The Toyota Prius Prime Is the Future Car of the Past

“Prius Prime?” my 13-year-old snarked. “That's like the name of the worst Transformer ever.”

“Actually, it’s a plug-in electric hybrid,” I said.

But the kid wouldn’t let it go.

“Hey I’m Prius Prime,” he said, “and my power is to transform into a Prius. How awesome.”

He was right. The Prius Prime is pretty much a Prius that, via an electric plug, transforms into a slightly better Prius. It has some charming design quirks, weird windows and dystopian future-ish headlights, not to mention an interior center stack that looks like it was taken from a pile of Imperial Stormtrooper wardrobe extras. Ten years ago, it would have been the most amazing, most futuristic car ever. And therein lies its problem.

Toyota officially launched the Prius Prime last week in California. Everything about the Prime (which I guess I have to call it, like it’s some sort of tasty hybrid steak) seemed to be improved over the last time Prius deigned to offer a plug-in hybrid, in 2012. That car was weak tea, barely available, that embarrassed itself in a market it could have won. This car presents a much better menu—but it’s also being introduced in a much bigger, more futuristic market.

When the last plug-in Prius came out four years ago, Tesla had barely begun its electric assault on the senses and on the marketplace. No one, other than a few cranks, was seriously talking about self-driving cars. Uber and Lyft were just starting to expand. And yet the Prius still paled in comparison to beatable competition like the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt.

Now we’re rapidly approaching a new automotive age, but Toyota, despite significant updates, still seems to be working with a lag. For instance, the Prime, at its higher trims, offers an 11.6-inch center LED screen, a shipboard computer like what we’re seeing in Volvos and elsewhere. “Didn’t Tesla beat you to the punch on that?” someone asked the vehicle’s chief engineer at the launch.

“We thought of it six years ago,” the engineer replied. “We just couldn’t get it into the car until now.”

The Prius Prime is the car of the future of the past. It has a lot of charm, like sci-fi movies of the early 1970s did. But that’s a lot different than original Prius, which, when it came out in the late '90s, literally seemed like it had landed from another galaxy. Now, Toyota seems to have much more earthly ambitions.

As far as I can tell, the car of the future will mostly comprised of three basic elements: Electrification, automation, and non-ownership. That may hard to imagine in a world where texting drivers in SUVs are mowing us down at a rapid pace, but it’s almost certainly coming. So how does the Prime, a beep-booping R2D2 of a car if ever there were one, meet the future’s demands?

ELECTRIFICATION

The Prime gets about 25 miles to a charge, which takes about two and a half hours at a 240-volt outlet. That’s good if you have a short commute, and even better if you have a workplace that allows EV charging. But these days, with pure EVs promising up to 300 miles range, it’s hardly a reason to genuflect. I drove the Prime 120 or so miles, a decent test range, and it averaged 53 MPG. Who wouldn’t want to get gas mileage like that? Still, my 2013 Prius, an inferior vehicle in most respects, gets 47 MPG. When I asked the Prius engineer if the car would ever go fully electric, he said, “we think that the combustion engine is better.” That’s something I’ve heard from Toyota engineers before. They’re willing to push for better hybridization, but not, seemingly, one step beyond.

NON-OWNERSHIP

This car is priced to move. Toyota offers a solid mid-range Prius Prime package, including the 11-inch center-stack tech, for $28,100. The EV charge is just big enough so that a buyer qualifies for $4,000 tax credit, plus an extra two grand and change if they live in a state that isn’t run by troglodytes. Let’s say you have a decent trade-in car, valued at $10,000. Then, suddenly, you’re looking at 12 grand to buy a brand-new Prius. Those are Crazy Eddie, everything-must-go rates. We may have reached a point, with ride sharing and car-sharing and some Mr. Rogers-style sharing that I haven’t even heard of yet beginning to crest, that car prices will actually start to drop the less and less people need to buy cars. If you get a Prius Prime now, it may be the last car you never need to buy.

AUTOMATION

Since Prius drivers notoriously don’t enjoy driving, you’d think that the Prime would be, well, primed for the self-driving revolution. But it’s nowhere close. In an age where your average Dodge screams at you if you veer out of your lane by a half-inch, there’s not much computer-aided driving going on here. At the press conference, I asked the vehicle’s chief engineer if there was any chance to build a self-driving Prius in the future.

“No!” the car writer next to me said sardonically.

But the answer really was no. In fact, the engineer didn’t answer the question at all. Toyota has no plans, at least none that it can announce, to automate the Prius.

This is hard for me to write. For years, I’ve owned a Prius, written glowingly about the Prius, and defended the Prius while you coal-rolling bullies threw rocks at me and regarded me with scorn. But now I’ve moved on to other, even lamer aspirations. Where is the solar-powered car that I don’t have to own? That I can summon via app to take me to the weed dispensary. That car is not the Prius Prime.

Transformer. Less than meets the eye.

Mercedes-Maybach Unveils Super-Bulletproof S600 Pullman Guard Limousine

Hey there, friend. Are you the ruler of a small- to medium-sized nation with an extremely oligarchical balance of wealth? Do you need a means of transportation that combines the opulence of your palace with the indestructibility of Superman’s tuchas? Then Daimler has just the car for you: the Mercedes-Maybach S600 Pullman Guard.

