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The Review Garage

Rating the best and worst in cars, SUVs, trucks, motorcycles, tools and accessories.

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Tod Mesirow

science, cars, photography, art

2018 Cadillac XT5 Test Drive and Review: Holiday Road

by Tod Mesirow

It’s not much of a challenge in word association to say turkey during the holidays.  The same holds true for car manufacturers when you say the word crossover. They’re busy giving thanks for a category that since 2000 has continued its upward climb to one step from the top, in a tight race with sedans. Crossovers are barely edged out 35% to 35.8% for sedans, according Stephanie Brinley, Senior Analyst at IHS Markit.

After driving the Cadillac XT5 with three adult passengers on a holiday journey, it’s easy to see why the category is so appealing. This stellar example of the breed combines equal measures of comfort, style, form and function. XT5 has become Cadillac’s global best seller.

Starting out in New York City the day before a holiday can be a challenge.  I went to a garage to pick up the car, trying to beat the traffic rush getting out of town.  As I walked around the car, it struck me as more understated in its stance than big brother Escalade. There was no doubt XT5 was a Cadillac, with the signature grille on the front, but it wasn’t screaming at me. It was inviting me to enjoy the more curved lines, swept back from the front roof peak, and the gentle hint of expanded curves over the wheels.  The XT5 was definitely shorter and smaller than the Escalade, but not diminutive like some of the smaller Crossovers. My AWD 3.6-liter version with DI (direct injection) and VVT (variable valve timing) is rated at 18 mpg in the city and 26 mpg on the highway.  I was about to do a little of one, and more of the other, as we made our way from the heart of NYC to the bucolic Massachusetts college town of Northampton.

There’s some sort of space-related magic or sleight of hand that car designers have mastered it seems. Getting in to the XT5 felt like getting in to a much bigger vehicle than I had imagined I was getting in to. Maybe it’s the sweeping curve of the leather dashboard and comfy seats. Or the panoramic moonroof that provides a ton of light streaming in, if one wants it opened. While it’s true that the cargo area behind the back row is not as cavernous as an SUV, there was plenty of room for four adults to stash their luggage, as well as a few extraneous bags of food and drink.

Out on the road, the driver assistance systems kick in. The XT5 has a back-up camera of course – it seems mandatory – with the virtual overhead view which always feels weird, but makes some sense to help people orient themselves in space. Cars have been edging their way towards airplanes in this regard – they’re becoming almost IFR capable. IFR is instrument flight rules – which means you essentially rely on the instruments to guide your actions as you fly. You’re not actually looking where you’re going – you’re only looking at the instruments and reacting accordingly.

Another automatic system the XT5 comes with is automatic parking. While driving down a street, the driver hits a button, which alerts the car to search for a parking space. When it finds one, it takes over control of the car, and by all accounts, works perfectly, like another magic trick. Except I was in NY, and after a few searches up and down and around the block, I stopped the car from looking for a space. I will admit to a certain amount of age-related crankiness about a car that parks itself. My feeling is that if you own or lease a car, it’s incumbent upon you to know how to drive the car, and that includes parallel parking it in New York City. And yes, this crankiness is based on the fact that I expended a bit of effort mastering the skill of parking a car in New York City, back in the days when I actually lived there. One can’t park a car without having a sense of where the four edges of the car are, which is also kind of paramount to operating it successfully and safely on the road. So, consider parallel parking a kind of litmus test of how well one knows the car one is driving.

With the Cadillac XT5, however, the driver assistance systems don’t end with back-up cameras and self-parking modes.  Out on the highway, the XT5, with 310 hp and 271 lb-ft of torque, has the power to get up and go. Time to get from zero to sixty is reported to be 6.4 seconds.  I didn’t time it, but I believe it. Speed can be fun, but driving on the highway, it can also be an important safety consideration. Sometimes being able to get out of the way in a hurry is critical to avoiding an incident.

Holiday traffic being what it is, of course, meant a ping ponging of traveling at full highway speeds and slowdowns due to the number of cars, and over the course of the three plus hour trip a variety of traffic accidents — precisely the kind of driving Adaptive Cruise Control was made for. Instead of having to constantly brake and gas, brake and gas, I was able to choose from three different distances at which I felt comfortable following the car in front of me, and enter the maximum speed I wanted to travel. After that, my job as driver was to steer the car. And also, these technologies being somewhat new, and not 100% full proof, a bit of attention to the Adaptive Cruise Control is of course called for. Over the course of the journey it worked really well, with the one or two times when I wasn’t sure it was going to stop, and it did. It’s not Super Cruise (offered on the 2018 Cadillac CT6) which has received high marks from a few writers, but it’s a welcome addition.

