The BBC has a new car show to air right after Top Gear on BBC America on Monday nights (we are talking about the real Top Gear -the British Top Gear on BBC, as opposed to the junior varsity Top Gear U.S.A. on the History Channel). Sticking with the whole "gear" title theme, the new show is titled Mud, Sweat and Gears and features hosts Jonny Smith and Tom "Wookie" Ford who were hosts on BBC's Fifth Gear. Yes, I know, that is a lot of gears. But it is a good thing because this new car show is for true gear heads. The premise of the show is that each week Jonny and Wookie will pick a different car, and then their respective two person teams (different contestants each week) will have 24 hours to modify their cars and then compete in three races/stunts/automotive shenanigans. The loser's team will have to watch as their car is destroyed at the end of the show SPECTACULARLY! The cars chosen by the hosts each week need work, lots of work, in order to be able to compete in the three challenges. Each challenge usually causes a fair amount of collateral damage to the involved cars (and sometimes the drivers too) and the team needs to quickly get the car back in working order for the next event. And inevitably the next event involves FIRE! For the premiere episode I, and my endurance racing partner, Keith Kramer, were selected to be on Wookie's team. As the writer of the Racerboy column here on Speed:Sport:Life the producers knew some of the different types of racing I had been involved in and saw some of Krider Racing’s car builds. Producers of Mud, Sweat and Gears saw Keith and I in action in the documentary film Double Down (available on Amazon) where they earned a podium finish at NASA's mighty 25 Hours of Thunderhill. The producers instantly asked us to be a part of the new show. We accepted and headed to Hollywood to thrash on a car we didn't have to pay for. The end result was Episode 1: Cops. Unbeknownst to us, our team mentor, Wookie (in red), had chosen a beater 1977 Pontiac Firebird for us to quickly turn into a police car. We chose to change our Smokey and the Bandit special into a Mad Max Police Interceptor themed car. In the end the Firebird looked like what would have happened if Mel Gibson had butt sex with Burt Reynolds. Or maybe it should be the other way around? I guess since this is BBC I should have said buggering. Someone needs to ask Burt who is the bottom. The car needed to be fast, it needed to be nimble and it needed to be tough. We built an exoskeleton cage for the car to make it tough and did some engine mods to make it fast. As far as making a 1977 Pontiac Firebird nimble, that would be a bit of a stretch of the imagination -more like, an impossibility. What couldn't be resolved with mods, would have to be resolved with ludicrous fingers crossed driving. Jonny's team had a Jaguar, pronounced "Jag-eeew-rar" by the British hosts. The car was a nineties vintage with a fair amount of technological advances in comparison to the old Pontiac. However, the car was British so... that sort of evened things out. Jonny's team was comprised of two siblings from Detriot, the Perkins brothers, who were SCCA road racers. So Episode 1 would be an asphalt slug fest through downtown Los Angeles, between NASA road racers from California and SCCA road racers from Detroit, driving cars disguised as police cruisers. What else could you want in a car show? The best news for the show is it was filmed by the Top Gear crew, which gives it that awesome cinematic feel that Top Gear does so well. The other cool part about the show is the people who make it like to crash stuff. The driving in the show is legit and all of the stunts are performed by the contestants and the hosts themselves. This combination equals carnage. Which is why people will tune in every week to check out Mud, Sweat and Gears. The landscape for Episode 1 will look very familiar to gear heads as it is the exact same location Ken Block's latest video (Gymkhana 7) was shot at including the 6th Street Bridge and awesome moments in the L.A. River (a la scenes from car movies like Grease and The Gumball Rally). Jalopnik scored some exclusive footage of the show revealing me drifting the 1977 Pontiac Firebird as I’m being chased down by the Jaguar through downtown Los Angeles. The footage is epic. Click HERE to read the Jalopnik story and watch the video. Tune in Monday night on BBC after Top Gear for the first episode of Mud, Sweat and Gears. Rob Krider is the author of the novel "Cadet Blues" available on Amazon.
Category - Speed:Sport:Life Original Content