From the outside, the Guard looks all but identical to every other S600 Pullman; beneath the surface, however, lies a veritable tank factory worth of armor. Every possible inch of the Pullman Guard—both sheet metal and glass alike—is armored up to a VR9 level of protection. In case you haven’t been keeping up with your subscription to Endangered Dictator Monthly, that means this Maybach can withstand sustained fire from pretty much every type of small arms on the planet. Even if your foes manage to close within 30 feet of you with an M14 EMR and pump three 7.62x51 mm NATO rounds into the window, you’ll stay untouched in your leather throne.

Even if your would-be assassins come packing explosives to blast ordinary car to pieces, you’ll still be sitting pretty, as the Pullman Guard is tough enough to meet ERV 2010 blast protection standards. Which means it can take the force of 33 pounds of exploding TNT from a mere six and a half feet away. So long as those pesky rebels don’t manage to steal a Sukhoi, you’ll be fine.

Of course, as with the short(er)-wheelbase Maybach S600 Guard, all that armor adds weight. The S600 Pullman Guard weighs in at more than five and a half tons; hardly much of a challenge for the 530-horsepower twin-turbo V-12 sitting up front, but it makes opening and closing the doors something of a challenge. To compensate, Mercedes has added electrical motors to help you—excuse us, your manservants—operate the four portals. The windows are even hydraulically operated, just like those gorgeous Pullmans owned by the likes of Papa Doc Duvalier and Idi Amin.

And while it may be tougher than most Humvees, the Pullman Guard is still a Maybach, so it comes equipped with all the luxury accoutrements you’d expect. The two main seats recline all the way to 43.5 degrees—the perfect angle for watching your daughter anchor the state-run nightly news broadcast on the 18.5-inch monitor mounted to the bulkhead between the driver’s compartment and you. A pair of backwards-facing jump seats mean the Guard has room for up to three female companions. And should the standard specification not be to your liking, Mercedes will happily tailor the interior to your heart’s desire. (Note: we assume Maybach has a bring-your-own-whale penis-leather policy, so plan accordingly.)

Of course, all this safety and style doesn’t come cheap. The German list price for the Mercedes-Maybach S600 Pullman is €1.4 million. That’s about $1.56 million at current exchange rates...or just shy of 80 pounds of gold bullion, if you prefer.

Oh, and be sure not to commit any war crimes egregious enough to bring the U.S. down on your ass. Guard model or not, the A-10 Warthog’s cannon will cut through any Maybach like butter.

How George Hotz’s $999 Autonomous Driving Tech Actually Works

Last week George Hotz—iPhone and Playstation hacker, self-driving car wunderkind and the man who called Mobileye “a failing company”—finally unveiled the Comma One, his $999 aftermarket semi-autonomous driving (AD) system.

Hotz revealed some details at TechCrunch Disrupt SF, and was kind enough to share with me additional exclusive details that I—along with virtually everyone in the automotive world—have been dying to know since last week.

There's a lot of ingenuity and a lot of surprises, that’s for sure.

What is the Comma One?

It’s an aftermarket semi-autonomous driving system that Hotz claims is “on par” with Tesla Autopilot 7, with some features equivalent to the as-yet unreleased Autopilot 8.

“This does not turn your car into a fully autonomous vehicle,” said Hotz. “It’s a fancy cruise control...it will get you from Mountain View to San Francisco without touching the wheel.”

Translation: Like Tesla’s Autopilot—currently the most advanced semi-AD system on the market—the Comma One will likely operate at or just above NHTSA/SAE Level 2, which means it can drive the car under limited conditions, but the “driver” must be ready to take over anytime.

What is the Comma One Hardware?

The Comma One is a plastic box resembling a flattened VHS cassette, and will come in a variety of colors including bright green and slate grey. The box includes a forward facing 16MP camera, a rear facing 8MP camera, both 3G and WiFi, and a 5.5” screen, which Hotz says “is 11.5 inches more compact than a Tesla’s.”

Comma.ai Chffr running on a Galaxy Edge/Android. Pay no mind to the Escort Max 360 on the left.

What About Software?

The Comma One runs a client of Comma.ai’s Chffr app, whose Apple variant is called Dash. Chffr/Dash records forward-facing video and GPS data, broadcasts it via 3G or Wifi back to Comma’s servers, and uses it to learn how to drive, much like Tesla’s Autopilot/Fleet Learning.

The primary difference? Hotz says Tesla doesn’t record video, although evidence suggests they do capture the final frames before an accident.

The legacy OEMs? None of them crowdsource video, at least not yet. “If we wanted to,” said a source at a major automaker, “we certainly could have done so by now.”

Beta testers (including myself) have been gathering Chffr/Dash data since earlier this year, and the Comma forums are filled with users discussing where and how they’ve accumulated their “Comma points,” which are earned by mileage.

The Comma.ai Chffr/Dash leaderboard, where I'm currently 7th. The Comma.ai Driving Explorer

Whereas the beta testers have been gathering this data merely to qualify to buy one of the early units, I’ve been using it to log my road tests, both for scenery and insurance purposes.

