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24 Nov 2014

2015 Volkswagen Golf R [w/video]

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2015 Volkswagen Golf R

Volkswagen hired a photographer to come shoot the handful of journalists that it brought to drive the 2015 Golf R at Buttonwillow Raceway north of Los Angeles. This fact, though unremarkable in and of itself, was something I hadn’t noticed until I was well into my track time – probably ten laps deep on a day that would see me run twice that number. In any event, I noticed the intrepid shooter as he was sprinting from one side of the track to the other somewhere before Turn 2, while I was barreling down the main straightaway, still looking through Turn 1.

In the roughly two-mile configuration of the track that I drove, Buttonwillow is a big, wide-open circuit, largely flat and with excellent overall visibility. On that layout, and just hours into my Golf R experience, I’d already become confident in endeavoring to push the limits of VW’s latest blistering hatch. In fact, the easy nature of driving the thing quickly had me overestimating my pace. So when I saw the photog sprint across the tarmac I instinctively slowed way too much, way too early for Turn 1.

Looking back at the incident after I’d pitted for the session, I laughed at myself, knowing I’d have had to be driving almost double my actual speed to put the camera guy in any real danger of being hit. But the experience crystallized what my full test of the R bore out: this is a car that makes you feel much faster than you otherwise would, at least in a competition setting.

The 2015 Golf R is an über hatch that will flatter those hyper-enthusiasts passionate enough to splash out on its steep price tag, but without threatening sales of core models like the GTI and its ilk. That’s a good thing for the VW fanboys, to be sure, and, I’d argue, a great thing for the strength of the German brand overall.

Continue reading 2015 Volkswagen Golf R [w/video]

2015 Volkswagen Golf R [w/video] originally appeared on Autoblog on Mon, 24 Nov 2014 11:59:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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04 Nov 2014

2015 Cadillac ATS Coupe

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2015 Cadillac ATS Coupe

Cadillac has become a very, very different company since the dawn of the new millenium. Its turn-of-the-century lineup, consisting of staid offerings like the Seville, DeVille and Eldorado, represented the Old Cadillac. These cars were plagued with Old GM quality issues and catered to a more elderly audience. Since the company’s Art and Science design language arrived, though, we’ve seen Cadillac flesh out its lineup in a big way, introducing notable and (so far) enduring products, like the the CTS, SRX and most recently, the ATS.

With the CTS tackling the 5 Series segment and the SRX duking it out with the Lexus RX and its classmates, the ATS has been left with the tough task of battling the BMW 3 Series, Audi A4 and Mercedes-Benz C-Class, among others. Critically, at least, it has excelled in this role, but it’s still working on finding its feet sales-wise. On paper, broadening the model range by adding a two-door personal luxury coupe could help.

After a week with the ATS Coupe, though, we’ve found a car that, while retaining the standard model’s excellent driving character, doesn’t quite offer enough visual excitement to stand up to other cars in its segment.

Continue reading 2015 Cadillac ATS Coupe

2015 Cadillac ATS Coupe originally appeared on Autoblog on Thu, 30 Oct 2014 11:57:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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23 Oct 2014

2015 Subaru Outback

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2015 Subaru Outback

Realistically, many enthusiasts give horrible, horrible car buying advice. They will recommend something bizarre, inappropriately high performance, compromised or utterly impractical for a given consumer’s needs, and they’ll almost never recommend something that makes sense. And then they’ll come up with 3.7 million reasons why the leading vehicle someone is thinking about is a bad choice.

Or maybe that’s just what I do.

Regardless, if you poke, prod, bother or just get us drunk enough, eventually you’ll begin getting honest feedback. And more than likely, we’ll tell you, in hushed tones, about the many virtues of very, very boring cars. We’ll talk about why the Toyota Camry is actually a pretty decent purchase or we’ll explain how spacious and feature laden the Nissan Versa is.

The reason for withholding recommendations of bland offerings like the aforementioned Toyota and Nissan is that there are not really a lot of vehicles that suit the often peculiar whims of the auto enthusiast while also ticking the boxes of the average consumer. Unless, of course, you’re looking to drop about $30,000 on an all-wheel-drive crossover, because that’s an easy one to answer – just buy a Subaru Outback.

As a high-riding, sedan-based crossover, it’ll appeal to your mundane, practical-minded sensibilities, while as a nouveau wagon with a boxer engine and some personality, enthusiasts won’t feel guilty about recommending it to you. I came to this conclusion following a long week with a 2015 Outback Premium 2.5i, the brand’s mid-range, volume-level entry.

Continue reading 2015 Subaru Outback

2015 Subaru Outback originally appeared on Autoblog on Wed, 22 Oct 2014 11:57:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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16 Oct 2014

2015 Audi A3

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2015 Audi A3 2.0T Quattro

What kind of watch do you wear?

