Tag Archives: automotive

Review – 2010 Mazda5 Touring (now with video!)

Hold up, sporting enthusiasts! Before you go any further, check out our first VIDEO REVIEW below!

The Good: More playful than “minivan” would imply; sleek styling; surprisingly affordable.

The Bad: Space rather limited; sliding-door stigma remains.

The Ruling: The minivan for people who hate minivans.

Minivan.

The very word is enough to make most men shudder. It conjures up images of middle-aged suburban fathers losing hair and gaining weight, forced to shuttle their ungrateful little bastards from one yuppie-child activity to the next. (“They have Pilates for first-graders now?”) The minivan screams sexless, joyless, suburban purgatory, a rolling reminder that the best days of your life will forever be in that rear view mirror.

The Mazda5, though, begs to differ. Just a glance at it brings hope to the downtrodden American men sought after by every company to broadcast a commercial during an NFL game. Far from the amorphous bulging shape common to traditional minivans and beer guts, the 5 cuts a svelte hole through the atmosphere, knifelike creases evading the wind while catching the eye. This minivan works out – a cardio-heavy regimen, admittedly, but park it next to a more conventional van and it looks downright stunning.

In fact, it’s almost a stretch to call the Mazda5 a van at all, at least by American standards. Lower, lighter and smaller in every way than pretty much any minivan in the states, the only thing truly tying it to its name mates are the twin sliding doors mounted between the B- and C-pillars. In size and stance, the Mazda5 has more in common with a good old-fashioned station wagon than the hulking machines with the chutzpah to call themselves “minivans.” If anything, the Mazda5 puts the “mini” back in minivan.

Thinking small allows Mazda to accomplish the nigh impossible – making a van fun to drive. Though packing only 153 horsepower from its 2.3-liter inline four-cylinder engine, the 5 still put a smile on my face when tackling the high-speed sweepers of the Palisades Interstate Parkway. At a mere 3479 pounds dry, the car accelerates, stops and turns very similarly to the compact Mazda3 on which it’s based. Rowing through the five-speed manumatic transmission makes the keeps things plenty lively for autocrossers forced into soccer practice-duty, and the suspension feels more sports-sedan-like than any other car with sliding side doors. (No, BMW, that’s not a dare.)

Not surprisingly, though, the small engine has to work pretty hard to motivate the 5 with any verve, so fuel economy can suffer. Follow the speed limits and act like your driver’s ed teacher is in the car, the EPA estimated mileage of 21 city/27 highway with the automatic should be pretty attainable; drive like the average automotive journalist (we’re still bitter that our driver’s ed teacher thought they knew more than us), and you’ll average about 23 mpg.

Fun as it may be to drive, the true test of a minivan is how well it moves people, and it’s here the Mazda finds its litheness coming back to bite it in the surprisingly small keister. The length and width that make the Caravans and Siennas of the world so much less fun to drive gives those bigger vans far more places to cram adults, kids, coworkers, hitchhikers, aliens – whatever form of carbon-based life form floats your boat. The 5, for its part, imparts various feelings of constriction on its occupants depending on where they sit. Driver and front passenger will probably go with “cozy;” middle-row occupants may choose “tight;” those exiled to the back row would probably say “claustrophobic” if their knees weren’t already jammed into their mouths.

With that third row seat in takeoff-and-landing position (upright and locked!), storage space is pretty scarce as well. Anyone harboring dreams about taking what I like to call the “Simpsons Vacation Load” – two adults, two kids, a baby and an old codger – better be prepared to pack light. (Luckily, they already wear the same clothes every day.)

But take two people out of that equation – say, Grandpa and Maggie – and the 5 makes more sense. Backseat squabbles are kept to a minimum thanks to second-row buckets, and with the third row partially or fully down, storage space becomes plentiful. Big windows all around give everyone a good view of the surroundings, and though it’s become de rigeur in the segment, I still think having power windows in the sliding doors is a long-overdue blessing. (I’m sure I’m not the only one haunted by memories of poorly ventilated 90s-era minivans, which in summer began to emulate Civil War-era hotboxes on wheels.)

The 5 doesn’t shy away from packing on features, either; my mid-level Touring model packed on automatic climate control, a six-disc CD changer, satellite radio, a moonroof and keyless entry for a little more than $22,000. Even the fully loaded Grand Touring model (which adds on leather seats, xenon headlamps, a nav system and Bluetooth) goes for a bit less than $24,000 – less than most midsized sedans these days offering those same features, and certainly lower than similarly equipped members of the minivan clan. The truly frugal can take home a base 5 for $18,745 or so – but they’ll have to know how to row their own gearbox for that price.

