Tuesday, 6 December 2016

2017 Toyota C-HR Euro-Spec

Designed for Europe but going global.Sometimes you need more than flowers or chocolates or even a dewy-eyed kitten to say, “Sorry.” Sometimes you need a subcompact crossover. That’s the case with the new Toyota C-HR, which will be coming to the U.S. next year and which is at least as much an apology as it is a car, one delivered from the automaker to its European buyers.

More precisely, its non-buyers. While Toyota dominates in much of the world, it has always struggled to gain traction in the land of cheese and sauerkraut, particularly in the hard-fought hatchback segment. Last year the Toyota Auris, a British-built version of the Corolla, sold just 140,000 units across the Continent, barely more than a quarter of what the Volkswagen Golf managed. Hence the need for a Euro-focused crossover to add some sales magic and compete with entries such as the Nissan Qashqai and the Peugeot 2008.
The original plan was to make the C-HR exclusively for Europe, but then other markets—including the United States—got a look at it and became interested. It’s not just Europe that likes small crossovers, after all. Keen lobbying has seen the C-HR confirmed for other markets, including America, although we’ll be getting a different engine from the Euro-spec versions that we drove there. The name is both silly and a misnomer: According to Toyota, it stands for “Coupe High Rider.” Although it has been made to look slightly coupe-ish, in reality this is a four-door crossover with the rear door handles incorporated into the C-pillars. The styling is radical by any standard and positively revolutionary for a brand as generally conservative as Toyota. It’s clear that lots of pent-up creativity has been expended in its creation (let’s hope there’s some left for the upcoming Supra), and although coupe and SUV are pretty much dog and cat in design terms, the fusion here works reasonably well. The cabin is only slightly less out there, with a swoopy design fitting around the hard points of some familiar Toyota switchgear, including the same digital clock that the company has fitted into the dash of seemingly everything it has built for at least three decades. There’s a slightly overwrought diamond theme going on in the cabin, too, with the shape featured everywhere from the ventilation controls to the embossing of the headliner and the door panels. There’s decent space in the front and—against expectations—in the back as well, although the tiny side windows induce claustrophobia.

Europe will be getting the option of a 114-hp 1.2-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine and a 1.8-liter hybrid that pretty much repackages the Prius’s gas-electric powertrain. (Both the C-HR and that hybrid hatch are based on Toyota’s TNGA platform.) Sadly, neither of those powertrains will be coming to the States, at least not initially. Chief engineer Hiroyuki Koba has confirmed that the U.S. will be restricted to a naturally aspirated 2.0-liter four-cylinder, which will make up for its relative lack of sophistication with a dose of extra power: 144 horsepower and 140 lb-ft. We’ll have to wait until the car arrives stateside to tell you what that engine is like in the C-HR, as we didn’t get a chance to sample it at the European launch.

Americans should be disappointed at not being offered the 1.2-liter turbo, which is a sweet little engine that makes up for its relative lack of firepower with a torque output that’s too flat to be accurately described as a curve—the peak 136 lb-ft is available from 1500 rpm all the way to 4000 rpm. There’s enough midrange punch to minimize objections to its extremely low, 5600-rpm redline. It feels quicker than its factory-estimated 11.4-second zero-to-62-mph time suggests, especially when working with the slick-shifting six-speed manual that will be standard in Europe, and which even has a rev-matching function to help smooth downshifts.

There’s also a continuously variable automatic, which will be the only transmission choice in the U.S. By the standards of such things it’s not too bad, allowing the engine to coast along on its brawn at lower speeds or during constant-velocity cruising. Requests for acceleration, however, produce the familiar slurring soundtrack as the engine and gearbox both give their best. The hybrid drives pretty much exactly like a Prius, the electrical assistance making it quieter under gentle use but not making it feel much quicker.

