Our live, real-time coverage of the NY Auto Show will be starting at 9:30am tomorrow, which is God-awfully early if you’re a member of the New York media but apparently “normal” for all those folks in Michigan and L.A.
Tag Archives: 2010
The Good: Sports-car performance, sedan convenience, inspires Kobe Bryant-levels of confidence.
The Bad: Not as fuel-efficient as the EPA would have you think, transmission a bit rebellious.
The Verdict: A near-perfect harmony of speed, style and substance.
The best automobiles are more than transportation appliances. Sure, they move you from place to place just as well as any car, truck, golf cart or Segway – but they do so much more. They inspire passion. They inspire lust. And, like Hugh Grant in any number of estrogen-tastic romantic comedies, despite their flaws, you ultimately come to love them wholeheartedly.
The Audi S4 is one of those cars.
On the surface, the S4 doesn’t seem very different from the A4 on which it’s based. While the S4 receives unique bumpers, a mildly different grille and quad tailpipes in lieu of the A4’s twin pipes, only the hardest core of enthusiasts are likely to notice. It’s a stealthy approach to speed – in stark contrast to the in-your-face aggression of potential competitors like the BMW M3 or the Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG.
(Of course, Audi insists the S4 doesn’t compete with those macho models, instead preferring to stack its stealth sports sedan against the “regular” six-cylinder entry-level luxury sedans – specifically, the BMW 335i, which the S4 is locked onto like a Tomahawk cruise missile.)
The trend of stylish subtlety continues inside, where the biggest variation from the A4 are a pair of sport bucket seats up front – though a handful of other differentiators, such as S4-branded gauges and steering wheel, pop up around the interior. But lack of style was never really a problem with the A4 (at least from my point of view), and the S4’s differences, though minor, add a bit of panache to the car’s looks.
Pop the hood, though, and the changes become a lot more apparent. Instead of the turbocharged 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder in the A4, the S4 runs wild with a 333-horsepower supercharged 3.0 liter V6 capable of propelling the S4 from 0 to 60 in 4.9 seconds, according to both Audi and Car and Driver.
But those numbers seem so cold and abstract compared to those 333 horses. This car is fast. Whee! Fast. The supercharger has effectively no lag (a major advantage blowers have over turbochargers) – punch the throttle, and you’re thrown back into your seat and on your way to that inevitable court date. (“Reckless driving,” my ass…)
While the S4 is based off a front-drive platform (indeed, you can buy a FWD A4 if you really want, but good luck finding one), it thankfully comes with standard all-wheel-drive, which harnesses those gallivanting ponies and sticks them to the ground with the expected Germanic efficiency. Between it and the electronic stability control, even the slipperiest Vermont roads were easily negotiable.
That said, though, click off the ESP, and the S4 will hang its tail out in curves all day long if you want it too (especially on those aforementioned icy dirt roads). I spend the better part of ten minutes baking donuts in the fresh snow of an Asian fusion restaurant parking lot – including several continuous loops around a blue spruce in the middle of the lot. (And I don’t regret it one bit, Ma.)
While a six-speed manual transmission comes standard, my tester put the power down through a seven-speed dual clutch transmission. In the past, I’ve been quite happy with this type of transmission (both in the Audi TT-S and the Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart), and the S4 was no exception – in automatic mode, shifts are as smooth as a slushbox, while in manual mode, it cracks off shifts with Barry Allen speed.
Adding a seventh, higher gear to the mix adds some virtue to the car’s hefty serving of vice, allowing the S4 to reach an EPA-claimed 28 mpg on the highway and 18 mpg in town. Of course, the EPA test cycle was designed by an engineer who drives like Ralph Nader in a snowstorm, so real-world mileage is a bit lower; I averaged 22.45 miles per gallon over a week of mostly highway driving.
The dual clutch ‘box isn’t perfect, however. Even in manual mode, flooring the throttle in high gear causes the car to drop down several cogs to put you in the heart of the powerband again. In automatic mode, this certainly makes sense, but presumably any driver who’s enabled manual mode wants to make his or her own decisions – and if he/she wants to, say, test top-gear acceleration along the New Jersey Turnpike without being unexpectedly flung towards the Pennsylvania state line, that’s his or her perogative.
