The Truth About Cars » Sports Sedan The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Thu, 17 Jul 2014 10:00:28 +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 » Sports Sedan Review: 2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI Take Two Wed, 07 Mar 2012 19:32:28 +0000
Glee (noun) [\glē\]:
(a.) exultant high-spirited joy; merriment

(b.) a television series in which smooth-skinned actors in their middle twenties attempt to portray teens navigating the tumultuous rapids of modern adolescence by the application of close-part harmony; immensely popular when it debuted, but trailed off in the second season when it began getting a little preachy and then there was that part where Rachel was all like, “Finn, I need to let you fly free,” and…

(b.) Some TV show which I have never seen.

(c.) The best car in the current Volkswagen Model range.

Whaddya mean it’s pronounced “Gee-El-Eye”?

Now, no review of Volkswagen’s warmed-up compact sedan would be complete without a few Oh! Snap! cracks at how thoroughly Vee-dub has un-pimped the regular Jetta. Fans of the German marque are appalled – appalled I tells ya – at the dumbed-down, embiggened and encheapened Kraut-rolla the once-sprightly Jetta has ballooned into.

‘Twas as though they had wandered into the VW showroom expecting the usual delicious and slightly unreliable bratwurst and been handed an Ikea hot-dog instead. Yes, a bargain at just 99 cents, but made of gym-mat foam and not tasty pork by-products.

Critics were apoplectic, and the buying public responded immediately – by completely ignoring them and snapping up thousands of Jettas. I quite enjoy that, as it must have punctured a few bombastic egos.

Not to worry though, as VW still sells a premium smokie-on-a-bun for all you sausage enthusiasts out there.

And here it is. In profile, the GLI is quite a bit better looking than I remember, a slick blend of sleek aerodynamicism and teutonic crispness set off by the traditionally chunky five-spoke Volkswagen alloys, and-

Oh wait, no, this is a Kia Rio. Oops.

That’s better. No, wait: no it isn’t.

One criticism of the GLI immediately is that it appears to be just fifteen feet of some car. I imagine that if you went down to the Car Store and asked for, “One Car, please. What? Oh I don’t know… German flavour I suppose,” then this is what you’d get.

Yes, it has two-tone, multi-spoke alloy wheels and a colour-matched grille – but what doesn’t these days? I will say that the Glee looks fairly good here in black, but if you take a look at the car Jack drove in his 2.0T Intramural League test, a silver GLI can be about as bland as unsalted porridge.

However, methinks this is a very, very good thing. A Lamborghini Reventon might look like a stealth fighter, but the Glee is actually a stealth car: just another five-seater people-pod; one more unremarkable corpuscle blending in with the flow on an arterial highway. Handy if you’re going to cane it a little, but more on that in a bit.

The interior of the Glee is slightly less stealthy; most notably, that flat-bottomed steering wheel is just the tiniest bit boy-racer. And, as apparently dictated by some international sporty car interior standard first established in the early Eighties, there’s plenty of red stitching everywhere.

Other than that though, it’s a sensible, conservative sort of place to be, with comfortable seats, an immense amount of rear legroom and a cavernous trunk. And there’s another advantage too.

If you were picking up your new fiancee’s parents at the airport, and you didn’t quite get along with them just yet, being in that not-good-enough-for-our-son/daughter zone (that sometimes never goes away), you could be perfectly safe arriving in a GLI.

A GTI? A ‘Speed3? A WRX? Those’d be something different, but this car would elicit a future-father-in-law’s reluctant nod and/or a near-mother-in-law’s mollified sniff. It’s not showy. It’s not racy. It’s sensible and circumspect and even a little bit nice. Maybe this kid’s got a good head on his/her shoulders after all.

Then, on the drive home, you completely. Ruin. Everything.

First, a painful admission. I had championed Subaru’s flat-four turbo as being the best-sounding four-pot on the market today. I was wrong.

It took four different axle-backs on the back of my personal WRX to find the right blend of growly aggression without boorish bellowing. VW got it right straight out of the factory with a thrumpety symphony that’s part panthera tigris purr, and part strafing-run Stuka. The ubiquitous 200hp 2.0T has never sounded better.

As such, you will want to dip into the power reserves early and often, and with a phenomenally low torque peak providing insta-shove around 1700rpm, the Glee provokes… well, just see definition (a.)

Right. Nearly forgot to complain about the lack of a traction control button. Yes, this is either a silly oversight or one of the chintziest cost-cutting measures imaginable, but it didn’t really bother me once.

We live in a world where a Hyundai puts out a turbo-four with a full 25% more power than VW’s version, but there’s more to it than just peak horsepower figures. The Glee isn’t underpowered, and it’s not overpowered. It’s right-powered.

Yes, there are moments where a little more thrust would not have gone amiss, but the whole package is so composed-yet-thrilling that you find yourself willing the car along, wringing it out, diving into the corners and blasting out of them. Meanwhile, your future mother-in-law is clutching her purse with a white-knuckled grip implying that hissed undertones are about to be exchanged with her son/daughter on the subject of That Young Man/Woman.

But what do you care? It’d be easy enough to back off the throttle and find that the GLI is a comfortable cruiser with its softer-than-a-GTI suspension. The Fender-brand stereo is phenomenal and the fuel economy can even be quite good, if you’re gentle.

Yet whenever I climbed into my 6-speed tester, I experienced a kinship of the sort that Tazio Nuvolari must have felt, nursing his somewhat-wheezy Alfa-Romeo to that now-legendary victory over the Auto-Union juggernauts. It seems Mazda isn’t the only company that knows something about Jinba Ittai.

The GLI is a joy to drive, and shockingly, shockingly good in wet weather. Perhaps it’s the relative softness of the suspension, perhaps it’s the soft-compound of the Continental winter tires this tester was equipped with, but the level of grip that the GLI has in a wet corner is extremely surprising and gratifying. But then, so’s the rest of the car.

Business-like exterior, comfortable interior: a sedate-looking sedan that’s capable of thrilling dynamically but prefers not to shout about it. Maybe I’m stretching, but the GLI could just be this generation’s E39 BMW. It’s that good.

But – and here comes a But so big that it should be written in flaming letters three miles high; a Mix-a-lot-sized conjunction that I don’t like (and I cannot lie) – but, it’s still a Volkswagen, and that means Your Mileage May Vary.

After a charming week with the GLI, I found myself sitting at the ferry terminal late at night, waiting to pick up my wife (I’ve been married for coming-on 6 years, the in-laws threw in the towel long ago). Docking was inevitably delayed, and as I waited, the local station began playing Young the Giant’s “My Body.” As the first kicks of the bass drum came through, the back panel of the GLI decided it was time to start buzzing like the trunk of a 90s Civic with a Bazooka tube. At all volumes.

This car, you understand, had all of 1500 miles on the clock, and while press cars generally take more abuse than somebody who expresses a political viewpoint in the comments section of a Youtube video, I generally have to say this failing was unacceptable. Unacceptable, or at least very disappointing.

Volkswagen has always been like this. Some owners have never had a problem, others have had nothing but problems. Still others have had a up-and-down track record that reads like the fortunes of a character on Days of Our Lives. Uh, which I have also never seen.

So can I recommend the GLI? Yes, though not unreservedly. It’s a fantastic car, but I’m not sure how it’s going to be next season.

Volkswagen provided the car reviewed and insurance

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Review: 2012 Volvo S60 T6 AWD R-Design Take Two Sun, 19 Feb 2012 15:00:22 +0000
While Volvo has had the occasional flirtation with performance (the 850R and S60R/V70R twins spring immediately to mind) the Swedish brand is most know for a dedication to safety. It was safety that attracted me to buy my first Volvo, a 1998 S70 T5 (5-speed manual of course), but it was performance that resulted in my second Volvo purchase, a 2006 V70R (6-speed manual). Unlike my brothers, however I had no delusions about the future of the R brand as Volvo doubled-down on their core. The R-Design models are a concession to speed freaks with a Swedish soft spot. Let’s see if they can fill the void.

