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2019 Hyundai Veloster N: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Now fielding the 2019 Veloster N, Hyundai could be whistled for encroachment.

It has happened before. The South Korean manufacturer has been steadily and successfully insinuating its products into almost every space in the automotive firmament: sedans of various sizes and power trains, crossover sport utility vehicles and even luxury cars. The last, Genesis, became its own luxury brand.

Now Hyundai is intruding into the small but image-important “hot hatch” group of relatively inexpensive high-performance hatchbacks. There are only a few, the most familiar of which is the Volkswagen GTI, with competition from the Honda Civic Type R and the Ford Focus ST.

2019 Hyundai Veloster N

What these machines have in common is that they are based on practical runabouts for people on tight budgets. Emulating the kids who buy old Honda Civics and hop them up to be faster and more agile, the automakers do the same to create new excitements.

The GTI, for example, is based on the ubiquitous Golf, Volkswagen’s entry-level U.S. offering. Similarly, Hyundai already marketed the Veloster, a compact hatchback with two conventional doors in the front and a single third door in back on the passenger side. Despite its unusual layout, it has been reasonably successful, though slipping lately with 12,658 sales in 2017 and running at an annual rate of 10,581 in 2018.

Now it should get a boost as it vies for the “hot hatch” title with the N, which stands for Namyang, the site of Hyundai’s technology center in South Korea. The N also obliquely refers to the Nürburgring Nordschleife, the famed test track in Germany where some of the N’s development was carried out.

2019 Hyundai Veloster N

Under the tutelage of Albert Biermann, Hyundai’s head of vehicle performance, the Veloster was not simply given additional power. Biermann, formerly chief of BMW’s M performance group, took a holistic approach to give the Veloster a stiffer chassis, sophisticated racing suspension system, more accurate steering with enhanced feedback, tires with more grip and, of course, robust power.

The goal, Bierman says, was to give the Veloster “real racetrack capability” in a machine that is easy and entertaining for novices to drive on the track and in everyday environments.

Power comes from a gasoline direct injection, 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that makes 250 hp with 260 lb-ft of torque, or twisting force. A six-speed manual gearbox — the only transmission available so far — sends the force to the front wheels.

2019 Hyundai Veloster N

To make things even easier for inexperienced drivers, the transmission comes with automatic rev-matching. On downshifts, the system raises the engine revolutions to match the speed of the car—particularly useful during braking on racetrack corners. Launch control also is included, which minimizes wheel spin on acceleration runs. Hyundai doesn’t publish zero-to-60 miles an hour times, but an educated estimate is in the five-second range.

Overall, the stick shift is delightful, with easy, short throws of the shift lever on both upshifts and downshifts. The rev-matching eliminates  jerkiness from sloppy shifting. Along with brake-induced torque vectoring to hasten maneuvers around corners, the system infuses the N with forgiving and delightful manners on a road-racing course.

Biermann says that’s what the Veloster is all about. He calls it accessible and affordable high performance for average drivers. To keep the cost reasonable, the N uses in-house brakes instead of something like Brembo racing brakes, although high-performance brake pads are available for serious racers.

Large-31055-2019VelosterN

Base prices for Veloster N will start at $27,785, including the destination charge. A special performance package tacks on an additional $2,000 and bumps the horsepower to 275. It includes a special “corner carving” differential, 19-inch alloy wheels, Pirelli P Zero performance tires, larger brake rotors and variable exhaust valves.

Standard equipment on all Velosters includes full modern safety equipment, 18-inch alloy wheels with Michelin Super Sport tires, LED headlights and taillights, automatic climate control, Apple Car Play and Android Auto connectivity, and premium audio with SXM satellite radio.

So no enthusiast will mistake the N from its lower-performing siblings, it comes with exclusive styling of the grille and front fascia, as well as special rear treatments, including a spoiler with brake light.

N prices are lower than those of the 306-hp Honda Civic Type R and the 220-hp Volkswagen GTI Autobahn, both of which have prices in the mid to high $30,000 range. More comparable to the N is the Ford Focus ST, which starts in the mid-$20,000 range.

Large-33464-2019VelosterNSpecifications

  • Model: 2019 Hyundai Veloster N three-door hatchback.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 275 hp, 260 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed manual with rev-matching and front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet.
  • Height: 4 feet 7 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 90/20 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,117 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 22/28/25 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $27,785.
  • Price as tested: $29,885. 

