Photos by Saroja Raman So you finally got yourself a little hot rod in your driveway and you have been telling everyone who will...Read More
We were summarily impressed with the A3 sedan when we attended its press introduction in San Francisco a year ago. Since then, Audi dealers have had trouble keeping the little sedan on their lots as demand for the entry-entry-luxury segment ramps up. In order to broaden the A3 line, as well as go head-to-head with other small, high-performance German offerings such as the BMW M235i and Mercedes-Benz CLA45 AMG, Audi rolled out the S3 sedan - a more heavily pressurized and tightly suspended version of the previous 2.0 TFSI range-topper. So is this simply a Golf R in evening wear, or a legitimate successor to the performance Quattro throne? Read on to find out. What is it? Based on the Volkswagen Group’s ubiquitous MQB platform, which underpins everything from the Golf to the TT to the euro-only B8 Passat, the new A3 was reintroduced to the US last year in a single shape - a four door sedan – rather than the five-door Sportback model that preceded it. We drove both variants – 1.8T front-drive and 2.0T Quattro – on some fantastic roads last year that really let its nimble chassis shine. Later last year, TDI and S3 models were introduced for the sedan in addition to a two-door cabriolet. The S3 model seen here features a pumped-up version of the 2.0TFSI that has been thoroughly overhauled compared to the version available in the regular A3; among the beefed up components are the con rods, pistons and rings which quash a lower compression ratio of 9.3:1, the block and cylinder head castings, the valvetrain, and the turbocharger. Altogether, power stands at 292 and torque at 280 lb-ft, increases of 72 horsepower and 22 lb-ft over the A3 2.0T. A Haldex (aka Quattro) all-wheel drive layout with a six-speed DSG transmission is the sole drivetrain option for the S3 at this time, though this exact powertrain can be had in the cheaper VW Golf R with a manual transmission starting in 2016. What works? The aforementioned 2.0T feels underrated at 292 horsepower, because it moves the 3,450 pound S3 around with gusto. Once you get past a momentary pause waiting for the boost at the bottom of the rev range, power is delivered in a wallop, tapering smoothly to redline. The quick-shifting DSG transmission makes the most of the 2-liter’s “big turbo” nature, keeping things on the boil without issue up and down the gearset. The box’s ratios are closer than in the A3 sedan, and when controlled through the standard-issue paddle shifters, they make getting the best from all that puff quite easy. The print magazines have gotten mid-four second passes to 60 MPH and under 13 seconds flat through the quarter mile, and it feels every bit that powerful out on the road. Equal credit goes to the Quattro all-wheel drive system for putting that power down without drama, although at times we wish it was a little more dramatic. Lift-throttle tail slides aren’t something you can get the S3 to perform without serious effort or lapses in judgment, neither of which we exhibited during our drive of the sedan. Its nature definitely leans more toward competent and collected than playful. Of course if sheer grip is your thing, the S3 has got it in spades, equipped as it is with firmer suspension that’s closer to the ground and - if your budget can spring for it - magnetic damping control. Our car was equipped as such, and offers three modes (comfort, dynamic and auto) that are all fairly firm, though dynamic is notably stiffest and probably best reserved for the smoothest roads or track usage only. These settings can be altered and paired with your preferences for throttle, transmission, and steering response, as well as engine sound, through the standard Audi drive select function in the MMI system. The S3 adds the bit of visual drama that’s lacking in the standard A3, though the clean, chiseled lines and tidy proportions remain. I heard members of the opposite sex throw around the descriptor “cute” on more than a couple of occasions during my time with the car (I’ll be generous and assume that term was being used for the car rather than me) but for those in the know, the larger front air intakes, underbody extensions and silver mirror caps will give the S3’s more aggressive demeanor away even if the subtle S badging does not. It’s as tidy looking as it is tidy dimensionally, with parking and placement on the road made that much easier by the S3’s diminutive footprint. It’s easy to see why the A3 model line has been successful in Europe, where space is at such a premium, because this platform seems to make much better use of its size than do its competitors. Shame we don’t get the three- or five-door hatchback versions that are across the pond for the ultimate in speedy practicality, but for now, we’re content with the balance the sedan offers. Inside, the S3 treatment is largely the same as that of the A3, save for silver-faced gauges, sculpted front buckets, a racier steering wheel and a few scattered Ss. The base sedan already boasts the best interior in its class by far, so it’s clear why Audi felt little alteration was needed. The A3’s trick infotainment screen that motors up out of the dash is standard equipment here, too, as is a “panoramic” sunroof that borders so closely on normal size that we think the descriptor should be changed to just “sunroof”. Assembly is typically Audi top-notch, and equipment levels are good – the only items we found lacking on our car can be found elsewhere on the option sheet, namely a backup camera and blind spot monitoring (both should be considered a necessity due to the S3’s curtailed back window). Both are available in a bundled Driver Assistance package for $1,400. If we were feeling spendy, the full LED headlights ($1,050) and Bang and Olufsen sound system ($850) might also make the cut, though we found very little to complain about with the standard-issue xenons and 