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The Chevrolet 100

The Beginning
In the freewheeling auto industry at the dawn of the 1900s, the maestro who created, then lost, General Motors bounced back to create his greatest automotive endeavor yet.
In the year Chevrolet was born, there were 270 auto companies operating in the United States. Although Chevrolet was started by one of the best-known and most prolific names in the fledgling industry, its survival was not ensured. But Chevrolet not only endured, it prospered. It went on to become one of the few American auto brands to reach the century mark, and it was the number-one-selling brand in the United States in the majority of those years. Herewith, a look at the 100 cars, people, technologies, events, and milestones that have marked Chevrolet's 100 years.
1. Billy Durant
Chevrolet was the creation of William C. Durant, who founded General Motors but by 1911 had been tossed out. Looking to get back into the car business, he incorporated the Chevrolet Motor Car Company on November 3, 1911. (2) He started two other car companies that year and two more the next. Those other makers were soon subsumed by Chevrolet, which Durant envisioned as a low-priced brand that would take on Ford. By 1915, Durant and his proxies had succeeded in acquiring enough General Motors stock that Durant regained (tenuous) control of GM. He then engineered a stock swap which meant, in effect, that the Chevrolet company acquired General Motors (3). Back in the saddle at GM, he went on a buying spree (Fisher Body, Dayton Engineering, and Frigidaire, among others) but was caught out by the 1920 recession. He left GM and Chevrolet forever in December of that year.
4. Louis Chevrolet
Born in Switzerland, Louis Chevrolet spent his boyhood in France before emigrating to North America at age twenty-one. Chevrolet earned a name for himself working on the Buick racing team, and he drove Buicks to victory at the nascent Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1909 and 1910. Billy Durant wanted to tap Chevrolet's racing notoriety for his start-up car company. In addition to lending his name to the enterprise, Chevrolet would design the new car. He finished the design and demonstrated the car for the press in late 1912, after which he departed for France and an extended vacation. When he returned, he was upset with the cheaper models that Durant had added, but the breaking point was his smoking. Durant hated Chevrolet's habit of smoking a cigarette and letting it hang on his lip. He thought Chevrolet, as an executive, should take up cigars. Enraged at being told how to live, the hot-tempered Chevrolet quit the company. He later designed a couple of Indy-winning racing cars and started the short-lived Frontenac Motor Company.
5. 1912 Chevrolet Six Type C Classic
The first-ever Chevrolet was the only one designed by its namesake. Riding on a 120-inch wheelbase and powered by a 299-cubic-inch six-cylinder engine, it was a premium vehicle (costing more than $2000) and not at all what Billy Durant had envisioned for Chevrolet.
6. The Bow-Tie emblem
The now-familiar logo was first applied to a Chevrolet in 1914. As Durant told it, he'd seen the design on the wallpaper of a hotel room in Paris.
7. The Chevrolet Four-Ninety
In 1915, Chevrolet at last had a direct competitor to the Model T: the Four-Ninety. It cost $490, which also happened to be the price of a Model T. (Henry Ford retaliated by dropping the T's price by $50.)
8. The first Chevrolet truck appeared in 1918. Trucks slowly became an important, if not highly visible, aspect of Chevrolet's business. It wasn't until decades later -- 1989, to be exact -- that Chevy trucks began outselling Chevy cars and accounting for an outsize majority of the brand's profits.
9. Formed in 1919, GMAC greased the financial wheels of the auto industry. Financing allowed dealers to have more cars on hand, and it freed buyers from having to save up the purchase price of a car -- a significant sum even for buyers of low-priced cars. Chevrolet's ability to let customers buy a car "on time" gave it an important advantage over Ford, where the very idea was anathema to Henry Ford.
10. The Detroit-based Campbell-Ewald advertising agency placed its first ad for Chevrolet in 1919 and became the brand's agency of record in 1922, beginning an agency/client relationship that would continue until 2010.

2014 Chevrolet C7 Corvette

You may think that southeast Michigan, home to General Motors’ proving ground in Milford, gets plenty cold enough in winter. Yet for true cold-weather testing, GM engineers subjected the next-generation C7 Corvette to the extreme chill of northern Canada. That gave our spy photographers a chance to snap photos of this prototype version of the 2014 Chevrolet Corvette as it is readied for production.
It’s no secret that the C7 will be a 2014 model launching in fall 2013 -- Chevrolet recently launched special-edition anniversary packages and a 427 convertible model for the 2013 Corvette to serve as a sort of swan song for the C6-generation car. In addition, GM last spring announced $131 million of upgrades to its plant in Bowling Green, Kentucky, to prepare for assembly of the new Corvette. Almost every other detail on the new car, however, has so far been shrouded in rumor and obfuscation.
Two things are certain with the C7 Corvette. For one, it won’t resurrect the split rear window design cue of the 1963 Corvette, as had been suggested by earlier concept cars and rumor mongering. The mule spotted here continues to use one solid rear window that slopes sharply into the decklid.
Second, even though the promise of a mid-engine layout is the most enduring Corvette myth of all time, it seems clear that Chevrolet will stick to a front-engine design for the C7. Multiple executives have denied that the Corvette would reposition its engine, and the proportions of this mule suggest the engine will indeed stay under the car’s long hood.
Familiar Coupe Body
Our spy pictures reveal that the C7 Corvette won’t look drastically different from the current model. As on the current car, the new Corvette will feature a wide rectangular grille opening, a long and low hood, center-mounted quad exhaust tips, and generous rear haunches able to fit wide on the drive axle. A traditional coupe will likely go on sale first, probably joined by a convertible at a later date.
It is clear that the new Corvette is slightly longer, in part because the wheelbase seems stretched a few inches. That move would probably improve the car’s ride-and-handling mix; recall that the new, 991-generation Porsche 911 also received a longer wheelbase, in order to improve comfort and high-speed stability. In the Corvette, increasing the wheelbase might also marginally improve interior and trunk room.
Reports suggest the Corvette may use an aluminum spaceframe, with the body composed of a mix of carbon fiber and fiberglass. That would be expensive, but it would cut weight -- possibly below 3000 pounds in some models. Like all automakers, GM will try to cut weight from new cars, in part because that improves fuel economy, and also because trimming mass will improve the Corvette’s dynamic performance.
Two Powertrain Options?
The Corvette will certainly retain its signature V-8 engine, though it remains uncertain as to whether a V-6 engine also will join the roster. The V-8 mill will be an evolution of GM’s small block design, with the fifth generation of the V-8 family adopting direct fuel injection for the first time. GM has already promised that the fifth-gen small block engines will produce more power and torque, while using less fuel than current engines; the company has invested about $1 billion in preparation for building the new V-8s.
The new Corvette V-8 will almost certainly continue to use pushrods, and may feature some sort of cylinder deactivation. There are indications it will be downsized to as little as 5.5 liters, compared to the 6.2-liter LS3 in the current base Corvette. Those moves would further cut fuel consumption, while retaining the car’s signature torquey nature and eight-cylinder heritage.
Although many executives have denied it, there are hints that the C7 Corvette will also receive a single- or twin-turbocharged V-6 engine. That might strike the Chevrolet faithful as heresy, but doing so would help bump the Corvette’s economy ratings so that GM could better meet stricter CAFE and emissions regulations. If such an engine is offered, it could be a version of GM’s popular 3.6-liter direct-injected V-6. But don’t place bets on a Corvette V-6 just yet -- such a model would be a hard sell to Corvette purists. Perhaps this engine will have to wait for the C8.
As to transmission choices, we’re told the Corvette will score a new seven-speed manual transmission, again keeping up with the 2012 Porsche 911, which offers a new seven-speed stick. Despite rumors of an optional dual-clutch automated transmission, it seems more likely Chevrolet will stick with a regular automatic for the clutch pedal averse. GM is currently developing its next generation of full-size trucks, so it’s possible that automatic transmissions could be shared between the pickups and the Corvette. Expect seven or eight forward speeds, up from six in current Corvette automatics.
Few Chassis Changes
Few details on the C7’s suspension setup have leaked so far, leading us to believe there are no drastic changes. Chevrolet will probably endeavor to make the new Corvette somewhat easier for novices to drive quickly, while retaining the car’s world-class grip and overall driving dynamics. Reduced overall weight and the aforementioned wheelbase stretch should help with this.
In the face of increasing oil prices and tightening government regulations, it’s no secret that Chevrolet must make the C7 Corvette even more fuel efficient. At the same time, executives have made clear that they don’t want the car to neglect the huge levels of performance and fun on which the Corvette has built its name. When the 2014 Corvette goes on sale in fall 2013, we firmly believe it will continue to be one of the best -- or perhaps the best -- best American-made sports cars available.

