Each year we get a selection of wondrous new vehicles that their proposers tell us are world-beating creations, the fastest, the most expensive, the most economical, the most beautiful, the most innovative, ad nauseam. And each year we see most of them are more of the same, truly of little interest to the automotive enthusiast...
More than one Automobile staff member voted for the Lexus LC 500 as our 2018 Design of the Year—it is the most stylish production Lexus since Erwin Lui’s seminal wet-plaster-in-a-rubber-balloon LS 400 of 1991. The concept design was de-scribed in some detail in our June 2016 issue, but it’s well worth taking a closer look at the production model—so close to the concept car presented at the 2016 Detroit show that any differences don’t greatly matter—to see why it’s not quite Design of the Year material.
If there is one thing all good car-body designers know, it is that proportion is king. Just as real estate agents insist that the three most important aspects of any given property are “location, location, location,” so “proportion” easily occupies the first half dozen or so vital points of a car design. Then and only then come line, surface development, and detailing. Get all of those matters properly organized and properly treated, and you might well have an all-time winner. Some examples: Jean Bugatti’s Type 55 roadster, Gordon Buehrig’s Cord 810/12 sedans, Pininfarina’s (and Giovanni Savonuzzi’s) Cisitalia 202 coupe, Bob Bourke’s 1953 Studebaker coupe, Erwin Komenda’s Porsche 911, Albrecht Graf Goertz’s BMW 507, Malcolm Sayer’s Jaguar E-type, Bill Mitchell’s ’60s Buick Riviera, Giorgetto Giugiaro’s VW Golf, and Marcello Gandini’s Lamborghini Miura.
The LC, even if not in that league, truly deserves an honorable mention. It’s a good design. It hits the proportions aspect of greatness almost perfectly, but it falls down a bit in matters of intersecting lines, conflicting discrete details, and that unique and definitely not beautiful oversized grille. Its interior brings us zero innovation, creation, or forward-looking imagination. But it’s extremely well-executed and far more interesting than earlier Toyota-Lexus designs.
The large air scoops ahead of the rear wheels look aggressive but feature no heat exchangers inside, and they do not direct cooling air toward the rear brakes or the differential. They simply reduce aerodynamic turbulence inside the wheel wells. The 45-degree slashes up the rear fascia seem a bit much for no purpose other than framing the license plate, and they clearly relate to no other lines or forms on the body.
The mere fact the LC’s proportions are satisfying, and the distribution of its volumes and the overall feel of the design please so many, is not enough for iconic status. It does, however, give us reason to hope for even better models yet to come. This and big boss Akio Toyoda’s commitment to better design is highly positive.
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More than one Automobile staff member voted for the Lexus LC 500 as our 2018 Design of the Year—it is the most stylish production Lexus since Erwin Lui’s seminal wet-plaster-in-a-rubber-balloon LS 400 of 1991. The concept design was de-scribed in some detail in our June 2016 issue, but it’s well worth taking a closer look...
The post 2018 Design of the Year Honorable Mention: Lexus LC 500 appeared first on Automobile Magazine.
This was a moderately good year for concept cars—from Detroit through Geneva, Frankfurt, and Tokyo—but when all was weighed and considered carefully, there remained only two show cars of real significance, Honda’s Urban EV (Frankfurt) and Sports EV (Tokyo). The pair and their underlying all-electric platform clearly have a future, which is at best only partly true for most concepts.
At Frankfurt, I really liked the Borgward Isabella concept designed by the protean ex-BMW creator Anders Warming, who was responsible for some of the best concepts of the Chris Bangle era and also helmed Mini design before joining the now Chinese-owned Borgward brand. But do I think there’s a big future for what is a very professional design? Not really.
Whenever there is a major change in approach to the way things are done, there is a tendency to ape the outgoing technology’s appearance in order to soften public reaction to the change.
I liked the Japanese Aspark Owl electric supercar at Frankfurt, too. It was a little messy in details but intriguing. Do I think we’ll ever see it again? Not really.
The Nissan IMX electric concept in Tokyo was quite nice and is intended for production three years from now (at least its mechanical-electrical platform is), with versions planned for Renault and Infiniti, as well. But does it show us anything new or important in style? Not really.
Toyota’s blunt, brutal box-shaped TJ Cruiser, another Tokyo unveiling, is almost certain to go into production without much variation from the show concept. But it’s very much in the line of previous Toyota “tough” trucks and civilized utility vehicles. Is it an important look at the industry’s future? Not really.
It’s impossible not to be impressed by the Mazda Vision Coupe’s fluidity of both surface and line, but do we think there will be a production version with smaller wheels and more reasonable cabin space—a rationally producible variation of the concept that retains the concept’s attractiveness? Not really.
There are endless versions of ultra-fabulous super-duper 80-to-240-mph sports cars that only some of the 1 percent can buy and only a hundredth of a percent of able buyers would be capable of driving at anywhere close to their performance potential. But do they mean anything to the future of the automobile, whether that be autonomous or completely driver controlled? Not really. And so it goes.
So what does matter? The Honda duo cited above, concepts released in Frankfurt in city-car form (evoking thoughts of the early VW Golf) and in sports-car form in Tokyo, represent a number of positive lines of development. They’re small, which we think is going to be vital in the next four or five years when petroleum prices rise as the U.S. dollar ceases to be the key currency in the oil business. They’re more functionally design-oriented than they are related to current overwrought styling trends, and they are conceived as electric cars from the start. That’s important.
