Posts Tagged sports cars

Driving the Jaguar F-Type

2014 Jaguar F-Type V8  S convertibleYesterday, I had the pleasure of driving the 2014 Jaguar F-Type, something that’s been years in the making.

Just over two years, to be precise. The F-Type will always be special to me not just because it’s a gorgeous, powerful sports car, but because it’s more or less the first car I’ve followed as an automotive journalist from start to finish.

I’d only been freelancing for Digital Trends for a few months in the spring of 2012, but the New York Auto Show was just a Metro-North ride away, and DT was happy for the coverage.

The star attraction of the Jaguar-Land Rover press conference was supposed to be a convertible version of the Range Rover Evoque crossover, but it turned out to be a red herring.

What really grabbed headlines was Jaguar’s announcement that it would build a new sports car, followed by a short video with a sound byte from its glorious V8, and a photo of a camouflaged prototype.

Naturally, the car wouldn’t be unveiled for some time but, after months of speculation, spy shots, auto show events, and media drives, the F-Type is in showrooms.

I finally caught up with this sensational sports car at an International Motor Press Association event in Bear Mountain, New York. My driving time was limited, and rain meant the top had to stay up, but it was definitely worth the wait.

The cabin of the F-Type is snug but well-appointed, like a luxurious jet fighter. The growl from the engine in this V8 S model makes a stereo superfluous.

As the name states, that engines has eight cylinders. It displaces 5.0 liters and, with help from a supercharger, produces 495 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque. Jaguar says it will do 0 to 60 mph in 4.1 seconds.

Some might decry the lack of a manual transmission, but the eight-speed automatic seemed up to the task of sending power to the rear wheels as I guided the F-Type around curvy Hudson Valley roads.

There are many sports cars with reportedly-good road manners, but this Jag is genuinely enjoyable in an everyday context.

The interior is comfortable, and the overrun-crackle emitted by the exhaust in “Dynamic” mode is fantastic, even when you’re stuck behind slow-moving traffic.

Whenever a carmaker’s announcement involves words like “sport” and “supercharged,” you expect the resulting automobile to be good. With the Jaguar F-Type, it’s nice to be able to confirm that it is.

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On the Porsche 911

Porsche 911TMy relationship with the Porsche 911 is like the relationships most people have with celebrities: I feel like I know it even though I don’t.

I’ve never driven a 911, but having read scores of accounts, I can tell you all about the early models’ reputation for sinister oversteer, or the workings of the 2014 911 Turbo’s active aerodynamics.

That’s why I’ve always been ambivalent about the 911. I only know it as a car driven by pretentious rich people and Jerry Seinfeld, but I’m still in a celebratory mood because of its 50th anniversary.

To me, the 911 has always been part of a select group of automotive overachievers. Like the BMW 3 Series and the Toyota Camry, if it’s part of a magazine comparison test, it will almost certainly win.

It’s actually a bit frustrating. There’s always a more interesting car, or one with a better story, that always gets beaten by the Porsche’s sheer competence.

Automotive journalists often say the 911 is a sports car you can use everyday and, indeed, its upright profile, front trunk, and available all-wheel drive make it seem almost practical.

2014 Porsche 911 GT3This is probably why men having midlife crises gravitate toward the 911: yes, it’s a sports car, but it won’t do anything to upset a Westchester family’s genteel sensibilities.

Yet the 911 also has decades of racing victories to its credit, and Porsche’s constant fiddling has made every generation perform better than the last.

It’s also one of the few high-end cars with a passionate customizing subculture, something I find endlessly amusing.

That’s the secret of the 911’s staying power.

The 911 really can be all things to all people. It’s not a car of extremes; it plays the middle so well that nearly anyone can find something to like about it.

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Sunday Royals Garage Car Show recap

Aston Martin Vanquish Audi R8 Chevy ApacheLast weekend was Memorial Day, the unofficial start of summer and car show season. I spent Sunday at the Sunday Royals Garage Car Show at Lime Rock Park, and saw nearly every type of car imaginable lined up on the same main straight that usually hosts Le Mans prototypes an Trans Am racers.

The show was a little small because of the weather, but there was still an outstanding variety of cars. Here are my top five favorites:

Plymouth SuperbirdPlymouth Superbird

You may have seen Vin Diesel driving this car’s twin, the Dodge Charger Daytona, in the latest Fast & Furious movie. It’s a Plymouth Road Runner with the best aerodynamics the 1970s had to offer, making it the perfect weapon for a NASCAR oval. Today, the Superbird is one of the rarest muscle cars around, so I was excited to see this Hemi Orange example at Lime Rock.