Less startling but more annoying, the aluminum paddles on the back of the steering wheel are on the small side – small enough to be all but invisible behind the spokes at 9 and 3 o’clock. I presume this was an intentional move to keep them out of the way for drivers who don’t want to be bothered with shifting for themselves – but it seems kind of a burn to the enthusiasts who, presumably, make up a hefty percentage of the S4’s clientele.
Quibbles aside, the S4’s powertrain makes for one hell of a fun ride; luckily, when the road turns curvy, the suspension and chassis proves more than capable of cashing the checks the supercharged V6 loves to write all over the pavement. As with true sports cars, the S4’s limits will almost always lie beyond those of your nerves (at least on public roads).
Push the car into turns, and it urges you on, encouraging and emboldening you. While the steering can be heavy at low speeds, it lightens up as the car builds velocity, never feeling floaty or disconnected. Few cars instill as much confidence in their drivers as the S4 does.
On a side note, this was the first Audi I’ve tested lacking the Audi Drive Select system, which allows the driver to adjust the suspension, steering and drivetrain’s responsiveness. To what degree the ADS improves non-“S” models, I’m still unsure, but given my experience with the S4, I’d be hard-pressed to imagine how the system could improve on the car’s dynamics – at least, not enough to warrant its $3,950 price.
Of course, sport sedans promise a measure of convenience along with performance – after all, as Mitt Romney learned, society tends to frown on strapping your dog to the roof of your car; there will be times you need that extra room. Not surprisingly, the S4 offers all the convenience of the A4 it’s based on – it just goes faster. Granted, it’s still on the smaller end of the sedan spectrum; it’s possible to fit three adults and a week’s worth of luggage into the car, but let’s just say my backseat-dwelling father would probably not enjoy repeating that drive from Boston to New York City anytime soon. (Especially since he had to share the rear bench with several large bags.)
The Bottom Line:
For anyone seeking maximum driving excitement for around $50,000 without sacrificing utility, the S4 is as good as it gets. It’ll take winding back roads like a sports car at noon and let you drive octogenarian ladies to and from dinner at night. The S4 packs 95 percent of the fun of a sports car with 100 percent of the comfort and handiness of a four-door luxury sedan.
As an automotive journalist, people often ask, “If you could have one car, regardless of price, what would it be?” Usually, I’ll respond with my supercar crush du jour, then offer a quippy remark about the fun factor overwhelming the little inconveniences – crappy gas mileage, hefty insurance rates, lack of room, tricky behavior in town, and so forth.
But today? I might just tell them, “Audi S4.”
Base Price/Price As Tested: $48,125/$53,450
0-60: 4.9 seconds (courtesy Car and Driver)
Fuel Economy: 18 city/28 highway (EPA estimate); 22.45 mpg (observed)
Key Competitors: BMW 335i/335xi, Ford Taurus SHO, Cadillac CTS
Well, it’s mid-January again, and all you car nuts out there know exactly what that means – it’s Detroit Auto Show time! Because as the Detroit Tourism Board will tell you, there’s no better time to venture to America’s home-grown Thunderdome than when it’s cold enough to freeze mercury.
Still, so long as the heat in the Cobo Center works, journalists from across the globe will cram their North Face parkas and .357 Magnum Colt Pythons into overnight bags and journey to Motor City for one of the largest auto shows in the world. This year was a bittersweet one for the three home-team automakers: bitter for GM, who saw four divisions exorcised from its corporate ranks after tossing all its self-respect into Lake Michigan by declaring bankruptcy and taking federal bailout money; but sweet for Ford, who managed to avoid Chapter 11 and saw its first profitable quarter in nearly two years.
And Chrysler? Well, they’re owned by Fiat now. Actually, do they even count as one of the Big Three anymore?
Regardless of whether Chrysler considers their home in The Boot of Italy or The Mitten of Michigan, in the minds of most people, they still count as a good ol’ American boys. Unfortunately, Chrysler/Fiat considered new model revelations and press conferences excessive expenditures this year, and simply left their models out on the floor for perusal. (At least they showed up, unlike Porsche and Nissan. Uncool, guys.) Luckily, though, plenty of other new models and concepts came into the light at the show. Here are the best.
