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    2022 Lexus IS500 Brings Back the V-8

    About a decade ago, compact sports sedans offered naturally aspirated V-8s that absolutely ripped. Before everyone went turbo, the E90 BMW M3, the B7 Audi RS4, and the W204 Mercedes C63 AMG crammed in sweet-sounding V-8s to create experiences that we still remember fondly today. Now that we’re feeling sufficiently nostalgic for those four-door screamers, we’ll get to the point that Lexus apparently shares our passion for those cars, because the new 2022 IS500 is essentially a return of Lexus’s V-8 compact sedan, the IS F.There are no turbos under the IS500’s hood. What is under there is closely related to the IS F’s 5.0-liter V-8 from a decade ago. The engine—shared with the RC F—now produces 472 horsepower and 395 pound-feet of torque, or 56 more horsepower and 24 more pound-feet than its spiritual predecessor. In a turbocharged world, the V-8’s horsepower and especially its torque numbers aren’t at the level of the M or AMG models’, so Lexus is setting expectations by positioning the IS500 as an F Sport Performance model rather than a full-blown IS F.

    What does that mean for the IS500’s driving experience? We can’t quite say yet, but we did recently get the chance to ride in the passenger’s seat of the IS500 prototype at an event at Eagles Canyon Raceway in Texas, near Toyota’s headquarters in Plano. Professional race-car driver Townsend Bell was behind the wheel.Keep in mind that the IS500 prototype we rode in wasn’t exactly the same car that you’ll be able to buy at Lexus dealerships later this year. Wrapped in an obnoxious neon-yellow and black livery, this car was specially prepped for the IS500’s debut at Sebring International Raceway earlier this year. It wore an aftermarket exhaust, 20-inch wheels, and grippier Michelin Pilot Sport 4S summer tires compared to the stock car, which will have 19-inch wheels and the same Bridgestone Potenza S001L summer tires as the IS350 F Sport with the handling package.This means that our impression of the IS500’s handling isn’t exactly representative, but we weren’t behind the wheel anyway. We can tell you that the 5.0-liter V-8 engine is a lovely addition to the latest IS and brings back a lot of those tingly V-8 memories. We’re familiar with the glorious sound of this Lexus V-8 by now, and it makes itself known in the IS500. Although the prototype’s aftermarket exhaust surely enhanced the auditory experience, we’d still rather listen to this characterful engine run up to its 7300-rpm redline than a BMW M3’s twin-turbo inline-six.
    Unlike the V-6-powered IS350 F Sport we drove that day on the test track, the V-8 has the grunt to shove you into the back of your seat, and the eight-speed automatic transmission upshifts and downshifts quickly. Lexus claims that the IS500 is 143 pounds heavier than a rear-wheel-drive IS350, and we assume that most of that weight is in the nose. Like the IS F that came before it, a noticeable hood bulge is the clearest sign that this is packing something special under there.Thanks to the ability to completely deactivate stability control, the IS500 will play as much as you like—as Bell demonstrated by easily swinging the tail out wide for a satisfying drift. It also features the same torque-vectoring rear differential that’s optional on the IS350 F Sport. But this car is not meant to be a track monster, and we felt plenty of compliance in the suspension tuning, with more body roll than you’d find in an M3 Competition or a C63, for instance.We’re enticed by the overall package that the IS500 promises to deliver, and we hope that the price is attractive enough to further increase its enthusiast appeal. Lexus has strongly hinted that it will be positioned closer to the M340i and AMG C43s of the world, meaning it could bring back a V-8 to the low-$60,000 range. If so, this could become the hidden gem of the sports-sedan world. Now all that’s left is for Lexus to let us in the driver’s seat.

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    2021 Jaguar XF Cuts Off the Dead Wood

    The modern sports-sedan world has been dominated by German brands. Japanese and Korean automakers are getting closer to bottling the driving magic once enjoyed by the BMW 3- and 5-series, but Jaguar’s commitment to luxury often overshadows its cars’ sportiness. Jaguar did capture the magic when the first-gen Jag XF launched for the 2009 model year and garnered a 10Best trophy, but it’s been a bumpy ride since then. Quite literally in the case of track-focused Jaguar’s XE SV Project 8. Introduced in 2016, the current XF lineup had ballooned to 10 derivatives last year. To simplify matters, Jaguar is reducing the number of XF models from 10 to just three—the V-6 and the gorgeous wagon are gone. For 2021, the XF will come only as a sedan, and buyers will have a choice of a 246- or 296-hp 2.0-liter turbo-four. The contraction and otherwise standard mid-cycle refresh seem to have allowed Jag to hone the XF without getting bogged down in an overly complex portfolio.

    The first thing you notice in the new XF is the reworked dash and instrument panel. Gone is the retractable dial-a-gear shifter, and in its place is an electronic shifter for the ZF-sourced eight-speed automatic transmission. As expected, you can shift yourself with steering-wheel paddles, although we don’t really see the point. Once we were underway, there was never a need to grab a different gear. An 11.4-inch touchscreen controls Pivi Pro infotainment, which if you have never sampled can be confusing at first glance. Don’t be intimidated; it is thoughtfully designed, and you quickly acclimate. And for those looking to use the back seat, six-footers comfortably fit back there.Switching to an all four-cylinder lineup is a curious simplification because Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) has a new inline-six that would work well in this sedan. The need for more from the engine room doesn’t really arise in casual driving, but put loafer to accelerator and an uncouth snarl of a stressed 2.0-liter makes itself heard. The car we drove was an all-wheel-drive variant, dubbed R-Dynamic S, the only model with the 296-hp four. Rear-drive models, of which there are two (S and SE), come with the 246-hp four-cylinder. When we’re able to do our battery of tests on the XF, we expect its nearly 300-hp engine will net a 60-mph time less than six seconds, with the less-powerful rear-driver about a second behind. For some reference, a 248-hp BMW 530i gets to 60 mph in 6.1 seconds.
    Of course, acceleration isn’t the only way to judge a sports sedan. The XF competes in a segment that includes cars such as the Genesis G80, Lexus ES, and Volvo S90 in addition to the Audi A6, BMW 5-series, Mercedes-Benz E-class. But only the XF, G80, and the ES have base prices that start with a four. Jaguar is looking to undercut the competition. Prices for the XF begin at $45,145. The 5-series and A6 start at about $10,000 more. Spending 10 grand more at the Audi store buys a little more insulation from road and wind noise, but the XF does a wonderful impression of German isolation and over-the-road refinement. Isolation is hard to quantify because it is about the absence of things, annoying things. You don’t realize the importance of isolation until it’s missing.
    A sports sedan must also handle, and the XF’s chassis is a willing participant in the chase for g-forces. The steering delivers on sporting intentions with accurate and crisp responses. While it breaks no new ground in terms of electrically assisted units, the feedback through the wheel and the responses are solid and reliable. It gives the impression that you’re driving a car that’s a class above mid-size. Only the brakes, which suffer from a dead spot at the top of the pedal stroke, let us down. Maybe a good brake-bleed job could correct this. We’ll know for sure when we get one for instrumented testing.Jaguar doesn’t fit the XF with the overly complex settings and controls of its German rivals. It just quietly goes about its business and never annoys or flummoxes its driver. Jag is looking to electrify its lineup by 2025, but there’s plenty of life in this XF. Dropping in the new inline-six would extend its life even more. Skewed more toward luxury than the German offerings, the XF is sporty in a mature way. So, it’s right in line with what Jaguar should be about, now with a more attractive price.

