Category - Speed:Sport:Life Original Content

Driven: 2015.5 Volvo V60 T6 R-Design

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It wasn’t so long ago that you could choose a dealership from a range of makes, walk in and plunk down money for a fast station wagon. Sure, it might cost you a bit, but the options were there. Audi, Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Cadillac, even Dodge, have offered big engines in five door bodies in recent years. Today, short of the $104,000 Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG wagon and any number of crossovers, your options are limited – to this car: the Volvo V60 T6 R-Design. They say competition breeds excellence, so what happens when then there’s a near-complete dearth of it? Read on to find out. What is it? In a nutshell, this is simply the wagon version of the S60 sedan, but it represents more than that. After a lengthy hiatus from our shores, Volvo re-introduced the V60 to America in 2014, and the model is something of a return to form for the once-builders of fast, stealthy and practical Q-ships that also happened to be styled like the boxes they were shipped in. The new V60 changes things in that regard, as it’s clearly not boxy – to my eyes, it’s just about the curviest thing the brand has produced in recent memory. SAMSUNG CSC Available in three flavors – T5 “Drive-E” (240 hp, 4-cylinder turbo, FWD), T5 (250 hp, 5-cylinder turbo, AWD), and our T6 R-Design (325 hp, 6-cylinder turbo, AWD), this top-level tester is the fastest and most powerful wagon the company has even built. Ours was also a 2015.5 model, which differs from the 2015 only in equipment – a new Harman Kardon sound system becomes available across the range, along with an updated navigation system and a convenience package. SAMSUNG CSC What works? The T6’s boosted 3-liter inline six makes horsepower, and lots of it - 325, to be exact, and a burgeoning 354 lb-ft of torque from just 2100 rpm. Mounted transversely and hooked to a six-speed automatic with paddle shifters, the Volvo manages not to exhibit torque-steer thanks to its Haldex all-wheel drive system. While the engine note is fairly subdued, there’s at least a small hint of straight-six growl present – enough to keep things interesting, anyway. Still, the hit of the turbo boost ought to accomplish that on its own. Volvo believes the T6 will get to 60 in five and a half seconds; I’d guess it’s even quicker. Flat out, the V60 is electronically limited to 130 mph, though that’s probably due to tire selection – the T6's power should be capable of blasting it through 150 and well beyond, considering the just-barely-stronger Polestar variant is electronically limited to 155 mph. This is one rapid wagon. SAMSUNG CSCVolvo equips the T6 R-Design as standard with a sport chassis setup that’s optional on lower trims. This includes firmer springs that drop the ride height, monotube dampers, an underhood strut brace and firmer suspension bushings. Combined with the stickier 19” summer tires on alloy wheels that came equipped on our tester, it adds up to a fairly grippy package with limited roll and body motions. Of course, stiff suspension does have consequences – particularly in a vehicle with daily driver intentions. Read further down for the flip side of the coin. SAMSUNG CSCPart of the reason so many wagon models vanished from our shores was their perceived lack of style, or the lack of adventure a two-box design conveys to some (alright, most) shoppers – however incorrect that view is. Volvo appears to have confronted that stigma head-on with the V60’s styling – it’s low-slung and curvy enough to sidestep the “station wagon” descriptor all together. I know a few wagon detractors, and even they managed to warm to the V60’s styling. SAMSUNG CSCThe V60 isn’t all looks, of course - a wagon wouldn’t be a worthy bearer of the name if it didn’t also pack a shed-load of stuff when called upon. The Volvo fairs pretty well in this regard, too. Despite its sleek tapered roofline, you can still fit a decent amount of stuff inside, landing somewhere close to a Jetta wagon in terms of overall space. The seatbacks fold in a 40/20/40 split, so fitting two outboard passengers is still possible even with a long item in the middle. One neat touch – the rear