What about that subscription?

$24 a month keeps your Comma One running and activates the built-in 3G for video upload, which — whatever its data cap — is unlikely to be enough if you do a lot of driving. I know this as a beta-tester who loves using Chffr. Pay your $24, but connect to wifi by any means necessary.

“We hope people have their car in range of wifi,” said Hotz.

I hope so too, because I love being part of a community improving a system — one of the reasons I’ve been running Seti@Home for 8+ years on multiple desktops littering my house — and I know I’m not alone. Maximizing user data flow back to Comma is key to leveraging video capture to improve their driving logic.

Something tells me there’s more to this aspect of the story, because I wouldn't want to have to remove my Comma One once it's installed. I'd probably continue to run Chffr/Dash on a second phone and take that upstairs. But that's just me.

More info as I get it.

What cars does it work on?

Details haven’t been released, but for now it will only work on late model Honda and Acura ILX models equipped with forward facing radar and cameras.

Will it work on other cars?

Yes, but Hotz says “it’s going to be Acura and Honda for a while. We like to focus on one thing.”

How do you install it?

Hotz promised installing the Comma One would be as hard as assembling a piece of Ikea furniture, and it sounds like he was telling the truth.

Apparently, all you have to do is remove your car’s rear-view mirror from its mount, clip the Comma One to the wiring harness, and slide the unit into the rear-view mirror mount.

I will check this for myself the instant I get my hands on one.

“Soon,” says Hotz.

What about my rear-view mirror when I’m driving myself?

No longer necessary. When not in use, the Comma One’s rear-view camera and screen do rear-view mirror duty.

What About Radar?

The Comma One uses the car’s built-in forward facing radar, and doesn’t require any additional hardware beyond the unit itself.

How does it connect to your car?

The single cable connecting the Comma One to the car is sufficient for both power and access to the vehicle’s CANbus, which is the network connecting the myriad hardware in every car to the car itself.

The Comma One will take over the Acura's cruise control buttons on the right.

How Do You Engage It?

The Comma One uses the car’s pre-existing cruise control buttons on the steering wheel, which have been remapped via the CANbus.

“The system is either on or off,” said Hotz. “We don’t separate this at all. When the system is on, it does steering, brakes and gas.”

How Do You Voluntarily Disengage it?

Touch the gas or the brake, and the system disengages.

Can the car be steered when in Self-Driving mode?

Yes.

What about Involuntary Disengagement Alerts?

This was one of my biggest beefs with the Mercedes unexpectedly silent Drivepilot, and something Tesla’s Autopilot does fairly well. Hotz says there will be both audible and visual alerts, but details have not been 100% finalized.

Will It Automate Lane Changes?

“No,” said Hotz, “that’s a parlor trick. Safe lane changes require a rear-facing radar. Lane changes in a Tesla use the ultrasonic sensors, which are very short range. If you’re doing 60 in a Tesla in the middle lane, and a car is coming up on your left at 90, and you ask Autopilot to change lanes, you’re going to get hit. Ultrasonics really shouldn’t be used over 10mph.”

How Else Does The Comma One Differ From Tesla Autopilot?

“We’re already doing a couple of things with radar that [Tesla] has put into Autopilot 8,” said Hotz. “Tesla is beating us at Fleet Learning, but that will change.”

Hotz, of course, is referring to Tesla’s 100,000+ users, all of whom are gathering data via Fleet Learning, whether on Autopilot or not. Chffr/Dash users currently number just over 1000.

“At beta,” said Hotz, ”[the Comma One] won’t be quite what Autopilot is. Tesla is using GPS-based polynomials, but once we add lane-fusing polynomials…”

In other words, if Comma is gathering video data and Tesla isn’t, Hotz is betting that a smaller pool of users gathering video will eventually prove as valuable — if not moreso — than Tesla’s currently much larger pool in improving the system.

Assuming Tesla’s upcoming “Tesla Vision” doesn’t do video, which it probably will, given that Musk tried to hire Hotz, and the subsequent Tesla split from camera-supplier Mobileye.

"I use the word Mobileye," said Hotz, "to describe any low quality camera device."

Whatever Comma’s growth rate, in a market where the OEM’s aren’t admitting to crowdsourcing GPS or video data, Comma is on the Tesla side of the data collection fence, where Fleet Learning has already proven its vast superiority over hard-coded systems like Mercedes’ Drivepilot.

For anyone who wants to be part of a transportation sea-change and can’t afford a Tesla, buying a Comma One is far cheaper and more subversive than buying a Bolt.

Whoa. THAT’s a Great Idea

If I were Hotz, the Comma Two should work on the Bolt, and render the Cruise acquisition worthless.

When will deliveries begin?

Hotz claims limited deliveries will begin by the end of the 2016, starting with beta testers who live in the Bay area, have access to a compatible car, and have accumulated 2000+ Comma points. I currently have 10k+ points, and am 7th on the leaderboard. If I don’t get one of the very first units, you should never read my column again.

Oh yeah...Hotz claims Porsche called and tried to order one of the first units. He asked them how many Comma points they had. That was the last he heard of them.

