2016 Dodge Challenger SXT review12/27/2015
It’s not fair to let the motor dominate the conversation about this 2016 Dodge Challenger. It’s a fine car without the Hemi, carrying its retro lines with enough confidence to offset its substantial visual bulk, and the new running lights/front fascia design and wide range of color/decal packages don’t hurt, either. FCA’s new interior refinements have, by this point, replaced nearly all of the unpleasant, crappy old plastics with better materials. The big-screened Uconnect entertainment system remains fast, functional and fairly intuitive (even if it would be nice to have a few buttons for features like seat warmers).
Even the LX platform, which is probably getting high enough up there in its years to be referred to as venerable, is as predictable and as fun as ever. Once you find a corner, it’s like swinging a sledge hammer: let the tool do the work. At its best, this a muscle machine that, unlike the newest pony cars from Ford and Chevrolet, doesn’t even pretend to look too far forward. I’m okay with that.
Autoweek in review
Everything you missed Dec. 21-2512/25/2015
2015 Honda Fit EX12/25/2015
In an age when V8 pickups are used to commute to financial-sector jobs 4 miles away, the concept of a small hatchback with a small engine and a very manual gearbox can seem downright retro. After all, it is how modern humans used to commute way back in the Reagan years. And despite everyone purchasing a Ford Explorer in the 1990s as mandated by federal law, the small commuter hatchback did not go away entirely, even as brands like Geo quietly packed up their boxes of squeaky gray plastics and left.
No, the minimalist commuter hatch is not completely dead, but just how relevant would a no-frills hatch with a small engine, cloth seats, AM/FM radio, tiny wheels and six gears be in 2015?
It just so happens that our long-term Honda Fit is equipped with such “features,” and we set off to close out our year with the little gray subcompact by putting it in its element and just letting it do its thing: We threw it into the worst commuter situations we could dredge up, the kind of rush-hour congestion that makes TV news anchors shake their heads and say, “It’s bumper to bumper out there, folks. Now let’s check in with sports.”
2015 Mini Cooper JCW review12/24/2015
It’s been over a year since Mini updated the Cooper model, introducing a number of mechanical and stylistic changes to the base two-door hatch. So we’ve had a good amount of time to get used to it, even though some Mini fans were initially taken aback by the catfish-like visage of the updated hatch. The longer nose is there for pedestrian protection as well as crash performance, with the automaker stretching out the nose and introducing larger headlights and taillights, in addition to making the cabin larger. All of these changes, especially inside, are very welcome, even if the Mini has grown to absolutely dwarf the original British Leyland models.
The JCW, of course, is the hot version and it acts like it. BMW has given the latest Mini a wonderfully smooth gearbox and the JCW is ready to rock in every gear, with Sport mode stiffening up the steering and suspension very perceptibly. Flicking the shifter ring to Sport also makes the exhaust nicer (louder), allowing drivers to broadcast their presence to the neighborhood within a 300-yard radius. In short, this gearbox is very fun to use and there is plenty of vroom available in every gear. The clutch is also very modern-BMW -- there is no springy feel to it whatsoever with the pedal travel being light and consistent throughout, even if a bit long. Those familiar with the modern 1-Series and 3-Series will feel right at home.
2015 Jaguar F-Type R Coupe12/23/2015
We wanted to do something cool with our long-term 2015 Jaguar F-Type R before we begrudgingly sent it back after a year in our fleet. We settled on drag racing, something we’d been doing (noncompetitively) with the 550-hp, rear-wheel-drive coupe since we took delivery.
We chose the 1/8-mile drag strip in rural Ubly, Michigan, about two hours north of Detroit. Though we had the only car on the property not from the United States, we were welcomed as part of the family. Sure, the Jag is British by nature, something we never forget, but shoving the biggest V8 your factory makes into the smallest coupe you can find? That’s the American way, damnit.
The city of Ubly has been supporting the dragway since its opening in 1962. It has been in the hands of the Janowiak family for the duration, many of whom have spent time at the starting line and on the blacktop. The Janowiaks run all the events and befriend practically every driver who crosses the threshold off of South Ubly Road. We’re told the strip is set for a repave, though we find the surface to be quite forgiving.