10-speaker Concert stereo. What doesn’t? There’s very little to dislike about the S3, though as noted above, drivers in search of a more involving or playful chassis may not be fully challenged by the Quattro's competence. The steering in particular comes in for some criticism for being light on feedback, and the ride seems to be set up stiffer than is strictly necessary. This could be a result of our car’s optional 19” wheels and rubber band tires, so those that often drive on particularly bumpy pavement may want to try both 18” and 19” wheel packages to see which one is more livable. Finally, it must be said that the S3’s underpinnings can be had in both hatchback and manual transmission guise not only in Europe, but down the street at your Volkswagen dealer starting next year. The Golf R is poised to be the S3’s most serious competition yet, at least among the enthusiast set, since it’s priced several thousand dollars cheaper than the Audi yet offers all of the performance. What it lacks, however, is the Audi brand behind it, and the S3 is also well-poised to be a pivotal stepping stone for first time S-model buyers on their way up the Quattro ladder to the likes of the S4, S5 and S6. Overall? Carrying over all of the base car’s charm and adding few qualities of its own, the S3 is a rapid and classy small sedan. [gallery ids="11677,11669,11681,11672,11680,11679,11683,11668,11671,11670,11667,11675,11676,11682,11678"] 2015 Audi S3 Base price: $41,995 Price as tested: $47,045 Options on test car: Metallic paint ($550), MMI Navigation package ($2,600), 19” Performance package ($1,500), Red brake calipers ($400) Powertrain: 2-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, 6-speed dual clutch transmission, all-wheel drive – 292 horsepower, 280 lb-ft torque S:S:L-observed fuel economy: 25.3 mpg Audi provided the vehicle for testing purposes and one tank of gas. Photos by the author.
Photos by Saroja RamanSo you finally got yourself a little hot rod in your driveway and you have been telling everyone who will listen to you in any random Starbucks parking lot that your car is fast. You quote the zero-to-sixty times from statistics which you memorized from the internet and just like Han Solo and the Millennium Falcon, you’ve “made a few modifications” yourself to improve the car’s performance. You know deep down in your hot rodder heart that if you were given the opportunity to compete with your machine of speed you would crush all of the other fools on your favorite car forum. The Optima Search for the Ultimate Street Car is just the place for a guy like you with a fast street car to show those bench racing keyboard jockeys that your car is truly legit! THE COST Five hundred clams is what it costs to enter a Optima Search for the Ultimate Street Car event but you do get plenty for your money here, especially if you compare the costs of each separate type of event (if you were to try to enter them individually). You will get to compete in an autocross (normally $35), a speed stop challenge (normally $300), a road rally (normally $25), a car show (normally $20) and a hot laps (time trial, normally $250-$400). If you add up all of those separate entry fees you would be looking at over $600. And I guarantee you that you will get much more track time than you would at most other events. Average autocrosses give you 3-5 runs, where at Optima you can run until the tires fall off, most people get around 12 runs. The hot laps segment offers 5 separate 20-minute track sessions which is plenty of adrenaline filled, fuel burning, brake pad destroying action. SANCTIONING BODY This even is run by the Ultimate Street Car Association (USCA). The title sponsor is Optima Batteries and the events are presented by Advanced Auto Parts. Additional partners with the event are Detroit Speed, Falken Tires, Jet Hot, K & N, Snap On Tools, Lingenfelter, and Wilwood. That sort of corporate sponsorship means this will be a much more legitimate event than you standard autocross held in a deserted parking lot. You will find vender booths, prize money, great looking decals, first class registration facilities (handled in a Optima big rig that looks like a real life Transformer), and a cool podium. The event logistics are second to none and each race is filmed for the television show Optima Search for the Ultimate Street Car for MAVTV. Yes, you will get to win (or lose) on TV. There are multiple classes to compete in: GTL (cars under 3,200 pounds), GTS (two seater or all-wheel drive cars over 3,200 pounds), GT (four seaters), GTV (Vintage), and EC (Fun Runs). The multiple classes offer a format where almost every four wheel vehicle made has a place to come out and play. The range is as wide as Ford Pintos to Corvette Z06s. THE HIGH Here you get the chance to run your car at the max. Strap on your helmet and drive it like you stole it. The cool part about Optima Search for the Ultimate Street Car is the multiple events from autocross (low speed, drifting fun) to hot laps (high speed, ass clinching fear). You can run your car as hard (or not as hard) as you feel comfortable. If you enjoy sliding the car on the autocross course but don’t want to see how close you can get to the concrete wall on the exit of Turn 2 that is your choice. Some folks see this event as the ultimate dynamic car show (trailer queens should not apply), while others see it as the ultimate racing competition. Which category you fall into depends on your competitive nature and how fast the car you brought is. CAR WEAR This event isn’t any harder on a car than a standard track day, other than the fact that it is a solid weekend of racing with lots of track time. The speed stop challenge is definitely hard on brake rotors and tires (especially if your GTV car doesn’t have ABS). I saw a lot of front wheel lock up flat spot a lot of tires at this event. This is crucial to understand because the speed stop challenge is the day prior to the hot laps on the big track. Running