Whenever there is a major change in approach to the way things are done, there is a tendency to ape the outgoing technology’s appearance in order to soften public reaction to the change. The last air-cooled Franklin cars in the ’30s had exceedingly handsome radiator grilles, but they didn’t have radiators. The first Tesla Model S sedans had painted simulacrum of radiator grilles (happily gone now). The Chrysler Airflow and Lincoln Zephyr cars conceived as droop-snoot aerodynamic shapes had tall hoods and artificial pointed grilles: the Chrysler after a year of production, the Lincoln before production began. Many electrified cars (VW Golf, Ford Focus, for example) completely conceal their mode of propulsion, and both the Renault Zoe and Nissan Leaf try fairly hard to look “normal.” The Hondas do not, and we see that as a very good thing. Honda designer Makoto Harada admits that the long hood of the sports model “is not rational, but it underlines the emotion, the driving pleasure one expects of such a car.” We say he’s definitely on the right track.
Many electrified cars completely conceal their mode of propulsion. both the Renault Zoe and Nissan Leaf try fairly hard to look “normal.”
Back in late 1983 Honda surprised the world with a completely new third-generation Civic line, including the near-sports-car CRX, a formal four-door sedan, and the proto-CUV Shuttle wagon. It was a terrific move, and we anticipate other models in this EV series by the time production begins.
The aesthetics are a bit unusual, with a very flat roof on both models with very little arc front to rear, extremely simple surfaces, and a black panel that, yes, simulates a grille to some extent, with the prominent round headlamps incorporated within its perimeter. Although I was not completely on board with the simple design at the Frankfurt show, I was amazed to see a few months later that of the 44 photos I took at the show, more than a quarter were of the Urban EV—telling me after the fact that I was more impressed than I’d thought. Many design colleagues said it was their favorite concept in Germany, a position shared by other Automobile staffers present.
And the Sports EV at Tokyo sealed the deal. This ten-tative new model range from Honda is the Concept of the Year. Really.
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This was a moderately good year for concept cars—from Detroit through Geneva, Frankfurt, and Tokyo—but when all was weighed and considered carefully, there remained only two show cars of real significance, Honda’s Urban EV (Frankfurt) and Sports EV (Tokyo). The pair and their underlying all-electric platform clearly have a future, which is at best only...
The post 2018 Concept of the Year: Honda Sports EV and Urban EV appeared first on Automobile Magazine.
We talked with Franz von Holzhausen, Tesla’s chief designer, about the Model 3, his third Tesla car, and briefly about the Tesla truck and the new Roadster II—a surprise during the truck unveiling late last year. Von Holzhausen, a born American despite his Teutonic-sounding name, has deep industry experience, having created the Pontiac Solstice and heading Mazda design in California before being headhunted by Musk for Tesla. He is familiar with his company’s products, owning one of each model. “My kids love the Model X, especially the falcon-wing doors,” he says. “They’re 5 and 3 years old and think it’s fun.”
Automobile Magazine: What was the design brief for the Model 3?
Franz von Holzhausen: It was essentially customer-driven. They saw the Model S as a great car, but there was a desire for something 10 to 20 percent smaller, BMW 3 Series or Audi A4 size. We thought the $35,000 price point would work. We wanted five seats, more interior space, and to keep the fastback silhouette.
AM: What was the timeline on the project?
FVH: From initial sketches to production launch was about two years. We made three prototypes, two of them operating vehicles. Once the mission was defined, our orders were to hurry.
AM: But you were late in terms of the announced dates.
FVH: We’re actually pretty close to the dates initially announced.
AM: What’s particularly special about the Model 3?
FVH: To keep the fastback profile, we eliminated the liftgate and used a normal trunklid. To keep a faster profile, we moved the structure ahead, to make sure the [head impact criteria] were all met. The big backlight is something we had experience with on the Model X windshield.
AM: What else did you bring forward from the S and X?
FVH: For instance, we knew that flush door handles were important, but we simplified the mechanism, so they are not as costly. We kept good aerodynamics for range as well as to make the car sporty. Not silliness, just clean and sporty.
AM: The $35,000 price point is exciting, but your own car you let us drive is more like $55,000.
FVH: Yes, with the premium interior package and 15-speaker audio system, 19-inch wheels, and other options, the price is higher, but the base cars will be really nice without any options.
AM: When did you decide to totally eliminate the grille and front trim?
FVH: That was a long time coming. We made the early cars less distinct from rivals but slowly came to this solution of how to keep a premium sports feel friendlier and happier than the luxury S. We changed that car, too, modifying 200 to 300 parts when the S was restyled without the painted “shield.”
We talked with Franz von Holzhausen, Tesla’s chief designer, about the Model 3, his third Tesla car, and briefly about the Tesla truck and the new Roadster II—a surprise during the truck unveiling late last year. Von Holzhausen, a born American despite his Teutonic-sounding name, has deep industry experience, having created the Pontiac Solstice and...