Much like Audi, Volvo believes in the “one sausage different lengths” school of design. From the S40 to the S80 and even the XC60, the Volvo “look” of “narrow at the shoulder, broad at the hip” is unmistakable, often imitated and undeniably sexy, in a safe, practical sort of way. While the front overhang on the S60 is long compared to some of the German options, the overall look has grown on me since I drove the non-R-Design S60 last year. While the S80 remains the best proportioned of the bunch, the S60′s greenhouse screams four-door-coupe which is inexplicably all the rage. R-design models get a subtle update to the bumper with stabilizing fins, a tiny spoiler, more aggressive exhaust, a new front bumper that ditches half the chrome in favor of a more aggressive pose and a set of 18 inch 5-spoke wheels.

While the outside of the R-Design was treated to the same level of updating the former R models received, the interior gets less love. That’s not to say the interior of the S60 is uncompetitive – the build and parts quality is only a notch behind Audi and a decent step above the Mercedes C-class, there’s just not much inside to say “I got the sporty one” save a small emblem on the steering wheel. True to Volvo’s minimalist style, the buttons are clear, easy to read and easy to reach. If you’re looking for some funky Swedish character you won’t find any in modern Volvos. They are almost Germanic in their arrangement. Speaking of those controls, the slot for the “key” is located fairly high on the dash, so if you don’t pony up $550 for the keyless-go option, your keys will bang around in a fairly undignified fashion. Volvo should make this feature standard in a market where discount Nissans can be had with it.
All S60 models sold in the USA come with Volvo’s 7-inch LCD infotainment system, with or without navigation. Our R-Design tester was equipped with Volvo’s $2,700 “Multimedia Package” which bundles navigation, the backup camera and their premium audio system together. Should you decide to navigate solo it’ll set you back $1,895. Compared to the big hitters in the market, Volvo slots neatly in the middle behind iDrive and MMI but well ahead of Mercedes’ and Lexus’ aging systems and perhaps a tie with Infiniti. Menus are all logically laid out and easy to navigate, iPod and Bluetooth integration are fairly easy. While I prefer a hybrid controller/touchscreen system like Infiniti, I have to say that the steering wheel controls on the Volvo proved a decent and welcome alternative. A week back to back in a BMW proved that while iDrive is by far the more attractive system and more feature rich, Volvo’s interface is easier to use and less distracting.

Rear seat passengers in any of the European small sedans won’t be as happy as they would be in a Lexus ES350 or an American sedan, but in comparison to the A4 and the C-class, the Volvo delivers essentially the same dimensions in the back. While the previous S60R and V70R came with acres of “pearlescent” leather in wacky shades of orange and blue, the R-Design is available with sensible black leather faced seats. As someone who owned a full-leather upholstery V70R, I find myself torn between the feel of real leather on the doors and dash and the hours I had to spend caring for it all.

Volvo’s funky and polarizing 5 cylinder turbo engine is now an item for the history books. While I loved my 5 cylinder Volvos, I have to agree that they were a little different sounding. The S60R/V70R’s 2.5L engine also suffered from heat soak in hot weather. When the S60R/V70Rs were killed, R-Design became a sport and styling exercise at Volvo, so the S60 R-Design’s power bump came as a welcome surprise to the Volvo faithful. Volvo called in Polestar, their preferred tuning company to tweak the 3.0L twin-scroll turbocharged inline 6 for R-Design duty. The result was a modest bump from 300 HP and 325 lb-ft of torque to 325 HP and 354 lb-ft, but that only tells half the story as the torque and horsepower curves are improved compared to the stock engine. The 2011 S60 T6 AWD we tested last January ran to 60 in 5.67 seconds, which was notably behind the S4 and 335i, while the R-Design sprinted to the same number in 5.05. So marked was the difference that I headed to my local Volvo dealer and performed the test again with a T6 and R-Design fresh off the lot and recorded essentially the same figures. We all know BMW underrates their engines, but Volvo? Who knew. If you have access to an AWD dyno (we couldn’t get in one on short notice) let us know in the comment section below and maybe we can work out a rematch with Volvo.

My grandfather used to always tell me not to bring a knife to a gunfight. Apparently Volvo’s engineers didn’t have granddad like mine. The R-Design may bring cool blue-faced gauges and a willing engine to the fight, but sadly the unloved Aisin 6-speed automatic tagged along. It’s not that the Aisin transmission is a belligerent companion – in fact, the unit has been reprogrammed to be more eager to downshift when prodded. The problem is that in the R-Design it’s no less eager to upshift when you enter a corner, a trait that I find more annoying than a transmission that holds a gear but resists downshifting. Perhaps this is because my heart longs for an AWD Volvo with a manual transmission? While I didn’t find this behavior that distressing in the regular S60, I had hoped for at least some paddle shifters and a manual mode that didn’t shift until I requested. The Volvo rumor mill tells me a 6-speed manual may make a return soon, it can’t come fast enough.

The previous V70R and S60R corner carved with curious aptitude and strangely little road feel. The new S60′s electric power assist steering is actually a considerable improvement on the previous system and while it is not as direct and involving as last generation’s 3-series it has about the same amount of road feel as any other EPAS system on the market. I was told some years ago to be careful not to confuse heavy steering with road feel, but in our EPAS world they tend to be the same. The R-Design suffers from a 3,877lb curb weight (almost 60% of which rests over the front wheels) and 235-width rubber. It’s the weight and its distribution rather than the rubber that dogs the S60R in corners, where it exhibits an unwillingness to change direction much like the similarly overweight S4. The S4 delivers a more refined feel while heading off into the bushes.

For reasons that Volvo could not explain, their adaptive suspension system, a truly innovative feature on the S60R and V70R, is only available on the non-R-Design models. This means that should you want the extra power you’re stuck with the stiffer suspension all the time. I would not call the ride harsh, but it is notably stiffer than the standard suspensions one would find in an A4 or 3-series. Price likely has a role to play, with the R-Design starting at $43,375 – more expensive than my 2006 V70R, but significantly cheaper than an Audi S4. Our tester was equipped with the navigation system, rear view camera, up-level audio system, heated seats and washer nozzles, headlight washers, rain-sensing wipers, power retracting side view mirrors and Volvo’s blind spot monitoring system bringing our total up to $48,025. While that sounds like a large price tag, our own Michael Karesh estimated the R-Design undercuts the S4 by some $7,700.

One cannot review a Volvo without discussing safety. From collapsible steering columns, anti-whiplash seats and “anti-submarining” guards to Volvo’s latest active safety systems that will intervene when you fail to, we can easily say the safety box is well and duly ticked. Volvo’s City Safety with “pedestrian detection and full-auto-brake” is slowly working its way through Volvo’s line up and is standard on all S60 models. Personally I think this system should be standard on all Volvo models, even if it means a higher base price. The previous generation City Safety system saved my bacon in the XC60 I reviewed last year, so I’m confident it will do the same here. The S60 takes this system to the next level by detecting pedestrians as long as they are over 31-inches tall. After a week with BMW’s night vision system, which will warn you about pedestrians (but only at night) yet takes no action, I have to say my risk averse side prefers a system that acts instead. I was unable to find a volunteer to stand in front of the system so we could test it. Understandable, as I am told the system errs on the side of running into the obstacle rather than slamming on the brakes if it is unsure. Still, preliminary insurance data indicates that the system does work. Tell us your thoughts in the comment section below.

With the S60 R-Design, Volvo has made a competent AWD sedan that is finally as fast as the Germans offerings. Whet they haven’t done is resurrect the hopes and dreams of the Volvo R line, nor have they created a compelling reason for S4 or 335i buyers to look elsewhereh for their next car. While the R-Design may be far from a replacement for the S60R, it is a vehicle that finally lives up to Volvo’s “naughty” branding by giving Audi A4, 328i and C350 shoppers a viable option from the frigid north.