Allegedly.

Alex Roy is an Editor-at-Large for The Drive, author of The Driver, and set the 2007 Transcontinental “Cannonball Run” Record in 31 hours & 4 minutes. You may follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

The 2036 Porsche 911E First Drive

“It’s the end of the 911!” my dad said. This was way back in 1999. “911’s are supposed to be air-cooled!”

He was wrong, like all the skeptics were wrong again in 2016, when Porsche added turbocharging to the entire range. They were wrong again in 2019, with the arrival of the first 911 hybrid, and 2022, with the once-controversial electric 911E. How many remember the last 911 with an internal combustion engine that wasn’t a hybrid? I sure do: the year was 2030, and I was screaming louder than anyone else.

The end of the 911? Not even close. The 911 will never die.

The 2036 Porsche 911, or Projekt 999, is a breakthrough in every way a car can be—not only as a 911, or even as a Porsche, but as a sports car for everyone who believes in driving. The 999 is the first car to use technology not only to push human driving to its theoretical limit, but to transport drivers into the past.

In other words, the 999 has saved the idea of the sports car.

The Most Important Changes Are Invisible

The 999 is gorgeous, but it's only a subtle evolution of the design language ushered in by the 2023 Panamera-E, the living version of the Mission-E concept car, which is what the first-gen Panamera should have looked like. The triumph of the 3rd generation Panamera led to the biggest change in the 911’s appearance, which was the adoption of the Panamera-E’s front and rear fascia. Remove two doors, and you had the 992. Porsche wisely retained the 911’s classic profile for the 998, and now again with the 999, instead focusing on what we can’t see. The only thing missing is the exhaust pipe.

The Hybrid 911 is Dead. Long Live The Electric 911

The outgoing 998-chassis 911, brilliant as it was, was a victim of its split personality. As much as purists wanted the 911H to stay in the lineup, the sales just weren’t there. The 911E was faster than its hybrid sibling, and with the addition of Porsche’s ÜbertragenBeschlagAufladen (PUBA) in the 998.1, range anxiety became a thing of the past. PUBA, or Broadcast/Shoe Charging, extended the 911E’s range well past the H in all but the most remote parts of Montana—but with 94 percent of U.S. 911 sales in four coastal cities and Dallas, the hybrid had to go. Credit progress.

Physics Was a Harsh Mistress, Once

If the outgoing 991E had one problem, it was that it handled too well. You can’t solve for human nature. Human drivers want more than a steering wheel and pedals. We want excitement, and the 911E’s near-perfect weight distribution, courtesy of Porsche’s 2nd generation AusgewogenElektrischBahnsteig (PAEB), “solved” a problem that defined the 911 as much as its silhouette. Who didn’t miss the 911’s traditional rear-weight bias? PAEB, which translates to Porsche Balanced Electric Platform, needed a rethink, and Projeckt 999 Manager Ruprecht Oberpfaffelbacher knew how to give purists what they wanted.

The 999 Includes Every 911 Made

Until now, if you wanted the excitement of driving a pre-998 911, you had to go out and buy one of those. With 997s going for $450K and 996s for $600K or more, it’s just not an option—especially if you want to ride in a Human Driving Exclusion Zone. Non-autonomous capable cars just aren’t realistic for daily or mixed-use driving/riding, even with a classic car exemption. The new 911 solves all of these problems, and much more.

What if you could buy every 911 ever made, for the price of one new car? With the 999, you can. Porsche calls this system VirtuellAutoVortäuschung (PVAV), and it is stunning. PVAV, which stands for Porsche Virtual Car Simulation, is much more than a simulation. It’s a simulation that comes to life in the form of a real-world automotive time machine.

PVAV draws upon nearly 70 years of 911 heritage to replicate the performance, handling, and sound of every 911 ever made. It comes with a key that you insert into the dash; turning it one click activates the PVAV interface, which allows for the selection of any 911 manufactured going back to 1966, down to the individual year, model, and a universe of historically accurate factory options.

Relive the Experience of Unrecoverable Oversteer With One Button

Want to know what it was like to drive a 930 Turbo? What about an old GT3 RS? They’re in there, and the really crazy ones are in there, too. The mythic 959? Yup. A Singer 4.2? Just because Porsche bought Singer doesn’t mean you need a 996 and $1.5M to get that feeling. ALL the Singers are in there. Hold your breath, because they’ve also included the RUF Yellowbird.

The default setting is 999, which means 1,146 horsepower and (not coincidentally) 999 lb-ft of torque delivered through four superconducting, magnetic, self-cooling electric motors. Details have yet to be released, but with the absence of any steel, the 999 allegedly weighs in at an astonishing 2,874 pounds. Porsche claims a top speed of 214 mph. An all-new 275kWh Energy Storage System (ESS) means an EPA-verified range of 522 miles between charges.

Let’s get to the fun part, which is way better than the 999’s 0-60 time of 2 seconds. Two seconds? Lots of cars do 2 seconds. I want to know about PVAV. I want to know how a 999 becomes a 959.

How Does PVAV work?