Road noise inside the cabin was minimal. The controls worked pretty easily as one would desire – a large touchscreen placed at the correct angle for visibility without sacrificing any forward view. Unlike some vehicles, the touchscreen is integrated in to the dash design, and not stuck on like a tablet, the way some manufacturers do. The heated seats – with three levels – came in super handy as the temperatures dropped in to the 30s. Sound system provided the lush touches to the road trip environment.

Tallying up the experience, the XT5 fares well against its somewhat crowded field of competitors like the Audi Q5, the BMW X3, Lexus RX, Mercedes GLC class. We’ve entered a time where we’re approaching Peak Automobile – which in some ways feels like the end of an era, as we move from cars we drive to cars that drive us, as the Autonomous Automobile age is upon us. And at this stage, no one makes a bad car. In fact, you would have to work really hard to find a bad car to buy. What makes the difference between various versions of a category like crossovers is more about style, and the splitting of hairs among accessories and systems like Adaptive Cruise Control and things like touchscreen placement. Price is one key differentiator as well – the Platinum level XT5 I drove comes in just over $67,000 – but again, over the course of four-year loan, or two-year lease, the monthly difference of even a $5,000 price variance is not that great.

The holiday itself arrived. Family and friends dined on the traditional feast, with a few vegan additions thrown in as we expand our approach to food into new quarters. The turkey was tasty, and even though we didn’t find the wishbone, my wish did come true – we made it safely and comfortably to our holiday destination thanks to the 2018 Cadillac XT5 crossover.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

See Tod’s video review of the 2018 Cadillac XT5 on YouTube. 

Photos (c) Tod Mesirow.

2017 Nissan Titan XD Cummins V8 Turbo Diesel PRO-4X 4WD

by Tod Mesirow

The word “truck” has entered the pantheon of iconic words, supercharged and turbocharged, it calls to mind instant images of Americana – cowboys, country songs, family farms, a dog next to the driver on the bench seat. Elevated to their well-earned status both by the actual utility of such a vehicle, along with untold billions of impressions from the multitude of commercials as well as their presence as characters in films ranging from “Groundhog Day” with Bill Murray driving a 1972 Chevy C10 – “don’t drive angry” he says to Phil the gopher – to Patrick Swayze’s 1978 Chevrolet K10 Cheyenne in “Red Dawn”- and the 1985 Toyota SR5 from “Back to the Future.”

I’ve never owned a truck.  Driven one from time to time, but just for the special circumstances. Which made having a 2017 Nissan Titan XD Cummins V8 Turbo Diesel PRO-4x 4WD four door beast of a full-sized truck for a few days sound like a great idea. Base price for this model is $52,230.00. Several PRO-4X packages brings the ass-tested price to $60,250.00. EPA fuel economy ratings are not required for this vehicle; I hovered around an average 12 MPG combining city and highway driving over a three-day period.

The first thing I noticed about the Titan was that it was yellow. Or more accurately YELLOW. Which is a good thing, because it makes it easy for people to see it coming.  And the Premium Paint additional fee is only $395. The second thing that’s clear is that it’s BIG. The bottom of the door windows is as high as the top of a regular passenger car. It’s taller than I am. A full 6’6” tall. Taller than a Ford F150, by more than an inch. But big is part of the appeal. Not unlike a horse – remember we’re channeling cowboys when we step UP in to our trucks, like cowboys climb up on to their horses — or cowgirls of course. Meanin’ no disrespect, ma’am. And it’s long – 243 inches long, 12+ inches longer than the one Ford model, seven inches shorter than the longest Ford truck. What this says to me is that Nissan thinks size matters. Which when it comes to trucks, especially if they’re to be used for their original purpose, hauling stuff around, it actually does matter.

There is a swing-out step at the rear of the truck on the driver’s side that makes climbing up in to the truck bed easier. Along each side of the bed are locking compartments for storage. A sliding window allows access to the cab from the bed, or the other way around.

