The raspy echo of a snarling V8 carrying over the desert sand is usually something that would conjure up thoughts of American iron and righteous lawlessness. The movie Vanishing Point comes to mind, and the Dodge Challenger is just the car I would normally think of when the topic of V8s echoing over desert sands arises. But in this case, what I am describing is not a muscle car, but a suave British exotic, fresh from the pages of a novel by Ian Fleming. I am of course talking about an Aston Martin, the V8 Vantage S to be exact, and no, I cannot promise that will be my last James Bond reference because such cliches are obligatory when a journalist drives an Aston, of course.
My drive took place on the racetrack at Exotics Racing in Las Vegas, Nevada. I doubt many Aston Vantages see track time in the hands of their owners, but it was very interesting to get to know this little car in a setting where I could actually explore a good bit of its potential. Exotics Racing had unfortunately unhooked all of the machine guns and the oil slick from the car (things that come standard on every Aston), but on the positive side, that made the car lighter.
Hyundai has no secrets in its intentions. Since 2009, this company has managed to make itself look leagues better than almost everyone. When one company screws up in the news, Hyundai has a positive headline on the same page of the local newspaper. Somehow, they can make the entry-level Accent and Elantra and sell them in the same dealers as the high-end Genesis sedan, as well as the subject of this review, the flagship Equus. No other car company can sell a range as diverse as this under the same franchise roof. Hyundai bills the big Equus as a car to fight the S-Class for a much lower price. On paper, that’s quite a clear truth, but I had to drive it to see if that advertising line lives up to its billing.
Jaguar is on a serious roll lately. They have gone from a company that was on its back to a company that everyone is watching very closely in less than 6 years’ time, thanks to a few new models, a new parent company, and a large amount of development money that’s been spent effectively. I’ve been waiting 2 years to drive another Jaguar XJ after taking a used one out for a spin in North Jersey. While I was with Nick at the Pebble Beach Concours, that wait ended abruptly with the roar of the 550hp XJR. I had to ask: Is this car worth its price and will it be on a new level of performance compared to the old XJR? I took the wheel of this silver-grey 2014 model around the 17-Mile Drive to find out.
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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 335d was a bit of an oddball on the American market. It was the highest performing diesel version of the E90 3 Series, and BMW sought to see how Americans would receive a top range diesel car. Diesels are huge in Europe, but have a much smaller market share here in the States. Considering that, along with the fact that the 335d was a higher-end model 3 Series, it comes as no surprise that they were not BMW’s biggest seller. That means that today, here in 2013, 335ds are rather uncommon on the used market. It also means that we have to change the way we look at the car now that it is only available pre owned.
Those people who did buy 335ds will absolutely swear by them. To most uneducated Americans the notion of diesel power evokes thoughts of black smoke and the loud rattle of a dump truck. Anyone with actual experience in a modern diesel car will tell an entirely different story. They will tell you about the solid performance, and incredible fuel economy, about a car that both runs clean, and is great fun to drive. Diesels like the 335d are sort of a insider secret in America, those who know, know, and those who don’t know waste their money on (mostly) gutless hybrid cars.
I had driven a 335d once before, but only very briefly. I decided to go out and try another one for two reasons: First, to see how it fairs in the context of the used market. Second, to compare it to the new F30 3 Series that I reviewed recently. Lets face it, BMWs are very overpriced brand new, with all kinds of options that nickel-and-dime you to death. A smart car buyer knows that BMWs should be purchased secondhand, with low mileage and some remainder on the factory warranty. By doing this, you save yourself the vast depreciation that comes from spending so much on all of those fancy options, as well as the BMW brand mark up. I will go into the specifics of this for the 335d later on All you need to know for now is that 335ds are currently right in the sweet spot of the secondhand BMW market.
