All posts in “Features”

Everything You Need to Know About James Bond’s Watches

There’s a bit of dialogue in Casino Royale, the 2006 reboot of the James Bond movie franchise, when Vesper Lynd thinks she has Bond figured out, right down to his watch:

“Rolex?” she asks.
“Omega,” Bond replies.
“Beautiful,” Lynd assesses.

Those three words sum up 50 years of Bond and his wristwatches. They also have either made Rolex and Bond purists shake their heads and mutter, “product placement,” or Omega devotees cheer wildly and clink their Planet Oceans in a sort of watch-nerd toast. The history of James Bond and his timepiece choice can really be divided up into these two eras, despite the fact that the Bonds of Roger Moore and Timothy Dalton donned digital Seikos and a TAG Heuer in between.

The Mystery of the Original Bond Watch

In the beginning, there was Rolex. James Bond’s creator, Ian Fleming, gave his secret agent hero a “heavy Rolex Oyster Perpetual on an expanding bracelet,” a watch Bond put to use as a knuckle duster while punching out a henchman in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. There is no mention of the exact Rolex Fleming intended. Despite many theories, including that it was an Explorer (ref. 1016), no one will ever really know. The fact remains, though, that Rolex still has a model called the “Oyster Perpetual” in its lineup. It is a simple, time-only watch with the legendary Rolex self-winding “Perpetual” movement and the 100-meter (at least) water-resistant Oyster case, a direct descendant of the watch Rolex sent to Mount Everest with the successful British expedition in 1953. It certainly could have been one of these tough but understated watches that Fleming intended for his character. But we’re talking about the James Bond movies — where the silver screen would make 007’s timepieces iconic.

The Rolex Submariner Years

The Rolex ref. 6538 Submariner was the first (and some say best) Bond watch.

In 1962’s Dr. No, we first catch a glimpse of Bond’s watch: a Rolex Submariner, reference 6538, on the wrist of Sean Connery. Though Fleming made no mention of a diving watch in his books, the Submariner is a fitting choice for 007’s screen debut. Diving had reached a high point in popularity in the early ’60s and was seen as an activity for the bold and adventurous — making dive watches lifestyle symbols, just like Bond. Connery wore the Submariner throughout his tenure as 007 and the watch became so linked with his Bond that collectors today call the reference 6538 and similar “big crown” versions, “James Bond Submariners.”

In addition, the strap he wore the Submariner on has also achieved a cult status. Though Bond wore the Submariner on a leather strap in Dr. No, by Goldfinger, the third Bond film, the same watch is seen on a one-piece striped nylon strap. The Internet contains endless debate and speculation about this strap.

First of all, it is obviously undersized for the watch. The distance between the lugs of the Submariner is 20mm, yet the strap we see on Connery’s watch was clearly made for a smaller timepiece, most likely with a 16mm lug width. Why? Some say it was a hurried addition to a watch that was chosen at the last minute, and easier fix than sizing a riveted steel bracelet. Again, a mystery for the ages.

Tricks Up His Sleeve

Live and Let Die James’s Rolex 5513 Submariner saved his life on multiple occasions thanks to an integrated buzz saw for cutting binds and a high powered magnet.

The second point of debate about this strap is in regard to its stripes. On grainy videocassette, the strap looked like it had alternating stripes of black and “Admiralty gray.” Many strap makers sold reproductions of this pattern in the NATO style. But the advent of high-definition DVD told the real story of this most mythical of watch straps. Countless watch nerds paused their Blu-ray editions of Goldfinger as Bond raises his wrist and lights a cigarette to check on the status of the bomb he’s planted. The strap is not gray-and-black striped, but in fact appears to have a subtler pattern, with some red, a green-gray and black. Or is that Navy blue? Strap makers scrambled and a new, more authentic version is now found on thousands of Submariners worldwide.

Rolex was perfect for Connery’s Bond — the first dive watch on the first 007, rugged and authentic, in an era before Bond went commercial and Rolex became a status symbol.

Bond Embraces the Quartz & Digital Movement

Packing a Punch

Moonraker “No Moneypenney, that’s not floss.”

When Connery handed over the reins of Bond to Roger Moore, the quartz (and first “smart” watch era) had dawned and the world went digital. Bond kept up with the times and the digital watches that spit out typed messages from HQ seemed perfectly fitting for a high-tech hero. The Seiko M354 Memory-Bank Calendar shown in came in handy thanks to a built-in Plastique explosive detonator. Unfortunately, the detonator cord had to be wired directly into the charge and was shorter than Oddjob.

Watch? More Like Stalk..

Octopussy James gets a TV on his wrist, which he immediately misuses.

Octopussy featured two advanced tickers highlighting the pinnacle of technology in the ’80s. The Seiko G757 5020 Sports 100 was equipped with a GPS tracking device for locating a lost Faberge Egg (yawn). The flashier Seiko Liquid Crystal TV Watch featured a digital screen with traditional timekeeping functions, as well as a then- state-of-the-art LCD television screen that could receive UHF and VHF channels (as well as FM radio signals). Like a modern smartwatch, the TV Watch would eat through its batteries, consuming two AAs after watching five hours of television.The watch that’s shown in the movie just didn’t include the clunky receiver the real device needed to pull off such feats. Bond is shown using it to take satellite video calls from Margaret Thatcher as well as creepily “spying” on bond girls.

Waaay Before Texting

The Spy Who Loved Me This one honestly felt like a step backward.

Bond’s Seiko 0674’s Ticker Tape shown in The Spy Who Loved Me was a pre-texting solution for staying in touch with HQ. It also made for a damn good label maker.

But just like the safari suit with its wide lapels, what seemed like a good idea at the time started to look too dated for a classic character.

Omega Takes Over

Ever since Goldeneye, Bond’s been an Omega man. It started with the “Bond Seamaster”.

Fast forward to the 1990s. After the cartoonish Moore years and the dour Dalton films, Pierce Brosnan strutted out as a perfect Bond for his — glib and handsome, he had cut his pearly white teeth as a TV star. The costume designer at the time, Lindy Hemming, considered everything from cufflinks to socks and when it came to his watch, she passed over Rolex for Omega. The Rolex Submariner was by then the most ubiquitous luxury watch around. Omega had a long history with the British military, with its Seamaster having been the choice for Royal Navy divers in the 1960s. So, to the chagrin of Rolex (and Bond purists), Brosnan strapped on a Seamaster Professional and Omega has been “Bond’s choice” ever since.

To an entire generation of Bond fans, Omega is the watch of James Bond. What started out as a costume choice became a marketing bonanza, with Omega making full use of the movies to sell a lot of Seamasters. The timepiece that Brosnan wore for all of his films was a blue-dialed Seamaster with a blue rotating bezel, on a steel bracelet that had alternating polished and brushed links. As the Rolex 6538 was dubbed the Bond Submariner, so too the blue Seamaster was dubbed the “Bond Seamaster.” Omega featured the model on its website, with Brosnan’s photo and produced limited edition (if 10,007 can be considered limited) 007 versions that had gun-barrel case backs and “007” marked dials.

The Bond Watch in the Daniel Craig Era

The current James Bond, Daniel Craig, also wore Omega, but in Casino Royale, his screen debut, he introduced a new watch to the mix: the Seamaster Planet Ocean. For a more serious, more physical Bond, the Planet Ocean was a perfect choice. It is bigger, burlier and less “pretty” than the dandy blue polished Seamaster of Brosnan’s days. Bond also wore it on a rubber strap, better suited for parkour chases through third-world construction sites. Later in the movie, when he slips into a dinner jacket for some high-stakes gambling, Craig swaps out the Planet Ocean for the old blue Brosnan Bond Seamaster. It’s the last time we see that watch on James Bond. In the gritty sequel Quantum of Solace, 007 only wears the Planet Ocean, now on its steel bracelet, and it gets ample screen time.

Omega Extras

Goldeneye 007’s Omega Seamaster emitted a laser for cutting through armored panels and acted as a remote activator/detonator for magnetic mines. A few years later, it would also inspire one of the most entertaining ways to frag in multiplayer console gaming.

The World is Not Enough All Omega Seamaster’s feature luminous markers for reading in low-light, but Bond’s version in The World Is Not Enough was bright enough to set the mood in an avalanche survival balloon and also boasted a miniature grappling hook.

In Skyfall, James Bond was again in Omega, again the Planet Ocean, but also a blue-dialed Seamaster Aqua Terra for a few scenes. The Aqua Terra was a fine choice for Bond, subtler than the chunky dive watches, but still rugged enough to withstand 150 meters of water pressure. Though Connery’s Bond would never think to be traveling with a second watch, and the Aqua Terra on a bracelet is a far cry from the old Rolex on an ill-fitting nylon strap, Omega is a perfect choice for the modern James Bond. It is well made with classic styling and the right mix of rugged and refined. Omega also retains the pedigree of a storied brand, and one with a credible link to England’s military, but without the contemporary Rolex baggage.

With the release of Spectre, Bond took a decidedly backward step with his timepiece choice, but in a good way. When the movie opens, Bond is sporting a dressy Aqua Terra, but once the action heats up, Q Branch issues him a dive watch on a striped nylon strap, an obvious nod to the Connery era. But instead of the old Rolex, Craig’s Bond sticks with Omega, wearing a special edition of the Seamaster 300 Master Co-Axial (shown at the top), a watch fittingly inspired by the 1960s-era Omega diver that was issued to Britain’s Royal Navy. Despite its retro design, this one sported an all-new anti-magnetic movement and swapped the usual elapsed time bezel for one that can be used to track a second-time zone, fitting for a globetrotting super-spy.

The latest Bond watch is the first version designed with input from Bond himself.

Bond’s upcoming watch for newest movie installment of the series, No Time to Die, is an original creation with a neo-vintage look. Worn in the movie on a mesh Milanese bracelet but also available on a special dark brown, grey and beige NATO strap, the new piece is a 42mm Seamaster Diver 300M manufactured in full titanium. With a rugged, military feel, it features “old radium”-style lume, a “black tropical” dial with a brown tone, a broad arrow marking on the dial and case back (used to indicate Crown property), and, best of all, it’s non-limited release, marking the first time a James Bond Omega product has seen full serial production.

