Showing posts with label sports cars. Show all posts
Showing posts with label sports cars. Show all posts

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Facelifted 2012 Nissan GT-R

2012 Nissan GT-R

Well look what we found tucked away in a glass-enclosed corner of the Nissan stand. What you're looking at is the 2012 Nissan GT-R, complete with a fascia comprised of a restyled bumper, air-intakes and LED daytime running lamps. A new diffuser pulled from the SpecM is mounted out back, along with new lightweight wheels that may or may not be included in the final package. Our insider wouldn't give us any details on power increases, but they did say we should keep an eye out for an official announcement in the coming months.

Maserati GranTurismo MC Stradale is not an Italian DJ, but is an upgraded super coupe


Maserati GranTurismo MC Stradale


Maserati can produce some gorgeous automobiles. The Maserati GranTurismo is no exception, in fact we'd place it in the give-up-your-first-born-to-own-one category of beautiful. In addition to its looks, the GranTurismo is a powerful and luxurious grand touring machine that causes both eyes and ears to strain for more as it goes by. The 430-horsepower GranTurismo S was the king of the trident-wearing coupes, until today. Taking the stage at the 2010 Paris Motor Show is the all-new Maserati GranTurismo MC Stradale.

The GranTurismo MC Stradale ratchets up the excitement by pushing power output to 450 horsepower. The chassis has been tweaked and the body slightly updated for increased aerodynamics. The MC Stradale manages to increase the levels of downforce without causing a noticeable increase in drag. The result is an elegant two-door that's begging for track time.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

First Ride: 2012 Tesla Model S Beta

Tesla had a big weekend. Some 1,500 Model S hand-raisers and their +1s descended on the company's recently acquired NUMMI plant in Fremont, CA to see where their $5,000 deposits have gone. The event, which served as both a product extravaganza and a subtle reassurance, sought to prove that the Model S is well on its way to production. And part of the program included rides in three Model S betas.

As Tesla was keen to point out, showing off a prototype – even one that's 80-percent complete – is relatively unheard of in the industry. Regardless, the EV upstart invited a handful of journalists to go for a brief spin in the passenger seat of the betas. How brief? Less than five minutes.

So... don't expect to find any mind-blowing revelations, 10/10ths impressions or thorough interior dissections. Here's all you need to know: It drives, it steers, it stops, it's practically – and predictably – silent and the interior tech is enough to make gadget nerds forget about the lack of an iPhone 5.

Of the three betas on hand, two were developed for fine tuning the interior and one was set up for rides. There are currently five betas undergoing testing, all of which were built at a contract plant in Detroit and not at the newly refurbished, ex-Toyota plant in Northern California. That said, an extensive tour of the facility revealed that Tesla is almost completely set up to begin Model S production this January before deliveries begin in the middle of next year. The plant currently employs around 180 people, with that number set to hit 250 by the end of the year and then swell to 500 when at full capacity. All in, 300 to 400 people will handle drivetrain production and by 2013, roughly 1,000 people will work between the powertrain and chassis facilities.



So yes, Tesla can build them. And after spending a few hours around the Fremont plant, much of our skepticism about Tesla's abilities to bring the sedan market were laid to rest. They've pulled in equipment and talent from around the world (Germany in particular) to make a modern, world-class facility. And now we get to sample what they'll be building.

Considering this is a prototype, we're suitably impressed with the fit and finish both inside and out. We're sure that Tesla was sweating the details in the run-up to this past weekend's festivities, and the tight gaps in the body panels and general exterior polish of the betas was proof the Tesla can at least get a handful of sedans ready for the spotlight.




Inside was just as refined, save for a few crudely fashioned, but barely noticeable, bits of trim and a transmission stalk and window switchgear pulled from Mercedes-Benz. The backseat proved to be both comfortable and spacious enough to enjoy a 15-minute presentation on the infotainment system, and while our request to sit in the rear-facing jump seats was denied, we were just pleased to see them included on one of the testers.

On the infotainment front, Tesla is using a 17-inch multitouch display, with a persistent climate control interface at the bottom (good for muscle memory). It's just as massive in person as it is in photos – it's essentially two iPads worth of screen real estate – and provides drivers with Google Maps navigation, streaming Internet radio, local music playback, web browsing (HTML5/Webkit-based) and sunroof controls through an infrared touch system. Just like everything else with the Model S, it's still in prototype form, with a capacitive screen set to replace the IR version and the Linux-based OS and its proprietary user interface skin to receive more tweaks between now and the on sale date next year.

