All posts in “Car Reviews”

2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS 400d 4MATIC: 5 Things We Enjoyed

It is Mercedes’ most luxurious SUV, with the Maybach variant sitting at the top. Our test car, the GLS 400d, was equipped with just about every equipment available, which made it the perfect car for touring around.

The GLS 400d is powered by a 3.0 litre inline 6 diesel engine with 330 hp combined with 700 Nm of torque. Sprint from standstill to 100 km/h (62 mph) is done in 6.3 seconds, while the top speed is limited to 238 km/h (148 mph). Here are 5 things we loved about it after driving around in it for a week.

The Looks

Completely in black, Obsidian black as Mercedes calls it. Of course there are other colors to choose from but we loved the road presence it presented in this particular spec. The overall look has also improved and one can easily tell this is a sophisticated luxury SUV just from the looks.

7 Seater

The most common feature of SUVs in this segment is the option for 7 seats or 3 rows. The GLS offers the 2 persons on the last row of seats, a pleasant sitting and comfortable position. A 1000 km drive as an adult might not be fully comfortable, but the GLS will do it better than rivals in this segment without compromising on luggage space. The total length of 5.34 meters is fully used in this way.

Parking in the city

You can’t possibly expect a car like this to park like an A Class. But it still surprised me how easily I could park it even in very small spaces. Of course this is made easier by the all-round 360° camera . Other than underground parking spaces with low roofs, the GLS will give you an easy time driving around in the city.

Going off-road

The real off-road work, up to the belly in the mud and more is rarely spent in a GLS, especially since our test car drove on normal street tires. But still we couldn’t resist a quick off-road detour. We chose a route filled with bunkers of world war 1 through Flanders. At no time did the GLS have any trouble with a hill, a ditch or other obstacles along the way. The suspension does a great job, to give you the most possible comfort.

Of course, we played it safe and brought a friend along who owns a Land Rover Defender. However, to our surprise…

The Defender got stuck, and we even had to call 3 friends each with a Defender to pull him back out. What an adventure and fun we had! As you can expect, the part where the Defender was stuck was not part of the route, but our friend wanted to prove what a Defender can do … mission failed if you ask me!

Pictures by Wouter Desmet

2020 BMW M2 CS Review

The BMW M2 CS: this is the one I’ve been waiting for. When I first drove the M2 in early 2016, I was perplexed by the choice BMW M made to not drop the M3/4 engine into the M2. A remedy arrived in 2018 with the M2 Competition and the introduction of the S55 from the F80 & F82. On the launch I questioned BMW M directors as to why there was no option of adaptive dampers in the baby M car. It was openly discussed that it was a key differentiator between the M2 and it’s bigger brothers with which it shared an engine. 

The M3 and M4 are no longer in production and finally, the M2 can be uncorked without fear of it showing up the big boys – meet the M2 CS. It’s got the same S55 as the now discontinued M2 Competition, but it’s putting out the same 444bhp as the F80/82 (up from 404), torque remains unchanged at 406lb ft. As mentioned, it comes with the welcome addition of adaptive dampers and even a carbon roof which is constructed using a stunning chequer board weave. Furthermore, carbon ceramics can be optioned for the first time on an M2 and that’s not where the carbon ends. Inside there are massive lengths of the shiny stuff on both sides of the central tunnel and door handles. Back on the outside, the entire bonnet is carbon and vented, the entire is part is a carbon copy of the one used for the CS Clubsport customer racing car. At the back there is a sizeable spoiler made of carbon that is so tall it can be seen in the rear view mirror. Furthermore, the front splitter and rear diffuser are also constructed out of motorsport inspired material.

Enough of the brochure talk, what is the M2 CS like to drive? It is certainly a step on from the M2 Competition and a large part of that is down to the dampers. As with the steering and engine, there are three settings – Comfort, Sport and Sport Plus, Sport being the default setting when firing the car up. Comfort is where thing are noticeably different, the secondary ride relating to the handling of lumps and bumps brings a new level of composure to the M2 and the way it handles itself when attacking a bumpy road.

Where the original M2 would be bouncing around like a rabbit on a pogo stick, the M2 CS remains calm and collected bringing greater confidence levels which allow the fun to continue over less accommodating tarmac. Sport is well judged and deployable on a good road surface, Sport Plus is best reserved for the track. The engine and dual-clutch transmission are as brilliant as in the Competition but with an added punch in the sportier modes. For those looking for freedom from the electronic nannies, the M Dynamic Mode allows for more slip’n’slide in the M2 CS before cutting in to stop you making it into a YouTube crash compilation. That being said, you’ll have to be on your worst behaviour to unstick the CS now that it is fitted with Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 rubber that makes the a significant difference over an M2 Competition and its Pilot Sport 4S compound. The optional carbon ceramics are supreme and the gold callipers look fabulous, to my eyes anyway. 

Much like the M2 Competition, this car wants to be driven hard. The harder you push the M2 CS the more you can feel the additional hardware at work. After my first spirited drive I was not convinced and wanted more, it felt like an M2 Competition. A 5am spanking the next morning revealed just how impressive it is when you really put the M2 CS through the wringer. The front axle grip is beyond belief, turn it in and grips and goes. This is an M2 turned up to 11.

But it is not perfect. The Comfort steering mode is too light and Sport too heavy, Sport plus is best left unused. The interior could be more exciting, the main difference in the CS is the removal of the armrest along with its storage space and the added carbon and alcantara. The steering wheel is still very thick, it can be forgiven as the seating position is sublime. The most significant gripe is the disappointing exhaust tone, although the same can be said for almost any car fitted with particulate filters. 

All up, the changes are significant, but there is an elephant in the room. The M3 & M4 CS were released with a hefty premium over the standard models. The used market for these cars reflects what many believe to be their true values. When new the M4 CS without costly options such as ceramic brakes, cost £87,150. A 5,000 mile used M4 CS can be yours for £57,000 just two years on. The production run of the M2 CS is limited by time not a set number, the base price is £72,600 before options. After adding a the DCT box, carbon ceramics, electric seats and reverse camera, the car I tested came in at an eye watering £83,260 with taxes and fees. That puts it in the direct line of fire of a Cayman GT4, although the GT4 arguably appeals to a different audience with no rear seats and mid-engined layout.  

Without a doubt, the M2 CS is an incredibly exciting proposition. It is one of the best M products I have ever driven, the move from passive to adaptive dampers combined with the boost in power and addition of Michelin Cup 2s really has brought out the best in the M2 chassis. I suspect I would be walking into a BMW dealer to register my interest if I had been given the manual press car to play with, but the price tag sours the package. If the rumours are true and production numbers are very limited, this may become a collectors special. If you can swallow the price and fancy an incredible drivers car, go out and get one – preferably in Misano Blue with gold wheels. If it isn’t justifiable for you, don’t fret, an M2 Competition will give you almost as much joy for substantially less cash. BMW have done brilliantly with the M2 CS (and the Competition). Let’s see what the next generation M2 has to offer, it has big boots to fill.

2020 Caterham Super Seven 1600 Review

When Alpine released the A110, the critics struggled to contain their adoration for the little French sports cars. They pined on about how it was so simple, light and different from the alternatives on the market. Recently, I spent some time in an even skinnier sport car – the Caterham Super Seven 1600.

This is not the first time I’ve driven a Caterham, I was thrown in at the deepest of deep ends last year when I was tossed the keys to one of the most violent and fastest accelerating cars on the planet, the 620R. Having somewhat broken me with its savage sequential gearbox and eye watering speed, I moved down the ladder to a 310R with a traditional 5 speed that was the closest thing to a road legal go kart I have ever experienced.

This time the power is being diluted once more with the Super Seven 1600 which is a very different proposition to the 310 and 620R models with a gorgeous wooden steering wheel, leather interior and just 135bhp. It looks like something Stuart Little would drive with its little gold wheels and cartoonish flared front fenders. It immediately looks more retro, road focused and comfort oriented than the rest of the Caterham model range.

Out on the road my visually generated impressions were confirmed. The touch points feel homely, almost like furniture, the steering wheel wouldn’t look out of place on a mantle piece in a quaint cottage and the chrome ball used to shift gears is a far cry from the intimidating black lever I had to slam home in the 620R.

The stats covey a leisurely feel too: there’s only 135bhp on tap, the max speed is a modest 196km/h (122mph) and there’s a 1.6-litre Ford Sigma engine up front. But this is a Caterham meaning the stats are irrelevant in reality as the entire package weighs in at a cute 540 kilograms. 250bhp per tonne means the 1600 will sprint to 97km/h (60mph) in just 5 seconds. It’s when you reach into the upper echelons of the rev range that things start to really come together.

The twin 40s throttle bodies and air filters, which punch their way through the body work, make this a special car. The engine relishes revs, and treat you to a symphony of induction and exhaust parp like no other. It rasps away into a loud and addictive crescendo. The redline is at 7k and you will stay flat until you reach it, the sound builds builds in volume and depth, you engage the clutch and pull for another gear to do it all over again. The beauty of the modest power figures is that you’re grinning from ear-to-ear with the wind in your hair feeling like you’re doing well over the speed limit, but in reality you are travelling at half the speed you feel you’re bumbling along at. Huge power figures are impressive to imagine but in reality are unusable.

This is genuinely useable power, the accompanying sense of fun and joy are off the charts. Find a twisty country road and you’ll be having the time of your driving life. In a car with more than 400bhp you’ll be paying roulette with your driving license before you’re half way through third gear. The lightness means everything feels more alive. Yes, it does not feel as planted as other Caterhams with a touch more suppleness to the damping a more lean courtesy of a softer (non adjustable) suspension setup. Like its bigger brothers there is not a driver aid in sight. No power steering, traction control or ABS put you on high alert, it soon becomes apparent that the 1600 is playful yet secure and the fear fades away, you can push on the limit with confidence.

What’s the catch? Well, it’s not cheap at £40,000 with a couple of options and I view the Super Seven 1600 as a toy. It’s not practical or very comfortable in comparison to a hot hatch or most conventional automobiles in the same price bracket. If you can swallow the price and understand that this is a car for fun, then go out and buy one. I challenge anyone to drive the 1600 on a twisty road on a sunny afternoon and to not laugh out loud. 

Prototype Drive: 2021 Porsche Panamera Facelift

Okay, perhaps Porsche should have skipped the camouflage: It draws more attention to our Panamera than it would have received without the attention-grabbing stickers. We are behind the wheel of the facelifted Porsche Panamera, to be launched in late August; it is fine-tuned in every respect – and still by far the sportiest entry in the luxury car segment.

The Panamera has two faces: Built in two wheelbases and with a Sport Turismo station wagen derivative, it offers all the room of an Audi A8, a BMW 7-series or a Mercedes-Benz S-Class. And since a new, technologically stunning S-Class is just around the corner, Porsche needed to do something to make the Panamera an even better, more comfortable long-distance cruiser.