Our selection of the Tesla Model 3 as Automobile’s 2018 Design of the Year might come as a surprise, given some of the shots the company has absorbed when it comes to its unreal stock market valuation and founder Elon Musk’s penchant for overpromising. Yes, the Model 3s on the road now have been cobbled up with a lot of handwork making up for deficient manufacturing experience and skills. But ignore the commercial drama and the commentary from the Musk haters and naysayers and take a good look at the car itself. It’s neither spectacular nor shockingly innovative. It’s just a really nice-looking, clean design that is instantly acceptable, despite the total absence of a traditional grille or representation of the same—as seen on the first Tesla sedans. The Model 3 is quite evidently an electric car, and its designers made no effort to disguise that fact.
Musk said the cabin would be “like a spaceship.” That has turned out happily to be inaccurate, at least if we compare it to the orbital craft we’ve seen so far.
For several years now I’ve said the Tesla Model S is the best sedan I’ve ever driven. That’s no longer true. It’s not that I found recent Mercedes-Benz S-Class or Rolls-Royce sedans superior. Rather, I’ve done a few miles in the Model 3, which now holds the title of best four-door I’ve ever driven. Whatever the price point, heritage, styling, reputation, or prestige of its rivals, the Model 3 is quieter and quicker, and it rides better than anything else we might have considered for our Design of the Year award. And as a plus, it’s a much handier size than the Model S, far more practical for daily use in cities and suburbs.
For the Model 3 to succeed, Tesla must build it in large numbers out of sheet steel, not the aluminum used for the Models S and X. That’s no special trick for any of the traditional carmakers, and although some of Tesla’s executives do have extensive experience in the traditional “tin box” industry, it’s all new for the factory team as a group. To build this car in big numbers at a profit requires a lot of advanced robotic operations that are, to date, not working as planned or as they should. But we believe those problems will not hold them back for a long time, as long as the company doesn’t run out of money.
Ultimately, none of this has anything to do with the virtues of this BMW 3 Series-sized car. It has a longer wheelbase, more perceived cabin volume, and a better, flatter, and more comfortable ride, and it’s a lot faster than most variations of the German car that has been the class standard for decades. The optional two-piece glass roof enhances the sense of space for up to five occupants, as does the ultra-simple transverse panel in front of the driver and passenger, punctuated by a huge screen in the exact center of the car. But that positioning does not mean a driver must turn his or her head to see vital driving data. A year ago when the car was first revealed without an interior we could see, Musk said the cabin would be “like a spaceship.” That has turned out happily to be inaccurate, at least if we compare it to the orbital craft we’ve seen so far. The cabin’s style and presentation is more modern Scandinavian than Soyuz, and it’s inviting.
The front seats are comfortable, as are the two outer rear seats, but the center one accommodates only a small person. I sat in the outer back seat and found headroom excellent, but I did not ride there. Given the very flat ride, even better than the Model S, the weight of the batteries in the floor and the car’s lack of body roll, I’m inclined to believe the Model 3 will be perceived as a kind of magic carpet for four adults, not five. Still, that narrow person in the middle of the back seat will benefit from the high comfort level as well. And everyone benefits from the exceptionally agreeable interior ambience.
In semi-autonomous mode already available on all Tesla products, the car will, if cruise control is engaged, slow to a new speed limit by itself. It’s slightly disconcerting but quite easy to come to terms with. The same is true of its regenerative braking. All recent electric cars I’ve driven offer the driver a choice, a setting in which the car will slow down at about the same rate as a normal automatic-equipped car when you lift your foot off the accelerator and another mode in which the accelerator is almost the only pedal you need touch. You modulate the rate of retardation by the speed of lifting your foot, and in well-judged situations bring the car to a halt before touching the brake pedal to hold it in one spot. This solution is much more energy-efficient than letting the car feel more like a conventional vehicle. Tesla has an optional “creep” function that allows the car to move slowly if the brake pedal is released.
The Model 3 reminds us of classic Pininfarina designs of the 1960s: simple and straight-forward, perfectly proportioned with minimal extraneous detailing.
The Model 3 is not luxurious in an ostentatious, opulent sense. It’s much like the classic Eames chair or the deceptive simplicity of Apple products: Function is embodied in a minimalist manner, providing elegant simplicity rather than some “plain pipe rack” aesthetic like the original Citro
Our selection of the Tesla Model 3 as Automobile’s 2018 Design of the Year might come as a surprise, given some of the shots the company has absorbed when it comes to its unreal stock market valuation and founder Elon Musk’s penchant for overpromising. Yes, the Model 3s on the road now have been cobbled...
The danger with an exercise such as this annual shakedown — aside from driving off a mountain face, careening into a 12-point buck as it sprints from the underbrush (almost happened), or spinning off the track into an unprotected wall — is that it’s all too easy to become infatuated with big money, big horsepower, almost impossibly aspirational items. So it speaks well of this year’s winning class that it spans an impressively diverse range, from a Japanese technological tour de force (admittedly a pricey proposition out of our personal reach) to a practical, all-electric American offering to a sub-$25,000 compact mainstay, not to mention two decidedly different apex stalkers from Germany and a refreshingly original and elegant Scandinavian.
The voting was closer than in many years past, but in the end none of our crew disputed the results with much vigor. The six winners proved over the course of a week that they are undoubtedly special. These, then, are the 2017 Automobile All-Stars.
A Force for Good: Acura’s supercar delights with its tech-friendly approach
Despite its Rube Goldberg-like drivetrain and bogglingly complex electronics, the Acura NSX earned its All-Star status the old-fashioned way: by consistently putting a grin on drivers’ faces. The prevailing concern regarding Acura’s techy two-seater was that 21st century overthinking and automation would diminish the basic joys of turning a wheel and hugging a curve. The NSX’s myriad computers, motors, and clutches certainly make that threat more possible.