That said, it's largely glitch-free, and you can check out the video below for a full walk around of the system, including the configurable instrument panel behind the steering wheel and iPhone app that keeps track of charging and location, along with the ability to control the EV's climate remotely.
When we initially walked up to the passenger-side door, we tried to push in the flush, chrome door handle as we would open an Aston Martin. Nothing. A second later, the motorized handle slowly protruded from the door. A neat – if superfluous – party piece.

We quietly pulled away from the staging tent as our engineer-turned-chauffeur attempted to shove a fistful of wires behind the panel in the center compartment. "Obviously customers won't see this." Fair enough. Let's get underway.




The first run was through a coned-off section of the receiving bay (not fair to call it an autocross course) where the Model S resisted body roll thanks to a combination of its air suspension and low center of gravity provided by the flat battery pack spanning the passenger compartment. Our driver, who races Lotuses on the weekends, didn't push too hard, but wasn't afraid to mash the pedal as we eerily and rapidly accelerated towards a small, banked high-speed stability course, putting out all 306 pound-feet of torque to the wheels.

When the driver comes off the throttle, the brake regen is far more subtle than in the Roadster, failing to shove us into the seatbelt and doing little to upset the balance of the Model S when slowing in a straight line.



Out on the track inherited from Toyota, we kept a quick pace through the first section of the oval, and then accelerated fully down the back straight, hitting an indicated 103 mph before braking lightly into the next 180-degree bend. After three similar runs, we came away impressed with both the planted sensation afforded by the low CG and elongated wheelbase, the suitably smooth ride and the now-expected, yet still disconcerting, lack of racket inside the cabin. But naturally, until we can get some time off the test track and feel that wheel between our hands, we'll remain skeptically impressed from afar.

Who isn't skeptical? Hundreds of people from the Bay Area, along with hundreds more from across the country and around the world, all of which have put cash down to be one of the few with a Signature Series Model S. Potential buyers flew in from as far away as Tokyo, Denmark and Switzerland to be part of this weekend's event, including one gentleman from Iceland who inked a deal to purchase 100 examples for his car sharing service. Fittingly, he signed the papers on the hood of a Model S beta Saturday night – the same sedan we ran around the track less than 48 hours later.

2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid


The auto show transition seemed to happen in a flash. One year, automakers were jockeying for dealer traffic with high horsepower, rear-wheel-drive retro rides, and the next year, each one of them ushered in a hybrid or electric vehicle. The paradigm shift was a welcome sight for car buyers wanting to shrink their carbon footprint and save money on fuel, but the majority of those products were years from production. Fast-forward to 2011, and the variety of fuel efficient transportation on offer in the industry has improved quite a bit, including this sleekly styled mid-size offering from Hyundai.

The Sonata Hybrid may have taken longer than expected to hit the market, but its lithium-polymer battery pack and host of fuel-saving features have given Hyundai 35 miles per gallon city and 40 mpg highway fuel economy numbers to flash before consumers. And the Sonata Hybrid isn't battling the competition on fuel economy alone. It also features attractive styling that sharply differentiates it from non-hybrid Sonata models, while also carrying an MSRP thousands of dollars less than the Toyota Camry Hybrid and Ford Fusion Hybrid.

We spent a week with a modestly equipped Sonata Hybrid, but rather than going light on the pedal to gather up as many Eco points as possible, we drove it like we would any mid-sized sedan to see if it could hang with the daily drudgery of suburban life.

Our Hyper Silver Metallic tester carried a very reasonable price tag of $25,930 (plus $720 shipping), and Hyundai kept that MSRP low by adding only floor mats ($100) and an iPod cable ($35) to the options list. Fortunately, the Sonata Hybrid already comes equipped with a boatload of standard features, including a six-speaker sound system with USB and auxiliary inputs, Bluetooth hands-free connectivity, automatic climate control, headlights with LED accents and a 4.2-inch LCD trip computer/hybrid technology display.

2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid side view2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid front view2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid rear view

"Hybrid" and "low MSRP" generally don't go hand-in-hand, but the $25,795 base price of the Sonata only strengthens its case. This Hyundai also proves that hybrids don't have to be stodgy pods to achieve mpg bliss. The same Fluidic Design that's been a hit with the Sonata Hybrid's gas-only sibling looks just as good with a 30-kilowatt electric motor under the hood. And Hyundai hasn't simply slap on some Blue Motion badging to differentiate its hybrid offering from the hot-selling standard Sonata.

The biggest adjustment comes in the form of a gaping grille that looks like a whale shark on a plankton feeding frenzy. Further aero improvements come in the form of tweaked bodyside moldings and a more sharply truncated rear end with unique 'atom' element taillamps. In total, exterior engineering adjustments result in a drag coefficient that drops from .28 to an outstanding .25, the same number achieved by the benchmark Toyota Prius.