2013 Chevrolet Spark Electric

   The number of battery-electric small cars on sale in the U.S. is about to grow yet again. Chevrolet announced today that it will sell an electric-powered version of the upcoming 2013 Spark hatchback around the world, including in North America.The Spark, which is already on sale in global markets, will come to the United States for the 2013 model year, which will render it the smallest car sold by General Motors in North America. Just how small is it? About four inches longer than a Fiat 500, though it has five doors.U.S-spec Spark models will differ slightly from those offered around the globe. Chevy plans on adding a little more aggressive front fascia, along with larger headlamp assemblies. North American Spark models will utilize a 83-hp, 1.2-liter I-4, and will send that power to the front wheels through either a five-speed manual transmission or likely a four-speed automatic transmissionFor those Spark drivers who need fewer miles between refills and want to go greener, however, Chevrolet will offer a Spark EV. The car will be sold in limited quantities and only in select states, but it'll mark the first true battery-electric GM vehicle offered to the public since the EV1.This also isn't the first time GM has shoehorned an electric powertrain under the hood of a Spark: the production Spark EV will likely be based on the Beat EV (Beat and Spark are two different names for the same model), which GM tested extensively in India. This time, however, the Spark EV will use nanophosphate lithium-ion battery packs, which were designed and will be supplied by A123 Systems. A123 signed a deal with GM back in August to engineer and supply these batteries.GM says that pricing for both models - along with the estimated range for the EV -- will be announced at next month's Los Angeles International Auto Show. View the original article here

2012 Chevrolet Camaro 2SS

A stiff clutch pedal and a manual shifter that doesn't move through the gears with much fluidity make the Camaro SS a chore to drive around town. The tall cowl, small windows, huge A-pillars, and tall, broad hood are also bummers, because you can easily feel claustrophobic in this car. If you're a Camaro person, you might not much care, but I find the Ford Mustang to be easier to drive and to have a more livable cabin than the Camaro. I suppose I would have liked our test Camaro better had it been equipped with the Hurst short-throw shifter, which seems like it would be $380 well-spent.

A 45th anniversary package is a stretch, in my opinion. 25, 40, 50, those are anniversaries worth noting, but 45? Not so much.

I really love driving muscle cars because they are loud, powerful, and look menacing. The Camaro SS does not disappoint. Even though cold and rainy weather precluded any aggressive driving, I had a ton of fun behind the wheel of the Camaro. I love the lumpy idle, the hearty growl of the V-8, and the way the exhaust pops and crackles on engine overrun. No downsized turbocharged engine can provide that much aural and visceral excitement.

Less exciting is the special 45th Anniversary treatment applied to this Camaro. It includes different paint, a new stripe, some interior trim, a smattering of new badges, and dark-silver wheels. Yawn. It doesn't look much more special than a regular Camaro SS, and I'm not convinced most people would notice the heritage-inspired trim. Is the 45th Anniversary package worth an extra $1375? I think not.

2012 Chevrolet Corvette Z06

Despite its age, the Chevrolet Corvette is one of the greatest sports cars in the world. There's a wide range of models that can fit a variety of budgets from the entry-level Corvette coupe up to the monstrous ZR1. I prefer the Grand Sport because it offers the right mix of performance and cost and it feels a little more special than a regular Corvette coupe. The super-high-performance ZR1 is reserved for those with deep pockets and, hopefully, plenty of experience with high-performance sports cars.
It's a little known fact that Chevrolet has a full range of distinctly different sports cars all masquerading under the Corvette name. The base car and the Grand Sport are akin to a Porsche 911. They are livable, straightforward sports cars. The $110,000 Corvette ZR1 has the demeanor of the Ferrari 458 Italia. It possesses finesse and fluidity in the context of obscene power. This fiery Z06, then, is the ZR1's antithesis. It is a Lamborghini to the ZR1's Ferrari. It is unruly, brutish -- and awesome.