    Specifications

    Specifications
    2021 JAGUAR XFVehicle Type: front-engine, rear- or all-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 4-door sedan
    PRICE
    Base: S, $45,145; SE AWD, $48,245; R-Dynamic AWD, $51,145
    ENGINES
    turbocharged and intercooled DOHC 16-valve 2.0-liter inline-4, 246 hp, 269 lb-ft; turbocharged and intercooled DOHC 16-valve 2.0-liter inline-4, 296 hp, 295 lb-ft
    Transmission: 8-speed automatic
    DIMENSIONS
    Wheelbase: 116.5 inLength: 195.4 inWidth: 78.0 inHeight: 57.3 inTrunk Volume: 18 ft3Curb Weight (C/D est): 3900–4100 lb
    PERFORMANCE (C/D EST)
    60 mph: 5.9–6.8 sec1/4-Mile: 14.4–15.1 secTop Speed: 130–155 mph
    EPA FUEL ECONOMY (C/D EST)
    Combined/City/Highway: 27–28/23–25/33–34 mpg

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    2021 Rimac Nevera Upends the Hypercar Paradigm

    It shouldn’t be this easy to beat a Bugatti Chiron Sport in the quarter-mile. This level of acceleration should require more driver skill, some rare manual dexterity lacking in Joe Commuter. Admittedly, it’s pretty easy to do a full-bore standing-start launch in a Chiron or any gas car that shifts gears for you. But the electric Rimac Nevera’s acceleration and its physiological impact on you are so extraordinary that you feel it shouldn’t be accessible to anyone able to afford the $2,400,000 price and brave enough to hold the accelerator down. You do need bravery. Scary is often synonymous with fast, but the Nevera, the Croatian carmaker’s latest creation, is unnerving. Find a long straight and bring the car to a stop. Select Track mode from the closer of the two big in-house CNC-milled rotary switches that control the major driving functions, and maximum torque will flow through the four electric motors. Hold the brake, push the right pedal all the way in, and the back of the car squats as the rear motors flex on the suspension. Take a breath and then let go.

    It’s not too brutal at first. Doling out twice the power of a modern Formula 1 car all at once isn’t possible, so the initial rollout is gentle compared to what happens later. In those first few tenths, the Nevera precisely matches motor output to available grip. But then the unnerving part starts as the rate of acceleration begins to increase with speed. The Nevera gets quicker as it’s going faster. Your breathing changes, becoming a slightly panicked eight-second inhalation. The fluid in your eyeballs seems to ripple, distorting your vision. The noise is intense: Four motors scream and whine as 1.4 megawatts—that’s 1877 horsepower—pump through them, and four tires rip at the tarmac, constantly on the edge of grip. It takes a very conscious effort to keep your foot in until the quarter-mile marker passes and you can finally exhale, use an expletive, let your head slump forward, and shake in the wake of the adrenaline.To make matters slightly more stressful, Rimac founder and head honcho Mate Rimac came along to watch the proceedings and the Nevera is a pre-production prototype and particularly important to his business. We’re also taken by the fact that this one car represents about 10 percent of Croatia’s entire car production this year. There will be plenty more, though. Named for an electrical storm that occasionally ravages the Croat coast, 150 Neveras will be produced, and the first 50 are already sold. After a few runs, Rimac himself showed me the onboard telemetry that will be available to customers. With no effort, the car did an indicated 8.7-second quarter-mile at 160 mph. Once the launch control is finalized, Mate promises 60 mph in 1.9 seconds, 100 in 4.3, and the standing quarter-mile in 8.6 seconds. In C/D testing, the Chiron Sport hit 60 mph in 2.4 seconds, 100 in 4.4, and passed the quarter-mile in 9.4 seconds at 158 mph.
    So other than terror and what could be the quickest car in the world, what do you get for nearly 2.5 million bucks? Quite a lot, actually. Unlike many small-batch manufacturers, a lot of the Nevera is designed and made in-house. Rimac claims the Nevera’s carbon-fiber monocoque is the largest and stiffest of any car, deflecting at 70,000 newton-meters per degree. It has four motors, one for each wheel and each with its own single-speed gearbox. In front, each motor makes 268 horsepower, and the rear gets two 671-hp motors. The system totals of 1400 kW or 1877 horsepower and 1741 pound-feet of torque. The Brembo-supplied 15.4-inch carbon-ceramic brake rotors work in conjunction with up to 300 kW of regen to slow the car. The key-shaped 120.0-kWh battery is mostly behind the seats but also under them and down the center tunnel. Rimac promises it’ll be able to charge at up to 500 kW when that becomes possible; at a 350-kW hookup, it will go from 20 to 80 percent in 18 minutes. The bodywork is all carbon fiber, and some of it moves with an active aero package so smart it can even create the optimum plume of tire smoke behind you in drift mode. On a track, the onboard Driver Coach uses artificial intelligence to figure out the best line, give you a demo, and then tell you where to brake and turn in. More than just a feral and extreme racer with license plates, Rimac intends the Nevera to be a usable grand tourer. Climbing in is easy, thanks to narrow sills. Outward vision is aided by 360-degree cameras. Three-stage adjustable accelerator sensitivity makes the colossal power simple to manage in traffic. This nearly 1900-hp car is no harder to drive than an Acura NSX. The low-speed ride can occasionally get choppy and noisy, with shock transmitted unabated through that ultra-stiff carbon-fiber structure, but mostly it’s possible to drive it every day.
    There isn’t a lot of steering feel, but it’s quick and accurate, and the torque vectoring granted by individual drive motors pulls the nose tight to every apex. The ride is mostly fluid, body control tight, roll contained. And the brakes are mighty, if a little sensitive in their current setup.The Nevera is no one-trick pony, but the powertrain is definitely the main attraction. Skeptics argue that cars like this have unusable power. But the same case could be made for a 617-hp BMW M5 Competition. The power here isn’t excessive; it just seems unlimited. The Nevera has power like the Fed has money. It just cranks out whatever you need. Passing is instant, at any speed. It is a distinctly digital experience but no less thrilling for it because the acceleration is unreal. Hypercars like the Nevera aren’t for everyone, but there’s no denying its significance as the moment a battery-powered car toppled the Bugatti Chiron. The internal-combustion engine may never catch up.

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    2021 Volkswagen GTI Clubsport Turns Up the GTI's Heat

    The Volkswagen GTI belongs to a much larger clan of models in Europe than it does in the United States. On the other side of the Atlantic, the GTI sits above the workaday Golf that we no longer get and below the latest all-wheel-drive Golf R that we’re anxiously awaiting to hit our shores later this year. There also are electric GTE and diesel GTD models. More interesting, though, is another higher-performance Golf positioned in the narrow gap between the GTI and the R, one that’s closer in spirit to the Honda Civic Type R: the GTI Clubsport.