Volvo provide the vehicle, insurance and one tank go gas for this review

Specifications as tested

0-30 MPH: 1.9 Seconds

0-60 MPH: 5.05 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 13.5 Seconds @ 104 MPH

Observed Average Fuel Economy: 24 MPG over 724 miles


2012 Volvo S60 T6 AWD R-Design, Exterior, front 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Volvo S60 T6 AWD R-Design, Exterior, side, Photography Courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Volvo S60 T6 AWD R-Design, Exterior, side 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Volvo S60 T6 AWD R-Design, Exterior, front 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Volvo S60 T6 AWD R-Design, Exterior, wheel, Photography Courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Volvo S60 T6 AWD R-Design, Exterior, front 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Volvo S60 T6 AWD R-Design, Exterior, front 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Volvo S60 T6 AWD R-Design, Exterior, front 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Volvo S60 T6 AWD R-Design, Exterior, grille, Photography Courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Volvo S60 T6 AWD R-Design, Exterior, rear, Photography Courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Volvo S60 T6 AWD R-Design, Exterior, rear 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Volvo S60 T6 AWD R-Design, Exterior, rear 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Volvo S60 T6 AWD R-Design, Exterior, rear, Photography Courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Volvo S60 T6 AWD R-Design, Exterior, Photography Courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Volvo S60 T6 AWD R-Design, Interior, gauges, Photography Courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Volvo S60 T6 AWD R-Design, Interior, gauges, Photography Courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Volvo S60 T6 AWD R-Design, Interior, infotainment and navigation, Photography Courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Volvo S60 T6 AWD R-Design, Interior, infotainment, Photography Courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Volvo S60 T6 AWD R-Design, Interior, infotainment, Photography Courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Volvo S60 T6 AWD R-Design, Interior, infotainment, Photography Courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Volvo S60 T6 AWD R-Design, Interior, backup camera, Photography Courtesy of Alex L Dykes IMG_5442012 Volvo S60 T6 AWD R-Design, Interior, HVAC and infotainment controls, Photography Courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Volvo S60 T6 AWD R-Design, Interior, keyless go, Photography Courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Volvo S60 T6 AWD R-Design, Interior, seat controls, Photography Courtesy of Alex L Dykes IMG_54522012 Volvo S60 T6 AWD R-Design, Interior, driver's door, Photography Courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Volvo S60 T6 AWD R-Design, Interior, Trunk, Photography Courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Volvo S60 T6 AWD R-Design, Interior, center console, Photography Courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Volvo S60 T6 AWD R-Design, Interior, dash, driver's side, Photography Courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Volvo S60 T6 AWD R-Design, Interior, dashboard, Photography Courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Volvo S60 T6 AWD R-Design, Interior, driver's side dashboard, Photography Courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Volvo S60 T6 AWD R-Design, Interior, rear seats, Photography Courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Volvo S60 T6 AWD R-Design, Interior, rear seats, Photography Courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Volvo S60 T6 AWD R-Design, Interior, rear seats, Photography Courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Volvo S60 T6 AWD R-Design, Interior, rear seats, Photography Courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Volvo S60 T6 AWD R-Design, Interior, steering wheel controls, Photography Courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Volvo S60 T6 AWD R-Design, Interior, steering wheel, Photography Courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Volvo S60 T6 AWD R-Design, 3.0L twin-scroll turbo engine, Photography Courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Volvo S60 T6 AWD R-Design, 3.0L twin-scroll turbo engine, Photography Courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Volvo S60 T6 AWD R-Design, Exterior, front 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Volvo S60 T6 AWD R-Design, Exterior, front 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L Dykes volvo-s60-thumb Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]> 26
Capsule Review: 2012 Buick Regal GS Take Two Mon, 13 Feb 2012 22:36:48 +0000

The official reasoning behind GM failing to bring the Opel Insignia OPC, according to Buick PR staff, is that the all-wheel drive, twin-turbo V6 powered sedan with 321 horsepower “didn’t fit with the brand image”. Right. The real reason is likely that a Buick Regal GS outfitted like this would cost far more than the already expensive $35,310 that GM wants for a car. And if the market for a $35,000 manual transmission Buick is limited, well – imagine who would buy a $45,000-$50,000 AWD Regal.

The 270 horsepower Regal GS is, say it with me front-wheel drive. If  that means “wrong wheel drive” in your books, close the browser window immediately and go back to The Car Lounge. GM has something called a HiPer strut front suspension, a modified MacPherson strut design that reduces torque steer and increases steering feel by playing with the suspension geometry and separating the steering and suspension components. When paired with the adjustable shocks and sticky rubber available on the Regal GS, the system allows the Regal to maintain exceptional composure through the sweeping curves (and crappy pavement) of Northern Michigan.

The sweet chassis is backed up by a 2.0L turbocharged Ecotec making 270 horsepower and 295 lb-ft. While torque steer is present, it’s manageable and only presents briefly. 60 mph comes up in 6.7 seconds according to GM – the Regal GS feels much faster than that. No hero-launches were attempted during our drive, but the Regal GS is what the British rags would call a “fast point-to-point car”. The Regal GS really shines when covering a lot of ground in a short amount of time. A broad torque band, a composed chassis and a docile nature can allow most people to exploit the considerable performance of a Regal GS. On paper, it may not be as impressive as an Audi S4 but in the real world, on an open road, there’s little to suggest that the Regal couldn’t hang with the 4-ringed car. The Brembo brakes on the Regal GS are also outstanding, with great feel through the pedal and strong, consistent performance even with repeated hard uses.

In typical GM fashion, there are more than a couple of flaws that are tough to overlook. The steering is weighty when the “GS” button on the dash is activated, but offers as much feedback as a bad boss. The 6-speed manual seems so promising but delivers so little. The shifter’s throws are a pastiche of every negative adjective in the auto journalism handbook – rubbery, dead-feeling, long and inaccurate. Furthermore, the pedals are totally unsuited to heel-and-toe shifting, making rev matching out of the question unless your feet are child-sized. Heretical as it may be, opting for the automatic gearbox on the Regal GS might not be a bad thing. (At launch just the manual transmission is being offered). Only the most fanatical DIY-shifting types need apply for this dreadful bit of engineering. The interior of the Regal isn’t bad overall, but has a very particular “General Motors” feel. Many of the buttons, cabin materials and readouts are sourced from the common parts bin, something that is barely acceptable on a vehicle that’s ostensibly positioned as a luxury car. The center console is a mess of buttons that’s confusing to the eye. The front seats do a good job of keeping you in place without being uncomfortable, but the back seats are tight. Don’t expect to use them for anything more than taking friends to dinner.

The subtle additions to the exterior, like larger wheels, tasteful chrome accents and dual exhausts help the Regal GS keep a low profile. Order it in an understated color like black or silver and you’ve got a genuine sleeper on your hands. The big hurdle for the Regal GS will be finding buyers, even true enthusiasts, who may not be able to look past its discreet exterior (some may consider it boring) and the front-drive/turbo 4-cylinder powerplant. The notion of “wrong-wheel drive” is laughable given that the Regal GS is a far superior driving machine to the dreadful base CTS trim levels and Audi has no trouble pushing the A4 2.0T (which is about as engaging as a PBS telethon) onto the status-hungry masses.

Which is exactly the problem. A lot of people need to tell their friends just how good their purchases. Think how ridiculous it sounds to the average person that someone bought a turbocharged, stick shift Buick for $35k. Others have suggested it’s not quite up to snuff compared to the competition – that’s nonsense. The Regal GS has enough power to get you some serious speeding tickets. And unlike a BMW 335i, your fuel pump won’t explode. The big problem with the Regal GS is getting consumers to sign on the dotted line. The Regal GS would probably be a fine product for anyone who ever bought a turbo Saab, but how many of those were sold in the last decade or two?

