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2016 Rolls-Royce Wraith: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

If you happen to be staying at the posh Mandarin Oriental Hotel on the Rhone River in Geneva, Switzerland (you know who you are), it’s not unusual to stand out front and watch any number of 2016 Rolls-Royce Wraith coupes glide by.

Go to Duluth, MN; Providence, RI; Bergen NJ, or even Washington, DC, and you’re not likely to see any. If there are Rolls-Royces tooling about in DC, they’re likely to be the locomotive-like Silver Ghost four-doors on Embassy Row and not the fastback 2016 Wraith. In the nation’s capital, the Wraith is rare as an elected US senator.

The Wraith is the Rolls-Royce vision of a sporting conveyance. It is derived from the Ghost Series II, though with two fewer doors, and is shorter by nearly a foot. Unlike the Ghost, it is designed to be driven by its Trump-wealthy owner, who otherwise employs a chauffeur for his or her other Rollsies.

P90115741_highRes_rolls-royce-wraithIt also comes only as a coupe, albeit with wide doors that open from the front, which once were called “suicide doors” before the advent of modern safety requirements. Early suicide doors could be accidentally opened at speed and turn a car into a spinning sailboat in the wind.

The Wraith’s doors close automatically with the touch of a button and lock as securely as a bank vault. But the tested $390,000 coupe doesn’t have a sunroof, instead offering LED stars in the headliner. An owner who wants open-air motoring likely also will own a Dawn convertible (base price $342,600).

Perhaps because of Great Britain’s fascination with the spirit world (who doesn’t know about Scrooge’s assailants in Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol”?), Rolls-Royce traditionally has used otherworldly names like Phantom for cars with bespoke luxury and fanatical craftsmanship.

Rolls and competitor Bentley love the term “bespoke.” It is so very English and, in American lingo, simply means “customized.” For example, the tested Wraith had a beautiful bespoke powder blue paint job that cost an extra $10,425.

Rolls-Royce and Bentley, both storied British companies, used to be part of the same combine. But the luxury automotive business forced alien divestment and divorce. Bentley now is owned, engineered and manufactured by Volkswagen; Rolls-Royce is the pinnacle of Bavaria’s BMW.

P90115734_highRes_rolls-royce-wraithParts of the Wraith evoke BMW: the shifter, switches and the pushbutton start that requires two punches to shut down. Also, sun visors do not slide on their support rods and SXM reception is spotty.

Wraith is a name from back in the 1930s. It means almost the same thing as ghost, though ghost sometimes is defined as a demon. Interestingly, in this context, it is the Wraith’s more driver-oriented mien that is more demonic (if that could be said of any Rolls-Royce).

The Wraith looks nothing like any other Rolls ever. Designers reportedly said it was inspired by two Italian coupes: the 1955 Lancia Aurelia B20 and the 1967 Maserati Ghibli.

However, neither of those approaches the Wraith’s size. The contention here is that they felt constrained to credit chic Italian wheels when the real inspiration was the 1949 Buick Roadmaster Sedanette. The Buick was longer and wider than the Wraith: 17 feet 10 inches versus 17 feet 4 inches bumper to bumper, and 79.9 inches wide against the Wraith’s 76.7 inches.

P90115739_highRes_rolls-royce-wraithOf course, the 2016 Wraith is a tad more car and way more expensive than that Buick of 67 years ago. Still, forgive a bit of American chauvinism; the traditionalist Brits brag incessantly on behalf of their homies.

The Wraith impresses. But there’s nothing phony. Settle into the finest leather, wood and polished metal interior and get the feel of what seems like a gigantic steering wheel. It’s only 16 inches in diameter but seems like one of those classic arm busters of the 1920s.

Look out over the bulbous hood that stretches to the horizon and swings in a majestic arc as you leisurely pilot your ark around a corner. Step on the loud pedal and there’s a slight hesitation before the eight-speed automatic transmission sends the beginning of 624 hp and 590 lb-ft of torque to the rear wheels from the massive 6.6-liter V-12 engine.

You can hammer 60 mph from rest in a whiff more than four seconds. But you don’t do that. You’re not some seven-year-itch in a Dodge Challenger Wildcat. Nope, this is all about knowing you can do it and knowing that every witness knows you can do it as well. With class.

P90115740_highRes_rolls-royce-wraithSpecifications

  • Model: 2016 Rolls-Royce Wraith two-door coupe.
  • Engine:6-liter V-12, twin turbochargers, 624 hp, 590 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with rear-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 17 feet 4 inches.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 112/17 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 5,380 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 13/21/15 mpg. Premium fuel required.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $307,100.
  • Price as tested (including $1,700 gas guzzler tax): $390,320.

Disclaimer: This test drive was conducted at a manufacturer-sponsored press event. The manufacturer provided travel, accommodations, vehicles, meals and fuel.