But Acura’s flagship delighted on both public roads and race circuit because it defies its 3,803-pound curb weight by conducting its three electric motors and longitudinally mounted, twin-turbo V-6 so they work together harmoniously. That inscrutably satisfying sensation is difficult to achieve at any level, let alone in a car intended to challenge superstars (and past All-Star winners) such as the McLaren 570S, which is priced tantalizingly close to our NSX tester’s $199,200 sticker.
With its glued-to-tarmac handling and effortless acceleration, the NSX devoured the winding stretches of Deer Creek Road on Mount Charleston, seemingly defying physics as it sorted corners. But it also delivered in the most demanding setting: the racetrack. “The surprise of the week for me and a huge sigh of relief,” features editor Rory Jurnecka said. “The NSX isn’t all whirring motors and butt-saving technology. There’s a real driver’s car in there.” Online editor Ed Tahaney raved about it. “The mid-engine marvel can make a track star out of almost anyone with its ridiculous precision, handling, and sporty grace,” he said. Although the NSX leaps when prodded, it also has an understated side. “I like the Quiet mode and ridiculous economy,” contributor Andy Pilgrim remarked. “I got 33 mpg on one 35-mile drive, including stop-and-go rush hour.”
Despite its aspirational target demographic, the NSX’s whiz-bang technology begged comparison to the other supercar contender from Japan, the Nissan GT-R. “Think less Ferrari, more GT-R in a tailored suit,” suggested daily news editor Conner Golden. “No-drama Acura,” added Detroit bureau chief Todd Lassa. “Like the GT-R, far more digital than analog and only two pedals but conversely, it’s quick, smooth, and steady around corners instead of the Nissan’s point-and-shoot digital nervousness.” Its semisensible functionality and easy-chairlike usability flow with its capable athleticism, inspiring contributing writer Nelson Ireson to observe, “The NSX spans a breadth of performance, from quiet daily commuting to raucous weekend track work, that few if any supercars can match.”
Although its elevated dynamics inspired us, the NSX’s mystique remains debatable. “A great car, no doubt,” automotive design editor Robert Cumberford said. “But distressingly disappointing in beauty and ferociously high-priced.” Senior digital editor Kirill Ougarov called the NSX a true All-Star with a “brilliant drive, smart interior, and distinct styling.” But, he also suggested, “Badge snobbery is real, and I don’t know too many people outside of hardcore enthusiasts who would pay almost $200,000 for an Acura just because it drives well. The original NSX was a success in part because it offered Ferrari looks and driving ability for a lower price with Honda reliability.” Putting that thought in perspective, Ougarov added, “Ferrari reliability is no longer a joke, and a 488 GTB is only $50,000 away, as is the Lamborghini Hurac
The danger with an exercise such as this annual shakedown — aside from driving off a mountain face, careening into a 12-point buck as it sprints from the underbrush (almost happened), or spinning off the track into an unprotected wall — is that it’s all too easy to become infatuated with big money, big horsepower,...
It’s not easy to win an Automobile All-Stars award. This year, we bestowed the honor upon just six of the 23 invitees to our annual showdown. But the remaining 17 contenders all deserve praise. Of the dozens upon dozens of new cars brought to market in 2016, they were the few strong enough for our vehicular rumble. Applause, then, for these competitors, several of which came oh so close to claiming a piece of our hardware.
The Bentley Bentayga weighs nearly 3 tons, but behind its cetaceous muzzle is a twin-turbo, 600-hp, 6.0-liter twin-turbo W-12. When the Bentayga needs to outrun a harpoon, it lifts its muzzle, makes a great bellow, and delivers terrifying acceleration. Not even the utmost Porsche Cayenne prepared us for an SUV such as this. “How does it go through corners without a wisp of understeer?” asked associate editor Jonathon Klein. Lots of electronics at work is how. So, relax. In fact, three days and nights in the belly of this beast would be no hardship whatsoever. “This is arguably the best luxury vehicle on the planet, regardless of segment,” editor-in-chief Mike Floyd said. The Imperial Blue interior of our test vehicle was shockingly posh. The quilted leather upholstery and brilliant, gleaming bezels imparted a clubby, Pall Mall exclusivity, reminding us how a character in a 17th century comedy said, “I am the worst man in the world at repenting, till a sin be thoroughly done.” – Ronald Ahrens
“Since 1996, the A4 has been one of Germany’s best cars, and it still is,” remarked contributor Steven Cole Smith after a run through our All-Stars test loop in Audi’s compact sedan. Other judges were split on how much fun the A4 was to hustle on winding back roads, but the Audi garnered nearly unanimous praise for its tech-laden interior and luxury appointments, which outclass many competitors in this space. Unfortunately, nearly all present also thought the Audi’s styling is about as unique as a chocolate-chip cookie and not nearly as tasty. In the end, despite its light, nimble feel on the road and a powertrain that won attractors for its smoothness and power, the Audi just didn’t spark any passion in the majority of our judges. Automotive design editor Robert Cumberford summed it up best: “Fast, stable, impressive in a lot of ways but overall left me indifferent.” – Rory Jurnecka
Toyota Prius Prime