It finally happened. You got old. Which means you finally have a few bucks in your pocket. Obvious next step: Corvette, duh. Why not? The cars are fast, sexy, and hands down the best performance bang for your buck dollar for dollar. Now that you have the Vette, it’s time to race that baby. Hello Corvette Challenge, the time trial series for Corvettes only, brought to you by guys at Speed Ventures. THE COST Time trials are relatively cheap to play in. You are looking at entry fees of about $180 a day. True, it isn’t as inexpensive as a $25 autocross but you will get much more actual track time during a time trial event versus an autocross, hence the extra scratch. You will need a good helmet which you can score from I/O Port Racing Supplies for around $300. A transponder is required for keeping track of your lap times (a steep $495 to own one, but usually $40-$50 a weekend for a rental). Tow hooks are required, so add in another $50 for those and some graphics for your favorite car number, another $50-$100 depending on how crazy you go with the decals (don’t be a newbie and use shoe polish on your window). However, in regards to cost, this is called the Corvette Challenge for a reason, so you will have the initial cost of the Corvette (which isn’t free). But time trials don’t require a roll cage, cut-off switch, window net, etc. which is mandatory for road racing (and quite pricey as well). SANCTIONING BODY Many different sanctioning bodies run time trial events during track days including National Auto Sport Association (NASA). But the Corvette Challenge is specific to Speed Ventures. They hold their Corvette Challenge events during their weekend track days at different race venues in California. The Corvette Challenge gets their own run group during the day as to avoid having lesser (slower) cars in the way on course. Speed Ventures has four different classes for the Corvette Challenge: Stock, Modified, Super Modified, and Ultimate. The classing of your Corvette is dependent on the year, model and modifications (including tires). THE HIGH You are doing what the Corvette was designed to do, go fast. This is the real article, high speeds, fast corners, a deep V8 howl, and late braking. Running a Corvette on a dedicated race track is an adrenaline rush like no other. The performance of the Corvette is so far above what most of us have spent time racing (Miatas, E30s, Neons, SE-Rs) that it takes a second to realize how fast you are actually going. Because your lap times count, this is a competitive time trial event, you push yourself even harder trying to find that extra tenth of a second to give yourself the win. It is awesome. CAR WEAR Track days are very hard on brakes. The speeds are up there so deceleration builds up enormous heat. You need to have good brake pads, fresh rotors and a very high boiling point brake fluid. We use Carbotech Racing Brake Pads and ProSpeed RS683 Extreme Performance Brake Fluid. How your Corvette holds up during the Corvette Challenge is dependent on your right foot and the quickness of your hands. These cars are a handful to drive fast. To really get the most out of the car, all electronic driving aids are turned off. This means you are on your own. Ole General Motors put electronic stability control and traction control in these cars because without those aids, the average person would total a Corvette in about 50 feet. But on the race track you want every bit of performance available and the electronic aids are just too limiting. So if you aren’t on your game, your fiberglass and carbon fiber Corvette will ultimately find something hard to crash into. Your insurance isn’t going to cover damage at the track. Chances are, due to the cost of these cars, you have financed the ride. Nobody wants to continue to make monthly payments on a hulk of aluminum and fiberglass that has been totaled. YOUR DAY Time trial track days are pretty relaxed compared to road racing. You will arrive, complete your registration, get the car tech inspected, install your transponder, enjoy a lengthy driver’s meeting and then watch the clock for your scheduled sessions. Usually Corvette Challenge events have four different sessions on track. In most cases your fastest lap from any one of those sessions will go toward your score. Best time in class is the winner. Occasionally depending on the weather, the first session of the day may be your chance to lay down a hot lap, other times it may be your last session, when you finally get the track figured out and put down a barn burner. THE PEOPLE I have found the Corvette Challenge crowd to look like exactly what you thought they would look like: older white dudes. Sure, there is a stereotype for the average Corvette owner, and this group does nothing to break it. But they are a nice group