at over a hundred miles an hour with square tires will knock your fillings out. The key during this weekend is being able to run hard and fast, but also to make the car (and tires) last through all of the different events. Your car must be successful in each event in order to score enough points to win. Even the road rally causes grief especially for the “race cars with license plates.” With a lot of speed bumps, drive way entries, and other challenges that are easy for true street cars but a total disaster for a car that is so low it drags the oil pan across every driveway it enters, teams realize that lowering your car to minimum ride height for good handling on the road course may not be the best recipe for this competition. Like any track day, the big thing to realize for car preparation is that a good brake fluid and extra cooling for brakes is the key to multiple high speed braking zones on a big track. Standard street car brakes for the Ultimate Street Car competition will not cut the mustard. YOUR DAY Your day at this particular event is actually “your weekend” as this is a two day event. Competitors can choose to enter a single day (less cost, run only certain events), but you can’t win the overall competition by only running in half of the events. You will show up early and start the registration process through the Optima Transformer rig. You need a valid driver’s license (no racing license required), standard car insurance, and valid registration (as the vehicle’s owner –this keeps out the hired guns). You will get a sticker set for your car and your car number. Next you get into the long tech line and put the stickers on your car as you wait to have your car checked out. You will also need a Snell SA 2010 helmet. If you have your own transponder you will need to give your number to the registration desk, if you don’t have one (or even know what one is) you can rent one from the staff and they will even help mount it to your car (how is that for customer service?). Tech is relatively painless (much more like an autocross tech session than a road race scrutineering session) and each of your tires is marked to ensure competitors only use a single set of 200 plus treadwear tires during the weekend for the entirety of the event. After there will be a welcome ceremony/drivers meeting. Cars will be split into two groups based on odd or even car numbers. One set of cars will head to the autocross while the other set will head to the speed stop challenge. The autocross, presented by Detroit Speed and Engineering, is just like any autocross: cones line the track, one car on course at time, best time wins. The only difference was the nearly unlimited runs available and cameras being placed on the car for MAVTV. The speed stop challenge, presented by Wilwood Disc Brakes, was different than expected. Instead of a straight line acceleration run and then a panic stop for time, the speed stop challenge was an acceleration run, a right turn, a left turn, another left turn, and then a panic stop in a cone lined box. That meant the speed stop challenge was not just measuring acceleration and braking ability, but also handling ability too. Cars that were set up to do well in the autocross would do well in the speed stop challenge as well and all-wheel drive cars, who could get off of the line quickly, dominated here. During the Lingenfelter Performance and Engineering car show judging, called Engineering and Design, a series of judges will pour over your car, ask questions and see what modifications have made the car perform better while also remaining streetable. This was done anytime during the day when a car wasn’t running in the autocross or speed stop challenge. The last event of the first day was the road rally where each driver’s driver license was placed into a sealed envelope that had to be turned back into registration at the Holley welcome party that evening. The idea was that if any shenanigans happened on the road and the Highway Patrol had to get involved, then the license would have to come out of the sealed envelope and the competitor would receive zero points for the event. The ploy worked and everyone on the road rally drove appropriately on the public roads, which was nice to see. There was plenty of track time to drive crazy so there was no need for it on the highways. The Holley welcome party was a great event to bench race, enjoy some good food, and see the results from the earlier events. During the welcome party they also discussed the hot laps section which would happen on the second day of competition. The next day started with a driver’s meeting discussing classes, flags, and passing rules for the hot laps section (standard track day stuff). Then it was time to head out onto the big track for big speeds. The best lap counts toward you overall score so if you can get it done during one session and don’t feel like destroying any more tires that is your choice. Or if you wanted to run until your tires were down to the cords you could. At the end of the weekend was the podium presentation with special awards, trophies and cash prizes being handed out to the winners. MAVTV was on hand to do video interviews with the winners of each class and fun was had by all. THE PEOPLE This is the ultimate car dude crowd. People here don’t build cars to sit in parking lots and be wiped with a diaper. And the people here don’t build cobbled together crap cars to be raced around a circle track and look like hell. The people in the Optima Search for the Ultimate Street Car build cars that they are proud to drive, and drive hard. The people and the machines at this event are the coolest combination of performance and detail. There is an enormous amount of knowledge in this paddock and just walking into anyone’s pit space and asking questions about their car will start a thirty minute conversation about wheel spacing or minitubs. To be a spectator at this event would beat going to any car show as you