Audi e-tron concept
Astute readers of this blog may be thinking, “Didn’t I already see the e-tron?” And the short answer is, yes, you did. But not this one. Audi has, somewhat inexplicably, decided to use the exact same name for this smaller electric sports car concept as they used for their larger, R8-based version. The difference, you see, is that the R8-based original is just called “e-tron,” while this new concept is…the “e-tron.” Come on, Audi! You’re German – Germans make up new words all the time by smashing them together. Couldn’t you call it the “Smallersilverelectricsportscar?”
Regardless of what you call it, the baby e-tron will reportedly run from 0-60 in 5.9 seconds with a top speed of 124 mph, thanks to a pair of electric motors with a combined output of 204 horsepower. Of course, since the baby e-tron is just a concept, this could be entirely hypothetical; the show car may well be powered by a hamster on a wheel for all we know.
More importantly for car fans, the e-tron 2-seater’s design may be a preview of Audi’s rumored upcoming R4 sports car. There’s no way to know for sure, but Audi could do a lot worse than pattern the R4 on this aggressive-looking concept. Slap the S4’s 333-hp supercharged V6 in there and stack it up against the Porsche Cayman (Whoops! VW owns Porsche now) – er, BMW Z4, and they could have a winner on their hands.
2011 BMW 740i/740Li
This isn’t the first time BMW has sold a 740i in the States – two generations of 7-series ago, it was the mainstay of the lineup – but it is the first time since 1992 that Americans can order a six-cylinder engine in the car. The last version, the 735i, made do with a mere 208 horsepower; the new 740i packs BMW’s sublime turbocharged 3.0 liter inline six making 315 horsepower.
Presumably, Bimmer is bringing the six-cylinder 7 our way in order to improve its fuel-economy standings; odds are, if you can afford the $71,025 base price, you’re probably not too concerned with saving cash at the pumps, and if you really wanted to be green, you’d buy a loaded Prius and pocket the extra $40,000. Still, for the handful of high-powered executives who don’t care about power (Do I see one standing in the back? No? Okay.), the 740 offers pretty much all the luxury features of its pricier brethren for a nice discount.
Buick Regal GS Concept
From the land of seemingly oxymoronical concepts comes this high-performance Buick. Okay, “high-performance” is a bit of an exaggeration – the all-wheel-drive GS runs with a turbocharged 2.0 liter four-cylinder making 260 horsepower, a mere 40 more than the current top-of-the-line Regal. But the GS has a six-speed stick shift! I don’t think there’s been a manual Buick since Clint Eastwood was a sex symbol.
Buick promises the GS achieves 60 in less than 6 seconds, which probably means 5.9. What they haven’t promised is a production version; however, it seems pretty likely, as it would give Buick a strong card to play against Acura and Lexus. Buick has made impressive strides in the last few years in making their cars more attractive and elevating their quality towards the levels of other luxury makes; adding high(er) performance models would be a logical next step. It’s probably safe to expect the GS in the showrooms by spring 2011.
2011 Cadillac CTS-V Coupe
It wasn’t long ago that the idea of a high-performance Caddy would have seemed just as paradoxical as a fun-to-drive Buick; however, since the first-generation CTS and the introduction of the V-Series line of kickass Caddies, the idea has latched onto the car enthusiast population like an alien face-hugger.
And the new CTS-V Coupe is probably the sweetest Cadillac yet.
Everything you love about the regular CTS-V, just in a sleeker two-door package. Same 556 horsepower supercharged V8, same choice of six-speed stick or auto – just two fewer doors. Sure, there’s less room in the back, but come on – how often do you use those rear doors anyway? Besides, chicks dig coupes. Just ask Batman.
Pricing will probably be a few grand more than the CTS-V sedan, so figure a base one will set you back around $67,000 when they land in showrooms this summer – a few grand more than its main competitor, the BMW M3. But the Caddy has 142 more horses. And, like George Thorogood, it’s American Made. So give it a little love.
Cadillac XTS Platinum Concept
The last ten years or so have been lean times for folks interested in full-sized American luxury cars. Mafia dons, Fortune 500 executives, and your Grandpa Larry have watched with sadness as their beloved Town Cars, Park Avenues and DeVilles drifted off into the ether, leaving them with a difficult choice – buy European (I ain’t buying no Nazi car!), downsize (I don’t feel safe in this thing!) or move into a luxury mega-SUV (I can’t see my grandson behind me in the driveway!).
