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19 Aug 2014

2014 Audi R8 V8

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2014 Audi R8 V8

Where to even begin with the Audi R8 V8.

Let’s start with the Ferrari 458 Italia, a car that doubles the base price of the Audi. It’s much more fun to drive than it is to talk about; discussions among enthusiasts usually begin with someone saying, “It’s amazing!” and end with everyone else agreeing. Opposite that is the vast, swirling nebula of cars that are often more fun to talk about than they are to drive.

In between, there are very few cars that are as fun to discuss as they are to drive, and this Audi is one. It’s a car that challenges our notions about its actual competitive set and, even better, its philosophical competitive set, its driving experience, its price, its future, its present viewed from the future, and its verifiable and/or potential pedigree.

We recently attempted to sort out some of those notions during ten days in an R8 V8 driving from Munich to Le Mans. We arrived at quite a few answers, and although we walked away from it still confounded, there’s no denying one thing: it is so, so good.

Continue reading 2014 Audi R8 V8

2014 Audi R8 V8 originally appeared on Autoblog on Tue, 19 Aug 2014 11:57:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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14 Aug 2014

2014 Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG S 4Matic Wagon

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2014 Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG S 4Matic Wagon

On a recent, transcontinental flight home I warded off the mild urge to get some work done and started browsing Delta’s list of terrible movies for something that a) I hadn’t seen before, and b) I wouldn’t get in trouble for watching without my wife. I settled on a documentary called Somm, which follows four young and accomplished sommeliers on a mission to pass the mind-bendingly difficult Master Sommelier exam. In between a lot of late-night flash cards, obsequious Windsor knot tying and the popping/sniffing of hundreds of corks, I learned that there is a variety of wine enthusiasm that lives exclusively in the I-don’t-give-a-damn zone of connoisseurship.

Don’t get me wrong, I love wine, and I like to think that I can appreciate the difference between Barolo and Beaujolais, but the subtleties in variance between 2009 Bordeaux from Château Larrivet Haut-Brion or Château Tronquoy-Lalande are lost on me.

There’s a similar story to be told, I think, with this almost completely incomparable 2014 Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG S 4Matic wagon – and I’m not only talking about the coded and lengthy proper name. For guys like me, and a lot of you, there’s something almost sexually compelling about the idea of a 577-horsepower, 590-pound-feet-of-torque V8 engine powering a freaking station wagon. Something primal in the desire for a vehicle that can both carry a rented pressure washer back to the house, and beat a Corvette Stingray out of the Home Depot parking lot.

That combination of things might interest you about as much as the subtle difference between grapes grown on neighboring vineyards in Provence interests me. Rational people, even rational people that like cars, might legitimately look at this $100k rocket boat and scratch their heads at my (our) ardor. But if you care on that level of geekery at all – wine or wagons – chances are good that you care a lot.

Continue reading 2014 Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG S 4Matic Wagon

2014 Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG S 4Matic Wagon originally appeared on Autoblog on Thu, 14 Aug 2014 11:58:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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30 Jul 2014

2014 Acura MDX SH-AWD

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2014 Acura MDX SH-AWD

There are certain vehicles on sale today that are affected by what I call ‘Camry Syndrome.’ Named after Toyota’s ubiquitous family hauler, Camry Syndrome affects a fair number of cars and trucks, many of which are exceedingly popular with consumers.

The issue I have with these vehicles is that while they’re adequate, they lack ambition. Their looks are clean and reasonably attractive, but they’re not particularly stylish, let alone adventuresome or – heaven forbid – polarizing. Their interiors are comfortable and well screwed together, with the sort of popular features that consumers expect at a given price point. Their engines are decently powerful and vocal enough to set the heart very slightly aflutter, yet they’re not too thirsty. Their transmissions are invisible and their rides are best described with whatever buzzword synonym Joe Consumer might come up with for “sporty” or “luxurious.” In short, they’re boring.

In reality, provided they sell well, there’s really nothing wrong with automakers building Camry Syndrome vehicles – they’re reasonably competent at everything and clearly meet a need. The problem is that I want some aspects of my vehicle to be better than others, because contrast breeds character. I wish someone at Acura felt the way I did when it redesigned this MDX for 2014, because for me, there’s so much of this premium crossover that’s merely middle of the road.

Continue reading 2014 Acura MDX SH-AWD

2014 Acura MDX SH-AWD originally appeared on Autoblog on Thu, 15 May 2014 11:57:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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30 Jul 2014

2015 BMW M3 Sedan

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2015 BMW M3 Sedan

BMW’s all-new M3 Sedan is dynamically nearly identical to its two-door M4 Coupe sibling: a stopwatch reveals that both are sub-four-second cars to 60 miles per hour, a racetrack proves that the mechanical twins are equally as adept on a road course and a full afternoon of driving on public roads demonstrates that each possesses talented everyday adaptability.