PVAV is a family of subsystems, the heart of which is Porsche’s 3rd generation VeränderlichSteifheitSchwingungAbschirmung (PVSSA). Inspired by the behavior of human muscles, PVSSA, or Porsche Variable Stiffness Vibration Isolation, replicates the reactions of human muscle, in metal. PVSSA can change from stiff to soft, by a factor of 100, in milliseconds, independent of how much mechanical force is applied.

The PVSSA-based suspensions in the 992 and 998 were either too stiff or too soft, but combined with PVAV’s historic 911 database, the 999’s suspension isn’t just perfect, it’s every definition of perfect. It’s whatever definition of perfect you want it to be, whether it’s the hilariously soft bushings of a ‘71 S or the feisty rebounding of an RS America.

Equally brilliant is the Porsche KlappKupplung (PKK), or Collapsible Clutch pedal, which is exactly what it sounds like. Engage PVAV, select any manual 911, and the PKK pedal descends in between the brake and the dead pedals. Unlike with a real clutch, there is absolutely nothing you can do via the PKK that will damage the car.

Never driven a real manual transmission, and don’t know what a clutch is? This applies to lots of people, and so PVAV includes Porsche SchaltgetriebeInstruktion (PSI), which is the world’s first and only virtual Manual Transmission Instruction mode.

What’s the point of a clutch pedal in an electric Porsche? The 999’s KünstlichSchaltgetriebe (PKS), or Porsche Synthetic Gearbox, recreates the gearing of an internal combustion flat-six. Place your hand on the shift knob, miss a shift or mistime your clutch release, and the 999 bucks, howls and stalls, just like an old one. Get it right, and you're transported back to the days of mechanical-shifted Porsche heaven.

But wait, there’s more. Let’s talk about the magic of the powertrain. The 999 uses the second-generation DynamischElementSystem (PDES), or Dynamic Battery System. “Battery” is a misnomer, because lithium-ion batteries are old news. The 999 uses graphene-based ultracapacitors for its ESS, which has a power density 5 times greater than its predecessor. It can be recharged in 60 to 120 seconds at any UBA station, or in five to six minutes on any UBA-enabled commuter lane.

The “Dynamisch” part of of the powertrain is how the ESS is mounted. During hard cornering, even the tiniest shifting of the ESS—which accounts for fully one third of the 999’s weight—can unsettle handling and steering accuracy. Inspired by the dynamic engine mounts that were standard across all Porsche hybrids from 2022 until they were discontinued, PDES splits the ESS into two layers, sandwiching a PVSSA microlattice. The PDES hardens or softens the microlattice, shifting the flexible upper layer’s position up to one inch, instantaneously, based on speed, steering angle, and, according to Oberpfaffelbacher, “17 other inputs which must remain secret.”

PDES will maintain optimal (that’s German for flat) chassis balance in its default 999 configuration, but set the PVAV to any pre-998 911, and the suboptimal balance options are where the 999 becomes the 911 of our dreams.

Which brings us to the big one.

Porsche Brings the Soul Back

Okay, the soul of the 911 was never really gone. If it can be said to reside in the rear-weight bias of old, then all that happened is that it shone a little less brightly in the 992 and 998. But those days are over. The 911’s soul is stronger than ever.

Behold, the Porsche DynamischGleichgewichtGleis (PDGG). This is the secret sauce, the light of the 999’s soul, the technology that will keep the 911 alive forever. PDGG, or Porsche Dynamic Balance Rail, controls a third element of the ESS. Even the best ESS requires a smaller Lithium-based battery backup. Why? Graphene-based capacitors don’t retain charge as well as older li-ion batteries.

PDGG exploits the necessity of this extra weight by placing the battery on twin rails that begin just behind the passenger compartment and end forward of the rear bumper. Magnetically suspended above the upper layer of that ESS sandwich, which runs the full length of the car, the backup battery can be shifted along the rail to mimic the location and weight of a 911’s hybrid or internal combustion flat-six. Engage the PVAV while stopped, select your vintage 911, wait up to five seconds and voila: the rear-weight bias purists have been missing!

I predict the 999 will be the best selling 911 of all time. Don’t take a test drive unless you can afford one, because you won’t be able to sleep at night.

The Rest Of It

What about the visual and sonic fakery of the PVAV spectacle? The unfortunately-named Porsche UnterschiedlichBildschirmElement (PUBE), or Variable Display Unit, uses the latest 3-D technology to replicate your favorite classic 911 dashboards on what has to be the largest in-dash screen available outside an S-class. Granted, nearfield holographic gauges won’t convince anyone who’s been in a real 993, but for everyone else, the effect will mesmerize.

As for the Porsche UnterschiedlichSchallSystem, aka the Variable Sound System, it’s both an unprintable acronym, and a disappointment. The music sounded great, but no one buys a 911 to listen to music. It’s a driver's car. Luckily, this is the only bad news. I’ve owned a 1987 Targa for nearly thirty-six years, and the fake sound of its high-RPM wail coming from the 999’s speakers didn’t do it for me. I’ve heard rumors that software upgrades will resolve this issue, but I think a speaker upgrade is in order.