2017 Volkswagen Golf R It plays on a higher level.

Overview: The R is the chief of a sprawling Volkswagen Golf tribe, joining most of its family members on Car and Driver’s 10Best Cars list, and is the hottest Golf ever to prowl U.S. roads. The Golf R gives VW hot-hatchback parity with the Ford Focus RS and a formidable weapon against the soon-to-arrive Honda Civic Type R. The structure is exceptionally rigid, something the R shares with the rest of the family. Amplified by the standard Haldex all-wheel-drive system (dubbed 4MOTION by VW’s marketers), overall grip is exceptional and approaches the magic 1.00-g threshold. Braking is close to sports-car levels, and power from the 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder is abundant, peaking at 292 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque. The cosmetic treatment is typical Golf—i.e., understated—a word that also applies to the interior. That means the Golf R is much more of a wallflower than either the Focus RS or the Civic Type R, which might be a positive or negative attribute, depending on your personal perspective (and perhaps your age). There’s no shortage of contemporary infotainment, but the leather-wrapped flat-bottom steering wheel and the supremely supportive leather buckets reflect the true nature of the beast. Like its stablemates, the R’s hatchback body provides practicality and versatility, just as this line of cars has delivered since its 1974 debut. But performance is the key here, and this Golf raises its quickness and athletic competence to an all-time high.

What’s New: Introduced in 2015, the newest Golf R rolls into 2017 with a few changes. Top-trim cars with the Dynamic Chassis Control system (adaptive damping, firmer suspension tuning, 19-inch wheels) now come standard with automatic high-beams as well as last year’s Driver Assistance package (lane-departure warning, forward-collision warning, blind-spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control, and parking sensors). A six-speed manual became the default transmission last year. We’ve tested Rs with both transmissions, and compared to a Golf R with the optional DSG automatic, the stick-shift car trims 80 pounds from the curb weight and $1100 from the sticker price—but it adds 0.7 second to the zero-to-60-mph run.
What We Like: It requires more resistance than we possess to be indifferent to a car with the Golf R’s performance résumé. The blend of power—particularly the torque curve, which approximates the flat topography of Nebraska—and agility, plus all-wheel-drive grip and outstanding braking make this hottest of Golfs easy to drive fast. In addition to eager responses and ample power, it’s also very forgiving. And while we appreciate the crisp engagements of the six-speed manual gearbox, we’ll admit that the lightning action of the dual-clutch automatic is habit-forming. Think of the DSG-equipped Golf R as an Audi S3 (the two share the same powertrain) but with hatchback usefulness and a $2565 rebate.

What We Don’t Like: The Golf R might benefit from a diet—albeit a mild one. Yes, all-wheel drive adds pounds. And yes, the (front-drive) GTI is less than 300 pounds lighter. But paring even 50 pounds would add more zeal to the R’s responses. Speaking of responses, one of the very few staff kvetches on the Golf R dynamic scorecard is turbo lag. If the transmission is a cog or two out of optimum and revs are low, that wonderfully flat torque plateau is preceded by a slow climb to the sweet spot. There’s also a price/value issue here, since a Golf GTI will duplicate about 90 percent of the Golf R’s performance for some $10,000 less.
Verdict: The Golf R is an all-around athlete and a formidable performer by any reckoning.

2017 Honda CR-V Honda's latest compact crossover plies a steady course

Honda has had its ups and downs over the past few years, but the CR-V is one of the rocks upon which the house stands. Through October 2016, the compact crossover accounted for almost one-quarter of Honda’s annual volume in North America. And the automaker knows that if you want the bread to keep rolling in, you don’t mess with the butter. Indeed, the old CR-V is selling so well that the new model is having a secret launch of sorts. Due to go on sale December 21, the new CR-V has been discussed only in muted tones, so as to keep sales of the current model humming.

Top Secret

Honda needn’t have worried. The new CR-V doesn’t exactly get tail fins, an optional V-12, or an anti-gravity drive. In fact, while steering the 2017 model around Northern California during the launch event, no one even noticed the new CR-V. No doubt this is the way CR-V buyers would like it, because even first-timers new to the model come in expecting to find the reliable, well-packaged, family-friendly, affordable, and none-too-controversial vehicle they’ve heard about. It’s steady as she goes with the 2017 CR-V.

