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Performance Coupes

The 2020 Nissan 370Z Offers No Apologies

by Jason Fogelson

Sorry, not sorry, but the Z is a throwback to love.

The year the Datsun 240Z debuted here in the United States, the top movie was “Love Story” with Ryan O’Neal and Ali McGraw. The top-selling fiction book was “Islands in the Stream” by Ernest Hemingway. The top-selling single on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart was “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” by Simon & Garfunkel. Now, five generations later (with a brief sales hiatus here in the U.S. from 1997 – 2002), the 2020 Nissan 370Z arrives as a 50th Anniversary edition. And for all the changes the Z (and the United States) have undergone – things are very familiar.

2020 Nissan 370Z 50th Anniversary Edition

The sixth-generation Z has been sold since the 2009 model year with incremental upgrades along the way. Like the 1970 U.S.-spec 240Z, the 370Z is a naturally aspirated (non-turbo) six-cylinder, rear-wheel drive GT sports coupe. In a world of high-tech cars, the 370Z comes across as a bit of a throwback – and that’s a big part of its appeal.

2020 Nissan 370Z 50th Anniversary Edition

My test vehicle was a 2020 Nissan 370Z Sport with a special 50th Anniversary package of options ($2,600) that included special two-tone paint, commemorative decals and badging, logos and kickplates, leather four-way power seats, and other goodies. While this much self-congratulation could easily tip toward the tacky, on this Z it looked super cool.

2020 Nissan 370Z 50th Anniversary Edition

Inside, the Z’s cabin is compact, but comfy. What’s missing on the Sport model is a feature that has become ubiquitous on modern cars, even basic economy models – there’s no touchscreen display on the dash, just a collection of conventional gauges, buttons and knobs. It took me a while to figure out how to pair my Bluetooth smartphone to the car, but I finally regained my old-school pairing chops for an effective connection for both audio and hands-free operation. Concealed storage in the cabin is limited, but there’s a good amount of space under the liftback behind the seat, accessible from inside the cabin. Mid-generation Z-cars have been criticized for losing their edge and slipping toward bloated luxury, but this Z is tight and trim.

2020 Nissan 370Z 50th Anniversary Edition

My test Z came with a welcome throwback feature – a manual six-speed transmission (a seven-speed automatic is available to spec, but don’t do that, please). The Sport trim and above comes with SynchroRev Match, a synchronized Downshift Rev Matching feature that simplifies operation, mitigating the need to do the heel-toe dance on the pedals. It works beautifully. While purists might balk at this electronic assistance, it makes an average driver (like me) sound like a pro.

2020 Nissan 370Z 50th Anniversary Edition

Under the hood, the six-cylinder in this Z is a 3.7-liter V6 – the 240Z used a 2.4-liter inline six – that sends a healthy 332 hp and 270 lb-ft of torque to the rear wheels. Thanks to the Z’s low seating position, the sensation of speed and sharp handling is amplified – and the car is a lot of fun to drive.

Nissan will be happy to help you upgrade many components on the Z with Nismo parts to improve handling and performance if you want to track your car, and there’s a healthy aftermarket to supply tweaks and gizmos to soup up every aspect of the coupe. Have at it, and have fun.

2020 Nissan 370Z 50th Anniversary Edition

Out of the box, the Z is a blunt instrument that delivers driving enjoyment. The more refined Mazda MX-5 Miata is its closest competitor, representing a different approach to the equation.

Z prices start at $30,090 for the base model and go up to $39,490 for the top-of-the-line Sport Touring 7AT model. My test car was a Sport model with a base price of $33,820 and an as-tested price of $37,605, and represented the sweet spot in the lineup.

2020 Nissan 370Z 50th Anniversary Edition

The 2020 Nissan 370Z is a throwback, and I love it. As Ali McGraw famously said in the top-grossing film of 1970, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”

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

2020 Nissan 370Z 50th Anniversary Edition

Photos (c) Nissan

2020 Mercedes-Benz AMG E53 Coupe: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Coupes like the 2020 Mercedes-Benz AMG E53 are the outliers in the automotive firmament. Most are not sports or super cars, where you expect seating or comfort for only two. Coupes lack practicality with small trunks and two doors, some with back seats so tight they inhibit breathing.

At least, Mercedes makes no pretense that this is a five-passenger machine with a center-rear back seat impossible for anything but a purse or watermelon. No, this is a purely four-passenger with head and knee room in back for modest-sized adults — assuming  you can contort your body to crawl back there.

