2nd September 2014

2015 Land Rover Discovery Sport Official Photos and Info: A Return to (Off-Road) Form

2015 Land Rover Discovery Sport
We would, of course, understand if you believe that the world already possesses enough compact SUVs wearing premium badges. The majority of these seem to spend their time doing nothing more adventurous than shuttling between upmarket outlet malls. Yet the new Land Rover Discovery Sport, seen here for the first time, does stand out from its posh rivals for one simple and moderately compelling reason—it has been designed to actually go off-road, at least sometimes. The Discovery Sport arrives here early next year, priced from $38,920. READ MORE ››

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2nd September 2014

Happy 25th, MX-5 Miata! Three Generations of Mazda’s Sports Car Compared—Plus Our Original Reviews!

Happy 25th, MX-5 Miata! Three Generations of Mazda’s Sports Car Compared—Plus Our Original Reviews!

With Mazda’s pokey little MX-5 Miata sports car celebrating its 25th birthday this year and the new, fourth-generation car’s arrival just around the corner (tomorrow!), we called a staff meeting to determine how best to celebrate. Cross-country trip? Already done (thanks, Road & Track). Take one racing? Also not exactly a new concept for the easy-to-race Miata, plus—shockingly—no one in the office has a race-prepped Mazda. Ultimately, we figured that the most appropriate course of action involved simply driving the thing.

As it turns out, finding examples of each generation of Miata to drive isn’t terribly difficult. Survey the staff at any car magazine, and chances are you’ll find numerous Miata owners. There’s a good reason for this—the MX-5 is lightweight, agile, and doesn’t need to be driven fast to reach its limits. These traits make it not only an ideal palette-cleanser for folks who review cars for a living, but also a ball of fun. Further helping matters is the Miata’s affordability; the current-generation model is priced in the $25,000-to-$30,000 range, and used examples of the first- and second-generation cars can be had for less than $5K. We think more people should drive Miatas, and although this analysis won’t go too in-depth with each model—that’s what our original tests sprinkled throughout this report are for—perhaps it will kick-start your search. And besides, the best way to pick which Miata to buy is to go out and drive one!

First Generation/NA, 1990–1997 

1995 Mazda MX-5 Miata

This is the car that started it all, the rear-drive sensation that dragged the small roadster’s image out of the primordial, short-circuiting, oil-percolating British Leyland muck. The example you see here belongs to this author, and it’s a 73,000-mile cream puff previously owned by an elderly couple who bought it new in 1995. Production of the so-called “NA” Miata began in calendar year 1989, and along the way Mazda implemented just two major changes, both for the 1994 model year: a new dashboard to accommodate a passenger-side airbag and the fitment of a larger 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine in place of the original’s 1.6-liter.

Being a ’95, this Miata has the 1.8-liter; as God intended, it is mated to a five-speed manual. Having driven a 1.6-liter Miata, I can say the only real difference between it and the 1.8 is that it packs less torque but feels more rev-friendly. In both cars, the stick notches into gear precisely, the motion so short that shifting requires less than half a wrist flick. The body is surprisingly stiff for a nearly 20-year-old open-top car, largely thanks to the underbody bracing Mazda added for ’94. The ride is never punishing, just very, very firm. The steering? With power assist, it’s a revelation; without it, you’re fondling the most talkative rim outside of a Lotus. If you’re looking for an affordable near-classic car—next year, first-year Miatas qualify for historical license plates here in Michigan—with everyday drivability, a wonderful engine note, and great handling, look no further. Plus, pop-up headlights are just the coolest.