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

Large-31123-2019VelosterNPhotos (c) Hyundai

2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

If you have one of those primal urges for a low-slung, two-seat sports car, and you’re not a member of the one percent, look no farther than the 2019 Mazda MX-5 RF.

Don’t bother reading about the $3.3 million Bugatti Chiron, the $285,000 McLaren 270S, the $187,500 Porsche GT3 RS, or the $141,000 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1. There are other nosebleed-priced super cars as well.

And you can even skip the $30,000-plus Fiat 124 Abarth Spider, which is basically a knockoff of the MX-5 with Italian styling and a Fiat engine, but only comes as a ragtop convertible. Mazda also builds an MX-5 two-seat ragtop but the focus here is on the RF, which stands for “retractable fastback.”

2017-Mazda-MX-5-Miata-RF-9With slick engineering that would do justice to cartoonist Rube Goldberg, along with13 seconds of your time, the fastback MX-5 RF swallows its roof in a maw behind the driver and pirouettes a few other pieces to wind up looking like a 1960s-era Porsche 911 Targa-top roadster open to the sky.

Another touch of the dash-mounted switch sends all the parts back into their cozy tubs so you can enjoy closed-car, weatherproof motoring. However, it’s not particularly quiet. This is a sports car, after all, and the Mazda people want you to enjoy the performance vibes of mechanical and raucous exhaust sounds.

They come from Mazda’s re-refined SkyActiv 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, which now makes 181 hp and 151 lb-ft of torque, sent to the rear wheels through either a six-speed manual gearbox or a six-speed automatic transmission.

2017-Mazda-MX-5-Miata-RF-26Though too many exotic sportsters now rely exclusively on automatic transmissions, computer-controlled so anybody could drive them, purists like us still favor the tactile feeling of mastery and skill driving good manual gearboxes. And, of course, the MX-5 has one with a positive, effortless shift linkage that almost makes you want to seek out heavy stop and start traffic.

No, forget that. Better to find mountain roads with tight curves and elevation changes that encourage attention to the frequent up and down gear shifts of the squat-down, two-seater driving experience. Practice your heel-and-toe technique to match engine revolutions with road speed on downshifts. The MX-5 RF unfortunately does not have automatic rev matching, though you can get it on a humble stick shift Toyota Corolla Hatchback.

So, maybe later for that on the MX-5. Meanwhile, as the motoring gods intended, you drive this neat Mazda the way your forbears did with the Austin-Healey Sprite, MG Midget and Triumph Spitfire back in the 1960s. After all, the MX-5 — most people still call it the Miata and Mazda doesn’t argue with it — was invented in 1990 to be the reliable Japanese descendant of those wonderful — and infamously unreliable — British sports cars.

2017-Mazda-MX-5-Miata-RF-15True, you can derive driving joy from many modern sport-oriented cars—including some crossover SUVs with automatic transmissions. There’s shifting with paddles on the steering wheel but you soon learn, even on a racetrack, that the onboard computer is way better at it than you are so why bother.

And, of course, you can buy enjoyment with something like a marvelous old Honda S2000 two-seater with a six-speed manual gearbox, if you can find one. But the performance, which depended mainly on high engine revolutions instead of low-end torque, is not up to modern standards.

So back to the MX-5. There are two versions: Club, which is directed more at a customer who might want to do some week-end faux racing, and the Grand Touring, a bit more expensive but more oriented toward the relaxed, automatic-transmission boulevardiers, though it also comes with a stick shift.

2017-Mazda-MX-5-Miata-RF-20The tested Club model had a starting price of $33,240 — not exactly economy-car territory but actually less than the average out-the-door price of a new car these days. With options that include Recaro sport seats with plenty of bolstering, Brembo high-performance brakes and 17-inch BBS metallic black wheels, the bottom-line sticker came to $37,910.

That’s fairly pricey for what essentially would be a toy for middle-class fun-seeking enthusiasts. It would work for a single person and a significant other, but they would have to forego double dating unless there was a second car — even a used compact — in the picture.

There are some other choices that can deliver some of the same driving excitement as the MX-5. A few that come to mind are the Volkswagen Golf GT, Ford Focus RS or the upcoming Hyundai Veloster N.

In the end, however, there’s nothing quite like the MX-5 RF.

2017-Mazda-MX-5-Miata-RF-22Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF hardtop convertible two-seat roadster.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder; 181 hp, 151 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed manual.
  • Overall length: 12 feet 10 inches.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 49/5 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 2,339 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 26/34/29 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $33,240.
  • Price as tested: $37,910.

