I was expecting to dislike the new E-Class Coupe from Mercedes. AMG versions aside, the outgoing CLK was about as interesting to drive as a Toyota Solara, and Mercedes has already announced that there would be no AMG versions of the new car. From the early photos of E-Class Coupe, I had already determined that the large glass sunroof with its meager mesh sun protection would curry little favor with me, and the little rear quarter window spoiled the look of this frameless coupe. To make matters worse, the 2010 E-Class Coupe’s engines are carryovers from the CLK. Mercedes claims our fuel quality isn’t suitable for the new direct injected engines offered in Europe. (Translation: the US is a dumping ground for some old engine inventory.) The E-Class nomenclature is another sleight of hand, as the chassis is still derived from the C-Class. Harrumph.
Posts By: Jay Shoemaker
Sitting in the new Toyota Prius, I suddenly blurted out, “Open the pod bay doors, Hal,” half expecting something to happen. Alas, I was still entombed in the resin chamber that passes for an automobile interior. If Ralph Nader had been an engineer, this is the car he would have designed, a vehicle for people who loathe automobiles.
Despite constant evolution, the BMW Z4 has always been something of an enigma. Quality issues, cabin constraints, questionable styling, not-quite-there handling, dubious tire choices and premium pricing have all bedeviled the sports car—although not all at the same time. Far be it for me to suggest that this lack of synthesis had anything to do with production in South Carolina. But it is strange—and a little reassuring—to know that this next gen Z4 is made in Regensburg, Germany. Less comforting to those of a sporting bent: it’s grown in width, length, wheelbase and weight. Once again, Mazda Miata lovers looking to upgrade need not apply.
The 2009 750i is the car I was expecting from BMW back in 2002. That 7 turned out to be the poster child for automotive arrogance. It introduced flame surfacing [including the Bangle butt] and iDrive. The 2002 7-Series drove me right into the arms of Mercedes. Its controls were impossible to decipher, the ergonomics were infuriating and it was truly ugly. In the face of the criticism, BMW countered that their customers were too backwards to comprehend the brilliance and innovation inherent in the design. Sales continued– until they didn’t. The new 750i is a mechanical admission of corporate guilt that offers redemption for lovers of the pre-Bangle 7-Series.
Euphemisms are our friends. If it weren’t for “calamari” my kids would have never tried squid. Similarly, the SUV became a more palatable version of the station wagon– although I am not sure how the wagon became an object of scorn by my generation. I have many happy memories slouched down in the third row, kissing girls. I suppose piloting one of those behemoths might have tempered my enthusiasm for the genre. The early SUV’s were thinly disguised trucks and evolved to become more like tall wagons currently known as crossovers. If the designers over at BMW have their way, mutant ninja vehicles will soon replace the crossovers. In the meantime, we have the 2010 Lexus RX350.
They say the longer the job title, the smaller the job. In the automotive world, the longer the model name, the more hype, money and technology involved. For those of you new to this game, the BMW X5 xDrive 35d is BMW’s biggest SUV with all wheel-drive and a diesel engine. (No, it’s not a 3.5-liter powerplant, but alphanumerics outpaced pedantry a long time ago.) No matter what you call it, I’m an unabashed fan of the modern diesel-powered vehicle. With diesel more expensive that gas, and an intimate understanding of the overarching importance of depreciation, it’s not diesel’s fuel-efficiency that flicks my wick. I enjoy the beefy, progressive power delivery. The X5 xDrive 35d may be a belated entry into the diesel SUV market, but it’s no slacker underfoot.
US auto sales in the month of November are down to a 26-year-low, with losses ranging between 30-47 percent for the top six manufacturers. I went to visit one of my favorite Mercedes dealers this weekend to see how my friends were faring (truth be told, I was bottom fishing) and I heard one tale of woe after another. One salesman, who I have known for more than ten years explained that he had sold one single car for the month of November. His wife had worked for one of the banks that cratered a few months earlier, so they were trying to get by on his meager commission, without much success. Since they cannot afford their mortgage payment anymore and they are underwater on the value of their home, my friend is staring down the barrel of the bankruptcy option. Even if you slept through much of Econ 101 in college, you cannot fail to recall that when supply greatly outstrips demand that lower pricing is the only solution and I am not talking temporary discounts and special financing deals. Everything you own is worth less today than yesterday- your home, your 401K and your only consolation is that the gas costs less, retailers are cutting their throats to get your business and soon even food will cost less.