We dig the fact that the Sonata Hybrid looks quite a bit different than its sibling, and the Bill Nye taillights are something to behold. Heck, even the Blue Motion badging looks cool. For our money, there is one hybrid-only touch that just has to go: the standard 16-inch alloys. We're not sure what Hyundai's designers were going for here (at least beyond aero supremacy), but they ended up with a set of wheels that draws Blade-Runner-meets-Salad-Shooter comparisons. Luckily, Hyundai offers optional 17-inch wheels that look remarkably classier than the ones seen here. Unfortunately, the upsized wheels can only be had as part of the Premium Package, which will set buyers back another $5,000.

2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid headlight2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid grille2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid wheel2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid taillight

Nasty wheels aside, the Sonata Hybrid is a looker, and the interior isn't hard on the eyes, either. Hyundai has decided to carry over the same interior from the standard Sonata, save for some Blue Motion badging and the aforementioned 4.2-inch display. That means hybrid buyers get the same spacious cabin flush with attractive curves and soft-touch materials on the dash, doors and center console. Seats are comfortable and appropriately bolstered as well, and the driver's seat is power-adjustable. Another big plus comes in the form of a standard USB port and Bluetooth connectivity that quickly and easily syncs to a Bluetooth-enabled phone. And the 4.2-inch LED screen? It's bright, with easy-to-read graphics and various ways to dissect your driving habits. The Eco bars aren't nearly as interesting as the fanciful tree leaves adorning the display of the Lincoln MKZ Hybrid, but a driver's eyes should be focused on the road anyway.

The Sonata Hybrid's interior scores big with overall refinement and standard tech, but we observed a few chinks in its armor. The biggest issues are the rubbery steering wheel and shift knob, which makes an otherwise impressive cabin feel like a trip to the Walmart clearance rack. Adding leather to these items the driver touches most again requires the $5,000 Premium Package. Sure, the Ford Fusion Hybrid starts at $28,600 ($2,670 more than the Sonata), but it at least comes standard with a leather steering wheel and shift knob, plus a bunch of standard features that can only be had with Hyundai's Premium package.

2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid interior2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid front seats2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid eco gauge2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid start button

The Sonata Hybrid is powered by a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine with 166 horsepower at 6,000 RPM and 154 pound-feet of torque at 4,250 revs. Like other hybrids on the market, the Sonata Hybrid's 2.4-liter engine runs on the more efficient Atkinson cycle, which closes the intake valve late to provide a shorter compression stroke than traditional Otto cycle engines. But unlike many other hybrids that use an electric continuously variable transmission, Hyundai has opted to mate its powertrain to a more conventional six-speed automatic transmission. You'll hear no arguments here, as the transmission did its job well with a smooth operation and reassuring gear selections during our test.

Additionally, Hyundai didn't go with the cheaper, yet tried-and-tested nickel-metal hydride battery pack. Its engineers decided to start with a clean slate, diving feet-first into newer lithium polymer cells for power storage. The end game is a 1.4 kilowatt-hour battery pack that weighs only 96 pounds. The Blue Motion's electric motor isn't as powerful as those found under the hood of the 2012 Camry Hybrid (141 hp) and Fusion Hybrid (106 hp), but the 30 kilowatt motor still manages to generate 40 horsepower and 151 pound-feet of torque. Combined horsepower figures are 206 hp for the Sonata Hybrid, 200 hp for the Camry Hybrid and 191 for the Fusion Hybrid.

2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid engine

Numbers and specs can be fun, but real-world driving is where the Hankook Optimo rubber meets the road. And while the Sonata Hybrid's driving dynamics aren't particularly aggressive, this Sonata's hybrid system is. If you take your foot off the gas at most any speed, the engine turns off in a pinch and the regenerative braking system begins to charge the lithium battery. When the go pedal is handled with care and the speed kept under 70 mph, the electric motor and battery can move the car by themselves, thanks in part to an engine clutch that manages the gas engine and electric motor separately. Even better, the throttle doesn't have to be babied like many other hybrids do, giving the driver more time to enjoy gas-free motoring.

In the past, we'd practice a great deal of restraint when driving a hybrid, because trying to achieve the best possible fuel economy can actually be fun. But for us, the novelty of driving a hybrid in this way goes away after a week – just when the fuel economy game starts to become a bore. For that reason, we took pains to experience the Sonata Hybrid as we would any other mid-size sedan.

