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.

Monday, 14 November 2016

2017 Audi R8 Spyder

Audi’s racy R8 seems like a fixture among supercars, but it’s easy to forget that the R8 is a relative newcomer. Indeed, the second-generation car only recently launched in coupe form, and the initial coupe version is now joined by a Spyder convertible. As with the fixed-roof model, the Spyder is closely related to the Lamborghini Huracán, but the Audi has its own appeal that is only enhanced by the disappearing top. Perfect 10 The new Spyder again uses a fabric roof, which can be opened and closed in 20 seconds at up to 31 mph. It stows beneath the carbon-fiber engine cover, just ahead of a 5.2-liter V-10. It’s rated at a healthy 540 horsepower delivered at 7800 rpm, while maximum torque is 398 lb-ft, served up at a lofty 6500 rpm. Audi has tweaked the engine with a new dual fuel-injection system that switches between port and direct injection as needed for maximum efficiency or maximum power. Under modest loads, a cylinder-deactivation system can shut down half of the cylinders to improve fuel economy.
The engine is “the last of its kind,” we’re told by Audi. The era of high-revving, naturally aspirated engines is inexorably coming to an end. A glorious end it is: With its instantaneous response, its effortless revving beyond 8500 rpm, and its thoroughbred soundtrack, this engine delivers emotional appeal that no turbocharged powerplant can match, as efficient as force-fed units may be. The droptop R8 is rated at 17 mpg in the EPA’s combined test, and it is actually possible to reach this mileage with a light right foot. Put the hammer down and you lose some mpg, but you’re rewarded with almost ludicrous performance. Audi says the sprint from zero to 62 mph takes just 3.6 seconds, and the R8’s top speed is a claimed 198 mph.The V-10­­­­’s torque is transmitted to all four wheels via a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, a gearbox that those who love both sports cars and automatics will find absolutely no fault with. It whips off gearchanges at lightning speed, and it works beautifully with the V-10, including throttle blips on downshifts and not-so-subtle backfires in the exhaust. Stick to Comfort mode, and the exhaust crackle disappears and the shifts become smoother. In fact, we think the engine sounds better in Comfort mode; the sound is muffled, but it seems more full-bodied and sophisticated than the angry blare you get when the exhaust flaps open. It won’t surprise you that we lament the loss of the fantastic six-speed manual that was available in the first-gen R8. It was a perfect gearbox, with short, precise throws and a beautiful gated shifter. It’s gone, even though it would nicely match the R8 Spyder’s vibe.

2017 Acura NSX

If a 3868-pound, all-wheel-drive hybrid strikes you as a curious sequel to the original bantamweight NSX, you’re not alone. As vehicle-performance lead engineer Jason Widmer tells it, the initial prospect of a gas-electric NSX caused as much hand-wringing within Honda’s hallways as raised eyebrows outside them. In the early days of the new car, NSX mules consistently laid down faster laps without the battery-electric assist system that was supposed to make the thing quicker. That was more than five years ago, and the NSX’s hybrid-electric system is now a fully developed piece of go-faster kit. The car rolling out of Marysville, Ohio, seamlessly combines two turbochargers, three electric motors, four driven wheels, six cylinders, and nine forward gears to produce bona fide supercar performance. That won’t make it any less controversial; there are an infinite number of ideas as to what a resurrected NSX should have been. The concept that won out is a rolling test bed for the future of performance technology. “You will not find a car in this category in 10 years that won’t have electrification. I’m confident on that,” Widmer says.So are we. The NSX isn’t the first of its kind to mesh electrons and hydrocarbons in the pursuit of speed, but give Acura credit for so rapidly democratizing the technology. Even with a starting price of $157,800, the NSX is hard evidence of the kind of trickle-down economics that actually works. Sacrificing a fraction of the performance and the pure-electric driving capability of the 2015 Porsche 918 Spyder netted Acura a $700,000 price cut for its mid-engined hero. Widmer may have been talking about McLarens, Lambor­ghinis, and Ferraris when he made his 10-year prediction, but the electrification of performance won’t stop at supercars. Defying physics, the electrons are poised to flow into iconic performance cars where there’s even more resistance. Hybridized 911s and BMW M3s are an eventuality, not just a possibility. This NSX is a preview of things to come.For Acura, the hybrid system that supplements the 500-hp V-6 plays perfectly to the character of the NSX, both old and new. Just like the original, the modern NSX is every bit as civilized as it is quick. The open sightlines, the wide cabin, and the seats that accommodate the average American are as notable in this class as are the electric motors that give it instant off-the-line thrust. It’s a supercar without a God complex, as unpretentious as a car with an engine behind the driver and a six-figure price on the window can possibly be. More than any other modern car, the NSX is a product of whichever of its four modes—Quiet, Sport, Sport-Plus, and Track—is active at the moment. Along with the usual calibration tweaks to the electrically assisted steering, adaptive dampers, and stability-control system, the NSX takes on a different persona depending on how it blends internal combustion and electric thrust.

Not That Sporty: Sport Mode

Because there’s nothing “normal” about a 573-hp, torque-vectoring, gas-electric mid-engined Acura, engineers named the NSX’s default street mode “Sport.” It strikes us as a misnomer, though, because getting the NSX to accelerate enthusiastically in this mode requires big, deliberate throttle inputs. It’s best suited to urban settings, where the low-end torque of the electric motors—two up front and a third, larger unit mated to the engine—pulls the NSX off the line faster than traffic, but without spinning the engine much beyond 3000 rpm.