That’s why it is a bit softer in the comfort-oriented driving modes, and that’s why the infotainment system has been vastly upgraded: It is faster than before, it features a higher-resolution display screen and it has a superior voice recognition system. The Panamera, if so desired by the driver and passengers, offers a serene environment ideally suited to long-distance travel.

But the upgraded chassis and tweaked driving modes can swing the other way, too: Improvements to the adaptive damping system, the anti-roll system, the torque vectoring system and the noticeably sharper steering turn the Porsche Panamera into an even better performer. And that’s important as well, as new competitors such as the four-door AMG GT and the BMW M8 Gran Coupe have arrived on the scene.

Porsche Panamera Facelift Review

Changes to the exterior are rather minimal: The rear light strip now runs in an unbroken line from side to side, the Sport Design package is henceforth standard, and there are the obligatory new wheels and colors. Inside, there is a new steering wheel and new available wood trim. And we praise Porsche for keeping the traditional gated gear selector that allows the driver to up- and downshift with the flick of the wrist. Alternatively, there are solid and beautifully executed shifter paddles.

The powertrain lineup is significantly upgraded, with two conventional 2.9-liter V-6 models, two 4.0-liter V-8 models and three plug-in hybrids, of which two are based on the V-6 and one on the V-8. The battery is bigger than before, electric range grows by 30 per cent. All-wheel drive is standard with the exception of a few select markets, where Porsche offers and entry-level model with rear-wheel drive, and all models are fitted with a quick-shifting eight-speed dual-clutch automatic, affectionately known as Porsche-Doppelkupplungsgetriebe.

Porsche Panamera Turbo S Engine

The six-cylinder lineup consists of the Panamera 4 with 330 horsepower and the Panamera 4S with 440 horsepower; the Panamera 4 E-Hybrid will make around 460 horsepower, while the Panamera 4S E-Hybrid – a new addition to the lineup – is rated at 560 horsepower.

The V-8 lineup begins with the GTS, which climbs from 460 to 480 horsepower; the 550-horsepower Turbo is killed off in favor of a 630-horsepower Turbo S, and there is only one hybrid here: The Turbo S E-Hybrid, which gets another 70 horsepower to crack 700.

But enthusiasts should know that the Turbo S is fitted with a more interesting engine than the Turbo S E-Hybrid: While the hybrid’s V-8 carries over unchanged and is largely identical to the electronically detuned unit on the GTS, the 630-horsepower unit is significantly fine-tuned with unique pistons, crankshaft and timing chain, larger turbochargers, new injectors and even higher-performance spark plugs. Add to this the fact that it is very significantly less heavy than the hybrid, the enthusiast’s choice should be clear: Pick the regular Turbo S, and it’ll likely be faster on the track, too.

Porsche Panamera Facelift Rear

If it’s comfortable long-distance cruising you’re after, the choice is less clear. The hybrids are economical only when driven over short distances and duly plugged in after each drive. Meanwhile, Porsche has missed the opportunity to bring back the fabulous 4.0-liter V-8 diesel that was briefly available on the pre-facelift model and commands sky-high prices on the used-car market. Our choice would therefore be the GTS: You can’t beat the V-8 rumble – it’s just so soothing.

We loved driving the facelifted Panamera. Look for the cover to come off in late August.

2020 Dodge Durango SRT 392 Review

The good folks at FCA have developed quite a reputation for engineering solid sporting SUV’s, and while I was initially skeptical that any SUV could actually be entertaining to drive, I have been impressed and I have been converted to the dark side. After tuning the rest of it’s lineup, SRT has decided that it’s now the Durango’s turn to be tuned and hot-rodded. Dodge has been making the big Durango for quite a while now.

It enjoys a reputation as a comfortable and solid family hauler and as well as a capable tow vehicle. Something comfortable in which to take six other people to the beach while towing the family motorboat. It hasn’t exactly been anything that a sporting enthusiast would be interested in, other than for towing the race car out to the track on the weekends but that’s all changed with the introduction of the Durango SRT 392.

“It’s not exactly subtle, is it?” a friend asked when I showed up at his house with it.

No. No it’s not. Exactly. The Durango SRT 392 is a very large vehicle. And painted up in Redline Pearl paint with twin gunmetal gray racing stripes stretching from front bumper to rear bumper, it gets noticed. Even if you were blind, you’d still hear it a mile away. No, “subtle” is not the world I would use either. But it IS attractive. The Durango has a nice design – very clean and smooth – with muscular lines around the fenders. The additional SRT design features make it much more aggressive than the rest of the Durango line. The large grille, the enormous hood intake, the huge vents. So much so that when driving down the freeway, traffic tends to move quickly to the right in order to let you through. The big aggressive design pays off.

The outside isn’t the only part that’s large. It’s massively spacious inside too. Enough that even a large guy like me felt quite comfortable in it’s roomy cabin. How big and spacious is it? Well, I may or may not have called it a “bus” more than once while referring to it. Not only because it’s big, but also because the view through the rearview mirror is of row after row of seats before you even see out the back window. Besides the driver and passenger seats, there is a middle-row that can seat three. Then, waaaaay out back, is a third row of two seats that are better left to children. Beyond that is a cargo area about 2-1/2’ long and the width of the vehicle.

2020 Dodge Durango SRT 392 Specs

The far back seats fold flat, creating a ton of extra storage space and you can also fold down the second row of seating, which opens up an immense amount of storage space. So it’s versatile. In the SRT 392, the front and middle seats are heated. The steering wheel is also heated. The front seats are also ventilated for those sticky summer days. Our car had the optional rear seat DVD entertainment system to keep the kiddos quiet on long car trips. If you can’t be comfortable in this car, you can’t be comfortable in ANY car.

Under the hood is…..No, not a Hellcat V8. Don’t be dense. It’s got 392 right in the name. Yes, it’s got a tuned 392 cu. in. (6.4L) Hemi V8 and SRT was wise enough to hook it up to some fantastic exhaust pipes that take the engine’s incredible natural sound and broadcasts them for all the world to hear. It sounds so good that I found myself using the paddle shifters to downshift every chance I got. It can get a little boomy in the cabin from time to time, but if you like beautiful muscle car music, it’s a joy to listen to.

The engine makes 475 hp and 470 lb-ft or torque and it moves the big truck much faster than you’d expect. Just mash the throttle and hold on tight. 0-60 mph in 4.2 seconds? Yep. Faster than you’d expect. Fast enough to scramble your synapses and leave you feeling confused. That beautiful engine is hooked up to an 8-speed automatic transmission, though there are paddle shifters behind the steering wheel that work better than a lot of paddle shifters I’ve used. It feels surprisingly natural to crack off shifts using the paddles as you accelerate. The 475hp is transmitted through the Durango’s AWD system, which gives it stability, all-weather capability, and increased performance.

2020 Dodge Durango SRT 392 Headlights

The mileage wasn’t great, but let’s be honest – who cares about mileage when so much performance is available to take advantage of? The EPA estimates 13mpg in the city and 19 on the highway and that’s actually pretty close to what we saw. It’s best if you turn off the mileage display on the dash though so you can enjoy the car.

The suspension is pretty heavy duty, as you’d expect for a vehicle this size, but it also controls the body motions very well. The first time I drove it I got the impression that it was very soft but comfortable. It was only after I started exploring the car’s electronics that I discovered that the Durango SRT 392 has several drive modes available: Auto, Sport, Race, Snow, Tow, Valet, Eco, and Custom. Custom allows you to adjust the suspension, the steering, the stability control, the all-wheel drive, and the transmission response to your personal preference.

Put it in Sport or Race mode and the suspension firms right up making the nearly 3-ton truck feel much tighter and smaller than it really is. There’s still a bit of lean in corners but not nearly as much as you’d expect. I found you can actually hustle the SRT 392 around corners and fun back roads quite competently and capably. Well done, SRT.

2020 Dodge Durango SRT 392 Wheels

It rides on 20” wheels (10” wide!) wrapped in Pirelli all-season tires. They were sticky enough to keep us from sliding off the road when we were taking freeway cloverleaf on-ramps too fast. You’ll find Brembo performance anti-lock brakes at all four corners and they do an admirable job of hauling the big, heavy Durango down from speed. While I suspect you could work them hard all day on back roads, I have doubts they’d hold up too long on a track day but I could be wrong. I’d certainly like to try some day, that’s for sure.

It’s a very entertaining truck overall. I found myself without any deadlines one cold, windy Friday afternoon, grabbed the keys and headed north to where all the fun roads are just to push it and see how it’d do. I put it in Race mode, turned on the paddle shifters, and headed out. The first 60 miles are all freeway miles and it ate those up without any problem. It’s a superb highway hauler – smooth, quiet, comfortable. It effortlessly devoured mile after mile after mile. Need to pass? No worries.

At 85mph, it’ll gain 20-30 mph in speed in mere seconds and you’ll be pulling back into your lane before the guy you passed even realizes he wasn’t buzzed by an F-35. Once I got to the fun roads, I had an opportunity to really push it and see what it was truly capable of. I was quite surprised by how agile it was through curves, how much speed it could accumulate so quickly coming out of those curves, and how quickly a long straight section of road could be traversed.

2020 Dodge Durango SRT 392 Seats

And I remember thinking, as I was wrapping up my drive and settling back into the long freeway slog back home, that this thing was legit. It’s way more capable than I imagined it could be and way more entertaining than I dared hope. I’ve had the opportunity to drive some truly amazing SUV’s over the years – Maserati’s Levante GTS and Trofeo, Alfa Romeo’s Stelvio Quadrifoglio, Jeep’s Grand Cherokee SRT Trackhawk – and I’ve added the Dodge Durango SRT 392 to that short list of magical SUV’s. I’m hearing rumors of a Hellcat-engined version in the works and if that happens, it’s going to be incredible.

The Dodge Durango SRT 392 starts at about $63,000 USD. Ours stickered at $78,000 USD with the options it had, but I’d have been happy with just the base SRT 392. It’s steep, but it’s so capable. If you want a sports car but need a heavy-duty SUV, it’s the perfect intersection between practicality and performance.


2020 BMW M235i Gran Coupe Review

The BMW M235i Gran Coupe is a little difficult to wrap your head around if you’re a traditionalist. For one, it is not very closely related to the outgoing, and soon to be replaced, M240i which is a coupe driven by its rear wheels and a 3-litre 6 cylinder engine. Instead, it’s more of a stretched M135i sharing the same 2-litre 4 cylinder engine and front wheel drive biased all wheel drive system (boo hiss). There will be a new M240i Coupe that will feature a 6 cylinder engine and will have the correct number of doors to wear the coupe name. Gran Coupe seems to skew more than just the number of doors in this instance.