2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid badge2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid battery pack

As a regular four-door, the Sonata Hybrid is plenty easy to live with. Power is strong off the line when needed, and the integrated starter generator goes about the job of switching the engine on and off without any major drama. The system isn't as smooth as the one under the hood of the Fusion Hybrid, but the tradeoff is that the Blue Drive system appears to be more aggressive when cutting off the power whenever it isn't needed.

The EPA tells us that Sonata Hybrid owners can expect fuel economy numbers of 40 mpg highway and 35 mpg in the city. Our experience with the hybrid Hyundai wasn't quite in the range of those numbers, as we managed 33.5 mpg in mixed driving, which falls below the EPA combined rating of 37 mpg. We weren't all that impressed with those results, and we're thinking that most diesel-powered mid-size entries would eclipse a combined score of 33.5 mpg. In fact, our Jetta TDI long-term fleet vehicle routinely averages more than 40 mpg. And although the Fusion Hybrid costs a bit more and relies on older nickel-metal tech, it still delivers better fuel economy numbers of 41 mpg city and 36 mpg highway. The new 2012 Camry Hybrid promises even better fuel economy, with an estimated 39 mpg highway and 43 mpg city. Just as troubling, in our experience, the standard 2.4-liter gas-only Sonata actually tends to return fuel economy figures above its 24/35 EPA numbers, particularly on the highway, so we have to wonder if the standard Sonata isn't the better overall bet when it comes to return-on-investment.

2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid rear 3/4 view

While we were less than impressed with the Sonata Hybrid's fuel thrift, we were pleased with its overall driving dynamics. At 3,578 pounds, the Sonata Hybrid is still light on its feet, with a structurally rigid chassis that doesn't flex at the slightest change of direction. Power delivery is smooth and predictable, with an estimated 0-60 mph time of about nine seconds. The steering is predictably free of hydraulics, yet Hyundai has chosen to dial in a bit more artificial heft than we expected or really want.

The Sonata Hybrid Blue Motion is a solid first foray into the world of mixed propulsion motoring for Hyundai. Would we have liked to see better fuel economy numbers? Absolutely. But there is still something to be said about a hybrid that can deliver good looks, solid fuel economy and a driving experience that isn't fun-free. Not every vehicle in this segment can make such a claim, and none can come within $1,000 of this Hyundai's $25,750 price of entry... at least until the 2012 Camry Hybrid goes on sale starting at $25,900.

2011 VPG Autos MV-1


A round of applause broke out as Marc Buoniconti, former linebacker for The Citadel, ascended the ramp of the very first VPG Autos MV-1 to roll off the assembly line inside AM General's plant near South Bend, Indiana. Buoniconti was rendered a quadriplegic after a gruesome tackle while playing football for his South Carolina alma mater. That was back in 1985 and Buoniconti has been wheelchair-bound for the past 26 years. Since then, he has gone on to start The Buoniconti Fund, the fundraising arm of The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, and been heavily involved in the development of what you see here – the very first purpose-built, OEM-backed vehicle designed specifically to accommodate the needs of the disabled.

The MV-1 is a strange hodgepodge of engineering, but its mission is clear: To offer a mobility solution for the disabled that costs substantially less than aftermarket minivan conversions available today. Right now, VPG says there are some 1.5 million vehicles on the road that have been converted for wheelchair access, all from third-party companies who augment a factory vehicle's chassis and interior at substantial cost. "Aftermarket means afterthought," says Buoniconti, and the team at VPG Autos aims to offer a factory-crafted solution for an otherwise overlooked segment of the automotive landscape.
January of 2009 marked the end of Hummer H2 production at AM General's facility in South Bend, and although the company continues to build and engineer Humvees for military use, the plant was largely unused until VPG Autos stepped in. Now, the facility has the capacity to build approximately 12 MV-1s each day, and soon, production will increase to a 20-unit clip as demand increases.

2011 VPG Autos MV-1 side view2011 VPG Autos MV-1 front view2011 VPG Autos MV-1 rear 3/4 view

The key feature of the MV-1 is its easy wheelchair access, and thus, the entire vehicle has been designed around its side door ramp system. That ramp, supplied by ASC, has a 1,200-pound weight capacity (600 pounds more than the Americans with Disabilities Act requires), and is available with a power rollout function on Deluxe (DE) models. The ramp is housed under the floor of the rear passenger compartment and is easily accessible for all types of wheelchairs. The rear doors offer an opening that's 36 inches wide and 56 inches tall, and inside, one wheelchair can be anchored in the front passenger position, while seating for either three or four passengers can be had in the rear. All in, the MV-1 is capable of carrying up to 6,600 pounds.