of older white dudes, who know a lot about Corvettes. The paddock is filled with immense Corvette knowledge and the guys are willing to share information with anyone who is willing to listen. Bring your folding chair (with the required Corvette flags embroidered on the seat back) and hang around and pick up some setup advice. GLORY There is no podium ceremony, or champagne, or trophy girls. In fact, there isn’t even a trophy. There is a trophy at the end of the year when a champion in each class is crowned. If you have the fastest lap in your class at the end of the day, reach around and pat yourself on the back. When you get home, you can go online and see that you won. Yay. That’s about it. If you want champagne baths and hot trophy girls, time trial events are not what you are looking for. For that sort of glory you will need to add a roll cage to the car and rub fenders in a road race. OH, YOU WANT TO WIN, DO YA? A small combination of letters and numbers are what you need to win the Corvette Challenge: Z06. It is called the Corvette Challenge, but in reality it is the Z06 Challenge. The key to winning any time trial event is to ensure your car is maxed out with car preparation for the specific class. For instance, in Corvette Challenge a C6 Z06 is already bumped up out of the Stock class and into the Modified class. By simply adding Hoosier Tires, the C6 Z06 is then bumped into the Super Modified class (where there are other Z06s with more mods). So you have to decide where you want to compete. Knowing the track well will give you a huge advantage. If you have done two hundred laps at Willow Springs, you have a big advantage over the guys in your class who are at the track for the first or second time. Traffic. You only need one fast lap out of the entire day to win the Corvette Challenge. If you have to work through traffic and make passes, that hinders your lap time. Find a nice space cushion during your session and then rip off a flyer. That will ensure you are the winner. I use radios from Sampson Racing Communications and a spotter to help guide me through traffic. Oh, and one more thing. You have to drive the hell out of that Z06. The car will try to kill you every chance it can. You have to grab the reigns of that bitch and run that car into the ground to ensure you are the winner. Well, that’s how I won the Corvette Challenge event at Buttonwillow Raceway, anyway. We detailed the build of our Z06 at Z06Life.com. RACER BOY GAUGE Let’s review the Racer Boy gauge cluster here: FUEL (Cost): The fuel gauge is less than a quarter tank because this isn’t cheap. This series requires a Corvette Z06 to win. Corvettes use big tires, and big brakes, which cost big money to replace. My advice: get rich. RPMs (Adrenaline): The tachometer is at 6,800 RPMs because this is the real deal. Running a Corvette Z06 at max speed on a closed course is epic. Nothing compares to it. MPH (Danger): The speedometer is at 123 miles per hour because if you drive a Corvette, chances are you will be going 123 miles per hour between every corner of any racetrack. These cars are fast. VOLTS (Time): The volts gauge is less than a quarter full because time trials are a full day affair (and prepping the car for time trials takes longer than simply getting ready for an autocross). Tell your wife you're busy. MILEAGE (Car Wear): The mileage is at 150,000 miles because running a Corvette at ten tenths on a closed course (with walls and tire barriers) can be hard on your carbon fiber fenders. Corvette Challenge events have sadly seen the demise of many LS7 engines which grenaded in spectacular (and expensive) fashion. CHECKERED FLAG Speed Venture’s Corvette Challenge is an awesome way to run your Corvette at the limit and compete with likeminded and like-equipped individuals. If you have a Z06, it is something you have to do. It is what the car was made to do. See you at the track! Photography by Jeffery Balliet
When I drove the Buick Encore in 2013, it was a bit of a unique offering on American soil, owing to its subcompact roots; specifically, those of the Chevy Sonic. Besides the Mini Countryman and Nissan Juke, even up until last year there were few alternatives for those seeking a pipsqueak crossover. The B-segment crossover field is set to grow significantly in 2015, however, with manufacturers like Honda, Mazda, Jeep and Fiat each set to introduce their own variation on the theme. Chevy can also be counted among the fray, although much of their work on the Trax seen here had already been done with the Encore. What is it? Besides being Chevy’s new entry into the rapidly expanding small crossover field, it’s also a sister car to the Encore. That’s