Even so, Honda feels it has turned up the luxe on the model a bit, adding big-car features such as the Honda Sensing suite of safety countermeasures on EX and higher trims, some shoulder to the styling, and an altogether more serious and imposing face. It’s almost as if Lee Iacocca were calling the shots; the new CR-V adds chrome filigrees here and there, including an embrace of the industry’s burgeoning mania for upturned chrome hockey sticks as body-side decoration. Well, what’s good enough for BMW and Range Rover should be good enough for Honda. LEDs for the taillights, daytime running lights, and turn signals are another clue that this is the new car, as are the optional full-LED headlight clusters. We’ve come a long way from the spunky original CR-V, with its rear-mounted spare tire and spindly suspension bits visible underneath.

Honda pushed a little harder in the interior. A 7.0-inch touchscreen (now with a radio volume knob!) is the centerpiece of a pleasantly upscale dashboard with an unusual three-zone instrument cluster. Honda, perhaps significantly also a motorcycle maker, has been one of the braver companies when it comes to moving past the well-worn, two-dial convention of tach and speedo. In the CR-V with its all-digital TFT cluster, the tachometer (not much needed in a vehicle that no longer offers a manual transmission) becomes a band at the top, and the speedometer is a digital readout, both executions of which seem appropriate for this car. Honda knows its buyers well, as evidenced by some of the small changes, such as twin 2.5-amp USB ports in back, the reconfigured center storage bin designed for what real people stash, and reshaped door pockets with drink holders that will accommodate bottles as large as one liter in size.
Passengers get a little more space, thanks to a 1.6-inch wheelbase stretch, which gives rear-seat occupants another 2.1 inches of legroom, moving the rear seat up from economy to a very generous economy-plus. Likewise, the cargo area grows nearly 10 inches longer with the rear seats folded; Honda’s photos proudly display a full-size mountain bike inserted upright, albeit with the front wheel removed.

Enter the Turbo

You can have one of two engines but only one transmission, a continuously variable automatic (CVT). The base LX uses the 2.4-liter twin-cam direct-injected inline-four from the Honda Accord, here delivering 184 horsepower and 180 lb-ft, while a 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with 190 horsepower and 179 lb-ft goes into the EX, EX-L, and Touring models. The latter engine is what we sampled, and we can report that it gives unobtrusive, sturdy service with ample torque in the basement and ground floor as it goes about its quotidian task of moving the CR-V, the curb weight of which Honda puts at 3300 to 3500 pounds depending on the trim and driveline.
Honda’s determination to put some excitement back into its products manifests in the CR-V with excellent chassis dynamics and sharp steering. A stiffer steering column and fluid-filled suspension bushings are said to deliver both better ride compliance and more precise path control. You can rush this car if you need to without everything falling apart and your passengers screaming for relief. It holds a corner with confidence and connects you with a direct line to the pavement. Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that one of project leader Takaaki Nagadome’s first jobs at Honda was body engineering for the original NSX.

As in the Civic, the CR-V’s automatic is continuously variable on paper but feels like a conventional step-gear transmission in motion. It “upshifts” at the top of each ratio, the numerical value of which is known only to the software. It could be said that the Honda CVT gives us the best of both worlds: step-gear familiarity combined with continuous variability that is invisible to the driver. And, unlike conventional automatics, there’s virtually no kickdown shock when you leg the accelerator for passing.

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

2017 10Best Cars: Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport and Ford Mustang Shelby GT350 / GT350R

