Driving auto news

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2015 Cadillac ATS Coupe

08/05/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: Coupes, Driving, Luxury

2015 Cadillac ATS Coupe

Save for a few years of its century-plus existence, Cadillac has offered its unique brand of American elegance in two-door, fixed-roof bodystyles. Most of these cars were big, floaty barges, of course, though its most recent offering was the wedge-shaped CTS Coupe. But whereas the CTS Coupe was a statement car - angular and severe, with somewhat limited appeal except to design snobs and provocateurs - the ATS Coupe represents a return to form for Cadillac, with a proper three-box (engine-cabin-trunk) body and a slightly lower price point that should broaden its appeal among a larger swath of the market.

Generally speaking, the 2015 ATS Coupe is a two-door version of the sporty ATS Sedan, though, surprisingly, the only common exterior components are the hood, headlamps, and sundry trim pieces on the front fascia (which features a slightly larger grille, a wider lower air intake, and the redesigned, laurel-less Cadillac crest). Even the mirrors are different. The body stretches 0.8 inches in length and 1.4 inches in width, the roof is 1.1 inches lower and the rear windscreen slopes at a flatter, sleeker angle. Interestingly, the windowsills are actually quite a bit lower, further slimming the car.

Thanks to its 0.8-inch wider front and rear wheel tracks as well as more tumblehome in the C-pillar area, the coupe sits lower and looks more planted than the ATS sedan, particularly from the rear three-quarter view. Filling the wheel wells is a family of slick 18x8-inch wheels, with 18x9-inchers coming on the rear axle of performance models. Even if all those changes haven't resulted in a wholly new look the way the CTS Coupe departs from its sedan progeny, the ATS two-door is a truly beautiful car that looks considerably better on the road than on a show stand. And for that, Cadillac deserves mighty praise.

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2015 Acura TLX

08/04/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: Sedans/Saloons, Acura, Driving, Luxury

2015 Acura TLX

Immediately after landing at Washington's Dulles airport, an Acura representative handed me the keys to a 2014 TSX with fewer than 180 miles on its clock. The four-cylinder engine started and I pointed its signature beak towards a destination in Middleburg, VA. It was a curious move by the Japanese automaker, especially considering that I had flown no less than 2,300 miles to drive the discontinued vehicle's ostensible successor, the all-new 2015 Acura TLX.

Yet spending a solid 40 minutes with a sparkling-new version of the outgoing model that still smelled showroom fresh, allowed me an opportunity to scrutinize the dropped sedan and remind myself why it had never really blown me away - it was good at doing many things, but truly great at doing none.

Time with the TSX also started me thinking about the Acura TL, the second model that the TLX will effectively replace. I have better memories of the slightly larger sedan, especially the SH-AWD 6MT trim - it's a solid driver's car - but it, too, fell short in areas where competitors, including the Audi A4, BMW 3 Series, Cadillac ATS, Lexus IS and Mercedes-Benz C-Class, excelled.

As I pulled up to the hotel a short while later, it became clear that Acura had some work to do. Its task over the next 48 hours would be to persuade me that its clean-sheet TLX was not only a worthy replacement for the TL and TSX, but a competitive player in this fiercely contested segment.

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2015 Ford F-Series Super Duty Power Stroke

07/29/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: Trucks/Pickups, Commercial Trucks, Ford, Driving

2015 Ford F-Series Super Duty

What weighs 30,000 pounds? Big Ben's Westminster bell. A navy ship anchor. Or as we found out during our first drive program for the 2015 Ford F-Series Super Duty, seven pallets of cinder blocks loaded onto a dual-axle gooseneck trailer. The test was part of a raft of towing demonstrations that showcased the new Super Duty's impressive tug capacity, which maxes out at 32,100 pounds. That's 1,200 more than its nearest rival, the Ram 3500, when equipped with its upgraded 6.7-liter Power Stroke diesel V8. Such is the heavy-duty pickup truck business, a diesel-fueled game of one-upmanship with only three players: Ford, Chevrolet/GMC and Ram. And in this game, the one with the most torque wins.