    Both Volkswagen and Porsche have used Clubsport and Club Sport monikers over the years, generally for more athletic models intended for semi-regular track use. In the case of the latest GTI Clubsport, that means a significant bump in performance over the standard GTI, with a new turbocharger upping the output of its 2.0-liter inline-four to 296 horsepower. That places the Clubsport much closer to the new Golf R’s 316 horses than the regular GTI’s 241 as well as not far off the 306-hp Type R. As with that Honda, the Clubsport’s output reaches the road exclusively through the front wheels. VW also fits larger brakes, shorter gear ratios for the standard seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, revised suspension settings, and some subtle visual distinctions to proclaim the car’s specialness. We drove a right-hand-drive example in England to see just how hot these updates make VW’s hot hatch.

    Volkswagen

    Aesthetic changes versus garden-variety GTIs are subtle but present if you know what to look for. While Volkswagen doesn’t add any Clubsport badging, there is a model-specific front bumper and lower grille, plus a rear spoiler, plastic sill extensions, and striped graphics on the lower edge of the front doors. Updates to the cabin are less obvious and include unique fabric upholstery on the seats, but the interior is pretty much identical to the regular GTI’s. That means the same abundance of dark plastic trim and a rather slow, unintuitive central touchscreen. However, buried deep within the Clubsport’s interface is one key difference versus regular GTIs: an additional drive mode beyond Sport that’s simply labeled Nürburgring.Select ‘Ring mode and the Clubsport adopts the same dynamic settings that VW used to set a 7:55 lap around the 12.9-mile Nordschliefe last year. That time makes the new model just five seconds slower than what the previous-generation Clubsport S managed in 2016 when it set a front-drive record at the track. On the road, the hot setup actually softens the car’s optional adaptive dampers slightly from their firmest Sport position, but keeps the engine, gearbox, and steering in their most aggressive modes. It quickly proved to be ideal for dealing with bumpy British backroads.

    Volkswagen

    Not that the Clubsport feels substantially different from the regular GTI in normal use. It sounds louder under acceleration, although much of that is the result of tweaks to the cabin’s sound augmentation system. The shorter gearing and snappier mapping for both the transmission and throttle sharpen reactions and give a sense of fiercer acceleration. With adequate traction, the Clubsport surely will beat the 5.1-second 60-mph time we recorded for the normal GTI. The electrically boosted brake pedal also feels better than it does in the regular car, feeling firmer under gentle use. The steering has more weight as well, if no obvious improvement over the limited feedback of the standard model. Pressing the Clubsport harder reveals that the most significant difference is a greater degree of front-end bite when turning into corners. It doesn’t take much enthusiasm to get the regular GTI washing wide in tighter turns, but the Clubsport grips harder and is far better at finding traction, thanks to both its revised suspension and an aggressive electronic limited-slip differential. Understeer is kept in better check and the car is easy to place and hold on a chosen line, even when approaching the tires’ grip limits—perfect qualities for a fast Nürburgring lap. Still, the car’s rear end doesn’t rotate as easily as the Civic Type R’s when you pitch it into corners. This is a car that feels very quick and secure, but its thrills come from raw velocity rather than intimate feedback. Other nitpicks include the Clubsport’s insubstantial plastic paddle shifters on its steering wheel that it shares with the regular GTI. And given the car’s more aggressive character, we wish the dual-clutch transmission would hold gears up to the engine’s rev limiter, yet it upshifts early even in full manual mode.

    Volkswagen

    But it’s hard to be overly critical about a slightly faster and more agile GTI that doesn’t require any significant sacrifices over the basic car. Even the price premium is pretty modest. The GTI Clubsport costs the equivalent of about $ 42,500 in the United Kingdom when the punitive 20 percent VAT sales tax and registration charges are removed, which is roughly $5K more than the price of an automatic-equipped GTI. That makes the Clubsport an awfully tempting proposition, even from across the Atlantic.

    Specifications

    Specifications
    2021 Volkswagen GTI ClubsportVehicle Type: front-engine, front-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 5-door hatchback
    PRICE (C/D EST)
    $42,500

    ENGINE
    turbocharged and intercooled DOHC 16-valve inline-4, iron block and aluminum head, direct fuel injection
    injectionDisplacement: 121 in3, 1984 cm3Power: 296 hp @ 6500 rpmTorque: 295 lb-ft @ 2000 rpm
    Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch automatic
    DIMENSIONS
    Wheelbase: 103.4 inLength: 169.9 inWidth: 70.4 inHeight: 57.7 inCurb Weight (C/D est): 3150 lb
    PERFORMANCE (C/D EST)
    60 mph: 4.7 sec100 mph: 11.1 sec1/4-Mile: 12.8 secTop Speed (mfr’s claim): 155 mph
    EPA FUEL ECONOMY (C/D EST)
    Combined/City/Highway: 25/22/30 mpg

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    First Drive: 2004 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited

    From the July 2004 issue of Car and Driver.Riding the range in the Hill Country of Texas singing “Whoopee Ti-Yi-Yo” and drawing bovine stares from longhorn steers ruminating among the mesquite on a 40,000-acre ranch, we wondered if there could be a better place to wring out a new Jeep Wrangler. There could not. This patch of Willie Nelson land is crisscrossed with every kind of road from interstate to meandering macadam to dusty dirt. And for some earnest off-roading, the vast expanse of the YO Ranch near Fredericksburg offers steep escarpments made treacherous by mud, loose shale, and rocks the size of armadillos (and vice versa).

