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2016 Mazda 3 Grand Touring review notes

12/15/2015

The Mazda 3 GT lives perpetually in the shadow of the Ford Focus and the Honda Civic, but I don’t really understand why. The Civic and Focus are both good cars, but neither drive as well as the Mazda 3. In fact, everything about this car has a slight edge over the sedan version of both the Focus and the Civic.

The interior is spacious and well appointed, and the car gets going surprisingly well considering the modest 155 hp from the Skyactiv 2.0-liter I4. You might consider the available 2.5-liter I4 on the s Grand Touring model, as it bumps the output to 184 hp, but the price jumps too. The six-speed manual transmission provides precise shifts with short throws, keeping the engine in the powerband for a sporty, capable daily driver. There isn’t a lot of dive on braking, and the suspension has a good blend of comfort and control. The brakes are firm, but not grabby -- it's all perfect for an easy-to-drive daily workhorse.

2017 Audi Q7 first drive

Safety dance

12/14/2015

The 2017 Audi Q7 will help keep you in your lane, keep you at a safe distance from the car in front of you, save you from a cross-traffic crash, watch for pedestrians, help you turn and watch your mirrors for approaching traffic as you exit the vehicle. The only thing it won’t do is drive itself. However, after a full day in the car, caressing the damp, twisty California mountain roads in the fog, we almost wish it would back off a little bit.

The second-generation, seven-passenger Q7, on sale in January, tries to take all of the stress out of driving, and it mostly does. But there are those times when a slightly riskier move might make more sense than what the camera, lasers, radar, sonar and lidar will tell you, but we’ll get to that in a minute.

The 2017 Q7 comes equipped with a new version of the company’s 3.0-liter supercharged V6, making 333 hp at 5,500-6,000 rpm and 325 lb-ft in a broad 2,900-5,300 rpm window. An eight-speed Tiptronic transmission sends power through Audi’s Quattro all-wheel drive system to whatever wheels it sees fit. We’ll see a diesel in the lineup at some point as well. The 4,938-pounder can cha-cha to 60 mph in an impressive 5.7 seconds.

2017 Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class first drive

Still superb

12/14/2015

What is it?

With the 2017 Mercedes-Benz GLS, Mercedes gives its already-outstanding GL-Class SUV a mid-cycle refresh with a more refined interior, some new sheet metal and a new name. Already among our favorite vehicles in the luxe-SUV segment (or any other, for that matter), the big Benz impresses as a seven-seater that actually fits seven adults, all while towing a boat, without feeling floaty and underdamped.

The downside is that with the rear seats down, space is ample, but with the seats up, you’ll be hard-pressed to fit more than a couple of suitcases. Those thinking a GLS will replace the family Suburban will need to carefully evaluate passenger and space requirements.

On the exterior, the refresh is minor over the old GL, but does include new sheetmetal ahead of the A-pillar and a restyled rear bumper. The new front fascia looks sportier than the outgoing model, and the available AMG version takes that to the next level with an even more exaggerated look.

The 2016 Nissan Titan XD fills the gap between 1/2- and 3/4-ton trucks using a 5.0-liter Cummins V8 diesel engine.

Autoweek in review

Everything you missed Dec. 7-11

12/11/2015

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.

2016 Nissan GT-R Premium review

12/11/2015

You ever get the feeling you're overthinking something? Chewing on an experience or chunk of information for so long it's lost all its flavor? Analysis paralysis, the boss calls it, and that's sort of where I am with the Nissan GT-R.

It's taken me a long time to warm up to Godzilla -- three stints behind the wheel, including a recent long weekend. It's a geek's exotic (I'm more of a nerd), a performance car for those who prize high-tech methods of going forward fast. It's fair to say Tesla's ludicrous mode has eclipsed the GT-R's wizardry, but the number of processors involved in effectively planting the Nissan's 545 hp are still impressive. 

So's the horsepower number, though even that is mid-pack in these Hellcat days. Half-throttle stabs around traffic yield a, "yeah, pretty fast" response, but it's difficult to tell just how quick this car is without instrumentation. Flip all three dash switches to R mode and stab it from a stoplight (even eschewing the hilariously fun Launch Control) and the effect is JEeee-zus…and there's 75 mph. It happens just like that -- no fanfare, no screeching tires or fishtailing backend. The GT-R is kind of like a time machine -- you visualize the place you want to be -- say, two blocks away, press a button (with your right foot, in this case) and suddenly you're there. The whole process basically just involves holding the steering wheel, and even that feels computer-stabilized.  

2016 Nissan Titan XD first drive

A true 5/8-ton pickup

12/10/2015

What is it? The American pickup truck market is such a Goliath of a segment that hacking off even 1 extra percent for your brand can be an important shift ... as long as your brand isn’t Ford or Chevrolet, which control about two-thirds of the market. Look no further than Nissan for an example -- the company spent six years designing and testing its new Titan XD, aiming to grab a bigger slice of that massive pickup pie for itself.