The beloved PorscHÜD is back, and better than ever, but Porsche would rather we use its official name: Porsche LenkenProjektor, or PLP. For those whose only “driving” experience is playing Forza Motorsport and who remain intimidated by the idea of taking even partial control of a car in the real world, PLP is the perfect solution. PLP will superimpose the equivalent of a racing line on your windshield, albeit color-coded to keep you safely within speed limits, and human driving lanes. Does it work? Sure. Did I care? No.

Even The Boring Bits Are Amazing

I could go on, but my eyes are glazing over with all the acronyms. No one will buy a 999 for the non-driving tech. Of course, Porsche’s newest iterations of now-ubiquitous features are impressive, and I’m obliged to list them in return for being the first journo to drive the 999. Here’s a partial list of all the Autonomous technologies we’ll cover in my full road test:

Porsche UrteilsvermögenSteuerungLogik (PUSL), or Discriminating Navigation Unit, which certainly is cryptic. Porsche ProphezeiungLotseGehlife (PPLG), their new Predictive Pilot Assist, which is somehow different from Porsche SelbsttätigLenkung (PSL), their 5th Generation Autonomous Guidance. There’s also the dangerous-sounding Porsche DeckungModus (PDM), or Security/Escape Mode, and Porsche DynamischPunktSucher (PPS), a Dynamic Node Locator whose function I couldn’t parse.

There was one more feature which sounded very interesting: the Porsche VirtuellRennsportModus (PVRM), which translates to Racing Simulation Mode. Something tells me this is more than merely an Autonomous mode. Could this be the on-track simulator they’ve long promised? The one that lets you re-live historic races while lapping real-word tracks? The one that allegedly projects 3D race images on the interior glass of the car?

One can only dream.

Conclusion

Is the latest iteration of the world’s most iconic sports, the best sports car ever made? Technically, yes. But I can’t lie: I wish Porsche still offered the hybrid. Just like I wished Porsche hadn’t discontinued the flat-six. Then the flat-four. But that’s me, a 64-year-old Porsche purist, from the penultimate generation born during the pre-autonomous age of internal combustion.

Get in the 999 in default mode, start driving, and what happens? Everything, and nothing. You’re in the best 911 ever made, theoretically; it’s certainly the fastest, and the best handling. But it’s also the quietest. A lot of wind. A little bit of tire chirp. A tiny bit of electric motor whine.

The 999 is magic, but it’s too quiet, like all EV’s. Progress—I’ll never get over it.

Alex Roy is an Editor-at-Large for The Drive, author of The Driver, and set the 2007 Transcontinental “Cannonball Run” Record in 31 hours & 4 minutes. You may follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

The Truth Behind What Caused Paul Walker’s Fatal Crash

Your tires are the most important part of your car. They can make you faster, they can save your life, or they can get you killed, even if you’re the star of a major car-centric action franchise, and even if you aren’t driving. (Spoiler alert: the driver dies too).

Considering how important tires are, they aren’t given nearly enough credit in the media or in car-guy circles. Sure, every racer talks about tires, and a lot of canyon warriors will sit on top of the snake talking setup, but on the internet and in casual conversation with casual enthusiasts, tires are a dull topic. You certainly can’t brag about them on a forum the way you can with your upgraded turbo and fresh dyno chart. You have to go into the Grassroots Motorsports catalog, or to a very specific sub-genre to see a tire comparison test for your desired application, so most people just end up reading reviews on TireRack.

Tires are a dull topic even when we’re actively shopping for tires. They have insanely complicated naming schemes like GoodRubber GoodGripper Pro XGV25, which makes them even harder to discuss than Infiniti’s current lineup. In all seriousness, I have a set of tires on my Mustang at the moment called “Continental ContiForce Contact.” That’s a real name under which a real set of tires is marketed. Most people don’t have the luxury of actually testing tires before they buy either, making decisions based on either anecdotal evidence, a roll of the dice, budget, or a combination of the three.

Nevertheless, the four small patches of rubber connecting your two-ton manslaughter machine to your city’s lowest-priced asphalt are, if you ask me, the best way to improve your car, or, the quickest way to fuck it up, crash, and even die. Even if you should know better. And I’m going to give you one piece of advice—advice I learned the hard way, but not as hard as my friends Paul Walker—who would have celebrated his 43rd birthday this week—and Roger Rodas did.

In November of 2012, I entered my modified C5 Corvette in the “Optima Batteries Ultimate Street Car Invitational,” a multi-discipline driving event held the day after SEMA ends in Las Vegas.

[Disclaimer: I have done promotional work at events for Optima Batteries unrelated to this event or to my column at The Drive.]

I could not have been less prepared for this event if I had left the car’s targa roof at home in the garage—which, by the way, I did. Think it never rains in Vegas? Never snows? Go there in a car without a roof. I guarantee both will happen.

Though the car was in mostly good nick, with around 25,000 miles on it. The engine makes 400 horsepower to the wheels with some mild bolt-on upgrades, and it has a Stoptech Big Brake kit, Pfadt coilover suspension, racing seats, harnesses, and more. All of it worked.

The bad news? It also had six-year-old Goodyear F1 Assymetric tires on it. They had less than 5,000 miles on them, so they looked nearly new. But looking new and gripping like new are two different propositions entirely.

