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13 May 2014

2015 BMW M4 Coupe

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2015 BMW M4 Coupe

Launched out of the seat by a huge, unexpected dip in the road, yet still held largely in place by the smooth webbing of my safety belt, I clench my teeth waiting to come back to earth. A tenth of a second later, the M4 Coupe touches down and my body is slammed into the leather seat cushion. All of the air is forced out of my lungs upon landing, but the BMW’s chassis, suspension and steering appear unfazed. Pleasantly surprised, I mash the accelerator to the floor in giddy pursuit of the car in front of me – an absolutely identical 2015 BMW M4 coupe.

A cavorting game of cat-and-mouse on a desolate twisty canyon in southern Portugal is an excellent way to explore the real-world driving dynamics and performance of BMW’s all-new M4 Coupe. But to truly push it to the limit – without having to worry about oversize depressions in the asphalt – requires a dedicated racetrack. Graciously, my hosts have rented the famed Autódromo Internacional do Algarve racetrack, or Portimão circuit, for an afternoon of automotive debauchery.

It’s hard to believe this passes for work.

Continue reading 2015 BMW M4 Coupe

2015 BMW M4 Coupe originally appeared on Autoblog on Mon, 12 May 2014 11:59:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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08 May 2014

2014 Toyota 4Runner Limited

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2014 Toyota 4Runner Limited

What would you say if we told you that outside of Jeep and Land Rover, the best brand for those who want to go off road is Toyota? Sounds remarkable, eh? But the truth is, Toyota’s history of providing vehicles for the rougher bits of our blue marble dates back to 1950, barely a decade after Willys built the first Jeeps and only a few years after Land Rover made its big debut with the iconic Series I.

In fact, Toyota’s start in off-roaders was with a small contract for providing the US Army with vehicles, during the Korean War. From that, the BJ was spawned. This Jeep-like vehicle evolved into the 20 Series and then into the iconic 40 Series Land Cruiser in the 1960s.

So yes, Toyota knows its way around the trails. While the Land Cruiser, deservedly, gets all the attention thanks to its impressive longevity, we’re partial to the 4Runner, which is a far more affordable entry that serves as Toyota’s challenger to the Jeep Grand Cherokee.

For 2014, Toyota issued a light refresh of the fifth-generation 4Runner, which originally arrived back in 2009. You’ll recall that we already have a test of the off-road-oriented Trail trim level, thanks to our man Michael Harley. For this test, we’re driving the top-of-the-line Limited model.

Continue reading 2014 Toyota 4Runner Limited

2014 Toyota 4Runner Limited originally appeared on Autoblog on Thu, 08 May 2014 11:57:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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07 May 2014

2014 Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive

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2014 Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive

Mercedes-Benz has made reviewing the B-Class Electric Drive pretty darn easy. They included the grade the car deserves right in the name: A nice, solid B.

For an electric car in today’s climate, that’s actually pretty high praise. No, this car does not represent the crowning achievement of alternative-fuel engineering that we’ve been waiting for since Robert Davidson started tinkering with electric motors back in the mid-1800s. But it does further the case that electric cars don’t have to be frumpy, stripped-down plastic cases on wheels. Tesla and BMW have helped to make tremendous strides in the public perception of EVs, employing striking design and athletic driving dynamics to make them cool, sexy and sporty. Mercedes-Benz, with the B-Class, has now added the weight of its three-pointed star to this emerging trend.

We recently took the B-Class Electric Drive for a spin around Silicon Valley – an appropriate location, as the German automaker collaborated with and took inspiration from numerous tech giants whose sprawling campuses adorn the landscape. While we weren’t left with mouths agape after our time behind the wheel, we feel confident in saying that while the B-Class Electric Drive isn’t for everyone, those looking to add a luxurious and versatile EV to their existing stable will be quite impressed with what it has to offer, despite a few noticeable flaws.

Continue reading 2014 Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive

2014 Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive originally appeared on Autoblog on Wed, 07 May 2014 11:58:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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29 Apr 2014

2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA250

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2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA 250

With more than a year separating my test week with the 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA250 from its debutante ball at the 2013 Detroit Auto Show, I had the advantage of a mountain of data and diatribes with which to inform my initial opinion. Conversations with colleagues and coworkers netted splintered ideas about the CLA’s driving demeanor; reading hundreds of comments posted on Autoblog articles revealed a popular divide about everything from exterior styling to the execution of its navigation screen.

