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.
Guests 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.
As it demonstrates again with the 2016 Subaru WRX sports sedan, Subaru continues to refine the art of automotive alchemy—taking base metal and crafting it into something more valuable.
The Japanese company has practiced that magic almost since it started selling cars in the USA. With the WRX, Subaru has crafted a rude, ripping sports sedan from its compact economy car, the Impreza.
That’s par for the course. Back in the 1970s, Subaru wanted to market the Brat, a small pickup truck. But it faced the so-called chicken tax, a retaliatory US tariff on foreign pickup trucks.
So it designed a couple of small bucket seats and mounted them in the cargo bed. The Brat qualified as a passenger car.
Earlier, Subaru had committed to the horizontally-opposed engine, in which the cylinders lie flat, feet-to-feet, on both sides of the crankshaft. It was a design that had been proven in millions of Volkswagen Beetles and microbuses.
Horizontal engines, also called “boxer” or “flat” engines, allow a lower center of gravity for better handling. But they also make it easier to add all-wheel drive to a front-drive car by running a driveshaft off the back of the engine for the rear wheels.
Today, all Subaru vehicles are powered by boxer engines and, except for one model, come standard with all-wheel drive. The exception: the BRZ rear-drive sports coupe, developed with Toyota, which sells it as the FR-S. The only other auto manufacturer that installs boxer engines in some of its models is Germany’s Porsche.
When other manufacturers spent many design dollars to meet a developing demand for SUVs, Subaru responded by jacking up and repurposing its Legacy midsize station wagon as the Outback crossover SUV.
The same happened with its compact Impreza, which was the starting point for the WRX and the WRX STI sports sedans, both of which are the result of Subaru’s automotive alchemy. The most aggressive is the WRX STi, which this column in 2015 anointed as the best Subaru ever.
But the regular WRX, though not as powerful and less expensive, is no slouch—and in fact easily fills the bill for many enthusiasts.
Now available only as a conventional four-door sedan (the hatchback version is gone), the WRX gets its motivation from a 268 hp, 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder boxer engine, which delivers 258 lb-ft of torque. It is available either with a six-speed manual gearbox or a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT).
In the current automotive climate, CVTs are routinely bashed by critics who do not like the fact that there are no shift points. A CVT multiplies torque with a setup of variable belts and pulleys. In some installations, there’s a sensation that the transmission is slipping, especially under hard acceleration.
But the WRX uses computer software to give the driver three selectable driving modes: Intelligent, Sport and Sport Sharp. The Intelligent setting is calibrated for economical daily driving and feels sluggish off the line with engine droning sounds and vibration at low rpms.
Better to select Sport or Sport Sharp, either of which is way cool. In Sport, as soon as you get 30% into the throttle, the automatic transmission switches to a six-speed stepped shift mode. You also can shift for yourself using the paddles mounted on the steering wheel.
Move to the Sport Sharp position and suddenly you have an eight-speed automatic transmission at your beck and call. It also will step shift automatically or you can select your gears manually with the paddles. It’s all in the software and contributes substantially to the WRX’s sporting personality. Both the Sport and Sport Sharp modes also quicken throttle response.
Combine all that with the WRX’s chassis rigidity and taut suspension system, and you experience a borderline punishing ride on all but the smoothest surfaces. But add the accurate steering, yaw control and torque vectoring for the all-wheel drive, and the payoff comes in responsive handling on twisting roads that can put a grin on the face of the most serious grouch.
New to the WRX this year is Subaru’s EyeSight, a crash prevention system that is integrated with adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist and pre-collision braking. On the tested Limited model, the system included “steering responsive” fog lights, which provide additional illumination going around corners. The package also includes an electronic parking brake and a hill holder to keep the WRX from rolling backward on an incline.
This one’s a keeper.
Model: 2016 Subaru WRX Limited four door sedan.
Engine:0-liter horizontally-opposed four cylinder, 268 hp, 258 lb-ft torque.
Transmission: Continuously variable automatic with six- and eight-speed manual shift modes. All-wheel drive.