seat headrests fold down at the touch of a dash-mounted button when not needed, a classy party trick plucked from the likes of older Benzes. The thick-pile carpeting used in the cargo area feels like it would hold up for the long term, relinquishing Fido’s fur to the vacuum far easier than the cheap stuff covering most trunks. SAMSUNG CSCSAMSUNG CSC The rest of the interior is nicely finished and typically modern, comfortable and minimalist in the Swedish tradition. The seats deserve praise for being extremely comfy over a long haul but well-bolstered enough to hold you in place in the corners. Of course, Volvo’s always been quite good at building sport seats and their new ownership has done little to change that. A few of the infotainment controls confuse at first use, seeing as there’s no industry-typical joystick to navigate through the labyrinth of computer functions, but after a few days I had it figured out. SAMSUNG CSCSAMSUNG CSCSAMSUNG CSCSAMSUNG CSC What doesn’t? Possibly to make the T6 R-Design stand out against the rest of the V60 lineup (as if 325 horsepower didn’t do that already), Volvo instilled a bit of starch into the chassis, too. Perhaps too much - the ride is tuned more toward ‘sport’ than feels strictly necessary in a car with the V60’s mission. Body motions have been tamped down to a minimum and body roll is well-controlled, but over broken pavement, large impacts register sharply – likely a result of the 19” tires’ minimal sidewall as well as the stiffer suspension. It’d be interesting to see how much the T6’s standard 18” wheel and tire package improves the ride. Also, though the R-Design’s steering rack offers a quicker rate than standard V60s, it doesn’t offer anything in the way of feedback. SAMSUNG CSC Overall? While in Europe, we’d be spoiled for choice, station wagon enthusiasts in the United States have far more limited options. The fact that Volvo markets and sells a fast wagon in the states is lucky enough; that it’s also a good car is luckier still. SAMSUNG CSC [gallery ids="11493,11494,11495,11496,11497,11499,11500,11501,11502,11503,11508,11507,11506,11505,11504,11512,11511,11509,11510"] 2015.5 Volvo V60 T6 R-Design Base price: $46,075 Price as tested: $48,225 Options on test car: Blind spot monitoring ($900), 19” wheels w/ summer tires ($750), Heated seats ($500) Powertrain: 3.0-liter turbocharged six-cylinder engine, 6-speed automatic transmission, all-wheel drive – 325 horsepower, 354 lb-ft torque S:S:L-observed fuel economy: 22.9 mpg Volvo provided the vehicle for testing purposes and one tank of gas. Photos by the author.

Driven: 2015 Dodge Charger R/T

2015 Dodge Charger R/T Road & Track
Like the Challenger I drove a few weeks back, sales of the four-door Charger are primarily comprised of V6 and R/T V8 models, rather than the fire-breathing SRT models that typically grace the pages of buff books. Furthermore, for the middle class family man who needs a practical sedan, but doesn’t want to succumb to the boredom of a CamCordTima or the predictability of the rear-wheel drive compact luxury class, a big American brute like the Charger R/T provides a compelling alternative. What are the highlights and pitfalls of making such a choice? Read on to find out. What is it? Along with the Challenger, the Charger was heavily updated for the 2015 model year. The most obvious change is the modernized front end sheetmetal; although Dodge changed every panel south of the roof and windows, certainly the biggest difference is the new front clip. Inside, the overall dash design remains the same, but the gauge cluster dials and center screen have been modernized, a new steering wheel takes the place of the dated old version, and an electronic T-handle shifter supplants the previous gated unit. 2015 Dodge Charger R/T Mechanically, things are less changed – at least on this R/T model – although it does gain electric power steering with driver-selectable modes, new suspension tuning, and an eight-speed ZF automatic transmission, which greatly improves fuel economy and refinement. Under the hood is the same 370-horse, 395 lb-ft 5.7-liter pushrod V8 from last year. 2015 Dodge Charger R/T What works? Although unchanged, the HEMI V8 feels refreshed thanks to the new 8-speed automatic, and makes its presence known early and often; the mellifluous induction note is not a sound to be reckoned with. Even though it’s a thirsty beast, a generous spread of gear ratios (including two overdrives) and cylinder deactivation mean you can wail on it and still return decent fuel economy numbers. We saw close to 20 mpg during our week of spirited driving – just a few ticks shy of the V6 Challenger’s – so if you’re trying to use the annual fuel bill as an excuse for not springing for the HEMI, your argument just got a bit weaker. 