In early 2009, when GM and Ford were stumbling toward uncertainty and the Detroit auto show had all the glitz of an insurance convention, no one could have imagined that the Motor City would ever again produce cars like the GT350 and the Grand Sport. But it’s well known that car companies can be at their best when they’re anxious about keeping the lights on. Both of these cars came from a hunger to prove that world-class virtue can be more than marketing talking points. And so, eight years after the doom and gloom, we have these two unimaginably good V-8 machines and a $64,000 question. Believing that there’d only be space for one of these cars on the list, our staff was divided, with the GT350’s backers on one side and the Grand Sport’s on the other. In the final summation, each car had the votes to clinch its spot, but the rift helped us arrive at a deeper understanding of both. Last year, the Corvette missed the 10Best cut after the C7’s two-year run. Perhaps the intoxicating influence of the 650-hp Z06 would have helped the Corvette gain enough votes for another year, yet by then GM had raised the price above our $80,000 cap. Enter the Grand Sport, which mates the regular Corvette powertrain to the chassis of the mighty Z06 while avoiding a major price increase. You can park a GS in your driveway for as little as $66,445, exactly $10,000 more than the base car and nearly $15,000 less than the Z06. To keep the price semi-attainable, the Grand Sport uses the Corvette’s naturally aspirated small-block V-8. A dry-sump 6.2-liter unit with 460 horsepower, this pushrod engine spins to its 6600-rpm rev limiter with ferocity. It has gobs of power. Every stomp on the accelerator requires you to take in a lungful of air to counteract the shove of the V-8’s fierce torque and instant response. Celebrate it. Hear it transform organic molecules into motion, warmth, and smooth purrs. It’s a welcome reprieve from a world turning to narcoleptic turbo fours that refuse to redline.
No one wrote a single paean to the Z06’s absent supercharger because no one missed it. It’s telling that no staffer suggested that the Grand Sport could use more horsepower. With a seven-speed manual, 60 mph is only 3.9 seconds away and the quarter comes up in 12.3 seconds at 117 mph. A pull through the first two gears is all that’s necessary to understand how and why Chevrolet has built more than 10 million small-blocks. Effortless power is as persuasive today as it was in 1955. Ford’s take on the modern V-8 has four cams and 32 valves, and it revs to an implausible 8250 rpm. This engine completely transforms the Mustang. And while no one will mistake the GT350’s V-8 for crooner Michael Bublé, we have to acknowledge that it’s coarse by design. Testing director Don Sherman called it “two 2.6-liter four-cylinder engines with no balance shafts but a common crankshaft.” The car’s most vocal detractor continued: “Hanging six tuned mass dampers under the car is not effective at turning this 8250-rpm Voodoo into a smooth, sweet V-8.” We all heard it: The GT350 busts through its first two gears quickly enough that the raspy moans it makes at low revs are fleeting spine tinglers. Running to 60 mph takes only 4.3 seconds. But rev it out in higher gears, and the engine sounds as if it’s munching on itself, ready to rocket some pistons through the hood. None of that comes through the exhaust, however. From outside, the GT350 sounds the way a Jackson Pollock painting looks. It’s a splattering of sound—fiery, shocking, angry, and somehow perfect. Below 4000 rpm, the GT350 lacks the Corvette’s deep well of torque. Swing the needle past 8000 rpm and tap the 526 horsepower, though, and it’s hard not to think that maybe that Chevy V-8 belongs in a pickup. Double the GT350’s $56,770 price, and there’s still nothing as exotic as this Romeo, Michigan–built engine.
Painted red with big white stripes running down the center, the Grand Sport and the GT350 might as well be draped in Old Glory. Both models differ from their lesser kin with broader fenders that cover up wider tires. Neither car has many surprises inside. We’re accustomed to both, from the Corvette’s smell of polyester resin to the Mustang’s huge touchscreen and toggle switches. Ford uses standard Recaros that fit as if they’re custom-made. Chevy asks $1995 for its Competition Sport seats, but we prefer the standard chairs.

While some seats may be optional on the Grand Sport, the serious hardware—magnetorheological dampers, an electronically controlled differential, and the Z06’s larger brakes—comes stand­ard. For the rare occasions when Michelin Pilot Super Sports aren’t enough, the track-ready Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires and carbon-ceramic brakes of the Z07 package will knock your cochlea into the creek. Even without the Z07 package, stops from 70 mph take 136 feet, and grip on the skidpad is an unbelievable 1.13 g’s. These are supercar numbers that move into the hypercar realm when the Vette is equipped with the Z07’s exotic rubber and brakes. In the real world, it’s nigh on impossible to regularly tap the Grand Sport’s potential.