Among all the haute metal in attendance, the red Prius Prime stuck out, for better or worse. Everything about the regular redesigned Prius is still there, including a surprisingly stout chassis, but so are new concerns. Despite a beefier 8.8-kWh battery pack that returns 22 miles of electric-only range, the Prime feels sluggish and required a heavy right foot to navigate our high-altitude test environment. Inside it’s loud, plasticky, and oddly styled. The pinched front fascia and excessively busy styling didn’t yield many fans, either. Still, the updated chassis and plug-in drivetrain show Toyota isn’t married to the “who cares; they’ll buy it anyway” mentality. “Once you get over the Prius stigma, the Prime is actually a pleasant place to motor, despite its exceedingly techy overtones and overwrought styling,” contributor Basem Wasef said. Competitors have caught up to — and in some cases surpassed — the Japanese behemoth, but Toyota deserves credit for defining this format. – Conner Golden
Nissan GT-R Nismo
If performance alone was the criteria for becoming an All-Stars winner, the GT-R Nismo was a shoo-in. “Holy hell, is this thing fast,” contributor Nelson Ireson said. Wasef added, “The Nismo’s ability to launch out of corners is downright breathtaking.” The GT-R received a slight redesign, interior upgrades, and increased sound deadening for 2017, and the changes carried over to the new Nismo. They’ve made the car more refined on the road than before, but age and dated looks ultimately hurt the car in the overall standings. “Old and feels it,” Ireson noted. Contributor Ronald Ahrens went as far as to say, “The Nismo looks like someone’s project car.” Price is not a strong deciding factor when it comes to All-Stars, but $175,000 also raised some eyebrows. Still, we could muscle it through the track’s tight sections at obscene speeds. There are still plenty of reasons to buy a GT-R. – Andy Pilgrim
While not exactly groundbreaking, Cadillac’s SRX replacement has its high points, including a comfortable cockpit, an epic, ultra-view sunroof, and a cool rearview-mirror camera. Under hood, the XT5 is motivated by a version of GM’s 3.6-liter V-6 delivering 310 hp and 271 lb-ft of torque, paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission. Its headlights resemble flaming flamingo heads at first glance, and from the side the door handles are staggered and follow a slanted line to its taillights. One editor described the crossover Caddy as “pleasant and practical, in an attractive package.” Cumberford disagreed about the $69,895 Platinum model we tested: “I found it uninteresting. I don’t think they’re there yet.” Features editor Rory Jurnecka said, “Not overwhelmed. Lethargic powertrain and dated feeling interior.” We also disliked shifting the XT5 into gear, as its push-button shifter feels like operating a worn-out 1980s arcade joystick. – Ed Tahaney
Renaming Chrysler’s people-hauler was a good idea as long as the tried-and-true hardware was repackaged inside this sleek new body. Although it’s 69.9 inches tall, a slight increase over the discontinued Town & Country, the Pacifica seems to have a low profile and evinces an aspect that’s as urbane as Jerry Seinfeld’s wit. “It has a wonderful interior layout—maybe the best of the All-Stars contenders for accessibility of controls,” daily news editor Conner Golden said. With scrumptious, coffee-colored upholstery and trim, this test vehicle was thoroughly pleasant and could be pressed into duty as a lounging area when the house gets overcrowded. Despite the body shell’s large apertures, this is a stiff structure. The atmosphere is as hushed inside as the barrel-vaulted lobby of Detroit’s splendid Guardian Building. The Pacifica’s 3.6-liter V-6 produces 287 hp — ridiculous for a minivan and plenty enough for this 4,330-pounder to scoot up and down a mountain road at an engaging clip. But steadiness and stability rather than sportiness characterize its road manners. How pleasing it would be to take the Pacifica on a long trip. – Ronald Ahrens
New to the luxury SUV fray, the F-Pace has an oddly unresolved feeling. Is it going for comfort or performance? Does it want to be a Lexus RX or a Porsche Macan? Its body has the right proportions, yet the tidy looks are more Mary Ann than Ginger. Doors slam with flimsy irresolution, and dynamic responses are also neither/nor. At first blush, the steering is light, brake pedal soft, and suspension underdamped. The 22-inch wheels suggest monster-truck intentions, but the F-Pace is tipsy and wobbly on just one slug of whatever fuels the Grave Digger. Slapped in the face, though, it sobers up and performs smartly. The same conflict is evident inside the cabin. It’s utterly conventional, yet the trimmings are quite nice throughout. This one had a plush headliner and wrapped pillars, a fine dashboard covering, and pleasant leather-upholstered seats with perforated inserts. The second row, however, was none too roomy. We think of the F-Pace as a territory that just received national status and will figure out a strong identity as it matures. – Ronald Ahrens
Aston Martin DB11
Holy smokes! Aston Martin’s new DB11 is outrageous. Half the citizenry will condemn it. The other half will beg for a ride and forever boast of the experience. They will also say, “You wouldn’t believe how insanely small the back seat is in this $215,000 car.” Yes, the DB11 is truly singular. Fender creases hark back to the DBR1, but the arching roofline is starkly modern. The car doesn’t always inspire confidence, however, especially in the chilly temperatures we encountered. “The DB11 was terrifyingly unpredictable. Too soft in the hardest setting and too twitchy. It frayed my nerves on the track,” said Golden, who echoed the sentiments of many. The quilted headliner matched the seat inserts’ flowing pattern. The satin-finish, chopped-carbon inlays fixed in place on the dash and doors were likely crafted on Jupiter’s moon Titan. We fired up the twin-turbo, 600-hp, 5.2-liter V-12, stomped the pedal, and survived monstrous acceleration in combination with the car’s harrowing inclination to oversteer out of the turns. Not long ago, some outlets had Aston Martin headed nowhere in new product development. The DB11 scuttles that argument.– Ronald Ahrens
