The Truth About Cars » roadster The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Sun, 27 Jul 2014 20:45:49 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » roadster Low-Cost Tesla EV To Be Dubbed Model 3 Thu, 17 Jul 2014 12:00:21 +0000 10352722_h15508358

Tesla announced the name of its low-cost EV due to arrive around 2017: Model 3.

Autoblog reports the name was announced on its Facebook page Tuesday, after Ford rebuffed CEO Elon Musk’s desire to call the $35,000 EV the Model E earlier this year. Musk adds the name will be written as a Roman numeral, and would occupy the space between the S and the X as far as now-vague sexual references go.

Beyond the new name, not much has been revealed aside from a 20-percent size reduction over the Model S, the increased use of steel in its construction, and that the 3 would go up against the BMW 3 Series.

Roadster owners, meanwhile, will receive an update that would swap the current battery pack for an improved model delivering 400 miles per charge over the former’s 245 miles.

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Daihatsu Revives The Copen Mon, 23 Jun 2014 10:30:44 +0000 2015-diahatsu-copen-live-reveal-002-1


Daihatsu’s diminutive sports car is back after a two year absence, with a new look, but the same 660 cc displacement.

The Copen still puts out just 63 horsepower and 68 lb-ft from its tiny engine, but it’s also one of the more exciting kei-cars in existence. For 2014, Daihatsu has ditched the retro styling for something a bit more swoopy and modern. The impossibly tiny Copen (seriously, this thing makes a Miata look like a Ford Galaxie 500 in comparison) will start at $17,613 for the CVT model, and $17,825 for the 5-speed manual version.


2015-diahatsu-copen-001-1 2015-diahatsu-copen-002-1 2015-diahatsu-copen-003-1 2015-diahatsu-copen-004-1 2015-diahatsu-copen-005-1 2015-diahatsu-copen-006-1 2015-diahatsu-copen-007-1 2015-diahatsu-copen-008-1 2015-diahatsu-copen-live-reveal-001-1 2015-diahatsu-copen-live-reveal-002-1 2015-diahatsu-copen-live-reveal-003-1 2015-diahatsu-copen-live-reveal-004-1 ]]> 4
MG Motor Considering Roadster, US Market In Long-Term Plans Tue, 27 May 2014 13:00:51 +0000 MG Icon

The last time MG sold roadsters in the United States, Jimmy Carter was President, ABSCAM (minus the efforts of Jennifer Lawrence, Christian Bale and Bradley Cooper) entered its final phase, and CNN had newsreaders instead of “news VJs.” Should the Sino-British brand be able to assemble a roadster worthy of those 1960s and 1970s classics, however, a new MGB might board a container ship bound for the U.S. in the future.

Edmunds reports exploratory design work for a sports car under the MG name has been placed on the 2014 schedule book in SAIC’s Shanghai design studio, with one of the possibly proposals being a roadster such as those in the brand’s history, as well as the spiritual successor found in the Mazda MX-5 Miata. The starting point for whatever is drawn up is the 2012 MG Icon concept.

In the meantime, MG Motor is looking to design and produce a wider mainstream collection, with design and engineering split between Shanghai and Birmingham, England. Eventually, this could lead to a return to the U.S. market, which is considered a long-term goal for the brand and its owner.

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No Replacements For MINI Coupe, Paceman, Roadster Tue, 18 Mar 2014 12:38:49 +0000 2012 Mini Coupe

BMW’s MINI may not replace the Coupe, Paceman or Roadster when their day comes, opting to focus on three “pillar” models that allow the brand to be “more relevant to more people,” according to MINI head of product management Oliver Friedmann.

Automotive News Europe reports Friedmann’s first priority for MINI “is to roll out a portfolio that has strong pillars,” with each pillar being clear in what it means to the overall brand. With the original hatchback and Countryman identified as the first two pillars, a potential third pillar could come in the form of a compact model based upon the Clubman concept shown in Geneva.

As for the Coupe, Paceman and Roadster, Friedmann says the trio aren’t a priority to the brand at this time, with the possibility all three may end up in the crusher of history in the near future.

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Tesla To Debut Model E at 2015 Detroit Auto Show Mon, 16 Dec 2013 13:00:31 +0000 Tesla Model S

For admirers of Tesla’s latest and greatest who would love to own a piece of the action if only the price of admission were low enough, the word on the street is such a vehicle will debut in January 2015 during the Detroit Auto Show.

The Model E, as rumored to be named, will have a price tag of $25,000 to $35,000, and will be a mid-sized sedan. Those worried it might simply be a smaller S have Tesla chief designer Franz von Holzhausen’s assurance that it won’t go the “Audi unit face” route. Holzhausen also said there is a truck in the works, though it won’t be riding on the third-generation Tesla platform, as well as a second coming of the car that started it all, the Tesla Roadster.

As for the Model X, the SUEV is nearing the finish line to production, with units set to be delivered to showrooms by late 2014 at the earliest. The price tag for the X should be around if not above that of the S.

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Vellum Venom: 1966 Datsun Sports 1600 (Fairlady) Tue, 03 Sep 2013 13:00:32 +0000

Can you remember when sports cars were a staple of design studios?  When these wee-beasties were vellum fodder like today’s CUVs?  Me neither.  But Europe once made these in spades, and–much like today’s utility vehicle craze–Japan regularly followed suit.  Let’s examine that rich history with a deep cut into Nissan’s “Fairlady” series.   



Let’s be clear, the Datsun 1600 will never win a beauty contest if comparable Euro Metal enters the show.  Like most Japanese cars from this era, the styling was far more agricultural and cost-effective: uber voluptuous fenders, lumps, bumps and curves need not apply. The 1600′s box-nosed face belongs on today’s family sedan, and the bumper looks like an afterthought compared to the sexy slope of the MGA’s integrated maw. But the clean (well-organized) lines and tidy details (i.e. well placed signal lights) still makes it a timeless classic.

The practical charm of such nostalgic Japanese iron is clear to every eyeball. Heck, there’s even a fantastic website dedicated to the hobby. Check it.


There’s nothing wrong with a basic design when details like the grille and emblem are presented in such a clean and logical manner.  This is why cheap(er) cars are as cheerful as more expensive iron.


2_1What really makes the Datsun 1600′s nose stand out is the integrated grille/hood cut line.  Simply put, the ends of the grille match the beginning(s) of the hood.  It may seem like a little detail, but go back to the 2nd photo: doesn’t that make everything right on that face?


My, how things change with time! Body parts were screwed together back then?  No biggie: it’s part of the historical charm of many cars from this era.  Not having seen similar British/Italian machines up this close, I don’t know if screwing the front end in such a visible location is par for the course, or part of the Datsun’s value appeal.



I like the scalloping around the signal lights, a subtle touch to make these (universal?) parts look somewhat more unique to this machine.  The crease near the headlight’s center line is nice, but it’d be even nicer if they centered the headlights (i.e. slightly lower) to match it. Lowering the headlights would also help “visually lower” the front end. If the engineers would allow it.