With 470 lb-ft of torque on tap, the Z06 nonchalantly lopes through the city at 600 rpm. Pressed into duty, it squirms and squeals and screams to a 505-hp peak at 6300 rpm. The Z06's prevailing character is brash and aggressive, but it also packs some slick, sophisticated technology. Sport mode for the magnetically controlled adjustable dampers is so stiff that it's best left for track time, which is fine since the tour mode keeps body control intact while removing the punishing edge over rough roads.
As imposing and impressive as the Z06 is, it isn't without fault. The clutch is fickle creeping and creeping in and out of parking spots often brings the scent of burnt friction surface. The fuel-saving skip-shift feature that forces you from first gear to fourth gear during slow acceleration is more obtrusive than what you get in the Camaro. The steering could be tighter and more responsive on center and the optional Michelin Pilot Sport Cup ZP tires fitted to our tester have no business being on a street-driven car. The new sport seats and steering wheel are welcome improvements, leaving the cheap center stack as the only sore thumb that stands out inside this Corvette. Then again, Lamborghinis aren't exactly compromise-free, which makes all of these imperfections seem so right.
Thank you, Eric Tingwall, for saying it: these tires are pretty ridiculous for a street car! When they're cold, you can barely turn the front wheels to pull out of a parking space or out of your driveway. The first time I drove the car, I thought there was something wrong at the front axle. These Pilots may be absolutely spectacular on the track, but if you've got $100K for a high-performance Corvette and you intend to drive it on the road much at all, you might prefer to have a separate set of track tires and something more compliant for street use.

Tires aside, this is a phenomenal performance machine, offering extraordinary acceleration, superb body control, smooth power delivery, and a great engine/exhaust soundtrack, with great burble on the overrun. The Z06 corners like crazy. Because the Z06 is a more pure Corvette model without a lot of sound insulation, you can hear every expansion joint on the freeway, but in tour mode they are not at all harsh.
I thought about the Z06 on November 3, when I attended a screening of the GM-commissioned documentary "Chevy 100," marking the centennial of the Chevrolet brand. Given that Louis Chevrolet was himself a balls-out racer guy in his day, it seems entirely appropriate that the Corvette Z06 is the recipient of some 100th-anniversary love. I suspect this particular model might have a bit of future collector value.
This is a brutish sports car, and is definitely not something you would want to drive every day. The tires are far too aggressive for street use, and because they're so wide, they tend to follow every groove in the road, meaning it can be a bit of a chore to keep this Corvette from wandering around in its lane. The suspension is super stiff, especially when set to sport. Changing to the touring setting helps slightly, but "touring" is really not part of this car's lexicon.

I have to disagree somewhat with Eric on the center stack. For the most part, the control buttons on the center stack are well laid out and labeled, and they don't look too cheap to me. However, they are let down by a navigation system that is not at all up to date compared with what you find in several other competitors. The most egregious flaw of the interior is the very large "Corvette" stitched across the dash in front of the passenger. GM should know by now that the Corvette is a good enough car that it can stand on its own without having to advertise itself every time you enter the cockpit.

2012 Chevrolet Cruze 2LT

The Cruze has been a homerun for Chevy, repeatedly appearing in the top of the sales chart for the compact class and giving the Toyota Corolla a run for its money as reigning champ of the segment's sales. (Through November, the Cruze was only down by 4193 units to the number-one-selling Corolla among all compacts.) It's no surprise that the Cruze has been popular with the car-buying public thanks to its best-in-class interior, handsome design, and good pricing. (In comparison, only the Hyundai Elantra and Mazda 3 are cheaper when similarly equipped, and by less than $1000.) The turbocharged four-cylinder is lively and peppy - especially around town - but the Cruze is not nearly as refined as the Ford Focus, nor does it feel as planted as the Focus, the 3, or the Elantra on the highway. However, color me impressed; it's quite amazing that this car came from the same company that was peddling the Cobalt in the same segment just a few short years ago.
There are two interior oddities: the fusebox opening is located only about an inch below the headlight switch, and I popped it open assuming it was a small storage cubby. Also, a green headlight icon for the daytime running lights remains illuminated in the instrument cluster unless the headlights are turned on.

2012 Chevrolet Equinox LTZ

Seeing the Equinox parked in my garage gave me a new appreciation to how handsome the car is in profile, especially with the bright eighteen-inch wheels. It is a more cohesive and muscular design than its GMC Terrain sibling, which has too many right angles stuck on for no reason than to "butch" up the car. The interior is also well laid out, with a high center stack that puts the majority of controls in easy reach, and a number of thoughtfully designed compartments, nooks, and crannies. Even without the optional moonroof, the tall glass area let in a lot of light; although I always felt as though I was sitting a little too low due to the high dashboard. Generally, this is a very well executed package.
As Donny says, the Equinox is a surprisingly good-looking vehicle. Although its design will never draw oohs and aahs at future classic car shows, the Equinox's styling is well executed, without being flashy or overdone. The same goes for the interior, which is smart and well-designed, although somewhat conservative and filled with many cheap-feeling hard plastics. It's notable that our top-trim, $33K LTZ model lacked now-commonplace features like a sunroof or push-button start. I'm also confused by the layout of some buttons. For instance, the trip computer buttons are located below the climate controls on the center console, and the power liftgate switches are mounted on the roof.

I recall the four-cylinder-powered Chevy Equinox being fully capable of moving this attractive crossover fairly quickly; I think I could be perfectly happy driving a four-cylinder Equinox, especially when you consider that the four-cylinder is EPA rated at 30 percent better fuel economy than a V-6 model. The V-6 engine that we tested here does increase the Equinox's towing capacity from 1500 pounds to a much more palatable 3500 pounds, though, so I suppose that's one reason to spend $1500 extra for it. If you get a V-6, though, it'd be a good idea to also fork over the cash for four-wheel drive, as well; torque steer was plainly apparent in this front-wheel-drive V-6 test car.