_F8A9049-sourceLuxury coupes do make a white-tie/red-carpet gown statement, especially all-out luxury machines like the AMG E53, which fairly shouts that it is intended for intimately personal use by someone with useful other vehicles and deep pockets.

Its combination of sumptuous surroundings with slam-bang performance and even some environmental green blended in sets this new Mercedes apart from its garage-mates as well as other unreasonable expensive conveyances.

Start with the price. It kicks off at $75,945, including the destination charge. Like most European luxury cars, it has a list of options as long as Giannis Antetokounmpo’s arms that includes such items as $750 for a Nappa leather wrapped “performance steering wheel,” $1,250 for a “performance exhaust system,” $1,600 for “Designo black DIN AMICA headliner,” $1,100 head-up display, and even $550 for a “cabin air purifier and fragrance system.”

_F8A9055-sourceOf course, it had all the so-called driver assistance features, in a $2,250 package, that included Distronic adaptive stop-and-go cruise control, automatic emergency braking, active steering, lane-change and lane-keeping assist, blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert and rear collision protection, as well as a $1,290 active parking assist.

That brought the as-tested price to $95,545. The tested AMG E53 did look the part with a flawless paint job and a classy and tasteful interior themed by leather upholstery with black seating areas accented in red.

Mercedes-AMG E 53 4MATIC+ Coupe, rubellite red. Austin 2018

Not only were the front seats supportive and comfortable, they provided functions to massage the driver’s and front passenger’s backs while underway. The system includes selective massages described as relaxing, activating, classic and mobilizing — each available in standard or high intensity mode. Nice.

All of that is tasty frosting. Where the AMG E53 excels is its road manners. AMG, which once was an independent modifier that hot-rodded the performance of Mercedes-Benz vehicles, now is part of the Mercedes division of Daimler AG. Its sworn duty is to make high-performing Benzes into superstars.

The tested AMG E53 gets its power from a turbocharged 3.0-liter in-line six-cylinder engine that delivers 429 hp and 384 lb-ft of torque to all four wheels via a nine-speed automatic transmission and the Mercedes 4Matic system. It is augmented by a starter-alternator system dubbed EQ Boost that briefly delivers an additional 21 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque, which also charges an on-board 48-volt electrical system.

Mercedes-AMG E 53 4MATIC+ Coupe, rubellite red. Austin 2018

You’d never know it. Everything happens so seamlessly and quietly you’d swear you could be driving a pedestrian automatic-transmission Volkswagen Jetta. Where it really hits home is the way it operates the stop-start system.

In most cars, the fuel-saving stop-start, which shuts down the engine at stoplights, re-starts with hesitation and a shudder, which is annoying and even could be dangerous because of the hesitation — like a turbo lag. Let it be known that the system on the AMG 53 is the best ever tested by this reviewer. In fact, it is so quick, seamless and vibration free you barely know it’s there.

That aside, this AMG Coupe is an engrossing joy to drive. It’s fast — the company advertises a zero to 60 mph acceleration time of 4.4 seconds with a top speed of 130.

Mercedes-AMG E 53 4MATIC+ Coupe, rubellite red. Austin 2018

But what gets the juices flowing is the handling. There are five driver-selectable driving modes, operated with the touch of a rocker switch on the center console: Slippery, Individual, Comfort, Sport and Sport Plus. They adjust shift points and settings for steering and the standard air suspension system.

Even in the comfort mode, preferred here, this 2.2-ton Coupe corners as flat as yesterday’s beer. The steering is heavily weighted, as on most Mercedes-Benzes. But it provides tactile feedback and rapid response. However, because of the bias toward handling, the ride veers toward choppy on rough roads.

Gripes are few: the rough ride, obtuse infotainment functions and a flimsy sunroof shade that admits too much sunlight.

Mercedes-AMG E 53 4MATIC+ Coupe, rubellite red. Austin 2018

Specifications

  • Model: 2020 Mercedes-Benz AMG E53 Coupe.
  • Engine: 3.0-liter in-line six-cylinder, turbocharged; 429 hp, 384 lb-ft torque. EQ Boost starter-alternator 21 hp, 184 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Nine-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 11 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 87/10 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,429 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 21/28/23 mpg. Premium fuel required.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $75,945.
  • Price as tested: $95,545.

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

_F8A9057-sourcePhotos (c) Mercedes-Benz

 

 

2020 Infiniti Q60 Red Sport 400: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

If nothing else, the 2020 Infiniti Q60 Red Sport 400 qualifies as a beauty. It is one of those cars that invites unsolicited raves about its stylish lines from strangers and friends alike.