2015 Dodge Charger R/T 2015 Dodge Charger R/T Dodge estimates that with the new gearbox, 0-60 times for the R/T have now dropped into the high-five second range, and it certainly feels that strong from behind the wheel. To make full use of the TorqueFlite’s responsiveness, you’ll want to spring for the $3,000 Road & Track package, which brings wheel-mounted shift paddles and a shorter final drive ratio for the limited-slip diff (3.07 versus 2.62). You’ll also get “Super Track Pak” suspension tuning (not to be confused with the stand-alone, 6.4-liter "Scat Pack" version) and performance steering calibration. 2015 Dodge Charger R/T Road & Track Generous equipment levels help make an even stronger case for ticking the Road & Track option box, as the package also includes 20” wheels, HID headlights, power/heated/cooled Alcantara front seats, power-adjustable pedals and steering column, and park assist. Our tester was further decked out with a $995 Beats sound system, $2,590 in combined safety tech and convenience options, among which were adaptive cruise, blind spot monitoring, forward collision prevention and so on, navigation ($795), a power sunroof ($1,195) and a gloss black-painted roof, which at $1,500, seems like an ask too far. If you could live without the black paint and sunroof, a still nicely-loaded HEMI will run just a tad north of $40k, which looks like a screaming bargain considering the amount of car you get in return. 2015 Dodge Charger R/T Road & Track What doesn’t? There’s very little not  to like about the R/T; even some of the foibles that could be considered irksome on the higher-priced SRT Charger variants (blah interior trim in places, and generally acting a bit rough around the edges) can be forgiven at this R/T's more reasonable price level. 2015 Dodge Charger R/T Road & Track If you’re looking for a glassy smooth ride, I suppose the R/T without the Road & Track option might be a better bet; it didn’t bother me much on the smooth roads of the Southeast where I reside, but I can see pock-marked northern roads causing a bit of head-toss on the firmer Super Track Pak suspension. 2015 Dodge Charger R/T Road & Track Finally, while there’s a good amount of room inside, it doesn’t feel quite as roomy as the Charger’s prodigious exterior dimensions would suggest. Blame the necessary evils of rear-wheel drive packaging. Of course, if you want a more space-efficient sedan, you’re going to end up shopping the front-wheel drive category, and we certainly wouldn’t want to steer you in that  direction. 2015 Dodge Charger R/T Overall? We love what the Charger represents. In a way, the technology and safety updates from this latest 2015 redesign bring the car right up to date with what else is out there in the large sedan segment. But the way which the Charger, particularly in V8 guise, carries itself is decidedly vintage in nature. Dynamically, it’s got enough character and capability to go toe-to-toe with the pony coupes of the world, but it still offers five real seats and a massive trunk to make use of when called for. It’s a true "dual character" that few sedans can pull off, and fewer still at this price point – and that includes the Charger’s chief rival, the Chevy SS. 2015 Dodge Charger R/T 2015 Dodge Charger R/T RWD Road & Track Base price: $33,990 Price as tested: $43,965 Options on test car: Preferred Package 29R ($3,000), Beats Audio Group ($995), Technology Group ($1,795), Driver Confidence Group ($795), Navigation ($695), Power Sunroof ($1,195), Black painted roof ($1,500) Powertrain: 5.7-liter V8 engine, 8-speed automatic transmission, rear wheel drive – 370 horsepower, 395 lb-ft torque S:S:L-observed fuel economy: 19.8 mpg Dodge provided the vehicle for testing purposes and one tank of gas. Photos by the manufacturer.