The forward-collision warning seems kind of pointless to me. If you don't notice that you're about to hit the car in front of you, I don't think you're going to see a smallish red light on the top of the dashboard quickly enough to make a difference (except for possibly at night). Perhaps GM's research proves me wrong. Thankfully, the system is adjustable with a handy button on the steering wheel, which provides three closeness settings as well as an "off" position.
Large doors and lots of cargo space make this an excellent family car, and it served me quite well in that capacity during Thanksgiving weekend. The problem is that the base price, at $24,260, is higher than that of the entry-level crossovers in most showrooms -- even if the Equinox is larger than many of those models -- and it's easy to price an Equinox well into the $30,000s.
There's nothing spectacular or earth shattering about the Equinox, just all-around competence and solid execution. The exterior design has more personality than competitors like the Toyota Highlander without impinging on the practicality these vehicles need. It also still looks quite fresh after a few years on the market. Inside, it seems Chevrolet has mastered the dark art of making cheap plastic look premium. The curved dash looks warm and well-grained, belying the fact that it's hard as a rock. Some actual soft-touch surfaces would be nice in a car costing more than $30,000. The Equinox drives well for its size, with good body control and nicely weighted steering. The 3.0-liter V-6 still isn't GM's most inspiring powertrain, but as my colleague Rusty notes, it's more than enough for this application. The base 2.4-liter four-cylinder is probably the smarter option, as it saves $1500 and boasts much better fuel economy (6 mpg better on the highway, according to the EPA).

The second-generation Equinox has been a success. 193,274 units were sold in 2011, making it the fourth best-selling nameplate in GM's U.S. portfolio. It's easy to see why: the Equinox offers composed handing, a compliant ride, plenty of interior space, and all packed into a relatively compact size.

Why mess with that success? For now, GM isn't. Updates for the 2012 model year are rather minor, including door lock switches placed on the door panels themselves, and the availability of GM's new infotainment and connectivity suite - which Chevrolet calls MyLink -- on the top-shelf LTZ model. I didn't have a chance to actually mate it to my smartphone, but the touchscreen-driven system responded fairly quickly to inputs for both the navigation and audio system.
Like many of my colleagues, I had previously found the base four-cylinder perfectly adequate, but if you want the new forward collision warning and lane departure warning systems, they're restricted to the LTZ trim with the 3.0-liter V-6.
Still, seeing as the second-generation Equinox is only three years old, it's at least refreshing to see GM add improvements now, as opposed to waiting for an all-new model launch. Here's hoping they address one minor gripe of mine: the tapered center stack design is stylish, but control placement - especially for the audio system - is a bit cluttered and difficult to sort, especially at night.

2012 Chevrolet Volt

Our 2011 Automobile of the Year didn't earn a spot on our 2012 All-Stars list, but the Chevy Volt's powertrain is still a massively impressive piece of engineering. The Volt's key trick is a seamless transition between running on electricity and gasoline. The gas/electric drivetrain allows for roughly 35 miles of driving range using electricity stored in a large lithium-ion battery before firing up a small, four-cylinder gas engine for another 300 miles of range. The dual power sources offer all of the incentives of driving an electric vehicle -- charging at home, cheap energy, and the potential for reduced emissions -- while eliminating the inconvenience of limited range and slow charging times that afflict pure electric vehicles.

I would honestly consider plunking down money to buy a Chevrolet Volt. It drives and feels just like any other car, yet allows for near-silent motoring on battery power. The entire experience is very cool. Even though I couldn't plug in to recharge at my apartment, I managed to drive about 80 miles over the weekend -- once the battery pack's charge was depleted, I simply continued on gasoline power.

Donny gripes about the range extender's noise, but I think it's a non-issue. While the 1.4-liter engine is a bit noisy at times, it never transmits any untoward vibration to the cabin, and it's no louder than the gasoline engine in hybrids like the Toyota Prius. Moreover, the range extender is essentially a backup function rather than a primary power source. Most Volt owners will run almost exclusively on electrical propulsion, and might only hear the engine during a Thanksgiving road trip to grandma's house.
A more pressing concern is the large plastic air dam that hangs only about an inch above the road surface. It's easy to scrape the plastic piece on steep driveways or speed bumps, but I am more concerned about how it will affect the car in winter. My expectation is that, like the low front lip on my SVT Focus, the plastic dam will act as a big snow plow and make it a pain to drive the Volt through more than two or three inches of snow.

Chevrolet was the first with a mass-produced plug-in hybrid in North America, but Toyota's 2012 Prius PHEV is finally set to join the fray. The Toyota may undercut the Volt's MSRP by several thousand dollars, but I'd still pick the Volt for one simple reason: it's far easier to drive in electric mode.

Toyota's system doesn't promise as much EV range as the Chevy, as it claims to offer up to 15 miles of battery-powered driving before utilizing the car's standard gas-electric hybrid driveline. The problem is the Prius PHEV requires a feather-light touch on the gas pedal. Trying to accelerate in a moderate fashion will usually bring the engine online; trying to stay in EV mode while accelerating will likely annoy drivers behind you.

With a fully charged battery, there's no such drama in the Volt. Response to throttle pedal input is brisk, acceleration is peppy, and the car generally responds and performs like any conventional compact car. The exception, of course, is that its electric operation is eerily quiet and smooth. The 1.4-liter I-4 does make a bit of noise when serving as a generator, but is largely isolated from the driveline. And it doesn't suffer the shudders exhibited by other hybrids when switching between drivetrain modes.
Barring the likes of the Ford Model T, there has never been a single vehicle that manages to encompass or address the needs of the majority of drivers across the country. It's hard to say if the Volt is ideal for you - but with a 28-mile drive to and from work, access to chargers both at work and at home, the Volt could certainly work for me. So too could a Nissan Leaf, as I discovered this past summer - but at prices in the mid-$30,000 to low-$40,000 range, a new EV/ EREV would have to be my only car. Until rapid-cycle charging networks blossom across the country, the Volt is the only electric vehicle that could function as my sole means of transport.

I had huge anxiety when the keys to this car were placed on my desk. I did not even know how to unplug it from the wall in our garage. The Volt though was more like an apple product than I thought, very intuitive to use. I think I had more issues trying to wrap the cold electric cable back up on the wall than doing anything with the car. It was surprisingly enjoyable to drive. I'm sad I only got to experience it for the commute home and back. I liked this test model's interior and exterior much better than the grey one we have had on our photo shoots. Well done!