Climbing up and in, the first thing that happens is that you forget you’re in a truck. It has the look and feel of a nice SUV. Touch screen, full instrumentation on the panel with switchable data available to the driver, cup holders everywhere, and a really nice sound system – one of the extra packages. Turning on the truck, the engine roars to life, and like modern diesels, there’s no apparent rattle. Instead, the powerful turbo V8 sounds like a truck owner would want it to sound – powerful.  But the noise level was also reminiscent of an SUV, and not a truck. My wife’s Prius is noisier inside, actually.

Pulling away from the parking spot, the camera is available, with the simulated overhead view, which for once seemed really handy – figuring out where the front of the truck is, and the back of the truck is, helps immensely, even with all the beeps and boops of automatic systems warning about proximity. Actually seeing where one is provides for a bit of relieved stress about dinging the truck – or any other nearby smaller vehicle – which means almost everything else out there.

On the road, the ride is assured and smooth. No crazy zero to 60 speeds, but plenty of get-up-and-go. The Titan is set up for towing things, of course, and I can’t imagine anything short of Paul Allen’s 600’ plus ship being much of an issue. Visibility is great – especially sitting up so high. There’s a super steep street in Los Angeles, Baxter St., with a 32% grade, that makes top ten lists of steepest streets in America.  It’s the perfect test bed for the Titan, this model weighing in at 6,526 pounds. I turn the knob to low 4×4 and immediately I have power to all four wheels. Steep? We don’t need to worry about steep anymore. And heading down the other side of Baxter – which is just as steep – provides an opportunity to test the Hill Descent Control, designed to keep the beast from getting away from the driver. Though I know it’s engineering and science, these systems still feel a bit like magic.

It’s suggested that I use the truck as a truck and fill the bed with something like 2x4s or other building material, but instead I take a bunch of people for ice cream. The back seats are spacious, and include SUV comfort touches like individual temperature controls and cup holders of course. Three full grown adults fit easily in back.

When it’s time to return the truck to Nissan I am sorry to see it go. Riding high in a massively powerful and substantive vehicle – an icon – it’s easy to Walter Mitty my way through all sorts of scenarios that I didn’t come close to realizing. Some vehicles are pure utilitarian in nature – which is how the truck was and remained for many decades. Now however, in the modern age, the truck has entered the realm of emotional items, with its iconic status. These days a truck is almost always never just a truck. The 2017 Nissan Titan XD is certainly much more than just a truck.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

Photos (c) Tod Mesirow.

2017 Land Rover Range Rover Evoque Convertible

by Tod Mesirow

There’s not a deep reserve of demand for an SUV convertible – as far as anyone knows.  In fact, convertibles in general make up less than 1 percent of all registered cars in America.  (Hawaii leads the way with almost 4 percent but Florida is beating California with 2.12 to 1.59 percent.)  As we all know, though, there is a growing demand for SUVs.   Even while overall sedan sales slowly decline, sales of SUVs continue to rise.  And the compact luxury crossover SUV class is especially crowded.  So maybe – just maybe – someone at Land Rover looked at the Range Rover Evoque and asked the question: “How do we get some extra attention?”  A young upstart in the back of the room timidly raised his or her hand and said, “Turn it in to a convertible.” The suggestion was no doubt greeted with uproarious laughter heavily tinged with derision.  But then, someone in authority chimed in: “Great idea!”

Looking at the 2017 Land Rover Range Rover Evoque convertible, however, I’m not so sure about how brilliant an idea it really is.  Already a distinctive looking SUV, making it a convertible is like doubling down on the odd lines, the raked rear roof and chopped look.  While driving it around a guy in a 911 convertible asked at a stoplight if it was a custom car – not an odd question, especially in Los Angeles.  When I told him “no,” he gave a thumbs-up and an appreciative head bob before blasting off.

With an aluminum turbocharged four-cylinder engine putting out 240 hp, we weren’t going to be able to keep up with the 911.  And yet the Evoque manages to feel sure-footed and capable of effective highway speeds.  It’s also able to pull its way up one of the steepest streets in California, Baxter Street, where limousines have been known to become teeter totters, and grown drivers pull over part of the way up to stop and cry.

When I was growing up, my parents each had their own convertible.  Our two family cars were a 1970 Ford LTD convertible – yellow – and a 1970 Mustang convertible – orange. I knew those cars pretty well. One of my weekly chores was to wash each of them. Driving them was fun for a teenager, sometimes, but the Washington, D.C. weather didn’t do me many favors. Instead of becoming a life-long lover of open air cars, I have in fact never owned one, and have never considered owning one. I find them too windy at speed and too hot sitting at a stoplight.  Maybe 17 percent of the time there’s a great feeling of whisking along with a 360-degree unobstructed view – if in fact it was possible to be owl-like with one’s head and swivel the whole way around.

