Given my loyalty to old-fashioned muscle cars, you might think that “Hybrid” is a dirty word in these parts. But you’d be wrong. Tell you what, I love the idea of an extra electric motor that helps the gas engine do its job. If you design it right, that electric motor will really kick in at low speeds to give you more torque, and it’ll help you when you’re merging and passing, too. Kind of like a modern turbocharged engine without the lag.
Trouble is, most hybrids are all about fuel economy, which means they pretty much hate fun. But I’ve finally found one that’s a little different, and I’m smitten. Let me tell you a few things about my new crush — it’s called the 2014 Infiniti Q50 Hybrid.
1. It’s Fast
And I mean fast. With its 3.5-liter V6 hybrid system, this thing cranks out 360 horsepower! That’s even more than the regular non-hybrid Q50, which stops at 328. It’s not just about the power, either, because this hybrid makes boatloads of low-end torque. It’s like an old big-block V8 the way it rears back and puts down the hammer from a stop. Like I said, when you add an electric motor to the mix, it can give you a real wallop during acceleration. Infiniti gets that. For the record, the Q50 Hybrid will do 0-60 in 4.9 seconds, or almost half a second quicker than the non-hybrid car.
2. It Drives Like a Champ
One thing about hybrids is that they’ve got big old battery packs to run those electric motors, and you’ve got to put that heavy thing somewhere. If you’re not careful, the extra weight can mess up the balance of the car. But Infiniti has positioned the Q50 Hybrid’s battery pack such that it adds a little rearward weight bias without going crazy. The result, if you ask me, is even better balance than the regular Q50. Going around corners in the Q50 Hybrid, I felt like I was driving an honest-to-goodness sport sedan. It just hunkers down and goes, with no understeer and not much body roll, either. Who ever heard of a hybrid that’s this fun to drive?
3. Its Fuel Economy is Amazing
Quick, name a midsize, five-passenger sedan that hits 60 mph in under 5 seconds and gets 31 mpg combined. Let me emphasize the “combined” part, because that’s what the EPA says you can expect for each tank as a weighted average of city (29 mpg) and highway (36 mpg) driving. Most cars with this much speed don’t even break 30 mpg on the highway cycle, and they’re way down in the 20s or even teens for city driving. That’s the other thing about a hybrid car’s electric motor — it takes a load off the gas engine in normal driving, and that means you need less gas to get around.
My test car came in at a shade over $46,000. That’s actually pretty reasonable when you consider that the Q50 Hybrid is a full-on luxury car with leather, navigation, Bose audio, dual electronics displays, you name it. You could easily pay more than twice as much for a Porsche Panamera hybrid that goes 0-60 in 5.2 seconds and only gets 25 mpg combined. I never thought I’d be saying this about a hybrid, but I would really and truly like to own this 2014 Infiniti Q50 Hybrid sedan.
Am I crazy? Have you ever driven a hybrid that made you fall in love? Tell us your story in the comments.
Editor’s note: Whether you drive a hot new hybrid or a weathered old gas-guzzler, count on Advance Auto Parts for the best in parts—and even better values.
I had a chance to drive a drag-racing car many years ago, and to be quite honest with you, I was too scared to get behind the wheel. Sometimes I find myself wishing I’d taken the plunge. But as I watched the excellent new film Snake and Mongoo$e, I was reminded of just how terrifying these cars can be. I mean, I like speed as much as the next guy — maybe more — but as early as 1970 or thereabouts, professional drag racers were turning quarter-miles in under 7 seconds at over 200 mph. Even as a daredevil teenager, which is what I was back then, that seemed a little too hot to handle.
It made for a great show, though, and no two men were more instrumental to the sport’s growth than Don “The Snake” Prudhomme and Tom “Mongoose” McEwen. Initially bitter rivals, the pair formed a partnership in the late 1960s that helped elevate drag racing from fringe spectacle to big-ticket entertainment.
Their most important joint venture was probably the sponsorship agreement they signed in 1970 with Mattel’s Hot Wheels franchise, which put the Hot Wheels logo on both men’s cars — and set a precedent for such agreements across professional sports. But the film goes well beyond the boardroom, of course, delving deeply into the complex personal relationship between Prudhomme and McEwen as it evolved through the years.