Excitingly and in a first for the Bond franchise, Bond actor Daniel Craig worked personally with Omega for the past two years to help design the Seamaster. You can read more about that process in our full breakdown of the new Omega Seamaster Diver 300M 007 James Bond Watch.

While watch aficionados like to debate whether Omega or Rolex is the true “Bond watch,” both are well suited for the eras in which Bond wore them. There’s certainly room in the watch box for a vintage Rolex Submariner and a modern Seamaster. And who’s to say that when Bond goes home to his London flat after another difficult, bruising mission, he doesn’t slip his Omega onto his watch winder and pull out his old Sub and think about the past. We just hope he’s got a better-fitting strap on it by now.

This post has been updated from it’s original version with additional contributions from Ben Bowers and Oren Hartov.

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.

GTSPIRIT NEWSLETTER

Hotel Kesselspitze Obertauern Review

The Hotel Kesselspitze in Austrian ski resort Obertauern recently received their fifth star. Enough reason for us to stop by and check it out ahead of the upcoming ski season.

Obertauern is part of Salzburg state and lies on the top of the Tauernpass. With ski lifts and slopes running around the town on all sides it offers an incredible amount of ski-in, ski-out accommodations. Thanks to its high elevation it has gained a reputation as one of the resorts with the highest snow guarantee in Austria.

The hotel Kesselspitze is located right next to two chair lifts; the Achenrainbahn and the Schaidbergbahn. Both are part of the ‘Tauernrunde’ – a ski lap of the Tauern mountains which can be completed in clock- and counter-clockwise direction. The town with its popular apres-ski bars is a 10-15 minute walk or short ride away from the hotel.

Obertauern & The Beatles

In 1965 the Beatles came to Obertauern and produced part of their film ‘Help’ in the ski resort. During their stay they performed in a hotel in town, their only ever concert in Austria. Until today the visit of the Beatles inspires international visitors to come to Obertauern for ski- and apres-ski action.

Rooms & Suites

The Hotel Kesselspitze has 66 rooms and suites including 5 new rooms and one apartment in chic country style. Highlight is the 70m2 presidential suite with a private sauna and panoramic views of the surrounding mountains. Each room class features a distinct style but all share a high standard of finishing including flat screen TV, mini bar and modern bathrooms.

Restaurant & Bar

The hotel has one restaurant called Jagdstube serving a daily gourmet menu with extensive buffet of salads and starters. The food is excellent and included in most room rates. Across the lobby from the restaurant guests will find the Einhorn-Bar with a slightly chintzy but cozy lounge and bar area.

The Spa

The spa at Kesselspitze was renovated in 2016 and features everything from an indoor pool, outdoor whirlpool and aroma steam bath to several saunas and a sole rock cave. It is a nice place to relax after a long day on the slopes and watch the snow flakes as they swirl down outside.

Conclusion

The Hotel Kesselspitze is a very nice place to stay if you are looking for a ski-in, ski-out hotel in a resort with some of the best snow in Europe. Comfortable rooms paired with a quality spa offering and excellent food round up a very good offering.

GTSPIRIT NEWSLETTER

Special Report: The McLaren 720S Spider is Britain’s Finest Export

Be warned, this tale features the B word, Brex*t. The title has been coined to address the colossal saga that is the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union and must be one of the most used words in international news in the past three years. There have been amendments, referendums, prorogations, high court rulings and even Queen’s Speeches. I shall not dwell, you’re not here for politics, but for automobiles.

Ever switch on the 10 o’clock news and see politicians being ferried from conference to conference in rather dull executive limousines? The best you can hope for is a Mercedes-Benz S Class, black on black, of course. This got me thinking, it was the night before the final European Union Summit that would be deliberating the latest iteration of the Brexit deal, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s first attempt. Tomorrow, news agencies from across the world would crowd and jostle outside Le Berlaymont to catch a word from the 27 EU leaders that would be reviewing the latest version of proposed deal.

What if BoJo didn’t arrive in a mundane, vanilla S Class or Jaguar XJ, but instead stunned the crowds by representing British business, an example of the very businesses that will be impacted so significantly by the outcome of this tumultuous series of events? I felt Boris needed a helping hand, I took matters into my own palms. The next morning I left home at 0630 on a mission to not only improve Boris’s image, but to showcase one of the finest exports that Britain produces. It is an example of why the UK is one of the worlds leading automotive manufacturing countries, and why trade deals with the UK should never be doubted, but encouraged.

The ambassador of choice was perfect. Bentley and Rolls-Royce are British brands, but are both now parts of Audi and BMW, respectively. Jaguar is Indian and Lotus Chinese. Caterham and Morgan are British, but neither are known internationally as representing the best of British, more cottage industry forerunners. There is only one brand suited to this endeavour – McLaren.

I recently was on the continent in a McLaren GT, a car that left me somewhat conflicted and confused. Having previously driven to Paris and back to London in a single day in a 720S, I was in no doubt that it doubled as both a track monster and a capable GT car. To reaffirm my thoughts, I had a 720S Spider for the ride to Brussels to see if the additional 49 kilograms for the roof mechanism would alter the driving characteristics and if the GT would make more sense for such a journey.

One thing that does not change, roof or no roof, is the fuel economy. It is abysmal, even when trundling towards the Channel Tunnel with the cruise control set to a smudge above the speed limit. Seeing anything above 23 miles per gallon was a rare treat. Boris’s refusal to take no deal off the table had sent the pound into a tizzy and fuel prices were through the roof, premium unleaded was emptying my wallet faster than the my ex girlfriend – just as thirsty too. Best not to worry about saving fuel and instead blow it to thy kingdom come with a smile on your face and bangs and cracks coming from the twin exhaust pipes.

A grey drive to Folkestone, quick Starbucks and a deep breathe in to squeeze onto the train later, it was time to cruise across the Continent. Well, part of it at least. It is always surprising how quickly the French autoroute gives way to terrible Belgian tarmac. With the active panel engaged and the handling and drivetrain toggles in comfort, the 720S cruises quietly and somewhat comfortably. The hydraulic suspension is fabulous and plaint. It is upset by bigger holes and cracks in the road, but it is a tradeoff worth making for the terrific handling through the bends on more engaging roads. One element that, still, cannot be faulted is the steering. It remains hydraulically assisted and a pleasure to work with.

The mighty torque is impressive too. The gearshifts are as great as you would expect from a McLaren dual clutch, but when touring you need not be pulling the left carbon paddle for downshifts as you can ride the torque in the upper gears. This is, of course, when the revs are above 2,500rpm, there is a world of lag below this threshold. As the kilometres trickled by, the weather worsened and the chances of experiencing the 720S Spider with the roof down diminished. A special mention, once again, to the awesome rear window that can be lowered or raised regardless of the roof being up or down. It is a great way to enjoy both fresh air and that hard edged engine tone, even when it is raining.

This car featured a clever and very expensive option, an electrochromic glass roof panel. This meant that the panoramic glass was able to go from fully clear to dark in a couple of seconds. It is cool and strangely satisfying to press the button and watch the glass ceiling change from ‘shade mode’ to ‘full sunlight’.

Other interior highlights included the luxurious Cognac leather in this ‘Luxury’ spec 720S. The 720Ss I had previously driven were all configured in ‘Performance’ trim meaning there was far more Alcantara and less leather to be found. The quality of the leather is great, as is the colour, my opinion of course. The infotainment is a generation behind the updated McLaren GT system, but I was not a huge fan of the update and the older system felt no less capable as it also lacks Apple CarPlay and Android Auto systems.

As Brussels neared, the rain relented and there was time to relish precious minutes with the roof down. Heated seats work brilliantly to negate wind chill and the car looks utterly spectacular in shop front reflections. Say what you like about the eye-socket headlamp design, few will argue that the 720S does not look like a missile from its side profile. The well behaved demeanour from the motorway cruise continues in the congestion of Brussels. The Start-Stop system decided to go on strike, other than that the 720S Spider was flawless around town. Visibility was good, the ride supple and the turning circle…acceptable. Things are a little scarier when squeezing through narrow gaps or high kerbed car parks, more a case of driver fear and being unfamiliar with the supercars dimensions.

As the infamous Berlaymont building neared, Theresa May had been collected, riding shotgun and Boris Johnson jumped in behind the wheel. The time had come to change the bumbling Prime Ministers image once and for all. Passers by gasped and laughed in equal measure. Camera phones flashed and selfies were taken. It seemed that it was mission accomplished, a hypothesis that was all but confirmed later that day when Boris Johnson announced that Jean Claude Juncker had accepted his governments proposed deal. I’m not saying that it had anything to do with the McLaren or my mission…but maybe, just maybe, it did.

In another bizarre ‘coincidence’, McLaren CEO Mike Flewitt confirmed that McLaren Automotive will keep production entirely UK based despite Brexit in an interview to CNBC on the same day. He continued saying that the firm is ‘born and bred’ in the UK. The brand is one that is proudly British and one that should be celebrated. The McLaren F1 is, arguably, the greatest car ever and when the 12C rolled off the production line in 2011 a new era was born. McLaren seemingly came out of the blue and shattered any complacency that the likes of Ferrari, Porsche and Lamborghini had, pushing performance to new levels.

Almost 9 years on, McLaren continues to push it rivals to the extent that it is difficult to compare its offerings to that of the aforementioned rivals. The 720S is pitched against cars like the Porsche GT2 RS, Ferrari 488 Pista and Lamborghini Huracan Performante – hardcore special edition models that are stripped out track animals. The 720S obliterated the trio in a number of tests and it is the ‘standard’ car complete with creature comforts and touring credentials that make it just as usable as the McLaren GT. The LT model is expected to demolish its European rivals. McLaren Automotive represents the best, not only of British, but supercars produced anywhere in the world. Brexit or not, deal or no deal, McLaren will continue to be a flag bearer of British innovation and technology for years to come.

GTSPIRIT NEWSLETTER

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?

GTSPIRIT NEWSLETTER

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.

GTSPIRIT NEWSLETTER

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.

GTSPIRIT NEWSLETTER

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.

GTSPIRIT NEWSLETTER

The 5 Best Protein Powders Available — and How to Use Them

Protein is one of the many building blocks of life — you need it to bulk up, lose weight and maintain weight. It’s what keeps you fuller for longer, and helps prime your body for repair. It enables you to recover after a hard workout and optimize your training routine. While bodybuilders and gym rats have long taken protein powders, they’re still pretty polarizing. Either you use them, or you don’t. People don’t really dabble in protein powders. What you might not realize is that getting enough protein can be tricky, and protein supplements and powders are an easy way to up the amount of protein you’re getting without having to increase your total consumption levels.