not to say it’s a rebadge job, exactly – the exteriors and interiors of each are unique. But they ride atop the same Sonic-based platform, and beneath their hoods lies the same beating heart – a 1.4-liter EcoTec turbocharged four-cylinder, mated to a six-speed automatic and either front- or all-wheel drive. Power and torque stand at 138 hp and 148 lb-ft, respectively. What works? At some level, the reason shoppers are eager to plunk down money for a subcompact crossover over a similarly-sized sedan or hatchback comes down to vanity. The virtues these vehicles tout – compact footprint, easy parking lot maneuverability, practicality galore, good fuel economy and decent value for money – are all virtues possessed by the car-shaped subcompacts they’re based on, only more so. So we can assume that the reason these crossovers are quickly becoming the hot-ticket showroom item is because to buyers, they just look cooler than their sedan and hatch counterparts. The Trax fares pretty well in this regard, being both fairly well-proportioned and possessed of some interesting styling details. Only in the side profile does a pronounced front-biased look present itself. Elsewhere, and especially in our tester’s bright orange paintwork, I can see potential customers calling the look “cute”, “quirky”, and “funky”. In all of the other aforementioned categories, the Trax also ticks the right boxes. It’s a breeze to wheel into tight spaces, there’s stretch-out room up front and decent space in the rear, allows umpteen configurations of seat folding positions (aided by a fold-flat front passenger seat), has seemingly hundreds of hidey-holes and storage bins scattered around, gets close to 30 miles per gallon in the real world and starts at just $21 grand, only cresting $25,000 when fully loaded (add $1,500 or so for all-wheel drive). Dynamically, it also corners adroitly for such a tall, top-heavy type of vehicle, and the 1.4-liter turbo four with its 148 lb-ft of torque (which actually doesn’t sound like enough on paper) mostly just…works. It’s definitely not going to dust off any Camaros at the lights, but during highway passing maneuvers – typically a weak point among subcompacts – the broad torque plateau allows for just a single-gear downshift. Press gas, single gear drop, away you go (within reason, of course)…leagues better than the wheezy zing to redline you’ll get in most of the naturally-aspirated and/or CVT-equipped competition. What doesn’t? While that turbo four has enough poke to keep you out of trouble in most situations, it announces its presence loudly inside the cabin whenever the requested throttle opening exceeds 50%. I hadn’t noticed that trait in the Encore, so perhaps some sound deadening was left out in Chevy’s version. Another area the Trax kowtows to the Encore is in terms of interior design and materials. While the Trax, in the LTZ trim of our tester, has enough creature comforts to satisfy at the price (a simple touchscreen audio interface, heated leather seats, power driver’s seat, steering wheel audio controls, backup camera, and a Bose stereo) it surrenders the nicer interior design and more upscale materials of the Encore to offer a lower sticker price. A similarly equipped Encore FWD runs about $3,500 more than our uplevel Trax LTZ tester – buyers will need to decide if that price is worth it to them over the mechanically identical Chevy. Overall? Though not as early to the party as the Encore, Chevy’s entrant to the subcompact crossover market still beats the rest of the herd to showrooms, and is worth a look - especially for buyers with a fixed budget of $25k or less. If your wallet can stretch a little wider, though, we think the more upscale looks inside and out of the Trax’s Buick sister make a strong case for cross-shopping within GM’s own portfolio. [gallery ids="11336,11347,11348,11349,11350,11356,11355,11354,11352,11351,11353,11343,11344,11341,11340,11339,11338,11337,11345,11346,11357"] 2015 Chevy Trax LTZ FWD Base price: $25,905 Price as tested: $25,905 Options on test car: None Powertrain: 1.4-Liter Turbocharged 4-cylinder engine, 6-speed automatic transmission, front-wheel-drive – 138 horsepower, 148 lb-ft torque S:S:L-observed fuel economy: 29.1 mpg Chevy provided the vehicle for testing purposes and one tank of gas. Photos by the author.