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

2017-Mazda-MX-5-Miata-RF-13Photos (c) Mazda

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.

2017 Fiat 124 Spider Classica: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

And it came to pass that Triumph begat the Spitfire. And later, Mazda begat the Miata. And later still, the Miata begat the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider. And all was well in the sports car world.

In biblical language, those brief statements encompass the history of affordable two-seat sports roadsters. There were many back in the 1960s, mostly from Great Britain but also from Italy, which produced the original Fiat 124 Spider.

A long drought ensued until Japan’s Mazda brought forth the modern iteration in 1990, dubbing it the MX-5. But almost everyone still uses its nickname, the Miata. Closing on a million sales over the years, it continues today in a superb fourth generation version.

Now it has a fifth column competitor in the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider, which reappears after an absence of over 30 years. That’s because Mazda decided to sell the basic MX-5 chassis and other components to Fiat. Moreover, the 124 is built in a Mazda plant in Hiroshima, Japan.

2017 Fiat 124 Spider and 1968 Fiat 124 Spider
2017 Fiat 124 Spider and 1968 Fiat 124 Spider

It’s a coup for the Italian manufacturer. It gets Japanese design and build quality—sorely needed because Fiats of yore, including the 124, had dismal records for reliability despite their sexy looks.

While the new 124 reprises its attractive Italian styling, the Miata has its own exciting personality, so the choice comes down to customer preference. The cars are priced similarly.

At 13 feet 4 inches, the 124 is nearly six inches longer than its cousin, which imparts that long hood, short rear deck characteristic of muscle cars and sports cars like the BMW Z3. However, the wheelbase—the distance between the centers of the front and rear wheels—is the same 90.9 inches on both the Miata and 124. The latter has more front and rear body overhang.

FT017_040SP9g9o00jj5c1k0ecj49jmvaj2maThe 124, which uses Fiat’s 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine with 160 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque, delivers more power than the Miata’s 155 hp and 148 lb-ft of torque from its non-turbo 2.0-liter four-banger. But that slight advantage is mitigated because the 124 weighs around 100 to nearly 200 pounds more than the Miata, depending on the model and equipment.

There are three 124 Spider versions: Classica with a price tag of $25,990 including the destination charge, mid-level Lusso at $28,490 and top-line Abarth at $29,190. All three come with a six-speed manual gearbox. If you want to go shiftless, a six-speed automatic is an additional $1,350.

In any sports car like this, the purist’s choice will be the manual, and the 124’s does not disappoint. Though the shift linkage operates a bit stiffly, the shifter obeys the driver’s instinctive inputs, whether shifting up or down. Clutch engagement is smooth without any tendency to grab and kill the engine.

Fiat rates the 0-60 mph acceleration in the six second range, with the more heavily equipped models slightly slower than the lightweight Classica, the subject here. But all three models, either with the stick shift or the automatic, feel faster because of their tidy size.

The rear drive 124’s behavior on a tight autocross course is joyful, with near neutral balance and responsiveness to both steering and throttle inputs. In a tight turn, the car easily rotates to set up for the next corner.

Some testers have written that the 124 actually feels better planted on curving roads, with less body roll, than the MX-5. But that Miata characteristic is deliberate. Mazda engineers assert that a bit of body roll imparts a more natural handling feel. Take your choice and pay your money.

2017 Fiat 124 Spider LussoBoth roadsters have similar interiors and about the same space of 49 cubic feet for a driver and one passenger, along with a small trunk of five cubic feet. The trunk can hold enough soft sided luggage for two on a weekend but not much more.

The convertible top is manually operated with a single locking lever. When dropped for open air motoring, it settles into the body and forms its own boot cover.

On the road, with the top up, the 124’s cabin gets noisy with a combination of road, wind and engine sounds, though less so than the Miata. Engine sounds are more noticeable in the Abarth, which sings more raucous exhaust notes than its garage mates.

For a minority of motorists, there’s nothing more satisfying than top down motoring on a sunny day following a twisty, traffic free highway. Raw power doesn’t count; it’s all about driving enjoyment. The Fiat Spider 124 adds a tantalizing new choice.

2017 Fiat 124 Spider Lusso
2017 Fiat 124 Spider Lusso

Specifications

  • Model: 2017 Fiat 124 Spider Classica two-seat sports roadster.
  • Engine:4-liter four cylinder, 160 hp, 184 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed manual.
  • Overall length: 13 feet 4 inches.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 49/5 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 2,436 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 26/35/30 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $25,990.
  • Price as tested: $27,285.