While commentary from the public and pundits alike has spun in a circle over the front-driver Mercedes this last year, the car-buying public has been voting the CLA up in fantastic fashion. Early sales have been very strong for the lowest-cost-of-entry Benz, despite being capacity constrained over the first months of 2014. Mercedes-Benz USA PR manager Christian Bokich told me that dealers are “selling the 250 and 45 AMG as fast as they can get them,” and though he wouldn’t share the internal number, says that the CLA has the lowest day supply of any model in the brand’s lineup. Clearly, while we’ve been happily shouting at each other, Mercedes sales’ staffs have been swiftly compiling signed purchase agreements, and racking up numbers.

Given the context of this first year of existence, I thought it would be helpful to review the CLA250 with a special eye to those areas of the car that have been the most hotly contested. By my research, that means wading into the fray on the attractiveness of its sheetmetal, the polish of its interior, the starchiness of its suspension and the thrift of its luxurious bottom line.

Continue reading 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA250

2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA250 originally appeared on Autoblog on Tue, 29 Apr 2014 11:57:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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24 Apr 2014

2014 BMW 328i xDrive Gran Turismo

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2014 BMW 328i xDrive Gran Turismo

“The Ultimate Driving Machine” has been BMW’s tagline for nearly 40 years. Launched in the 1970s, the marketing campaign was a stroke of genius by ad firm Ammirati & Puris, as the phrase helped differentiate the imported Bavarian cars from their fellow European rivals by subtly pointing out that Mercedes-Benz and Audi were offering luxury models, while BMW was selling sporty and youthful driving dynamics. The campaign worked – some would argue that stands among the most effective ad campaigns ever – and countless Baby Boomers embraced the brand’s fun-to-drive image by taking delivery of the company’s new models.

BMW still boasts that its vehicles are “The Ultimate Driving Machine” four decades later, but the brand is very different today. It offered just a few model lines in the mid-1970s, and only a handful of vehicles within. In 2014, the automaker offers an exhaustive range comprised of nearly a dozen lines with almost 50 different models. To survive and thrive, BMW has decided it must massively broaden its appeal.

One of the latest arrivals to BMW’s ever-growing stable is the 2014 3 Series Gran Turismo. The five-door hatchback is best thought of as a smaller version of the company’s 5 Series Gran Turismo built on stretched 3 Series platform that, in the case of this test car, shares the running gear of the 328i xDrive sedan. On paper, the five-passenger vehicle checks all the proper boxes with regards to performance, utility and economy. But does this family-focused 3 Series still deliver driving dynamics that qualify it for the title of Ultimate Driving Machine?

Continue reading 2014 BMW 328i xDrive Gran Turismo

2014 BMW 328i xDrive Gran Turismo originally appeared on Autoblog on Thu, 24 Apr 2014 11:57:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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22 Apr 2014

2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Convertible

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2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Convertible

It may be impossible to spend a day in Chevrolet’s new C7 Corvette without someone asking what you think about the iconic sports car – magnetism is an understatement. I was approached by strangers in a grocery store parking lot, parents waiting for their children after school and enthusiasts on a canyon road after I had pulled to the side to take in the view.

All sneak up with a curious smile on their face, take a deep breath and then start spitting out questions like an overly aggressive prosecuting attorney. Is this the new Corvette? What do you think of it? Is it fast? How much does it cost?

While a closed-roof coupe offers a protective shield from the verbal onslaught – it’s hard to field questions through a solid roof – the droptop Stingray Convertible allows the full inquisition to rain down each time one slows to a stop. These opportunities include incessant chatter with complete unknowns at stoplights, street corners and even while stuck in traffic.

Continue reading 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Convertible

2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Convertible originally appeared on Autoblog on Tue, 22 Apr 2014 11:57:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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21 Apr 2014

2014 Land Rover Range Rover Sport

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2014 Land Rover Range Rover Sport

“No Land Rover has any business sounding like that!”

My dad’s words hung in the air like the few stray puffs of exhaust trailing in my wake as I motored away from him following a nice dinner. His parting statement to me really summed up the experience of driving this Chile Red Range Rover Sport. This is a vehicle unlike anything else Land Rover has ever built – and it needs to be. The Sport has been the British marque’s best-selling vehicle since it went on sale in 2005 – even in its predecessor’s final full year of sales, 2012, it still netted a four-percent bump. That kind of staying power needs to be preserved.

Doing that would be difficult, though, as Land Rover launched a pair of particularly notable products before it was time to redesign the Sport. The Range Rover Evoque has set the design benchmark for the Land Rover brand, while the all-new, fourth-generation Range Rover was the best sport utility vehicle Land Rover has ever built, and arguably one of the very best on the road, full stop.