To support this sort of weight, the MV-1 uses body-on-frame architecture, with a chassis specifically designed for the application. While it's not exactly pretty, the MV-1 radiates purpose, looking like the strange lovechild of a London taxi and GMC Terrain.

As for interior amenities, the MV-1 is essentially a utility van, so you won't find soft-touch dash materials, nicely grained plastics or any optional high-tech gadgetry. Instead, you have a commanding driving position with a comfortable, air-suspended seat situated behind a steering wheel that appears to have been ripped out of a Lincoln MKS. The instrument panel, gauge cluster, audio and HVAC controls are pure Ford E-Series and the simple driver's compartment is elementary yet well-organized.

2011 VPG Autos MV-1 interior2011 VPG Autos MV-1 interior2011 VPG Autos MV-1 ramp2011 VPG Autos MV-1 rear cargo area

We had the opportunity to briefly drive the MV-1 on the roads near AM General's facility, and as you can imagine, it behaves like almost any other body-on-frame van we've ever spent time in. Power comes from a Ford-sourced 4.6-liter V8 producing 248 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque that's mated to a four-speed automatic transmission. It seems like ancient technology, yes, but it's cheap to source, cheaper to service and gets the job done. A compressed natural gas version is also available, utilizing two tanks situated under the rear seat and offering a 300-mile cruising range. VPG says that the CNG version will return approximately 13.5 miles per gallon (combined), with the gasoline-powered version netting around 15 mpg.

The MV-1 isn't all that unpleasant to steer, though we imagine the experience is vastly different when it's loaded up full of people. Acceleration is perfectly adequate for a vehicle its size and function, and we found key driving components like the steering and brakes to be tuned for ease of use uber alles. Other key drivability factors like general visibility and suspension tuning are also more than acceptable, and although its body-on-frame architecture does give it a truck-like feeling from behind the wheel, it's smooth enough to offer a comfortable ride for passengers in wheelchairs and seats alike.

2011 VPG Autos MV-1 headlight2011 VPG Autos MV-1 grille2011 VPG Autos MV-1 wheel2011 VPG Autos MV-1 taillight

Let's be clear, though – the MV-1 does not allow its wheelchair-bound occupants to drive on their own. Some aftermarket companies have created steering column-mounted hand controls to operate the throttle and brakes, but this is not the case with VPG's creation. Instead, its sole purpose is to allow easy access and maneuverability for folks in wheelchairs that will only ride as passengers.

VPG Autos plans to sell the MV-1 through a wide range of existing new car dealerships across the country, and as of this writing, 41 dealers have currently signed on, with another 15 slated to be added in the coming months. The key to spreading the word about the MV-1 will be what the company executives call "discover marketing" – the vehicle will be taken to places like hospitals and rehabilitation centers for people to check out and the company is largely relying on word of mouth within the disabled community to communicate the advantages of the MV-1.

2011 VPG Autos MV-1 rear 3/4 view

The greatest advantage, however, is the MV-1's price: $39,950 for the base SE and $41,950 for the up-market DE. For comparison's sake, a typical aftermarket conversion costs around $25,000, and when you add that to the cost of a well-equipped minivan like a Dodge Grand Caravan, the price can easily reach $55K or $60K. Even then, going the aftermarket route means you get a vehicle that's been chopped up to accommodate a purpose it was never intended to serve, and VPG Autos includes its own five-year/75,000-mile powertrain warranty. Currently, the MV-1 is already sold out for its first year of production, with initial deliveries taking place as you read this.

"Everything in our lives revolves around transportation," Buoniconti said upon exiting the black MV-1 with VIN #000001 – the vehicle that would soon be delivered to his Florida home. And by offering a mobile solution for tens of thousands of dollars less than an aftermarket upfit job, the folks at VPG, in collaboration with AM General, offer a purpose-built answer to an important question that no other OEM has even been asking.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

2011 Hyundai Equus Ultimate

Our 2011 Hyundai Equus long-termer continues to pile on the miles in the effortless fashion that one expects of a premium sedan. August's main outing was a weeklong stint in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, about 800 miles from Detroit. All-in, the trip accounted for over 2,000 miles, during which the Equus stretched its legs as a capable freeway cruiser and even was pressed into undignified service as a surfboard transport (see above). In case you're wondering, no, an eight-foot rental longboard won't fit in a luxury sedan (not in this or any other we can think of), so you'll be forced to do the shish-ka-windows-and-empty-side-road-creep with the hazard lights on if you don't have any alternatives.

With the exception of a modest bit of track time at Hyundai's Seoul proving grounds in a few prototypes, this was your author's first experience with the Equus. As one might expect, it acquits itself better over-the-road than on the track, delivering a comfortable ride and plush confines in which to while away the miles.