Drag racing on the big screen
Now, I’m no movie critic, so when I tell you that I thought the dialogue was mostly by-the-numbers, I want you to take that with a grain of salt. But you know I’m a car guy, so you can trust me when I say that this is one car movie that got my blood pumping. I loved the split-screen cockpit closeups of the Snake and Mongoose, side by side in full protective headgear, with the drag-strip “Christmas tree” lights in the middle.
Another neat idea was the inclusion of archival racing footage from the ’60s and ’70s, reminding you that this isn’t just a popcorn movie; it all really happened. And this flick’s got some star power, too, from a barely recognizable Jesse Williams (Grey’s Anatomy) as The Snake to Hollywood veteran Noah Wyle as Mattel executive Arthur Spear.
As car films go, I still gotta give the nod to Bullitt as the best of all time, but I think Snake and Mongoo$e is right up there with Senna and another recent car movie, Rush, as far as true stories are concerned. If you’re awestruck like me at the sight of those drag-racing cars thundering down the track, you’re gonna want to take this Snake for a spin.
Snake & Mongoo$e is available on DVD and Blu-ray courtesy of Anchor Bay Entertainment.
Check out a clip here:
Dunno about you, but I’m still getting used to the latest Corvette. They call it the C7, because it’s the seventh Corvette since the original model came out in 1953 — back before most of you all were even born. But in some ways, the C7 is a whole new beginning for the ‘Vette, from its square taillights (they always used to be round) to all those gills and strakes and vents that punctuate its surfaces. It’s an awesome car — you’ll never hear me say otherwise — but it’s not instantly recognizable as a Corvette, and that’s a radical change for a long-timer like me.
There’s one C7 that already looks just right, though, and that’s the 2015 Chevrolet Corvette Z06. Unlike previous Z06 models, which mostly resembled regular Corvettes, the C7 Z06 looks like a racecar without the decals. Two inches wider in front and three in back, with angry-looking creases and folds all over the place, the new Z06 might have the most presence of any car I’ve ever seen. I can’t wait to drive one. In the meantime, let’s take a deep dive into what we know so far.
1. Supercharged 625-horsepower V8
Come again? Supercharged? Yeah, you heard right. The 2015 Z06 will be powered by a 6.2-liter, 625-horsepower V8 with an Eaton supercharger tucked into its vee. For better or worse, the naturally aspirated Z06 is now a thing of the past.
My first instinct was to go with “worse,” because the C6 Z06′s 7.0-liter, 505-horsepower V8 is one of the best motors ever to grace an engine bay. I used to say that it ought to be in every car on the road, and I wasn’t completely kidding.
But then I ran up against a cold hard fact: 505 hp is a lot less than 625. Shoot, 625 is almost as much as the C6 ZR1 put out. Plus, superchargers are much better than turbochargers from a drivability standpoint — there’s no throttle lag when you punch it, which means no waiting around for that crazy quick acceleration. If you’re going to go the forced-induction route, that’s the way to do it.
On second thought, then, put me in the “better” camp. It seems pretty clear that the C7 Z06 is going to be a real upgrade under the hood, though I’ll definitely miss the NASCAR growl of the old Z06′s and 427 Vette’s 7.0-liter V8.
2. Best-Handling Corvette Ever?
I know I haven’t driven one yet, but all signs point to this thing being the most rewarding Corvette to drive, period. It’s got huge rubber, of course — the rears are 335/25 ZR-20s — but more than that, the engineers have made a point of making the C7 Z06 at least somewhat friendly at the limit. In the past, pushing a Z06 hard could be hazardous to your health, but this one’s tweaked chassis, intuitive steering and standard magnetic-ride dampers should make it the most user-friendly version yet. If you’re worried about braking power, don’t be — the pizza-size rotors measure more than 14 inches all around.
3. Got Luxury If You Want It
I remember when the first Z06 came out, the C5 model. The interior of that thing was so tacky, it reminded me of an S-10 pickup truck. But hey, it went fast and sounded great, so people were in a forgiving mood. These days, of course, the standards are much higher, especially at the $75,000-$80,000 price point where the C7 Z06 is expected to start.
Fortunately, the new Z06 starts with the regular C7′s vastly improved interior and gets even better. Extended leather trim is standard, as is a flat-bottom steering wheel that reinforces the car’s close ties with the C7.R racer. Available competition seats should provide even more support than the already decent standard chairs. You know what? They’re even offering an eight-speed automatic transmission in the C7 Z06, that’s how civilized it’s become. Naturally, the standard transmission continues to be a manual — the same seven-speed stick that comes in the regular C7.