Getting into the Evoque is easy – it’s not a giant climb up like some full-sized SUVs.  And the mechanism for putting the top down – and up – has been amazingly well-crafted. There’s just one button that needs to be engaged throughout the brief process. It causes the windows to go down, and the top to unlatch and fold its way back behind the rear seats.  Simple.  Putting it up works just as easily. Unlike my parents’ old cars, there’s nothing to be done beyond engaging the button. No seating of pins, placing of latches, matching sure things are aligned. The mechanism works smoothly and easily.

With the top down, it’s off we go. The Evoque has the full complement of modern systems available, including proximity warnings while parking and driving, rear-view camera, guiding stripes placed on screen, full touchscreen access to the temperature controls, navigation, seat adjustments, entertainment systems and cell phone connections. It’s becoming standard to feel like settling in to the cockpit of some modern space age vehicle when getting in to a new car, and there’s something reassuring about all of that technology.

Out on the road, the Evoque handles the basic tasks as it should – cornering, accelerating, braking.  It’s not a giant SUV, so there’s no ungainly feeling to driving along the Pacific Coast Highway, which is where convertibles belong.  Looking to the left while driving north, the ocean glimmers with its perpetual motion.  To the right, the hills are pregnant with houses.  It’s easy to imagine a small surfboard or boogie board stuck into the foot wells of the back seat. Okay maybe not a boogie board – the wind would whip it up and away. But a surfboard – that image works. And the trunk, while not very large because of the space necessary to stow the convertible top, is plenty big enough for a few boogie boards.

The back seat, as well, is not as big as it would otherwise be, again because of the top.  It has to go somewhere.  Which makes the Evoque convertible a three-person car for adults, or four if the two in the back are smaller children.

Comparing the Evoque convertible is difficult – because since the demise of the Nissan Murano Convertible, there are no other SUV convertibles. But it might be instructive to look at two others in the same compact luxury crossover class – the BMW X3 and the Audi Q5 and compare things like horsepower, size, MPG, and price.

The X3 with a turbo four-cylinder produces 240 hp, the same as the Evoque convertible.  The Audi Q5 also with a turbo four-cylinder produces 220 hp, the lower of the three, with an eight-speed automatic transmission and AWD.   MPG is 20 city/28 highway and has a $42,750 price tag.  The Q5 is 182.6 inches long.  The Evoque is 172 inches long.   The X3 is 183.4 inches long, also with AWD and eight-speed transmission.  MPG is 21 city/28 highway, and carries a $40,950 ticket.  The hardtop version of the Evoque five door model for a straight comparison is $51,470 msrp, with a nine-speed transmission and 4WD.  The convertible version is only slightly more – $52,095, which is a departure from cars like the Mustang and the Camaro, where convertible versions incur a $5,000 and $7,000 premium over their hardtop siblings. The Evoque convertible is rated a similar 20 MPG city/ 28 highway – though one has to imagine that with the top down highway mileage would be lower due to the reduction in the streamlined shape cruising up the California coastline.

Regardless of the details, for most drivers the big questions come down how does it feel to drive, and how do I feel driving it?  The 2017 Land Rover Range Rover Evoque Convertible feels like a luxury vehicle while driving it, but I feel like I’m in an oddball when I think about how it looks. Almost as if it came from an alternate bubble universe, where things were familiar, but somehow just off that little bit. For the right person, the Evoque convertible is a dream car. For everyone else, it’s a bit of a curiosity, an ugly duckling that looks like a swan to those who fall for it. And for Land Rover/Tata, their new model may just be the thing that calls attention to the rest of their flock, which can’t help but be a good thing.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

 

Photos (c) Tod Mesirow.

The Porsche Experience

by Tod Mesirow

Carson, CA sits in a geographically desirable area – in which to build a small race track.  Porsche looked far and wide for a location in the Los Angeles area, as a huge percentage of Porsches are sold here.  In fact, California, we were told at the press event christening the new Porsche Experience by the folks at Porsche, is the most important market in the U.S., and that one-third Porsches sold worldwide are sold in the United States.  This is the second Porsche Experience in America – following the one in Atlanta next to their U.S. headquarters.