The Golf R carries on the torch, held by the R32 before it, as the ultimate Volkswagen Golf. The R32 first came on the scene in 2002, sharing most of its mechanical features with the top spec Audi TT. It was placed above the famous GTI in the Golf lineup, and offered a bigger VR6 engine that sent power to all four wheels, opposed to just the front in the GTI. The Golf R has changed from the original R32 in many of its details, but still offers the same package in the modern lineup. America was not originally supposed to receive the Golf R when it debuted in 2010, but there was so much outspoken demand for the car that they were landing on our shores by the spring of 2012. This is a car I have been wanting to test for a while now, and as it turned out my family decided to buy another Volkswagen. So after we committed to the buy, I asked if I could have a drive in the Golf R to sweeten the deal a little, and they were more than happy to oblige. Read the rest of this entry »
I really liked the Buick Verano when I drove it a few months ago because it was an entry level luxury car with its priorities in line. It offered a very high level of comfort, and solid quality for a very decent price, so there wasn’t much to complain about. However, if I had one criticism to make, it would be that the engine wasn’t really befitting of a luxury car. Its power was only passable, and despite GM’s best efforts, a shouty four banger can only be made so quiet. When it came time to merge onto the highway the Verano just felt stressed, and that is not something that will promote relaxation in the driver. I sort of looked the other way at all this because it was such a great value in other ways. Let’s face it, I didn’t really expect to find the epitome of luxury in a car costing only 23 grand. Happily, however, Buick has brought out a new, turbocharged version of the Verano, which hopefully would remedy any complaints on the standard model. I was quite excited when I first heard the Verano Turbo was coming out, and I remember chuckling at Jalopnik’s tag line “The Buick Verano Turbo just slapped your grandma in the face”, so I had to go try one as soon as they hit showrooms. Read the rest of this entry »
The term “luxury” is very profound in the automotive world, one single phrase that evokes so much about a car’s nature. It is something that goes far beyond the face value of leather seats, and some fine wood veneer. Luxury implies a balance of heritage and modern sophistication, being up with the times, but staying true to one’s self. There is also a sense of great power, but with the wisdom to use it tastefully, and intelligently. Class is everything for luxury cars, but identity is most important when choosing between them. After all, if you are going to spend six figures on a mode of transportation, you don’t want it to be something “typical”. And with that I give you the Jaguar XJL Supersport, one such luxury car that I had the pleasure of sampling this past fall.
Nirvana is a state of absolute peace. A realm of balance where one is content with who they are, and what they have. Thoughts of the future and past are to be cast aside in favor of finding joy in what the current moment has to offer. It is this concept that I feel defines the character of the Scion FRS. It is a car that forgoes excess in any one aspect in order to focus on pure driving enjoyment alone. Yes I realize the paradox of comparing a material item to the Buddhist concept of absolute tranquility, one that is supposed to be free of worldly desires. However, if you look at the FRS as a car amongst other cars, then I think you will see what I mean.
The Hyundai Veloster brought a nice bit of flavor to the economy car market back in 2011. Its unique three-door design with funky styling set it apart from the cookie cutter options offered by other carmakers. However, the Veloster was all show and no go because underneath it was still just an economy car. For 2012 Hyundai brought out the Veloster Turbo in an effort to make the car’s go-go power match its wild appearance. The result is a very interesting car. One that competes in the marketplace well, and becomes extremely convincing once you consider all that it has to offer.
The 3 series is basically the standard of the world in terms of what defines the sport sedan segment. Over the years it has offered the simple package of a commuter car, but was also great fun to drive. Many competitors have tried to take on the 3 series at its own game, and currently there are a few that really do compete. There is, however, a reason why BMW’s ace in the hole has been so formidable over the years; it’s a tough nut to crack. I recently went and drove this 328i xDrive both as a direct comparison to the Cadillac’s new ATS, and to see how well the newest 3 series carries the torch of its revered lineage. Read the rest of this entry »
I have been around cars for a long time now, and it has gotten to the point where I generally know what to expect when I get behind the wheel of something new. Many cars have some surprising features, but usually these surprises are more of a nice touch, a cherry on top of the ice cream sundae; if you will. Every so often though, I find something that completely throws my expectations out the window. The Chevy Siverado you see above belongs to my photographer friend, Dan Valanzola, who has spent countless hours turning it into something entirely unexpected. Read the rest of this entry »