will get to see cars just as clean and beautiful being drifted around a track. GLORY There is glory to be found at the Optima Search for the Ultimate Street Car. You can win each separate event and you could win the whole enchilada. Winning means a podium ceremony, a trophy, and $500 from Wilwood Disc Brakes. Not too shabby for an event that doesn’t require a racing license plate to compete in. Plus your racing talents will be on display on MAVTV. Each event is an opportunity to qualify for the big show in Las Vegas at the end of the SEMA show. Glory is definitely here to be had. OH, YOU WANT TO WIN, DO YA? To win this event you need a fast car, period. Sure, in autocross you can overcome a lack of power with some driving skill, but here you need a car that is fast, handles good, stops good, looks good, the complete package. Oh, and you also need to be able to drive the wheels off of it too. Corvettes won two of the five classes (big horsepower, big tires, low center of gravity, big brakes). It is tough to overcome those engineering advantages in a Subaru WRX. To win you need to have your car setup to do well in an autocross environment with the best performing 200 treadwear tires you can find. Your DOT Hoosier Racing Tires don’t get to play here. Autocross alignment and setup will do you well in three of the five events (autocross, speed stop challenge and road rally). The engineering and design segment will come down to the streetability and modifications of your car (bone stock cars don’t score too well here). The hot laps segment of the event comes down to horsepower and sometimes huge balls. Trust me, every track has that one scary corner that is tough to build up the guts to go through at max speed. The person who masters the track quickly will have a solid lap time and do well. Even though a racing license is not necessary to run in this event it does have its advantages. Namely during the hot laps segment where a run group was setup with unlimited passing for those who have road racing experience and equipment in the cars (5-point harness and neck restraint). The rookie run group had very limited locations and point-by-passing which makes getting a very fast, unhindered lap difficult to obtain. We were able to win the event at Thunderhill based on pre-race preparation. We read the rules inside and out and decided to add weight to our Z06 to bump it into the GTS category. This meant we would have theoretically the lightest weight car in the class (with mountains of LS7 horsepower). Prior to the event we autocrossed the car with the SCCA and got the alignment and tire pressures right on some Michelin Pilot Sport tires for tight courses. Then we ran the car in the Speed Ventures Corvette Challenge on a big course with the same tires to figure out the settings for high speeds. Then we picked an Optima Search for the Ultimate Street Car event that was at a track were we intimately familiar with, Thunderhill Raceway Park, where we have raced in numerous NASA 25 Hours of Thunderhill events. We knew our car, we knew the track, and we showed up ready to race and win. Teams who were adjusting tire pressures or learning a new track were at a serious disadvantage. Like a lot of racing, the race is won in the garage the night before. Even with the road rally, we ensured we had a navigator with us and used GPS to guarantee we stayed on course and got maximum points. We left nothing to chance. Sadly, every “street” car that won its class in the Optima Search for the Ultimate Street Car event arrived in a racing trailer (ours included). It’s not to say that these cars aren’t street cars, they legitimately were, however, the winners usually had radical alignment settings which would destroy a set of tires on the drive from Los Angeles to Thunderhill. A lot of teams were using the racing gas at the track at $10 a gallon, which is not something you want to waste on a long road trip. Bottom line, to win this event you have to have a fast car, but you really have to be a driver. RACER BOY GAUGE Let’s review the Racer Boy gauge cluster here: FUEL (Cost): The fuel gauge is three quarters full because this event does cost $500 to run but you can use the same car you make your Red Box video runs in to do it, so a dedicated racing car (and big money is not necessary). If you actually want to win it… start selling your house and your kidney because that won’t come cheap. RPMs (Adrenaline): The tachometer is at 6,200 RPMs because this is the real deal. Running a hot lap around a full race course will get your adrenaline going big time. The event is truly awesome. MPH (Danger): The speedometer is at 124 miles per hour because if you drive a big horsepower car then chances are you will be going 124 miles an hour into turn one, which could be dangerous if you are trying to adjust the angle on your GoPro camera instead of watching the track. Big speeds = big risks. Be careful and have fun. VOLTS (Time): The volts gauge is less than three quarters full because this event is a full weekend affair, but you don’t have to spend months preparing a racecar before the weekend since you will be using your daily driver here. MILEAGE (Car Wear): The mileage is at 3,000 miles because you will get lots of track time and chances are you will do 3,000 miles of damage to tires, brake pads and rotors in only 100 miles of actual driving. This event is for folks who don’t mind running their cars at the limit, and with that limit comes the replacement of wearable items. CHECKERED FLAG The name “Optima Ultimate Street Car Challenge” says it all, it is the ultimate playground for street cars for people who like to drive hard. The crowds and the cars are worth the trip alone and the racing is awesome. Bang for your buck cash versus track time, you can’t beat this series and you get the chance to race on MAVTV. Racer Boy gives this event a big thumbs up. See you at the track! If you enjoy Rob's storytelling check out his novel "Cadet Blues" available on Amazon.
