The 8 Series is Back

By Derek Price

The year was 1989. New Kids on the Block were starting their “Hangin’ Tough” tour, Indiana Jones was crusading at the box office, and the 8 Series coupe proudly topped the BMW lineup.
The 850i, which debuted 30 years ago at the Frankfurt Motor Show, was the first car to offer the alluring mixture of a 12-cylinder engine with a six-speed manual transmission. It was designed as a showcase for what the ultimate “modern” car could be — including a body engineered by computers and a sleek, sensual shape carefully honed through wind-tunnel testing.
Unfortunately, its stratospheric price and resulting low sales numbers meant it would spend less than a decade as BMW’s flagship in the United States.
That changes this year.
The 850i is back, and unlike MC Hammer and parachute pants, the resurrection of this early-1990s icon is something to celebrate.

The new 8 Series coupe caps BMW’s lineup starting this year. Sleek, powerful and sophisticated, it’s the successor to the original 8 that debuted in 1989.

This all-new 8 Series replaces the 6 atop BMW’s range for 2019, making it a stylish, powerful and deliciously contemporary successor to its earlier namesake.
It’s a fantastic grand tourer, as I discovered during my weeklong test that mixed city traffic, long stretches of highway and the undulating mountain roads in eastern Oklahoma and western Arkansas.
In the city, the 8 is all about style. Yes, it checks the right feature boxes for a comfortable commuter, but that’s not why it stands out. It’s drop-dead gorgeous, a superficial but nonetheless noble aim for a big, sexy coupe.
On the highway, it’s sumptuous.
With 523 horsepower on tap in my 850i tester, the V8 engine roars in the passing lane while a taut-but-comfortable suspension coddles you mile after mile. An 18-gallon fuel tank proves useful on long trips, another hallmark of a legitimate grand tourer.
On mountain roads, though, it shows hints of sports-car exhilaration.
Yes, it’s monumentally heavy. You feel every bit of its 5,280 pounds of gross weight in corners, but a fast throttle response, firm steering feel and confidence-inspiring sport suspension setting let you make the most of its equally monumental horsepower.
Viscerally, the 8 is designed to be more of a refined cruiser than a hard-edged, track-day screamer. One exception is the percussive “pop-pop-pop” of its exhaust when you back off the throttle in Sport+ mode, something that made me giggle like a child the entire week. It’s delightful.

The 850i’s interior has a straightforward, driver-focused layout that makes controlling the car reasonably simple. Optional glass surfaces on the gear selector, iDrive selector and other spots make it look and feel special.

I won’t complain about the back seat. I believe anyone who buys a gorgeous, two-door car and gripes about the rear seat is making a fantastic argument in favor of capital punishment.
I will complain about the cabin not looking as striking and modern as the body. If you could meld the Lexus LC’s stunning interior styling with the 8 Series’ sensual body, you’d have created perhaps the greatest touring coupe of all time. Instead, buyers are forced to pick between the ungainly grille of the Lexus or the unimaginative interior of the BMW, an unfortunate choice.
For its perfect blend of performance and panache, though, the new 8 Series is a worthy successor to its legendary 12-cylinder ancestor.
Pricing starts at $87,900 for the 840i Coupe with its smaller engine and rear-wheel drive. The version I tested, the M850i with all-wheel drive, starts at $111,900.
If you want the fastest flavor of all, the 617-horsepower M8 packed with BMW’s most powerful production engine, starts at $133,000.

At A Glance

What was tested? 2019 BMW M850i xDrive Coupe ($111,900). Options: Comfort seating package ($900), cooling and HP tire package ($1,850), glass controls ($650), M carbon roof ($3,000). Price as tested (including $995 destination charge): $119,295
Wheelbase: 111.1 in.
Length: 191.2 in.
Width: 74.9 in.
Height: 53 in.
Engine: 4.4-liter twin-turbo V8 (523 hp, 553 ft. lbs.)
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 18 city, 25 highway

Style: 10
Performance: 9
Price: 7
Handling: 9
Ride: 10
Comfort: 10
Quality: 10
Overall: 9

Why buy it? 
It’s the spiritual successor to BMW’s rare and expensive 8 Series halo car of the early 1990s. It’s stunning to see, thrilling to drive and superbly straddles the line between sports car and grand tourer.