The M235i and other 2 Series Gran Coupe models are, obviously, the result of the successes of the Audi A3 Saloon and Mercedes-Benz CLA models. Mercedes-Benz seem to have an appetite for niches and recently added an A Class Saloon to the range that makes no sense in my mind given that it looks like a slightly podgy CLA with no significant space gains. I’m sure the researchers at MB have their justifications…

Visually BMW were quick to flash up profile images of the, to my eyes, gorgeous 8 Series Gran Coupe overlaying sketches of the 2 Series Gran Coupe at the evenings press presentation. Again, to my eyes, one of these cars looks taught, sharp and rather tasty. Unfortunately the scaled down 2 Series doesn’t seem to wear the lines so well, they aren’t striking and melt away into the large and aesthetically heavy rear end.

Maybe it is a peach to drive? Well, the 1 Series is not available in China or the United States of America so it is up to the 2 Series Gran Coupe to whet the appetite of American and Chinese buyers. As a result, this is not just a stretched 1 Series. The suspension set up is softer to better accommodate poorer surfaces. The road route set up by BMW features a variety of road surfaces which the M235i I am piloting takes in its stride.

Make no mistake, the car is very good for doing the tasks that the vast majority of buyers will use their cars for, daily commutes and school runs. It is relatively spacious inside, comfortable, features tech that you would find in a 7 Series and it even feels plenty quick off the line with all wheel drive traction. 0-100 is done in 4.9 and accomplished courtesy of 306 horsepower and 450Nm.

My gripes relate to feedback and feel: there is, literally, none. Yes, the steering rack is quick and BMW have fitted a Torsen limited-slip differential in addition to the BMW Performance Control which ‘intelligently applies the brakes at the wheels on the inside of the bend before the slip threshold has been reached’ a bit like a McLaren does. As great as this sounds, the M235i GC is not engaging or particularly exciting to chuck into the bends.

Understeer still plagues the driving experience and when the front end is not pushing on, the car remains neutral and does not have you lusting to explore your favourite twisty roads with zeal. The M badge typically denotes more dynamic, and adrenaline fuelled drives. The synthesised exhaust noise is very clearly fake, more so than in other BMW models.

By no means does this mean that the 2020 M235i Gran Coupe is a bad car. If you are looking for a car to ferry your family around on short city journeys in comfort with great connectivity and convenience, this could well be the car for you. The M235i variant looks more imposing that lesser models and is well equipped. But if you’re looking for something with a little more zing, the Golf R is more dynamic and the Mercedes CLA 35 AMG is equally well appointed and feels more alive.


2020 Volkswagen Golf 8 Review

All-new or just a facelift? Not a single exterior panel of the eight-generation Golf is carried over from its predecessor, yet you have to look twice to make it out: The new Golf, just launched near Porto on the Atlantic Coast of Portugal, looks decidedly evolutionary. Only the front end might stir up a discussion: The illuminated eyeliners and the small, thin front grille deviate from the brutalism of many competitors, giving VW’s new core model a rather unintimidating appearance.

The changes are far more apparent inside the new Golf: The previous, conventional dashboard has been discarded for a fully digital layout with two TFT screens, a high center console and capacitive sensors instead of hard keys and buttons. For a mass-market car, and the Golf is still one of the best-selling cars in the world, this is a remarkable step.

This does not come without risks: First, we are not sure that everyone is really interested in such a futuristic interface, but on top of it, VW had to delay the market launch of the new Golf to deal with electronic gremlins. We are not sure they have worked them all out at this point.

But when the system is operative, it is actually quite impressive and on par with the MBUX system in the Mercedes-Benz A-Class. What’s less impressive: VW ditched Dynaudio as the supplier for the Golf’s high-end audio system – in favour of the decidedly more mainstream Harman/Kardon. Is this the response to Daimler’s Burmester hifi-system?

2020 VW Golf 8 Interior

We like the comfort and the fit and finish in the new Golf’s cabin: Ingress and egress through the four standard doors is easy, the seats are firm but comfortable, and there is plenty of head- and kneeroom on all seats.

We drove two engines with 150 horsepower: The smooth and powerful 2.0-liter TDI – and the somewhat less convincing, mild-hybridised 1.5-liter TSI. We preferred the TDI’s sheer power, its sound, and we suspect it will be more economical than the petrol engine as well, despite the latter’s complex and expensive hybrid module. The seven-speed dual-clutch automatic works flawlessly.

VW GOLF 8 Top Speed

Not only did we like the TDI better than the TSI, we also felt the Golf feels more planted with the diesel engine. Roadholding and steering are at their best in this version, yet the Golf is comfortable enough even for long trips. On those trips, drivers will also appreciate the excellent matrix LED headlights, optional but with class-leading performance.

Going forward, we expect to see more interesting powertrain options: Diesel fans will be able to order the GTD with a full 200 horsepower; there will be two plug-in hybrids, heavy but powerful with 204 and 245 horsepower; the GTI will make close to 250 horsepower, and the next Golf R is expected to deliver around 330 horsepower.

VW GOLF 8 Wallpaper

Europe will get all of these engines, while the US market henceforth gets only the GTI and the Golf R. The new technological basis is impressive, and we can’t wait for VW to bring on the power next year.


2020 Porsche Taycan 4S Review

The Porsche Taycan has landed and made not just a splash, but tsunamis in the automotive world. The model was unveiled and released in Turbo and Turbo S forms at first, models that boasted tremendous power and stats aimed at dethroning Tesla as the king of AC/DC power. The Turbo models are astonishing and fulfil the brief of being high performance vehicles that sit as flagships of the range; as a result the pricing was a breathtaking as the acceleration. 750 bhp does not come cheap.

To broaden the appeal of the Taycan Porsche unveiled this, the 4S and I was shipped over to the -19 degree icebox that is Kittilä, Finland to experience the 2020 Porsche Taycan 4S. The 4S is, of course, down on power compared to the Turbo and Turbo S. As standard 523bhp is available on overboost with a range of 405 kilometres. One option that I suspect will be ordered by all customers is the Performance Battery Plus that increases power to 563bhp and the range to 462 kilometres for around €5,000. 0-100 with either battery is done in 4.0 seconds.

At this point I would love to share my driving impressions with you. I will, but it must be noted that it was horrifically cold, this really was a winter wonderland and there is no tarmac in sight, just icy surfaces and standard winter tires to connect with it. There were no spikes in sight. As a result, any feedback in muted and power statistics are almost irrelevant as traction management is far more important.

That being said, I have driven a handful of cars in similar conditions so am somewhat familiar with how cars typically handle when dancing on ice. The first part of the program was a 90-minute road drive in the darkness of the Finnish winter. First impressions are all about traction and the mighty impressive Goodyear winter tires. Although absent of spikes, traction under gentle braking and acceleration. The Taycan 4S felt balanced and incredibly quick, even on the slippery ice. The 992 steering rack that feature in the Taycan still felt well weighted, of course, there was very little feedback on the ice. Braking was still reasonable although the weight became evident when braking harder and the ABS cutting in.

The main event was the Porsche Experience set on a frozen lake, the ideal place to exploit instant torque from the 800volt batteries powering all four wheels. First up was a tight twisty circuit. The aim if the game was to understand the torque split front to rear and swing the car into delicious drift angles. It is harder than you would imagine, opposite lock doesn’t help and you have to be gentle with the power or the car does what it is meant to do and drags itself into a straight line.

Next on the list of activities is a slalom where the weight and its distribution would be tested. The 4S weighs in at 2,215 kilograms and often had me questioning just how thick the ice on this frozen lake was. It is still some 200 kilograms lighter than the Turbo S model but it is still a substantial mass for anything that is considered ‘sporty’. The slalom test highlights the impressive agility that comes courtesy of the antiroll and stability systems.

The third and final test was the drift circle. Again, this is a test of balance and the torque split and where feedback and feel are key. This is a Porsche and at times the Taycan really did feel comparable to a 911, it is spooky, but there is just a level of disconnect that you would never find in a conventional petrol burning 911. The instant torque is spectacular, the acceleration, even on ice, takes you by surprise despite this being the 4S and not a Turbo or Turbo S. The Taycan in 4S is an extremely capable car. If the greater power is not of paramount importance to potential customers, I would strongly argue that the 4S is the pick of the bunch.

The case for the 4S is further heightened by the significant saving over the Turbo models. In the United Kingdom, the 4S starts at under £90,000, a considerable £50,000 less than a base Turbo S. The 4S is the electric car that offers significant steps forward in the industry at a realistic price point with stats and prestige that make it capable and desirable in equal measure. Let’s hope Porsche can build them quickly enough.


Special Report: The 2019 Aston Martin Vantage, better than a 911?

For decades the Porsche 911 has been the yardstick, the go to car for the affluent man or woman that fancies a great sports car that can thrill on the weekend and, if they so choose, trundle through commuter traffic without fuss or issue in the week. The formula has remained the same too – flat six at the back a couple of seats for the little ones just ahead of the engine a manual or auto transmission in the middle and a reasonably sized boot/frunk at the front. Buying a 911 is a no brainer, they hold value as a result of the ludicrous demand, they are almost all a joy to drive and they are as reliable as a Volkswagen Golf. Few challengers have come and gone, even fewer have the lineage or provenance of the 911 and few are as accomplished all rounders.

An Aston Martin would normally not cross a Porsche 911 buyers mind, the previous generation 2005-2018 Vantage was often considered a competitor. In reality there was a signifiant gulf between the two not only in abilities, but also the ownership experience. That all changed with the introduction of this, the latest generation Vantage. Why the sudden change? Well, the partnership with Mercedes-AMG brought a tried and tested, modern V8. The partnership extended to the infotainment system that was always a point of criticism in Astons of old. These updates significantly boosted the appeal of the Vantage, it started to catch buyers attention. Then the media drove the Vantage on road and track and the rave reviews did wonders for the credibility of the Vantage.

Here I am, in Q4 2019 having recently driven the Porsche 992 911 Carreras in S and 4S guises, both as coupes and cabriolets. I find myself somewhat well placed to draw comparisons with the Vantage that has just been delivered on my driveway. Styling is subjective, but it cannot be denied that the gaping Vulcan like front grill, dramatic taught lines and wide rear haunches provide a visual punch that knockout the subtle, stylish and suited Porsche. These cars are visually sending out different messages.

The same can be said for the interior, the 992 is clean, sharp, functional. The Aston is, again, a lot more dramatic with its button festooned square steering wheel. The dash is also littered with buttons and the gear selector is not a conventional stick, but the buttons that Aston have used for a number of years. The British contender lacks rear seats – for the few that shoehorn their children in the back seat or use them as extra storage space, this may be a dealbreaker. On the topic of space, there is no glovebox in the Aston.

Onto the engines. Once again, this is a story of contrasts. For cars that share a target audience, this is the biggest difference. Front mid engined V8 plays rear engined flat six. Both are turbocharged and both are available with auto and manual gearboxes. Start them up and another sensory contrast makes itself known – sound. This, for me, is a significant differentiator. The 992 sounds the same way as it looks, smooth and sophisticated. It turns heads but does not snap necks. The Aston does the latter, the V8 with the sports exhaust is rude on startup and in Sport+ or Track mode, it warbles like an old school V8, then splatters, bangs and howls as you push on. The whip cracks on up shifts and gun shots on downshifts are a far cry from the 911s image. The relation to the Mercedes-AMG’s noises is there, but the Aston is far more brutal, raucous and hard-edged. It is different enough.

