Jousting With Legends


Cargazing
By Derek Price

Having grown up in the 1980s and ‘90s, a time when Cadillac was known for making big, squishy land boats, the sentence I’m about to write is shocking.
Cadillac now sells a car that, in some ways, beats the BMW M3.
I just spent a week driving the super-fast ATS-V Coupe, a Caddy that was designed from the outset to directly compete with the fabled car from Germany — something unthinkable a few years ago.
To reach that lofty level, Cadillac had to start planning a long time ago, and that meant creating a stronger, stiffer platform that can handle all the extreme forces of physics that powerful cars generate. You can feel that in the “ordinary” ATS that benefits from a rigid, carved-from-granite chassis, but it’s even more remarkable in the V-spec car with its powerful engine and telepathically sensitive suspension that magnifies any imperfections.
How powerful is it? The ATS-V makes 464 horsepower, enough to scoot from 0-60 mph in 3.8 seconds, Cadillac claims. That’s a tick faster than what BMW boasts for its 2016 M3, and it’s believable considering the Caddy makes 39 more horses from its twin-turbocharged, six-cylinder engine.

A carbon fiber hood with vents to keep the engine cool is one of many features the ATS-V uses to boost its performance. Shown here in coupe form, it’s also available as a four-door sedan.

A carbon fiber hood with vents to keep the engine cool is one of many features the ATS-V uses to boost its performance. Shown here in coupe form, it’s also available as a four-door sedan.

Granted, that doesn’t make the ATS-V a shoo-in for anyone fortunate enough to be shopping for this class of high-caliber car. The BMW has a sense of rawness and excitement — not to mention its long heritage — that the fresher Cadillac and Mercedes competitors struggle to match.
But the Caddy makes its case with more than its engine.
Its body is striking with a form-follows-function shape that’s wonderfully honest. All the slits, vents and moldings are functional, designed to reduce drag and add downforce to keep the car glued to the pavement at high speeds, particularly when you opt for the track aerodynamics package.
A carbon fiber hood helps reduce weight and gives the ATS-V an added mystique shared with exotic vehicles. If that’s not enough, you can opt for an extra carbon fiber package — which added a whopping $5,000 to the price of my test car — but also gives it the eye-catching look of exposed carbon bits.
The brag-worthy list gets longer. You can get amazing Brembo brakes, Recaro front seats that pin you in place through corners, magnetic ride control that lets you tune the suspension feel from the driver’s seat, and a technology suite that seems more at home on a SpaceX rocket than a road car.
Not only can you adjust your performance experience through the digital settings, but you can record the whole thing, too. An available Performance Data Recorder will track your times and record high-definition video you can share with your friends on social media, making this truly a car for today.

The ATS-V is packed with technology that’s perfect for track-day fun, including an optional Performance Data Recorder that tracks lap times and captures high-resolution video.

The ATS-V is packed with technology that’s perfect for track-day fun, including an optional Performance Data Recorder that tracks lap times and captures high-resolution video.

Unsurprisingly, all this speed and tech doesn’t come cheap. The four-door ATS-V starts at $60,465, while the sexier coupe version costs $62,665 — and that’s before you add in the delicious options that are sure to be tempting. My tester came with a sticker price just shy of $80,000 with the extra goodies.
That’s a lot of money for a car this size, no doubt. The back seat and trunk space are smaller than any $80,000 vehicle I can recall driving, but I can’t imagine that people shopping for this kind of car will care. The ATS-V isn’t about logic and practicality, after all. It’s too wild for that.
Instead, this car is about creating one of the most thrilling behind-the-wheel experiences on the planet. And to me, the fact that it’s a screaming statement from one of America’s most storied luxury brands makes it that much better.

At a Glance

What was tested?
2016 Cadillac ATS-V Coupe RWD ($62,665). Options: Carbon fiber package ($5,000), Recaro performance seats ($2,300), luxury package ($2,100), eight-speed automatic transmission ($2,000), performance data recorder ($1,300), power sunroof ($1,050), 18-inch polished wheels ($900), dark gold Brembo brakes ($595), sueded steering wheel and shifter ($300). Price as tested (including $995 destination charge): $79,205
Wheelbase: 109.3 in.
Length: 184.7 in.
Width: 72.5 in.
Height: 54.5 in.
Engine: 3.6-liter twin turbo V6 (464 hp, 445 ft. lbs.)
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 16 city, 24 highway

RATINGS

Style: 9
Performance: 10
Price: 7
Handling: 10
Ride: 7
Comfort: 7
Quality: 8
Overall: 9

Video Review:
2016 Cadillac ATS-V
bit.ly/16atsv

Why buy it?
With mind-blowing handling and power, it’s claimed to be even faster than the legendary BMW M3. It’s an exercise in engineering excess and a milestone for the Cadillac product portfolio.

