Tag - track test

Speed:Sport:Life Imaginary Internet Millionaire Track Test: Ferrari F430 v Lotus Elise v Dodge Caliber SRT-4 v Ford Mustang GT500

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Story by Jack Baruth – In-car video by Jack Baruth and Carl Modesette – Photography by Zerin Dube and Matt Chow

Admit it: you’ve told the Internet a fib or two in the past few years. It’s okay, really; there’s nobody around but you and me. The past decade has seen the ol’ triple-W take center stage in the automotive enthusiast community, and whether you’re a fan of a all-purpose auto site like the one run by our friends at Jalopnik, a perennial bargain-hunter logging hundreds of hours on the Edmunds car-purchase forums, or even one of those miserable mouth-breathers over at Rennlist trying like hell to turn a perfectly decent and lovely ’85 Porsche 944 into a dub-wheeled, nitrous-fed, maintenance-deferred scrapheap, chances are that you’re spending a nontrivial amount of time out there on the IntarWeb’s car spots. Chances are, too, that at some point you’ve maybe stretched the truth a bit when arguing a point with some clueless noob who desperately deserves a hammer to the forehead, right? Maybe you’ve temporarily forgotten that “your” Porsche 997 GT3 actually belongs to your wife’s uncle, or perhaps you’ve retold a rather boring HPDE 1 session somewhere as a daring battle at the very limits of adhesion, slip angle, and late braking. Don’t sweat it. We’ve all done it. Even your humble author once told a USENET group many years ago that he found the E46 M3 “really, really boring.” Well, I did find it boring, primarily because my test drive was limited to a thirty-five-mile-per-hour tour of the dealership’s parking lot. It’s just that I may have let that rather relevant fact slip my mind in my eagerness to prove a point to whatever sorry doofus I was totally e-dominating at the time. When I finally got around to driving the car harder, I actually rather liked it, but do you really think that I was going to go back and admit it? Oh, hell no. I had my imaginary electronic reputation to protect!

Those imaginary electronic reputations, or IERs for short, can lead people to tell some pretty crazy lies, with one of the most common being the “Sure, I Drive A ’93 Corolla, But I Could Totally Pay Cash For Any Car I Wanted” story. Totally believable, right? The next time you’re on the road and you see some hapless sucker clutching the shaking steering wheel of some tired old Stanza XE, why not at least briefly consider the possibility that he’s an Internet millionaire, just like all the guys over at FerrariChat, and that he just drives that crapwagon because he’s heavily invested in short-term complex financial derivatives? He’s just waiting for the right moment to stroke that check for a brand-new Gallardo Superleggera, and then he’ll be the one laughing at you! On the World Wide Web, we’re all rich, we all pay cash, and we can all drive anything we want.

Imagine, for a moment, that the above scenario was really true, and not just the fevered imagination of a bitter loser who still iives with his parents. Imagine that you really could buy anything you wanted, and that because of your awesome cash-holding and mega-investing powers, you weren’t totally convinced that you needed to spend all the money you had available to you. In other words, imagine that you’re completely unlike everybody in the real world. What would you buy? Would you do the obvious Internet zillionaire thing and buy a Ferrari? Maybe you’re a so-called purist and you’d prefer the simplicity of a Lotus Elise. It could be that you want to strut down the boulevard in the baddest Mustang to ever escape the factory – or you might be more interested in an affordable yet high-power commuter like the weapons-grade Dodge Caliber SRT-4. Who knows? You’re rich and crazy! It’s a ridiculous scenario – one completely unrelated to the real world – but here at S:S:L, we’re not big fans of the real world, so we’ve created a track test just for you, Mr. Imaginary Internet Baller. We’ve got a Ferrari F430 Spyder, a Lotus Elise, a Shelby GT500, and a Caliber SRT-4. We’re going to run ‘em head to head around MSR Houston’s road course, gather full data from our Traqmate timing system, and show you on-track video complete with a Best Motoring-style view of the driver’s pedal box. Last but not least, because this is Speed:Sport:Life and not some timid advertising-supported blog, we’re going to declare a clear winner. You may find it harder to believe that a nineteen-year-old’s claim to be street-racing his own brand-new Murcielago, but there really is one car that stands out from the pack here, and I can’t wait to tell you about it.

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Speed:Sport:Life Review – 2009 Audi A4 – Never before an A4 so long, and so longed for.

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Story by Jack Baruth, video courtesy of Audi NA

It sounds more than a bit crazy, but we can’t help but wonder: do the powers that be at Audi ever contemplate the idea of sending a thank-you card to the producers of 60 Minutes? Consider the following: History tells us that the show’s deliberately misleading “news” story, which blamed the Audi 5000 for causing several “unintended acceleration” deaths, slaughtered Audi’s position in the marketplace, cutting sales from a then-high 1985 figure of 74,061 to a dismal annual average of 14,000 cars in the five years following. The four-ringed brand, which had been riding high on a wave of yuppie affection for the aero-styled 5000 sedan, became a minor player almost overnight. It would take nearly a decade before the brand was more or less reborn in America with the smash-success first-generation A4 2.8 sedan. The arrival of the affordable, tuner-friendly 1.8T variant a year later put Audi at the top of young drivers’ shopping lists. It was the perfect car for anyone who wanted a solid German sedan but who found the image problems associated with Mercedes-Benz or BMW ownership a bit too heavy to handle, and it offered a generation of VW drivers a perfect next step up the prestige ladder.

The A4 single-handedly revitalized Audi’s fortunes in the United States, to the point where the company was able to move a record-setting 93,506 vehicles last year, but it did more than that; combined with the aforementioned media hatchet job, it had the effect of changing Audi into a youth-oriented brand. The average Audi 5000 owner in the Eighties was somewhere north of forty years old, so even if 60 Minutes hadn’t scared those customers away, most of them would be well into Social Security by now – a demographic more suited to Buick and Lexus than to the company that brought us the RS4 and the R8. By contrast, the twentysomething A4 intenders from 1997 are now entering their prime earning years. They’re still interested in the sporting, progressively hip demeanor of the original A4, but they also want a faster, smoother, more spacious sedan to reflect their current (and expected future) success. At the same time, they’re not quite ready for the sleek, subtle, rather middle-aged A6. What would suit them best? An A4 just like the original, but more so: bigger, quicker, more luxurious, and equipped in no-excuses fashion with all the latest comforts and conveniences.

In a nutshell, that’s what Audi has delivered. The 2009 A4 is simply more of everything, whether we’re talking about rear seat room, horsepower, or iPod integration. It casts a shadow nearly the size of the original Audi 5000 and offers more than twice its power. The new interior has already received rave reviews in the A5 coupe, while the styling conveys grace, dignity, and the unique restraint which has characterized Audi for the last four decades. Still, none of this is particularly shocking. So-called “small” German sedans have been steadily growing larger for quite some time now. The latest Mercedes-Benz C-class and BMW 3 Series are quite sizable cars, and even if the A4 is now longer than either of them – which it is, by nearly half a foot – the simple, almost expected, fact that Audi’s “small sedan” is bigger than it used to be doesn’t do much to raise anyone’s eyebrows.

The shocker, if you will, comes from the claim that the 2009 A4 is no heavier than the car it replaces, while being significantly more interesting to drive thanks to a revamped drivetrain and a rather fascinating new electronic system which offers individual control of steering response, throttle programming, and suspension settings. It seems hard to believe – but if Audi’s not fibbing, it would make for a rather fascinating turn of events in the entry-level luxury market. For more than a decade, every new entrant into the segment has been a little sleepier and porkier than its predecessor. Does Audi have the antidote?

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