I generally liked the Juke NISMO when I drove it two years ago. I found it to be a plucky, and quirky, entry into a field of vehicles that are by definition fairly quirky – namely city cars like the Fiat 500, Mini Cooper and Hyundai Veloster. Though not quite up to the task of taking on high-performance hot hatches such as the Ford Focus ST or Volkswagen GTI, it does strike a unique balance as a pseudo-crossover/warm hatch. Last year, Nissan upped the ante with an RS version, bringing in more power and a sharper chassis but keeping the same pumped-up puffer fish looks and aero additions from the regular NISMO model. The NISMO RS ups the regular Juke and Juke NISMO’s fairly modest performance envelopes by adding a higher-flow exhaust system, tweaked ECU settings and a beefed-up manual gearbox with a shorter final drive ratio. Manual models also receive a helical LSD. Output figures rise to 215 hp and 210 lb-ft from the NISMO’s 188 horsepower and 177 lb-ft of torque. The RS all-wheel drive model gives up some power and torque to the front-driver (down 4 hp and 26 lb-ft), perhaps owing to its mandatory Xtronic CVT transmission. Firmer and shorter dampers and springs, body reinforcements, retuned electric power steering and larger brakes front and rear complement the added power. The usual NISMO cosmetic enhancements are still present and accounted for, and inside, front passengers are treated to a pair of even more aggressive seats, improving what were already well-shaped buckets in the standard car. The chairs are leather- and suede-lined Recaro Sportsters, embossed with a NISMO logo and red stitching, and they look sumptuous. They feel great too, although some passengers may moan about having to heave themselves over the thick thigh supports, and surprisingly, they’re a bit wide-set in the shoulders for Recaros. At least they don't pinch over long trips, as some of their designs have a tendency to do. The NISMO RS driving experience is largely the same as that of the standard NISMO I drove in 2013, aside from the noticeable upticks in power and torque. In an age where turbocharging is ubiquitous and turbo lag almost a thing of the past, the 1.6-liter “DIG” (Direct Injection Gasoline) feels like a decidedly turbocharged engine - in the old school tradition. Boost comes on strong around 2,500 and progress continues until 6,000 RPM where it tapers off. The leather- and faux carbon-gearknob stirs a 6-speed transmission that’s been strengthened compared to the regular Juke NISMO, though the shifter’s feel remains light, snappy and accurate – same as the base model. Clutch engagement is light but somewhat on the numb side. Dynamically, when weighed against the competition, there’s not much to fault the NISMO RS. The Fiat 500 Abarth and Mini Cooper S are both smaller and closer to the earth, so cornering in those cars is a little more planted and neutral, but at the limit all three will eventually understeer. It’s the Juke that gets there first, though NISMO’s work on the lowered and stiffened suspension has increased grip levels a fair bit. Detractors of the Juke will call it ugly, or at best, too quirky for its own good. Its frog-like aesthetics are probably beside the point, anyway – some will love it and some will hate it. The fact that its looks divide opinion so sharply could be counted in the “plus” column as well, I suppose. Suffice it to say that it looks like little else on the road. Meanwhile, the RS upgrades from the regular NISMO make it worth a look if you can get behind the style; while it’s no hot hatch, it’s fun enough in its own right – and might be worth a look based on those Recaros alone. [gallery ids="11639,11640,11641,11642,11643,11650,11645,11644,11651,11646,11649,11647,11655,11657,11656,11654,11648"] 2015 Nissan Juke NISMO RS Base price: $28,845 Price as tested: $29,315 Options on test car: Floor mats/cargo mat ($220), Center armrest ($250) Powertrain: 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, 6-speed manual transmission, front-wheel drive – 215 horsepower, 210 lb-ft torque S:S:L-observed fuel economy: 28.4 mpg Nissan provided the vehicle for testing purposes and one tank of gas. Photos by the author.
When Chevy announced that it would bring a version of the “rest-of-world” Colorado midsize pickup to the US market in 2013, it was a move that could be labelled as either foolhardy or a no-brainer. On the foolhardy end of the scale, how would Chevrolet (and GMC) take on the juggernaut Toyota Tacoma, which has dominated the compact and midsize pickup segment so completely that all other players vacated the field long ago, save the Nissan Frontier, which soldiers on propelled only by its maker’s pride. On the other hand, the tooling for the Colorado was already done, more or less; this vehicle has been built and sold in Asia and South America for the last three years. Why not refresh it for the North American market, up the feature content, and do battle with the likes of Toyota? GM obviously went with the latter decision, and the truck that resulted is pictured here. What is it? Ostensibly, it’s a follow-up to the previous generation Colorado that departed in 2012 amid dwindling sales and a lack of attention. But really, this is an all-new truck, slightly larger and more refined, with a raft of available technology offerings purportedly aimed at a buyer who wants the full-size pickup looks and lifestyle, but isn’t willing to accept the trade-offs in maneuverability, driveway space or fuel efficiency demanded by the big boys. Pricing and sizing hew pretty close to the Tacoma, and available configurations include long-bed or short, extended or crew cab, rear-wheel drive or four-wheel drive (of course), four- or six-cylinder engines and six-speed manual or automatic transmissions. Not every configuration above is interchangeable (if you want a manual transmission, for example, your only option is an extended cab, 2WD 4-cylinder), but you’re still clearly not left