What was surprising for this driver was how much attention our Equus garnered – it's rather innocuously styled, after all. But we hadn't been driving further than our first rest stop when a couple of attractive twenty-something ladies stopped to ask about our car as we got out in the parking lot. "What is it?!" they gushed. "Believe it or not, it's a Hyundai," we answered. Puzzled looks. "Wait... really? Well... it's still really nice, though!" We laughed a little inside and moved on, but their reaction was telling – "It's still really nice, though!" is both a credit to what a pleasant surprise the Equus is for Hyundai, as well as a subtly backhanded ding at the company's "off the radar" standing among many consumers. The same rest area yielded a discussion with a very enthusiastic Genesis sedan owner, and subsequent conversations were held at stoplights with frantic arm-waving Toyota Avalon drivers and more random people in parking lots, including a BMW E60 5 Series owner fed up with his ownership experience. We have to admit, we viewed the Equus as something of a generic knockoff design-wise, but our conversations suggest that the general buying public doesn't feel the same way (or doesn't care).



We do have some nits to pick with our big white whale, however. Others have mentioned this, but it's worth pointing out again – the adjustable lumbar support seems to be in perpetual state of overinflation. No matter how much we tinker with the air bladder controls, it just feels too prominent on our lower backs. It's so uncomfortable that it's led to both your author and Editor-In-Chief Neff to ponder drastic, pin-shaped countermeasures. We wouldn't, of course, but it's still bothersome. The best solution for long-distance comfort seems to be extending the bottom cushion a bit longer than we normally might, as this somehow alleviates the stress.

Otherwise, the interior offers plenty of amenities and creature comforts, though the controls, finishes and design aesthetic lack the same sort of aura of refinement as rivals. Overall, our Equus Ultimate succeeds at feeling like a great value, but stops short of feeling like a great full-size luxury sedan. That's partially due to the interior and partially due to the 4.6-liter Tau V8. Its 385 horsepower and 333 pound-feet of torque certainly aren't anything to sneeze at, but this is 4,600-pound mass of Korean real estate, and it simply feels adequate. Other media outlets have tested the Equus and found 0-60 times in the mid-to-high six-second range, so it's certainly not slow, but the ECU and transmission tuning makes both off-the-line acceleration and highway passing feel more leisurely than we'd expect. More chutzpah isn't far off, thankfully – the 2012 model is widely expected to adopt the 5.0-liter V8 and eight-speed automatic gearbox recently introduced in the updated Genesis sedan.

Despite sustained higher speeds, traversing Pennsylvania's Alleghany mountains, negotiating a dead-stop traffic jam and a lot of pottering along in beach traffic, we averaged a solid 21 miles per gallon, smack in the middle of the 18/22 city/highway mix the EPA predicts. During that stint, we saw sustained freeway running with indicated mpgs in the mid-to-upper 20s without even trying, suggesting that it's likely quite easy to beat the Equus' official fuel economy estimates if you take it easier than we did.

Fisker Surf shooting brake wows Frankfurt Show

Ahead of its official unveiling at the 2011 Frankfurt Motor Show, Fisker Automotive bosses had us up to a studio in Munich for a thorough advance viewing and info download on their second model, a shooting brake called Surf.

The first words out of our mouth was, "The shape is a bit like a Ferrari FF." First thing out of their mouth – as though they were utterly perched to form the words, too – "But with four doors!" Henrik Fisker and COO Bernhard Koehler much prefer hearkening back to the 1970s iconic Lamborghini Espada when talking about the Surf's inspiration.

The Surf is the second model from the Fisker design pool, and it is so-named partly because a Fisker owner can now load a surfboard either in or on it. This joins the Karma sedan on the production line at Valmet Automotive in Finland, and should be ready for deliveries worldwide by July 2012.

The Surf shooting brake could well be called the Fisker Karma station wagon since its main objective is to respond to the ridiculously skimpy trunk on the sedan, which measures an adorable 7.1 cubic feet – less than the total storage room in a Ferrari 458 Italia. The expandable room in back now measures anywhere from 12.7 to 29.0 cubes. Hardly cause for a group "Wow!," but certainly a handy improvement.



Aside from the added carriage work and its space afforded, overall weight on the Surf versus the Karma increases by just 77 pounds, putting it in the 4,400-pound neighborhood. Work is reportedly underway for creating a custom set of luggage that best makes use of those awkwardly meted out cubic feet.