I spent Thanksgiving weekend in the Volt, mostly doing around-town driving, but with a couple of trips to the airport and one to downtown Detroit. The electrical charge quickly expired and I spent most of the weekend solely on gasoline power, since I don't have a high-voltage charger at home like we do at the office. And I have to say that I very much enjoyed the luxury of not having to worry about finding a charging point. The trip computer says that, over about 600 miles of driving done by all the editors since the car arrived in our fleet, we averaged 39 mpg. The center control stack is confusing and I don't care for the tactile qualities of the touch pad at all. I dropped someone at a hockey game and the gap between the rear seatbacks (the Volt's rear seat only fits two people) worked very well for hockey sticks. I launched the Volt with some speed into one of my favorite freeway on-ramps and was reminded that this is no sport sedan, as it understeered in protest, but that's okay because this is a perfectly drivable, usable, everyday car. I appreciate the extra rear window in the hatchback, which aids rear visibility. In our tester, the big decorative overlay panel on the dashboard above the steering wheel was loose in its mounts.

The last time I drove a Chevy Volt was about six months ago, so I was looking forward to getting another chance to drive last year's Automobile of the Year. The Volt had been plugged in to the 240V charger all day, and when I climbed behind the wheel, the range indicator showed 29 miles. By the time I had driven the 11 miles home, however, there were only 12 miles left. In fairness to the Volt, it was cold and rainy, and I had both the heat and the seat heaters turned on. By the time my husband and I drove to a restaurant for dinner, the range was down to 2 miles. No problem, as the Volt switched over to the gasoline engine on the way home from the restaurant. The transition was quite seamless - no jerkiness and no huge increase in noise (I was on the freeway, so there was already some road and wind noise, plus the radio, while running under electric power).

The entire time I was driving the Volt it was dark and rainy (did I mention that Ann Arbor has just had the wettest year since records started being kept?), and that served to highlight one of the Volt's weak spots: inadequate headlights. After having driven several German cars recently, I found the Volt's headlamps to be severely underwhelming. Even with the high beams on, visibility just isn't as good as it should be, and at this time of year when it's not uncommon to encounter a deer on the road, it could be a safety issue. Another visibility issue concerns the large blind spot in the rear three-quarter area because of the very thick C-pillars.

2011 Dodge Charger R/T Max - AWD

I still clearly remember the day in December 2008 that I first saw the vehicle that would be the 2011 Dodge Charger. Chrysler was on the verge of closing its doors for good and invited a small group of journalists and analysts to take a highly look at what products would be coming to market if the company survived. The next Jeep Grand Cherokee, Dodge Durango, and a heavy-duty Ram pickup were shown and met with quiet approval from the group. But the Charger caused people to stop and drool. We say that Chrysler not only could differentiate the Charger from the 300 (also shown that day), but also could put together a class-leading interior. Thankfully the production car lives up to the images that were burned into my mind that day in 2008.
Driving the Charger home over some seriously degraded two-lane roads revealed a well-tuned suspension that inspired lots of confidence. I felt the multiple imperfections, but the impacts were never harsh and I always felt in control of the vehicle. The Charger still feels big from behind the wheel, but there's something that just feels right about hustling a big American sedan with a big V-8 down some empty country roads. Although the five-speed automatic transmission is about to be replaced by an eight-speed unit, its calibration is much better than what I've experienced in other new Chrysler products this year. Hopefully the new eight-speed comes to market with even better calibration and also improves fuel economy by a few mpg.
The Dodge Charger's interior is now class-leading. There's a touch-screen infotainment system supplemented with just enough physical knobs and buttons to make it easy to use without taking your eyes off the road. Imagine that, real knobs for volume and tuning functions and buttons that easily adjust the temperature! All of this can also be accomplished by interacting with the touch-screen, but you're never forced to use new technology to address vital functions like volume or temperature unlike the MyFord Touch system that Ford is pushing on consumers these days.
Thankfully the plug wasn't pulled on Chrysler in 2008 and I sincerely hope all of the people who were working on this car before Fiat took control of Chrysler are being congratulated right now because they've created the best American sedan on the market.

2011 Dodge Durango AWD CrewLux

May 16, 2011 / By: Amy Skogstrom, Evan McCausland, Jennifer Misaros, Joe DeMatio, Phil Floraday, Rusty Blackwell / Photos by Matt Tierney
Wow, Dodge really did a great job with the Durango. I was never blown away by the body-on-frame Durango that died a few years ago, but the new unibody version feels very solid and well executed. Having driven the Ford Explorer only a few nights before the Durango, it's difficult to find fault with the Dodge.
Comparing spec sheets you'd think the Durango and Explorer were almost exactly the same vehicle, but the execution is quite different. While the Explorer's thick A-pillars, high beltline, and smallish window openings make it feel claustrophobic (or at least like you're trapped in a cave), the Durango lets in more light and offers better visibility through its large windshield and windows and seemingly thinner A-pillars. Both of these SUVs-turned-crossovers offer touch-screen infotainment systems, but only Dodge offers honest-to-goodness physical buttons and dials to adjust the temperature or volume. I much prefer the idea of using muscle memory to adjust the volume to taking my eyes off the road and fiddling with a fussy touch screen.
This is the heaviest vehicle I've sampled with Chrysler's new Pentastar V-6, and the engine performed admirably with nearly 5000 pounds of Durango to motivate. I presume the Durango would be a lot of fun with the Hemi V-8, but there's no need for more power unless you're planning to tow trailers frequently.
Driving dynamics are at the top of the class thanks to the rear-wheel-drive architecture. Of course handling is a relative term when you're talking three-row crossovers, but I seriously want to drive the R/T model after experiencing how buttoned-down and solid the base Durango feels on off-ramps and country roads.

2011 Dodge Journey Lux AWD

May 10, 2011 / By: Amy Skogstrom, David Zenlea, Evan McCausland, Jennifer Misaros, Joe DeMatio, Matt Tierney, Phil Floraday, Rusty Blackwell / Photos by Matt Tierney
This was my first time behind the wheel of a Journey, so I didn't have the previous bad experience others have mentioned here, but I can confess that I EXPECTED to be disappointed. The over-the-top masculine Ram-derived exterior styling of this car (and its lookalike brethren Nitro and Caliber) has never done anything for me and I dreaded the plastic cabin within.
Boy was I wrong. This updated interior is NICE. Very nice. A handsome dash, with nice grains and details and a good layout, but the real impact came on the doors with their soft and luxuriously stitched inserts.
The touch-screen interface is attractive and reminiscent of Ford's MyTouch. I like that the basic controls for climate and stereo remain independent of the electronic screen, but burying the seat heater controls in the screen interface seems like a poor choice.
I also never realized this car had a third row until now. It simply didn't look that big. Once I reached home and parked next to my wife's Odyssey and realized it was nearly the same size did I notice how large the Journey really is.
And as I circled the car to get a better look at the size I started to notice that the exterior has been subtly improved all the way around. The bold Mango Tango orange paint and chrome wheels might be a bit much for me, but overall it was less objectionable than my first impression.
The Pentastar V-6/six-speed combo is familiar territory after the Chrysler minivans we've had through here of late, but it felt a bit more exciting propelling a less boxy vehicle.
For $35K, Dodge is offering two nicely equipped options for families on somewhat of a budget: this Journey and the Grand Caravan. It's up to the buyer to decide where they sit on the sporty/style versus family truckster/utility scale when choosing between these very well executed vehicles.