I gotta ask: Is there anyone out there who doesn’t drool at the thought of driving the 2015 Chevrolet Corvette Z06? Is there a better value right now among performance cars? I want to hear what you all think in the comments.
Editor’s note: Advance Auto Parts has great savings on quality auto parts and accessories for Corvettes and just about everything else. Buy online, pick up in store.
You know what, this writing gig has its perks. First I got to go to the 2013 LA Auto Show, and now I’m here to tell you about this annual track-day event for auto writers that I was privileged to attend.
I’ve spent a lot of time daydreaming about driving the world’s best cars, so it was truly humbling to show up at the track that morning and see pretty much all of them lined up in front of me, just waiting to be driven. Jaguar F-Type V8 S? Check. Mustang GT? Check. BMW M6 Gran Turismo? Oh yes. I didn’t know events like this even existed, but boy, was I happy to be on the list.
So I did what any red-blooded car enthusiast would do: I kept going around that track as fast as I could, in as many cars as I could. I drove until the sun went down and they closed the gates. It was transcendent. The only problem is that they don’t do it more than once a year. I could talk your ear off all day, but for brevity’s sake, here are the three cars that really got me going.
3. 2014 Chevrolet Corvette
I’ll be upfront with you, as always, and say that I don’t like how the new C7 Corvette looks. Never have; maybe never will. The greenhouse reminds me of a GT-R, and so do the headlights. The rear end with its odd black lower valence reminds me of a Lexus LF-A. All the vents and strakes everywhere remind me of a Mercedes McLaren SLR. The square taillights look like they came from a two-year-old Camaro.
If there’s one thing that the C7 Corvette does not remind me, it’s all the beautiful, iconic Corvettes that came before.
But then I drove it, and I decided that as long as I don’t have to look at the thing, it’s awesome. The new V8 pumps out 455 horsepower and makes the car fearsomely fast: try 3.8 seconds to 60 mph, plus chest-flattening thrust from 60 to triple digits. The steering is quick and direct, making this the most nimble Corvette ever. The interior is massively improved, with nice materials everywhere and finally some seats that you won’t want to swap out for aftermarket replacements. As a sports car, the new ‘Vette is a perfect 10, and that makes its challenging styling a lot easier to swallow. Can the Corvette engineers improve on perfection? Of course they can. That’s why there’s a Corvette Z06.
2. 2014 Cadillac CTS
Now here’s one that I definitely didn’t think would make the cut. I hopped into the new CTS 2.0-liter turbo with a “ho” and a “hum,” figuring I might as well try it out while I was there. After a few hot laps, I hopped out with a “Yeehaw!” You’ve probably heard a lot about the redesigned CTS, but did you know they’ve turned it into a bona fide sport sedan? I drove the M6 Gran Turismo shortly after the CTS, and I couldn’t tell you which one has more responsive steering, or a sharper chassis. It’s that good.
The turbo four-cylinder engine, however, is not that good. It yanks the CTS around capably enough, but acceleration isn’t linear, and it doesn’t sound great either. This is a decent motor that does yeoman’s work in the lesser Buick Regal, for example, but it seems a bit out of place in a $50,000 performance car. The CTS I really want to try is the Vsport with its twin-turbo, 420-horsepower V6–but they didn’t have one on hand, so for now I’ll hold onto the four-cylinder CTS as a tantalizing glimpse of this car’s capabilities.
1. 2014 Dodge Viper
What, did you think my top pick would be some Euroweenie luxury car? Obviously, I’m going with the American sports car at its most essential: the purpose-built Dodge Viper. I say that even though the Viper has a much nicer interior now, with fancy materials everywhere and Dodge’s excellent 8.4-inch touchscreen interface. It’s got a new body, too, and the Italian influence of parent company Fiat is apparent in the sleeker front end and almost too-delicate headlights. But from the rear, the Viper’s muscles are as ripped as ever. If there’s a better looking posterior in the automotive world right now, I haven’t seen it.