Posted in Uncategorized

Altima Gets All-New Design

By Derek Price

Nissan is trying to add some excitement to the mid-size sedan market with its all-new Altima this year.
Will it be enough to woo buyers who seem continually infatuated with small crossover vehicles? That’s the question it faces as it enters a new marketplace that feels mildly hostile to four-door family cars.
To stand out, the new Altima is taking several bold steps, the most interesting of which is the addition of all-wheel drive as an option. If four-wheel traction is helping crossovers become ubiquitous, it’s a great defense mechanism to offer it on a sedan.
Nissan also is introducing a world-first technology to make the Altima faster and more efficient: a variable compression engine, available only in front-wheel drive.
Replacing the Altima’s tried-and-true 3.5-liter V6, Nissan says the technology behind the new turbocharged four-cylinder has been in development for two decades. It can continually raise and lower the reach of the pistons to vary the compression ratio anywhere from 8:1, used for performance driving that generates lots of power, and 14:1, which helps with efficiency when max power isn’t required.

The Nissan Altima gets a completely new, sixth-generation design for 2019. It looks more aggressive, is available with all-wheel drive and offers an innovative variable-compression engine.

This is the first time such an engine design has made it into production for a mass-market car.
The result is an engine that delivers V6-like power — 248 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque — with a four-cylinder-like fuel economy rating of 34 mpg on the highway.
My tester, though, didn’t come with the magical new engine. It was fitted with the base 2.5-liter naturally aspirated four-cylinder, a choice that feels adequate but not particularly exciting.
The base engine seems slightly out of place in a car that otherwise is built more for thrills than any previous Altima.
Fresh styling adds to that feeling, with a dramatic grille that looks ravenous, a sleek roofline and a svelte rear end that helps it play the part of a sports sedan.
One disappointment: Nissan is stubbornly sticking with continuously variable transmissions, a choice that seems antithetical to this car’s stated mission of raising heart rates. It’s one of the most refined and transparent CVTs I’ve ever driven, but it still lacks the mechanical snap of a traditional automatic or — one can certainly dream — a manual gearbox that would deliver a more direct connection to this spectacularly solid chassis.
The Altima’s all-new cabin, though, is absolute perfection.
It mimics the look and feel of Nissan’s more premium models, the Maxima and Murano, helping to raise the entire feel of the Altima to a more upscale level. It also does a good job integrating technology into the cabin, something critical for any contemporary car.

Part of the Altima’s all-new design for 2019 is a cabin that looks and feels more like Nissan’s higher-end models, the Murano and Maxima.

All flavors of the new Altima come standard with a 7-inch display behind the steering wheel to put important information directly in front of the driver. Every trim also comes with an 8-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability.
I found the infotainment features easy to use and quick to respond in my tester, whether using Nissan’s own interface or Apple CarPlay linked to my smartphone.
I also love the new Altima’s ProPILOT Assist system, its suite of semi-autonomous features that make driving safer and easier. It does a good job keeping the car centered in a well-marked lane, keeps a set distance from a vehicle in front of you, and navigates stop-and-go city traffic with ease.
ProPILOT Assist is standard on the upscale SV, SL and Platinum grades. It also includes rear automatic braking, which can automatically stop the car to avoid a collision when backing up.
Pricing starts at $24,000 for the base 2.5S model with front-wheel drive and ranges up to $35,030 for the Platinum grade with the innovative variable compression engine.

At A Glance

What was tested? 2019 Nissan Altima 2.5 SV AWD ($29,430). Options: Floor mats, trunk mat, hideaway nets ($300). Price as tested (including $895 destination charge): $30,625
Wheelbase: 111.2 in.
Length: 192.9 in.
Width: 72.9 in.
Height: 57.3 in.
Engine: 2.5-liter four cylinder (182 hp, 178 ft. lbs.)
Transmission: Continuously variable
Fuel economy: 26 city, 36 highway

Style: 7
Performance: 8
Price: 8
Handling: 9
Ride: 8
Comfort: 8
Quality: 8
Overall: 8

Why buy it? 
Its all-new design adds excitement and innovation, including an innovative engine with variable compression ratios. Optional all-wheel drive adds confidence on slick roads.