2017 Jaguar F-Pace S vs. 2017 Porsche Macan GTS

In an industry that lives and dies by the sales of Camrys and pickup trucks, advocating for enthusiasts sometimes feels like standing in a raging river and shouting at it to reverse course. Manu­al transmissions are slipping toward oblivion. Fuel-economy regulations are driving diversity from manufacturers’ engine port­folios, replacing it with efficient homogeneity. And perhaps most worrying is the proliferation of crossovers. They’re like an algal bloom threatening to choke out all other life-forms in the interest of easy ingress and a commanding driver’s position. But a few shafts of light have started to pierce the heavy blanket of crossover conformity. Porsche’s first glimmer of hope, the Cayenne, dates to before most people realized the market potential of a high-performance crossover. In its first year on the market, the Cayenne became Porsche’s best-selling model. The creators of the Pink Pig learned lessons from their new 5000-pound supersow, and the smaller, Audi Q5–based Macan has already dethroned the Cayenne as the brand’s sales leader. The example tested here is the new-for-2017 GTS, which splits the difference between the $55,450, 340-hp S model and the $77,050, 400-horse Revised ECU tuning boosts the Macan GTS’s output over the S’s to 360 horsepower and 369 pound-feet, while standard adjustable air springs lower ride height by 0.4 inch. Like other Macans, the GTS is only available as an all-wheel-driver with a seven-speed PDK dual-clutch transmission. This example’s $68,250 base price swelled to an as-tested sticker of $77,255. Notable extras include the Premium ­Package Plus ($3390; panoramic sunroof, heated seats front and rear, keyless entry and starting, and auto-dimming mirrors), brake-based torque vectoring ($1490), the Sport Chrono package ($1290; dash-mounted stopwatch, launch control, and sport-plus mode for harder-edged suspension and drivetrain responses), and a key painted to match the car (cost to you: $525; cost to Porsche: maybe a buck). Any color other than simple black or white also costs extra, and our Volcano Grey Metallic lists for $690. The Carmine Red on our cover Macan? $3120. Jaguar’s beacon of hope is new for 2017. Never mind that Land Rover functions as the SUV arm of jointly owned Jaguar Land Rover; to get Americans to pay attention, every brand needs its own crossover. Jaguar plows a lot of aluminum into the F-Pace, using the lightweight stuff for most of the body structure and suspension components. A diesel four-cylinder is the base engine, but the likely volume engines are a pair of aluminum V-6s shared with the F-type.

2017 Dodge Durango V-6 AWD

Part of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ most recent five-year plan was to recast Dodge as “America’s mainstream performance brand.” (Their words, not ours.) What followed included 707-hp Hellcats and track-oriented Vipers and the demise of nonsporty sedans such as the Avenger and (soon) the Dart. But it’s not all about burnouts and hot laps at Dodge, as a few more middle-of-the-road offerings like the Durango three-row crossover still exist to hold up the “mainstream” end of that slogan. That’s not to discredit the Durango, which offers more thrills than many of its competitors—especially when equipped with the rip-roaring Hemi V-8 engine, lowered ride height, and more aggressive looks of the R/T trim. Not all three-row crossover shoppers need or want 360 horsepower, though, and a majority of Durangos sold are the more sensible V-6 version. To help spread the Dodge sportiness across more models, the 2017 Durango now offers a V-6–powered GT trim (replacing the previous Limited) with a monochromatic appearance that resembles that of the R/T for several thousand bucks less.To our eyes, it works. The GT’s body kit and 20-inch wheels nicely accentuate the Durango’s muscular stance. Our test car also had the $595 Brass Monkey package, which paints those wheels an attractive shade of bronze. (We certainly hope the Beastie Boys are getting royalties.) So-So Numbers The performance angle fades a bit when you look at the Durango’s test numbers. To its credit, this 2017 version was a bit quicker than a similar V-6 AWD model we tested three years ago, getting from zero to 60 mph in 7.4 seconds and running the quarter-mile in 15.7 seconds at 89 mph, 0.2 and 0.1 second better than before. And yet, a Mazda CX-9 was 0.2 second quicker to 60 mph in our testing, and the Honda Pilot was a whopping 1.4 seconds ahead. Don’t go stoplight drag-racing other crossover-driving parents unless you’ve splurged for the Durango V-8, which does zero to 60 mph in 6.2 seconds. Skidpad grip of 0.76 g and a 70-to-zero-mph braking distance of 182 feet also lagged behind the Mazda and the Honda, which is no surprise considering that the 5111-pound Durango weighs nearly 800 pounds more than either Japanese-brand SUV. Taken beyond the numbers, the Durango remains satisfying to drive. While most other three-row crossovers use front-wheel-drive platforms derived from mainstream mid-size sedans, the Durango’s chassis is a rear-driver that was developed, in conjunction with the Jeep Grand Cherokee, alongside the Mercedes-Benz GLE-class SUV going back to the end of the DaimlerChrysler days. That results in a behemoth that’s confident in its responses, from the nicely weighted steering to the way its suspension soaks up bumps with nary a reverberation through the stiff structure. The 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 engine also enjoys its job motivating the big Durango, doing so with adequate punch and a pleasing engine note to boot—even if it can’t match the growl of the Hemi.

2017 Kia Soul Turbo

Kia and Hyundai have long struggled to break into the sport-compact space. And to be fair, it’s a tough nut to crack, what with favorites of ours like the Volkswagen GTI and Ford’s Fiesta ST and Focus ST clogging up the tubes. Korea’s attempts to court enthusiasts thus far, including the Hyundai Veloster Turbo and the Kia Forte SX Turbo, have fallen just short of true hot-hatch status largely due to detail shortcomings such as vague steering and rubbery shift action. At first glance, the new turbocharged version of the Kia Soul seems to be playing a similar sort of game. Red exterior accent lines are evocative of the GTI’s aesthetic, a flat-bottomed steering wheel suggests some degree of raciness, and larger 18-inch wheels give the boxy Soul a more athletic stance. It also has a 1.6-liter turbocharged inline-four making 201 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque—not exactly barnburner numbers, but not shabby, either.
Think Warm CUV, Not Hot Hatch Kia is keen to point out that the Soul is not at all a sport compact or a hot hatch. Rather, it’s a small crossover set up to compete with the likes of the Mazda CX-3, Chevrolet Trax, and Fiat 500X. The Soul is already the best-seller in that segment, and Kia wants to keep the good times rolling. Buyers had been asking for two things: more power and all-wheel drive. With the latter proving difficult in terms of packaging and cost, Kia decided to prioritize the desire for extra grunt and make the 1.6-liter turbo engine standard for the Soul’s top trim level, which is simply denoted “!” (and pronounced Exclaim, according to Kia). As when the same engine is installed in the Kia Optima and the Hyundai Tucson and Sonata, the turbocharged mill pairs only with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic—no manual transmission is offered with the turbo, and Kia’s justification is the now familiar spiel about low take rates and the expensive certification process for different powertrain combinations. If you want a manual gearbox with this engine, Kia will happily steer you toward a Forte5 SX Turbo hatchback with a six-speed stick. The Soul Turbo’s aforementioned sporty touches are not meant to suggest that this is a performance machine. Its basic suspension setup is the same strut front and torsion-beam rear as the lesser models in the lineup, although Kia says the Turbo’s springs and dampers are tuned slightly differently. Its 45-series all-season tires and 18-inch wheels are the same size as the optional wheels and tires offered on the Soul Plus (or “+”), which has a 161-hp naturally aspirated 2.0-liter. Kia did install slightly larger, 12.0-inch-diameter front brake rotors for the turbocharged model, but the 10.3-inch rear discs are the same on all Souls.