Until 2014, Ford was the one to beat, with its 6.7-liter Power Stroke diesel bringing 400 hp and a massive 800 lb-ft of torque to the table. Then last year, Ram did exactly that, serving Ford with a beefed-up Cummins turbodiesel inline-six in its freshened Ram Heavy Duty truck line with 385 hp and 850 lb-ft of torque, enabling it to tow up to 30,000 pounds. But Ford claims it had designed its engine to be relatively easy to upgrade when the time called for it, so for 2015, Ford bolted a larger turbo to the Power Stroke, bringing output to an insane 440 hp and 860 lb-ft of twist, all without reducing fuel efficiency. Maximum tow capacity rises from 24,700 lbs to an incredible 31,200 lbs for the F-450 dually.

As for GM's HDs? They lag behind the lot with their 6.6-liter Duramax V-8, producing 397 hp and 765 lb-ft of torque. Yeah, you know things are serious when the trucks with 765 lb-ft are the knock-kneed wimps of the lot.

Yet all this one-upmanship isn't as crystal-clear as the spec sheets would have you believe. Ford and Ram are currently involved in a pissing match over how these tow ratings are calculated, and the solution might not be arrived at without legal intervention. We prefer firsthand drive impressions over spec-sheet bench racing (towing?), so we headed to West Virginia to saddle up and ride.

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2016 Infiniti Q50 Eau Rouge Prototype [w/video]

07/28/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: Sedans/Saloons, Sports/GTs, Infiniti, Driving, Luxury

2016 Infiniti Q50 Eau Rouge Prototype

It only takes about half a lap of the Millbrook Proving Grounds for me to become convinced that Infiniti must build this car.

The sedan I am piloting around the English circuit is a working prototype of the Q50 Eau Rouge Concept that made its world debut at the 2014 Detroit Auto Show earlier this year. As a refresher, the exquisitely painted, burgundy metallic, four-door show car is based on the production Q50, enhanced with Infiniti Red Bull Racing-inspired carbon-fiber bodywork, aerodynamic upgrades and - as we would come to learn at the Geneva Motor Show a few months later - fitted with a beastly twin-turbocharged engine shared with the parent company's spectacular Nissan GT-R.

Despite lacking the concept's gorgeously expensive paint, the vinyl-wrapped red prototype seen here is much more appealing than the static concept, as it is mechanically complete - it can be driven - thus explaining why I have traveled one-third of the way around the world to test this enthusiast-tuned, one-of-a-kind machine at one of Europe's premier testing facilities.

The Q50 Eau Rouge, named after the signature high-speed corner at Belgium's famed Spa-Francorchamps race circuit, is an intriguing program for a number of reasons. First, the Japanese luxury brand has never offered a flagship sport sedan of this magnitude. Second, the push came from Johan de Nysschen - the man tasked with turning Infiniti around who recently announced his departure from the company at the end of the month. Lastly, the working prototype was built by a small team in England, thousands of miles from Infiniti's Hong Kong headquarters, which allowed the program to move unimpeded by coagulating corporate culture. While launching the Eau Rouge program isn't as extreme as renaming all of its models, it would be easy to argue that this is a very radical move for the often-conservative Japanese automaker.

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2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat [w/videos]

07/22/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: Coupes, Sports/GTs, Videos, Dodge, Driving, Reviews

Darrell Waltrip once said, "If the lion didn't bite the tamer every once in a while, it wouldn't be exciting." The sentiment behind that aphorism is causing my adrenal gland to wake up as Dodge and SRT drivers and engineers - somber-faced to a man - give me the track talk that will precede my driving the 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT on the circuit at Portland International Raceway. PIR might not be Daytona, and the 707-horsepower Challenger Hellcat might seem tame to a legend like ol' Jaws, but there's a not-small part of me that's thinking about how hard Dodge's fire-breathing kitty might bite.

Just a few hours previous, I'd gotten behind the wheel of the Hellcat for the first time, letting its hyperbole-spitting, supercharged V8 Hemi pull me yieldingly through Portland's morning commuter traffic. Lulled into a cocky certainty by the Challenger's good manners at low speed, I drove the throttle just a hair too deep, too fast when I ran on to the highway ramp. For just an instant the rear tires were utterly drenched in torque, and the back end of the big Dodge loosened up like a drift car on a wet track. Throttle steer lives at the fleeting whim of your right foot in this car.