Especially today, when wearing a wristwatch is practically obviated by the near-ubiquitous use of cellphones, the timepiece found on one’s arm makes a statement about how people perceive themselves.

A sport watch from Nike or Garmin would seem to indicate enthusiasm for athletic pursuit. Inexpensive fashion statements from Nixon or Nooka could signify a love of high design. Splashing out on a true luxury timepiece from Rolex, Bell & Ross or Breitling serves as a sort of human plumage display to connote, “I have thousands of dollars – at least – of disposable income.”

Any yet, every one of those mechanized bracelets is less functional than the iPhone or Galaxy in your front pocket.

A similar lesson can be seen in the world of luxury cars – and it’s especially poignant in the hot entry-level premium segment that Audi’s A3 has made its home. Looked at under the harsh lens of the non-premium car market, there are clearly vehicles that offer more – or at least equal – in terms of performance and feature-set than does the $29,900-base A3. That said, just as that vintage Omega Seamaster says something on your wrist that that admittedly more versatile Casio G-Shock does not, for some of us, piloting the sleekly designed Audi point-of-entry makes a kind of sense that the larger, more powerful and equally surefooted Subaru Legacy 3.6R, for example, does not.

Continue reading 2015 Audi A3

2015 Audi A3 originally appeared on Autoblog on Wed, 15 Oct 2014 11:58:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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30 Sep 2014

2014 Cadillac ELR

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2014 Cadillac ELR

Well, this is awkward.

A few years ago, Audi Of America’s boss Johan de Nysschen went on record describing the Chevrolet Volt as “a car for idiots.” Fast-forward to earlier this summer, and the well-regarded executive suddenly found himself in a new office with new business cards bearing the title: President, Cadillac. That means that among other challenges, de Nysschen is now tasked with selling the ELR, a car that is, at its core, a Volt in a sportier, less utile frock wearing a price tag that’s twice as expensive.

Frankly, it’s not a prospect we imagine the South African executive and recent Infiniti boss relishes. Just about nobody is buying the ELR – Cadillac has sold but 774 examples of its plug-in hybrid coupe this year and it presently has an almost a 200-day supply according to Automotive News. What’s more, those numbers actually represent big improvements over just a few months ago, before GM started heaping on the incentives. The cynic in us says that the bad news for De Nysschen is that he’s got a borderline sales-proof car in his new corporate garage. The good news? Cadillac customers apparently aren’t idiots.

Before we go any further, let’s get back to that elephant in the room: price. There’s no way to be kind here – General Motors has saddled its 2014 Cadillac ELR with a scarcely believable bottom line: $75,000. Even arithmophobes like us can work out that that means it costs as much as a base ATS Coupe and a Chevrolet Volt combined. That, in our book, is unforgivably bad math – the sort of computation logic understood only by buyers of the Aston Martin Cygnet, or perhaps those who signed off on the Allante’s assembly process back in the ’80s, an arrangement that involved flying uncompleted cars over the Atlantic in custom-outfitted Boeing 747s. Twice.

Continue reading 2014 Cadillac ELR

2014 Cadillac ELR originally appeared on Autoblog on Mon, 29 Sep 2014 11:57:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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27 Sep 2014

2014 Pagani Huayra

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2014 Pagani Huayra

As I pilot the Pagani Huayra down a busy Los Angeles freeway, I can’t help but grow increasingly concerned about my psychological state – I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that I’m going a bit mad.

My default condition as a law-abiding citizen is to typically play it safe to avoid incarceration, yet I think that part of my personality leapt out of my moving car a few miles back. My residual self has been left with an overwhelming urge to mash the Huayra’s beautifully sculpted alloy accelerator pedal and hold on as a twin-turbocharged V12 releases its fury. I long to be molded into the seat as 730 horsepower turns the loathed, congested 405 freeway ahead of me into a blur. The urge to launch this carbon-fiber coupe clear into the next county at hyperspeed – regardless of any legal or life-threatening penalties – is terrifyingly overpowering.

Wisely, I’ve got a passenger belted next to me whose shirt is embroidered with a Pagani logo. The gentleman comes with the car and assumes the role of babysitter, technical expert, therapist and counselor – trained to preserve both the $1.84-million hypercar and my driver’s license.

Continue reading 2014 Pagani Huayra

2014 Pagani Huayra originally appeared on Autoblog on Fri, 26 Sep 2014 11:57:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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25 Sep 2014

2015 GMC Canyon

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As discussed earlier today, the 2015 Chevrolet Colorado is a new standout in terms of midsize trucks. But the Colorado wasn’t the only pickup the General Motors team brought to San Diego for us to sample. Also along for the ride was a pack of GMC Canyons, the slightly more expensive and polished platform-mate to the Chevy.