2017 Mitsubishi Lancer AWD

In the car business, just as in life, respect is given when it’s earned. Consider the current Honda Civic: Ostensibly designed as an appliance to provide inexpensive and efficient transportation, it also delivers an engaging driving experience and holistic design that together transcend its humble mission statement. We respect that. The 2017 Mitsubishi Lancer compact sedan, however, is a more conflicted proposition. Updated for the 2016 model year with a revised front fascia, LED running lights, and an uptick in standard infotainment and connectivity options, the 2017 Lancer comes in four levels of trim, starting with the price-leading 2.0 ES (front-drive only with a standard five-speed manual; a CVT automatic adds $1000) and moving through the 2.4 ES AWC and the 2.4 SE AWC to the top-tier 2.4 SEL AWC. Powertrain specifics are pretty much called out in Mitsubishi’s naming scheme, but we’ll decipher anyway: All three of the latter trims employ a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine and CVT coupled with Mitsu’s AWC (All Wheel Control) four-wheel-drive system. For this test, Mitsubishi provided us with a top-tier Lancer 2.4 SEL AWC.One benefit of starting with such a vehicle is that it doesn’t require much time messing with the order sheet. With a base MSRP of $22,930, our test car included automatic headlamps, heated front seats, a leather-wrapped shifter knob and steering wheel, leather seating surfaces, automatic climate control, a 6.1-inch touchscreen, Bluetooth connectivity, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, rain-sensing wipers, and a proximity key. The sole option was the $1500 Sun & Sound package, which adds a power glass sunroof and swaps out the stock six-speaker stereo for a 710-watt, nine-speaker Rockford Fosgate premium audio system. Despite the glaring omission of a navigation system (that’ll set you back an additional $1800), the tested Lancer SEL packed a respectable amount of content for its $24,430 price. Plastic Not So Fantastic It’s when you climb behind the wheel of the Lancer that demerits begin to accrue. The steering column tilts but does not telescope. The touchscreen icons and a smattering of physical controls are so tiny that using them requires diverting too much attention from the road. Also, the short bottom cushions and generic sculpting of the seats make them pale in comparison to the comfortable thrones in a Honda Civic or a Mazda 3. The tiny trunklid opens to reveal a small space of only 12 cubic feet (also, the premium audio system and its trunk-mounted subwoofer crowd cargo volume by 0.5 cubic foot), which is less than the 15 cubes found in the Civic sedan or the 13 in the Toyota Corolla. The quality of the interior materials is also woefully below that of its competitors, as if Mitsubishi is sourcing its plastics from a couple of decades ago. The 2.4-liter inline-four and CVT that motivated our test car’s 3237 pounds certainly had a tall task. Producing 168 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 167 lb-ft of torque at a reasonably lofty 4100 rpm, it feels coarse and dated in comparison with, say, the 170-hp turbocharged 1.8-liter four-cylinder that Volkswagen uses in its Golf and Jetta to put either 184 or 199 lb-ft of torque on the table at as little as 1500 rpm. Even the Chevrolet Cruze has gone the turbo route, its 153-hp 1.4-liter turbo four supplying 177 lb-ft at 2000 rpm. Mitsubishi’s drivetrain more closely resembles that of the joyless Corolla, which tops the segment’s sales charts despite its weak, naturally aspirated 1.8-liter engine with only 132 horsepower and 128 lb-ft. Unfortunately for the Lancer, this CVT hasn’t adopted the latest stepped functions that make similar transmissions in the Civic and the Corolla less objectionable than in earlier iterations. Instead, it prompts the Lancer’s engine to swing for its 6500-rpm redline, where it drones on in an adenoidal tone. At the track, this Lancer SEL got itself to 60 mph in 8.0 seconds and covered the quarter-mile in 16.2 at 88 mph. Those numbers trail the Honda Civic by 1.1 and 0.9 seconds. A VW Jetta with the 1.8 turbo also outperforms the Lancer, needing only 7.3 seconds to reach 60 mph and 15.5 to cover the quarter-mile. A Toyota Corolla we tested turned in times of 9.5 seconds and 17.4, so the Lancer isn’t the laggard of this group. On the other hand, we observed 30 mpg in the Corolla but only 25 in the Lancer.

2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV

Here’s proof that the electric car isn’t going away: General Motors, that 108-year-old monolithic automaker, now sells a battery-electric hatchback that delivers more than 200 miles of driving range and can be had for less than the price of the average new car. With the arrival of the 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV, the electric car reaches a major milestone, one that also secures its future: a move toward mass appeal. It no longer matters if your in-laws show up at the airport unannounced. The Bolt has enough range to cover a day’s tasks plus the unexpected. It no longer matters if venture capital never recognizes the potential of your Bluetooth-enabled toilet seat. Anyone with a typical new-car budget can afford a Bolt. And, in the bigger picture, it no longer matters if Tesla goes belly-up. Electric cars appear to have laid down permanent roots in the automotive landscape with the first long-range, affordable EV from an established, mainstream automaker.The Bolt starts at $37,495 in LT trim, but a $7500 federal tax credit will pull the price under $30,000. Some states and municipalities offer incentives beyond that. The liquid-cooled lithium-ion battery pack stores 60.0 kilowatt-hours of energy (equivalent to about 1.8 gallons of gasoline), enough to earn a 238-mile range rating from the EPA. The range and the price by themselves make the Bolt a car worthy of celebration. Drive it, though, and you’ll discover the Bolt also is good enough to be worthy of all the breathless hype that’s been showered on the Tesla Model 3. Range, Conquered. Next? Charging. We’ve already verified that the Bolt will actually cover 238 miles during a leisurely jaunt up the California coast that left us with an indicated 34 miles of remaining range. However, the quadratic effects of aerodynamic drag mean that the faster you drive, the faster the battery drains. So in our most recent rendezvous with the Bolt, we performed a real-world range test that mimics a long highway road trip. With the cruise control set to 75 mph and the climate system set to 72 degrees, we drove the battery to exhaustion in 190 miles. As far as we’re concerned, that’s still more than enough for daily-driving duties. The Bolt also puts its driver at ease by showing three range numbers in its digital instrument panel: a maximum, a minimum, and a more prominent best estimate based on your driving style and accessory usage (climate control, headlights, audio) as well as ambient conditions. Range anxiety isn’t the sharknado of underlying worry that it was in earlier EVs. The fear of running out of juice unexpectedly was a far more serious issue in electric cars of the recent past, which occasionally chewed through two miles on their predicted range readouts for every mile driven. Consumer focus on range could fade away entirely except for the last real hurdle to widespread EV adoption: the inconvenience of recharging during journeys that exceed the battery’s single-charge range. With the Bolt’s impressive reach, after a typical day, most owners will need only to plug in overnight. Those who venture farther afield will find that the charging network is the one arena where Chevrolet is still handily outscored by Tesla.