But look at how elegant the front clip appears with the minimal cut lines from the hood+grille treatment!


Again, lower the headlights so they “center” with that very cool crease in the front fascia.  That said, this proto-240Z shows the future nosejob for the Fairlady of the 1970s.

The Datsun 1600′s other hard crease, at the top of the fascia and hood, could use some softening up to empathize with the headlight’s round form: another issue cured by the elongated schnoz of the 240Z.



My need for a rounder top and “centered on the crease” headlights comes to light (sorry) from this angle.  The biggest problem is how that hard fold at the top fights with the rounded headlights and turn signals.


The chrome trimming at the leading edge of this hood scoop is quite the expensive looking touch!  Nice job.


While the snub-nosed face with too many hard edges isn’t the best start for a 1960s sports car, the hood and fenders sweep back quite nicely to compensate. How I long for the days when every automaker had at least one car with a looooooong hood! Which leads to a discussion of “dash-to-axle ratios”…but I’m getting ahead of myself.

10Indeed, that space between the dashboard and the front axle.  The more you have, the more inherently bad ass your vehicle becomes!  The Datsun 1600′s snub nose really kills the mood when you consider the hustle and flow of all those complementary lines from the headlights alllll the way back to the windscreen. Yum.


10_1I love how this elegant and delicate side view mirror’s base compares to (almost?) anything from the 1970s and beyond. While this could be an afterthought/necessity to comply with US safety guidelines, it’s a delightful design element.  The problem is that wart of an antenna(?)…it’s like seeing a pretty girl with a not so handsome guy at a black tie event.

That’s one lucky chrome wart, I say!  Or maybe he’s well endowed. Whatever.


10_3These emblems, while cool by themselves, are far too chunky to live here.  They kill the flow.  Put them further down the fender, perhaps halfway between the chrome moulding and the base of the wheel arch.


Sadly the Datsun’s poor location ruined my side shot, so this hardtop’d interweb photo will suffice. The upright windshield rake and static vent windows make this body look cuter and dumber than the more refined metal from Europe. But perhaps that ain’t no big thang since it echos the boxiness of the front end.

And isn’t it refreshing to see such an advantageous ratio of side glass to side sheet metal these days?

12Dare I call this wheel design a classic from this era?  Purely functional, but elegant and modest.  Ditch the whitewalls, but the sliver slotted steelies with a big face chrome center cap is an element I’ve loved on Porsches, VWs…and Datsuns!




While the exposed screws on the front end look a bit cheap, these fasteners on the cowl vent have a functional beauty about them.  Maybe it’s the silver paint and how this could be a close up on any number of brilliant European sports cars from the 1950-60s, but it just plain works.


12_2Two window panes to make one windshield?  If only Datsun sprung for a fancier sheet of glass in their bargain basement roadster.  That said, the chrome details in the wiper arms, rearview mirror, windshield rubber, etc. look fantastic in their close up shot.  Ditto those exposed screws on the cowl vent.


13Back again to the fantastic real estate between the dashboard and the front axle.  Be it a lovely Ferrari or a lowly Datsun, this is always a delicious treat that’s good for the car enthusiast’s heart and soul.


14The chrome trim is modest enough, but its location between the door lock and door handle appears clumsy as you approach from this angle. This might be the only car more deserving of a body side molding delete than a C5 Corvette.



The ragtop’s boot cover buttons are super-static on this otherwise flowing form.  Is it possible to bend that panel a few degrees in, more aggressively inward as it nears the rear, and still make the buttons snap to engineering specifications?  If possible, it’d certainly help the look.


16Just an ever-so-gentle inward bending: I’m not expecting a Talbot Lago from a reasonable and honest Datsun, but give us a little taste!  And here’s another good reason to eliminate the chrome trim.  From the subtle curves of the quarter panel to the soft contours of the wheel well, the Datsun 1600 is begging for someone to remove its rigid orthodontia.


17And let’s round out the trunk’s cut line…this is brutally rigid.  It’s obviously cheaper than the goodies coming from Britain and Italy at this time. While there are other hard edges and elements in this design that must stay, this one needs the boot…from the boot!




There’s a strong homage to the Aston Martin DB4 and DB5 presented here.  Or perhaps it’s just a cheap knock off.  That’s fine, but punishing the eyes with the “visual sound” of fingernails on a chalkboard comes from the brutally hard edges connecting the rear fascia to the quarter panel.  My kingdom for a little more money to round out some panels!  Please!


19Generation Gap: whatever that says and no matter how poorly integrated it may seem, at least those aren’t Lucas Electronics.  Some scalloping/recessing a la the front signal lights would be nice, too.


20Too many hard corners and Aston Martin rip offs aside, this is a pretty wicked rear end.  Note how the trunk cutlines seemingly disappear like an infinity pool in some fancy spa with overpriced meals and minimalist music piped into every hallway. Nice.


This might be the best angle to photograph.  A well-organized and classically minimal interior only highlights the curvature of the Datsun 1600′s decklid.  And the subtle rib down the middle? Perfection.


Sorry about not blurring the license plate, but this dealership changed names!  Too bad the Datsun 1600′s location was less than ideal for photography.  But shooting outside shows the Datsun 1600′s flat butt…and Cindy Crawford worthy birthmark (gas cap) too.

Note the especially clean integration of the deck lid, rear fascia and quarter panels in a single line at the top. Nice-ish…too bad it all ends on a butt that needs a little Sir Mix-a-Lot in its life.



Requisite twin chrome exhausts are always welcome ’round these parts. The leaf spring perches (left) and back up light (right) are interesting throwbacks to a simpler, stupider time.


25And since the top was indeed down, the Datsun 1600′s interior plays an integral role with the exterior design.  And, simply put, this is a fabulous interior.  There’s nicer bits from the Europeans, but that’s all relative.  Datsun’s intelligent and cohesive design is an Everyman’s ergonomic and stylistic wonder.  It’s what IKEA is to modern furniture, and it’s damn good-looking.

Thank you all for reading, I hope you have a lovely week.

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Mazda MX-5 Getting Refreshed Yet Again Mon, 02 Jul 2012 18:14:25 +0000

Mazda will be refreshing the MX-5 for 2013, as they attempt to hold us over for the long-awaited “ND” Miata, due in a couple years, that will share a platform with the Alfa Romeo Spider.

Although *some* uninformed enthusiasts claim that the current car is a heavier, uglier abomination not fit to carry on the legacy of the MX-5, I couldn’t disagree more. The NC MX-5 is brilliant. Full stop. The only thing that puts me off is the goofy front fascia. Otherwise, it’s just about perfect, especially with the “dreaded” Power Retractable Hardtop. I would go so far as to say that it’s better in every single way than my beloved NA Miata, with no additional drawbacks.

The refresh is subtle, and helps diminish some of the “smiley face” character of the awful Nagare styling language, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s impossible enough to do away with that blight. The headlights, grill opening and air intakes are only slightly changed, but it does help. Even though the front is still ugly, I’d buy one over an FR-S. I suspect I’m not alone.

Thanks to The Car Lounge for the photos

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Next-Gen Alfa Romeo Spider Won’t Be An Upscale Miata Thu, 28 Jun 2012 19:50:12 +0000

News of the next Alfa Romeo Spider sharing its technology with the Mazda MX-5 led to some speculation that the Spider would be a more expensive version of the MX-5, perhaps with a bespoke powertrain and styling. Not quite.

According to Retuers, the Spider will be the volume model, while the 4C mid-engined sports car will occupy a premium role.

For the Spider, Fiat aims to attract younger buyers who look at an accessibly-priced Scion FR-S or Subaru BRZ and will be priced like the Miata MX-5 ($23,500 to $31,225), aiming for similar volumes (5,674 in 2011, compared with around 3,500 for the BMW Z4 or the Mercedes SLK).

The 4C should be priced in the BMW roadster or Mercedes range ($42,000 to $67,000).

As far as I’m concerned, more affordable sports cars is always a good thing. The agreement between Fiat and Mazda likely stipulates just how similar the two cars can be, but it’s hard to imagine too much overlap between two sports cars with fiercely loyal camps. If anything, the fashionista crowd may gravitate towards the Italy narrative that goes with Alfa Romeo, while the older gents who have actually owned an Alfa (and dealt with the various issues associated with them) may be more open to the idea of a Miata.

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Lamborghini Aventador J Will Disturb Luxurious Hairdos Across The Globe Tue, 06 Mar 2012 16:45:41 +0000

Everyone expecting there would be some kind of droptop Aventador – after all, what’s the point of a supercar if the people who bullied you in high school can’t see how rich and successful you are? But we weren’t expecting this.

The Lamborghini Aventador J is actually a one-off, already spoken-for model that will doubtlessly end up somewhere where an Emir makes the laws of the land. It’s fast. There’s no radio, nav system, roof or windows. You will have to wear a helmet to keep the sandstorms out of your face. There will be a proper Aventador roadster coming at some point. The asking price of $2.1 million USD has already been paid for, so that’s it for the Aventador J, until we find it on the internet, wrapped around a lamp post., in addition to graciously providing photography for the Geneva coverage, has a great video of the Aventador J, which you can check out here

Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail Lamborghini-Aventador-J-19 Lamborghini-Aventador-J-14 Lamborghini-Aventador-J-13 Lamborghini-Aventador-J-12 Lamborghini-Aventador-J-11 Lamborghini-Aventador-J-05 Lamborghini Aventador J. Photo courtesy ]]> 10
Review: 2012 Mercedes SLK350 Convertible Thu, 19 Jan 2012 23:28:24 +0000

Luxury roadsters have always been niche vehicles. With the economic implosion over the last decade, that niche has become even smaller. Last year the Mercedes SLK and BMW Z4 each sold less than 3,500 units on our shores, down from over 10,000 each back in 2006 and Canadian sales are roughly a tenth of that. While Mercedes is likely crying in their delicious geflügelsuppe, roadster shoppers benefit by being able to drive one of the most exclusive Mercedes models available on our shores. While the last model awkwardly aped the unholy union of a Mercdes F1 car and a bottlenose dolphin, the new model sells itself with sexy new sheet metal, 29 MPG on the highway and a $54,800 base price.

Now in its third generation Mercedes has finally found a style that fits the SLK. The first generation SLK in 1997 was described by all my college buddies as “cute” – not exactly how a dude wants his potential ride described. The second generation in 2005 struck me as more awkward than Ugly Betty in a southern beauty pageant. I’m not sure what the 2005-2011 SLK looked like inside because I couldn’t bring myself to get close enough to find out. Fortunately for the 50-something, six-figure earning, multiple car owning target buyer as well as the 30-something Silicon Valley professional, the SLK’s new duds are decidedly delicious. From the aggressive hood to the pert little trunk, the SLK looks like the hot love child of an SLS AMG and the recently announced 2013 SL550. Adding to the appeal is one of the best expressions of Mercedes new-found love for angles that (to me at least), is considerably more aggressive than the Porsche Boxster’s slippery sheet metal.

Luxury cars are all about options and features, and the SLK is no different. Our tester wore one of two optional wheel packages; the 5-spoke “AMG” wheels included in the $2,500 “Sport Package.” While AMG doesn’t use said wheels on any AMG car, they are quite attractive, as are the $500 wheels in the stand-alone wheel upgrade. Either option will get you 5-spoke rims and identical tire selections. The sport package also adds a more aggressive (and more SL-esque) front and rear bumper, faux-carbon fiber gauges, and more expressive side sill treatments. Our tester also wore a $720 premium metallic paint job, and had the $1090 lighting package which added bi-xenon headlamps that steer into corners and headlamp washers. The Xenon lamp upgrade seriously aids vision at night, and if you are balking at an $1090 option, it is time to pick a cheaper car.

According to Mercedes, SLK stands for “sportlich leicht kurz.” In English this means sporty, light and short. 300+ HP? Sporty: check. But at 3400lbs, light must be a relative term. The SLK is 17-inches shorter than a Toyota corolla, 10-inches shorter than a Boxster, and 3-inches shorter than a Golf, and the “short” part becomes obvious when anyone over 6-feet tall tries to gain entry into the SLK with the top up. You don’t so much get into the SLK as “put the SLK on.” Despite being a tight entry (due as much to the dimensions as the low ride height) once inside, the 38-inches of headroom and 42.5-inches of leg room are similar to the baby-Porsche and even a Volvo C70 (a four-seat hard-top convertible). Being 6-feet tall, I had no problems getting comfortable in the SLK. My six-foot-five friend however fit snugly ( yet with ample leg room) and found the ride a bit more claustrophobic with the lid up.

The SLK350’s cabin is all high rent as long as you don’t look skyward. Oddly enough some of the mechanicals of the two-piece folding hard-top remain completely uncovered with the lid closed, something you don’t even see in the bargain basement Chrysler convertibles. Aside from this haptic mis-step, the rest of the interior is absolutely top-notch from the soft, cross-stitched leather seats to the thick-rimmed, flat-bottomed sport steering wheel. Our model was equipped with the standard aluminum trim which many reviewers seem to favor, but I’d pony up the $990 to get the burl walnut trim to satisfy my deforestation desires. The real-tree upgrade includes highly lacquered walnut door and center console trim as well as a wood/leather steering wheel and wood shift knob. Strangely not available at any price is Mercedes’ excellent radar cruise control and collision warning system dubbed “Distronic Plus.”