It was no big thing to lay off the gas and pull the Hellcat back in line as I entered the highway, but the incident did get me to thinking: What will this car do to me on a road course?

With the track talk ended, I picked up a helmet and a head sock - stand-ins for the whip and the chair every good lion tamer needs - hoping like hell I wouldn't end up as a gravel-track snack for the new biggest predator in the muscle car circus.

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2015 Ford Expedition

07/21/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: SUVs, Ford, Driving

2015 Ford Expedition

While the tide of bigger-is-better SUVs has been in recession since, well, the recession, fullsize utes are still very much with us. Conservative creatures that have been loathe to evolve, fullsize SUVs nonetheless remain enduringly popular among large families, livery customers, and anyone with lots of friends, relatives, and toys to tug around. With respect to Toyota and Nissan, the only players that really matter in the segment are the new-for-2015 Chevrolet Tahoe/Suburban, the GMC Yukon/Yukon XL, and this truck: the Ford Expedition, the latest evolution of which we just drove for the first time at a press preview in West Virginia.

Unlike the General Motors utilities, the standard Expedition and the long-wheelbase Expedition EL are not all-new, but rather are heavily refreshed versions of the same basic truck Ford started selling way back in 2007. The front fascia is where most of the exterior update happens for 2015, with a new three-bar grille design, halogen projector headlamps, and new bumper design with available LED foglamps. Despite all the new bits, the facelift breaks exactly zero ground in terms of design; in fact, it already looks dated, and will only look older once the macho 2015 F-150 bows later this year. Even less has changed out back, where the tailgate gets a wide chrome band spanning the taillamps and a new chrome exhaust tip. Other exterior changes are generally limited to colors and an all-new wheel lineup that includes a gleaming set of six-spoke 22-inch polished wheels on high-end models.

Speaking of high-end models, a new Platinum trim is positioned above the cowboy-spec King Ranch model for 2015. Both the Platinum and King Ranch get their own color combos and exterior trim finishes (satin metal for the Platinum, chrome everywhere and ginormous badges for the King Ranch) and posh, leather-lined interiors with their own aesthetic. The Expedition family also now includes a price-leading XL model, as well as XLT and Limited grades.

That's nice and all, but we didn't fly to Appalachia to ogle new headlights and caress leather seats. The real draw was to see how the Expedition fares after making the switch from its outgoing V8 to turbocharged V6 power, the only way it will come henceforth. The change makes sense on paper, given that the turbo six - the same engine found in the F-150 EcoBoost - simply trounces the old V8 with 365 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque, compared to the outgoing 5.4's 310 hp and meager 265 lb-ft of torque. Notably, the EcoBoost V6 also outmuscles the 355 hp and 383 lb-ft of torque produced by the 5.3-liter base V8 in GM's portfolio, though it comes up shy of their forceful - and thirsty - optional 420-hp, 460 lb-ft 6.2-liter V8.

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2015 Audi A3 E-Tron [w/video]

07/15/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: Hybrids/Alternative, Hatchbacks, Audi, Driving, Electric

2015 Audi A3 E-Tron

Over the years, we've had a chance to test a lot of Audi E-Tron vehicles, from very early all-electric prototypes (back then we only got to sit in the passenger seat) to the A6 L E-Tron PHEV and the A1 E-Tron plug-in hybrid. All of them were concepts and promises, merely whispers of what was possible, even as the Nissan Leaf, Chevrolet Volt and two Tesla models were making waves in the marketplace.

As we learned last year in our Deep Dive of the E-Tron project, all of the concepts, prototypes and rumors have finally come to fruition in this A3 Sportback E-Tron. Previously, we were given a chance to drive a prototype, but it was only very briefly. Last week, we finally got to run a production-representative example through the hilly roads between Vienna, Austria and Munich, Germany. After spending a solid day with Audi's first marketable E-Tron vehicle, we can say that it's a most amazing bit of engineering, in particular for the way that Audi has done so much to hide the fact that this is an electrified vehicle. Not entirely, of course, but the idea was to make the A3 Sportback E-Tron a no-compromise PHEV. And that means it drives and feels, in many ways, like the standard A3 Sportback despite over 700 extra pounds. Oh, and there's a charge port hidden behind the four rings in the grille.