    Jeep had chosen this slice of the Old West to preview its new Wrangler Unlimited to the press. But unlike other automakers who use such occasions to focus on the “all-new,” the Jeep posse sought to assure us that the latest Wrangler is just like any other Wrangler-tough, uncompromising, and true to its long tradition-except that it’s longer. It’s a strategy designed not to offend Wrangler traditionalists, who welcome change about as much as did 18th-century French aristocrats, while offering something to people who find existing Wranglers a bit cramped.The Unlimited’s box-section frame adds 10.0 inches to the standard Wrangler’s wheelbase, extending it to 103.4 inches. There’s also an additional five inches of rear overhang, which pulls its overall bumper-to-bumper dimension to 165.1 inches, or 15.0 more than the abbreviated model. The additional space is unequally apportioned in the interior. Leg and knee room in the back seat are expanded by just under two inches. But a whopping 13.0 inches is allotted to the area behind the rear seat. Cargo volume goes from 9 to 29 cubic feet. Out-of-sight cargo space has about doubled, not a bad thing to have in a vehicle that can easily be entered by villains with a box cutter-at least in the fabric-topped version.
    Detail improvements to the Unlimited include a “tip and slide” driver’s seat for easier rear access; more padding under the hood, behind the dash, and beneath the cargo area to reduce noise; and the so-called Sunrider softtop, which manually flips back to open a 45-by-23-inch sunroof above the front seats. There’s also an optional hardtop ($795), which would be a prudent buy for people in the Frostbelt states.All this gear, plus the extra metal needed for the length enhancement, adds up to about 200 pounds and requires some fine-tuning of spring and damper rates, the practical effect of which is imperceptible on the road. Although a longer wheelbase should make for a less choppy ride, the long Wrangler runs along on the road much like the short one. That is, compared with a conventional passenger car, it’s harsher, bouncier, and noisier, but not so much so that it blurs your vision or agitates your internal organs.
    But a relatively rough ride on the road is the price of agility off the road, and there is no out-of-the-showroom SUV that can match the Wrangler in the rough stuff. And that’s true for either wheelbase version. The longie does yield a few degrees of breakover angle-21.4 versus 28.1-to the shortie and doesn’t turn as tightly (39.2 feet versus a 36.7-foot turning radius). But in practice-negotiating rocky grades steep enough to ground the skid plates and make a sound like razor wire being dragged across a tin roof-these were not noticeable disadvantages. One thing the Unlimited does have to offset what little it gives up to the short-wheelbase, 4.0-liter model is a greater towing capacity-3500 pounds versus 2000-thanks in part to the added strength of an additional rear crossmember.Otherwise, the Unlimited is identical to the regular Wrangler. It uses the same 190-hp straight-six hooked to an automatic four-speed transmission (a manual gearbox comes along for 2005), stout transfer case, and robust four-wheel-drive system. With lots of standard equipment-including air conditioning, AM/FM with CD player, and power steering-the Unlimited bottom-lines at $24,995, a hefty sum for a vehicle we wouldn’t recommend for primary transportation. But with nothing else comparable on the market, its price will likely not deter hard-core Wranglerites who want more space.

    Specifications

    SPECIFICATIONS2004 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited VEHICLE TYPEfront-engine, rear/4-wheel-drive, 4-passenger, 2-door truck or 3-door wagon BASE PRICE$24,995 ENGINE TYPEpushrod 12-valve inline-6, iron block and head, port fuel injection Displacement241 in3, 3956 cm3Power (SAE net)190 bhp @ 4600 rpm Torque (SAE net)235 lb-ft @ 3200 rpm TRANSMISSION4-speed automatic DIMENSIONSWheelbase: 103.4 in Length: 165.1 in Width: 66.7 in Height: 70.8-70.9 in Curb weight: 3700-3800 lb PERFORMANCE RATINGS (C/D EST)Zero to 60 mph: 10.5 sec Standing ¼-mile: 17.8 sec FUEL ECONOMY (mfr’s est)EPA city/highway driving: 14/18 mpg

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    Prototype Drive: 2022 BMW i4 Takes On Tesla

    The upcoming electric 2022 BMW i4 likely will have many asking: What exactly makes a BMW a BMW? With no internal-combustion engine under its hood, is the i4’s Bimmer-ness defined by its handling, its engineering, or perhaps its grille? To get a better grasp of that concept and to see some of what we can expect when the i4 goes on sale early 2022, BMW allowed us a brief drive in a final-development mule in the canyons around Malibu, California.Although BMW wouldn’t confirm the particular specification of the prototype we drove, we’d guess it’s the more powerful of the two i4 variants, the M Performance i4 M50. We arrived at this conclusion because, unlike the standard eDrive40 version that will be rear-wheel drive only, we could feel the prototype’s additional front motor helping to pull us out of tight corners. The verve with which our test car accelerated also was more in line with the M50’s 536 horsepower and 586 pound-feet of torque output, rather than the eDrive40’s 335 horses and 317 pound-feet of torque. BMW quotes a believable zero-to-62-mph time of 3.9 seconds for the roughly 5000-pound M50 and 5.7 seconds for the eDrive40.
    The numbers that might matter more to EV buyers are the estimated 300-mile range for the single-motor eDrive40 and 245 miles for the dual-motor M50 from the 81.5-kWh battery. BMW claims the 11.0-kW onboard charger can refill the battery from empty in eight hours when connected to a properly equipped wall charger. Find a fast-charge DC hookup and the lithium-ion pack will accept a 200-kW charge and will add a claimed 90 miles in 10 minutes.

    Largely based on the 3- and 4-series, the i4’s 188.3-inch length is a few inches longer than a 3-series sedan and the 112.8-inch wheelbase is fractionally longer. BMW claims the M50’s center of gravity is 1.3 inches lower than the 3-series and 2.1 inches lower in the eDrive40, something we picked up on as we chased a BMW development engineer around undulating switchbacks. The i4 showed little body roll and a fair amount of compliance to the suspension’s motions in Normal and Comfort drive modes. In the more aggressive Sport and Sport+ settings, the heavy i4 danced with an agility similar to that of a 3-series. All i4s feature front coil springs and rear self-leveling air springs, with the M50 adding adaptive dampers. The electrically assisted steering is a bit quiet on feedback but always precise in its responses, regardless of the selected driving mode. Like it or not, regenerative braking is becoming a defining feature for EVs. In the i4 prototype, the strength of its regen feels akin to the deceleration you get when you lift off the throttle in a conventional manual-transmission vehicle, which is to say it’s fairly strong but not quite a one-pedal-driving setup. BMW says you’ll be able to tune the amount of the regenerative braking to suit your tastes as well as turn the feature off entirely. Step on the i4’s left pedal and the brake-by-wire system transitions from regen to clamping the rotors at all four corners in an all but imperceptible manner. You really have to go out of your way to sense it. Beyond its handling and performance, the i4’s quiet interior should bolster its potential as a soothing daily driver. That this quality was noticeable in a prototype is impressive, what with its camouflage wrapping producing an uptick in wind noise. Plus, there was an entire rack of test equipment in the expansive cargo area that made its own symphony of humming electronic sounds. In production trim, the i4 should be quite quiet indeed.
    What little of the interior we could see beneath the camouflage draperies appeared upscale in terms of material and design. All should be familiar to existing BMW customers, nothing too out there in either form or material. A 12.3-inch instrument cluster displays the gauges and driver-pertinent information, while a 14.9-inch screen shows the infotainment controls. The glare-resistant screens are beautiful with crisp shapes and text and deep, saturated, and high-contrast color. Although I only had a double handful of minutes to tap through it, BMW’s latest user interface is simple, clear, and easy to use. Again, all should be either familiar or intuitive to those familiar with BMW’s non-electric cars. There’s even a fair amount of rear-seat legroom and headroom in the i4, despite the fastback design. With the driver’s seat adjusted for my own 6-foot-2-inch frame, I was able to (barely) fit comfortably in the rear seat immediately behind. I wouldn’t want to take a road trip that way, but I’d gladly ride across town. Behind the rear seats (which can be laid down for even more cargo space) is the cargo area, which itself lies under a hatch-style rear liftgate, not unlike BMW’s GT vehicles. The result is a large and easy-to-access cargo area. Ah, the practical wonders of hatchbacks. In all, the i4 seems to be exactly what it ought to be: a BMW that is electric. Unlike the i3, which wore its early adopter nerd pride on its bodywork, with the exception of its massive 4-series-style grille the conservatively styled i4 represents the arrival of the electric car at the mainstream of modern performance luxury. It shows us how far along the electric game has moved toward the mainstream now that brands such as BMW are taking it seriously. In that sense, the i4 just might, like the 3-series before it, become a benchmark for the electric sports-sedan segment. And what could be more BMW than that?