The Bottom Line:

The “minivan” word doesn’t really apply to the Mazda5, in all honesty. In reality, the 5 is a station wagon that just happens to have sliding doors. While it certainly gives away quite a bit in terms of space to bigger, boxier vans, for the average nuclear family, the 5 offers an ideal compromise. It has enough room for two adults, their 2.5 kids and their accompanying soccer gear; it’s enough fun to keep the front left seat from feeling purgatorial; and best of all, neither the monthly bank account nor the fuel bill will devastate the familial bank account. Much like the Simpsons themselves, the 5 is far from perfect – but by God, you can’t help but love it.

Base Price/Price As Tested: $22,000/$22,000

0-60: 9.4 seconds

Fuel Economy: 21 city/27 highway (EPA estimate); 23 mpg (observed)

Key Competitors: Kia Rondo, Dodge Grand Caravan, Chrysler PT Cruiser

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Reviews

Review – 2009 Audi TT-S Roadster

The Good: Sweet-shifting transmission, stellar handling, looks like a roadster should.

The Bad: Turbo lag kind of a bummer, flatulent exhaust can be grating.

The Verdict: Convertible fun in a balanced package.

DSCN2547

While automotive journalists and racing drivers alike often extol the virtues of closed-roof sports cars, there is simply no substitute for the experience of a convertible. Sure, chopping the roof may give up some structural integrity and motorized tops may add weight, but no amount of lightness or strength can replace the feeling of racing along with the wind in your hair, nothing between you and the sky. For most of us, driving a convertible is as close as we’ll ever come to flying.

That said, the Audi TT-S Roadster is a wonderful substitute for a jetpack.

DSCN2558

Thankfully, little of the TT coupe’s clean, elegant styling is lost in the transformation from hardtop to softtop. The styling modifications baked in with the high-performance S package thankfully avoid the gaudiness all too often associated with “sportier” models; if anything, the front lip spoiler and raised wheel arches draw a strong link to Audi’s outstanding R8 supercar. And while “Brilliant Red” might not be the best choice for every car, it sat on the TT-S’s hull like the car was born to wear it. Put it this way – pull up in this car at a party, and you won’t have any trouble snaring some ass. And I don’t mean farm animals. (Unless that’s how you roll.)

The car’s expensive looks and feel are all the more impressive, given that under the skin, the TT-S is little more than a Volkswagen Rabbit (nee Golf), sharing its chassis (hence the car’s rather diminutive size) and engines – in the case of the TT-S, an uprated version of the GTI’s 2.0 liter turbocharged inline-four cranking out 265 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque.

All this juice is routed to all four wheels through the Volkswagen Group’s dual-clutch gearbox, formerly known as DSG but currently called S tronic. Whatever you call it, the dual-clutch box operates almost seamlessly. As with the dual clutch tranny of the Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart, the TT-S’s gearbox offers multiple ways of choosing your next gear.

Leave it in automatic, and it’ll shift itself without a second thought. Slap the shift lever sideways into Sport mode, and the car assumes you’re trying to recreate Ronin, holding gears close to the redline to keep the engine on the boil. And if you prefer manual override, you can pick your own gears using either the lever or the small metal paddles affixed to the back of the wheel, which feel great but can be hard to find during turns. In automatic mode or under hard acceleration, it snaps off shifts like rifle fire; driving sedately in manual mode, there can be a pause between toggling the shift paddle and the desired effect, but the gap is short enough to effectively be a non-issue.

DSCN2563

Slightly more annoying than the transmission’s quirks is the tendency of the quite exhaust pipes to burp quite loudly on every upshift. While it certainly adds a welcomed sense of fuck yeah! during hard-charging acceleration, it can grow a little tiresome while tooling around town. A system that restricts the belching to hard-core acceleration would certainly be appreciated.

Still, there’s little to complain about in regards to the car’s performance. Acceleration runs towards the back of the sport roadster class – not surprising, as the TT-S is quite a bit less powerful than competitors like the Porsche Boxster S, the awkwardly named BMW Z4 sDrive35i, or even the Chevrolet Corvette convertible. However, unless you’ve got the car’s competitors at hand for direct comparison, you’ll only be disappointed with the TT-S’s acceleration if you’re trading down from a Ferrari.

