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Modified Kia Sorento SUVs are ready to adventure

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Kia has unveiled a pair of customized Sorento SUVs specifically designed to show the brand’s focus on adventure, capability, and trail readiness. The first is the Sorento Yosemite that was intended to explore high elevation locations and mountain living. It’s covered in a Pine Green matte finish with gloss and matte black accents.

Kia’s other custom vehicle is the Sorento Zion Edition aimed at rolling over dunes in a desert landscape. It’s painted in a Desert Sand finish with gloss black accents. The vehicles were customized by LGE-CTE Motorsports in California, and their names came from the outdoor environments found in the national parks around America.

Other than the colors and the landscapes that are meant to tackle, they have some common features. Both have custom fender flares on top of 20-inch wheels and 32-inch all-train tires. They’re both equipped with body armor, including skid plates and brush guards in satin chrome finish. The Yosemite edition has a roof rack for packing gear, and the Zion Edition has a full-length cargo top.

The customized vehicles are built on the Sorento X-Line and feature 8.3-inch ride height with advanced all-wheel-drive and other new additions. Both vehicles were unveiled during Kia’s virtual national dealer meeting this week. The automaker admits that most Sorento buyers will never customize their vehicles to this extent, but they wanted to show what could be done with their SUVs.

Kia is offering a range of post-installed and dealer-installed accessories for the Sorento. The goal is to give buyers the ability to customize the vehicle to fit their lifestyle and needs with roof rack cross bars, tow hitches, and sidesteps. Kia will begin shipping the 2021 Sorento this month.

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It’s only a matter of time before the Mach-E is Ford’s fastest Mustang

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Ford has a new, faster Mustang Mach-E in the pipeline, and if your lodestar is the quickest vehicle with a pony badge then the electric crossover may end up being your port of call. The Mustang Mach-E GT Performance Edition doesn’t quite slot in as the big daddy of the Mustang range, but it’s definitely putting its coupe and convertible brethren on notice.

The Performance Edition does pretty much exactly what the name suggests. Ford will start with the regular Mustang Mach-E GT, and then dial in more torque from the electric all-wheel drive (e-AWD) system. The result is 634 lb-ft, up from 600 lb-ft in the standard GT.

Horsepower stays the same, at 480 hp, but it’s still enough to cut the 0-60 mph time from 3.8 seconds – per Ford’s estimates for the upcoming production GT – to 3.5 seconds.

Those are impressive numbers for a crossover, and indeed impressive numbers for anything Ford sells with a Mustang badge. The discontinued Mustang Shelby GT350, for example, did 0-60 in 3.9 seconds. Ford’s current flagship of the range, the Shelby GT500, does it in 3.3 seconds.

It doesn’t seem too far-fetched to imagine future Mustang Mach-E models nudging past that level of performance, then. After all, if you compare “GT” to “GT” then the Mustang GT’s 5.0-liter V8 falls short on both torque and horsepower compared to its Mustang Mach-E GT cousin. That’s before we’ve seen the Mustang Shelby Mach-E you have to assume Ford Performance have been working on.

The writing has arguably been on the wall for internal-combustion sports cars for some time now, of course. Though potent gas engines are still the mainstay of performance cars, the instantaneous torque of EVs has clear advantages. If there’s been a downside it’s the shortcomings of battery technology when faced with demanding electric motors: the Mustang Mach-E GT Performance Edition, for example, trims the estimated range from 250 miles in the regular GT crossover EV, to 235 miles.

Indeed it’s battery chemistry, rather than electric potential, that seems to be the bottleneck. The Mustang Mach-E 1400 – with seven electric motors and a ridiculous 1,400 horsepower – is evidence of just what can be done when excess is the goal, and just how rapidly you can drain batteries in the process. Ford Performance’s answer was to make it faster to charge rather than try to pack in more capacity, though the special track-side charger isn’t really a feasible option for regular EVs. The Mustang Mach-E GT Performance Edition tops out at the same 150 kW DC fast charging as the standard GT does.

Ford never intended to put the Mach-E 1400 into production. What it does see as the electric behemoth’s role – beyond acting as a halo car for EVs in general – is to experiment with different configurations of motor in the pursuit of performance. “Mustang Mach-E 1400 is a showcase of the art of the possible with an electric vehicle,” Mark Rushbrook, motorsports director at Ford Performance, said back in July when the supercar-crushing crossover was shown off officially for the first time.

Right now, the Mustang Mach-E GT Performance Edition takes a fairly straightforward approach to its bump in potency. No extra motors beyond the two in the GT already – certainly a far cry from the Mach-E 1400’s three motors at the front and four at the rear – and a clear attempt to balance a push for speed with not sacrificing too much range. Other automakers have plans for three and even four motor EVs, however, and it’s not hard to imagine Ford doing something similar.

Ford will offer the Performance Edition as an optional upgrade for Mustang Mach-E GT reservation-holders when the order books open in spring 2021. It’s unclear just how many people it expects to add the option and take the range hit, and Ford hasn’t said how it’ll impact the regular GT’s $60,500 starting price (before incentives). Still, with speed the big appeal for many GT buyers, it’s hard to imagine too many of them saying no.