    Specifications

    Specifications
    2022 BMW i4Vehicle Type: rear- or front- and rear-motor, rear- or all-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 4-door hatchback
    PRICEBase: eDrive40, $56,395; M50, $66,895
    POWERTRAINS
    Motors: 1 or 2 permanent-magnet synchronous AC
    Power: 335 or 536 hpTorque: 317 or 586 lb-ftBattery Pack: liquid-cooled lithium-ion, 81.5 kWhTransmissions: direct-drive
    DIMENSIONS
    Wheelbase: 112.8 inLength: 188.3 inWidth: 72.9 inHeight: 57.0 inCurb Weight (C/D est): 4800–5000 lb
    PERFORMANCE (C/D EST)
    60 mph: 3.8–5.6 sec100 mph: 9.6–14.0 sec1/4-Mile: 12.4–14.3 secTop Speed (mfr’s claim): 118–140 mph
    EPA FUEL ECONOMY (C/D EST)
    Combined/City/Highway: 90–100/95–105/85–95 MPGeRange: 245–300 mi

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    2001 Exotic Roadster Comparison Test

    From the April 2001 Issue of Car and Driver.This is not your routine Car and Driver comparison test. To just get our hands on these three cars at the same time—Ferrari’s new 360 Spider F1 and an Aston Martin DB7 Vantage Volante and a BMW Z8—we had to go a little out of our way—to Italy. Not just Italy, but to the ancient Grand Prix racetrack at Monza, where we could gather the hard performance numbers without attracting unwanted attention from the carabinieri.

    Ah, Monza, home of the Autodromo Nazionale, the oldest Grand Prix track. It still follows the shape of the 1922 original. Some of the corners have been reprofiled, and several chicanes have been added to slow the modern cars, but with almost spooky accuracy it’s the same circuit that has been the scene of 65 Grands Prix. There is a 3.6-mile oval portion of the track that is no longer in use, and it is banked so steeply—38 degrees—that you can’t walk up it. The oval was last used in the Italian Grand Prix of 1961, and it made the times at Monza faster even than at Spa or Reims. The rough concrete banking is still there, quietly decaying as it is slowly reclaimed by nature.This great racing cathedral was also the undoing of drivers Ronnie Peterson, Jochen Rindt, Taffy von Trips (and 14 spectators), and Alberto Ascari, all of whom perished in competition there. You can’t drive this narrow ribbon of blacktop, blasting through famous corners with the exotic names of Lesmo, Curva Grande, Variante Ascari, and Parabolica, or walk the old pits, where director John Frankenheimer filmed part of the ’66 movie Grand Prix, without sensing the ghosts that haunt this place. Most weekends, before the racing season starts in March, it’s open to the public. Bring a car, fork over 50,000 lira ($25), and it’s yours for 30 minutes of glorious driving.After our testing at Monza, we lit out across the straight roads of the Po Plain and down the A26 autostrada that for a while allows a 150-mph cruising speed, then winds through mountains to the port city of Genoa, through tunnel after tunnel running high above the Mediterranean coast. And then we headed inland again, up the twisty Passo della Cisa, where on October 5, 1919, a young Enzo Ferrari finished fourth in class in his first motor-racing event, the Parma-Poggio di Berceto, a local hill-climb, in a 2.3-liter CMN. Add fine food and the constant excitement generated by our convoy of exotics as we passed through villages, and clearly, this was no ordinary comparison.These cars, brilliant in all the great stuff—performance, handling, driving pleasure, and (mostly) styling—deliver almost obscenely poor fuel mileage. In a country where high-octane runs about $5 a gallon, low-to-mid-teens consumption thins your wallet in a hurry. And even if you’re willing to ignore the fuel costs, you can’t begin to explore the twilight zone in any of the trio without putting your license at risk.All three exotics also display an exceptional level of packaging inefficiency. The V-12 Aston Martin weighs well over 4000 pounds. In fact, a 2400-pound Mazda Miata offers pretty much the same alfresco motoring on winding roads and provides the same level of grin factor. And it costs a fraction of the Ferrari 360 Spider F1’s $176,512, including more than 10 grand for the paddle-shift gearbox. Or the Aston’s $159,732 base price, or the BMW’s $134,455, including the gas-guzzler and luxury taxes.And yet we love them all.This is precious metal, the only circa-400-horsepower sporting convertibles on offer to dot.com or old-money millionaires, discounting the soon-to-be-replaced SL600 Mercedes-Benz and the way-over-the-top Bentley Azure. They are, above everything else, automotive indulgences, bought not because the 360 Spider generates marginally more lateral acceleration than the Aston does, but on purely subjective grounds. Hell, at this rarefied level, you buy the Aston simply because none of the neighbors’ garages houses a DB7 Volante. Emotions run high.We immediately discovered, upon gathering them together for their first collective public outing, that these are very different automotive animals, their characters closely mimicking the national personalities of their countries of origin. The Ferrari is excitable, passionate, arousing the body’s every sense. The BMW is beautifully finished, as solid of body as it is strong of engine. The Aston Martin is reserved, tailored, rich in clublike leather and wood, and it spoils the passenger almost as much as the driver.As always, we’ve ranked the combatants and emerged with a clear winner—no prize for guessing, as we were in Italy, after all—but the distinctive personalities of these cars mean they transcend objectivity. We’d perfectly understand why you’d want to buy any one of this gorgeous threesome.
    Third Place: Aston Martin DB7 Volante The Aston is the elder statesman of this group. Even though the Vantage V-12 has only been around for two years, the enchantingly curvaceous DB7 dates to 1994.

    Highs: British club-room ambiance, hearty V-12, swallows more than one Louis Vuitton suitcase.

    The formula is British traditional: front-engined, solidly built, with quality furnishings. That might suggest that the DB7 Vantage Volante is an old person’s car. Not so. As the performance figures show, this convertible has the power and exuberance to run with the best. It is a weighty beast—at 4264 pounds, some 200 pounds heavier than the coupe—but it can still sprint to 60 in five seconds flat, even with an automatic transmission. Top speed is limited to 165 mph. (The Vantage coupe we tested last year is unrestricted and ran 182 mph.)Remember that this mighty 5.9-liter V-12 is effectively two Ford Duratec V-6s, although the aluminum block and heads are produced by Cosworth, which also assembles the Vantage engines. The motor in this Volante felt really strong in our acceleration tests on Monza’s main straight. Its 398 pound-feet topped the torque on hand in the BMW and Ferrari, and it made great music as well as impressive numbers.

    Lows: Too bulky to be a hustler, instant posing spoiled by fiddly roof tonneau.

