $2 billion on development and testing to comply. In general, OBD II required relatively minor hardware changes, like adding crankshaft-position sensors, improved seals, and an additional O2 sensor downstream from the catalytic converter. Software changes were another matter. The engine-control module must perform rationality checks on a matrix of data from engine, transmission, and body-component sensors to tell the difference between true malfunctions and transient conditions caused by rough roads or aggressive maneuvering. One measure of the increased sophistication: There are now 150 diagnostic trouble codes against just 50 identifiable by the ECM in 1995.

  • TAKING THE DATA BUS. To meet OBD II standards, GM's Cadillac/Luxury Car Division engineered an SAE J-1850 Class 2 data-bus network into the '96 models. In addition to meeting government standards, the vehicle-wide system simplifies wiring and permits more than 12 microprocessor-controlled modules to communicate for more sophisticated performance. Alerted by the Climate Control Module, for example, the Engine Control Module can call up additional power for no loss of performance when the air-conditioning compressor kicks in.

  • A LAN FOR YOUR CAR. To reduce the wiring needed for the Infiniti I30, engineers created an in-vehicle local area network (LAN) called Smart Link Information Multiplexing, or SLIM. It uses coded, multiplexed electrical signals sent over shared wires from the body control module to local control units, instead of a series of wiring harnesses. In addition to trimming weight and cost, Infiniti claims the system is also more reliable and efficient.

A TREASURE CHEST OF TECHNOLOGY

  • ANTI-THEFT PROTECTION. Ford's new Passive Anti-Theft system (PATS) offers new levels of security by disabling the engine's electronic management system when thieves tamper with the ignition. The fully automatic system uses a special ignition key containing a miniature transponder in the handle. If the transponder transmits the correct code to the PATS controller, the controller allows the car to start. If, however, the controller detects an incorrect code, it electronically shuts down the engine. The system reportedly cannot be defeated by normal means. PATS is available on the Taurus/Sable, Mustang GT, and Mustang Cobra.

  • LONG-LIFE FLUIDS. Continuing the trend to reduced maintenance, GM introduces a new-formula coolant designed to last for 5 years. Biodegradable DEX-COOL(TM) coolant replaces conventional silicates with a proprietary organic acid that offers improved corrosion protection and reduces abrasive wear on water pumps. Coupled with last year's introduction of 100,000-mile transmission fluid and the widespread use of similarly long-lived platinum-tipped spark plugs, belts and oil remain the only regular-maintenance items under most GM hoods.

  • ALL-ALUMINUM AXLES. German automaker BMW introduces its all new 5-series in 1996. A key element of its design is an all-aluminum front axle comprising an aluminum front axle girder with integrated fastenings for the tension struts; aluminum forged tension struts and transverse control arms; and steering knuckles produced by aluminum permanent-mold casting. Track rod arms are directly cast on the steering knuckles.

Additionally, the multiple control arm rear axle is made of aluminum. Called "Integral IV," the design features an aluminum rear axle guide of welded-tube construction; integral control arms constructed as aluminum sheet-steel stampings; forged aluminum radius and transverse control arms; and again, aluminum permanent-mold castings for the steering knuckles.

Extensive use of aluminum on the front and rear wheel suspension gives the new 5-series a 36% weight savings and considerably less unsprung mass, for greater road safety and better driving comfort.

  • EXHAUST-GAS DAMPENING. For better acoustic comfort, the new BMW 5-series incorporates a "Helmholtz resonator." An exactly-defined, closed ancillary volume, the device docks to the exhaust silencer. Exhaust, however, does not pass through. Instead, the exhaust gas streaming by stimulates the enclosed volume of air.

  • TWO MUFFLERS IN ONE. Acura's TL uses a variable flow rate muffler designed to reduce noise at low engine speeds and increase power at high speeds. High flow rates force open a spring-loaded valve, directing exhaust gases to a low-restriction circuit. Exhaust noise drops by 3 dB at the low end and gas flow jumps at the high end by 17%.

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