Photos (c) Rolls-Royce

2017 Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class Test Drive and Review

by Tod Mesirow

The SUV came mostly out of nowhere and now occupies a preeminent place in most car manufacterers’ lineups.  All the functionality of a minivan – most carry a minimum of six passengers, some as many as eight – with the style and some of the capabilities of a robust off-road vehicle.  Mercedes has married the best of both lineages while including a bit of their signature refinements.

Read Tod’s review at SUVs.About.com.

Photos (c) Tod Mesirow

 

2017 Bentley Bentayga

by Tod Mesirow

There’s a reason some things are called luxury items.  They’re better versions of workhorse items.  There’s a lot of competition at the top of the pyramid because there’s a lot of money up there.  I guess that’s the point, so to speak.  On almost all fronts, the Bentley Bentayga belongs on a pedestal, if not the tip of a pyramid, as the top of its luxury SUV class.

Read Tod’s review at SUVs.About.com.

Photos (c) Tod Mesirow

2017 Genesis G90: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

The late Jack Benny, one of the greatest comedians of all time, would have loved the 2017 Genesis G90 sedan, the flagship of a new automobile brand.

An essential component of Benny’s shtick was that of a wealthy tightwad, a penny pincher without peer. In perhaps his most famous bit, a robber attempts to hold him up, saying “Your money or your life.

Benny doesn’t say a word. He gets a quizzical look on his face and simply stands there, thinking it over. It is one of the great comic moments in history.

The Genesis G90 embodies his persona. It radiates wealth and quality, at a price that would entice Benny or even Ebenezer Scrooge.

Yet it needs to win acceptance from luxury buyers. It is the new designer brand from Hyundai of South Korea, which started out poorly in the mid-1980s.

Genesis G90
Genesis G90

In the last decade, however, it has overcome doubts by delivering, along with its sister company Kia, popular priced cars of unexpected high quality that challenge industry leaders like Toyota and Honda. It even ventured into near-luxury and luxury territory with models like the Genesis sedan and coupe, and the flagship Equus.

Now the company has elevated the Genesis name to an all-new luxury brand that eventually will offer at least a half dozen new models. It is similar to what Toyota did with Lexus, Nissan with Infiniti and Honda with Acura.

Volkswagen did not fare as well with its Phaeton, which retained its VW identity and flopped in the U.S. because of poor sales. Mazda also once considered its own luxury brand but backed away from the Amati.

Genesis G90
Genesis G90

Genesis starts with two models: The G80, a revamped version of the existing Hyundai Genesis sedan. Most important is the Genesis G90, which resembles the previous Equus but is all-new with no shared parts. It competes with top luxury cars like the S-Class Mercedes-Benz, Cadillac CT6, BMW 7-Series, Lincoln Continental, Lexus LS and Audi A8.

Therein lies the rub. Dave Zuchowski, the genial and accessible president and CEO of Hyundai Motor America, is a realist who understands that it will take time to pry luxury buyers away from their fealty to the Mercedes three-pointed star and the BMW blue and white propeller.

The luxury car phenomenon is that any newcomer must develop a reputation for great performance and quality to win customers who often are clueless about the product but entranced by the cachet.

Zuchowski says he figures it could take five years of sustained effort to insinuate the new Genesis brand into the consciousness of those buyers. One way will be to appeal to the bargain hunter in all of us. Even rich people sometimes shop at Walmart. Prices were delayed until after the national introduction, but the new 3.3T G90’s all-wheel drive price of $71,550 was thousands of dollars less than some competitors.

Another way is to deliver a superior product. The G90 is a superb road machine with sharp handling, abundant power and five-star comfort.

Genesis G90
Genesis G90

It comes come fully equipped, with no need to pore over lists of expensive options. Standard enhancements include genuine ash and walnut wood trim, soft Nappa leather and enough sound insulation to rival an anechoic chamber. There are two versions, each available with standard rear-wheel drive or full time all-wheel drive.

A hallmark of the new brand is the way it will treat customers. Need service? It’s included at no extra charge. Hate going to the dealership? An associate will drive a loaner car to your home, pick up your new G90 and return it when it’s been serviced, washed and massaged.

Driven at the world introduction in Canada’s British Columbia province was the G90 3.3T Premium with all-wheel drive. It is powered by a 3.3-liter V6 engine with twin turbochargers that delivers 365 hp and 376 lb-ft of torque. Power gets to the pavement through an eight-speed automatic transmission with a manual shift mode. Also available will be the Genesis 5.0L with a 420-hp, 5.0-liter V8 that makes 383 lb-ft of torque.

As with other vehicles from Hyundai, the Genesis comes with a full warranty for five years or 60,000 miles, as well as a powertrain warranty for 10 years or 100,000 miles.