The Titan XD, Nissan says, is a pickup truck for those who need something a little more powerful than the standard 1500/150-grade trucks, but where a 2500/250 might be overkill. We finally have the true 5/8-ton hauler that we never knew we needed. We spent a full day in the dusty Arizona desert testing the new truck on and off the road, driving with a payload and towing 9,600 pounds or so (about ¾ of its max) up and down the mountains.

No bull

Lamborghini Huracan RWD first drive

12/09/2015

What is it? The rear-wheel-drive Lamborghini Huracan LP 580-2 is simply the best-handling Lamborghini ever made.

Granted, we said that about the all-wheel-drive Huracan when it came out just a year and a half ago, and while Lamborghinis have always been good at blasting down the Autostrada in a more or less straight line, they have not traditionally been renowned for flying through corners with anything that could be labeled precision. But the new rear-drive Huracan takes this “entry level” supercar further into the corner than anything that has ever come out of Sant’Agata Bolognese.

To make the AWD Huracan into a RWD Huracan, engineers simply remove the front driveshaft, differential and half shafts. The front springs and antiroll bar are 10 percent softer, there is just a bit more camber in the front wheels and Pirelli whipped up a new batch of P Zeros front and rear with a different compound, design and structure, as well as a recommended few pounds more air in them.

First Drive(s)

2016 Aston Martin ... everything

12/08/2015

On the surface, it seems like all is quiet at Aston Martin. After all, neither of the company’s core sporting cars, the Vantage or DB9, has been redesigned in more than a decade. That’s an eternity in sports-car years. In the same year the DB9 launched (2004), Chevrolet was still pushing the C5 Corvette, Porsche was happy to sell you the 996 Turbo and Ferrari’s top V12 grand-touring coupe was the 575M. Each of these automakers has replaced their cars with completely new generations -- twice.

But excitement is coming. Next year, an all-new DB11 will launch. It will retain the V12 and become the first car to benefit from the recent tech partnership with Mercedes-Benz. That new DB, Aston’s chief program engineer John Caress says, will use a Mercedes-Benz electrical architecture. And that will allow Aston’s top model to finally offer just about all the safety technology in the Mercedes-Benz portfolio.

2016 Porsche Boxster Spyder

2016 Porsche Boxster Spyder first drive

12/08/2015

What is it?

There are at least a couple of ways to dissect the 2016 Porsche Boxster Spyder. Depending on your point of view, it’s either a ludicrously high-dollar take on Porsche’s entry-level roadster or the latest shot at a hot rod by way of Zuffenhausen -- the purest, most analog embodiment of what we might call the Porsche spirit offered new on the market today.

Thing is, you’re not wrong either way you slice it. The newest Boxster Spyder is both expensive enough to give you pause and so good that you probably won’t care. It’s the sort of car that hits all the right notes with the purists and seems destined to mine new brand fanatics on its way up the scale. But before you accuse us of gushing, take a look at the specs; they never tell the whole story, but in this case, they say a lot.

For one, you’re shoving what may be one of the 911’s last naturally aspirated gasps -- the 3.8-liter flat-six yanked from the first-gen 991 Carrera S and also found in the Cayman GT4 -- into the lightest platform in its stable, and pairing it exclusively with a six-speed manual transmission. Here, it’s good for 375 hp and 309 lb-ft of torque and a stated 0-60 mph of 4.3 seconds. Would a PDK be quicker around a certain German racetrack? Almost certainly, but that’s totally not the point of this car.

The Bugatti Vision Gran Turismo concept might provide a few hints of what the upcoming Chiron will look like.

Autoweek in review

Everything you missed Nov. 30-Dec. 4

12/04/2015

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.

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The image the company sent to future owners who have made deposits is a lightly photoshopped sketch that Britain's Autocar magazine published in March of this year.

TVR makes progress on new Cosworth V8, teases owners with Autocar's sketch

12/29/2015

TVR, the boutique British automaker run aground in 2006 after purchase by a Russian oligarch, is back with plenty of deposits on an undisclosed coupe and a teaser image photoshopped from an Autocar magazine sketch. The fledgeling car company is at work on a new coupe powered by a Cosworth V8 with an expected output of 450 to 500 hp, though it won't be until 2018 that customers will be able to take delivery of the cars. The factory has to be built first, even though the first year's allocation is already sold out.

TVR Chairman Les Edgar gave the future owners of the new coupe a progress report, stating that the company is running at least one engineering mule that has been operating on roads, and that they've recently fired up one of the Cosworth V8s.

Watch F1 cars rip up a mountain in Japan

12/29/2015

Two ex-Formula One cars plus one mountain road equals an epic video shot in Japan by Motor Head Magazine.

It's not too often you see open-wheel cars on public roads -- the Stallone vehicle "Driven" notwithstanding -- but something about it makes the cars look even better than when they're on the racetrack. After the F1 cars have a go, they're followed by some drifters who are nearly as impressive.

The camerawork is also great, so check out more of Motor Head's stuff here.

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