The sounds accompanying the gearshifts may be entertaining, the shifts themselves from the ZF eight-speed cannot match the finesse and scarcely believable speed of the PDK box. The Aston’s steering is not hyper fast as many cars on sale today, but it does lack precious feel. Given that it is the first time Aston has adopted an EPAS system, it is fair to say that it will improve in the future as Porsche’s did.

The Aston wins on power, 503bhp vs a Carrera S with 450. 0-100 times are very similar, both will hit the measure in the mid threes according to their press releases. Porsche, as per, are conservative and in the real world would leave the Aston behind from a standing start.

As a daily driver the Vantage is fantastic. Around the congested London streets it is comfortable, the steering is light, the ride supple and the seats are comfortable. The brake pedal is a touch too sensitive but adjusted modulation over time alleviates this, a little more travel would be an improvement as would a glovebox. I suspect the reason for their being a lack of glovebox is the engine being situated so far behind the front axel, the dash itself is quite high. This means there is a sporty post box like view out of all the windows. Racy, not very good for general visibility. The blindspot from the wing mirror position also takes some getting used to.

The comparisons on tangible elements are all good and well. The majority of measures swing towards the 911, particularly when you consider the Carrera S is around £20,000 less than the Vantage. Then you turn to how the cars make you feel and this is where the Aston sets itself up fabulously. Could you imagine James Bond driving a 911? No. The feeling of rarity, bonafide specialness is part and parcel of owning an Aston Martin. If you drive through London you’ll need an abacus to keep count of the 911s that you’ll cross paths with in just an hour around Kensington and Mayfair. Vantages are far rarer, they command attention, something only the most hardcore 911s can do. This may sound trivial, but to me, and I suspect a genuine sports car owner, the way the car make you feel is taken into consideration. Mute the head and focus on the heart and there is a gulf separating the Porsche and the Aston, the Aston gives you this warm happy feeling that is a charm that few competitors possess.

It cannot be denied that the 911 is more accomplished in its abilities, in equal measure anyone considering a 911 would be foolish not to get behind the wheel of the Vantage, it is a fine machine and one that might just charm them off of their feet, perhaps for the drama and noise alone.


2019 Lexus RC 350 F-Sport AWD Review

After driving the capable Lexus RC F a month or so ago, we came away impressed. It was a bit of a monster and we quickly took a liking to it and made sure we put a few good hard miles on it. For, uh, research purposes. It was a solid performer. Handsome too. All fully-fledged F models are though. So when Lexus offered us some seat time in the RC 350 F-Sport AWD, we jumped at the opportunity even though our expectations weren’t quite as high. We were startled and pleasantly surprised though by what a capable performer it was.

On the outside it looks very similar to the RC F we drove. With it’s sweeping fenders, short wheelbase, and fastback roofline, the RC model is probably the sportiest and sharpest looking model in Lexus line-up right now besides the epiphanal LC 500. The RC 350 F-Sport doesn’t look quite as aggressive as the F. The tall vent on the front fender is gone. The carbon fiber trim is gone as well. But it still looks good. It still looks fast. It looks cleaner actually.

Our review car arrived in Lexus ever-present and ever-attractive Ultrasonic Blue Mica, which really highlights the flowing lines of it’s design. There’s dark gray trim that looks good with the blue paint and an F-Sport specific grille. And the headlights have a different look too – unlike the RC F we drove, there are three vertically-stacked LED lamps under each headlight cover. The dark 19” wheels complete the look, which promises performance.

Inside is the familiar and comfortable interior that we recognized from the RC F. The carbon fiber trim is gone, replaced with a dark wood trim that fits in just as well with the dark leather. The F-Sport seats are extremely comfortable and heavily bolstered to hold you in place during sharp turns. They’re both heated and ventilated and 10-way electrically adjustable too. The instrument display consists of a large tachometer with a digital speed display within it.

As is common on the F-Sport models, the press of a button causes it to slide to the right and reveal further information such as tire pressures and trip odometers. The navigation screen is large (10.5”) and easy to read and is navigable via the touchpad on the center console. There’s a performance mode selector knob on the center console, as well as a button to disable the traction-control. There are two cupholders below them. This is the kind of interior you hope to find in every car you drive: comfortable, quiet, and intuitive. This is a near-perfect interior for a daily driver but it also works so well as a performance car interior.

2019 Lexus RC 350 F-Sport Interior

Under the hood lies Lexus well-tested and 3.5L 24-valve V6 engine with variable intake and variable exhaust technology. It makes 311 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque. The engine is strongest in it’s mid- and upper-range, providing excellent passing and overtaking speed very quickly. 0-60 comes in a little over 4 seconds and top speed is electronically limited to 130 mph. The engine is hooked to a 6-speed automatic transmission that offers drivers the option of using the paddle shifters behind the steering wheel, and it distributes the power to the very capable full-time AWD system. The paddle shifters are fairly responsive and get better with each increase of the performance mode selector.

The suspension is tuned to be more sporting than the lower level RC models, but it’s not quite as capable as the suspension on the RC F. Like the F, the 350 F-Sport front suspension consists of double wishbones with coil springs, electronically-adjustable shock absorbers, and anti-roll bars. The rear consists of coils springs, electronically-adjustable shocks, and an anti-roll bar in conjunction with a complex multilink suspension. It’s tuned to be a compromise between comfort and performance, with the greater emphasis on comfort. Not that it’s not capable but the top of the line F model sets the bar so high that anything else just feels softer.

Behind the attractive 19” wheels are 13.2” ventilated discs in front and 12.2” ventilated discs in the rear. These are clamped down by very large calipers. They use anti-lock braking and electronic brakeforce distribution to give excellent feedback when braking. There is no squishiness or vagueness in pedal feel; only firm and communicative braking. Between the large discs and calipers and sticky tires, the RC 350 F-Sport AWD stops very quickly and confidently. In fact, we were also reviewing an Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio the same week and we felt that while the brake systems of both cars were extremely effective, those of the RC 350 F-Sport had much better feel and better sense of control over how the brakes worked.

2019 Lexus RC 350 F-Sport Rear

Steering too is confidence inspiring. The electronic rack-and-pinion power steering feels remarkably intuitive and natural. Not too light, not too resistant. The wheel is thick and fits comfortably in your hands.

Start it up and the V6 does a pretty good impression of a V8. Lexus utilizes the stereo system to amplify the engine sound inside the cabin and it sounds good. Pull the gear selector into D and pull away. The engine sounds great, with a deep bass growl. The ride is smooth, absorbing bumps well. They come through the suspension but they’re muted and diminished. Get on the throttle and the engine’s power builds the higher you wind out the engine. Shifts are smooth and clean. The road noise in the RC line seems to be greatly diminished over other Lexus models such as the GS and ES. It’s a smooth cruiser.

Adjusting the Drive Mode Selector instantly changes the character of the car. You have your choice of Eco, Normal, Sport S, Sport S+ (changes suspension electronically), and Snow. We were most interested in Sport S and Sport S+. Both settings quickened the car’s reflexes and responses, making it much more fun and exciting to drive. Engage the paddle shift transmission option and it becomes quite engaging. It’s not RC F fast, by any means, but it’s the next best thing.

The car handles well. I was initially a little disappointed when I experienced some understeer going into a corner. However, after giving it more throttle, the AWD system quickly pulled the front of the car through the corner with confidence. You soon realize that you can push the car hard through corners and count on it to take most of the danger out of the equation.

2019 Lexus RC 350 F-Sport Wheels

On one of our drives on back country roads that wound through and over the hills and valleys of northern Michigan, through an afternoon of heavy rains, the AWD system kept the bright blue Lexus stuck to the wet road instead of spinning through the ditch and farmers fences. The AWD system allowed us to push harder than we otherwise could had it only been RWD and it was a real boon during hard driving in wet conditions.

The Lexus RC 350 F-Sport AWD is a very competent, comfortable, and attractive sport coupe. While we were initially prepared to write it off as a weaker, lesser version of the RC F, we instead found that it is a surprisingly strong, surprisingly capable car and one worth taking a close look at.


Porsche Taycan Turbo S Review

This is a big deal and perhaps the most significant car I have ever written about in my short, prepubescent life as an editor writing about cars. I am also a sceptic of electric cars, I am just not a fan, this is a chance for Porsche to change my views. Some 350 journalists have been driving the Taycan before me, specifically the Turbo and Turbo S models, on a mega road trip starting in Oslo. Nineteen days later, the convoy would reach the spiritual home of Porsche, Stuttgart and I had the honour of driving the final leg of the journey from Berlin.

Stepping into the Taycan is quite an overwhelming experience for me. Knowing that I would be able to finally drive a car I have sat in on multiple occasions before and even been a passenger in when in pre production form, it was my time to drive one of the most eagerly anticipated and important cars in a decade.

When I jump behind the wheel the first thought is that there is a wall of screens to comprehend. There are a lot of screens, four in this car (including optional passenger screen). That being said, it all is very clear and logical, futuristic but still familiar in a typical Porsche way. If you have not previously sat in a Taycan you may need a second to: a) know whether or not is is on, b) find the gear selector (it is hidden to the right of the wheel like it was in a 918 Spyder).

Orientation completed, what is it like to drive? Crawling around the congested streets of Berlin in a Taycan is a quiet and tranquil experience. Then you find yourself in the left turning lane but you need to take a right. Sport Plus engaged…red, red, red. GREEN. I am pinned to the seat and crossing four lanes and feeling like a naughty school child. The feeling of speed is intensified by the synthesised spaceship noise the accompanies the neck snapping acceleration, the noise can be turned on or off at the touch of a button. So it goes like a Porsche, a very fast one at that. The Taycan Turbo S will do 0-100 in a blistering 2.8 seconds, that GT2 RS quick, in a family saloon that will fit four adults and has two boots. As I am sure you would have seen, the Taycan Turbo S recently set the fastest Nurburgring lap time for a four door EV with a sterling time of 7min42, a time that was seemingly set on very ordinary tires, bring out the Cup 2 Rs and watch Tesla cry.

Out onto the country roads of rural Germany the Taycan can stretch its legs, and boy, it has legs. The acceleration from standstill is potent, instant and and honestly, takes your breath away. When you’re up to speed you can focus on placing the car fabulously using the brilliant steering, typical Porsche. Thread it through a corner and the acceleration out of the bend dominates again. Into the next one and it dawns upon me that I am chucking a 2.4 tonne car through the corners like a car that weighs a tonne less. The weight is all down in the floor, the Taycan has a lower centre of a 911 and it shows. There is little to no body roll, there is supreme control and composure. The only time the illusion wears thin is under heavy braking, you can’t cheat physics forever. It stops well and hard using the giant carbon ceramics, but the inertia can be felt.