Since our tester was equipped with the aforementioned “Sport Package,” our interior was bathed in red ambient lighting from the doors and a glowing red stripe down both sides of the center console. Also included was the $2,590 “Premium Package” which brings a few options that really ought to be standard on a $54,000 car, namely: the iPod/MP3 player interface and heated seats. On the flip side, the package does also buy the 11-speaker, 500-watt Logic 7 sound system by Harman/Kardon and a pair of “Airscarfs” (yes, I’m told that is the correct plural). The up-level sound system is as crisp as the Logic 7 sound systems in the rest of the top-tier Mercedes lineup but it lacks any bass punch at all. Apparently there was no room to squeeze a subwoofer so if thumping bass tunes are required for your cruising, you might want to look elsewhere. As gimmicky as the “Airscarf” sounds, they proved worthy of the name and kept our topless napes warm as December temperatures in California “plummeted” into the 40s.

Rounding out the gadget list is the $2,150 “Multimedia Package”, also known as Mercedes COMAND. The system comes with XM radio, XM weather (and a short 6 month subscription), voice controlled navigation, voice controlled Bluetooth phone interface, 10GB of usable storage for your music, an SD card reader, and a 6-disc DVD/CD changer. If you have read any of my other late-model Mercedes reviews you will know I’m not the biggest COMAND fan, I find it somewhat awkward and a decent step behind iDrive. I’d rather have COMAND than nothing, but the price tag is a bitter pill to swallow. Also on our option list was the $760 dual-zone climate control option, $650 for keyless-go and a whopping $970 for ultrasonic parking sensors. While parking sensors on something as big as a size-10 cross-trainer seems silly, rearward visibility isn’t that great with the lid closed so you might want to consider coughing up the cash before bashing your $60,000 roadster into a pole, or accidentally cracking the center surround speaker with your elbow as I did. Oops.

Click here to view the embedded video.


If the options above have your head spinning already, as they say on TV: but wait! There’s more! While the SLK doesn’t have a “sunroof” that opens like the VW EOS, in the front section of the two-piece hard top you still have some choices. You can opt for the basic all-metal lid, a “panorama sunroof” which is a fixed, slightly tinted piece of polycarbonate for $500, or the $2,500 variable tint sunroof dubbed “Magic Sky,” which, at its darkest setting, comes as close as you can get to an actual cover in the SLK. Our tester had the $500 plastic porthole option and I have to say, I’d skip it or jump up to the active window. (Given the price, just skip). On a bright sunny day I found myself jamming envelopes, papers, anything I could get my hands on, into the seams around the “sunroof” to block the hot sun and glare. Regardless of your choice, the SLK350 goes topless in 21-seconds flat.

Once the two-piece top is stowed, trunk space drops from 10.1 cubic feet to 6.4. While I find this number a bit disappointing given that there are no back seats to use as a padded cargo area, it is on par with a wide variety of four-seat convertibles and significantly better than the 1.99 cubic feet the Infiniti G37 convertible is left with. There is just about enough room for a weekend away as I was able to fit one computer bag, one camera backpack, and one carry-on rollerbag in the trunk with the top down. Since Mercedes doesn’t offer a feature like Volvo where the roof segments lift up and out of the way to make cargo retrieval easier, the top must be closed to stow or retrieve those larger bags. The Boxster on the other hand gives you 9.9 cubic feet of cargo space at all times, but splits it into his and hers trunks in the front and rear. For safe topless driving the new SLK350 also includes head airbags that pop out of the sides of the seat, active headrests and tiny roll-over hoops behind the seats.

Putting out 302HP at a lofty 6,500 RPM and 273 lb-ft of twist at 3,500 RPM, the new engine drops the SLK’s sprint to 60 by just over half a second (to 5.06 seconds) compared to the former SLK350, thanks to a broader torque curve and a reworked transmission. In addition to being a hair faster, the new 3.5L V6 features a 60-degree bank angle making it considerably smoother than the outgoing 90-degree V6. Joining the new engine is a revised Mercedes 7-speed automatic with three drives modes: Eco, Sport and Manual. As with other Mercedes products, Eco mode causes the transmission to be reluctant to downshift but supposedly improves economy by 7% in mixed driving. Sport mode makes the transmission hold a lower gear for longer and in addition allows this new 7-speed unit to downshift directly from 7th to 3rd for improves padding performance. “Manual” attempts to replicate the paddle shifting tendencies of Infiniti and Jaguar with rev-matched downshifts. Unfortunately the Mercedes transmission has absolutely no sense of urgency when it comes to the flappy-paddles and treats flaps like mere suggestions, not commands. Just leave the transmission in Sport and mash the pedal or put it in Eco and enjoy the “greener” leanings of the new V6. For 2012 EPA numbers are up from 18/25 MPG to 20/29 MPG, and in our 578 miles with the SLK we averaged a respectable 24 miles per gallon.

While the SLK’s primary mission is to be a stylish luxury roadster that’s a cheaper alternative to the six-figure SL, the 2012 baby-Benz makes a compelling argument against the likes of the Porsche Boxster S. The optional ($990) dynamic handling package which includes a variable suspension system and a torque-vectoring rear axle is an absolute most for anyone that wants to have a bit of fun in the twisties and remain parallel to the lane lines. The well-weighted steering, balanced chassis and an engine that sounds like a banshee when pressed to the limit, make getting sideways in the SLK easy, entertaining, slightly unexpected, thoroughly butt-clenching and strangely addictive. Compared to the Boxster S, the more compliant suspension, narrower 225-width front and 245-width rear rubber and nearly 400lb heavier curb weight mean the SLK will never handle as well as the small Porsche (or indeed a Subaru WRX STi that was my mountain dance-partner for a short while) but in my heart of hearts I would have to say I prefer the softer GT characteristics of the SLK. If crazy is what you seek, the SLK55 AMG is dropping soon with a 412HP 5.5L V8 under the hood and a rumored base price around $70,000.

Speaking of pricing, our SLK started at $54,800 and ended up at $67,565 after options. ($720 Diamond White Metallic paint, $630 Bengal Red Premium Leather, $2590 premium package, $1070 lighting package, $2150 Multimedia Package, $500 Panorama Roof, $2500 Sport Package, $760 dual-zone climate control and $970 “parktronic” parking sensors). Price aside, roadsters are such a niche market that somehow the first and second generation SLKs came and went without TTAC taking one for a spin. If the sales numbers are anything to go by, the same happens on dealer lots.  Largely forgotten by shoppers who lay down similar cash for E350s, ML350s or GL350s at Mercedes dealers, buyers are walking right past one of the best Mercedes models available. Forget about the school run, forget about the trailer you never tow and buy an SLK350 as your commuter car. After all, a pair of commuters in an SLK can drive in the 3+ HOV lanes in California and Texas. Sounds practical to me.


Statistics as tested

0-30: 2.08 Seconds

0-60: 5.06 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 13.46 @ 105.5 MPH

Mercedes provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.