Driven: 2015 Mercedes-Benz ML400

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Despite being around since 2012, we've yet to lay hands on a current-generation Mercedes-Benz ML. There's no time like the present, especially with model changes (including a new name) just around the corner in 2016... SAMSUNG CSC What is it? The ML sits squarely at the center of Mercedes-Benz’s current sports-utility universe, with the GLA and GLK models below, and GL and G above. Excluding the bonkers and practically unclassifiable G-wagen, the ML model is the forefather of this modern crew of trucklets, having debuted in 1997. Mercedes’ naming convention for the ML is changing to match the rest of its “G-thangs”, though, and from 2016 onward will be known as the GLE. A sneak peek of the updated styling details and interior treatments that can be expected on the new model can be seen now on the recently revealed GLE-class Coupe, a fastback SUV intending to lock horns with the BMW X6. SAMSUNG CSCThe -400 model seen here was added last year to take over as the top-dog non-AMG ML version and replaced the ML550, supplanting that truck’s 4.7-liter twin-turbo V8 (which produced a meaty 402 hp and 443 lb-ft) with a twin-turbo V6 bringing considerably less gusto (lighter by 73 horsepower and 89 pound-feet). The engine switch affords a big step up in efficiency, though - EPA ratings for the V6 stand at 18/22 compared to 14/20 for the old V8. The new turbo 6 is a boon for the carmaker’s corporate fuel economy average, and though it lacks the V8’s ballsier nature, it’s nearly as quick in the real world. SAMSUNG CSC What works? Having only previously sampled the 4.7-liter V8 in the E-Class coupe, I can’t comment on its character in the ML550 – though the lighter E proved to be an absolute rocketship in that configuration. Nevertheless, this turbo six is smooth and torquey in the ML400 and never feels lacking in the power department. Is it as fast as the old V8? Not likely, but around town where these things are actually used, it’s equally unlikely that many would-be owners will miss the V8. What they will appreciate is the newfound range and economy the V6 offers – I saw over 20 miles per gallon in varied conditions, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but in reality even mid-sized to large luxury sedans sometimes struggle to match that figure. SAMSUNG CSCSAMSUNG CSC Sedans, though, can’t touch the utility of the ML400. Stretch-out space front and rear is ample, and the cargo area is well-finished and roomy. In general, the interior is a nice place to spend time; quiet, well-assembled, and all the parts that matter are lined in either leather, almost-leather, or our tester’s optional matte finish wood trim. Also leather-lined are the multi-contour heated and vented front seats, which feature a configurable massage function that really melts away the miles on long trips. Overall, the interior isn’t quite as tech-laden as something like the newest high-end BMW X5, but I’ve found Mercedes’ infotainment interface to be easier to use than iDrive. SAMSUNG CSCSAMSUNG CSC SAMSUNG CSC It’s a cosseting vehicle for sure, the ML. The ride is muted and unperturbed by either crosswinds or road imperfections. It certainly feels a lot more mature than the rough and tumble first-generation MLs (though I can still recall being mesmerized by these trucks as a kid when they debuted, pounding around off-road in camo paint in the second Jurassic Park movie). The soft suspension that’s so pleasant on the highway and on surface roads can make the ML feel a bit ponderous in sharp cornering, though at a certain point you learn to trust that the thing will grip, and on wide 265/45 tires, it does. The sporty nature that some shoppers in this segment expect will no doubt be reserved for the GLE Coupe, especially in AMG Sport guise, but I wonder if the ML isn’t better for the fact that it doesn’t try to be so sporty all the time. After all, most of these vehicles spend a comfy life being driven around town and down the interstate, and in those settings, I want a pleasant ride in my luxury car, not a punishing one - which is what the ML delivers. SAMSUNG CSC What doesn’t? Our tester was loaded to the gills, and as a result, induced a bit of sticker shock - nearly $80k seems like a tough pill to swallow for a mid-sized SUV. Still, I suppose it’s easy enough to option an X5 up to (and far beyond) the same price level. Compared to the X5, the ML400’s pricing falls somewhere in line between the 6-cylinder 35i and 8-cylinder 50i models, as do its power and torque figures. SAMSUNG CSC The aforementioned lack of “sportiness” won’t be a drawback for many, and in fact, we’re pleased that the ML cuts its own path in