So it is a revelation for electric cars in the way it drives, it has a futuristic interior and it looks the part. The car is fabulous, but then we come to the other side of the coin: the infrastructure.

When setting off from the start line in Berlin the navigation was set and the car displayed an estimated battery change percentage upon arrival. It read 12% to the lunch stop where the car would be charged at one of the Ionity 800watt chargers. 12% is a reasonable level and my passengers and I felt confident that we could arrive without giving the range much thought. Remember that quick lane change in the city that I mentioned earlier?

That switch into Sport Plus and the pedal to the metal acceleration cost 1% of that 12% estimate. A few amusing accelerations from standstill to the speed limit cost a further 5%. A short 3km autobahn blast to the vmax of 260km/h and the estimated battery upon arrival is at 1%. With more than 100kms to go, the famed range anxiety set in. I shift into Range mode to try and earn back some precious power. This is where things get a little dull, there are some stunning roads coming up, but I cannot push or my passengers and I will be stranded on the side of the street playing I Spy.

Some careful driving and arduous steady kilometres later we are close to the destination with around 4% charge remaining. Into sport plus I hope to make the most of the remaining power, only to find the car is warning me to preserve the remaining charge and it has limited the max speed. Killjoy.

Throw in a short unexpected detour, such as dropping a friend to a train station a few kms off the route and you will not make it to your final destination without having to visit another charger on the way, make sure it supports 800watts or you’ll be sat around for far too long staring at the percentage of charge in a service station memorising the Burger King menu.

The Taycan is a fabulous machine, one that has, without a doubt, changed perceptions and the expectations of electric cars. I cannot help but question how the concept of electric cars can be considered feasible in a world where the infrastructure is not yet ready to alleviate the woes of range anxiety. We are so accustomed to the convenience of having endless access to petrol stations where we can brim our tanks with fossil juice in seconds. Until we can charge our batteries in less than the time it takes to do a shot of espresso and chomp down a Snickers bar, there will always be sceptics of the need to build in 20-30 minute stops to recharge a battery. For day-to-day short commutes in congested towns and cities like London, the efforts of the BMW i3s or Renault Zoe are far more compelling. A week of commuting can be completed on a single charge overnight on the weekend, a real alternative to combustion motoring. Why claim that electricity is ready to replace fossil fuels in all scenarios?


2019 BMW M8 Competition Coupe and Convertible Review

The BMW M8 Competition is a difficult car to place. The replacement of the M6 is tagged by BMW as being a luxury GT car, but one that packs 625 horsepower and 750Nm of torque. Those aren’t numbers that are used to waft from the country estate to the golf course, something I learnt when I went to The Algarve to put the most powerful series production M car in BMW’s history to the test.

After an evening of being inundated with stats and filled with the finest prawns I’ve ever eaten, it was time to see how the figures felt in the real world. Exploiting 625 horsepower on the street isn’t exactly easy, the infamous Autódromo Internacional do Algarve, colloquially referred to as Portimao, had been booked out for us to put the M8 Competition through its paces (the base M8 was not on offer to test on this occasion). Boy, oh boy there was pace. BMW claims 0-100km/h in 3.3 and it feels every bit as fast. 3.3 isn’t a number typically attributable to a wafty GT car, and neither is the way the M8 Competition handles itself around what is one of the most testing tracks in Europe. Stability and control were a focus for the M division and can be directly linked to three innovations that have been created with sharp handling characteristics in mind: M xDrive, Active M Differential and M-specific Adaptive suspension. They each do what they say on the tin and each element takes the poise of the M850i and turns it up a notch to far more serious, track usable levels.

Yes, the car still feels all of two tonnes when you really start to hustle it into bends and quick direction changes, but you’ve got to be forcing it into such a scenario. I suspect 98%, if not more, of owners will never venture onto a track with their M8, but it’s spectacular to know how capable the car can be. The xDrive system deserves a special mention as it allows you to apply power extremely early after an apex, you feel it dragging the car out with terrific grip and speed. That’s not to say that there isn’t fun to be had, with the traction and stability systems in MDM, the rear end comes in to play and is easily adjustable on the throttle.

The 4.4-litre V8 revs to 7,200 but peak power is done at 6,000. The 750Nms come courtesy of two turbochargers that are nestled between the two cylinder banks for a sharper response and less lag. This unit teams up with an eight-speed M Steptronic transmission which is as good as any dual clutch setup on sale today, you are never left helplessly tugging at paddles for downshifts multiple times before they are delivered.

Braking performance is often a point of criticism on BMW M cars, even the carbon ceramic setups of the past have been known to find themselves in a spot of smokey bother after a couple of intense laps on track, not in the M8. Thanks to cutting-edge technology, the brake activation, brake booster and braking control functions are brought together within a compact module. The brake pressure required is triggered by an electric actuator, which means it can be generated more dynamically, pedal feel is optimised and the interventions from the stability control system are significantly faster and more precise. The driver can choose between two pedal feel settings: one more comfort-oriented and the other a particularly direct, instantaneous setting. I can report that the feel remains remarkably consistent even after a pounding on the track.

As I said, I can never imagine myself seeing an M8 on track except for in special circumstances such as a motoGP safety car. The road is where M8s will be used and that’s where the real world consumer testing needs to be done.

Weighing in at 2.1 tonnes, the convertible M8 Competition is around 100 kilograms more than the Coupe and is the variant assigned for the road testing element of the test. It is 0.1 seconds slower to 100 (3.4 seconds) but with the roof retracted the sensation of speed is heightened.

With every new car review I write, I seem to drone on and on about the crippling OPF that has restrained the exhaust noises that enthusiasts so crave. The story is the same here and the soundtrack is not what you would traditionally associate with a 4.4 V8. That being said, M have worked hard to give the M8 some serious bass. It’s not great, it’s acceptable.

On the billiard table smooth tarmac of the track the steering felt numb, there is more weight in the sportier modes, but the feel is absent. The same can be said for the steering on the road. So not very good then? Hold your horses, the M8 really surprised me on the deserted, tight and twisty roads away from the circuit. The coupe was great on track, the convertible continued to exceed expectations on the street. The xDrive system means you can use the power and mammoth torque without fearing for your life, the systems mentioned before, particularly the suspension and diff shine and come together to make the M8 not only savagely fast, but also very easy to drive at speed.

Then you slow down to admire the scenery and stick everything into comfort and the character of the car completely changes – it demonstrates an impressive breadth of ability. The cabin is comfortable, the seats could be a little more supportive but are well suited to long drives. The back seats are usable for adults too, perhaps not for longer journeys but certainly suitable for children. The infotainment system remains one of the best in the business and there are new M displays to separate this from the rest of the 8 family. Gone is the questionable crystal gear selector from lesser 8 series models.

This brings me back to my opening statement: the M8 is a difficult car to place. Is it a 911 competitor? I feel it’s not sporty enough and lacks feel in comparison to the Porsche. Maybe the Bentley Continental GT or DB11? I feel the M8 is not premium enough. The Aston Martin Vantage or AMG GT could be in the sights of the M8, but neither of those can demonstrate the soft, supple cruising abilities of the M8 Competition. Regardless, the M8 Competition stands tall and proud as the current head of the BMW M table with the ability to cruise quietly or attack a road with seemingly endless torque and power. A mighty fine M car.


2020 Audi RS7 Sportback Review

There forever has been and, hopefully, will always be an inexplicable level of cool associated with a fast German saloon car. Perhaps it is that they are based cars on which are typically a little beige, boring and, more often than not, diesel barges that trundle down the autobahn minding their own business. Then the skunkworks departments at the likes of M, AMG and RS get to work and the results are snarling hulks that both look and feel like swollen hulks of the timid cars they once were.

Since the turn of the millennium, there have been a couple of personal highlights: the E60 BMW M5 saloon and estate which both featured derivatives of the Williams F1 V10 that howled like nothing else, and the Audi RS6 Avant that also featured a mighty large V10 taken from the Lamborghini Gallardo. The recently replaced Audi RS6 is also up there nestled amongst the best. The pressure is on for the new one to deliver, but the opportunity to drive the RS6 is a few months away. To whet the appetite, Audi asked if I would like to drive the RS7, a car that seems to have been somewhat overshadowed by the mass hankering the market had for the RS6, despite both cars sharing the same mechanicals underpinnings. Could the latest iteration steal the hearts of many as the RS6s of the past had? To find out, I flew to Frankfurt.

Let’s get the numbers bit out of the way: at the heart of the package sits a 4.0-litre V8 engine producing 600 hp and 800 Nm of torque. 100 km/h is dispatched in just 3.6 seconds with a 250 km/h top speed. The Dynamic package removes the limiter, pushing this up to 305 km/h.

A 48-volt system runs a belt alternator starter with car recover 12 kW of power for use between 55 and 160 km/h. The system is meant to provide instantaneous power to the drive while offering the ability to coast on electrical energy with the engine switched off. The cylinder on demand technology further aids fuel consumption. Power is fed to a Quattro permanent all-wheel-drive system through an eight-speed tiptronic transmission. The RS7 gets a launch control function with torque control provided through a sport differential, part of the optional Dynamic and Dynamic plus packages.

That’s that, what does this all feel like off the paper and on the tarmac? Well, that depends on one decision that owners will have to make, it makes a rather considerable difference: suspension. The RS7 can be optioned with either the standard, more comfortable, RS adaptive air suspension or an optional sport suspension with Dynamic Ride Control, that is the one you want. Why? The optional DRC set up is harder and, yes, it is touch harsher on the road. Make no mistake, it is still comfortable when you’re cruising, but when you get a hustle on, the body control and the limit before understeer and tyre squeal become a factor, is far higher.

I am no track day magician, but I was finding the handling limits of the car in the air suspension fitted cars remarkably easily. The conventionally sprung car felt far more up for a good time, and as a result, I feel it is worth the comfort trade-off. All cars tested rode on massive 22 inch wheels all around.

What about the performance? My first thoughts on the autobahn were ‘oh, it’s not THAT quick’, I then looked down and noticed I had hit the top speed. In gear acceleration in first, second and third in particular, is astonishing. It feels every bit 592bhp quick. At speed, the sensation of power is somewhat stymied by the lack of a certain characteristic: sound. There is a huge 4.0-litre V8 under the hood, but you would have no idea judging by the sound in the cabin. It is a little depressing, but it is a sign of the times in a world muzzled by the legislative necessity for the awful OPF. Audi combated my comment stating that they wanted to keep the noise authentic and refused to pipe fake sounds into the cabin…if you listen carefully you can hear BMW M retreating into the bushes.