A tire, for those as unfamiliar with this concept as I was back then, does two things: it sticks to the road by nature of its rubber chemical compound, and it disperses water using the tread pattern cut into the tire.

On a street tire, most people will notice their tread has worn down after several thousand miles of use and decide it’s time to get new tires. If it rains, the worn tread won’t disperse water as well and you will have poor wet-weather performance, as well as a tendency towards hydroplaning. With cars driven frequently, you will wear out your tread before you age-out your rubber, which is the problem I want to address.

With collector cars, especially cars driven less than a few thousand miles a year, the problem is that while your tread may look good, the rubber is old and dry, and simply will not work properly. The chemical compounds in your tires will degrade over time, significantly reducing your available grip, or worse, blowing out a sidewall under load.

With sport tires, colder weather and harsh weather will exacerbate this. In general, five years from date of manufacture (stamped on the tire) is about as old as you ever want to go in a car you plan to drive quickly. If that car (or the tires themselves) are stored in a climate-controlled facility under perfect conditions, maybe you could squeeze an extra year or two out of them. But the fact is, if you have a few cars, some maybe that you only drive a few times a year, replacing tires can easily become a dangerous afterthought.

Which brings me back to Las Vegas on a chilly November morning. I arrive in the paddock at Spring Mountain to find out that, as usual, every other person at the track has taken this event much more seriously than I have. Most have prepped their cars specifically for this event, whereas I have pulled my car out of storage, driven it to Las Vegas without a roof, and parked. Some “Ultimate Streetcars” are pulled out of full-size race haulers, lifted up on air jacks, and fitted with electronic tire warming blankets.

My Goodyear Eagle F1 Assymetric tires were decent, not great, when new. Now, six years later they look fine, and felt OK on the highway, so here I am—the first car out onto the track for the morning’s run group. Ambient temperatures are in the 40s. I wouldn’t have been the least bit surprised to see track temperatures lower than that.

I make it three corners. At less than 45 mph, all the controls in the Corvette go light, and I find myself doing a four-wheeled slide off the track into the gravel. After punching myself in the face a few times, I creep back onto the track and black flag myself for being a moron, but don’t even get that far. Four corners later, it happens again, on the slowest corner of the entire track. Off into the gravel I go.

My wheels looking like rock tumblers and my mint Torch Red paint now covered in a chalky fine layer of dust, I hang my head and limp back to the paddock. I had gone off twice during my warm up lap.

Now, I’m not saying I’m the greatest driver in the world and would have won the whole thing; far from it. I am saying that if I had bothered to actually do the proper maintenance on my car, I would have been able to set something resembling a lap time, instead of doing a piece of terrible performance art.

More importantly, what I had done was really fucking dangerous. Had the track layout been different; had it been a cold morning in Daytona, or Wisconsin, rather than Nevada, I may have hit a wall at 100 mph rather than some gravel at 20.

Fast forward a year. In November of 2013, Paul Walker and Roger Rodas were hanging out at an open house and car show in front of the business they owned together, Always Evolving. I had the pleasure of both their company on several occasions; though we weren’t close, both Roger and Paul were always a pleasure to be around, especially at the track, where they spent a lot of time. Both were excellent drivers and upstanding citizens. Neither of them would live to see the end of the day.

Roger, an avid car collector with more than 50 cars to his name—including what I believe is the largest collection of Saleen cars in the world—had just bought himself a Porsche Carrera GT out of a long-term collection.

The red-over-black Carrera GT was the right color combo and had a famous owner in its history: Graham Rahal. It also had only 3,500 miles on the odometer, making for a highly desirable example. He had just taken delivery of the car that week. Paul, as big of a gearhead as he was, had never been in a Carrera GT before. It was a Sunday, so the large office park was all-but-deserted save for AE’s small section of parking lot.

“Just once around the block.”

Once around the block was all it took to kill them both. The 3,500 mile Carrera GT was shod with its original tires. They, like the car attached to them, were 9 years old.

Roger lost control of the Carrera GT at an estimated 90 mph, and hit a tree.

The mainstream media, and indeed many automotive-focused web sites, simply couldn’t wait to report on the irony of the situation, that someone known for playing a character who drives crazy is killed in a supercar doing double the speed limit in an office park.

I was distraught the first couple of days, but honestly, all I could think about was how the crash happened, and I just kept going back to that day at Spring Mountain. This was a super low-mileage car. Roger was a really good driver. There were no other cars around or last-minute obstacles to avoid. It had to have been on original tires.

No one talked about the tires. Everyone wanted to hang Paul and Roger out to dry as their speeding scapegoats. The tires were a footnote to an exaggerated story, and it became a missed opportunity to teach a very real lesson. The LA Times reported one article on it nearly 5 months after the crash, and that was it. The cause of the crash was still ruled “unsafe speed for the conditions.” And not “tires, which may as well have been made of paper mache.”