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2015 Aston Martin V8 Vantage GT

07/09/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: Coupes, Sports/GTs, Aston Martin, Driving, Luxury

2015 Aston Martin V8 Vantage GT

Only one thing is going through my mind as I blast down the Autobahn at 170 miles per hour: If someone were to give me $100,000 today, I'd go buy a new Aston Martin V8 Vantage GT tomorrow.

I know there are a dozen other choices out there - cars that are more powerful, quicker around a road circuit and much less expensive, but you can keep your Corvette, your 911, your F-Type, your GT-R and your top-spec pony cars. My money would go towards this entry-level Brit with the metallic green paint and bright-yellow race-inspired accents.

Aston Martin has always crafted alluring - and expensive - automobiles. Yet this is the first time one of its offerings has come close to making sense to both the enthusiast's heart and to his or her accountant. It may sound absurd, but considering the GT's engineering, design, pedigree and hand-crafted execution, its $99,900 sticker price (plus $2,825 destination) makes it an absolute bargain.

To experience the new V8 Vantage GT, a model sold as the N430 in other markets, the British automaker invited me to attend this year's grueling Nürburgring 24-hour race. Before I watched its race-prepared siblings lap the famed circuit for a full day (all four Vantage models that entered finished), I was handed the keys to my very own example - in Alloro green exterior paint with yellow club sport graphics - configured with a welcomed six-speed manual gearbox.

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2015 Lexus NX 200t

07/07/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: Crossovers/CUVs, Lexus, Driving, Luxury

2015 Lexus NX 200t

If you were an officious person with a particularly pragmatic point of view, you might be quick to note that 10 percent of the 2015 Lexus NX is shared with the Toyota RAV4.

You wouldn't be wrong. Takeaki Kato, Chief Engineer and therefore the single person most responsible within Lexus for the success or failure of this NX crossover, openly admits that he chose the platform of Toyota's compact cute crossover instead of using a bespoke Lexus design. The IS sedan may look as if it would've been a pretty good starting point for a small-but-tall wagon, but it was discarded due to the realities of crossover life. We love rear-wheel-drive dynamics as much as the next set of auto enthusiasts, but a compact CUV like the Lexus NX is more likely to be photographed on Venus with the Loch Ness Monster at the wheel, than at Laguna Seca driven by Soccer-Mom Sally. Modern front-drive platforms offer significantly better space management while simultaneously keeping costs down, too.

Practicality aside, Lexus would much prefer you perceive that 90 percent of the 2015 NX is new and therefore not shared with the RAV4. After spending a day behind the wheel in the mountains in and around Whistler, British Columbia, we're keen to see it their way.

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2015 Subaru Outback

07/01/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: Wagons/Estates, Crossovers/CUVs, Subaru, Driving

2015 Subaru Outback

"We like producing cars that are different." That's the company line trumpeted by several Subaru executives during the launch of the 2015 Outback - one of Fuji Heavy's most successful vehicles to date. Managing Editor Jeremy Korzeniewski accurately noted that while Subaru has never really found salvation with its mainstream sedans, it's the higher-riding, butcher offerings like the Outback and the Impreza-based XV Crosstrek that have been sales stars for the Japanese company. In 2013, for example, Subaru sold nearly three Outbacks for every Legacy it moved. And in 2014, the XV is on pace to outsell the Impreza upon which its based.

But Subarus have always been different, catering to unique customers that desire something a bit more special than your run-of-the-mill sedan or crossover. It's clearly worked, with Subaru having posted 30 months of year-over-year sales increases as of this writing. And even as the automaker's portfolio goes more mainstream, smoothing out its serially awkward styling and gunning for a larger market share here in the United States, that intrinsic Subaru differentiation is still baked in to each and every product.

It's that new Outback we're here to talk about today, a vehicle that's been comprehensively redesigned for the 2015 model year while not shaking up the formula that's made it successful since its inception in the mid-1990s, back when it (arguably) launched what we now know as the crossover utility vehicle segment. It's still plenty different - and plenty good, too.

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