A GT350R is a 1.10-g car, but the plain GT350 that Ford sent us this year has less cling, just 0.98 g. But this “low-grip” GT350 has more than enough stick to eviscerate our 13.5-mile loop. Its handling limits are approachable and usable. Perhaps you’ve seen videos of Mustangs leaving car shows with disastrous results. Chalk it up to lack of skill. If you know what you’re doing, there’s simply no treachery to this chassis (or that of any new Mustang); it does what you expect of it safely, predictably, and obediently.

Part of the appeal of the 10Best loop is that it’s as unsettling as stepping on a Hot Wheels in the dark. In short order, the lumpy and bumpy asphalt exposes chassis-tuning compromises. To get a Mustang to 0.98 g, Ford fits stiff springs and adjustable dampers and steamroller-wide rubber. The resulting ride is impossible to ignore in this setting. Deputy editor Daniel Pund, who placed the GT350 just outside his 10Best list, said: “I may have been more willing to accept the GT350’s overly stiff ride when it was the hot new thing last year. But I can’t ignore that it was actively trying to throw me off the road.”

Even with a 1.13-g chassis, the Corvette’s magnetorheological dampers and spring rates offer more compliance and a slightly calmer experience. It’s gifted—possibly too gifted—with grip and composure that can make it seem aloof. Throwing this supercar down a narrow byway like our 10Best loop requires a frustrating amount of restraint. The solution is to go faster, but what this car really needs is a track. It’s the complete opposite of a narrow-tire car like the Mazda MX-5 Miata, which slips and grips and remains engaging even at lower speeds. “Too much for the road,” became a common refrain as editor after editor stepped out of the Corvette. Life beyond 1.10 g’s is both a blessing and a curse.

2017 10Best Cars

Home / Features / 2017 10Best Cars - 10Best Cars 10BEST CARS 2017 10Best Cars With the evaluation over, the votes tallied, and the staff exhausted, these 10 models emerge victorious. NOV 2016 BY CAR AND DRIVER MULTIPLE PHOTOGRAPHERS SHARE TWEET Welcome to our 2017 10Best Cars. Each year for more than three decades, we’ve put dozens of new cars through thousands of miles of cumulative evaluation to determine our annual list of the very best automobiles for sale in America. The rules for consideration are simple: Entrants must cost less than $80,000 (anything pricier should be excellent by default), and they must be either a returning winner or all-new or significantly revised. Winning isn’t easy, however—in order to take home a trophy, a vehicle must offer good value, excel at its given mission, and, critically, deliver a pleasurable driving experience. These 10 cars deliver all of those qualities in spades. While none of them are perfect, they come closer to that ideal than anything else you can buy new.