Derek Kreindler originally drove the Buick Regal GS in August, 2011. Buick provided airfare, lodging and meals for the trip to Traverse City, MI.

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Review: 2011 Audi S4 Wed, 16 Nov 2011 20:10:03 +0000

I needed a suitable car for a spirited 500-mile run to the “coolest small town in America,” and back. One leaped to mind: the Audi S4 with its optional active differential. In our first encounter, the current “B8” S4 underwhelmed me. Though quick and capable, it just didn’t feel special. “A4 3.0T” seemed more apt. But that car lacked the trick diff. And metro Detroit’s roads aren’t the most challenging. A re-test was warranted. The roads of Southeastern Ohio and West Virginia would provide it.

My first reaction upon seeing the imola yellow sedan: “So much for stealth.” I needn’t have worried. Though subtly attractive, the S4 is nevertheless a four-door sedan that’s decidedly less sexy than the related S5 coupe. Even in yellow it doesn’t attract unwanted attention from law enforcement the way a sports car would. Scratch the “even in yellow:” against a background of fall foliage the bright hue serves as camouflage. The wheels’ $150 “titanium” finish attractively contrasts with the yellow, but could be obtained for free by simply not washing the regular 19s (the brakes’ plentiful dust is nearly the same color). The tested S4’s black leather interior is similarly tasteful to a fault and all business, with only some dark gray alcantara and aluminum trim to liven the place up. (Silver/black and red/black are available interior color options, though the latter does nix the butt-restraining alcantara and require another $1,000 for this favor.) Audi’s “MMI” interface is much easier to operate here than in the Q5 crossover, as the shifter serves as an armrest while working the system’s knob and foursome of buttons.

The biggest problem with the drive from Detroit to West Virginia: with roads running straight to the horizon (and far beyond), the first 250 miles are mind-numbing. The S4’s performance tires clomp and roar on Michigan’s pockmarked concrete highways, less so on Ohio’s smoother asphalt. Luckily even the S4’s base sound system is quite capable of drowning them out without distortion. The car’s ride, though far from harsh, jiggles enough that putting off rest stops is not an option. Every ripple gets reported to the ears and bladder. Even the S4’s rearview mirror is stiff. The driver’s seat includes four-way power lumbar and provides very good lateral support, but I can’t get comfortable in it. Put less delicately, the seat often puts my ass to sleep. If there had been passengers in the back seat, they would have found it livable but tight. Though the S4’s body structure and interior possesses the solidity and refinement expected of a premium car, it’s not the ideal turnpike cruiser.

A bright spot: hitched to a six-speed manual and driving all four wheels in a 3,847-pound sedan, the 333-horsepower supercharged 3.0-liter V6 covers 25 highway miles on each gallon of gas (the trip computer reports 25.8 while driving nearly 80 MPH, but manual calculations suggest it’s about one MPG high). Drive it like you stole it down a mountain road, and you’ll still observe mid-to-high teens. The previous-generation S4’s 340-horsepower 4.2-liter V8 was far thirstier, with EPA ratings of 13/20 vs. 18/27. Unfortunately, what the engine giveth the fuel gauge taketh away: the latter reliably reported a 0-mile DTE with about three gallons left in the tank.

Once south and east of Columbus the roads become increasingly entertaining, and with Ohio 555, full of tight curves and blind knolls, the fun really begins. The V6, though it lacks the soul of the previous-generation S4’s 340-horsepower 4.2-liter V8, produces an encouraging mechanical whir when revved, some of it courtesy of the supercharger, along with a modest amount of exhaust roar. (With no lag, the blower’s muted whine is the only sign that boost is in play.) The “3.0T” engine is louder here than in the A6 and A7, but still far from too loud. There’s no drone when cruising at highway speeds. Oddly, the six is least refined at idle, where it suffers from a touch of the shakes.


The V6 is so strong through its wide midrange that deep downshifts are rarely called for—a sharp contrast to the Mazda RX-8 I’ll drive the rest of the long weekend. Push down on the accelerator, and the six rockets the car smoothly out of curve exits. This broad torque curve proves especially welcome on West Virginia 14, which is much more heavily traveled than I had hoped. Half the state drives pickups, the other half drives Chevy Cavaliers (which I hereby nominate as the Official State Car of the mountain state). The blown six is ever ready to jump past clots of them whenever the briefest passing zone pops up.

If you need to shift, or simply want to, the S4’s slick, solid, moderate-of-throw stick serves better than Audi shifters of years past. Second can be a bit hard to hit when rushing a downshift, but this is the full extent of its shortcomings. Unlike in late model Volkswagens where the tach was numbered in hundreds, the S4’s rev-meter is numbered in the thousands with a large font and is consequently far easier to read at a glance. A light and/or beep 500 rpm short of the redline would be even better, but wasn’t much missed. Don’t care for a clutch? A seven-speed dual-clutch automated manual is optional here—and the only transmission Europeans can get. On the other hand, they can still get an S4 wagon, while we’re limited to the sedan. An S4 wagon with a manual transmission? No longer offered anywhere.

I take a side trip to hilly Charleston to sample a couple of R-Design Volvos—you’ll read about them later. Afterwards, the S4 is a perfect match for the more convoluted sections of US60 east of Gauley Bridge. At Rainelle I take a shortcut, miss a turn (no nav in this lightly optioned $49,625 car), and end up on a delightfully undulating single-lane ribbon of asphalt. Later, on the way back to Detroit, with a nav system lifted off my old man to warn of impending hairpins, the S4 chews up WV16 (with an especially glorious stretch after it splits from 33) and OH26 once across the Ohio. If anything, the S4 makes driving all but the twistiest bits of these roads too easy.

The Audi’s steering deserves only second billing in the credits. It’s fairly quick, naturally weighted, firm at highway speeds (especially in “sport” mode), and finds its voice as the car’s high limits are approached. Placing the car precisely never poses a challenge. But luxury was clearly a top priority, and the system doesn’t feel as nuanced or as direct as the best. You do your part, and it will do its. Melding as one? It’d rather not.

The S4’s suspension takes up some of the steering’s slack. As mentioned above, though far from harsh it’s communicative even when you don’t care to chat. Firm springs and taut damping keep body motions under control, with just a hint of float in quick transitions to remind you that this isn’t an extreme sport machine. Partly because the V6 weighs less than the old V8, and partly because the differential is now ahead of the transmission (enabling a 55/45 weight distribution), the current S4 doesn’t plow through tight curves like the previous one did. Instead, it feels almost perfectly balanced. The 255/35ZR19 Dunlop SP Sport Maxx tires grip the tarmac tightly as long as no snow is falling. Add in all-wheel-drive and strong, firm, easily modulated brakes, and even the most challenging roads can be tackled with extreme confidence.


The resulting lack of drama can get a bit boring, as discovered in my first drive. But with the optional active differential, progressive, easily controllable oversteer is just a dip into the throttle away. Unlike with the Acura TL’s SH-AWD system, driving sideways isn’t happening without an unpaved road surface or extreme steering inputs. But a tighter line is there for the taking, just dial in the desired number of degrees with your right foot. This agility enhancement should be standard equipment in an “S” car. As is, it’s $1,100 very well spent. I would not buy an S4 without it.

Ultimately, the S4 proved a perfect choice for the trip to Lewisberg. Some other cars would have been more engaging and entertaining. Others would have been more isolating and comfortable. But for moving rapidly along an unfamiliar twisty byway with never a wheel out of place, rain or shine, the S4 could hardly have been beaten. It’ll get you there, quickly and securely and even somewhat efficiently, with plenty of smiles along the way.

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

Michael Karesh operates TrueDelta, an online source of automotive pricing and reliability data.

Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail OH555 Look whats coming on OH26 Co Rte 60-32 Audi S4 US60 Audi S4 trunk Audi S4 rear seat Audi S4 rear quarter near home Audi S4 old Buick Audi S4 OH555 barn Audi S4 interior left Audi S4 interior Audi S4 instrument panel Audi S4 front quarter near home Audi S4 front Audi S4 engine Audi S4 Co Rte 60-32 After the S4's seats 555 takes a hit ]]> 70
Piston Slap: E39 M5, Labor of Lust? Mon, 19 Sep 2011 15:56:16 +0000  

Still The Ultimate...


Jul writes:

Hey Man, I’d like to have your opinion: What do you think of the E39 M5?

Let me rephrase: What would you think about a 98000 miles absolutely mint condition, owned by an older gentleman with 3 or 4 other cars (the E39 not being his daily driver), with VANOS changed, clutch changed, and everything that could break down been changed as a preventive measure, E39 M5? … For $15K?

Wondering if I would treat myself to a potential money pit here buying this beast (that I already test drove, I’m in Love) knowing that I will not be driving it more than…5000 miles a year for the next two years MAX!


Sajeev answers:

I gotta say, E39 M5s are still the best super sedan on the planet. Sure they aren’t the top performer and lack the necessary gadgetry to spank today’s overstyled iron, but the driving experience is purer in the best BMW sedan ever made. The only flaw was the numb steering on-center. Which I quickly overlooked to fall in love with the rest of the package: I drove the finest E39 M5 (Sterling Gray with Caramel Leather) in 2002 and…well…that car completely changed my life.

Go ahead and buy it, but have about $5000 lying around for the next two years, because you could very well use it. Anything with rubber can and will fail at this age: go price a new power steering hose and see for yourself. The pixels (that always fail) on the cluster will be another few hundred. Anything that can possibly wear will do just that, even if the car sits around for most of the time. Time is not on its side, this will be a labor of love.

No wait…a labor of lust. I would buy this car, but you have been warned.

Jul answers:

Hey Sajeev,

Thanks a lot for the super quick reply man, really appreciate. As far as your answer I think we’re on the same page, unfortunately, if I want to be serious…I ride my motorcycle 90% of the time to commute but once in a while I need 4 wheels…So I guess the M5 would be driven about 2 days a week average, not enough to sit and wear all the rubber and seal components but still… As far as the pixel on the meter cluster screen they already started, it made me laugh cuz you’re right: They always do!

Oh well… I think I’m going to keep enjoying the bike and my old car and will wait a bit for a sport sedan… It’s not like I REALLY need it at the moment, but I liked entertaining the idea I think.

Sajeev concludes:

I really want you to buy this car, even if common sense demands otherwise. One thing we need to be clear on: rubber degrades just by sitting around…and once you heat cycle it a few times because you want to take the M5 on a few trips….boing! Something fails! And that’s assuming that all the electrics, leather, paint, suspension bits are like new. Which isn’t the smartest idea.

Tell me how this turns out for you.

Send your queries to . Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.

]]> 46
2013 Lexus GS Tees Off At Pebble Beach Fri, 19 Aug 2011 01:46:03 +0000

In a press release announcing the new 2013 Lexus GS, Lexus group vice president and general manager Mark Templin explains the sports sedan’s mission as follows:

Today, buyers in the mid-size luxury segment want a more engaging driving experience, styling that makes a statement, and a roomier interior package. With the all-new GS, we’re giving them what they asked for, and more.

And if the new GS looked more like the LF-Gh concept, we might agree. But with its toned-down looks failing to move the game past its foregettable forbears (at least in these 2-D images), it seems as though Lexus listen too hard to the customer (for example, creating more space with the same dimensions) and missed an opportunity to create a design that makes a statement that buyers didn’t yet know they couldn’t live without. Tarted-up midsized front-drivers are one thing, but this class of larger, rear-drive sports sedans demands bold yet sophisticated looks… and I’m not convinced this Lexus is “there.”
2013_Lexus_GS_350_001 2013_Lexus_GS_350_002 2013_Lexus_GS_350_003 GS350F_teaser GS450h_teaser Hello GS! Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail

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Is This The First Under-The Skin Look At The 2013 Cadillac ATS? Wed, 29 Jun 2011 16:07:15 +0000


Our sharp-eyed, GM-obsessed buddies over at captured this image from a video that appears to have disappeared from the website, and they’re pretty sure it shows a skin-off look at the forthcoming Cadillac ATS. Based on the troubled (think: 4,000 lbs)Alpha platform that will also underpin the next-gen CTS and Camaro, the ATS is likely to launch with four-cylinder engines in naturally-aspirated and turbocharged forms, with a possible twin-turbo V6 rumored for the “V” version. Unless, of course, GM has made the questionable decision to engineer the platform to take a small-block V8 (which actually would not be much harder to package than a twin-turbo V6). Meanwhile, the big news recently on the ATS front has been GM CEO Dan Akerson’s opinion that the ATS and XTS

are not going to blow the doors off, but they will be very competitive.

We can’t see any front or rear subframes, so rumors of a complex and “sub-optimal” multilink front suspension must remain rumors for now. Otherwise, the body seems to have some strong potential looks-wise. Let’s just hope the entire package is able to deliver something better than what the rumors are suggesting, otherwise GM will have squandered yet another opportunity to crack the lucrative 3-Series market.

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Mission Creep, Weight Problems, Compromise Haunt GM Alpha Platform Tue, 17 May 2011 14:52:21 +0000

Yesterday we gave GM kudos for addressing its lingering vehicle weight issues by redesigning the head of its popular 3.6 liter V6, and shedding 13 lbs in the process. It was, we noted, the kind of news that showed GM is staying focused on the nitty-gritty of product development, sweating the details. But, according to a fascinating piece by GMInsideNews, new-product development at GM still has its issues. Specifically, Cadillac’s development of a new BMW 3-Series fighter, known as ATS after its “Alpha” Platform, has faced more than its fair share of what GMI calls “drama.”

Turf battles, unnecessary “wants” on checklists and ultimately a severe case of “Mission Creep” have created a vehicle that now needs a crash diet, according to GMI’s sources both within GM and at suppliers working on the Alpha/ATS program. For a vehicle that’s taking on an institution like the BMW Dreier (not to mention costing a billion dollars to develop), these are troubling signs indeed.

GMI starts with some history of the Apha program, it’s roots as “Kappa II” which Holden showed as the TT36 Torana Concept back in 2004, before development took a long hiatus. As originally intended, Alpha was to be lightweight and enthusiast-oriented, built only for four-cylinder engines. No wonder it went nowhere inside the RenCen until Cadillac adopted the platform as the basis of a forthcoming small sports sedan. But, as it turns out, Cadillac’s “wish list” for Alpha sowed the roots of its runaway complexity and bloat issues. Cadillac may have saved “Kappa II,” but it also killed off its original promise. Here’s how GMI tells the story:

…as Cadillac became involved with the Alpha program, a sense of deja vu came with it. Much like Cadillac’s initial involvement with the Sigma platform, Cadillac had a long wish-list for the new Alpha platform. This long list quickly turned a light, sporty platform on it’s head, including stops on development several times over the last few years.

Initially Alpha was going to be a four-cylinder only chassis for small premium cars, so naturally development focused on optimizing the Alpha platform for four-cylinder mills in a very light package. Well, Cadillac’s first condition was that Alpha be re-engineered to package a naturally aspirated V-6 engine – and that was non-negotiable. This about-face on engine selection would become the first of at least two engine requests that led to a re-engineering of the Alpha chassis to accommodate the new requirements. More changes (read: more mass and cost) were required for the addition of all-wheel drive.

What started out as a great handling, small RWD program, began it’s mission creep from being very focused to being all things to all people. And as it evolved, certain “hard-points” from previous development were locked in, even though the base program had transformed itself. For example, Alpha was designed with a very sophisticated multi-link front suspension with near perfect geometry for the car as it was developed at that point. That geometry was “locked in”. As the car grew and became heavier with more features and content, that original geometry was no longer optimal. Our sources tell us that GM is now attempting to mask this sub-optimal geometry with chassis tuning rather than doing the right thing and actually fix it.