Posted in Cadillac

Jetta Adds More Value


Cargazing
By Derek Price

After a complete redesign last year, the Volkswagen Jetta is back with several refinements to make it a better value in 2016.
My personal favorite is the addition of Apple CarPlay — a feature I’m starting to sorely miss every time I drive a new car without it — along with Android Auto and MirrorLink, making the Jetta among the first new cars to achieve the trifecta of smartphone integration.
And, make no mistake, that’s becoming a bigger factor for today’s buyers. Where previous generations may have wanted to know about horsepower and fuel economy numbers, today’s car shoppers often have one big question: How well does it work with my phone?
In the case of the Jetta and an iPhone 6, the answer is “exceptionally well.” Simply by connecting my phone to the car using a USB cable — no Bluetooth pairing process required — I could instantly make calls and operate select apps without even touching the phone. It’s convenient and safer, letting you keep your eyes and attention on the road.
I even sent this message to my wife: “I’m texting you while a cop is right behind me! How cool is that?”
The entire exchange takes place through voice commands and your car’s controls instead of typing into your phone, which helps you keep your attention where it belongs. Can it still be distracting? Absolutely. But I also think it’s dramatically safer than that plague of the roads that we see all too often: idiots typing into their phone while driving.

The Jetta’s no-nonsense exterior design sets the stage for a car that aims to provide a lot of substance for the money. It’s been Volkswagen’s top-selling vehicle for many years.

The Jetta’s no-nonsense exterior design sets the stage for a car that aims to provide a lot of substance for the money. It’s been Volkswagen’s top-selling vehicle for many years.

Aside from the better smartphone brains, the Jetta makes a few other changes this year.
The most noticeable addition is a 1.4-liter turbocharged, direct-injected, four-cylinder engine that boosts its EPA fuel economy rating up to 40 mpg with a manual transmission. That’s impressive for a car with a back seat that feels this roomy.
In fact, it’s the Jetta’s spaciousness that makes it stand out to me. In typical German fashion, it’s a car that you’d buy based on the numbers — the knee room, the head room, the elbow room — rather than any particular knockout punch from its features list or gimmicky styling. It’s a straightforward, no-nonsense car.
Adaptive cruise control, another feature I’m starting to miss on cars that lack it, is now available as part of the Jetta’s Driver Assistance Package.
And, in addition to the usual safety features such as multiple airbags and electronic stability control, Volkswagen is now fitting every Jetta with something to help mitigate the damage from wrecks. It’s called post-collision braking.

The Jetta’s cabin feels roomier than many of its competitors, particularly in the back seat where knee and elbow space are surprisingly generous.

The Jetta’s cabin feels roomier than many of its competitors, particularly in the back seat where knee and elbow space are surprisingly generous.

If the airbags deploy from an accident, the Jetta will automatically apply its brakes afterward to help “reduce residual kinetic energy,” VW says. To me, it sounds like a fancy way of saying it keeps a two-car wreck from turning into a three-car wreck if you don’t stop your car from rolling, an interesting concept that I’m not sure I’ve seen on another new vehicle before this.
Pricing ranges from the base S model at $17,680 to $26,920 for the well-equipped and sporty GLI. A Jetta Hybrid also is available starting at $31,120.

At a Glance

What was tested?
2016 Volkswagen Jetta 1.8T SEL Premium ($25,380). Options: Lighting package ($995), driver assistance package ($950) Price as tested (including $820 destination charge): $28,145
Wheelbase: 104.4 in.
Length: 183.3 in.
Width: 70 in.
Height: 57.2 in.
Engine: 1.8-liter turbocharged four cylinder (170 hp, 184 ft. lbs.)
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 25 city, 36 highway

RATINGS

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

Video Review:
2016 Volkswagen Jetta
bit.ly/2016jetta

Why buy it?
The latest smartphone integration and a new, more efficient engine help the Jetta focus on providing more for your money in 2016.