Purposeful people who save rubber bands and prefer practical automobiles also should have access to motoring exhilaration if they want it, which is the reason for the 2016 Audi RS7 Performance hatchback sedan.
This is a rip-roaring, expensive sports car loaded with adrenalin-inducing super-car credentials. Its sensuous lines define what used to be described as a torpedo body but now is called a four-door coupe.
Yet it has a hatchback and flip-down rear seatbacks that makes it as useful as a Prius or Mazda3. It carries four people—there’s no pretense of a center-rear seat, which wouldn’t work anyway because of a big floor hump. So the middle is occupied by a fold-down armrest with cup holders and storage.
There’s decent elbow and knee room, though a six-footer with a three-foot torso will head-bump the roof. With the seats up there’s nearly 25 cubic feet for cargo; drop the seatbacks and the space nearly doubles.
The RS7 Performance is as luxurious as anything out there, as well it should be given its $129,925 base price and, in this iteration, a $140,850 bottom line sticker. It represents the pinnacle of Audi’s low-rider streamlined series, which also includes the A7, S7 and RS7.
Differences lie mainly in the supplied power. Almost anyone would be pleased with an A7, which comes with a supercharged 3.0-liter V6 engine that delivers 333 hp and 325 lb-ft of torque. The S7 has a turbocharged 4.0-liter V8 with 450 hp and 406 lb-ft torque, and the RS7’s 4.0-liter turbo V8 jumps to 560 hp and 516 lb-ft torque.
There’s also a diesel V6 engine available for the A7. It’s a 3.0-liter turbo V6 with 240 hp and 428 lb-ft of torque. All 7-series Audi models get the power to all four wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission with Audi’s Tiptronic manual shift mode.
But the Big Daddy, the subject here, is the new RS7 Performance. Its turbocharged V8 supplies a whopping 607 hp with 553 lb-ft of torque, which rocketed a tester to 60 mph in 3.3 seconds in an instrumented test by Car and Driver Magazine. Top speed—not that anyone short of a skilled driver on a closed course could attain it—is 190 mph.
The numbers don’t tell the story. The RS7 Performance has two drive modes: automatic and sport, which also includes manual shifting via paddles on the steering wheel.
In the automatic setting, the experience is quiet and velvety, as if the car were a boulevardier to chauffeur well-dressed friends to a fine restaurant.
But that’s not a tenth of what’s available. Flick the shifter into the sport mode and punch the pedal. It’s instantly scary; your head snaps back and you feel as if the car wants to rocket from under you and suck you into the back seat.
Don’t bother with the shift paddles. German engineers don’t trust you anyway. You can select a gear and the computer will alter it depending on the circumstances. So sit back and work your right foot.
Lift off the throttle and the exhaust alternates between blats and burbles, as if you were downshifting for a racetrack corner. Your head jerks forward when you lift off the pedal without touching the brakes.
Ah, the brakes. They’re gigantic, with the discs filling the space behind the open 21-inch alloy wheels. They’re of the no-fade ceramic species that inhabit race cars and can slam to a panic stop in an instant or creep up to a traffic light with imperceptible ease to coddle a queen or princess.
The adjustable ride is supple in the European manner with cushy comfort taking a back seat to superb handling, abetted by Audi’s famed quattro all-wheel drive, which is omnipresent but never intrusive.
On the luxury front, the RS7 Performance’s interior is quintessentially Audi, which enjoys one of the best reputations in the motoring firmament for simple, quality design. You settle into seats of quilted leather with white stitching that have firm lateral support and superior comfort. But without perforations the seats are heated but not cooled.
The RS7 Performance incorporates a full suite of safety equipment, including optional adaptive cruise control and lane keeping assist. The test car also was equipped with an audiophile’s dream: a $4,900 Bang & Olufsen audio system.
So if Charlie the neighbor sniffs at your precious ride, you can always point out that its hatchback design can help him move that side table.
Model: 2016 Audi RS 7 Performance four-door hatchback sedan.