We at Speed:Sport:Life are truck fans, and we’ve spent a ton of time with the current spate of full-size light- and medium-duty GM pickups and sport utilities. GM’s now installed a new, 8-speed automatic to boost the fuel economy of these big beasts, and our first sample of it is in this 2015 Escalade. What is it? Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last couple decades, you’re probably pretty familiar with the Escalade. For those who have been living underground, this is Cadillac’s version of the newest GM body-on-frame truck platform (GMT K2XX) that has also birthed the Silverado/Sierra (including HD versions), Tahoe/Yukon and Suburban. This 2015 differs from the early-production-run 2015 I drove a few months ago in two significant ways – it’s a short-wheelbase model, as opposed to that two-foot-longer ESV, and it now features GM’s new 8-speed 8L90 automatic transmission, which is a mid-cycle update from the 6-speed automatic this truck was introduced with over the summer. What works? It’s a comfy place to spend time, the Escalade. I had the pleasure of taking a mini, 300-or-so mile road trip in it during the week I babysat it, and the Caddy ate up the miles with a spoon while returning north of 21 mpg on the highway in the process. The new 8-speed seems to have caused a noticeable uptick in real-world fuel economy (precisely the reason it was on-boarded for these trucks) with this 2015 returning a week-long mixed average of just under 18 miles per gallon in my hands, while “last year’s” 2015 (which is admittedly a heavier truck, owing to the longer body length, so take the comparison with a grain of salt) averaged only 15.5 mpg. That’s honestly impressive progress for a vehicle of this size and type, and coupled with the fact that GM hasn’t yet resorted to the optional next steps of engine downsizing or forced induction (we love the big, burly 6.2-liter V8 in the ‘Slade, but its days are probably numbered), it’s clear there’s plenty of headroom yet left in making these large SUVs even more efficient. Otherwise, this current model remains steadfast to the first Escalade’s concept, albeit in a much more refined, better-built package: it’s a feature-laden, supremely comfortable and suitably massive vehicle designed to carry six adults (seven in a pinch) in luxurious comfort. It’s probably a bit over the top as a school-run vehicle or an in-town errand runner, but it truly rewards on long highway stretches when passengers are able to take advantage of the significant elbow room. What doesn’t? Though GM’s engineers have performed wonders to make it appear otherwise, this is still a truck underneath, and as such, there are instances, like rough railroad crossings or tall speed bumps, where the truck roots come through in terms of the Escalade’s body motions. It never presents an actual issue, but it does strike a different character than the car-like isolation of something like, say, a Range Rover. I mention the RR only because the Caddy is now playing in a similar price arena – it’s never been a cheap vehicle, and that is the case now more than ever. Though in an age where loaded pickups can crest $60k, perhaps a $90,000 Escalade isn’t so out of scope. Lastly, while various software updates have greatly improved its functionality, the CUE system still occasionally obfuscates quick, commonly used inputs like stereo volume and A/C temperature changes with its touchscreen controls – in my opinion, there are a few places where normal knobs would certainly suffice. Overall? Though it is unabashedly truck-based at its core, the current Escalade is still near the top of the large luxury SUV heap, especially when measured by the segment’s most relevant yard-sticks: space, comfort and feature content. [gallery ids="11306,11307,11308,11309,11310,11311,11312,11325,11326,11327,11328,11329,11324,11323,11322,11321,11320,11319,11318,11317,11316,11315,11314,11313"] 2015 Cadillac Escalade Premium 4WD Base price: $85,065 Price as tested: $89,755 Options on test car: White Diamond Tri-Coat ($995), Kona Brown full leather seats ($2,000), Power-retractable side steps ($1,695) Powertrain: 6.2-liter V8 engine, 8-speed automatic transmission, four wheel drive – 420 horsepower, 460 lb-ft torque S:S:L-observed fuel economy: 17.9 mpg Cadillac provided the vehicle for testing purposes and one tank of gas. Photos by the author.