Posted in Volkswagen

The Maximum MINI


Cargazing
By Derek Price

When a brand has just one iconic car and a self-defining name like “MINI,” there’s only so far it can stretch its lineup before losing its soul.
This year, MINI is expanding its product offerings — both figuratively and literally — with an all-new generation of the Clubman, and it does a remarkable job staying true to the diminutive MINI Cooper’s playful, ever-so-British spirit.
While it’s noticeably bigger and more practical than the outgoing Clubman, with four wide-swinging passenger doors and a reasonably roomy back seat that can fold down to haul bulky cargo, it’s the driving feel that impresses me more than the newfound spaciousness.
From the driver’s seat, the new Clubman feels smaller than it is. It turns, stops and accelerates with an eagerness that mimics and almost matches the excellent Cooper, no doubt helped by its hours of testing time on the Nürburgring racetrack in Germany.

The MINI Clubman, a larger version of the timeless Cooper, has six doors, two of which offer a split-opening cargo area in back.

The MINI Clubman, a larger version of the timeless Cooper, has six doors, two of which offer a split-opening cargo area in back.

As a whole, the 2016 Clubman feels like a more premium product than before. And it needs to, considering it’s carrying a premium price for a car this size, with an as-tested sticker of $36,600 for my Cooper S Clubman tester.
To rationalize that, you’ve got to remember that the Clubman is built by BMW, the same company that creates some of the best drivers’ cars in the world. You can feel that in its bones, too, including a chassis that seems solid as a Rocky Mountain boulder in twists and over bumps, never allowing a hint of jiggliness that plagues lesser cars.
For the most part, the Clubman’s new interior feels like it’s built to BMW’s lofty standards. With the exception of a couple of switches that seem like they wouldn’t pass muster in Munich, the interior has the same sense of precision and a lot more style than most BMW-badged products.
And — let’s be clear — style is everything for the Clubman.
The whole car is filled with funky styling touches, starting with a body that emulates the classic Cooper from all angles and ending with one of the most esoteric interiors of any car for sale today.
In this otherworldly cabin, everything seems to either have a circular motif or glow in a strange way. Some things do both, like the glowing circle on the center stack that changes colors as the engine RPMs rise.
Does the glowing circle serve any practical purpose? No. Is it extremely cool and something I’d like in my own car? Heck yes!
At times, the styling can get in the way of practicality, though. Rear visibility isn’t that great thanks to the overall shape of this car, and it’s not helped by skinny side mirrors and a split back door. The digital interface is also awkward to use at times, with small buttons down low by the cup holder.
Still, it’s those unusual choices that make this car what it is: a brilliantly fun, if quirky, family runabout.
One example: I wanted to giggle every time I opened those swinging back doors by remote control. Unlike a power liftgate, a common feature on posh crossovers and SUVs, the split rear doors on the Clubman swing open left and right. It’s a feature that’s both practical — there’s nothing to bump your head on when you stoop down to load groceries — and makes you smile.
More than anything else, though, the reason people ought to consider this car is the way it drives, particularly with a manual transmission.

The Clubman’s interior is one of the most unique on the market today, fitting for a style-conscious car that prides itself on being quirky.

The Clubman’s interior is one of the most unique on the market today, fitting for a style-conscious car that prides itself on being quirky.

It’s incredibly fun. MINI calls the experience “go-kart handling,” not a particularly original expression but spot-on accurate in this case. The Clubman corners flat and changes directions like a child’s toy, something rare for a roomy, four-door vehicle.
From a safety perspective, the Clubman offers eight dual-stage airbags, dynamic stability control and a head-up display to keep the driver’s eyes near the road while looking at speed and navigation information.
Pricing starts at $24,100 for the Clubman, $27,650 for the livelier S model, or $29,450 for the new Clubman ALL4 with all-wheel drive.

At a Glance

What was tested?
2016 Mini Cooper S Clubman ($27,650). Options: Metallic paint ($500), burgundy leather ($1,500), premium package ($1,800), technology package ($1,750), heated front seats ($500), LED headlights ($1,000), head-up display ($750), satellite radio ($300). Price as tested (including $850 destination charge): $36,600
Wheelbase: 105.1 in.
Length: 168.3 in.
Width: 70.9 in.
Height: 56.7 in.
Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged inline four cylinder (189 hp, 207 ft. lbs.)
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Fuel economy: 22 city, 32 highway

RATINGS

Style: 10
Performance: 9
Price: 5
Handling: 9
Ride: 7
Comfort: 6
Quality: 8
Overall: 8

Video Review:
2016 Mini Clubman
bit.ly/16clubman

Why buy it?
With an all-new generation for 2016, the Clubman is roomier and more practical than before while also driving more like the playful, easily lovable MINI Cooper.

Posted in Cooper

Reviews