Back to the bends, there is a lack of something here too, steering weight and feedback. This is a gripe that I’ve had with Audis for years, the chances of this being remedied in the RS7 were slim, it is a little difficult to understand what the front tires are doing and where the limits of adhesion are when there is such an absence of palpable communication coming through the wheel. That being said, there is good news too. The car is savagely fast out of bends and the 48 volt antiroll system masks the weight as well as you could ask from a car that weighs in at 2,500 kilos. As previously mentioned, the DRC suspension is where the car is at its best. It must also be noted that the gearbox is fine on the way up, but hesitates on downshift – third to second, in particular, seems to take an age.

Inside there are a few niggles, but on the whole, the interior is a very pleasant place to be. There are lashings of leather, alcantara and plenty of room in the front and rear. There are also walls of screen. The dash is impressive and there and a multitude of configuration options to display as much data as I’ve seen in a machine this side of an F16. For me, the two stacked central touch screens are a little fiddly on the move and require more concentration than I would like to give them when pushing on or trying to focus on a twisty stretch of tarmac. This, I guess, is personal preference and others may love them as much as I loathe them. On the whole, I feel there could be more going on in the interior to set the RS apart from the series A7 to reflect the changes to the exterior. It lacks a special touch.

On the whole, the RS7 is a mighty fine piece of kit. If you’re in the market for an M5 to E63, the RS7 really is a viable alternative. It is a little softer and quieter than the aforementioned cars, but is by no means slower. It features all the tech you could ever need, is spacious and in plenty fast. Audi claim 0-100 in 3.6, I saw 3.2 time and time again with the deeply effective launch control activated. To answer my opening question, yes, I really think this car deserves adoring fans as there is plenty to love in this new RS7 as there has been in every RS6 to date. Now we need to see just how impressive the new RS6 is.


2019 Cadillac XT4 AWD Sport Review

New to Cadillac’s lineup this year, the XT4 is Cadillac’s entry into the light SUV crossover segment. We had an initial look at it several months ago but wanted a little more experience with it. Cadillac was kind enough to loan us one for a few days.

It’s a smart looking SUV. Continuing Cadillac’s design theme of “art and science”, it’s lines are more square, more angular in shape than many of the other cars in it’s segment and it’s unique. Cadillac’s styling is almost architectural. It bears a passing resemblance to it’s older brother, the larger XT5 but distinguishes itself with little details. The wide, bold grille is all Cadillac. The creased sheetmetal lines on the hood break up the width and length of the otherwise flat hood, while adding an element of sportiness. The beltline curves break up the expanse of the XT4’s sides and the bold, angular c-pillars project a sense of strength. The XT4’s taillights adhere to the Cadillac tradition of skinny, tall lights. The red paint, knowns as Red Horizon Tintcoat, doesn’t hurt either.

Inside is a feast of soft leathers, high-quality plastics, and genuine carbon fiber. It’s not necessarily the materials themselves that impress, though they do, it’s how they’re utilized. Cadillac uses the materials in interesting ways to add a sense of sophistication. Look at how the leather curls over the door arm rests. There’s a feel of artisanal craftsmanship throughout. Amidst the sea of monochromatic black, the creme seats stand out like islands of refuge. Supremely comfortable, mildly-bolstered, both heated and ventilated, with built-in massagers, they are great on long drives. The dash curves out over the center console, providing reach-less access to the infotainment touchscreen. There’s decent legroom for backseat passengers of all sizes too. And under the rear hatch, even with the back seats up, there’s plenty of room for anything you could want to carry.

Under the hood lies a 2.0L turbocharged inline-four attached to a 9-speed automatic transmission. The engine makes 237 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. Is that enough for a Cadillac? Nay, a Cadillac SUV? I initially had my doubts but it turns out that between the characteristics of the engine and a smart selection of gears, it is. Absolutely. While a little laggy off the line, the small blown mill propels the XT4 up the road with enthusiasm once the turbo has something to work with. It generates a lot of mid-range and upper-range power, offering plenty of power to pass and accelerate at highway speeds, and returns decent fuel economy in the process. With nine gears, you’re never caught out. The transmission shifts quickly and delivers the perfect gear every time. The engine note is better than most SUV’s it’s size – never droning or harsh.

2019 Cadillac XT4 Price

The engine puts down the power to the front wheels by default. It has a playful feel when in FWD, capably squealing the tires when you’re driving enthusiastically. Otherwise you’d never know. Activated by a button on the center console, there are two other drive modes that you can call up. One is AWD, and the other is AWD Sport. In AWD Sport, the XT4 corners much more confidently and controllably. We did find it odd that the car required the driver to manually select AWD instead of the car automatically engaging it as conditions necessitated, like many of the other SUV’s in it’s class. We suppose it’s down to fuel economy but it seems awkward and somewhat backwards that it requires the driver to decide instead of taking care of it for him/her. Perhaps the Luxury and Premium Luxury models are different.

It stops as well as it goes. The brakes feel solid, hauling it down from speed with ease, with excellent feedback as to what it’s doing. The brake pedal is firm, with no squishiness or grabbiness, allowing you to modulate brake pressure with precision. They inspire complete confidence.

The steering wheel is moderately thick and steering effort is light. If there’s one area that could benefit from a little attention, it’s steering feel. The electric variable power assist rack and pinion steering feels fairly numb and as a consequence feels fairly darty. I didn’t mind the light steering feel so much, it’s the lack of feedback and the numbness that I disliked.

2019 Cadillac XT4 Interior

The suspension consists of MacPherson struts up front and a multi-link setup in back. It provides a firm but supple ride and never felt harsh, even over bad pavement. It corners well, especially in AWD mode, and seemed fairly responsive. Though our model was the AWD Sport model, our car didn’t come with the sport suspension package with the continuous damping control. We were a little disappointed about that but the XT4 performed just fine for us.

As with most Cadillacs, there’s an almost overwhelming selection of electronic gew-gaws to keep you safe and keep you entertained while traveling. Our car came with the “Comfort & Technology” package, which included ventilated seats, masssagers built into the front seats, a hands-free liftgate, an air ionizer, wireless device charger, and one of the most versatile heads-up displays I’ve ever experienced. It also came with the “Cold Weather” package (heated seats both front and rear and a heated steering wheel) and the “Driver Awareness” package, which helped with blind spot monitoring, lane keeping, auto headlight brights, and auto-braking when it sensed vehicles or pedestrians ahead. One other nice feature it had was headlights that illuminated whatever was in the direction you were turning. Having that area lit up a bit was comforting and reassuring.

2019 Cadillac XT4 Rear

We averaged between 18-21 mpg while we drove it. That’s less than the EPA estimated 28 highway, 23 city, but with my lead foot, that’s not bad. Cadillac recommends using premium unleaded fuel.

The XT4 AWD Sport starts at under $42,000. Ours, with all the packages we had, came in at $51,500, which seems reasonable for a capable and loaded SUV.

We enjoyed our time with the XT4. While it wasn’t so much a “driver’s car” as it was a “general purpose car,” it did quite well. It felt solid and dependable. Perhaps just as importantly it kept us comfortable and safe and we enjoyed it’s many marvelous design elements. It looked good everywhere it went and as a result, so did we.


2019 Mazda CX-5 Signature Edition Review

Normally, a car like the CX-5 wouldn’t make the cut for a review on GT Spirit, but after spending a few days with the Signature AWD version, we felt inclined to share it with you. Despite it’s comparatively mediocre stats to many of the SUVs on GT Spirit’s site, it turns out that it’s much more than the sum of it’s parts and specs don’t tell the whole story. It’s probably the least expensive SUV we’ve ever reviewed as well, but then Mazda is more known for building inexpensive cars that tickle the pure driver in each of us. Their engineers and designers seem to be driving enthusiasts too.

The CX-5 is a sharp looking little SUV. The design isn’t particularly complex but it has a certain “flow’ to it, as if the designers set out to capture the flow of the slipstream while in motion. Most people I discussed the design with really liked it. About the only dislike was the size of the enormous grille but most felt it didn’t detract from the design. The wheels are sharp looking and add to the design, and the chrome tying the front headlights together and the rear tail lights together are a nice touch too. The Soul Red paint was complimented repeatedly. “That shade of red…..” Yes, that shade of red really is magnificent.

Inside, deep red leather and chrome brightwork set the scene. The leather is soft and comfortable. The majority of the design lines inside are straight or angled, offsetting the natural flow feeling of the exterior. All the controls are well laid out and easy to understand and use. Radio and SatNav controls are found on the digital screen jutting up from the dashboard. Controls for navigating it are found on the center console and are easy to use. HVAC controls are low in the center stack ahead of the shifter and are also simple to use. The steering wheel is wrapped in a nice soft leather and has radio, cruise controls, and other driver information toggles on it. It’s got a nice thickness to it, without being excessive. The front seats are electrically adjustable and on the Signature model all four seats are heated while the front ones are ventilated as well.

Under the hood lies Mazda’s direct-injected and turbocharged 2.5L four cylinder engine. It provides 227 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque, which is enough to propel the smallish CX-5 along a good clip. There’s a 6-speed automatic hooked to it, but no paddle shifters attached to the steering wheel unfortunately. The drive system is Mazda’s i-Active AWD system which works invisibly in the background directing power to whichever wheels need it most. The engine note is a little on the droning side, but it’s not unpleasant – just not inspiring either.

2019 Mazda CX5 Steering

The brakes are a basic rotor and caliper setup both front and back. There’s nothing special about them but they do a great job of stopping the car quickly and efficiently with great control and modulation. The brake pedal feels solid, without any sponginess or grabbiness.

The suspension is a four-wheel independent setup. It feels soft and absorbing initially but firms up quickly in a turn giving a good sense of confidence when cornering. It provides a pleasant ride – a nice balance between sporting and coddling.

The ride is quiet and the cabin isolated from most wind and wheel noise. Rough pavement comes through as dull thumping but the cabin does an excellent job of keeping most of the tire and wind noise outside the car where it belongs. In fact, we found the interior to be quieter than most Lexus models we’ve driven as of late.

As you can see from the specs, it’s nothing to write home about and you could be forgiven for overlooking it. It’ll run from 0-60 mph in about 5 seconds flat. You won’t set any records at the drag strip. And you won’t impress many people at the track either. But after spending a few days running errands all over town on city streets and freeways, I found that the way Mazda has tuned the powertrain and suspension invests it with remarkable driving characteristics and I found that I was really having a great time flinging it through corners and prodding it down the freeway. Had this been a 15-minute test drive at a Mazda dealer, I probably would have said, “Yeah, nice little SUV,” but I probably wouldn’t have noticed how good it really is. But running all over town, experiencing just about every conceivable traffic situation, really brought out the car’s abilities.

2019 Mazda CX5 Side View

Frankly, it just loves to be pushed. Drive it hard and it not only does what you ask but it encourages you to push harder. The engine makes most of its power in the mid- and upper-rev range so as long as you’re moving along already, the power is thick and available. Passing slower cars is a snap. Dive into a freeway off-ramp and the brakes slow the car down immediately with excellent control, the suspension carries the car around the cloverleaf in an elegant glide, then nail the throttle and it rockets off the cloverleaf out into faster traffic with ease.