1929 Stutz Blackhawk1929 Stutz Blackhawk

You rarely see a car this old out and about, unless it’s a ubiquitous, mass-produced Ford. In addition to having one of the coolest names ever, the Blackhawk represents a time when most cars of a certain price really were one-of-a-kind, thanks to their custom bodywork. Stutz was also one of the first great American marques, known for the Bearcat sports car and its heated rivalry with Mercer.

Bob Sharp Datsun 240ZDatsun 240Z racecar

It’s hard to argue with a wide-body 240Z in red, white, and blue, but this car had special resonance for me. Bob Sharp was one of the first American Datsun/Nissan dealers, and did a lot to promote the brand through racing cars like this one.

My parents bought our first new car after moving to Connecticut at what used to be Bob Sharp Nissan, so the local connection made this slick 240Z that much more special.

Nissan GT-RNissan GT-R(s)

There were actually three copies of Nissan’s all-conquering sports car at Lime Rock, but that doesn’t exactly make it common. The GT-R is an all-wheel drive, four-seat coupe that can dice with a Porsche 911 Turbo at the Nurburgring, all for a (relatively) affordable price. Unlike that Porsche, or certain Italian cars that will go unnamed, the GT-R really is a performance car that you can imagine living with every day.

1980 Toyota Tercel1980 Toyota Tercel

I heard the show’s MC talking about a 1980 Tercel over the loudspeakers and thought he was joking. I hadn’t seen the car.

Bringing a Japanese economy car to show that also featured an Audi R8, Aston Martin Vanquish, and three Nissan GT-Rs takes a lot of chutzpah, which this little car and its owner had in spades.

The car looks perfect slammed onto those chunky wheels, and under the hood is a souped up engine that was basically made from scratch. They don’t sell many performance parts for Toyota Tercels.

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Other People’s Cars: Porsche Carrera GT

Last weekend, I stopped at an antique auto restoration shop near Westport, Connecticut. While drooling over a Jaguar XK120 and a 1959 DeSoto, I spotted a decidedly modern Porsche Carrera GT. Seeing a blue supercar like the one in this photo (I couldn’t figure out how to upload photos from my phone) was an interesting juxtaposition.

The Carrera GT is one of my favorite supercars, because it looks like it’s from the future. The cabin is pushed forward by a massive expanse of engine, and the whole car rides so low it probably couldn’t clear an ant hill. It’s a roadster, with seat fairings that make it look like a Star Wars airspeeder. On the inside, the center console rises up to bring the shifter closer to the driver’s hand.

The Carrera GT started out as a race car; Porsche wanted to retake Le Mans with it. However, the project didn’t work out, so in 2004 Porsche began selling Carrera GTs made from the bones of its stillborn Le Mans prototype. Apparently, failed race cars make excellent street cars. The Carrera GT packs a 5.7-liter V10 with 604 horsepower. It can do 0-60 mph in 3.6 seconds and set a Top Gear lap record when it appeared on the show in 2004 (the record has since been beaten).

If the looks and performance don’t convince you that this is a race care, look no further than the Formula 1-style single-lug wheels, which are color-coded (red for driver’s side, blue for passenger’s).

Seeing such an anally designed car at a restoration shop does pose an interesting question: what will today’s cars be like to restore? Carbon fiber does not rust, but it is much harder to shape into fenders or door panels than steel. The Carrera GT’s electronics will pose another problem. Will computers in the future be able to interface with the Porsche’s control unit, or will it be like trying to get information off a floppy disk? One thing is for sure: those red and blue wheel nuts will be very difficult to find.

The Carrera GT may look like a vehicle from the future, but so did that DeSoto when it rolled off the assembly line in 1959. Now, that big Mopar is a classic, just as the Carrera GT will be in a few decades. Someday, Porsche’s supercar won’t be considered high tech, it will be an antique. When that day comes, I hope the people who restore antique cars will be up to the task.

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Other People’s Cars: Lamborghini Countach

Lamborghini CountachThe Lamborghini Countach is, quite simply, the Platonic “ideal form” of the supercar. Its predecessor, the Miura, is widely considered to be the first supercar, but the Countach is what sold the world on the concept. It’s the car everyone remembers, and it is anything but subtle.

The Countach’s set the template for the modern supercar. It’s mid-engined, with plenty of scoops and ducts to channel air to a massive V12. The profile is low, wide, and sleek, making the Countach look like a very angry doorstop. Then there are the vertically-opening “scissor doors” and the signature wheels, which were passed on to the Diablo and Murcielago.

Outrageous styling is a given for any modern car that dares to call itself “super,” but the Countach did it first. It really is a child of the excessive ‘70s. Unfortunately, that applies in more ways than one.

Since Nixon resigned, engineers have made massive strides in improving the handling of cars. The Countach may look like a drivable dream, but it is more like a nightmare. The cabin is cramped and all of the controls, especially the clutch, require extreme effort. Countaches are so difficult to park that Lamborghini factory workers used to get out, and sit on the door sill, to park them. Sound crazy? Check out this demonstration.