 

 

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

2016 Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Though it boasts of a daunting 485-hp Hemi V8 engine, the 2016 Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack plays third fiddle in Fiat Chrysler’s muscle coupe lineup.

It sets up behind the similarly powered but better equipped and more expensive Challenger SRT 392, as well as the astounding 707 hp Hellcat, which comes with a price tag that nudges 70 grand.

Even in that company, the Scat Pack comes across in every way as a sharp car: sharp looks, sharp turn-in, handling, braking and hair-trigger throttle response. Though it can trundle along in the docile way of an economy car, that manner requires the driver to use a feather foot. Anything more aggressive and the Scat Pack snaps necks as it leaps forward.

This Challenger is a modern rendition of the muscle cars of the late 1960s and early 1970s, which always came with gobs of power but many shortcomings. In the words of the late race driver and entrepreneur Carroll Shelby, they had “great engines (but) couldn’t turn, couldn’t stop.”

2016 Dodge Challenger SXT

Not only does the Challenger Scat Pack evoke memories of those high performance Dodge cars of yore, it corrects those old inadequacies with a modern independent suspension system and sophisticated steering that together deliver sharp handling along with a choppy ride over rough roads.

Moreover, this coupe with the slick retro look comes with high performance antilock Brembo brakes that are unobtrusive in operation but haul the Challenger down from high speeds with authority but without drama.

Standard is a 6-speed manual gearbox. But the test car came with an optional ($1,400) eight-speed automatic transmission with a manual mode controlled by steering wheel mounted paddle shifters. In either automatic or manual mode, the eight-speed snaps off shifts up or down instantly with rev matching on downshifts. Even with the more rapid shifts at higher rpms, the automatic delivers better fuel economy than the manual when similarly driven.

2016 Dodge Challenger SXT Plus (shown in Ruby Red/Black)

Though it’s a throwback now that manufacturers increasingly deliver cars with smaller but more powerful engines, usually turbocharged, there’s a primal satisfaction in experiencing the vibes and throaty sounds of the traditional pushrod V8 engine. The Scat Pack feels as if it were plucked from the days when the mantra was, “There’s no substitute for cubic inches.”

With its American muscle car personality, the Scat Pack nevertheless is useful as an every day commuter car. As a two door with rear wheel drive it is less convenient than a four-door sedan with front- or all-wheel drive, yet it still accommodates four adults and comes with 16 cubic feet of stash space in the trunk.

The front seats, covered in a nubby and comfortable cloth, have giant side bolsters to hold the torso in place during spirited cornering on twisting roads. Even the outboard back seats, scooped out to maximize head and knee room, would be OK for a middling road trip. Only the center rear seat, with a hard cushion and the intrusion of a big floor hump, should be avoided except in extreme circumstances.

Back seat entry and exit take a bit of effort, though the front seats easily slide forward out of the way. One silly feature: sun visors have small extensions to help block sunlight from the side, but they’re so small they don’t do the job.

Surprisingly, given the Challenger’s low down, streamlined styling, visibility from inside is good all around. Long-distance trips are hampered only by the intrusion of the rumbling V8 engine sounds, which to enthusiasts is classical muscle car music.

2016 Dodge Challenger TorqueFlite 8-speed electronic shifter
2016 Dodge Challenger TorqueFlite 8-speed electronic shifter

The Scat Pack Challenger has a starting price of $38,990, which includes a full suite of safety equipment along with the aforementioned Brembo brakes, hill start assist, a backup camera with parking assist, and pushbutton starting.

Equipment on the test car also included Chrysler’s intuitive UConnect infotainment system, Bluetooth connectivity with voice command, SXM satellite radio, dual-zone climate control, fog lights and 20-inch polished aluminum wheels.

Options, in addition to the eight-speed automatic transmission, include navigation and high definition (HD) radio. That brought the suggested delivered price to $41,085—not cheap but not terribly expensive either, given the level of performance.

Pony cars and muscle cars from the past are enjoying a resurgence, as witness the popularity of the Chevrolet Camaro and Ford Mustang. They are somewhat more wedded to modern smaller displacement and turbocharged engines than the offerings from the Dodge boys, who cling more to the past.

2016 Dodge Challenger SXT

Specifications

  • Model: 2016 Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack two-door coupe.
  • Engine:4-liter Hemi V8, 485 hp, 475 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual mode and paddle shifters on the steering wheel.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 6 inches.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 94/16 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,240 pounds
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 15/25/18 mpg. Premium recommended.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $38,990.
  • Price as tested: $41,085.