On the track, the Viper is still enough of a handful that they had a trained race-car driver on hand to assist inexperienced pilots. But with (government-mandated) standard stability control onboard, it’s not the spinout-waiting-to-happen that it used to be. Of course, with a 640-horsepower V10 pumping under that endlessly long hood, disaster is always just an overzealous right foot away. That’s the charm of the Viper, though: unlike the cool, calm and collected Corvette, this Dodge still acts like it wants to tear your head off–so when you complete a few laps without incident, it feels like a real accomplishment. Not surprisingly, the Viper was the only car I lined up for again and again that day. Every other car was less daunting to drive, but none was nearly as much fun.
Want to know more about these cars? Ask me anything, my friends. Have you driven any hot new cars on the track lately?
Editor’s note: Whether you drive a fancy performance car—as our Gearhead so eloquently praises—or an old clunker, count on Advance Auto Parts to help keep it running right and looking good. Buy online, pick up in store.
To get him out of his undisclosed location for some fresh air, we sent our resident Gearhead over to the 2013 LA Auto Show. Read on for his expert take on the proceedings, and see what’s hot for the coming year.
When I was a kid–before most of you were even born, I’m sure–I remember dreaming of going to an auto show. There would always be shiny photos from those shows in the magazines, and I’d pore over them at the local newsstand, leafing through the pages till the old man told me to skedaddle.
Well, now I’m an old man, and I finally got my chance this week: I scored an invite to the 2013 LA Auto Show. They’ve got these “Press Days,” you see, where members of the media are allowed to walk the halls before they let the riff-raff in. And I’ve been writing these little columns for a while now, so I guess that makes me a member of the media. Got my press credentials and everything, like I’m a regular reporter for the LA Times.
So what’d I think? Great experience overall, a real privilege. Let me say that upfront. But I wish there were more emphasis on the cars this year, and less on the technology that goes inside them. Just my two cents, and hey, there were still some great cars on display. Anyway, here are a couple things I liked and a couple I didn’t.
What I Liked
2015 Jaguar F-Type Coupe
Goodness me, that’s a beautiful car. Beautiful! Well, let me qualify that: it’s beautiful from the back and from the side. I’m talking don’t-change-a-thing beautiful. I just wish the front end didn’t remind me so much of a Nissan 350Z.
But I could get used to that part, I think, especially if I had the F-Type R. That’s a super-fast version with a 550-horsepower supercharged V8, special brakes, you get the idea. I’ve driven the 495-hp convertible version, and the passing power in that thing was just fearsome. I don’t know that I’ve ever felt anything like it. But give me another 55 horsepower and I won’t complain.
Best car at the show, this Jag. Really a job well done. All I want for Christmas is a 2015 Jaguar F-Type Coupe.
Cadillac Elmiraj Concept
This big Caddy coupe caused a stir when it debuted at this year’s Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, and rightly so. It’s the kind of car Cadillac should be building. See, I’m old enough to remember when Cadillac only built cars like this. Big, long, elegant cruisers with endless power and opulent interiors. That’s why the company’s old tagline, “The standard of the world,” actually meant something.
But will they actually bring the Cadillac Elmiraj to production? I’ll believe it when I see it. These days Cadillac is stuck on making “sport sedans” that do fast laps at German racetracks. To me, that’s not a Cadillac. But the Elmiraj? Yes sirree, that there is a Cadillac. Come on, GM–let’s get back to the days when Cadillac was the first name in luxury. Enough of trying to beat the other guys at their own game.
What I Didn’t Like
2015 MINI Cooper
Now I’ve driven a lot of MINIs in my day, and I love being behind the wheel. BMW makes modern MINIs, if you didn’t know, and it seems they decided to put all of the real enthusiasts on the MINI team. Driving a Cooper is like hitching a ride on a rambunctious puppy, is the best way I can describe it. It’s the very definition of “fun to drive.”
But I don’t like how this new, third-generation 2015 MINI Cooper looks! Sure, at a quick glance it’s just another MINI, but take a longer look at the front end of the car. From the side, you can see that the nose sticks out over the front axle a lot more than before. This is called “front overhang” in the trade, and MINI used to be known for having basically none of it whatsoever. It gave the car a really clipped, athletic profile that fit perfectly with its driving character. But for 2015, there’s that elongated “snowplow” look out front, and I don’t know if it’s because of crash-test requirements or what. But to me, it’s just not quite a MINI anymore.
Makes me want to go out and buy a used current-generation MINI Cooper S with the turbo before they’re all gone.
