Manuals endure at BMW M, Benz’s audiophile interior, Corolla Hybrid family grows
Manuals will stick around in BMW M products until 2030
Intake: Row-your-own gearboxes will remain on the menus of BMW’s highest-performance products until at least the end of the decade. Speaking with media at a the BMW M Festival at the Kyalami Grand Prix circuit in South Africa, BMW M Boss Frank van Meel made it clear that the clutch pedal still has a place in the M division’s lineup, according to a report from CarBuzz. “The manual is unfortunately not so widespread anymore,” says van Meel. “It’s more in the segment of the M2 and M3, and the M4. And for those cars, we continue offering the manual, and those cars will run for a long time until the end of this decade.” BMW just revealed a second-gen M2 last week, and the manual gearbox is a no-cost option there. So long as customers keep asking for three pedals, van Meel says that BMW will supply them. Timo Resch, BMW M’s vice president of customer, brand, and sales, adds that the manual hasn’t always been a shoo-in, particularly when it came to convincing the BMW M engineering team. Modern automatics and dual-clutch gearboxes are faster lap-over-lap than their manual counterparts, but that hasn’t stopped clients from opting for the slower, more engaging driving experience. “We said that’s what our customers asked for,” said Resch. “And we really actively listened to our customers, to our fan base. The fans asked for it. They got it.”
Exhaust: There’s more to a driving experience than just raw pace, even on track. Driving a manual-equipped car well is a whole-body tango, and getting it right is one of the best feelings. Note that BMW’s biggest sedans—the M5 and the M8—will be auto-only. This is only a mild bummer, since both of these beasts hew more towards continent-smashing GT car than they do apex predator. Fine by us, so long as the smaller M machinery still gets it for a while yet. — Nathan Petroelje
Jeep adds all-wheel drive to the Euro electric Avenger
Intake: The Avengers are assembling. Having recently unveiled its Europe-only compact electric SUV, Jeep has taken the wraps off a more rugged 4×4 version. It’s been dubbed a concept, but the show car looks ready for the road (and some light trail work). Jazzed up with tow hooks, wider bumpers and track, plus more off-road-focused tires, thicker underbody protection, and extra lighting, the Avenger 4×4 is essentially a mobile advert for the accessories catalog. More importantly the ground clearance has been hiked to almost eight inches, while the approach angle is now 21 degrees, the departure angle is 34, degrees and the breakover angle is 20 degrees. Jeep hasn’t revealed any figures showing how adding an extra motor impacts the Avenger’s 250-mile claimed range.
Exhaust: Jeep has committed to becoming an electric-only brand in Europe by 2030 and the Avenger 4×4 is another step towards achieving its “mission of Zero Emission Freedom.” The Renegade, Compass and Grand Cherokee are already sold as hybrids with the Wrangler the last remaining ICE-only model for the Old Continent, and its time is running out. —Nik Berg
Mercedes-Benz amps up with a special, Spatial Audio system
Intake: Mercedes-Benz cars will now offer several layers of audiophile-grade perfection, wrapped up like a croissant: Apple Music’s Spatial Audio, paired with Dolby Atmos engineering, and one of two Burmester audio systems to bathe your luxurious cabin in out-of-this-world sound. Spatial Audio “gives artists the opportunity to create immersive audio experiences” for connoisseurs, and this is the first application in a vehicle. Mercedes-Benz touts that “76% of car drivers say that having a realistic spatial sound is either ‘important’ or ‘rather important’ to them” and this partnership between hardware, software, artistic content, and user experience is aimed to that demographic.
Exhaust:Who knows (or cares) about the loudness wars? Artists have been bullied into making louder, sonically compromised songs for decades now, and I truly hope this technology is a bellwether for both diversity and creativity in post production. Because if Apple (sorry Spotify fans, you’re out of luck) Dolby, Burmester, and Mercedes-Benz can make it work, perhaps it will trickle down to the JBL Audio system in a 1990 Ford Thunderbird. A vintage audiophile snob can dream, right? — Sajeev Mehta
Hybrid ups power, lowers mpg across 2023 Corolla range
Intake: Toyota is bolstering the Corolla Hybrid lineup with an all-wheel-drive option and more trims for 2023. The 2023 Corolla Hybrid will be available in the following trims: LE, LE AWD, SE, SE AWD, and XLE. That’s four additional models that can be spec’ed with a battery-aided drivetrain, versus just one—the LE FWD—in 2022. That hybrid system is more powerful for 2023, too; a 1.8-liter Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder pairs with a lithium-ion battery pack and two electric motors to produce 134 hp (up from 121) and 156 lb-ft of torque (up from 146). The AWD variant will use a separate electric motor mounted on the rear axle that can spin the rear wheels to stabilize the car in slippery terrain or get a better launch. All Corolla Hybrid models will get an 8-inch touchscreen as standard for the infotainment system. The SE Hybrid will feature a special Infrared edition, which will get the gas-only SE’s sportier suspension and heavier-weighted electronic power-steering, as well as a host of red interior and exterior accents. Pricing for the Corolla Hybrid starts at $23,895 ($1250 cheaper than the ‘22 MY) and climbs to $27,695 for the SE AWD or the XLE.
Exhaust: Toyota’s engineers must have realized that the Corolla Hybrid was long on efficiency, and short on shove, because the 2023 model year car returns marginally worse fuel economy (47 mpg combined for FWD, 44 mpg combined for AWD) than the ’22 MY hybrid (52 mpg combined). That said, this is still a remarkably efficient compact car. Toyota’s decision to bolster the hybrid lineup with a few more levels of content seems like a smart one. — Nathan Petroelje
Peek inside Volvo’s posh, electric SUV
Intake: Volvo, like so many other luxury car manufacturers, is on an electrification quest. The pint-size XC40 Recharge may be a handy urban runabout, but Volvo needs a big, plush SUV to crown its lineup. Enter the EX90, an all-electric SUV that we’re glimpsing bit by bit ahead of its reveal next month. (Been keeping up with Polestar recently? Volvo’s sibling, under parent Geely, unveiled its first SUV last week, and the 3 rides on the same platform as the EX90 will. Expect similar levels of Google integration.) The latest tidbits are a few photos of the SUV’s interior, which will offer wool-blend fabric upholstery and authentic, cool-toned wood panels. Volvo emphasizes the sustainability of the wool option over leather, but we expect the EX90 to offer some sustainable type of hide when the vehicle comes to market. If you’re interested in the EV, add the word “Nordico” to your lexicon: It’s yet another upholstery option made from recycled synthetic materials, such as plastic bottles, and organic ones from responsibly managed forests in Sweden and Finland.
Exhaust: If you prefer minimalist luxury, rather than Mercedes’ or BMWs’ max-attack schtick, Volvo’s style is hard to beat. Its current interiors boast our favorite stereos and chairs in the sub-$100K range, so we’ll hold this range-topping SUV to a high standard. — Grace Houghton