To access that power, though, you’ll have to punch through some turbo lag early on. Below 3000 rpm, the four-cylinder feels a touch anemic; once past that point, though, things stay interesting all the way up to the redline. Still, driving around New York City, I often found myself dropping a gear in order to keep up with traffic. (Then again, if all you need to deal with traffic in New York is a downshift, consider yourself lucky. I usually need something in a 12-gauge Remington.)

DSCN2552

Plus, when the roads start winding, the Audi grabs hold like an angry cat on carpet. Compact car or not, the Rabbit/Golf’s capable handling has often been celebrated, and the lowered ride height and AWD of the Audi only add to it. Should you desire, you can turn cloverleafs into G-force simulators with relative ease (but make sure your soda lid is screwed on tight).

Unfortunately, all that performance makes for quite a bit of temptation, and even if you’re lucky enough to avoid speeding tickets (good luck with that), playing with this Audi can cost you at the pump. The EPA estimates fuel economy at 21 city/29 highway; however, achieving the higher figure likely requires driving with the top up at 55 miles per hour, and if you’re driving your TT-S like that, you should just pull over and give the car to the nearest teenager. My tester’s low fuel light popped on after just 330 miles.

Inside, the TT-S boasts the same sort of quality seen all along the Audi line. You sit low in the car, with the high doors creating a mild case of “bathtub effect.” In keeping with the nature of the car, sporty touches abound, from the snug seats to the metallic finish on the shift lever and paddles and the thick, flat-bottomed steering wheel similar to the one in the Lamborghini Gallardo. (Lamborghini, like Audi, is owned by the Volkswagen Group – along with Bentley, Bugatti, and a host of European carmakers American audiences have probably never heard of.)

DSCN2559

Of course, no matter how committed you are to soaking up the sun – or in the case of Irish people like myself, risking melanoma – eventually some sort of event will occur (thunderstorm, hole in the ozone layer, Mothman attack) that will cause you to raise the top. Thankfully, the TT-S makes it easy; press and hold one button, and the top will rise or fall as you desire, even while driving at low speeds. While power hard tops have come into vogue in the last several years, the TT-S doesn’t suffer for choosing canvas over metal; the top boasts a glass rear window, feels nearly as strong as a hard one, and was just as effective at keeping warmth in and noise out.

The Bottom Line: From its humble roots in the Volkswagen family, the TT-S has grown into a genuine sports car. While it may lack the mid-mounted engines or hefty V-8s of other roadsters, the little Audi still kicks ass and takes names while making you feel like an action hero. Sure, it’s not the perfect convertible for everyone – there are faster roadsters, more convenient roadsters, flashier roadsters and cheaper roadsters – but the TT-S strikes a nice balance between value, size and style. Lay your eyes on one, and it’s hard to look away; drop the top, crank up your favorite Foo Fighters song and floor it through a couple of gears, and you’ll be hooked.

All figures are for 2010 models; the car is effectively unchanged from 2009.

Base Price/Price As Tested: $54,950/$54,950

0-60: 5.1 seconds (courtesy Car and Driver)

EPA Fuel Economy: 21 city/29 highway

Key Competitors: BMW Z4 sDrive35i, Porsche Boxster S, Mercedes-Benz SLK350, Chevrolet Corvette.

3 Comments

Filed under Reviews

A Burst of News – Mini brings the Coupe, Land Rover goes green, Bentley goes epic, and more Ferrari 458 pix

We’ve got a couple more reviews coming up in the next couple weeks on CCO – not to give it away, but they rhyme with “Audi A5” and “Audi TT-S.” In the meantime, though, here’s a quick shot of sweet, sweet automotive news smack to mainline straight into your veins.

First up comes news out of Germany that Mini will be bringing a coupe to market in the next two to three years, in order to compete with the Audi TT, according to Automotive News. The Mini Coupe will be able to accommodate the same engines as the current Mini lineup, even the 211-hp 1.6 liter turbo engine from the badass John Cooper Works version.

mini_coupe_concept_press_001

A concept version (complete with ballsy 211-hp engine) will be brought out at next month’s Frankfurt Auto Show, but luckily, they’ve dropped a couple of preview images for us to check out. We kinda like it…what do you think?

P90047098

Next up comes very, very early news that Land Rover will reportedly unveil the production version of its compact LRX sport-ute in June 2010. According to Autocar, the small SUV will be unveiled on or around the 40th anniversary of the Range Rover brand (June 17, 2010, as if you didn’t know), and will attempt to be a more Earth-friendly Range Rover. Not sure how, unless they build the thing out of hemp.