NA MX-5 Miata Reviews, Tests, and Comparos:

Instrumented Test: 1990 Mazda MX-5 Miata

Instrumented Test: 1994 Mazda Miata

Instrumented Test: 1994 Mazda Miata Specials

Second Generation/NB, 1999–2005

1999 MX-5 Miata

Being nearly a decade newer than the NA Miata, the NB feels far more substantial, even though the two are closely related underneath. Visually, Mazda painted the NB with a less-accurate brush, imbuing the car with a bubbly, chubby-flubber look that does an excellent job of hiding the fact that the NB is no larger than the NA. After skipping the 1998 model year, the NB MX-5 was introduced for ’99 and stayed on sale through 2005. The red 1999 example seen here belongs to C/D’s online production manager and news guy, Nicholas Wallace. Like most Miatas, this one has been fettled with: It sits on a lowered suspension and wears a sweet set of gold wheels with sticky Hankook RS-3 rubber. The stock muffler’s been replaced with a louder one, too.

Even with its stiffened springs and stunted suspension travel, this NB traverses bumps and expansion joints with less crash and harshness than the NA. The interior is more modern, with a digital trip computer and more concessions to occupants’ comfort. Mazda fitted a three-spoke Nardi steering wheel, which is a far better piece to grip than the NA’s four-spoke tiller. Early NBs shared their 1.8-liter four-cylinder with the NA, albeit with a different head making more power; later, Mazda added variable valve timing to the mix. The five-speed shifter in our ’99 example is just as slick as the NA’s (a six-speed was eventually offered, too), and the steering is just as communicative. By its second generation, the Miata starts to feel like it has actual power—and in turbocharged Mazdaspeed form, it makes quite a lot of actual power—making this an ideal starting point for a cheap track car or an easily enjoyed weekend toy.

NB MX-5 Miata Reviews, Tests, and Comparos:

Instrumented Test: 1999 Mazda MX-5 Miata

Instrumented Test: Mazda MX-5 Miata 10th-Anniversary Edition

Instrumented Test: 2001 Mazda MX-5 Miata

Instrumented Test: 2004 Mazdaspeed MX-5 Miata

Comparison Test: Mazdaspeed MX-5 Miata vs. Caterham Seven Superlight R, Factory Five Racing Roadster, Honda S200, Lotus Elise

Third Generation/NC, 2006–Present

2014 MX-5 Miata Grand Touring

Of the three existing Miata iterations, the current-generation “NC” model sits largely alone, sharing nothing with the NA and the NB. This is not, of course, to say it is lesser than; on the contrary, it wonderfully blends the essence of the first two Miatas into a livable modern package. Dimensionally, the car is only marginally bigger, but there’s interior room to spare and a trunk that’s even more spacious. A full complement of modern safety equipment eases the subconscious dread that wayward crossovers inflict on NA and NB drivers, and Mazda even offers a power-folding hardtop that’s barely heavier than the standard cloth top. All in all, this is the Miata for those who need a roadster and a daily driver—but want both in the same package.

Our NC was provided by Mazda and is a 2014 Grand Touring model with the power-folding hardtop and a six-speed manual transmission. Driven back-to-back with either the NA or the NB, it’s immediately apparent why Mazda’s ride-and-handling tuners are considered some of the best in the business: The current Miata feels supple over Michigan’s knackered pavement but is beautifully neutral and flat through corners. With 167 horsepower on tap from its 2.0-liter engine, the NC can actually be drifted with relative ease, although the charming exhaust blat of the NA and NB cars is absent here. While all of the NCs are daily drivable, we’d grab one of the last power-hardtop Miata Club models; these get a cool two-tone paint job that mixes a black roof with your choice of a silver, black, or red body, as well as a sport suspension and black wheels.

NC MX-5 Miata Reviews, Tests, and Comparos:

Instrumented Test: 2006 Mazda MX-5 Miata

Comparison Test: 2006 Mazda MX-5 Miata vs. Pontiac Solstice

Instrumented Test: 2006 Mazda MX-5 Miata Sport Automatic

Instrumented Test: 2007 Mazda MX-5 Power Retractable Hardtop Grand Touring

Happy 25th, MX-5 Miata! Three Generations of Mazda’s Sports Car Compared—Plus Our Original Reviews!



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2nd September 2014

Grainy Colorado: Chevy Sculpts New Mid-size Pickup Out of Sand

Grainy Colorado: Chevy Sculpts New Mid-size Pickup Out of Sand

First things first. The best thing to happen in San Diego during the Labor Day weekend was the Drive Like Jehu reunion show in Balboa Park, which found the angular rock geniuses accompanied by the gigantic, century-old Spreckels Organ. Everything else of note was simply vying for second place, including the annual U.S. Sand Sculpting Championships.