2012 Mercedes Benz SLK350, Exterior, rear 3/4, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Mercedes Benz SLK350, Exterior, left side, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Mercedes Benz SLK350, Exterior, left side, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Mercedes Benz SLK350, Exterior, rear top down, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Mercedes Benz SLK350, Exterior, side, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Mercedes Benz SLK350, Exterior, front 3/4, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Mercedes Benz SLK350, Exterior, front, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Mercedes Benz SLK350, Exterior, front, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Mercedes Benz SLK350, Exterior, front 3/4, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Mercedes Benz SLK350, Exterior, rear 3/4, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Mercedes Benz SLK350, Exterior, side, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Mercedes Benz SLK350, Exterior, front, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Mercedes Benz SLK350, Exterior, front, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Mercedes Benz SLK350, Exterior, front, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Mercedes Benz SLK350, Exterior, front 3/4, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Mercedes Benz SLK350, Exterior, rear 3/4, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Mercedes Benz SLK350, Exterior, rear, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Mercedes Benz SLK350, Exterior, rear 3/4, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Mercedes Benz SLK350, Exterior, roll over protection, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Mercedes Benz SLK350, Exterior, SLK350 badge, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Mercedes Benz SLK350, 3.5L engine, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Mercedes Benz SLK350, 3.5L engine, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Mercedes Benz SLK350, Exterior, Mercedes logo, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Mercedes Benz SLK350, Exterior, headlamp, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Mercedes Benz SLK350, folding top operation, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Mercedes Benz SLK350, folding top operation, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Mercedes Benz SLK350, Exterior, top up, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Mercedes Benz SLK350, Exterior, top up, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Mercedes Benz SLK350, Interior, passanger seat, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Mercedes Benz SLK350, Interior, COMAND screen, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Mercedes Benz SLK350, Interior, driver's door, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Mercedes Benz SLK350, Interior, driver's door, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Mercedes Benz SLK350, Interior, steering wheel, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Mercedes Benz SLK350, Interior, driver's seat with air scarf, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Mercedes Benz SLK350, Interior, cockpit, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Mercedes Benz SLK350, Interior, dashboard, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Mercedes Benz SLK350, Interior, seat and airscarf controls, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Mercedes Benz SLK350, Interior, AMG package speedometer, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Mercedes Benz SLK350, Interior, steering wheel controls, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Mercedes Benz SLK350, Interior, hard top switch, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Mercedes Benz SLK350, Interior, trunk space, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Mercedes Benz SLK350, Interior, trunk space, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Mercedes Benz SLK350, Interior, trunk space, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Mercedes Benz SLK350, Interior, driver's door, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes slk350 Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]> 36
Porsche: Why Build The “Baby Boxster” When We Have A “Baby Cayenne”? Mon, 14 Nov 2011 16:18:23 +0000

Do you badly want a new mid-engined Porsche? Is the Boxster/Cayman combo still a bit rich for your blood, given the weak economy? Chances are you have been waiting patiently for news about Porsche’s “Baby Boxster,” the long-discussed, entry-level, flat-four-powered version of Volkswagen’s Bluesport concept. The sad news: you may be waiting quite a bit longer. In an interview with the FT Deutschland, Porsche CEO Matthias Mueller says

There is no decision to develop this car into production. The decision is due soon, but they may well drag on into next year

Why? Well that’s easy: Porsche’s number one priority is to remain the world’s most profitable automaker, with “at least” a 15% operating margin and a 21% return on capital. And it can hit its 200k sales by 2018 goal without adding a sixth or seventh model… thanks to the fact that its fifth model is an entry-level SUV, called the Cajun.

Of course the downturn doesn’t affect a cash cow like the Cajun, but the smallest, lightest, cheapest mid-engined Porsche in modern history may well be off the table. If it does come to market, the earliest release date would be Summer 2014. But if the markets dip again (and in Europe that outcome looks near-certain), the Baby Boxster could be lost forever. One hopes that if that does happen, VW and/or Audi will step up and fill the breach. After all, how are people supposed to get through a recession without affordable, mid-engined roadsters?

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What’s Wrong With This Picture: Jaguar’s 11-Year Itch Edition Wed, 17 Aug 2011 00:44:56 +0000

Slightly over 11 years ago, Jaguar set the car world’s heart a-flutter with the sleek, stunning F-Type concept. Shortly thereafter they said they’d build it, and relentless hype (including a totally unconvincing C&D “First Drive Review” featuring no actual driving impressions) followed. As the years dragged on, it soon became clear that Jaguar would not be building the achingly gorgeous sub-XK roadster (a decision that Robert Farago called “a shocking miscalculation“). But now, with mules already prowling the British countryside, a new baby Jag roadster concept is coming to the Frankfurt Auto Show… and Jaguar tells Autocar it will be a “precursor” to the coming production model. As a big fan of Ian Callum’s work, I’m sure it will look absolutely delicious… but if this somehow turns out to be another F-Type-style tease, Jaguar will be dead to me forever. [UPDATE: video preview after the jump]

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Hyundai/Kia Developing Small Rear-Drive Platform, Kia Roadster Coming First Fri, 20 May 2011 14:23:58 +0000

With VW wading into the budget roadster segment with its forthcoming BlueSport mid-engine roadster, it seems that Kia wants in on the action as well. Reports are surfacing in Europe and the US that the Korean automaker is making good on Peter Schreyer’s threats, and is developing its first roadster since it bought up the tooling and IP for Lotus’s front-drive Elan, which it sold in Korea between 1996 and 1999.

According to AutoBild, the new Kia roadster will be even shorter than the old Elan at around 144 inches, and should weigh about the same as the Miata at “just over 1000 kg” (2,204 lbs, or). With rear-drive, a 200 HP turbo engine, dual-clutch as an option and a mandatory cloth soft top, the new roadster is already being referred to as a “halo” by Kia’s US staff, so there’s no reason to suspect that this will be Euro-only forbidden fruit, although it will likely debut at the Frankfurt Auto Show in 2013. In the meantime, Kia will be developing this roadster’s all-new, rear-drive platform jointly with Hyundai, which should likely offer its own iteration about six months after Kia does (a Toyobaru coupe-fighter, perhaps?). With VW, Toyota, Nissan and now Hyundai-Kia getting into the lightweight rear-drive game, it seems we may just be at the dawning of a new age of unprecedented enthusiast options.

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Review: 2011 Jaguar XKR Mon, 17 Jan 2011 22:01:33 +0000

In 2007 Jaguar started the most intensive make-over in the brand’s history with the redesigned XK. While the look was drop-dead gorgeous, the interior was more evolution than revolution when you consider the direction the XF and new XJ have taken. Now that the world has managed to catch its breath after the shock of the XF and XJ’s ultra-chic modern styling, Jaguar decided to give the XK a thorough refresh in 2010.