    It is the only car here with a conventional automatic transmission—a ZF five-speed, in this case supplemented by Touchtronic, which provides manual shifting via buttons on either side of the steering-wheel spokes. This is a convenient arrangement, but when running to the redline, we found that the transmission responded sluggishly to the button commands, allowing the V-12 to pick up another 300 rpm before the shift was completed.On ordinary roads—if we can call the twists and turns through the Italian hills ordinary—the Aston grips and stops well and handles precisely, but it’s too heavy and bulky to be truly agile. A softer suspension setup than the Vantage coupe’s doesn’t help, resulting in greater body roll and limiting performance in sudden maneuvers such as our lane-change test. The benefit is in ride comfort, which is superior to that of the other cars here.The DB7’s forte is high speed on the highway.

    The Verdict: Luxury cruiser with a big punch and old-world opulence.

    This is a car that cruises effortlessly at 120 mph while remaining rock steady. It would be our choice of the three for a 1000-mile dash across the European continent, which is what we did, bringing the car from its English homeland to meet its rivals in Italy.Second Place: BMW Z8
    True-blue enthusiasts tend to be suspicious of cars that make too much of a fashion statement. There’s always the inkling that the flashy looks are there to distract the discriminating driver from less than perfect mechanical underpinnings.BMW’s Z8 certainly looks sufficiently flamboyant to raise such concerns. Its muscular vintage lines are as rakish as a Borsalino hat, and when you slip behind the wheel, you are transported back in time.

    Highs: Silky and effortlessly muscular drivetrain, superb assembly quality, distinctively vintage feel.

    That steering wheel, for example, employs spokes built up from steel rods, as in a mid-’50s MG. The dashboard forward of the wheel is bereft of instruments because they all reside in a central pod angled toward the driver. At night, those gauges are illuminated by a yellowish glow that looks as if it were produced by a bulb from Thomas Edison’s day.Yet underneath its sensuous curves and polished chrome accents, the BMW Z8 is impressively modern and sophisticated. The chassis consists of an aluminum space frame, which provides a foundation for the front and rear suspensions, borrowed from BMW’s redoubtable 5- and 7-series sedans. The sculpted body panels are formed from lightweight aluminum.The finished product weighs just under 3500 pounds. That’s a mass that causes no difficulties for the Z8’s 394-hp, 4.9-liter V-8 powertrain, which is transplanted virtually unchanged from the powerful BMW M5 sports sedan. The combination produces enough thrust to light up the rear tires at will, but there’s still sufficient traction to rocket to 60 mph in 4.6 seconds and click the quarter-mile traps at 110 mph in 13 seconds flat. That’s as quick as the Ferrari up to 60 mph — and at higher speeds, the Z8 actually pulls ahead! The electronically governed 155-mph top speed comes up in a big hurry.Csere pointed out that “the company isn’t called the Bavarian Motor Works for nothing.” The Z8’s builder could also just as easily be called the Bavarian Clutch and Transmission Works, judging by how smoothly those two driveline components do their jobs. “Not that you need that many shifts,” Winfield said. “It pulls from anywhere on the dial.”The chassis is rigid enough to harness this thrust without any creaks or groans.The suspension also makes good use of its wide and grippy 18-inch Dunlop SP Sport 9000A tires. But despite this firm grasp on the tarmac, most of us felt slightly timid about pushing the Z8 to its limits.”The feel of the car at speed doesn’t impart immense confidence, so you’re not encouraged to let it really hang out,” noted Winfield. Csere suggested that “it doesn’t generate the cornering mastery of the Ferrari.” But Robinson found that the Z8 was “easier to drive quickly immediately than the Ferrari.”We all agreed that the convertible top was perhaps the BMW’s weakest point. With the roof erected, the Z8 was easily the noisiest of the three cars on the highway, with wind roar becoming prominent at 70 mph.

    Lows: Excessive wind roar with the top up, excessive wind with the top down, distinctively vintage feel.

    Lowering the top is easy enough, requiring only the press of a button on the console. But fitting the tonneau is a two-person job requiring a particularly difficult, and largely invisible, insertion of two retaining fingers into a pair of narrow slots recessed between the two seats.With the tonneau in place, the Z8 looks gorgeous, but airflow in the cockpit is not very well managed. Even with the wind blocker in place between the two headrests, gale-force backdrafts abound. If the day is cold when you put the top down, you will appreciate the powerful seat heaters.These top-down shenanigans are directly related to the Z8’s vintage, upright stance. “You seem to sit on this car, rather than in it.” Several of us who liked the Z8’s vintage fashion statement “loved the interior treatment and finish” and found the steering wheel to be “a work of art.” Hutton complained about the “awful ‘spring’ steering wheel” and “the blank space where I want the rev counter and speedo to be.”

    The Verdict: 427 Cobra swagger with modem sophistication.

    Robinson summed up the Z8 as “a hugely refined and sophisticated Cobra.” That’s about right, and if that blend appeals to you, the BMW Z8 is very hard to beat.First Place: Ferrari 360 Spider F1
    In our September 2000 issue, Ferrari’s 360 Modena F1 coupe took on Aston Martin’s DB7 Vantage and Porsche’s incredible 911 Turbo, and won. But is that any reason to expect a similar victory from Ferrari’s 360 Spider in a contest with these two elegant competitors, given that convertibles are required to fulfill a different set of expectations?Obviously, the answer is yes. Ferrari has somehow taken all the sensory delights from the Modena and transplanted them, undiluted, into the Spider, and then capped the whole deal with a convertible top that proves irreproachable in appearance and operation.

    Highs: Exhilarating performance, spine-tingling sounds, sensual tactile feedback, awesome convertibility.

    It isn’t just that the one-touch automatic operation deploys and unfurls the top in a spectacular dance of levers, covers, and flaps. It’s also that the car looks great with the top up, and it drives with the solidity and isolation of a coupe.Then, when you consign the top to its lair beneath the gleaming hard tonneau covers—completely concealing its presence under a long rear deck—the loss of a roof profile and its critical C-pillar volume is balanced by such visual details as roll hoops, fins, and a glass engine cover.Equally important, the aerodynamic characteristics of a top-down Spider are extraordinary.Whether it’s due to the long, raked windshield or the little mesh wind blockers you see in the mirror—or a combination of both—the Spider provides a remarkably draft- and buffet-free environment.Climb from the BMW Z8 on a chilly day on a fast autostrada, and the Spider feels like a warm and secluded refuge from the elements. Said C/D’s normally skeptical editor-in-chief: “The 360’s top-down cockpit comfort is unbelievable. At 125 mph, a sheet of paper sitting on the passenger seat doesn’t even flutter.”Plus, you can carry on a conversation without yelling yourself hoarse at speeds that would have you on a Cops episode in the U.S. Better yet, you can dive into one of the many tunnels that enclose Italy’s coastal autostradas, flick the left-side paddle for a two-gear downshift, and let ‘er rip to the redline. This produces a wail like that of an F1 car from the ’70s and even has the guys in other cars laughing like schoolboys.

    Lows: Maybe the roll hoops and rear-deck fins would look better if they aligned.