Since Chevrolet apparently couldn’t get (or more likely didn’t try to get) Jehu frontman and noted artist Rick Froberg to draw the 2015 Colorado, they went for the second-best option and had a full-size example built from granular minerals. Over the course of five days, a team shaped nearly 75,000 pounds of sand into a very reasonable facsimile of the GM marque’s new mid-size pickup.



Hard parts were limited to wheels, taillights, badges, and a grille/headlight assembly. Meticulousness and artistry were high, although the Colorado lacked the Rivera-and-Munsch-brunching-in-suburbia vibe that shot through the winning piece, entitled “Homework Machine”. Which was probably a good thing. We wouldn’t want to disturb potential customers, would we?

Grainy Colorado: Chevy Sculpts New Mid-size Pickup Out of Sand

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2nd September 2014

2015 Infiniti Q70 and Q70L Driven: Going to Great Lengths

2015 Infiniti Q70L
Long-wheelbase mid-size luxury sedans: they’re big in China, not even a thing over here. Sure, we have large cars with big back seats, but stretched luxury mid-sizers—cushy cars that are long but not terribly wide—make no sense here in America, where the roads are wide and our population even wider. READ MORE ››

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2nd September 2014

That Sinking Feeling: National Corvette Museum Reverses Earlier Decision, Will Fill in Sinkhole

That Sinking Feeling: National Corvette Museum Reverses Earlier Decision, Will Fill in Sinkhole
Courtesy of a Detroit Free Press report, we must fill you in on an update on the National Corvette Museum’s ongoing sinkhole bonanza. Do you remember the Kentucky Corvette museum that partially collapsed late last year when a gigantic sinkhole opened beneath it and swallowed eight Chevrolet sports cars of various vintages? Our last visitation of the sinkhole saga tackled the museum’s decision to keep the sinkhole open, perhaps with one or two of the damaged cars placed within it, as a permanent attraction. That decision, it turns out, has been buried.

Citing cost reasons, the National Corvette Museum has decided to fill in the hole. Apparently, the attendant safety and structural modifications necessary around the sinkhole’s perimeter were just too expensive. The museum’s reversal on the hole’s long-term display potential comes as something of a surprise, especially given the attendance and revenue bump it brought. That said, it also seems like the classier move; after all, the sinkhole may continue to create buzz for the museum, but in a few years’ time, a giant hole through a museum floor could be construed as “tacky.”



Plans to restore three of the damaged Corvettes will continue as planned; the other five were too far gone to bother. With the hole’s fill-in beginning later this year, those five unrestored cars are expected to remain the only on-display proof of the sinkhole’s fury.

That Sinking Feeling: National Corvette Museum Reverses Earlier Decision, Will Fill in Sinkhole

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2nd September 2014

Name That Shifter, No. 194

Name That Shifter

 

Shifter No 194

It’s Monday, and that means it’s time to present this week’s shifter. You’ll have until midday Wednesday to identify the make and model of the vehicle whence this shifter came. The first person to respond correctly in the Backfires section below will win a Save the Manuals button, magnet, and sticker.* Good luck!

(* Offer open to U.S. and Canadian residents only.)

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2nd September 2014

Lost in Translation: Aston Martin Lagonda Prototype Proudly Displayed . . . by Oman Air

Aston Lagonda front 34 Oman

It’s been nearly a month since Aston Martin announced the development of its Lagonda supersedan, which it will offer solely to Middle Eastern customers for something like a kazillion dollars. But other than a profile view and an obscured black-and-white shot of a partially assembled car on a lift, we haven’t seen the real thing. Enter Oman Air, which proudly published pictures of a Lagonda test vehicle that the airline transported to Muscat, Oman, for some hot-weather shenanigans. For its part, Aston Martin has yet to release official photos of the car itself, so this represents a juicy bit of leakage that, from what we could tell from a conversation with an Aston Martin representative, the automaker appears none too happy about.