What’s in Protein Powder?

When dipping your toes in the protein powder water, you should know what you’re consuming and how to consume it. “We understand one of the essential amino acids, leucine, is critical as a signal to promote muscle protein synthesis, which is tissue growth and repair,” Dr. Sue Kleiner, a registered dietician, a fellow of the International Society of Sports Nutrition and author of The New Power Eating, says. Whether you want to build muscle or slim down, protein is essential in your diet. Dr. Kleiner recommends eating protein four to five times a day, as the research shows eating multiple times throughout the day help an average person get the amount they need. If you’re looking to build muscle or bulk up, you should aim for five times a day.

What If I Eat a Lot of Meat?

While aiming to get all of the protein you need from whole foods is best, you can’t always get as much as you need from food alone. Sometimes our bodies just can’t handle eating all that protein. “Everyone can’t necessarily sit down to that kind of meal, or even have the appetite for that, so that’s where using a protein supplement as a snack [comes in].” Ideally, you’re mixing it with some fruit or in a smoothie, but the main draw to protein powder is that it’s more portable and easy to consume.

How Much Protein Should I Aim For?

With each meal or snack, you should aim for 25 to 35 grams of protein at a minimum to sustain your body during hard workouts. “It takes at least 20 grams of whey protein, which has the highest leucine composition, or 25 to 30 grams of whole protein whether you’re eating animal product or plant protein,” Dr. Kleiner says. Most protein powders come with a pre-measured scoop, which likely has at least 20 grams of protein.

Does It Matter When Picking between Whey, Plant and Animal-Based Protein?

When comparing proteins, you can get your necessary 25 grams from one, two or a mix of all three. The catch with plant protein is that “the quality of [plant] protein is lower than animal protein in supporting health, so you need 10 percent more,” Dr. Kleiner says. If you’re a vegetarian or vegan, consuming all-plant protein is sufficient, just be sure to add that extra amount.

What to Look for in a Label

Look for at least two grams of leucine per serving, but you need to be careful when purchasing supplements. “There is a lot of contamination, particularly in the supplement industry channels that focus on bodybuilding, that can be laced with drugs,” Dr. Kleiner warns. “I am adamant about using third-party certified lab products.” Look for NSF for Sport, or BSCG, which is a banned substances control group, or Informed Sport. All of those check for banned substances in supplements.

One of the reasons protein powders can be so polarizing is because there’s no one-size-fits-all. “Your nutrition needs, including how much protein you need, is dependent on many factors: age, gender, weight, activity level, the presence of an injury or a disease, as well as nutrition or fitness goals,” Megan Ostler, MS, RDN of iFit, says. It’s all very individualized.

Buying Guide

We spoke with top nutritionists and sports dieticians to hear what protein powders they recommend. McKel Hill, MS, RDN, LDN and founder of Nutrition Stripped swears by the first three picks on this list. Ostler recommends the iFit Nourish program, a questionnaire that creates the perfect protein mix for you — whether you’re a runner, CrossFitter or yogi.

Thriving Protein by Nutra Organics $50

Pea Protein by Now Sports $17

Nourish by iFit $82/30 days

Organic Protein by Tone It Up $41

MySmart Shake Plant Protein Base by USANA $70

5 Protein Powders Top Fitness Trainers Swear By

Protein powder is crucial for recovery — take a hint from these experts.
Read the Story

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!

GTSPIRIT NEWSLETTER

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.

GTSPIRIT NEWSLETTER

America’s Most Celebrated Knife Maker Is Just Getting Started

From Issue Five of Gear Patrol Magazine.
Discounted domestic shipping + 15% off in the GP store for new subscribers.

Bob Kramer, wearing a black welding mask and long leather apron, flipped a switch on the induction forge. The beige box, about the size of a ‘90s-era computer tower, hummed to life. A steady buzz disrupted the otherwise quiet shop. Garage-style rolling doors on opposite corners of the high-ceilinged building let in a cool coastal breeze.

Moments before, Kramer had measured out a coarse, sand-like mixture of pure iron and carbon into a flat-bottom coffee filter. He swirled the gunmetal granules with a black-rubber-glove-clad hand before funneling the mixture into a ceramic crucible. Using blacksmith’s tongs, he placed the vessel in the copper coil of the induction forge and capped it with beige firebrick. Kramer stepped back and waited.

The black cup soon glowed with the yellow-white luminance of a light bulb. Vapor gasped out of a chip on the left side of the crucible. Kramer removed the firebrick and sparks flit upward. He powered down the machine and removed his mask, waiting for the molten steel to cool. It was Bob Kramer’s first time making steel in his new shop — the first step in producing a chef’s knife that would ultimately sell for thousands of dollars online.

Bob Kramer started forging knives in 1992. Five years later, he earned the title of Master Smith, the American Bladesmith Society’s highest honor and a designation bestowed upon fewer than 200 people to date. Focusing almost exclusively on kitchen knives, Kramer has since progressed to become one of the most revered and influential bladesmiths working today — a craftsman whose standing verges on celebrity. His annual output has never exceeded 500 pieces, and has, on occasion, dipped as low as 30.

For the average cook, owning a Kramer knife is as indulgent as buying a Lamborghini just to do loops around a cul-de-sac. His knives are masterfully balanced: lightweight, and with a virtually imperceptible heft running along the bolster that tugs down to facilitate an impossibly smooth cutting action. In professional kitchens, they’re a status symbol — a chef’s Stradivarius. The decision to invest in an original Kramer stands as proof of one’s dedication to their craft, and a commitment to future growth. “That’s the role that someone like Kramer plays in our business,” said Jeff Tenner, executive chef of Tatte Bakery & Café in Boston and owner of a 20-year-old custom Kramer knife. “As a professional chef, the tool you use can help you [work] more efficiently. You’re not just using a commodity tool to do a refined craft.”

At 58 years old, Kramer radiates the contagious energy of a person at least two decades his junior. An insatiable curiosity acts as his life force. He speaks deliberately, with an enthusiasm that intensifies when the conversation turns to steel. On the subject of his career success, however, he shuts down. Kramer is not one to acknowledge — let alone rest on — the acclaim his products have garnered over the past 25 years. Diagnosed with dyslexia in college, Kramer has long favored kinesthetic learning. Working with his hands, he said, has always been the most effective means of comprehension. Seeing successes and failures provides him with a concrete understanding of the effect of one thing on another. Ceaseless tinkering has long been at the core of his practice.

Kramer’s move into metallurgy is aided by an induction forge — a device that uses electromagnetism to heat metal north of 2500 degrees in a matter of seconds.

Kramer entered the world of bladesmithing by way of knife sharpening, which he took up following roughly a decade working as a prep cook in Seattle. The realization that both he and his peers lacked the skills to properly care for their most essential tools led him on a three-year quest to master the nuances of sharpening. “And then it started to get boring . . . it’s a service job, right?” Kramer said matter-of-factly. “So when I started making knives, I was like, ‘Oh, this is cool, I’m making a tool that a lot of people need.’”

“I’d have an article come out in a magazine and I’d be deluged with orders from across the country.”

In 1992, Kramer enrolled in a two-week bladesmithing intensive hosted by the American Bladesmith Society in the small town of Washington, Arkansas. The course left him with a foundational knowledge of steel, the skills to forge a knife from scratch and, most importantly, the resolve to attain his Master Smith rating. He returned to Washington and set up shop in Seattle, sharpening knives and forging made-to-order blades: hunting knives, props for full-contact period theater, pagan ceremonial daggers. That, too, wore on Kramer, who had little interest in skinning animals or Medieval reenactments. Having worked in restaurant kitchens, Kramer began to make what he knew best: chef’s knives.

His decision during the late ‘90s to focus exclusively on kitchen knives garnered implicit denigration from his peers. Utility knives have long been the focus of the American Bladesmith Society, the guild responsible for fostering and promoting the art and science of forging. While not the sole Master Smith to produce kitchen knives, he was the first to take a stance and focus almost exclusively on the category. Others, like Murray Carter and P.J. Tomes, forge kitchen knives in addition to utility-driven blades.

Specializing in high-quality carbon steel kitchen knives, Kramer tapped into a previously overlooked and underserved market. “I’d have an article come out in a magazine and I’d be deluged with orders from across the country — two years’ worth of work, and they were mostly eight-inch chef’s knives,” Kramer said. “It was a nice problem to have, to be busy, but you kind of want to stick a fork in your eye after a while.”

Kramer’s first taste of national press coverage came in 1998 from Saveur magazine. The 1,500-word profile left him with a six-year wait list that took the form of four spiral-bound notebooks filled with names and phone numbers. In 2007, Cook’s Illustrated reviewed a Kramer knife, calling it “handmade perfection” before stating that it “outperformed every knife we’ve ever rated.” But it was a 2008 feature in The New Yorker that most dramatically altered Kramer’s world. Recognizing the pedigree of the publication, Kramer wrestled in fearful anticipation, before the story’s release, with how best to handle the impending, inevitable flood of inquiries.

Wary of being held to a years-long wait list, Kramer decided not to take any more orders. “At some point, it dawned on me that I could just say, ‘My books are closed right now. I’ll put your name on an email list and we’ll decide how to handle it later.’ I was trying to democratize the list, or my method. I didn’t want it to dominate my life.”

Since The New Yorker barrage in 2008, Kramer has sold the majority of his knives through an online lottery system. He sets the price of a piece, and a winner is randomly selected from the pool of registrants. Knives made from experimental steels and particularly complex Damascus patterns, meanwhile, are sold via online auction with a starting price of $100. Bids climb upwards from there, and pieces regularly sell for tens of thousands of dollars. The auction system takes pricing out of Kramer’s hands, allowing customers, whether they’re professional chefs or collectors, to pay what they believe a Kramer knife is worth. It also reduces criticism thrown his way.

“People kept telling me, ‘You’re not charging enough, you should charge more,’” Kramer said. “I think the craftsman in me was resistant. At a certain point, I was like, ‘Really? Eight hundred dollars for a chef’s knife?’ That seems crazy to me.”

