Porsche enthusiasts are some of the most dreadfully conservative people you’ll find when it comes to their favorite cars. Any change to the 911, large or small, gets heavily scrutinized to the n’th degree. All too often, they let their nit picking blind them, and they often wind up missing all of the new 911’s great aspects. The evolution of new models is a necessary fact of life, and it usually makes the car better overall, otherwise Porsche wouldn’t do it. The new 911, the 991, has followed this same trend, being criticized every which way against older Porsche models. I chose a more positive approach. Not, “how is the 991 worse than its predecessors?”, but “how does the 991 faire as a modern 911?”
Buick’s doing much better now than it was at the same time half a decade ago. They brought us the Regal, which is a rebadged Opel Insignia, and the Verano, a rebadged and re-engineered Chevrolet Cruze. Normally, this would make me want to tear my own hear out of my scalp, as GM’s track record with rebadged cars is just plain awful. The last time a European sedan was adapted for the USA market was in 1997 when Cadillac dumped the Catera on our shores, a reheated Opel Omega–with predictably lukewarm results. Buick’s last American compact, the Skylark, was an embarrassment to its name and was insulting to someone who wanted a premium small car. Luckily, I got the chance to sample Buick’s two best turbocharged options last month in the form of the Regal GS and Verano Turbo. Originally, I was going to keep the two separate, but after a long thought and two eye-opening drives, I’ve changed my mind, because these two cars should be looked at together. One of them is clearly better than the other–and one of the two doesn’t quite live up to its badge’s reputation.
At the airport terminal, having just arrived in Jacksonville Florida for our weekend at Amelia Island, we came to the the point in our travels where it was time to rent a car. The attendant asked us, in an ever so friendly manner, “Now, what are you boys in town for this weekend?” We told her about the car shows on Amelia Island, and a smirk came to her face. She had us right where she wanted us and she damn well knew it. “Well, have I got something extra special for you then. Are you Ford or Chevy fans?” We opted for Chevy. “Well guess what. I just happen to have a pretty little yellow Camaro SS on the lot for you”. We exchange glances, and then she said, “It’s normally pretty expensive, but I can give it to you for an extra $20 a day.” Considering we had booked an economy car, liable to be a Chevy Spark or some other gutless mode of transportation, it was a very solid offer. We accepted, and went out to the parking lot to see if the car was actually an SS. To our surprise it was, bright and yellow as described, with a big V8 under the hood. So with that we loaded up our bags, and set off in our 400hp rental car.
I remember when I was first coming down with my major case of the car bug, the Ferrari 360 was the first car I saw that had a paddle shift transmission. While the F1 gearbox was offered in the F355, the 360 was the first model where enough of the kinks had been ironed out to make it a viable alternative to the traditional manual. Technology has come quite a long way since then, and the 360 is no longer on the tip of the technological spear. But once a Ferrari, always a Ferrari, and it still has quite a lot of appeal for buyers on the secondhand market. With this context in mind, I went into my drive in this 360 Modena ready to judge how it stands in our current day and age.
Most American car buyers would reject this straight away. As a wagon, it still carries the “neutered” stigma developed in the era before minivans. As a diesel, it is different, and therefore is terrifying. And as a manual, most people could not operate it, and would not be bothered to learn. So the Jetta Sportwagen TDI cannot possibly appeal to the mass droves of uninterested laymen, and that means it must be pretty good. This is a thinking person’s car, and among high MPG wagons, it is by far the enthusiast’s choice.
You see, not all enthusiast cars need to be about high performance. They just need to be engaging for the driver in performing a given task. Practicality and fuel efficiency define the main purposes of the Jetta Sportwagen TDI. It is undoubtedly a car that will be daily driven, and used for all manner of tasks. As a wagon that can see over 40mpg, its only real competitors are the Toyota Prius V and the Ford C-MAX. Obviously those are both hybrids, so the VW’s approach is quite different from theirs.
I have been getting many questions about the real world fuel economy of the VW Jetta Hybrid. I figured I would share this to give people an idea of what is possible with smart attentive driving.