It’s unlikely you’ll take your Infiniti Q60 on the track, but this is a fast sports coupe, so no apologies for thrashing it on the circuit. Infiniti probably wishes we hadn’t. “Properly quick, but the phone number the Q60’s electronic steering dialed has been disconnected,” senior editor for digital Kirill Ougarov said. “The fact it fried its brakes reinforces the notion that hardcore enthusiasts will find Infiniti’s overall package lacking in the left-seat department,” Wasef said. Yes, it’s bigger and heavier than a proper sporty car, but bigger and heavier cars didn’t let us down at the limit. Part of the issue — and a big reason it torched its brakes: The Q60 won’t allow its stability control system to be fully disabled. Infiniti got the styling right, but did that have to come at the expense of some of the mechanicals? The engine drew praise, as did the interior and the supportive seats. When driven at a back-road-appropriate 80 percent, the Q60 feels pretty good. The closer you get to 100 percent, the more apt you are to shop for something else. – Steven Cole Smith
The Mercedes-Benz E300 was a genuine contender for All-Stars honors but fell just a bit short. One reason why is the capable but unmemorable 2.0-liter engine. Several argued the overall car is quite good, but there’s something missing from the turbo-four. The busy nine-speed automatic does its best to maximize the available 241 horses but doesn’t quite make it fun. Otherwise, complaints were mild: “Baby S-Class? Eh, not yet. But it’s damn close,” noted Klein. “Nothing really blows you away about the E300, but it’s a lovely car to spend time in,” contributor Marc Noordeloos said. This less-is-more Mercedes — and its less-than-intuitive controls — is just fine for the average customer but likely a letdown for the enthusiast. The E400? That might have been a different story, and the AMG E43 almost certainly would have been. But we suspect Mercedes will cry about the consumer-savvy E300 all the way to the bank. – SCS
Despite its generic styling, weird shift knob, and short sunroof, the 2017 Genesis G90 is one smooth luxury sedan. Body roll? You bet. The soft suspension and handling is reminiscent of a mid-1980s Buick or Chrysler. “The Koreans have made a very nice Detroit car that Detroit can’t or won’t make,” Cumberford noted. Under the hood, there’s a 3.3-liter, twin-turbo V-6 with 365 hp and 376 lb-ft of torque, all mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. The $69,050, four-door Caddy killer is good, but we still dislike its cheesy theme music and jingle at startup and shutdown — a trendy contrivance that needs to end. That said, “It’s tuned right with a cushy ride, La-Z-Boy-style seats, and a relaxed, classy vibe,” Jurnecka noted. It’s hard not to think of the pop band of the same name while sitting behind the wheel of the Genesis, but this solo brand is still more Mike and the Mechanics than Phil Collins or Peter Gabriel — for now. – ET
The Levante may have been the oddest duck in this All-Stars class. Bentley claimed the “How much is too much?” title by just showing up, but the Levante answered a question we’ve never heard anyone ask: Why doesn’t Maserati build a 2-ton-plus SUV? The interior is full of new ideas, some of which actually work, and the exterior is handsome. And yet: “I didn’t feel very engaged with this Levante, only that I was in something new and different and vaguely Italian,” observed Jurnecka. But then Golden said, “Really didn’t expect to like the Levante as much as I did. Power is great, and so is the steering. I’m not entirely sold on the styling, but I think it works.” The Ferrari-derived engine is a masterpiece, a fantastic-sounding V-6. Handling is good up to the point where tires and suspension no longer mask the weight. “Handled well, showing me mild understeer, but tossable to the point you can toss an SUV,” reported contributor Andy Pilgrim. Interesting at worst, useful and unique at best, in the end it’s an SUV, which means it could double Maserati sales, admittedly a low bar to clear. – SCS
Challenging the mighty BMW 3 Series and Audi A4 is a bold move indeed, but the Jaguar XE surprised us with its nuanced steering feel, composed chassis, and harmonious road manners. Although those strengths make it a surprisingly satisfying driver’s car, the XE lags in more subjective areas: character and charisma. Despite its eminent composure and finely tuned suspension, it seems Jaguar’s engineers enjoyed freer rein than its designers, an imbalance that left much of the Automobile team cold. Despite calling it a “nice car, good to drive, decent looking,” Cumberford added, “no real panache, no compelling reason to want one.” But as executive editor Mac Morrison noted: “I was unprepared for how much fun the XE is on the track, legitimately rotating easily into corners when I expected boring understeer.” Despite its competent dynamics, this German-like sports sedan lacked that certain je ne sais quoi we’ve come to expect from the leaping cat. Though the XE is an engaging driver and refreshing departure from the usual sport- sedan suspects, it doesn’t quite
sit on the All-Stars summit. – Basem Wasef