When Audi introduced the gorgeous S5 coupe to these shores in 2007, it was available in a single configuration – with a naturally-aspirated V8 engine powering all four wheels, controlled by a manual transmission. A Tiptronic transmission and other engine options soon followed, but the S5 manual was still the one to covet if you considered yourself an enthusiast. Sadly, Audi’s sexiest front-engine bodywork (in my humble opinion) can no longer be had draped over a V8 and a manual transmission – the S5 moved to supercharged six-cylinder power for 2013, and though there’s still a naturally-aspirated V8 in the lineup in the form of the RS5, no manual transmission is available for it. Luckily, the RS5 may just be compelling enough to overcome the lack of a third pedal… What is it? Equipped with a version of the potent, direct-injected 4.2-liter FSI V8 shared with the R8 and previous RS4, the RS5 is the crown jewel of the A4/A5 line. And while the rest of the world is treated to this gem of a powerplant in current RS4 sedan and wagon guise, in the US, the RS5 is our only opportunity to sample the naturally-aspirated FSI V8 with more than two seats. Despite sharing an engine, the RS5 differs from the R8 4.2 in that it is not a pure sports car. That shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone reading this, but it deserves being said. That doesn’t for a second mean it’s missed the mark – after all, a convertible with four real seats and all-wheel drive probably wouldn’t be someone’s first choice to fling around a racetrack anyway. Audi’s focused instead on making the RS5 a dual-character car - something that can play the grand touring role of a laid-back, stylish and fast cruiser capable of crushing the European continent in a single long-haul blow, but overlaying that with switchable powertrain and chassis settings that can be configured as stiff and sharp as the driver dares. Moreover, it’s a BMW M3 for those who think the M3 is just a bit too “been there, done that”. What works? That V8 engine is a beautiful thing when spinning to its 8,450 RPM redline, and it sounds absolutely gorgeous. Seriously, Audi deserves some praise for sticking with the naturally-aspirated V8 in this age of forced induction, because the exhaust and intake notes in the upper portion of the 4.2-liter’s rev range sound fantastic. The seven-speed S Tronic dual clutch is as slick and quick here as it is elsewhere VW/Audi universe, and it goes about its business in the RS with seamless precision. You’ll have more than just a gorgeous engine to stare at for your $85,000, though – the RS5 absolutely looks the business. In this muted shade of Daytona Grey Metallic, the styling is at once understated and aggressive, wholly symbolic of the great Quattro GMBH bruisers that have come before it, but somehow more lithe and elegant in person than I expected, as if the short, squat stature of the thing doesn’t quite come through in photos. It looks large, maybe even GTR-sized in images, but in person it seems quite a bit more compact than that. The matte-grey-finished alloys set the look off perfectly against the boxy fender flares, and matte aluminum trim serves as the icing on the cake. It’s a great looking thing, which is practically reason enough to justify one over the standard S5. Inside, the styling details show typical Audi restraint and everything feels designed and built to an exceptionally high standard. The cabin layout is little changed from the A5/S5’s 2008 debut, but it still looks modern. The RS5 comes standard with a 505-watt Bang & Olufsen sound system (optional on lesser models), which has no trouble hitting impressively clear high notes, even while top-down at 80 MPH – though at all speeds I drove, the cabin proved to be a remarkably draft-free and quiet place to sit with the removable plastic wind blocker in place. In fact, at speed it felt calmer than most fixed roof cars do with the windows down - impressive. The RS5 has all of the chassis and powertrain adjustments a buyer in this class could hope for, but I’m still of the belief that the car would be just fine with a single, “middle of the road”-type setting. There are four settings that allow electronic tweaking in the RS5 Cabrio – engine/transmission, differential, steering, and engine sound. Suspension damping adjustability is also possible on the RS5 Coupe. You can select between generalized auto, comfort or dynamic modes for all settings, or program a “favorite” that combines your preferred modes for each into one click. I found the car to be at its best in “dynamic” mode for the engine and transmission, meaning crisper shift programming and throttle response, and the active exhaust in its naughtiest setting. I left the rest of the settings in “auto” and went on about my business. Grip levels are high in steady-state cornering, and the RS5 seems happiest if you man-handle it a bit into corners. It’s got enough grip, thanks to 275-section Pirelli P Zero summer tires at all four corners, to sort out just about anything you throw at it, though eventually the front-biased weight distribution makes itself known with a tendency toward mild understeer at the limit . Although, any rational driver is unlikely to encounter those limits on the street. Strong braking comes courtesy of big 14.4” front and 12.8” rear ventilated discs, with red-painted calipers