Every supercar owes its existence to the Countach, but thankfully things have improved with time. Just look at Lamborghini’s own Aventador, which has the same head-turning looks but is much easier to drive. It can also top 200 mph, something the Countach could never do. The Platonic supercar is still great to look at, but that’s about it.

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Other People’s Cars: Alfa Spider

Spotted amidst the American muscle cars at a local show is something everyone can recognize, but few actually know: the Alfa Romeo Spider.

The Alfa Spider is a traditional European sports car: a small, light, two-seater powered by an equally small engine that loves to rev. The emphasis is on handling rather than outright speed; European roads are narrower and curvier than America’s.

In the years before World War II, Alfa Romeo made some of the world’s most exclusive cars. Models like the 8C 2300 and 8C Mille Miglia won races and cost a fortune. As Italy rebuilt itself after the destruction of the war, Alfa was assigned by the Italian government to build affordable cars to remobilize the population.

Since then, Alfa has been known for bringing the Italian flair normally ascribed to exotic brands like Ferrari and Lamborghini to cheaper sports cars and sport sedans. The Spider is the most iconic of those postwar cars, thanks to its starring role alongside Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate.

The hosts of Top Gear claim that every real car enthusiast needs to own an Alfa Romeo, because Alfas have and authentic “soul” that other cars don’t. They’re right, but not just because of Alfas’ positive attributes. These are some of the most unreliable cars ever made: every electrical or mechanical system will fail if the body doesn’t rust into oblivion first. Owning an Alfa takes dedication, the kind of dedication only a true petrolhead could muster.

However, a great car is not necessarily a great car person’s car. BMWs appeal to car enthusiasts; they are great to drive. But, since they are also well built status-symbols, they also appeal to non-enthusiasts and, worse, poseurs. Someone who isn’t interested in cars would never put up with the trials of Alfa ownership, and since the brand has no snob-factor (if not for The Graduate, few Americans would know they existed), they can’t use their Alfa to show off.

The Alfa Romeo really is the ultimate enthusiast’s car. It’s great to drive, unique, and designed with the passion of fellow car enthusiasts. And, most importantly, no one else would be crazy enough to buy one.

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Other People’s Cars: Ferrari 430 Scuderia

In the playground of the rich that is Kent, Connecticut, we find one of Ferrari’s most hardcore models, the 430 Scuderia. The number refers to the engine’s displacement, and the name (Italian for team) refers to Ferrari’s exploits in Formula 1. This was a lightened, fortified, limited edition of the F430, designed for driving purists.

Conventional wisdom states that all Ferraris are designed for driving purists, but these days the engineers at Maranello hold a lot back. The regular F430 (replaced by the 458 Italia in 2010) was, by all accounts, a terrific car, but it was not all that it could have been.

To make it more luxurious, the F430 came with lots of equipment that added lots of weight, the ultimate enemy of automotive performance. Most Ferrari customers are not weekend racers, just rich people with a penchant for showing off, and they demand luxury despite its negative effect on performance.

To show that they still knew how to build an uncompromising sports car, Ferrari took a hacksaw to the F430. Various body parts were replaced with carbon fiber. The leather interior was completely stripped out; even the carpets were removed. The seats were replaced with carbon fiber racing buckets. The stereo was removed.

With all of the luxuries gone, the price actually went up, from $186,925 to $272,306. Admittedly, Ferrari did add a few features. The 4.3 liter V-8 got a power boost, from 483 horsepower and 343 lb-ft of torque to 503hp and 347 lb-ft. Ferrari’s engineers also brought the car back to the wind tunnel, adding aerodynamic features normally seen on race cars. Unlike your homeboy’s modified Civic, the slats on the front and rear of the Scuderia are functional: they draw air over the car instead of underneath, which makes it more stable at high speeds. As the wheels turn, air pressure can build up in the wheel wells; those gaping holes take care of that too. It even has racing stripes.

The idea of a tuned Ferrari is a little ridiculous; after paying that much money for a car, you would think it would be perfect right out of the box. The racing stripes and the Formula 1-alluding name are a bit pretentious. However, in the flesh, this car works. It looks more serious, and more dynamic, than a regular F430. Objectively, it’s a marketing ploy, but subjectively, it’s a work of art. And, with gearheads, the latter usually trumps the former.

High-performance cars compromise practical qualities like comfort, convenience, and economy in the name of speed. Most of Ferrari’s customers are stock brokers, not weekend racers. They like performance, as long as it doesn’t inconvenience them. Ferrari’s biggest limitation may not be technology; it might be its customers.

Ferrari recently replaced both 430 models with the 458 Italia. Will that model turn out to be cushy enough for the Starbucks crowd, while still living up to the Ferrari name? Or will Maranello turn out a hardcore 458 as well?

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