2017 Jaguar F-Pace S vs. 2017 Porsche Macan GTS

In an industry that lives and dies by the sales of Camrys and pickup trucks, advocating for enthusiasts sometimes feels like standing in a raging river and shouting at it to reverse course. Manu­al transmissions are slipping toward oblivion. Fuel-economy regulations are driving diversity from manufacturers’ engine port­folios, replacing it with efficient homogeneity. And perhaps most worrying is the proliferation of crossovers. They’re like an algal bloom threatening to choke out all other life-forms in the interest of easy ingress and a commanding driver’s position. But a few shafts of light have started to pierce the heavy blanket of crossover conformity. Porsche’s first glimmer of hope, the Cayenne, dates to before most people realized the market potential of a high-performance crossover. In its first year on the market, the Cayenne became Porsche’s best-selling model. The creators of the Pink Pig learned lessons from their new 5000-pound supersow, and the smaller, Audi Q5–based Macan has already dethroned the Cayenne as the brand’s sales leader. The example tested here is the new-for-2017 GTS, which splits the difference between the $55,450, 340-hp S model and the $77,050, 400-horse Turbo. Revised ECU tuning boosts the Macan GTS’s output over the S’s to 360 horsepower and 369 pound-feet, while standard adjustable air springs lower ride height by 0.4 inch. Like other Macans, the GTS is only available as an all-wheel-driver with a seven-speed PDK dual-clutch transmission. This example’s $68,250 base price swelled to an as-tested sticker of $77,255. Notable extras include the Premium ­Package Plus ($3390; panoramic sunroof, heated seats front and rear, keyless entry and starting, and auto-dimming mirrors), brake-based torque vectoring ($1490), the Sport Chrono package ($1290; dash-mounted stopwatch, launch control, and sport-plus mode for harder-edged suspension and drivetrain responses), and a key painted to match the car (cost to you: $525; cost to Porsche: maybe a buck). Any color other than simple black or white also costs extra, and our Volcano Grey Metallic lists for $690. The Carmine Red on our cover Macan? $3120. Jaguar’s beacon of hope is new for 2017. Never mind that Land Rover functions as the SUV arm of jointly owned Jaguar Land Rover; to get Americans to pay attention, every brand needs its own crossover. Jaguar plows a lot of aluminum into the F-Pace, using the lightweight stuff for most of the body structure and suspension components. A diesel four-cylinder is the base engine, but the likely volume engines are a pair of aluminum V-6s shared with the F-type. Displacing 3.0 liters and pumped full of 13.8 pounds of boost by an honest-to-John-Force Roots-type supercharger, Jag’s V-6 posts a 20-hp advantage over the Porsche’s, peaking at 380 in the S trim tested here. ZF’s ubiquitous eight-speed automatic sends torque to all four wheels, as it does in every F-Pace that Jaguar plans to bring to the U.S. Our example is one of 275 First Edition F-Paces, loaded up with 22-inch Pirelli P Zeros, an 825-watt Meridian stereo pounding through 17 speakers, Jaguar’s new In­Control Touch Pro 10.2-inch infotainment interface, and more. Total retail price: $71,095. Aired up and topped off, we charted a course for Caldwell, Ohio, tucked into the state’s southeast corner near the Ohio River and the West Virginia state line. Here, where the roads swell and pitch across the Allegheny Plateau, we began to see the F-Pace and Macan as more than just a pair of new vehicles. Maybe crossovers like these, squatting lower, with roof- and beltlines creeping back toward the ground, portend a gradual shift away from wannabe off-roaders and back toward the lower-center-of-gravity car architectures on which the crossover boom was born. Or maybe they’re just flukes. Even if that is the case, they’re delightful flukes.