Posted in Nissan

The Entry-Level Lexus

By Derek Price

Lexus is facing a common hurdle for upscale brands: trying to get younger buyers into the fold.
Demographics for luxury-car buyers lean toward the older side for common-sense reasons. People in a position to buy pricey, high-end cars tend to have years of career experience and a pile of savings.
But if Lexus can offer something appealing to younger buyers, the thinking goes, they’ll be more likely to stick with the brand when it’s time to move up the product chain later in life.
That’s the unabashed reason this car, the all-new UX, exists.
A completely new model for 2019, this car looks and feels different from most Lexus products. Partially that’s to keep it affordable for those coveted younger buyers, with a starting price of $32,150 and a size that feels more like a hatchback than a spacious, brawny crossover.
It’s the lowest-priced Lexus by a long shot. The brand’s smallest sedan, the IS, starts at $38,560 this year.

The UX, a new model for 2019, is the lowest priced Lexus for sale today. It delivers upscale appeal at an attainable price for first-time luxury shoppers.

It also has a driving feel that diverges dramatically from Lexus’ modern direction.
While sporty, exciting coupes such as the RC and stunning LC have breathed new life into the brand’s historically comfort-oriented lineup, the UX is geared more toward fuel efficiency and easy parking in urban centers — not exactly thrilling stuff.
I took my tester, a hybrid UX 250h with the very-well-equipped Luxury trim level, on a road trip that involved both urban and highway driving.
While it wasn’t uncomfortable on the highway, with a reasonably quiet cabin and refined suspension feel, it definitely lacked that supple smoothness and peaceful, isolated feeling you get in its heavier, more expensive cousins.

LED cabin lighting is one way Lexus tries to deliver a “wow factor” in the all-new UX. This car is styled like an SUV but feels more like a hatchback in size.

Its strong point was clearly in city driving. It felt agile and easily maneuverable in heavy traffic and when whipping into tight parking spots.
It also leaves a good impression for something so small, probably thanks to its gigantic, gaping grille and sleek roofline that catches the eye.
Visually, it screams “I’m driving a new Lexus,” not “I’m driving a hatchback.”
While the cabin leaves a great first impression, with ample soft-touch surfaces, a contemporary design and Lexus’ famously indestructible build quality, you can see some cost cutting on closer inspection. Hard plastics on the center console, for example, are forgivable at this price point.
Other upscale touches, such as the beautifully designed digital graphics in the instrument cluster and the sculpture-like door handles, would seem perfectly at home in more expensive cars.
If the UX has an unforgivable sin, it’s the touchpad interface for its infotainment system. It feels fussy and distracting, a major miss in a car that otherwise seems flawlessly designed around comfort and ease of use for the driver.
Will that matter to its buyers? Probably not.
The UX gets the big things right, delivering the flash and polish of a contemporary Lexus at a price that will help many people experience a luxury car for the first time in their lives.

At A Glance

What was tested? 2019 Lexus US 250h Luxury ($39,200). Options: Wireless charger ($75), windshield deicer ($100), LED headlamps ($1,660), parking assist and rear cross-traffic alert ($565), heated steering wheel ($150). Price as tested (including $1,025 destination charge): $42,775
Wheelbase: 103.9 in.
Length: 177 in.
Width: 72.4 in.
Height: 60.6 in.
Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder hybrid powertrain (181 total system horsepower)
Transmission: Continuously variable
Fuel economy: 41 city, 38 highway

Style: 8
Performance: 6
Price: 6
Handling: 7
Ride: 7
Comfort: 7
Quality: 9
Overall: 7

Why buy it? 
It’s designed for driving in urban centers and leaves a good impression visually. Fuel efficiency is impressive, and it’s priced for first-time luxury buyers.

Posted in Lexus