specced on our tester. Carbon-ceramic front rotors are also optional for those who need the utmost in fade resistance, meaning folks likely to regularly track their cars, or just those who want the bragging rights. What doesn’t? Well, it does weigh 4,420 pounds. That’s heavier than its direct competition, the M4 convertible, by over 300 pounds. This comparison is slightly unfair, given the RS5’s standard all-wheel drive (unavailable on the M4), but then the M4 has a hardtop versus the RS5’s cloth, which should help level the playing field. It’s not as if the Audi’s weight is completely out of the ballpark – after all, it’s now nearly impossible to make a modern high-performance, four-seat convertible that weighs less than two tons. For example – the Camaro ZL1 convertible? 4,374 pounds. The Mercedes-Benz E550 Cabriolet? 4,387 pounds. And BMW’s other 4-series, the all-wheel drive 435i xDrive convertible? 4,270 pounds. None of these cars are featherweights, but the Audi is still the least feathery of them all. The weight is, in part, made more noticeable thanks to that gorgeous, sweet-spinning V8. You see, the 4.2-liter is a bit light on torque. That statement might sound a bit hollow – I mean, it’s got 316 lb-ft of the stuff, after all. That’s more than double what my feeble FR-S manages to put down. How can one possibly accuse it of not being torquey? Well, the issue is that the torque lives all the way up the rev range; unless you’re on cam above 4,000 RPM, the V8 just doesn’t feel all that gutsy. Above 7k, it sings. It’s easy to want it both ways, of course – if you crave high revs and bags of character, turbocharging usually isn’t the way to go. And yet there’s something about the RS5’s laid-back demeanor that’s just begging for a pair of snails to be added to the V8. Don’t be surprised if the next generation (assuming there is one) gets forced induction. For now, you’ll have to live with the echoes-of-LeMans exhaust note and high strung nature of the V8. It’s a tough world. Overall? The RS5 is an impressive car in many ways, and manages to be both deeply lovable and deeply desirable. That’s not to say it’s without its flaws, and certainly, anyone looking for a German GT-R at a slight discount will probably come away disappointed – though, especially in Cabriolet form, comparisons between the two are apples to oranges. Perhaps it’s these flaws that make it so desirable – it’s perplexingly hard to drive and behold the RS5 without forgiving it completely and wanting a place for it in your own stable. But it’s also devilishly close to being one of the all-time great GTs – something a little more torque, a little less weight, and a touch more handling focus would surely solve. [gallery ids="11274,11275,11276,11277,11278,11279,11280,11281,11282,11283,11284,11285,11289,11288,11287,11286,11290,11291,11292,11293,11297,11296,11295,11294,11298,11299,11300,11301"] 2015 Audi RS5 Cabriolet Base price: $79,200 Price as tested: $85,900 Options on test car: Daytona Grey pearl effect paint ($550), 20” 5-arm-rotor design wheels with titanium finish ($1,000), Technology package ($2,900), Red brake package ($500), Matte Aluminum optic package ($750), Sports exhaust with black outlets ($1,000) Powertrain: 4.2-liter V8 engine, 7-speed dual-clutch automatic, all-wheel-drive – 450 horsepower, 316 lb-ft torque S:S:L-observed fuel economy: 20.1 mpg Audi provided the vehicle for testing purposes and one tank of gas. Photos by the author.
Though the F-segment luxury sedan class that the LS460 occupies is known for being chock-full of cutting edge technology and forward-leaning style, the car seen here has been around since 2007, more or less. Does that make it feel old? Surprisingly not, actually…quite the contrary. In fact, this current LS460 feels somewhat timeless – like the LS sedans that preceded it. Though the fascias and interior have been updated since then, the stoic build quality and wafty, laid back driving experience remain the same. But does it still have what it takes to bring the fight to updated rivals like the Mercedes S-Class? What is it? Lexus’ flagship sedan. An evolution of the model that started it all for the Japanese brand a quarter century ago, the LS400, the nameplate has since built itself a reputation based on stellar build quality, precision engineering, durability and comfort. The design has evolved to match the spindle grille theme that stretches across Lexus’ lineup, but the platform sticks to a V8, rear-wheel drive configuration. There have been a few notable tweaks along the way – an optional (and world-first) V8 hybrid powertrain, a long-wheelbase version and all-wheel drive became optionally available during the current