Yet after driving both BMW models back-to-back over two full days in Portugal, it’s clear there are a few noticeable differences, both objective and subjective, that don’t require instrument testing to reveal. All it takes is a few hours behind the wheel of both cars to conclude that one is slightly more agile, and the other a bit more twitchy. One has better outward visibility, while its counterpart is unquestionably more convenient.

It is the little things – subtleties attained through seat-of-the-pants observations – that eventually allow me to choose a favorite.

Continue reading 2015 BMW M3 Sedan

2015 BMW M3 Sedan originally appeared on Autoblog on Tue, 20 May 2014 12:15:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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30 Jul 2014

2015 Ferrari 458 Speciale

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2015 Ferrari 458 Speciale

I wasted my last hour with the 2015 Ferrari 458 Speciale pacing the polished concrete floor of Home Depot. My quest was to find an industrial-strength adhesive that would permanently bond me to the bright-red Italian’s carbon-fiber racing seat. At that moment, I was determined to spend the rest of my life with this Ferrari – glued behind its F1-inspired steering wheel – selfishly dismissing trivial matters like eating, bathing and all future interaction with my wife and kids.

After reviewing literally hundreds of exceptional vehicles, many considered the finest enthusiast offerings each automaker has to offer, I had finally found my mechanical soulmate – the limited-production 458 Speciale. I somehow became convinced that cementing myself within its spartan cabin would ensure that our love affair would never end. My plan was ingenious, assuming the hardware store still had a large bottle of Gorilla Glue on the shelf.

Simply put, there is no better way to start a weekend than with a gassed-up Rosso Corsa Ferrari 458 Speciale parked in your driveway and instructions to “Enjoy!”

Continue reading 2015 Ferrari 458 Speciale

2015 Ferrari 458 Speciale originally appeared on Autoblog on Wed, 28 May 2014 11:57:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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30 Jul 2014

2015 Alfa Romeo 4C [w/video]

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2015 Alfa Romeo 4C

The dissonance between first look and first wheel turn was jarring.

Alfa Romeo had chosen a suitably hip venue in which to showcase the coupe that will mark the brand’s honest-to-God return to the US market – a graffiti-festooned warehouse housing a boutique furniture company in San Francisco’s Mission District. The curvilinear sports car proved a lovely stylistic counterpoint to its concrete and metal backdrop while feeling perfectly synced with the eye-watering square-footage prices of the environs. Where the young, rich, beautiful people gather, the 2015 Alfa Romeo 4C will be a star.

And wherever they drive, expect things to get pretty loud. No sooner had I doubled over, dropped into the driver’s seat, and fired to life the Alfa’s utterly raucous little 1.7-liter engine, did the ‘symphony’ of the 4C begin. An introductory note of an inevitable chin scrape as I pulled out of the hipster parking lot and into the street was quickly followed by the uncivilized racket of the engine warming up, with only wafer-thin glass to filter the hubbub just behind my head. At a cold idle, the sound isn’t unlike what I’d imagine it would be like to live inside of a Volkswagen TDI engine bay.

Thankfully, as traffic cleared and The City’s streets turned swiftly into undulating coastal roads, the experiential delta between heartthrob looks and project-car manners started to shrink. Unlike the last Alfas to be sold en masse on our shores, this is no beautiful boulevardier. What the 4C is, however, is hot hell’s own driver’s car.

Continue reading 2015 Alfa Romeo 4C [w/video]

2015 Alfa Romeo 4C [w/video] originally appeared on Autoblog on Mon, 16 Jun 2014 11:57:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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30 Jul 2014

2015 Chrysler 200S AWD [UPDATE]

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2015 Chrysler 200S AWD

I love road trips. Honestly, one of the best parts about this job is the freedom we’re given to experience the open road, whether at new car launches or while bombing around with whatever we’re testing on our home turf. But the longer-form road trip is equally special to me, and it’s something I’m always eager to do. Air travel stinks – that’s not news. So if I can drive, I will. And without our dear TSA to fight with, I can pack all the chainsaws and gallon jugs of chocolate milk that I want.

So when it came time to attend the 2014 New York Auto Show this past April, I thought, “Why not drive?” Typically, the route from downtown Detroit to Manhattan is something like 10 hours, but I decided to bake some extra time into the journey and planned for the vast majority of my travels to be off the beaten path. Doing the “avoid expressways” route allows you to see parts of America you’ve never encountered before, and to meet people with stories and opinions that you’ve never heard. It’s a great way to travel if you have the time. There’s something uniquely serene about seeing the country in a great car on a great road.

