In Michelangelo Antonioni's film "Blow Up," Thomas (David Hemming) watches a rock guitarist smash his ax and toss the remnants into the audience. Caught up in the spirit of the moment, Thomas joins the scrum scrambling for a piece of the dead guitar. He grabs the lion's share and runs away. Dozens of fans give chase, attempting to wrest the prize from his grasp. Finally, Thomas is clear of the crowd. Alone with his treasure, he contemplates his booty– and then casually tosses it into a nearby trash can. Nissan GTR anyone?
Posts By: Jay Shoemaker
Thanks to modern speed enforcement, the idea of leaping large continents in a hugely fast, spectacularly comfortable car has become something of a quaint notion. And yet, upscale manufacturers still compete to build the ultimate GT (Gran Turismo). Reflecting the concept’s European origins, the short list of candidates for this honor all originate on the other side of the pond: the Mercedes CL63, Bentley Continental GT, Aston Martin DB9, BMW 650, Jaguar XKR and the Maserati GT. Having owned or reviewed all but the new Maserati, I decided to see if the mad Italian has what it takes to trump its continental cousins.
I really want a Mercedes Black Series AMG. It’s a practical, sharp looking car, and nothing clears my head like Saturn V quality thrust. But my spouse’s desire to share her dotage with yours truly conspires against it. So, after driving a BMW 6-Series and finding it a bit… sclerotic, I wandered over to my local Audi dealer in search of something slinkier and kinkier. And there she was: a brand new S5 coupe on the showroom floor, shooting me come hither glances. So thither I went. Ah, but did I tarry long enough to take possession of Ingolstadt’s two-door Q-ship?
Journalists on this site have complained about how ugly and technologically complex recent BMWs have become. To that list I would also add a jarring ride, an overly aggressive throttle tip-in and jerky transmissions. Don’t get me wrong. In the main, the propeller people’s products still do exactly what it says on the tin: ultimate driving. But these defects make it difficult to drive most Bimmers smoothly, as one can an equivalent Mercedes, Audi or Cadillac (CTS). So when my BMW buddy nagged me to check out the 2008 650i coupe, I wondered: why bother?
My co-pilot sat motionless, stupefied from the previous night's revelry. Strangely, this poor fellow thought I could be trusted not to challenge Alka-Seltzer's restorative powers. I allowed him the luxury of this delusion all the way from the hotel to the highway. And then I floored it. The CLK Black Series' engine bellowed WAKE UP FOOL! The uber-bad Benz' back end quivered from side to side. The traction control light sent a steady stream of Morse code through first, second and third gear. The ten second wake-up call placed us well north of 100 mph. The jobbing journo groaned his disapproval. God I love this work!
Mass, what mass? As I hurled 4500 lbs. of rippled and flared German steel through a long, sweeping, belt-cinching corner, I felt like I was playing a driving simulation. Thanks to its improved active body controls, the Mercedes Benz CL63 AMG remained absurdly unaffected by the enormous lateral g-forces generated by its gyrations. Lacking suitable anti-gravity aids, my passenger and I were thrown towards the outer radius of the turn, welded to the CL63’s seat bolsters. Now that’s what I call fun.
Back in the day, BMW didn’t exactly pander to its customers. We build, you buy. Life is life. As BMW’s fortunes and model lines expanded, options appeared. But the German carmaker never quite outgrew its
arrogance stubborn streak. You want a 7-Series without iDrive? Not possible. Don’t like run-flats on your 3-Series? Go and buy what tires you like. Use the word “vagina” in a review? No press cars for you Schätze. Thankfully, you can circumvent the iDrive in the new 535i and run flats are now optional. Is this the harbinger of a kindler, gentler 5-Series?
My wife struggles with two automotive tasks: finding her destination and maneuvering the car into a parking space. (Locating a parking space is another issue, but why make her sound any more spatially challenged than she is?) The only voice my wife follows without question emanates from her car’s navigation system. So, issue number one sorted. Until now, she has endured her parking problem by opting for garages or HUGE spots. When she heard about the Lexus LS’ new automated parking system, she sent me to the dealer to check it out.
Global warming. Some consumers consider hybrids the responsible response. Others are busy taking one last toke on the tailpipe of extravagance. Pistonheads, have I got a bong for you! After accelerating Porsche's 2.5 ton brick to 60mph in less than five seconds, I can only conclude that you NEED a Cayenne Turbo– if only to outrun the Earth Day crowd tossing rocks at your windows. The Turbo is pointless and politically incorrect and you better get one now before all the oil and clean air are gone forever.
When the BMW dealer handed me the plastic fob, he insisted I drive the 335i Convertible with the top down. Despite the cool, foggy San Francisco weather, I held the plipper’s unlock button down and watched the show. As the hardtop began its elaborate three part dance into the trunk, I felt that old familiar flutter. The feeling was born when I started driving lessons in my Dad’s 1963 Chevrolet Impala rag top, survived my first car (a 1962 VW Beetle convertible) and lead to my current stable of drop tops. Would the 335i live up to its predecessors?
The last generation Audi TT had more show than go. The German roadster’s dynamics were tarnished by massive turbo lag, an over-eager paddle shift gearbox and an entirely flappable suspension. In fact, the TT’s iconic exterior design and interior quality were its only saving graces. Now that TT 2.0 has arrived, and a decent enough amount of time has passed since Hugh Grant’s loathsome character drove a TT in “About a Boy," is Audi finally ready for a little Boxster bashing? Yes and no.
I admire AMG. The German uber-tuners are the world’s largest purveyor of $100k+ automobiles, and deservedly so. Meanwhile, Alpina has been tweaking BMW’s in a similarly monstrous fashion since 1961. Unlike AMG, Alpina remains independent from the corporate mothership upon which it depends (although it builds its models at Bimmer’s factories). Hence Merc sells 25 AMG cars for every Alpina and brings AMG’s to market in strict cadence with their “normal” siblings. Hence Alpina sells Americans their B7, an M7 in all but name, only when they’re good and ready to do so. So now they’re ready. Are we?
This wasn’t the first time I’d opted for European delivery. In fact, after counting all the license plates I’d collected from these international adventures, I discovered I was on my eighth visit. Normally, when my wife learns I want to go to Stuttgart or Munich, she digs in her proverbial heels. So I had to package my automotive connection with a week in Paris. I made the arrangements to pick up a BMW 335 at the Munich factory. Here’s how the deal went down…
There I was, having fun, fun auf die autobahn, when nature called. Somewhere southeast of Stuttgart, I took the wrong exit and found myself outside the gates of Audi’s Neckarsulm factory. A large sign proclaimed the brutally Bauhaus industrial complex ground zero for the German automaker’s R8 supercar. I was immediately convinced I was destined to park one in my garage. Of course, by then I’d been chasing R8 ownership for over three years. So, do good things come to those who wait?
News flash! The 2007 MINI looks like the 2006 MINI. As there wasn’t anything particularly wrong with the “old” model, BMW’s decision to leave things well enough alone shows welcome restraint. Well, almost. BMW’s added two extra inches to the new MINI– and we all know how meaningful two extra inches can be for guys (legroom!). But you’d be hard pressed to see any exterior effects– good or bad. So is it still all systems go for MINI’s V2 rocket, or does the new model (codenamed R56) prove that more is less?