generation’s tenure. The F-Sport package our tester carried was made available for the LS in 2013, and brings sport-tuned air suspension, 19” forged alloys, a Torsen LSD, Brembo 6-piston front brakes, paddle shifters, an Alcantara headliner, and a more aggressive front end treatment. What works? Quite a bit, actually. The legendary LS quality of cosseting isolation from road noise and broken pavement is still here, even in the sharper F-Sport trim, which lowers the ride height by half an inch but does little to disturb the pristine ride quality LS buyers demand. The suspension snuffs out bumps without ever feeling wallowy, and sound levels inside the cabin rarely rise above hushed, save for the few occasions when full power is summoned from the engine room - in which case you’ll hear a distant intake growl from the DOHC V8. Nevertheless, the interior remains the quietest in LS model history, according to Lexus, which must mean it also ranks fairly high on the “quietest interiors of all-time” list. Forward progress is decently swift, though against the newest generation of German twin-turbocharged V8s, you do have to wait a little longer for the torque to come on song. Still, the 4.6-liter’s 386 horsepower and 367 pound-feet are plenty to move you along in stately progress, even in a luxo barge of this size. Shifts from the Aisin 8-speed automatic are barely perceptible in full-auto mode, though you can take control via wheel-mounted paddle shifters in the F-Sport model, if you desire. The LS’s character is laid back enough that such red-mist moments rarely last very long. Although, like the exterior, the interior's design ethos closely echoes that of the rest of the current Lexus lineup, the construction quality is a noticeable step-up above those already well-assembled models. Everything operates with a certain indescribable, well-oiled precision, which manages to create an interior that feels sumptuous, expensive, and more special than the mere sum of its parts. Our tester was a 2014 model, but changes to the 2015 are minor – limited to an updated multimedia/navigation system, the standard mobile app suite, and not much else. Included tech levels are already generous – features like a 12.3” in-dash LCD screen, 5.8” TFT info screen in the gauge cluster, Siri eyes-free mode for the navigation system and contact lists, an Intuitive Park Assist system and automatic door shuts are just a few of the items included gratis for the car’s $73,050 base price. While something like an S-class offers more in the way of bleeding-edge technology, it comes at a price – a similarly equipped S550 can easily toe deep into six figure territory, whereas our LS460 F-Sport was more or less loaded at its $85,130 sticker. What doesn’t? Well, it’s a Lexus LS, so honestly, everything works – and probably will continue to do so for the next 25 years. Though, if we’re being pressed, we suppose the LS460’s age versus most of the competition might come into question. Even though the last major generation change was back in 2007, a thorough reskinning in 2013 brought the styling in line with the rest of Lexus’ current lineup. We’d say it still commands enough respect at the valet stand to be parked next to newer entrants, but looks are of course subjective. The big Lex certainly doesn’t drive old, but the lack of some of the latest tech gizmos featured on other competitors might cause some shoppers to look elsewhere. Overall While the popularity of the traditional, large luxury sedan has waned slightly in recent years, thanks to the rise of the Tesla Model S, luxury 3-row SUVs and the general competence of the cars in the luxury classes beneath, the LS460 still manages to steal a significant cut of sales away from its German rivals, even in its eighth model year on the market. That speaks not only to the bulletproof reputation the LS has rightfully earned over the decades, but also the general competence of this current model. The fact that it does so many things well makes it a sound choice for buyers who choose their cars not for trendiness, but in anticipation of years of reliable service. [gallery ids="11249,11250,11251,11252,11253,11254,11255,11256,11257,11258,11259,11260,11261,11262,11263,11264,11265"] 2014 Lexus LS460 Base price: $73,050 Price as tested: $85,130 Options on test car: F Sport package ($8,350), F Sport comfort package ($1,650), Mark Levinson 19-speaker sound system ($1,580), Blind spot monitoring ($500) Powertrain: 4.6-liter V8 engine, 8-speed automatic, rear-wheel-drive – 386 horsepower, 367 lb-ft torque S:S:L-observed fuel economy: 19.6 mpg Lexus provided the vehicle for testing purposes and one tank of gas. Photos by the author.