On my trip to class today, roughly 40 miles on back roads with lots of hills and corners, I averaged 50.7 mpg. That is almost 3mpg more than the EPA says the maximum highway mileage is for this car. I did this not by “hyper mile-ing”, but by driving normally and paying attention to the car’s systems in conjunction with my surroundings. I stayed within 5mph of the posted speed limit as well, as to keep things realistic. Weather was around 60 degrees F, with a light breeze.
Our car has just under 5000 miles on it now, and is just getting fully mechanically broken in. When we first got the car we were seeing averages in the lower-mid 30s, and MPG has steadily increased as we have put miles on the car.
Now, keep in mind I was trying to drive as efficiently as reasonably possible, so I was paying special attention to how much throttle I was using, and planning when to use the gas motor to keep the battery charged. I have found that when I drive the car like i normally drive, typically 10-15mph over the speed limit, then the car seems to average more in the high 30mpg range. The Jetta Hybrid is turbocharged, so your mpg depends mostly on your right foot. It is pretty quick, especially for a car capable of 50mpg, but realize that there is a big tradeoff between using its performance abilities and getting “great” fuel economy.
That said, this is definitive proof that the VW Jetta Hybrid will deliver its claimed fuel economy in the real world, so long as it is driven properly.
Edit: I drove home using the same methods, this time on an all highway route, and saw 48.3mpg, exactly what VW claims. It is more difficult to “sail” on the electric motor at highway speeds, especially with the varied terrain in my area. I was able to coast on downgrades, but in general there were less opportunities for the electric motor to do its thing, and more traffic to deal with. My average for the day wound up being 49.5mpg, much higher than the EPA’s stated average of 45mpg. I think the Jetta Hybrid’s true fuel economy potential (with good driving) is more like 51 mpg in town and country driving, and 48mpg on the highway. Again, this is all staying within 5mph of the posted speed limit. It is both a realistic and acceptable driving style, but if you let your lead foot get the best of you then you will see you mpg drop off.
Volkswagen had a bit of genius when they built the CC. Obviously they took the coupe-sedan idea from the Mercedes CLS, but unlike the Mercedes, the CC was generally affordable. It sold like hotcakes because, while underneath it was just a VW Passat, its exterior appearance was nothing short of magnificent. Now many of the early CCs are coming off lease, and are available on the secondhand market for what seems to be a great value. So now the question is, what lies under the CC’s pretty facade, and is it worth spending your money on?
I should disclose that I am considering getting myself a CC like this one, so this drive was as much for me personally, as it was for this article. I love having two sports cars, my Subaru STi and Mazda Miata, but lately I have wanted something a bit more comfortable for daily driving. It would be nice to have a car I could go places in, and not have a little devil on my shoulder, constantly telling me to break the law. That said, I don’t want some gutless econobox either, I want a proper luxury car. Read the rest of this entry »
When most people think of Jeep, they think of Wranglers plowing through mud and climbing over rocks. They don’t, however, think of a 470hp V8, 0-60 in 4.6 seconds, and surely not of a $65,000 price tag. Meet the 2014 Grand Cherokee SRT-8, a different sort of Jeep.
It caters more toward the realistic type of SUV buyer here in America. One who will probably never forge a stream in their life, but still wants a big car to go to the mall in. Understanding this sort of buyer will help you understand why the Cherokee SRT-8 exists. The fact is, most buyers use SUVs in the exact same way they would use a car, and they wind up wanting the same things offered in cars. Just look at the BMW X6. It is both an SUV, as well as one of those coupe-sedan thingys, like the Mercedes CLS. Personally, I think the people who buy a vehicle like an X6 exude an especially repulsive level of vanity, but somehow BMW manages to sell enough X6s to make it worthwhile.
This sort of clientele purchasing SUVs has inevitably taken the emphasis off of off road ability, and put it on more traditional, car like, aspects. The result has been new SUVs that are basically just big cars, and it was only so long before someone said “Hey, can I have a fast one?”
“It’s not the size, mate, it’s how you use it!” The Mini Cooper has been the automotive embodiment of that pun since the original was released in the 1960s. The Mini is a car that, in the hands of a good driver, can outrun almost any type of pursuer, in the proper setting of course. Sure a baddie in a BMW M5 will be able to catch a Mini on an open runway, but if the chase goes into a crowded city, a shopping mall, or series of sewer drains, the mighty BMW stands no chance.