Yet this tidy coupe also shines as an adept performer that will not disappoint enthusiasts. However, some will fault it for not offering a manual gearbox to rely instead on a seven-speed automatic transmission that can be shifted manually with steering-wheel paddles. The transmission features automatic rev-matching on downshifts.

INFINITI Q60 RED SPORT 400

The Red Sport 400 is the high-performance version of the Q60 coupe from Infiniti, the luxury division of Japan’s Nissan. Its force surges from a 400-hp, 3.0-liter V6 engine with twin turbochargers that delivers 350 lb-ft of torque, the twisting force that boosts acceleration. Rear-wheel drive is standard with all-wheel drive optional for $2,000, as on the version tested for this review.

Though it sensuously stretches to 15 feet 4 inches long, the Q60 is a small two-door car with tight interior space and a small trunk. Classified as a subcompact by the Environmental Protection Agency, it has 85 cubic feet of passenger room and a trunk of just nine cubic feet — enough to hold a couple of roll-aboard suitcases and a few satchels.

However, if you don’t have to carry a couple of extra passengers, the back seat can hold a hefty load of cargo — a pile of gifts and other holiday or vacation stuff, for example. Loading all that is something of a chore, even with the passenger seatback as far forward as possible.

INFINITI Q60 RED SPORT 400

Inside, the appointments are stylish and the materials of high quality. The powered and heated front seats are comfortable and supportive, upholstered in soft leather, which also wraps the heated steering wheel. Also enhancing the environment: dual-zone automatic climate control, motorized glass sunroof, heated side-view mirrors with LED turn signal lights, and rain-sensing windshield wipers.

The tester came with sport brakes identified by red-painted calipers, 20-inch alloy wheels, and LED headlights, fog lights, turn signals and taillights.

All of that comes with the Red Zone 400 AWD’s $60,175 price tag, including the destination charge. Options included a $2,280 package of carbon-fiber enhancements of the rear deck lid spoiler, fender vents, outside mirror covers and fog lamps.

2020 INFINITI Q60 Edition 30

With options, the bottom-line suggested sticker price came to  $65,950. But curiously and unusual in a car in this price class, there was no adaptive cruise control or lane-departure mitigation. However, the standard equipment included forward collision warning and blind-spot monitoring.

Two people can sit in the back seat, but only if the driver and front passenger move their seats uncomfortably forward to produce knee room in back. Head room there also is in short supply, and entering and exiting the back seat requires athletic contortions.

But as a personal conveyance the Red Sport 400 is an amiable and adrenaline-inducing companion for an individual who doesn’t often need to haul passengers and cargo. There are plenty of sport utility vehicles and crossovers lined up for that duty.

2020 INFINITI Q60 Edition 30

Despite its stealthy profile and cozy interior, the Red Sport 400 is a comfortable long-distance cruiser. On the road, it is quiet to the point of snooze-inducing with a supple suspension system that adapts itself to road surfaces.

In straight-line freeway cruising the Red Sport feels like a larger car, fatigue-free with few steering corrections required. It validates the old adage that small cars should drive big and big cars should feel smaller. Its size, responsive steering and handling inspire confidence on fast curves. This is a driver’s car.

It’s also a point and shoot machine in urban driving, quick with athletic moves in traffic. Off the line, it can nail 60 mph in about 4.5 seconds, according to instrumented tests by Car and Drivermagazine.

2020 INFINITI Q60 Edition 30

Hammering it like that, however, will intrude on the Red Sport 400’s EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption rating of 20/27/22 mpg of premium fuel.

A switch on the console controls Infiniti’s drive mode selector, which provides settings that tailor engine, transmission, steering and suspension adjustments to the driver’s preferences. There are six: ECO, Snow, Standard, Sport, Sport + and Personal, as well as further settings within some of those choices.

The tested Red Sport came with a full suite of infotainment features, including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, SiriusXM satellite radio, navigation system, voice recognition, Wi-Fi hotspot and Bluetooth hands-free phone and text-messaging assistant.

INFINITI Q60 RED SPORT 400

Specifications

  • Model: 2020 Infiniti Q60 Red Sport 400 AWD two-door coupe.
  • Engine: 3.0-liter V6, twin turbochargers; 400 hp, 350 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Seven-speed automatic with manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 4 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 85/9 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,862 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 20/27/22 mpg. Premium fuel recommended.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $60,175.
  • Price as tested: $65,950.