We’re happy, though, because these pictures give us our first look at the broad hood, stern headlamps, and wide, hexagonal grille with seven horizontal vanes. We’re also getting a gander at the car’s seriously flared fenders, as well as the Kamm-back tush, with its simple horizontal taillamps that are joined by a simple chrome strip. The look is masculine yet just as sleek-looking as low-slung Rapide S. And while the interior remains largely obscured, from the front-three-quarter shot we can see two diamond-quilted, high-backed sport seats.

Aston Martin Lagonda rear 34 Oman



The Aston Martin spokesperson confirmed that the car in the pictures is mostly product-correct but noted that a few minor changes may be made by the time Aston starts production at the end of this year. We’ve also learned that Aston Martin plans to sell more Lagondas than it built of the similarly bespoke, half-million-dollar V12 Zagato—likely somewhere between 150 and 200 units—and that the new sedans should be in customers’ hands by the middle of next year.

As for the price, well, Aston is mum for the moment and, frankly, for most of the world, that information doesn’t really matter. Watch for official photos and information on the car to appear “soon,” according to Aston Martin. Meanwhile, keep your eye on the tarmac in Muscat.

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2nd September 2014

Name That Shifter, No. 194

Name That Shifter

 

Shifter No 194

It’s Tuesday after a holiday weekend, and that means it’s time to present this week’s shifter. You’ll have until midday Thursday to identify the make and model of the vehicle whence this shifter came. The first person to respond correctly in the Backfires section below will win a Save the Manuals button and sticker.* Good luck!

(* Offer open to U.S. and Canadian residents only.)

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2nd September 2014

Stuttgart in the Middle: Driving Porsche’s 918 Spyder, Cayman and Boxster GTS at Laguna Seca

The Porsche 918 Spyder is effortlessly, ridiculously fast.

The thing was impossible to parse in two quick laps. And the story’s been told and retold by practically every journalist who has driven the cerebrum-denting 918 Spyder. “There I was at [famous racetrack], chasing a very experienced racing driver caning a 911 Turbo S. And dude couldn’t shake me!”

Porsche had invited us out to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca to celebrate the launch of the Boxster GTS and Cayman GTS, with a session in the 918 as the carrot at the end of the stick. Sports-car racer David Donohue was in the Turbo S. The 918 chased him around the track effortlessly. The thing is so easy to drive at speed, your author can hardly take any credit for piloting skill. Sure, the insaniac-tech Porsche was more fun than a Nissan GT-R on the same track but perhaps not as enjoyable as the McLaren 650S, a car that feels for all the world like a last-generation Cayman with a twin-turbo racing engine stuffed behind the seats. It was hard to be sure. It was all over so quickly. But hey lawdy mama, that V-8 sure does make a sound!

Zuffenhausen had flown a pair of the new GTS twins over from Germany. They’d also rounded up base Boxsters and Caymans, plus examples of their attendant S models. Picking our way through a bumper crop of zesty machines, we found our favorites at the top and bottom of Porsche’s mid-mounted flat-six range.

During the Boxster and Cayman’s previous generation, known to Porsche-philes as the 987, the Cayman gained a reputation as the more serious of the two cars due to the added stiffness of its fixed roof, a slight horsepower advantage, and a higher price. The harder of the hard-cores may notice a difference between the new 981 generation of mid-engined twins, but for the rest of us, you pays your money and you takes your choice. The Boxster comes at a discount, the fast-dropping top is a well-sealed miracle of modern design, and the additional exposure to the elements and the whappy, poppy snarl of the exhaust makes it a more visceral and engaging choice.

2015 Porsche Cayman GTS

Porsche’s Cayman GTS offers effortless speed with limits approachable by mortals.