Luckily, it looks like CEOs and coots alike will be able to breathe a sigh of relief soon. While technically a concept, the XTS is likely a very strong indicator of Cadillac’s upcoming full-sized sedan, slated to replace the STS and the DTS – both of which, remarkably, are still available at your local Caddy dealership.
In concept form, the XTS is powered by Cadillac’s 3.6 liter V6 direct injection V6 coupled to a plug-in hybrid system; combined, the car puts out 350 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque through a six-speed auto. It’s unclear from the press release how the electric and gasoline powertrains interact exactly, but we’d bet both can be used to drive the wheels – unlike the Chevy Volt, where the gas engine is used simply as a generator for the batteries and electric motor.
Hopefully, any production version of the XTS won’t differ significantly from the show car’s sleek lines, which (in our eyes) meld the CTS with the Mercedes-Benz S-class. Plan on a choice of V6 and V8 powerplants upon launch, with a hybrid option soon afterwards. As for when it lands in dealerships – summer or fall 2011 seems like a safe bet.
And on a side note, GM’s vice-chairman and Main Car Bro Bob Lutz announced Cadillac will indeed be producing its own version of the Chevrolet Volt, based on the Converj. It won’t be hitting the streets until sometime after 2012 (assuming we’re still alive by then! DUM DE DUM!), and will probably be pretty faithful to the concept – two doors and edgy styling over the Volt’s four doors and slightly bland looks. And it’ll probably cost more than $50,000. But I’d still buy one.
Chevrolet Aveo RS Concept
Like the looks of this Aveo RS? Then you’ll probably like the regular Aveo when it hits the ground next year. Just strip off the spoilers, the ground effects, and throw on some more conventional headlamps. With its sights locked squarely on the Honda Fit, the Aveo will take the bottom rung in Chevy’s lineup.
The concept has a turbocharged 1.4 liter inline four-cylinder engine under the hood pumping out 138 horsepower, and routing it to the front wheels through a six-speed manual. If they’re smart, Chevy will actually produce a high-performance version of the Aveo; we’ve been wishing Honda would do a Fit Si for years, and if the Chevy is anywhere near as fun to drive as the Fit, they could sell a boatload. Hell, we’d probably buy one.
2012 Ford Focus
Not to be outdone in the small-car department by their arch-foes at GM, Ford unveiled the next-generation Focus in Detroit – and as Peter Griffin would say, it seems freakin’ sweet. For the first time, the Focus sold here in the States will be nearly identical to the version sold in Europe, which should mean European-style (i.e. better) handling and materials when it lands here early next year.
Equipped with a 2.0 liter inline four-cylinder making 155 horsepower and 145 lb-ft of torque, the Focus comes with your choice of six-speed transmissions – manual or “dry-clutch automatic,” which is just a fancy term for the sort of dual-clutch gearbox found in everything from the Ferrari 458 Italia to the Volkswagen Golf. Ford also announced a electric-powered version, which should be coming our way in later 2011.
Coming in both five-door hatchback and four-door sedan forms, the new Focus boasts a bevy of cool features most people probably wouldn’t expect on a compact car, from an assisted parallel-parking system (complete with rearview camera) and an eight-inch dash-mounted touch screen. Pricing hasn’t been announced, but expect it to be pretty much in line with its competitors – the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Nissan Sentra, and upcoming Chevy Cruze.
2011 Ford Mustang GT
Hot on the heels of upgrading the V6-powered Mustang to 315 horsepower, Ford is throwing a new 5.0 liter V8 under the hood of the ‘Stang GT, bumping power up to 412 horses. While still down a few ponies to the Camaro SS and Challenger SRT8, the revised ‘Stang should be lighter than its fellow muscle cars, giving it an edge in the curves (and probably on the straights too).
Pricing is still unknown, but since the installation of the new V6 didn’t jack up the base Mustang’s price very much, expect to pay around the same amount for the 5.0 as the old 4.6 liter V8. (Anal-retentives, please not the emphasis placed on the word around. There, did it once more just to ensure you understood.)
GMC Granite Concept
As the first American entrant into the “funky box”category of small cars pioneered here by the Scion xB, the Granite raises the style bar a few notches higher. Up ’til now, the small boxes like the xB, Kia Soul and Nissan Cube had convenience in spades, but good looks weren’t part of the deal.