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

2019 INFINITI Q60

Photos (c) Infiniti

2018 Audi TT RS Coupe: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

There are cars, family cars, sports cars, utility cars, plain cars, fancy cars, big cars, little cars and, of course, light trucks. Then there are fantasy cars, of which the 2018 Audi TT RS Coupe is one.

It’s not as much of a fantasy as the new 1,500-hp Bugatti Chiron, priced at nearly $3 million. Or even of the McLaren P1 at $1.15 million. At just over $74,000, however, the TT RS can fulfill the fantasies of platoons of car nuts.

Audi TT RS Coupé

It is a tidy and powerful fastback sports coupe with all-wheel drive and a 400-hp 2.5-liter turbocharged five-cylinder engine that delivers 354 lb-ft of torque, enough to propel its 3,270-lb mass to 60 mph in about three and one-half seconds, with a top speed of 174.

The power gets to the pavement through a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. Unfortunately for some fantasizers, the TT RS no longer offers a six-speed manual gearbox. That deficiency is becoming more common as automatics continually improve.

Mollifying some of the discontent, this rapid-shifting Audi transmission can be shifted manually with paddles mounted on the steering wheel. But computer controlled dual-clutch automatics shift more expertly, depending on the conditions and driver input, than even professional drivers. In the end, the paddles are useful more for entertainment or holding a given gear on twisting mountain roads.

Audi TT RS Coupé

As might be deduced, the TT RS is not for everyone. At 4 feet 5 inches tall, the roofline is so low that you have to duck so you don’t bang your noggin crawling inside. Best to point the bum toward the seat bottom, fold yourself in half and back in.

Once there, you are treated to supportive and comfortable front seats with plenty of bolstering to hug the torso. They are upholstered in diamond-quilted, perforated leather with a three-position heating system that warms up quickly. However, the warming did not extend to the steering wheel.

Don’t bother to look for the now ubiquitous center screen that on most cars displays and controls navigation, vehicle information and entertainment functions. On the TT RS, Audi has located all of those functions, along with the speedometer, tachometer, backup camera, and power and torque readouts, on a 12.3-inch digital screen right in the driver’s line of sight behind the steering wheel.

Audi TT RS Coupé

It’s all very compact and easy to read without taking your eyes off the road as much as you must with a center screen. Moreover, there are different screens that you can choose to emphasize what you wish to see. But some displays are tiny and the spokes of the flat-bottom steering-occasionally block some of the readouts.

Overall, the TT RS is a cute and stylish little sportster with styling that hints at high performance but doesn’t come across as aggressive. To the uninitiated, it could simply be a small hatchback coupe that surprises other motorists when it rockets away from a stoplight.

At 13 feet 9 inches long, the TT RS has quick and athletic moves enhanced by Audi’s quattro all-wheel drive, a performance-tuned suspension system and sticky summer tires, though the tires are of dubious value in the cold and snowy weather much of the country experienced this winter. Better to have two sets of tires for winter and summer or good all-season rubber.

images-original-3139-2018+TT+RS+7With all its performance, the TT RS can be used as an unassuming daily driver. It is what used to be called a Plus Two, which means it has a vestigial back seat that is suitable mainly for backpacks and watermelons. There’s 12 cubic feet of space for cargo under the hatch and the rear seatbacks can be folded to more than double that.

Base price of the tested TT RS with subdued “Nardo Gray” paint was $65,875, which included basic safety equipment, the Audi virtual cockpit, automatic climate control, HD and SXM satellite radio, LED running lights and taillights, folding and heated outside mirrors with auto-dimming, and a garage-door opener, among other features.

Stand-alone extras and options packages brought the as-tested price up to $74,025. Included were Audi’s multimedia and navigation system, Bang & Olufsen audio, 20-inch forged alloy wheels, sport exhaust system, the summer performance tires, leather-covered console and armrests, carbon-fiber inlays and brake calipers painted red.

Overall, if you can live with the tight quarters and the high price, the Audi TT RS is what westerners would call an engaging little critter.

images-original-2458-HEROSpecifications

  • Model: 2018 Audi TT RS Coupe Quattro S tronic two-door sports hatchback.
  • Engine:5-liter five-cylinder, turbocharged 400 hp, 354 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 13 feet 9 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 74/12 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,270 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 19/29/22 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $65,875.
  • Price as tested: $74,025.

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

images-original-3138-2018+TT+RS+8Photos (c) Audi.

2018 Ford Mustang GT: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

The 2018 Ford Mustang arrives with unprecedented power, lowdown styling, a new 10-speed automatic transmission and enough models and colors to satisfy any Mustang enthusiast.