terms of skewing back toward cushy ride comfort – but for those seeking car-like cornering composure, the ML doesn’t quite deliver. SAMSUNG CSC Finally, I suppose you could also ding the ML for already being “last year’s model” in a sense, with the GLE on the not-so-distant horizon, though honestly, given that revisions to the new model are going to be mostly cosmetic and minor at that, I wouldn’t let the upcoming nomenclature change deter me from buying now if this was the car I wanted. SAMSUNG CSC Overall? After a thorough revamp for 2012 and a facelift and name change coming next year, the ML is still well-positioned to take on the class it helped create back in 1997. [gallery ids="11448,11449,11450,11451,11456,11457,11458,11462,11452,11453,11454,11459,11460,11461,11463,11464,11465"] 2015 Mercedes-Benz ML400 4Matic Base price: $63,825 Price as tested: $78,895 Options on test car: Diamond White metallic paint ($1,515), Brown Ash Wood trim ($160), Multi-Contour front seats w/ massage ($1,100), Ventilated front seats ($570), Power panoramic sunroof ($1,090), Active Curve System ($2,820), trailer hitch ($575), 20” AMG 5-spoke wheel ($750), Special order group ($250), Airmatic air suspension w/ adaptive damping ($1,610), Lighting package ($1,390), Parking Assist package ($1,290), Driver Assistance package ($1,950) Powertrain: 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged V6 engine, 7-speed automatic transmission, permanent all-wheel drive – 329 horsepower, 354 lb-ft torque S:S:L-observed fuel economy: 20.4 mpg Mercedes-Benz provided the vehicle for testing purposes and one tank of gas. Photos by the author.

Driven: 2015 Cadillac ATS Coupe 2.0T

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Though the recently announced, more sporting V  iteration of the compact Cadillac ATS has stolen most of the headlines recently, we’ve been eager to get our hands on the standard version of the littlest Caddy for some time now – especially in svelte coupe form pictured here. SAMSUNG CSC What is it? In a nutshell, it’s the two-door version of the compact ATS sedan that was introduced for 2013 to fend off the likes of the BMW 3-series, Audi A4, Lexus IS and Infiniti Q50. Picking up where the sedan leaves off (with the same lauded handling and even tidier styling), the coupe is available with only the best two current ATS powerplants, the naturally-aspirated 3.6-liter V6 and the turbocharged 2-liter four-cylinder seen here. If those aren’t enough, the ATS-V coupe and sedan will crank up the amperage even further when they arrive later this year, equipped as they are with a storming twin-turbocharged V6 with 450 horsepower and either manual or automatic transmission options. For now, only the four-cylinder is available with a row-your-own gearbox. SAMSUNG CSC What works? Let’s start with the styling, a major contributing factor as to why you’d pick this coupe over the sedan in the first place. It’s a good-looking car in photos, but its angularity and proportions are particularly appealing in person. Our tester’s deep “Red Obsession” metallic paint was also quite fetching, though subject to some orange peel. The interior, a matching shade of scarlet called Morello Red, was finely finished and nicely styled. Leather, suede and carbon fiber swathes cover most of the dash and door panels, while the CUE touch-screen and piano black trim make up the waterfall center stack. The gauge cluster design has divided opinion among online forum-jockey types, but I found it to be easily legible. SAMSUNG CSCSAMSUNG CSC SAMSUNG CSCSomething you don’t notice about the ATS (in pictures at least) is how compact it is, but it’s immediately evident upon hopping into the driver’s seat – your passenger sits closer to you than in most modern cars. But I love the intimate feel that this narrowness imparts, aided equally by the short dashboard and thin a-pillars. This compact nature also pays dividends in handling – most rags have spoken quite positively about this platform’s handling, even in comparison to the class-stalwart 3-series, and rightly so. This thing handles. It turns into corners enthusiastically and remains planted, even with the adjustable Magnaride shocks in their softer “Touring” mode, settling into a neutral attitude that falls just on the right side of playful. A relatively low curb weight of 3,418 pounds and near-50/50 weight distribution help in this regard. SAMSUNG CSCOur tester featured the ATS’s coupe’s standard powertrain, which is a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder and 6-speed automatic powertrain. A 6-speed Tremec manual ‘box is also available with the four-cylinder and will be the purist’s choice, while the range-topping 3.6-liter V6 is available