I’m not going to pick on any particular car or manufacturer here, and I’ll try to keep it short and sweet. Back when I was leafing through those auto show photos at the newsstand, it was all about design and performance. That’s what these cars of the future promised: radical new looks and envelope-pushing driving dynamics. And that’s what got my heart pumping.
But nowadays, it seems like cars increasingly just look the same, like melted bars of soap, because they’re all designed with computers to be perfectly aerodynamic for fuel-efficiency and whatnot. And the emphasis isn’t on performance anymore, either; it’s on how many whiz-bang gadgets and TV screens are stuffed into the dashboard. Don’t believe me? Just look at the entire first day of the 2013 LA Auto Show–it was a “Connected Car Expo” that was solely about technology! You had to wait till Day 2 if you wanted to hear about the cars themselves.
And you know what, I did wait till Day 2. While they were talking about computers at that Expo on Day 1, I put the top down on my V8 convertible and drove up the Pacific Coast Highway. I may be in the minority here, but I still think that’s what driving is all about.
The Bottom Line
Don’t get me wrong, I still had a blast. And there’s a ton of photos out there covering all the new metal at the 2013 LA Auto Show. Y’all got any questions for me, since I was there? What are your likes and dislikes from this year’s show?
Editor’s note: Whether you drive a plush new vehicle or an old beater, Advance Auto Parts can help you ensure it runs right and looks great.
It’s hard to believe the Mustang is about to turn 50. I’m old enough to have driven the first-generation Ford Mustang when it was new, so take it from me: the Mustang has come a very, very long way over the years. Tell you what, I can’t believe they’re about to replace the current fifth generation Mustang for 2015, because the car is just so darned good the way it is now.
I know, I know–they’ve got to make the body sleeker, and it’s got to have more computer screens and warning systems and whatnot. That’s the way cars are going these days. But if you ask me, the 2014 Mustang GT just might be considered the best Mustang ever when all’s said and done. Let me tell you three reasons why.
1. World Class 420-Horsepower V8
I hear the next Mustang’s going to have this V8 too, so fortunately 2014 won’t be its swan song. But my goodness, what a motor! The only real problem with this modern-day “five-point-oh” is that it’s so smooth and high-revving, some folks might tell you it’s not a proper muscle-car engine. To be honest with you, the engine it most reminds me of is the 4.0-liter V8 in the previous-generation BMW M3. But I see that as a good thing, not a bad thing. When a Mustang V8 makes me think of one of the most thrilling engines ever built, it’s a great day for America. An engine doesn’t have to shake the car all over the place at idle to make me smile.
2. Track-Ready Performance
Pick up any car magazine and you’ll hear them singing the same tune. “The Mustang’s got a solid rear axle! It can’t compete with sophisticated imports!” Listen, that’s just a load of bunk. I drove a 2014 Mustang GT on a track recently, and it was the perfect tool. The steering is sharp, the brakes are strong, and the chassis keeps you planted like–yeah, I’ll say it–a “sophisticated import.”
I gather they’re going to make the rear suspension independent for 2015, and that kind of bums me out. It’s not just a heritage feature, after all; you also get better launches at the dragstrip with a solid rear end, and Ford has engineered the Mustang’s suspension so well that you hardly ever notice any handling issues. To me, you take away that solid axle and you lose part of what has always made the Mustang cool.
3. Plenty of Technology
When you read the reviews of the 2015 Mustang, they’re going to go on about how the previous car was so outdated, but look at all the fancy doohickeys in the new one…yada yada yada. Let me tell you something: the 2014 Mustang GT has enough technology for just about anyone’s taste. Shoot, you can get the full-on MyFord Touch infotainment suite if you want it, but I’m more interested in the functional stuff, like three-mode adjustable steering effort and an available “Track Apps” system that can keep a record of your acceleration runs and lap times.
What’s really great about these gadgets is that they don’t at all detract from the Mustang’s authentic muscle-car character. I’m afraid the 2015 Mustang’s going to be like some sort of spaceship inside, and that’s just going to make me miss the 2014 Mustang GT more.
What do you all think? Is the 2014 Mustang GT the pinnacle for Ford’s pony car, or will the 2015 Mustang prove me wrong?
Editor’s note: As you absorb our Gearhead’s astute observations, make sure to hit up Advance Auto Parts for all the best in auto parts, accessories and more. And while you’re at it, make sure to let us know how we’re doing in the comments section below!
Photo courtesy of Ford.