There are 10 versions in all: Six fastback coupes and four convertibles with three engine and two transmission choices. All of them can deliver driving excitement and an adrenaline rush — even the tested model with the 2.3-liter EcoBoost (Ford’s synonym for turbocharged) four-cylinder, which makes 310 hp and 350 lb-ft of torque.

It now is the only alternative to the V8 engine in the Mustang GT. The previous V6 engine no longer is installed in the Mustang.

2018 Mustang Pony Package

The 5-0-liter V8 delivers 460 hp with 420 lb-ft of torque. Like other new Mustangs, it is available with a six-speed manual gearbox or the new 10-speed automatic transmission, which can be shifted manually with steering-wheel paddles.

Also offered are two fastback Shelby GT 5.0 V8 models with 526 hp and 429 lb-ft of torque. However, only Fastback 2.3-liter four-bangers and 5.0-liter GTs with performance packages were tested at the press introduction in the Malibu hills near Los Angeles, Calif. — the latter with both the six-speed manual and 10-speed automatic.

Dedicated enthusiasts likely will opt for the stick shift, which features a slick and positive linkage and easy clutch engagement. With all those horses pawing at the pavement, the GT manual can be driven in almost any gear in any circumstance. There’s enough power to tool around at modest speeds in 5th or 6th gear, and you can quickly get up to freeway speeds in first and second.

2018 Ford Mustang Interior

The 10-speed does as well, automatically. But it has a curious quirk. With the shift lever in “Drive,” it sometimes gets befuddled at modest speeds, hesitating then lurching. It overcomes that if you stomp on the throttle. The solution, Ford engineers said, is to drive it in the “Sport” mode. But then you have the engine on the boil constantly, with fuel-economy consequences.

However, that same transmission in Ford’s new aluminum-bodied 2018 Expedition full-size sport utility vehicle shifts almost as smoothly as a fidget spinner. Likely it uses different software, which should be adapted to the Mustang’s “Drive” mode.

The 10-speed’s paddle shifters are there for the entertainment value. But modern, computer-controlled automatic transmissions handle the shifts with more dexterity than humans. Even professional drivers on road-racing courses now often allow the computer to determine the shifting, especially when driving cars with rev-matching on downshifts. The GT has both rev-matching and drag-strip launch control.

2018 Ford Mustang GT

In spite of the GT’s zero-to-60 mph sprint at a hair shy of four seconds and a top speed of 155 miles an hour, the 2.3-liter is no slouch. It can reach 60 miles an hour in 5.9 seconds, with a top speed of around 140, and still manages a city/highway/combined fuel economy rating of 21/32/25 mpg compared to the GT’s 15/25/18. Premium gasoline is required for both engines.

Some enthusiasts might even prefer the 2.3 because its lighter front end delivers better cornering balance on curving mountain roads. But that’s at speeds of 40, 50 and 60 mph, dictated by the tightness of the turns. On a road racing course with long straightaways, you’d obviously prefer the GT for its massive power, or even one of the Shelby variants.

The Mustang’s membership in the high performance and handling club do not bar it from the grand touring class. With comfortable and supportive front seats, it celebrates long-distance motoring for two. Anyone relegated to the difficult to access back seats, however, will rebel.

2018 Ford Mustang Interior

Besides its slicker profile, the 2018 Mustang, depending on the model, comes with full safety equipment, including lane-keeping assist and a pre-collision system that can detect pedestrians. Other features include LED headlights, a dozen wheel options, 11 colors, customizable instrument cluster, and even an “active valve performance exhaust system” that allows you to drive your Mustang in quiet mode or bellowing like an agitated moose.

None of this, of course, comes cheap. The GT had a base price of US $39,095 and, with options, a bottom line of US $53,160.

The 2.3-liter Fastback Premium, also with the 10-speed, started at $30,600 and topped out at $39,880.

The Mustang has now been with us for nearly the double nickel — 55 yearsn— a long ways from the original 1965 model, introduced in 1964, with a 101-hp, 2.8-liter six-cylinder engine and a three-speed floor-mounted gearshift. Ain’t evolution great?

2018 Ford Mustang

Specifications

  • Model: 2018 Ford Mustang Fastback Premium two-door coupe.
  • Engine: 2.3-liter four-cylinder, 310 hp, 350 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: 10-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and rear-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 9 inches.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 85/24 cubic feet
  • Weight: 3,535 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 21/32/24 mpg. Premium recommended.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $31,500.
  • Price as tested: $39,880.

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

Photos (c) Ford.