The decision not to take any more orders — so as not to be held to an ever-growing list of blades to forge — has afforded Kramer the flexibility to focus on the progression of his craft rather than production. Yet for all that Kramer has accomplished in his quarter century of bladesmithing, there’s an irrefutable sense that he’s only now just getting started.

“At a certain point, I was like, ‘Really? Eight hundred dollars for a chef’s knife?’ That seems crazy to me.”

Three years ago, Kramer began melting his own steel. He was driven by the challenge — and expense — of acquiring tamahagane, a high-carbon Japanese steel reserved exclusively for licensed swordsmiths. A 1.5-kilogram lump of steel, purchased through a friend, set him back $400. Tamahagane is made by melting iron sand over a charcoal-fueled fire for three days. It lacks the mineral contaminants typically found in mass-produced steels, which Kramer likens to store-bought sandwich bread. “If you want some good bread, sometimes you have to make it yourself,” he said.

In July, after 12 years of working in Olympia, Kramer moved to the small city of Bellingham, two hours north of Seattle, into a workshop he now shares with fellow Washington-based Master Smith Tom Ferry. To the best of Kramer’s knowledge, this is the first time that two Master Smiths have joined forces in such a manner, combining talents and equipment with the specific intent of forwarding the bladesmithing craft.

While their skill sets are in opposition — Kramer produces chef’s knives and takes a scientific approach to his work; Ferry specializes in utility knives and complex engravings and favors the artfulness of Damascus steel — the Master Smiths are united by a relentless drive to unravel the complexities of steel. They’d been collaborating from afar since the start of the year, but their current shared workspace stands as a show of dedication to bladesmithing. “This place, metaphorically, is a crucible for us and the transformation of our ideas and stuff that we want to see come to pass,” Kramer said, hinting at one-offs and experimental projects to come.

In its most basic form, steel is iron ore mixed with pure carbon. The higher a steel’s carbon content, the harder it can become when quenched; it can then, in turn, be honed to form a thinner, sharper edge. While high-carbon steel is available commercially, most mass-produced steel is crafted to support as many applications as possible. Kramer likens commercial steel to an all-purpose batter: It gets the job done, but there’s always something better. “There are all these knifemakers across the country, and they’re all using the same stuff,” Kramer said. “In the same way that chefs have gone to growing their own vegetables . . . this [custom] steel is going to be different than what other people have.”

With an induction forge, Kramer and Ferry can produce a one-pound lump of steel in a matter of minutes, using whatever mineral composition they choose. Adding elements like chrome, nickel or manganese can yield a stronger, more flexible or simply more lustrous steel. “Being able to make steel in a really small batch and have complete control over the chemistry opened up a new world for me to begin to experiment with,” Kramer said. “And I just don’t see a bottom there.”

Kramer likens commercial steel to an all-purpose batter: It gets the job done, but there’s always something better.

“There’s a point where you realize that nobody knows what the capabilities of steels are in certain chemical compositions,” Ferry said. “[Steel mills] are making it for diverse applications, for everything but a knife blade. It wasn’t until very recently that people have started doing studies on swords and steels from the past.” Indeed, the formative studies on the structure and hardness of steel, conducted by metallurgist Cyril Stanley Smith, were catalyzed by the Manhattan Project. That steel remains uncharted, for the most part, helps to explain knifemakers’ fascination with it, and why so many breakthroughs in contemporary bladesmithing involve one type of steel in particular: Damascus.

Damascus swords are the stuff of legend: sharp enough to slice cleanly through a silk scarf as it floats to the ground. Traditional Damascus steel, classified as wootz Damascus, was forged from a single ingot of high-carbon steel embedded with impurities. Production of wootz Damascus reached an apex between the 16th and 18th centuries before falling by the wayside. The secrets of its production, passed down from master to apprentice over countless generations, were never formally documented and have now been lost to time. It was only during the 1990s that renowned bladesmith Al Pendray, whom Kramer cites as his greatest mentor, was able to replicate the production of wootz Damascus.

While modern Damascus steel does not count wootz as its raw material, it still manages to replicate the swirling patterns, sharpness and strength that lent the steel its mythic qualities. Referred to as pattern-welded Damascus, the steel fuses alloys of varying carbon content and metallic compounds into layers that are drawn out into a billet and cut into smaller pieces before being stacked, forge welded and drawn out again. As the individual layers grow more and more intertwined, the metals harden and wear in different ways and at different rates, producing a micro-serration that enables superlative slicing.

Damascus patterns can be random, but many, especially those that spark obsession among contemporary bladesmiths, were forged in a precise — and theoretically replicable — manner. The desire to better understand how different alloys interact with each other, and how certain variables impact strength, hardness and flexibility is a driving force behind the quest to clone lost Damascus patterns. “Even with all the equipment and all the knowledge that we have, there are just some things that haven’t been unlocked,” Ferry said. “There are some old patterns that just haven’t been redeveloped.” Reproducing a centuries-old Damascus pattern is a monumental achievement for a bladesmith, reflective of mastery over the otherwise enigmatic characteristics of steel.

Having a person to bounce ideas off of will prove advantageous to Kramer and Ferry in their efforts to unlock otherwise incomprehensible Damascus patterns and steel compositions. “I’ve stumbled upon things over the years — as has Bob,” Ferry said. “There’s a big opportunity now, to look back at things that both of us have been involved in, to say, ‘You know, this needs to be nurtured,’ and see where we can evolve it, because it was a cool idea but nobody had time to proof it.”

The collaboration between Kramer and Ferry is not without precedent. During the 1990s, a rowdy group of bladesmiths called the Montana Mafia catalyzed the progression and rediscovery of Damascus steel. The group was led by Montana-based bladesmiths Shane Taylor, Barry Gallagher, Wade Colter and Rick Dunkerley, who, over the course of annual visits to the Oregon Knife Show in Eugene, Oregon, developed a relationship with Kramer and other Pacific Northwest-based knifemakers like Ed Schempp, John Davis and Matt Diskin.

The Montana group would hold hammer-ins between knife shows, inviting established Master Smiths to host workshops for the knowledge-hungry bladesmiths. Following a daytime lesson, the group would reconvene for midnight forging sessions, playing with steel, testing Damascus patterns, feeding off of each other’s energies and ideas well into the night. “We fueled one another’s desire to learn,” explained Kramer. “We’d all go back home [after a hammer-in] and there would be further experimentation, and we’d get back together and we’d have kicked the craft down the field. There was a level of acceleration that was so exciting.”

According to Ferry, who was a late addition to the Montana Mafia, the exploration of Damascus has yet to evolve at the same pace that it did during that 10-year stretch. In moving into a shared studio space, both Kramer and Ferry are looking to reignite a lost creative spirit. “There’s a point for me, as an artist, where it becomes very difficult to come up with [new ideas],” Ferry explained. “You have to wait for an external force to come in, and I think the synergy that’s going to develop — bouncing ideas and concepts — is huge.”

The new space, nearly 1,000 square feet larger than Kramer’s Olympia studio and with more equipment, will enable more and faster-paced experimentation. It will also allow Kramer and Ferry to host hammer-ins and workshops centered around bladesmithing fundamentals, sharpening and engraving — facilitating both the exchange of skills and the acquisition of knowledge. “The free exchange of information at this level [is going to go way up],” Ferry said emphatically. “We’re both in the same job. We’re not worrying about [competing with] other people. It’s about the experimentation and the craftsmanship.”

There’s no set roadmap for the pair of Master Smiths. Their work will be guided by the pursuit of knowledge, rather than an idealized steel or singular Damascus pattern, with projects arising, developing and evolving organically. The new workshop will serve as an incubator, grafting seeds first planted by the Montana Mafia. “For us, it’s about the experience,” Kramer said. “We need to make a living, but what we’re looking for at this point in our careers is to light up our brains as much as we possibly can. We’re trying to create a space that facilitates that to the maximum, to cultivate the environment to stimulate new ideas.”

Goodwood Festival of Speed 2019 – Celebrating Motorsport’s Record Breakers

We’re seasoned Goodwood veterans at this stage. GTspirit has covered the Festival of Speed for as long as I can remember. Quite possibly the greatest celebration of performance machinery in Europe, if not the world, it never gets old. This year’s event was themed “Speed Kings”. It was all about celebrating the biggest names in motorsport; the record breakers.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Goodwood setup, let us enlighten you. Goodwood Circuit (which is not where the Festival of Speed is held) began life as the perimeter track of RAF Westhampnett airfield. When World War II was over, the circuit began to be used extensively for motor racing. Some of the biggest names raced there between 1948 and 1966 when it officially closed.

The Festival of Speed takes place less than a mile away from the Goodwood Circuit. It was founded in 1993 by Lord March and plays on the heritage of the Circuit on a less competitive level. The centrepiece is a hill climb which winds its way from the front of the house to the top of the hill. The course is 1.86 km long and is shared by a huge variety of vehicles, Formula 1 racers, Le Mans cars, Drift cars and Rally cars.

What’s more, the event incorporates a Concours, a Forest Rally Stage and the release of brand new machinery!

This year’s event saw some notable new releases. Mercedes-AMG took the opportunity to launch the Mercedes-AMG A 45. Ford released a new track-only version of the Ford GT. De Tomaso stole the show with a stunning new concept car.

Alongside the new releases, we also got an opportunity to see some of the most iconic race cars. Our unanimous favourite? The V10 engined Ferrari Formula 1 cars driven by Michael Schumacher, one of the best known “Speed Kings”. Goodwood dedicated an entire category to the 50-year-old racer. Cars such as his Formula Ford 1600, Van-Diemen-Ford RF88, his Jordan-Ford 191 and his Benetton-Ford B191; the cars he cut his teeth on before moving to the prancing horse.

Schumacher wasn’t the only person to receive a celebration. March Engineering turned 50 this year, it had its own category, Mercedes celebrated 125 years in competition and it was Bentley’s centenary year. Then there was Aston Martin. Celebrating 70 years since its Goodwood Circuit debut, the British company paid for the centrepiece which sat at the front of the house.

One of the most popular categories was dedicated to the Porsche 917. It first raced 50 years ago. Goodwood’s collection of 12 examples represents one of the largest 917 gatherings in history. We even saw the famous Porsche 917K chassis 030 which was converted for road use by the infamous Count Gregorio Rossi di Montelera.

