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4FOCUS – A look at new car tech innovations

By autotech-nath on August 19, 2023

MAZDA MX-30 E-SKYACTIV R-EV – ROTARY ENGINE RANGE EXTENDER

Before you exclaim, ‘Oh no, not another boring plug-in hybrid SUV,” consider that Mazda is cultivating its reputation of doing things a little differently. Indeed, you would have seen the suicide-doored all-electric MX-30 before. Debuting in 2020 as Mazda’s first all-electric car, this SUV was developed with typical conservative Japanese reasoning. Recognising that big batteries are polluting, expensive and heavy, Mazda equipped the MX-30 with smaller, lighter power packs, to preserve the value and crisp handling for which Mazdas are renowned. Yet, this decision was also the car’s Achilles’ heel. While adequate performance and unimpressive top speed can be overlooked, the all-important range of a paltry 124 miles cannot.

This makes the range-extender model even more important for the company. A little over a decade has passed, since the last rotary ‘Wankel’ engine ceased production with the Mazda RX-8 sports car. Now, it is back, although the new unit powers not the wheels but a generator that recharges the battery pack. Therefore, the MX-30’s drive remains all-electric.

Compared to the old Renesis engine from the RX-8, the MX-30 e-Skyactiv R-EV possesses a single rotor of 830cc, compared to the old sports car’s twin rotor’s 1308cc. While this helps to reduce weight, Mazda has shaved a further 15kgs by producing the side casing from aluminium, rather than cast iron.

The rotary engine’s compact dimensions mean that Mazda has managed to slot the combined combustion engine and generator next to the combined high-voltage motor, inverter, DC-DC converter and junction box beneath the bonnet. To make space for the 11-gallon (50 litres) fuel tank to the rear,
Mazda has reduced the battery size from 35.5kW to 17.8kW. This has reduced the electric-only range from 124 to 53 miles but at least the occupants are not left stranded, should the battery packs become discharged completely.

VOLKSWAGEN ID BUZZ, INTELLIGENT ASSISTANCE SYSTEMS – TRAVEL ASSIST

Boasting decent crash performance is not a prerequisite for a high Euro NCAP rating any more. This is one reason why carmakers have festooned their models with ADAS equipment to delight,
surprise, assist and irritate both drivers and technicians alike. With Volkswagen introducing a 21st-century retro homage to its bus (naturally all-electric), it also features the latest in technology that
merges ADAS with connectivity. As reported in AT before, the Volkswagen Group has invested heavily in both swarm technologies (where cars communicate with each other) and its hazard information service, which verifies and augments locally-gathered information with digital data from other sources.

According to Volkswagen, once Travel Assist is specified as an optional feature, the vehicle is not only kept in a lane (i.e. Lane Assist) and maintains a distance from the vehicle in front (i.e. Distance Cruise) but it also keeps to within a driver-selected speed limit. Additionally, Travel Assist adapts to the driver’s driving style, meaning that it can position the vehicle further left or right in the lane, not just in the centre. Travel Assist features a cornering assist function, too, where the vehicle speed can be adapted to valid speed limits and considers road features (such as bends) or furniture (including roundabouts et al).

FORD RANGER RAPTOR – FOX LIVE DAMPERS

Adjustable dampers are hardly novel but the typical technician that likes to take a cursory look inside wheel arches might be interested to witness such sophistication being applied to a pick-up truck. As we know, the Ford Motor Company has pretty much given up building motorcars, preferring to focus (pun intended) on more profitable off- road vehicles and SUVs. Even so, its range-topping Ranger Raptor is anything but basic. Introduced last year, the twin- turbo 3.0-litre V6 petrol engine produces 288PS. With such considerable power available, the chassis and suspension have been beefed up to cope.

Aside from new aluminium upper and lower control arms and a refined rear-end Watt’s link, the trick dampers are produced by Fox Factory Holdings of California. Compared to those of the previous-generation Raptor, these dampers rely not on gas but oil, which is Teflon-infused to reduce internal friction by 50%. One of the main internal features is an internal bypass Live Valve system that controls oil flow. As the long-travel pistons within the dampers are compressed, the bypass circuity possesses different zones to provide the required support, resulting in superior on-road comfort and off-road ride quality both at high and low speeds. To help protect the dampers from bottoming out, the FOX dampers provide maximum damping force in the last 25% of piston travel. With so much power on demand, the dampers are stiffened to prevent the Ranger Raptor’s rear from squatting and its front from rising under heavy acceleration.

While the damper hardware is supplied by FOX, the tuning and development work was carried out by Ford’s in-house performance division. This includes selecting and adjusting the spring rates to set the ride height, valve tuning and honing the different ride zones. In doing so, Ford claims to have created the perfect balance between comfort, control, stability and traction both in on-and off-road conditions.

BMW 223I ACTIVE TOURER (MILD HYBRID) – 48V 2CT

Twin Clutch automated manuals (2CT) are familiar to numerous technicians. Many independent garages are familiar with the Volkswagen Group’s applications, most of which are called DSG. Other companies have produced similar versions, such as Ford’s notorious Powershift. Yet, some companies are looking to the 2CT to provide a mild hybrid capability.

As many technicians know, the main differences between low-and-high voltage hybrids are that low-voltage variants (i.e. those under 48 volts) cannot be propelled under electric power alone. This definition held until last year, when Magna made its 48-volt hybrid transmission available to carmakers. This seven-speed unit utilises a pair of wet clutches, with an electric motor that is combined within the transmission case, which does not require a separate clutch.

BMW was one of the first manufacturers to use this transmission. Inherited from the MINI and the
BMW 1-series, the 2-series’ transverse front-wheel-drive running gear is seen by many enthusiasts as not being a pure BMW, something that the driving experience confirms. Apart from the badge, there was little to recommend it. However, the second- generation car was made available from its launch last year with a mild hybrid unit, using the Magna 2CT gearbox. As far as AT can establish, the dowdy 2-series is the first mild-hybrid that can move under all-electric power, at least in the UK market.

Even so, Magna 2CT featured on other models, within a few months of the 223i’s launch, most notably, those from Stellantis. Hybrid versions of the Jeep Renegade/Compass e-Hybrid, plus the Fiat 500 X and Tipo mild hybrid models also share the BMW 2-series’ advantage of being sub 48-volts with very limited EV-only motion. While Magna states that it has signed a multi-programme agreement with Stellantis, it appears that the latest mild-hybrid 48v 6-speed 2CT that has just been introduced in the Peugeot 3008 and 5008 models are not Magna transmissions. Therefore, technicians should be aware that mild-hybrid propulsion does not comprise a belt-driven starter/alternator solely any longer.

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