On what used to be a municipal golf course, where the 110 and the 405 meet, down the block from the Goodyear Blimp airfield, Porsche built a playground for driving, with four distinct opportunities – a straightaway that ends with a sharply banked circle that one drops in to; a road course, with great twists and turns, slight changes in elevation, and plenty of chances to find the best line – if one can; a slick track, where the driver’s ability to respond to a loss of traction is tested and can be improved; and an off-road course, with a teeter totter to perfect balance and touch, and steep drops to feel the automatic descent mode in action.

The 53-acre site includes a 50,000-square-foot building with a Porsche shop, a restaurant on the second floor with a view of the driving courses, and plenty of Porsches on display — most new, some old, and one race car that’s half Lego blocks.

one-half-lego-porsche-wideGuests can spend as little as $35 for 30 minutes in a simulator, or as much as $850 for an hour-and-a-half in a 911 GT3 on the tracks with an instructor. Almost all of the Porsche line is currently available, except for the Panamera. Porsche anticipates 50,000 visitors in the first year.

One thing to look forward to – as if this isn’t enough – Porsche made sure to emphasize their $1 billion commitment to making an electric sports car by 2020. Gives a whole new meaning to the teenage saying “silent but deadly.”

The media day at the Porsche Experience included me having the opportunity to get behind the wheel of a Carrera 2, among other vehicles, and be guided through the course by an instructor.  Josh Allan displayed patience and good humor with my less-than-Fangio level skills.

porsche-exerpience-press-briefingWatch Tod’s video experience here.

Photos (c) Tod Mesirow.

The Grand Tour, Episode One – A Review

by Tod Mesirow

From the opening sequence, with Jeremy Clarkson departing the BBC and London in the rain, and arriving in Los Angeles, it’s evident that there’s more life left in the Top Gear team and their formula. The Grand Tour, the new motoring series currently streaming on Amazon Video, is hosted by Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May, the three former hosts of Top Gear, the most successful television series in the history of the world, with a global audience north of 400,000,000 at its peak. The Grand Tour is executive produced by Clarkson’s longtime collaborator and Top Gear co-creator Andy Wilman. Like their first venture, this new one is not really a motoring show – it’s a buddy road comedy that uses cars and the automotive world as a canvas for mischief, mayhem, comedy, and the search for the meaning of life.

Full disclosure: Back in 2008, Andy Wilman hired me to create and serve as executive producer on an American version of Top Gear for NBC, to be hosted by Adam Carolla, Tanner Faust and Eric Stromer. We finished just in time for the economic meltdown and the pending bankruptcy of the three major automobile companies. Wilman paid me the highest compliment when he saw our pilot episode (which he helped make, of course) when he said we had succeeded in making not a clone of Top Gear, but a true American version. To this day, it is still one of the saddest close-calls I’ve had as a television creator.  The other bit of disclosure is that I was the executive producer of Season Two of Richard Hammond’s Crash Course for BBC Worldwide and BBC America, and had the pleasure of spending eight weeks traveling across America with Richard, while he learned to be a cowboy in Texas, drive a cab and do stand-up comedy in New York, build a helicopter in Torrance, wrangle snakes in Los Angeles, and work as a bicycle messenger in San Francisco, among other experiences.

1920-opening-sequence-desert-all-cars-s1e01What is also evident is the attention to detail in every aspect of the production (a Wilman hallmark). The show begins with Clarkson walking through a lonely garage toward his rental car. The overhead fluorescent tubes flicker on and off until he comes upon the Rocket – a modified Mustang – and takes off for the desert.  As the rest of the opening sequence unfolds, it becomes obvious that anyone who was expecting more of the same (or less of the same) was sorely mistaken, as the scope, the verve, the out-and-out joy that everyone brings to the new series is abundantly on display.

If you watch the series on your laptop, informational sidebars called “x-ray” are available in the form of white type on the left-hand side of the screen, adding an additional layer of detail.

I was fortunate enough to be invited by Wilman and Hammond to attend the taping of the first episode. It was illuminating to see how a seemingly unlimited budget can be spent – to good effect. Having seen the taping in person – and having enjoyed it immensely – it was a blast to watch it all come together at home.

1920-holy-trinity-s1e01The first part of the set piece is long, though it doesn’t feel it – nearly 14 minutes in a classic Top Gear shoot out, where each host takes a car – in this case, the La Ferrari vs. the Porsche 918 Spyder vs. the McLaren P1 – all hypercars of the highest order combining internal combustion with electric motors and all 200+ mph examples of the latest technology.