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2022 Acura MDX reveal date confirmed – What to expect

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Acura is on a roll right now, with the unexpectedly-capable 2021 TLX under its belt, and now we know when the next big launch, the 2022 Acura MDX, is taking place. The automaker’s three-row SUV is already one of its most important vehicles, but with this fourth-generation update it’s set to double-down on the concept of pairing rewarding dynamics with plenty of space.

We’ve already seen some heavy hints of what Acura has in mind. The MDX Prototype shown off in October gave a thinly-veiled preview of the upcoming production SUV, with bolder creases, a more muscular body, and high-end detailing.

At the front, the MDX Prototype featured the Diamond Pentagon grille and JewelEye LED headlamps that Acura launched with its head-turning concepts over the past few years. It’s also a bigger car, with a longer dash-to-axle distance to emphasize the hood, and a stretched wheelbase for more cabin space.

The engineering tidbits Acura dropped for the MDX Prototype should be carried over to the 2022 MDX, too. That means a new light-truck platform, with double wishbone front suspension on the MDX line for the first time. Fourth-generation Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) will, unsurprisingly, be available too, with torque vectoring for the rear wheels.

Under the hood there’ll be a 3.5-liter VTEC V6 engine, paired with a 10-speed automatic transmission. No word on power figures there, yet. Inside, there’ll be more space and an uptick in both quality and technology, Acura promises. The prototype had more room in all three rows, along with new sports seats with integrated massage, Milano leather with French stitched detailing, and an ultra-wide panoramic moonroof covering all three rows overhead.

The analog gauges are gone, with a 12.3-inch fully digital instrument binnacle in their place. Another 12.3-inch screen sits in the center console for infotainment duties; it’s the interface for a new “Signature Edition” ELS STUDIO 3D premium audio system as well, boasting 22 channels, 25 speakers, and 1,000+ watts of power. Figure on plenty of active safety tech as well, including the multi-segment front passenger airbag that made its debut on the 2021 TLX.

Perhaps most exciting is the promise of an even more potent version. The MDX Type S will follow on in summer 2021, Acura says, and be the first such sports SUV that the automaker offers. It’ll have a special 3.0-liter turbocharged V6, good for 355 hp and 354 lb-ft of torque, and come with SH-AWD as standard.

We’ll see the 2022 Acura MDX officially on December 8, with a livestream kicking off from 11:30am PST. It’s due to arrive in dealerships from early 2021, meanwhile.

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Waymo is building a new replica city to test its driverless tech

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Waymo is opening two new autonomous vehicle facilities, including a dense urban playground for its self-driving passenger cars as they refine their human-replacing technology. The Alphabet-owned company, spun out from Google’s labs, currently operates a ride-hailing program in Phoenix, AZ, Waymo One, but has visions of far broader applications for driverless cars and trucks.

Waymo One recently came out of closed beta, offering app-summoned rides in a self-driving vehicle around a geofenced area. At the wheel is the Waymo Driver, the company’s name for its autonomous driving technology – including software and hardware – which it plans to apply not only to taxi-alternatives but Class 8 trucks, too.

Both of those concepts will now have a new place for research, development, and testing. First up, Waymo is working with the Transportation Research Center (TRC) in East Liberty, Ohio, to open a brand new testing environment for the Waymo Driver. It’ll be built according to Waymo’s specific requirements for its autonomous vehicles, and allow for testing rare or more dangerous events that are uncommonly seen on public roads.

“This new testing facility will model a dense urban environment and enable us to test longtail challenges you might never encounter on public roads as we continue to advance the fifth-generation Waymo Driver,” the company said today, “our most advanced software and hardware (including lidar, cameras, and radar) yet.”

Waymo will also use TRC’s other facilities, including its truck testing tracks. That’s part of the company’s focus on replacing human drivers in semi-trucks for haulage, with the Waymo Driver set to be at the heart of new autonomous trucks in a collaboration with industry heavyweight Daimler. The goal there is production driverless trucks – based on the Freightliner Cascadia – on sale in the US “in the coming years.”

Focusing on that goal specifically, a new R&D facility for trucking will be opening in Menlo Park, CA. It’ll move into the new location early in the new year, and allow Waymo space not only to refine the fifth-generation Waymo Driver on Class 8 trucks, but provide space for its fleet of test vehicles and the team working on them.

This isn’t the first time Waymo has used closed-course testing, mind. The company already has a 91 acre city mock-up, at Castle Air Force base in Merced, CA, which includes a variety of setups including suburbs and high-speed highways. There, it can run repeated trials on specific challenges – such as dealing safety with railroad crossings or roundabouts – at a much more rapid pace than out on public roads.

The TRC partnership, however, will add to that with a number of advantages. Given the location, it’ll introduce different weather types: much more rain and snow, particularly. Since autonomous vehicle sensors can be challenged by reduced visibility and other conditions, that’s an important area of testing. Waymo is also taking advantage of the proximity to Waymo Detroit, in Novi, MI, for easier transportation of newly Driver-equipped vehicles to the test site.

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