Or does it? As equipped, the Cayman GTS couldn’t be denied as the do-it-all-quickly sweetheart of the bunch. The example we drove was fitted with a manual transmission and the Sport Suspension package, which drops the car by 0.8 inch. It’s a no-cost option on the GTS, replacing the standard Porsche Active Suspension Management adjustable setup. So equipped, the Cayman positively ripped its way around Laguna. The optional carbon-ceramic brakes offered a skosh more assurance after repeated laps than the still-excellent iron rotors of the Boxster GTS also on hand. Although 340 horsepower doesn’t sound like a ludicrous amount these days—especially given the GTS model’s $76,195 base price—it’s certainly enough for a spirited crack up the Rahal Straight to the Corkscrew. Just make sure the sport-exhaust button is turned off or you’ll wind up exceeding the track’s 92-decibel maximum-loudness threshold. At which point the suede-denim secret police descend and run you right out of Monterey County.

If you’re interested in a shot of Swabian joy but find 76K a slightly hard pill to swallow, there’s no shame in aiming lower on the mid-engine totem pole. In Porsche’s online configurator, we built a very enjoyable Boxster for $58,080 by choosing only three options: Sport Suspension, Sport Exhaust—which really should be standard on every Porsche—and 19-inch Boxster S wheels. We admit to being tempted by the pricey Burmester audio system, but if we stepped over that threshold, we figured we’d probably start adding extras like leather-wrapped air vents and Alcantara tire warmers. And perhaps an alpaca shifter cozy embroidered with the Martini Racing logo.

2013 Porsche Boxster

The base Boxster makes you work harder for speed but is all the more rewarding for it.

The Sport Suspension–equipped base Boxster that Porsche brought to Laguna was supremely captivating. The 265-horse 2.7-liter engine is all high-and-tight wind, meaning that you’re rowing through the gears to keep the roadster roiling. The S and GTS models, in contrast, can cover a multitude of mistakes with their ample torque spread. In the base car, it’s your skill as a driver that keeps you moving. Its brakes aren’t as brutally effective or fade-resistant as are the beefier units on the S and GTS, making brake management more crucial. Everything about the entry Boxster forces you to work that much harder for what you get, but the sensation of getting it just right brings the same sort of satisfaction that Porsche’s trickier older cars often did. Unlike some of those older cars—including the friendly-until-it-swaps-ends 914—the chassis is so neutral, so capable of coping with more, that to get in huge trouble, you’d have to be patently idiotic. The Boxster shrugs off small-to-medium errors with only a loss of momentum.



It’s a beguiling car to learn the art of speed in, quick enough to be fun, demanding enough to offer a challenge, and approachable enough that you’ll take up the mantle again and again. You want to go fast? Buy the Cayman GTS. If you want to get fast, do yourself a favor and give the base Boxster a look. Whichever you choose, just don’t forget to tick the Sport Suspension box.

Stuttgart in the Middle: Driving Porsche's 918 Spyder, Cayman and Boxster GTS at Laguna Seca

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2nd September 2014

Cadillac toned down ATS Coupe design due to customer feedback [w/poll]

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2015 Cadillac ATS Coupe

Automakers always face a difficult decision when it comes to styling their cars. Design them too blandly and nobody will get excited about them. But style them too aggressively and they'll often end up turning off potential buyers.

Cadillac, for its part, is no stranger to aggressive design, but when it came to the new ATS Coupe, it elected to tone things down a bit. Speaking with The Detroit News in a wide-ranging interview, Cadillac design director Bob Boniface revealed that the original design for its compact coupe was edgier - closer to that of the CTS Coupe - with a wedgier profile, a more steeply raked beltline and a more severe grille. But potential customers surveyed in clinics apparently didn't like it. They found it looked heavy, inefficient and not fun to drive. So Boniface and his team literally went back to the drawing board and "took as much visual mass out of the car as [they] could." The resulting coupe, while handsome, looks far more similar to its four-door companion than did Cadillac's CTS.

What do you think, does the new ATS Coupe look just right, or is it too conservative? Voice your opinion in our quick online poll.

View Poll

Cadillac toned down ATS Coupe design due to customer feedback [w/poll] originally appeared on Autoblog on Tue, 02 Sep 2014 09:30:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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