    Peter Robinson wrote: “The Ferrari should get 11 out of 10 in the fun category.” He’s right. Everything in the Spider has been crafted to provide maximum fun. The engine rasps, snarls, and howls its way to the 8500-rpm redline, ticking past 100 mph in 11.7 seconds on the way to its redline-limited top speed of 175 mph. The steering wheel thrills with messages from the front wheels and transmits its responses to your hands in genetic code. And the F1 transmission—although requiring some practice to achieve optimal smoothness—allows you to play boy racer without the need for any tricky pedal boogie.Being mid-engined, the Spider turns in with an immediacy that is notably different from the two front-engined cars. Unlike the Z8, which kind of swings the nose around the driver, the Ferrari rotates car and driver in one piece. With excellent road feel, strong brakes, and its mass centralized between the axles, the 360 will corner very hard indeed, offering linear response at the helm until the meaty Pirellis begin to push wide.To keep a driver’s enthusiasm from overreaching his capabilities, the Spider has ASR—a stability program—that steps in to cut the power and selectively apply brakes to control yaw. A sport switch alters the threshold of the stability system while also altering the variable-damping shock menu.

    The Verdict: Worth selling the house for.

    Thus, Ferrari’s electronics protect the inexpert driver and cater to the expert at the same time. When you add this contemporary technical sophistication to a car that offers a surprising amount of passenger space, decent ergonomics, fairly generous room in the front trunk and behind the seats for luggage, plus peerless visual and tactile delights, you end up with a car that is paradoxically versatile and charismatic. As Hutton noted: “The surprising thing is that it is the most extreme car, yet it’s also, in many ways, the easiest to use.” Putting it another way, that means we have a winner on our hands.

    Specifications

    Specifications
    2000 Aston Martin DB7 Vantage Volante
    VEHICLE TYPE
Front-engine, rear-wheel-drive, 2+2-passenger, 2-door convertible
    PRICE AS TESTED
$159,732 (base price: $170,137)
    ENGINE TYPE
DOHC 48-valve V-12, aluminum block and heads, port fuel injectionDisplacement
 362 in3, 5935 cm3
Power
 414 hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque
 398 lb-ft @ 5000 rpm
    TRANSMISSION
5-speed automatic
    CHASSIS
Suspension (F/R): control arms, coil springs, anti-roll bar/control arm, coil springs, anti-roll bar
Brakes (F/R): vented, cross-drilled disc/vented disc
Tires (F, R): Bridgestone S-02, 245/40ZR-18, 265/35ZR-18
    DIMENSIONS
Wheelbase: 102.0 in
Length: 183.7 in
Width: 72.0 in
Height: 49.6 in
Passenger volume: 68 ft3
Cargo volume: 5.0 ft3
Curb weight: 4264 lb
    C/D TEST RESULTS
60 mph: 5.0 sec
100 mph: 11.9 sec
130 mph: 21.6 sec
Street start, 5–60 mph: 5.5 sec
Top gear, 30–50 mph: 2.9 sec
Top gear, 50–70 mph: 3.7 sec
¼-mile: 13.6 sec @ 106 mph
Top speed (governor limited): 165 mph
Braking, 70–0 mph: 175 ft
    C/D FUEL ECONOMY
Observed: 15 mpg
    EPA FUEL ECONOMY
City/highway: 11/18 mpg
    — 
    2001 BMW Z8
    VEHICLE TYPE
Front-engine, rear-wheel-drive, 2-passenger, 2-door convertible
    PRICE AS TESTED $134,455 (base price: $134,455)
    ENGINE TYPE
DOHC 32-valve V-8, aluminum block and heads, port fuel injectionDisplacement
302 in3, 4941 cm3
Power
394 hp @ 6600 rpm
Torque
368 lb-ft @ 3800 rpm
    TRANSMISSION
6-speed manual
    CHASSIS
Suspension (F/R): control arms, coil springs, anti-roll bar/control arm, coil springs, anti-roll bar
Brakes (F/R): vented disc/vented disc
Tires (F,R): Dunlop SP Sport 9000A, 245/45WR-18 96Y, 275/40WR-18 99Y
    DIMENSIONS
Wheelbase: 98.6 in
Length: 173.2 in
Width: 72.0 in
Height: 51.9 in
Passenger volume: 51 ft3
Cargo volume: 5.0 ft3
Curb weight: 3494 lb
    C/D TEST RESULTS
60 mph: 4.6 sec
100 mph: 10.9 sec
130 mph: 19.2 sec
Street start, 5–60 mph: 4.9 sec
Top gear, 30–50 mph: 6.9 sec
Top gear, 50–70 mph: 5.8 sec
¼-mile: 13.0 sec @ 110 mph
Top speed (governor limited): 155 mph
Braking, 70–0 mph: 164 ft
    C/D FUEL ECONOMY
Observed: 13 mpg
    EPA FUEL ECONOMY
City/highway: 13/21 mpg

    2001 Ferrari 360 Spider F1
    VEHICLE TYPE
Front-engine, rear-wheel-drive, 2-passenger, 2-door convertible
    PRICE AS TESTED $134,455 (base price: $134,455)
    ENGINE TYPE
DOHC 40-valve V-8, aluminum block and heads, port fuel injectionDisplacement
219 in3, 3586 cm3
Power
395 hp @ 8500 rpm
Torque
275 lb-ft @ 4750 rpm
    TRANSMISSION
6-speed manual
    CHASSIS
Suspension (F/R): control arms, coil springs, adjustable shocks, anti-roll bar/control arm, adjustable shocks, anti-roll barBrakes (F/R): vented disc/vented disc
Tires (F,R): Pirelli P Zero Asimmetrico, 215/45ZR-18 89Y, 275/40ZR-18 99Y
    DIMENSIONS
Wheelbase: 102.3 in
Length: 176.3 in
Width: 75.7 in
Height: 48.6 in
Passenger volume: 52 ft3
Cargo volume: 7.0 ft3
Curb weight: 3424 lb
    C/D TEST RESULTS
60 mph: 4.6 sec
100 mph: 11.7 sec
130 mph: 21.9 sec
Street start, 5–60 mph: 5.3 sec
Top gear, 30–50 mph: 7.4 sec
Top gear, 50–70 mph: 7.8 sec
¼-mile: 13.2 sec @ 106 mph
Top speed (redline limited): 175 mph
Braking, 70–0 mph: 175 ft
    C/D FUEL ECONOMY
Observed: 12 mpg
    EPA FUEL ECONOMY
City/highway: 10/16 mpg

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    Tested: 2005 Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren

    From the January 2005 issue of Car and Driver.As we floored the accelerator in the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren, there was a brief snap of wheelspin before the electronic stability control stepped in to balance the sudden tidal wave of torque against the grip of the car’s 295/30ZR-19 rear Michelins. After that it was just a matter of listening to the deep staccato beat of the 5.4-liter supercharged V-8 hurtling the SLR down the relatively short runway at Malmsheim, near Stuttgart (where Mercedes organized this performance test for American magazines), and then tapping the shift button on the steering wheel each time the tach reached for its 7000-rpm redline.