Stay on the throttle and take advantage of openings in freeway traffic. Slip into the empty right lane, pass several slower cars, then dive back into the left lane to get around a slow semi. This is where the CX-5 excels. It carves through traffic with ease, encouraging you to enjoy the driving. Forget about work and deadlines and bills and just focus on driving for a few minutes. And you bond with it. You learn you can trust it to see you through, even when you may have carried too much speed into a corner. It’s cool – the CX-5 has you. It’ll make sure you come out of it okay and live to fight another day. I found myself surprised and delighted by it.

What would make it better? Frankly, paddle shifters behind the steering wheel might have been fun. Maybe not. I certainly enjoyed it without them but wonder what more fun could be had with more control over the transmission. Any other suggestions would just be my subconscious trying to turn it into a Miata so I’ll stop. It’s a pretty great little SUV.

The CX-5 Signature Edition, which is essentially the nicest CX-5 available, starts at nearly $37,000. As tested, our test car added up to nearly $39,500. Not unreasonable for all the nice interior appointments in this day and age. There are certainly faster, more luxurious, and more impressive SUV’s on the market but that’s the delight of the CX-5: it’s not prohibitively expensive but it provides a wonderfully competent and engaging driving experience.


2020 VUHL 05 Review

It has been 4 years since we first tested the VUHL 05 Mexican supercar. Now during our first day at Monterey Car Week 2019 the brothers Iker and Guillermo Echeverria presented us with an opportunity to test drive their updated 2020 VUHL 05. It comes with a more powerful engine and several other improvements over the first generation cars.

Since the world premiere of the VUHL 05 in 2013 over 50 VUHLs have been produced and sold. Recently the line-up was extended with an even more hardcore high performance version called the VUHL 05 RR. This RR comes with a 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine from Ford. The 2020 VUHL 05 comes now also with this new engine versus the 2.0-liter engine in the predecessor. The 2.3-liter Ford EcoBoost engine is paired with a Sadev six-speed sequential gearbox.

The performance takes a big leap forward; gaining 75hp bringing the total to 360hp and 485Nm of torque (+65Nm). The sprint from 0-100 km/h takes 3.7 seconds and the top speed is limited to 250 km/h. The most impressive figure however is the weight; dry the 2020 VUHL 05 only weighs 695 kilograms.

The low weight is thanks to VUHL’s unique X-Vario platform constructed from 6061-T6 aluminium extrusions and aluminium honeycomb. Its extreme torsional stiffness allows the suspension to be finely tuned.

For me it is the first time to drive the VUHL 05 and I was worried for a bit that I would struggle to fit as I’m 1.90m tall. But after taking the steering wheel off I managed to slide right into the carbon fibre bucket seats. The seats are pretty tight but with the harness keep you in place like nothing else. And believe me you will want to be bolted in as the G-forces you can achieve are breathtaking.

Once you are set lift up the cover of the master switch and flip the switch up as if you are firing a torpedo and press the start button to bring the engine to live. Being a small series supercar built in Mexico the 2020 VUHL 05 has none of this European noise regulation bullshit that castrated most new sports cars recently. Instead it is loud and sounds like one of the best sounding four-cylinders I have ever driven.

Put the throttle into gear, lift the clutch and off we go. The turbo hisses and whooshes as we make our way through the gears on the treelined Californian roads. There is no brake booster so applying the brakes requires a proper punch but it is not disturbing.

The bright orange car turns heads and raises thumbs where-ever we go. Even during Monterey Car Week with dozens of Paganis and Bugattis taking over the streets of Pebble Beach the VUHL 05 is an absolute attention magnet.

However one man is not particular pleased to see us. To one of the local officers of the law the VUHL works like a red muleta to a bull. Apparently the aggressive appearance of the VUHL 05 is so intimidating that while taking a few photos roadside I must be bullied into submission. My photographer Philipp is shock frozen by the verbal tirade and forgets to capture the with hindsight hilarious moment on film. A few minutes into the monologue a Bentley flies by and we are no longer worthy of attention as the Sheriff sets off in pursuit.

With the VUHL 05 and the road back to ourselves we continue our test drive; the suspension consists of 2-way adjustable Bilstein dampers and high-rate Eibach springs and provide the VUHL 05 with handling like a race car. The light weight, optimized aerodynamics and cup tires allow you to corner like nothing else. The low ground clearance is a bit of an issue on some occasions but the VUHL 05 is not intended as a daily driver but as the ultimate track toy.

I’m surprised by the quality of the finishing. The hybrid carbon – aluminum monocoque can be finished with exposed carbon inside and out giving the VUHL 05 a very high-end look and feel. All the switchgear is elegant, simple and well executed. The digital driver display shows all key driving elements and more. There is no aircon, no radio and no navigation but who needs that on track anyway.

The VUHL 05 is so much fun to drive I don’t want to give it back and consider stealing it so I can really drive it like I stole it. But the thought of crossing paths again with my new friend at the local law makes me slowly reconsider and long after dark I return the car to our friends at VUHL. I can’t wait to have a rendezvous with this incredible machine on a race track.


2019 Volvo S60 AWD R-Design Review

Now in it’s third generation, the S60 continues to evolve and improve and the 2019 version shows that Volvo is working hard to make great cars and successfully compete in the world market. We recently drove an AWD R-Design version to assess the state of Volvo’s popular sedan. The R-Design model provides a little extra level of design flair over the standard S60.

Outside, the R-Design has the same overall shape as the standard S60 but has some unique details to distinguish it. Black window trim instead of chrome. Black upper and lower grilles instead of chrome. Special tailpipes and different 18” wheels round out the exterior differences. These changes give the car a more sporting look than the base model.

Inside, the R-design has unique Nappa leather and upholstery on the seats. The R-Design also gets a unique leather-wrapped steering wheel and gear selector. The seats are 10-way electrically adjustable, and electric seat pad extensions are part of the package and are very comfortable and well bolstered.

A charcoal headliner is standard, and cool metal mesh deco aluminum inlays spiff up the interior. An updated nav system, a Harmon Kardon sound system, and a raft of electronic safety instruments complete the package. You get a lot for your $6100 R-Package option investment. Our car also came with heated rear seats and steering wheel, an advanced technology package, an improved Bowers & Wilkens sound system, and an upgrade to 19” R-Design wheels.

2019 Volvo S6 Interior

Under the hood is Volvo’s T6 engine that we’ve become quite fond of. It’s a dual-charged (super- and turbo-charged) 2.0L four-cylinder engine that makes 316hp and 295 ft-lbs of torque. No slouch, it rarely feels caught out, providing a nice flat torque curve to ride through the rev range. This time around however, it felt a little slower than normal. Perhaps the AWD added some extra weight or perhaps the fact that we’d just stepped out of a Maserati Levante Trofeo with a twin-turbo Ferrari-built V8 under the hood, but the T6 in this car felt a little taxed moving the car up the road. Not slow, mind you; but slower than we recall. This isn’t something we’ve experienced in other Volvo applications so we think it was more our perception than actual performance.

The 8-speed automatic does an excellent job of making subtle but quick shifts as it directs power to the AWD system. The car has shifters behind the steering wheel but they’re slower to respond that we’d like and they didn’t get much use because of that.

The ride has a firm, sporty feel that we enjoyed. It’s not rough or harsh in any way. It corners well with a little lean, but not enough to unsettle you. It’s performance is confidence-inspiring and it’s a delight to fling into a set of S-bends. The automatic transmission is quick to kick down and provide good power coming out of curves without upsetting the balance of the chassis. There is a drive mode controller on the console that allows you to select “Dynamic” and that makes the car’s responses much quicker and sporting. We actually preferred the car in Dynamic mode, although it didn’t quicken the steering wheel shifters like we hoped it would.

2019 Volvo S60 Rear View

The brakes do an amazing job of stopping the car. You can control the degree of braking intensity with ease. They’re disk and calipers at all four corners with an electric parking brake. We never pushed them hard enough to see if they fade but they were still confidence inspiring.

The controls are well laid out. We’re quite fond of Volvo’s operating system. The navigation system that shows up in the gauge cluster is brilliant. The large screen above the center console is easy to see and use. The heads up display is nice when driving in heavy traffic so you don’t have to take your eyes off the road. The seats are very comfortable.

Large bolsters keep you in place nicely but don’t complicate ingress and egress. We were really hoping for seat massagers like we experienced in the V90 last year but no such luck, although the electrically extendable seat pads were nice for drivers with longer legs; It offered a bit more support on long trips. Another nice feature that the S60 had was a button to fold down the rear seats. Push it and the headrests flopped down against the seat backs and then the seat backs would lower flat, making it easy to prepare to load the rear cargo area with several dozen boxes when your friends asks you to help him move.

2019 Volvo S60 Front

All in all, the S60 is a very competent car. Sure-footed, safe, comfortable, with a lively engine to boot. Mileage is rated at 32 on the freeway and 21 in the city and that’s about what we saw.

Our favorite thing about the car was the engine’s easygoing power-band and the interior. One of the biggest reasons we enjoyed driving the car was because of the sense of stylish refinement and the logical layout of the controls. All the controls felt right and worked well. We enjoyed the interaction with the car. Our least favorite thing was the slowness of the operating system (nav, entertainment, etc) to boot up and the slow response from the paddle shifters. While other car’s systems come up instantly, it takes Volvo’s operating system between 30 – 45 seconds to come up and become responsive. And while we appreciate the option of shifting with the paddles, they were really too unresponsive to ever add to the driving experience. If anything, they detracted from it. But these are little things and as annoying to us as they were, we still enjoyed the S60 a lot.

The S60 starts at about $40,000. Our stickered at $55,000 but a big chunk of that was the R-Design package and the Bowers and Wilkens sound system upgrade.


2019 Lexus ES 350 F Sport Review

Lexus has a reputation for exacting quality standards and while the ES 350 may be as near to an entry-level car as Lexus has, it certainly doesn’t feel like it. We spent some time with an ES 350 F Sport recently and came away surprised. We didn’t have the highest hopes for the FWD sedan, no matter the F Sport designation. How can a FWD car have any honest street cred as a sporting model?

A quick walk-around shows the ES to be an attractive but somewhat inconspicuous car. The Ultrasonic Blue Mica paint attracts plenty of attention. We even received a few compliments on it. The styling is pure Lexus, from the cheese grater grill popping through the front body work to the chrome window surrounds, to the beautifully sculpted taillights.

The best design work, however, can be found inside. Amidst the sea of monochromatic black, it quickly became clear that this is the easiest set of Lexus controls to navigate. Everything was intuitive and easy to figure out. The touchscreen can be utilized by either touch, the control knob, or the Lexus touchpad on the center console.