The new Continental won our nonexistent Most Polarizing Vehicle of All-Stars award, with our crew divided and vehement in its opinions. Not every car must be a performance prodigy to be a good car, but still the majority sided with comments such as: “The Continental nameplate requires a strong effort, especially after a nearly 15-year absence from the market. This was less than Ford/Lincoln’s best.” Much of the criticism came from the design changes made to the production car compared to the stunning Continental concept, which debuted at the 2015 New York auto show. And despite finding the driving experience more enjoyable than expected, many found it difficult to wrap their brains around this all-wheel-drive Reserve model’s final price of $70,900, including $14,060 in luxury options. But this Continental possessed several redeeming qualities, including exceptional seats, siesta-inducing ride comfort, a strong 400-hp V-6 with 400 lb-ft of torque, and an interior that is “better than what Cadillac does, even if it appears a bit too over the top.” – Mac Morrison
Ford Focus RS
Like its sedan cousin from Lincoln, Ford’s newest hot hatch was one of the most divisive cars at this year’s All-Stars gathering. A run down the spec sheet reveals a car that all of our enthusiast judges should have loved: a punchy, turbocharged engine; performance-tuned all-wheel-drive handling; an honest-to-goodness six-speed manual gearbox; and a button that puts the car’s stability control into Drift mode. Drift mode, for crying out loud! As it turned out, as much as most of us wanted to love the RS, the car’s brilliant back-road and on-track dynamics couldn’t justify the lackluster interior, high price, and downright uncompromising freeway ride. As contributor Michael Jordan noted, Ford tuned the Focus RS “to within an inch of its life. The truth is, Americans need more everyday comfort and utility in their cars than this Euro-bred hot rod can deliver.” Fortunately, there’s still the sensational, less aggressive, and less expensive Focus ST, which many judges admitted they would take in a heartbeat over the weapons-grade RS. – RJ
Sometimes being best isn’t good enough. “Mazda’s full-size SUV is stylish, capable, frugal in terms of fuel economy and cost, and comfortable even on long drives,” one staffer said. But the CX-9 didn’t quite make the cut as an All-Star. Maybe another comment explains why: “Good car. No obvious reason to choose it over another, which is Mazda’s perpetual problem. It doesn’t always get buyer consideration, even when the product is a bit above more commercially successful competitors.” Many of us liked the well-finished and easy-driving big box, but it didn’t always feel as good as it should “The turbocharged engine feels mismatched here.” On the other hand, another said: “With just four cylinders hauling all of that tall wagon body around, I expected the CX-9 to be a snore, even if it had the dynamics Mazda is deservedly known for. But the four-banger surprised me, with reasonable pep for a big people-mover. The interior is both handsome and surprisingly premium, with spacious second- and third-row seats.” In the end, the CX-9 just didn’t move the needle quite enough to earn it our ultimate accolade. – Robert Cumberford
Cadillac CT6 3.0TT
In the executive-sedan segment, perhaps nothing created as big a stir as the new CT6 did last year. It’s Caddy’s way of moving rapidly toward the future, and it’s a success, mostly. Give credit to the sharp styling and powerful 3.0-liter twin-turbo V-6 engine, putting down an impressive 400 hp. Its straight-line speed and surprising agility puts it toe to toe with any direct competitor not flaunting an AMG or RS badge, while still retaining the fantastic comfort befitting of the Cadillac crest. “The chassis is excellent. This is a car you don’t buy as a sport sedan, but when you find yourself on a twisty mountain road, you’re not going to embarrass yourself,” Detroit bureau chief Todd Lassa said. Conversely, “The CT6 is the Cadillac to get, hands down. It’s a well-executed, roomy sport sedan,” Floyd said. The CT6 impressed, but the price left us a little worried. An $80,000-plus bill for a Cadillac might be a hard sell for buyers used to ever-capable Germans. The CT6 is a good car, but we can’t wait to see what Cadillac brings to the table in the near future. – CG
It’s not easy to win an Automobile All-Stars award. This year, we bestowed the honor upon just six of the 23 invitees to our annual showdown. But the remaining 17 contenders all deserve praise. Of the dozens upon dozens of new cars brought to market in 2016, they were the few strong enough for our...
When we sit down to decide which vehicles we will invite to compete for our annual All-Stars awards, we have one goal: Bring only the best. We chose 23 vehicles to attend our 2017 edition, representing a broad spectrum of the market — everything from the extraordinary $276,040 Bentley Bentayga to Honda’s frisky $22,135 Civic Hatchback. No price caps, no defined niches, just the models we think are among the most representative of our ethos, the No Boring Cars brigade with All-Stars potential. Just being invited to the event means they are special.
As regular readers know, we’ve also adjusted our eligibility guidelines to keep the field to vehicles on sale in the previous calendar year. So the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, Lexus LC 500, and Alfa Romeo Giulia — cars you have already seen on these pages — just missed the cut. Next year.
One of the key factors we take into account when choosing contenders is what a vehicle means in the context of the overall automotive landscape. Take the Toyota Prius Prime, for example. Although we can probably all agree the Prius isn’t exactly exciting to drive, it has come to define hybrid vehicles. It changed how people look at electrified cars and established Toyota as a pre-eminent player in the space. We wanted to understand if the Prime, Toyota’s latest plug-in hybrid version of the Prius, moved the car into another stratosphere. If that was the case, then it would warrant consideration as an All-Star. Not every vehicle we invite has to rocket from 0 to 60 mph in less than 5 seconds or be capable of crushing a race circuit to be in the running.