You may have heard that engineers spend years tuning a car suspension, crunching those numbers to get the best possible ride and handling. Now hear this, my fellow Gearheads: that’s a bunch of hogwash. Why? Because those factory engineers have to think about both cost limitations and what the average driver expects, so there’s a limit to how extreme they can get–and if you’re like me, extreme is the only way to go. If you want your car to corner as well as possible, you’re going to have to modify that suspension.
But the problem is, it’s real easy to go overboard with these modifications. Think about those slammed Hondas out there that are so low, you can’t even see the tops of the tires. Now, if those guys are just going for a certain look, hey, more power to ‘em. But they’re not building better-handling cars, that’s for sure. If you’re looking for real driving improvements, you’ll have to find a sweet spot between the factory settings and whatever those Honda guys are doing.
So let’s get right down to it, shall we? Here are my top three car suspension modifications that actually make some sense. And listen, I want to hear what you think, so feel free to chime in afterward and give me a piece of your mind.
1. Performance Coilovers
The term “coilover” just refers to a shock absorber wrapped in a coil spring, and coilovers are common car suspension parts in factory setups. But the ones you get from the factory are typically tuned more for comfort and cost-saving than performance. So one of the best things you can do for your car’s handling is upgrade to performance coilovers, and by that I mean full coilovers–the ones that include both the shock and the spring, so that they’re designed to work together. The great thing about aftermarket coilovers is that they preserve and can even improve your factory ride quality, yet they also dramatically improve handling. And most of ‘em are adjustable via a little twisty thing on top, so it’s easy to dial in the setting that works best for you.
2. Strut Tower Brace
It has always amazed me that more cars don’t come standard with a strut tower brace. It’s just a metal bar, more or less, that stretches from the top of one front strut to the other, suspended right over the front of the engine in most cases. What it does is increase rigidity, which makes the car tighter and more responsive when you’re driving hard. Tell you what, if I buy a car and it doesn’t have a strut tower brace, I go right out and have one installed. Big difference for a small price.
3. Wheels and Tires
Last but definitely not least, you gotta have the right wheels and tires, and here’s what I mean by that. The right wheels are big enough to fill out the wheel wells, but not too big–you want sufficient clearance so there won’t be any rubbing against the lip. And the right tires are basically as wide and low-profile as you can go within the limits of the wheels you’ve got. Just swapping the wheels and tires alone can give you a huge improvement in handling; throw in the coilovers and a strut tower brace, and it’ll be like you bought a whole new car.
Oh, and how much does all this cost? Shop smart and I bet you could get out the door for about a thousand bucks all told. That’s for everything on the list. Shoot, they’re charging more at the dealership for a navigation system these days.
Editor’s note: check out Advance Auto Parts for suspension mods and more. Buy online, pick up in store.
Graphic courtesy of Topgear.com.
You know how I like to start these columns with “back in the day,” right? Well, back in the day, I’ll tell you what, factory stereos sounded just terrible. If you wanted any bass in your car, any clarity, any anything, you had to go get a custom car stereo from the shop across town.
But ’round about the mid-1980s, I’d say, automakers started to realize that sound systems for a car could sound almost as good as custom audio sound in your living room. They started sticking graphic equalizers in there, subwoofers, you name it, and nowadays every carmaker’s got great factory audio on tap. Of course, factory stereos will always be limited by the relatively small size of their components –you can’t stick a four-foot-tall concert speaker in your car, unless you’ve got a sunroof–but there’s no reason why you can’t have excellent sound quality anyway. Also, cars have a natural advantage because they’re perfect surround-sound environments. You just gotta make sure the speakers are making the right noises.
Thing is, with all the high-end factory stereos on the market today, it can be hard to keep ‘em all straight. So since I’m lucky enough to get seat time in all the latest cars, I’ve put together a list of the top 5 factory stereos that you can buy right now. See what you think, and then come back and have at me in the comments. What’s your favorite factory audio system ever? Have you heard any of the latest ones? Am I off my rocker? Let’s talk it out.
One of my favorite cars of all-time is the Porsche 911, but as any Porschephile will tell you, the 911 has rarely had a factory audio system to write home about. More often than not, you get bare-bones sound that makes you want to turn the darn thing off and just drive. That’s never a bad idea in a Porsche, but with the new 911′s optional Burmester stereo, now you’ve got options. This bad boy gives you 12 speakers, 800 watts of power, and clarity that you have to hear to believe.