2017 Jeep Cherokee 4x4


To our knowledge, the Cherokee Nation has never officially contested the use of its hallowed name on five generations of the Jeep Cherokee. The model name has been around since 1974 and has even been used in Europe. Whatever cultural appropriation issues it might raise today, the badge is at least worn on a vehicle native to this continent. The Toledo, Ohio–built compact crossover holds its own against more than a dozen domestic, Asian, and European competitors and has become the Jeep brand’s best-seller, topping both the Wrangler and the Grand Cherokee through October of this year. Fiat Chrysler hammered the modern crossover nail dead center when the current Cherokee design was launched for the 2014 model year. Sharing a unibody platform with the Dodge Dart, Chrysler 200, and Chrysler Pacifica, the Cherokee was off and running with a size, style, and price proposition in perfect sync with America’s hop aboard the crossover express. The Cherokee’s key attributes are integral to its architecture. Mounting the engine and transmission transversely and raising the roof to an attractive height enables efficient packaging for passengers and their gear. Although the Cherokee casts a shadow 5 percent smaller than the Honda Accord’s, it offers almost identical interior room, so there’s plenty of useful space inside. Drivers also appreciate the Cherokee’s 28.9-inch-high seating position; for most people, entry is a straight slide in, with no climb up or drop down to the seat required. Loaded with Leather and Electronics Customers also are drawn into Jeep showrooms with a Cherokee price range that begins at $24,590 for the four-cylinder, front-wheel-drive Sport edition. At the top of the scale is the lavishly equipped Overland reviewed here, introduced midway through the 2016 model year. With a 2017 base price of $38,690 with four-wheel drive, this leather-lined flagship sports upgraded seats, a premium Alpine audio system, and an 8.4-inch touchscreen programmed with navigation, Bluetooth, SiriusXM travel link and traffic, and Chrysler’s Uconnect connectivity system. Our test car added to that most of the available option groups. A $1645 Technology package includes collision warning, parking assist, automated emergency braking, rain-sensing wipers, automatic high-beam headlamps, lane-departure warning, and adaptive cruise control that is capable of slowing the vehicle to a stop in traffic. The $1205 Active Drive II system powers the front wheels most of the time, engaging the rear axle automatically when slippage occurs. Low-range gearing for off-road use can be selected at the touch of a button. Lastly, a $435 Heavy-Duty Protection group adds four large skid plates and a full-size spare tire. In light of our $41,975 total, shoppers with tight budgets should exercise care in checking the options boxes. A 3.2-liter V-6 rated at 271 horsepower and mated to a nine-speed automatic provides the impetus to move this densely packed machine (it weighed 4332 pounds on our scales). There’s sufficient punch to pass two of our favorite crossovers—the Honda CR-V and the Mazda CX-5—but the Cherokee’s 7.5-second zero-to-60-mph time, its 15.8-second quarter-mile performance, and its top-gear acceleration figures all trail the Ford Escape powered by an EcoBoost 2.0-liter four-cylinder.\ Home / Reviews / Jeep / Cherokee / 2017 Jeep Cherokee 4x4 - Instrumented Test VIEW 67 PHOTOS INSTRUMENTED TEST 2017 Jeep Cherokee 4x4 A proud American. NOV 2016 BY DON SHERMAN PHOTOGRAPHY BY CHRIS AMOS SHARE TWEET To our knowledge, the Cherokee Nation has never officially contested the use of its hallowed name on five generations of the Jeep Cherokee. The model name has been around since 1974 and has even been used in Europe. Whatever cultural appropriation issues it might raise today, the badge is at least worn on a vehicle native to this continent. The Toledo, Ohio–built compact crossover holds its own against more than a dozen domestic, Asian, and European competitors and has become the Jeep brand’s best-seller, topping both the Wrangler and the Grand Cherokee through October of this year. Fiat Chrysler hammered the modern crossover nail dead center when the current Cherokee design was launched for the 2014 model year. Sharing a unibody platform with the Dodge Dart, Chrysler 200, and Chrysler Pacifica, the Cherokee was off and running with a size, style, and price proposition in perfect sync with America’s hop aboard the crossover express. VIEW 67 PHOTOS The Cherokee’s key attributes are integral to its architecture. Mounting the engine and transmission transversely and raising the roof to an attractive height enables efficient packaging for passengers and their gear. Although the Cherokee casts a shadow 5 percent smaller than the Honda Accord’s, it offers almost identical interior room, so there’s plenty of useful space inside. Drivers also appreciate the Cherokee’s 28.9-inch-high seating position; for most people, entry is a straight slide in, with no climb up or drop down to the seat required. Loaded with Leather and Electronics Customers also are drawn into Jeep showrooms with a Cherokee price range that begins at $24,590 for the four-cylinder, front-wheel-drive Sport edition. At the top of the scale is the lavishly equipped Overland reviewed here, introduced midway through the 2016 model year. With a 2017 base price of $38,690 with four-wheel drive, this leather-lined flagship sports upgraded seats, a premium Alpine audio system, and an 8.4-inch touchscreen programmed with navigation, Bluetooth, SiriusXM travel link and traffic, and Chrysler’s Uconnect connectivity system. Our test car added to that most of the available option groups. A $1645 Technology package includes collision warning, parking assist, automated emergency braking, rain-sensing wipers, automatic high-beam headlamps, lane-departure warning, and adaptive cruise control that is capable of slowing the vehicle to a stop in traffic. The $1205 Active Drive II system powers the front wheels most of the time, engaging the rear axle automatically when slippage occurs. Low-range gearing for off-road use can be selected at the touch of a button. Lastly, a $435 Heavy-Duty Protection group adds four large skid plates and a full-size spare tire. In light of our $41,975 total, shoppers with tight budgets should exercise care in checking the options boxes. A 3.2-liter V-6 rated at 271 horsepower and mated to a nine-speed automatic provides the impetus to move this densely packed machine (it weighed 4332 pounds on our scales). There’s sufficient punch to pass two of our favorite crossovers—the Honda CR-V and the Mazda CX-5—but the Cherokee’s 7.5-second zero-to-60-mph time, its 15.8-second quarter-mile performance, and its top-gear acceleration figures all trail the Ford Escape powered by an EcoBoost 2.0-liter four-cylinder. VIEW 67 PHOTOS The Cherokee lands midpack in terms of braking and cornering. The good news is that the brakes are capable of stopping this crossover from 70 mph in 175 feet during repeated use (although the first stop with cold brakes was a longish 184 feet). Cornering performance is impeded by a stability-control system that intervenes at only 0.80 g for safety’s sake—the potential for a rollover incident is one no modern automaker dares to ignore—even though the 18-inch Continental Pro Contact TX all-season tires have grip to spare. The Escape scored a more impressive 0.85 g in this 300-foot skidpad test. A curb weight 500 to 700 pounds greater than the aforementioned competitors also keeps the Cherokee from achieving exemplary EPA mileage. The Honda and the Mazda return 29 or more mpg on the highway versus a 26-mpg rating for the Cherokee. This Jeep’s active grille shutters, stop/start engine operation, and a class-exclusive nine-speed automatic can’t overcome the ill effects of its mass, even though the transmission provides an impressive 9.8:1 ratio spread (first gear divided by top gear). With a light foot on the throttle, it is possible to top 20 mpg in all-around driving; we averaged 18 mpg and recorded 24 mpg while cruising at 75 mph.