Away from the hill climb, the Concours d’Elegance drew big crowds. Seven categories displayed some of the most iconic cars of all time. Two categories stuck out. The “Cent Ans d’Avant Garde”, celebrating Avions Voisin’s 100th anniversary with a collection of quirky pre-war cars. The second was the “Like Father, Like Son” category celebrating “The Genius of Jean Bugatti”.

The former category was won by the stunning 1936 C28 Aerosport, while the latter won by the 1937 Type 57 SC Atalante. The overall winner of Best in Show was an Abarth 250 Monza.

The biggest news over the course of the weekend came from Volkswagen. The German brand had re-geared its Volkswagen ID.R race car specifically for the event. It made no secret of the fact that it wished to take the hill climb record. The time it had to beat was a 41.1 second run set 20 years ago by Nick Heidfeld in a McLaren MP4/13. Romain Dumas shaved 1.7 seconds, setting a new record time of 39.9 seconds. There was a feeling it could have gone faster but for the rain which disrupted Sunday’s timed shoot out.

Audi SQ8 TDI Review

In the wake of the diesel-gate scandal, public scrutiny of Diesel engined passenger vehicles has been intense. It seemed that the diesel engine had been condemned. Both Porsche and Bentley have taken the decision to remove high-performance diesel engines from their ranges. Governments have also moved to make diesel ownership less attractive. It made us wonder whether there was a future for the diesel engine. Clearly, Audi thinks that there is with the announcement of the Audi SQ8 TDI!

Audi has re-geared its range in response to the changing markets. It now offers more petrol alternatives in segments traditionally dominated by diesel. The benefits of a diesel engine have always been superior economy and low-down torque. These qualities are being replicated in with a growing number of clever hybrid models. Using electronic motors, most manufacturers have been able to increase power and performance across the rev-range while also boosting efficiency.

Audi’s SQ8 TDI uses the best of both worlds; a twin-turbocharged, 4.0 litre V8 power unit with mild hybrid technology. The 48-volt system powers an electronic compressor which fills the turbo gap in the same way as Audi’s petrol units. Power is rated at 435 hp and a barnstorming 900 Nm of torque. All told, this makes the SQ8 a very quick machine. Power is routed through an eight-speed tiptronic gearbox. Audi quotes a 100 km/h sprint time of 4.8 seconds and a top speed limited to 250 km/h.

The technology does not take away from the fact that the SQ8 is still powered by diesel. After all, there are downsides. Despite Audi’s best intentions, the sound is industrial, not sonorous. Those quad-exhausts put out a consistent rumble, not a bad sound (and definitely indicative of the supreme pulling power) but it is unable to compete with similarly powered petrol engines. As a result, the SQ8 TDI lacks in the dramatics department. That said, the sound is subtle, something which might appeal to the type of buyers Audi hopes to attract.

The chassis is also helped technology. The SQ8 TDI is a near 2.5 tonne SUV. To control that weight and the new turn of pace, Audi has made air suspension standard all round. Options fitted to our test vehicle included all-wheel steering, the rear sport differential and electromechanical active roll stabilisation. The latter is particularly interesting, carried over from the Bentley Bentayga, the anti-roll bars actively decouple in a straight line to allow a more compliant ride. The combination of features makes for a well-controlled ride.

Audi SQ8 TDI Review

The Audi drive select system allows a variety of different settings from comfort through to dynamic modes. As with most setups these days, we found individual mode to be the best of all. Being able to isolate the characteristics, combining a comfort chassis setup with dynamic steering in traffic on a country road, gives the SQ8 an impressive range of skills. Our one criticism is that Audi’s drive select function can be a little difficult to navigate, buried in the central infotainment system. Switching between settings requires diverting your attention away from the road. At times, individual buttons might seem to provide greater accessibility.

No amount of chassis wizardry can help the SQ8 TDI escape the fact that it is a very heavy car, not much suited to narrow mountain roads. The combination of torque vectoring systems and all-wheel steering gives the SQ8 a fair run into the corners with little body roll. Grip is available but is limited by the laws of physics! Truth be told, most SQ8 TDI owners will use their vehicles on the highway or in the city. The majority won’t see this as a limitation.

The SQ8 TDI is instantly recognisable from the outside. Traditional Audi S-badge traits are present. These include a set of silver, brushed aluminium-effect wing mirrors, quad-exhaust pipes, larger wheels and a lower stance. The single-frame grille gets the same silver colouring applied to the frame. It is the traditional blend of subtle changes which are important to the overall feel of the car.

Interior comfort is typical of Audi. Very few changes have been made over the rest of the range. This is for good reason. The Audi interior works very well with comfortable seats incorporating air conditioning, heaters and massage functions. It has a head-up display and plenty of space in the rear. The only noticeable addition comes in the form of optional carbon fibre trim.

The Infotainment system is superb. The digital dashboard is clear with two views and information customised to preference. The traditional dual disks can be replaced at the touch of a button to reveal a full-sized sat nav screen. This frees the central display for something different.

Audi SQ8 TDI Review

The Audi SQ8 TDI will be available in Europe, Australia and Taiwan only. Demand dictates that Audi will not sell the SQ8 in other markets. German pricing starts from 102,900 euros and grows considerably, once you add some of the must-have options to the list (rear wheel steering, electromechanical active roll stabilisation).

Diesel is alive and kicking at Audi. The SQ8 TDI is proof of that. If you are after the fastest diesel-powered luxury SUV on the market then it is the best option.

2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS Review

The third generation of the Mercedes-Benz GLS flagship SUV celebrated its debut in New York. As a nearly all American affair we had the opportunity to test the 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS 580 4Matic in Utah.

Nearly two thirds of all Mercedes-Benz GL and GLS models built since its first introduction in 2006 have been sold in the United States. I once dubbed it the ‘Beverly Hills Golf’ as the GLS is more common in Beverly Hills than a Volkswagen Golf in an average town in Germany.

The new Mercedes-Benz GLS will roll off the line in Tuscaloosa with four different engines. The entry-level 3.0 liter six cylinder diesel engine is tailored to the European market and meet the strict 6d emission standard. As a GLS 350d the engine delivers 286hp and 600Nm of torque. As a GLS 400d it delivers 330hp and 700Nm of torque. Outside of the Europe the new GLS is also available with a electrified petrol engine. This 3.0 liter six cylinder engine produces 367hp and 500Nm of torque. Thanks to 48V technology it can give extra 250Nm and 22hp of electric boost over short periods.

The main innovation and highlight of the new Mercedes-Benz GLS range however is the GLS 580 4Matic. As the world’s first electrified petrol V8 this 4.0 liter engine produces 489hp and 700Nm of torque with an additional 250Nm and 22hp boost available. 0-100 km/h is done in a respectable 5.3 seconds and the top speed is limited to 250 km/h. The 48V system with integrated starter generator allows for energy recuperation and powers things like the water pump and air-conditioning.

We had the opportunity to test and review the capabilities of the new GLS in Utah on the road as well as off-road. The first thing you will notice when you start the 4.0 V8 in the GLS 580 4Matic is that is significantly quieter than the 4.0 V8 found in the G500. Clearly the GLS 580 is trimmed for comfort rather than sportiness. Also in its power delivery it is quite linear and not as fierce as a non-electrified V8. I’m quite a turbo fan so I found characteristics a bit underwhelming. It is faster than it feels and it is easy to underestimate the speed at which you are traveling in the new GLS.

The last generation GLS was not worthy to be considered a SUV version of the S-Class as it lacked comfort and luxury. Mercedes-Benz changed that fundamentally with the new GLS. It is equipped with virtually every thing you can wish on the luxury front including individual rear seats with seat cooling and massage function. The new E-Active Body Control – which I hope they rename to something cool and easy to remember like Flying Carpet Suspension – is amazing and adds a whole new dimension to passenger comfort as well as driving dynamics. In comfort and eco driving modes it filters out nearly every bump and hole in the road. Switch to curve mode and the car leans into the corner as if you are on a jetski. But switch to Sport or Sport+ and the electronically controlled system reduces body roll of the massive SUV to a bare minimum.

2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS 3rd Row Seats

Inside the GLS is available as 6- or 7-seater version with a lot of convenient options. The seats on the second and third row can be adjusted or folded electronically. The third row can have its own climate controls with air vents in the ceiling. The 6-seater setup with two individual rear seats is standard in the US and makes it a lot easier to access the third row.

In the front the cockpit is dominated by two large screens which provide all relevant driver information and infotainment. The design mimics that introduced on the GLE including the really annoying low position of the start / stop button at the spot where normally my right knee would be. That issue aside the rest of the ergonomics and usability are very good and leave little to be desired.

What so spec?

Planning to get a GLS and not sure what to spec? Here are a few things we would recommend!

– E-Active Body Control – The Airmatic air suspension is not bad but the e-active body control takes ride comfort and driving dynamics to a whole new level. An absolute must.
– Driver Assistance Package – Includes a range of driver assistance systems that make driving safer and more relaxing. Includes adaptive cruise control and lane assist with a range of advanced features like assistance in stop and go traffic, automatic adapting to the speed limit and active brake assist.
– Panoramic Sunroof – Normally I’m not a fan of the small hole in the roof that car manufacturers call a sunroof but the nearly all glass roof of the GLS adds a lot of light to the interior.

What about the competition?

Mercedes-Benz clearly set a new benchmark in the 7-seater SUV segment but in the ultra-luxury SUV market there are a few other contenders to be considered.

The Bentley Bentayga and Rolls-Royce Cullinan are both a lot more expensive than the top of the range SUV from Mercedes-Benz. For that extra buck they provide finer materials, more exclusivity and more personalization. However they cannot match the comfortable driving dynamics and the infotainment system of the GLS.

2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS

The two direct rivals include the Audi Q7, which feels a bit dated already, and the BMW X7 which launched last year. The X7 offers a very similar package to the GLS but cannot quite deliver the same level of innovation and luxury as the GLS.

Conclusion

The new Mercedes-Benz GLS sets a new benchmark in the segment. For the first time it is a true SUV version of the S-Class with all luxury possible. The E-Active Body Control is an incredible piece of engineering that takes comfort and driving dynamics to unexpected new levels. The new electrified 4.0 V8 in the GLS 560 on the other hand is not quite as sporty as I had hoped which leaves me with a strong craving for a GLS 63 AMG.