2011 Dodge Ram 3500 Laramie Longhorn Crew Cab 4x4

This is a lot of truck. Luckily, the Ram 3500 came equipped tow mirrors that were vertically convex such that the driver could see the edge of the dualie rear wheels. If those mirrors hadn't been there, I may have had to make a few apologies for flower beds and lawns along the streets of Ann Arbor.
For lunch, the web team took the Ram the A&W drive-in in Dexter, where the parking lot was filled with full-size pickup trucks of varying size. Most of the other drivers looked admiringly at the sage brush pearl Ram 3500, although the woman behind the wheel of a Silverado 2500 HD equipped with a Duramax diesel didn't even bat an eyelash. The Ram's large, flat interior surfaces (center armrest and upper dashboard) easily had more surface area than most apartment kitchen counters and worked very well as dining surfaces. Those surfaces are almost more luxuriously trimmed than most homes, with ash wood trim, premium leather swathed across most surfaces, and an intricate stitching design reminiscent of a tribal tattoo that was also repeated on the gauges.

The numbers say it all: this Ram 3500 is 22 feet long, weighs over three tons, produces 800 lb-ft of torque, and can tow up to 22,750 pounds. Never before have I driven such an enormous, overly capable vehicle. Of course, vehicles of this size are ill-suited for navigating an urban environment like Automobile Magazine's home of downtown Ann Arbor, Michigan. Just getting out of the parking lot was stressful. An awkward four-point turn allowed me to line up the Ram to squeeze through the exit gate, and I gently crept forward while checking that I wouldn't scrape the extra-wide rear fenders on any of the yellow concrete bollards. As I waited to pull out into traffic, the Ram blocked the sidewalk and several pedestrians gave me disgusted looks.
Out on the road, the convex towing mirrors are essential for judging whether the truck is between the lane lines. Although the Ram is massive, it's not as difficult to drive as I expected -- so long as you pay attention to the wide dualie rear wheels and large turning circle. The ride bounces and jiggles over almost every road surface, and the horrible blind spots had me worried that I'd run over a cyclist or a Honda Fit at every turn. My overall impression is that the Ram 3500 is too much truck for anything but a construction site. Unless you regularly need to tow giant loads, it just doesn't make sense to buy such an overbuilt truck.

I put the Ram 3500 to use towing my team's 1987 Volkswagen back from a 24 Hours of LeMons race. The car blew a head gasket during my stint (who knew the electric fan wasn't working?), and I was grateful to have such a capable truck to get it back home. Temperatures shot above 90 degrees over the weekend, but the Ram's interior remained comfortable thanks to the great air-conditioning and the cooled leather seats. We were especially grateful for that latter feature after pushing our non-running car -- with all of our spare parts inside -- onto the trailer.
The oversize trailer and race car full of spares probably weighs about 7000 pounds, and that was just enough of a load for the Ram to ride level. When the truck isn't loaded, the rear bumper is several inches higher than the front and the suspension is too stiff. With a modest trailer in tow, those problems were solved. The truck rode much more smoothly with some weight on the rear suspension and the 7000 extra pounds didn't tax the powertrain at all. Although Ram now has the power to compete with Ford and GM trucks, I think the GM trucks feel faster with an equivalent trailer. No matter which truck feels faster, all the domestic diesel pickups are more than capable enough to tow anything you can imagine. And now that they've all got exhaust brakes and integrated trailer-brake controllers, you can even stop the 20,000-plus-pound loads these trucks are capable of towing.
It's really incredible how far the Ram 3500 has come in the past few years. The interior has been best-in-class since this generation of truck debuted, but the diesel engine was down on power until this year. Now that there's the requisite 800 lb-ft of torque, heavy-duty pickup shoppers are out of reasons to head to a Ford dealer. As always, the pickup wars are going strong.

2012 Dodge Challenger SRT8 392

 The Challenger sure looks and sounds great, but don't expect to see much out of the slim greenhouse. But then again, that's not what this car is about -- it's about cruising, 0-to-60-mph sprints, and that addictive V-8 rumble. To keep the Challenger at the core of its intended use, stay away from the loafing sixth gear, even though, yes, you will average 20 mpg on the highway. Slip the pistol-grip shifter into fifth or even fourth gear at 70 mph and the reward is high-rpm fun as the 6.4-liter engine blares from the large dual exhausts. Expect many thumbs-up and many wrinkles from the smiles you can't wipe off your face.

About five minutes after I picked up the Challenger from a swanky hotel in Birmingham, Michigan, a girl driving a Pontiac G6 rolled down her window to profess her love: "Ohmigod, it's so hot! I love your car!" That made me like the SRT8 392 a lot. Then I merged onto the highway and discovered just how incredibly fast this car is. As in, break-the-speed-limit-on-the-entrance-ramp kind of fast. Dodge says this Challenger will run the quarter mile in less than 13 seconds and reach a top speed of 182 mph. For less than $50,000? That's an outrageous amount of straight-line performance for the money.
The Dodge Challenger really harks back to the "good old days" of muscle cars. Yes, it's a big, heavy car with poor visibility. The interior isn't anything to write home about. The engine lopes at idle, transmitting lumpy vibrations through the shifter and the clutch pedal. So for all those reasons, it's not actually a terribly good car. But if you work out the acceleration-per-dollar equation, the Challenger SRT8 392 suddenly seems like an excellent idea.