2017 Bentley Continental GT V8 S Convertible vs. 2017 Mercedes-AMG S63 Cabriolet

Dad bought a new Cadillac Eldorado convertible in 1976. GM touted it as the last of the big droptops, a majestic parting shot seemingly designed to transport prom queens, grand marshals, and Boss Hogg types into an increasingly ­dystopian, gas-rationed future. Dressed in triple red with every option, including fuel injection, automatic high-beams, power everything, and a hard tonneau “parade boot,” that 18.7-foot luxo-barge weighed 5231 pounds and was motivated via an 8.2-liter V-8 under a hood so long you could land an Airbus A380 on it. No one can say that Cadillac let the convertible go g­ently into that good night. What no one could have imagined back in 1976 was that big ­convertibles would exist at all 40 years later, much less as 500-plus-hp chariots for the same well-to-do neighborhoods that Cadillac once owned. In a world of $2.50 gas and ever-growing stock portfolios, the parade car has returned. Using a big, thirsty, open-air sled to declare “I’m rich and deserve this” is again possible without having to resort to the classic-car market.
After a four-decade hiatus, Mercedes is back to building full-size convertibles. Save your letters; we’re not counting the E-class–based 1993–95 cabriolet because it did not achieve true pulchritude. In no dimension, except maybe build quality, does it measure up to this S-class–derived four-seater. Available in three flavors, Merc’s convertible is a leather-packed bullet aimed squarely at the Bentley Continental GT convertible. Constant updates have kept the now 12-year-old Continental as relevant as any car costing more than $200 large can credibly be. Admittedly, when conducting a comparison of cars this ludicrously expensive, logic is trumped by baser stuff. Cadillac certainly wasn’t thinking logically when it built its 8.2-liter V-8. Just as with old stars that grow so large they collapse upon themselves, Cadillac’s 500-cubic-inch supergiant, in its final year, made just 190 horsepower (215 with fuel injection) and 360 pound-feet of torque, numbers that Mercedes can now match with a 2.1-liter turbo-­diesel. But with two turbochargers and more than 500 horsepower each, these modern V-8s certainly recall that Cadillac’s excess.
Bentley and Mercedes do offer larger 12-cylinder engines, but we chose the V-8 versions because upping the cylinder count adds weight, complexity, and cost without, in our opinion, improving the driving experience. Okay, so sometimes logic does trump ­emotion, even in the illogical world of the big convertible.

On the Mercedes side, we selected the 577-hp AMG S63 that starts at $178,325, here to do battle with the 520-hp Continental GT V-8 S convertible that opens at $234,525. AMG’s 5.5-liter blown V-8 is the perfect foil to Bentley’s 4.0-liter blown V-8. Because it’s not exactly Bentley’s engine—it’s the same unit found in a number of Audis—this is sort of a proxy war between two German rivals.

Cloth-top, two-door personal luxury machines might perplex those of us without vacation homes and yachts, but as with the Eldorado of the ’70s, there’s a seductive magic to a comfortable, tech-filled premium convertible with a V-8 heart.

The Battle of the Off-Road Beaters: Ford F-150 Custom vs. Geo Tracker, Jeep Cherokee, Land Rover Discovery