The task seemed clear, then: build a worthy successor to an SUV that customers have been clamoring to buy for the better part of decade, while also adding the design chutzpah of the Evoque and living up to the class-leading standards set by its big brother.

Continue reading 2014 Land Rover Range Rover Sport

2014 Land Rover Range Rover Sport originally appeared on Autoblog on Mon, 21 Apr 2014 11:57:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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11 Apr 2014

2014 Infiniti Q50S

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2014 Infiniti Q50S

Ten years ago, nearly to the day, I took delivery of a brand-new 2004 Infiniti G35 6MT. The sporty rear-wheel drive sedan, equipped with its throaty 260-horsepower V6, slick manual gearbox and limited-slip differential replaced my 2001 BMW 330i because the Japanese competitor touted a product that was roomier, better equipped, quicker and lower priced. The G35 trumped the German in nearly every measurable category – at least on paper.

The 2014 Infiniti Q50 is the direct descendant, albeit two generations later, of the car I owned a decade ago. It is dimensionally about the same size, but it has gained more than 300 pounds of mass thanks to numerous safety upgrades and technical innovations. The additional weight is largely dismissed by a larger and more efficient powerplant that delivers an additional 68 horsepower, a welcome arrival, but the manual gearbox that charmed enthusiasts has been pushed out of the picture by a mandatory seven-speed automatic transmission.

As it has in the past, Infiniti touts its all-new Q50 as a luxury sport sedan worthy of the title. Decades ago, impressive performance statistics may have sealed the deal. Yet there is much more to the assignment today, as the model must offer premium appointments, sophistication and engaging driving dynamics if it’s going to entice and capture the next-generation of young, premium buyers – much like the G35 did for me ten years ago.

Continue reading 2014 Infiniti Q50S

2014 Infiniti Q50S originally appeared on Autoblog on Mon, 03 Feb 2014 11:57:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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11 Apr 2014

2014 Mazda3

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2014 Mazda3

Almost by definition, affordable compact cars aren’t supposed to be fun. Sure, hot hatches get our blood pumping, but not long ago, the terms “compact car” and “economy car” could safely be used interchangeably. A key exception for the last decade has been the Mazda3, a car that has consistently delivered more dynamic thrills and tactile feedback than its contemporaries. Competitors have picked up their game significantly in recent years, however, leaving the Mazda3 wanting in several areas, including overall refinement, in-car technology and cabin appointments, so Mazda went back to the drawing board to create this all-new third-gen model for 2014.

Including this redesigned 2014 model, Mazda’s recent crop of new products have targeted North America’s hottest non-truck segments – compact car, midsize sedan and compact crossover/SUV. Yet it might be fair to call this launch the most important of them all, as the 3 remains the Japanese marque’s best-selling vehicle. While America’s pool of compact hatchbacks isn’t exactly deep, the 2014 Mazda3 still has a challenging road ahead of it competing against two-box compacts that include the popular Ford Focus and recent additions like the all-new Kia Forte and the still-new Hyundai Elantra GT.

Continue reading 2014 Mazda3

2014 Mazda3 originally appeared on Autoblog on Tue, 28 Jan 2014 11:57:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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11 Apr 2014

2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA45 AMG

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2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA45 AMG

If working from home these past few years has taught me anything, it’s that I genuinely miss commuting. Yeah, you heard me. Maybe it’s because, historically, my commutes have always been pretty enjoyable – not like the opening scene from Office Space, one of those stop-and-go-until-the-end-of-time grinds. When I had to drive to an office every day, I always managed to find routes that didn’t involve the highway, or at the very least, they incorporated a fun on-ramp or two. In my more recent, working-from-home years, I’ve made a point of spending my lunch hour on the road. Not only does doing so allow me to put miles on test cars, it’s a nice break from the nine-to-five – especially when there’s a particularly interesting car in my care.

The 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA45 AMG arrived late on a Tuesday morning, just before I would normally sign off and take lunch. The CLA has always intrigued me, and to say I’ve been particularly hot on the 45 AMG would be a gross understatement. So it was with enthusiasm that day that I shut my laptop just as the clock struck noon. There was a CLA45 sitting outside, the keys were in my pocket and I had some time to kill.

Following my quick lunchtime spin, I spent the rest of the afternoon gazing fondly at the CLA sitting outside, its menacing face trying to coerce me to fake some sort of illness (“no, really, I’m soooo sick”) and spend the rest of the day flogging it out on the road. The CLA45 is one heck of tempting siren.

Continue reading 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA45 AMG

2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA45 AMG originally appeared on Autoblog on Mon, 20 Jan 2014 11:57:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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