Sure, there’s no rear seat entertainment system. And so far it doesn’t drive or park itself. But the new G90 is classy, comfortable and composed enough to satisfy extravagant showoffs as well as skinflints.

Genesis G90
Genesis G90

Specifications

  • Model: 2017 Genesis G90 AWD 3.3T Premium four-door sedan.
  • Engine:3-liter V6, twin turbochargers, 365 hp, 376 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 17 feet 1 inch.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 113/16 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,784 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 17/24/20 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $71,550.
  • Estimated price as tested: $71.550.

Disclaimer: This test drive was conducted at a manufacturer-sponsored press event. The manufacturer provided travel, accommodations, vehicles, meals and fuel.

Photos (c) Genesis

Tesla Autopilot

by Tod Mesirow

We’re at the precipice of a new age of automotive options, as the car of the future is just about here. Tesla’s top of the line Model S 90d, while not quite an autonomous car, is enabled with autonomous driving features that certainly make it a gateway technology to what every transportation sector prognosticator says is just around the next bend.  I go for a spin and let the algorithms do the driving – at 75MPH – on the 405 – while changing lanes.

Read and listen to Tod’s report at KCRW.com.

Photo (c) Tesla Motors

2017 Audi Q7 Test Drive and Review

by Jason Fogelson

Big crossover vehicles confuse me a little. I don’t understand why I love the 2017 Audi Q7 so much, but I do.

Audi lavished some much-need attention to Q7 for 2017, taking a chisel to an exterior that hadn’t changed in almost a decade. The sharper, more angular body looks a little less locomotive than before, with a front end that’s lower and sides that feel tucked in rather than bulging. It’s a good look and further differentiates it from corporate cousins Porsche Cayenne and Volkswagen Touareg.

Audi does interiors really well, and Q7 benefits from the latest styling and technology the company has to offer. And that’s to say – really classy, sleek and attractive.

Q7 used to be offered with a choice of diesel or gasoline powerplant, but thanks to the VW diesel scandal, it’s strictly gasoline for the Q7 in the US for now. The 3.0-liter turbo V6 is no slouch, but doesn’t get the same reported fuel efficiency ratings that the diesel was famous for – dishonestly, as it turns out. Shame.

news-2017-audi-q7-60Even with all this goodness on offer, I’m still confused. The big crossover is obviously an on-road vehicle, without a hint of ruggedness anywhere. Who is it for? In my hometown of Los Angeles, I see plenty of Q7 crossovers in traffic carrying a lone driver, not the big family I’d expect. Audi’s got two smaller SUVs, the Q5 and Q3, that would seem to be better choices for commuting.

But the Q7 makes a statement – a big statement. And maybe that’s what it’s all about.

Read my 2017 Audi Q7 Test Drive And Review on Forbes.com.

Photos (c) Audi

2017 Infiniti QX30 Review

by Jason Fogelson

You can tell that a vehicle segment is important when the luxury brands come along and start to colonize. Just a few years ago, compact crossover vehicles were a niche. Nobody really believed that there was a market for them. Big was in. Would an Escalade driver ever want to drive a compact crossover?

Turns out that compact crossovers draw from two directions at once. Large and mid-size SUV drivers step down into compacts; sedan and hatchback drivers step up into compact crossovers.

Infiniti already had a pretty broad range of crossovers and SUVs, from the QX50 all the way to the QX80. But they saw that there was room at the bottom for a compact crossover.

I got a chance to drive the new 2017 Infiniti QX30 at a recent event in Seattle, and I reviewed the luxury compact crossover for Autobytel.com.2017InfinitiQX30Fogelson-6.

Photos (c) Jason Fogelson

2017 Volvo V90 Road Test and Review

by Jason Fogelson

Plenty of vehicles get labeled “iconic,” but few really deserve the term. The Volvo wagon lives up to “icon” status, and now there’s a new generation of the flagship on its way. When it arrives on US shores later this year, the 2017 Volvo V90 wagon will take its place on showroom floors next to the fantastic new S90 sedan.

Extending the roofline and adding a tailgate transforms the sedan into a very different vehicle. Curvier and more streamlined than the boxy Volvo wagons of old, the new V90 is gorgeous and elegant. The interior is a model of Scandinavian design, with natural materials and a minimum of fuss.

As soon as I drove the V90 during a launch event in Malaga, Spain, I told my friend Russell Datz, Volvo USA’s Media Relations Manager, that I’ve found the car that I’m going to buy next — in 2024, when I can afford a used 2017 V90.

You can read my full 2017 Volvo V90 Test Drive and Review at Autobytel.com.

Photo (c) Jason Fogelson

2016 Mercedes-Benz G-Class Test Drive and Review: Old and New

Words and Photos by Tod Mesirow

There’s a certain skill to celebrating aspects that some may not view as positive. It’s not a problem, it’s an opportunity; those blue jeans aren’t ripped and torn, they’re vintage; it’s not a design that’s basically unchanged since its inception, it’s timeless.