The CC stood out like a swan amidst a gaggle of homely Jetta ducklings on the VW dealer’s lot, its aesthetic appeal undeniable. In contrast with the company’s marketing approach with the Phaeton, the CC is virtually badge-less and, at first blush, hard to identify as part of the VW family. I suppose it still looks vaguely Germanic since it shamelessly cribs from the Mercedes CLS it aspires to be. Comfort Coupe or Caustic Copy?
Dumfounded by my disappointing experience driving the new Porsche 911 PDK, I sought out another example this weekend. I located a 911 S PDK with the sport chrono option plus Porsche Active Suspension Management. The sport chrono option coupled with PDK offers three transmission settings. The normal setting shares the same fuel saving/fun deleting shift pattern as the car I drove previously. The sport plus setting wrings the engine to redline no matter how aggressive you are driving and makes sense only for the track. The middle sport setting is heavenly- shifting around 4,000 RPM under casual circumstances and bouncing off the rev limiter when angered. Porsche needs to replace the normal setting with the sport setting in all vehicles. The sport plus button is the one I would charge more money for. If people who drive 911′s really give priority to fuel economy over driving enjoyment, then they shouldn’t be allow to purchase one at all.
In theory, a dual clutch gearbox offers drivers the best of both worlds: a corner-carving-compliant paddle shift system (complete with computer-controlled, rev-matching throttle blipping) and a waft-enabling automatic gearbox. As developed by the BorgWarner, the DSG version lifted a well-sorted VW Golf GTI into automotive Valhalla. Porsche fans arched their collective eyebrows, anticipating the day when Stuttgart would perform a similar transformation for the world’s only best everyday supercar: the 911. Porsche Doppelkupplung (PDK) is here, attached to the model’s 900th evolution. Is the system finally ready for hammer time?
America has the hots for hybrids. On the flip side of high gas prices, the value of any vehicle with fuel economy below 20 mpg has collapsed. Brand new "gas guzzlers" sit on dealer lots collecting incentives, rebates, finance deals and dust. The price of used fuel-suckers has dropped by 25 percent in the last four months, and THEN the rest. This is the perfect time to shop for a twin-turbo twelve-cylinder behemoth.
I've been pining for the Audi R8 since I first laid eyes on the "Le Mans" show car five years ago. Last February, I test drove Audi's 911 redo in Vegas (baby). Although I found the R8 lacked some of the the Porsche Turbo's user-friendly OMG WTFitiude, Audi gave their everyday supercar a far more appealing wrapper than the ass-engined Nazi slot car (thank you P.J. O'Rourke). Yes, I knew the movie Ironman would define R8 ownership for non-owners. But I was willing to take the risk of being associated with an actor who's spent more time in rehab than any five celebutantes you can name. So I placed an order and arranged for delivery of my R8 at the Neckarsulm factory.
BMW enjoys vast reservoirs of consumer goodwill. How else can you explain the German automaker’s ability to flourish despite recent engineering and design faux pas? General Motors would have been a lot further along in its death spiral if it had introduced indigestible shapes, indelicate Bangle butts, interminable run-hard tires, unfathomable iDrive and the ubearable SMG transmission. And so, the M3. Does the new M3 Coupe restore the roundel’s rep, or does it signal another misguided attempt to perpetuate the ultimate driving “lifestyle?”
I flew into Los Angeles with aspirations of driving something powerful; I had visions of some mighty motor displacing six liters or more. Anything with the letters AMG on the back would have suited me just fine. Instead I was staring at a gigantic Mercedes GL 320 CDI. That's CDI as in "diesel." I reckoned it was going to be a long drive to San Diego. I reckoned wrong.
I made my first pilgrimage to AMG in 2001. Arriving unannounced, I was relegated to longing stares through a chain link fence at rows of serious looking automobiles. I eventually bought an SL55 AMG. I loved its ability to terrify unsuspecting passengers. But it always struck me as an engine in search of a chassis. And better steering. And brakes. In fact, it was a steroid injected boulevardier. And now, the SL63 AMG.