2018 Ford Mustang

2018 Lexus LC 500 Coupe: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

The Italians are rightly famous for delivering high style in high-performance cars, but they have serious challenges on both fronts from the all-new 2018 Lexus LC 500 Coupe.

This is a stunner stylistically, one that turns heads parked or speeding down the highway. In fact, it looks as if it’s speeding even when it’s parked. The sparkly black execution of the Lexus “spindle” grille gets right in your face and its rear fenders look like the muscular haunches of a champion Percheron draft horse.

2018_Lexus_LC_500_009_F90DA0EA5041232810CA8F2535C6F5079E8B4CD6Moreover, the LC 500, from the luxury division of Japan’s Toyota, does have the performance, along with the promise of legendary Lexus reliability, to entice a specialized cadre of buyers — people who can afford to buy outright, finance or lease a car with a $105,614 price tag.

That’s the as-delivered sticker on the LC 500 tested for this review. The base price, $92,995, is almost as daunting. But it comes with a potpourri of performance engineering and luxury enhancements.

Start with the power train: a 471-hp 5.0-liter V8 engine that delivers 398 lb-ft of torque to the rear wheels through a 10-speed automatic transmission with a manual-shift mode via magnesium paddles on the steering wheel.

2018_Lexus_LC_500_002_945A15CD4E154A5966F73069FF08CADB1D3E8897It is enough to propel the 4,280-lb coupe to 60 mph in about 4.5 seconds, depending on the skill of the driver. Top speed, as published by Lexus, is governed at 168 mph.

The LC 500 is purpose-built for behind-the-wheel thrills, so it has little in the way of practicality. The shallow trunk has only five cubic feet of volume.

A two-door, four-passenger coupe, it is what used to be called a “Two-Plus-Two,” which means it has two nearly unusable seats in back. Moreover, the designers have not even made the effort to make them easily accessible. The front seats move only so far forward, requiring gymnastic contortions into the back row, where there’s little space anyway.

Lexus_LC_500_001_BB74131E8F47AC977ECD592DA05B448D1C339096Up front is another story. Comfortable seats, upholstered in heated and ventilated alcantara cloth trimmed with leather, deliver superb support for hustling around mountain curves and comfort for long-distance cruising. The alcantara cloth is also used for the headliner.

Even at that, however, entry and exit through the front doors takes a bit of effort. Drivers with big feet will be challenged to swing in the left foot unless the door is fully open. Once there, thankfully, you are cosseted deep in luxury sports car surroundings.

As part of a $5,960 performance package — as if it needed one — you are treated to active rear-wheel steering, carbon-fiber roof and door sills and an active rear spoiler. Other options get you 21-inch forged wheels, a head-up display, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and a stratospheric 915-watt Mark Levinson audio system.

Lexus_LC_500_003_449D1F74A5CE595FA4B157BDFEE94E59A1D86566But that’s frosting on a tasty morsel with ingredients that include  dynamic radar cruise control, pre-collision braking with pedestrian detection, lane-keeping detection and assist, and automatic headlights.

With all its safety and luxury touches, the LC 500’s strong suit is the driving experience, long on excitement and short on anxiety. Like all such performance and super cars, however, it can be frustrating because there’s nowhere you can legally drive this machine anywhere near its designed potential. Without a race track, the best you can do is enjoy it in short bursts.

There are six driver-selectable driving modes, starting with Eco. Why that would be important on a car like this is a puzzle, although there also is a separate Snow setting for easier acceleration on slippery surfaces. Others are Comfort, Normal, Custom, Sport and Sport Plus. The former settings allow you to drive the LC 500 as a smooth boulevardier with a relatively decent ride and imperceptible shifts.

2018_Lexus_LC_500_005_75D9A1BB914CA638376189130D18FAC72CDFABDBBut select Sport Plus, everything tightens up. The ride gets choppy and the throttle acts like a hair-trigger. Shifts happen instantly and with crackling intensity from the V8 engine. There’s automatic engine rev-matching on downshifts, regardless of whether you’re in automatic or the manual-shift mode.

A readable touch screen in the center of the dash conveys information about navigation, audio and other infotainment functions. However, it is controlled by a touch pad on the console similar to the one on your laptop computer.

But don’t try playing with it while underway. Even changing radio stations requires you to focus on the screen while manipulating the touch pad. Pull over, get set up and then move out for joyful driving.

2018_Lexus_LC_500_020_31EEE1647DBF7700C27423642604F218D2918566Specifications

  • Model: 2018 Lexus LC 500 two-door, four-passenger coupe.
  • Engine:0-liter V8, 471 hp, 398 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: 10-speed automatic with manual shift mode and rear-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 7 inches.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 81/5 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,280 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 16/26/19 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $92,995.
  • Price as tested: $105,614.