Given that many of the competitors aren’t track rats, we wanted to ensure our program allowed for even more on-road evaluation than before. Our location this year? Fabulous Las Vegas! With Sin City as our base of operations, our first port of call was Mount Charleston west of the Strip. We staged at the Resort at Mount Charleston, a cool little hotel near the ski slopes. From there, we drove each competitor on a glorious, curvaceous stretch of Nevada’s Highway 158 that crests at more than 8,400 feet. It was a stern test that allowed for in-depth examinations of steering and suspension feel, as well as power under hard acceleration going up and braking going down. And, of course, we also evaluated each vehicle’s interior setup, tech and safety features, and more.
After two days on the mountain, action shifted to the track, specifically Speedvegas, a slick new facility just a few miles south of the heart of the Vegas Strip. (Unfortunately, after our visit, Speedvegas experienced a crash that claimed two lives. An investigation into the incident is ongoing.) On the 1.5-mile circuit, we got the measure of performance-oriented machines such as the Aston Martin DB11, Nissan GT-R Nismo, Ford Focus RS, and others.
Once we had our fill of the go-fast set, it was time to cast the ballots. I’m particularly proud of the team we assembled this year: 19 voters representing a wide swath of experience and ages. From our esteemed automotive design editor Robert Cumberford, who has attended just about every All-Stars event in Automobile’s 31-year history, to championship-winning race driver Andy Pilgrim to newly hired editor Ed Tahaney, the opinions varied widely, and all were extremely passionate.
With the final votes tallied, the six winners, shot at the unbelievably scenic moonscape of Nevada’s Valley of Fire State Park northeast of Vegas, were the clear-cut top vote getters, with the NSX garnering the most. It came as no surprise. As I outlined in my March column, the NSX is one of the most accessible supercars of this era and allows even the most inexperienced drivers to comfortably push their limits. What did come as a bit of a shock (sorry) is the Chevy Bolt EV. It doesn’t look like much at first glance, but it blew away most editors with its range and overall capability. The close-but-no-cigar crew included two excellent sedans, the Mercedes-Benz E-Class and the Genesis G90, and the hyper luxurious Bentayga. Each contender received at least one winning vote, which speaks to the quality of vehicles on hand and to the diversity of editor opinions.
We know how fortunate we are to be able to spend the better part of a week ripping around in some of the world’s best cars, and though we have a little fun along the way, we never take lightly the importance of seriously and fairly assessing all of them. We hope you enjoy it, and, as always, let us know your thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org.
When we sit down to decide which vehicles we will invite to compete for our annual All-Stars awards, we have one goal: Bring only the best. We chose 23 vehicles to attend our 2017 edition, representing a broad spectrum of the market — everything from the extraordinary $276,040 Bentley Bentayga to Honda’s frisky $22,135 Civic...
The proliferation of private racetracks has been swell for supercar owners but irrelevant for everyday enthusiasts who dream of caning high-dollar exotics far from the specter of law enforcement. The present world order makes Speedvegas, the site of our 2017 All-Stars track test, a dream destination for the automotive 99 percent.
With a fleet of blue-chip exotics including an Audi R8, Ferrari 458, Lamborghini Hurac
You Too Can Live it up at Speedvegas, Scene of our 2017 All-Stars Track Running
The proliferation of private racetracks has been swell for supercar owners but irrelevant for everyday enthusiasts who dream of caning high-dollar exotics far from the specter of law enforcement. The present world order makes Speedvegas, the site of our 2017 All-Stars track test, a dream destination for the automotive 99 percent. With a fleet of...
The post You Too Can Live it up at Speedvegas, Scene of our 2017 All-Stars Track Running appeared first on Automobile Magazine.
It’s not easy to win an Automobile All-Stars trophy. This year, we invited 23 contenders to our annual showdown. Of the dozens upon dozens of new cars brought to market in 2016, they were the few we deemed strong enough to deserve a spot in our vehicular rumble with a chance to win a piece of our hardware.
This year’s lineup featured a diverse cast of sports cars, luxury SUVs and sedans, and conveyance appliances with price tags ranging from affordable to unobtainium, and engine outputs between putting and thundering from all manner of cylinder layouts, aspiration configurations, and electrification applications.
We’ll roll out the details on all the contenders over the next few days before we announce the winners of our 2017 Automobile All-Stars awards during the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance on Saturday, March 11 at 11 AM Eastern/8 AM Pacific.
|Acura NSX||Aston Martin DB11||Audi A4|
|Bentley Bentayga||BMW M2||Cadillac CT6|
|Cadillac XT5||Chevrolet Bolt||Chrysler Pacifica|
|Ford Focus RS||Genesis G90||Honda Civic|
|Infiniti Q60||Jaguar F-Pace||Jaguar XE|
|Lincoln Continental||Maserati Levante||Mazda CX-9|
|Mercedes-Benz E-Class||Nissan GT-R||Porsche 718 Cayman S|
|Toyota Prius Prime||Volvo S90|
It’s not easy to win an Automobile All-Stars trophy. This year, we invited 23 contenders to our annual showdown. Of the dozens upon dozens of new cars brought to market in 2016, they were the few we deemed strong enough to deserve a spot in our vehicular rumble with a chance to win a piece...
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