Special Report: Intoxicating Drives With The McLaren 600LT Spider

Saturday, 0800. It’s June just outside London, summer is taking its sweet time to make an appearance – instead it’s more of a hybrid of autumnal dull juxtaposed with greens of spring. I am on a road I’ve opened many stories, such as this one, on and I’ve got butterflies akin to those of a 15-year-old being alone with his high school crush for the first time. My senses are heightened – my ears are being hammered with abusive whip cracks on gearshifts, up and down, harsh V8 noises fill the gaps in between.

My eyes are focused on the ribbon of road ahead; I’m at the head of a needle ducking and diving, stitching apexes together. They are being bordered by boisterous lime green a-pillars, a racing horse with blinkers. The smells of the morning are concentrated and heavy, courtesy of the dense country damp – I can taste it. My palms and fingers are wrapped around the soft warmth of an alcantara steering wheel that is wriggling with feel and communication, a sixth sense. This is what the McLaren 600LT is about – sensory overload.

The 600LT is a car that caused quite an upset, and not just for its competitors. McLaren invited esteemed members of the press (including GTspirit) to experience the LT just a few weeks after they had driven the McLaren Senna – with the thrill and adrenaline of the Senna likely still coursing through their veins, wordsmiths such as Henry Catchpole and Chris Harris openly claimed that they would prefer to own a 600LT than the Senna hypercar that costs almost four time the price.

You would assume that this is because the Senna is so extreme, but they went further than that, saying that the 600LT is more engaging, playful and absorbing on the edge. Bold. Then came this, the 600LT Spider and rumour had it that the 600LT really took the levels of excitement and driving experience a step further with the removal of the roof, surely then this is the ultimate adrenaline hit on four wheels for a fan of topless motoring and track day speed. An un-compromised Spider based on what many claim is the most hair-raising McLaren since the F1.

To find out what was what, I called the friendly people at McLaren and a few weeks later the vivaciously specced car you see pictured here arrived. As statements of intent go, this car screamed street legal race car with lashings of exuberantly expensive carbon, alcantara and other exotic materials. For me personally, one element above everything is the real statement of intent – the seats.

It’s for this reason that I insisted on having a test car fitted with the extraordinary ‘Senna seats’. These hallow carbon sculptures blur the lines between race and street car saving an incredible 24.6 kilograms, a feat and one that contributes heavily (pardon the pun) to the 100 kilogram saving between 570S and 600LT. Not only are they light, they are comically impractical, but in the coolest way possible. The shoulder and thigh support bolsters are enormous and share a shape more welcome in something at Le Mans than your local high street. These shells are clad with seven sponges wrapped in alcantara. Being one piece, they are frozen and cannot be adjusted. The driver’s seat moves forwards and back on traditional rails, manually of course. The passenger seat cannot be moved – at all. As statements of intent go…

It’s not just the seats that hint at what you’re letting yourself in for. McLaren removed most of the carpeting from the inside saving a few kilos, the glovebox saves one more. You could remove the AC and speakers and save around 13 kilos – don’t. Elsewhere, the wheels and Trofeo R rubber combined save 21 kgs, wishbones and uprights 10.2, exhaust 12.6, wiring 3.3, thinner glass 2.1 and a host of body panels in carbon save a further 7.2 kilograms. That’s 100 – spec the Spider and you undo half of McLaren’s hard work and stuff 50 kilograms of roof motors back in, still 50 kilograms lighter than the 570S Coupe and believe me when I say it is worth every gram.

If you’ve read or watched any reviews of the LT Spider you’ll be aware of the hype and why everyone fell in love with it. As many before me have reported, there’s a hack – keep the roof up and the rear window down. Put the drivetrain in Sport, not track, and hit it. The sound from the V8 is not tuneful but its intense. The top mounted exhausts that are situated so close to the rear window and the lack of wind noise from having the roof up combine to concentrate the brutality into an angry, merciless cacophony of tyranny. It’s like nothing else. The gear shifts in sport are just as barbarous and put the infamous Aventador changes to shame, even with a dual clutch gearbox courtesy of Ignition cut.

Want to be fast and smooth? Engage track and the LT stops being a drama queen and becomes a speed freak. Ignition cut is traded for inertia push which harnesses the engine’s torque for a feeling of positive acceleration throughout the shift. It’s wizardry that makes the shifts feel supple, smooth and blooming quick. It’s a shame that the downshifts are not always available upon command as they are with Porsche’s PDK. The dramatic shifts in sport compensate and will have you laughing.

Another point of contention is turbo lag. McLarens are heavily turbocharged and you can feel it. There is a fatty wall of lag that melts away into tyre shredding torque in the midrange, but below 3,000rpm you feel it slugging away before the explosive turbos are spinning at their best. One element that few could ever criticise is the uncorrupted steering that features a traditional hydraulic rack. Like all McLarens it is a joy to flow through the bends being fed granular, accurate feel from the front tires.

Enough technical ‘torque’, what is it like drive? As my Saturday morning introduction highlighted, the 600LT is all you could ask for and so much more if you’re looking for a car that looks, feels and is special. It gets better the harder you push and you learn more about how to access that intoxicating speed the more you drive it. It gets under your skin, one of those cars you’ll empty the milk down the sink for so you can have an excuse to tell your partner you need to nip down to the shops. For me, that’s what these cars are for, not just to set lap times on track days, that’s where the Senna is in a class of one, but to test and goad you to learn their idiosyncrasies and make you a better driver – to bring a smile to your face and hit you with a sensory overload on the way. There may be 592 brake horsepower and 620 Nms, but you feel the LT is on your side.

It’s makes you feel alive and it’s why the 600LT Spider is correctly heralded as one of the greatest car that McLaren has built – it has soul and character. Know someone that says McLarens are cold and not engaging to drive? Put them in an LT Spider and watch them smirk at the antisocial sounds and struggle to articulate to sensation of speed.

2019 Porsche 911 Speedster Review

It has been a strange, Porsche dominated few weeks – this is by no means a complaint. A few weeks ago, I was in Trump Land for the New York International Auto Show 2019 to see the Porsche 911 Speedster in its final form, finally unveiled for the first time. I say this having seen two design studies over the past few years. Upon my return to London I drove a 911 GT3 RS for a week before driving it to Zuffenhausen (the Porsche factory). Now I find myself in Sardinia, Italy to drive the Speedster. It is as if the 992 had not yet been released given the amount of 991 seat time I have had of late.

You would think Sardinia would be the ideal place to drive such a special car, one designed to be enjoyed in the Mediterranean heat with the sun beating down on hot sticky tarmac. I envisaged such a scene and eagerly anticipated my chance to drive one of just 1,948 Speedsters. Such opportunities are bonafide once in a life time blasts. I am sure then that you will share my sadness when I woke up, coincidently on my birthday, to find heaving grey clouds shrouding the Italian hill tops. The plan was to hit the road at 0900, the very hour the clouds were due to let loose. Skip the birthday breakfast, I was out at 0800. I would have a birthday every year, who knows when I could next be sat behind the wheel of a Speedster.

With the roof manually retracted, I shifted into first and onto the deserted Italian streets. I say that I shifted into first as there is no PDK option. As sublime as the dual clutch transmission is, the absence of a gearbox option is a statement of intent from Porsche – this is a car designed for the thrill of driving and not much else. Previous missions with similar design briefs include the 911R, GT3 Touring and Cayman GT4, cars that will be noted in history as some of the greatest modern Porsches ever built. The pressure is on for the Speedster to join such illustrious ranks.

This 991 Speedster is a departure from the models of past. Not only will it be produced in the thousands, not the tens or hundreds and is, for the first time, a GT department project. By mating a Carrera 4 Cabriolet rear end with the front end of a GT3 and using the GT3 engine, this is a step into the unknown for the Speedster series of swan songs. It also makes it one of the most exciting propositions yet.

Back into the driver’s seat. The 918 buckets are hugging me, I’m in that sublime seating position looking over the analogue dash which I prefer infinitely over the digitised 992 instrument cluster. Grab the stubby carbon fibre trimmed shifter and away I go. It must be said that the clutch pedal is remarkably long, the vast majority of the pedal movement has no impact on the clutch plates – you quickly become accustomed to the effective operating window and no longer flex further than required.

The gearshift throw is short and it is all very sedate crawling through town at less than 3,000rpm. Without a roof in place, it is apparent that this car sounds slightly different to the conventional GT3 or GT3 RS. Low down the sound is slightly flatter, the reason being the introduction of the particulate filter than has been known to rob precious exhaust sound. Boo, hiss. Porsche engineered a masterpiece of a solution to minimise the effect and actually save 10 kilograms in the process. The sound deadening in the exhaust was reduced and the filter used as a substitute. It’s a remarkable feat, but the sound is just a few decibels lesser than before.

Other mechanical changes include the introduction of another impressive engineering addition – individual throttle bodies, proper race car technology. The results of this tech, in conjunction with even higher-pressure direct injection, means that the 4-litre is more responsive and gains 10bhp – the total now a meaty 503bhp.

In reality I struggled to feel this improvement, the car still feels mighty quick to react to throttle inputs courtesy of a strong torque curve. I am under-qualified to critique such precise changes.

The 911 Speedster will do 0-100km/h in 4 seconds, but that is irrelevant. It’s how it makes you feel getting there – magnificent. Acceleration in second gear is ferocious, ever amplified by the build-up of the noise. I mentioned it sounded a bit flat. When deploying full throttle or anywhere above 4,000rpm the engine lets out a bellow that quickly contracts cheek muscles drawing an involuntary smile. Keep pushing to peak power at 8,500 and the noise is a cacophony of natural aspiration that puts engines with double the number of cylinders to shame. The 503bhp is working at 8,500 but you hang on till 9,000 just to relish and be dumbfounded by the wall of noise.

You can comfortably enjoy the upper echelons of the rev range too. The traction, as with all 911s, is staggering on the supreme Cup 2 Michelins. Approach a bend and the front end is, typically, a tad light but instils confidence, the steering proving just how great electronically power assisted steering has become. The rear wheel steer makes the car pivot and on the exit past the apex you can pile on the throttle and pull for another gear with implicit trust.

Things are no worse when downshifting either. The auto blip function matches the revs perfectly, the engine yelping as the revs spike. Slowing down is just as exciting as speeding up, the standard carbon ceramics making their presence known.