But the Granite manages to make boxy look badass. Running the same engine as the Aveo RS Concept in a more utilitarian package, performance isn’t really the name of the game here – 138 horses is adequate, nothing more, nothing less.
However, GMC insisted on extolling the Granite as a “flexible, functional social space…equally at home at the cabin or the club.” News flash, PR flaks – any place with more than one person is a social space.
2011 Honda CR-Z
Though we’ve already seen it in leaked brochure photos, it was nice to finally see Honda’s new sporty hybrid coupe in the metal for the first time at the show. Looking pretty much like what you’d expect the Insight to be had it remained a coupe, the tiny Honda promises to be a pretty fun drive.
With a 1.5 liter inline four under the hood connected to Honda’s “Integrated Motor Assist” hybrid bits, the CR-Z (the “Crazy?”) puts down 122 horsepower and either 128 or 123 lb-ft of torque, depending on whether you choose the six-speed manual or the CVT. (The manual has the higher torque figure, because manuals are awesome that way.) Fuel economy is estimated at 31 mpg city/37 mpg highway for the stick, and 36/38 mpg for the CVT – so if you do a lot of city driving, it might be worth it to go auto. Maybe.
The CRaZy will go on sale here in the latter part of 2010, in two forms – base and EX. The base model will hardly be a stripper, as it will reportedly feature a six-speaker CD/USB stereo, automatic climate control, stability control, power everything, keyless entry and cruise control. Should you feel compelled to move to the EX, you’ll add a 360-watt seven-speaker stereo, xenon headlights, and Bluetooth, among other features. The base sounds pretty good to us, honestly. No details on price yet, but our fingers are crossed for the base model to land under $20,000.
2012 (?) Mercedes-Benz CLS
Sadly, the next-generation of Mercedes’s four-door “coupe” wasn’t really at the show. However, M-B did have a model showing off the basic shape of the new CLS. From the looks of it, it seems Mercedes was trying to replicate the shape of the car under a sheet; however, the guys at egmCarTech thought it looked more like Robert Patrick’s liquid-metal T-1000 oozing into the shape of a car, and quite frankly, we have to agree. But if the car is as pretty as the display implies, it won’t need to shape-shift to snare people’s attention.
Mini Beachcomber Concept
Do you miss the Mini Moke? (Hell, do you even know what the Mini Moke is?) Well, for those of you with a fondness for the old pseudo-off-roader still found carving up beaches on St. Barts, Mini has just the car for you.
Well, you can’t actually buy the Beachcomber. It’s more of a concept version of Mini’s upcoming small SUV, which will probably be called the “Countryman.” (We’re still pulling for the “Countrymouse,” but only if they rename the Cooper the “Citymouse.”) When the actual Mini-SUV hits the dirt roads, don’t expect to see the Beachcomber’s removable doors or spare-tire-like “backpack;” do expect the elevated ride-height, knobbier tires and available all-wheel-drive. Hopefully we’ll be seeing the production version sometime this year.
Volkswagen New Compact Coupe Hybrid Concept
No, we didn’t add the “new” to the name – Volkswagen did. Frankly, we’re not sure why, since so far as we remember, there wasn’t an Old Compact Coupe Hybrid Concept. But whatever they call it, we’re grateful, because the NCCHC promises to be a pretty sweet little ride.
Coming across like a Honda CR-Z Plus, the NCCHC packs a 1.5 liter turbocharged and supercharged inline four connected to enough hybrid pieces to provide a combined 177 horsepower and 45 miles per gallon. I believe the technical term for that is “win/win.”
While the car may be called a concept, it looks pretty damn production ready to us. Of course, VW’s thrown us curveballs before – remember the Nardo supercar concept? – but there’s a world of difference between producing a quarter-million-dollar supercar and an inexpensive hybrid sports car. Hell, just ask Honda – who canned the new NSX most of the way through its production cycle. Luckily, rumor has it the NCCHC will be heading stateside as a coupe version of the new Jetta – hopefully with hybrid powertrain intact.
All in all, it wasn’t a huge year for the Detroit show. No show-stopping concepts, no earth-shaking revelations – just a whole bunch of pretty exciting new cars. And to be frank, we’re okay with that. Given the last couple years in the automotive world, a little piece and quiet seems rather nice, doesn’t it?