2016 Mercedes-Benz GLE63 S Coupe review12/22/2015
Some Mercedes Benzes absorb the AMG treatment beautifully. C63? Love it. SL65? Right on. GT S Coupe? Yes please …
… Bringing us to the GLE63 S Coupe, a tallish E-Class-based crossover with the hand-built 577-hp, 5.5-liter twin turbo V8 (one-man, one-engine!), hunkered-down suspension, AMG instruments, you get the picture -- it has all the hot stuff one expects from AMG, along with the history and racing chops that have symbolized AMG (hello, 500E) since founders Hans-Werner Aufrecht and Erhard Melcher started the joint.
Wait a sec, did I use the "C" word? Yup, the GLE63 S Coupe is a crossover. Get used to it: Automakers are scrambling to market every crossover variant they can think of as fast as they can. The variety is important to note. (As an old friend used to say: I want what I want when I want it and I want it now!)
Autoweek in review
Everything you missed Dec. 14-1812/18/2015
Autoweek in review is where we bring you the biggest stories in the car world that you might have missed this week. Whether you were actually getting some work done or you stepped away from your computer for a moment, here's your chance to catch up and have something cool to talk about over the weekend.
We drove the '16 Jag XJ in Mumbai and didn't die (or kill anyone else)12/18/2015
Jag's XJ luxury lightweight executive sedan gets a midcycle refresh for 2016 aimed at adding tech, gear ratios and comfort, all while leaving what works -- namely the sleek cat's styling -- mostly alone.
If you're balking at "lightweight," it's an accurate descriptor, albeit relative: Whether in short- or long-wheelbase iteration, the XJ is the featherweight of its competitive set, 300 pounds lighter than a BMW 7-Series, 350 pounds lighter than an Audi A8L (even when AWD is added) and a whopping 700 pounds lighter than a comparable S-Class Benz.
Powering the XJ is the now-familiar Jag stable of V6 and V8 powerplants, all supercharged in this case, and ranging from 340-550 hp depending on trim level. An eight-speed ZF automatic is the only transmission, driving either the rear wheels or all four, and electric power steering makes its first XJ appearance.
2016 Subaru WRX STI Series.HyperBlue review12/18/2015
There aren’t many blues I’d pick over Subaru’s famous “WR Blue Pearl” but this “Hyper Blue” is one of the few. This exterior is exactly how I’d spec out a WRX STI, black wheels, big wing, six-speed, meaty tires for winter. I snagged the keys for a weekend of Christmas shopping and cross city driving; the only thing missing was a thick coat of December snow. Instead we had a few 60-degree spring-like days. Mental note: The WRX is just as fun on damp-dry pavement as it is on dirt or snow.
The STI launches like a rubber band with all four wheels clawing for grip on hard starts. The clutch pedal has some weight to it, which I like, making the narrow friction point easy to navigate once you’re used to it. If the clutch is too light it makes it harder to take off smoothly in some cars. It also catches right near the floor, an important feature for anything that needs to be driven fast.
First gear goes by quickly, and before you know it you’re at the top of second gear at 50 mph. At this point I usually send it to fifth or sixth gear, because I’m on the street and not a psychopath. With the windows up you can hear the turbo and blowoff, though the tire noise does its best to block it out. The WRX was always a little thin in the noise cancellation department. My only complaint throttle-wise, and it’s not really a complaint, is that at 75-80 mph in sixth gear, the tach is right in the powerband. That means it’s a little hard to keep at a constant speed. If your foot moves a centimeter, your head snaps back, if you let off a smidge, it pops forward. It’s a great system for driving fast, not good if you’re trying to keep it under 80 mph. The Brembo brakes are solid with a nice bite at the top and a short, progressive stroke after that.
Lotus Exige Sport 350 first drive12/16/2015
What is it? Let’s start with the bad news: The Lotus Exige Sport 350 is not U.S. road legal. The good news? Lotus already sells around 50 Elise and Exige models annually here, where they’re used on-track and raced in the Lotus Cup U.S.A. So if you really want an Exige Sport 350 and you’re happy to just drive round in circles at high speed, you can.
There’s some even better news, too: New Lotus boss Jean-Marc Gales recently told Autoweek he wanted the U.S. to become Lotus’s biggest global market. So the next Elise and Exige -- successor to the Sport 350 we’re testing -- will be federalized for the U.S. when the new models land in 2019 or ’20. So this drive gives a taste of what’s heading our way.
Lotus has a storied history in the U.S., not least Jim Clark’s 1965 Indy 500 win, the first for a mid-engine race car. Fifty years on, the Exige Sport 350 holds true to founder Colin Chapman’s vision of “adding lightness.”