For viewers used to watching Top Gear on BBC America with constant commercial interruptions, it’s a pleasure watching the show without the intrusion of advertisements, and the “x-ray” feature along the side is fun to use for the added details.

After Clarkson and Hammond have a bit of fun with May in a desk bit, it’s back out to a taped segment, where Clarkson reveals their new test track while putting a BMW M2 through its paces.  I won’t reveal his take on it – a “no-spoiler alert” of sorts.

And instead of the Stig – a classic Top Gear component – the test driver they’ve tapped is American former NASCAR driver Mike Skinner, who is awesome in this first episode.  The lap time goes up on a board comparing it to other cars, as in the original Top Gear.

1920-scorpion-s1e01There’s another funny bit with the audience.  and then another audience bit – The Grand Tour’s take on “Star in a Reasonably Priced Car” – that I won’t reveal, because it’s well worth seeing yourself.  It’s a brilliant approach that will be fun to watch as the season unfolds.

Then it’s back to the main set piece: The hypercar shoot-out.

As they wrap up the episode in the studio, the thing that stands out – as my friend Todd Wertman, car lover/expert noted, is the enthusiasm of the presenters themselves. Far from being jaded, or over making television shows, or phoning it in, they appear to be having more fun than ever before – which means those of us watching do, too.

And in an interesting approach for an online platform like Amazon, the episodes are NOT all available at once for the ultimate horsepower binge – The Grand Tour is being rolled out one at a time, one a week, like a regular television series.

And like plenty of people out there, I’m looking forward to the rest of the season.

1920-start-s1e01Screen captures courtesy GrandTourNation.com

 

2016 Dodge Challenger SRT 392 Test Drive and Review

by Tod Mesirow

America has a lot of big, open, long, largely empty highways.  Thank you Cold War and President Eisenhower.   The national interstate highway system with the instantly recognizable curved sign, with a number in white on a blue background and the word “INTERSTATE” in white letters on a red background at the top – that’s only 50 years old.   June 29, 1956 is when President Eisenhower signed the law that created the system because of what was felt at the time the strategic necessity of having a coast to coast system of quality roadways – to move troops and equipment in case of war.   The bill actually uses the words “in case of atomic attack.”

Lucky for us the atomic war hasn’t happened yet.  And lucky for us that we have cars like the Dodge Challenger SRT 392 with a 485-hp HEMI V8 and a 6-speed manual transmission driving power to 20-inch wheels controlled through deceleration via Brembo brakes.   With red calipers.   Because the red ones look cool.

dsc_2518-cropped-challengerBut it’s not the stopping that gets our hearts racing.  It’s the going fast.  And the best use of those strategic assets we call “highways” is to go fast in American muscle.

There is the Mustang, and the Camaro, and the Challenger.  Always a little beefier, broader in the shoulders and more imposing in design, the latest iteration of the Challenger was reborn in 2008 after dying in 1974.  After eight years, refinements have been made so that the brawn remains. Yet through some modern technology and effective engineering, there’s a surprising amount bit of nimbleness on hand in the 2016 version.

For me, the really interesting thing about driving this brand new 2016 Challenger SRT 392 is that back in 2013 when I was the Executive Producer of “Joe Rogan Questions Everything” for A. Smith & Co. on SyFy, my friends at FCA loaned us a current (2013) model Challenger SRT with a manual transmission for Joe to drive as his hero car. Which meant (of course) that when Joe wasn’t driving the car, the production department took care of it.  That afforded me a reasonable amount of time behind the wheel.

Powerful?  Yes.  Smooth, responsive, well-mannered?  No.  Out on the Eisenhower highways? Look out.  Roll into some tight turns, switchbacks and two-lane awesomeness? Not so much.

dsc_2502-crop-challengerFast-forward to this August, 2016, when the new 2016 Challenger showed up for me to drive to Monterey Car Week, and then up in to the Sierra Mountains for a few days, I had the perfect opportunity to see and feel for myself if the new upgrades – like the “Bilstein Adaptive Dampening System with an independent front short- and long-arm design and multilink rear design,” according to Dodge promotional materials – had the kind of impact I could feel.