I feel a bit cheated that it rained the entire time I had the Challenger 392. This car has so much raw power that it's not a very good idea to test its abilities too aggressively on wet roads. That said, I still managed to enjoy some wheel spin and a few full-throttle upshifts. The best place for this Challenger, though, is a dry, sticky, well-lit drag strip, not a wet country road in the middle of the night.
Steering is quick, direct, and offers decent feel. The gearbox is not an exemplar of finesse, but it's fun to row when you're in the right mood. Overall, this SRT8 does a great impression of a vintage muscle car, from its looks to its sounds to its burly driving feel and heavy down-the-road comportment. The problem with that is that there are very few people who want such a driving experience in a modern car. It's like a vintage muscle car with poor outward visibility and decent fuel mileage.
From a design perspective, I love the big central reverse light as well as the red stripe highlighting the seat upholstery. I think I'd like this Challenger much better in a bright color reminiscent of the High Impact hues of yore, but Chrysler currently offers only two colors for this car: orange and red.

Despite looking like an old-school track car that took a wrong turn during a race in 1970, the Challenger is surprisingly refined and fairly easy to drive. The unusual rectangular shifter is a bit too tall aesthetically but it fits nicely in the hand and is its action is appropriately notchy with good weight. The clutch is probably the heaviest I've ever used but thankfully the travel is one of the shortest so it doesn't get fatiguing, even in stop-and-go traffic. I spent quite a long time on the highway with the Challenger and was impressed. The sixth gear makes for relaxed cruising and brings the Hemi growl down to a barely audible hum. A downshift to fifth -- or even fourth -- is necessary when the engine is called upon to produce even the slightest acceleration but it's a small price to pay for being able to hear the radio and carry on a conversation in a normal speaking volume.
The interior is a step below the Charger sedan in terms of style and quality but I prefer it to both the Mustang and the Camaro. Like those cars, the Charger's high beltline and sloping roofline make for bad visibility and funky ergonomics. Interestingly, though, the armrests -- generally mounted too high when compensating for a tall door -- are strangely low. Even stranger, the door handles, placed below the too-low armrests, are at about knee height. After driving the Challenger for an entire weekend, I still searched for the door handle for several seconds every time I tried to exit the car.

To my eyes, the exterior styling is a little too retro but it has tons of presence and I find it hard to deny the allure of racing stripes. It may be the red-headed stepchild of the muscle car trifecta but I find it more appealing as a package than the Camaro or the Mustang.

When it comes to the modern American muscle car, the Ford Mustang is my preferred pony. But in 2011, Dodge made a number of improvements to the Challenger that have given this car much more appeal. The massive 6.4-liter V-8 steals all the headlines, but it's only the start of the changes. Engineers made significant modifications to the suspension with new dampers and revised geometry. The effect is that the formerly floaty ride has flattened out without any tangible compromise in ride quality. The steering ratio was also quickened and the hydraulic power assist was retuned. These chassis changes are what allowed me to rate the Challenger ahead of the Camaro. It doesn't hurt that there's also another 45 hp and 50 lb-ft of torque from the new engine. My only gripe is that the sport button seems to do absolutely nothing. No change in traction control, or throttle progression, or steering weight. [It only changes the damping rates and, in automatic transmission cars, the shift quality.] Then you realize that a fiddly electronic button isn't going to do anything to change the character of this 470-hp American muscle car. And that's just fine by me.
Eric Tingwall, Associate Editor

With the Dodge Challenger SRT8, what you see (and hear) is what you get. This really is a good old-fashioned muscle car, with a burbling V-8, a long hood, great straight-line speed, and extroverted styling. There's nothing reticent about this vehicle, and the more aggressively you drive it, the better it responds. This is not a car that would normally appeal to me, but then again, this is not a car that is being marketed to middle-aged women. But for those who want a modern version of the American muscle car of their youth, this Challenger, especially with the 6.4-liter Hemi V-8, offers a pretty tempting package.
Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor

Like more and more high-performance cars these days, the Challenger SRT8 allows owners to see how well they do in performance-driving situations. Two little digital checkered flags flank a readout at the bottom of the speedometer binnacle to give you 1/8-mile time, 1/4-mile time, braking distances, longitudinal and latitudinal g-forces, and the like. So, everybody can feel like a NASCAR driver on track day. Hey, what's the point of having 470 hp and 470 lb-ft of torque if you cannot measure what you've done with it?
NASCAR drivers don't have to deal with the huge, somewhat phallic gearshift lever, which is canted forward and sharply angled to the left, nor with the V-8's heavy flywheel. It's real work to shift this car smoothly and quickly, but when you do, you feel like you're really driving, not just operating a motor vehicle.

2012 Dodge Charger SXT Plus - Four Seasons Introduction

REVIEWS:  From the January, 2012 issue of Automobile MagazineThe Dodge Charger exists in a class of one. Its attitude, style, and rear-wheel drive distance it from an otherwise bland segment defined by the unexceptional Ford Taurus, Chevy Impala, and Toyota Avalon. As much as we respect the Charger's swagger, though, we could never get past its less compelling traits -- tired six-cylinder engines, sluggish transmissions, and a dour interior.
With the 2011 redesign, Dodge moved to address every major complaint we'd levied against the previous Charger. The interior achieves unseen levels of quality for a Chrysler product with a dual-gloss dashboard, genuine aluminum trim, and a crisp, 8.4-inch touch screen. The new 3.6-liter V-6 measures up to the competition with 292 hp. Perhaps most critically, the five-speed automatic can be replaced with an optional eight-speed -- the same ZF-supplied gearbox found in many BMWs and Audis. The Charger's comprehensive revitalization was as surprising as the entire Chrysler Group's rapid resurgence, and at our annual awards test, the big sedan sauntered away with one of ten All-Stars.
Curious if American machismo can truly co-exist with sophisticated manners, we ordered a 2012 Charger for a yearlong evaluation. Starting with the $31,420 SXT Plus netted the six-cylinder engine paired with the eight-speed automatic, plus passive entry and push-button start; heated, power adjustable, Nappa leather seats; heated and cooled cup holders; heated second-row seats; satellite radio; and the touch-screen infotainment unit. We added adaptive cruise control, a heated steering wheel, navigation, a backup camera, and the $1495 blacktop package, which includes sport bucket seats, a nine-speaker stereo, paddle shifters, a sport suspension, and 20-inch gloss-black wheels, bringing the total to $34,835.
That our imposing, monochromatic Charger has the presence of a police cruiser hasn't escaped us. We're hoping the paint scheme will improve our chances to fly both under the proverbial radar and past the very real radar gun. Within a week of its arrival, the Charger was already returning results; a Detroit police officer approached our illegally double-parked Charger, not to ticket it, but thinking that its driver, West Coast editor Jason Cammisa, was one of his own. (Quite the opposite, sir.)
Back in Ann Arbor, the Charger has been reminding our staff that it wasn't an imposter among our All-Star winners. "I was pleased by the superb Bluetooth interface and the touch-screen navigation system," reported deputy editor Joe DeMatio after his first drive. "The driver's seat seems really comfortable, so it will be interesting to see if it stands up to a long trip," he added.
The new gearbox has also set about erasing the reputation established by the Chrysler transmissions we were driving just half a year earlier. "The shifts from the eight-speed aren't as crisp or as quick as those from the same gearbox in a German luxury car," noted senior editor Joe Lorio, "but they're much better timed and more precise than what you got with the reluctant five-speed. The three additional cogs also address the issue we experienced with our long-term Jeep Grand Cherokee, that there wasn't an appropriate gear for highway passing maneuvers."
While we love that the Charger's styling is as bold as ever, the road manners have evolved into something much more civilized. We're eager to see if the grown-up Charger will last twelve months without revealing a single old habit that could be lurking beneath the surface.