Let’s talk about that “great car” line for a moment. Ideally, long stretches of backroads are best done in something fast, comfortable and involving – a Porsche 911 comes to mind. Or, another school of thought says to pick some fun little spitfire like the always-lovely Mazda MX-5 Miata, for top-down, sun-drenched fun. But for this trip, I chose the 2015 Chrysler 200, in fully loaded S guise with all-wheel drive. Now, settle down; I’m not about to compare it to either the Porsche or Mazda. The point I’m making is this: after 1,500 test miles under my butt, I can emphatically state that the new 200 is indeed a great car in its own right.

Continue reading 2015 Chrysler 200S AWD [UPDATE]

2015 Chrysler 200S AWD [UPDATE] originally appeared on Autoblog on Mon, 02 Jun 2014 11:57:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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30 Jul 2014

2014 Hyundai Elantra

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2014 Hyundai Elantra

The reality of growing up and living in Detroit is an interesting one. You’re essentially born with minute traces of gasoline in your veins and everyone you know is associated with the auto industry in some way. That’s not an exaggeration. They might be the child of a line worker at the local auto plant, or they may hold down a job at a restaurant frequented by employees at a big supplier, but no matter what, everyone is part of the auto-industry ecosystem.

Because of this, the stories you may have heard about Detroiters and their distaste for foreign cars is, frustratingly, true. Simply put, Toyota and Honda are blatantly disliked by most, while BMW and Mercedes-Benz are merely tolerated. For a car reviewer who prides himself on making egalitarian recommendations, it’s a frustrating environment to live in, particularly when friends and family ask that inevitable question – which is followed by an equally inevitable qualifier – “What should my next car be?” and “One more thing – it can’t be foreign.” It’s this attitude that’s perhaps the reason no one I know even considered buying a Hyundai Elantra.

Despite the fact that the compact sedan is built in Montgomery, AL and that Hyundai maintains a shiny, new, sprawling tech facility less than 45 minutes outside of downtown Detroit, the Elantra’s status as a “foreign” car immediately precludes it from most Motown buyers’ shopping lists. This is to their detriment, as I discovered during a week of testing the refreshed-for-2014 Hyundai Elantra.

Continue reading 2014 Hyundai Elantra

2014 Hyundai Elantra originally appeared on Autoblog on Mon, 23 Jun 2014 12:00:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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30 Jul 2014

2014 Jaguar XJL AWD 3.0

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2014 Jaguar XJL AWD 3.0

A bit of British nobility floods the senses when piloting the 2014 Jaguar XJ. It’s an emotional rush, a perception based on physical surroundings that influence the mind in much the same manner that a stein of pilsner tastes best when consumed in a German beer garden and no sand is softer than that found on a warm Caribbean beach. Jaguar has been assembling cars for nearly 100 years, and few automakers are as equally adept at capturing aristocracy and timelessness within the rich cabins of their luxury offerings.

Jaguar would have no concern if it were the only game in town, but that’s far from the truth. The premium full-size luxury segment, which includes vehicles hovering just under or at the six-figure mark, is a contentious grouping that includes the Audi A8, BMW 7 Series, Lexus LS, Mercedes-Benz S-Class and Porsche Panamera. Each of those brings its own game to the battle, and none are easy to dismiss.

To better understand the British perspective and evaluate its latest offering on a land without royalty, I recently spent a week with a long-wheelbase, all-wheel-drive Jaguar XJ in Southern California.

Continue reading 2014 Jaguar XJL AWD 3.0

2014 Jaguar XJL AWD 3.0 originally appeared on Autoblog on Wed, 25 Jun 2014 12:01:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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30 Jul 2014

2014 Mini Cooper S

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2014 Mini Cooper S

One of the big challenges as an automotive journalist is reviewing cars that you have a personal connection to. I have a strong passion for Minis. My first new car was a 2004 Cooper S, and I still own a 2006 model. It’s this affinity that’s left me with a general disdain of the 2007 to 2013 model relative to my first-gen.

The last-generation cars, with their turbocharged engines, softer suspensions, duller steering and homelier looks are, in my mind, inferior to their 2002 to 2006 predecessors. As a car reviewer, though, I couldn’t in good conscience argue the same point. The R56, as the last-gen cars were known internally and by enthusiasts, was a better-balanced vehicle that retained the lion’s share of the abilities and character of the first-generation, R53 Cooper S, but they were better thought out, better designed, more livable, and felt like more complete products.

Before the third-generation of the reborn Mini Cooper S landed in my driveway, I couldn’t help but wonder whether the model would continue its slide towards mass appeal, or if it would re-embrace the enthusiast realm with a stronger driver-focused mission. As I found out during my week with the car, it was a bit of both.

Continue reading 2014 Mini Cooper S

2014 Mini Cooper S originally appeared on Autoblog on Fri, 27 Jun 2014 11:57:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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