Audi had us drooling over the S-line cars at the 2008 Paris Motor Show, but of the three we cover here, only one will be available in the U.S. Audi showed off the new S4, based on the redesigned A4 launched last year, which has some very interesting changes over the previous S4 model. We also got a look at the S3 and RS6, the latter billed as the most powerful production sedan in the world.
Ferrari showed off its all-new Pininfarina-designed California model at the 2008 Paris Motor Show. This car is a GT model with a front-mounted eight-cylinder engine. Its most notable feature is a retractable hard top, although it features plenty of innovations for Ferrari. Its V-8 uses direct fuel injection and is mated to a new seven speed double-clutch transmission. Cabin tech features Bluetooth cell phone integration, an iPod connector, and hard drive-based navigation.
Rising world-wide gas prices triggered automakers to release a new generation of small city cars at the 2008 Paris Motor Show. These cars range from the diminutive Toyota iQ to the more conventionally-sized Hyundai i20. Engine sizes go from 1 up to 1.5 liters, with fuel economies between 40 and 50 miles per gallon. Not much cabin tech is available in these cars, although, judging from its steering wheel buttons, the new generation Ford Ka might be getting the Sync system.
Acura has heard our prayers and answered with an announcement that it will be offering the 2010 TL SH-AWD with a new six-speed manual transmission for "the enthusiast driver."
The all-new transmission is a proper three-pedal deal featuring uprated internals and a stiffer case, along with a new clutch system. Acura claims new gear synchronizers and a short-throw shifter assembly generate more accurate shifting with low shift effort. With Acura/Honda's history of sweet manual transmissions, we're inclined to believe the claims.
Aside from netting an 88 pounds weight reduction and a better weight distribution, the … Read more
Terrain crawling tech lets the 2009 Range Rover Sport HSE maintain its rugged reputation, but an upscale price means luxury elements, such as real wood trim and a refrigerator in the console. Offroad enthusiasts may think the lack of a fold-down windshield keeps the Range Rover Sport in the soft-road class, but this tank enhances its locking differentials with an air suspension that moves it into high-clearance mode. Terrain programs fine-tune the Range Rover's handling for the slippery and jagged.
The basics of cabin tech are here, including navigation and cell phone integration, but integration is poor. The navigation … Read more
It seemed as if everyone who we spoke to about Mazda's Mazda5 said the same thing: "It's a mini-minivan." As cheesy as that sounds, there isn't really a better way to describe what Mazda has created with the Mazda5. As fuel prices soar and its full-size MPV minivan continues to grow, Mazda hopes to do for the van market what crossovers have done for the SUV market. Based on the compact Mazda3, the Mazda5 inherits performance that comes very close to Mazda's promise of "zoom-zoom." The Mazda5 isn't really a vehicle … Read more
After three days, the grin factor is as high as ever. And the Piaggio MP3 500ie is not just entertaining, it's also commendably useful and fuel-efficient. When the fuel gauge dropped to the top of the red reserve zone, I pumped in 10 bucks worth of premium unleaded. It only took seven and change. Eyeball estimate is between 55 and 60 miles per gallon. With a 3.2-gallon fuel tank, that's 150-plus miles between fill-ups, and, unlike many motorcycles, the tank opening takes the antivapor sheath of a California gas pump hose without any hassle.
If the 55-to-60 … Read more
As I was moving the car out of the driveway to get easier access to my motorcycle, my neighbor came up to me and said "I saw you come in on a really weird motorcycle thing yesterday and what is it?"
Never one to pass up an opportunity, I replied in my best B-movie space alien voice, "It is an alien space vehicle."
"Oh. I thought so."
Well, actually, it's a Piaggio MP3 500. Piaggio, perhaps better known as the manufacturer of Vespa scooters and owner of Aprilia, Moto Guzzi, Gilera, and other brands, calls it a "maxi-scooter", and the MP3 series is unlike anything else except the closely related Gilera Fuoco, at least on this planet. The "3" comes not from any music formatting, but from three wheels. The rear wheel is conventional, if larger than the old-school scooter norm. The usual single front wheel is replaced by two, placed close together, and connected by a patented parallelogram multilink suspension system that ensures they turn and bank together. The front wheels can be locked by an electro-hydraulic mechanism so that the MP3 stays upright when stopped, with no need for the rider to put their feet on the ground. That locking system, and a parking brake, means that the center stand doesn't normally need to be used.
At $8,899, the MP3 500 is as expensive as many motorcycles.
Since its introduction for model year 2003, the Mini Cooper has been one of the best bang-for-the-buck deals on four wheels. When the second generation of new Mini debuted last year, with the original naturally-aspirated or supercharged engines (Brazilian products of a joint venture between Mini parent BMW and Chrysler) replaced by much-improved naturally-aspirated or turbocharged engines developed in a joint venture with PSA Peugeot-Citroen), the bar was raised. The 115 naturally-aspirated or 163 forced-induction horsepower increased to 118hp or 172. More importantly, the driving characteristics, especially of the turbo, improved. The supercharged engine produced most of its power high in the rev band; the turbo does its work from nearly any engine speed with minimal lag.
And now Mini has improved on that. Enter the John Cooper Works version of the Cooper S. offered in both hardtop and Clubman body styles. Mini recently brought the previously separate John Cooper Works in house, much in the manner of BMW's M (for Motorsport) division. For about a $6,600 price premium, the JCW gets suspension, brake, wheel and tire, and interior upgrades over the standard Mini Cooper S. More immediately noticeable when driving are internal modifications to its 1.6-liter twincam direct-injection turbo engine that increase power to 208 hp (at 6,000rpm), with 192 pound-feet of torque available from 1,850rpm through 5,600rpm. If that isn't quite enough, a little extra overboost is allowed for short periods of time, bringing torque up to 207 pound-feet.
Which can be noticeable through the steering wheel, especially with the "Sport" button on. That remaps the electronically-controlled throttle and electrically-assisted power steering for more sensitive throttle response and quicker steering. Which will get you into overboost mode quite easily. Judicious throttle application is a necessity, and even then there is no doubt that the car has front-wheel drive and plenty of torque going through those wheels. Yee hah! It's not necessarily the best introduction to high-performance front-wheel drive for someone who never has experienced it, if any such persons are left at this time.