only with the automatic. Shifts from the 6L45 automatic are smooth in full auto mode and crisp enough when controlled through the standard-issue wheel-mounted paddles, though our choice would still be the manual (shocking, right?). It’s not difficult to imagine that GM’s new 8-speed automatic, which we’ve already sampled in Corvette and Escalade applications, will make its way to the ATS eventually, too – but for the time being, the 6-speed is a fine gearbox and well-suited to the 2-liter’s torquey character. SAMSUNG CSC The four-banger is boosted to the tune of 18 PSI and 272 horsepower, giving it the highest specific output of anything in its class, at 136 hp/liter. In spite of this, the 2-liter rarely feels laggy or caught with its pants down, thanks to a swell of torque (295 lb-ft) available between 3000 and 4600 RPM. Those numbers help it get to 60 miles per hour in around five and a half seconds, though honestly it feels so serene, you could be forgiven for thinking it was slower than that. All it takes is a quick glance at the heads-up display to reveal you’ve crested 80 MPH far earlier than intended. While fairly fleet of foot, it’s still possible to squeeze decent fuel mileage out of the four, even if you’re caning it – we saw an average of 24.8 MPG during our week of driving, squarely between the EPA estimates of 21 city and 31 highway. SAMSUNG CSC What doesn’t? To be honest, I had to work hard to come up with things I didn’t like about the ATS. It’s an eminently likable compact luxury car. But I suppose if forced, I might opine that the Magnetic Ride Control dampers, which work so well in “Touring”, have been programmed to act much the same in “Sport” as they do in other cars, which is to worsen the ride quality without much of a payoff in handling. I set them in “Touring” for the duration of my time with the car and was rewarded for it over every pothole. Cornering prowess seemed little worse for wear. SAMSUNG CSC Overall? The ATS has already been widely lauded as the best handler in the class, which is a valiant result considering this is Cadillac’s first crack at the segment for quite some time. I found it to be a bit more than just a great chassis, though – in coupe form, it’s legitimately desirable as an object. It’s pretty, lithe, well-designed and made from quality-feeling materials inside and out. I'd solidly recommend one to someone shopping the compact luxury coupe (or sedan) market. SAMSUNG CSC [gallery ids="11419,11420,11421,11422,11429,11428,11427,11424,11423,11436,11433,11435,11434,11432,11430,11431"] 2015 Cadillac ATS Coupe 2.0T Premium RWD Base price: $48,090 Price as tested: $50,380 Options on test car: Red Obsession metallic paint ($995), Morello Red leather interior ($1,295) Powertrain: 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine, 6-speed automatic transmission, rear wheel drive – 272 horsepower, 295 lb-ft torque S:S:L-observed fuel economy: 24.8 mpg Cadillac provided the vehicle for testing purposes and one tank of gas. Photos by the author.

Driven: 2015 Dodge Challenger SXT

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When we drove the new 2015 Challenger and Charger models last year, our drive time was admittedly skewed toward the top-dog SRT models. Though you can probably guess why that was the case (we were mostly focused on lapping the track), it’s really the V6 and R/T V8 models that make up the bulk of sales orders for these cars. In a few weeks, we’ll have a review of the 5.7-liter Charger R/T, and in the meantime, read on for our impressions of the V6-powered Challenger SXT. SAMSUNG CSC What is it? Well, it’s the SXT version of the revised 2015 Challenger I first sampled in Portland last summer. The SXT trim level denotes the Pentastar V6 with an 8-speed automatic as the sole powertrain. The V6 is no longer just a wimpy package for the rental car lots, however – the 3.6-liter is endowed with enough power and torque to keep things interesting, and that new 8-speed automatic (derived from the same ZF ‘box that gets praise all over the interweb) keeps the engine in the meat of its powerband effectively, while returning decent fuel economy at the same time. We saw a week-long combined average of 23 miles per gallon against EPA ratings that stand at 19 city and 30 highway. SAMSUNG CSC What works? This is a big (big), brash muscle car, and if you’ve already decided you like it, then the throwback looks are likely a big reason why. It’s the largest of the three domestic rear-wheel drive coupes for sale today, by a pretty wide margin (no pun intended), but that pays dividends in actual usable interior space. Whereas a Camaro's interior is akin to sitting in a claustrophobic bathtub and the Mustang’s rear seats