Witness the Mercedes G-Class SUVs.  On their website they talk about the 37-year evolution of the vehicle, which is interesting, because while there have been some technological upgrades, the thing that makes these vehicles distinctive is that their appearance has hardly changed at all over the decades, from the time the Shah of Iran, a major shareholder, suggested Mercedes build the vehicle – according to Top Gear and others.  And while bigger, more powerful engines and better brakes, satellite radio, nav systems and the like may qualify as a veneer of evolution, the Geländewagen, which means “cross country vehicle,” often shortened to G-wagon, drives more like a relic than a modern SUV. Its height and boxiness are hard to overcome no matter how much technology or how big an engine is stuffed inside.

DSC_0878 - 2 - G550Stuffing is exactly what the AMG folks did to fit a biturbo V12 that churns out a crazy 621 horsepower under the G-wagon’s small hood. Which gives the AMG G65, the top of the line, some serious raw power, and also may help justify the $217,900 sticker.

Mercedes suggests that their main competitors for the G-class are the Land Rover Range Rover and the Toyota Land Cruiser.  But with the Toyota at $83,825 and a V8 producing 381 horsepower it doesn’t feel like a real hoof to hoof comparison.  Even the starter G-wagon, the G550, at $119,900 with a V8 that puts out 416 horsepower feels like a different type of vehicle. The Land Cruiser is a thoroughly modern vehicle that’s been through several top to bottom redesigns, unlike the G-wagons.  The Range Rover’s biggest engine is a 550 horsepower supercharged V8 and the base model with a smaller engine starts at $85,945. Again the whole Land Rover lineup has gone through many iterations of design and engineering over the years and the ones I’ve driven feel like modern vehicles.

Gas mileage is as what might be expected – the G550 hits 13 mpg in the city, and climbs to 14 on the highway. The AMG G63, which is a biturbo V8 producing 563 horsepower drops to 12 in the city, but also achieves 14 on the highway.  It lists at $139,900, not that crazy a jump from the starter G550 considering the engine is hand built, by one person, and adds almost 150 horsepower. The top tier AMG G65 is rated at 11 city, 13 highway. Impressive engineering, actually, to add that much horsepower and maintain an almost equivalent level of fuel economy.

DSC_0884 - 2 - G550Driving the G-wagons is an event.  And maybe that’s part of the appeal. They’re all tall – at least 76.3 inches, or six feet four inches plus a little.  The starter G-wagon is actually 76.9 inches tall. The full-sized Mercedes SUV line of GLS’ tops off at 72.8 inches. The Toyota Land Cruiser is 74 inches tall, a Land Rover Range Rover 72.24. Stepping up in to one is more like ascending than simply entering, like climbing into the saddle. Maybe that’s why Mercedes held their event in western Colorado, and offered the assembled journalists the chance to ride a horse to dinner.  In direct opposition to the “here are the keys go have fun on these amazing roads” that is the hallmark of an opportunity like what we were offered by Mercedes during the day, the cow folk (hard to call them cowboys and cowgirls – though that does match the anachronistic vehicle) were pretty strict in their instructions to us car folk to only WALK the horses.  Automatic transmission animals, after a fashion, with only one speed.

Whether I was driving the G550 or the AMG G65, the G-wagons felt top heavy.  It’s fun to be high above the earth, propelled by so much horsepower, but heading in to a curve it’s impossible not to lean your body away from the outside of the curve, as the G-wagon leans out from the turn. I’m on the tall side at 6’ 4” and there was barely enough room for me behind the wheel. Not quite the luxurious stretching opportunity presented by other SUVs. But again, it’s part of the deal with the G-wagons – I’m on patrol, at full alert, ready for any apocalyptic event. The driver’s seat feels more like a cockpit, and despite all the modern technology added to the G-wagons there’s an inescapable sense of driving something that’s more of a tribute to the past than a fully modern vehicle.

DSC_0951 - 2 - AMG G65 engineI was curious to see how the wizards at AMG – and they are wizards – were able to fit a biturbo V12 in the tiny front engine compartment. It took a bit more than muggle technology. Mash on the accelerator and the G65 takes off like a shot – square shaped and all, the lack of aerodynamics not withstanding – rapid acceleration achieved not through body shape but by brute force alone.

Which is part of the appeal. The G-wagons are expensive, distinctive, and a throw-back, with exhaust pipes peeking out of the sides of the vehicle at the rear edge of the rear doors. They’re a statement. They say “I’m kind of old school but I like all this new-fangled technology tossed on for good measure.” If you’re willing to trade the full complement of a truly modern vehicle for a pastiche of old and new – and you can absorb the price tag – then you are a G-wagoneer.  Giddy up.

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