The old Jaguar XK often received a bad rap as the old man’s sports car. From the surface, it was easy to dismiss the previous generations of the XK as simply a shorter XJ with a rather plain nose. To address this complaint, Jaguar has altered the size and shape of the proboscis, added some chrome grilles and a set of hood louvers to give the XK a more sinister look. The combination looks more visually interesting than the previous model, but still delivers a much more subtle first impression than the other two-doors in this price class. What sets the XK apart from the styling competition is the sleek side profile and perfectly executed rear. The style is not one that screams something wicked this way comes; that would be less than civilized, less than what consumers expect of Jaguar. Instead of aping the sometimes brash style of the Germans, the swooping lines, long hood, sashless windows and wide fender flares are executed with typical British restraint.

Inside the 2011 XKR the changes are largely limited to the removal of the J-gate shifter in favour of the hockey-puck style “JaguarDrive selector,” improved leather door trim and a revised steering wheel. The puck is unique and quirky looking, but actually ends up being no less frustrating than BMW and Merdedes’ latest “solution” to the “problem” of the classic gear selector. The steering wheel is another slight miss, while it feels great in your hands, the base XF gets the same tiller for half the price. Note to Jag: for 2012, swipe the wheel from the new XJ.

Current Jag owners I spoke with seem concerned that the latest Jag models are getting “too modern.” For those concerned about classic Jaguar styling; how “classic” your XK looks is largely depends on your interior color choice. There are no less than 11 interior leather color combinations up for grabs, and traditionalists would do well to note that the lighter the color the more “traditional” the interior tends to look. Seriously. Fear not Jaguar faithful, the XK can still be equipped with “acres of wood trim.” The option list includes three wood, one metal trim option and something called “piano black” which I would like to think is made from thousands of priceless tiny recycled pianos, but I’m probably wrong. Our press car was fitted with the black-on-black-on-black leather interior with metal trim and the same sluggish nav/infotainment system that garners complaints from reviewers and owners alike. I won’t beat a dead horse on this subject, but will say the new system in the flagship XJ sedan is certainly an improvement.

While we’re on the topic of complaints, not all is rosy inside the XKR. The first thing I found issue with is the rear seat arrangement, or should I say “stitched-leather luggage compartment.” No doubt countless hours were spent on the beautiful stitched leather and alcantara bits rear seat passengers would encounter, the problem is they just won’t fit back there. I’m a fairly averagely sized six-foot-tall person and with the front seat in a comfortable driving position you could have to be a legless-midget to fit back there. Room is so tight that the front seats are programed to prevent contact between seat-back and rear-seat, if you try to recline the fronts too far it starts scooting the bottom of the seat forward. My issue is not that the seats should be usable; I frankly don’t care if I have a 4-seater. The problem is that four seatbelts just restrict the XKR with a happy couple on board from using 3+ person HOV lanes. On the other hand, your briefcases and handbags will never feel as special in anything else.

Pop open the hood or romp on the go-pedal and you will immediately notice the biggest change to the XK: Jag’s new 5L V8. The 2009 XK’s two engine choices were a 300HP naturally-aspirated V8 or a supercharged 420HP V8, both displacing 4.2L. While the old Jag AJ-V8 is a nice engine, the supercharged version delivered an audible supercharger whine when pushed and with “only” 420HP on tap, the big cat always felt out of breath when running with the pack. Detractors may claim the new XK is still that old man’s car in a new-cat-suit with a big engine jammed in. To this I have to say: jam the new 5.0L engine into anything and it could be a winner. Even as lacklustre as the former X-Type was, if Jag had managed to stuff the 510HP V8 into the frame, it too would be a winner. When it comes to engines, it’s not all about power; it’s also about the noise. While the XKR doesn’t posses the XFR’s sublime bellow (I am guessing due to a different exhaust setup due to space constraints), it is never the less one of the most melodious V8 sounds I have ever heard. I’m not usually a fan of convertibles, but the engine note is reason enough for you to drop your top and choose the less-rigid XKR convertible.

Out on the road the new Jaguar Active Differential Control (unique to the R version of the XK) is immediately obvious. The XKR produces more than 125HP more than the base XK yet it applies the power with much greater finesse. While it is really not possible to call any rear-wheel-drive 500+ HP car drama free in the wet, the ADC takes most of the hair-raising drama out of the equation. The system is capable of not only locking the rear diff when it needs to, but it can also torque vector whenever the electronic nannies feel they should. Because the system can disengage itself at any time, it doesn’t feel unnatural the way some limited slip diffs can. The ADC’s activation is always seamless and fluid. Matching the ADC’s precision and feel is the re-tuned active suspension system which delivers a fairly compliant ride on the freeway and enough heft on the track to satisfy most GT buyers. Yep. GT buyers.

In truth the XK and XKR have always been “grand tourers” (Gran Turismos for those who prefer Italian) at heart, a type of car that aims more for gracious pace than maximum-attack. While BMW shoots for a GT-sized sports coupé with their M6, a V10 that screams all the way to its 8,250RPM red-line is not my idea of luxury. I mean F1 is fun and all, but for the city dweller seeking some coupé panache, something more subtle is called for… and that is what the XKR does best. With 461lb-ft of torque available from 2500-5500RPM Jaguar obviously had a choice to make: stuff some massive rubber out back and favour acceleration and handing over ride quality, or stick to Jaguar’s luxury-oriented roots. Jag chose the latter, and rightly so. The already low stock 4.6 second 0-60 time (TTAC verified) could be far lower if the rear end could find more grip. For the sake of comparison, the 2009 M6 runs to 60 in 4.4 seconds. Buyers will be pleased to know that somehow this kitty manages to be a fuel sipper delivering 15/22MPG neatly avoiding any gas guzzler tax. Ok, so fuel sipper is a relative term but Jaguar claims it is the first 500+HP V8 capable of skipping the gas guzzler tax in the USA. That has to count for something, right?

Speaking of the competition, let’s see how the XKR stacks up. BMW’s M6 is still the technology king despite having ended production last year, and the soon-to-be-released 2011 6-series is likely to raise the bar even higher. Still, the M6 is about gadgets and performance, the XKR marches to a slightly more posh drummer. The M6 may be faster, but is also carries a slightly higher price tag and is saddled with a $3,000 gas-guzzler tax due to the epically low 11/17MPG EPA numbers. While BMW’s 7-speed SMG is significantly smoother than the Mercedes Speedshift transmission, it’s still not as silky as the 6-speed ZF unit Jag selected. The M6 will probably always be the top choice for track days, but the XKR will make your vertebrae happier on your daily commute and your bank account fatter at every fill-up.

From the AMG corner we have the SL63 and CL63. The CL may have a real back-seat, but the looks of the CL have never been my cup of tea. At $150,000 for the CL63 and $139,050 for the SL63, it’s easy to just stop at pricing and call the XKR a bargain. The CL550 lacks the grunt of the Jag but does being 4MATIC AWD to bear, at $113,150 it still makes our tester XKR seem like a flat-out bargain at $101,000 as tested.