wanting for choice here, which is something most truck buyers have come to expect. Towing capacity ranges from 3,500 pounds on the low end to 7,000 for a model equipped like ours, which is a class-leading figure, as are the highway fuel economy ratings of 27 MPG for the four-banger and 26 for the V6 2WD models. Our tester’s 4WD and an around-town test route resulted in a more realistic 17.8 MPG combined number. What works? Having spent a good amount of time in full-size pickups of every ilk, the compact size of the Colorado is immediately apparent behind the wheel, and I mean that in a good way. It’s far wieldier in traffic and parking lots than its bigger brothers would be, and this makes the Colorado much more approachable from a commuting perspective. It also might actually fit in your garage (depending on the bed length you choose), which is something fewer and fewer full-size trucks can say these days. That doesn’t mean the Colorado gives up much in the way of utility, though. Quite the opposite – our crew cab tester was configured with a short bed, but you can just as easy go for the 1-foot-longer bed version and get everything you need in the way of load-hauling ability. The short bed can hold 41 cubic feet of Home Depot stuffs compared to the long bed’s even 50, though oddly enough, the short bed actually has a slightly higher weight capacity compared to the long bed (though only by 70 pounds, at 1590). Interior room is quite good in the crew cab, fitting four tall adults with ease and a fifth in a pinch. The dash and control layout will look familiar to anyone who’s spent time in a full-size GM pickup or SUV lately, although materials here aren’t as swanky as in those trucks. Feature content is pretty good, especially since our tester was a loaded Z71 model, and niceties like heated seats, touchscreen navigation and Bose audio are available here just as they are on the Silverado – though you’ll pay in the mid-$30s if you tick a few option boxes. Being more prudent with the packages can net you a nicely equipped four-cylinder/manual transmission long bed model for under $25k. Given that the upcoming 2016 Tacoma’s pugnacious new front end won’t be to everyone’s tastes, it appears Chevy may have struck the perfect compromise between understated and aggressive with the Colorado’s styling. It’s a handsome truck, particularly on alloys, and the wrap-around front end was mercifully spared from being overwrought or overchromed. This segment sees a lot of sales based on looks and image alone, so in that respect, the General has done quite well here. The Colorado is a pleasant enough steer, exhibiting few deal-breaking flaws. It’s got a fairly serene ride as well, remarkable given the Z71 4WD package’s proclivity to off-road escapades. You’d think it’d be unbearable over heavily broken pavement, but it’s not. All Colorados are equipped as standard with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder making 200 horsepower and 191 lb-ft; our truck carried the optional 3.6-liter V6 and 6-speed automatic, an upgrade ranging from $950 to $1,235 depending on model, and should be considered a worthwhile enhancement if your budget can stretch to fit it. Both engines are modern enough, featuring all-aluminum construction, double overhead cams, continuously variable valve timing and direct injection, but the V6 rewards with an additional 105 horsepower and 78 lb-ft of torque, while incurring a modest 1-2 MPG rated economy penalty in return. What doesn’t? The uphill battle midsize pickups like the Colorado still face is that of the value proposition their bigger brothers represent. There’s a certain slice of the truck-buying pie that simply doesn’t want a larger truck; for them, a Colorado will fit their needs perfectly. For most shoppers, though, a full-size truck with big incentives on the hood represents a serious threat when staring down both vehicles in the showroom. Temptations of more room, more power, more capability and around-town fuel consumption figures that aren’t that much worse than the smaller trucks all provide compelling arguments toward choosing a Silverado over a Colorado. Furthermore, the Silverado’s got a quieter, more upscale cabin than the Colorado, and a choice of two V8 powerplants that feel decidedly gutsier than the V6 in the smaller truck. Overall? Chevy’s successfully brought a viable competitor to the stalwart Tacoma to market, and for buyers that don’t want a larger truck, the Colorado fits the bill perfectly. It’s stylish, rides and drives competently, and has the maneuverability and convenience that full size pickups crucially lack. Still, GM may face an uphill battle in convincing people that a larger truck doesn’t make more sense for them – luckily, they’ve got a good alternative parked right across the showroom in the form of the Silverado. [gallery ids="11613,11614,11615,11616,11617,11618,11619,11620,11621,11622,11623,11624,11625,11626,11627,11628,11629,11630,11631,11632,11633"] 2015 Chevy Colorado 4WD Z71 Crew Cab Short Box Base price: $34,990 Price as tested: $36,710 Options on test car: Bose audio system ($500), MyLink touch screen w/ Navigation ($495), Spray-on bed liner ($475), Towing package ($250) Powertrain: 3.6-liter V6 engine, 6-speed automatic transmission, four-wheel drive – 305 horsepower, 269 lb-ft torque S:S:L-observed fuel economy: 17.8 mpg Chevy provided the vehicle for testing purposes and one tank of gas. Photos by the author.