Sure, such notions of cunning escapes are purely Hollywood inspirations (The Italian Job anyone?), but they definitely suit the character of the Mini well, and have added to its hip, fun appeal. When BMW brought back the Mini brand in 2002, they did so just as the neo-retro trend was starting to take the car industry by storm. After the relative dark ages of the 1990s, where all cars had largely conformed to the same look and shape, the Mini was a brilliant streak of color, and helped onset a renaissance in car design. Although nostalgic enthusiasts criticized it for being too big, everything about the Mini screamed “Fun!”, and they sold like hotcakes.
What is this, a bright blue…. Jaguar?! Everyone, meet the XFR-S, a different sort of Jag. One that throws away the high society manners in favor of a bottle of scotch, and a line of coke.
It was only around four months ago that Jaguar released the XFR-S at the 2012 Los Angeles Auto Show. However, during my recent trip to Amelia Island, they had them available for test drives. When I asked about video taping my drive the Jaguar representatives told me they couldn’t allow it because the press has not yet driven the XFR-S. After hearing this I made sure to keep my affiliation with this publication to myself, pretending just to be another young guy looking for a joy ride. I guess you could say that this is as much of a scoop as we have yet gotten, and my experience in the XFR-S, while fairly short, yielded some interesting impressions.
I was left feeling a little mediocre when I reviewed the standard Jaguar XFR a few months ago. It had many great qualities, but it sat in an awkward place in the market, priced a little below the BMW M5 and Mercedes E63, yet still far above the bargain Cadillac CTS-V. It was also a little sub par in terms of comparative power and performance.
The XFR-S seems to have changed things up, though. It now matches its competitors in outright performance, and seems to have turned everything that was good about the XFR up to eleven. Sure, at a base price of $99,000, its MSRP is a bit more than that of an M5 or E63, but it is also an extremely limited production vehicle, with a run that will amount to just 300 units total (100 for the US). The overall feeling I came away with was that by turning the XFR into the XFR-S, Jaguar has made a car that is truly worth spending your hard earned money on. In the past I had said that the R-S badge was a bit of a gimmick on the XKR-S, over the standard XKR, but it seems the story for the XF models is different. The XFR-S sits in the context of the super saloon segment, which is very different from where the XKs are placed in the grand touring segment. This change of context makes a big difference for the R-S badge.
The Chevy Sonic is a car that finally proves that GM can actually make small cars. The Aveo was everyone’s favorite little four-wheeled punching bag, and its replacement smashed onto the scene with an ad campaign that seemed fitting more for an energy drink than for a small car. Still, no one can call the Sonic subtle–so I took this silver base sedan for a quick drive, and asked myself “Did Chevrolet finally make a B-segment car worth buying?”
The presence of a clutch pedal changes the Cadillac ATS. Most buyers interested in luxury will want the automatic transmission, and with modern technology, the manual isn’t even better in fuel efficiency these days. That means the buyer of a manual ATS will be someone who wants to swap their own gears, someone more interested in the drive than the destination. This someone falls securely in the car enthusiast realm, and they will approach a car from a very different perspective than a standard buyer in this segment. For that reason, I see the manual ATS competing in an entirely different league. The question now is, how does it stand up?
An enthusiast buyer will compare this car to the likes of the most serious performance machines available for the price, which is around $35-40k. Brand new in this range is the Subaru STI, Mitsubishi Evo, and VW Golf R. Used we can find an E90 series BMW 335i, and the mighty B8 Audi S4.
Now, on the surface you may be wondering how I am making this comparison, and why I haven’t brought up the F30 BMW 328i like everyone else would have by now. The reason is that the ATS actually has a lot in common with the aforementioned performance machines, and the F30 328i just isn’t the same caliber a driver’s car as any of them. The ATS’ chassis was developed on the infamous Nurburgring, it has Brembo brakes, a small turbocharged engine, and comes in the practical package of a small sedan. Other than being rear wheel drive, it is almost exactly the same package as the STI, Evo, Golf R, etc. As for the 335i and S4, it has the same sort of luxury and handling, and makes up for its inferior straight line performance in other areas. So, when you look at the details of the ATS, in comparison to all of these other cars, my reasoning starts to make sense.
Now that we have our perspective down, lets see how this ATS stacks up.