Until you’ve realized that the phone in your pocket is still connected via Bluetooth to the car your co-worker just started outside your office window, which means he is now listening to Shakira’s Oral Fixation, Vol. 2, and the infotainment display is outing the music as yours, well, you can’t know the struggles we endure here at 1585 Eisenhower Place. It’s hard driving new cars all the time; sometimes you just gotta go for a run in a turd. That’s more or less how we decided the time had come for another beater challenge. Past such budget-burners have featured ice racing, a sort of street-car Olympics, and a cross-country scavenger hunt. For this installment, we decided to buy old 4x4s and fix them up so we could break them again. Pairs of editors were given $1500 budgets, which they promptly blew, and we devised a series of off-road abuses. The scoring was, to put it mildly, improvised.
Home / Reviews / The Battle of the Off-Road Beaters: Ford F-150 Custom vs. Geo Tracker, Jeep Cherokee, Land Rover Discovery - Comparison Tests VIEW 65 PHOTOS COMPARISON TESTS The Battle of the Off-Road Beaters: Ford F-150 Custom vs. Geo Tracker, Jeep Cherokee, Land Rover Discovery Four unprepared teams. Four disease-ridden $1500 vehicles. Three grueling days of mud, sand, and pavement. NOV 2016 BY JARED GALL MULTIPLE PHOTOGRAPHERS ILLUSTRATION BY PETE SUCHESKI SHARE TWEET From the December 2016 issue Until you’ve realized that the phone in your pocket is still connected via Bluetooth to the car your co-worker just started outside your office window, which means he is now listening to Shakira’s Oral Fixation, Vol. 2, and the infotainment display is outing the music as yours, well, you can’t know the struggles we endure here at 1585 Eisenhower Place. It’s hard driving new cars all the time; sometimes you just gotta go for a run in a turd. That’s more or less how we decided the time had come for another beater challenge. Past such budget-burners have featured ice racing, a sort of street-car Olympics, and a cross-country scavenger hunt. For this installment, we decided to buy old 4x4s and fix them up so we could break them again. Pairs of editors were given $1500 budgets, which they promptly blew, and we devised a series of off-road abuses. The scoring was, to put it mildly, improvised. VIEW 65 PHOTOS Reviews editor Josh Jacquot and your author immediately ­dismissed rationality. “We could buy a pretty nice Cherokee for $1500,” Jacquot observed, “but that’d be like buying a Camry.” Agreeing that insanity was the surest path to victory, we found a ’79 Ford F-150 missing the bed, fenders, and hood. The hood was not actually missing, but the seller wanted to keep it because he was using it as a sled to pull his kids around behind a snowmobile. Our test drive suggested that gravity and friction were standing in for threaded fasteners, as no part of the truck seemed to be securely attached to any other. But it rode on 44-inch tires and looked like a Mad Max prop, so we towed it home $1500 poorer and fully agreed that we had already won. Triumphantly, we parked it in front of the office. As our co-workers debated how comfortable they were even standing near it, deputy editor Daniel Pund and I climbed aboard for a joyride. The Ford stalled 12 feet later, refused to restart, and wouldn’t take a jump. As we pushed it back into its parking space, the power-steering pump puked its fluid. Lucky for us, our landlord likes oil stains. At least, we hope he does, because he now has a panoply. With more rock-crawling and dune-running experience than the rest of us combined, road-test editor Chris Benn and senior online editor Mike Sutton were early favorites, especially when they announced their intention to buy said “Camry.” They reasoned that when it comes to Jeep Cherokees, a late ’90s vintage would make the most sense, as it would be fitted with sturdier axles, plus airbags they could sell to pad the budget. But as Benn glanced over a Craigslist ad for an ’88 XJ, his seasoned eye caught something: lockable hubs on the front axle, not factory Cherokee equipment. The seller had neglected to mention in the ad that the Jeep sat on the burlier running gear from a ’79 Bronco, complete with shorter gears and locked front and rear differentials. In the cons column: The fuel tank had been relocated to the cargo area and fixed in place with fabric ratchet straps, the windshield was spider-webbed, and there was a distinct lack of doors. They snatched up their backwoods mash-up for $800.

Looking to maximize agility and minimize parts cost, Pund and assistant tech editor David Beard set their hearts on a Suzuki Samurai. They found one with an external roll cage that the seller told them “doesn’t look pretty, but that’s because I know it works.” That pitch apparently worked for other potential buyers, because it was sold out from under them. They found another that the seller said didn’t run so well because “it got stolen for a year and they didn’t take very good care of it.” Ultimately, the Pund/Beard team laid out $1200 for a 1990 Geo Tracker with a three-inch lift and an odo showing 130,000 miles. After a quick vacuuming, some Meguiar’s on the dash, and a loving exterior wash, it looked like an honest $3000 car—right up until your humble narrator did a cannonball onto the Tracker’s hood, because who needs a hood?

Our leaking liabilities successfully registered and insured, we set our schedule: We’d trundle 60 miles west to Bundy Hill, a 350-acre gravel-pit-cum-off-road-park in Jerome, Michigan. After a few days for recuperation and repairs, we’d long-haul 220 miles northwest to the dunes at Silver Lake State Park along Lake Michigan.
And then one morning we arrived at the office to find an old Land Rover, sans front bumper. Wanting in on the fun, creative director Darin Johnson had emailed a Craigslist link to editor-in-chief Alterman asking if he could dark-horse a Discovery into the competition. In retrospect, the one-word reply, “Boom,” might not have been permission so much as a prediction for the outcome. Rather than seek clarification from the boss, Johnson found and purchased a 2004 Disco near Chicago. While the rest of us ­worried about how many more heartbeats our rigs might have left, Johnson drove it the 300 miles home, then another 200 miles the ­following weekend visiting family in northern Michigan. It was there that it developed an ominous knock, requiring photo assistant Charley Ladd to rescue his teammate and tow the WasteLand Rover back to the office. And so began Car and Driver’s fourth ­quasi-periodic beater challenge.