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

2018_Lexus_LC_500_022_419939A8D6E5F708B232BF01C5D98524601D27DAPhotos (c) Lexus.

2018 BMW 230i xDrive Coupe: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

With automobiles, especially an expensive sport coupe like the 2018 BMW 230i xDrive, it’s all about the return on investment.

It is the same in business as well, but there the focus is on profits measured in dollars. With cars, it’s about the tangibles and intangibles they deliver.

Buy a minivan and you get practicality for family vacations. Buy a BMW 230i xDrive and practicality flies out the window. The return on that investment comes in driving enjoyment, preferably with two people on board.

This compact two-door coupe, though it delivers strong performance, capable handling and decent fuel economy, has a cramped back seat. And because the front seatbacks move minimally forward, it requires athletic ability to access.

Offsetting that is a large trunk of almost 14 feet that can swallow a couple’s luggage for a week. If the trip is longer or you have a lot of stuff, the rear seatbacks fold to expand the cargo-carrying capability to 53 cubic feet.

Arguably, the 230i xDrive, which is the lowest-price sedan in the BMW lineup, is the lineage successor to the 1967 BMW1600-2, which had a bigger and more accommodating back seat. Car and Driver Magazine  trumpeted it as “the World’s Best $2,500 Car.” It was a boxy two-door with a cavernous trunk that in this writer’s family was big enough to conceal all of Santa Claus’s gifts for four children.

It had an 84-horsepower, 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine that drove the rear wheels through a four-speed manual gearbox. Its independent suspension system and rack-and-pinion steering delivered great handling and the capability to hammer steadily over railroad tracks at 100 mph, all while delivering fuel economy in the mid-20s.

P90258121Contrast the 1600-2 (later joined by the more powerful 2002) with the tested 2018 230i xDrive and you see a great deal of price creep. The writer’s 1600-2, with options, had a $2,850 price tag, which has inflated over the years to $20,920 in 2017. The 2018 230i—the lowest-priced sedan in BMW’s expensive lineup—starts at $34,145, much of the difference because of modern emissions, safety and convenience requirements.

The tested xDrive, which is BMW-speak for all-wheel drive, started at $37,795. With $12,520 in options, it ended up with a $50,315 price tag.

Whether that investment delivers a substantial return depends on the individual owner’s delight and involvement, and whether he or she concludes that it merits the “ultimate driving machine” label. But the 230i xDrive is a sweet piece of machinery.

Its tidy size—three inches shy of 15 feet long—and quick steering makes for confident moves in city and freeway traffic. Need to make a quick lane change or dodge a clueless and careless driver intruding into your lane? A flick of steering and tap on the throttle and the troubles are gone.

Open highway cruising is relaxing. A supple ride, supportive sport seats with good seatback bolstering and a quiet interior means you can put on many miles without fatigue.

The engine is a 248-horsepower, 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that makes 258 pound-feet of torque, or twisting force. Power gets to all four wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission that can be shifted manually with paddles on the steering wheel. For traditionalists, the 230i xDrive can be ordered with a six-speed manual gearbox.

Though the engine slurps premium gasoline, city/highway/combined fuel consumption with the automatic works out to 24/33/27 mpg.

The test car was well equipped with optional leather upholstery (leatherette is standard), navigation system, rear-view camera, adaptive cruise control, motorized glass sunroof, power front seats with memory settings, SXM satellite radio, wireless smart phone charging, WiFi hot spot and Apple CarPlay. A $2,300 track handling package included an adaptive suspension system, sport brakes and variable steering.

Still, there were shortcomings. On the automatic settings, the air conditioning could not keep up on a hot day. Fortunately, BMW included a knob that delivered a manual maximum air conditioning blast. However, with a capable system it should not be needed.

In addition, the infotainment system is needlessly complicated, sun visors did not slide on their support rods to fully block sunlight from the side, and there was no blind spot warning, though it is not needed if the outside mirrors are properly adjusted.

For those drivers who value a car for visceral entertainment as opposed to pedestrian competence, the 230i xDrive returns a bonus on the investment.

P90258118Specifications

  • Model: 2018 BMW 230i xDrive two-door coupe.
  • Engine:0-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged, 248 hp, 258 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual shift mode.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 7 inches.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 90/14 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,483 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 24/33/27 mpg. Premium fuel required.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $37,795.
  • Price as tested: $50,315.