There’s no question that the Canyon and the Colorado are a lot alike under the skin – almost entirely, in fact – so GMC has worked to first create some daylight between the two trucks by way of sheetmetal. This is most obvious from the front view, where the blocky and blingy GMC grille replaces the more subdued tone and shape seen on the Chevy’s nose. Projector headlights with LED running lights come as standard, and, again, with the squared-off look that is typical of the brand. 16-inch aluminum wheels come stock on the GMC, too, with the 17-inchers seen on my photo truck offered as standard equipment on the top-trim SLT.

GMC considers the Canyon to be the only premium truck in the segment (which is clearly true), and the team has spent a ton of time and effort to get the interior correct to prove out that point. “Any trim that looks like metal, is metal,” I was told at the product briefing, a certain indication that the company is serious about bringing a new class of buyer to a truck segment that it hopes to redefine.

But it’s not all chrome and heated leather seats. GMC has delivered a truck that’s pretty swell to spend time in, from soup to nuts.

Driving Notes

  • The 2.5-liter four-cylinder that was the focus of my First Drive of the Colorado is the standard engine for the Canyon as well, but the truck I drove was equipped with the far punchier (and thirstier at 17 miles per gallon city, 24 highway) 3.6-liter V6. Not only does the six make a healthy 305 horsepower and 269 pound-feet of torque, but the throttle modulation and automatic transmission programming both work to let you take advantage of the power in short order.
  • For the sake of reference, though GMC doesn’t offer up any performance specs like 0-60 times, I can say that the Crew Cab, four-wheel-drive Canyon I drove weighs in at roughly 4,420 pounds, which would give it a power-to-weight ratio that’s just slightly better than a Honda Civic Si. Tell this pickup to giddy-up, and she’ll go.
  • Perhaps more pertinently, she’ll also tow. GMC asks a reasonable $250 for the trailering package, which adds a two-inch receiver hitch and four- and seven-pin connectors. So equipped, the midsize Canyon can pull a legit 7,000 pounds, or, as I like to call it “more boat than I can afford.”
  • Unladen, handling offered by the GMC truck is part and parcel to its Chevy contemporary. Steering is stable at speed but not quick nor full of feedback, and pushing the Canyon over, well, canyon roads, doesn’t yield particularly stirring results. The ride control is excellent however, when it comes to ironing out uneven surfaces. A cruiser, not a carver.
  • As I alluded to above, the interior of this all-boxes-ticked GMC is a pretty excellent place to drive in. Leather and soft-touch surfaces abound here, with nice stitching on the instrument panel, and hide wrappers found on both the steering wheel and the shift lever. Not as cowboyed up as Ram’s Longhorn Laramie package, I’ll grant you, but slightly more sophisticated than that, too.
  • Noise, vibration and harshness levels are all very low for a pickup truck – they’re even pretty low when compared with sedans, frankly. I caught a bit of wind rush off of those big, chromed mirrors at highway speeds, but otherwise this is a nice space to cruise and kick the Bose stereo.
  • Which brings us to equipment offered. The un-optioned Canyon starts with things like a backup camera, automatic transmission, LED lighting and a chromed rear bumper, but for my money it starts to separate itself meaningfully from the Chevy at the mid-level SLE trim. Stickering for $30,980 you get 17-inch wheels, power side mirrors, foglamps, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, the far-nicer eight-inch infotainment display and the ability to turn use your truck as a 4G LTE hotspot via OnStar.
  • GMC made a big deal about the driveability offered with a midsize footprint, and I can agree that something Canyon-sized feels more graceful around town than does a fullsizer. Still, there’ll be a learning curve for any drivers transitioning out of a compact crossover – like a Honda CR-V or Ford Escape – especially with the longer (six-feet, two-inches) bed size. Having that rear camera and good forward visibility should help in parking lots though.

With a premium look and feel, and the ability to option in to a very large number of bells and whistles, GMC really is breaking new ground for a truck segment that has mostly existed for value shoppers, thus far. The nearly-$40k-as-tested price of the truck you see here proves that Canyon can get expensive in a hurry. But if lessons about luxury-added-specifications can be gleaned from the fullsize truck market though – and GMC most certainly thinks they can ­- than there could be a lot of money to be found in this new niche.

Profitable or not though, I can at least report that the Canyon’s mixture of good looks, great power, and smooth manners makes for a welcome driving companion. With its brother a Chevy offering a more blue-collar version of the same basic goodness, GM has a one-two midsize punch that could knock the market for a loop.

2015 GMC Canyon originally appeared on Autoblog on Wed, 24 Sep 2014 15:28:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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18 Sep 2014

2015 Kia Sedona

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2015 Kia Sedona

Minivan sales have stagnated in recent years, and Kia tells me that no fewer than 15 models have been completely eliminated from the market since crossovers rose to prominence. So why in the world is the company not only sticking by the Sedona, but also actively investing in it, giving it a complete overhaul for the 2015 model year?