The entire powertrain, chassis, and interior execution of the Surf are identical to the Karma sedan, with the only major cabin change being the additional room in back for a couple of adults. We had a six-foot colleague get situated comfortably in the driver's seat while we sat our 5'11" body in the rear seat. Memories of the Aston Martin Rapide's "rear-passenger capsule" sensation came up, but the only insufficiency really is foot room beneath the front squabs. Fisker could have done a better job there. The 1.2 inches of added rear headroom work well for those of us up to six feet in height.

Whereas the exterior rear roof-mounted solar panel on the Karma is a 120-watt gathering unit, the available panel for the Surf is a 133-watt unit. The sturdy black plastic grille insert is a new look, as are the very sharp new 22-inch standard wheels. Fisker is currently working with an outside supplier to create an easy roof rack system to slide into the standard aluminum roof rails.



When we last drove a Fisker Karma, we were critical of the sound that entered the cabin via the footwells whenever the 255-horsepower GM Ecotec turbocharged and direct-injected 2.0-liter four-cylinder chimed in to extend the range of the 315-cell lithium ion battery pack in Sport mode. Fisker tells us that the silencers have since been swapped out to create a more appropriate $100,000-plus premium noise. We're hoping that this is true. In the meantime, the awesome "signature Fisker external sound" gently fills the eardrums in Stealth mode as on the Karma.

Fisker Automotive tells us that pre-orders remain at just above 3,000, which is where they reportedly stood back when we drove the Karma dynamic prototype in February of this year. "Those initial enthusiasts," says Koehler, "are still with us and first deliveries have happened in the U.S. We have then a list of thousands more who are simply in the 'wait and see' mode and have the firm intent of buying once they hear first-hand feedback from the first customers."



Designer and CEO Fisker also tells that the Surf should do particularly well in Europe, a continent renowned for its addiction to larger premium wagons. Fisker hopes to sell 3,500 Surf models per year, rather ambitious for a shooting brake.

Pricing is set to reflect a slight premium over the $95,900 to $108,900 range of the Karma, but no exact Surf numbers have been announced yet. They did blurt out, however, "It'll be like the FF but with four doors and at one-third the price."

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI

We've given Volkswagen a fair amount of flack for the 2011 Jetta – and justifiably so. All the things we held dear in previous generations – high-end materials, solid driving dynamics and that general sense of premium the Germans do so well – were all nixed in the name of market share.



But as we suspected, it's working. Jetta sales in the U.S. are up 74 percent over last year as consumers view the redesigned, cut-priced sedan as an upmarket contender to the Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic and Chevrolet Cruze. And honestly, more power to them.



What we've really been waiting for is this, the 2012 Jetta GLI. Packing VW's ubiquitous turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder, a six-speed manual or optional DSG and an independent rear suspension, the GLI is here to assuage enthusiasts' fears that VW has lost the plot in its relentless pursuit of global market dominance. Just as Porsche hasn't given up on sports cars as it expands into un-Porsche-like segments, neither has VW in its efforts to appeal to more people. But unlike Ferdinand's second child, we still have the nagging sense that Volkswagen is leaving something on the table – despite the GLI's potential on paper.


From 40 yards out, it's hard to tell the GLI apart from a standard Jetta. Get closer and even the deeper front spoiler, honeycomb grille and vertical fog lamps pulled from the GTI do little to convey the same racy presence of its hot hatch stablemate. The standard 10-spoke, 17-inch wheels even look a little dinky in their wheel wells, despite the red brake calipers. Thankfully, an optional set of 18-inch, split five-spoke rollers (pictured below) up the aesthetic game and come coated in 225/40 R18 Dunlop SP Sport 01 AS rubber that makes for a worthy upgrade over the standard 225/45 R17 all-season Continental ContiProContacts.



2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI side view2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI front view2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI rear view



The Jetta's tune changes on the inside. And to excellent effect.



Behold, a soft-touch dash; convincing aluminum trim on the dash and flat-bottom, leather-wrapped wheel; bolstered seats coated in optional V-Tex leatherette; and contrast red stitching abound. It's all a massive improvement over the bargain-basement interior we've endured in our Jetta TDI long-termer, although the GLI's plastics go from high-class to low-brow as soon as your hand ventures south (perhaps to be expected considering its plebeian roots).



But why this endless discussion of interior materials? Here's a prime example: Volkswagen is introducing its Fender Premium Audio System into the Jetta lineup for 2012. It's solid, with crisp highs and a punchy low-end when equipped in the GLI Autobahn ($25,545) and Autobahn with Navigation ($26,445) models. Forget for a moment the ironic reason why rockers started using Fender amps to begin with – artful distortion – and let's focus on the lows. When the kick drum popped at a volume level over 15 in our tester, there was a subtle rattling from the passenger-side door. A few minutes of feeling around and we finally found the culprit. The map pocket is made of low-grade plastic and the vibration from the bass rattled the cubby against the cover. Not cool, but a perfect case-in-point about why we harp on discount materials.