Audi Bang & Olufsen
I’ll tell you this upfront, Audi’s Bang & Olufsen system doesn’t sound as good as the Porsche Burmester. But it’s not just about sound with this one. I sampled the “B&O” in an Audi A7, and I couldn’t believe it, you turn the thing on and the tweeters rise up out of the dash with their own little motors! Now, it won’t be so entertaining someday when those motors break and you gotta replace ‘em, but meanwhile, what a show. And with 1,200 watts on tap, you may not quite have Burmester-grade sound, but you’ve definitely got power to spare.
Lexus Mark Levinson
Here’s something Lexus won’t like to hear: I actually like their older premium stereo lineup better. That range was made by Nakamichi, and it was Japanese electronics at its finest, bar none. I think that was the pinnacle. But the Mark Levinson lineup is a close second, and for a while in the early 2000s, it was pretty much the best factory audio in the world. As usual, the ultra-luxurious LS sedan has the showcase Levinson system, but you really can’t go wrong with any stereo that’s got the ML name on it.
Ford Mustang Shaker Pro Audio
You didn’t think I could get through a whole column without mentioning a muscle car, did ya? Listen, any muscle car worth its salt needs a thumping stereo, and the Shaker Pro Audio setup hits all the right notes for me. The Shaker’s got a big ol’ subwoofer that never sounds stressed, and there’s an iPod/USB input to keep up with the times. You won’t get a whole lot of clarity or tonal separation here, but you can crank it to eleven all day, and in a Mustang, that’s what really matters.
Surprised to see a VW on this list? So was I, at first, but when I thought about all the Dynaudio factory stereos I’d sampled in VW products, I realized they’re just consistently great performers. Whether you get it in the GTI hot hatch or the Touareg luxury crossover, Dynaudio’s gonna give you a real crisp, tight sound that just sounds different from the norm.
And there you have it, folks. Come on now, which five would you have picked? Let’s hear it.
Editor’s note: If your factory car audio system is sounding a bit thin, visit Advance Auto Parts for a wide selection of stereo gear and accessories.
You know what turbo lag is, right? If you do, that probably seems like the most obvious question in the world. But the way things are going these days, we’re going to have whole generations of kids who don’t even know what “turbo lag” means. That’s because there’s a new wave of turbocharged engines in town, and they’re so well-behaved that you can’t even tell they’re turbo engines half the time.
Let’s take a minute and talk about how turbocharged engines used to be. You know I’m a muscle car guy, so I’ll pick one of the all-time greats: the turbocharged and intercooled 3.8-liter V6 in the 1987 Buick Grand National. The all-black Grand National would roast its rear rubber like there was no tomorrow, and believe it or not, it could almost run with the Corvettes of its day. But when you floored that old gas pedal, you didn’t get the full turbo wallop right away. No sir, you had to wait while the big turbo spooled up. So imagine, you’re sitting there with your foot on the floor, waiting for it, waiting for it–BAM! Now you’ve got it. That’s turbo lag, folks. And for a lot of years, we all believed that turbo engines were inevitably going to be stuck with it.
But then things started to change. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when, but I know it had to do with rising gas prices and tightening emissions regulations over the past decade or so. Automakers realized that they couldn’t keep making big V8 engines for knuckleheads like me; the new regulations and economic realities just wouldn’t allow for it. So they had to figure out how to get the same power out of smaller, more fuel-efficient engines, and that’s exactly what turbocharging can do. At the same time, they also knew that the average driver wasn’t going to put up with turbo lag. That meant some serious modifications would be required.
I was skeptical at first, but I’ll tell you the turbo engine that really won me over: it’s the 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine in the Mini Cooper S. The mighty Mini uses a newfangled technology called twin-scroll turbocharging, and without getting too far into the details, that basically means you’ve got a multifunction turbocharger that does different things at different RPM. Whereas the Grand National’s one-trick turbocharger needed at least 3,000 RPM before it went nuts, the Mini’s twin-scroll setup is already working to deliver usable power as soon as you start rolling. Result? No perceptible turbo lag, great acceleration, and on top of all that, the Cooper S once gave me 37 mpg on an extended road trip.