After hundreds of miles, and roads as varied as eight-lane interstate highways to two-lane mountain roads – from the long, flat and straight to the constantly curving, ever-changing in both camber and elevation – the Challenger consistently performed beyond expectations.

dsc_2514-challengerForward visibility is perfect, with the large sweep of windshield glass.  Side-to-side view is fine.  Looking over one’s shoulder is pretty useless – the rear sightlines are limited, and the two best places to look are in the rear-view mirrors or the back-up camera, which catch pretty much everything.  This is an instance of an effective application of modern technology combined with old-school reflection.

Back seat space is minimal.  Like most sports cars, even the ones with 2+2 in their title, it really means the two seats in the back fit one person sitting sideways.  In that configuration most cars of this ilk are effective as three seaters.  The only time four makes sense is when the rear passengers are young, or stars of a TLC little people series. (No offense meant to little people of course.)

dsc_2507-challengerFor long distance driving, the front seats were unexpectedly comfortable.  Controls of all sorts were sensibly placed and well labeled.  The large screen used to control the various systems and the display for the back-up camera is happily touch screen.  (Something Mercedes can’t seem to figure out, in some semblance of obstinacy or feigned Teutonic superiority. But really.  As the control mechanism, the knob is dead. Come on, Mercedes — embrace the touch screen.)

dsc_2509-cropped-challengerDriving the Challenger is a pleasure.  The sonic feedback from the engine has been dialed in just right.  Noise level in the cabin is better than expected. While the engine revs and shifts, the sounds are as tactile as they are auditory in their pleasure.  Diving in and out of curves on a two-lane mountain road in the Sierras, I was able to stay on my side of the road, experience a bit of the thrill of hitting the apex just right, without the sensation of being thrown around in the cabin.  The new suspension set up worked admirably.  For a vehicle with a 4,200-lb curb weight, the thing moved with an unexpected nimbleness.  The hood scoop is functional – air does flow in.  There is no mistaking where the gasoline goes in to the car – the oversized hinged circle says “FUEL” on it in great no-nonsense “here-I-am” fashion – kind of like the car itself.

dsc_2510-cropped-challengerSome cars I get to drive are perfect opportunities to explore a specific type of vehicle, and I’m fine returning them to the manufacturer.  Others stand out as cars that – if I had unlimited funds – would be welcome additions to my stable.  The Dodge Challenger SRT 392 Hemi six-speed definitely fits in that latter class.  I miss it.

SPECIFICATIONS

  • Model: 2016 Dodge Challenger SRT 392
  • Price: $50,195 ($52,775 as tested)
  • EPA Fuel Economy: 14 mpg city/23 mpg highway/17 mpg combined
  • Engine: 485 horsepower, 6.4 liter, 392 cubic inch V8 engine
  • Transmission: 6-speed manual
  • Warranty: 3-year/36,000-mile basic; 5-year/60,000-mile powertrain

See Tod’s video review of the 2016 Dodge Challenger SRT 392 here.

dsc_2499-challengerPhotos (c) Tod Mesirow.

 

Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion

by Tod Mesirow

Each year some serious automotive enthusiasts bring their vintage vehicles to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca and take them around the track, wheel to wheel, in a series of races. It’s an awesome event because many of these cars are worth six or seven figures, and instead of spending their lives strictly as garage queens, their owners put them to the use for which they were built – racing. in 2011 Mazda brought the only Japanese car ever to win Le Mans, the rotary powered 1991 Mazda 787B. Pay no attention to my hair.

Watch Tod’s Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion Video here.

By Morio (photo taken by Morio) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Cars & Coffee

by Tod Mesirow

There was an amazing early morning event, every weekend, from 6 to 9 AM in Irvine, held in the Mazda parking lot, called Cars & Coffee. The ultimate automotive enthusiasts show – free – and completely eclectic. From one week to the next one never knew who would show up with what amazing vehicle. I had the good fortune to make this short piece for Mazda. I’m not used to getting up that early – but it was worth it.

Watch Tod’s Cars & Coffee video here.

(Photo by Axion23 (A few Rare Ferraris) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons)

Los Angeles Auto Show and the Concept Car

by Tod Mesirow

The LA Auto Show is one of those annual events that just feels like the right thing in the right place- and once they moved it to November, the right time as well. A great opportunity to see some old classics thanks to a display organized by the Motor Press Guild, and of course the perfect opportunity to see the newest, latest, and greatest from all the world’s car manufacturers. I went with KCRW’s Steve Chiotakis to experience the show in person.

Hear Tod’s story on KCRW.

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