    Do that with any degree of proficiency, and you are rewarded with 0-to-60-mph sprints in just 3.6 seconds. The quarter-mile is dispatched in 11.6 seconds at 125 mph, and even that result might improve on a warmer surface. C/D’s test session was the last of four and took place in the late afternoon, when October temperatures were on the decline.Skilled testers can equal the launch performance of the SLR’s stability-control system (ESP in Mercedes-speak) by switching to its second, less intrusive position and finessing the gas pedal for traction, but they can’t beat it. In the normal ESP mode, you have very effective launch control, and since the SLR has 575 pound-feet of torque from 3250 rpm, that system is worth its weight in gold-plated connectors. It was also reassuring to know that the huge ceramic brake rotors and equally substantial calipers would quickly slough off speed at the end of each 130-mph run on the relatively short Malmsheim airstrip.
    Dig into the loud pedal any time out on the road, and you’ll be gob-smacked by the sheer ferocity of the AMG engine’s response. It might involve a downshift to do it, but a big dig at the throttle produces the kind of thrust that had everyone in our group shaking their heads in awe. Just check out our 30-to-50 and 50-to-70 times, which at 1.7 and 2.4 seconds are the best pair of top-gear acceleration times we’ve ever recorded for a production car.

    HIGHS: Dazzling speed, ubiquitous torque, everyday versatility.

    In any situation other than a dry day on a straight road, a deep prod at the throttle will likely be answered by the activities of both engine and electronic watchdogs. The engine wants to give its all while the electronic systems are trying to save your life. Even then, we had a couple of occasions in traffic when a stab at the pedal produced a brief twitch of the tail.That explains why Mercedes will not allow the ESP to be switched off completely. In fact, while we were pondering this strategy during a break at the test session, someone asked why one even needs 617 horsepower in a street-going car. The answer came from another writer: “To reach 207 mph.”

    Exactly. If a company with a long motorsports history wants to flaunt its heritage in a car that evokes both the 300SLR of old and the Formula 1 McLaren of right now, it needs to breech the 200-mph mark in the same way Ferrari’s Enzo does. To push a big car like the SLR through an increasingly resistant atmosphere to the 200-mph mark-particularly when it has a flat bottom, front and rear diffusers, and a tail spoiler designed to provide downforce at speed-you need big horsepower.Mercedes performance partner AMG knows where to find it. AMG knows how to package it, too. Looking at a fully dressed AMG SLR engine, one can readily appreciate the unit’s compact size. The 5.4-liter V-8 in the SLR wears single-overhead-cam three-valve heads that are remarkably compact. The twin-screw blower resides in the valley between the cylinder banks, where it takes up very little space. A dry-sump lubrication system allows the V-8 to be housed lower than with a conventional oil pan.

    LOWS: Controversial styling, ocean-front price, unavailability.

    Even the side-pipe exhaust system, with its vertical mufflers, helps keep the mass centralized. The engine sits comfortably amidships, well behind the front axle line, and contributes to the car’s nearly perfect weight distribution. That lends the SLR some special handling benefits, including a front end that hangs on well after you expect understeer and a chassis that accepts additional steering lock in mid-bend without complaint. Indeed, the SLR pulls an impressive 0.97 g on the skidpad, despite tires that appear to be, at least on paper, less generous than what Dodge might apply to a mere 500-hp car.
    Turns out the Michelin Pilot Sport PS2 hoops specially constructed for this car work exceptionally well, given their rain-or-shine duty brief. The car does not offer particularly strong feedback at slow to middling speeds, but it steps up the information flow when it begins to work hard, lending confidence to the driver for further dynamic exploration. The only problem here is that you’re already traveling at high speed when the car comes truly alive in your hands.Don’t be misled. The SLR has less of the syrupy layer than most normal Benzes exhibit. Its steering is much more direct, as are throttle response and all ride sensations. But the ride is pretty cushy as 200-mph supercars go, and there is a thin gasket of luxury between mechanicals and nerve endings, all of which was intentional. The car, we were told repeatedly, was always envisioned as a fast GT. And that would explain the generous trunk space compared with other cars of the genre, the three interior storage compartments, the automatic climate control, the high-end stereo system, and the custom-fit leather seats. (Cushions of various thicknesses are fixed to the carbon-fiber seat shells to tailor each owner’s fit to this $455,500 rocket.)
    Therein lies the great paradox. Mercedes has tried to balance the SLR somewhere between all-out supercar and civilized grand tourer. This within a swoopy carbon-fiber monocoque chassis that has an unequal-length control-arm suspension at all corners, gullwing doors, an active rear airbrake/spoiler, side-pipe exhausts, and an engine that expresses power with every revolution. Yet all these sporty flourishes are in combination with an automatic transmission, various and sundry luxury trappings, and a substantial 3858-pound curb weight.Clearly, this is a vehicle intended for a flexible role. Luckily for us (and owners with the means), technology allows car designers a lot of leeway these days, enabling less compromise than was possible just a few years ago. A smooth ride and precise handling are no longer mutually exclusive; nor are creature comforts and high power. You can indeed have your cake and eat it, too.
    This particular slice of cake has been very carefully baked. According to Le Mans winner Klaus Ludwig, one example of meticulous development is that the windshield wipers on the SLR work at 200 mph. Just what one might be doing at 200 mph in the rain is anyone’s guess, but it’s nice to know that this limited-production GT has had all its systems thoroughly checked out. At a price that verges on half-a-million bucks–and an output of just 3500 SLRs over the next seven years–we expect nothing less.

    THE VERDICT: A classic in the making.

    Specifications

    SPECIFICATIONS
    2005 Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren
    VEHICLE TYPEfront-engine, rear-wheel-drive, 2-passenger, 2-door coupe
    PRICE AS TESTED$455,500 (base price: $455,500)
    ENGINE TYPEsupercharged and intercooled SOHC 24-valve V-8, aluminum block and heads, port fuel injectionDisplacement332 in3, 5439 cm3Power617 hp @ 6500 rpmTorque575 lb-ft @ 3250 rpm
    TRANSMISSION5-speed automatic
    CHASSISSuspension (F/R): control arms/control armsBrakes (F/R): 14.6-in vented, cross-drilled ceramic disc/14.2-in vented, cross-drilled ceramic discTires: Michelin Pilot Sport PS2, F: 245/35ZR-19 96Y R: 295/30ZR-19 100Y
    DIMENSIONSWheelbase: 106.3 in Length: 183.3 in Width: 75.1 in  Height: 49.6 in Passenger volume: 45 ft3 Trunk volume: 10 ft3 Curb weight: 3858 lb
    C/D TEST RESULTS60 mph: 3.6 sec100 mph: 7.9 sec130 mph: 12.5 secRolling start, 5–60 mph: 3.8 secTop gear, 30–50 mph: 1.7 secTop gear, 50–70 mph: 2.4 sec1/4 mile: 11.6 sec @ 125 mphTop speed (redline limited, mfr’s claim): 207 mphBraking, 70–0 mph: 161 ftRoadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.97 g
    EPA FUEL ECONOMYCombined/city/highway: 15/13/18 mpg
    c/d testing explained

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