Expect the production LRX (possibly renamed RRX? Or Range Rover Xtreme?) to begin rolling off production lines in 2011. It will likely cost at least $35,000, will compete with the Acura RDX and the BMW X1, and even though it will be heavily marketed towards upper-middle-class young adventurers (a.k.a you, dear reader), it will probably be bought mostly by yuppie suburbanites.

The owner is currently at a rock-climbing nightclub.

This car's owner is currently at a rock-climbing nightclub.

But while Land Rover tries to put a more affordable, more eco-friendly spin on its models, Bentley has turned around and whipped out its new flagship, which they’re describing as “the pinnacle of the ultra-luxury segment.” Up yours, masses.

I just love this picture.

I just love this picture.

Introduced at the Pebble Beach Concours D’Elegance (French for “buttload of rich white dudes”), the Bentley Mulsanne replaces the Arnage, a car so old, Larry King drove to the prom in one. Technical specs won’t be released until the car’s “official” unveiling at the Frankfurt Auto Show, but expect a V8 with enough torque to spin the Earth backwards and reverse time, a la Superman: The Movie.

2010_bentley_mulsanne_press_002

Pricing will probably start around $300,000, and top out somewhere around the cost of a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier, depending on how many ridiculous custom options you request (“Do I want the platinum steering wheel, or the ruby-encrusted pedals? Hey, why not both?”). The first chassis was auctioned off for $500,000, though, so if you see one driving around before 2010, you know how much that guy paid for his car.

Also coming to the Frankfurt Auto Show is the new Saab 9-5. Now, the last Saab 9-5 was brought out in 1997, so to say this car is long overdue is like saying Americans love firearms, apple pie and Michael Bay movies.

2010_saab_9_5_press_011

Packing all-new styling inspired by the awesome Aero X concept car, and packing up to 300 horsepower, the new 9-5 should finally offer quirky pseudo-hippies a distinct alternative to the BMW 5-series, Audi A6 and Mercedes-Benz E-class. God knows how many quirky pseudo-hippies have that much money, though, so don’t expect to be seeing too many 9-5s on the roads near you, unless you live in Vermont or Oregon.

Sadly, the ignition remains by the steering wheel. Curse you, GM!

Sadly, the ignition remains by the steering wheel. Curse you, GM!

On a side note, while it might seem these days like every carmaker is unveiling their new models at fancy-dancy auto shows or hoity-toighty concourses, it falls to Toyota to bring new vehicle presentations straight to the masses. That’s why Toyota is unveiling their new 4Runner at, of all places, the Texas State Fair.

Yup.

Toyota respects this man's opinion above all others.

Toyota respects this man's opinion above all others.

No word yet on whether the 4Runner will be deep-fried for its public appearance.

And finally, because you can never have too many orgasms, here are a few pictures of the Ferrari 458 Italia on the road.

ferrari_458_italia_new_press_003

ferrari_458_italia_new_press_005

ferrari_458_italia_new_press_002

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Spy Shots – A Trio of British Luxury Cars

Pour yourself a pint of Bass and whip out that Grey Poupon, ’cause it’s time for an all-British, all-luxury future car round-up! In fact, in honour of these English saloons, we’ll be using the British spelling wherever applicable!

First up: the all-new Jaguar XJ. Now, the current XJ has been around since 2003, more than long enough for a new model; however, considering the ’03-’09 version looked about as similar to the 1994-2002 version as a jaguar does to a leopard (relevant humor! Yay!), it’s fair to say anyone holding their breath for a new-looking XJ has long since asphyxiated.

However, with Jaguar busting out a full-court-press of stylish, inventive new models capable of clawing (hah hah!) their way to the top of the segment, it’s time for a fresh take on the company’s full-size sedan.  Jaguar will be officially unveiling their new S-class and 7-series fighter on July 9th, but until then, they’ve given us a “preview” image to whet our appetites.

That's not a sunroof; that's for Austin Powers to jump through.

That's not a sunroof; that's for Austin Powers to jump through.

Test mules have also been spotted roaming about. Below, a fairly finished-looking XJ tries to camouflage itself with a BMW-like psychedelic body coating. (I would have just assumed it was an attempt by Jag to try and inspire fond ’60s memories in Jaguar fans, but no, they even stuck on a fake BMW grill.)

jaguar-xj-spy-2

According to Britain’s CAR Magazine, the upcoming XJ will be the lightest car in its class, due to extensive use of aluminium. Engine choices Stateside will be limited to a 5.0-litre 380-hp V8 or a 503-hp supercharged version of the same; Europeans also get diesel and V6 choices. A stylish, modern interior (like Bang & Olufsen modern, not IKEA modern) will come with a bunch of cool electronics, such as dual-display monitors (letting driver and passenger see different things on the same screen, which is pretty cool shit), digital instrument panel displays and – I swear, we’re not making this up – “improved electrical reliability.” Wow, this IS a new chapter for Jaguar!

