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26 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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17 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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04 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.

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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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30 Aug 2014

2015 Cadillac Escalade

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2015 Cadillac Escalade

I have never liked traveling to Monterey, CA. The picturesque coastal city is about 300 miles from my home in Los Angeles, which means cramped and uncomfortable regional aircraft are part of the equation when the turnaround is only one night. Over the years, I have cursed the LA Basin’s bumper-to-bumper traffic en route to the airport, argued with TSA personnel over carry-on baggage and waited countless hours for the fog to lift just for the anguish of being packed into a small regional jet for the flight. Of course, the process repeats on the trip home with equal misery.

Yet this time I am not suffering.

Cadillac has dropped its all-new 2015 Escalade in my driveway. Instead of battling city congestion, attempting to reason with misinformed government agents, snacking on a too-small bag of pretzels and physically rubbing shoulders with a dubious stranger for 90-plus minutes within the confines of a bumpy aircraft, I have chosen to forgo air travel and drive myself door-to-door in a fullsize luxury sport utility vehicle.

The trip should be less expensive, less stressful and it may even be quicker. Most importantly, if what Cadillac is saying about its all-new Escalade holds true, my drive will be more comfortable and unquestionably more enjoyable.

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2015 Cadillac Escalade originally appeared on Autoblog on Fri, 29 Aug 2014 12:00:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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28 Aug 2014

2014 Kia Forte Koup SX

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2014 Kia Forte Koup SX

The Kia Forte and Hyundai Elantra have long followed similar paths, with each available in a four-door sedan, a five-door hatch and (most recently) a two-door coupe bodystyle. The recent death of the Hyundai Elantra Coupe in the US may be threatening to change the narrative on these two affordable compact lines, of course, but the Korean two-doors have a lot in common under their distinct skins. Their most recent iterations came to market under the power of the same 2.0-liter, 173-horsepower four-cylinder paired with six-speed automatic transmissions and riding atop MacPherson strut front suspensions and torsion-beam setups out back. Each arrived weighing between 2,800 and 3,000 pounds and could be had in base form for less than $20,000. Considering this, the empirical performance stats figured to be similar.

There’s an important distinction to be made, however. Rather than offer a simple two-door version of a four-door car, like Hyundai did with its Elantra Coupe, Kia has gone to lengths to craft a vehicle with its own unique attitude and attributes. Kia has embraced a sportier stance with its two-door Forte Koup, offering up a standard six-speed manual and going further in an effort to craft a more unique, aggressive coupe design.

That drive to be different was further accentuated last year, when Kia raided Hyundai’s parts bin and plucked out the 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder from the Veloster Turbo. The resulting car is decidedly different than any other Forte we’ve tested, while also feeling like a better all-around product than the smaller hot hatch it stole its engine from. To see just how much better, we drove the Forte Koup SX for a week and set about seeing how this enhanced model stacks up as a performance offering.

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2014 Kia Forte Koup SX originally appeared on Autoblog on Wed, 27 Aug 2014 11:58:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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20 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.

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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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15 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.

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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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24 Jul 2014

2014 Audi SQ5

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2014 Audi SQ5

It may be obvious at this point, but here in the United States, European manufacturers routinely give us the short end of the stick. Now, I’m not talking about models or brands that don’t come here, like the Mercedes-Benz A-Class or the entire Renault line. No, instead, I’m referring to cars that are sold right here in the Land of the Free in one bodystyle, while Europe enjoys the same vehicle with a wider variety of configurations.

A prime example of this is the Audi S4/S5 line. In America, we can have the supercharged twins in two-door coupe, four-door sedan, and cabriolet body styles. Meanwhile, our Euroland cousins get the same trio of bodystyles, as well as the A5/S5 Sportback, a characterful ‘four-door coupe,’ and a versatile hauler, the S4 Avant. At first glance, Audi of America lacks a vehicle that can compete with the latter’s blend of performance, versatility and subdued looks. So, what’s an American with around $60,000 and an obsession with quick, conservative haulers to do? Well, he can buy an SQ5. (Though it bears mentioning, our US-spec SQ5 is vastly different than what’s available to our European friends.)

The SQ5 has a huge number of things going for it that make it a viable alternative to a proper hot wagon, and foremost among them are its looks – this is a sleeper. Audi has thankfully decided not to molest the clean looks of the standard Q5 when penning the sportier model.

The SQ5 gains a unique set of wheels: 20-inchers are standard, but our tester was fitted with a set of 21-inch rollers. Visually, neither make a huge departure from the standard Q5 though. Other standard features of Audi’s S models are also found on the SQ5, including a set of quad exhausts, silver mirror caps and mildly different front grille and foglight surrounds. If anything, the Q5 TDI diesel I tested late last year looks sportier than today’s tester.

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2014 Audi SQ5 originally appeared on Autoblog on Thu, 24 Jul 2014 11:57:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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