We originally tested the Santa Fe Sport after the model’s introduction in 2013. Since then, little has changed, aside from some minor equipment, suspension and aesthetic tweaks. Does it still measure up against the rest of the midsize crossover field? Read on to find out. What is it? The five-seater version of Hyundai’s midsize crossover, the sport in Santa Fe Sport refers more to its looks and cargo capacity than any real off-road or corner carving ability. No matter; it was recently voted the best family car at any price by a well-known automotive website. It’s easy to see why – these CUVs have gotten so good, it’s tough to see why a family of moderate size would even consider going with a comparable sedan, even taking into account the modest price premium the 5-door commands. For those with greater space needs, the standard Santa Fe offers a third row and two more seatbelts, plus an additional 38 cu. ft. of passenger space and at least 364 pounds more heft at the scales, depending on trim level. As a result, that ute is offered solely with a 3.3-liter V6 making 290 horsepower and 252 lb-ft of torque. Our smaller Sport tester straddles the line between compact CUVs like the RAV4 and CR-V, and midsizers like the Edge and Pilot. The Sport is offered with a pair of four-cylinders, a 2.4-liter naturally aspirated unit with 190 hp and 181 lb-ft, and the turbocharged 2-liter seen here, with 264 horses and 269 lb-ft. A six-speed automatic is standard equipment across the board, and all-wheel drive is a $1,750 option regardless of which engine or model you choose. What works? The Santa Fe’s won multiple accolades since this generation’s introduction back in 2013, and after spending some time with it, it’s pretty easy to see why. It delivers the kind of no-brainer comfort and ease of operation that buyers in this class have come to expect; the ride is unflappably smooth and quiet, wind noise is hushed, and the interior earns high marks for its ergonomics and overall comfort. That interior is a nice place to spend time – although the design has been around for three model years, you wouldn’t know it. It feels like a well screwed-together environment, as well. Feature content is typically Korean: strong. Our Ultimate Package tester came loaded with 19” alloys, HID headlights, a panoramic sunroof, navigation and an Infinity sound system (yep, Infinity is still around), heated/cooled front and heated rear seats, park assist, and a heated steering wheel – in addition to a slew of standard equipment, for around $36 grand. This value-for-money approach is a long-time Hyundai tenet, of course, but the simplified option packaging (likely taking a page from Honda’s book) also makes things easy on the customer when it comes time to find a car on the lot. The rest of the driving experience largely mirrors that of the 2013 Santa Fe Sport model we drove a while back, which was nearly identical in spec to this one (including color) aside from being all-wheel drive. This front-drive model was a tad lighter at the scales, and as a result, the 2-liter turbo powerplant felt a bit perkier. The 6-speed auto shifts snappily enough in manual mode, though to be honest, there’s little point in taking control of gear changes in this type of vehicle anyway, and in full auto, shifts are smooth to the point of being nearly imperceptible. What doesn’t? If there’s a criticism to be leveled at the Santa Fe, it’s an area that Hyundai actually spent some time developing since the last time we mentioned it, and that’s the electric power steering. In this type of vehicle, I don’t expect the helm to be a paragon of feel and communication, but I had noted in my last drive of the Santa Fe that the variable-resistance electric power steering system never really felt natural in any of its three settings. Hyundai did their best to rectify the situation with the 2015 model, changing the steering system’s microprocessor as well as the front wheel bearings in an attempt to improve feel. Revised control arm bushings in the front and suspension geometry changes in the rear were also brought in to improve handling, although I found little issue with the ride and handling balance back in 2013, anyway. While steering feel has been slightly improved, the numb tiller still feels like the only aspect that lets the Santa Fe down, especially since the rest of the package is so well thought out. Overall? Although the steering feel disappoints, it’s hard to argue against the Santa Fe’s solid raft of other virtues. It’s a strong competitor in the crossover/family car marketplace, and it certainly deserves a look from anyone shopping the segment. [gallery ids="11562,11563,11560,11559,11558,11557,11561,11553,11554,11552,11548,11547,11543,11555,11549,11556,11551,11550,11546,11545,11544,11542"] 2015 Hyundai Santa Fe FWD 2.0T Base price: $32,125 Price as tested: $36,600 Options on test car: Ultimate Package ($4,350), Carpeted floor mats ($125) Powertrain: 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, 6-speed automatic transmission, front-wheel drive – 264 horsepower, 269 lb-ft torque S:S:L-observed fuel economy: 22.1 mpg Hyundai provided the vehicle for testing purposes and one tank of gas. Photos by the author.
Regular readers will have noticed by now that there is a general preponderance of Dodge Charger and Challenger models featured on our site…this is no mere coincidence. We at Speed:Sport:Life are huge fans of the breed in general – that is, torque-heavy, rear-wheel-driven, throwback American muscle cars. Dodge makes some of the absolute best cars in the business right now at fitting that exact criteria, and as long as they keep making them, we’re happy to keep driving them. The SRT 392 that recently spent a week with me is a perfect example of what makes the model so great. What is it? This is a car that needs little introduction, especially since we’ve featured the Challenger in its various iterations regularly on this site, as mentioned above. See here, here and here (and also here) for evidence of this. But if you’ve been in the dark for the last few years, then the Challenger represents the Dodge brand’s submission to the competitive American pony-slash-muscle car field. Whatever you call them, the Camaro, Mustang and Challenger are birds of a feather. They’re based around the same principle (big-engined, rear-wheel drive fun with a high value quotient) even if each of them is executed slightly differently. Among the three, the Challenger is probably the easiest to live with on a day-to-day basis. It’s got the most feature content for the money and it’s easily the roomiest for occupants and luggage alike. 