I’ve been to that office park, and I know that corner, and you can take that corner at 90 mph in a fucking Prius, as long as you have tires that aren’t 9 years old. In a Carrera GT you could take it at 90, one-handed, while sipping a Venti Latte. I’m not saying you should be legally allowed to rip around an office park at 90, but from a technical sense, the actual cause of the crash was trash old tires. “Unsafe speed for the conditions” may have been the ticket Roger would have gotten if a cop stopped him, but that’s not what caused the accident.

I know no one wants to hear this, but I’m going to say it: Roger was a great driver, and actually quite conservative. And if he had a new set of tires on the car, that crash wouldn’t have happened, because 90 mph on that corner is nothing for a Carrera GT. With old tires, it’s not like you get oversteer or understeer, and you then correct, and back it down. They seem fine one minute, you hit the brakes or turn the wheel, and then they are just gone. You’re a passenger. Or, at least I was, back at Spring Mountain in 2012.

The Carrera GT was a handful when it was new, which gives it an edge as a collector’s item; an edge you don’t get from a Bentley. Leno spun one out, so did Seinfeld. It’s got a notoriously grabby clutch, a manic engine, and no electronic drivers aids whatsoever. It’s known for being nasty, sharing its legacy alongside the Ford GT as the last of the truly analog cars, discontinued because the government said we need stability control now.

Sort of like the Porsche 550 Spyder, a beautiful and successful racing machine far overshadowed by the young, handsome actor who happens to have killed himself in one.

I haven’t driven a Carrera GT in years, but I’m told that fitting a new set of Pilot Super Sports or Cup2’s on them really improve the drivability and dial back a bit of the sketchiness. The original tires, even when they were new, weren’t great. At 9 years old, they are absolutely worthless.

After the dust settled, I got a phone call from a lawyer claiming to represent Meadow Walker in a lawsuit against Porsche. He wanted me to testify that I thought the Carrera GT was a dangerous car, an opinion that he presented to me, and not the other way around.

I do not think the Carrera GT is inherently dangerous; I just don’t think it’s reasonable to expect a car to save passengers in a 90 mph broadside crash, nor to expect that the lack of stability management, rather than the old tires, caused the crash. And of course, the car passed all the necessary steps when new, and had now been out of production for nearly a decade. I say this with a straight face after losing two friends in that crash.

[UPDATE: Representatives from Meadow Walker’s law firm contacted The Drive with this statement: "No one from Meadow Walker’s legal team ever contacted the writer or asked for an opinion. While he has a right to his opinion, we note the writer is not an engineer, has no scientific credentials or degrees, and we don’t believe he would qualify to testify as an expert witness in a court of law.”]

As badly as I feel for both Paul and Roger’s children, it is my opinion that the wrongful death lawsuit against Porsche is a greedy lawyer cash grab and has very little to do with the Walker or Rodas family, both of whom have plenty of money to live off.

The point, kids, is if you have a car you don’t drive very often; or if you buy a car from a collection and it has low miles; or if you buy a car that has been sitting for any period of time, or used sporadically: check the tires, and change the tires. They may look like they are in good shape with not many miles on them, but if they are out of date and you don’t check, you won’t know anything’s gone wrong unless it’s too late. Learn from my stupidity in this situation, or from poor Roger and Paul. As they say, the life you save, may be your own.

Airstream’s Perfect Basecamp Camper and Volvo’s Cross Country V90: The Evening Rush

The Evening Rush is your daily roundup of auto, gear, and lifestyle news, all in one place. Less time searching, more time driving. Motor on.

Automotive

Spy shots of the Buick Enclave have been released and the tired SUV looks like it is getting a much-needed facelift. As seen in the camouflaged photos, the Enclave appears to be slimming down and is expected to be powered by GM’s 3.6L V-6.

In additional spy shot news, images of a Volvo V90 Cross Country have leaked and although the vehicle is camouflaged, we already are getting excited. The T6 trim will most likely use the turbocharged-and-supercharged 2.0L four-cylinder while the T8 will add a large battery and electric propulsion to the mix.

So apparently there is a live stream of Jackson Hole, Wyoming’s town square and every time a red truck drives into frame the internet loses its mind. We don't know why, either.

Gear

Just because an invention is simple doesn’t mean it isn’t genius. Human Crafted has come out with a weighed block called the Cord Keeper that keeps your cords on your table rather than flying off every time you unplug something. Long gone are the days where you have to crawl under your desk.

Airstream trailers have always done a great job of making quality and beautiful trailers but now they have gone compact. With their new trailer, the Basecamp, two people are able to confidently tow a trailer behind their small SUV and enjoy the great outdoors. Equipped with solar panels, stainless steel appliances and every other detail you would expect from Airstream, this compact trailer is perfect for your next adventure. However, still be prepared to spend around $35k.

Lifestyle

Today’s beer pick takes us to Holy Mountain Brewing in Seattle, Washington. With a love for oak barrels and the quality hops found in the Yakima Valley, Holy Mountain opened its doors in September of 2014. With tons of different saisons to choose from, we heavily recommend you stop by their taproom if you are in the Seattle area any time soon.

The fall is full of rain so do yourself a favor and ensure you have a good raincoat. Better yet, ensure the raincoat is also on sale. Fortunately the North Face Dryzzle checks both boxes and is on Steep & Cheap right now.