I just wanted to drive and drive until I ran out of road. Then came the rain. My time in the dry was all too brief and I hope to, once again, wake up and skip breakfast to be able to revel in the momentous driving experience that the Speedster offers those fortunate enough to own a set of keys. The rain began and I did what I suspect no Speedster owner will ever do. I carried on, not stopping to raise the roof but instead feeling for where the traction was scarce, listening not to the radio – this car had no infotainment system – but to the rain drops pounding the windscreen, the wide tires passing through puddles and feeling the precipitation on my skin. Rain or shine, the Speedster is special. This is Porsche at its best.

Caterham Seven 620R Review

I’ve just got out of a Porsche GT3 RS and into a Caterham 620R. This is one of those surreal moments where you think that things cannot possibly get more hardcore or extreme, and then they do. It must be said that the 620R is not a car for the faint hearted – any Caterham sits on the more driver focused end of the spectrum, the 620R takes the levels of hardcore to new heights. Let me explain why. There is no windscreen, none. There is no traction control, ABS or power steering. The Avon cut slicks cannot be used in the rain or anything colder than pizza oven hot tarmac. You’ll need your local plastic surgeon on standby for a skin graft if your leg wanders near the exhaust upon exit or entry and then there is the sequential gearbox. Oh my, this gearbox is not meant for rush hour traffic in London, nor anything less than 10/10ths driving at full throttle. The Caterham 620R is horrendous.

Then you get it out of the city and onto an open stretch of tarmac and it blows you away – literally. This car, sorry – rocket, makes the GT3 RS seem like child’s play. This bobsleigh weighs just over 600 kilograms and packs 310 supercharged horsepower. That is just offensive, such numbers belong on racecars – the results are frankly, unhinged and I am still struggling to fathom just how this is legal. The car may be legal, the speeds you achieve will not be. 0-100km/h is done in 2.8 seconds, a number that shames not only the GT3 RS, but also the Ferrari F12 tdf and 488 Pista, McLaren 720S and Lamborghini Aventador to name a few. How? Well for starters that silly power to weight ratio and then you notice that it will do the benchmark sprint in FIRST GEAR.

The 2.0-litre Ford Duratec engine has been heavily tuned and the whopping great supercharger makes it pull like nothing I’ve experienced before. The accompanying devilish whine is addictive and possesses you to chase the redline – only there isn’t one on the rev counter. That is there for some reason other than telling you when to shift up because it goes to 9,000rpm but the engine runs out of puff well before. The solution? Shift when you run out of bravery, or when the racecar shift lights flash so hard you feel an epileptic seizure coming on. Then we come to the shifts themselves.

The 620R has one of the tightest footwells I have ever experienced, there is barely room for both of my Pingu sized flippers – no chance of left foot braking – just as well seeing as I managed to lock up the front wheels using my right foot. The sequential box has a clutch pedal but you only need to deploy it when pulling away in first gear. This is not something easy to do. The clutch pedal itself is rather long; the actual operating window for it to have an effect on the clutch plates is as thin as my little finger. As a result, an idiot like me will stall four times in front of all the Caterham staff waving me goodbye having warned me never to apply throttle and steering angle at the same time. Yes, really.

Once you’re off and suitably red faced after the series of stalls, you simply push or pull the stubby sequential shifter to bang home another gear. I mean bang home, the entire car bucks and lurches with a gear shift, it is so hardcore that you’ll try to deploy the clutch just to ease the shifts and save yourself the physical assault. Anyone who has ever complained about an Aventador’s single clutch needs to man up.

Sunday morning, dry and quiet. Not for long. I’m on my favourite stretch of country road and it is empty enough for tumbleweeds to make an appearance. First gear engaged, release the clutch with no throttle (that is the trick) and mash the gas. The rear tires spin hard, the supercharger is whining and the shift lights are flashing so furiously Rudolph came out of hibernation. The cut slicks stop smoking and grab the tarmac, the acceleration is savage. Stay flat and pull for second – staying flat is when the gearbox makes sense, the shift is smooth and faster than almost anything I’ve felt before. So is the car.

I would love to tell you how fast I was going but there is no speedometer, just a tiny read out that would be more at home on an 80s Casio watch than a dashboard – for good measure it is also obstructed by the rev counter needle. The dashboard itself is rather amusing – it is spartan and half of the switches on the dash are for things the 620R does not have. These include windscreen wipers and heating. No matter, second is over in the blink of an eye and the wind is pounding my face. Into third I can feel my chubby cheeks flapping. There’s a corner approaching fast – with heat in the tyres and brakes the car slows tremendously quickly, the gearbox shifts down with a heavy fist and without hesitation. I think I’m carrying far too much speed but the mechanical grip is otherworldly. A poke of the throttle makes the rear end want to have a waggle. The tiny go kart like steering wheel responds remarkably to the counter steer and I feel like an absolute hero.

The sensations and involvement of this machine are unique to the Caterham 620R. The only thing I imagine could possibly be as quick as this is a BAC Mono and that is a single seat racer that is allergic to any real world driving. The Caterham is as hardcore as they come. It has a character that you learn. I honestly hated this car when I first drove it. It left me aching – something no other car has ever done. It’s only when you unleash it’s full potential in conditions that it has been built to relish that it comes into a league of its own. The Caterham 620R is a stripped out lunatic that you yearn to tame, when you do it becomes one of the best cars on the planet. Bravo Caterham, this is something special.

6 Seasoned Runners Name Their Favorite Running Shoes of All Time

Runners are creatures of habit. Same socks on race day, same pre-workout snack, same routes retraced week after week. When even small disruptions like a broken waist pack can throw off a routine, imagine the panic when a shoe company decides to discontinue a favorite sneaker.

Once a shoe earns a spot in the rotation — through a highly personal calculus of race finishes, total miles, PRs, and successful workouts — runners will find a way to keep it there, even if it means scouring the Internet for new-old pairs and ordering by the half-dozen. But sometimes a sneaker just gets away. Here, five notable running shoes from years past, and the infatuated runners who still covet them.

New Balance Vazee Pace v2



“These were light but had stability, so it felt like they were good across all distances, especially longer ones. I ran the Hartford marathon [in them], where I hit my first Olympic Trial Qualifier and got an eight-minute PR. Since then, I’ve had four pairs and ran a couple marathons in them.” — Sam Roecker, Olympic “A” Standard Marathoner

Year: 2016
Notable Feature: Quick, snappy and durable

Brooks Racer ST 5



“I would only use this shoe for track workouts and races, buying a new version of the shoe one to two weeks out from race day to ensure it felt fresh on my feet. Some runners don’t believe in wearing new shoes on race day, but because I knew it well enough, I liked having as much cushioning as possible. I have yet to find my new, lightweight, cozy race shoe, but I’m optimistic I’ll find one prior to my next marathon in May.” — Chris Heuisler, Global Run Concierge, Westin Hotels & Resorts

Year: 2011
Notable Feature: Low-profile, affordable and stable

Asics Gel-Kayano 21



“The Kayano 21s were the perfect width. My toes never felt scrunched together, and they provided the exact stability I needed to get through my runs. I ran my first and second marathons in them. The colors were great, too — bright. I think I owned four pairs of the same color combo. The Kayano 21 was made for my foot, and I’ve had such a hard time since finding a shoe that fits as well.” — Alex Weissner, Cofounder, bRUNch Running

Year: 2014
Notable Feature: Out-of-the-box comfort and high cushioning

Nike Pegasus 2002



“The Nike Pegasus was my first running shoe ever. I got a pair back in 1984 when I started [running] track. I probably bought ten to twelve pairs of the 2002s. It was my favorite shoe. It fit well and was breathable. I developed a hip injury after they took the shoe from $90 to $85.” — John Honerkamp, Founder, Run Kamp

Year: 2002
Notable Feature: Soft mesh upper and roomy last

Hoka One One Clifton 1



“The Hoka One One Clifton 1 was the shoe I kept coming back to. I still have both of my original pairs, for those nostalgic days. While durability was lackluster, the road running experience was game-changing. Unfortunately, the shoe changed considerably in future iterations. Even the Clifton 1 re-release from Hoka last year didn’t quite live up to the original experience. Oh, how I miss these shoes!” — Ethan Newberry, Owner, The Ginger Runner

Year: 2014
Notable Feature: Light, yet super cushioned, slim tongue

Adidas Adizero Adios 3



“I still remember my first run in these. It was supposed to be a relaxed 5K, but the pace picked up — I was flying, and it felt incredible. Good for training and racing. It was a more traditional-looking shoe but still sexy with a seriousness all runners appreciate. I’ve had about eight pairs. I’m currently training in one and have two fresh pairs in the boxes; I also have a retired pair for trips to the coffee shop or grocery store.” — Steve Dutko, Marathoner, Black Roses NYC

Year: 2016
Notable Feature: Dependable, with reliable traction and a thin Boost midsole
Note: Purchasing products through our links may earn us a portion of the sale, which supports our editorial team’s mission. Learn more here.

Too Valuable To Be A Trophy

I am a statue gliding over a bleached flat, stiffened by salt and wind and sun. In the water ahead of me, a silver knife cuts the surface and in a moment I am casting from the skiff, the fly streaking through the sharp Belize sky, the blisters on my hands forgotten. Sixty feet of line and months of preparation hang in the air. I square my shoulders and flex my knees. And I wait.

Good fishing stories ideally end with a fish. But the stories have changed in recent years, the romance of fishing evolving from brutish grappling matches on the open ocean (picture the conquered marlin, mounted in mid-leap on the wall, a reminder of the strength of the contest) to something faster, more precise, yet altogether more considered.

When you talk to a fisherman, a real fisherman, you are talking to a steward of the water. He is a lover of fish. He is angry about the vast islands of plastic poisoning the sea, and about ruinous overfishing and fishery mismanagement. Most of all, a real fisherman wants fishing to survive into the next generation and beyond. That’s partly why catch-and-release practices have gained popularity in recent years: saltwater fly-fishing, a fast and athletic catch-and-release sport that seems more like hunting than fishing, is what fuels interest today. As with other sports, this one has its brash young talent, like Captain Will Benson, and its technical prodigies, like Maxine McCormick, who help define what angling means to a new generation of fishing enthusiasts.