2015 saw a major update that finally brought the interior design and available technology onto the same playing field as the V8 engines and exterior styling. What works? If the V6 SXT we drove a few weeks back was a reassuring but subtle indication of the greatness that Dodge’s 2015 updates brought to the Challenger, then this ballsy SRT 392 model is a loud reminder. Very loud. Stomp on the throttle in any of the 8 available forward gears and you’re treated to an aurally titillating combination of induction howl and exhaust growl that few layouts other than a large-displacement pushrod V8 can offer. It sounds fantastic at part or full throttle, and though the noise dulls but never really vanishes at a highway cruise, it manages not to become taxing. Then there’s the thrust of the thing. Various magazine-collected test numbers show the automatic 392s (in either SRT guise as our tester, or the value-focused R/T Scat Pack model) will run the quarter in the mid-12s, but to be honest, it feels faster than that. It’s likely a combination of the low-end torque, the noise, and the gearing – 8-speeds that are executed with whip-crack speed enable dizzying bursts of acceleration – that makes it feel like an 11-something second car. Indeed, even against its 222-horsepower-stronger Hellcat big brother, which I’ve had admittedly less street time in, the SRT 392 automatic feels fairly matched. Perhaps it’s because even though the Hellcat carries a stronger power rating, it’s equipped with the same 275-width Pirelli P-Zeros at all four corners, which try as they might, struggle to cope with the SRT’s plump torque curve. So, it’s fast, it sounds great, it looks great – it pulls more stares and admiring grins than any Porsche at triple the price is likely to – how does it turn and stop? All the power in the world is useless if you can’t control it, and fun as it is, the Hellcat starts to run into “too powerful for its own good” territory. If you’re buying a Hellcat, that’s what you’re signing up for – silly, gratuitous power is its raison d’etre. What about the only-slightly-saner 392? In any iteration, the Challenger is a big car. It’s two tons, it’s got five seatbelts and will haul two dead bodies in the trunk without batting an eye. There’s no getting around the facts, although the SRT engineers have done an admirable job of trying to fight physics. Turn into a corner, and the hefty, variable-weight electric steering actually gives you a semblance of feel for what the front tires are doing. It shows that engineers are making progress with these once almost universally numb racks. Cornering attitudes remain fairly flat and neutral up until the point the aforementioned Pirellis relinquish grip, finally dissolving into mild understeer that will easily become oversteer if your right foot so deems it. The SRT is happiest on long straightaways and fast sweepers; anyone tackling tight switchbacks or coned-off autocross courses will be quickly exposed to the size and weight of this chassis, though few are likely to buy the car for these purposes. The SRT’s brakes are pretty out-of-this-world; massive 390mm two-piece rotors clamped by 6-piston Brembos up front and 350mm 4-pots out back, they’re almost worth the 392’s additional $7,500 cost of entry over an identically powered R/T Scat Pack, which must make do with “only” 360mm of rotor up front squeezed by 4-piston calipers. The first time you use the 392’s stoppers, you’ll find they’re practically worth their weight in gold – especially on a car this big and this powerful. For all its extra heft and endowment in the engine room, the Hellcat uses an identical brake setup – if that tells you anything. When I drove the SRTs on track last year, these brakes took a tremendous pounding before even a hint of fade was detectable, making me believe that with the right pads and fluid, even long lapping sessions wouldn’t pose a threat to this Chally. What doesn’t? It’s probably pretty clear by now that I’m gushing about this car; I apologize for that. In the interests of presenting a fair and balanced review, I’d be doing you readers a disservice if I didn’t present a counterpoint to all of the things the SRT 392 is so wonderful at. I suppose if you really did want the best compromise of something approaching nimble handling, as well as a big V8 under the hood, the Mustang GT and Camaro SS do a better job of masking their heft, and indeed, they have a lot less of it to mask than the Challenger does. The SRT’s fuel economy isn’t what you’d call wonderful either; our 18.2 mpg week-long average was bolstered by a long-ish highway stint that returned close to 22 mpg in stretches. Of course, without that new 8-speed auto or the engine’s cylinder deactivation feature, the mileage would be much worse. And as I noted with the V6 SXT, the interior is a huge leap forward from the old car’s in terms of design and equipment, but there are still strides to be made in terms of the finish of some of the materials. Overall? No-one I know who has sampled the SRT’s capabilities has come away with anything but praise for what the big car can do and the riotous nature with which it does it. Even at close to $50k, I can’t think of a car that will put a bigger smile on your face every single time you drive it. Consider the 392’s sticker price an investment in your mental well-being. 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT 392 Base price: $45,990 Price as tested: $49,925 Options on test car: Technology group ($995), 8-speed automatic ($1,400), Black center stripes ($595), Uconnect 8.4AN ($695), Pirelli P Zero tires ($250) Powertrain: 6.4-liter V8 engine, 8-speed automatic transmission, rear-wheel drive – 485 horsepower, 475 lb-ft torque S:S:L-observed fuel economy: 18.2 mpg Dodge provided the vehicle for testing purposes and one tank of gas. Photos by the author.