Steering You Right with Sharon Peters: Big and Light

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Q: I saw that the BMW X4 that’s coming out this summer, which I’m interested in –first BMW ever for me – is bigger than last year’s. But it’s quite a lot lighter, so, I suppose, slightly more fuel efficient. How does bigger plus lighter happen?

A: You are correct that the upcoming model is 3 inches longer and 1.4 inches wider. (And the redesign looks great in photos). But it will weigh about 110 pounds less than its predecessor.

For several years automakers have been developing and using lighter weight materials, improved mpg being a strong selling point (and reduced air pollution a mandate).

Some of the things they’ve turned to are using magnesium, carbon fiber (which has escalated in price so much in the last couple of years that it’s not a huge go-to anymore), titanium, aluminum and aluminum composites where possible to replace steel.

Some other approaches they’ve been using: mini-sizing the spare tire or leaving out the tire altogether, or even figuring out ways to reduce a few ounces here and there (which add up to pounds) including Mazda’s much-publicized examination of every component to see if it could be redesigned to be smaller or lighter, and even using shorter screws. Yup, shorter screws.

The new BMW will start at about $50,000. It’ll arrive in dealerships in July, BMW says.

Q: We’re looking to get a 2018 and a couple we’re looking at have 9-speed transmissions. Is this a new thing?

A: An increasing number of carmakers are turning to the 9-speed approach in some models, including some from Land Rover, Acura, Jeep, Chrysler, Honda and GM. There were some problems early on. The 9-speed is said to be more fuel efficient, possibly as much as a 15 percent boost.

Reader feedback:

A California reader suggested I pass along some extra advice relating to a recent column. I’m doing that: “Your column on 2/24 advised to clean acid off battery posts using baking soda. This does a really good job. However you should have also advised to always wear safety glasses when cleaning or working on a battery. I am a retired technician (45 years) and this was one of the first things I was trained in. Love your column!”

Thanks, sir.

What’s your question? Sharon Peters would like to hear about what’s on your mind when it comes to caring for, driving and repairing your vehicle. Email

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