Disclaimer: This test drive was based on a loan of the vehicle from the manufacturer. It was driven by the author in circumstances similar to everyday driving by consumers.

Photos (c) BMW.

2017 Audi R8: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Place the 2017 Audi R8 in the pantheon of championship athletes like Usain Bolt, who perform with the best in the world but in person exude civility and courtesy.

It is a super car that plays on the same field with exotics like the new Ford GT, Acura NSX, BMW i8 and Porsche Cayman. All of these are equipped with stunningly powerful engines nestled ahead of the rear wheels but behind the driver in the classic mid-engine configuration.

They are so different that they don’t exactly compete with each other. What they offer is unique performance personalities that appeal to wealthy enthusiasts, collectors and investors who are convinced that their value will increase over time.

news-2017-audi-r8-v10-drive-45The R8 has a close relationship with the Huracán from Lamborghini, which like Audi is now part of Germany’s Volkswagen Group. The two marques share engines and drive trains, tuned differently, but the kinship ends there. The Huracán radiates Italian styling and flair; the R8 Germanic strength and contentment.

Sure, you can punch the throttle and get crackling exhaust sounds. But they are heard mainly from the outside. Inside, despite the fact that the 5.2-liter V-10 engine sits right behind the driver’s shoulders, little noise makes its way into the cockpit, even when you select the “sport sound” exhaust setting. It’s the opposite of the mid-engine Alfa Romeo 4C Spider, which creates such a din inside that it’s impossible to converse or listen to music.

Yet the R8’s V-10 engine delivers a whopping 610 horsepower with 413 lb-ft of torque, which should be enough to pull a flatcar full of Alfas. Nobody will try that, but a bunch of them likely will try to match Car and Driver Magazine’s zero-to-60 mph run of 2.9 seconds.

There are four performance settings: comfort, automatic, dynamic and individual, along with “sport” and “drive” choices for the seven-speed twin-clutch automatic. But the differences are subtle. The R8 can comfortably conquer any road you can find.

news-2017-audi-r8-v10-virtual-cockpit-17Audi’s quattro all-wheel drive doles out the power individually to all four wheels. The transmission can be shifted manually with paddles on the steering wheel but there’s no need to bother. The onboard computer controls shifts so precisely it’s doubtful any human could do them faster or more accurately.

Shifts snap off with silky aggression. On downshifts, the throttle blips automatically to match the engine’s revolutions. Once in awhile, however, at low speeds, the rev matching and subsequent upshifting cause the R8 to lurch.

Curiously, Audi uses a counterintuitive shift lever. It looks like a standard automatic shifter that has slots for park, reverse, neutral, drive and sport. Most drivers are used to simply pushing the lever forward to engage park.

On the R8 and other Audi models, pushing the lever all the way forward stops at reverse. To engage park you must reach around and press a button on the back of the shift lever.

Until you get used to it, the system can be unnerving. You think you’ve engaged park but you’re in reverse and sometimes catch the R8 rolling back when you take your foot off the brake.

news-2017-audi-r8-v10-virtual-cockpit-8Aside from that, there’s little to belittle in the R8. Styling appreciation always is in the eye of the beholder but there’s little argument that the R8 is an attention-grabber that elicits head turning by millennial boys and girls, and thumbs-up gestures from teenagers distracted from their smart phones.

Inside, the design, materials and trim reflect Audi’s longstanding reputation for simplicity and class. The R8 uses the company’s trendy combination of the instruments with the multifunction screen in the center stack. All functions are displayed digitally behind the steering wheel. It takes a bit of familiarization but it’s less distracting than glancing over at the center screen.

For all its glamorous personality, the R8 actually has some built-in practicality. A shelf behind the seats can hold a suitcase and the trunk up front contains a well that can accommodate a roll-aboard travel case. Part of the space, however, is taken up by a tire inflator. There’s no spare.

Outward visibility is surprisingly good except for the very wide pillars at the sides of the back window, so it’s important to get the side view mirrors adjusted correctly to eliminate blind spots.

Despite its nosebleed base price of $191,150 and an as-tested price with options of $202,750, the R8 delivers a full load of satisfaction for anyone who can afford it.

news-2017-audi-r8-v10-drive-10Specifications

  • Model: 2017 Audi R8 V10 Plus quattro S tronic Coupe.
  • Engine:2-liter V-10, 610 hp, 413 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Seven-speed twin clutch automatic with manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 6 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 50/8 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,685 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 15/22/17 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $191,150.
  • Price as tested: $202,750.

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

Photos (c) Audi.

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