The hobby has turned in a quick, kinetic and eco-minded direction, with amateur anglers setting off around the globe in pursuit of bonefish, tarpon, permit and more — but with plans to return home with no more than what they packed in, raising the question: What exactly are sport fishermen collecting if every fish is the one that got away?

Mike Heusner was born in Belize in 1939. He grew up fishing the mangroves and keys around Belize city with his father, using cotton handlines and a small harpoon. The local fisherman taught him techniques for trolling kingfish.

After high school, Mike traveled to California for college, where he studied environmental management. He returned to Belize in 1970, and ten years later was hired to manage the Belize River Lodge, then named Keller Caribbean Sports. A year later, he took another management position at a neighboring lodge, which then led him to start his own ecotourism and sport-hunting and fishing business. When Keller Caribbean Sports put itself up for sale in 1986, Mike got a call from the then-owner.

“He told me that he’d sell it to me for a good price,” Mike says as we motor up the Belize River on one of the lodge’s 23-foot fishing skiffs. “He said he’d give me thirty days to come up with the money, but then he’d have to sell to someone else.”


Mike didn’t have the money. The bank agreed to underwrite the purchase if he could come up with one-third of the funds himself. Mike started calling sport fishermen he knew, offering discounted trips. “I offered them thousand-dollar trips for seven hundred and fifty. Thirty days later I had enough money to buy the lodge.”

Mike had sold anglers on a lodge he didn’t yet own, but he knew the rich waters would support the business. By the late ’80s, Belize River Lodge was a premier destination for adventure anglers. But the Lodge’s early success was tempered by Mike’s growing concern about the improper management of the fishery, a potential catastrophe that could destroy the fish population and capsize Mike’s business before it could truly take off.

On the water, Mike managed the guides and the guests; otherwise, he turned his attention to formalizing conservation efforts in the region. He joined the Belize Chamber of Commerce, the Tourism Industry Association and the Fisheries Advisory Board. He lobbied relentlessly to get the three main sport fish — tarpon, permit and bonefish — legally protected from harvesting by designating them catch-and-release-only species, and brought in environmentalists and representatives from fishing gear companies to help educate his guides on best practices for hooking, handling and releasing fish.

Through his advocacy, Mike Heusner joined a long line of angler-conservationists that includes Lee Wulff, who advocated catch-and-release practices as early as the 1930s, and Lefty Kreh, the fisherman, journalist and author who educated anglers and sportsmen about habitat conservation and the preservation of fish populations until his death last year at the age of 93.

It’s an idea of fishing that would have seemed as foreign to my grandfather, peacefully bobbing for catfish on the banks of Moonda Creek, as it does to the thrill-seeking suburbanite who plays out his Hemingway fantasy wrestling swordfish on a rented day boat. It’s an idea of angling that favors skill, care and craft over chest-thumping bravado, and here in the water under the hot flat sun, I will need all three.

Tarpon have been swimming the earth’s oceans for 100 million years. They’re thick, muscular fish that developed something interesting during their long evolution: lungs, of a sort. Tarpon are air-breathing fish. In the warm, low-oxygen waters of estuaries, bays and mangroves they break the surface to gulp fresh air, using their unique air bladders to flush oxygen over their gills.

This surfacing behavior is called “rolling,” and it’s one of the ways fisherman identify where the tarpon are. My guide, John Moore, has brought us to a small tarpon spot called Sugar Boat, named after the barges full of sugarcane that pass through the channel. We spend a few minutes blind casting with sinking lines and a pattern of my own making: a white Mangum tail with a white, orange and black EP fiber body and a red eye. John sights a tarpon rolling.

The fish is about 70 feet away, my max range with my current line in the 15-knot crosswind. I cast well and land in the feeding window. The tarpon turns on the fly and gives chase; I strip the fly, pulling the line hard with my fingers, mimicking the movement of the bait. The fish chases, shouldering through the waves. If it strikes, it will require several hard tugs to seat the hook. In these shallow coastal waters with nowhere to dive, the tarpon may leap — up to 100 pounds of angry muscle launching out of the water, thrashing its head to lose the fly.

Instead: nothing. Gone.

A moment later the fish surfaces again, close to the same spot. I land a long cast, about 85 feet. The tarpon sees the fly, but my line has wrapped around the butt of the rod, and I know if the fish strikes, the line will probably break. I work quickly to unwrap the filament, but in that moment the tarpon is gone. John, an athletic, surefooted guide of thirty years who pilots the skiff like it’s an extension of his body, estimates it weighed about 85 pounds — a good fish.

Casting requires athletic coordination and efficient movement that prioritizes timing over speed and finesse over power. It took me two years before I could cast a fly with consistency, and two more before I could cast with deftness. Delivering the fly to the fish is yet another skill — hitting the target gracefully, without too much splash, 20 yards away and into the wind. To make it look natural.

The physical mastery needed to cast a long, elegant presentation of the fly means nothing if you don’t understand the ecosystem in which the fish lives: the water it prefers, where it spawns, how far it ranges, how it forages, what it hunts — and then: the movements that its prey makes through the water and how to mimic it. The time and effort required to gain this knowledge demand a deep respect for the ocean and everything in it.

It’s not surprising that catch-and-release is more prevalent than ever. The conservation of fish populations has become a cause not just for environmentalists and the guides and outfitters whose livelihoods depend on flush waters, but for countless organizations and private companies. For many young anglers today, catch-and-release is the only practice they’ve ever known.

The long-term health of fish populations aside, it would have been nice to at least see a permit. They’re fast and skittish, the most elusive of the flats fish. Anglers spend years, sometimes decades trying to catch one. Permit inhabit the flats, and I had a vision of sighting one coming in from the deep waters, its large black dorsal fin and sickle-shaped tail heading in with the tide to feed on crustaceans. Making an accurate cast with a crab pattern dropping expertly by the permit’s short flat snout before hooking one to the envy of all the old-timers at my fishing club. But the permit, as always, remained out of reach, and on my last day, with the tarpon remaining hidden, I had just one more chance to catch something.


Bonefishing is sight fishing. The fish feed on the bottom of wide shallow flats, rummaging in soft mud for crustaceans. When bonefish feed they drop their heads, presenting an opportunity. These fish need to be stalked; they’re edgy and quick to flee. The glint of a rod in the sun or a line flying overhead will spook them. But with their heads down, rooting around in the turtle grass, an angler has a chance to place a cast without being spotted. There is usually only one opportunity.

A strong eastern wind has been blowing for two days now, raising white-tipped waves and buffeting the skiff as we cruise. John guides the boat around the half-sunken posts of an old dock. The wind has hemmed in the tide, so the water is cloudy and deeper than usual, making the bonefish harder to spot, and a fly harder for them to notice.

The wind is whistling at 15 knots as John poles us along the lee side of the flat. He thinks the fish may have sought out these calmer waters. A large brown stingray emerges from the sand and skitters away. We follow it, hoping perhaps it will lead us to a glint of scales.

Nothing.

I once fished with a guide in northern Canada who made an offering of tobacco at the start of each day, breaking a cigarette and dusting the dry leaves over the water. I have no smokes to offer, and I worry I have offended the sly and capricious fishing gods. I’m sunburnt and my arms ache and my palms are swollen with blisters. I stand very still on the skiff, letting only my eyes move over the water.

John, on his perch, braces, then raises his arm and points. One hundred feet out, eight o’clock, a solitary silver torpedo cruising right at us. My nine-foot rod raises of its own accord, muscle memory ticking through its mysterious automatic math as I factor in distance and wind, the speed of the fish, the drift of the boat.

The cast lands softly, five feet in front of the approaching bonefish. The imitation shrimp at the end of the line glides toward the floor. The fish is a foot away. I move the fly with short pops of the line to imitate a shrimp squirting through the water. The fish sees it, reacts, turns and accelerates. I retrieve the fly as fast as I can. The fish closes faster, tackles the fly — I yank the line, lodging the hook in the corner of its mouth. For a moment we are linked, each feeling the other register the umbilical connection. The fish bolts, turning for the open sea, taking along a hundred screaming feet of line. We pull one another, jockeying for advantage, trading massive lengths of line — in and out again, and in and out. I am no longer tired or sunburnt. My blisters are gone. It is only me and the water and the sun and a fish and the line that connects us.

I’ve spent countless hours reading fishing books, countless hours hunched over a fly-tying vise contemplating the exact colors a bonefish might find most alluring. For months ahead of this adventure I exhausted myself on rowing machine, doing deadlifts, working my forearms and my core, legs, and back. Kettlebells for my grip. I practiced casting. I visualized the strike. And now I have a fish on the line, and the fish wants to get away but I can’t let it.

Good fishing stories end with a fish. This one is lean and silver like a wide flat blade with an elegant curved dorsal fin. The fish is exhausted, dazed. I take the hook from its lip, lower the animal into the ocean and cradle it, letting the water flow over its gills. The bonefish’s strength returns; it flaps its tail slowly, then with more strength.

Now, increasingly and for the love of the sport, good fishing stories don’t end with a fish. I watch this one swim away, back into the dark. I feel grateful, and I wish the fish well.

Tips for Adventure Fishing Trips

This story was originally pitched around an entirely different ecosystem: the marlin, sailfish and swordfish off the coast of Kenya. When a terrorism high alert derailed our plans at the eleventh hour, we turned to Evan Peterson of Angler Adventures in Old Lyme, Connecticut to help plan an epic trip at the last minute. Peterson, who arranges guides and lodging around the world’s great fishing destinations, broke down the tips and tricks anyone can use to maximize their chance for tight lines, or at least a good fishing story.

Airlines lose stuff. Always carry your fishing tackle — rods, reels, lines and flies — as well as two pairs of polarized sunglasses with different lens colors (to cover a variety of light conditions) and a days worth of fishing clothes. At least.
Check your line before the trip. An old dirty fly line can affect your casting. Better yet, buy a new one. A new fly line will be well worth the investment when you’re on the water.
Consider getting a known traveler number. TSA Pre-Check or Global Entry are two options. It’s a small investment in advance, but can be a huge time saver when you’re traveling, especially with a bunch of gear.
Don’t waste good fishing time. Show up prepared: study your species, practice your casting, and double-check your gear. And break in wading boots beforehand.

To book your own fishing trip, contact Angler Adventures.
AnglerAdventures.com
info@angleradventures.com
800-628-1447