aren’t much use for anyone over 3’ 5”, the Challenger has an actual, usable back seat with real headroom and three seatbelts. The front buckets are wide and comfortable, hugging loosely around the shoulders but returning better long-haul comfort than something like a Recaro is ever likely to do. SAMSUNG CSC SAMSUNG CSC Chrysler finally did the exterior’s styling justice with the heavily revised dash and console that debuted in these 2015 cars. Paying clear homage to the 1971 Challenger that the freshened exterior takes its cue from, the new dash is canted toward the driver and now houses the excellent 8.4” Uconnect system from elsewhere in the Dodge/Chrysler universe, as well as a T-handle shifter that accurately replicates the one Kowalski’s Challenger was equipped with in Vanishing Point. Though the interior’s design is clearly retro, the level of technology on offer is impressive in what is still a fairly reasonably-priced car. Besides the aforementioned touchscreen and an 18-speaker Harman Kardon stereo capable of shaking tooth fillings loose, our tester came stuffed to the gills with typically upmarket options like radar cruise control, forward collision warning and blind spot monitoring, remote start capability, HID headlamps, and Nappa leather. About the only option not present – and certainly one that would have been S:S:L-approved – was the Super Track Pack, which in the V6 SXT brings 20” Hyper Black wheels, stickier tires, better brakes, fettled suspension and steering calibrations, paddle shifters for the automatic and a 3.07 ratio axle. One option we might have skipped was the power sunroof, which impedes headroom for tall (6’4”) drivers like myself, to a degree that prevents on-track helmet usage – a trait I discovered while pounding these new Challengers around Portland International Raceway a few months back. SAMSUNG CSC SAMSUNG CSC While it’s no Hellcat when it comes time to introduce pedal to carpet, the new 8-speed automatic does make surprisingly good use of the Pentastar V6’s 305 horsepower and 268 lb-ft of torque, and you’re even treated to a lovely little V6 snarl higher up in the rev range. It’s not quite a substitute for the sound of the available Hemi 6.4L and Hellcat 6.2L V8s, but it’s certainly not bad. SAMSUNG CSC What doesn’t? While our own money would most certainly go toward a V8-equipped Challenger, we understand where the V6 fits in the grand scheme of things and that for many, it’s an easily justified route into the muscly-looking coupe of their dreams. Still, for those looking for the real muscle-car experience, the V6 is no substitute – you’ll probably want to pony up the dough for a HEMI-powered model, even if you have to give up some creature comforts to make the payments work. A big V8 just fits the character of this car so damn well. SAMSUNG CSC Also, while the new dash and added equipment levels are massive steps up from the plain-Jane interior that came before, there are a few places where obvious cost-savings decisions were made in regards to what plastics to use. Overall? Stylish, comfortable, and a decent value, the SXT proves that even the “base” model Challenger makes a worthy case for itself against the domestic pony car competition. And if you want the full nostalgic experience, a whole raft of V8 options exist further up the model range. SAMSUNG CSC [gallery ids="11399,11400,11401,11402,11404,11405,11406,11407,11408,11409,11411,11412,11414,11415"] 2015 Dodge Challenger SXT Plus Base price: $30,990 Price as tested: $36,165 Options on test car: Technology Group ($995), Driver Convenience Group ($795), Harman Kardon sound system ($1,495), Power Sunroof ($1,195), Uconnect 8.4” touchscreen navigation system ($695) Powertrain: 3.6-liter V6 engine, 8-speed automatic transmission, rear wheel drive – 305 horsepower, 268 lb-ft torque S:S:L-observed fuel economy: 23.0 mpg Dodge provided the vehicle for testing purposes and one tank of gas. Photos by the author.  

S:S:L’s Racerboy in First Episode of BBC’s new show: Mud, Sweat and Gears

Krider MS&G 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. Cars 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! RampFire 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! 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. Rob Krider Sonoma Raceway 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. Hosts 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. Firebird 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. Jaguar 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? Tires 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. Interviews 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). Jalopnik2 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.