Now, class, if you were developing a BMW 3-Series competitor, how important would the issues of weight and front suspension geometry be? Very important? Sort of important? Existentially important? Meanwhile, what about AWD? How important would that be? GMI may be reminded of the Sigma’s development, but GM’s history is rife with vehicles that started with a bold, simple vision, only to be re-engineered into mediocrity. A line of driver-oriented, four-cylinder-only, rear-drive small luxury cars is an intimidating step to make… but it could have been distinct, downright unique. And it would have easily handled the CAFE issue that Lutz worried about as ATS development was beginning in earnest in 2008. Heck, BMW is putting a three-banger in its next-gen Dreier… so why was Cadillac so worried about bigger engines and AWD, while glossing over the “locked-in” sub-optimal front suspension?

Regardless of why ATS development has taken the turn that it has, the effects are already clear.

According to sources familiar with the Alpha program both internally at GM and the supplier level, GM has made several other additions to the requirement list of Alpha beyond engines. Among the additions were: a new electronics system and aerodynamic shutters (similar to the Volt).

Each addition has caused another issue to engineer around, thus causing the Alpha program to exceed GM’s mass requirements for the car by nearly 500-pounds. It is unclear how heavy Alpha products will be, but every independent Alpha source GMI has communicated with has indicated that the final curb weight could push 4,000-pounds unless GM puts the program on a mass reduction plan before launch.

So, never mind about all that “GM is focused on weight gain” praise we were lavishing around yesterday. A BMW 335ix with AWD and an autobox only weighs 3,824 lbs… if Cadillac’s ATS comes in “pushing 4,000 lbs” it won’t be a Dreier-fighter, it will be a CTS with less interior room. Which, it turns out, is actually part of the problem.

Another issue the Alpha program has been strapped with is the addition of Alpha+ about halfway through development. The Alpha+ chassis is a larger variant of Alpha, intended for use with the next-generation Cadillac CTS. Naturally, Cadillac has another list of requirements for Alpha+, including the need to accommodate twin-turbo V-6 engines. This has added another layer of complexity to the Alpha program, driving up both costs and mass.

Maybe, just maybe, GM has worked some kind of magic with this Alpha platform that will yield equally exciting Camaros, ATS’s and CTS’s… but that’s a lot of work for one platform. Compromise is almost inevitable. As I wrote on the Alpha prorgam over a year ago now,

Weight and expense problems? Trying to develop a single platform that’s capable of competitively executing every RWD application across several brands? Compromising mainstream variants in order to justify the insane engine requirements of low-volume halo versions? Does any of this sound like a new day for GM’s RWD reputation to you?

Don’t get me wrong: a sub-Zeta RWD platform is a great idea (in Cadillac’s case, probably an existentially necessary one), and my inner enthusiast thrills at the idea of both budget RWD treats and tiny, loony supersedans. But the last thing I want to see is GM spending taxpayer money developing a platform that tries to fill too many niches, only to end up a dud of a compromised-to-death mess.

But it seems that the “all things to all enthusiasts” approach has ruled Alpha platform development, and as a result, well… we’ve got signs of “not good” everywhere. GMI concludes:

Recently GMI has spoken with sources–both internal and supplier–that are working on the Alpha program. According to those sources the Alpha program has been a near constant stream of drama and problems for GM, all of which were compounded by the company’s June 2009 bankruptcy. Even today, as the program nears its final stages of development, problems are still being worked out of the Alpha cars.

GM is now struggling to reduce Alpha’s mass by a quarter-ton. One source indicated that GM is willing to throw all sorts of new composite technologies at the body, structure and powertrain to achieve that goal. Those materials are being thrown at both the Cadillac Alpha cars and the sixth-generation Camaro.

At last report the Cadillac ATS is still slated to launch in mid to late 2012 as a 2013 model-year vehicle.

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Review: Porsche Panamera (4 vs 4S) Mon, 16 May 2011 20:10:07 +0000

The Porsche Panamera: should it exist? Eight years after the introduction of the Cayenne SUV, many enthusiasts remain steadfast in their conviction that Porsche should stick to sports cars with aft-mounted powerplants. While a two-ton four-door is certainly a lesser evil, has Porsche managed to offer one for which there is no available substitute? A $69,000 Cadillac CTS-V performs extremely well, in both objective and subjective terms. Why, then, spend tens of thousands more for a Panamera?

With a disproportionately long midsection and a humped up rear roofline, the Panamera makes a poor first impression. No doubt the designers faced a tough challenge, to take hard points driven by engineering criteria and make the car instantly recognizable as a Porsche. Still, it’s hard to believe that some subtle tweaks wouldn’t vastly improve the design. The Boxster and especially the Cayenne were oddly shaped in their initial iterations, then improved when redesigned. Will the same be the case with the Panamera? As is, the car’s exterior styling isn’t going to compensate for any other weaknesses. Rather, the rest of the car must be even better to compensate for the styling. One success: the Panamera is instantly recognizable as a Porsche.

The Panamera’s interior is more successful, though here again form is driven by function. There are no artfully exaggerated curves. The instrument panel and center console form a simple, subtly tapered T. For the secondary controls Porsche opted to take the road less traveled, and employ a vast array of oversized buttons and switches rather than burying all but the most basic functions in an on-screen menu. Placing these buttons on the center console makes them easy to hit on the fly. Want to adjust the settings for the transmission or the suspension? They’re right there at your fingertips, no need to even lift your elbow off the armrest. Aggressively raking the high center console to provide a large amount of easily viewable and reachable real estate just happens to look suitably sporty in addition to working well. Some hard plastic is evident, most notably on the steering wheel spokes. But everything looks and feels solid. The instrument and door panels are soft to the touch in the standard car and can be covered in stitched leather. Porsche has come a long way since the interiors of the late 1990s 986 Boxster and 996 911. The glossy, light-colored wood in the tested 4S doesn’t suit the character of the car, but there are many other interior trim options.

As soon as you drop into the driver’s seat it’s evident that the Panamera is much different than the CTS and just about every other four-door luxury car. The aforementioned center console is just the start. In sharp contrast to current trends, the instrument panel isn’t much higher than the center console. A Honda Civic might need a huge, visually imposing, two-tiered instrument panel to convey information to the driver, but a Porsche does not. So while the seating position is low, forward visibility is very good. The low, straight lines of the instrument panel and unusually slender front seatbacks only further emphasize the unexpected width of the cabin. The seats are far from cushy, but provide support in the right places, with modestly sized bolsters that nevertheless get the job done. The Cadillac (and every other conventionally packaged four door) feels tall and narrow in comparison. The difference in height between the two cars is actually only three inches, but feels like at least six.

There’s a good reason you sit high in just about every current four-door car: this enables more legroom within a given wheelbase. Yet despite a low seating position and a wheelbase only 1.6 inches longer than that of the CTS, the Panamera’s rear seat is roomy and comfortable. Some credit is due the fairly long wheelbase and humped up rear roofline that make the exterior appear so odd, but these only contribute an inch or two to the equation. Mathematically, the Porsche’s rear seat room just doesn’t seem possible, since more has been taken out of the car’s height than has been added back by these tweaks. Very intelligent interior packaging and seat design deserve much of the credit. Thanks to the slender front seatbacks and expansive windows the view out from the rear seat is much more open than in the average luxury sedan. What you can’t get: a three-person bench. Since only rear buckets separated by a flow-through console are offered, it’s not clear why the Panamera is so wide. For handling?

The emphasis on function continues with the cargo area: entering a field dominated by sedans, the Panamera is a hatchback with split folding rear seatback. You’ll find as much cargo volume in the typical compact hatch, but the Porsche’s versatility is nevertheless a welcome break from the norm.