(CAR’s drafted a couple artist’s conceptions of the new car, which can be seen below.)

NewJaguarXJ2010Photo_02

NewJaguarXJ2010Photo_001

Next up in our English revue (I think that’s actually French, but whatever. American arrogance rules!) comes another replacement for a model that’s been around since Larry King was riding to school on a woolly mammoth – the Bentley Arnage. First introduced in 1998, the Arnage continued Bentley’s then-tradition of obese luxury cars – but like a fat man with diarrhea, it could sure move fast when it needed to, thanks to its 4.4-litre 350-horsepower twin-turbo BMW V8. (Yes, back in 1998, you needed two turbos to get 350 horses out of a V8.)

But then BMW and Volkswagen started brawling over Rolls-Royce and Bentley, and when the dust settled and VW had snagged the alphabetically (and pretty much every other way) superior brand, BMW retaliated by cutting off their fancy new engines. So VW stuffed Bentley’s old six-and-three-quarter-litre V8 into the cars. And when we say old, we mean old; the engine traces its basic structure to a General Motors V8 from the 1950s, and was first used to power a Bentley in 1959.

Since then, the Arnage has trucked along mostly unchanged; a power boost here, some added legroom there, a new transmission for fun. In 2005, Bentley introduced its first all-new car developed under Volkswagen, the Continental GT; despite sharing a platform with the $90,000 VW Phaeton, it proved a massive success, becoming the ride of choice among royalty and rappers alike. Its spin-offs, the Continental Sedan and GTC convertible, only served to further overshadow the slower, pricier, and uglier Arnage.

But after over a decade on the market, the Arnage is finally riding off into the sunset (apparently it’s going to Dublin), paving the way for what Bentley is describing as the “all-new Grand Bentley.” The image below is the only hint Bentley’s giving of what the new car will look like, but given the (admittedly veiled) image, we can probably expect evolutionary styling – think a sleeker-looking Arnage.

new_grand_bentley_images_1

Powertrain details haven’t been made available, but expect either a 600+ horsepower version of the Continental’s twin-turbo W12 or a souped-up version of the old 6.75-litre V8 again making 600 or more horses. (At this rate, the 6.75 V8 is on track to become the automotive engine version of the B-52 bomber.) Pricing will probably be somewhere between $250,000 and $300,000, with options to include anything you can goddamn think of, because it’s a Bentley. They made station wagon versions of the Arnage.

The new model may or may not actually called the “Grand Bentley” when it goes on sale either next year or the year after that (isn’t it wonderful when nobody knows anything?); let’s hope it’s called something else, because I’m not ready to deal with trying to figure out whether the full name would be the “Bentley Grand Bentley” or just the “Grand Bentley.”

Finally, let’s take a look at the all-new Aston Martin Rapide, caught for the first time without camouflage this week in the UK by a sharp-eyed CAR Magazine reader named Simon Gregg (and man, are his Google hits spiking). While the car is supposed to be officially revealed this fall at the Frankfurt Auto Show, one was driving around in the nude on public roads for some reason.

aston_martin_rapide_read_spy

Then again, I don’t think any of us really have a problem with such a beauty going around in the buff, do we? (At least, that’s what I keep telling Jessica Biel when I see her. Which is rarely.) When it comes to styling, Aston’s been knocking it out of the park like Barry Bonds on the ball-shrinking juice lately, and the Rapide manages to pull off four doors without looking awkward or staid. (Okay, the car’s tail looks a little…elevated in the picture below, but maybe it’s just excited. Or aroused.)

Look, Stephen - she's presenting!

Look, Stephen - she's presenting!

The Rapide should go on sale early next year, equipped with the 470-horsepower 6.0-litre (okay, that’s getting old) V12 found in the DB9. Hopefully, an “S” model with the DBS’s 510-horsepower V12 (and Daniel Craig looks) will be along soon after. Expect to pay around $175,000 for your Rapide – more than the competing Porsche Panamera Turbo, but hopefully less than the Mercedes-Benz S65 AMG.

aston_martin_rapide_read_spy_1

4 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized