Judging by the new-model intros from European carmakers, you’d think the bubble economy was still going strong. At Mercedes-Benz, AMG has been developing a new supercar and a new E63; BMW‘s M division has laid its hands on the and the ; Porsche is rolling out the ; and Alfa Romeo has priced its 8C roadster at a cool $300K. It’s sort of a collective, “What, me worry?” spoken with a (mostly German) accent.
MERCEDES-BENZ. Mercedes is introducing two hybrids this year, but it likely won’t win over the Sierra Club since it’s ignoring smart and bringing out the E63 AMG. the automaker is also hard at work on its newest supercar, the SLS.
First Drive: Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG
The Gullwing is back – with a vengeance.
By Georg Kacher
We’re flat out on Germany’s Sachsenring racetrack in the new Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG, chassis number 00045, a mildly camouflaged preproduction model. Ahead is an SL65 AMG Black Series – twin-turbo V-12, 661 hp, 738 lb-ft of torque – driven by Tobias Moers, head of AMG’s R&D division, seasoned race instructor, and today’s pacesetter. Filling his mirrors, our red Gullwing keeps pushing harder and harder, even though its normally aspirated 6.2-liter V-8 is rated at a comparatively modest 563 hp and 479 lb-ft.
The Sachsenring has plenty of slow corners, lots of climbs and descents, two long straights, and two very fast and very blind fourth-gear bends. As our session progresses, the track becomes nightmare territory for the wide, fat SL and a dreamland for the light and nimble SLS. Despite the Black Series car’s four more cylinders, 98 extra hp, and 259 lb-ft torque advantage, it’s punished by its 550-pound weight penalty. The SLS not only uses a significantly lighter control-arm aluminum suspension, it also boasts an aluminum spaceframe and aluminum body skin that tips the scales at a mere 530 pounds. Perhaps even more significant is weight distribution – in contrast to the nose-heavy SL, the new Gullwing places only 48 percent of its mass on the front axle and 52 percent on the driven wheels. In this matchup, the Black Series SL doesn’t stand a chance. It understeers early, and after only ten laps, it has practically worn out its front tires. Momentum gained on the straights can never compensate for the speed lost on the approach to and through the corners.
The SLS Gullwing is a totally different animal. It is 49 inches low and 76 inches wide, with cab-back proportions. The boxy skin is draped over a long, 105-inch wheelbase. The gull-wing doors open at a 70-degree angle, but even when fully deployed, the maximum clearance is a scalp-threatening five feet so that shorter people can still reach the inner grab handles from their seats. The power-operated buckets, which feature magnesium backrests, are comfortable and supportive. The steering wheel’s squared-off bottom is a bit of a nuisance through the esses, and in a car this sporty, the shift paddles should be attached to the column, not the wheel.
Instead of a conventional transmission lever, the SLS features a small T-handle gear selector. Push it forward to engage reverse, pull it back to select drive, hit the button marked P for park. To the left are five buttons: engine start, transmission mode (Controlled Efficiency, Sport, Sport+, Manual), stability control (on, off, or Sport), rear spoiler (it automatically extends at 75 mph), and AMG (to store your favorite settings). The familiar Comand system controls the various communication, navigation, and entertainment functions. Like every AMG car, the SLS offers a choice of in-dash readouts that relay the coolant, engine, and transmission lubricant temperatures, the current stability control setting, and the most recent lap and trip times. Above the two large, round main instruments is a supplementary digital LED rev counter, which has one amber warning segment at 6900 rpm and two red warning dots that come on at 7100 and 7200 rpm.
The exterior design of the new Gullwing incorporates modern and retro elements. The large grille, the side cooling gills, and, of course, the signature doors all mimic the original 1954 300SL silver arrow. The cleverly packaged and neatly finished interior is charming, what with its unique cocoon effect provided by the clamshell doors and the extra tall sills. The cabin feel is snug but by no means claustrophobic. Standard equipment includes keyless ignition, heated seats trimmed in soft leather, parking aids complete with rearview camera, and lightweight pedals with rubber studs. Extra money buys music by Bang & Olufsen, carbon-fiber trim, memory seats, a DVD changer, and your choice of multihued color schemes, including contrasting stitching and piping. This is definitely not your father’s Benz.
Thumbs up? Let’s go! This time, there’s no Black Series lead car. We’re on our own for eight more hot laps. It’s time to hit the AMG button and summon the preferred setup: transmission in Sport+, stability in Sport. There’s no choice of setting for the dampers or the steering, which takes 2.7 turns from lock to lock. In Sport+, the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission swaps gears with the same urgency as in the Ferrari California, and it also blips the throttle during downshifts. The engine and the gearbox are connected via a carbon-fiber torque tube; the driveshaft inside delivers the power to the rear wheels via a mechanical limited-slip differential. First gear runs out of revs before you can say “whoa!” Second is suitable only for the slowest corner of the track, third is a ratio that keeps the engine near its 4750-rpm torque peak through most corners, and fourth successfully conquers your fears through the two heart-attack left-handers. Fifth gear is just about all you need to reel in the short downhill stretch and the track’s hunchback start/finish straight.
Unlike the tail-happy C63 AMG and the slightly ponderous SL63 AMG we drove to acquaint ourselves with the track, the SLS AMG is so stable and composed that it feels – up to a point – strangely uneventful and uninvolving. That’s because the new dry-sump lubrication helps provide a lower center of gravity, the transaxle layout ensures a more neutral handling balance, and the staggered-size tires (265/35YR-19 in front, 295/30YR-20 in back) provide an almost insane amount of grip. As a result, the 3570-pound two-seater is as expressively dynamic in one direction as it is absolutely unshakable in any other. Although confidence is quickly established, it takes at least half a day – and an eye-opening ride with former DTM champ Bernd Schneider – to fathom the true potential of this very special Mercedes. But even then, the prevailing impression is compiled of such practical virtues as a compliant ride, accessible performance, perfect balance, and just enough noise, but no undue vibrations or harshness. For a rear-wheel-drive supercar, the SLS is incredibly benign and forgiving.
One key strong suit is the steering. Meatier and less damped than in other AMG models, the steering system in the SLS opens up a new level of man/machine dialogue. It’s a precision tool that fuses minimum input and maximum control, even through that adrenaline-pumping, 110-mph, uphill kink where the coupe’s fat rear end wants to play catch and release. Then there’s the electronic throttle, which allows you to modulate and time the torque flow to perfection. The free-breathing, high-revving V-8 responds to the driver’s right foot like a thoroughbred to a horse whisperer. Especially when set in manual mode, where the transmission holds the chosen gear no matter what, the SLS surfs the torque so expertly that every approach is a trough, every apex is a crest, and every exit is a mighty tidal wave. Equally impressive are the brakes. One can specify extralarge carbon-ceramic rotors that are immune to high temperatures and offer a 40 percent weight advantage, but even the standard cast-iron discs are very good at neutralizing excess kinetic energy. Despite the commendably short pedal travel, the massive six- and four-pot calipers cover the complete deceleration spectrum from touch-then-go-again to all-anchors-dropped.
To boost the 6.2-liter V-8’s power output from 518 hp to 563 hp, AMG developed a larger intake plenum, hotter camshafts, a more ambitious valvetrain, and a low-resistance, multiple-pipe exhaust system. Other measures include forged pistons, reinforced crankshaft bearings, toughened reduced-friction bore liners, a stiffer crankcase, a shorter cooling circuit, and more efficient lubrication. Lighter, torquier, and quite a bit more powerful, the tweaked 6.2-liter V-8 actually uses less fuel than the version in the E63 and the S63 (although U.S. EPA figures are not yet available). Mercedes is quoting a 0-to-62-mph time of 3.8 seconds and a top speed of 195 mph.
We don’t know yet how the SLS fares on broken pavement, on twisty autobahn sections, or in stop-and-go traffic, but if its performance at the track is anything to go by, it promises to be one of the true greats.
The SLS makes its public debut at the Frankfurt auto show in September; U.S. sales start next summer, with production capped at 5000 per year. Next in the five-year cycle of the project is the roadster, which is scheduled to go on sale in early 2011. Three and a half years later, we should see a limited-edition farewell Black Series Gullwing. And, believe it or not, there is also a zero-emissions version in the works for 2012.
On Sale: April 2010
Base Price: $,000 (est.)
Specs: 6.2L V-8, 563 hp, 479 lb-ft; rear-wheel drive
First Drive: Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG
The monster E-class ascends higher up Mount Awesome.
By Joe Lorio
For years, AMG cars have been on the front lines of the horsepower wars, but all good wars must one day come to an end, and it appears that day is close at hand. The new E63 AMG, for example, uses the same 6.2-liter V-8 as the previous model, and its 518 hp is only 11 hp greater than before. Still, it’s hard to complain about an engine that can send this luxurious Benz down the autobahn at (a governed) 186 mph – or one with this V-8’s aggressive bark and deep rumble.
The arrival of the Speedshift MCT seven-speed automatic transmission from the SL63 AMG marks the bigger powertrain change. The Speedshift box uses a wet clutch in place of a torque converter and provides faster shift times and sweet, rev-matched downshifts. Surprisingly, despite the absence of the torque converter, the transmission still beats any automated manual and most dual-clutch setups with its smoothness both in takeoff from a stop and in its automatic shifts. And yet its shift speed effectively gives away nothing to those supposedly sportier gearboxes.
As you might expect, the transmission offers several modes. The mellowest, C (for Controlled Efficiency), is the economizer setting, starting off in second gear, upshifting as soon as possible, and even relaxing throttle response. It might be great for squeezing out the best possible mileage rating on the EPA test cycle, but, really, what AMG buyer wants to drive like this?
The next two modes, Sport and Sport+, are virtually indistinguishable. Happily, both seem to intuitively understand the enthusiast driver, unfailingly anticipating gear choices, downshifting under braking, snapping off upshifts with lightning speed, and matching revs on both automatic or manual downshifts. Speaking of manual, if the driver calls up his own shifts via the steering-wheel-mounted paddles, the box will resume giving its own orders after a while. Select Manual mode, however, and the transmission defers almost totally to the driver; neither upshifting even at the 7200-rpm redline nor kicking down in response to a booted throttle.
Finally, there’s RS, for Race Start, which sounds like fun but is a bit fussy. With the stability control in Sport, you hold your left foot on the brake and choose Race Start. When prompted, quickly tap the upshift paddle once to confirm, then immediately floor the accelerator and release the brake. Hesitate for a moment, though, and the whole sequence is canceled and you have to start over. Do it right, and the E63 effects a wheel-spin-free blast that should have you to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds.
Whatever the transmission mode, the E63 is always ready to drop a couple of gears, let out a deep bellow, and tear off down the highway. A new option for hauling it back down is carbon-ceramic brakes, although they won’t be offered in the U.S. market until next year. As is typical, they offer fade-free, racetrack-ready performance – at a price (expected to be between $8000 and $10,000) – but unlike most, they’re squeal-free (well, almost) and fairly easy to modulate.
In the quest for even better driving dynamics, AMG engineers tossed out the front air springs (still used on the standard E-class) in favor of steel springs and struts. Air springs are retained at the rear, because of the widely varying loads on the rear axle. As before, the dampers are adjustable, this time in three steps: Comfort, Sport, and Sport+. An available performance package makes the three settings a bit firmer still. (A stand-alone option alters the engine electronics to raise the top speed from 155 mph to 186.) The standard car in its mellowest setting delivered a pretty comfortable ride, but when we cranked it up to Sport or Sport+, the E63 telegraphed every slight bump or bit of creased pavement we could find on Germany’s near-perfect road surfaces. With the performance package, Comfort is the equivalent of the standard car’s Sport setting, so your choices are essentially Stiff, Stiffer, and Stiffest. Combine that with the 35/30-series tires (front/rear), and the E63 with performance package is likely to feel pretty harsh over America’s crumbling roads.
With either setup, the E63 turns in aggressively, remains deliciously balanced through fast corners, and emits barely a peep from its Pirelli PZero tires. A new, fixed-ratio steering rack is quicker than before at 14:1 but is perfectly weighted and never nervous. For those eager to explore the E63’s handling limits, the stability control system includes a more liberal Sport mode and also can be switched off completely.
The buttons to select the stability, damping, and transmission modes are alongside the gear selector – a console-mounted lever rather than the wimpy column shifter in the standard E-class. A fourth button, labeled AMG, can store a driver’s preferred settings. Other AMG-specific cabin items include a unique gauge cluster, sport seats, and available carbon-fiber trim. Outside, there’s a unique front-end design with a wider, deeper front fascia with functional side slits (they extract air from the oil coolers). Wider front fenders allow for the increased front track and ultrawide rubber – 255 millimeters up front and 285 at the rear, whether on standard eighteen-inch or optional nineteen-inch wheels. There’s also AMG-specific lower bodywork. Once again, the overall mood is muscular but refined.
The new E63 doesn’t offer a great leap in horsepower over the outgoing car, but it makes some progress in chassis dynamics, and it offers a more entertaining transmission, even if it’s not a stick-and-clutch manual. This ultra-high-performance sedan (and wagon, but only by special order) was already perched near the peak of Power Mountain. At this lofty altitude, there’s not much higher you can go.
On sale: November
Price: $87,000 (est.)
SPECS: 6.2L V-8, 518 hp, 465 lb-ft; rear-wheel drive
Mercedes-Benz ML450 and S400 Hybrids
New: Two hybrid powertrains.
Noteworthy: Give Mercedes-Benz credit – it doesn’t commit to anything halfway. Although the automaker has long hesitated on hybrids, it now comes to the market with not one but two sophisticated designs. The S400 uses a small motor sandwiched between its 3.5-liter V-6 and seven-speed automatic and is the first production hybrid to use lithium-ion batteries. The ML450 also employs the 3.5-liter V-6 but ties it to the two-mode technology Mercedes codeveloped with General Motors, Chrysler, and BMW. Both hybrids promise impressive gains in fuel economy, with the ML450 improving 6 mpg in the city over an ML350 and the S400 achieving an EPA-estimated 26 mpg on the highway.
ON SALE: Now/December (S400/ML450)
PRICE: $88,825/$55,000 (S400/ML450, est.)
S400 SpecS: 3.5-liter V-6/electric hybrid, 295 hp (combined), 284 lb-ft (combined); rear-wheel drive
ML450 SpecS: 3.5-liter V-6/electric hybrid, 335 hp (combined), 381 lb-ft (combined); 4-wheel drive
The BMW Group continues to flesh out the lineups of each of its three brands: BMW, Mini, and Rolls-Royce. Few will object to a V-12 for the 7-series; after all, that’s how the 7-series became a player more than twenty years ago. But it remains to be seen whether the market will find room for the 550i – a high-riding 5-series hatchback – and M versions of the X5 and the X6. The Mini brand, coming off the successful launch of its convertible, is likewise heading into uncharted territory with its upcoming Crossman crossover. For Rolls, the answer to the worldwide recession is a smaller, less expensive ($250,000) sedan that evokes the brand’s storied past with the Ghost moniker.
New: BMW’s first-ever hybrid. Set to debut at this year’s Frankfurt auto show, it won’t be a -fighter, but it will be fast. A 4.4-liter twin-turbo V-8 provides the juice; electric motor assist helps curb the drinking.
Noteworthy: In contrast to the forthcoming hybrid-powered 7-series, the X6 is a hybrid that can run on electric power alone. In fact, it uses the two-mode system that BMW codeveloped with Chrysler, General Motors, and Mercedes-Benz, although the Bavarians assure us that it’s been retuned for a more natural driving experience. Combine the electric assistance with the V-8’s 400-hp output, and this will be a very quick vehicle. Expect EPA ratings to jump by almost 25 percent, perhaps achieving a 19-mpg overall rating. The nickel-metal-hydride batteries are located under the cargo area’s load floor, eliminating the spare and requiring the use of run-flat tires.
On Sale: December
Base Price: $80,000 (est.)
Specs: 4.4L twin-turbo V-8/electric hybrid, 400 hp, 450 lb-ft; 4-wheel drive
BMW 550i Gran Turismo
New: A tall wagon based on the next-generation 5-series sedan. It will debut as the 550i GT, with the twin-turbo V-8 familiar from the 7-series and the X6 attached to an eight-speed automatic and powering the rear wheels. A 535i GT follows, with a twin-turbo in-line six; all-wheel drive will be optional.
Noteworthy: BMW thinks there’s a market for a practical vehicle for well-to-do empty-nesters that doesn’t sacrifice glamour for the sake of practicality. (Yes, Mercedes-Benz R-class, BMW is taking a swipe at you.) The GT rides higher than a 5-series wagon for easier ingress and egress and offers a clever hatch design that really does let the owner decide whether to use the cargo hold as a closed-off conventional trunk or as a hatchback.
Either way, luggage capacity is copious, and depending on the position of the sliding rear seat, back-seat passengers are treated to more legroom than they would have in a short-wheelbase 7-series. And, trust us, the GT looks a lot better on the road than it does in pictures.
On Sale: November
Base Price: $65,000 (est.)
Specs: 4.4L twin-turbo V-8, 400 hp, 450 lb-ft; rear- or 4-wheel drive
New: A new 7-series debuted earlier this year in 750i and long-wheelbase 750Li form. Its styling is an evolution of the last 7, trading that polarizing design for a restrained look. Well, except for those enormous nostrils. A rolling showcase for electronic driver-assistance systems, the car keeps the lithe moves that have become a 7-series trademark.
Noteworthy: For 2010, the 7’s twin-turbocharged V-8 can be mated with all-wheel drive, a first for the BMW flagship. Also coming this year is the 760Li, powered by another first: a twin-turbo, direct-injection V-12 that displaces 6.0 liters, pumps out a monumental 535 hp and 550 lb-ft of torque, and powers the 7 to 60 mph in less than 4.5 seconds. The V-12 is also paired with an eight-speed automatic, the most gears ever packed into a Bimmer.
ON SALE: Now
Base Price: $82,280/$140,425 (750/760Li)
Specs: 4.4L twin-turbo V-8, 400 hp, 450 lb-ft; 6.0L twin-turbo V-12, 535 hp, 550 lb-ft; rear- or 4-wheel drive
First Drive: BMW X6 M
Not just a new car – A new philosophy.
By Jason Cammisa
The X6 M represents an entirely new philosophy for BMW‘s M division. Until now, any BMW wearing an M badge has been equipped with a normally aspirated engine that revs to the moon. Every M car has been a faster, more involving version of a rear-wheel-drive BMW. And every M car has been, well, a car.
The X6 M, however, is an SUV with an automatic transmission and all-wheel drive. Porsche, with its Turbo, and Mercedes-Benz, with its ML63 AMG, have proven that an SUV can get to 60 mph in five seconds and scorch through the Nürburgring’s hills and dales. These super SUVs are very profitable, and BMW wants a piece of that pie. So, philosophy be damned, M is doing a truck.
M engineers started with the basic X6’s optional 4.4-liter twin-turbo V-8, then added lag-reducing exhaust manifolds. The brain trust realized that, because the turbos are nestled in the valley of the vee, each turbo could be fed with exhaust from two cylinders on each bank rather than from four cylinders on a single bank. Using equal-length runners, the new setup provides each turbo with evenly spaced exhaust pulses rather than the irregular pulses that spin the turbos on BMW’s non-M twin-turbo V-8s. This results in dramatically better response than in the standard X6 – the M suffers from practically zero lag and produces a tsunami of torque – 500 lb-ft – at any point between 1500 and 5650 rpm. Maximum boost pressure is 17.4 psi, and peak horsepower is 555, served at 6000 rpm. The sprint to 60 mph takes only 4.5 seconds, according to BMW, and in manual mode, the six-speed automatic will happily let you bang the V-8 against its 7000-rpm limiter.
Speaking of transmissions, the ZF-supplied automatic features M-exclusive revised programming that reduces shift times without any serious comfort penalty. Until you engage manual mode. Then, the gearbox gets serious, locking the torque converter as soon as you’re moving and keeping it locked during gearchanges. Shifts are incredibly quick and are accompanied by an entertaining burp from the twin exhausts.
The X6 M corners, stops, and sticks like a serious sports car. It shares the regular X6’s Dynamic Performance Control rear differential, which can borrow up to about 1300 lb-ft of torque from one rear wheel and send it to the other. Like other cars that use torque-vectoring rear diffs (such as the Evolution), the X6 dances around corners – and the laws of physics – with little regard for its mass. Whether rocketing off the line or tearing around a racetrack, even 555 hp is no match for this all-wheel-drive system.
In the world of the super SUVs, there’s likely no match for the X6 M’s performance, either. With that said, it lacks the involvement of other M cars – there’s not much steering feedback, and it even rides smoothly, thanks to its adaptive suspension. The interior is similarly subdued – there’s little to differentiate it from lesser X6s, and it’s likely that passengers will never know what their chariot is capable of.
Sadly, many of its drivers won’t, either. Like buyers of other super SUVs, X6 M customers are probably concerned more with bragging rights than experiencing the truck’s limits themselves. That’s another first for an M product – and another philosophical change for BMW M.
On Sale: Now
Base Price: $89,725
Specs: 4.4L twin-turbo V-8, 555 hp, 500 lb-ft; 4-wheel drive
New: The X6‘s blockier brother gets M-hanced, too.
On Sale: Now
Base Price: $86,225
Specs: 4.4L twin-turbo V-8, 555 hp, 500 lb-ft; 4-wheel drive
New: The Roller for the budget conscious.
Noteworthy: Although official photos haven’t been released, recent spy shots confirm that the 2010 Rolls-Royce Ghost will be nearly identical to the 200EX concept, later known as the RR4, unveiled in Geneva this year. The car follows the design language of the , but, according to chief designer Ian Cameron, sleeker lines and a smaller stature give the Ghost a more “informal presence” than its big brother. Power will come from a new, 563-hp, 6.6-liter twin-turbocharged V-12 developed by BMW specifically for Rolls-Royce, paired with a new eight-speed automatic. In typical Rolls-Royce fashion, the Ghost promises to be an elaborate mix of luxury, technology, and performance, but, Cameron notes, it will have a greater emphasis on driver involvement than the Phantom.
ON SALE: Early 2010
Base Price: $250,000 (est.)
Specs: 6.6L twin-turbo V-12, 563 hp, 575 lb-ft; rear-wheel drive
FIAT. The 500 won’t reach our shores until the 2011 model year, so for now, the only Fiat products we can buy are Ferraris, Maseratis, and Alfa Romeos. Pity us. Ferrari just unveiled its F430 replacement. Alfa is now offering its own convertible, the 8C Spider. and Maserati has added an automatic to the S coupe.
Ferrari 458 Italia the shapely successor to the F430 is lighter and, yes, even faster.
For a long time, Ferrari design seemed driven almost solely by function, but with the California and the new 458 Italia, it’s clear that styling is back, for good or ill. It’s definitely the former with the 458 Italia, whose curvaceous, Pininfarina-designed body not only features a radical, kicked-up rear fender but also a large, rounded greenhouse that recalls late 1960s endurance racers. Aerodynamic innovations include a nearly flat underbelly and winglets up front, which, at high speeds, deform to shrink the size of the air intakes. The brand’s latest mid-engine, V-8 two-seater again boasts an aluminum chassis, helping keep weight to about 3300 pounds. Now mated to a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission – rather than the single-clutch F1 automated manual – the eight-cylinder engine is enlarged to 4.5 liters, adds direct injection, and speaks through three center-mounted exhaust pipes. Output climbs to about 565 hp (at a stirring 9000 rpm) and 398 lb-ft of torque (at 6000 rpm), enough to rocket the new sports car from 0 to 62 mph in less than 3.4 seconds, according to Ferrari, while top speed exceeds 202 mph. Although it seems beside the point, Ferrari would like you also to know that, compared with the F430, the new 458 Italia consumes less fuel and emits less CO2. The 458 (the first two numbers refer to the engine displacement, while the third reflects the cylinder count) will debut at the Frankfurt auto show.
ON SALE: Mid 2010
Base Price: $200,000 (est.)
Specs: 4.5L V-8, 565 hp, 398 lb-ft (est.); rear-wheel drive
Alfa Romeo 8C Spider
New: The newest must-have, limited-edition supercar for the (still) filthy rich is one of the thirty-five (of 500) 8C Spider versions of the 8C coupe slated for America. What do we love? The lion’s roar of the V-8 (80 percent of its 354 lb-ft of torque is available at 2000 rpm), an amazingly compliant ride, pants-peeing driftability, and massive carbon-ceramic Brembo brakes that keep coming back for more at high speed.
Noteworthy: Take delivery in Italy for an extra $6400, and the ten-member 8C team and Alfa’s historic Balocco test track will be at your disposal for the day. Learn to drive from Domenico Martino, have a gourmet lunch, and leave on fresh rubber.
ON SALE: Now
Base Price: $299,000
Specs: 4.7L V-8, 450 hp, 354 lb-ft; rear-wheel drive
The Volkswagen Group has turned the tables on Porsche and can now focus on stocking its own vast portfolio of brands. The last VW Rabbit/ had a brief tenure, with new versions of each (the former now called the ) making their way here this year. However, neither model will get VW to its lofty U.S. sales targets. The Audi will likely find much broader acceptance than the largely ignored . At the same time, the brand is expanding its diesel line with the TDI. VW also has to maintain its portfolio of premium brands amid a meltdown in demand for those cars. For the few who still have enough money, Bugatti has the new Veyron Grand Sport, and Lamborghini offers its Murcilago LP670-4 SV. The big news for Bentley is the Arnage replacement, which was unveiled in August.
New: The sixth generation of VW’s venerable hatchback lands on our shores this fall. The Rabbit badge is retired once again in favor of the Golf nameplate, which is what the car is called elsewhere in the world. This new model is a careful evolution of the last one, with mostly carryover driveline and suspension.
Noteworthy: Proportions are largely the same as last year’s Rabbit, but VW design deity Walter de’Silva has made the Golf look wide, low, and butch. A gorgeous and ultraquiet new cabin steps on Audi’s toes with its material and build quality. VW’s mainstay remains available in multiple trim levels – the base car for those seeking German engineering and hatchback versatility on a budget, the TDI for hybridlike fuel economy with some Fahrvergnügen, and the GTI for thrill seekers.
On Sale: October
Base Price: $17,500/$25,000 (Golf/GTI, est.)
Specs: 2.5L I-5, 170 hp, 177 lb-ft; 2.0L turbo-diesel I-4, 140 hp, 236 lb-ft; 2.0L turbo I-4, 200 hp, 207 lb-ft; front-wheel drive
New: You might think wagons are nerdy, but we think they’re brilliant. VW is playing favorites, too – the 2010 SportWagen gets a face-lift, but the sedan stays the same until the sixth-generation Jetta debuts next year.
Noteworthy: In addition to base 2.5-liter gasoline and 2.0-liter turbo-diesel engines, practical but rushed VW customers can also get the Jetta wagon with the GTI‘s wheel-spinning 2.0T. Fun and cargo room – what a combination!
On Sale: October
Base Price: $20,000 (est.)
Specs: 2.5L I-5, 170 hp, 177 lb-ft; 2.0L turbo-diesel I-4, 140 hp, 236 lb-ft; 2.0L turbo I-4, 200 hp, 207 lb-ft; front-wheel drive
New: The ‘s quicker brother debuts for ’10 with a supercharged V-6 in place of the last ‘s V-8. The V-6 loses the V-8’s big-bore burble and 7 hp, but Audi claims that the new car is about half a second quicker to 60 mph, allegedly scooting there in just 4.9 seconds. The forced-induction engine’s flat torque curve is only partly responsible for that impressive figure – a new seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox also helps improve acceleration by offering more ratios and no interruption in thrust during shifts. On the bad-news front, the S4 wagon won’t be available here – this S4 comes in sedan form only. There will also be no S4 cabriolet – it’s been supplanted by the droptop.
Noteworthy: Audi considers the S4 to be a competitor to the BMW 335i – so you can expect an even hotter RS4 sometime in the future to compete with BMW’s . The S4 is based on the new A4, which means it rides on Audi’s new platform that positions the engine closer to the front-axle centerline for better weight distribution. The engine is still mounted ahead of the front axle, though, so Audi has resorted to some trickery to clean up the handling. First up is a rear-biased all-wheel-drive system that nominally sends 60 percent of the power to the rear wheels. An optional sport rear differential can apportion torque between the rear wheels to help turn the car, reducing understeer. In addition to improved acceleration, the V-6 provides dramatically better fuel economy – the S4’s EPA combined rating of 21 mpg is an improvement of more than 30 percent over the V-8’s. In fact, it’s even more economical than the less powerful A4 3.2 Quattro.
On Sale: Now
Base Price: $46,725
Specs: 3.0L supercharged V-6, 333 hp, 325 lb-ft; 4-wheel drive
New: Audi‘s low-slung version of the VW Golf gets diesel power for 2010.
Noteworthy: Impressive cargo versatility and a luxurious interior have been squeezed into the A3‘s small package. The A3 was face-lifted for 2009, when the turbocharged four-cylinder became available with Quattro all-wheel drive. For 2010, the front-wheel-drive A3 receives an optional diesel engine, which promises more than 40 mpg on the highway.
On Sale: October
Base Price: $30,000 (est.)
Specs: 2.0L turbo-diesel I-4, 140 hp, 236 lb-ft; front-wheel drive
New: The long and elegant proportions of Audi‘s and S5 coupes have been begging for a convertible version, and here they are. Audi has remained faithful to cloth tops rather than joining the hardtop convertible frenzy. Why? Visual drama. Audi’s designers point out that cloth tops are more romantic and are less susceptible to the inelegant proportions that are sometimes an issue on cars with folding hard tops. Look at this beauty and try to disagree.
Noteworthy: The soft top gives the A5 a big trunk with folding rear seats and the ability to raise and lower the roof while moving. A5s receive engines and transmissions from elsewhere in Audi’s lineup, but the S5 gets Audi’s new supercharged 3.0T engine and a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic. Incidentally, the A5 coupe will soon receive the 2.0T, and this is the last year for the S5 coupe’s lusty, 354-hp V-8, so buy one now if you prefer its sound to that of the Hoover-esque 3.0T.
On Sale: October
Base Price: $42,000/$56,000 (A5/S5, est.)
Specs: 2.0L turbo I-4, 211 hp, 258 lb-ft; 3.2L V-6, 265 hp, 243 lb-ft; 3.0L supercharged V-6, 333 hp, 325 lb-ft; front- or 4-wheel drive
JAGUAR and LAND ROVER rewarded Tata, their new Indian owner, with more than $500 million in losses in the first ten months of ownership. to shore up the bottom line, Tata is banking on a freshened lineup from Land Rover, R versions of the XK and the , and, most important, the new XJ.
New: An all-new body renders the first dramatic styling change in forty-one years.
Noteworthy: Jaguar’s redesigned XJ flagship sheds the iconic four round headlamps in favor of styling cues shared with the XF. The old 4.2-liter engines have been traded for 5.0-liter supercharged and normally aspirated V-8s. Jag’s rotating-dial selector controls a six-speed automatic. All XJs receive continuously variable dampers; supercharged models also include an electronically controlled rear differential. Traditional gauges have been replaced by a 12.3-inch screen that displays three virtual dials or menus. A glass roof is standard on all models, and an optional 1200-watt stereo pumps music through twenty speakers. A long-wheelbase model is available in every trim level and adds five inches of rear legroom. The pinnacle of the range is the Supersport, available only by custom order and featuring a leather headliner, premium leather seats, and laser-engraved veneers.
On sale: January
Base price range: $72,500-$115,000
Specs: 5.0L V-8, 385 hp, 380 lb-ft; 5.0L supercharged V-8, 470/510 hp, 424/461 lb-ft; rear-wheel drive
New: More displacement and power for the supercharged XFR and XKR.
Noteworthy: The new supercharged V-8 engine makes 90 hp more than the previous generation – all the while achieving more than 20 mpg on the highway and avoiding a gas-guzzler tax. The XKR comes in either coupe or convertible variants and adopts the rotating JaguarDrive shifter from the XF. Both vehicles come standard with an electronic limited-slip differential and variable dampening.
on sale: Now
xfr Base price: $80,000
xkr base price: $96,000/$102,000 (coupe/convertible)
Specs: 5.0L supercharged V-8, 510 hp, 461 lb-ft; rear-wheel drive
New: Subtle exterior and significant mechanical changes transform the LR3 into the LR4.
Noteworthy: The 4.4-liter V-8 engine is gone, and in its place is a new direct-injection 5.0-liter V-8 that produces 375 hp and 375 lb-ft of torque. Other highlights include larger brakes, upgraded suspension geometry, and revised dampers. The cabin boasts more soft-touch materials and an optional keyless ignition system.
On Sale: Now
Price: $48,000 (est.)
Specs: 5.0L V-8, 375 hp, 375 lb-ft; 4-wheel drive
New: Updated interior, exterior, and supercharged V-8.
Noteworthy: To create a richer-feeling environment, the interior has more leather, more padded surfaces, and new ambient lighting. The freshened exterior gets a squared-off grille, LEDs integrated into the headlights, new front fenders with restyled side vents, and a new front bumper. Supercharged models now boast 510 hp and 461 lb-ft of torque thanks to the larger 5.0-liter displacement, with which Land Rover predicts a 0-to-60-mph time of 5.9 seconds. A dynamic mode in the Response System tunes the steering effort, damper firmness, and throttle and shift mapping for spirited driving.
On Sale: Now
Price: $60,000/$75,000 (HSE/Supercharged, est.)
Specs: 5.0L V-8, 375 hp, 375 lb-ft; 5.0L supercharged V-8, 510 hp, 461 lb-ft; 4-wheel drive
New: A variety of upgrades aimed at improving the driving experience.
Noteworthy: Like the Range Rover Sport, the range-topping Rover is powered by either a 5.0-liter V-8 or a supercharged variant and gets upgraded brakes and active dampers. The Range Rover now has an optional full-leather interior, all-electronic instrumentation, and several new safety features, including active cruise control, automatic high beams, a blind-spot warning system, and precollision automatic braking. There are some minor changes to the exterior, too, including the integration of LEDs in the headlamps.
On Sale: Now
Base price: $79,275/$95,125 (HSE/Supercharged)
Specs: 5.0L V-8, 375 hp, 375 lb-ft; 5.0L supercharged V-8, 510 hp, 461 lb-ft; 4-wheel drive
The new DBS Volante brings the number of ASTON MARTIN cars to seven, if you count the superlow-volume one-77. That’s a mighty big lineup for a company that sold only about 1600 vehicles in america last year. The Rapide four-door will bring an eighth model and, Aston hopes, additional volume later in 2010.
First Drive: Aston Martin DBS Volante
By Basem Wasef
The Aston Martin DBS Volante takes 200 man hours to handbuild, 50 man hours to paint, and fourteen seconds to transform from fabric-roofed softtop to open-air roadster. Second in Aston’s lineup only to the $2 million One-77, the DBS Volante is the feeling man’s convertible, a sensual but muscular specimen for those who consider the Turbo cabriolet too brutish and the Ferrari F430 Spider too brash.
Aston Martin engineers accepted a modest NVH penalty by bolting the rear subframe solidly to the newly topless DBS’s extruded-aluminum chassis. Thus, this rolling assemblage of magnesium and carbon fiber addresses the road crisply, as we found during a blast through the bendy back roads of the Cotswolds. Eighty-five percent of the Aston’s mass rests between its two axles, enabling quick rotation – but the car’s largish dimensions still make it less tossable than the .
The cabin is a finely modulated soundscape of V-12 hum, barely perceptible wind noise, and 1000 watts of Bang & Olufsen audio that uses a feedback loop to adjust equalization with speed. The Volante’s supple, old-world interior feels married to the ivy-covered stonework blurring by – but some may find it too precious for the urban American jungle. Everyone will appreciate the adaptive suspension, though; push the button to stiffen the dampers, and the DBS becomes even more commensurate in spirit with its 510-hp, 48-valve, 5.9-liter powerplant.
Most DBS Volantes will come with a Touchtronic 2 automatic transmission, but we tested the manual. The cool-to-the-touch metal shifter gives the DBS a more manly edge, especially in contrast to those exquisite interior surfaces. Clutch takeup is a bit abrupt and throttle response rather sharp for a twelve-cylinder, but once at speed, this 4000-pound sled whooshes forward with silky certainty. The expressive tonality of the exhaust note is also seductive; punch the V-12 past 4000 rpm and hum morphs to snarl, pushing hard until the abrupt, 7000-rpm rev limiter.
Certainly not for everyone, the DBS Volante is a stately, open-air grand tourer in the exclusive segment where elegant lines meet excessive horsepower.
On sale: Now
Base price: $282,500/$286,500 (manual/automatic)
specs: 5.9L V-12, 510 hp, 420 lb-ft; rear-wheel drive
While PORSCHE desperately tries, and failed, to maintain its independence from Volkswagen, it marches headlong into new territory with the controversial but fun-to-drive Panamera sedan. At least there’s a broad range of sports cars to appease the faithful.
New: Porsche‘s first four-door car.
Noteworthy: Like the Cayenne SUV, the Panamera – the latest deviation from the sports car norm – combines extraordinary performance with a more functional form. It makes room for four with spacious, comfortable rear seats that can optionally be fitted with heating, ventilation, power adjustment, and lumbar support. The hatch opens to a cargo area that can triple in size by folding the rear seats flat. Despite the car’s four-door form, Porsche has stayed true to traditions with a five-dial gauge cluster, left-hand ignition, and a three-spoke steering wheel. Dynamics are managed by an array of active features including adjustable dampers and antiroll bars, stability control, and traction management for all-wheel-drive cars. Carbon-ceramic brakes and a Sport Chrono package that adds launch control are optional. The Porsche sedan bows with three trim levels, all powered by V-8 engines mated to seven-speed dual-clutch automatics. All Panameras are fitted with an automatic start/stop feature to save fuel at traffic lights; a hybrid is also in the works.
On sale: October
Base price: $90,700/$133,500 (S/Turbo)
Specs: 4.8L V-8, 400 hp, 369 lb-ft; 4.8L turbo V-8, 500 hp, 516 lb-ft; rear- or 4-wheel drive
Porsche 911 GT3
New: The second GT3 based on the 997-platform 911 boasts a bigger engine, stability control, and center-lock wheels. Oh, and optional magnetorheological engine mounts to mitigate wheel hop during aggressive launches.
Noteworthy: Everything, really. The GT3 is, arguably, the most visceral 911 of all fourteen models available. Careful upgrades help make this GT3 more drivable: 197 cc of extra displacement boosts low-end torque, stability control aids in keeping the GT3 aimed in the proper direction, and revised aerodynamics create real downforce to help keep the shiny side up. But don’t let that fool you – the GT3 has lost none of its hard-core responses or track-ready performance. It still uses a dry-sump motorsport engine and a special race-ready manual transmission. No automatics here, and no gimmicks, either: this is the driver’s 911, and it’s better than ever.
on sale: Now
base price: $113,150
Specs: 3.8L flat-6, 435 hp, 317 lb-ft; rear-wheel drive
LOTUS.The Evora is Lotus‘s first legitimate competitor to the Porsche 911 since the demise of the Esprit.
New: The freshest Lotus combines Elise dynamics with a mature mission in a Porsche-fighting package.
Noteworthy: The Evora is a more livable Lotus, designed with ride quality, comfort, and practicality in mind. Lotus has added weight and softened the suspension compared with the Elise, but the Evora is still a delight to drive. It rockets through corners, yet the ride over harsh roads is impressively isolated. The cabin is also more comfortable, since, you know, it has carpet. The Recaro front seats are covered in leather, and buyers can opt for conveniences like a navigation system and rear seats. Like the Elise, the Evora uses a Toyota-sourced engine, but this time it’s a V-6 from the . Both manual and automatic six-speed transmissions are available.
On sale: February
Base price: $70,000 (est.)
Specs: 3.5L V-6, 276 hp, 258 lb-ft; rear-wheel drive
SAAB.Saab officially became an independent Swedish car company again with its sale to sports car maker Koenigsegg, but for the foreseeable future it will still depend on General Motors. The upcoming new 9-5 and the 9-4X share platforms with Cadillac and Opel products and will be produced in GM factories. What happens after that is anyone’s guess.
VOLVO.Would you like to buy a Swedish car company? Ford is definitely interested in selling one. The well-received arrived earlier this year, but some older models, particularly the sedan, are well past their expiration dates.