The Panamera is currently offered with three engines: a 300-horsepower 3.6-liter V6, a 400-horsepower 4.8-liter V8, and a 500-horsepower turbocharged 4.8-liter V8, with a 550-horsepower variant of the last on the way. In terms of power, the Turbo is the closest match for the 556-horsepower CTS-V, so the salesman asked if that’s the one I wanted to drive. This being Michigan, all of the available cars were all-wheel-drive, which is mandatory with the Turbo but optional with the lesser engines. But since the Turbo starts at $136,250 and ends up over twice the price of the CTS-V once typically optioned, I demurred. One of the non-turbocharged cars would be better. By which I meant the V8-powered S. Approaching the car, I noticed that it was actually the Base model, with the V6. I started to walk back in to request the keys to an S when my curiosity got the best of me. Could a V6 actually be a suitable powerplant for a two-ton $90,000 Porsche? So I drove both it and a nearly $120,000 S.

Though the same displacement as the undersquare, narrow-V Volkswagen engine that continues to power the base Cayenne SUV, the Panamera’s V6 is a new direct-injected, oversquare, 90-degree-V unit. It’s essentially Porsche’s V8 less a pair. With its wide V, shorter stroke, and dry sump lubrication system (i.e. no deep oil pan), the new engine should sit much lower than the VW engine would have, enabling both a lower hood and a lower center of gravity.
The base Panamera is quick judging from the rate at which the speedometer needle rotates, and Porsche’s first V6 sounds pleasantry energetic while going about its business, but the engine’s basic competency doesn’t stir the soul. The V6 might be too refined for its own good. The torque curve is so smooth and linear, there’s no point at which it comes alive and then surges to its redline. Which, given the oversquare cylinders, should be much higher than 6,500. Similarly, output should be much closer to 100 horsepower per liter—is Porsche sandbagging to leave room for future upgrades? Currently there’s also not enough torque to throw you back in your seat or to rotate the all-wheel-drive chassis; the rear-wheel-drive car could be more entertaining.

After driving the V6 I was about ready to ascribe the lack of visceral thrills to the car as a whole—but then I drove the V8-powered Panamera 4S. The subjective difference is night and day, even if the objective difference from rest to sixty is only about a second (4.8 vs. 5.8, according to Porsche). It only winds a couple hundred rpm higher, and does no better in power per liter, but the V8 sounds and feels far more energetic than the V6. And this is before tapping the button to open up the $2,950 “sport exhaust,” which releases a bunch more burble. Even hobbled with all-wheel-drive the larger engine rotates the rear end at will, shoves the seat into your back, and encourages bad behavior in ways the V6 doesn’t begin to. Would the Turbo make me feel the same about the normally-aspirated V8? I doubt it. Though down 156 horsepower, the regular V8 can go toe-to-toe with the CTS-V in the visceral thrills department. The Turbo is no doubt quicker still, but the difference is likely a matter of degree rather than of kind.

It helps that the Panamera is substantially lighter than the CTS-V wagon. Even in all-wheel-drive 4S form the large hatch weighs 4,101 pounds, compared to the Cadillac’s 4,398. Clearly some of the extra money spent on the Porsche goes towards some premium, lightweight materials.

In a sign of the times, a third pedal is not available. All of the Panamera’s engines pair with a “PDK” seven-speed dual-clutch automated manual. In casual driving this transmission behaves enough like a conventional automatic, with smooth shifts, that some owners will never realize that it isn’t one. The PDK’s most notable flaw: even in normal mode it sometimes holds a low gear far longer than it has to. This flaw is more than outweighed by the transmissions many strengths. Because, like a conventional manual, the PDK provides a direct mechanical connection between the engine and the wheels, responses to the throttle are stronger and more immediate than with a conventional, torque-converter-equipped automatic. Full-throttle shifts are nearly instantaneous, so minimal momentum and microseconds are lost in the process. Manual shifts can be summoned via buttons on the steering wheel. But this is rarely necessary. Instead, hit the “sport” or “sport plus” button on the console, depending on how aggressive you want the transmission’s gear selections to be. A third pedal might add some needed driver involvement with the V6. But with the V8 one wasn’t much missed.

Even the base Panamera is fitted with huge brakes, 14.2” discs clamped by six-piston calipers up front and 13.0” discs clamped by four-piston calipers in the rear. So strong, fade-free braking is a given. Less common: these strong brakes aren’t touchy in casual driving, provide clear feedback, and are very easy to modulate. Speed can be scrubbed as quickly and precisely as it can be gained.

More than anything else, I was curious about how the Panamera would steer and handle. The steering is light, but immediate, quick, and precise. Though not exactly chatty, there’s good feedback and the long, wide hatch can be intuitively placed exactly where you want it. The harder the Panamera is driven, the smaller and lighter it feels, though the nagging feeling that the car is a couple inches longer and wider than it needs to be never quite goes away. Something just seems wrong about driving a car with a full-sized back seat like a sports car. Yet I couldn’t stop myself from doing it. Balance and poise are superb. Hammer the car through a bumpy curve and it easily maintains it composure, varying not a touch from the chosen line. Even with all-wheel-driven the chassis feels dynamic—especially with the V8 to kick the tail out a notch. The adjustable shocks standard with the V8 and available for $1,990 on the V6 can be employed to further reduce roll and tighten up the chassis, though the difference isn’t large. Want even livelier handling and even flatter cornering? A system that pairs active stabilizer bars with a torque vectoring rear differential is available, but will set you back $5,000 plus another $1,990 for the required air suspension.

Given this handling, it should come as no surprise that the Panamera rides less smoothly than the CTS-V, much less the average luxury sedan. The ride is far from harsh, but it is very firm. Even small bumps and divots can be felt—and heard. The tires clomp loudly across all but the smoothest surfaces. The optional air suspension might help here, but probably cannot perform miracles. A reason not to buy the Panamera? Not for anyone who cares at all about driving. But those who are seeking luxury first and foremost will be happier elsewhere.

The Panamera being a Porsche, it will cost you dearly, especially if you’re not careful with the extensive options list. All-wheel-drive adds $4,000, about double what others charge. Want this or that bit of the interior covered in leather? Larger wheels? Or a special color? They’ll do that—as long as you’re willing to pay. Painted air vent slats? A mere $2,330. Checking all of the boxes will more than double the base price. The tested Panamera 4 was lightly optioned, and still listed for $90,360, well above the $79,925 base price. The moderately optioned 4S, with a base price of $95,725, listed for $119,525. Dimensionally, the new Audi A7 sport hatch is very close to the Panamera, but costs over $20,000 less. The Audi is initially offered only with a 310-horsepower supercharged V6, though, so it competes only with the Panamera V6. Compare the Panamera 4S to a BMW 550 xDrive using TrueDelta’s car price comparison tool, and the feature-adjusted premium for the Porsche approaches $30,000. To be fair, a Maserati Quattroporte is about $30,000 in the other direction, while not steering and handling nearly as well. And an Aston Martin Rapide, with its sharper styling but less usable back seat? If you have to ask…

Ultimately, semi-exotic price notwithstanding, the Panamera can be justified. Porsche didn’t simply copy what others have been doing then attach its marque to the result. Instead, its engineers thoroughly reworked the envelope to make a large four-door car feel as much like a sports car as possible—while still providing above-average levels of comfort and versatility. People have often claimed that BMW’s sedans and those that have tried to beat them at their own game (e.g. the CTS) drive like sports cars. They don’t. Even if a sedan achieves the same test track results as a sports car, if it has the driving position, center of gravity, and suspension geometry of a sedan it will feel like a sedan.