A wise man I once knew said it is impossible for a human to ever be truly objective. With that admission out of the way I have to say my week with the XKR left me smitten. Not because the XKR is the best car ever made, but because it fit me. While I can say as objectively as possible that the 2010 XKR is quite possibly one of the finest Jaguars ever made and with an available top speed limiter set to 174MPH, it might just be the fastest since the ill-fated Jaguar XJ220. While it may not have the athleticism of the BMW 6-Series, it actually does match the marketing hype on Jag’s website “elegance and beauty combined with power and grace.” Personally I would call it “automotive sex” but that’s probably why nobody hires me for marketing. If you have 100 large to spend on an aristocratic coupé, the XKR should be at or near the top of your list.

Jaguar provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.

Feedback for our Facebook fans: Ronald Balit: it is a well sorted chassis, but with 510 and RWD it’s easy to get yourself in a situation where it feels like the car is trying to kill you. But that’s half the fun, right? Peter Dushenski: I would have it over a Carrera S any day. Over an M6? Close call, but yes I would take the XKR over the current M6, the 2012 M6… maybe not. Darren Williams: it purrs when you start it and growls like a lion when you prod it. Careful, those claws are sharp. David Hoyt: judging by the looks in downtown Los Gatos, the 0-Woman time is very short indeed. Amir Kazi: one or two clubs perhaps. The trunk is fairly shallow.

IMG_0971 IMG_0974 IMG_0962 IMG_0961 IMG_0967 IMG_0989 IMG_0968 IMG_0959 IMG_0964 IMG_0963 IMG_0995 IMG_0984 Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail IMG_0988 IMG_0975 IMG_0972 IMG_0966 IMG_0977 A big cat in the wild... (All photos courtesy: Alex Dykes) IMG_0978 IMG_0986 IMG_0983 IMG_0985 IMG_0981 IMG_0994 IMG_0982

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Review: 2010 Tesla Roadster Sport Wed, 28 Jul 2010 17:51:50 +0000

There’s a great playground in Berkeley, near the Rose Garden, that has a two-story tall twisted and banked concrete slide down the side of a hill, of the sort that cities would never build again in our modern liability-freaked danger-averse era. Blissfully unaware of this, the local kids use torn-up cardboard boxes to reduce their friction and go even faster. While I watched, one kid went sailing off the end, landing flat on his back. He stood up and did a high-five with one of his friends, grinning from ear to ear. “That was hella cool!”

What happens when that kid becomes a 38-year old tenured CS professor? He goes and test drives a Tesla Roadster Sport. We were on a family vacation to the San Francisco Bay Area, and I stopped by the Tesla mothership in Menlo Park, on a whim, to check out their gear in person. On the Friday I arrived, my friendly salesman, Ernie, evinced a pained look when I said that the Roadster wouldn’t really work for me but that I was quite interested in the Model S. Sorry, they didn’t even have the pretty mockup yet, but hopefully they would, some few months to come. I asked if I could test drive a Roadster, regardless. “You know it will handle differently from the Model S, right?” Indeed.

I made an appointment and came back on Sunday afternoon. Ernie photocopied my license and had me sign a one page waiver (notable element: I will not race the car) and then tossed me the keys and said to have it back in 30-45 minutes. No chaperone. (Cue music: Yello’s “Oh Yeah” from Ferris Buhler’s Day Off.)

Okay, what’s a Tesla like in the flesh? The hardest thing about a Tesla is getting in and out. I’m 5’10″, and with the seat all the way back, I only just fit. The seat adjustments and mirrors are all manual, but at least it has power windows. The cockpit is quite cramped, without much spare room for your legs next to the wide shelf of the car frame. I did my drive with the top off (again, a manual process that can only be done standing up). The massive B-pillars probably keep you quite safe in the event of a rollover, but they also create massive blind spots that force you to be extra super careful when you change lanes. Mustn’t hurt the precious.

As other reviewers have pointed out, there’s remarkably little drama in driving a Tesla. When you take your foot off the brake, you get a little bit of forward thrust, not unlike our boring rental Toyota Camry. However, when you’re cruising and you lift all the way off the gas, you get significant back-force from the power regeneration. In practice, in daily driving, you only need the brake for emergency maneuvers, and for holding the car at a red light. Even when driving down a steep hill, you don’t need the brake. I kept expecting it to lug the engine or otherwise misbehave, but there is no engine to lug, so it just slowed down gracefully. Very cool. (The brake lights come on automatically when you fully lift the throttle, as well they should.)

So how does it feel to drive a Tesla? Allow me digress to the first time I drove a Porsche 911 Turbo, the 993-variant, the last of the air-cooled classics without electronic nannies to keep you from killing yourself. I was merging onto a freeway and gave it what seemed like the right amount of gas to get up to speed and pull in. And it was exactly the right amount of gas, until the turbo finished spooling up and sent me blasting forward toward the unforgiving rear end of a semi. Brake!

In the Tesla, there’s zero lag. Not even the smallest bit. In a normal car, the only way you can get close to this experience is to have the engine already howling along high in its RPM power band right before you drop the hammer. With the Tesla, it’s always there, all the time. No drama, no engine growl. You see your opening. Stomp. Sqeeee! Lightspeed. (Yes, the sound is more akin to the capacitors in a big camera strobe charging up than any normal automotive sound. This is no bad thing.) And don’t forget that the Tesla had only one gear and that electric motors have essentially flat torque curves. That means you have the same staggering torque off the line as you have at 80mph. (I initially torque thought I’d write this torque review using the word “torque” about once every five words. Torque. Tesla’s got torque.)

I plotted a route on the freeway then up the 84 to Skyline Blvd. Traffic was generally too thick for me to be too much of a hoon, but there were moments, like when the slow Prius pulled over to let me pass. Stomp. Sqeeeee! Brake. Turn. Sqeeeee! Brake. Traffic. Grrr.

The ride was quiet and tight. The unpowered steering required some effort in the twisties, but was never objectionable. The suspension travel is very short, and small road bumps made the car thud loud enough that I wondered if I broke anything (I didn’t). This car works well on the nice smooth roads in and around my test drive (thank you, California tax payers!), but I imagine it would be far less fun with the potholes and poorly-maintained steets of Houston where I live. One of my coworkers drives an Exige, so at least it’s ostensibly possible. Hmm.

Geek factor: I attended a talk at Stanford in 2007 when the Tesla guys were going on, at length, about issues like environmental impact relative to different charging models (i.e., whether you’ve just gotten yourself a “longer tailpipe” or whether you’ve truly done something worthwhile for the environment). Through all of that, all I could think was “yeah, but what’s it like to drive?” Now I know: it’s hella cool.