Dodge Grand Caravan

In the Automobile Magazine letters mailbox, there is a certain genre of complaint that I'd characterize as, "Why don't you guys get real?" The theme is that we're a bunch of out-of-touch hedonists who spend our days driving Pagani Huayras up the side of the Matterhorn with Scarlett Johansson riding shotgun. And while that's a great idea, now that I mention it, it does behoove us every now and then to dip a toe into the cold bath of reality. Well, how about driving a Dodge minivan to Atlantic City? And after that, how about off-roading in rural Pennsylvania? Is that real enough for you? It's as real as the 1000 percent of the recommended daily allowance of sodium in a bag of truck-stop beef jerky, my friend.

We depart Boston early on a Friday morning, gunning for a date with Atlantic City -- after a detour to see if we can talk the Man Van onto the track at New Jersey Motorsports Park. This isn't my first meathead road trip to Atlantic City, as I and a different band of cohorts once made the trip in my grandparents' hand-me-down 1985 Cadillac Seville, which at one point ran out of gas with an indicated two gallons remaining in the tank. That wasn't as bad as the other thing that happened, which is that someone walked into the wrong bedroom one night and tried to climb into bed with a nun. (It's a long story about why we were bunking in the same house as a nun.) The bottom line is that there are many ways in which a trip to New Jersey can go awry, regardless of whether anyone bed- invades a servant of the Lord.
Thus, I'm pleased that the first leg of our trip is mercifully uneventful. When you have to cover 353 miles in one of the most crowded traffic corridors in the country, a minivan is the right tool for the job. Although, admittedly, I'd rather be in back, where Elliot is dealing blackjack while Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure plays on the flip-down DVD screen. Since I'm stuck behind the wheel, the others have to answer my barrage of questions about the unseen movie. "Was their band called 'Wild Stallions,' spelled 'w-y-l-d'?" I ask. "Yeah," Jimmy replies. "They just showed the logo. Also, they spelled 'stallions' with a 'y-n-s' at the end." It turns out that Keanu Reeves' acting is horrible even when you can't see it.
By early afternoon, we arrive at New Jersey Motorsports Park to some good news and some bad news. The good news is that we can probably score some track time late in the day, when members are packing up. The bad news is that we have a couple hours to kill. This gives us time to wander around the pits and see if anyone here has the courage to challenge a Grand Caravan R/T out on the road course. The "T" stands for "track," you know.
We find a likely candidate in Jim Scheckter, owner of Ultimate Track Rentals. As the title implies, his business is renting track time in serious machinery. He's got a Nissan GT-R here today, but my eye is drawn to a more rudimentary piece of machinery: a Dodge Charger R/T. Scheckter's R/T is possibly a little bit faster than ours, in that his is an 850-hp NASCAR Car of Tomorrow. Facilitating the fantasy Mopar showdown we've all been asking for, Scheckter agrees to put the Charger up against the Caravan at the end of the day.
Meanwhile, I also corral Rob Fini of Performance Information Technologies and convince him that the Grand Caravan needs full data-acquisition capabilities for our hot laps. By the time the track is open, the van is wired with Race-Keeper video, GPS, and OBD-II data-recording equipment (see sidebar below). I figure there's no point in using a minivan to challenge a stock car on a road course if you can't quantify your average rpm afterward.
Shortly thereafter, we're charging down the straight at 100 mph, just four guys wearing helmets and riding in a minivan that's being pursued by a full-race stock car on a fast road course. A real-world situation, just like I promised.
I'm surprised to find that the Caravan actually holds together on the track. With 283 hp and a six-speed automatic, the Man Van has some punch, particularly in the tightly spaced first three gears. The stability control system stays out of the way, the brakes resist fading, and the transmission responds to manual downshifts without second-guessing. As for that special R/T suspension, the Caravan can be induced to rotate a bit with a sudden lift of the throttle and a violent yank of the wheel. Sure, the low-rolling-resistance tires are grip-averse (strangely, they're both narrower and higher-profile than the rubber on non-R/T Caravans), but I'm sure most R/T buyers will probably go straight for a set of track-compound Michelin Pilot Sport Cups after the ol' Kumhos wear out.
After three laps, there's smoke billowing off the front brakes and my passengers look decidedly green. Jimmy reports that high-g maneuvers caused him to hit the door-mounted seat-heater button with his knee. I hope Dodge addresses this potentially devastating ergonomic flaw. As for the Charger, it seems like he can pull me on the straights. But does he have a heated steering wheel? No. And I do. So I'll call that one a draw.
By the time we make it to Atlantic City, night has fallen and we're exhausted. I'd anticipated an evening of debauchery, but ten hours in the car has a way of dulling one's ambitions. Wings at Hooters followed by some light gambling? Sounds great. We sit down at a $15 blackjack table at the Tropicana and Graham is dealt an eighteen. "I'll double down," he says. He goes on to win $50 while I lose my pile of chips within ten minutes. It's fair to say that I'll never develop a gambling addiction, because that would require winning sometimes.
The next morning, our bleary-eyed crew piles back into the Dodge. We have three hours of driving to get from Atlantic City to our ultimate destination: the headquarters of Legendary Excursions in Tremont, Pennsylvania. Legendary operates a 3000-acre off-road park that includes a two-mile high-speed dune-buggy course. Buggies await, if we can get there on time.


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