2017 Lincoln Continental

A brand named after a beloved American president—and which once supplied cars to presidents—is now looking to China for salvation. Following Buick’s proven path, Lincoln sees the Middle Kingdom and its swelling ranks of status-obsessed nouveaux riches as the ladder on which it plans to climb back to market relevance. In China, Lincoln still is associated with Kennedy and Eisenhower and American glamour. There, Lincoln carries no negative baggage from decades of neglect. In China, the new Lincoln Continental hopes to make its—pardon the Lincoln pun—mark. In the United States, where drivers are perhaps a bit more discerning, the Continental lugs the ball and chain of Lincoln’s more recent history and will have to prove itself against some very formidable competition. In that context, the car turns out to be, like Lincoln itself, a work in progress. The thoroughly fussed-over design, with exquisitely beveled edges and lovely LED light bars in back that give a seamless neon look, makes an imposing statement from any angle. And the interior takes Lincoln to heights that were unimagined when the brand sold nothing but bacon-wrapped Fords. But the car, despite its sales having begun already, is not yet fully finished. A few rough edges indicate that Lincoln is not quite ready to beat Lexus or the German luxury triumvirate, and it even has its hands full with the hard-charging Genesis sub-brand of Hyundai.
Whether you get the base front-wheel-drive $45,485 Premier or the loaded all-wheel-drive $65,840 Black Label, this is a big machine, slightly longer both in wheelbase (117.9 inches) and between the license plates (201.4 inches) than the standard-wheelbase Lexus LS, itself a rather grand limo. Unlike the biggest Lexus (or the biggest Audi, BMW, or Mercedes-Benz), there is only one Continental wheelbase at this point, so you can have any size you want as long as it’s XL. Besides that, Lincoln gives you a choice of three transversely mounted V-6 engines—the Chinese get a fourth engine, a 2.0-liter turbo—and a choice of front- or all-wheel drive, unless you pick the most powerful twin-turbo 3.0-liter, which comes only with all-wheel drive. (The other six-cylinders are a naturally aspirated 3.7-liter and a twin-turbo 2.7-liter.) For our first drive, Lincoln made available only the 3.0-liter—boasting 400 horsepower and 400 lb-ft of torque—in the top two trim levels wearing nearly every option, a $74,705 Reserve and an $80,260 Black Label. Besides a full load of features and trim upgrades, the latter comes with experiential extras including concierge service for pick up and delivery and an extended maintenance plan. They both had a full suite of luxury and safety options, including the much heralded 30-way power seats, rear-seat climate controls, self-cinching doors, twin sunroofs, and blind-spot and lane-departure warning systems among the phalanx of electronic safety gadgets. Seat Yourself Unlatch a door via the high-mounted handle, and the interior is easily accessible through big portals, both front and rear. Once ensconced behind the wheel, you notice immediately the soft embrace of the broadly hugging front thrones, reminiscent of those found in the industry’s current and longtime bucket-seat champ, Volvo. The seats’ many adjustments include two critical ones found on few cars: an independent upper-thorax component that articulates the upper half of the seatback, and a headrest adjustment that puts the soft cushion exactly where you want it. Unlike many modern seats, which curve away from your upper shoulders and neck and leave them dangling in dead space as part of a cheaped-out mechanical anti-whiplash scheme, the Lincoln’s can be configured after a few moments of familiarization to achieve perfect spinal alignment. We only wish the back seats were as comfortable. There’s tons of legroom in back, but the rear bench doesn’t welcome or support you nearly as opulently as the front, and the head of this five-foot 11-inch reporter was almost touching the roof.
The interior trim on these grander-level models, from the broad swaths of wood veneer to the finely perforated speaker grilles, can’t be critiqued without sounding petty. Lincoln no longer wants its products to be thought of as Fords with a different fascia, and the connection to other Ford products through the switchgear is blessedly faint. However, we didn’t see the lower trim levels, and the choice of a deep grain pattern for the material wrapping the dashtop and the seatbacks in the Reserve seems poor. Deep grain has long been associated with cheapness, and a smoother finish should have been selected. We might also have asked for more options in the instrument display screen. You can have a digital speedometer or an analog sweeping pointer, and although the display is legible and conveys the data, none of the options are particularly exciting. Other brands have taken better advantage of the switch from conventional gauges to TFT screens.

Conti in Motion

In motion, the Continental is quiet; even the mighty 3.0-liter makes a benign and distant V-6 hum. Lincoln was aiming for surprising performance from this boosted-to-bursting engine, and the Continental delivers, with the slightest brush of the accelerator causing your head to snap. Indeed, the engineers were a bit aggressive on the throttle calibration; the car rockets off with the gas pedal pushed barely a third of the way into its short stroke. And that’s in the standard drive mode. Select the Sport mode by pushing the S button, located below D on the console (this sport setting being the only other drive mode offered), and the throttle jumpiness becomes downright annoying. There’s no way to be subtle in the Continental, no way to merely waft past a slower car. You have to pass them as if you are trying to humiliate them. Hey, some people like that sensation of instant, massive power, but in this age of electronic controls, Lincoln should give the driver the choice of opting out for a more measured throttle-control map.

The six-speed automatic transmission proved another rough spot. It can shift at odd times, and often it doesn’t work transparently, especially on mid-throttle roll-offs from the line. Occasionally it lurched into second gear as if the car were hiccuping; once, it seemed to disconnect from the engine completely for half a second, then slammed into gear as if the car had been rear-ended, eliciting a startled gasp from both driver and passenger. We’re guessing that more elegant powertrain calibrations will roll out over time as buyer feedback comes in.