The author is, indeed, a tenured faculty member at Rice University in Houston, Texas. Behold the power of academic freedom. Tesla furnished the Roadster Sport for the author’s test driving. The author does not currently own any Tesla stock and does not have any Tesla car on order. Yet.

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What’s Wrong With This Picture: Tesla Roadster Take 2.5 Edition Thu, 01 Jul 2010 15:00:53 +0000

There I was yesterday, nattering away about how Tesla can’t keep its focus, unaware that Tesla was releasing “Version 2.5″ of its Roadster EV. And by the looks of it, Tesla is almost taking the “Ferrari of Silicon Valley” thing too far, by giving its latest roadster a Ferrari 599 GTO-style red-and-black paint job. What Tesla clearly hasn’t learned from Ferrari however, is that you need to offer more than a revised fascia, improved heat management and an optional back-up camera if you want to trumpet something as new. This is what the industry refers to as a facelift or a new model-year. Still, it doesn’t look half bad…

tslaroadster3 tslaroadster4 Brand new, like a fetus... tslaroadster1 tslaroadster2 tslaroadster Picture 190 ]]> 5
What’s Wrong With This Picture: MINI’s Growing Family Edition Thu, 10 Jun 2010 16:53:00 +0000

MINI’s new six-model lineup gets an early preview, as the Cooper, Convertible, Clubman, Countryman, Coupe and Roadster meet up outside MINI’s plant in Oxford, England. The Countryman SUV won’t arrive in the states until February 2011, with the Coupe and Roadster following by six and 12 months respectively.

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What’s Wrong With This Picture: A Solstice For Alfa’s Dark Night Of The Soul Edition Tue, 02 Mar 2010 14:33:26 +0000

With all the drama surrounding Alfa Romeo’s future, it’s heartening to see that the brand is still taking the time to work on core competencies like the emotional drop-top two-seater. Nobody knows for sure if Alfa will survive past the end of this year, but if they do, this is probably how they should celebrate. Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne has been urging Alfa to “find religion,” and soon… happily, the 2uettottanta Concept sure looks like the work of true believers. With just a little Pontiac Solstice thrown in for good measure.
2uettottanta 2uettottanta1 2uettottanta2 2uettottanta3 2uettottanta4

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What’s Wrong With Tesla? How Much Time Do You Have? Fri, 05 Feb 2010 15:25:11 +0000

I’ve been warned before by the B&B not to read too much into the forward-looking statements in SEC filings, especially the ones where companies ruminate over all the things that could still go wrong with their struggling firms. These legal disclosures of worst-case-scenarios often reflect unlikely scenarios and can be downright misleading, so we held off from diving too deep into Tesla’s IPO S-1 filing [complete document here]. Others around the web have jumped in without compunction, and this week has yielded a steady drip of troubling revelations. It’s a wild and woolly collection of issues, but given that people are going to be asked to invest in this nightmare of a company, it’s only fair that we give the grievances an airing.

One serious issue hidden in the forced doom-contemplation exercise is this one, uncovered by Wired Autopia: Tesla doesn’t own the name Tesla in Europe. It has two trademark filings pending, but these

are subject to outstanding opposition proceedings brought by two prior owners of trademarks consisting of the word Tesla

Egads! How did that one slip by Tesla’s leadership? Speaking of which, another worrying issue is the fact that Tesla can’t dump its chief egomaniac officer, Elon Musk, before the Model S goes into production. Wired Autopia teased this nugget out of the S-1 filing, and strangely, it seems that keeping Musk is a condition of Tesla’s DOE loan. Per the S-1:

Our DOE Loan Facility provides that we will be in default under the facility in the event Mr. Musk and certain of his affiliates fail to own, at any time prior to one year after we complete the project relating to the Model S, at least 65% of the capital stock held by Mr. Musk and such affiliates as of the date of the DOE Loan Facility.

This is mainly troubling in the sense that the S-1 reveals Musk “does not devote his full time and attention” to Tesla, a wholly unsurprising disclosure in light of Musk’s other ventures like private space firm start-up Space X. Musk’s history of Nixonian tendencies doesn’t make a strong case for lashing him to the wheel either.

Meanwhile, Wired dug up another interesting bit: Daimler, which invested $50m into Tesla requires Musk to stay in charge until the Model S rolls out, or the end of 2012, whichever comes first (bets, anyone?). Moreover, Daimler’s investment fund Blackstar enjoys

a right of notice on any acquisition proposal we receive for which we determine to engage in further discussions with a potential acquiror or otherwise pursue. Blackstar then has a right, within a specified time period, to submit a competing acquisition proposal.

And yet, Gawker’s Valleywag suggests that Google could be moving to rescue Tesla through some convoluted financial manouvering. This would be the final nail in Tesla’s coffin, proving once and for all that it’s a Silicon Valley toy company (the alleged Google front is also investing in a zeppelin company) rather than the world-changing automaker Musk has thus far touted it as.

A Google-backed buyer is possible in the sense that Daimler is developing its own battery thermal management system and has other, bigger irons in the battery-supplier fire. Besides, Tesla’s deal was only to supply drivetrain components for an EV version of the dead-in-the-water Smart. In short, the only OEM to touch Tesla with a 50-foot pole has largely moved on. Meanwhile, BMW is showing Daimler how the EV-development game is played, getting overenthusiastic early-adopters to shell out $850 per month for the right to be guinea pigs for its MINI E development. Not only is this a smarter model than investing in start-ups like Tesla, it also soaks up the rather limited EV-at-any-price demand that might otherwise spend their money at Tesla.

All in all, the signs don’t look good.

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Tesla’s Profit Claims Are Lies Wed, 03 Feb 2010 00:57:22 +0000

We overlooked a key point in our write-up on Tesla’s IPO plans: the profits Elon Musk has been touting are a mirage. As this balance sheet from Tesla’s IPO prospectus [read the whole thing at the SEC here, it's a giggle] proves, Tesla might have fudged a one-month profit, but the company is hardly on a sustainable footing. Unless you consider seven million bucks in “gross profit” (including Zero Emissions Vehicle credits) enough to offset a nearly $29m operating loss, in which case, I’d like to talk to you about underwriting TTAC’s budget. This also puts into Tesla’s disclosure that it faces declining revenue into some scary perspective. Notch another one up for Farragoian skepticism

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Wild Ass Rumor Of The Day: Meet the 1 Series-based Roadster Thu, 12 Nov 2009 23:20:27 +0000 Z2 rendering

Think the new Z4 is a bloated boulevard cruiser unworthy of the roadster-implying Z badge? We’d tend to agree. Which is why we were chuffed to see renderings of a possible BMW 1 Series-based Z2 roadster in the most recent Auto Motor und Sport (print edition). Several Einser engines will be available say AM und S, up to and including the 306 hp 135i engine. BMW M division boss Kay Segler even hints that an M car based on the 1 series is in the works. This roadster seems like as good a variant as any for the treatment.

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