In sharp contrast, the Panamera sits like a sports car and drives like a sports car, albeit a very large one. The V6, though it posts respectable test track times and is far from the embarrassment it could have been, comes up a little short in visceral thrills, at least in its initial iteration. The specs for both the V6 and V8 suggest plenty of headroom for easy upgrades, but higher-winding, more powerful engines are only future possibilities. Though Porsche charges $12,690 for its additional pair of pistons, the V8-powered Panamera S is currently the way to go. Perhaps if someone else had combined sports car dynamics and an adult-friendly back seat in the same car, Porsche would not have had to. Until someone else does, there is no substitute.

Scott Vollink of Suburban Porsche in Farmington Hills, MI, provided the cars. He can be reached at 248-741-7980.

Michael Karesh operates TrueDelta, an online source of automotive pricing and reliability data

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Review: 2010 Suzuki Kizashi Mon, 18 Jan 2010 20:34:17 +0000 100_5987

The dominant Japanese car companies remain uncomfortable with their nationality, doing their best to seem somehow American lest they provoke a political backlash. Even as unabashedly Japanese products have become prevalent in the intertwined worlds of TV, gaming, and toys, I cannot recall a car with so much as a Japanese name prior to Suzuki’s new Kizashi. Why Suzuki? Well, they’re too small in the U.S. to fear a backlash. And tagging a motorcycle Hayabusa didn’t exactly harm its popularity. Why “Kizashi?” The name means “something great is coming.” Well, is it?

100_5990With a name like “Kizashi,” one might expect Suzuki’s new sedan to look distinctively Japanese, or at least distinctive. It doesn’t. Some of the details are nicely done, such as the Lexus-like exhaust outlets. And the proportions are athletically tight. But if anyone noticed the Kizashi during the week I drove it and wondered “what is that?” they were very discreet about it. I suppose we should be thankful that the new corporate front end introduced with the XL7 went no further than the XL7. But anonymous soap bars are so mid-90s, and something about this car should say Suzuki aside from the oversized S on the grille.

The interior is no more Japanese than the exterior. But, for a car priced in the mid-20s, the Kizashi has an exceedingly well-appointed interior. Door pulls are the first thing you touch inside a car, and you grab them every time you get in. Yet these are rarely fully upholstered, even in premium brand luxury sedans. Well, the Kizashi has them, along with luxuriously upholstered upper door panels.

The premium look and feel continues with a woven 100_5714headliner, switchgear that’s a cut or two above the mid-20s norm, compartment lids that open with a dampened glide, and thorough red backlighting. Everything that could possibly be backlit is backlit, down to the hood release and shift paddles. In the midst of this refinement, the long clunky rod used to adjust the instrument panel’s brightness and the slop with which the glove compartment latches stick out more than they otherwise would. A third oversight, and easily the most annoying: while the brightness of the instruments can be adjusted, the bright green lights that announce that the cruise and AWD are engaged cannot be. I avoided using both on the highway to avoid the green lights.

Suzuki similarly aims to impress with the Kizashi’s features list, and generally succeeds. Especially nice to see at this price: an immersive 425-watt Rockford Fosgate sound system, keyless access and ignition (will anyone who owns a car with it ever go back?), rain-sensing wipers (can’t get them on a Cadillac this year), and rear air vents. Some bits missed in their absence: 8-way instead of 4-way adjustment for the power passenger seat (a common omission at this price) and rear reading lamps. Yes, my well-ventilated kids complained when they could not read at night.

100_5712Suzuki is pitching the Kizashi as a driver’s car. The firm front buckets fit the bill, with side bolsters that (for once) actually provide even better lateral support than their appearance suggests they will. The driving position needs work—I had to telescope the wheel all the way out to comfortably reach it, and tilt it a little higher to avoid obstructing the instruments. Size-wise, the Kizashi falls between a compact and a midsize. This translates to a rear seat that is just large enough for the average adult. Those six-feet and up will wish for a true midsize. Kids, on the other hand, will wish for a lower beltline as they’ll struggle to see out of the Kizashi.

About that driver’s car pitch—it’s not based on the engine. A 180-horsepower 2.4-liter four isn’t ever going to impress in a nearly 3,500-pound sedan. With the six-speed manual and front-wheel-drive it might serve fairly well. With the four-wheel-drive and the CVT it mandates, not even close. GM uses active noise cancellation to make a similarly-sized four sound refined in the new Equinox. The Kizashi needs some of that. As is, the 2.4 has the shakes at idle and sounds more like a diesel than VW’s latest TDI south of 4,000 rpm. Too bad it doesn’t also have the low-end pull of a diesel. Acceleration from zero to 20 is downright sluggish. At that point the engine hits its stride and pulls strongly (well, as strongly as it can) until the CVT decides to reel it in.

In normal around-town driving, the CVT often 100_5998decides “mission accomplished” and quickly transitions from an athletic 4,000+ rpm to an engine-lugging 1,500—even though you’re still accelerating. Or at least trying to. I’m not sure there’s a four-cylinder alive that sounds and feels good under load at 1,500 rpm. This one certainly doesn’t. To prevent this, make frequent use of the shift paddles to hold the transmission in one of six predefined ratios.

The CVT clearly wants to maximize fuel economy. Well, in moderate suburban driving the trip computer reported 20.5. My 300-horsepower V8 Lexus with 110,000 miles approaches 20 on the same routes. On the highway the Kizashi struggled to crack 26 even with the 4WD turned off. Turning off 4WD didn’t seem to improve fuel economy to a noticeable degree, perhaps because the system’s extra mass and much of its extra drag are still along for the ride. Oh, yeah, the trip computer might be optimistic—manual measurement of one highway tank returned 24.6 vs. the 26.2 reported by the computer.

T100_5870he driver’s car pitch is based on the Kizashi’s handling. The in-between size and low-profile 18s (on the two top trim levels) should pay dividends here. In casual driving the Kizashi does have the polished, well-dampened feel of a German sport sedan, if VW more than BMW. And yet, when the chips are down, the (almost) sporty steering and suspension both become vague, failing to provide a sense of precision when it’s needed most. Say, when driving one of the curvier sections of the Pennsylvania turnpike, where the Jersey barrier comes uncomfortably close to the side of the car. No I didn’t scrape it, but the Kizashi doesn’t inspire confidence the way the best sport sedans do. At speed the front end becomes a touch floaty, the steering cuts back on communication, and bumps do some of the steering. The ride similarly lacks that final bit of polish, failing to absorb the occasional impact and at times turning jittery, especially for those in the back seat. On the other hand, when the engine isn’t working too hard the interior is quiet.

Unlike the typical all-wheel-drive system, with the Kizashi’s you can lock the car in front-wheel-drive. So, technically speaking, it has a four-wheel-drive system. The only clear benefit: you can find out how much difference driving all four wheels makes. Obviously, there’s more traction on snow-covered roads with the system engaged, enabling the car to be driven more quickly through turns without tripping the traction control system. And you don’t want to trip it—once this system takes power away it’s slow to give it back. But with 4WD engaged the handling is actually less predictable and thus less safe, with a tendency to oversteer not otherwise present. The car’s tail-happiness is easily controlled and even entertaining, but not something for less experienced drivers who simply want to stay out of the ditch. In front-wheel-drive the rear wheels dutifully follow the front ones. On dry roads, 4WD is of limited use until Suzuki offers a more powerful engine. A turbo 2.4 could make a big difference.100_5855

Even after selling cars in the United States for a quarter century, Suzuki remains below the radar. If it wants to be a player here, it needs to offer a car so great that Americans must take notice. Unfortunately, while the Kizashi has definite strengths, most notably the upscale interior and premium feel in casual driving, it’s not that car. The styling is too anonymous, the engine lacks refinement, the CVT could learn a thing or two from Nissan, and the chassis needs another round of tuning. Above all, the Kizashi has far too little personality. There’s a lot to like, but not much to love. Suzuki has been bold with the car’s name. Why not with the car itself? Something great might be coming from Suzuki, but it hasn’t yet arrived.

Vehicle, insurance, and one tank of gas provided by Suzuki

Michael Karesh owns and operates TrueDelta, a source of pricing and reliability data

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