2018 Audi A5 Sportback

Audi won’t quite confirm that the new A5 Sportback is coming to the U.S. market. But trust us, it will. And when it does, it will continue the work begun by the grander A7: redeeming the hatchback in the eyes of Americans. That’s why we got behind the wheel of this sleek variant of the A4 sedan on its German home turf. The Sportback is 1.6 inches lower in overall height than the A4, but all other dimensions are within a fraction of the regular sedan’s. Mechanically, the cars are identical, which means the Sportback is powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder rated at 252 horsepower and 273 lb-ft of torque—the same as in all A4s other than the Ultra. This engine is more than sufficient—it’s so powerful that it renders the upmarket S5 Sportback a luxury, and we predict it will hurl this hatchback to 60 mph in 5.3 seconds and on to a top speed limited to 130 mph.
Mated to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, this long-stroke 2.0-liter is a surprisingly eager and playful companion. It feels like a much larger engine, with virtually no turbo lag, and even the engine note is sufficiently sporty and aggressive. There are six-cylinder engines on the market that sound far less enticing than this boosted four.
The A5 Sportback’s seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox has its own character that differs from that of a conventional, torque-converter automatic. The torque multiplication during launches from a stop is missing, but it is supremely responsive in the 50-to-70-mph range. The gearbox can be manipulated with shift paddles, but drivers soon will notice that it generally does everything right when left to its own devices. Audi keeps improving this transmission; previously, we found the Sport setting to be a bit too extreme, but here it’s easy to live with.
We’ve praised Audi’s MLB-Evo chassis before. It yields a car that is light, precise, and graceful on the road. The steering is not artificially heavy, and the limits of adhesion are high, with the various electronic helpers discreetly working to keep the handling near neutral. As introduced for the European market, the A5 Sportback does not yet have Audi’s Quattro with Ultra system, which does away with the center differential and decouples the rear driveshaft to improve fuel economy. That system has been deployed on the A4 Allroad, but we think it’ll be a while before it migrates into the A5 Sportback. The current Quattro setup, which is fully engaged at all times and defaults to a 40/60 front/rear torque split, works in perfect harmony with this car.The interior is virtually identical to those of the new A4 sedan and A5 coupe, and that’s a good thing. It’s a radical departure from the homely look of the last-gen models, and Audi’s Virtual Cockpit TFT-screen instrument cluster is highly futuristic. The interior also hits the mark in content, ergonomics, and style. What’s obviously different compared with the A4 is the big hatch at the rear, which makes the cargo hold more easily accessible; it also can be expanded from 17 to 46 cubic feet with the rear seats folded.
But the A5 Sportback is really all about looks. While virtually the same as the A4 mechanically, it presents a stylish alternative to the familiar proportions of a sedan. In Europe, the new Sportback has been criticized for looking too much like its predecessor; that’s not a concern in the U.S., where there was no predecessor. And anyway, the design is beautiful. Like the A7 before it, the A5 Sportback should continue the redemption of the hatchback in the United States. When it does, pricing should be virtually identical to the A5 coupe’s, starting at around $44,000.

2018 Mercedes-AMG GT / GT C Roadster

AMG chairman Tobias Moers is pushing his brand’s pedal to the floor. Two years after unveiling the spectacular Mercedes-AMG GT coupe, Daimler’s high-performance sub-brand displayed a droptop derivative in September, and now we’ve been invited to ride along with Moers in prototypes undergoing testing late in the development process. Where else to exercise the GT roadster than in and around Las Vegas? Sin City is a perfect place to sample the GT roadster: The city embodies money and glitz, and the surrounding landscape of otherworldy terrain and deep canyons is lined with many wide-open—and lightly patrolled—highways.
Both a standard GT roadster and a more powerful GT C roadster were on hand, the cars being en route from the West Coast to proving grounds near Phoenix, Arizona. Is AMG not testing in Death Valley? “Not anymore,” says Moers, noting that his team made its last trip there in 2015. “We can test everything in Arizona,” he says. And Arizona allows for more easily reproduced conditions and nearly as much heat—but at a private facility where there are no interruptions from police, nosy tourists with smartphones, or prowling spy photographers. Here are the details of the two models we rode in: The base GT roadster makes 469 horsepower, the GT C roadster 550 horsepower. There also will be a GT S roadster packing 503 horsepower. An open-topped version of the hard-core GT R model is possible, but we couldn’t get Moers to spill those beans. Foreshadowing a facelift that will migrate to the GT coupe, both roadsters sport the new “Rennsport” grille, inspired by the 1952 300SL Panamericana and first seen on the GT R coupe. Expect to see the theme also filter to AMG variations of more mainstream Mercedes production cars. Visually, the clearest difference between the base and C GTs can be seen from the rear—the C features vertical air outlets left and right, plus a horizontal slit between the taillights. It looks impressive, and it underscores the ties to the GT R.
Not only is the GT C variant more powerful than the standard GT, but it has a wider track, its body is widened by 2.2 inches, and there are several chassis modifications. The adaptive dampers are standard, and the tires grow from 255/35R-19 up front and 295/35R-19 in the rear to 265/35R-19 front and 305/30R-20 abaft. The GT C’s front brakes are larger, there is a four-wheel-steering system, and the transmission gains an additional, more aggressive mode labeled Race.
Inside, the GT roadster looks exactly like the coupe, with one difference: The ceiling-mounted array of buttons that lend the coupe a jet-fighter ambience have moved to the center console. But otherwise, the cabin is unchanged. The top can be lowered or raised while the car is moving, and it maintains a tight seal up to top speed, which nudges the 200-mph threshold, according to Mercedes.
Only an expert at the wheel would notice the differences between the GT and the GT C roadster. Thankfully, Tobias Moers is one, and probably the most qualified of all. He has been with AMG since 1994, and the GT—a spiritual descendent of the gullwinged SLS, the instant classic that already fetches incredible money—is his baby.
But even from the passenger seat—remember, we weren’t allowed to get behind the wheel—one can tell that these roadsters exhibit their very own character. The soundtrack is nearly overwhelming, with the fantastically aggressive exhaust note almost totally drowning out the mechanical sounds of the direct-injected 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8. There’s a bellow when the throttle blips on downshifts and a crackle when you let off the gas. Of course, the aural sensation is amplified when the top is lowered, one of the roadster’s great advantages over the coupe.
And that sweet noise is backed up with substance. Maximum torque is delivered on a plateau that begins at well below 2000 rpm, while the swell of horsepower peaks beyond 6000 rpm. It’ll pin you into the seat like few other cars on the road.
From our perch, the braking system scrubbed speed quickly and decisively. And lateral loading indicates that the chassis is supremely capable. Moers makes few adjustments as he winds and unwinds the wheel, and the car’s responses to his inputs show the steering seems to be as direct as the coupe’s. It’s perhaps a bit darty, but grip levels are extremely high, and experts can steer the GT roadster with their right foot.