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

Photos (c) FCA North America

2016 Alfa Romeo 4C Spider: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

There used to be a saying that Italian sports cars like the 2016 Alfa Romeo 4C Spider were patterned after volatile mistresses: beautiful, exciting, expensive, dangerous and impossible to live with.

The new 4C, a two-seat targa-style convertible, enhances the legend. It tantalizes a small minority of car nuts—emphasis on the nuts.  Stylistically, it is a work of art. But it is a terrible car. Well, someone has to say it.

It’s analogous to the Alfa Romeo Spider of yore. From the late 1960s into the 1990s, with few changes, the Alfa Spider—also known as the Duetto—was lauded as one of the most beautiful sports cars ever conceived, which was true. But the thing drove like a tractor.

Alfa Romeo has a glorious history despite its current sickness as a car company, which owner Fiat Chrysler has vowed to cure with a $6 billion investment and new models—two of which are the new 4C coupe and roadster.

Visit the recently reopened Alfa Romeo Museum in Arese, Italy, and you can view the entire history of the world-famous nameplate. Alfa stands for “Anonima Lombarda Fabbrica Automobili,” which translates into Lombard Automobile Factory, Public Company. Classic Alfas can sell for millions of dollars at auctions.

2016 Alfa Romeo 4C Spider
2016 Alfa Romeo 4C Spider

Likely that will happen with the 4C Spider. But it makes it on looks, which of course is the first and last thing every car buyer considers. It also has some sports car credentials, including lightweight carbon fiber construction and an engine and transmission that can propel it to 60 mph in about four seconds, according to independent tests, with a top speed of around 160.

Getting there certainly is exciting—if your idea of exciting is living on the edge. Come along for a ride.

At first look, no question it’s gorgeous, looking exactly like everybody expects of an Italian exotic sports car. For balance and handling, it has rear-drive and a mid-engine, with the 237-hp turbocharged four-cylinder engine mounted right behind the driver’s shoulder blades.

Open the door and get in. Well, actually you have to sort of insinuate your body into the passenger pod, fanny first, twisting this way and that like the dragon on the Alfa Romeo emblem.

2016 Alfa Romeo 4C Spider
2016 Alfa Romeo 4C Spider

The seating actually is decent once you get installed. However, despite big side bolsters on the seats they’re down so low they don’t provide much lateral support.

Though you can’t see them, the pedals are metal for—well, you know. There are four buttons on the console, labeled 1 (to get going), A/M (to switch from automatic to manual paddle operation of the dual clutch transmission), N (for neutral) and R (for reverse).

There’s also a toggle switch to change the driving dynamics from Weather (for soft starts in slippery conditions) to Natural and Dynamic. The last is the most aggressive, short of an all-out race mode, which you don’t get to try.

In any mode, the harsh ride rattles not only the molars but every bone in the body, especially now that the U.S. boasts some of the worst roads in the world.

Light up the engine. You have to twist the key—no pushbutton stuff here. It comes to life with a raucous roar, smack in your eardrums. Either in automatic or manual mode it snarls and barks menacingly at you between shifts. Exciting? Maybe for folks who like to listen to steam engine sounds and racing engines.

One of the features for 2016 is an Alpine audio system, which looks like it came off the shelf at Best Buy. It’s a nice unit if you listen before you start the engine. After that, you can’t hear it unless you crank it way up—and simply add to the racket.

Roll the fabric top off for open air driving and the engine uproar dissipates some. But then you battle wind noise as well.

The steering is manual, which takes wrestler’s muscle at low speeds. Once moving, it’s easier but then all it does is nibble around, following every indent in the road. Constant steering corrections are annoying and tiring. There’s no cruise control, which adds to the fatigue on freeways.

The only way this Alfa feels at home is at speed on twisting pool table surfaces. But who drives at extra-legal speeds all the time?

Yet none of this matters. Even at 70 grand, Alfa Romeo will easily sell every one. Reportedly, there’s already an 18-month waiting list.

2016 Alfa Romeo 4C Spider
2016 Alfa Romeo 4C Spider

Specifications

  • Model: 2016 Alfa Romeo 4C Spider two seat roadster.
  • Engine:8-liter four cylinder, turbocharged, 237 hp, 258 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six speed dual clutch automatic with manual shift mode.
  • Overall length: 13 feet 1 inch.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 47/4 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 2,847 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/ combined fuel consumption: 24/34/28 mpg. (Premium fuel required).
  • Base price, including destination charge: $65,495.
  • Price as tested: $70,595.