The Korean automaker isn’t convinced that the minivan’s “family box” reputation is truly warranted, and it sees an opportunity to snare younger, more active buyers by designing, engineering and marketing the Sedona as something versatile, edgy and comfortable. While that logic may seem both a bit familiar and somewhat far-fetched, Kia says forty-five percent of minivan buyers don’t actually have kids and are instead simply looking for space, so the approach should be based at least in part on sound reasoning.

I spent an afternoon in Northern California behind the wheel of Kia’s new non-minivan with a healthy does of skepticism about its new strategy, but an open mind, as well. Does the Sedona’s execution live up to Kia’s lofty criteria and expectations of what a nontraditional minivan should be? Will buyers ditch their CUVs for something with a little more junk in the trunk? Read on to find out.

Continue reading 2015 Kia Sedona

2015 Kia Sedona originally appeared on Autoblog on Wed, 17 Sep 2014 11:59:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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11 Sep 2014

2016 Audi TT [w/video]

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What came first, the metrosexual or the Audi TT? While it was close, the descriptor-turned-epithet preceded the 1995 concept car by one year. However, they were both notable cultural evolutions and they happened to work together perfectly. Hugh Grant, playing the cad Will Freeman in the 2002 film About a Boy, could not have chosen a better example of character than his silver TT.

A decade later, the original TT was still important enough that when rumors of the third-generation coupe began to surface in late 2012, the most exciting fantasy was that the 2014 coupe might “recapture some of the distinctiveness and impact” of a 16-year-old car (the TT came to market in 1998). Even speculation by dedicated Audi observers thought the brand would do something novel, even if not mimicry. The obvious takeaway: no one was going to be lighting any candles for the departed second generation. All of that is why when the first leaked image slipped onto the Internet, people began to get suspicious. When the third generation took the stage at the Geneva Motor Show, we could almost hear the digital deflation over the Ethernet, our poll results notwithstanding.

Yet it’s still the TT, and in spite of having seen its interior and virtual cockpit and clocked its specs, we couldn’t judge it before heading to Marbella, Spain to drive it. What we found out was while it’s better than the second generation, it’s still very much a TT.

Continue reading 2016 Audi TT [w/video]

2016 Audi TT [w/video] originally appeared on Autoblog on Wed, 10 Sep 2014 11:58:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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03 Sep 2014

2015 Jaguar F-Type V6 S Coupe

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2015 Jaguar F-Type V6 S Coupe

My first, ill-fated job in the auto world was at an exotic car dealer in metro Detroit. The job itself sucked, but the cars, they were exceptional. Amidst a sea of Tiptronic Porsche Boxsters, first-gen Mercedes-Benz SLKs and abused second-generation Range Rovers, there were some real gems.

In particular, I have fond memories of a trio of undrivable Jaguar E-Types. Two Series II coupes as well as a Series III convertible (that featured a mostly broken roof) spent the entirety of my brief tenure at the dealership in the back of the musty service garage. I’d make side trips through there just to see the trio of E-Types, which rarely failed to put a big, ridiculous grin on my face.

Since that time in the summer of 2005, there hasn’t been a single Jag that’s been capable of eliciting the same goofy smile. Not the XFR-S, with its un-aristocratic wing, nor the XKR-S. At the 2013 Los Angeles Auto Show, though, Jaguar introduced this F-Type Coupe. Sure, the droptop model had been around for a bit, but I thought it was the new coupe that most captured the E-Type’s classic aesthetic, with a swooping roofline, those gorgeous rear haunches and a long, powerful hood. I had to drive one.

It was lucky, then, that a hardtop F-Type V6 S arrived in my driveway not long ago. I’m not sure who at press fleet operations drew the lucky assignment of configuring the company’s F-Type media cars, but I’d like to tip my hat to them. My tester showed up in as classically perfect a color scheme as you’ll find – British Racing Green with tan-and-black interior upholstery. The 19-inch Centrifuge wheels it wore did their part, too, with the alloys being the closest thing Jaguar offers to the original multi-spoke wheels of the E-Type.

These aesthetic decisions only served to heighten the attractiveness of the Coupe. This is a stunning vehicle in person, with a bevy of interesting curves and angles that force you to stop, linger and stare. The muscular haunches at the back are complemented by the chiseled hood and aggressive front fascia. The roofline forms a single, unbroken arc, as it forms in the A-pillars and runs to its abrupt end at the F-Type’s tail. The wide, slim, wraparound taillights are intriguing at night, and are unlike anything else on the road, while the headlights and their LED accents give off a predatory look that similar designs like the Chevrolet Corvette and Dodge Viper only wish they could emulate.

Continue reading 2015 Jaguar F-Type V6 S Coupe

2015 Jaguar F-Type V6 S Coupe originally appeared on Autoblog on Wed, 03 Sep 2014 11:57:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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