Ford Focus RS with Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 Tires

We have long admired RS Focuses from across the oceans, and now the formerly unattainable icon of Ford Performance is finally on our shores. In our hands, the new RS already has dominated a comparison test held in Europe against the Subaru WRX STI and the Volkswagen Golf R and has tackled the 24 turns of Virginia International Raceway in our annual Lightning Lap (where it turned a lap quicker than a V-8 Mustang achieved in 2015). But this is our first crack at the car on American roads—and the results were not quite what we expected. Only the most observant readers would notice that the biggest difference between the comparison-test car and the Lightning Lap car was the tires. Bone stock, the Focus RS comes from the factory on capable Michelin Pilot Super Sport radials. Like our Lightning Lap car, this example came with a $1990 wheel-and-tire package consisting of a specific 19-inch forged-aluminum wheel and as racy a tire as you can put on a street car, the Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2. This is the same rubber worn by exotics worldwide. Fun fact: The Focus RS has the first square (non-staggered) fitment for the Cup 2 in the U.S.—a small win for diagonal tire rotation.
Purchased on their own, a set of Cup 2s would cost about $1500 installed and the delicate-looking, Y-spoke wheels command $1395, so the package is something of a deal. And the more aggressive rubber brings an instant, tangible increase in performance to the RS. Stopping from 70 mph takes 154 feet, which is only four feet shorter than a Super Sport–shod RS, but lateral acceleration jumps from just below 1.00 g to 1.04 g. It’s that kind of lateral grip that allows the Cup 2–equipped RS to lap VIR as quickly as it does. This RS’s accelerative performance—zero to 60 mph in 4.6 seconds and a 13.4-second quarter-mile—is unchanged. There is no question that the RS is a feral beast, and on this ultrasticky rubber, it follows every last pavement crack, bump, and tar strip while the firm suspension keeps body roll in check. In the sterile lab of a well-groomed racetrack, this translates to a connection between car and driver that we dream of. VIEW 56 PHOTOS However, once you transition to Michigan’s far-from-perfect public roads, housebreaking the RS proves to be the frustrating stuff of a ride-and-handling engineer’s worst dreams. This RS vibrates like a paint shaker on two-lane roads; it borders on unlivable when respecting posted speed limits. Crank up the velocity to criminal levels, and the RS actually settles down a bit. The ride evens out and the steering stops favoring the road’s topographical features and starts to better hew to the driver’s desires. But it’s a lot to ask of a driver—say, his or her license—when a good car is at its best only when doubling the speed limit. The dampers are adjustable, but the stiffer of the two settings is seriously overdamped for public roads. This track weapon never feels settled, and neither do its white-knuckled passengers. Going with the base tire won’t fix the brutal ride on rough roads, but it will quell some of the tramlining.That sounds disappointing, we know. It’s a tough verdict for a car that otherwise has earned Rhodes Scholar–worthy marks in other situations. It wouldn’t be hard to imagine a much more pleasant experience on the smoother tarmac of Southern California, for instance.
Tires can make or break any car, but other vehicles wearing Cup 2s—even other Fords such as the Mustang Shelby GT350R—don’t have this duality, so we can’t put the blame entirely on the Michelins. If you plan to track your RS, the Cups 2s and Y-spoke wheels are a no-brainer. But if you plan to drive an RS every day, save the money. You won’t forgo any of the fun this car delivers with the standard Super Sports, and you’ll avoid making your passengers wish they’d taken an Uber.

2017 Porsche 718 Cayman S PDK Automatic

Home / Reviews / Porsche / 718 Cayman / 2017 Porsche 718 Cayman S PDK Automatic - Instrumented Test VIEW 61 PHOTOS INSTRUMENTED TEST 2017 Porsche 718 Cayman S PDK Automatic More holistic than before. NOV 2016 BY KEVIN A. WILSON PHOTOGRAPHY BY MICHAEL SIMARI SHARE TWEET In our previous reviews of the stablemates for this 2017 Porsche 718 Cayman S—the Boxster, Boxster S, and base Cayman—we’ve already detailed the transformation from the previous naturally aspirated six-cylinder engine to turbocharged flat-four power. In short, the new engines are more powerful but sound completely different. This transformation stirs debate. Is a forced-induction four-banger that makes more power “better” than the former naturally aspirated flat-six that needed to be run out to redline to make power but sounded so beautiful while doing it? The new 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder generates 350 horsepower—25 more than the old 3.4-liter six—but it does not create operatic music. It instead emits a raspy, uncouth sound that strikes some drivers as unpleasant and grating in the way people can’t figure out how that nasally Dylan character landed a Nobel Prize for literature. It’s just so artless, they complain. In the case of this S model (and Bob Dylan, for that matter), they’ve got a point about the singing voice, but they’re wrong about artistry.

Linear Power Delivery

With 0.5-liter more displacement and a variable-vane turbocharger that comes into play earlier in the rev range, the S doesn’t suffer the turbo lag we noted in our test of the base Cayman with a manual transmission. It makes less boost (a maximum 14.5 psi versus 20.3 for the 2.0-liter), and its specific output of 140 horsepower per liter is lower than the 2.0-liter model’s 151, which means—depending on who’s reading—either that it’s less stressed or that there’s more room for aftermarket tuning enhancements. The larger point is that there’s a linearity to this engine’s response that, we’ll argue, makes it worth considering an S model with fewer options versus loading a base Cayman with Porsche’s notoriously pricey add-ons, despite a $12,400 gap in their base MSRPs.
Look at a graph of the torque and power curves (depicted in this review of a 2017 718 Boxster S) and you can see why—below 2000 rpm the 2.0-liter engine’s torque output sags like a loosely strung power line before it rises steeply toward the broad plateau from 2000 to 4500 rpm. In the S version, by contrast, the 2.5-liter’s torque curve makes a straight line to its higher but similarly broad peak output. Turn your attention to horsepower and the new Cayman S shows a straighter, smoother line from idle to its 6500-rpm power crest than did the 2014–2016 Cayman S with the flat-six that peaked at 7200 rpm. The latter had an agreeably split personality, mildly entertaining at low rpm but with a pulse-quickening ride to redline once the variable intake-valve system came into play around 4000 rpm. This “on-the-cam” sensation can be delightful in the right circumstances, and the auditory results won praise from drivers of our long-term 2014 Cayman S. That said, the ideal power “curve” wouldn’t curve at all but rise on a constant upward slope, with each additional 100 rpm accompanied by exactly the same portion of added power. The new Cayman S engine comes closer to that ideal than the old one did.
In practice, coupled with our test car’s seven-speed PDK dual-clutch automatic transmission, this results in a more nearly perfect Cayman. Mind you, that’s in the context of a car we’ve been putting on our 10Best Cars list pretty consistently for a decade (it missed joining the Boxster in 2013 only due to a model-year-changeover hiccup). Getting closer to perfection when you’re almost there is an incremental business.