2019 Lexus ES 350 Steering Wheel

The dash wraps around into the doors nicely and there are other lines wrapping through the dash and center console that keep things interesting. The seats are decently bolstered and both heated and ventilated. The shifter for the 8-speed automatic transmission is a simple lever that you pull back to select a gear. There’s nothing complicated for the sake of being different. There’s a set of shifter flaps behind the steering wheel but they’re really not effective enough to select over the automatic transmission.

The 3.5L V6 engine, rated at 302 hp and 267 lb-ft of torque, effectively moves the car down the road. While quiet, it makes decent noises when you step on it and the thrust pushes you back into your seat. The engine is smooth and vibration-free. The transmission shifts smoothly and softly, almost behind the scenes. Very seamless.

Our car had the F Sport package that adds some sporting touches. Besides the special 19” wheels, it comes with unique sportier bodywork touches that signify it as an F Sport ES. It also comes with an adaptive variable sport suspension that is comfortably firm but with the twist of a knob, firms up and gets even more sporting. Another twist of the knob electronically quickens the responses of the engine, the transmission, and the steering, providing a platform that feels a little more fun to drive than the base ES 350.

How is it to drive? It’s very comfortable to drive. The ride is silky smooth, like most Lexus models. I’m not sure how Lexus does it but the car just absorbs bumps and road imperfections so that you end up with a glasslike smoothness. The brakes hiding behind the 19” wheels are strong and haul the car down from speed with no fade. In F Sport mode, things feel sportier, but we found ourselves just enjoying the soft, comfortable ride. For a FWD car, it handled corners better than expected and when launching the car from a standstill, there wasn’t nearly as much FWD body movement as we expected to find. It’s no IS or RC, but for the money it does a pretty decent job of imparting a sense of sportiness.

2019 Lexus ES 350 F Sport Price

The only disappointment we had was one to nearly all Lexus cars: road noise from the tires is much louder than in many of its competitors. In fact, we’ve found that even many entry-level cars have better insulation from road noise. It happens to be extra noticeable in a car that takes such pains to be so good at other things with a price tag like it has.
The ES 350 F Sport is a pleasant car to drive and look at. While it’s not really a performance car, it works hard to be playful. Where it succeeds most is in the smooth ride and the creature comforts. The 2019 model starts at $44,000. Our test model came in at nearly $55,000. Given Lexus reliability and resale values, that price seems reasonable.


2020 Mercedes-AMG A45 S Review

The Mercedes-AMG 45S is the “Super-sportscar” of the compact class and ranging topping offering from Mercedes-Benz.
With the previous third generation Mercedes-Benz A class getting it’s first taste of the AMG treatment over six-years ago, it was time for the team in Affalterbach to give the now fourth generation A Class a new incarnation. For this we headed to Circuito del Jarama on the outskirts of Madrid, Spain.

Now at Circuito del Jarama we get our first look round the new A45S which is now fitted with the worlds most powerful turbocharged four-cylinder engine, the M139. Producing an impressive 384hp as a “standrard” A45, the A45S manages to output an outstanding 421hp! This is an improvement of 40hp over the previous M133 DE20 LA engine found in the facelift third generation Mercedes A45 AMG, and gives the M139 a output of 211hp per litre which places it on-par with engines you’d expect to find in high class ranges. As with all AMG produced engines, the powerplants found in the A45 are from Affalterbach and adhere to the “One Man, One Engine” principle. The A45S will reach 100 km/h in just 3.9 seconds and will continue on to a top speed of 270 km/h, whilst the standard A45 is 0.1 seconds slower to 100 km/h (4.0) and is electronically limited to 250 km/h, though this can be raised to 270 km/h with the optional AMG Drivers package.
The new engine has been rotated around its vertical axis 180°, meaning the turbocharger and exhaust manifold are now positioned to the rear of the engine bay, allowing for a more aerodynamically and the flattest possible front section of the car. Inside the engine, Mercedes has coated the cylinders with their patented NANOSLIDE technology that is also found in their Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula 1 engines.
Both variants of the M139 are coupled to the eight speed AMG SPEEDSHIFT DCT-8G dual clutch transmission, which provides shifts in mere milliseconds, and comes equipped with the AMG Performance 4MATIC+ all-wheel drive. Also new for this generation of A45, is Drift mode, which comes as standard with the S and is included in the optional AMG DYNAMIC Plus package on the standard A45. Drift mode is called up when in “RACE” mode when the ESP is turned off and the transmission is in manual mode, allowing for powerslides on any road condition.

Twisting the wheel-mounted driving mode dial round to “Race” and you feel the car tighten up, the exhaust valves open and in general become more aggressive. Opening up the throttle and the power is almost instantaneous, the gearshifts are smooth and lightening quick with a little crackle and pop on every one, or when you lift of the throttle. The steering is light and responsive in conjunction with the Michelin Pilot Sport 4 S tyres, giving you feedback as you go through the corners and making you feel comfortable pushing harder into each upcoming corner.
The AMG Torque Control differential helps to bring the car back around on occasions when you find you’ve pushed a little too hard into a corner, with the font tighten up and the rear being pull round in a “powersliding” style.

Now back in the paddock area we have a better chance to look at the exterior changes on the new A45S. The most striking feature across both variants is the addition of the AMG specific grille on the A Class for the first time. The flared wheel arches and front winglets add to the aggressive look that the contoured headlamps and aerodynamic styled hood give the A45S. This continues round to the side of the car, where the AMG side skirts give the A45S a more road hugging stance, whist the wing mirrors are mounted in a similar fashion to those found on the larger coupes and sportscars. At the rear of the A45S, the thinner rear light clusters help to emphasise a wider rear, with the twin 90mm round exhaust pipes sticking out on both sides of the rear diffuser.
One optional extra that helps that were a big fan of is the AMG Aerodynamic package, which with its modified font splitter, winglets, additional diffuser blade and rear wing help to not only improve that handling abilities of the A45S through improved downforce, but also finish of the aggressive styling of the car. Other options include a range of 19-Inch alloy wheels, the AMG night package or a Silver Chrome package.

Inside the A45S the driver and passenger are seated in sports seats that have a firm lateral support and are covered in black ARTICO man-made leather and DINAMICA microfibre is timeless, and creates typical AMG highlights with double topstitching in yellow. The steering wheel comes in nappa leather/DINAMICA microfibre, with either red, yellow or black stitching, galvanised gearshift paddles nestled just behind it and an adjustable button that allows the driver to set the AMG driving mode without the need to remove their hands from the wheel. As always, the centre console is present in a gloss black finish with a touchpad that is surrounded by additional switches that control the ESP, transmission mode and exhaust mode to name a few.

The MBUX infotainment system has three AMG styles, “Classic”, “Sport” and “Supersport”. When Supersport is selected you get a striking central, round rev countrer and with the other information being moved to the side in a bar form. Mercedes have also added the AMG Track Pace as standard to the A45S, meaning the virtual race engine is fully available through the MBUX infotainment system. By measuring more than 80 different vehicle-specific data channels, the drivers are then able to analyse and improve their driving skills. Another feature of the AMG Track Pace is the ability to record your own circuits into the memory, be it major race tracks famous across the world, or you nearest club circuit, and have the ideal racing line stored and displayed.

Out on the road the ride quality is very good for a “super-sports” compact car, and it’s only when you move into Sport+ and Race that you start to feel more of the road below, it handles the highways with ease and comfort. On the more winding mountainous roads that lead up the Sierra de Guadarrama, the A45S hugs the round, staying planted in the corners with the power coming back smoothly and quickly when you punch the accelerator on the exit.

With their completely re-designed A45 models, Mercedes-AMG has showcased their competence in developing an already class-leading compact into a ground breaking “Super-sportscar” both equally comfortable at highway cruising as it is at windy country roads and race tracks.
Overall the new Mercedes-AMG 45S is a cooling looking, extremely well equipped and punchy compact class car, that has definitely raised the bar in the “Super-sportscar”, compact class market!


Special Report: Purity and Driving Pleasure In The Caterham 310R

A few weeks ago Caterham invited me to spend a few days with a Caterham 620R – these were some of the most thrilling and scary motoring days I have ever lived. The 620R can only be compared to well lubricated roller-skate that has been strapped onto a hulking great firework that would be the centre piece of any new years display. To say the power to weight ratio of the 620R (508bhp/ton) will test even the most skilled driver, is an understatement – applying throttle mid corner is something you have to be very brave to do. Caterham called me again a few days ago, this time to try a 310R (281bhp/ton) to see if less power and a conventional manual gearbox, not a savage race car derived sequential, would make the driving experience less intimidating and more usable.

Most Caterhams looks fairly similar, it is the details and badges that set the various models apart from one another – the stark anomaly being the 620R I had. There was no windscreen or roof, the interior was sparse and dominated by carbon fibre and switches that had no function. The 310R I am collecting is, in comparison, tame. There is a roof, windows and an interior with dials that you would find in any conventional car. It still looks like a go kart, just one that looks a lot more accommodating and welcoming.

Would these characteristics continue through into the driving experience? In short, yes. Unsurprisingly, having half (152bhp) of the 310bhp the 620R packs, makes a profound difference. The 1.6 litre Ford engine is more than powerful enough to fire the 540kg car down the road. 0-60mph is completed in a respectable 4.9 seconds, but that is not what this car is built to do, nor where it is at its best.

In the corners the 310R is an utter joy to pilot. The gearshift is so beautifully weighted, a pleasure to use and the power is so usable that you can use all of it most of the time. It just grips and goes and you’ll thread apexes together with unparalleled satisfaction being able to see the wheels running exactly where you imagined they would. The tiny steering wheel and the weight transfer make the 310R feel like a real life, street legal go kart. You’ll try and pin the throttle and steer the car in through corners carrying more and more speed. There is a rhythm that comes courtesy of having a modest power figure and a gorgeously light body that is just not available in modern day cars. It is spectacular and addictive. This is a car that feels alive being driven hard, it pushes you to test the levels of grip. It even makes a great noise – let the revs fall to 2,500 and the exhaust pops and rubles as if someone emptied a packet of popcorn seeds into it.

With the roof stowed in the back and the wind running through the cabin, the 310R is at one with the elements. You’ll occasionally lose yourself in the thrill of the road, it feels like you’re well into triple digit speeds and then you look down and notice you are going half as fast as you thought you were. You do not need to be flying along at illegal, dangerous speeds to make the most of it, and that is reassuring and refreshing. It is guilt free, uncorrupted glee and, as a result, it is the most fun I’ve had in a car in a long time. Caterham have banged home a point I am a strong advocate of – power isn’t everything. It is also incredible value for the experience it delivers at £27,900, but it feels and looks extraordinary. It catches attention and starts conversations with pedestrians and fellow motorists alike.

This is a car for the drivers, people like me that enjoy back to basics purity. With no ABS, traction control or power-steering, you know and feel like you are in control. This is a car we need to celebrate – there are very few cars that can be compared.