That’s the magic combination everyone was aiming for, and if you look around right now, it seems like everyone’s offering similar benefits with a Turbo this or Turbo that. For example, Hyundai and Kia have a fantastic 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with a twin-scroll turbo; I got to drive an Optima Turbo sedan recently, and my goodness, the car makes 274 horsepower and gives you 34 mpg on the highway! BMW’s got a similar 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with a twin-scroll setup, and they also sell a twin-scroll 3.0-liter six-cylinder engine that cranks out 300 lag-free horses. Other automakers are achieving similar effects with two individual turbos: a small one for low-RPM performance and a big one for high-RPM punch. Check out the Audi S6 super sedan, for instance, which uses a twin-turbo V8 engine that generates 420 horsepower and an unbelievable 27 mpg on the highway.
You catch my drift, I hope. Turbos used to mean an epic lag time followed by an equally epic lurch forward, but with this new breed of twin-scroll and just plain twin turbos, you’re seeing little to no lag along with unprecedented fuel economy. Hey, I miss the ’60s as much as the next muscle car guy, but when there are improvements across the board like with these new turbos, I gotta give credit where credit’s due. That’s real progress.
Before I go, let me ask my esteemed readers about this. You guys must have some experience with modern turbocharged engines, right? Are you impressed, or do you miss that old turbo lag sensation? I know some people who think it added character, so they’re kind of broken up that it’s gone. And how about reliability? Turbo engines have always generated a lot more heat, and there’s a lot of new technology in there now as well. Do you trust it, or would you rather stick with tried-and-true naturally aspirated motors? Let’s have the conversation; I want to hear what you all have to say.
Editor’s note: Leave it to our resident Gearhead to stir the pot. While you’re pondering new school vs. old school, hit up Advance Auto Parts for great deals on auto parts, tools, accessories and more.
Turbojet graphic courtesy of NASA.
Got a chance recently to drive one of today’s top muscle cars, the Chrysler 300 SRT-8. You know the one — big rear-drive sedan with a touch of class and a 6.4-liter Hemi V8 under the hood. I wanted to get into a 2012 SRT-8 because that was the first year for the second-generation model, and Chrysler said it was a big step forward from the original 300 SRT-8.
Now, I had driven an older 300 SRT-8 a few years back, the one with the smaller 5.7-liter Hemi V8. Good friend of mine had one. My impression was that it got motor, and it don’t got much else. It reminded me a little of its legendary ancestor, the 1957 Chrysler 300C, which was a big ol’ land yacht that happened to have hot rod parts like a 375-horsepower V8 stuffed into it. There was plenty of speed, but I like a muscle car that really feels special, and this one didn’t do the trick.
So I hop into the 2012 SRT-8, and immediately I can see it’s a different beast. Let me tell you, the interior is amazing. We’re talking stitched panels, beautiful gauges, and the same kind of supple material on the dashboard that you see in a Mercedes-Benz. There’s a new 8.4-inch touchscreen, too, and it looks like a damn iPad. First one of these gadgets that I actually enjoyed using.
Then I fired up that 6.4-liter Hemi — same displacement as the one in the ’57 300C, by the way — and the true appeal of the 2012 SRT-8 dawned on me. See, I’ve driven hot rods, and I’ve driven a few luxury cars in my day, but I’ve never driven a car that’s truly both of those things at the same time. Trust me when I tell you, the 2012 300 SRT-8 pulls it off. It’s got a wicked exhaust rumble like the best muscle cars, and when you’re on the throttle and the muffler flaps open up, boy, you’re in muscle car heaven. There are 470 horses under that hood; ’nuff said, right? But when you back off, that roar switches to a smooth-sounding hum, and the car rides so nicely that it’s like you’re in a luxury cruiser. Best of both worlds? You better believe it.
I’ll tell you one thing I don’t like about the 2012 SRT-8, and that’s the five-speed automatic transmission. I heard it’s a hand-me-down from Mercedes, but something must have gotten lost in translation, because the shift quality is not up to snuff for a $50,000 — yes, $50,000 — performance car. Rumor has it that an eight-speed transmission is on the way, and from where I sit, it can’t come soon enough.
But the bottom line is that the 300 SRT-8 can do it all. It sure made a believer out of me. No doubt it’s one of the top muscle cars on the market, but it’s also one of the top cars, period. Take it from a Gearhead: this thing is the real deal.
Editor’s note: As you’re suping up your own muscle car, make sure to hit up Advance Auto Parts for great deals on DIY essentials. Buy online, pick up in store.
Photo courtesy of Car and Driver magazine.