2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI interior2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI front seats2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI dash2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI door speaker



But this isn't a story about a reworked interior on a $23,495 Jetta (although it could be). This is about how the GLI holds up as a GTI sans-hatch. And to that end, it's exactly what you'd expect.



Power from the 2.0T is unchanged for sedan duty, with 200 horsepower coming on at 5,100 rpm and peak torque – 207 pound-feet – flowing from 1,700 rpm and up. We spent about 20 minutes in the DSG model (+ $1,100) and found it... fine. But as per usual (particularly in this segment), the manual is the driver's choice – even in start-and-stop traffic.



Clutch take-up is on the high and light side, so puttering around town doesn't require a Tour de France-honed left leg. The shifter standard VW fare, with an enlarged knob and slightly long throws providing a choice of six forward ratios. Braking is handled by 12.3-inch vented front discs and 10.7-inch solid rear rotors, all of which add up to a predictable, linear pedal feel that only began to fade after two particularly torturous runs through the Virginia hills outside VW's North American headquarters.



2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI engine



While the 2.0T continues to gain accolades for its linearity and tunability, VW's tried-and-true turbocharged four-pot is starting to show its age, despite a recent reworking. Two hundred horsepower was plenty for a front-driver in 2005, but consider that the Kia Optima Turbo, BMW's new turbocharged four and – hell – even the old Cobalt SS all make more ponies with the same displacement, and the GLI can't help but feel somewhat ill-equipped for the modern age, even if it gets the job done nicely. We still managed some wheelspin in second gear when planting our right foot and you can hit 80 mph in third gear if you're so inclined, but there's not much happening on the far side of the tach, despite peak horsepower arriving further along in the rev range.



The other added benefit of swapping the GTI's drivetrain directly into the Jetta is the inclusion of the XDS cross differential that's engineered to reduce torque – and thus, wheelspin – to the inside wheel through a corner. As with the GTI, the ABS-based system works, but constant flogging means brake fade comes on stronger than in something with a mechanical torque-vectoring diff. We also experienced momentary traction control engagement with the left front loaded and the right coming over a crest. That's more a product of an uneven (and likely untested) surface than an engineering fault, but considering there's no off switch for the traction control, it's worth noting.



2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI headlight2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI grille2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI wheel2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI taillights



The other core driver bits, specifically the electrically assisted steering, 15mm lower ride height and bolstered seats, are more tuned to around-town runs and freeway cruising than all-out tarmac assaults. Feel from the wheel is above-average, if not overly communicative, and the seats do their best to hold you in place, unless your personal curb weight is on the malnourished side. On the topic of tonnage, the GLI with the six-speed manual comes in at 3,124 pounds, with the DSG-equipped model slipping in just over 3,150 pounds. Compared to the GTI organ donor (three-door manual at 3,034 pounds and up to 3,160 pounds for the five-door automatic), the weight increase is negligible.



Driving the GTI and GLI back-to-back, the suspension work performed on the Jetta combined with the extra 2.9 inches of wheelbase (101.5 vs. 104.4, respectively), made the GLI the more comfortable cruiser – but at the expense of engagement. The extra weight over the rear provided by the GTI's hatch and the shorter space between the wheels made it noticeably more chuckable, with the rear rotating ever-so-slightly and allowing the front to tuck in quicker when adjusting the throttle mid-corner. The seating position – admirable in the GLI – was exceptional in the GTI, and considering the added utility of the hatch and the nominal penalty rear seat passengers pay in the legroom department (35.5 inches for the GTI and 38.1 inches for the Jetta), only regular people-schleppers and hatch-haters would be better served with the sedan.



2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI rear 3/4 view



What we're left with is an overall impression that Volkswagen has made the 2012 Jetta GLI for people who just want more. More power, more flash, more amenities and an interior that doesn't make you retch. In that, they've succeeded. But what VW hasn't made is a real sports sedan. For those people, the Golf R – despite its hatchback – is the what they're after.



Yet for the masses, the Jetta GLI fits the bill. Like the standard Jetta before it, the GLI seems to leave some of what we appreciate on the table, but in exchange nets a total package that's more endearing to the average buyer. While the GLI is closer to what we want than the standard Jetta, it's still at least 20 horses and a stiffer suspension short of ideal. And what bothers us more than anything is that we know VW can deliver it.