Read Jason’s take on the 4C here.

Photos (c) FCA North America

2017 Acura NSX: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Long awaited, the 2017 Acura NSX doesn’t disappoint. Its unique design and supercar persona attracts superlatives like metal filings to a magnet.

It has a top speed of 191 mph, according to Acura, with a 0-60 mph time of about three seconds. By the way, it’s a mostly mid-engine hybrid.

Driving all four wheels are a 3.5-liter V6 engine with twin turbochargers, along with three electric motors. Two of them are packaged together to drive the front wheels and the third connects with the gasoline engine mounted behind the driver and forward of the rear wheels. It also functions as the starter motor. All together, the system delivers 573 hp and 476 lb-ft of torque.

The transmission is a nine-speed dual clutch automatic with paddle shifters on the steering wheel for manual operation. Even the steering wheel, with a flat top and bottom, is custom designed to frame the instruments and enhance outward visibility.

Though the paddles accommodate drivers who want to shift for themselves, they are not needed. The onboard computer reads a multitude of inputs and shifts more accurately than any human can.

This is only the second NSX. The first was introduced in 1990 and was so good it continued almost unchanged for15 years until 2005. Since then, Acura has tantalized enthusiasts with concept cars, including one which would have had a V10 engine. It died in the 2008 recession.

Now, the new NSX might puzzle some observers because of its hybrid design, which is associated in popular culture with enhanced fuel economy.

But it makes sense for a supercar because of those three electric motors. The main performance characteristic of an electric motor is that it produces maximum torque—or twisting force—immediately. Internal combustion engines attain maximum torque as engine revolutions increase.

Electric torque gives the NSX an instant jump off the line and then combines with the rpms of the gasoline engine to maintain steady power. It’s stunningly apparent if you use the NSX’s launch control to rocket away from a standing start.

Select track mode, hold your left foot tightly on the brake pedal, then floor the accelerator pedal and release the brakes. There’s no burning rubber because there’s no wheel spin. All four tires grab the pavement and the NSX snaps off the line like a ball bearing from a slingshot. Seconds later you’re up to three digit speeds.

Of course, any number of drag racers can rapidly reach high speeds. But in this era of high tech motoring, a supercar has to excel not only at acceleration but braking and handling as well.

2017 Acura NSX
2017 Acura NSX.

The tested NSX came with carbon ceramic brakes (a $10,600 option) that felt powerful enough to stop a runaway steam locomotive. They included a regenerative function that produced electricity and contributed to acceleration and handling.

The NSX incorporates a custom version of Acura’s super handling all-wheel drive (SH-AWD), which delivers yaw control and torque vectoring that enable a driver maintain a tight line around curves.

There are four driver selectable dynamic systems: quiet, sport, sport plus and track. They adjust torque vectoring, steering assist, transmission shift points, electric brake assist and suspension damping. Though it may come across as frivolous, they even control the exhaust sounds that are piped into the cabin.

The electric quiet mode enables an owner to sneak home late at night. At the other extreme, the track mode attunes systems for all-out racetrack driving, though it does not allow the driver to fully disable the safety of automatic stability control.

Inside, the NSX coddles the driver and one passenger as comfortably as if they were infants in a car seat. Bolsters hold the lower torso in place but also allow free movement of shoulders and arms.

As a supercar with Japanese reliability and U.S. build quality, the NSX doesn’t come cheap. It starts at $157,800, including destination and handling, and the heavily optioned test car came to $204,700.

The overwhelming recollection of the original NSX in 1990 was of a car that performed so perfectly that it felt invincible. You sensed that nobody, in whatever vehicle, could catch you. A brief drive in a 2005 model brought back those memories.

Yet that first NSX felt old fashioned next to its 2017 descendant, which should be labeled as invincible to the nth power.

2017 Acura NSX
2017 Acura NSX.

Specifications             

  • Model: 2017 Acura NSX two-door coupe.
  • Engines: 5-liter V6 gasoline, twin turbochargers, with one direct drive electric motor for the rear wheels. Two independent electric motors packaged together for the front wheels. Total system power: 573 hp, 476 lb-ft. torque.
  • Transmission: Nine-speed dual clutch automatic with manual shift mode.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 8 inches.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 44/4.4 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,803 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 21/22/21 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $157,800.
  • Price as tested: $204,700.

Photos (c) Acura

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